The Spy Who Dumped Me

Directed by Susanna Fogel

Starring – Mila Kunis, Kate McKinnon, Sam Heughan

The Plot – Audrey (Kunis) and Morgan (McKinnon), two thirty-year-old best friends in Los Angeles, are thrust unexpectedly into an international conspiracy when Audrey’s ex-boyfriend shows up at their apartment with a team of deadly assassins on his trail. Surprising even themselves, the duo jump into action, on the run throughout Europe from assassins and a suspicious-but-charming British agent, as they hatch a plan to save the world.

Rated R for violence, adult language throughout, some crude sexual material and graphic nudity

POSITIVES

– Where this film would work and actually receive a passing grade from me, is the action. This is a solid action film that was spoon-forced to be a comedy, and it’s in those action elements where this movie greatly surprised me. Aside from exciting and well telegraphed sequences, the film is unforgivable in its never-ending violence, making the most of its coveted R-rating to satisfy the gore hound in all of us. It at least kept me awake through a movie that otherwise bored the hell out of me.

– In addition to the action, the sound design and overall mixing is riveting. When this film comes out, it greatly deserves the IMAX or XD options, because it rattles the auditorium with every pulse-setting crunch that the mayhem can muster. Most notably through a car chase sequence through downtown Prague, the volume of carnage flew high over the uninspired musical score, giving me many moments of wincing when the building blow finally landed.

– Female empowerment. The film does at least succeed in its message of manufacturing a product for the ladies that is full proof with those ladies nights out. With a cast that is female majority, as well as a valuable female antagonist character who kicks ass for all of the right reasons, ‘The Spy Who Dumped Me’ at least remains faithful to its strong gender values, even through a finale that almost soiled it all together.

– One of the things that this film does right halfway through the movie, is dump Kunis as the leading lady, and focus a majority of its time more on McKinnon, who while not working with her best material, does at least conjure up the most energy in delivery to this picture. Kate is given such ample time to aim and impress, and whether or not the comedy in the film works for you, you will at least be thankful that a script finally gave her a leading chance to run unopposed.

NEGATIVES

– What a mess of muddled storytelling. The film follows two on-going narratives, one for the modern day unraveling story, and one for the night Kunis and her male spy suitor met in a dive bar. The reason for this decision not only adds nothing of shock value or discovery for us the audience, but disjoints the hell out of the transition edits between them, requiring you to take a minute to remember that the latter story is unfortunately still continuing.

– If you can’t get the comedy right in an action comedy, you will have one boring film, and that’s what we’re left with here. The humor in this film isn’t just bad, it’s downright humiliating, throwing out a combination of god awful puns and animated delivery of dialogue that never feels authentic or earned. I managed to remember my two most offensive puns because they burned in my memory like a childhood trauma. The first involves Kunis character holding up a severed thumb with Mckinnon chiming in “Thumbs up”. The second, and one that gave me hard edge proof that God doesn’t exist, is a scene with Mckinnon dressed in an awful ensemble, and Kunis says to her “You look like a French curtain”, to which Mckinnon replies “Because I can hanggggg”.

– Too many twists. While you can easily predict where this story is headed, you find yourself weighed down heavily by the ridiculousness in ever-changing scenarios that don’t make sense the more you think about them. This is a 107 minute movie that shouldn’t be a minute over 90, especially when you consider that so much of the second and third acts revolve around the tables turning multiple times, diminishing the returns and shock value greatly, because the film goes to this well too many times.

– The ladies begin their foreign adventure after taking a flight from Los Angeles. The problem is that they do it spontaneously, so on the very hour that they are flying out, they not only manage to easily navigate their way through the busiest airport in the country, but also manage to find two tickets next to each other for a flight that is minutes away. Imagine the coincidence. I certainly can’t.

– My biggest problem with the casting of Kunis and Mckinnon isn’t so much that they lack any kind of chemistry between them, but rather how unconvincing they both feel in these particular roles. As characters, these are any typical woman disappointed by life and the curves that it continuously throws. Because the film is in a hurry during the first act, we are never offered a shade of depth or development between them that makes you empathize with their danger or at the very least Kunis’s on-screen break-up (That amazingly enough we never see). Kunis and Mckinnon never make the roles their own, and it leads you to believe that any two leading ladies in Hollywood could easily come in and do as good, if not a better, job than these two.

– Noticeably negative production aspects. The Green-screen backdrops during the driving sequences make the outline of the characters stick out like a third-dimension, and the A.D.R is some of the most glaring lack of fluidity that I have seen in 2018. On the latter, there’s a lot of over-the-shoulder shots, and when these happen the volume of the dialogue increases dramatically where it doesn’t feel synthetic with that of the actor they are conversing with. This is just sloppy post production all around, and proves just how much passion was put into a project that serves as nothing but a cheap manipulation for female audience members to spend their money to support girl power.

4/10

Blindspotting

Directed by Carlos Lopez Estrada

Starring – Daveed Diggs, Rafael Casal, Janina Gavankar

The Plot – Collin (Diggs) must make it through his final three days of probation for a chance at a new beginning. He and his troublemaking childhood best friend, Miles (Casal), work as movers and are forced to watch their old neighborhood become a trendy spot in the rapidly gentrifying Bay Area. When a life-altering event causes Collin to miss his mandatory curfew, the two men struggle to maintain their friendship as the changing social landscape exposes their differences. Lifelong friends Daveed Diggs and Rafael Casal co-wrote and star in this timely and wildly entertaining story about friendship and the intersection of race and class set against the backdrop of Oakland.

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

POSITIVES

– Offers a refreshing and artistic side to the Oakland landscape. This is the second movie within two weeks that is set and shaped in this ever-changing city, and Estrada’s one-of-a-kind vision offers us plenty of examples of the diverse cultures that have shaped the city as a boiling melting pot. There are split screen sequences to contrast the differences between the way minorities and majorities view their homes, as well as some stylishly shot drive-by sequences that capture the vast diversity in cultures and colorful blends upon the houses.

– For material, ‘Blindspotting’ itself means to perceive something in one way without understanding it from the complex side that is opposite of ones opinion, so this film had a great responsibility in channeling the inner-city rage and paranoia for African Americans when they come in contact with those sworn to protect us. It’s that rare buddy comedy that has plenty to say about social issues, and the overall gentrification of Oakland, as well as other culturally diverse American cities that continue to lose the soul of their beating hearts.

– Much of the dialogue is also original and seamless for the way it starts and stops between friends. When it’s low key between Collin and Miles, it feels naturally consistent in terms of how the changing topics free-flow, but when the movie has something important to say, it does so in rhymes. At first I worried that this gimmick would wear itself out, but it soon became apparent to me that the rhymes become easier for Collin with the darker turn the film takes. By the last time he does it, you’ll understand that the reason he became so good at it goes far beyond casual practice, instead speaking volumes to the level of anger that he channels in this particular scene.

– On the topic of that gentrification, there are many unique perspectives on the two male leads in the film working as movers, and being forced with the task to trash someone’s memories to provide for someone’s future. Scenes like these impacted me in a way that I never before thought about, and the endless examples of family pictures and belongings left to dust and fade away, gave me an up-close-and-personal vantage point of just how quickly the American dream moves on.

