Kings

Directed by Deniz Gamze Erguven

Starring – Halle Berry, Daniel Craig, Lamar Johnson

The Plot – The movie stars Oscar winner Halle Berry and Daniel Craig as citizens of the same South Central Los Angeles neighborhood set against a backdrop of rising racial tensions during the verdict of the Rodney King trial in 1992. In her first English-language film following the critically acclaimed Mustang, writer-director Deniz Gamze Ergüven’s film tells a dramatic story of family bonds and the lengths one mother will go to bring her children home. Halle Berry stars as MILLIE, a tough and protective single foster mother of eight who must ally herself with OBIE (Daniel Craig), her neighbor and a local loose cannon, when racial tensions start to run dangerously high. As the civil unrest in Los Angeles grows following the acquittal of four of the officers accused of beating Rodney King, Millie and Obie must navigate the chaos that surrounds them in order to ensure her children’s safety. KINGS focuses on the fragility of family relationships and touches on turmoil and tensions of the past, which sadly prove to be more relevant than ever in today’s social and political climate.

Rated R for violence, sexual content/nudity, and adult language throughout)

POSITIVES

– While my faith with Erguven as a storyteller took a severe beating, my feeling on her as a visionary only prospered as the film went on. Filling the atmosphere with unlimited smoke to convey the uncertainty of the unveiling situation, Deniz captures the L.A riots ruthlessly, and does so with such rattling intensity that depicts the danger.

– Enticing camera angles. Much of the movements in running sequences or car chases are noteworthy enough, breathing much needed energy into the film where the narrative often spins out of control, but it’s more so in the character profiling angles where I was most impressed. In shooting this mostly kid-majority cast, cinematographer David Chizallet chooses to get up close and document their reactions to seeing the world burn around them. It’s in this influence where you understand the gears of debauchery spinning in their brains.

– There isn’t much to brag about when it comes to performances, but Lamar Johnson as Jesse was easily the shining example for me. While the two big name leads are asleep at the wheel, Johnson’s impeccable guidance and guardianship present the film with its lone HUMAN character. I use that word because Jesse feels like the careful link between normalcy and rioting that becomes blurred with each passing scene, and the film takes great value in depending on Johnson to document the wheels coming off.

NEGATIVES

– How can a film about the L.A Riots feel so inconsequential? I use that word because it’s unclear about midway through where this film is headed, as well as how it plans on reaching its message despite the fact that such little time has been invested in it. The screenplay is every bit as disjointed as it is floundering, and there’s no better example of this than the ending that slowly drifts away.

– I don’t get to talk about the negatives of quick pacing often, but ‘Kings’ is the highlighted example of such rarity. The editing intrudes far too quicky for far too often, there is little momentum built from scene-to-scene, and sequences happen that don’t add any kind of urgency to the film. This is why I mentioned disjointed earlier, because some of these scenes feel so out of place to the continuity of the film, as there were many points when I couldn’t understand the vast character changes taking place.

– My opinion is that they broke Halle Berry and Daniel Craig out of a mental institution for this film. For the first half of the movie, they’re not even a concern, going long spans of screen time without an appearance, then in the second half they take the reigns in emoting two off-the-rocker personalities. Besides the fact that this romantic link simply doesn’t gel, it is all cemented in one of the strangest shot and acted sex dream scenes that I have ever seen. Almost laughable for its lack of passion and adolescent dialogue.

– Pay Per View please. How this movie got into theaters still amazes me. Whether it’s the lack of impact in all 87 minutes of screen time, or the 63 seconds of production team emblems that opens up the movie, it’s clear that this one has its big screen tribulations.

– When you look at a riveting film that deals with racial tensions competently like ‘Detroit’, you understand why something like ‘Kings’ is dead on arrival. The child characters are completely out of control due to an overall lack of adult supervision, and while that may evoke some sadness with the parent inside all of us, you can’t help but feel that they are only adding fuel to the fire of these racist white cops with their own character flaws. Where the former does it better is presenting characters that we can embrace the empathetic side with. No one likes to see bad things happen to bad people, so why is this so hard for Deniz to grasp?

– It’s not tone-deaf, but tone-neurotic. Further proof of this film not knowing what it wants to be is in the mind-numbingly awful tonal decisions that limit an audience’s ability to immerse themselves in this era of a burning world. In doing so, the film mixes an actual intriguing coming-of-age story with these kids on the streets for an Abbott and Costello routine that sharply contrasts and contradicts. If the film can’t keep its focus for longer than a scene, then how can we as an interested third party audience?

– In combining this devastating period in American history with a one-household narrative, the film strongly undercuts any and every kind of tension that should be easy to capitalize on. For most of the film, I told myself that I would rather see a film on Rodney King’s night from hell, instead of this foster home that doesn’t grow with the events elevating around it. Telling it from this single perspective limits the importance of something so immense, giving the uninformed an irresponsible look at the who, what, and why of the situation.

3/10

Avengers: Infinity War

Directed by Joe and Anthony Russo

Starring – Robert Downey Jr, Chris Evans, Chris Pratt

The Plot – As the Avengers and their allies have continued to protect the world from threats too large for any one hero to handle, a new danger has emerged from the cosmic shadows: Thanos (Josh Brolin). A despot of intergalactic infamy, his goal is to collect all six Infinity Stones, artifacts of unimaginable power, and use them to inflict his twisted will on all of reality. Everything the Avengers have fought for has led up to this moment; the fate of Earth and existence itself has never been more uncertain.

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

POSITIVES

– You have to admire the task that the brothers Russo are faced with, combining 10 years and 18 films worth of characters to an explosive destination that packs the most dynamic of scopes in a superhero film to date. The Russo brothers establish the fun and surreal nature in combining our favorite personalities together to share the screen, and in doing so establish the exclamation point on a decade of this cinematic universe.

