Father Figures

Owen Wilson and Ed Helms wonder who is their daddy, in Warner Bros holiday hilarity ‘Father Figures’. Fraternal twin brothers, Kyle and Peter Reynolds (Owen Wilson and Ed Helms) have learned that their father did not die when they were young as they had previously believed, and their eccentric mother, Helen Baxter (Glenn Close) had slept with many rich, famous and powerful men in the 1970’s, adding greater difficulty to this unfolding mystery. When they go on a long distance road trip to find out who their real father is, they find out more about their mother than they probably ever wanted to know, as well as encountering a mysterious hitchhiker (Kat Williams) and other misadventures that add a confrontation speedbump. ‘Father Figures’ is helmed by first time director Lawrence Sher, and is rated R for adult language and sexual references throughout.

‘Father Figures’ is certainly not a great film by any stretch of the imagination. After sitting on the production shelf for over two years, the film was finally blessed with a release date of Christmas week, competing against the best that the holiday season has to offer, instead of a Father’s Day release that could tie into the marketing of the movie. I was expecting pure sludge going into this film, and was remotely surprised at just how much heart burns deep beneath a typical Owen Wilson movie. One big hurdle that I see for the film is that it is entirely marketed wrong, catering in its trailer to the very bromance comedies that require gross-out humor in appealing to its audience. That is not what we get here at all in the majority, despite there being a few rare instances of seediness that the screenplay just can’t stay away from. This instead feels like a cute and quirky indie comedy with some credible cinematography to boot along the way. Because of this, it finds itself in an awkward situation in which it won’t be crude enough to appeal to the audience that it was marketed towards, and it won’t find the audience needed in making it reputable because of the trailer that did more harm than good. Baffling I know, but Sher’s film isn’t anywhere close to the kind of juvenile films that I have sat through across this year of below average comedies, giving way to a possible blessing in disguise by having your expectations so low going into it.

Stuck somewhere between road trip films like ‘Father’s Day’ and ‘Due Date’, ‘Father Figures’ meat and potatoes revels with this parental mystery that has come to light suddenly, and leaves Helms character in particular jaded by his newfound lack of identity. Because of this, the quest to find their mysterious father figure becomes the goal, but as the film progresses, it’s clear that this becomes more about Wilson and Helms respective characters in mending a relationship that has soured over time. It was in this perspective of the film where I found great positive return in what I was enjoying, but unfortunately it is all too good to last since this feels like the victim of surgical re-writes in plodded pacing, as well as those few instances that I mentioned earlier that feel desperate in extremities to give this forgettable script something to remember by. On the former, much of the film feels like scene-by-scene exposition instead of moving in sync as one cohesive movement. Because of this, the screenplay never picks up enough momentum to carry it to the next gag. On the latter, what comic hijinks that it does have never feels genuine to the rest of the screenplay around it that feels too mature at times to fall for this level of practicality.

As for the mystery itself, it’s really quite easy to figure out at about the halfway point because of that cursed trailer that gave away too much going into it. Based on this two minute video, we know that there are only four men in contention here to be the Father, so of course each of them will get their own set-up and progression, and then three of them will suddenly realize that they can’t be the father. It’s interesting to me how they always realize this after a couple hours of hanging out, and not the second that their respective year with Helen is brought to light. Anyway, the answer will become clear when we’ve rushed through three of these males within the first half of the movie, and that could only leave one possible answer. Because of this third act predictability, the film just kind of stands in place and confirms what we were beginning to fear about it; that too much time was invested in this aspect and not enough to their loving Mother. She practically disappears until the final few scenes of the film, and by then that missed opportunity in telling her story just feels like a tacked-on layer to force the audience into enduring its miniscule level of heart that has been stored away repeatedly until now. It constantly feels like Sher’s film is in a tug-of-war creatively with itself, and if it were brave enough to take the road less traveled, it could’ve returned the surprise sweet hit of the year, but ‘Father Figures’ feels doomed to the shelves of rental stores, only one month after it hit theaters.

What did surprise me was in the credible cinematography here by John Lindley that proved that someone was trying to go above and beyond in this project. When I called this an indie comedy earlier, I meant that in the visual spectrum sense, as Lindley channels us through some very artistic transitional scenes, as well as some moving sequences that prove an honorable and stylish presence behind the lens. What’s even more credible about them is that the transitions don’t feel like a gimmick by growing stale in repetition along the way. Every so often, Lindley switches up the design and gives those tightly-knitted film students something to hang on to in the way of substance for this film that can sometimes lack it in the long run. Beyond this, the song selections as well are tender and very welcoming of this classy mood that overcomes us. I’m not familiar with any of the tracks myself, but it was nice to have a modern comedy that didn’t need the newest top 40 rap track in accommodating its scenes audibly to give it a fresh and hip perspective.

The performances themselves can feel overall inconsequential, even though Helms offers a strong transformation from beginning to end that proves his character’s emotional growth along the way. When the film began, I truly hated his character. It mostly feels like Ben Stiller should’ve played this role, as it’s often too dry for Helms animated sense of personality that usually carries much of the comedic load. But as the film progressed, I saw the character shaking his endless bouts with depression that have plagued his life, and saw the opening up of a conservative character who learned to live for the moment. This is undoubtedly Helms best performance to date, and that’s a bit of a shame considering so few people will give this film the light of day. As for Owen Wilson, well it’s the same role that he has been playing throughout his career. Because these two are in 95% of the scenes in this film, Wilson is half of what we’re saddled with, so the usual dazed and confused routine becomes the norm. His character is a polar opposite of Helms, so the opposites attract scenario is full swing with this one, carving out a telegraphed plan that any moviegoer will see coming. Close is my favorite performance unquestionably, but her character doesn’t have enough of a presence on the finished script. Likewise are J.K Simmons, Christopher Walken, Terry Bradshaw, and Ving Rhames who also don’t stick around long enough to leave a lasting impression in their multi-dimensional personalities. I never felt that any of them were the right choice for this family, but one of them has to be picked, and I guess the ending is as good as it could’ve possibly been with this set-up.

THE VERDICT – ‘Father Figures’ has instances of maturity and dignity in its productional aspects that already gave me more positively than I was expecting from this film. Unfortunately, much like Helms and Wilson’s protagonists, the film too seeks the proper hands of guidance to cradle it competently, relenting on two polar opposite tastes of comic direction that collide and cut short one another. With better pacing and less attention to the tasteless gags, Sher’s film could’ve been just the kind of comedy occasion that families flock towards during the holiday movie weekend. As it stands, this father-finder runs out of gas halfway across the expedition.



The biggest ideas come in the form of the smallest packages, in Alexander Payne’s newest thought-provoking dramedy. ‘Downsizing’ imagines what might happen if, as a solution to over-population, humans could be shrunk to a height of 5 inches (13 cm), after Norwegian scientists discover how to do just that. A 200-year global transition from big to small is proposed, but there is one catch: the procedure cannot be reversed. People soon realize how much further money goes in a miniaturized world, and with the promise of a better life, everyman Paul Safranek (Matt Damon) and wife Audrey (Kristen Wiig) decide to abandon their stressed lives in Omaha in order to become small and move to a new downsized community—a choice that triggers life-changing adventures. To Paul’s horror and outrage, he finds out that Audrey backed out at the last second. After the couple understands that they do not have a future together, they divorce and Paul must now figure out how to start his life over in a completely different world. ‘Downsizing’ is written and directed by Alexander Payne, and is rated R for adult language including sexual references, some graphic nudity and drug use.

Alexander Payne as a director is one of my very favorites going today because no two films of his are similar. When you think about the hits that he has conjured up, like ‘Election’, ‘Sideways’, ‘Nebraska’, and ‘The Descendents’, you think about films that are all different, yet equally as insightful for the kind of deep-seeded message that they all entail. ‘Downsizing’ definitely continues that train of thought, but does it in a way that Payne’s thought-provoking stance might have gotten the best of him. The film certainly questions and debates much of the world’s problems involving over-population, inequality, and even materialism amongst a capitalist society, but those are just ideas, and deep beyond the table dressing, films require a main course for its audience to feast on, and this is the problem that the plagues the second half of this film from ever feeling like social commentary that is ahead of its time. Without a proper destination where the characters and plot can meet and divulge on these ideals, the film feels like a constant reminder instead of the poignant resolution that we all deserve.

As far as world building is concerned, you probably won’t find a film better than ‘Downsizing’ this year. For the entire first half of this picture, Payne as a writer not only prospers the film’s idea of the kind of benefits that being small will have on a personal level, but also in the negativity that it will harbor in wiping record number of citizens from a society that relies on them to do their parts. What I find so poignant about this position from Payne is that he doesn’t lean one way or the other on which side is wrong or right, and instead lets the audience soak in all of the details, and details he lays at the doorstep. I was greatly impressed at how much homework that Payne did in painting this vivid picture from many of the distant angles that require such an immense step in humanity’s progression. The film takes place over the span of many years, feeding into what goes into passing such a procedure, as well as the very precautions of such a procedure in itself that makes this anything but an easy pull of the switch. It was in this area of the film where I couldn’t wait to see where it was headed, and just when I thought I knew what was to come creatively with what Payne was depicting, I fell into such a slouch at how little the film works out for itself in the second half.

