The Leisure Seeker

Directed by Paolo Virzi

Starring – Helen Mirren, Donald Sutherland, Christian McKay

The Plot – A runaway couple go on an unforgettable journey in the faithful old RV they call The Leisure Seeker, traveling from Boston to The Ernest Hemingway Home in Key West. They recapture their passion for life and their love for each other on a road trip that provides revelation and surprise right up to the very end.

Rated R for some sexual material

THE POSITIVES

– Like any enduring road trip, you at least get to see some beautiful scenery, and ‘The Leisure Seeker’ certainly continues this feat. Through a vast change in agriculture, we see plenty of on-screen representation from the east coast, all the way down to the southside of the Orange State, providing plenty of detail to showcase with Virzi’s competent hands behind the camera.

– The magic of Mirren and Sutherland radiate tenfold throughout their journey across the open road. Through each’s unapologetically honest depiction of the married life, we embrace two people who have spent too much time together, but would certainly be lost without the command of the other.

– I myself am someone who has dealt with the crippling side of dementia with my own family, and the depiction in Virzi’s film certainly provides the emphasis needed in understanding the dire of the situation. This disease not only shapes the person plagued by it, but also the entirety of everyone around them, and that is perhaps the one side to this film that I greatly respected.

THE NEGATIVES

– There’s often not enough of a stance on humor versus drama that clearly navigates us through this tone deaf screenplay.

– The film feels like it is around twenty minutes too long, leading to many tedious and often repetitive scenario’s that could’ve easily been left on the cutting room floor.

– Throughout the film, there’s a hinting of an almost bigger picture that will inevitably be waiting for us at the end of the road, but it never materializes into anything that feels satisfying for taking the journey. More on that ending in just a second.

– I certainly get the point of the political subplot instilled from the Summer of 2016, at the heart of Trump versus Clinton, but far too often it feels irrelevant with finding an identity of its own in this kind of picture. Is it telling us that this couple isn’t made for this newfound world?? Is it there to poke fun at the uninformed people who foolishly voted for one side or another?? I feel like we never find out, and it ends up being nothing more than a scene or two for the audience to roll their eyes at.

– Far too predictable in its entirety, except for the unnecessary twist midway through that leaves a lasting impression for all of the wrong reasons. The heartfelt sentiment is soured in favor of a late act development that feels like a betrayal on everything we’ve learned up to that point.

– Much of the child subplot is forgotten during the second half of the film. Where I feel this was important in inclusion is because it offered a satisfying contrast to the repetition of Mirren and Sutherland’s story that I mentioned earlier for getting repetitive. It felt great to learn more about these lead characters from the people who knew them best, but their time is sparse, and that’s a major shame.

– Some endings work well on paper but don’t translate as strongly to screen, and that is the case here. While the film is faithful to the novel of the same name, that doesn’t mean that it’s the right move in terms of leaving people with the impression that they witnessed a satisfying conclusion. Not only did this ending alienate me in terms of any small positives that I had left for the film, but it also soiled the integrity of the characters who clearly didn’t think of anyone but themselves in these concluding moments.

3/10

Midnight Sun

Directed By Scott Speer

Starring – Bella Thorne, Patrick Schwarzenegger, Rob Riggle

The Plot – Based on the Japanese film, ‘Midnight Sun’ centers on Katie (Thorne), a 17-year-old sheltered since childhood and confined to her house during the day by a rare disease that makes even the smallest amount of sunlight deadly. Fate intervenes when she meets Charlie (Schwarzenegger) and they embark on a summer romance.

Rated PG-13 for some teen partying and sensuality

THE POSITIVES

– Rob Riggle is surprisingly the emotional pulse of this film, putting aside the jokester gig for one night to play a compassionate father whose only gift left in life is someone so fragile. I would love to see Rob do more dramatic work, as I feel his comedic schtick has worn itself thin. ‘Midnight Sun’ gives hope to my request.

– The film does take the time necessary to see life through Katie’s eyes living it for the firs time. It is the lone time that I felt invested in her character, and does wonders for tugging at the heartstrings of the true tragedy of the situation for a life wasted behind closed doors.

– Much of the film’s ending did anger me because of the mindless character choices being made to manipulate audience into feeling something, but I have to give credit to a movie that decides to go all the way in committing itself even if it alienates some of its audience.

THE NEGATIVES

– Continuity errors like Bella Thorne’s hair going from dark red to strawberry blonde in one scene to the next, as well as her best friend in the film (Played by Quinn Shephard) who uses two different cell phones during the course of the film. Considering the movie takes place over what feels like a month, I’m going to say the latter isn’t because she’s clumsy with her possessions.

– In regards to one consequential scene, never at any place or time in the world does the sun come up at 4:50 AM.

– There is absolutely zero chemistry between the two leads. Much of this can be blamed on clunky dialogue that is so obviously written by adults who don’t interact with teenagers. However, the stone cold monotonous deliveries by Thorne and Schwarzenegger also feed into this glaring aspect. When the daughter of the film has more chemistry with her father than she does the object of her affection, problems tend to arise.