– Because this is an action flick first and foremost, the decision to shoot the entirety of the film with IMAX cameras is one that I greatly admire. Much of the tight-knit shots, as well as rocky camera work are traded in for smooth, wide-angled lens captures that allow you to keep your eye on everything in frame, despite the overwhelming nature of it all.

– Much of the C.G work is done beneficially enough, despite a few brief glare-ups that stick out like sore thumbs. Much of my problems dealt with a certain Avenger donning the Hulkbuster armor, in which the face of said actor looked jarringly hollow. Thankfully, the C.G landscapes and backdrops all capture the versatility in worlds that the film invades, and the destruction and devastation move mountains with their believability in weight impact.

– Best Marvel Villain to date. What makes Thanos such a great villain isn’t just his ability to adapt to the many fight styles that each Avenger member brings, but also his speed for a man his size that impresses and makes it easier to comprehend how he can keep up. Besides this, his backstory is one that allows plenty of empathy in respecting the tough decisions that this character has to face. In my opinion, the sign of a good villain is when you still see those brief peaks at the human side of emotions still yearning to get out, and Thanos rides this difficult roller-coaster commandingly, reminding us that big rewards come with punishing sacrifice.

– Speaking of Thanos, the overall makeup work here masters peak status for the entire Marvel series. In their prized antagonist, we get a mountain of a man with muscles stacked to the sky, but it’s in his facial features where I felt most impressed. Despite the immersion in this character from another planet in all of the purple makeup, there’s still enough definition in Brolin’s facial features to remind you that this is being played first-and-foremost by a live actor and not just a computer hologram.

– Anyone who reads my writing knows that my biggest problem with superhero films in general is that there is rarely any consequences to what transpires, and ‘Infinity War’ leaves this concern in the dust tenfold. I won’t spoil anything, but if you think this many characters will just glide through this movie unscathed, you’ve got another thing coming. There were grown men crying in my theater during the somber concluding moments, and this only further establishes the power that Thanos has not only on his prey, but also on the adoring audiences who have witnessed this super-villain come to life before our eyes. My only fear is that a convenient plot device within the Infinity Gauntlet might soil this in the second part of this film.

– Surprisingly, the many different tones are juggled wonderfully in this film. For some like the Guardians of the Galaxy or Iron Man, comedy has always been the dominant tone to their respective series, yet the serious dramatic take of ones like Doctor Strange or Captain America compliment these without alienating the former. I’ll mention a problem I have later with the immense number of characters, but I feel like the tone never suffered, nor did it separate the feeling that you might be watching five different movies stitched together.

– Because of the volume of A-listers sharing the screen, there are few chances for anyone to truly breakout performance-wise, but this is definitely Brolin’s film for the taking. Not only does Thanos receive the entirety of the backstory in exposition, but Josh’s careful juggling of menacing presence covering up a map of pain and sorrow just beneath the surface, is something that articulately illustrated levels of depth to his range as a performer. I honestly think this will go down as one of his best performances when his career comes to an end someday.

– As with other Marvel films, this too has some poignant social commentary conveniently rising to the surface. Some themes within the film that we see in our own world involve suicide bombers dying for the cause, heaven and hell, and most obviously the use and necessity of nuclear weapons (Infinity Stones). On the latter, there’s much reflection that the Russo’s offer in suggesting that we get rid of these objects that we have sworn will protect us that might ultimately be our undoing, and these serious issues never weigh down or preach their intended message to soiling the overall atmosphere of the thrills they accompany.

 

NEGATIVES

– There are obviously no shortage of superheroes sharing screen time here, and while that does wonders for the overall pacing of the film (Even at nearly two-and-a-half hours), it only hurts the movements of each respective subplot. With there being seven different groups of stories being told simultaneously, the uneven time deposited to certain ones clearly become obvious, making it feel like ages before your personal favorite story arc is returned to again. My solution is that some of these could’ve easily been converged with others, improving the interactions as well as trimming a few minutes off if you feel necessary.

9/10

Kodachrome

Directed by Mark Raso

Starring – Jason Sudeikis, Elisabeth Olsen, Ed Harris

The Plot – Matt Ryder (Sudeikis) is convinced to drive his estranged and dying father Benjamin Ryder (Harris) cross country to deliver four old rolls of Kodachrome film to the last lab in the world that can develop them before it shuts down for good. Along with Ben’s nurse Zooey (Olsen), the three navigate a world changing from analog to digital while trying to put the past behind them.

This film is currently not rated

POSITIVES

– The father/son dynamic between Harris and Sudeikis feels rich in honesty because of the distance between them, despite being in a car together. In particularly, it’s Sudeikis’s conviction to anger that outlines a very tortured soul who is afraid to open up much in his life, blaming his father for a past that follows him like a shadow. Matt feels like the perfect follow-up role for Sudeikis’s eye-opening dramatic turn in last year’s ‘Colossal’. As for Harris, he gives one of the most nuanced performances of his career, living Ben as a man with loads of regrets, but the inability in time to fix them all.

– Road trip movies 101 says that at the very least you should document some beautiful scenery to accommodate the unfolding story, and cinematographer Alan Poon feels up to the task. In his sun-drenched skies, Poon shoots the surrounding road with much distance, giving way to the feeling that this car feels isolated from every other vehicle taking its routes. Beyond this, the film feels appropriately titled since it is being shot in 35 mm film.

