Alpha

Directed by Albert Hughes

Starring – Kodi Smit-McPhee, Natassia Malthe, Leonor, Varela

The Plot – An epic adventure set in the last Ice Age, the film tells a fascinating, visually stunning story that shines a light on the origins of man’s best friend. While on his first hunt with his tribe’s most elite group, a young man is injured and must learn to survive alone in the wilderness. Reluctantly taming a lone wolf abandoned by its pack, the pair learn to rely on each other and become unlikely allies, enduring countless dangers and overwhelming odds in order to find their way home before winter arrives.

Rated PG-13 for some intense peril

POSITIVES

– Exceptional cinematography continuously on display by Martin Gschlacht. While known mostly to foreign audiences, Martin’s paintbrush-like canvas here is gorgeous in immensity, and beautiful in his rubbing of colors in the sky that illuminate around the colorless drab of character wardrobes. This is a film that was made for the big screen, as much of the framing work takes advantage of the wide angle lens that articulately illustrates the immensity of a land to be alone in.

– Much of the material focuses on the comparison between man and animal, and does so without ever feeling corny or forceful. Instead, Hughes allows the audience to pick up on matters of family, growth, and survival that highlight the similarities in the next evolutional shift. These two grow together because they embrace the same challenges in their respective journey’s, and that chemistry and bond between them grows into an almost telepathic link that unites them.

– Considering he is front-and-center for 90% of this movie, Smit-Mcphee transformation is well balanced and patient with the many adversities that he faces along the way. In the beginning, his movements are very timid, causing great difficulty in his tactics to survive, but as the film goes on, you start to see his character’s intestinal hunger to survive reach limits that can only be tested under the guidance of isolation. This etches out a coming-of-age story unlike those that we’re used to, in that Keda only has his own instinct to survive.

– Hughes greatest measure as a director here is definitely the established environments that constantly shift with the seasons, while filming on location in East Coulee, Alberta. The animals, while plenty in numbers, feel very scattered out and meticulous, making the hunt for food feel very urgent. Without question though, it’s the winter scenes that really stuck out to me, channeling the worst in cold and snow that one can imagine, and immersing us with snow-cluttered camera angles that feel like we can almost reach out and touch it.

– Educational AND entertaining. This definitely felt like a throwback to the days of being in school and watching a history film about tribes and their strategy for survival, but what’s more accredited is that despite its knowledgeable depictions, it never loses focus in its appeal to capture the intrigue of the audience. The film juggles a balance of intensity and tension during scenes of peril that make for some serious moments of uncertainty for the well-being of our protagonist, testing him in ways that break everything except the human spirit.

– Thunderous musical score. What composers Joseph DeBeasi and Michael Stearns do for this film shouldn’t be understated. Through a use of 808 drums that repeat with increasing intensity, the musical score is anything but the Imagine Dragons putrid that we were promised in one of the most eye-rolling trailers of the season, giving us echoing vibes of isolation that haunt Keda throughout, and add life to scenes that would otherwise depreciate without energetic emphasis of the danger that is impending.

– Stays committed to its gimmick. A lesser production would have these human characters speaking in perfect English, but thankfully ‘Alpha’ keeps its characters mostly muted, occasionally reaching for the tribal language that we read in translation for one hundred percent of the movie. This element kept me firmly in the grasp of this A.D setting, and instead relied on body language to progress the relationship between human and dog. Beyond this, four bison were slaughtered for use on a skinning/hide-removal scene, and while I don’t overly support the slaughter of animals, bison are in fact overpopulated in the Alberta territory.

NEGATIVES

– Redundant to a fault. The hardest sell to audiences will definitely be the element of one man and his dog for most of 93 minutes, mainly because there’s only so much variety you can instill on routines that feel this repetitive. In my opinion, the biggest mistake is to get rid of Keda’s father and tribe subplot for easily an hour during the film, relying too much on Keda’s journey without capturing the vulnerability for the tribal leader and the kind of impact this has on his now decaying life. If you include the other side of the story, the former won’t feel as repetitive as it inevitably does.

– Again, we have another movie that doesn’t know when to end on its most impactful visual. This film has three different ending scenes when it fades to black, and each time chooses to prolong the lasting impression, which ultimately forces it to lose a noticeable amount of steam before the credits finally hit. This is becoming a growing trend in Hollywood, and makes me wish they would combine everything they want out of three scenes into one, so as to not feel as tacked-on as this cliche makes good movies feel.

– Teeth for show? The film fails to capture the sheer difficulties and spontaneity of dangerous wild animals thanks to its domestication of wolves that feels slightly laughable even by movie standards. I get that this is the first story of ‘Man’s best friend’, but there is such little struggle in the film with earning the trust of the wolf, that it might as well be a snorting pug with their lovable cross-eyes.

Bonus Points

Props to Sony for not figuring out a way to market their products in a movie that takes place in the Ice Age. I half expected a big SONY to be carved out in the ice, but I commend them for showing great restraint. We might be able to take you seriously sure enough, Sony.

7/10

Crazy Rich Asians

Directed by Jon M. Chu

Starring – Constance Wu, Henry Golding, Michelle Yeoh

The Plot – The story follows Rachel Chu (Wu), an American-born Chinese economics professor, who travels to her boyfriend Nick’s (Golding) hometown of Singapore for his best friend’s wedding. Before long, his secret is out: Nick is from a family that is impossibly wealthy, he’s perhaps the most eligible bachelor in Asia, and every single woman in his ultra-rarefied social class is incredibly jealous of Rachel and wants to bring her down.

Rated PG-13 for some suggestive content and adult language

POSITIVES

– For a movie that centers around riches, the very production qualities of the movie more than express that rich vibe. ‘Crazy Rich Asians’ was shot on location in Singapore, so we are treated to the vibrant cultures imbedded in the fashions, as well as luxurious traditions in ceremonies that are second to none in terms of beauty. I swear that this movie had the most imaginative wedding ceremony in a film that I have ever seen, making it impossible to not exhale when you find yourself transfixed in its luring qualities.

– Exceptional camera work. There are some breathtaking eclipse shots involving entrancing architecture and exotic landscapes that paint a gorgeous backdrop of the high stakes being portrayed within this family, and we as an audience are treated to these circling establishing sequences that feel like they’re constantly opening their arms to us. What I appreciate even more, is that these angles take their time before we step inside, allowing us a video postcard look inside of foreign scenery.

– Faithful casting that as a whole delights. This is the first American produced film in 25 years with an exclusive Asian cast, so finding the right pieces in bringing these personalities to life was no small feat. Thankfully, they hit the nail head on here, as Wu and Golden dazzle as these two lovebirds with these very grounded ideals despite the riches they have inherited in this story. They have amazing chemistry together, and never shed one ounce of believability through this two hour feature.

