Sicario: Day of the Soldado

Directed by Stefano Sollima

Starring – Benecio Del Toro, Josh Brolin, Isabela Moner

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

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

POSITIVES

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

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

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

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

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

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

NEGATIVES

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

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

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

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

6/10

American Animals

Directed by Bart Layton

Starring – Evan Peters, Barry Keoghan, Ann Dowd

The Plot – The unbelievable but true story of four young men who brazenly attempt to execute one of the most audacious art heists in US history. Determined to live lives that are out of the ordinary, they formulate a daring plan for the perfect robbery, only to discover that the plan has taken on a life of its own.

Rated R for adult language throughout, some drug use and brief crude/sexual material

POSITIVES

– Because the words “Based on a True Story” have become an overdone cliche in Hollywood cinema, Layton instead capitalizes on the direction of this real life heist by valuing the reality about its jaw-dropping details. As to where most films will let the A-list cast tell the story, Layton instead as a writer brings forth the real life figures involved in the story to narrate us in a dramatization-meets-feature-film kind of marriage that holds our interest for nearly two hours.

– Even more respectable is the impeccable use of artistic direction that adorns the picture and depictions from the people telling the story. There’s great use in the ability of change and almost erasing something out of frame all together when a character doesn’t remember it going down a certain way, and if this wasn’t enough, the backdrop in canvas stylization breathes that immersive touch. Each location feel like it radiates its own color palate, controlling the very aura of a room with its mesmerizing allure.

– Sharp editing. More so in the first half of this film, the story feels like it’s breezing to its robbery destination, and while this is true in terms of the overall pacing for the film, the answer in reality lies with the sequencing of each scene by master editors Nick Fenton and Julian Hart that makes the previous one feel overlapping. Because of this, the film’s events offer very little breathing time along the way, replicating the impending clock that feels hot on the tails of these animals whether they embrace it or not.

– What I loved about this screenplay is that the robbery is only half of the story. The real drama and traumatic experiences come AFTER the robbery, paying homage to a film like Alpha Dog that this film constantly reminded me of, although done so much better. Because much of Layton’s script is so cerebral in the mind of our deviants, we start to see the consequences of such a plan once step two comes into focus. It all feels like an exceptionally balanced beam of paranoia and inexperience that constantly play off of one another.

– Most surprisingly was the level of humor that the film harvests, despite this being a mostly serious narrative. The humor works because it feels authentic with the personalities and speech patterns amongst this tight little group, and less like it was written by some screenwriter in a chair. Its awkwardness amongst the unfolding madness demands you laugh at the sheer stupidity of it all, giving us that much needed moment of release amongst the ensuing pressure that keeps building.

– For my money, the work of Keoghan and Peters easily maintains control throughout for completely different reasons. For as much as Keoghan’s subdued curiosity spins the necessities of empathetic protagonist that the film so desperately needs, Evans Warren is the devilishly delightful antagonist of sorts on our left shoulder who forces us (As well as everyone on screen) to indulge in riches so close that we can reach out and touch them. Evans brings with him the same endless charisma and untimely rage from American Horror Story that has made him a household name in just over seven years.

– What this film does that benefits its heist scenes so much more than a film like Ocean’s 8 is that it maximizes the intensity of these environments and shifts that prove no matter how much you plan something, shit happens. In fact, it’s in the boys ability to adapt that makes this thinking-on-their-toes ideal spring those feelings of anxiety that we get while watching them get through the movements. The less you know definitely works for the better, but even if you know everything there is to know about this true American heist, Layton’s soaking up of environmental sights and sounds, when combined with Anne Nikitin’s musical drum-building triumph, makes for the perfect time to rid yourself of the facts and just get lost in matters so surreal that they could never be manufactured.

– Much appreciation for the tiny Easter eggs that were sprouted as a result of classic heist films. I won’t spoil them all, but a couple of examples come in the form of Blockbuster Video titles that the guys watch to prepare them for their big day, the use of ‘A Little more Conversation’ by Elvis Presley during a montage sequence (Ocean’s Eleven), and of course my personal favorite, the use of codenames that bares a striking resemblance to one of my favorite Tarantino flicks. This film not only homages, but it echoes these films effect on white suburban Americana.

