Ant Man and The Wasp

Directed by Peyton Reed

Starring – Paul Rudd, Evangeline Lilly, Michael Pena

The Plot – In the aftermath of ‘Captain America: Civil War,’ Scott Lang (Rudd) grapples with the consequences of his choices as both a Super Hero and a father. As he struggles to re-balance his home life with his responsibilities as Ant-Man, he’s confronted by Hope van Dyne (Lilly) and Dr. Hank Pym (Michael Douglas) with an urgent new mission. Scott must once again put on the suit and learn to fight alongside The Wasp as the team works together to uncover secrets from their past.

Rated PG-13 for some mild profanity, and scenes of sci-fi action and violence

POSITIVES

– Rudd and Lilly, while still leagues away from feeling authentic in a romantic staging, preserve their chemistry with a tag team dynamic that compliments the other one. With Marvel movies, we typically get solo efforts or a group of superheroes, so the elements involved with a man/woman duo can compliment the choreography in action in the same way tag team wrestling does. Along the way, there are plenty of set-ups and knock-downs that each of these characters feed each other, making it difficult for antagonists to look one way without something coming at them in a different direction.

– The visual effects work is leaps and bounds the single greatest aspect of the film, bringing to life childlike imagination and creativity in spades. Ant Man and The Wasp is certainly a film that couldn’t be made ten years ago, and much of that perfection amongst green-screen assistance is something that has come with time, with in-sync color shadowing and precision volume in movements and weight that ease the boundaries of believability. There is one certain problem that I had with a scene involving hot wheels that doesn’t make sense in any way, shape, or form, but it’s just part of the tone set for the film.

– Pacing that literally FLIES by (Get it?). While the run time for the film is nearly two hours, the final conflict wrapped itself up in a way that finished before we as an audience were ever aware that resolution was coming. Not that this happens in a way that is anti-climatic, but rather screenwriters Andrew Barrer and Gabriel Ferrari leave us wanting more by exiting at the highest peak of the intensity mountain.

– Perfect timing. The film doesn’t hold much weight with everything else currently going on in the Infinity War and Thanos, and maybe that’s for the best. Considering so many people were depressed coming out of Infinity War, the necessity for something like Ant Man and The Wasp is that much more appreciated, because of its colorful textures and substantial value in light-hearted thrills. So many people just want to laugh anymore, especially in our own real world, and if Rudd avoiding house arrest while watching Animal House doesn’t do it for you, then nothing will.

– Much of the tone for the film stays grounded, leaving very little to even push forth with a PG-13 rating that even I felt was stretching it a bit. This film’s biggest strength is in its adaptability for all members of the family, especially considering it is the first Marvel property to feature a female presence in the title of the movie. With Wonder Woman kicking so much ass for DC, it was certainly time that Marvel engaged the female fans of its inner circle, and the film does a superb job at leveling the playing field for both characters gifts that they bring to the table. Also, some of my favorite scenes harvested that family element beautifully, with Rudd losing the suit to play dad to his adorably precocious child daughter.

– The marriage of C.G and makeup sets back the clock. As we saw with how Marvel made Robert Downey Jr twenty years younger in Civil War, it too brings a more impressive palate in the designs of Michael Douglas and Michelle Pfeifer for this picture. Not that either have aged terribly. Pfeifer is still a fox, but the scenes relating to their pasts remind us of the prime for some of Hollywood’s once prosperous A-list hitters, proving how scary realistic these transformations feel without ever coming across as hollow.

– It should be obvious that you stay for the credits for one amazing post credits scene, and one that was an extreme waste of time. However, my post-movie cheers goes to a credit sequence that storyboards the movie’s biggest scenes with action figures. It harvests the energy of what it meant to be a kid, dreaming up these superhero scenarios when anything was possible.

NEGATIVES

– While the humor in dialogue for the film did hit its mark around 80% of the time, there were some examples where this direction did harm for the atmosphere. Considering Reed also directed the first movie, it’s interesting to see how much more he values sitcom comedy in the sequel as compared to the original film. Quite often, there is a desire to supplant a laugh or sight gag in every single scene, making it difficult to feel dramatic tension in the form of urgency . Beyond this, the over-extending use for puns became eye-rolling about midway through the movie.

– The biggest disappointment for me was easily the setting. While the first film entirely took place in the real world, I was hoping that the sequel would establish the rules and atmosphere inside of the Quantum Realm. Sadly, we only invade this outerworld with a mere 30 minutes left in the movie, and even then it is only temporary. I didn’t care for either of the dual antagonists for the movie, and often times it feels like they are created to give each protagonist their own conflict. Instead, I wish the Quantum Realm itself, in all of its mysteries and risks, was the antagonist for the movie. It’s that rare case I feel where a superhero film didn’t require an antagonist, and now makes this series 0 for 3 in terms of compelling villains who offer no kind of depth to their missions.

– When you really think about it, this film is a big game of Hot Potato, and for it to be reduced to something that elementary with as many elements that are boiling around the pot, it’s a bit of a glaring negative that the character development in exposition feels secondary to the prize itself. This is big on the antagonists, but also on someone like Pfeifer’s Motherly character, who with the exception of the opening couple minutes of the movie, goes a long span of time before appearing again. Why even reach for a big name like Pfeifer when the best you have for her is three scenes throughout nearly two hours of film?