– As far as performances go, I was not expecting the whirlwind of emotional registry that I got from Diggs and Casal. In being longtime best friends, the two male leads converse on being a product of a bad environment growing up, and it’s in that influence that has shaped them as adults effectively. Their chemistry feels natural in channeling the trust between them, all the while the distance that has plagued them since Collin got out of prison. Casal himself is a presence on screen that you wind up and watch deliver. Full of off-beat comic timing and persistent charm, you start to fall in love with him the same way Collin has, making it easy to see the building bricks to their foundation as friends. Diggs himself continues to capture the attention with dramatic depth that forces you to feel the indignities that build up within him. You start to wonder if it is indeed to late for his character to change, and a lot of that depends on Diggs impeccable balance between confidence and vulnerability that shape this modern day enigma before us.

– Sonic boom of an ending. It’s rare anymore that my favorite scene in a film is the movie’s closing moments, but ‘Blindspotting’ built through 90 minutes of vital information and experiences to unload on this climax of devastation that left me shaking even through the credits. Diggs in particular during these moments commands your attention, barking out a list of revelations with the ever-flowing tear in his eye that you almost want to wipe because of your empathy for the character. Estrada sends audiences home shortly after the most moving scene, helping to contain that bottled energy during the first moments when you’re able to speak about them.

– Proper balance of tones that never shift violently. Much of the movie swings like a pendulum, between the pleasantries of a casual buddy comedy, leading eventually into the dark and seedy drama needed to explore systematic racism and police brutality. Surprisingly, never does one area of the film so obviously exceed that of the other, as I felt both were equally important in the contrasting atmospheres between them. The paranoia and uncertainty of the closing act certainly wouldn’t be anything without the humor to compare it to that came before it, and vice versa, and ‘Blindspotting’ feels like two movies that are better together than they ever would be apart.

– It would be easy to compare this film to ‘Sorry To Bother You’ another film released recently that takes place in Oakland, and also deals with racism in its own unique perspective. But for everything right with that movie, ‘Blindspotting’ stands out even further for its own grounded approach. Because of this, I feel like more people will relate to the wisdom enveloped in this film as opposed to its predecessor, but they are both a constant reminder of the stories that we are hearing for the first time, and we’re thankful for such an opportunity.

NEGATIVES

– Much of the psychological spin inside of Collin’s head does feel a bit scatter-brained and schematic at times for how we embrace it to the unfolding narrative. After Collin spots a police injustice, we get a couple of nightmare sequences, but nothing ever that remains heavy in the way he interacts during the day. This feels like a misfire of direction, because we’re never shown examples of how this traumatic experience changes him until the film absolutely demands it to, and I could’ve used slightly more cohesive storytelling for those brief moments when Miles is alone in frame, without anyone to spot his differences.

– There’s kind of a feeling of selfishness as screenwriters that overcomes me in the regards to Diggs and Casal. They are the two biggest characters in the movie, but that idea shouldn’t spread like a cancer to the lack of depth and deposition for the supporting cast around them. There is one character besides the two leads who is given a lengthy diatribe, and it’s about one of the two leads in the first five minutes of the film. There are several subplots along the way involving Collin’s ex-girlfriend, the symbolism behind certain hairstyles, and the ramifications of the police officer that is just sort of glossed over without much emphasis. One could blame this on the 90 minute run time, but I think it’s an example of inexperience for first time screenwriters, and hopefully their next project will be more inclusive.

8/10

Mission Impossible: Fallout

Directed by Christopher McQuarrie

Starring – Tom Cruise, Henry Cavill, Ving Rhames

The Plot – The best intentions often come back to haunt you. The newest film in the Mission Impossible franchise finds Ethan Hunt (Cruise) and his IMF team (Alec Baldwin, Simon Pegg, Ving Rhames) along with some familiar allies (Rebecca Ferguson, Michelle Monaghan) in a race against time after a mission gone wrong.

Rated PG-13 for violence and intense sequences of action, and for brief strong adult language

POSITIVES

– Enthralling musical score by Lorne Balfe. What is so subtle, yet effective with her tones is that she uses the familiar Mission Impossible theme chords, but does so in a way that slowly drifts away from that familiarity to create an entirely new piece of music. Throughout the many fast-paced scenes that fill the film, Lorne casts extra emphasis in the moment, and I don’t think these scenes would accomplish the urgency that they attain without her masterful touch.

– This feels like the first Mission Impossible film that feels like a synthetic sequel to that of the previous film, and a lot of that rests on McQuarrie’s influence in story and character development that gives the series more depth than ever before. Beyond the return of a few cherished characters from previous movies, the whole plot of ‘Fallout’ rests on the aftermath of ‘Rogue Nation’, serving as the perfect companion piece that feels like the effect from such a world-defining cause. Christopher was the ideal choice to continue this series, and I hope he has a hand in future installments.

– Meticulously crafted action sequences. Relying on the very realism aspect that so many other action films don’t capture anymore, ‘Fallout’ prides itself on letting the set pieces and resulting actions tell the story of its danger. Because of such, we have a finer appreciation for the craft that doesn’t require big budget computer generated effects, or an overall lack of emphasis of danger in the air. Now if they can just do away with the face-pulling gag.

– Strong work by an ensemble cast of all star A-listers that have become a family of sorts. Much valued here is how everyone brings with them their best work, regardless if the role is big or small. There wasn’t a single character who feels miscast or underwhelming at the very least, instead presenting us with above expectation work for Cavill, Angela Basset, and especially Alec Baldwin as the brains behind the operation. Like franchises like ‘The Fast and Furious’, we’ve come to expect these characters in every film, and it’s carried with it an indisputable chemistry between the trio of Cruise, Ving Rhames, and Simon Pegg that adds a much necessary layer of fun to the smothering danger that surrounds them

– The stunt work by Cruise deserves a mention in itself. Known for decades for doing his own stunt work, Tom proves why he is the last real action star of a past era that prided itself on gritty risks attaining great rewards. Throughout the film, there is no shortage of Cruise whipping himself off of motorcycle chases, jumping between buildings, and hanging off of a helicopter that is flying thousands of feet above the ground. Whether you like or dislike Cruise as a person, you have to respect how this guy has continued to never let a number define what he can do, and even at the age of 56, is still unmatched in action resume.

– Relentless camera work that stays persistent without settling for compromise. I can’t be thankful enough that cinematographer Rob Hardy never requires the cheap gimmick of shaking camera effects to never pull the feeling of adrenaline that runs throughout the film. Beyond this, the camera moves in a way that stalks the characters and automobiles in a way that doesn’t limit the twists and turns in their choreographed patterns. These are very well planned out sequences that make it that much easier to immerse ourselves in the unraveling moments of tension required to care about the characters.

– Variety in exotic European shooting locations that speak volumes to the concepts of global terrorism that so much of the movie centers on. Beautiful wonder in establishing shots, combined with the obvious differences in their landscapes, pushes the Mission Impossible series to the very levels that only James Bond has treaded on. It proves that no cent was spared in production, and no opportunity wasted in capturing that big budget perks that come with six successful films.

– Earned consequences are established with the rising of the stakes. Ethan’s vulnerability plays a large part in this direction. We feel weak in the knees because we see the reaction that Cruise dons every time he attempts a death-defying feat, proving that mortality trumps immortality any day when it comes to mastering uncertainty in your audience. The eloquent sound design shouldn’t be overlooked for its raging intensity that amplifies the higher the story moves in elevation.

