Ma

Directed By Tate Taylor

Starring – Octavia Spencer, Diana Silvers, Juliette Lewis

The Plot – In this new psychological horror-thriller from Tate Taylor and Blumhouse, a lonely woman (Spencer) befriends a group of teenagers and decides to let them party at her house. Just when the kids think their luck couldn’t get any better, things start happening that make them question the intention of their host.

Rated R for violent/disturbing material, adult language throughout, sexual content, and for teen drug and alcohol use

 

POSITIVES

– High Octavia. While the rest of the performances mostly by the teenage cast don’t live up to anything outside of the conventional box of adolescent youth, the work by the film’s central antagonist is treading new ground for the decades of experience that the Academy Award winner has gained. Spencer’s Ma channels just enough loneliness to make you feel for her character, yet equally enough maniacal mange to remember why some people are better left alone in the first place. Octavia’s commitment to giving this character the proper amount of energy and growing disappearance of nuance sanity proves she is having the time of her life with the role, and that raw precision to insanity makes her especially engaging for the audience, especially being one of the only female black psychopaths on-screen in movie history. Side note- Screw Mark Wahlberg, I want to listen to Octavia talk to animals for the rest of my life. Seriously the funniest shit I’ve ever heard.

– Tuned-in tone. One thing that Blumhouse usually manages to attain more times than not is this perfect compromise of tone and seriousness for the movie that gives their films a hip edge with younger moviegoing audiences. Continuing this tradition is “Ma”, a film not afraid to show its personality with timely awkward laughs, or a barrage of thrills that articulately depicts the evolution of the script. This is very much a film that I had a lot of fun with, but one that also surprised me for how much emphasis is given to the coveted R-rating that often times feels like a reason to get extreme for the sake of shock violence. This one instead takes its time, and does so while solidifying an indulging atmosphere that allows you to forget about the cares of the world for 90 minutes of calculated revenge that constantly pokes and prods at the audience that it knows so well.

– Double tiered storytelling. Aside from the real time narrative that much of the movie’s attention is dedicated to, there is an addition subplot that occasionally appears detailing Ma’s mysterious past, giving us insight for why she is the way she is. As to where this cliche of explaining too much about the mystery usually soils the mystique of the character for me, this angle provides blocks of knowledge not only for why there’s something truly unsettling beneath her exterior of super hip elder, but also why much of her manneurisms and reactions envelope the teenager inside of her that has never evolved or moved past the demons of her past. What’s important is that it doesn’t effect the attention of its audience, nor does it make this timeline transition too often to take away from the current day progression. It’s a seamless delve into the mind of a mad woman, who for better or worse, provides possible justification for what she has become, and it gives the film two compelling stories for the price of one.

– Kicking tunes. What’s so refreshingly engaging about this soundtrack and accompanying musical score, is that the collection of top 40 classic hits from the 70’s and 80’s that Blumhouse surprisingly shelled out a big amount for transcends the screen, and puts us the audience front-and-center at the heart of a party full of drunken debauchery and endless good times. Some of the featured tunes include “Kung Fu Fighting” by Carl Douglas, “The Safety Dance” by Men Without Hats, and my personal favorite for Ma’s one-of-a-kind robotic dance choreography that she gives during it, “Funkytown” by Lipps, Inc. As for the musical score by composer Gregory Tripi, it’s a lucid anxiety-riddled ravage of synth sounds that adds a trancing outline to the scenes of tension that sharpen with increasing volume until they are ready to cut like a knife. Music was the last thing I was expecting to compliment in a movie this focused on revenge narratives, but the inclusion of a toe-tapping tapestry of terror only increased my delight of this picture, and put me in the moment of living out these awkward moments with these young characters.

– Taylor’s presence behind the lens. This is the same guy who directed visual feasts of coloring like “The Help” and “Winter’s Bone”, but it’s really what Tate does in framing work that gives way to an artistic integrity of range, that pokes and prods the audience with efficiency. The way this guy is able to tease with mirror images on a wall, or shadows in the background of a scene that show someone’s coming, or even the way he uses flash-edited close-ups of his leading lady to garner that heavy feeling in the pit of your stomach, amplifies the tension because of calculated shot photography, and gives a stylized beat of precision for the movements of the camera that are often swift and full of pulse. For a Blumhouse produced movie, this is exceptional to say the least, and Taylor’s personality of visual storytelling masters a command over the film that would be overlooked for importance in lesser hands.

– Third act switch. What’s particularly surprising about this film is that it goes nearly 70 minutes without showing a single drop of blood, reserving itself for the moment when its impact will be heard the loudest, and boy does this ever materialize during the final twenty-five minutes of the film. To say this film matures into material that solidifies its R-rating is putting it lightly. The combination of brutal violence, shocking nudity, and devilish details mirror that of Ma’s diminishing grip over that growing voice inside of her head that she can’t escape any longer, and it made for some impressive scenes of character resolution that made me laugh and shriek in terror at the same time. Are these artistically respectable death scenes? Absolutely not, but the placement of their gore is something that infuses it that much more with attention, and will have audiences wondering frequently if they really just saw what they think they did.

– Poetic final shot. Many people will have problems with the ending of this film, for feeling anti-climatic, but to me the imagery of the fading moments from this film felt every bit as conclusively satisfying as they did honorable by Taylor to not tease an unnecessary sequel. Short, sweet, and right to the point with some poignancy to tie everything together. The work goes more into the artistic side of it rather than the reactive one, and it’s especially rare in modern day where you get a movie where the end is literally that; the end.

NEGATIVES

– Shows cards too often. This is especially heavy on the mystery and plot twist of the movie, that the revealing trailers have already done a great job of revealing prematurely. In the film itself, the movie makes a couple major mistakes on its way to selling what Ma herself is hiding, and it’s something that I was able to figure out within the opening ten minutes of this movie (No kidding) for the way a character reveal in the background makes them look like an obvious character within this movie. In addition to this, the script does nothing to dress this aspect up as something totally different than what it actually is, and it left much of the film’s second half for me a delayed relay, where the movie was catching up to me in terms of exposition that was often stilted. The meandering on random objects that easily don’t tie into the scene was also a glaring red flag for me, giving off a not so secretive vibe that something bigger was coming with this focus that came completely out of left field.

– On-the-nose dialogue. Easily the weakest aspect of the film for me, as the lines read by the younger cast completely reek of older influence trying to be hip, and instead just come off as completely unnatural line reads that feel force-fed. These created a series of unintentional laughs and groans from me that certainly didn’t lack volume in the auditorium, and did no favors to some first time starring roles that completely lacked believability or immersion into their respective roles. I could give examples, but I want this element of the film out of my head as soon as possible, for how truly gratifying it was on my precious ears.

– Rushed pacing. It’s no surprise that this film is a light, fluffy sit in terms of its minimal time commitment, but the jarring contradiction of actions from character’s between scenes rendered the continuity virtually pointless, and made for some actions of character that felt completely illogical for what they’d already been through at that point. One such example points to a negative cell phone video made by a teen within our group of protagonists, who sent it to everyone (Ma included), telling them to stay away from Ma’s, yet magically appears at that very spot in the very next scene of the movie. It’s possible that there are additional scenes missing that tie moments like this together, but I can only grade the paper that is left on my desk, and a lot of these transition scenes are disjointed to say the least.

My Grade: 7/10 of B-

Godzilla: King of Monsters

Directed By Michael Dougherty

Starring – Vera Farmiga, Millie Bobby Brown, Kyle Chandler

The Plot – The new story follows the heroic efforts of the cryptozoological agency Monarch as its members face off against a battery of god sized monsters, including the mighty Godzilla, who collides with Mothra, Rodan, and his ultimate nemesis, the three headed King Ghidorah. When these ancient superspecies, thought to be mere myths, rise again, they all vie for supremacy, leaving humanity’s very existence hanging in the balance.

Rated PG-13 for sequences of monster action violence and destruction, and for some adult language

POSITIVES

– Articulate computer generation. All of your favorite Toho monsters return to the silver screen, and are each given an upgrade in rendering that brings out the true diversity and grand scale in each character design. Godzilla is not only as big as he’s ever been in size and strength, but the rough texture that tells the stories of the various wars he has been through, compliments the gigantic lizard in ways that immediately capture your attention and intimidation of him in all of his god-like presence. In addition to this, most of the movie is computer generation, and what worried me about that initially was the loss of weight being diminished in artificiality, but thankfully the devastation feels every bit as thunderous as it does expansive, giving us the same kind of colossal damage that we all grew up loving, for half of the price and physical labor going into making and destroying live action sets. It gives the events in the film an air of permanence on a global scale that logically will make this easily the most difficult to clean up from of all of the Godzilla franchise.

– Bear with me. Music composer Bear McCreery steals our audible attention seamlessly with a scintillating musical score that pays tribute to classic Godzilla chords, all the while distorting the music in a way that creates something completely fresh and unique from the ages old piece. Godzilla’s main theme is of course heard a couple of times throughout the film, but it’s after those initial familiar intro notes where the track evolves to paying homage to the art in motion that we are seeing displayed before our very eyes. McCreery manages to capture the true wonderment and astonishing nature of the character, echoing his invasion to these scenes with operatic levels of volume that practically forces audience members to the edge of their seats for the brutality that is sure to follow. Also intriguing is a collaboration that Bear has with System of a Down front-man Serj Tankian, in covering the classic Blue Oyster Cult stadium anthem “Godzilla” for post movie credit sequence. In total, the music plays a pivotal role in amplifying the tension and drama of the moment, and establishes an influence by Bear that is every bit as immense as the movie’s title protagonist.

– A surprise behind every corner. I knew of the first three or four celebrities who were in this film, but I had quite literally no idea the depth of big name personalities that make up one of the best collective ensembles in a disaster movie ever. What’s gratifying is that none of them are a temporary cameo, sticking around for the entirety of the movie to give this installment a higher value of caliber than we’re rightfully used to from this otherwise hokey franchise. I will choose not to spoil any of the names, but for my money the supporting cast is what kept me constantly intrigued into the movie, and the main character’s dominance of the screenplay did them zero favors in gaining popularity the longer you spend with them, and it’s nice to know that Godzilla’s timeless influence rings true for even some of Hollywood’s most elite actors and actresses, as they simply can’t turn down a chance to act in infamy.

NEGATIVES

– Same shit, different day. The very same problem that I had in 2014’s “Godzilla” exists in this sequel, but made even worse for the longer run time that completely fries the pacing with its choices in direction. Once again, this is Godzilla’s movie, but humans and unlimited long-winded series of exposition scenes make up roughly 90% of its 127 minute run time, complicating a film so easy to construct that even the trailers did it for them. When I say that I didn’t like the human character’s in this movie, I’m not embellishing slightly. They are every bit as stupid in their actions as they are deceitful in their morals, and being forced to spend scene after scene with each of them became increasingly frustrating when all I wanted to see what exciting monster collisions with carnage chaos to spread. We are told during the film that there are 17 monsters scattered all across the globe, but because Godzilla becomes a supporting character in his own movie, we really only passionately follow four of those monsters in the foreground, and it’s a humiliating missed opportunity for all of the hardcore fans of the series to see their favorite character with a modern rendering.

– Too much humor. The dialogue in this film isn’t just meandering, it’s down right humiliating in regards to how it chops the urgency and seriousness of the situation each time a character opens their mouths to say something cute. The only other Godzilla film that I can compare this stance to is 1998’s “Godzilla”, a failure on nearly every aspect of technical filmmaking that many fans have chosen to forget its existence. You can’t tell me this banter is any different, as the commentary coming from this crew of class clowns feels a bit too protected in their ivory towers to truly soak in the tragedy that exists on the ground, reminding me of those 2000’s VH1 shows, where a bunch of comedians are brought in to tell jokes towards an internet video playing in real time. Not only did I find this direction counterfeit of the story taking place around it, but it also felt childish for the very laughs that the lines reach for in some truly hideous deliveries, that feel so out of place to the previous film’s serious demeanor.

