Hostiles

Directed by Scott Cooper

Starring – Christian Bale, Rosamund Pike, Wes Studi

THE PLOT – Set in 1892, Hostiles tells the story of a legendary Army Captain (Bale), who after stern resistance, reluctantly agrees to escort a dying Cheyenne war chief (Studi) and his family back to tribal lands. Making the harrowing and perilous journey from Fort Berringer, an isolated Army outpost in New Mexico, to the grasslands of Montana, the former rivals encounter a young widow (Pike), whose family was murdered on the plains. Together, they must join forces to overcome the punishing landscape, hostile Comanche and vicious outliers that they encounter along the way.

Rated R for strong violence and adult language

THE POSITIVES

– What a breathtaking cinematic scope that cinematographer Masanobu Takayanagi helms beautifully. Western genre films are all about these immense landscape depictions that stretch out as far as they eyes can see, and ‘Hostiles’ certainly doesn’t lack this feature in the mesmerizing establishing shots that articulate the Northwest Passage on a big, beautiful screen.

– The Oscars screwed up. How Bale or Pike didn’t get nominated for their dedicated work is beyond me. Pike is my personal favorite, commanding a woman whose transformation after the devastation of loss left me riddled with goosebumps. Bale as well goes through a transformation of his own, but for toeing the line of a life that looks different now that he sees the glass as half full.

– Cooper doesn’t get enough credit for his writing. Here, he exerts himself endlessly as a master storyteller in supplanting us with the important details that paint an ever so vivid picture in understanding the different shade of characters that adorn his film.

– Not for the weak. This film surprised me time and time again with its endless string of brutality and consequential aftermath, but none the more appropriate for setting the tone than the opening ten minute scene that left my jaw hitting the floor with impact.

– Composer Max Richter constructs perhaps an even more dire musical score than even his work on ‘Shutter Island’. What’s more ironic here is not necessarily the pieces themselves, which are all stirring violin-instilled ranges that pay ode to the classic western genre of films intently, but how subtle their influences are. The accompanying music echoes lowly in the background, choosing to never overstep the boundaries of an audience absorbing the ever-changing range of scenery.

– There are many themes throughout the film, but the two important and resonating ones that I found were “When is killing appropriate?” and “How does killing change a person?”. These two directions make up so much of Cooper’s script, and does so in a way that pays homage to the centuries old oppression of Indian tribes, while opening up a poignant approach to modern times with those we deem as different.

– For a 130 minute film, much of the movie blows by and is paced smoothly because of my emotional attachment to the uncertainty of these characters and their dangerous journey ahead.

– The budding romance between Bale and Pike’s characters is certainly evident, yet never used in a way that feels familiar in how Hollywood depicts the emergence of romance between them. To me, I sensed more of a spiritual bond between them, bringing to life a chemistry that unravels as something much more important than bed buddies.

THE NEGATIVES

– Far too often, the film caters to a tell-and-not-show approach with many of its death scenes. I counted three instances when we’re told something that wasn’t shown on screen, and these were important details that bridged the gap in understanding what we’re seeing in front of us.

– The first half of the film is definitely the better half. There’s no more evidence of this than the final twenty minutes in which a new antagonist pops up out of nowhere to give in to that desire of a final shootout. Not only do I think this was unnecessary, but it feels like tacked on dramatic effect to make up for disposing of an original enemy so early in the film.

8/10

Maze Runner: The Death Cure

Directed by Wes Ball

Starring – Dylan O’Brien, Kaya Scodelario, Thomas Sangster

THE PLOT – In the epic finale to The Maze Runner Saga, Thomas (O’Brien) leads his group of escaped Gladers on their final and most dangerous mission yet. To save their friends, they must break into the legendary last city, a WCKD controlled labyrinth that may turn out to be the deadliest maze of all. Anyone who makes it out alive will get the answers to the questions the Gladers have been asking since they first arrived in the maze. Will Thomas and the crew make it out alive? Or will Ava Paige (Patricia Clarkston) get her way?

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

THE POSITIVES

– There are a few surprising cameos both within the realm of this film universe, as well as real life celebrity that raised my respect of reputation for the film. I won’t give anything away, but my favorite character in this trilogy makes a triumphant return and steals more than a few scenes.

– Big budget set pieces. There’s a ringing feeling throughout the film that no dollar was spared in the visual backdrops (Both C.G and non), giving Ball’s conclusion to this series a grown-up action genre presence that has matured along with the characters fittingly.

– The action sequences are very imaginative and rattling with each passing scene. If it is destruction that you crave, let The Death Cure be your anecdote.

– O’Brien’s commitment to at least seeing the series through. Most stars, once they become a big name presence, forget about the roles that made them (See Lawrence, Jennifer), so it’s nice to see Dylan still being a noble contributor and finishing with gritty personality what he started with green earnestness.

THE NEGATIVES

– While I dug the action sequences, the film is littered with them to a fault. As to where ‘The Scorch Trials’ was plagued with too much exposition and not enough action in between, this film is the exact opposite, exhausting me to tears by the repetition in setup that wears itself thin quickly.

