The Girl in the Spider’s Web

Directed By Fede Alvarez

Starring – Claire Foy, Sylvia Hooks, Lakeith Stanfield

The Plot – Fired from the National Security Agency, Frans Balder (Stephen Merchant) recruits hacker Lisbeth Salander (Foy) to steal FireWall, a computer program that can access codes for nuclear weapons worldwide. The download soon draws attention from an NSA agent who traces the activity to Stockholm. Further problems arise when Russian thugs take Lisbeth’s laptop and kidnap a math whiz who can make FireWall work. Now, Lisbeth and an unlikely ally must race against time to save the boy and recover the codes to avert disaster.

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

POSITIVES

– At attempt to fill in the gaps of Salander’s backstory. One thing that always drove me nuts about the previous four films from this series is the lack of attention paid to Lisbeth’s jaded history, that could explain why her interaction with people comes across as tedious, and “Spider’s Web” feels like the first chance at delving deep below the surface. Through flashback scenes that depict the less-than acceptable nature between Lisbeth and her father, as well as the broken bond between her sister, we not only learn the motivation for her life’s work in protecting women, but also the past life she left behind when she faced her life’s important fork in the road. Because this is very much her movie, it would be foolish not to give us some answers in regards to its title character, and it certainly makes a lot of sense when you know more about what she has endured.

– No shortage of characters to keep the narrative fresh. Besides the usual team-up of Salander and Blomkvist, the film introduces us to the firewall creator and son, which provides great urgency for the abundance of chase sequences, as well as a government official, played by Stanfield, who constantly keeps Lisbeth on her toes in the biggest game of cat and mouse. This allows the film to constantly keep moving where other spy thrillers can sometimes start to lag down, and it helps even more when you’re investment into these characters increases with every scene.

– A new side of Salander. Lisbeth’s guarded wall toward human interaction, as well as cunning intelligence that never stalls, is still very much there, but Foy adds a layer of bravery and physicality to the role that was most noticeably absent in Rooney Mara’s recent portrayal of the character. What I love about this is that it really channels the evolution of Salander, proving that a majority of her cases have been anything but pushing the buttons behind her trusty laptop. Foy envelopes the complete package of what Lisbeth should be, and while the visual transformation isn’t as deep for this actress, the durability of her accent, as well as the way she commits herself to the role, proves that she was the right woman for the job.

– Pedro Luque’s beauty in the darkness that envelopes the world of this character. It would be easy to overlook the advantages in shooting a majority of scenes in these dark, cold backgrounds, but Luque takes advantage of the scenery, using it not only to channel Lisbeth’s physical isolation, but also in capturing the very unforgiving nature of Sweden in this winter wonderland. Lesser quality cinematographers won’t know how to shape it for audiences, often times coming across as a bunch of unidentifiable objects moving around in the darkness, but Pedro provides substance to the overwhelming dampness, using it as the stage that lives and breathes with these characters alike.

– Alvarez’s first time shooting an action movie. Considering this is a director whose passion first and foremost is horror movies, it was great to see what kind of visuals and movements he could give with a bigger scope and budget. Fede’s tapestry takes us through many chase sequences, with a versatility in angles, as well as long hallway pans that kept the attention firmly where it needed to be at all times. If the film does anything for this rising off-screen star, it’s proving that he is much more than a one trick pony, and he more than lives up to the shadow cast by previous director, David Fincher, for carrying the torch of this beloved franchise.

NEGATIVES

– Unsubtly a superhero narrative. Sony’s thirst to make this something its not, hinders the story at nearly every possible angle, further blurring the lines as a supposed sequel that Sony so badly wants you to believe. Salander herself has freakish abilities in her power, there’s an over-the-top villain whose only motive is to take over the world, a child kidnapped midway through who needs saving, pointless white makeup and posing for the camera of its protagonist, and high risk stunts that would kill a lesser person. Sound familiar? It should. Salander is apparently the second coming of Wonder Woman, and this thoughtless direction loses any air of familiarity that the character had for herself.

– Vital miscasting mistake. Blomkvist, for whatever reason, is treated like nothing more than a supporting cast member in this film, and there’s plenty to point to in terms of why this direction was taken. For one, Sverrir Gudnason wipes all forms of energy and personality from the character that Daniel Craig made famous. For two, his distracting lack of chemistry with Salander, that the movie wants so badly to paint, does them no favors in channeling the connection between them as lovers or friends. For a character who is arguably the protagonist of the novels, this demotion renders the character lacking, leaving him with little to do and little answered from where the previous film left off.

– Worst trailer of 2018. Once again, we have an example of a trailer that reveals far too much, and leaves nothing of reveal or excitement for the film to hang its hat on. To anyone who has seen the trailer, you not only find out who the antagonist is to Salander, but also how the final conflict between them ends. It is truly baffling to me how whoever put together this trailer still has a job, and thanks to their neglect and lack of care for audiences, we are given nearly two hours of answers in a two minute clip. Impressive.

– You don’t have to suspend disbelief in this film, you have to run over your brain with a Mack truck. Some of the things that Salander does with a cell phone are ridiculous to say the least, especially when you consider how little of time she is given to complete these tasks. Hacking a car’s electrical panel, an airport security system, and individual cell phones within seconds are just a few of her talents. Should we come to know Lisbeth as God at this point? Surely the authorities would be looking for someone as well known for hacking as she is. If you don’t believe me, look up Snowden, Edward.

– As much as the characters and performances keep the film from falling into boring territory, the film’s undercooked level of human emotion left me with a story with this high of stakes feeling very inconsequential. Because everything is so heavily telegraphed, like I mentioned above, the film’s closing moments won’t leave you as emotionally invested into them as you rightfully should, and the so-called big battle between family feels anti-climatic when it treats the things we already know as this shocking revelation.

My Grade: 5/10 or D+

The Nutcracker and the Four Realms

Directed By Lasse Hallstrom and Joe Johnston

Starring – Mackenzie Foy, Keira Knightley, Morgan Freeman

The Plot – All Clara (Foy) wants is a key; a one-of-a-kind key that will unlock a box that holds a priceless gift from her late mother. A golden thread, presented to her at godfather Drosselmeyer’s (Freeman) annual holiday party, leads her to the coveted key-which promptly disappears into a strange and mysterious parallel world. It’s there that Clara encounters a soldier named Phillip (Jayden Fowora-Knight), a gang of mice and the regents who preside over three Realms: Land of Snowflakes, Land of Flowers, and Land of Sweets. Clara and Phillip must brave the ominous Fourth Realm, home to the tyrant Mother Ginger (Helen Mirren), to retrieve Clara’s key and hopefully return harmony to the unstable world.

PG for some mild peril

POSITIVES

– Disney’s choice for a 65 mm Kodak format for the presentation. To anyone who has just seen the trailers, it should come as no surprise that this is a beautifully exceptional looking movie, filled with enchanted glimmer that radiates ever-so-gently off of the colorful wardrobes and dreamy landscapes. The team of Hallstrom and Johnston have moved mountains in bringing to life this ballet-turned-film to audiences, and the tinsel of magic that only Disney can emit, is a constant throughout Clara’s wonderous journey.

– Considering this is a ballet with very little exposition between characters and events, it’s a benefit for the film to keep things tight at 89 minutes, leaving the fluff of downtime on the cutting room floor. This is a film that constantly keeps moving, whether you’re into it or not, and I commend the production’s desire to not reach for the low hanging fruit of turning this into an epic, like other Disney live action properties. As far as the burning of an hour-and-a-half goes, it’s as smooth as silk, and keeps the attention of adult and child audiences alike, without a noticeable test of patience.

– Stylishly decadent wardrobes. In emulating the many differences in world, both fantasy and reality, the great Jenny Beavan has her work cut out for her. But with a faithful homage to the nutcracker and toy soldier tinker toy looks of the early 20th century, she wows us in ways that literally transform actors into the characters. For Clara, it’s a second act unveil that grooms her into becoming the woman she is destined to become, and for such an occasion it’s a transfixing gown that greatly compliments her skin, and lends itself to the finer side of class and sophistication.

