Can You Ever Forgive Me?

Directed By Marielle Heller

Starring – Melissa McCarthy, Richard E. Grant, Dolly Wells

The Plot – Lee Israel (McCarthy) who made her living in the 1970’s and 80’s profiling the likes of Katharine Hepburn, Tallulah Bankhead, Estee Lauder and journalist Dorothy Kilgallen. When Lee is no longer able to get published because she has fallen out of step with current tastes, she turns her art form to deception, abetted by her loyal friend Jack (Grant). An adaptation of the memoir Can You Ever Forgive Me?, the true story of best-selling celebrity biographer (and friend to cats).

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

POSITIVES

– Above all else, I interpreted this as a film about friendship, and its one between Lee and Jack that makes so much of the film delightful. These are nearly two strangers who meet and soon find out that they balance each other out. It’s refreshing because they aren’t romantic interests, but rather sharing of a deeper soul connection that each of them so desperately needed to fight the depths of loneliness and isolation. The banter between them is so exquisitely polished, forcing you to hang on to every word between them, and the impeccable chemistry cements this as one of, if not the best, duo of the 2018 film year.

– Bad deeds, good people. It’s a difficult task to indulge on characters who do such illegal and condemning activities, but the film’s outlining of Lee’s undesirable disposition showcases a side to crime that certainly any of us could easily fall into. The motivation from her is fighting back against a life that has beaten her down constantly, therefore when the opportunity arises not only to fight back, but fight back against the system, she more than earnestly accepts. Even with all of this however, the film is responsible enough not to support these decisions, informing us of the steep price to forgery that comes with playing the game. Unconditional love and understanding goes a long way.

– Strong humor without the gimmicks. Yes, this is a drama first and foremost, but that doesn’t mean that McCarthy doesn’t get to show off her comedic presence, which is among the most popular in the business currently. Why the humor works so much for me here, instead of films like “The Boss” or “Life of the Party” is because she isn’t amped up to eleven. Her delivery is very much subdued, relying instead upon brilliant script writing and caustic wit to sell her presence on the film. This is the McCarthy we should be getting more of, and with any luck the film will succeed, proving to her that money is only so important.

– A buzzworthy duo of performances. This is definitely the McCarthy and Grant show, as both accomplished actors bring with them not only a faithful visual transformation to their real life counterparts, but also stirring renditions that have them in award season contention. For Grant, it’s his soft demeanor and gleefully dim-witted delivery that make him the perfect compliment to McCarthy’s lead. For her, it’s Israel’s gruff personality, striped down makeup, and rocky interaction with humans (She loves her cat) that offers something of substantial difference for McCarthy as an actress. There’s an element of sadness in her character, in that her whole career as an author has been to represent someone else’s work, and this cements a level of empathy in Melissa’s and the film that is required to invest in both.

– Colorfully illustrated New York in 1991. Most films would depict this as an excuse to get distractive with the gimmick of the setting, but Heller incorporates a subtle nuance to the big apple that never gets in the way of the unfolding events. It’s almost like you have to look closely to spot the time frame’s dated references, like IBM computers and classic automobiles to name a few, but they’re most certainly there. The cinematography as well, caters to a somberly yellowish faded design of coloring that gives the film that distinct feel of a particular era.

– Can you seriously remember the last time when two gay characters were a film’s two leading protagonists? Points for a film set in the past with such progressive ideals, that does so in a way that is neither insulting, nor incredibly over-the-top for revealing this fact. The orientation of these characters is important enough to the story, but feels secondary to outlining them as people first, and the sooner that we as a society blur the line of similarities to someone with a difference in orientation, the more likely we are to see more stories like them.

– Heller as a director does a superbly, fast-paced job that is responsible for nearly everything that I mentioned above. Aside from her film feeling incredibly engaging from the very start, the film doesn’t have a single scene in it that doesn’t harvest some level of importance to what is unfolding, and that speaks levels to a director who makes the most of her allowance of time. On the commentary side, it’s clear that Heller values Israel as a figure that time sort of forgot, but does so without diminishing the faults that make her an equally compelling antagonist as she is a protagonist. This is a director whose filmography is every bit as expansive in genre offerings as you can ask, and it’s got me curious to see what she will tackle next.

– A family affair with an extremely underrated musical score. Composed by Marielle’s brother Nate, there’s a strong reflection of this film being a character study, reflected by some heavily influenced jazz tunes that are incorporated into the serenity of this picture. It’s never overbearing, nor out of synth when compared to what transpires on screen, and that sense of light-hearted atmosphere in music ages well as the film takes us through some heavy threats that come the way of Lee’s newfound hobby.

NEGATIVES

– Lack of urgency with the third act weight of consequences. While the repercussions of Lee’s choices are inevitable, there’s an overall absence of anxiety missing from the film that would really elevate the tension of getting caught. It’s not a major problem, it just keeps us, and Lee for that matter, free from the kind of motivation required to quit. I could’ve used slightly more teasing within the script to warn Lee to back off. Without it, the final act of the movie feels slightly rushed, and really stands out at the only problem with the screenplay.

– No surprises beyond what is shown in the trailer. The trailer itself isn’t full of spoilers like other terribly constructed ones these days, but rather it paves and easy path to predicting what will transpire here. The sequence of real life events itself are limited, so there isn’t a lot of wiggle room for bombshell announcements or surprises, so it feels remotely pedestrian as a compelling drama. For my money, the film succeeds more as a comedy, and that’s a bit of a letdown because the performances feel very dramatic when the script doesn’t fully meet up with them.

My Grade: 8/10 or A-

The Girl in the Spider’s Web

Directed By Fede Alvarez

Starring – Claire Foy, Sylvia Hooks, Lakeith Stanfield

The Plot – Fired from the National Security Agency, Frans Balder (Stephen Merchant) recruits hacker Lisbeth Salander (Foy) to steal FireWall, a computer program that can access codes for nuclear weapons worldwide. The download soon draws attention from an NSA agent who traces the activity to Stockholm. Further problems arise when Russian thugs take Lisbeth’s laptop and kidnap a math whiz who can make FireWall work. Now, Lisbeth and an unlikely ally must race against time to save the boy and recover the codes to avert disaster.

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

POSITIVES

– At attempt to fill in the gaps of Salander’s backstory. One thing that always drove me nuts about the previous four films from this series is the lack of attention paid to Lisbeth’s jaded history, that could explain why her interaction with people comes across as tedious, and “Spider’s Web” feels like the first chance at delving deep below the surface. Through flashback scenes that depict the less-than acceptable nature between Lisbeth and her father, as well as the broken bond between her sister, we not only learn the motivation for her life’s work in protecting women, but also the past life she left behind when she faced her life’s important fork in the road. Because this is very much her movie, it would be foolish not to give us some answers in regards to its title character, and it certainly makes a lot of sense when you know more about what she has endured.

– No shortage of characters to keep the narrative fresh. Besides the usual team-up of Salander and Blomkvist, the film introduces us to the firewall creator and son, which provides great urgency for the abundance of chase sequences, as well as a government official, played by Stanfield, who constantly keeps Lisbeth on her toes in the biggest game of cat and mouse. This allows the film to constantly keep moving where other spy thrillers can sometimes start to lag down, and it helps even more when you’re investment into these characters increases with every scene.

– A new side of Salander. Lisbeth’s guarded wall toward human interaction, as well as cunning intelligence that never stalls, is still very much there, but Foy adds a layer of bravery and physicality to the role that was most noticeably absent in Rooney Mara’s recent portrayal of the character. What I love about this is that it really channels the evolution of Salander, proving that a majority of her cases have been anything but pushing the buttons behind her trusty laptop. Foy envelopes the complete package of what Lisbeth should be, and while the visual transformation isn’t as deep for this actress, the durability of her accent, as well as the way she commits herself to the role, proves that she was the right woman for the job.

– Pedro Luque’s beauty in the darkness that envelopes the world of this character. It would be easy to overlook the advantages in shooting a majority of scenes in these dark, cold backgrounds, but Luque takes advantage of the scenery, using it not only to channel Lisbeth’s physical isolation, but also in capturing the very unforgiving nature of Sweden in this winter wonderland. Lesser quality cinematographers won’t know how to shape it for audiences, often times coming across as a bunch of unidentifiable objects moving around in the darkness, but Pedro provides substance to the overwhelming dampness, using it as the stage that lives and breathes with these characters alike.

