Beirut

Directed by Brad Anderson

Starring – Jon Hamm, Rosamund Pike, Mark Pellegrino

The Plot – A U.S. diplomat (Hamm) flees Lebanon in 1972 after a tragic incident at his home. Ten years later, he is called back to war-torn Beirut by CIA operatives (Pike) to negotiate for the life of a friend he left behind. (Formerly titled High Wire Act)

Rated R for adult language, some violence, and a brief nude image

THE POSITIVES

– Razor Sharp Editing and technical prowess. Much of the scene transitions and man-to-man perspective conversation pieces rattle off of one another with the kind of precision that constantly keeps the audience engaged. In addition to this, I also greatly appreciated the incorporated images of historic Beirut film that cinematographer Bjorn Charpentier pulls from marvelously for visual design work.

– Excellent communication in storytelling. While I felt that the film struggled in informing us of the ugly and dangerous pasts between those at war, I did feel that at least the tone and conscious of the environment was replicated wonderfully. In particular, Hamm’s intro to the film divulges a sad-but-humorously true metaphor for why this place is plagued with the reputation it has garnered for itself.

– Most of the performances come and go, but as a lead Hamm dissects his character as two different people, before and after the incident, and does wonders in cementing the leading man status he’s always yearned for. The most evident difference between these sides is that this now feels like a man scarred by his past and his newfound hatred for what this hostile land has taken from him.

– The characters are written as so much more than good versus evil, and cater more to the shade of grey that allows you to understand every motivation for said action.

– Two supercharged twists that absorb great weight in the overall growing complexity of the story. What matters most of all is that these twists make sense, an art that many films can’t seem to connect when drawing the dots together.

– What’s interesting about this screenplay is how one vivid night that only affects a small group of friends has a butterfly effect with where screenwriter Tony Gilroy’s spy thriller goes. There’s a reason why Hamm’s character is called upon, and everything lines up in a kind of air-tight execution that Gilroy attained in films like The Bourne trilogy.

THE NEGATIVES

– There are impactful, albeit brief action sequences in the very beginning and very end of the film. This makes it difficult to attain the thriller tag in ‘Spy Thriller’, doing nothing but harm to the already tiptoe pacing that is fading away before our eyes.

– Hamm’s character suffers from alcoholism, and this plot device is very seldom used in generating something of a character flaw for him to overcome. It’s a kind of tell-not-show kind of exposition that is rarely if at all explored and never adds any kind of growing concern to the way he performs under pressure.

– I had a major problem with the overall lack of Muslim actors and characters in the film who weren’t terrorists. I get that terrorism is associated with a lot of their people in this instance, but in an era where White-washing is all the craze, maybe offer some examples of diversity for dissection in instilling the thought that not all Muslims are gun-toting terrorists.

– The screenplay was written in 1991, and that’s clearly evident for how the film misuses Rosamund Pike’s leading lady character. Pike makes the most of what limited opportunity, but it’s a shame that in a character who surprisingly has a lot of resolve with this particular plot doesn’t exactly come across as a major player in a male dominated ensemble.

6/10

You Were Never Really Here

Directed by Lynne Ramsay

Starring – Joaquin Phoenix, Judith Roberts, Larry Canady

The Plot – Balancing between feverish dreamlike hallucinations of a tormented past and a grim disoriented reality, the grizzled Joe (Phoenix); a traumatized Gulf War veteran and now an unflinching hired gun who lives with his frail elderly mother (Roberts); has just finished successfully yet another job. With an infernal reputation of being a brutal man of results, the specialized in recovering missing teens enforcer will embark on a blood-drenched rescue mission, when Nina (Ekaterina Samsonov), the innocent 13-year-old daughter of an ambitious New York senator, never returns home. But amidst half-baked leads and a desperate desire to shake off his shoulders the heavy burden of a personal hell, Joe’s frenzied plummet into the depths of Tartarus is inevitable, and every step Joe takes to flee the pain, brings him closer to the horrors of insanity. In the end, what is real, and what is a dream? Can there be a new chapter in Joe’s life when he keeps running around in circles

Rated R for strong violence, disturbing and grisly images, adult language, and brief nudity

THE POSITIVES

– My Love is deep for the way the camera revolves and studies each new room that the story takes us through. This allows us time to soak in the placement of every person and object. Beyond this, much of the framing in the film keeps Joe’s facials out of focus to relate the very struggle for identity within himself.

– Lots of mystery to the compromising, out of context visuals that you are seeing. This keeps the story intriguing and edgy from a cryptic standpoint in wondering what’s real and what is part of Joe’s delusions. This is credited to Joe Bini’s razor sharpe editing that always illustrates colorfully the outer dimension that we’ve seemed to slip into with this film.

– Johnny Greenwood again musically lifts the emotional palate straight from the pages, giving breath to the very nightmarish dreamscapes in lighting and environment that the film takes us through. His strident touch is quickly becoming one of my favorite musical composers, and has really given new life to his turn in music after his work in Radiohead. Beyond this, the inclusion of 50’s AM radio favorites from time-to-time gave the film a dreamy fantasy like feel to counteract the nightmare playing out before us.

– Phoenix’s physical performance that inhabits not only the sadness of this tortured soul, but also the very motivation for why he excels in such a field. He toes a fine line between paranoia and sensitivity that constantly feels like a struggle for control within him.

– My appreciation for not necessarily tying things up with this entire screenplay is very high. I think sometimes in film we try far too much to illustrate a silver lining, but Ramsay’s plan is to keep things grounded in communicating to the audience that things don’t always get better after help is sought.

-Joe’s remaining humanity really rests upon his sometimes comical relationship with his mother. These scenes feel like a warm blanket surrounded by an otherwise toxic cloud of violence that engulfs this troubled soul.

