Darkest Hour

Britain’s ‘Darkest Hour’ involves standing in the way of Adolf Hitler’s worldwide domination, in this biopic detailing the famed Prime Minister. Set during the early days of World War II, with the fall of France imminent, Britain faces its darkest hour as the threat of invasion looms. As the seemingly unstoppable Nazi forces advance, and with the Allied army cornered on the beaches of Dunkirk, the fate of Western Europe hangs on the leadership of the newly-appointed British Prime Minister Winston Churchill (Gary Oldman). While maneuvering his political rivals, he must confront the ultimate choice: negotiate with Hitler and save the British people at a terrible cost or rally the nation and fight on against incredible odds. Directed by Joe Wright, the film is the dramatic and inspiring story of four weeks in 1940 during which Churchill’s courage to lead changed the course of world history forever. ‘Darkest Hour’ is rated PG-13 for some thematic material.

Winston Churchill was a revolutionary in the office, but merely a frail man outside of it, and it’s in Wright’s tenderly revealing portrait of the legendary figure that we come to understand the parallels of either when combined to elaborate on what made the man tick. Churchill was very much a man who came into office under less-desirable circumstances, facing extreme opposition not only in the face of an evil regime led by Hitler himself, but also in those he considered constituents all around him that made his tenure the more difficult because of it. Yet, Winston as a man who lacks the ability to even fry an egg in his daily routine, so when you consider the immense weight of position and progression from war that continues around him, it’s that much more appealing in screenplay value as it caters to a figure that we are seeing as legitimately human for perhaps the first time in screenplay form. As a Prime Minister, Winston comes to learn that the right decisions aren’t often the easiest, and in a time when everyone is looking to sell their souls to stay above ground, Churchill himself feels passionate about pointing out the necessities of war to those who are already convincing him to taste the agony of defeat.

Coming off of the success of ‘Dunkirk’, this Summer, ‘Darkest Hour’ proves to be a worthy successor to continuing the events of this story once more, but this time from an entirely different angle that caters to the strategist’s side of history and less to the physical side of it. The lack of wartime documentation did puzzle me about this film dearly, choosing only to drop in occasionally for the Wikipedia summary of biggest events, but what did make up for it was the triumphant work of Academy Award nominated screenwriter Anthony McCarten who chooses to stay closely hand-in-hand with our male lead. Through two hours of exceptionally paced substance that carefully fills in the blanks, this is a script that more times than not humanizes the spirit of Winston that works out nicely. My very favorite perk of this film was seeing Winston in his time with his loving and supportive wife Clementine (Played wonderfully by Kristen Scott Thomas) who kind of balances the uneasy circumstance within this man who is responsible for hundreds of thousands. But choosing not to rest there, the film does pack a spell-binding punch from some truly compelling dramatic tension that clouds the entirety of this finished product. As I mentioned before, there’s little war sequences to the film, so instead we are treated to the tug-of-war in the battle for power from Churchill’s own cabinet who deem him unfit for such a job.

Perhaps the most evident angle that resides within the film is the concept of relationships and what they mean to Winston in his decisions. I’ve already mentioned the heartfelt center of Winston and his wife Clementine, and what they give the film, but the additional dynamic duo’s of Winston’s embracing of a dedicated typist (Played by Lily James), as well as the developing friendship that he had with King George the 6th (Played by Ben Mendelsohn), sort of carve out this very surreal sense of hope that resided within the country that fuels Winston’s desire to keep proceeding forward. In a weaker written film, this could’ve easily went sour in presenting something that could combat the repetition of meetings that make up a majority of the picture, but I think McCarten knows how to make them stand out for their own reason. For King George, it’s the importance of history and tradition, and for James character, it is in presenting a very harrowing representation of seeing things from a citizen’s perspective. All of these bricks of exposition stack up tremendously in presenting us with the final and often times praised leader that adorns our closing moments with him.

The production value to the film is one that carries it over oceans of length creatively in offering something new to a common Churchill film. The presence of Wright’s stamp of approval here is evident, most notably in the exceptional coloring palate and camera work of Bruno Delbonat that accurately depicts the sense of inevitable dread in the atmosphere. From afar, the film can often times look like it is being shot in black and white, speaking levels to the kind of post-apocalyptic heartbeats that were echoing on our doorstep, but with closer dissection, it’s clear that a necessary shade of grey (Pardon the pun) faithfully illustrate the classic look in film design of yesterday. There’s also some experimental sequencing involved with a slow panning out shot that frequently ends scenes in and around war that reach out to the audience personally and make you feel their dimming disposition of hope. This shot is never overdone to reach levels of cliche within its filmmaking, and offers something different in modern day transitions that we thought have nothing of originality left within them. Finally, the sound editing and mixing spare no expense in their qualities with the film. There are a few sequences in the film in which we get to hear the actual Churchill reside over his increasing audience, and this offers an indulging side to the setting that puts us front-and-center in the seats of many who were searching for anything to hold onto during such an unpredictable time in Britain’s rugged history.

This is without question a one man show, and while that single performance is the very best in a year of phenomenal performances, the lack of inclusion as a whole leaves a negative stamp on an otherwise reputable ensemble cast. For my money, I could’ve used more of Mendelsohn and Scott Thomas in the film, as I felt the few scenes that they invade are made that much more endearing because of their contrast to Churchill. Lily James gives definitely the most moving performance of her young career, but I don’t support the way her character overrides the importance of exposition time to that of his own wife that the film desperately needed. With that out of the way, Gary Oldman is currently polishing the Oscar statue as I write this. Oldman is virtually unrecognizable as Churchill, represented with a balding look and protruding gut that accurately cement his riveting transformation here. But it’s the little things that positively startled me about his dive into Winston. His speech patterns are perfect, mumbling and stuttering through miles of dialogue that feel like they last a lifetime because of it. That may sound like a negative, but that in many ways was how Churchill himself was as a public speaker, and Oldman’s consistency and dedication moved miles in this regard. In addition to this, the exhaustion from Oldman during long walking or scenes in which he walks up stairs is clearly evident in increased breathing patterns that echo that of someone with decaying health. It all summarizes wonderfully the kind of value in returns that you get when you cast an actor like Oldman, who is one of the last true method actors of a prestigious era.

THE VERDICT – Despite this being only a brief period in Churchill’s historic life, ‘Darkest Hour’ feels like the first Churchill film worthy of telling the entire story. Through Oldman’s definitive impeccably perfect performance, as well as Wright’s flashy effects in visual affection, the film is a stirring shape of inspiration that reminds us how different things could’ve been without the love of country that one misunderstood man had. The storytelling could’ve been extensive and more elaborate in its wide scale, but it’s difficult to fault too much away from a film geared towards one man in and out of the costume.


The Florida Project

Writer/Director Sean Baker adds another human depiction to his credible filmography, this time in ‘The Florida Project’. Halley (Bria Vinaite) lives with her six year old daughter Moonee (Brooklynn Prince) in a budget motel along one of the commercial strips catering to the Disney World tourist clientele outside Orlando, Florida. Halley, who survives largely on welfare, has little respect for people, especially those who cross her, it an attitude that she has passed down to Moonee, who curses and gives the finger like her mother. Although the motel’s policy is not to allow long term rentals, Bobby (Willem Dafoe), the motel manager, has made arrangements for people like Halley to live there while not undermining the policy as he realizes that many such tenants have no place to go otherwise. Halley, Moonee and Moonee’s friends, who live in the motel or others like it along the strip and who she often drags into her disruptive pranks, are often the bane of Bobby’s existence, but while dealing with whatever problem arises, Bobby has a soft spot especially for the children and thus, by association, their parents, as he knows that Moonee and others like her. ‘The Florida Project’ is rated R for adult language throughout, disturbing behavior, sexual references and some drug material.

Director Sean Baker has quite a unique perspective of the world. After presenting us with an original take in 2015’s ‘Tangerine’, in which he shot the entirety of his film on an Iphone, Baker returns with another unorthodox reflection of today’s youth. Through that vantage point, we get perhaps the most unabashed depiction of modern day parenting that goes a long way in pointing out the true value of a shining parental unit. Baker is a filmmaker who values honesty first and foremost in his films, and because of such ‘The Florida Project’ has the ability to take this story as deep as it once to go. The film once again exposes us to the unlimited amount of sunshine in its beautiful landscapes, this time in Florida, hinting at the manufactured illusion that is the Disney World dream, and while the film articulately showcases those illustriously decorated buildings in all of their vibrant colors, there’s certainly enough emphasis below the surface to speak volumes to the audience that something deeper is going on. Almost in a way that is similar to the picket fences theory, in that the most troubling households take place behind the prettiest houses, ‘The Florida Project’ too concludes that hotel lifestyle isn’t all that it’s cracked up to be.

While shooting a film’s entirety with an Iphone is a tough gimmick to beat, I can say that Baker at least maintains the kind of consistency in his candid photography for the picture that treated my eyes to something tasty behind every corner. This is a handheld camera kind of style, and this decision works wonders in presenting many angles and perspectives to our central characters for the film; the children. So many of the shots are tight-knit with over the shoulder following shots, or single frame luring shots that have our characters walk into what’s already running. Besides this, there are some gorgeously decadent panning shots from side to side that often gave off the illusion of a moving screen in our auditorium. Baker has enough confidence to leave the camera on for these long takes because he believes in his child-dominated ensemble cast that can hold and maintain the attention of the audience without fail, and his faith is rewarded in spades with such sleek style that highlights the domestic landscape with tasty sunshine that covers the properties.