– My favorite sequence of the film. It’s strange that possibly the only scene that I remember from this film an hour after is the ballet early on in the second act, that depicts Clara’s mother finding the Four Realms, because I myself am not even close to being a ballet fan. But it was in this exceptionally choreographed and wonderfully serenated play that not only built the most in backstory for the film and characters, but also fed into the concepts of majestic, an angle that much of this movie sadly under-developed. It’s a subtle reminder of why this story works on stage in ways that it can only dream of on film.

– No forced humor or cliche supporting cast. You can see it early on. Disney wants so badly to give Clara two dim-witted soldiers to chime in when the movie feels forced to cater to younger audiences. Thankfully, they hold off on this instinct, keeping the film’s tone grounded in expectation, keeping this from becoming a bumbling occasion that would do this story more harm than good. The lack of risk does catch up later on, as I will get to, but the best measures are always those that differ itself from what’s been proven ineffective, and this decision pays off immensely for me.

NEGATIVES

– Terribly miscast ensemble. It’s a disappointment to me, because I love Foy as an actress, and it’s not all on her. Everyone here is recruited for the wrong intentions, feeding into big budget films dreadful 90’s idea of bringing along the biggest name possible, regardless if it works for their personality or not. In this regard, Foy lacks energy as a protagonist we devote ourselves to, Freeman and Helen Mirren are in the film for a matter of minutes, and Knightley brings forth easily her most annoying portrayal to date. To piggyback off of what I said earlier, I enjoy all of these people individually as actors, but their casting here leaves much to be desired in the way they commit to their roles, and even expanding on their range as actors, making this feel like nothing more than a paycheck project.

– Same old same. You’ve seen it every year: a film will come along involving a child being shipped off to a wonderous land, and asked to save it. There’s nothing shocking about “The Nutcracker” taking this ages old troupe, but rather how little it truly does in adding layers of depth to such a tired plot. Because I’ve seen this concept played off in films like “The Wizard of Oz”, “Empire of the Sun”, and most recently “Ready Player One” to name a few, I can telegraph what will happen throughout, leaving little suspense or imagination to a decaying product.

– Considering this is a film with four different realms inside of this adventure, there’s an overall great lack of concern for the world building that goes unnoticed. Attribute this to the minimal runtime if you must, but in films that depict worlds far from our own, I prefer to be brought up to speed on what makes this place so special, and it just isn’t present here. If it’s in the title, you better do a great job of luring the audience inside, and there was never a moment over C.G backdrops where I felt amazed or riveted by what the film presents.

– This is again another example of a movie with so much computer influence that you wonder why it simply isn’t an animated movie. If you’re going to adapt a story into live action, do so in a way that justifies its existence. Instead, we are treated to hollow properties and poorly rendered rodents that make up the majority, and leave much to be desired in terms of reality. It’s no secret that this is the growing trend, especially with Disney remakes, and to me it’s the kind of creativity the production can muster up in bringing to life live action that impresses me. I’m not against C.G, but it should never make up the majority of any single shot in a movie.

– The dad in this film (Played by Matthew Macfadyen) is creepy to say the least. I get that this is a man who is grieving after the untimely death of his wife, and loneliness eventually sets in, but the way he looks at his oldest daughter in her Mother’s dress, as well as obsess over dancing with both of his daughters, made me slightly uncomfortable to say the least. This is the man’s entire story arc, and his intrusion upon these scenes make it stand out even more unnaturally, and if you think I am indeed bluffing on this, I challenge you to take in the movie and see the weirdness of this aspect, live and in living color.

My grade: 5/10 or C-

Hunter Killer

Directed By Donovan Marsh

Starring – Gerard Butler, Gary Oldman, Common

The Plot – Deep under the Arctic Ocean, American submarine Captain Joe Glass (Butler) is on the hunt for a U.S. sub in distress when he discovers a secret Russian coup is in the offing, threatening to dismantle the world order. Captain Glass must now assemble an elite group of Navy SEALs to rescue the kidnapped Russian president and sneak through enemy waters to stop WWIII.

Rated R for violence and some adult language

POSITIVES

– A great sense of life aboard a fighter submarine. If Marsh does just one thing competently enough as a director, it’s in the articulate channeling of claustrophobia and fear behind these walls that encase this increasing pressure. What I love is that the shots in frame feel very tight, and the editing is brunt enough to keep the tension amplified for the on-going developments in this high stakes game of mental chess.

– Speaking of thrills, for a film that borders the two hour mark unnecessarily, this one surprisingly kept me engaged on all cylinders of the combat cycle. This story unfolds from three different perspectives: the war room, the battlefield, and the sea, and while some of the pacing issues between the three sides stilts the progression, I never felt bored or bloated with the details coming at me. Most can be attributed to having triple the chances at engaging the audience, but for me it was very much the intensity of the unfolding drama that brings with it a constant reminder of what’s at stake.

– Much respect to this film for not indulging in getting too silly, and catering instead to early 90’s political thrillers that brought us hits like “Crimson Tide” and “The Hunt For Red October”. While this film doesn’t quite measure up to those in terms of the things it accomplishes, it does keep a persistent eye on the prize of never giving in to the temptation to be one of those so bad it’s good properties. Are there silly things in the film? Yes, I will get to them later, but Marsh is a director who is giving his all to make this something extra, and I think that’s a lot of the reason I couldn’t be too mad once the credits came up.

– Art imitating life. The America Vs Russia rivalry isn’t going anywhere soon, especially with our current day landscape unraveling what could be the biggest chapter between them, and the film is wise enough to capitalize on this awkward relationship on more than a few occasions. In painting Russia the enemy, the philosophy of the film is painted to ask the audience if every single Russian is indeed guilty by association tagging, or is the political hyperbole painting a picture that isn’t completely honest? The answer seems to lie somewhere in the middle, as “Hunter Killer” provides plenty of surprises on this front, all the while playing into the paranoia that has divided the two sides into testy counterparts.

– Majestic interiors and set designs for the ships and accompanying government offices. For the former, the lighting in particular repeatedly caught my eye, giving a reflective vibe of the chilly and unforgiving waters that surround our characters, and for the latter, its communication in the form of endless computer screens and in-the-sky droids that serve as a reminder of the big budget investment that goes with this visual Tom Clancy homage of sorts. These perks do more than enough to set the stage and market with them the believability in you to invest yourself into this story where buying Butler as a naval captain might falter.

NEGATIVES

– What were they thinking? I want to get the small things out of the way first, because while they are minimally important to the integrity of the film, their nagging presence stuck with me throughout. First, the decision to cast Alexander Diachenko as the Russian president in the film is one that, while working wonders for his nationality, does zero in terms of believability for a non-existent accent that has him coming across as another American politician. This pales in comparison to the name Joe Glass for Butler’s character. Aside from the fact that this name is as dumb and action cliche as it gets, it’s a glaring problem for 8-bit Nintendo fans like me, who loved the game “Mike Tyson’s Punch-Out”, and recall the 1-99 boxer known as Glass Joe. Any one of the twenty-something executive producers on the film could’ve balked at this decision, and easily named him Joe Smith, but a Gerard Butler protagonist has to sound every bit as cool as he looks, and man did they ever fail in this respect.

– No performances to write home about. Butler is his usual bland, Common never elevates in volume when the panic comes, and Oldman, fresh off of his win as Best Leading actor at this year’s Oscars, is relegated to ten minutes of screen time in the entire film. Gary is easily the best part of this ensemble, and that’s when the problem presents itself. Is it a script choice or an actor choice to limit the biggest name to this?

