Blood Fest

Directed by Owen Egerton

Starring – Robbie Kay, Seychelle Gabriel, Zachary Levi

The Plot – Fans flock to a festival celebrating the most iconic horror movies, only to discover that the charismatic showman behind the event has a diabolical agenda. As festival attendees start dying off, three teenagers, more schooled in horror-film cliches than practical knowledge about neutralizing psycho killers , must band together and battle through various madmen and monstrosities to survive.

Currently not rated

POSITIVES

– Creative kills. Sadly, the effects work is mostly computer generated, but that doesn’t spoil the creativity involved with a first act setting of the stage that is certainly the five most satisfying minutes that this film has to offer. Chainsaws, road tools, and pools of pig’s blood splash and gash across the screen, giving you a fiesta of carnage that the rest of the film has trouble ever living up to.

– Subtle homages to horror icons. While most of the rules and material of ‘Blood Fest’ felt more insulting than not for my taste, the Easter Eggs pointing to some of the elusive legends of the genre felt satisfying for their familiarity. It’s not so much ripping off popular properties as it is depicting their magnitude on the horror pop culture stratosphere. I won’t spoil much, but Hoddertown as a setting within the park gave me plenty of motivation as to where I want to live next.

– I love the idea of this plot. This feeling of life imitating art is one that thrives with my general interest, even if the movie managed to round up zero legitimate scares along the way. On the surface, the event Blood Fest is this great excuse for gore and body counts of the highest ratio to come together, bringing the torture on a grander scale than were used to in a conventional horror film, with the exception of maybe zombie films. P.S – There are zombies in this movie.

– While none of the acting is worthy of over-the-top praise, the work from this ensemble of mostly inexperienced cast members do a solid enough job as a likeable entity. Particularly the work of Gabriel as the final girl of sorts for this film, served as my single favorite performance for the movie, as someone not afraid of getting dirty when a scene requires it. She tends to give her whole body to a scene involving violence, and her petite stature is one that comes in handy for the many twists and turns that the story, as well as her body, takes.

– Much of the comedy, while juvenile and redundant at times, hits its target for a majority of the time, bringing a few hearty laughs that definitely made the sit a lot easier. My favorite scene of the movie takes place in the opening five minutes, when the trio of leads are talking at the video store. The banter between them is timely in their sarcastic deliveries, and overall it’s this scene that sets the precedent for the personalities, as well as the brand of humor for the entirety of the movie going forward.

NEGATIVES

– While this is a far greater improvement on production designs from Rooster Teeth’s other feature films, the set pieces in particular feel lifeless and artificial. When the film isn’t limiting the most of its horrific looking green-screen effects that obscure and blur anything surrounding human properties, the physical properties feel like they were cut out of a gimmick haunted house, lacking any kind of depth or creativity for their inclusion.

– Bare minimum character exposition. These are people who are limited to one word descriptions like “Blonde” or “Virgin”, and the film’s lack of focus to their proper development leaves them equally with nothing to live up to with these minimal tags. Even for a B-grade horror movie, ‘Blood Fest’ caters more to the familiar tropes of the genre, instead of building on the audience’s investment in a particular character, and the result are weightless deaths that add nothing of urgency or effectiveness to the frights of the film.

– Plagued by predictability. ‘Blood Fest’ feels worn down by the lifespan of its gimmick as a movie that is ahead of the rules it promotes, beating into the ground constant reminders that riddle it full of telegraphed moves before they even happen. A couple has sex, so of course they’re dead, a blonde is naked in the shower, so of course she’s next, and this constant ring of reminder annoyed me because of how saddled it becomes with being another follower of the pack.

– ‘Blood Fest’ is everything wrong with the pop culture appeal that it satirizes so often. The film’s antagonist speaks of the horror genre losing its effect because studios have taken what’s forbidden and made it routine, and this movie does the exact same. It’s insulting to condense horror into a few simple rules, but even more than that it’s damning to the integrity of the film when the tone-deaf range, as well as lack of anything original or compelling for the genre rears its head. This gives Rooster Teeth a double F for eFFort.

– The twist, while anything but predictable, is as far-fetched an idea as anything that this film scares up for us. What’s even more ridiculous is that the film didn’t require it, as the movie’s true antagonist and surprisingly creative plot made for more than enough explanation on the idea of this festival. I guess it’s appropriate that a character involved in the ending spouts the line “I did warn you that Blood Fest was going to suck”. Well played movie, and this twist only further emphasizes how right on the money you truly were.

5/10

Kin

Directed by Jonathan and Josh Baker

Starring – Myles Truitt, Dennis Quaid, James Franco

The Plot – The story of an unexpected hero destined for greatness. Chased by a vengeful criminal (Franco), the feds and a gang of otherworldly soldiers,? a recently released ex-con Jimmy (Jack Reynor) and his adopted teenage brother Eli (Myles Truitt) are forced to go on the run with a weapon of mysterious origin as their only protection.

Rated PG-13 for gun violence and intense action, suggestive material, adult language, thematic elements and drinking

POSITIVES

– When this film focuses on the brotherly element being the forefront for the story, it’s surprisingly a lot of fun. For my benefit, the time when this is a road trip movie that pays homage to the grown up children’s movies of the late 80’s/early 90’s it works the best, and makes the most sense to the film’s title that articulates how the only thing these brothers have in this world are each other.

– Perfect film location. This film takes place in Detroit, Michigan, a city that is no stranger to the live fast style that many youths grow up with, and that concept in establishing the stage emphasizes why these characters have fallen on such hard times in each of their respective lives. For Eli, being a youth in this geography leaves him with little hope at a positive future, and it’s only until Jimmy comes back in his life where he realizes he’s not alone in the effects that this place has had on both of them.

– Tightly shot action sequences. Perhaps the biggest surprise to ‘Kin’ is that it is filmed competently enough, bringing a wide range of angle accessibility, as well as impact in devastation that makes its weight feel believable. The shot composition is versatile in its documentation of the fast firepower that comes in its direction, but thanks to the lack of shaking camera effects and average spring of cuts in between that feels nice on the eyes, we never miss any of the carnage.