– The film doesn’t exactly present the most accurate portrayal of XP. Victims can in fact go outside for limited amounts of time with covering clothing. In the educating department, ‘Midnight Sun’ never takes the time to elaborate on the condition beyond its manipulation of the one thing about the disease that everybody knows, and even that is stretched thin.

– Obvious foreshadowing. The first act of this film might as well be labeled in the script SPOILERS SPOILERS because there’s so much transparency in what the writers want you to know about details that will eventually pop up later. This wouldn’t be a problem if it were slid in carefully, but so much of the rules of these characters and their respective positions come out of nowhere, sticking out like a sore thumb in a mind-field of tacked on exposition.

– If there’s one thing that Speer as a director doesn’t have a handle on, it’s bringing out the required reactions in each scene. For instance, there are several scenes during the film that present these quick cuts of Riggle’s character reacting to the changes in Katie’s life, and it omits a kind of gloomy and almost jealous lover vibe that made me wince from the unnecessary pressure.

– As for the pacing, the film feels like it stretches the material even at a measly 85 minutes. Much of this is attributed to scenes that never last longer than two minutes, and often never feel like one cohesive unit that continues to build momentum. The most basic of outlines feels persistent here, limiting the chances it takes in keeping us entertained.

3/10

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

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

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

Phantom Thread

Directed by Paul Thomas Anderson

Starring – Daniel Day-Lewis, Vicky Krieps, Lesley Manville

THE PLOT – Set in the glamour of 1950s post-war London, renowned dressmaker Reynolds Woodcock (Lewis) and his sister Cyril (Manville) are at the center of British fashion, dressing royalty, movie stars, heiresses, socialites, debutants, and dames with the distinct style of The House of Woodcock. Women come and go through Woodcock’s life, providing the confirmed bachelor with inspiration and companionship, until he comes across a young, strong-willed woman, Alma (Krieps), who soon becomes a fixture in his life as his muse and lover. Once controlled and planned, he finds his carefully tailored life disrupted by love.

Rated R for adult language

THE POSITIVES

– Radiohead’s Johnny Greenwood with another truly mesmerizing musical score for his friend, Anderson. Greenwood always feels like he has his hands on the pulse of the films he accompanies, but it sounds like his piano-dominant numbers breathe life and narration into the picture, following along our group of characters through their rocky tribulations that heighten our experience. He’s simply needed more here than ever before.

– The trio of performances by Lewis, Krieps, and Manville that all bring their best game to the forefront. If this is Lewis’s rumored final film, then he goes out on top, breathing life into the workaholic Woodcock that depicts a man burdened by his passion. Together with Krieps, the film’s couple feels like the most honest depiction of love on the screen that we have seen in a long time, channeling a kind of childish bickering between them that gives the audience plenty of innocent giggles. Krieps herself has such rendering facial expressions that she could play her part without ever vocalizing a single word.

– Anderson is impeccable as a triple threat, commanding the camera, screenplay, and helming the luxurious cinematography for the first time. On the latter, Paul uses soft, dreamy backdrops to accentuate the vibrancy that the fashions that adorn. This makes the work of Woodcock pop that much more to the naked eye, and blossoms what I feel is Anderson’s best feature of the irreplaceable work that he takes on.

– Costume designer Mark Bridges and his elegant styles that immerse the film with such first class tastes. Bridges uses layers to sell his gifts to the audience, and if there’s any film that appreciates his artistic vision, it’s one that values and depicts what goes into the perfect dress.

– The screenplay hints that every beautiful gift that is bestowed upon someone can in turn be a curse that renders them lost in their work. This gives our protagonist a kind of man-becomes-monster kind of feel, in that it’s great to see him work, but we know it’s a cancer of sorts to his own well-being.

– I greatly appreciated that this film never took the low hanging fruit that was quietly hinted at especially during the second act. There are enough twists and turns that keep this sometimes redundant screenplay infused with the spark needed to get through the dry spots, and it gave the film enough momentum to carry over into hour two.

– There’s a kind of awkwardness in the idiosyncrasies that surround Woodcock’s lifestyle and routines that value this as anything BUT a casual 20th century love tale. Once we delve deeper, we come to understand the reasons behind this abstract man that stands before us.

– One of the messages that I took away from the film was when you’re in love with someone, you must tailor yourselves to each other. There’s further argument that opposites may attract, but those opposites must learn how to merge together to create something beautiful for all to adore. Sounds like one of Woodcock’s creations, eh?

– Because of so many seamless tonal shifts, there’s more uncertainty as to where this film is headed. There are times of laughter, sadness, and even horror that spring to life, and all of it feels like the necessary ingredients needed for the mental game of chess in the finale that will leave you frozen in your seat.

THE NEGATIVES

– It’s a small problem, but I almost wish that the film would’ve explored the secrets that Woodcock stitches in every creation a bit more. I just feel like to bring it up and use it very little for the remainder of the film makes it either a lost opportunity or a pointless conversation piece.

