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

Blockers

Directed by Kay Cannon

Starring – John Cena, Leslie Mann, Ike Barinholtz

The Plot – When three parents stumble upon their daughters’ pact to lose their virginity at prom, they launch a covert one-night operation to stop the teens from sealing the deal.

Rated R for crude and sexual content, and adult language throughout, drug content, teen partying, and some graphic nudity

THE POSITIVES

– Barinholtz once again steals the show with his blend of honest reactions and deadpan deliveries that keep you chuckling constantly. It’s great to see the former Mad TV alum getting his due in films like this and ‘Neighbors’ because there’s something commendable about the guy who takes pride in taking on the dirty jobs in characters.

– What I find creative about this script is that it’s basically taking a time old tradition in narrative of teenagers making a pact to lose their virginity at prom, basically a subgenre at this point, and adding a female perspective on it. Beyond this, there’s a hearty discussion about gender bias that does offer an insightfully educational perspective on the treatment of men versus women that will enlighten you. For a change, the women are the crude ones in this film, while their male suitors are relaxed and even flamboyant to a degree. This proves that anything men can do, women can do better.

– There is equal screen time dedicated to the respective trios in this film, young and adult, who each balance the beam of entertainment competently. While I felt that the adults overall had better chemistry and believability to their characters, the teenagers conflicts were the reason I bought my ticket, and I’m quite satisfied with where this one resolved.

– Incredible pacing. While the film is an easy 97 minutes, it honestly felt about half of that with how consistently it keeps the narrative and these characters moving. Constant change-ups in backdrops are a big key to this benefit, and there certainly is no shortage of situations on this memorable night that keep these characters tested.

– While I did feel like the film occasionally tries too hard with its brand of crude humor, the best gags to me were the ones that feel like they almost happen on accident. Leslie Mann’s encounter with a flat screen, as well as an overzealous limo driver gave me the biggest laughs of the night, proving that sometimes comedy happens without the need to set everything up.

– So much can be said about the debauchery that happens during the film, but there is a surprisingly refreshing amount of warning that comes with the adult themes that these ladies take on. Considering youths are the majority going to see this film, I commend any movie that takes the time to explain that you can have fun just as long as you play it carefully.

THE NEGATIVES

– During heartfelt sequences that could elevate this comedy to soaring heights, it often feels soiled by a forced joke that doesn’t add anything to the unraveling substance before us. Much of this happens during the closing minutes, and sometimes I feel like the intrusion really took away from what these comic veterans like Mann and Barinholtz could prove to the audience.

– As well with the comedy, the film’s dialogue often feels forced in animating the responses for the camera. This takes away the integrity and honesty that the brothers of screenwriters are going for, and instead caters to the film setting and all of its humorous soundbites. The person heavily to blame with this is Cena, who proves he still has a long way to go in making a character his own, and not just a jock who says cute things.

– Comedies are never technical marvels of cinema, but this is easily one of the worst edited movies that I have seen this year. Sequences feel prematurely cut, and the continuity from shot-to-shot character perspective is filled with holes so big that you could drive a Buick through them.

– Considering the entirety of this movie proceeds because of a convenient plot point revolving around the parents stumbling upon a chat between their daughters on a laptop, the creators can’t even get the logic in this instance correct. While it is possible to read phone texts on a laptop VIA Apple, laptops do often go to a screensaver or power down after they have been left on for too long. The scene in which Mann reads these texts happen no sooner than an hour between this pre-prom party that starts with the daughter on the laptop, and concludes with Mann snooping on her laptop. I can’t believe for a second that this computer would still be running. In addition to that, it’s convenient that the sounds the texts make are loud enough to hear from the kitchen.

6/10

Ready Player One

Directed by Steven Spielberg

Starring – Tye Sheridan, Olivia Cooke, Ben Mendelsohn

The Plot – In the year 2045, the real world is a harsh place. The only time Wade Watts (Sheridan) truly feels alive is when he escapes to the OASIS, an immersive virtual universe where most of humanity spends their days. In the OASIS, you can go anywhere, do anything, be anyone-the only limits are your own imagination. The OASIS was created by the brilliant and eccentric James Halliday (Mark Rylance), who left his immense fortune and total control of the Oasis to the winner of a three-part contest he designed to find a worthy heir. When Wade conquers the first challenge of the reality-bending treasure hunt, he and his friends-aka the High Five-are hurled into a fantastical universe of discovery and danger to save the OASIS.

Rated PG-13 for sequences of sci-fi action violence, bloody images, some suggestive material, partial nudity and adult language.

THE POSITIVES

– The aesthetic touch couldn’t be better, bringing to life the vibrant visuals of the OASIS with a synthetic gaming feel. I would normally call out other films that depend so much on C.G graphics, but this kind of effect was made for a film that almost entirely takes place in a world so foreign from our own.

