The Possession of Hannah Grace

Directed By Diederik Van Rooijen

Starring – Shay Mitchell, Grey Damon, Kirby Johnson

The Plot – A shocking exorcism spirals out of control, claiming the life of a young woman. Months later, Megan Reed (Mitchell) is working the graveyard shift in the morgue when she takes delivery of a disfigured cadaver. Locked alone inside the basement corridors, Megan begins to experience horrifying visions and starts to suspect that the body may be possessed by a ruthless demonic force.

Rated R for gruesome images and terror throughout

POSITIVES

– Ominous setting. In casting a majority of this story at the morgue, we get to play with shapes and shadows in way that very few other locations can give us, in terms of atmosphere. As we saw in “The Autopsy of Jane Doe”, a morgue is the perfect place in channeling isolation and seclusion, and this film continues that thought process. While the film does commit the same cinema crime of limited workers at a hospital, it more than makes up for it in neon red lighting and what feels like never-ending hallways, to give the audience enough tease before the taste.

– Elaborate attention to detail with the make-up work. Unfortunately, most of Hannah’s joint-crunching movements are computer generated, but there’s still enough imagination and gory detail to the suffering of Grace to visually tell her history. The gaping wounds have a lot of depth to the concept of early stage scaring, and the protruding presence of immense veins act as a map to Hannah’s tortured psyche. This is an aspect to the film that won’t get enough credit, based on its limited documentation in the sloppy camera work, but if you look close enough, there’s plenty of range in the form of cosmetic appeal.

– Sound mixing that caters to echoes. For my money, the film’s only slight scares come in the form of overbearing silence, which periodically increase with each passing second. The things that go bump in the night are accompanied by what feels like the morgue’s internal heartbeat, and this builds the suspense appropriately, before Hannah pops up every once in a while to capitalize. In fact, I would’ve been fine without any kind of musical score for the movie, as these sounds more than articulate the tension that is so thick you must cut it with a knife.

NEGATIVES

– Amateur camera work that hinders any kind of horror impact. Each time Hannah appears on-screen, we are confined to these ugly looking shaky camera effects that not only make it difficult to focus on the telegraphing of each sequence, but also give the film an overwhelming layer of cheap production value to its effects work. I was hoping that this was only a temporary inclusion at the beginning of the film, during an exorcism sequence, but unfortunately it stays with Hannah like the worst kind of cheap odor.

– Gaping plot holes. Early on in the film, the screenplay shows us Hannah’s capabilities with telekinesis, and it makes every other scene of conflict with Megan not make sense because of how this talent never comes into play with our central protagonist. This is a cliche that always drives me nuts in horror films, as an antagonist appropriately loses their powers when it matters the most, treating the audience like idiots who haven’t been paying attention up to this point. The only way to fix this is to give Megan a reason why Hannah is keeping her alive, but it sadly never materializes, thanks to minimal character development that is sparse even for forgettable B-movie horror characters.

– There is absolutely zero reason for this film to be rated R, considering the presentation constantly limits the payoff. The violence is never detected because of the shaky cam, there’s no nudity considering Hannah is naked for almost the entirety of the movie, and there’s not one instance of adult language that ever invades our first grade dialogue. Very few horror films anymore attain the coveted R-rating, and it’s sad that “The Possession of Hannah Grace” does nothing to enhance its story by receiving this rare gift.

– What an ugly looking film. The daytime scenes have this dreary cinematography quality that made me have to squint every time I needed to focus on a visual matter. Likewise, the scenes where something is going on in the background are constantly out-of-focus, providing emphasis for just how much time and care was put into such an important project. This all pales in comparison however, to Sony’s usual lack of subliminal advertising. Yes, we once again have Sony computer screens that adorn the many investigation scenes in the movie. In general, it’s vomit behind every corner, leading overall to one of the weaker visual presentations of 2018.

– Horrible acting and character direction. As I mentioned above, there is limited character exposition throughout the film, but even if that weren’t the case, the poor work of this nameless, faceless cast does itself zero favors in carving out people we can truly get behind. I feel bad calling her out alone, but Shay Mitchell is in control of roughly 90% of this film, so the blame mostly falls on her. Mitchell can’t act her way out of a paper bag, refusing to ever channel even a shred of believable emotion to these paranormal experiences that are happening to her. Hannah’s dead body getting up to walk is reacted by Mitchell like she just stubbed her toe, telling you everything we’re going to get in terms of versatile performances. Likewise, the supporting cast lack personalities or presence, making them every bit as forgettable as the 1984 Democratic nominee.

– Not an exorcism film. Don’t be fooled in the slightest by the trailers for this movie; this one is a slasher movie that just happens to feature a possessed woman. Cementing this manipulative direction, the scene that is usually the climax of any possession movie happens in the opening five minutes of the movie, and what follows never comes close to even that heavily borrowed sequence from other, better possession movies. I have never seen a possession movie where the possessed have telekinetic powers without even touching them, and this evident feeling gave me an idea that this movie was re-written at the last minute to accommodate a direction that feels foreign to everything else in its clutches.

– Am I on drugs? I asked this question frequently during the editing of this movie, which feels like it oversteps boundaries to limit this to 81 minutes. Scenes that feel like a long struggle is coming, are surprisingly put away quite easily, aggressive cutting in between these scenes of important dialogue restrict us from ever building chemistry between any two respective characters, and there’s never any form of consistency to etch out this editor’s specific style. It all remains constantly spontaneous, keeping the film confined as a series of scenes, instead of one cohesive unit that moves together.

My Grade: 3/10 or F-

Robin Hood

Directed By Otto Bathurst

Starring – Taron Egerton, Jamie Foxx, Ben Mendelsohn

The Plot – Robin of Loxley (Egerton), a war-hardened Crusader and his Moorish commander (Foxx) mount an audacious revolt against the corrupt English crown in a thrilling action-adventure packed with gritty battlefield exploits, mind-blowing fight choreography, and a timeless romance.

Rated PG-13 for extended sequences of violence and action, and some suggestive references

POSITIVES

– Surprisingly well shot action sequences. One thing that worried me about the trailers was the erratic editing and overcompensating slow motion movements that felt outdated in the year 2000. Thankfully, there’s plenty more to adore here, as the speedy fight choreography and thunderous sound mixing keep audiences glued to the unfolding drama between sides. What’s most important is the blow detection, especially for an action movie in 2018, and the competence of the crew at hand make the most out of these outbursts of action, that couldn’t come at a better time.