9/10

Forever My Girl

Directed by Bethany Ashton Wolf

Starring – Alex Roe, Jessica Rothe, John Benjamin Hickey

THE PLOT – The film tells the story of country music super-star Liam Page (Alex Roe) who left his bride, Josie (Jessica Rothe), at the altar choosing fame and fortune instead. However, Liam never got over Josie, his one true love, nor did he ever forget his Southern roots in the small community where he was born and raised. When he unexpectedly returns to his hometown for the funeral of his high school best friend, Liam is suddenly faced with the consequences of all that he left behind.

Rated PG for thematic elements including drinking, and for adult language

THE POSITIVES

– The musical soundtrack of original and unoriginal offerings by Brett Boyett actually isn’t half bad. It’s no secret that this critic isn’t a fan of modern day country music, but Boyett’s feeling for stirring b-side ballads make more than a few of the songs featured in the film earworms, long after you’ve left the theater.

– Whether intentional or not, the film did give me a few laughs which kept this film from ever feeling like it dragged, or that I was having a truly terrible time.

– Pure for the whole family, leaving much of the provocative pull of the book on the shelf to cater to a fraction of the audience that the film will pull in.

THE NEGATIVES

– As a screenwriter, Wolf has a very clouded vantage point of framing that had me scratching my head more than a few times. Liam is a dirtbag of a protagonist, yet we’re supposed to forgive him for leaving his bride to be at the alter because every character in the film does in a matter of seconds? Besides this, the film’s perception of fame is one that seems to come from a child’s mind, complete with music montages of fans chasing after Liam, as well as an over-burdening publicist who doesn’t feel human because she works for big bad Hollywood.

– In addition to Liam’s charming sentiment, he’s an alcoholic that never confronts his problem. For whatever reason, the film chooses not to explore this obvious direction that burdens him throughout the film, leaving much doubt in my mind that the film’s obvious happy ending will be anything but.

– The actors are terribly directed. Even Rothe’s shining star gets a noticeable downgrade here, lost in the sea of beautiful faces that live and breed by the ideal of all style and no substance. Love or hate me, the little girl played by Abby Ryder Fortson might be the single worst child performance that I’ve ever seen. Not that Fortson is terrible as a young actress, but her speech patterns and deliveries never sound remotely authentic to opposite children her age. It’s cute to hear her say something intelligent at first, but soon it becomes a nagging persistent problem with your immersion into the film.

– Roe and Rothe have about as much chemistry as a brother and sister experimenting. The two only kiss once in the entire film, and the fact that this unaffectionate, awkward plunge is the take that they went with, leaves you searching for any kind of passion to prove why they belong together.

– Every point of exposition feels rushed, leaving very little to resonate with the audience in terms of obstacles that they can get behind. If everything is settled and solved this easily, how can you ever expect any kind of dramatic tension to keeping audiences so involved in the story?

– Production mishaps. There is some terrible A.D.R with the actor’s mouthed wording that supplants a theory in my mind about the production. One scene in particular turns an obviously mouthed “Asshole” into “Jerk”, making me wonder if this was originally a PG-13 offering. If this isn’t enough for a full point, consider also the many times that extras both adult and children are caught looking at the camera in plain view. No care was taken at all in fixing these bumbling blunders.

– The air of Nicholas Sparks feels evident in Wolf’s writing. So much so that the beautiful countryside visuals and overall peaceful existence of these characters ever keep them from a taste of complication that keeps them on opposing sides. Because their reunion is more a speed bump than anything else, Wolf felt desperate to instill some third act adversity that could’ve been a very valued piece of exposition early on. As it stands, it just feels like a desperate ploy that quite literally comes out of nowhere.

3/10

Call Me By Your Name

Directed by Luca Guadagnino

Starring – Armie Hammer, Timothee Chalamet, Michael Stuhlbarg

The Plot – A sensual and transcendent tale of first love, based on the acclaimed novel by André Aciman. It’s the summer of 1983 in the north of Italy, and Elio Perlman (Timothée Chalamet), a precocious 17- year-old American-Italian, spends his days in his family’s 17th century villa transcribing and playing classical music, reading, and flirting with his friend Marzia (Esther Garrel). Elio enjoys a close relationship with his father (Michael Stuhlbarg), an eminent professor specializing in Greco-Roman culture, and his mother Annella (Amira Casar), a translator, who favor him with the fruits of high culture in a setting that overflows with natural delights. While Elio’s sophistication and intellectual gifts suggest he is already a fully-fledged adult, there is much that yet remains innocent and unformed about him, particularly about matters of the heart. One day, Oliver (Armie Hammer), a charming American scholar working on his doctorate, arrives as the annual summer intern tasked with helping Elio’s father. Amid the sun-drenched splendor of the setting, Elio and Oliver discover the heady beauty of awakening desire over the course of a summer that will alter their lives forever.

Rated R for sexual content, nudity, and adult language

THE POSITIVES

– Guadagnino’s sensual, yet sexual approach to the coming-of-age genre that transforms Chalamet before our very eyes from start to finish. You get a distinct sense of maturity that developes inside of him that makes him stronger for what he’s faced.

– The gorgeous Italian countryside that is highlighted by cinematographer Sayombhu Mukdeeprom’s glossy scope. This makes the seduction that envelopes our two characters whole feel easier to intepret by the intoxicating visuals of food and scenery that invite you in

– An 80’s setting that actually plays into matters within the plot. Here, it represents the thought process within a sour taste forcing our protagonists to hide away their love from a world not quite mature enough to understand the lack of prejudice within such a concept.