– Performances over characters. This is a prime example of when a script does no favors for outlining exposition of each character, so the talented cast must go into business for themselves. Surprisingly, this is Truitt’s first feature length film, bringing with him a lot of heartache and isolation in Eli that would otherwise be mulled over in the establishing introductions. Reynor does wonders as the single dumbest character that I have seen in 2018. Thankfully, even though this character angered me on several occasions, for the selfish choices he makes, his chemistry with Truitt moves this film miles, and much of the dramatic pulse weighs heavily on their interaction with one another. I also can’t forget to mention Franco as the film’s gun-toting antagonist. James has played a villain character before, but never as energetic or as impulsive as he does with this opportunity. When you get a chance to urinate on a gas station floor, you call James Franco. He is Mister Dependable in that regards.

NEGATIVES

– Terminator Part duh? I don’t want to channel what thought process the Baker brothers were conjuring up when they wrote ‘Kin’, but I can bet it was within days of watching the Terminator franchise. Not only are plot points touched on from this respective influence, but scenes are completely played out action for action, and it’s in that obvious influence where this film constantly struggles to find a voice of its own.

– Convoluted third act dooms this one completely. For my money, the science fiction element is what dooms this film, because it’s in that where you start to see how shoe-horned this idea is with its minimal time allowance. The scenes with the gun constantly feel like they serve as a reminder that this element is still there in the film, waiting to jump in, and it picks the final ten minutes of the movie to transform what realism and grounded actions it took in the previous 80 minutes of the film to compromise it for some details that come completely out of left field.

– Indecisions doom what could’ve been. Simply put, this film tries to move in too many directions for it to ever work out to its benefit. Of the subgenres that I counted in this movie, it’s a road movie, a family drama, a violent crime shoot-em-up, and an offbeat science fiction thriller. It’s a virtual tug-of-war for creative control, and all of its disjointed pieces never form together to make one creatively cohesive project, choosing instead to throw a bunch of ideas at the wall to see what sticks. As it turns out, little does.

– Questionable cameo. In addition to everything else wrong with the film’s final ten minutes, the surprise reveal of a certain celebrity made me scratch my head for how little this person has to do. If you pay close attention to the credits at the beginning of the film, you can figure it out pretty easily, but it’s obvious that this actor wanted very little to do on-screen with this film, because they are visually represented for a matter of five minutes. Why not introduce them early on for more celebrity firepower? See my theory two sentences ago.

– Limited by its rating. Besides the fact that I still wonder what age group this film is geared towards, I scratch my head even more at the scenes that can’t be fully attained by such a tight rating from the academy. There’s a strip club scene with the dancers wearing jean shorts, gun violence that shows limited penetration and absolutely zero blood, and curse words that were obviously edited out post production with terrible A.D.R. This continues the realization that this film had zero confidence in the original vision that it had for itself, choosing instead to cross promote itself to anyone that would bite.

– Questions I have. As a nod to how much this film couldn’t explain in logic, I have gathered a couple of questions for the Baker Brothers that maybe they can someday answer. Minor spoilers ahead. Why would Taylor (Franco), a gang leader in Detroit, agree to arrange for Jimmy’s in-prison protection for sixty grand, not demand any of the money until he serves a full sentence, and then wonder why he can’t pay him when he gets out of prison? Why would a murder in Detroit turn up on a news broadcast in Nevada? Why is Carrie Coon given second-billing for the eight valuable minutes of screen time that was completely forgettable? Where the hell is Sulaco County in Nevada? and finally how did a team leave behind a gun so important, in a place where literally anyone could get it? Couldn’t they have just left it in Eli’s bag or house, or something more available to the one party?

4/10

The Little Stranger

Directed by Lenny Abrahamson

Starring – Domhnall Gleeson, Ruth Wilson, Josh Dylan

The Plot – Tells the story of Dr. Faraday (Gleeson), the son of a housemaid, who has built a life of quiet respectability as a country doctor. During the long hot summer of 1948, he is called to a patient at Hundreds Hall, where his mother once worked. The Hall has been home to the Ayres family for more than two centuries. But it is now in decline and its inhabitants – mother, son and daughter – are haunted by something more ominous than a dying way of life. When he takes on his new patient, Faraday has no idea how closely, and how disturbingly, the family’s story is about to become entwined with his own.

Rated R for some disturbing bloody images

POSITIVES

– This is a ghost story as advertised, but what will make some people feel manipulated is the kind of ghost story it truly is. Far from the world of flying white apparitions and possessions, ‘The Little Stranger’ instead speaks to the kind of haunting that is psychological, most notably in a location where the stacking of bad things happening haunts the family who still live there, and changes the complexion considerably. I dig this angle because its “Ghosts” feel much more understandable from an audience standpoint, and its material transcends the screen for any family watching it to comprehend.

– What Abrahamson excels at far greater than anything else, is the ability to conjure up a mental fog in the atmosphere that is anything but evident by shape or color. There is such a congested tone in the air of this once prosperous mansion that has decayed and aged alongside the very patrons inside of it, and the time spent inside poisons their mentalities almost like a poisonous gas that rests inside of its sacred walls. As a director, he has such a range in gauging the pulse from within his characters, and that is why he feels like the right man for the job in this respective project.

– Absolutely zero jump scares and cheap thrills. To some, they will shy away from this kind of detail, but for me it is much appreciated, as films often overlook what truly makes a film scary, or in this case haunting. ‘The Little Stranger’ very much rests its weight on this growing claustrophobia inside such a castle of a place. It’s in the inability to escape each other that has this family riveted on the edge, and why we as an audience take great fright in their progressive engagements, instead of what goes bump in the night. I compare this film a lot to this summer’s ‘Hereditary’, in that they are both unconventional horror films that refuse to feel influenced by modern day tropes that water down the effect of the story.

– As for performances, Gleeson again takes center stage as this doctor with his own secret past to the house and family. Because of the great passion that he takes in explaining his every memories on the property, we as an audience understand firmly why this is the last string tied to his past that he grips onto ever so tightly. His interaction with Ruth Wilson, who gives a stirring performance as the daughter of this household, consistently feels very tense and even unnatural for the way each feel like they’re hiding something revealing in each other, and it made for this blossoming of chemistry between them that spins in the most unorthodox of methods.

– Exceptional cinematography from Ole Bratt Birkeland (What a name). What is beneficial from Birkeland’s visuals are the necessity in mirroring the mentality for what is playing out. His close-ups feel naturally illustrated, beginning each frame with blur that slowly turns to focus for the character that moves into it. As for color, there’s a dimming aura that enchants the mansion, giving it that mirrored feeling like it previously rained everyday before shooting.

