A Quiet Place

Directed By John Krasinski

Starring – John Krasinski, Emily Blunt, Noah Jupe

The Plot – In this modern horror thriller, a family of four must navigate their lives in silence after mysterious creatures that hunt by sound threaten their survival. If they hear you, they hunt you.

Rated PG-13 for terror and some bloody imagery

THE POSITIVES

– Considering Krasinski is pulling triple duty here (Writer, Director, Star), it goes without saying that he digs his grip deep on the pulse of what makes horror films work. Classics like ‘The Thing’ and ‘Psycho’ work because they focus on the characters long before the terror surrounding them. This movie often feels like a coming of age story for two kids that just so happens to take place in a post apocalyptic setting, leaving the ambiance of the antagonists firmly in hand, without soiling their mysticism.

– The performances are equally impressive without needing much dialogue. I don’t get to brag about child actors often, but Millicent Simmonds and Noah Jupe command the screen, playing a brother and sister duo that harvest such resentment towards their tortured pasts. If this wasn’t enough, Blunt’s on-screen chemistry with real life husband Krasinski transcends any kind of story setting, and illustrates some of that surreal bond between them that gives their on-screen relationship believability.

– Much of the sound mixing and design is impeccable. For Simmonds, she is deaf in real life, as well as the film, so what the film does is highlight her point of view by dimming the volume any time we get a point-of-view shot from her perspective. Beyond this, the film juggles tension in sound so wonderfully that it gives meaning to each of the terrific jump scares that it designs.

– I have mostly good and a few bad things to say about Krasinski’s writing here, but for the positives I will say that he carefully places the focus of each scene on a singular object and watches the madness implode around that object. It’s pretty cool because we as an audience know that thing is there and we know what’s going to happen, we just don’t know how, and it’s in the how where such tension is built continuously until the big impact happens. Perfection in patience, sir.

– As for the C.G antagonists, I loved their mix of Carnage and Predator in design scheme that felt like it brought an entirely new hybrid to 21st century monsters. Much of the effects work for this artificial property does present itself as visually stimulating for a low budget horror flick, and their movements were given plenty of weight to make it constantly breed danger anytime they show up.

– There’s tons of respect that I have for any movie that forces audiences in a theater to shut up and just focus. Because the film’s audio is mostly dimmed for a majority of the scenes, it transfixes us in this kind of muted embrace to immerse ourselves within this world on-screen, making it easy to get lost in the story and characters that outline the rules.

– The combination of Krasinski’s unnerving camera angles combined with composer Marco Beltrami’s stimulating musical score, carves out the most suspense in every conflict. Beltrami never feels intrusive or betraying of the very mood set up in the film, and his score seems to remain guarded until our characters finally decide to make a move.

– Most of this film is surprisingly well paced considering its plot is quite basic. Most of it can be credited to the credible performances, but I feel that the credit in keeping the audience invested relies upon Krasinski’s desire to show us what is boiling in his left hand, while reaching for something else to get ready with the right. It proves that he never stops thinking, and his sequencing of these attacks are something of a worthy prize during the scenes that push us to the edge with ensuing tension.

THE NEGATIVES

– There were a few too many conveniences especially during the final ten minutes of the movie that soured my investment into the well-being of these characters. There are times when their decisions are incredibly smart for a film in this genre, yet others when they fall under the very same stupidities that have made us laugh for decades. Once you know the trick in diluting these monsters, it becomes fairly easy how this family can get rid of them. But they keep them around because the plot requires them to, and the longer the film goes on, the more this becomes obvious.

– As I mentioned before, Krasinski nearly fires on every cylinder in his screenplay, but one such scene gave me the impression that he lost faith in his talented cast’s ability to visual storytelling. It happens during the middle of the movie at a waterfall, and gave me a sour taste with how it reviewed everything up to that point in a cliff notes sort of manner. One character blames themselves for something bad that happened a year prior, and it’s fairly obvious that this person lives with that grief, but the movie wants to keep checking to make sure we know this VIA a father and son talk that serves as nothing but a review for people who haven’t been paying attention up to this point.

8/10

Blockers

Directed by Kay Cannon

Starring – John Cena, Leslie Mann, Ike Barinholtz

The Plot – When three parents stumble upon their daughters’ pact to lose their virginity at prom, they launch a covert one-night operation to stop the teens from sealing the deal.

Rated R for crude and sexual content, and adult language throughout, drug content, teen partying, and some graphic nudity

THE POSITIVES

– Barinholtz once again steals the show with his blend of honest reactions and deadpan deliveries that keep you chuckling constantly. It’s great to see the former Mad TV alum getting his due in films like this and ‘Neighbors’ because there’s something commendable about the guy who takes pride in taking on the dirty jobs in characters.