– Terrible On-screen visual effects. This is probably the only thing that I truly hated about the film. The rendering of these artificial properties are every bit as hollow as they are unnervingly unconvincing, and for a film that hits theaters, I can’t understand how this is the finished product. Some examples include a duo of deer so poorly rendered that they make the surrounding property feel fake, the endless amount of explosions that don’t synthetically capture the coloring of an underwater influence, and my favorite: obvious reshoot backdrops that come across as too dark to match the studio lighting of the actors caught in the middle of it. This element alone gives the film a straight-to-DVD look that it sadly never overcomes, and it’s the main reason why I welcome a majority of scenes being under water.

– Attention deficit disorder with storytelling. I never had a problem with the triple-tier element of storytelling that the film encompasses, but rather the telegraphed and conventional method in which it’s presented. In presenting these respective angles one at a time only, it violently hinders momentum of each one, feeling the necessity to start over when the pendulum swings back to its direction. I wish the three of them could’ve connected more frequently, especially during a second act that repeats far too much of the same motions in unfolding drama from three different perspectives.

– Great suspension of disbelief with some intimate details. I can’t dive too deep without reaching spoiler territory, but the ability to stop missiles, the remarkably easy way to break into the equivalent of the Russian White House, and the convenient method of Russian intelligence not using sonar to detect incoming ships, are definitely my favorite instances of shutting my brain off. Considering the book this is based on is written by a U.S Naval captain, I can’t imagine he’s the reason to blame for certain logics of this film that simply don’t float.

My Grade: 5/10 or C-

Goosebumps 2: Haunted Halloween

Directed By Ari Sandel

Starring – Jack Black, Wendi McLendon-Covey, Madison Iseman

The Plot – In the small town of Wardenclyffe on Halloween Night, two boys named Sonny (Jeremy Ray Taylor) and Sam (Caleel Harris) find a manuscript in an abandoned house that was previously owned by R. L. Stine (Black) called “Haunted Halloween.” When they open it, they release Slappy (Also Black) who plans to create the Halloween Apocalypse with the help of his Halloween monster allies. Now, Sonny and Sam, alongside Sonny’s sister, Sarah (Iseman) and Stine himself, must work to thwart Slappy’s plot before all is lost.

Rated PG for scary creature action and images, some thematic elements, rude humor and adult language

POSITIVES

– Once again, Jack Black’s polished routine that is perfect for the young adult center stage. In playing two respective roles in this film for the price of one, Black commands the attention of the audience with two personalities that shine for completely different reasons. As Stine, Black is able to poke fun at exposing the fourth wall of cliches that often ridicule Stine’s real life writing, and as Slappy it’s Black’s vocal capabilities that bring to life my personal favorite character once again in these movies. Black’s sinister laugh as Slappy is one of the few unsettling moments in the film, and serves as a constant reminder of how truly lost this franchise would be without its shining star.

– Surprisingly quite a few laughs. Everything in a film is obviously scripted, but for my money it was those subtle digs at pop culture properties like Stephen King’s IT, or the Universal Monsters that really registered with me, and made this film remarkably easier to sit through. What I love about these deliveries are that they come so subtly that you almost miss them if you’re not glued to the screen, and this aspect will give “Haunted Halloween” great second watch possibilities for people who seek to dig slightly deeper in the charms of this screenplay.

– Constantly keeps moving. At 83 breezy minutes, this film is anything but an obstacle to get through, but its screenplay is one that remains persistent at pushing this story forward without dulling the audience. This does create some obvious problems with character arcs that I will get to later, but Sandel’s direction reigns at rarely giving us a moment of breather, and something usually compromising did wonders for the pacing of this film’s movements.

– Look no further for a film that competently bridges the gap of horror between child and adult. It’s obvious what this film offers for the youthful moviegoer: delicate scares that never infringe on the confidence of parents, as well as wacky slapstick humor that they will eat up like Halloween candy, but it’s in its crossover appeal with adults that is perhaps its single greatest achievement. “Haunted Halloween” never feels immature, nor does it feel too tacky on the side of rich holiday atmosphere, instead it pays homage to that demographic that grew up with these stories, and dares them to indulge themselves one more time to pass on to their own kin, making this a generational affair of sentimental importance.

– Dominic Lewis’s audible gifts to the film that craft a layer of feasting fantasy. I love a musical composer who isn’t afraid to explore emphasis in his eerie tones, and Lewis does this without ever crossing into the kind of ominous territory that would have rendered the atmosphere counterfeit. This is very much a composer who embraces the hokey side of Halloween, and his collection of haunted house favorites can easily serve as the soundtrack to any kind of October get-together that you plan.

NEGATIVES

– Un-rendered C.G effects. Initially, I had zero problems with the designs of the computer generated characters of the film. In appearance, they look every bit as believable as they do intimidating, so it was a bit of a letdown to see their movements with live action characters feel weightless during interaction. This is an example of the little things coming back to bite a production squarely in the ass, as these effects feel so foreign to the immersion that we as an audience require in registering the physical conflicts that unfold.

– Dangerously self-infatuated. It’s always been strange to me that Stine is a character in his own stories on film, but the real problem with this angle became evident in this film. “Haunted Halloween” does that thing where the writer already knows what happens, so therefore he knows what’s to come, and has no problems relating this to the audience. This renders the screenplay predictably telegraphed from a mile away, leaving any kind of surprises on the cutting room floor. The film went to this gimmick too many times for my taste, and left the Stine character as the compromising negative to oppose Black’s brilliance with playing the character.

– Bland underwritten characters. Part of my surprise in enjoying the first Goosebumps movie was the delightful personalities and relatable backstories of many characters, but “Haunted Halloween” is a noticeable regression in this department, sacrificing necessary character subplots to fill in the blanks. It doesn’t help that this young and inexperienced cast is poorly directed by Sandel in emitting what we as an audience can sink our teeth into in terms of charisma. They’re Disney Channel movie characters to a tee, and never once was I able to invest myself in their trials and tribulations.

– Disappointingly for a sequel, this one falls flat on a lot of measurements. For one, the first film is barely mentioned, but worse than this it feels like leap years away from where this story and its antagonist begins. Slappy is locked away in a chest. How he got there I have no idea. This makes no sense with how the first film began. In addition to this, his character motivation of wanting a family to feel whole is completely compromising to his personality during the first film. Then there’s his supernatural powers of telekinesis that come completely out of left field. I wouldn’t have a problem with this inclusion if it made less sense as the film goes on. For example, Slappy moves many objects and characters with his mind in the beginning, but when the conflict comes this gift is never used again. If he had, this film would be and should be fifteen minutes long, with him squashing the protagonists without problem.

– Can we please stop putting Ken Jeong in movies now? I get it, “The Hangover” was funny, and full of toilet humor from its show-stealing Asian centerpiece, but his schtick in 2018 feels about as fresh as a Foghat concert. Even for kids level of humor, Jeong’s scenes feel like a sharp knife to the spine each time the film cuts to him. His character isn’t exactly pointless, just written without a sense of direction, and Jeong’s brand of humor feels like the concrete slab tied to the feet of a character with no essential importance to the film’s creativity.

5/10

Hell Fest

Directed by Gregory Plotkin

Starring – Bex Taylor-Klaus, Reign Edwards, Tony Todd

The Plot – A masked serial killer turns a horror themed amusement park into his own personal playground, terrorizing a group of friends while the rest of the patrons believe that it is all part of the show.

Rated R for horror violence, and adult language including some sexual references

POSITIVES

– Captivating set designs. In capturing the imagination and detail associated with the haunted house attraction, Michael Perry dazzles us with limitless space opportunity and expressive decoration props to perfectly articulate the hostile surroundings. On top of this, the lighting features everything from a strobing effect to distract, to a variety of coloring to give each scene artistic merit. It’s a reminder that B-grade horror doesn’t always have to settle for limited accentuation within its world building.

