The Stray

The long distance move of a family on the mend, has them seeking help in the most unusual of places. ‘The Stray’ tells the true story of how a stray dog, named “Pluto,” comes out of nowhere and impacts the Davis family, who are struggling to find happiness within their home in many ways. In just a short time, Pluto the “wonderdog” manages quite an impact in saving a toddler, bringing comfort and companionship to a hurting 9-year-old boy, helping restore a marriage, and repairing a broken father-son relationship that remains on the rocks. Pluto is not only a guard dog; he’s a guardian angel. Sometimes help comes from the most unlikely places. Sometimes our prayers get answered in strange ways. Sometimes one dog can change everything. ‘The Stray’s is written and directed by Mitch Davis, and is rated PG for thematic elements including a scene involving peril.

The most credible of screenwriters can take a sour script and make it entertaining for all of the right reasons. They are master magicians at taking any kind of negative within the story and adapting it for proper comprehension at the viewer’s request. Even still though, there’s an even bigger problem when said writer is the real life father depicted in the movie, as it kind of becomes a conflict of interests, for what might be entertaining to him could be lagging to the audience who take it all in. That’s the biggest in a funnel of problems that overtakes a movie like ‘The Stray’, the latest sappy religious flick intended to tug at the heartstrings of its viewers without earning the dramatic pulse necessary in giving its biographical details merit. I don’t want to take the joy away from the Davis family, particularly Mitch, for him thinking this film was a surefire hit that just had to be made, but his film is as boring as changing the filter from a dryer. It’s 82 minutes of corny atmospheric sludge that feels disingenuous behind every turn and feels hollow in progression the closer that you get to it. I have been stuck with a few of these religious films every year, and ‘The Stray’ feels like it has the least to say or do to justify why its intended audience should be entertained by its story.

The film and real life setting is the early 90’s, and thankfully this designation makes it a little easier to swallow why some of the parents in the film are making some incredibly inhumane decisions. For one, there’s a scene when the youngest daughter of the Davis’s, 4-year-old Mackenzie manages to walk right off of their property with these two parents occupied elsewhere. I’m not going to say these are awful parents, but instead focus on the scene when she is found at the park with adults all around her. The father pulls up, grabs her, and brings her into the car. Did no one ask questions why this girl is missing in the first place? Does everyone believe that this is indeed the father of said child because he hugged her? Who cares though, right? Another convenience of this impeccable setting is the camping scene in which Mitch takes his son and two other boys he just met on a long-distance camping trip. Mitch meets their fathers and immediately asks to take them away for the weekend. This doesn’t seem strange to anyone, huh? Maybe my problem is that I’m stuck in 2017 and I can’t think outside of the box to reach the logical stem that is 90’s mentality.

Then there’s the padding of the screenplay that seems well determined to reach its timely goal by extending the necessities of every scene. Sometimes less is more when a scene has nothing of substance to add to the unfurling of the plot, but in Davis’s film we are treated a barrage of what has to be improv. I say that because I can’t believe for a second that any credible writer could extend a ‘Shit your pants’ gag for over two minutes. The focus as a whole for the film seems immensely in the wrong place, silencing or omitting out the title character from every scene except his first and last scene. I was waiting for something more to appear out of thin air for involvement, but the film just kind of forgets about him until it is required to bring him up for the emotionally stirring finale that this film shits the bed on. As for the lightning scene itself, it’s humorous to think even for a second that a studio would greenlight a scene visually depicting kids being fried by lightning, and even more laughable is its effect on them. These kids walk off lightning like it’s a bruised elbow, leaving little suspense or dramatic tension in the way of superman-like healing powers.

The production quality is very underwhelming, choosing some slightly risky avenues of filmmaking that never pay off because of its limited funding. For starters, the camera work is very agitating, taking the annoyances of handheld camera work to new lows with eye level heights that intend to put us in the shoes of our younger cast members. It’s clear that this cameraman had very little handle from a height that is much smaller that he or she is probably used to because there’s all of this shaking that feels like twitching that comes through in their sequencing. If this wasn’t enough, the editing would rather take the easy way out than do its part to help the bewildering decisions that came with crafting personal takes. These are the scenes that usually go back and forth between characters, establishing several cuts in editing that helps the free-flowing nature of a scene seamlessly. Unfortunately, the film leaves the camera on for some long takes in scenes, a fact that could work with better acting and even more importantly less extreme close-ups on the faces of every little boy. The camera work weaves its way in and out of every character like we are supposed to be intimate with them, a thought process that I would rather not approach with a majority of the ensemble being impressionable youths. When there’s adults and kids in a scene together? FORGET IT. The jarring movements of high-and-low will have you visually feeling like you are on a roller-coaster that doesn’t know when to quit, unfortunately I didn’t either.

What I did take positively from the film is at least the attempt to focus on the crumbling of this family and leaving the religion of the production to just passing mentions. I’m not someone who condemns religion in films, but it should at least serve a purpose. The use here is obvious, and thankfully we are never treated to a sermon of hymns that go overboard in hammering home their Jesus narrative. The pacing is decent enough, despite an easy twenty minutes that could easily be cut from this film in introducing one-off characters that never show up again. The acting for the film is far from anything award-worthy, and for the most part, the dialogue reads go by like a Ben Stein impression contest, but Sarah Lancaster has her grip firmly on the pulse of authenticity, emoting Michelle Davis like an actual human being and not a stereotype for the plot. She has great capability with the tears, and with a more firmly developed scene, her emotional release could warrant some goosebumps from the audience watching beyond.

THE VERDICT – ‘The Stray’ might not be the worst or most preaching of the religious exploitation films that I have seen, but it sticks to the tradition of undercooked narratives with a tedious experimental side to filmmaking that keeps that we’ve come to expect from these limited releases. Despite it being a true story, there’s so much about Davis’s reflections that feel manufactured for film, relenting to a side of family importance that takes the ridiculousness in continuing to search for a consistent direction in script and tone that it can (for lack of a better word) faithfully pursue.

3/10

Woodshock

The grief and anguish of loss takes many mental and physical forms, in the new psychological melodrama ‘Woodshock’. The exquisite feature film debut of visionary fashion designers Kate and Laura Mulleavy , their film is a hypnotic exploration of isolation, paranoia, and grief that exists in a dream-world all on its own. Kirsten Dunst stars as Theresa, a haunted young woman spiraling in the wake of profound loss, torn between her fractured emotional state and the reality-altering effects of a potent cannabinoid drug that has got her uncertain about the things that she sees and feels. Immersive, spellbinding, and sublime, ‘Woodshock’ transcends genre to become a singularly thrilling cinematic experience that marks the arrival of the Mulleavy siblings as a major new voice in film. ‘Woodshock’ is rated R for drug use, adult language and a scene of violence.

We’ve all been around that pothead at a party who has had too many tokes on the old wisdom weed and decides to tell a story. For whatever reason, his story could last a minute, five minutes, or in some cases even ten minutes if he is committed to enough bullshit and payoffs in laughs from a crowd who are just trying to be nice to him. Under no circumstances however, can anyone be nice to a guy of this description for 95 minutes, and that’s ultimately what my experience with ‘Woodshock’ gave me. The Mulleavy’s certainly know what is captivatingly original about their visual spectrum to this film, but as screenwriters they have plenty to learn about entertainment value that lends no favors to their debut featurette. For all of its dabs into visual and literal intoxication, the film feels like it is jumbled into a million pieces, never having the glue or the right hands behind it to getting its narrative base put back together to make a cohesive whole. Sadly, the most obvious fact that I will take away from this film is that Kirsten Dunst has a fantastic body, a statement that I feel disgusting for mentioning in a theatrical review, but none the less relevant when compared to how little else I took away from this sloppy disaster.

The dialogue in this film comes at a minimal offering, choosing instead to visually depict the kind of emotions and post-traumatic traits that come with losing the most important person in one’s life. I don’t personally have a problem with this particular direction. Most notably ‘A Ghost Story’ this year succeeded at visually carrying the double load in progression for the narrative, and never struggled once. At this perspective, I was riveted early on during the first act, looking forward to what theologies and spins on the afterlife for those still living that these sisters indulged in. Sadly that movie never materialized, and what we do get in return is a barrage of mind-numbingly vague sequences, as well as quick-cut edits that at least unintentionally pay homage to the kind of editing that Aronofsky was doing in ‘Requiem For A Dream’. The film’s pacing stalls out repeatedly, making the entirety of the second act feel like a chore that feels like it is paying zero dividends to the kind of progression that this film needs in getting us ready for a gut-punching final act. That too is wasted away in the hazy cloud that engulfs this movie whole, closing out with some last minute twists that intend to resonate, but fail to break the rough exterior of anger that I felt from being mislead one time too many throughout this picture.

Another big negative for me comes in the neglect of character exposition that not only makes these characters feel foreign, but also gives the supporting cast no weight of importance to the film’s lasting memory. There’s no question that this is a one woman show of sorts, with most of the attention being paid to that of Dunst’s Theresa, but as a character she feels too underwhelming and quite self-pitying to ever bask in the sadness and emotional distress that she is going through. So much of her actions and movements are overly repetitive that I often found myself wondering if the film intentionally repeated scenes from earlier, but instead just decided to portray the same result, but this time with slightly different consequences. And because so much of the imagery that we are seeing is being played out by the drug use in that of our central protagonist, there’s a haze about the film’s cerebrum perspective that fails to give any kind of insight into Theresa’s rumored past that the film only hints at and fails to ever fully materialize. It makes for a focus in presentation that doesn’t feel interested in exploring the effects that Theresa’s shaky behavior has on others, yet doesn’t give us a lot of reasons in excitement to ever stay committed to her perspective.