– What I find creative about this script is that it’s basically taking a time old tradition in narrative of teenagers making a pact to lose their virginity at prom, basically a subgenre at this point, and adding a female perspective on it. Beyond this, there’s a hearty discussion about gender bias that does offer an insightfully educational perspective on the treatment of men versus women that will enlighten you. For a change, the women are the crude ones in this film, while their male suitors are relaxed and even flamboyant to a degree. This proves that anything men can do, women can do better.

– There is equal screen time dedicated to the respective trios in this film, young and adult, who each balance the beam of entertainment competently. While I felt that the adults overall had better chemistry and believability to their characters, the teenagers conflicts were the reason I bought my ticket, and I’m quite satisfied with where this one resolved.

– Incredible pacing. While the film is an easy 97 minutes, it honestly felt about half of that with how consistently it keeps the narrative and these characters moving. Constant change-ups in backdrops are a big key to this benefit, and there certainly is no shortage of situations on this memorable night that keep these characters tested.

– While I did feel like the film occasionally tries too hard with its brand of crude humor, the best gags to me were the ones that feel like they almost happen on accident. Leslie Mann’s encounter with a flat screen, as well as an overzealous limo driver gave me the biggest laughs of the night, proving that sometimes comedy happens without the need to set everything up.

– So much can be said about the debauchery that happens during the film, but there is a surprisingly refreshing amount of warning that comes with the adult themes that these ladies take on. Considering youths are the majority going to see this film, I commend any movie that takes the time to explain that you can have fun just as long as you play it carefully.

THE NEGATIVES

– During heartfelt sequences that could elevate this comedy to soaring heights, it often feels soiled by a forced joke that doesn’t add anything to the unraveling substance before us. Much of this happens during the closing minutes, and sometimes I feel like the intrusion really took away from what these comic veterans like Mann and Barinholtz could prove to the audience.

– As well with the comedy, the film’s dialogue often feels forced in animating the responses for the camera. This takes away the integrity and honesty that the brothers of screenwriters are going for, and instead caters to the film setting and all of its humorous soundbites. The person heavily to blame with this is Cena, who proves he still has a long way to go in making a character his own, and not just a jock who says cute things.

– Comedies are never technical marvels of cinema, but this is easily one of the worst edited movies that I have seen this year. Sequences feel prematurely cut, and the continuity from shot-to-shot character perspective is filled with holes so big that you could drive a Buick through them.

– Considering the entirety of this movie proceeds because of a convenient plot point revolving around the parents stumbling upon a chat between their daughters on a laptop, the creators can’t even get the logic in this instance correct. While it is possible to read phone texts on a laptop VIA Apple, laptops do often go to a screensaver or power down after they have been left on for too long. The scene in which Mann reads these texts happen no sooner than an hour between this pre-prom party that starts with the daughter on the laptop, and concludes with Mann snooping on her laptop. I can’t believe for a second that this computer would still be running. In addition to that, it’s convenient that the sounds the texts make are loud enough to hear from the kitchen.

6/10

Tyler Perry’s Acrimony

Directed by Tyler Perry

Starring – Taraji P Henson, Lyriq Bent, Crystle Stewart

The Plot – A faithful wife (Henson) tired of standing by her devious husband (Bent) is enraged when it becomes clear she has been betrayed as a result of a hidden affair. After the news breaks, revenge is the game, and hell hath no fury like a woman scorned.

Rated R for adult language, sexual content, and some violence

THE POSITIVES

– Henson knows in her mind that she’s far too good for a Tyler Perry movie, but nonetheless she commits herself in omitting a truly haunting and emotionally scarred performance. Taraji was clearly given no boundaries here, and despite her filmography this year leaving slightly more to be desired, it’s clear that the talented actress gives you the most return for your dollar.

– If Perry can do one thing right, it’s that he knows how to keep his audience invested. The film is narrated throughout by Henson’s character while talking to a therapist. As the film goes on, it feels more and more like she’s really communicating with those ladies in the audience who have been down this very road a time or two, making it extremely difficult to ignore something that ties so closely to their own lives.

THE NEGATIVES

– Continuity errors. It’s funny that while the two love interests are in high school, the female is noticeably two or three inches taller than the male, but ten years later their characters have morphed to give us a depiction of the man now being at least five inches taller. That’s a huge swing for post-adolescence.

– Jarring Green screen backdrops. There are some beautiful shots of the city engulfed in fog that seems to hint at the unforeseen troubles ahead for these characters, but anytime a character is shown in front of this area, the outline of their bodily properties is so terribly shaded that you’re constantly reminded of this cheap presentation by a director with tight pockets.

– The run time of two hours is far too long for this screenplay. This isn’t because the film is terribly paced or boring, but rather the perils of repetition that could easily use another edit in keeping it closer to that 100 minute mark.

– In addition to that repetition, the film is also prolonged by convenient plot devices that pop up out of nowhere. These scenes puzzle me even further because they often feel like they accompany a scene that is missing from the movie. One such example is a woman’s purse that shows up in our leading man’s truck, but the scene before that one the woman mentions how she refuses to be alone with him. So did she change her mind, or do purses fly all of a sudden?

