I Can Only Imagine

Directed by Andrew and Jon Erwin

Starring – J Michael Finley, Brody Rose, Dennis Quaid

The Plot – The inspiring and unknown true story behind MercyMe’s beloved, chart topping song that brings ultimate hope to so many is a gripping reminder of the power of true forgiveness.

Rated PG-13 for thematic elements including some violence

THE POSITIVES

– Unlike a majority of the films that I have reviewed in this particular genre, ‘I Can Only Imagine’ doesn’t just rely on the propaganda aspects of faith in getting the story over. This is first-and-foremost about Bart’s journey, and even though there are times when that faith comes into play, it’s really his life events that brings the story together, and doesn’t require feeling meandering to those who take it in.

– There’s obviously some heartfelt somber moments in this screenplay, but what surprised me was just how strong the comic backbone was to the film. All of it of course rests on Finley’s shoulders, emoting with honest reactions what gets over the forever child stuck inside of him.

– For a religious film, no cent was spared in this widely eclectic soundtrack that features Electric Light Orchestra, U2, and Amy Grant among others.

– No sentimental moment ever feels wasted or prematurely disposed. Considering the first half of the film feels like a comedy, the dramatic pulse could fall apart by the wayside, but this screenplay’s timely switch-ups harvest a strong feeling of legitimacy that will have you fighting back tears from the same maturity in script that Bart as a character earns with his will to forgive.

– While not everything is a gem with the production (More on the later), a majority of what the brothers Erwin manufacture here makes the camera work and overall visuals feel like a real movie. The revolving shots around the singer in focus are beautifully choreographed, and the transition scenes of the changing scenery around MercyMe’s tour really triggers a sense of the endless battle to be signed.

THE NEGATIVES

– With the exception of our lead protagonist, the film has a strong burden in that it doesn’t flesh out a lot of these characters. Particularly, I am referring to that of female lead (Played by Madeline Carroll) and Bart’s abusive father (Quaid). The former is only brought in when Bart requires her, and the latter is given plenty of screen time, but never a connecting of the pieces for why he feels as damaged as he is.

– The passing of time is a bit cryptic in the film. Because there is no on-screen text to commute to us, nor is there much emphasis on how much time has passed, the film continuously feels like one long-running narration, despite the fact that many characters and their respective plots come in and out of frame without much closure for our delight.

– Stumbling editing. One negative that I spotted like a sore thumb in production, is that of the cutting and pasting in editing that felt rushed during a few scenes. It’s definitely the most evident in the opening act of the movie, but if you focus closely you will notice some long-winded dialogue that visually looks like it is cut short before the camera interrupts them.

– As far as biopics go, it’s very rudimentary and even redundant. The overall structure of this film hits a lot of the same notes that films since ‘Walk the Line’ have made a point of including. It’s unfortunate that this film can’t deviate much from those predictable directions, even with the screenwriters taking more than a few liberties with the source material that even Bart himself has highlighted.

– My only problems with the cast are more in their physical appearances. With Cloris Leachman, she kind of just eats up scenery and doesn’t ever evolve into anything other than distracting to the scenes. With Finley, I can’t say much negative for his first feature film performance, but I can’t in good conscience believe for a second that this actor who is 28 years old in real life is believably playing an 18 year old high school kid.

5/10

A Wrinkle in Time

Directed by Ava Duvernay

Starring – Storm Reid, Chris Pine, Oprah Winfrey

The Plot – Meg Murry (Reid) is a typical middle school student struggling with issues of self-worth who is desperate to fit in. As the daughter of two world-renowned physicists, she is intelligent and uniquely gifted, as is Meg’s younger brother Charles Wallace (Deric McCabe), but she has yet to realize it for herself. Making matters even worse is the baffling disappearance of Mr. Murry (Pine), which torments Meg and has left her mother (Gugu Mbatha-Raw) heartbroken. Charles Wallace introduces Meg and her fellow classmate Calvin (Levi Miller) to three celestial guides-Mrs. Which (Winfrey), Mrs. Whatsit (Reese Witherspoon) and Mrs. Who (Mindy Kaling)-who have journeyed to Earth to help search for their father, and together they set off on their formidable quest. Traveling via a wrinkling of time and space known as tessering, they are soon transported to worlds beyond their imagination where they must confront a powerful evil. To make it back home to Earth, Meg must look deep within herself and embrace her flaws to harness the strength necessary to defeat the darkness closing in on them.