– Art imitating life?? Because of the beauty and adventure involved in the OASIS, the real world is associated with a bleak, almost hopeless feel by comparison. There’s a real sense of escapism with this gaming world, and while that comes with endless exhilaration for our protagonist, it ignores the real problems that have doomed society because of their dependency upon this magical place. This responsible take is every bit as refreshing as it is vocal about our own addictions to technology.

– There’s no secret that this film could easily be called ‘Easter Egg: The Movie’ because of its endless displays of pop culture icons from film and gaming that give it an overall big budget feature. What’s surprisingly pleasing however, is that with the exception of one scene, their appearances feel necessary in upping the ante of importance to Halliday’s future and never steal the film’s focus for themselves. In catching them all, this film has outstanding replay value, and will welcome hundreds of upcoming Youtube videos to point out the ones that are extremely obscure.

– Spielberg has directed adult or child protagonists before, but surprisingly never teenagers until now. In doing so, it feels like he has a real grasp on their psychology and mannuerisms when it comes to their overall sense of spontaneity. ‘Ready Player One’ could easily pass for a teenage genre film in any of the eras it homages, and it’s clear that Spielberg’s latest awakens the adolescent from within him that has constantly kept beating through over forty years in cinema.

– This film is a collective audio scrapbook of 80’s synth hits that each meet their desired emotion in their respective scenes without feeling topical. From Van Halen, to A-Ha, to even Twisted Sister, this soundtrack mirrors that of the fictional star power shown in the film, and serves as a respectable nod in our present day to the past era of music that felt bigger than life.

– Sound mixing at its finest. You have to listen and pay attention closely, but the sound effects in the OASIS that serve as a reaction when something has been hit or destroyed also borrows from film, carefully placing a sound that the audience is familiar with into a new atmosphere to give it a new lease on life. For instance, the fading picture noise in ‘Back to the Future’ is now used for the key reveals.

– Precise casting. I have only read ‘Ready Player One’ once, but for my money the casting of Sheridan and Cooke feels right on point. The two emote an on-screen chemistry that radiates without being forceful. What’s even more impressive is that these two must connect on a spiritual level and not a physical one since a majority of the film takes place in the OASIS. It’s also in the care and backstory of their respective characters that the film takes in drawing them together. You feel strong empathy and investment into their conflicts because of their conflict with this major corporation that has taken everything from them.

– It’s not often that I get edge-of-my-seat giddy during a film, at the age of 33 years old, but the second key challenge in the film had my eyes glued to the screen with anticipation. Many people will be raving about the third challenge in this film, but my vote for coolest scene goes to the second challenge that bends the pages of historical film without desecrating them.

– If you listen to me about anything, hear me when I say that ‘Ready Player One’ is the film you go all out for and pay top dollar. This is a film that deserves to be seen by as many eyes on the biggest screen possible. The 3D actually added effects work to the outline of characters and backdrops that put you front-and-center inside of the game, and for once the colors don’t diminish or fade with the thick lenses of these theater goggles. Treat yourself, you deserve it.

THE NEGATIVES
– A majority of the action sequences are shot a bit too close for my taste. What this does is make it slightly more difficult in registering each deciding blow with the kind of clarity needed in keeping the audience’s focus. Because so much of these scenes are cluttered with characters, I could’ve used that wide angle shot in seeing things from the grander scale, instead of feeling like I was holding the hand of the main character.

THE EXTRAS

– It hit me about midway through that this is a modern day ‘Willy Wonka and the Chocolate Factory’. Five kids work closely together while mining through a series of tests for the prize of winning a genius’s empire. Sound familiar?

9/10

Sherlock Gnomes

Directed by John Stevenson

Starring – Emily Blunt, Johnny Depp, James Mcavoy

The Plot – When Gnomeo (Mcavoy) and Juliet (Blunt) first arrive in the city with their friends and family, their biggest concern is getting their new garden ready for spring. However, they soon discover that someone is kidnapping garden gnomes all over London. When Gnomeo and Juliet return home to find that everyone in their garden is missing there’s only one gnome to call Sherlock Gnomes (Depp). The famous detective and sworn protector of London’s garden gnomes arrives with his sidekick Watson to investigate the case. The mystery will lead our gnomes on a rollicking adventure where they will meet all new ornaments and explore an undiscovered side of the city.

Rated PG for some rude and suggestive humor

THE POSITIVES

– This is a very talented A-list cast that each bring something diverse and personal to their respective roles. However, there are a select few who break away from the pact, immersing themselves so deeply in their characters that their familiar voice patterns seem to just fade away. James McAvoy as Gnomeo, Johnny Depp as Sherlock, and especially Chiwetel Ejiofor as Watson.

