Just Getting Started

Morgan Freeman and Tommy Lee Jones are ‘Just Getting Started’ on the way to a blossoming rivalry. From writer/director Ron Shelton, comes the new screwball comedy that takes budding heads to a whole new level. Morgan Freeman stars as Duke Diver, the freewheeling manager of the luxury Palm Springs resort, the Villa Capri. Diver may have a mysterious past, but he’s a pro at making sure that life for the high-spirited residents is one big, non-stop party. But the status quo and peaceful existence is challenged when ex-military charmer Leo (Tommy Lee Jones) checks in, triggering a competition between he and Duke for the top spot of Alpha male, as well as for the affections of the newly-arrived Suzie (Rene Russo). When Duke’s past suddenly catches up with him, the rivals put aside their differences and the two men reluctantly team up to stop whoever is trying to kill Duke, and also save the citizens of the Villa Capri. ‘Just Getting Started is rated PG-13 for adult language, suggestive material and brief violence.

If Jack Lemmon and Walter Matthau were still alive, they would be making movies like ‘Just Getting Started’. Twenty-five years ago, the two struck gold on senior citizen comedy in films like ‘Grumpy Old Men’ and ‘The Odd Couple 2’ because of their endless supply of on and off-screen chemistry that carried over into the magnetic presence within their film projects. But even after their sadly passing, Hollywood is still as eager as ever to find the next group of elderly gentlemen to turn a quick buck, opting to invest in a film like this at least once a year to put critics like myself in a bad mood so close to Christmas. Yes, it’s low hanging fruit to make fun of the elderly, but a film like ‘Just Getting Started’ is fuel for the ever-growing fire of inevitable insults hurled at these kind of movies that transpire about as quickly as this kind of age group moves gingerly. It’s been a couple of months since I have truly hated a film, but Ron Shelton has gift-wrapped a lump of coal that reeks in desperation and laziness to the that it’s instantly forgettable even as you’re sitting down to take in all of its ineffectiveness.

Like a frog jumping from pad to pad, this film too searches for anything of structured substance to carry the weight of wasted minutes that seem to add up the more the film transpires. Everything about Shelton’s screenplay reflects that of a television sitcom script that some cocky executive felt was just not good enough to make it into 100 episodes of material in his own universe. I say this because nothing within the film holds any kind of gravity or depth in terms of the overall bigger picture, settling what little obstacles that it has in a matter of minutes without breaking a sweat. In addition to this, there are so many subplots at play that never feel like they cohesively work together to make one fluent progression, and instead settle for a series of short-term ideas that roughly jumble the gap until the next one comes along. For instance, this film’s setting makes it a Christmas movie, but you would never know it from the trailers that never mention this perk even once. The film deems its importance just as irrelevant, as the very idea of the Christmas season rarely plays into anything than a remote reminder occasionally in the 85 minute presentation. To take away once more from a better film like ‘Grumpy Old Men’, the film of course has a competition for a pretty girl between its two male protagonists, proving that even nearly three decades later women are still nothing more than arm pieces for the macho male ego that never seems to advance in these films.

Perhaps the aspect in story that really blew my mind was the dramatically sharp turn that this film takes in the final act that not only isn’t built even remotely along the way, but also highlights everything wrong with this lazy production. The movie turns into a kind of buddy action hybrid complete with shoot-outs and high-speed chases that feel so foreign to the previous hour of atmosphere that the film seemed destined to follow. This wouldn’t be so bad if it presented us with even a moment of urgency, or something appealing visually in terms of camera work or sequencing. Because of the one location setting between Freeman and Jones in the car, as well as the fact that neither have to change clothes in these scenes, really gives off the feeling that many of these sequences were shot in one day of shooting, complete with C.G green-screen to do most of the work along the way. What’s even more disturbing is that much of the green-screen doesn’t match up to what is transpiring on-screen between our protagonists and antagonist visually. One scene involves Jones spinning the wheel of his truck to keep pace on the tail of his enemy, but in this turn you don’t ever see the other vehicle in the driver’s side window to reflect where a vehicle ahead would be at that certain movement in time to keep up with the consistency of the depiction. How could they be so lazy? Do they treat senior citizens in the same way that they treat kids, in that maybe they’re too stupid to understand what they’re watching?

Considering this is a comedy-first kind of movie, the laughs too offered very little positive returns in at least trying to convince me that I was having a good time. To say that I only laughed once in this entire film shouldn’t come as a surprise, but the lack of attempts overall really should. In addition to the final act of the movie that is definitely an action dominated genre during these minutes, there’s a noticeable gap of around twenty minutes in the middle of the second act where the film almost forgets that it is supposed to be a comedy, crafting scenes that come and go without any establishing of what the desired punchline was supposed to be. On top of this, the second act is littered with unfunny musical montage scenes between Freeman and Jones in a five event competition to determine who has to leave the Villa. It’s hard enough to sit through this without enjoying yourself comically, but made even worse considering the outcome has absolutely zero effect on the loser who is supposed to agree to walk away, but doesn’t.

The performances as well offer little in the way of energy to at least make this sitting tolerable. Matthau and Lemmon were in some pretty bad films in the later part of their careers (‘Out To Sea’ comes to mind), but they were always tolerable because you couldn’t ignore the chemistry between them that omitted some irresistible one-liners. Here, Freeman is working a one man show, as he feels like the only actor who brought anything of substance to his character. Everyone else is simply phoning this in, including Rene Russo’s character who might be one of my absolute least favorite of the year. Morgan continues the air of charisma that warms the heart of his fans everywhere. In Duke, we see a different side of Freeman’s reservoir that writes him as a con artist of sorts to everyone he comes across. It’s refreshing to see Morgan play this kind of coward character who has to cheat to keep up, but the screenplay does so very little with an important first act for setting what is so full proof about this middle of the desert scheme. Tommy Lee Jones continues the same role that he has played for the better part of two decades. I say that because you could tell me that this is the same character from a sharply opposite toned movie like ‘No Country For Old Men’ and I would believe you. The chemistry between he and Freeman is remotely there, but the final scenes doesn’t offer a shred of reflection to the blossoming friendship that we all knew was coming from the revealing trailers. The movie tells us about this blossoming development, but never shows us in expositional form, and it’s the final note of an otherwise easily forgettable slug of a script.

THE VERDICT – The film may be ‘Just Getting Started’, but the lack of clearly defined comedy, as well as a screenplay that is all over the place creatively, left me inching towards the exit with each passing moment. Freeman’s twinkling personality does shine occasionally, but even it can’t escape the poorly structured roots of exposition along the way, as well as the inescapable taste of mediocrity in a gift-wrapped final sequence leaves this film retiring itself long before it rightfully should.


The Disaster Artist

James and Dave Franco step into ‘The Room’, with a behind the scenes look at arguably the most infamously bad film of all time. Based on Greg Sestero’s best-selling tell-all about the making of Tommy Wiseau’s cult–classic disaster piece ‘The Room’ (“The Greatest Bad Movie Ever Made”), ‘The Disaster Artist’ depicts the meeting and early friendship of Greg Sestero (Dave Franco) and Tommy Wiseau (James Franco). The duo of aspiring actors are shunned by everyone in Hollywood, until it becomes apparent that if you want something done right, you must do it yourself. The actors set out to pen and helm a film called ‘The Room’, a film often hailed as the Citizen Kane of bad movies, but the troubles making it, as well as the cost of fame, good or bad, afterwards is only the start of the dream for notoriety that comes with quite a steep price tag. ‘The Disaster Artist’ is directed by James Franco, and is rated R for adult language throughout, as well as some sexuality involving nudity.

It would’ve been easy enough for James Franco and his crew of long-standing friendships to simply use ‘The Disaster Artist’ as nothing more than a reason to imitate the most notoriously bad film of all time, but the surprisingly poignant approach to telling this story won me over completely and gave me back that ounce of dignity for him that I have lost in some questionable career decisions prior. It’s clear that Franco has definitely done his homework on this story and production, mimicking ‘The Room’ in such a way that feels like this film closes the gap seamlessly of the more than fourteen years that has passed since its infamous debut screening in Los Angeles. Considering we know so little about Wiseau or even aspects surrounding his screenplay, the film attacks this uncertainty in a way that gives us an undefined perspective in offering some subtle suggestions to further enhance our creativity in filling in the lines. This not only caters to new generations of fans who are somehow embracing ‘The Room’ folklore for the first time, but also gives back to those faithful worshippers of Wiseau looking for the next chapter in this storied career, and it turns out that it comes from exploring the past once more.

The screenplay that is co-written by Scott Neustadter and Michael H Weber offers a healthy dissection of Hollywood logic that comes with creating fame. This is certainly no love letter to the city of angels, and instead depicts the brutal and unforgiving nature that comes with rejection of the silver screen in its cruelest form. It’s in this angle that crafts Wiseau and Sestaro as the ultimate underdog story, inspiring them not to live by someone else’s definition of fame, and instead blazing their own respective trail to the eyes of the world. Because of this, the film does beg the question of just what the cost of such universal praise is, and is any kind of fame worth it in the long run when so much of your heart and soul is invested in your work? Beyond this, it’s a story first and foremost about friendship, and how the unlikely pairing of two complete strangers balances out what the other needs, under an almost romanticized lighting. Greg is the guy who is all talk and no walk, and Wiseau is the complete opposite. So Tommy inspires Greg to finally attack his dreams with no regrets, and it’s in that fearless attitude where we understand how easy it is for Greg, as well as us, to fall under Wiseau’s mumbling spell. In Greg, Tommy’s poking loneliness is reduced dramatically, giving our leading character a feeling of belonging for what feels like the first time ever in his life.

