Starring – Paula Patton, Omar Epps, Roselyn Sanchez
The Plot – A couple off for a romantic weekend in the mountains are accosted by a biker gang. Alone in the mountains, Brea (Patton) and John (Epps) must defend themselves against the gang, who will stop at nothing to protect their secrets.
Rated R for violent and disturbing material, adult language throughout, some drug use and sexual content
– Usually the confines of cheap cinematography will limit a film’s visual potential, but in ‘Traffik’ it’s quite the opposite. Here, the legendary Dante Spinotti knows exactly the kind of visual entendre necessary for capitalizing on a modern day exploitation film, and because of such we are treated to dim-litted areas, a faded color palate, and an overall sense of B-movie goodness that transports us to a simpler age of cinema.
– Refreshing movements with the camera that give scenes the only personality that this one is going to garner. Some great examples involve the abrupt close-up zooms that happen when something shocking takes place, as well as the vivid flashbacks that give the film a kind of daydream-to-nightmare sense of imagination.
– Inconsistent editing that can at times intrude on valued exposition, and other times forget to spring up on scenes that run far too long.
– The film’s deep-seeded material centers around the harsh practice of sexual trafficking, and while this illegal practice certainly deserves a magnifying look, it goes unmentioned until the final fifteen minutes of the movie. This is not only irresponsible, but downright insulting considering nothing that the film wastes time on is anywhere near as compelling or important to us the audience.
– As far as tone goes, the film never fully realizes its cherished exploitation direction fully. In fact, Taylor’s jumbled direction often feels like an action flick that goes horror by the darker third act, speeding towards a dead end with two opposite tastes that contradict instead of converge with one another.
– It takes far too long to get to the thrills of this desolate screenplay, and even then the law of averages within 91 minutes isn’t enough to hold your interest.
– Speaking of thrills, the twists are totally predictable once you know the name of the game with the antagonists. Because of such, this film does reach for the low-hanging fruit of palpability that other more distinguished B-movie classics don’t have the shame to pull from. Often times, I found myself talking allowed “Don’t do that” or “Don’t go there”, and yet every time my worst suspicion was confirmed.
– Patton in particular is trying her hardest in to overcome the director’s desire to film her in skimpy clothing by carving out something of depth to her performances, but she leads an overall cast of characters and performances that collectively miss their mark. The deliveries lack conviction, and even worse, these character outlines couldn’t be any thinner if they were drawn as stick figures. Epps screams cash grab, Sanchez reads these lines in her sleep, and Laz Alonso made me laugh for all of the wrong reasons every time his hot-headed character overreacted.
– Possibly the worst musical score this year thus far. The musical influence in this film is every bit as non-existent as it is repetitive, and this creates a lack of emphasis in impact for when a big chess move has been made between these two sides. This is stock music at its finest, and I hate making that declaration because composer Geoff Zanelli has done some truly compelling work in films like ‘Disturbia’, ‘The Odd Life of Timothy Green’, and even the latest ‘Pirates of the Caribbean’ movie.
– I’ve heard reports that audiences were bored by this film’s lagging presence, and while the pacing was never really much of an issue for me, I can point to one aspect of the runtime as an issue, and that’s the minimal material that this film actually has. At 91 minutes, this is a pretty easy sit, but the difficulty comes when you realize how stretched thin the material, as well as the inhuman movements that the characters take in squeezing out every last drop of this screenplay. At it’s core, there is a solid one hour of material here, but in reaching a studio-approved runtime, Taylor never capitalizes on the areas (Like the sex trafficking that I mentioned before) that require increased screen time to dramatize effect in the material.
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
– 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.
– 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.
Starring – Jackson Rathbone, Billy Zane, Taylor James
The Plot – A Hebrew (James) with an unusual gift of strength must respond properly to the call of God on his life in order to lead his people out of enslavement. After his youthful ambition leads to a tragic marriage, his acts of revenge thrust him into direct conflict with the Philistine army. As his brother mounts a tribal rebellion, only Samson’s relationship with a Philistine seductress and his final surrender, both to the Philistines and to God, turns imprisonment and blindness into final victory
Rated PG-13 for scenes of violence from battle sequences
– At this point in the game, if religious films can’t even get costume and set pieces correctly, there’s no point in even trying. ‘Samson’ certainly continues this trend with a fine line of dissection between the Palestinians and the Hebrews that visually tell the difference in wealth distribution.
– Perhaps the best introduction scene to one of these films that I have ever seen. It actually felt like there was an attempt to insert some personality into this movie with the inclusion of quick-cut takes from a heist plan, as well as witty banter that actually brought a smile out of me.
– In retort to that dazzling intro scene, the rest of the film falls into the mundane category of familiarity. For what started on such a high note, eventually grinded into a slow drafting bible tale with none of the confidence in its characters or events to boot.
– The performances are all around laughably bad, but no one can hold a candle to Jackson Rathbone as the evil Rallah. What Eddie Redmayne did in ‘Jupiter Ascending’ can only be described as amplified to eleven with Rathbone’s unintimidating stature and uninspiring line reads that constantly fall short in carving out a meaningful antagonist. On the other side of the coin, James title character is written as an all brawn and no brain kind of hero who is constantly outwitted to the point of cringing in your seat for how easy his predicaments are to get out of. Even the often times over-the-top Billy Zane is in this film and they do nothing with him or his character. Some enthusiasm from Zane could’ve honestly made this sit a lot easier for me.
– God’s power is reduced to being a magical genie who pops up whenever Samson needs him. So if the rules are this easy to master, why not (Oh I don’t know) ask for food and drink for your starving village in the same ways you destroy a brick wall or bring down a stone building with your hands? I guess spectacle matters over livelihood.
– Consistently dropping the ball on establishing dramatic impact. Much of Samson’s adversity is disposed of within a few seconds, even taking out multiple 30 and 50 man armies by himself with ease. This is only in the first half of the film, mind you, so the second half wants us to believe that he will fail against one puny prince who may be the key to silencing this mystical Hebrew. Give me a break.
– Terribly choreographed fight sequences. Much of the reason for Samson being able to take down these huge armies by himself is because these soldiers only approach him one at a time, waiting in a neat and tidy line for their turns to meet their maker. There are many times when they could easily dispose of this one man army, but they would rather dogpile on him than take a knife to his chest when he’s pinned down. STUPID!! If that isn’t enough, the graphic material is so watered down here, free of blood or much graphic violence to really linger with the audience. An all around dry presentation.
– Uneven pacing plagues this film over and over again, turning a modest 105 minute film into what feels like a two-and-a-half hour plunge. Much of this can be blamed on just how much they try to squeeze into this film, limiting a majority of scenes to under three minutes so we can constantly keep moving. Where this harms the fluidity is in the bubbling feeling that this film garners no consistency in momentum for itself in bringing along its audience on the edge of their seats.
– Clunky dialogue that could double for even softcore pornography. Perhaps my favorite of these lines takes place between Samson and a woman he is courting during the beginning of the third act, in which she tells him that there is no way she could even bond him from leaving. Samson looks at her like he ripped gas and says “You should use the finest rope, that way I couldn’t fight it much” UGGHHHHHH!!!!
– Hallmark Channel level C.G in landscape establishing shots. Thankfully this is about 95% of the computer generation used in the film, but I couldn’t help but wince each time a new scene began.
The Plot – Believing they have left behind shadowy figures from their past, newlyweds Christian (Dornan) and Ana (Johnson) fully embrace an inextricable connection and shared life of luxury. But just as she steps into her role as Mrs. Grey and he relaxes into an unfamiliar stability, new threats could jeopardize their happy ending before it even begins.
Rated R for strong sexual content, nudity, and adult language
– This film at least knows that its material is thin, and because of such takes a step back from the two hour flicks of the previous two installments and makes this an appreciated 96 minutes.
– The series continues to be a beautifully shot one, coveting within it a barrage of landscape porn and elegant lighting design in overall cinematography by John Schwartzman. This at least immerses us into this world of rich tastes that visually seduce you in the same way they do Anastasia.
