The Catcher Was A Spy

Directed by Ben Lewin

Starring – Paul Rudd, Connie Nielsen, Mark Strong

The Plot – In the midst of World War II, major league catcher Moe Berg (Rudd) is drafted to join a new team: the Office of Strategic Services (the precursor to the CIA). No ordinary ballplayer, the erudite, Jewish Ivy League graduate speaks nine languages and is a regular guest on a popular TV quiz show. Despite his celebrity, Berg is an enigma – a closeted gay man with a knack for keeping secrets. The novice spy is quickly trained and sent into the field to stop German scientist Werner Heisenberg before he can build an atomic bomb for the Nazis.

Rated R for some sexuality, violence, and adult language

POSITIVES

– There’s a surprise behind every corner with the casting. Even if you’ve seen the poster for this film, that lists the names of the film’s top three or four stars, there’s enough cameo drop-ins to establish this as possibly the best ensemble cast of randomly assorted actors that I have seen in 2018.

– Most importantly, this is a chance for Rudd to diverse himself and shine in a genre that he isn’t exactly known for, and even though the direction does him little favors in terms of character development, Rudd supplants enough range to silence the doubters. In particular, Rudd’s surprising success vocalizing a wide range of accents are authentic enough to pay respects to the real life Berg, who went through endless training to attain his transformation.

– Strong camera work all around. The war scenes feel claustrophobic, following our leads with dedicated conviction, and the character exchanges off the field of battle revolve circularly around them to reflect the passing and race against the clock.

– As a biopic, it’s certainly true that The Catcher Was A Spy is a deeply flawed movie, but as a character roarschach test during the World War II era, it specializes on leaving mystery to the man to even make the audience question his directions. What this does in terms of benefit is firmly establish the uncertainty that filled the air during such a trivial time in our world’s history, feeding into the very mystery surrounding the job of being a spy.

NEGATIVES

– Television movie-of-the-week production values. This film is cut short around nearly every corner; poor interior lighting, choppy editing that feel like they cut scenes in half, and most obviously these tight shots of battlefield backdrops that relate how cost-cutting this whole thing truly is. Perhaps the budget was spent on the deep ensemble cast for the movie, because on camera it’s simply not there.

– The screenplay feels like a bunch of scattered puzzle pieces that never form a bigger picture when put together. What’s even further troubling is that there is no weight that carries over to the next scene to keep you interested. Everything feels like it continuously starts over the train of momentum, and it flies off of its tracks and derails each and every time.

– Perhaps my biggest trouble with the film is the overwhelming amount of time dedicated to the uncertainty of Moe’s love life, instead of elevating this as the spy thriller of sorts that the film’s excitement level so desperately needs. Not that this angle is reached with a level of success. This film very much drops the ball on understanding gay relationships during such a time period, but burden of repetition from a surface level only, doesn’t do enough to withstand any waning interest in the film.

– Cringing dialogue. I could mention a few different line reads during this film, but only one truly awful line is so bad to sum up everything that the script harvests. Moe is asked by a captain “Are you a Jew?”, to which Moe replies “Ehhhhh Jew-ish”. I slapped my head three times after hearing this, and you should too.

– Much of the film’s miniscule run time of 89 minutes does favors for the often-times sluggish pacing, but it works dramatically against learning anything beyond the Wikipedia summary about Moe the person. Far often, he lacks the kind of personal reflection from being saddled in a foreign land that you don’t ever get the chance to feel empathy for his disposition of having to give up the game he loves.

– From a baseball aesthetic and fact checker, the film gets everything wrong about the lone professional baseball scene in the movie. From the lack of names mentioned during commentary, to the incorrect caps and jersey’s used for the particular time period, this film stumbles on even the smallest of details, plaguing it again to its cheap production that distances itself from that big screen feel.