As for performances, I will choose to only speak about Dunst because frankly everyone else is just afterthoughts in the prime focus of screen time and dialogue. It feels like we’re at that point in the career of Kirsten’s where she is beginning to explore in her choice of roles. Most recently, her portrayal in ‘The Beguiled’ felt like the right kind of motherly hands to carefully cradle the film’s often conventional approach. For ‘Woodshock’, she’s asked to be depended upon again, and this time harbors an enigmatic delivery in Theresa that articulately conveys the imprisonment of grief. There are times when you’re not sure whether to laugh, cry, or stay paralyzed from her volcanic offering that constantly builds itself in every scene. Most definitely in the third act, we see the biggest parallel in her previously reserved embodiment, and the anger that multiplies in her eyes in the later scenes brought the only kind of emotional feeling that I related to during the film, saving me temporarily from the depths of boredom that clouded this film entirely.

Without a doubt though, my favorite aspect to the film and one that keeps it above water from being one of the more dreadful theatrical experiences of the year for me is in the film’s visual compass that declares the marriage of art and fashion like only siblings of this magnitude can do. The editing can be choppy at times, but the grainy spectrum when combined with off-center framing gives the film an unnatural home video kind of feel to it that I found vividly appealing. In my opinion, it feels like much of this movie was shot on reeled film, a form of filming that sadly is limited in its uses during the digital age, and evidence of such seems apparent especially during these psychological scenes that mirror that of Theresa’s past and present. It’s presented in a manner that doesn’t feel tampered or manipulated with in digital encoding, but natural in how appealing the very unappealing vision of it comes across. It’s just too perfect to be unnatural, and presents some beautifully hypnotizing trances that keeps us in its daydream.

THE VERDICT – The buzz of two reputable sisters like the Mulleavy’s should’ve been enough to carry it through a dreary and dreamy trip through bereavement, but their debut effort stumbles at nearly every narrative miscue and patience-testing minute that ruins the high. Like most trips, afterwards you’re hungry for something of substance, and sadly you won’t find it in this clouded and convoluted fog that blurs the line of some pretty cutting edge photography. Dunst is riveting, but this is one Mary Jane that she might want to distance herself from.

3/10

My Little Pony: The Movie

The Mane 6 are back, this time to be given a big screen adaptation of the popular 80’s and 90’s animated show of the same name. In ‘My Little Pony: The Movie’, a new dark force threatens the inhabitants of Ponyville, and the Mane 6 ; Twilight Sparkle, Applejack, Rainbow Dash, Pinkie Pie, Fluttershy and Rarity ; embark on an unforgettable journey beyond Equestria where they meet new friends, luxurious landscapes, and exciting mental and physical challenges on a quest to use the magic of friendship that will save their home. The “My Little Pony” movie will feature all new music with the Mane Six characters voiced by Tara Strong, Cathy Weseluck, Andrea Libman, Tabitha St. Germain and Ashleigh Ball. ‘My Little Pony: The Movie’ is directed by Jayson Thiessen, the director of three previous My Little Pony movie before, and is rated PG for mild action and scenes of peril.

Surprising or not, the ‘My Little Pony’ universe is a difficult sell to a teenage boy who was into horror movies and professional wrestling. It’s even more difficult of a sell to a 32 year old man required to sit through it in order to discuss and break it down with all of his readers. ‘My Little Pony: The Movie’ is 98 minutes of film that feels like an eternity. It’s this way because there hasn’t been a film this year that I was lesser interested in than this one, and it’s something that feels like a punishment to anyone who hasn’t before endured the world of Equestria and all of its colorful characters. This film isn’t just a bore to me, but it’s one that adds little to make it standout in the way of crossover power to those teenage boys who have now grown up to be fathers. A talented kids movie today can reel in its opposing audiences with a combination of intelligence and risky humor that can sometimes aim its intent well over the head of youthful audiences who don’t quite understand. But there was never a moment when my investment paid off in the ways that quieted my stereotypical attitude towards this franchise, making this one of the truly more insufferable sits that I have endured in 2017.

The plot is pretty atypical, in that if you have seen one 90’s animated adventure film, you’ve seen them all. This typically revolves around an antagonist character who shows up to wreak havoc on the backdrop of the film, expelling the central protagonists to go on a cross-country journey to return home bigger and better than before. There are so many outlines like this in kids movies that it feels like a waste of time to even run them all down, instead I will focus on what this movie proved to me. The ponies themselves have flying power, but never choose to use it to get them out of some pretty error-filled leaps in logic when it comes to imprisonment. I also learned that sometimes it’s better to cower or hide when it comes to building up characters that the film requires to grow by the final confrontation. Because so many of these characters blended together in terms of traits and overall personality, I looked forward to any and every time that the antagonist for the movie popped up to spice things up a bit. I’m grateful that I didn’t have to see this movie in the theater because it took me three different continuations to finish the film, and in summary I can say that this is a script in versatility that doesn’t move half as far as its characters do throughout it. Hammering this thought home is an overload of padding that comes in the form of song.

Much to the chagrin of music lovers everywhere, this film is no slouch when it comes to offering a multi-disc soundtrack that the kiddies will leave on repeat until their Ipods collapse. In the first act, there’s a song or two that doesn’t hinder the fluidity nor the continuity of the film’s pacing, but in the second act this becomes a chore to have to endure because the script stops every five minutes to launch a track that summarizes everything that we have learned over the last few minutes, in case kids are too stupid to keep up (The producer’s thoughts, not mine). The songs themselves don’t lend too much to creativity or imagination that studios like Pixar and Dreamworks have immersed themselves in, and after about ten of this abysmal tracks, I was moaning every time a new one came on. Songs like these should be used to further teach the backstories of some new characters to both fans and non-fans of the series, but it’s another in the long line of wasted opportunities that the film constantly drops the ball on.

Where the few positives do kick in is in the visually appealing animation for the movie that still feels like a faithful homage to the 90’s, in all of its pre-three dimensional days. Do I wish the film could’ve advanced and possibly joined the rest of animated civilization? YES, but the vibrancy of this rainbow coalition and the detail that went into illustrating some eye-catching backdrops are certainly more than enough to stay committed to what they’ve mastered in over two decades. The movements of the characters are still a little slow, a fact that has bothered me ever since I caught a few glimpses of this franchise as a teen, but I can forgive this artistic direction in favor of a film that offers a solid parallel of ever-changing landscapes that never limit itself to just one principal setting. It is refreshing to see a film that doesn’t feel pressured to joining the fray of computer-generated look-a-likes that are ever the fray anymore, and I will take this rare opportunity to commend this film for sticking to where it came from.

As far as performances go, the film does have a surprisingly unlimited amount of top-name celebrities that lend their voices to their animated counterparts. Kristin Chenoweth feels like she was born to be one of these ponies. As Princess Skystar, she omits the squeaky register that only until now has lacked real necessity in her roles, but here she feels right at home. Michael Pena is solid as the comic relief of the movie, Grubber, as he did give me a couple of laughs that while they weren’t the highest brow of intellectual material, did bring out the kid in me for those few split seconds. Emily Blunt is also noteworthy in the as Tempest Shadow, the very threat that has taken over the town by air. I mentioned earlier that Tempest is the breath of fresh air during some truly vapid leaps of screen time between the annoying ponies, and it feeds into more that she is the sole direction when the film breaks away from its squeaky clean image, a fact that required much more emphasis and focus not only to Blunt’s investment but also to Tempest’s importance in getting across the feeling of vulnerability that she casts upon her opponents.

THE VERDICT – ‘My Little Pony: The Movie’ can’t get over the broad bar of corny meandering and snail’s pacing that could add something resourceful to the potential of a visually stimulating two-dimensional classic style. Mainly, there’s nothing necessary about this film. It doesn’t hammer home a strong internal message, nor does it inspire its youthful audience into anything but an early bed time. This is the kind of film that parents hold a lasting grudge towards their children, for making them suffer through nearly 100 minutes of soul-crushing product placement. I too feel that anger, except I don’t have a child, and still had to endure it. You can imagine my boiling pot right now.

3/10

Flatliners

An allegiance of friends obsessed with death fight for a pulse in the remake of the 1990 original, ‘Flatliners’. For this chapter, the film takes place more than two decades after the events of those prior efforts. Five medical students hoping to gain insight into the mystery of what lies beyond the confines of life, embark on a daring and dangerous experiment. By stopping their hearts for short periods of time, each triggers a near-death experience. As the investigation becomes more and more perilous, they are forced to confront the sins of their pasts, as well as contend with the paranormal consequences of trespassing to the other side. The film stars Ellen Page, Diego Luna, and Nina Dobrev. It is directed by Niels Arden Oplev, and is rated PG-13 for violence and terror, sexual content, language, thematic material, and some drug references.