– There’s an overall sense of feel in the film that relates this to a dream-turned-nightmare scenario that these kids can’t wake up from. Because so much of what we’re seeing is true and actually happened, the audacity of such twists and turns give off this narcoleptic state that we as an audience wait to be pulled back into a dream, only the horror gets worse the longer we stay under. This is something that most horror films can’t even attain, but Ann Dowd films have already managed this feat twice this year.

NEGATIVES

– If I had one problem with the film, it’s in the inability to relate to the thinly-layered oppression that this privileged group suffers from to make them feel motivated. No one between them ever feels truly desperate by their college lives to really need this heist, and because of such, the mission itself can’t escape this unshakeable feeling that this is all character boredom, omitting some of the momentum needed later when the sanctions come down.

9/10

The Seagull

Directed by Michael Mayer

Starring – Elisabeth Moss, Saorise Ronan, Annette Bening

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

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

POSITIVES

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

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

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

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

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

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

NEGATIVES

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

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

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

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

6/10

Gotti

Directed by Kevin Connolly

Starring – John Travolta, Kelly Preston, Stacy Keach

The Plot – The film follows infamous crime boss John Gotti’s (Travolta) rise to become the “Teflon Don” of the Gambino Crime Family in New York City. Spanning three decades and recounted by his son John Jr. (Spencer Rocco Lofranco), GOTTI examines Gotti’s tumultuous life as he and his wife (Preston) attempt to hold the family together amongst tragedy and multiple prison sentences.

Rated R for strong violence and pervasive adult language

POSITIVES

– While the performances certainly aren’t anything of award worthy, Travolta and Preston are giving it their all in their respective roles. My only complaint from Travolta is that his performance feels like more of an impression of John Gotti, and less of an immersion. What pushes it through to positivity for me are some of the committed deliveries that he gives to some truly outlandish dialogue that did him zero favors.

– The inclusion of real life footage does a much better job in relaying information than the film does. I would normally complain for how much this film goes to the well for the added effect, but it was the only reason why I was able to follow what was transpiring from scene-to-scene.

NEGATIVES

– This film has attention deficit disorder of the worst kind. If you can get by the first five minutes of the movie, in which there are three different timeline switches, then you will have difficulty deciphering why this film can’t tell one cohesive direction from oldest to most recent in storytelling. This never settles down, and the whole film feels like a disjointed Frankenstein project that should’ve never seen the light of day.

– It’s not often that I complain about the dialogue feeling like it got its respective film genre wrong, but that’s what we have here. Most of the lines and conversation pieces feel like they’re ripped completely out of a satirical comedy that pokes fun at the gangster lifestyle, instead of hard-hitting, moving reads that make you feel their impact. Never for a moment was I shook or even remotely moved in the way that films like Goodfellas or The Godfather films achieve.

– Where the film begins is a bit of a mystery to me, because it makes Gotti feel like a sequel to a film we’ve previously seen. There is not a single mention of John’s earlier life, or anything before this twelve year period that the film rushes through, making the presentation feel like a two-and-a-half-hour movie that was horrifically trimmed to 100 minutes. Maybe we should be so lucky.

– My job as a critic is to point out aspects in time period pieces that don’t line up to the respective decade that a particular film is trying to depict, and Gotti has two of my absolute favorites of all time. Consider first of all that this film takes place between 1977-1989, then ask yourself why acclaimed rapper Pitbull has two songs that play overwhelmingly loud during an outdoor barbeque thrown by Gotti’s mob family. If this isn’t enough, ask yourself why during a New York skyline shot, the 9/11 tribute can easily be seen. WHAT WERE THEY THINKING?? Were they even remotely trying?

– There’s are these huge leaps in time that only further contribute to the idea that this film was gashed in half. Events and things just tend to happen without much planning or warning, and we as an audience are left to pick up the pieces and figure out what happened along the way. I don’t care much for audible narration, but this is a film that needed it terribly, because surviving without it is like trying to learn a foreign language on one hour of experience.

