Sicario: Day of the Soldado

Directed by Stefano Sollima

Starring – Benecio Del Toro, Josh Brolin, Isabela Moner

The Plot – In this sequel to the 2014 surprise hit, the series begins a new chapter. In the drug war, there are no rules–and as the cartels have begun trafficking terrorists across the US border, federal agent Matt Graver (Brolin) calls on the mysterious Alejandro (Del Toro), whose family was murdered by a cartel kingpin, to escalate the war in nefarious ways. Alejandro kidnaps the kingpin’s daughter (Moner) to inflame the conflict, but when the girl is seen as collateral damage, her fate will come between the two men as they question everything they are fighting for.

Rated R for strong violence, bloody imagery, and adult language

POSITIVES

– Even though the departures of Denis Vilenueve and Roger Deakins leave a lasting impact throughout the film, it is screenwriter Taylor Sheridan’s finest hour to prove just how important he is to this franchise. Sheridan still preserves that world where these grey shaded characters interact, bringing with them the kind of complexity necessary for audiences to question the social politics going on within our own world, but it’s in his reserved stance to make this installment more of strategic one, as opposed to the physicality that adorned the first film, one that carves out its own identity without relying too heavily on past success.

– Alejandro was definitely my favorite character from the first movie, and I was glad to see him get more exposition in this film that never felt forced or tacked on. Through many conversations and interactions with other characters, we start to put together more of an outline from Alejandro’s former life that makes you understand his motive for vengeance that much more, leaving what little compassion he has left fighting for air.

– The action sequences, while few and far between, once again brought with them a rush of adrenaline and realism that satisfied wonderfully in payoffs. Because you sometimes wait 30-40 minutes for one sequence to reach its boiling point, the bullet-riddled offense of these battle scenes surprise with just how quickly they change the atmosphere and overall urgency of what transpires.

– While none of the new additions to the cast did anything to leave a lasting impression with me, the work of Del Toro and Brolin once again command a presence over the screen that forces you to hang on to their every word. Brolin feels twice as menacing as he did in the first movie, racing against the clock and Washington to seek results, and Del Toro’s subdued yet confident capability over changing situations, makes him the perfect anti-hero to get behind, in a film that strongly lacks a typical protagonist lead.

– Besides Sheridan, the production is fortunate enough to maintain articulate music composer Hildur Guonadottir to the series. Hildur’s immense presence outlines every scene, orchestrating these dark, ominous, and often unnerving tones that repeat with volume the longer they go. It frequently feels like a poison that engulfs itself over the atmosphere within the film, carving out this seedy underground that is responsible for much of the world’s chess piece movements.

– One of the best first acts that I have seen from a movie all year. In bringing us back into the dangerous world of the Mexican cartel, we learn right away how dangerous and unforgiving such a lifestyle costs in paying the ultimate price. Aside from this, the initial reunion with Brolin and Del Toro’s characters are satisfying for completely different reasons, chalking up some rich dialogue between them that makes this reunion the blueprint for everything that follows that much more apparent.

NEGATIVES

– This film is the very definition of sequel building. The problem with that angle is that it neglects what can be made memorable about Day of the Soldado, instead catering to set-ups for a future installment that few will embrace without a strong second effort. The final twenty minutes in particular feel reduced to minimal movements because of where the film’s inevitable direction takes us to the finish line, leaving us with even less satisfaction than an original film that still managed to please despite how bleak its results were.

– One extremely glaring negative to Deakins handing over his duties as master of photography, is in the film’s obvious differences to how it establishes locations and atmospheric tension accordingly. As to where Deakins took his time with the angles and movements of the camera in the first film, so as to take everything in without ever letting a single second omit itself, Dariusz Wolski’s timing feels rushed and uncharasteristic for a film that visually carved out such a level of originality in the first movie. What this does is offer the audience little to chew on in terms of what we see in the backgrounds before the characters ever do.

– To me, much of the first Sicario never really feels like a movie, instead feeling like D.E.A footage that we’ve managed to stumble across. This is never the case for Day of the Soldado, as there are too many sequences of shootouts or kidnappings that take place in the heart of a big city during the daytime, where not a single patron in the streets stops to think twice about what is going down. One could say this speaks volumes to the kind of daily atmospheres in Mexico, but give me a break. This level of ignorance to not shoot a single reaction, constantly overwhelmed me with this inescapable feeling that this is a production, limiting my opportunities to immerse myself in the world depicted.

– There’s a subplot in the film involving a teenager who is being groomed to be a Sicario of his own. I understood completely Sheridan’s point with this angle, carving out the effects that war and the drug trade can have on a youth, but that doesn’t mean it was ever interesting when it took up precious screen time. You know these two plots will eventually converge at some point, but during the first hour of the film, this subplot involving this youth feels completely tacked-on from a completely different film all together, and it did a disservice to otherwise impeccable pacing that kept things moving fluently for two hours.

