The Other Side of the Wind

Directed By Orson Welles

Starring – John Huston, Robert Random, Peter Bogdanovich

The Plot – A satire of Hollywood, the story focuses on the last days of a legendary film director named Jake Hannaford (Huston), who is struggling to forge his last great comeback as a major filmmaker. Hannaford is hard at work on his final masterpiece, “The Other Side of The Wind”.

Rated R for sexual content, graphic nudity and some adult language

POSITIVES

– Time machine effect. Certain films will transport you to a particular era because of articulate production value for intended purpose, but “The Other Side of the Wind” is a film that attains this by quite literally being a film from a different era of filmmaking. This is a movie that has sat on the shelf for over forty years because of bankruptcy, and is just now seeing the light of day, so the ability to watch something from a time when the things we take for granted were in their infancy, is something that gives the film a one-of-a-kind experience, and grants us one more day in the sun with a genius director who unfortunately left us far too early.

– Crime Noir influenced musical score by Michel Legrand. With plenty of rhythmic jazz instrumentals and an enhanced modern age buffering to clean up the sound, Legrand instills a vibrant sense of the golden age of Hollywood that feeds hand-in-hand with the plot and setting of the film. The easy listenings excel at transcending the screen psychologically in a way that a mockumentary like this requires, and establishes a classy outline to the audibility that envelopes the film synthetically, giving an element of cool to Welles final project.

– Although denied by Welles himself, there’s plenty of reasons to suggest that this film is a bit auto-biographical for the director. Considering this was a man who was very much a mystery wrapped inside of an enigma for admirers who studied him for decades, “The Other Side of the Wind” feels like the most revealing look into a man who was prickly and compromising in the same ways that the main protagonist of the story is. Beyond this, experiences of Welles are decorated throughout the film, engaging us in angles like a snobby critic, the intimacy between a director and his leading ladies, and the urgency of a studio-backed project that often feels like a soul-selling deal to the devil. This all feels a bit too precise to be just another project from Orson, and that thought will hit you almost immediately, should you decide to take this film on.

– Surprisingly, a great amount of dependency upon comedy. Not only is the humor for the film necessary in keeping the audience invested into the dialogue heavy banter throughout two hours of the movie, it’s also finely tuned with a strong combination of sarcasm and reveal, to give us the elusive backlot commentary for most productions during the time. While nothing is truly laugh-out-loud in terms of material, the accuracy of its modest deliveries were something that remained consistent, creating an open door for people to hook themselves into these characters and situations.

– Razor sharp editing. Some of Welles best work in film has always been his ahead-of-its-time editing, and that is certainly on display here, through sequences that sometimes juggle two or three on-going narratives. There was over four hundred hours of film shot in total for this film, so the production team had quite the challenge in trimming this to just two hours, but I think old Orson would be proud if he managed to see the exceptional work involving visual psychological twitches, as well as the juggling of cinematography styles, to make a presentation that feels chaotically subversive. Editing like those depicted in the film are thought of as conventional in 2018, but that thought process is because of a visual pioneer who had the vision to try it first.

– Symbolism of life versus film. There’s a film within this film that is also called “The Other Side of the Wind”, and it’s in dissecting the real film’s two sides where you see Orson’s most obvious discoveries. The fictional film is not only shot more beautifully, involving a rich blend of color to compliment the stained-glass feel, but also feels less complicated because of the lack of dialogue used from within. I believe Orson was telling us that real life is anything but the movies, and that the desirable world we seek lies somewhere in the middle of the fantasy and reality that became his artistic expression. I did manage to find much more in the comparison, but I would start reaching spoiler territory, and I’d rather let you experience it for yourself.

– A duo of fully-committed performances. I’d like to see Huston receive an Oscar nomination, for the ink blot test of a character that Hannaford comes across as. There’s an essence of sadness that comes from his unlimited wisdom inside of the game for so long, and Huston’s grizzled face and unabashed nature in tearing down every relationship and honor he’s attained, lend to a trapped personal hell that the director can’t escape. Matching him nearly jab-for-jab, is Bogdanovich, as my favorite character, Brooks. Peter is himself a director in real life, so he knows what it takes to channel a character in a way that makes him essential to the film, and that’s what we have here. When Brooks is off camera, with the noticeable lack of delightful banter between he and Hannaford, as well as his collection of celebrity impressions, the movie stalls. His inclusion is that important, and the chemistry with Huston cements a friendship that hangs in the balance between student/teacher and best friends. It also doesn’t hurt that Bogdanovich is the single best Bill Hicks look-a-like that I’ve ever seen.

NEGATIVES

– This is a tough sell to any kind of audience, mainly because the disjointed nature of these scenes can sometimes come across as hollow and inconsistent. Especially in the first act, there’s a real lack of definition from what transpires, and the collection of scenes feel like just that: a collection of separated instances that don’t necessarily gel as one cohesive unit. If you can make it through this, the film does eventually pick up, but it’s clear that a lot of the heart and instinct that comes with the director of such a passion project is missing from the scene.

– While the film within the film is stylishly provocative and sensually sinister, it takes up far too much of the finished run time, for my taste. This serves as a major distraction to the continuity and progressive flow of the characters we become invested in, leaving them far too often to come across as nothing more than a test of patience that the audience frequently has to endure.

– Certain aspects of the film unfortunately don’t age well. Female abuse treated like a hiccup, free-flowing use of the derogatory term for the gay community, and the main protagonist’s desire for underage women only do damage to a movie that is at least a product of its time, and at most an offensive time stamp that reminds us how far we’ve come as a society. These three things are tied to necessary developments in the plot, but don’t erase the elements that make it difficult to embrace a character like Hannaford.

My grade: 7/10 or B-

The Nutcracker and the Four Realms

Directed By Lasse Hallstrom and Joe Johnston

Starring – Mackenzie Foy, Keira Knightley, Morgan Freeman

The Plot – All Clara (Foy) wants is a key; a one-of-a-kind key that will unlock a box that holds a priceless gift from her late mother. A golden thread, presented to her at godfather Drosselmeyer’s (Freeman) annual holiday party, leads her to the coveted key-which promptly disappears into a strange and mysterious parallel world. It’s there that Clara encounters a soldier named Phillip (Jayden Fowora-Knight), a gang of mice and the regents who preside over three Realms: Land of Snowflakes, Land of Flowers, and Land of Sweets. Clara and Phillip must brave the ominous Fourth Realm, home to the tyrant Mother Ginger (Helen Mirren), to retrieve Clara’s key and hopefully return harmony to the unstable world.

PG for some mild peril

POSITIVES

– Disney’s choice for a 65 mm Kodak format for the presentation. To anyone who has just seen the trailers, it should come as no surprise that this is a beautifully exceptional looking movie, filled with enchanted glimmer that radiates ever-so-gently off of the colorful wardrobes and dreamy landscapes. The team of Hallstrom and Johnston have moved mountains in bringing to life this ballet-turned-film to audiences, and the tinsel of magic that only Disney can emit, is a constant throughout Clara’s wonderous journey.

– Considering this is a ballet with very little exposition between characters and events, it’s a benefit for the film to keep things tight at 89 minutes, leaving the fluff of downtime on the cutting room floor. This is a film that constantly keeps moving, whether you’re into it or not, and I commend the production’s desire to not reach for the low hanging fruit of turning this into an epic, like other Disney live action properties. As far as the burning of an hour-and-a-half goes, it’s as smooth as silk, and keeps the attention of adult and child audiences alike, without a noticeable test of patience.

– Stylishly decadent wardrobes. In emulating the many differences in world, both fantasy and reality, the great Jenny Beavan has her work cut out for her. But with a faithful homage to the nutcracker and toy soldier tinker toy looks of the early 20th century, she wows us in ways that literally transform actors into the characters. For Clara, it’s a second act unveil that grooms her into becoming the woman she is destined to become, and for such an occasion it’s a transfixing gown that greatly compliments her skin, and lends itself to the finer side of class and sophistication.

– My favorite sequence of the film. It’s strange that possibly the only scene that I remember from this film an hour after is the ballet early on in the second act, that depicts Clara’s mother finding the Four Realms, because I myself am not even close to being a ballet fan. But it was in this exceptionally choreographed and wonderfully serenated play that not only built the most in backstory for the film and characters, but also fed into the concepts of majestic, an angle that much of this movie sadly under-developed. It’s a subtle reminder of why this story works on stage in ways that it can only dream of on film.