– Speaking of exposition, this script picks and chooses what gets highlighted for its audience. Some things that don’t feel remotely important by the end of the movie are given long-winded explanations, while those key details that bridge the gap of understanding for audiences feel lost in the shuffle.

– The film could’ve used an introduction recap in refreshing the previous two films for people like myself who see over 200 films a year and can’t quite remember every detail from Y.A series that rub together. Without it, this only feeds into the hardcore fans who have stuck by this franchise this long and await a payoff that never comes.

– Urgency yes, vulnerability no. Believe me when I say that you never fear for our protagonists a single time once you’re about a half hour into the film, and the reason for this is because there is a laughably tedious routine each time they get in the slightest bit of trouble that sees them escape the jaws of death in the most silly of ways, making it feel like it was planned like such.

– Watching this film with an avid fan of the books gave me a stunning comparison. She revealed to me that this film is about 7% on par with the events of the book, casting a huge drop-off from the book versus film comparison of the original Maze Runner, which she said was 75% alike. This ultimately means that fans of the books might feel alienated with a series they’ve come to know and love.

– My biggest problem with the series overall is what mazes that risk the lives of youths have to do with testing their intelligence. Surely there are less maniacal ways to test their strongest muscle. Perhaps a math challenge??

4/10

Phantom Thread

Directed by Paul Thomas Anderson

Starring – Daniel Day-Lewis, Vicky Krieps, Lesley Manville

THE PLOT – Set in the glamour of 1950s post-war London, renowned dressmaker Reynolds Woodcock (Lewis) and his sister Cyril (Manville) are at the center of British fashion, dressing royalty, movie stars, heiresses, socialites, debutants, and dames with the distinct style of The House of Woodcock. Women come and go through Woodcock’s life, providing the confirmed bachelor with inspiration and companionship, until he comes across a young, strong-willed woman, Alma (Krieps), who soon becomes a fixture in his life as his muse and lover. Once controlled and planned, he finds his carefully tailored life disrupted by love.

Rated R for adult language

THE POSITIVES

– Radiohead’s Johnny Greenwood with another truly mesmerizing musical score for his friend, Anderson. Greenwood always feels like he has his hands on the pulse of the films he accompanies, but it sounds like his piano-dominant numbers breathe life and narration into the picture, following along our group of characters through their rocky tribulations that heighten our experience. He’s simply needed more here than ever before.

– The trio of performances by Lewis, Krieps, and Manville that all bring their best game to the forefront. If this is Lewis’s rumored final film, then he goes out on top, breathing life into the workaholic Woodcock that depicts a man burdened by his passion. Together with Krieps, the film’s couple feels like the most honest depiction of love on the screen that we have seen in a long time, channeling a kind of childish bickering between them that gives the audience plenty of innocent giggles. Krieps herself has such rendering facial expressions that she could play her part without ever vocalizing a single word.

– Anderson is impeccable as a triple threat, commanding the camera, screenplay, and helming the luxurious cinematography for the first time. On the latter, Paul uses soft, dreamy backdrops to accentuate the vibrancy that the fashions that adorn. This makes the work of Woodcock pop that much more to the naked eye, and blossoms what I feel is Anderson’s best feature of the irreplaceable work that he takes on.

– Costume designer Mark Bridges and his elegant styles that immerse the film with such first class tastes. Bridges uses layers to sell his gifts to the audience, and if there’s any film that appreciates his artistic vision, it’s one that values and depicts what goes into the perfect dress.

– The screenplay hints that every beautiful gift that is bestowed upon someone can in turn be a curse that renders them lost in their work. This gives our protagonist a kind of man-becomes-monster kind of feel, in that it’s great to see him work, but we know it’s a cancer of sorts to his own well-being.

– I greatly appreciated that this film never took the low hanging fruit that was quietly hinted at especially during the second act. There are enough twists and turns that keep this sometimes redundant screenplay infused with the spark needed to get through the dry spots, and it gave the film enough momentum to carry over into hour two.

– There’s a kind of awkwardness in the idiosyncrasies that surround Woodcock’s lifestyle and routines that value this as anything BUT a casual 20th century love tale. Once we delve deeper, we come to understand the reasons behind this abstract man that stands before us.

– One of the messages that I took away from the film was when you’re in love with someone, you must tailor yourselves to each other. There’s further argument that opposites may attract, but those opposites must learn how to merge together to create something beautiful for all to adore. Sounds like one of Woodcock’s creations, eh?

– Because of so many seamless tonal shifts, there’s more uncertainty as to where this film is headed. There are times of laughter, sadness, and even horror that spring to life, and all of it feels like the necessary ingredients needed for the mental game of chess in the finale that will leave you frozen in your seat.

THE NEGATIVES

– It’s a small problem, but I almost wish that the film would’ve explored the secrets that Woodcock stitches in every creation a bit more. I just feel like to bring it up and use it very little for the remainder of the film makes it either a lost opportunity or a pointless conversation piece.

9/10

Forever My Girl

Directed by Bethany Ashton Wolf

Starring – Alex Roe, Jessica Rothe, John Benjamin Hickey

THE PLOT – The film tells the story of country music super-star Liam Page (Alex Roe) who left his bride, Josie (Jessica Rothe), at the altar choosing fame and fortune instead. However, Liam never got over Josie, his one true love, nor did he ever forget his Southern roots in the small community where he was born and raised. When he unexpectedly returns to his hometown for the funeral of his high school best friend, Liam is suddenly faced with the consequences of all that he left behind.