6/10

The Seagull

Directed by Michael Mayer

Starring – Elisabeth Moss, Saorise Ronan, Annette Bening

The Plot – An aging actress named Irina Arkadina (Bening) pays summer visits to her brother Pjotr Nikolayevich Sorin (Brian Dennehy) and her son Konstantin (Billy Howle) on a country estate. On one occasion, she brings Trigorin (Corey Stoll), a successful novelist, with her. Nina (Ronan), a free and innocent girl on a neighboring estate, falls in love with Boris Trigorin. As Trigorin lightly consumes and rejects Nina, as the actress all her life has consumed and rejected her son, who loves Nina. The victims are destroyed while the sophisticates continue on their way.

Rated PG-13 for some mature thematic elements, a scene of violence, drug use, and partial nudity

POSITIVES

– Feels very faithful to its stage presence. With the amount of scenes taking place in one desired setting, as well as the ever-changing characters that move in and out of frame, The Seagull easily feels like a play unfolding before our very eyes, blending the world of film and stage with the kind of ease that makes the transition seamless.

– Fresh, caustic wit. There’s a touch of polished humor to the awkwardness in 19th century lifestyles and philosophies that burns ever so delightfully from these characters, but particularly that of Bening and Moss. If it wasn’t for the dry deliveries of these leading ladies, I would’ve probably given up on this film much earlier than I rightfully should, but the sarcastic dark humor was the perfect compliment to keeping the attention span firm in hand.

– Outstanding wardrobe choices by Oscar winner Ann Roth. The dresses and gowns are a reflection of the post Victorian era, and the three layered suits adorned by the gentlemen of the cast feel casual without having to sacrifice eye-catching style in personality. It’s a constant reminder of the film’s dated setting that would otherwise slip through its fingers.

– This story continues to be a fortress of knowledge for the concepts of love and all of its brash circumstances. The Seagull is almost therapeutic in this regard, dissecting the many sensual feelings between these inter-weaving characters that is never requited from a single person in return. I find it interesting how Anton Chekhov, the play’s original author, was ahead of his time in this regards.

– Strong work all around from the entire cast, but this is Bening’s film for the taking. As one of the heads of this get-together, Bening’s Irina has a self-loving narcissism that is every bit as devilishly delightful as she is expressive. She’s someone who has no shame in making those around her feel miserable, and Bening obliges by eating up the scenery of every scene without being aware of her actions. She’s that character you just love to hate and hate to love, and end up rightfully somewhere in the middle of that spectrum.

– While the camera work and angles on display stay mostly grounded, there is one exception in the area of one-on-one confrontation. These occasions offer an ingenious use of point-of-view shooting that speak levels to those rare moments of intimacy between two characters who just can’t seem to get away from the overcrowded number of family and friends that surround them. This also takes us back to the stage setting that makes it feel like the characters are speaking directly to us.

NEGATIVES

– The stage version of this play often doesn’t run much longer than an hour, so the constant padding that adds very little to the script except fluff, over-exceeds the necessity in pushing this to the 93 minute finish time. For my money, I would be perfectly fine with keeping this film around the 80 minute mark, because sometimes the break in between the heart of this story keeps the ends few-and-far between.

– There’s a strange hybrid created between distinguished tone that the film harbors. The first half of the film is definitely a dark comedy, but the second half of the film elevates to drama, and my big problem with all of this is that the dramatic elements rarely have enough time in dedication to materialize, while the biggest positive of the film, the comedy, is gone all together. I would’ve preferred that Mayer built these varying directions simultaneously to feed the need of both sides of the audience.

– I felt that the film strongly lacked emotional connection with the audience. I blame a lot of this on the lack of complexity for the characatures of characters who rarely break apart from one another. Also problematic are the themes and movements of 19th century Russian literature not translating all that well to 2018. It’s obvious that this is a different time period all together, but the whole ‘Pretty white people with problems’ idea is something that audiences will find much difficulty investing empathy in.

– With a confusing and albeit incoherrent conclusion, the film’s ambiguous ending will feel like the latest in a series of missed opportunities from this adaptation. With the way the final scenes are edited, there’s an air of dishonesty to Cherkhov’s writing that always capitalized on sharp pencil consequences. Without the bravery or desire to send us home shocked, the film leaks air all the way to the anti-climatic conclusion.

6/10

Ocean’s 8

Directed by Gary Ross

Starring – Sandra Bullock, Cate Blanchett, Anne Hathaway

The Plot – Upon her release from prison, Debbie (Bullock), the estranged sister of legendary conman Danny Ocean, puts together a team of unstoppable crooks to pull of the heist of the century. Their goal is New York City’s annual Met Gala, and a necklace worth in excess of 150 million dollars.

Rated PG-13 for adult language, drug use, and some suggestive content

POSITIVES

– This film screams female empowerment. From the lavishly free-flowing gowns in fashion, to the ‘Girls do it better mentality’ that comes from such great lines like “A Man gets noticed, a woman doesn’t”, Ross puts together what feels like a female superhero film amongst newfound friends, and that good time is too infectious to simply ignore.

