A.X.L

Directed by Oliver Daly

Starring – Alex Neustaedter, Thomas Jane, Becky G

The Plot – A.X.L. is a top-secret, robotic dog created by the military to help protect tomorrow’s soldiers. Code named by the scientists who created him, A.X.L. stands for Attack, Exploration, Logistics, and embodies the most advanced, next-generation artificial intelligence. After an experiment gone wrong, A.X.L. is discovered hiding alone in the desert by a kind-hearted outsider named Miles (Neustaedter), who finds a way to connect with him after activating his owner-pairing technology. Together, the two develop a special friendship based on trust, loyalty and compassion. Helping Miles gain the confidence he’s been lacking, A.X.L. will go to any length to protect his new companion, including facing off against the scientists who created him and who will do anything to get him back. Knowing what is at stake if A.X.L. is captured, Miles teams up with a smart, resourceful ally named Sara (Becky G) to protect his new best friend on a timeless, epic adventure for the whole family.

Rated PG for sci-fi action/peril, suggestive material, thematic elements and some adult language

POSITIVES

– At least it’s short. Clocking in at a mere 90 minutes, ‘A.X.L’ never felt sluggish or dragging, despite the fact that I couldn’t have cared less about these characters. It is incredibly self aware about the lack of depth that the film entails, and because of such never tries to make the experience longer than it rightfully should be.

– Motocross stunt work by extras that really brought the sport to life. Even though the film kind of forgets about its initial roots by the third act, there’s just enough instances of adrenaline that pulse through the aired-out bike sequences that were responsible for what little interest I had in the film. High risk choreography resulted in some devastating crash sequences, allowing Daly the opportunity in showing us the live fast lifestyle that many are addicted to.

NEGATIVES

– No guts, no glory. There’s a sharp B-grade horror film that is locked inside this dull kids movie, and there’s several instances of its existence. Midway through the film, there’s a violent tonal shift that overtakes the direction, giving us what feels like a similar road that films like ‘Dawn of the Planet of the Apes’ took. Unfortunately, this dog has no balls, as the film waters down these instances of brief violence and panic, opting for the easily forgettable side of August cinema that has become customary over the last decade. Even for PG, this feels terribly limited.

– Film errors. Considering this film is such a far-fetched idea, it should come as no surprise that it can’t even follow the rules of logic for its audience. One character touches a football dipped in gasoline, then controls a blowtorch without anything happening to him, no tracking device is ever put on the dog for the company to find him, U.S marine soldiers point guns at Miles and A.X.L and never fire a single bullet, and yet these aren’t even my personal favorite. In one scene, the robot dog jumps in the bed of a truck, allowing its weight to bury it underneath dirt. Yet in the next scene, the dog gets in the bed of the truck and everything is fine.

– Offensive editing. There’s two major problems with the editing in this film. The first, it cuts scenes of exposition in half so that the it has no relation to the scene that follows. One example involves a party scene where the antagonist for the film has something to show our main character, then the film just cuts to a scene involving the main character and his father in the garage. The second problem involves scenes of dialogue that are brutally cut off before they can finish. I know this because there are several instances where the audio of a character speaking will overlap that of the new line of dialogue that begins before the prior one finished. Completely sloppy.

– With the exception of Thomas Jane’s three scenes, the film’s acting is completely in the toilet. Neustaedter has the emotional registry of an aged boot at the bottom of the stairs after a terribly long fall, and Becky G continues to underwhelm with a nasally delivery that constantly sounds like she’d rather be doing something better. In this instance, that’s probably true. What’s worse is these two have the chemistry of an E-harmony first date constantly, and that lack of connection and physical spark never grows. Their kissing scenes feel like cousins who decided to test Arkansas laws with little regret.

– Intrusive musical score. When the film first started, Ian Hultquist’s new wave vibes gave me hope that at least the music would echo that of late 80’s science fiction, like ‘Robocop’, but my positivity quickly gave way to what I describe as blunt manipulation of the audience. This is when compromising tones will overtake a scene, often blaring too loudly, and force the proper atmosphere and tone on us, whether we appreciate it or not. The antagonist has his own clunky theme because he’s extreme, and the government character’s tone conjures sounds of orchestral intrigue that promises us thrills that honestly never come.

– This film lacks any sense of focus or identity. To me, it feels like a rehashing of kids movies from the 80’s, like ‘E.T’, bringing absolutely nothing fresh in terms of originality to the table, with constant cliches dragging the plot forward. There’s everything checked off here that you’ve seen before, including loud E.D.M music, forced romance, psycho evil antagonist that get away with everything from arson to downright attempted murder, and of course extremely unnatural dialogue. Daly fails as a director and screenwriter because his feature lacks any kind of excitement or suspense, even in scenes where characters are supposedly in danger.

– One near positive for me was in the decision to work with practical effects, as opposed to C.G that have outnumbered multiplexes everywhere in modern day. Unfortunately, this film does nothing for the practical effects lovers like me, because the very design of A.X.L feels far too massive to ever be used conveniently on the field of war. Beyond this, the direction to compromise the physical with C.G movements is one that doesn’t come across as fluid for the robot itself, conflicting the balance between slow movements while on the ground with those of superhero-like flying while in the air.

– Problems with the robot design itself. An aspect to the plot that I still don’t understand is why the emphasis on this robot being a dog. The movie explains quite often that dogs are the most faithful animal, so their dedication to getting the job done will be that much easier because of its species type. The problem is that this isn’t a natural dog, it’s a robot that can easily be programmed, so faithfulness should really have nothing to do with the idea. Another problem is that apparently despite being made of metal, fire is the only weakness for the dog’s design. I guess the advantage will still hold up as long as America doesn’t go to war with anyone who has ever heard of fire.