– Authentic timepiece designs in wardrobe and furniture stylings. This is a story that takes place in the 1948 Europe, so the use of elegant dining attire and long flowing gowns colorfully balance the texture for the time. But for my money, it’s in the colorless drab of the worn down wallpaper and 18th century furniture within the house that sets it apart from anything recently. The outdated surroundings speak volumes in this family’s incapability to change or move on, and it’s always great when you can draw that kind of conclusion from subtle observations.

– Surprisingly effective make-up. This was the last film that I expected to dazzle me with its effects work, most notably in the burning and scarred skin of Will Poulter’s character. The camera never turns away or moves quickly when it is in focus, bringing to life the time and effort that went into making something look so horribly disfiguring for this man who must see it and live with it every single day of his life. It’s truly crippling.

NEGATIVES

– This film is only 102 minutes long, and it drags like a horse’s feet after it refuses to journey any further. ‘The Little Stranger’ is a slow burn stinger of a drama, but that was never the problem for me. It’s more so in the way that scenes are often derivative, hammering home what we already knew a few scenes prior, and making it difficult to stay energetically glued to the unfolding mayhem before it. This will inevitably draw away a lot of its audience, and highlight this as a film that is not for every conventional horror fan.

– Lack of clarity with the ending. I’m pretty sure I know what happened in the film’s closing minutes, but my minimal confidence leaves me with the feelings that this movie required better telegraphing for audiences who require that one evident clue in drawing it all together. Because of this, the film just kind of ends on a question instead of a statement, and the disjointed pieces of this mystery still required the glue of clarity in piecing them back together.

– Touches on the class system of England without ever actually riveting us with a compelling observation. Every time there’s a scene involving the cultural divide between families, it feels like nothing more than a time filler. In particular, it’s the flashback scenes to when Faraday was a child that really have me scratching my head, because there’s never emphasis for their inclusion other than to show why he was so infatuated with the property. I could’ve used a lot more exposition for this backstory, ideally in the Ayers family’s point of view, in how they see themselves against those who adored their lavish lifestyle.

7/10

Searching

Directed by Aneesh Chaganty

Starring – John Cho, Debra Messing, Joseph Lee

The Plot – After David Kim’s (Cho) 16-year-old daughter goes missing, a local investigation is opened and a detective (Messing) is assigned to the case. But 37 hours later and without a single lead, David decides to search the one place no one has looked yet, where all secrets are kept today: his daughter’s laptop. In a hyper-modern thriller told via the technology devices we use every day to communicate, David must trace his daughter’s digital footprints before she disappears forever.

Rated PG-13 for thematic content, some drug and sexual references, and for adult language

POSITIVES

– Cho’s performance is one of calculated measurements. Considering he is adapting to the newest of developments that happen before him, John not only has little time to soak in what has already happened, but does so in a way that grabs ahold of the anxiety that his character is constantly riddled with. This is a father’s worst nightmare come true, and Cho’s embrace of the shame as a result of the twisted reality is one that is every bit as chilling as it is humanistic.

– The gimmick itself. As to where a film like ‘Unfriended’ completely obliterated the logic and capabilities of an entire movie being filmed online, ‘Searching’ dazzles us with what could and should always be. Not only does this film stay faithful to said gimmick, even so much as branching out to other forms of technology far more expansive than that of a desktop, but it knows how to use each program capably enough to where we’re not sitting there screaming at the character. Chaganty as a screenwriter has clearly done his homework here, and I commend him greatly for crafting a protagonist who is every bit as intelligent as the people embracing his film.

– An in-depth opening montage of online videos, pictures, and e-mails that articulately paints the family’s devastating past to this point. There’s something almost tragic about the passage of time through memories that hits us with this sequence long before the vanishing of the film ever takes place, setting the empathetic precedent for what’s to inevitably come. Because a screenplay can take its time and captivate with something as easy as memory highlights, we as an audience feel that much more engaged in this father and daughter, who clearly only have each other in this world.

– What’s appreciated probably more than anything here is we’re not just staring at one continuous screen being played out in real time. The sharp editing is used more as a tool to relay the furthering of time, moving us bluntly along to the next interesting development, instead of the movie lagging for the sake of authenticity. These cuts magnify the consistency in tension while focusing on the doubling down of facial reactions and online text that play so importantly in the detective work that this terrified parent is uncovering.

– Attention to detail. Extra points for the production for going out of its way to duplicate the designs of famous websites like Ebay and Youtube to play opposite of the particular timeline of events playing out before us. It was a nostalgic trip down memory lane, in all of its 360 pixel quality, and just one more example of this film accentuating the details of the gimmick that would otherwise be an obvious negative.

– Responsible commentary on modern parenting. For my money, the film serves as a constant reminder for parents everywhere to continue nagging and searching your kid for answers, no matter how much it bothers them. Most youths live a double life online, and ‘Searching’ is one in a million examples of someone always watching. As for technological advances of the modern age itself, the movie presents an equally riveting take for the advantages and disadvantages of its gifts, depending on what we are using them for.

– Unintentional humor that is true to its word. While there was very little I found about ‘Searching’ humorous in material, I can say that Chaganty’s strongest push in material is his depiction of insensitivity from social media that flock like seagulls whenever tragedy breaks. Through close-ups of comments from the online community, we are treated to the very ideal of shock commenting that trolls thrive on, and despite it feeling like it forces us to laugh or roll our eyes, it hits the mark of honesty for where the world’s heart is at in 2018. Don’t believe me? Go look up any tragedy online right now that has comments allowed at the bottom.

NEGATIVES

– Obnoxious sound mixing. Once again we have an example of mediocre camera equipment with the single greatest Dolby surround sound that money can buy. Even when this film had me falling for its charms and immersing myself in the unfolding drama of its mystery, I was dragged out of it each time with distracting sound quality that shouldn’t be nearly as loud or as clear as it is. There is a desire to pander to audiences, but if it’s authenticity that is the name of the game, then why not replicate the quality bit for bit?

– Problems with the ending twists. Besides the problem of ‘Searching’ redundantly back-peddling constantly on its subplots, it also paints itself into an inevitable corner of dissatisfaction with its sloppy conclusion. On the former, these subplots only persist because of constant Mcguffin misunderstandings that all of which hold no bearing or physical weight on the film’s disappointing climax. On the latter, it does the painful deed that other mystery movies do, where it’s damned if they do and damned if they don’t. If the kidnapper is someone we’ve seen in the film, it doesn’t introduce enough characters to make it that great of a mystery. If it’s someone we haven’t yet seen, it doesn’t mean much to the shock factor of it all. So how could this film possibly satisfy audiences who are constantly paying attention? Especially when the ending itself makes absolutely no sense anyway.

