Hellboy

Directed By Neil Marshall

Starring – David Harbour, Ian McShane, Milla Jovovich

The Plot – Hellboy is back, and he’s on fire. From the pages of Mike Mignola’s seminal work, this action packed story sees the legendary half-demon superhero (Harbour) called to the English countryside to battle a trio of rampaging giants. There he discovers The Blood Queen, Nimue (Jovovich), a resurrected ancient sorceress thirsting to avenge a past betrayal. Suddenly caught in a clash between the supernatural and the human, Hellboy is now hell-bent on stopping Nimue without triggering the end of the world.

Rated R for strong bloody violence and gore throughout, and adult language

POSITIVES

– Charming ensemble. While he will never be no shadow-filler for Ron Pearlman, I can say that I found a lot of redeeming qualities about Harbour’s delve into Anung Un Rama that kept this film interesting at times when the story failed endlessly. David’s timely deliveries for comedy, as well as his registry as a tortured soul aching for belonging, is everything different that Ron Pearlman’s brute demeanor didn’t convey. Instead, Harbour instills a sense of vulnerability to the character that we often don’t see, bringing him closer to humanity as he tangles with this immensely powerful adversary. Speaking of which, Jovovich is serviceable enough as well, even when the dialogue she delivers does her no favors in terms of intimidation along the way. Milla is giving her all to play an antagonist for the first time, and there’s a lethal dose of seductive sting that she offers to the role that makes her dangerous for all of the things that comic book movies are afraid to attempt, especially with PG-13 renderings. It was also great to see Sasha Lane getting a big stage presence, as I’ve felt for years that this girl is an eventual Oscar winner in the making.

– Make-up and prosthetics work. It’s amazing that a film with such dominance towards computer generation has a secret weapon thriving underneath it all, in the form of practical character designs that channel everything we love about Hellboy, while establishing that this is a fresh start for the character. The amputated horns are still there, but the facial structure supports more of a slouching outline for Harbour’s take, giving way to an aging process that didn’t feel possible before in the previous two films. In addition, the cheek prosthetics stretching out Harbour’s familiar facial traits is something that allows the actor to transform properly with very little reminder of who is underneath because of the complete picture of it all. It proves that while a lot is lost in translation in the decade-and-a-half since the previous film, the work of some highly skilled cosmetic magicians behind the scenes still pump as the heartbeat of this franchise.

– Coveted R-rating. This is a film that knows its audience. It’s the very same people who grew up with the 2004 film, and are now full-fledged adults, who have since been craving an edgier sequel to compliment the character. It comes in the form of mature material in language and brutal violence that cater to the rock-and-roll lifestyle of the character. The violence and blood splatter satisfied the deep-seeded horror nut inside of me, and the inclusion of some personal favorite curse words improved the bumbling dialogue in a way that made it feel human instead of manufactured. R-ratings in third installments don’t typically work, but I feel that the spike here better elevates the impact of the action, all the while fleshing out the growth of the character that mirrors that of his faithful audience.

NEGATIVES

– Lifeless computer generation. To say the effects work in this film are bad would be a compliment. No, this is the kind of lifeless digitalization that was present in the 90’s, during a period when that could be forgiven for our complete inexperience with it. This is a film made in 2019, whose backdrops and violence feel about as real as claiming I.T.T Tech for a major college degree. Scenes that are supposed to show Hellboy as a badass are nothing more than a humorous exercise in ridiculousness, and for the majority take much away from the impact of what should be these scenes of visceral devastation. I could forgive a film’s effects for playing into the mayhem transpiring with the film’s other technical deficiencies, but nothing on screen is a pleasure to look at, and I’m simply not going to allow weak post production a pass when it comes to creating a one-of-a-kind feel that is anything out of this world for comic book movie adaptations.