– I had to check how many different writers penned this script because I refused to believe that the sharp turns in character logic were written by a single author. Much to my surprise, Perry also wrote this film, leading me to believe that he himself suffers from mixed personality disorder. Characters switch sides at the drop of a hat, and the film’s third act flies so far off of the rails that it feels like we’ve stumbled upon a completely different film all together. Just more proof of the man’s genius.

– This film is every bit as manipulative as it is morally bankrupt. If you saw the trailers, they made it look like Taraji’s character was taking revenge on a former lover for cheating on her and giving the new love all of the things that she deserved. This couldn’t be further from the truth. In fact, the last act of the movie convolutes character motivation so drastically that it almost approaches the clutches of Stockholm Syndrome with arms wide open, refusing to ever punish those who laid the groundwork for such conclusions.

– ‘Acrimony’ was made in eight days, and it clearly shows. In addition to the missing scenes that I mentioned before, much of the dialogue feels sloppily rushed and overall in a hurry to get to reach its destination without cutting to the psychology involved in spousal abuse. Any person with a shred of logic can comprehend that no sane adult would ever make these movements. On top of this, the film takes the time to visually define what Acrimony as well as other words associated with the script mean. That’s great because the only thing that can top laughably bad dialogue is an English lesson. SWEET!!!

– This is a thriller that for the most part lacks the thrills. We get one scene of action early on in the movie, then nothing until the final twenty minutes that I mentioned above. Perry as a screenwriter relies upon frantic dialogue reads by Henson, instead of the unchained Taraji that was promoted. For my money, watch the final twenty minutes. You could probably fill in the blanks as to what happened even without the rest.

2/10

God’s Not Dead: A Light In Darkness

Directed by Michael Mason

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

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

Rated PG for thematic elements including some violence and suggestive material

THE POSITIVES

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

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

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

THE NEGATIVES

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

3/10

Ready Player One

Directed by Steven Spielberg

Starring – Tye Sheridan, Olivia Cooke, Ben Mendelsohn

The Plot – In the year 2045, the real world is a harsh place. The only time Wade Watts (Sheridan) truly feels alive is when he escapes to the OASIS, an immersive virtual universe where most of humanity spends their days. In the OASIS, you can go anywhere, do anything, be anyone-the only limits are your own imagination. The OASIS was created by the brilliant and eccentric James Halliday (Mark Rylance), who left his immense fortune and total control of the Oasis to the winner of a three-part contest he designed to find a worthy heir. When Wade conquers the first challenge of the reality-bending treasure hunt, he and his friends-aka the High Five-are hurled into a fantastical universe of discovery and danger to save the OASIS.

Rated PG-13 for sequences of sci-fi action violence, bloody images, some suggestive material, partial nudity and adult language.

THE POSITIVES

– The aesthetic touch couldn’t be better, bringing to life the vibrant visuals of the OASIS with a synthetic gaming feel. I would normally call out other films that depend so much on C.G graphics, but this kind of effect was made for a film that almost entirely takes place in a world so foreign from our own.

– Art imitating life?? Because of the beauty and adventure involved in the OASIS, the real world is associated with a bleak, almost hopeless feel by comparison. There’s a real sense of escapism with this gaming world, and while that comes with endless exhilaration for our protagonist, it ignores the real problems that have doomed society because of their dependency upon this magical place. This responsible take is every bit as refreshing as it is vocal about our own addictions to technology.

– There’s no secret that this film could easily be called ‘Easter Egg: The Movie’ because of its endless displays of pop culture icons from film and gaming that give it an overall big budget feature. What’s surprisingly pleasing however, is that with the exception of one scene, their appearances feel necessary in upping the ante of importance to Halliday’s future and never steal the film’s focus for themselves. In catching them all, this film has outstanding replay value, and will welcome hundreds of upcoming Youtube videos to point out the ones that are extremely obscure.

– Spielberg has directed adult or child protagonists before, but surprisingly never teenagers until now. In doing so, it feels like he has a real grasp on their psychology and mannuerisms when it comes to their overall sense of spontaneity. ‘Ready Player One’ could easily pass for a teenage genre film in any of the eras it homages, and it’s clear that Spielberg’s latest awakens the adolescent from within him that has constantly kept beating through over forty years in cinema.

– This film is a collective audio scrapbook of 80’s synth hits that each meet their desired emotion in their respective scenes without feeling topical. From Van Halen, to A-Ha, to even Twisted Sister, this soundtrack mirrors that of the fictional star power shown in the film, and serves as a respectable nod in our present day to the past era of music that felt bigger than life.

– Sound mixing at its finest. You have to listen and pay attention closely, but the sound effects in the OASIS that serve as a reaction when something has been hit or destroyed also borrows from film, carefully placing a sound that the audience is familiar with into a new atmosphere to give it a new lease on life. For instance, the fading picture noise in ‘Back to the Future’ is now used for the key reveals.