– Alvarez’s first time shooting an action movie. Considering this is a director whose passion first and foremost is horror movies, it was great to see what kind of visuals and movements he could give with a bigger scope and budget. Fede’s tapestry takes us through many chase sequences, with a versatility in angles, as well as long hallway pans that kept the attention firmly where it needed to be at all times. If the film does anything for this rising off-screen star, it’s proving that he is much more than a one trick pony, and he more than lives up to the shadow cast by previous director, David Fincher, for carrying the torch of this beloved franchise.

NEGATIVES

– Unsubtly a superhero narrative. Sony’s thirst to make this something its not, hinders the story at nearly every possible angle, further blurring the lines as a supposed sequel that Sony so badly wants you to believe. Salander herself has freakish abilities in her power, there’s an over-the-top villain whose only motive is to take over the world, a child kidnapped midway through who needs saving, pointless white makeup and posing for the camera of its protagonist, and high risk stunts that would kill a lesser person. Sound familiar? It should. Salander is apparently the second coming of Wonder Woman, and this thoughtless direction loses any air of familiarity that the character had for herself.

– Vital miscasting mistake. Blomkvist, for whatever reason, is treated like nothing more than a supporting cast member in this film, and there’s plenty to point to in terms of why this direction was taken. For one, Sverrir Gudnason wipes all forms of energy and personality from the character that Daniel Craig made famous. For two, his distracting lack of chemistry with Salander, that the movie wants so badly to paint, does them no favors in channeling the connection between them as lovers or friends. For a character who is arguably the protagonist of the novels, this demotion renders the character lacking, leaving him with little to do and little answered from where the previous film left off.

– Worst trailer of 2018. Once again, we have an example of a trailer that reveals far too much, and leaves nothing of reveal or excitement for the film to hang its hat on. To anyone who has seen the trailer, you not only find out who the antagonist is to Salander, but also how the final conflict between them ends. It is truly baffling to me how whoever put together this trailer still has a job, and thanks to their neglect and lack of care for audiences, we are given nearly two hours of answers in a two minute clip. Impressive.

– You don’t have to suspend disbelief in this film, you have to run over your brain with a Mack truck. Some of the things that Salander does with a cell phone are ridiculous to say the least, especially when you consider how little of time she is given to complete these tasks. Hacking a car’s electrical panel, an airport security system, and individual cell phones within seconds are just a few of her talents. Should we come to know Lisbeth as God at this point? Surely the authorities would be looking for someone as well known for hacking as she is. If you don’t believe me, look up Snowden, Edward.

– As much as the characters and performances keep the film from falling into boring territory, the film’s undercooked level of human emotion left me with a story with this high of stakes feeling very inconsequential. Because everything is so heavily telegraphed, like I mentioned above, the film’s closing moments won’t leave you as emotionally invested into them as you rightfully should, and the so-called big battle between family feels anti-climatic when it treats the things we already know as this shocking revelation.

My Grade: 5/10 or D+

Beautiful Boy

Directed By Felix Van Groeningen

Starring – Steve Carell, Timothee Chalamet, Maura Tierney

The Plot – Based on the best-selling pair of memoirs from father and son David (Carell) and Nic Sheff (Chalamet), “Beautiful Boy” chronicles the heartbreaking and inspiring experience of survival, relapse, and recovery in a family coping with addiction over many years.

Rated R for drug content throughout, adult language, and brief sexual material

POSITIVES

– An intimate and paralyzing depiction of drug use. It’s no secret that drug addiction doesn’t just hurt the person engaged in the activity, it also hurts those loved ones surrounding the taker, and “Beautiful Boy” targets this effect with a lot of focus on those supporting characters who otherwise wouldn’t have a lot of weight to the unfolding narrative. In particular, it’s the flushed faces of the two child siblings in the film that emotionally drained me, giving way to a thought process from within of two innocent people born into a world where they will be subjected to pain that they have zero control over. It’s a conscious reminder that addictions are like a black hole, in that they take down many people uninvolved, and shape those we love into shadows of their former selves.

– Responsible in its informative stance. When I watch a film about dysfunction of any kind, I like to see a script that takes the time to educate audiences on the feelings and consequences from within. I myself have never done drugs, but the film gave me a layered outline in terms of the effects, as well as the abysmal success rate in curing the disease. What’s even more credible is that it doesn’t ever feel forced or compromising to the scene, treating us instead like Carell’s character, who at the same time is learning about the enemy by getting as close to it as he can.

– A story like this only works if you are invested into the characters, and far beyond some calculated performances that I will get to later, the film tugs at the heart by guiding us through multiple timelines of this family, that include Nic’s character as a younger boy. In comparing and contrasting these respective eras, Groenigen forces us to look deep to the child inside, touching us with this unshakeable feeling of innocence being erased. Beyond this, the similarities in appearance between Chalamet, Kue Lawrence, and Jack Dylan Grazer might be the single most believability in aging process that I’ve ever seen.

– A couple of Oscar worthy performances. Carell and Chalamet are names you’re going to be hearing at the Academy for decades to come, and what’s so captivating about their work here is that they aren’t transforming into a historical figure, or donning loads of makeup to become someone they’re not, instead they are two HUMAN characters whose realness is their most striking quality. For Carell, it’s in his hauntingly stirring facial registries, as well as the gentleness and love he invests into the single most important person in his life. For Chalamet, it’s the ability to play someone so vulnerable, yet conniving when it comes to seeking what he needs to satisfy the craving. It’s evident to see the differences between his Nic as a typical teenager and as what this needle has done in drawing out someone who beyond facial likeness we don’t even recognize. Together, these two are every bit as convincing as they are dedicated to their respective roles, and “Beautiful Boy” gives us these moments of goosebumps because of the mountain of chemistry that they share through the many ups and downs of life.

– Cinematographer Reuben Impens single best work to date. I thought 2016’s “Raw” reveled in the subtlety of color scheme to the graphic material, but it’s his work here that proves he is growing as a master of the lens. In addition to the gorgeously dreary Northern California countryside to catch our attention with all of its firns and mountainside curves, Impens is able to visually seduce us with some soft, serene coloring in atmosphere that metaphorically emits the somber tapestry in such a depressing narrative. Atmosphere is an aspect to filmmaking that doesn’t get enough credit outside of the world of horror, and the benefits of someone as talented as Reuben force you to pay attention during scenes of downtime between the thunder.

– Divisive ending. Coming out of my theater, a few people were moaning at the lack of answers and clarity from a mostly ambiguous ending, but for me it worked in relating the never-ending battle that one endures in shaking addiction. Without spoiling anything, there’s only two honest ways that addiction can end, and I commend a movie’s bravery for leaving us with a final image that, although not satisfying in terms of Hollywood endings, does relate the struggle and uncertainty with sobriety.

– Patient camera work that articulately captured the moment. I commend the editing in the film for sticking with some unnerving long takes during one-on-one conversation scenes, giving us the opportunity to soak in more of the facial souring and building gut-punch within our stomachs that the film so chalantly tampers with. It’s easy to overlook these kind of important sequences if an editor is over-zealous in their work, cutting the heat of the moment in half with far too many cuts, but the work here is commendable, and never looks away from what transpires, no matter how awkward or unpleasant it feels.

– Non-linear storytelling that captures the psychology of the two male leads. What I love about this element of flashing back so frequently, is that it offers us context whether it be in the form of an object or a location, where the two men have shared time. This also gives food for thought, in that we are given a series of possible leads into Nick’s rising habit, offering a conversation starter for what moviegoers could think are the elements of enabling that make it more possible. This angle of storytelling can feel a bit abrupt, especially during the first act of the movie, when the desire to overuse this aspect does feel slightly repetitive, but it slows down and eventually settles in to the pacing of the story, working together with the mounting weight of the film’s progression.

– It’s interesting that even through a screenplay that stays committed to the perils of drug addiction, the film rarely felt repetitive or derivative to me. I think a lot of this is in the constant raising of the stakes through each trial of tribulation that David combats throughout, feeling like he’s pulled in deeper by Nic’s betrayals as the film progresses, but the other thought is in storytelling that constantly keeps the pacing at bay. To say I was firmly locked into this film is the understatement of the year, and it’s a major example of all of the ingredients working together to make something exceptionally nourishing in its poignancy.

NEGATIVES

– Not a fan of the film’s musical score. I have tried to search far and wide for the composer for this film, and have gotten nothing in return. I can only assume that he/she is remaining incognito because of the jarring and instrumentally inconsistent tones in the film, that don’t match the mood or the tempo of the story. Some of these numbers feel like they belong in a horror movie, while others could be background music for the soft piano of “Murder She Wrote”. It simply didn’t work for me, and serves as the only glaring negative because of how distracting it felt every time it popped up.