The uniqueness isn’t just in the visual spectrum of the film, but also in the tweeks made in cast and story that cement a feel of documentary filmmaking. I say that because much of the film doesn’t feel like it follows a script towards a particular outline here. Instead, there’s that feel that Baker has stumbled across these everyday people (Minus Dafoe) and decided to turn a camera on to see what springs. The majority of the cast are amateur actors and actresses, some of which are acting in the first role of their careers. This adds weight and believability to the ideal that maybe we are watching something that wasn’t intended to be seen, making you wonder just how truly dramatic it can get at a hotel. If it’s drama they want, it’s drama they will get, because this film never relents on its tight grip upon the audience. Because there are children involved, it’s easy to imagine that this film could get a bit manipulative, but their trials and tribulations feel authentic because of what little adult supervision is cast over them. The film is just shy of two hours, and for the most part paced accordingly, however unlike a Hollywood script that will take the audience on a pre-determined roller-coaster of up and down, ‘The Florida Project’ maintains the balance of life, in that some times are smooth, and some times are unpredictable. In this manner, the screenplay replicates life wonderfully, using boredom as a comparison to excite when something does come to fruition.

Without question, my least favorite aspect of the film and one that Baker still needs help on is his editing transitions. To say the sequencing from scene to scene felt rocky throughout the film is an understatement. There were many times during the movie when I either couldn’t tell how much time had passed between two scenes, or they felt out of place with the plotting of storyboards. The former is great when you’re dealing with montages or scenes that duplicate the certain event that the children are living through, but when it’s used in a way that divides the transitions, it throws you off from where we are in a scene or the script. While this is only an occasional problem, I can say that it brutally throws off the pacing of the second act in particular, feeling like the screenplay is searching for something of equal value to the first and third acts that transpire smoothly because of their fluidity in keeping the entertainment level high. With this fix, Baker could definitely be one of the very best directors going today, but his unorthodox method of transition is sure to alienate some who feel like scenes could be cut far too quickly or not quick enough.

There has also been a lot of commotion about the ending that many have shunned because of its off-the-wall final shots that feel so jarringly foreign from the rest of the film. While I can say that I don’t have this same particular problem with the final scenes, I can say that the ending feels abruptly forced and very bitter when compared to the magnetic pull from the glowing performance of Prince when the film relies on her. My suggestion was that the film ended two minutes prior when it felt like our nerves couldn’t be anymore shattered from the crippling blow of devastation that rivets the inhabitants of the hotel. This wouldn’t have been as pleasing to audiences looking for the lighter side of conclusions, but it would be the glaring example of parental harm to impressionable minds, giving Baker a side of bravery and attitude with his characters that wouldn’t disappoint in profound reliability.

Despite this being a child-led ensemble for 90% of the movie, I was pleasantly surprised at just how effortless these kids were with sinking into some pretty meaty performances. My problem with kid actors is their inexperience that usually hinders a film’s immersion whole, but the value of the youth presented in this film serves as a reminder that even this critic can be wrong. Brooklyn Prince is a wonder of imagination with enough sass and personality that makes her irresistible even when she’s doing things that we know are wrong. Prince’s Moonee is definitely a product of her environment, but the sweet and tender side to her sometimes destructive personality is still in there fighting to get out and salvage this dreaming soul. Willem Dafoe also portrays one of my absolute favorite characters of the fall movie season as Bobby, the sometimes ignorant manager who feels like the best parental figure that these kids got. Bobby sometimes turns an eye for his own good, and there’s definitely a hint of family troubles with his own kin, but Dafoe’s moral stigma and protective shield is a constant reminder of everything that is good and could be again with these struggling people.

THE VERDICT – ‘The Florida Project’ and Sean Baker alike, raise the kind of sobering questions about parental struggles in a world still learning that pleasures with its poignancy. Because so much of its visual appeal springs from the unorthodox approaches of a prestigious stage hand, it’s easy for the production to overlook some glaring problems of sequencing that just doesn’t add up. Dafoe and his rag-tag group of youths remind us of the invincibility associated with being young thanks to some nuanced performances that always maintains the light-hearted adventure of being a child before the rules of society catch up.


Last Flag Flying

Three friends unite after a long period of distance, on a road to redemption, in ‘Last Flag Flying’. In 2003, 30 years after they served together in the Vietnam War, former Navy Corps medic Richard “Doc” Shepherd (Steve Carell) re-unites with Former Marines Sal (Bryan Cranston) and Richard Mueller (Laurence Fishburne) on a different type of mission: to bury Doc’s son, a young Marine killed in the Iraq War. Doc decides to forgo a burial at Arlington Cemetery and, with the help of his old buddies, takes the casket on a bittersweet trip up the East Coast to his home in suburban New Hampshire. Along the way, Doc, Sal and Mueller reminisce and come to terms with shared memories of the war that continues to shape their lives. Director Richard Linklater and author Darryl Ponicsan collaborated on the screenplay which follows the trio as they wrestle with the pangs of war both past and present. ‘Last Flag Flying’ is written and directed by Richard Linklater, and is rated R for adult language throughout and some sexual references.

At its core, ‘Last Flag Flying’ is a buddy road trip movie that tests the boundaries of friendship. However, unlike those silly raunchy comedies that usually adorn the subgenre, Richard Linklater entertains in spades without any of the unnecessary physical humor or situational gags that dumb down audiences into thinking that there’s a shread of sentimentality. Instead, Linklater and company invest in the dynamics of something far greater than a friendship; the brotherhood of the United States Marine Corps, and it’s in that direction where the film’s journey treads along smoothly without feeling much of the wear-and-tear from the long distance of two very thought-provoking hours spent with this delightful trio. This is very much a love, as well as a Dear John letter to the Marines, as well as every branch of service. The film asks these warranted questions that deal with signing your life away with the utmost respect to the men and women who make the ultimate sacrifice, but does so in a poignant method that should require proper answers for those who are appropriately considered heroes.

Despite this being a drama first and foremost, the film surprised me with just how much I laughed thanks to the impeccable chemistry from three veteran actors who consistently hit their marks in different kind of performances. This is the most unchained that I have ever seen Bryan Cranston, and it’s probably a good thing because his role as Sal totally stole the show for me and proved that Cranston can adapt to any kind of tonal transition with ease. It’s certainly clear that Sal’s best days are behind him, but with the feel good attitude that he takes with him everywhere, he is constantly the life of the party that keeps this film from ever getting too down in the dumps with the downtrodden. Laurence Fishbourne is virtually playing two roles for the price of one, commanding the new Richard who walks the straight and narrow path, while also silencing the old Richard who is a victim of his legends. Fishbourne is definitely the friend who is the most secure in life, and more than a time or two feels like the group’s shoulder of much needed support to get by. Also, Steve Carrell gives another dramatically wrenching performance that alludes this man’s time would be better spent if he stayed out of comedies. That’s not to say that Steve isn’t funny, but it’s roles like Doc that brings the heart out in Carrell, and makes for an uneasy fragility in the film’s central character that comes at an inevitable crossroads with his own feelings towards the government after the leaps that he has to take just to bury his son.

With this being a Linklater helmed production, there’s plenty to prove that the director has advanced in spades with his unique voice of artistic perspective, but that he also still abides by the tricks of the trade that have garnered him a reputation amongst independent movie legends. The most obvious chair that Richard leans on is his passion for dialogue and conversations that tell stories better than anyone going today. In fact, it’s in his ability to let his characters unload on long-winded spells of dialogue that is the blessing and curse to the man’s madness. There’s no question that these reflections by the characters unfurl that flower of wisdom from the past one pedal at a time, but in usual Linklater fashion, sometimes the scenes can drag on a bit too long, sketching an outline for editing that could’ve easily narrowed this down to 105 minutes without sacrificing a single perk of the story. Thankfully, the scenes that feel long are few and far between, as a majority of the film’s banter authentically scales the boundaries of what feels like a lifelong friendship that has picked up after thirty years without missing a sacrificial beat.

The script very much plays on a crossing of worlds, in which for the friends to embrace the future, they must first deal with the unfinished business of the past. The three of them have forgotten a devastating secret between them that occurs during their last days together in the service, and it’s in that perspective angle where the film adds necessary layers of depth to something that honestly wouldn’t succeed as just a two hour road trip flick. Like any great storyteller, Linklater slowly reveals a piece of the puzzle at a time to his audience, revealing the grand picture when the time is right, and when you know it level the most impact. I was worried that this would be the typical, predictable divide in a group that is present in nearly every film that revolves around friendship these days, but thankfully Linklater doesn’t abide by any rules that he doesn’t make, and constantly keeps his grip firmly on the strength of friendship that doesn’t budge or stand down under any pressure.

Besides the hearty investments of time that I mentioned earlier, the only other real problem that the movie has is Linklater’s heavy-handed commentary to sometimes go off in directions that offer nothing of balance or addition to the plot. A fine example of what I’m saying is a scene early on in the third act in which the group stumbles into a cell phone store and decide to buy cell phones, and since this is 2003, just imagine the kind of humor and naive commentary that we can include to give a nod and wink to the 2017 crowds who are watching this who know how important their cell phones are to them. Sometimes it is in its ability to play a little too cutesy to the crowd for it’s own good, and it left me screaming to get back to the story that got my butt in the seat to begin with. Down time is fine, but what this feels like is nothing more than a distraction to the progression of the film, but I wouldn’t believe for a second that this was a Linklater film if there wasn’t some incoherent rambling that has absolutely nothing to do with the material or central premise of the film.

