Kodachrome

Directed by Mark Raso

Starring – Jason Sudeikis, Elisabeth Olsen, Ed Harris

The Plot – Matt Ryder (Sudeikis) is convinced to drive his estranged and dying father Benjamin Ryder (Harris) cross country to deliver four old rolls of Kodachrome film to the last lab in the world that can develop them before it shuts down for good. Along with Ben’s nurse Zooey (Olsen), the three navigate a world changing from analog to digital while trying to put the past behind them.

This film is currently not rated

POSITIVES

– The father/son dynamic between Harris and Sudeikis feels rich in honesty because of the distance between them, despite being in a car together. In particularly, it’s Sudeikis’s conviction to anger that outlines a very tortured soul who is afraid to open up much in his life, blaming his father for a past that follows him like a shadow. Matt feels like the perfect follow-up role for Sudeikis’s eye-opening dramatic turn in last year’s ‘Colossal’. As for Harris, he gives one of the most nuanced performances of his career, living Ben as a man with loads of regrets, but the inability in time to fix them all.

– Road trip movies 101 says that at the very least you should document some beautiful scenery to accommodate the unfolding story, and cinematographer Alan Poon feels up to the task. In his sun-drenched skies, Poon shoots the surrounding road with much distance, giving way to the feeling that this car feels isolated from every other vehicle taking its routes. Beyond this, the film feels appropriately titled since it is being shot in 35 mm film.

– Hip soundtrack for the hip indie filmgoers. Songs like ‘Just Breathe’ by Pearl Jam or ‘Lightning Crashes’ by Live didn’t surprise me so much because of their mention in the dialogue, but eclectic tastes like Indians, Graham Nash, and even Galaxie 500 give way to the versatility and depth that a film that centers around music should and does grant.

– Much of the message in the film is the concept of there being no future when you live your life by the past, and this is something that not only binds these characters together, each for their respective reasons, but also offers a poignant approach for audiences looking to leave the film with something that they can translate to their own lives.

– I Couldn’t escape this sense of somber atmosphere that overflows throughout the film, feeding food for thought that this newly-digital aged society isn’t meant for the iron man head of the household who aimed and pointed at all of life’s beauty. Feeding into this is the metaphor throughout of our trio of characters heading down one road, and other families in cars split off and take their own.

– Even despite the fact that I knew what was coming, I have to commend the pivotal third act of the film for its unflinching nature in the way of the inevitable. It’s not often that I’m moved to the point of borderline tears, but the stirring and unsettling feeling from within me cemented this film with the value in return triple that of what I paid to watch it on Netflix.

– Much of the film’s material in subplots have definitely been witnessed in other road trip genre films before, but it’s in the heart and tender care that Raso takes in bringing life to this script that can at times feel bland. Raso invests himself in the thick of these moments, because without them and the coveted performances that he commands this film would be forgettable.

NEGATIVES

– There’s a bit too much obviousness within this screenplay to ever keep it from elevating itself to a great film. Plot devices like Olsen’s nurse character joining them on the trip, as well as Matt’s impending doom with his job, each feel like they plague this film to fall into the typical road trip cliches that it wants so desperately to avoid.

– In my opinion, this film required a bit more light-hearted humor to balance the clumsy genre classification that studios have given it. Everything is played to a crisp with the performances, so I don’t blame that. It’s really just that ‘Kodachrome’ doesn’t give audiences much reminder of how much fun they are having on this road trip with these three magnetic personalities to enhance the dramatic pull it frequently reaches for.

– Singularly, I don’t have a problem with any of the performances. But the on-screen chemistry of Sudeikis and Olsen didn’t convince me in the slightest, and even felt forced at times to meet them appropriately with their obvious direction. The missing magic between them left me uninterested with where fate was taking them, and I wish the natural flow of dialogue between them would smooth the distance between them.

7/10

Chappaquiddick

Directed by John Curran

Starring – Jason Clarke, Kate Mara, Ed Helms

The Plot – The scandal and mysterious events surrounding the tragic drowning of a young woman, as Ted Kennedy (Clarke) drove his car off the infamous bridge, are revealed in the new movie. Not only did this event take the life of an aspiring political strategist and Kennedy insider, but it ultimately changed the course of presidential history forever. Through true accounts, documented in the inquest from the investigation in 1969, director John Curran and writers Andrew Logan and Taylor Allen, intimately expose the broad reach of political power, the influence of America’s most celebrated family; and the vulnerability of Ted Kennedy, the youngest son, in the shadow of his family legacy.

Rated PG-13 for thematic material, disturbing images, some strong adult language, and historical smoking

THE POSITIVES

– Casting directors Marisol Roncali and Mary Vernieu confidently conquer the immense task of putting together an ensemble cast that emotionally and especially visually brings these historical figures to life. In seeing the real life pictures of Mary Joe inserted throughout the film, you really see an eerily similar identity to that of Mara who plays her.

– The makeup and props department set the bar high, offering a subtle touch for Ted’s trademark teeth and signature hairstyle granted to Clarke. What I love is that their influence is nothing over the top in a characature kind of way. The influences are subtly deposited, and make the immersion into buying these actors that much easier by comparison.

– This really is an eye-opening kind of movie for many actors who you didn’t think had it in them. From a comedic standpoint, Jim Gaffigan and especially Ed Helms are two people who I didn’t expect to steal the film with dramatic depth, but most certainly make the most of the occasion. Clarke too, is better than I have ever seen him, breathing in Kennedy with kind intentions, but not exactly the kind of intelligence needed for thinking on his feet at all times. Clarke’s Australian accent is nowhere to be found, and his Boston tongue in the film is impeccable throughout.

– The screenplay by Taylor Allen and Andrew Logan captures the immense pressure that comes with such a heralded last name. To be a Kennedy is to have your whole future mapped out for you, and that ensuing pressure to always pick up where your brother left off, surrounds the movie, giving us a taste of a protagonist constantly living in bigger shadows.

– Beautiful cinematography by Maryse Alberti, who brings to life the 60’s essence of Cape Cod beaches and colorful surrounding neighborhoods with a sunlight glow. Alberti shot one of my favorite movies of all time in 2008’s ‘The Wrestler’, and it’s clear she hasn’t lost her touch, paying homage to a past era of baby-boomers in ‘Chappaquiddick’ that define the bad things happening behind picket fences kind of logic.

– Entertainment Studios has been anything but a success for the films I’ve reviewed so far. After stinkers with ‘9/11’ and ‘The Hurricane Heist’, ‘Chappaquiddick’ is easily the best film for the studio to date, making the most of minimal budgets and third-tier reputation amongst studios in crafting an entertaining slice of history that anyone familiar or unfamiliar with the story will indulge in.

– Curran’s direction feels influenced by this tragedy in American history. His depiction of events leaves enough room open to still fuel speculation for the very holes in this story still unanswered, yet settles in close enough to Ted to grasp the weight of a developing situation that will no doubt take everything from him. On some instances early on, this feels like a horror film, but it’s in the lunacy of a situation that Curran settles down with later on and relates that this nightmare could happen to any of us, even a U.S Senator.