NEGATIVES

– Despite smooth pacing and minimal lag time, there is still simply too much material inserted into this bloated script. This film clocks in at nearly two-and-a-half-hours, and while that might not seem like a big deal because of the things I mentioned above, much of the exposition can be divided and put into earlier scenes. My biggest problem is that the film tries to make itself out to be smarter than it actually is, never requiring a full 142 minutes to tell THIS story. Two hours even would maintain more of that energy, while adding great replay value to its mastery.

– My hate for the intro credit sequence in this film magnifies the greater the film becomes. In this musical montage of visual text, we are treated to THIS film’s best moments of action to treat viewers to what’s coming up. Besides the fact that these scene reveals don’t make sense chronologically because we haven’t experienced them yet, my main problem is that it spoils the best moments of each scene without reluctance, and does so in a way that is asinine when there were other directions to go with it. For one, why not just show scenes from the previous Mission Impossible installments? Make it an Ethan’s greatest hits collection before facing his most arduous challenge.

8/10

Teen Titans GO!!! To the Movies

Directed by Aaron Horvath and Peter Rida Michail

Starring – Scott Menville, Khary Payton, Tara Strong

The Plot – It seems to the Teens that all the major superheroes out there are starring in their own movies-everyone but the Teen Titans, that is. But de facto leader Robin is determined to remedy the situation, and be seen as a star instead of a sidekick. If only they could get the hottest Hollywood film director to notice them. With a few madcap ideas and a song in their heart, the Teen Titans head to Tinsel Town, certain to pull off their dream. But when the group is radically misdirected by a seriously super villain and his maniacal plan to take over the Earth, things really go awry. The team finds their friendship and their fighting spirit failing, putting the very fate of the Teen Titans themselves on the line.

Rated PG for action and rude humor

POSITIVES

– Instead of instilling an honorable message, ‘Teen Titans’ uses its limited time (82 Minutes) for satirical laughs of the daring kind, that come at the expense of everyone in the superhero genre. Using a spotlight to highlight the oversaturation of superhero movies that never stop, this film uses cutting edge timing to poke fun at the familiar elements that serve as a virtual checklist through every installment. Even better, it spans out these deliveries, allowing audiences much-needed breather in between to wait for the next one. In doing so, DC can finally indulge in a light-hearted atmosphere that superhero movies should be all about.

– The animation is vibrant in color graphing, and detailed in visual sight gags that you almost have to constantly rewind to fully grasp. Part of my favorite elements of the film involved spotting the names of some of the businesses that are expressed in humorous context in advertisement, as well as the overall feel of immersing yourself in a comic book feel kind of presentation. Between dust flying as a reflection of impact, as well as text being displayed visually in a way that pays homage to those comic book properties, this film carves its own path that is everything different from today’s DC properties, thus the reason for its valid success.

– It was great to see a film where Robin is front-and-center for once, and I’m hoping this will open the door for DC to take more chances with this often ridiculed character. Here, Robin articulates and solidifies his status as a leader to this group who they themselves feel like outcasts shunned by their peers, and perhaps that angle is why Robin takes the wheel and steers us into an adventure where he thrives because of endless heart and determination.

– Best cameo ever in a superhero movie. That’s all I’m going to say.

– Impeccable pacing that feels synthetic in the television structure that this show-turned-film has prospered with. Most of the filler in between comes from no shortage of musical numbers, and that’s fine because it doesn’t hinder or dampen the overwhelming feeling of delight that you get from taking it all in. No film this Summer made me laugh more than ‘Teen Titans’, and very few have flowed as smoothly in entertainment value, so it shouldn’t come as no surprise how easy of a sit this film is to waste time on a hot day, when you just want to feel the cool breeze of the theater air and an immersive cotton candy superhero film alike.

– As for the music that I previously mentioned, this is bar-none one of the best soundtracks that I have heard in recent memory. Beyond the music feeling energetic and full of feel-good passion, the lyrics being sung by the various members of this group leave your tummy tickled, with descriptive emphasis that exerts no shortage of personality or the T.M.I kind of too much information that leaves a character the butt of many jokes. So Often in kids movies, I find myself dreading a musical number, but I found myself waiting impatiently for the next one here, and it’s all because of what it does for the characters, as well as how it relishes the opportunity to get the youths moving in their seats.

– Much respect goes to the production team of this picture for bringing back the credited voice actors of the television show, all the while bringing in several A-list names to bounce off of them. Menville as Robin, and Tara Strong as Raven are definitely my favorites, proving that they haven’t missed a single step in the chemistry of their off-fire deliveries. But the chance to finally hear Nicolas Cage voice Clark Kent was one that was nearly 25 years in the making. For those who don’t know, Cage was supposed to play Superman in an early 90’s adaptation of the character, but it fell through. So to see Cage get the chance once again was something that proved cathartic and even affirming for how much command he had over the immense presence.

NEGATIVES

– One surprising aspect of the film that kind of disappointed me was how little there is for the youth of the audience to hang their hats on. Most of the meta-breaks will of course only benefit older audiences who grew up with these properties, but the other material feels like it has a great dependency on the color scheme of the film in luring the kids in and it’s just not enough. As it stands, no kid in my audience laughed, except during the fart gags that (Thankfully) are few and far between. Attaining two different audiences is incredibly difficult, but a film advertised like this should always get the kids first. Without them, you’ve already lost a majority of your audience.

– Despite the bending and breaking of the fourth wall that prospers repeatedly throughout, the enabling strings of redundancy begin to show at the beginning of the third act. All of the familiar tropes are there; the antagonist who gets one-up on the gang, the gang break-up, the moment of reflection for the protagonist, and of course the third act DC action sequence where they throw anything and everything at the screen. For a film that prides itself on being “The epiphany” for the genre, there’s far too much hypocrisy in where it settles to ever be as impactful as something like ‘The Lego Batman Movie’.

– Pointless short before the film. There’s a three minute short attached to ‘Teen Titans’ that serves no point to the forthcoming story, nor does it ever remotely hit its mark in intended direction. Considering Pixar are attaching these breathtakingly beautiful shorts at the beginning of their movies now, this forgettable, bland Batgirl short should’ve just been left on the cutting room floor. I originally thought this was part of the real movie, and was going to lead into the Titans watching this stupidity in a theater, but it didn’t. It was three awkward minutes of unattached material that starts this film off in a deficit before the actual movie even begins.

7/10

To Hell and Back: The Kane Hodder Story

Directed by Derek Dennis Herbert

Starring – Kane Hodder, Robert Englund, Danielle Harris

The Plot – The film is the harrowing story of a stuntman overcoming a dehumanizing childhood filled with torment and bullying in Sparks, Nevada. After surviving a near-death burn accident, he worked his way up through Hollywood, leading to his ultimate rise as Jason Voorhees in the Friday the 13th series and making countless moviegoers forever terrified of hockey masks and summer camp. Featuring interviews with cinema legends, including Bruce Campbell (Ash vs. Evil Dead), Robert Englund (Freddy Krueger), and Cassandra Peterson (Elvira: Mistress of the Dark), To Hell and Back peels off the mask of Kane Hodder, cinema’s most prolific killer, in a gut-wrenching, but inspiring, documentary. After decades of watching Kane Hodder on screen, get ready to meet the man behind the mask in To Hell and Back; a uniquely human story about one of cinema’s most vicious monsters.