THE VERDICT – ‘Last Flag Flying’ flies high thanks to the mastery of one of the world’s great storytellers in its writer and director Linklater, but also because of the camaraderie between his three accomplished actors who never waver in the ultimate test of friendship. The film could afford to lose around fifteen minutes of needless exposition, however the modesty of presenting patriotism with a price tag is one that will resonate strongly towards anyone in or out of uniform. Linklater brings to life a sharper focus for the issues that other bloodier war films are afraid to grapple with, and as a result gets his most candid film to date over thirty years into his storied career.



The muddy landscapes of a Mississippi farm divide two racially diverse families, in the Netflix Oscar contender ‘Mudbound’. Set in the rural American South during World War II, Dee Rees’ written and directed Mudbound is an epic story of two families pitted against one another by a ruthless social hierarchy, yet bound together by the shared farmland of the Mississippi Delta. Mudbound follows the McAllan family, newly transplanted from the quiet civility of Memphis and unprepared for the harsh demands of farming. Despite the grandiose dreams of Henry (Jason Clarke), his wife Laura (Carey Mulligan) struggles to keep the faith in her husband’s losing venture. Meanwhile, Hap (Rob Morgan) and Florence Jackson (Mary J Blige), sharecroppers who have worked the land for generations struggle bravely to build a small dream of their own despite the rigidly enforced social barriers they face. The war upends both families’ plans as their returning loved ones, Jamie McAllan (Garrett Hedlund) and Ronsel Jackson (Jason Mitchell), forge a fast but uneasy friendship that challenges the brutal realities of the Jim Crow South in which they live. ‘Mudbound’ is rated R for disturbing violence, adult language, and nudity.

With a film like ‘Mudbound’, the Oscar statue finally feels within the firm grasp of Netflix capabilities, especially considering how close they have now bridged the gap with reputable production qualities that rival the big screen experience. Not only is Rees adaptation a worthy suitor for the literary counterpart that has since been handed down as a tale of racial inequality for generations, but also one astonishes on nearly every front to being a credible nominee during a year of films that feels completely wide open. I was floored by this film, not because of anything surprising in the material that offers a disturbing view of what has transpired across history, but rather the equality in responsibility that the script takes in presenting a rare side to both angles of the story; black and white. The film is a shining example of two diverse families forced to live in such close proximity of one another, and what that miniscule distance means in the bigger picture for a world that was slowly coming together for the ideals of one complete race; humans.

Rachel Morris’s outstanding visual presence has always made atmospheric advances in setting the stage properly with films like ‘Dope’, ‘Cake’, and my personal favorite ‘Fruitvale Station’, but her work in ‘Mudbound’ far succeeds those prior movies in breaking the fourth wall for the audience to soak in. The cinematography here is what I describe as being “beautifully sooty”, maximizing the appeal of a muddy surrounded territory that reflects on the camera’s overall shading and color palate. There’s a real sense of grime in the air of this picture that can portray dirt for the kind of artistry that can be presented in something so pale and lifeless. This reflects accurately the kind of muddying in the air by these two sides that have been at war for ages, and really feeds into preserving a kind of toxic environment that our characters young and old are breathing in with each passing day that the camera well preserves in its visual compass. There’s beauty in decay, and Morris’s accommodating touch physically immerses us in this fledging mud-bowl that solidifies the murky relationship between our two family protagonists.

The script for this film runs into a few problems that sometimes hinders progress, but for over two consistent hours of constantly raising the stakes of suspense for their on-going working relationship, Rees comes out nearly unscathed in the grander picture. I mentioned earlier how responsible this film is at depicting both sides fruitfully in the epic running time of 128 minutes for the film, but what’s even more enlightening is just how much tender care and ears that Rees lends herself for every angle of the spectrum. No fewer than eight of the central characters narrate us through the entirety of the film, feeding into the kind of mental exposition necessarily needed to define these nearly barbaric movements of communication. This gives the film a novel-like approach to its sequencing that feels so close to the infernal fire that it could easily burn us.  In addition to this, I loved the comparison between the two families scene-to-scene that nearly echoed one another to showcase that no matter how different they may feel in living scenarios, they are one in the same on the beating heart scale that lives and dies through the same surprises of life. Beyond this, the film has an intricate way of getting the most out of its wartime subplot by comparing and contrasting the similarities to war overseas as compared to the war that is transpiring on our own soil. To that degree, America’s war feels much more urgent, especially in this movie, mainly because of how culturally behind we are compared to the rest of the world that doesn’t see the same hinders of color that handicap our progression. This is perhaps the most startling revelation behind Rees credible voice, and one that moved miles in terms of needing those differences elsewhere to highlight what is going on inside of this cancer.

There are two noticeable problems that can sometimes challenge the attention span of the audience in ways that could divide this experience. For me, it took three different sits to finish this film, not because of the disgusting treatment of minorities that transpires throughout, but rather the plodding exposition of the first act that doesn’t take off running with its feet in the air. It’s normal for set-up’s to feel lengthy because of the introductions to characters and scenarios, but so much of the first half hour of this film could easily be trimmed and combined together in keeping this film confidently under the two hour mark. Around the halfway point, the film’s dramatic pulse does beat a satisfying drum of intensity, but it’s such an investment to get to that point that could drop some moviegoers off along the way. The other problem deals with the predictability of this script that is easily mapped out from the initial engagements. Sadly, this film didn’t surprise me any in the least with its screenplay, and I wish so much of the exposition wasn’t so translucent so as not to see what will eventually come. Because of this, it was like playing the waiting game for this movie to catch up, treading through the muddy waters of progress to reach the emotionally engaging finish line of material that we patiently yearn for.

Every aspect of the cast hits their marks with precision, even including the ones who have never given me anything positive to say until now. Garrett Hedlund is great in this film, and his transformation between his pre-war swinging personality to his post-war traumatic troubles, outline a character who very much matures before our eyes and evolves into a positive male protagonist that this film so desperately needs. On the female side of the spectrum, Carey Mulligan and Mary J Blige could easily be their own competition towards an eventual Oscar nomination. Blige for me is the greater sell because her stripped down performance as Florence is the kind of inspiration for future female revolutions to stand up and prosper. She’s almost unrecognizable in this role, and I attribute that to the dedication that Blige has to letting this performance tell itself without needing the familiarity of a pop star’s presence at face value. Mulligan too continues to be one of the very best emotionally distraught actresses working today. That may sound like a negative, but a film as somber as this one requires that kind of emotional registry, and Carey is certainly up to the task, breathing in Laura as a woman who has been subjected to decisions being made for her for the entirety of her existence. While this may be a racial divide story first, it’s Laura’s subplot that provides us with hints of a woman’s revolution eventually taking place and providing many layers to the family household.

THE VERDICT – Considering this a stream-only release, there is absolutely no reason for you not to indulge in the muddy waters of ‘Mudbound’ that tread through the absorbing details of inequality that still reeling us to this very day. This is groundbreaking material for Netflix, a company which up until now has made some reputable documentaries but nothing in the motion picture presence that stood among Hollywood’s best. The performances are raw, and the visual likeness radiates a murky surrounding that treads softly on the surface before engulfing itself whole on what’s bubbling underneath.


Three Billboards Outside Ebbing, Missouri

There are ‘Three Billboards Outside of Ebbing, Missouri’ that are the key to calling out a murderer who has alluded police. Writer and Director Martin Mcdonagh’s newest black comedy-drama takes place in the heartland of America. After months have passed without a culprit in her daughter’s murder case, Mildred Hayes (Frances McDormand) makes a bold move, painting three signs leading into her town with a controversial message directed at William Willoughby (Woody Harrelson), the town’s revered chief of police. When his second-in-command Officer Dixon (Sam Rockwell), an immature mother’s boy with a penchant for violence, gets involved, the battle between Mildred and Ebbing’s law enforcement is not only exacerbated, but taken to new levels of heightened tension between both sides. ‘Three Billboards Outside of Ebbing, Missouri’ is rated R for violence, adult language throughout, and some sexual references.

Martin Mcdonagh has always been one of my favorite directors because of his humanistic approach to dialogue within awkward situations that offers an abstraction of emotional releases. Martin always manages to get funny and sometimes appalling responses out of these darkly intense situations, so a film like ‘Three Billboards Outside Ebbing, Misouri’ shouldn’t be a difficult sell by proxy. Without question, this is Mcdonagh’s single best film to date, and one that I feel will serve as a valuable piece of conversation stimulation that will aggressively divide two sides on the many moral crossroads that envelope the themes within this picture. Inside are bouts with racism, sexism, media manipulation, and of course murder. These devastating issues have always been cancers to our society, but especially prevalent in today’s day and age where it feels like we (similar to the town of Ebbing) are enduring our own moral trial in making so many of these wrongs right within the structure of our own future. Mcdonagh knows this and crafts a movie that feels like our wildest fantasies of grievance coming true in the hands of one emotionally scarred woman who is lashing out against the very system that failed her and cost her arguably the greatest single thing about her life; her daughter.