– There’s a lot of flare and poise in the on-screen text that takes us through the many island locations in a storytelling-like delivery. These big, bold letterings are an homage to the golden age of Hollywood, when title screens and location cues were such an important part of the transformation within the story. Aside from the lettering, there is also a map graphic visually depicting the distance traveled by the two leads that relates how far they are from their safe zone of home.

– Immersion even in music. The film features many classic pop favorites performed by an Asian artist with Asian translation of the lyrics, and I commend this because it transports us as an audience to the very sights and sounds that you would hear under these circumstances. It’s a personal touch that is greatly appreciated and nearly perfect, if not for two English translated songs that slipped under the radar.

– If this film doesn’t make you hungry from all of the tight, focused shots on Asian cuisine, then you don’t have a pulse. Not since 2014’s ‘Chef’ has a movie seduced me so effectively with a variety of dishes that truly triggers the care that this family puts into feeding their guests. In many ways, this aspect puts us in the shoes of Rachel, satisfying our pallets with champagne wishes and caviar dreams. It’s all that and dim sum.

– Romantic comedies are probably the hardest sell for me in terms of genres, but ‘Crazy Rich Asians’ earns its heart with a two hour journey that pushes you to see the growth in these characters. During the first act, this film is definitely a comedy, echoing the very awkwardness in first impressions that movies like ‘Meet the Parents’ and ‘Coming to America’ took the ball and ran with so effortlessly. But in the second half of the movie, something different happens. The film puts away its humorous material in favor of these bittersweet developments that test this couple far more than just the typical third act conflicts. We start to understand why there’s such a divide in the upper and lower class tiers, and this growing bump in the road brings the confrontation to such boiling levels in the form of a decision that will alter Nick’s future forever.

NEGATIVES

– Even though the film would be considered “White-Washing” if it took this method, I feel the conflict of Nick dating an American woman would’ve been far greater if he actually dated an American born character. Rachel is every bit as Asian as Nick’s family are, so the disdain doesn’t feel as grand as it would if he legitimately dated someone so different. Especially after you see the first scene of the movie, involving Nick’s family interacting with some borderline racist white folk.

– It’s a little strange to me that the film takes place in Singapore, surrounded by a 95% Asian ensemble, and yet every single one of them speaks perfect English. With the exception of the grandmother, no one even remotely uses their native tongue, and I find that hard to believe from an authenticity standpoint. This is the time when subtitles are appreciated and understood in a film, but the stretch of everyone accommodating American audiences in Asian territory is a bit far fetched.

– In my opinion, there are too many characters for the film that simply don’t offer enough to justify their existence. I get that this is adapted from a trilogy of books, but I would’ve liked to have seen the editing button achieve a greater presence in the film adaptation, as even midway through the movie we are still being introduced to new characters to the story who are never given proper time to develop. This aspect of the film is perhaps the greatest test for Rachel and Nick’s relationship, as there’s a brief period where it feels like the importance of their plot takes a backseat to another couple’s wedding.

7/10

Teen Titans GO!!! To the Movies

Directed by Aaron Horvath and Peter Rida Michail

Starring – Scott Menville, Khary Payton, Tara Strong

The Plot – It seems to the Teens that all the major superheroes out there are starring in their own movies-everyone but the Teen Titans, that is. But de facto leader Robin is determined to remedy the situation, and be seen as a star instead of a sidekick. If only they could get the hottest Hollywood film director to notice them. With a few madcap ideas and a song in their heart, the Teen Titans head to Tinsel Town, certain to pull off their dream. But when the group is radically misdirected by a seriously super villain and his maniacal plan to take over the Earth, things really go awry. The team finds their friendship and their fighting spirit failing, putting the very fate of the Teen Titans themselves on the line.

Rated PG for action and rude humor

POSITIVES

– Instead of instilling an honorable message, ‘Teen Titans’ uses its limited time (82 Minutes) for satirical laughs of the daring kind, that come at the expense of everyone in the superhero genre. Using a spotlight to highlight the oversaturation of superhero movies that never stop, this film uses cutting edge timing to poke fun at the familiar elements that serve as a virtual checklist through every installment. Even better, it spans out these deliveries, allowing audiences much-needed breather in between to wait for the next one. In doing so, DC can finally indulge in a light-hearted atmosphere that superhero movies should be all about.

– The animation is vibrant in color graphing, and detailed in visual sight gags that you almost have to constantly rewind to fully grasp. Part of my favorite elements of the film involved spotting the names of some of the businesses that are expressed in humorous context in advertisement, as well as the overall feel of immersing yourself in a comic book feel kind of presentation. Between dust flying as a reflection of impact, as well as text being displayed visually in a way that pays homage to those comic book properties, this film carves its own path that is everything different from today’s DC properties, thus the reason for its valid success.

– It was great to see a film where Robin is front-and-center for once, and I’m hoping this will open the door for DC to take more chances with this often ridiculed character. Here, Robin articulates and solidifies his status as a leader to this group who they themselves feel like outcasts shunned by their peers, and perhaps that angle is why Robin takes the wheel and steers us into an adventure where he thrives because of endless heart and determination.

– Best cameo ever in a superhero movie. That’s all I’m going to say.

– Impeccable pacing that feels synthetic in the television structure that this show-turned-film has prospered with. Most of the filler in between comes from no shortage of musical numbers, and that’s fine because it doesn’t hinder or dampen the overwhelming feeling of delight that you get from taking it all in. No film this Summer made me laugh more than ‘Teen Titans’, and very few have flowed as smoothly in entertainment value, so it shouldn’t come as no surprise how easy of a sit this film is to waste time on a hot day, when you just want to feel the cool breeze of the theater air and an immersive cotton candy superhero film alike.

– As for the music that I previously mentioned, this is bar-none one of the best soundtracks that I have heard in recent memory. Beyond the music feeling energetic and full of feel-good passion, the lyrics being sung by the various members of this group leave your tummy tickled, with descriptive emphasis that exerts no shortage of personality or the T.M.I kind of too much information that leaves a character the butt of many jokes. So Often in kids movies, I find myself dreading a musical number, but I found myself waiting impatiently for the next one here, and it’s all because of what it does for the characters, as well as how it relishes the opportunity to get the youths moving in their seats.

– Much respect goes to the production team of this picture for bringing back the credited voice actors of the television show, all the while bringing in several A-list names to bounce off of them. Menville as Robin, and Tara Strong as Raven are definitely my favorites, proving that they haven’t missed a single step in the chemistry of their off-fire deliveries. But the chance to finally hear Nicolas Cage voice Clark Kent was one that was nearly 25 years in the making. For those who don’t know, Cage was supposed to play Superman in an early 90’s adaptation of the character, but it fell through. So to see Cage get the chance once again was something that proved cathartic and even affirming for how much command he had over the immense presence.