My grade: 9/10 or A

Bohemian Rhapsody

Directed By Bryan Singer

Starring – Rami Malek, Lucy Boynton, Joseph Mazzello

The Plot – A foot-stomping celebration of Queen, their music and their extraordinary lead singer Freddie Mercury. Freddie defied stereotypes and shattered convention to become one of the most beloved entertainers on the planet. The film traces the meteoric rise of the band through their iconic songs and revolutionary sound. They reach unparalleled success, but in an unexpected turn Freddie (Malek), surrounded by darker influences, shuns Queen in pursuit of his solo career. Having suffered greatly without the collaboration of Queen, Freddie manages to reunite with his bandmates just in time for Live Aid. While bravely facing a recent AIDS diagnosis, Freddie leads the band in one of the greatest performances in the history of rock music. Queen cements a legacy that continues to inspire outsiders, dreamers and music lovers to this day.

Rated PG-13 for thematic elements, suggestive material, drug content and adult language

POSITIVES

– A fine collection of Queen’s greatest hits for the soundtrack. Going into this movie, you knew there was going to be some great music, and the assorted catalog of Queen favorites throughout their storied careers, certainly don’t disappoint. Everything from “We Are the Champions”, “Under Pressure”, “We Will Rock You”, and of course the title track for the film are all digitally remastered and sound great inside a theater with top notch sound quality, giving off the rush of the concert vibe that can only be attained at the highest decibel.

– Malek’s immersion into the character that gives us perhaps his performance of a lifetime. While he still isn’t my top pick for who should’ve played Mercury, Rami more than delivers as the iconic frontman, blending Freddie’s physical stage presence with a gentle side of intimacy in his daily life, giving forth a general outline for a man who was taken far too fast from us. The accent is also right on-point, and never bends or breaks through 130 minutes of progression throughout the film. Malek won me over about halfway through the film, when what felt like an impression up to that point matured into a transformation that made it easier to believe, the longer the film went on.

– Live-Aid sequence. The final ten minutes of the film were for me the highlight of the movie, and compared to how it plays against the rest of the film, it’s easy to see why. The grand scale of this immense concert with all of the biggest names in music is given the royal treatment, giving us a wide range of camera angles, frequent shots of the C.G crowd below, and a near shot-for-shot recreation of the band’s movements on stage. Had the rest of the film remained as faithful as this one sequence, you’d have a front-runner for Best Picture at next year’s Oscars, but instead it stands out as gold in a field of cubic zirconia’s.

– Channels the loneliness of Mercury’s jaded disposition. While much of the screenplay is riddled with problems for me, the isolation of Freddie’s life decisions as a bi-sexual man and swimming in riches, left him empty, and gave us the audience a very somber and empathetic investment into the man and character who just needed somebody to love (See what I did there?). It’s the strength of this dramatic muscle in the movie that really adds a great deal of compassion for Freddy, and gives food for thought for a world that treated the gay community as criminals, and how far we as a nation still have to go in respecting their important life decisions.

– Newton Thomas Siegel’s impeccable scope of cinematography. Considering this is a story that takes us through the increase of popularity for Queen, it’s an important task to visually relate that rise to fame in the subtle touches like concert footage, and Siegel’s vision here masters that request, giving us the kind of moments of reflection when played against the backdrop of an audience that keeps growing deeper. Is it presented in a music video style fashion? Yes, but that element of cheese works for this particular story, especially during the backdrop of the 70’s and 80’s, when rock concerts were a spectacle.

– Dexter Fletcher, who is uncredited as director, took over the head responsibilities from Bryan Singer about midway through, and does the best job possible in emulating what the screenplay asked of him. The most important aspect is that it’s difficult to assume where Singer left off and Fletcher began, keeping the consistency of the project firmly at hand, without any obvious moments of counterfeit that stood out like a sore thumb. I am hoping that his work in this film will earn Dexter more casting in a directing capacity for future reference, as the man’s professional capacity more than ring true to the integrity of the film, and will give a majority of fans who just look for a good time and nothing more, the movie they want.

NEGATIVES

– PG-13 over R-rating? This is the choice that worried me before the film, and ended up being the thing that stood out as one of the biggest negatives. For me, the racy material of Mercury’s life is told at face value or not at all, with the delves into drugs being left entirely on the cutting room floor. As for his sex life, it’s referred to endlessly, but the screenplay almost feels too sensitive in how it depicts its passion, coming off without affection, when it really needs it the most. I feel like honesty goes a long way in a biopic, and if you can’t show everything about Mercury for better or worse, then why even take the project on?

– Speaking of honesty, this film is anything but with the events it depicts. I find it shocking that so many supposed Queen fans are fine with how manipulative this screenplay is, choosing to cherry-pick left and right where it could matter most to the impact of the film. For example, the skipping of two Queen albums that are never mentioned, the introduction to “Under Pressure” being in 1985, yet in real life was actually 1982, and the shameless decision to lie about Freddie’s AIDS discovery supposedly before Live Aid, when in reality he didn’t find out until nearly a year after the concert. This is what we call manipulation in the business, and it does so in a way that isn’t remotely redeemable in the eyes of a story that writes itself without the distortion of events. Do your homework.

– What we learn. I feel this film will payoff mostly to a new generation of Queen fans, who barely know anything about the film. For those of us enriched in the band’s history, there isn’t a single instance where anything in the film should surprise you in the least. This is a by-the-numbers Wikipedia entry if I have ever seen one, and I say that because the script refuses to dig deeper in offering us something to justify the provocative nature of the film. The other band members are glossed over like carpet, giving us no instances of this “Family” that the film so badly wants to tell us they are. Yes, I know this is mostly Freddie, but how can you properly tell his story without echoing the thoughts and interactions with those who were closest to him during the final fifteen years of his life?

– Biopic cliches. Beyond the sequence of events feeling hollow and standing on their own, without any cohesive weight as one, this film runs into the same problems that recent musical biopics do, in that they are very formulaic and full of individually telegraphed chapters. There’s nothing smart or deep about the way these songs are introduced, and you can see their introductions coming from miles away. There’s also those glossing moments over the things that matter: Where did Freddie’s passion for music start? Why is there such little focus on the love between Freddie and Mary? What’s the deal with the cats? Who cares though, because music should be everything in a music biopic. These aren’t humans, they’re musicians, and people will love it.

My grade: 6/10 or C

The Other Side of the Wind

Directed By Orson Welles

Starring – John Huston, Robert Random, Peter Bogdanovich

The Plot – A satire of Hollywood, the story focuses on the last days of a legendary film director named Jake Hannaford (Huston), who is struggling to forge his last great comeback as a major filmmaker. Hannaford is hard at work on his final masterpiece, “The Other Side of The Wind”.

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

POSITIVES

– Time machine effect. Certain films will transport you to a particular era because of articulate production value for intended purpose, but “The Other Side of the Wind” is a film that attains this by quite literally being a film from a different era of filmmaking. This is a movie that has sat on the shelf for over forty years because of bankruptcy, and is just now seeing the light of day, so the ability to watch something from a time when the things we take for granted were in their infancy, is something that gives the film a one-of-a-kind experience, and grants us one more day in the sun with a genius director who unfortunately left us far too early.

– Crime Noir influenced musical score by Michel Legrand. With plenty of rhythmic jazz instrumentals and an enhanced modern age buffering to clean up the sound, Legrand instills a vibrant sense of the golden age of Hollywood that feeds hand-in-hand with the plot and setting of the film. The easy listenings excel at transcending the screen psychologically in a way that a mockumentary like this requires, and establishes a classy outline to the audibility that envelopes the film synthetically, giving an element of cool to Welles final project.

– Although denied by Welles himself, there’s plenty of reasons to suggest that this film is a bit auto-biographical for the director. Considering this was a man who was very much a mystery wrapped inside of an enigma for admirers who studied him for decades, “The Other Side of the Wind” feels like the most revealing look into a man who was prickly and compromising in the same ways that the main protagonist of the story is. Beyond this, experiences of Welles are decorated throughout the film, engaging us in angles like a snobby critic, the intimacy between a director and his leading ladies, and the urgency of a studio-backed project that often feels like a soul-selling deal to the devil. This all feels a bit too precise to be just another project from Orson, and that thought will hit you almost immediately, should you decide to take this film on.