4/10

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

Sicario: Day of the Soldado

Directed by Stefano Sollima

Starring – Benecio Del Toro, Josh Brolin, Isabela Moner

The Plot – In this sequel to the 2014 surprise hit, the series begins a new chapter. In the drug war, there are no rules–and as the cartels have begun trafficking terrorists across the US border, federal agent Matt Graver (Brolin) calls on the mysterious Alejandro (Del Toro), whose family was murdered by a cartel kingpin, to escalate the war in nefarious ways. Alejandro kidnaps the kingpin’s daughter (Moner) to inflame the conflict, but when the girl is seen as collateral damage, her fate will come between the two men as they question everything they are fighting for.

Rated R for strong violence, bloody imagery, and adult language

POSITIVES

– Even though the departures of Denis Vilenueve and Roger Deakins leave a lasting impact throughout the film, it is screenwriter Taylor Sheridan’s finest hour to prove just how important he is to this franchise. Sheridan still preserves that world where these grey shaded characters interact, bringing with them the kind of complexity necessary for audiences to question the social politics going on within our own world, but it’s in his reserved stance to make this installment more of strategic one, as opposed to the physicality that adorned the first film, one that carves out its own identity without relying too heavily on past success.

– Alejandro was definitely my favorite character from the first movie, and I was glad to see him get more exposition in this film that never felt forced or tacked on. Through many conversations and interactions with other characters, we start to put together more of an outline from Alejandro’s former life that makes you understand his motive for vengeance that much more, leaving what little compassion he has left fighting for air.

– The action sequences, while few and far between, once again brought with them a rush of adrenaline and realism that satisfied wonderfully in payoffs. Because you sometimes wait 30-40 minutes for one sequence to reach its boiling point, the bullet-riddled offense of these battle scenes surprise with just how quickly they change the atmosphere and overall urgency of what transpires.

– While none of the new additions to the cast did anything to leave a lasting impression with me, the work of Del Toro and Brolin once again command a presence over the screen that forces you to hang on to their every word. Brolin feels twice as menacing as he did in the first movie, racing against the clock and Washington to seek results, and Del Toro’s subdued yet confident capability over changing situations, makes him the perfect anti-hero to get behind, in a film that strongly lacks a typical protagonist lead.

– Besides Sheridan, the production is fortunate enough to maintain articulate music composer Hildur Guonadottir to the series. Hildur’s immense presence outlines every scene, orchestrating these dark, ominous, and often unnerving tones that repeat with volume the longer they go. It frequently feels like a poison that engulfs itself over the atmosphere within the film, carving out this seedy underground that is responsible for much of the world’s chess piece movements.

– One of the best first acts that I have seen from a movie all year. In bringing us back into the dangerous world of the Mexican cartel, we learn right away how dangerous and unforgiving such a lifestyle costs in paying the ultimate price. Aside from this, the initial reunion with Brolin and Del Toro’s characters are satisfying for completely different reasons, chalking up some rich dialogue between them that makes this reunion the blueprint for everything that follows that much more apparent.

NEGATIVES

– This film is the very definition of sequel building. The problem with that angle is that it neglects what can be made memorable about Day of the Soldado, instead catering to set-ups for a future installment that few will embrace without a strong second effort. The final twenty minutes in particular feel reduced to minimal movements because of where the film’s inevitable direction takes us to the finish line, leaving us with even less satisfaction than an original film that still managed to please despite how bleak its results were.

– One extremely glaring negative to Deakins handing over his duties as master of photography, is in the film’s obvious differences to how it establishes locations and atmospheric tension accordingly. As to where Deakins took his time with the angles and movements of the camera in the first film, so as to take everything in without ever letting a single second omit itself, Dariusz Wolski’s timing feels rushed and uncharasteristic for a film that visually carved out such a level of originality in the first movie. What this does is offer the audience little to chew on in terms of what we see in the backgrounds before the characters ever do.