– I love a thinking person’s film, and this one gave me a few theories based on the evidence in the film that hinted to me that maybe not all is as it seems with Joe and Nina. Obviously based on the novel, which is more in-depth, that is not the case, but the film leaves enough room in leverage to bring to light some of your own theories with the side of Joe’s mind that is being covered up by all of the traumatic fright.

THE NEGATIVES

-There’s definitely great restrain from Ramsay’s direction with what we’re shown in action or violence, catering more to the psychological side of action movies. But I feel like it can occasionally lose its genre designation with such long spans in between that showcase why this man is so good at his job.

– The dissection of this character will leave more to be desired by some audiences. For me, it’s kind of refreshing to not have to be spoon-fed every single detail of his tortured past, but I can certainly understand why some people require more context to the visuals that are stylishly pasted in.

– Terribly unauthentic sound effects that don’t accurately register the weight of a particular blow. For instance, one scene involving a tie being whipped in the face of a character, sounds like a brick. This gives a cheesy underlying to an otherwise seamless presentation on the violence side.

7/10

Tyler Perry’s Acrimony

Directed by Tyler Perry

Starring – Taraji P Henson, Lyriq Bent, Crystle Stewart

The Plot – A faithful wife (Henson) tired of standing by her devious husband (Bent) is enraged when it becomes clear she has been betrayed as a result of a hidden affair. After the news breaks, revenge is the game, and hell hath no fury like a woman scorned.

Rated R for adult language, sexual content, and some violence

THE POSITIVES

– Henson knows in her mind that she’s far too good for a Tyler Perry movie, but nonetheless she commits herself in omitting a truly haunting and emotionally scarred performance. Taraji was clearly given no boundaries here, and despite her filmography this year leaving slightly more to be desired, it’s clear that the talented actress gives you the most return for your dollar.

– If Perry can do one thing right, it’s that he knows how to keep his audience invested. The film is narrated throughout by Henson’s character while talking to a therapist. As the film goes on, it feels more and more like she’s really communicating with those ladies in the audience who have been down this very road a time or two, making it extremely difficult to ignore something that ties so closely to their own lives.

THE NEGATIVES

– Continuity errors. It’s funny that while the two love interests are in high school, the female is noticeably two or three inches taller than the male, but ten years later their characters have morphed to give us a depiction of the man now being at least five inches taller. That’s a huge swing for post-adolescence.

– Jarring Green screen backdrops. There are some beautiful shots of the city engulfed in fog that seems to hint at the unforeseen troubles ahead for these characters, but anytime a character is shown in front of this area, the outline of their bodily properties is so terribly shaded that you’re constantly reminded of this cheap presentation by a director with tight pockets.

– The run time of two hours is far too long for this screenplay. This isn’t because the film is terribly paced or boring, but rather the perils of repetition that could easily use another edit in keeping it closer to that 100 minute mark.

– In addition to that repetition, the film is also prolonged by convenient plot devices that pop up out of nowhere. These scenes puzzle me even further because they often feel like they accompany a scene that is missing from the movie. One such example is a woman’s purse that shows up in our leading man’s truck, but the scene before that one the woman mentions how she refuses to be alone with him. So did she change her mind, or do purses fly all of a sudden?

– I had to check how many different writers penned this script because I refused to believe that the sharp turns in character logic were written by a single author. Much to my surprise, Perry also wrote this film, leading me to believe that he himself suffers from mixed personality disorder. Characters switch sides at the drop of a hat, and the film’s third act flies so far off of the rails that it feels like we’ve stumbled upon a completely different film all together. Just more proof of the man’s genius.

– This film is every bit as manipulative as it is morally bankrupt. If you saw the trailers, they made it look like Taraji’s character was taking revenge on a former lover for cheating on her and giving the new love all of the things that she deserved. This couldn’t be further from the truth. In fact, the last act of the movie convolutes character motivation so drastically that it almost approaches the clutches of Stockholm Syndrome with arms wide open, refusing to ever punish those who laid the groundwork for such conclusions.

– ‘Acrimony’ was made in eight days, and it clearly shows. In addition to the missing scenes that I mentioned before, much of the dialogue feels sloppily rushed and overall in a hurry to get to reach its destination without cutting to the psychology involved in spousal abuse. Any person with a shred of logic can comprehend that no sane adult would ever make these movements. On top of this, the film takes the time to visually define what Acrimony as well as other words associated with the script mean. That’s great because the only thing that can top laughably bad dialogue is an English lesson. SWEET!!!

– This is a thriller that for the most part lacks the thrills. We get one scene of action early on in the movie, then nothing until the final twenty minutes that I mentioned above. Perry as a screenwriter relies upon frantic dialogue reads by Henson, instead of the unchained Taraji that was promoted. For my money, watch the final twenty minutes. You could probably fill in the blanks as to what happened even without the rest.

2/10

Ready Player One

Directed by Steven Spielberg

Starring – Tye Sheridan, Olivia Cooke, Ben Mendelsohn

The Plot – In the year 2045, the real world is a harsh place. The only time Wade Watts (Sheridan) truly feels alive is when he escapes to the OASIS, an immersive virtual universe where most of humanity spends their days. In the OASIS, you can go anywhere, do anything, be anyone-the only limits are your own imagination. The OASIS was created by the brilliant and eccentric James Halliday (Mark Rylance), who left his immense fortune and total control of the Oasis to the winner of a three-part contest he designed to find a worthy heir. When Wade conquers the first challenge of the reality-bending treasure hunt, he and his friends-aka the High Five-are hurled into a fantastical universe of discovery and danger to save the OASIS.

Rated PG-13 for sequences of sci-fi action violence, bloody images, some suggestive material, partial nudity and adult language.

THE POSITIVES

– The aesthetic touch couldn’t be better, bringing to life the vibrant visuals of the OASIS with a synthetic gaming feel. I would normally call out other films that depend so much on C.G graphics, but this kind of effect was made for a film that almost entirely takes place in a world so foreign from our own.