– Surprisingly, a great amount of dependency upon comedy. Not only is the humor for the film necessary in keeping the audience invested into the dialogue heavy banter throughout two hours of the movie, it’s also finely tuned with a strong combination of sarcasm and reveal, to give us the elusive backlot commentary for most productions during the time. While nothing is truly laugh-out-loud in terms of material, the accuracy of its modest deliveries were something that remained consistent, creating an open door for people to hook themselves into these characters and situations.

– Razor sharp editing. Some of Welles best work in film has always been his ahead-of-its-time editing, and that is certainly on display here, through sequences that sometimes juggle two or three on-going narratives. There was over four hundred hours of film shot in total for this film, so the production team had quite the challenge in trimming this to just two hours, but I think old Orson would be proud if he managed to see the exceptional work involving visual psychological twitches, as well as the juggling of cinematography styles, to make a presentation that feels chaotically subversive. Editing like those depicted in the film are thought of as conventional in 2018, but that thought process is because of a visual pioneer who had the vision to try it first.

– Symbolism of life versus film. There’s a film within this film that is also called “The Other Side of the Wind”, and it’s in dissecting the real film’s two sides where you see Orson’s most obvious discoveries. The fictional film is not only shot more beautifully, involving a rich blend of color to compliment the stained-glass feel, but also feels less complicated because of the lack of dialogue used from within. I believe Orson was telling us that real life is anything but the movies, and that the desirable world we seek lies somewhere in the middle of the fantasy and reality that became his artistic expression. I did manage to find much more in the comparison, but I would start reaching spoiler territory, and I’d rather let you experience it for yourself.

– A duo of fully-committed performances. I’d like to see Huston receive an Oscar nomination, for the ink blot test of a character that Hannaford comes across as. There’s an essence of sadness that comes from his unlimited wisdom inside of the game for so long, and Huston’s grizzled face and unabashed nature in tearing down every relationship and honor he’s attained, lend to a trapped personal hell that the director can’t escape. Matching him nearly jab-for-jab, is Bogdanovich, as my favorite character, Brooks. Peter is himself a director in real life, so he knows what it takes to channel a character in a way that makes him essential to the film, and that’s what we have here. When Brooks is off camera, with the noticeable lack of delightful banter between he and Hannaford, as well as his collection of celebrity impressions, the movie stalls. His inclusion is that important, and the chemistry with Huston cements a friendship that hangs in the balance between student/teacher and best friends. It also doesn’t hurt that Bogdanovich is the single best Bill Hicks look-a-like that I’ve ever seen.

NEGATIVES

– This is a tough sell to any kind of audience, mainly because the disjointed nature of these scenes can sometimes come across as hollow and inconsistent. Especially in the first act, there’s a real lack of definition from what transpires, and the collection of scenes feel like just that: a collection of separated instances that don’t necessarily gel as one cohesive unit. If you can make it through this, the film does eventually pick up, but it’s clear that a lot of the heart and instinct that comes with the director of such a passion project is missing from the scene.

– While the film within the film is stylishly provocative and sensually sinister, it takes up far too much of the finished run time, for my taste. This serves as a major distraction to the continuity and progressive flow of the characters we become invested in, leaving them far too often to come across as nothing more than a test of patience that the audience frequently has to endure.

– Certain aspects of the film unfortunately don’t age well. Female abuse treated like a hiccup, free-flowing use of the derogatory term for the gay community, and the main protagonist’s desire for underage women only do damage to a movie that is at least a product of its time, and at most an offensive time stamp that reminds us how far we’ve come as a society. These three things are tied to necessary developments in the plot, but don’t erase the elements that make it difficult to embrace a character like Hannaford.

My grade: 7/10 or B-

Mid90s

Directed By Jonah Hill

Starring – Sunny Suljic, Katherine Waterston, Lucas Hedges

The Plot – The movie follows a teenager named Stevie (Suljic) growing up in Los Angeles. He’s struggling with his family, including his co-dependent single mom (Waterston) and his abusive older brother (Hedges), and at school, where his richer friends seem to overlook him. When Stevie befriends a crew of skateboarders, he learns some tough lessons about class, race, and privilege.

Rated R for pervasive language, sexual content, drug and alcohol use, some violent behavior/disturbing images – all involving minors

POSITIVES

– Jonah Hill’s impeccable sense of sight and sound within this designated time frame. Being a youth during such a progressive period in our history, grants Hill as the ideal candidate for such an expressive project, and the Oscar nominated actor’s first swing as a director connects hard with audiences who, like Jonah, bare witness to the expressive trends in fashion and music alike. Because of such “Mid90s” is very much enriched in a nostalgic gloss that intentionally feels dated for all of the right reasons.

– Style with substance. The decision to craft this film in 16 MM with a 4:3 ratio is one that moves the creativity of the film miles in terms of duplicating that authentic 90’s home video dazzle of filmmaking, giving it at times a documentary feel of realism that the entire picture is cloaked in. Imagination is big with me, and there’s nothing out currently that looks or even feels like Jonah’s subversive spin on skate culture, that goes hand-in-hand with this particular story and set of characters. Obviously we can’t return to the 90’s to film a movie, so cinematographer Christopher Blauvelt is more than happy to oblige bringing the 90’s to us.

– Another slam dunk score from Trent Reznor and Atticus Finch. I had no idea that these two Oscar winning composers were scoring “Mid90s”, and it only takes minutes for the film’s tones to channel those of the duo’s cold, callous repertoire that we’ve come to expect. The piano triggers loudest during Stevie’s deafening levels of isolation, and if anyone can articulate the angst associated with teenage perplexity, it’s the man who fronts Nine Inch Nails. Unfortunately, their cues don’t come often enough, as too much of the film’s accompanying music relies more on the soundtrack, which presented problems that I will get to later.

– What’s so effective and relatable about this film is that it transcends the group tag to give us feelings and situations that hit on everyone’s awkward adolescence. For me, it’s Stevie’s deteriorating relationship with his family, as well as the timidness and conformity that goes with wanting to fit in. This is perhaps the single greatest strength that Hill as a screenwriter instills, because his sequence of events feel every bit as natural as they do compromising to our main protagonist. In trying to be cool, we see how uncool it all really is, and its wisdom that comes with living through such experiences, that make you want to reach out and speak to Stevie personally.

– Breakthrough performances from a relatively unknown ensemble cast. This decision alone feeds into what we’re watching feeling like real life, giving the film a rich side of candidness that many films can’t hit on because of familiar faces. Even more impressive, the kids themselves are actual skateboarders. Suljic roars in his first starring role with a combination of innocence and ferocity that equally mold this outline of a teenager, who by the end of the film still feels in search of an identity that’s his. I felt great empathy for this character because every action comes at the desire to please someone else, a move that will inevitably move him no closer to self-happiness. The rest of the cast meets their marks equally as effective, even if the decision to cast Waterston and Hedges stands out like a sore thumb from the rest of the fresh-faced ensemble.

– Underrated editing that strikes a nerve psychologically. This aspect is great purely for its minimalist approach. There are times during the film when you blink and you could miss aspect of clever filmmaking, making you wonder if what you saw actually happened in real time. Without spoiling much, conversations between two characters clip on and off, jumbling up the continuity from shot-to-shot, and unnerving us in a way that we can’t explain or justify. This is especially the case during the beginning of a major sequence towards the end of the film that gave me a great jump scare for how visually and audibly arresting it comes across. It all serves as manipulation of the product that kept my attention firmly during these brief tweaks of creativity.

– Unapologetic dialogue that is anything but politically correct. This too feeds into the particular place and time that this film takes place in, depicting a world that feels far from our own in terms of offensive reactions that follow such R-rated banter. There is such a naturalism to it all that accompanies these exchanges that other films feel far too prepared to capture authentically, and while some of it is indeed racy, it’s refreshing to view a world where the youth feel tougher than adults, in that they don’t let throwaway words cloud their judgment of people.

NEGATIVES

– Minimal plot that lessens the dramatic pull. While I don’t have a problem with a film that has little to no story, its presence on this screenplay is one that hinders the impactful third act, reaching for weight on its characters and subplots that never feels fully rendered. Specifically, it’s in the lack of character exposition that feels forced during a brief five minute conversation that feels most obvious, and the forgettable, incomplete ending is a reminder of such inconsistencies that Hill could better steer as rider of this board.

