Just Getting Started

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

3/10

You Get Me

The repercussions of a teenage obsession pushes one man to the bring of a dangerous tug-of-war between two women, in Netflix’s ‘You Get Me’. Tyler’s (Taylor John Smith) crazy in love with his perfect girlfriend Ali (Halston Sage), but when a big fight during a rowdy Summer party makes him and Ali break up abruptly, Tyler meets, befriends, and lands in the arms of sexy out-of-towner named Holly (Bella Thorne), a quiet loner from the other side of the tracks who shows him a night of passion that he’s gonna remember for the rest of his life. The next morning, Tyler finds that not only is Ali taking him back, but Holly is a new student at their high school and is dead set on fighting for her new man, even if it means stretching the boundaries of what qualifies for a teenage relationship. ‘You Get Me’ is handled by first time director Brent Bonacorso, and is currently not rated.

Ever since ‘Fatal Attraction’ tore audiences apart in 1987 with its introduction into the subgenre known as stalker love thrillers, there has been no shortage of imitators that have diminished the value of returns in its cloning. Thirty years later comes another one with ‘You Get Me’, the newest minimal budget offering from Netflix in which they are once again trying to strike it big with cheap popcorn thrills by instilling a couple of up-and-coming actors to its ensemble to overcome the watered down saturation of a predictable script that we’re able to choreograph because of its familiarity. Ultimately, this film has zero surprises or notable exceptions that save it from stepping out of the shadows of its bigger, better predecessors, bringing out the underwhelming taste of a straight-to-video finished product that stands on the minority side of forgettable Netflix returns. There’s complacency and then there’s mind-numbingly lazy, and because so much of ‘You Get Me’ flies by without much weight or originality to its events, the film feels like a made-for-television re-run that is trying to capitalize on a film that is far out its league.

With great time and experience comes great results, and with this being Bonacorso’s debut offering behind the lens, there’s plenty to his lacking that ultimately dulls down ‘You Get Me’ to the point of boredom. This is merely a 93 minute film that seems to overstep the necessities of character psychology or appropriate tempo in mood in ever capitalizing on investing the audience into its dilemma. In turn, eating up enough screen time along the way to piecing it together appropriately into making the film run smoothly in the way of competent pacing. It took me three different pauses to get through this film, mainly because anytime the ball of momentum starts to roll in bringing some kind of suspense to this movie, I was yet again reminded of its inept follow-thru by Bonacorso that left much to be desired. From a directing standpoint, Brent feels like he is looking at getting through this mess of a film in the quickest way possible, serving little to the imagination of profitable shots or artistic merit that gives his film the kind of fresh outlook in the way of conventional teenage cinema that lacks the shock or awe as a result of reputable presence to ever value its genre.

For the screenplay, it’s all quite predictable, bringing out the greatest hits of ‘Swimfan’ and ‘Malicious’ to mind for the by-the-book direction that it so endlessly clung to. In the first act of the movie, we meet, review the relationship of, and experience the break-up of our two main characters. This decision alone feels like the weakest measure in terms of capable storytelling because it never feels official or warranted as to why they are separating in the first place. To me, it would’ve added greater impact and more of a character flaw in arc for Tyler if he and Ali just had a bad fight but no break-up ever ensued. But because the film ends their union briefly, the effects of him getting with Holly never feel like the kind of betrayal that the film needed much later when the bombshell drops. On top of this, the tone for the entire first half of the movie feels terribly out of focus, depicting the one night stand of Tyler and Holly with the kind of light-hearted music and fun quick-cut edits to instill to the audience their good time together. This is important in flaw with what I have explained about the brief deposition of the first act because the script wasting more time on Holly instead of Ali does give off that bit of support for their chemistry that we were only shown glimpses of in the previous fifteen minutes.

Beyond this, the major problems that I had with the film rested in its meandering musical score by composer Robert Miller, as well as the overall ending that underwhelmed all the way to the finish line. On the former, let me get it straight that this isn’t a terrible musical score, but rather just one that oversteps the boundaries of performances that never add depth to their characters. The score commits what I deem one of my least favorite problems with music in films, in that it forces the audience what to feel about a certain character because that certain actor or actress isn’t strong enough to convey the feeling of tone that the flawed director is trying to omit from them. The score is often too loud during montage scenes of trance music, and often too encroaching during valued scenes of exposition that this film doesn’t capitalize enough on. As for the ending, the build-up for the final conflict far exceeded that of the finished result that concluded literally nothing about this story or conflict. It takes the easy way out with its final few shots, proving that the script has limited gravity in turning this teenage audience to adults with a resonating final shot. As expected, there’s a brief (and I do mean brief) fight sequence that breaks out, and the shot of impact is depicted as so far back that the production doesn’t have to waste any time or effects on producing an effect for a vital wound.