– One man above the rest. While most of the cast is easily forgettable for me, the work of Jamie Foxx as John allowed me to hang my investment into one character in the movie. Foxx as a constant professional, seems to have a firm grip on the kind of movie this is, allowing his fiery registry and father figure tutelage to shine throughout the film. If this was a movie about his character, I feel like the noticeable differences in Robin Hood material could’ve worked, but unfortunately we become saddled with a protagonist who doesn’t have a single thing interesting about him.

– This feels like the first Robin Hood film that properly depicts how Robin became so good with a bow. Through the arduous training montages with John that properly prepare him for the sheriff’s men, we come to build not only a delightful chemistry between Egerton and Foxx, but also building our believability for the many physical feats that our title character masters throughout. I commend any screenplay that doesn’t settle for these human characters being born with the ability to capture these astonishing feats, and because of these vital scenes during the early stages of the second act, we etch out an outline of a man who is second to none at weaponry.

NEGATIVES

– Robs from the rich. I’ve seen scenes in “Robin Hood” before, but never in a Robin Hood movie. Yes, this is the second straight week when a property is taken advantage of by making it a superhero genre film, and it never works because it changes the many things about the Robin Hood legend that we’ve come to love. Robin isolates himself in training to become the Hood (Batman Begins), A love triangle for Marianne’s heart takes place (Spider-Man), Robin’s identity is hidden away by an awful disguise (Superman), and Robin is somehow the only man to live through being shot by arrows (Take your pick). There’s even an obviously comic sequel set-up, as well as comic book looking after credits. These elements to the story feel so out of place that it frequently has the film searching for an identity of its own, feeling further from reality the deeper it goes.

– Complete suspense of disbelief. I, nor the narrator knows when this story takes place, but the incorporation of these mind-numbingly unbelievable weapons might help us distinguish. For one, the crusade wars have an automatic machine-gun arrow dispenser, that pumps arrows out ten at a time. This is not only ridiculous for a story that is supposed to take place in the 16th century, but also how this army manages to lose despite having this convenient perk. There’s also a shield that helps the Sheriff’s men move fire like a piece of paper. I know shields are able to protect you from the heat of flames, but not moving them to the point of them feeling like a brief inconvenience. Myself, as well as the audience had a great laugh during these moments, and make me wonder why they don’t exist in modern times.

– Lack of immersion in the costume and set design. Never once during “Robin Hood” did I feel like I was transported to this world that feels far from my own, and a lot of the reason for that are these choices in wardrobe and locations that limit the teleporting appeal that a movie is supposed to have. The leather jackets and camoflage army attire made me scratch my head, but it’s the placement of a casino scene, complete with roulette wheels and poker tables, that constantly reminded me I was watching a film. I’m not going to pretend like I understand what the production team was going for in the design of this movie, but if you wanted it in modern day, just make it in modern day. At least that would be something different for a Robin Hood movie, and would make sense why you shopped at Hot Topic for the costumes in the first place.

– PG-13 limitations……AGAIN. Why do studios do this to themselves? A story that should obviously be adult is anything but, and in this case it’s a scene that limits itself to almost cartoon levels of logic. A central character of our group loses their hand almost as soon as the movie begins, and not only does this actor not react in the way that anyone would by losing their hand, but there isn’t a single drop of blood to make this blow feel believable. I’ve never pretended to be a medical genius or anything, but I think at least a little blood would come from losing something as vital as your hand. But it’s never further elaborated on by any scenes of suffering or urgency to get the wound closed, and because of our rating designation, we’re supposed to forget about it as nothing more than a minor hiccup.

– I can’t understand for the life of me how the Sheriff and his men didn’t know how Robin Hood was Robin of Loxley. Even in the film world where Superman puts on glasses to become an entirely different person, this is far fetched, and left me inching further down in my seat each time they tried to play this off as a compelling mystery. For one, there’s a robbery scene with Hood and Foxx’s John, in which John isn’t masked or concealed by any measure. Following this is a party scene, where Loxley shows up with John as his guest. Did none of the hundreds of guards see this lone black man in the town when they were chasing him on his horse? Even Marianne knows it’s Loxley under the hood, as she makes fun of the lack of disguise that is anything but subtle.

– A truly ugly visual coloring scheme. This movie reminded me a lot of last year’s “Assassin’s Creed” for more reasons than one, mainly the choices used with the cinematography that left everything feeling very rudimentary. Many of the nighttime sequences lack clarity or consistency in their depictions, the daytime scenes have this bland brownish tint to their renderings, and the C.G graphics of the landscapes and rapid fire arrows are comical for all of the wrong reasons. If the intention was to crossover Robin Hood into a world of animated properties, then job well done, but the weight of the effects constantly lacked depth, leaving the most interesting aspects of this story on the digital room floor.

– No name appeal crafts such a mundane project. Otto Bathurst is a television director who obviously felt overwhelmed with such a big budget and important property to showcase. While I have nothing personally against the director, I can say that so much of his work here suffers from derivative sequencing, uninspiring performances, and an overall a lack of urgency in the atmosphere that sells nothing of dramatic tension from within the material. This all falls in the hands of the director, and it’s unfortunate that his first real big screen project will go forgotten, ten minutes after moviegoers leave the theater. Although for Otto’s sake, that’s probably not a bad thing.

My Grade: 3/10 or F

Nobody’s Fool

Directed By Tyler Perry

Starring – Tiffany Haddish, Tika Sumpter, Whoopi Goldberg

The Plot – A woman (Haddish) is released from prison and reunites with her sister (Sumpter). She soon discovers that her sister is in an online relationship with a man who may not be what he seems.

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

POSITIVES

– The REAL leading lady. Leaps and bounds above the comedic timing of Haddish, or the progression of Sumpter as the central protagonist, it is Goldberg who steals the show, with about ten total minutes of screen time. Whoopi was not only responsible for 90% of my laughs with this film, but she also added a much needed boost of sophistication to the film, that otherwise felt juvenile. I definitely could’ve used more scenes with her, and I wish Perry would’ve taken more advantage of his seasoned veteran.