The film is currently not rated

POSITIVES

– Most of the time, a backstory in documentaries serve as nothing more than exposition to tell the whole story, but with the first act of Kane’s life, we get a mold for who he eventually became. All of the bullying, the tolerance to pain, and really the overall entertainment that he gave his friends served as stepping stones to becoming the horror icon that he eventually became.

– Kane’s increasing passion for the characters he takes on is evident in multiple aspects of the film. For most actors, particularly stunt men, a role is just a paycheck until the next one, but for Hodder this embodiment is not only on a physical level, but also a mental one, as Kane himself approached the roles from a psychological level, giving Jason Voorhees some of his most menacing of qualities.

– Imaginative backdrop set pieces. Considering the entirety of this film is told in actor interviews, it’s nice to see that the production spent every creative effort in visually enhancing the rooms around the storytellers, with images straight out of a horror film. For Hodder in particular, we’re treated to what looks like a smashed kitchen, complete with broken chairs and turned over coffee cups, giving the picture that on-set kind of feel each time we cut to Kane.

– While Kane cherishes the fact that he never broke a bone in his decades of work, we still get a very detailed and revealing embodiment of just how dangerous this job truly is with these horror stories that are much worse than anything on-screen. In one of his first films alone, Kane describes being engulfed in flames to such vivid detail, all the while none of the actors and crew around him know just how badly he’s suffering because he does it so frequently. Herbert’s film has no problem glorifying the trade, but does so in a way that never relinquishes the responsibility in relaying the dangerous price that comes with the big lights of the Hollywood luster.

– As a storyteller, Kane’s finest moments seem to come when he tears up re-living some of his most torturous moments, both on and off screen. It offers a satisfyingly revealing side to Hodder that many of his biggest admirers have never been granted. In that regard alone, ‘To Hell and Back’ is the kind of valued documentary that provides emphasis in vulnerability that these often thought of invincible presences never receive.

– Important shooting locations. There is no shortage of on-site locations in landscape and hollowed hallways to some of Kane’s greatest tragedies and triumphs, and this rare gift decades later offers plenty on the way to spiritual reflection. Not only is this valuable to the story for visual representation, but it serves as a cathartic moment for Hodder himself, who comes full circle with the places and faces that have shaped him and his never-die spirit.

– A testament to Kane’s undying reputation, comes in the form of a who’s who list of horror genre celebrities who are interviewed for the film. As we all know, honesty in your work is judged upon by your peers, and the guest list on this picture might be the single greatest assembly of my own childhood heroes that any film has ever seen. Aside from Englund and Harris, Bruce Campbell, Bill Mosely, Sid Haig, Felissa Rose, and Cassandra Peterson are just a few of the names who have interacted with Kane, and if you forget any of their names, fear not, because the film goes overboard on repeating their visual name tags more than a few times.

NEGATIVES

– Studio stock musical score. No disrespect to composer Jonas Friedman, but the musical tones in ‘To Hell and Back’ strongly lack any kind of versatility or originality to the scenes they accompany, and constantly feel like they intrude upon an emotional rendering that a scene has going for itself.

– For a majority of the second act, the film starts to feel tedious in production team members naming their favorite moments, instead of resting the focus on the title protagonist. People will argue that it does this because Kane is a big part of these films, but I feel like the redundancy sometimes takes far too long to get to its intended finish line, and I would’ve preferred more time donated to Kane off of the screen.

– Much of the production value screams A&E Television style. Aside from the repeat in name tags that I mentioned earlier, that feel like they’re constantly coming back from commercial break, the camera movements and lack of inspirational interview angles diminish the value of creativity that stems from a majority of this project. This greatly leaves the film feeling burdened from transitioning into that big screen presence that so many documentaries this year have already attained.

7/10

RBG

Directed by Julie Cohen, Betsy West

Starring – Ruth Bader Ginsburg, Bill Clinton, Sharon Frontiero

The Plot – At the age of 84, U.S. Supreme Court Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg has developed a breathtaking legal legacy while becoming an unexpected pop culture icon. But without a definitive Ginsburg biography, the unique personal journey of this diminutive, quiet warrior’s rise to the nation’s highest court has been largely unknown, even to some of her biggest fans…until now.

Rated PG for some thematic elements and adult language

POSITIVES

– Unique character framing. While it’s certainly no surprise for a documentary’s title figure to receive the royal treatment, Ginsburg’s superhero-like appeal is captured in the most unlikely of situations; with T-shirts and websites comparing her to figures like Notorious B.I.G. What I love about this is that it puts the world’s celebrity focus where it deserves to be; firmly with the support of those patriarchs who paved the way in crafting the world we live in today.

– Despite a brief runtime of 92 minutes, ‘RBG’ manages to envelope Ruth’s entire story, most notably her time on the Supreme Court bench, as well as her relationships at home. The latter was certainly more fascinating to me, as it’s in those interviews with her children, as well as soundbites from her deceased husband, that carve out a woman who truly did have and do it all. She never sacrificed her career to be a Mother or vice versa, and her up at dawn routine is firmly documented throughout.

– Because so many classic Supreme Court battles didn’t have the benefit of being filmed, we are treated to soundbites inside of the hearings as our depictions during the narrative. However, Cohen and West visually treat us to vital quotes that appear in eye-popping detail with a courtroom backdrop, to put us in the heat of the moment, without ever missing a step in dramatic pulse. This more than anything cements Ruth’s on-going legacy as a presence who never just rested on getting a seat at the table.

– Part of what makes Ruth such a lovable protagonist is her unabashed humility and selfless presence that is captured wonderfully in the up-close-and-personal style of shooting throughout this picture. Even at the age of 84, she can still command a room with her soft deliveries and stern-but-sweet personality that feels like the sweet grandmother we all deserved growing up. In the film, Ruth says she never yelled or intimidated when she spoke, because she believed that is the moment when a listener will tune out, and she couldn’t be more accurate, as my attention never withered or strained from hearing about her lasting legacy.

– My favorite aspect of the film that I think many people will indulge in, is her fifty-plus year marriage to her husband Martin. If there was ever a story for perfect couplings, Ruth and Martin take the cake. Throughout the picture, we learn that Martin was not only her biggest supporter during a time when the male majority was anything but, he was also her balancing act in making up in humor what she lacked. All of this is further elaborated on when you see the glow that Ruth preserves each time she looks at or speaks about him. There’s is a love too authentic for the silver screen.

– Revealing, insightful details. Even if you are the biggest of Ginsburg fans, ‘RBG’ will fill you with enough biographical, researched knowledge to make your head spin. Without spoiling a lot, some of the aspects of her time at Harvard Law greatly surprised me and enlightened me to the conditions that women were dealing with in seeking mutual employment. Interesting enough, this aspect of history repeats itself later on, when the focus turns to a group of females who seek entry into the Virginia Military Academy. You know what they say about learning from history.

– Now more than ever, a film like ‘RBG’ has such distinct value in those who seek the change that they wish to see in their own worlds. Inspiration is one thing, but this film teaches us that Ruth wasn’t alone in laying the bricks of activism, and if we’re going to see results of change, you won’t get a reaction without the action needed to push forward. Because of this, the film establishes that sense of being the perfect film at the perfect time for the #MeToo movement, proving that even though women have come so far, they still have a great distance to travel.