– Until the final fifteen minutes of the movie, the rules of the heist feel very grounded and telegraphed for audiences to understand. One of my main problems with the original three Ocean’s films is that it takes a great suspension of disbelief for them to be carried out, but Ross and Olivia Milch as screenwriters always keep us shoulder-to-shoulder with those composing the plans.

– Perfect casting. Considering this vastly accomplished cast has attained four Oscars, two Emmys, eight Grammy’s, and six Golden Globes, you couldn’t ask for better. It’s easy to see that these women had a great time on-set, and that endless energy is depicted firmly in the impeccable chemistry of some of Hollywood’s biggest A-listers bouncing off of one another. Bullock and Blanchett’s sisterhood unity is certainly the spark that lights the fuse, but it’s Hathaway’s bubbly satire of a Hollywood actress that keeps the wick burning. Anne easily steals any scene she is in, asking us to whimper for someone so spoiled, along the way.

– Very detailed look inside of posh Gala events. One thing is certainly clear midway through this film, and it’s that Ross spares no expense in the fashions, the decadent art pieces, and the big name cameos that surround the table. Katie Holmes, Kardashians, and even an interesting rival to Hathaway’s Daphne all come into frame, mastering the ideal of how big this event truly is.

– There aren’t many things that this film outright steals from the original movies, but one touch I’m glad about is the split transition scenes that add a style of flare and finesse to the production. Besides the usual three-cut pictures in focus that can move up or down out of frame, the ending also visually narrates with cyclone-like zoom angles what happened with each character after the heist concluded.

– Thankfully, this doesn’t feel the need to focus on an inevitable sequel, aiming instead to make this film the best it can be. The ending doesn’t exactly leave the door open for future installments, and if this is a one-off experiment, there’s enough focus and style under its roof for that to be enough.

NEGATIVES

– This is a breezy 102 minutes of film, even to the point of damaging some of the pacing of the story’s finer points. Particularly, the establishment of the team, as well as the heist itself constantly feels like it is on fast-forward. This in turn leaves the film without the kind of edginess needed to accentuate the tension.

– Going into the film, I had an idea of a twist that would happen with the ending, thanks to the less-than-stellar work of a pitiful trailer that gave away a certain spoiler-filled image. Sure enough, this idea came to fruition during the final fifteen minutes of the movie, and I hated every bit of it. Once you start to think about it, this heist should be a lot easier because of this late act development, but if it were it would compromise the film even more than its final minutes that don’t know when to end.

– In addition to that twist, I also didn’t like how this story of female empowerment and rogue rebellion eventually falls by the wayside of becoming a game of revenge because of some heart-breaking guy. Films with a female led cast tend to do this a lot, either because they don’t feel confident in their material, or because this is sadly the way Hollywood views women’s measures of importance. Either way, I would’ve left this subplot on the cutting room floor, keeping the focus where it belongs; on Bullock and company establishing women do it better.

– The relationship between Ocean family feels fresh out of a television sequel series that rarely talks or mentions it. When it does, it’s limited on exposition and never fleshes out the relationship between Danny and Debbie. This could’ve been a valuable cerebral angle that the film could’ve taken in exposing Debbie’s lost time with her brother, but instead it’s glossed over like cheap mascara.

6/10

Solo: A Star Wars Story

Directed by Ron Howard

Starring – Alden Ehrenreich, Woody Harrelson, Emilia Clarke

The Plot – Through a series of daring escapades deep within a dark and dangerous criminal underworld, Han Solo (Ehrenreich) meets his mighty future copilot Chewbacca and encounters the notorious gambler Lando Calrissian (Donald Glover), in a journey that will set the course of one of the Star Wars saga’s most unlikely heroes.

Rated PG-13 for sequences of Sci-fi action and violence.

POSITIVES

– This is a heist film above all else, so the twists and turns that the conflict, as well as the slow burn transformation that each character takes feels necessary. When the film started, I was kind of disappointed with how little character exposition there truly was for each character that came in and out of the story, but when you realize that this is a ship full of rebels, you start to understand (Like Han) the task of trusting a stranger with your life.

– As usual, Howard is a master behind the camera, gliding through fast-paced sequences with the precision of a master craftsman. Besides the fact that nothing ever feels out of focus or out of frame, Ron dazzles us with many unorthodox movements in every possible direction that these endless galaxies entice us with, and does so without it ever feeling dizzying or traumatic to our vision.

– While a majority of the performances were disappointing for me, it was Ehrenreich as the title character who clearly won the day. Glover is full of charisma, but little humanity, Clarke always hints at something bigger, but by the time we see it, it’s too late, and Harrelson is easily forgettable despite having the second most screen time. Where Alden finds his range is playing Han with this tug-of-war between confidence and immaturity that often times gets the best of him. Alden is never trying to be Harrison Ford, rather choosing to fill in the gaps to this legendary character with his own inspiration, and it’s one that was fun and attention-grabbing at each scene.