NEGATIVES

– One surprising aspect of the film that kind of disappointed me was how little there is for the youth of the audience to hang their hats on. Most of the meta-breaks will of course only benefit older audiences who grew up with these properties, but the other material feels like it has a great dependency on the color scheme of the film in luring the kids in and it’s just not enough. As it stands, no kid in my audience laughed, except during the fart gags that (Thankfully) are few and far between. Attaining two different audiences is incredibly difficult, but a film advertised like this should always get the kids first. Without them, you’ve already lost a majority of your audience.

– Despite the bending and breaking of the fourth wall that prospers repeatedly throughout, the enabling strings of redundancy begin to show at the beginning of the third act. All of the familiar tropes are there; the antagonist who gets one-up on the gang, the gang break-up, the moment of reflection for the protagonist, and of course the third act DC action sequence where they throw anything and everything at the screen. For a film that prides itself on being “The epiphany” for the genre, there’s far too much hypocrisy in where it settles to ever be as impactful as something like ‘The Lego Batman Movie’.

– Pointless short before the film. There’s a three minute short attached to ‘Teen Titans’ that serves no point to the forthcoming story, nor does it ever remotely hit its mark in intended direction. Considering Pixar are attaching these breathtakingly beautiful shorts at the beginning of their movies now, this forgettable, bland Batgirl short should’ve just been left on the cutting room floor. I originally thought this was part of the real movie, and was going to lead into the Titans watching this stupidity in a theater, but it didn’t. It was three awkward minutes of unattached material that starts this film off in a deficit before the actual movie even begins.

7/10

To Hell and Back: The Kane Hodder Story

Directed by Derek Dennis Herbert

Starring – Kane Hodder, Robert Englund, Danielle Harris

The Plot – The film is the harrowing story of a stuntman overcoming a dehumanizing childhood filled with torment and bullying in Sparks, Nevada. After surviving a near-death burn accident, he worked his way up through Hollywood, leading to his ultimate rise as Jason Voorhees in the Friday the 13th series and making countless moviegoers forever terrified of hockey masks and summer camp. Featuring interviews with cinema legends, including Bruce Campbell (Ash vs. Evil Dead), Robert Englund (Freddy Krueger), and Cassandra Peterson (Elvira: Mistress of the Dark), To Hell and Back peels off the mask of Kane Hodder, cinema’s most prolific killer, in a gut-wrenching, but inspiring, documentary. After decades of watching Kane Hodder on screen, get ready to meet the man behind the mask in To Hell and Back; a uniquely human story about one of cinema’s most vicious monsters.

The film is currently not rated

POSITIVES

– Most of the time, a backstory in documentaries serve as nothing more than exposition to tell the whole story, but with the first act of Kane’s life, we get a mold for who he eventually became. All of the bullying, the tolerance to pain, and really the overall entertainment that he gave his friends served as stepping stones to becoming the horror icon that he eventually became.

– Kane’s increasing passion for the characters he takes on is evident in multiple aspects of the film. For most actors, particularly stunt men, a role is just a paycheck until the next one, but for Hodder this embodiment is not only on a physical level, but also a mental one, as Kane himself approached the roles from a psychological level, giving Jason Voorhees some of his most menacing of qualities.

– Imaginative backdrop set pieces. Considering the entirety of this film is told in actor interviews, it’s nice to see that the production spent every creative effort in visually enhancing the rooms around the storytellers, with images straight out of a horror film. For Hodder in particular, we’re treated to what looks like a smashed kitchen, complete with broken chairs and turned over coffee cups, giving the picture that on-set kind of feel each time we cut to Kane.

– While Kane cherishes the fact that he never broke a bone in his decades of work, we still get a very detailed and revealing embodiment of just how dangerous this job truly is with these horror stories that are much worse than anything on-screen. In one of his first films alone, Kane describes being engulfed in flames to such vivid detail, all the while none of the actors and crew around him know just how badly he’s suffering because he does it so frequently. Herbert’s film has no problem glorifying the trade, but does so in a way that never relinquishes the responsibility in relaying the dangerous price that comes with the big lights of the Hollywood luster.

– As a storyteller, Kane’s finest moments seem to come when he tears up re-living some of his most torturous moments, both on and off screen. It offers a satisfyingly revealing side to Hodder that many of his biggest admirers have never been granted. In that regard alone, ‘To Hell and Back’ is the kind of valued documentary that provides emphasis in vulnerability that these often thought of invincible presences never receive.

– Important shooting locations. There is no shortage of on-site locations in landscape and hollowed hallways to some of Kane’s greatest tragedies and triumphs, and this rare gift decades later offers plenty on the way to spiritual reflection. Not only is this valuable to the story for visual representation, but it serves as a cathartic moment for Hodder himself, who comes full circle with the places and faces that have shaped him and his never-die spirit.

– A testament to Kane’s undying reputation, comes in the form of a who’s who list of horror genre celebrities who are interviewed for the film. As we all know, honesty in your work is judged upon by your peers, and the guest list on this picture might be the single greatest assembly of my own childhood heroes that any film has ever seen. Aside from Englund and Harris, Bruce Campbell, Bill Mosely, Sid Haig, Felissa Rose, and Cassandra Peterson are just a few of the names who have interacted with Kane, and if you forget any of their names, fear not, because the film goes overboard on repeating their visual name tags more than a few times.

NEGATIVES

– Studio stock musical score. No disrespect to composer Jonas Friedman, but the musical tones in ‘To Hell and Back’ strongly lack any kind of versatility or originality to the scenes they accompany, and constantly feel like they intrude upon an emotional rendering that a scene has going for itself.

– For a majority of the second act, the film starts to feel tedious in production team members naming their favorite moments, instead of resting the focus on the title protagonist. People will argue that it does this because Kane is a big part of these films, but I feel like the redundancy sometimes takes far too long to get to its intended finish line, and I would’ve preferred more time donated to Kane off of the screen.

– Much of the production value screams A&E Television style. Aside from the repeat in name tags that I mentioned earlier, that feel like they’re constantly coming back from commercial break, the camera movements and lack of inspirational interview angles diminish the value of creativity that stems from a majority of this project. This greatly leaves the film feeling burdened from transitioning into that big screen presence that so many documentaries this year have already attained.

7/10

Ant Man and The Wasp

Directed by Peyton Reed

Starring – Paul Rudd, Evangeline Lilly, Michael Pena

The Plot – In the aftermath of ‘Captain America: Civil War,’ Scott Lang (Rudd) grapples with the consequences of his choices as both a Super Hero and a father. As he struggles to re-balance his home life with his responsibilities as Ant-Man, he’s confronted by Hope van Dyne (Lilly) and Dr. Hank Pym (Michael Douglas) with an urgent new mission. Scott must once again put on the suit and learn to fight alongside The Wasp as the team works together to uncover secrets from their past.