– What narrative? As a story outline, “Hellboy” might be the sloppiest screenplay that I have endured in quite sometime. When the movie isn’t stacking another log on the pile to see what burns with effectiveness, the beatdown of rapid fire sequencing makes it very difficult to accurately interpret what is taking place right in front of us. There is no slow down period to soak everything in. It’s a near two hour long-winded delivery of breath that feels seconds away from fading to black at any moment because of exposition overhaul. I myself am not a fan of the original two Hellboy films by Guillermo Del Toro, but I can say in those movies that there is at least a straight and narrow line of storytelling that keeps us firmly in-tuned with what is transpiring. In this movie, I felt like a child was making up their own version of story time, where no two ideas rub together to feed into a lone cohesive unit.

– Far too long. Marshall’s chapter of Hellboy clocks in at 110 minutes, and while that might not seem like a huge investment for comic book audiences who have endured nearly three hour epics, the combination of forced flashback’s and simply too many big set fight sequences, make the sit an uphill endurance test. For the former, I mentioned this problem in my review of “Fantastic Beasts: The Crimes of Grindelwald”, but here it feels much more padded and unnecessary, especially when the use of audible narration is already telling us everything that transpires visually before us. It’s a strange breed because I feel the film could easily be trimmed, but I think this would only further compromise the cyclonic storytelling, whose speed has us seeing only streaks. I guess you’re simply damned if you do and damned if you don’t.

– Mundane heavy metal score. Composer Benjamin Wallfisch (Real name) has honorable intentions here, but the lack of royalty in track selection dooms his opportunity to make “Hellboy” the rock-and-roll opera that we deserve. With the exception of a couple key inserts, like “Kickstart My Heart” by Motley Crue, the majority is a DVD stock composition that is used when a studio doesn’t want to pay for commercial rights to sample the proper song. There’s even traces of what Wallfisch wanted in each scene, whether it be in the form of familiar metal guitar riffs that borders plagiarizing because of what I previously mentioned. It gives the film an easily identifying trait of cheap production value that doom the art of some eye-catching visuals, and teaches us to pay extra when the scene calls for it.

– Distracted editing. There’s no big surprise here: too many cuts and too little consistency in visual storytelling. In any single sequence of action, you can expect three different angles to watch the same scene, giving me this inescapable feeling of dementia that made me question reality. There’s also this annoying trait, where a scene cuts far too early, and the dialogue from scene one bleeds into the dialogue from scene two. I get artistic expression, but this feels like an unnecessary transition effect that cuts into the focus of the previous scene. Likewise, the editing during scenes of explanation or exposition take a page out of Guy Ritchie’s “King Arthur”, where frames are inserted that don’t add anything to what we’re hearing. For instance, one heartfelt scene between Hellboy and an old acquaintance comes and goes with many visuals of the details in the kitchen that houses them. Filmmaking attention deficit at its finest, and it hinders even the smallest shred of momentum that the audience gains for investing into this story at any particular moment.

– Tonal clashing. If this was a film that was firmly committed to being a cult comedy, then I could forgive it for ridiculous levels of material and production that do it no favors in gaining an audience, but there are deeply dramatic scenes in the film that revolve around love and loss that speak to a totally genre of film, and in turn make the dominant direction in this film feel even more jumbled because of it. The humor in the material is far too juvenile far too often to render the transition needed for some deep-seeded moments of heart that the film calls on late in the movie. In turn, these scenes of dramatic pulse take away everything that everyone was enjoying about the character up to that point, and it all feels like a balance of power behind the scenes from a studio that didn’t know what they truly wanted from this legendary figure. As to where the previous two films were dominant action movies with an occasional speck of dark, twisted humor thrown in for good measure, this installment feels 70% comedy and 30% the occasional speck of drama, and it never worked at finding a comfortable balance for all to enjoy.

– Continuity flaws. This more than conveys the hack-and-slash finished product that we were left with. Consistency in scenes is a constant problem for this film, especially one involving Hellboy and a cocky agent late in the first act that made me do a double take for its documentation. Hellboy and the agent are talking on top of a building, then the scene cuts to the agent taking the elevator to the ground floor to meet another agent, and Hellboy is now there with this secondary character. It’s possible that Hellboy jumped off of the building, but why? What purpose would this even serve? I wish I could say that a scene like this is rare, but it happens frequently throughout, making me wonder just how long the first draft of this film was before the editor removed the threads that binds the continuity together.