– Purposeful jump scares? Anyone who knows me, knows I despise jump scares in horror films, but the ones in this film work because (after all) that is the gimmick associated with the setting. What I love is that the psychology behind the jump scares are more for the characters inside of the movie, and less as a tease for us watching at home. Because of such, the scares never feel timely or predictable to us because they are catering to just the world depicted inside of the screen, and not worrying about constantly breaking the fourth wall. It’s something I commend this film for greatly.

– Hard-R. Many mainstream films don’t receive the coveted R-rating anymore, mainly because they are seeking a wider age range in audience to fill their seats, but ‘Hell Fest’ whets our appetites repeatedly with an overabundance of gore that stems from some exceptionally creative kills. I challenged this film repeatedly to shy away from depicting where each devastating blow was headed, and never once did it succumb to the pressure of the standards of a flawed ratings system. There’s also great teasing and struggle leading up to them that increases the tension and urgency tenfold, and never allows the moment to evaporate with one quick blow. It chews up the scenery with repeated confidence, and this element gave this horror hound lots of satisfaction repeatedly.

– Consistency in pacing. ‘Hell Fest’ certainly isn’t a difficult watch by any stretch of the imagination. It’s an 84 minute movie that constantly keeps breezing through a barrage of ever-changing landscapes and pulse-racing atmosphere to keep the attention firmly planted on the screen. Never during the film was I ever bored or distant from what was transpiring, nor did I feel like the allowed time did a disservice to the story itself. It’s a great way to burn an hour-and-a-half off of your day.

– Bear McCreery’s almost operatic score. McCreery is someone who is quickly becoming one of my favorite composers in film, and his work in this film is more proof for the pudding. Bear’s amplified compositions ignore subtle nuance and instead instill a ranging vibrancy for the variety in environments. Yes, this is all happening under the roof of one location, but the many themes inside the park are given enough respect from Bear to keep their music marginally different, and without them ‘Hell Fest’ wouldn’t earn even a fraction of the elevated tension that it frequently earns.

NEGATIVES

– Convenient plot devices. One aspect that disappointed me and took away from my growing enjoyment of the film was in the many conveniences that Plotkin forces us to endure, which even for a horror film are a bit of a stretch. This is as popular of a park as you can imagine, yet there’s only our ensemble cast who we ever see interacting in these attractions. Yes, we are given exposition in the form of V.I.P passes, but never on any park on this planet would this angle work for a single day. There’s also an angle with the killer’s shoes that makes it conveniently easy throughout to pick him out whenever he is trying to hide or blend in. As well, the killer isn’t exactly as wise as the film paints him out to be. Several times he does himself a disservice by allowing a character an easy escape, or just plain out walks away from them after he strikes.

– Lack of characters/bad acting. The work from this cast is offensive even for a campy, B-grade horror film. Their over-the-top personalities and selfish instincts repeatedly rubbed me the wrong way, and made it easier for me to embrace the film’s antagonist to kill them off one-by-one. Much of this can be blamed on the total ignorance of backstory or exposition from the film, but the fresh-faced cast often make it unpleasant to spend even one moment with them. These are people who I myself would never spend one evening with in my personal life, so being forced to endure them without distraction is a test I often failed.

– As for the killer himself, there’s nothing remotely satisfying about his big reveal that makes the juice worth the squeeze. His arsenal in weaponry is quite bland, his costume is something that could be put together at Costco, and any wave of clarity or logic for his hatred of haunted houses is never further elaborated on. Without spoiling anything, there is a scene near the end of the movie that I think implies to paint that this guy is a regular human being like you or me, but that still doesn’t even attempt to piece together the motivation for such a sporadic hobby, and just kind of sends us home on an emptying wave of air that slowly omits itself from the momentum of this film.

– One and done. Cameos from legendary figures in horror films are certainly nothing new, but the way Tony Todd, A.K.A The Candyman, is shuffled on and off screen during this film is downright insulting. Todd is given relatively high billing for the film, and is reduced to nothing more than a one-off scene that leaves no lasting impact. When you have a name like Todd’s, you go all out, and for my money I could’ve used more background for his role as the host of this terrifying attraction.

– The film’s premise, while nothing original by the genre’s standards, really goes disappointingly unexplored. One could argue that this leaves room for future installments, but much of the creativity associated with dissecting what is real and what isn’t in the park is never further elaborated on, removing many opportunities for fake-out scares and mysticism for the setting that I felt this movie desperately needed. For my money, establishing a one-man killer early on only limits the potential of paranoia within its walls, and leaves a general underwhelming feeling going forward that kept the scares very rudimentary.

5/10

Johnny English Strikes Again

Directed by David Kerr

Starring – Rowan Atkinson, Olga Kurylenko, Emma Thompson

The Plot – The third installment of the Johnny English comedy series, with Rowan Atkinson returning as the much loved accidental secret agent. The new adventure begins when a cyber-attack reveals the identity of all active undercover agents in Britain, leaving Johnny English as the Secret Service’s last hope. Called out of retirement, English dives head first into action with the mission to find the mastermind hacker. As a man with few skills and analog methods, Johnny English must overcome the challenges of modern technology to make this mission a success.

Rated PG for some action violence, rude humor, adult language and brief nudity

POSITIVES

– Late but purposeful. It has been eight years since the previous Johnny English installment, and fifteen since the original that went on to be a box office smash, bringing 320 million dollars between them. So it’s certainly easy to understand why a third chapter exists, and with the addition of technological nemesis like Cyber-Hacking, Identity Theft, and such, it allows English to explore avenues of antagonists that he hasn’t yet tackled. But it also provides the opportunity in valuing these new toys that help him crack the case a little easier. This gives the third movie proper motivation and deters it from the previous movies, whose environments were a product of their time.

– Stylish, spy thriller cinematography by Florian Hoffmeister. ‘Strikes Again’ is fill of slick car chase sequences through the bending mountainside, as well as never-ending portraits of English countryside that competently articulates the genre’s predecessors in visual likeness. These examples are a constant reminder of how faithful this film sticks with its intended genre purpose, and perfectly sets its audience in the mood for what’s to come.

– Quick run time. The film clocks in at a measly 84 minutes, and this may perhaps be its greatest benefit against a plot that isn’t necessarily substantive or even imaginative. Much of the pacing remained persistent, and never felt like it was sagging or dulling me to the point of checking my watch, particularly with the carefully spread out sight gags that bring enticement to each act.

– Doesn’t require allegiance to the previous films. As a critic, I am a bit ashamed to say that I never saw either of the first two films in this series, but thankfully Kerr’s sequel doesn’t rely at all on Johnny’s past work, just on the very legend of the character that sets him apart from the other spies. In this regard, the movie stands on its own independent feet, catering to a new generation of youthful moviegoers without ever alienating fans of the series, who are now grown-ups.

– Hit or miss performances. Atkinson still gives his all to this character, portraying English with a sort of unaware cool smug about his asinine decisions that make him the proper outcast for any spy character. His best attribute is in his bodily movements that dare you not to laugh each time he dedicates a thorough amount of time to the gag. Likewise, his chemistry with sidekick Bough (Played by Ben Miller) is impeccable, and allows the two cherished English actors great importance to the story’s progression. Unfortunately, the female cast is less opportunistic. Thompson is virtually wasted as the Prime Minister, sprouting her sparse ten total minutes on camera as being the subplot to Johnny’s mayhem. It is unfortunate that the two have such little screen time together to bounce off of one another, as the inclusion of a prestigious actress like Thomposon could’ve added much-needed female dynamic to the film that it just doesn’t master. Kurylenko is also phoning it in, playing Bond girl 27. The film just kind of forgets about her the longer it goes, proving her intention was nothing more than eye-candy that feels dated for the kind of equality we have mastered most recently in films.