– No forced humor or cliche supporting cast. You can see it early on. Disney wants so badly to give Clara two dim-witted soldiers to chime in when the movie feels forced to cater to younger audiences. Thankfully, they hold off on this instinct, keeping the film’s tone grounded in expectation, keeping this from becoming a bumbling occasion that would do this story more harm than good. The lack of risk does catch up later on, as I will get to, but the best measures are always those that differ itself from what’s been proven ineffective, and this decision pays off immensely for me.

NEGATIVES

– Terribly miscast ensemble. It’s a disappointment to me, because I love Foy as an actress, and it’s not all on her. Everyone here is recruited for the wrong intentions, feeding into big budget films dreadful 90’s idea of bringing along the biggest name possible, regardless if it works for their personality or not. In this regard, Foy lacks energy as a protagonist we devote ourselves to, Freeman and Helen Mirren are in the film for a matter of minutes, and Knightley brings forth easily her most annoying portrayal to date. To piggyback off of what I said earlier, I enjoy all of these people individually as actors, but their casting here leaves much to be desired in the way they commit to their roles, and even expanding on their range as actors, making this feel like nothing more than a paycheck project.

– Same old same. You’ve seen it every year: a film will come along involving a child being shipped off to a wonderous land, and asked to save it. There’s nothing shocking about “The Nutcracker” taking this ages old troupe, but rather how little it truly does in adding layers of depth to such a tired plot. Because I’ve seen this concept played off in films like “The Wizard of Oz”, “Empire of the Sun”, and most recently “Ready Player One” to name a few, I can telegraph what will happen throughout, leaving little suspense or imagination to a decaying product.

– Considering this is a film with four different realms inside of this adventure, there’s an overall great lack of concern for the world building that goes unnoticed. Attribute this to the minimal runtime if you must, but in films that depict worlds far from our own, I prefer to be brought up to speed on what makes this place so special, and it just isn’t present here. If it’s in the title, you better do a great job of luring the audience inside, and there was never a moment over C.G backdrops where I felt amazed or riveted by what the film presents.

– This is again another example of a movie with so much computer influence that you wonder why it simply isn’t an animated movie. If you’re going to adapt a story into live action, do so in a way that justifies its existence. Instead, we are treated to hollow properties and poorly rendered rodents that make up the majority, and leave much to be desired in terms of reality. It’s no secret that this is the growing trend, especially with Disney remakes, and to me it’s the kind of creativity the production can muster up in bringing to life live action that impresses me. I’m not against C.G, but it should never make up the majority of any single shot in a movie.

– The dad in this film (Played by Matthew Macfadyen) is creepy to say the least. I get that this is a man who is grieving after the untimely death of his wife, and loneliness eventually sets in, but the way he looks at his oldest daughter in her Mother’s dress, as well as obsess over dancing with both of his daughters, made me slightly uncomfortable to say the least. This is the man’s entire story arc, and his intrusion upon these scenes make it stand out even more unnaturally, and if you think I am indeed bluffing on this, I challenge you to take in the movie and see the weirdness of this aspect, live and in living color.

My grade: 5/10 or C-

Suspiria

Directed By Luca Guadagnino

Starring – Dakota Johnson, Tilda Swinton, Mia Goth

The Plot – A darkness swirls at the center of a world-renowned dance company, one that will engulf the artistic director (Swinton), an ambitious young dancer (Johnson), and a grieving psychotherapist (Ebersdorf) . Some will succumb to the nightmare. Others will finally wake up.

Rated R for disturbing content involving ritualistic violence, bloody images and graphic nudity, and for some adult language including sexual references

POSITIVES

– Successfully blazes its own trail. The 1977 version of “Suspiria” is one of my all time favorite horror films, so it’s safe to say that my expectations were high with this film. Thankfully, the overall presentation by Luca and company is one that establishes this as more of a re-imagining than the shot-for-shot remake that we’re used to. Because of this, this version is free to explore the strange and beautiful side of horror, free from the confines of an original film that was at the time the bar for artistic expressionalism for the genre. Some familiarity is still there for faithful fans, but Guadagnino proves he was the right man for the job because his version never feels restrained or limited to the game of compare and contrast.

– Emotionally stirring performances from a female dominated cast. Swinton is her usual scene-stealing self, portraying Madame Blanc with enough ferocity without ever feeling desperate or obvious. Swinton however is not who I want to focus on, as the duo of Goth and particularly Johnson are off the charts with their characters. Goth’s Sara gives us a tender supporting protagonist who we can believe in, and it’s in Goth’s haunting glow from her facial registry, as well as the command she has over the screen that makes this a major step forward for this gifted actress. As for Johnson, this is a star-turning role that she has been waiting years for, treading through awful movies left and right for the part that she was born to play. For Dakota, this isn’t just an emotionally riveting performance, it’s also a physically rendering one as well, and this combination builds towards one of the more riveting transformations that I have seen in quite sometime. You won’t believe what Anastasia Steel can accomplish when she breaks free from the chains of degrading nature.

– Entrancing visuals. In a year when “Hereditary” dropped our jaws completely in the final ten minutes of its film, “Suspiria” elevates its game to eleven, making the competition feel like a day at Disney when it comes to what it accomplishes. Being almost 34-years-old, not a lot scares me anymore, but the spectacle in macabre, and this ideal that something un-foreseen can possess your body, constantly gave me the kind of chills that I haven’t been treated to since I was a child. On top of it all, there’s artistic merit in said violence, that works beautifully alongside this form of dancing expression numbers that the rival the lighting buffet of the original movie.

– Meticulous exposition. There’s going to be many complaints that this film is jumbled or disjointed with its story arcs, but with some firm commitment to the developments taking place in front of you, it will all become clear by film’s end. For one, I appreciate a film that doesn’t hammer home every single detail to the audience, spoon-feeding us in ways that insults the intelligence of those it caters to. For two, I loved how these angles in story that originally felt so distant from those it was being told against, slowly started to form a pattern of why they were included in the first place. It all comes full circle in this moment during the climax that actually had me reaching for the tissues in ways I didn’t see coming.

– A student of the game. Aside from the accolades that I already commended him for earlier, Guadagnino’s biggest accomplishment is what he and cinematographer Sayombhu Mukdeeprom are able to master in terms of dated camera work. I mean this as an impressive positive, as the entirety of the movie feels like it belongs in the same era of filmmaking as its 41-year-old original, presented in 35 mm film, and dazzling us in ways that didn’t seem possible with the sheen look of modern technology. The movements faithfully pay homage to said decade of film, radiating with a combination of sharp cuts, slow-pans, and wide frames that only further enhance the ominously unnerving atmosphere that the film cements for itself.

– Thom Yorke’s sinisterly audacious nightmare of a musical score. It’s hard to believe this is the Radiohead front man’s first work as a composer in a film, because everything works about the tones that underline the dread and despair that fills the sets like an airborne toxic. Yorke uses plenty of loud alarming instruments to gain our attention, but what keeps it is his repetitious work behind the keys of a piano that go hand-in-hand with shots that we focus on for so long until we demand to look away. There’s little in the way of value more than a composer who grasps his environment, and Thom’s initial descent into the world of film impressed in ways that give us a glimpse into the mind of a musical madman.

– The sound mixing and editing is also something that I greatly commend, for its psychological spin on the unraveling insanity surrounding us. Some of the characters can communicate telepathically, and this aspect is depicted with a stern echo that reminds us of its use. Aside from this, there are these quick buzzes and whispers that cloud the scenes whole, and are presented with such minimal value that had me wondering if I was going crazy. This bending and manipulation of the voices and sounds further articulate why “Suspiria” is a breed of its own, offering a psychological titilation in wonderment.

– Impressive effects work. There’s far too much to even list here, but I have to mention a surprise for yours truly. Yes, I am applauding the use of C.G blood for once, for the way its shading and release feel synthetic to that of the actual human body. Nothing feels compromising to the scene, or obvious by its inclusion, and what’s best is this aspect is rarely ever used until the final twenty minutes, when all hell breaks loose. There’s also detailed makeup work that really made me wince on more than a few occasions, for hideous character design, as well as abrupt violent impact that visually mimics the crunch from impeccable sound editing.

NEGATIVES

– Long, very long. Considering the original “Suspiria” was 98 minutes, it’s a bit of an investment for this newest one to clock in at 146 minutes. That’s a long time to ask of any audience, especially one with a story whose pacing is plodding and calculating like this one. For my money, most of the early second act could easily be trimmed and compacted down, keeping the finished product at somewhere around the two hour mark. I don’t mind long films as long as they remain entertaining, and there were a few slow parts during the film when I couldn’t help but check my watch.