Behind the wheel of that wrecking ball is the one woman tour de force performance of Mcdormand that silences any doubt that 2017 is her year. As Mildred Hayes, Mcdormand brings to life the sadness, anger, rebellion, and release that is sure to chill anyone who has ever lost someone valuable in their lives, bringing with it a kind of small town superhero who just keeps coming at her opposition. Mcdormand commands the screen because each and every time she appears, she feels like a hurricane that is coming to blow through anything and anyone that gets in her way, and she is simply as good as it gets in a year that features some gritty leading lady performances that are destined to shine. Besides Mcdormand, there are also captivating performances by Harrelson, Lucas Hedges, and Mcdonagh favorite Sam Rockwell like you’ve never seen him. Mcdormand gets a shot at every one of them, but it’s her chemistry with Rockwell that gives the film its greatest example of casualties involved in the face of war. Rockwell’s character goes through a well taut transformation that feels genuinely earned, and his assertion into the movie articulately depicts the truest cancer of ignorance that is slowly eating away at this town of complacency.

The setting for the film feels like a character in itself, demanding the most of small town problems and ideals that appropriately channel the vast personalities in culture. There is a brief feeling of ‘Fargo’ ambiance in the air, echoing the beat of the singular drum that the townspeople alone vibe to, and one that feels so distant from the rest of us in existence. Ebbing feels like a place where anything is possible. A virtual soap opera of a town that caters to the kind of slow news days that CNN is just itching to delve into. There’s an almost engulfing cloud of intimidation by the police department’s grip on this invasive community, but that all is tested like never before when Mildred decides to invest everything she has into exposing their incompetence. What I find so credible is that while this film wasn’t actually shot in Missouri, the doubling from Sylva, North Carolina more than feeds into the small town characteristics that bring to life the fictional town fluently and leave nothing to be desired in terms of bridging the gap of production synching.

In terms of the story, there’s plenty from Mcdonagh as a screenwriter that lends itself accordingly to keeping the pacing of this film moving smoothly. Most notably, the film never loses its sense of humor despite the adult themes that take over the second half of the movie and up the stakes with unnerving uncertainty from the community whole. There are some patches where the script hits some dull spots, but just when you think it is beginning to lose steam, Mcdonagh always seems to throw a wrench into the film that constantly keeps the audience guessing, and I can’s say that ever for a moment that it felt choreographed with where I felt the story was heading. That, in addition to this crumbling family in scenes of the past and present, and I felt like Mcdonagh is a writer who definitely hasn’t lost his stride, valuing the importance of famous last words and what effects that they might have on future bearings. Little moments hold the biggest consequences, and it’s those instances when the truth shines for better or worse.

Up to this point, ‘Three Billboards’ was easily one of my favorite films of 2017, but then the dark cloud of arguably one of my most disappointing endings in recent memory took place and soured my final grade. I didn’t hate the film’s ending, and certainly understand the approach to “anger begets more anger”, but I feel like the ending is too speculative and not satisfying enough in terms of answers to the film’s core mystery. This left me with more questions than answers coming out of the film, and one that I wish would’ve continued at least for ten more minutes, not necessarily for therapeutic release, but rather for emphasis in conclusion from an ending that just kind of trails off. For my theater, the final shot omitted so much air of suspense held in by the audience who were ready to explode to that point, but it just ends on a final direction that has been cemented for the final five minutes of the film, leading us ready for the crushing blow of disappointment that this film couldn’t run away from after being written into a corner. You understand from a character perspective the purpose in this journey, but the tank of consistency runs on empty during the film’s finale, giving up on itself before we ever have a chance to.

THE VERDICT – ‘Three Billboards Outside Ebbing, Missouri’ stands tall under the lights because of a gut-wrenching performance by Mcdormand, as well as the endless puppeteering by Mcdonagh’s empathetic approach to everything that is right and wrong with the world. Though the ending is riddled with a lack of impact for the many satisfying directions of conclusion that this film could’ve given us, the previous 9/10’s blew me away with complexity towards cunning emotional depositions that prove this film is too big for just one respective genre. There’s truth in advertising, and this billboard says poetically profound.



‘Wonder’ tells the incredibly inspiring and heartwarming story of August Pullman (Jacob Tremblay), a warm-hearted little boy born with facial differences that have kept him in and out of hospitals his whole life. Up until now, his appearance has prevented him from going to a mainstream school, so Auggie becomes the most unlikely of heroes when he enters the local fifth grade. As his family (Julia Roberts, Owen Wilson), his new classmates, and the larger community all struggle to discover their compassion and acceptance, Auggie’s extraordinary journey will unite them all and prove you can’t blend in when you were born to stand out, proving that the things that make us different also make us special. ‘Wonder’ is directed by Stephen Chbosky, and is rated PG for thematic elements including bullying, and some mild adult language.

If a theater auditorium full of crying people doesn’t restore my faith in mankind, nothing probably will. The tears are ones of joy more often than not in ‘Wonder’, channeling an inspiring tear-jerker that moved me miles in ways that it tugged at the heartstrings with a resounding message of clarity. To be different is not to be unequal, but rather extraordinary, and we should welcome those extraordinary people with forthright actions that will define us. The film more than lives up to its ambitious name by implementing the softer side to cinema that usually more times than not leaves me rolling my eyes. The meandering side to dramas involving characters that are deemed as ‘Different’ comes across in the thinnest of representations, leading to films like ‘Simon Birch’ or ‘Radio’ that often play to the predictability of each respective story. ‘Wonder’ is above all of that, mainly because it tells an honest story first-and-foremost, depicting the very actions and consequences of children with such accuracy that makes them entertaining, but above all else human. This was a very entertaining sit to me, and most of the credit goes to the same filmmaking genius who helmed ‘The Perks of Being a Wallflower’, perhaps the most poignant teenage film of the last twenty years.

That magician is Stephen Chbosky, and if one thing is clear about the circles that he runs around in endless direction, it’s that he understands youths and their unfolding situations accordingly. In weaker hands, this film could easily fall by the wayside corny while reaching for the right degree of sentimentality, but Stephen, as well as his all around perfectly cast ensemble, harbor such surrealism that comes with living with something as challenging as physical appearance and the kind of psychological harm that it can cause to that innocent youth. As a filmmaker, Chbosky infuses a lot of warm color that represents the rich, vibrancy of this movie that removes any doubt of this feeling like a bigger budgeted Lifetime movie of the week. On top of this, the cinematography is gorgeous, harboring a finer appreciation of versatility in shots far and near that play to the drama in each scene without needing the slow close-up that forces us to pay attention to a heavy handed message. Stephen lets his audience come to him, and because of such the wondrous influence that he commands over this movie is one that always feels firmly in his grip without reaching for the sure things when it comes to what will resonate with his audience.

What I came to appreciate about this story is that it isn’t just told from Auggie’s point of view, but rather a healthy offering of characters who each play great value into the peeling of this small boy. For the first half of the film, the narration is done by four different characters of Auggie, his Sister Via, his best friend Jack, and Via’s former best friend Miranda. Not all of them hit as strongly emotionally as others do, and some even come and go without much reasoning for their delve into that particular character. But what I found so enticing about this direction is that the storytelling shows its depth by proving that there’s so much more that meets the eye with this boy and his situation that touches a lot of people for better or worse. To me, his sister’s side of things is one that I valued most, depicting a side of temporary abandonment that doesn’t always get a thorough representation in films like this one. Nothing ever feels rushed or even sloppy by its expanding levels, using the most of 108 precious minutes of screen time that constantly held my attention because there’s something new around every corner.

The few problems that the film’s screenplay by Chbosky does have are few and far between, but there were some things that bothered me. For one, the film’s multiple narration does sometimes stray too far from Auggie before much resolution with his character has taken place. It does make up for it during the later part of the third act with some more time devoted to him, but unfortunately what transpires during a field trip does feel terribly tacked on to the story to offer some last minute drama that the film doesn’t feel confident in what few edge-of-the-seat moments it gave us. The overall final twenty minutes of the film is definitely the weakness of the movie, but it isn’t enough to ever take it down more than a grade for its lack of involvement to the star character. I’ll get to the performances in a second, but the one thing that makes Tremblay just miss from possible Academy recognition during awards season is that the film is noticeably missing that one long-winded moment of dialogue from him to bring it all together, and that reminder to the townspeople of the journey that this strong force has taken.

As for performances, there is nothing lacking in this department. The duo of Julia Roberts and Owen Wilson worked spectacularly, emoting two cool parents who know how to relate to their children, but also know when to turn on the discipline of a stern approach. Jacob Tremblay is a wonder of acting science with his role of Auggie. In him, Tremblay finally capitalizes on his dramatic circumference that was evident in 2015’s ‘Room’, playing him with enough sadness and spunk to appropriately balance them capably without feeling like a drag. My favorite performance of the film however, was from sixteen-year-old Izabela Vidovic who opened my eyes to such a presence in the same vein that she does to the townspeople at a school play in the film. Via feels just as cursed by Auggie predicament, and because of such we get a tender performance by Vidovic that reminds us of the very complexities of finding an identity as a teenager without coming right out and spoon-feeding it down our throats. The scenes with Vidovic and Roberts are definitely my favorite of the film because you feel such invisible angst and depravation being explored in ways that feel every bit as deserving of exploration as they do becoming of each respective character’s direction for the remainder of the film. Subtle visual storytelling at its finest.

THE VERDICT – ‘Wonder’ doesn’t require familiar paths on its journey to compelling drama, it blazes a trail of its own by an informatively versatile approach the pushes this to the front of the line of tear-jerking favorites. Chbosky once again puts the lump in all of our throats with such compassion and vulnerability in the unapologetic circumstance of childish audacity, and this more than capable ensemble cast turn the gears of tears accordingly for nearly two hours. A name means everything to a film, and because of such, the double duty of Chbosky put the ‘Wonder’ in wonderful.