This is where the film completely falls apart in my mind. Instead of focusing on the negatives that Paul’s character didn’t see for himself before he made the decision, film introduces and builds around a direction to help everyone else. This is noble intentionally, but feels adjacent to everything that we have learned about the film to this point. In fact, the very mention of Downsizing is limited over the second half of this movie, feeling like you took a second and third act installment from any other movie about environmental distress and attached it to a film about self-prospering. Sure the idea that a person can change is always there, but Paul as a character feels so selfish and easily influenced that I can’t for a second think that he would care this deeply about other people who don’t involve him. To hammer this thought process home, he even tries to elude a Vietmese character that he meets because she has gotten to be too annoying to him. And of course because they are the main focus for male and female characters here, they will of course hook up and become romantic interests for the rest of the film, harboring no chemistry between them that makes this believable even in the slightest.

The visual effects are simple, but effective in depicting this bigger world feel when nothing has changed except the character in question. I say simple because all the production really has to do is film minutes of background with a small camera and display it against the green screen that our live action actors work in front of. If simplicity is what you’re going for with trying to save valuable production costs, then I feel the team here made a great decision, but I can’t help but feel an overwhelming layer of missed opportunities from their decision. Even the audio distortion from a smaller bodied person is included, even though it’s only needed for a couple of times during the first half hour. Besides this, I was slightly disappointed that they really didn’t do a lot of eye-catching effects in the big-versus-small worlds that Paul and company have come and gone from, and even the enormous vodka bottle from the trailers is noticeably missing from the finished product. To add more to the second half handicaps, the final hour is presented from Paul’s level, so needless to say there are no comparisons in artistic integrity that the film could’ve harvested for itself. It’s almost like Payne forgot that this was a film first-and-foremost that centered around this life-altering decision, and that he would instead rather proceed with a 130 minute commercial about environmental responsibility. Snooze.

Most of the central cast is wasted, including Damon whose Paul never inspires us in seeing his suddenly new selfless perspective. When Damon is allowed to be charismatic and let loose on the limited screenplay, he can be quite likeable in his innocence in being alone in a new world, but much of the film requires him to grow up quickly, and there’s just not enough versatility as a lead for his character to prosper on. If that wasn’t enough, there’s a scene that is very much in poor taste with what has recently broken about Damon, in which he makes a move on a sleeping female character. It’s all in bad timing, and does zero in presenting any kind of chemistry long term between them. Hong Chau is probably the most important character to where the film is headed in its later acts, but her character is so Vietmesed-up by the studio that it feels like an almost borderline racially insensitive direction from a writer who doesn’t know better. She’s loud, mispronouncing, and occasionally judging. None of which paint her in the best of lights. Probably the only actor who benefited from this was Christoph Waltz as Paul’s new party-hard neighbor Dushan. At first, I worried that Waltz would be an antagonist of sorts for Damon because (lets be honest) that’s what Waltz does. But as the film progresses, it’s clear that Waltz endures a level of much-needed heart to the film that proves that maybe humanity wasn’t lost in the surgery to go small.

THE VERDICT – ‘Downsizing’ is a big idea plagued by a small execution. With a credible voice like Payne at the helm, it’s a bit of a surprising disappointment that his film feels like a great idea that is speeding to a red light of conformity by the film’s anti-climatic ending. It wastes away a talented cast and thought-provoking introduction for a film about a newly-rich white male caring about the lower class. If that’s not believable, Damon’s bland performance won’t win you over as well, carrying with him a personality that is every bit as small as his newly shrunken size.


I Love You Daddy

One teenager has her buckling father wrapped around her finger with the repeated phrase ‘I Love You Daddy’. Glen Topher (C.K.), who panics when his spoiled 17-year-old daughter China (Chloë Grace Moretz) starts spending time with 68-year-old Leslie Goodwin (John Malkovich), a legendary film director with a reputation for dating underage girls. Caught in a writing dry spell, he distracts himself by courting glamorous movie star Grace Cullen (Rose Byrne), who is interested in playing the already-cast lead role in the upcoming TV series he hasn’t yet begun writing. Glen’s teetering world is further upended by his interactions with Goodwin, who is both the increasing focus of China’s attentions and the revered idol who devastates Glen by appearing to dismiss him outright as a creative person. Glen’s brash TV actor buddy Ralph (Charlie Day) makes matters worse through rude observations that inflame Glen’s deepest insecurities about his daughter. The real problem, however, is that Glen isn’t sure exactly what is going on between China and Goodwin-and what he should be doing about it. ‘I Love You Daddy’ is written and directed by Louis C.K, and is rated R for crude sexual content, adult language throughout and brief drug use.

Some films fall victim of the wrong place, wrong time scenario. This happens when a movie couldn’t be released at a worse time for the very material that it harvests from within its daring script With much reluctance, I bring you ‘I Love You Daddy’, a film so marred in controversy that it had its big screen release pulled from theaters the week before, only to find a limited audience online from cult movie fans who shell out as much as $1000 on Ebay to finally allow C.K’s film to see the light of day. Is it worth it? I personally don’t think so. After admitting to sexually abusing females, as well as the recent uncovering of abuse cases that have swallowed Hollywood whole, a film like ‘I Love You Daddy’ seems too perfect of a synopsis to be released in such a delicate time for many in front of, and behind the lens. It’s a wannabe poignant approach to pedophilia and the rules that come with such a damning title, challenging us as a society to look at the glass half-full for such a taboo subject that frankly doesn’t offer a lot of room for debate. In my eyes, you either are or you aren’t, and because of such logic in establishing, ‘I Love You Daddy’ loses its lease on responsibility only minutes into the production.

There’s a constant feeling of uneasiness in the air of this picture that goes much further than the colorless scheme of cinematography that I will get to later. The script for instance, holds an obvious center to the kinds of films that Woody Allen has been making for years. coincidentally, C.K even adorns Allen’s famed black-rimmed glasses as the protagonist of the film. For a film that had no sexuality or nudity of any kind, it had me remotely astonished at just how effective that it felt in getting under my skin. In material, the first half of the film did move along quite wonderfully with a somewhat satirical blend of depiction for the very poison that seems to be clouding Hollywood on this touchy subject. It was in this direction where I felt that the film was able to offer something of substantial returns in daring to explore what very few have only able to talk about up to this time. Then the second half of the film comes into focus, and suddenly you’re made aware of a film that is not smart enough to capitalize on its challenging stance, but one that reverses the examination light and tries to convince us that we are wrong. Some of the arguments being made in the film is that women, even those at minor age, are responsible enough to know what they are getting into. This is not only a terribly shallow point to argue, but one that will inevitably come with such consequences that will force audiences to disengage with its new found direction. Could this be more to the satirical approach that I mentioned earlier? I don’t think so, considering the transformation that our lead protagonist embarks on is one of great understanding and leniency for the kind of transpiring details that creeped him out only scenes earlier. Because of this jumbled approach, we get two films for the price of one that doesn’t feel daring enough in exploiting the extremes of either with commitment or exploration that breakout films so desperately require.

The artistic merits of the film keep this one above water, offering a reflective glance of the golden age of cinema. I mentioned earlier that the film is in black and white, and I think this speaks levels to the colorless level of morality that the film associates itself with. Everything in this world is either black or white, and no grey, as a way to feed into the dominant sides that each character associates with. On top of this, C.K’s decision to film everything in 35mm film, gives the movie the rich authenticity of the kind of films that Louis himself grew up entranced in, as a child growing up. The feeling throughout plays like you’re watching something along the lines of ‘I Love Lucy’ with a modern spin of material that is currently plaguing the world. I wish more films would take this stance with an artistic tweaking, and at the very least, ‘I Love You Daddy’ earns the unorthodox approach visually by contributing it to the unapologetic stance that the movie garners for itself.

But in proving that style never flourishes over substance, the over-indulgence of runtime at nearly two hours that undoubtedly requires an edit button that the film never receives. C.K as a screenwriter isn’t terribly underdeveloped here when compared to some other hollow scripts that I have sat through this year, but it’s clear that his screenplay has an essence of pretentiousness to it that makes him feel like he is in love with the environments and dialogues that he engages in. Far too often do scenes duplicate and offer a dragging detour for where the characters and their situations were playing out. Much of the finished product feels like it could’ve used some removal, particularly towards the end of the first act that takes far too long to set up our on-going conflicts. There was never a point in the film where I was bored, but I never felt invested in the shapeless characters that aren’t set up with any kind of depth to make them stand out with pulse.

Despite this, the film did have some meaty performances that are able to escape the shackles of character outlines that do them little favors. Charlie Day for instance, is someone who doesn’t fit in to the mold of this story in atmosphere, but one who I greatly appreciated for adding any kind of emotional firepower to this sagging satire. Day is typically playing himself here, but his proficient comedic timing is something that makes him destined for the taking of every scene that he easily steals. Edie Falco also isn’t bad as C.K’s jaded assistant. Through her, it’s clear that we get the best representation of Glen as a person more so than C.K ever could in soaking up precious screen time, and Falco’s fiery deposition’s gave the movie stamina through lengthy expositions that are telegraphed from miles away. C.K’s lazy performance continues his comfortable stance on where his prolific career has taken him to this point. This feels ideal for how he inspires his other co-stars like Moretz and Malovich who don’t feel the slightest bit of energy to exude here. Sadly enough,  I did feel more uncomfortable with C.K’s character rather than Malovich’s intended pervert, and as far as protagonists go, you would find yourself better suited to follow literally anyone than the man with such a diluted moral compass.