Rated PG for thematic elements including drinking, and for adult language

THE POSITIVES

– The musical soundtrack of original and unoriginal offerings by Brett Boyett actually isn’t half bad. It’s no secret that this critic isn’t a fan of modern day country music, but Boyett’s feeling for stirring b-side ballads make more than a few of the songs featured in the film earworms, long after you’ve left the theater.

– Whether intentional or not, the film did give me a few laughs which kept this film from ever feeling like it dragged, or that I was having a truly terrible time.

– Pure for the whole family, leaving much of the provocative pull of the book on the shelf to cater to a fraction of the audience that the film will pull in.

THE NEGATIVES

– As a screenwriter, Wolf has a very clouded vantage point of framing that had me scratching my head more than a few times. Liam is a dirtbag of a protagonist, yet we’re supposed to forgive him for leaving his bride to be at the alter because every character in the film does in a matter of seconds? Besides this, the film’s perception of fame is one that seems to come from a child’s mind, complete with music montages of fans chasing after Liam, as well as an over-burdening publicist who doesn’t feel human because she works for big bad Hollywood.

– In addition to Liam’s charming sentiment, he’s an alcoholic that never confronts his problem. For whatever reason, the film chooses not to explore this obvious direction that burdens him throughout the film, leaving much doubt in my mind that the film’s obvious happy ending will be anything but.

– The actors are terribly directed. Even Rothe’s shining star gets a noticeable downgrade here, lost in the sea of beautiful faces that live and breed by the ideal of all style and no substance. Love or hate me, the little girl played by Abby Ryder Fortson might be the single worst child performance that I’ve ever seen. Not that Fortson is terrible as a young actress, but her speech patterns and deliveries never sound remotely authentic to opposite children her age. It’s cute to hear her say something intelligent at first, but soon it becomes a nagging persistent problem with your immersion into the film.

– Roe and Rothe have about as much chemistry as a brother and sister experimenting. The two only kiss once in the entire film, and the fact that this unaffectionate, awkward plunge is the take that they went with, leaves you searching for any kind of passion to prove why they belong together.

– Every point of exposition feels rushed, leaving very little to resonate with the audience in terms of obstacles that they can get behind. If everything is settled and solved this easily, how can you ever expect any kind of dramatic tension to keeping audiences so involved in the story?

– Production mishaps. There is some terrible A.D.R with the actor’s mouthed wording that supplants a theory in my mind about the production. One scene in particular turns an obviously mouthed “Asshole” into “Jerk”, making me wonder if this was originally a PG-13 offering. If this isn’t enough for a full point, consider also the many times that extras both adult and children are caught looking at the camera in plain view. No care was taken at all in fixing these bumbling blunders.

– The air of Nicholas Sparks feels evident in Wolf’s writing. So much so that the beautiful countryside visuals and overall peaceful existence of these characters ever keep them from a taste of complication that keeps them on opposing sides. Because their reunion is more a speed bump than anything else, Wolf felt desperate to instill some third act adversity that could’ve been a very valued piece of exposition early on. As it stands, it just feels like a desperate ploy that quite literally comes out of nowhere.

3/10

Den of Thieves

Directed by Christian Gudegast

Starring – Gerard Butler, O’Shea Jackson, Pablo Schreiber

THE PLOT – A gritty Los Angeles crime saga which follows the intersecting and often personally connected lives of an elite unit of the LA County Sheriff’s Dept. and the state’s most successful bank robbery crew as the outlaws plan a seemingly impossible heist on the Federal Reserve Bank of downtown Los Angeles.

Rated R for violence, adult language and some sexuality/nudity

THE POSITIVES

– Gerard Butler gives arguably his best performance since ‘300’. It’s probably not saying a lot positively when Butler gives the best performance in a film, but as Nick Flanagan, Butler rides a double identity that has him juggling family life and a dangerous career to stay afloat.

– The sound design here is an up-roaring achievement. Through a few shootout sequences, the amplified echo of automatic riffles transformed Los Angeles into a think-fast warzone, over the all American dollar.

– Some beautiful exterior shots of the city of angels that hints at a Michael Mann kind of influence behind Gudegast’s inspirations. As to where Mann fell in love with the flashy neon’s of the southeast, Christian balances the beauty and ugly under the same west coast sky where millions reside.

– There was never a role where I felt that anyone was miscast. Bridges in particular continues to be a commanding presence on the silver screen, carving out a name for himself that reminds us that he is anyone but his father when it comes to projects he accepts.

THE NEGATIVES

– Two hours and fifteen minutes is an endurance test for any film, let alone one whose story could easily reside under two hours with some attention to necessary trimming in expositional over-abundance. Considering the big robbery begins with an hour left in the movie, it’s mind-boggling why that was the area of the film that plodded the most.