THE NEGATIVES

– Much of the movie builds up these characters for 96 minutes, and at the end of it all it solidifies just how different the justice system is for the rich and powerful. What this does in terms of damage is speed up the process of you souring on these people because everything that they go through is pretty much all for nought. Frustrating

– This film, while exceptional in almost every way, would be better served on HBO or a cable network that allows them more time to expand on the character developments and mystery surrounding the events that is needed to push the intrigue further. People switch motivations and sides without much reasoning, and Ted’s wife (Played by Andria Blackman) comes virtually out of nowhere during the final twenty minutes in presenting us a side to their marriage that could’ve played a pivotol role in fleshing out Ted.

– There certainly are consequences that are talked about throughout the unfolding events of this night, but overall I felt a great lack of suspense or thrills from the film to keep Ted on his feet. The strategy scenes with his legal council feel like they do more damage than good, and Ted’s third act epiphany feels like one that comes and goes without much logic or defining emphasis behind it.

7/10

You Were Never Really Here

Directed by Lynne Ramsay

Starring – Joaquin Phoenix, Judith Roberts, Larry Canady

The Plot – Balancing between feverish dreamlike hallucinations of a tormented past and a grim disoriented reality, the grizzled Joe (Phoenix); a traumatized Gulf War veteran and now an unflinching hired gun who lives with his frail elderly mother (Roberts); has just finished successfully yet another job. With an infernal reputation of being a brutal man of results, the specialized in recovering missing teens enforcer will embark on a blood-drenched rescue mission, when Nina (Ekaterina Samsonov), the innocent 13-year-old daughter of an ambitious New York senator, never returns home. But amidst half-baked leads and a desperate desire to shake off his shoulders the heavy burden of a personal hell, Joe’s frenzied plummet into the depths of Tartarus is inevitable, and every step Joe takes to flee the pain, brings him closer to the horrors of insanity. In the end, what is real, and what is a dream? Can there be a new chapter in Joe’s life when he keeps running around in circles

Rated R for strong violence, disturbing and grisly images, adult language, and brief nudity

THE POSITIVES

– My Love is deep for the way the camera revolves and studies each new room that the story takes us through. This allows us time to soak in the placement of every person and object. Beyond this, much of the framing in the film keeps Joe’s facials out of focus to relate the very struggle for identity within himself.

– Lots of mystery to the compromising, out of context visuals that you are seeing. This keeps the story intriguing and edgy from a cryptic standpoint in wondering what’s real and what is part of Joe’s delusions. This is credited to Joe Bini’s razor sharpe editing that always illustrates colorfully the outer dimension that we’ve seemed to slip into with this film.

– Johnny Greenwood again musically lifts the emotional palate straight from the pages, giving breath to the very nightmarish dreamscapes in lighting and environment that the film takes us through. His strident touch is quickly becoming one of my favorite musical composers, and has really given new life to his turn in music after his work in Radiohead. Beyond this, the inclusion of 50’s AM radio favorites from time-to-time gave the film a dreamy fantasy like feel to counteract the nightmare playing out before us.

– Phoenix’s physical performance that inhabits not only the sadness of this tortured soul, but also the very motivation for why he excels in such a field. He toes a fine line between paranoia and sensitivity that constantly feels like a struggle for control within him.

– My appreciation for not necessarily tying things up with this entire screenplay is very high. I think sometimes in film we try far too much to illustrate a silver lining, but Ramsay’s plan is to keep things grounded in communicating to the audience that things don’t always get better after help is sought.

-Joe’s remaining humanity really rests upon his sometimes comical relationship with his mother. These scenes feel like a warm blanket surrounded by an otherwise toxic cloud of violence that engulfs this troubled soul.

– I love a thinking person’s film, and this one gave me a few theories based on the evidence in the film that hinted to me that maybe not all is as it seems with Joe and Nina. Obviously based on the novel, which is more in-depth, that is not the case, but the film leaves enough room in leverage to bring to light some of your own theories with the side of Joe’s mind that is being covered up by all of the traumatic fright.

THE NEGATIVES

-There’s definitely great restrain from Ramsay’s direction with what we’re shown in action or violence, catering more to the psychological side of action movies. But I feel like it can occasionally lose its genre designation with such long spans in between that showcase why this man is so good at his job.

– The dissection of this character will leave more to be desired by some audiences. For me, it’s kind of refreshing to not have to be spoon-fed every single detail of his tortured past, but I can certainly understand why some people require more context to the visuals that are stylishly pasted in.

– Terribly unauthentic sound effects that don’t accurately register the weight of a particular blow. For instance, one scene involving a tie being whipped in the face of a character, sounds like a brick. This gives a cheesy underlying to an otherwise seamless presentation on the violence side.

7/10

A Fantastic Woman

Directed by Sebastian Lelio

Starring – Daniela Vega, Francisco Reyes, Luis Gnecco

The Plot – Marina (Vega) and Orlando (Reyes) are in love and planning for the future. Marina is a young waitress and aspiring singer. Orlando is 20 years older than her, and owns a printing company. After celebrating Marina’s birthday one evening, Orlando falls seriously ill. Marina rushes him to the emergency room, but he passes away just after arriving at the hospital. Instead of being able to mourn her lover, suddenly Marina is treated with suspicion. The doctors and Orlando’s family don’t trust her. A woman detective investigates Marina to see if she was involved in his death. Orlando’s ex-wife forbids her from attending the funeral. And to make matters worse, Orlando’s son threatens to throw Marina out of the flat she shared with Orlando. Marina is a trans woman and for most of Orlando’s family, her sexual identity is an aberration, a perversion. So Marina struggles for the right to be herself. She battles the very same forces that she has spent a lifetime fighting just to become the woman she is now; a complex, strong, forthright and fantastic woman.

Rated R for adult language, sexual content, nudity and a disturbing assault.

THE POSITIVES

– There’s a vintage kind of Mexican cinematography glow that makes the setting feel timeless, and really feeds into Lelio visionary aspects as a student of classic film.

– This is one of those films that I feel will benefit you the less you know and hear about it going in. In this beneficial stance, the unfurling and turns that the screenplay takes will be able to omit more versatility in your emotional palate.

– The decision to cast an actual transexual actress is one that pays dividends to the many kinds of audiences who will take in this film. From this angle, you feel like you are actually witnessing prejudice taking place before your very eyes, removing that safe shield of watching something that is being controlled in screenplay.

– Speaking of said actress, Vega’s exceptional turn as Marina speaks levels to her presence as a screen commander. Once she is alone for a majority of the scenes, you start to really immerse yourself in her loneliness, and that solid streak of empathy really invests you in her transformation by film’s end.

– Perhaps the biggest positive to this screenplay is that it examines social prejudices from many angles and levels. For instance, well beyond the backlash that Marina faces from Orlando’s family, she also faces it from strangers, colleagues, and even law authority that all see her as the thing they’ve been taught to hate.

– Beautiful lighting scheme that speaks levels to the rise and fall of love. When Marina and Orlando are together, the film’s backdrops are very vibrant and full of life, yet when she’s been widowed, there’s a very cold and callous cloud surrounding her. It’s almost something poisonous that you can taste in the air.

– Composer Nani Garcia’s occasionally somber and mostly flute-influenced musical score that audibly narrates the many stages of grief with compassion. While the film can sometimes have trouble accurately channeling the correct tone that they are going for in a particular scene, Garcia’s commanding presence really offers us a candid dive into Marina’s psyche during the times she could use that love that once protected her.