Rated PG-13 for some mild profanity, and scenes of sci-fi action and violence

POSITIVES

– Rudd and Lilly, while still leagues away from feeling authentic in a romantic staging, preserve their chemistry with a tag team dynamic that compliments the other one. With Marvel movies, we typically get solo efforts or a group of superheroes, so the elements involved with a man/woman duo can compliment the choreography in action in the same way tag team wrestling does. Along the way, there are plenty of set-ups and knock-downs that each of these characters feed each other, making it difficult for antagonists to look one way without something coming at them in a different direction.

– The visual effects work is leaps and bounds the single greatest aspect of the film, bringing to life childlike imagination and creativity in spades. Ant Man and The Wasp is certainly a film that couldn’t be made ten years ago, and much of that perfection amongst green-screen assistance is something that has come with time, with in-sync color shadowing and precision volume in movements and weight that ease the boundaries of believability. There is one certain problem that I had with a scene involving hot wheels that doesn’t make sense in any way, shape, or form, but it’s just part of the tone set for the film.

– Pacing that literally FLIES by (Get it?). While the run time for the film is nearly two hours, the final conflict wrapped itself up in a way that finished before we as an audience were ever aware that resolution was coming. Not that this happens in a way that is anti-climatic, but rather screenwriters Andrew Barrer and Gabriel Ferrari leave us wanting more by exiting at the highest peak of the intensity mountain.

– Perfect timing. The film doesn’t hold much weight with everything else currently going on in the Infinity War and Thanos, and maybe that’s for the best. Considering so many people were depressed coming out of Infinity War, the necessity for something like Ant Man and The Wasp is that much more appreciated, because of its colorful textures and substantial value in light-hearted thrills. So many people just want to laugh anymore, especially in our own real world, and if Rudd avoiding house arrest while watching Animal House doesn’t do it for you, then nothing will.

– Much of the tone for the film stays grounded, leaving very little to even push forth with a PG-13 rating that even I felt was stretching it a bit. This film’s biggest strength is in its adaptability for all members of the family, especially considering it is the first Marvel property to feature a female presence in the title of the movie. With Wonder Woman kicking so much ass for DC, it was certainly time that Marvel engaged the female fans of its inner circle, and the film does a superb job at leveling the playing field for both characters gifts that they bring to the table. Also, some of my favorite scenes harvested that family element beautifully, with Rudd losing the suit to play dad to his adorably precocious child daughter.

– The marriage of C.G and makeup sets back the clock. As we saw with how Marvel made Robert Downey Jr twenty years younger in Civil War, it too brings a more impressive palate in the designs of Michael Douglas and Michelle Pfeifer for this picture. Not that either have aged terribly. Pfeifer is still a fox, but the scenes relating to their pasts remind us of the prime for some of Hollywood’s once prosperous A-list hitters, proving how scary realistic these transformations feel without ever coming across as hollow.

– It should be obvious that you stay for the credits for one amazing post credits scene, and one that was an extreme waste of time. However, my post-movie cheers goes to a credit sequence that storyboards the movie’s biggest scenes with action figures. It harvests the energy of what it meant to be a kid, dreaming up these superhero scenarios when anything was possible.

NEGATIVES

– While the humor in dialogue for the film did hit its mark around 80% of the time, there were some examples where this direction did harm for the atmosphere. Considering Reed also directed the first movie, it’s interesting to see how much more he values sitcom comedy in the sequel as compared to the original film. Quite often, there is a desire to supplant a laugh or sight gag in every single scene, making it difficult to feel dramatic tension in the form of urgency . Beyond this, the over-extending use for puns became eye-rolling about midway through the movie.

– The biggest disappointment for me was easily the setting. While the first film entirely took place in the real world, I was hoping that the sequel would establish the rules and atmosphere inside of the Quantum Realm. Sadly, we only invade this outerworld with a mere 30 minutes left in the movie, and even then it is only temporary. I didn’t care for either of the dual antagonists for the movie, and often times it feels like they are created to give each protagonist their own conflict. Instead, I wish the Quantum Realm itself, in all of its mysteries and risks, was the antagonist for the movie. It’s that rare case I feel where a superhero film didn’t require an antagonist, and now makes this series 0 for 3 in terms of compelling villains who offer no kind of depth to their missions.

– When you really think about it, this film is a big game of Hot Potato, and for it to be reduced to something that elementary with as many elements that are boiling around the pot, it’s a bit of a glaring negative that the character development in exposition feels secondary to the prize itself. This is big on the antagonists, but also on someone like Pfeifer’s Motherly character, who with the exception of the opening couple minutes of the movie, goes a long span of time before appearing again. Why even reach for a big name like Pfeifer when the best you have for her is three scenes throughout nearly two hours of film?

7/10

Tag

Directed by Jeff Tomsic

Starring – Ed Helms, Jon Hamm, Jeremy Renner

The Plot – For one month every year, five highly competitive friends hit the ground running in a no-holds-barred game of tag they’ve been playing since the first grade; risking their necks, their jobs and their relationships to take each other down with the battle cry “You’re It!” This year, the game coincides with the wedding of their only undefeated player, which should finally make him an easy target. But he knows they’re coming… and he’s ready. Based on a true story, Tag shows how far some guys will go to be the last man standing.

Rated R for adult language throughout, crude sexual content, drug use and brief nudity

POSITIVES

– Games are supposed to be fun, and Tag lives for this philosophy in spades. With a satisfying compromise of hearty laughter in material from some of the best comic actors going today, as well as some surprisingly detailed shot slapstick action sequences, and you have an early favorite for most fun at a theater for the Summer 2018 movie season.

– Despite the film’s minimal plot revolving around a 30 year old game of tag, the script surprises us with an overwhelming amount of heart that fleshes out the foundation that this friendship was built on. Much of the trailer alludes us to this depth in emotional registry that the film harvests, but seeing the actual film itself adds extra emphasis in context to some bottled issues that lie unresolved beyond this game.

– The music as well plays vital importance to the film’s newly-emerging direction that withholds some surprises. I spoke earlier of beautifully shot action sequences, but what pushes this even beyond just a comedy posing as something bigger is the enthralling musical score by Germaine Franco that feels like it could easily be ripped by a Lethal Weapon sequel. Besides this, the soundtrack of assorted 90’s favorites also adds a faithful homage to the perspective youth of these main characters. What I like is that no song choice is too obvious and gimmicky, instead choosing to browse some B-side gems that have sadly dissolved with time.