– In addition to the previous point, there are scenes that serve little purpose the more I thought about them, as well as character traits that go absolutely nowhere. For instance, Jackson’s character is a well known speed demon behind the wheel, but this never comes into play during the robbery, so why include it in the story? Another scene involves 50 Cent’s daughter being taken to a dance, only to be intimidated by his group of criminals. Where this goes in the long run? Why nowhere but a standard throwaway scene for the audience to remotely chuckle between scenes of suspense. It’s mood-ruiner 101 at its finest.

– Some of the dialogue in this film points to late 90’s anti-homosexual spouting that seems severely outdated with our current scene on Hollywood. It’s embarrassing and stands out like an unnecessary sore thumb during the tense scenes of the two gangs colliding.

– In my opinion, the film progressed the smoothest when the lines of comparison between the two sides seemed apparent. So it angered me deeply when so much of the second act becomes a dick measuring contest between Butler and Schreiber’s characters, limiting the rest of the supporting cast to disappearing acts that only re-appear when the film absolutely needs them to.

– Obvious C.G blood that reminded me of Syfy movie-of-the-week’s when it splattered in front of the screen. The closer its depiction, the worst it looked in terms of believability.

– The finale reaches for a twist that honestly isn’t defined as an actual plot twist. In addition to this, it’s obvious because the film showed its hand during the first act in a throwaway line in which they felt no one was paying attention. Probably because no one but me actually was.

4/10

12 Strong

Directed by Nicolai Fuglsig

Starring – Chris Hemsworth, Michael Shannon, William Fichtner

THE PLOT – The True Story of the Army’s Special Forces “Green Berets”, who within weeks responded to the 9-11 attack. Green Berets and AFSOC took over the country and allowed other Special Forces and the rest of the conventional military to begin the more publicly visible war.

Rated R for war violence and adult language throughout

THE POSITIVES

– An impressive introduction sequence that is articulately narrated and edited through the days after America’s darkest hours. This history lesson paints a vivid reality of the eggshells that we as a country were walking on.

– Exceptional camera angles that replicate a soldier’s point-of-view faithfully, through tight and over the back view points. This puts the audience in the moment without it being a gimmick like POV.

– Action sequences while limited, are shot competently enough, with shreds of urgency that trigger the uneasy from the audience watching from beyond the screen.

– Speaking of action, the final twenty minutes pack a vibrating crescendo that never stops pumping. These sequences are so finely paced, and never run short of visual thrills.

– The weaponry and combat versatility compliments a dual blend of traditional (Horseback strikes) and modern (Automatic arms) that superbly bridges the generations of war. We’re so used to seeing tanks and airstrikes that we rarely ever think about the countries who strike by horse.

– Fuglsig’s film never aims to be anything bigger that it rightfully is. While this is a brave and harrowing tale in the war against terror, the film reminds us that it is only the first chapter in a bigger war.

THE NEGATIVES

– There’s too much talk and not enough action during the first half of the film. This is when the movie dragged the most for me, and felt the demands of a 125 minute runtime.

– There’s an attempt to understand the villain’s perspective, but it’s every single Taliban antagonist that CNN has ever painted for you. There’s nothing that makes them standout in a poignant approach.

– This film needs so desperately for someone to take the reigns as a reputable performance, but the underwritting of personality in this script disappointingly wastes what is an early favorite for best ensemble cast of 2018. There’s ultimately no diversity in this brotherhood, so many of the characters rub together without breaking free from their shackles of ambiguity.

– The second half of the film is definitely much more impactful, but it comes at the price of abandoning character exposition. Beyond even the soldiers, Hemsworth’s wife and kids are never brought back up again after the opening ten minutes, leaving behind a chance to finally capitalize on a soldier’s price paid back home that very few war films capitalize on.

6/10

Proud Mary

Directed by Babak Nijafi

Starring – Taraji P Henson, Neal McDonough, Danny Glover

THE PLOT – Mary (Henson) is a successful hitwoman working for an organized crime family in Boston. However, her life is completely shifted when she meets a young boy whose path she crosses when a professional hit goes wrong, leaving the boy orphaned with only Mary to protect him.

Rated R for graphic violence and minimal adult language

THE POSITIVES

– Brief runtime of 82 minutes that really keeps the focus of the story grounded, and limits much downtime in between.

– Henson’s precise performance that gives way to Mary’s gritty and ferocious side. We’ve seen Taraji playing a badass before, but this role feels like breakthrough territory for the actress, establishing her as a possible new face of action annihilation.

– An exciting shoot-em-up finale that finally gives us light into Mary’s particularly gifted set of skills. This, as well as the 70’s Blacksploitation introduction felt like the only proof of the film that I was promised from a light-hearted atmospheric trailer.

– I feel that the set pieces and interior backdrops articulately channeled the personalities and backstories of Mary and her entire supporting cast. For Mary, the guns being hidden behind walls of vibrant decoration hint at the kind of double life that she leads.

– The sporadic action sequences do hit when they finally appear, bringing with them ruthless impact in sound mixing that only magnifies the dire urgency of the situation.

THE NEGATIVES

– There is simply no first act in this film. When the movie begins, it feels like we have walked into a situation that has been building for ten prior minutes. Further proof of this is Mary just appearing without any kind of build or impact for her appearance that gets us psyched.