– I did have some lingering feelings about the way every single detail of this case is found online on Margot’s personal pages, as well as the access that her Father gained on getting through passwords. For one, her Apple laptop doesn’t have a password screen? This seems unlikely even for one woman’s lone laptop. Then there’s no password on the desktop that the family share together. This seems even more unlikely considering three different people use this thing, and privacy is a virtue.

Extra Points

– There is an homage to the ‘Unfriended’ franchise early on in the film, where a search bar on Facebook has the name Laura Barn across it. Laura Barnes was of course the antagonist in the original movie.

7/10

Support the Girls

Directed by Andrew Bujalski

Starring – Regina Hall, Haley Lu Richardson, Dylan Gelula

The Plot – Lisa (Hall) is the last person you’d expect to find in a highway-side ‘sports bar with curves’, but as general manager at Double Whammies, she’s come to love the place and its customers. An incurable den mother, she nurtures and protects her girls fiercely, but over the course of one trying day, her optimism is battered from every direction. Double Whammies sells a big, weird American fantasy, but what happens when reality pokes a bunch of holes in it?

Rated R for adult language including sexual references, and brief nudity

POSITIVES

– A virtual showcase for Hall. Regina has proven in films before that she has a fiery emotional registry that proves she transcends being just another funny leading lady, but ‘Support the Girls’ feels like the first time where her command over a script feels like the sole existence for the film. As this supportive Mother type character, Hall’s Lisa envelopes enough life experience and overall genuine personality to make her the straight laced protagonist the film so desperately needs, and Hall’s grip on roughly 90% of the screen time proves the film has its focus in the right place. Richardson’s sugary Maci also shouldn’t be understated, bringing a new personality to Haley that proves she can play against type with sharp-tongued dry honesty.

– I loved the overall unrefined design to the set pieces and shot composition, that gave the film more of a television vibe in presentation. I would normally be panning this as a negative in a film released on the big screen, but I think it works when you’re depicting a crew battling through all of the obstacles that they face in a single day of exposition. It makes it feel like we’ve stumbled upon this restaurant where we the audience feel like the customers who never want to go home. It’s textured realism at its finest.

– Very smart in its depiction of male customers against a female objectified business. The candid focus and unsubtle instances of perverted demeanor, as well as egotistical arrogance not only felt authentic in delivery, but also honestly informative for the backlash that “Breastaurant” employees constantly face. In addition to this, the male owner’s (Played by James Le Gros) sporadic appearances also hit the target of reality, invoking the very spirit of such a degrading place for the way he treats the female employees he depends on.

– Part of what’s to be admired about Bujalski’s vision is the appeal in humility that his film isn’t afraid to run from. Because these are women stripped down to the very gimmick that gets the best of them, we are treated to not only a satire on business ethics in America 101, but also the lack of self-respect and confidence of female employees that these business’s thrive on. Like Bujalski’s previous efforts, this is very much a story set in small confines that has a bigger effect to the audience it engages, and his affection for the ladies that rock is stage shows in spades.

– Intelligent title. The term ‘Support the Girls’ is definitely a clever play on words with the breast cancer campaign ‘Support the Ta-ta’s’, and what is truly brilliant about this to me is that both subjects in their respective campaigns wield the kind of attention required for change. It’s not only incredibly self-conscious, but it also feeds into the required thought that women are so much more than a single body part, and that we must support everything about them that makes them the epitome of the terms strong and beautiful.

– Perfect place and perfect time. To set this film in modern day Southern Texas is ingenious for an array of reasons. In addition to its country saloon style setting within the backdrop of the restaurant itself, the southern accents play such a pivotal role in (Unfortunately) maximizing the sleaziness in appeal of the male customers who frequent the restaurant. One interesting aspect is there not being a female customer over the course of this movie, sharply prodding into the psychology of these audacious men who view them as this lone role of T & A that is there to only serve them.

NEGATIVES

– This film is marketed in the trailer and poster as a comedy, and I find that designation severely manipulative. This film doesn’t just fail at its comedy, but it barely even tries to obtain its genre tag, breezing through scenes of screen time without showing the true lunacy of working at a restaurant. In this regard, ‘Waiting’ is a film that perfected its shenanigans, but ‘Support the Girls’ never feels like it has enough confidence on its menu to even try.

– Bad sequencing between the problems that lack any cohesiveness. As the day goes on, these random obstacles that Lisa talks her way through feel like they lack any common link to draw them all together, giving the screenplay a desperately scatter-brained feeling of pulling problems out of thin air to fill in the gaps of its targeted run time. The beginning of the third act in particular, has its heart in the right place, but it’s a constant reminder of the lack of solidified direction that was inevitably bound to catch up to a film that never ties itself down to consistency of any sort.

– Even at 90 minutes, it feels strained. For much of the first half of the movie, with the combination of rookie training and established environment in the restaurant, I was very on board for where this film was ready to elevate itself. The problem is it never does, and that shining theme of female empowerment that starts to turn during the jaded second half, doesn’t feel fully earned in a finale that floats more on the half empty side of optimism.

– Introduces far too many subplots that it never fully commits to, nor fully follows through with. Particularly with a co-worker being abused by her boyfriend, as well as the decaying relationship between Lisa and her husband, the film continues to bring to light these new issues that it never intends to bring closure to, and it just didn’t work for me. Considering my problems with where this film ends, I felt that this script presented itself far too many outs to make this film truly great, and it just didn’t. Those lack of answers greatly bothered me.

6/10

Operation Finale

Directed by Chris Weitz

Starring – Oscar Isaac, Ben Kingsley, Melanie Laurent

The Plot – Fifteen years after the end of World War II, Israel’s intelligence agency Mossad and security agency Shin Bet, led by the tireless and heroic agent Peter Malkin (Isaac); launched a daring top-secret raid to capture the notorious Eichmann (Kingsley), who had been reported dead in the chaos following Nazi Germany’s collapse but was, in fact, living and working in a suburb of Buenos Aires, Argentina under an assumed identity along with his wife and two sons. Monitoring his daily routine, Malkin and his operatives plot and execute the abduction under the cover of darkness just a few feet from Eichmann’s home. Determined to sneak him out of Argentina to stand trial in Israel, Malkin and Eichmann engage in an intense and gripping game of cat-and-mouse.