– Great credit goes to the bold personalities of this cast for committing themselves to their respective roles, although there is one glaring negative that I will get to later. Isla Fischer’s overly anxious rage to be included in the game, as well as Jeremy Renner’s perfectionist are among my very favorites to this impressive crew that never relent from the fun they are omitting on-screen. If Renner was this well developed in the Marvel Cinematic Universe, then maybe people would be itching for more Hawkeye. It was great to see him return to comedy, as there’s something ridiculous yet believable about the traps he sets up for the game, underlining not just an importance to where this lies in his own blessed life, but also reminding you how he has stayed undefeated for so long.

– Light, breezy pacing that never lags. Considering Tag clocks in at a respectable 95 minutes for its run time, I was surprised during a free-flowing second half of the film when I checked my watch to see only fifteen minutes remained. The third act in this movie snuck up on me like no other film this year has managed to do, a testament to the script’s ability to immerse me in the moments and conversations that you never want to walk away from.

– There were a few times when the comic material feels like it’s about to fall into that trap of unnecessary raunchiness that most modern comedies fall into, but thankfully these few spare instances are played off only to show how much they, as well as the game, has grown around them. Even more appreciative, the best material wasn’t just in the trailer. Some of my favorite quips were those throwaway lines that hang on to the end of each sentence after a big drop in comedy only seconds before. This allows the film great replay value, because like a film like Deadpool, you won’t catch all of the good ones the first time.

– Much of the film revolves around this interview being conducted by Annabelle Wallis’s journalist character, so the film’s creativity sparks many instances where members of the group are being interviewed while giving a confessional. Likewise, we are learning the rules and history of the game like Wallis is, so it all feels like we too are reading her article, one page at a time.

 

NEGATIVES

– Too many instances of telegraphed information that almost immediately come into play. For my money, I could’ve used a little space in between the insert of the exposition and the delivery that happens right after. Have more faith in your audience to remember an important tidbit. This will also prove that you have enough patience to let the tension in gags grow to suffocating heights before the big blow off

– The film’s conflict is of course finally tagging Jeremy Renner’s Jerry, and while it remains faithful to this objective all the way to the final scene, the juice doesn’t feel worth the squeeze with the final result. I have no doubt that people will enjoy the bittersweet conclusion that the film wraps up with, but to me it felt like a copout to everything that Jerry’s opponents have been through up to this point, and trust me this is NOT a spoiler.

– As I mentioned earlier, there is one casting in the film that just doesn’t blend well with the other elements in this cast, and that is Hannibal Burress. I have no disrespect normally for Burress, as his stoner-head gimmick has provided me with plenty of laughs in other films that have most certainly needed it, but here it feels like it intrudes on Jake Johnson’s character, as well as limits the appeal of the comedic material with each chance he gets to speak. Aside from all of this, Burress isn’t even involved in the game all that much, making his inclusion in the screenplay a mystery for why the film even needed him.

7/10

Ghost Stories

Directed by Jeremy Dyson and Andrew Nyman

Starring – Martin Freeman, Andy Nyman, Paul Whitehouse

The Plot – Three spine-tingling tales of terror to haunt your dreams. A debunker of all thing paranormal, Professor Phillip Goodman (Nyman) has devoted his life to exposing phony psychics and fraudulent supernatural shenanigans on his own television show. His skepticism is put to the test, however, when he receives a file of three chilling, inexplicable cases: a night watchman (Whitehouse) haunted by disturbing visions as he patrols an abandoned asylum; an edgy young man (Alex Lawther) involved in a hellish car accident deep in the woods; and a wealthy former banker (Freeman) visited by the poltergeist spirit of his unborn child. Even scarier: each of these macabre stories seems to have sinister connection to Professor Goodman’s own life. WIll they make a believer of him yet?

Currently not rated

POSITIVES

– This was a nostalgic trip for me, to the days of anthology horror films like Trick R Treat or Creepshow, or even television bedtime stories like Tales From the Crypt. Within Dyson and Nyman’s creepy world, anything beyond supernatural not only feels possible, but also expected.

– The duo of directors have many worthy mentions here, but it’s in their impeccable direction with the three victims where they find their biggest impact. Each of the three men are affected differently from their interactions, with Whitehouse feeling confused, Lawther feeling paranoid, and Freeman feeling haunted. Because of this, we get three different protagonist at respectively different times during this film, and each of the actors polish off emotionally stirring gifts. The directors are also careful to leave enough room to make you question if these unstable characters are actually telling the truth with their testimonials.

– Refusing to settle for repetition amongst shot composition, Ghost Stories harbors a wide range of lens effects that provide much needed versatility. The overall presentation feels like we’re watching a documentary in 1.33 box cut ratio, while the film’s grainy texture within the story unfolding before our eyes pays homage to the Hammer films of the 70’s that provide the perfect feel for this anthology.

– In terms of variety, I felt like each of the three stories were satisfying for completely different reasons, and kept me mentally invested throughout the 93 minute run time. Each are given ample time for audiences to immerse themselves in their respective atmospheres, keeping the flow of the narrative continuously moving without one compromising the fluidity of the other two.

– Confidence amongst the blending of tones. Of course this is a horror movie first and foremost, but the screenwriters are not afraid to include awkward humor and unorthodox line reads in granting audiences that brief moment of release after the build-up of tension.

– Deep hitting message. Beyond the hauntings on a supernatural level, I believe the film is trying to hint that those things that seem to stick with us the longest are the events from our past that we simply cannot change, and don’t necessarily involve an entity or spirit that stalks us and is status quo for movies like this. Because of such, the film hits on such a grounded level with human response that I simply wasn’t expecting.

– There is a twist ending that is anything but original, but I can honestly say that I didn’t see coming. What works about it, is how we’re given all of these out-of-context puzzle pieces throughout the film, and we don’t really see the bigger picture until the movie truly wants us to. In addition to this, I feel like Ghost Stories has great replay value because once you know the name of the game, you can start the film all over again and perhaps catch some more of those subtle clues that originally felt like nothing more than unsettling atmospheric strings.

NEGATIVES

– One of my complaints with the individual stories involves their inept perception on when to leave audiences with the lasting impression. Timing is a bit of an issue with where they decide to end each of these three subplots, leaving much to be desired in terms of lasting presence within me, long after I left the theater.

– Far too much dependency of jump scares that get old about thirty minutes in. Jump scares can be used accordingly if they are spread out and used vitally and honestly enough, but Ghost Stories can’t ever escape this unnecessary concept, leaving it to feel like they don’t have a lot of faith in the nightmare dreamscapes that they have created.

– For my money, I could’ve used more exposition devoted to Nyman’s character involving his obvious troubled past with his father. What is evident from the credit introduction is that the two had a rocky relationship. We know this because a barrage of family movies play during this sequence, but the problem is that we never really return to this angle, leaving much to be desired from the psychological side that the film eventually leans so heavily on.