Much of the look and feel of the production feels authentic to what they are covering from the low quality original film, even if some aspects stick out like sore thumbs to dedicated fans like myself who can’t easily turn a blind eye. If Franco is going for authenticity, there are a few things that misses the boat tremendously and drops the ball in garnering the greatest reaction in terms of laughs from his audience. The set pieces are mostly reflective to that of the green-screen work that adorned ‘The Room’ endlessly, but there are a couple of scenes (mainly Denny’s famous gun scene with Chris) where the green-screen is nowhere to be found, and this is a big mistake considering the scene takes place on the rooftop where the majority of that effect is displayed. Besides this, the biggest problem that I had was in the absence of A.D.R from the film that was the single biggest reason that I laughed in ‘The Room’. To play these scenes audibly in live action form is a huge mistake, and I feel like a ball dropped by Franco who up until this point felt like an extra on the original production for how tightly he nailed everything.

As a director, it’s clear that Franco is definitely getting better, as there’s nothing of extreme distaste here, but his limited style can sometimes feel like more emphasis was taken with his on-screen performance. I feel like Franco was the wrong person to direct this film because too many camera angles and sequences feel foreign in terms of consistency to the fluidity of the 98 minute entirety. For some scenes, we get a handheld look that gives us that impression of being a member of the set, but the scenes of Tommy and Greg alone are illustrated with a traditional quality of angles that honestly doesn’t stick around long enough to warrant its effect. Also, the lack of focus particularly on the romance of Greg and his girlfriend feels like it comes and goes without much weight to the overall bigger picture of the story. What Franco does do well as a director is in sturdy framing work that proves he at least knows where to aim the camera at all times. Particularly that of the bar scene where Greg meets his future girlfriend is one that presents plenty of focus on the foreground, while playing carefully into what is transpiring with Tommy beyond them. This is unquestionably Franco’s biggest growth to date as a filmmaker, but the overwhelming balance in trying to match the work he did as an actor here, proves to be too much, and leaves James work as a director inferior to serving his greater master.

On that account, Franco transforms himself wonderfully as Wiseau, and hints that no one else could play this character with such respect and conviction. It doesn’t seem like there’s anything truly demanding of what James is doing in taking on Tommy here, but with closer focus you will soon see an actor’s craft at heart. In keeping the consistency and vocal range of Wiseau well in hand at all times, Franco immerses himself and eases the suspension of disbelief in a matter of minutes once he is on screen. The best kind of adaptions of real life figures are the ones that never feel like an impression, allowing you to forget that you aren’t watching the real thing. In addition to this, once the laughter settles down from Wiseau’s larger-than-life personality, you start to feel great empathy for his portrayal because this is a man who doesn’t know the world isn’t laughing at him, instead of with him. Besides James, brother Dave also wows as Greg, a wannabe actor who confronts fear in every opportunity he’s ever given. Dave visually captures Greg’s likeness without much prop work, but its his childlike innocence that offers the ideal counterbalance to his brother, and reminds us that there is no substitute in chemistry for blood-born kin.

THE VERDICT – As to where ‘The Room’ was so bad that it’s good, ‘The Disaster Artist’ abides by a higher standard, depicting the former with enough respect and dignity that values Tommy’s rise above just playing dress-up. Franco’s directing leaves slightly more to be desired in creativity, but he makes up for it with a lead performance as Tommy that allows pretty boy James to get lost audibly and visually in the cellar of Wiseau with his widest range of performance to date. Most importantly, it gives fans another reason to open the door once more into this room and indulge in what made it a lightning in a bottle offering to begin with.


The Florida Project

Writer/Director Sean Baker adds another human depiction to his credible filmography, this time in ‘The Florida Project’. Halley (Bria Vinaite) lives with her six year old daughter Moonee (Brooklynn Prince) in a budget motel along one of the commercial strips catering to the Disney World tourist clientele outside Orlando, Florida. Halley, who survives largely on welfare, has little respect for people, especially those who cross her, it an attitude that she has passed down to Moonee, who curses and gives the finger like her mother. Although the motel’s policy is not to allow long term rentals, Bobby (Willem Dafoe), the motel manager, has made arrangements for people like Halley to live there while not undermining the policy as he realizes that many such tenants have no place to go otherwise. Halley, Moonee and Moonee’s friends, who live in the motel or others like it along the strip and who she often drags into her disruptive pranks, are often the bane of Bobby’s existence, but while dealing with whatever problem arises, Bobby has a soft spot especially for the children and thus, by association, their parents, as he knows that Moonee and others like her. ‘The Florida Project’ is rated R for adult language throughout, disturbing behavior, sexual references and some drug material.

Director Sean Baker has quite a unique perspective of the world. After presenting us with an original take in 2015’s ‘Tangerine’, in which he shot the entirety of his film on an Iphone, Baker returns with another unorthodox reflection of today’s youth. Through that vantage point, we get perhaps the most unabashed depiction of modern day parenting that goes a long way in pointing out the true value of a shining parental unit. Baker is a filmmaker who values honesty first and foremost in his films, and because of such ‘The Florida Project’ has the ability to take this story as deep as it once to go. The film once again exposes us to the unlimited amount of sunshine in its beautiful landscapes, this time in Florida, hinting at the manufactured illusion that is the Disney World dream, and while the film articulately showcases those illustriously decorated buildings in all of their vibrant colors, there’s certainly enough emphasis below the surface to speak volumes to the audience that something deeper is going on. Almost in a way that is similar to the picket fences theory, in that the most troubling households take place behind the prettiest houses, ‘The Florida Project’ too concludes that hotel lifestyle isn’t all that it’s cracked up to be.

While shooting a film’s entirety with an Iphone is a tough gimmick to beat, I can say that Baker at least maintains the kind of consistency in his candid photography for the picture that treated my eyes to something tasty behind every corner. This is a handheld camera kind of style, and this decision works wonders in presenting many angles and perspectives to our central characters for the film; the children. So many of the shots are tight-knit with over the shoulder following shots, or single frame luring shots that have our characters walk into what’s already running. Besides this, there are some gorgeously decadent panning shots from side to side that often gave off the illusion of a moving screen in our auditorium. Baker has enough confidence to leave the camera on for these long takes because he believes in his child-dominated ensemble cast that can hold and maintain the attention of the audience without fail, and his faith is rewarded in spades with such sleek style that highlights the domestic landscape with tasty sunshine that covers the properties.

The uniqueness isn’t just in the visual spectrum of the film, but also in the tweeks made in cast and story that cement a feel of documentary filmmaking. I say that because much of the film doesn’t feel like it follows a script towards a particular outline here. Instead, there’s that feel that Baker has stumbled across these everyday people (Minus Dafoe) and decided to turn a camera on to see what springs. The majority of the cast are amateur actors and actresses, some of which are acting in the first role of their careers. This adds weight and believability to the ideal that maybe we are watching something that wasn’t intended to be seen, making you wonder just how truly dramatic it can get at a hotel. If it’s drama they want, it’s drama they will get, because this film never relents on its tight grip upon the audience. Because there are children involved, it’s easy to imagine that this film could get a bit manipulative, but their trials and tribulations feel authentic because of what little adult supervision is cast over them. The film is just shy of two hours, and for the most part paced accordingly, however unlike a Hollywood script that will take the audience on a pre-determined roller-coaster of up and down, ‘The Florida Project’ maintains the balance of life, in that some times are smooth, and some times are unpredictable. In this manner, the screenplay replicates life wonderfully, using boredom as a comparison to excite when something does come to fruition.

Without question, my least favorite aspect of the film and one that Baker still needs help on is his editing transitions. To say the sequencing from scene to scene felt rocky throughout the film is an understatement. There were many times during the movie when I either couldn’t tell how much time had passed between two scenes, or they felt out of place with the plotting of storyboards. The former is great when you’re dealing with montages or scenes that duplicate the certain event that the children are living through, but when it’s used in a way that divides the transitions, it throws you off from where we are in a scene or the script. While this is only an occasional problem, I can say that it brutally throws off the pacing of the second act in particular, feeling like the screenplay is searching for something of equal value to the first and third acts that transpire smoothly because of their fluidity in keeping the entertainment level high. With this fix, Baker could definitely be one of the very best directors going today, but his unorthodox method of transition is sure to alienate some who feel like scenes could be cut far too quickly or not quick enough.

There has also been a lot of commotion about the ending that many have shunned because of its off-the-wall final shots that feel so jarringly foreign from the rest of the film. While I can say that I don’t have this same particular problem with the final scenes, I can say that the ending feels abruptly forced and very bitter when compared to the magnetic pull from the glowing performance of Prince when the film relies on her. My suggestion was that the film ended two minutes prior when it felt like our nerves couldn’t be anymore shattered from the crippling blow of devastation that rivets the inhabitants of the hotel. This wouldn’t have been as pleasing to audiences looking for the lighter side of conclusions, but it would be the glaring example of parental harm to impressionable minds, giving Baker a side of bravery and attitude with his characters that wouldn’t disappoint in profound reliability.

Despite this being a child-led ensemble for 90% of the movie, I was pleasantly surprised at just how effortless these kids were with sinking into some pretty meaty performances. My problem with kid actors is their inexperience that usually hinders a film’s immersion whole, but the value of the youth presented in this film serves as a reminder that even this critic can be wrong. Brooklyn Prince is a wonder of imagination with enough sass and personality that makes her irresistible even when she’s doing things that we know are wrong. Prince’s Moonee is definitely a product of her environment, but the sweet and tender side to her sometimes destructive personality is still in there fighting to get out and salvage this dreaming soul. Willem Dafoe also portrays one of my absolute favorite characters of the fall movie season as Bobby, the sometimes ignorant manager who feels like the best parental figure that these kids got. Bobby sometimes turns an eye for his own good, and there’s definitely a hint of family troubles with his own kin, but Dafoe’s moral stigma and protective shield is a constant reminder of everything that is good and could be again with these struggling people.