NEGATIVES

– Cheap budget for virtually non-existent action sequences. What this film needs is an element of devastation in adding weight or memorability to the movie. One example of this limited perspective is a fire sequence in the opening twenty minutes that not only shies away from depicting the start of the fire, but also only acknowledges it through the facial reactions of our two male leads, with a flicker of light reflecting from their faces. Sadly, this is the highlight for the film in the set pieces department, removing any kind of consequential weight from the irresponsibility of clumsy characters.

– Ineffective humor. This film, perhaps more than anything else, is a blueprint for the differences in English and American comedy that have divided them for decades in terms of intended marks. With the exception of one sequence that stretches the boundaries and believability of virtual reality, I didn’t laugh once in this entire film, and that’s a huge disappointment for someone like Atkinson, whom I’ve adored for decades on the Mr. Bean program. Part of the blame is the juvenile atmosphere created, but I put so much more on punchlines that are skimmed over like just another line read.

– No surprises. Considering this is a spoof on spy thrillers, the lack of overall mystery and motivations within the characters feels like a pivotal misfire against a predictable screenplay full of genre cliches. Pretty much from the opening ten minutes of the movie you can piece it all together where the film’s antagonist, conflict, and resolution will fall, proving that the film’s lack of intelligence within itself stems from so much more than a bumbling protagonist who has never used a cell phone in 2018.

– An idea within. Instead of a plot that more than rubs together with previous films in the series, I preferred an angle that the screenplay only hints at. English is now an espionage teacher of sorts for a school of youths, and I think this original direction could’ve done with its youthful cast the same things that ‘Kingsman’ did for troubled adolescents. Is there any guarantee it would’ve been a better film? Absolutely not, but the desire in crafting a chapter of originality is something I commend any series for, but unfortunately it’s a sequel in plot that never strays far from familiarity.

– In Kerr’s directing, the biggest flaw that I found was his inability in taking chances. Most of the shot compositions, as well as character world-building feels very pedestrian and one-dimensionally confined to the actions of the film. What I mean by this is it doesn’t feel believable in the slightest that this world exists outside of this movie, refusing to explore English when he isn’t donning the three piece suit. This is where screenwriter William Davies takes his share of the blame, because his conflict lacks true complexity in fleshing out the true danger of the profession. These psychological delves could allow us not only to feel more invested in the hollow plot, but also in the range of the character, who hasn’t sprouted much in fifteen years.

5/10

The Nun

Directed by Corin Hardy

Starring – Demian Bichir, Taissa Farmiga, Jonas Bloquet

The Plot – When a young nun (Bonnie Aarons) at a cloistered abbey in Romania takes her own life, a priest (Bichir) with a haunted past and a novitiate (Farmiga) on the threshold of her final vows are sent by the Vatican to investigate. Together they uncover the order’s unholy secret. Risking not only their lives but their faith and their very souls, they confront a malevolent force in the form of the same demonic nun that first terrorized audiences in ‘The Conjuring 2,’ as the abbey becomes a horrific battleground between the living and the damned.

Rated R for terror, violence, and disturbing/bloody images

POSITIVES

– Eerily effective musical score from Abel Korzeniowski. If it isn’t enough that the musical composer’s name is Abel in a film surrounding religion, the wise decisions that he takes in crafting that authentic convent feel moves the atmosphere and tone miles in terms of the inevitable doom they channel. Abel combines these richly dark and ominous tones with the inclusion of an all-male choir, to make it sound like echoing hymns throughout the hallowed halls, and its power is greater than most of the supposed scares in the film.

– Detailed production in set pieces that spare zero expense. What transcends the film from being just another watered down sequel is the attention to eye-popping props and on-location (Romania) shooting that sprinkle its vital investment into this story. Beyond this being just a scary place, it’s one that works for the dimming of natural light whose shadow work messes with your mind on several occasions, as well as the time that went into perfecting uses for even the minimalist of scene time. The graveyard full of crosses feels like it stretches miles, speaking volumes not only to the rich tradition of this convent, but also Valek’s menacing powers that have ended many lives.

– Art imitating life? It’s interesting that both Farmiga sisters, Vera and Taissa, have both appeared in this series of films, albeit in respectively different films. For the younger Farmiga, she is every bit as rich in haunting facial reactions as her big sis, but it’s more in her character’s inexperience with true evil that crafts her performance as something entirely different. As Sister Irene, Taissa rarely needs to scream to keep a grip on the attention of the film, instead being the glaring line of conscience between our world and Catholicism that is tested every foot along the way.

– Uneasiness with simply imagery. When this film isn’t trying to be full of unnecessary jump scares, the unsettling depictions of faceless nuns slowly walking in A rhythmic trance gave me constant reminder of what this film could’ve been if the studio just trusted the atmosphere in tension that has been built across five movies. It properly sets the mood for the film you were promised, but unfortunately lives up with much else, because it would rather aim for the same tropes that is all the craze in modern horror.

– Justification among its counterparts. The ending of the film, while a mess creatively for this lone chapter, does fit in perfectly with ‘The Conjuring’ universe, and does instill strong replay value for the films before it. One scene in particular takes us back to a scene in the first Conjuring movie, neatly tying the two sides together without it feeling like a great suspension of disbelief.

NEGATIVES

– Why is this rated R? Push aside the Academy’s grading that I typed above, and you have a lack of emphasis overall with the coveted R-rating that other horror films so desperately require. Because of the often times blurry surroundings, there’s little distinguishable blood, and there’s nothing too disturbing in violence that would otherwise make me think this isn’t a PG-13 film. This feels like a mistake more on the Academy’s part, but the film itself does very little of risk to warrant this designation.

– Terribly bad A.D.R. It’s almost become typical of me to spot instances here and there in a film where lines of dialogue don’t match that of the proper lip movements that come from their actors, but in ‘The Nun’ that game gets taken to a whole other level. I’m not sure if the sound mixer was asleep at the wheel, but there were two scenes where a character is talking aloud without actually speaking in vision. The film thinks if it hides this character in the background it won’t be noticeable, but that couldn’t be further from the truth, and these instances aren’t strong enough to be considered sloppy, they are downright amateur.

– Continued dependency on jump scares. This is beginning to get to the point where it’s every bit as formulaic as it is anti-climatic. While there are bigger offenders of the cliche, ‘The Nun’ goes to the well eight times too many with ineffective jump scares that can easily be telegraphed from a mile away. It’s typically when a scene’s sound goes from seven to zero in a split second, but there’s something additional even more conflicting here. The camera work and shot composition repeat on more than one occasion for these jump scare scenes, and that redundancy speaks volumes of the laziness that comes across in too many jump scares that don’t warrant the sound that comes from them.

– Inconsistencies of the rules. There are too many examples to cite here, so I will just say my favorite. Valek herself fears crosses in her vision, often times disappearing when she comes into contact with one. In this regards, she can be easily compared to the rules of a vampire. So why then are there not only several instances of crosses in plain view that do nothing, as well as how she can touch and even harm these blessed holy characters without something of harm coming to her. You had one rule for your antagonist, and you even messed that up.

– Without question, the most offensive aspect of the film to me is how it unabashedly rips off scenes and storyboards from other movies without shame. Throughout the film, there are unavoidable instances with films like ‘The Exorcist’ or ‘Silent Hill’, but the biggest offender to me is that of ‘Tales From the Crypt: Demon Knight’. The producers of this film must have a lot of faith that no one saw that movie, and they’re probably right, but to completely lift the entire ending from that movie is shameful to say the least, and proves that ‘The Nun’ never comfortably follows its own path.

5/10

Blood Fest

Directed by Owen Egerton

Starring – Robbie Kay, Seychelle Gabriel, Zachary Levi

The Plot – Fans flock to a festival celebrating the most iconic horror movies, only to discover that the charismatic showman behind the event has a diabolical agenda. As festival attendees start dying off, three teenagers, more schooled in horror-film cliches than practical knowledge about neutralizing psycho killers , must band together and battle through various madmen and monstrosities to survive.