– This soundtrack is electric, radiating enough new age narration in classic ballads like ‘Love My Way’ by The Psychadelic Furs, as well new pieces like ‘Visions of Gideon’ by critically acclaimed composer Sufjan Stevens that moved me to tears.

– The patience in script development that the film takes in slowly unwrapping what we already know is there. So much is psychological about the head games being displayed between Hammer and Chalamet, making their untouchable feats of intelligence for the history of the world they discuss the kind of starting ground for what transpires between them.

– James Ivory’s very nuanced manner of writing that strains dialogue for the better. In many ways, the looks of his characters say much more than words ever could, and I value greatly the decision to instead absorb as much of the atmosphere in the air that he allows us.

– Hammer and Chalamet’s piercing performances deserving of Oscar consideration at the very least. This is much more than a coming out party on screen for Chalamet, it’s also one amongst for him in opening moviegoer’s eyes to a true volcano of emotional resonance that subdues inside of him. Make damn sure you stay until the credits are over, as a long framing of Chalamet’s face tells us everything that he’s feeling at that moment.

– Exceptional editing that bends and even subdues time when the two distance themselves from everyone else. Sometimes the shots go long with our characters long out of focus, giving us the overwhelming feeling of awkwardness that lingers between them. Most edits will remove this lingering effect, but Guadagnino embraces it.

THE NEGATIVES

– There’s not enough material here creatively to span two plus hours, and the pacing sometimes grinds to a devastating halt.

– The sex scenes aren’t terribly graphic in their depictions, but it’s the material of the things you don’t see that can be a little too over the top. See the peach scene for further elaboration.

THE UNCERTAIN??

– What’s the deal with the fly symbolism in the film? I must know more

8/10

The Shape of Water

The relationship between human and monster comes full circle, in Guillermo Del Toro’s newest adult night-time fairytale, ‘The Shape of Water’. The film is an otherworldly fable set against the backdrop of Cold War era America circa 1962. In the hidden high-security government laboratory where she works as a janitor, lonely and deaf Elisa (Sally Hawkins) is trapped in a life of isolation. Elisa’s life is changed forever when she and co-worker Zelda (Octavia Spencer) discover a secret classified experiment. At the helm is a hard-nosed government doctor (Michael Shannon), who is hell-bent on keeping this devastating secret just that; a secret. As Elisa gets closer, the threat of the unknown becomes even more apparent, setting those closest to her on a trail to discover just what she is hiding. ‘The Shape of Water’ is written and directed by Del Toro, and is rated R for sexual content, graphic nudity, violence, and adult language.

‘The Shape of Water’ is an enchantment under the sea kind of engagement. Through a love for the tinseltown age of Hollywood cinema, Del Toro instills a lover’s kind of tale that challenges all kinds of barriers both mentally and physically that are pre-judged by the kind of society that seems intrusive to judge who they can and can’t love. But far beyond that, this film dazzled me with an insane amount of versatility in its creative structure that caters to many more genre fans than just those who came looking to be charmed by the connection that Hawkins and Doug Jones (The creature) share for one another. Far beyond its gentle touch in crafting an unorthodox love angle, the film is also compelling in the science fiction department for the kind of rules and worlds that it opens up within its pages. Finally, ‘The Shape of Water’ also triumphs as a heist movie for the first half of the picture that questions just how far those of us would be willing to go to live that feeling for the rest of our lives. Del Toro indulges in these many faces and doesn’t require us to ever choose just one, conjuring up his single most inclusive film to date that doesn’t alienate any spectrum of audience members who are taking it in for whatever reason.

In turning back the hands of time to an almost parallel universe of 1961, Del Toro harvests enough confidence of magic in pop culture cinema and teasing of illuminating levels of green in tickling us visually with this adult bedtime story approach. There is a kind of dreamy, spell-binding quality that exudes itself upon introducing us to this dark setting visually, yet compromising in tone for the airy feeling of whimsical that overtakes us thanks to the power of love and how it can trap us whole. This feels like a screenplay where there’s constantly music in the air, echoing vibrantly the toe-tapping sensation that electrifies one’s spirit in overcoming the paralyzing spell of loneliness. Del Toro interjects scenes and moments from past Hollywood pictures to keep this effect consistently, but it’s in his symbolism for the often times color of jealousy that truly enlightened me. Green is definitely the most dominant color and shade used throughout the film, and early on we find out that this is to represent the future. My take on this is that Del Toro feels very progressive in breaking down the shackles of a definition by love that doesn’t and shouldn’t settle for just one singular meaning. The color is everywhere throughout the film, even generating madness from Shannon’s character every time he sees it. This is clearly to prove and cement that his character represents the world that doesn’t move on with the concepts of change, having very much grown up in a world that caters to one sole demographic.