– Art imitating life?? Because of the beauty and adventure involved in the OASIS, the real world is associated with a bleak, almost hopeless feel by comparison. There’s a real sense of escapism with this gaming world, and while that comes with endless exhilaration for our protagonist, it ignores the real problems that have doomed society because of their dependency upon this magical place. This responsible take is every bit as refreshing as it is vocal about our own addictions to technology.

– There’s no secret that this film could easily be called ‘Easter Egg: The Movie’ because of its endless displays of pop culture icons from film and gaming that give it an overall big budget feature. What’s surprisingly pleasing however, is that with the exception of one scene, their appearances feel necessary in upping the ante of importance to Halliday’s future and never steal the film’s focus for themselves. In catching them all, this film has outstanding replay value, and will welcome hundreds of upcoming Youtube videos to point out the ones that are extremely obscure.

– Spielberg has directed adult or child protagonists before, but surprisingly never teenagers until now. In doing so, it feels like he has a real grasp on their psychology and mannuerisms when it comes to their overall sense of spontaneity. ‘Ready Player One’ could easily pass for a teenage genre film in any of the eras it homages, and it’s clear that Spielberg’s latest awakens the adolescent from within him that has constantly kept beating through over forty years in cinema.

– This film is a collective audio scrapbook of 80’s synth hits that each meet their desired emotion in their respective scenes without feeling topical. From Van Halen, to A-Ha, to even Twisted Sister, this soundtrack mirrors that of the fictional star power shown in the film, and serves as a respectable nod in our present day to the past era of music that felt bigger than life.

– Sound mixing at its finest. You have to listen and pay attention closely, but the sound effects in the OASIS that serve as a reaction when something has been hit or destroyed also borrows from film, carefully placing a sound that the audience is familiar with into a new atmosphere to give it a new lease on life. For instance, the fading picture noise in ‘Back to the Future’ is now used for the key reveals.

– Precise casting. I have only read ‘Ready Player One’ once, but for my money the casting of Sheridan and Cooke feels right on point. The two emote an on-screen chemistry that radiates without being forceful. What’s even more impressive is that these two must connect on a spiritual level and not a physical one since a majority of the film takes place in the OASIS. It’s also in the care and backstory of their respective characters that the film takes in drawing them together. You feel strong empathy and investment into their conflicts because of their conflict with this major corporation that has taken everything from them.

– It’s not often that I get edge-of-my-seat giddy during a film, at the age of 33 years old, but the second key challenge in the film had my eyes glued to the screen with anticipation. Many people will be raving about the third challenge in this film, but my vote for coolest scene goes to the second challenge that bends the pages of historical film without desecrating them.

– If you listen to me about anything, hear me when I say that ‘Ready Player One’ is the film you go all out for and pay top dollar. This is a film that deserves to be seen by as many eyes on the biggest screen possible. The 3D actually added effects work to the outline of characters and backdrops that put you front-and-center inside of the game, and for once the colors don’t diminish or fade with the thick lenses of these theater goggles. Treat yourself, you deserve it.

THE NEGATIVES
– A majority of the action sequences are shot a bit too close for my taste. What this does is make it slightly more difficult in registering each deciding blow with the kind of clarity needed in keeping the audience’s focus. Because so much of these scenes are cluttered with characters, I could’ve used that wide angle shot in seeing things from the grander scale, instead of feeling like I was holding the hand of the main character.

THE EXTRAS

– It hit me about midway through that this is a modern day ‘Willy Wonka and the Chocolate Factory’. Five kids work closely together while mining through a series of tests for the prize of winning a genius’s empire. Sound familiar?

9/10

Pacific Rim: Uprising

Directed by Steven S DeKnight

Starring – John Boyega, Scott Eastwood, Tian Jing

The Plot – John Boyega stars as the rebellious Jake Pentecost, a once-promising Jaeger pilot whose legendary father gave his life to secure humanity’s victory against the monstrous “Kaiju.” Jake has since abandoned his training only to become caught up in a criminal underworld. But when an even more unstoppable threat is unleashed to tear through our cities and bring the world to its knees, he is given one last chance to live up to his father’s legacy by his estranged sister, Mako Mori (Rinko Kikuchi)-who is leading a brave new generation of pilots that have grown up in the shadow of war. As they seek justice for the fallen, their only hope is to unite together in a global uprising against the forces of extinction. Jake is joined by gifted rival pilot Lambert (Eastwood) and 15-year-old Jaeger hacker Amara (Cailee Spaeny), as the heroes of the PPDC become the only family he has left.

Rated PG-13 for sequences of sci-fi violence and action, and some adult language

THE POSITIVES

– There’s no question that the meat and potatoes of this franchise is still the action, first and foremost. It is definitely still there, vibrating the screen with no shortage of combat and devastation that makes the most of the set pieces that surround the robots and monsters respectively.

– Boyega definitely feels like the most beneficial addition to the script, if only for his endless charisma and presence that steers the film with command whenever he is on screen. I do wish they would’ve evolved his character and subplot progressively more, but John makes the most of the limited opportunity, pushing through the sludge with the kind of attitude the film so desperately needs.

– The decisions in camera work smoothly, and never replicate the negatives of modern day action flicks with too many quick-cuts. Instead, Uprising focuses on each and every crushing blow without ever flinching or looking away from the unfolding scene.

– Perhaps a motivation for the script that worked above all others for me was the maturity and steering by the youth of this fresh faced cast in saving the day. This inspires a positive message from our own next generation to take charge of our own world and future when it comes knocking on their doors.

THE NEGATIVES

– For my money, the action sequences look much better at night than they do in the day. This not only feeds into the idea of the mystery behind what’s waiting in the dark, but also the hollow and empty presentation from daylight sequences that don’t echo that cool, Tron-like vibe from the neon decor.