Thank You For Your Service

Miles Teller and his band of brothers pay the ultimate sacrifice, in ‘Thank You For Your Service’. The movie follows a group of U.S. soldiers returning from Iraq who struggle to integrate back into family and civilian life, while living with the memory of a war that threatens to destroy them long after they’ve left the battlefield. Starring an ensemble cast led by Miles Teller, Haley Bennett, Joe Cole, Amy Schumer, Beulah Koale, Scott Haze, Keisha Castle-Hughes, Brad Beyer, Omar J. Dorsey and Jayson Warner Smith, the drama is based on the bestselling book by Pulitzer Prize-winning reporter and author David Finkel. Jason Hall, who wrote the screenplay of American Sniper, makes his directorial debut with ‘Thank You for Your Service’. The film is rated R for strong violent content, adult language throughout, some sexuality, drug material and brief nudity.

There’s certainly no shortage of post-war films that deal with the traumatizing experiences that only one immersed in the battles for our freedom can detail. Most notably, films like ‘American Sniper’ and ‘Brothers’ pack emotionally stirring exploits that depict hell on Earth being oceans between the peaceful surroundings that we as citizens take for granted every day. ‘Thank You For Your Service’ might be the single best one in this respective subgenre because this is a film that feels like it is finally giving us the whole story involved with post-traumatic stress, and not just catering to the conveniences that play coincidentally into the kind of events that anyone in or out of war would know. Jason Hall’s decision to write and direct this riveting story was definitely the correct motion, as there’s such a fluidity from screenplay to screen that pivots in-sync wonderfully. It’s clear that Hall’s agenda is to showcase that there is a steep price that comes with being a hero, a term that is so loosely defined in the film that it makes it difficult to assume whether it is a positive or a negative, blurring the line of protagonist versus antagonist carefully without it playing into an obvious battlefield gimmick that we’ve seen far too often in war flicks that associate with one particular narrator.

For this screenplay, I found it very full of depth because the movie doesn’t focus on just one character, but instead these three longtime friends and soldiers who return home after serving four years in Iraq. It’s in their versatility in characters and traits where the film can delve into so many variations and coping mechanisms with trauma that we as an audience can explore and educate from within ourselves. One of them is anxious to get home, one of them cannot wait to re-enlist for four more years, and one of them seems kind of lost in the shuffle between two lives that he doesn’t comfortably fit into. Each one of them engages in their own struggles once they return home, and it’s in that perspective where I soaked in the scenes of awkwardness between their families seeing them that simulated the hearts of this trio being finally home, but their minds forever being lost overseas. There is a strong disjointed feeling from the three of them that makes this anything but a smooth transition, and it’s in that glance where the film’s psychology starts to take in and gives us glances of what millions are dealing with even in 2017.

Hall’s biggest message feels like it’s saying that there isn’t enough that we as a country can do to mend this permanently broken fence, and fix the damage caused by the new war that they now face at home. Help doesn’t seem to happen at a quick enough pace, and because of such, so many are lost in the shuffle with their own individual nightmares that feels like a suffocating blanket that smothers all of them when being asked to return to normalcy. The message never feels heavy-handed or overdone, and instead relies upon the screenplay subtly taking us alongside our cast of characters when they finally declare that enough is enough. Even from a visual perspective, Hall’s style of filmmaking leaves a lot of distance between us and particularly Miles Teller’s character during these brief moments of reflection. There’s a lot of wide angles that similarly hint at how alone and lost that Teller’s character feels in this new world, and how the immensity of this cloud of uncertainty for situation surrounds him like a dense fog. Hall’s patience and originality in both screenplay and screen override some of the small problems that sometimes snag at the fluid progression of the third and final act.

For me, there’s not a lot to point out here in terms of negatives, but one such example is in the limited opportunities to soak in the actual war field that is talked about repeatedly throughout the film but rarely shown. This mystery stance works early on because there’s so much that Teller’s character in particular is hiding about one fateful day that left his troop in shambles. To reveal this at the end is wise, but I feel like only including five minutes of this experience in the first act of the film is harmful to us as an audience understanding and being able to compare and contrast the two worlds that divide our cast and pull at them like a tug-of-war. After this reveal, the film also just kind of ends without carrying much of the same impact that constantly elevated throughout the 102 minute film. It’s not a violent subdue, but rather a slow release of air that lacks the revelation within a war film’s final devastating exclamation point that it sadly lacked.

Thankfully, these performances are mesmerizingly moving from an ensemble cast that disturbs the definition of supporting characters. Really all of this cast is a main cast because they all go through the rises and falls associated with war. On that account, Haley Bennett gives her very best performance to date, commanding Teller’s wife and Mother of two beautiful children with the kind of unsettling bridging to her husband that commutes to us that not everything is alright. Some people might not her character for being a bit distant from her husband, but to me I found her emotional registry to be very on-point with what a lot of lonely females go through when they are forced to carry the load at home. Miles Teller is also riveting as Sergeant Schuman. Being that this is based on a real life person, sometimes the wiggle room of a character can be limited, but Teller makes Schuman his own, juggling a cryptic emptiness in his demeanor at home that plagues his ability to move forward. Miles is evolving rapidly as a dependable presence on screen, and roles like this really channel the versatility in his personality that proves he can do it all. It was also a startling surprise to see Amy Schumer playing a serious role as a wife who loses her husband in war to a lot of uncertainty and mystery that Teller’s character isn’t letting onto with details. She’s briefly in the film for only a couple of scenes, but it is an eye-opening performance that proves she has a place in film when all of the low-brow comedy finally loses its legs from her early filmography.

THE VERDICT – ‘Thank You For Your Service’ feels like the most downtrodden thank you to the troops who sacrifice everything for us, but it’s the honesty in their side effects that Hall takes advantage of, giving them a truthful tone and depiction for the first time ever without apology. This film is another one that makes you truly hate the price tag and concepts associated with war, but its brutal honesty never loses grip in the bittersweet pill that some men and women make it home, but don’t actually make it home. Hall and Finkel prove that when one war ends, another one begins, and it’s in that message where the minefield of life truly takes shape in all of its startling surprises.



The final film of heralded actor Harry Dean Stanton proves he’s more than just a ‘Lucky’ face amongst the crowd. Lucky (Stanton) is an old US Navy veteran of rigid habits and attitudes in a small town. When his routine is interrupted by a sudden collapse at home, Lucky finds himself realizing that his remarkably healthy old age is going to face an inevitable decline and he has to accept it and learn to live with such a disposition. In that difficult reassessment, Lucky must face up to what he believes in and how much it compares to his neighbors’ contrasting priorities. In doing so, Lucky finds that his life has its positive side as he searches for some meaning that he can accept. Actor John Carroll Lynch’s directorial debut ‘Lucky’, is at once a meditation on morality, loneliness, spirituality, and human connection that binds us in the face of change. ‘Lucky’ is currently Not rated, but does have adult language throughout.

‘Lucky’ is a somber and cynical diatribe for one man’s account of a constant uphill climb with the inevitable battle that we all someday face. That man is Harry Dean Stanton, and as far as posthumous film offerings are concerned, this is as perfect as it gets for a triumphant actor who wears the many trials and tribulations of 91 years on his face. Due to the proximity of Stanton’s real life untimely death, the film feels like the closest that we will ever get to seeing someone living out their last days for an entertaining media that has followed him through decades of memorable roles that have carved out a real iron man for Hollywood’s elite. Because of that set-up for a film of this caliber, it feels like everything that Stanton has said and done throughout has been building to this moment in his career, and the big fear that his character speaks of in the film is one that carries with it an even heavier weight because this final chapter bridging this character and real life figure hits us with the constant reminder that we are being treated to the rare opportunity to see art imitating life.

For my money, the film has a very spiritual side not only with the impending doom of death, but also with the value of living for the moment while we have it. There are many metaphors and subplots within Lynch’s film to support this opinion, but none more glaring than that of its title character. It’s funny how even the name “Lucky” can mean so much to so many people in this film. For him, it kind of comes with a sarcastic definition that everyone calls him lucky, but when he looks in the mirror he can’t understand why. To him, the struggle of repetition has grounded the expectations that he once had for his life, giving in to the feelings of loneliness and anger that overtake him on more than one instance during the film. For those telling him, that luck involves him living for an incredibly long time despite being a heavy smoker, drinker, and an overall rolling ball of utter contempt. The screenplay meets us somewhere in the middle of this stark contrast, and its poignancy in a positive but brash subtlety is what constantly kept the film entertaining for me through some dry spells in repetition that might hinder the pacing for an average moviegoer.

The production quality in cinematography and artistic vision is incredible for someone helming their first film, but Lynch is someone whose vital experience in front of the camera clearly have crafted him for a career behind it. The very setting of this almost desert town feeds into the constant feeling of seclusion that corners Lucky into these very tight spaces like his house and the local bar, where he spends a majority of his time. The shot selection seconds this idea by tightening up on the framing and zooming of every respective angle so that no word from any line of witty dialogue goes missed. I also greatly enjoyed the very eclectic musical score that involved harmonica instrumentals and a mariachi band that gives off that close to the border kind of vibe. Not to be outdone by the professionals however, Stanton proves there’s nothing he can’t do, and even involves himself on a mouthing of the harmonica to the song ‘Red River Valley’ that will tug on the heartstrings of anyone who is running out of minutes with this legend of the silver screen.