THE VERDICT – ‘I Love You Daddy’ is the equivalent to the drunk uncle who comes over during the Holidays and says the wrong thing at the wrong time. Even when it’s in satirical mode, C.K’s tone-deaf awkward situational lacks the pushing of the envelope in form that it needs in matching a visual compass that is out of this era. Highs and lows aside, it feels like an interpretive litmus test to the kinds of perverted animal instincts that the film world has deemed acceptable for far too long. If this film offends you, it’s probably a good thing.


Roman J. Israel Esq

A driven, idealistic defense attorney finds himself at the hands of a difficult dilemma that will have him questioning everything that he ever knew. In ‘Roman J. Israel Esq’, Civil Lawyer Roman J. Israel (Denzel Washington) has been fighting the good fight while others take the credit. When his partner, the firm’s front man, has a heart attack, Israel suddenly takes on that role. He finds out some unsettling things about what the crusading law firm has done that run afoul of his values of helping the poor and dispossessed, and he finds himself in an existential crisis that leads to extreme action. On the crossroads of one’s life, does he take the road less traveled, or the easiest path to victory? ‘Roman J. Israel Esq’ is written and directed by Dan Gilroy, and is rated PG-13 for adult language and some scenes of violence.

The trailer for ‘Roman J Israel Esq’ felt like a bunch of unassembled puzzle pieces thrown together out of context that didn’t gel into one cohesive unit. The first thing that I grab from a film’s trailer is the overall plot because it’s in that aspect where I decide just how badly I want to see said movie. After seeing the full length feature film, I can understand why I didn’t have the slightest clue what this film was about, nor where the direction it was competently headed. The film structured all around by Gilroy, feels like four different stories that are fighting for the allotment of the 112 minute runtime that hints at some of them being dissected in order of importance along the way. As far as fluidity amongst scripts is concerned, Gilroy takes an unpredictably tragic misstep after the success that was 2014’s ‘Nightcrawler’ by trying to establish too many profound observations on the seedy world of practicing law. Because of such, this film from bell-to-bell is a chore to get through, juggling enough violent tonal shifts and jarring sequencing that gave me a feeling of amnesia to the ideal that I may have just watched four different films take place, and possibly nodded off between them to where they now feel like one finished product.

Some of the advantages of this script revolve around the cryptic movements positioned by our protagonist that constantly feels one step ahead of us the audience. As a character, Israel feels conflicted by the crossroads that forces him to choose between continuing the fight for good, or surrounding himself with the material things that serve as the greatest reflection of success for one’s career. This to me was the single greatest movement in terms of direction for the script, but it’s just unfortunate that the film often feels like Israel’s story isn’t compelling enough to dedicate the majority of minutes to, despite he himself being in 100% of the scenes for the movie. This certainly isn’t one of those movies that will have you on the edge of your seat, but the tugging between good and evil inside of one man’s conflicted point of view felt satisfying enough because of the truly vapid wild card of a man that we are dealing with here. To that degree, Gilroy feels like the kind of screenwriter that offers an unapologetic stance for how he sees the world in all of its gluttony for getting to the top with each pawn having a price. Similar ground is treaded in ‘Nightcrawler’, albeit in slightly less disjointed ways, but ‘Roman J Israel Esq’ further establishes this theory, treading through shaky ground to find comfort in a moral conundrum that could’ve used more development on the surface.

Besides this favorable subplot, the rest of the film muddles itself to paralyzing by pulling at the arms of ambition one time too many. Besides Israel’s mental change, the rest of the film deals with a client of Israel’s behind bars who may have details that the authorities seek in order to put him away for life, a romantic subplot involving a character played by Carmen Ejogo that completely comes out of nowhere and feels so unnatural because of a great lack of chemistry, and finally the crumbling of his law practice after the untimely death of his best friend and partner. You can certainly understand the balance of power when you hear so many establishing points for the screenplay, but what you can’t tell by reading this is just how weighed down the script feels in details that dispose it of any kind of entertainment value that will keep you invested. By the halfway point of this film, I found myself fighting for the slightest tinge of excitement that would prolong my attention, but it simply wasn’t there. This isn’t because of unnatural pacing mind you, but rather the long-winded diatribes of exposition that overly states instead of shows what is transpiring, and I for one could’ve used more of a hands on approach to prove that this film isn’t afraid of getting its hands dirty.

The tonal shifts are even more perplexing for the film because you never truly understand what kind of genre dominates this picture. Early on in the movie, I found myself laughing at the awkwardness of Israel having to takeover some of these cases that his deceased colleague tried, but then like a sharp tack, the humor from this script vanished into thin air, favoring a dramatic pulse of direction that stepped forth for the entire second act. During these scenes are when you feel the greatest sense of empathy for Israel because of a world that seems to be advancing around him without him, and even the level from this to the momentum of the earlier scenes felt like two different movies that alienated the other. So what happens towards the end? Strangely enough, the film turns into a bit of an action thriller with one of the most unnecessary car chase sequences that I have ever seen. It goes nowhere after it transpires and left me wondering further if a fight for power was taking place off-screen by the studio, or did Gilroy just never have a clearly defined ending to begin with?

What does keep so much of the inconsistencies at tolerable levels is the versatile performance of one of Hollywood’s last legendary leading men to fruition. Washington portrays Israel with levels of clumsiness and vulnerability that are rarely seen from the decades old professional. Roman’s depiction is honest at all times, so therefore he isn’t always the most likeable presence on camera, bringing to life an original side of Denzel’s character acting that allows him to get fully engulfed into this character for better or worse. Sure, the charisma and smile are still there, albeit behind a gap-toothed prosthetic that further immerses him into detail, but Washington’s spin as this mumbling revolutionary of courtroom law doesn’t take the same short cuts that the script around him does, relaying an idea that this leading man might simply be too good to be subjected to amateur hour. In addition to Washington, Colin Ferrell is also a welcome presence as the head of a big time law firm that hires Israel after his firm goes under. While Colin isn’t in the film a lot, he does make the most of every scene, emoting a refreshingly compassionate side to his character that I didn’t see coming from someone so wrapped in materialism. Washington and Ferrell are the right kind of 1-2 punch to keep ‘Roman J Israel Esq’ floating above the heavy waters of choppy story arcs that nearly sink it.

THE VERDICT – When a film is named after a character, it usually goes without saying that it will be a one man show. However, the ties that bind ‘Roman J Israel Esq’, limit its appeal as a whole because of too much puzzling circumstance in simple storytelling that overly-convolutes its case before it ever reaches the jury of moviegoers deciding its fate. Washington continues to be a Hollywood heavyweight without any of the energy or fiery depositions that his character pieces are known for. But Gilroy doesn’t harvest enough rolling momentum to ever accommodate his leading lawyer, and because of such we experience two men in Israel and Gilroy who feel like they’re being stretched too thin by the world that is crumbling around them.



Two stories between two children come at a crossroads with fifty years between them, in Todd Haynes newest visual delight ‘Wonderstruck’. In the film based on Brian Selznick’s critically-acclaimed novel of the same name, Ben (Oakes Fegley) and Rose (Millicent Simmonds) are children from two different respective eras (Ben in 1977, Rose in 1927) who secretly wish their lives were different. Ben longs for the father he has never known, while Rose dreams of a mysterious actress (Julianne Moore) whose life she chronicles in a scrapbook. When Ben discovers a puzzling clue in his home and Rose reads an enticing headline in the newspaper, both children set out on quests to find what they are missing that unfolds with mesmerizing symmetry in each of their adverse paths. ‘Wonderstruck’ is rated PG for thematic elements and smoking.

It seems that once every decade a director will come along who everyone is raving about for enticing commentary on insightful films, yet a same director who I myself feel like I’m missing something with when it comes to this word of mouth. Along comes Todd Haynes, the man who helmed 2015’s ‘Carol’, a film that I just found so-so, and now the man who brings us ‘Wonderstruck’. After hearing about the positivity surrounding this film, I was ready to give Haynes another chance, but now I feel like the train may have left the station on the relationship between me and this critically acclaimed director. Haynes isn’t terrible. Most notably, he knows how to visually excite a production, giving us such beautiful designs of versatility in film productions that establish a valuable presence behind the camera. It’s just that from a narrative perspective more of the same continues in ‘Wonderstruck’ that leaves a lot more to be desired in an entertaining and poignant sit. For a film so beautiful and rich in visual perspective, ‘Wonderstruck’ often shutters its audience from ever opening us up to a story and characters that we can get behind for the wonderment of it all.

This is a dual narrative that is set between two completely opposite eras being told simultaneously, and the decision to move in this direction is one that I feel proved fruitfully why angles like this are often unsuccessful in film as opposed to novels. Brian Selznick, the original author of the book, is the screenwriter here, but his inexperience in adapting is one that comes back to haunt this picture repeatedly throughout. For a majority of this movie, it serves as a silent film, paying homage to the age of picture shows whose only audible sounds were those of the musical score that it accompanied. The reason for such a decision is because both of our child characters are deaf, so the decision reflects that of their certain perspective that limits them aloud. Where this subdues is in the inconsistencies of experience within this film that takes us in and out of the head of our main protagonists. For some scenes, you hear things from their perspective; blurry and distant in what you can make out. Yet in other scenes we hear the characters around them talk with no problem. This is something that I feel strongly about with needing a dominant direction as to which way the film is taking us creatively, because it doesn’t feel like it can stay committed to any gimmick long enough to reap the benefits of such a decision. In addition to this, the overall progression of the film takes ages, feeding us a dose of painful pacing medication that left me slouching in my chair and checking my clock every twenty minutes. Much of this finished product demands another edit, even if it cuts the over-burdened runtime of two hours dramatically. Silent films are a tough enough sell to audiences today, but when you add on the difficulty of seasoning them with plodding movements, the film will feel like a chore instead of an imaginative immersion.