– Definitely the easiest Perry film to watch. This doesn’t mean that I liked the film, it just means that “Nobody’s Fool” is easily the most accessable Tyler Perry film to audiences fearful from the word of mouth reputation that he’s attained. The reason for this is because this movie caters to two different types of genre audiences: comedy and romance, and that evolution to the second one is something that gives the film many unexpected directions, in terms of versatility, paving the way for possibly Tyler’s most ambitious project to date.

– Lavish interior set designs. For a film produced for super cheap (19 million), “Nobody’s Fool” has a taste for the finer things, decorating character’s apartments with sheik, alluring color schemes that radiate the vibe of New York City faithfully. This is the aspect of Perry’s direction that finally feels up to par when compared to his Madea films, that often look like they take place in front of cardboard cutout props and dollar store decorations. It’s a constant reminder of the differences between Sumpter and Haddish’s respective characters, painting a visual representation before our very eyes that constantly tells us everything we need to know.

NEGATIVES

– There goes the mystery. To anyone who has seen the trailer, they will know that the mystery of suitor Charlie is what a lot of the pitch is built around, yet when I saw the film this couldn’t be further from the truth. Attention is given to the mystery for about the first half of the film, before the characters move on from a terribly disappointing cameo reveal that reveals how far this celebrity has fallen. It is such an afterthought with the progression of this film, and only feels like a 40 minute joke that doesn’t pay off for a single second.

– Flat comedy that rarely hits. You can tell that this film is putting all of its chips on an amped up version of Tiffany Haddish, but it comes across more as a drunk, annoying ten-year-old, instead of a grown woman who interacts with people. Perry has also brought along one of his most annoying nags as a director, as his comedy never knows when to cut itself short, often dragging on these scenes of improv for what feels like a decade at a time.

– Incompetent direction. Perry never feels like he has a grasp on this story and characters, often changing his mind back-and-forth on the decisions they make that would otherwise be concrete for real human beings. This is no more prominent than in the final thirty minutes of the film, where two dating characters break up and get back together three separate times, and we’re not talking casual break ups where they both remain friends, we are talking devastatingly hurtful words that would scar stronger people. This arc of the film, to put it lightly, is batshit crazy. It’s the Tyler Perry movie you’re used to, but didn’t think you were going to get because of Haddish’s shining star. Proof that Perry will never change regardless of the situation.

– Uninspired effects work and attention deficit continuity. Whether in the car with some attrocious green-screen visuals to represent what looks like New York in the 70’s, or Sumpter’s high rise apartment windows mirroring the exact same lighting scheme every night, this film feels pedestrian for even the smallest things. Above all that though, is the laughably bad continuity between scenes that prove no one on set was paying attention. One such scene involves Sumpter’s character showing up to work with her hair looking crazy from getting no sleep. She is sent home, and immediately in the next scene has hair that is beautifully natural and flowing. Did she feel inspired to do her hair for the car ride home? Does she prefer to look better at home than she does at work?

– This premise isn’t believable in the slightest. You’re telling me that this grown, beautiful, intelligent executive is exchanging texts with a man she’s never seen before, and the reason given is because he has poor wi-fi? Since when do you need wi-fi to send a picture on your phone? Does he have a Facebook page? At the very least, could he have mailed her a picture in the one year they’ve been speaking? Even for a 1990’s premise, I can’t buy this in the slightest. It’s the same kind of baby back bullshit that Perry has been selling his audiences for over a decade, and they’re just stupid enough to buy into it.

– Crammed into the middle of this already bloated screenplay, is a sex scene that is every bit as awkward and engaging as Tommy Wiseau’s in “The Room”. Not only does this scene go on for what feels like forever, not only are the faces made so ridiculously goofy that you won’t be able to fight back laughter, not only is the chemistry between the actors as natural as a brother and sister getting together, but it all ends with the line “You can go home now”. Keep in mind that this is the romance we as an audience are rooting for. There’s also some speculation as to why Perry shot more of the male anatomy than the female in this particular scene. Sure you can say that he’s catering to his female audience, but my intuition points to another theory of mine that I’ve had for years for a man who has made a career dressing in drag. Just be free, Tyler, please.

– Pointless, unlikeable characters. I mentioned earlier that this is a vehicle for Haddish’s talents, but what’s astounding is how little of weight her character has to the unveiling story. Haddish receives top billing, but it’s actually Sumpter who is the main protagonist of the movie, as everything revolves around her character’s love life. If you think Haddish has any place in this movie, think about how much the story would change if her character was wiped from the film. IT WOULDN’T. On the subject of Sumpter’s character, I’m going to be blunt: she’s a nasty, naive bitch who no person with morals would support or indulge with in the slightest. She complains about her love life, yet won’t give the time of day to the cute barista who she sees everyday who loves her and gives her free things, she says these terrible things about people behind their backs and then seeks forgiveness immediately, and she hurts those who help her constantly. I’m all for conflicted protagonists, but Sumpter’s character is someone who I would never embrace on or off screen, so I can’t in good conscience want her to succeed.

My grade: 3/10 or F

Venom

Directed by Ruben Fleischer

Starring – Tom Hardy, Michelle Williams, Riz Ahmed

The Plot – When Eddie Brock (Hardy) acquires the powers of a symbiote, he will have to release his alter-ego “Venom” to save his life.

Rated PG-13 for intense sequences of sci-fi violence and action, and for adult language

POSITIVES

– One of the few things that this film does right, is Eddie’s juxtaposition for power within himself against this new entity that has overtaken him. My problem with Venom’s depiction in “Spider-Man 3” is that other than Topher Grace’s initial descent into mayhem, there is no balance for power between the two sides, leaving much of the psychosis of the character unsubstantial. Thankfully, “Venom” not only aims for this intriguing angle, but masters it because of Hardy’s physical performance and witty banter with his darker side (Also voiced by Hardy) that is leaps above anyone else in the movie.

– My initial fear going into this film was that we would get two minutes of actual Venom, and the rest would be Tom Hardy moving around, but thankfully I was wrong on this prediction. For fans of the infamous comic character, there’s plenty of destruction and devastation from the symbiote that makes the effort for the film feel warranted, even when the rest of it isn’t as up to par. If you’re looking for a film that presents the character in live action form, then “Venom” might be the bite you’re looking for.