My Grade: 3/10 or F+

Wonder Park

Directed By Dylan Brown

Starring – Brianna Denski, Jennifer Garner, Kenan Thompson

The Plot – June (Denski), an optimistic, imaginative girl, discovers an incredible amusement park called Wonderland hidden in the woods. The park is full of fantastical rides and talking, funny animals , only the park is in disarray. June soon discovers the park came from her imagination and she’s the only one who can fix it, so she bands together with the animals to save this magical place and bring back the wonder in Wonderland.

Rated PG for some mild thematic elements and action

POSITIVES

– Eye fetching detail in animation. While there were some flaws with the character detailing, which left things like mouth movements and reactionary impulses feeling a bit delayed, the set designs and coloring pallet instill a vibrant sense of imagination to the product that puts the wonder in “Wonder Park”. Particularly in the dynamic between the grey undertones of the deceased park, which give it a decayed look, and the rich tapestry of it when it lives and thrives, we get a visual rendering of the atmosphere that the film has trouble translating into personal feelings. Likewise, the immense set designs and creativity behind some of the rides made it feel experimental like a Sims game brought to the big screen, all the while leaving valued minutes to devote to the mechanics of such unorthodox inventions.

– A positive message earned. As to where most kids movies these days harvest a personal message that often feels tacked on or contradictive to what is transpiring in the movie, the film’s desire to inspire and celebrate creativity is something that burns translucently throughout, and gives the film such honorable intentions that should echo with every member of the family. The film crafts the ideals of dreams as this sort of physical presence in our lives that breathe with the kind of energy that we put into them, and if those ambitions are shelved, Wonder Park represents that on a grand scale. Visual metaphors combined with heart in message, gives this story something deeper to reach for than the conventional kids movie we have come to expect.

– Filmed in 2.39:1 scope aspect ratio. This is only the fifth time that Paramount has attempted this with an animated property, but I think it pays off not only in capturing the immensity of the park itself, but also the madness associated with the mood inside. These establishing shots do so much more for the movie than the meandered script ever does, and it’s proof that camera stylings deserve consideration even in an animated setting, if only for the way it hooks the audience in to its mayhem before it breaks their trust. Read on.

NEGATIVES

– One problem ties to everything. When I look back on all of the things wrong with “Wonder Park”, the one common motive is because of a barely 78 minute run time that condenses every possible theme and subplot that the film tries to harvest. On top of it, the pacing is horrendously erratic, feeling like the movie is constantly on fast forward through skewered lines of dialogue that are constantly rushed, as well as the antsy setting that changes every thirty seconds. After a while, this film gave me a headache to even concentrate on it, and it establishes firmly the argument against easy time sits for the sake of an antsy audience.

– The dropped ball of dramatic pulse. One subplot in the film revolves around grieving, and actually intrigued me as to what the film could do with such heavy levity that develops depth for a movie like this. But it never materializes because the film and our central protagonist put it in the back of their minds to never be mentioned or touched upon again, and it wastes what could’ve been this movie’s “A Monster Calls” moment, complete with character maturity and epiphany that really allowed you to relate to the anything-but-engaging June character. Even worse than this, the film neatly tucks away this angle in the closing minutes, proving that if it did have any balls, they were left behind on one of the rides because this movie, like others, feels that kids are too stupid to grasp with loss.

– Undercooked material. The worst kind of kids movies are the ones where there are no redeeming laughs or material to at least you entertained while you sit through the rest of the movie that doesn’t measure up, and this is the case with “Wonder Park”, a movie so devoid of emotional response that it made me wonder if I was sedated. The humor not only fails in this movie, but it fails so bad that even the kids weren’t buying it in my theater. Even the cute noises and loud sounds that animated movies go to when they refuse to write anything clever weren’t working, and it just sort of makes every scene a chore to sit through when it’s reaching for something that so evidently isn’t there in the slightest.