– Much of the film’s production falters, feeling like a cheap made-for-TV experiment that they couldn’t sell to F/X. One such example is in a scene in which a rival mob boss walks up the street with his henchmen and turns down the corner. The problem comes in the fact that this exact same take is played three different times throughout the film. How do I know this? The boss’s limping pattern and clothes are the same in every take. After the second time, I didn’t even laugh anymore. I became concerned for how anyone could ever give Connolly a job in the director’s chair.

– Offensive character framing. If I was a citizen of New York or an Italian, I would be more offended watching this than watching an episode of Jersey Shore. I’m not sure if Connolly’s point was to depict Italians as braindead human beings, but bravo to a job well done. The movie has this strange angle of portraying Gotti as this hero of the community, and that he didn’t deserve what he got in the end. This gives me hope for that Dahmer film in which they depict him as a vegetarian.

– Much of the push-the-envelope material feels like watered down scenes from other, better gangster movies. In fact, as I sit here not even an hour after the movie ended, I remembered very few details to Gotti’s life that even made him such a valued angle for American cinema. There is definitely a compelling story somewhere underneath Connolly’s disheveled pieces, but they never combine with one another to craft anything of dramatic pull or tension for the movie. Even the death scenes feel like temporary hiccups instead of deconstruction to the title character.

2/10

First Reformed

Directed by Paul Schrader

Starring – Ethan Hawke, Amanda Seyfried, Cedric the Entertainer

The Plot – Reverend Ernest Toller (Hawke) is a solitary, middle-aged parish pastor at a small Dutch Reform church in upstate New York on the cusp of celebrating its 250th anniversary. Once a stop on the Underground Railroad, the church is now a tourist attraction catering to a dwindling congregation, eclipsed by its nearby parent church, Abundant Life, with its state-of-the-art facilities and 5,000-strong flock. When a pregnant parishioner (Seyfried) asks Reverend Toller to counsel her husband, a radical environmentalist, the clergyman finds himself plunged into his own tormented past, and equally despairing future, until he finds redemption in an act of grandiose violence.

Rated R for some disturbing violent imagery

POSITIVES

– In casual Schrader fashion, there’s a lot within this film to be said about the world that offers much poignancy in debate. Whether it’s the corporation narrative that churches have become, the whiplash as a result of people not taking care of our world, or the confines that come from being a pastor, this is very much a Schrader movie, in that he’s a director who is never afraid of alienating his audience.

– The film uses narration so skillfully, a la Taxi Driver, in that there is a deep psychological tug-of-war between what Toller is thinking in his mind as compared to what he is writing in the notebook. This commentary in take allows us plenty of evidence of the struggle from within that help to shape the figure that he becomes by the powerful third act. Basically, he’s his own unreliable narrator, and that stance is something rarely seen by a narrator in a film.

– Hawke is doing some of the very best work of the latter part of his career. As Toller, we see a conflicted figure who is deeply affected by the loss of his son from many years ago, as well as a struggling patron outside of the cloth to live with the deep-seeded issues that come with living in the today’s world. Toller unleashes a beat down upon himself that allows Hawke to portray him as someone who is keeping the deepest secrets buried deep within the many people who only see him as this leader, and we as an audience find it easy to soak up his presence because of Hawke’s untimely collapse that is depicted in 100% of the film’s shots.

– Spell-binding photography. What impressed me the most about this film, aside from it being shot in a 1:37:1 ratio, was how reserved and dedicated that it stayed in camera style throughout the picture. With the exception of two memorable scenes that clearly point to the change within Toller’s life, the rest of the film is single, still-framed shots that insist on the characters coming to it. Throughout many single character perspectives, as well as wide-lens establishing shots, we learn as much as there is to know about the characters and atmospheres that Schrader would rather audiences grasp visually instead of audibly, and I couldn’t be more impressed with this decision.

– Minimal music cues. Perhaps even more surprising than the impeccable photography is the decision to accompany this film with very little musical tones. Composer Brian Williams chooses instead to play up his dark and ominous influence for the right moments, so as to not take too much away from the surrounding circumstance that suffocates through each scene. I believe this is the best way to not dilute how the audience interprets these scenes, and sometimes minimal inclusion makes for the biggest result.

