Tully

Directed by Jason Reitman

Starring – Charlize Theron, Mackenzie Davis, Ron Livingston

The Plot – The film is about Marlo (Theron), a mother of three including a newborn, who is gifted a night nanny (Davis) by her brother. Hesitant to the extravagance at first, Marlo comes to form a unique bond with the thoughtful, surprising, and sometimes challenging young nanny named Tully.

Rated R for adult language and some sexuality involving nudity

POSITIVES

– The most revealing look into motherhood that film has ever produced. To define this film as candid means that it covers the whole spectrum on the creative front. Beyond what’s going on with Marlo and her own daily routine, Reitman is genius with depicting how other people view and treat her, as well as offering some honest observations between husband and wife that points to a lot of the problems without being too preachy.

– Great performances are often transformative ones, and Theron has this concept quite literally by the nipple. As Marlo, we meet a woman who is not only psychologically bent, but also physically defeated with the effects that three children have had on her body. Theron gained fifty pounds for the role, proving once again that when you sign Charlize into a role, you aren’t getting someone who acts, you’re getting someone who lives and breathes this fragile leader of the household.

– Strong casting all around. In addition to Theron’s award-worthy praise, I also have to give kudos to Davis as the title character, as well as Livingston as Marlo’s ineffective counterpart. We can still adore Livingston’s dry straight man routine, but I found myself getting angrier with his ignorance the longer it went on, in turn feeding into what this poor woman has dealt with for a very long time. As for Davis, her quirky diatribe on positivity felt like a breath of fresh air to combat the smothering surrounding that have plagued our main protagonist. When Theron and Davis are together, the film thrives the most, and that’s because they are simultaneously bouncing off of one another with experience versus experimentation.

– Meaning with montage. Most films that use montages in modern cinema do so without much meaning or context behind them. ‘Tully’ showcases these scenes by depicting the perils of repetition in routine that fill in the gaps wonderfully with a limited run time (89 minutes). With some clever editing to boot, the days feel like they blend together, meaning we (Like Marlo) feel like we’re stuck in this bubble that never progresses. If hell is repetition, we have reached the seventh circle of hell. Cinematic birth control.

– Going into this film and knowing Reitman as a writer, I expected a strong combination of dramatic pull and unabashed humor that go hand-in-hand, but I didn’t expect how well these things converge with one another in this particular setting. Parenting in general screams comedy, but most films are afraid to get politically incorrect with how agonizing this endless and thankless job can get, and it’s in that honesty where I appreciated the undercurrent in emotional registry that Reitman commanded in forcing us to pay attention. This isn’t as dominant of a comedy as his other films ‘Juno’ and ‘Young Adult’. Instead, ‘Tully’ proves just how far Reitman has grown, proving that you can move someone by laughter or pain and have it reach the same effect.

– The handheld camera work here is beautifully meaningful. To me, it feels like we have stumbled upon the home movies of a family because nothing is glamourized or glorified here, and in that documentarian design we can move confidently throughout these characters without ever feeling constricted to choreographed storyboards that keeps the focus on one particular section of frame.

– From a tonal perspective, I loved that there was such unpredictability with where this story could truly be heading. I credit a great trailer a lot for this reason, as the story of a nanny who basically takes over the nightly routines could’ve easily turned into a horror or suspense film during the third act. Where it did go was satisfying aplenty, but I appreciate a film more that pokes its audience without taking away the interesting material boiling just beneath the surface.

– Diablo Cody’s sharp poke of the pen that articulates the growth of one of Hollywood’s best writers. When Diablo wrote ‘Juno’, she was childless, and now with ‘Tully’ she has two children of her own, and it’s in that change where we learn that as much as things change, they remain the same. Cody still has her finger on the very pulse of the subject matter that she crafts, and her newest sets a precedent that is every bit as visceral as it is provocative.

NEGATIVES

– There are certain subplots introduced in the first and second acts that are never followed through with. I won’t spoil much, but a college friend of Marlo’s is introduced early, only to never be seen again, as well as some hints at a polyamorous side to marriage that is never further realized.

– I feel like the third act swing in conflict felt so unnecessary and so typical to screenplays just to please a studio. This film moved smoothly when the focus stayed on peeling back the many layers of Marlo’s bruised psyche, and this out-of-left-field bombshell subdues more than it sizzles in keeping the consistency of this impactful narrative.