Rated PG-13 for disturbing thematic content and related violent images, and for some adult language

POSITIVES

– Superbly acted film, highlighted by the work of the two male leads. In Isaac’s Malkin, we understand a man haunted by the memory of what he lost at the hands of the Nazi regime. In such, his biggest qualm isn’t whether or not he’s going to catch Eichmann, but rather what he will do with him once he gets him, and Isaac’s charming bravado and crippled remorse are firmly in his grasp at all times, allowing him to switch them on and off when needed. Kingsley portrays Eichmann with a surprising amount of charisma. The film kind of dares us the audience to laugh or succumb to this man’s wits on more than one occasion, proving the level of manipulation that a man so evil can lead with. Kingsley’s portrayal often felt like a Hannibal Lechter of sorts to me, for the way his persistent confidence never withers in the situation. He constantly feels like he’s one step ahead of his captors, proving how tight a grip Eichmann had in the face of his enemies.

– Long take photography that constantly held my attention. There are a few examples of Javier Aguirresaorbe’s personable stroke with the one-on-one scenes between Malkin and Eichmann that drag on longer than normally expected, allowing the long diatribes the ability to transcend exchanges beyond the film stratosphere. During these exchanges, we are treated to the camera revolving around their unshaken focus towards one another that serves as a visual metaphor to the game of mental chess at play between them.

– Despite my knowing of the history surrounding the life of Eichmann, the film still managed to surprise me while providing a strong layer or urgency in the unfolding drama. I knew everything that was coming, and yet still I fell for the bone of uncertainty that the film so carefully throws in from time-to-time, suffocating us with these moments of quick-cut tension that never relent. The mission itself happens at about the halfway point for the movie, but instead of peaking early ‘Operation Finale’ continues to raise the stakes once we learn that not all bases were covered for this group of protagonists, and that the biggest climb still lies ahead once everyone else catches on to their plan.

– In addition to the command of finely withdrawn tension in the atmosphere, current Oscar winning composer Alexandre Desplat also deserves thanks for the underlying sizzle that constantly heats the steak. Desplat has a wide range in scope for the film, serenading us in the first half with jazz piano, while rounding home later with a collision of percussion drums and violins that repeat their few notes with far greater volume each time.

– On a factual level, the film shoots about 90% from the field in the events it covers over Eichmann’s rise and fall. This gives the film a responsible take not only in Eichmann’s disappearance, but also his hand in Hitler’s deadly regime. If you know nothing about Eichmann’s chapter in World War II, ‘Operation Finale’ will provide you with enough of an outline to leave you educated, yet itching to continue reading so much more about him, and believe me when I say it’s worth it.

– Cerebral retribution. With his direction, Weitz seems to communicate to us that the desire of revenge can overtake us if we let it, transforming us into the very same men we fight so endlessly to bring to justice. Because of this, each character in this operation must tangle the voice within themselves that asks if they have a chance to disperse justice on their own watch, should they? This repeatedly provides the movie enough chances at something deeper, portraying Eichmann’s mission as the ultimate question of self-reflection within ourselves: Should justice be in our hands just because it’s convenient?

– A double narrative with each part equally important. We already know the first part of this being the team’s mission to capture Eichmann, but the second and more surprising angle to this script is the team’s leading witness to spotting Eichmann (Played by the always wonderful Haley Lu Richardson). What this does is allow Isaac and team’s investigation to never feel stalled or repetitive, giving us scenes of break in between to truly depict the ghosts of an evil regime that still go well beyond just one man. These halves of the story are inserted carefully, eventually fitting together as one cohesive progression.

– Like any heist movie, ‘Operation Finale’ informs us of the very steps taken in retrieving such a valuable target. In doing so, we see that everything from the formation of the team, to the fake passports, to the surveillance of Eichmann’s home is hit upon. This proves that this mission was anything but impromptu, giving way to the many measures that went into bringing even one man to justice, as well as the overall calculation that went into such a caper that was anything but one hundred percent legal.

NEGATIVES

– One cliche in films that I hate is when a scene will depict a moment from the memory of a character who wasn’t even there when it happened. In this regard, Isaac’s character remembers the untimely death of someone close to him through constant flashbacks, that we later learn is something that he’s going on by speculation. My problem is that the scene feels otherwise pointless and even a bit manipulative with its inclusion to where it fits in the story. If they just showed the face of this person, it would be equally effective in its value, but because Isaac is imagining something that he wasn’t there for, it disperses speculation in a film that is otherwise entirely based around fact.

– Part of the forgettable side that people will find with this film is that it never finds a voice of originality (Artistically or creatively) for its own. ‘Operation Finale’ is a solid film on its own merits, but throughout the film I couldn’t escape this feeling that it constantly set itself up to be compared to better films of the genre that had a better grip on the tonal balance that this movie falters on, through too many inserts of comedy. There’s nothing here that stands up to the artistic integrity of ‘Munich’, and the idea of escaping on a plane in a dangerous foreign country hasn’t been done in five years, when ‘Argo’ took home best picture for the same ride.

8/10

Puzzle

Directed by Marc Turtletaub

Starring – Kelly Macdonald, Irrfan Khan, David Denman

The Plot – A closely observed portrait of Agnes (Macdonald), who has reached her early 40s without ever venturing far from home, family or the tight-knit immigrant community in which she was raised by her widowed father. That begins to change in a quietly dramatic fashion when Agnes receives a jigsaw puzzle as a birthday gift and experiences the heady thrill of not only doing something she enjoys, but being very, very good at it, thanks to the assistance of Robert (Khan), a heralded expert with jigsaw puzzles.

Rated R for adult language

POSITIVES

– Macdonald’s layered performance. I have always been a fan of Kelly’s, and it’s nice to see her finally getting the kind of starring roles she deserves. As Agnes, Macdonald’s greatest touch is her subtlety to the chaos that unfolds around her daily, repetitive life, bringing nuance to the change that is boiling from within her. Kelly is also someone who says so much without saying anything. It’s in her depleted, even shy reactionary painting on her face where we understand her need to want to live again, and feel inspired even if only for a child’s game. Kelly proved that she can be depended on to steal the stage, and I hope this is the first of many more lead roles for her.

– Oren Moverman’s metaphorical script. Like the game that Macdonald and Khan excel at, the screenplay itself introduces these pivotal pieces, that we at first dismiss them as these minimal drops of exposition, but soon are reminded of their necessity when their pieces rightfully fit into the unfolding drama at the right times. Such an example is a tiny piece of glass that comes from a plate breaking in the film’s opening scene. It is forgotten and never mentioned again until late in the third act, when its deposit brings new life to its purpose.