– I mentioned earlier that the soundtrack, while offering a wide variety of genre favorites for the decade, felt forced for all of the wrong reasons. What I mean by this is there’s no context or syntax to their disposals, feeling very much unnatural and spoon-fed for the recognizability of the tracks that will inevitably warm a soft spot in the guts of audience members. A film about a particular decade certainly requires the use of some songs to represent its era, but the sloppiness associated with their deposits made for some truly distracting scenes that illustrated the intruding line of production that sometimes overshot the synthetics of the 90’s feel.

– Loose ends that come and go without resolution. There’s a Hispanic character in the group who has a conflict with Stevie early on that eventually comes to blows between them. My problem with this is the many things set up with this character that goes absolutely nowhere in comparison to the final direction. There’s also a confrontation between the two most influential characters in this skateboarding group that seriously is never mentioned again after its introduction happens with only twenty minutes left in the movie. It’s a little late at that point to be introducing new subplots to the story, and the lack of conclusion between their conflict feels like something more was left on the cutting room floor, that wasn’t important enough to reach the finished product.

My grade: 7/10 or B

The Sisters Brothers

Directed By Jacques Audiard

Starring – John C Reilly, Joaquin Phoenix, Jake Gyllenhaal

The Plot – Based on Patrick DeWitt’s novel, “The Sisters Brothers” revolves around the colorfully named gold prospector Hermann Kermit Warm (Riz Ahmed), who’s being pursued across 1000 miles of 1850s Oregon desert to San Francisco by the notorious assassins Eli (Reilly) and Charlie (Phoenix) Sisters. Except Eli is having a personal crisis and beginning to doubt the longevity of his chosen career. And Hermann might have a better offer.

Rated R for violence including disturbing images, adult language, and some sexual content

POSITIVES

– Benoit Debie’s dreamy western canvas that stretches as far as the eye can see. The first step in any good Western is to paint the screen with these entrancing visuals that articulate the distance and immensity of the land that our characters travel, but what Debie uses these instances for is more of a navigation tool in communicating to the audience the settings that they are headed. It starts on the characters it is focused on, then slowly pans out to reveal the bigger mapped out picture that we otherwise would be oblivious to while trailing them on the ground. This aspect perfectly sets the stage for what hits next, and amplifies the artistic value of the film tenfold, for those like myself who require gorgeous scenery in their westerns.

– Unique chapter introductions. This is an homage to classic westerns, in that the beginning of an important exchange for our characters begins with an image to summarize what’s to come. It isn’t so much in the inclusion of this trait as it is the presentation that accompanies it, charming us with what looks like a blurred gun scope outline for the depiction. This alerts the audience to an important scene every time its gimmick pops up, and gave the movie a delightful marriage between classic and present film that values each respective era.

– Buzzworthy performances from four big name actors. Nothing against the ladies, but this is definitely a men’s show, bringing along impeccable chemistry from two different duos (Reilly and Phoenix, Gyllenhaal and Ahmed) that constantly fight for leverage of the camera. For my money, it’s Reilly who may just steal the show, exchanging his usual comedic stick for empathetic drama that looks good on the veteran actor. It’s a bit confusing as to why he’s billed as the main character because the film sticks with Phoenix remotely more, but Reilly’s somber ambition for the character steals our hearts and scenes repeatedly. Gyllenhaal’s English accent also shouldn’t be overlooked.

– False advertising. This trait would usually be in my negatives category, but I’m glad that the manipulative trailers that presented this film as a comedy were a complete fabrication. Is there comedy in the film? Sure, in small appropriate doses, but I’m very much thankful for the dramatic depth of the script that is continuously dark and depressing in a way that only increases your emotional investment into these characters and the opposition they face. Fans looking for the usual bumbling Reilly comedy will be severely disappointed, but I challenge you to continue your interest from the trailer into a world of consequential drama that never relents.

– What I found so compelling about these brothers is that they are anything but your conventional heroes. Instead, they present a very honest and engaging depiction of two men who are ruthlessly cold-blooded killers, whose only solace is in the bond that they share while committing these crimes. In regards to their chemistry beyond the casual brothers label, these are two men who thrive because of the presence of the other. I have no doubt that they would be lost if they went it alone, and the film spends valuable minutes of screen time to further prove my theory. It’s the single most definitive brother depiction that I’ve ever seen in a western.

– Desplat simply doesn’t sleep. Alexandre Desplat is quickly becoming one of my favorite musical composers going today, and his work in “The Sisters Brothers” continues the trend with somber tones and wondrous numbers that do a great service to the presentation. My single favorite aspect of his score is that it never feels intrusive or manipulative despite continuously elevating my investment into every scene. The moments on screen and the music work hand-in-hand together without one of them overstepping the other, and if you’re ever curious how sound elevation should be handled, check this one out.

– Even with the linear style of storytelling between the two sides, the film never felt predictable or stale for where it was headed. In displaying two duos of characters with equal time devoted, the film sets up an inevitable confrontation where only we the audience know when and where it will take place. Despite this, there’s enough twists in the dynamics of both groups, as well as the slow reveal of character backstories that constantly kept me glued to the screen, and rarely ever let me down.

NEGATIVES

– A limited eye for action sequence capacity. Much of the action in the film is spread out and secluded over the course of a film that is nearly two hours in runtime, and my problem isn’t so much with the amount of action as it is the way it is captured on screen. Much of the angles felt compromisingly close for audience detection, and the rapid fire cuts of brash editing made it increasingly difficult to focus on just one character perspective. It’s a bit shocking that the action is shot so terribly because the rest of the movie’s camera movements are beautiful, but these flaws stick out like a sore thumb .

– Stilted pacing. Complaining about pacing in a western movie is like complaining about snow in Ohio, but there are times during the third act where the film has trouble moving forward after a series of bombshell events that leaves characters leveled. This is the first time where I truly felt the stretching of runtime that was up until then engagingly persistent. There’s nothing that I would erase or leave on the cutting room floor, but quick cut treatment in these closing moments could’ve kept the energy on high for the closing moments that serve as the big payoff.

– There’s a pivotal moment late in the third act that changes the complexion of our characters moving forward, and my problem with this scene is how illogical the characters feel after molding them a particular way prior. It’s almost comical how this mistake of epic proportions takes place, and requires a great suspension of disbelief for how it physically alters them moving forward. I understand that this element is in the book of the same name, but certainly there are better ways to adapt this that feel more consistent with character details present in the film.

My Grade: 7/10 or B

The Hate U Give

Directed By George Tillman Jr

Starring – Amandla Stenberg, Regina Hall, Russell Hornsby

The Plot – Starr Carter (Stenberg) is constantly switching between two worlds: the poor, mostly black, neighborhood where she lives and the rich, mostly white, prep school she attends. The uneasy balance between these worlds is shattered when Starr witnesses the fatal shooting of her childhood best friend Khalil (Algee Smith) at the hands of a police officer. Now, facing pressures from all sides of the community, Starr must find her voice and stand up for what’s right.

Rated PG-13 for mature thematic elements, some violent content, drug material and adult language

POSITIVES

– A one woman wrecking crew of a performance. Stenberg has impressed me in films like “Everything, Everything” and even being one of the few bright spots in “The Darkest Minds”, but this is really the first time with her that I have felt shaken by a performance. Starr’s strength and perseverence are her greatest feats, but it’s in Stenberg’s wide range of heart and fragility for the things going on around her that make her irresistible as a protagonist, and it provides the first step in an inevitably bright future ahead for this leading lady.

– Two films for the price of one. Often in these modern day depiction films, you will be subjected to either a poignant conversation piece that ignores the qualities of a budget Hollywood production, or you will get an eclipsing piece of cinematic drama that sidetracks on its intelligent material, but “The Hate U Give” never restricts its boundaries, giving us a free-flowing narrative with expanding characters on top of commentary on racial and law abiding divides that never shies away. In whole, this is a film that satisfies both ends of the spectrum with audience motivation, and certainly brings with it a sense of staying power that is anything but easily forgettable.

– Above all else, a responsible film. What is so intriguing about Tillman’s directing when combined with Audrey Wells all-inclusive screenplay, is that this is a movie that gauges output on every side of the layered debate between law and citizen, as well as black and white that so much of the movie centers on. It’s refreshing because in this story there are characters of both color who are both good and bad, racist and not, who conjure up a unique perspective that doesn’t have to be cut-and-dry to sell its narrative. Particularly in offering the audience valued minutes to understand a cop’s perspective could forcefully sink the film for the majority of audience going to see the film, but Tillman feels obliged in understanding that these men and women in uniform aren’t just another evil villain, they are every bit as frightened and non-communicative as the people they instill justice upon.