7/10

Hereditary

Directed by Ari Aster

Starring – Toni Collette, Gabriel Byrne, Alex Wolff

The Plot – When Ellen, the matriarch of the Graham family, passes away, her daughter’s (Collette) family begins to unravel cryptic and increasingly terrifying secrets about their ancestry. The more they discover, the more they find themselves trying to outrun the sinister fate they seem to have inherited. Making his feature debut, writer-director Ari Aster unleashes a nightmare vision of a domestic breakdown that exhibits the craft and precision of a nascent auteur, transforming a familial tragedy into something ominous and deeply disquieting, and pushing the horror movie into chilling new terrain with its shattering portrait of heritage gone to hell.

Rated R for horror violence, disturbing images, language, drug use and brief graphic nudity

POSITIVES

– First things first, if you’re expecting a typical modern day horror film, be warned against it. Hereditary instead puts tension above cheap jump scares that have become all the typical, ranking a refreshingly gloom-and-doom backdrop to compliment the setting stage that is as thick as fog.

– When watching the film, you sometimes see supernatural things happening in the air despite the fact that this film is anything about entities or ghosts. The reason for this is because you are being forced to watch Hereditary from a mentally disturbed person’s point-of-view. Keep that in mind when you watch the film, because much of what you’re seeing is being seen from a particular character’s frame and not so much the audience at home who are looking at what’s happening with blinding goggles of their own.

– In addition to the concepts of wrapping your mind around the things you’re seeing, the sound mixing design is impeccable to say the least. There were many times during the movie where I myself questioned whether or not the things I was hearing were legitimately there, and Linzy Elliot’s manipulation of casual conversation dialogue certainly cast extra emphasis on the unnerving atmosphere that Lester as a director has perfected in his latest.

– Toni Collette overwhelms for two hours of dominant screenplay. Collette has always been an actress who provides an outstanding amount of range with her visual transformations for the role, and this is certainly no exception. Through the many stages of grief and what feels like never-ending stress, Collette takes us on a bumpy coaster of emotional distress that never relents even for a second.

– The shadow work and natural lighting as well, touched an artistic nerve with the art fiend from within. Besides the storyboard miniature art pieces that Collette’s character adorns throughout the film, there is also great care taken with the pursuing of the tricks that your eyes play on you in the dark. Many times during the film, a person or a vital object to the plot can be seen in the corner of the film, bringing a marriage of exceptional framing and ominous lighting that eludes to the audience long before it does the characters within its own movie.

– Much of the family confrontations feel honest in an appreciative kind of way, because of the authenticity of their sheer confrontations when playing against the increase in volume. Most films stumble on this concept by reaching for the dagger blow far too early in the sequence, but Lester as a screenwriter puts enough confidence in his reactive dialogue that reaches for the crowning knockout at the right particular moment.

– Exceptional camera work all around that feeds into A24’s continued presence on horror. Some of my personal favorite touches involved the panning movements that follow a character when they look in a certain direction, the long-winded group meeting sequences that slowly bring Collette front-and-center with our attention, and of course the endless spinning from upside down to downside up when it feels like the crescendo of tension just can’t maximize any further.

NEGATIVES

– While I had zero problems with the pacing of the film, despite the fact that it could afford to lose fifteen minutes or so, a pacing issue I did have revolved with Lester’s script. Midway through the film, a cult subplot is introduced and tends to take up more time than I was hoping when colliding with the family disease plot that was promised in advertising. The link between them is eventually tied up, but it’s within the final twenty minutes that this overload of information is unleashed at us, instead of being paced across the more-than-generous 122 minutes that the film was given.

– Nothing personal to actor Alex Wolff, and I know the role called for him to be childish of sorts in his relationships with his parents, but he stole charm from sequences and completely unglued my immersion in the film every time his character was asked to cry. There is no shortage of this horribly nasal whining throughout the movie, and surely Aster understood how these instances would leave people with unintentional laughter.

– Despite the unnerving presence that is second to none with Lester’s work here, I never really found the movie anywhere near as terrifying as I did educational. I say educational because of the mentality behind someone with mental sickness. But the scares in the film were rarely ever anything above a momentary wince at the sometimes nerve-shattering visuals that I was being presented. I can understand that an out-of-context theme like a film’s trailer will move people more because of what’s being incorporated with those visuals, but on there own I was able to watch Hereditary without ever feeling the paranoia of this family falling apart.

7/10

Hotel Artemis

Directed by Drew Pearce

Starring – Jodie Foster, Sterling K Brown, Sofia Boutella

The Plot – Set in riot-torn, near-future Los Angeles, ‘Hotel Artemis’ follows the Nurse (Foster), who runs a secret, members-only emergency room for criminals. All hell breaks loose when one of the hotel patrons (Brown) gets his hands on a valuable asset that will turn their tranquil hotel into a turf battlefield.

Rated R for violence and adult language throughout, some sexual references, and brief drug use

POSITIVES

– The set pieces of the hotel are very elaborate and detailed for bringing together the relationship between hospitals and hotels. There are subtle hints at movies that display hospitals, in that there are blinking lights, isolated staff, and even that feeling of a world so far away from that of the outside. Yet the digs at the hotel side clearly make up the blueprint for the housing designs, as well as the interior decorating that speaks levels to some hotels ideas of tropical getaways in themed room designs.

– While the character exposition is as minimal as you’re going to find, this star-studded cast more than make up for the temporary dilemma. I could talk wonders about Sterling K Brown’s everyman approach to his taking of this thief, or Dave Batista’s continued comedic humbling for tearing down stereotypes for what big men can do in Hollywood, but it’s Foster and Boutella who easily stole the show for me. Foster gets lost in this character, juggling a conscience of sorrow and intelligence that makes it clearly evident why everyone turns to her in dire straights, and Boutella finally is granted a screenplay that allows her to find her own unique voice in the role, cutting and stacking bodies like they are bags of fertilizer.

– Hotel Artemis is marketed as an action flick, yet shows great restrain until the final twenty-five minutes of the film to stash its flash. We know that these are very dangerous people, but the film doesn’t deem it necessary to overly drive this point home, and because of such, we are treated to a rumbling third act that tests the walls both in Artemis and in theaters for rich sound design.

– Of course the legendary Cliff Martinez again serenades our ears with a gut-punching score that amplifies the tension behind every corner. Hotel Artemis constantly raises the stakes with each passing minute, and because of such, the gifted Martinez pushes the pace, constructing these dreamy, yet urgent levels of tone that never require repeating to flourish their message.

