A Simple Favor

Directed by Paul Feig

Starring – Anna Kendrick, Blake Lively, Henry Golding

The Plot – The story centers around Stephanie (Kendrick), a mommy vlogger who seeks to uncover the truth behind her best friend Emily’s (Lively) sudden disappearance from their small town. Stephanie is joined by Emily’s husband Sean (Golding) in this stylish thriller filled with twists and betrayals, secrets and revelations, love and loyalty, murder and revenge.

Rated R for sexual content and adult language throughout, some graphic nude images, drug use and violence

POSITIVES

– The greatest Lifetime Channel Movie EVER. What Feig’s direction does is instill that air of self-aware satire that sizzles on a screenplay this scandalous. In doing so, he can bring his variety of humor to a movie that isn’t necessarily deemed a comedy, accentuating the hilarity associated with mom dates and online blogging that can’t escape the occasional laughter after suffocating awkwardness. Female moviegoers will appreciate its serious side for its twists and turns, but they will also appreciate the familiarity associated with friendships that develop because of their children.

– As an adaptation from the book, the screenplay is roughly 80% similar. This is good because it chooses not to deviate much from what made it such a provocative read in the first place, all the while trimming the fat of what doesn’t translate well to screen. Particularly the choice to make Stephanie’s blog a Vlog in this case, as well as to let the events transpire without narration, are two of the decisions that I commend this film greatly for taking, and allow the events transpiring in real time to hold the audience’s captivation. Then there’s the ending. While the book and film endings are both HEAVILY convoluted, I did enjoy the film’s ending so much more, for how it didn’t betray the heart of the characters. The last fifteen minutes of this movie are completely batshit crazy, and I engaged in it because nothing felt familiar from the pages that I already scanned.

– Flavor for the Favor. Blake Lively, where have you been all this time? As Emily, Lively is a walking temperament of shattered glass that catches the skin of everyone she comes into contact with. In conversing with Emily, you very much feel inferior and downright insulted with her vicious vocabulary, giving forth to a personality that is every bit as intimidating as she is unabashed in her deliveries. Kendrick as well breathes the air of timidness that Stephanie requires in channeling that outgoing “Mom” personality. Say what you want about Kendrick’s quirky demeanor eating away at your ears, but everything that she has done in her career has pointed her towards this role of a woman clearly in over her head, who may or may not be wound a bit too tight.

– Snappy soundtrack. In matching the posh set designs and lavish wardrobe choices, the musical tracks for the film envelope a taste for French elegance that gives the movie a seductive pallet. Every song does maintain this direction faithfully, and certainly speaks wonders for the beauty in voice talents when you can’t understand what the lyrics are truly saying.

– Likewise, the decision to shoot this film in Univisium gives it a vibrancy of color and detail in cinematography that would otherwise be underutilized in this particular film. This is possibly what I admire most of all about Feig’s directing, because even the slightest detail in decoration to a shot feels like it serves an artistic merit when played against the rest of the backdrop. Without question, these are some of the best slow motion sequences of the year, presenting the rain in a music video style fashion that glitters and glows with every drop.

– Makes the most of its R-rating. What I commend the film for is that it does have these instances of violence, brief nudity, and adult language, but it uses them in ways that doesn’t feel forced or manufactured by someone sitting in a chair off-screen. These are very much rational conversations, as well as calculated measures that are taken by the characters, and withheld until the moment when their inclusion matters the most, and less like a gimmick. This is an example of adult material done right.

NEGATIVES

– Cheap Youtube templates. As to where I commended a movie like ‘Searching’ for paying the extra few bucks and portraying actual Youtube to its very real world setting, I unfortunately cannot do the same for ‘A Simple Favor’. This is another example of an obvious website intention that feels cheap in its knock-off details that are distracting to say the least. When you view this as a streaming website in 2018, the quality in pixelation on screen, as well as the world’s smallest comment section, makes this feel like the first edition of America Online, long before the blessing of Wi-fi euphoria.

– As my readers know, I have no shame when it comes to calling out child actors, and boy did I have a field day with the two in this movie. Whether it’s their speech patterns that feel anything but believable, or their obvious staring off screen for scene guidance, the duo of Ian Ho and Josh Satine were a baseball bat to my precious eyes and ears. Ho in particular is cringey for his hollow delivery in curse word deliveries, as well as an overall lack of energy in fighting style that echoed that student film vibe in college that we’ve all been missing. I’m not overboard when I say that neither of them should act again, and it’s just a constant reminder of the term “Stay in School” holding more weight.

– Pace race. Despite this film being nearly two hours long, the pacing of exposition drops felt very rushed in their plotting, feeling like one big montage scene that never slows down to let it all sink in. I mentioned earlier that the ending is completely convoluted, despite my enjoying it, but it is a calling card for what is truly wrong with the big impact scenes of this screenplay. The developing relationship between Stephanie and Shawn felt like it happened in a matter of days, contrary to the screenplay telling us that Emily has been missing for months, and I wish the movie would’ve taken more advantage to plod in its generous 111 minute runtime that easily could’ve used more patience.

– Book comparisons part 2. As for what I appreciated about the book more, the characters feel far more developed in their dirty secrets. What I love about that is it adds more weight to the mystery of what happened to Emily, giving way to many more theories and scenarios than this film could ever map out for itself. The book also keeps it between the trio of main characters for the entire film, as to where this movie has a group of supporting cast in classroom parents, who add absolutely nothing to this film. Every time a scene cut to them for reaction or commentary, it weighed down the momentum of what was previously built, and stood out as the one instance where the film’s comedy was anything but subversive.

6/10

Peppermint

Directed by Pierre Morel

Starring – Jennifer Garner, John Gallagher Jr, John Ortiz

The Plot – Tells the story of young mother Riley North (Garner) who awakens from a coma after her husband and daughter are killed in a brutal attack on the family. When the system frustratingly shields the murderers from justice, Riley sets out to transform herself from citizen to urban guerilla. Channeling her frustration into personal motivation, she spends years in hiding honing her mind, body and spirit to become an unstoppable force — eluding the underworld, the LAPD and the FBI; as she methodically delivers her personal brand of justice.

Rated R for strong violence and adult language throughout

POSITIVES

– Wrong Place, Right girl. Garner once again gives a stimulating performance, this time as a gang-fighting vigilante, with a lot of pain from her tortured past. In living up to the bill, Jennifer showcases Riley’s transformation as one that clearly divides the two sides of her life, before and after the murders, giving the character the perfect confliction within herself that still yearns to love and be loved. The problem is never Garner in the slightest, but rather the film’s stumbling direction, that sadly once again doesn’t live up to its end of the agreement, in the same way 2004’s ‘Elektra’ nearly ruined her career.

– This is a solid hard-R rating, and those are the kind of stances unfortunately missing from today’s action genre scene. ‘Peppermint’ is anything but sweet, and its visceral carnage candy is the kind that will resonate with audiences, for its combination of fast-paced fight choreography and impactful gun violence that never disappoint. In this regard, ‘Peppermint’ is a homage to mid 90’s shoot-em-up’s that reminded us of the high stakes that our characters so enthusiastically engage in. It feels comfortable in its skin, and there’s something that I respect about that.