THE VERDICT – ‘The Florida Project’ and Sean Baker alike, raise the kind of sobering questions about parental struggles in a world still learning that pleasures with its poignancy. Because so much of its visual appeal springs from the unorthodox approaches of a prestigious stage hand, it’s easy for the production to overlook some glaring problems of sequencing that just doesn’t add up. Dafoe and his rag-tag group of youths remind us of the invincibility associated with being young thanks to some nuanced performances that always maintains the light-hearted adventure of being a child before the rules of society catch up.


Last Flag Flying

Three friends unite after a long period of distance, on a road to redemption, in ‘Last Flag Flying’. In 2003, 30 years after they served together in the Vietnam War, former Navy Corps medic Richard “Doc” Shepherd (Steve Carell) re-unites with Former Marines Sal (Bryan Cranston) and Richard Mueller (Laurence Fishburne) on a different type of mission: to bury Doc’s son, a young Marine killed in the Iraq War. Doc decides to forgo a burial at Arlington Cemetery and, with the help of his old buddies, takes the casket on a bittersweet trip up the East Coast to his home in suburban New Hampshire. Along the way, Doc, Sal and Mueller reminisce and come to terms with shared memories of the war that continues to shape their lives. Director Richard Linklater and author Darryl Ponicsan collaborated on the screenplay which follows the trio as they wrestle with the pangs of war both past and present. ‘Last Flag Flying’ is written and directed by Richard Linklater, and is rated R for adult language throughout and some sexual references.

At its core, ‘Last Flag Flying’ is a buddy road trip movie that tests the boundaries of friendship. However, unlike those silly raunchy comedies that usually adorn the subgenre, Richard Linklater entertains in spades without any of the unnecessary physical humor or situational gags that dumb down audiences into thinking that there’s a shread of sentimentality. Instead, Linklater and company invest in the dynamics of something far greater than a friendship; the brotherhood of the United States Marine Corps, and it’s in that direction where the film’s journey treads along smoothly without feeling much of the wear-and-tear from the long distance of two very thought-provoking hours spent with this delightful trio. This is very much a love, as well as a Dear John letter to the Marines, as well as every branch of service. The film asks these warranted questions that deal with signing your life away with the utmost respect to the men and women who make the ultimate sacrifice, but does so in a poignant method that should require proper answers for those who are appropriately considered heroes.

Despite this being a drama first and foremost, the film surprised me with just how much I laughed thanks to the impeccable chemistry from three veteran actors who consistently hit their marks in different kind of performances. This is the most unchained that I have ever seen Bryan Cranston, and it’s probably a good thing because his role as Sal totally stole the show for me and proved that Cranston can adapt to any kind of tonal transition with ease. It’s certainly clear that Sal’s best days are behind him, but with the feel good attitude that he takes with him everywhere, he is constantly the life of the party that keeps this film from ever getting too down in the dumps with the downtrodden. Laurence Fishbourne is virtually playing two roles for the price of one, commanding the new Richard who walks the straight and narrow path, while also silencing the old Richard who is a victim of his legends. Fishbourne is definitely the friend who is the most secure in life, and more than a time or two feels like the group’s shoulder of much needed support to get by. Also, Steve Carrell gives another dramatically wrenching performance that alludes this man’s time would be better spent if he stayed out of comedies. That’s not to say that Steve isn’t funny, but it’s roles like Doc that brings the heart out in Carrell, and makes for an uneasy fragility in the film’s central character that comes at an inevitable crossroads with his own feelings towards the government after the leaps that he has to take just to bury his son.

With this being a Linklater helmed production, there’s plenty to prove that the director has advanced in spades with his unique voice of artistic perspective, but that he also still abides by the tricks of the trade that have garnered him a reputation amongst independent movie legends. The most obvious chair that Richard leans on is his passion for dialogue and conversations that tell stories better than anyone going today. In fact, it’s in his ability to let his characters unload on long-winded spells of dialogue that is the blessing and curse to the man’s madness. There’s no question that these reflections by the characters unfurl that flower of wisdom from the past one pedal at a time, but in usual Linklater fashion, sometimes the scenes can drag on a bit too long, sketching an outline for editing that could’ve easily narrowed this down to 105 minutes without sacrificing a single perk of the story. Thankfully, the scenes that feel long are few and far between, as a majority of the film’s banter authentically scales the boundaries of what feels like a lifelong friendship that has picked up after thirty years without missing a sacrificial beat.

The script very much plays on a crossing of worlds, in which for the friends to embrace the future, they must first deal with the unfinished business of the past. The three of them have forgotten a devastating secret between them that occurs during their last days together in the service, and it’s in that perspective angle where the film adds necessary layers of depth to something that honestly wouldn’t succeed as just a two hour road trip flick. Like any great storyteller, Linklater slowly reveals a piece of the puzzle at a time to his audience, revealing the grand picture when the time is right, and when you know it level the most impact. I was worried that this would be the typical, predictable divide in a group that is present in nearly every film that revolves around friendship these days, but thankfully Linklater doesn’t abide by any rules that he doesn’t make, and constantly keeps his grip firmly on the strength of friendship that doesn’t budge or stand down under any pressure.

Besides the hearty investments of time that I mentioned earlier, the only other real problem that the movie has is Linklater’s heavy-handed commentary to sometimes go off in directions that offer nothing of balance or addition to the plot. A fine example of what I’m saying is a scene early on in the third act in which the group stumbles into a cell phone store and decide to buy cell phones, and since this is 2003, just imagine the kind of humor and naive commentary that we can include to give a nod and wink to the 2017 crowds who are watching this who know how important their cell phones are to them. Sometimes it is in its ability to play a little too cutesy to the crowd for it’s own good, and it left me screaming to get back to the story that got my butt in the seat to begin with. Down time is fine, but what this feels like is nothing more than a distraction to the progression of the film, but I wouldn’t believe for a second that this was a Linklater film if there wasn’t some incoherent rambling that has absolutely nothing to do with the material or central premise of the film.

THE VERDICT – ‘Last Flag Flying’ flies high thanks to the mastery of one of the world’s great storytellers in its writer and director Linklater, but also because of the camaraderie between his three accomplished actors who never waver in the ultimate test of friendship. The film could afford to lose around fifteen minutes of needless exposition, however the modesty of presenting patriotism with a price tag is one that will resonate strongly towards anyone in or out of uniform. Linklater brings to life a sharper focus for the issues that other bloodier war films are afraid to grapple with, and as a result gets his most candid film to date over thirty years into his storied career.


Lady Bird

Greta Gerwig makes her directing debut and pens the new indie comedy about a teenage girl known as ‘Lady Bird’. Set in Sacramento over the 2002–03 school year, the story focuses on a high school senior, Christine McPherson (Saorise Ronan), who prefers to go by the name “Lady Bird”, who is fighting against but is exactly like her wildly loving, deeply opinionated and strong-willed mom Marion (Laurie Metcalf), a nurse working tirelessly to keep her family afloat after Lady Bird’s father Larry (Tracy Letts) loses his job. With the west coast backdrop serving as a dead end environment for Christine, amidst a rapidly shifting American economic landscape, “Lady Bird” attempts to get out of Sacramento by applying to colleges in New York behind her mother’s back, setting up an inevitable clash between Mother and Daughter unlike anything before. ‘Lady Bird’ is rated R for adult language, sexual content, brief graphic nudity and teen partying.

For Greta Gerwig’s first dive into the director’s chair, ‘Lady Bird’ is very much a hands-on approach to the teenage coming-of-age story that values her pen just as much as her presence behind the camera. Not since ‘Juno’ has there been such a refreshing blend of honesty and personality in teenage dissection, but Gerwig understands how to let her leading lady breathe with calculated movements. There’s been much said about this being a possible autobiographical connection to Gerwig’s real life stories, with all of the subtlety of a highway crash in the comparisons that mimic her own life closely. Whether that is true or not, I can say that Gerwig has a tight grip on the pulse of post-millenial teenagers and all of the cures for boredom that riddle them to tears of depression. This is a film with a lot of spunk to its unapologetic personalities, catering to Gerwig’s own brand of humor that radiates the irony in each and every awkward situation. For this being someone’s first helming of a major motion picture, there’s plenty of proof in the executional pudding that cements this girl not only as a well educated student of the game, but also one that gives powerful female characters a prominent voice for decades to come.

From a technical standpoint, ‘Lady Bird’ echoes the vibes of early Wes Anderson, in all of his brunt quick-cuts and quicker-witted humor that carves out some truly memorable characters for us to feast on. For Gerwig, her stance rests firmly on the reflection of a teenager’s life feeling like solitary to him or her in the moment, but in reality spinning by with little reservation in terms of continuous life movements for us as an audience to take in. Because of this, the film can at times feel like it is racing to a red light, but in all reality it’s just the depiction of life’s many opportunities that are quickly passing up our title character, and giving her little to reflect on in the bigger overall picture. The editing itself is precise, faithfully depicting the humor of repetition in boredom that the students in this school endure in what feels like without ending. Her framing too, brings out the beauty and girth of the Sacramento landscape in size when compared to that of the teenage protagonists and their lives in the grand scheme of things. To them, their mistrials feel like the end of the world, but to those of us who already lived through teenage angst and gotten out alive, we can embrace in the visual representation that Gerwig harvests here, and harvest she does well with a clean visual stimulation that breeds that independent comedy kind of vibe that she has been known for in her acting career.

The script and overall tonal shifts for the film are right on point, echoing Gerwig’s attention to even the smallest detail for the many changes in a young woman’s life. I myself am obviously not a female, but what I can say that floored me about Greta’s atmospheric resonation is that she gets what outsiders of a Catholic school will bark at the loudest in terms of laughter, and she exploits this bluntly in a series of montages that sarcastically poke fun at the outdated concepts of these charter schools. Being that I myself went to one for nine years, I can tell you that Gerwig hits the nail with enough force and aptitude that she simply cannot go wrong on, and carries that ball of momentum all the way through to the dramatic circumference of the second half. The film doesn’t abandon the comedic aspect entirely, but the drama is definitely more invasive as the film progresses, and I think it was the right decision. There’s a kind of parental feeling that I felt as Lady Bird was going through these events that are supposed to feel special to a young girl, but end up being just another in the long list of regrets that spans longer with age. The film feels so honest in this depiction that it feels like a must-watch for any teenage girl who needs comfort in the solace that she is never alone, and that every girl is Lady Bird in their own individual adventure.