The transition sequences are so jagged and faulty that the film often feels like a forced surgical addition where we’re trying to tie two films together with one knot. For the first half of the movie, much of this can be attributed to the impatient juggling that Haynes divides the two worlds on, giving us a minimal offering of time to ever follow along. It feels like the film is trying to make both eras equal in time allowance and importance, but for my money the 20’s era with Rose definitely feels like the attention-grabber that can at least stay on track for its one intended direction to stay put. The counterbalance with Ben keeps throwing all of these unnecessary wrenches in getting us to the destination that frankly shouldn’t be this difficult. Between the both of them, this should roughly be a half hour of actual storytelling that is being stretched even further because of endless divides in transition that only ends when one of them is abruptly finished with still twenty five minutes left of the film. This movie tries so unbelievably hard in tying the two films together because of certain physcial properties involved in each scene, but it all has an air of self-importance to its material that gave off an extreme indulgence of pretentiousness that was cringe-worthy. It’s painful to think that transitional sequences can still be this painful in 2017, especially when Haynes sets a stage beautiful enough to wow us into the most majestic of cinematic experiences visually.

On that account, thankfully the film has enough style over its floundered substance to keep this thing from ever getting truly out of hand. The color of the 70’s scenes, as well as the colorless backdrops of the 20’s offers a helpful line in the sand to shape how these worlds are divided in tone and in lifestyles. Proving that this goes all the way to the end, the film surprised me with some third act storyboards involving clay animation in bodies and profile pictures in heads that offered my single favorite scene of the entire film. The mystical musical score of composer Carter Burwell also provides enough gusto with soft piano and tempered flute in the dividing atmospheres playing to the wide ranges of tone that each respective era provides. Because of all of these things, ‘Wonderstruck’ has the gusto in visual enhancements that give it a step above in artistic expression, leading to what could be a worthy Oscar nomination coming this March.

Now for the opinion that is sure to get my house egged; the acting is horrendous in this film. Mostly it is the child actors of Fegley and Simmonds whose silent acting feels so rehearsed that it constantly breaks the mold of investment in each scene. Simmonds at least carries her innocence throughout the likeability of her character, but both are terribly executed because their energy and approach to the characters felt so unconvincing. Julianne Moore is barely in the film, despite appearing so prominently in the film’s trailers that displayed her likeness. When she is in the movie, she is much-appreciated, but there’s not enough lasting power in her character throughout a movie that forgets about her for about forty minutes during the film. Michelle Williams is only in two scenes during the movie, but the way that this film tries to establish her as what has to be a 60 year old woman is almost insulting. Williams isn’t in makeup, nor is she made to look even slightly older than her much younger real life age. But that doesn’t stop the film from trying to piece her together into something she so clearly is not. For any moviegoer who can do basic math, you’ll realize how impossible this breach of casting truly is, and it finishes off an ensemble of cast that were very underwhelming despite their respectful names.

THE VERDICT – ‘Wonderstruck’ and Todd Haynes alike have a thirst for whimsical sentimentality, but the combination of the two’s finished effort gives this product an air of self-importance that has it staring, instead of shooting for the stars. The film lacks any real honest intuition to cater to its ambitious method of dual-storytelling, and unfortunately the damage of some terribly constructed transitional scenes leaves this feeling like two uninteresting stories fighting for one collective breath. There’s a lot of ‘wonder’ to the designs, but nothing about the screenplay ‘struck’ me the same.


Mark Felt: The Man Who Brought Down the White House

The biggest presidential scandal in United States history is the cause of one man who would later be referred to as ‘Mark Felt: The Man Who Brought Down the White House’. The latest project that is written and directed by Peter Landesman centers on “Deep Throat,” the pseudonym given to the notorious whistleblower for one of the greatest scandals of all time, Watergate. The true identity of the secret informant remained a cryptic mystery and source of much public curiosity and speculation for more than 30 years. That is until, in 2005, special agent Mark Felt (Liam Neeson) shockingly revealed himself as the shadow figure. This unbelievable true story chronicles the personal and professional life of the brilliant and uncompromising Felt, who risked and ultimately sacrificed everything; his family, his career, and his freedom in the name of justice. The film is currently not rated, but does have some adult language.

There’s a saying in life that rings ever so true with this film, and it states that “When the cat’s away, the mice will play”. ‘Mark Felt’ depicts that theory to a tee, revealing the level of uncertainty and panic that swept over Washington from the days after Herbert Hoover’s death, to the days leading up to the next presidential election that saw Richard Nixon take the helm as commander in chief. What Landseman does as an expert storyteller is channel this level of paranoia that has swept over everyone in and out of our nation’s capital, and gives it legs to prove just how far a breach in the system can level everyone within striking distance. This alone should be enough in relaying the facts and conjuring up an edge-of-the-seat story that should have us hanging on its every word. So what’s the problem? For a political thriller about deceit, the film lacks the kind of intrigue needed as a result of elevating the tension from what is at stake here, and ultimately settles for being one of the biggest ball drops of 2017 from what should’ve been a must-see main event for anyone thirsty for the details that we as everyday citizens aren’t privy to.

The screenplay rests its majority on the exposition of Watergate and what it meant to the FBI and their investigation into it. I found it very surprising that the White House and the Bureau were at such odds during this time, leading to an inevitable confrontation between the heavyweights that rule the free world. The positive is that this script doesn’t waste time in getting to know all of the key figures and movements associated with this circumstance. This is a crisp 98 minute film that doesn’t require you to wait long periods before the next informative tidbit. Yet despite this, the film is a dull engagement, not because of its pacing, but because the film takes too much of its brief runtime in highlighting the answers over-and-over again that we have learned minutes prior. The ability to move on to greener pastures is one that ‘Mark Felt’ as a film stumbles on specifically, and it doesn’t make sense that something that moves so rapidly in timeline sequencing could stay so stilted in its exposition from scene to scene. Interesting enough, there is a subplot within the film that revolved around Felt’s only daughter (Played by Maika Monroe) missing for the better part of the last year from he and his wife (Played by Diane Lane). This subplot kind of comes out of nowhere, but interestingly enough, it’s in its brief and subtle deliveries of background information where this element of script won me over, and made me want to spend more time delving into the mysteries of this hidden gift of intrigue beneath the surface. That should tell you everything you need to know about where my mind of interest was for this film.

Adding to it is a tone that does stack the blocks of cliffhanger structure accordingly, but fails to pay us off in an effective manner that values our investment to come so far. There is a sense of a movie kind of atmosphere at work here, hinging on the values of the worst kind of nightmare happening to us beneath our own noses, but the film’s lack of urgency in playing up the drama can make something so dangerous to our own freedoms feel like a scratch that can be healed by a band-aid. 2016’s ‘Snowden’ had a bit of the same problems, but better capitalized on the psychology of its central character to overcome those burdens. Where ‘Mark Felt’ could use an advantage is in taking the liberties within a Hollywood script that plays up the absurdity of paranoia and the effects that it can have on the deteriorating mental state. There’s very few chances that we get to see Felt look and feel uncomfortable, and because his invisible shield never appears to crumble, we never get a taste of the dangerous threat the swallows he and his co-workers whole during some building numbers of adversity that constantly remind him that he’s getting far too close to make it out alive.

At least the film is shot with enough command for subtle symbolism in the cinematography department that artistically derives what the tone lacks in consistency. There’s a lot of darkness and off shades of grey in the form of blue’s and green’s that hint at the poison that is being released within and surrounding these characters who are being dragged into it with each passing moment. Longtime cinematographer Adam Kimmel coins perhaps his greatest work to date, combing through the darkness of Washington that does play a noticeable immersion within each sequence of discussion. The sleek personal style of camera work also plays a pivotal part in the stylistic choices by the production. The tight-knitted shots give a kind of growing claustrophobia to the progression of each scene, leaving us as an audience very little room to escape the underlying plan being performed right in front of us by so many crooked politicians.

As for performances, this is a who’s who of accomplished actors that combine for arguably the very best ensemble cast of the year. Neeson is again solid, this time as a crippling agent who feels so alone in the world despite the growing number of co-workers who respect and protect him. Liam gets a role like this one every couple of years that remind us he is so much more than just an action star, and as Felt we understand from within the register of Neeson that honor, loyalty, and command are three traits necessary in walking a straight path. Diane Lane is also sensational in her role as the wife of Felt. Diane commands Audrey with such fragility and pain enveloped in this woman overrun by life, and waiting for the day when her husband will join her in futility. In addition to these two main cast members, Michael C Hall, Martin Csokas, Josh Lucas, and even the great Tom Sizemore all make noteworthy contributions to the cause, rounding out a strong list of committed performances and versatility in screenplay to give them all something to do than just be table dressing to the film’s politically crippling setting.

THE VERDICT – ‘Mark Felt’ is definitely a film that deserved a lot more passion and energy in terms of the phoned-in direction that Landesman is unfortunately saddled with here, leading to him being the man who brought down the film about a man who brought down the White House. Even while a taxing effort mentally, the film has a lot of spirited dedication in the form of entertaining performances and endless style that perfectly establishes a time of grave mystery for the world’s leaders. In the end, the film (Like the theft of Watergate) never feels like it’s in the same room as the material being discussed, leaving much to desire about the facts of one fateful meeting that has us as an audience on the outside looking in.