Rated PG for thematic elements and some peril

THE POSITIVES

– That sense of escapism and imagination that filled the pages of the book is one of the only things that translates well for this picture. Throughout the movie, we are treated to some truly gorgeous Greenland landscapes that never need C.G pixelation in harnessing their beauty, as well as a vibrant color scheme that triggers an out-of-this-world kind of energy for us to intake.

– It’s kind of refreshing to me that for once in a movie we are seeing the little girl take command of the situation, and the little boy is kind of left to be the side piece to do nothing but support her. This certainly gives the film a progressive sense of direction that will inspire girl audiences everywhere.

– While she doesn’t succeed at every level of camera work, Duverney can at least hang her hat on being a risk taker. Ava refuses to ever settle for just one continuous style in shooting these characters and visuals, and this speaks volumes to the levels of articulation that she possesses as a top notch director in Hollywood.

THE NEGATIVES

– This screenplay feels like it (Like Chris Pine’s character) got lost somewhere along the way. I say that because so much of the material not only feels out of context, but also short on exposition for the very lack of rules explanation that the film supplants. The on-going journey very much feels like writers who are making up the rules as they go, neglecting the vital details from the book that communicated the logic. The child reactions and logic are also ridiculously stretched here. Kids react to these weird things going on around them like these three magical women showing up on their doorsteps like it’s no big deal. There’s no shock or awe in any of them, and sadly I blame this on a director who never dives deep into her characters.

– Speaking of lagging exposition, not one character outline is given to any single person in this film. Reid’s Meg is obviously the main character of the film, but there’s very little we actually know about her by film’s end other than she’s smart and she’s Chris Pine’s daughter. When I care more about the characters, I care more about their peril, and I never found myself fully immersed in any kind of conflict in the film.

– EXTREME CLOSE-UP WHOOOAAAAAA!!!! I mentioned that Duverney doesn’t succeed at every angle she shoots in the film, and none are more harmful than the tedious exertion that she gave in shooting too close. There were several times in the film where I felt physically uncomfortable with Ava’s decision to cover each and every reaction that sometimes goes without saying.

– Considering this is Disney Studios and there is over a hundred million dollars invested into the film, the computer generation properties in the film are really an eye-sore. This goes well beyond the hollow movements and terribly cheesy green-screen outlining. This is really more about the believability in presentation that leaves very little to the imagination. A film should try its hardest to make the live action transition seamless, otherwise why not make this an animated movie to begin with?

– Nothing memorable in terms of performances. Reese Witherspoon is definitely the best of the three adult counterparts, emoting Mrs Whatsit with a sarcastic tongue that occasionally got the better of her. The problem is Witherspoon (Like Winfrey and Kaling) is playing an amplified version of herself, never allowing herself to get lost in the character. The child actors too are abysmal. Reid lacks enough personality to make her intriguing as someone we follow for a majority, and the work of Levi Miller as Meg’s crush made for as much awkwardness in line reads as a Fifty Shades movie. Seriously, this kid was a stalker, right?

– If you forget Meg’s brother’s name is Charles Wallace, fear not because the movie repeats it no fewer than sixty times throughout. If there is one positive to this, it’s in the capability in creating a fun drinking game with friends that will have you passing out before having to sit through 104 minutes of this boredom.

– Which brings me to my final problem for the movie; it is an anomaly with its pacing. I say that because despite a screenplay that is literally and figuratively running through scenes with very little explanation or impact, the film still manages to slug along with repetition in dialogue about the importance of love and family that they beat over the head time-and-time-again. After an impressive opening act, it’s a shame that this film never finds the proper formula in establishing that the sum is greater than its parts.

3/10

A Fantastic Woman

Directed by Sebastian Lelio

Starring – Daniela Vega, Francisco Reyes, Luis Gnecco

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

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

THE POSITIVES

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

THE NEGATIVES

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

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

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

7/10

Death Wish

Directed by Eli Roth

Starring – Bruce Willis, Vincent D’Onofrio, Elisabeth Shue

The Plot – Dr. Paul Kersey (Willis) is a surgeon who only sees the aftermath of his city’s violence as it’s rushed into his ER -until his wife (Shue) and college-age daughter (Camila Morrone) are viciously attacked in their suburban home. With the police overloaded with crimes, Paul, burning for revenge, hunts for his family’s assailants to deliver justice. As the anonymous slayings of criminals grabs the media’s attention, the city wonders if this deadly avenger is a guardian angel…or a grim reaper. Fury and fate collide in this intense action-thriller.

Rated R for strong bloody violence, and adult language throughout

THE POSITIVES

– The decision to set this film in Chicago is definitely one that makes sense to the social commentary on firearms, but also infuses the use of modern technology with such a battle zone so immense.