As for performances, this ensemble completely flubs the opportunity in conjuring up a breakout performance that the trio of fresh faces could’ve used in making their names. Bella Thorne particularly could’ve supplanted a new side to her acting with this role that would’ve gotten her out of the typecast of ditzy characters that she’s been reduced to up to this point, but sadly her work as Holly feels every bit as underdeveloped as it does shallow. I never believed for a minute that Thorne was feeling the events of betrayal and jealousy that enveloped her character, nor did I ever feel that her sinister plan was that devastating of an adverse effect to that of Tyler. The film brings up a surprise for her character midway through and then never mentions it again. Just an example of the incompetence that plagued every aspect of this film. Smith and Sage don’t have the slightest bit of chemistry between them, presenting two characters who couldn’t be any more opposite in approach for a script that needs requires their union to be valuable. Sage would definitely be the best performance if I had to pick one, but she’s constantly reduced to the naive girlfriend character who doesn’t see the obvious signs that are right in front of her for everything that is transpiring.

THE VERDICT – Stalker thrillers come and go like the wind, but ‘You Get Me’ is so hollow inside of its conventional body of outline that it blows away early on and never finds its footing for the remainder. Brent Bonacorso’s stale teenage horror thriller never reaches the elevation of tension or gritty performances that made ‘Fatal Attraction’ the measuring stick for the subgenre, resulting in an undercooked and underdeveloped hybrid that feels restricted to the shadows it follows.

3/10

All I See Is You

The future of one rocky relationship becomes clearer, in ‘All I See Is You’. Written and directed by Marc Forster, this psychological drama, defies genre to tell this obsessive love story. Gina (Blake Lively) & husband James (Jason Clarke) have an almost perfect marriage. After being blinded as a child in a nearly fatal car crash, Gina exclusively depends on James to feel and “see” the world around her, and it appears only to solidify their extremely passionate relationship. She envisions the world in her own vivid imagination with help from James’ descriptions. While the two enjoy a colorful existence living in Bangkok, their life and relationship are upended after Gina receives a corneal transplant & regains her sight. With her restored vision, Gina experiences the world with a new sense of wonder & independence which James finds threatening. It is only when Gina suddenly begins to lose her sight again that she finally realizes the disturbing reality of their marriage and their lives. ‘All I See Is You’ is rated R for strong sexual content/nudity, and adult language.

Not all meets the eye with ‘All I See Is You’, a film so void of story direction that it often walks into walls during the progression of its 105 minute runtime. Marc Forster’s newest film is one that has been on the shelf for nearly three years, shuffling from studio to studio before finally being buried in the late October graveyard of forgettable releases. Does this one live up to that syntax? Very much so. I don’t want to say that this film is pointless because there are a couple of positives that I want to mention later on, but this film struggles so repeatedly in finding a competently comfortable tone and story direction that fires on all cylinders creatively at the same time. Considering that this is written and directed by the same man, it’s appalling that this film has such a disconnect from one aspect of the film to the next, leaving each area of production scurrying in contradicting stances that makes it all feel like a vicious victim of the hack-and-slash surgical jobs that studios have been known to make when they lack the kind of confidence that comes with a big screen release.

First of all is the story so jumbled that it feels like our main character suffers from amnesia, as opposed to being blind. I say that because for about the first forty-five minutes of ‘All I See Is You’, I struggled to even find meaning in the visuals and events that I was being shown. At least within the first act of this movie I stayed committed to what little was actually transpiring, but the second and third acts elevate the benign stupidity tenfold. The tone deaf atmosphere immediately shifts from a dramatic tale of adversity to an almost acidic thriller without much context in between. Things happen between this couple that feels very shallow in where the film wants to take the decaying nature of their relationship, so much so that none of their arguments ever feel honest to me in their depictions. There’s a lot of unnecessary sex angles that the film deems necessary in taking advantage of its coveted R-rating, but leaving these aspects in offered very little exposition to where Forster takes us as a writer. The final ten minutes of the movie is so confusing that I had to look up the film on Wikipedia just for the explanation of everything that takes place in its cryptic movements that are sure to not satisfy even the most immersed moviegoers who have taken the unbelievable plunge of hanging on for this long.