8/10

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

A Quiet Place

Directed By John Krasinski

Starring – John Krasinski, Emily Blunt, Noah Jupe

The Plot – In this modern horror thriller, a family of four must navigate their lives in silence after mysterious creatures that hunt by sound threaten their survival. If they hear you, they hunt you.

Rated PG-13 for terror and some bloody imagery

THE POSITIVES

– Considering Krasinski is pulling triple duty here (Writer, Director, Star), it goes without saying that he digs his grip deep on the pulse of what makes horror films work. Classics like ‘The Thing’ and ‘Psycho’ work because they focus on the characters long before the terror surrounding them. This movie often feels like a coming of age story for two kids that just so happens to take place in a post apocalyptic setting, leaving the ambiance of the antagonists firmly in hand, without soiling their mysticism.

– The performances are equally impressive without needing much dialogue. I don’t get to brag about child actors often, but Millicent Simmonds and Noah Jupe command the screen, playing a brother and sister duo that harvest such resentment towards their tortured pasts. If this wasn’t enough, Blunt’s on-screen chemistry with real life husband Krasinski transcends any kind of story setting, and illustrates some of that surreal bond between them that gives their on-screen relationship believability.

– Much of the sound mixing and design is impeccable. For Simmonds, she is deaf in real life, as well as the film, so what the film does is highlight her point of view by dimming the volume any time we get a point-of-view shot from her perspective. Beyond this, the film juggles tension in sound so wonderfully that it gives meaning to each of the terrific jump scares that it designs.

– I have mostly good and a few bad things to say about Krasinski’s writing here, but for the positives I will say that he carefully places the focus of each scene on a singular object and watches the madness implode around that object. It’s pretty cool because we as an audience know that thing is there and we know what’s going to happen, we just don’t know how, and it’s in the how where such tension is built continuously until the big impact happens. Perfection in patience, sir.

– As for the C.G antagonists, I loved their mix of Carnage and Predator in design scheme that felt like it brought an entirely new hybrid to 21st century monsters. Much of the effects work for this artificial property does present itself as visually stimulating for a low budget horror flick, and their movements were given plenty of weight to make it constantly breed danger anytime they show up.

– There’s tons of respect that I have for any movie that forces audiences in a theater to shut up and just focus. Because the film’s audio is mostly dimmed for a majority of the scenes, it transfixes us in this kind of muted embrace to immerse ourselves within this world on-screen, making it easy to get lost in the story and characters that outline the rules.

– The combination of Krasinski’s unnerving camera angles combined with composer Marco Beltrami’s stimulating musical score, carves out the most suspense in every conflict. Beltrami never feels intrusive or betraying of the very mood set up in the film, and his score seems to remain guarded until our characters finally decide to make a move.

– Most of this film is surprisingly well paced considering its plot is quite basic. Most of it can be credited to the credible performances, but I feel that the credit in keeping the audience invested relies upon Krasinski’s desire to show us what is boiling in his left hand, while reaching for something else to get ready with the right. It proves that he never stops thinking, and his sequencing of these attacks are something of a worthy prize during the scenes that push us to the edge with ensuing tension.

THE NEGATIVES

– There were a few too many conveniences especially during the final ten minutes of the movie that soured my investment into the well-being of these characters. There are times when their decisions are incredibly smart for a film in this genre, yet others when they fall under the very same stupidities that have made us laugh for decades. Once you know the trick in diluting these monsters, it becomes fairly easy how this family can get rid of them. But they keep them around because the plot requires them to, and the longer the film goes on, the more this becomes obvious.

– As I mentioned before, Krasinski nearly fires on every cylinder in his screenplay, but one such scene gave me the impression that he lost faith in his talented cast’s ability to visual storytelling. It happens during the middle of the movie at a waterfall, and gave me a sour taste with how it reviewed everything up to that point in a cliff notes sort of manner. One character blames themselves for something bad that happened a year prior, and it’s fairly obvious that this person lives with that grief, but the movie wants to keep checking to make sure we know this VIA a father and son talk that serves as nothing but a review for people who haven’t been paying attention up to this point.