– Hip soundtrack for the hip indie filmgoers. Songs like ‘Just Breathe’ by Pearl Jam or ‘Lightning Crashes’ by Live didn’t surprise me so much because of their mention in the dialogue, but eclectic tastes like Indians, Graham Nash, and even Galaxie 500 give way to the versatility and depth that a film that centers around music should and does grant.

– Much of the message in the film is the concept of there being no future when you live your life by the past, and this is something that not only binds these characters together, each for their respective reasons, but also offers a poignant approach for audiences looking to leave the film with something that they can translate to their own lives.

– I Couldn’t escape this sense of somber atmosphere that overflows throughout the film, feeding food for thought that this newly-digital aged society isn’t meant for the iron man head of the household who aimed and pointed at all of life’s beauty. Feeding into this is the metaphor throughout of our trio of characters heading down one road, and other families in cars split off and take their own.

– Even despite the fact that I knew what was coming, I have to commend the pivotal third act of the film for its unflinching nature in the way of the inevitable. It’s not often that I’m moved to the point of borderline tears, but the stirring and unsettling feeling from within me cemented this film with the value in return triple that of what I paid to watch it on Netflix.

– Much of the film’s material in subplots have definitely been witnessed in other road trip genre films before, but it’s in the heart and tender care that Raso takes in bringing life to this script that can at times feel bland. Raso invests himself in the thick of these moments, because without them and the coveted performances that he commands this film would be forgettable.

NEGATIVES

– There’s a bit too much obviousness within this screenplay to ever keep it from elevating itself to a great film. Plot devices like Olsen’s nurse character joining them on the trip, as well as Matt’s impending doom with his job, each feel like they plague this film to fall into the typical road trip cliches that it wants so desperately to avoid.

– In my opinion, this film required a bit more light-hearted humor to balance the clumsy genre classification that studios have given it. Everything is played to a crisp with the performances, so I don’t blame that. It’s really just that ‘Kodachrome’ doesn’t give audiences much reminder of how much fun they are having on this road trip with these three magnetic personalities to enhance the dramatic pull it frequently reaches for.

– Singularly, I don’t have a problem with any of the performances. But the on-screen chemistry of Sudeikis and Olsen didn’t convince me in the slightest, and even felt forced at times to meet them appropriately with their obvious direction. The missing magic between them left me uninterested with where fate was taking them, and I wish the natural flow of dialogue between them would smooth the distance between them.

7/10

Final Portrait

Directed by Stanley Tucci

Starring – Armie Hammer, Geoffrey Rush, Tony Shaloub

The Plot – In 1964, while on a short trip to Paris, the American writer and art-lover James Lord (Hammer) is asked by his friend, the world-renowned artist Alberto Giacometti (Rush), to sit for a portrait. The process, Giacometti assures Lord, will take only a few days. Flattered and intrigued, Lord agrees. So begins not only the story of an offbeat friendship, but, seen through the eyes of Lord, an insight into the beauty, frustration, profundity and, at times, downright chaos of the artistic process. ‘Final Portrait’ is a portrait of a genius, and of a friendship between two men who are utterly different, yet increasingly bonded through a single, ever-evolving act of creativity. It is a film which shines a light on the artistic process itself, by turns exhilarating, exasperating and bewildering, questioning whether the gift of a great artist is a blessing or a curse.

Rated R for adult language and some sexual situations involving nudity

POSITIVES

– As a director, Stanley Tucci has always banked on these films that center around the creative process, and ‘Final Portrait’ is certainly no different. In his screenplay, he captures the involvement of art and how it isn’t a career that you can simply sit down and do. It’s very much a process of before, during, and after that speaks volumes to the kind of passion necessary for indulging in it. Through Giacometti’s life, we come to learn that it’s easy to get so lost in your work that you find it dominating the other aspects of your life that require attention.

– Cinematographer Danny Cohen is the real MVP here. With his unorthodox style in camera angles, Cohen often chooses to trail slightly behind the actors who move from room-to-room, as well as give us a unique perspective from the point of view of the artist. With a handheld style, he studies Lord from many angles in the same way that Giacometti does, and it’s in this refreshing perspective where we really immerse ourselves in the mind of the creator.

– The musical inclusion by composer Evan Lurie speaks waves to the turning of the creative wheel within the confines of the artist’s mind. The film of course has musical influence throughout, but it’s in those scenes of movements with the brush where those tones feel almost louder and more distinguished than those mentioned prior.

– Rush of genius. While the acting performances are a mixed bag to me, with Hammer’s Lord being terribly undercooked in his influence to the film, it is Geoffrey Rush who easily steals the show with easily his most dedicated role of the past decade. What Rush does that is so genius is truly capture the neuroticism of the tortured genius, emulating a ticking time bomb who just doesn’t have the passion anymore to blow. It’s still obvious to see Rush’s stern demeanor of humor leaking out of Giacometti, and that is what makes some of these dry sequences of exchange between he and Hammer more tolerable.

– Much of the set pieces like Giacometti’s studio are not only authentic in their visual capturing, but also metaphorical from a stance of what is going on within his mind. Everything feels tight, cluttered, and those unfinished projects that have stacked up feel like a reflection that some projects simply never finish.

– Off-color imbuement. This stance on almost colorless backdrops honor the blank canvas of friendship that slowly develops between the two male leads. The biggest difference within this studio is that it feels so far away from the beautiful Paris landscapes of the 60’s that the film occasionally gets to embrace, but the majority of such takes place in this callous contrast that articulately captures the tone inside this room of perfectionism.

NEGATIVES

– The first act of the film feels incredibly rushed, limiting the potential to truly understand the legacy of Giacometti as well as his final model. This stance comes into play later when you come to understand how truly underwritten these characters actually are.