The performances are riveting from a complete ensemble cast that each bring something vital to the table. Hawkins is a revelation as the muted Elisa, holding the emotional prowess of her character solely in her facial features that are meant to display so much. This is a very difficult thing to do because Hawkins never feels confined to just one emotional response, so her range has to be on point in every scene, and she’s no short of Oscar brilliance for what she does with a coy look. Michael Shannon again continues to be one of my favorite actors going today. Shannon is his usual slimy antagonist for the film, but as this doctor, we start to see the line of distinction between human and animal fade away each time he’s on screen. Michael is every bit as menacing as he’s ever been, and it’s through him when we get a few brunt reminders of the R-rated feature that we’ve gotten ourselves into. Doug Jones (like Hawkins) also does so much with a look, but does so under layers of makeup and prosthetics that fade away everything but Jones signature glassy eyes to the forefront. The chemistry between he and Hawkins warmed my heart and effectively removed the pre-conceived fears that I had for how unusual the love between them would look on-screen.

There’s a lot of love that I have for the script and the way that it slowly began to transfix me into this love story that didn’t feel forced or phony by how it was presented. These two people are definitely outcasts by a society that demeans them for their anything-but-handicap. It’s in that comparison where we learn front-and-center why these two share such a tender sentiment that presents them as souls with bodies and not just bodies with souls. In this regard, I felt a strong taste of films like ‘Creature From the Black Lagoon’ as well as ‘King Kong’. Two films also set-up by this conundrum, but held prisoner from their release dates that kept them from going all the way. ‘The Shape of Water’ goes all the way, and it does it in a way that is unapologetic for what it shows. If you feel awkward, then your stances on love probably need updating. For it’s not the monster, but the depiction of an outcast by society who deserves the same gifts that anyone else does. During this whole thing, there’s also the age of paranoia playing out with the Russians and where they play into this creature. This proved to me that the film wasn’t just resting on the laurels of being a love story, and that Del Toro uses just as much emphasis in the world around them as he does with the couple in their own bubble that no one can touch. What very small problem that I had with the film was during the third act when it feels like it becomes more about Shannon’s character instead of Hawkins and Jones. This inevitably won’t bother much people, but I feel like some more emphasis was needed from Hawkins point of view in the inevitable confrontation that she must face. This isn’t a major problem, but it stands out from the first two acts that are so structurally sound that the first 90 minutes flew by like a gust of wind.

THE VERDICT – If it’s a controversial quote that you want, then it’s one you will get; this is Guillermo Del Toro’s single best film to date. ‘The Shape of Water’ confidently balances enough absorbing style and poignant substance in the ineffective way that his previous few films have petered away with. Hawkins is a whirlwind revolution, offering a slice of innocent humanity to her hushed exterior that makes her unavoidable to not fall in love with. The film is a purified beauty of Del Toro’s visionary compass that proves he can still swim with the best of them.

9/10

Wonder Wheel

The wheel of dramatic tension keeps spinning rapidly for four different people caught in a tail spin on Coney Island in the 1950’s. ‘Wonder Wheel’ tells the story of four characters whose lives intertwine amid the hustle and bustle of the Coney Island amusement park in the 1950s: Ginny (Kate Winslet), an emotionally volatile former actress now working as a waitress in a clam house; Humpty (Jim Belushi), Ginny’s rough-hewn carousel operator husband with his own mob connections; Mickey (Justin Timberlake), a handsome young lifeguard who dreams of becoming a silver screen playwright; and Caroline (Juno Temple), Humpty’s long-estranged daughter, who is now hiding out from gangsters at her father’s apartment. The four cross-stories intercept and provide a wild and unpredictable Summer under the hot sun of the amusement park. ‘Wonder Wheel’ is written and directed by Woody Allen, and is rated PG-13 for thematic content including some sexuality, adult language and smoking.

I have never been the patriarch for the Woody Allen fan club. Many historian film lovers eat up every single one of the unlimited supply of filmography that cements his name amongst the Hollywood elite for the past five decades. However for me, Woody’s movies have always felt like a hilarious joke that only I wasn’t understanding the punchline to. A kind of pretentious entrepreneur behind the lens who was making only the kind of films that he wanted to, and never needed to change that aspect. ‘Wonder Wheel’ definitely isn’t going to remove that opinion anytime soon. This is a film that not only abides by the all style and no substance policy, but it practically re-defines it in ways that undercut any opportunity to instill some kind of dramatic pulse to what is unraveling. Allen feels content in letting a reputable A-list cast and remarkably beautiful setting fade with the sun that articulately adorns the amusement park day after day. I could try to argue that this is only because the aging Allen is no longer in the prime of his career, but any remote film buff will debate that he’s been saddled with this degree of laziness for years, and it’s something that hinders his positives as a director for just how mind-numbingly dull of a screenwriter that he truly is.

If Allen were in charge of a New York tourism video, he would’ve not only oversold his property, but he would also receive praise for his focus on some remote details that only an inhabitant would put together in his experience there. Allen again places much of his attention and emphasis on the environment itself that can quite often feel like the boiling pot of emotional response that turns the gears of these characters and their daily routines. Because of this, there should be no surprise when I say that my favorite detail of this film is in the vibrancy in color of the park that surrounds our cast of characters, as well as the way Woody instills that subtle nuance of a Broadway stage play in airing out the dirty laundry of the picture. There are several long takes during the film that offer some long-winded spins of dialogue to impress in our actors what they lack in emotional deposition, and the swerving in and around to keep the focus on only those who talk, distinctly gives off that stage vibe that plays out in real time.