– To me, much of the first Sicario never really feels like a movie, instead feeling like D.E.A footage that we’ve managed to stumble across. This is never the case for Day of the Soldado, as there are too many sequences of shootouts or kidnappings that take place in the heart of a big city during the daytime, where not a single patron in the streets stops to think twice about what is going down. One could say this speaks volumes to the kind of daily atmospheres in Mexico, but give me a break. This level of ignorance to not shoot a single reaction, constantly overwhelmed me with this inescapable feeling that this is a production, limiting my opportunities to immerse myself in the world depicted.

– There’s a subplot in the film involving a teenager who is being groomed to be a Sicario of his own. I understood completely Sheridan’s point with this angle, carving out the effects that war and the drug trade can have on a youth, but that doesn’t mean it was ever interesting when it took up precious screen time. You know these two plots will eventually converge at some point, but during the first hour of the film, this subplot involving this youth feels completely tacked-on from a completely different film all together, and it did a disservice to otherwise impeccable pacing that kept things moving fluently for two hours.

6/10

Won’t You Be My Neighbor?

Directed by Morgan Neville

Starring – Fred Rogers, Joanne Rogers, Francois Scarborough Clemmons

The Plot – From Academy Award-winning filmmaker Morgan Neville (20 Feet from Stardom), Won’t You Be My Neighbor? takes an intimate look at America’s favorite neighbor: Mister Fred Rogers. A portrait of a man whom we all think we know, this emotional and moving film takes us beyond the zip-up cardigans and the land of make-believe, and into the heart of a creative genius who inspired generations of children with compassion and limitless imagination.

Rated PG-13 for some thematic elements and adult language

POSITIVES

– Assertive, informative, and moving . Won’t You Be My Neighbor is the perfect documentary for all kinds of fans, passionate or occasional, who wish to immerse themselves one more time in their childhoods. It’s a heart-warming dissection of the man who refused to change in an ever-changing world, giving way to the kind of loving and supportive ideals that some in 2018 still struggle with.

– Documentaries often follow chronological time as their directing narrative for storytelling, but that predictable spin gets lost in favor of Neville’s focus on the impacts with the world at hand that only Fred could commute. In his unmatched relationship with his youthful audience, Rogers because a pioneer with a lasting legacy for positivity, something that figures from our childhoods are quickly being removed from.

– With any documentary about a particular person, I look forward to information about that person that I rarely knew about, and this film accomplishes this in spades. Aside from our own intimate portrait of Fred front-and-center, the film also has several deep psychological spins for what the many characters in-and-around the neighborhood represented.

– There is that stirring feeling watching the film, when you almost forget that Rogers has been deceased since 2003, and this is because of the masterful editing by Jeff Malmberg and Aaron Wickenden, that manipulates that feeling of real time. Aside from this consistent bending of time, there’s also an innovative way that the visual effects puts you in the seat of watching this on your own television, giving off that live vibe before our very eyes.

– With absolutely no shortage of scenes to reach for tissues, it specifically was the scenes of Fred supporting a gay cast member, as well as a child confined to a wheelchair where I lost it like I haven’t in years during a film. What’s even more credible is that these somber instances have absolute zero to do with negativity of the situation, and more to do with how truly beautiful Fred’s one-of-a-kind outlook on life truly was. If this movie doesn’t make you smile at least once, you should have your pulse checked.

– Wide assortment of friends, family, and colleagues that vividly paint the picture. It’s no surprise, nor small feat the kind of legend that Rogers became saddled with, but in hearing the perspectives of so many adults who he helped along the way, you start to understand that while children were his pedigree, the universal language of love was something he lived every single day of his life.

– Intercut during several points during the film, are some experimental animation with Daniel Tiger that added a layer of independent cinematic depth to perfectly capture the roller-coaster of moods that the film takes with its material. These illustrations by Jason Fruchter offer a kind of mature shading palate of the typical Daniel Tiger cartoon that can currently be seen on modern day PBS, where the color scheme breeds more psychadelic effect here that visually pleased.

