Maze Runner: The Death Cure

Directed by Wes Ball

Starring – Dylan O’Brien, Kaya Scodelario, Thomas Sangster

THE PLOT – In the epic finale to The Maze Runner Saga, Thomas (O’Brien) leads his group of escaped Gladers on their final and most dangerous mission yet. To save their friends, they must break into the legendary last city, a WCKD controlled labyrinth that may turn out to be the deadliest maze of all. Anyone who makes it out alive will get the answers to the questions the Gladers have been asking since they first arrived in the maze. Will Thomas and the crew make it out alive? Or will Ava Paige (Patricia Clarkston) get her way?

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

THE POSITIVES

– There are a few surprising cameos both within the realm of this film universe, as well as real life celebrity that raised my respect of reputation for the film. I won’t give anything away, but my favorite character in this trilogy makes a triumphant return and steals more than a few scenes.

– Big budget set pieces. There’s a ringing feeling throughout the film that no dollar was spared in the visual backdrops (Both C.G and non), giving Ball’s conclusion to this series a grown-up action genre presence that has matured along with the characters fittingly.

– The action sequences are very imaginative and rattling with each passing scene. If it is destruction that you crave, let The Death Cure be your anecdote.

– O’Brien’s commitment to at least seeing the series through. Most stars, once they become a big name presence, forget about the roles that made them (See Lawrence, Jennifer), so it’s nice to see Dylan still being a noble contributor and finishing with gritty personality what he started with green earnestness.

THE NEGATIVES

– While I dug the action sequences, the film is littered with them to a fault. As to where ‘The Scorch Trials’ was plagued with too much exposition and not enough action in between, this film is the exact opposite, exhausting me to tears by the repetition in setup that wears itself thin quickly.

– Speaking of exposition, this script picks and chooses what gets highlighted for its audience. Some things that don’t feel remotely important by the end of the movie are given long-winded explanations, while those key details that bridge the gap of understanding for audiences feel lost in the shuffle.

– The film could’ve used an introduction recap in refreshing the previous two films for people like myself who see over 200 films a year and can’t quite remember every detail from Y.A series that rub together. Without it, this only feeds into the hardcore fans who have stuck by this franchise this long and await a payoff that never comes.

– Urgency yes, vulnerability no. Believe me when I say that you never fear for our protagonists a single time once you’re about a half hour into the film, and the reason for this is because there is a laughably tedious routine each time they get in the slightest bit of trouble that sees them escape the jaws of death in the most silly of ways, making it feel like it was planned like such.

– Watching this film with an avid fan of the books gave me a stunning comparison. She revealed to me that this film is about 7% on par with the events of the book, casting a huge drop-off from the book versus film comparison of the original Maze Runner, which she said was 75% alike. This ultimately means that fans of the books might feel alienated with a series they’ve come to know and love.

– My biggest problem with the series overall is what mazes that risk the lives of youths have to do with testing their intelligence. Surely there are less maniacal ways to test their strongest muscle. Perhaps a math challenge??

4/10

Insidious: The Last Key

Directed by Adam Robitel

Starring – Lin Shaye, Leigh Whannell, Angus Sampson

THE PLOT – In the fourth installment of the Insidious franchise, parapsychologist Elise Rainier (Lin Shaye) must delve even deeper into the infernal world known as “the Further” when supernatural forces target her own family, sending her and her team reeling from a haunting that takes place so close to home.

Rated PG-13 for disturbing thematic content, violence and terror, and brief strong adult language

THE POSITIVES

– Lin Shaye’s reserved, yet emotionally wrenching performance that proves age is only a number.  Visual scars are there, but it’s in Shaye’s haunting of her past where we embrace her at her edgiest. It’s incredible to see how an originally supporting character has become the focal point for this entire series, and because of such, we are treated to a film that centers around her character’s origins.

– The idea that the most powerful of ghosts are the ones from our pasts that continue to haunt until we choose to confront them once and for all.

– Continued excellence in lighting that articulately divides our world from the further. There’s nothing extravagant or costly about its effects, yet the graying state of this supernatural world omits a clear cut vibe of decay in the atmosphere.

– Jump scares are few and far between, and even better than that, the scares are patient. There were many times during the film where I felt that I had it predicted as to when someone or something would jump out, only to be duped into hanging on a bit longer before that itch had to be scratched.

– The seamless insertion of this film between chapters 1,2, and 3 of the series. Some sequels often feel unnecessary or even forced with their inclusion, but ‘The Last Key’ doesn’t ever feel shy on what happened before or after this story, without using it as a gimmick to feed into fans of those previous installments.

THE NEGATIVES

– This is a series that accomodates to comedy quite well, but this film certainly isn’t one of those, as Whannell and Sampson’s comic relief duo feel every bit as desperate as they do speedbumps to the progression of this story. Each time a scene focuses on them, it either runs for too long in not cutting to the point, or highlights just how truly insignificant their characters are in this fourth chapter.

– Speaking of Whannell, this is arguably his weakest script to date. I could get over the fact that this film doesn’t continue to elevate the rules of the further like the previous movies, but for a writer to write himself as the guy who saves the group and gets the girl, reeks of shameless self-promotion that hinders the power of the pen.

– Too many characters and not enough exposition for any of them. The film’s introduction focuses on our central three characters, then introduces us to three more in the form of three locals who they meet at a diner, then abandons half of them before the pivotal third act. Bruce Davison’s character in particular feels like a wasted opportunity between him and Shaye to really feed into their secret connection.

– Once again, the ear-shattering jolts that each jump scare exert play like an audible poison for your delicate drums. Thankfully there aren’t many of them in the film, but their level of intensity feels artificial when compared to the noise that would be made by those particular instances. For my money, a violin never shrieks whenever I accidentally run into someone who I didn’t see coming.

– Because this is the second chapter chronologically in the series, the air of predictability can’t help but rear its ugly head. Even worse, Whannell does zero as a screenwriter in remotely subduing this handicap for even a minute, forgetting to instill even a slight bit of urgency or dread in visuals that all but paint the scenario for him.

5/10

Downsizing

The biggest ideas come in the form of the smallest packages, in Alexander Payne’s newest thought-provoking dramedy. ‘Downsizing’ imagines what might happen if, as a solution to over-population, humans could be shrunk to a height of 5 inches (13 cm), after Norwegian scientists discover how to do just that. A 200-year global transition from big to small is proposed, but there is one catch: the procedure cannot be reversed. People soon realize how much further money goes in a miniaturized world, and with the promise of a better life, everyman Paul Safranek (Matt Damon) and wife Audrey (Kristen Wiig) decide to abandon their stressed lives in Omaha in order to become small and move to a new downsized community—a choice that triggers life-changing adventures. To Paul’s horror and outrage, he finds out that Audrey backed out at the last second. After the couple understands that they do not have a future together, they divorce and Paul must now figure out how to start his life over in a completely different world. ‘Downsizing’ is written and directed by Alexander Payne, and is rated R for adult language including sexual references, some graphic nudity and drug use.

Alexander Payne as a director is one of my very favorites going today because no two films of his are similar. When you think about the hits that he has conjured up, like ‘Election’, ‘Sideways’, ‘Nebraska’, and ‘The Descendents’, you think about films that are all different, yet equally as insightful for the kind of deep-seeded message that they all entail. ‘Downsizing’ definitely continues that train of thought, but does it in a way that Payne’s thought-provoking stance might have gotten the best of him. The film certainly questions and debates much of the world’s problems involving over-population, inequality, and even materialism amongst a capitalist society, but those are just ideas, and deep beyond the table dressing, films require a main course for its audience to feast on, and this is the problem that the plagues the second half of this film from ever feeling like social commentary that is ahead of its time. Without a proper destination where the characters and plot can meet and divulge on these ideals, the film feels like a constant reminder instead of the poignant resolution that we all deserve.