Even a decade after his final breath, the sadistic serial killer Jigsaw’s presence is still every bit as dangerous as before. Thirteen years ago on Halloween weekend, ‘Saw’ and the character of Jigsaw introduced the world to a new face of horror. For seven straight years “If it’s Halloween it must be Saw” was a holiday tradition. This time, Lionsgate and Twisted Pictures proudly present ‘Jigsaw’. After a series of murders bearing all the markings of the Jigsaw killer, law enforcement find themselves chasing the ghost of a man dead for over a decade and embroiled in a new game that’s only just begun. Is John Kramer (Tobin Bell) back from the dead to remind the world to be grateful for the gift of life? Or is this a trap set by a dangerous killer with their own set of harmful intentions? ‘Jigsaw’ is directed by Michael and Peter Spierig, and is rated R for sequences of grisly bloody violence and torture, and for adult language.

There hasn’t been a Saw film in seven years, the last of which was my overall least favorite for the series, and while ‘Jigsaw’ is a definite improvement upon that supposed final effort, it stumbles at bringing back the fun to the Halloween movie season because of a lack of significant scares and flawed continuity that stretches the logic of the previous films even further. Considering this film was supposed to pick up the pieces from a series that closed its doors air tight, there’s very little reasoning to re-vitalize this series for any other reason than a guaranteed cash grab at the box office. Is there fun to be had? Of course. ‘Jigsaw’ definitely serves as one of those horror movies where the less you think about it, the easier it will be to embrace its mental torture on the perks of coherent storytelling. But being a faithful fan of the previous films means that I can’t in any way overlook the future direction that this film is inevitably heading, lessening the impact of character development and well-timed mystery, in exchange for a thirst for torture and brutality that consistently chooses to up the ante.

What I did enjoy most of all was the much-needed improvement of the Spierig brothers to taking this franchise under its grasp and breathing energy into its sometimes jaded presentation. The biggest aspect of improvement within this film that I can be appreciative of is that the Spierig’s have gotten rid of the choppy editing and horribly annoying transitional scenes that has often made a majority of these death sequences an eyesore, and instead let the tension ride itself out without any unnatural enhancements that breaks the flow of patience. In addition to splicing, this is definitely the first Saw film that looks like it belongs on a silver screen, imbedding some beautiful color palates and simplicity in sequence design that casts a lot of beauty in its painful backdrops. When you consider this film with the earlier efforts, it definitely feels like some money was finally thrust upon this comeback, and if this is the direction that future chapters are heading, then please let the Spierig’s be the breath that blows into the lungs of this 13 year series.

The story isn’t anything mind-blowing until you realize what is really going on here. For once, it really feels like the mystery of the killer is secondary to the overall set-up once the bomb is dropped for how John Kramer walks again. I did enjoy how this installment bent the exposition of some of the previous installments without necessarily relying on their characters and circumstance in telling its own plot. One thing that was glaring to me however, was the logic holes within ‘Jigsaw’ that made me quickly lose believability within the film. Again, I get that this is a stupid horror film that isn’t supposed to be taken, but if we could get such psychological spring from the first two films, why can’t this one follow in the same sacred waters? SPOILERS AHEAD, SO STOP IF YOU DON”T WANT TO BE SPOILED. Some of the examples that really bugged me were the uses of flat-screen television’s within this world, and how jumbled that idea feels once you know the timeframe of when this film takes place. Considering half of this movie takes place before Saw 1 (2004), it’s a bit of a stretch to think that flat-screen plasma TV’s are just walking off of the shelves. In addition to this, the bodies at the end of the film being found in a barn is ridiculous when you consider the barn is owned by Jigsaw’s wife as told in Saw 6, and she was THOROUGHLY investigated for the murders. You think the authorities wouldn’t search a barn that she owns in deed? Give me a break. The timeline of events within the film also gets severely misconstrued in this film when you consider now that the events of films 1-4, as well as this one, as well as the book signing from the lying author in part 6, all took place within a year. That’s either some incredible craftsmanship by one man, or the single greatest bending of time to ever take place within a film world.

As should be no surprise, the characters and performances are kind of secondary to the inevitable violence that we as a society embrace as the soul reason we see these films. With that said, there isn’t a character in this film who I deem worthy of wanting to invest 87 minutes of my time with. Other than the usual flimsy exposition used during the big reveal scenes, there’s very little to any of these characters that give us that kind of investment to want to root for them. To play into Jigsaw’s game, these are terrible people who have done terrible things, so there doesn’t ever feel like any redeeming qualities to even one of them that makes their deaths provide that much more impact. Even for a Saw film, there is a grave lack of attention paid to the progression of these people and their situations that makes it feel like the film has moved on to greener pastures without them. Those pastures are the ones that make us scream for our lives and give us as close to an experience with death as any of us would deem entertainment.

On that subject, the traps still pack a lot of imagination, even if some ideas feel like re-treads of some earlier blueprints. ‘Jigsaw’ has a surprisingly refreshing lack of blood that doesn’t remove it as a whole, but does at least tone it down to heighten the impact when the film does decide to show the red, saving some of the biggest thrills for the final confrontation that doesn’t disappoint. There is a lot of C.G used to enhance effects work of these materials, but with the exception of the final death, it all reigned with an air of truth to it, making the transition from camera to computer feel seamless. Some of the deaths definitely rely on circumstance to further the progression of our protagonists. For instance, there’s one scene where a man accidentally falls through a floor, and a Jigsaw tape is there waiting to be played. What if this guy never crashed through the floor? Would they be stuck in that room for life? Some of these angles are a bit of a stretch in logic, but if you don’t ask for legitimacy in a movie, ‘Jigsaw’ won’t bother you in the slightest for its noticeable stupidity, which does occasionally over-exceeds its grasp on terrifying atmospheres and timely scares that this film didn’t give a single one to me.

THE VERDICT – ‘Jigsaw’ isn’t anything spectacular, but it does return one of our favorite 21st century killers to the forefront of the silver screen where he rightfully belongs. The film sadly can’t add any kind of possible substance in screenplay or thrills to the Spierig’s hardworking production qualities that do visually enhance the artistic vibes from this chapter, and outsells what this hollow screenplay follows through with on its beautiful stages. If you’re a Saw enthusiast, the film should give you a guaranteed good time, but anyone else won’t be won over with this middle of the road chapter that lacks any kind of originality or logic in storytelling sequencing needed to make its many jumbled pieces fit without force.



Matt Damon brings trouble to the once peaceful suburbs in George Clooney’s newest directing effort, ‘Suburbicon’. The miniature housing complex named Suburbicon is home to the town’s elite. It is a peaceful, idyllic suburban community with affordable homes and manicured lawns. Overall, the perfect place to raise a family. But in the summer of 1959, amidst the ever-changing landscape, the Lodge family’s plans of a prospering future go out the window. Under the tranquil surface masks a disturbing reality, as husband and father Gardner Lodge (Matt Damon) must navigate the town’s dark underbelly of betrayal, deceit, and violence to see what’s bubbling its way to the top at the level of the once friendly neighbors. This is a tale of very flawed people making very bad choices. This is ‘Suburbicon’. ‘Suburbicon’ is directed by George Clooney, and is rated R for scenes of violence, adult language and some sexuality.

It’s certainly easy to comprehend and even appreciate the sincere message being played at hand within ‘Suburbicon’, but its jumbled direction and tone deaf presentation within the ever-changing atmosphere, made for one of the more puzzling experiences with a film that I have had in 2017. As a director, Clooney once again goes all in with the context of his audience either grabbing ahold of this plot, or they simply don’t, and while I can appreciate and value a director whose all-in approach can provide the greatest divedends for the chances that he takes, I cannot under any circumstances overlook the aspects in this production that depreciated the value in something that could’ve provided the sharp sting of social commentary. On that respect, the film’s storytelling medium floats somewhere between the past and the present, bringing together the social politics of two different generations to prove that no matter how far beyond we think we’ve advanced as a society, the bigotry of prejudice still subsides in the very same arguments being made today like a passing of the torch from generation to generation.

This is a film so opposite in approach from the continuity of its contextual trailer that I often wondered if I was indeed watching the same film that I was once promised. But this time something entirely different in material makes itself apparent, as the film juggles two different plots that are purposely being played off of one another simultaneously. The first is the household of this Lodge family, whose lives change entirely over the course of one night that leaves the Mother murdered and the Father and Son scrambling to put the pieces back together psychologically. The second and personally more engaging story for me, is a racial divide between the whitely-dominated community and the new black citizens that move into their territory. By themselves, each of these meaty directions could’ve provided an entertaining enough sit, but when they are attached together at the hip, it becomes obvious that one of them greatly suffers due to time constraints; and that’s the second story. For his money, Clooney really has two appealing angles here, but to have each of them serve the same master feels contradictory not only in the two completely different atmospheres that are being accomplished here, but also sacrificial considering the pieces don’t fit together in flow no matter how much the four screenwriters here want them to.