– This is the second film in two weeks (Upgrade) that injects itself with a futuristic sense of technology without feeling weighed down by the gimmick of presenting something visually surreal from our own world. Because Hotel Artemis is set only ten years in the future, there’s enough responsibility by Pearce as a screenwriter to keep us grounded in terms of the politics taking place outside of the wall, while also offering us an air of optimism for the mind-blowing advancements within the medical field that hint this world may have plenty of room to grow.

– Much of the camera work here is stylishly sleek, following characters with enough of a presence of lens without it ever coming across as compromising to the sequence. When the action finally does pick up, it is detected easily to the audience eye and leaves plenty of allowance for ambiance within the atmosphere to treat the overall presentation as poetry in motion. Boutella’s ass-kicking finale was something that carried with it an array of arsenal, yet I never felt behind or blinded by amateur filmmaking.

– It’s not often that I say this, but I would be all for a sequel or even sequels within this setting, due to the way the script hints at the challenges that such a desolate place would face if it came across the wrong customer. 92 minutes of screen time certainly limits the movements that this place can garner, and because of such, I would be interested in diving more into this futuristic pre-apocalypse with this back-handed building of health residing right in the middle of it all.

NEGATIVES

– This film does the famous cliche where the antagonists have guns, yet never choose to use them when the shit hits the fan. I can suspend disbelief for a few times, but when the film makes it a point in highlighting that people are denied access because of their firearms, I can only ask myself why those advantages don’t take shape once the rules are thrown out of the window.

– If you’re looking for a film of resolve, Hotel Artemis will only satisfy you for half of the cup. So much is introduced then never further elaborated on throughout the film, leading me to believe that this finished product is either a victim of slash-and-gash re-writes or Pearce as a screenwriter doesn’t think these subplots value much importance. Either way, what is the point?

– Because the film is a quick sit, character backstory and exposition are harshly limited to the minimalist of variety amongst thieves. What this does is present a film in which the characters don’t ever feel as remotely important as the setting they are all destined to, relying far too heavily on the talents of this cast to fill in the blanks where character motivations have left them feeling floundered. My feeling is that I would appreciate another twenty minutes not only in setting up the history of this hotel, but also in pacing out those confrontations amongst dangerous patrons that could help carve out more intrigue for a group so morally bankrupt who could all use more time.

7/10

Adrift

Directed by Baltasar Kormakur

Starring – Shailene Woodley, Sam Claflin, Grace Palmer

The Plot – Based on the inspiring true story of two free spirits whose chance encounter leads them first to love, and then to the adventure of a lifetime. As the two avid sailors set out on a journey across the ocean, Tami Oldham (Woodley) and Richard Sharp (Claflin) couldn’t anticipate they would be sailing directly into one of the most catastrophic hurricanes in recorded history. In the aftermath of the storm, Tami awakens to find Richard badly injured and their boat in ruins. With no hope for rescue, Tami must find the strength and determination to save herself and the only man she has ever loved. Adrift is the unforgettable story about the resilience of the human spirit and the transcendent power of love.

Rated PG-13 for injury images, peril, adult language, brief drug use, partial nudity and thematic elements

POSITIVES

– Above all else on the production side, it’s great to see a film where the female of the relationship is the one making moves to secure their safety. What makes Woodley’s portrayal of Tami work more than anything is the resilience and determination in her spirit that keeps her drive going, all the while the vulnerability from being inexperienced in this particular situation speaks levels to the overbearing volume of being isolated.

– On the performance front, this is clearly a two person show between Woodley and Claflin that offers mixed results. I don’t have a problem with Claflin as an actor, but here he is kind of subdued to play second fiddle to Woodley, and because of such, his endless charm and charisma that he has exerted in films like The Hunger Games saga, and Me Before You is virtually non-existent. The chemistry between them still burns the end of the wick, and a lot of that is because of Woodley’s transformative and physical displays of strength that left me awestruck. It’s great to see her get these kind of roles, because she really dedicates herself to the most brutal kind of physicality that each role demands, and I commend her iron will not only to survive but to save the one thing in this world that makes sense to her.

– This film is shot beautifully by Robert Richardson, who really paints an immense, yet immerse picture of the sea that feels never-ending. It’s quite interesting because Robert shoots these tight-knit, but revolving pan shots inside of the boat, replicating the movements of the sea ferociously. Yet his depiction of the world outside of the dock depicts the sheer magnitude of the situation unfolding before this couple that are certainly on borrowed time.

– I feel like Adrift taught me more about the sea than any other sea-based film of the previous ten years. Instances of paranoia, mental stress creating mirages, and even means of survival are all highlighted with the kind of detail that other films can’t even mention. Because of such, this is so much more than an entertaining film, it’s a surreal film for those who spend so much time in the water.

– The screenplay uses a dual narrative between two respective timelines to paint a picture of this relationship, and while I’m usually against this sort of thing because it over-complicates for no reason what so ever, I feel like Kormakur paints enough information in both time periods to make its incorporation necessary to fit into a 95 minute film. Spending too much time in either period would drag, but to do it simultaneously, you constantly keep the energy of the script moving while bringing out the importance of each hinted backstory.

– During the age of Green-screen backdrops and computer generated effects, it was refreshing to see a film shot almost entirely at sea, proving the dedication associated with getting the look and feel proper. The crew shot 90% of the movie at sea, working 12 hours on water with little to no land in sight, and it’s those kind of production notes that show in the bigger picture of a film’s authenticity.

– There’s something almost poetic about a disaster movie mentally moving its audience without the necessities of big budget blockbuster to push its gimmick. To me, the storm always feels secondary to what is taking place on-board, and that’s a sure sign that Baltasar believed even more in the characters than he did their ensuing predicaments.

NEGATIVES

– Compromising first shot. The opening shot of the film will divide audiences into two groups. If you understand what this means right away like I did, then the film will feel very predictable every step of the way. There’s a big twist that happens at the beginning of the film’s third act that I actually saw coming from a mile away, and felt disappointed because the opening minute of the movie, as well as a few scenes of shoddy dialogue that further hint at this point, gave me the answer I wasn’t looking for.

– There’s never a pushing for urgency here, despite that the two characters mention how limited their rations for food are. The whole stranded aspect of this film feels more like a temporary hiccup instead of a life-threatening plunge, and because of such, the film’s dramatic tension sinks about midway through the movie. For my money, I could’ve used more danger in the way of streaky weather patterns, or even long-term frailty that lasted longer than a scene.

– Limited character exposition. It’s funny to think how little we really know about these two characters despite the fact that we spend nearly two hours with them on a boat. Woodley’s character for instance speaks of trouble at her home back in San Diego, but we never learn much of why. For Claflin’s character, we hear about his family in England, as well as time sailing in other countries, but that’s just table dressing that is never touched or devoured upon. It’s a testament to the performances that the chemistry of this relationship even works, because I feel like this is watching two strangers speaking on the importance of their love without understanding why.