Are there no bounds for what films can be remade in the 21st century? It used to be good films were the only ones worthy of a re-imagining, but now it seems that even the forgettable flock of barely twenty five year old films are up for grabs in the race between studios that can’t create an original idea between them. The 1990 version of ‘Flatliners’ felt like it had some thought-provoking ideas about the afterlife and what it all leads to, but ultimately fell short in expanding the original premise into something greater for discussionary purposes. If you thought that film lacked the pursuing of imagination, the 2017 remake will appall you for how much grasping at straws is happening here. It’s not a terrible film, just terribly boring and full of exposition plot holes that ultimately gives it that rushed feeling into embarking on cheap thrills for the kiddies just before the Halloween season. On that tainted direction, and because it was made in 2017, this is yet another example of a film that suffers from a suffocating cloud of jump scares that ultimately serve no purpose in furthering the horror aspects, and counteracts everything from the sci-fi part of the movie that slowly fades away with each following scene.

The story surrounds our five central protagonists, four of which gamble with death and bring back a few sparse positives that pay off this unnatural obsession with the afterlife. I say few because from this film you barely see a positive side to their awakening other than they are remotely smarter, a trait that doesn’t make sense when you combine it with the fact that brain damage sets in after you’ve been dead for four minutes. In fact, when you hear that statement you can start to map out the fictional antagonist that will pursue our latest collection of sexy moron doctors for our satisfaction; everything going on is in their heads. I say this because the movie keeps it a mystery for all of about ten minutes, before giving away the answer from the outsiders perspective in seeing these kids basically fighting with themselves. One such scene that made absolutely no sense to me was a male of the group being stabbed with a knife on his hand that shows up immediately in the next scene as bandaged. How is this possible if it is playing out in his mind? Sure, one could point to the Freddy Krueger dream theory, but there is no physical antagonist here unlike Krueger, so the only way that could physically happen is if the guy stabbed himself, which is a little difficult when he doesn’t have a knife and is swimming for his life when it happens.

Because this group has to experience everything together, there’s a clouded barrage of expositional scenes in the first act that embrace redundancy in a way that doesn’t speed it up or make it any more compelling for the audience with each person’s dive. This makes up roughly almost the entire first half of the movie, saving what little thrills the movie does have for late in the second act, at which case I was entirely bored and over this whole thing by that point. As for the obstacle itself within this film, if you thought ‘Final Destination’ was a bit of a stretch, this film takes it to new levels. I was so disappointed with the final act of this movie and the logic into what goes into defeating concrete brain damage that I couldn’t help but laugh. Even for a science fiction film, this movie feels like it is being written by the writers as it goes along, ushering us to a finale that is every bit as forgettable as it is inconsequential. If I do have two positives with the screenplay it is in the shock factors that happen that don’t exactly add anything to the film, but certainly made me stumble in my tracks of conventional predictability that the film was faithfully riding until those points. One is a cameo by a noticeable actor from the original film, and one is an event that shifts the film into totally different circumstances than I was legitimately ready for. It’s unfortunate that the film never finds a suitable identity after this, but there is the promise that you could’ve seen something of possibility from a movie not afraid to take chances.

The production for the film is very one-note and safe in the artistic expression that it garners from scene to scene. The most evidence of this comes in the free-flowing feel of a collection of scenes that hold very little weight in the way they are edited. I mentioned that stabbing scene a while ago, and the way it is put together and sequenced gives it very little weight in the atmosphere of speeding to the 103 minute mark. The character takes the knife, yells in pain, and I kid you not, in the very next cut is out to dinner with the entire group not discussing the borderline paranormal assault that he just took, but instead to discuss something entirely unrelated to the previous scene. And that’s the biggest hurdle that ‘Flatliners’ is going to face. It feels primed to forget about itself and the undercooked sequences of events long before its audience has a chance. There’s ultimately no faith in this script or presentation that makes me ever want to watch it again, and very little fun with poking at those plot holes that I mentioned that remind you just how little in terms of cinematic expectations is really at play here.

This is an exceptionally talented and youthfully vibrant cast, but their efforts are sadly wasted with very little opportunity to standout in this muddled effort. One thing I can say positively is that Diego Luna is my favorite character here, not because he seems to be the only one thinking with logic, but because he feels like the underdeveloped leader who serves as the voice of reason between them. Luna was the only character who was enjoyable for me because his heart was miles upon anyone else, and yet sadly he received the least amount of backstory between the five characters. Ellen Page is basically the central character of the film, for it is her we are introduced into this film with, but the movie doesn’t remain committed to her cause in a troubled past, and only returns to it when it is absolutely necessary in using to fill the gap between artificial jump scares. Kiersey Clemons is someone who I am falling in love with in each passing film, and for a second it looked like I could feel strong empathy to her cause here, but she plays this character as too innocent and safe to ever believe some of the second act turns that the movie has for her. It sadly wastes the biggest rising star between this cast that could’ve at least pushed an entirety of likability in a film of rough takeaways.

THE VERDICT – Arden Oplov’s science fiction thriller suffocates under a lethal combination of tireless redundancy and never ending boredom from a dependency of tireless jump scares that requires a strong dose of adrenaline to get the heart of this story pumping again. This one is desperate for a pulse, but never finds the complimentary identity necessary in justifying its existence, dooming it dead on arrival before it ever hit the theaters. The term ‘Flatliners’ has now become synonymous with the word ‘Bland’, and we have yet another wasted remake to a film nobody holds close to their heart to thank for it. DIALYSIS…….Pull the plug.

3/10

Home Again

The trials and tribulations of A newly established single Mother prove that it is A necessity to go ‘Home Again’. The film proves to be A generational affair, with Hallie Meyers-Shyer writing and directing, while her Mother and critically acclaimed author Nancy Meyes is at the helm of producing. It stars Reese Witherspoon as Alice Kinney in a modern day romantic comedy. Recently separated from her husband Austen, (Michael Sheen), Alice decides to start over by moving back to her hometown of Los Angeles with her two young daughters. During a night out on her 40th birthday, Alice meets three aspiring filmmakers who happen to be in need of a place to live. Alice agrees to let the guys stay in her guest house temporarily, but the arrangement ends up unfolding in unexpected ways. Alice’s unlikely new family and new romance comes to a crashing halt when her ex-husband shows up, suitcase in hand, expecting to make things right with the love of his life. ‘Home Again’ is rated PG-13 for some thematic and sexual material.

Being A film critic has taught me to examine and appreciate the many aspects of film that go into making A finished product. Even in movies that I despise, I can usually garner A taste for A particular area of production that stands out strongly against the rest. It’s no secret that I have never been much of A fan of Nancy Meyers as A writer or filmmaker, and her daughter, Hallie Meyers-Shyer, seems determined to keep the flame burning for lifeless cinema that sacrifices plot for bold and vibrant cinematography whose only strength is mimicking A Zoloft commercial. ‘Home Again’ is A paper ice cream cone. Sure, there are those flavors of ice cream that we love and that we stay away from when it comes to our favorite frozen treat, but the only kind of flavor response that I received from Hallie’s intro to the world of film is that from A tasteless bite that left me searching for anything to positively hang my taste buds on. This film obviously feels close to Hallie, in an art imitating life kind of way, with her (like Alice) having two famous parents and kind of articulating the circumstances that come with such an inheritance. In this instance, real life doesn’t make for that compelling of entertainment, and if home is truly where the heart is, this heart loses its beat almost immediately from the opening shot.

By the second act of this film, it’s pretty obvious where this all is headed; an endless array of untapped results and weightless consequences that do little to test the boundaries of compelling suspense. This screenplay is A strange one because to me it feels like Hallie almost forgets to translate real life drama into something for an audience first-and-foremost, and I found the entirety of this 92 minutes to be dry and lacking of anything manipulated for audience response. We just kind of watch these characters circle around themselves repeatedly in their rich and posh surroundings, appealing to A very minimal one percent who probably don’t go out to see movies anyway. The film throws all of its chips into this love triangle between Alice, Austen and Harry, but does little along the way to build up what each man means to Alice and her ever-changing life. Because the film gives us very little focus on Alice alone and by herself, we’re never given anything to hang the positives and negatives of each suitor on in terms of effect on her. I think Austen is supposed to be the antagonist but because the Hallie feels too timid to play it safe as A screenwriter, Alice is propelled to choose between two men who are essentially equal in underwritten exposition, instead choosing to focus on no shortage of musical montages to make up for how little this film actually progresses.

Everything that I just mentioned could probably be fixed with some chances that the film needed to take to exert some kind of drama in the ever-growing complacency that the film creates for itself. There are plenty of opportunities between the second and third acts that hint at something brewing beneath the surface of this trio of roommates that Alice houses, but their movements are for nothing and silenced without much purpose to the film alluding to them. When the film’s biggest dramatic pull and focus comes from one of the daughter’s upcoming school play, you know the kind of sleeper that you’re dealing with. The pacing of events within the plot isn’t half bad, but the decision to attack so many compelling possibilities at only face value is A mistake that makes this film feel like A forceful spoon-feeding around the one hour mark. It was at this point where ‘Home Again’ lost me for good, and I begged desperately for the kind of emotional clarity that the character of Alice simply never gets by an ending that is as forgettable as it is safe.