Currently not rated

POSITIVES

– Creative kills. Sadly, the effects work is mostly computer generated, but that doesn’t spoil the creativity involved with a first act setting of the stage that is certainly the five most satisfying minutes that this film has to offer. Chainsaws, road tools, and pools of pig’s blood splash and gash across the screen, giving you a fiesta of carnage that the rest of the film has trouble ever living up to.

– Subtle homages to horror icons. While most of the rules and material of ‘Blood Fest’ felt more insulting than not for my taste, the Easter Eggs pointing to some of the elusive legends of the genre felt satisfying for their familiarity. It’s not so much ripping off popular properties as it is depicting their magnitude on the horror pop culture stratosphere. I won’t spoil much, but Hoddertown as a setting within the park gave me plenty of motivation as to where I want to live next.

– I love the idea of this plot. This feeling of life imitating art is one that thrives with my general interest, even if the movie managed to round up zero legitimate scares along the way. On the surface, the event Blood Fest is this great excuse for gore and body counts of the highest ratio to come together, bringing the torture on a grander scale than were used to in a conventional horror film, with the exception of maybe zombie films. P.S – There are zombies in this movie.

– While none of the acting is worthy of over-the-top praise, the work from this ensemble of mostly inexperienced cast members do a solid enough job as a likeable entity. Particularly the work of Gabriel as the final girl of sorts for this film, served as my single favorite performance for the movie, as someone not afraid of getting dirty when a scene requires it. She tends to give her whole body to a scene involving violence, and her petite stature is one that comes in handy for the many twists and turns that the story, as well as her body, takes.

– Much of the comedy, while juvenile and redundant at times, hits its target for a majority of the time, bringing a few hearty laughs that definitely made the sit a lot easier. My favorite scene of the movie takes place in the opening five minutes, when the trio of leads are talking at the video store. The banter between them is timely in their sarcastic deliveries, and overall it’s this scene that sets the precedent for the personalities, as well as the brand of humor for the entirety of the movie going forward.

NEGATIVES

– While this is a far greater improvement on production designs from Rooster Teeth’s other feature films, the set pieces in particular feel lifeless and artificial. When the film isn’t limiting the most of its horrific looking green-screen effects that obscure and blur anything surrounding human properties, the physical properties feel like they were cut out of a gimmick haunted house, lacking any kind of depth or creativity for their inclusion.

– Bare minimum character exposition. These are people who are limited to one word descriptions like “Blonde” or “Virgin”, and the film’s lack of focus to their proper development leaves them equally with nothing to live up to with these minimal tags. Even for a B-grade horror movie, ‘Blood Fest’ caters more to the familiar tropes of the genre, instead of building on the audience’s investment in a particular character, and the result are weightless deaths that add nothing of urgency or effectiveness to the frights of the film.

– Plagued by predictability. ‘Blood Fest’ feels worn down by the lifespan of its gimmick as a movie that is ahead of the rules it promotes, beating into the ground constant reminders that riddle it full of telegraphed moves before they even happen. A couple has sex, so of course they’re dead, a blonde is naked in the shower, so of course she’s next, and this constant ring of reminder annoyed me because of how saddled it becomes with being another follower of the pack.

– ‘Blood Fest’ is everything wrong with the pop culture appeal that it satirizes so often. The film’s antagonist speaks of the horror genre losing its effect because studios have taken what’s forbidden and made it routine, and this movie does the exact same. It’s insulting to condense horror into a few simple rules, but even more than that it’s damning to the integrity of the film when the tone-deaf range, as well as lack of anything original or compelling for the genre rears its head. This gives Rooster Teeth a double F for eFFort.

– The twist, while anything but predictable, is as far-fetched an idea as anything that this film scares up for us. What’s even more ridiculous is that the film didn’t require it, as the movie’s true antagonist and surprisingly creative plot made for more than enough explanation on the idea of this festival. I guess it’s appropriate that a character involved in the ending spouts the line “I did warn you that Blood Fest was going to suck”. Well played movie, and this twist only further emphasizes how right on the money you truly were.

5/10

Dog Days

Directed by Ken Marino

Starring – Nina Dobrev, Vanessa Hudgens, Finn Wolfhard

The Plot – Follows a group of interconnected people in Los Angeles who are brought together by their lovable canine counterparts.

Rated PG for rude and suggestive content, and for times of adult language

POSITIVES

– Knows its audience very well. This movie is what I like to call “Aww-proof”, in that it has plenty of cute visuals where the dogs are doing humorous things, to make viewers shriek in delight. Manipulative? Absolutely, but ‘Dog Days’ is a love letter to the Youtube generation, who take big chunks out of their day to watch dog and cat videos as an escape from the real world.

– Personably grounded ensemble cast. While Marino doesn’t do a strong enough job in establishing some of the finer points in personality, most noticeably in a doctor character who changes at the drop of a hat, this crew of energetic B-listers bring radiance to their portrayals. Hudgens charms with that classic Hollywood smile, Wolfhard has charisma well beyond his years, and Ron Cephas Jones was single-handedly my favorite part of the movie, for his chances in dramatic pulse that the film fought so hard to constantly diminish.

– Breezy pacing. For the most part, the film sails by in the winds of progression that never stumble nor stilt with the many on-going subplots. Despite a third act that I’ll get to later on, the movie’s first half flourishes by building the many different relationships that these characters have with their furry counterparts, and does so in a way that honors importance in animals without dumbing the movie down with unlikely stunts or situations that dog movie writers love to include.

– Raises awareness on its own terms. Never does the film feel meandering in the slightest with this aspect, instead bringing light subtly to the over-crowding of dog shelters by valueing their importance. What’s even more appreciative in this aspect, is that there’s no over-the-top antagonist landlord character to bring down the mood of the picture once it is revealed that the shelter is closing. That alone is something I greatly commend the movie for, as the spanning of a lot of characters already casts a great divide in the fight for screen time.

– Much of the interactions scattered throughout the film are rooted in realism that many dog owners can relate to. Examples range in the form of rude wake-up calls, to the barking reactions of loud noises around them, to an overall lack of eating etiquette that proves no food is safe. ‘Dog Days’ is very grounded in this respect, allowing the humans to narrate us through, while letting the dogs be the comic relief that the film depends on so persistently.

NEGATIVES

– Mind-bashing music. I can’t believe that in a movie about dogs that I have to bring up music, but it’s a painful headache constantly throughout. There’s a band named Fronk in the film, led by Adam Pally’s character, and they somehow take these AWFUL one hit wonder jams like ‘Who Let the Dogs Out’ and ‘I’m Too Sexy’ and make them even worse with their funk renditions. I’ve heard less agonizing listens during a Kidz Bop CD, and what’s even more unfortunate is the film goes back to them no fewer than four times.

– Generic production qualities. Besides the fact that the film casts this imitation lighting that many films today like to use to throw off the authenticity of natural lighting, the movie also slices scenes prematurely with terrible edits, and brings back what I thought was a forgotten relic of Hollywood Cliches. In that regard, the final setting of the movie takes place on a painted backdrop that doubles as downtown Los Angeles, and it couldn’t be any more obvious if the wind in the studio shook its images to the point that they flowed like a flag.

– Constant predictability. When I say that there was nothing original or remotely surprising about this movie, I really underplay it. Once you’re introduced to each character and their respective dispositions, you begin to comprehend where they will be once the film ends. Because of this, I constantly felt like I was ten minutes ahead in the film, and was continuously waiting for them to catch up.

– Third act problems. This is where the film really starts to overstay its near two hour run time. Because of the structure in having so many leads splitting time, each of them is treated to a set-up, conflict, and resolution that rides the waves of redundancy. Once everything has been put away neatly, the film loses a lot of its momentum by not understanding where to end the film. There are no fewer than three different endings in the film. All of which would’ve been fine enough to roll the credits, but none of which actually do, and needless to say I didn’t stay for the credit blooper reel that only further prolonged the dragging.