– Much of the screenplay felt like a hybrid between Independence Day and Transformers. In fact, I predict much will be forgotten about this film because you’ve seen it in bigger, more gifted productions that (Above all else) did it first.

– The humor in dialogue felt so forced and unnatural that it comes across as more awkward than humorous. A good deal of my problems creatively with the film clashed with the overall tone that caters more to young adult moviegoers than a matured adult presentation that adorned the first movie. More on that in a second.

– It is my opinion that Dr Gottlieb (Played with commitment by Burn Gorman) deserved more screen time for his evolution, and there’s one glaring area that I would’ve taken away from. How does a movie make Charlie Day feel like John Turtoro from the Transformers series? Day is AWFUL here, and his emerging plot feels as believable as pigs flying. Each time he was on-screen, he took away from the more entertaining scenario behind him, and if this is where the series is going I will pass.

– There’s not nearly enough urgency or vulnerability in this world and its people, and I blame a lot of that on the mistimed tone that I mentioned above. To further elaborate on this, I never felt glued or uncertainty for the action-packed third act because I never felt the danger of a situation that either cuts to Day for his goofy one-liners, or uses valuable camera time in getting one of the robots to give a monster the middle finger.

– DeKnight is certainly no substitute for Del Toro. A lot of the film lacks the style, creativity, attention to detail, and innovation that the first movie had. Instead of elevating the rules and technology in this film, DeKnight would rather rest on much of the positives of the first movie, leaving him without a knife to carve his name in this 50/50 franchise.

4/10

Tomb Raider

Directed by Roar Uthaug

Starring – Alicia Vikander, Walton Goggins, Dominic West

The Plot – Lara Croft (Vikander) is the fiercely independent daughter of an eccentric adventurer who vanished when she was scarcely a teen. Now a young woman of 21 without any real focus or purpose, Lara navigates the chaotic streets of trendy East London as a bike courier, barely making the rent, and takes college courses, rarely making it to class. Determined to forge her own path, she refuses to take the reins of her father’s (West) global empire just as staunchly as she rejects the idea that he’s truly gone. Advised to face the facts and move forward after seven years without him, even Lara can’t understand what drives her to finally solve the puzzle of his mysterious death. Going explicitly against his final wishes, she leaves everything she knows behind in search of her dad’s last-known destination: a fabled tomb on a mythical island that might be somewhere off the coast of Japan. But her mission will not be an easy one; just reaching the island will be extremely treacherous. Suddenly, the stakes couldn’t be higher for Lara, who–against the odds and armed with only her sharp mind, blind faith and inherently stubborn spirit–must learn to push herself beyond her limits as she journeys into the unknown. If she survives this perilous adventure, it could be the making of her, earning her the name tomb raider.

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

THE POSITIVES

– This is definitely a Lara Croft for the post Time’s Up society. Instead of her physical attributes getting her over, Vikander’s Croft uses her cunning intellect and overall ability to think on her feet in order to get five moves ahead on her enemies. Vikander’s vulnerability is also something to admire, never depicting Lara as a superhero or surreal entity by any means. Overall, it illustrates a female presence that many females young and old can feel inspired by.

– As to where the inspiration to be a Tomb Raider was slightly cryptic in the original movies, screenwriters Geneva Robertson-Dworet and Alastair Siddons carve out a spiritual side to Lara’s undertaking of this newfound hobby. This tomb and all of its mysteries is the last link to her disappearing father, so in seeking it out, she sees this as the final goodbye that she sadly never received.

– Of course with this being a video game movie, there are sporadic Easter eggs from the games that occasionally pop up. It’s even more of a benefit that this is used with patience and doesn’t deem it necessary to overcrowd the movie with cheap fan service.

– Fine camera work and sequencing with the chase and action sequences that throttle the audience and get close without being plagued by motion sickness.

– It’s odd to me that the first half of the film was the time that I felt the most immersed in this story, and not so much the actual tomb parts of the film. I believe this is because I enjoyed the up-close-and-personal backstory to Croft’s intimidating family history that she instead chooses to pave her own path, as well as my own theories for what happened towards the end of the film. More on that later.

THE NEGATIVES

– A majority of the C.G stunt-work in this film is very hollow and lacks the kind of weight of impact necessary for making Croft’s risks feel dangerous. Much of it can be blamed on her off-color shadow scheme that the graphics work supplant her with, but I blame it on the green-screen movements of the live actress feeling artificial because she isn’t in the moment and living out those situations.

– It pains me greatly that Walton Goggins is wasted away in this film as just another bad guy. This is one of the best TV villains of the past decade, so the screenwriters reserved stance in letting Goggins move through the motions of the outline that hundreds have done before him is downright shameful. You have a great actor here, people, USE HIM.

– There’s a second act plot twist that completely didn’t work for me in believability because of how underwhelming it was played emotionally. This is perhaps the single most important scene in the movie, and the actors involved treat it the same way as any other. With intent and commitment, this could’ve been the emotional center that Tomb Raider needed in cementing it as the best video game adaptation of all time.

– I mentioned earlier that the third act has many problems in this film, and I really don’t know where to start. For a movie called TOMB RAIDER, the decision to hold off on this setting until the final 35 minutes is one that comes with grave consequences mostly for video game enthusiasts just waiting to see the big budget set pieces at work. What they get is a series of rushed sequences and puzzle pieces that never take their time in amplifying the tension to keep you glued. Beyond this, the rules of the tomb’s airborne plague is one that comes with a few holes in continuity in the way things play out.

– The visual storytelling in narration exposition feels so forced that it occasionally made me cringe. Exposition is fine when used in wise doses, but the overabundance in this film made me feel like we didn’t even need the events playing out in real time if sloppy flashbacks were going to tell us everything that we need to know. People might not view it this way, but to me this is completely disrespectful on audience intelligence by thinking that they can’t put these unfolding pieces together on our own for something that (Frankly) isn’t that difficult to grasp.