– There is a push for poignant social commentary within the film that goes nowhere, and only feels a tad bit on the pretentious side of ambitious reaching. For instance, the mention and setting of the post-Nazi Berlin is something that could add layers to the world unfolding outside of the walls of all of this terror, but the film would rather tell and not show…..several times. I think a couple of scenes to soak up the mentality of the townspeople could’ve done wonders not only in the bloated run time, but also in the pacing of redundant scenes that could use a breather before progression.

My grade: 8/10 or B+

Hunter Killer

Directed By Donovan Marsh

Starring – Gerard Butler, Gary Oldman, Common

The Plot – Deep under the Arctic Ocean, American submarine Captain Joe Glass (Butler) is on the hunt for a U.S. sub in distress when he discovers a secret Russian coup is in the offing, threatening to dismantle the world order. Captain Glass must now assemble an elite group of Navy SEALs to rescue the kidnapped Russian president and sneak through enemy waters to stop WWIII.

Rated R for violence and some adult language

POSITIVES

– A great sense of life aboard a fighter submarine. If Marsh does just one thing competently enough as a director, it’s in the articulate channeling of claustrophobia and fear behind these walls that encase this increasing pressure. What I love is that the shots in frame feel very tight, and the editing is brunt enough to keep the tension amplified for the on-going developments in this high stakes game of mental chess.

– Speaking of thrills, for a film that borders the two hour mark unnecessarily, this one surprisingly kept me engaged on all cylinders of the combat cycle. This story unfolds from three different perspectives: the war room, the battlefield, and the sea, and while some of the pacing issues between the three sides stilts the progression, I never felt bored or bloated with the details coming at me. Most can be attributed to having triple the chances at engaging the audience, but for me it was very much the intensity of the unfolding drama that brings with it a constant reminder of what’s at stake.

– Much respect to this film for not indulging in getting too silly, and catering instead to early 90’s political thrillers that brought us hits like “Crimson Tide” and “The Hunt For Red October”. While this film doesn’t quite measure up to those in terms of the things it accomplishes, it does keep a persistent eye on the prize of never giving in to the temptation to be one of those so bad it’s good properties. Are there silly things in the film? Yes, I will get to them later, but Marsh is a director who is giving his all to make this something extra, and I think that’s a lot of the reason I couldn’t be too mad once the credits came up.

– Art imitating life. The America Vs Russia rivalry isn’t going anywhere soon, especially with our current day landscape unraveling what could be the biggest chapter between them, and the film is wise enough to capitalize on this awkward relationship on more than a few occasions. In painting Russia the enemy, the philosophy of the film is painted to ask the audience if every single Russian is indeed guilty by association tagging, or is the political hyperbole painting a picture that isn’t completely honest? The answer seems to lie somewhere in the middle, as “Hunter Killer” provides plenty of surprises on this front, all the while playing into the paranoia that has divided the two sides into testy counterparts.

– Majestic interiors and set designs for the ships and accompanying government offices. For the former, the lighting in particular repeatedly caught my eye, giving a reflective vibe of the chilly and unforgiving waters that surround our characters, and for the latter, its communication in the form of endless computer screens and in-the-sky droids that serve as a reminder of the big budget investment that goes with this visual Tom Clancy homage of sorts. These perks do more than enough to set the stage and market with them the believability in you to invest yourself into this story where buying Butler as a naval captain might falter.

NEGATIVES

– What were they thinking? I want to get the small things out of the way first, because while they are minimally important to the integrity of the film, their nagging presence stuck with me throughout. First, the decision to cast Alexander Diachenko as the Russian president in the film is one that, while working wonders for his nationality, does zero in terms of believability for a non-existent accent that has him coming across as another American politician. This pales in comparison to the name Joe Glass for Butler’s character. Aside from the fact that this name is as dumb and action cliche as it gets, it’s a glaring problem for 8-bit Nintendo fans like me, who loved the game “Mike Tyson’s Punch-Out”, and recall the 1-99 boxer known as Glass Joe. Any one of the twenty-something executive producers on the film could’ve balked at this decision, and easily named him Joe Smith, but a Gerard Butler protagonist has to sound every bit as cool as he looks, and man did they ever fail in this respect.

– No performances to write home about. Butler is his usual bland, Common never elevates in volume when the panic comes, and Oldman, fresh off of his win as Best Leading actor at this year’s Oscars, is relegated to ten minutes of screen time in the entire film. Gary is easily the best part of this ensemble, and that’s when the problem presents itself. Is it a script choice or an actor choice to limit the biggest name to this?

– Terrible On-screen visual effects. This is probably the only thing that I truly hated about the film. The rendering of these artificial properties are every bit as hollow as they are unnervingly unconvincing, and for a film that hits theaters, I can’t understand how this is the finished product. Some examples include a duo of deer so poorly rendered that they make the surrounding property feel fake, the endless amount of explosions that don’t synthetically capture the coloring of an underwater influence, and my favorite: obvious reshoot backdrops that come across as too dark to match the studio lighting of the actors caught in the middle of it. This element alone gives the film a straight-to-DVD look that it sadly never overcomes, and it’s the main reason why I welcome a majority of scenes being under water.

– Attention deficit disorder with storytelling. I never had a problem with the triple-tier element of storytelling that the film encompasses, but rather the telegraphed and conventional method in which it’s presented. In presenting these respective angles one at a time only, it violently hinders momentum of each one, feeling the necessity to start over when the pendulum swings back to its direction. I wish the three of them could’ve connected more frequently, especially during a second act that repeats far too much of the same motions in unfolding drama from three different perspectives.

– Great suspension of disbelief with some intimate details. I can’t dive too deep without reaching spoiler territory, but the ability to stop missiles, the remarkably easy way to break into the equivalent of the Russian White House, and the convenient method of Russian intelligence not using sonar to detect incoming ships, are definitely my favorite instances of shutting my brain off. Considering the book this is based on is written by a U.S Naval captain, I can’t imagine he’s the reason to blame for certain logics of this film that simply don’t float.

My Grade: 5/10 or C-

Mid90s

Directed By Jonah Hill

Starring – Sunny Suljic, Katherine Waterston, Lucas Hedges

The Plot – The movie follows a teenager named Stevie (Suljic) growing up in Los Angeles. He’s struggling with his family, including his co-dependent single mom (Waterston) and his abusive older brother (Hedges), and at school, where his richer friends seem to overlook him. When Stevie befriends a crew of skateboarders, he learns some tough lessons about class, race, and privilege.

Rated R for pervasive language, sexual content, drug and alcohol use, some violent behavior/disturbing images – all involving minors

POSITIVES

– Jonah Hill’s impeccable sense of sight and sound within this designated time frame. Being a youth during such a progressive period in our history, grants Hill as the ideal candidate for such an expressive project, and the Oscar nominated actor’s first swing as a director connects hard with audiences who, like Jonah, bare witness to the expressive trends in fashion and music alike. Because of such “Mid90s” is very much enriched in a nostalgic gloss that intentionally feels dated for all of the right reasons.

– Style with substance. The decision to craft this film in 16 MM with a 4:3 ratio is one that moves the creativity of the film miles in terms of duplicating that authentic 90’s home video dazzle of filmmaking, giving it at times a documentary feel of realism that the entire picture is cloaked in. Imagination is big with me, and there’s nothing out currently that looks or even feels like Jonah’s subversive spin on skate culture, that goes hand-in-hand with this particular story and set of characters. Obviously we can’t return to the 90’s to film a movie, so cinematographer Christopher Blauvelt is more than happy to oblige bringing the 90’s to us.

– Another slam dunk score from Trent Reznor and Atticus Finch. I had no idea that these two Oscar winning composers were scoring “Mid90s”, and it only takes minutes for the film’s tones to channel those of the duo’s cold, callous repertoire that we’ve come to expect. The piano triggers loudest during Stevie’s deafening levels of isolation, and if anyone can articulate the angst associated with teenage perplexity, it’s the man who fronts Nine Inch Nails. Unfortunately, their cues don’t come often enough, as too much of the film’s accompanying music relies more on the soundtrack, which presented problems that I will get to later.

– What’s so effective and relatable about this film is that it transcends the group tag to give us feelings and situations that hit on everyone’s awkward adolescence. For me, it’s Stevie’s deteriorating relationship with his family, as well as the timidness and conformity that goes with wanting to fit in. This is perhaps the single greatest strength that Hill as a screenwriter instills, because his sequence of events feel every bit as natural as they do compromising to our main protagonist. In trying to be cool, we see how uncool it all really is, and its wisdom that comes with living through such experiences, that make you want to reach out and speak to Stevie personally.