As far as world building is concerned, you probably won’t find a film better than ‘Downsizing’ this year. For the entire first half of this picture, Payne as a writer not only prospers the film’s idea of the kind of benefits that being small will have on a personal level, but also in the negativity that it will harbor in wiping record number of citizens from a society that relies on them to do their parts. What I find so poignant about this position from Payne is that he doesn’t lean one way or the other on which side is wrong or right, and instead lets the audience soak in all of the details, and details he lays at the doorstep. I was greatly impressed at how much homework that Payne did in painting this vivid picture from many of the distant angles that require such an immense step in humanity’s progression. The film takes place over the span of many years, feeding into what goes into passing such a procedure, as well as the very precautions of such a procedure in itself that makes this anything but an easy pull of the switch. It was in this area of the film where I couldn’t wait to see where it was headed, and just when I thought I knew what was to come creatively with what Payne was depicting, I fell into such a slouch at how little the film works out for itself in the second half.

This is where the film completely falls apart in my mind. Instead of focusing on the negatives that Paul’s character didn’t see for himself before he made the decision, film introduces and builds around a direction to help everyone else. This is noble intentionally, but feels adjacent to everything that we have learned about the film to this point. In fact, the very mention of Downsizing is limited over the second half of this movie, feeling like you took a second and third act installment from any other movie about environmental distress and attached it to a film about self-prospering. Sure the idea that a person can change is always there, but Paul as a character feels so selfish and easily influenced that I can’t for a second think that he would care this deeply about other people who don’t involve him. To hammer this thought process home, he even tries to elude a Vietmese character that he meets because she has gotten to be too annoying to him. And of course because they are the main focus for male and female characters here, they will of course hook up and become romantic interests for the rest of the film, harboring no chemistry between them that makes this believable even in the slightest.

The visual effects are simple, but effective in depicting this bigger world feel when nothing has changed except the character in question. I say simple because all the production really has to do is film minutes of background with a small camera and display it against the green screen that our live action actors work in front of. If simplicity is what you’re going for with trying to save valuable production costs, then I feel the team here made a great decision, but I can’t help but feel an overwhelming layer of missed opportunities from their decision. Even the audio distortion from a smaller bodied person is included, even though it’s only needed for a couple of times during the first half hour. Besides this, I was slightly disappointed that they really didn’t do a lot of eye-catching effects in the big-versus-small worlds that Paul and company have come and gone from, and even the enormous vodka bottle from the trailers is noticeably missing from the finished product. To add more to the second half handicaps, the final hour is presented from Paul’s level, so needless to say there are no comparisons in artistic integrity that the film could’ve harvested for itself. It’s almost like Payne forgot that this was a film first-and-foremost that centered around this life-altering decision, and that he would instead rather proceed with a 130 minute commercial about environmental responsibility. Snooze.

Most of the central cast is wasted, including Damon whose Paul never inspires us in seeing his suddenly new selfless perspective. When Damon is allowed to be charismatic and let loose on the limited screenplay, he can be quite likeable in his innocence in being alone in a new world, but much of the film requires him to grow up quickly, and there’s just not enough versatility as a lead for his character to prosper on. If that wasn’t enough, there’s a scene that is very much in poor taste with what has recently broken about Damon, in which he makes a move on a sleeping female character. It’s all in bad timing, and does zero in presenting any kind of chemistry long term between them. Hong Chau is probably the most important character to where the film is headed in its later acts, but her character is so Vietmesed-up by the studio that it feels like an almost borderline racially insensitive direction from a writer who doesn’t know better. She’s loud, mispronouncing, and occasionally judging. None of which paint her in the best of lights. Probably the only actor who benefited from this was Christoph Waltz as Paul’s new party-hard neighbor Dushan. At first, I worried that Waltz would be an antagonist of sorts for Damon because (lets be honest) that’s what Waltz does. But as the film progresses, it’s clear that Waltz endures a level of much-needed heart to the film that proves that maybe humanity wasn’t lost in the surgery to go small.

THE VERDICT – ‘Downsizing’ is a big idea plagued by a small execution. With a credible voice like Payne at the helm, it’s a bit of a surprising disappointment that his film feels like a great idea that is speeding to a red light of conformity by the film’s anti-climatic ending. It wastes away a talented cast and thought-provoking introduction for a film about a newly-rich white male caring about the lower class. If that’s not believable, Damon’s bland performance won’t win you over as well, carrying with him a personality that is every bit as small as his newly shrunken size.

5/10

The Shape of Water

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

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

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

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

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

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

9/10

Star Wars: The Last Jedi

The galaxy far away returns for a ninth silver screen installment, this time promoting the end of the Jedi tradition for the greater good. In ‘Star Wars: The Last Jedi’, Rey (Daisy Ridley) develops her newly discovered abilities with the guidance of the longtime missing Luke Skywalker (Mark Hamill), who himself is unsettled by the strength of her powers. Rey seeks to find her place in the bigger galaxy where she lacks a clear and defined fate due to her family’s anonymity. Meanwhile, the Resistance prepares to do battle with the First Order after Kylo Ren (Adam Driver) escapes death, and plans a journey en route to crushing the union that is currently being led by his own Mother (Carrie Fischer). ‘Star Wars: The Last Jedi’ is written and directed by Rian Johnson, and is rated PG-13 for sequences of sci-fi action and violence, including peril.

In its ninth and most explosive chapter, Star Wars continues to re-define itself in ways that George Lucas could’ve only dreamed when he penned the 1975 original. This time, it’s Rian Johnson’s turn, and while Johnson sometimes over-indulges on fan service, there’s plenty here to love for fans young and old that have handed these series of films down as a generational affair. For his capabilities to dabble in twice the involvement with this picture, Johnson constructs a series of different train tracks in plot that each add a rumble of momentum to the continuous pulse that the film continues through an ambitious runtime of nearly two-and-a-half hours, the single longest film of the series to date. Each of these tracks twist and turn with enough surprises and jaw-dropping moments to give each of them their own turn at controlling the pacing, but it’s in their crash collision that stacks the suspense accordingly and really drives the endless fun and worthy payoff for the twelve months between that we have to wait for the next one. This isn’t a perfect film by any stretch of the imagination, but the positives of Johnson’s artistic scope and widening of character depth, reminds us that this series is only getting started, and the force is strong with the future.

For how ‘The Force Awakens’ introduced us to these new complex characters in a kind of interviewing for the job type of atmosphere, ‘The Last Jedi’ feels like the hiring process, in that we are seeing what each of them has to offer for the spectrum. The story is divided into three different angles with each of them playing a pivotal role to where the film ends up at the heart of this terrifying and brutally violent war being played out. Rey’s story with Luke is continued from the final scene of ‘The Force Awakens’, and it becomes clear that while Rey seeks Luke’s guidance in maintaining the force, it is the teacher who requires the youthful exubberance of his student in inspiring him to live again. The second tier involves Kylo Ren at a crossroads with his inevitable destiny. It was in this subplot where I felt the film had the most to offer in terms of depth, and it’s refreshing to see that good and evil in this universe can’t always be defined by a color, let alone a single action. The final involves Finn (Played by John Boyega) and his newly formed sidekick Rose (Played by Kelly Marie Tran). There’s been much negativity surrounding this subplot, mainly because of how it fits with the other two, but I found it to be much needed for the impact that it placed in fighting the dark side. Is it convoluted at some points? Absolutely, but the endless energy and distinct adult tone of some adult-like fight scenes complete with consequences, constantly kept the bar of expectations elevated throughout some occasional dragging.