– Zero character exposition. This is a strange one for me, because I didn’t feel like a movie could omit even its lead character from any kind of build that properly fleshes out her personality and moral character. When you think of June, you must ask yourself what you learned about her in the movie. For me, it’s that she loves theme parks, she loves her mother, and that she’s mechanically inclined. That’s it. These are things that you would probably pick up on if you spent ten minutes with the character in real life, but after spending this much time, the juice simply doesn’t warrant the squeeze. Aside from June, the other characters are just personalities instead of people. The film has so little desire to include them in anything meaningful or rendering that it just kind of reserves them to being these voices that never materialize as living, being things, and completes the underwhelming layer of character development that the script doesn’t waste time on.

– Obvious copyright ducking. The movie never says Wonder Park once in the film. Instead, it says Wonder World repeatedly. So why call it Wonder Park in the first place? Perhaps it’s because Disney owns the rights to Wonder World, and that the mention of it would cease the production of this film faster than you can say frozen Walt. Or here’s an idea, just refer to it as Wonder Park in the lines of dialogue, because ya know, IT IS THE TITLE OF THE MOVIE. This kind of sloppy execution is something that you would expect from an unknown studio, but for Nickelodeon Pictures to bring forth this cowardice, only reminds you of the bigger, better studio that is producing more meaningful pictures than this in its sleep.

– Production troubles. The movie is a chaotic mess, which may have been inevitable given its troubled production history. Paramount reportedly fired the original director in January 2018, when he was accused of “inappropriate and unwanted contact” with women. (Through his lawyer, he denied the charge.) He was replaced by a trio of filmmakers, none of whom getting directing credit. Five months later, the actor who voiced one of the park mascots, a narcoleptic bear named Boomer, also was replaced after sexual-misconduct allegations. Somewhere between those two events, the movie’s title was changed. One could write this off as a string of bad luck that occasionally catches up to film crew’s, but I call it a sign from a higher power telling them when it’s time to pack it in.

– Floundered voice work. Outside of the animated complexity of John Oliver voicing a romance riddled porcupine, the entirety of this heralded well known cast is wasted by a string of poorly directed and energetically lacking deliveries that highlight this as a paycheck only job. I probably shouldn’t say this about kid actors, but the 14-year-old Denski’s monotonous inspiration of this animated property lulls it down to a sense of dreary hypnotism that is anything but a compliment. As a protagonist, she lacks the kind of excitement associated with a character of her particular skillset, and gives us nothing to look forward to since this is where the movie spends the entirety of its time. Jennifer Garner also underwhelms again, bringing nothing of dimension or difference to her usual familiarity. Her and Thompson are probably the only two you can easily make out in the cast, and it’s a testament to the lack of experimentalism that they bring to the role that could otherwise open some new doors for the longevity of their shelf lives as stars.

My Grade: 3/10 or F+

Replicas

Starring – Keanu Reeves, Alice Eve, Emily Alyn Lind

The Plot – A daring synthetic biologist (Reeves) suffers through a brutal car accident that kills his family. In response, he will stop at nothing to bring them back, even if it means pitting himself against a government-controlled laboratory, a police task force and the physical laws of science.

Rated PG-13 for thematic material, violence, disturbing images, some nudity and sexual references

POSITIVES

– Cohesive musical score that channels the vibes of science fiction authenticity. While much of the audible deliveries in dialogue lacked anything of depth or convincing nature for my ears, the experimental touches of tones performed here by composers Mark Kilian and Jose Ojeda echo the paths of uncertainty brewing beneath the surface, and were a treat to my otherwise tortured eardrums. As expected, there are plenty of techno samples incorporated into the general outline, but it’s more so in the majority of practical piano that brings with it an air of class and sophistication to the picture, preserving the high stakes feel that our characters are playing with.