8/10

Love, Simon

Directed by Greg Berlanti

Starring – Nick Robinson, Josh Duhamel, Jennifer Garner

The Plot – A young coming-of-age teenage boy, Simon Spier (Robinson), goes through a different kind of Romeo and Juliet story. Simon has a love connection with a boy, Blue, by email, but the only problem is that Simon has no idea who he’s talking to. Simon must discover who that boy is–who Blue is. Along the way, he tried to find himself as well.

Rated PG-13 for thematic elements, sexual references, adult language and teen partying

THE POSITIVES

– This really feels like the first original look at the teenage side of gay sexuality, and in doing so, much of the material refreshingly depicts the silly and drastically misunderstood perspective that many straight people still harvest in not understanding the similarities between the gay and straight lifestyles. This film’s message is to showcase that nothing changes with people that come out, they are just more enlightened to go after what they want and deserve, and this stance gives the film an entertaining, as well as educational look at things.

– I’ve heard much comparison to John Hughes teenage films of the 80’s, but I only see that in terms of the time-traveling musical score by composer Rob Simonsen. For my money, I hear a lot of ‘Planes, Trains and Automobiles’ in his synthesizing tones, and it presents a classy outline to the film’s narrative moments that most teenage films are strongly lacking.

– The performances fire on every cylinder. Robinson as the title character really comes into his own, playing Simon as this boy on the cusp on manhood who is dealing with that unshakeable voice in his head that sounds like it is getting louder. In addition to Robinson, Garner and Duhamel should also be cherished as two parents who really feel honest in their reactions to the news that could shake their family if they allow it to.

– You hear often in reviews how a particular film will take you on a roller-coaster of emotional response, but ‘Love, Simon’ is legit in this stance because it is always trying to surprise the reader in the mature stances it takes. Because of the awkwardness, I was constantly laughing. Because of the smothering in Simon’s own personal life, I felt great empathy and sadness for him. And in the immaturity of some characters, I felt great anger in their inability to just let people be happy for themselves.

– Beneath the surface, there’s a strong and compelling mystery at play for Simon’s mystery e-mailer, and I found the finishing result to be very satisfying in its big reveal. Along the way, there’s plenty of varying faces to feed into Simon’s possibilities for who it can be, but the answer I feel is one that will surprise more than not.

– There’s a lot of personality to the style and sequencing of the film. Berlanti as a visual storyteller combines the use of technology in garnering the feedback of this small town, but he knows this isn’t enough. The inclusion of Simon’s narration is one that Berlanti uses accordingly in getting us close to the protagonist in ways that a post online simply won’t, and I greatly appreciated the combination of both here.

– Beyond this being just about Simon, this script takes enough time to get to know the valuable pieces of family and friends in Simon’s life so to better understand the price tag in risk that perplexes him to keep quiet. His interactions with them feel every bit as genuine as they do vital to the mounting pressure that surrounds him.

– This is not just an entertaining film, it’s one that I feel is immensely important to many youths discovering and finding themselves on-screen. Far too often, this voice goes silent in big screen releases, and it’s a feel good sentiment that because of a film as special as this one, more studios will feel comfortable in expanding their approach to stories that would otherwise never receive the time.

THE NEGATIVES

– There’s one character who plays a bully of sorts that I needed a re-write or just edited out of the film completely. This character blackmails Simon into keeping his secret, but the problem is that the film takes valued screen time to get to know and feel for his own situation with a girl, making his villainous stance feel illegitimate. I think you could’ve incorporated much of his material into the two other jocks in the school to make it feel more synthetic.

– Some of the dialogue does suffer from that quip in deciding to be entertaining first and authentic second. There were many times in the film where I felt thankful for the depth of A-list actors like Duhamel and Garner being enough to override some of this obvious banter that no parent in this predicament would ever sound like.

8/10

Thoroughbreds

Directed by Cory Finley

Starring – Anya Taylor-Joy, Olivia Cooke, Anton Yelchin

The Plot – Childhood friends Lily (Taylor-Joy) and Amanda (Cooke) reconnect in suburban Connecticut after years of growing apart. Lily has turned into a polished, upper-class teenager, with a fancy boarding school on her transcript and a coveted internship on her resume; Amanda has developed a sharp wit and her own particular attitude, but all in the process of becoming a social outcast. Though they initially seem completely at odds, the pair bond over Lily’s contempt for her oppressive stepfather, Mark (Paul Sparks), and as their friendship grows, they begin to bring out one another’s most destructive tendencies. Their ambitions lead them to hire a local hustler, Tim (Yelchin), and take matters into their own hands to set their lives straight.