The production feels hollow and artificial in trying to capture the California sunny landscapes, but will only be deemed evident by someone like myself who studies A film’s visual specter first. One person might look at this film and be transfixed by its appeal visually in the rich and the famous lifestyles, but this overly-illuminated lighting used often in romantic comedies feel like they do more harm than good in their intention, and trespass the boundaries of what is visually tasteful. Because the lighting is so loud, it gives off that feeling of A television’s tint being turned all the way up, blending light colors of clothing and walls together in the least visually appealing of methods. The editing settles for the fade-to-black kind of style instead of sticking to what works in quick-cuts for scene-to-scene transitions. What this decision does is divide the anatomy of each scene, forcing them into these individual pieces instead of one cohesive movement that gel together to meet the same goal.

Even if they are all far better than the material that they are acting out, the collaborative cast of actors in the film are enjoyable enough to watch bounce figuratively and literally off of each other. Reese Witherspoon still holds the female audience firmly in her grasp, but the character of Alice feels like something that she is light years ahead of, for better or worse. You care for her character, but Witherspoon’s energy feels like she is doing A favor instead of pursuing A passion project, and she’s alright but nothing memorable for an Oscar winner. Jon Rudnitsky as George is far and away my favorite aspect of not only the cast, but the entire film. Rudnitsky plays George with patience, and that’s something that is gravely important in A film that feels desperate to play into the stereotype outlines of each and every character. He’s kind of established as the brains of this trio, but he’s also the very pulse of logic when it comes to attacking some laughably bad dialogue that he overcomes. If there is one thing that we should take away from this film, it’s that Jon has a future, and I would prefer that future happen immediately so that we can forget about the kind of paper flavor of depth that he was presented here.

THE VERDICT – I myself couldn’t wait to get home again from ‘Home Again’. Hallie Meyers-Shyer’s film breeds pretentious and upper class privilege, orchestrating such A wasteful opportunity of girls night cinema and an A-list leading lady. Overcoming the adversity of inanities or vanilla ramblings, this romantic comedy doesn’t have enough grip or pulse by the director to succeed in either genre, breeding an overabundance of artificiality with each passing moment. If this is A portrait to her parents, it’s clear that she remembers much, but learned so little.

3/10

Wish Upon

The curse of a mysterious music box unleashes a gory past on its history in Broad Green Pictures, “Wish Upon”. 17-year-old Clare Shannon (Joey King) is barely surviving the hell that is high school, along with her friends Meredith (Sydney Park) and June (Shannon Purser). So when her dad (Ryan Phillippe) gifts her an old music box with an inscription that promises to grant the owner’s wishes, she thinks there is nothing to lose and treats it as a hoax. Clare makes her first wish and, to her surprise, it comes true. Before long, she finally has it all: money, popularity and her dream boy. Everything seems perfect, until the people closest to her begin dying in gruesome and twisted ways. Now, with blood on her hands, Clare has to get rid of the box, before it costs her and everyone she loves the ultimate price. Be careful what you wish for. “Wish Upon” is directed by John R. Leonetti, and is rated PG-13 for violence and disturbing scenes of peril.

I wished for a good movie and ended up with “Wish Upon”, the latest in PG-13 teenage horror that meets the bare minimal of every uninspiring and unoriginal plot point that rests within the concepts of its script. You should know the routine by now; no blood or gore, poorly shot death sequences to keep with their handicap rating, and of course the worst in direction that involves dialogue so cringe-worthy that you can’t help but laugh when the movie is trying its hardest to be serious. If the name John Leonetti doesn’t jump out at you, it should. This guy has been making some truly awful movies for years. Films like ‘Mortal Kombat: Annihilation’, ‘Anabelle’, and now ‘Wish Upon’ rest on the resume of this troubled director. Going into this film, I can’t say I was expecting much, but I’ve found that no matter how low your pre-conceived thoughts are for a movie, a teen horror flick will always find a way to dig even lower, and ‘Wish Upon’ gladly accepts the challenge to remind you why the horror genre is unfortunately turning into a blending of recycled ideas that tries to pass itself off for originality.

On the surface level, ‘Wish Upon’ feels like a Frankenstein project of ‘The Craft’, ‘Final Destination’, and ‘Wishmaster’, three movies that have no business being welded together, but clearly come to mind when you see how blatant its intentions are. The idea of a box granting wishes is certainly nothing new for big screen film, but I found myself appalled at how similar of a road that Clare’s wishes came back to haunt her like the lead protagonist in ‘The Craft’. As for death scenes, like ‘Anabelle’, there is no antagonist figure in the film, so there’s no final showdown that happens. So how do we come across deaths in the movie? by simply feeding into the theory that death inevitably comes to you, similar to one of the three films that I previously mentioned. The death scenes lack any kind of energy or impact to their happening, and are skimmed over with impatient pacing from a script that feels like it is trying to squeeze in too much to an 83 minute runtime. What small benefit that I did get from these sequences were the unintentional laughs that arose from within me, leading everyone in the theater to believe that I am a psychopath. They are kind of right, but only because I’ve sat through too many of these movies that it’s made me a product of my environment.

Then there’s the corners that this movie so violently shoves its creative spark into. As the film goes on, we learn that the box can easily be disposed of if the owner disowns it or throws it away. This concept alone proves that this movie should’ve never been longer than ten minutes, and really brings out the worst in a protagonist who we are supposed to faithfully get behind. She could easily give it up at any minute and stop the deaths that are happening to those she loves, but she would rather risk it once more and cash in for the fancy prizes behind Satan’s curtain. As for the box itself, there were some questions that were never answered long after I left the theater. Early on, Clare wishes for her high school bully to rot by saying her name to the object. My problem is how does this box know which girl she’s talking about? Is she the only girl in the world with this name? When the owner disowns the box, they lose everything that they wished for. So could Clare keep the box buried underground where no one could get to it, keeping her rich? Look, I give the film credit for at least explaining the origins of its box, unlike ‘The Bye Bye Man’, but did we really need to seek an Asian translator for the lettering around the box during a day and age of Google advanced?

The editing as well does the movie no favors, abruptly cutting scenes in half that felt like they had an intention to go somewhere before the halting cut. Some examples of this and basically how one-tracked this movie’s progression feels are in the backlash death scenes that would sometimes chop a bunch of jarring angles together to make one presentation, or even finish the scene by cutting so fast without us ever having the opportunity to soak in the brutal consequence. If I pointed to just one glaring problem plaguing this film over and over, it would be that it refuses to ever let things play out to the benefit of the plot. It is constantly running itself over trying to get to the next scene without playing into the atmosphere of a scene’s true horror. This never allows anything to warrant a true reaction from its audience, and after a while you can start to piece together the predictability in setup that the film has repeatedly done for itself. Intrigue is the last thing to go from this tasteless drought, leaving you little reminder as to why you chose it in the first place.

I want to talk a little bit about Joey King because I have enjoyed her early work as an actor. I do however fear for the young adult part of her career, similar to Chloe Moretz, as this film is far from the best first step in that direction. Most of the time you can blame a director for a shoddy misfiring of direction with their characters, but here it’s only half of the problem. King too, as well as the rest of the cast around her feel so lackluster in delivery, most likely from the terrible dialogue that envelopes this picture, but the actors themselves can’t go forgiven because their personalities feel so lifeless. My biggest problem with King’s character in particular is that physically she looks like a popular girl, and in personality she is as selfish as it gets. I don’t buy for a second that her character is anything like the one-dimensional direction outline that the movie has set her up for. There’s no depth or impact to her character that make you feel empathetic towards her, and because of such, she might as well be another face in the crowd of bland teenagers who outnumber this cast.

THE VERDICT – ‘Wish Upon’ did give me lots of unintentional laughs, even if the presidents who adorn the money in my wallet gave me lots of intentional middle fingers. Aside from a ridiculous night in where you want to laugh at how truly mind-numbing a teenage horror film can be, there’s absolutely no reason to see it. Poor editing, breezy pacing, and enough plot holes and fundamental flaws to steer this one completely off of the rails, gives Leonetti another reason to become an alias for shamed directors not wanting to attach their names to trash, and for all I know, it is. I would wish this one upon my greatest enemy.

3/10

The House

The college wishes of a teenage girl rests in the hands of transforming their residence into “The House”. The acceptance of their daughter Alex (Ryan Simpkins) into the university of her choosing, Scott (Will Ferrell) and Kate (Amy Poehler) Johansen scramble to pull the funds together to give her the experience that she deserves. The couple find out that they lost their daughter Alex’s college fund, so they become desperate to earn it back so she can pursue her dream of attending in the fall. With the help of their neighbor Frank (Jason Mantzoukas), they decide to start an illegal casino in the basement of his house, complete with gambling, a bar-keep, and even a strip club. The once cautious parents soon find themselves over their heads at the seedy underworld of gambling that has suddenly overtaken their lives and personalities. “The House” is written and directed by Andrew Jay Cohen, and is rated R for adult language throughout, sexual references, drug use, some violence and brief nudity.

Behind every critical praise of an exceptional comedic performance is a director who lacks the same kind of credit for their commitment to making that comedian shine. For whatever reason, fate has worked well for Will Ferrell and Amy Poehler up to this time, as the duo have racked up a collection of box office draws that have put them at the head of the class of noteworthy Saturday Night Live cast members who struck it big. That time is coming to an end however, because Andrew Jay Cohen’s “The House” is not only one of the most far-fetched ideas in a script, it’s also sponged itself free of any laughs in the entirety of the movie. I’m serious, I sat through 83 minutes of this film as quiet as I would be if I were at church listening to a sermon. My excitement level was about the same as that previous comparison as well. For whatever reason, we get one of these movies yearly now, and what little charm or buzz that has surrounded these once vibrantly gifted actors has now put them on the path to conventional repetition to where they feel like they don’t even have to try anymore. That’s not to say that “The House” is a cash-grab. You would have to earn cash to grab it, and I, as well as the rest of the world, have grown tired of underplaying efforts from behind and in front of the camera that voids you of any kind of entertainment.