– If Eli Roth has done anything right in his career, it’s his thirst for brutality and violence that is second to no one. While some of the death scenes feel a bit fetishized when compared to the way the rest of the film is shot, it does at least cast the extra emphasis in consequences for playing this kind of game. Everything else might be watered down, but this simply isn’t.

– Respect is given that Eli can finally stay behind a camera and not insert himself into his own movies. These scenes usually serve absolutely no point, and thankfully he exerts enough patience in keeping his ass in the director’s chair.

THE NEGATIVES

– Every single situation in the film relies on convenience. From Willis not being seen and identified, to pictures of addresses being in an antagonist’s cell phone that helps Willis in finding leads, there are too many of these instances that had me rolling my eyes for just how sloppy this screenplay was. There’s even one scene when Willis so obviously faces the direction of a girl filming with her cell phone, only for it to later not include this instance.

– Mixed signals?? The film never quite made clear what side of the firearms debate that it sits on. There are plenty of times during the film when Roth not-so-subtly hints that the only way to stop this epidemic is if more people arm themselves, yet by the end of the film there’s a violent shove in material to letting the police do their jobs. You can’t be both on this particular issue, and if you can’t make a choice in 102 minutes of screen time, then the film will often feel like it is being written by two different people.

– The performances are terrible. Willis himself hasn’t been a big screen presence for decades, and after seeing ‘Death Wish’ I understand why. There’s an overall lack of emotion or energy from his demeanor, and it never rises from that grounded level. A film will never suffer as much as it does with a main actor who so obviously doesn’t want to be there, and Willis’s can’t-be-bothered retort has a lasting wound on the film that it never sews shut. Not to be outdone however, Shue herself reacts to a break-in with no tears or screaming, giving you the kind of paycheck collection film that big name actors flock to once the scripts come in the mail further between.

– There is nothing remotely fresh of impactful in this film that we haven’t seen in the hundreds of other vigilante films that each borrow from each other. This script feels every bit as recycled and derivative as it does clumsy for inserting no twists or leverage on its audience.

– What I loved about the original ‘Death Wish’ is its gritty psychological unraveling of this protagonist who we ourselves interpret that overwhelming sense of loneliness. How Roth depicts this manner is to instill comedic personality to a man who doesn’t grieve his wife’s death for more than two scenes after it goes down.

– So many directions go unfulfilled. Whether the one-and-done scenes of characters like Shue’s gun-toting father or Mike Epps lone scene as a surgeon (You read that right), or the way the third act treats the antagonist like a mystery that is building to a big reveal, the film never explores these avenues. This is a jigsaw puzzle in which many of the central pieces are missing, and I never settled down from the way Joe Carnahan as a screenwriter proposes so many ideas only to drop the ball with every single one.

– If there is one thing that Willis and this film need more than anything, it’s an antagonist that they can bounce off of. Once the break-in happens, we never see these burglars again until the end, proving just how little the film cares in seeing things from their vantage points. Without this dedication in minutes, we as an audience never feel how vital the revenge of Willis truly is, nor do we ever question if this predictable ending will spin us to surprise.

3/10

Red Sparrow

Directed by Francis Lawrence

Starring – Jennifer Lawrence, Joel Edgerton, Charlotte Rampling

The Plot – A young Russian intelligence officer (Lawrence) is assigned to seduce a first-tour CIA agent (Edgerton) who handles the CIA’s most sensitive penetration of Russian intelligence. The two young officers collide in a charged atmosphere of trade-craft, deception, and inevitably forbidden passion that threatens not just their lives but the lives of others as well.

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

THE POSITIVES

– Jennifer Lawrence easily steals the show, committing her body and essence to the role of Dominika in spades. Not only does Jennifer take a physical toll with her body throughout the film, but she also stays nearly perfect in her consistency to the Russian accent. As one of the best actresses of her time, Lawrence exemplifies much pain and sorrow in a single stone cold glance that supplants a wall above this burning fire deep.

– The adult material in the film was very surprising. This is a film that isn’t afraid to get its hands dirty in the violence and sexual nature of the screenplay, and I commend it for using the most of its coveted rating.

– Exceptional on-site photography by Jo Willems that properly authenticates the gloomy environmental feeling behind this post-Cold War Russia.

– My favorite parts of this film is definitely during the first forty minutes or so. While there, we get an intriguing and educational lesson behind the training of spies, and the biggest leap in depiction for the eventual transformation that Dominika will take.

– This film will constantly keep you guessing. As you start to see the motions being put in place for the concluding third act, Lawrence’s film has no qualms about throwing a wrench in what could easily fall into conventional territory. You may think you know where this one is headed, and I promise you that you don’t.