– Alexander Dynan’s bleak cinematography that speaks levels to Toller’s aging disposition the further the truth takes him. Despite the fact that the majority of this film takes place inside of such a spiritual confinement, it’s interesting to see how the production takes advantage of such bare and desolate surroundings, creating beauty in the atmospheric sin that withers inside.

– Nothing ever felt predictable to me, despite the fact that many key elements are introduced early on that play a more prominent role the further the story develops. For my money, the ending was very much a last second twist that I didn’t see coming. Even if I can’t feel fully satisfied with the way the lack of effect that it takes on everyone but the two characters involved, I can still appreciate what Schrader is trying to tell us in terms of this important element that outranks everything else. This effect was even more evident, in that none of my audience members wanted to get up from their seats. They were that transfixed on the final images.

– While I don’t agree with many people labeling this as the Taxi Driver for the new generation, I can say that Schrader has brought along all of his best traits to make First Reformed feel like a greatest hits of his creativity. Aside from the claustrophobia in focusing solely on our lead character, Schrader again insists upon a candid view of the world that many are afraid to depict. He’s a director who excels in that hard-to-watch imagery that other directors look away from, but Paul stays committed to those shocking necessities that get under the skin of those who take in his films.

NEGATIVES

– Despite convictions that I can truly admire and respect him for, Schrader’s social commentary does occasionally overstep boundaries into heavy-handed and preachy territory that made me say “Enough already”. My problem isn’t so much that Paul uses 103 minutes to focus on overlooked social issues, but rather how redundant it feels when compared to the lack of development that some of the characters don’t receive. Because of this sluggish pacing, many people will give up on First Reformed before it reaches its best stuff, so the recommendation here comes with a bit of a warning.

– The film severely lacks nuance. I can get over a scene where two characters are flying over a city in an almost metaphysical moment, but a pregnant woman named Mary (of all names) is when I draw the line. And this is only one example of the lack of subtlety that plagues the film. I could go on, but it would be spoiler territory.

8/10

Superfly

Directed by Director X

Starring – Trevor Jackson, Michael Kenneth Williams, Jason Mitchell

The Plot – Based on the 70’s remake of the same name, the film revolves around career criminal Youngblood Priest (Jackson), who wants out of the Atlanta drug scene. But as he ramps up sales, one little slip up threatens to bring the whole operation down before he can make his exit, in turn setting him up as the desired target for those who he cost.

Rated R for violence and adult language throughout, strong sexuality, nudity, and drug content

POSITIVES

– The very essence of Atlanta becomes a prominent character throughout the film. For all of its trials and tribulations, lies an after dark kind of city that beats with prominence throughout, and in X’s eyes lies a metropolis of drugs, laundering, and dirty cops that values location more than the original film did tenfold.

– Because this comes from the mind of a music video director, the ideal of all style no substance is hard to run away from. However, within that neon nightclub atmosphere, we get a lot of transfixing visuals that not only seduce us into this world, but pull us in completely to the live fast directive that our characters embrace. Usually the music video style of directing does more harm than good for films, but within Director X we find the perfect candidate to bring these lavish lifestyles to the forefront of the frame.

– When they decide to pop up, the action sequences are shot with such confidence and flare to appreciate in many forms. The chase scene sequence in particular offers a wide variety of in-your-face camera angles that never settle for repeats between cuts. Aside from this, the tight-knit editing keeps each transition in frame fast with the adrenaline that compliment the burning of screeching tires.

NEGATIVES

– This remake of Superfly takes itself a bit too seriously, refusing to acknowledge the cult side of its 70’s Blaxdploitation roots. Throughout the film, I couldn’t escape this overwhelming feeling of boredom from a story that should be enveloped in the near bad-mother character that Priest is supposed to embrace, and for my money I could’ve used more definition in the term Superfly in expanding his personality.

– Pointless narration from Priest that only exists for the first half of the film. I’ve always believed that narration should serve a purpose in either further developing a plot, but the audio here only repeats what we already learned in a previous scene.