– Precise casting. I have only read ‘Ready Player One’ once, but for my money the casting of Sheridan and Cooke feels right on point. The two emote an on-screen chemistry that radiates without being forceful. What’s even more impressive is that these two must connect on a spiritual level and not a physical one since a majority of the film takes place in the OASIS. It’s also in the care and backstory of their respective characters that the film takes in drawing them together. You feel strong empathy and investment into their conflicts because of their conflict with this major corporation that has taken everything from them.

– It’s not often that I get edge-of-my-seat giddy during a film, at the age of 33 years old, but the second key challenge in the film had my eyes glued to the screen with anticipation. Many people will be raving about the third challenge in this film, but my vote for coolest scene goes to the second challenge that bends the pages of historical film without desecrating them.

– If you listen to me about anything, hear me when I say that ‘Ready Player One’ is the film you go all out for and pay top dollar. This is a film that deserves to be seen by as many eyes on the biggest screen possible. The 3D actually added effects work to the outline of characters and backdrops that put you front-and-center inside of the game, and for once the colors don’t diminish or fade with the thick lenses of these theater goggles. Treat yourself, you deserve it.

THE NEGATIVES
– A majority of the action sequences are shot a bit too close for my taste. What this does is make it slightly more difficult in registering each deciding blow with the kind of clarity needed in keeping the audience’s focus. Because so much of these scenes are cluttered with characters, I could’ve used that wide angle shot in seeing things from the grander scale, instead of feeling like I was holding the hand of the main character.

THE EXTRAS

– It hit me about midway through that this is a modern day ‘Willy Wonka and the Chocolate Factory’. Five kids work closely together while mining through a series of tests for the prize of winning a genius’s empire. Sound familiar?

9/10

Paul, Apostle of Christ

Directed by Andrew Hyatt

Starring – Jim Caviezel, James Faulkner, Joanne Whalley

The Plot – The story of two men, Luke (Caviezel), as a friend and physician, risks his life every time he ventures into the city of Rome to visit Paul (Faulkner), who is held captive in Nero’s darkest, bleakest prison cell. Before Paul’s death sentence can be enacted, Luke resolves to write another book, one that details the beginnings of “The Way” and the birth of what will come to be known as the church. But Nero is determined to rid Rome of Christians, and does not flinch from executing them in the grisliest ways possible. Bound in chains, Paul’s struggle is internal. He has survived so much; floggings, shipwreck, starvation, stoning, hunger and thirst, cold and exposure; yet as he waits for his appointment with death, he is haunted by the shadows of his past misdeeds. Alone in the dark, he wonders if he has been forgotten, and if he has the strength to finish well. Two men struggle against a determined emperor and the frailties of the human spirit in order to bequeath the Gospel of Jesus Christ to the world.

Rated PG-13 for some violent content and disturbing images

THE POSITIVES

– Religious films continue the momentum of earning themselves a valuable budget to spend on luxurious backdrops and authentic wardrobe displays. With more persistent success at the box office, this genre of films will only continue making the immersion into these stories that much easier.

– At its core, this is a strong character piece for Paul, and should’ve been used just for that. Far too often, too much unrelated exposition takes away from us translating the map of the world that he depicts on his face. I felt that these rare occasions in getting close to the character certainly made it a synch in understanding why he views Christ as his spiritual and life awakening.

– Committed performances that never crack or break under the pressure of the dependency of this screenplay. Caviezel’s Luke is stoic, Andre Agius’s Stephen is calculating, but it’s in the work of Faulkner as the title character that defines what it means to get lost in a role. As far as protagonists go, he doesn’t come across as preachy, instead settling for the effects of an iron will to get across his sermon.

– Never manipulative, but plenty inspiring. There’s certainly a message of standing for your faith over persecution, in ‘Paul’, but it never feels insulting or contradictory to any audience watching it at home. Because of this, I have to appreciate films like this that separate themselves from the Kirk Cameron’s and ‘God’s Not Dead’s’ of the world.

THE NEGATIVES

– Inconsistent lighting palates. One of my favorite things to pay attention to in films that take place before the dawn of electricity is how the lighting scheme works in every scene, and much of the use of candles during the nighttime sequences here feels far too bright without much shadow work accompanying them. Natural lighting should always be the decision for these kind of movies.

– This is definitely a film that feels ravaged by its rating. It amazes me that many religious films still don’t understand or grasp how R-rated the bible was, and as a result, the requirement to use your imagination in this film constantly exceeds the rewards in rare visuals that we receive.

– For my money, the most entertaining and informative parts of the film seem to happen off screen. There are no shortage of flashback sequences, so it’s my opinion that this is a three hour film that is trying so desperately to come across at 100 minutes. In doing so, much of the understanding of the conflict between the Romans and Catholics feels lost in translation, leading to……..