– The comedy was greatly appreciated, and never felt used as a necessity or gimmick. What I mean by this is that despite this film being billed as a comedy genre film, it never feels forced or strained to make the audience laugh every two minutes, instead choosing to breed the humor naturally in these awkward instances of life that the audience can understand and react to because of their familiarity. In this regard, it’s the initial meetings between Agnes and Robert that succeed the most, taking its time to air out the space between two strangers whose lifestyles couldn’t be anymore opposite by comparison.

– As a director, Turtletaub’s greatest strength is in the ability to let the scenarios play out for themselves for the audience to judge. In this regard, he never feels like he’s forcing a particular narrative or direction down our throats, instead letting the pieces of life play out for themselves to instill that no one is right or wrong in what happens. The concept of randomness is one that is touched upon so frequently throughout the film, and it’s in the strings of such a definition for the word that translates how coincidences often rule fate, no matter how much we pawn for the latter.

– Much of the photography and shot composition on display are also beautiful and move with smooth subtlety. To me, the best kind of filmmaking is the kind that immerse us in the shape and color of a particular scene, allowing our senses to forget about the commander behind the camera, and ‘Puzzle’ accomplishes this feat repeatedly by cherishing the marriage in natural lighting and timid handheld movements. There’s almost a dreamy escapism vibe to some of Agnes’s moments of self-reflection.

– Any film that firmly depicts the importance of a Mother, and how she is the piece of the puzzle that makes any family complete is alright by me. ‘Puzzle’s’ majority audience will no doubt be middle aged women, and Turtletaub’s vision provides an homage to those with the will’s of iron to take what life throws at them, day in and day out. There’s a sturdy bone of female empowerment constantly throughout this movie, and the sting of psychology is one that proves not all decisions by a leader are easy.

– Responsible in its strategy. Any film about a particular subject has a responsibility to teach strategies to the audience about how to prosper in it, and thankfully ‘Puzzle’ is an education lesson for those of us who have always been curious how to attack a 1000 piece mammoth. Through Robert’s teachings, we learn that it’s sometimes best to circle the table to get a look at the shape of pieces from every perspective. Also, my ages old trick came into play, as you should group the similar colors together so the progression within them becomes that much more obvious. It will inspire you to sit down and open up a box, even if your abilities lack that of Agnes’s instant success.

NEGATIVES

– Unnecessary R-rating. This film receives the coveted rating for the six times that it drops the F-bomb, four of which being in the same line of dialogue together, and its instances prove how unneeded it truly was in this film. There is a desire to depict authentic family conversations, but this rating does nothing to enhance the comedy or the appeal to younger audiences who will not be able to see it because they are not old enough. Bad decision indeed.

– This film does unfortunately make the move between its two stars that anyone could pick out from watching the trailer. When it decides to make this decision in direction about halfway into the movie, the energy between the leads stalls, and the screenplay writes itself into a corner that will undoubtedly have an unsatisfying ending to anyone watching. This continued cliche in films where a man and a woman can’t be just friends is one that greatly disturbs me, and proves how unimportant everything else becomes because of its unfazed attention to it that overtakes everything else.

– The final ten minutes of the movie are sloppy, and feel like a tug-of-war in the mind of Moverman for his inability to make a decision. Agnes’s final shots left me with more questions than answers, and I get this feeling that two pivotal scenes are missing from the movie that would tie some of those shots that come out of nowhere together. One involves the result of the puzzle competition itself, leaving us to hear what happened instead of being there to embrace it with the two characters, the other is an epilogue between husband and wife that could’ve suppressed some of my second half disappointment in Agnes, but instead has it feeling like an afterthought for what’s to come. Adding an additional ten minutes onto the film would’ve done wonders for the emptiness that the closing moments left me with, bringing to light the obvious weakness in an otherwise movie that fits together wonderfully.

7/10

A.X.L

Directed by Oliver Daly

Starring – Alex Neustaedter, Thomas Jane, Becky G

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

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

POSITIVES

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

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

NEGATIVES

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

2/10

The Happytime Murders

Directed by Brian Henson

Starring – Melissa McCarthy, Elizabeth Banks, Maya Rudolph

The Plot – A murder mystery set in a world where humans and puppets co-exist, but puppets are viewed as second-class citizens. When the puppet cast of an ’80s children’s TV show begins to get murdered one by one, a former cop (McCarthy), who has since become a private eye, takes on the case.

Rated R for strong crude and sexual content and adult language throughout, and some drug material

POSITIVES

– This is a funny movie without question. Whether it’s the practical sight gags of two puppets having sex, or the witty banter of McCarthy and her Private Investigator partner, somewhere some way this film is going to make you laugh, and its consistency rate is one that certainly warrants you the ability to give it a chance. My problems with the material itself, I will get to later, but you will have to have lockjaw to escape this film without falling under its spell a time or two.

– Superb cast all around. McCarthy never feels too good or famous for the material, instead having the time of her life playing against manufactured character properties while investing every bit of her body into each scene. The real movie-stealer though, is Bill Baretta (Perfect name) as the film’s central protagonist puppet. Baretta is famous as a voice actor, working with Henson properties in the recent Muppet movies, as well as a decades long career that translates his versatility in vocal range. Here, he voices three different characters, all of which sound different and delivery, but all of which hit their marks with the kind of precision of guidance that a film like this requires. Baretta’s raspy delivery is perfect for a crime noir story of this magnitude, and the chemistry between he and McCarthy transcends the hollow property that his voice is reduced to.

– Hard-hitting fight sequences. Considering the production is working with puppets, it’s incredible to see the tricks that they do in camera angles and editing to make this flow so smoothly. Most of the time, you get puppet movements in movies that feel uninspiring, lacking believability that they move without human interaction, but in ‘The Happytime Murders’ every movement responds well enough so that the puppet characters echo off of their human counterparts with little to no resistance, making for fast-paced action that rarely relents.

– No matter how you feel about the film after you see it, please make sure you stay for the credits, as there’s a brief making-of montage that colorfully illustrates how the puppet effects worked. What’s so captivating about this, is that it’s mostly green-screen digitalization that impacts why this was the perfect place and perfect time for a film like this. As to where the film fell by the wayside by the third act, I could definitely watch two hours of production features for an ensemble team who kept such a tight grip on creativity.

NEGATIVES

– Fails as a crime noir story as a whole. This is a film that is every bit predictably bland as it is compromising to its own gimmick, and both of those make the introductory intention to cast this film alongside a classic like ‘Who Framed Roger Rabbit’ that much more depleting when compared to a film that came out thirty years ago. There’s no style to compliment the gritty nature of the street game, and my ability to figure out the murderer in the opening ten minutes made me feel like I was constantly waiting for the movie to play catch-up. Even more disappointing, the film forgets about this noir style of audible narration midway through the movie.