– There’s such a thirst for slow motion action sequence effects that died after The Matrix perfected the craft in 1998. In Superfly, this effect only adds unnecessary length to scenes and fight choreography that only captures five actual seconds of film. Once or twice for your most impressive blows is cool, but to do this tired cliche each and every time only soils its charms

– Bad performances for an array of reasons. First of all, Jackson never embodies the cool or the intimidating nature of Priest in a way that we comprehend the trouble coming to anyone who crosses him. He has the look, but never the it factor, and I was underwhelmed every time he tries to be cool because a scene asked for it. Worse even more than Jackson though, is Kaalan Walker’s laughably bad portrayal of Juju, an intense rival of Priest’s in the drug business. To say that this kid overacts in every scene is the understatement of the decade. I compare it to Tevin Campbell on steroids, for his results of unintentional laughter to every line of dialogue that he screams through. It’s a shame this cast lets down in the majority, because Jennifer Morrison’s surprise appearance as a corrupt police officer dazzled the screen every time she pops up. This was not only a new side to her that I have previously never seen, but Morrison knows what the film demands of her character, something the entirety of the ensemble just never come to grips with.

– Misogynistic and morally vapid to a tee. Besides the fact that the film wants us so terribly to root for Priest, despite the fact that he poisons the streets with the very same things that his antagonists do, the film ultimately has no strong, powerful female leads to fight back against thoughts that this franchise hasn’t aged very well since the 70’s. The very few actresses that are involved are left nothing to do but be in these forcefully cold threesome sex scenes that add nothing of sizzle or steak to audiences hungry for substance.

– The screenplay takes far too long to get to the heart of the conflict, and when it does it doesn’t even feel like the same direction we’ve been building towards. Priest’s opposition comes in the form of three different groups of antagonists. None of which are given the time they deserve, and all of which feel tightly shoved into a script that obviously doesn’t have confidence that it will be getting a sequel.

– As for the ending, it’s as neat and tidy as you can ask for. This film wraps up every conflict for better or worse in the span of five minutes of one another, and even worse our protagonist doesn’t seem like he has learned anything because of it. This would normally be a spoiler that I am revealing, but this remake took roughly 90% of the original ending, and just added some light tweaks that I won’t spoil here. It’s every bit as unsatisfying as it is uninspiring.

3/10

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

Best F(r)iends

Directed by Justin MacGregor

Starring – Greg Sestero, Tommy Wiseau, Kristen StephensonPino

The Plot – When a drifter (Sestero) is taken in by a peculiar mortician (Wiseau), the two hatch an underground enterprise off the back of the mortician’s old habits. But greed, hatred, and jealousy soon come in turn, and their efforts unravel, causing the drifter to run off with the spoils and leaving the mortician adrift. An expedition across the South West introduces wild and crazy characters through a series of twisted and dark foibles as both men learn a valuable lesson about friendship and loyalty.

Currently Not Rated

POSITIVES

– If you take nothing else from this curvy, bloated mess, take in their own weird way, Sestero and Wiseau embody everything about the very definition of the word friendship. Much can be joked about how the term friend is used as much in Wiseau films as the term family is used in Fast and Furious films, but once all of the pieces have settled into place and you see the bigger picture, you can admire the vantage point of embracing one of life’s most cherished gifts.

– There is very little that is actually predictable about this film. Because this feels like a horror film of sorts from the start, it requires audiences to hang onto every word and development that comes at this duo of friends. This is of course easier to do during volume 1, as the convoluted second half film compromised almost everything that was great about the first two hours.

– The performances are the meat on the bone of this otherwise malnourishing screenplay. Wiseau’s zany and awkward personality feels welcome and appropriate as a mortician, speaking levels to the concept of isolation that has shaped the kindred spirit that is front and center at this film. Sestero has greatly improved, harvesting an emotional prowess that speaks levels to the misery in backstory that his character has experienced. Thankfully, Greg is given ample time to stake his character’s case without the influence of Wiseau, and because of such we embrace hints at something darker going on just beneath his surface.