2/10

Alpha

Directed by Albert Hughes

Starring – Kodi Smit-McPhee, Natassia Malthe, Leonor, Varela

The Plot – An epic adventure set in the last Ice Age, the film tells a fascinating, visually stunning story that shines a light on the origins of man’s best friend. While on his first hunt with his tribe’s most elite group, a young man is injured and must learn to survive alone in the wilderness. Reluctantly taming a lone wolf abandoned by its pack, the pair learn to rely on each other and become unlikely allies, enduring countless dangers and overwhelming odds in order to find their way home before winter arrives.

Rated PG-13 for some intense peril

POSITIVES

– Exceptional cinematography continuously on display by Martin Gschlacht. While known mostly to foreign audiences, Martin’s paintbrush-like canvas here is gorgeous in immensity, and beautiful in his rubbing of colors in the sky that illuminate around the colorless drab of character wardrobes. This is a film that was made for the big screen, as much of the framing work takes advantage of the wide angle lens that articulately illustrates the immensity of a land to be alone in.

– Much of the material focuses on the comparison between man and animal, and does so without ever feeling corny or forceful. Instead, Hughes allows the audience to pick up on matters of family, growth, and survival that highlight the similarities in the next evolutional shift. These two grow together because they embrace the same challenges in their respective journey’s, and that chemistry and bond between them grows into an almost telepathic link that unites them.

– Considering he is front-and-center for 90% of this movie, Smit-Mcphee transformation is well balanced and patient with the many adversities that he faces along the way. In the beginning, his movements are very timid, causing great difficulty in his tactics to survive, but as the film goes on, you start to see his character’s intestinal hunger to survive reach limits that can only be tested under the guidance of isolation. This etches out a coming-of-age story unlike those that we’re used to, in that Keda only has his own instinct to survive.

– Hughes greatest measure as a director here is definitely the established environments that constantly shift with the seasons, while filming on location in East Coulee, Alberta. The animals, while plenty in numbers, feel very scattered out and meticulous, making the hunt for food feel very urgent. Without question though, it’s the winter scenes that really stuck out to me, channeling the worst in cold and snow that one can imagine, and immersing us with snow-cluttered camera angles that feel like we can almost reach out and touch it.

– Educational AND entertaining. This definitely felt like a throwback to the days of being in school and watching a history film about tribes and their strategy for survival, but what’s more accredited is that despite its knowledgeable depictions, it never loses focus in its appeal to capture the intrigue of the audience. The film juggles a balance of intensity and tension during scenes of peril that make for some serious moments of uncertainty for the well-being of our protagonist, testing him in ways that break everything except the human spirit.

– Thunderous musical score. What composers Joseph DeBeasi and Michael Stearns do for this film shouldn’t be understated. Through a use of 808 drums that repeat with increasing intensity, the musical score is anything but the Imagine Dragons putrid that we were promised in one of the most eye-rolling trailers of the season, giving us echoing vibes of isolation that haunt Keda throughout, and add life to scenes that would otherwise depreciate without energetic emphasis of the danger that is impending.

– Stays committed to its gimmick. A lesser production would have these human characters speaking in perfect English, but thankfully ‘Alpha’ keeps its characters mostly muted, occasionally reaching for the tribal language that we read in translation for one hundred percent of the movie. This element kept me firmly in the grasp of this A.D setting, and instead relied on body language to progress the relationship between human and dog. Beyond this, four bison were slaughtered for use on a skinning/hide-removal scene, and while I don’t overly support the slaughter of animals, bison are in fact overpopulated in the Alberta territory.

NEGATIVES

– Redundant to a fault. The hardest sell to audiences will definitely be the element of one man and his dog for most of 93 minutes, mainly because there’s only so much variety you can instill on routines that feel this repetitive. In my opinion, the biggest mistake is to get rid of Keda’s father and tribe subplot for easily an hour during the film, relying too much on Keda’s journey without capturing the vulnerability for the tribal leader and the kind of impact this has on his now decaying life. If you include the other side of the story, the former won’t feel as repetitive as it inevitably does.

– Again, we have another movie that doesn’t know when to end on its most impactful visual. This film has three different ending scenes when it fades to black, and each time chooses to prolong the lasting impression, which ultimately forces it to lose a noticeable amount of steam before the credits finally hit. This is becoming a growing trend in Hollywood, and makes me wish they would combine everything they want out of three scenes into one, so as to not feel as tacked-on as this cliche makes good movies feel.

– Teeth for show? The film fails to capture the sheer difficulties and spontaneity of dangerous wild animals thanks to its domestication of wolves that feels slightly laughable even by movie standards. I get that this is the first story of ‘Man’s best friend’, but there is such little struggle in the film with earning the trust of the wolf, that it might as well be a snorting pug with their lovable cross-eyes.

Bonus Points

Props to Sony for not figuring out a way to market their products in a movie that takes place in the Ice Age. I half expected a big SONY to be carved out in the ice, but I commend them for showing great restraint. We might be able to take you seriously sure enough, Sony.

7/10

Dog Days

Directed by Ken Marino

Starring – Nina Dobrev, Vanessa Hudgens, Finn Wolfhard

The Plot – Follows a group of interconnected people in Los Angeles who are brought together by their lovable canine counterparts.

Rated PG for rude and suggestive content, and for times of adult language

POSITIVES

– Knows its audience very well. This movie is what I like to call “Aww-proof”, in that it has plenty of cute visuals where the dogs are doing humorous things, to make viewers shriek in delight. Manipulative? Absolutely, but ‘Dog Days’ is a love letter to the Youtube generation, who take big chunks out of their day to watch dog and cat videos as an escape from the real world.