Rated R for disturbing behavior, bloody images, adult language, sexual references, and some drug content

THE POSITIVES

– In crafting a hybrid horror/comedy offering, most directors can’t succeed at both without sacrificing one or the other. Here, Finley maintains the feat because of the uneasy atmosphere in tension that fills the air and makes it difficult for his audience to fight against nervous laughter for all the same reasons.

– Supreme camera work. Not only does Finley master the most of manipulated long-take sequences and slow-pan tracking shots, but he also pays homage to classic horror films like ‘The Omen’ with jolting energetic shots that quickly come into focus when a particular character comes into frame. If Wes Anderson were a horror director, Finley might be his alias.

– A scintillatingly gloomy musical score by the great Erik Friedlander that makes us squirm in our seats. Erik spares no usage for any particular instrument here, manipulating the strings of anything within his reach that really turns these luxurious visuals into a full on house of horrors.

– Finley’s puppeteering of shadow play that visually hints at the progression of certain character. Taylor-Joy’s Lily in particular goes through a slow burn kind of transformation into the dark side of her cerebrum, and the deeper she envelopes those traits, the more we see the darkness in each frame surround her to possibly hide from her facial reactions what was once as easy as an open book to read.

– The entire cast brings their A-game here. It was delightfully bittersweet to see Yelchin adorn the screen once more, this time as a drug seller to youths who talks a good game. Make no mistake though, the two leading ladies keep the 87 minutes firmly in their grip, commanding the attention in every scene with a firm dynamic that only catered wonderfully to their impeccable chemistry. Cooke’s monotonous delivery feeds miles into the emotionless body cavity that she has become, and Taylor-Joy’s blossoming menace proves that there’s enough room for two seats at this table.

– What’s interesting to think about is that the entirety of this screenplay is really just talkative exposition, so it serves as a testament even more to the performances, as well as the edgy dialogue that consistently holds your attention. As a writer, Finley almost dares you to look away in hopes that you might miss something, and I never once indulged in his challenge. This is a man who obviously loves to write dialogue, and does so in a way that strives against the politically correct stature that we’re used to.

– The usage of the house and visuals surrounding our cast that tear into the toxic atmosphere being hidden behind these lavish lifestyles. Because Finley was originally a playright, it’s appropriate enough that a lot of these scenes feel like they take place in one room at a time, with the characters coming in and out of frame.

– Perhaps my single favorite aspect of the screenplay is that the film doesn’t force-feed the details of past exposition or violent scenes to us. It’s really what you don’t see that allows audiences to fill in the blanks fruitfully, and gives the film that imaginative touch that only a horror movie can. Finley has faith in his audience, and doesn’t require spoon-feeding them to get his points across. I appreciate that.

THE NEGATIVES

– I’m not going to pretend that I liked the final ten minutes at all. The more I think about it, the more I start to see the bigger holes in logic that just would not hold up in our own real world. If the film were going for an ‘American Psycho’ kind of world-building, then sure, but the neat and tidy wrap-up of it all with absolutely no questions asked is one that I felt did a disservice to writing that was otherwise articulately intelligent up to that point.

– Because the entirety of the film is dialogue driven, the material is stretched a little too thin for even its brief runtime. This is an 87 minute picture, and while the film never lagged or stood still for me, there were definitely times when I felt that corners could’ve easily been cut to get to where a scene took us.

8/10

Game Night

Directed by John Francis Daley and Jonathan Goldstein

Starring – Jason Bateman, Rachel McAdams, Kyle Chandler

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

Rated R for adult language, sexual references and some violence

THE POSITIVES

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

THE NEGATIVES

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

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

8/10

Black Panther

Directed by Ryan Coogler

Starring – Chadwick Boseman, Michael B Jordan, Lupita Nyong’o

The Plot – After the events of Captain America: Civil War, King T’Challa (Boseman) returns home to the reclusive, technologically advanced African nation of Wakanda to serve as his country’s new leader. However, T’Challa soon finds that he is challenged for the throne from factions within his own country. When two foes conspire to destroy Wakanda, the hero known as Black Panther must team up with C.I.A. agent Everett K. Ross (Martin Freeman) and members of the Dora Milaje, Wakandan special forces, to prevent Wakanda from being dragged into a world war.