– Breakthrough performances from a relatively unknown ensemble cast. This decision alone feeds into what we’re watching feeling like real life, giving the film a rich side of candidness that many films can’t hit on because of familiar faces. Even more impressive, the kids themselves are actual skateboarders. Suljic roars in his first starring role with a combination of innocence and ferocity that equally mold this outline of a teenager, who by the end of the film still feels in search of an identity that’s his. I felt great empathy for this character because every action comes at the desire to please someone else, a move that will inevitably move him no closer to self-happiness. The rest of the cast meets their marks equally as effective, even if the decision to cast Waterston and Hedges stands out like a sore thumb from the rest of the fresh-faced ensemble.

– Underrated editing that strikes a nerve psychologically. This aspect is great purely for its minimalist approach. There are times during the film when you blink and you could miss aspect of clever filmmaking, making you wonder if what you saw actually happened in real time. Without spoiling much, conversations between two characters clip on and off, jumbling up the continuity from shot-to-shot, and unnerving us in a way that we can’t explain or justify. This is especially the case during the beginning of a major sequence towards the end of the film that gave me a great jump scare for how visually and audibly arresting it comes across. It all serves as manipulation of the product that kept my attention firmly during these brief tweaks of creativity.

– Unapologetic dialogue that is anything but politically correct. This too feeds into the particular place and time that this film takes place in, depicting a world that feels far from our own in terms of offensive reactions that follow such R-rated banter. There is such a naturalism to it all that accompanies these exchanges that other films feel far too prepared to capture authentically, and while some of it is indeed racy, it’s refreshing to view a world where the youth feel tougher than adults, in that they don’t let throwaway words cloud their judgment of people.

NEGATIVES

– Minimal plot that lessens the dramatic pull. While I don’t have a problem with a film that has little to no story, its presence on this screenplay is one that hinders the impactful third act, reaching for weight on its characters and subplots that never feels fully rendered. Specifically, it’s in the lack of character exposition that feels forced during a brief five minute conversation that feels most obvious, and the forgettable, incomplete ending is a reminder of such inconsistencies that Hill could better steer as rider of this board.

– I mentioned earlier that the soundtrack, while offering a wide variety of genre favorites for the decade, felt forced for all of the wrong reasons. What I mean by this is there’s no context or syntax to their disposals, feeling very much unnatural and spoon-fed for the recognizability of the tracks that will inevitably warm a soft spot in the guts of audience members. A film about a particular decade certainly requires the use of some songs to represent its era, but the sloppiness associated with their deposits made for some truly distracting scenes that illustrated the intruding line of production that sometimes overshot the synthetics of the 90’s feel.

– Loose ends that come and go without resolution. There’s a Hispanic character in the group who has a conflict with Stevie early on that eventually comes to blows between them. My problem with this is the many things set up with this character that goes absolutely nowhere in comparison to the final direction. There’s also a confrontation between the two most influential characters in this skateboarding group that seriously is never mentioned again after its introduction happens with only twenty minutes left in the movie. It’s a little late at that point to be introducing new subplots to the story, and the lack of conclusion between their conflict feels like something more was left on the cutting room floor, that wasn’t important enough to reach the finished product.

My grade: 7/10 or B

The Sisters Brothers

Directed By Jacques Audiard

Starring – John C Reilly, Joaquin Phoenix, Jake Gyllenhaal

The Plot – Based on Patrick DeWitt’s novel, “The Sisters Brothers” revolves around the colorfully named gold prospector Hermann Kermit Warm (Riz Ahmed), who’s being pursued across 1000 miles of 1850s Oregon desert to San Francisco by the notorious assassins Eli (Reilly) and Charlie (Phoenix) Sisters. Except Eli is having a personal crisis and beginning to doubt the longevity of his chosen career. And Hermann might have a better offer.

Rated R for violence including disturbing images, adult language, and some sexual content

POSITIVES

– Benoit Debie’s dreamy western canvas that stretches as far as the eye can see. The first step in any good Western is to paint the screen with these entrancing visuals that articulate the distance and immensity of the land that our characters travel, but what Debie uses these instances for is more of a navigation tool in communicating to the audience the settings that they are headed. It starts on the characters it is focused on, then slowly pans out to reveal the bigger mapped out picture that we otherwise would be oblivious to while trailing them on the ground. This aspect perfectly sets the stage for what hits next, and amplifies the artistic value of the film tenfold, for those like myself who require gorgeous scenery in their westerns.

– Unique chapter introductions. This is an homage to classic westerns, in that the beginning of an important exchange for our characters begins with an image to summarize what’s to come. It isn’t so much in the inclusion of this trait as it is the presentation that accompanies it, charming us with what looks like a blurred gun scope outline for the depiction. This alerts the audience to an important scene every time its gimmick pops up, and gave the movie a delightful marriage between classic and present film that values each respective era.

– Buzzworthy performances from four big name actors. Nothing against the ladies, but this is definitely a men’s show, bringing along impeccable chemistry from two different duos (Reilly and Phoenix, Gyllenhaal and Ahmed) that constantly fight for leverage of the camera. For my money, it’s Reilly who may just steal the show, exchanging his usual comedic stick for empathetic drama that looks good on the veteran actor. It’s a bit confusing as to why he’s billed as the main character because the film sticks with Phoenix remotely more, but Reilly’s somber ambition for the character steals our hearts and scenes repeatedly. Gyllenhaal’s English accent also shouldn’t be overlooked.

– False advertising. This trait would usually be in my negatives category, but I’m glad that the manipulative trailers that presented this film as a comedy were a complete fabrication. Is there comedy in the film? Sure, in small appropriate doses, but I’m very much thankful for the dramatic depth of the script that is continuously dark and depressing in a way that only increases your emotional investment into these characters and the opposition they face. Fans looking for the usual bumbling Reilly comedy will be severely disappointed, but I challenge you to continue your interest from the trailer into a world of consequential drama that never relents.

– What I found so compelling about these brothers is that they are anything but your conventional heroes. Instead, they present a very honest and engaging depiction of two men who are ruthlessly cold-blooded killers, whose only solace is in the bond that they share while committing these crimes. In regards to their chemistry beyond the casual brothers label, these are two men who thrive because of the presence of the other. I have no doubt that they would be lost if they went it alone, and the film spends valuable minutes of screen time to further prove my theory. It’s the single most definitive brother depiction that I’ve ever seen in a western.

– Desplat simply doesn’t sleep. Alexandre Desplat is quickly becoming one of my favorite musical composers going today, and his work in “The Sisters Brothers” continues the trend with somber tones and wondrous numbers that do a great service to the presentation. My single favorite aspect of his score is that it never feels intrusive or manipulative despite continuously elevating my investment into every scene. The moments on screen and the music work hand-in-hand together without one of them overstepping the other, and if you’re ever curious how sound elevation should be handled, check this one out.

– Even with the linear style of storytelling between the two sides, the film never felt predictable or stale for where it was headed. In displaying two duos of characters with equal time devoted, the film sets up an inevitable confrontation where only we the audience know when and where it will take place. Despite this, there’s enough twists in the dynamics of both groups, as well as the slow reveal of character backstories that constantly kept me glued to the screen, and rarely ever let me down.

NEGATIVES

– A limited eye for action sequence capacity. Much of the action in the film is spread out and secluded over the course of a film that is nearly two hours in runtime, and my problem isn’t so much with the amount of action as it is the way it is captured on screen. Much of the angles felt compromisingly close for audience detection, and the rapid fire cuts of brash editing made it increasingly difficult to focus on just one character perspective. It’s a bit shocking that the action is shot so terribly because the rest of the movie’s camera movements are beautiful, but these flaws stick out like a sore thumb .

– Stilted pacing. Complaining about pacing in a western movie is like complaining about snow in Ohio, but there are times during the third act where the film has trouble moving forward after a series of bombshell events that leaves characters leveled. This is the first time where I truly felt the stretching of runtime that was up until then engagingly persistent. There’s nothing that I would erase or leave on the cutting room floor, but quick cut treatment in these closing moments could’ve kept the energy on high for the closing moments that serve as the big payoff.

– There’s a pivotal moment late in the third act that changes the complexion of our characters moving forward, and my problem with this scene is how illogical the characters feel after molding them a particular way prior. It’s almost comical how this mistake of epic proportions takes place, and requires a great suspension of disbelief for how it physically alters them moving forward. I understand that this element is in the book of the same name, but certainly there are better ways to adapt this that feel more consistent with character details present in the film.