– Because of the bone-headed choice NOT to exploit this Blacksploitation direction, the film settles for being a bland, generic action presentation that never sticks around long enough to leave a memorable impact.

– For a movie called ‘Proud Mary’, the screenplay cares so little about her. When she’s not splitting screen time with her newly adopted youth, the majority of scenes focus on her adversaries. I appreciate building equal ground here between protagonist and antagonist, but I feel like this film was a huge missed opportunity in getting to know Mary the person before she became this hit-for-hire.

– The fight choreography is virtually non-existent, opting instead for gun fights for the majority. When we do see hand-to-hand combat, the edits are very quick and choppy, making Henson’s believability that much more taxing by the minute.

– This film takes itself far too seriously. Much of this problem feeds into my second problem with the film, but action films become a problem first-and-foremost when I’m not having fun, and ‘Proud Mary’s’ biggest undoing is sticking with a formula that only until recently had re-defined the genre (John Wick).

5/10

The Post

Directed by Steven Spielberg

Starring – Meryl Streep, Tom Hanks, Sarah Paulson

THE PLOT – A thrilling drama about the unlikely partnership between The Washington Post’s Katharine Graham (Streep), the first female publisher of a major American newspaper, and editor Ben Bradlee (Hanks), as they race to catch up with The New York Times to expose a massive cover-up of government secrets that spanned three decades and four U.S. Presidents. The two must overcome their differences as they risk their careers and their very freedom, to help bring long-buried truths to light.

Rated PG-13 for adult language and brief war violence

THE POSITIVES

– The entirety of this acclaimed cast all bring their A-game, bringing to life a thick layer of personality to inspire these important characters to life. While I don’t think there’s anything that is award-worthy here, sometimes the consistency of an extensive cast matter more than just one or two actors carrying the load. Surprisingly, Bob Oedenkirk’s turn as a sarcastic writer is my personal pick for show-stealer.

– There’s some truly poignantly progressive material being depicted here that wasn’t evident in the two minute trailer. Women’s equality, taboo reporting, and of course the ‘Press Vs Politic’ wars that resonate so strongly today, all perhaps were magnified and brought to the forefront with this delicate chapter of American unveiling.

– Spielberg’s finely tuned mastering from behind the lens highlights once more why he’s one of the truly greatest American filmmakers of our and all time. Not only are his movements stylishly sleek, and visuals entrancing in echoing the authenticity of a cigarette clouded newsroom, but also experimental in his fine wine age of 71 for the success in strategy changes. Steven rarely has been someone to dive into long and continuous takes with his movies, but here he understands that the sharp-tongue dialogue of a newsroom is something that free flows and never subdues the longer it continues.

– Has there been a more valued musical composer than John Williams over the last forty years of cinema? Once again, Williams immerses himself into the moment synthetically, helming a score that audibly narrates the pulse-setting tones in attitude that each scene of versatility envelopes.

– Writers Liz Hannah and Josh Singer never cater to controversial with their script, instead choosing to focus on what has been proven with time with the dropping of these sacred documents. What I appreciate about this is that the screenplay lets history tell the story without relying on speculation (See Oliver Stone) to propel the entertainment factor.

– Some of my favorite scenes involved audio narration, an aspect in most films that always makes me moan in displeasure because of how tight they hold the hand of the audience as they walk them through it. Here instead, Spielberg’s phone calls to and from President Nixon should be appreciated for their intimate dive inside of the details, as well as for how grainy and clouded the connection sounds in replicating that coveted 70’s sound that so many time piece films overlook.

– The most moving stories to me are resonate with age, and because of our own modern day battle between President Trump and the media, this film feels like the perfect reflection in reminding us that no matter how far we’ve come, we’ve still got miles to go in the fight for journalistic integrity.

THE NEGATIVES

– This will shock many, but this film strongly lacked the kind of cinematic tension in keeping me on the edge of my seat. If I watched this anywhere but a theater, I would’ve stopped this film one or two times, despite its brief 110 minute runtime, and the reason for this is because a majority of the scenes feel like one-off expositions and never a conjoined movement that keeps elevating along the way. Too much is said and often not shown for the backlash that these people are facing, and I could’ve used more emphasis on their very risk in real time example.

– Especially towards the third act, Spielberg can sometimes toe the line a bit with meandering towards his audience. I say this because there is a scene with Nixon towards the end of the film that is so cringe-worthy because it feels like he is a villain from a Marvel comic book for the way the actor portraying him delivers his lines. Believe me when I say this is only one of the many examples, and frankly I was tired of being beaten over the head by the obviousness of the situation sometimes.

– Considering this film builds towards the inevitable confrontation inside of a courtroom, I was floored to see how fast the film rushed through this important period. So much of what I said in my first negative resonates here, as there’s no better place to harvest the uncertainty of a situation better than court. It feels like the film realizes it only has fifteen minutes left, and therefore sacrifices what could render some impactful scenes with Hanks and Streep on the stand, something we never ever see.