Much of this script revolves around this secret casino that apparently fifty people or so from the same town can majestically keep quiet from police authorities and an egocentric mayor who he himself is sponging money from the community. Suddenly, what happens inside of the casino becomes the story itself, and the film that revolved once around this daughter going to college is pushed aside so Ferrell and Poehler can say off-the-wall remarks and indulge in sight gags that feel ten years too late. My biggest problem with this script is that I don’t buy for one second that these two, let alone an entire community, can keep a secret like this considering how dumb these human canvases are painted. The film wants these people to be baffling idiots so they can be quirky for the audience watching, but they need them to be smart enough to keep this thing on the down-low. This stark contrast of back-and-forth leaves the film feeling like a fantasy is playing out in the heads of these boring parents, but unfortunately we don’t ever see the appeal in it that they do.

Scenes happen that go nowhere or make very little sense in the long run, and it all leads to a finale that feels so sloppy in diagraph that the movie often loses its moral compass in logical assertiveness. I do have to talk of some light spoilers here, but nothing that will make you feel ripped off by reading it. So at the start of the third act, the casino gets busted by the mayor and the police. They take all of the cash that they have accumulated, and you would think that would be the end of it. Nope, the next night they and about a hundred of their guests are back at it gambling and having a good time. I have two big problems with this scenario; one, the cops would be stalking this place out after they have been busted, and two, no gambler would come within a mile of this place less than twenty-four hours after it has been shut down. Had this scene happened before the big bust, then fine, but Cohen’s script is so sloppy that it doesn’t even have time to be honest with itself, let alone the audience that should feel like their intelligence has been insulted.

Cohen’s stance doesn’t improve much as a director either, because it’s clear that he has no control over his two leading stars for their abuse on the concepts of improv. To anyone who has read my most recent negative comedy reviews, you will know that my number one pet peeve in these movies that sours itself is gripping improv comedy to the point of annoyance. It is the jump scare of the comedy genre, and just as equally predictable when you know it’s going to happen. In “The House’s” case, it will be whenever something happens to Ferrell or Poehler’s characters that they find strange or peculiar, so now we know a long speech lurks behind this scene that should’ve been cut with just one funny line. Nope, Cohen leaves the camera rolling because something has to pad itself out for the run time when the rapid-fire plot sure doesn’t. These scenes for me are insufferable and make 83 minutes of a usually quick sit feel like two hours with your parents who are now trying to be hip and edgy.

If there is one pleasant surprise to this movie, it’s in the action and overall violence that opened my eyes quite a bit to how brutal this movie can be at times. There are quite a few bloody scenes that reach for the gross-out factor, but I was so smitten with something different than the Ferrell and Poehler comedy hour that I would’ve been fine with even a sing-a-long at this point. On top of the bloody surprises, the film also has a couple of fight sequences that are surprisingly done with such detail and precision that it makes them feel like they came out of a Jason Statham movie. This of course feels incredibly out of place with what kind of tone Cohen is trying to attain here, but I would be a fool if I tried to take any kind of positivity away from this movie. Each knee-jerk reaction is appropriately timed and achieves what it sets out to do in completely flooring the audience into the kind of seedy underworld that these once conservative townspeople have engaged in.

My previous words already told you everything that you have to know about Ferrell and Poehler’s mind-numbingly bland characters. Most notably, these two are playing themselves in every other movie that you have seen them in, in fact, you’d be hard-pressed in distinguishing the differences between Ferrell’s character here and the one he plays in “Daddy’s Home”. But the film does have some pop-up appearances from comedians that will feel like they have all been sent here to save this project. In addition to Mantzoukas who doesn’t have the best material to work with, but makes the most of this limited opportunity, there are appearances from Nick Kroll, Allison Tolman, Rob Huebel, Cedric Yarbrough, and Sebastian Maniscalco. There is also an appearance from one huge action star who should be years above this project, but seeing him did bring a much-needed smile to my face when the rest of the movie lacked that power. Since I’m sure one of my readers might want to see this movie, I will not spoil this brief occurrence, but I will say that it does break the fourth wall of sorts with where it’s headed creatively with the film when he does show up.

THE VERDICT – The roof falls in on this house mostly because its overabundance of improv stick, as well as inconsistency in the story keep it from ever braving the storm of mundane directing. For two comic actors well into their second decade of prominence, “The House” feels low even for Ferrell and Poehler who blow their stack of reputable chips on a game that does them no favors to even the most hardcore fans of both. Cohen’s latest is the kind of gamble that you as a moviegoer most definitely do not want to take, because what happens in a movie theater doesn’t just stay in a movie theater, it stays with your memories for life.

3/10

Transformers: The Last Knight

The key to saving the future is buried in the past of Camelot, in “Transformers: The Last Knight”. Michael Bay returns once again to helm the latest chapter of the Transformers franchise, this time conjuring up a story that proves only one world can survive. The film shatters the core myths of the Transformers franchise, and redefines what it means to be a hero. Humans and Transformers are at war, Optimus Prime is gone. The key to saving our future lies buried in the secrets of the past, in the hidden history of Transformers origins on Earth. Saving our world falls upon the shoulders of an unlikely alliance: Cade Yeager (Mark Wahlberg); Bumblebee; an English Lord (Sir Anthony Hopkins); and an Oxford Professor (Laura Haddock) who all must act fast before our time on Earth comes to an abrupt ending. “Transformers: The Last Knight” is rated PG-13 for for violence and intense sequences of sci-fi action, adult language, and some sexual innuendo.

If this is in fact the fifth Transformers movie in this Bay-helmed series, then one would think that a majority of the problems that plagued the earlier movies should be solved by now, right? “The Last Knight” is without a doubt the very worst of this series that I have seen so far, and sets the bar to incredibly low depths for the inevitable sequels that are bound to follow. If I were to tell someone who hasn’t seen these movies everything that’s wrong with them, I would save them time and tell them to just watch this movie. It’s got everything; slow-motion action sequences that overstay their welcome, jarringly compromising tonal shifts that often make it difficult to decide what genre category this should fall under, wincingly vicious dialogue that falls completely flat around these one-dimensional characters, and a knack for over-complicating and convoluting every kind of plot and subplot that make up the script. I have yet to enjoy a Transformers live action movie, but this is the first that has made me legitimately angry leaving the film, and has me debating if I want to finally use my veto card for future installments.

These movies are certainly no easy feat in run time, this one clocking in at nearly two-and-a-half hours, a basic average for this series. So of course this script has to be massive. To do this, we get a story that splits time between modern day and medieval times, the latter of which plays great importance to where this story is headed creatively. I’m fine with introducing new layers to this series to keep it fresh, but essentially this film is derived from every earlier movie before it; a high stakes game of capture the flag. In each movie, the Decepticons always invade Earth to capture something, and in this one it’s no different with the introduction of Merlin’s staf. What I don’t like about the writers establishing that Transformers were around throughout history is a two-fold problem. First, we as a civilization haven’t been able to learn their technology faster? and two, how can anyone keep a secret as big as robots invading over the course of 1600 years? The characters in the original movie (Government officers included) certainly seemed surprised upon the first invasion. But the film tries to be cute by establishing a secret society that have kept the robots from the eyes and ears of its people. If that’s the case, why has this society waited until the fifth invasion of the series to finally do something about it. What we’re they doing? biding their time? If this isn’t enough, there’s a noticeably big gap between Transformers fight sequences, as well as human character abandonment that overall attains a level of sloppiness that not even “Revenge of the Fallen” could attain quite so consistently.

The story is bad, but man does it pale in comparison to the overall dialogue composition that someone approved as being screen-ready. There are several problems that I have with the lines in the movie, but to sum it up, most of them drown on for far too long, fluffing out the run time extensively by never cutting to the point. On top of this, the progression halts every few minutes so a character can express their hollow personalities, or present a line of comedic dialogue to ruin the urgency of such matters. Some of the scenes that drove me crazy were when so much of the Staf’s history was being explained, and Anthony Hopkins character would stop to bicker with a robot, or take the boringly long route in conveying the importance of this piece. This script greatly needed another edit, so much so that my mind wandered repeatedly to how I would’ve shortened the long-winded releases that kept taking creative liberties, and gotten the same point across without the nauseating history lesson that followed. The comedy falls so flat most of the time in this film that I wish they would just leave it be. Michael Bay movies do have personality, but during a time of grave devastation for the world, it almost feels inappropriate that the movie would rather focus on the unlimitted cast of characters and making sure the audience knows that each and every one of them can be cooky and full of spunk.