My Grade: 7/10 or B

Never Goin Back

Directed By Augustine Frizzell

Starring – Maia Mitchell, Camila Morrone, Kyle Mooney

The Plot – Jessie (Morrone) and Angela (Mitchell), high school dropout BFFs, are taking a week off to chill at the beach. Too bad their house got robbed, rent’s due, they’re about to get fired, and they’re broke. Now they’ve gotta avoid eviction, stay out of jail and get to the beach, no matter what.

Rated R for crude sexual content and adult language throughout, drug use and brief nudity – all involving teens.

POSITIVES

– A harvested value of friendship that bonds the female leads and the audience alike. It’s rare to see this kind of female chemistry being exuberated on film, and not since “Romy and Michelle’s High School Reunion”, has a duo felt so in-sync to the point of them often feeling like the same person. Much of what you feel for this film will rely on your investment upon these characters alone, and my satisfaction with the work of Mitchell and Morrone, that feels like they’ve been friends for years, puts it right up there with Michael Cera and Jonah Hill from “Superbad”, in terms of sharp comedic timing and tag team banter that never withered under the dependability of them in the film. On a superficial level, the girls are remarkably beautiful, and I mention this because the lack of makeup on them throughout the film gives their characters that stripped down edge that values them for so much more than just a pretty face.

– Frizzell’s respect for the characters. It would certainly be easy to mock and ridicule Jessie and Angela for their limited social standings in life that come off as less than desirable initially, but in pulling the camera back through 82 minutes of exposition, Augustine highlights the drive in ambition and intelligence that keeps pushing them forward, proving that they are anything but dumb stereotypes. Women will love this angle because it shows the unapologetic rawness of two leading ladies, combined with the emphasis and intrigue to value the story that is theirs and many like them who are watching at home.

– Weight within the Fort Worth environment. This film reminded me a lot of last year’s “The Florida Project”, in that the humidity and steaming decay of western mini malls and temporary business fronts overcrowd the area, giving way to a mentality that opportunity is present, it’s just limited in terms of prospering and potential growth. The landscapes here are staged with an appearance of advantageous commercialism, and additionally the bleak surroundings of a claustrophobic apartment that sees our ladies sharing a bed to get by. It’s not quite the slums, but it’s not entirely far off either, and Frizzell’s dependency on the setting here instills even more empathy for the characters that you would otherwise overlook in a conventional setting.

– I am not an easy laugher by any means, and “Never Goin Back” had me chuckling to the point that I required pauses in between readings of dialogue. What’s charming to me is that this isn’t simply actresses reading lines, it’s also R-rated bodily humor that never relents, facial documentation that allows you to accurately read what the character is thinking or going through at that moment, and especially the work of some zany supporting characters around our two leads that attribute to what feels like their normalcy. It’s a world inside of a world that is colorfully articulated, and it leads to one of the best comedies of the 2018 Summer season.

– Intelligent use of easy listening favorites. Without question, my favorite aspect of the film is in the occasional inserts of sax-heavy tracks that audibly narrate the disgust or the desire of a character need in the frame at that particular moment. It feels like irresistible delves into the psyche of two stoners, whose minds are always on the hamster wheel, and allows us that rare opportunity to pull away from them and laugh at their torturous disposition. I definitely won’t give away anything here, but any movie that can add layers to Michael Bolton’s “How Am I Supposed To Live Without You” is brilliant in my book, and the scene that it accompanies could be a gift-wrapped present to IHOP if they were wise enough to take advantage of it.

– As easy of a sit as you’re going to get. As I Mentioned earlier, the film barely clocks in at 82 minutes of recorded film, and the progression of the free-flowing narrative combined with the untimely mayhem of what transpires along the way, moves the pacing miles ahead of what is asked of it, allowing “Never Goin Back” the power to keep the audience firmly in its entertaining grasp without convoluting or alienating audiences along the way.

– 90’s weightless cinema at its finest. This film feels like a more-than worthy representative of what I call “Hang around comedy”, a frequently visited subgenre at the turn of the 21st century that gave us classics like “Clerks” or “Empire Records” among others, and fed into the notion of so much happening to a limited amount of characters in a day or two of story time. In this aspect, what feels like the end of the world for Jessie and Angela is really just another day for those around them, and I respected Frizzell for this status of script that gives the film a positively throwaway sense of viewing by audience. These are the kind of films intended when people say to shut your mind off and just enjoy, and for a movie with such a limited range of impact, it certainly left a lasting memory on me hours after I watched it.

NEGATIVES

– The subplot involving Jessie’s brother (Played by Joel Allen), is entertaining enough in its element, but to me required a bit more satire and commentary in fully fleshing out a character who is twice as lazy and degraded as our two leads. There isn’t a positive male influence anywhere in this film, and that’s OK, I don’t mind that, but the overabundance of time devoted to him despite a subplot that goes literally nowhere is something that I felt unnecessarily weighed down his character arc, and never allowed him the opportunity to grow as anything other than the loser we first meet in minute eleven of the film.

– It made me a bit uncomfortable that two characters who are mentioned as being 16 or 17, are oogled upon in the most Michael Bay method of visual storytelling that you could possibly imagine. Considering this is all helmed by a woman, it’s a bit of a disappointment that her one glaring flaw is in the way that she, like many male directors before her, objectify women in the most awkward and unnecessary manner that Hollywood can offer. Are these two beautiful women? Yes, but they’re beautiful because of their undying spirits despite life’s brutal hammering, and it constantly felt I learned that when the movie didn’t.

– Late reveals during the final scenes of the third act involving a restaurant owner, felt a bit too convenient for me on two separate occasions. The first, a reveal about his occupation proves just how small the worlds inside of a movie can be, but the second reveal caters to a character mention earlier that should have been nothing more than a disposable drop of dialogue. Instead, drawing this out to be a major factor in the film’s conclusion hints that Frizzell is a student of coincidence, giving the ending a contradicting feeling of surrealism that tucks it away neatly.

My Grade: 7/10 or a B-

Halloween

Directed By David Gordon Green

Starring – Jamie Lee Curtis, Judy Greer, Andi Matichak

The Plot – Laurie Strode (Curtis) comes to her final confrontation with Michael Myers, the masked figure who has haunted her since she narrowly escaped his killing spree on Halloween night four decades ago.

Rated R for horror violence and bloody images, adult language, brief drug use and nudity

POSITIVES

– John Carpenter’s lucid nightmarish return to form. This isn’t just a return to the silver screen for Curtis and Michael, it’s also one for the legendary composer, whose work on the first film still resonates with audiences forty years later. For his return, Carpenter stays true to form with the classic numbers, giving them a much needed upgrade as far as sound mixing and refurbishing are considered. But it’s in his collaboration with Daniel A. Davies that carves out what little atmosphere that the film has going for it, entrancing us with a serene sense of ominously terrifying inserts that amplify the tension in every scene of chase.

– Green is certainly a student of the game. While the film occasionally has problems toeing the line between respectful homage and downright theft, one thing is certain: David Gordon Green was definitely the man for the job. Green’s directing conjures up a sense of female empowerment rarely seen in classic horror films, but it’s definitely his eye for detail in replicating the look and presentation of Halloween that moved me miles artistically. An opening credits sequence, complete with identical text coloring and italics, remind us of the fear associated with the infamous day that Michael thrives on, and for a few minutes it feels right to indulge on nostalgia, if only for these simple-but-effective credits that competently set the precedent moving forward. Keep your eyes open for some familiar Easter eggs to past films, particularly my favorite trio of masks for the Halloween franchise that aren’t Michael’s.

– There has never been a character in this series that is remotely as interesting or developed as Jamie Lee Curtis’s Laurie Strode, and in picking up the role for the fifth time in the series we have what might be her most complex portrayal yet. This is a Laurie that feels unavoidably scarred from that one night of terror that has defined her for better or worse over the past four decades, and given the once personable Strode an enveloping of strength and persistence that compares her to Michael in terms of her life’s mission. Curtis’s dry delivery and believable progression make her one of a kind in this modern day setting, and etches a general outline of what female heroines could and should be when in the hands of an actress who has grown with the character. Jamie nails the vulnerability AND the strength of the character equally, and this film would be garbage without her.

– Plenty of gore and creative kills alike. Many people might have a problem with the amplifying of the gore in this sequel that is anything but replicated from the 78 original, but Michael’s increased anger makes sense to me because this is very much a psychopath with a thirst to kill, who has been locked up for forty years. Think about what that building thirst feels like once you are out in the free world, and you understand why this is arguably the most dominant Michael that we have seen to date. Throw in some old school practicality with effects work and wincing props, and you have enough thrills in its grasp to make this a devilishly delicious treat in an era when creativity is often cut away from.