– Unintentionally humorous. Whether the film meant to instill such a ridiculous amount of cheese and silliness to the film, the result more times than not brings us the audience some delightful refrains in the area of hearty laughter. One thing that I can say about “Replicas” is that I was never bored during its 97 minute presentation, and a lot of that has to do with shaky line reads and braindead scientific accuracy that constantly demeaned this film from taking itself too seriously. This might sound like a glaring negative, but I would rather have a terribly funny movie than a terribly boring one, and the former is what helped push me through many of the problems that I will mention coming up.

– Intelligence in shooting schedule. Outside sequences in films often cost much more money to shoot and finalize, and this film’s capability to keep their screenplay indoors is certainly something that helped slim production costs. More than 90% of this movie takes place inside, and it’s probably a good thing because so much of the cinematography outside, especially during daytime scenes, radiate with an overall feeling of artificial lighting design that constantly break the fourth wall of realism. It’s not only believable why these instances would take place inside, but never hinders the creativity associated with the progression of the picture, and it’s awesome that they took something that would be considered a negative and blossomed it into a positive.

NEGATIVES

– How important is a good director? Well, they are responsible for garnering the best in emotional range and gut-punching relatability to us the audience, and neither are anywhere close to where they should be for this film. The movie just kind of glosses over the concepts of grief and its importance to investing so deeply in its characters, riding along with the kind of wooden performances that are easy to sniff out for even occasional moviegoers. When you take a film like “John Wick” and come to understand the importance of his dog, and what losing him meant to John, you back the character through anything, and that was anything but the case in “Replicas”. In a sense, it almost makes Reeves character here feel detestable, in that his selfishness and lack of emotions expressed during the film’s most impactful scene goes unfulfilled, and it made for characters who I just didn’t care for at all.

– Horrendously phony C.G effects. The movie “I, Robot” came out in 2004, and I mention that because not only did this film rip-off the android designs from that movie, but also did it with half of the captivation and weight that a film fourteen years prior did better. Aside from the live action actors totally getting the height capture wrong when staring at their android counterparts, the movements of fingers and limbs is so hollow that you can almost see the computerized dimensions moving stiffly without perfecting. Thankfully, these properties aren’t in the movie much, but the end result makes me think that was more intentional than anything.

– Has a show-and-don’t-tell mentality when it comes to its science. If you can somehow ignore that transferring memories is done in a basement, and done so flawlessly, the lack of explanation that goes into the surgical transfer itself will bother you in hanging on to what is transpiring. Instead, the film shows us a bunch of “Iron Man” touchscreen visuals, which translate to nothing more than lazy screenwriting so that no one calls it on its bullshit. Speaking of that sentiment, why doesn’t the film cover the issue of internal bacterial flora? In real life, these clones would die of constipation or some other stupid disease in no time, just from breathing in our air and not being used to its level of pollution. To be fair, the movie does showcase something going on in Alice Eve’s body while she’s out running, but we never get any explanation if this is what I’m talking about, or just vicious diarrhea from Reeves challenging breakfast offerings.

– In addition to what I just mentioned, the movie also has enough plot holes to drive a Range Rover through it. For one, this research team is specializing in memory transferring, so how are they top notch experts in cloning? If this guy is able to move a whole laboratory to his basement without error, why can’t he just work from home? There’s a scene where Reeves steals car batteries the night before to gain enough power for the transfer, and the cops come to his house the next morning asking if his car is ok, to which he replies “No, they didn’t get me”. How would he know when the thieves did it the night before, and he’s just now waking up? Wouldn’t they ask him to at least check his car before answering? Doesn’t this make him at least remotely suspect? Who cares, because it’s a movie, and you’re supposed to be stupid when watching a movie. Hating it means you’re an old grump.