– The animation is much greater improved from the 2011 original film. So many of the human beings move with such fluidity in their designs, and the surrounding landscapes seem to radiate a glow of realism that adds more dimension to the hollow properties of the gnomes themselves.

– At 81 free-flowing minutes, a majority of the movie moves with crisp pacing that never rarely drags. I can respect any film that knows how much material it has within and doesn’t require stretching to meet a 90 minute quota.

– There is a plot twist midway through between Holmes and Watson in the film that I wish would’ve been followed through with fully. In fact, for all of my interests, I would’ve preferred an animated Holmes and Watson movie without the gnomes. From a psychological standpoint, the film takes a surprising dive repeatedly into the mind of Sherlock to show us for the first time how he ticks as an intellectual.

– Exceptional work by Elton John and Bernie Taupin on providing some fresh twists on classic Elton favorites. This soundtrack is nothing short of a toe-tapping good time, and I felt the re-imagining of some of these timeless classics really gave spring to the very adventure aspect depicted in the film.

THE NEGATIVES

– Much of the time, this film feels like two different 40 minute scripts (Gnomes Vs Holmes) that don’t necessarily mesh well with one another. I mentioned earlier that Holmes would’ve been the way to go for this particular film, and I further that stance because much of the supporting gnome characters, and even McAvoy’s Gnomeo become a bit of background in their own franchise. Imagine if Buzz and Woody were reduced to Rex and Slink in a fourth Toy Story.

– As to where I already mentioned the solid addition of Elton with the music, I have to slander his inclusion in the dialogue that set up for FAR too many puns with his song titles. I probably heard the phrase Tiny Dancer a hundred times in this movie, and the film is never inspired to let go of it.

– Speaking of which, the overall comedy for the film fumbles what little opportunities it presents to itself. My problem isn’t so much that I only laughed once during the film, but that most of the scenes and lines during the trailer that made me laugh simply aren’t included in the finished product. Try entertaining a child with no comedy.

– The third act takes far too long in getting where it needs to finish up. Considering this final conflict begins with around 30 minutes left in the film, there’s an overall feeling in making this final presentation one that glitters the wonderment of children, but I felt that its flashy perspective did more harm in keeping the interest glued. So much can easily be edited to reduce repetition.

– There is very little in the way of surprises for this screenplay, and it’s a shame that much of that overwhelming taste of mediocrity will be what sticks with audiences most of all when the film ends. With more care and concern for keeping the content sharp, the film could’ve kept some of that lightning in a bottle that fizzles out once the outline of where the film is headed becomes obvious.

5/10

Pacific Rim: Uprising

Directed by Steven S DeKnight

Starring – John Boyega, Scott Eastwood, Tian Jing

The Plot – John Boyega stars as the rebellious Jake Pentecost, a once-promising Jaeger pilot whose legendary father gave his life to secure humanity’s victory against the monstrous “Kaiju.” Jake has since abandoned his training only to become caught up in a criminal underworld. But when an even more unstoppable threat is unleashed to tear through our cities and bring the world to its knees, he is given one last chance to live up to his father’s legacy by his estranged sister, Mako Mori (Rinko Kikuchi)-who is leading a brave new generation of pilots that have grown up in the shadow of war. As they seek justice for the fallen, their only hope is to unite together in a global uprising against the forces of extinction. Jake is joined by gifted rival pilot Lambert (Eastwood) and 15-year-old Jaeger hacker Amara (Cailee Spaeny), as the heroes of the PPDC become the only family he has left.

Rated PG-13 for sequences of sci-fi violence and action, and some adult language

THE POSITIVES

– There’s no question that the meat and potatoes of this franchise is still the action, first and foremost. It is definitely still there, vibrating the screen with no shortage of combat and devastation that makes the most of the set pieces that surround the robots and monsters respectively.

– Boyega definitely feels like the most beneficial addition to the script, if only for his endless charisma and presence that steers the film with command whenever he is on screen. I do wish they would’ve evolved his character and subplot progressively more, but John makes the most of the limited opportunity, pushing through the sludge with the kind of attitude the film so desperately needs.

– The decisions in camera work smoothly, and never replicate the negatives of modern day action flicks with too many quick-cuts. Instead, Uprising focuses on each and every crushing blow without ever flinching or looking away from the unfolding scene.

– Perhaps a motivation for the script that worked above all others for me was the maturity and steering by the youth of this fresh faced cast in saving the day. This inspires a positive message from our own next generation to take charge of our own world and future when it comes knocking on their doors.

THE NEGATIVES

– For my money, the action sequences look much better at night than they do in the day. This not only feeds into the idea of the mystery behind what’s waiting in the dark, but also the hollow and empty presentation from daylight sequences that don’t echo that cool, Tron-like vibe from the neon decor.