5/10

The Hurricane Heist

Directed by Rob Cohen

Starring – Maggie Grace, Toby Kebbell, Ryan Kwanten

The Plot – Under the threat of a hurricane, opportunistic criminals infiltrate a US Mint facility to steal $600 million for the ultimate heist. When the hurricane blows up into a lethal CATEGORY 5 storm and their well-made plans go awry, they find themselves needing a vault code known only by one Treasury Agent (Grace), a need that turns murderous. But the Treasury agent has picked up an unlikely ally, a meteorologist (Kebbell) terrified of hurricanes but determined to save his estranged brother kidnapped by the thieves. He uses his knowledge of the storm as a weapon to win in this non-stop action thriller ride charged with adrenaline throughout.

Rated PG-13 for sequences of gun violence, action, destruction, adult language and some suggestive material

THE POSITIVES

– The lead antagonist is a double cross, and the actor who portrays this lead does a solid job in carving out a powerful and dangerous enemy for our central cast to square off against. He carefully plans things out, takes measures NOT to kill anyone, and on top of it all is Irish (wink wink)

– While they are few and far between, the action sequences and fly-by set pieces pack enough of a punch in popcorn thrills to constantly keep the audience firmly in its grip for carnage candy pay-offs.

– Toby Kebbell and Maggie Grace definitely work best when they are together as opposed to when they are separated. They have the appropriate kind of chemistry needed in male and female colleagues without settling for the obvious script conveniences of being love interests.

THE NEGATIVES

– Poor computer generated effects work that truly makes you appreciate the bigger budgeted disaster films that I constantly make fun of.

– Taking this one step further, deserving of its own point; there are faces in the clouds of the hurricane. I know that there’s a feeling in these films that storms can sometimes come across as sinister villains, but this takes it a bit too far in the corny and impractical direction.

– The screenplay’s biggest disappointment is that it doesn’t fully commit or embrace its B-movie campiness. Far too often, scenes are depicted with serious intent, and these overshoot the idea of producing something just silly enough to lure you in to its mayhem. As for the dialogue itself, it too lacks any kind of humor in personality needed to get out of these repetitive dry spells. For crying out loud, there’s a two minute scene where Grace and Kebbell discuss peanut butter and jelly sandwiches.

– Messy sound mixing that rarely distorts nor lowers the vocal capacity of our characters.

– Throughout the film, I couldn’t shake the overwhelming feeling of this being played off like a Twister/Hard Rain hybrid of a film. I say that because all of the familiar steps are there; an old character who is days from retiring, a main character who combats storms because of a tortured past, doubters of the storm’s power before it ever hits, and of course a rainbow at the end of the storm that produces several double-crosses along the way. It’s a best-of cornucopia of 90’s disaster goodness.

– As for the storm itself, it holds such minimal consequential value in the overall bigger picture. During outside sequences, the storm’s impact feels more like a nagging nuisance instead of an elevating death threat. Out main characters even dodge cluttered objects flying at them like the storm outlined it that way. If you’re not going to give examples of how terrifying this environment can be, why even require it?

– One continuity error that I couldn’t stop laughing at took place during a semi truck chase sequence where the storm is behind our characters. During this, we keep getting cuts of the dark storm clouds quickly approaching them, yet when we see something as obvious as the huge driver side mirror on the side of the truck, it is reflecting a dry, cloudy day. I don’t need believability in a film like this, just care for those important details.

3/10

A Wrinkle in Time

Directed by Ava Duvernay

Starring – Storm Reid, Chris Pine, Oprah Winfrey

The Plot – Meg Murry (Reid) is a typical middle school student struggling with issues of self-worth who is desperate to fit in. As the daughter of two world-renowned physicists, she is intelligent and uniquely gifted, as is Meg’s younger brother Charles Wallace (Deric McCabe), but she has yet to realize it for herself. Making matters even worse is the baffling disappearance of Mr. Murry (Pine), which torments Meg and has left her mother (Gugu Mbatha-Raw) heartbroken. Charles Wallace introduces Meg and her fellow classmate Calvin (Levi Miller) to three celestial guides-Mrs. Which (Winfrey), Mrs. Whatsit (Reese Witherspoon) and Mrs. Who (Mindy Kaling)-who have journeyed to Earth to help search for their father, and together they set off on their formidable quest. Traveling via a wrinkling of time and space known as tessering, they are soon transported to worlds beyond their imagination where they must confront a powerful evil. To make it back home to Earth, Meg must look deep within herself and embrace her flaws to harness the strength necessary to defeat the darkness closing in on them.

Rated PG for thematic elements and some peril

THE POSITIVES

– That sense of escapism and imagination that filled the pages of the book is one of the only things that translates well for this picture. Throughout the movie, we are treated to some truly gorgeous Greenland landscapes that never need C.G pixelation in harnessing their beauty, as well as a vibrant color scheme that triggers an out-of-this-world kind of energy for us to intake.

– It’s kind of refreshing to me that for once in a movie we are seeing the little girl take command of the situation, and the little boy is kind of left to be the side piece to do nothing but support her. This certainly gives the film a progressive sense of direction that will inspire girl audiences everywhere.

– While she doesn’t succeed at every level of camera work, Duverney can at least hang her hat on being a risk taker. Ava refuses to ever settle for just one continuous style in shooting these characters and visuals, and this speaks volumes to the levels of articulation that she possesses as a top notch director in Hollywood.

THE NEGATIVES

– This screenplay feels like it (Like Chris Pine’s character) got lost somewhere along the way. I say that because so much of the material not only feels out of context, but also short on exposition for the very lack of rules explanation that the film supplants. The on-going journey very much feels like writers who are making up the rules as they go, neglecting the vital details from the book that communicated the logic. The child reactions and logic are also ridiculously stretched here. Kids react to these weird things going on around them like these three magical women showing up on their doorsteps like it’s no big deal. There’s no shock or awe in any of them, and sadly I blame this on a director who never dives deep into her characters.