– While female audiences shouldn’t come to see this film to be empowered, I do feel that the honest depiction of a male dominated world and the capabilities of adapting to it are channeled wonderfully by this main character. This gives ‘Red Sparrow’ a kind of unapologetic and honest outline that other films won’t approach because of a politically correct society that we currently live in.

THE NEGATIVES

– On the other side of those twists, there are far too many of them in such a short period of time. Twists should be used as a much-needed shot of adrenaline to the scenes that are collapsing, but the overabundance of them that are used here riddle the logic to this finale and will take you completely out of the protagonist’s conflict.

– At 134 minutes, this film is FAR too long. In my opinion, there’s probably a tight, cerebral 105 minute screenplay inside of screenwriter Justin Haythe’s bloated script that repeats itself far too often. One extra cutting room meeting could’ve done wonders in keeping the sizzle on the steak and keep the second half pacing from frequently plodding.

– One scene involving floppy discs is clearly catered to creating manufactured tension that simply isn’t there. The film is set in modern day, so why the need for floppy discs in an age of hard drives and cd’s I couldn’t tell you, but my opinion is to prolong a heist scene that would otherwise fly-by without much emphasis. To me, it doesn’t hold up in modern day logic, and wastes away one of the most important scenes of the film.

– This is NOT the film that was advertised, and I feel that’s more of a negative than a positive in this scenario. Considering so much of the trailer felt like an action thriller, Francis’s film is so dry in between visual sight gags that it could easily throw in a chase scene or two to supplant something of variety to what we’re being fed.

6/10

Every Day

Directed by Michael Sucsy

Starring – Angourie Rice, Justice Smith, Maria Bello

The Plot – Based on David Levithan’s acclaimed New York Times bestseller, Every Day tells the story of Rhiannon (Rice), a 16-year old girl who falls in love with a mysterious soul named “A” who inhabits a different body every day. Feeling an unmatched connection, Rhiannon and A work each day to find each other, not knowing what or who the next day will bring. The more the two fall in love, the more the realities of loving someone who is a different person every 24 hours takes a toll, leaving Rhiannon and “A” to face the hardest decision either has ever had to make

Rated PG-13 for thematic content, adult language, teen drinking, and suggestive material

THE POSITIVES

– No matter how ridiculous in concept, I do enjoy a film that takes an idea in plot and can at least have fun with it. There are several attempts at humor when it comes to this spirit inhabiting these bodies that occasionally gave me a light chuckle to the unfolding absurdity.

– Angourie Rice proves that she might be one of those few child stars who makes the transition seamlessly to adult actor. Here, Rice is the dominant focus for the film, and through that majority of time spent with her we are treated to an emotional register for how complicated adolescence can truly be. Everyone else in the film was disposable, but she gave me levels of substance that I greatly appreciated.

– Soft lens kind of cinematography that articulately channels indie romance flicks beautifully. This graduates the source material from a young adult origin to a mature adaptation before our very eyes.

– I am so thankful that the final ten minutes of the film addressed many of the problems that I had with where this romance is going. For instance, what if Rhiannon gets pregnant someday? What if people see her with a new man or woman every day? What if a body is taken over by A that is suicidal? The film not only explores these ideas, but does so in a way that feels responsible to the ending.

– Any chance where I get to hear that 80’s reminiscent sounds of The The’s ‘This is the Day’ is a pleasure-filled delight. This song not only slyly winks at the film’s unfolding events, but also serves as a meaningful way for Rhiannon to distinguish who is A.

THE NEGATIVES

– The film’s beginning almost feels like we’ve stumbled upon a film that has begun with another film already in progress. I say this because much of the initial first few scenes proceed with very little exposition for those of us in the audience who haven’t read the novel. It threw me off because I always expect the introductions to either explain the character’s curse, or at least indulge us in getting to know its main characters, but neither of those happen in this forced beginning.

– This script has several one-off scenes that add nothing of substance to the remainder. Things like Rhiannon’s Mom randomly coming to her room to have a talk, and then deciding against it, could easily be left on the cutting room floor. They are scenes that are never further elaborated on, and feel more like unnecessary padding to push this 90 minute agenda.

– It’s my opinion that this film is following the wrong person. Rice’s performance is solid, yes, but the whole idea of the film is about A, so why does he/she constantly feel like a shadow in his own movie?