– In her inspiration of many young women, as the film so dutifully shows, the lasting impression of Ginsburg will never go one day again without being felt. This will undoubtedly give the film great replay value in terms of aging, that most films can’t pay for. Documentaries to me are usually a one-and-done kind of sit, but I see ‘RBG’ as being the cliff note for many future battles that our civilization will endure, going forward.

NEGATIVES

– While I can credit West and Cohen for their successful rendering of the topic subject, I cannot award them style points for anything groundbreaking or original in their visual presentation. Documentaries anymore provide a flare to compliment the hard-hitting details that virtually fly off of the page at you, and in this regard the movie was very plain and derivative for me, of everything else in the genre that came before it.

– My biggest fear coming into the film did come true, as the movie does divide our political cultures, instead of being the catalyst to unite them. It isn’t quite left-side propaganda, but it isn’t far off either, as much of the third act material takes valuable time to fling mud at any right-winger who has come in Ruth’s path of destruction. Being an independent voter myself, I am able to flesh out these instances of promoting, and to me it felt so very different from the woman Ruth evidently is. She’s never someone who uses a negative to reduce someone, but sadly the film is never as admirable with its clear-cut intention.

8/10

Mamma Mia: Here We Go Again

Directed by Ol Parker

Starring – Lily James, Amanda Seyfried, Meryl Streep

The Plot – Discover Donna’s (Streep, James) young life, experiencing the fun she had with the three possible dads of Sophie (Seyfriend). Sophie is now pregnant. Like Donna, she’ll be a young mother, and she realizes that she’ll need to take risks like her mother did.

Rated PG-13 for some suggestive material

POSITIVES

– The infectious atmosphere is as present as ever, without settling for some of the hokiness of musical acting that plagued the first movie. It’s rare to feel entirely different about two films as identically structured as the two in this series, but ‘Here We Go Again’ manages this feat, combining whimsical song and dance choreography, while playing each individual number to expositional context. Very little feels phony about the way it is delivered, and I appreciate that when immersing myself in the musical genre. It’s high energy without feeling hyperactive, conjuring up an air of musty charm that even males can partake in.

– Fans of the original cast will take great praise in knowing that all of them return here, although some with more screen time than others. The chemistry between Firth, Brosnan, and Skarsgaard is still the sweetest treat within the film, but the on-time comedic delivery of Baranski is as polished as ever. Beyond this, the new additions who represent younger versions of the characters are completely spot-on in appearance and demeanor, to make the transition as seamless as possible. I was convinced that Baranski’s younger self was a real life sibling who was separated from her at birth.

– As for musical selections, there are a few tracks that are derived from the original film, but repackaged in a way that breathes new life into their familiar chords. ‘Dancing Queen’ and ‘Mamma Mia’ are obviously the familiar ones, but here they are performed by someone entirely different, and cater more towards the inspirational peaks of the subplots they enhance. With performances, thankfully nothing is as dreadful as the off-chord work of Streep and Brosnan in the original, instead opting for versatile actors like James and Seyrfied, who remarkably do all of their own singing.

– Richly vibrant costume and set pieces. Familiar pieces of time and place are carefully inserted into the backdrops of each room that the dual stories take place in, hinting with the air of subtlety as to what track might be coming. ‘Waterloo’ for instance, breathes French renaissance in costume design and restaurant decor, transporting us back to the 19th century battle that the Abba song describes. Beyond this, the flashback narrative fashions reflect that of 70’s Swedish tastes, combing through a colorful blend of button-ups and chalets that give way to the relaxed paradise that is captured in location.

– In my opinion, this film has much more reach for the dramatic pull than the original movie did, comparing the lives of Mother and Daughter so fluently with similar movements in time. Despite the delightful atmosphere that nearly fills the entirety of the film, there is a strong sense of longing with the noticed absence of one important character, who most of the film revolves around. This makes ‘Here We Go Again’ more of a generational affair than anything, and the tasteful, feel-good PG-13 escapism makes this angle reach well beyond the screen, for Mothers and Daughters to enjoy alike.

– This film does do a solid job of tying up some loose ends from the first movie that left audiences hanging, regardless of how you felt about it. The delve into Donna’s past paints the vivid picture in details that the first film only spoke about, allowing itself to experience the careless, free-spirited adventure of the main character and her diversity of interaction between each of the three men who eventually played pivotal roles in her future (No jokes here). This gives the original film the kind of replay value that it would never have over the previous decade, and forces you to approach Donna’s character in a much different way than you would’ve originally.

NEGATIVES

– This film grinds to a screeching halt somewhere in the middle of the second act, and I believe I have figured out the reasons. The overall minimalist approach of developing plot between an overabundance (17) of songs, as well as the meandering material with an overall lack of conflict, leaves the material being approached at a topical level, instead of an immersive one that can properly develop with time being devoted to it. For my money, I would trim this down to 12 songs, and not transition between old and current story as much, because the 70-30 favoritism for the past makes the present feel not as valued. If you wanted a prequel film, just make this a prequel film for 109 minutes.

– Terrible green-screen effects work. For every scene that takes place outside by the water, I couldn’t stop staring at this glaring red flag that made itself present in the cheapest of renderings. If the outline around the character’s bodies doesn’t feel extremely evident, the off-coloring darkness of the sky when a storm is approaching will. We see dark clouds in the distance, but lots of sunshine when it reflects off of a character’s face, and it made for plenty of unintentional laughs when the narrative so badly required focus.

– There is a HUGE deception in the marketing of this film, particularly with that of one vital character who is only in the movie for two scenes. I say deception because the film’s trailers play it off like this character never missed a beat in this second installment, and the posters have this person amongst the top bill, when they should clearly be reduced to the ‘AND’ role that ends every cast text introduction. If you’re seeing this film for this character, the opening five minutes should make you as angry as finding out your favorite relative passed away and no one cared to tell you.

– It’s great to see Cher, but between my disdain for her character’s personality, as well as how late in the film she comes into it, her role feels like the very definition of tacked-on, and frankly I don’t think she was needed. There are certainly enough characters to keep the interest in the material, but for some reason Cher (Who basically plays Cher) is called upon to add something more to this film. Considering Streep as the daughter looks to be somewhere between 55-60 in the movie, how old would that make Cher when she had her?

6/10

Three Identical Strangers

Directed by Tim Wardle

Starring – Silvi Alzetta-Reali, Eddy Galland, Ron Guttman

The Plot – New York, 1980: three complete strangers accidentally discover that they are identical triplets, separated at birth. The 19-year-olds’ joyous reunion catapults them to international fame, but it also unlocks an extraordinary and disturbing secret that goes beyond their own lives, and could transform our understanding of human nature forever.

Rated PG-13 for some mature thematic material

POSITIVES

– Masterful storytelling in the form of the brothers, as well as the dozens of family members, doctors, and authors who played a pivotal role in this one-of-a-kind story. Eddy in particular, has such a unique tone of voice and passion when he describes someone he loves or a particular event in how it went down, and that kind of energy being tapped into played wonders in keeping me engaged in them throughout the picture.

– Articulate dramatizations that play hand-in-hand with the storytelling being told audibly. Most biopic documentaries use this feature, but use it in a way that is corny or comical in presentation to the way that takes away the focus on the details. But in ‘Three Identical Strangers’, this aspect in visual storytelling captures the essence involved with the atmosphere that feels honest to the imagining.