On the subject of such characters, the problem of overcrowding continues in these movies, with about 90% of the film’s characters being brand new and needing valuable screen time to get their characters across. Considering this film violently shifts back and forth between the many groups, there’s just not enough valuable resources to bestow upon them to make their presence warranted. The most trivial for me was that of Laura Haddock. It’s true, her character is a valuable one when you think about what gets developed late in the second act of this movie, but the film does her zero favors in terms of material, often times serving as the prime argument for why women feel so alienated with their lack of female development in Michael Bay movies. Thankfully, we don’t get any close-up body footage here, but the film’s way of introducing her doesn’t paint her in the most likeable of lights early on, and throw her in the box of lost toys with other female leads by giving her a clumsily thrown together romance with Mark Wahlberg. Besides this, the additions of Anthony Hopkins and Isabella Moner were a positive and a negative respectfully. Hopkins is at least having fun in this role, so there’s not too much that I can condemn him for, but I could honestly do without his rambling which became insufferable and redundant once I decoded the set-up for it every time. Moner was the one character who I clung to because she channels the often ignored double sides of kids and female characters that Transformers hasn’t really capitalized on. It’s a discredit to the 15-year-old actress that we don’t get a lot of wiggle room with her in run time, but she does make the most of every scene, instilling an equal offering of intelligence and attitude in Izzy that make you want to stay with her character more than anyone else in this movie.

If Michael Bay can still do one thing gorgeously, it’s in his ability to depict high-priced action sequences that spare no expense in the effects department. The camera work is slightly too shaky-camera for me, but it’s passable enough that you can decifer what is going on in the sometimes convoluted field of battle. “The Last Knight” smashes us through buildings, wields many funnel clouds of explosions, and takes our breath away with some adrenaline-fueled intensity through the streets. The chase sequences in these scenes are a sight to behold, and were those rare moments that got me back into the movie when I felt I couldn’t take anymore of the poor pacing. A friend of mine recently mentioned on his podcast (WELKINONE.COM) that nobody else could do action at the level of intensity that Bay does, and I think I finally have to concede to him and give him his credit. Where Bay stumbles at nearly every other level of the directing capacity, he brilliantly takes the medal when it comes to capturing such devastation at a grand level, a true pioneer who has shaped action well into the 21st century.

THE VERDICT – “The Last Knight” is just that, the last night that I ever waste nearly three hours on a Michael Bay helmed Transformers. It’s a movie that summarizes everything wrong with the last ten years of his filmmaking career; Overstuffed and convoluted plot, cheesy cringeworthy dialogue, abuse of slow motion sequences that echo that of the snails pacing that drags on, and an overabundance of characters who most of which never get the proper development that they deserve to make an impact. Sure, the action is still there, but it’s such a small positive considering there are more than a couple of long spans in the script when the Transformers don’t appear. Haters of the series won’t be swayed by this effort, and true hardcore fans of the series will finally be tested to see just how deep their love is. If there is indeed more that meets the eye, consider me blind. I frankly don’t get it.

3/10

King Arthur: Legend of the Sword

Critically Acclaimed filmmaker Guy Ritchie brings his dynamic style to the epic fantasy action adventure genre, in ‘King Arthur: Legend of the Sword’. Starring Charlie Hunnam in the title role, the film is an iconoclastic take on the classic Excalibur myth, tracing Arthur’s journey from the streets to the throne. When the child Arthur’s father is murdered, Vortigern (Jude Law), Arthur’s uncle, seizes the crown. Robbed of his birthright and with no idea who he truly is, Arthur comes up the hard way in the back alleys of the Londininum, not knowing his royal lineage. But once he pulls the sword from the stone, his life is turned upside down and he is forced to acknowledge his true legacy…whether he likes it or not. He joins the rebellion and a shadowy young woman named Guinevere. He must learn to understand the magic weapon, deal with his demons, and unite the people to defeat the evil dictator, the same man who murdered his parents and stole his crown to become king. ‘King Arthur: Legend of the Sword’ is rated PG-13 for sequences of violence and action, some suggestive content and brief strong adult language.

Guy Ritchie is a prominent enough name when it comes to reputation in film for capturing an original angle of a project that he feels passionate about. Most notably, his action thrillers like The Man From U.N.C.L.E and Sherlock Holmes are my blend of comic awkwardness combined with dire consequences to mesh into a thrilling good time. So when I heard that he was tagged to direct a new adaptation of the King Arthur folklore, it did get me at least slightly curious because his style of filmmaking is more upbeat and faster paced when compared to the Arthur movies of the past that I grew up with. What comes of it is perhaps the strongest argument for why opposites most certainly do not attract. The Legend of the Sword isn’t just a terribly underwritten movie, it’s one whose visual scope in presentation fights to ever stay focused, humiliating itself with jumbled narration that feels like a child on too much sugar. This blending of worlds just doesn’t work in solidifying that middle ages feel of authenticity, and because of it, Ritchie’s dive into the dark ages is a mind-numbing affair of laughably bad cliches that hinder his overall growth as a director on an epic stage.

The story is an origins tale, highlighting how Arthur came to be known as the man who pulled the sword from the stone, but the way it catches the audience up during the first act is one that repeatedly made me wince and felt troubling on the progression of the current storyline. Immediately, The Legend of the Sword feels like it suffers from a lot of the problems that Warcraft did, in that there’s a three hour presentation just screaming to get out here, but has to trim an hour in run time just to keep the butts in the seats. What that decision sacrifices is truly one of the worst first acts that I have seen in 2017. Everything from Arthur’s childhood, to the death of his father, to him being raised on the streets is glossed over like the fast-forward button on your DVD has been pushed to 3x speed. As the film went on, there was also a violent shove into contrasting pacing that often made it feel like two different films. The first and third acts skim through the material that could’ve used more emphasis, yet the second act slows things down by dulling us with the intellectual growth and training of what feels like a ten-year-old. So little pizazz or excitement happens during this scene, and it felt like the batteries on my remote ran out suddenly, after pushing fast-forward so many times during the first hour.

Flashback montages can serve a vital purpose in a film that dives into the past and present, but here it is presented in such a way that convolutes and confuses the audience into trying to figure out which scene is actually current day. For example, a scene will begin, Arthur will then talk about how he escaped authorities, then an immediate cut displaying that story will overtake our visual storytelling. This wouldn’t be a problem if it didn’t happen so much that it becomes a drinking game by the end of the movie. It got to the point where I was hoping no character would ask any questions for fear we would be forced to be yanked back into the past instead of steering forward. Hell, sometimes a character will discuss a plan, and while the narration is being heard, we see the plan being executed visually, and then go back to the scene where the discussion took place. WHAT WERE THEY THINKING? How does this pass the final cut? A story is usually told in a straight line, but King Arthur would rather scribble left-to-right and vice versa, testing the patience of audience members who don’t luck out in just having this happen during the beginning of the film.

For anyone who loves CGI effects, this movie will be right up your alley. It’s not all terrible, but I wondered frequently if that is because most of the movie’s color scheme is presented so dark, as to not show the graphing and shading of the animated animal counterparts. This movie flies off of the rails quickly in this movie, embracing a code of magic that stretches logic well beyond that of what we’ve come to know in this particular folklore. Because of this, The Legend of the Sword feels more like a fantasy dive into imaginative waters, similar to the same scale as say 300 or Gods of Egypt, the latter feeling more like what we’re given creatively. I did enjoy Ritchie’s camera work in communicating the very immensity and epic of this kind of story. The long-shot angles certainly play into capturing the kind of effect that this war has on the land. Where the CGI doesn’t flatter me is in the final battle scene when all rules in logic are set to burn. Besides the fact that there is CGI fire that doesn’t have smoke accompanying it, there is a forty foot tall snake in this movie that looks like it came straight out of a Windows 95 program. The very movements and synchronicity of this design had me fighting back laughter, and it’s a terrible final swallow of disappointment to go with the two hours that made this Ritchie influenced fast-paced camera style even more boring than that of the lessons we learned about Arthur in Elementary School.

What Ritchie’s scope didn’t nail was that of the fight sequences, which are terribly choreographed and even more terribly shot. This film falls under two of my least favorite annoyances with modern day action films, in that it shoots too close and cuts far too many times to ever register mentally what is being depicted. If that wasn’t enough, this tired old cliche of slowing the action down for two seconds after the registered hit happens is overused to the feeling of walking through a pool of syrup. This kind of effect was cool when it debuted in The Matrix. THAT WAS 1999. Find something new. I will give credit though because without the slow-down effect, I would’ve never been able to register what was happening because of poor sequencing that nearly left me cross-eyed.

The acting wasn’t terrible by a solid collection of veteran actors, but most of the leads did have me violently suspending disbelief to even think for a second that they were who they were supposed to be. Charlie Hunnam is someone who I mentioned during The Lost City of Z who has unbelievable potential if he is given the proper script in offering a compelling character. My problem with him as the title character is that Arthur here feels arrogant, immature, and even heartless when he relates to his peers. The only thing that really makes him Arthur is his wielding of the sword, but without it, he lacks the true essence in awe to become a revolutionary. I blame this more on poor character directing by Ritchie, and a script that hindered Hunnam’s growth behind every turn. Eric Bana is also relegated to a brief cameo as Arthur’s Father. From a physical stature, Bana doesn’t scream to me that he is king of the land, and even more so, his delivery never feels like he fully commits himself to relaying the true heartbreak that his character inevitably will face. The one positive that I did have was Jude Law as Vortigern, not necessarily for his dedication to character, but more for his hamming up at the script that he knew he was far better than. Law is having the time of his life as this character, and he feels magnetic anytime he shows up on screen sporting a shit-eating grin that finds it easy to soak up one of Hollywood’s most charismatic.