– Disgusting cinematography. Another continued problem from the first film are these darkly colored, shaky-cam frames that make it so difficult to focus firmly on any of the fight choreography transpiring. With the exception of the movie’s final battle, the previous three are a smoke-filled, never-ending rainout of cluttered catastrophe, that often make it feel like you’re riding Godzilla’s back for how chaotic everything appears. The shakey-camera effect was fine in 1998, when “Saving Private Ryan” perfected it in a way that took nothing away from what registered, but in 2019 imitators are still conjuring up new ways to make you run to the bathroom in motion sickness delirium. At least the finale fight pulls back a hair in its otherwise tightly claustrophobic angles, but the damage of character building physical exposition for a new generation is done, soiling in the process anything of rarity or uniqueness about these monsters to make them stand out.

– Stupid story. This is typical for Godzilla movies, but I can’t give a pass to a world existing beyond the screen where I’m smarter than every single character that exists in it. SPOILERS YOU’VE BEEN WARNED. The main idea behind unleashing these monsters is that one character believes they will fix the problems caused by humans. BY KILLING THEM ALL? How will we be around to reap the benefits of this reward? Beyond this, problems with logic involved an electronic machine getting drenched in rain, yet not malfunctioning at the very least, a barrage of particles flying at a group of characters, where not one rock or wooden board hits them anywhere on the body, a child being able to access government run operations and programs, and suits being worn by some characters because of the radiation being distributed into the air, yet others going as far as touching said creature without even a raincoat on. I get that these movies are stupid goodness that you turn your brain off and watch, but when a film is trying to be overly preachy about the real problems we face in our own real world, it’s difficult for me to afford it the courtesy of being naive when the movie asks for it. You built a world reflective of our own, so you simply can’t overlook the tremendous holes of logic in the way your story plays out.

– Contradicting directions. It’s hard to decide what kind of tone Dougherty seeks to attain in the film when aspects of the script don’t mesh well with others in creating one cohesive narrative. As I mentioned earlier, there is an overwhelming amount of humor from the dialogue, yet a serious attention given to the trio of performances by Chandler, Farmiga, and Brown. There’s an attentive focus to political commentary on humans being the real monsters, yet a story driven narrative that is painfully contained and limited because it begins and ends because of one family’s stupid decisions. This is a film creatively that is experiencing an identity crisis, thanks in part to five different screenwriters having a hand in its fate feeling like five different directions, and if it managed to settle down and establish a layer of consistency for longer than three scenes, the accomplishment of a continuous pace of tone would feel concrete, but “King of the Monsters” endlessly searches for a direction that it never comfortably finds, and takes so much away from the weight of what’s on the line in so much tragedy.

– Lack of character. The consequences of bare minimum character exposition and a total lack of family interaction throughout shows through the seams here, and the result is a collection of people who we the audience find great difficulty in grabbing onto, especially considering the thoughtless, selfish decisions that they are making for the rest of us. For my money, I could’ve accepted losing any of these characters, and it not having one ounce of heft on my conscience towards the story, and that’s a problem when you’re thrusting these humans in a situation so unlike anything that they’ve ever experienced before, and asking us the audience to invest in them because big bad monsters are everywhere. Godzilla is in this movie maybe a collective twenty minutes, and I cared more for him when he suffered pain of any kind. He’s a computer generated lizard who is a constant danger to anyone beneath him. Yep, that’s the kind of fleshing out that we get in this film.

– Messy editing. Mainly on the value of continuity in scene-to-scene transition, the film fumbles in cohesive visual storytelling, that otherwise makes for unintentionally humorous scenes of shattered continuity that prove more directing incompetence. There are scenes of Brown’s hair being tied one second, and down in the next, scenes where character’s magically transport from one part of a ship to the other in the next frame, and an overall consistency in splicing that feels far too intrusive at all of the wrong moments. The fight scenes in a particular have far too many cuts, especially considering this is the Godzilla franchise, a series known for its long takes of choreography during fight sequences. The post production on this film is underwhelming to say the least, and proves that no care went into the consistency of the film, for which there is none with regards to gaining momentum to carry over the pacing of the film’s two hour plus run time.

My Grade: 3/10 or F+

The Dead Don’t Die

Directed By Jim Jarmusch

Starring – Bill Murray, Adam Driver, Danny Glover

The Plot – The peaceful town of Centerville finds itself battling a zombie horde as the dead start rising from their graves.

Rated R for zombie violence/gore, and for adult language

POSITIVES

– Entrancing musical score. Jarmusch pulls double duty here, as he and partner Chris Logan (Together known as Squrl) infuse an unnerving presence of moody blues rock to perfectly accentuate the trouble that is persistently brewing beneath this small town, all appropriately narrated by the king of blues rock himself, Tom Waits. Especially obvious is the ominously thick influence of organ music that gives the film the occasional serious tone that it requires so terribly to sell its scares, bringing forth a collection of groovy tunes from a soundtrack that I will inevitably buy with much eagerness to audibly treat myself again. On top of this, the film’s title track, “The Dead Don’t Die” from Sturgill Simpson, has so much more than a topical presence in the film. It’s very much the tie that binds these many off-beat personalities together for one night of chaotic bloody thrills. Jarmusch himself has musical ties all the way back to his days in high school, so it’s nice to see that he believes he doesn’t have to give up one passion for the sake of another, and as it stands, it’s easily the greatest aspect of any in his zom-com.

– Make-up/prosthetics. Not only are the effects work in the film durable for such a cheap production budget overall, but they also spare no details in the gory fashion of some truly cringing death sequences by the hungry undead. What I love about these instances is that they stand as the constant reminder of consequences existing in a world so heavily influenced by dark humor. What’s equally effective is that the graphic depictions never overstay or over-influence the 100 minute screenplay, instead being used sporadically to enhance their appearances at just the right time in impact. In this respect, Jarmusch values their purpose, but chooses to not takeaway from the artistic merit of the film, so as not to turn this into an unnecessary exploitation film that most zombie movies run towards.

– Respect for the genre. A right of passage in zombie movies is to respectfully homage or audibly mention the greats that came before it, educating youthful audiences in a way that seems necessary with the overabundance of undead properties that even in 2019 are still all the craze. Sequences with zombies invasions are given the George Romero style of cinematography, in that they take ample time to capture the very shock factor of the dead walking the Earth again, for the sheer importance of how this changes everything in the setting. Likewise, the film’s various mentions of Romero, his films like “Dawn of the Dead”, or the glaringly obvious homage to “Return of the Living Dead”, with these zombies muttering one word comments like “Coffee” or “Chardonnay” to whet their thirsts. It proves that Jarmusch has done his homework, and has great respect for the genre classics that blazed a trail so wide that we now have no shortage of zombie television shows on mainstream TV.

– An Ohio boy. For those who don’t know, Jarmusch was once a native of Cuyahoga Falls, Ohio, and like many other famous world pop culture icons like The Black Keys, Chrissy Hynde, or Lebron James, Jim cherishes his roots and takes pride in fusing them in to every film he heads, and “The Dead Don’t Die” is certainly no different. For one, the film takes place in Centerville, a real life suburb of Dayton, garnering around 24,000 people within its beautiful city limits. Beyond this, the articulate rendering of small town talk and demeanor’s are captured in a way that only people from the area will truly connect and take connection to, preserving an inside joke that I constantly felt like I was the only one in on. Finally, the mention and fun-poking at the expense of the city of Pittsburgh is something that surely burns on for a native Ohioan who has spent decades being on the humiliating side of comparison to said big city. In many ways, “The Dead Don’t Die” is a reminder of Jim’s ability to never forget who he is or where he came from, and the way he incorporates such a pride into his latest big screen presentation gave me a bountiful amount of pride and conscience for my home that too many simply don’t value.

– Riveting social commentary. Any good zombie film requires something extra simmering just beneath the barrage of blood and brains that reach the surface level, and Jarmusch’s latest proves that he has a lot to talk about in the current Trump landscape. While not feeling overly preachy or disjointed in its boiling issues, the unshakeable combination of immigration, consequential fracking, stock in fake news, and of course an unmistakeable red hat that reads “Make America White Again” does more than enough to register where Jim stands on the debates of the modern day that clearly hit home for this visionary. The sheer creativity associated with how Jim works in these themes to something as polarly opposite as a zombie epidemic is beautifully stitched, and does wonders in depicting a world, that while visually may look so far from those watching, does in fact hit a soft spot for how synonymous their conflicts collide with ours.

NEGATIVES

– Very few laughs. Perhaps the biggest disappointment of the movie, as Jarmusch’s usually dark twisted depravity is something I’ve taken strong merit with in his films like “Paterson” or “Only Lovers Left Alive”, is the overwhelming lack of accuracy or consistency in laughs that drain so much of the fun from the picture. The gags here are every bit as telegraphed as they are lazy, and especially with a phenomenal cast that includes the iconic Bill Murray, it’s shocking that so much of the humor involved is one-note, never evolving from the precedent set during the first act that frankly wasn’t convincing to begin with. Did I laugh a few times? Sure, but the film’s biggest obstacle is that so much of the screenplay lacks quotability with audiences who will inevitably give it more than one spin in their DVD player, and coming back with fewer scenes of reward for their funny bones each time. Considering the film is marketed as a comedy first, it’s discouraging that Jarmusch hangs much of his hat on the presence of big name actors to sell lines of dialogue that sound like they originate from a Noah Baumbach movie.

– Sequencing repetition. This film could easily be an even 90 minutes, and lose nothing from the edit of redundancy that overwhelms the set-ups in each scene. For instance, when a character is killed, the three cops will each experience seeing the dead boy. That’s fine enough for a realistic perspective, but what’s troubling is nothing about their reactions is different enough to cement reasoning for why we have to relive the same scene for as many as three different times back-to-back. This isn’t a one and done kind of thing either. I counted three different scenes during the film where this happens, and it’s increasingly more frustrating by that final time because it’s a mistake that translates tragically for the pacing of his film, giving audiences a steep uphill climb in the first half of the movie, if they want to reap the rewards of the zombie euphoria of the second half that they’ve waited patiently for.

– Jarmusch’s directing. As an Akron boy, this more than anything troubles me, because Jim has proven that he’s an incredible actor time and time again, but with this film he doesn’t understand the value of urgency in a post-apocalyptic script. Part of this is the bored environments that Jim himself intentionally creates in his films that are dry of thrills or cinematic revelations to keep the audience hooked. If you don’t get lost in the thickness of the dialogue and diverse conversations in the film, this will be a rough sit. One such troubling direction is the frequent breaking of meta for the audience that is supposed to come off as smart, but just kind of demeans everything set-up before it. Throughout the film, cast members mention reading a script, or Sturgill Simpson’s previously mentioned track being the theme song for the film, or Driver’s character saying an obviously foreshadowing line of dialogue that takes away any and every level of surprise during the pivotal third act. What was he thinking?

– Rules convenience. One clumsy level of storytelling comes from how quickly the humans adapt to their undead counterparts, that defines logic for the way things are interpreted in this particular setting. Character’s who lack the kind of intelligence to accurately interpret the meaning of human emotional response can apparently tell us everything there is to know about a first time invasion that they have no time to prepare for. I guess we can easily file this under the meta format that I mentioned earlier, but it just further adds to everything wrong with that level of disbelief in a genre like this. In order to save time for valuable exposition, we compartmentalize everything in a way that feels like vital scenes are missing from the overwhelming amount of knowledge that Driver’s character in particular conveys throughout the film.