– An overall weak dramatic pull. Because much of the film involves a tell-and-not-show routine, its reach for a third act impact before the closing credits is one that comes and goes without much emotional impact on us. If a film doesn’t move you, it’s a reflection that it never attained the success of luring you into its conflicts.

– How is Nero not a presence in this film? Considering so much of the screenplay revolves around his actions and feelings towards the Catholics, the decision to make him a shadow figure in the ivory tower is one that comes across as a missed opportunity in crafting an ideal antagonist to rival the overabundance of protagonists that adorn the film.

– So much of the second half of this film drowns on because of nothing of physicality to accompany its overflowing dialogue. This would usually be where a war scene goes, but because the material is so stripped of anything confrontational, we play the listening game in waiting for something rumbling that never comes.
4/10

Unsane

Directed by Steven Soderbergh

Starring – Claire Foy, Joshua Leonard, Jay Pharoah

The Plot – A young woman (Foy) is involuntarily committed to a mental institution, where she is confronted by her greatest fear. But is it real or a product of her unraveling delusion?

Rated R for disturbing behavior, violence, adult language, and sex references

THE POSITIVES

– ‘Unsane’ was shot entirely on an Iphone, and I can say with the upmost confidence that none of the artistic integrity of a Soderbergh film is compromised here. While the film will obviously lack that expensive cinematography aspect to it, I felt that the faded coloring and unedited technique gave way to the unnerving and awkward tension that constantly boiled hot throughout the movie. In addition to this, the editing is precise for such cheap technology.

– As usual, Soderbergh is a master of luminous lighting. Here, his yellowish tints feed into the very secluded and secretive set locations within the hospital that communicate to you artistically that something much deeper and disturbing is at play here. However, my personal favorite coloring involved a dreary blue-toned twilight in the forest that is a mesmerizing blanket over a volcano of erupting brutality.

– Strong or solid performances all around. Foy gives a ferocious star-making turn, living through Sawyer as a complex woman with a lot of demons from her past. In doing so, Foy leaves just enough room to make you question her mental stability as a result of it all, making us question if the title of the movie serves to obvious foreshadowing. Beyond Foy, Jay Pharoah is great as her inside man inside of the hospital, and Joshua Leonard’s stone-faced stare paints a very vivid picture of a tortured past for Sawyer.

– I can appreciate a film that isn’t afraid of getting its hands dirty, and this film has no problems with feeding its horror appetites. Soderbergh waits with extreme patience for the moments that the violence will impact the most, playing through the anticipation like a composer just itching to drop that sharp note that will change the complexion of any number.

– There’s a surprising essence burning just under the surface of this film in speaking to a higher material of intelligence than just another experimental B-horror film. Soderbergh’s occasional preaching of the mistreatment of women, as well as the overall limited attention of the medical field, gave way to something remotely heavy handed that could’ve steered this into something more than a rental recommend.

– Steven loves his cameos. Midway through the film, a noticeable A-list actor makes a small one minute appearance, signaling once again this man’s unpredictability in popping up whenever he pleases. In the last few years alone, I can think of no shorter than four films that this actor has made a cameo in, but it’s his work here that feeds into the very definition of cameo; make a presence felt, extend the story, and leave them wanting more.

THE NEGATIVES

– Thomas Newman’s stock music entry here feels underwhelming, adding very little to the complexity or rising tension that a film like this needs. I do enjoy the decision to keep the inclusion of music very sporadic, feeding into a sense of surrealism that films are often afraid to do, but many important scenes go by as a kind of afterthought that with music could’ve done wonders in holding the attention of its audience, instead of testing it further.

– This film has some strong lapses in logic, as well as continuity flaws that serve as an argument for its sloppiness. There’s a dead body that magically transports to different places on its own, the decision to use only one room in this entire huge hospital to bed all of the patients together, and appropriate character stupidity that helps in prolonging this film. On the latter, most of it comes from our own protagonist. Thankfully Foy’s stirring performance radiates because her character is written helplessly naive.

– I mentioned earlier about the dual underlying issues that the film surprisingly takes on, but sadly the second half of the movie reverts its ways once the answer to our question is answered far too early in the film. Because of this, the entirety of the third act settles for being just another slasher thriller instead of the political conversation piece that could’ve presented ‘Unsane’ as the ‘Get Out’ of female commentary.

– The longer the film goes on, the more you start to feel the air being let out of the tires. There’s a scene that would’ve been perfect in ending the movie, but it drowns on for another ten minutes without ever truly finding the momentum that it had just scenes earlier. If this isn’t enough, there is a prologue scene that felt sorely tacked on to feed into the 80’s horror crowd that know where this is obviously heading.