Speaking of which, Stanton himself is no doubt a tour de force in this film, but he gets help from friends and co-stars alike who push this campaign. Longtime friend and collaborator David Lynch appears as the best friend of sorts to Lucky in this film. What I like about this is that once again it is cropping real life for the camera, depicting Stanton and Lynch as two buzzards who have flown around the coop a time or two. It’s in Lynch’s soft, childlike delivery that the eyes of Lucky start to open to the inevitable, and it’s proof that no matter what happens in this first battle of life, the unsettling realities of a war being lost later on is a certainty. Ron Livingston also makes a satisfying entrance as a life insurance salesman who angers and opposes Lucky’s peaceful bubble of ignorance. While only in the film for two scenes, Ron takes the reigns momentarily, echoing a message of urgency for the youth who feel untouchable because of a number. As for Harry himself, he commands Lucky superbly, complete with his unapologetically dry sense of humor and humbling sarcasm that make this character one of my personal favorites of 2017. The thing with acting is that it’s always a transformation for an actor in becoming their fictional counterpart, but there’s something entirely original with what Stanton does here. He is Lucky. We know it and so does the movie, and that’s why the opening shot in bold letters says “HARRY DEAN STANTON IS LUCKY”. Stanton doesn’t act for this role…he IS this role. No character necessary.

As far as problems go, I had two that diminished my score minimally. The first is as I mentioned earlier in the pacing. Because this film has a lack of defined plot or progression within that narrative, this won’t be the most entertaining sit for the entirety of audiences. To me, 83 minutes is definitely the fine amount of time to go with for this film, but you can definitely feel the pinch of material early on, forcing the first act through some sluggish movements. My other problem was with a scene late in the film that took place between Lucky and another Spanish speaking person. What bothers me is that they have this five minute conversation, as well as a surprise that happens afterwards, yet we don’t ever get the privilege of knowing what was said because of no subtitles. Their conversation can be felt in emotional response between the two, and maybe that is the point, but to me I feel the reactions of characters more when I know everything that is being said between them, and because of such, this scene just kind of passed me by without the kind of connection that I had to the rest of the movie.

THE VERDICT – ‘Lucky’ is a rare but reflective glance at the final steps artistically of a firestorm actor who turns back the hands of time for one more day in the sun. Lynch’s debut effort was always going to be solid with Stanton in tow, but this director is no slouch, providing a gorgeous meditation of life reflection that hints that we’re all lucky in more ways than one. Few films actually take you on a rollercoaster of release anymore, but Lynch’s war with the inevitable, combined with Stanton’s warmhearted goodbye will serve as an abstract portrait that is open to plenty of emotional interpretation.


Battle of the Sexes

A man and woman at the top of their respective games, let their balls do the talking in ‘Battle of the Sexes’. In the wake of the sexual revolution and the rise of the women’s movement, the 1973 tennis match between women’s world champion Billie Jean King (Emma Stone) and ex-men’s-champ and serial hustler Bobby Riggs (Steve Carell) was billed as the BATTLE OF THE SEXES and became one of the most watched televised sports events of all time, reaching 90 million viewers around the world. As the rivalry between King and Riggs kicked into high gear, off-court each was fighting more personal and complex battles. The fiercely private King was not only championing for equality, but also struggling to come to terms with her own sexuality, as her friendship with Marilyn Barnett (Andrea Riseborough) developed. And Riggs, one of the first self-made media-age celebrities, wrestled with his gambling demons, at the expense of his family and wife Priscilla (Elisabeth Shue). Together, Billie and Bobby served up a cultural spectacle that resonated far beyond the tennis court, sparking discussions in bedrooms. ‘Battle of the Sexes’ is directed by the husband and wife duo of Jonathan Dayton and Valerie Faris, and is rated PG-13 for some sexual content and partial nudity.

Sports can serve as a chess piece of sorts in the bigger battles that shape and advance our society. While these are just games of friendly competition, there’s no debate to the undercurrent of political conversation that is taking place beneath the stage of smiles and respectable handshakes. Most notably from history are games like the 1980 Hockey Winter Olympic games, which staged the ultimate underdog Americans defeating the Russians at the heart of the cold war, Jackie Robinson stepping onto the field for his first major league game, and of course Billie Jean King fighting for women’s equality in a sport that up until then had been dominated monetarily by males. We point to these chapters in history as the building blocks for the much greater picture in all of its hurdles, and that is what gives a film like ‘Battle of the Sexes’ its stroke of importance against the litter of sports biopics. Despite the mostly light-hearted atmosphere being displayed here, there’s very much a struggle for power, and King herself feels like the brunt of frustration for a generation of males not quite ready to give over their dominance just yet.

From a narrative perspective, the film is so much more than just its title event, which is so miniscule in the grand scale of what is really going on in this movie. The script that is written by Simon Beaufoy takes us through these two prominent figures of their sport and chooses to focus and peel away at the human side to each of their respective lives, building up the backstory prominently to feed into the main course later on. In Billie Jean, we meet a woman on the verge of her sexual awakening, feeling love for the first time in the clutches of a woman and a union between them that by all means was looked upon in shame not only by the sport but also by its fans. On top of this, King’s real battle takes place off the court with the head of the tennis organization, Jack Kramer (Played by Bill Pullman), and his sexist stance on refusing to grant woman the kind of equality that they have fought so hard for with increasing ratings. On the parralel, Riggs is surprisingly not half of the antagonist that the film tries so desperately to shadow him as. Just as King’s life is taking a turn of revolution, Riggs is down and out with an addiction to gambling that has cost him nearly everything that he loves. The people in his life view him as a joke, and because of such, I felt great empathy towards this character and how this big name battle is every bit important to restoring his name as it is to building the legacy of King’s. Because the film builds these two characters equally, it means that much more when their tug-of-war comes to fruition later on, and the heartbreak of how only one of them can walk away as the winner, and that is riveting storytelling at its finest.

Another prominent perspective in this film is the impeccable artistic pageantry during the disco ages that doesn’t feel like it’s being used as an artificial gimmick. So much of the set designs and cinema scope with color palates in the film feel like they are patiently distributed and wait for the film to come to them instead of vice versa. Soundtrack is a big example of this, limiting the uses of top 40 favorites into the film, and instead opting for B-side bullets that never try hard to timestamp and hammer home the idea of this particular decade. The fashion trends rarely feel like anything that you can point to and laugh at, and it gives the entire production a kind of earnest respect that doesn’t feel necessary in exploiting it for its own cheap giggles or observations. The camera work stays fairly close for some conversation pieces, particularly with that of King when her usually tough exterior comes crumbling down at the hands of a woman who she falls smitten for instantaneously. The inclusion of neon colors splashing particularly in that of bar setting scenes feel like they play into Billie’s inside desire just burning to come out, feeding into the passion between them that the film unabashedly buys into. Even the television presentational value caters as well to this consistent grip for authenticity that the film carries on with, steadying the broadcasts with intentionally slow editing and pacing that was very much a staple of 70’s broadcasts. It all feeds into two hours of seamless visual merit that keeps the film firmly grounded in its roots, bringing to life the sunshine backdrops of the California coast that reflect the flower generation in all of its colorful displays for our own personal eye candy.

As for performances, there is no limits of familiar faces who pop up on screen to steal a scene or two in this film with no shortage of meaningful roles. Emma Stone refuses to rest on her Oscar win last March, breathing in King with precision in feminine heroism and dedication to appearance that immerses her fully into this role. Stone again has several moments of possible Oscar clips here as well, and her fiery finesse propels her to the front of the line to retain her trophy. Carell might give my single favorite performance from him to date as Riggs. Steve juggles two different Bobby’s to their respective importance with the script; one in front of the camera and one off of the camera, and they are anything but one and the same. Bobby is wise enough as a business man to know that every good match needs a villain that the people (in this case the women) can grit their teeth at, and his charismatic stroke of shovanism knows no bounds. It’s a difficult thing to balance these two opposite sides under the same helm, but Carell’s integral exuberance keeps them two equally compelling characters for the price of one. In addition to these two, there’s notable turns from veterans like Pullman, Elisabeth Shue, and the lady who constantly keeps the film’s tonal comedy in the palm of her hands; Sarah Silverman. This trio round out a collective ensemble that rival any other film this year, not just in big name quality, but in how much energetic material there is to go around for everyone to take a turn.

My problems are quite limited with this film and only come down to one or two sparingly random instances that did little damage. For one, the affair storyline with King and Marilyn really only focus on them and ignore almost entirely the perspective from King’s husband until it is absolutely necessary to include him. Doing this makes where it is going predictable for the viewers who don’t know everything about King, and I wish the film did a little more to leave him with a lasting impression upon us. My other problem is with the actual Battle of the Sexes, which takes place in the final twenty minutes of the film. It’s hard enough to build the dramatic effect in this game if you know what happened, but I feel like Dayton and Faris could’ve done a slightly better job at the unfolding atmosphere of male uneasiness that was present in the stadium. For the most part, the game breezes by, focusing too often on wide television angles, and less from a player perspective inside the physicality of it all. It just kind of makes the final scenes fizzle out like a boxing match that we were built up for from all of the pregame talking, but then disappointed once it actually happened.

