Sicario: Day of the Soldado

Directed by Stefano Sollima

Starring – Benecio Del Toro, Josh Brolin, Isabela Moner

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

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

POSITIVES

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

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

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

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

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

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

NEGATIVES

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

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

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

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

6/10

American Animals

Directed by Bart Layton

Starring – Evan Peters, Barry Keoghan, Ann Dowd

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

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

POSITIVES

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

NEGATIVES

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

9/10

Gotti

Directed by Kevin Connolly

Starring – John Travolta, Kelly Preston, Stacy Keach

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

Rated R for strong violence and pervasive adult language

POSITIVES

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

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

NEGATIVES

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

2/10

Tag

Directed by Jeff Tomsic

Starring – Ed Helms, Jon Hamm, Jeremy Renner

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

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

POSITIVES

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

NEGATIVES

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

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

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

7/10

Incredibles 2

Directed by Brad Bird

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

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

Rated PG for action sequences and some brief mild adult language

POSITIVES

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

NEGATIVES

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

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

8/10

Superfly

Directed by Director X

Starring – Trevor Jackson, Michael Kenneth Williams, Jason Mitchell

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

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

POSITIVES

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

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

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

NEGATIVES

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

3/10

Jurassic World: Fallen Kingdom

Directed by J.A Bayona

Starring – Chris Pratt, Bryce Dallas Howard, Jeff Goldblum

The Plot – Four years after the Jurassic World theme park was closed down, Owen (Pratt) and Claire (Howard) return to Isla Nublar to save the dinosaurs when they learn that a once dormant volcano on the island is active and is threatening to extinguish all life there. Along the way, Owen sets out to find Blue, his lead raptor, and discovers a conspiracy that could disrupt the natural order of the entire planet. Life has found a way, again.

Rated PG-13 for intense sequences of science-fiction violence and peril

POSITIVES

– Terrific volcano explosion sequence that isn’t afraid to get its hands dirty. While this is the peak (In my opinion) for thrills during the film, the rest of the action sequences are fleshed out with enough vulnerability and last second tension to leave all of the popcorn fun that a film can garner on the field of play.

– Poignant debates on the rights of predators versus every other animal. Unfortunately, this is as much originality for the film as you’re going to get, but the rights in question are certainly the focus point for the highs and lows that the material takes us on.

– Definitely the most stylistic of the Jurassic Franchise, with Bayona complimenting a polished interior harboring a sleek shine, in contrast to the smoky, gothic renderings of the island that scream monster movie setting.

– Pratt and Howard’s lack of chemistry is still there, but I’m thankful that this film doesn’t try to cram their romantic trysts down our throat, in the same way that the prior film ran into the ground. Their bickering is still there, but they learn quickly that they must work together as a team if they want to escape the wrath of this onslaught.

– The computer generated effects, specifically that of the dinosaur properties and lava explosions, continue to rattle the bar of expectations for the series. The weight of such hollow properties feel impactful, and the contrast in color grain compared to live action properties immerse themselves with enough emphasis on imagination.

NEGATIVES

– The film brings back the single most interesting character of the series in Ian Malcolm, for two throwaway two minute scenes that were definitely shot in one day of filming. This film could’ve been a dream team combination of Pratt and Goldblum, but unfortunately it withers away the possibility by keeping the latter in the courtroom.

– There are two manipulative scenes so forced and spoon-fed that it soils the competent storytelling up to that point. The first, and more offensive one, much of the problem revolves around needless reminder of the relationship between Owen and Blue, presenting us with a video package that reeks of redundancy from everything we already know. If this wasn’t enough, it’s presented simultaneously with Blue being in pain on a hospital bed, reminding the audience when to be sad. This might not bother typical moviegoers, but to me it is the worst kind of exposition that a movie can have. As for the second instance, the film’s big twist flounders as a result of shoddy editing and poorly put together package that slowly omits the energy from a bombshell that honestly didn’t pack a lot of investment to begin with.