6/10

Sherlock Gnomes

Directed by John Stevenson

Starring – Emily Blunt, Johnny Depp, James Mcavoy

The Plot – When Gnomeo (Mcavoy) and Juliet (Blunt) first arrive in the city with their friends and family, their biggest concern is getting their new garden ready for spring. However, they soon discover that someone is kidnapping garden gnomes all over London. When Gnomeo and Juliet return home to find that everyone in their garden is missing there’s only one gnome to call Sherlock Gnomes (Depp). The famous detective and sworn protector of London’s garden gnomes arrives with his sidekick Watson to investigate the case. The mystery will lead our gnomes on a rollicking adventure where they will meet all new ornaments and explore an undiscovered side of the city.

Rated PG for some rude and suggestive humor

THE POSITIVES

– This is a very talented A-list cast that each bring something diverse and personal to their respective roles. However, there are a select few who break away from the pact, immersing themselves so deeply in their characters that their familiar voice patterns seem to just fade away. James McAvoy as Gnomeo, Johnny Depp as Sherlock, and especially Chiwetel Ejiofor as Watson.

– The animation is much greater improved from the 2011 original film. So many of the human beings move with such fluidity in their designs, and the surrounding landscapes seem to radiate a glow of realism that adds more dimension to the hollow properties of the gnomes themselves.

– At 81 free-flowing minutes, a majority of the movie moves with crisp pacing that never rarely drags. I can respect any film that knows how much material it has within and doesn’t require stretching to meet a 90 minute quota.

– There is a plot twist midway through between Holmes and Watson in the film that I wish would’ve been followed through with fully. In fact, for all of my interests, I would’ve preferred an animated Holmes and Watson movie without the gnomes. From a psychological standpoint, the film takes a surprising dive repeatedly into the mind of Sherlock to show us for the first time how he ticks as an intellectual.

– Exceptional work by Elton John and Bernie Taupin on providing some fresh twists on classic Elton favorites. This soundtrack is nothing short of a toe-tapping good time, and I felt the re-imagining of some of these timeless classics really gave spring to the very adventure aspect depicted in the film.

THE NEGATIVES

– Much of the time, this film feels like two different 40 minute scripts (Gnomes Vs Holmes) that don’t necessarily mesh well with one another. I mentioned earlier that Holmes would’ve been the way to go for this particular film, and I further that stance because much of the supporting gnome characters, and even McAvoy’s Gnomeo become a bit of background in their own franchise. Imagine if Buzz and Woody were reduced to Rex and Slink in a fourth Toy Story.

– As to where I already mentioned the solid addition of Elton with the music, I have to slander his inclusion in the dialogue that set up for FAR too many puns with his song titles. I probably heard the phrase Tiny Dancer a hundred times in this movie, and the film is never inspired to let go of it.

– Speaking of which, the overall comedy for the film fumbles what little opportunities it presents to itself. My problem isn’t so much that I only laughed once during the film, but that most of the scenes and lines during the trailer that made me laugh simply aren’t included in the finished product. Try entertaining a child with no comedy.

– The third act takes far too long in getting where it needs to finish up. Considering this final conflict begins with around 30 minutes left in the film, there’s an overall feeling in making this final presentation one that glitters the wonderment of children, but I felt that its flashy perspective did more harm in keeping the interest glued. So much can easily be edited to reduce repetition.

– There is very little in the way of surprises for this screenplay, and it’s a shame that much of that overwhelming taste of mediocrity will be what sticks with audiences most of all when the film ends. With more care and concern for keeping the content sharp, the film could’ve kept some of that lightning in a bottle that fizzles out once the outline of where the film is headed becomes obvious.

5/10

Midnight Sun

Directed By Scott Speer

Starring – Bella Thorne, Patrick Schwarzenegger, Rob Riggle

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

Rated PG-13 for some teen partying and sensuality

THE POSITIVES

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

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

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

THE NEGATIVES

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

3/10

Pacific Rim: Uprising

Directed by Steven S DeKnight

Starring – John Boyega, Scott Eastwood, Tian Jing

The Plot – John Boyega stars as the rebellious Jake Pentecost, a once-promising Jaeger pilot whose legendary father gave his life to secure humanity’s victory against the monstrous “Kaiju.” Jake has since abandoned his training only to become caught up in a criminal underworld. But when an even more unstoppable threat is unleashed to tear through our cities and bring the world to its knees, he is given one last chance to live up to his father’s legacy by his estranged sister, Mako Mori (Rinko Kikuchi)-who is leading a brave new generation of pilots that have grown up in the shadow of war. As they seek justice for the fallen, their only hope is to unite together in a global uprising against the forces of extinction. Jake is joined by gifted rival pilot Lambert (Eastwood) and 15-year-old Jaeger hacker Amara (Cailee Spaeny), as the heroes of the PPDC become the only family he has left.

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

THE POSITIVES

– There’s no question that the meat and potatoes of this franchise is still the action, first and foremost. It is definitely still there, vibrating the screen with no shortage of combat and devastation that makes the most of the set pieces that surround the robots and monsters respectively.

– Boyega definitely feels like the most beneficial addition to the script, if only for his endless charisma and presence that steers the film with command whenever he is on screen. I do wish they would’ve evolved his character and subplot progressively more, but John makes the most of the limited opportunity, pushing through the sludge with the kind of attitude the film so desperately needs.