– The performances. What a shame. Bill Murray, Danny Glover, Adam Driver, Chloe Sevigny, Selena Gomez, Steve Buscemi, Iggy Pop, and Carol Kane, and not one of them are commanded with any kind of emotional depth or physical weight to the story they accompany. With the exception of Tilda Swinton as this badass sword-wielding morgue working heroine, the rest of the appearances of this exceptional ensemble fumble away any kind of measure to have an impact on the story, and none more tragic than Murray. This is a man who oozes charisma in his sleep, yet the lack of inspiration from Jarmusch’s control over him constantly gives his lack of energy in the film a paycheck-first kind of deal, and wastes away a real opportunity to take Bill in a new genre-defining direction that only further elaborates that there’s nothing this man can’t do. If I summarized the work of this cast in one word, it would be “Boring”, as far too much of their performances rely on your already pre-determined interest in them.

My Grade: 5/10 or D+

The Secret Life of Pets 2

Directed By Brian Lynch

Starring – Patton Oswalt, Kevin Hart, Harrison Ford

The Plot – Max (Oswalt) faces some major changes after his owner Katie (Ellie Kemper) gets married and now has a child . On a family trip to the countryside, Max meets a farm dog named Rooster (Ford), and both attempt to overcome his fears. Meanwhile, Gidget (Jenny Slate) tries to rescue Max’s favorite toy from a cat-packed apartment, and Snowball (Hart) sets on a mission to free a white tiger named Hu from a circus.

Rated PG for some action and rude humor

POSITIVES

– Improvements on all things animation. Illumination Studios has always been a distant third in detailed animation, but thanks to the tightening of illustrations that fills this film, arguably the very best artistic film that the studio has ever produced, they can start to bridge the gap of their opposition. It isn’t just one thing but rather a barrage, as the believability behind stormy weather patterns is beautifully rendered, the expressions of animals during the most extreme occasions adds more to the comedic relief, and even the 3D effects give an immersive quality to everything flowing in frame that warrants paying a little extra to see this film. With time, this studio will hopefully continue this trend, and offer so much more than colorfully vibrant backgrounds against a city skyline that offers plenty of familiar geography to place this story accordingly.

– Talented cast. Oswalt is a more-than enthusiastic fill-in for Louie C.K, but it’s really the work of Slate and Hart who take center stage in incorporating intensity to their often familiar vocal tones. As Gidget, Slate is a force to be reckoned with, juggling an infatuation for Max all the while proving to the audience the extent of her cunning intellect. As to where the first film showed off Slate as a lover, this one cements her as a fighter, and her emoting of Gidget is my very favorite of this entire franchise. Hart should stick with animated properties for a while, because the combination of eccentric deliveries and polar opposite vocal capacity in comparison to that of his furry rendering, makes him perfect for voice range capabilities, and the focus and attention given to his character practically begs for a Snowball spin-off that feels just around the corner. New additions are those from Tiffany Haddish, Dana Carvey, and a wise, weathered dog leader voiced by none other than Han Solo himself, Harrison Ford. It rounds off arguably the brightest ensemble of comedic actors in quite some time, and prove that their talents serve a much bigger purpose than just physical humor in sight gags.

– Fluffy run time. This one clocks in at a measly 77 minutes, and with sharing time between three respective story arcs does so in a way that keeps the eagerness and intensity of the storytelling firmly in grip with regards to a youthful audience that sometimes slip away during slow periods of exposition. While this does create some problems for the fluidity of the transitions, which I will get to later, the confidence donated to each vital character receiving their own conflicts in the story gives the movie a three-movie-for-one quality within its pages that practically forces movement in the casual three act structure that can sometimes omit itself invisible in family genre cinema. There was never a time when I was bored or antsy watching this movie, and much credit goes to the producers of the film for knowing just how far to stretch each story before it becomes something in depth that it rightfully shouldn’t.

– Intelligence in gags. I said this about the first film, and it’s something that continues in this movie. The way the film takes real moments of familiarity from the pets in our own lives, and adds a layer of profound poignancy to each situation is something that not only reaches for audience participation, but also does so in a way that will have you intentionally remembering the occasions from this movie once you go home. This gives the film and its material a consistency in shelf life that many films in modern day don’t attain, and speaks volumes to the levels of attention that screenwriters Chris Renaud and Jonathan Del Val engage in to contrast with their audience’s. In that respect, the material itself feels very much fleshed out from real life, and performed in an exaggerated way that works because of its small amounts of truth that derive from these very humorously humbling moments of love from our best friends.

– Pre-credits rap video. I won’t give away much here, but Kevin Hart’s dream to be a rapper comes full circle in a spoof of a familiar rap track from the previous couple years that is given new context thanks to the world surrounding his character. Not since 2006’s “Waiting…” has a post-movie performance left such a lasting impression on me, and the work of creativity in rhymes combined with the sheer lunacy of the situation in mid-day form, makes this moment the one that stands out the most for me in terms of comic lasting power, and non-surprisingly gives the original track, which I hated tremendously, a new lease on life. If this song was heard on the radio even half as much as that original song, then I would be fine with it.

– Strong positive message. As is the case with every kids movie out today, this one has a takeaway message that bonds its respective subplots together for one cohesive beat, and it’s the importance of overcoming fear. Especially with younger audiences, this message will ring true from within them, because it’s at that age where battling adversities prepares them for the war that is adolescence, and it’s something that resonates on-screen in each of the fears that the main character’s have to overcome for the sake of their developments. If an on-screen message is presented strong enough, kids will take even more away from it, and thankfully the film never feels overly preachy or even condescending in the message it sends the next generation of adventure seekers home with.

NEGATIVES

– Incoherent structure. As I mentioned earlier, there are three different subplots competing for time, and while this does wonders in keeping the attention of younger audiences, it does nothing for experienced moviegoers who know how important seamless transitions really are to the progress of a particular narrative. The outline of each story feels episodic, mainly because of unshakeable predictability and adjacent plotting, which does the film no favors in establishing its story as a group effort like the first movie. Because of this triangle of direction, the script itself forgets certain early angles established early on (See Max’s protection of little boy) that would make great films on their own, but are relegated to split screen time with other stories not half as compelling. For my money, the Snowball story could easily be stretched out for his own spin-off, leaving the branches of the other two somewhat connected plots feeling cohesive because of the way one is the effect of the other’s cause.

– Lack of weight. The conflicts from this movie are practically non-existent, thanks in part to resolutions that often come too fast, and a shoe-horned antagonist character who feels completely wrong for this world. On the former, I could’ve used more time for fear or tribulation for the character’s embattled with their respective conflicts. This is where ten or fifteen minutes of additional screen time could’ve further fleshed out the urgency and vulnerability of these small pets in a big world setting, and given way to further audience participation who have shared the struggles that each character has gone through. As for the antagonist, it’s the loudest reminder that this is a cartoon kids movie, complete with bulging eyes, black ensemble, and a hatred for animals for no other reason than the script asked for it. Quick question, how many times have you seen a villain who owns an abusive zoo, where the protagonists have to rescue said animals from his clutches? If you’ve run out of fingers, so have I.

– Plot holes. When you consider that this is virtually a “Toy Story” ripoff, you must consider the rules established within the world that make absolutely no sense when you consider a sprinkle of logic. For one, many of these pets go missing for long periods of time that make me question why no human owner is freaking out about where they’ve gone. In addition to this, there are certain instances in the film where believability is stretched further than a “Fast and Furious” lesson on gravity. Some of my favorite examples are a dog outracing a train, two dogs riding a remote controlled toy car without it tipping over or losing speed, and a psychopathic old woman character who not only commits murder, but also sees no problem with owning a Siberian tiger. Considering much of this film is set-up with real world ideals and consequences, these instances soil the authenticity of the engagement, and disappointed me for how these films are still insulting the intelligence of their youthful audience.

– Additional complaints. While this will only be a problem for people who see advanced screenings of this film, the inclusion of a behind-the-scenes introduction that plays before the film is more than just a little spoiler-filled for the gags it gives away. Why would you include something like these before the film plays? It renders the power of your laughs weak because the audience has already seen it before the movie starts, and just feels redundant once it comes around in the movie itself. The trailers for this film were actually solid, in that they didn’t give much away other than spare instances of familiarity of the pets in our own lives, but this production video did absolutely no favors in those regards, and took away from material that by its own merits was effective at garnering a laugh or two on its original run through.

My Grade: 6/10 or C

Aladdin

Directed By Guy Ritchie

Starring – Naomi Scott, Will Smith, Mena Massoud

The Plot – A street rat (Massoud) frees a genie (Smith) from a lamp, granting all of his wishes and transforming himself into a charming prince in order to marry a beautiful princess (Scott). But soon, an evil sorcerer (Marwan Kenzari) becomes hell-bent on securing the lamp for his own sinister purposes.

Rated PG for some action/peril

POSITIVES

– Vibrant production design. The essence of the Middle East is represented fruitlessly in the combination of flowing gowns and colorful set pieces that convey a Bollywood kind of production for the mainstream audience, and offer a bold presentation to bring forth through the live action transition. In fact, the sizzling flavor that continuously envelopes itself around this movie is visually unlike anything that Disney has produced to this point, and stands alone as the one chance that this film took in an otherwise calming sea of conventional renderings that sticks far too close to its animated original. In the visuals absorbing the atmosphere of the film, we get a visual translation too expressive not to indulge in, and the fiery texture of each property continuously commands attention to this fictional place, in that we wish it were real if only for one day.

– Will Smith’s Genie. Considering all of the controversy surrounding this role, it’s amazing that it turned out as well as it did. When the script isn’t trying to mold him into being Robin Williams flashy pizzazz Genie, Smith succeeds at maintaining the sharp velocity of the tongue that constantly keeps his co-stars in check, and for a brief glimpse offers something experimental to what we expected. Smith’s comic landing power hits about 50% from the field for me, and nailed about double that for my interest in the film, which only grew whenever his big screen presence invaded each frame and instilled a positive energy that kept you glued to the familiarity of it all. This definitely isn’t a paycheck film for Smith, and thanks to the excitement and prestige that he brings to the role, we get a shadow that is nearly equally imposing as Williams presence was to the 1992 original.

– Soundtrack of hits. Despite knowing everything that’s to come from Brad Kane, Bruce Adler, and Danny Troob’s original classic collection of time-cherished songs, the inclusion of hip-hop inspired beats and Bollywood dance production gave new life to these familiar audible beats of story narration, and led to infectious moments of delight when even the toughest critic could be won over. The dance choreography is sharp and boisterous with each continuous frame, and song chorus’s are stretched and bent in a way that experiments with a fresh take for the song, that I wish remakes like “Beauty and the Beast” or “Cinderella” would’ve experimented a bit more with. As to where “A Whole New World” was my favorite song from the 92 original, the slow build to a roaring kettle of “Prince Ali” takes the cake for me in this film, and especially stands out because of Smith’s cool demeanor that plays so seamlessly into the pulse of the background beat.

– Progressive with a positive P. I won’t spoil anything, but I took great merit in how this film invests further in Princess Jasmine, not only with a noticeable increase in screen time as opposed to how limited she feels in the original movie, but also in the evolution of her character, which successfully lands a surprise twist in the final minutes of the movie that I audibly commended. Disney has definitely been opening up their horizons with little girls in the audience who are looking for a character to dream themselves into, and thanks to the movie’s way of rewarding her with power both in a narrative perspective, as well as a closer split between screen time with her title co-star, the film creators bridge the gap wonderfully in priding them along, and manufacture a sense of female empowerment within the story that garners something new without it feeling like a distraction (See Captain Marvel)

NEGATIVES

– Uninspired C.G. I was less than thrilled with the artist rendering of computer generation, both for being used too much and for not being refined enough to be believable in their weight played against the live properties in the film. If we’re making a live action remake of an animation movie, why is 40% of any shot you see at all times not authentic to the live action creativity of the picture? Why not just make another animated “Aladdin”? Aside from this, the finished product not only of the Genie, but also in the facial resonation of Abu the Monkey, really took a backseat to “The Jungle Book” remake in terms of fantasy believability, and stood out as a glaring negative each time the latter’s character made a close-up presence on-screen. As well, a scene involving the Cave of Wonders left me disappointed for how the lion’s head entrance didn’t move its mouth like it did in the animated counterpart. If this is because it ruins real world believability, stay tuned for my review of the ending coming up.