– If the villains in the film were written with even a layer of depth and not just playing into stereotypical type, then the protagonists climb would feel that much more steep, thus increasing my investment into the overall conflict. Because we have seen this antagonist in every Jurassic World/Park film, it just feels like leftovers that never satisfied our hunger the first time around.

– Apparently, four previous films did nothing to shape character intelligence, so nothing will. Setting up a room of rich businessmen with dinosaurs that are not even sedated at the very least, is every bit as mind-numbingly asinine as it is hinting at the feast that is about to take place. Who was it who said that if we learn nothing from history we are doomed to repeat it? That screams ear-piercing volumes in this film.

– Something that Claire’s character said in the previous film echoed in my mind. She said that people become desensitized to dinosaurs because they’re walking around all the time. Likewise, this franchise continues to never elevate itself as anything but a sequel, instead of a progressively smart chapter that boldly stands on its own two feet. With the wonderment in presentation from Spielberg gone, the pageantry of seeing dinosaurs on-screen are no longer enough for me to give these movies a passing grade. Even worse, identical scenes are duplicated and lifted from better previous films.

5/10

Hotel Artemis

Directed by Drew Pearce

Starring – Jodie Foster, Sterling K Brown, Sofia Boutella

The Plot – Set in riot-torn, near-future Los Angeles, ‘Hotel Artemis’ follows the Nurse (Foster), who runs a secret, members-only emergency room for criminals. All hell breaks loose when one of the hotel patrons (Brown) gets his hands on a valuable asset that will turn their tranquil hotel into a turf battlefield.

Rated R for violence and adult language throughout, some sexual references, and brief drug use

POSITIVES

– The set pieces of the hotel are very elaborate and detailed for bringing together the relationship between hospitals and hotels. There are subtle hints at movies that display hospitals, in that there are blinking lights, isolated staff, and even that feeling of a world so far away from that of the outside. Yet the digs at the hotel side clearly make up the blueprint for the housing designs, as well as the interior decorating that speaks levels to some hotels ideas of tropical getaways in themed room designs.

– While the character exposition is as minimal as you’re going to find, this star-studded cast more than make up for the temporary dilemma. I could talk wonders about Sterling K Brown’s everyman approach to his taking of this thief, or Dave Batista’s continued comedic humbling for tearing down stereotypes for what big men can do in Hollywood, but it’s Foster and Boutella who easily stole the show for me. Foster gets lost in this character, juggling a conscience of sorrow and intelligence that makes it clearly evident why everyone turns to her in dire straights, and Boutella finally is granted a screenplay that allows her to find her own unique voice in the role, cutting and stacking bodies like they are bags of fertilizer.

– Hotel Artemis is marketed as an action flick, yet shows great restrain until the final twenty-five minutes of the film to stash its flash. We know that these are very dangerous people, but the film doesn’t deem it necessary to overly drive this point home, and because of such, we are treated to a rumbling third act that tests the walls both in Artemis and in theaters for rich sound design.

– Of course the legendary Cliff Martinez again serenades our ears with a gut-punching score that amplifies the tension behind every corner. Hotel Artemis constantly raises the stakes with each passing minute, and because of such, the gifted Martinez pushes the pace, constructing these dreamy, yet urgent levels of tone that never require repeating to flourish their message.

– This is the second film in two weeks (Upgrade) that injects itself with a futuristic sense of technology without feeling weighed down by the gimmick of presenting something visually surreal from our own world. Because Hotel Artemis is set only ten years in the future, there’s enough responsibility by Pearce as a screenwriter to keep us grounded in terms of the politics taking place outside of the wall, while also offering us an air of optimism for the mind-blowing advancements within the medical field that hint this world may have plenty of room to grow.