7/10

The Commuter

Directed by Jaume Collet-Serra

Starring – Liam Neeson, Vera Farmiga, Patrick Wilson

THE PLOT – Michael (Neeson) is an insurance salesman is on his daily commute home, when it quickly becomes anything but routine. After being contacted by a mysterious stranger (Farmiga), Michael is forced to uncover the identity of a hidden passenger on his train before the last stop. As he works against the clock to solve the puzzle, he realizes a deadly plan is unfolding and is unwittingly caught up in a criminal conspiracy. One that carries life and death stakes for himself and his fellow passengers.

Rated PG-13 for some intense action/violence, and adult language

THE POSITIVES

– No matter how many times Neeson has played this particular role in this particularly jaded situation, his everyman routine never loses flavor. As Michael, Neeson’s humanity shines through, depicting the only character that we, as well as the film cares about to put valued exposition into.

– Collet-Serra again adds a shade of weathered atmosphere to play into the real beauty of his picture. For a film that basically feels like it was straight out of 90’s action flicks like ‘Speed’ and ‘Air Force One’, there’s certainly a lot more to look at here that wets the appetite of anyone looking for warmth in personalized touch that rubs off vibrantly in every shot.

– Speaking of shots, the film’s train sequences are shot superbly, catering to a majority of tight-knit angles that speaks volumes to the very claustrophobia of the revealing situation around our protagonist.

– Despite being confined overwhelmingly in stage setting, the fight sequences pack enough brutality in brunt offense to keep the fight lover in all of us at bay. My personal favorite is the inclusion of a guitar that comes into play.

– The pacing for at least the first two acts is something that keeps this train moving at top speed. Sure, the setup cares more about the story and less about the pawns, but the mental gears of the audience continuously turn through a modern day whodunnit? that throws a wrench or two into theories.

– This is one film that isn’t demeaned by a PG-13 setting, keeping the dialogue classy and the violence sporadic to feed into the ‘less is more’ theory.

THE NEGATIVES

– Despite Neeson’s Michael, no other character is given even slightly enough exposition to make the big reveal something jaw-dropping in terms of shock factor. To fix this, I wouldn’t have been in such a hurry to get to the train, and let his supporting cast respond to this terrible day that Michael was having before he ever boarded. The biggest regret is unfortunately Farmiga’s antagonist character who never feels like an intellectual equal to Michael’s detective background.

– Third act blues. Would it be cliche to say that the final thirty minutes of this film flies off the railings? Well, I’ll just say that between a crash sequence that feels like an afterthought and a final scene that feels every bit as tacked on as it does tidy, there’s an overwhelming feeling that this script was written on an idea and very little else.

– I’m all for paying attention, but the clues used in this film to figuring out the motive are a bit too meandering and scatter-brained for my taste. I figured out Farmiga’s right hand culprit with about a half hour left of the movie, and that’s because I started to see that the obviousness of some events in the first act that stick out like a sore thumb. Convenience of being in the right place at the right time also serves Neeson well in cracking the case.

– The musical score by Roque Banos is disappointingly his worst to date. After riveting tonal capacities in films like ‘Evil Dead’ and ‘Don’t Breathe’, Banos here feels out of place, ushering through a strong repetition of tones that wouldn’t be good enough to make his B-sides of a greatest hits compilation. A thriller especially relies on the music to stir the uneasy in its audience, but its underwhelming string sometimes gives these fight scenes a feeling of stock sampling.

6/10

Insidious: The Last Key

Directed by Adam Robitel

Starring – Lin Shaye, Leigh Whannell, Angus Sampson

THE PLOT – In the fourth installment of the Insidious franchise, parapsychologist Elise Rainier (Lin Shaye) must delve even deeper into the infernal world known as “the Further” when supernatural forces target her own family, sending her and her team reeling from a haunting that takes place so close to home.

Rated PG-13 for disturbing thematic content, violence and terror, and brief strong adult language

THE POSITIVES

– Lin Shaye’s reserved, yet emotionally wrenching performance that proves age is only a number.  Visual scars are there, but it’s in Shaye’s haunting of her past where we embrace her at her edgiest. It’s incredible to see how an originally supporting character has become the focal point for this entire series, and because of such, we are treated to a film that centers around her character’s origins.

– The idea that the most powerful of ghosts are the ones from our pasts that continue to haunt until we choose to confront them once and for all.

– Continued excellence in lighting that articulately divides our world from the further. There’s nothing extravagant or costly about its effects, yet the graying state of this supernatural world omits a clear cut vibe of decay in the atmosphere.

– Jump scares are few and far between, and even better than that, the scares are patient. There were many times during the film where I felt that I had it predicted as to when someone or something would jump out, only to be duped into hanging on a bit longer before that itch had to be scratched.

– The seamless insertion of this film between chapters 1,2, and 3 of the series. Some sequels often feel unnecessary or even forced with their inclusion, but ‘The Last Key’ doesn’t ever feel shy on what happened before or after this story, without using it as a gimmick to feed into fans of those previous installments.

THE NEGATIVES

– This is a series that accomodates to comedy quite well, but this film certainly isn’t one of those, as Whannell and Sampson’s comic relief duo feel every bit as desperate as they do speedbumps to the progression of this story. Each time a scene focuses on them, it either runs for too long in not cutting to the point, or highlights just how truly insignificant their characters are in this fourth chapter.