– The set pieces were decadent and immense in their revealing detail. Perhaps Solo’s greatest feat of strength is in the contrasting landscapes that the story takes us on, giving us much in the way of imagination that this saga has carved out for over four decades. Some of my personal favorite involved a swanky nightclub complete with lounge acts and sheer garments, as well as the Millennium Falcon itself, in all of its neon lighting schemes and crisp, clean interiors that showcase the prized piece in perhaps a new and energetic depiction.

– The next John in the booth. While John Williams of course isn’t behind the soundboards of this whimsical score, John Powell confidently picks up the ball with an overall score that caters to the crossroads of generations associated with this fandom. The obvious musical numbers are clearly still there, but they’re worked into with the kind of familiarity that doesn’t hang on too long to audiences who expect it during particular scenes. In addition, there is much versatility to the kind of audible stories that his sounds take us through, emulating one of my favorite scores halfway through the 2018 movie season.

– I was very much surprised with how light-hearted the atmosphere in the film surrounded me with, considering the trailers were promising anything but. Solo definitely feels like a story of hope for this protagonist, despite the fact that he comes from such a defeated place on the geographical map. It’s in that hope where we see a man we’ve known for years with his eyes wide open for perhaps the first time in his ambitious on-screen life, and in that aspect we can just sit back and enjoy him learn all of life’s harsh lessons that evolved him into the iconic presence that we came to know.

NEGATIVES

– For one chapter, Solo is a worthy enough installment, but for the overall bigger spectrum it sadly retorts to much of the same that we’ve already beaten into the ground in nine prior Star Wars movies. Once again this is a rag-tag group of misfits who team together aboard a ship, one of which being an android, to stop this sinister force, and while that is just enough for some people, the overwhelming lack of impact that this film left me with is something this critic simply can’t ignore. Because of such, Howard’s Solo will ultimately be forgettable with how little it shaped everything besides this one man. It’s an origin story that strongly lacks originality.

– Much of the first act is poorly lit. At first I thought it was just the screen that I was watching the film on, but as the film progressed I noticed it got a lot better, leading me to wonder why the first thirty minutes of the film are shot so ugly. Much can be attributed I’m sure to this lower-class city that Han comes from, but that’s no excuse in leaving too much room to decipher just what is transpiring on-screen. This and the overall juxtaposition for the way some scenes transition certainly commute that feeling of a two-director project that this screenplay can’t escape.

– My biggest problem with the film is how telegraphed every twist and turn feels. More times than I care to admit, this film shows its hand to the audience, and unless you’re deaf or playing on your cell phone, you will hear these obvious lines of dialogue and interpret them as such for what is inevitably coming. Because of this, I was never even remotely surprised at anything except a brief one minute cameo towards the end that honestly wasn’t even necessary when you really think about it.

– The pacing really hit me hard around the midway point, when the overwhelming lack of interest poured over me. I mentioned earlier the benefits of minimal character exposition in this particular story, but the unavoidable negative to this concept is that lack of pull that the film has on this conflict that we’ve seen too many times. It’s easy to say that certain scenes can be cut or trimmed, but the biggest obstacle feels more in the way that this film sells itself to its audience, skimming over what are supposed to be these defining moments for Han with little danger or vulnerability to sizzle the steak. It’s all undercooked.

6/10

Breaking In

Directed by James McTeigue

Starring – Gabrielle Union, Billy Burke, Richard Cabral

The Plot – Gabrielle Union stars as a woman who will stop at nothing to rescue her two children being held hostage in a house designed with impenetrable security. No trap, no trick and especially no man inside can match a mother with a mission when she is determined on Breaking In

Rated PG-13 for violence, menace, bloody images, sexual references, and brief strong adult language

POSITIVES

– Perhaps my single favorite element of this film was the red-light infused set pieces that amplify the tension in the areas where the screenplay doesn’t. There’s certainly an 80’s neon vibe being accentuated here, and even though it does feel practical as far as aesthetics go, it still sets the tone properly in the simplistic sense.

– While the film is short on exposition, the element of one-upmanship still prospers between Union and Burke’s characters. More so during the second half, the film consistently keeps upping the ante and passing off control of the situation to prove that there is no easy solution to this conflict.

– At 83 minutes, this is as easy of a theatrical sit as you’re going to get. The pacing is smooth, leaving very few down moments for audiences to check their watches.

– This is certainly a test of two wills, one determined to protect her children and one determined to attain the biggest score of his criminal career, and it’s in that contrast where we understand the similarities between each respective position. The stakes are simply too rich for either side to back down, and that mentality sets the stage for the unstoppable force meeting the immovable object.

– Major kudos to casting director Nancy Nayor for easing the lines of believability with this identical youthful cast. There are very few instances when a Mother/Daughter casting has ever been this in-sync with appearance, as Union and daughter Jasmine (Played by Ajiona Alexus) look like they could’ve been separated at birth.