– A surprisingly big budget feel in musical favorites. Even if music isn’t the prime focus in a story like this one, the inclusion of tracks like disco and southern rock that were all the rave at the time of this discovery, do wonders in immersing us into the right time and place for this setting. Beyond just the triplets, this is a story about pop culture in the 80’s, a time when people started understanding that you don’t have to be in the movies to be considered a celebrity.

– There’s a rich combination of humor and dramatic material in the film never stumbles or cuts short the power of the other. For as much as I was authentically laughing during the first act of the movie, the evolution of maturity in material during the second and third acts when the relationship of the brothers becomes tested, felt very compelling in the sense of heartbreak for my immense interest in this uncovering of the truth that the trailer promised us endlessly.

– Speaking of that mystery, the less you know about these brothers and their circumstance, the better. I myself knew absolutely nothing about these triplets, other than what I was told in the trailer, and even that might be too much. In my opinion, go into this film completely blindfolded, because only then will the impact of helplessness cast upon these three gentlemen reach its boiling summit, and you’ll be moved to the point of being an information seeker because of it. Sometimes 91 minutes of a film just isn’t enough, and you’ll find yourself searching for what has happened since the cameras got turned off.

– With spoiling as little as I possibly can, the material focuses on the age old debate of nature versus nurture, and while the final verdict doesn’t feel anymore conclusive because of this shining chapter, the many ups and downs of uncovering this dark past certainly provide plenty of ammunition for both sides. Throughout the movie, I was debating with myself, occasionally changing sides with the more I knew about what these brothers had been through, pointing to that aspect of genetics that lies somewhere in the middle. Engaged and enraged, this film played chess with my opinions, and even still I’m as confused as ever.

– BAFTA nominated filmmaker Waddle does a superb job at piecing together the facts and the vast collection of TV appearances and newspaper articles of this story, while leaving his finger firmly on the pulse of human psychology. Selflessly, Waddle never allows himself to be much of a presence on-screen, albeit in just brief question deliveries that he has for his guests, but instead spends his time preserving the thriller aspect of the real life story that sometimes feels too compelling to be a true story, proving that drama plays for stronger stakes in the world far beyond the silver screen.

– Something interesting happens with the dialogue throughout the film that required you to constantly pay great attention. The only thing I could compare it to are the Saw movies, when a line of dialogue is re-inserted during the closing moments of the film to add new meaning to the clues it gave early on. That same thing happens many times in ‘Three Identical Strangers’, and does so without ever spoiling what’s to come, because most phrases in human conversation have double meanings when played out of context. Truly provocative in how it forces you to hang on to every word.

– Doesn’t waste time in getting to the meat of the story. What you do learn from reading the synopsis above, happens in the first twenty minutes of the documentary, leaving that inevitability that something bigger and darker lies just underneath the surface of human interest pieces. What evolves, does so without taking away from the luster of the enchanted tale, all the while harvesting this level of regret in somber details that only gains our interest so much more.

NEGATIVES

– In the heated debate throughout the film of nature versus nurture, there is one disappointing aspect, most notably in the time devoted to the lives of these kids and their adopting families. Everything is summarized briefly, but I feel like this particular angle needs more attention paid to it, especially during the third act, when we start to see the laces of theories and narrative thesis being tied together. Some more family experience or elaboration could’ve done wonders in making this a perfect film, but as it stands it is the only aspect of the movie I was disappointed with.

9/10

Unfriended: Dark Web

Directed by Stephen Susco

Starring – Colin Woodell, Betty Gabriel, Chelsea Alden

The Plot – Tells the story about a teen who comes into possession of a new laptop and finds that it may have been stolen. He discovers the previous owner may be watching every move he makes and will do anything to get it back.

Rated R for some disturbing violence, adult language and sexual references

POSITIVES

– Even if it’s unintentional, this film has no shortage of laughs for people who get their kicks off of terrible horror movies. It’s all thanks to a combination of poor amateur acting that is void of any human emotion, and pee brain stupidity in decision making that will have you slapping your head in embarassment.

– There is at least some production value for this sequel, as opposed to the original movie that ultimately forgot it was a feature film. I understand that authenticity is what we’re going for in a movie about adults communicating VIA Skype, but I would rather the production grant me the kind of audio enhancements and clarity of on-screen texting that this sequel granted me.

NEGATIVES

– This film’s antagonist makes the demon from the original movie seem logical by comparison. There are so many instances that I could point to, but some of my favorites include being able to wipe away texts that have already been sent, being able to hack an I.V machine, and having this pixelated cloud follow them whenever they move in and out of frame. At this point, I wait for the third film to feature flying unicorns and pixie dust that help grow razorblade butterflies. The first movie had a vilain who you could at least empathize with, for the way she was bullied to suicide, but the villain in this film lacks any kind of drive to make them remotely as compelling.

– The editing in this movie is so bad, it feels like two movies being pasted together. During the Skype video calls, characters are muted on and off throughout. But if you’re paying close attention, you can see the continuity in their movements to not match where they were in frame a second prior. It’s like the producers didn’t care enough to try and replicate a long-running phone call, instead using these harsh cuts in between takes, and never easing them between transitions.

– Most of the first hour of this movie flies by like the wind, and while that would normally be a positive, it does little favors in establishing just how far we’ve come in this film. Nobody dies in the film until there’s 25 minutes left, and even worse than that, the death scenes are done in such a way that lacks clarity and impact for our satisfaction. Watching characters you hate get killed off is a national past time, and ‘Unfriended: Dark Web’ has taken even that little bit of fun from our plates and replaced it with Simpsons style gruel.

– How dumb are these characters? Well, the movie should’ve ended at around the 15 minute mark, when the main character was supposed to give this stolen laptop back. Why didn’t he? It’s never explained. One second he’s on his way out to meet this mysterious figure and give it back to him, and the next he’s back at the computer screen like nothing ever happened. The price of resolution is seriously that easy.

– Speaking of characters, there really aren’t any. Sure, there’s a cast, but actual characters? Not really. It’s like the screenwriter told them the stereotype of the characters that they are supposed to be playing, and let them improvise from there. Many rub together because of how little exposition is derived from them, and none of them are remotely interesting in the minimalist of ways. At least in the first film, there was that tension in hidden secrets that each member of the group kept from each other, but none of that here to give us something to look forward to.

– Wi-fi horror cliches. Even if the film’s frames come in the form of on-screen computer surfing, that doesn’t mean the producers wouldn’t work in tired jump scares to feed the frenzy of dumb teenagers who don’t understand what makes a good scare. Audio enhancements in terms of pounding sounds when the entity texts them, as well as frames dropping per second, just so a person can pop up next to someone on camera, are just some of the examples that this film sticks to an overdone format, instead of creating anything of originality for itself.

– Bigger message missing. As to where the original movie spoke volumes to our dependency upon social networking, ‘Dark Web’ has nothing in the way of underlying social issues to punch back a poignant approach to its cinema and drive such a meaning home for audiences alike. Instead, this feels from bell-to-bell like just another horror movie, and one whose only connection to the previous film is that of a laptop and a group of friends. That’s it.

– Frustration in repetition. The main guy in this film is dating a woman who is deaf. Along the way, he creates a program that allows her to read his sign language. Midway through the film, this program glitches up, so she has no communication from him. None that is except the Facebook messenger that he has been using all night. He stops typing her in this way for absolutely no reason what so ever, instead I guess so the film can draw out those long scenes of tension when he is trying to alert her to what’s coming. If you’re in person with her, that’s one thing, but if you’re online, she can read texts just like anyone else, so why even waste your time with this program that takes even longer to communicate?