– Speaking of Whannell, this is arguably his weakest script to date. I could get over the fact that this film doesn’t continue to elevate the rules of the further like the previous movies, but for a writer to write himself as the guy who saves the group and gets the girl, reeks of shameless self-promotion that hinders the power of the pen.

– Too many characters and not enough exposition for any of them. The film’s introduction focuses on our central three characters, then introduces us to three more in the form of three locals who they meet at a diner, then abandons half of them before the pivotal third act. Bruce Davison’s character in particular feels like a wasted opportunity between him and Shaye to really feed into their secret connection.

– Once again, the ear-shattering jolts that each jump scare exert play like an audible poison for your delicate drums. Thankfully there aren’t many of them in the film, but their level of intensity feels artificial when compared to the noise that would be made by those particular instances. For my money, a violin never shrieks whenever I accidentally run into someone who I didn’t see coming.

– Because this is the second chapter chronologically in the series, the air of predictability can’t help but rear its ugly head. Even worse, Whannell does zero as a screenwriter in remotely subduing this handicap for even a minute, forgetting to instill even a slight bit of urgency or dread in visuals that all but paint the scenario for him.

5/10

I, Tonya

Directed by Craig Gillespie

Starring – Margot Robbie, Allison Janey, Sebastian Stan

THE PLOT – Competitive ice skater Tonya Harding (Robbie) rises amongst the ranks at the U.S. Figure Skating Championships, but her future in the activity is thrown into doubt when her ex-husband (Stan) intervenes, paving a road of faith to this moment that has taken her through a lifetime of mental abuse from her Mom (Janney), and physical abuse from her husband. When all is said and done, Tonya will be one of the most memorable names in the sport….for better or worse.

Rated R for pervasive adult language, violence, and some sexual content/nudity

THE POSITIVES

– The decision for a two hour runtime allows the WHOLE story to be told, feeding into the before, during and after of the famous incident that will label her for a lifetime.

– Even Hollywood writers can’t make up the absurd chain of events depicted in this film. Stories like this are movies before they ever see the light of day on the screen.

– Exceptional production qualities like stage lighting and versatility in camera angles and framing, keep this biopic from ever garnering a typical movie-of-the-week artistic vibe

– The transformative performances of Robbie and Janney that take no prisoners with their audience. Janney is the devil incarnate, channeling the worst parenting job since ‘Mommy Dearest’ with a fiery register behind rimmed glasses as big as her ego. Robbie originally felt too beautiful for this role, but she won me over in juggling the emotional roller-coaster that is Harding, who truly always feels alone in what she endures.

– Presents a refreshing angle to Harding that offers an empathetic take without framing her in innocence. This highlights the idea that she is a product of her environment, and never shook the ideals instilled upon her by her mother.

– Harding’s underdog story of sorts for competing against an entire organization and their precious traditions. Revealing looks at historical events like this one certainly provide insight into the pre-determined mindset of the judges who wanted Tonya to fail before her skates ever hit the ice. This makes it easier to stand behind her.

– The precise editing of the skating sequences, conjuring up an intensity in performance that I never paid attention to for the sport.

– Screenwriter Steven Rogers unshaken direction to leave the truth somewhere in the middle, between what actually happened on that fateful day. The interview style leaves just enough room for there to be skepticism provided by the questionable characters telling it.

THE NEGATIVES

– The facial C.G animation during the skating sequences is jarring. There are often scenes where a huge head feels like it is plastered on a small body, giving the authenticity a cartoonish vibe that is not needed in the otherwise perfect production value.

– Too often the narration cuts in, limiting the story from playing out in real time. Only half a point was taken off here because the problem fixes itself in the third act.

9/10

All the Money in the World

Is there any limit to what money can buy you? ask the richest man in the world, J. Paul Getty. In Ridley Scott’s newest film, ‘All the Money in the World’, we head to Rome in 1973. Masked men kidnap a teenage boy named John Paul Getty III (Charlie Plummer). His grandfather, Jean Paul Getty (Christopher Plummer), is the richest man in the world, a billionaire oil magnate, but he’s notoriously miserly. His favorite grandson’s abduction is not reason enough for him to part with any of his fortune. All the Money in the World (2017) follows Gail, (Michelle Williams), Paul’s devoted, strong-willed mother, who unlike Getty, has consistently chosen her children over his fortune. Her son’s life in the balance with time running out, she attempts to sway Getty even as her son’s mob captors become increasingly more determined, volatile and brutal. When Getty sends his enigmatic security man Fletcher Chace (Mark Wahlberg) to look after his interests, he and Gail become unlikely allies in this race against time that ultimately reveals the true and lasting value of love over money. ‘All the Money in the World’ is rated R for adult language, some violence, disturbing images and brief drug content.