– What was most impressive to me is that even though Rogers lacked the kind of controversy or trouble that a protagonist in these films always seems to have, the movie never lost steam to me in following along. This is proof that good storytelling doesn’t require a juicy circumference to hook its audience. Positivity still holds a place in this world, even though that aura of good does omit itself a bit after you leave the theater.

– Tons of behind-the-scenes footage that offer us that rare glimpse of him enjoying the many passions in his life. Even more beneficial in this aspect is the fading effect of this wall that divides character and person, reminding us of this rarity of them being the same person. Rogers lived and breathed his daily life lessons to those he constantly spoke to beyond the camera, giving much credibility to why his show worked despite the fact that it went against everything that was defined as great television for the time.

NEGATIVES

– Although I felt like the stuff involving Fox News certainly added a dimension of unnecessary backlash to Rogers consistently inspirational message, the focus aimed at the many shows and people who parodied Mr Rogers is something that I felt was strongly unnecessary during this particular film. Lashing out against these misguided comedians who are only doing it for a laugh makes Rogers almost come down to their level, and if it were up to me, I would be fine with Neville ignoring them all together instead of wasting minutes to even give them recognition. Even with Rogers comments on them, it never feels consistent with the rest of the film’s positive message of nothing coming between Fred and the kids.

9/10

American Animals

Directed by Bart Layton

Starring – Evan Peters, Barry Keoghan, Ann Dowd

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

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

POSITIVES

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

NEGATIVES

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

9/10

The Seagull

Directed by Michael Mayer

Starring – Elisabeth Moss, Saorise Ronan, Annette Bening

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

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

POSITIVES

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

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

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

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

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

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

NEGATIVES

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

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

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

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

6/10

Gotti

Directed by Kevin Connolly

Starring – John Travolta, Kelly Preston, Stacy Keach

The Plot – The film follows infamous crime boss John Gotti’s (Travolta) rise to become the “Teflon Don” of the Gambino Crime Family in New York City. Spanning three decades and recounted by his son John Jr. (Spencer Rocco Lofranco), GOTTI examines Gotti’s tumultuous life as he and his wife (Preston) attempt to hold the family together amongst tragedy and multiple prison sentences.

Rated R for strong violence and pervasive adult language

POSITIVES

– While the performances certainly aren’t anything of award worthy, Travolta and Preston are giving it their all in their respective roles. My only complaint from Travolta is that his performance feels like more of an impression of John Gotti, and less of an immersion. What pushes it through to positivity for me are some of the committed deliveries that he gives to some truly outlandish dialogue that did him zero favors.

– The inclusion of real life footage does a much better job in relaying information than the film does. I would normally complain for how much this film goes to the well for the added effect, but it was the only reason why I was able to follow what was transpiring from scene-to-scene.

NEGATIVES

– This film has attention deficit disorder of the worst kind. If you can get by the first five minutes of the movie, in which there are three different timeline switches, then you will have difficulty deciphering why this film can’t tell one cohesive direction from oldest to most recent in storytelling. This never settles down, and the whole film feels like a disjointed Frankenstein project that should’ve never seen the light of day.

– It’s not often that I complain about the dialogue feeling like it got its respective film genre wrong, but that’s what we have here. Most of the lines and conversation pieces feel like they’re ripped completely out of a satirical comedy that pokes fun at the gangster lifestyle, instead of hard-hitting, moving reads that make you feel their impact. Never for a moment was I shook or even remotely moved in the way that films like Goodfellas or The Godfather films achieve.

– Where the film begins is a bit of a mystery to me, because it makes Gotti feel like a sequel to a film we’ve previously seen. There is not a single mention of John’s earlier life, or anything before this twelve year period that the film rushes through, making the presentation feel like a two-and-a-half-hour movie that was horrifically trimmed to 100 minutes. Maybe we should be so lucky.