My favorite aspect of the film however, is definitely the collective performances of a female dominated cast, with a little extra room for male inclusion. Ronan gives a performance that solidifies her as the next generation of great actresses. As Christine (or Lady Bird), Saorise embraces her character with the ignorance of her age, but the exuberance of her inspiring personality that never quits, and Lady Bird as a summarization is one of my absolute favorite characters of the year. Saorise is more than capable of commanding the screen alone, but I feel the best moments are between her and Laurie Metcalf, whom herself channels an unorthodox approach to a Motherly dominated household. It’s certainly clear that this story was written by a female perspective because there’s so much authenticity in speech patterns and constant nagging-turned-confiding conversation pieces that sparks a feeling of attention deficit between them, and gives way to a Mother/Daughter relationship that lasts a lifetime. Tracy Letts also breathes great life into the few scenes that we are fortunate enough to see him steal. As Lady Bird’s father, Letts is definitely the household presence to Metcalf’s workaholic doctor character, but it’s in those shining examples of talks between he and Christine where the film earns an honest and burning presence of heart that is sure to touch anyone in the audience with at least one, if not two of these kinds of parents.

What problems that I did have with this film are the very definition of nit-picking, and weren’t even considered for my overall final grade, but some tips of advice that Gerwig might need for her next presentation. For one, the pacing can slightly feel uneven. I mentioned earlier that the purpose of quick pacing was to feel the constant moving of the world around Lady Bird, but when compared to the final act of the film, there is definitely an off-beat path that is taken in closing this thing out before the final somber blow. In addition to this, I feel like the film tried slightly too hard in the musical soundtrack that constantly beats you over the head with its 2003 setting. A way to maximize this better would be to include songs that aren’t as obvious as ones used in the top 40 hits of that year, that way they don’t feel like a gimmick that is constantly reminding us of this time in era that honestly has very little to do with the film’s overall presence of setting. I felt that this film could’ve easily been set in modern day and not lost a single thing, but it’s obvious that Gerwig wanted to hit home during her age of adolescence.

THE VERDICT – Gerwig’s responsibly honest approach to teenage maturity is one that keeps ‘Lady Bird’ flying high above the clouds. With the power of Oscar worthy performances from Ronan and Metcalf at the disposal of this first time director, the film harvests two emotionally complex female characters with the kind of care and strength needed by a woman’s touch. During a year when ladies voices are needed louder than ever before, Lady Bird feels like the front line figure necessary to lead us to a new age of much-needed female depiction. Proving that the best stories are told on the wrong side of the tracks.


Three Billboards Outside Ebbing, Missouri

There are ‘Three Billboards Outside of Ebbing, Missouri’ that are the key to calling out a murderer who has alluded police. Writer and Director Martin Mcdonagh’s newest black comedy-drama takes place in the heartland of America. After months have passed without a culprit in her daughter’s murder case, Mildred Hayes (Frances McDormand) makes a bold move, painting three signs leading into her town with a controversial message directed at William Willoughby (Woody Harrelson), the town’s revered chief of police. When his second-in-command Officer Dixon (Sam Rockwell), an immature mother’s boy with a penchant for violence, gets involved, the battle between Mildred and Ebbing’s law enforcement is not only exacerbated, but taken to new levels of heightened tension between both sides. ‘Three Billboards Outside of Ebbing, Missouri’ is rated R for violence, adult language throughout, and some sexual references.

Martin Mcdonagh has always been one of my favorite directors because of his humanistic approach to dialogue within awkward situations that offers an abstraction of emotional releases. Martin always manages to get funny and sometimes appalling responses out of these darkly intense situations, so a film like ‘Three Billboards Outside Ebbing, Misouri’ shouldn’t be a difficult sell by proxy. Without question, this is Mcdonagh’s single best film to date, and one that I feel will serve as a valuable piece of conversation stimulation that will aggressively divide two sides on the many moral crossroads that envelope the themes within this picture. Inside are bouts with racism, sexism, media manipulation, and of course murder. These devastating issues have always been cancers to our society, but especially prevalent in today’s day and age where it feels like we (similar to the town of Ebbing) are enduring our own moral trial in making so many of these wrongs right within the structure of our own future. Mcdonagh knows this and crafts a movie that feels like our wildest fantasies of grievance coming true in the hands of one emotionally scarred woman who is lashing out against the very system that failed her and cost her arguably the greatest single thing about her life; her daughter.

Behind the wheel of that wrecking ball is the one woman tour de force performance of Mcdormand that silences any doubt that 2017 is her year. As Mildred Hayes, Mcdormand brings to life the sadness, anger, rebellion, and release that is sure to chill anyone who has ever lost someone valuable in their lives, bringing with it a kind of small town superhero who just keeps coming at her opposition. Mcdormand commands the screen because each and every time she appears, she feels like a hurricane that is coming to blow through anything and anyone that gets in her way, and she is simply as good as it gets in a year that features some gritty leading lady performances that are destined to shine. Besides Mcdormand, there are also captivating performances by Harrelson, Lucas Hedges, and Mcdonagh favorite Sam Rockwell like you’ve never seen him. Mcdormand gets a shot at every one of them, but it’s her chemistry with Rockwell that gives the film its greatest example of casualties involved in the face of war. Rockwell’s character goes through a well taut transformation that feels genuinely earned, and his assertion into the movie articulately depicts the truest cancer of ignorance that is slowly eating away at this town of complacency.

The setting for the film feels like a character in itself, demanding the most of small town problems and ideals that appropriately channel the vast personalities in culture. There is a brief feeling of ‘Fargo’ ambiance in the air, echoing the beat of the singular drum that the townspeople alone vibe to, and one that feels so distant from the rest of us in existence. Ebbing feels like a place where anything is possible. A virtual soap opera of a town that caters to the kind of slow news days that CNN is just itching to delve into. There’s an almost engulfing cloud of intimidation by the police department’s grip on this invasive community, but that all is tested like never before when Mildred decides to invest everything she has into exposing their incompetence. What I find so credible is that while this film wasn’t actually shot in Missouri, the doubling from Sylva, North Carolina more than feeds into the small town characteristics that bring to life the fictional town fluently and leave nothing to be desired in terms of bridging the gap of production synching.

In terms of the story, there’s plenty from Mcdonagh as a screenwriter that lends itself accordingly to keeping the pacing of this film moving smoothly. Most notably, the film never loses its sense of humor despite the adult themes that take over the second half of the movie and up the stakes with unnerving uncertainty from the community whole. There are some patches where the script hits some dull spots, but just when you think it is beginning to lose steam, Mcdonagh always seems to throw a wrench into the film that constantly keeps the audience guessing, and I can’s say that ever for a moment that it felt choreographed with where I felt the story was heading. That, in addition to this crumbling family in scenes of the past and present, and I felt like Mcdonagh is a writer who definitely hasn’t lost his stride, valuing the importance of famous last words and what effects that they might have on future bearings. Little moments hold the biggest consequences, and it’s those instances when the truth shines for better or worse.

Up to this point, ‘Three Billboards’ was easily one of my favorite films of 2017, but then the dark cloud of arguably one of my most disappointing endings in recent memory took place and soured my final grade. I didn’t hate the film’s ending, and certainly understand the approach to “anger begets more anger”, but I feel like the ending is too speculative and not satisfying enough in terms of answers to the film’s core mystery. This left me with more questions than answers coming out of the film, and one that I wish would’ve continued at least for ten more minutes, not necessarily for therapeutic release, but rather for emphasis in conclusion from an ending that just kind of trails off. For my theater, the final shot omitted so much air of suspense held in by the audience who were ready to explode to that point, but it just ends on a final direction that has been cemented for the final five minutes of the film, leading us ready for the crushing blow of disappointment that this film couldn’t run away from after being written into a corner. You understand from a character perspective the purpose in this journey, but the tank of consistency runs on empty during the film’s finale, giving up on itself before we ever have a chance to.

THE VERDICT – ‘Three Billboards Outside Ebbing, Missouri’ stands tall under the lights because of a gut-wrenching performance by Mcdormand, as well as the endless puppeteering by Mcdonagh’s empathetic approach to everything that is right and wrong with the world. Though the ending is riddled with a lack of impact for the many satisfying directions of conclusion that this film could’ve given us, the previous 9/10’s blew me away with complexity towards cunning emotional depositions that prove this film is too big for just one respective genre. There’s truth in advertising, and this billboard says poetically profound.


Roman J. Israel Esq

A driven, idealistic defense attorney finds himself at the hands of a difficult dilemma that will have him questioning everything that he ever knew. In ‘Roman J. Israel Esq’, Civil Lawyer Roman J. Israel (Denzel Washington) has been fighting the good fight while others take the credit. When his partner, the firm’s front man, has a heart attack, Israel suddenly takes on that role. He finds out some unsettling things about what the crusading law firm has done that run afoul of his values of helping the poor and dispossessed, and he finds himself in an existential crisis that leads to extreme action. On the crossroads of one’s life, does he take the road less traveled, or the easiest path to victory? ‘Roman J. Israel Esq’ is written and directed by Dan Gilroy, and is rated PG-13 for adult language and some scenes of violence.