NEGATIVES

– This is a film that could’ve greatly benefited from a better editor. Scenes feel like they’re missing between supposed breathing periods of the story, pasting together two scenes that bring to light the problems without allowing time in between. Riley feels like she literally flies across town with impossible speed, characters meet their fates from one scene to the next without much explanation, and the action sequences themselves sometimes feel far too choppy, especially when combined with claustrophobia in location that has it lacking detection.

– Strange effect choices. No film should ever be compared to ‘Suicide Squad’, let alone in this example, but ‘Peppermint’ brings throughout a visually forced exposition that is every bit as unappealing to the eye as it is unnecessary to character psychology. The things the film is telling us aren’t exactly groundbreaking, and the snap-cut instances of their inclusion constantly reminded me of the Joker introduction scene from the film I mentioned earlier, with characters (Including Riley herself) popping in and out of frame like a disappearing trick.

– Offensive pacing. While the film never lagged for me in a 95 minute runtime, the story progression is an entirely different story. The film’s halves are uneven, with the second half feeling like it is constantly speeding towards a red light, and this handicaps the films in many ways. For one, we are told more than shown of the deaths that matter to us. Considering the first half of the film builds up a few characters in particular who hurt Riley, it feels like a betryal that we never get to see her revenge game realized against them. One scene has three victims hung up high on a ferris wheel, and I’m curious how this was even possible by Riley alone?? Then there’s Riley’s backstory when she vanishes for five years. Talking about this time and not showing it is a GREAT misjustice because it is in those scenes where we can gain great believability in Riley’s transformation. It’s the worst kind of slop, and proves the screenwriter didn’t care enough to stack the momentum to the film’s favor. Beyond this, the film overall lacks great urgency for how easy Riley is slicing through this Los Angeles gang like knife through butter. Pacing that is too quick can greatly hinder what’s memorable about a film, and that is what you have here.

– Three different endings. If this film ends in the first or even the second scene that feels like it is wrapping things up, then I would’ve been able to commend it for the bravery and sacrifice of believing in a cause, but unfortunately that isn’t the case here. Not only does this movie sequel bait for a second chapter that will undoubtedly never happen, but it buys its way out in the easiest of escapes, making the touching scenes before it that much more pointless because of it. There’s also a third act twist, which is easily predictable for the lack of exposition given to the antagonists in earlier scenes. The reason I was able to call it out is because the film spends a little too much time with a certain character who has minimal interaction with Riley, setting up an inevitable confrontation between them that can’t come quick enough.

– A Fox News wet dream. It’s great that even during a pivotal time when gun violence in schools is all the craze, there are still movies that have an unflattering agenda to sell. I have no problem with guns being used in action films, in fact they’re basically required, but the film’s lack of responsibility that comes with picking one up is something that still greatly troubles me. Guns look cool in movies, so youths are that much more inspired to pick one up, proving that two wrongs by characters does indeed make a right. If this isn’t enough, the antagonists are of course entirely one-dimensional Mexican characters, and given an immense amount of facial tattoos that make them conveniently easy to recognize in a line-up. I’m certain that movies don’t come on after Hannity, but I believe ‘Peppermint’ might be the first.

– Same old same. You don’t have to look far for Punisher style vigilante movies over the last ten years. Hell, after March’s ‘Death Wish’, this is the second one this year with an identical premise and progression. Riley even dons a bullet-proof vest to her wardrobe that makes a die-hard Punisher fan like me yawn with displeasure. What’s troubling about this is ‘Peppermint’ never does anything to break itself away from the pack, feeling like a greatest hits or tropes and cliches for the subgenre that we mark off like a virtual checklist the longer the film goes on. Even if you haven’t seen ‘Peppermint’, you really have. It’s derivative of movies that did it better, and did it first.

– The name Peppermint itself is such a terrible title for this movie, because its usage in the film is minimal at best. Her daughter sells Thin Mint Girl Scout cookies and indulges in peppermint ice cream before the incident, and apparently this was enough to justify the title of the movie. While it has nothing to do with the film itself, a title can articulately set the mood for what a new viewer is getting themselves into. Just imagine if ‘The Shawshank Redemption’ was called Soapstone, for the material Andy carves the chess pieces out of. It’s stretching at the very least, and is a terrible one word representation for everything that follows.

– Spends far too much time with the lawful supporting cast than it does with the leading lady. This might be the biggest offense of all, because Garner feels like a supporting character in her own movie. Instead of trying to piece together Riley’s fragile psyche and taking time to value her interaction with the surrounding homeless residents who view her as an angel, we instead get this boring, by-the-books investigation that is only highlighting what we’ve visually been watching.

2/10

Kin

Directed by Jonathan and Josh Baker

Starring – Myles Truitt, Dennis Quaid, James Franco

The Plot – The story of an unexpected hero destined for greatness. Chased by a vengeful criminal (Franco), the feds and a gang of otherworldly soldiers,? a recently released ex-con Jimmy (Jack Reynor) and his adopted teenage brother Eli (Myles Truitt) are forced to go on the run with a weapon of mysterious origin as their only protection.

Rated PG-13 for gun violence and intense action, suggestive material, adult language, thematic elements and drinking

POSITIVES

– When this film focuses on the brotherly element being the forefront for the story, it’s surprisingly a lot of fun. For my benefit, the time when this is a road trip movie that pays homage to the grown up children’s movies of the late 80’s/early 90’s it works the best, and makes the most sense to the film’s title that articulates how the only thing these brothers have in this world are each other.

– Perfect film location. This film takes place in Detroit, Michigan, a city that is no stranger to the live fast style that many youths grow up with, and that concept in establishing the stage emphasizes why these characters have fallen on such hard times in each of their respective lives. For Eli, being a youth in this geography leaves him with little hope at a positive future, and it’s only until Jimmy comes back in his life where he realizes he’s not alone in the effects that this place has had on both of them.

– Tightly shot action sequences. Perhaps the biggest surprise to ‘Kin’ is that it is filmed competently enough, bringing a wide range of angle accessibility, as well as impact in devastation that makes its weight feel believable. The shot composition is versatile in its documentation of the fast firepower that comes in its direction, but thanks to the lack of shaking camera effects and average spring of cuts in between that feels nice on the eyes, we never miss any of the carnage.

– Performances over characters. This is a prime example of when a script does no favors for outlining exposition of each character, so the talented cast must go into business for themselves. Surprisingly, this is Truitt’s first feature length film, bringing with him a lot of heartache and isolation in Eli that would otherwise be mulled over in the establishing introductions. Reynor does wonders as the single dumbest character that I have seen in 2018. Thankfully, even though this character angered me on several occasions, for the selfish choices he makes, his chemistry with Truitt moves this film miles, and much of the dramatic pulse weighs heavily on their interaction with one another. I also can’t forget to mention Franco as the film’s gun-toting antagonist. James has played a villain character before, but never as energetic or as impulsive as he does with this opportunity. When you get a chance to urinate on a gas station floor, you call James Franco. He is Mister Dependable in that regards.

NEGATIVES

– Terminator Part duh? I don’t want to channel what thought process the Baker brothers were conjuring up when they wrote ‘Kin’, but I can bet it was within days of watching the Terminator franchise. Not only are plot points touched on from this respective influence, but scenes are completely played out action for action, and it’s in that obvious influence where this film constantly struggles to find a voice of its own.