My biggest problem with the film isn’t just in the excess runtime, because I feel like the film’s pacing stays firmly tight until the final forty minutes, it’s in where the film finishes that left me kind of with a sour taste. For every riveting blow of battle that is felt throughout, the third act ends on what feels like a stalemate, taking the easy way out in the name of fan service to con the audience into thinking a lot was answered. Besides this, there’s much about the second act, particularly that with Finn and Rose’s adventure on her former planet that definitely could’ve used an edit button. It’s weird because the film feels like this dog with an endless appetite who doesn’t know when to stop eating, then feels bloated when time and reaction starts to set in. There was never a point in the film where I was truly bored, but so much of what transpires feels repetitious to the smooth pacing that Johnson overall masters soundly considering it is 147 minutes, and I feel nothing would be sacrificed with an even two hour film that would definitely keep the audience on their toes.

Not all is a loss however, as the involvement of composer John Williams, as well as cinematographer Steve Yedlin combine in establishing the single most beautifully decadent Star Wars film to date. Williams is always someone who feels more in tune (pardon the pun) than anyone else with this universe, and his score here rumbles through our endless enthusiasm with a versatile score that beats to the drum of several diverse and varied atmospheric landscapes faithfully. It’s gotten to the point that I couldn’t imagine this series without the melodic tones by John that cements that big screen feel. As for Yedlin, I was blown away by the breathtaking scope that he and Johnson team up for in articulating the wide range of color and construction of many establishing shots. The wide angles in space deserve a pause button so you can embrace them in all of their immense details. But not to be outdone are the adrenaline-fueled war sequences in all of their fast-paced glory. There’s a sense in the air that if you blink you might miss something vital, but the strategy involved with gaining on your opposition becomes prevalent the more we see force meet object. But even despite the wide range of color and structure involved with the space scenes, it was the interior shots involving Snoke’s layer that perplexed me with their personal touches of color coordination that beautifully decorated each chance to soak it all in.

I mentioned earlier that this feels like an adult oriented chapter in the Star Wars legacy, and nothing could be more evident than some of the eye-catching visuals that will surprise even the most dedicated of fans. I’ll be blunt here without spoiling anything, there are some very graphic death scenes that I can imagine pushed the boundaries of the PG-13 rating that adorns the film. If I have a say, I think the series needs more of this, as the one problem that I’ve constantly had with these films are the lack of consequences involved in some pretty high stakes gambling of lives for all considered. Johnson does enough to place the urgency firmly where it is needed, and I commend Disney for sitting back and letting a master work his magic in feeling confident that he knows his vision better than anyone.

Finally, the performances brought the thunder for the mostly returning cast, but also opened our eyes to some new favorites who are no stranger to the Hollywood A-list. Laura Dern, Benecio Del Toro, and Lupita Nyongo are just a few to be introduced to the Star Wars legacy, and each of them thrive under the pressures of the spotlight of being cast in a series that they grew up with. One cool thing that hit me over and over again was the casting of Carrie Fisher’s real life daughter Billie Lourd as Lieutenant Connix, one of Leia’s coveted right hands on board. It’s very sureal to see the two sharing screens together, and it offers a heartfelt sentiment knowing that in Carrie’s final film she got to share the screen with her own flesh and blood. Daisy Ridley still kicks total ass as Rey, feeling like the female heroine that so many little girls need in embracing their own inspiration. The scenes between her and Hamill are my absolute favorite of the movie, but there was also no denying the magnetic chemistry that she shared with Adam Driver (As Kylo Ren), even if some scenes had a sexual awkwardness to them in the funniest of depictions. Driver is much better here than his dive in ‘The Force Awakens’, and it’s nice when the film lets him toe that line psychologically in a game of head versus heart.

THE VERDICT – Disney’s third take on its legendary property yields energetic force and stylistic ecstacy for fans of any age group who seek the best in visual spectrum to add to its lifetime of personalities. The film sometimes stretches character arc’s for a bit too long, and the ending itself is one of the least satisfying for me in terms of emphasis in conclusion, but there’s no denying the growth in characters as a result of some sharp twists that shape this as the enthralling thrill-ride of the holiday season. It’s a reminder that each chapter (or episode) peels back another layer in the discovery for who we really are.

8/10

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.

7/10

Thor: Ragnarok

The devastation from the ruins of Asgaard brings Thor back home, in ‘Thor: Ragnarok’. Thor (Chris Hemsworth) arrives in Asgard after hearing about trouble within his home world, and when he arrives he finds Loki’s (Tom Hiddleston) style of ruling (while impersonating Odin) has led to some lapses in the rules and leads to the freeing of prisoner Hela (Cate Blanchett). Thor and Hela naturally come to blows when they meet, which sees Thor “blasted” to Sakaar, described as “a barbaric planet ruled by the charming but nefarious Grandmaster (Jeff Goldblum).” There he meets Valkyrie (Tessa Thompson), who is hiding out on the planet, and brings him to the Grandmaster to make him a gladiator, where he meets the most popular competitor in the arena, The Hulk (Mark Ruffalo), and loses his trademark hair and hammer, giving way to a bigger, badder God of war than ever before. ‘Thor: Ragnarok’ is directed by Taika Waititi, and is rated PG-13 for intense sequences of sci-fi violence and action, and brief suggestive material.

What Taika Waititi has done here for the Thor franchise of films is nothing short of miraculous, and is deserving of all of the praise that only a prestigious director of his caliber can grant. In his re-vitalizing third chapter in this series, Waititi has instilled the fun to a series that frankly was struggling with a mediocre second movie that took itself and its characters a bit too seriously. In his pitch, it was his intention to bring the imagination back to this genre, reminding faithful comic book fans of the kind of antsy anticipation that can only come with bringing these storyboards to life. ‘Ragnarok’ is that breath of fresh air that reminds us how FUN superhero movies are supposed to be, offering a firework of a spectacle in production, as well as a light-hearted atmosphere in material and tone that pushes towards the comedy genre fruitfully with a consistency of laughs that never quit swinging. Even more enriching is the fact that these laughs don’t soil or overstay their welcome at any point in the film. They are well-delivered, well-timed, and well-preserved when you consider that they do no harm to the film’s serious direction when it requires it. Waititi proves that he was the best man for the job, and the many pros of his entertaining installment is deserving of future re-watches that this critic will inevitably hand over the money for.

What ‘Guardians of the Galaxy’ did for colorful insertion and artistic stroke in its film, ‘Ragnarok’ ups the ante even further, providing a wondrous stage that beats at the heart of this foreign planet. This impressive series of shots within war sequences are so beautifully decadent that they could all easily be swinging within a picture frame at your local museum, they are that impressive. The film’s usage of slowed down depictions is valued, mainly because it never reaches too often for the gimmick, nor does it feel like it hinders the fluidity in progression of these detailed sequences. The sound mixing and editing throw in two valued cents of thunderous impact for good measure. Hell, Even the style choices for wardrobe sport designs that are entirely out of this world. The film dabbles its commitment to planet building accordingly, and does so with a practical presentation of futuristic ensembles that really treat the eye to some visual candy that can perfectly set the precedent for the landscape faithfully. It all does its part to crafting one of the very best production values that Marvel or any film of this decade can respectfully tip their hats to.