7/10

Uncle Drew

Directed by Charles Stone III

Starring – Kyrie Irving, Lilrey Howery, Shaquille O’Neal

The Plot – After draining his life savings to enter a team in the Rucker Classic street ball tournament in Harlem, Dax (Howery) is dealt a series of unfortunate setbacks, including losing his team to his longtime rival (Nick Kroll). Desperate to win the tournament and the cash prize, Dax stumbles upon the man, the myth, the legend Uncle Drew (Irving) and convinces him to return to the court one more time. The two men embark on a road trip to round up Drew’s old basketball squad (O’Neal, Chris Webber, Reggie Miller, Nate Robinson, and Lisa Leslie) and prove that a group of septuagenarians can still win the big one.

Rated PG-13 for suggestive material, adult language, and brief nudity

POSITIVES

– What really surprised me about Uncle Drew was just how much heart, not only for the game of basketball, but also for the expansive definition of the term family there really was. Uncle Drew is very much feel good cinema, bringing with it a light-hearted sense of cinema that very few films take a chance on anymore. The stakes in the film don’t ever feel world-threatening, instead relying on a game between friends-turned-family to harvest its rich center.

– Much of the makeup work here is done exceptionally well, never feeling cheap or painfully obvious in its subtle detail. Even if you see every name on the stretched cast before the film, it will take you more than a few seconds to accurately point out which athletes are playing what roles. One that particularly comes to mind is Chris Webber as Preacher, complete with greying wig and facial prosthetics to wipe away the identity of a very recognizable NBA star.

– Considering much of this cast are still considered amateur actors by their brief filmography stances, most of them get a passing grade for their crossover into feature films. Irving as the title character provides strong leadership and the occasional Disco nap that keeps the ticker pumping. Thank the movie gods most of all however, for Nick Kroll as the film’s much needed villain relief. Kroll’s facial reactions alone provided a majority of laughs for the film, but it’s in his quick-quip deliveries that provided the necessary fun in the atmosphere to never take his threat too seriously. Together with Howery, Kroll offers a complimentary throwback to the 80’s and 90’s sports comedies that brought with them these larger-than-life personalities.

– The basketball choreography as a whole felt very believable, replicating a sense of the street ball game that is anything but a typical basketball style. One benefit of this is that the action takes place 90% of the time inside of these musical montages that keeps them quick and crisp, without audiences being left time to pick them apart.

– Uncle Drew is a character who stemmed from a cola commercial, and while it would certainly be easy for Stone to take advantage of a vicious advertising angle for the film, the screenplay never jumps at the opportunity. If Adam Sandler were in this film, it would be a done deal, but Stone’s vision of a Drew biopic has enough leverage and importance in telling the story of this court legend firmly, leaving behind the opportunity to cash in on a quick dollar or two.

NEGATIVES

– If there are two things that doom Uncle Drew from advancing itself, it’s in its conventionalism and predictability from being a student of films that did the things they do better. To anyone who knows road trip movies where the band gets back together, you follow these highlighted steps easily without screenwriter Jay Longino presenting anything in the way of twists and turns to shape your opinion, and from his storied history behind the camera crafting sports films of his own, it’s clear that Stone has no interest in broadening the cluttered subgenre for a new generation of visionaries.

– Seeing Shaq’s hairy bare ass will never be a highlight for this critic, no matter how great the movie is. I could certainly speak levels on how unnecessary and juvenile this gag was, but I would be stooping too low upon myself. Instead, I will say that what looked like two pigs fighting over a Milk Dud will haunt my dreams for the next week easily.

– A majority of the comedy fails to reach its mark, although there was the occasional straight man reaction from Howery that did supply me with a few hearty chuckles. I blame a lot of the misfires on the crowd that the film caters to, opening its arms to family members of all ages that dramatically limits where the material can go. In my opinion, an R-rated cut of Uncle Drew would’ve won this critic over much more, and give it more authenticity to its street ball roots that otherwise feel as bland as vanilla.

– Even though the name of the film is Uncle Drew, and Irving is the top billed in the credits, the script drops the ball on establishing him as the most important character. The film starts and ends with Howery’s character, and in between Drew splits screen time with no fewer than seven other actors, leaving very little opportunity to hit home on why the film is named after him.

– While the film moves fluidly enough in all of the choices of scripting the games in montage formats, it never gives us time as an audience to invest and relish in the unfolding drama between the two teams that other sports movies articulate. Without spoiling much, I will say that the typical second half comeback for a particular team does happen in the final, but it does so for absolutely no reason what so ever, as to where other sports movies will attain this because of a legendary speech given, or a star player returns. Uncle Drew simply doesn’t have time for these details, rushing to the finish before its 98 minute run time starts to show its age.

5/10

American Animals

Directed by Bart Layton

Starring – Evan Peters, Barry Keoghan, Ann Dowd

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

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

POSITIVES

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

NEGATIVES

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

9/10

The Seagull

Directed by Michael Mayer

Starring – Elisabeth Moss, Saorise Ronan, Annette Bening

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

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

POSITIVES

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

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

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

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

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

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

NEGATIVES

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

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

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

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

6/10

Tag

Directed by Jeff Tomsic

Starring – Ed Helms, Jon Hamm, Jeremy Renner

The Plot – For one month every year, five highly competitive friends hit the ground running in a no-holds-barred game of tag they’ve been playing since the first grade; risking their necks, their jobs and their relationships to take each other down with the battle cry “You’re It!” This year, the game coincides with the wedding of their only undefeated player, which should finally make him an easy target. But he knows they’re coming… and he’s ready. Based on a true story, Tag shows how far some guys will go to be the last man standing.