Rated PG-13 for prolonged sequences of action violence, and a brief rude gesture

THE POSITIVES

– Ryan Coogler’s visual and audible feats in directing that bring to life the technologically advanced world of Wakanda with flare. We’ve certainly seen Marvel astound us with dives into other worlds and galaxies before, but this feels like the first time where they got the flavor of the sizzle complete on every spectrum.

– Behind every great man is several amazing women. There have been films where a female has been my favorite character, but I can’t recall one where my two favorite characters from a film have been of my opposite sex, and that’s completely unintentional. Not only is this a film breathes life into the fight against minority examples in superhero genre films, but also one of female empowerment that invites the ladies along to share in these magnetic personalities.

– Ludwig Goransson’s impeccable blend of 808 drums and percussion edited beats that spin an inspirational movement taking place before our very eyes. Not only does this musical score get your toes tapping, but it also speaks volumes to the kind of consequential landscape that these varying tribes set for themselves.

– Speaking of tribes, the wardrobes all around were very vibrant and full of rich traditionalism that tickles the eyes. What’s even more impressive is that this is not only a film that caters to that historical past, but also one that embraces the future in us all coming together as one tribe.

– Has there been a Marvel film with a collective cast this deep? Boseman was born to play T’Challa, but I can’t help but feel that he is outshined on almost every single scene that he comes into contact with a friend or adversary, relaying just how much meat there is to feast on for everyone here. Lupita Nyongo offers a warm and caring compassion, Danai Gurira amplifies that Michonne burning intensity from ‘The Walking Dead’ to eleven, and my introduction to Letitia Wright as Shuri, T’Challa’s genius sister, is one that I just couldn’t get enough of.

– A special mention for Michael B Jordan as the film’s antagonist Erik Killmonger. Villains seem to be a continuous problem for Marvel films ever since the success of Loki, but here they instill a level of relatability to Erik that had me even questioning what side I should be rooting on. His motivation in seeking the throne is one that works on all accounts mainly because it feels like a superhero origin story with some twists in personality that allows you to see the shades of grey between good and evil.

– It’s impressive how consistent this screenplay changes up the tempo. During the first act, this very much feels like a James Bond spy thriller of sorts. During the second act, our direction is transformed into a science fiction space odyssey that ironically takes place on Earth. And finally during the last third of the film, we get all out war in a fantasy epic that re-defines the rules of what transpires on a battlefield.

– This panther is its own animal. The decision to make this film stand almost entirely on its own without the inclusion of prior Marvel stories or subplots is one that I greatly valued, and proves that the producers had a lot of faith in this film’s capabilities in seducing its audience with something remarkably fresh for such an overflowing genre of films. It really does feel like a movie that set high standards for itself, but achieved each goal because (like the protagonist) it stayed true to itself the whole time.

THE NEGATIVES

– I was honestly unimpressed with a majority of the overall C.G work in authenticity. The backgrounds especially gave me an exhale of disappointment on more than one occasion, especially during daytime scenes where the layers in shadowing weren’t fully realized. To someone else, this isn’t a big deal, but to me, it takes much of the heartbeat away from a film when everything feels like a cartoon or in this case a contrived sequence that strongly lacks the impact of its physical properties.

– Some of the fight sequences are too overly edited for my taste. Thankfully, they aren’t as bad as say ‘Resident Evil: The Final Chapter’, but there were some examples where the inclusion of gunfire during nighttime scenes not only made it difficult for me to stay focused on a character, but also made it that much more of a challenge in registering each crushing blow that I could hear and barely see.

The Extra

– I vow to never watch a Marvel trailer again. Once again, one scene in particular during the beginning of the third act was ruined because whoever cut the trailer is a major asshole and decided to include this compromising visual in the finished two minute piece. This not only took out my suspension of disbelief for the conflict that develops with T’Challa and Killmonger, but also spoiled to me what happened before they ever touched fists.