The music deserves its own praise for the subtlety to versatility that has a few tricks of its own up the sleeves of award winning children’s composer Mark Mothersbaugh. Keeping with the miles in parallel locations over the progression of the film, Mark tightly hones his own soundtrack to each of the respective planets with enough opposition in their impacts to feel the differences in each range. While on Asgaard, the orchestral influence of horns and trumpets pay homage to that of battle-cries that feed into this planet of warriors. While on Sakaar, there’s kind of an overthrow of techno break beats and technological sampling to relay the idea of a futuristic prism that is at stake here. I don’t want to say much else besides that because the best treat of all takes place during Thor’s hallucination before meeting The Grandmaster (Played wonderfully by the versatile Jeff Goldblum), and if you pay attention carefully you can see a hinted paying of respects to our favorite lunatic candy maker. I’ve already said too much.

This is also a story that while it does take place in a galaxy far away, does hint on some familiar territory in themes that really strike an honest chord with where the series is heading. Sibling rivalry, self-discovery, and even retribution are all taken paths that the film explores with unshakeable persistence in going a long way to working overtime for this outstanding pacing that runs slightly over two hours. To say I was entertained thoroughly is an understatement. Truth be told, ‘Ragnarok’ is that rare occasion where I gave myself over completely to the roller-coaster within, and was rewarded with some timely surprises and narrative twists that surprised even someone like me who can usually pick these things out of a trailer with ease. The minor problems that I had with the screenplay are barely worth mentioning, but they do knock it down a point when everything else feels so perfect. Mostly it’s the lack of explanation in some key scenes like Loki’s faked death or Thor and Hulk’s fight that is sampled heavily in the trailer. On the latter, it is explained that they must fight to the death, so how could they both possibly get out of this arena with their heads? Besides this, the only other problem I had was with the antagonist. I loved Blanchett’s performance, and I’ll get to that in a minute, but the film realizes that her exposition-heavy appearances are definitely the least interesting aspect of the movie, and as a result kind of forgets about her character midway through the second act. There is a noticeable half hour where her character goes missing, proving that while Marvel might be headed in the right direction with the depth of its villains, they still are leap years away on bottling it up as a perfect formula.

And finally, perhaps the most valuable aspect is in the impressive collection of talented actors who all make a presence felt. The most difficult thing to attain is giving an ensemble this big each a worthy task to appreciate their inclusion, and thankfully Waititi knows the kind of motivation in attaining the best in each of them. Hemsworth definitely feels more open-up in personality and demeanor that reflects a side of his frequent time up to this point on the planet Earth. Hemsworth has such a command over the timing of reactions when it comes to the laughs, making Thor every bit as charismatic as Tony Stark. Cate Blanchett was menacing and able to add an acclaimed side to Marvel villains that has rarely been seen to this point. There’s a big plot twist for her character early on in the film, and thankfully it was setting the motions of equality in plot structure to match her best kind of Malificient impression that beats out even Jolie with ease. Also great to see Hiddleston back again as my favorite low-life Loki. Where Hemsworth commands the time for humor, Hiddleston visually puppeteers it, earning much hearty laughter to the way his straight man reacts to some less than flattering news. I would be lying though, if I said any of these actors were my favorite performance of ‘Ragnarok’, as that belongs to Tessa Thompson commanding the viciously delicious Valkyrie. Thompson provides an air for female moviegoers in this role that they have rarely seen so far in Marvel, and Thompson’s alcoholic-laced anti-hero demands her own movie. What I found so rewarding about her character is that with much exposition, we find this is every bit a revenge plot for her as it is anyone else in the film. Without Valkyrie, much would be lost in the way of the past that comes back to haunt throughout this film, and Tessa is happy to oblige with a performance that proves she can kick ass just as good as she shakes it in that leather number. Mmmm mmmm mmmm

THE VERDICT – ‘Thor: Ragnarok’ is a colorfully constructed space opera that swings for the fences because of Taika Waititi’s concentrated direction that results in a fresh reset button for the franchise. There’s an air of spoof on the over-saturation of the superhero genre that may or may not have overstayed its welcome, but the tickling of our senses proves effective none the less, making this easily the best of the Thor franchise, and one of the more versatile comic book plots of the previous decade. If this is where superhero films are headed, strap in and enjoy the ride. Thor has finally earned his throne.

9/10

All I See Is You

The future of one rocky relationship becomes clearer, in ‘All I See Is You’. Written and directed by Marc Forster, this psychological drama, defies genre to tell this obsessive love story. Gina (Blake Lively) & husband James (Jason Clarke) have an almost perfect marriage. After being blinded as a child in a nearly fatal car crash, Gina exclusively depends on James to feel and “see” the world around her, and it appears only to solidify their extremely passionate relationship. She envisions the world in her own vivid imagination with help from James’ descriptions. While the two enjoy a colorful existence living in Bangkok, their life and relationship are upended after Gina receives a corneal transplant & regains her sight. With her restored vision, Gina experiences the world with a new sense of wonder & independence which James finds threatening. It is only when Gina suddenly begins to lose her sight again that she finally realizes the disturbing reality of their marriage and their lives. ‘All I See Is You’ is rated R for strong sexual content/nudity, and adult language.

Not all meets the eye with ‘All I See Is You’, a film so void of story direction that it often walks into walls during the progression of its 105 minute runtime. Marc Forster’s newest film is one that has been on the shelf for nearly three years, shuffling from studio to studio before finally being buried in the late October graveyard of forgettable releases. Does this one live up to that syntax? Very much so. I don’t want to say that this film is pointless because there are a couple of positives that I want to mention later on, but this film struggles so repeatedly in finding a competently comfortable tone and story direction that fires on all cylinders creatively at the same time. Considering that this is written and directed by the same man, it’s appalling that this film has such a disconnect from one aspect of the film to the next, leaving each area of production scurrying in contradicting stances that makes it all feel like a vicious victim of the hack-and-slash surgical jobs that studios have been known to make when they lack the kind of confidence that comes with a big screen release.

First of all is the story so jumbled that it feels like our main character suffers from amnesia, as opposed to being blind. I say that because for about the first forty-five minutes of ‘All I See Is You’, I struggled to even find meaning in the visuals and events that I was being shown. At least within the first act of this movie I stayed committed to what little was actually transpiring, but the second and third acts elevate the benign stupidity tenfold. The tone deaf atmosphere immediately shifts from a dramatic tale of adversity to an almost acidic thriller without much context in between. Things happen between this couple that feels very shallow in where the film wants to take the decaying nature of their relationship, so much so that none of their arguments ever feel honest to me in their depictions. There’s a lot of unnecessary sex angles that the film deems necessary in taking advantage of its coveted R-rating, but leaving these aspects in offered very little exposition to where Forster takes us as a writer. The final ten minutes of the movie is so confusing that I had to look up the film on Wikipedia just for the explanation of everything that takes place in its cryptic movements that are sure to not satisfy even the most immersed moviegoers who have taken the unbelievable plunge of hanging on for this long.