– Speaking of lagging exposition, not one character outline is given to any single person in this film. Reid’s Meg is obviously the main character of the film, but there’s very little we actually know about her by film’s end other than she’s smart and she’s Chris Pine’s daughter. When I care more about the characters, I care more about their peril, and I never found myself fully immersed in any kind of conflict in the film.

– EXTREME CLOSE-UP WHOOOAAAAAA!!!! I mentioned that Duverney doesn’t succeed at every angle she shoots in the film, and none are more harmful than the tedious exertion that she gave in shooting too close. There were several times in the film where I felt physically uncomfortable with Ava’s decision to cover each and every reaction that sometimes goes without saying.

– Considering this is Disney Studios and there is over a hundred million dollars invested into the film, the computer generation properties in the film are really an eye-sore. This goes well beyond the hollow movements and terribly cheesy green-screen outlining. This is really more about the believability in presentation that leaves very little to the imagination. A film should try its hardest to make the live action transition seamless, otherwise why not make this an animated movie to begin with?

– Nothing memorable in terms of performances. Reese Witherspoon is definitely the best of the three adult counterparts, emoting Mrs Whatsit with a sarcastic tongue that occasionally got the better of her. The problem is Witherspoon (Like Winfrey and Kaling) is playing an amplified version of herself, never allowing herself to get lost in the character. The child actors too are abysmal. Reid lacks enough personality to make her intriguing as someone we follow for a majority, and the work of Levi Miller as Meg’s crush made for as much awkwardness in line reads as a Fifty Shades movie. Seriously, this kid was a stalker, right?

– If you forget Meg’s brother’s name is Charles Wallace, fear not because the movie repeats it no fewer than sixty times throughout. If there is one positive to this, it’s in the capability in creating a fun drinking game with friends that will have you passing out before having to sit through 104 minutes of this boredom.

– Which brings me to my final problem for the movie; it is an anomaly with its pacing. I say that because despite a screenplay that is literally and figuratively running through scenes with very little explanation or impact, the film still manages to slug along with repetition in dialogue about the importance of love and family that they beat over the head time-and-time-again. After an impressive opening act, it’s a shame that this film never finds the proper formula in establishing that the sum is greater than its parts.

3/10

Gringo

Directed by Nash Edgerton

Starring – David Oyelowo, Joel Edgerton, Charlize Theron

The Plot – Combining dark comedy with dramatic intrigue, ‘Gringo’ joyrides across the border into Mexico, where all is not as it seems for mild-mannered American businessman Harold Soyinka (Oyelowo). Crossing the line from citizen to criminal, Harold tangles with duplicitous business partners, Mexican drug lords, international mercenaries, and the DEA. As he attempts to survive in one of the most dangerous places on earth, the question lingers: is this ordinary man in way over his head, or is he two steps ahead?

Rated R for adult language throughout, violence and sexual content

THE POSITIVES

– This cast is far too good for this film, and prove it as they make the most of their thinly written characters. Theron and Edgerton definitely steal the show, playing two upper management snobs whose quick wit retaliation gave me flashbacks of the Farelly Brothers in their writing prime. There were times when I wanted this to be just their film, and I feel that I was the most intrigued whenever this sensational duo showed up and ate up the scenery

– Despite seeing the trailer a lot, the twists and turns of this screenplay gave me more than a few surprises, and certainly wasn’t bashful about upping the stakes for all of the players seated at the table.

– While I had many problems with the overall tone and genre classification of this film, it’s in my opinion that the film worked best when it tried to be a comedy. Oyelowo’s consistent Nigerian accent, as well as his reactions to the complete mayhem that was unfolding around him, gave me more than a couple of hearty chuckles that served as a piece of relief for the rest of the film that took itself too seriously.

– It’s beneficial and interesting to note that Oyelowo’s character isn’t the bumbling buffoon that the trailer makes him out to be. There’s clearly a game of mental chess taking place here, and this man takes many intelligent measures known to the audience before he makes his next move.

THE NEGATIVES

– The movie is sold as a comedy, written as a Mexican drug cartel shootout, and presented as a dramatic piece. The word of the day for this one is Scatterbrained because at times these three polar opposite directions clash with one another and soil the integrity and honesty that each are trying to convey.

– I mentioned earlier that Theron and Edgerton steal the show, and it’s clear that the movie thinks so as well. Midway through, Oyelowo’s main character status is put in jeopardy as he is sharing screen time with no fewer than three other subplots that each get an equal share of the script. Subplots usually show up in one out of every four to five scenes, but here the dedication in keeping up with every single character tested my patience to no end.

– Gringo is probably the last film that I expected to complain about the visual effects, but it’s rare for me to be this dumbfounded about the careless nature put into them. Snowflakes and butterflies are given a C.G rendering here, and not only does their movements make you question the authenticity of every scene they’re in, but the fact that they both fall/fly in the same pattern proves the rushed nature of this effect to me.

– Frustrating transition scenes. This heavily flawed script just isn’t sequenced out enough to harvest the entertainment factor of the material. There are multiple exposition scenes without a payoff in between, as well as cuts in editing between scenes that feel jagged and sloppy for the style.

– I’ve heard of neatly tied up endings before, but Gringo’s is so bad that it inadvertently pays homage to Austin Powers. Let me explain; there’s a character in the film who is insulted because she used to be fat. Well wouldn’t you know it, during the closing scenes she becomes fat again because she’s an awful person. This serves absolutely zero purpose in the overall scheme of things other than to answer one more unnecessary question about another unnecessary character.

– Speaking of unnecessary characters, Amanda Seyfried and her boyfriend in the movie are completely wasted and given absolutely no clarity for their involvement in the film. It’s another example of two characters whose final destination make you scratch your head the more you think about it, and only did wonders in weighing the entertainment factor down for the film each time they came on screen and weighed the pacing down.