– Convoluted third act dooms this one completely. For my money, the science fiction element is what dooms this film, because it’s in that where you start to see how shoe-horned this idea is with its minimal time allowance. The scenes with the gun constantly feel like they serve as a reminder that this element is still there in the film, waiting to jump in, and it picks the final ten minutes of the movie to transform what realism and grounded actions it took in the previous 80 minutes of the film to compromise it for some details that come completely out of left field.

– Indecisions doom what could’ve been. Simply put, this film tries to move in too many directions for it to ever work out to its benefit. Of the subgenres that I counted in this movie, it’s a road movie, a family drama, a violent crime shoot-em-up, and an offbeat science fiction thriller. It’s a virtual tug-of-war for creative control, and all of its disjointed pieces never form together to make one creatively cohesive project, choosing instead to throw a bunch of ideas at the wall to see what sticks. As it turns out, little does.

– Questionable cameo. In addition to everything else wrong with the film’s final ten minutes, the surprise reveal of a certain celebrity made me scratch my head for how little this person has to do. If you pay close attention to the credits at the beginning of the film, you can figure it out pretty easily, but it’s obvious that this actor wanted very little to do on-screen with this film, because they are visually represented for a matter of five minutes. Why not introduce them early on for more celebrity firepower? See my theory two sentences ago.

– Limited by its rating. Besides the fact that I still wonder what age group this film is geared towards, I scratch my head even more at the scenes that can’t be fully attained by such a tight rating from the academy. There’s a strip club scene with the dancers wearing jean shorts, gun violence that shows limited penetration and absolutely zero blood, and curse words that were obviously edited out post production with terrible A.D.R. This continues the realization that this film had zero confidence in the original vision that it had for itself, choosing instead to cross promote itself to anyone that would bite.

– Questions I have. As a nod to how much this film couldn’t explain in logic, I have gathered a couple of questions for the Baker Brothers that maybe they can someday answer. Minor spoilers ahead. Why would Taylor (Franco), a gang leader in Detroit, agree to arrange for Jimmy’s in-prison protection for sixty grand, not demand any of the money until he serves a full sentence, and then wonder why he can’t pay him when he gets out of prison? Why would a murder in Detroit turn up on a news broadcast in Nevada? Why is Carrie Coon given second-billing for the eight valuable minutes of screen time that was completely forgettable? Where the hell is Sulaco County in Nevada? and finally how did a team leave behind a gun so important, in a place where literally anyone could get it? Couldn’t they have just left it in Eli’s bag or house, or something more available to the one party?

4/10

The Little Stranger

Directed by Lenny Abrahamson

Starring – Domhnall Gleeson, Ruth Wilson, Josh Dylan

The Plot – Tells the story of Dr. Faraday (Gleeson), the son of a housemaid, who has built a life of quiet respectability as a country doctor. During the long hot summer of 1948, he is called to a patient at Hundreds Hall, where his mother once worked. The Hall has been home to the Ayres family for more than two centuries. But it is now in decline and its inhabitants – mother, son and daughter – are haunted by something more ominous than a dying way of life. When he takes on his new patient, Faraday has no idea how closely, and how disturbingly, the family’s story is about to become entwined with his own.

Rated R for some disturbing bloody images

POSITIVES

– This is a ghost story as advertised, but what will make some people feel manipulated is the kind of ghost story it truly is. Far from the world of flying white apparitions and possessions, ‘The Little Stranger’ instead speaks to the kind of haunting that is psychological, most notably in a location where the stacking of bad things happening haunts the family who still live there, and changes the complexion considerably. I dig this angle because its “Ghosts” feel much more understandable from an audience standpoint, and its material transcends the screen for any family watching it to comprehend.

– What Abrahamson excels at far greater than anything else, is the ability to conjure up a mental fog in the atmosphere that is anything but evident by shape or color. There is such a congested tone in the air of this once prosperous mansion that has decayed and aged alongside the very patrons inside of it, and the time spent inside poisons their mentalities almost like a poisonous gas that rests inside of its sacred walls. As a director, he has such a range in gauging the pulse from within his characters, and that is why he feels like the right man for the job in this respective project.

– Absolutely zero jump scares and cheap thrills. To some, they will shy away from this kind of detail, but for me it is much appreciated, as films often overlook what truly makes a film scary, or in this case haunting. ‘The Little Stranger’ very much rests its weight on this growing claustrophobia inside such a castle of a place. It’s in the inability to escape each other that has this family riveted on the edge, and why we as an audience take great fright in their progressive engagements, instead of what goes bump in the night. I compare this film a lot to this summer’s ‘Hereditary’, in that they are both unconventional horror films that refuse to feel influenced by modern day tropes that water down the effect of the story.

– As for performances, Gleeson again takes center stage as this doctor with his own secret past to the house and family. Because of the great passion that he takes in explaining his every memories on the property, we as an audience understand firmly why this is the last string tied to his past that he grips onto ever so tightly. His interaction with Ruth Wilson, who gives a stirring performance as the daughter of this household, consistently feels very tense and even unnatural for the way each feel like they’re hiding something revealing in each other, and it made for this blossoming of chemistry between them that spins in the most unorthodox of methods.

– Exceptional cinematography from Ole Bratt Birkeland (What a name). What is beneficial from Birkeland’s visuals are the necessity in mirroring the mentality for what is playing out. His close-ups feel naturally illustrated, beginning each frame with blur that slowly turns to focus for the character that moves into it. As for color, there’s a dimming aura that enchants the mansion, giving it that mirrored feeling like it previously rained everyday before shooting.

– Authentic timepiece designs in wardrobe and furniture stylings. This is a story that takes place in the 1948 Europe, so the use of elegant dining attire and long flowing gowns colorfully balance the texture for the time. But for my money, it’s in the colorless drab of the worn down wallpaper and 18th century furniture within the house that sets it apart from anything recently. The outdated surroundings speak volumes in this family’s incapability to change or move on, and it’s always great when you can draw that kind of conclusion from subtle observations.

– Surprisingly effective make-up. This was the last film that I expected to dazzle me with its effects work, most notably in the burning and scarred skin of Will Poulter’s character. The camera never turns away or moves quickly when it is in focus, bringing to life the time and effort that went into making something look so horribly disfiguring for this man who must see it and live with it every single day of his life. It’s truly crippling.

NEGATIVES

– This film is only 102 minutes long, and it drags like a horse’s feet after it refuses to journey any further. ‘The Little Stranger’ is a slow burn stinger of a drama, but that was never the problem for me. It’s more so in the way that scenes are often derivative, hammering home what we already knew a few scenes prior, and making it difficult to stay energetically glued to the unfolding mayhem before it. This will inevitably draw away a lot of its audience, and highlight this as a film that is not for every conventional horror fan.

– Lack of clarity with the ending. I’m pretty sure I know what happened in the film’s closing minutes, but my minimal confidence leaves me with the feelings that this movie required better telegraphing for audiences who require that one evident clue in drawing it all together. Because of this, the film just kind of ends on a question instead of a statement, and the disjointed pieces of this mystery still required the glue of clarity in piecing them back together.