– The only times I laughed in this film were with the reaction shots of the dogs, because the human material had me questioning what age group this movie is marketed towards. The adult directions used for some of the set-up, including themes of cheating significant others, as well as a barrage of sex jokes, combined with these very animated deliveries, made for an uneven strategy that very seldom paid off. The imagery of the four legged friends was very beneficial, but I never have a reason to watch ‘Dog Days’ again, because it does nothing to stand out from the rest of the pack.

5/10

Hot Summer Nights

Directed by Elijah Bynum

Starring – Timothee Chalamet, Maika Monroe, Alex Roe

The Plot – Daniel Middleton (Chalamet), a likable but socially awkward recent high-school graduate, is spending the summer before college visiting his aunt on Cape Cod. Neither a “townie” nor a wealthy “summer bird” dropping in for the season, Daniel struggles to find his place-until he meets Hunter Strawberry (Roe), the local bad-boy who peddles marijuana to well-off vacationers when he isn’t protecting his younger sister McKayla (Monroe) from overzealous male suitors. Sensing an opportunity, Daniel persuades Hunter to go into business, dealing weed up and down the Cape together as the summer heat intensifies. Newly confident, Daniel falls for McKayla, keeping their relationship secret until it becomes explosive. Set in the summer of 1991 against the backdrop of a looming hurricane

Rated R for drug content and adult language throughout, sexual references, and some strong violence

POSITIVES

– Concise editing that visibly narrates the free-flow of the film’s narration as told by an off-screen character. The establishing shots of Cape Cod offer a distinct tone of personality and escapism that many of the town folk adopt, and the endless energy with the introductory scenes really builds a pulse from within that gets you excited for what’s to come.

– As for the narration itself, it speaks vividly for the rumor mill of gossip within the town and how they perceive certain characters as legends of stories handed down. There’s plenty of interview style perspectives initially, that we compare and contrast for the similarities and differences that only we can piece together, since we are getting the entire spectrum of speculation. In this regard, its storytelling reminds me of ‘The Virgin Suicides, in that it speaks of a time and a place that feels light years behind us, and one that might be too late to confront this Summer that almost blew the town off of the proverbial map.

– Excellent soundtrack of summertime classic rock favorites. Are the tracks invasive from time to time in their deliveries? YES, but the catalog in full transcribes the exhilarating feeling to be a teenager and be alive again, with the world at your fingertips. Throw in some beautiful sky map transitional sequences to channel the spirit of Summer, and you have a one-two combo that easily immerses you back into the psychology of adolescence.

– Vibrant overall cinematography that channels the post-80’s style smoothly in presentation. In addition to the film feeling like one big love letter to VHS technology, where the hazy coloring filters and neon graphics marry in a union of outdated bliss, there’s an overall presence of fog that fills the air, speaking volumes to the drug trade that the boys are thoroughly embedded in. Because of this, the colors are able to pop out even more and seduce you in a way that very few time period films correctly capture anymore.

– The performances are mostly satisfying enough, particularly that of the male and female leads. This is Chalamet’s second coming of age film set during the summer, but one he differs with greatly because of the nuance in control he exudes over the boredom and awkwardness that comes with being a teenager on the brink of Summer. Monroe as well is vivacious and seductive, even if the mumbling, bumbling dialogue does her zero favors. The two don’t have the strongest of chemistry connections, but they make up for it personality radiance that captures completely two of the biggest rising stars in the Hollywood landscape.

NEGATIVES

– Because much of the meat in this story is derivative from other films that did it better, the weight of consequences are every bit as timely as they are predictable. Once you know the set-up in the dynamics of relationships and coincidence, you can easily navigate through where this story is headed. It’s disappointing that a film this similar to other coming-of-age narratives of the subgenre doesn’t project anything of originality to stretch its lasting power. In fact, I have already forgot so much of this movie, and I watched it less than an hour before writing this.

– So much of the supporting cast is greatly underutilized. I point to a subplot involving Hunter’s girlfriend (Played by Maia Mitchell), where this girl is virtually glossed over as nothing more than an afterthought to the weight of this story. For someone with the greatest tie to arguably the most important character of the movie, the film reduces her to nothing more than eye candy, leaving an air of regret for this actress who will undoubtedly be one of the biggest surprises of 2018. Beyond this, film veterans like Thomas Jane and William Fichtner are entirely wasted in terms of what they provide this movie. Fichtner is only in one scene in the film, and Jane’s presence is completely omitted from the very aspect of tension that goes noticeably missing when it’s required the most.

– In addition to what I just said, certain scenes feel like they’re missing from the third act developments. Particularly with Jane’s police character, he seems to have figured out that these two characters are selling drugs without us ever witnessing his air of discovery. Two other characters in Daniel’s Mother and Aunt go missing all together after their introductions. Also, another inevitable confrontation finally happens only two scenes after it seemed smoothed out and repressed. How did things get so bad so fast? Where is the missing pieces in between that relate to us what is coming?

– For my money, the second half of this film was nowhere near as entertaining as the first. Snail’s pacing comes as a result of too many musical montages, and the unearned dramatic pull from forced confrontations ,that I mentioned above, are never remotely satisfying because of the lack of build and time donated to them. The film just kind of ends on speculation instead of certainty, providing the most frustrating aspect to donating nearly two hours to this story and characters.

– Bynum as a director feels promising enough with his edginess in style, especially for a first time director, but in also writing the script he may have worn himself too thin. It pains me to label a movie all style and no substance, but ‘Hot Summer Nights’ is the definition of that phrase because it lacks the kind of sizzle from the steak to ever live up to such a promising title. A plot is the first step to your audience indulging or not in a movie, but beyond that surface level, nothing ever continues to build on the suspense, leaving a thirst for a direction that feels tone deaf from the get-go

5/10

Hotel Transylvania 3: Summer Vacation

Directed by Genndy Tatakovsky

Starring – Adam Sandler, Selena Gomez, Mel Brooks

The Plot – Mavis (Gomez) surprises Dracula (Sandler) with a family voyage on a luxury Monster Cruise Ship so he can take a vacation from providing everyone else’s vacation at the hotel. The rest of Drac’s Pack cannot resist going along. But once they leave port, romance arises when Dracula meets the mysterious ship Captain, Ericka (Kathryn Hahn). Now it’s Mavis’ turn to play the overprotective parent, keeping her dad and Ericka apart. Little do they know that his “too good to be true” love interest is actually a descendant of Abraham Van Helsing, ancient nemesis to Dracula and all other monsters.

Rated PG for some action and rude humor

POSITIVES

– Sandler’s career has found a bit of a resurgence in vocalizing animated characters. After three straight films that have made me laugh more than the last ten of Sandler’s live action movies combined, I think Adam should stick with voicing Drac and other animated properties for the foreseeable future. Sandler works in this environment because his vocalizing has always catered to adolescent material, bringing with it a tone in reactionary humor that was made for animated film. On top of it, he gets to stick to formula and bring with him his growing number of friends, to make sure each of them always has a paying gig. Quite the samaritan.

– Tatakovsky’s style of animation that is unlike anything by comparison in the animated world of cinema. The eye-popping colorful stroke, combined with facial defining traits are something that clearly makes this franchise standout, and pushes the boundaries of its comedy even further by some effective sight gags that consistently keeps the humor in check.

– Speaking of sight gags, they easily carried the humor over the dialogue that rarely ever hit for me. For my money, I would’ve been fine with ‘Hotel Transylvania 3’ being a silent animated film that captured all of the cause and effects of monsters being aboard a cruise ship, and how their dispositions fed into that setting’s entertainment traditions. Particularly, my favorite scene of the entire film is an airline run by some familiar 80’s cinema monsters, that adopt their own brand of customer hospitality that will have you shrieking with laughter.