– On that prior stance, I think that this film will be a tough sell to audiences. ‘Final Portrait’ is a film that focuses almost unanimously on the art, and rarely ever towards the artist. Because of such, Tucci as a screenwriter doesn’t delve too deep in understanding what makes him tick, instead choosing to watch the hands of the clock move from afar without understanding how.

– My feeling is that this story would work better as a play than a feature film. I say this because much of the structure already takes place in and around this apartment building that Giacometti owns. Beyond this, the film doesn’t follow the outlines of the three act structure that films especially today have become saddled with. Not to say that it’s not possible that this film could be entertaining without that, but this is a movie that hangs its hat on the performances more than the material, and there’s no better place for that ideal than the stage.

– There’s an overall lack of dramatic pull or urgency that leaves the second half of the film hanging on an easel untouched. The reason for this is the lack of overall variety or tension with conflicts that plague the pacing of the film. I could do without these things if the material was more expansive, but much of the concepts associated with the plot stay too grounded in ever capitalizing on the benefits of a revealing biopic.

6/10

Super Troopers 2

Directed by Jay Chandresekhar

Starring – Kevin Hefferman, Jay Chandresekhar, Steve Lemme

The Plot – When a border dispute arises between the U.S. and Canada, the Super Troopers are tasked with establishing a Highway Patrol station in the disputed area.

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

POSITIVES

– The chemistry is better than ever between the five members of the Broken Lizard squad. Through mountains of personality and an endless supply of ricochet banter, these troopers easily pick up the ball where they left it over sixteen years ago.

– There’s a surprisingly solid amount of poignant social commentary on Canada, as well as the United States that allows the finger to point back at those of us who are firing the shots. When you really think about it, for everything that we say about Canada, it’s all materialistic, when America is deeply rooted in social and economical problems that (like the troopers themselves) we’ve turned a blind eye to.

– When I saw the trailer, I was scared completely that this film, like other comedy sequels before it, would rely far too heavily on the first movie. Thankfully, that wasn’t an issue at all, as I counted only four examples of jokes and puns from the first movie coming into play. This allows ‘Super Troopers 2’ to carve out its own respective chapter, proving that as a writer Chandresekhar is no one trick pony.

– High intensity chase sequences. Considering the entirety of this film was funded by fan donations, it’s mind-blowing to see how beautifully sequenced and adrenaline-fueled the camera work is for the picture. The opening involving two cameos is probably my favorite scene in the movie for this exact reason, and it nails home the thought that a comedy can overachieve if sequences out the most enticing camera angles.

– As a director, what I appreciate from Chandresekhar is the selflessness that he commands in taking a noticeable backseat to the rest of his co-stars. His character was arguably one of the more focal points of the original film, and here it’s obvious that he’s playing a supporting cast mate to those adorned with more lines of dialogue. He knows what and who to exploit the most in this sequel, and his influence behind the camera is needed much more than on-screen where no fewer than five other characters maintain the weight.

– Whether you view this film as stupid or intriguing, I think audiences will be won over by the feel good atmosphere that this second chapter indulges in. Leaving the theater, I knew this film was miles behind the first movie, but I couldn’t shake that undeniable feeling that this movie gave me 95 minutes of fun and excitement that a majority of comedy sequels blunder away. It’s a passion project at its finest, and through that inspiration we see five friends who are above all else having fun reclaiming the roles that helped them steal the show nearly two decades ago.

NEGATIVES

– While I did mention that the comedy doesn’t follow in the shadow too closely of the original film, I can’t say the same for the structure of the script. From a drug bust intro, to a rivalry with another local police force, to an ending resolution that practically screams redundancy, this script could’ve tried a lot harder in voiding itself of the predictability that weighed it down heavily.

– Because this is a sequel to a movie that hit it big, there are no shortage of celebrity cameos. None of them are too offensive, just rather pointless. When I get a cameo, I want it to leave lasting weight on the remainder of the movie, and with the exception of Rob Lowe as a hockey player-turned-mayor and Emmanuelle Chriqui as the new love interest for one of the troopers (There’s that first movie again), a majority of those one-off actors serve as nothing but a wink and nod to those of you paying attention at home.

– I get that this film is a goofball comedy, but has anyone in Broken Lizard ever heard of a Canadian or French Canadian accent?? There are examples in this film of supposed Canadian characters whose accents sound closer to Indian, Italian, Swedish, and even African more than Canadian. What’s even better is that none of them are consistent from scene to scene.

– The law of averages with laughter is noticeably lacking when compared to the first film. While I did laugh a lot during this sequel, I can say that what hinders the lasting power is how long the cast will sometimes beat a joke into the ground, or how repetitive the material can feel. One such example is a joke involving Fred Savage that eventually gets a payoff at the end of the movie, but isn’t worth the mind-numbing amount of times it’s mentioned throughout.

6/10

Traffik

Directed by Deon Taylor

Starring – Paula Patton, Omar Epps, Roselyn Sanchez

The Plot – A couple off for a romantic weekend in the mountains are accosted by a biker gang. Alone in the mountains, Brea (Patton) and John (Epps) must defend themselves against the gang, who will stop at nothing to protect their secrets.

Rated R for violent and disturbing material, adult language throughout, some drug use and sexual content

POSITIVES

– Usually the confines of cheap cinematography will limit a film’s visual potential, but in ‘Traffik’ it’s quite the opposite. Here, the legendary Dante Spinotti knows exactly the kind of visual entendre necessary for capitalizing on a modern day exploitation film, and because of such we are treated to dim-litted areas, a faded color palate, and an overall sense of B-movie goodness that transports us to a simpler age of cinema.