– Enticing photography and overall cinematography by Mihai Malaimare Jr. Beyond just his ability to shoot a beautiful canvas, complete with these alluring roaming movements of the camera capturing the very essence of the town, it’s Mihai’s subtle erasing of color in his scenes of the past that really channel the absence of love and light from the sequence, as well as these soft, tender moments between black families that you unfortunately don’t see too often in films. This allows us the audience to adapt to this family smoothly, whether you relate to their trials and tribulations or not.

– The film also does an articulate job of outlining the two worlds around Starr, as well as the two sides she displays (Black and White), that she unfortunately must endure every day. Considering she is a black student who is going beyond typical territory lines at an all-white Catholic high school, It’s interesting to see the dynamic comparisons that she shares with friends of and opposite of her color that force her to abide by being someone she isn’t. These are perhaps the most interesting scenes of the movie to me, because it hints at even the slightest things like speech patterns and social media postings having an effect on subliminal racism.

– Free range of emotional resonance. It’s rare anymore that a film will take you on a roller-coaster of release that endures so many different emotions, but I tell the truth when I say “The Hate U Give” left me reeling from the surreal imagery and events that this movie threw at me. I laughed during scenes of release, I cried for Starr’s growing disposition against an enraged society, I feared for the victims who in this case are the only survivors, and I roared during scenes of intoxicating inspiration. It would be difficult to think of another film that has had this kind of influence over me in 2018, and it serves as a testament to Starr’s story, in that it struck so hard with a middle aged white male who couldn’t be further from this girl.

– At just over the two hour mark, this is a film that takes its time with many of the storytelling arcs, and this is no more prominent than during the film’s opening act. These incredibly touching and precedent-setting thirty minutes take their time in getting to the meat of the story, because it wants you to not only get to know these people, but also take stock in the surrounding neighborhood they’re selling. This feels very much like a neighborhood family that bleed as one, and that sense of unity is something that develops cohesively throughout the film, bringing to light a feeling of values that hit close to home. It was refreshing to see “My” neighborhoods depicted, and not for the bad reasons that stereotypically supplant themselves in big screen focus.

– A fictional story that transcends this label by touching on all too familiar material. Once in a while, a film will come along that is deemed to have “Perfect timing”, and that couldn’t be more accurate than this film. Far beyond just being entertained by a movie, the best ones should make you think and even resonate closely for replicating a world not far from our own, and “The Hate U Give” has this benefit in spades. Films like these need to be supported for their abrasive covering, if only for the way they challenge the status quo, and no current film deserves success more because of it.

– Media manipulation. You’ve heard this term a lot recently. Usually it’s in the right or left’s slandering of political stratosphere, but Tillman uses it to subtly whisper how outlets depict the black community, often reaching for the craziest looking citizen in the bunch to sell their narrative. Not only is this greatly important to what is transpiring in this film, but it also offers an illuminating light to news junkies who overlook these sort of vivid intentions as nothing more than coincidence. The news coverage here is immensely important, and the way that he channels it feels every bit as sharp as it does revealing.

NEGATIVES

– For my money, the ending is a bit too neat and tidy to be taken at truth value. I don’t feel like Tillman’s picture is reaching for a solution measure with the on-going conflict, but the one given in this film is far fetched at best, conjuring up the one single instance in the film where this whole thing actually felt like a movie. Because of this, the film’s suffocating tension just kind of slowly omits away in the closing moments, feeling like it never ends on the single moment that strikes the loudest.

9/10

Bad Times at the El Royale

Directed By Drew Goddard

Starring – Jeff Bridges, Cynthia Erivo, Dakota Johnson

The Plot – Seven strangers, each with a secret to bury, meet at Lake Tahoe’s El Royale, a rundown hotel with a dark past. Over the course of one fateful night, everyone will have a last shot at redemption; before everything goes to hell.

Rated R for strong violence, adult language, some drug content and brief nudity

POSITIVES

– We have to kick this off with the hotel itself. From a design and architecture perspective, this is a beautiful one stage setting for the entirety of this story’s current day narrative. In setting this story in the 1960’s, we are treated to these vibrant auburns and golds, the likes of which aren’t typically used to channel this particular era of American culture, and they do wonder in bringing the styles of Nevada and California together for a marriage of visual eye candy that is out of this world. The hallways and body of the hotel stretches and twists for what feels like miles, bringing with it a sense of a developing character in the script that hears and sees everything that these mysterious characters are doing.

– Goddard’s non-linear manner of storytelling. I’ve heard much to the dismay of many people about this element within the film, and while I do agree that at times it can be unnecessarily convoluted, it never confused or left me limited in understanding what is unfolding. Occasionally, the film will pause in modern day and rewind to the past, in order to better understand these characters and their current predicaments. This gives the film this sort of television element to its exposition, giving us a sense that the present is nothing to these people without the molding of a past that has taken them to this point.

– 136 minutes that are well worth it. One difficult thing for a film to do in 2018 is to craft a script that positively justifies the existence of each and every single minute, and keeps the entertainment factor in pacing firmly gripped at the pulse of its audience. Goddard succeeds at this because he presents these intriguing characters played by a super talented cast, and invests valuable minutes in telling us the whole story from many different perspectives. There is one sequence in the movie that repeats four different times, and it’s maybe not the most synthetic way to keep the audience engaged, but I can say that it worked for me because it illustrates how many layers are added to this one scene that could’ve easily been just another bump in the night at this eventful hotel. Note – This aspect will depend on how big your investment of the characters are.

– Drew Goddard loves his deconstructions. In “Cabin In The Woods”, he broke down the elements of horror in a way that was innovative and genius for hardcore fans of the genre. That theme continues in “El Royale”, although not as evident on the surface. Considering this takes place on the west coast of the 60’s, we are treated to cults, presidential scandals, and hotel wire tapping, and these elements channel a vibe of paranoia that was very prominent on our home soil during the Vietnam War era, and at the heart of it are these four strangers who are influenced by at least one of those things, and are molded together like a science experiment of atoms reacting to one another.

– A toe-tapping eclectic soundtrack of records and performances. The El Royale feels like a place where music is constantly breathing in the atmosphere, and there’s no more evidence of that feeling than the collection of Motown soul and groovy rock that makes up its almost spiritual jukebox that adorns the hotel lobby. To top that off, the leading female of the movie, Cynthia Erivo is herself a singer in real life, and the film takes advantage of this on more than a couple of occasions. Erivo bends notes to the point that they make the entire song feel fresh and debuting for the first time, and proved that this actress is so much more than just a pretty face.

– Speaking of which, the ensemble cast here is absolutely amazing, bringing to life many unique personalities and characters who I couldn’t take my eyes off of. Everyone is bringing their A-games to the screen, but there’s three people for me who stole the movie, and that’s Bridges, Erivo, and even Chris Hemsworth, who plays the leader of this dangerous cult. Chris is only in the film for forty minutes, but he makes the most of his limited minutes by carving out an egotistical antagonist side to his early resume that has me begging for more. Then there’s the magic between Bridges and Erivo that has them feeling like lifelong soul mates who are meeting for the first time. We already know that there’s plenty of secrets between them, but Erivo’s gentle touch when her walls come down casts strong empathy for her character, and Bridges wide range of demands brings us the best acting that he has done in decades.

– Tarrantino channeling. Lets get it out of the way; Drew Goddard is certainly a fan of Quentin Tarrantino and the elements that go into making his films as a one-of-a-kind experience. If he wasn’t, he certainly fooled me by crafting so many dialogue-heavy long scenes read by these very eccentric characters. I may be looking too far into this, but if I didn’t know any better I would think that Drew Goddard is an alias of Quentin Tarrantino, because so much of this film feels like a respectful homage, and not necessarily a theft of the aspects that Tarrantino made famous. Never mind that the El Royale may or may not be a nod to “Pulp Fiction”.

– Crisp editing for its violent turns. I almost missed this aspect of the film, and had it not been for some perfectly tightened transitions during the big blows, I probably would have. Without spoiling much, I will say that the crushing and fatal blows that happen in this film are cut and pasted together so wonderfully that I winced and exerted during the sparse occasions that they would invade the screen. Those for me are the best documentation of action sequences: when you feel the surprise and the detection of the blow equally, and that is something “Bad Times” does exceptionally well.

NEGATIVES

– Light bothers. There’s a bit of a stretching of disbelief for me, in that each of these dangerous people with such important motivations arrive at the hotel at almost literally the exact same time. In addition to this, there is a subplot involving this camera footage that we are reminded of every five minutes during the film, and we never find out who is actually on the film. Likewise, the frequent mention of hotel ownership leading to no reveal feels pointless for me.