– The setting of this house is not only ideal in the amount of space that the many unfolding scenarios are granted, but also in establishing the isolated atmosphere needed in the quiet playing tricks on our sound. Much of the rules from within are set early on and followed through with completely, combining a technological spin to enhance the twists and turns.

 

NEGATIVES

– Beyond this film’s edge being tainted by its PG-13 rating, it feels like this film was shaped to form that rating from something much more adult-like. Besides violent scenes being cropped out of frame, there’s also a few terrible A.D.R deposits that clearly muffle out vulgarities in catering to a more inclusive audience rating.

– None of the confrontation sequences feel honest in depiction. Quick edits and tight angles offer very few chances to dissect what is taking place on screen, and these motions commute that the chemistry and choreography may have been lacking between two dance partners of brutality.

– There wasn’t one single performance that I could really hang my hat on, despite the fact that no one truly does a terrible job in their acting. Most of the problem revolves around this screenplay that doesn’t offer this talented cast much meat to sink their teeth into with their respective characters. Even the four antagonists in the film feel very generic when compared to other late 90’s B-movie survive-the-nights.

– I appreciated that the screenplay attempted to give us something more with the backstory history between Union and her father, but it never forms into anything of depth for our central antagonist’s conquering of adversity. Disappointingly, this entire subplot isn’t even touched upon after the few initial instances that do nothing but say this woman probably didn’t have the best relationship with her Father. It’s a missed opportunity in reaching the levels of a film like 2000’s ‘Panic Room’, that has a near identical plot.

EXTRAS

– There is an odd final edit of the film, just before the credits. We get a long angle of the scenery, followed by a fade to black, and then nothing for a good twenty seconds before credits start rolling. Someone wasn’t paying attention to the sequencing involved with keeping the momentum inside of the conclusion.

6/10

Final Portrait

Directed by Stanley Tucci

Starring – Armie Hammer, Geoffrey Rush, Tony Shaloub

The Plot – In 1964, while on a short trip to Paris, the American writer and art-lover James Lord (Hammer) is asked by his friend, the world-renowned artist Alberto Giacometti (Rush), to sit for a portrait. The process, Giacometti assures Lord, will take only a few days. Flattered and intrigued, Lord agrees. So begins not only the story of an offbeat friendship, but, seen through the eyes of Lord, an insight into the beauty, frustration, profundity and, at times, downright chaos of the artistic process. ‘Final Portrait’ is a portrait of a genius, and of a friendship between two men who are utterly different, yet increasingly bonded through a single, ever-evolving act of creativity. It is a film which shines a light on the artistic process itself, by turns exhilarating, exasperating and bewildering, questioning whether the gift of a great artist is a blessing or a curse.

Rated R for adult language and some sexual situations involving nudity

POSITIVES

– As a director, Stanley Tucci has always banked on these films that center around the creative process, and ‘Final Portrait’ is certainly no different. In his screenplay, he captures the involvement of art and how it isn’t a career that you can simply sit down and do. It’s very much a process of before, during, and after that speaks volumes to the kind of passion necessary for indulging in it. Through Giacometti’s life, we come to learn that it’s easy to get so lost in your work that you find it dominating the other aspects of your life that require attention.

– Cinematographer Danny Cohen is the real MVP here. With his unorthodox style in camera angles, Cohen often chooses to trail slightly behind the actors who move from room-to-room, as well as give us a unique perspective from the point of view of the artist. With a handheld style, he studies Lord from many angles in the same way that Giacometti does, and it’s in this refreshing perspective where we really immerse ourselves in the mind of the creator.

– The musical inclusion by composer Evan Lurie speaks waves to the turning of the creative wheel within the confines of the artist’s mind. The film of course has musical influence throughout, but it’s in those scenes of movements with the brush where those tones feel almost louder and more distinguished than those mentioned prior.

– Rush of genius. While the acting performances are a mixed bag to me, with Hammer’s Lord being terribly undercooked in his influence to the film, it is Geoffrey Rush who easily steals the show with easily his most dedicated role of the past decade. What Rush does that is so genius is truly capture the neuroticism of the tortured genius, emulating a ticking time bomb who just doesn’t have the passion anymore to blow. It’s still obvious to see Rush’s stern demeanor of humor leaking out of Giacometti, and that is what makes some of these dry sequences of exchange between he and Hammer more tolerable.

– Much of the set pieces like Giacometti’s studio are not only authentic in their visual capturing, but also metaphorical from a stance of what is going on within his mind. Everything feels tight, cluttered, and those unfinished projects that have stacked up feel like a reflection that some projects simply never finish.

– Off-color imbuement. This stance on almost colorless backdrops honor the blank canvas of friendship that slowly develops between the two male leads. The biggest difference within this studio is that it feels so far away from the beautiful Paris landscapes of the 60’s that the film occasionally gets to embrace, but the majority of such takes place in this callous contrast that articulately captures the tone inside this room of perfectionism.