There’s been plenty of trouble for Ridley Scott’s latest project involving the life of the world’s richest man. In November, the story broke about then Jean Paul Getty actor Kevin Spacey and his sexual advances towards then child actor Anthony Rapp. Once the story broke, Scott immediately removed the release date of December 9th, and decided for a Christmas Day release, scrambling to re-cast the film’s lead role with Christopher Plummer. The production had ten days to get ten million dollars worth of re-shoots done, and with Hollywood magic, here we are. ‘All the Money in the World’ was the film that I was anticipating the most during the Winter movie season, feeling the vibes of a fantastically edited trailer that immediately put me in the mood for a ransom thriller. Unfortunately, not all is as advertised with this picture, as Scott’s latest suffers from a lot of personal indulgence that sometimes gets his film lost amongst all of the material things that aren’t required in crafting an enticing slow-burner. I liked the film, but I didn’t love it, and that sense of minor disappointment from within seeps itself out the more that I think about it, leaving a finished product that while a miracle that it saw the light of day, wasn’t fully worth the hassle of everything that went into it.

From an environmental perspective, it’s easy to absorb the subtlety in detail that wonderfully charms this time-piece from start to finish. The film is set in the 70’s, so Scott feasts vibrantly on the opportunity to visually enhance the storytelling, while not taking away too much from the meat of the performances. This is a difficult thing to master because with too much faithfulness to the forgotten era, it can become its own gimmick within the film, and take away from those aspects that I previously mentioned. Thankfully, Scott is a pro at this particular sport, as the yellow tints of color that set fire to the foreign feeling cinematography by Dariusz Wolski, as well as the tastefully decadent costume design by longtime Scott collaborator Janty Yates, feel like a marriage made in Heaven that has spawned decades of Academy award recognition. Because the film is set primarily in Rome, it’s a no-brainer opportunity to entice the audience with Roman landscapes that echo the truly luxurious lifestyles that our depicted family have come to be known for, and the similarities in rise and fall events between the Getty’s and that of the Roman Empire feel closer than I could’ve ever imagined.

Where the film’s screenplay works for me is in the outsider’s angle that treats money like a slow-burning cancer that eats away the many who are involved with it. A wise man once said “More money, more problems”, and that sentiment couldn’t echo any louder than with a situation of this magnitude. While being rich has certainly been a blessing to Jean Paul, it’s cast an inhuman quality about his life that makes him feel personally untouchable and morally better than the people beneath his social stature. Beyond Jean, his only son also suffers the effects, taking a job with Jean early in the film that eventually leads to his and his family’s dramatic collapse. Money brings lots of allures with it, and Scott’s perspective on this gift is one that casts a big shadow over this family, bringing them more harm than good in the long run. I also greatly enjoyed the psychology that played into paying the ransom. Jean might be a rich snob, but there were moments when the film was allowing me to reason with this character, leading to worse things that could happen with that surrender. Where my problems lie with the screenplay is this being too strategic and not nearly enough intensity in keeping the over two hour runtime firmly in place. For my money, there’s a great lack of urgency that stands in place until the film’s final act, making much of the first half of the movie a mental endurance test that had me checking my watch frequently. Adding onto this are some liberties taken within the real life story that I can’t understand the reasoning for. The ending in particular has a noticeable blow that transpires that I guess was there to serve into the burdening moral lesson that Scott was aiming for. It’s strange because this happens out of nowhere with no building to this moment, and because of such, no real impact for when it finally does happen other than for everything to be tied up neatly with a bow.

The performances are mostly solid, led by Williams fiery unfurling as Abby, and the newly inserted Plummer whose impact can’t be understated. As this richly immense figure, Plummer commands Getty with this almost god-like quality, shifting through the hollow halls of his castle with enough confidence to inspire the gladiators of Rome to fight. For visual likeness, as well as overall performance, I think Plummer was the best case scenario for the film, and after seeing it, I can’t imagine this movie without the belief from his register for all of the jaw-dropping sentences that come out of his mouth. Williams continues to be one of my favorite female heavyweights going today. In this role, she’s the character that we as an audience identify most with, and it’s in Abby’s small stature where we see the biggest growth emotionally for a character, in terms of what has been taken from her long before her son disappeared. Williams has always thrived under the pressure of the lights, and with a cold stare that channels so much about love and loss, she once again feels clutch under the circumstances. If I had a problem with one role, it was definitely in Mark Wahlberg as this enforcer of sorts, who looks over Getty’s financial deals with muscle. I felt that this role added so little to the film positively, and Wahlberg himself feels shell-shocked in sharing the stage with two heavy-hitters like Williams and Plummer respectively. The biggest problem with Wahlberg isn’t even in his lack of personal touch on the character, but rather the lack of interest for his character’s vote in all of this that sometimes makes it feel like vital scenes are missing before he casts his judgement. It’s certainly easy to fall by the wayside of a talented cast, but Wahlberg’s lack of intensity or personality for this character drop him to a distant seventh or eighth in terms of importance to the screenplay.

THE VERDICT – ‘All the Money in the World’ is a good film that wants so desperately to be great, falling short when the bills of burden are finally tallied by the absurdly convenient ending. The masterful work of Williams and Plummer, as well as the winsome visual canvas, give you more than enough reason to see the film, but the lack of intensity casts a dry spell that will have you challenging yourself for reasons to stay. Scott’s second film of the 2017 year is much better than his first, successfully addressing the problems in post-production that almost doomed the film, but failing to address the mounting problems in withholding audience attention that decreases its value.

7/10