– Whether the audience wants it there or not, the banter between Hardy and Venom offers a surprisingly delightful layer of cheese that will test even the strongest of lock-jaws who want so badly to hate this film. I can say that I myself did get more than a few laughs with this film, harvesting perhaps the most enjoyment that I got from a movie that was otherwise aimlessly conventional by most accounts. If this was JUST a film about a man with voices in his head, then the interaction between the two mentioned above would almost certainly carve out a welcome mat invitation to Hardy for a future comedy, as the man has just the right balance of timing and delivery to make him appealing to anything today that passes for a comic actor.

NEGATIVES

– Offensive dialogue. “Venom” finds this median somewhere between testy mature material involved with a PG-13 rating, yet stilted by the effects of bumbling dialogue that is downright amateur for this level. Much of the conversations never feel synthetic, nor do they withstand the tonal consistency within the film that so much of this comic character is riding on. Simply put, there’s too much humor involved here, and it feels every bit as forced as it does redundantly underwhelming.

– Speaking of PG-13, it does the Venom character, as well as the boundaries of realism zero favors in this particular example. There are no fewer than fifty fatalities in the body count department of this film, but the problem is that not one drop of blood spills, nor is one instant of brutality captured without a quick-cut that renders it emotionless. If you can’t make the movie that the character rightfully deserves, then why even try? “Venom” is a watered down parasite that is constantly in search of an identity to thrive under.

– Part of the problem for me with intrigue and captivation into this movie is that it constantly feels like another film is taking place while this one is front-and-center, and we’re constantly reminded of it. It’s been reported that this movie has been a victim of the hack-and-slash experimentation on the cutting room floor, wiping away more than forty minutes from its presentation that could easily be the answers in exposition that we need. Instead, we are subject to things happening like a little girl coming into contact with the symbiote, and the mention of Eddie climbing a huge tree that never comes into play once during the film, leaving the audience scratching their heads for these moments mentioned that had me debating my memory.

– Easy way out on Venom. This one is difficult to explain without spoilers, so I will just say that there is a twist 80% of the way into this film that levels the playing field between good and evil respectively, and in doing so it feels like a betrayal to the definition of the entity. If you don’t want to craft Venom with a villainous edge, then don’t make the movie. Instead, we get a buddy comedy cut-out that for my money is every bit as offensive as Topher Grace spouting off cheesy one-liners, more than ten years ago.

– Wasted performances from a talented cast. Hardy’s physicality and conversations within himself give him just enough to be passable as Eddie Brock, but his underdeveloped backstory and misdirected vulnerability never fully capture the essence of investment needed from us the audience. Likewise, Riz Ahmed’s antagonist is every mid 90’s superhero villain, before anyone knew how to make one of these movies. He whispers when he speaks, he does his evil deeds behind the walls of an evil corporation, and he gets erect at the thought of world domination. He’s a walking, talking cliche that might be Hardy’s biggest argument for more screen time. Michelle Williams? Don’t get me started. Behind one of the worst wigs I’ve ever seen, as well as being reduced to nothing more than the hero’s eye candy, this Oscar nominated actress feels like she has more than served her community service time, between this and early 2018 sludge “I Feel Pretty”.

– Awful effects work. In the trailers, this aspect stood out like a sore thumb, but when expanded over 91 minutes of screen time, it’s more like a boner in sweat pants. How could computer animation be this bad in 2018? Uninspired facial distorts that feel like Hardy’s character stood in front of a projector, motorcycle chase sequences with Apple 95 cut-and-paste facial renderings, and a clunky design for the symbiote that feels so weightless in movements and vibrations that you could almost see mouse pad used to move it. You may like or hate “Venom” all the same, but you in no way can give a pass to effects that are one step above The Lawnmower Man in terms of artistic layers.

– But wait, there’s a mid-credits scene. Despite the fact that a film this jaded has the balls to market a sequel, we are treated to the idea of who the villain would be for that alarm clock fantasy, and while I love the actor who is playing this character, it is again an homage to the mid 90’s, when big name A-list actors would portray comic characters even if they were terrible for that role. My biggest problem though, is how the big reveal is delivered, with the character revealing their name in a way that hasn’t felt as desperate since Joker wrote his own name in a tattoo in “Suicide Squad”. Without this name drop, this scene would be completely useless, and only highlights once again how poorly developed the characters and their respective backstories were for this movie.

3/10

Little Women

Directed by Clare Niederpruem

Starring – Lea Thompson, Ian Bohen, Lucas Grabeel

The Plot – A modern retelling of Louisa May Alcott’s classic novel, we follow the lives of four sisters: Meg (Melanie Stone), Jo (Sarah Davenport), Beth (Allie Jennings), and Amy March (Taylor Murphy); detailing their passage from childhood to womanhood. Despite harsh times, they cling to optimism, and as they mature, they face blossoming ambitions and relationships, as well as tragedy, while maintaining their unbreakable bond as sisters.

Rated PG-13 for some thematic elements and teen drinking

POSITIVES

– Thankfully, what still works about this story is this bond within the essence of sisterhood that stands tall against anything that the world, fate, and modernization wants to throw at them. It took a while for the dramatic element of this film to come through, but once it finally does we bask in the melancholy surroundings, that even though are familiar to anyone who knows this story, still works magically at lifting a tear or two from us the audience.

– While I had one MAJOR problem in the performance department that I will get to later, the majority of this fresh-faced cast do the job superbly at resonating what stands out about each of their respective differences in character. It’s particularly in the work of Allie Jennings as Beth that resoundingly won me over, giving life and aspiration to a girl who never had the benefit of leaving home. Beyond her, I also enjoyed the work of film veteran Lea Thompson as Marmee, even if her abundance of screen time feels extremely limited. Thompson’s portrayal is still a woman who is very much still growing into herself as a housewife on her own, so it’s easy to see the connection that she as a character share with her daughters, who themselves are carving out a name for themselves in the world.

– Who’s to blame? Much of this film to me felt like a studio obligation that was bending and tweaking an ages old story to accommodate viewers of a new generation to Alcott’s work, but in the direction of Neiderpruem, she is someone who makes the best of a desperate situation, squeezing out the most in a limited budget in the form of beautiful shooting locations to harvest the environment of this Massachusetts setting. She’s also someone who keeps the focus firmly on her young cast, instilling in them a layer of confidence as actors that propels them to push through some of the faults creatively that doomed this one from the start.