– Obvious foreshadowing. The many times during the movie when something is unsubtly squeezed into a conversation, removes any kind of suspense or nuance to the developments of the picture. This as you might expect renders much of the screenplay predictable, giving us ample time to sniff out where and when it will pop up in the scenario to remind us why it was mentioned. The biggest instance of this is a crayon drawing by Reeves daughter on their kitchen table that the camera shows us for no reason than to hint that it will pop up somewhere down the road later, and of course it does. Reeves character is so stupid and unbelievable as a scientist that he somehow logs onto his kids Facebooks to clear up their disappearances, gets rid of all of the pictures and clothes in his house, yet somehow doesn’t see this abnormally big drawing of a dinosaur in crayon on a place he frequents often in the film. UGH!!!

– Uneven pacing. While the film was never boring to me, the polarly opposite first and second act did a complete disservice in settling down and enjoying the narrative. The first act speeds through any character introductions, and feels like it starts where a movie’s tenth minute usually is at, yet the second act slugs along in such a way that hinders the progression of some solid suspense up to that point. If the film could ever settle itself down and gain some consistency for itself, these acts would flow seamlessly, but as it stands the script lacks confidence in translating how much entertainment value it pulls from the material.

– It’s been a while since I’ve been this angry at a movie’s ending, but “Replicas” final five minutes renders everything that came before it completely pointless. SPOILERS – The antagonist group that moves in the shadows are never stopped or dealt with, the world evolves in a way with these replicas that is every bit as ridiculous as it is unexplained, and the negatives that hindered Reeves’ family replicants are never addressed again. I guess they just diminish in the same way my expectations for this movie did. It ends as abruptly as you can possibly imagine, leaving ten minutes of credits to inflate the movie’s run time to feel like a big screen run time.

My Grade – 3/10 or F

Welcome To Marwen

Directed By Robert Zemeckis

Starring – Steve Carell, Leslie Mann, Diane Kruger

The Plot – When a devastating attack shatters Mark Hogancamp (Carell) and wipes away all memories, no one expected recovery. Putting together pieces from his old and new life, Mark meticulously creates a wondrous town where he can heal and be heroic. As he builds an astonishing art installation, a testament to the most powerful women he knows, through his fantasy world, he draws strength to triumph in the real one.

Rated PG-13 for sequences of fantasy violence, some disturbing images, brief suggestive content, thematic material and adult language

POSITIVES

– Vibrancy in art design. While nothing original in terms of its production specifics, the animation in the film free-flows the beauty and attention to detail of a doll’s aesthetics. The actors film these scenes in live action, and in post-production are given a plastic shine filter to emulate them as acting dolls against a live action backdrop. In addition, the lighting of these scenes are beautiful, conjuring up a soft gloss of light that reflects on the smooth plastic exterior of their physical properties. You can say a lot of things about this film, but lacking in the art department will never be one of them.

– Steve Carell dazzles once again. The screenplay does this man zero favors in making his character look presentable to the audience, yet the constant professionalism of one of the strongest dramatic forces working today constantly elevates the material and gives light to another transformative performance. In Carell’s Hogancamp, we taste humor, some anguish, and a lot of fragility, and it’s in the masking of the last term where we really outline a layer of empathy to the character, making his a story of redemption that we are constantly investing ourselves in. Steve delivers a lot of heart for the real life figure, and that commitment to the ball of nerves that dominate his daily routine is something that only an actor of this magnitude can pull off without it feeling humorous every time.

– Believable setting. The boundaries of Mark’s real life town inside of Kingston, New York are tightly shot, preserving that air of a small town quality where everyone knows everything going on. This not only explains why Mark’s situation is the discussion of so many people surrounding him, but also a news broadcast that clues us in on what’s taking place with the men who jumped and beat him down during one fateful night. This is an area of filmmaking that is often overlooked for whatever reason, but in keeping our filming locations limited, and the framing tight, it accurately presents that air of claustrophobia inside of a small town.