– Personably grounded ensemble cast. While Marino doesn’t do a strong enough job in establishing some of the finer points in personality, most noticeably in a doctor character who changes at the drop of a hat, this crew of energetic B-listers bring radiance to their portrayals. Hudgens charms with that classic Hollywood smile, Wolfhard has charisma well beyond his years, and Ron Cephas Jones was single-handedly my favorite part of the movie, for his chances in dramatic pulse that the film fought so hard to constantly diminish.

– Breezy pacing. For the most part, the film sails by in the winds of progression that never stumble nor stilt with the many on-going subplots. Despite a third act that I’ll get to later on, the movie’s first half flourishes by building the many different relationships that these characters have with their furry counterparts, and does so in a way that honors importance in animals without dumbing the movie down with unlikely stunts or situations that dog movie writers love to include.

– Raises awareness on its own terms. Never does the film feel meandering in the slightest with this aspect, instead bringing light subtly to the over-crowding of dog shelters by valueing their importance. What’s even more appreciative in this aspect, is that there’s no over-the-top antagonist landlord character to bring down the mood of the picture once it is revealed that the shelter is closing. That alone is something I greatly commend the movie for, as the spanning of a lot of characters already casts a great divide in the fight for screen time.

– Much of the interactions scattered throughout the film are rooted in realism that many dog owners can relate to. Examples range in the form of rude wake-up calls, to the barking reactions of loud noises around them, to an overall lack of eating etiquette that proves no food is safe. ‘Dog Days’ is very grounded in this respect, allowing the humans to narrate us through, while letting the dogs be the comic relief that the film depends on so persistently.

NEGATIVES

– Mind-bashing music. I can’t believe that in a movie about dogs that I have to bring up music, but it’s a painful headache constantly throughout. There’s a band named Fronk in the film, led by Adam Pally’s character, and they somehow take these AWFUL one hit wonder jams like ‘Who Let the Dogs Out’ and ‘I’m Too Sexy’ and make them even worse with their funk renditions. I’ve heard less agonizing listens during a Kidz Bop CD, and what’s even more unfortunate is the film goes back to them no fewer than four times.

– Generic production qualities. Besides the fact that the film casts this imitation lighting that many films today like to use to throw off the authenticity of natural lighting, the movie also slices scenes prematurely with terrible edits, and brings back what I thought was a forgotten relic of Hollywood Cliches. In that regard, the final setting of the movie takes place on a painted backdrop that doubles as downtown Los Angeles, and it couldn’t be any more obvious if the wind in the studio shook its images to the point that they flowed like a flag.

– Constant predictability. When I say that there was nothing original or remotely surprising about this movie, I really underplay it. Once you’re introduced to each character and their respective dispositions, you begin to comprehend where they will be once the film ends. Because of this, I constantly felt like I was ten minutes ahead in the film, and was continuously waiting for them to catch up.

– Third act problems. This is where the film really starts to overstay its near two hour run time. Because of the structure in having so many leads splitting time, each of them is treated to a set-up, conflict, and resolution that rides the waves of redundancy. Once everything has been put away neatly, the film loses a lot of its momentum by not understanding where to end the film. There are no fewer than three different endings in the film. All of which would’ve been fine enough to roll the credits, but none of which actually do, and needless to say I didn’t stay for the credit blooper reel that only further prolonged the dragging.

– The only times I laughed in this film were with the reaction shots of the dogs, because the human material had me questioning what age group this movie is marketed towards. The adult directions used for some of the set-up, including themes of cheating significant others, as well as a barrage of sex jokes, combined with these very animated deliveries, made for an uneven strategy that very seldom paid off. The imagery of the four legged friends was very beneficial, but I never have a reason to watch ‘Dog Days’ again, because it does nothing to stand out from the rest of the pack.

5/10

Christopher Robin

Directed by Marc Forster

Starring – Ewan Mcgregor, Hayley Atwell, Bronte Carmichael

The Plot – An adult Christopher Robin (Mcgregor), who is now focused on his new life, work, and family, suddenly meets his old friend Winnie the Pooh, who returns to his unforgotten childhood past to help him return to the Hundred Acre Wood and help find Pooh’s lost friends.

Rated PG for some live action

POSITIVES

– Considering the immense shoes that ‘Christopher Robin’ has to fill, the movie’s overall imagination and innocence come through in the clutch. This inescapable range of heart that tries to bridge the gap between the inevitability of adulthood surrounds this film, leading to many moments where Christopher’s past and present collide in a fight for clarity. In this regard, we too as an audience can lose ourselves in 97 minutes of light-hearted material, with the very same furry characters who were such a big part of our childhoods as well.

– The visual effects are charming in their subtlety. Much of the movements of the animals feel authentic without sticking out like a glaring attention-grabber, and the attention to detail with their shaggy designs grants a stuffed animal concept that really grounds the illustrations in realism. Likewise, the gloomy and often times dimmed lighting filters of the film also does wonders for the graphs in effects work that more times than not can relay feelings of counterfeit reflection, in how it bounces off of the live action setting around it.

– While the live action performances are just alright, it’s the voice acting of some of our favorite animated characters that truly steals the show. Jim Cummings is one of the most infamous voice actors in the world today, and his double duty as Pooh and Tigger radiates with personality when the film so desperately needed it most. As Pooh, you notice the vocal transformation over time, that begins as a somber whimper but eventually leads to thriving adventurer, and we start to feel meaning in his life once again, now that Christopher Robin has popped back up. Brad Garrett as Eeyore is also a dry delight. Garrett was born for this kind of delivery, channeling an unlikely humorous side of depression that the film relies on him for each time they need a sarcastic reaction.