THE NEGATIVES

– The screenplay can periodically feel too meandering because of its popular song choices and fantasy sequences that feel forced into the rest of its parts. Often, these scenes come out of nowhere and really feel like they’re hammering the points home desperately that they were already doing succesfully without them.

– Because this is a film that centers around grieving, the pacing in particular will test the audience’s patience. I say this because (Like Marina) what you see is what you get with this film. It never involves itself with subplots or anything that doesn’t match its agenda, and while that might not sound too harmful, the straight and narrow path of progression is one that can negatively effect moviegoers.

– I was regrettably a little disappointed with the final couple of scenes in the movie. This doesn’t have anything to do with Marina’s finishing state of mind, but rather her closure with the characters around her who feel like they never learn anything from that conflict.

7/10

Annihilation

Directed by Alex Garland

Starring – Natalie Portman, Tessa Thompson, Oscar Isaac

The Plot – A biologist’s husband disappears. She puts her name forward for an expedition into an environmental disaster zone, but does not find what she’s expecting. The expedition team is made up of the biologist, an anthropologist, a psychologist, a surveyor, and a linguist.

Rated R (for violence, bloody images, adult language and some sexuality)

THE POSITIVES

– Being a fan of the books, I can thankfully say that Garland follows enough of the outline from that source material while deviating dramatically with the central themes and development for where his characters take us. It was like following the rules without knowing fully where it would go; the most satisfying kind of adaptation.

– Eye-entrancing visuals. There’s plenty to mention here, including the death scenes that are viscerally artistic in the most cinematic of qualities. Aside from this, the film’s backdrops for The Shimmer radiate the same kind of prism magenta that fills the air like a cancer. More on that sentiment in a second.

– The performances are well done without being overly dramatic. Midway through the film, I kept saying to myself how underplayed these characters are from this exceptionally talented cast, but then their pain and personal miseries snuck up on me with each passing reveal, speaking levels to the kind of empathy that Portman, Thompson, and my personal favorite, Gina Rodriguez garner for each other.

– Garland continues his parade front-and-center towards being possibly the very best science fiction director going today. With ‘Annihilation’, he constructs a science fiction slow-burn thriller film for the strongest of die-hards who welcome the chance to immerse themselves in worlds and rules so foreign from anything on this planet. Any great science fiction film makes you believe that anything can happen, and there has rarely been a stronger case for this than this movie.

– As far as the themes ingested into this story, I took away plenty that I grabbed ahold of, and yet plenty that would still require future re-watches to make this evidence concrete. In my opinion, the film is very much about self-destruction on a global and personal scale, and how the comparison in biology between the two help shape the shadows of who we become when compared to the person we once were. It’s interesting how similarly the people and environment react when faced with an event that will inevitably change both of their futures.

– There’s so much range in the unorthodox sound mixing displayed here by designer Niv Adiri. Acting as something much greater than just visually distinguishing us from the outside, Adiri audibly catches your attention by mastering a kind of counterfeit serenity to what makes up the sounds around us. It almost takes a minute to hear the deviated differences from our own air, but the cause for concern will produce in spades for anyone so firmly committed to soaking it all in.

– A very eclectic musical score from producers Geoff Barrow and Ben Salisbury. With enough free range between the worlds of folk and techno that audibly adorn the film, the duo of musicians master a slow change in genre sounds to replicate the change in fear that is taking out in this mental chess game between human and alien.

THE NEGATIVES

– The film greatly suffers from that cliche of immense creatures that apparently don’t make sounds as they approach. While not as humorous as something like the ‘Jurassic Park’ films, it is ridiculous here considering their movements have virtually no sound in The Shimmer to compete against thanks to the lack of human influence.

– While I always appreciate a film that offers a chance for audiences to debate and interpret what they see, I think Garland as a writer remains far too cryptic in his battle for sending audiences home with that final emphasis during the third act that leaves too much open. Far too often, the answer of “I don’t know” fills the dialogue, and it made me annoyed for just how little we definitively answered in 110 minutes.

– Once again, another harmful introduction. The first scene in this film continues my least favorite tradition of giving away spoilers before we’ve even stepped foot into the story. Sure, there’s much more to these answers that we’ve been given, but the well-being of the characters in particular hinders any kind of suspense later on that some of these rare fight sequences could’ve used badly.

7/10

Peter Rabbit

Directed by Will Gluck

Starring – James Corden, Domhnall Gleeson, Rose Byrne

The Plot – Peter Rabbit (Corden), the mischievous and adventurous hero who has captivated generations of readers, now takes on the starring role of his own irreverent, contemporary comedy with attitude. In the film, Peter’s feud with Mr. McGregor (Gleeson) escalates to greater heights than ever before as they rival for the affections of the warm-hearted animal lover who lives next door (Byrne).

Rated PG for some rude humor and action

THE POSITIVES

– While the film isn’t the most faithful to its literary property, it’s completely harmless. Purists of the former will indulge in enough gentle heart imagination and innocence in the bond between humanity and animals, as well as moments of visual Easter egg throwbacks to the original illustration. The new fans of Peter Rabbit will enjoy the quick-witted, physical slapstick that offers plenty of laughs without settling for the low-hanging fruit of toilet humor.

– Speaking of laughs, the film is very clever with its material, choosing to break the fourth wall of kids movies on more than one occasion. Because of this meta stance, the script and these characters constantly feel like they’re one step ahead of our expectations, leaving us plenty to guess about what’s to come.

– Gleeson steals the show. If you didn’t believe that Domhnall Gleeson was a revelation before this film, his role as the antagonist of sorts will be your convincing note. Not only does Gleeson revel in chewing up the scenery of each and every scene as this sophisticated snob of sorts, but his endlessly amped-up physicality in each scene silences the disbelief of live property versus animated one with ease.

– The film’s quick pacing is complimented by some thrilling chase scenes that truly capture the imagination of the environment. These scenes are tightly edited and rapidly moving to keep their audience at energetic levels.

– A rorschach test of character framing. Interestingly enough, I found the children in the audience to be faithfully rooting for Peter and his band of colorful creatures, but I saw things from Gleeson’s point of view repeatedly, and I think that adult versus child comparison comes into play in a film with characters this respective of each demographic.

– In addition to a roller-coaster of laughs and debauchery, there’s a hearty romance developing between Gleeson and Byrne that is taking place in the background. The subtlety of their growing relationship takes its time firmly, and the chemistry between them is every bit as delightful as it is important to each respective person. After being chained down for ‘Fifty Shades Freed’ this weekend, it was nice to see how a real romance develops between two human beings.

– Lets all give Sony a round of applause for making a movie without pimping their products out. While this doesn’t seem like a big deal, I’ve seen films (Cough Cough, ‘The Amazing Spider-Man 2’) that feels like a two hour commercial for the production team behind it. Less is more, and maybe they are starting to learn that.

THE NEGATIVES

– The musical soundtrack does the thing where it soils the integrity of the property by instilling a collection of top 40 favorites to boost downloads. Where it tries to improve itself is changing and adapting the lyrics of such songs like Len’s ‘Steal My Sunshine’ or Fort Minor’s ‘Remember the Name’ to narrate a character struggle. It’s just the minority when compared to the majority that isn’t this creative.

– Pointless narration by Margot Robbie’s bird character. The narration is only in the film four times, and every time we hear it, it’s to remind us of something we just learned in the previous scene.