– Refreshing movements with the camera that give scenes the only personality that this one is going to garner. Some great examples involve the abrupt close-up zooms that happen when something shocking takes place, as well as the vivid flashbacks that give the film a kind of daydream-to-nightmare sense of imagination.

NEGATIVES

– Inconsistent editing that can at times intrude on valued exposition, and other times forget to spring up on scenes that run far too long.

– The film’s deep-seeded material centers around the harsh practice of sexual trafficking, and while this illegal practice certainly deserves a magnifying look, it goes unmentioned until the final fifteen minutes of the movie. This is not only irresponsible, but downright insulting considering nothing that the film wastes time on is anywhere near as compelling or important to us the audience.

– As far as tone goes, the film never fully realizes its cherished exploitation direction fully. In fact, Taylor’s jumbled direction often feels like an action flick that goes horror by the darker third act, speeding towards a dead end with two opposite tastes that contradict instead of converge with one another.

– It takes far too long to get to the thrills of this desolate screenplay, and even then the law of averages within 91 minutes isn’t enough to hold your interest.

– Speaking of thrills, the twists are totally predictable once you know the name of the game with the antagonists. Because of such, this film does reach for the low-hanging fruit of palpability that other more distinguished B-movie classics don’t have the shame to pull from. Often times, I found myself talking allowed “Don’t do that” or “Don’t go there”, and yet every time my worst suspicion was confirmed.

– Patton in particular is trying her hardest in to overcome the director’s desire to film her in skimpy clothing by carving out something of depth to her performances, but she leads an overall cast of characters and performances that collectively miss their mark. The deliveries lack conviction, and even worse, these character outlines couldn’t be any thinner if they were drawn as stick figures. Epps screams cash grab, Sanchez reads these lines in her sleep, and Laz Alonso made me laugh for all of the wrong reasons every time his hot-headed character overreacted.

– Possibly the worst musical score this year thus far. The musical influence in this film is every bit as non-existent as it is repetitive, and this creates a lack of emphasis in impact for when a big chess move has been made between these two sides. This is stock music at its finest, and I hate making that declaration because composer Geoff Zanelli has done some truly compelling work in films like ‘Disturbia’, ‘The Odd Life of Timothy Green’, and even the latest ‘Pirates of the Caribbean’ movie.

– I’ve heard reports that audiences were bored by this film’s lagging presence, and while the pacing was never really much of an issue for me, I can point to one aspect of the runtime as an issue, and that’s the minimal material that this film actually has. At 91 minutes, this is a pretty easy sit, but the difficulty comes when you realize how stretched thin the material, as well as the inhuman movements that the characters take in squeezing out every last drop of this screenplay. At it’s core, there is a solid one hour of material here, but in reaching a studio-approved runtime, Taylor never capitalizes on the areas (Like the sex trafficking that I mentioned before) that require increased screen time to dramatize effect in the material.

2/10

I Feel Pretty

Directed by Abby Kohn and Marc Silverstein

Starring – Amy Schumer, Michelle Williams, Emily Ratajkowski

The Plot – a woman (Schumer) who struggles with feelings of deep insecurity and low self-esteem, that hold her back everyday, wakes from a brutal fall in an exercise class believing she is suddenly a supermodel. With this newfound confidence she is empowered to live her life fearlessly and flawlessly, but what will happen when she realizes her appearance never changed?

Rated PG-13 for sexual material involving brief nudity, and adult language

POSITIVES

– While the overall soundtrack feels a bit too topical for the particular scenes that they are deposited in, the film’s musical score from composer Michael Andrews surrounds us with a New Wave homage to 80’s John Hughes flicks. The soft listening tones are the first attempt at elevating this comedy into something more, and Andrews precision with the keys gives a gentle touch to a screenplay so vain.

– Whenever you get a comedy starring a comedian, you can bet that they will bring along their friends, and this film is no exception. Along the way, I spotted Nikki Glaser, Dave Attell, and plenty others that have played pivotal roles and blossoming friendships to Schumer’s rising stardom.

– A couple of noteworthy performances. Schumer actually gets a chance to develop some dramatic muscle here. Her empathetic range rises leaps and bounds above a script that is trying everything in its power to get you to hate her, but Amy proves that she can make you love just as much as she can make you laugh. In addition to Schumer, Williams steals the show as a bimbo-type executive that totally re-shaped the boundaries of Williams greatness. This is an Oscar nominated actress, so to see her commit to a character so opposite of her own personality, is only a shining example of her at her best. The vocal tones that she omitted for this role were so different from anything that I ever heard from her that I thought the film inserted some terribly awful A.D.R for her mouth to mimic.

– My favorite part of the film is definitely the romance between Schumer and Rory Scovel’s characters, and a lot of that centers around it feeling like the balancing act to so much superficiality that surrounds them. If only this magic had more time to materialize, then the importance to its meaning wouldn’t feel so forced during the third act.

NEGATIVES

– We all see the comparisons between this and 2001’s ‘Shallow Hal’, but the script outline feels almost like an unflattering form of plagiarizing. Scenes and progression mirror that of the predecessor, and while Hal isn’t a film that I would recommend to anyone for moral fiber, I can say that its heart beats twice as strong as Kohn’s diluted effort for the commentary it holds on the real world.

– The comedy misfires far too often. Considering most of the humor in the film deals with embarrassing Schumer’s character, I found myself feeling dirty or callous for even attempting the laugh towards it. Sometimes the right timing is accomplished, but often you forget that this film is a comedy first, and I blame that on the passing time between laughs that will have you checking your watch.

– Speaking of time, the endurance test of pacing in this film starts to show its hand by early on in the third act, when predictability feels evident. There are no fewer than three times during the final twenty minutes when this film could easily end, but the persistence in building to a memorable, self-conscious ending takes center stage above all else in making these 105 minutes feel like half of that.