– Much of the introduction in storyboards are done with a storybook animation that pays homage faithfully to these character’s origins. Each meaningful moment of Christopher’s life is given a page-by-page visual enhancement to introduce the moment that is about to play out, and with it comes dream-like animation on the pages being lifted, in the form of the books we used to read growing up. My only complaint is that the movie never does this again after the first few minutes. I really think it could’ve added to the presentational aspects of the film.

– Proper location majority. Because we’ve already seen the Hundred Acre forest in the original Pooh offerings, it’s nice to see this film wasn’t afraid in setting most of the film in the real world. What this does is allow us to not only examine and solidify if these animals talking are just a figment of Christopher’s imagination, but also how they interact with other grown-ups around them. It bridges the film on so much more than a metaphorical level, forcing the characters of this man’s youth to collide with the responsibilities that he harbors as an adult.

– The musical aspect of the film is hit AND miss for me, but not giving respect to Jon Brion and Geoff Zanelli’s glimmering tones would be a crime. So much of the numbers are filled with such wonder and soft encroaching among the story, solidifying that sometimes the most effective musical pieces are those that are patient and never overbearing. These two each have more than twenty years of scoring between them, and that wisdom of experience is on display repeatedly for a film that never settles for just one consistent tone.

NEGATIVES

– Lack of chances or originality. ‘Christopher Robin’ certainly isn’t breaking any new ground. Every single trace that the script takes us through feels like it was derived between ‘Return To Oz’ and especially ‘Hook’. But I can get over similarities in story. What I can’t get over is how safe Disney continues to be with the sequel/remake formula that is all the rage over the last five years. If you’re going to bring a respected property back to life, add something memorable to this new chapter. Otherwise, the lack of creativity becomes evident, and it loses the chance to rid itself of the immense shadow before it has even started. A fine example is last year’s ‘Goodbye Christopher Robin’, an unaffiliated-with-Disney film that explored the psychological effects of Robin’s time in the war, and why he lacked the connection with his adopted daughter.

– I mentioned earlier that I have my likes and dislikes for the music department in this film, and my problems rely with the lack of musical numbers that we get. With the exception of a line of ‘Wonderful Thing About Tiggers’, there isn’t a single familiar track in the film, leaving much of the whimsical side of the Pooh environment stuffed in a box, like the very memories that Christopher goes through with such forgetfulness.

– Songs aren’t the only thing ‘Christopher Robin’ lacks, as an overall lack of humor adds only further weight to the second act pacing that occasionally stands still. ‘Paddington’ is a great example of a movie that balanced heart and humor alike, without ever feeling confrontational of one another, but ‘Christopher Robin’ greatly lacks the confidence in its delivery, instead settling for cramped slapstick humor during the closing moments that highlighted its desperation. I laughed once during the movie, and that’s saying nothing. The real problem is with the children in the audience who grew restless with material that looks beyond them instead of right in the eyes.

– This film lacks such conflict in plot that it must create its own, with about twenty minutes left in the movie. The emerging subplot with Robin’s work comes out of nowhere, and only points out the silliness when kids movies try to depict big-wig corporations. I’m supposed to believe that this company will go under if they don’t find a way to sell more luggage? I’m also supposed to believe that they’ve never thought about selling to lower class incomes, and THAT is the big break needed to turn it all around? Do poor people not have luggage when they go on vacation? Who cares, because they’re kids, and kids are stupid.

6/10

Teen Titans GO!!! To the Movies

Directed by Aaron Horvath and Peter Rida Michail

Starring – Scott Menville, Khary Payton, Tara Strong

The Plot – It seems to the Teens that all the major superheroes out there are starring in their own movies-everyone but the Teen Titans, that is. But de facto leader Robin is determined to remedy the situation, and be seen as a star instead of a sidekick. If only they could get the hottest Hollywood film director to notice them. With a few madcap ideas and a song in their heart, the Teen Titans head to Tinsel Town, certain to pull off their dream. But when the group is radically misdirected by a seriously super villain and his maniacal plan to take over the Earth, things really go awry. The team finds their friendship and their fighting spirit failing, putting the very fate of the Teen Titans themselves on the line.

Rated PG for action and rude humor

POSITIVES

– Instead of instilling an honorable message, ‘Teen Titans’ uses its limited time (82 Minutes) for satirical laughs of the daring kind, that come at the expense of everyone in the superhero genre. Using a spotlight to highlight the oversaturation of superhero movies that never stop, this film uses cutting edge timing to poke fun at the familiar elements that serve as a virtual checklist through every installment. Even better, it spans out these deliveries, allowing audiences much-needed breather in between to wait for the next one. In doing so, DC can finally indulge in a light-hearted atmosphere that superhero movies should be all about.

– The animation is vibrant in color graphing, and detailed in visual sight gags that you almost have to constantly rewind to fully grasp. Part of my favorite elements of the film involved spotting the names of some of the businesses that are expressed in humorous context in advertisement, as well as the overall feel of immersing yourself in a comic book feel kind of presentation. Between dust flying as a reflection of impact, as well as text being displayed visually in a way that pays homage to those comic book properties, this film carves its own path that is everything different from today’s DC properties, thus the reason for its valid success.

– It was great to see a film where Robin is front-and-center for once, and I’m hoping this will open the door for DC to take more chances with this often ridiculed character. Here, Robin articulates and solidifies his status as a leader to this group who they themselves feel like outcasts shunned by their peers, and perhaps that angle is why Robin takes the wheel and steers us into an adventure where he thrives because of endless heart and determination.

– Best cameo ever in a superhero movie. That’s all I’m going to say.

– Impeccable pacing that feels synthetic in the television structure that this show-turned-film has prospered with. Most of the filler in between comes from no shortage of musical numbers, and that’s fine because it doesn’t hinder or dampen the overwhelming feeling of delight that you get from taking it all in. No film this Summer made me laugh more than ‘Teen Titans’, and very few have flowed as smoothly in entertainment value, so it shouldn’t come as no surprise how easy of a sit this film is to waste time on a hot day, when you just want to feel the cool breeze of the theater air and an immersive cotton candy superhero film alike.