– As for Michael, the design of the mask finally feels right again, not feeling too white in coloring, nor too clean in terms of the weathering process. It replicates Michael’s becoming of the mask that the movie touches upon, making it easier to comprehend this as Michael’s actual face. What else is delightful is the passing of the torch generations with Nick Castle portraying Michael in the scenes he doesn’t wear a mask, and James Jude Courtney when he does. What I love about this decision is that it reminds us of Michael’s human side that the other films blurred for all of the wrong reasons. This is very much an aging man who still breathes that air of fire because of his life’s mission that has kept him going, and the combination of Castle’s still-frame complete with Courtney’s stalking movements, makes this the Michael from 78, whose cerebral psychology make him every bit as dangerous as his imposing stature.

– For my money, I would be fine with a one hour film that featured only the first and third acts of this film. I say that because the whole movie is built around this inevitable confrontation with Laurie and Michael that does fortunately pay off in more ways that one. For one, there’s this incredible setting inside of Laurie’s house that has, for better or worse, become a panic room of sorts, and gives Michael a lot more to fight against rather than the typical house that he can manipulate the shadows with. This final battle not only lives up to expectations, but lives up for all of the reasons you’re not expecting. I won’t spoil what happens, but if this is the final Halloween, count me pleased.

NEGATIVES

– The dreaded second act. There’s about thirty minutes in this film that is every bit as unpleasant as it is unnecessary, and a lot of this has to do with this overabundance of filler that adds nothing to character or consistency with the rest of the film. Laurie goes missing for a few scenes, and is replaced with this awfully forced humor and dialogue that repeatedly tested my patience. If this wasn’t enough, a late act decision that violently changes an unimportant and borderline disrespectful character came and went like it had no lasting effect on me what so ever, and only highlighted how faulty this screenplay was when it tried to present something different.

– Speaking of different, there’s not a lot of it in this film. I mentioned earlier about paying homage to the Halloween franchise with these brief and weightless Easter eggs, but what doesn’t work is when you are literally duplicating scenes from other Halloween films, some of which aren’t supposed to exist in this canon, and playing them off in a way that feels desperate. This makes this movie possibly the most forgettable of the Halloween series, mainly because it doesn’t carve out a unique voice of its own, relying far too much on the success of past scenes and screenplays that were left in the past for obvious reasons.

– It’s amazing that after forty years of the knife-wielding psychopath, writers are still interested in the why without understanding that the mystery of Michael is what makes him intriguing as an antagonist. The scariest killers are the ones that happen just because (Think The Strangers), and traditionally the more you find out about Michael, the least fascinating it is. This film, while not as drastic as Rob Zombie’s for reveals, continues this annoying tradition, wasting valuable minutes along the way to paint a picture that I don’t ever require to make me enjoy one of my favorite on-screen killers more.

– Unanswered question. To anyone who has seen the ending of the 1978 “Halloween”, you’ll know that Michael gets away before the camera fades to black. So my question is what happened after to get Michael captured in this film. The movie never elaborates on this aspect, and we’re left to fill in the gaps where the screenwriters won’t. In my opinion, I would’ve liked to have included the events of “Halloween 2”, and explain that Myers burning body was rescued in the nick of time. Two attacks would also add to the believability of Laurie’s now fragile state, and keeping the brother and sister angle would explain Michael’s obsession a little more clearly with Laurie.

My Grade: 6/10 or a C

The Hate U Give

Directed By George Tillman Jr

Starring – Amandla Stenberg, Regina Hall, Russell Hornsby

The Plot – Starr Carter (Stenberg) is constantly switching between two worlds: the poor, mostly black, neighborhood where she lives and the rich, mostly white, prep school she attends. The uneasy balance between these worlds is shattered when Starr witnesses the fatal shooting of her childhood best friend Khalil (Algee Smith) at the hands of a police officer. Now, facing pressures from all sides of the community, Starr must find her voice and stand up for what’s right.

Rated PG-13 for mature thematic elements, some violent content, drug material and adult language

POSITIVES

– A one woman wrecking crew of a performance. Stenberg has impressed me in films like “Everything, Everything” and even being one of the few bright spots in “The Darkest Minds”, but this is really the first time with her that I have felt shaken by a performance. Starr’s strength and perseverence are her greatest feats, but it’s in Stenberg’s wide range of heart and fragility for the things going on around her that make her irresistible as a protagonist, and it provides the first step in an inevitably bright future ahead for this leading lady.

– Two films for the price of one. Often in these modern day depiction films, you will be subjected to either a poignant conversation piece that ignores the qualities of a budget Hollywood production, or you will get an eclipsing piece of cinematic drama that sidetracks on its intelligent material, but “The Hate U Give” never restricts its boundaries, giving us a free-flowing narrative with expanding characters on top of commentary on racial and law abiding divides that never shies away. In whole, this is a film that satisfies both ends of the spectrum with audience motivation, and certainly brings with it a sense of staying power that is anything but easily forgettable.

– Above all else, a responsible film. What is so intriguing about Tillman’s directing when combined with Audrey Wells all-inclusive screenplay, is that this is a movie that gauges output on every side of the layered debate between law and citizen, as well as black and white that so much of the movie centers on. It’s refreshing because in this story there are characters of both color who are both good and bad, racist and not, who conjure up a unique perspective that doesn’t have to be cut-and-dry to sell its narrative. Particularly in offering the audience valued minutes to understand a cop’s perspective could forcefully sink the film for the majority of audience going to see the film, but Tillman feels obliged in understanding that these men and women in uniform aren’t just another evil villain, they are every bit as frightened and non-communicative as the people they instill justice upon.

– Enticing photography and overall cinematography by Mihai Malaimare Jr. Beyond just his ability to shoot a beautiful canvas, complete with these alluring roaming movements of the camera capturing the very essence of the town, it’s Mihai’s subtle erasing of color in his scenes of the past that really channel the absence of love and light from the sequence, as well as these soft, tender moments between black families that you unfortunately don’t see too often in films. This allows us the audience to adapt to this family smoothly, whether you relate to their trials and tribulations or not.

– The film also does an articulate job of outlining the two worlds around Starr, as well as the two sides she displays (Black and White), that she unfortunately must endure every day. Considering she is a black student who is going beyond typical territory lines at an all-white Catholic high school, It’s interesting to see the dynamic comparisons that she shares with friends of and opposite of her color that force her to abide by being someone she isn’t. These are perhaps the most interesting scenes of the movie to me, because it hints at even the slightest things like speech patterns and social media postings having an effect on subliminal racism.

– Free range of emotional resonance. It’s rare anymore that a film will take you on a roller-coaster of release that endures so many different emotions, but I tell the truth when I say “The Hate U Give” left me reeling from the surreal imagery and events that this movie threw at me. I laughed during scenes of release, I cried for Starr’s growing disposition against an enraged society, I feared for the victims who in this case are the only survivors, and I roared during scenes of intoxicating inspiration. It would be difficult to think of another film that has had this kind of influence over me in 2018, and it serves as a testament to Starr’s story, in that it struck so hard with a middle aged white male who couldn’t be further from this girl.

– At just over the two hour mark, this is a film that takes its time with many of the storytelling arcs, and this is no more prominent than during the film’s opening act. These incredibly touching and precedent-setting thirty minutes take their time in getting to the meat of the story, because it wants you to not only get to know these people, but also take stock in the surrounding neighborhood they’re selling. This feels very much like a neighborhood family that bleed as one, and that sense of unity is something that develops cohesively throughout the film, bringing to light a feeling of values that hit close to home. It was refreshing to see “My” neighborhoods depicted, and not for the bad reasons that stereotypically supplant themselves in big screen focus.

– A fictional story that transcends this label by touching on all too familiar material. Once in a while, a film will come along that is deemed to have “Perfect timing”, and that couldn’t be more accurate than this film. Far beyond just being entertained by a movie, the best ones should make you think and even resonate closely for replicating a world not far from our own, and “The Hate U Give” has this benefit in spades. Films like these need to be supported for their abrasive covering, if only for the way they challenge the status quo, and no current film deserves success more because of it.

– Media manipulation. You’ve heard this term a lot recently. Usually it’s in the right or left’s slandering of political stratosphere, but Tillman uses it to subtly whisper how outlets depict the black community, often reaching for the craziest looking citizen in the bunch to sell their narrative. Not only is this greatly important to what is transpiring in this film, but it also offers an illuminating light to news junkies who overlook these sort of vivid intentions as nothing more than coincidence. The news coverage here is immensely important, and the way that he channels it feels every bit as sharp as it does revealing.