– Being a fan myself of the world’s biggest mysteries, I love that the setting of this film takes place in the Bermuda Triangle, on Friday the 13th. The date in particular is interesting, because that is of course the release date for this film, and kudos to the studio for breaking the fourth wall in those regards. The setting perhaps does or does not elaborate on the urban myth to why so many have disappeared in its clutches…..or should I say tentacles (Wink Wink)

– On the front of messages for the film, at least there are two out of three that youths can take away from positively. These are the importance of family, as well as never judging those who are different on just appearances alone. I think if these messages stick, those younger audience members will be alright. If the third and more consequential message sticks, in which we should pursue endlessly the objects of our affections, then I have great terror for the world in the coming decades.

NEGATIVES

– As par for the course of Sandler films, this one has no shortage of classic rock favorites, or even the best of modern day top 40 to accommodate its repetitive dance sequences. My problem with this is the music included feels so commercialized, adding very little value or importance to the scene based on creativity. It feels like a lazy excuse to sell downloads, and never really fits in this particular world, no matter how goofy Drac and friends are portrayed.

– It’s interesting to me that this film takes place over the course of a few days, and yet we never see any daytime scenes. One could say that’s obviously because Drac sleeps during the day, but there are also no scenes involving Drac going to sleep or resting of any kind. Because of how the film is edited and paced together, it feels like one continuous trip into a world where the sun never rises, and the characters, both monster and human, never sleep.

– By the third installment of this franchise, there are simply far too many characters at this point with nothing to do. It’s certainly an easy paycheck for those talented voice actors, but their inclusion adds so little to the film in a creative sense, and I would’ve liked to have seen some of them stay behind at the hotel to run things while a few go on-board. Wait a minute, who the hell is running the hotel while everyone is gone???

– The biggest negative to the story comes in the lack of attention donated to the unfolding narrative to the Drac and Ericka, before the pivotal third act. Considering this is a light, breezy 87 minute sit, there is no shortage to throwaway one-off gags that add nothing of weight or growth to what should be front-and-center in our focus. This film has A.D.D of the worst kind, leaving about fifteen minutes of actual development for the film’s central plot to feast on. Perhaps that’s why I’m left with this overwhelming sense of carelessness for where the film ends up.

– As for that finale, what develops between protagonist and antagonist is ridiculous even for a children’s cartoon. Not since the movie ‘Couples Retreat’ has a conflict been resolved in such juvenile and far-fetched way that has more holes in its plan than a piece of swiss cheese. What’s even worse is that even after sitting through ten minutes of ridiculousness that I couldn’t script if I was high on LSD, we come to discover that it all really doesn’t matter in the bigger picture. We end up some place where consequence and resolve doesn’t exist, instead opting to set up for a fourth movie that I hope returns this franchise to prominence.

5/10

Boundaries

Directed by Shana Feste

Starring – Vera Farmiga, Christopher Plummer, Lewis Macdougall

The Plot – Single mom Laura (Farmiga), along with her awkward 14 year-old son Henry (MacDougall) is forced to drive Jack (Plummer), her estranged, care-free pot dealing father across country after he’s kicked out of yet another nursing home. The road trip veers off course when Jack decides to make a couple ‘stops’ and Henry asks to see his ne’er-do-well dad Leonard (Bobby Cannavale), completely upending Laura’s attempt to hold her family together and ultimately forcing her to finally see her father for the man he really is.

Rated R for drug material, adult language, some sexual references and nude sketches

POSITIVES

– Farmiga and Plummer are consistently effective enough to outrun some of the underwhelming material, and because of such, carve out a Father/Daughter dynamic that works. For Plummer, it’s a chance to play out of type for once, living through Jack as a kind of Rip Torn meets Alec Baldwin stoner that proves wholeheartedly that the man can do comedy. For Farmiga’s Laura, we see a character’s fragility exposed because of the past that continues to haunt her in more ways than one. Vera rises to the occasion, with tears that fall on command, even if we don’t feel her pain emotionally ourselves, because of repeated misfires with direction.

– What road trip movie wouldn’t succeed if they didn’t have montages detailing some of the beautiful countryside? Thankfully, ‘Boundaries’ is more than capable of this feat. What’s refreshing for once is the geographical locations, scouting landscapes up and down the California coast, as opposed to endless deserts that other road trip movies seem saddled with. The beaches are a warm compliment to the ecological coloring of the urban countryside, providing enough versatility to feed into the passing of the time.

– In keeping with tradition of this mostly female-led production team, the cinematography from Sara Mishara offers a subtle glow that radiates that independent cinema vibe throughout. This is arguably Sara’s biggest mainstream project to date, and she doesn’t drop the ball in channeling some of the cold and callous psychological stance between this often strained relationship. On top of this, much of her camera work speaks volumes to manipulating the angles in the way that the characters see things. This puts us in the car alongside our talented cast, when we engage this beautiful scenery that surrounds us in frame and focus.

– I had many problems with the overall tone that I will get to later, but one half of this element worked for me, and that was the humor. For my money, this film should’ve remained committed to being a comedy, because there’s often something sarcastic and wittingly dry to the way Feste writes character deliveries that just feels honest. The best kind of humor is always the kind that audiences can channel and relate to, and I found these parts in the film the most enjoyable because of the way I related to their authenticity.

– While I failed to see the link in what they were representing creatively, the film does at least serve as an olive branch for animal lovers of all tribes. Farmiga’s character throughout the movie adopts these random dogs and cats that she finds abandoned, at least relaying to us the compassionate side of her character that makes her incredibly engaging as a protagonist. If you’re like me and can’t watch a film without stopping to moan at how cute a particular animal is, then Boundaries will give you plenty to oogle at.

NEGATIVES

– The road trip subgenre is a bit played out, especially in 2018 with a film called ‘Kodachrome’ that did it much better, but ‘Boundaries’ offers nothing in the way of surprises or originality that breaks itself from the pack. Almost immediately, the film writes itself into these familiar corners that inevitably remind you of a better film, and leaving itself little wiggle room in laminating anything memorable for audiences for more than five minutes after they leave the theater.

– I mentioned earlier that the film juggles tonal consistency, often feeling like two directions being compromising opponents in a vicious tug-of-war. As to where the comedy almost entirely works for the film, the movie’s sagging dramatic elements fail miserably, because of how juvenile the humor sometimes leaves a scene. There’s little exposition in terms of that scarred relationship that is never elaborated on, and much of the melodrama invades our scope with very little planning or patience to leave emotional resonance.

– One direction that I found strange was the third act developments that feel like they are keeping the cameras on to reach a certain run time. This is the part of the film where I felt that so much could be trimmed for time, particularly that of a subplot involving Farmiga’s on-screen sister (Played by Kristen Schaal) that adds very little but a distraction to the one-on-one directive that the film needed closure on. Because of this, the film just kind of ends in the way I knew it would, never capitalizing on an emotional center to drive the narrative home.

– In addition to the unnecessary plots involved with the sister character, the road trip itself provides far too many speed bumps in the way of these simmering issues, that keep the resolve slipping further out of our grasp. One stop is fine, but ‘Boundaries’ script instills four different character stops on this long and winding road, with only one of which adding anything to the exercising of demons that the film’s plot wants you to believe so desperately. After a while, this misdirection starts to feel uncomfortable, and begins to hint that maybe some people simply can’t be changed, and we should respect that.

– Coming off of the ground-shaking performance of his time in ‘A Monster Calls’, it feels like a tragic disappointment for Macdougall to not have more to do in this film. Unresolved is a word that I would use to accurately define his character, and the only thing more antagonizing than the film’s lack of exposition for his conflicts, is that of how plain they supplant this teenage force. I don’t go to bat often for child actors, but when you have someone like Lewis Macdougall, you unleash him and let him react to these changing circumstances around him. Failing to do so, may be my biggest regret for the film.

5/10