– Much of the screenplay felt like a hybrid between Independence Day and Transformers. In fact, I predict much will be forgotten about this film because you’ve seen it in bigger, more gifted productions that (Above all else) did it first.

– The humor in dialogue felt so forced and unnatural that it comes across as more awkward than humorous. A good deal of my problems creatively with the film clashed with the overall tone that caters more to young adult moviegoers than a matured adult presentation that adorned the first movie. More on that in a second.

– It is my opinion that Dr Gottlieb (Played with commitment by Burn Gorman) deserved more screen time for his evolution, and there’s one glaring area that I would’ve taken away from. How does a movie make Charlie Day feel like John Turtoro from the Transformers series? Day is AWFUL here, and his emerging plot feels as believable as pigs flying. Each time he was on-screen, he took away from the more entertaining scenario behind him, and if this is where the series is going I will pass.

– There’s not nearly enough urgency or vulnerability in this world and its people, and I blame a lot of that on the mistimed tone that I mentioned above. To further elaborate on this, I never felt glued or uncertainty for the action-packed third act because I never felt the danger of a situation that either cuts to Day for his goofy one-liners, or uses valuable camera time in getting one of the robots to give a monster the middle finger.

– DeKnight is certainly no substitute for Del Toro. A lot of the film lacks the style, creativity, attention to detail, and innovation that the first movie had. Instead of elevating the rules and technology in this film, DeKnight would rather rest on much of the positives of the first movie, leaving him without a knife to carve his name in this 50/50 franchise.

4/10

Love, Simon

Directed by Greg Berlanti

Starring – Nick Robinson, Josh Duhamel, Jennifer Garner

The Plot – A young coming-of-age teenage boy, Simon Spier (Robinson), goes through a different kind of Romeo and Juliet story. Simon has a love connection with a boy, Blue, by email, but the only problem is that Simon has no idea who he’s talking to. Simon must discover who that boy is–who Blue is. Along the way, he tried to find himself as well.

Rated PG-13 for thematic elements, sexual references, adult language and teen partying

THE POSITIVES

– This really feels like the first original look at the teenage side of gay sexuality, and in doing so, much of the material refreshingly depicts the silly and drastically misunderstood perspective that many straight people still harvest in not understanding the similarities between the gay and straight lifestyles. This film’s message is to showcase that nothing changes with people that come out, they are just more enlightened to go after what they want and deserve, and this stance gives the film an entertaining, as well as educational look at things.

– I’ve heard much comparison to John Hughes teenage films of the 80’s, but I only see that in terms of the time-traveling musical score by composer Rob Simonsen. For my money, I hear a lot of ‘Planes, Trains and Automobiles’ in his synthesizing tones, and it presents a classy outline to the film’s narrative moments that most teenage films are strongly lacking.

– The performances fire on every cylinder. Robinson as the title character really comes into his own, playing Simon as this boy on the cusp on manhood who is dealing with that unshakeable voice in his head that sounds like it is getting louder. In addition to Robinson, Garner and Duhamel should also be cherished as two parents who really feel honest in their reactions to the news that could shake their family if they allow it to.

– You hear often in reviews how a particular film will take you on a roller-coaster of emotional response, but ‘Love, Simon’ is legit in this stance because it is always trying to surprise the reader in the mature stances it takes. Because of the awkwardness, I was constantly laughing. Because of the smothering in Simon’s own personal life, I felt great empathy and sadness for him. And in the immaturity of some characters, I felt great anger in their inability to just let people be happy for themselves.

– Beneath the surface, there’s a strong and compelling mystery at play for Simon’s mystery e-mailer, and I found the finishing result to be very satisfying in its big reveal. Along the way, there’s plenty of varying faces to feed into Simon’s possibilities for who it can be, but the answer I feel is one that will surprise more than not.

– There’s a lot of personality to the style and sequencing of the film. Berlanti as a visual storyteller combines the use of technology in garnering the feedback of this small town, but he knows this isn’t enough. The inclusion of Simon’s narration is one that Berlanti uses accordingly in getting us close to the protagonist in ways that a post online simply won’t, and I greatly appreciated the combination of both here.

– Beyond this being just about Simon, this script takes enough time to get to know the valuable pieces of family and friends in Simon’s life so to better understand the price tag in risk that perplexes him to keep quiet. His interactions with them feel every bit as genuine as they do vital to the mounting pressure that surrounds him.

– This is not just an entertaining film, it’s one that I feel is immensely important to many youths discovering and finding themselves on-screen. Far too often, this voice goes silent in big screen releases, and it’s a feel good sentiment that because of a film as special as this one, more studios will feel comfortable in expanding their approach to stories that would otherwise never receive the time.