– I can appreciate a film that speaks to the spiritual side of love and not the physical side of it, but that theme is slightly difficult to believe when 95% of the bodies that A inhabits are cute teenagers of the Banana Republic catalogue type. Even when it turns out to be a woman, there’s very little physical interaction in the same way that Rhiannon feels when she gets a strapping young lad.

– Does it freak anyone else out that Rhiannon is having sexual relations with people’s bodies without their consent? Quite a tough sell indeed.

5/10

Annihilation

Directed by Alex Garland

Starring – Natalie Portman, Tessa Thompson, Oscar Isaac

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

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

THE POSITIVES

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

THE NEGATIVES

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

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

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

7/10

Samson

Directed by Bruce Macdonald

Starring – Jackson Rathbone, Billy Zane, Taylor James

The Plot – A Hebrew (James) with an unusual gift of strength must respond properly to the call of God on his life in order to lead his people out of enslavement. After his youthful ambition leads to a tragic marriage, his acts of revenge thrust him into direct conflict with the Philistine army. As his brother mounts a tribal rebellion, only Samson’s relationship with a Philistine seductress and his final surrender, both to the Philistines and to God, turns imprisonment and blindness into final victory

Rated PG-13 for scenes of violence from battle sequences

THE POSITIVES

– At this point in the game, if religious films can’t even get costume and set pieces correctly, there’s no point in even trying. ‘Samson’ certainly continues this trend with a fine line of dissection between the Palestinians and the Hebrews that visually tell the difference in wealth distribution.

– Perhaps the best introduction scene to one of these films that I have ever seen. It actually felt like there was an attempt to insert some personality into this movie with the inclusion of quick-cut takes from a heist plan, as well as witty banter that actually brought a smile out of me.

THE NEGATIVES

– In retort to that dazzling intro scene, the rest of the film falls into the mundane category of familiarity. For what started on such a high note, eventually grinded into a slow drafting bible tale with none of the confidence in its characters or events to boot.

– The performances are all around laughably bad, but no one can hold a candle to Jackson Rathbone as the evil Rallah. What Eddie Redmayne did in ‘Jupiter Ascending’ can only be described as amplified to eleven with Rathbone’s unintimidating stature and uninspiring line reads that constantly fall short in carving out a meaningful antagonist. On the other side of the coin, James title character is written as an all brawn and no brain kind of hero who is constantly outwitted to the point of cringing in your seat for how easy his predicaments are to get out of. Even the often times over-the-top Billy Zane is in this film and they do nothing with him or his character. Some enthusiasm from Zane could’ve honestly made this sit a lot easier for me.

– God’s power is reduced to being a magical genie who pops up whenever Samson needs him. So if the rules are this easy to master, why not (Oh I don’t know) ask for food and drink for your starving village in the same ways you destroy a brick wall or bring down a stone building with your hands? I guess spectacle matters over livelihood.

– Consistently dropping the ball on establishing dramatic impact. Much of Samson’s adversity is disposed of within a few seconds, even taking out multiple 30 and 50 man armies by himself with ease. This is only in the first half of the film, mind you, so the second half wants us to believe that he will fail against one puny prince who may be the key to silencing this mystical Hebrew. Give me a break.

– Terribly choreographed fight sequences. Much of the reason for Samson being able to take down these huge armies by himself is because these soldiers only approach him one at a time, waiting in a neat and tidy line for their turns to meet their maker. There are many times when they could easily dispose of this one man army, but they would rather dogpile on him than take a knife to his chest when he’s pinned down. STUPID!! If that isn’t enough, the graphic material is so watered down here, free of blood or much graphic violence to really linger with the audience. An all around dry presentation.

– Uneven pacing plagues this film over and over again, turning a modest 105 minute film into what feels like a two-and-a-half hour plunge. Much of this can be blamed on just how much they try to squeeze into this film, limiting a majority of scenes to under three minutes so we can constantly keep moving. Where this harms the fluidity is in the bubbling feeling that this film garners no consistency in momentum for itself in bringing along its audience on the edge of their seats.

– Clunky dialogue that could double for even softcore pornography. Perhaps my favorite of these lines takes place between Samson and a woman he is courting during the beginning of the third act, in which she tells him that there is no way she could even bond him from leaving. Samson looks at her like he ripped gas and says “You should use the finest rope, that way I couldn’t fight it much” UGGHHHHHH!!!!

– Hallmark Channel level C.G in landscape establishing shots. Thankfully this is about 95% of the computer generation used in the film, but I couldn’t help but wince each time a new scene began.