– The rules of who can hear the animals talking gets slightly skewed in the final act, especially after a random little girl acknowledges that she can hear them easily. This creates some holes in logic for earlier sequences that would’ve been spoiled had the rules followed these twists.

7/10

The Post

Directed by Steven Spielberg

Starring – Meryl Streep, Tom Hanks, Sarah Paulson

THE PLOT – A thrilling drama about the unlikely partnership between The Washington Post’s Katharine Graham (Streep), the first female publisher of a major American newspaper, and editor Ben Bradlee (Hanks), as they race to catch up with The New York Times to expose a massive cover-up of government secrets that spanned three decades and four U.S. Presidents. The two must overcome their differences as they risk their careers and their very freedom, to help bring long-buried truths to light.

Rated PG-13 for adult language and brief war violence

THE POSITIVES

– The entirety of this acclaimed cast all bring their A-game, bringing to life a thick layer of personality to inspire these important characters to life. While I don’t think there’s anything that is award-worthy here, sometimes the consistency of an extensive cast matter more than just one or two actors carrying the load. Surprisingly, Bob Oedenkirk’s turn as a sarcastic writer is my personal pick for show-stealer.

– There’s some truly poignantly progressive material being depicted here that wasn’t evident in the two minute trailer. Women’s equality, taboo reporting, and of course the ‘Press Vs Politic’ wars that resonate so strongly today, all perhaps were magnified and brought to the forefront with this delicate chapter of American unveiling.

– Spielberg’s finely tuned mastering from behind the lens highlights once more why he’s one of the truly greatest American filmmakers of our and all time. Not only are his movements stylishly sleek, and visuals entrancing in echoing the authenticity of a cigarette clouded newsroom, but also experimental in his fine wine age of 71 for the success in strategy changes. Steven rarely has been someone to dive into long and continuous takes with his movies, but here he understands that the sharp-tongue dialogue of a newsroom is something that free flows and never subdues the longer it continues.

– Has there been a more valued musical composer than John Williams over the last forty years of cinema? Once again, Williams immerses himself into the moment synthetically, helming a score that audibly narrates the pulse-setting tones in attitude that each scene of versatility envelopes.

– Writers Liz Hannah and Josh Singer never cater to controversial with their script, instead choosing to focus on what has been proven with time with the dropping of these sacred documents. What I appreciate about this is that the screenplay lets history tell the story without relying on speculation (See Oliver Stone) to propel the entertainment factor.

– Some of my favorite scenes involved audio narration, an aspect in most films that always makes me moan in displeasure because of how tight they hold the hand of the audience as they walk them through it. Here instead, Spielberg’s phone calls to and from President Nixon should be appreciated for their intimate dive inside of the details, as well as for how grainy and clouded the connection sounds in replicating that coveted 70’s sound that so many time piece films overlook.

– The most moving stories to me are resonate with age, and because of our own modern day battle between President Trump and the media, this film feels like the perfect reflection in reminding us that no matter how far we’ve come, we’ve still got miles to go in the fight for journalistic integrity.

THE NEGATIVES

– This will shock many, but this film strongly lacked the kind of cinematic tension in keeping me on the edge of my seat. If I watched this anywhere but a theater, I would’ve stopped this film one or two times, despite its brief 110 minute runtime, and the reason for this is because a majority of the scenes feel like one-off expositions and never a conjoined movement that keeps elevating along the way. Too much is said and often not shown for the backlash that these people are facing, and I could’ve used more emphasis on their very risk in real time example.

– Especially towards the third act, Spielberg can sometimes toe the line a bit with meandering towards his audience. I say this because there is a scene with Nixon towards the end of the film that is so cringe-worthy because it feels like he is a villain from a Marvel comic book for the way the actor portraying him delivers his lines. Believe me when I say this is only one of the many examples, and frankly I was tired of being beaten over the head by the obviousness of the situation sometimes.

– Considering this film builds towards the inevitable confrontation inside of a courtroom, I was floored to see how fast the film rushed through this important period. So much of what I said in my first negative resonates here, as there’s no better place to harvest the uncertainty of a situation better than court. It feels like the film realizes it only has fifteen minutes left, and therefore sacrifices what could render some impactful scenes with Hanks and Streep on the stand, something we never ever see.

7/10

All the Money in the World

Is there any limit to what money can buy you? ask the richest man in the world, J. Paul Getty. In Ridley Scott’s newest film, ‘All the Money in the World’, we head to Rome in 1973. Masked men kidnap a teenage boy named John Paul Getty III (Charlie Plummer). His grandfather, Jean Paul Getty (Christopher Plummer), is the richest man in the world, a billionaire oil magnate, but he’s notoriously miserly. His favorite grandson’s abduction is not reason enough for him to part with any of his fortune. All the Money in the World (2017) follows Gail, (Michelle Williams), Paul’s devoted, strong-willed mother, who unlike Getty, has consistently chosen her children over his fortune. Her son’s life in the balance with time running out, she attempts to sway Getty even as her son’s mob captors become increasingly more determined, volatile and brutal. When Getty sends his enigmatic security man Fletcher Chace (Mark Wahlberg) to look after his interests, he and Gail become unlikely allies in this race against time that ultimately reveals the true and lasting value of love over money. ‘All the Money in the World’ is rated R for adult language, some violence, disturbing images and brief drug content.

There’s been plenty of trouble for Ridley Scott’s latest project involving the life of the world’s richest man. In November, the story broke about then Jean Paul Getty actor Kevin Spacey and his sexual advances towards then child actor Anthony Rapp. Once the story broke, Scott immediately removed the release date of December 9th, and decided for a Christmas Day release, scrambling to re-cast the film’s lead role with Christopher Plummer. The production had ten days to get ten million dollars worth of re-shoots done, and with Hollywood magic, here we are. ‘All the Money in the World’ was the film that I was anticipating the most during the Winter movie season, feeling the vibes of a fantastically edited trailer that immediately put me in the mood for a ransom thriller. Unfortunately, not all is as advertised with this picture, as Scott’s latest suffers from a lot of personal indulgence that sometimes gets his film lost amongst all of the material things that aren’t required in crafting an enticing slow-burner. I liked the film, but I didn’t love it, and that sense of minor disappointment from within seeps itself out the more that I think about it, leaving a finished product that while a miracle that it saw the light of day, wasn’t fully worth the hassle of everything that went into it.

From an environmental perspective, it’s easy to absorb the subtlety in detail that wonderfully charms this time-piece from start to finish. The film is set in the 70’s, so Scott feasts vibrantly on the opportunity to visually enhance the storytelling, while not taking away too much from the meat of the performances. This is a difficult thing to master because with too much faithfulness to the forgotten era, it can become its own gimmick within the film, and take away from those aspects that I previously mentioned. Thankfully, Scott is a pro at this particular sport, as the yellow tints of color that set fire to the foreign feeling cinematography by Dariusz Wolski, as well as the tastefully decadent costume design by longtime Scott collaborator Janty Yates, feel like a marriage made in Heaven that has spawned decades of Academy award recognition. Because the film is set primarily in Rome, it’s a no-brainer opportunity to entice the audience with Roman landscapes that echo the truly luxurious lifestyles that our depicted family have come to be known for, and the similarities in rise and fall events between the Getty’s and that of the Roman Empire feel closer than I could’ve ever imagined.