THE NEGATIVES

– There’s one character who plays a bully of sorts that I needed a re-write or just edited out of the film completely. This character blackmails Simon into keeping his secret, but the problem is that the film takes valued screen time to get to know and feel for his own situation with a girl, making his villainous stance feel illegitimate. I think you could’ve incorporated much of his material into the two other jocks in the school to make it feel more synthetic.

– Some of the dialogue does suffer from that quip in deciding to be entertaining first and authentic second. There were many times in the film where I felt thankful for the depth of A-list actors like Duhamel and Garner being enough to override some of this obvious banter that no parent in this predicament would ever sound like.

8/10

Thoroughbreds

Directed by Cory Finley

Starring – Anya Taylor-Joy, Olivia Cooke, Anton Yelchin

The Plot – Childhood friends Lily (Taylor-Joy) and Amanda (Cooke) reconnect in suburban Connecticut after years of growing apart. Lily has turned into a polished, upper-class teenager, with a fancy boarding school on her transcript and a coveted internship on her resume; Amanda has developed a sharp wit and her own particular attitude, but all in the process of becoming a social outcast. Though they initially seem completely at odds, the pair bond over Lily’s contempt for her oppressive stepfather, Mark (Paul Sparks), and as their friendship grows, they begin to bring out one another’s most destructive tendencies. Their ambitions lead them to hire a local hustler, Tim (Yelchin), and take matters into their own hands to set their lives straight.

Rated R for disturbing behavior, bloody images, adult language, sexual references, and some drug content

THE POSITIVES

– In crafting a hybrid horror/comedy offering, most directors can’t succeed at both without sacrificing one or the other. Here, Finley maintains the feat because of the uneasy atmosphere in tension that fills the air and makes it difficult for his audience to fight against nervous laughter for all the same reasons.

– Supreme camera work. Not only does Finley master the most of manipulated long-take sequences and slow-pan tracking shots, but he also pays homage to classic horror films like ‘The Omen’ with jolting energetic shots that quickly come into focus when a particular character comes into frame. If Wes Anderson were a horror director, Finley might be his alias.

– A scintillatingly gloomy musical score by the great Erik Friedlander that makes us squirm in our seats. Erik spares no usage for any particular instrument here, manipulating the strings of anything within his reach that really turns these luxurious visuals into a full on house of horrors.

– Finley’s puppeteering of shadow play that visually hints at the progression of certain character. Taylor-Joy’s Lily in particular goes through a slow burn kind of transformation into the dark side of her cerebrum, and the deeper she envelopes those traits, the more we see the darkness in each frame surround her to possibly hide from her facial reactions what was once as easy as an open book to read.

– The entire cast brings their A-game here. It was delightfully bittersweet to see Yelchin adorn the screen once more, this time as a drug seller to youths who talks a good game. Make no mistake though, the two leading ladies keep the 87 minutes firmly in their grip, commanding the attention in every scene with a firm dynamic that only catered wonderfully to their impeccable chemistry. Cooke’s monotonous delivery feeds miles into the emotionless body cavity that she has become, and Taylor-Joy’s blossoming menace proves that there’s enough room for two seats at this table.

– What’s interesting to think about is that the entirety of this screenplay is really just talkative exposition, so it serves as a testament even more to the performances, as well as the edgy dialogue that consistently holds your attention. As a writer, Finley almost dares you to look away in hopes that you might miss something, and I never once indulged in his challenge. This is a man who obviously loves to write dialogue, and does so in a way that strives against the politically correct stature that we’re used to.

– The usage of the house and visuals surrounding our cast that tear into the toxic atmosphere being hidden behind these lavish lifestyles. Because Finley was originally a playright, it’s appropriate enough that a lot of these scenes feel like they take place in one room at a time, with the characters coming in and out of frame.

– Perhaps my single favorite aspect of the screenplay is that the film doesn’t force-feed the details of past exposition or violent scenes to us. It’s really what you don’t see that allows audiences to fill in the blanks fruitfully, and gives the film that imaginative touch that only a horror movie can. Finley has faith in his audience, and doesn’t require spoon-feeding them to get his points across. I appreciate that.

THE NEGATIVES

– I’m not going to pretend that I liked the final ten minutes at all. The more I think about it, the more I start to see the bigger holes in logic that just would not hold up in our own real world. If the film were going for an ‘American Psycho’ kind of world-building, then sure, but the neat and tidy wrap-up of it all with absolutely no questions asked is one that I felt did a disservice to writing that was otherwise articulately intelligent up to that point.