– Mesmerizing musical score by Imagine Dragons drummer Daniel Platzman. The synthesizer tones of new age 80’s mixes well with techno percussions of the 90’s, forming a marriage in score that floats a cloud above this ominous setting. There were plenty of times during the film when I was drifting off, but almost acting as a dreamy blanket of comfort keeping me from the clutches of slumber and forcing me to stay awake.

NEGATIVES

– It doesn’t take a genius to bring up how unnecessary four total hours is between these two volumes. This is far from a complex and versatile screenplay, so to prolong it only further exploits the weaknesses that the film can never get away from. Lets put it like this; if The Wolf of Wall Street was able to tell its complete story in less than three hours, there is absolutely no reason a Tommy Wiseau film shouldn’t be able to do it in half that time. What’s aggravating is that even after four hours of screen time, the conclusion feels hollow, lacking clarity for the conflicts that feel inevitable.

– Adding to an immense run time, is some truly grounded pacing that limits the capabilities of these volumes merging together as one cohesive unit. Considering the first volume ends with a shocking development, the first thirty minutes of the second act completely drops the ball with the introduction of new characters and backstories that distance itself from the cliffhanger that we were previously left with.

– I mentioned earlier how the music is one of the biggest positives for the film, but the sound mixing incorporated within that musical score nearly compromises those eclectic tones. In addition to the musical score occasionally drowning out dialogue from the cast of characters, the pre-approved volume setting constantly raises and lowers from track to track without much precedent.

– In disassociating this from the lunacy of The Room, there’s an awkward cloud of pretentious filmmaking that rears its ugly head from time to time. Particularly in the closing moments of volume one, for whatever reasons there is a terribly crafted slowed-down effect that feels similar to your laptop freezing in place while the sound is still playing. Besides this, disjointed editing for the sake of it plagues the progression of the script over and over again. In a way, this is a puzzle with scattered pieces spread across, and it’s my opinion that a straight-forward narrative would’ve served this well with simplicity.

– The first volume is definitely the stronger of the two for me personally, because it competently juggles that combination of silly humor and awkward tension enveloping the air between our main duo. As for the second volume, the comic muscle is almost completely absent from what we’ve come to expect. Much of this can be attributed to that first volume conclusion and how the situation has amplified in terms of danger, but by ignoring what has put the butts in the seats, Best F(r)iends ultimately alienates its audience and leaves them with the inevitable taste of a one hit wonder from their mysterious hero Wiseau.

– Not that I expect a technical marvel when I watch a film starring Tommy Wiseau, but many of the scene transitions feel jaded with their sequencing. Volume two especially could use a subplot to play off of the developments between Sestero and his on-screen girlfriend’s characters, because the progression of their road trip feels terribly rushed when they are on-screen for one hundred percent of the time. As well, their characters 45 minutes of movements feels terribly stretched when they are asked to accommodate fans for two more hours after previously just doing it.

4/10

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

Tully

Directed by Jason Reitman

Starring – Charlize Theron, Mackenzie Davis, Ron Livingston

The Plot – The film is about Marlo (Theron), a mother of three including a newborn, who is gifted a night nanny (Davis) by her brother. Hesitant to the extravagance at first, Marlo comes to form a unique bond with the thoughtful, surprising, and sometimes challenging young nanny named Tully.

Rated R for adult language and some sexuality involving nudity

POSITIVES

– The most revealing look into motherhood that film has ever produced. To define this film as candid means that it covers the whole spectrum on the creative front. Beyond what’s going on with Marlo and her own daily routine, Reitman is genius with depicting how other people view and treat her, as well as offering some honest observations between husband and wife that points to a lot of the problems without being too preachy.

– Great performances are often transformative ones, and Theron has this concept quite literally by the nipple. As Marlo, we meet a woman who is not only psychologically bent, but also physically defeated with the effects that three children have had on her body. Theron gained fifty pounds for the role, proving once again that when you sign Charlize into a role, you aren’t getting someone who acts, you’re getting someone who lives and breathes this fragile leader of the household.