NEGATIVES

– For my money, the ending is a bit too neat and tidy to be taken at truth value. I don’t feel like Tillman’s picture is reaching for a solution measure with the on-going conflict, but the one given in this film is far fetched at best, conjuring up the one single instance in the film where this whole thing actually felt like a movie. Because of this, the film’s suffocating tension just kind of slowly omits away in the closing moments, feeling like it never ends on the single moment that strikes the loudest.

9/10

Bad Times at the El Royale

Directed By Drew Goddard

Starring – Jeff Bridges, Cynthia Erivo, Dakota Johnson

The Plot – Seven strangers, each with a secret to bury, meet at Lake Tahoe’s El Royale, a rundown hotel with a dark past. Over the course of one fateful night, everyone will have a last shot at redemption; before everything goes to hell.

Rated R for strong violence, adult language, some drug content and brief nudity

POSITIVES

– We have to kick this off with the hotel itself. From a design and architecture perspective, this is a beautiful one stage setting for the entirety of this story’s current day narrative. In setting this story in the 1960’s, we are treated to these vibrant auburns and golds, the likes of which aren’t typically used to channel this particular era of American culture, and they do wonder in bringing the styles of Nevada and California together for a marriage of visual eye candy that is out of this world. The hallways and body of the hotel stretches and twists for what feels like miles, bringing with it a sense of a developing character in the script that hears and sees everything that these mysterious characters are doing.

– Goddard’s non-linear manner of storytelling. I’ve heard much to the dismay of many people about this element within the film, and while I do agree that at times it can be unnecessarily convoluted, it never confused or left me limited in understanding what is unfolding. Occasionally, the film will pause in modern day and rewind to the past, in order to better understand these characters and their current predicaments. This gives the film this sort of television element to its exposition, giving us a sense that the present is nothing to these people without the molding of a past that has taken them to this point.

– 136 minutes that are well worth it. One difficult thing for a film to do in 2018 is to craft a script that positively justifies the existence of each and every single minute, and keeps the entertainment factor in pacing firmly gripped at the pulse of its audience. Goddard succeeds at this because he presents these intriguing characters played by a super talented cast, and invests valuable minutes in telling us the whole story from many different perspectives. There is one sequence in the movie that repeats four different times, and it’s maybe not the most synthetic way to keep the audience engaged, but I can say that it worked for me because it illustrates how many layers are added to this one scene that could’ve easily been just another bump in the night at this eventful hotel. Note – This aspect will depend on how big your investment of the characters are.

– Drew Goddard loves his deconstructions. In “Cabin In The Woods”, he broke down the elements of horror in a way that was innovative and genius for hardcore fans of the genre. That theme continues in “El Royale”, although not as evident on the surface. Considering this takes place on the west coast of the 60’s, we are treated to cults, presidential scandals, and hotel wire tapping, and these elements channel a vibe of paranoia that was very prominent on our home soil during the Vietnam War era, and at the heart of it are these four strangers who are influenced by at least one of those things, and are molded together like a science experiment of atoms reacting to one another.

– A toe-tapping eclectic soundtrack of records and performances. The El Royale feels like a place where music is constantly breathing in the atmosphere, and there’s no more evidence of that feeling than the collection of Motown soul and groovy rock that makes up its almost spiritual jukebox that adorns the hotel lobby. To top that off, the leading female of the movie, Cynthia Erivo is herself a singer in real life, and the film takes advantage of this on more than a couple of occasions. Erivo bends notes to the point that they make the entire song feel fresh and debuting for the first time, and proved that this actress is so much more than just a pretty face.

– Speaking of which, the ensemble cast here is absolutely amazing, bringing to life many unique personalities and characters who I couldn’t take my eyes off of. Everyone is bringing their A-games to the screen, but there’s three people for me who stole the movie, and that’s Bridges, Erivo, and even Chris Hemsworth, who plays the leader of this dangerous cult. Chris is only in the film for forty minutes, but he makes the most of his limited minutes by carving out an egotistical antagonist side to his early resume that has me begging for more. Then there’s the magic between Bridges and Erivo that has them feeling like lifelong soul mates who are meeting for the first time. We already know that there’s plenty of secrets between them, but Erivo’s gentle touch when her walls come down casts strong empathy for her character, and Bridges wide range of demands brings us the best acting that he has done in decades.

– Tarrantino channeling. Lets get it out of the way; Drew Goddard is certainly a fan of Quentin Tarrantino and the elements that go into making his films as a one-of-a-kind experience. If he wasn’t, he certainly fooled me by crafting so many dialogue-heavy long scenes read by these very eccentric characters. I may be looking too far into this, but if I didn’t know any better I would think that Drew Goddard is an alias of Quentin Tarrantino, because so much of this film feels like a respectful homage, and not necessarily a theft of the aspects that Tarrantino made famous. Never mind that the El Royale may or may not be a nod to “Pulp Fiction”.

– Crisp editing for its violent turns. I almost missed this aspect of the film, and had it not been for some perfectly tightened transitions during the big blows, I probably would have. Without spoiling much, I will say that the crushing and fatal blows that happen in this film are cut and pasted together so wonderfully that I winced and exerted during the sparse occasions that they would invade the screen. Those for me are the best documentation of action sequences: when you feel the surprise and the detection of the blow equally, and that is something “Bad Times” does exceptionally well.

NEGATIVES

– Light bothers. There’s a bit of a stretching of disbelief for me, in that each of these dangerous people with such important motivations arrive at the hotel at almost literally the exact same time. In addition to this, there is a subplot involving this camera footage that we are reminded of every five minutes during the film, and we never find out who is actually on the film. Likewise, the frequent mention of hotel ownership leading to no reveal feels pointless for me.

– Twists? Trailers of this film promised many twists in the screenplay that never fully materialized for me. For one, these aren’t exactly twists as they are character threads, or even misconceptions. So much of what transpires between these people could be better communicated if they took the to just ask questions instead of jumping to these illogical actions. Much of the screenplay to me was easily telegraphed, and that didn’t ruin the experience for me, it’s just that you shouldn’t go into this film expecting some ground-shaking revelation, because it never comes.

8/10

The Old Man & The Gun

Directed By David Lowery

Starring – Robert Redford, Casey Affleck, Sissy Spacek

The Plot – Based on the true story of Forrest Tucker (Redford), from his audacious escape from San Quentin at the age of 70 to an unprecedented string of heists that confounded authorities and enchanted the public. Wrapped up in the pursuit are detective John Hunt (Affleck), who becomes captivated with Forrest’s commitment to his craft, and a woman (Spacek), who loves him in spite of his chosen profession.

Rated PG-13 for brief strong adult language

POSITIVES

– Redford’s last stand. If this is the final film of Robert Redford as rumored, then it feels appropriate that his career has begun and ended with a western. In fact, I feel like this film works better as a goodbye to Redford than it does a movie on its own. Especially with clips of Redford’s earlier film “The Chase” being inserted into a montage sequence. The philosophies behind living, growing old, and the constructs of time echo Redford’s career to a tee, and this allows the screenplay to transcend that of a film many times throughout.

– Impeccable chemistry. Speaking of Redford, the work between he and Sissy Spaceck charms and delights our senses in each and every scene. The dynamic between them is rich with charisma and on-point banter that we can never get enough of, making it easier with each scene to fall in love with both of them, especially when Daniel Hart’s jazz-flowing scores narrate such a seduction. Seriously, when they are together, the film flies by so much smoother, but the distance that grows between them does a disservice to a film like this that has a big enough outlet for romance in its live fast lifestyle choices.

– Unique production values. To say that this film feels like something straight out of the 70’s is an understatement. Joe Anderson’s grainy cinematography graphics combined with vintage side pan and slow zoom camera movements succesfully pays homage to the disco age of filmmaking, giving “The Old Man and the Gun” a one of a kind presentation that is totally out of this generation. In fact, it’s jarring to occasionally see newer film stars of this decade on screen, because it feels like they got into a time machine to the 70’s to further convolute their respective filmographies.

– Accurate depiction of the real Forest Tucker. Considering this is based on a true story, it would be expected that the film would take a few liberties with the material, but “The Old Man and The Gun” stays on a narrow path of fact and tastefulness that prove why he was arguably good or bad at his role of a robber. The film highlights Tucker as an intelligent individual whose biggest curse was the inability to live a normal life, and it’s in this curse where we learn the most about the mild manners of the man who charmed many he came into contact with.