Rated R for adult language throughout, crude sexual content, drug use and brief nudity

POSITIVES

– Games are supposed to be fun, and Tag lives for this philosophy in spades. With a satisfying compromise of hearty laughter in material from some of the best comic actors going today, as well as some surprisingly detailed shot slapstick action sequences, and you have an early favorite for most fun at a theater for the Summer 2018 movie season.

– Despite the film’s minimal plot revolving around a 30 year old game of tag, the script surprises us with an overwhelming amount of heart that fleshes out the foundation that this friendship was built on. Much of the trailer alludes us to this depth in emotional registry that the film harvests, but seeing the actual film itself adds extra emphasis in context to some bottled issues that lie unresolved beyond this game.

– The music as well plays vital importance to the film’s newly-emerging direction that withholds some surprises. I spoke earlier of beautifully shot action sequences, but what pushes this even beyond just a comedy posing as something bigger is the enthralling musical score by Germaine Franco that feels like it could easily be ripped by a Lethal Weapon sequel. Besides this, the soundtrack of assorted 90’s favorites also adds a faithful homage to the perspective youth of these main characters. What I like is that no song choice is too obvious and gimmicky, instead choosing to browse some B-side gems that have sadly dissolved with time.

– Great credit goes to the bold personalities of this cast for committing themselves to their respective roles, although there is one glaring negative that I will get to later. Isla Fischer’s overly anxious rage to be included in the game, as well as Jeremy Renner’s perfectionist are among my very favorites to this impressive crew that never relent from the fun they are omitting on-screen. If Renner was this well developed in the Marvel Cinematic Universe, then maybe people would be itching for more Hawkeye. It was great to see him return to comedy, as there’s something ridiculous yet believable about the traps he sets up for the game, underlining not just an importance to where this lies in his own blessed life, but also reminding you how he has stayed undefeated for so long.

– Light, breezy pacing that never lags. Considering Tag clocks in at a respectable 95 minutes for its run time, I was surprised during a free-flowing second half of the film when I checked my watch to see only fifteen minutes remained. The third act in this movie snuck up on me like no other film this year has managed to do, a testament to the script’s ability to immerse me in the moments and conversations that you never want to walk away from.

– There were a few times when the comic material feels like it’s about to fall into that trap of unnecessary raunchiness that most modern comedies fall into, but thankfully these few spare instances are played off only to show how much they, as well as the game, has grown around them. Even more appreciative, the best material wasn’t just in the trailer. Some of my favorite quips were those throwaway lines that hang on to the end of each sentence after a big drop in comedy only seconds before. This allows the film great replay value, because like a film like Deadpool, you won’t catch all of the good ones the first time.

– Much of the film revolves around this interview being conducted by Annabelle Wallis’s journalist character, so the film’s creativity sparks many instances where members of the group are being interviewed while giving a confessional. Likewise, we are learning the rules and history of the game like Wallis is, so it all feels like we too are reading her article, one page at a time.

 

NEGATIVES

– Too many instances of telegraphed information that almost immediately come into play. For my money, I could’ve used a little space in between the insert of the exposition and the delivery that happens right after. Have more faith in your audience to remember an important tidbit. This will also prove that you have enough patience to let the tension in gags grow to suffocating heights before the big blow off

– The film’s conflict is of course finally tagging Jeremy Renner’s Jerry, and while it remains faithful to this objective all the way to the final scene, the juice doesn’t feel worth the squeeze with the final result. I have no doubt that people will enjoy the bittersweet conclusion that the film wraps up with, but to me it felt like a copout to everything that Jerry’s opponents have been through up to this point, and trust me this is NOT a spoiler.

– As I mentioned earlier, there is one casting in the film that just doesn’t blend well with the other elements in this cast, and that is Hannibal Burress. I have no disrespect normally for Burress, as his stoner-head gimmick has provided me with plenty of laughs in other films that have most certainly needed it, but here it feels like it intrudes on Jake Johnson’s character, as well as limits the appeal of the comedic material with each chance he gets to speak. Aside from all of this, Burress isn’t even involved in the game all that much, making his inclusion in the screenplay a mystery for why the film even needed him.

7/10

Incredibles 2

Directed by Brad Bird

Starring – Craig T Nelson, Holly Hunter, Samuel L Jackson

The Plot – Everyone’s favorite family of superheroes are back in Incredibles 2, but this time Helen (Hunter) is in the spotlight, leaving Bob (Nelson) at home with Violet (Sarah Vowell) and Dash (Huck Milner) to navigate the day-to-day heroics of “normal” life. It’s a tough transition for everyone, made tougher by the fact that the family is still unaware of baby Jack-Jack’s emerging superpowers. When a new villain hatches a brilliant and dangerous plot, the family and Frozone (Jackson) must find a way to work together again, which is easier said than done, even when they’re all Incredible.

Rated PG for action sequences and some brief mild adult language

POSITIVES

– As to where most superhero films will stretch and even force a family narrative amongst a supergroup, this comes natural to a film like Incredibles 2. Most of the film’s material in dynamic stems from the importance and value of those we should never take for granted, etching out a layer of heart in bloodline that we surprisingly rarely get from the superhero genre.