– Much of the camera work here is stylishly sleek, following characters with enough of a presence of lens without it ever coming across as compromising to the sequence. When the action finally does pick up, it is detected easily to the audience eye and leaves plenty of allowance for ambiance within the atmosphere to treat the overall presentation as poetry in motion. Boutella’s ass-kicking finale was something that carried with it an array of arsenal, yet I never felt behind or blinded by amateur filmmaking.

– It’s not often that I say this, but I would be all for a sequel or even sequels within this setting, due to the way the script hints at the challenges that such a desolate place would face if it came across the wrong customer. 92 minutes of screen time certainly limits the movements that this place can garner, and because of such, I would be interested in diving more into this futuristic pre-apocalypse with this back-handed building of health residing right in the middle of it all.

NEGATIVES

– This film does the famous cliche where the antagonists have guns, yet never choose to use them when the shit hits the fan. I can suspend disbelief for a few times, but when the film makes it a point in highlighting that people are denied access because of their firearms, I can only ask myself why those advantages don’t take shape once the rules are thrown out of the window.

– If you’re looking for a film of resolve, Hotel Artemis will only satisfy you for half of the cup. So much is introduced then never further elaborated on throughout the film, leading me to believe that this finished product is either a victim of slash-and-gash re-writes or Pearce as a screenwriter doesn’t think these subplots value much importance. Either way, what is the point?

– Because the film is a quick sit, character backstory and exposition are harshly limited to the minimalist of variety amongst thieves. What this does is present a film in which the characters don’t ever feel as remotely important as the setting they are all destined to, relying far too heavily on the talents of this cast to fill in the blanks where character motivations have left them feeling floundered. My feeling is that I would appreciate another twenty minutes not only in setting up the history of this hotel, but also in pacing out those confrontations amongst dangerous patrons that could help carve out more intrigue for a group so morally bankrupt who could all use more time.

7/10

Action Point

Directed by Tim Kirkby

Starring – Johnny Knoxville, Bridgette Lundy-Paine, Johnny Pemberton

The Plot – Everyone’s favorite daredevil Johnny Knoxville is back to his hilariously painful antics in the upcoming comedy Action Point. Knoxville stars as D.C., the crackpot owner of a low-rent, out-of-control amusement park where the rides are designed with minimum safety for maximum fun. Just as D.C.’s estranged teenage daughter Boogie (Lundy-Paine) comes to visit, a corporate mega-park opens nearby and jeopardizes the future of Action Point. To save his beloved theme park and his relationship with his daughter, D.C. and his loony crew of misfits risk everything to pull out all the stops and stunts.

Rated R for crude sexual content, adult language, drug use, teen drinking, and brief graphic nudity

POSITIVES

– Johnny Knoxville has made a career out of putting his body on the line, and even in films where this feels unnecessary and slightly forced, he at least always brings his A-game. Action Point brings with it enough debauchery and life-threatening stunts to keep Johnny constantly involved in the film, whether he wants to be or not.

– The film has a surprisingly toe-tapping soundtrack to boot all of its wacky hijinks. Artists like The Clash and Roger Alan Wade compliment the energetic musical score by Deke Dickerson that always amplifies each action sequence, and gives way to the film’s off-brand humor that never relents.

NEGATIVES

– There is absolutely nothing clever or intelligent about the film’s dialogue, so the humor muscle stems from Knoxville’s bodily harm that eventually wears itself thin. By the fourth or fifth time it happens, you begin to start mapping out how every sequence is going to turn out, lifting with it a cloud of predictability that should be anywhere but a Johnny Knoxville film.

– One aspect to recollection storytelling that always makes me laugh, is when the storyteller recalls events that they themselves weren’t there for, and Action Point is no stranger to this error. Through D.C’s words, he is able to recount conversations between characters that don’t include him, proving that much tender care was taken in bringing to life the believability of this story.