– Not a single credible performance amongst the bunch. Even Dornan, who proved his worth in 2016’s ‘Anthropoid’, feels in a rush to elude himself from the Grey persona for the future of his promising career. Everything feels very phoned in at this point, never straying far or improvising away from the plot points of a mundane screenplay.
– Because the personalities are so thin with these characters, none of them ever interest me to the point of feeling remote emotion for them. This is why by the third film in the series there is no shortage of infused dramatic subplots to offer something of a spark to keep the audience firmly in grip.
– Speaking of those subplots, the long term writing here is terribly choreographed and minimally discussed in the bigger picture of lagging sex scenes and Ana’s blossoming stupidity.
– There is nothing subtle about the obvious foreshadowing for where this chapter is taking us. I didn’t predict everything revealed in the painfully tacked on final ten minutes, but I knew what direction we were heading because their introductions feel so shoehorned in during a scene where it shouldn’t be deposited.
– Atrocious dialogue. Even for this series, ‘Freed’ still has the capability to make us cringe so hard that you will debate faking a bathroom break just to free yourself from the auditorium.
– The sex scenes have absolutely no sizzle or sensuality to them because of the void in chemistry between the two leads. Credit can be given that this film at least trims the length of each sex scene dramatically, but it’s all for nothing because there is still such an overabundance of them. Even porn collections know how to pace themselves better than this fan fiction dribble.
– Three movies and nearly six hours of screen exposition and I feel like I know very little about Christian Grey, except that he is the world’s biggest douchebag. I was told that the third book reveals much about Grey, but nothing revealed in this film is actually about him when you think about it. Instead, we are treated to more of what female audiences should be vetoing in a ‘Time’s Up’ society.
– Considering the first two films built to the wedding of these two, it’s used as such an afterthought here, speeding through a montage of scenes during the opening three minutes that give so little back to the faithful fans who have been waiting for these moments of indulgences.
– Even the music is offensive. While this soundtrack is an assortment of credible pop artists, their instilled numbers to the unappealing sex scenes conjures up an aura of childish atmosphere that are lyrically so awkward in trying to be sexy. What’s worse is that Danny Elfman scores it with his most invasive approach to date, channeling through the best of his C-side material with such ear-shattering volume, as well as an overall lack of environmental subtlety that spoil what’s coming long before it happens.
Everyone’s four favorite elderly’s return to once again do battle with another sinister force on all Hallow’s Eve, in ‘Boo 2! A Madea Halloween’. Written and directed by Tyler Perry, the film joins Madea (Perry), Bam (Cassi Davis), Viv (Chandra Currelley), and Hattie (Patrice Lovely) when they take a vacation to a campground with their family members. Unaware that the grounds are haunted, the group must band together to fight the terror, evil, and wacky hijinks of their mysterious opposition. When monsters, goblins, and the boogeyman are unleashed, Madea and company must fight it out with them in a laugh-out-loud battle to the death. ‘Boo 2! A Madea Halloween’ is rated PG-13 for sexual references, drug content, adult language and some horror imagery.
Going through back to back years with a Madea Halloween movie is a lot like getting over diarrhea and then coming back down with it only days later. It’s a real shitty time that keeps you planted for an excessive amount of time and stinks of the toxins that you put into your body. I apologize for the nasty description there, but ‘Boo 2!! A Madea Halloween’ is the perfect checklist for why Tyler Perry and I have been at odds since I began reviewing films in 2011. It’s without question Perry’s cheapest and least entertaining film to date, exchanging in the usual laughter involved in a comedic offering for shallow improv humor that stretches these scenes out longer than the pancake batter that Perry and friends don to immerse themselves in these truly wretched individuals. And there’s no benefit to ripping it to shreds even in the slightest. Making fun of a Tyler Perry movie is like making fun of a three legged dog who is humping a fire hydrant, it’s painfully low-hanging fruit that makes you feel stuck up for even having the audacity to rip it. I could think of much better ways to spend 96 minutes with my life, and most of them involve fitting myself for a noose and testing the strongest board in my house for durability. I didn’t think for a second that this film could possibly be worse than the original chapter that came out last year, but Perry proves once again that I should never doubt him when it comes to how truly low he will go.
First of all is the screenplay and material, or lack there of. So much of this script relies heavily on improv comedy to run up the clock and make the most out of basic outline drafting. When I really think about it, there’s only six different setting changes in this film, and while that may feel like a lot for an hour and a half, it is very minimal when you consider the progression that comes with multiple parties of characters and group conflicts. What this film desperately needs is an editor who doesn’t serve as a Perry enthusiast and straight up tells him when to cut the shit. Scenes drag on for an eternity, and while I remember this being a vital negative to my overall grade for the original movie, it doesn’t even make it into the top five of mind-blowing decisions that went into this production. The screenplay structure is basically the same as the first movie, proving just how little diversity went into this horror spoof that even lacks the kind of versatility for something in that putrid genre. I wouldn’t be surprised if this script was five pages long and used a lot of captions that involved the word IMPROVISE because it feels like Perry has no grip or enthusiasm to treat his audience to anything more, and why should he? this man continues to steal money from the pockets of his enthusiasts the same way that armed robbers do, except a robbery gives you the satisfaction of having an emotional response in being scared to death for your life.
So we know the comedy sucks, but what about the satisfactions with the genre it is spoofing; horror? Well, that direction doesn’t even take place until there is fifty minutes left in the movie, making the opening act and a half feel like you’re watching an entirely different film that just so happens to take place around this night of supposed terror. The shift from one tone to the next is so rough and jagged with the transitioning that there never is any defining moment of exposition when this takes place. As for the scares themselves, this cheap production makes the backdrops and landscapes of fog and woods feel so outdone and often times unrecognizable that I don’t fully grasp what particular movie that they are spoofing. There is a ‘Get Out’ reference that is seen in the film’s trailer, but with a few more of these clever instances, the film could’ve done a better job in subverting our attention to the waning interest in these sequences of the very cheapest denominator. Even for spoof or satire, ‘Boo 2’ offers very little to justify its existence, omitting the taste of a Madea movie that is being force-fed a Halloween motivation.
The performers who make up this complete ensemble offer nothing of any noteworthy praise or momentary break in monotony that they provide in their phoned in performances. This is definitely still Perry’s show, as he commands three different characters in the movie, but oddly enough for a movie that has her name in the title, Madea is relegated to kind of a supporting role in her own movie. A majority of what Perry puts his time and energy into is in the character of Joe, a horny, drug-smoking, horny, immature, horny, man-child who repeats the same few lines over and over to the point that I thought I was suffering from deja vu. In addition to Perry, his supporting cast of characters are equally as agitating. For whatever reason, Tito Ortiz is cast in this as Perry’s best friend, and if Tito is believable in just one thing, it’s that he is an MMA athlete who is trying to make the transition to film. His line reads lack any kind of commitment and visually give off the impression that he is holding in a fart so as not to ruin a scene that they have no money to waste. Yousef Erakat and his collective fraternity of date rapists made me uncomfortable in every stretch of the imagination. Seriously, every time these douchebags are on screen, it has the same feeling as the nerds from a Saved By the Bell episode, complete with cringe-worthy music that narrates every scene they choose to grace us with their sleazy romantic sides. My least favorite without question, yet oddly enough the only positive point that I can give this movie, is still Diamond White as Perry’s spoiled daughter Tiffany. If she does one thing well, it’s in the ability to invest your reasoning to the adults, because the way she treats her Father deserves an ass kicking. Characters like Tiffany are everything that’s wrong with today’s youth, and while she doesn’t do anything different from the oral garbage that she spewed just a film ago, White deserves all of the credit in the world for at least doing what the script asked of her.