NEGATIVES

– Musical miscues. Besides these obvious tracks feeling distracting during the scenes in which they play because of their boisterous volume levels, the overall soundtrack for the film is riddled in such topical convenience for what is playing out on-screen. An example is a sleeping sequence that is being enveloped by The Everly Brothers “Dream” playing out in the most eye-rolling manner. It made for these times of musical incorporation that I dreaded hearing from, and made me wish the remainder of the film was a silent one from the roaring 20’s.

– Cluttered dialogue. There’s nothing subtle or nuanced about the dialogue in the film. From force-feeding of backstories, to obvious metaphorical representations, this film constantly reeked of desperation, and progressed little because of how much explanation it was required to give for the past. Because of such, it feels like two movies are playing out in real time: one for the current narrative, and the one in which the movie has to stop every two minutes to explain something we see in real time or hear about on the news. Who knew in 2018 that biopics can still be this clumsily written?

– Lack of sensitivity for the subject matter. Hogancamp’s story is one that is plagued by mental illness, depression, and especially abuse, and the screenplay tiptoes around these subjects so as not to make anything under Zimeckis’ roof feel risque. For Mark himself, the movie approaches him as this bumbling infant who is part compassionate and part creepy for the demeanor he exerts on others. An example of this is his interaction with Leslie Mann’s character, in which he describes how he collects women’s essences. Keep in mind that all of this is out of Mann’s context, as she just moved to the town, and would otherwise come across as a serial killer who is obsessed with her likeness. In addition, the conflict of mental illness is cleaned up in such a way that is not only insulting to someone like me who has fought his own battles with such adversities, but irresponsible for how easy it is eventually defeated.

– The “Sucker Punch” effect. Zach Snyder’s 2011 fantasy epic is the last film that I ever thought or ever wanted to reference again, but it feels like Zimeckis has watched this film one too many times in his rendering of this project. The fantasy sequences often take far too long to reach their point. As well, they also dominate the time allowance over the live action narrative in a two-to-one ratio, taking far too much focus away from Mark’s confining circumstance. There’s almost too much optimism in a story that should otherwise feel so dark, and I’m not naive enough for a second to believe that the answer to both films conflicts resonate somewhere in the fantasy world. Seriously, fuck you.

– Disjointed continuity. Some character dynamics are dropped and never referenced again, some female doll likenesses are never explained or introduced at all, and some scenes are so miniscule in importance that they were better left on the cutting room floor. It all pressures the pacing of the film into some dire consequences that make 111 minutes feel like three hours of burning wax torture. The main problem is that these scenes never allow themselves to pick up any kind of relative momentum, instead feeling like a collection of instances that don’t gel together as one cohesive unit that is otherwise building towards the bigger picture.

– A talented cast that is completely wasted. Besides what I mentioned earlier about the work of Carell as the film’s central protagonist, the entirety of the female cast is shipped in and shipped off in such a way that makes their value that of their wax counterparts. There just simply isn’t enough time to donate to all of them, so inevitably someone is going to get sacrificed, and the pendulum swings more on Mann and Janelle Monae than anyone else. Mann is Mark’s love interest, and aside from them intentionally lacking chemistry despite Mann and Carell doing three films together, the development constantly feels rushed and unnatural in the way it flows, limiting the film’s one redeeming quality in such a way that gives us the audience nothing to look forward to from the predictably bland third act that comes to fruition.

– Pretentiousness rears its ugly head again. While this isn’t the most pretentious film of 2018 thanks to Lars Von Trier’s “The House That Jack Built”, it does more than its share of Zimeckis referencing to drown out the immersion of the film. I won’t spoil all of them, but I would be doing you a disservice if I didn’t mention that the Doloreon from “Back to the Future” is prominently featured in the dynamic of an important scene, midway through the final act. Why is this included? Because one of the doll’s require a time machine, and we obviously can’t think of anything other than Robert’s biggest franchise when it comes to that distinction. It stinks of desperation, and emits an air of pretentious filmmaking that reminds us that Zimeckis is leaps and bounds from where he once was.

My Grade: 3/10 or F+

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