– My job as a critic is to point out aspects in time period pieces that don’t line up to the respective decade that a particular film is trying to depict, and Gotti has two of my absolute favorites of all time. Consider first of all that this film takes place between 1977-1989, then ask yourself why acclaimed rapper Pitbull has two songs that play overwhelmingly loud during an outdoor barbeque thrown by Gotti’s mob family. If this isn’t enough, ask yourself why during a New York skyline shot, the 9/11 tribute can easily be seen. WHAT WERE THEY THINKING?? Were they even remotely trying?

– There’s are these huge leaps in time that only further contribute to the idea that this film was gashed in half. Events and things just tend to happen without much planning or warning, and we as an audience are left to pick up the pieces and figure out what happened along the way. I don’t care much for audible narration, but this is a film that needed it terribly, because surviving without it is like trying to learn a foreign language on one hour of experience.

– Much of the film’s production falters, feeling like a cheap made-for-TV experiment that they couldn’t sell to F/X. One such example is in a scene in which a rival mob boss walks up the street with his henchmen and turns down the corner. The problem comes in the fact that this exact same take is played three different times throughout the film. How do I know this? The boss’s limping pattern and clothes are the same in every take. After the second time, I didn’t even laugh anymore. I became concerned for how anyone could ever give Connolly a job in the director’s chair.

– Offensive character framing. If I was a citizen of New York or an Italian, I would be more offended watching this than watching an episode of Jersey Shore. I’m not sure if Connolly’s point was to depict Italians as braindead human beings, but bravo to a job well done. The movie has this strange angle of portraying Gotti as this hero of the community, and that he didn’t deserve what he got in the end. This gives me hope for that Dahmer film in which they depict him as a vegetarian.

– Much of the push-the-envelope material feels like watered down scenes from other, better gangster movies. In fact, as I sit here not even an hour after the movie ended, I remembered very few details to Gotti’s life that even made him such a valued angle for American cinema. There is definitely a compelling story somewhere underneath Connolly’s disheveled pieces, but they never combine with one another to craft anything of dramatic pull or tension for the movie. Even the death scenes feel like temporary hiccups instead of deconstruction to the title character.

2/10

First Reformed

Directed by Paul Schrader

Starring – Ethan Hawke, Amanda Seyfried, Cedric the Entertainer

The Plot – Reverend Ernest Toller (Hawke) is a solitary, middle-aged parish pastor at a small Dutch Reform church in upstate New York on the cusp of celebrating its 250th anniversary. Once a stop on the Underground Railroad, the church is now a tourist attraction catering to a dwindling congregation, eclipsed by its nearby parent church, Abundant Life, with its state-of-the-art facilities and 5,000-strong flock. When a pregnant parishioner (Seyfried) asks Reverend Toller to counsel her husband, a radical environmentalist, the clergyman finds himself plunged into his own tormented past, and equally despairing future, until he finds redemption in an act of grandiose violence.

Rated R for some disturbing violent imagery

POSITIVES

– In casual Schrader fashion, there’s a lot within this film to be said about the world that offers much poignancy in debate. Whether it’s the corporation narrative that churches have become, the whiplash as a result of people not taking care of our world, or the confines that come from being a pastor, this is very much a Schrader movie, in that he’s a director who is never afraid of alienating his audience.

– The film uses narration so skillfully, a la Taxi Driver, in that there is a deep psychological tug-of-war between what Toller is thinking in his mind as compared to what he is writing in the notebook. This commentary in take allows us plenty of evidence of the struggle from within that help to shape the figure that he becomes by the powerful third act. Basically, he’s his own unreliable narrator, and that stance is something rarely seen by a narrator in a film.

– Hawke is doing some of the very best work of the latter part of his career. As Toller, we see a conflicted figure who is deeply affected by the loss of his son from many years ago, as well as a struggling patron outside of the cloth to live with the deep-seeded issues that come with living in the today’s world. Toller unleashes a beat down upon himself that allows Hawke to portray him as someone who is keeping the deepest secrets buried deep within the many people who only see him as this leader, and we as an audience find it easy to soak up his presence because of Hawke’s untimely collapse that is depicted in 100% of the film’s shots.