2/10

The Equalizer 2

Directed by Antoine Fuqua

Starring – Denzel Washington, Pedro Pascal, Bill Pullman

The Plot – Robert McCall (Washington) serves an unflinching justice for the exploited and oppressed, but how far will he go when that is someone he loves?

Rated R for brutal violence throughout, adult language, and some drug content

POSITIVES

– If there is one aspect that this film does far superior than that of the original installment, it’s in the presence of its valuable R-rating that it uses so viciously. The fight sequences are quick with movements, but more importantly they never look away from the slice-and-dice damage that McCall delivers with such ferocity, giving us the kind of entertainment in violence that has felt watered down in the genre as of late.

– Improved character development. Not only does this film shed more light on Robert and his distant past, it also brings along the supporting cast in a way that their importance shines on the on-going narration. Melissa Leo’s character from the original movie, particularly is focused upon more, even if she suffers from the same minimal amount of time that the last movie gave her. The friendship between her and Washington on-screen certainly is evident, and gives the audience the perfect reason to get invested once that bond becomes tested. This gives the sequel a more personal approach than the original movie, that on a surface level was just McCall rescuing these tortured strangers.

– There are two interesting subplots fighting for time in the film, and while one initially feels less important because of its jumbled time investment when compared to the other, they both collide during the pivotal third act to reveal a dual value to the direction that is much needed. One of these involves the more homely side to Robert that we haven’t gotten to see up to this point, carving out a side as a guardian that he never got the chance to feel because of his wife’s untimely death. Could the pacing of the storytelling been done more fluidly between scene transitions? ABSOLUTELY. But once you see the disheveled pieces formed together, you start to appreciate the depth that this script entails.

– Washington continues to bring it as a godfather of action, instilling enough confidence and even animation to the character this time around that gives him unforeseen personality. Even at the age of 63, Denzel’s believability as a purveyor or justice works because of the poise and delivery that he commands over our attention, and ‘The Equalizer 2’ proves that the combination of he and Fuqua is as hard-hitting of a tag team as there is in Hollywood today. They both understand the character immensely, and play off the swagger of this skilled soldier without it feeling arrogant or brash for the camera.

– Very little lag time in between the two hour thrill ride. Part of my surprise with this film came when I checked my watch and discovered that I only had twenty minutes left in the movie, and I contribute that fluidity in pacing to the juggling act between those dual narratives that I mentioned earlier. Because of such, this film doesn’t stop reaching for the attention of us the audience, dazzling us with precise fight choreography storytelling unveils that are never few and far between.

– Cinematographer Oliver Wood’s impeccable movements behind the lens. Besides beautiful framing of scenes involving multiple characters in conversation, Wood’s greatest detail involves the panning motions that he instills upon swerving chase sequences, as well as moments of self-reflection for McCall’s cerebral qualities when cracking mysteries. Wood is certainly no stranger to action photography, most notably with brilliant work in ‘Jack Reacher’ and ‘The Bourne Movies’ that have carved out a presence behind the camera that speaks volumes to the atmosphere without ever settling for the gimmick of shaking camera effects.

NEGATIVES

– Most of my commentary for Fuqua as a director has been flawless to this point, so it greatly surprises me that his hand in this film feels shaky at best. Many details in the film make it feel like a different director is sitting in the chair, most notably the reversible aging process of Washington’s McCall, who not sports a full head of hair, to make him look twenty years younger. Beyond that, the lack of detail in character’s clothes and hair being dry through a hurricane sequence feels lazy for someone of his credibility.

– The subtlety and nuance of this film gets thrown out the window during the third act, when this big budget, poorly C.G infused hurricane sequence takes over. Not only does this feel terribly cliched when compared to the rest of this series, but it also marks some of the dumbest moves by antagonists that I’ve ever seen. I guess I can overlook a certain character giving away his position in a tower by shooting non-stop, but I absolutely cannot look past the stupidity of a character blowing himself up with a grenade in a room of running fans and dripping salt. My laughter during this scene stood out like a fart in a library, and completely took me out of feeling any kind of urgency or danger for McCall’s stacking odds.

– Speaking of antagonists, the film tries to play the head of this group off as a mystery figure, despite the fact that those of us who have paid attention have figured it out a half hour prior. Blame it on poor casting for a man who has a devious face, or blame it again on poor character direction by Fuqua, but either way the shifty eyes of a particular character made this reveal insanely obvious and gravely impatient when waiting for the movie to eventually catch up.

– Endless time filler that goes nowhere. There’s a ten minute introduction scene that feels tacked on to anything else that happens in the rest of the movie, an aging-quickly subplot involving an old man and an art portrait that dulls us fast, and a career of Lyft driving by McCall that doubles as his bat signal basically. My point is that even with the dual narrative that worked for me, there is still far too much dead weight on this film that could easily be trimmed to fit 100 minutes. As I mentioned earlier, the pacing never suffers, but it feels like details to a story that add up to little or nothing, then return me back to our regularly scheduled program.

6/10

Leave No Trace

Directed by Debra Granik

Starring – Ben Foster, Thomasin McKenzie, Jeffrey Rifflard

The Plot – Will (Foster) and his teenage daughter, Tom (McKenzie), have lived off the grid for years in the forests of Portland, Oregon. When their idyllic life is shattered, both are put into social services. After clashing with their new surroundings, Will and Tom set off on a harrowing journey back to their wild homeland.

Rated PG for thematic material throughout

POSITIVES

– This is a beautifully shot film, documenting the Oregon countryside with such an evocative colorful palate of vivacious strokes. The natural lighting is a meaningful choice for authenticity, but it’s in the yellow sunlight bleeding through the green of the trees that gives the backgrounds that stained glass effect that only comes naturally when you’re shooting a majority of your film outside.

– As for the work of Foster and McKenzie, they are asked to be in 100% of the scenes, and that dependency really drives home the work of these two polished actors carrying the movie. These performances never include those long-winded diatribes that feed into Academy recognition, but rather they are praised for feel synthetic to the human approach. Most of their charm is that they don’t ever feel like characters, but rather real people, and both respective actors bounce off of each other with the father/daughter honesty that radiates the chemistry between them.

– What I love about the exposition is that it never feels forced or convenient to the unfolding knowledge that we are learning about Will, in particular. This requires audiences to hang on to literally every single conversation between the two characters, if they wish to learn more about them. Even then, the film leaves plenty to abstraction, choosing not to follow these bombshell droppings within the three act structure like we’re used to. Granik is wise enough to not have to force-feed the audience these vivid details, instead spreading out these details of truth that speak volumes to her trust in us to adapt.

– Poignancy in parenting. One great debate frequently revolved around in this film is the spotty definition of the terms “Provider” and “Providing”. Through the ventures that feature many ups and downs between these two characters, we as audience are left with plenty of instances for an enlightening conversation, with no side ever being clearly defined for being wrong. Will believes he is right because it’s worked this way for so long between them, and the Children’s Services believe they are right because they act within the best interests of the child. The best part is that no matter where your allegiance lies on this issue, Granik as a screenwriter throws many wrenches along the way that are sure to keep you updating your stance from one side to the next.