All of what I’ve previously mentioned is a walk in the park compared to the cheap production qualities that completely make this film unwatchable for someone looking to escape into good times for even a brief amount of time. The lighting coming from windows surrounding our scenes ruin shots because their volume in brightness doesn’t register well on cheap camera equipment like this. What this does is give off several blurry scenes that are left in the film because they either had no time to reshoot, or they just didn’t have the motivation to fight it. But the most obvious error in this film is the handicap of its PG-13 rating that does no favor to the vicious ADR that takes place in this film. What I don’t understand is characters do cuss in this film. There’s an F-bomb, and several shits left in the line reads, but there’s so many curse words that are edited out of this movie without a smooth overlap that makes it beyond obvious. Think television edits when it comes to movies like ‘Snakes on a Plane’ or ‘The Breakfast Club’, but so much worse. The volume of the replacement word spikes so highly during their edits that you can’t help but notice their rocky inclusion when compared to the lips of characters who are obviously saying a word entirely different to that of what we’re hearing.
THE VERDICT – Any film with the word “Boo” in the title has some unbelievable balls to it. ‘Boo 2!! A Madea Halloween’ is a 96 minute Russian Roulette campaign that has Tyler Perry digging with a shovel to new lows in his already tumbling career. It’s obvious that this film was never going to be good, but the cheap production qualities and noticeable similarities in structure to its predecessor, breathe new life to the nightmares that Perry giftwraps to me every year without fail. What’s scary isn’t anything in the movie, but in the box office numbers that his fans will inevitably drive up, proving that dollar bills do float in toilet water.
All is fair in love, marriage, and life-threatening war, in the newest dramatic thriller, ‘Til Death Do Us Part. Michael (Stephen Bishop) and Madison (Annie Ilonzeh) Roland had planned to spend the rest of their lives together after getting married, until one day Michael’s scary controlling ways turned their perfect marriage into a hostile game of escape for Madison. With the help of her best friend, Chelsea (Robinne Lee), Madison decides to get away. After adopting a new identity, she meets Alex Stone (Taye Diggs) and learns to love again. All is well, until Michael discovers Madison’s whereabouts, and recreates the nightmare she once lived all over again. ‘Til Death Do Us Part’ is written and directed by Chris Stokes, and is rated PG-13 for thematic elements involving domestic abuse, violence, some sexuality and adult language.
My opinion for the most overcrowded subgenre of films is in that of black stalker dramas that give us three or four of these similarly structured plots each year. Already this year, ‘Unforgettable’ made its presence felt, but the magic enveloped in ‘Til Death Do Us Part’ makes that previous film feel like ‘Mad Max: Fury Road’. This is an awful movie, highlighted by the cheapest of production qualities that give it that VH1 Sunday Night Drama visual enticement. I didn’t even learn about the existence of this movie until two days ago, and I debated even seeing it until I saw the laughably bad acting and redundant plot that instantly made me yell out “Another one of these?” ‘Til Death Do Us Part’ feels like walking down the aisle with a property that you truly know in your heart is doomed for failure, but you’re forced to love it all the same even when the red flags pop up like weeds all over this film. Is there anything salvagable about it? Only the positivity of laughing at its unintentionally benign ideas for how the real world works, exchanging common sense for scandalous propaganda at every mind-numbingly sufferable turn. It all makes a case for possibly the worst movie that I have seen of 2017, and that is saying a lot to compete with the gutter offerings of this underwhelming year.
First of all is the character framing for the film that really made me question who truly was the villain in a movie that centered around female domestic abuse. The first act of the movie showcases Michael in a way that any of us can understand and reason with. Sure he’s a little too fake in personality on the outside, but never anything that feels like a foreshadowed warning for events to come. Madison is presented as a pushy, self-centered, and even forceful protagonist that wants, needs, and has had to have a baby since she was five years old. If you think I am embellishing here for the sake of a review, you’re sadly mistaken. I found it disgusting that right up until Michael laid a hand on Madison, that I was fully in his camp of thought process considering he has given her everything up to this point. Despite how little I believe that no signs of Michael’s abuse have popped up to Madison up to this point, I find it even more difficult that these two have anything in common with the lack of internal chemistry or bumbling line reads that omits between them. It goes nowhere often, and each scene feels worse than the previous one because of the kind of dialogue that beats the obvious intention of direction over the head of the audience with each crushing blow.
The tide is turned about thirty minutes into the film when Madison (Spoiler) decides to fake her death in the most elaborate scheme that I have ever seen. She hires a male friend to play her doctor, he renders her unconscious with a medicine that stops her heart for two minutes, and somehow the hospital stands by without asking any questions? Considering they have to use an actual hospital room for the procedure, I don’t see how this secret was kept successfully. You know what’s even more asinine? How did Michael not once ask to see his wife pre or post death announcement? The movie doesn’t care about these questions because it has to keep going with painfully mangled storytelling that often feels out of place from scene to scene. I say this because there is one scene where Madison is beaten up by her husband, only to be happy and talkative in the next. Yet the scene after this will show her as battered and bottled up because of the events of two scenes prior. NOTHING MAKES SENSE. If a film’s story is a straight and narrow line, this film’s sequencing looks a kid with a disruptive bladder is drawing on an etch-a-sketch. It’s so hard to stay invested in something that is constantly moving and doesn’t slow down in order to soak in the weight of each pivotal (If you can call it that) moment of plot details.
Refusing to be outdone by the flawed screenplay, is the visual presentation that truly made me furious on how a film of this amateur level got funded. The editing is so choppy that it often feels like it cuts out just at the moment when we’re making up some ground on character development or maximizing the dramatic tension. An example of this poor editing is a scene early on in which Michael is visiting the graves of his deceased Mother and Father. After he’s done talking to them, he walks away, the scene cuts, and the next scene is him back at his house knocking on the door. Without a new establishing shot, this feels like the scene is trying to tell us that he has two buried parents in his backyard amongst a field of other unrelated tombstones. If you think this is bad though, it doesn’t hold a candle to the music video style of artistic direction that the film’s soundtrack and cinematography takes us through. For some strange reason, the film feels like it is being forced to sell the soundtrack, because we get these uproaring musical cues in each scene that play at such an ear-shattering level that I couldn’t help but clutch my head from the voices that were seeping in. If this isn’t enough, we can’t go literally two minutes or two scenes without a lyrical song playing in the background to strike up the mood of a particular scene or to introduce the first in a series of musical montages that we are treated to in this film. The worst of this offering definitely comes from Taye Diggs workout regimen that includes him listening to deathgore metal unlike anything you’ve heard in the movie. It’s funny enough to envision Taye Diggs enjoys music where you can’t understand the lyrics because of thunderous guitar chords, but it’s even funnier when you consider this is a soundtrack that includes Flo-Rida’s ‘My House’ and ‘Son of a Preacher Man’.
As for performances, there’s nothing worthy enough to even remotely save this flop, but Taye Diggs in always enjoyable to see in the few scenes he pops up in late in the movie. Again though, there’s no chemistry between he and Ilonzeh to match her previous establishment with Bishop, so the film is missing the kind of depth in heart from these performances that make you invested in th well-being of their characters. Ilonzeh and Bishop trade in demeanor and commitment to character for the ability to yell their dialogue every few minutes into the camera. Somewhere this is considered acting, but here it feels annoyingly childish in representation for how real people act. Is there yelling in relationships? Of course, but you build to that moment, you don’t start off with the amps on 10 to begin with. Bishop has the visuals of a prominent psychotic antagonist, but his delivery often makes his register feel forced and hollow of the establishing anger that is buried deep beneath his discovery of betrayal. Stokes often writes him into a corner, taking him down roads of unoriginality that many more established actors have traveled down years before him.
THE VERDICT – There was never a minute where I was convinced that I was going to enjoy ‘Til Death Do Us Part’, but the uninspiring overall presentation and lack of emotional center make this campy thriller a death sentence for staying awake. Stokes surgically removes logic from his story, parading us through one event after another of implausable consequence that doesn’t even remotely touch base with the human spirit. Could I be taking this a bit too seriously? Perhaps, but if a B-grade thriller flick can’t even embrace the fun within its own inane concepts, why should I feel light-hearted for it wasting 96 minutes of my life? Til Death Do Us Part? Why wait?