NEGATIVES

– The first act of the film feels incredibly rushed, limiting the potential to truly understand the legacy of Giacometti as well as his final model. This stance comes into play later when you come to understand how truly underwritten these characters actually are.

– On that prior stance, I think that this film will be a tough sell to audiences. ‘Final Portrait’ is a film that focuses almost unanimously on the art, and rarely ever towards the artist. Because of such, Tucci as a screenwriter doesn’t delve too deep in understanding what makes him tick, instead choosing to watch the hands of the clock move from afar without understanding how.

– My feeling is that this story would work better as a play than a feature film. I say this because much of the structure already takes place in and around this apartment building that Giacometti owns. Beyond this, the film doesn’t follow the outlines of the three act structure that films especially today have become saddled with. Not to say that it’s not possible that this film could be entertaining without that, but this is a movie that hangs its hat on the performances more than the material, and there’s no better place for that ideal than the stage.

– There’s an overall lack of dramatic pull or urgency that leaves the second half of the film hanging on an easel untouched. The reason for this is the lack of overall variety or tension with conflicts that plague the pacing of the film. I could do without these things if the material was more expansive, but much of the concepts associated with the plot stay too grounded in ever capitalizing on the benefits of a revealing biopic.

6/10

Super Troopers 2

Directed by Jay Chandresekhar

Starring – Kevin Hefferman, Jay Chandresekhar, Steve Lemme

The Plot – When a border dispute arises between the U.S. and Canada, the Super Troopers are tasked with establishing a Highway Patrol station in the disputed area.

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

POSITIVES

– The chemistry is better than ever between the five members of the Broken Lizard squad. Through mountains of personality and an endless supply of ricochet banter, these troopers easily pick up the ball where they left it over sixteen years ago.

– There’s a surprisingly solid amount of poignant social commentary on Canada, as well as the United States that allows the finger to point back at those of us who are firing the shots. When you really think about it, for everything that we say about Canada, it’s all materialistic, when America is deeply rooted in social and economical problems that (like the troopers themselves) we’ve turned a blind eye to.

– When I saw the trailer, I was scared completely that this film, like other comedy sequels before it, would rely far too heavily on the first movie. Thankfully, that wasn’t an issue at all, as I counted only four examples of jokes and puns from the first movie coming into play. This allows ‘Super Troopers 2’ to carve out its own respective chapter, proving that as a writer Chandresekhar is no one trick pony.

– High intensity chase sequences. Considering the entirety of this film was funded by fan donations, it’s mind-blowing to see how beautifully sequenced and adrenaline-fueled the camera work is for the picture. The opening involving two cameos is probably my favorite scene in the movie for this exact reason, and it nails home the thought that a comedy can overachieve if sequences out the most enticing camera angles.

– As a director, what I appreciate from Chandresekhar is the selflessness that he commands in taking a noticeable backseat to the rest of his co-stars. His character was arguably one of the more focal points of the original film, and here it’s obvious that he’s playing a supporting cast mate to those adorned with more lines of dialogue. He knows what and who to exploit the most in this sequel, and his influence behind the camera is needed much more than on-screen where no fewer than five other characters maintain the weight.

– Whether you view this film as stupid or intriguing, I think audiences will be won over by the feel good atmosphere that this second chapter indulges in. Leaving the theater, I knew this film was miles behind the first movie, but I couldn’t shake that undeniable feeling that this movie gave me 95 minutes of fun and excitement that a majority of comedy sequels blunder away. It’s a passion project at its finest, and through that inspiration we see five friends who are above all else having fun reclaiming the roles that helped them steal the show nearly two decades ago.

NEGATIVES

– While I did mention that the comedy doesn’t follow in the shadow too closely of the original film, I can’t say the same for the structure of the script. From a drug bust intro, to a rivalry with another local police force, to an ending resolution that practically screams redundancy, this script could’ve tried a lot harder in voiding itself of the predictability that weighed it down heavily.

– Because this is a sequel to a movie that hit it big, there are no shortage of celebrity cameos. None of them are too offensive, just rather pointless. When I get a cameo, I want it to leave lasting weight on the remainder of the movie, and with the exception of Rob Lowe as a hockey player-turned-mayor and Emmanuelle Chriqui as the new love interest for one of the troopers (There’s that first movie again), a majority of those one-off actors serve as nothing but a wink and nod to those of you paying attention at home.

– I get that this film is a goofball comedy, but has anyone in Broken Lizard ever heard of a Canadian or French Canadian accent?? There are examples in this film of supposed Canadian characters whose accents sound closer to Indian, Italian, Swedish, and even African more than Canadian. What’s even better is that none of them are consistent from scene to scene.

– The law of averages with laughter is noticeably lacking when compared to the first film. While I did laugh a lot during this sequel, I can say that what hinders the lasting power is how long the cast will sometimes beat a joke into the ground, or how repetitive the material can feel. One such example is a joke involving Fred Savage that eventually gets a payoff at the end of the movie, but isn’t worth the mind-numbing amount of times it’s mentioned throughout.