– Twists? Trailers of this film promised many twists in the screenplay that never fully materialized for me. For one, these aren’t exactly twists as they are character threads, or even misconceptions. So much of what transpires between these people could be better communicated if they took the to just ask questions instead of jumping to these illogical actions. Much of the screenplay to me was easily telegraphed, and that didn’t ruin the experience for me, it’s just that you shouldn’t go into this film expecting some ground-shaking revelation, because it never comes.

8/10

The Old Man & The Gun

Directed By David Lowery

Starring – Robert Redford, Casey Affleck, Sissy Spacek

The Plot – Based on the true story of Forrest Tucker (Redford), from his audacious escape from San Quentin at the age of 70 to an unprecedented string of heists that confounded authorities and enchanted the public. Wrapped up in the pursuit are detective John Hunt (Affleck), who becomes captivated with Forrest’s commitment to his craft, and a woman (Spacek), who loves him in spite of his chosen profession.

Rated PG-13 for brief strong adult language

POSITIVES

– Redford’s last stand. If this is the final film of Robert Redford as rumored, then it feels appropriate that his career has begun and ended with a western. In fact, I feel like this film works better as a goodbye to Redford than it does a movie on its own. Especially with clips of Redford’s earlier film “The Chase” being inserted into a montage sequence. The philosophies behind living, growing old, and the constructs of time echo Redford’s career to a tee, and this allows the screenplay to transcend that of a film many times throughout.

– Impeccable chemistry. Speaking of Redford, the work between he and Sissy Spaceck charms and delights our senses in each and every scene. The dynamic between them is rich with charisma and on-point banter that we can never get enough of, making it easier with each scene to fall in love with both of them, especially when Daniel Hart’s jazz-flowing scores narrate such a seduction. Seriously, when they are together, the film flies by so much smoother, but the distance that grows between them does a disservice to a film like this that has a big enough outlet for romance in its live fast lifestyle choices.

– Unique production values. To say that this film feels like something straight out of the 70’s is an understatement. Joe Anderson’s grainy cinematography graphics combined with vintage side pan and slow zoom camera movements succesfully pays homage to the disco age of filmmaking, giving “The Old Man and the Gun” a one of a kind presentation that is totally out of this generation. In fact, it’s jarring to occasionally see newer film stars of this decade on screen, because it feels like they got into a time machine to the 70’s to further convolute their respective filmographies.

– Accurate depiction of the real Forest Tucker. Considering this is based on a true story, it would be expected that the film would take a few liberties with the material, but “The Old Man and The Gun” stays on a narrow path of fact and tastefulness that prove why he was arguably good or bad at his role of a robber. The film highlights Tucker as an intelligent individual whose biggest curse was the inability to live a normal life, and it’s in this curse where we learn the most about the mild manners of the man who charmed many he came into contact with.

– One song broke my replay button. Beyond just the use of this song in my single favorite scene in the movie, Jackson C Frank’s “Blues Run the Game” is on my limited list of favorite tracks from a film for the 2018 movie season. Frank’s somber repetitve lyrical deliveries echo that of a Dylan-meets-Buckley kind of vibe, and it’s a track that haunted me in the most intoxicating way, long after I left the theater. I suggest you give it a listen and turn it up.

– Part of what I love about Lowery as a director that makes him perfect for this particular project is the inclusion of random images that don’t necessarily add anything but atmosphere to the unfolding scene. For example, the editing cuts at random times and cuts to people or objects that were initially out of frame, but are now receiving focus in the most charming out-of-context manner. In this perspective, it feels like David is trying to relay the idea that little things happen are happening all around us, and the matters of random play into fate whether we want them too or not.

– My favorite kind of westerns are the ones that build two sides equally without compromising the other, and the fight for leverage between Redford and Affleck equally provides two sides that you want to come out unharmed. When you have two characters from different sides you care about, your investment in the movie and their well-being doubles, and Lowery as a screenwriter is intelligent enough to understand that the chaser is just as important to the story as the one he’s hunting, giving away the concept of an antagonist for the movie to be anything other than the inevitability of time.

NEGATIVES

– Something’s missing. When I left the theater, I had an overwhelming feeling that something was missing from the movie, and then it finally hit me. This film for the entirety of 88 minutes has little or no danger or urgency to it. My opinion is that it might focus a bit too much on the charms of Tucker to ever make him look truly bad or wrong in his convictions, giving away any remote thrills or tension that a film like this could desperately use.

– Occasionally meaningless scenes or characters. Without spoiling much, I can say one scene in particular featuring Elisabeth Moss as Tucker’s distant daughter did nothing for the complexion or even the sensibility of the film’s unraveling narrative. What confuses me is how this woman who has never met her father once not only knows so much about his traits, but also how she even has pictures of him in the first place. In addition to this, the very existence of Affleck’s character considering where the film ends. This is summarized by an in-person exchange between Redford and Affleck that sounds cool on paper, but only feeds into the lack of energy that I mentioned in the previous negative. It’s sad because I love Lowery as a director, but his writing is faulty at best.

– Lowery has always had a desire to pan out his scenes, testing the pacing time-and-time-again in ways that would paralyze other films. Where that worked in a film like “A Ghost Story”, when Rooney Mara is devouring a pie for five straight minutes, is in how he depicts the isolation and condemning feeling of grief and what it does to the human soul. Here, that same stretching of the pacing hinders the entertainment value of the film without adding anything of substance to what its plodding is trying to convey. More than anything, this is present during the second act, when Affleck’s subplot overstretches its boundaries and domination on screen time over the Redford/Spacek dynamic. It’s nowhere near as testing as eating a pie continuously, but it’s nowhere near as substansive as that take either.

7/10

Colette

Directed By Wash Westmoreland

Starring – Keira Knightley, Eleanor Tomlinson, Dominic West

The Plot – After marrying a successful Parisian writer known commonly as “Willy” (West), Sidonie-Gabrielle Colette (Knightley) is transplanted from her childhood home in rural France to the intellectual and artistic splendor of Paris. Soon after, Willy convinces Colette to ghostwrite for him. She pens a semi-autobiographical novel about a witty and brazen country girl named Claudine, sparking a bestseller and a cultural sensation. After its success, Colette and Willy become the talk of Paris and their adventures inspire additional Claudine novels. Colette’s fight over creative ownership and gender roles drives her to overcome societal constraints, revolutionizing literature, fashion and sexual expression.

Rated R for some sexuality/nudity

POSITIVES

– Rich and vibrant performances from the film’s leading duo. These are the kind of stirring renditions that lift a so-so screenplay to one that is full of radiant energy and impeccable chemistry between them for all of the wrong reasons. As the film’s title character, Knightley is intelligent, cunning, and especially confrontational. For a woman in the late 1800’s, Colette feels like a revolutionary for her respective gender, decades ahead of her time, and Keira is happy to oblige in giving the character the ambiance in fire that is dutifully required. West also shouldn’t be overlooked for his seedy brand of manipulation that gives the film the constant headache and obstacle that it’s protagonist requires.

– “Colette” is enriched with an overwhelming feeling of stage presence that constantly persists throughout the film. In translating to the screen, it’s nice to see that the meat and conflicts aren’t lost, because it’s in those moments when the dialogue diatribes becomes evidently louder, and the movements of camera remain firmly grounded. There were times during the film when I immersed myself into believing that I was watching a stage play, and it’s a testament to Westmoreland’s grip on the film, to never lose sight of what works from within.

– Vibrant production value in wardrobe and shooting locations. Duplicating Paris during the late 19th century presents many coveted opportunities that other films don’t get the blessing of, and “Colette” never squanders this chance, offering a wide variety of triple stitched dresses and suits to capture the ever-changing essence of our leading lady in a conforming male-dominated society, as well as a fine collection of gorgeous sites that were shot in Budapest to channel the vibe of French cultures.

– The depiction of fame in the 19th century. What I found so cool and unique about this perspective is the comparisons between now and then that highlighted many of the same parallels with being in the public eye. Rarely do we get a chance to see this angle played out in such a reformed and distant era from our own, and the inclusion of one informative montage sequence relates just how groundbreaking the Claudine novels were for escapism literature at their time, giving a vote of confidence to women everywhere whether their male counterparts knew it or not.