The trailer for ‘Roman J Israel Esq’ felt like a bunch of unassembled puzzle pieces thrown together out of context that didn’t gel into one cohesive unit. The first thing that I grab from a film’s trailer is the overall plot because it’s in that aspect where I decide just how badly I want to see said movie. After seeing the full length feature film, I can understand why I didn’t have the slightest clue what this film was about, nor where the direction it was competently headed. The film structured all around by Gilroy, feels like four different stories that are fighting for the allotment of the 112 minute runtime that hints at some of them being dissected in order of importance along the way. As far as fluidity amongst scripts is concerned, Gilroy takes an unpredictably tragic misstep after the success that was 2014’s ‘Nightcrawler’ by trying to establish too many profound observations on the seedy world of practicing law. Because of such, this film from bell-to-bell is a chore to get through, juggling enough violent tonal shifts and jarring sequencing that gave me a feeling of amnesia to the ideal that I may have just watched four different films take place, and possibly nodded off between them to where they now feel like one finished product.

Some of the advantages of this script revolve around the cryptic movements positioned by our protagonist that constantly feels one step ahead of us the audience. As a character, Israel feels conflicted by the crossroads that forces him to choose between continuing the fight for good, or surrounding himself with the material things that serve as the greatest reflection of success for one’s career. This to me was the single greatest movement in terms of direction for the script, but it’s just unfortunate that the film often feels like Israel’s story isn’t compelling enough to dedicate the majority of minutes to, despite he himself being in 100% of the scenes for the movie. This certainly isn’t one of those movies that will have you on the edge of your seat, but the tugging between good and evil inside of one man’s conflicted point of view felt satisfying enough because of the truly vapid wild card of a man that we are dealing with here. To that degree, Gilroy feels like the kind of screenwriter that offers an unapologetic stance for how he sees the world in all of its gluttony for getting to the top with each pawn having a price. Similar ground is treaded in ‘Nightcrawler’, albeit in slightly less disjointed ways, but ‘Roman J Israel Esq’ further establishes this theory, treading through shaky ground to find comfort in a moral conundrum that could’ve used more development on the surface.

Besides this favorable subplot, the rest of the film muddles itself to paralyzing by pulling at the arms of ambition one time too many. Besides Israel’s mental change, the rest of the film deals with a client of Israel’s behind bars who may have details that the authorities seek in order to put him away for life, a romantic subplot involving a character played by Carmen Ejogo that completely comes out of nowhere and feels so unnatural because of a great lack of chemistry, and finally the crumbling of his law practice after the untimely death of his best friend and partner. You can certainly understand the balance of power when you hear so many establishing points for the screenplay, but what you can’t tell by reading this is just how weighed down the script feels in details that dispose it of any kind of entertainment value that will keep you invested. By the halfway point of this film, I found myself fighting for the slightest tinge of excitement that would prolong my attention, but it simply wasn’t there. This isn’t because of unnatural pacing mind you, but rather the long-winded diatribes of exposition that overly states instead of shows what is transpiring, and I for one could’ve used more of a hands on approach to prove that this film isn’t afraid of getting its hands dirty.

The tonal shifts are even more perplexing for the film because you never truly understand what kind of genre dominates this picture. Early on in the movie, I found myself laughing at the awkwardness of Israel having to takeover some of these cases that his deceased colleague tried, but then like a sharp tack, the humor from this script vanished into thin air, favoring a dramatic pulse of direction that stepped forth for the entire second act. During these scenes are when you feel the greatest sense of empathy for Israel because of a world that seems to be advancing around him without him, and even the level from this to the momentum of the earlier scenes felt like two different movies that alienated the other. So what happens towards the end? Strangely enough, the film turns into a bit of an action thriller with one of the most unnecessary car chase sequences that I have ever seen. It goes nowhere after it transpires and left me wondering further if a fight for power was taking place off-screen by the studio, or did Gilroy just never have a clearly defined ending to begin with?

What does keep so much of the inconsistencies at tolerable levels is the versatile performance of one of Hollywood’s last legendary leading men to fruition. Washington portrays Israel with levels of clumsiness and vulnerability that are rarely seen from the decades old professional. Roman’s depiction is honest at all times, so therefore he isn’t always the most likeable presence on camera, bringing to life an original side of Denzel’s character acting that allows him to get fully engulfed into this character for better or worse. Sure, the charisma and smile are still there, albeit behind a gap-toothed prosthetic that further immerses him into detail, but Washington’s spin as this mumbling revolutionary of courtroom law doesn’t take the same short cuts that the script around him does, relaying an idea that this leading man might simply be too good to be subjected to amateur hour. In addition to Washington, Colin Ferrell is also a welcome presence as the head of a big time law firm that hires Israel after his firm goes under. While Colin isn’t in the film a lot, he does make the most of every scene, emoting a refreshingly compassionate side to his character that I didn’t see coming from someone so wrapped in materialism. Washington and Ferrell are the right kind of 1-2 punch to keep ‘Roman J Israel Esq’ floating above the heavy waters of choppy story arcs that nearly sink it.

THE VERDICT – When a film is named after a character, it usually goes without saying that it will be a one man show. However, the ties that bind ‘Roman J Israel Esq’, limit its appeal as a whole because of too much puzzling circumstance in simple storytelling that overly-convolutes its case before it ever reaches the jury of moviegoers deciding its fate. Washington continues to be a Hollywood heavyweight without any of the energy or fiery depositions that his character pieces are known for. But Gilroy doesn’t harvest enough rolling momentum to ever accommodate his leading lawyer, and because of such we experience two men in Israel and Gilroy who feel like they’re being stretched too thin by the world that is crumbling around them.



The striking chords of music separate a boy and his deceased family to The Land of the Dead, in Pixar Animation’s newest ‘Coco’. Despite his family’s baffling generations-old ban on music, Miguel (voice of Anthony Gonzalez) dreams of becoming an accomplished musician like his idol, Ernesto de la Cruz (voice of Benjamin Bratt). Through daily viewings of video tapes and a shrine dedicated to Cruz, Miguel puts in the hours to becoming a signature guitar player with very little luck along the way. Desperate to prove his talent, Miguel finds himself in the stunning and colorful Land of the Dead following a mysterious chain of events. Along the way, he meets charming trickster Hector (voice of Gael García Bernal), and together, they set off on an extraordinary journey to unlock the real story behind Miguel’s family history. ‘Coco’ is written and directed by Adrian Molina, and is rated PG for thematic elements.

Music can serve and narrate the link between the past and present in ways that can tenderly preserve our memories. This was my biggest takeaway from ‘Coco’, the newest grand slam strike from a company that continues to amaze and raise the bar with each passing year; Disney Pixar. Once again, this company strikes gold in emulating the very traditions and lifestyles of a foreign land in a way that is not only educational for youths with a thirst for exploration, but also intelligent for the way that it carefully juggles the tone of every scene. Like only a couple of films before it, ‘Coco’ took me on a high speed rush of emotional versatility that made me feel bi-polar because of how much can resonate from within in a single 100 minute sitting. Besides the moral of the story that I took away, there’s so much more to this film that provides the perfect family gathering this Thanksgiving weekend, harvesting an urgency for life, as well as a celebration for the deceased that vibrantly decodes the link between these two entirely vast worlds. This is very much a movie that makes you feel enlightened when you leave the theater, and that’s a feat that I feel a lot of films (especially kids movies) are missing from this current day and age. This proves that Pixar isn’t just crafting kids films, but films that cater to every age spectrum that never limits their profound voice.

This is very much a script that takes its time in getting to know our characters pasts respectively, but it moves along so sharp that I never felt bored or dragged down by the endless exposition. The first half Molina’s script follows near the casual setups of a protagonist who is searching to find his voice in more ways than one, but what evolved proves that the information in the trailers is only table dressing to the much tastier main course. The film is a mystery at times, and crosses into the theme of needing to invest in our pasts if we are to continue forth with our futures. This provides plenty of surprises along the way, including a plot twist midway through that takes its cues from the ‘Blade Runner 2049’ school of storytelling that this film even did slightly better. There’s also great thought and imagination invested into the very world building that Molina confidently casts upon his shoulders. The kinds of themes and rules are a throwback to the very legends of Mexican tradition that are past down from one generation to the next, feeding into the finely tuned engine of intelligence that ‘Coco’ carves out for itself. Believe me when I say that this is a screenplay that will at the very least touch your heart, but for the select few, it will resonate in a way that transfixes you with the music that serenades your soul.

On that topic, we have a spirited contender for best musical soundtrack of 2017. At this point, Disney is turning out earworms that live and breed inside of our heads, and the best decision is not to fight it, but go with irresistible melodies that get your toes tapping. Michael Giacchnino’s collection of songs moves at many tempos fast and slow, highlighting the many moments that require an essence of song in the air, but what impressed me most was the insertion of these inevitable hits that built their deliveries. As to where most musicals insert songs every five minutes of the movie, often creating scenes of song that don’t feel authentic in their dissertation, ‘Coco’ carefully reserves the proper moment in time to deliver these numbers. The most important thing here is that the music is working hand-in-hand with the story, firing on double cylinders that brings out the most in terms of confidence for both aspects. Songs have been important in films, but in this movie it feels like breathing for this family of personalities that have either thrived or been left to rot because of it. Either way, I see a lot of Itunes purchases being made for Giacchino’s stirring audible revelation that struck more than just a chord with my heart and ensuing tears that followed.

The performances were all around incredible by this big name group of actors young and old that carve out something far beyond the one-dimensional protagonists that we’ve come to sadly expect. My favorite is definitely Bernal as Hector, the antsy wild card of the film that steers a bit to close to ever be forgotten. What makes Bernal’s voicing so memorable here is that he allows himself to get lost in the character, channeling a sadness and longing because of being forgotten that has paralyzed his time in the afterlife. The chemistry between the tag team of he and Gonzalez leaves nothing to be desired in the very way that it establishes two characters who we yearn to spend more time with, and soon it becomes evident how desperately they need each other. Speaking of which, the little boy himself commands the film with such innocence and wonder that make him feel years ahead of his young age in real life. Anthony himself is certainly no rookie when it comes to acting or singing, but his grasp of both firmly exceeded my wildest expectations for how a child can command a crowd both on and off of screen. Benjamin Bratt also leaves a lasting impression as charmingly arrogant De La Cruz. Behind every immense pop star, there’s a personality a mile long, and Bratt is happy to oblige with such suave debonair that makes it easy to fall to his musical seduction.