Where the film’s screenplay works for me is in the outsider’s angle that treats money like a slow-burning cancer that eats away the many who are involved with it. A wise man once said “More money, more problems”, and that sentiment couldn’t echo any louder than with a situation of this magnitude. While being rich has certainly been a blessing to Jean Paul, it’s cast an inhuman quality about his life that makes him feel personally untouchable and morally better than the people beneath his social stature. Beyond Jean, his only son also suffers the effects, taking a job with Jean early in the film that eventually leads to his and his family’s dramatic collapse. Money brings lots of allures with it, and Scott’s perspective on this gift is one that casts a big shadow over this family, bringing them more harm than good in the long run. I also greatly enjoyed the psychology that played into paying the ransom. Jean might be a rich snob, but there were moments when the film was allowing me to reason with this character, leading to worse things that could happen with that surrender. Where my problems lie with the screenplay is this being too strategic and not nearly enough intensity in keeping the over two hour runtime firmly in place. For my money, there’s a great lack of urgency that stands in place until the film’s final act, making much of the first half of the movie a mental endurance test that had me checking my watch frequently. Adding onto this are some liberties taken within the real life story that I can’t understand the reasoning for. The ending in particular has a noticeable blow that transpires that I guess was there to serve into the burdening moral lesson that Scott was aiming for. It’s strange because this happens out of nowhere with no building to this moment, and because of such, no real impact for when it finally does happen other than for everything to be tied up neatly with a bow.

The performances are mostly solid, led by Williams fiery unfurling as Abby, and the newly inserted Plummer whose impact can’t be understated. As this richly immense figure, Plummer commands Getty with this almost god-like quality, shifting through the hollow halls of his castle with enough confidence to inspire the gladiators of Rome to fight. For visual likeness, as well as overall performance, I think Plummer was the best case scenario for the film, and after seeing it, I can’t imagine this movie without the belief from his register for all of the jaw-dropping sentences that come out of his mouth. Williams continues to be one of my favorite female heavyweights going today. In this role, she’s the character that we as an audience identify most with, and it’s in Abby’s small stature where we see the biggest growth emotionally for a character, in terms of what has been taken from her long before her son disappeared. Williams has always thrived under the pressure of the lights, and with a cold stare that channels so much about love and loss, she once again feels clutch under the circumstances. If I had a problem with one role, it was definitely in Mark Wahlberg as this enforcer of sorts, who looks over Getty’s financial deals with muscle. I felt that this role added so little to the film positively, and Wahlberg himself feels shell-shocked in sharing the stage with two heavy-hitters like Williams and Plummer respectively. The biggest problem with Wahlberg isn’t even in his lack of personal touch on the character, but rather the lack of interest for his character’s vote in all of this that sometimes makes it feel like vital scenes are missing before he casts his judgement. It’s certainly easy to fall by the wayside of a talented cast, but Wahlberg’s lack of intensity or personality for this character drop him to a distant seventh or eighth in terms of importance to the screenplay.

THE VERDICT – ‘All the Money in the World’ is a good film that wants so desperately to be great, falling short when the bills of burden are finally tallied by the absurdly convenient ending. The masterful work of Williams and Plummer, as well as the winsome visual canvas, give you more than enough reason to see the film, but the lack of intensity casts a dry spell that will have you challenging yourself for reasons to stay. Scott’s second film of the 2017 year is much better than his first, successfully addressing the problems in post-production that almost doomed the film, but failing to address the mounting problems in withholding audience attention that decreases its value.

7/10

Jumanji: Welcome to the Jungle

The return to a land of chance and consequence gets an upgrade in the form of a popular video game. In ‘Jumanji: Welcome to the Jungle’, When four high-school kids discover an old video game console with a game they’ve never heard of: Jumanji, they are immediately drawn into the game’s jungle setting, literally becoming the avatars they chose: gamer Spencer becomes a brawny adventurer (Dwayne Johnson); football jock Fridge loses (in his words) “the top two feet of his body” and becomes an Einstein (Kevin Hart); popular girl Bethany becomes a middle-aged male professor (Jack Black); and wallflower Martha becomes a badass warrior (Karen Gillan). What they discover is that you don’t just play Jumanji; you must survive it. To beat the game and return to the real world, they’ll have to go on the most dangerous adventure of their lives, discover what Alan Parrish left 20 years ago, and change the way they think about themselves–or they’ll be stuck in the game forever… ‘Jumanji: Welcome to the Jungle’ is directed by Jonathan Liebesman and Jake Kasdan, and is rated PG-13 for action, suggestive content, and some adult language.

Hell has officially frozen over. When you asked me what were the slimmest of possibilities for the 2017 movie year, the success for a Jumanji sequel over twenty years later would’ve been the last thing I predicted. Yet here I sit in complete shock that this action/adventure in the safari succeeded beyond my wildest expectations. ‘Welcome to the Jungle’ carves out its own respective chapter in the series, relying very little on extended hand that the 1995 Robin Williams original reaches out. Nope, instead Kasdan honors the original with subtle Easter eggs along the way, keeping the link between the two films at a bit of a distance, allowing this sequel to reach even higher with the creativity that it displays in carving out a completely different beast all together. To even make this a Jumanji film is completely unnecessary, but it works because it reminds us of the adventure in imagination that the original supplied us with, while harvesting a heartfelt message that hints that we only have one life at this thing. No extra lives, and certainly no continues.

At its heart, this is very much a Breakfast Club kind of set-up, in that these are four teenagers (Well, three. I’m not so sure about the actor playing Fridge) who would’ve never been seen together before they encountered a game that will alter their respective futures into becoming this family of sorts. Have we seen this approach before? Absolutely, but why it works here is because the film is very enriched in the teenage fantasy kind of ideal, trading out who they are for the bigger, better deal behind the curtain of curiosity. Once they have immersed themselves in their adult counterparts, the film becomes a video game film that follows the authenticity to a tee, sure to satisfy even the most hardcore gamers. There are extra lives, strategies, and even satire that pokes fun at the sheer lunacy of some of these game ideals. For the most part, this direction is full-proof, as there was very little that I found false about its presentation. Some of the scenes involving Bobby Cannivale’s antagonist seem unnecessary considering this is a story that revolves around this group exclusively. If they are going to show scenes with him on his own, maybe broadcast it in the sky so the characters can approach his evil ways in the same vein they would as a player. Otherwise, these scenes are pointless. The only other thing with the game world that I had a problem with was the graphics being a bit too modern age for this being an Atari-like console. They should’ve just supplanted the game and console with a modern structure, hammering home the reasons why the game looks so surreal, but instead we are given 70’s technology with a 2017 presentation that makes absolutely no sense in the bigger picture.

Much of the pacing is solid, even during the noticeably weak second act that attempts to hold our attention through some lengthy dry-spells of action. It’s nothing that is truly sacrificing in the bigger picture of the film’s finished product, but I wish the middle of this film focused more on the same dramatic tug of the heartstrings that Williams gave us in the original for being locked in a foreign land against his will for so long. There’s certainly a comparison with a surprising cameo character who I won’t give away, but the script never capitalizes fully on making us feel his pain for how much they have given up in being locked inside for twenty years. For my money, the finale really packed a tightly constructed punch that continued to raise the stakes with four different areas of character focus, respectively and never letting the excitement omit itself from the air of tension. When I checked the run time, I was surprised that this is nearly a two hour movie at 114 minutes, but because you are spending it in a film that requires you keep track of the life count, as well as the character strengths and weaknesses, you too will find that the film doesn’t just ask to engage you in its plan, but it forces you to.