– Feels important without catering as Oscar bait. Whether this film receives eventual award consideration remains to be seen, but “Colette” thrives as one of these building blocks to a greater civilization without the necessity of feeling pertentious or callous as an independent film. Because of this, I feel like the film has strong crossover value with 21-40 year-old-males, who would otherwise never consider giving a film like this the time of day. It never loses itself in clunky, outdated dialogue, nor does it feel constrained by its sometimes dry time frame, and I hope many diverse audiences will give it a chance.

– Polished cinematography that was made for the silver screen. It’s so nice to see Giles Nuttgens stealing the show again after the triumph in visual storytelling that was “Hell or High Water”, one of my absolute favorite films of 2016, and his entrancing cruise control into the sights and sounds of Paris is something that certainly can’t be understated. It takes its time with painting us into the vibrant environment, and allowing us a vivid seduction of the landscape that are only surpassed by our leading lady’s impeccable character framing shots.

– Much of the dynamic between Colette and Willy is interesting, if only for the comparisons in infedelity that are labeled one way and ignored on another. What I found so honest and appreciative about their relationship is that these two people, who have fallen out of love, no longer wish to put on a charade to the dismay of their own homely environment. They embrace the arms of many other lovers, and do so without ever straying completely away from one another. One could say this is obviously because of Willy’s lock on Colette, and the fact that he needs her to keep writing, but I think it’s evident that if you are a part of someone’s life long enough, you inevitably will remain that way with or without choice. It’s anything but the conventional romantic rise-and-fall that you’re typically used to.

NEGATIVES

– It’s reach for poignancy far exceeds its grasp on some interesting subject material. Throughout the film, but especially in the ever-changing second act, the movie jumps from many pads to cleanse its pallet for many conversation starters, but unfortunately it never has much to say beyond the initial mentioning. Plagiarism, self-identity, and gay relationships are just some of the topics that move in and out of frame without much satisfaction for material, and I wish the film had more of an evident direction and fleshed out conclusion for why it required these stirring subtexts.

– Sharp time lapses. This is without a doubt my biggest problem with “Colette”, as the film feels like a jagged hack-and-slash that constantly trims the fat of some important time periods in Colette’s life. It’s more noticeable than ever during a first act that not only speeds us through three years of exposition within the opening ten minutes of the movie, but also finds itself fighting to gain any momentum in pacing that will challenge the audience right away. It does eventually payoff, but I can see a lot of people feeling weighed down for all of the wrong reasons before the film ever really gets going.

– The dramatic elements of the film are never fully realized, and it renders much of the consistency deaf in tone. There are parts of this film where I uncontrollably laughed at the mayhem that ensued, yet others when my face was a blank portrait for transpired, and for a movie so wrapped in manipulation and betrayal, I felt that the rendering of the finished product goes by without fully ever grasping what kind of feeling should exist within the atmosphere. This feels like 107 minutes that builds to a climax that just kind of comes-and-goes without much firepower, and it leaves the film’s closing minutes as nothing more than a Wikipedia page navigation.

7/10

First Man

Directed By Damien Chazelle

Starring – Ryan Gosling, Claire Foy, Jason Clarke

The Plot – A Biopic on the life of the legendary American Astronaut Neil Armstrong (Gosling) from 1961-1969, on his journey to becoming the first human to walk the moon. Exploring the sacrifices and costs on the Nation and Neil himself, during one of the most dangerous missions in the history of space travel.

Rated PG-13 for some thematic content involving peril, and brief strong adult language

POSITIVES

– Masterful sound mixing. One of the most difficult things to channel and articulate about a space movie are those often overlooked aspects of atmosphere that are rarely ever channeled properly in audio capturing. That is until Phil Barrie instills his influence of perfectionist touch upon the presentation. Phil’s consistency constantly overshadows what transpires throughout the many missions in space that the film depicts, and does so in a way that combines them into a chorus line of measurements that continues to magnify the tension associated with every scene.

– Needless to say, this film is much more terrifying than any science fiction horror film can muster up. What Chazelle’s intimate exploration proves is that space never needed a world-ending asteroid or an army of venom spewing aliens to relay the risks that follow, illuminating the uncertainty of timely technology that was anything but a perfect science. You’re almost waiting for something to go bad during each attempt, and this thought process only highlights the desire of the mission that is every bit as urgent as it is delicate.

– Without question, my favorite aspect of this film is the seductive camera work and grainy cinematography. On the latter, it’s incredible that IMAX cameras were used to film a majority of this movie because the film’s intentionally dulled down color pallet is something that moved miles in terms of time period consistency, giving “First Man” a transformative feeling to a time when film quality wasn’t as fortunate. On the former, the decision to shoot the ship scenes with so much intimacy and claustrophobia, in addition to the occasional first person point-of-view, is one that pays off immensely for communicating not only the high stakes of the mission, but also how alone and isolated they feel from those they love. Most space films, especially during the 90’s, got this kind of thing wrong, but Chazelle more than anything wanted to illustrate the fragility associated with space exploration, especially during a time when science was anything but exact.

– In addition to the film’s look channeling its respective time period, the production props and wardrobe also vibrate a sense of authentication in subtlety that are sure to please. We are treated to a lot of short sleeve button up business shirts, with a thin tie to bring it all home. Likewise, the many peeks of classic automobiles and outdated Busch Beer cans were something that was a treat behind every corner, leaving no stone unturned for superb production details.

– Depthful screenplay by Josh Singer. In learning that this was the first film that Chazelle didn’t pen, it did have me remotely fearful for him covering someone else’s vision, but the very man who covered such important topics like child molestation with Catholicism in “Spotlight”, as well as the battle for free press in “The Post”, more than filled my glass of optimism with the amount of versatility he provides in 133 meaningful minutes. More than just another space movie, this film values the battle of what’s going on at home with the wives of these astronauts. It also brings to light the increasing pressure of the United States and NASA to come through with a meaningful triumph, and how those demands fell on the shoulders of one man who bordered obsession in such a mission. All of these subplots continue to play into our thought process as we watch the film, and give us great investment for Neil’s character, if only even for this drained man to finally attain the peace of mind he has worked so hard for.

– While this is Chazelle’s first film that doesn’t revolve around music, it doesn’t mean that the accompanying scores by longtime partner Justin Hurwitz don’t breathe a level of importance for the particular story. What’s appreciative is that they are mostly saved for the moments when their inclusion serves the atmosphere and scenery the loudest, capturing an essence of dramatic wonderment in American achievement that constantly fishes for goosebumps. Strangely enough, there’s one number in the film that repeats twice that I swore was a number from “La La Land”, only slowed down, and that’s quite possible considering the very same man who composed the Oscar winning numbers from that film also perfected the patience and prestige that accommodated “First Man”.

– A touch of the past. I was very surprised and humbled with the film’s decision to include the actual audio transmission of NASA headquarters in Houston, during such a monumental time. Even more pleasing than this however, is the use of 1969 stock footage between American commentary on the failing space program, as well as the influence that arguably the greatest achievement in American history had on the citizens who watched it in droves.

– Surprising assortment of supporting cast. In watching the three different trailers for this movie, I did manage to spot Kyle Chandler and even Jason Clarke, but never did I expect that this film was more of an ensemble piece than I thought. Pablo Schreiber, Ethan Embry, Ciaran Hinds, Shea Whigham, and of course the gret Corey Stoll all play important pieces that interact with Neil before his missions, and prove that the big names are beginning to flock to Chazelle as one of the prime directors of our generation, and with films like “Whiplash”, “La La Land” and “Grand Piano” under his grip, it’s easy to see why.

– The big payoff. It’s no secret the event that this film is building to, but after over two hours of build and exposition does it truly payoff in size? You bet your ass it does. My suggestion would be to see this film in the biggest screen possible, because the combination of breathtaking aesthetics, as well as magnitude in scope remind us not only why this story is so fascinating to us, but why American perseverence never quit. There’s one shot in particular that is almost frozen in frame, giving the audience plenty of time to soak in the immensity of it all, and single-handedly solidifying itself as my single favorite shot of 2018.

NEGATIVES

– If there was one thing that I wasn’t worried about, it was the work of Ryan Gosling, but that proved to be my undoing. This opinion might be unpopular with a lot of people, but Gosling’s reserved performance here is remarkably underwhelming for never giving us a single instance of gripping delivery. Beyond Ryan however, the film’s direction never allows us to see inside of Neil, instead choosing to continuously view him from the outside and come to our own conclusions about what’s going on inside. This proves a huge disconnect for the screenplay, and served as the only real negative that I took away from an otherwise flawless movie.

9/10