4/10

Death Wish

Directed by Eli Roth

Starring – Bruce Willis, Vincent D’Onofrio, Elisabeth Shue

The Plot – Dr. Paul Kersey (Willis) is a surgeon who only sees the aftermath of his city’s violence as it’s rushed into his ER -until his wife (Shue) and college-age daughter (Camila Morrone) are viciously attacked in their suburban home. With the police overloaded with crimes, Paul, burning for revenge, hunts for his family’s assailants to deliver justice. As the anonymous slayings of criminals grabs the media’s attention, the city wonders if this deadly avenger is a guardian angel…or a grim reaper. Fury and fate collide in this intense action-thriller.

Rated R for strong bloody violence, and adult language throughout

THE POSITIVES

– The decision to set this film in Chicago is definitely one that makes sense to the social commentary on firearms, but also infuses the use of modern technology with such a battle zone so immense.

– If Eli Roth has done anything right in his career, it’s his thirst for brutality and violence that is second to no one. While some of the death scenes feel a bit fetishized when compared to the way the rest of the film is shot, it does at least cast the extra emphasis in consequences for playing this kind of game. Everything else might be watered down, but this simply isn’t.

– Respect is given that Eli can finally stay behind a camera and not insert himself into his own movies. These scenes usually serve absolutely no point, and thankfully he exerts enough patience in keeping his ass in the director’s chair.

THE NEGATIVES

– Every single situation in the film relies on convenience. From Willis not being seen and identified, to pictures of addresses being in an antagonist’s cell phone that helps Willis in finding leads, there are too many of these instances that had me rolling my eyes for just how sloppy this screenplay was. There’s even one scene when Willis so obviously faces the direction of a girl filming with her cell phone, only for it to later not include this instance.

– Mixed signals?? The film never quite made clear what side of the firearms debate that it sits on. There are plenty of times during the film when Roth not-so-subtly hints that the only way to stop this epidemic is if more people arm themselves, yet by the end of the film there’s a violent shove in material to letting the police do their jobs. You can’t be both on this particular issue, and if you can’t make a choice in 102 minutes of screen time, then the film will often feel like it is being written by two different people.

– The performances are terrible. Willis himself hasn’t been a big screen presence for decades, and after seeing ‘Death Wish’ I understand why. There’s an overall lack of emotion or energy from his demeanor, and it never rises from that grounded level. A film will never suffer as much as it does with a main actor who so obviously doesn’t want to be there, and Willis’s can’t-be-bothered retort has a lasting wound on the film that it never sews shut. Not to be outdone however, Shue herself reacts to a break-in with no tears or screaming, giving you the kind of paycheck collection film that big name actors flock to once the scripts come in the mail further between.

– There is nothing remotely fresh of impactful in this film that we haven’t seen in the hundreds of other vigilante films that each borrow from each other. This script feels every bit as recycled and derivative as it does clumsy for inserting no twists or leverage on its audience.

– What I loved about the original ‘Death Wish’ is its gritty psychological unraveling of this protagonist who we ourselves interpret that overwhelming sense of loneliness. How Roth depicts this manner is to instill comedic personality to a man who doesn’t grieve his wife’s death for more than two scenes after it goes down.

– So many directions go unfulfilled. Whether the one-and-done scenes of characters like Shue’s gun-toting father or Mike Epps lone scene as a surgeon (You read that right), or the way the third act treats the antagonist like a mystery that is building to a big reveal, the film never explores these avenues. This is a jigsaw puzzle in which many of the central pieces are missing, and I never settled down from the way Joe Carnahan as a screenwriter proposes so many ideas only to drop the ball with every single one.

– If there is one thing that Willis and this film need more than anything, it’s an antagonist that they can bounce off of. Once the break-in happens, we never see these burglars again until the end, proving just how little the film cares in seeing things from their vantage points. Without this dedication in minutes, we as an audience never feel how vital the revenge of Willis truly is, nor do we ever question if this predictable ending will spin us to surprise.

3/10

Game Night

Directed by John Francis Daley and Jonathan Goldstein

Starring – Jason Bateman, Rachel McAdams, Kyle Chandler

The Plot – Bateman and McAdams star as Max and Annie, whose weekly couples game night gets kicked up a notch when Max’s charismatic brother, Brooks (Chandler), arranges a murder mystery party, complete with fake thugs and faux federal agents. So when Brooks gets kidnapped, it’s all part of the game – right? But as the six uber-competitive gamers set out to solve the case and win, they begin to discover that neither this game – nor Brooks – are what they seem to be. Over the course of one chaotic night, the friends find themselves increasingly in over their heads as each twist leads to another unexpected turn. With no rules, no points, and no idea who all the players are, this could turn out to be the most fun they’ve ever had… or game over.

Rated R for adult language, sexual references and some violence

THE POSITIVES

– Blending two polar opposite genres together is something that often fails, but ‘Game Night’ conjures up this kind of hybrid playing field where the worlds of horror and comedy merge together soundly. Much of the reason for this is because the humor in this script never takes away, nor sours the mood of the very surreal consequences that these friends are dealing with.

– If a film is called ‘Game Night’ and it isn’t at least fun, you would have an instant fail, but thankfully that doesn’t happen. This film is tightly paced at 95 minutes, richly humorous without anything of the raunchy nature, and packs enough twists in narrative to always keep you guessing.

– Cliff Martinez, how do you do it? Not only does my favorite music composer score this film, but he once again tickles our audible sense with a collection of music that is every bit as transfixing as it is vital to carving out the ominous urgency in his influence of synth-pop game changers.

– There’s much argument for who steals the show here. McAdams and Bateman are of course a delight, harboring a kinetic kind of energy in chemistry that makes their connection evident. But then there’s excellent supporting work from Jesse Plemmons, Lamorne Morris, and probably my personal favorite: Billy Magnussen as the idiot friend whose stupidity is his greatest asset in charm.