– Strong casting all around. In addition to Theron’s award-worthy praise, I also have to give kudos to Davis as the title character, as well as Livingston as Marlo’s ineffective counterpart. We can still adore Livingston’s dry straight man routine, but I found myself getting angrier with his ignorance the longer it went on, in turn feeding into what this poor woman has dealt with for a very long time. As for Davis, her quirky diatribe on positivity felt like a breath of fresh air to combat the smothering surrounding that have plagued our main protagonist. When Theron and Davis are together, the film thrives the most, and that’s because they are simultaneously bouncing off of one another with experience versus experimentation.

– Meaning with montage. Most films that use montages in modern cinema do so without much meaning or context behind them. ‘Tully’ showcases these scenes by depicting the perils of repetition in routine that fill in the gaps wonderfully with a limited run time (89 minutes). With some clever editing to boot, the days feel like they blend together, meaning we (Like Marlo) feel like we’re stuck in this bubble that never progresses. If hell is repetition, we have reached the seventh circle of hell. Cinematic birth control.

– Going into this film and knowing Reitman as a writer, I expected a strong combination of dramatic pull and unabashed humor that go hand-in-hand, but I didn’t expect how well these things converge with one another in this particular setting. Parenting in general screams comedy, but most films are afraid to get politically incorrect with how agonizing this endless and thankless job can get, and it’s in that honesty where I appreciated the undercurrent in emotional registry that Reitman commanded in forcing us to pay attention. This isn’t as dominant of a comedy as his other films ‘Juno’ and ‘Young Adult’. Instead, ‘Tully’ proves just how far Reitman has grown, proving that you can move someone by laughter or pain and have it reach the same effect.

– The handheld camera work here is beautifully meaningful. To me, it feels like we have stumbled upon the home movies of a family because nothing is glamourized or glorified here, and in that documentarian design we can move confidently throughout these characters without ever feeling constricted to choreographed storyboards that keeps the focus on one particular section of frame.

– From a tonal perspective, I loved that there was such unpredictability with where this story could truly be heading. I credit a great trailer a lot for this reason, as the story of a nanny who basically takes over the nightly routines could’ve easily turned into a horror or suspense film during the third act. Where it did go was satisfying aplenty, but I appreciate a film more that pokes its audience without taking away the interesting material boiling just beneath the surface.

– Diablo Cody’s sharp poke of the pen that articulates the growth of one of Hollywood’s best writers. When Diablo wrote ‘Juno’, she was childless, and now with ‘Tully’ she has two children of her own, and it’s in that change where we learn that as much as things change, they remain the same. Cody still has her finger on the very pulse of the subject matter that she crafts, and her newest sets a precedent that is every bit as visceral as it is provocative.

NEGATIVES

– There are certain subplots introduced in the first and second acts that are never followed through with. I won’t spoil much, but a college friend of Marlo’s is introduced early, only to never be seen again, as well as some hints at a polyamorous side to marriage that is never further realized.

– I feel like the third act swing in conflict felt so unnecessary and so typical to screenplays just to please a studio. This film moved smoothly when the focus stayed on peeling back the many layers of Marlo’s bruised psyche, and this out-of-left-field bombshell subdues more than it sizzles in keeping the consistency of this impactful narrative.

8/10

Kings

Directed by Deniz Gamze Erguven

Starring – Halle Berry, Daniel Craig, Lamar Johnson

The Plot – The movie stars Oscar winner Halle Berry and Daniel Craig as citizens of the same South Central Los Angeles neighborhood set against a backdrop of rising racial tensions during the verdict of the Rodney King trial in 1992. In her first English-language film following the critically acclaimed Mustang, writer-director Deniz Gamze Erg├╝ven’s film tells a dramatic story of family bonds and the lengths one mother will go to bring her children home. Halle Berry stars as MILLIE, a tough and protective single foster mother of eight who must ally herself with OBIE (Daniel Craig), her neighbor and a local loose cannon, when racial tensions start to run dangerously high. As the civil unrest in Los Angeles grows following the acquittal of four of the officers accused of beating Rodney King, Millie and Obie must navigate the chaos that surrounds them in order to ensure her children’s safety. KINGS focuses on the fragility of family relationships and touches on turmoil and tensions of the past, which sadly prove to be more relevant than ever in today’s social and political climate.