Without question though, my single favorite aspect of the film is in the endlessly intense attention to detail that fronts an artistic flow that crushes any other animated film this year in its path. When I see an animated film, I always speak of rendering, shading, and color palate, and this film hits the mark with precision on all of them. The backdrops and landscapes in this Land of the Dead provided so many awestruck moments when it feels like their luminous lights and high-stacked houses stretch further than the eye can see, but how is the character detail? My answer is PERFECTLY. It’s getting to the point where it is truly scary how much Pixar is mastering every small detail to make a character stand out. What I mean by this is just how many differences in bone structure that the film goes through for its hundreds of the dead that get even a second of screen time, as well as spots or moles on skin for those in the living. The hair threads themselves on character heads feel like you can reach out and touch them at any time, only to be topped by the design of Grandma Coco that better win the production an Oscar or I will scream my lungs out in anger. The wrinkle patterns and rendering of this aging woman confined to a chair had me demanding to pause the film just to soak in how fluently she moved to that of her respective age and situation, and I’ve never seen anything so jaw-dropping illustration when it comes to matching that of a live action counterpart.

What small problems I had with the film were so miniscule that it barely requires mentioning, but two things stand-out like a cancer in an overall production that is nearly perfect. The first is the one roadblock in the animation from a group of flying beast characters (they look like tigers) that alienated the consistency of every person or property around them. The beasts have a strange color design to their characters, but my concern is more in the outline of their designs that screams computer animation. If it were up to me, I wish they weren’t even in the film, as their inclusion even feels like it stretches the rules that were carefully constructed in this other world. The other (and much bigger) problem involved the rules provided in the exposition that doesn’t make sense later on. I don’t want to spoil anything, so I will just say that a character in the Land of the Dead is slowly deteriorating because his loved ones can’t remember him. This of course makes no sense because one of his loved ones is indeed with him throughout the film walking, talking, and all else communicating with him. If I spoke to my Mother directly, IT MEANS I DID NOT FORGET ABOUT HER. My point is that this character should never be deteriorating, and it otherwise feels like an obvious ploy to dramatic pulse in a film that was otherwise dealing with death and its themes maturely.

THE VERDICT – Coco will remind you that you have a pulse, in all of its heartwarming family pleasantries and endless ambition to follow your dreams that will provide inspiration aplenty to those who seek it. The animation feels three-dimensional without the need for eye-cramping glasses, and an energetically spirited musical score by Giacchino brings it all home with a tempo-building final performance that concludes with electricity. It’s a responsibly refreshing story that bridges the worlds of the living and the dead impeccably, bringing to light the importance of family that can’t be diminished by either.


The Star

A collection of animals follow ‘The Star’ as a map in their quest to get to Bethlehem before it’s too late. In Sony Pictures Animation’s newest feature film, a small but brave donkey named Bo (Steven Yeun) yearns for a life beyond his daily grind of repetition at the village mill. One day he finds the courage to break free, and finally goes on the adventure of his dreams. On his journey, he teams up with Ruth (Aidy Bryant), a lovable sheep who has lost her flock, and Dave (Keegan Michael-Key), a dove with lofty aspirations. Along with three wisecracking camels and some eccentric stable animals with electric personalities, Bo and his new friends follow the Star and become unlikely heroes in the greatest story ever told; the first Christmas. ‘The Star’ is directed by Timothy Reckart, and is rated PG for some thematic elements.

Releasing a story about the birth of Jesus around the holiday season seemed like a good idea in theory, but the dulled down execution of ‘The Star’ hints that your time would be much better served doing literally anything else than this. The film isn’t truly awful, just awfully boring, and a great lack of detail paralyzes this one from ever breaking free from the pack of religious films that bring out the groaning in all of us. Thankfully, this one at least isn’t insulting or shaming the non-believing crowds for their respective beliefs, choosing instead to focus loosely on the greatest origin story of all time in Jesus Christ. From a theatrical perspective, this one lacks any clear defining trait in releasing this on the silver screen. From its minimal run time (78 Minutes), to its narrow screenplay or jarringly disappointing animated stylings, Reckart’s honorable tale falls along the way of this aridly dry journey in giving us anything memorably pleasing about the investment made towards wanting to see an original version of the classic telling.

The screenplay is so dry and free of laughs in its material that I found myself fighting off sleep throughout. In fact, my experience with ‘The Star’ makes me feel like the film had some good ideas for the night of the immaculate birth, and then decided to fill in the rest around it as they went along. I say this because the third act of the film is by far the most exciting and the most urgent in terms of my investment as a whole with the movie. It’s nothing amazing by any stretch of original storytelling, but when you consider how mind-numbingly dull the first hour of this movie truly is, you can appreciate a finale that throws as much at the screen as it can to getting audiences back into this thing. The humor inside of this script feels virtually non-existent. That’s not to just say that it is bad in delivery, but that it feels like it is never there to begin with. Considering this is basically a kids-first dominated audience, I feel like screenwriters Simon Moore and Carlos Kotkin cater more to the side of bible enthusiasts instead of the ones that will pile into the theater in droves to see an up-roaring good time. Evidence of this exists throughout the first two acts that feel like you’re being subjected to a Sunday School Hallmark offering that is posing as a Hollywood film in sheep’s clothing. I could forgive Sony Animated Studios if this was the first or second time that I have been annoyed with them, but the sour taste of ‘Nine Lives’ from 2015 still lasts to remind me of the horrors that I’ve been through with this company.

Sony’s brand of animation continues to get better in certain aspects, but still struggles in artist rendering that has it falling by the wayside of Dreamworks or Pixar for top dog. The background illustrations are beautiful here, establishing a patented desire for even the most minute detail in landscapes and buildings that sets a lively stage for our characters. The sky and clouds as well breathe a strong artistic stroke that tiptoes the fourth wall of live action rendering. Where my problem lies is still with the character depictions, especially during the day time scenes that highlight their lumbering movements and facial definitions accordingly. The mouth movements of characters are still trailing behind where they rightfully should be with their appropriate speech patterns, and there’s a great lack of life or energy behind the walking and reaching of both human and animal properties. As to where Pixar gets the little things like facial acne or wrinkles to strong detail in their films, Sony Animation is still leagues behind in this regard, giving their characters the most basic of approaches to what make them standout amongst one another.

My distaste doesn’t just end with the visuals however, it also rang persistent with the collective musical soundtrack by a collection of popular artists like Mariah Carey and Jake Owen. I should first say that the musical score by composer John Paesano is nowhere at fault here, as his accompaniment of orchestral influence gave the film the big feeling that I felt it was sadly missing for the rest of the tonal atmosphere. But with the soundtrack, I feel like this is another example of popstars trying to hip up these classic religious songs with a dose of modern swagger to appeal to a broader audience. Anytime this happens in films, I can’t help but taste the feeling of desperation that sacrifices the pitch and feeling of the story at heart. This kind of thing is nice for a kids movie, but a story about Jesus probably doesn’t require a hip hop influence to its scenes and sequences for the sheer fact that this style of music was thousands of years away. I compare it to hearing hip hop during the 2012 version of ‘The Great Gatsby’. It’s jarring to the point of ruined immersion into the film, and does nothing but play as a distraction on the whole piece.

This wide range of cast are also quite a feat to see under the same roof, even if a majority of their deliveries lack the kind of energy needed in reaching the youthful audience. With the exception of Keegan Michael-Key as Dave the sidekick dove and best friend of Bo, not one of these actors get lost in their vocal versatilities, and choose instead to play everything at face value. What makes Keegan work so well in this role besides his animated vocal tones, is that he truly samples a pitch that sounds completely different from his familiar patterns. Michael-Key’s endless energy goes a long way anytime he’s on screen, and I couldn’t thank Dave enough for waking me from a coma each time he wasn’t present. Besides him, Aidy Bryant isn’t terrible as Ruth, but her character’s one-dimension purpose limits her abilities in breaking out of the Saturday Night Live diamond that she finds herself in. Steven Yeun was very disappointing, sounding off Bo as a protagonist who is simply collecting a paycheck. Whether it’s poor writing or poor dissertation, Yeun’s turn as the lead of this film can’t quite get a grasp of what is needed from the material, and because of such, Bo makes for arguably the worst of animal leads in a year that has John Cena voicing a four hundred pound bull.

THE VERDICT – Few things shine bright with ‘The Star’, but those that do are doing so because of the limited spectrum being displayed by uneven animation, as well as a boring story that alienates quickly. Already with ‘Daddy’s Home 2’ and ‘A Bad Mom’s Christmas’, this has been a holiday movie season to forget, but Timothy Reckart’s animated telling gives us one final blunt blow with a nativity story that incorporates butt jokes and slapstick humor to its senseless direction. If this truly is the greatest story ever told, I’ll opt for fiction.


Justice League

The biggest of D.C Comics brand of superheroes team together to save the day as the ‘Justice League’. Months after the destruction of events caused in ‘Batman Vs Superman: Dawn of Justice’, Fueled by his restored faith in humanity and inspired by Superman’s (Henry Cavill) selfless act, Bruce Wayne (Ben Affleck) enlists the help of his newfound ally, Diana Prince (Gal Gadot), to face an even greater enemy. Together, Batman and Wonder Woman work quickly to find and recruit a team of metahumans to stand against this newly awakened threat. But despite the formation of this unprecedented league of heroes-Batman, Wonder Woman, Aquaman (Jason Momoa), Cyborg (Ray Fisher) and The Flash (Ezra Miller), it may already be too late to save the planet from an assault of catastrophic proportions at the hands of the deadly Steppenwolf and his army of deciples. ‘Justice League’ is co-directed by Zack Snyder and Joss Whedon, and is rated PG-13 for sequences of violence and action.