THE VERDICT – King Arthur: The Legend of the Sword is attention grabbing, but for all of the wrong reasons. It’s a fast-cutting, logic-bending dullard of a presentation by one of the truly most gifted directors of the past decade, who sacrifices the heart of the original story’s charms in favor of CGI overhauls of animals that leave this story feeling hollow and lacking any kind of considerable substance. It takes a real warrior to pull the sword from the stone that buried this movie under two hours of ridiculousness, but this is one task where I lack the true grit needed to make many positives out of this grand scale disaster. F for Forgettable.

3/10

The Circle

The job opportunity of a lifetime for an up-and-coming I.T brainiac comes at the hands of digital counter-surveillance, in The Circle. When Mae (Emma Watson) is hired to work for the world’s largest and most powerful tech and social media company, she sees it as an opportunity of a lifetime. As she rises through the ranks, she is encouraged by the company’s founder, Eamon Bailey (Tom Hanks), to engage in a groundbreaking experiment that pushes the boundaries of privacy, ethics and ultimately her personal freedom. Her participation in the experiment, and every decision she makes begin to affect the lives and future of her friends, family and that of humanity. The Circle is written and directed by critically acclaimed writer James Ponsoldt, and is rated PG-13 for a sexual situation, brief strong language and some thematic elements including drug use.

I’ve never read one word of James Ponsoldt’s accompanying novel, which has quite the passionate following in our own world, but I think I can safely argue that it doesn’t have the same kind of problems that hinder its big screen counterpart of any kind of emotional attachment to. The Circle for me was one of the strangest movie experiences that I’ve ever had the pleasure of sitting down to, mainly because I never invested any of my emotions to this script that is all over the place in terms of what kind of movie it really wants to be. As a director, Ponsoldt really feels strangely out of his element in terms of framing or character development that never allows a single soul from this A-list cast to stand out. It feels like a wasted opportunity at telling a story that relates to our very own dependency on evolving technology, instead opting for ideas and plots that make us as an audience feel smarter than the characters we are supposed to be embracing. It wants to be a modern day 1984, but it lacks the dread or the definitive stamp of approval or disapproval on what is good or bad from a character standpoint from that prized picture.

The story basically observes the idea of counter-surveillance and the human response to such a gift. The film tells us that secrets are a lie and that everything should be out in the open. I guess lying has nothing to do with putting on a show for millions to see, instead of being the person with a particular set of traits that you have evolved into. It was also strange to see a film that doesn’t exactly have clear-cut, line-in-the-sand protagonist and antagonist to mold into the story. Emma Watson’s Mae is someone who changes sides at the drop of a hat, rejecting the idea that her soul is not for sale because of the newer, bigger gadget. This very much seems to be a world without law enforcement or general law to begin with. If this weren’t the case, I find it difficult to believe that this enormous group of technological termites could go around adding cameras to private property, particularly famed landmarks. Then there’s the chatting aspect to the film’s surveillance mode. One of our main characters decides to broadcast their entire life to the people watching. Thankfully, none of these viewers are creeps to curse on a grand stage this immense, otherwise it might be too real to any chat room in our own real world. Thankfully again, PG-13 gladly takes care of this surreal aspect.

The ending left me spell-bound for all of the wrong reasons. Considering this movie does a lackluster job at building any kind of dramatic pulse or urgency for the movie, there is (SURPRISE) no conflict at the end to tie everything together. The screenplay just kind of fizzles out in whatever was the easiest possible way for our cast to get out of this disaster the fastest. Should I be happy? Should I be angry? I never really knew because there isn’t enough ambition in establishing the motivations of every character. Where it all ends is hilarious to a degree because it doesn’t feel like an actual ending, it feels like the camera ran out of film, a final middle finger to the audience expecting some form of memorable positive to justify the 105 minute wasted investment that they just made. I can’t think of many films that played everything as safe and conventional as this one did, lacking any kind of energy or excitement to get its terrifying ideas across to the audience with free-flowing commentary. I guess a film doesn’t have to be good if it has some of your favorite actors and actresses doing stuff for nearly two hours.

On the subject of said cast, they are all sadly wasted with very little productive exposition to highlight their characters from the emotionless shadows that they essentially are. Karen Gillian is in the film as Emma Watson’s best friend, and I still don’t know what nationality her character was supposed to be. Karen is of Scottish nationality, complete with accent, and that accent comes out on more than a few occasions. Towards the end of the film you find out that her character is from Scotland, which is fine, but then why was she delivering an English accent on and off? Only a film this jumbled could have you making fun of something one way, and then turn it around and realize you were trashing it from the wrong angle the entire time. Watson isn’t anything remarkable. Her performance is the definition of phoning it in, and there’s nothing compelling or intriguing about Mae as a character. To be honest, for a film that revolves around these intelligent female leads, Watson’s character comes off as naive in standing up for what she believes in. Tom Hanks and John Boyega are completely wasted, showing up whenever their minimal appearance clauses need to be met. Hanks production company Play-Tone even produced this movie, but Hanks clearly saw the writing on the wall. As what is supposed to be our antagonist, Hanks never exerts the fun or conniving nature that this kind of movie needs to make it stand out in a strange scientist kind of way. A missed chance to extend Hanks’s dependable personality to levels that have never been seen.

There is at least some fun to be had at some of the presentational aspects of the movie that constantly kept me giggling. The editing here is shocking in that I often wondered how this could possibly be the finished product. One scene that comes to mind is the intro to John Boyega’s character, in which he hands Watson a bottle of wine from the bushes. In the very next shot, they are each holding two wine glasses. How can something so evident be missed in post production and sequencing? Then there’s the painfully bad ADR that we hear without the character moving their lips. Most of this is obviously on Gillian’s character to fix her inconsistent accent, but my favorite examples were in that of the visual telephoning scenes between Watson and her parents (Played by Glenne Headly and the late Bill Paxton). Technology always has the unfortunate side effects to delay a visual response, but to this level, we are left through several scenes waiting for answers from the other side, in the slowest game of walkie-talkie that you’ve ever seen. Every time one of these scenes came on-screen, I shuttered knowing that I was locked in for at least the next five minutes for what should be a one minute scene.

The Circle is a bafflingly bad cautionary tale about the dangers of giving away too much of our liberties to fad corporations. It does so without the slightest evidence of thrills, conflict, or even remote entertainment to get us over the hump of two dull hours that beats us over the head with what we already know. James Ponsoldt’s stories would be better left in literary form instead of the ham-fisted, half-baked idea that we are presented with. Like the people of the world, this one should never be seen by the eyes of anyone on a digital screen.

3/10

Unforgettable

The dangerous actions of Katherine Heigl against her ex-husband and new girlfriend, make her ‘Unforgettable’. Tessa Connover (Katherine Heigl) is barely coping with the end of her marriage when her ex-husband, David (Geoff Stults), becomes happily engaged to Julia Banks (Rosario Dawson)—not only bringing Julia into the home they once shared but also into the life of their daughter, Lilly (Isabella Rice). Trying to settle into her new role as a wife and a stepmother, Julia believes she has finally met the man of her dreams, the man who can help her put her own troubled past behind her. But Tessa’s jealousy soon takes a pathological turn until she will stop at nothing to turn Julia’s dream into her ultimate nightmare. Unforgettable is directed by longtime producer, first time director, Denise Di Novi, and is rated PG-13 for scenes of violence and some adult language.

Ever since Fatal Attraction, Hollywood has gathered the idea that female audiences will rush to the film to see the newest of obsessive lover angles, a subgenre that I have created myself for the overabundance of offerings that this setup has unleashed. Over the last few years, films like No Good Deed, The Perfect Man, Obsessed, When the Bough Breaks, and The Boy Next Door are just a few of the suffocating masses that this critic has had to endure, but Unforgettable may take the crashing depths to new lows. For a title as polarizing as this one, this movie better be good for setting itself up for the butt of jokes with clever critics everywhere. But Di Novi’s first directing effort shows the young lady has a lot to learn not only with plausible scenarios, but also in tone-deaf attitude for her film that occasionally takes itself far too seriously. The one positive that I can say for every movie on the list that I named a second ago is that they are all incredibly self-aware for the stories that they are trying to tell. This kind of genre is cheap trash at its finest, and should be treated as such. There’s nothing remotely memorable about this chapter in the obsessive lover genre, and that is perhaps its biggest misconception.

For starters, we are treated to the latest in foreshadowing intros that gives away more than desired for anyone looking forward to 95 minutes of intriguing developments. For anyone who knows me, you know I detest foreshadowing scenes in the modern age of film because very few know how to do it without spoiling important details. For Unforgettable, we are treated to two co-plots in the film. The first is the obvious with the Mother versus the stepmother, and the second is the past of Rosario Dawson’s character coming back to haunt her. Julia was the victim of an abusive boyfriend, and that intro gives away important aspects to the finale of the movie ninety minutes before it rightfully should. This isn’t the only misfire in direction however, as we learn midway through the movie an aspect to these characters that doesn’t quite add up to the setup in this story. MINOR SPOILER – Tessa cheated on David and that is the reason why he left her. The problem with that is it makes sense and doesn’t put Tessa as the disadvantaged. She screwed herself over by cheating on her husband, so why care so much to get him back? Is it a possible scenario? Yes, but I think this story would work better if David plotted the action against her, or even that Julia was the woman that David cheated on Tessa with. Can you imagine the personal nature of that story?