The film’s color scheme also radiates its way into every scene, crafting an almost cartoon-like vibe of surrealism that highlights an outline of amazement. Allen is clearly in love with the 50’s post-war vibes of the big apple, and in the masterful Vittorio Storaro, whom Allen worked with last year in ‘Cafe Society’, he has found the perfect puppeteer in bringing the visions from his childhood to the silver screen. Storaro’s use of light in defense of the emotional versatility that is transpiring in every scene off of the faces of our characters, feels like it reaches for a bigger purpose in symbolism, but the preference is used to simply remind the audience of the very claustrophobic confinements that our protagonists find themselves in with their ever-growing problems. If I was basing this film on look alone, it would no doubt be one of my ten favorite films of 2017, but the designs of creativity aren’t enough to keep it from being weighed down by what underwhelms at nearly every turn.

Anyone watching the trailer can put together the idea that this film surrounds a love triangle that perplexes the movements of our characters, but what is unseen is just how undercooked and dull Allen keeps the temperature of this sizzle. Besides the fact that I couldn’t find myself relating to a single character because these are all remarkably terrible people, the film harvests zero care, concern, or urgency to what is being hinted at for the bigger picture. There are so many chances that ‘Wonder Wheel’ has in conjuring up some truly compelling suspense for what awaits in the future, but these people seem to be satisfied in their uninspiring lives and frankly unhealthy relationships that I couldn’t be bothered to feel pity or remorse for them for a single second. If this wasn’t enough, Allen kind of writes himself into a corner with the conflict of the film that offers two daggers for whatever path he chooses to take. One way is far too predictable to not see coming from ten miles away, and the second option (and the one the film takes) offers no resolution or impact to the building blocks of adversity that were stacking against the trio involved. The end conveyed the thought that this film should continue for a half hour more, even if that very idea felt most harmful to the man writing this very review.

As for performances, there was only one that was truly bad, but not a single one of the central three ever provide themselves a chance to standout. Winslet’s Ginny is definitely the best in my opinion for her unstable past that plays a prominent role in her decaying future. My problem with Winslet’s character is that she’s very detestable and only adds further emphasis to the long-debated idea that Allen doesn’t appreciate, nor does he know how to write a woman with power. Juno Temple is probably my favorite character in the film, but Temple’s deer-in-the-headlights routine robs us of the same kind of chance to fall in love with Caroline in the same manner that Timberlake does. Speaking of Timberlake, he definitely takes home the award for being the person who stands out for all of the wrong reasons. Timberlake’s New York accent is so inconsistent that it becomes kind of a challenge to map out which scenes were filmed on which days, and his usually endless charm disappears in the fog of convoluted dialogue that does him no favors in terms of personality. Timberlake doesn’t have chemistry with Winslet or Temple, so the convincing of trying to make me feel some kind of spark between them goes unfulfilled for 96 agonizing minutes.

THE VERDICT – ‘Wonder Wheel’ never gets its feet off the ground, choosing instead to parlay its audience through a mismanaging drama that lacks anything compelling in airing itself out. Without a single reputable performance to recommend, or a single instance of proof that Allen paid attention to the gorgeous scenery, AS WELL as the people who fill it, his latest romantic swooning spins off of the tracks early on, and never finds the inspiration to pick itself back up. The film settles for being an endless rotation of a self-loathing derivative that swallows your cylinders of pride one quarter at a time, and has you screaming in agony to get off.

4/10

Breathe

Andy Serkis takes one ambitious step behind the camera, in his debut directing effort ‘Breathe’. In such an effort, his film tells the inspiring true love story between Robin and Diana Cavendish (Andrew Garfield, Claire Foy), an adventurous couple who refuse to give up in the face of a devastating disease. When Robin is struck down by polio at the age of 28, he is confined to a hospital bed and given only a few months to live. With the help of Diana’s twin brothers (Tom Hollander) and the groundbreaking ideas of inventor Teddy Hall (Hugh Bonneville), Robin and Diana dare to escape the hospital ward to seek out a full and passionate life together; raising their young son, traveling and devoting their lives to helping other polio patients. ‘Breathe’ is rated PG-13 for mature thematic material including some bloody medical images.

For the first film in Serkis’s promising career in the director’s chair, there’s a lot of proof that he is a valuable asset to telling such remarkable stories. ‘Breathe’, is an overall passing success for Serkis, but does suffer from a lot of growing pains that comes with experience in commanding a presence beyond the screen. This is certainly a story that deserves to be told for just how revolutionary that it was in the benefit of treating bed-ridden patients with the kind of freedom that they rightfully deserve. Behind that freedom is a sufferer of Polio himself, Robin Cavendish, whose own experiences as being locked away like a science experiment by those medical professionals in charge of his daily routine, prompted him to change the game in creating the first ever motorized wheelchair with its own breathing apparatus. This story stays firmly gripped on that thesis, but there’s lots of experimenting from the director himself that displays his experience in being so tightly wrapped in productions that involved his puppeteering for practical and C.G properties that carved out the name of a revolutionary, a lot like Cavendish, and that’s why Serkis feels like the right man for the job here.