Rated R for violence, sexual content/nudity, and adult language throughout)

POSITIVES

– While my faith with Erguven as a storyteller took a severe beating, my feeling on her as a visionary only prospered as the film went on. Filling the atmosphere with unlimited smoke to convey the uncertainty of the unveiling situation, Deniz captures the L.A riots ruthlessly, and does so with such rattling intensity that depicts the danger.

– Enticing camera angles. Much of the movements in running sequences or car chases are noteworthy enough, breathing much needed energy into the film where the narrative often spins out of control, but it’s more so in the character profiling angles where I was most impressed. In shooting this mostly kid-majority cast, cinematographer David Chizallet chooses to get up close and document their reactions to seeing the world burn around them. It’s in this influence where you understand the gears of debauchery spinning in their brains.

– There isn’t much to brag about when it comes to performances, but Lamar Johnson as Jesse was easily the shining example for me. While the two big name leads are asleep at the wheel, Johnson’s impeccable guidance and guardianship present the film with its lone HUMAN character. I use that word because Jesse feels like the careful link between normalcy and rioting that becomes blurred with each passing scene, and the film takes great value in depending on Johnson to document the wheels coming off.

NEGATIVES

– How can a film about the L.A Riots feel so inconsequential? I use that word because it’s unclear about midway through where this film is headed, as well as how it plans on reaching its message despite the fact that such little time has been invested in it. The screenplay is every bit as disjointed as it is floundering, and there’s no better example of this than the ending that slowly drifts away.

– I don’t get to talk about the negatives of quick pacing often, but ‘Kings’ is the highlighted example of such rarity. The editing intrudes far too quicky for far too often, there is little momentum built from scene-to-scene, and sequences happen that don’t add any kind of urgency to the film. This is why I mentioned disjointed earlier, because some of these scenes feel so out of place to the continuity of the film, as there were many points when I couldn’t understand the vast character changes taking place.

– My opinion is that they broke Halle Berry and Daniel Craig out of a mental institution for this film. For the first half of the movie, they’re not even a concern, going long spans of screen time without an appearance, then in the second half they take the reigns in emoting two off-the-rocker personalities. Besides the fact that this romantic link simply doesn’t gel, it is all cemented in one of the strangest shot and acted sex dream scenes that I have ever seen. Almost laughable for its lack of passion and adolescent dialogue.

– Pay Per View please. How this movie got into theaters still amazes me. Whether it’s the lack of impact in all 87 minutes of screen time, or the 63 seconds of production team emblems that opens up the movie, it’s clear that this one has its big screen tribulations.

– When you look at a riveting film that deals with racial tensions competently like ‘Detroit’, you understand why something like ‘Kings’ is dead on arrival. The child characters are completely out of control due to an overall lack of adult supervision, and while that may evoke some sadness with the parent inside all of us, you can’t help but feel that they are only adding fuel to the fire of these racist white cops with their own character flaws. Where the former does it better is presenting characters that we can embrace the empathetic side with. No one likes to see bad things happen to bad people, so why is this so hard for Deniz to grasp?

– It’s not tone-deaf, but tone-neurotic. Further proof of this film not knowing what it wants to be is in the mind-numbingly awful tonal decisions that limit an audience’s ability to immerse themselves in this era of a burning world. In doing so, the film mixes an actual intriguing coming-of-age story with these kids on the streets for an Abbott and Costello routine that sharply contrasts and contradicts. If the film can’t keep its focus for longer than a scene, then how can we as an interested third party audience?

– In combining this devastating period in American history with a one-household narrative, the film strongly undercuts any and every kind of tension that should be easy to capitalize on. For most of the film, I told myself that I would rather see a film on Rodney King’s night from hell, instead of this foster home that doesn’t grow with the events elevating around it. Telling it from this single perspective limits the importance of something so immense, giving the uninformed an irresponsible look at the who, what, and why of the situation.

3/10