8/10

Hostiles

Directed by Scott Cooper

Starring – Christian Bale, Rosamund Pike, Wes Studi

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

Rated R for strong violence and adult language

THE POSITIVES

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

THE NEGATIVES

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

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

8/10

Call Me By Your Name

Directed by Luca Guadagnino

Starring – Armie Hammer, Timothee Chalamet, Michael Stuhlbarg

The Plot – A sensual and transcendent tale of first love, based on the acclaimed novel by André Aciman. It’s the summer of 1983 in the north of Italy, and Elio Perlman (Timothée Chalamet), a precocious 17- year-old American-Italian, spends his days in his family’s 17th century villa transcribing and playing classical music, reading, and flirting with his friend Marzia (Esther Garrel). Elio enjoys a close relationship with his father (Michael Stuhlbarg), an eminent professor specializing in Greco-Roman culture, and his mother Annella (Amira Casar), a translator, who favor him with the fruits of high culture in a setting that overflows with natural delights. While Elio’s sophistication and intellectual gifts suggest he is already a fully-fledged adult, there is much that yet remains innocent and unformed about him, particularly about matters of the heart. One day, Oliver (Armie Hammer), a charming American scholar working on his doctorate, arrives as the annual summer intern tasked with helping Elio’s father. Amid the sun-drenched splendor of the setting, Elio and Oliver discover the heady beauty of awakening desire over the course of a summer that will alter their lives forever.

Rated R for sexual content, nudity, and adult language

THE POSITIVES

– Guadagnino’s sensual, yet sexual approach to the coming-of-age genre that transforms Chalamet before our very eyes from start to finish. You get a distinct sense of maturity that developes inside of him that makes him stronger for what he’s faced.

– The gorgeous Italian countryside that is highlighted by cinematographer Sayombhu Mukdeeprom’s glossy scope. This makes the seduction that envelopes our two characters whole feel easier to intepret by the intoxicating visuals of food and scenery that invite you in

– An 80’s setting that actually plays into matters within the plot. Here, it represents the thought process within a sour taste forcing our protagonists to hide away their love from a world not quite mature enough to understand the lack of prejudice within such a concept.

– This soundtrack is electric, radiating enough new age narration in classic ballads like ‘Love My Way’ by The Psychadelic Furs, as well new pieces like ‘Visions of Gideon’ by critically acclaimed composer Sufjan Stevens that moved me to tears.

– The patience in script development that the film takes in slowly unwrapping what we already know is there. So much is psychological about the head games being displayed between Hammer and Chalamet, making their untouchable feats of intelligence for the history of the world they discuss the kind of starting ground for what transpires between them.

– James Ivory’s very nuanced manner of writing that strains dialogue for the better. In many ways, the looks of his characters say much more than words ever could, and I value greatly the decision to instead absorb as much of the atmosphere in the air that he allows us.

– Hammer and Chalamet’s piercing performances deserving of Oscar consideration at the very least. This is much more than a coming out party on screen for Chalamet, it’s also one amongst for him in opening moviegoer’s eyes to a true volcano of emotional resonance that subdues inside of him. Make damn sure you stay until the credits are over, as a long framing of Chalamet’s face tells us everything that he’s feeling at that moment.

– Exceptional editing that bends and even subdues time when the two distance themselves from everyone else. Sometimes the shots go long with our characters long out of focus, giving us the overwhelming feeling of awkwardness that lingers between them. Most edits will remove this lingering effect, but Guadagnino embraces it.

THE NEGATIVES

– There’s not enough material here creatively to span two plus hours, and the pacing sometimes grinds to a devastating halt.

– The sex scenes aren’t terribly graphic in their depictions, but it’s the material of the things you don’t see that can be a little too over the top. See the peach scene for further elaboration.

THE UNCERTAIN??

– What’s the deal with the fly symbolism in the film? I must know more

8/10

Paddington 2

Written and directed by Paul King

Starring – Hugh Bonneville, Sally Hawkins, Hugh Grant, Ben Whishaw

The Plot – Paddington (Whishaw) is happily settled with the Brown family in Windsor Gardens, where he has become a popular member of the community, spreading joy and marmalade wherever he goes. While searching for the perfect present for his beloved Aunt Lucy’s 100th birthday, Paddington spots a unique pop-up book in Mr. Gruber’s antique shop, and embarks upon a series of odd jobs to buy it. But when the book is stolen, it’s up to Paddington and the Browns to unmask the thief.