– What drives me crazy about this film is that they have a real life story in Action Park that practically writes itself, yet this trio of writers drop the ball at every opportunity in telling a story of a past time that feels worlds away now. From the family element between D.C and his daughter, to the unity and bond created between park members, nothing feels legitimate. A good example of everything I am talking about is the 2009 film Adventureland.

– Despite this film being 78 minutes, the pacing is an arduous task. As I’ve said before, when you’re not laughing in a film, it makes the ensuing minutes that much more torturous. I never laughed, nor did I even fake a laugh in this film. I figure if they’re not going to try, then why should I?

– I hate any film that makes me cheer on the intended antagonists and has me feeling like some rich, cynical snob, especially when said group is the bigger park that is trying to step on the little guy. This war of sides starts and ends with the Action Park team provoking them, and for a group that is trying to frame them as the prized antagonists, I would sell their hick ideals up the river for a slice of cherry pie.

– This is a world inside of the film with no consequences for any of its characters. With the exception of minimal injuries leading to something bigger with a subplot, every patron of Action Park is apparently never compromised with the neglected conditions of the park, establishing an air of lies within the very events that it depicts. If you read up on the real life Action Park, you will understand the importance of the injuries and ensuing lawsuits that took place against the park, painting the crew as their own villain.

– Shoddy production quality. The film has an overall cheap quality to its cinematography and editing work that can’t escape that feeling of a made-for-TV movie. Multiple frames are distorted and out of focus, continuity errors from scene-to-scene pop up like snake grass, and the transitions never feel eased or in-sync with the proper fluidity of a Hollywood picture. I’ve seen better production from Knoxville movies like The Ringer, or even the trio of Jackass movies. What gives?

– As I mentioned earlier, Knoxville can at least bring it in a physical capacity, but the film’s charmless screenplay acts as a sort of D.D.T to any kind of personality that he brings to the role. In addition to Johnny, fellow Jackass cast-mate Chris Pontius feels like a punishment each time he pops up to show us his bulge in skimpy underwear, or present in full illustration that junkie from high school who never grew up nor quit his addictions. In fact, there isn’t a single credible performance that I can even pretend to mold. It’s all a big waste of time, both mine and theirs.

2/10

Adrift

Directed by Baltasar Kormakur

Starring – Shailene Woodley, Sam Claflin, Grace Palmer

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

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

POSITIVES

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

NEGATIVES

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

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

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

7/10

Upgrade

Directed by Leigh Whannell

Starring – Logan Marshall-Green, Richard Anastassios, Rosco Campbell

The Plot – After his wife is killed during a brutal mugging that also leaves him paralyzed, Grey Trace (Marshall-Green) is approached by a billionaire inventor with an experimental cure that will “upgrade” his body. The cure; an Artificial Intelligence implant called STEM that gives Grey physical abilities beyond anything experienced and the ability to relentlessly claim vengeance against those who murdered his wife and left him for dead.

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

POSITIVES

– Falling in love with the overall presentation is easy to do. This film never specifies what year this is, but establishes with it a believable presence not only in its humble technology, but also in the vantage points of city skyline shots that relates this world being not too far from our own. Because of this, ‘Upgrade’ combines the best of both in fantasy and reality that hammer home the imagination time and time again.

– This is Whannell’s first directing effort since 2015’s less-than-stellar sequel ‘Insidious: Chapter 3’, and it’s clear that Leigh has come a long way in finding a signature visual presence that he can mold. The camera work here breathes the kind of creativity necessary to put you in the presence of the protagonist without ridiculing us in a POV circumstance, jerking its way back and forth through the twists and turns of Grey’s interactions, and the attention to detail in story challenges our attention on more than one occasion, to make sure we’re constantly paying attention.

– Jed Palmer’s masterful musical score that establishes a nightmare inside of a daydream. Considering the variety that Palmer establishes with heart-pounding exuberance, I pondered quite often a multitude of composers for the project, but Jed’s emphasis on tone and environmental shifts prove that if you want to do something right, you have to do it on your own. This might be my favorite score so far, in 2018.