– There are absolutely no established rules for the puppets and what counts as a vital blow. In one scene, a character is taking several punches by a human biker gang and saying that he can’t feel them because he’s virtually a soft pillow, then in the next scene he’s near death because of a gunshot wound. You can’t do one without the other, so which is it? These characters don’t have organs, yet McCarthy’s character was saved early in her career because she has a puppet liver. Also, where do puppets come from? Are they stitched? Are they born? I know it’s pointless to argue about the rules in a puppet movie, but the film’s repeated contradictions are simply too frequent to ignore.

– Repetition in material. Once you get over the giggles of seeing a puppet curse, take drugs, and have sex, you start to understand how limited this movie’s appeal truly is. Smart writing to me should work whether the characters are human or not, and there’s no way that this juvenile material would have the same effect in a film entirely with human characters. As I mentioned earlier, I did laugh quite a few times at it, but that’s mostly in the third act when the basis of the material is still very fresh. After twenty minutes, you’ll be screaming enough is enough.

– Sloppy third act. Not only does the film reveal the murderer far too early, with nearly thirty minutes left, but it also reverts to improv humor of the worst kind from two of its female leads. McCarthy and Rudolph are the culprits, and because they’ve been in every other movie together we must have an out-of-place scene between them despite their characters having no interaction up to this point, where the material stretches as long as the pacing does. Once the mystery is revealed, we should theoretically wrap the movie up, but the storytelling is still piling miles of unnecessary exposition down our throats, making the final act of the film an arduous race to the finish line.

– Nothing subversive at play here. As to where a film like ‘Who Framed Roger Rabbit’ was intelligent enough to articulate the underlying issue of cop/minority relations, ‘The Happytime Murders’ has nothing remotely thoughtful to grab onto. This film is based purely for shock factor, nothing more. It’s lacking in a deeper motion to prove that it is something entirely different than the shock-and-awe factor that is plastered all over the trailers.

– As someone who understands the impact that puppets can have on immersing people into a particular world, it’s slightly surprising that a Henson directed this. The production quality is cheap, the puppets lack any kind of eye-catching detail, and the presentation never lifts itself from this stilted quality that limits it at every turn. This is great for a short film or a limited Youtube series, but as a feature film the benefits rarely materialize, making for a sit that is every bit as frustrating as it is boring.

4/10

Papillon

Directed by Michael Noer

Starring – Charlie Hunnam, Rami Malek, Tommy Flanagan

The Plot – Based on the international best-selling autobiographic books “Papillon” and “Banco”, the film follows the epic story of Henri “Papillon” Charrière (Hunnam), a safecracker from the Parisian underworld who is framed for murder and condemned to life in the notorious penal colony on Devil’s Island. Determined to regain his freedom, Papillon forms an unlikely alliance with quirky convicted counterfeiter Louis Dega (Malek), who in exchange for protection, agrees to finance Papillon’s escape.

Rated R for violence including bloody images, adult language, nudity, and some sexual material

POSITIVES

– A different beast completely with prison films. When you look at a film like ‘The Shawshank Redemption’, you withdraw the one ideal of it being a film about the preservation of hope, but with ‘Papillon’ it thrives on being a deconstruction of hopes, benefiting the true vulnerability that one faces while being in prison. To anyone seeking an optimistic film, this isn’t the one for you, but for me I took great appreciation in a film being honest with French prison conditions during the 40’s being similar to that of animalistic treatment, and Noer has no reservations about this depiction, using the R-rating to the most gruesome of its abilities.

– Hunnam and Malek are equally magnetic, bringing life to the importance of friendship that the film rests its hat on. Charlie continues to preserve the hearty side of his repertoire, bringing a dedicated role that has him transforming his body to replicate the torture and stress of prison abuse. For Malek, his performance is one of a psychological bending, emoting a quirky side of his personality that slowly brings along this mental break from within him that highlights he has been there too long.

– As a remake, the film’s script remains faithful to the 1973 original starring Steve McQueen, but preserves a modern quality about its production value that gives reason for its existence. One such example is the beautiful cinematography by Hagen Bogdanski that captures the true dread from behind these sacred bars. Much of the camera work in detail feels claustrophobic, especially that of solitary scenes that barely feel like we have enough moving room with the convict on display. Prison should feel this cramped, especially with the overcrowding that the film consistently reminds us of.

– The biggest surprise for me was that this film that clocks in at around 130 minutes, yet never feels like it overstays its welcome. That’s not to say that there aren’t scenes that could be edited tighter, but nothing here ever feels like it should be cut all together from the film. Sentences are a constant endurance test, and it’s not always the easiest matter to depict when you’re only given two hours to replicate such conditions, but Noer subscribes to the passage of time, valuing each chapter of this story with unshakeable persistence that leaves audiences hanging on just enough before boredom sets in.

– Makes the most of its set pieces and backdrops. Whether a bloody, mud-soaked battle to the death, or contrasting the differences in the prison itself to last resort Devil’s Island, this film faithfully pays homage to the epics of yesterday by making the most of their miniscule details, allowing us the ability to telegraph where everything and everyone is in each frame. This is important in immersing us in the many rooms of this setting because it gives us a true authentic feeling of being next to Hunnam and Malek the whole time without actually being there.

– Much respect as well goes to the makeup and prosthetic department for richly generating the aging process without it feeling like a glorified game of dress-up. One of the things that bothers me in films constantly is young actors playing older roles. It always feels pointless to me, because you have old actors who itch to even be cast at the twilight of their careers, but here Charriere’s decay feels subtle and nuanced, and never feels distracting to the concentration of the scene.

NEGATIVES

– First act flubs. Without a doubt to me, the weakness of the film is the introductory opening twenty minutes that could make or break ones investment into the film. I say this because for me there wasn’t enough time devoted to Charriere in making him engaging enough as a character before he goes to prison, so the impact of the tragedy never fully renders the reaction that the film so desperately seeks from it. If it wasn’t for the exceptional work of Hunnam that I mentioned earlier, this character would be easily disposable because the film commands him as nothing more than a thief gangster who was in the wrong place at the wrong time.