After the momentum of ‘Wonder Woman’ from earlier this year, the D.C Comics Universe is looking to extend that winning streak a bit more with assemblance of ‘Justice League’, the long-awaited team-up of a dream team of heroes, some of which being portrayed on screen for the first time ever within this realm. Because of these vastly different personalities, ‘Justice League’ feels like a welcoming appreciation of changes from previous efforts that could prove that D.C is starting to find their unique voice with comic storytelling. The inevitable comparisons to Marvel will always be there, but it is up to us as moviegoers to understand that these are two different worlds that divert in everything from tone to visual presentation, and while ‘Justice League’ isn’t the home run collectively that this series so desperately needs, it is a stand-up double that sets the stage fruitfully for the introductions to some vital characters with their own undisputed honor to the D.C calling card. Considering that this is a film that had problems in production both on and off of the silver screen, it’s a major step forward for a finished result that gave me a rousing good time.

Almost immediately, anyone will pick up on the change of atmosphere that has reduced itself from the serious drag that was films like ‘Man of Steel’ or ‘Batman Vs Superman’, and traded it in for an embracing of light-hearted tone that carves out some much needed personalities for these iconic figures. While it doesn’t get as over-the-top in laughs as say ‘Thor: Ragnarok’ did, I can confidently say that this movie guided the balance between serious and humorous more capably, finding a comfortable medium that caters to Snyder’s brand of adult-like settings. Much of my problem with these films up to ‘Wonder Woman’ this year has been the decision to take itself far too seriously, forgetting that this is a fantasy world that is being depicted, so the fun of imagination should definitely be there. Most of the humor fails or succeeds in the hands of the actors who harbor strong timing with their deliveries, but screenwriters Chris Terrio and Joss Whedon as a whole leave plenty of room in the comic kitchen for two chefs who are more than capable of playing off the right moment properly, leaving the garbage can of fails relatively limited in the grand spectrum.

The film’s runtime of nearly two hours definitely feels like it was trimmed down, especially considering so many scenes that were frequent in the trailers are nowhere to be found in the finished product. The pacing is more than remotely uneven, especially considering the exposition-heavy first act breezes by with the speed of The Flash, but the second act builds the process prominently of this team coming together as one and giving us plenty of chances to embrace their personalities bouncing off of one another. Particularly in the opening half hour of the film, it definitely felt like D.C knew that it still had plenty of ground to make up in bridging the gap towards the three characters of Cyborg, Flash, and Aquaman, who have only made brief cameos in the series up to this point. But time is of the essence here with Warner Bros limiting this film to the two hour mark, and because of such, those origin stories will have to wait for another day. What’s commendable here is that the film feels like five different movies being welded together for the price of one. Surprisingly, the film seamlessly blends together like one cohesive plot, proving that the ingredients taste the best when they’re working together as one. Overall, I had a great time with the film until about the final half hour, when the expected third act struggles of D.C rear their ugly heads again. Once again it’s too much C.G, too much quick-cut editing, and far too much structural damage instead of dramatic pulse to push its final scenes to the finish line. Because so much of the final fights in these films lack desperation or vulnerability, I never feel any grave danger for what is at stake, and it proves that D.C has plenty to work on to send audiences home electrified instead of antsy.

From a production standpoint, ‘Justice League’ also raises the bar, proving that aesthetics do matter just as much to this coveted team behind the camera. Thankfully, the cinematography by Fabian Wagner lightens things up visually to present us with some eye-catching landscapes to pop that comic vibe of authenticity. Snyder is a sucker for dreamy comic illustrations, and no one does it better than him in bringing these pages of vibrancy to life with such pulse. Sure, the C.G still oversteps its boundaries as a whole against physical properties, but Gotham honestly never looked so beautifully toxic as it did here. One point that I couldn’t ignore was the removal of Henry Cavill’s mustache which looked terrible in post production. I can’t imagine how anyone can’t see that his lip and mouth movements look about as authentic as Cyborg’s bodily property, leaving a stain on the film any time that his character decided to open his mouth. The lighting aspects here are much improved when compared to ‘Batman Vs Superman’ that looked like it was filmed in a dark, damp basement. I think this step creatively feeds to the concept that this isn’t just one or two characters movie, this is now an entire team, and it’s a great time for such a change when we’re trying to represent a magnitude of artistic integrities equally.

As for performances, the positives far outweighed the negatives for me, and even offered some surprises that silenced this critic. To that regard, I apologize to Ezra Miller for thinking his humor would overshadow the character of Barry Allen. He doesn’t always land the gut-busting punch that he’s pulling for because of his awkwardness, but that alone in itself feeds into the youth who is at an awe with the personalities who now surround him, leaving him starstruck. Affleck and Gadot continue to breathe the very essence of their characters, providing a satisfying blend of humanity with a dash of hinted romance to mend their respective aching hearts. Jason Momoa is also outstanding in depicting this new side of Aquaman that I didn’t think was possible. At first, I kind of worried that Momoa would portray this Thor-like musclehead with very little reasoning or logic to his character, but as the film goes on, you start to understand that he offers the most eclectic striking when it comes to the versatility of his offense. I can’t wait till next December to see him reap the benefits of an entire script. My negatives start sadly with Ray Parker as Cyborg. Parker himself isn’t terrible, just what the script has for him is. His very first scene sets the stage for some dramatic pulse of being stuck in a situation that he had no choice over, but the script doesn’t add anything to this. I was waiting for Parker to get a scene of clarity for himself, but he’s sadly ignored as the film goes on, handing in an incomplete that did nothing for the weight of his character. Ciaran Hinds is arguably the worst kind of Warcraft villain that a movie like this can find. Comic book genre films haven’t quite figured out the emphasis on a good villain yet, and Hinds might be the worst to date, equipping Steppenwolf with no proper motive or valued screen time in getting his character across. Again, it’s another villain that a film forgets about for a half hour, and I never felt like we were any less for his absence.

THE VERDICT – If you compare this to Marvel, you’ve missed the point immediately. ‘Justice League’ finds its own original voice of impulse, despite its sometimes rushed script that diminishes the capability of its talented cast. Snyder’s latest chapter adds a much-needed dose of atmospheric humor that relays this being a COMIC book movie first, leaving its colorless drag in the past for good where it belongs. It’s not perfect by any stretch, but the future is finally bright for these heroes in individual efforts, with the possibility that justice might come to all of them with valued patience.


The Killing of a Sacred Deer

Visionary director Yorgos Lathimos offers us another dive into the deep end of cinematic immersion, in his newest provocative piece ‘The Killing of A Sacred Deer’. Dr. Steven Murphy (Colin Farrell) is a world renowned cardiovascular surgeon presiding over a spotless household with his ophthalmologist wife Anna (Nicole Kidman) and their two exemplary children, 12-year-old Bob (Sunny Suljic) and 14-year-old Kim (Raffey Cassidy). Lurking at the margins of his idyllic suburban existence is Martin (Barry Keoghan), a fatherless teen who Steven has covertly taken under his wing. As Martin begins insinuating himself into the family’s life in ever-more unsettling displays, the full scope of his intent becomes menacingly clear when he confronts Steven with a long-forgotten transgression that will shatter the Murphy family’s domestic bliss in a sinister game of revenge. ‘The Killing of A Sacred Deer’ is rated R for disturbing violent and sexual content, some graphic nudity and adult language.

Lathimos as a director is someone who has no qualms about pushing the envelope into provocative material. In ‘The Lobster’, we received an honestly unapologetic depiction of the modern dating scene, and in ‘The Killing of a Sacred Deer’ it appears that his focus this time shifts to the depiction of the medical profession and all of its loose ends that come with being the final step for many on their one way trips with death. Perhaps the one singularity that both of these films equally match is in the way they’re shaped as a genre in the attitudes that both movies possess. This is an area where Yorgos succeeds in ways that so many other directors just can’t even comprehend; the emphasis and articulation in tone that faithfully interpret the volume of emotional mass that this director values in teaching us. While the film certainly allows us many moments of intense laughter from the sheer absurdity of character responses, the film never strays far from being a fright first kind of deal. Because of such, ‘The Killing of a Sacred Deer’ and Lathimos alike, does things with horror genre temperament and brash twisted humor that other more obvious students of the genre can’t accomplish, taking us through a dream-like environment where your worst nightmare can and often will come true. This film feels like a melting pot of ingredients that blend together to attain that intended taste, and when it comes to the chef that is stirring the pot, Lathimos highlights where each aspect blends well into accomplishing this feat.

Almost immediately, we are treated to some exceptional overall camera work that explores the unorthodox dissection of how we approach a scene. Lathimos continues his traditional signature shots that include continuous takes down the long corridors of a hospital, wide angle framing that colorfully illustrates the ideas and concepts that are being played over the heads of these characters, as well as depicting just how small they as people are to the everyday bigger picture, and of course the introduction to establishing shots that are done with such gentle precision. On the latter, I love how the camera softly takes the hand of the audience and guides it through each new environment that the screenplay takes us through. It constantly feels like we as guests are trying to sneak into what is going on without much disruption, and the bending around objects and walls to represent such a point treated me to a kind of theatrical engagement that was anything but bare, and proved that Lathimos sets the stage each time appropriately with a canvas that never lacks versatility in getting his points across for the mass volume of themes that the film takes on.