– As for the music that I previously mentioned, this is bar-none one of the best soundtracks that I have heard in recent memory. Beyond the music feeling energetic and full of feel-good passion, the lyrics being sung by the various members of this group leave your tummy tickled, with descriptive emphasis that exerts no shortage of personality or the T.M.I kind of too much information that leaves a character the butt of many jokes. So Often in kids movies, I find myself dreading a musical number, but I found myself waiting impatiently for the next one here, and it’s all because of what it does for the characters, as well as how it relishes the opportunity to get the youths moving in their seats.

– Much respect goes to the production team of this picture for bringing back the credited voice actors of the television show, all the while bringing in several A-list names to bounce off of them. Menville as Robin, and Tara Strong as Raven are definitely my favorites, proving that they haven’t missed a single step in the chemistry of their off-fire deliveries. But the chance to finally hear Nicolas Cage voice Clark Kent was one that was nearly 25 years in the making. For those who don’t know, Cage was supposed to play Superman in an early 90’s adaptation of the character, but it fell through. So to see Cage get the chance once again was something that proved cathartic and even affirming for how much command he had over the immense presence.

NEGATIVES

– One surprising aspect of the film that kind of disappointed me was how little there is for the youth of the audience to hang their hats on. Most of the meta-breaks will of course only benefit older audiences who grew up with these properties, but the other material feels like it has a great dependency on the color scheme of the film in luring the kids in and it’s just not enough. As it stands, no kid in my audience laughed, except during the fart gags that (Thankfully) are few and far between. Attaining two different audiences is incredibly difficult, but a film advertised like this should always get the kids first. Without them, you’ve already lost a majority of your audience.

– Despite the bending and breaking of the fourth wall that prospers repeatedly throughout, the enabling strings of redundancy begin to show at the beginning of the third act. All of the familiar tropes are there; the antagonist who gets one-up on the gang, the gang break-up, the moment of reflection for the protagonist, and of course the third act DC action sequence where they throw anything and everything at the screen. For a film that prides itself on being “The epiphany” for the genre, there’s far too much hypocrisy in where it settles to ever be as impactful as something like ‘The Lego Batman Movie’.

– Pointless short before the film. There’s a three minute short attached to ‘Teen Titans’ that serves no point to the forthcoming story, nor does it ever remotely hit its mark in intended direction. Considering Pixar are attaching these breathtakingly beautiful shorts at the beginning of their movies now, this forgettable, bland Batgirl short should’ve just been left on the cutting room floor. I originally thought this was part of the real movie, and was going to lead into the Titans watching this stupidity in a theater, but it didn’t. It was three awkward minutes of unattached material that starts this film off in a deficit before the actual movie even begins.

7/10

Mamma Mia: Here We Go Again

Directed by Ol Parker

Starring – Lily James, Amanda Seyfried, Meryl Streep

The Plot – Discover Donna’s (Streep, James) young life, experiencing the fun she had with the three possible dads of Sophie (Seyfriend). Sophie is now pregnant. Like Donna, she’ll be a young mother, and she realizes that she’ll need to take risks like her mother did.

Rated PG-13 for some suggestive material

POSITIVES

– The infectious atmosphere is as present as ever, without settling for some of the hokiness of musical acting that plagued the first movie. It’s rare to feel entirely different about two films as identically structured as the two in this series, but ‘Here We Go Again’ manages this feat, combining whimsical song and dance choreography, while playing each individual number to expositional context. Very little feels phony about the way it is delivered, and I appreciate that when immersing myself in the musical genre. It’s high energy without feeling hyperactive, conjuring up an air of musty charm that even males can partake in.

– Fans of the original cast will take great praise in knowing that all of them return here, although some with more screen time than others. The chemistry between Firth, Brosnan, and Skarsgaard is still the sweetest treat within the film, but the on-time comedic delivery of Baranski is as polished as ever. Beyond this, the new additions who represent younger versions of the characters are completely spot-on in appearance and demeanor, to make the transition as seamless as possible. I was convinced that Baranski’s younger self was a real life sibling who was separated from her at birth.

– As for musical selections, there are a few tracks that are derived from the original film, but repackaged in a way that breathes new life into their familiar chords. ‘Dancing Queen’ and ‘Mamma Mia’ are obviously the familiar ones, but here they are performed by someone entirely different, and cater more towards the inspirational peaks of the subplots they enhance. With performances, thankfully nothing is as dreadful as the off-chord work of Streep and Brosnan in the original, instead opting for versatile actors like James and Seyrfied, who remarkably do all of their own singing.

– Richly vibrant costume and set pieces. Familiar pieces of time and place are carefully inserted into the backdrops of each room that the dual stories take place in, hinting with the air of subtlety as to what track might be coming. ‘Waterloo’ for instance, breathes French renaissance in costume design and restaurant decor, transporting us back to the 19th century battle that the Abba song describes. Beyond this, the flashback narrative fashions reflect that of 70’s Swedish tastes, combing through a colorful blend of button-ups and chalets that give way to the relaxed paradise that is captured in location.

– In my opinion, this film has much more reach for the dramatic pull than the original movie did, comparing the lives of Mother and Daughter so fluently with similar movements in time. Despite the delightful atmosphere that nearly fills the entirety of the film, there is a strong sense of longing with the noticed absence of one important character, who most of the film revolves around. This makes ‘Here We Go Again’ more of a generational affair than anything, and the tasteful, feel-good PG-13 escapism makes this angle reach well beyond the screen, for Mothers and Daughters to enjoy alike.