– Touches on the class system of England without ever actually riveting us with a compelling observation. Every time there’s a scene involving the cultural divide between families, it feels like nothing more than a time filler. In particular, it’s the flashback scenes to when Faraday was a child that really have me scratching my head, because there’s never emphasis for their inclusion other than to show why he was so infatuated with the property. I could’ve used a lot more exposition for this backstory, ideally in the Ayers family’s point of view, in how they see themselves against those who adored their lavish lifestyle.

7/10

Searching

Directed by Aneesh Chaganty

Starring – John Cho, Debra Messing, Joseph Lee

The Plot – After David Kim’s (Cho) 16-year-old daughter goes missing, a local investigation is opened and a detective (Messing) is assigned to the case. But 37 hours later and without a single lead, David decides to search the one place no one has looked yet, where all secrets are kept today: his daughter’s laptop. In a hyper-modern thriller told via the technology devices we use every day to communicate, David must trace his daughter’s digital footprints before she disappears forever.

Rated PG-13 for thematic content, some drug and sexual references, and for adult language

POSITIVES

– Cho’s performance is one of calculated measurements. Considering he is adapting to the newest of developments that happen before him, John not only has little time to soak in what has already happened, but does so in a way that grabs ahold of the anxiety that his character is constantly riddled with. This is a father’s worst nightmare come true, and Cho’s embrace of the shame as a result of the twisted reality is one that is every bit as chilling as it is humanistic.

– The gimmick itself. As to where a film like ‘Unfriended’ completely obliterated the logic and capabilities of an entire movie being filmed online, ‘Searching’ dazzles us with what could and should always be. Not only does this film stay faithful to said gimmick, even so much as branching out to other forms of technology far more expansive than that of a desktop, but it knows how to use each program capably enough to where we’re not sitting there screaming at the character. Chaganty as a screenwriter has clearly done his homework here, and I commend him greatly for crafting a protagonist who is every bit as intelligent as the people embracing his film.

– An in-depth opening montage of online videos, pictures, and e-mails that articulately paints the family’s devastating past to this point. There’s something almost tragic about the passage of time through memories that hits us with this sequence long before the vanishing of the film ever takes place, setting the empathetic precedent for what’s to inevitably come. Because a screenplay can take its time and captivate with something as easy as memory highlights, we as an audience feel that much more engaged in this father and daughter, who clearly only have each other in this world.

– What’s appreciated probably more than anything here is we’re not just staring at one continuous screen being played out in real time. The sharp editing is used more as a tool to relay the furthering of time, moving us bluntly along to the next interesting development, instead of the movie lagging for the sake of authenticity. These cuts magnify the consistency in tension while focusing on the doubling down of facial reactions and online text that play so importantly in the detective work that this terrified parent is uncovering.

– Attention to detail. Extra points for the production for going out of its way to duplicate the designs of famous websites like Ebay and Youtube to play opposite of the particular timeline of events playing out before us. It was a nostalgic trip down memory lane, in all of its 360 pixel quality, and just one more example of this film accentuating the details of the gimmick that would otherwise be an obvious negative.

– Responsible commentary on modern parenting. For my money, the film serves as a constant reminder for parents everywhere to continue nagging and searching your kid for answers, no matter how much it bothers them. Most youths live a double life online, and ‘Searching’ is one in a million examples of someone always watching. As for technological advances of the modern age itself, the movie presents an equally riveting take for the advantages and disadvantages of its gifts, depending on what we are using them for.

– Unintentional humor that is true to its word. While there was very little I found about ‘Searching’ humorous in material, I can say that Chaganty’s strongest push in material is his depiction of insensitivity from social media that flock like seagulls whenever tragedy breaks. Through close-ups of comments from the online community, we are treated to the very ideal of shock commenting that trolls thrive on, and despite it feeling like it forces us to laugh or roll our eyes, it hits the mark of honesty for where the world’s heart is at in 2018. Don’t believe me? Go look up any tragedy online right now that has comments allowed at the bottom.

NEGATIVES

– Obnoxious sound mixing. Once again we have an example of mediocre camera equipment with the single greatest Dolby surround sound that money can buy. Even when this film had me falling for its charms and immersing myself in the unfolding drama of its mystery, I was dragged out of it each time with distracting sound quality that shouldn’t be nearly as loud or as clear as it is. There is a desire to pander to audiences, but if it’s authenticity that is the name of the game, then why not replicate the quality bit for bit?

– Problems with the ending twists. Besides the problem of ‘Searching’ redundantly back-peddling constantly on its subplots, it also paints itself into an inevitable corner of dissatisfaction with its sloppy conclusion. On the former, these subplots only persist because of constant Mcguffin misunderstandings that all of which hold no bearing or physical weight on the film’s disappointing climax. On the latter, it does the painful deed that other mystery movies do, where it’s damned if they do and damned if they don’t. If the kidnapper is someone we’ve seen in the film, it doesn’t introduce enough characters to make it that great of a mystery. If it’s someone we haven’t yet seen, it doesn’t mean much to the shock factor of it all. So how could this film possibly satisfy audiences who are constantly paying attention? Especially when the ending itself makes absolutely no sense anyway.

– I did have some lingering feelings about the way every single detail of this case is found online on Margot’s personal pages, as well as the access that her Father gained on getting through passwords. For one, her Apple laptop doesn’t have a password screen? This seems unlikely even for one woman’s lone laptop. Then there’s no password on the desktop that the family share together. This seems even more unlikely considering three different people use this thing, and privacy is a virtue.

Extra Points

– There is an homage to the ‘Unfriended’ franchise early on in the film, where a search bar on Facebook has the name Laura Barn across it. Laura Barnes was of course the antagonist in the original movie.

7/10

Support the Girls

Directed by Andrew Bujalski

Starring – Regina Hall, Haley Lu Richardson, Dylan Gelula

The Plot – Lisa (Hall) is the last person you’d expect to find in a highway-side ‘sports bar with curves’, but as general manager at Double Whammies, she’s come to love the place and its customers. An incurable den mother, she nurtures and protects her girls fiercely, but over the course of one trying day, her optimism is battered from every direction. Double Whammies sells a big, weird American fantasy, but what happens when reality pokes a bunch of holes in it?

Rated R for adult language including sexual references, and brief nudity

POSITIVES

– A virtual showcase for Hall. Regina has proven in films before that she has a fiery emotional registry that proves she transcends being just another funny leading lady, but ‘Support the Girls’ feels like the first time where her command over a script feels like the sole existence for the film. As this supportive Mother type character, Hall’s Lisa envelopes enough life experience and overall genuine personality to make her the straight laced protagonist the film so desperately needs, and Hall’s grip on roughly 90% of the screen time proves the film has its focus in the right place. Richardson’s sugary Maci also shouldn’t be understated, bringing a new personality to Haley that proves she can play against type with sharp-tongued dry honesty.

– I loved the overall unrefined design to the set pieces and shot composition, that gave the film more of a television vibe in presentation. I would normally be panning this as a negative in a film released on the big screen, but I think it works when you’re depicting a crew battling through all of the obstacles that they face in a single day of exposition. It makes it feel like we’ve stumbled upon this restaurant where we the audience feel like the customers who never want to go home. It’s textured realism at its finest.