– Because the entirety of the film is dialogue driven, the material is stretched a little too thin for even its brief runtime. This is an 87 minute picture, and while the film never lagged or stood still for me, there were definitely times when I felt that corners could’ve easily been cut to get to where a scene took us.

8/10

Gringo

Directed by Nash Edgerton

Starring – David Oyelowo, Joel Edgerton, Charlize Theron

The Plot – Combining dark comedy with dramatic intrigue, ‘Gringo’ joyrides across the border into Mexico, where all is not as it seems for mild-mannered American businessman Harold Soyinka (Oyelowo). Crossing the line from citizen to criminal, Harold tangles with duplicitous business partners, Mexican drug lords, international mercenaries, and the DEA. As he attempts to survive in one of the most dangerous places on earth, the question lingers: is this ordinary man in way over his head, or is he two steps ahead?

Rated R for adult language throughout, violence and sexual content

THE POSITIVES

– This cast is far too good for this film, and prove it as they make the most of their thinly written characters. Theron and Edgerton definitely steal the show, playing two upper management snobs whose quick wit retaliation gave me flashbacks of the Farelly Brothers in their writing prime. There were times when I wanted this to be just their film, and I feel that I was the most intrigued whenever this sensational duo showed up and ate up the scenery

– Despite seeing the trailer a lot, the twists and turns of this screenplay gave me more than a few surprises, and certainly wasn’t bashful about upping the stakes for all of the players seated at the table.

– While I had many problems with the overall tone and genre classification of this film, it’s in my opinion that the film worked best when it tried to be a comedy. Oyelowo’s consistent Nigerian accent, as well as his reactions to the complete mayhem that was unfolding around him, gave me more than a couple of hearty chuckles that served as a piece of relief for the rest of the film that took itself too seriously.

– It’s beneficial and interesting to note that Oyelowo’s character isn’t the bumbling buffoon that the trailer makes him out to be. There’s clearly a game of mental chess taking place here, and this man takes many intelligent measures known to the audience before he makes his next move.

THE NEGATIVES

– The movie is sold as a comedy, written as a Mexican drug cartel shootout, and presented as a dramatic piece. The word of the day for this one is Scatterbrained because at times these three polar opposite directions clash with one another and soil the integrity and honesty that each are trying to convey.

– I mentioned earlier that Theron and Edgerton steal the show, and it’s clear that the movie thinks so as well. Midway through, Oyelowo’s main character status is put in jeopardy as he is sharing screen time with no fewer than three other subplots that each get an equal share of the script. Subplots usually show up in one out of every four to five scenes, but here the dedication in keeping up with every single character tested my patience to no end.

– Gringo is probably the last film that I expected to complain about the visual effects, but it’s rare for me to be this dumbfounded about the careless nature put into them. Snowflakes and butterflies are given a C.G rendering here, and not only does their movements make you question the authenticity of every scene they’re in, but the fact that they both fall/fly in the same pattern proves the rushed nature of this effect to me.

– Frustrating transition scenes. This heavily flawed script just isn’t sequenced out enough to harvest the entertainment factor of the material. There are multiple exposition scenes without a payoff in between, as well as cuts in editing between scenes that feel jagged and sloppy for the style.

– I’ve heard of neatly tied up endings before, but Gringo’s is so bad that it inadvertently pays homage to Austin Powers. Let me explain; there’s a character in the film who is insulted because she used to be fat. Well wouldn’t you know it, during the closing scenes she becomes fat again because she’s an awful person. This serves absolutely zero purpose in the overall scheme of things other than to answer one more unnecessary question about another unnecessary character.

– Speaking of unnecessary characters, Amanda Seyfried and her boyfriend in the movie are completely wasted and given absolutely no clarity for their involvement in the film. It’s another example of two characters whose final destination make you scratch your head the more you think about it, and only did wonders in weighing the entertainment factor down for the film each time they came on screen and weighed the pacing down.

4/10

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

Game Night

Directed by John Francis Daley and Jonathan Goldstein

Starring – Jason Bateman, Rachel McAdams, Kyle Chandler

The Plot – Bateman and McAdams star as Max and Annie, whose weekly couples game night gets kicked up a notch when Max’s charismatic brother, Brooks (Chandler), arranges a murder mystery party, complete with fake thugs and faux federal agents. So when Brooks gets kidnapped, it’s all part of the game – right? But as the six uber-competitive gamers set out to solve the case and win, they begin to discover that neither this game – nor Brooks – are what they seem to be. Over the course of one chaotic night, the friends find themselves increasingly in over their heads as each twist leads to another unexpected turn. With no rules, no points, and no idea who all the players are, this could turn out to be the most fun they’ve ever had… or game over.