Those characters that we control with the tip of a finger come to life in Sony Animation’s ‘The Emoji Movie’. Hidden within the messaging app is Textopolis, a bustling city where all your favorite emojis live, hoping to be selected by the phone’s user. In this world, each emoji has only one facial expression, except for Gene (T.J Miller), an exuberant emoji who was born without a filter and is bursting with multiple expressions. Determined to become “normal” like the other emojis, Gene enlists the help of his handy best friend Hi-5 (James Corden) and the notorious code breaker emoji Jailbreak. Together, they embark on an epic “app-venture” through the apps on the phone, each its own wild and fun world, to find the Code that will fix Gene. But when a greater danger threatens the phone, the fate of all emojis depends on these three unlikely friends who must save their world before it’s deleted forever. ‘The Emoji Movie’ is written and directed by Tony Leondis, and is rated PG for some rude humor.
For whatever reason, movies will often get a bad word of mouth through the grapevine of gossip, so nobody after will give that movie a fair read. More times than not, films that are given the dreaded 0% on Rotten Tomatoes, or a 1/10 by critics everywhere, are often the victim of unfair critiques from critics who clearly have not seen enough bad films and just want in on all of the fun of bashing. With that said, ‘The Emoji Movie’ is that rare film (if you can call it that) that deserves all of the beating that this word of mouth is dishing out. For my experience, this is as shameless as it gets for product placement. Films have been raked over the coals for less than this, yet here is a movie based entirely on the IPhone and all of its emojis and apps that take up valuable time in our days. This of course comes from Sony Animation Studios, the studio responsible for the very definition of whoring out your product, so it comes as no surprise that this lifeless garbage lacks the kind of inspiring or original story to hold its own amongst the growing field of smart kids movies that are popping up. Lets put it like this; There are films that I hated more in 2017, but none of those gave me as dull and lifeless of a time like this one did for 84 mind numbing minutes that I will never get back.
You will realize just how flat this story falls when the gears start to turn and you see the kind of repetition in direction that this film takes with other movies like ‘Wreck It Ralph’ or ‘Inside Out’. This definitely feels like a cheaper coming-of-age version to those plots, ripping off the very minimal of what fits their dreaded narrative that we’ve all see before. Gene is an underdog, Gene loses something valuable to him, Gene goes on a long distance journey, Gene befriends some wacky characters, Gene succeeds on a road to redemption. To me, this plot falls very flat because its evidenced by its lack of emotional depth or investment by the audience at home just how unimportant it feels when it stands in the way of the humor. More on that in a bit. For so much of this film, it just kind of stands in place because you see so much of what is coming long before they actually get there. It’s a math problem that you can do on a piece of paper, made even worse by clutching pacing that left a phone imprint on my hand from all of the times that I checked to see how much was left of the movie.
As for humor, I didn’t laugh once in the entire film, mainly because I find it difficult to believe that this film was trying anything beyond the wink-and-nod to the audience for the kind of things they see daily on their phones. It’s remarkable just how few actual setups for long-term laughs that there are in this movie, and instead the film would rather focus on these overused puns that continue to inform us of each Emoji’s personality. There is an attempt to poking fun at the awkwardness of teenage conformity to technology, but the only time that humans are seen in this film is when their phones start freaking out and making noises from the chaos going on inside of them. A trait that doesn’t make sense when you consider that the main kid in this movie could easily turn off his ringer to quiet the disturbing things that his phone is saying to him. The funny bone is really pinched tightest though, when it began taking us in and out of apps like Youtube and Candy Crush to sell time and eat up some precious minutes. Because of this, it doesn’t feel like this script was anything remotely more difficult than someone with a typewriter looking at their phone for the few spare ideas that rarely have the kind of cohesive flow to feel like anything other than a collection of moments instead of an acceptable whole. The kind of film where everyone is dumber for having watched it, and if laughs are a measurement of mental capacity, my auditorium sounded like everyone’s reactions were on vibrate.
The cast too is left with wasted efforts because of so little to work with within the material that always keeps them firmly grounded. I love T.J Miller, but it’s clear that the man isn’t getting the kind of scripts that bring his R-rated demeanor to life. As Gene, Miller doesn’t feel like the right man for the job vocally to match the facial reaction of his emoji, a point that does come out in a subplot early on in the movie, but continues to waste away the personality of one of Hollywood’s greatest scene stealers going today. In addition to Miller, we get turns from James Corden as Gene’s friend Hi-5, Anna Faris as Jailbreak, and Maya Rudolph as the antagonist Smiler who left me uncomfortable at every appearance. None of these valued actors have anything above conventionalism to bring to their roles, and never for a minute did I feel glued in on their changing situations. Faris is probably the only one who sounded any different from her normal delivery, but Jailbreak’s backstory is virtually ignored for the entirety of the plot, hinting at possible scenarios that we never get closure on. In a perfect world, Faris would rightfully steal this movie, but she doesn’t even want it when the others are gladly handing it to her on a platter, and the wasted efforts all around are a glowing reminder of what could’ve been from a film idea that feels outdated even in 2017.
If I do have one back handed compliment to say about the film, it is in its animation, which isn’t nowhere near the quality of a Pixar presentation, but is an improvement on past Sony animation films that feel jarring in their shading for character illustrations. ‘The Emoji Movie’ does have a deliciously appetizing color scheme that at least takes us on a visually stunning field trip of ambitious backdrops and energetic landscapes. The character outlines could use more definition on their physical outlines, because sometimes their colors will blend together when put in front of a backdrop with the same color, but it’s hard to fault them so much about this process when everything else is frankly so terrible about this presentation. The animation at least held its own in bringing to life the every day visuals from our smart phones that we have come to know, and while my mind was drowning in a sea of stupidity from everything mentioned prior, I at least had a spectrum that kept the film in beautiful surroundings.
THE VERDICT – Leondis’s ‘The Emoji Movie’ is the kind of film where writers and directors are never heard from again. A lumbering, lazy lack of intellectual fortitude whose only intention is the callous cash grab that does nothing for any age group. The visuals offer momentary bliss between the overwhelming lack of trying that plagued this film at every other turn. Emoji’s are meant to be the time saving methods of expressing emotions to other people, maybe too is this movie for the basic concepts of storytelling and entertainment value that it doesn’t find as remotely important.
The dreaded road trip for the Heffley family turns into ‘The Long Haul’ for Greg and his newest disastrous plot. Based on the record-breaking book series, the Heffley family organize a long-distance road trip to attend Meemaw’s 90th birthday party. But everything goes hilariously off course thanks to Greg’s (Jason Drucker) newest scheme to get to a popular video gaming convention for all of the sweetest prizes. This twisted, off-the-rails family cross-country adventure turns into an experience the Heffleys will never forget, experiencing one wacky shenanigan after another to keep the spirit of the family together forever. Diary of a Wimpy Kid: The Long Haul is directed by noteworthy child director David Bowers, and is rated PG for some rude humor.
Diary of a Wimpy Kid: The Long Haul is cinematic birth control. What I mean by that is this is the kind of movie that adults who are becoming parents dread when they think about the kind of modern day fecal matter that is slopped up upon our children’s plates. As time has progressed, companies like Pixar have continued to test the intelligence of their youthful audiences, with colorful characters, as well as plots that challenge the mind and the heart to offer something special in memorable movies. Then there’s movies like this one that consider your precious children to be mindless idiots that only react to loud, animated noises or a barrage of physical comedy whose only punchline is that of gross-out gags, with each one vying to out-do the previous. To say that I hated this movie is an understatement. I simply gave no emotional response to the 86 minutes of bits that barely passed for a big screen script. Being that this is the fourth film in the Diary franchise, and that everyone in the movie has been re-cast, this is the kind of film akin to that of Beethoven’s 4th or Home Alone 4 that belong strictly on a video store shelf, free from the wallet pressures of adults who work hard for their money.