Rated PG for some mild action and rude humor

THE POSITIVES

– Infinite imagination in visual effects, including some awe-inspiring transitional stylings that echo the vibe of colorless page-turning animation in a pop-up book kind of feel.

– Hugh Grant’s energetically over-the-top charge as the antagonist for the film. Omits that feeling of fun from Grant’s usually distinguished reservoir

– A screenplay with an innocent adventure that is equal (If not better) than the original film.

– Despite the additions of many new cast members, the Brown family feel like they are just as necessary as ever in the ever-unfolding mystery of this bear’s quest to get back home

– Seems comfortable in finding an entertaining medium between adults and child audiences that doesn’t alienate either’s experience.

– No fart or bodily humor. This should be a given, but in a kid’s film, it is unassuming.

– The vibrancy of colorful backdrops, especially in that of the Brown’s home that never settles for one choice of color consistency

– Paul King’s strict approach in not relying on any material or familiarities of the first film, crafting an original chapter that stands on its own

THE NEGATIVES

– The humor is noticeably absent. There were moments where I grinned, but nothing that gave me the long-term laughter needed in keeping the atmosphere delightful

– While the overall animation is exceptional, the shading of Paddington’s design still feels hollow to the light and shadows that he comes into contact with. His face gives off a level of being too light to be authentic.

8/10

Star Wars: The Last Jedi

The galaxy far away returns for a ninth silver screen installment, this time promoting the end of the Jedi tradition for the greater good. In ‘Star Wars: The Last Jedi’, Rey (Daisy Ridley) develops her newly discovered abilities with the guidance of the longtime missing Luke Skywalker (Mark Hamill), who himself is unsettled by the strength of her powers. Rey seeks to find her place in the bigger galaxy where she lacks a clear and defined fate due to her family’s anonymity. Meanwhile, the Resistance prepares to do battle with the First Order after Kylo Ren (Adam Driver) escapes death, and plans a journey en route to crushing the union that is currently being led by his own Mother (Carrie Fischer). ‘Star Wars: The Last Jedi’ is written and directed by Rian Johnson, and is rated PG-13 for sequences of sci-fi action and violence, including peril.

In its ninth and most explosive chapter, Star Wars continues to re-define itself in ways that George Lucas could’ve only dreamed when he penned the 1975 original. This time, it’s Rian Johnson’s turn, and while Johnson sometimes over-indulges on fan service, there’s plenty here to love for fans young and old that have handed these series of films down as a generational affair. For his capabilities to dabble in twice the involvement with this picture, Johnson constructs a series of different train tracks in plot that each add a rumble of momentum to the continuous pulse that the film continues through an ambitious runtime of nearly two-and-a-half hours, the single longest film of the series to date. Each of these tracks twist and turn with enough surprises and jaw-dropping moments to give each of them their own turn at controlling the pacing, but it’s in their crash collision that stacks the suspense accordingly and really drives the endless fun and worthy payoff for the twelve months between that we have to wait for the next one. This isn’t a perfect film by any stretch of the imagination, but the positives of Johnson’s artistic scope and widening of character depth, reminds us that this series is only getting started, and the force is strong with the future.

For how ‘The Force Awakens’ introduced us to these new complex characters in a kind of interviewing for the job type of atmosphere, ‘The Last Jedi’ feels like the hiring process, in that we are seeing what each of them has to offer for the spectrum. The story is divided into three different angles with each of them playing a pivotal role to where the film ends up at the heart of this terrifying and brutally violent war being played out. Rey’s story with Luke is continued from the final scene of ‘The Force Awakens’, and it becomes clear that while Rey seeks Luke’s guidance in maintaining the force, it is the teacher who requires the youthful exubberance of his student in inspiring him to live again. The second tier involves Kylo Ren at a crossroads with his inevitable destiny. It was in this subplot where I felt the film had the most to offer in terms of depth, and it’s refreshing to see that good and evil in this universe can’t always be defined by a color, let alone a single action. The final involves Finn (Played by John Boyega) and his newly formed sidekick Rose (Played by Kelly Marie Tran). There’s been much negativity surrounding this subplot, mainly because of how it fits with the other two, but I found it to be much needed for the impact that it placed in fighting the dark side. Is it convoluted at some points? Absolutely, but the endless energy and distinct adult tone of some adult-like fight scenes complete with consequences, constantly kept the bar of expectations elevated throughout some occasional dragging.