7/10

Disobedience

Directed by Sebastian Lelio

Starring – Rachel McAdams, Rachel Weisz, Alessandro Nivola

The Plot – Based on the novel of the same name by Naomi Alderman, the film follows Ronit (Weisz), a woman returning to the community that shunned her decades earlier for an attraction to her childhood friend, Esti (McAdams). Once back, their passions reignite as they explore the boundaries of faith and sexuality that test everything else in their lives.

Rated R for some strong scenes of sexuality.

POSITIVES

– Subtle, patient storytelling by McAdams and Weisz that meticulously fills in the blanks of their reputation together. Most of this respect goes to Lelio in telling the story that doesn’t require a single flashback sequence or forced dialogue that doesn’t drift from anything other than a conversation between friends.

– Strong performances. Even though I didn’t feel the romantic chemistry between McAdams and Weisz as strongly as the film intended, the stripped down work of them trigger such authentic feelings of longing, torture and regret that have shaped their lives over the years. In this regard, the two women sink back into their union without a single day ever having an effect on it.

– Callous, grey cinematography by Danny Cohen that reflects not only the centuries old philosophy of the Jewish Orthodox, but also in the feeling of incomplete that is hard to ignore from the two leads. It feels like Cohen has brought along the same look and feels of his award-worthy work in ‘Les Miserables’, clouding the air like a poison that plagues this super conservative community.

– It’s nice to see an honest representation of the ages-old rules and lifestyles of the Jewish Faith. I fail to think of a film that has accurately shaped some of the marriage and sexual agreements between husband and wife that feel medieval or archaic when compared to today’s progressive standards. Quite often in the film, I felt like this movie took place in a different decade, but was quickly brought back down to Earth when technology or a dated automobile appeared.

– Lelio is a craftsman’s director at speaking out against causes that he fully believes in. As the director of this year’s ‘A Fantastic Woman’, Lelio goes two-for-two with films that capture the polarization of women deemed different by society, and omitting the prejudice that comes with those candid takes that could otherwise only be done by a woman. Sebastian is that great male hope of sensitivity.

– From the fabulous costume work to the musically enhanced Jewish hymns, this is a educationally subversive look of Jewish faith and traditionalism.

– Excellent camera work in angles and framing that shapeshift with the progression of the inter-changing relationships in the film. In the first half of the film, Ronit feels very much alone in her respective point-of-view, but as the film carries on we start to notice a lot more close distance in frame between her and Esti, as opposed to everyone else that just doesn’t factor in. This is visual poetry at its finest.

NEGATIVES

– I never felt the pull from Esti’s compromising situation to combat Ronit’s feelings of passion for her. What I mean is that it feels like Esti’s life is very much one of planned routine, so the struggle for which way to go ultimately underwhelms and feels obvious from the beginning. I wish the script would’ve done a better job of applying her stability and married happiness into frame to make the choice feel much more difficult.

– Sloppy first act that sometimes feels like scenes are missing. The death of Ronit’s father in particular feels lacking of definition, and I could’ve used more emphasis on the delivering impact of the moment.

– The third act developments give the film enough gas to sludge through, but it greatly takes away steam from the conflict at hand. While I overall didn’t care for the tacked-on sequencing of the film’s ending, that wasn’t the biggest problem. It almost feels like when the film’s conflict should be reaching its boiling high, we begin to simmer down into complacency, and that doubt from within suddenly creeps in that this is as good as it’s ever going to get.

7/10

Lean On Pete

Directed by Andrew Haigh

Starring – Charlie Plummer, Steve Buscemi, Chloe Sevigny

The Plot – The film follows fifteen-year-old Charley Thompson (Plummer). He wants a home, food on the table and a high school he can attend for more than part of the year. As the son of a single father working in warehouses across the Pacific Northwest, stability is hard to find. Hoping for a new start they move to Portland, Oregon where Charley takes a summer job, with a washed-up horse trainer (Buscemi), and befriends a failing racehorse named Lean on Pete.

Rated R for adult language and brief violence

POSITIVES
– Crisp, subtle sound mixing that audibly paints with such vivid precision of the revolving environments. In addition to this, I’ve always been a fan of a voice on the phone sounding mumbled because of the noise surrounding the caller being overwhelming. ‘Lean on Pete’ masters this concept, and does so in a way that transcends movie stages and confident sound editors.

– Captures the angst of a teenager plagued by loneliness and the family life missing that noticeably shapes his demeanor. In meeting Pete, Charley finds a reflection in the thoroughbred that (Like his own circumstance) people around him have written off. Because of such, the importance of this relationship and what it does for Charley is immense.

– The importance of rating. A film with this premise could easily fall by the wayside of a cheesy 90’s kids movie like ‘Free Willy’, but the brash setting within the cruelty of this adult world, combined with Haigh’s sense of awareness in pointing out the awkwardness of this particular set-up, pave the way for an inspiring animal story for adults that we rarely get a piece of.

– The film isn’t afraid of getting its hands dirty with the question of unnecessary treatment to the horses, and because of this, it earns all of the dramatic muscle that it pulls from its dramatic material

– Plummer’s resiliency gives way to this candid coming-of-age story that packs a punch for the homeless youth walking the world. In Charlie’s soft-spoken and often times gritty demeanor, we get a grasp of the instinct of survival that stands true with his best friend beside him.

– Wide angle lens shots of the beautiful countryside surrounding these terrible people that come in and out of the narrative. This gives the cinematography great meaning in terms of setting the stage not only for Charley and Pete’s cross-country adventure, but also in stacking the odds against them in finding a place of their own. There’s something beautiful yet simplistic about the framing of one boy against the entire world.

– Some surprising choices for the soundtrack that work undoubtedly well. Selena Gomez’s “The Heart Wants What It Wants”, as well as a folk cover of “The World’s Greatest” by R Kelly are just two of the musical choices that give narrative wings to the poetic beauty instilled in these sincere sequences of reflection for Charley that accompany a moment of triumph or heartbreak.

NEGATIVES
– Very slow starting off in the first act. Setting this kind of precedent early on could alienate a majority of its audience, and I found it very difficult to get intrigued by this story until about an hour in.

– Another form of trailer manipulation that will do a lot of damage to people expecting a certain kind of film heading into it, and then being trounced by the ideal that this is anything BUT a story about a boy and his horse.

– Some surprising choices for the soundtrack that work undoubtedly well. Selena Gomez’s “The Heart Wants What It Wants”, as well as a folk cover of “The World’s Greatest” by R Kelly are just two of the musical choices that give narrative wings to the poetic beauty instilled in these sincere sequences of reflection for Charley that accompany a moment of triumph or heartbreak.

7/10