– One song broke my replay button. Beyond just the use of this song in my single favorite scene in the movie, Jackson C Frank’s “Blues Run the Game” is on my limited list of favorite tracks from a film for the 2018 movie season. Frank’s somber repetitve lyrical deliveries echo that of a Dylan-meets-Buckley kind of vibe, and it’s a track that haunted me in the most intoxicating way, long after I left the theater. I suggest you give it a listen and turn it up.

– Part of what I love about Lowery as a director that makes him perfect for this particular project is the inclusion of random images that don’t necessarily add anything but atmosphere to the unfolding scene. For example, the editing cuts at random times and cuts to people or objects that were initially out of frame, but are now receiving focus in the most charming out-of-context manner. In this perspective, it feels like David is trying to relay the idea that little things happen are happening all around us, and the matters of random play into fate whether we want them too or not.

– My favorite kind of westerns are the ones that build two sides equally without compromising the other, and the fight for leverage between Redford and Affleck equally provides two sides that you want to come out unharmed. When you have two characters from different sides you care about, your investment in the movie and their well-being doubles, and Lowery as a screenwriter is intelligent enough to understand that the chaser is just as important to the story as the one he’s hunting, giving away the concept of an antagonist for the movie to be anything other than the inevitability of time.

NEGATIVES

– Something’s missing. When I left the theater, I had an overwhelming feeling that something was missing from the movie, and then it finally hit me. This film for the entirety of 88 minutes has little or no danger or urgency to it. My opinion is that it might focus a bit too much on the charms of Tucker to ever make him look truly bad or wrong in his convictions, giving away any remote thrills or tension that a film like this could desperately use.

– Occasionally meaningless scenes or characters. Without spoiling much, I can say one scene in particular featuring Elisabeth Moss as Tucker’s distant daughter did nothing for the complexion or even the sensibility of the film’s unraveling narrative. What confuses me is how this woman who has never met her father once not only knows so much about his traits, but also how she even has pictures of him in the first place. In addition to this, the very existence of Affleck’s character considering where the film ends. This is summarized by an in-person exchange between Redford and Affleck that sounds cool on paper, but only feeds into the lack of energy that I mentioned in the previous negative. It’s sad because I love Lowery as a director, but his writing is faulty at best.

– Lowery has always had a desire to pan out his scenes, testing the pacing time-and-time-again in ways that would paralyze other films. Where that worked in a film like “A Ghost Story”, when Rooney Mara is devouring a pie for five straight minutes, is in how he depicts the isolation and condemning feeling of grief and what it does to the human soul. Here, that same stretching of the pacing hinders the entertainment value of the film without adding anything of substance to what its plodding is trying to convey. More than anything, this is present during the second act, when Affleck’s subplot overstretches its boundaries and domination on screen time over the Redford/Spacek dynamic. It’s nowhere near as testing as eating a pie continuously, but it’s nowhere near as substansive as that take either.

7/10

Colette

Directed By Wash Westmoreland

Starring – Keira Knightley, Eleanor Tomlinson, Dominic West

The Plot – After marrying a successful Parisian writer known commonly as “Willy” (West), Sidonie-Gabrielle Colette (Knightley) is transplanted from her childhood home in rural France to the intellectual and artistic splendor of Paris. Soon after, Willy convinces Colette to ghostwrite for him. She pens a semi-autobiographical novel about a witty and brazen country girl named Claudine, sparking a bestseller and a cultural sensation. After its success, Colette and Willy become the talk of Paris and their adventures inspire additional Claudine novels. Colette’s fight over creative ownership and gender roles drives her to overcome societal constraints, revolutionizing literature, fashion and sexual expression.

Rated R for some sexuality/nudity

POSITIVES

– Rich and vibrant performances from the film’s leading duo. These are the kind of stirring renditions that lift a so-so screenplay to one that is full of radiant energy and impeccable chemistry between them for all of the wrong reasons. As the film’s title character, Knightley is intelligent, cunning, and especially confrontational. For a woman in the late 1800’s, Colette feels like a revolutionary for her respective gender, decades ahead of her time, and Keira is happy to oblige in giving the character the ambiance in fire that is dutifully required. West also shouldn’t be overlooked for his seedy brand of manipulation that gives the film the constant headache and obstacle that it’s protagonist requires.

– “Colette” is enriched with an overwhelming feeling of stage presence that constantly persists throughout the film. In translating to the screen, it’s nice to see that the meat and conflicts aren’t lost, because it’s in those moments when the dialogue diatribes becomes evidently louder, and the movements of camera remain firmly grounded. There were times during the film when I immersed myself into believing that I was watching a stage play, and it’s a testament to Westmoreland’s grip on the film, to never lose sight of what works from within.

– Vibrant production value in wardrobe and shooting locations. Duplicating Paris during the late 19th century presents many coveted opportunities that other films don’t get the blessing of, and “Colette” never squanders this chance, offering a wide variety of triple stitched dresses and suits to capture the ever-changing essence of our leading lady in a conforming male-dominated society, as well as a fine collection of gorgeous sites that were shot in Budapest to channel the vibe of French cultures.

– The depiction of fame in the 19th century. What I found so cool and unique about this perspective is the comparisons between now and then that highlighted many of the same parallels with being in the public eye. Rarely do we get a chance to see this angle played out in such a reformed and distant era from our own, and the inclusion of one informative montage sequence relates just how groundbreaking the Claudine novels were for escapism literature at their time, giving a vote of confidence to women everywhere whether their male counterparts knew it or not.

– Feels important without catering as Oscar bait. Whether this film receives eventual award consideration remains to be seen, but “Colette” thrives as one of these building blocks to a greater civilization without the necessity of feeling pertentious or callous as an independent film. Because of this, I feel like the film has strong crossover value with 21-40 year-old-males, who would otherwise never consider giving a film like this the time of day. It never loses itself in clunky, outdated dialogue, nor does it feel constrained by its sometimes dry time frame, and I hope many diverse audiences will give it a chance.

– Polished cinematography that was made for the silver screen. It’s so nice to see Giles Nuttgens stealing the show again after the triumph in visual storytelling that was “Hell or High Water”, one of my absolute favorite films of 2016, and his entrancing cruise control into the sights and sounds of Paris is something that certainly can’t be understated. It takes its time with painting us into the vibrant environment, and allowing us a vivid seduction of the landscape that are only surpassed by our leading lady’s impeccable character framing shots.

– Much of the dynamic between Colette and Willy is interesting, if only for the comparisons in infedelity that are labeled one way and ignored on another. What I found so honest and appreciative about their relationship is that these two people, who have fallen out of love, no longer wish to put on a charade to the dismay of their own homely environment. They embrace the arms of many other lovers, and do so without ever straying completely away from one another. One could say this is obviously because of Willy’s lock on Colette, and the fact that he needs her to keep writing, but I think it’s evident that if you are a part of someone’s life long enough, you inevitably will remain that way with or without choice. It’s anything but the conventional romantic rise-and-fall that you’re typically used to.

NEGATIVES

– It’s reach for poignancy far exceeds its grasp on some interesting subject material. Throughout the film, but especially in the ever-changing second act, the movie jumps from many pads to cleanse its pallet for many conversation starters, but unfortunately it never has much to say beyond the initial mentioning. Plagiarism, self-identity, and gay relationships are just some of the topics that move in and out of frame without much satisfaction for material, and I wish the film had more of an evident direction and fleshed out conclusion for why it required these stirring subtexts.

– Sharp time lapses. This is without a doubt my biggest problem with “Colette”, as the film feels like a jagged hack-and-slash that constantly trims the fat of some important time periods in Colette’s life. It’s more noticeable than ever during a first act that not only speeds us through three years of exposition within the opening ten minutes of the movie, but also finds itself fighting to gain any momentum in pacing that will challenge the audience right away. It does eventually payoff, but I can see a lot of people feeling weighed down for all of the wrong reasons before the film ever really gets going.

– The dramatic elements of the film are never fully realized, and it renders much of the consistency deaf in tone. There are parts of this film where I uncontrollably laughed at the mayhem that ensued, yet others when my face was a blank portrait for transpired, and for a movie so wrapped in manipulation and betrayal, I felt that the rendering of the finished product goes by without fully ever grasping what kind of feeling should exist within the atmosphere. This feels like 107 minutes that builds to a climax that just kind of comes-and-goes without much firepower, and it leaves the film’s closing minutes as nothing more than a Wikipedia page navigation.

7/10