NEGATIVES

– I hate calling out one actress in particular, but Sarah Davenport’s portrayal of Jo, the time-honored protagonist of the story, is downright detestable. In Davenport’s often overly-dramatic deliveries and constant prickly personality, we can’t help but laugh or take great disdain with the character. Even in a story about sisterhood, Jo as a character is someone who tests nerves and boundaries repeatedly, and really makes you question what this movie sees in her as a continued protagonist to keep our interests.

– Aging progression. This film is told through a series of disjointed flashbacks, that kind of counts down the passing years in getting us to modern day, and what truly doesn’t work for a second about this gimmick is in the lack of believability associated with aging these characters. Never does their hairstyles, fashion trends, or even body varieties change for a second, and if this isn’t enough, the springing growth of Amy during the film’s final twenty minutes will hammer this glaring problem home. Amy is played by three different actresses, while the other girls are played by two, and this makes the third actress’s introduction in the final few scenes that much more of a distraction when she’s immersing with sisters who haven’t changed a bit in twelve years of story.

– Speaking of flashbacks, the film features these horrendously tacky looking visuals that we are treated to each time we ascend backwards. Because this film has zero confidence in its audience to pick up on time transformations accordingly, we have to be treated like brain-dead slugs throughout the movie, and have to be reminded by what only can be described as a blurred coma, each time we’re ready for another.

– Clumsy, inconsistent photography in camera work. Beyond these clunky walking sequences that feel like the cameraman is treading through a rocky desert, the sloppy framing work and undesirable angles made for quite the uncomfortable sit for 107 testing minutes. Objects constantly get in the way of the focus for what is front-and-center, and the film’s limited production capacity crafts that made-for-TV design pallet that should’ve catered more to the Hallmark Network instead of the big screen.

– While I didn’t have any problems with setting this story in modern day 2018, I found the gimmick to add nothing of importance or structure to the classic novel that was a product of its time. Some things feel sac-religious, such as the ambiance of rap music played during a school dance, or the family’s non-existent spin with poverty that established a needed layer of empathy to their characters, but the requirements of a time-stamped gimmick are those that treat the designation like a living, breathing character within the film. We can certainly prove that this film does take place in 2018, but what we can’t answer is why, and that’s an overwhelming feeling leaving the movie that I couldn’t escape.

– Underdeveloped story arcs. Whether the case of Meg’s largely ignored subplot with her romantic interest, that goes from eating a cheeseburger on a pick-up truck to getting married within twenty minutes, or the lack of influence from two parents in the film that feel like ghosts, the screenplay can never keep an accurate count of how many characters it involves to keep the story fresh. Basically, this is a film for lovers of Jo, Laurie, and Freddy’s story tier, fleshing out a forced love triangle between them that stinks of studio intrusion. Yes, i know this angle was in the book, but the level of focus given to it here makes it feel like the whole story, doing a disservice to characters outside of the bubble who we’re barely fortunate enough to check-in on from time-to-time.

– Things that bother me. While all of these are included in the original story, the lack of change associated with this film proves it’s more of the same. First of all, with Jo being such an independent and fighter of equality for women’s rights, why does she retort to falling in love with her teacher? It feels like the only way she will ever be signed is to succumb to what a man wants, and it does her zero favors in the morality department. The second is in the blossoming love between Laurie and Amy. If I need to explain what is wrong about this one, then you are part of the problem. I’ll leave it at that.

EXTRAS

– Due in 2019, Greta Gerwig will direct her own version of the Little Women story, rendering this one inevitably forgettable.

3/10

Night School

Directed by Malcolm D. Lee

Starring – Kevin Hart, Tiffany Haddish, Taran Killiam

The Plot – A group of troublemakers are forced to attend night school in hope that they’ll pass the GED exam to finish high school. One of these is Teddy (Hart), who requires a GED to attain a high paying job. Standing in his way is a brash teacher (Haddish) who will teach him much more than reading, writing, and arithmetic.

Rated PG-13 for crude and sexual content throughout, adult language, some drug references and violence

POSITIVES

– An unsung hero? In the battle of Hart versus Haddish, it’s surprisingly Keith David, who plays Hart’s ashamed father in the movie, who comes out on top. David plays easily my favorite character of the film, and he only needed three scenes to showcase why he is a national treasure. David’s brand of humor doesn’t feel desperate or insincere, relying more on earnest, blunt deliveries to get his point across time and time again, and man does it ever work.

– One surprise. Thankfully, the film doesn’t force Hart and Haddish’s characters together, like it feels like the film tries to do repeatedly in the first two acts of the film. In going this route, it allows each of them ample time to showcase their signature styles without one feeling like a prophet for the other. While the material is extremely underwritten, this decision was one that I commend the film greatly for, in keeping the relationship between student and teacher purely platonic.

– Once in a while, a film will come along that sells a fictional brand of food or product to the audience, and it gets me yearning for more, and that’s clearly Christ Chicken in ‘Night School’. Sadly, we only get one look inside of the restaurant itself, but it leaves the door open for brilliance in satirical products that I wish were real. I won’t spoil the names used here for drinks or dishes, but I will say that it’s easy to think how every ounce of creativity was invested in this arc (See what I did there?)

NEGATIVES

– Way too long. 106 minutes might not seem that bad on the surface, but Lee’s film drags to mental subconscious as a result of two things. The first is this film having two third acts. To anyone who knows the basics about scripts, the third act is always the conflict, and with this film there are two such instances for the trials that Hart’s character must endure. In addition to this, the improv level of a Kevin Hart film is once again the angle that terribly weighs the humor level of this film down. Scenes are prolonged and film spent to witness Hart and Haddish bounce off of each other in the most juvenile of offerings, and about thirty minutes into the film you’ve already captured everything that either of them have to offer.

– Amateur A.D.R. Not only is the voice renderings in this film bad, but they serve as a crash course for future sound mixers of what not to do in a major motion picture. Nothing about these dubbings feel remotely believable in their abnormal spikes in volume, nor do they match up visually with the mouth movements that supposedly mirror deliveries. Because this film is PG-13, there is also multiple occasions when a curse word is jarringly removed from the scene, in favor of an adolescent replacement that only proves how watered down this film truly is.