– Ritchie’s tweak directing. I’ve never been a big fan of Guy Ritchie’s style of directing. His influence over 2017’s “King Arthur” turned that Medieval setting film into “The Matrix”, for how he constantly slowed and sped up time during the most inappropriate moments, and unfortunately Guy has learned nothing in taking a two year hiatus. It’s really strange that some moments during songs are visually sped up, all the while some scenes during high intensity chase are slowed down in a way contains the adrenaline of the sequence. It made the film feel like someone was sitting on the remote, and frequently rolled over during the scenes that mattered most in character conflict and singing focus. If this is intended, please stop it now. It only comes across as hokey and ridiculous during a scene when you’re supposed to be on the edge of your seat.

– Inconsistent pacing. 1992’s “Aladdin” is a 92 minute movie that never sags or stretches the boundaries of its material. The same cannot be said for this remake, as the two hour runtime, with very little impactful extras, makes for a testy sitting that is especially prominent during the film’s bloated second act. For my money, the first thirty minutes of the film were easily the most engaging, as the combination of Aladdin’s street life and his mission into the cave were cast with such entangling urgency that none of the remainder of the film can ever come close to matching. The second act spends its time between rule setting for the Genie, as well as a high class gala affair that feels like it’s being played in real time. Not only did this area of the film slow down my building interest for the movie, but it more than any other padded the run time for unnecessary stretching of resolutions. The third act improves slightly, but is a defeated effort by that time for the immense jump in logic and off-the-wall lunacy that the closing minutes become saddled with.

– Casting decisions. I knew nothing about Massoud or Scott before this movie, and their roles as the two leads won’t leave me any further interested in wanting to dive into their limited filmography. These two lack any kind of personality that can’t be expressed in spare verbs, and if the overall lack of romantic chemistry between them doesn’t establish how wrong for the parts they are, the mundane deliveries of emotionally-charged diatribes certainly will. Speaking of Will, did I mention how much the movie fumbles whenever he isn’t on camera? We’re left with what feels like two stage actors who constantly don’t believe what they’re saying, and are only passed by an antagonist performance who I couldn’t stop laughing at. Every little boy wears his father’s clothes and pretends to be him at some point. I didn’t expect to see a grown man in a major motion picture doing this, as Marwan Kenzari feels about as threatening as a game of fantasy dress-up. Considering Jafar is one of the most evil and imposing antagonists in Disney animated history, the disservice of casting someone who is not only the same size as Aladdin, but also someone so visually opposite of what I expected from his animated counterpart. I can understand going in a fresh direction with a character, but the work of this trio lacked the magic of translating such iconic figures from the Disney library, underscoring what should be the easiest of decisions.

– No respect. I can overlook company greed to remake a property and manipulating audiences into seeing it, because, hey, childhood, but to not credit the original screenwriters from the 92 original is not only a slap in the face, but a kick to the balls of everything that is right with respectful representation. The screenplay here is credited to John August and Guy Ritchie, and while there are some light changes to the film in terms of material, to not commend the work of Ron Clements, John Musker, Ted Elliott, and Terry Rossio is a colossal mistake, considering 80% of the film is still from the story beats and character traits that they established from that original movie. There are even vital scenes in this film that are verbatim (Word-for-word) to the original film for how they play out, and the lack of attention given to the source material gives the closing notes of the film a grave feeling of plagiarism that shouldn’t be overlooked by even the most casual of film audiences.

– Ridiculous ending. LIGHT SPOILERS. You’ve been warned. I can understand this sort of thing in a cartoon, but during a live action movie, and even a kids one at that, the laws of travel aren’t negated because of what’s cute and appropriate for what fits into the story. With that said, a character gets transported to the ends of the Earth by their opposition, and two scenes later is back in Agrabah, like some touch of “The Dark Knight Returns” magic that I don’t care to relive any time soon. In addition to this, the final conflict basically never happens, at least not in a way that requires any of the character’s to get their hands dirty, and it all wraps up with the kind of convenient bow only necessary when you’re gift-wrapping something you know will be met with evil glares or family emancipation. Translating a cartoon to live action is a good time to take the ridiculous out of cartoons, not bring them to the real world. Yet one more reason why live action Disney remakes aren’t necessary in crafting something freshly unique to a new generation.

My Grade: 4/10 or D+

Rocketman

Directed By Dexter Fletcher

Starring – Taron Egerton, Richard Madden, Bryce Dallas Howard

The Plot – A musical fantasy about the fantastical human story of Elton John’s (Egerton) breakthrough years.

Rated R for adult language throughout, some drug use and sexual content

POSITIVES

– British led cast. Everyone here is on their marks in providing depth to their respective character’s, as well as instilling a sense of value and weight within the story that makes them vital as supporting cast, but it’s clearly the tour-de-force performance by Egerton that everyone will be raving about minutes after they see it. This is not an impression of Elton John, this is Elton John. Taron gives his best performance to date, transforming the look and sound of his familiarity to compliment that of the imposing figure who he’s taking on, and there’s much eye-opening to be complimented about his work in the film. For one, he does all of his own singing, a feat that until the movie ended I had no idea about. While obviously not as strong or passionate as John behind the mic, Egerton has clearly done his homework, establishing the line of variety in genre offerings from John’s catalogue of music that changed with the scenery of pre and post disco influence. In addition to this, Egerton’s psychological delve is one that captures the energy, love, loneliness, and despair of the singer through some of his biggest triumphs and darkest disasters, and Taron’s timely grip on the pulse of the ever-changing dynamic of the character is one that feels earned brilliantly with the tides of the script.

– Breathtaking production value. This is where the film separates itself from other biopics of the genre, as the look and feel of “Rocketman” was made for the big screen. What allows it to spare itself from feelings of TV-movie-of-the-week budget is in the immense scale of choreographed-led musical numbers, practical precision in make-up designs, vibrant boisterousness of costume design, and a feast for fantasy that blurs the line of reality and imagination seamlessly. If every musical biopic had this level of focus and budget expressiveness, then we would be able to emit the fun from all of the raw energy contained inside, but Fletcher knows that John’s story certainly isn’t a cheap one to tell, and it leads to a barrage of lucid surrealism that benefits from the drug-fueled intensity of the cocaine age.

– R-rating. I still don’t comprehend how “Bohemian Rhapsody” could even imagine telling Freddie Mercury’s life story with the limitations set by its studio and the PG-13 tag it was given, but the decision here to travel the adult route with its material pays off in spades for the way it can properly articulate the meat of its material. From the carelessness of Elton’s diverse sex life, to the abuse of illegal drugs and narcotics, to the rapid-fire fury of the English dialogue, everything is covered in vivid detail, giving audiences a no-apologies depiction of a heralded figure for better or worse, and it gave me great appreciation for the screenplay to use Elton’s biggest negatives to craft an enveloping layer of indulgence for the audience, as well as a dramatic layering to the story, which feels far from topical. Nothing ever feels overdone or desperate to fill an R-rating quota, and it keeps the air of honesty to Elton’s engagements on display in the exact manner they took place.

– Wide range of story. As to where most musical biopics only cover a brief sampling of the artist’s fame, “Rocketman” has an appreciation for everything Elton John, as well as Reginald Dwight. Kicking off during his early days as a kid in dealing with two mentally abusive parents, the film eventually takes us through the entire first half of Elton’s immense 40 year career, before settling down during the days in rehab that eventually changed his life for the better. This seems like a lot to cover in nearly two hours of film, but what’s remarkably shocking is how the film gives ample time to each important chapter without alienating the fluidity of pacing that is nearly always smooth in transition. Beyond this, the storytelling tool in narration is one that I found to be very clever, not only for the way it is set-up in the opening scene of the movie, but also for the way it evolves in diminishing wardrobe with every beat of the story. It gives food for thought in the stripped down nature of John starting and ending his career as Reginald, and comforting us with a blanket of clarity as he finally feels comfortable being the man he was born to be.

– Meaning behind the soundtrack. The film has no shortage of Elton favorites to choose from, conjuring up around twenty-five favorites from the musician that take us through the roller-coaster momentum in his trysts with fame, but there’s something more elusive to the way that each song and sequence transition, proving that Elton always used life as a means, and music as a therapy to bind the two world’s. Films make many mistakes in this aspect, because they often depict a popular song being made in the most topically obvious and unintelligent demeanor, but the almost freestyle effort of song writing that John displays feels replicated from the previous scene in a way that naturally harvests from a tortured soul. It was in this area where I learned the most about John that I didn’t previously know before the film, and helps cement an audible reflection to what’s transpiring inside of Elton.

– Passage of time. I hate to bring this film up again, but my biggest problem with “Bohemian Rhapsody” is how it mutilated important dates and events in Freddie’s life for the shaping of the film, but “Rocketman” gives an alluring and poetic design behind the way it collides with the sands of time. No dates or text is featured throughout the film, and even more shocking, huge amounts of time will pass not only for us the audience, but also for John, which results in him feeling like Rip Van Winkle, in that he just woke up from a ten year nap. What’s so cinematically appropriate for this direction is it captures the fragility and sacrifices paid not only to immersing in the live fast lifestyle that booze, drugs, and depression can form, but also in the routine of being a rockstar, which is anything but appealing by this film’s standards. We the audience are merely left to establish a time frame from iconic Elton fashions, as well as the look and feel of the world that changes around him with nuanced subtlty. It proves that the when isn’t nearly as important as the who or the why, and allows us to get lost in the devil of the details instead.

– Backdrop special effects. This is all done on green-screen, but you would never know it because of the impeccable technology associated with visual time travel in the same vein as Marvel’s ability to de-age a particular actor. This gives us time to soak in the glitz and glamor of the Hollywood specter, as the world famous Troubadour bar becomes youthful again, complete with posters in the windows which are no longer present, and an architecture design that reminds people that the location grew just like Elton did once the two were married in rock and roll on that legendary night in August 1970. If this is the direction that production teams are taking us, then soon there won’t be any need for on-site shooting, and while there is an element of tragedy to that circumstance, the believability and texture shading of flawless computer generation will at least help trim production budgets accordingly, all the while articulating past ages in a way that feels far beyond a visual gimmick.

– Juggling of tones. I wasn’t surprised in how much comedy filled the script, but what did surprise me was the landing power of such witty banter all the while the sting of dramatic elements were being felt. These two co-exist simultaneously through Reginald’s loveless home life, to his questioned sexuality in his later years, to the single most romantic non-sexual friendship between Elton and lyricist Bernie Taupin, and what’s more important is that neither are compromised because of the other’s influence on the dynamic of a particular scene. This film took me on an emotional registry of laughter, fear, curiosity, and sadness for the evolution of the story, proving that it would rather appeal to a broader spectrum of audience tastes rather than cater to the limitations and cliches of one respective field.

– Fletcher steals the light. This is the very same director who finished “Bohemian Rhapsody” (There I go again) from the disastrous production that hindered it to finishing as just a decent final product, but with “Rocketman” it’s a fresh and complete start for the man at the wheel. What we learn from his stroke is that he values the human side of the heralded superstar, carving out a helping of audience investment that keeps us glued to the unfolding drama and tension within Elton’s life that is more urgent because of that focus. Likewise, the influential photography breathes a light of audience connection that features John singing to us the audience, instead of the grand scale that we have come to expect in cinematic musicals. It cements a feeling of professionalism and on-screen presence in rendered style that garners a developing visionary in Hollywood, thanks in whole to commanding the stories of two of music’s biggest icons.

NEGATIVES

– Technical inconsistencies. This brought forth two noticeable problems, with the first dealing with the uninspiring levels of cinematography established in interior office scenes. The coloring scheme and textures establish a level of generated lighting that does nothing to compliment the appeal of the scene. Likewise, a continued problem for Fletcher’s editing team remains prominent in this film, as the editing is far too choppy during scenes involving two character’s. It made for some highly distracting scenes during moments of heartfelt resonance, which deemed it necessary to show us the same line of dialogue in as many as three different angles for what I guess is towards the better of understanding the essence of the conversation? Either way, less anxiousness in illustrating these casual scenes.