From the very beginning, we are treated to a visual presentation that transports us not only on screen, but also off of it for the way it illuminates a taste of yesterday. There’s a feel within ‘Breathe’ that gives off the sense that we’re not only watching a film that takes place over various decades of the past, but also one that was made during those respective eras for the touch in tinsel that you just don’t see anymore. The cinematography is gorgeous in all of its sun-infused depictions. The editing feels patient, letting the audience soak in the most of every establishing environment whether it be inside or out. The musical tones of Nitin Sawhney pay tribute to the age when piano and light orchestral tones filled the air and ears of those immersed in a story, and felt like it establishes many of the moods and themes within the picture without coming off as meandering. Besides all of this, Serkis himself experiments with some very unorthodox methods of camera angles and framing that constantly keeps the pulse of creativity beating with each new sequence of discovery. For me, some of my favorites were those displaying a POV kind of shot for the kinds of feels that Cavendish himself is forced to endure. I also love Serkis’s commitment to supplanting the camera firmly on Garfield here, letting his facials tell the story of the pain and seclusion that he feels from his tragic disposition.

The screenplay is definitely the weakness of the film for me, and that’s because it sets a precedent early on in the first act that leaves very little wiggle room for the obvious paralyzing that’s coming. So much happens between the relationship of Robin and Diana in the opening twenty minutes of this movie that never really grant us that stark contrast of positivity between them before it all flies south. You will take great empathy on characters if you feel like you’ve grown with their relationship, and sadly ‘Breathe’ never allows us this opportunity as the two meet, fall in love, get married, move away together, and have a child within a rushed first act that completely throws off the pacing for the rest of the film. The second and third acts do maintain an air of timely precision to them, and I greatly enjoyed the education lesson that I was being taught here despite knowing nothing about the real life of Robin. This is definitely a must watch for someone who ever wants to learn about the jaded life that he lived, but not one that ever gets cerebral enough to resonate with the audience the psychology of being saddled with such a curse, instilling a mindset within me that kind of reads like a Wikipedia page without ever feeling the heat from the seat.

What did leave a lasting impression on me was the film’s constant theme that hammers home the will to live when all else fails. The script for the film can sometimes get a little heavy handed with the ideas that it hammers home, but I felt that the need to express ones desire for hope played marvelously here, and keeps Robin moving in a way that he not only defies the odds, but also defies those with the face of adversity who scoff at his decision to live with freedom. Early on in the movie, we hear about a group of soldiers in an old wise tale who stood strong until they no longer had the will to live. Once they gave up, their hearts stopped beating, and they became another in the growing statistic. Besides this serving as an obvious foreshadowing of what’s to come for our protagonist, it does communicate what is at stake here for the heart of this young man when the rest of his body has unfortunately already given up on him. His will to live is his strongest muscle, and it provides the air of hope that Robin, as well as us watching beyond the screen need to combat the inevitability of what is coming.

Also adding points to the cause are two valuable lead performances that the movie depends upon repeatedly to get it over the hump of a faulty screenplay. Andrew Garfield continues the role that he has been on with appearances in ‘Hacksaw Ridge’ and ‘Silence’, but it’s here where he gives perhaps his most physically hindering performance to date. As Robin, Garfield provides enough animated personality in his facial reactions and limited vocal capacity to place this turn right next to those previous two heralded performances. Garfield’s accent also stays committed to detail despite being forced to endure some of the biggest teeth props that I have ever seen in my life. Claire Foy is also a breath of fresh air. Diana defines what a loving wife can and should be, and Foy’s unshakeable perseverance to the love she feels for Robin brings a much-needed soft romantic side to this story that shouldn’t be understated.

THE VERDICT – In more experienced hands, ‘Breathe’ could’ve been an Oscar contender, but because this uneven screenplay does little to benefit Serkis storytelling capabilities, the film just gets by resting on its lazy laurels. The work of Garfield and Foy are among the many highlights, and a refreshing throwback to the golden age of Hollywood romance films gives this director promise for future endeavors, but there’s not enough oxygen in the stuffy atmosphere to ever prolong the life of this familiar true life melodrama.

6/10

The Mountain Between Us

The meeting and befriending of two total strangers will require them to depend upon one another in the coldest of conditions, in ‘The Mountain Between Us’. Stranded after meeting and co-ushering a tragic plane crash, two strangers (Kate Winslet and Idris Elba) must forge a connection of trust between them to survive the extreme elements of a remote snow covered mountain in the coldest of conditions. When they realize help is not coming, they embark on a perilous journey across hundreds of miles of wilderness, pushing one another to endure and discovering strength they never knew possible. Along the way, they learn plenty about each other that prove appearances aren’t everything. ‘The Mountain Between Us’ is directed by Hany Abu-Assad, and is rated PG-13 for a scene of sexuality, peril, injury imagery, and brief strong adult language.