– The most morally shallow movie of 2018. In providing Hart’s character with something as serious as Attention Deficit Disorder, the film has the possibility of covering some pretty deep psychological stingers for people who suffer from the limiting disease, but unfortunately this film would rather remove anything meaningful for more slapstick skids that are every bit offensive as they are unnecessary. So since Hart’s character has A.D.D, what is the way that Haddish gets through to him? Why, by beating the shit out of him repeatedly, that’s how. Teachers are taking notes as we speak.

– Much of the reason the comedy doesn’t work for me is how desperate it feels in trying to cover every end of the tasteless humor spectrum, and striking out every single time. There are some brief laughs, but it’s mostly from Hart and Haddish’s usual schtick that we’ve already seen a hundred times, that never progresses or elevates itself. Then there’s the desire to paint some scenes with some truly gross-out humor that feels beneath even a Kevin Hart movie. For a film revolving around school, this one flunks early and often, conjuring up a grade of incomplete for the lack of effort that went into it.

– What is with the editing? I take back saying that I never laughed in this film, because the editing capabilities in this film are of the B-movie grade variety. How did this happen to a film that is going to be seen by so many eyes? The editing in the film ends scenes prematurely, as well as repeats cuts to make sure the audience is paying attention. There is one scene where Romany Malco repeats the same line three different times in the same scene. This wouldn’t be a problem if it wasn’t quite literally the same take played three different times for three different reactions. If lazy had an award, this one would close out the show. Truly jaw-dropping for all the wrong reasons.

– No evidence of effort. Besides the fact that Kevin once again plays his character in high school, stretching the boundaries of believability into submission, there are many more instances of why the production feels so uninspired and problematic. One scene has Hart’s character literally blowing up his workplace in the fakest, most hollow, C.G explosion of all time, yet Kevin doesn’t have a single scratch on him. There’s also the product that this film tries to sell, in which it shows one student failing the test no fewer than six times, yet still is able to graduate with their class when they finally do pass. I guess when you fail night school, you don’t have to take the class over again, just the test.

– Easily the most forgettable of Hart’s movie career. This film isn’t just bad for all of the reasons listed above, but there isn’t a single instance in the script that I can point to where I would ever match and compare it to one of his better films. This proves just how little works with ‘Night School’, in that no single scene is ever reputable enough to con someone into watching it. Even as I wrote this review, I had great difficulty remembering the aspects of the film that I liked and hated.

3/10

Unbroken: Road To Redemption

Directed by Harold Cronk

Starring – Samuel Hunt, Marritt Patterson, Will Graham

The Plot – Based on Laura Hillenbrand’s bestselling book, the film begins where the previous film concluded, sharing the next amazing chapter of the unbelievable true story of Olympian and World War II hero Louis Zamperini (Hunt). Haunted by nightmares of his torment, Louie sees himself as anything but a hero. Then, he meets Cynthia (Patterson), a young woman who captures his eye-and his heart. Louie’s wrathful quest for revenge drives him deeper into despair, putting the couple on the brink of divorce. Until Cynthia experiences Billy Graham’s 1949 Los Angeles Crusade where she finds faith in God and a renewed commitment to her marriage and her husband

Rated PG-13 for thematic content and related disturbing images

POSITIVES

– For a Pure Flix film, this one sure does have a lot of daring material. Usually with these kind of movies, I prepare myself for the kind of provocativeness that comes with singing ‘Old Mcdonald Had a Farm’ in a preschool class, but surprisingly the PG-13 label is tested repeatedly, with an array of spousal abuse and alcoholism that gives the movie actual personal demons that provide our protagonist with plenty of character flaws. I commend the movie for being amongst the most daring from the production company, and hopefully our first R-rated film isn’t far behind.

– Brandon Roberts nostalgic musical compositions. Even during a movie that my interest kept waning in, the musical score served as the shot of much-needed adrenaline to keep me into the grip of the story. What Roberts does is pay homage to the era of Jazz music in the 40’s that paints a vivid portrait of feel-good cinema. On my ears, it reminded me a lot of ‘The Sandlot’, in that it audibly enhances the beauty of the scenery that surrounds us, constantly reminding us of the light-hearted atmosphere that our characters partake in.

– I’m not of the camp who think this film was pointless, in fact I applaud it for telling the story AFTER the heroic event. Most films or franchises rarely ever tell the whole story, refusing to focus on the psychological toll that a haunting event from ones past has on the aftermath of their well-being, but Cronk takes that chance, and while the movie simply doesn’t work for its own reasons, you can’t hate against a director who is hungry to take chances.

NEGATIVES

– Feels like one long musical montage of Zamperini’s life. Perhaps the biggest offense that this film commits is that it’s trying to tell too much in such a short allowance of time (93 minutes). Particularly in that of the first act, Louie’s life flashes by with little ability to stop and soak in the very meaningful moments of his emotional homecoming, choosing instead to rush to a red light of entertainment that isn’t remotely as compelling. Because of this, this movie is a very difficult sit to get through because it’s all these remote tidbits that never add up to form the outline of this wounded man.

– Flawed production values. It isn’t enough that Zoran Popovic’s uninspiring cinematography hinders much of the style and vibe that the backdrops have going for it, but the camera quality and set designs mirror something of a low-budget dramatization show on television. Louie’s horrific flashback sequences are done in the lightning fast depictions because much of the effect work stumbles from low grade green-screen quality and obvious studio room limitations that remind you that these scenes are taking place anywhere but the actual ocean. This aspect alone constantly reminded me of watching a straight-to-DVD sequel, and it’s in Angelina Jolie’s once lucidly imaginative style that forces us through the biggest of all drop-offs.

– While I have no problems with the performances in this movie, other than the romantic leads having zero chemistry with one another, it’s more so in their demeanor and how they’re directed for why I felt they were both terribly miscast. As Louie, Hunt channels a vibe of arrogance on top of smug facial reactions that make him anything but relatable. Patterson is decent when she’s left to deal with being the eyes and ears of the household, but physically there’s nothing about her appearance that tells me she was the right woman for the job. If my words aren’t enough, wait for the film’s credit sequence, which does Patterson zero favors in the authenticity department.

– Constantly reminds you of the better film you should be watching. I get that this is a movie that takes place as a result of something tragically horrific for the protagonist, but this movie went to the well far too many times with this angle, saving its lone intriguing moments for the reminders of what we as an audience have already been through with a far superior film. Take this out of the film, and you start to find out not only how little this film established in terms of originality, but also how truly boring the diminishing laws of return are when the story’s meat has been removed.