On that perspective, the thought of too many cooks being in the kitchen at once definitely seems clear here, as the vicious tonal shifts that plague the movie required me often to ask of myself what emotion I should carry for each scene. There’s a lot of seriousness as I already mentioned with the plots, but the way Clooney and company approach it as a depiction makes it feel like nothing is being presented with a serious emphasis to propel its urgency. What’s commendable is the material feeding into that train of thought where the most vicious events happen behind picket fences, but everything included feels so watered down by this train of thought that there’s never a moment that the film capitalizes on its provocative appeal. The quirky domination being displayed here certainly pays homage to Coen Brothers comedies (They co-wrote the script), but the key word there is “Comedy”, and that is a version of tone that should never exist in a film about a little boy’s Mother being murdered, or an entire white community that make the lives of a black family a living nightmare.

Not all is a loss however, as Clooney’s stylistic choices for the movie pay a faithful homage to the 50’s and 60’s decor, when the clothes and housing looked unnaturally new from the radiant sunshine reflecting down from above. With the very first seconds of the film, we open up with a commercial for the Suburbicon community that feels corny and artificial in the same vein that television was decades ago. This establishes not only the backstory of the location, but also the benefit of immersing ourselves within this slice of Heaven that no one watching could wait to see for themselves. The cars and houses reflect a faithful value to setting the stage appropriately, and the camera work by Clooney is certainly no slouch to boot. The more you start to pay attention to the way George shoots tension and unfolding circumstance, the more you start to see the sprinkles of wisdom that he bestows upon things like reactions and pausing with speech patterns that really simulate human confrontation wonderfully. The film was rarely an entertaining one in narrative, but the production value that serves as a callback to a far but not forgotten era, was one that an art lover like me could envelope himself in when I found this 100 minute sit to be taxing through scenes that it felt like no one took seriously.

Before I go on, I will say that there are two credible performances in the film, one from Oscar Isaac, and one from the youngest of the Lodge family, Nicky, played by Noah Jupe. Unfortunately, Isaac is only in the film for a couple of scenes, but his invasion gives the film the kind of prestigious boost needed to get it through the final act. Jupe himself is a revelation though. For someone like me who does grade kid performances, Jupe’s felt stirring and very authentic when challenged with the backbone of human emotion that kids his age usually balk at. Unfortunately, the other characters and performances alike are nothing special for the film. Matt Damon phones this performance in because the film gives him little in the way of psychological perspective for him to hang his chops on. Julianne Moore performs double duty as two sisters of the Lodge family, and neither makes her presence as an award winning actress feel credible by design. I say this because Moore is reduced to nothing but a gentle housewife for the entirety of the film, and it undercuts any chance for her to make the role her own. I mentioned that I hated most of the characters in this film, and that’s because there seems to be no moral clause between any of the adults. I think Clooney does this intentionally to see things through the kid’s eyes, but as to where Jupe was our protagonist of sorts for the first two acts, the screenplay virtually silences him for an important third act that is deemed necessary to remind us what hearty characters can be.

THE VERDICT – Clooney and the Coen’s would’ve been better served by leaving ‘Suburbicon’ on the shelf of monotony three years ago where they found it. While the film isn’t anything bad enough to stake a claim amongst Hollywood’s worst, the forced surgery by these four screenwriters who are anything but on the same page leaves the film’s once honorable intentions feeling hollow when swallowed by conflicting directions in narrative and tone that crush its messages. The vibrancy of artistic integrity proves George was the right man for the job, but his finished product feels like he has watched too many Coen Brothers movies to ever serve as the necessary landlord to make this suburbia flourish.


The Mountain Between Us

The meeting and befriending of two total strangers will require them to depend upon one another in the coldest of conditions, in ‘The Mountain Between Us’. Stranded after meeting and co-ushering a tragic plane crash, two strangers (Kate Winslet and Idris Elba) must forge a connection of trust between them to survive the extreme elements of a remote snow covered mountain in the coldest of conditions. When they realize help is not coming, they embark on a perilous journey across hundreds of miles of wilderness, pushing one another to endure and discovering strength they never knew possible. Along the way, they learn plenty about each other that prove appearances aren’t everything. ‘The Mountain Between Us’ is directed by Hany Abu-Assad, and is rated PG-13 for a scene of sexuality, peril, injury imagery, and brief strong adult language.

‘The Mountain Between Us’ has a lot of potential from its personality and charm as a result of the turns of its two extremely likeable leads, but treads on thin ice with a barrage of romantic genre cliches that ultimately sink it. Undeniably, there’s too much weight of predictability and unnecessary comedic tone here that takes away from the intrigue and suspense that counteracts what the film builds on itself for an isolated disaster movie during the first act, and it’s proof that these opposite directions clash with the most dire of consequences, leading to much of what the audience will wisely enough discover from just the brief character outlines. It was maybe thirty minutes into this film when I mapped everything out that was going to happen in this movie, complete with character backstories and forced innuendos in screenplay that really takes the breath from a movie this limited. Sure, there isn’t a lot that you can do with a movie primarily set in one place, but films like ‘127 Hours’ and ‘Cast Away’ serve as validated examples of keeping the focus equally on the characters, as well as the conditions in consequences of the landscape, the latter of which Abu-Assad’s drifts away from like the very snow coming off of the landscapes.

From the get-go, Winslet and Elba’s characters meet and feel like old college friends. This is a puzzling direction immediately because it lacks some of the awkwardness and the vulnerability that will come into play later with trusting someone you just met. If these two are working together as a team early on, it will limit the transformations and growth that each character supplants with one another as the film goes on, and their resources become more and more limited. What I did enjoy about the screenplay is that it all kind of centers around this one conversation that the two characters have about brain versus heart, and in that instance the roles that each one of them play in such a debate. Elba is definitely the brain, considering his character is a surgical doctor and he is the one who plainly speaks “The heart is just a muscle”. Winslet’s character takes offense to that statement, and it’s clear that her drive and perseverance provide her with so much of that muscle that it often provides the light to keep on going. The film is also tightly paced until the third act, in which the movie feels like it tacks on one too many endings to cater to the audience who might feel alienated from a brave approach in closing minutes. I found this to drag on immensely, and I wish that some of the risk taking that the screenplay took in the mountain’s final minutes would’ve carried over to the film’s closing because it screams out the desperation that feeds into the redundant machine of romantic movie cliches.

On the subject of some of those cliches, this film has absolutely no shortage of them, providing an unintended spark of comedy that some can’t help but roll their eyes at. Considering these are two good looking people in the heart of the winter season on the rockies, this script practically writes itself. This feels even too obvious to someone like Nicholas Sparks, whose films revel in the opportunity to make a teenager’s most romantic fantasies come true, and leave out the logic or awkward exchanges between two strangers who met only days before. My issue with this aspect isn’t so much the overflowing amount of their uses, but more so in just how dishonest and undercooked that it makes this story feel. As the film carries into the second half, I found myself occasionally forgetting that these two were stranded because it’s clear that the film’s focus of that aspect felt secondary to the importance of a man and woman in seclusion, miles away from anyone, and with only the power to keep each other warm. If you think that sounds bad, I’m literally vomiting in my mouth as I type this out.

At least the scope of Abu-Assad and company bring aplenty to the film’s breathtakingly gorgeous production that certainly set the stage for the cold and unforgiven conditions. The decision to film this movie on location reaches levels of importance not only in immersing yourself in the very environment that our protagonists are thrust into, but also in the believability in physical performances that feel authentic to the toll of their body’s beat-down. The wide angle lens plays a valuable role here in accomplishing some the immensity of this landscape and the kind of uphill climb that the two now face. But not to lay back and play it safe from afar, the film also is credited with some vibrant experimental shots that had me twisting and turning in my seat quite a few times from the kind of point-of-view that the visuals cast us into. One such example is a scene involving Elba near the peak of a mountain, when he loses his footing and is sliding down towards the edge. Elba stops himself, but the camera keeps on going over the cliff, and it gives off this feeling of unpredictability even when the curtain has already revealed the result.

The performances as well are equally praising, even if the material frequently lets Elba and Winslet down in nearly every instance from conventional stakes. There’s no question that these two are too good for this kind of film this late in their careers, but I indulged none the less in their impeccable chemistry that they enveloped each and every scene with. I mentioned earlier that these two give such physically gifted performances on top of their already resilient personalities, but it’s in the work of Elba and the kind of secrets that transpire late into the movie surrounding his past that prove how capable he is of holding a script in the palm of his hands. Winslet is no slouch either, it’s just that the emotional register of Idris when it feels like a camera has got him cornered, is an illuminating shine that only gets brighter for him with each passing role. Kate’s on-time delivery in sarcastic wit plays valuable into keeping the attention spans firmly locked in on the movie during some trying times in pacing, and it all just serves as a testament to one of the most dependable leading ladies even still in all of Hollywood.

THE VERDICT – ‘The Mountain Between Us’ will certainly have its fans of date night moviegoers looking for a few simple thrills in action sequences, as well as some soft tenderness to go with a love story that you can get behind. Unfortunately for this critic, my heart is worth so much more, bringing to mind the never-ending inclusion of romantic movie tropes that exposed the predictability in every direction. If the film ends ten minutes before the string of false finishes, then it would be enough for me to push this through with a passing grade. But this, in addition to the overly telegraphed peril, and there’s nothing that could’ve closed the mountain of distance between me and Abu-Assad’s film.