– As a screenwriter, Kohn also feels inspired in elevating her comedy into a drama or romantic comedy level, similar to what Judd Apatow has perfected with films like ‘Trainwreck’ or ‘This is 40’. Where this fails is in the resistance in letting go of the bumbling humor escapades that do it no favors in harvesting inspiring moments to pull from. ‘I Feel Pretty’ could’ve easily been the female renaissance film of 2018, speaking levels to the kind of insecurities that all women face, but instead it only goes skin deep in its dive, sticking to the shallow waters of social standing in pursuing its merit.

– Much of the camera angles made me moan to the point that they lacked originality in their depiction. As I mentioned before, you get the sense that this is trying so desperately to be a rom-com, and the camera movements around our two love interests feel contrived and redundant from every 90’s film of the genre that you have ever seen. I found myself actually predicting how the camera was going to shift during certain scenes, creating what may be the best underground drinking game that will soon take over the world.

– That ending reeks. Even Schumer has been quoted in tabloids for how much the ending simply does not fit into this film, and I have to agree with the leading lady. For one, a cosmetics company whose whole campaign is dividing women, feels very contradictory to the film’s message that is hammered home with the subtlety of a sledgehammer driving through a brick wall. As well, the ideal that women need cosmetics in finding the inner beauty from within, gives me a feeling of nausea so deep within that I wanted to condemn this film from being seen by any of my female readers.

4/10

Rampage

Directed by Brad Peyton

Starring – Dwayne Johnson, Jeffrey Dean Morgan, Malin Ackerman

The Plot – Primatologist Davis Okoye (Johnson) shares an unshakable bond with George, the extraordinarily intelligent gorilla who has been in his care since birth. But a rogue genetic experiment gone awry transforms this gentle ape into a raging monster. As these newly created monsters tear across North America, destroying everything in their path, Okoye teams with a discredited genetic engineer to secure an antidote, fighting his way through an ever-changing battlefield, not only to halt a global catastrophe but to save the fearsome creature that was once his friend.

Rated PG-13 for sequences of violence, action and destruction, brief adult language, and crude gestures

THE POSITIVES

– Considering this is a film that is based on an 80’s 8 bit video game smash-em-up, it would be criminal if the production couldn’t even master action sequences and set pieces. Thankfully, this isn’t the case, as ‘Rampage’ spares no expense at destruction of scenary, giving its ape protagonist plenty of time to pay homage to one of the most fun Nintendo experiences that anyone could have.

– In addition to the action, the sound mixing by Beau Borders rumbled the auditorium with thunderous precision. If you’re going to see this movie, make sure you do it in an IMAX setting because the devastation in sequencing is nothing short of incredible for immersing you right into the moments.

– Surprisingly, much of the C.G work is believable and shaded superbly. Why this is shocking is because the trailers make the animals look poorly rendered, and lacking of great weight when compared to their physical properties around them. While it’s not all one hundred percent, as much of the computer work with the long shots lack the kind of impact consistency, I can say that this was one area that cleared up well and made me able to soak in the giant monster smashing movies from my youth that I was addicted to.

– The big name cast is having the time of their lives. Johnson is always someone who makes the most of every opportunity given to him, and it’s in his soft spoken personality to match his intimidating presence where he carves out a human protagonist that is not only likeable, but also believable in the many physical challenges he’s given. Jeffrey Dean Morgan was also great, even if he was just playing Negan from ‘The Walking Dead’ throughout the film. Morgan chews up enough scenary to always leave you wanting more, and the chemistry between he and Johnson feels like a dream team pairing that took me places that I didn’t expect. More on that in a second.

– This is a screenplay that (Like its creatures) constantly keeps moving, engaging the audience in excellent pacing to keep the plot thick. At 102 minutes, ‘Rampage’ never gives much time to breathe, and I appreciate that in an action film that obviously doesn’t have the deepest of storylines.

THE NEGATIVES

– It honestly surprised me that Ackerman is the true villain of the movie, as a big wig corporate executive who is straight out of 90’s bosses. Between the cheesy ominous tones that accompany her whenever she’s on screen and her overall lack of presence, I just couldn’t buy her as the film’s central antagonist. The trailers marketed Morgan as being the villain, so it’s a bit of a disappointment when one of the best villains currently on television is nothing more than a secondary character in this script.

– Anyone who knows me knows that one of my pet peeves in cinema is the overused stable of unsubtle advertising, and this film is full of it. From the Ford emblem being all over the vehicle shots, to the colorful Dave and Busters sign that sticks out like a sore thumb in a dust-filled Chicago backdrop, this movie can’t resist. If this isn’t enough, an actual 80’s Rampage arcade game is shown in Ackerman’s office. This begs the question; is this whole project based on some little girl’s addiction to a video game from her childhood?

– I realize that complaining about logic in a movie where a forty foot tall ape gives the finger and makes sexual gestures with his hands is probably simplistic, but a critic has to speak his mind. When the initial explosion of contaminated pieces happens in space during the first scenes of the film, I find it incredible that despite there being so many of them, they only land in three different places, and in the United States none the less. Imagine the odds.

– The third act of the movie had the ability to really send us home on the strength of dramatic muscle, but it withers away because of some choices made that ruin it. I won’t spoil it here, but in building Johnson and George’s friendship the whole movie, you wait for the inevitable confrontation that will change everything. Nope, it doesn’t happen, and the reason why still makes me scratch my head from a scientific standpoint.

– Despite the repeated notion that the world is in trouble as a result of these creatures, the sense of urgency and weight that resides within the rest of the world feels limited. After all, this is just one city in a bigger world that has plenty more weapons in taking it down. It never feels like armageddon is upon us, and that lack of uncertainty never lifts it from being predictably grounded.