The visual effects and C.G animal renderings are surprisingly well done, keeping the enthralling fast-paced action always finely tuned whether it’s on land or air. Because of its unlimited setting as opposed to the first film, there’s endless possibilities in the way that the actors and choreographers can approach each sequence, and thankfully nothing feels watered down with predictability in the grand scheme, giving way to some rising urgency and uncertainty with the developing terror that lurks around the corner that constantly kept me guessing. The animal properties here feel respectively distinguished and very in-sync with the lighting and live action properties around them, in which they respond with great detection. Probably not since ‘The Jungle Book’ have I been this impressed with what studios are doing in bridging the gap between live action and animation, and it makes me wonder what they could’ve done with the original film had they only waited to perfect it.

As for the collective ensemble, there are positives and negatives to this story. First of all, I commend everyone for having to not really only play one character, but two when you consider they must portray their badass alter-ego’s as well as their teenage origins. Because of this stance, some stand out more than others with the dedication to their craft. Jack Black is leaps and bounds away the best of the main four, playing Bethany with a mental tug-of-war between the nerdy middle aged scientist she inherited, and the teenage beauty queen she left behind. Black feels like he leaves his Hollywood personality the most in terms of appreciation for his character, but he’s not the only success story here. Dwayne Johnson also supplants us with some versatility in character traits that makes this something completely different than the roles over the last few years that he’s phoned in. The charismatic charm is still there, but Johnson gives in to his comic side by mimicking a teenage nerd with the focus that wouldn’t change in one day in a game world. My critiques rest with Gillian and Hart’s performances, but not so much their characters. As a female heroine, Gillian’s Martha is as satisfying and empowering as it gets. It’s more in her acting muscle where I felt slightly let down by one-note emotional responses that kept her limited in anything that wasn’t action. Hart plays himself. In fact, it was his character where I felt having the most difficult time remembering who he was in the real world, mainly because none of his jock personality carries over to his new body. It’s almost like he lets the limited tomb shield who he is as a person, and while Hart’s comic genius was greatly appreciated in a few good laughs, I need something different at this point from a guy who I know can do so much.

THE VERDICT – ‘Jumanji: Welcome to the Jungle’ isn’t demeaning or damning of the original film that many look back on with nostalgic glee. It never settles to be anything of equal value, instead motivating itself to be better because of its talented cast and endless thrills that bring the fun back to the expedition subgenre that Indiana Jones left behind decades ago. Kasdan’s chapter swings through the trees with a pulse-setting roar, bringing to life the peak of the video game age with enough nuance for the aspects in gaming that 90’s multiplayer’s were known for. Plug in and plant yourself in front of the screen, it’s just the kind of distraction to remind us how fun movies can be again.

7/10

My Friend Dahmer

Jeffrey Dahmer murdered 17 men and boys in the Midwest United States between 1978 and 1991 before being captured and incarcerated. He would become one of America’s most infamous serial killers. This is the story before that story. Jeff Dahmer (Ross Lynch) is an awkward teenager struggling to make it through high school with a family life in ruins. He collects roadkill, fixates on a neighborhood jogger (Vincent Kartheiser), and copes with his unstable mother (Anne Heche) and well-intentioned father (Dallas Roberts). He begins to act out at school, and his goofball antics win over a group of band-nerds who form The Dahmer Fan Club, headed by Derf Backderf (Alex Wolff). But this camaraderie can’t mask his growing depravity. Approaching graduation, Jeff spirals further out of control, inching ever closer to the madness that was destined to overtake him. ‘My Friend Dahmer’ is written and directed by Marc Meyers, and is rated R for for disturbing images, adult language, teen drug use, drinking and sexual content, and for brief nudity.

‘My Friend Dahmer’ is a cautionary tale about observation. Through the eyes of those who knew him best, Jeffrey Dahmer was failed, living without the kind of love and acceptance that every single person living needs to survive. He was failed by his friends, family, teachers, school board, and all around community that ignored the signs of something much more powerful lurking beneath the quiet exterior of a kid just looking for attention. The one constant that rang true throughout this film is the cancer of loneliness that seemed to amplify Jeffrey’s metaphorical voice that was ringing in his head to expose what he was born to eventually become. Because of such, Meyers film feels like the most revealing look into the mind of one of America’s most gruesome serial killers, taking us through the many depositions in and around his tortured life that presented an roarschach test of possible answers for where to point the blame. The most responsible answer is everyone, and it’s in that stance where the film commands its audience to live with your eyes open at all times because the next Jeffrey Dahmer might be right under your nose the whole time.

As a narrative, ‘My Friend Dahmer’ is a bit of a coming of age story with a twist, in that this isn’t just a teenager maturing into what he was born to become, but also into something that terrified everyone else. To be honest, if you’re expecting a bloodbath of epic levels here, you will sadly be mistaken. ‘My Friend Dahmer’ isn’t fully a horror movie, but instead a psychological spin that puts the scattered pieces together and allows us to see the bigger picture from a step back. There are plenty of examples of broken relationships all around the boy that all collide with him on this demolition course that is lacking of any kind of intimacy for him to crutch the pressure onto. Because of this, I found it to be an entertaining sit in spades even if the entirety of the script is hearsay. Because the writer, Bergdorf, is a central character in the film, we rely on him to faithfully color in the lines of mystery for our own satisfaction. The problem is that Bergdorf himself wasn’t in but maybe forty percent of the scenes that are shown in the film, so there is that level of doubt from his script that makes you wonder just how authentic Dahmer’s solo scenes are to the story. With that said, Bergdorf as a writer feels like a valuable piece to the spectrum not only because he accomplishes the menacing presence of a young Dahmer, but also because he juggles it with this light-hearted atmosphere of teenage hormones humor that fills the air until the cloud of Jeffrey’s alienation overtakes the production whole.

For my enjoyment of being a local who lives only fifteen minutes from where these events took place, Meyers decision to shoot in and around Bath Township is one that pays great dividends to immersing yourself in the proper environment. This presents an extra added glee of being able to point out certain roads and buildings that still stand to this day that out of state audiences won’t fully grasp, giving it a surreal feeling full circle because these are the very same halls and roads that the killer once walked. How many biopics can confidently say that they shot in the exact same house that the original story took place? But because I have visited the former Dahmer house on many occasions and can see it fruitfully displayed on camera, I can appreciate the speculated difficulty that went into crafting such a solid truth to this picture. Most of the names remain untouched in the script, and the only change that I saw was that of the school buses that say Summit Township, instead of Bath Township.

The production does a mostly solid job of keeping out of the television movie-of-the-week category that can sometimes doom the immersion into a true story. The cinematography from Daniel Katz omits a kind of cheap aura to its shot selections, but I think this does wonders in feeding into the very look and fashions of 1978 that are depicted all over this film. On that ground, nothing felt outdated or out of place for the era that the story took place in, and I value a film even more that can paint such a picture without it feeling obvious or forced. What I mean is that sometimes a film can drive home a series of songs repeatedly or throw in a bunch of posters of 70’s pop culture to constantly remind you, but ‘My Friend Dahmer’ feels more confident in establishing these grounds more so in its visual compass instead of its physical properties, and it’s a decision that I feel goes miles in determining the kinds of hands-on decision making from the proper people without the interruption of Hollywood big wigs not willing to take the time to understand the character or the world that envelopes him.