– Very smart in its depiction of male customers against a female objectified business. The candid focus and unsubtle instances of perverted demeanor, as well as egotistical arrogance not only felt authentic in delivery, but also honestly informative for the backlash that “Breastaurant” employees constantly face. In addition to this, the male owner’s (Played by James Le Gros) sporadic appearances also hit the target of reality, invoking the very spirit of such a degrading place for the way he treats the female employees he depends on.

– Part of what’s to be admired about Bujalski’s vision is the appeal in humility that his film isn’t afraid to run from. Because these are women stripped down to the very gimmick that gets the best of them, we are treated to not only a satire on business ethics in America 101, but also the lack of self-respect and confidence of female employees that these business’s thrive on. Like Bujalski’s previous efforts, this is very much a story set in small confines that has a bigger effect to the audience it engages, and his affection for the ladies that rock is stage shows in spades.

– Intelligent title. The term ‘Support the Girls’ is definitely a clever play on words with the breast cancer campaign ‘Support the Ta-ta’s’, and what is truly brilliant about this to me is that both subjects in their respective campaigns wield the kind of attention required for change. It’s not only incredibly self-conscious, but it also feeds into the required thought that women are so much more than a single body part, and that we must support everything about them that makes them the epitome of the terms strong and beautiful.

– Perfect place and perfect time. To set this film in modern day Southern Texas is ingenious for an array of reasons. In addition to its country saloon style setting within the backdrop of the restaurant itself, the southern accents play such a pivotal role in (Unfortunately) maximizing the sleaziness in appeal of the male customers who frequent the restaurant. One interesting aspect is there not being a female customer over the course of this movie, sharply prodding into the psychology of these audacious men who view them as this lone role of T & A that is there to only serve them.

NEGATIVES

– This film is marketed in the trailer and poster as a comedy, and I find that designation severely manipulative. This film doesn’t just fail at its comedy, but it barely even tries to obtain its genre tag, breezing through scenes of screen time without showing the true lunacy of working at a restaurant. In this regard, ‘Waiting’ is a film that perfected its shenanigans, but ‘Support the Girls’ never feels like it has enough confidence on its menu to even try.

– Bad sequencing between the problems that lack any cohesiveness. As the day goes on, these random obstacles that Lisa talks her way through feel like they lack any common link to draw them all together, giving the screenplay a desperately scatter-brained feeling of pulling problems out of thin air to fill in the gaps of its targeted run time. The beginning of the third act in particular, has its heart in the right place, but it’s a constant reminder of the lack of solidified direction that was inevitably bound to catch up to a film that never ties itself down to consistency of any sort.

– Even at 90 minutes, it feels strained. For much of the first half of the movie, with the combination of rookie training and established environment in the restaurant, I was very on board for where this film was ready to elevate itself. The problem is it never does, and that shining theme of female empowerment that starts to turn during the jaded second half, doesn’t feel fully earned in a finale that floats more on the half empty side of optimism.

– Introduces far too many subplots that it never fully commits to, nor fully follows through with. Particularly with a co-worker being abused by her boyfriend, as well as the decaying relationship between Lisa and her husband, the film continues to bring to light these new issues that it never intends to bring closure to, and it just didn’t work for me. Considering my problems with where this film ends, I felt that this script presented itself far too many outs to make this film truly great, and it just didn’t. Those lack of answers greatly bothered me.

6/10

Operation Finale

Directed by Chris Weitz

Starring – Oscar Isaac, Ben Kingsley, Melanie Laurent

The Plot – Fifteen years after the end of World War II, Israel’s intelligence agency Mossad and security agency Shin Bet, led by the tireless and heroic agent Peter Malkin (Isaac); launched a daring top-secret raid to capture the notorious Eichmann (Kingsley), who had been reported dead in the chaos following Nazi Germany’s collapse but was, in fact, living and working in a suburb of Buenos Aires, Argentina under an assumed identity along with his wife and two sons. Monitoring his daily routine, Malkin and his operatives plot and execute the abduction under the cover of darkness just a few feet from Eichmann’s home. Determined to sneak him out of Argentina to stand trial in Israel, Malkin and Eichmann engage in an intense and gripping game of cat-and-mouse.

Rated PG-13 for disturbing thematic content and related violent images, and for some adult language

POSITIVES

– Superbly acted film, highlighted by the work of the two male leads. In Isaac’s Malkin, we understand a man haunted by the memory of what he lost at the hands of the Nazi regime. In such, his biggest qualm isn’t whether or not he’s going to catch Eichmann, but rather what he will do with him once he gets him, and Isaac’s charming bravado and crippled remorse are firmly in his grasp at all times, allowing him to switch them on and off when needed. Kingsley portrays Eichmann with a surprising amount of charisma. The film kind of dares us the audience to laugh or succumb to this man’s wits on more than one occasion, proving the level of manipulation that a man so evil can lead with. Kingsley’s portrayal often felt like a Hannibal Lechter of sorts to me, for the way his persistent confidence never withers in the situation. He constantly feels like he’s one step ahead of his captors, proving how tight a grip Eichmann had in the face of his enemies.

– Long take photography that constantly held my attention. There are a few examples of Javier Aguirresaorbe’s personable stroke with the one-on-one scenes between Malkin and Eichmann that drag on longer than normally expected, allowing the long diatribes the ability to transcend exchanges beyond the film stratosphere. During these exchanges, we are treated to the camera revolving around their unshaken focus towards one another that serves as a visual metaphor to the game of mental chess at play between them.

– Despite my knowing of the history surrounding the life of Eichmann, the film still managed to surprise me while providing a strong layer or urgency in the unfolding drama. I knew everything that was coming, and yet still I fell for the bone of uncertainty that the film so carefully throws in from time-to-time, suffocating us with these moments of quick-cut tension that never relent. The mission itself happens at about the halfway point for the movie, but instead of peaking early ‘Operation Finale’ continues to raise the stakes once we learn that not all bases were covered for this group of protagonists, and that the biggest climb still lies ahead once everyone else catches on to their plan.

– In addition to the command of finely withdrawn tension in the atmosphere, current Oscar winning composer Alexandre Desplat also deserves thanks for the underlying sizzle that constantly heats the steak. Desplat has a wide range in scope for the film, serenading us in the first half with jazz piano, while rounding home later with a collision of percussion drums and violins that repeat their few notes with far greater volume each time.

– On a factual level, the film shoots about 90% from the field in the events it covers over Eichmann’s rise and fall. This gives the film a responsible take not only in Eichmann’s disappearance, but also his hand in Hitler’s deadly regime. If you know nothing about Eichmann’s chapter in World War II, ‘Operation Finale’ will provide you with enough of an outline to leave you educated, yet itching to continue reading so much more about him, and believe me when I say it’s worth it.

– Cerebral retribution. With his direction, Weitz seems to communicate to us that the desire of revenge can overtake us if we let it, transforming us into the very same men we fight so endlessly to bring to justice. Because of this, each character in this operation must tangle the voice within themselves that asks if they have a chance to disperse justice on their own watch, should they? This repeatedly provides the movie enough chances at something deeper, portraying Eichmann’s mission as the ultimate question of self-reflection within ourselves: Should justice be in our hands just because it’s convenient?

– A double narrative with each part equally important. We already know the first part of this being the team’s mission to capture Eichmann, but the second and more surprising angle to this script is the team’s leading witness to spotting Eichmann (Played by the always wonderful Haley Lu Richardson). What this does is allow Isaac and team’s investigation to never feel stalled or repetitive, giving us scenes of break in between to truly depict the ghosts of an evil regime that still go well beyond just one man. These halves of the story are inserted carefully, eventually fitting together as one cohesive progression.