My biggest problem with the film isn’t just in the excess runtime, because I feel like the film’s pacing stays firmly tight until the final forty minutes, it’s in where the film finishes that left me kind of with a sour taste. For every riveting blow of battle that is felt throughout, the third act ends on what feels like a stalemate, taking the easy way out in the name of fan service to con the audience into thinking a lot was answered. Besides this, there’s much about the second act, particularly that with Finn and Rose’s adventure on her former planet that definitely could’ve used an edit button. It’s weird because the film feels like this dog with an endless appetite who doesn’t know when to stop eating, then feels bloated when time and reaction starts to set in. There was never a point in the film where I was truly bored, but so much of what transpires feels repetitious to the smooth pacing that Johnson overall masters soundly considering it is 147 minutes, and I feel nothing would be sacrificed with an even two hour film that would definitely keep the audience on their toes.

Not all is a loss however, as the involvement of composer John Williams, as well as cinematographer Steve Yedlin combine in establishing the single most beautifully decadent Star Wars film to date. Williams is always someone who feels more in tune (pardon the pun) than anyone else with this universe, and his score here rumbles through our endless enthusiasm with a versatile score that beats to the drum of several diverse and varied atmospheric landscapes faithfully. It’s gotten to the point that I couldn’t imagine this series without the melodic tones by John that cements that big screen feel. As for Yedlin, I was blown away by the breathtaking scope that he and Johnson team up for in articulating the wide range of color and construction of many establishing shots. The wide angles in space deserve a pause button so you can embrace them in all of their immense details. But not to be outdone are the adrenaline-fueled war sequences in all of their fast-paced glory. There’s a sense in the air that if you blink you might miss something vital, but the strategy involved with gaining on your opposition becomes prevalent the more we see force meet object. But even despite the wide range of color and structure involved with the space scenes, it was the interior shots involving Snoke’s layer that perplexed me with their personal touches of color coordination that beautifully decorated each chance to soak it all in.

I mentioned earlier that this feels like an adult oriented chapter in the Star Wars legacy, and nothing could be more evident than some of the eye-catching visuals that will surprise even the most dedicated of fans. I’ll be blunt here without spoiling anything, there are some very graphic death scenes that I can imagine pushed the boundaries of the PG-13 rating that adorns the film. If I have a say, I think the series needs more of this, as the one problem that I’ve constantly had with these films are the lack of consequences involved in some pretty high stakes gambling of lives for all considered. Johnson does enough to place the urgency firmly where it is needed, and I commend Disney for sitting back and letting a master work his magic in feeling confident that he knows his vision better than anyone.

Finally, the performances brought the thunder for the mostly returning cast, but also opened our eyes to some new favorites who are no stranger to the Hollywood A-list. Laura Dern, Benecio Del Toro, and Lupita Nyongo are just a few to be introduced to the Star Wars legacy, and each of them thrive under the pressures of the spotlight of being cast in a series that they grew up with. One cool thing that hit me over and over again was the casting of Carrie Fisher’s real life daughter Billie Lourd as Lieutenant Connix, one of Leia’s coveted right hands on board. It’s very sureal to see the two sharing screens together, and it offers a heartfelt sentiment knowing that in Carrie’s final film she got to share the screen with her own flesh and blood. Daisy Ridley still kicks total ass as Rey, feeling like the female heroine that so many little girls need in embracing their own inspiration. The scenes between her and Hamill are my absolute favorite of the movie, but there was also no denying the magnetic chemistry that she shared with Adam Driver (As Kylo Ren), even if some scenes had a sexual awkwardness to them in the funniest of depictions. Driver is much better here than his dive in ‘The Force Awakens’, and it’s nice when the film lets him toe that line psychologically in a game of head versus heart.

THE VERDICT – Disney’s third take on its legendary property yields energetic force and stylistic ecstacy for fans of any age group who seek the best in visual spectrum to add to its lifetime of personalities. The film sometimes stretches character arc’s for a bit too long, and the ending itself is one of the least satisfying for me in terms of emphasis in conclusion, but there’s no denying the growth in characters as a result of some sharp twists that shape this as the enthralling thrill-ride of the holiday season. It’s a reminder that each chapter (or episode) peels back another layer in the discovery for who we really are.

8/10