I myself only saw the first Diary movie in this franchise, and while I only felt that it was OK, it was leaps-and-bounds above the material that passes for plot in this movie. The Heffley’s long distance trip to Indiana somehow clocks in at 47 hours on the van’s GPS, and right away my mind pondered as to where in America takes 47 hours to get to Indiana? Beyond this, the main goal is of course to celebrate the 90th birthday of the boys grandmother, but this ambition is cast aside so much in this movie that I constantly kept forgetting where this ending was taking us. Along the way, there are subplots that deal with Greg being the subject of a vicious viral video that has made him famous for all of the wrong reasons. Compelling huh? On top of that, the film feels like a series of skits instead of one cohesive script that beats to the same drum. For instance, each scene that feels like it was written by a second grader has a setup, a conflict, and the shenanigans that follow. Because this routine became so predictable by the end of the first act, I found myself being able to constantly sniff out what was coming with each (So-called) payoff. If there is a villain or adversary in the movie, it’s with this rival family that is on the exact same road and hotel path that the Heffley’s are on. This leads to a final showdown that (I’m not kidding you) spoofed Alfred Hitchcock’s Psycho, complete with slashing music and shot-for-shot re-creations. If this movie didn’t have enough guts from having the words LONG HAUL in their title, the bravery to mock one of the master filmmakers of all time certainly blows my mind.
Don’t worry though, I’m sure the laughs are aplenty from a movie with no shortage of urine, vomit, poop, and fart jokes. At this point in the game, these directions feel desperate, and even in a kids movie we should be reaching a lot further. On the scale of disgust, the film certainly makes a threat to 2015’s horrible Vacation remake, testing your stomach’s limits for what is tasteful. A pet pig is introduced midway through the film. Why? so he can fart and cause a big accident. The family stops at a country fair. Why? So one of the boys can vomit all over the people riding the ride. In case you’re wondering what the urine joke is, they borrow that too from another movie, this time from 1994’s Dumb and Dumber, in which Harry keeps filling up bottles. I’d elaborate a lot more, but frankly I just don’t want to. In a nutshell, I never laughed a single time in this movie, and the single greatest emotional response that I felt was that of two once prominent stars (I know I’m stretching that term) who now have to settle for this muck.
The two who I am referring to are of course Tom Everitt-Scott and Alicia Silverstone as the very parents of the Harelly clan. Silverstone is at least committing to this role, even if her character feels to cynical to ever be a progressive parent. Her character is wound slightly too tight, and it feels like she is trying to live up to an adjective like ‘Square’ that the director told her to aim for. Her singing of Wannabe by The Spice Girls that was seen in the trailer is so damaging to my ears that I began writing her a scathing e-mail to ease the pain. Scott feels asleep at the wheel for a lot of his performance, and often only pops up whenever it feels like he is required to earn a paycheck. For a man who stole many of movies like Dead Man on Campus and That Thing You Do, Tom feels like a shell of himself, going through the motions of workaholic Father who is forced to spend 47 unflattering hours with his family. We too suffer Tom. As for the lead role of Greg, Jason Drucker doesn’t have the personality or charisma to make this an appealing lead protagonist. For much of the movie, Drucker is relegated to complaining or reacting to the comic relief around him, and the lack of emphasis on the actual diary of the movie leaves him squandering for life support to live up to those who donned the role better. Greg embraces the embarrassment of being a child, but never the energy of what goes into being the pulse of this mind-numbingly bland family.
Perhaps the single worst aspect of The Long Haul is how its producers care so little about fluid continuity or the aspects that just don’t add up. Besides the 47 hour trip that I mentioned earlier, there’s also plenty of other mistakes or poorly efficient measures of filmmaking that shows the kind of care that went into this project. I’m certainly not asking the world out of a movie like this, but when I see two characters sitting in their respective seats in one shot, then immediately in the next one that shows them together they are in different seats, I wonder. This movie also re-uses actors and actresses like they think the audience is simply too stupid to piece this all together. I probably wouldn’t have noticed if a black man in the movie who carried a Southern accent during an earlier scene didn’t pop up as a completely different character during the final act. This is as sloppy as it gets with production decisions, but it pales in comparison to that of truly awful voice editing that adorned a particular character. The actor who plays the oldest brother in this film must’ve mis-read a lot of his lines because his lips rarely add up to what is being heard from his character. The volume levels are also slightly higher in his deliveries as opposed to his counterparts, pointing to post-production nightmares that aren’t tightly fixed enough for cinephiles like me to notice.
THE VERDICT – The Long Haul runs out of gas early and finds itself running on fumes for the entirety of this humorless, lifeless picture. If the film captures just one thing perfectly, it’s the torture that envelopes being stuck in a vehicle with people who annoy you to death, with you thinking about the better things that you could easily be doing at that particular moment. There isn’t a single moment original from its gross-out material to the way it savagely borrows from greatly more impactful films, and this is one diary entry that should be scratched-out, ripped-up, and left in the same trash confines where it found its humor.
The main course of an evening out divides a troubled family at the seams, in The Dinner. When Stan Lohman (Richard Gere), a popular congressman running for governor, invites his troubled younger brother Paul (Steve Coogan) and his wife Claire (Laura Linney) to join him and his wife Katelyn (Rebecca Hall) for dinner at one of the town’s most fashionable restaurants, the stage is set for a tense night. While Stan and Paul have been estranged since childhood, their 16-year- old sons are friends, and the two of them have committed a horrible crime that has shocked the country. While their sons’ identities have not yet been discovered and may never be, their parents must now decide what action to take. As the night proceeds, beliefs about the true natures of the four people at the table are upended, relationships shatter, and each person reveals just how far they are willing to go to protect those they love. The Dinner is written and directed by Oren Moverman, and is rated R for disturbing violent content, and adult language throughout.
It’s evident to me the kind of movie that Oren Moverman was trying for in adapting the the popular novel from literature to the big screen. The concepts of our importance upon dining culture, as well as entrees that don’t completely satisfy the hunger of the company who dine on them, despite all of the time and attention to detail that went into their looks. It uses each of the seven dishes of the main course to convey a new chapter to where this story is headed, but everything flies off the rails so quickly that there’s rarely any structure to the film’s material. That bit that I explained about the design of food is the perfect edible metaphor to everything that The Dinner is and suffers from. This is very much a movie that wants to be an edge-of-the-seat thriller by the numbers, but is bogged down time-and-time again by terribly telegraphed flashback sequences that halt what should be the film’s central conflict from digesting smoothly. It’s almost impossible to screw a movie up this badly, especially considering the writer and director are the same person, limiting any kind of conflict in adapting two visions. This movie wasn’t just boring, but it allowed me the time to check up on all 13 Facebook notifications that were buzzing away at my phone while I decided to take this one in. It lacks excitement because far too many times it let me down with what could’ve been an enticing moral conundrum.
First of all is the visual presentation. Getting out of the way the single positive that I had for the movie is that of the luminous lighting and elegant backdrops that certainly depict a world of secrecy. It’s evident that the aura of this restaurant echoes that of the conversations that this family is about to take on; dark, ominous, and ever so quiet with all that they have hid away. That last compliment is also the first negative that I have for the film, as the sound mixing and editing is a little too good at its job. What I mean is that it never feels like we are there with these two couples inside of the restaurant because you don’t hear the chatter of other tables occupants despite it being a full house. I’m someone who watches film for realistic aspects of a movie, and a restaurant that quiet with that many people inside didn’t just add to my disbelief, it radiated it. The editing of the movie is also quite jarring and often times confusing to how much time has passed. Characters change positions a couple of times in the movie, contrasting the continuity of the previous shot that had them in one place and now has them in a complete other. The camera work continuously felt very shaky here, opting to slowly close-up and out frequently throughout the movie a shade quicker than the normal panning shot endures. Picture a Wayne’s World Extreme Close-Up for two hours. I’m sure you’ll just eat it up.