6/10

Beirut

Directed by Brad Anderson

Starring – Jon Hamm, Rosamund Pike, Mark Pellegrino

The Plot – A U.S. diplomat (Hamm) flees Lebanon in 1972 after a tragic incident at his home. Ten years later, he is called back to war-torn Beirut by CIA operatives (Pike) to negotiate for the life of a friend he left behind. (Formerly titled High Wire Act)

Rated R for adult language, some violence, and a brief nude image

THE POSITIVES

– Razor Sharp Editing and technical prowess. Much of the scene transitions and man-to-man perspective conversation pieces rattle off of one another with the kind of precision that constantly keeps the audience engaged. In addition to this, I also greatly appreciated the incorporated images of historic Beirut film that cinematographer Bjorn Charpentier pulls from marvelously for visual design work.

– Excellent communication in storytelling. While I felt that the film struggled in informing us of the ugly and dangerous pasts between those at war, I did feel that at least the tone and conscious of the environment was replicated wonderfully. In particular, Hamm’s intro to the film divulges a sad-but-humorously true metaphor for why this place is plagued with the reputation it has garnered for itself.

– Most of the performances come and go, but as a lead Hamm dissects his character as two different people, before and after the incident, and does wonders in cementing the leading man status he’s always yearned for. The most evident difference between these sides is that this now feels like a man scarred by his past and his newfound hatred for what this hostile land has taken from him.

– The characters are written as so much more than good versus evil, and cater more to the shade of grey that allows you to understand every motivation for said action.

– Two supercharged twists that absorb great weight in the overall growing complexity of the story. What matters most of all is that these twists make sense, an art that many films can’t seem to connect when drawing the dots together.

– What’s interesting about this screenplay is how one vivid night that only affects a small group of friends has a butterfly effect with where screenwriter Tony Gilroy’s spy thriller goes. There’s a reason why Hamm’s character is called upon, and everything lines up in a kind of air-tight execution that Gilroy attained in films like The Bourne trilogy.

THE NEGATIVES

– There are impactful, albeit brief action sequences in the very beginning and very end of the film. This makes it difficult to attain the thriller tag in ‘Spy Thriller’, doing nothing but harm to the already tiptoe pacing that is fading away before our eyes.

– Hamm’s character suffers from alcoholism, and this plot device is very seldom used in generating something of a character flaw for him to overcome. It’s a kind of tell-not-show kind of exposition that is rarely if at all explored and never adds any kind of growing concern to the way he performs under pressure.

– I had a major problem with the overall lack of Muslim actors and characters in the film who weren’t terrorists. I get that terrorism is associated with a lot of their people in this instance, but in an era where White-washing is all the craze, maybe offer some examples of diversity for dissection in instilling the thought that not all Muslims are gun-toting terrorists.

– The screenplay was written in 1991, and that’s clearly evident for how the film misuses Rosamund Pike’s leading lady character. Pike makes the most of what limited opportunity, but it’s a shame that in a character who surprisingly has a lot of resolve with this particular plot doesn’t exactly come across as a major player in a male dominated ensemble.

6/10

Blockers

Directed by Kay Cannon

Starring – John Cena, Leslie Mann, Ike Barinholtz

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

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

THE POSITIVES

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

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

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

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

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

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

THE NEGATIVES

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

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

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

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

6/10

Unsane

Directed by Steven Soderbergh

Starring – Claire Foy, Joshua Leonard, Jay Pharoah

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

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

THE POSITIVES

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

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

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

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

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

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

THE NEGATIVES

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

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

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

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

6/10

Red Sparrow

Directed by Francis Lawrence

Starring – Jennifer Lawrence, Joel Edgerton, Charlotte Rampling

The Plot – A young Russian intelligence officer (Lawrence) is assigned to seduce a first-tour CIA agent (Edgerton) who handles the CIA’s most sensitive penetration of Russian intelligence. The two young officers collide in a charged atmosphere of trade-craft, deception, and inevitably forbidden passion that threatens not just their lives but the lives of others as well.

Rated R for strong violence, torture, sexual content, adult language and some graphic nudity

THE POSITIVES

– Jennifer Lawrence easily steals the show, committing her body and essence to the role of Dominika in spades. Not only does Jennifer take a physical toll with her body throughout the film, but she also stays nearly perfect in her consistency to the Russian accent. As one of the best actresses of her time, Lawrence exemplifies much pain and sorrow in a single stone cold glance that supplants a wall above this burning fire deep.

– The adult material in the film was very surprising. This is a film that isn’t afraid to get its hands dirty in the violence and sexual nature of the screenplay, and I commend it for using the most of its coveted rating.

– Exceptional on-site photography by Jo Willems that properly authenticates the gloomy environmental feeling behind this post-Cold War Russia.