2/10

Film Stars Don’t Die in Liverpool

Directed by Paul McGuigan

Starring – Jamie Bell, Annette Bening, Julie Walters

The Plot – Based on Peter Turner’s memoir, the film follows the playful but passionate relationship between Turner (Bell) and the eccentric Academy Award winning actress Gloria Grahame (Bening) in 1978 Liverpool. What starts as a vibrant affair between a legendary femme fatale and her young lover quickly grows into a deeper relationship, with Turner being the person Gloria turns to for comfort. Their passion and lust for life is tested to the limits by events beyond their control.

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

THE POSITIVES

– Subliminal truth in advertising. Intentionally fake backdrops and landscapes are used signify not only that particular starlet era of film, but also that the two leads are the only real thing in the other person’s eyes. Beyond this, the film’s actual setting too plays a prominent role. Liverpool, England has always felt like a town that is frozen in time, depicted here with vintage wartime posters and outdated housing detail that feels aged even for the 80’s. This makes the perfect setting in film for two people trying to clear the hurdle of their dramatic age gap. They too have frozen the scope of time.

– Contrasting interpretations. Interestingly enough, the couple visually transcends their difference in age when alone, feeling like two kids who have their whole lives ahead of them, yet when they are out and about with other people, that blurred vision caters to reality and we see them how everyone else does.

– It’s no surprise that Bening steals the show, but as Grahame she sets back the hands of time, juggling the personality of this tender woman with seeds of pep to grow around her otherwise garden of despair. Through a life of heartache in and out of the business, Bening channels an inhabited child of sorts as this free spirit who lives by her own rules.

– The parallels between love and film seem striking. Both hang their prominence respectively on the importance of age, but it only takes one desirable gig to feel inspired again.

– At times, the camera moves between Turner and Gloria like a dreamy tiptoe through the rise and fall of two kindred spirits. This is a visual representation for love’s first steps, feeling like an infinite honeymoon period that never relents.

– Exceptional slow pan long take shots that made for some of my absolute favorite scenes in the film. In leaving the camera running, McGuigan trusts his dual leads in visually encompassing the kind of pain and heartache that comes with love on the rocks, never feeling shy with getting front and center with such anguish.

THE NEGATIVES

– Rough and jagged transition scenes between two timelines that rarely gets distinguished with confidence.

– While the chemistry of Bell and Bening is certainly there, the film misses out on the chance to sizzle the seduction. At times, it can feel like a rushed and undercooked slab of meat that doesn’t satisfy our palate.

– It’s somewhat appropriate that a film that reminds us of the many actresses that constantly overshadowed Gloria also shelves her as the supporting role to Bell’s narrative command. This is a major mistake because we often only see the problems and don’t get to indulge in falling in love with her the same way Turner does.

– Inconsistent pacing especially during the second half of the film. The plodding alone made me wish that twenty minutes was trimmed from this 101 minute film, but in doing so we would lose what little exposition we fought so hard to gain with these two. This ultimately leaves the script with the feeling of being written into a corner.

6/10

Black Panther

Directed by Ryan Coogler

Starring – Chadwick Boseman, Michael B Jordan, Lupita Nyong’o

The Plot – After the events of Captain America: Civil War, King T’Challa (Boseman) returns home to the reclusive, technologically advanced African nation of Wakanda to serve as his country’s new leader. However, T’Challa soon finds that he is challenged for the throne from factions within his own country. When two foes conspire to destroy Wakanda, the hero known as Black Panther must team up with C.I.A. agent Everett K. Ross (Martin Freeman) and members of the Dora Milaje, Wakandan special forces, to prevent Wakanda from being dragged into a world war.

Rated PG-13 for prolonged sequences of action violence, and a brief rude gesture

THE POSITIVES

– Ryan Coogler’s visual and audible feats in directing that bring to life the technologically advanced world of Wakanda with flare. We’ve certainly seen Marvel astound us with dives into other worlds and galaxies before, but this feels like the first time where they got the flavor of the sizzle complete on every spectrum.

– Behind every great man is several amazing women. There have been films where a female has been my favorite character, but I can’t recall one where my two favorite characters from a film have been of my opposite sex, and that’s completely unintentional. Not only is this a film breathes life into the fight against minority examples in superhero genre films, but also one of female empowerment that invites the ladies along to share in these magnetic personalities.

– Ludwig Goransson’s impeccable blend of 808 drums and percussion edited beats that spin an inspirational movement taking place before our very eyes. Not only does this musical score get your toes tapping, but it also speaks volumes to the kind of consequential landscape that these varying tribes set for themselves.

– Speaking of tribes, the wardrobes all around were very vibrant and full of rich traditionalism that tickles the eyes. What’s even more impressive is that this is not only a film that caters to that historical past, but also one that embraces the future in us all coming together as one tribe.