– Bird once again captures the imagination and heart-pumping sequencing when it comes to off-the-wall action that pushes the boundaries for animation. It’s clear that Brad is a fan of vintage superhero shows like the cult 60’s Batman saga, as he incorporates a multitude of sight and sound gags that feel artistically lifted from the pages of a graphic novel. These scenes serve as the strongest positive for the film, and give life to superpowers within a character that never lacks creativity in the way they are used.

– The animation has aged like a fine wine over fourteen years. While the illustrations remain faithful to the previous film, the layering, shading, and overall attention to detail allows technological advances of 2018 to finally catch up to this ahead-of-its-time animated feature. Some of the aspects that blew my mind involved the crinkling of bed sheets, Pixar’s continued excellence in bringing fluidity to water properties, and of course the city skyline backdrops that immerse us within the architectural beauty of a fictional place. While the setting of Incredibles 2 is timeless, there’s a sense of 60’s art deco shapes and sights to cleanse our palate, all the while saving room for the endless blue skies that breed opportunity.

– Poignancy amongst its material. As a screenwriter, Bird allows plenty of humorous but observant takes when it comes to the parallels of parenting, be it toddler, child, or adolescent. Some of my favorite scenes involved the clever visual metaphors that Bird takes in providing a wink-and-a-nod to parents in the audience who know what it’s like to see their own pink monster in their child, but with the nature and patience of a provider, it can all work to their benefit.

– As expected, the leading cast continues to be in-sync when it comes to their impeccable audible chemistry with one another. 14 years have passed, but Nelson, Hunter, Sarah Vowell, and Huck Milner all shine and narrate their respective roles to a tee. It’s clear that Hunter’s Elastigirl is certainly the centerpiece for the sequel, and deservingly so. Hunter’s southern drawl and raspy delivery bring to life an indulgence of excitement for her and women everywhere who break out of the confinements that society often puts them in, behind their male counterparts. As for new additions, the work of Catherine Keener as Evelyn Deavor certainly presented a stark contrast to the roles Keener has been saddled with as of late, and Sophia Bush’s Void was someone who I thought deserved a lot more screen time, if only for her energetic free-flowing delivery that bridges the gap of fan becoming superhero.

– Much of the comedy lands too, although nowhere near as accurate as the original classic chapter that at the time was arguably the greatest superhero film of all time. In fact, much of the film’s three act structure feels slightly more directed towards a dramatic narrative that twists and pulls the strings of family well-being to its breaking point. As for that humor though, the inclusion of this new baby character is one that reminds us of great innocence and humility for an experienced family that is, at the very least, still learning.

– Michael Giacchino’s immersive musical score that roars with passionate thunder through two chilling hours. Michael is certainly no stranger to scoring Pixar films, most recently with his versatile level of emotional response from 2015’s Inside Out, but for Incredibles 2 it’s certain that these boisterously epic horns and trumpets are there for one reason; to inspire. Likewise, the music provides the extra emphasis and impact of each crushing blow that our protagonists orchestrate, once again paying homage to those timeless television cereals that crafted a third-dimensional sense of their own, feeling like they allowed us to actually see the music.

– I mentioned earlier that the boundaries and limits of animation are pushed here, and a lot of that has to do with the invasive camera movements that faithfully follow our heroes throughout their winding trysts. These sharp twists and turns bend with such volume in angles that it really reminds you just how far animation as a whole has advanced over the years, reminding us that the sky just isn’t high enough of a limit for a film so full of heightened adrenaline and entertainment.

NEGATIVES

– Far too much predictability. Considering I mapped out who the reveal was going to be for the centerpiece antagonist Screen Slaver. This is the second film this month that I feel has shown too much of its cards, this time incorporating obvious character slights and overly-insightful clues that you would truly have to not be paying attention to get it. Disney or Pixar, however you want to slice it, is going through a major antagonist problem with their films, and Incredibles 2 unfortunately does nothing to silence it, treating the film’s major plot twist with not even enough air to fill a balloon.

– Second act sleep. It’s not that I hated the second act of the movie, it’s just compared to the excitement and action involved with the first and third act, it’s the obvious weakness for the movie, and it sticks out like a sore thumb. This is clearly the moment for character exposition, and I’m Ok with that, but it becomes a problem when you’re only getting one of the Incredibles in action for a majority of the film. If this is the direction we’re heading, and please consider the mostly child audience, then I would be happy with a 10-15 minute trim to keep their attention.

8/10

Ocean’s 8

Directed by Gary Ross

Starring – Sandra Bullock, Cate Blanchett, Anne Hathaway

The Plot – Upon her release from prison, Debbie (Bullock), the estranged sister of legendary conman Danny Ocean, puts together a team of unstoppable crooks to pull of the heist of the century. Their goal is New York City’s annual Met Gala, and a necklace worth in excess of 150 million dollars.

Rated PG-13 for adult language, drug use, and some suggestive content

POSITIVES

– This film screams female empowerment. From the lavishly free-flowing gowns in fashion, to the ‘Girls do it better mentality’ that comes from such great lines like “A Man gets noticed, a woman doesn’t”, Ross puts together what feels like a female superhero film amongst newfound friends, and that good time is too infectious to simply ignore.

– Until the final fifteen minutes of the movie, the rules of the heist feel very grounded and telegraphed for audiences to understand. One of my main problems with the original three Ocean’s films is that it takes a great suspension of disbelief for them to be carried out, but Ross and Olivia Milch as screenwriters always keep us shoulder-to-shoulder with those composing the plans.