My Grade: 9/10 or A-

John Wick Chapter 3: Parabellum

Directed By Chad Stahelski

Starring – Keanu Reeves, Halle Berry, Ian Mcshane

The Plot – In this third installment of the adrenaline-fueled action franchise, skilled assassin John Wick (Reeves) returns with a $14 million price tag on his head and an army of bounty-hunting killers on his trail. After killing a member of the shadowy international assassin’s guild, the High Table, John Wick is excommunicado, but the world’s most ruthless hit men and women await his every turn, looking to cash in on a payday that will set them for the rest of their lives.

Rated R for pervasive strong violence, and some adult language

POSITIVES

– Picture perfect action sequences. The mixture of Tai Kwon Do, amateur wrestling, Martial Arts, Judo, and elements of Brazilian Ju Jitsu make for air tight choreography that went a long way in registering the believability and detection of every bone crunching blow, but it’s really the range of variety in settings and weaponry that really take the creativity in this film to new heights for the franchise. Horses, motorcycles, glass fortresses, and even a library are put to devastating levels of punishment, proving that Wick is adaptable in any surrounding with any object in his hands to use as a tool of terror. The sequences in the film are every bit as enticingly fun as they are brutally humbling, and it certainly makes for one of those cinematic experiences where you’re glad that you’re watching it in the comforts of a theater, as opposed to suffering the impact of John’s will fully realized.

– Invasive sound mixing. Like the visuals of the sequences that I already mentioned, the swift, echoing nature of the noises that reflect from a series of non-stop physical engagements put us front-and-center in the heat of the conflict. In many cases, the sounds create a stinging symphony of suffering that elevate gradually to reflect the intensity of the fight, as well as the urgency of the stakes that constantly hang in the balance, and the work of some brilliant technicians behind the scenes marry the elements of believability and precision with a finished product that audibly kicks your ass in ways that big budget action set pieces don’t cohesively articulate nearly as well. If you can close your eyes and make out everything that is going on in sound, you know you have an exceptionally tuned audible enhancement, and the post production work here should never be understated for the way it reflects the speed and spark of the dynamic.

– New and familiar faces. Halle Berry is an excellent addition to the film, despite her only being in the movie for around fifteen minutes. Berry, like Reeves, endured months of physical training and target practice to capture the essence of the character, and as Sophia we meet a woman who despite being wronged by Wick somewhere in life, knows and appreciates the value of paying your dues. She etches out the female equivalent to Wick’s trilogy of terror in a few spare scenes, and Berry’s cunning intellect and vicious lack of empathy left me wanting a movie of her own to further illustrate the jaded backstory of this character. No surprise however, Keanu continues to be in the driver position. As Wick, Reeves again brings such uneasiness and commanding attention to the cold, blank stare that constantly outweighs the mental chess game he plays with his opposition, and as good as Reeves is in physical combat, it’s the ounce of humanity left in him for the people he loves that is easily the most indulging trait for me personally, and Keanu proves once again that this franchise has plenty of miles to go thanks to a protagonist who literally travels them for the positivity of the picture.

– The story. While not my favorite Wick movie in this regard, it’s nice to know that even three chapters into this saga, we are still learning vital pieces of information about our mysteriously vicious figure. In this regard, the world-building introduced in the second movie is further realized in this one, bringing forth a global domination in expansive scenery that vividly articulates the stakes that Wick’s opposition are guiding against him. Likewise, many elements of Wick’s past, particularly his training and schooling, are further elaborated on, presenting us with the most revealing aspects of John’s life in molding who he has become today. Despite as much screen time being donated to seven different thrilling action sequences, the unraveling of the narrative is the true meat of the story that adds layers of depth to the value of the character, and in just three films, it proves that the best cards about the character are still being played, issuing strong confidence for future chapters that never put anything in front of the character.

– Consequences. This is the overall theme of the movie and really the entire franchise when you think about it. It’s interesting to see what has evolved as a result of a bunch of punks killing a dog in the first movie, and that value for the effect from the cause resonates strongly throughout the many interactions and relationships associated with Wick. This gives the plot a very cerebral setting, in that we, like Wick, must think several moves ahead in the lightning flash industry of hired killers, or risk sealing our fate long before we ever realize it. When you really think about it, this presents an even more elaborate level of unpredictability to the dangerousness instilled by Wick fighting for his life every single second of every single day, and in a Butterfly Effect Dickensian spirit, makes me wonder what kind of roads for John have already been paved in future installments, thanks to the decisions and actions taken in this movie. It’s strange to commend a John Wick film for feeling philosophical, but “Parabellum” gives meaning to the mayhem, all the while conjuring up a profound idea of awareness that will eventually be the means to an end for all of us.

– Lavish imagery. Setting a film in New York is certainly nothing new for cinema, but the Big Apple depicted in “Chapter 3” reaches the heights of “Blade Runner” or “Ghost in the Shell” in terms of these immensely blinding billboards and unshakeable neon influence that soaks the wet streets with a sizzle of style that illustrates a timeless look in cinematography. But not all of the visual seduction is outside, as the interiors of the Continental Hotel, as well as a Casablanca getaway by Wick also charm us with a sophistication in lifestyle that gives luxury to such a devilish business. The former has no shortage of glass, sure to play mind-games on the audience and protagonist similarly, all the while complimenting the glow of illumination that is beaming from the city that doesn’t sleep, and the latter constructs these wide angle depictions that capture the immensity and suffering of being trapped in the desert decay, among the sunbaked sand covering the never-ending hills. It proves how big this once local franchise has evolved, establishing a global presence to the third and most important chapter that spares no expense in contrasting geography.

– More personality. There’s always been laughs sprinkled throughout John Wick’s previous two installments, but the consistency and landing power associated with the awkwardness of piercing dark humor really felt more prominent in this film than any other. What’s vitally important is that the juggling of tones never compromises the integrity of the film, nor does it take away from the intensity and stakes of the moment in hand. Especially considering so much of this film deals with an ever-increasing body count and dark subject matter, the natural flow of these timely sight gags and dry deliveries from Reeves feels like a therapeutic release to a building powder-keg of anxiety-riddled nerves that spring from these very violent exchanges. You won’t mistake this for a comedy in the slightest, but the inclusion of getting the audience further involved is always something that works in the favor for relatability, and proves that Wick doesn’t have to be a constant grump to get over with his people.

NEGATIVES

– Special effects. SPOILERS AHEAD. DON’T READ ON IF YOU DON’T WANT TO BE SPOILED. THIS IS LITERALLY YOUR LAST CHANCE. WHAT ARE YOU STILL DOING HERE? Wick loses a body part towards the middle of the film, and it leads to some computer generated effects that were sketchy at best in establishing the continuity of what’s missing. When something like this happens in a film, you bet your ass that I will be watching for it during the rest of the movie, and at the beginning of the big final war scene, there were more than a few instances where this once disappearing part popped up in more than a few candid frames that show it being fine. This is solely on the production department, as they really should be more careful with what to keep in mind in distinguishing marks, but I can’t give a pass to generation so lacking detail that it ruins the immersive quality of the scene, and this constant blunder became even more obvious the longer the movie progressed.

– Weak antagonists. This is a continued problem not only for this film, but the entire franchise alike, as these one-note, weakly written antagonists don’t manage even an ounce of weight for being able to silence the execution of Wick. In this film, the villains are even slightly over-confident, passing on many occasions to easily kill John, in favor of gushing about how famous he is in this inner circle of dangerous assassins. Likewise, the many stupid decisions by them gives way to one of my favorite cliches in Hollywood cinema, where a villain has to explain every single detail before they kill their opposition and collect the bounty. It leaves very few moments of vulnerability or urgency for our title character, and even worse, it takes away from the paranoia that the humbling final scene of “Chapter 2” gave us, where it felt like a whole city was coming after Wick. Here, the number is actually much less imposing, and we’re left with a barrage of idiots, who can fight, but lack intelligence in the smallest decimal.

– Those last ten minutes. Easily the weakness of the film for me, as the impact of a bad twist (My opinion), as well as the lunacy associated with being fine from an easily paralyzing blow from not one, but two character’s, completely sends the final minutes of this film to cartoonish levels of conclusion for an otherwise near-perfect action film. As to where the last movie was the highpoint for the film, teasing us in ways for the third film that sent your anticipation to a boiling point, the ending for this film stretches the boundaries of what’s possible from a very human character, who otherwise lived and breathed by the laws of gravity to this point. I expect to be alone on my feelings for this one, but I would prefer if this franchise doesn’t become one of those action series where you have to turn off your brain to enjoy. You know, “The Fast and Furious” franchise.

My Grade: 7/10 or B

The Sun Is Also A Star

Directed By Ry Russo-Young

Starring – Yara Shahidi, Charles Melton, Faith Logan

The Plot – Natasha (Shahidi) is a girl who believes in science and facts. Not fate. Not destiny. Or dreams that will never come true. She is not the type of girl who meets a cute boy on a crowded New York City street and falls in love with him. Not when her family is twelve hours away from being deported. Falling in love with him will not be her story. Daniel (Melton) has always been the good son, the good student, living up to his parents’ high expectations. Never a poet. Or a dreamer. But when he sees her, he forgets all that. Something about Natasha makes him think that fate has something much more extraordinary in store for both of them. Every moment has brought them to this single moment. A million futures lie before them. Which one will come true?

Rated PG-13 for some suggestive content and adult language

POSITIVES

– Articulate photography. If nothing else, this film is a love-letter to the city of New York, in all of its immense architecture and melting pot population that lives and breathes within the city. In capturing such passion, Russo-Young’s blissful strokes of the canvas paint a sunny, serene setting for the world inside of the film to exist in, capturing more than several examples of artistic personality in unflinching focus, which feels like an homage to director Barry Jenkins, in that her setting becomes a character within the film, that surrounds the blossoming of these two love-struck young adults. The Bronx feels clean, poetic, and lived-in to the point of unabashed hope from the light above that continuously shines down on that front-and-center stage.

– Detailed montage sequences. This is where the film authenticates that literary feeling, stopping frequently throughout the progression of the plot to give us these sharply-edited, poignantly-informative flashes of backstory that matches the audible narration cohesively. These scenes are presented in such a crisp and absorbing way that it gives the film these brief moments of feeling documentary-esque, taking great pride in its responsibility to educate the audience not only in the history of the bi-racial cultures represented in the film, but also in the unrivaled path of collision that has set everything we know today in motion. Science is everything for a film that constantly seeks the evidence in matters, and thanks to some expressive montage sequences, we the audience engage in the important specs of information that blur the line between fate and coincidence.

– Speaking of the battle between those two themes, I love that the screenplay isn’t afraid to challenge centuries old debates in philosophy, like those from Carl Sagen, to contrast to the values obtained from choices of love. One line mentioned in the film is that “Love is the only proven thing that can’t be measured from science”. Interesting observation there, and it certainly adds weight and unpredictability to the single greatest emotion in the human stratosphere, for the odds of obtaining that one in a million who you were meant to spend your life with. As a single man myself, the script’s material reminded me not to overlook the smallest details, which may serve as signs for a bigger picture, but as a lover of film, the movie challenged me mentally in ways that romantic genre movies simply don’t in 2019, and it gives the movie a spring of pep in distinguishing itself from the overpopulation of such a territory.

– Surprise cameo. This film earns points just for finding a way to cast one of my all time favorite actors in a role that becomes evidently more important the longer the film proceeds. This guy is not only the most charismatic performance in the film, in all three of his scenes, but he also conveys the kind of presence needed in making you care and invest in anything that he’s involved in. It’s a bit of lesson to the film’s two central character’s, whose shoe-horned exposition against some less-than thrilling aspects about their character’s, brought forth two human beings who couldn’t sell me a bottle of water in a 365 day drought. I commend this actor for reminding me that there is no role too small for him, and that his variety in selected projects continues to expand even at the age of 54.