– Has there been a Marvel film with a collective cast this deep? Boseman was born to play T’Challa, but I can’t help but feel that he is outshined on almost every single scene that he comes into contact with a friend or adversary, relaying just how much meat there is to feast on for everyone here. Lupita Nyongo offers a warm and caring compassion, Danai Gurira amplifies that Michonne burning intensity from ‘The Walking Dead’ to eleven, and my introduction to Letitia Wright as Shuri, T’Challa’s genius sister, is one that I just couldn’t get enough of.

– A special mention for Michael B Jordan as the film’s antagonist Erik Killmonger. Villains seem to be a continuous problem for Marvel films ever since the success of Loki, but here they instill a level of relatability to Erik that had me even questioning what side I should be rooting on. His motivation in seeking the throne is one that works on all accounts mainly because it feels like a superhero origin story with some twists in personality that allows you to see the shades of grey between good and evil.

– It’s impressive how consistent this screenplay changes up the tempo. During the first act, this very much feels like a James Bond spy thriller of sorts. During the second act, our direction is transformed into a science fiction space odyssey that ironically takes place on Earth. And finally during the last third of the film, we get all out war in a fantasy epic that re-defines the rules of what transpires on a battlefield.

– This panther is its own animal. The decision to make this film stand almost entirely on its own without the inclusion of prior Marvel stories or subplots is one that I greatly valued, and proves that the producers had a lot of faith in this film’s capabilities in seducing its audience with something remarkably fresh for such an overflowing genre of films. It really does feel like a movie that set high standards for itself, but achieved each goal because (like the protagonist) it stayed true to itself the whole time.

THE NEGATIVES

– I was honestly unimpressed with a majority of the overall C.G work in authenticity. The backgrounds especially gave me an exhale of disappointment on more than one occasion, especially during daytime scenes where the layers in shadowing weren’t fully realized. To someone else, this isn’t a big deal, but to me, it takes much of the heartbeat away from a film when everything feels like a cartoon or in this case a contrived sequence that strongly lacks the impact of its physical properties.

– Some of the fight sequences are too overly edited for my taste. Thankfully, they aren’t as bad as say ‘Resident Evil: The Final Chapter’, but there were some examples where the inclusion of gunfire during nighttime scenes not only made it difficult for me to stay focused on a character, but also made it that much more of a challenge in registering each crushing blow that I could hear and barely see.

The Extra

– I vow to never watch a Marvel trailer again. Once again, one scene in particular during the beginning of the third act was ruined because whoever cut the trailer is a major asshole and decided to include this compromising visual in the finished two minute piece. This not only took out my suspension of disbelief for the conflict that develops with T’Challa and Killmonger, but also spoiled to me what happened before they ever touched fists.

8/10

The 15:17 to Paris

Directed by Clint Eastwood

Starring – Anthony Sadler, Alek Skarlatos, Spencer Stone

The Plot – In the early evening of August 21, 2015, the world watched in stunned silence as the media reported a thwarted terrorist attack on Thalys train #9364 bound for Paris, an attempt prevented by three courageous young Americans traveling through Europe. The film follows the course of the friends’ lives, from the struggles of childhood through finding their footing in life, to the series of unlikely events leading up to the attack. Throughout the harrowing ordeal, their friendship never wavers, making it their greatest weapon and allowing them to save the lives of the more than 500 passengers on board.

Rated PG-13 for bloody images, violence, some suggestive material, drug references and adult language

THE POSITIVES

– As an experimental director, Clint Eastwood continues to wet his palate with an unorthodox approach to depicting this story. Because of the invasive nature of the angles and approaches to character shadowing, the film feels very much like a documentary that is taking place in real time.

– There was a point in this film where I feared that it would strike at the hot coals of the religious conversation, but thankfully one of the few things that screenwriter Dorothy Blyskal does with confidence is to taste enough of a poignant approach without souring the taste of an audience who came for a particular genre of film.

– It rarely settles for the conventional approach to real life biopics, and whether you like or dislike the film, you must give it respect for instilling some different takes to an overcrowded subgenre.

THE NEGATIVES

– In one word: Scatterbrained. This screenplay is a mess, undermining the terrifying day to the final twenty minutes of the film. Considering the entirety of the trailer is in the train, it’s a major disappointment to see that it means so little to the finished product. In addition to this, there is an attempt to tell the backstory of these three lifelong friends since childhood, but it does so without ever capitalizing on what grows them into a brotherhood.