The characters and performances are so over the top that it made for an extremely difficult task in supporting any one of them. Blake Lively is definitely the most passable if I had to pick one, but the biggest problem with her detail in being blind is that her eyes still very much move like a person who can see at all times. A great example of being blind in movies is Al Pacino in ‘Scent of a Woman’. Lively gives a lot of energy in her portrayal of Gina, but it’s clear that the limited direction doesn’t give her a lot of time to woo the audience into making this role her own. Jason Clarke again continues to confuse me, because in some films like ‘Lawless’ and ‘Rise of the Planet of the Apes’ he was great, but in ‘All I See Is You’ his character is so detestable even when he’s trying to be admirable that I kept hoping the film wouldn’t cut to him. There is an obvious stance that the film is trying to make with him taking advantage of Gina’s handicap, but even during moments of sincerity, Clarke’s bland personality pushed me to support Lively’s character even when she’s doing some less than flattering things.

Without question, the only thing that keeps my grade for the film being as high as it is, is in the impeccable artistic direction of Forester that provided some truly surreal point-of-view moments in the shoes of Gina. During these sequences of blurry detail, we get such beautifully decadent blasts of colorful eruption that is sure to please the art crowds aplenty. In addition to this, Forester also has his finger on the pulse of the colorful backdrops that envelope this film, blending in gorgeous props of flowers and exotic locations to really feed into Gina’s awakening back in. In fact, the biggest message that I took from the film didn’t come from the jaded screenplay or underdeveloped characters, but instead the artistic merit that hints subtly that we take advantage of the beauty in the world that we see every day. Sometimes the biggest gift is to stop and take it all in because some people aren’t granted the same liberty.

One weird side note that I couldn’t understand during the Gina POV shots was why the film blurs the sound to match the limited visuals that she is seeing. This gives off the impression that Gina is blind AND deaf at the same time, offering a confusing side to detail that the film over-convolutes for its own rules. The sound itself gives off an echo effect that some films can sometimes use to depict someone who is dazed or even underneath some kind of equipment like a helmet to distort what they are hearing. It doesn’t sound like a big deal, but authenticity is everything to this critic, so I couldn’t understand why Gina’s limited visual capacity clouded her other senses that are supposed to be stronger because of the lack of vision. This wasn’t just a one time thing either, the entirety of the blind and near-sighted sequences engage in this aspect of production that makes absolutely zero sense with the rules that are easy enough to understand with this predicament from the get-go.

THE VERDICT – ‘All I See Is You’ is a visually stylish but materially empty psychodrama that superficially dissolves the many chances that is given to Forester to offer something compelling in its circumstance. The pretentious level is so high with this one that moviegoers will need to stick their noses directly up into the air to compliment its shallow delivery that goes nowhere fast. Lively was better suited swimming with the sharks literally, instead of doing it here figuratively.

3/10

Geostorm

Technology plays another instrument of our undoing, in the newest science fiction disaster flick ‘Geostorm’. After an unprecedented series of natural disasters threatened the planet, the world’s leaders came together to create an intricate network of satellites to control the global climate and keep everyone safe. But now, something has gone wrong—the system built to protect the Earth is attacking it, and it’s a race against the clock to uncover the real threat before a worldwide geostorm wipes out everything…and everyone along with it. Gerard Butler stars as Jake, a scientist who, along with his brother, Max, played by Jim Sturgess, is tasked with solving the satellite program’s malfunction. Abbie Cornish stars as Secret Service agent Sarah Wilson; Alexandra Lara as Ute Fassbinder, the ISS astronaut who runs the space station; Daniel Wu as Cheng, the Hong Kong-based supervisor for the Dutch Boy Program; with Andy Garcia as U.S. President Andrew Palma; and Ed Harris as Secretary of State Leonard Dekkom. ‘Geostorm’ is written and directed by Dean Devlin, and is rated PG-13 for destruction, action, and violence.

‘Geostorm’ is the latest in the series of compelling cases that showcase just how stupid human beings in movies truly are. For a film that centers around ideas for the future that speak out to some of the problems with Global Warming that we face in our own real world, this film lacks any kind of intelligence or concrete fact in backing up its truly fantasy-like concoctions of thinking when it involves solutions. I get that this is a movie, but even in a film it isn’t asking too much to think inside of the realm of logical solutions, and because of that I could never remotely take this movie seriously in any capacity. ‘Geostorm’ feels like a Sy-Fy Channel movie of the week, complete with awful C.G effects and equally bad acting to compete for the honors of being so bad that it’s good. This one isn’t good in any stretch of the imagination, and leaves behind it 104 minutes that is every bit as convoluted in expositional explanation as it is dull to sleepy levels of visual presentation.