– Reflection to our own world. The fight for immigration plays a big hand in the developments of the movie, and especially considering this element is so prominent in today’s society, it gives the events a feeling of art-reflecting-life, that makes this movie feel more human than even its discussions on love. One question asked frequently throughout the film is what America means to this woman, an answer adored for its diversity, yet humbled for its honesty. It reminds us that even though this is the land of the free, we truly have a long way to go for everyone to feel the emphasis of that meaning, shedding light on the battle of the current day administration that now more than ever feels ever so urgent. Respect also goes to casting a Korean male and black female to echo those sentiments for the duration of the movie. It goes a long way when you can invest in one aspect; the love story, yet be entirely ripped apart by another; deportation, proving dramatic depth which is anything but timely.

NEGATIVES

– Clunky dialogue. Nope, this didn’t change from the terribly sappy trailers. The lines uttered in the film, mostly by Melton, are every bit as childish as they are meandering to the gullible audiences watching them and wondering why they can’t be romanced in such a way. The answer is simple; this wouldn’t work. Winking and nodding at a girl that you’re waiting for something from her would get you slapped and receiving of a restraining order the very same day. Likewise, the overbearing nature of Melton really made me uncomfortable, especially in the ‘Me Too’ era, where many men like this one manipulated women into thinking their intentions were honorable. LIGHT SPOILER – Melton, like those men I previously mentioned, eventually ends up in a dimly lit room, alone with the girl, and wastes no time making a move. Well, I guess they did wait four hours before they banged. Commendable.

– One PAINFUL song. I was mostly enjoying the soundtrack to this film, which authenticated the musical cultures from each respective family, with songs like “Don’t Stay Away” by Jamaican singer Phyllis Dillon, as well as “Here With Me” from Korean singer Susie Suh. But one performance tore it all down and soil the sanctity of every song that came before it. To anyone who hasn’t seen the trailer, Melton performs a version of “Crimson and Clover” by Tommy James and The Shondells, and to say it’s uninspiring is putting it totally lightly. To say Melton’s voice is every bit as flat as it is reflective of a cat getting its nuts stepped on in the middle of the night, is an honest one. The performance is so bad in fact, that the movie mutes his performance to play us Tommy James version during a fantasy sequence from Shahidi. If this scene didn’t already feel like a stalker’s ploy to command attention, it now feels like that out-of-tune street singer who we must take pity on and spare a dollar if he’s ever going to move forward with his life.

– The performances. While separated, Shahidi and Melton display enough dramatic flare for the benefit of their character’s depth , but when they are together, it deconstructs everything positive up to that point. These two have no chemistry together, despite the film trying ever so obviously to convey that they do, and what’s even worse is that the sequence of events does nothing to issue believability that Shahidi has in fact fallen for him. It just kind of happens with a total lack of subtlety, and the lack of emotional registry from Shahidi frequently reminds us how cryptic it is to get an accurate read from her radar. Nice enough kids, but not who I picture when I think of convincing leading cast.

– Unnecessary padding. This movie is 95 minutes, and feels like it has an additional half hour thanks to plot halting that happens far too often from points A-to-Z. Every time the conflict advances, you can almost time that a convenient plot device or temporary adversity will present itself to further draw out the miniscule depth of this conflict. The good news is that there is a good movie in here somewhere, but it’s buried under too much unnecessary exposition explanation and not enough advancement, dimming the average of returns for dramatic material that is put on pause far too often to maintain audience concern. There were times in this film when I was edge-of-my-seat interested, yet times when I couldn’t be more bored, and when you average these two points out, it leads to average pacing, which shouldn’t be a challenge by hour-and-a-half measures.

– Predictable. If you’ve seen one of these films, you’ve seen them all. When a film is riding positive momentum, you know it will eventually go bad to put one over on the audience. The problem is that this has become a cliche of sorts with Young Adult cinema, so you are able to telegraph what comes next, and that’s the case here. The film, with all of its heavy-handed intentions towards fate, was easily predicted by me about a quarter of the way in, and I ended up batting 100% in that regard, leaving me nothing in the way of surprises or unexpected turns for me to hang my hat on. This film goes about the way you’d be able to pick out after watching the trailer, and for a film so expansively unique in its commentary in material, the people themselves are the least interesting and imaginative aspect in going against the grain.

My Grade: 5/10 or D

Brightburn

Directed By David Yarovesky

Starring – Elizabeth Banks, Jackson A. Dunn, David Denman

The Plot – What if a child from another world crash-landed on Earth, but instead of becoming a hero to mankind, he proved to be something far more sinister?

Rated R for horror violence/bloody images, and adult language.

POSITIVES

– Beauty in the darkness. As an expressive visionary, Cinematographer Michael Dallatorre has always been someone who visually brings forth an entrancing pulse to the settings and filming locations that make up his lurid shot compositions, but “Brightburn” is easily his best work to date. Channeling an ambiguous decay in coloring textures, which brings forth an inexplainable fog that constantly plagues our character’s, the film does what D.C couldn’t, in that it seeks out motive for the grittier, grimey presentation that is easily reflective of its central antagonist. Movies being dark for the hell of it are often taking advantage of a visual gimmick for nothing other than a brooding take on an ages old story, but Dallatorre grasps this poison in the air that many can feel, yet no one can admit, and it establishes a vibe for this film from the get-go that visually conveys that this superhero flick goes darker than any other one you’ve ever seen.

– Ties to Superman. This film has been credited as being James Gunn’s dark twist on the Superman origin relic that everyone young or old has come to know by this point, and while the similarities in alien powers and adoptive parents certainly goes a long way to cement this feeling, it’s the divided roads with the powers that each superhero has that makes this film stand-out as a ‘What if?’ tale of sorts, that brings Superman to The Twilight Zone. The kid in this film being too young to fully grasp the consequences of his powers is something that gives the movie great vulnerability and urgency for all of its character’s, and because of such we’re juxtaposed from a world seeking hope in Metropolis, to a world quickly losing it in Brightburn. It answers some long debated questions revolving around Superman taking the road less traveled, and stands as a worse case scenario when the world’s greatest strength is also its biggest destruction.

– Isolation in setting. This, just like the comparison to Superman, is inevitable, as the stretched countryside of this small town not only puts the character’s far away from the eye of the public when the devastation begins, which helps keep the lid on the details getting out, but also helps elevate the tension and anxiety of the constant silence that surrounds the curiosity of these people from what goes bump in the night. In addition to this, the nane of the town itself, “Brightburn”, is the answer to the question, as its banner is featured in a few blink-and-miss-it moments in the background, that play a subtle resolution to the film’s cryptic title. Finally, the school used in the film is actually the very same school used in “Stranger Things” seasons one and two, proving that other-worldly things is actually a common everyday occurrence for a place known for its curriculum terrors.

– Adolescent dynamic. One of the aspects of the script that I found so uniquely refreshing is in the way it contrasts and justifies what is going on in Brandon’s life to the spring of teenage puberty. In this regard, the film can be taken as a nuanced commentary piece towards adolescence, albeit in entirely satirically powerful directions given to our growing boy. When you consider that the terror begins on Brandon’s 13th birthday, the short nerves, testy decisions, and blossoming interest in females, all feel like familiar beats that every kid has to go through once he gets to that particular age, and with a quick re-write and a couple of scenes edited out, this film could’ve easily been just about the dreaded change associated with such a terrifying coming-of-age, but then we would miss out on so many of the cool things that I have yet to talk about.

– The birth of a new subgenre? Mixing the elements of superhero and horror is a very ballsy move, but thanks to the knowledge of the hands on deck of each respective genre, the film manages to seamlessly weld them into this Frankenstein project that lives and breathes with respect to the measures that make each familiar. Could these be considered cliches? Absolutely, but I feel like those familiar beats should be present, especially in a first time marriage between the two, if nothing other that to easily immerse audiences into how beautifully each of them vibe together. The jump scares, panning camera movements, and typecast parents dealing with a demented child, are all still there to represent horror, as are the origin story narrative, big budget effects, and of course iconic symbolism are to represent superhero stories, and each is represented in a way that gives a blissful 50/50 allowance for each to play into the story, without either of them encroaching on the effectiveness of their respective properties. During an age when superhero films are overcrowding the box office, “Brightburn” brings forth something fresh to breathe life back into it, and should be commended for the gutsy determination in stitching together two sides that up until now couldn’t be further from synonymous.

– One man stage. It’s not that I have a problem with Banks, Denham, or any of the other adult protagonists, but Dunn’s impression left on the film is one that commands much of the attention to him, leading to a breakthrough performance in his first starring role on the silver screen that echoes with each unsettling scene. As Brandon, Dunn’s stirring silence is something that seeps into our skin with triggered anxiety, establishing a level of sinkable weight on the perspective of this family that leaves them astonished in the transformation from this once sweet little boy, to the dangerously deviant defiant who stands before them. Most kid actors have trouble feeling believable in confrontations with adults, but because of the magnitude of powers instilled in him from a higher power, as well as the intelligence articulated from Dunn in understanding the depth of every situation, the work of Jackson flies higher than the heights reached by cape.

– Refined special effects. What is commendable here is that the inclusion of gravity defying feats are saved for sporadic moments of dazzle that maintain the wow factor in not overdoing it, as well as the sequences themselves having strong live action impact for the properties they collide with. This not only fleshes out the effects with weight for believability, but also renders the impossible possible with the scale of stunt feeling mostly reserved. There is one exception, however, and it deals with a lawnmower being thrown hundreds of yards to the bewilderment of the little boy. But the scene is shot and edited in a such a way that barely allows you time to focus on the mower itself, and long before logic sets in, the incredible launch of a 200 pound machine lights up the sky like a shooting star, solidifying a tempo for the film’s action sequences that remain sharp throughout the duration of the film.

– Perfect pacing. Although I have problems with the film’s run time, which I will get to in a minute, the pacing of the screenplay is so crisp in non-stop action and Brandon’s personal conflicts one after the other, that the film feels about half of the fluffy 85 minute run time that it boasts. It helps that the film wastes no time in bringing audiences into its world and character’s, introducing us right away to the couple and alien arrival that sows the seeds for each of their eventual confrontations, but what really triggered my interest was how little of downtime there is in between these scenes of extraordinary. This can normally hurt a film if it’s too much of the same thing, but what I appreciate is that each scene varies in pitting urgency, depending on that character’s kind of interaction with Brandon prior to this, and each evolution leads to dramatically different conclusions, bringing forth an air of creativity to the progression of scenes that constantly keeps familiar set-ups feeling fresh for the fun that this director and screenwriters incorporate into the fresh take of genre direction.

NEGATIVES

– Rushing the details. The backlash from that 85 minute run time is everywhere. From the limited exposition in the origin and backstory of our central character, to the longterm build of certain bully character’s not getting the revenge that they deserve, to the flat ending that just kind of lacked emphasis. In rushing through the script’s more personable moments, especially during the opening act, it will have an unavoidable consequence on your investment into the film and character as a legendary presence on-screen. For my money, the film could easily use another fifteen minutes to solidify the importance of some supporting cast, as well as offer more moments of personal reflection for the boy learning to grow with newfound powers.

– Skimping on the deaths. Aside from one death sequence, which is arguably the most lasting presence that an on-screen death has had on me in years, the majority of sequences minimalize the effects of the single biggest detail; the devastating final blow. For some of them, they happen so fast that we don’t register what actually happened. For others, the occasion happens so far in the distance that you don’t get to soak in the gory details of blood and prosthetics, which thanks to the exceptional death that I mentioned earlier, are actually superb when they get the rare focus that they rightfully deserve. While the elements of horror still resonate throughout the many obvious tropes throughout the film, the biggest one is rarely anywhere to be seen, standing as the one matter in a superhero horror film that requires articulation to reach perfection.