– Like any heist movie, ‘Operation Finale’ informs us of the very steps taken in retrieving such a valuable target. In doing so, we see that everything from the formation of the team, to the fake passports, to the surveillance of Eichmann’s home is hit upon. This proves that this mission was anything but impromptu, giving way to the many measures that went into bringing even one man to justice, as well as the overall calculation that went into such a caper that was anything but one hundred percent legal.

NEGATIVES

– One cliche in films that I hate is when a scene will depict a moment from the memory of a character who wasn’t even there when it happened. In this regard, Isaac’s character remembers the untimely death of someone close to him through constant flashbacks, that we later learn is something that he’s going on by speculation. My problem is that the scene feels otherwise pointless and even a bit manipulative with its inclusion to where it fits in the story. If they just showed the face of this person, it would be equally effective in its value, but because Isaac is imagining something that he wasn’t there for, it disperses speculation in a film that is otherwise entirely based around fact.

– Part of the forgettable side that people will find with this film is that it never finds a voice of originality (Artistically or creatively) for its own. ‘Operation Finale’ is a solid film on its own merits, but throughout the film I couldn’t escape this feeling that it constantly set itself up to be compared to better films of the genre that had a better grip on the tonal balance that this movie falters on, through too many inserts of comedy. There’s nothing here that stands up to the artistic integrity of ‘Munich’, and the idea of escaping on a plane in a dangerous foreign country hasn’t been done in five years, when ‘Argo’ took home best picture for the same ride.

8/10

Puzzle

Directed by Marc Turtletaub

Starring – Kelly Macdonald, Irrfan Khan, David Denman

The Plot – A closely observed portrait of Agnes (Macdonald), who has reached her early 40s without ever venturing far from home, family or the tight-knit immigrant community in which she was raised by her widowed father. That begins to change in a quietly dramatic fashion when Agnes receives a jigsaw puzzle as a birthday gift and experiences the heady thrill of not only doing something she enjoys, but being very, very good at it, thanks to the assistance of Robert (Khan), a heralded expert with jigsaw puzzles.

Rated R for adult language

POSITIVES

– Macdonald’s layered performance. I have always been a fan of Kelly’s, and it’s nice to see her finally getting the kind of starring roles she deserves. As Agnes, Macdonald’s greatest touch is her subtlety to the chaos that unfolds around her daily, repetitive life, bringing nuance to the change that is boiling from within her. Kelly is also someone who says so much without saying anything. It’s in her depleted, even shy reactionary painting on her face where we understand her need to want to live again, and feel inspired even if only for a child’s game. Kelly proved that she can be depended on to steal the stage, and I hope this is the first of many more lead roles for her.

– Oren Moverman’s metaphorical script. Like the game that Macdonald and Khan excel at, the screenplay itself introduces these pivotal pieces, that we at first dismiss them as these minimal drops of exposition, but soon are reminded of their necessity when their pieces rightfully fit into the unfolding drama at the right times. Such an example is a tiny piece of glass that comes from a plate breaking in the film’s opening scene. It is forgotten and never mentioned again until late in the third act, when its deposit brings new life to its purpose.

– The comedy was greatly appreciated, and never felt used as a necessity or gimmick. What I mean by this is that despite this film being billed as a comedy genre film, it never feels forced or strained to make the audience laugh every two minutes, instead choosing to breed the humor naturally in these awkward instances of life that the audience can understand and react to because of their familiarity. In this regard, it’s the initial meetings between Agnes and Robert that succeed the most, taking its time to air out the space between two strangers whose lifestyles couldn’t be anymore opposite by comparison.

– As a director, Turtletaub’s greatest strength is in the ability to let the scenarios play out for themselves for the audience to judge. In this regard, he never feels like he’s forcing a particular narrative or direction down our throats, instead letting the pieces of life play out for themselves to instill that no one is right or wrong in what happens. The concept of randomness is one that is touched upon so frequently throughout the film, and it’s in the strings of such a definition for the word that translates how coincidences often rule fate, no matter how much we pawn for the latter.

– Much of the photography and shot composition on display are also beautiful and move with smooth subtlety. To me, the best kind of filmmaking is the kind that immerse us in the shape and color of a particular scene, allowing our senses to forget about the commander behind the camera, and ‘Puzzle’ accomplishes this feat repeatedly by cherishing the marriage in natural lighting and timid handheld movements. There’s almost a dreamy escapism vibe to some of Agnes’s moments of self-reflection.

– Any film that firmly depicts the importance of a Mother, and how she is the piece of the puzzle that makes any family complete is alright by me. ‘Puzzle’s’ majority audience will no doubt be middle aged women, and Turtletaub’s vision provides an homage to those with the will’s of iron to take what life throws at them, day in and day out. There’s a sturdy bone of female empowerment constantly throughout this movie, and the sting of psychology is one that proves not all decisions by a leader are easy.

– Responsible in its strategy. Any film about a particular subject has a responsibility to teach strategies to the audience about how to prosper in it, and thankfully ‘Puzzle’ is an education lesson for those of us who have always been curious how to attack a 1000 piece mammoth. Through Robert’s teachings, we learn that it’s sometimes best to circle the table to get a look at the shape of pieces from every perspective. Also, my ages old trick came into play, as you should group the similar colors together so the progression within them becomes that much more obvious. It will inspire you to sit down and open up a box, even if your abilities lack that of Agnes’s instant success.

NEGATIVES

– Unnecessary R-rating. This film receives the coveted rating for the six times that it drops the F-bomb, four of which being in the same line of dialogue together, and its instances prove how unneeded it truly was in this film. There is a desire to depict authentic family conversations, but this rating does nothing to enhance the comedy or the appeal to younger audiences who will not be able to see it because they are not old enough. Bad decision indeed.

– This film does unfortunately make the move between its two stars that anyone could pick out from watching the trailer. When it decides to make this decision in direction about halfway into the movie, the energy between the leads stalls, and the screenplay writes itself into a corner that will undoubtedly have an unsatisfying ending to anyone watching. This continued cliche in films where a man and a woman can’t be just friends is one that greatly disturbs me, and proves how unimportant everything else becomes because of its unfazed attention to it that overtakes everything else.

– The final ten minutes of the movie are sloppy, and feel like a tug-of-war in the mind of Moverman for his inability to make a decision. Agnes’s final shots left me with more questions than answers, and I get this feeling that two pivotal scenes are missing from the movie that would tie some of those shots that come out of nowhere together. One involves the result of the puzzle competition itself, leaving us to hear what happened instead of being there to embrace it with the two characters, the other is an epilogue between husband and wife that could’ve suppressed some of my second half disappointment in Agnes, but instead has it feeling like an afterthought for what’s to come. Adding an additional ten minutes onto the film would’ve done wonders for the emptiness that the closing moments left me with, bringing to light the obvious weakness in an otherwise movie that fits together wonderfully.