Rated R for adult language, sexual references and some violence

THE POSITIVES

– Blending two polar opposite genres together is something that often fails, but ‘Game Night’ conjures up this kind of hybrid playing field where the worlds of horror and comedy merge together soundly. Much of the reason for this is because the humor in this script never takes away, nor sours the mood of the very surreal consequences that these friends are dealing with.

– If a film is called ‘Game Night’ and it isn’t at least fun, you would have an instant fail, but thankfully that doesn’t happen. This film is tightly paced at 95 minutes, richly humorous without anything of the raunchy nature, and packs enough twists in narrative to always keep you guessing.

– Cliff Martinez, how do you do it? Not only does my favorite music composer score this film, but he once again tickles our audible sense with a collection of music that is every bit as transfixing as it is vital to carving out the ominous urgency in his influence of synth-pop game changers.

– There’s much argument for who steals the show here. McAdams and Bateman are of course a delight, harboring a kinetic kind of energy in chemistry that makes their connection evident. But then there’s excellent supporting work from Jesse Plemmons, Lamorne Morris, and probably my personal favorite: Billy Magnussen as the idiot friend whose stupidity is his greatest asset in charm.

– In addition to the well-rounded cast, their characters are each given plenty of scenes to chew up, making each of their voyages on this night of terror equally important to moving one step closer towards the big reveal. I personally will always support a film that caters more to the team aspect than just one or two great leads, and ‘Game Night’ is certainly of that caliber.

– Surprisingly enticing cinematography by Barry Peterson. With the exception of ’22 Jump Street’, Barry hasn’t gotten a chance to really shine in a winner, so it’s a pleasure to see how far his experience has come in gripping a visually enhancing companion piece to the hip script unfolding before us. The chase sequences both in and around the car are shot competently in keeping with the pulse of intensity, and a two minute chase sequence in the house that is manipulated to look like one continuous shot is one that I appreciated for the kind of choreography that you can bend in a setting so immense.

– This is definitely the most I have laughed over the last year of cinema, and that really surprised me because after not laughing at all during the trailer, it saves its best material for the paying customers.

– It goes against the grain in not falling into the trap of a third act conflict between these friends that almost every comedy today must do. Instead, by keeping them constantly on the same page, it enriches their friendship in standing together through arguably the worst or best night of all of their lives.

THE NEGATIVES

– There’s a scene about midway through where Bateman’s character is searching a police database laptop for the identity of a man they are searching for. There’s two things funny about this; 1. There’s a search bar labeled “Alias name”, and 2. He types in “The Bulgarian” and only one person comes up. I guess only one person in the entire world goes by a name as cryptic as “The Bulgarian”.

– The final two shots of the movie are easily the weakness of the entire film. The first involves continuing the story with a kind of sequel bait kind of way that doesn’t make sense with how things concluded, and certainly doesn’t fit in any kind of possible continuing conflict. The second scene is a credit sequence that shows how everything was accomplished by a certain character. Every film mystery needs an answer, yes, but in solving the mystery here and trying to answer so many questions, you only see the glaring plot holes that highlight just how truly impossible this whole thing was to script together by any one person.

8/10

Early Man

Directed by Nick Park

Starring – Tom Hiddleston, Maisie Williams, Eddie Redmayne

The Plot – Set at the dawn of time, when prehistoric creatures and woolly mammoths roamed the earth, Early Man tells the story of Dug (Redmayne), along with sidekick Hognob as they unite his tribe against a mighty enemy Lord Nooth (Hiddleston) and his Bronze Age City to save their home.

Rated PG for some rude humor and scenes of action

THE POSITIVES

– Steller animation yet again by Aardman Animations. The use of authentic backdrop properties in trees and rocks blends colorfully with that of the claymation characters and their stopmotion animation. In addition, the characters themselves illustrate the evolution between neanderthal and the next step smoothly, leaving enough evidence in physical features between the two sides (Big teeth, misshaped heads) to bridge the gap.

– Immersive vocal performances that engulf our A-list cast whole. I’ve always said that the best animated performances are the ones that make you forget who is vocalizing them, and the trio of leads here nail that in spades. The best for me is definitely Hiddleston’s indistinguishable gangly turn as the evil Lord Nooth.

– At 79 minutes, this is as harmless of a sit as you’re going to encounter this weekend. The pacing never drags or stalls through its narrative, keeping the attention of its audience without having to trim the fat of needless time filler.

– There is a kind of tragic element hanging over the heads of these characters that goes far beyond the conflict of this film. Despite the outcome of this soccer game, we all know the progression from the Stone Age, and that hint of inevitable doom is one that brought an unintentional dramatic layer to what I was watching.

– The observational humor is definitely the winner in the battle with the dialogue, penetrating with enough visual sight gags to throw us a bone of subversive for the adults in the audience, once in a while.