5/10

Truth or Dare

Directed by Jeff Wadlow

Starring – Lucy Hale, Tyler Posey, Violett Beane

The Plot – A harmless game of “Truth or Dare” among friends turns deadly when someone, or something begins to punish those who tell a lie or refuse the dare.

Rated PG-13 for violence and disturbing content, alcohol abuse, some sexuality, adult language and thematic material

THE POSITIVES

– Despite being plagued by a screenplay that has about as much depth as a box of Cheerios, Beane is leaps and bounds the featured performer here. Despite being only a supporting character, Violett carves out an emotional registry necessary in providing the proper emphasis for her tragic past. At first I thought this character would be nothing more than a blonde bimbo, but she is the only actor here who feels affected beyond that of dialogue that tells us.

THE NEGATIVES

– Speaking of characters, this film has none. This is the basic concept of character outlines if there ever was one, as much of the underutilizing D-list cast never stray far from the verbs that accurately define them. One character is a med school snob, so he must act like that at all times. It’s the kind of exposition that screams out “I could care less, and am only writing this script until something better comes along”.

– PG-13 confinements. Most of the death scenes lack imagination or volume because of their handicap rating, and the overindulgence of quick-cut edits from different angles keep you from ever being able to even accurately register what is transpiring. There is one good death in idea in the film, but it’s one that is plastered all over the overplayed trailers that leave little anticipation to it.

– Scenes feel missing from the finished product. Subplots and important mentions seem to float out of thin air and compromise the continuity of progression. It leaves the overall focus stalling, challenging you to the edge of your abilities to stay intrigued.

– Considering none of these characters are even remotely fleshed out, you have a series of emotionless deaths that come and go like speed bumps. These kids seem to move on quickly from the lack of impact that their closest friends brutal deaths leave them with, begging the question of if they don’t care, why should we?

– Lazy, clumsy dialogue that you usually have to subscribe to Cinemax for. No kidding, one of the lines during this movie comes when a character is being held at gunpoint to get into a car. The person with the gun says “Get in the car!!! I dare you to, it’s the truth”. It’s the kind of material that makes you feel humiliated to even be watching it.

– The antagonist of the film is of course an entity, so the possibility of a positive payoff in terms of confrontation is one that you shouldn’t hold your breath for. On this point and others, the film feels like a post-Final Destination ripoff with half the imagination and twice the desperation in finding a way to end this slop.

– ‘Truth or Dare’ is played entirely too close to the hip, and never embraces the campiness within its premise in capturing something that is popcorn fun. With more of an homage to its genre, or some developments with personality, the film could’ve been at least a fun sit, even if it still lacked common sense.

– That brings me to my next point; the logic in audacity for how this film treats audiences is remarkable. There’s the rules of the game that point out how important it is to stay together early on, only to leave every single character from this point on alone to be picked apart by this demon. There’s also the way it views life. One such scene involves the gang creating a fake Facebook profile to communicate with someone who knows the history of the demon. This is all fine and dandy until it takes them all of three minutes to create a fake profile. The problem with this is that they would first of all need a different e-mail than the one they use for their own personal Facebook page, then they would have to go through Facebook registration, which is anything but a few spare minutes. This isn’t even the best in logic though, as a character who suffered the loss of her father to suicide by gun is apparently allowed to keep it. No way that would be kept in evidence by the police…..yep.

– This film has possibly the most frustrating ending of the last ten years. Not only is the rules of the game torn apart, but also the final scenes allude to this game continuing in the most far-fetched of scenarios that tries so hard to bring out the conveniences of technology. Before these final five minutes, I only thought the movie was brainless, but after these closing developments, I hate this movie completely and wouldn’t make anyone see it even on a dare.

1/10

Isle of Dogs

Directed By Wes Anderson

Starring – Bryan Cranston, Edward Norton, Koyu Rankin

The Plot – In this stop-motion-animated film, an outbreak of canine flu in Japan leads all dogs to be quarantined on an island. A boy (Rankin) journeys there to rescue his dog Spots (Liev Schreiber), and gets help from a pack of misfit canines who have also been exiled. His quest inspires a group of dog lovers to expose a government conspiracy.

Rated PG-13 for thematic elements and some violent imagery

THE POSITIVES

– It’s clear even in the slightest sense that Wes Anderson has a fondness for man’s best friend. If you ignore the spelling of the movie, it reads instead as I LOVE DOGS, and the script overall has more than a few unique quirks in presenting things from a canine point of view. One such is the language barrier for the film that sees the dogs speaking in English, while the human characters speak in their native tongue without translation. This is to no doubt focus entirely on the animal aspect first and see the human antagonists in the same way that the dogs might see them.

– Perhaps the most noticeable difference between this and Anderson’s animated predecessor is that ‘Isle of Dogs’ speaks with a surprisingly mature approach to the themes and concepts it endures. Beyond the PG-13 rating that the film has for itself, the subject matters of violence, death, and politics push this even further than your typical children’s movie, crafting a kind of adult bedtime story to feast on.

– Breathtaking stop-motion animation. Between this and ‘Fantastic Mr. Fox’, Anderson has carved out for himself quite the artistic touch, breathing life into characters and locations that highlight even the slightest detail. It’s abundantly clear that the lighting and scenery feels greatly improved here, and the use of abundance in photographic lens offers so much for a one-off shot that never appears again.

– The movement of the camera feels well paced and incredibly choreographed, mapping out the most of every sequence with a comically familiar nod to Anderson’s one-of-a-kind touch. Considering most of this film is a faithful homage to Japanese classics, the marriage between this and Anderson’s signature style of framing and quick-pans blesses us with endless energy to combat the often monotonous line reads.