7/10

Papillon

Directed by Michael Noer

Starring – Charlie Hunnam, Rami Malek, Tommy Flanagan

The Plot – Based on the international best-selling autobiographic books “Papillon” and “Banco”, the film follows the epic story of Henri “Papillon” Charrière (Hunnam), a safecracker from the Parisian underworld who is framed for murder and condemned to life in the notorious penal colony on Devil’s Island. Determined to regain his freedom, Papillon forms an unlikely alliance with quirky convicted counterfeiter Louis Dega (Malek), who in exchange for protection, agrees to finance Papillon’s escape.

Rated R for violence including bloody images, adult language, nudity, and some sexual material

POSITIVES

– A different beast completely with prison films. When you look at a film like ‘The Shawshank Redemption’, you withdraw the one ideal of it being a film about the preservation of hope, but with ‘Papillon’ it thrives on being a deconstruction of hopes, benefiting the true vulnerability that one faces while being in prison. To anyone seeking an optimistic film, this isn’t the one for you, but for me I took great appreciation in a film being honest with French prison conditions during the 40’s being similar to that of animalistic treatment, and Noer has no reservations about this depiction, using the R-rating to the most gruesome of its abilities.

– Hunnam and Malek are equally magnetic, bringing life to the importance of friendship that the film rests its hat on. Charlie continues to preserve the hearty side of his repertoire, bringing a dedicated role that has him transforming his body to replicate the torture and stress of prison abuse. For Malek, his performance is one of a psychological bending, emoting a quirky side of his personality that slowly brings along this mental break from within him that highlights he has been there too long.

– As a remake, the film’s script remains faithful to the 1973 original starring Steve McQueen, but preserves a modern quality about its production value that gives reason for its existence. One such example is the beautiful cinematography by Hagen Bogdanski that captures the true dread from behind these sacred bars. Much of the camera work in detail feels claustrophobic, especially that of solitary scenes that barely feel like we have enough moving room with the convict on display. Prison should feel this cramped, especially with the overcrowding that the film consistently reminds us of.

– The biggest surprise for me was that this film that clocks in at around 130 minutes, yet never feels like it overstays its welcome. That’s not to say that there aren’t scenes that could be edited tighter, but nothing here ever feels like it should be cut all together from the film. Sentences are a constant endurance test, and it’s not always the easiest matter to depict when you’re only given two hours to replicate such conditions, but Noer subscribes to the passage of time, valuing each chapter of this story with unshakeable persistence that leaves audiences hanging on just enough before boredom sets in.

– Makes the most of its set pieces and backdrops. Whether a bloody, mud-soaked battle to the death, or contrasting the differences in the prison itself to last resort Devil’s Island, this film faithfully pays homage to the epics of yesterday by making the most of their miniscule details, allowing us the ability to telegraph where everything and everyone is in each frame. This is important in immersing us in the many rooms of this setting because it gives us a true authentic feeling of being next to Hunnam and Malek the whole time without actually being there.

– Much respect as well goes to the makeup and prosthetic department for richly generating the aging process without it feeling like a glorified game of dress-up. One of the things that bothers me in films constantly is young actors playing older roles. It always feels pointless to me, because you have old actors who itch to even be cast at the twilight of their careers, but here Charriere’s decay feels subtle and nuanced, and never feels distracting to the concentration of the scene.

NEGATIVES

– First act flubs. Without a doubt to me, the weakness of the film is the introductory opening twenty minutes that could make or break ones investment into the film. I say this because for me there wasn’t enough time devoted to Charriere in making him engaging enough as a character before he goes to prison, so the impact of the tragedy never fully renders the reaction that the film so desperately seeks from it. If it wasn’t for the exceptional work of Hunnam that I mentioned earlier, this character would be easily disposable because the film commands him as nothing more than a thief gangster who was in the wrong place at the wrong time.

– Lack of overall intensity. Without this aspect, a prison break film will constantly stay grounded, and that’s what we have for this jaded remake. Once the big day comes to fruition, it never meanders or instills enough uncertainty to truly juggle the nerves of the audience in the way the first movie accomplished much better. Look to a show like ‘Prison Break’ and understand that nothing ever goes completely as planned, so the ability to adapt to any wrench thrown into the fold provides a shade of intelligence with the characters that we never saw before, but none of that is ever present here.

– Anonymity. I mentioned earlier that the film is a faithful homage to the 73 original, but this can also be a flaw in how identical it comes across when compared. In my opinion, this film is roughly 80% the same outline, order, and dialogue as that better original film. The only differences are at the very beginning and end of the film, and even those aren’t vital enough in what eventually comes of this film. It’s an aspect that I wish screenwriter Aaron Guzikowski would’ve evaluated further, and inspired within himself the ability to find HIS distinct voice within telling this story. Noer says it’s not a remake, but a re-imagining, and no statement has never been more laughable.

– Speaking of pointless additional scenes, the inclusion of a love interest (Played by Eve Henson) comes and goes without any further emphasis throughout the film. Did she come visit him during his time in prison? Did she remain faithful to him? Was she in on the set-up that got him locked away? None of this is never further elaborated on, and what’s even stranger is that those initial first few scenes set it up to where their love story is one for the ages that will undoubtedly be tested by the distance between them. But since the film is faithful to just telling Charriere’s side of things, these subplots that were introduced are never further elaborated on, leaving more questions coming out of the film than you had going into it.

6/10

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

Billionaire Boys Club

Directed by James Cox

Starring – Ansel Elgort, Taron Egerton, Kevin Spacey

The Plot – A modern day remake of the 1987 film by the same name, the film is about A group of wealthy boys in Los Angeles during the early 1980s, who establish a ‘get-rich-quick’ scam that turns deadly.

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

POSITIVES

– If there’s any reason to see this film, it’s for Spacey’s energetic delivery as the film’s most experienced con-man. While it definitely makes me shudder to say anything complimentary of Kevin, it goes without saying that this film is enhanced whenever he enters the room, and flounders whenever he disappears. As for the rest, Elgort is terribly miscast, Egerton is failing at his best Leonardo Dicaprio impression, and Emma Roberts is completely phoning in what little material the script has for her.

– Hip 80’s soundtrack. ‘Only You’ by Yazoo is one of my personal favorite new wave favorites, but when it is presented on the same collection with Talking Heads ‘This Must Be the Place’, as well as ‘Let’s Dance’ by David Bowie, you have one of the very best assorted soundtracks in 2018. I couldn’t wait to hear what popped up next, and it’s clear that music has a very pivotal place in Cox re-imagining of this world.

– No expense spared on production aspects. The fashion trends, cars, and neon landscapes do an excellent job of elevating the important details, both big and small, giving life to the pulse of Los Angeles terrifically. This at least allowed the time period of the story to thrive visually, while almost every other aspect of the movie never lived up.

– Informative, tightly-edited 80’s montage sequences that translate the very vibe of the times. If the feature film world falters for Cox eventually, he has a place in visual storytelling in the eye of documentaries, because these instances are magnetic.

NEGATIVES

– As an adaptation of the real life events, this barely scratches the surface. The film greatly lacks the attention that is needed in depicting the transformation of Joe’s character over time with the influence of corporate greed, and truly makes him a roarschach test when it comes to gauging his reactions to the inevitable downturn that his company takes. Beyond this, subplots and character habits feel like they come out of nowhere, making this feel like a film that is cut in half, with the deleted half catering to those important bits of information.