As for performances, the majority are solid, but the overdone line reads of some extras were painfully obvious on a few occasions. These are nothing more than the occasional teacher or popular student characters who are clearly reading lines for the first time in their early careers, and thankfully don’t stick around for the long haul. What I can say positively begins with Ross Lynch giving a stirring revelation as the title character. Lynch commands Dahmer with the kind of patience and transfixing movements that faithfully keep your eyes on him at all times. What is so chilling about his performance is the cold stare from his facial reactions through any kind of atmosphere taking place around him, that hint that he’s got a dirty secret that only he knows. In addition to Lynch, Dallas Roberts was also good as Dahmer’s exhausted father Lionel, who feels like the last chance for Jeffrey in keeping him afloat. Lionel is the character who I reasoned with the most in this broken home kind of family, and the few sensitive scenes that he shares with Jeffrey feel like that warm breath that is needed in getting us through some very haunting chain of events that our young protagonist of sorts deals with on an almost daily basis.

THE VERDICT – ‘My Friend Dahmer’ is a cut above the rest in terms of credible real-life biopics that choose to get a step closer psychologically instead of settling for a Wikipedia summary. Though the film’s speculation can sometimes lead to noticeable patches of dry and direction-less scenes, the majority of Meyers provacative work feels sharp for the dissection. Held tightly by the breakthrough performance of Lynch, as well as the charms of a local familiarity in backdrops, and you have a film that Jeffrey would devilishly eat up.

7/10

Justice League

The biggest of D.C Comics brand of superheroes team together to save the day as the ‘Justice League’. Months after the destruction of events caused in ‘Batman Vs Superman: Dawn of Justice’, Fueled by his restored faith in humanity and inspired by Superman’s (Henry Cavill) selfless act, Bruce Wayne (Ben Affleck) enlists the help of his newfound ally, Diana Prince (Gal Gadot), to face an even greater enemy. Together, Batman and Wonder Woman work quickly to find and recruit a team of metahumans to stand against this newly awakened threat. But despite the formation of this unprecedented league of heroes-Batman, Wonder Woman, Aquaman (Jason Momoa), Cyborg (Ray Fisher) and The Flash (Ezra Miller), it may already be too late to save the planet from an assault of catastrophic proportions at the hands of the deadly Steppenwolf and his army of deciples. ‘Justice League’ is co-directed by Zack Snyder and Joss Whedon, and is rated PG-13 for sequences of violence and action.

After the momentum of ‘Wonder Woman’ from earlier this year, the D.C Comics Universe is looking to extend that winning streak a bit more with assemblance of ‘Justice League’, the long-awaited team-up of a dream team of heroes, some of which being portrayed on screen for the first time ever within this realm. Because of these vastly different personalities, ‘Justice League’ feels like a welcoming appreciation of changes from previous efforts that could prove that D.C is starting to find their unique voice with comic storytelling. The inevitable comparisons to Marvel will always be there, but it is up to us as moviegoers to understand that these are two different worlds that divert in everything from tone to visual presentation, and while ‘Justice League’ isn’t the home run collectively that this series so desperately needs, it is a stand-up double that sets the stage fruitfully for the introductions to some vital characters with their own undisputed honor to the D.C calling card. Considering that this is a film that had problems in production both on and off of the silver screen, it’s a major step forward for a finished result that gave me a rousing good time.

Almost immediately, anyone will pick up on the change of atmosphere that has reduced itself from the serious drag that was films like ‘Man of Steel’ or ‘Batman Vs Superman’, and traded it in for an embracing of light-hearted tone that carves out some much needed personalities for these iconic figures. While it doesn’t get as over-the-top in laughs as say ‘Thor: Ragnarok’ did, I can confidently say that this movie guided the balance between serious and humorous more capably, finding a comfortable medium that caters to Snyder’s brand of adult-like settings. Much of my problem with these films up to ‘Wonder Woman’ this year has been the decision to take itself far too seriously, forgetting that this is a fantasy world that is being depicted, so the fun of imagination should definitely be there. Most of the humor fails or succeeds in the hands of the actors who harbor strong timing with their deliveries, but screenwriters Chris Terrio and Joss Whedon as a whole leave plenty of room in the comic kitchen for two chefs who are more than capable of playing off the right moment properly, leaving the garbage can of fails relatively limited in the grand spectrum.

The film’s runtime of nearly two hours definitely feels like it was trimmed down, especially considering so many scenes that were frequent in the trailers are nowhere to be found in the finished product. The pacing is more than remotely uneven, especially considering the exposition-heavy first act breezes by with the speed of The Flash, but the second act builds the process prominently of this team coming together as one and giving us plenty of chances to embrace their personalities bouncing off of one another. Particularly in the opening half hour of the film, it definitely felt like D.C knew that it still had plenty of ground to make up in bridging the gap towards the three characters of Cyborg, Flash, and Aquaman, who have only made brief cameos in the series up to this point. But time is of the essence here with Warner Bros limiting this film to the two hour mark, and because of such, those origin stories will have to wait for another day. What’s commendable here is that the film feels like five different movies being welded together for the price of one. Surprisingly, the film seamlessly blends together like one cohesive plot, proving that the ingredients taste the best when they’re working together as one. Overall, I had a great time with the film until about the final half hour, when the expected third act struggles of D.C rear their ugly heads again. Once again it’s too much C.G, too much quick-cut editing, and far too much structural damage instead of dramatic pulse to push its final scenes to the finish line. Because so much of the final fights in these films lack desperation or vulnerability, I never feel any grave danger for what is at stake, and it proves that D.C has plenty to work on to send audiences home electrified instead of antsy.

From a production standpoint, ‘Justice League’ also raises the bar, proving that aesthetics do matter just as much to this coveted team behind the camera. Thankfully, the cinematography by Fabian Wagner lightens things up visually to present us with some eye-catching landscapes to pop that comic vibe of authenticity. Snyder is a sucker for dreamy comic illustrations, and no one does it better than him in bringing these pages of vibrancy to life with such pulse. Sure, the C.G still oversteps its boundaries as a whole against physical properties, but Gotham honestly never looked so beautifully toxic as it did here. One point that I couldn’t ignore was the removal of Henry Cavill’s mustache which looked terrible in post production. I can’t imagine how anyone can’t see that his lip and mouth movements look about as authentic as Cyborg’s bodily property, leaving a stain on the film any time that his character decided to open his mouth. The lighting aspects here are much improved when compared to ‘Batman Vs Superman’ that looked like it was filmed in a dark, damp basement. I think this step creatively feeds to the concept that this isn’t just one or two characters movie, this is now an entire team, and it’s a great time for such a change when we’re trying to represent a magnitude of artistic integrities equally.