– Forgotten subplots. I’m finding this kind of sloppiness a lot in religious films anymore. A series of storylines will be introduced to the unfolding scenario, usually in the second act, and we never hear anything of their conclusions. For ‘Unbroken’, it’s Louie’s emerging career as a possible professional boxer, or a broken ankle that is never mentioned again. Both of these subplots are given valuable attention and screen time during the film, but are abandoned faster than Louie’s atheist ideals, which I’ll get to in a second.

– For a while, I was convinced that the religious propaganda wasn’t going to pop up in this film. It goes roughly an hour with very minimal mention of anything holy. But the final half hour shoe-horns this angle in so forcefully that it transforms this into an entirely different film all together. Reverend Billy Graham is played in this movie by his real life son, and the last ten minutes are this obviously desperate ploy to speak to us the audience, in place of Louie whom he’s actually speaking to. The camera angles during these scenes are creepy to say the least, positioning Graham front-and-center looking at us to manipulate us into believing that matters of alcoholism and psychological duress will disappear if you believe in Christ. It’s all such an A-to-Z direction in terms of where this movie started, and touched on the very same notes that other Pure Flix films do that make all of their films so predictable.

– Clumsily rendered flashback sequences. The fantasy sequences in question lack even the smallest ounce of nuance and subtlety, reaching for shock factor that simply can’t hold a candle to the more horrific points of Jolie’s original film, that did more in a camp than this film could muster with imagination. Nothing ever feels effective to us the audience, and if we can’t feel Louie’s pain during his most trying moments, then it’s a constant reminder of how tragically flawed a story this easily engaging can’t manage to ever peak our interest.

3/10

Mile 22

Directed by Peter Berg

Starring – Mark Wahlberg, Lauren Cohan, John Malkovich

The Plot – In a visceral modern thriller from the director of Lone Survivor, Wahlberg stars as James Silva, an operative of the CIA’s most highly-prized and least-understood unit. Aided by a top-secret tactical command team, Silva must retrieve and transport an asset who holds life-threatening information to Mile 22 for extraction before the enemy closes in.

Rated R for strong violence and adult language throughout

POSITIVES

– Crisp, pulse-setting sound mixing. While I’ve never been a fan of being put into an action sequence visually, I more than appreciate the decision in popping up these stunning shots of ammunition and explosions that feel like they’re happening all around us. If there’s any reason to spend a little extra and see this in X-D or IMAX, do it because of the full throttling of sound that never relents.

– Brutally violent fight choreography. I definitely have my problems with the documentation of this, which I will get to later, but the fight work from star and choreographer Iko Uwais. Fresh off of his success in ‘The Raid’ series of films, Uwais continues to captivate American audiences with his fast-paced, innovative measures of violence that place him second to none in modern day stunt work. While it is slightly silly that this group is protecting the most dangerous guy in the van, I can never get enough of Iko doing what he was born to do; take names and kick ass.

– At least from a psychological toll level, this feels like the first special forces film that articulately depicts the mentality of an employee who’s been in the business for too long. Wahlberg and Cohan’s character’s in particular are loose cannons, exploding on even the smallest instance of grief that comes their way. There’s plenty of problems in the performance department here, but the portrayal of this career feels like the most honest telling of anything that takes place during the film, and I greatly commend Berg for instilling this heroes job is anything but rewarding.

NEGATIVES

– Peter, what happened? It’s hard to believe that this is the same guy that directed ‘Deepwater Horizon’, ‘Patriots Day’, and ‘Lone Survivor’, because ‘Mile 22’ is a convoluted mess of storytelling. The movie constantly feels like it is telling three different stories at the exact same time, inter-cutting back and forth between different time periods and characters without any kind of indication we’re headed that way. In addition to this, it feels like the dialogue never takes a single second of breather, blowing through valuable lines of exposition that will leave you stranded if you’re not fully committed to paying attention 100%.

– Hyperactive editing. The fight sequences in this film could be incredible if they were given the chance to grow, and not be chopped down each time this violent cut kicks in. This gives the film an overwhelming feeling of attention deficit disorder that will put your eyes through the gauntlet of physical torture, every couple seconds. Most of the fight detection in non-existent because of the angles being so tight in their capture, but the bigger toll comes in the form of these violent cuts that add nothing of versatility to the creativity behind documenting an intense sequence.

– Detestable characters. When I say that I didn’t like a single character from this movie, I’m not embellishing in the slightest. Wahlberg’s character might be my least favorite of 2018, for annoying tone of voice and motor-mouth dialogue delivery that he constantly puts us through. This is his impression of a guy with mental instability, but I call it Wahlberg turned up to eleven. In addition to him, Ronda Rousey plays a bully (Original, I know), and Cohan is doing her best to one-up the guys in her unique methods of using the F-bomb. With protagonists like these, who needs enema’s?

– Minimal character development. The only kind of character exposition throughout this whole 90 minute film is for Wahlberg’s character, and it’s during the opening credits. This is every bit as lazy as it is ineffective at intriguing audiences into his rare condition. Beyond this, you’re out of luck if you seek any kind of depth to these people without personalities. The film outlines them as unimportant, thus so should we, and that lack of care spoke volumes in my lack of concern, once the bodies started dropping.

– This film takes something as harmless as rubber bands, and makes them offensive by depiction. Wahlberg’s character has autism, so to keep him focused he keeps a yellow rubber band on his wrist that he snaps each time he feels stressed or overcome with anger. This is very much a real life technique with autism patients, but I don’t need to be reminded of it each and every single scene. Because they couldn’t just have him snap it in frame, his wrist gets its own frame of film each time he goes to reach for this relief, cutting in between important scenes that test our attention and patience at even the ten minute mark of the movie.

– Erratic without those moments of downtime to pace it all out. There is a three act structure within this mess of a screenplay, as small and ineffective as the second act is, but this presentation of disjointed scenes and derivative male pissing contests, makes it all run together as one continuous act that is in a race to reach the finish line. Bored isn’t the proper word, but rather dejected for how this film takes what feels like 22 miles of ideas and fleshes them out into a film that barely hits the hour-and-a-half mark.

– The only scene of value for me happened at the very end of the movie, when a twist is thrown in too late to even matter. This does set-up what Berg and Wahlberg are hoping will be a trilogy of films for this franchise, but will inevitably fade away because in their building of another film they forget to properly end this one. Character outcomes are left to speculation, and this inescapable feeling of regret from a bombshell that could’ve saved the movie, happens far too late to be anything but forgettable.