– Perfect casting. Considering this vastly accomplished cast has attained four Oscars, two Emmys, eight Grammy’s, and six Golden Globes, you couldn’t ask for better. It’s easy to see that these women had a great time on-set, and that endless energy is depicted firmly in the impeccable chemistry of some of Hollywood’s biggest A-listers bouncing off of one another. Bullock and Blanchett’s sisterhood unity is certainly the spark that lights the fuse, but it’s Hathaway’s bubbly satire of a Hollywood actress that keeps the wick burning. Anne easily steals any scene she is in, asking us to whimper for someone so spoiled, along the way.

– Very detailed look inside of posh Gala events. One thing is certainly clear midway through this film, and it’s that Ross spares no expense in the fashions, the decadent art pieces, and the big name cameos that surround the table. Katie Holmes, Kardashians, and even an interesting rival to Hathaway’s Daphne all come into frame, mastering the ideal of how big this event truly is.

– There aren’t many things that this film outright steals from the original movies, but one touch I’m glad about is the split transition scenes that add a style of flare and finesse to the production. Besides the usual three-cut pictures in focus that can move up or down out of frame, the ending also visually narrates with cyclone-like zoom angles what happened with each character after the heist concluded.

– Thankfully, this doesn’t feel the need to focus on an inevitable sequel, aiming instead to make this film the best it can be. The ending doesn’t exactly leave the door open for future installments, and if this is a one-off experiment, there’s enough focus and style under its roof for that to be enough.

NEGATIVES

– This is a breezy 102 minutes of film, even to the point of damaging some of the pacing of the story’s finer points. Particularly, the establishment of the team, as well as the heist itself constantly feels like it is on fast-forward. This in turn leaves the film without the kind of edginess needed to accentuate the tension.

– Going into the film, I had an idea of a twist that would happen with the ending, thanks to the less-than-stellar work of a pitiful trailer that gave away a certain spoiler-filled image. Sure enough, this idea came to fruition during the final fifteen minutes of the movie, and I hated every bit of it. Once you start to think about it, this heist should be a lot easier because of this late act development, but if it were it would compromise the film even more than its final minutes that don’t know when to end.

– In addition to that twist, I also didn’t like how this story of female empowerment and rogue rebellion eventually falls by the wayside of becoming a game of revenge because of some heart-breaking guy. Films with a female led cast tend to do this a lot, either because they don’t feel confident in their material, or because this is sadly the way Hollywood views women’s measures of importance. Either way, I would’ve left this subplot on the cutting room floor, keeping the focus where it belongs; on Bullock and company establishing women do it better.

– The relationship between Ocean family feels fresh out of a television sequel series that rarely talks or mentions it. When it does, it’s limited on exposition and never fleshes out the relationship between Danny and Debbie. This could’ve been a valuable cerebral angle that the film could’ve taken in exposing Debbie’s lost time with her brother, but instead it’s glossed over like cheap mascara.

6/10

Action Point

Directed by Tim Kirkby

Starring – Johnny Knoxville, Bridgette Lundy-Paine, Johnny Pemberton

The Plot – Everyone’s favorite daredevil Johnny Knoxville is back to his hilariously painful antics in the upcoming comedy Action Point. Knoxville stars as D.C., the crackpot owner of a low-rent, out-of-control amusement park where the rides are designed with minimum safety for maximum fun. Just as D.C.’s estranged teenage daughter Boogie (Lundy-Paine) comes to visit, a corporate mega-park opens nearby and jeopardizes the future of Action Point. To save his beloved theme park and his relationship with his daughter, D.C. and his loony crew of misfits risk everything to pull out all the stops and stunts.

Rated R for crude sexual content, adult language, drug use, teen drinking, and brief graphic nudity

POSITIVES

– Johnny Knoxville has made a career out of putting his body on the line, and even in films where this feels unnecessary and slightly forced, he at least always brings his A-game. Action Point brings with it enough debauchery and life-threatening stunts to keep Johnny constantly involved in the film, whether he wants to be or not.

– The film has a surprisingly toe-tapping soundtrack to boot all of its wacky hijinks. Artists like The Clash and Roger Alan Wade compliment the energetic musical score by Deke Dickerson that always amplifies each action sequence, and gives way to the film’s off-brand humor that never relents.

NEGATIVES

– There is absolutely nothing clever or intelligent about the film’s dialogue, so the humor muscle stems from Knoxville’s bodily harm that eventually wears itself thin. By the fourth or fifth time it happens, you begin to start mapping out how every sequence is going to turn out, lifting with it a cloud of predictability that should be anywhere but a Johnny Knoxville film.

– One aspect to recollection storytelling that always makes me laugh, is when the storyteller recalls events that they themselves weren’t there for, and Action Point is no stranger to this error. Through D.C’s words, he is able to recount conversations between characters that don’t include him, proving that much tender care was taken in bringing to life the believability of this story.

– What drives me crazy about this film is that they have a real life story in Action Park that practically writes itself, yet this trio of writers drop the ball at every opportunity in telling a story of a past time that feels worlds away now. From the family element between D.C and his daughter, to the unity and bond created between park members, nothing feels legitimate. A good example of everything I am talking about is the 2009 film Adventureland.

– Despite this film being 78 minutes, the pacing is an arduous task. As I’ve said before, when you’re not laughing in a film, it makes the ensuing minutes that much more torturous. I never laughed, nor did I even fake a laugh in this film. I figure if they’re not going to try, then why should I?