I commend the film’s writing for at least presenting the story boards in a novel kind of storytelling, complete with chapters and flashbacks that have us learning something new about our characters one piece at a time. The concept itself fails miserably however, as I found myself confused quite frequently at the pacing of each of these flashbacks. It’s funny because for the first two acts of the movie, these flashbacks are all over the place, often times overtaking the current day developments of this dinner scene that should serve as the foreground of the movie’s reveals. Then in the third act, they are no longer there, giving the movie a multi-writer feel for two completely opposite visions. I would’ve frankly been fine without any of the flashbacks, instead opting for this being a dialogue-driven movie that reveals what every character is hiding about the past. I’m not saying that flashbacks can’t work, but they have to be restrained so not to take over the foreground story that serves as the answer to the question. This rule isn’t even remotely followed, as there’s many examples that I can point to for proof, but I will choose one late in the second act that floored me for how it made the final cut. The movie stops to reveal a mental disease within one of our adult characters, and instead of cutting to the point, the movie gives us a figurative history lesson on this character that serves no point in the conflicts of these children, as well as a literal one in an actual history lesson about Gettysburg because this character is a history teacher. WOW!!!! The time invested into this sequence lasted for 18 minutes. At one point, there’s a flashback within a flashback, and it all confused me as to whether the adults left the restaurant and this was now modern day, or if we were still in the flashback. I couldn’t tell because it lasted so long. This was the very definition of padding to push this to two hours, and boy was it a challenge to not walk out.
The ending too was a huge slap in the face because our characters and accompanying film decide to take the easy route in tucking everything away as neat and tidy as possible, ignoring the obvious questions and conflicts that have just taken place in favor for reaching for that plot device with the conflict that their children face, which has since expired. The worst kind of movies are the ones that you walk out of mad. Not laughing at them, but genuinely mad. There’s a 95 minute decent movie somewhere in here that is dying to get out, but unfortunately it never capitalizes on the thriller aspect of its designated genre, instead opting out for a mental health study that frankly bored me to pieces. I’ve seen worse films in my life, but none with the kind of magic that was executed in this trailer for taking something so hollow on the inside and filling the audience with a sense of seductive sizzle for what was promised. As a writer Moverman left me underwhelmed, under-cooking every possible twist and turn for watered down execution.
I wish that were the worst part of it however, but then you have to understand the kind of characters that you spend two miserable hours with. The Dinner gave me that feeling of being a child and being punished for doing something bad by having to sit at the dinner table while my father and grandfather talked politics. There’s is something comically ironic to the politician of the group being easily the most honorable, and if that doesn’t open your eyes to the real winners here, nothing will. Steve Coogan delivers a terribly bland performance for a movie that basically revolves around him. I was tired of his ‘I’m smarter than you’ stick that got old fifteen minutes into the movie and made me question why I should put up with this for the long haul. As far as protagonists go, he is truly one of the most dreadful, and his lack of commitment to delivery is the kind of stuff that friends having a couple of drinks and laughs at a party are made of. As Claire and Katelyn, Linney and Hall are reduced to nothing more than table dressing for the main course of the dominant males in the movie, so their involvement in the film is nothing more than reactions for what develops. At least in Linney’s Claire there is a crossroads question for the audience in just how far they would go to protect their kids. Claire’s depths go to asinine levels, and any parent who justifies her reasoning will really make me wonder about your moral fiber. This table of everything that you hate about upper class self-pity will have you making reservations elsewhere, so just to not hear how difficult life really is.
THE VERDICT—-The Dinner overstuffs its audience with an overabundance of flashbacks and horribly written protagonists to favor it as one of the truly most mind-numbing experiences of film in 2017. There’s rarely anything on this menu that is remotely appealing, and as a directing chef Moverman the final dish of dessert with an ending that hammers home the fear that hits you early on that this is worst case scenario when it comes to the concept of book-to-film adaptations. Like most adolescent teens, I’m choosing to eat my dinner in the privacy of my bedroom, far away from any of this frustrating execution or bland personalities. (MIC DROP)
Spark: A Space Tail, takes place Thirteen years ago, as the power-mad General Zhong (A.C Peterson) seized control of Planet Bana and tore it to pieces in the process. Now splintered into hundreds of shards, Zhong is Bana’s evil-overlord, ruling with an iron fist. Enter Spark (Jace Norman), a teenage monkey and his friends, Vix (Jessica Biel), a battle-ready fox, and Chunk (Rob Deleeuw), a tech-savvy pig. Spark learns of Zhong’s secret plan to take over the universe by capturing a giant space monster known as the Kraken – a beast that has the power to create black holes. If Zhong manages to harness the Kraken’s power, he’ll have history’s deadliest weapon at his fingertips, and it’s up to Spark and his friends to stop him. Spark’s journey takes him to the farthest reaches of the universe, where he encounters great dangers and discovers the secret of his true identity. An action-packed space adventure full of humor and heart, Spark is the story of a boy who takes on great responsibility and in the process discovers his rightful place in the universe. Spark is written and directed by Aaron Woodley, and is rated PG for action and rude humor.
Bad animated movies are bad for an array of reasons, but mostly it comes down to two aspects; bland animation and bland story. Most of the time, you will get one or the other, but it’s incredibly rare to find a movie that represents the worst in both. Cue ‘Spark: A Space Tail’. A film so dauntingly repressed when compared to the bigger, better animated delights of modern day that it even lacks solid justification for its big screen release. Ever since movies like Norm of the North, as well as Ratchet and Clank were able to somehow get the green lights to coax their studios into releasing these movies worldwide, we are bound to get more and more of these lifeless leftovers for the forseeable future. After seeing this film, I am left with a strong taste of two films in my mouth that accurately depicts what movies that Woodley was watching at the time he penned this script; Ratchet and Clank, and Rogue One. The former is certainly evident not only in some of the jokes that repeat themselves from that very movie, but also in the actual setting itself. You could tell me that this was a sequel and I would have no choice but to believe you. The Rogue One factor is evident in the story. Evil Empire takes child’s family to better their own situations. When child is old enough, he fights back against them, leading a rebellion of misfits. Ripping off movies isn’t a problem, but when those movies are leaps-and-bounds better than what you bring to the table, the similarities start being used as a negative, and this negative is far from the only thing plaguing the creative specter in this film.
For starters, this is a very difficult movie to get into right off of the back. The film starts with a brief two minute recap scene that not only speeds through perhaps the single most important scene of the movie, but gives us absolutely no narration exposition to get to know our characters or feel a shred of investment into their conflicts. It stays this way through 85 minutes of throwaway storytelling that misfires on more misses than hits because of its Saturday Morning Cartoon structure. If this film could take five minutes to slow down and soak in the effects of what should be some major character vulnerability, then maybe we could squeeze an ounce of audience investment out of them. The main character especially, lacks any kind of special trait or talent that makes him destined for this crown, other than him being born into it. Spark is the kind of teenager who gets by on being a slacker, and thankfully for him every adversary that he comes across is a braindead moron who you can’t believe for a second could lead an army, let alone an every planet takeover.
The comedy was non-existent for me. I remained stone-faced for the entirety of the movie, and my theater roommates who were mostly kids, did more of the same. It’s hard to get a sturdy grasp on who this movie is marketed for because the comedic material feels slightly advanced and wordy for that of a child, but far too boring and juvenile for an adult. If I were to accurately hit on it, I would say a young teenager of about twelve to thirteen years old would be the right target demographic. The only problem with it is that particular age group will be booming out of their animation phase by that time, seeking the brighter lights and bigger budgets of Summer Blockbuster action thrillers. The biggest negative for me in terms of dialogue was that of the speed bumps that become a frequent occurance as the film goes on. There are these scenes of stretched material that are either used to pull the run time closer to a big screen telling, or because the film is self-conscious about the abnormal pacing that continues to rush us along. The big showdown in this movie begins with about a half hour left in the movie, and it feels jarringly constricted because it packs so much into this third act and leaves the rest of the movie reaching for scraps that never satisfy. With no heart or sentimentality, Spark might as well be a Playstation One video game. At least then it would combine with a visual presentation that underwhelms at every turn.