– Deep beneath this family drama that engulfs the entirety of this film, is a maturing coming-of-age narrative that develops terrifically during the third act. These developments certainly speak wonders to the fragility of adolescence, and just how tragically some kids are forced to grow up far too quickly. I took great empathy towards this aspect, because it is in those aspects that we can’t control that feel the most damning to those they sneak up on, and it all leads to a bittersweet finale that reflects the miles that these two have traveled.

– Like Granik’s earlier work in ‘Winter’s Bone’, I find it quite indulging how the environments in her films present themselves as an integral member of the cast, allowing her to play with volumes for such an immersive experience. What this does is allow us to soak up the atmospheres whole not only in sight, but in sound. There’s excellent capturing of forest sounds like birds and branches rubbing up against one another that you could almost close your eyes and imagine yourself right there with the protagonists.

– The comparisons with 2016’s ‘Captain Fantastic’ are inevitable, and while I think this is the weaker of the two films by comparison, ‘Leave No Trace’ is more appealing on a personal measurement of character study that the former just can’t get close enough to. Because this movie only has two central characters, we are able to focus more prominently on the dynamic that eventually shapes the emotions that each are feeling. This kind of story I feel works better with less characters for the danger and isolation that we feel for them, making their situation feel more bleak upon dissection.

– Likewise to Granik’s admirable patience within her current masterpiece, the musical score from Dickon Hinchliffe also has great restrain in its presence throughout. The musical inclusion is certainly there, most notably when a scene requires self-reflection, but it does so in a way that never intrudes or soils the somber deliveries or required focus that remains faithful to your investment in the characters. Hinchliffe instead serves as more of an underlying current of steady keys that never needs to push the volume to eleven to maximize a scene.

NEGATIVES

– It pains me to say that even though this film succeeds on its own merits, it’s a difficult recommendation because of plodding pacing that eventually catches up. Much of this fault is due to redundancy in the material that shortcuts any kind of tension that this film so desperately requires, but the overall lack of a central antagonist certainly shouldn’t be understated. Without that continuous presence hot on the heels of this duo, the film gives up on an early included subplot that just kind of dissolves without resolve.

– While I mentioned earlier that this film can contribute more of its time to two characters, as opposed to a big cast, the film kind of squanders the psychological presence of the movie by never delving into Will’s head in the way we need for context. I was never lost or confused by the brief details delivered in the film, but I wouldn’t have been opposed to some flashback sequences involving the Mother in this family, no matter how forced or cliche that may sound. To me, I couldn’t escape this feeling of a bombshell delivery coming throughout the movie, but it never comes, and we are left to put together Will’s pieces without ever having a look at the box for the bigger picture.

8/10

Hotel Transylvania 3: Summer Vacation

Directed by Genndy Tatakovsky

Starring – Adam Sandler, Selena Gomez, Mel Brooks

The Plot – Mavis (Gomez) surprises Dracula (Sandler) with a family voyage on a luxury Monster Cruise Ship so he can take a vacation from providing everyone else’s vacation at the hotel. The rest of Drac’s Pack cannot resist going along. But once they leave port, romance arises when Dracula meets the mysterious ship Captain, Ericka (Kathryn Hahn). Now it’s Mavis’ turn to play the overprotective parent, keeping her dad and Ericka apart. Little do they know that his “too good to be true” love interest is actually a descendant of Abraham Van Helsing, ancient nemesis to Dracula and all other monsters.

Rated PG for some action and rude humor

POSITIVES

– Sandler’s career has found a bit of a resurgence in vocalizing animated characters. After three straight films that have made me laugh more than the last ten of Sandler’s live action movies combined, I think Adam should stick with voicing Drac and other animated properties for the foreseeable future. Sandler works in this environment because his vocalizing has always catered to adolescent material, bringing with it a tone in reactionary humor that was made for animated film. On top of it, he gets to stick to formula and bring with him his growing number of friends, to make sure each of them always has a paying gig. Quite the samaritan.

– Tatakovsky’s style of animation that is unlike anything by comparison in the animated world of cinema. The eye-popping colorful stroke, combined with facial defining traits are something that clearly makes this franchise standout, and pushes the boundaries of its comedy even further by some effective sight gags that consistently keeps the humor in check.

– Speaking of sight gags, they easily carried the humor over the dialogue that rarely ever hit for me. For my money, I would’ve been fine with ‘Hotel Transylvania 3’ being a silent animated film that captured all of the cause and effects of monsters being aboard a cruise ship, and how their dispositions fed into that setting’s entertainment traditions. Particularly, my favorite scene of the entire film is an airline run by some familiar 80’s cinema monsters, that adopt their own brand of customer hospitality that will have you shrieking with laughter.

– Being a fan myself of the world’s biggest mysteries, I love that the setting of this film takes place in the Bermuda Triangle, on Friday the 13th. The date in particular is interesting, because that is of course the release date for this film, and kudos to the studio for breaking the fourth wall in those regards. The setting perhaps does or does not elaborate on the urban myth to why so many have disappeared in its clutches…..or should I say tentacles (Wink Wink)

– On the front of messages for the film, at least there are two out of three that youths can take away from positively. These are the importance of family, as well as never judging those who are different on just appearances alone. I think if these messages stick, those younger audience members will be alright. If the third and more consequential message sticks, in which we should pursue endlessly the objects of our affections, then I have great terror for the world in the coming decades.

NEGATIVES

– As par for the course of Sandler films, this one has no shortage of classic rock favorites, or even the best of modern day top 40 to accommodate its repetitive dance sequences. My problem with this is the music included feels so commercialized, adding very little value or importance to the scene based on creativity. It feels like a lazy excuse to sell downloads, and never really fits in this particular world, no matter how goofy Drac and friends are portrayed.

– It’s interesting to me that this film takes place over the course of a few days, and yet we never see any daytime scenes. One could say that’s obviously because Drac sleeps during the day, but there are also no scenes involving Drac going to sleep or resting of any kind. Because of how the film is edited and paced together, it feels like one continuous trip into a world where the sun never rises, and the characters, both monster and human, never sleep.

– By the third installment of this franchise, there are simply far too many characters at this point with nothing to do. It’s certainly an easy paycheck for those talented voice actors, but their inclusion adds so little to the film in a creative sense, and I would’ve liked to have seen some of them stay behind at the hotel to run things while a few go on-board. Wait a minute, who the hell is running the hotel while everyone is gone???

– The biggest negative to the story comes in the lack of attention donated to the unfolding narrative to the Drac and Ericka, before the pivotal third act. Considering this is a light, breezy 87 minute sit, there is no shortage to throwaway one-off gags that add nothing of weight or growth to what should be front-and-center in our focus. This film has A.D.D of the worst kind, leaving about fifteen minutes of actual development for the film’s central plot to feast on. Perhaps that’s why I’m left with this overwhelming sense of carelessness for where the film ends up.

– As for that finale, what develops between protagonist and antagonist is ridiculous even for a children’s cartoon. Not since the movie ‘Couples Retreat’ has a conflict been resolved in such juvenile and far-fetched way that has more holes in its plan than a piece of swiss cheese. What’s even worse is that even after sitting through ten minutes of ridiculousness that I couldn’t script if I was high on LSD, we come to discover that it all really doesn’t matter in the bigger picture. We end up some place where consequence and resolve doesn’t exist, instead opting to set up for a fourth movie that I hope returns this franchise to prominence.

5/10