The characters and performances are so over the top that it made for an extremely difficult task in supporting any one of them. Blake Lively is definitely the most passable if I had to pick one, but the biggest problem with her detail in being blind is that her eyes still very much move like a person who can see at all times. A great example of being blind in movies is Al Pacino in ‘Scent of a Woman’. Lively gives a lot of energy in her portrayal of Gina, but it’s clear that the limited direction doesn’t give her a lot of time to woo the audience into making this role her own. Jason Clarke again continues to confuse me, because in some films like ‘Lawless’ and ‘Rise of the Planet of the Apes’ he was great, but in ‘All I See Is You’ his character is so detestable even when he’s trying to be admirable that I kept hoping the film wouldn’t cut to him. There is an obvious stance that the film is trying to make with him taking advantage of Gina’s handicap, but even during moments of sincerity, Clarke’s bland personality pushed me to support Lively’s character even when she’s doing some less than flattering things.

Without question, the only thing that keeps my grade for the film being as high as it is, is in the impeccable artistic direction of Forester that provided some truly surreal point-of-view moments in the shoes of Gina. During these sequences of blurry detail, we get such beautifully decadent blasts of colorful eruption that is sure to please the art crowds aplenty. In addition to this, Forester also has his finger on the pulse of the colorful backdrops that envelope this film, blending in gorgeous props of flowers and exotic locations to really feed into Gina’s awakening back in. In fact, the biggest message that I took from the film didn’t come from the jaded screenplay or underdeveloped characters, but instead the artistic merit that hints subtly that we take advantage of the beauty in the world that we see every day. Sometimes the biggest gift is to stop and take it all in because some people aren’t granted the same liberty.

One weird side note that I couldn’t understand during the Gina POV shots was why the film blurs the sound to match the limited visuals that she is seeing. This gives off the impression that Gina is blind AND deaf at the same time, offering a confusing side to detail that the film over-convolutes for its own rules. The sound itself gives off an echo effect that some films can sometimes use to depict someone who is dazed or even underneath some kind of equipment like a helmet to distort what they are hearing. It doesn’t sound like a big deal, but authenticity is everything to this critic, so I couldn’t understand why Gina’s limited visual capacity clouded her other senses that are supposed to be stronger because of the lack of vision. This wasn’t just a one time thing either, the entirety of the blind and near-sighted sequences engage in this aspect of production that makes absolutely zero sense with the rules that are easy enough to understand with this predicament from the get-go.

THE VERDICT – ‘All I See Is You’ is a visually stylish but materially empty psychodrama that superficially dissolves the many chances that is given to Forester to offer something compelling in its circumstance. The pretentious level is so high with this one that moviegoers will need to stick their noses directly up into the air to compliment its shallow delivery that goes nowhere fast. Lively was better suited swimming with the sharks literally, instead of doing it here figuratively.

3/10

Blade Runner 2049

Back in 2019 Los Angeles, things were much easier for the jobs of Blade Runners commanding the actions of replicant androids, but three decades later, one man will take the reigns against the advancement of technology that will paralyze society. Thirty years after the events of the first film, a new determined blade runner, LAPD Officer K (Ryan Gosling), unearths a long-buried secret that has the potential to plunge what’s left of society into chaos. K’s discovery leads him on a quest to seek out and find Rick Deckard (Harrison Ford), a former LAPD blade runner who has been missing from the public eye for 30 years. Along the way, Officer K will investigate the seedy business practices of Niander Wallace (Jared Leto), better known as ‘The Creator’, and the surprising revelation of K’s involvement in it all. ‘Blade Runner 2049’ is directed by Denis Villeneuve, and is rated R for scenes of violence, some sexuality involving nudity, and adult language.

Denis Villenueve is a master magician behind the lens, crafting modern day masterpieces like ‘Sicario’, ‘Prisoners’, and of course my very favorite from him, last year’s ‘Arrival’, which I gave the coveted 10/10 to. But in accepting the job to helm the sequel to one of the most beloved science fiction movies of all time, ‘Blade Runner’, he tests strength in his biggest uphill battle to date. When you consider the adversity of this being thirty-five years after the original, the extremely difficult task of equaling the award-worthy visual presentation of its predecessor, as well as establishing a chapter to the Blade Runner realm without doing damage to that original movie, it certainly seems impossible that this would be anywhere on the same field. But once again Denis proves that he was the first, last, and only choice for the role, as ‘Blade Runner 2049’ is a more than worthy competitor to the kind of lightning in a bottle that originally struck for this series. This is every bit the kind of film that fans of a franchise dream about when they hear a sequel is being made, but rarely often get. I went into this film with the highest of expectations that any normal director would crumble under the pressure of, but Villenueve continues to raise the bar for cinematic experiences that bring back the emphasis in taking in his films on the silver screen, assembling a team of over-achievers that each bring their best to offering not just another replicant.

There’s so much to breakdown with this film, but lets begin first with the story. It’s difficult to dissect without giving anything away, but screenwriters Michael Green and Hampton Francher offer an equally encompassing dive into the themes of what defines a human being. Certainly the trait of one’s soul would be more than enough to establish this narrative, but this film proves that there’s so much more than just what is beating on the inside. The themes of love, loss, personal identity, and even freedom more than add their two cents to the very parallels of what divide us from the replicants here. On top of this, there’s much advancement over the last thirty years in story time that has transpired. In this future, it feels like the replicants have advanced, mirroring human emotional response without any qualms, and the sparse humans that roam the Earth are losing what articulately defines them as the envied race. It’s smart to market so much backstory (Including three online shorts that fill in the gaps of the transpired events prior to the film) surrounding these ideals, and there’s so much concrete social commentary within its grasp that offers a glance at the similarities within our own world that are still evident even in this Los Angeles. Most future movies center around themes and ideals that feel like decades away, but Green and Francher provide stern warnings that these environmental issues are closer than we may think.

What I love is that no matter how much material and pinpoints that this screenplay has to hit, it does so in a way that feels entirely satisfying to those seeking answers to the questions that come up. Villenueve is known for his cryptic approach in his movies, challenging the audience to feed into their own theories, but in ‘Blade Runner 2049’, it feels like the answers are always presented in a way that offers little debate. This is certainly a different take from the original film, as many have speculated Rick Deckard’s authenticity since it aired in 1982. But much of the answers are presented early on during the first act. It’s important to pay attention during this time because many of the establishing minutes focus on foreshadowing that will play an important role later on. It certainly feels different to have a detective story with all of the answers almost immediately, but even in knowing the ends to the means, I still found myself perplexed at how this film surprised me over and over again, presenting a contrasting angle to the kind of truths that I already knew without falsifying the scene narration. Speaking of narration, if I did have one tiny problem with the film, it is once again in the overstepping in boundaries that the rare audio narration sometimes provides. This was a big problem in the original movie, and during the third act of this film I feel that yet again it tries to hard to force-feed the audience into knowing the emotional response in the head of K without giving us much time to soak it in. I think the performances are so strong that none of this feels necessary, and I’m thankful it only occurs in a few scenes later on.

As for some of those performances, this ensemble cast prove that there’s no such thing as big or small parts, just impactful ones. Ryan Gosling feels catered for this role. In commanding K, Gosling feels like a product of his weathered environment in personality, as there’s no sign of satisfaction or defining trait that establishes him being happy with his life, emoting a great underlying sadness in his situation that blurs the definition of slavery that I really connected to. Jared Leto was also valuable in fronting the antagonist of sorts in Niander Wallace. Truth be told, Leto is only in three scenes during the movie, but his lasting impression is one of great money and power that center around the legitimacy of what he is doing with the Nexus program. The visual darkness that surrounds his character is more than just a clever metaphor for what Niander has done with this business, and Leto’s almost robotic delivery will have you hanging on his every word. The favorite for me however, was definitely Sylvia Hoeks as Luv, Niander’s trusty right hand replicant. Luv partakes in all of the dirty work for the antagonists of the film, especially with Leto’s noticeable absence during the second act, but she is more than up to the task. Luv is the kind of female antagonist that ushers in a refreshing combination of exuberant confidence, as well as deadly muscle to make her a more than a worthy representation of feminist progression during modern times. Hoeks steals every scene that she is in, giving forth to the inevitable threat that is hot on the tail of K and company. A taste in direction that is better suited with a woman’s touch.