My Grade: 8/10 or B

A Dog’s Journey

Directed By Gail Mancuso

Starring – Dennis Quaid, Marg Helgenberger, Kathryn Prescott

The Plot – Bailey (voiced again by Josh Gad) is living the good life on the Michigan farm of his “boy,” Ethan (Quaid) and Ethan’s wife Hannah (Helgenberger). He even has a new playmate: Ethan and Hannah’s baby granddaughter, CJ. The problem is that CJ’s mom, Gloria (Gilpin), decides to take CJ away. As Bailey’s soul prepares to leave this life for a new one, he makes a promise to Ethan to find CJ and protect her at any cost. Thus begins Bailey’s adventure through multiple lives filled with love, friendship and devotion as he, CJ  (Prescott), and CJ’s best friend Trent (Henry Lau) experience joy and heartbreak, music and laughter, and few really good belly rubs.

Rated PG for thematic content, some peril and rude humor

POSITIVES

– Canine control. These movies more than others have a tight grasp on the often times tricky art known as animal acting, but the crisp editing and grounded stunt work from these furry creatures make each of their influences on the scene feel seamless. It helps that most of these sequences are given ample time between cuts, keeping the cut-and-paste option minimal, all the while allowing the dogs to muscle out the commands they are being given. Never once in the movie did I feel the air of cinema magic for brash difficulty in attainability, and this more than anything is the biggest testament to Mancuso as a leading hand, for the way she brings extraordinary precision out of grounded requests from her four-legged co-stars, closing the gap between human and animal actors with a commitment to craft that goes a long way.

– Speaking of human performances, the work of the collective cast here is a majority solid. Quaid is back with his second film in a week, but this time it’s to showcase the sweet and sensitive side of his demeanor that outweighs the hammy nature of his dialogue. Likewise, Kathryn Prescott also carves out confidence in maintaining roughly 60% of the movie. Mancuso keeps the story firmly in-tow with her character, and throughout a series of dramatic beats and life-altering events, Prescott proves her emotional registry being years above her cinematic inexperience. Also, as Bailey the dog, Josh Gad is once again every bit as infectious as he is connected to the audience he engages with. Gad rarely has trouble emitting the energy that each scene requires, and through a healthy amount of audible narration, we are given ample time with the continued presence over the story, who takes us through all of life’s unique quips and quirks.

– Further developing of human protagonists. This is arguably the biggest difference from the first film, as the sequel sticks closer to this dog’s interaction with just the one family, as opposed to the many it came across in reuniting with its original owner. This allows the script to enhance our investment into their story-time dynamics, as well as cutting out a lot of the unnecessary padding associated with pushing the reset button every time Bailey dies, giving us a natural flow of pacing for the plot that (Lets be honest) is the main thing we care about with these movies. In doing this, I found a strong interest with CJ’s well-being, as well as the tumultuous uneasiness that her family is left with after many instances of dramatic tension formed from misunderstanding. It proves that “A Dog’s Journey” values the human protagonists every bit as much as man’s best friend, and can succeed a lot easier with an audience when it sets them on equal footing.

– Mature themes for family audiences. I value a kids movie so much more when it treats the youths with the respect associated in guiding them through meaty material without truly testing the limits of a PG rating. Likewise, the material itself doesn’t suffer a hinderance in effectiveness because of such, taking us through themes of alcoholism, abandonment, reincarnation, and even cancer that constantly keeps them on their toes. To a certain degree, you could say that each of these are used in manipulative ways that damned the first movie from receiving a passing grade from this critic, but the unraveling of events feels natural here, and not necessarily catering to a meandering cause. It’s all about educating its youths in ordinary circumstances which some of them will someday be confronted with, and it elevates the dramatic tension of the film effectively because of its upping of stakes from the first movie.

– Detailed make-up and prosthetics. While only used for one scene and two character’s in the movie, the film’s use of natural aging enhancements feels naturally convincing and reflective of the time that has passed from when we last saw them. This was one of my biggest concerns with watching the trailers, as the film’s multi-decade progression was depicted without any of the scenes of these actors after their separation, but thankfully the surprise was saved for the film itself, and it does so with a modest amount of wrinkling cream, glasses, and wigs that go a long way where computer graphics aren’t necessary. These kind of effects normally do cost more in studio productions, but the integrity of realistic visual effects is something that I commend it greatly for, and I hope it’s a healthy direction that many more films will follow with it.

– Important life lessons. This is especially, but not limited to, youthful female audiences, as the protagonist of the film becomes embattled with some internal conflicts that ages her well ahead of her years in terms of wisdom. Because of such, the film boosts and a message of resiliency and self-belief to young girls everywhere, educating them on the importance associated with entertaining the right choices in male suitors where looks certainly aren’t everything. In a perfect world, films like these would serve as strong poignancy pieces for the future females of tomorrow, but in the overabundance of intriguing details in the movie, it’s easy to see that it could easily be lost or overlooked in translation. Even still, the script takes an approach especially to adopted little girls, who have to blaze their own path after those they depended on fell off of theirs.

NEGATIVES

– Stilted dialogue. Much of the line reads and dialogue associated with still reek of hokey, obviousness, that occasionally makes this feel like a Hallmark Channel movie, instead of the big screen presentation that we’re supposed to feel. One such example is in the continuity of speech by Gad throughout a time-passing montage, that doesn’t make sense when you consider he’s in the scene he’s supposed to be talking over a passage of ample time. This makes it clearly evident that the film values audience narration over storytelling believability, and I wish I could say it’s the only problem associated with Gad’s narration. As well, it’s every bit as re-affirming as it was in the first movie, explaining to us audibly what we’ve already seen visually. It’s like being told every detail twice, and this occasionally gets irritating with the pacing and progression of scenes that should be shorter than they rightfully are.

– Formulaic redundancy. When I saw the trailer for this film, it felt very much like the first movie narratively, and with the exception of cutting down on multitudes of owners that I mentioned earlier, the film’s general outline feels very much identical to the first movie. This is the biggest argument in terms of why audiences who saw the first movie should see the sequel, and especially if you are against seeing dogs being put to death in movies, you should definitely keep your distance from this one. While only happening three times in this film, as opposed to seven in the previous installment, the death sequences themselves are very hard to engage in, and manipulative for how they focus on the face of the animal each time it’s at its weakest hour.

– Obvious foreshadowing. There’s certainly no shortage of this one, as the barrage of unnecessarily-bitchy supporting characters and out-of-nowhere details in storytelling directions, further flesh out the predictability in a story this minimal on depth. Because our central trio of character’s are such good people, it makes the bad ones feel that much more cartoonish by comparison, and because of this we can easily sniff out that relationships and karma are certainly not going to be on the sides of these miserable people. On the subject of plot foreshadowing, the film introduces a scene of cancer-sniffing dogs midway through the film that comes out of nowhere, and is given such an inordinate amount of focus rendered upon, that we know its elements will come into play at some place during the film, and re-appear they do, as a character becomes plagued in a battle with cancer that definitely benefits the convenience of this earlier inclusion.

– Outdated soundtrack. I’m not saying that it isn’t possible that teenage characters are listening to fifteen year old music at a hip high school house party, but the majority of such big numbers surely flock more to what’s current and fresh at the moment. In this regard, the inclusion of The All American Rejects, Phillip Phillips, and Matt Nathanson feel about a decade too late in marketing to the soundtrack hounds that attend these movies. In addition to this, the musical score by composer Mark Isham feels completely uninspiring and piano-repetitive throughout the length of the film. If I could watch this film on mute, I really would, but the importance of details shouldn’t suffer because the musical choices associated with the film feel like they are from a middle aged woman’s IPOD on shuffle.

My Grade: 6/10 or C-

Poms

Directed By Zara Hayes

Starring – Diane Keaton, Pam Grier, Jacki Weaver

The Plot – A comedy about a group of women who form a cheer leading squad at their retirement community, proving that you’re never too old to ‘bring it!’

Rated PG-13 for some adult language/sexual references.

POSITIVES

– Enjoyable cast. Keaton’s usual May fare is exceptional this time around, investing in a character who actually has a bit of flare and attitude to the usual types she has unfortunately become saddled with. In addition to this, the role has an unordinary amount of physicality to it, proving that age is only a number, and that Keaton’s persistent filmography is all about the way she feels in the roles she consistently takes on. As good as Keaton is however, it’s actually Weaver who steals the show as her sexually active neighbor/best friend. Jacki has had a resurgence of late in Hollywood, but Sheryl is a role that feels like she has invested the most of herself into, combining dry sarcasm and a no-nonsense demeanor that keeps the people around her constantly on their toes. These two are a delight to watch interact on-screen, and it makes me wish that the film, especially in the second half, would’ve donated a bit more to watching their unfolding drama play out with the attention that it rightfully deserves.

– Snappy comic dialogue. I’m not ashamed to say that I laughed a lot in this film, despite the fact that its outline is typical set-up for adult comic sitcoms. Hayes biggest strength as a director is in the polished timing that each of ladies exert on the conversations, allowing enough time to soak the punchline of the material in without taking away from the pacing and progression of the scene, and it conjured up an effectiveness that struck a funny bone within me around 70% of the time. Perhaps it’s the awkwardness of seeing senior citizens in these unconventional situations, or the fact that Hayes knows her audience very well. Either way, “Poms” infectious material is a pep rally of timely dialogue and classy sight gags that is easily one of the more feel good films of the spring movie season.

– Crisp editing. This accomplishment is two-fold. The first is its enhancement of the dual scene jokes that require a sharp slice between to truly sell them. An example of this is a character who is repeatedly told by her husband that she can join the cheerleading group over his dead body, and then cuts to his funeral. While morbid in its punchline, the editing does convey the point with blunt force that reaches for the laugh as quick as it can. The second thing the editing is used for is the dance routines themselves, which attain a level of professionalism to them, thanks to a barrage of quick-cut edits that help maintain the intensity of the number. When you especially consider how little edits were used early on in the group’s routines, and how inexperienced they looked, it’s remarkable that the closing number establishes a feeling of the group growing together as a unit, making what they accomplish that much more believable because of talented editing that is always one step ahead.

– Profound examples of senior treatment. This is perhaps the biggest reason to see this film, as the depictions by higher authority and youthful outsiders feels every bit as honest as it does absorbing. As someone who works in a senior citizens community, I can say that the transition into assisted living isn’t always the easiest. It leads to a loss of freedoms that they never choose to happen, but are relegated to thanks to the effects of aging. For where that plays in “Poms” is the interaction with high-schoolers, who are often too immature to understand that these are people who were once where they now stand. As well, the overprotective family member, who often oversteps his boundaries for better of the person in question. Hayes touches on this multiple times in the film, and I appreciate the focus given to such an often overlooked plague that hinders the spirit in senior citizens long before anything else sets in. These are people who wish to live their lives as similar as they did before they moved into this community, so the best we can do is support that yearning for routine.

– An easy sit. At 86 flimsy minutes, “Poms” is one of the easier watches that I have had in quite sometime, and this is in part due to the progression in scenes that rarely stalls or remains in place for too long. This is a movie that continuously shifts from one setting to the next, and I feel that movement helps vitally in keeping this film from being something that it doesn’t necessarily need to be, in the idea of unnecessary padding. Each act here is given ample time to prove its weight to the progression of the story, and it helps even more that Martha (Keaton) is a protagonist who we can get behind, especially for the secret conflict that she is keeping from her friends. We, like the pacing of the film, embraces her growing connection between them, allowing us to invest in the group’s dynamic thoroughly while maintaining the care-free attitude of the minutes that are passing off-screen.