– The decisions in camera work smoothly, and never replicate the negatives of modern day action flicks with too many quick-cuts. Instead, Uprising focuses on each and every crushing blow without ever flinching or looking away from the unfolding scene.

– Perhaps a motivation for the script that worked above all others for me was the maturity and steering by the youth of this fresh faced cast in saving the day. This inspires a positive message from our own next generation to take charge of our own world and future when it comes knocking on their doors.

THE NEGATIVES

– For my money, the action sequences look much better at night than they do in the day. This not only feeds into the idea of the mystery behind what’s waiting in the dark, but also the hollow and empty presentation from daylight sequences that don’t echo that cool, Tron-like vibe from the neon decor.

– Much of the screenplay felt like a hybrid between Independence Day and Transformers. In fact, I predict much will be forgotten about this film because you’ve seen it in bigger, more gifted productions that (Above all else) did it first.

– The humor in dialogue felt so forced and unnatural that it comes across as more awkward than humorous. A good deal of my problems creatively with the film clashed with the overall tone that caters more to young adult moviegoers than a matured adult presentation that adorned the first movie. More on that in a second.

– It is my opinion that Dr Gottlieb (Played with commitment by Burn Gorman) deserved more screen time for his evolution, and there’s one glaring area that I would’ve taken away from. How does a movie make Charlie Day feel like John Turtoro from the Transformers series? Day is AWFUL here, and his emerging plot feels as believable as pigs flying. Each time he was on-screen, he took away from the more entertaining scenario behind him, and if this is where the series is going I will pass.

– There’s not nearly enough urgency or vulnerability in this world and its people, and I blame a lot of that on the mistimed tone that I mentioned above. To further elaborate on this, I never felt glued or uncertainty for the action-packed third act because I never felt the danger of a situation that either cuts to Day for his goofy one-liners, or uses valuable camera time in getting one of the robots to give a monster the middle finger.

– DeKnight is certainly no substitute for Del Toro. A lot of the film lacks the style, creativity, attention to detail, and innovation that the first movie had. Instead of elevating the rules and technology in this film, DeKnight would rather rest on much of the positives of the first movie, leaving him without a knife to carve his name in this 50/50 franchise.

4/10

7 Days in Entebbe

Directed by Jose Padilha

Starring – Rosamund Pike, Daniel Bruhl, Eddie Marsan

The Plot – In July 1976, an Air France flight from Tel-Aviv to Paris via Athens was hijacked and forced to land in Entebbe, Uganda. The Jewish passengers were separated and held hostage in demand to release many terrorists held in Israeli prisons. After much debate, the Israeli government sent an elite commando unit to raid the airfield and release the hostages.

Rated PG-13 for violence, some thematic material, drug use, smoking and brief strong adult language

THE POSITIVES

– Rosamund Pike could act her way out of a closet. Regardless of how limited or flawed the screenplay she is given, Pike steals the attention of every scene as the only woman fighting for her cause, all the while donning a commitment to the German accent she speaks with. The very best scene in the movie involves a call home that she makes on the dreaded day 7 that still haunts me with its twist.

– The second half of the film begins to include some real life footage from African press, as well as narration of American television providing the general reaction of foreigners reacting to this plan. I felt this was necessary because it’s easy for audiences to get far too lost in the overabundance of dialogue exposition in the movie, and this serves as a needed translator of sorts.

– Padilha’s direction seems unabashed in depicting the varying degrees of terrorists, as well as the slimy politicians who would later be known as heroes. This highlights that the director isn’t advocating for either side, instead preaching that negotiations are always the first step in preventing something much worse.

– Much of the 70’s artistic expressions for the time period are followed through beautifully, mirroring the fashions and automobiles in-sync with dedication that doesn’t go unnoticed.

THE NEGATIVES

– This tragic event, while deserving of attention, doesn’t make for the most entertaining or intriguing or movie scripts. There’s very little struggle in the fight for power, very little opposition by those kidnapped, and far too much dialogue progression being used to keep audiences at bay.

– There are no fewer than four different perspectives that this story goes through. It shouldn’t come as a surprise that the most entertaining is any time the film decides to focus on Bruhl and Pike’s engagements with the hostages, but everything else is given far too much time in explaining the unfolding of the situation that would otherwise be easy to pick up on without it. Because of this, 7 Days in Entebbe feels like truth in advertising.

– I spoke earlier of Pike’s reputation as a great actress, and it’s probably a good thing because even though the film clumsily retorts to backstory with our terrorists only days before the hijack, I felt that I learned very little about Pike or Bruhl’s characters that would fill in the gaps for their motivations and make me feel a shred of empathy for them.

– It certainly gives the hijackers a feeling of stupidity when they say they didn’t think so many Jewish passengers would be on-board an Israeli aircraft. Were you expecting Sonny and Cher? Why this is such a big deal is because the hijackers are mostly German, bringing back thoughts back of Nazi’s torturing Jews. In short, do your studying before committing to something terrible.