– I hate any film that makes me cheer on the intended antagonists and has me feeling like some rich, cynical snob, especially when said group is the bigger park that is trying to step on the little guy. This war of sides starts and ends with the Action Park team provoking them, and for a group that is trying to frame them as the prized antagonists, I would sell their hick ideals up the river for a slice of cherry pie.

– This is a world inside of the film with no consequences for any of its characters. With the exception of minimal injuries leading to something bigger with a subplot, every patron of Action Park is apparently never compromised with the neglected conditions of the park, establishing an air of lies within the very events that it depicts. If you read up on the real life Action Park, you will understand the importance of the injuries and ensuing lawsuits that took place against the park, painting the crew as their own villain.

– Shoddy production quality. The film has an overall cheap quality to its cinematography and editing work that can’t escape that feeling of a made-for-TV movie. Multiple frames are distorted and out of focus, continuity errors from scene-to-scene pop up like snake grass, and the transitions never feel eased or in-sync with the proper fluidity of a Hollywood picture. I’ve seen better production from Knoxville movies like The Ringer, or even the trio of Jackass movies. What gives?

– As I mentioned earlier, Knoxville can at least bring it in a physical capacity, but the film’s charmless screenplay acts as a sort of D.D.T to any kind of personality that he brings to the role. In addition to Johnny, fellow Jackass cast-mate Chris Pontius feels like a punishment each time he pops up to show us his bulge in skimpy underwear, or present in full illustration that junkie from high school who never grew up nor quit his addictions. In fact, there isn’t a single credible performance that I can even pretend to mold. It’s all a big waste of time, both mine and theirs.

2/10

Best F(r)iends

Directed by Justin MacGregor

Starring – Greg Sestero, Tommy Wiseau, Kristen StephensonPino

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

Currently Not Rated

POSITIVES

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

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

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

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

NEGATIVES

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

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

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

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

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

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

4/10

Solo: A Star Wars Story

Directed by Ron Howard

Starring – Alden Ehrenreich, Woody Harrelson, Emilia Clarke

The Plot – Through a series of daring escapades deep within a dark and dangerous criminal underworld, Han Solo (Ehrenreich) meets his mighty future copilot Chewbacca and encounters the notorious gambler Lando Calrissian (Donald Glover), in a journey that will set the course of one of the Star Wars saga’s most unlikely heroes.

Rated PG-13 for sequences of Sci-fi action and violence.

POSITIVES

– This is a heist film above all else, so the twists and turns that the conflict, as well as the slow burn transformation that each character takes feels necessary. When the film started, I was kind of disappointed with how little character exposition there truly was for each character that came in and out of the story, but when you realize that this is a ship full of rebels, you start to understand (Like Han) the task of trusting a stranger with your life.

– As usual, Howard is a master behind the camera, gliding through fast-paced sequences with the precision of a master craftsman. Besides the fact that nothing ever feels out of focus or out of frame, Ron dazzles us with many unorthodox movements in every possible direction that these endless galaxies entice us with, and does so without it ever feeling dizzying or traumatic to our vision.

– While a majority of the performances were disappointing for me, it was Ehrenreich as the title character who clearly won the day. Glover is full of charisma, but little humanity, Clarke always hints at something bigger, but by the time we see it, it’s too late, and Harrelson is easily forgettable despite having the second most screen time. Where Alden finds his range is playing Han with this tug-of-war between confidence and immaturity that often times gets the best of him. Alden is never trying to be Harrison Ford, rather choosing to fill in the gaps to this legendary character with his own inspiration, and it’s one that was fun and attention-grabbing at each scene.

– The set pieces were decadent and immense in their revealing detail. Perhaps Solo’s greatest feat of strength is in the contrasting landscapes that the story takes us on, giving us much in the way of imagination that this saga has carved out for over four decades. Some of my personal favorite involved a swanky nightclub complete with lounge acts and sheer garments, as well as the Millennium Falcon itself, in all of its neon lighting schemes and crisp, clean interiors that showcase the prized piece in perhaps a new and energetic depiction.

– The next John in the booth. While John Williams of course isn’t behind the soundboards of this whimsical score, John Powell confidently picks up the ball with an overall score that caters to the crossroads of generations associated with this fandom. The obvious musical numbers are clearly still there, but they’re worked into with the kind of familiarity that doesn’t hang on too long to audiences who expect it during particular scenes. In addition, there is much versatility to the kind of audible stories that his sounds take us through, emulating one of my favorite scores halfway through the 2018 movie season.

– I was very much surprised with how light-hearted the atmosphere in the film surrounded me with, considering the trailers were promising anything but. Solo definitely feels like a story of hope for this protagonist, despite the fact that he comes from such a defeated place on the geographical map. It’s in that hope where we see a man we’ve known for years with his eyes wide open for perhaps the first time in his ambitious on-screen life, and in that aspect we can just sit back and enjoy him learn all of life’s harsh lessons that evolved him into the iconic presence that we came to know.

NEGATIVES

– For one chapter, Solo is a worthy enough installment, but for the overall bigger spectrum it sadly retorts to much of the same that we’ve already beaten into the ground in nine prior Star Wars movies. Once again this is a rag-tag group of misfits who team together aboard a ship, one of which being an android, to stop this sinister force, and while that is just enough for some people, the overwhelming lack of impact that this film left me with is something this critic simply can’t ignore. Because of such, Howard’s Solo will ultimately be forgettable with how little it shaped everything besides this one man. It’s an origin story that strongly lacks originality.