The film’s material spark comes from a speech that president Kennedy gave in 1961, in which he predicted that we are on the cusp of evolution with controlling the weather. It’s clear that over fifty years later that JFK’s prediction still feels incredibly far-fetched, made even more obvious by this film’s lack of details that support how any of this is even possible, let alone how it is being monitored. Lets pretend for a moment that we can suspend enough disbelief to imagine that computers can run our weather. Why leave it in the hands of something so vulnerable? Considering bank accounts and personal information get hacked all the time at the highest respectable security, why should we think that the weather couldn’t be broken into as well? On top of this, the film supplants the idea that one man’s fingers have the scanning to shut it all down. What if the president goes into a coma? What if he dies? What if a terrorist kidnaps him and removes his hand? These are just some of the examples of stupidity that riddle this film to the core, calling itself out on its own bullshit for its great lack of trying.

There’s certainly very little redeemable qualities about the cast, considering the fight for screen time feels sacrificial on more than just a few of the supporting characters. Butler, Cornish, and Sturgess are definitely the prime focus here, but the first act vaguely skims over their character arc’s and leaves them moving without a pulse of intrigue that you feel for their bland personalities. With other disaster films, it was important enough to cast these big name actors that can carry even the flimsiest of time devoted to their characters, but the trio listed above never feel like the most entertaining of people who we want to spend nearly two hours with. I blame a lot of this on what feels like these actors playing up to a character outline and never making these examples their own. Butler’s Jake is a hard-ass. Big stretch there. Sturgess Max is the brother in the suit who is always at odds with his own brotherly kin. This relationship is played at more than a few resemblances to that of Ben Affleck and Bruce Willis in ‘Armageddon’, and believe me when I say that the two films similarities don’t stop there. As for Cornish, she’s definitely the most fun to watch because she’s a female secret service agent who feels progressive in her role, but what’s even more remarkable is how little I took away from her background. The character is left essentially cryptic beyond her involvement with Max and her being the president’s protection. THAT’S IT. There was a chance to really bring the female audience into the fold with this one, but the grading of the overall entirety of Cornish as well as every other character leaves this film with limited personality on getting it through the fold of some truly perplexing directions of tone.

On that subject, you would expect ‘Geostorm’ to be entirely a disaster film with little or no additional tonal shift to give it merit, but you would be wrong. At its heart, this is mostly a political thriller, in that our main characters are trying to reveal who is responsible for clouding the clear path to the White House for the president just days before the election. What I liked about this additional trek is that it at least tries to make itself something more than just the popcorn disaster flicks that are disposable less than five minutes after you leave the theater. Where it fails in my opinion is in forgetting about its previous designation about midway through the film, leaving us with a noticeable lack of visual spectrum one hour in that had me fighting back sleep. Its stance is so political at times that it feels like the central premise is sidelined as a subplot, crippling for many what will pack the butts in the seats and leave them thirsty for the big budget devastation that they were promised in the unsubtle trailers.

When it does happen, the devastation is very impactful in the film, even if its visual presentation leaves much more to be desired. If you’re going to see this movie, see it in a theater with a great sound system, as the chorus of impact certainly never shielded the weight of every crushing The C.G effects unfortunately didn’t impress me as much as the sound mixing because so much about it feels obvious in its color rendering that made backdrops standout as foreign for the shot. A fine example of this is during a White House briefing that shows the house with an obvious green screen shadowing around it. This can sometimes give off the feeling that the sky looks fake around it, but it’s actually the residence that lacks authenticity and gives way to the eyesore of every scene. The crashing of buildings is serious enough to make Michael Bay or Jerry Bruckheimer cream themselves, but at this point in 2017, these kind of effects don’t radiate in the same vein that they did twenty years prior. We’ve pulled back the curtain on our expectations for the action epics of current day, so now the magicians behind the lens must find another trick to give these presentations something more than a taste of outdated spoil.

THE VERDICT – ‘Geostorm’ puts the disaster back in disaster movie. With a lackluster visual capacity, as well as bigger plot holes than the one in the ozone, Devlin’s supposed action spectacular fumbles away the chance for thrills in favor of a political mystery that serves as the final nail in the coffin for the patience that the film quickly eats away at. While weather is usually an uncertainty, one thing is for sure about this witless made-for-TV spectacle; when it rains, it pours.

3/10

The Stray

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

3/10

Woodshock

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

3/10

My Little Pony: The Movie

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

3/10

Flatliners

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

3/10

Home Again

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

3/10

Wish Upon

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

3/10

The House

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

3/10

Transformers: The Last Knight

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

3/10