– Of the many influences that Whannell pulls from for inspiration, ‘Iron Man’, ‘Blade Runner’, ‘The Terminator’, and especially ‘Robocop’ feel the most prevalent. But homage, not imitation, is the key here. In crafting a film the tributes those classics of yesterday, Leigh puts together a modern day science narrative capable of walking in its own shoes, while conjuring up the poignancy of man’s dependability in technology.

– There’s great restrain from the writer of the original ‘Saw’ movie in where he inserts his violent touch. Because this is a Sci-Fi film first and a horror movie second, the gore is spread out carefully, making its mark when the film needs that impact the most. On top of this, the effects work in makeup and detail to these bloody battles are nothing short of jaw-dropping. Truly gritty stuff for the gorehound in all of us.

– Something that fascinated me about this film is that the single best flow in chemistry was between Grey and STEM, his artificial intelligence working from within. Besides the fact that this depicts just how easy man’s obsession with technology can flourish, it’s also a shining example of Grey’s fading interaction with human beings who are trying to help him. Super smart.

– On the field of performances, Marshall-Green (Visually a poor man’s Tom Hardy) gives us two for the price of one. Aside from his dramatic pull which unravels with subtlety the longer the film goes on, Logan also immerses himself in the sheer physicality that the role demands. All of his movements feel precise with awkward pull, considering he is being controlled by something entirely opposite of what he is, and there’s no shortage of bending that these intense fight sequences require of his body. Harrison Gilbertson’s corporation head Eron is also a shining presence, feeling so foreign because of his time and dedication spent with so much advanced technology.

– Further meaning within the lighting scheme. Even though it’s fairly obvious what these sequences of half blue-half red face coloring are conjuring up, it’s in their illumination of the surrounding set pieces that serves greater value within the beauty hidden in such a grungey and reactive situation that replicates our own real world.

NEGATIVES

– Despite the fact that the screenplay hits more than misses, there are some truly atrocious lines of dialogue that completely take me out of certain scenes. One such line has Grey taking out a gang leader by putting his foot on top of the man’s beaten body and saying “Didn’t anyone tell you? I’m a ninja”. UGHHHHH!!!! My problem isn’t so much inserting humor in tension-filled situations, but rather just how forced that said humor feels when compared to the rest of Grey’s personality and actions.

– Tug-of-War ending. There are two bombshell deliveries associated with the ending. The first one is obvious because of how little the movements of the main cast are blessed with. The second pleased me initially because it was a swerve from what I previously mentioned, but soon soiled when you start to think how little it makes sense. It’s hard to say this without spoiling it, but there’s no real reason why Grey was even necessary in this particular plan. Besides this, it makes even less sense when you consider how many times this true antagonist put themselves at risk just so the plan would come to fruition.

8/10

Solo: A Star Wars Story

Directed by Ron Howard

Starring – Alden Ehrenreich, Woody Harrelson, Emilia Clarke

The Plot – Through a series of daring escapades deep within a dark and dangerous criminal underworld, Han Solo (Ehrenreich) meets his mighty future copilot Chewbacca and encounters the notorious gambler Lando Calrissian (Donald Glover), in a journey that will set the course of one of the Star Wars saga’s most unlikely heroes.

Rated PG-13 for sequences of Sci-fi action and violence.

POSITIVES

– This is a heist film above all else, so the twists and turns that the conflict, as well as the slow burn transformation that each character takes feels necessary. When the film started, I was kind of disappointed with how little character exposition there truly was for each character that came in and out of the story, but when you realize that this is a ship full of rebels, you start to understand (Like Han) the task of trusting a stranger with your life.

– As usual, Howard is a master behind the camera, gliding through fast-paced sequences with the precision of a master craftsman. Besides the fact that nothing ever feels out of focus or out of frame, Ron dazzles us with many unorthodox movements in every possible direction that these endless galaxies entice us with, and does so without it ever feeling dizzying or traumatic to our vision.