– Perfection in music capturing the proper moods and environments. First of all, the soundtrack vibrates that of the bleak and despair that surrounds the island with these betrayed dogs. On top of that, Alexandre Desplat continues the momentum of his Oscar winning year in ‘The Shape of Water’ with a score that is equally ambitious for different reasons entirely. Desplat’s masterful beat of the drum adds the proper kind of energy necessary in combating the prior moods mentioned, but does so in a way that never feels overbearing or compromising to the consistency of the picture.

– Much of the film’s comic muscle dealt with the small touches that I greatly enjoyed as being a fan of 80’s animation cliches. One such instance is that of the dog tussles that are surrounded by what feels like an endless array of smoke, in which we only see the occasional paw or contact. Also great was the on-screen text that sarcastically translates what we already knew with certain foods or emotional responses.

– One thing that worried me about the big name cast voicing these characters was their familiarity in tones that would make it difficult to immerse themselves in their respective characters, and while that is the case as a whole, I think those actors also do wonders for the diversity in character traits that prove no two dogs are exactly the same. Anderson invites the larger-than-life personalities to seep through, and fans of each of them will indulge at this hitters row of A-listers sharing the stage in vocal capacity.

– It is refreshing to see a dystopian film in which a society seems to be progressing. Ignore the obvious plot device of a flu tearing through the city, and you have a beautiful, heavily-populated setting that succeeds in all of the opposite directions that YA novels have soiled.

THE NEGATIVES

– While I was never bored by the film, I found myself lacking the proper engagement in the characters to worry about their well being. One reason for this I believe is that the film drops the ball midway through on juggling unpredictability that compromises the danger in their situation. Had the film went through on the surprising and out of nowhere scene that felt replicated from one in ‘The Grand Budapest Hotel’, then I probably would’ve believed that any character was expendable. I find this a huge disappointment because I myself am as big a dog lover as anyone.

– The plot to the film is a bit elementary when you really think about it. You’re taking what is virtually an episode of Lassie, giving it 95 minutes of screen time, and adding overly ambitious artistic merit in hoping it will hide such single-dimensional penning. It feels like you’ve seen this kind of narrative direction before, and the moot examples of surprises all but confirms our suspicions.

8/10

Andre the Giant

Directed by Jason Hehir

Starring – Andre the Giant, Hulk Hogan, Vince Mcmahon

The Plot – A look at the life and career of professional wrestler André Roussimoff, who gained notoriety in the 1980s as Andre the Giant.

This documentary is currently not rated

THE POSITIVES

– Hehir’s unshakeable focus captures the drama and sadness of a lifestyle that seems electric from afar, offering a perspective that is every bit as educational as it is honest.

– Insightful narration by Andre’s closest colleagues. It’s rare especially in the wrestling business that a man is unanimously respected and universally praised, but it serves as a testament to the infectious touch that Andre had in such a short amount of time that he influenced.

– Soundly paced. At 85 consistent minutes, the film never lags or strays from the live fast style that Andre excelled at. Even the tales of his drinking legend are enough to fill a blank canvas.

– My favorite part was the never before seen material at home and outside of the ring that feels like the only honest look at Roussimoff. While the character was hard to remove from the person, these brief instances illustrate an outline of knowledge that Andre was so much more than booze and bodyslams.

– There’s an overall sense of tragedy by era that makes us wonder what if Andre was living today and able to easily seek the kind of medical advances that could reverse his judgmental health. Where I view this as a positive is that the kind of things that Andre suffered from can now be prevented for youths who would otherwise grow up to be on a limited clock just like him.

– Strong revolving camera techniques that alter back and forth with crisp execution during the testimonials. Beyond this, the inclusion and walking effects in and out of the places that Andre frequented, added a unique perspective that almost transports us back in time.

– This is a documentary with tremendous crossover appeal between wrestling and non-wrestling fans. In Andre, the uninformed see a protagonist and a man plagued by the gift that made him special, and that overall concept lays thick on the sense of empathy that people will feel almost immediately upon meeting him.

– It doesn’t shy away from those moments that are difficult to watch. The third act is full of the diminishing spirit of Andre’s lasting memory, but Hehir’s duty to his audience to stay with him all the way to the tearful goodbye is one that you have to admire for the dedication in not painting a fairytale. Bravo sir.

– HBO Films have proven their vast improvements in production over the years, and the collusion with WWE Films is a blessed marriage that fruitfully articulates the rise. From the over twenty years of wrestling footage, to the epic-thumping musical score by Rudy Chung, ‘Andre the Giant’ feels like it combines the rich textures of a Hollywood film with the unlimited access of a documentary, and it is a marriage worthy of a man responsible for leaving such an immense shadow not only on wrestling, but also the world.

THE NEGATIVES

– There’s a period of about fifteen minutes when the story drifts a bit too far from Andre for my taste. I get that the reason is to paint the boom in the ever-changing world of wrestling, but this distance feels like an unnecessary distraction that simply doesn’t belong.

– Without a doubt, the meat of Andre’s story is certainly the wrestling, but I was hoping for more of a direction of Andre’s personal life to fill some time. Much of Andre’s childhood is glossed over in a matter of sentences, and this was disappointing considering a lot of his troubles with school that I read in his autobiography is something that accurately prepares him for the lifetime of polarization that he will face.

8/10

Beirut

Directed by Brad Anderson

Starring – Jon Hamm, Rosamund Pike, Mark Pellegrino

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

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

THE POSITIVES

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

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

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

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

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

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

THE NEGATIVES

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

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

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

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

6/10