– There was easily enough material here to push this to the two hour mark, but Eastwood’s newest is a vicious victim of the hack-and-slash by studios without enough confidence in the audience paying to see it.

– I can appreciate the decision to cast the actual three men in the roles here, but it fails for two big reasons. The first, their acting is bad even for amateur standards, speeding through dialogue reads with too much monotone and not enough passion. The second, this is a major spoiler to someone like me who never heard of the events on the train before this film. If the real life figures are alive, then I know they make it out of the train alright.

– Jenna Fischer and Judy Greer play two of the moms to the trio of men, and it’s interesting to note that they don’t age even remotely in the 15-20 years that has passed in this timeline focus.

– Unconventional is one thing, but to not even have a remote outline of a three act structure shows how off of the beaten path this film really was. More than anything, this feels like a collection of scenes while the crew was on vacation. I say that because so little that is introduced ever actually leads to something of substance in the bigger picture.

– This film totally drops the ball on dramatic tension, speeding through brief scenes of conflict with a grave feeling of impatience that does it little favors in pulling the audience into the environment. I’ve been bored before in a film, but I didn’t even have a heartbeat for this sluggish deficit of attention.

– Eastwood’s directing stamp is noticeably missing, particularly in the final fifteen minutes that show too much and don’t tell enough to communicate with the audience. Many of these scenes feel void of an edit button, leaving the camera on for far too long to eat away at the scenery that is fading fast.

3/10

Fifty Shades Freed

Directed by James Foley

Starring – Dakota Johnson, Jamie Dornan, Arielle Kebbel

The Plot – Believing they have left behind shadowy figures from their past, newlyweds Christian (Dornan) and Ana (Johnson) fully embrace an inextricable connection and shared life of luxury. But just as she steps into her role as Mrs. Grey and he relaxes into an unfamiliar stability, new threats could jeopardize their happy ending before it even begins.

Rated R for strong sexual content, nudity, and adult language

THE POSITIVES

– This film at least knows that its material is thin, and because of such takes a step back from the two hour flicks of the previous two installments and makes this an appreciated 96 minutes.

– The series continues to be a beautifully shot one, coveting within it a barrage of landscape porn and elegant lighting design in overall cinematography by John Schwartzman. This at least immerses us into this world of rich tastes that visually seduce you in the same way they do Anastasia.

THE NEGATIVES

– Not a single credible performance amongst the bunch. Even Dornan, who proved his worth in 2016’s ‘Anthropoid’, feels in a rush to elude himself from the Grey persona for the future of his promising career. Everything feels very phoned in at this point, never straying far or improvising away from the plot points of a mundane screenplay.

– Because the personalities are so thin with these characters, none of them ever interest me to the point of feeling remote emotion for them. This is why by the third film in the series there is no shortage of infused dramatic subplots to offer something of a spark to keep the audience firmly in grip.

– Speaking of those subplots, the long term writing here is terribly choreographed and minimally discussed in the bigger picture of lagging sex scenes and Ana’s blossoming stupidity.

– There is nothing subtle about the obvious foreshadowing for where this chapter is taking us. I didn’t predict everything revealed in the painfully tacked on final ten minutes, but I knew what direction we were heading because their introductions feel so shoehorned in during a scene where it shouldn’t be deposited.

– Atrocious dialogue. Even for this series, ‘Freed’ still has the capability to make us cringe so hard that you will debate faking a bathroom break just to free yourself from the auditorium.

– The sex scenes have absolutely no sizzle or sensuality to them because of the void in chemistry between the two leads. Credit can be given that this film at least trims the length of each sex scene dramatically, but it’s all for nothing because there is still such an overabundance of them. Even porn collections know how to pace themselves better than this fan fiction dribble.

– Three movies and nearly six hours of screen exposition and I feel like I know very little about Christian Grey, except that he is the world’s biggest douchebag. I was told that the third book reveals much about Grey, but nothing revealed in this film is actually about him when you think about it. Instead, we are treated to more of what female audiences should be vetoing in a ‘Time’s Up’ society.

– Considering the first two films built to the wedding of these two, it’s used as such an afterthought here, speeding through a montage of scenes during the opening three minutes that give so little back to the faithful fans who have been waiting for these moments of indulgences.

– Even the music is offensive. While this soundtrack is an assortment of credible pop artists, their instilled numbers to the unappealing sex scenes conjures up an aura of childish atmosphere that are lyrically so awkward in trying to be sexy. What’s worse is that Danny Elfman scores it with his most invasive approach to date, channeling through the best of his C-side material with such ear-shattering volume, as well as an overall lack of environmental subtlety that spoil what’s coming long before it happens.

2/10