– Spell-binding photography. What impressed me the most about this film, aside from it being shot in a 1:37:1 ratio, was how reserved and dedicated that it stayed in camera style throughout the picture. With the exception of two memorable scenes that clearly point to the change within Toller’s life, the rest of the film is single, still-framed shots that insist on the characters coming to it. Throughout many single character perspectives, as well as wide-lens establishing shots, we learn as much as there is to know about the characters and atmospheres that Schrader would rather audiences grasp visually instead of audibly, and I couldn’t be more impressed with this decision.

– Minimal music cues. Perhaps even more surprising than the impeccable photography is the decision to accompany this film with very little musical tones. Composer Brian Williams chooses instead to play up his dark and ominous influence for the right moments, so as to not take too much away from the surrounding circumstance that suffocates through each scene. I believe this is the best way to not dilute how the audience interprets these scenes, and sometimes minimal inclusion makes for the biggest result.

– Alexander Dynan’s bleak cinematography that speaks levels to Toller’s aging disposition the further the truth takes him. Despite the fact that the majority of this film takes place inside of such a spiritual confinement, it’s interesting to see how the production takes advantage of such bare and desolate surroundings, creating beauty in the atmospheric sin that withers inside.

– Nothing ever felt predictable to me, despite the fact that many key elements are introduced early on that play a more prominent role the further the story develops. For my money, the ending was very much a last second twist that I didn’t see coming. Even if I can’t feel fully satisfied with the way the lack of effect that it takes on everyone but the two characters involved, I can still appreciate what Schrader is trying to tell us in terms of this important element that outranks everything else. This effect was even more evident, in that none of my audience members wanted to get up from their seats. They were that transfixed on the final images.

– While I don’t agree with many people labeling this as the Taxi Driver for the new generation, I can say that Schrader has brought along all of his best traits to make First Reformed feel like a greatest hits of his creativity. Aside from the claustrophobia in focusing solely on our lead character, Schrader again insists upon a candid view of the world that many are afraid to depict. He’s a director who excels in that hard-to-watch imagery that other directors look away from, but Paul stays committed to those shocking necessities that get under the skin of those who take in his films.

NEGATIVES

– Despite convictions that I can truly admire and respect him for, Schrader’s social commentary does occasionally overstep boundaries into heavy-handed and preachy territory that made me say “Enough already”. My problem isn’t so much that Paul uses 103 minutes to focus on overlooked social issues, but rather how redundant it feels when compared to the lack of development that some of the characters don’t receive. Because of this sluggish pacing, many people will give up on First Reformed before it reaches its best stuff, so the recommendation here comes with a bit of a warning.

– The film severely lacks nuance. I can get over a scene where two characters are flying over a city in an almost metaphysical moment, but a pregnant woman named Mary (of all names) is when I draw the line. And this is only one example of the lack of subtlety that plagues the film. I could go on, but it would be spoiler territory.

8/10

Tag

Directed by Jeff Tomsic

Starring – Ed Helms, Jon Hamm, Jeremy Renner

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

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

POSITIVES

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

NEGATIVES

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

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

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

7/10

Incredibles 2

Directed by Brad Bird

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

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

Rated PG for action sequences and some brief mild adult language

POSITIVES

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

NEGATIVES

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

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

8/10

Superfly

Directed by Director X

Starring – Trevor Jackson, Michael Kenneth Williams, Jason Mitchell

The Plot – Based on the 70’s remake of the same name, the film revolves around career criminal Youngblood Priest (Jackson), who wants out of the Atlanta drug scene. But as he ramps up sales, one little slip up threatens to bring the whole operation down before he can make his exit, in turn setting him up as the desired target for those who he cost.

Rated R for violence and adult language throughout, strong sexuality, nudity, and drug content

POSITIVES

– The very essence of Atlanta becomes a prominent character throughout the film. For all of its trials and tribulations, lies an after dark kind of city that beats with prominence throughout, and in X’s eyes lies a metropolis of drugs, laundering, and dirty cops that values location more than the original film did tenfold.