American Assassin

One man’s devastating loss results in the molding of the single greatest weapon in the fight against terrorism. ‘American Assassin’ tells the story of Mitch Rapp (Dylan O’Brien), A 23 year old who lost his parents to a tragic car accident at the tender age of 14, as well as his girlfriend to a terrorist attack just as they were recently engaged. Seeking revenge in the most punishing of ways, Mitch is enlisted by CIA Deputy Director Irene Kennedy (Sanaa Lathan) as a black ops recruit. Kennedy then assigns Cold War veteran Stan Hurley (Michael Keaton) to train Mitch. Together they will later on investigate a wave of apparently random attacks on military and civilian targets. The discovery of a pattern in the violence leads them to a joint mission with a lethal Turkish agent, Annika (Shiva Negar), to stop a mysterious operative, nicknamed “Ghost” (Taylor Kitsch), intent on starting A world war in the Middle East. ‘American Assassin’ is directed by Michael Cuesta, and is rated R for strong violence throughout, some torture, adult language and brief nudity.

‘American Assassin’ feels like the search for the next great action hero to follow in the steps of James Bond, Jason Bourne, or John Wick, but never reaching the potential of those physically gifted heavyweights. Instead, we get a taut spy thriller that unfortunately underachieves in A lot of possible potential, especially in that of its title character. As an action protagonist, there was very little for me in Rapp that ever made him stand out as something extraordinary. His biggest dominating trait is that he is disobeying, a ploy that the movie isn’t afraid to hammer home on multiple occasions. Aside from that, he’s small, borderline racist, and at times lacking extraordinary personality to make him at least appealing in the audible sense. I get that size isn’t everything, but to take down these mammoth men who clearly outweigh him by at least forty pounds is something that weighed heavily on my thought process watching the many action sequences in the movie. But to understand the problems with Rapp, let alone every other character in the movie, you have to first understand where they are getting their instructions from.

Look, I don’t know much about Michael Cuesta as a filmmaker, and there’s certainly the arguments for the aspects in film that he does do well, but character direction simply isn’t one of them. There’s no soft way to put it, these characters are as one-dimensional as you can possibly be in a movie that needs boastful exposition in getting them over. In terms of Rapp, this story feels like it abandons him about halfway through, opting instead for the mysterious link between Ghost and where he fits in to his American heritage. This isn’t something I’m necessarily against if done correctly, but Ghost himself vibrantly lives up to his name because his one-off scenes do nothing in shaping a worthy opponent who he himself did present some brief flashes of brilliances. This is kind of the story for all of these characters; it often feels like Cuesta wants their real life personas to over-extend to their on-screen characters, and it just isn’t enough. Where there’s smoke, there is often fire, and the flames burning through the expense of some much needed character for the movie negates every one of them to bland tough guy personalities who are missing that link to make them relatable to anyone but the fraternity brotherhoods that will see this movie in droves.

The film clocks in at 106 minutes, not terribly unexpected for an action origin story, especially since this one stays firmly paced, but one that sometimes weighs heavily on the thought process in shaping out a vital first act of the movie that slips on banana peels in reaching for a dramatic pulse. The idea is there, mostly because I am a huge Punisher fan, and the backstory of Rapp’s conveniently matches that of Frank Castle on more than one occurance, but the girlfriend death scene happens right away at the beginning of the film, giving us little time to appreciate our couple or invest in their union before it all goes south. And right when you think we would see a grieving period from Rapp, the character moves straight on to vengeance without ever second guessing himself. To miss this opportunity really blew my mind because if you can’t get behind a guy who lost something so important to him, your attachment to the character or story will float away like tears in the rain. The death isn’t used for anything except cheap manipulation towards the end when it makes little sense because of another surprise that flourished about fifteen minutes into the film. We all know that Taylor Kitsch is our central antagonist in the movie, but to find out that he isn’t the character who ended the life of Rapp’s girlfriend, and then to see that killing terrorist dealt with early on in the movie, makes it very difficult to ever reach that peak again. Imagine John Wick killing the person who shot his dog within the first half hour of the movie, and then asking the audience to care about some totally unrelated guy on the side.

It’s not all bad for Cuesta however, as the man definitely knows how to hold a camera for some pretty decadent sequences in devastating destruction. This can at least pack a vibrant punch for the film when all other areas are lacking. The fight sequences are crisp, moving in fluidity and depiction with such articulation because the camera work of Cuesta knows to never get too close and outshine the brutality. It stays right on the side and decides to let our characters dictate the direction of where it’s headed without it getting to jerky on the movements. The chase sequences, as well as the major blowout finale revealed to me that the producers definitely weren’t afraid to shell out the extra cash in order to enlighten the audience to how dangerous plutonium is. The gore as well impressed me to no end, pushing hard on that R-rating that proves it is the only way to do a film of this caliber. For the carnage candy nut in all of us, ‘American Assassin’ can at least play with the big boys, and its graphic material supplants itself at the head of the highlights for the film’s positives.

I mentioned earlier that the direction is poor for the character outlines, but the performances hint that something greater could’ve been met with an enjoyable cast. O’Brien is the only actor who I feel is miscast here because of his physical limitations and dry personality. I liked Dylan in ‘The Maze Runner’ series, but the transition to adult roles takes three HUGE steps with a role like Rapp, and maybe a few more years down the line he could’ve grown into it. Keaton was the most enjoyable for me even if his character is basically just an off-the-wall counterpart to everything that he has ever played. The madness in macho American toughness within him made me laugh unintentionally on more than one occasion, but at least it did give me something to enjoy in regards to the characters. Kitsch as a villain could be great. In the earlier years of his career, he’s kind of found it difficult in being a lead protagonist, but the waters of villain might be where his heart truly lies. There are spry occasions when we see Ghost as an intelligent mental chess player who always thinks a move ahead, but the script’s investment in him is too slim for his portrayal to ever imprint something memorable on the audience who are already sour on him.

THE VERDICT – ‘American Assassin’ more often than not misses its target in compelling spy thrills with a dramatic twang, but there’s plenty to appreciate in graphic brutality and high stakes action sequences for it to possibly gain cult status someday. The painful underwriting of these hollow characters, complete with protagonist without a pulse, drops the bar on every rule of audience investment since the dawn of time, and the first act mistakes in storytelling left me without a vest to succumb to the devastating blows that the bullets of logic spun at me. A bomb went off in the theater, but no one was there to hear it.


The Only Living Boy in New York

A boy becomes a man in Marc Webb’s newest dramedy, ‘The Only Living Boy in New York’. Thomas Webb (Callum Turner), the son of a publisher and his artistic wife, has just graduated from college and is trying to find his place in the world. Moving from his parents’ Upper West Side apartment to the Lower East Side, he befriends his neighbor W.F. (Jeff Bridges), a shambling alcoholic writer who dispenses worldly wisdom alongside healthy shots of whiskey. Thomas’ world begins to shift when he discovers that his long-married father (Pierce Brosnan) is having an affair with a seductive younger woman (Kate Beckinsale). Determined to break up the relationship, Thomas ends up sleeping with his father’s mistress, launching a chain of events that will change everything he thinks he knows about himself and his family alike. ‘The Only Living Boy in New York’ is rated R for adult language and some drug use.

Ever since the dawn of Woody Allen and his library of films, the world has ushered out more than A few of his disciples whom you can clearly taste the Allen influence in their respective pictures. Marc Webb is one of those mentioned, and the taste of pretentious filmmaking reeks in his latest movie ‘The Only Living Boy in New York’. That’s not to say that this is A terrible film, it’s just terribly bland. Once you have watched the trailer for this film, you can take pleasure in knowing that you have witnessed the entire first hour of this rushed 83 minute production. To say that we’ve seen this kind of film before is quite the understatement, so what makes it noteworthy in the slightest? The New York Backdrop (Cough Cough Allen)? The soft and unsubtle lighting textures that make every shot feel like a painting (Allen)? or maybe it’s the snobby cast of characters who complain about A life that most would wish for (You know what? You get the picture). I felt like I have already seen this film up until A last second swerve that is far too late in hitting us hard with the big life lesson. Was I shocked? more so noticed, as it’s the first point in the film that I began investing myself in, but it doesn’t fix what’s been broken through this vapid script of insincerity.

This film early on takes a popular cliche by instilling some narration by Jeff Bridges character in the movie, but it feels completely unnecessary with the creative direction of the film, albeit except for one stance in logic; exposition. Because this film is so brief in its runtime, it doesn’t have time to bring along these characters and their respective backstories, so Bridges is tasked with filling in the blanks to outline the proper traits in these characters that do sometimes run together because of their limited expressions. Then the film decides to just drop it forty minutes in. There is no longer anymore narration by Bridges, and suddenly it feels like we’re on our own, and my honest fear of sloppy exposition seems to have been affirmed by the film’s lack of attention in keeping up with its own rules. If there’s one positive that I had, it was in the relationship between Bridges and Turner’s characters, serving as the film’s blackboard for emotional pulse. The film feels the most light hearted during these scenes, mainly because it isn’t trying to take itself too seriously, and just enjoying those quiet moments in life when clarity is necessary.

As I mentioned before, the pacing does feel incredibly rushed, and this limits the potential in clearing these hurdles in continuity and progression that far outruns our waning interest. From the romantic triangle perspective, too much happens far too quickly during the early scenes of the second act, and it often felt like the film was hinting at where it was going long before we had the possibility to accurately depict it. I’m not saying this movie is the most unpredictable offering in the world, but showing your cards far too early will shatter the boundaries of immersion that anyone will have in this project, leaving it void of any suspense. There is never enough tension being built with Brosnan’s character that he will either find out about Turner and Beckinsale, or that he himself will be caught having this seedy affair. Those elements could’ve done wonders in establishing the proper attitude for this film, which often feels unattended by the proper creative direction. I could swear that this film was A comedy, but I’m still completely unsure.