– Lack of overall intensity. Without this aspect, a prison break film will constantly stay grounded, and that’s what we have for this jaded remake. Once the big day comes to fruition, it never meanders or instills enough uncertainty to truly juggle the nerves of the audience in the way the first movie accomplished much better. Look to a show like ‘Prison Break’ and understand that nothing ever goes completely as planned, so the ability to adapt to any wrench thrown into the fold provides a shade of intelligence with the characters that we never saw before, but none of that is ever present here.

– Anonymity. I mentioned earlier that the film is a faithful homage to the 73 original, but this can also be a flaw in how identical it comes across when compared. In my opinion, this film is roughly 80% the same outline, order, and dialogue as that better original film. The only differences are at the very beginning and end of the film, and even those aren’t vital enough in what eventually comes of this film. It’s an aspect that I wish screenwriter Aaron Guzikowski would’ve evaluated further, and inspired within himself the ability to find HIS distinct voice within telling this story. Noer says it’s not a remake, but a re-imagining, and no statement has never been more laughable.

– Speaking of pointless additional scenes, the inclusion of a love interest (Played by Eve Henson) comes and goes without any further emphasis throughout the film. Did she come visit him during his time in prison? Did she remain faithful to him? Was she in on the set-up that got him locked away? None of this is never further elaborated on, and what’s even stranger is that those initial first few scenes set it up to where their love story is one for the ages that will undoubtedly be tested by the distance between them. But since the film is faithful to just telling Charriere’s side of things, these subplots that were introduced are never further elaborated on, leaving more questions coming out of the film than you had going into it.

6/10

Mile 22

Directed by Peter Berg

Starring – Mark Wahlberg, Lauren Cohan, John Malkovich

The Plot – In a visceral modern thriller from the director of Lone Survivor, Wahlberg stars as James Silva, an operative of the CIA’s most highly-prized and least-understood unit. Aided by a top-secret tactical command team, Silva must retrieve and transport an asset who holds life-threatening information to Mile 22 for extraction before the enemy closes in.

Rated R for strong violence and adult language throughout

POSITIVES

– Crisp, pulse-setting sound mixing. While I’ve never been a fan of being put into an action sequence visually, I more than appreciate the decision in popping up these stunning shots of ammunition and explosions that feel like they’re happening all around us. If there’s any reason to spend a little extra and see this in X-D or IMAX, do it because of the full throttling of sound that never relents.

– Brutally violent fight choreography. I definitely have my problems with the documentation of this, which I will get to later, but the fight work from star and choreographer Iko Uwais. Fresh off of his success in ‘The Raid’ series of films, Uwais continues to captivate American audiences with his fast-paced, innovative measures of violence that place him second to none in modern day stunt work. While it is slightly silly that this group is protecting the most dangerous guy in the van, I can never get enough of Iko doing what he was born to do; take names and kick ass.

– At least from a psychological toll level, this feels like the first special forces film that articulately depicts the mentality of an employee who’s been in the business for too long. Wahlberg and Cohan’s character’s in particular are loose cannons, exploding on even the smallest instance of grief that comes their way. There’s plenty of problems in the performance department here, but the portrayal of this career feels like the most honest telling of anything that takes place during the film, and I greatly commend Berg for instilling this heroes job is anything but rewarding.

NEGATIVES

– Peter, what happened? It’s hard to believe that this is the same guy that directed ‘Deepwater Horizon’, ‘Patriots Day’, and ‘Lone Survivor’, because ‘Mile 22’ is a convoluted mess of storytelling. The movie constantly feels like it is telling three different stories at the exact same time, inter-cutting back and forth between different time periods and characters without any kind of indication we’re headed that way. In addition to this, it feels like the dialogue never takes a single second of breather, blowing through valuable lines of exposition that will leave you stranded if you’re not fully committed to paying attention 100%.

– Hyperactive editing. The fight sequences in this film could be incredible if they were given the chance to grow, and not be chopped down each time this violent cut kicks in. This gives the film an overwhelming feeling of attention deficit disorder that will put your eyes through the gauntlet of physical torture, every couple seconds. Most of the fight detection in non-existent because of the angles being so tight in their capture, but the bigger toll comes in the form of these violent cuts that add nothing of versatility to the creativity behind documenting an intense sequence.

– Detestable characters. When I say that I didn’t like a single character from this movie, I’m not embellishing in the slightest. Wahlberg’s character might be my least favorite of 2018, for annoying tone of voice and motor-mouth dialogue delivery that he constantly puts us through. This is his impression of a guy with mental instability, but I call it Wahlberg turned up to eleven. In addition to him, Ronda Rousey plays a bully (Original, I know), and Cohan is doing her best to one-up the guys in her unique methods of using the F-bomb. With protagonists like these, who needs enema’s?

– Minimal character development. The only kind of character exposition throughout this whole 90 minute film is for Wahlberg’s character, and it’s during the opening credits. This is every bit as lazy as it is ineffective at intriguing audiences into his rare condition. Beyond this, you’re out of luck if you seek any kind of depth to these people without personalities. The film outlines them as unimportant, thus so should we, and that lack of care spoke volumes in my lack of concern, once the bodies started dropping.

– This film takes something as harmless as rubber bands, and makes them offensive by depiction. Wahlberg’s character has autism, so to keep him focused he keeps a yellow rubber band on his wrist that he snaps each time he feels stressed or overcome with anger. This is very much a real life technique with autism patients, but I don’t need to be reminded of it each and every single scene. Because they couldn’t just have him snap it in frame, his wrist gets its own frame of film each time he goes to reach for this relief, cutting in between important scenes that test our attention and patience at even the ten minute mark of the movie.

– Erratic without those moments of downtime to pace it all out. There is a three act structure within this mess of a screenplay, as small and ineffective as the second act is, but this presentation of disjointed scenes and derivative male pissing contests, makes it all run together as one continuous act that is in a race to reach the finish line. Bored isn’t the proper word, but rather dejected for how this film takes what feels like 22 miles of ideas and fleshes them out into a film that barely hits the hour-and-a-half mark.

– The only scene of value for me happened at the very end of the movie, when a twist is thrown in too late to even matter. This does set-up what Berg and Wahlberg are hoping will be a trilogy of films for this franchise, but will inevitably fade away because in their building of another film they forget to properly end this one. Character outcomes are left to speculation, and this inescapable feeling of regret from a bombshell that could’ve saved the movie, happens far too late to be anything but forgettable.

3/10

Alpha

Directed by Albert Hughes

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

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

Rated PG-13 for some intense peril

POSITIVES

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

NEGATIVES

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

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

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

Bonus Points

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

7/10