But what Blade Runner sequel would be a success without an entrancing visual stage that pops the eyes without the use of 3D technology? Enter the best cinematographer working today, Roger Deakins, as well as one of the very best musical composers of all time in film, Hans Zimmer. Together, these two set the mood in stage and sound that transfixed me in ways that made me want to pause the film to soak in every epic shot for just a bit longer. This has always been my favorite fantasy landscape in film, and Deakins presence behind the screen captures a barrage of visual enticements during every shot that casts great replay value during its brief fly-by’s. The duo of Zimmer and Deakins are so in-sync here that they often feel like the same person, crafting a presence of beauty and despair equally in sight and sound at the beginning of every establishing shot that rivets your immersion into these foreign backdrops. Deakins scope has never been bigger, but it’s in his lighting for each scene that offers a diversity of color that never limits him to just one shade. Despite being computer generated for the most part, his manipulation of natural light feels authentic in a kind of stained glass kind of feel to the sequences, providing the important emphasis that color constructs in appropriately setting the mood. The sound as well is Oscar worthy, vibrating the tones of Zimmer to pulse-setting levels of diversity in instrumentals that constantly always give that sense of dread in the air. It was a dream team combination to see and hear these two together, and because of their importance to a film so wrapped in presentation, you couldn’t have chosen two better men for the job.

THE VERDICT – The best kind of sequels are the ones that establish the importance of its own chapter while adding depth to the original, and ‘Blade Runner 2049’ is the rare example of a perfectly crafted science fiction film that will equally stand the test of time to its predecessor for its own wondrous reasons. Through nearly three concentrated hours of epic cyberpunk presentations and imaginative thought-provoking material, Villenueve spins a spellbinding immersion of biblical proportions that doesn’t require nostalgia in getting its feet wet. One of few films that must be seen in theaters, and one of the only that this critic will see again.

10/10

Flatliners

An allegiance of friends obsessed with death fight for a pulse in the remake of the 1990 original, ‘Flatliners’. For this chapter, the film takes place more than two decades after the events of those prior efforts. Five medical students hoping to gain insight into the mystery of what lies beyond the confines of life, embark on a daring and dangerous experiment. By stopping their hearts for short periods of time, each triggers a near-death experience. As the investigation becomes more and more perilous, they are forced to confront the sins of their pasts, as well as contend with the paranormal consequences of trespassing to the other side. The film stars Ellen Page, Diego Luna, and Nina Dobrev. It is directed by Niels Arden Oplev, and is rated PG-13 for violence and terror, sexual content, language, thematic material, and some drug references.

Are there no bounds for what films can be remade in the 21st century? It used to be good films were the only ones worthy of a re-imagining, but now it seems that even the forgettable flock of barely twenty five year old films are up for grabs in the race between studios that can’t create an original idea between them. The 1990 version of ‘Flatliners’ felt like it had some thought-provoking ideas about the afterlife and what it all leads to, but ultimately fell short in expanding the original premise into something greater for discussionary purposes. If you thought that film lacked the pursuing of imagination, the 2017 remake will appall you for how much grasping at straws is happening here. It’s not a terrible film, just terribly boring and full of exposition plot holes that ultimately gives it that rushed feeling into embarking on cheap thrills for the kiddies just before the Halloween season. On that tainted direction, and because it was made in 2017, this is yet another example of a film that suffers from a suffocating cloud of jump scares that ultimately serve no purpose in furthering the horror aspects, and counteracts everything from the sci-fi part of the movie that slowly fades away with each following scene.

The story surrounds our five central protagonists, four of which gamble with death and bring back a few sparse positives that pay off this unnatural obsession with the afterlife. I say few because from this film you barely see a positive side to their awakening other than they are remotely smarter, a trait that doesn’t make sense when you combine it with the fact that brain damage sets in after you’ve been dead for four minutes. In fact, when you hear that statement you can start to map out the fictional antagonist that will pursue our latest collection of sexy moron doctors for our satisfaction; everything going on is in their heads. I say this because the movie keeps it a mystery for all of about ten minutes, before giving away the answer from the outsiders perspective in seeing these kids basically fighting with themselves. One such scene that made absolutely no sense to me was a male of the group being stabbed with a knife on his hand that shows up immediately in the next scene as bandaged. How is this possible if it is playing out in his mind? Sure, one could point to the Freddy Krueger dream theory, but there is no physical antagonist here unlike Krueger, so the only way that could physically happen is if the guy stabbed himself, which is a little difficult when he doesn’t have a knife and is swimming for his life when it happens.

Because this group has to experience everything together, there’s a clouded barrage of expositional scenes in the first act that embrace redundancy in a way that doesn’t speed it up or make it any more compelling for the audience with each person’s dive. This makes up roughly almost the entire first half of the movie, saving what little thrills the movie does have for late in the second act, at which case I was entirely bored and over this whole thing by that point. As for the obstacle itself within this film, if you thought ‘Final Destination’ was a bit of a stretch, this film takes it to new levels. I was so disappointed with the final act of this movie and the logic into what goes into defeating concrete brain damage that I couldn’t help but laugh. Even for a science fiction film, this movie feels like it is being written by the writers as it goes along, ushering us to a finale that is every bit as forgettable as it is inconsequential. If I do have two positives with the screenplay it is in the shock factors that happen that don’t exactly add anything to the film, but certainly made me stumble in my tracks of conventional predictability that the film was faithfully riding until those points. One is a cameo by a noticeable actor from the original film, and one is an event that shifts the film into totally different circumstances than I was legitimately ready for. It’s unfortunate that the film never finds a suitable identity after this, but there is the promise that you could’ve seen something of possibility from a movie not afraid to take chances.

The production for the film is very one-note and safe in the artistic expression that it garners from scene to scene. The most evidence of this comes in the free-flowing feel of a collection of scenes that hold very little weight in the way they are edited. I mentioned that stabbing scene a while ago, and the way it is put together and sequenced gives it very little weight in the atmosphere of speeding to the 103 minute mark. The character takes the knife, yells in pain, and I kid you not, in the very next cut is out to dinner with the entire group not discussing the borderline paranormal assault that he just took, but instead to discuss something entirely unrelated to the previous scene. And that’s the biggest hurdle that ‘Flatliners’ is going to face. It feels primed to forget about itself and the undercooked sequences of events long before its audience has a chance. There’s ultimately no faith in this script or presentation that makes me ever want to watch it again, and very little fun with poking at those plot holes that I mentioned that remind you just how little in terms of cinematic expectations is really at play here.