– I’m always one to lend kudos to a screenplay that introduces a prominent female character and doesn’t make her the love interest of anyone in the film. ‘Early Man’ follows this lead, giving little girls an inspiration not only to play sports, but also in carving out just how important she was to the conclusion of the picture.

THE NEGATIVES

– As to where the observational grants more hits than misses, the dialogue itself in the movie is slightly too authentic of its neanderthal foundation. With the exception of a few generous giggles, I found much of the material in the film to be very underwhelming for Aardman and the kind of tummy-ticklers we’re used to leaving the theater with. It’s unusual that this material won’t really cater to adults or kids with confidence.

– The whole film builds to this soccer match that is nothing more than a series of montage sequences in a race to the finish line. Believe me when I say that every shot in this game is to showcase when a team scores, and that’s a bummer because there’s never any inspiring instances when this game can break away from the cliches of previous sports films that have already outlined what we are going to see.

– I’m sure it’s ridiculous to complain about historical accuracy in a film where the pig is the smartest character, but I still wonder why things like toilet paper, speakers, and even a one hundred foot duck are all present in a film that takes place during the Stone Age.

– There is absolutely zero character exposition here. Each and every character runs together, and can’t be dissected any differently than labeling them “Main character” or “Female character”. If a film lacks characters that you feel empathetic towards, a plot about them losing their home won’t have much tug towards your heartstrings.

6/10

Peter Rabbit

Directed by Will Gluck

Starring – James Corden, Domhnall Gleeson, Rose Byrne

The Plot – Peter Rabbit (Corden), the mischievous and adventurous hero who has captivated generations of readers, now takes on the starring role of his own irreverent, contemporary comedy with attitude. In the film, Peter’s feud with Mr. McGregor (Gleeson) escalates to greater heights than ever before as they rival for the affections of the warm-hearted animal lover who lives next door (Byrne).

Rated PG for some rude humor and action

THE POSITIVES

– While the film isn’t the most faithful to its literary property, it’s completely harmless. Purists of the former will indulge in enough gentle heart imagination and innocence in the bond between humanity and animals, as well as moments of visual Easter egg throwbacks to the original illustration. The new fans of Peter Rabbit will enjoy the quick-witted, physical slapstick that offers plenty of laughs without settling for the low-hanging fruit of toilet humor.

– Speaking of laughs, the film is very clever with its material, choosing to break the fourth wall of kids movies on more than one occasion. Because of this meta stance, the script and these characters constantly feel like they’re one step ahead of our expectations, leaving us plenty to guess about what’s to come.

– Gleeson steals the show. If you didn’t believe that Domhnall Gleeson was a revelation before this film, his role as the antagonist of sorts will be your convincing note. Not only does Gleeson revel in chewing up the scenery of each and every scene as this sophisticated snob of sorts, but his endlessly amped-up physicality in each scene silences the disbelief of live property versus animated one with ease.

– The film’s quick pacing is complimented by some thrilling chase scenes that truly capture the imagination of the environment. These scenes are tightly edited and rapidly moving to keep their audience at energetic levels.

– A rorschach test of character framing. Interestingly enough, I found the children in the audience to be faithfully rooting for Peter and his band of colorful creatures, but I saw things from Gleeson’s point of view repeatedly, and I think that adult versus child comparison comes into play in a film with characters this respective of each demographic.

– In addition to a roller-coaster of laughs and debauchery, there’s a hearty romance developing between Gleeson and Byrne that is taking place in the background. The subtlety of their growing relationship takes its time firmly, and the chemistry between them is every bit as delightful as it is important to each respective person. After being chained down for ‘Fifty Shades Freed’ this weekend, it was nice to see how a real romance develops between two human beings.

– Lets all give Sony a round of applause for making a movie without pimping their products out. While this doesn’t seem like a big deal, I’ve seen films (Cough Cough, ‘The Amazing Spider-Man 2’) that feels like a two hour commercial for the production team behind it. Less is more, and maybe they are starting to learn that.

THE NEGATIVES

– The musical soundtrack does the thing where it soils the integrity of the property by instilling a collection of top 40 favorites to boost downloads. Where it tries to improve itself is changing and adapting the lyrics of such songs like Len’s ‘Steal My Sunshine’ or Fort Minor’s ‘Remember the Name’ to narrate a character struggle. It’s just the minority when compared to the majority that isn’t this creative.

– Pointless narration by Margot Robbie’s bird character. The narration is only in the film four times, and every time we hear it, it’s to remind us of something we just learned in the previous scene.

– The rules of who can hear the animals talking gets slightly skewed in the final act, especially after a random little girl acknowledges that she can hear them easily. This creates some holes in logic for earlier sequences that would’ve been spoiled had the rules followed these twists.

7/10