– This film does do a solid job of tying up some loose ends from the first movie that left audiences hanging, regardless of how you felt about it. The delve into Donna’s past paints the vivid picture in details that the first film only spoke about, allowing itself to experience the careless, free-spirited adventure of the main character and her diversity of interaction between each of the three men who eventually played pivotal roles in her future (No jokes here). This gives the original film the kind of replay value that it would never have over the previous decade, and forces you to approach Donna’s character in a much different way than you would’ve originally.

NEGATIVES

– This film grinds to a screeching halt somewhere in the middle of the second act, and I believe I have figured out the reasons. The overall minimalist approach of developing plot between an overabundance (17) of songs, as well as the meandering material with an overall lack of conflict, leaves the material being approached at a topical level, instead of an immersive one that can properly develop with time being devoted to it. For my money, I would trim this down to 12 songs, and not transition between old and current story as much, because the 70-30 favoritism for the past makes the present feel not as valued. If you wanted a prequel film, just make this a prequel film for 109 minutes.

– Terrible green-screen effects work. For every scene that takes place outside by the water, I couldn’t stop staring at this glaring red flag that made itself present in the cheapest of renderings. If the outline around the character’s bodies doesn’t feel extremely evident, the off-coloring darkness of the sky when a storm is approaching will. We see dark clouds in the distance, but lots of sunshine when it reflects off of a character’s face, and it made for plenty of unintentional laughs when the narrative so badly required focus.

– There is a HUGE deception in the marketing of this film, particularly with that of one vital character who is only in the movie for two scenes. I say deception because the film’s trailers play it off like this character never missed a beat in this second installment, and the posters have this person amongst the top bill, when they should clearly be reduced to the ‘AND’ role that ends every cast text introduction. If you’re seeing this film for this character, the opening five minutes should make you as angry as finding out your favorite relative passed away and no one cared to tell you.

– It’s great to see Cher, but between my disdain for her character’s personality, as well as how late in the film she comes into it, her role feels like the very definition of tacked-on, and frankly I don’t think she was needed. There are certainly enough characters to keep the interest in the material, but for some reason Cher (Who basically plays Cher) is called upon to add something more to this film. Considering Streep as the daughter looks to be somewhere between 55-60 in the movie, how old would that make Cher when she had her?

6/10

Leave No Trace

Directed by Debra Granik

Starring – Ben Foster, Thomasin McKenzie, Jeffrey Rifflard

The Plot – Will (Foster) and his teenage daughter, Tom (McKenzie), have lived off the grid for years in the forests of Portland, Oregon. When their idyllic life is shattered, both are put into social services. After clashing with their new surroundings, Will and Tom set off on a harrowing journey back to their wild homeland.

Rated PG for thematic material throughout

POSITIVES

– This is a beautifully shot film, documenting the Oregon countryside with such an evocative colorful palate of vivacious strokes. The natural lighting is a meaningful choice for authenticity, but it’s in the yellow sunlight bleeding through the green of the trees that gives the backgrounds that stained glass effect that only comes naturally when you’re shooting a majority of your film outside.

– As for the work of Foster and McKenzie, they are asked to be in 100% of the scenes, and that dependency really drives home the work of these two polished actors carrying the movie. These performances never include those long-winded diatribes that feed into Academy recognition, but rather they are praised for feel synthetic to the human approach. Most of their charm is that they don’t ever feel like characters, but rather real people, and both respective actors bounce off of each other with the father/daughter honesty that radiates the chemistry between them.

– What I love about the exposition is that it never feels forced or convenient to the unfolding knowledge that we are learning about Will, in particular. This requires audiences to hang on to literally every single conversation between the two characters, if they wish to learn more about them. Even then, the film leaves plenty to abstraction, choosing not to follow these bombshell droppings within the three act structure like we’re used to. Granik is wise enough to not have to force-feed the audience these vivid details, instead spreading out these details of truth that speak volumes to her trust in us to adapt.

– Poignancy in parenting. One great debate frequently revolved around in this film is the spotty definition of the terms “Provider” and “Providing”. Through the ventures that feature many ups and downs between these two characters, we as audience are left with plenty of instances for an enlightening conversation, with no side ever being clearly defined for being wrong. Will believes he is right because it’s worked this way for so long between them, and the Children’s Services believe they are right because they act within the best interests of the child. The best part is that no matter where your allegiance lies on this issue, Granik as a screenwriter throws many wrenches along the way that are sure to keep you updating your stance from one side to the next.

– Deep beneath this family drama that engulfs the entirety of this film, is a maturing coming-of-age narrative that develops terrifically during the third act. These developments certainly speak wonders to the fragility of adolescence, and just how tragically some kids are forced to grow up far too quickly. I took great empathy towards this aspect, because it is in those aspects that we can’t control that feel the most damning to those they sneak up on, and it all leads to a bittersweet finale that reflects the miles that these two have traveled.

– Like Granik’s earlier work in ‘Winter’s Bone’, I find it quite indulging how the environments in her films present themselves as an integral member of the cast, allowing her to play with volumes for such an immersive experience. What this does is allow us to soak up the atmospheres whole not only in sight, but in sound. There’s excellent capturing of forest sounds like birds and branches rubbing up against one another that you could almost close your eyes and imagine yourself right there with the protagonists.

– The comparisons with 2016’s ‘Captain Fantastic’ are inevitable, and while I think this is the weaker of the two films by comparison, ‘Leave No Trace’ is more appealing on a personal measurement of character study that the former just can’t get close enough to. Because this movie only has two central characters, we are able to focus more prominently on the dynamic that eventually shapes the emotions that each are feeling. This kind of story I feel works better with less characters for the danger and isolation that we feel for them, making their situation feel more bleak upon dissection.