Then there’s the huge plot holes that shows you the attention to detail that the film has for itself. There is an important phone hacking that happens early on in the movie that comes back to wrongfully accuse a character, and this has to be the dumbest police department that I have ever had the pleasure of viewing on-screen. Apparently this department finds it incapable of checking the I.P address of where the texts were coming from, or even checking the phone itself of the accused to see if her data matches that of what was typed. 21st century, movie, follow me here. If you are like me and love to notice continuity errors, you will also notice that during the ending a character gets hit from behind across the head with a fire poker. What’s funny about this is that he has a huge cut on his forehead when we see him turn around. That’s some fire poker, I tell you. I also love a search engine in a movie, where you can type in a name at common as Michael Vargas in Los Angeles, and only come up with one answer. Thankfully, it was the right person that this character was looking for, or the conversation of persuading him to come and have sex with the typer would be extremely awkward.

The pacing is at least harmless, even if it could afford to shave ten minutes or so with how much about the story we are spoiled to from the get-go. This is a movie that does float by accordingly, but the first hour does still surprise me for how very little this movie indulges in itself to be the kind of film that women can gossip about for hours after. The stuff that we came to see doesn’t happen until the final half hour, and before that we are treated to every obvious setup that this film has borrowed from other, better films to relay just how deranged this character is. What I could’ve used was a slower degenerating process on the character of Heigl’s. There’s never really any kind of slow transformation to pinpoint exactly when the worst of it got the best of her, so this story stays competently one-dimensional at all times.

There’s very little to rave about on the performances or characters outside of the work of Dawson herself. There was a definite taste in my mouth while watching this that this is an actress who knows she is too good for the kind of story, but the possibility to star in her own movie was one that was too good to pass up. I almost wish she did. Julia is at least the strongest written character in the movie, battling through a troubled past that has her mind every bit as fragile as her female antagonist. That is the single aspect about the movie that worked for me, and could’ve used a little more teasing to play up if what Julia is seeing is really going on inside of her head. Katherine Heigl isn’t an actress who I have a problem with, but outside of her haunting eyes, there’s very little weight or intimidation to her performance here. It all reeks of an actress playing against type for the first time, and it sent me back to the days of Malicious, in which Molly Ringwald played the same character that Heigl now saunters through. The biggest waste however, is in that of Geoff Stults as David. A character so void of intellectual ability that he finds himself constantly ignoring all that Tessa does wrong. If he’s this infatuated with her still, then why not get back together with her? It’s clear that he has enough nice things to say. My biggest problem with this character is ultimately it’s not how divorced parents act in the majority. Thankfully Stults is really just table dressing for the main course. I believe you could get any male actor to come in here and sleep through half of the job that he does. An early contender for Biggest Braindead Character of 2017.

In general, Unforgettable supplies its critics with enough ammunition for the jokes aimed at its unwise title. The problem with this film isn’t that I wish to forget it, but that I never saw it in the first place. Denise Di Novi’s debut effort is wrong on nearly every end of the spectrum, but most of all because it forgets to turn trash into treasure by embracing the campy vibes to live up to said title, a concept that shouldn’t be difficult for the same country that made Adam Sandler rich. There’s too much conventionalism to never play into the true asinine of this particular plot, lacking effective storytelling to get the blood pumping.

3/10

CHIPS

‘CHIPS’ is the latest 70’s television show to get the big screen treatment, in this remake starring Dax Shepard and Michael Pena. Jon Baker (Dax Shepard) and Frank “Ponch” Poncherello (Michael Peña) have just joined the California Highway Patrol (CHP) in Los Angeles but for very different reasons. Baker is a beaten up pro motor-biker trying to put his life and marriage back together. Poncherello is a cocky undercover Federal agent investigating a multi-million dollar heist that may be an inside job—inside the CHP. The inexperienced rookie and hardened pro are teamed together, but clash more than click, so kick-starting a partnership is easier said than done. But with Baker’s bike skills combined with Ponch’s street savvy it might just work…if they don’t drive each other crazy along the way. ‘CHIPS’ is written and directed by Dax Shepard himself, and is rated R for crude sexual content, graphic nudity, pervasive language, some violence and drug use.

‘CHIPS’ is an interesting concept in script and tone because I’m not quite so sure about who it is marketed towards. Fans of the 70’s television show won’t like it because it abandons the working formula that made the series a success for five years. Youthful fans who have never seen the show and just want to watch a good movie won’t like it because there’s nothing funny or entertaining about this juvenile film that can barely be called a remake. Over the last fifteen years, remakes of 70’s and 80’s TV shows have been hit or miss for their finished products. Most notably, films like ’21 Jump Street’ or ‘The Man From UNCLE’ have attained that rare stamp of approval from TV enthusiasts of the original, while films like ‘Starsky and Hutch’ and ‘Dark Shadows’ have done lasting damage. Unfortunately, ‘CHIPS’ will fall with the latter because this often distracted bro-comedy offers very little homage or memorable material to justify its presence among the remake ranks. This is Shepard’s second time behind the camera, and its clear that his admirable ambitions overshoots the actuality of his grip on the pulse of this particular franchise.

At 96 minutes, there’s very little in positive returns for that of a script that takes every ten minutes to halt what little momentum these characters or subplots build on. One example of such is the noticeable stance on homophobia, which holds no bearing or place in this particular story. Because of this, ‘CHIPS’ often feels like it was made ten years too late, when the poking fun of cultural explorers because eye-rolling. Often times, this movie feels like it was written by a minor who just peeped his first nudity magazine. The R-rating is used to show female breasts, or to let the cast drop the occasional F bomb, which has zero impact on their overall comedic timing or flawed delivery. Even more so, this movie has some of the most obvious foreshadowing in storytelling that I have seen most recently. It’s easy to spot these lines from the second they are presented because often it holds no meaning or accordance to the material being shuffled in dialogue. Some of these examples were Shepard’s character having bionic limbs from bike accidents, so he tells his captain on the first interview that rain is bad for him. So of course there will be a scene where rain prominently pops up. Another one involves Shepard saying he hates blending house smells because they make him vomit, so of course we are going to have a scene where this gets to him. Pena and Shepard have a conversation early on about girls who marry their fathers, then sure enough there’s a line of dialogue by the end of a movie where a female cop explains that she likes Shepard because he reminds her of her father. This isn’t even half of what I found, and it makes the material more than slightly telegraphed as I waited for the ending.

Then there’s the dialogue, a literal hodge-podge of awful line reading. At first I wondered if this was intentional to play up to the laughably bad forced readings of 70’s nostalgia, but then I realized what little in storyline progression that this movie actually had. This film has this vast offering of multiple scenes that will halt in order for Pena and Shepard to discuss their latest sexual conquests. Most of the time it’s things that the typical grown up would learn in high school, and it hangs what is going on around them in mid-air waiting patiently for when they finish up. I will get more to the characters later on, but Pena’s character in particular crippled me, as every other line of dialogue concluded with a “bro”. On top of that, most of these reads feel like they never should’ve made the finished product, as they rarely ever feel believable through the dense fog of ludicrous developments. Now I’m not foolish enough to expect great dialogue from the CHIPS remake, but it does help the entertainment value if I can immerse myself and believe that these two idiots are officers of the law to benefit the story.

As for the performances, there was nothing of any charismatic charm or finesse to justify the casting of Pena and Shepard beyond the latter’s triple layer mold of power on the project. What passes for character exposition in this movie is the most brief of offerings for us to indulge in. Pena’s character is a sex addict, that’s it. That is all that we have to hang our investment of this character on. Shepard’s is at least slightly more in-depth; he’s an ex-motocross performer whose wife is cheating on him. How could you not want to spend over an hour-and-a-half with these guys? Beyond this, the two have virtually no on-screen chemistry between them, often times feeling like two actors who just met and were asked outside to come in and put on a show on-stage for twenty people. Vincent D’Onofrio is decent, but the biggest aspect to his character is that we learn something about his moral stigma early on that the movie doesn’t catch up to for another eighty minutes, taking us through the most obvious of movie mysteries.

I do have one positive to this movie however, and it’s that Shepard at least has a distinct view for bike chase sequences that serve as the single lone aspect that outdoes the original. These scenes don’t come nearly enough in the overall finished product, but there are some exceptionally well depicted tracking shots that take us through the ritzy areas of Beverly Hills. These luxurious landscapes breeze by through each swerve and turn that our protagonists take us on, and it overall makes for a fast-paced action thrill ride that serves as the brief moment that this film takes our breath away. I also greatly enjoyed the POV style that put us face-to-face with our riders as they embrace the fast-and-dangerous lifestyle. Most of the time, POV won’t work because you miss what is most important that is going on around the actors and action, but the rendering here is justifiable because these officers are constantly imbedded in the chaos that surrounds them.

Whatever CHIPS intends to be, one thing is certain; this film lacks the energy and chemistry of a 70’s TV show by comparison (Laugh intended). A staggerly unfunny comedy that puppeteers the sensitivity of homophobia and important female leads. Something that would make sense in the 70’s, but not in a politically correct 2017 that has grown above that. Shepard has an artistic eye for motocross sequences and little else. Perhaps a future in the X-Games, instead of feature length films is just up his alley. Either way, CHIPS is coming to a yard sale near you.

3/10