The performances aren’t too bad considering what little this extremely talented cast is given to work with. I do believe that this is my first engagement of Turner’s work, and I have to say that he wins the award for best James Franco impersonation. As Thomas, Turner can sometimes come across an sniveling and callow, making for the wrong guy to want to spend an entire feature with. His character lacks anything that makes him come across as engaging, and I would’ve much rather spent time with the adults in the movie who properly keep the flow of these conversations going. To that degree, Bridges is definitely the best here. Besides being the pulse in narration for the movie, Jeff can make A line of dialogue delightful by simply emoting that rugged sarcasm that has earned him universal praise. Pierce Brosnan isn’t too bad, but lacks enough proper screen time, and Kate Beckinsale is virtually playing every character that she has for the past three years. It’s got less to do with her talents, and more to do with the writers she is working with who time-and-time again write her unflatteringly against type.

With the choices for cinematography and artistic expression, the film does yield some exceptionally elegant lighting, giving way to the Allen environment that Webb articulately demonstrates. Some of the wide angle interior shots in this film are so gorgeous that they belong on a rich person’s wall, so they can show off their rich people to everyone else. See the problem here? New York is also very prevalent in the film, but there’s never enough gorgeous establishing shots to ever make it too A character who is present and talks back against all of the bad that is being said about it by these people. Anytime you have A setting as big as this, you MUST embrace it to relay the kind of heartbeat in culture that many of us have only heard about and never seen. Everything else is quite conventional, and that’s kind of A disappointment because Webb’s sleek style usually plays A prominent role in his visual breath-stealers like ‘500 Days of Summer’ and ‘Gifted’. There’s not enough on the experimental side to ever make this one his own, and it serves as A reminder all around of A project that is entirely forgettable.

THE VERDICT – ‘The Only Living Boy in New York’ is A bit of A boring one. There’s A word used often in the film that is “Serviceable”, and that concept would be giving this one far too much credit. Webb’s latest lacks the kind of patience in precision storytelling or insightful characters to ever make this must-see entertainment from someone we’ve come to know as A modern day master. The visual specter tingles in patches, but the art isn’t enough to save itself from A screenplay lacking any kind of hardened drama or edge. This boy isn’t living, he’s mumbling through A life that has already moved on from his constant moaning.


The Hitman’s Bodyguard

Even a ruthless hitman needs protection, so he calls on ‘The Hitman’s Bodyguard’. The world’s top special protection agent (Ryan Reynolds) called upon to guard the life of his mortal enemy, one of the world’s most notorious hitmen (Samuel L. Jackson). The relentless bodyguard and manipulative assassin have been on the opposite end of the bullet for years and are thrown together for a wildly outrageous 24 hours. During their raucous and hilarious adventure from England to the Hague, they encounter high-speed car chases, outlandish boat escapades and a merciless bloodthirsty Eastern European dictator (Gary Oldman) who is out for blood. Salma Hayek joins the mayhem as Jackson’s equally notorious wife. The trio must team together if they wish to defeat their ruthless stalker. ‘The Hitman’s Bodyguard’ is directed by Patrick Hughes, and is rated R for strong violence and adult language throughout.

Remember that time when Deadpool, Nick Fury, and Elektra all teamed up to ruin the evil plan of Commissioner Gordon? That cute and colorful attempt at humor is going to possibly be the most memorable aspect of ‘The Hitman’s Bodyguard’, a film so ridiculed by amateur filmmaking that even the charismatic combination of two charming male leads isn’t enough to overcome its deficiencies. This film serves as the latest in 90’s action comedy buddy flicks like ‘Money Talks’ and ‘Bulletproof’, that draws a noticeable rinse, wash, repeat outline to its script, offering nothing new to make it memorably salvageable. Of the two films I mentioned, the latter one feels eerily similar to the very outline of this movie, in that two rivals must team together after one has wronged the other, they take a cross country trip together that takes them through the backroads of some pretty silly situations, and it all centers around the concepts of taking a bullet for one another. That’s not to say that ‘The Hitman’s Bodyguard’ is ripping off ‘Bulletproof’, it’s just that this genre of film has been tapped so dry that the only thing interchangeable at this point are the actors who can personalize it to theirs and the audience’s amusement.

Before I begin to critique this film, I will tell you that the performances lift my score dramatically, and kept a lot of this generic action movie fresh for me. I have always been a huge fan of Reynolds, but he’s best when he has a force of equal value to bounce off of. As the deadpan, straight man of the movie, Ryan is irresistible when it comes to drawing a smile out of you, even if it comes at the expense of his character’s calculated precision. With Jackson, it’s everything at an opposite. His character thrives on impulse and rash decision making, so when these two come together, they make a dynamic duo that equally compliments one another fluently. The film definitely moves accordingly whenever these two are on-screen, but what does the rest of it offer? Well, an R-rated performance turned in by Salma Hayek, who is easy to fall in love with, but isn’t the widest range of character once you’ve seen her material on one scene. The film refuses to elevate her as anything more than this expletive instilled firecracker who serves as nothing more than the trophy to that of Jackson’s character, and that is a missed opportunity of shame. Gary Oldman hands in another committed antagonist performance, mimicking his German accent with range and consistency that never flounders. The unfortunate aspect with him is that the film kind of forgets about him during a second act that fluffs the past rather than enhance the progression of the current. By the end of the movie, we’re supposed to feel intrigue towards his terrifying plot, but the film hasn’t approached matters from his point of view enough, leaving us with a set-up that is just put in pause until our two heroes can save the day.

As for that script, there’s many problems, but the most apparent to me was the jumbling of atmospheric mood for the film that tries to be too many genres at once. First and foremost, this film thrives best when it is a goofy comedy that stands tall with the personalities of its two leads. There’s also action, and that is Ok until the movie tries to blind us with a side that we haven’t grown to expect; violence and terrorism that speaks wonders to a serious side of film that feels out of place in this plot. During the nauseating third act of the movie, there’s also a switch to infuse some romance into the fold, concocting an overstuffed sandwich that feels harder to swallow the more we continue to chew on its ever-changing atmospheres. For my money, this film could afford to shave about fifteen minutes off of its runtime, most notably from a dependency on five different flashback scenes that fluff the hell out of this 110 minute show. To make matters worse, the ending could’ve concluded three different times, but because so little has progressed most notably with the antagonist angle of the movie, we must tough out the murky waters of convolution during the final twenty minutes that does the pacing very little favors.

After directing ‘The Expendables 3’, the personal worst of the series, Patrick Hughes came back with this film to kind of redeem his influence behind the directing chair, and there’s kind of a noticeable personalization of his pictures that have yet to cast him into efficient filmmakers. That’s not to say that he doesn’t have his charms, but when I think about the visual presentation of this movie, it does leave so much more to be desired in a major motion picture. The C.G backdrops and explosions adhered to the same problems that 2015’s ‘The Transporter: Refueled’ experienced, in that there’s a noticeable dimension of off-coloring that peaks every time this effect is present, relaying a feeling of cheap ambiance that sets a small stage for the A-list cast to perform on. Beyond this, the musical score is among the worst of the year easily. At the beginning of the film, this music is blared to such ear-deafening levels that I couldn’t hear the opening dialogue of the movie’s first scenes. It also beholds that annoying gift where its easy tones do nothing in adding to the scene except to tell audiences audibly how they are supposed to feel because the producers feel they’re to stupid to understand something so basic. I could honestly make a review on this aspect alone, but I will only go so far as to say that visually and audibly this movie really let me down. It feels like it could be a spoof movie at times, but the film isn’t clever enough to capitalize on that kind of medium to bring the sensibility to such bland tastes in visual stylings.

The action sequences are hit and miss, providing a combination of chase sequences and fight scenes that cater to the catastrophic hound in all of us. For me, the chase sequences are where the money is. If there’s anything that Hughes has a knack for, it’s in the fast paced intricacy of plotting out a chase that is shot with exceptional confidence. The movements of the camera keep up fine with the speeds of these vehicles, even enhancing the editing with some experimental perspectives that refuse to ever settle for mediocrity. I would’ve been fine with chase sequences for the whole film, but there are fight sequences to make it all the more personal. There’s certainly nothing condemning about Hughes methods to shooting fight scenes. At the very least, he isn’t too close to the action to where the audience doesn’t register what is happening. My problem is that the camera movements here become slightly too ambitious, mimicking the movements of the actors rather than capture the magnitude of every crushing blow. This jerky style of shooting left me winded after one scene, let alone four different fight sequences that don’t get any easier on the eyes as the film progresses. Experimenting is fine, but I think too much movement can feel taxing to those watching closely for each balance of power happening in the scene. At least it’s not as bad as a POV shot, but too much movement sequencing these violent dances more often than not had me looking away.

THE VERDICT – This bodyguard can take a bullet or two and keep charging because of energetic performances from Reynolds and Jackson, two leading men who are far too great for this movie at this point in their careers. Hughes scattershot creativity limits the film in tone and sequencing quite often, even so that the laughs from witty dialogue fade into the air like smoke rings because of the atmosphere being too thick of genre recycling to withstand lasting power. This one earns its place in the late Summer graveyard, but thankfully its impressive cast will rise from the dead once they shake themselves of this pity project that constantly misses its mark.