– In addition to the well-rounded cast, their characters are each given plenty of scenes to chew up, making each of their voyages on this night of terror equally important to moving one step closer towards the big reveal. I personally will always support a film that caters more to the team aspect than just one or two great leads, and ‘Game Night’ is certainly of that caliber.

– Surprisingly enticing cinematography by Barry Peterson. With the exception of ’22 Jump Street’, Barry hasn’t gotten a chance to really shine in a winner, so it’s a pleasure to see how far his experience has come in gripping a visually enhancing companion piece to the hip script unfolding before us. The chase sequences both in and around the car are shot competently in keeping with the pulse of intensity, and a two minute chase sequence in the house that is manipulated to look like one continuous shot is one that I appreciated for the kind of choreography that you can bend in a setting so immense.

– This is definitely the most I have laughed over the last year of cinema, and that really surprised me because after not laughing at all during the trailer, it saves its best material for the paying customers.

– It goes against the grain in not falling into the trap of a third act conflict between these friends that almost every comedy today must do. Instead, by keeping them constantly on the same page, it enriches their friendship in standing together through arguably the worst or best night of all of their lives.

THE NEGATIVES

– There’s a scene about midway through where Bateman’s character is searching a police database laptop for the identity of a man they are searching for. There’s two things funny about this; 1. There’s a search bar labeled “Alias name”, and 2. He types in “The Bulgarian” and only one person comes up. I guess only one person in the entire world goes by a name as cryptic as “The Bulgarian”.

– The final two shots of the movie are easily the weakness of the entire film. The first involves continuing the story with a kind of sequel bait kind of way that doesn’t make sense with how things concluded, and certainly doesn’t fit in any kind of possible continuing conflict. The second scene is a credit sequence that shows how everything was accomplished by a certain character. Every film mystery needs an answer, yes, but in solving the mystery here and trying to answer so many questions, you only see the glaring plot holes that highlight just how truly impossible this whole thing was to script together by any one person.

8/10

Samson

Directed by Bruce Macdonald

Starring – Jackson Rathbone, Billy Zane, Taylor James

The Plot – A Hebrew (James) with an unusual gift of strength must respond properly to the call of God on his life in order to lead his people out of enslavement. After his youthful ambition leads to a tragic marriage, his acts of revenge thrust him into direct conflict with the Philistine army. As his brother mounts a tribal rebellion, only Samson’s relationship with a Philistine seductress and his final surrender, both to the Philistines and to God, turns imprisonment and blindness into final victory

Rated PG-13 for scenes of violence from battle sequences

THE POSITIVES

– At this point in the game, if religious films can’t even get costume and set pieces correctly, there’s no point in even trying. ‘Samson’ certainly continues this trend with a fine line of dissection between the Palestinians and the Hebrews that visually tell the difference in wealth distribution.

– Perhaps the best introduction scene to one of these films that I have ever seen. It actually felt like there was an attempt to insert some personality into this movie with the inclusion of quick-cut takes from a heist plan, as well as witty banter that actually brought a smile out of me.

THE NEGATIVES

– In retort to that dazzling intro scene, the rest of the film falls into the mundane category of familiarity. For what started on such a high note, eventually grinded into a slow drafting bible tale with none of the confidence in its characters or events to boot.

– The performances are all around laughably bad, but no one can hold a candle to Jackson Rathbone as the evil Rallah. What Eddie Redmayne did in ‘Jupiter Ascending’ can only be described as amplified to eleven with Rathbone’s unintimidating stature and uninspiring line reads that constantly fall short in carving out a meaningful antagonist. On the other side of the coin, James title character is written as an all brawn and no brain kind of hero who is constantly outwitted to the point of cringing in your seat for how easy his predicaments are to get out of. Even the often times over-the-top Billy Zane is in this film and they do nothing with him or his character. Some enthusiasm from Zane could’ve honestly made this sit a lot easier for me.

– God’s power is reduced to being a magical genie who pops up whenever Samson needs him. So if the rules are this easy to master, why not (Oh I don’t know) ask for food and drink for your starving village in the same ways you destroy a brick wall or bring down a stone building with your hands? I guess spectacle matters over livelihood.

– Consistently dropping the ball on establishing dramatic impact. Much of Samson’s adversity is disposed of within a few seconds, even taking out multiple 30 and 50 man armies by himself with ease. This is only in the first half of the film, mind you, so the second half wants us to believe that he will fail against one puny prince who may be the key to silencing this mystical Hebrew. Give me a break.

– Terribly choreographed fight sequences. Much of the reason for Samson being able to take down these huge armies by himself is because these soldiers only approach him one at a time, waiting in a neat and tidy line for their turns to meet their maker. There are many times when they could easily dispose of this one man army, but they would rather dogpile on him than take a knife to his chest when he’s pinned down. STUPID!! If that isn’t enough, the graphic material is so watered down here, free of blood or much graphic violence to really linger with the audience. An all around dry presentation.

– Uneven pacing plagues this film over and over again, turning a modest 105 minute film into what feels like a two-and-a-half hour plunge. Much of this can be blamed on just how much they try to squeeze into this film, limiting a majority of scenes to under three minutes so we can constantly keep moving. Where this harms the fluidity is in the bubbling feeling that this film garners no consistency in momentum for itself in bringing along its audience on the edge of their seats.

– Clunky dialogue that could double for even softcore pornography. Perhaps my favorite of these lines takes place between Samson and a woman he is courting during the beginning of the third act, in which she tells him that there is no way she could even bond him from leaving. Samson looks at her like he ripped gas and says “You should use the finest rope, that way I couldn’t fight it much” UGGHHHHHH!!!!

– Hallmark Channel level C.G in landscape establishing shots. Thankfully this is about 95% of the computer generation used in the film, but I couldn’t help but wince each time a new scene began.

2/10