‘The Mountain Between Us’ has a lot of potential from its personality and charm as a result of the turns of its two extremely likeable leads, but treads on thin ice with a barrage of romantic genre cliches that ultimately sink it. Undeniably, there’s too much weight of predictability and unnecessary comedic tone here that takes away from the intrigue and suspense that counteracts what the film builds on itself for an isolated disaster movie during the first act, and it’s proof that these opposite directions clash with the most dire of consequences, leading to much of what the audience will wisely enough discover from just the brief character outlines. It was maybe thirty minutes into this film when I mapped everything out that was going to happen in this movie, complete with character backstories and forced innuendos in screenplay that really takes the breath from a movie this limited. Sure, there isn’t a lot that you can do with a movie primarily set in one place, but films like ‘127 Hours’ and ‘Cast Away’ serve as validated examples of keeping the focus equally on the characters, as well as the conditions in consequences of the landscape, the latter of which Abu-Assad’s drifts away from like the very snow coming off of the landscapes.

From the get-go, Winslet and Elba’s characters meet and feel like old college friends. This is a puzzling direction immediately because it lacks some of the awkwardness and the vulnerability that will come into play later with trusting someone you just met. If these two are working together as a team early on, it will limit the transformations and growth that each character supplants with one another as the film goes on, and their resources become more and more limited. What I did enjoy about the screenplay is that it all kind of centers around this one conversation that the two characters have about brain versus heart, and in that instance the roles that each one of them play in such a debate. Elba is definitely the brain, considering his character is a surgical doctor and he is the one who plainly speaks “The heart is just a muscle”. Winslet’s character takes offense to that statement, and it’s clear that her drive and perseverance provide her with so much of that muscle that it often provides the light to keep on going. The film is also tightly paced until the third act, in which the movie feels like it tacks on one too many endings to cater to the audience who might feel alienated from a brave approach in closing minutes. I found this to drag on immensely, and I wish that some of the risk taking that the screenplay took in the mountain’s final minutes would’ve carried over to the film’s closing because it screams out the desperation that feeds into the redundant machine of romantic movie cliches.

On the subject of some of those cliches, this film has absolutely no shortage of them, providing an unintended spark of comedy that some can’t help but roll their eyes at. Considering these are two good looking people in the heart of the winter season on the rockies, this script practically writes itself. This feels even too obvious to someone like Nicholas Sparks, whose films revel in the opportunity to make a teenager’s most romantic fantasies come true, and leave out the logic or awkward exchanges between two strangers who met only days before. My issue with this aspect isn’t so much the overflowing amount of their uses, but more so in just how dishonest and undercooked that it makes this story feel. As the film carries into the second half, I found myself occasionally forgetting that these two were stranded because it’s clear that the film’s focus of that aspect felt secondary to the importance of a man and woman in seclusion, miles away from anyone, and with only the power to keep each other warm. If you think that sounds bad, I’m literally vomiting in my mouth as I type this out.

At least the scope of Abu-Assad and company bring aplenty to the film’s breathtakingly gorgeous production that certainly set the stage for the cold and unforgiven conditions. The decision to film this movie on location reaches levels of importance not only in immersing yourself in the very environment that our protagonists are thrust into, but also in the believability in physical performances that feel authentic to the toll of their body’s beat-down. The wide angle lens plays a valuable role here in accomplishing some the immensity of this landscape and the kind of uphill climb that the two now face. But not to lay back and play it safe from afar, the film also is credited with some vibrant experimental shots that had me twisting and turning in my seat quite a few times from the kind of point-of-view that the visuals cast us into. One such example is a scene involving Elba near the peak of a mountain, when he loses his footing and is sliding down towards the edge. Elba stops himself, but the camera keeps on going over the cliff, and it gives off this feeling of unpredictability even when the curtain has already revealed the result.

The performances as well are equally praising, even if the material frequently lets Elba and Winslet down in nearly every instance from conventional stakes. There’s no question that these two are too good for this kind of film this late in their careers, but I indulged none the less in their impeccable chemistry that they enveloped each and every scene with. I mentioned earlier that these two give such physically gifted performances on top of their already resilient personalities, but it’s in the work of Elba and the kind of secrets that transpire late into the movie surrounding his past that prove how capable he is of holding a script in the palm of his hands. Winslet is no slouch either, it’s just that the emotional register of Idris when it feels like a camera has got him cornered, is an illuminating shine that only gets brighter for him with each passing role. Kate’s on-time delivery in sarcastic wit plays valuable into keeping the attention spans firmly locked in on the movie during some trying times in pacing, and it all just serves as a testament to one of the most dependable leading ladies even still in all of Hollywood.

THE VERDICT – ‘The Mountain Between Us’ will certainly have its fans of date night moviegoers looking for a few simple thrills in action sequences, as well as some soft tenderness to go with a love story that you can get behind. Unfortunately for this critic, my heart is worth so much more, bringing to mind the never-ending inclusion of romantic movie tropes that exposed the predictability in every direction. If the film ends ten minutes before the string of false finishes, then it would be enough for me to push this through with a passing grade. But this, in addition to the overly telegraphed peril, and there’s nothing that could’ve closed the mountain of distance between me and Abu-Assad’s film.

5/10