THE VERDICT – Dayton and Faris serve up yet another crowd pleasing time capsule of 70’s euphoria that moves us with two endearing performances by Stone and Carell at the top of the bill. Like our own world that still requires lots of growing for our own narrow-minded, ‘Battle of the Sexes’ does give us some semblance of hope for how far we’ve come, and the kind of stage that only sports can provide in diving into that valuable social commentary. The ball stays inbounds for two hours of breezy emotional substance that invites us to laugh and love with these characters.



“This film is fucking nuts” – Bob Meffert

Critically acclaimed director Darren Arronofsky returns to helm and pen this ‘Mother’ of A mystery starring Jennifer Lawrence and Javier Bardem. The film revolves arouns A couple’s (Lawrence and Bardem) once blossoming relationship being tested when A series of uninvited guests arrive at their newly purchased home, disrupting their tranquil existence. After their motives become clear, the woman of the couple soon learns the heavy price that comes with tranquility, and that her once loving husband might not exactly be the same man who she took vows to. ‘Mother’ also stars Michelle Pfeiffer and Ed Harris, and is rated R for strong disturbing violent content, some sexuality, nudity and adult language.

You have to give Darren Arronofsky some credit. With A career spanning over twenty years at the helm of some visual and material masterpieces, the man still finds ways to entice and shock his audience in the most lurid of taboo fashions. In comes ‘Mother’, A film that while I did enjoy, certainly isn’t one that I am able to recommend for what it takes to fully comprehend. Like all Arronofsky films, there’s something greater at play here than just A man and A woman living in this peaceful setting, while strangers overtake and crumble that reality. It’s A thinkers film, and once that lightbulb of knowledge kicks on in the heads of the audience, you can start to appreciate this film for the points that it is trying to convey on this particularly humbling subject matter. What I find so daring about his method of visual storytelling is that he isn’t afraid to get his hands dirty in expressing the true lunacy of A particular topic or event, presenting the audience with the capability to see it through newly discovered eyes. He’s still one of those master storytellers who is articulately capable of presenting meaning without words, A form of expression that sadly is losing credibility with each passing year of experimental film. Because such, whether you like or dislike ‘Mother!’, one thing is for certain; you will be talking about it for days to come.

The decision to craft this story with little narration or exposition is definitely A big risk, but the shoulders of cryptic ambiguity in clear cut solutions is one that actually kept me more invested the longer the film went on. It’s clear that Arronofsky is dabbing in expression here that appoints the kind of artistic integrity to ‘Mother!’ that you would for an abstract painting. For however you see his film, there simply is no wrong answer. To hammer this fact home, Arronofsky never gives any of his characters names, an aspect that doesn’t configure them in one way or the other when deciphering Darren’s true intentions. I can confidently say that I do think I understand what he was going for here, but for fear of spoilers I will not fully get into it until I’m asked. Because of A heavy handed third act with the intentional material, It’s difficult not to pick up on those key aspects that slowly unfolds the arms of mystery and really makes your eyes pop with expression from the mayhem that engulfs it all. I do wish the mystery stayed thick with this one throughout because sometimes the obvious does feel slightly catering to those crowds who are afraid to think. This film is best when it doesn’t feel forced, but the final thirty minutes of this film are simply too bat-shit to not see for yourself.

The attitude too is relied upon heavily in capturing the essence of awkwardness that has swallowed these dual protagonists whole. Without any kind of musical accompaniment to distract or take away from soaking in every audacity-filled event that this woman experiences, the film forces you to be there without missing A beat. The performances are one thing, but the dialogue is rich on the prodding and poking of ones hospitality without feeling artificial or catering to A particular idea in script. You feel everything that Lawrence’s character is going through because she is front-and-center the logic in homemaking that goes with this movie, and feels like our side of things in the spectrum of manners while guests in someone else’s home. The rich consistency in tone for this screenplay really does A lot in puppeteering the precedent for what’s to come with that riveting third act reveal that I mentioned earlier, and that tension of embarrassment will sometimes creep up on you like insects that (Like Lawrence) have overstayed their welcome.

Most of the aesthetic touches in production for the film are used effectively too in pushing that tension even further in each scene. The house set piece is very detailed and weathered in its appearance, and it is truly remarkable the kind of beating that it takes in this film at the hands of Arronofsky, whom shapes the very pulse of such with its own beating heart. The camera angles omit that casual Arronofsky vibe that we have come to know, complete with stimulating camera vibrations when A character is upset, as well as tight-knit close shots of each character’s face that put you in the heart of the moment. The camera follows where our characters wander, weaving in front of and behind whenever they leave the room. This as well is A familiar touch to Arronofsky classics like ‘Requiem For A Dream’ and ‘The Wrestler’, providing A kind of identity stamp of reminder to the man who moves the strings. My only complaint with this method in camera angles is that it can sometimes present itself as erratic when combined with stair movements or physical sequences whose close quarters can feel too close for comfort in depiction. To say there were A few scenes in the film where I had to squint to understand, is A slight understatement, and I hope Darren can instill some wide angles appropriately for future projects.

There is also some noteworthy praise in these weighty performances that each vary from one another in terms of direction. Lawrence’s fragile vulnerability casts her as A true protagonist in the early stages, but then evolves into A true force of nature kind of release. Jennifer is truly one of the best performers going today, and her slow transformation as A dreamer whose life has been overtaken by A series of strangers, really springs logic into her already meaty psychological spin. Bardem appeals in naïve self-promotion that really hammers home the idea how isolated his female counterpart has become. The two of them bounce off of one another on more than one occasion, and it absolutely radiated faithfully as A couple being torn apart by powerful forces. Ed Harris and Michelle Pfeiffer also have something substantial to offer as A married duo who bring out the worst in each other. Pfeiffer is an oversexed control freak, and Harris is A never-do-good type who pushes his luck on far too many occasions. For the most part, this is Lawrence’s show, but the contributions of this complete list of durable performances adds the kind of big name appeal to the bill that we have come to expect from Arronofsky.

THE VERDICT – If you see this film, go into it as blind as you can. ‘Mother!’ has A thrilling underbelly of riveting material that is only surpassed in depth by its thought-provoking depictions that are always pushing the envelope of artistic expression. Led by the most versatile performance of her career in Lawrence, Arronofsky propels himself once again ahead of the horror game without needing too much of the blood and gore that we’ve become accustomed to, and trading them in for A series of squirms that overstuffs the already packed claustrophobia. Pretentious yet powerful.



The pages of one of Stephen King’s most heralded terror page-turners comes to life on the silver screen, more than 27 years after its small screen miniseries terrified us of clowns. ‘IT’ is A generational affair of frightening events and disappearances that happen at the heart of the small town of Derry in the state of Maine. In the summer of 1989, children again start to disappear around the town, some found dead, and some not found at all. At the heart of it all is A group of seven children who seem to be the focal point of this mysterious entity. The group is dubbed “The Losers Club”, but together they are the unstoppable force and Derry’s only hope against the terror that is come to be known as “Pennywise the Clown”, a shape-shifting demonic entity known to return every 27 years to Derry to feast on the fears of its children. Will this club be the brick wall that silences Pennywise forever? Or will the paranormal force prove to be too much? ‘IT’ is directed by Andy Muschetti, and is rated R for  violence/horror, bloody images, and for adult language.

This film couldn’t have come at A better time. Not only has it been 27 years since the original mini series debuted on TV, an obvious play on Pennywise’s feeding schedule, but it’s also A horror remake that nearly does everything right, proving that innovation can still be accomplished even when it’s borrowing something that has already been done. The right kind of remake in film is one that spins A new kind of story to A familiar tale, taking what little things in outline that worked for its material and shuffling them in A way that caters to A completely new property. That is what gives ‘IT’ A kind of resurgence to the youth audiences today that weren’t born when the original took flight; it understands that A film that is fresh in the minds of its audience has to offer something different, yet at least equally as compelling as its predecessor, A feat that this film nails in spades. It’s faithful to its literary source material without ever feeling like it truly needs to lean or cater too much to that aspect, breathing life into A completely new monster that will chill bloodthirsty audiences of every generation.

The decision to craft this film as an R-rated one is something that certainly comes with great reward not only to the tone of the movie, but also in the capabilities in imagination that it can have with toeing the line of tasteful horror scares. This is certainly A film that isn’t afraid of getting its hands dirty, as right away I noticed an entirely different feeling of honesty and vulnerability from within that I never felt for A second in the 1990 original. The brutality and gore of some pretty wretched scenes not only towards adults but also towards the mostly kid-dominated cast is visceral in depiction, pushing forth the revealing aspects of some scenes from that previous movie that required more of the imagination to get yourself through it. This one certainly doesn’t pull any punches or look away, and from the infamous opening sequence of Georgie’s disappearance, you are immediately impacted for the rollercoaster that follows throughout. The jump scares are still there, but they are used accordingly in the way that they make sense, limiting the obvious cliche of predictable choreography for when it is going to happen. Sometimes the film can overcrowd or even formulate A few too many of these scenes to where the audience desperately needs A breath of pacing in between, but I give the screenwriters so much credit in staying focused on the horror aspect where other films feel pressured to include too much genre-effecting comedy.