– Rodrigo Amarante’s musical score feels very underwhelming when compared to his sensational work on ‘Narcos’. With the exception of the closing number accompanying the rapid fire sequence of events, much of the music in the movie stays very reserved, never increasing or teasing the tension that surrounds the characters rising consequences.

– With an air of pretentiousness, the film visually treats us to four different interpretive dance numbers that are supposed to mirror that of the unfolding events happening in our story. I don’t mind artistic expression in any movie, but when it starts to become a cliche in its own movie, I can’t help but refrain from rolling my eyes each time it pops up.

– When someone decides to remake a story that has already been told on-screen, it should include some perks to the story that we didn’t learn from a prior film to give it a sense of belonging. I myself know very little about these 7 days in Entebbe, but I can tell you that everything that I did learn came from a film made forty years ago called ‘Raid on Entebbe’, starring Charles Bronson. Because of that fact, these seven days feel like a wasted flight with very little access to gas needed to prolong interest.

4/10

Love, Simon

Directed by Greg Berlanti

Starring – Nick Robinson, Josh Duhamel, Jennifer Garner

The Plot – A young coming-of-age teenage boy, Simon Spier (Robinson), goes through a different kind of Romeo and Juliet story. Simon has a love connection with a boy, Blue, by email, but the only problem is that Simon has no idea who he’s talking to. Simon must discover who that boy is–who Blue is. Along the way, he tried to find himself as well.

Rated PG-13 for thematic elements, sexual references, adult language and teen partying

THE POSITIVES

– This really feels like the first original look at the teenage side of gay sexuality, and in doing so, much of the material refreshingly depicts the silly and drastically misunderstood perspective that many straight people still harvest in not understanding the similarities between the gay and straight lifestyles. This film’s message is to showcase that nothing changes with people that come out, they are just more enlightened to go after what they want and deserve, and this stance gives the film an entertaining, as well as educational look at things.

– I’ve heard much comparison to John Hughes teenage films of the 80’s, but I only see that in terms of the time-traveling musical score by composer Rob Simonsen. For my money, I hear a lot of ‘Planes, Trains and Automobiles’ in his synthesizing tones, and it presents a classy outline to the film’s narrative moments that most teenage films are strongly lacking.

– The performances fire on every cylinder. Robinson as the title character really comes into his own, playing Simon as this boy on the cusp on manhood who is dealing with that unshakeable voice in his head that sounds like it is getting louder. In addition to Robinson, Garner and Duhamel should also be cherished as two parents who really feel honest in their reactions to the news that could shake their family if they allow it to.

– You hear often in reviews how a particular film will take you on a roller-coaster of emotional response, but ‘Love, Simon’ is legit in this stance because it is always trying to surprise the reader in the mature stances it takes. Because of the awkwardness, I was constantly laughing. Because of the smothering in Simon’s own personal life, I felt great empathy and sadness for him. And in the immaturity of some characters, I felt great anger in their inability to just let people be happy for themselves.

– Beneath the surface, there’s a strong and compelling mystery at play for Simon’s mystery e-mailer, and I found the finishing result to be very satisfying in its big reveal. Along the way, there’s plenty of varying faces to feed into Simon’s possibilities for who it can be, but the answer I feel is one that will surprise more than not.

– There’s a lot of personality to the style and sequencing of the film. Berlanti as a visual storyteller combines the use of technology in garnering the feedback of this small town, but he knows this isn’t enough. The inclusion of Simon’s narration is one that Berlanti uses accordingly in getting us close to the protagonist in ways that a post online simply won’t, and I greatly appreciated the combination of both here.

– Beyond this being just about Simon, this script takes enough time to get to know the valuable pieces of family and friends in Simon’s life so to better understand the price tag in risk that perplexes him to keep quiet. His interactions with them feel every bit as genuine as they do vital to the mounting pressure that surrounds him.

– This is not just an entertaining film, it’s one that I feel is immensely important to many youths discovering and finding themselves on-screen. Far too often, this voice goes silent in big screen releases, and it’s a feel good sentiment that because of a film as special as this one, more studios will feel comfortable in expanding their approach to stories that would otherwise never receive the time.

THE NEGATIVES

– There’s one character who plays a bully of sorts that I needed a re-write or just edited out of the film completely. This character blackmails Simon into keeping his secret, but the problem is that the film takes valued screen time to get to know and feel for his own situation with a girl, making his villainous stance feel illegitimate. I think you could’ve incorporated much of his material into the two other jocks in the school to make it feel more synthetic.

– Some of the dialogue does suffer from that quip in deciding to be entertaining first and authentic second. There were many times in the film where I felt thankful for the depth of A-list actors like Duhamel and Garner being enough to override some of this obvious banter that no parent in this predicament would ever sound like.

8/10