– My favorite parts of this film is definitely during the first forty minutes or so. While there, we get an intriguing and educational lesson behind the training of spies, and the biggest leap in depiction for the eventual transformation that Dominika will take.

– This film will constantly keep you guessing. As you start to see the motions being put in place for the concluding third act, Lawrence’s film has no qualms about throwing a wrench in what could easily fall into conventional territory. You may think you know where this one is headed, and I promise you that you don’t.

– While female audiences shouldn’t come to see this film to be empowered, I do feel that the honest depiction of a male dominated world and the capabilities of adapting to it are channeled wonderfully by this main character. This gives ‘Red Sparrow’ a kind of unapologetic and honest outline that other films won’t approach because of a politically correct society that we currently live in.

THE NEGATIVES

– On the other side of those twists, there are far too many of them in such a short period of time. Twists should be used as a much-needed shot of adrenaline to the scenes that are collapsing, but the overabundance of them that are used here riddle the logic to this finale and will take you completely out of the protagonist’s conflict.

– At 134 minutes, this film is FAR too long. In my opinion, there’s probably a tight, cerebral 105 minute screenplay inside of screenwriter Justin Haythe’s bloated script that repeats itself far too often. One extra cutting room meeting could’ve done wonders in keeping the sizzle on the steak and keep the second half pacing from frequently plodding.

– One scene involving floppy discs is clearly catered to creating manufactured tension that simply isn’t there. The film is set in modern day, so why the need for floppy discs in an age of hard drives and cd’s I couldn’t tell you, but my opinion is to prolong a heist scene that would otherwise fly-by without much emphasis. To me, it doesn’t hold up in modern day logic, and wastes away one of the most important scenes of the film.

– This is NOT the film that was advertised, and I feel that’s more of a negative than a positive in this scenario. Considering so much of the trailer felt like an action thriller, Francis’s film is so dry in between visual sight gags that it could easily throw in a chase scene or two to supplant something of variety to what we’re being fed.

6/10

Early Man

Directed by Nick Park

Starring – Tom Hiddleston, Maisie Williams, Eddie Redmayne

The Plot – Set at the dawn of time, when prehistoric creatures and woolly mammoths roamed the earth, Early Man tells the story of Dug (Redmayne), along with sidekick Hognob as they unite his tribe against a mighty enemy Lord Nooth (Hiddleston) and his Bronze Age City to save their home.

Rated PG for some rude humor and scenes of action

THE POSITIVES

– Steller animation yet again by Aardman Animations. The use of authentic backdrop properties in trees and rocks blends colorfully with that of the claymation characters and their stopmotion animation. In addition, the characters themselves illustrate the evolution between neanderthal and the next step smoothly, leaving enough evidence in physical features between the two sides (Big teeth, misshaped heads) to bridge the gap.

– Immersive vocal performances that engulf our A-list cast whole. I’ve always said that the best animated performances are the ones that make you forget who is vocalizing them, and the trio of leads here nail that in spades. The best for me is definitely Hiddleston’s indistinguishable gangly turn as the evil Lord Nooth.

– At 79 minutes, this is as harmless of a sit as you’re going to encounter this weekend. The pacing never drags or stalls through its narrative, keeping the attention of its audience without having to trim the fat of needless time filler.

– There is a kind of tragic element hanging over the heads of these characters that goes far beyond the conflict of this film. Despite the outcome of this soccer game, we all know the progression from the Stone Age, and that hint of inevitable doom is one that brought an unintentional dramatic layer to what I was watching.

– The observational humor is definitely the winner in the battle with the dialogue, penetrating with enough visual sight gags to throw us a bone of subversive for the adults in the audience, once in a while.

– I’m always one to lend kudos to a screenplay that introduces a prominent female character and doesn’t make her the love interest of anyone in the film. ‘Early Man’ follows this lead, giving little girls an inspiration not only to play sports, but also in carving out just how important she was to the conclusion of the picture.

THE NEGATIVES

– As to where the observational grants more hits than misses, the dialogue itself in the movie is slightly too authentic of its neanderthal foundation. With the exception of a few generous giggles, I found much of the material in the film to be very underwhelming for Aardman and the kind of tummy-ticklers we’re used to leaving the theater with. It’s unusual that this material won’t really cater to adults or kids with confidence.

– The whole film builds to this soccer match that is nothing more than a series of montage sequences in a race to the finish line. Believe me when I say that every shot in this game is to showcase when a team scores, and that’s a bummer because there’s never any inspiring instances when this game can break away from the cliches of previous sports films that have already outlined what we are going to see.

– I’m sure it’s ridiculous to complain about historical accuracy in a film where the pig is the smartest character, but I still wonder why things like toilet paper, speakers, and even a one hundred foot duck are all present in a film that takes place during the Stone Age.

– There is absolutely zero character exposition here. Each and every character runs together, and can’t be dissected any differently than labeling them “Main character” or “Female character”. If a film lacks characters that you feel empathetic towards, a plot about them losing their home won’t have much tug towards your heartstrings.

6/10