– Because this comes from the mind of a music video director, the ideal of all style no substance is hard to run away from. However, within that neon nightclub atmosphere, we get a lot of transfixing visuals that not only seduce us into this world, but pull us in completely to the live fast directive that our characters embrace. Usually the music video style of directing does more harm than good for films, but within Director X we find the perfect candidate to bring these lavish lifestyles to the forefront of the frame.

– When they decide to pop up, the action sequences are shot with such confidence and flare to appreciate in many forms. The chase scene sequence in particular offers a wide variety of in-your-face camera angles that never settle for repeats between cuts. Aside from this, the tight-knit editing keeps each transition in frame fast with the adrenaline that compliment the burning of screeching tires.

NEGATIVES

– This remake of Superfly takes itself a bit too seriously, refusing to acknowledge the cult side of its 70’s Blaxdploitation roots. Throughout the film, I couldn’t escape this overwhelming feeling of boredom from a story that should be enveloped in the near bad-mother character that Priest is supposed to embrace, and for my money I could’ve used more definition in the term Superfly in expanding his personality.

– Pointless narration from Priest that only exists for the first half of the film. I’ve always believed that narration should serve a purpose in either further developing a plot, but the audio here only repeats what we already learned in a previous scene.

– There’s such a thirst for slow motion action sequence effects that died after The Matrix perfected the craft in 1998. In Superfly, this effect only adds unnecessary length to scenes and fight choreography that only captures five actual seconds of film. Once or twice for your most impressive blows is cool, but to do this tired cliche each and every time only soils its charms

– Bad performances for an array of reasons. First of all, Jackson never embodies the cool or the intimidating nature of Priest in a way that we comprehend the trouble coming to anyone who crosses him. He has the look, but never the it factor, and I was underwhelmed every time he tries to be cool because a scene asked for it. Worse even more than Jackson though, is Kaalan Walker’s laughably bad portrayal of Juju, an intense rival of Priest’s in the drug business. To say that this kid overacts in every scene is the understatement of the decade. I compare it to Tevin Campbell on steroids, for his results of unintentional laughter to every line of dialogue that he screams through. It’s a shame this cast lets down in the majority, because Jennifer Morrison’s surprise appearance as a corrupt police officer dazzled the screen every time she pops up. This was not only a new side to her that I have previously never seen, but Morrison knows what the film demands of her character, something the entirety of the ensemble just never come to grips with.

– Misogynistic and morally vapid to a tee. Besides the fact that the film wants us so terribly to root for Priest, despite the fact that he poisons the streets with the very same things that his antagonists do, the film ultimately has no strong, powerful female leads to fight back against thoughts that this franchise hasn’t aged very well since the 70’s. The very few actresses that are involved are left nothing to do but be in these forcefully cold threesome sex scenes that add nothing of sizzle or steak to audiences hungry for substance.

– The screenplay takes far too long to get to the heart of the conflict, and when it does it doesn’t even feel like the same direction we’ve been building towards. Priest’s opposition comes in the form of three different groups of antagonists. None of which are given the time they deserve, and all of which feel tightly shoved into a script that obviously doesn’t have confidence that it will be getting a sequel.

– As for the ending, it’s as neat and tidy as you can ask for. This film wraps up every conflict for better or worse in the span of five minutes of one another, and even worse our protagonist doesn’t seem like he has learned anything because of it. This would normally be a spoiler that I am revealing, but this remake took roughly 90% of the original ending, and just added some light tweaks that I won’t spoil here. It’s every bit as unsatisfying as it is uninspiring.

3/10

Ocean’s 8

Directed by Gary Ross

Starring – Sandra Bullock, Cate Blanchett, Anne Hathaway

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

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

POSITIVES

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

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

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

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

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

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

NEGATIVES

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

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

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

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

6/10