What is so refreshing about the script is that this is A film that takes place surrounding A group of kids, yet never hinders or limits the angles that this direction can form. This time, the setting is 1989, and that timeframe generates not only some reflective aspects in the fashion trends and music selections for the time, but also engages in those coming-of-age teenage developments that were ever so present during the hairspray decade. There’s the obvious awkwardness of Beverly, the one girl of the group who is looked at like an valuable trophy to the ensemble of boys who are going through puberty, as well as the embarrassing choices in musical groups that donned our cassette mixtapes, and it all feels authentic for what it meant to grow up in this age. Pushing this even further is some delightful dialogue exchanges between The Losers Club that doesn’t feel forced or even subdued to play to their respective character outlines. I do feel like the film could’ve embraced more character exposition early on in the first act, as Mike, Stan, and Richie are virtually unknown outside of the times when they surround the other fortunate enough characters whose focus includes terrible home lives. At 130 minutes, the film could afford more opportunities at this, but thankfully the performances of this talented group of youngsters elevated their limitations by an endless array of charisma that keeps it gelling without severe consequences to the audience investment of these characters. More on them later.

My favorite aspect of the film was without A doubt the production, in which some aspects should even be pushed as far as Oscar-worthy. To that degree, I am referring to the set pieces. Bringing to life A Stephen King legendary story is no small feat, especially when novels as opposed to film deal so much with imagination, but this movie transformed these memorable backdrops into something unnerving and synthetic to what is described. 21 Neibolt Street was only barely seen in the 1990 original, so thankfully it is given ample screen time here to soak in its very condemned and dangerous atmospheres. In addition to this, the very town of Derry itself is mapped out in A way that makes us accurately conjure up the locations of each business and landmark. The producers of this film feel like they knew how important the setting was to the story. Derry is Pennywise’s playground, and we get to understand the history behind this dangerously sedated landscape that has given this clown such A home-field advantage against helpless adversaries. It often feels like an undeniable poison is omitted from this place, and thankfully the budgets never feel limited in doing the right thing and breathing in that Derry air (Scratches head).

As for the casting, I can say that every role here is tuned superbly for the wide range of characters that make up our leads. To anyone who thought Bill Skarsgard couldn’t channel Pennywise because of Tim Curry’s epic delivery in the original, shame on you. Skarsgard is easily the most commanding presence of the film, but he does so in A way that doesn’t require him to soak up A majority of the run time in these sequences, instead choosing to leave his mark sporadically with echoing laughter. It shows that Skarsgard is having the time of his life in this role. This doesn’t just feel like A man in makeup. As Pennywise, Skarsgard’s movements feel heavy and even paranormal in the way he stretches and bends like A carnival attraction. I am glad the film kept him menacing instead of comedic because Pennywise feels like the pacing of the film in tone, and without that fear, all else would easily be lost. As for The Losers Club, these kids were magnetic together on screen. Jaeden Lieberher has always been A young man who I have followed for years, and I couldn’t think of A more heartfelt youth to emote the sadness of this kid who lost his Brother to something he couldn’t control. As Bill, Lieberher commands him with confidence and bravery that the rest of the group look to when they’re uncertain of the next move. He’s A leader in every sense of the definition. Sophia Lillis was also enticing as Beverly Marsh. As the lone female of the group, A lot falls on her shoulders to speak for her respective gender, and thankfully the film doesn’t limit her to just another damsel in distress. This Beverly is tough, angry, and even assertive when she needs to be, and her presence feels like more help to the other boys rather than vice versa. My favorite character has always been Richie Tozier, and that trend continues with Finn Wolfhard’s perfect comedic timing. When you look back on how many scenes this kid stole in this film, you start to see the makings of greatness in the air. Tozier’s sarcasm constantly reminds you that these are kids no matter how many adult things they are taking on. That kind of youthful exuberance should never be understated, and Wolfhard’s quick-wit seems to never fall flat, producing an iron man of comedy that makes him irresistibly charming.

THE VERDICT – Attention and care bring forth the kind of gripping results rarely seen in A 21st century horror remake, but Andy Muschetti proves that he has the “IT FACTOR” in breathing fun back into the library of cherished Stephen King hits. This isn’t just about A menacing clown feasting on these vulnerable children, but instead A twisted coming-of-age plot that tickles as much as it terrifies for the unity between them. If were playing the comparison game, wrong is to right what ‘The Dark Tower’ is to ‘IT’ on the Summer Stephen King selections.


Girls Trip

One wild and rambunctious getaway between four longtime best friends, culminates in a ‘Girls Trip’ that none of them will ever soon forget. Regina Hall, Queen Latifah, Jada Pinkett Smith and Tiffany Haddish, travel to New Orleans for the annual Essence Festival, sisterhoods are rekindled, wild sides are rediscovered, and there’s enough dancing, drinking, brawling and romancing to make the Big Easy blush. As the night progresses and the additives kick in, truths between the girls are revealed, testing their bond to heights never before reached among them. ‘Girls Trip’ is directed by Malcolm D. Lee, and is rated R for crude and sexual content throughout, pervasive adult language, brief graphic nudity, and drug material.

I shunned the trailer to ‘Girls Trip’. I found it to be every bit as generic as it was unfunny. But after seeing the actual film, I now know that what I perceived was the film’s biggest weakness was actually its biggest strength in terms of value to this film. Because of such, ‘Girls Trip’ might just be the biggest surprise of the year for me. I am flabbergasted at just how much I enjoyed this film because I didn’t give it even the slightest of chance in that two minute out-of-context trailer that doesn’t even begin to hint on what this film is truly about. Underneath the devilish R-rating, this film is a story about sisterhood and womanhood alike, and what it means to be a part of those important tribes. It’s a story that values the importance of friendship, and in that perspective it is a solid watch for both men and women of every age. This film is very much the kind of movie that you must watch at a theater because I found the irresistible blend of raunchy humor and heartfelt center to be something of infectious value that I couldn’t look away from. Inevitably, this movie will be compared to last month’s ‘Rough Night’, in that the two films have eerily similar setups, but once you have seen both films, you start to understand what the former is missing greatly, and soon their similarities take two completely different roads on the way to re-energizing the genre for women to prove that they can do it just as good as the men.

To label a comedy with an R-rating in 2017 usually means that you will throw in the occasional curse word to sentences that don’t exactly need it. This is thought of in gimmick terms, but what ‘Girls Trip’ does so terrifically is that it never settles for just bad language in getting its points across. This is very much a grown-up perspective that involves nudity, drugs, and all of the bottled fluids that you can handle. I would normally view this kind of thing as tacky or classless, but it’s funny how each event is properly built up and never given the kind of easy way out for its greatest laughs. There’s some real shock humor that constantly pops up to remind you of its rating, but nothing ever overstays its welcome in terms of material. My gut-busters never stopped coming, and equally played into the strong suits of each and every character on cast. The backdrop of New Orleans during the Essence Fest is one that couldn’t be more perfect for the kind of mayhem and debauchery that happens around our group, and it feels like the picture is constantly changing, evolving our quad of girls known as the Flossy Posse back into their younger selves the closer that their insecurities come into play.

On the subject of performances, all four girls each are given their equal time to share, but there is one who stands out above the rest; the hilariously energetic Tiffany Haddish. Considering she is the actress who we as the audience know the least about, it is quite a chance to leave the pacing of the movie’s humor in her hands, but Tiffany is up to the challenge. Her role as Dina feels like the kind of breakout power equal to that of Chris Tucker in ‘Friday’ or Kevin Hart in ‘Soul Plane’, she is simply that spellbinding. On top of it, she has an irresistible smile that will always bring a flavor of light-hearted atmosphere to the screen anywhere she lurks. Besides Haddish, it was nice to see Regina Hall again, this time taking front-and-center as kind of the leader of sorts of this group. Hall has transformed spectacularly from her days in the ‘Scary Movie’ franchise, but here we are reminded once again of the kind of powerful delivery that she can exert to change a film’s mood while adding a layer of heart to the script. It did look like early on the Pinkett and Latifah were going to be background supporting crew, but thankfully their stories do become more important to the forefront the longer that the movie goes, and the two longtime co-stars add a fresh slice of chemistry to round out this fabulous foursome.

The only real problem that I had with the film was its two hour runtime, but after taking in the entire production, I treat it as a positive AND a negative. On the plus side, the runtime feels slightly bloated for a comedy, but that is because every crazy incident that happens, we start to understand the bond between these ladies that other movies only tell us about. Where I feel that they could’ve done this better was in the variety of sequences that can sometimes feel formulaic amongst the setup that hit a time too many on repetition. Where this happens mostly is late in the second act with one bar exchange too many with very little payoff in the long run. That’s not to say that ‘Girls Trip’ doesn’t keep flowing, quite the opposite really. This is a two hour film that breezes by because you find yourself so indulged by the vibrant personalities that wither in this group. The third act was my personal favorite because it establishes just how much these “girls” turned women have grown. Most movies that center around womanhood always somehow end up with a man playing a pivotal role, but Lee is a filmmaker who sees value in his leading ladies, so he never takes the focus off of where it needs to be at all times. I did mention my disdain for the trailer earlier, and I find upon watching it now that much of the flat material is removed from the final product, a move that does wonders in keeping the laugh ratios to yearly highs for this critic.

THE VERDICT – Where ‘Girls Trip’ pushes the provocative envelope one step further in terms of material from other imitators, is the much-needed balancing of consistent jaw-dropping raunch humor with hearty sentimentality, two traits that make Lee’s latest a sensational good time. Haddish is a star in the making, but every woman here plays her part in taking a used idea and creating something fresh and innovative for the ladies in the audience who just want to have fun. To my female readers, don’t just see this one alone, see it with your entire entourage. This is one trip that never wears thin, despite its lengthy investment.