– Likewise to Granik’s admirable patience within her current masterpiece, the musical score from Dickon Hinchliffe also has great restrain in its presence throughout. The musical inclusion is certainly there, most notably when a scene requires self-reflection, but it does so in a way that never intrudes or soils the somber deliveries or required focus that remains faithful to your investment in the characters. Hinchliffe instead serves as more of an underlying current of steady keys that never needs to push the volume to eleven to maximize a scene.

NEGATIVES

– It pains me to say that even though this film succeeds on its own merits, it’s a difficult recommendation because of plodding pacing that eventually catches up. Much of this fault is due to redundancy in the material that shortcuts any kind of tension that this film so desperately requires, but the overall lack of a central antagonist certainly shouldn’t be understated. Without that continuous presence hot on the heels of this duo, the film gives up on an early included subplot that just kind of dissolves without resolve.

– While I mentioned earlier that this film can contribute more of its time to two characters, as opposed to a big cast, the film kind of squanders the psychological presence of the movie by never delving into Will’s head in the way we need for context. I was never lost or confused by the brief details delivered in the film, but I wouldn’t have been opposed to some flashback sequences involving the Mother in this family, no matter how forced or cliche that may sound. To me, I couldn’t escape this feeling of a bombshell delivery coming throughout the movie, but it never comes, and we are left to put together Will’s pieces without ever having a look at the box for the bigger picture.

8/10

Hotel Transylvania 3: Summer Vacation

Directed by Genndy Tatakovsky

Starring – Adam Sandler, Selena Gomez, Mel Brooks

The Plot – Mavis (Gomez) surprises Dracula (Sandler) with a family voyage on a luxury Monster Cruise Ship so he can take a vacation from providing everyone else’s vacation at the hotel. The rest of Drac’s Pack cannot resist going along. But once they leave port, romance arises when Dracula meets the mysterious ship Captain, Ericka (Kathryn Hahn). Now it’s Mavis’ turn to play the overprotective parent, keeping her dad and Ericka apart. Little do they know that his “too good to be true” love interest is actually a descendant of Abraham Van Helsing, ancient nemesis to Dracula and all other monsters.

Rated PG for some action and rude humor

POSITIVES

– Sandler’s career has found a bit of a resurgence in vocalizing animated characters. After three straight films that have made me laugh more than the last ten of Sandler’s live action movies combined, I think Adam should stick with voicing Drac and other animated properties for the foreseeable future. Sandler works in this environment because his vocalizing has always catered to adolescent material, bringing with it a tone in reactionary humor that was made for animated film. On top of it, he gets to stick to formula and bring with him his growing number of friends, to make sure each of them always has a paying gig. Quite the samaritan.

– Tatakovsky’s style of animation that is unlike anything by comparison in the animated world of cinema. The eye-popping colorful stroke, combined with facial defining traits are something that clearly makes this franchise standout, and pushes the boundaries of its comedy even further by some effective sight gags that consistently keeps the humor in check.

– Speaking of sight gags, they easily carried the humor over the dialogue that rarely ever hit for me. For my money, I would’ve been fine with ‘Hotel Transylvania 3’ being a silent animated film that captured all of the cause and effects of monsters being aboard a cruise ship, and how their dispositions fed into that setting’s entertainment traditions. Particularly, my favorite scene of the entire film is an airline run by some familiar 80’s cinema monsters, that adopt their own brand of customer hospitality that will have you shrieking with laughter.

– Being a fan myself of the world’s biggest mysteries, I love that the setting of this film takes place in the Bermuda Triangle, on Friday the 13th. The date in particular is interesting, because that is of course the release date for this film, and kudos to the studio for breaking the fourth wall in those regards. The setting perhaps does or does not elaborate on the urban myth to why so many have disappeared in its clutches…..or should I say tentacles (Wink Wink)

– On the front of messages for the film, at least there are two out of three that youths can take away from positively. These are the importance of family, as well as never judging those who are different on just appearances alone. I think if these messages stick, those younger audience members will be alright. If the third and more consequential message sticks, in which we should pursue endlessly the objects of our affections, then I have great terror for the world in the coming decades.

NEGATIVES

– As par for the course of Sandler films, this one has no shortage of classic rock favorites, or even the best of modern day top 40 to accommodate its repetitive dance sequences. My problem with this is the music included feels so commercialized, adding very little value or importance to the scene based on creativity. It feels like a lazy excuse to sell downloads, and never really fits in this particular world, no matter how goofy Drac and friends are portrayed.

– It’s interesting to me that this film takes place over the course of a few days, and yet we never see any daytime scenes. One could say that’s obviously because Drac sleeps during the day, but there are also no scenes involving Drac going to sleep or resting of any kind. Because of how the film is edited and paced together, it feels like one continuous trip into a world where the sun never rises, and the characters, both monster and human, never sleep.

– By the third installment of this franchise, there are simply far too many characters at this point with nothing to do. It’s certainly an easy paycheck for those talented voice actors, but their inclusion adds so little to the film in a creative sense, and I would’ve liked to have seen some of them stay behind at the hotel to run things while a few go on-board. Wait a minute, who the hell is running the hotel while everyone is gone???

– The biggest negative to the story comes in the lack of attention donated to the unfolding narrative to the Drac and Ericka, before the pivotal third act. Considering this is a light, breezy 87 minute sit, there is no shortage to throwaway one-off gags that add nothing of weight or growth to what should be front-and-center in our focus. This film has A.D.D of the worst kind, leaving about fifteen minutes of actual development for the film’s central plot to feast on. Perhaps that’s why I’m left with this overwhelming sense of carelessness for where the film ends up.