– Doesn’t bother with backstory or character development, breezing through the first act like an afterthought. Most importantly, the friendship between Joe and Dean never feels fleshed out enough, leaving a vital bond to the story on the cutting room floor. Because of such, the third act greatly lacks the kind of impact that it so desperately yearned for.

– Tries to capitalize on the exuberance and seediness with greed that a film like ‘The Wolf of Wall Street’ tapped into effortlessly. There are plenty of instances when this feels like the Redbox version of such mentioned feats, even so much as mirroring much of Wolf’s first act scenes and situations beat-for-beat, but continuously lacking the appeal in intimate details necessary to engage the audience in its schemes. Because of this, nothing in the film ever felt believable or gripping to me, and constantly gave me the overwhelming feeling that I was one-up on the intelligence factor over investors of the 80’s.

– Undercooked love interest in the film. Because every film in 2018 requires a love story, we get one here as well, and it lacks the chemistry and conviction between Elgort and Roberts for audiences to believe it. As opposed to the lack of time devoted to the friendship of Elgort and Egerton, the love subplot is given plenty of time to prosper, but simmers because of the lack of bond that never develops with time.

– Pointless voice-over narration. It is (Once again) pointless in its usage, and more importantly adds nothing to the storytelling that we as an audience can’t already interpret. You could literally close your eyes and just listen to the obvious narration, and you will have a clear vision for what is transpiring on-screen. As if you needed another reason to not watch this film.

– Abrupt, un-satisfying ending. It feels like the film is just getting going when it’s ready to say goodbye, and it makes the mistake where it tells but doesn’t show what happens to those guilty of everything that takes place in the film. The most fascinating angles of this story are those that take place off-screen, and it’s the final nail in the coffin for a story that was told so much better on a 45 minute Youtube documentary that I watched before it.

4/10

The Darkest Minds

Directed by Jennifer Yuh Nelson

Starring – Amandla Stenberg, Bradley Whitford, Mandy Moore

The Plot – When teens mysteriously develop powerful new abilities, they are declared a threat by the government and detained. Sixteen-year-old Ruby (Stenberg), one of the most powerful young people anyone has encountered, escapes her camp and joins a group of runaway teens seeking safe haven. Soon this newfound family realizes that, in a world in which the adults in power have betrayed them, running is not enough and they must wage a resistance, using their collective power to take back control of their future.

Rated PG-13 for violence including disturbing images, and thematic elements

POSITIVES

– Stenberg is leaps-and-bounds above the material she is given to work with. As a star in ‘The Hunger Games’, Amandla is no stranger to Young Adult adaptations, so in being a veteran she knows how to bring a combination of likeable personality and feminine strength in her role as Ruby. She isn’t afraid to get her hands dirty, and I appreciate an actress who takes command and keeps the attention on her throughout. I can’t wait till the day Stenberg is old enough or successful enough to pass on scripts like this, but for now we can adore a rising star who adds a presence of range to the forefront.

– There is a real hearty third act scene, part in thanks to the two leads, that really reached hard for the heartstrings of the audience. This scene involving memory erasing was among my very favorite for the movie, and proved that it did earn the depth needed to send this film out on a positive note. Part of this relies on sacrifice for Ruby, in that she must give up everything she has come to know to fight the greater good. It finishes the first (And likely only) installment of this franchise on a somber epilogue that really makes you feel for her jaded disposition.

– As a first time director, Nelson is someone who definitely proves that she deserves another chance, next time with a property that doesn’t have so many restrictions. In her competent command, Jennifer not only utilizes Stenberg to a meaty performance, but also establishes the power of adolescents, who together have the capabilities to do anything they want. In this regards, art imitating life is something that our own real world so desperately needs right now, even if our own youths lack the ability to breathe fire from their mouths. Nelson makes this distant future feel somewhat relative by today’s standards, and that alone establishes her guided presence behind the lens.

NEGATIVES

– Law of diminishing returns. Ever since ‘The Hunger Games’ became a rousing success at the box office, Young Adult adaptations have been all the rage. Unfortunately, each of them have decreased in quality ever since, and ‘The Darkest Minds’ is a victim of this problem. Despite the fact that this film could easily qualify as a sequel for ‘The 5th Wave’, or television knock-off of ‘Divergent’ or an ‘X-Men’ side story of sorts, there’s nothing about this movie that stands out as remotely poignant in substance, nor terribly original in story outline. Love triangle? CHECK, Evil Grown-ups? CHECK, Slave camps? CHECK. Interchangeably fault.

– For those who didn’t comprehend or forgot about the many meanings of ranks of the teens in ‘Divergent’, this movie dumbs it down using colors to determine who is the most powerful. The orange and reds are the worst (Because ya know, danger), and the Green’s (Intelligence) represent the lowest on the totem pole. If this wasn’t enough, the film never allows you to forget each person’s rank for a single second, beating us over the head with colors in character’s eyes throughout the film to remind us of what is otherwise easily forgettable. They know it and now so do we.

– Once you understand the rules of Ruby’s powers and what she can do, there is absolutely no tension or suspense left in the many conflicts she comes across. This character is essentially God, so what is there that regular human beings can do to stop her? Even worse, it brings to light some of the inconsistencies that the film portrays. Ruby can read the minds of character’s pasts when she touches them, but why not during the scenes when she holds hands with a character or when she’s dancing with them? Ruby can move trains and bend titanium, so why can’t she unlock a van door? Ruby erases her parents memory of her, but how can she do this when she never touched her father? Does this include pictures, videos, and keepsakes?

– This is a post-apocalyptic movie of sorts, but the small scale always kept this from immersing me in this kind of environment. There’s one big budget set piece throughout the film, but otherwise most of the set designs and backdrops feel infantile when compared to their counterparts. In other YA adaptations, we see visual examples of deteriorating landscapes or something that commutes how far the cancer has spread, but with ‘The Darkest Minds’ there’s nothing to challenge the thought that this isn’t a society in any sort of immediate danger, instead carving out an ‘Us versus Them’ focus towards the evil government. Yawn.

– Choppy action sequences. When you are fortunate enough to get an action scene, the editing feels far too intrusive with far too many cuts to ever properly digest what is taking place. Two character suicides aren’t shown all together, but a chase sequence involving a falling tree is completely wiped away with an overzealous editor who instead prides angles over impact.

– Lack of overall resolution. It’s obvious that any movie these days fishes itself for a sequel, but I couldn’t escape this lack of satisfaction for a third act that is basically inconsequential, despite having no shortage of minutes donated to it. There are essentially two different endings in the movie, and the one that was more satisfying to me revolved around the love story that I referred to in my positives. For the conflict itself, it comes and goes like the wind, leaving about as much of an impact as a breezy cloudless day. If honesty serves ambition, a sequel will never see the light of day, leaving many unanswered questions for die-hard fans of the book, who deserve better.

– Too clean to a fault. Considering the novel is filled with lots of language and teenage personality to humor its audience, it feels like the movie isn’t being faithful in how it adapts the finer points of why people found these characters fascinating in the first place. There is a need for studios to market a film a certain way, but without the edginess in experimentation, that could’ve saved this film for better or worse, the movie doesn’t feel bold enough to live up to its own marketed age group, therefore it doesn’t feel rooted in the finer points that brought these characters to life in the books.

3/10