– Much of the first act is poorly lit. At first I thought it was just the screen that I was watching the film on, but as the film progressed I noticed it got a lot better, leading me to wonder why the first thirty minutes of the film are shot so ugly. Much can be attributed I’m sure to this lower-class city that Han comes from, but that’s no excuse in leaving too much room to decipher just what is transpiring on-screen. This and the overall juxtaposition for the way some scenes transition certainly commute that feeling of a two-director project that this screenplay can’t escape.

– My biggest problem with the film is how telegraphed every twist and turn feels. More times than I care to admit, this film shows its hand to the audience, and unless you’re deaf or playing on your cell phone, you will hear these obvious lines of dialogue and interpret them as such for what is inevitably coming. Because of this, I was never even remotely surprised at anything except a brief one minute cameo towards the end that honestly wasn’t even necessary when you really think about it.

– The pacing really hit me hard around the midway point, when the overwhelming lack of interest poured over me. I mentioned earlier the benefits of minimal character exposition in this particular story, but the unavoidable negative to this concept is that lack of pull that the film has on this conflict that we’ve seen too many times. It’s easy to say that certain scenes can be cut or trimmed, but the biggest obstacle feels more in the way that this film sells itself to its audience, skimming over what are supposed to be these defining moments for Han with little danger or vulnerability to sizzle the steak. It’s all undercooked.

6/10

Show Dogs

Directed by Raja Gosnell

Starring – Will Arnett, Natasha Lyonne, Chris Bridges

The Plot – Max (Bridges), a macho, solitary Rottweiler police dog is ordered to go undercover as a primped show dog in a prestigious Dog Show, along with his human partner, Frank (Arnett) to avert a disaster from happening in the biggest little city in the world; Reno.

Rated PG for suggestive and rude humor, adult language and some action

POSITIVES

– What’s shocking about this film is that there’s at least an informative stance taken not only with the show dog path involving vigorous training and technique, but also in the revealing abuse that dogs take throughout it all. Forced breeding, examination of genitals (I’m not kidding), and even abandonment after aging is all covered here, and I can at least respect the film for catering to the animal lover in all of us.

– The mouth caption effect is the lone positive from the production that is otherwise an embarrassment. Even though we know plain and simple that dogs can’t speak in the same manner that humans do, the film does a great job in lining up the dialogue to the lip movements that combine for an in-sync package.

NEGATIVES

– I’ve seen all kinds of films dealing with hatred, but ‘Show Dogs’ feels like racism for canines. Because we’ve learned nothing in hundreds of years, the same stereotypes for certain breeds of dogs are brought to the forefront, leaving the material played out and predictable before it even hits the screen. If you sit your furry friend down for this film with all of its 90’s ideals towards storytelling, then there’s a great chance that dog will walk away and shit in your shoes while you’re still drooling from how mind-numbingly vapid this entire screenplay is.

– Bottom of the barrel effects work that doesn’t even try. Everything from the movements of the dogs during fight sequences, to the lack of weight in their impact when they interact with live action actors is pitiful. The studios will think it’s OK because this is a film for kids and apparently that demographic lacks imagination, but Ray Charles can spot the shoddy heart in detail that went into this truly atrocious and hollow looking production.

– What genre is this for? It’s easy to watch the trailer and expect this film to be a comedy, but upon taking in all 87 minutes of it, I can say that this dog doesn’t even come close in hitting the tree with its meaty material. It’s not funny, nor is it particularly engaging in any sense. Lets put it like this, a dog shooting scene would be the best thing for this film, and I’m not kidding at all. If you choose ‘Show Dogs’ over ‘Isle of Dogs’ (Also currently in theaters), you’re a glutton for punishment in the most agonizing way.

– Another factor in that cringing comedy is the dedication that this film has to dropping a pun every ten seconds. These line reads feel like a shock collar on a film that is already limiting its distance in progression, and I found it difficult to sit still each time one was mumbled. Some of the best to make the list are three idiotic pigeons saying Max needs them because he needs “A good wing man”, Max dispatching of some rival dogs by saying “That’s what I call doggy-style”, and my personal favorite, Max asking a female dog he likes why she’s HOUNDing him. SHUT UP, MAX!!!

– Raja Gosnell has carved out quite the career in terrible kids movies. ‘Scooby-Doo’, Beverly Hills Chihuahua’, and ‘Smurfs: The Lost Village’ were bad enough, but his presence in ‘Show Dogs’ feels almost like a ghost. Much of the direction in characters and storytelling feels like the engine is running but no one is behind the wheel. Arnett and Lyonne feel like romantic interests, but nothing is further elaborated on. Arnett has obvious flaws from something in his past, but nothing is further elaborated on. The film revolves around this antagonist and his evil deeds with animals, but NOTHING IS FURTHER ELABORATED ON!!! Because of everything I mentioned, I can see Raja Gosnell becoming the new Alan Smithee for directors not wanting to claim a credit on a film they’re forced to helm.

– Arnett deserves so much better than this. I give him credit for being a professional and being forced to endure this tasteless kibble, but his lack of energy after the opening chase scene tells you everything that you need to know about his passion for having to sign up for something that shouldn’t be good enough to sign Rob Schneider, let alone someone with the credits that Arnett has.