This is an exceptionally talented and youthfully vibrant cast, but their efforts are sadly wasted with very little opportunity to standout in this muddled effort. One thing I can say positively is that Diego Luna is my favorite character here, not because he seems to be the only one thinking with logic, but because he feels like the underdeveloped leader who serves as the voice of reason between them. Luna was the only character who was enjoyable for me because his heart was miles upon anyone else, and yet sadly he received the least amount of backstory between the five characters. Ellen Page is basically the central character of the film, for it is her we are introduced into this film with, but the movie doesn’t remain committed to her cause in a troubled past, and only returns to it when it is absolutely necessary in using to fill the gap between artificial jump scares. Kiersey Clemons is someone who I am falling in love with in each passing film, and for a second it looked like I could feel strong empathy to her cause here, but she plays this character as too innocent and safe to ever believe some of the second act turns that the movie has for her. It sadly wastes the biggest rising star between this cast that could’ve at least pushed an entirety of likability in a film of rough takeaways.

THE VERDICT – Arden Oplov’s science fiction thriller suffocates under a lethal combination of tireless redundancy and never ending boredom from a dependency of tireless jump scares that requires a strong dose of adrenaline to get the heart of this story pumping again. This one is desperate for a pulse, but never finds the complimentary identity necessary in justifying its existence, dooming it dead on arrival before it ever hit the theaters. The term ‘Flatliners’ has now become synonymous with the word ‘Bland’, and we have yet another wasted remake to a film nobody holds close to their heart to thank for it. DIALYSIS…….Pull the plug.

3/10

Kingsman: The Golden Circle

The world’s most intricate group of spies become that much more versatile in ‘Kingsman: The Golden Circle’. “Kingsman: The Secret Service” introduced the world to Kingsman, an independent, international intelligence agency operating at the highest level of discretion, whose ultimate goal is to keep the world safe. In “Kingsman: The Golden Circle,” our heroes face a new challenge. When their headquarters are destroyed and the world is held hostage, their journey leads them to the discovery of an allied spy organization in the US called Statesman, dating back to the day they were both founded. In a new adventure that tests their agents’ strength and wits to the limit, these two elite secret organizations band together to defeat a ruthless common enemy, in order to save the world, something that’s becoming a bit of a habit for Eggsy (Taron Egerton). ‘Kingsman: The Golden Circle’ is written and directed by Matthew Vaughn, and is rated R for sequences of strong violence, drug content, adult language throughout and some sexual material.

Matthew Vaughn’s 2014 surprise hit of the season, ‘Kingsman: The Secret Service’ was everything and more for an action comedy that introduced us to how cool this secret society can really be, in all of its gadgets and gizmos that bring up the rear of a taut shoot-em-up. For all of its positives and negatives, ‘The Golden Circle’ falls into the category that I refer to as ‘Sequelitis’. This refers to a series second chapter that is bigger in budget, overdone in celebrity cameos, and thrives off of the material that made the initial effort original in its depiction. This film definitely does all of this in a manner that feels like Vaughn just can’t help but show off his studio approved budget that is nearly twice of the 81 million that he was approved for in the first film. Kingsman doesn’t need all of this if the fun is still there, which for the most part I can say that ‘The Golden Circle’ is still an infectious good time that combines the pacing of a spy thriller with the fun atmosphere of a modern day comic book. But getting out of the shadow of its original, better structured predecessor is an inescapable trap that Vaughn places himself in and can’t find the secret door out.

Clocking in at nearly two and a half hours is certainly no easy feat for any film to accomplish, so as a screenwriter Vaughn has an uphill battle to climb with keeping the audience firmly paced while riding on the edge of their seats for some top budget theatrics in fight sequences. We’ll get to the latter in a bit, but the former gives us enough material in subplots and adversity for our fellow Kingsman to fill two movies. This feeling is made even more obvious with hiking across the globe multiple times during the film that doesn’t add up to the Kingsman’s American invasion within this plot. For my thought process, I would’ve left Firth’s return as an integral part of a possible third film, giving it time to breathe and effect the psychological growth of Eggsy for an entire film. It’s easy to find so much of this redundancy in exposition expendable, especially for that of Moore’s antagonist Poppy who overstays her welcome almost immediately. So much so that as the antagonist, the film forgets about her for nearly an hour before returning to these scenes only when it’s mandatory to advance the chase. The pacing feels particularly uneven between the second and third acts when we stick to one landscape mission for extended periods of time, giving us little room to breathe when a scene feels like it has run for far too long. It’s easy to see where you could cut a half hour off of this movie and not lose a thing, mainly because this introduction to the statesman feels like an origin story that the film isn’t fully committed to pursuing. Outside of Pascale’s Whiskey character, there’s very little impact or weight that any of them have to this chapter, making their introductions all the more time filler.

Where the material does work is in the underlying drug epidemic plot that Vaughn springs upon us almost halfway into the movie. I found this not only relatable to the current problems that are bending and breaking our own real world structure, but also responsibly bitter in the thought-provoking stance that Vaughn proposes to the audience watching at home. Matthew’s war on the current drug trade reveals how this problem, no matter how dirty or ineffective that it feels to some of us, is our problem, and it’s ours to deal with by our own compassion. This gives the film something more than just a typical action flick that many of us have come to see, and I always grade with the curve when a film that is supposed to be dumbed down can lean in from time to time with a poignant approach. The mentor approach from Eggsy to Harry is also one that elated me with the kind of heart and chemistry that proves how far these protagonists have grown in two movies. Harry feels like the dad that Eggsy never had, and where ‘The Secret Service’ was Eggsy’s teenage years, ‘The Golden Circle’ feels like our grown man who has finally bloomed into a leader, and oh boy what a transformation it has been.

As for the action sequences, they are still shot eloquently enough in high definition to radiate that of a comic book feel. Where I feel that Vaughn succeeds in his choreography and camera style as opposed to someone like Zack Snyder is that Vaughn can slow things down just enough to where it doesn’t feel like a matrix spoof and gear the audience ready for the blow that is about to be dealt, while bracing for what’s to come next in the background. Because of this, the first scene of the film is a personal highlight for me, echoing to the sounds of Prince’s ‘Let’s Go Crazy’ for enticement. If the action sequences have one problem, particularly later in the film, it’s that their C.G capabilities can sometimes manufacture the scenes to look like one collective take. Where this feels like a problem is some of the illustrations of characters can sometimes come off as jarringly hollow, and the punches feel like they lack detection outside of their quick movements. Thankfully, the camera angles stay consistent and everything is telegraphed precisely from the audience, but some of these scenes could use more of a practical approach to their gain, leaving a lot of the big screen magic to the pros who train for this kind of thing.

On the subject of those pros comes some winners and losers on the grand spectrum of this A-list ensemble that hit the screen. First the positives; Taron Eggerton is again a delicious slice of personality and confidence that highlight how far this troublemaker has come from his early days. Taron is the one performer we have seen transform the most, so we feel beneficial any time his tinsel overtakes center stage in going toe to toe with some very accomplished actors. Colin Firth is also a welcome breath of fresh air, even if I didn’t fully agree with how he was brought back in this film logically. As a performer, Firth’s soft spoken demeanor embody everything that Kingsman stand for, but it’s in his slow-peeling psyche of a man trying to get everything back where we embrace that vulnerability for once and show a slice of a man who is broken and on the way to being fixed. Pedro Pascale as Whiskey is probably the best new addition to the team, mainly because he’s the one that doesn’t feel like just a cameo. There’s a bit of a tortured past with his character, and Pascale’s morale disposition makes his wild card of a character a thrill to watch when comparing actions to that of the Kingsman. Outside of these three, everyone else was quite expendable to me. There’s celebrity singer cameos for the hell of it that very much overstay their welcome, and then there’s celebrity cameos who are supposed to be an integral part of the script, but don’t make enough of an impact due to shoddy screen time dedication. To this degree, Channing Tatum, Halle Berry, Jeff Bridges, and especially Julianne Moore are all pointless to this film. Moore is the antagonist, yes, but her character is so poorly written and a bit of a male shovanist infused female that it’s easy to ever engage in her squeaky clean villain with something lurking beneath the eyes. Moore is an amazing actress, but I found her performance here to be unconvincing and forceful to the degree that the film’s momentum stalls every time she’s on screen.