– As for that finale, what develops between protagonist and antagonist is ridiculous even for a children’s cartoon. Not since the movie ‘Couples Retreat’ has a conflict been resolved in such juvenile and far-fetched way that has more holes in its plan than a piece of swiss cheese. What’s even worse is that even after sitting through ten minutes of ridiculousness that I couldn’t script if I was high on LSD, we come to discover that it all really doesn’t matter in the bigger picture. We end up some place where consequence and resolve doesn’t exist, instead opting to set up for a fourth movie that I hope returns this franchise to prominence.

5/10

Ant Man and The Wasp

Directed by Peyton Reed

Starring – Paul Rudd, Evangeline Lilly, Michael Pena

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

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

POSITIVES

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

NEGATIVES

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

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

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

7/10

Uncle Drew

Directed by Charles Stone III

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

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

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

POSITIVES

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

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

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

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

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

NEGATIVES

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

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

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

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

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

5/10

Incredibles 2

Directed by Brad Bird

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

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

Rated PG for action sequences and some brief mild adult language

POSITIVES

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

NEGATIVES

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

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

8/10

Adrift

Directed by Baltasar Kormakur

Starring – Shailene Woodley, Sam Claflin, Grace Palmer

The Plot – Based on the inspiring true story of two free spirits whose chance encounter leads them first to love, and then to the adventure of a lifetime. As the two avid sailors set out on a journey across the ocean, Tami Oldham (Woodley) and Richard Sharp (Claflin) couldn’t anticipate they would be sailing directly into one of the most catastrophic hurricanes in recorded history. In the aftermath of the storm, Tami awakens to find Richard badly injured and their boat in ruins. With no hope for rescue, Tami must find the strength and determination to save herself and the only man she has ever loved. Adrift is the unforgettable story about the resilience of the human spirit and the transcendent power of love.

Rated PG-13 for injury images, peril, adult language, brief drug use, partial nudity and thematic elements

POSITIVES

– Above all else on the production side, it’s great to see a film where the female of the relationship is the one making moves to secure their safety. What makes Woodley’s portrayal of Tami work more than anything is the resilience and determination in her spirit that keeps her drive going, all the while the vulnerability from being inexperienced in this particular situation speaks levels to the overbearing volume of being isolated.

– On the performance front, this is clearly a two person show between Woodley and Claflin that offers mixed results. I don’t have a problem with Claflin as an actor, but here he is kind of subdued to play second fiddle to Woodley, and because of such, his endless charm and charisma that he has exerted in films like The Hunger Games saga, and Me Before You is virtually non-existent. The chemistry between them still burns the end of the wick, and a lot of that is because of Woodley’s transformative and physical displays of strength that left me awestruck. It’s great to see her get these kind of roles, because she really dedicates herself to the most brutal kind of physicality that each role demands, and I commend her iron will not only to survive but to save the one thing in this world that makes sense to her.

– This film is shot beautifully by Robert Richardson, who really paints an immense, yet immerse picture of the sea that feels never-ending. It’s quite interesting because Robert shoots these tight-knit, but revolving pan shots inside of the boat, replicating the movements of the sea ferociously. Yet his depiction of the world outside of the dock depicts the sheer magnitude of the situation unfolding before this couple that are certainly on borrowed time.

– I feel like Adrift taught me more about the sea than any other sea-based film of the previous ten years. Instances of paranoia, mental stress creating mirages, and even means of survival are all highlighted with the kind of detail that other films can’t even mention. Because of such, this is so much more than an entertaining film, it’s a surreal film for those who spend so much time in the water.

– The screenplay uses a dual narrative between two respective timelines to paint a picture of this relationship, and while I’m usually against this sort of thing because it over-complicates for no reason what so ever, I feel like Kormakur paints enough information in both time periods to make its incorporation necessary to fit into a 95 minute film. Spending too much time in either period would drag, but to do it simultaneously, you constantly keep the energy of the script moving while bringing out the importance of each hinted backstory.

– During the age of Green-screen backdrops and computer generated effects, it was refreshing to see a film shot almost entirely at sea, proving the dedication associated with getting the look and feel proper. The crew shot 90% of the movie at sea, working 12 hours on water with little to no land in sight, and it’s those kind of production notes that show in the bigger picture of a film’s authenticity.

– There’s something almost poetic about a disaster movie mentally moving its audience without the necessities of big budget blockbuster to push its gimmick. To me, the storm always feels secondary to what is taking place on-board, and that’s a sure sign that Baltasar believed even more in the characters than he did their ensuing predicaments.

NEGATIVES

– Compromising first shot. The opening shot of the film will divide audiences into two groups. If you understand what this means right away like I did, then the film will feel very predictable every step of the way. There’s a big twist that happens at the beginning of the film’s third act that I actually saw coming from a mile away, and felt disappointed because the opening minute of the movie, as well as a few scenes of shoddy dialogue that further hint at this point, gave me the answer I wasn’t looking for.

– There’s never a pushing for urgency here, despite that the two characters mention how limited their rations for food are. The whole stranded aspect of this film feels more like a temporary hiccup instead of a life-threatening plunge, and because of such, the film’s dramatic tension sinks about midway through the movie. For my money, I could’ve used more danger in the way of streaky weather patterns, or even long-term frailty that lasted longer than a scene.

– Limited character exposition. It’s funny to think how little we really know about these two characters despite the fact that we spend nearly two hours with them on a boat. Woodley’s character for instance speaks of trouble at her home back in San Diego, but we never learn much of why. For Claflin’s character, we hear about his family in England, as well as time sailing in other countries, but that’s just table dressing that is never touched or devoured upon. It’s a testament to the performances that the chemistry of this relationship even works, because I feel like this is watching two strangers speaking on the importance of their love without understanding why.

7/10