I am a firm believer that you give the audience pulse-setting visuals first, above anything else in an animated feature, but the production team of this film lack any kind of energy or synchronicity to address the 1000 pound elephant in the room. I mentioned earlier the similarities of a video game, and that’s because the movements and rendering of physical features leave more than enough to be desired. For a movie that is set in outer space, that great lack of visual pizazz and ambition in backdrops can be blamed on a color scheme and shadow palate that contradicts the foreground characters with their landscapes. It constantly felt to me that the backgrounds were done by one company, and a completely other did the character designs that feel jaded and out of place. The two feel like they are moving at two totally opposite speeds, giving the characters a lagging of about a second before their actions catch up to their ideas.
The voice work however, isn’t all terrible. The positivity can be found in that of A.C Peterson, who is having the time of his life in this antagonist role of General Zhong. Peterson’s performance is a delightful throwback to the days of past flamboyant villains whose tones brought a comfortable combination of power and fear to their releases. I got what little enjoyment that I did out of the movie when Zhong was on-screen, and that alone is a testament to A.C’s work in this picture. After doing some digging, I was able to understand why the trio of big names volunteered themselves to a movie that isn’t an eighth to their standards; the director is related to David Cronnenberg. Yes, THE David Cronnenberg. So it’s obvious that they were doing a solid to the kin of a legend, but their presence in this film collectively doesn’t get it done. Biel, Sarandon, and Stewart aren’t bad, but they’re just so brief that they never get time to make the roles their own. Stewart comes the closest, voicing a weathered captain who has clearly seen better days. Unfortunately, these characters go through noticeable gaps in screen time appearances, and their absences cause a noticeable void that grows with each passing second. As our central character, Jace Norman is decent for a kid, but trails in charisma to hold a production in his growing hands. Spark feels like a hero on accident. The same can be said for Norman’s casting at top bill.
A Space Tail would be a fine enough title, because Woodley’s picture lacks any kind of spark or positive energy to get this film past the threshold of forgettable floundering kids cinema. Plenty happens in the movie, but little of which you are bound to remember five minutes after the credits roll. Generic, charmless, predictable, and narratively unoriginal. The worst kind of kids movies are the ones that make you owe apologies to a better animated film that you at one time deemed “garbage”. To that I say, I’m sorry Ratchet and Clank. You deserved better.
Two youthful couples face the positives and negatives of romance on the road, in Terrence Malick’s newest visual entrancement, ‘Song to Song’. In this modern love story set against the backdrop of the Austin, Texas music scene, two entangled couples; struggling songwriters Faye (Rooney Mara) and BV (Ryan Gosling), and music mogul producer Cook (Michael Fassbender) and the waitress whom he ensnares (Natalie Portman), chase success through a rock ‘n’ roll landscape of seduction and betrayal that will rock the foundations of each relationship and business bond. ‘Song to Song’ is written and directed by Terrence Malick, and is rated R for some sexuality, nudity, drug use and adult language.
FILM FREAK JOKE: How does Terrence Malick know when to end a movie? When he runs out of film.
‘Song to Song’, the latest from critically acclaimed and panned director Terrence Malick showcases everything that both crowds have come to love and hate, and will certainly offer nothing of groundbreaking alteration for each respective opinion. It’s a look at the music scene of Austin, Texas, with the same splashes of pretentious filmmaking that Malick has perfected into crafting one of the most unorthodox methods of camera work currently going. For me, Song to Song was a two hour endurance test that felt like I was climbing the steepest mountain, when others who joined me on the journey were falling along the way. At any given time, people will walk out of a movie. But when over half of the audience of eleven people get fed up with the lack of direction or narrative from where the story is heading, there’s a great problem on your hands. Add to the fact that I saw this movie at an art house theater and it only adds insult to injury when you consider the kinds of things that these particular audiences are used to sitting through. I myself came so close to making this only the second film that I have ever walked out of, not because it is the worst thing that I have ever seen, but because it often feels like you are watching a high-school kid aiming and shooting at the most random of occasions. It lacks any kind of structure for conceptual storytelling, and I don’t mean that as a rare breed kind of compliment. Song to Song is the worst film that I have seen in a three month old 2017 that has set the bar low so early on in the year. How do I love thee? Let me count the ways.
First of all is the story itself and lack of narration on-screen that stunted any kind of momentum or interest for the audience to engage in. As a storyteller, Malick would rather abide by the law of ‘tell but don’t show’, so a lot of the film’s sequences feel like jumbled pieces that don’t fit well together, signaling a trimming from a possibly much larger director’s cut that fills in the blanks from scenes that quickly become incoherent. The film’s four main cast members serve as narrators throughout the movie, but their lack of delivery with emphasis in the important subplots often feels like a blink and you will miss it kind of deal, as there were many points in this film where things switched up between romantic partners without very little warning or building. On top of this, Malick lacks any kind of dual or long-distance storytelling to pace out these four characters better. There are noticeable chunks in this movie where Gosling and Mara will disappear for twenty-five minutes, or Fassbender and Portman will vanish for thirty minutes. It hinders the boundaries of entertainment when we could use this period of breath between two protagonists to see what is going on with the other two, but this film is incapable of clicking and comparing the trials and tribulations of two couples equally to ever contrast the differences and similarities. As for long term, there is so much back-and-forth in this movie from where our characters begin and end. Everything feels like short instances instead of long breaths in the creative, so most of the material is throwaway for the plot that is such a small part of what this movie really centers on.
The visual presentation for the movie featured positives and negatives that both serve as glaring examples for their dependency on Malick’s signature style. The backdrops of Austin are gorgeous. This movie could’ve passed as being a video for A-list celebrities on vacation, but unfortunately that is one of the many missed opportunities. Malick certainly has a love and passion for this geography. There’s music, luxurious real estate, and sex….lots of sex for Terrence to oogle at. I’ve always been a way at how this director can frame a shot, opting to invade the space of his central characters to put us in the thick of their engagements. That never fades even in this movie. Terrence can point and shoot as well as anyone, but where there’s style, there better certainly be substance, and as I mentioned before, this film deprived me immensely of such a concept. Where the visuals negate to a fault is in the picture editing, which is among the most jarringly disastrous since Suicide Squad, and that’s saying a lot. Malick cuts far too often for even the most simple of exchanges, instead choosing to convolute something that is completely unnecessary for. There are many times in this film where questions will be asked by the current narrator of the scene, only to move on without any answer or reminder ever again. Imagine if someone told you a story like this; Mary is ten years old. Mary’s favorite food is……her favorite movie is……. One of the biggest problems that I think my audience had with this film was how jumpy everything felt. It keeps it from ever building any scene-to-scene momentum, and feels D.O.A early on in the picture.
Kudos to the trailer editor for this movie for somehow managing to take two hours of this dreary, dreadful film and crafting it into a story that anyone would be a sucker for. I certainly fell hook, line, and sinker for a trailer to a movie that I never got. I mean, the love story and the music is there, but this film’s visual style is constantly moving in slow motion, lacking any real energy to relate it to what feels so special about these people or this town. Lines of dialogue continuously take the long route each and every time to get to their destinations, most notably in Mara’s character, who is constantly brooding like she is in a Calvin Klein perfume commercial. After a while, the act gets stale, and the story could use any kind of stimulation to remind us of the importance of losing real, honest love. The screenplay continues to stomp over every detail that could’ve used appropriate time to soak up each detail, but instead slugs its way through pacing that practically doesn’t exist at all. The film feels like it lacks the three act structure from that of a typical screenplay, and instead exerts one continuous two hour act that drowns on like a funeral proceeding. The irony of which could be the foot in the grave that this director now has for the audience through this.