– While a majority of the performances were disappointing for me, it was Ehrenreich as the title character who clearly won the day. Glover is full of charisma, but little humanity, Clarke always hints at something bigger, but by the time we see it, it’s too late, and Harrelson is easily forgettable despite having the second most screen time. Where Alden finds his range is playing Han with this tug-of-war between confidence and immaturity that often times gets the best of him. Alden is never trying to be Harrison Ford, rather choosing to fill in the gaps to this legendary character with his own inspiration, and it’s one that was fun and attention-grabbing at each scene.

– The set pieces were decadent and immense in their revealing detail. Perhaps Solo’s greatest feat of strength is in the contrasting landscapes that the story takes us on, giving us much in the way of imagination that this saga has carved out for over four decades. Some of my personal favorite involved a swanky nightclub complete with lounge acts and sheer garments, as well as the Millennium Falcon itself, in all of its neon lighting schemes and crisp, clean interiors that showcase the prized piece in perhaps a new and energetic depiction.

– The next John in the booth. While John Williams of course isn’t behind the soundboards of this whimsical score, John Powell confidently picks up the ball with an overall score that caters to the crossroads of generations associated with this fandom. The obvious musical numbers are clearly still there, but they’re worked into with the kind of familiarity that doesn’t hang on too long to audiences who expect it during particular scenes. In addition, there is much versatility to the kind of audible stories that his sounds take us through, emulating one of my favorite scores halfway through the 2018 movie season.

– I was very much surprised with how light-hearted the atmosphere in the film surrounded me with, considering the trailers were promising anything but. Solo definitely feels like a story of hope for this protagonist, despite the fact that he comes from such a defeated place on the geographical map. It’s in that hope where we see a man we’ve known for years with his eyes wide open for perhaps the first time in his ambitious on-screen life, and in that aspect we can just sit back and enjoy him learn all of life’s harsh lessons that evolved him into the iconic presence that we came to know.

NEGATIVES

– For one chapter, Solo is a worthy enough installment, but for the overall bigger spectrum it sadly retorts to much of the same that we’ve already beaten into the ground in nine prior Star Wars movies. Once again this is a rag-tag group of misfits who team together aboard a ship, one of which being an android, to stop this sinister force, and while that is just enough for some people, the overwhelming lack of impact that this film left me with is something this critic simply can’t ignore. Because of such, Howard’s Solo will ultimately be forgettable with how little it shaped everything besides this one man. It’s an origin story that strongly lacks originality.

– Much of the first act is poorly lit. At first I thought it was just the screen that I was watching the film on, but as the film progressed I noticed it got a lot better, leading me to wonder why the first thirty minutes of the film are shot so ugly. Much can be attributed I’m sure to this lower-class city that Han comes from, but that’s no excuse in leaving too much room to decipher just what is transpiring on-screen. This and the overall juxtaposition for the way some scenes transition certainly commute that feeling of a two-director project that this screenplay can’t escape.

– My biggest problem with the film is how telegraphed every twist and turn feels. More times than I care to admit, this film shows its hand to the audience, and unless you’re deaf or playing on your cell phone, you will hear these obvious lines of dialogue and interpret them as such for what is inevitably coming. Because of this, I was never even remotely surprised at anything except a brief one minute cameo towards the end that honestly wasn’t even necessary when you really think about it.

– The pacing really hit me hard around the midway point, when the overwhelming lack of interest poured over me. I mentioned earlier the benefits of minimal character exposition in this particular story, but the unavoidable negative to this concept is that lack of pull that the film has on this conflict that we’ve seen too many times. It’s easy to say that certain scenes can be cut or trimmed, but the biggest obstacle feels more in the way that this film sells itself to its audience, skimming over what are supposed to be these defining moments for Han with little danger or vulnerability to sizzle the steak. It’s all undercooked.

6/10