To that degree, the screenplay was one that does have some entertaining deficiencies, but overall strums through nearly two heart-pounding hours that constantly kept my attention. It’s clear that there is something much bigger being displayed at heart here, but to only summarize what I saw in one sitting is sheer madness. This is a film that does cast a lot of emphasis in its premise, but follows up with some exceptional storytelling that slowly unfurls each petal of valuable exposition carefully instead of it feeling like a free-falling storm. As screenwriters, Lathimos and partner Efthimis Filippou let you sample the environment before you revel in the details, and it’s a process that kept me engaged for the ridiculous actions and speech patterns that the film uses to relay that something truly terrible is at play within these friendly confines of characters. What problems that I did have might clear up with future re-watches, but do deserve to be mentioned for taking my grade down a couple of points. The first is that the film never truly explains how any of this threat is truly taking place. I’m sure there’s a bigger picture being hinted at here, but the film kind of requires you to take an illogical leap in logic to believing what is unraveling here, and I was never fully on board with it. Besides this, the third act is prolonged to frustrating levels. While it’s true that Lathimos is getting better about where to end his film, it still stands the case that his editing could still use some work, as many sequences are so needless and redundant that they often oversell the point that has already been driven home. While this doesn’t hurt the overall pacing for the film, I feel like the third act could’ve easily been the quickest in terms of minutes devoted to it, but it is the only true weakness against the first two acts that proved the value of strength in momentum that the film consistently built.

The musical score from composer Sofia Gubaidulina is riveting, strumming along some of the most entrancing notes that I have heard in the entire year of 180 films thus far. Not since 2014’s ‘It Follows’ has a musical score been so effective in not only setting the precedent of terror within each scene, but also in the volume of piercing release that constantly moved me. One negative to the latter is that it can sometimes intrude a little too much on the actors trying to play out each scene without that added manipulation, leading some dialogue exchanges to be rendered deaf because of such. The good news is that those scenes are only few and far between, as a majority of Sofia’s increasing beat of disturbia cashes in often on the true value of an unnerving musical score to not only the layering of chilling circumference that dominates each scene, but also feeding into the dream-like state of being that I mentioned earlier. Because of such, this feels like a world far from our own while monitoring the discontent with the medical practices that are every bit as prevalent in today’s rivalry between patient and practice.

This ensemble cast is mesmerizing, being led by Farrell and Kidman in their second collaboration of the year after ‘The Beguiled’. Lathimos definitely brings them along better than Coppola did, and because of such we are treated to the most versatile of monotonous deliveries that I have ever seen. That may sound like a back-handed compliment, but the approach to emoting these characters at underwhelming and almost un-human-like stances pays off in spades later on in the film when the stakes are the highest, forcing them to finally act logically like any of us rightfully would. Farrell talks fast, often diving into Murphy like an overly-confident routine that brings a life of no surprises. In Kidman, we get almost the total opposite. Because she is the first person to really see the severity of the situation, she attacks first and levels her respective screen time with a juggling of motherly instinct and cunning mental prowess to support her claim as the only logical protagonist to the film. Without a doubt though, the show-stealer for me was Barry Keoghan fresh off of the heels of ‘Dunkirk’ earlier this Summer. His grip on the pulse of a film is felt with much more impact here, as Keoghan transfixes the audience with a calm kind of madness that can only be compared to Anton Chigurh. You believe what Barry says because he drops it with such conviction, and as the gears start to turn to reveal his tortured past, you start to reason more with the method to his mayhem, playing Farrell and family like a game of chess that he’s already won seven moves prior.

THE VERDICT – ‘The Killing of a Sacred Deer’ continues the hot streak of thought-provoking magnitude that often offers a modern day homage to the kinds of films Kubrick may have continued with. The third act is slightly faulty, often taking the sting out of the punch long after the most powerful connection, but with more attention to trimming the fat, I believe that Lathimos best film is still to come. For now, this film exerts a chilling grip that hypnotizes and tantalizes with a presentation that is second to none.


Daddy’s Home 2

Will Ferrell and Mark Wahlberg go another round, this time with three additional fathers in tow to their adventures of mayhem. In ‘Daddy’s Home 2’, Dusty (Mark Wahlberg) and Brad (Will Ferrell) have joined forces to provide their kids with the perfect Christmas. Through their newly found union of being best friends, the duo have the father game on lockdown, offering the best of both respective worlds to the children they love. However, their newfound partnership is put to the test when Dusty’s old-school, macho Dad (Mel Gibson) and Brad’s ultra-affectionate and emotional Dad (John Lithgow) arrive just in time to throw the holiday into complete chaos. On top of it all is the macho Roger (John Cena) who pushes Dusty through the pools of embarrassment with his own macho stature. If father knows best, these kids are truly in trouble. ‘Daddy’s Home 2’ is written and directed by Sean Anders, and is rated PG-13 for suggestive material and some adult language.

It was only a week ago that I saw ‘A Bad Moms Christmas’, but the disheartening memory of that film has stuck with me for a new film based on similarities that more than ring a bell of coincidence in ‘Daddy’s Home 2’. I can’t nail down for certain why ‘A Bad Moms Christmas’ decided to move their release date up from the December debut that it was supposed to receive, but my shot in the dark is that someone on their production team got an early word or screening or ‘Daddy’s Home 2’ and concluded that it was the same movie, leaving the two films fighting for who would see the light of day of originality first. Besides the fact that this is a film about burdening parents coming to visit these extreme parents themselves, both films take place on Christmas, both feature scenes involving the theft of a Christmas tree, both diminish the return of the opposite sex in their films, and both even have the same ending in direction with the elder parents. One could write this off as ironic, but there’s something that stinks terribly within two movies that are only a week apart. A formula for a wrong that must be righted for two films that will inevitably stand side-by-side in my end of the year countdown because those glaring similarities can never separate as to which mirror image is better.

For every root that finds its way back to the central plot, this is very much Gibson’s movie. The arrival of this once prominent A-lister who has decided to join the ranks of slapstick humor does a great value to the movie, playing Kurt with enough rabid testosterone to field his own Expendables sequel. Considering the original film left us off with John Cena’s Roger coming into play, it seems strange that this film shutters him until the final half hour of the movie, leaving Gibson with the majority of screen time to hold down the fort. In fact, it’s easy to see where a re-write could’ve substituted Cena for Gibson as both imitate similar character attitudes and structures that thrust them into the light of temporary antagonists. As for progression, there’s very little of it with wacky experiences basically blazing the trail for what is to come over 95 hanging minutes. It feels like the writers got together a bunch of family ideas during Christmas and decided on which direction was the lowest possible hanging fruit to make them cater to the Ferrell school of humor. The film makes no attempt to hide or subdue its obvious intention into making this a male first movie. The females of the film offer very little substance or subplot that makes their place worthy in this sequel, leaving them biding their time until one of the male co-stars remembers that they are in frame, leading to a worst case scenario in a world that is building equality in film for the first time ever.

As for humor, nothing should surprise you from the adolescent mind of man-child Anders who wrote such timeless classics as ‘Dumb and Dumber To’, ‘That’s My Boy’, and of course the original film in this series that has already overstayed its welcome. Most of this slapstick offering misses its mark on setting some kind of precedent for consistency in its physical sequences, and its predictable timing can now be related to something like horror movie jump scares when the sound lowers just before something is about to pop out. The instances of witty dialogue far outweigh the value of returns to that of something that offers an elaborate stunt of flashes and pain to get its point across, as those were the only points during the film where I garnered a chuckle or two for the way these constant professionals carry the material. As like any movie (Especially ‘A Bad Moms Christmas), the film also tries the predictably cliched heartfelt center towards the end of the movie that reaches and fails like most comedies to cash in on that dramatic impulse that could instill a valuable message to those leaving the theater. I don’t buy it, and it never works for a second because these characters as people feel damned from the get-go. The final fifteen minutes even override this direction with a bat-shit finale where it feels like all hell and logic break loose in a sequence that casts more concern than care.

Like any Will Ferrell movie, it’s status quo that the child characters are more mature than the adults, but this film took things to new heights of defined endangerment that wouldn’t stand in any household. As parents, these six units are every bit as ignorant as they are promoting to the kinds of actions that kids should be punished for, bringing to life the demonic intuitions that impressionable minds are known for. A few of the examples for this film involve the younger kids playing with the thermostat during sleeping hours, the kids getting drunk on eggnog, firing off guns in the woods, and of course incest. Thankfully I was alone in the theater because anyone who laughs at this kind of material would really make me feel sorry for them, and while this kind of thing might’ve been provocative during the 90’s, comedies today require more intelligence and less barbaric in getting that coveted reaction that comic writers so desperately crave anymore. That desperation certainly rings true here, but always for the wrong reasons, and because of such ‘Daddy’s Home 2’ feels like being witness to a child destroying property in a supermarket. We want to say something to the parents, but it feels like those kids are who they are because their grown counterparts set the stage for them to shine.

As for performances, the chemistry is still very much there for Wahlberg and Ferrell even if the film feels slightly more focused on their parental units. A majority of this as I already mentioned is in Gibson who at first feels obvious in his villainous rage, but later won me over as the seams that tear this family apart from the inside. John Lithgow is also a welcome addition, reveling as Brad’s Dad (He has no actual name in the movie) with the kind of softie innocence that accurately depicts how Ferrell’s character has come to be. I’ve never really been a huge Will Ferrell fan, and nothing in this film won me over for his brand of humor. Wahlberg continues to show a versatility for comedy to work hand-in-hand with his dramatic thrillers, and I honestly could’ve used a little more screen time devoted to his rivalry with Cena to watch these two bulls collide at the horns. The sacrifice here is definitely Linda Cardellini’s character who played basically the trophy for the two males in the first film, and is now nothing more than a side note to chime in any time an unraveling humorous sequence needs further establishing reactions. It’s a noticeably bitter pill to swallow for any females watching who would like to see a single motherly instinct reflected on screen. To that I say, well, at least there’s ‘A Bad Moms Christmas’.

THE VERDICT – ‘Daddy’s Home 2’ gave me a holiday hangover seven weeks before Christmas. With juvenile humor and the slimmest of scripts creatively to boot, Anders second chapter in this series relies far too heavily on the same inept concepts in malicious intents that overstuffed the stockings of the first movie, leaving a second film that doesn’t work overtime to get the heart beating to either of its horrific characters or benign traditions. More fathers means less time for mothers, a true representation of the male psyche that has been plaguing Hollywood for decades.