As for performances, the positives far outweighed the negatives for me, and even offered some surprises that silenced this critic. To that regard, I apologize to Ezra Miller for thinking his humor would overshadow the character of Barry Allen. He doesn’t always land the gut-busting punch that he’s pulling for because of his awkwardness, but that alone in itself feeds into the youth who is at an awe with the personalities who now surround him, leaving him starstruck. Affleck and Gadot continue to breathe the very essence of their characters, providing a satisfying blend of humanity with a dash of hinted romance to mend their respective aching hearts. Jason Momoa is also outstanding in depicting this new side of Aquaman that I didn’t think was possible. At first, I kind of worried that Momoa would portray this Thor-like musclehead with very little reasoning or logic to his character, but as the film goes on, you start to understand that he offers the most eclectic striking when it comes to the versatility of his offense. I can’t wait till next December to see him reap the benefits of an entire script. My negatives start sadly with Ray Parker as Cyborg. Parker himself isn’t terrible, just what the script has for him is. His very first scene sets the stage for some dramatic pulse of being stuck in a situation that he had no choice over, but the script doesn’t add anything to this. I was waiting for Parker to get a scene of clarity for himself, but he’s sadly ignored as the film goes on, handing in an incomplete that did nothing for the weight of his character. Ciaran Hinds is arguably the worst kind of Warcraft villain that a movie like this can find. Comic book genre films haven’t quite figured out the emphasis on a good villain yet, and Hinds might be the worst to date, equipping Steppenwolf with no proper motive or valued screen time in getting his character across. Again, it’s another villain that a film forgets about for a half hour, and I never felt like we were any less for his absence.

THE VERDICT – If you compare this to Marvel, you’ve missed the point immediately. ‘Justice League’ finds its own original voice of impulse, despite its sometimes rushed script that diminishes the capability of its talented cast. Snyder’s latest chapter adds a much-needed dose of atmospheric humor that relays this being a COMIC book movie first, leaving its colorless drag in the past for good where it belongs. It’s not perfect by any stretch, but the future is finally bright for these heroes in individual efforts, with the possibility that justice might come to all of them with valued patience.

7/10

Murder on the Orient Express

The search for a murderer on board has a group of strangers on the edge of their seats, in ‘Murder on the Orient Express’. Based on the 1934 novel of the same name by Agatha Christie, the film takes place in 1930s Europe, with famed detective Hercule Poirot (Kenneth Branagh) boarding the legendary Orient Express for a small break in between cases. While on board, he meets an interesting assortment of characters. One fellow passenger, Edward Ratchett (Johnny Depp), implores Mr. Poirot to assist him while on the train as he fears for his well-being, though Poirot respectfully declines. The next morning, Ratchett is found stabbed to death. With the train halted due to snow build up on the tracks, and with the evidence and suspects piling up, Poirot finds himself diving into a case that could be his biggest and most mind-bending yet. ‘Murder on the Orient Express’ is directed by Kennth Branagh, and is rated PG-13 for violence and thematic elements.

Kenneth Branagh’s modern day adaptation of this legendary crime detective novel offers a dual respect of the past and present that brings to life a special hybrid of sorts for ‘Murder on the Orient Express’. While this was a story that was written over eighty years ago, there’s plenty of artistic merit and expression of modern mastery that instills life into this third live action adaptation, holding its place amongst the vast collection of today’s whodunnits? that establish little in the way of detective procedurals. This film to me was not only a character piece in the eyes of a world renowned detective, but also a thought-provoking narrative that does beg the question if murder is ever acceptable in the most avenging of ways possible. It certainly isn’t an easy thing to cast a near two hour plot in one claustrophobic train-car, but Branagh and his talented cast spin the gears of the wheels , opening up this one setting play in the most elaborate of ways that constantly elevates the tension with each passing clue of development that poisons the air like the swanky soap operas of yesterday that we just can’t get enough of.

This is first and foremost an ensemble piece, garnering with it a collection of top name billers to add prestige to its ages old formula. Branagh pulls double duty here like the few times that he has before, and his command and essence over the character of Poirot proves that if you want something done right, you do it yourself. As this experienced detective, Branagh breathes in a quirky, yet distinguished operational aspect to his madness, establishing why he is the name that everyone turns to in the longest of longshots. Aside from Branagh, I also enjoyed the performances of Michelle Pfeiffer, Daisy Ridley, and Willam Dafoe as suspects aboard this train. There is a big chance that the screenwriters take in the choice to not approaching these characters as anything more than one-dimensional suspects with very little exposition or screen time dedicated to their presence, but I feel that it pays off in spades because we are meeting these characters in the same way Poirot is; as questionable suspects, so I feel that to know too much would render their mysteries silent. Nobody is ever out of place or underwhelming in their displays, and even the brief work of Johnny Depp and Judy Dench prove that no role is too small in getting across the bigger point.

While this isn’t the widest example of free-range storytelling, the film’s investigation into this mystery offers plenty of meat to chew on in keeping the audience at bay. To me, this is a film that definitely has a better second half than first, and I say that because the opening minutes are at times a bit of a chore to get through, with forced humor of the Inspector Clouseau kind being inserted. It isn’t until about twenty minutes into the movie when we’re finally aboard this elegant train that is only one day from spinning out of control. Thankfully, the film does mature along with the subject matter that it encounters, leading to second and third acts in the film that strap on gloves to get ready for to get the hands dirty. One of my only problems with this story that dates back to its literary origin, is that once we find out the one coincidence that links these people together, the answer becomes apparently obvious in where the answer is heading. This to me happens a little bit early, leaving the remaining twenty minutes of film to soak in that question of murder that I asked in this writing earlier. The ending is satisfying, but it does so in a way that could’ve twisted the set-ups differently to present this as something different for the people who have already read or seen any of the two other movie adaptations.

The ending is something that I feel will be divisive amongst audiences, but I myself felt that it was just fine considering this is my fourth engagement with these characters and plot. Knowing this story once will kind of diminish in cliffhanging circumstance what kind of returns that you will get from something that offers very few changes. If you’re seeing this story for the first time in your life, then ‘Murder on the Orient Express’ version 2017 should steer you in the right direction for thrills and seedy developments that will constantly keep you guessing. To that degree, I share an air of jealousy for this being someone’s first dive into this plot, as I feel Branagh’s touch is no doubt the quit-essential precedent for a film in this series before or after this newest chapter. Like any human detective plot with honesty, the film ends without answering all of the questions, but as is life for motives that constantly keep us guessing.

One aspect that definitely should not be understated is in the gorgeous overall cinematography that Haris Zambarloukos displays with prestige in class. This is the Titanic of rolling trains, so everything from the elegant displays of crystal silverware and cozy surroundings does wonder in setting the stage fruitfully for this limited opportunity to tag along. In addition to this, Haris and Kenneth wow us with some intoxicating establishing shots of the many parallel weather patterns and scenery that always gives us something jaw-dropping to gaze at. But to prove that he isn’t just an actor, Branagh knows precisely where to point the camera, guiding us through the many train-cars effortlessly in manipulated one take long-shots that are meant to display the immensity of this setting and mystery that at the start feel completely wide open, but are later chopped down ruthlessly, relaying that the answer is getting closer and closer to the culprit. These aspects alone remind us the rare gifts that remakes can grant us; breathtaking views, luxurious tastes, and puppeteering behind the camera that can do so much with only so little.

THE VERDICT – Kenneth Branagh offers an entertaining upgrade on nearly every aspect of this old-fashioned murder mystery, with enough bends and curves to keep this a bumpy ride frequently. While the overall mystery becomes surrounded with a cloud of convolution, the touch of craft filmmaking involving scene-stealing camera work, overrides those problems, offering a pleasant taste of a golden age of Hollywood production where this train departed from. In lesser hands, this film collapses on its tracks, but the double duty of Branagh as the captain provides enough coal in the engine to power us through.

7/10