– Gorgeous setting. Sunnyside Acres is a place that I want to live in, if only for the inordinate amount of suburban ranches that stretch as far as the eye can see. Keaton’s character even comes from a New York apartment, so her move is a definite upgrade. In addition to the gorgeous housing quarters, the benefits of multiple heated pools, sports courts and alley’s, and the ideal weather that always lives up to its name, definitely puts the audience in the frame of mind that this place is unlike anywhere else you’ve ever seen, and it better translates the immensity of the change in Martha’s life that now comes at her in every possible direction. It proves that the film definitely took some time in scouting the proper locations to keep this from feeling like a stage-style setting, and the absorbing quality of the film’s desirable setting is one that I seek permanent residency at.

NEGATIVES

– Clunky soundtrack. I hated the soundtrack for two reasons. The first is because the familiar beats of modern day pop music don’t mesh well with the age grouping of the cast and audience that accompany it. I understand that they need dance tracks to sell the dance sequences, but surely there are more timely appropriate measures to be taken with the music director who tied everything together. The second reason is because it feels too desperate and obvious to include any track that has been on the top 40 in recent years. From a personal level, I don’t enjoy one of these songs on the radio, and when I hear them in a film where their inclusion feels completely inappropriate, it culminates in an opportunistic feel that reeks of studio involvement.

– For the sake of it. There are measures taken with a trio of antagonist characters and two dramatic inducing situations that happen for no other reason than the movie calling for it. On the former, the film’s three antagonists have no serious motivation to go after these women, and it almost gets to cartoonish levels of evil by the time is over. What’s even more convincing is if you take these scenes out of the film, you trim about ten minutes from the run time and lose nothing of substantial value because of it. On the subject of the situational drama, these can easily be solved with even a shred of intelligence that so obviously did not go into them. As an example, one scene deals with the ladies creating a diversion to break out one of their crew free from their overbearing son. MINOR SPOILER – It ends with them throwing a rock through his car window, and they sneak around the back of the house to pull her through the window. Couldn’t they have just done this without throwing a rock? Won’t it be even more difficult to accomplish since they have to go back out front to the bus anyway? Then there’s the conflict of them needing a place to practice since a power hungry manager is cutting their time down. There are literally hundreds of places on this campus that they could practice. The film even realizes this midway through, as they start practicing in Martha’s garage.

– No exposition for supporting cast. It’s a bit frustrating that the film really only builds two women throughout the entirety of this film, and it leaves some credible actresses like Grier, Rhea Pearlman, and Phyllis Sommerville appearing without much emphasis behind their inclusion other than to fill a quota. For my money, the film could’ve omitted its antagonist desire in favor of further establishing these ladies for the importance they deserve. It would make your interest in the overall group that much tighter, and cement the screenwriters for having depth in writing beyond just the table dressing of the plot.

– Montage sequence overkill. Everywhere you look in this film, there’s a musical montage to shortcut the values and importance that exposition sets, and it gives the film a frequent feeling of fast-forward that does more harm than value for the believability of the routines. If I’m remembering correctly, I am currently counting eight different musical montages. This would be overkill for a 90’s underdog sports movie, and even worse for a film that doesn’t necessarily require these huge jumps in a time frame that isn’t that immense to begin with. It’s an overdone cliche that reaches ridiculous levels of incorporation by the end of the film, and triples the numbers of times that we actually see the group doing their thing without cut and paste.

My Grade: 6/10 or C

The Hustle

Directed By Chris Addison

Starring – Anne Hathaway, Rebel Wilson, Alex Sharp

The Plot – Rebel Wilson and Anne Hathaway star as a pair of con artists plying their trade in a stunning seaside town in the south of France. Josephine Chesterfield (Hathaway) is a glamorous, seductive Brit with a sprawling home in Beaumont-sur-Mer and a penchant for defrauding gullible wealthy men from all corners of the world. Into her well-ordered, meticulously moneyed world bursts Penny Rust (Wilson), an Aussie who is as free-form and fun-loving as Josephine is calculated and cunning. Where Penny amasses wads of cash by ripping off her marks in neighborhood bars, Josephine fills her safe with massive diamonds after ensnaring her prey in glitzy casinos. Despite their different methods, both are masters of the art of the fleece so they con the men that have wronged women. Wilson’s talent for physicality and Hathaway’s withering wit are a combustible combination as the pair of scammers pull out all the stops to swindle a naïve tech billionaire (Sharp).

Rated PG-13 for crude sexual content and adult language

POSITIVES

– Heart of Hathaway. If there is any single redeemable quality about this film, it’s the work of the Grade-A actress, who chews up an overabundance of scenery on her way to another delightful performance. While the character itself wasn’t someone I could admire and hang my hat on for obvious reasons, the untamed energy of Anne showing off no fewer than three different accents for three completely different personalities highlights her range every bit as it does her investment into the picture, and there’s something deeply commendable about an actress who is so obviously better than this film, yet doesn’t let it dampen the work level that we’ve come to expect from her. Each time Hathaway was on-screen, the humor didn’t feel desperate, and just sort of fit into place because of, like her character, her commitment to the role. I’ve viewed it as a sequel to the character she played in “Ocean’s Eight”. Makes it slightly more entertaining that way.

– Doesn’t overstay its welcome. Even if you have as many problems with the material as I did, there’s a saving grace in the concept of this 89 minute movie being a quickly moving script that constantly maintains the pacing of the story. I was flabbergasted when I checked my watch to reveal only twenty minutes left in the film, and the screenplay’s direction to constantly keep the geography, as well as the evolution of the scams, is something that allows very few grace periods in the film, or even unnecessary padding. If this film were two hours long, it would be so much worse than it actually is, but screenwriter Jac Schaeffer is responsible for much of the consistent movement that maintains the energy of the shenanigans at place, and if it all were for a better movie, it would make “The Hustle” one of the easier sits of 2019.

– Spicy foreign flavor. Another great Anne in this production is that of Anne Dudley, the film’s musical composer, who instills a great sense of geographical reminder every time her notes of accompaniment strike the perfect sizzle for our traveling scenery. For French opulence, it’s obviously the inclusion of Accordion’s or Bombard’s to replicate the feel of romance in the air. For American style casino’s, it’s the slick evocation of electric guitars beating a similar vibe to that of a James Bond movie, in all of its jagged curves that signal ulterior motives in the atmosphere. They both offer a stirringly satisfying juxtaposition of compositional bliss that compliments the many invasive qualities of the cerebral sequences perfectly. Music is rarely complimented in comedies, but here the credit deserves center stage among the film’s rare better qualities.

NEGATIVES

– As a remake. It can be expected that many people aren’t aware that this is in fact a female spin on the 1987 film “Dirty Rotten Scoundrels”, but what’s so viciously evident is how little this gender swap has on the weight and complexity of the film, that breathes new life into the treasured comedy. For most of the film, “The Hustle” is trying to pave its own way, outlining cons and character’s who don’t feel remotely familiar, and fleshing out a new direction to try to capitalize on the one track minds that males often possess. The problem though, is that the screenplay is never wise enough to offer proof for this pudding, with the exception of a few sleazy millionaires who are cartoonish levels of sex and greed. Aside from this, the motivation for Hathaway and Wilson’s duo never rises above just getting rich. There’s no shred of vengeance or anger behind Hathaway’s delivery that states that men find women too weak to be smarter than them. So despite it distancing itself from the material of the previous film, there’s not enough nuance in social commentary to make the heists not feel like they have the weight of a Saturday Night Live skit, and if anything it just further cements the appreciation for the original.

– Detestable personalities. I expected to lack indulgence for thieving character’s, but Hathaway and Wilson, as well as the supporting cast of one-off dopes, took my expectations to seething levels, if only for the film’s minimal view of the world outside of the upper one-percent. Wilson is her usual trashy self, complete with inappropriate vulgarity and unabashed horniness that wears thick early on. If you’ve seen one Rebel role, you’ve seen them all, and sadly after the shattering of typecast that was this year’s “Isn’t It Romantic”, the young actress has regressed in terms of acting depth. Hathaway essentially has no heart, and never really learns from her devious ways as the film concludes. She’s essentially a mean-spirited, conniving teacher who always must be one step ahead of her student, so that she isn’t forgotten. Aside from this colorful duo, the supporting cast of males are every bit as braindead as they are one-dimensional, making me wonder if the female switch-up has indeed learned anything from years of being presented as one consistent thing. As a male myself, there are very few films that offend me for my gender, and this is one of those rare exceptions, as instead of separating males into respective categories, the film groups us all together into one insensitive bracket, and it kept me from fully buying into the support of the duo’s thefts.

– Lifeless comedy. “The Hustle” made me feel like I lacked the ability to laugh and have fun in a movie theater. It’s an easily written, terribly telegraphed combination of set-ups and punchlines that beat a joke dead into the ground upon the third or fourth time that it is brought up again. Even worse than that, the air of improv comedy is back yet again for Wilson, who uses valuable screen time to stretch a punchline so far that it slowly wiped away what shred of effectiveness that it had for the poor souls in my theater who laughed upon initial delivery, then gave a decreasingly smaller laugh each time she would carry on with it. This is mindless humor at its most immature, and if it wasn’t for the remarkable investment from Hathaway that I elaborated on earlier, I wouldn’t have laughed a single time throughout this movie, and that’s a major problem for a film deposited in the comedy genre.

– As a feminist piece. I’m not trying to make “The Hustle” into something it’s not, but you’d be ignorant to see a plot about two women ripping off rich male counterparts without a single ounce of feminism in the atmosphere to their deceitful games, but sadly the film goes back on this concept so brutally that it practically feels like the biggest con is the one that the script plays on the pride of itself. MINIMAL SPOILER – The film eventually becomes about a rivalry between Hathaway and Wilson to sleep with this male character (Sharp), making me wonder who in fact is the disappointed party in this scenario. Is it the male? Yeah, because him having two women fighting over him will surely teach him a lesson. With films like this depicting the bond of feminism, I feel that an inevitable revolution is coming, and it’s one where female moviegoers will lash out on a generation of filmmaking that values their moral stamina as a bump in the road to male euphoria. If I were a woman, I wouldn’t support a movie like this.

– Horrendous green-screen visuals. Why does a movie like “The Hustle” even require special effects? Is the budget so minimal on this production that it can’t even convince itself of its champagne wishes and caviar dreams? There’s a series of takes midway through the third act where Hathaway chases a plane on a runway, where she is the only aspect that is actually real. What’s even worse is how poorly digitalized this sequence felt, where the lighting of Hathaway and the property surrounding her don’t look even remotely like they took place in the same day or place. Rendering like this is usually evident in natural disaster movies, but for a movie that requires this just to depict an airplane lifting off of the ground, really makes me lack believability in the riches of the story both in and out of the movie itself.

– Glaring plot holes. This movie made me think far too often than I’m proud to rightfully admit, but when a scene plays out that lacks logic in even the minimalist sense, I can’t turn my brain off to the point of it becoming a vegetable. There are many examples that I found throughout the movie, where the chain of events simply didn’t add up to what eventually transpires, but none more than that of my favorite hole in the movie. It happens when Wilson and Sharp are alone on a date, and Wilson faking her blindness makes up the name of a Russian doctor who she requires a surgery from to see again. Sharp looks him up, and even manages to find his website and Facebook, the latter of which reveals that he’s actually staying in the same hotel as them at that moment. It turns out to be Hathaway who made the site and becomes the doctor for this point on. Ok, even if you can overlook the fact that Hathaway made a believable website in three minutes tops, how in the living hell could she have known the name that was discussed in an isolated scene between Wilson and Sharp? What were they thinking?

– Problems with the ending. So much to unload on here, but there’s a late twist that happens with about ten minutes left in this movie, that not only did I see coming from a mile away when you think for too long about this particular character, but also does nothing for sending audiences home satisfied. The main problem is that so much develops in the final ten minutes of the film, that not only jars the dynamic and importance of the two woman rivalry, but also makes the very last two scenes of the film feel tacked on after writing an ending that no one at the studio felt accomplished with. It shoves so much into those closing moments, and it almost feels like the collection of DVD special feature endings that were all edited together to the finished product, throwing as much at the screen to once again get us back to a happy ending. What an anti-climatic mess.

My Grade: 3/10 or F