THE VERDICT – ‘The Golden Circle’ is still the same fun and wild ride helmed by Vaughn that made its predecessor one of the most talked about movies of 2014. But this overstuffed and often times over-budgeted production can take something unique for all of its original quirks and transform it into something nearly unrecognizable for its convoluted directions. I do feel that there is enough magic in the performances of the trio listed above, as well as a timely social message, to expell a majority of the negatives, but if there is a third movie, it would be best to not overthink what puts this sassy satire ahead of the bullet.

6/10

Friend Request

College is hard enough, but the biggest difficulty of a young girl’s life is when she accepts A mysterious ‘Friend Request’ that turns her scholastic days into nightmare nights. In only his first American big screen presentation, writer and director Simon Verhoeven’s plight against social media revolves around Laura (Alycia Debnam-Carey), a popular college girl who is very active on social media websites, sharing almost everything in her daily life with her more than 800 friends on Facebook. However, after accepting a friend request from an unknown girl named Marina, Laura soon becomes obsessed with Marina’s profile, and soon her friends begin to die violently one by one because of Laura’s prodding. Who is behind this devastation, and at what end will they take it? ‘Friend Request’ is rated R for horror violence, disturbing imagery, and adult language.

What is there really to say about a C-level horror movie that has been on the shelf for three years, and then finally released to the public with little to no accompanying trailers or promos? It’s everything I expected and more. ‘Friend Request’ had A chance to produce something decent, not great, but decent in its twisting of the revenge plot for A modern day social media exploit. Most recently we have seen this in 2015’s ‘Unfriended’, which was A much better film than this despite its own limited capabilities, but ‘Friend Request’ feels like the movie that we were supposed to get from that earlier film, and is now doomed for a mainstay in the straight to DVD shelves for the rest of eternity. From every aspect of the film’s production, it feels very underwhelming and uninspiring even for mainstream horror. I see plenty of these kind of movies every year, and it’s rare that I can’t find at least something to promote positively from within them, but ‘Friend Request’ is that exception to the rule, ushering in A shameful 91 minute commercial for Facebook in web design, without having the monetary value to mention the name.

The idea in execution is to narrate that our main protagonist is quickly having her friends wiped away in real life while coincidentally having her friends on Facebook unfriend her because of the viciousness that this ghost has been posting on her page under her screen name. Her family and friends grow aggravated that she would post these murders of her closest friends, therefore alienating her from everyone and making her like Marina. Without getting into personal feelings for how stupid and pointless this is, I can say that what doesn’t work in particular with this plot for me are IP addresses and how easy it is to locate where A computer with A campus encrypted code really is, and the overall absence of logic that makes you wonder why any of these braindead morons would think Laura would ever post something so incriminating to her own name is baffling. It makes absolutely no sense, but that’s the world that we’re living in with ‘Friend Request’ and all of its stretched imagination even for a horror film. On top of it all, even calling it a horror film is A stretch at times because this film does covet the abnormal R-rating for today’s standards, but doesn’t do anything remotely tingling or eye-catching to earn this mark. For my money, I’m guessing the language comes more into play than the violence because the death scenes aren’t even shown to us. We get the build-up, and then a cut right before we see how they’re done in. There is blood, but I wouldn’t say it’s anything that you haven’t seen if you’ve ever seen A horror movie in your life. This all makes the presentation of an hour and A half feel like twice that, and I literally couldn’t wait to finish my viewing.

This is also some of the very worst post production in A film that I have seen in my six years as A film critic. The editing is offensive on almost every level of measurement, cutting scenes far too soon from useful exposition, as well as offering some truly head-scratching moments that were left in the finished product. I can’t tell you how many times this film angered me to the point that I wish it would just pace itself in any of its scenes and just tell A story or exchange fruitfully. Most especially in the first act, each scene just rushes through like it’s trying to set A record for most scenes in a ten minute stretch. There’s very few establishing shots at the beginning of every scene, and it often feels like we’ve stumbled into A conversation between these friends where we’ve missed the first few lines. As for what is left in that shouldn’t, I stumbled on unintentional laughter on more than one occasion involving an unnecessary close-up on A character that was completely unflattering. There’s one scene between A friend of Laura’s who clearly has A crush on her, and when he sees her the camera closes up on his reaction, and it looks like he’s seconds from licking his lips LL Cool J style. Was there no possibility at A retake? Or was everything one-and-done because hell, no one cares about horror today except for jump scares, and yes there is plenty of that. The heightened sound enhancement to attain A few shrieks from the audience grew tired about thirty minutes in, when they have decided to waste it on things that didn’t warrant anywhere close to the dark alley beat down that my ears took. Seriously don’t watch this movie with the sound up, it’s testing on the ears and the speakers.

And then there’s the C.G effects, the bulk of which’s speed in fluidity and volume in texture make their respective sequences feel as hollow as the movie’s positive impact. I don’t expect award winning effects from ‘Friend Request’, so don’t get me wrong, but it would be nice for the lighting of said effects to even be on the same filter as their respective surroundings. When you see flying moths, those of which doesn’t even remotely resemble moths, you can’t help but wonder why the art department would even attempt this effect. This is clearly A film that is handicapped at every turn by its miniscule budget, so I would’ve rather the producers kept everything as cheap as possible, and just set the mood by promoting an equally haunting weight in aura to its scenes. C.G effects of this kind will do nothing but standout as an obvious counterfeit negative to the film’s visual levels, so just keep them on the cutting room floor.

But A horror film will be salvageable if it can manage to move you by gripping psychological performances that supplant A keen sense of the suffocating terror that envelopes them. It’s just unfortunate that this rule doesn’t come close to registering here, because the entirety of the amateur group of cast and crew are about as committed to this laughably bad dialogue as A child’s waning attention span. This again contributes to the one take mentality that plagues this film. As Laura, Debnam-Carey lacks the kind of ear-shattering scream or believability in vulnerability that makes her A credible protagonist. Because the film gives us the bare minimum of Facebook screenshots for her exposition, her character couldn’t come across as any more vanilla, and you actually hope that this film will break the void and kill off its main character early because of it. My least favorite character however, was Kobe played by Connor Paolo. Kobe is kind of the computer wiz of the group, so Laura depends on him A lot for help. The problem is that Paolo’s dry and lumbering delivery quickly makes him the subject of many future Youtube mock videos. An entirety of the film is between he and Laura, so you can imagine how thrilling 90 minutes of bland and dry combine for A bone chilling good time. As unappealing of A cast as I have experienced in 2017.

THE VERDICT – ‘Friend Request’ again muddles in the same kind of absurdity and redundancy that have lowered the curve of modern day horror. The acting in these vitally underwritten characters is laughably bad, the story rushes by far too quickly because of some truly jarring editing, and the visual specter of C.G effects to boot gives this an equally frightening presentation for all of the wrong reasons. Even the campy have standards, and this request should be blocked at any and every opportunity. I blame you Mark Zuckerberg.

1/10