3/10

The Darkest Minds

Directed by Jennifer Yuh Nelson

Starring – Amandla Stenberg, Bradley Whitford, Mandy Moore

The Plot – When teens mysteriously develop powerful new abilities, they are declared a threat by the government and detained. Sixteen-year-old Ruby (Stenberg), one of the most powerful young people anyone has encountered, escapes her camp and joins a group of runaway teens seeking safe haven. Soon this newfound family realizes that, in a world in which the adults in power have betrayed them, running is not enough and they must wage a resistance, using their collective power to take back control of their future.

Rated PG-13 for violence including disturbing images, and thematic elements

POSITIVES

– Stenberg is leaps-and-bounds above the material she is given to work with. As a star in ‘The Hunger Games’, Amandla is no stranger to Young Adult adaptations, so in being a veteran she knows how to bring a combination of likeable personality and feminine strength in her role as Ruby. She isn’t afraid to get her hands dirty, and I appreciate an actress who takes command and keeps the attention on her throughout. I can’t wait till the day Stenberg is old enough or successful enough to pass on scripts like this, but for now we can adore a rising star who adds a presence of range to the forefront.

– There is a real hearty third act scene, part in thanks to the two leads, that really reached hard for the heartstrings of the audience. This scene involving memory erasing was among my very favorite for the movie, and proved that it did earn the depth needed to send this film out on a positive note. Part of this relies on sacrifice for Ruby, in that she must give up everything she has come to know to fight the greater good. It finishes the first (And likely only) installment of this franchise on a somber epilogue that really makes you feel for her jaded disposition.

– As a first time director, Nelson is someone who definitely proves that she deserves another chance, next time with a property that doesn’t have so many restrictions. In her competent command, Jennifer not only utilizes Stenberg to a meaty performance, but also establishes the power of adolescents, who together have the capabilities to do anything they want. In this regards, art imitating life is something that our own real world so desperately needs right now, even if our own youths lack the ability to breathe fire from their mouths. Nelson makes this distant future feel somewhat relative by today’s standards, and that alone establishes her guided presence behind the lens.

NEGATIVES

– Law of diminishing returns. Ever since ‘The Hunger Games’ became a rousing success at the box office, Young Adult adaptations have been all the rage. Unfortunately, each of them have decreased in quality ever since, and ‘The Darkest Minds’ is a victim of this problem. Despite the fact that this film could easily qualify as a sequel for ‘The 5th Wave’, or television knock-off of ‘Divergent’ or an ‘X-Men’ side story of sorts, there’s nothing about this movie that stands out as remotely poignant in substance, nor terribly original in story outline. Love triangle? CHECK, Evil Grown-ups? CHECK, Slave camps? CHECK. Interchangeably fault.

– For those who didn’t comprehend or forgot about the many meanings of ranks of the teens in ‘Divergent’, this movie dumbs it down using colors to determine who is the most powerful. The orange and reds are the worst (Because ya know, danger), and the Green’s (Intelligence) represent the lowest on the totem pole. If this wasn’t enough, the film never allows you to forget each person’s rank for a single second, beating us over the head with colors in character’s eyes throughout the film to remind us of what is otherwise easily forgettable. They know it and now so do we.

– Once you understand the rules of Ruby’s powers and what she can do, there is absolutely no tension or suspense left in the many conflicts she comes across. This character is essentially God, so what is there that regular human beings can do to stop her? Even worse, it brings to light some of the inconsistencies that the film portrays. Ruby can read the minds of character’s pasts when she touches them, but why not during the scenes when she holds hands with a character or when she’s dancing with them? Ruby can move trains and bend titanium, so why can’t she unlock a van door? Ruby erases her parents memory of her, but how can she do this when she never touched her father? Does this include pictures, videos, and keepsakes?

– This is a post-apocalyptic movie of sorts, but the small scale always kept this from immersing me in this kind of environment. There’s one big budget set piece throughout the film, but otherwise most of the set designs and backdrops feel infantile when compared to their counterparts. In other YA adaptations, we see visual examples of deteriorating landscapes or something that commutes how far the cancer has spread, but with ‘The Darkest Minds’ there’s nothing to challenge the thought that this isn’t a society in any sort of immediate danger, instead carving out an ‘Us versus Them’ focus towards the evil government. Yawn.

– Choppy action sequences. When you are fortunate enough to get an action scene, the editing feels far too intrusive with far too many cuts to ever properly digest what is taking place. Two character suicides aren’t shown all together, but a chase sequence involving a falling tree is completely wiped away with an overzealous editor who instead prides angles over impact.

– Lack of overall resolution. It’s obvious that any movie these days fishes itself for a sequel, but I couldn’t escape this lack of satisfaction for a third act that is basically inconsequential, despite having no shortage of minutes donated to it. There are essentially two different endings in the movie, and the one that was more satisfying to me revolved around the love story that I referred to in my positives. For the conflict itself, it comes and goes like the wind, leaving about as much of an impact as a breezy cloudless day. If honesty serves ambition, a sequel will never see the light of day, leaving many unanswered questions for die-hard fans of the book, who deserve better.

– Too clean to a fault. Considering the novel is filled with lots of language and teenage personality to humor its audience, it feels like the movie isn’t being faithful in how it adapts the finer points of why people found these characters fascinating in the first place. There is a need for studios to market a film a certain way, but without the edginess in experimentation, that could’ve saved this film for better or worse, the movie doesn’t feel bold enough to live up to its own marketed age group, therefore it doesn’t feel rooted in the finer points that brought these characters to life in the books.

3/10

Superfly

Directed by Director X

Starring – Trevor Jackson, Michael Kenneth Williams, Jason Mitchell

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

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

POSITIVES

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

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

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

NEGATIVES

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

3/10

Life of the Party

Directed by Ben Falcone

Starring – Melissa McCarthy, Molly Gordon, Gillian Jacobs

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

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

POSITIVES

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

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

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

NEGATIVES

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

3/10

Kings

Directed by Deniz Gamze Erguven

Starring – Halle Berry, Daniel Craig, Lamar Johnson

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

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

POSITIVES

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

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

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

NEGATIVES

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

3/10