– Inconsistencies Vs Logic of scenario. I mention both of these because they are equally laughable and offensive when you truly think about it. For the former, the camera work and editing is so cut-and-paste that long take scenes involving dogs often just replay the same five seconds of footage instead of forcing the animals to sit still for the time needed. Is this smart? Yes, but it so obviously sticks out like a sore thumb to someone looking for such production crimes. As for logic, consider that this film revolves around a guy stealing valuable animals to sell to other people. The problem being that the dogs are only valuable in millions BECAUSE they are prize-winning dogs, and therefore alert the buyer to the crime being committed.

– As to where talking dog films will convey to the audience early on whether the human counterparts can or can not hear them, ‘Show Dogs’ lacked definition until about halfway through the movie. Something as easy as this concept is left on the hook for scene after scene of Max responding to Arnett’s character like they’re having a conversation, especially considering Max is using his mouth to deliver and annunciate perfect speaking English. Then there’s my problem with the concept of humans not being able to hear their dogs. If this is indeed the case, then why does Max intendedly speak in a whisper during exchanges when he’s obviously trying to keep humans from hearing him? Why would he lower his voice at all if no matter what the humans can’t hear him? Who cares though, because kids are stupid.

2/10

Book Club

Directed by Bill Holderman

Starring – Diane Keaton, Jane Fonda, Candice Bergen

The Plot – Diane (Keaton) is recently widowed after 40 years of marriage. Vivian (Fonda) enjoys her men with no strings attached. Sharon (Bergen) is still working through a decades-old divorce. Carol’s (Mary Steenburgen) marriage is in a slump after 35 years. Four lifelong friends’ lives are turned upside down to hilarious ends when their book club tackles the infamous ‘Fifty Shades of Grey’. From discovering new romance to rekindling old flames, they inspire each other to make their next chapter the best chapter.

Rated PG-13 for sexual related material throughout and adult language

POSITIVES

– While the material and thinly written script does them little favors, the chemistry and bond of the four leading ladies captures our attention and holds it for 99 minutes. For my money, Fonda and Bergen are the scene-stealers, emoting through the 70-plus dating scene with the kind of awkward hilarity that eases us into our seats. This is a film first-and-foremost about friendship, and that union between these four women smash through the brick walls put up so frequently in this screenplay that tries to cut their star power down.

– From a romance perspective, I think that this is a surprisingly good date movie for any age demographic. What helps is that each relationship represented in the film is a different degree of the relationship spectrum that can represent any of us. Even for a single guy like myself, there was tons of relatable content included that made me respect the fact that some relationships in this world (Like real life) just don’t work out.

– This film of course centers around the Fifty Shades of Grey books, and thankfully the film takes a responsible course of direction not only with how much time it devotes to it, but also with translating that to the majority of women who read it. Because of the ups and downs of these women, it feels like the film is trying to tell us that real life is anything but a fantasy novel, and that success in love takes great work. On top of it, the ladies laugh at the ridiculous lines of dialogue in the books, so bonus points there.

– On the clutches of recently disappointing Mother’s Day cinema that perhaps tried too hard, it’s great to see a film that succeeds at female empowerment, and does so because of its relaxing set-up. Like a basic book club of it’s own, this is full-proof cinema for the fine wine females in the audience who are looking to laugh, love, and drink for two hours. Because of this, ‘Book Club’ out-Meyers Nancy Meyers.

– Considering there are four different arcs to follow throughout the film, Holderman does a surprisingly fine job at holding our interest while throwing a few curveballs for conflict along the way. The biggest problem in time-sharing films like this are equaling the playing field for each of the leads, and there was never a point when one direction stuck out as superior than the rest.

NEGATIVES

– This definitely feels the strain of being a two-writer project considering how uneven the screenplay is. For my money, the first half of the movie is definitely the strength, playing into almost a self-parody kind of angle within this world of romantic dreamers. But it’s in the second half of the film where all prior momentum is sacrificed for these predictable motions that keep it from ever elevating away from something vanilla. It puts away its humor muscle in favor of a romantic cliche film, and limits us from ever finding out what could’ve been had they pushed the envelope just a little bit further.

– I never expected to be talking about horrendous green-screen in a romantic comedy, but ‘Book Club’ has surprised even a critic who sees over 200 films a year. I get that this is a cheap production (10 million), but considering the rendering of the landscapes are hollow and lack such rendering, it sticks out like the sorest of thumbs that is very much distracting the progression of important love angles.

– There’s an unshakeable sense of sitcom humor that overwhelms us at every turn. That’s not to say that the humor doesn’t work occasionally, because I did laugh, but rather that it just all feels timed and telegraphed in the way that never comes across as natural. The only thing missing from the film was a laugh track telling you when to laugh.

– In addition to what I just said about the sense of humor, the film’s writers tend to reach for the juvenile, shoving unnecessary immaturity down our throats far too often. Craig T. Nelson speaks of his motorcycle with sexual overtones, the ladies themselves can’t finish a sentence without nearly muttering “That’s what she said”, and it all just reeks of desperation. These were the only times during the film when I was truly angry at what I was watching, because this cast is just too classy and above material that you would hear in an ‘American Pie’ sequel.

– The lighting puts certain scenes out of focus, and it’s baffling to me the lack of care in keeping these cuts in the finished product. On the big screen, this felt as obvious as a screaming baby, so maybe watching it on a television is the way to go with this one. Sadly, that thought process does little for the overall success of the picture.

5/10