There’s not much to the performances, mostly because this well-stacked A-list cast is given so little to work with. It feels like Malick just turned the camera on for the four of them to say and do anything that they please, further adding to the celebrity vacation idea that I firmly planted in the previous paragraphs. The movie was shot over a five year period, so it’s funny to see hairstyles and even personal appearances vary as the movie goes on. It works well for the weathering of time, but does very little for visual continuity. Natalie Portman’s character is really the only character with any kind of gripping exposition, but she’s never given any kind of value in screen time to act her way through it. Fassbender is wasted. One of the very best actors in the world, and his character slouches in a dense fog of sexual addiction and alcohol that sideline him for a majority of the film. He’s nowhere near the important aspect that the trailer made him out to be. As for the two main characters, Gosling and Mara rarely insight a sense of magic that makes their union believable. There is certainly chemistry, but more believable as friends and not lovers, with the way they charmingly play around with each other. One cool aspect that the sound department does to relay the importance of the movie’s title, is that there is constantly some form of music playing around them when they are together. The idea of falling in love with someone and music always playing definitely came to mind here, and even if Malick can’t direct performances out of them, he at least sets the stage for a poetically beautiful confrontation that always kept my toes tapping where my heart wasn’t.
Whether hype or heart, Malick continues to polarize his reputation, conjuring up the very worst film to date that the once prosperous director has attached his name to. Song to Song is a disjointed, disheartening, and often times incoherent rambling of the director’s personal take on modern love. With some of the worst editing sequencing to hit the silver-screen, as well as hollow pacing that served as a dull exercise in patience, Terrence’s newest flub can’t find a screenplay to equally match its gorgeous cinematography. It’s a movie that feels like more of the same for a writer who has written himself into a corner of bland pretentiousness, hitting all of the wrong notes with musical monotony.
Light spoilers ahead. I needed them to make my points. Apologies
One troubled and haunted man seeks clarity after an unpredictable accident leaves him with memories of The Shack. The film is Based on the best-selling novel by William Paul Young, which was originally published out of a garage by Brad Cummings and Wayne Jacobsen. After his young daughter is murdered during a family camping trip, Mack Phillips (Sam Worthington) spirals into a deep depression causing him to question his innermost beliefs. Facing a crisis of faith, he receives a mysterious letter urging him to the shack where the crime occurred, deep in the Oregon wilderness. Despite his doubts, Mack goes there and encounters an enigmatic trio of strangers led by a woman named Papa (Octavia Spencer). Through this meeting, Mack finds important truths and lessons that will transform his understanding of his tragedy and change his life forever. The Shack is directed by Stuart Hazeldine, and is rated PG-13 for thematic material involving violence.
I’ve had my trysts with religious films over the course of six years as a film critic, and I have to say that ‘The Shack’ is among the worst in religious offerings. That’s not to say that I am against religious films as a whole, it’s just that more times than not they over-complicate unnecessary steps to tell an intriguingly gripping story. Good religious films like ‘Captive’ or ‘Son of God’ don’t feel it necessary to use two plus hours to give a sermon that is sure to test your moral fabric, as well as your patience along the way. ‘The Shack’ takes preaching to a completely new level. This is 127 minutes of a story that definitely could and should have been half of that. At face value, the idea of losing a child, complete with mysterious circumstances and the progression of grief is certainly more than enough fire power to hook me into any story. The problem mainly comes with the fact that the actual shack side of this story, including the haunting disappearance, becomes less and less important to the direction of the picture, the further it goes on. Choosing instead to halt the progression of a narrative to stop and show the astonishing power of Christ. Something that those who believe in already know, and would much rather figure out details to this mystery of the little girl.
That mystery is rarely ever addressed, nor answered. There is a conclusion towards the end of the film that at least offers a conclusion to her situation, but does very little in answering the who or the what. If the book is like this, it is some truly terrible structure that does very little to smooth the pacing of this overcrowded story. In addition to this, it turns out in the opening minutes that we find out Mack is a murderer himself. Surely this will be deemed wrong in the eyes of God, and he too will seek judgement, right? WRONG. The only time that this is brought up again is during a brief scene in which said murder is treated like he stole a Snickers bar from the local grocery store. That’s a huge problem within this film; it deems what is appropriate and what is not to properly tell its story. Mack is forced to deal and forgive this dark shadow that is plaguing his life, never once having to deal with his own personal demons that had more than a few reasons for his lack of faith at the start of the film. Of course anything is easy to forget when you have a film that overstays its welcome at every turn.
To say that there is so much that isn’t necessary to the structure of this plot, is a gross understatement. This film feels like a director’s cut that the director decided to keep for all of the cutting edge green-screen work that he could show off to the occasional moviegoer. Once Mack ventures into the forest, we never again see his friends or family until the very end of the picture. That lack of dual storytelling diminishes any kind of possibility for crafty narration that goes above and beyond. At least Hazeldine’s backgrounds are beautiful, despite the fact that most of them aren’t physically there. The third act is suffocating, slugging us through a variety of possible conclusion points that would’ve been more than enough to properly finish this narrative. But no, the movie instead deems it necessary to include what I can only imagine is every single aspect of the literary counterpart. That’s the problem with most book-to-film adaptations; you either cut too much, or include too much. ‘The Shack’ never finds that comfortable balance between those two doomed directions, and tap dances through some of the worst pacing that I have dealt with in 2017 so far.
Leaps and bounds above the rest of the offensive material, was the idea that grief can be easily forgiven and appropriately timed. Everybody’s reactions are different to losing a child or anybody in their lives, so to say for a second that forgiveness is as easy as saying you’re sorry, is a gross exaggeration that is of poor responsibility to the youth who will watch this film. Forgiveness is more about feeling that anger and regret slipping away. Anything is easy to say, but you have to feel it out when the time is right, and nothing about Mack’s journey from start to finish in this movie ever feels warranted with where he ends up. Especially considering he, nor the audience, ever find out the complete details of his daughter’s last days. Leaving out details like that will play a HUGE part into the battle with forgiveness and what kind of demons that this character chooses to hold onto. The film tells us that man or woman was never supposed to play God with someone else’s life, and that they are to blame for the bad things that happen in the world. That might be true for that particular instance, but what about AIDS? or cancer? or any other life-threatening illness that plagues the world? Is that blamed on humans too? I guess none of this matters when you manipulate and crafts a script into any kind of way that your audience will eat up. Ultimately, this whole thing feels like it was written by a five-year-old who watched one too many Hallmark Channel movies about the power of God. Believing is cool, force-feeding is irresponsible for the other side of the audience who come to just watch a good movie play out. A wish that goes unfulfilled quite often.
As for performances, there’s plenty of positives and negatives to dissect. Octavia Spencer can practically play this role in her sleep by now. The idea of playing a savior is certainly nothing new to Spencer, and her soft, admirable personality shines its way through every delightful bit that rarely sprung up for me. Tim Mcgraw is also decent, despite not being in the film for too long. Mcgraw feels like the kind of friend to Mack that he desperately needs during this trying time, and I was saddened to learn that his material is as short as my patience was for this film to get going. Sam Worthington continues to be the previous decade’s Jai Courtney for under-performing each opportunity. Sam’s emotional register feels cold, and often times needs musical accompaniment to reach into the hearts and tears of the audience, lessening his quality for capturing those gut-wrenching moments. On more than one occasion, Worthington’s Australian accent cracks the surface and totally took me out of each moment I was invested. Worthington isn’t alone however, as one of Spencer’s henchwomen was truly out of place for her casting in this particular film. This actress (Sumire Matsubara) is in her first movie, and it clearly shows, as her delivery left quite a few uncomfortable scenes when clashing with Worthington’s character. There’s a lot of awkward sexual chemistry between them that is unwarranted, and Sumire plays all of her line reads far too softly in distinguishing herself from the other two spirits. The scenes involving her beg for spoofing, and i fear another Marlon Wayans comedy will be glad to take the reigns. Another reason ‘The Shack’ will inevitably make me sour.
‘The Shack’ overclouds itself with unnecessary exposition and subliminal religious undertones, over-thinking an interesting enough mystery genre film and replacing it with sermon verses. My resentment over two hours of Hallmark Channel lessons and Bollywood style pacing, left me dispirited over the death of the movie I was hoping I would get. This one is preaching entirely to the choir of ears who will undoubtedly invest in those simplistic Sunday school lessons that will otherwise be a collection of yawns and groans from everybody else.