The Fanatic

Directed By Fred Durst

Starring – John Travolta, Devon Sawa, Ana Golja

The Plot – The story is inspired by a real-life fan who pursued Limp Bizkit’s frontman Fred Durst many years ago. It follows Moose (Travolta), who gets cheated out of meeting his favorite action hero, Hunter Dunbar (Sawa). Moose then hunts down Dunbar to get the celebrity interaction he feels he deserves. Harmless at first, Moose’s actions begin to take a dark turn. Against the advice of his friend Leah (Golja), Moose begins to make frequent visits to his hero’s private home. As the visits continue to escalate, Dunbar finds himself in increasing danger.

Rated R for some strong violence, and adult language throughout

POSITIVES

– Travolta’s commitment. John has very little to work with here psychologically, but the physical consistency of a stilted walking pattern, as well as speech patterns that accurately articulate those of a mentally unstable man-child, made his performance stand-out as one of the very few positives that you can pull from “The Fanatic”. I have read other critics challenging the sharpness of his acting, but actually Travolta is completely on-par for what is asked of his character. It’s really everything else surrounding him that shortens his growth, and allows him very few chances to make this convincingly effective in dramatic territory.

– So bad it’s good. Yep, it’s one of those films where you get a bunch of friends together, have some drinks, and completely rip this film to shreds in a delightful night of laughs. This reason alone is why I could never give this movie my lowest rating, because at least from a horribly entertaining circumstance, it’s probably the best that big screen cinema have seen since “The Room” broke all of the rules for what can be defined as a hit in Hollywood. Would I ever watch this movie again? Absolutely. It has strong replay value with the more people you pull into it, and whether intentional or not, Durst has earned himself a bronze bust in the hall of Tommy Wiseau filmmaking.

NEGATIVES

– Directionless Durst. Fred has helmed other big screen films before, so his lack of instinct and urgency given to this picture is one that really confuses me, and condemns this movie long before it ever has a chance to appeal to its audience. For one, his character framing is horrendous, leaving us without a side to truly invest in. For Moose, his condition and love of horror movies is really the only thing we ever find out about him. From a personality positioning, he’s a full-fledged stalker, who audibly abuses his friends, and constantly pushes the envelope to see what he can attain selfishly. His opposition comes in the form of Sawa’s movie star, who is downright detestable for how he treats fans. If this is based off of Durst’s own experiences, shouldn’t he at the very least pick a side to determine who is right in a series of many bonehead decisions? Beyond this, the movie’s lack of suspense or frights leaves it feeling so far out of the box of its genre classification. It hurts most of all that there are no shortage of scenes that drown on too long, and never conjoin to the next to keep the ball of momentum rolling to peak our interests. This is one of those films that shows how important a director truly is to the finished product, and even a halfway capable one would’ve known that these scenes and pacing deserved to sit on the shelf for at least another two months of post-production.

– Cheap production. Speaking of production, the visual presentation that we are treated to is one that reeks of penny-pinching cinema. From the incorrect frame rates being displayed during slow motion sequences, to the choppy editing, to the artificial lighting that displays some visually disgusting color coordination choices, this film is a visual nightmare of squinting renderings. I really understood what was coming during the initial first minute of the movie, when we usually get one or two production companies to showcase the consistency of hands on-deck, but here we get 58 whole seconds of no fewer than seven different production companies. This is usually a bad sign when you already alienate an audience wanting to get to the beginning of the film, and make clutter them with a barrage of names and companies that only hardcore film fans truly care about. Finally, there are the strange choices in artistic animation that play during pivotal moments throughout the film. Since they only repeat the scene we previously just saw, I don’t understand the meaning behind their inclusion, nor do I feel even remotely impressed by what they bring to the artistic merit of the picture. I personally feel like it’s more run time padding, which I will get to later in further detail.

– Unnecessary narration. To anyone who knows me, you know I despise pointless narration in movies, mainly because it offers nothing of substance to justify its existence, and that’s definitely the case here. As read by Golja’s barely supporting character, she comes in during four different times in the film, and in her hip-to-be-cool emotion, basically only highlights what the previous scene already told us. Here’s a fun idea; remove her narration entirely from the film, and see what you lose in the process. Even with the importance minimal in this category, I could’ve at least understood if it were Moose talking through it. Then, at least we would get a chance at learning more about the man behind the mayhem, but we are bored to tears by a character that the film doesn’t take any time to know beyond her being a photographer and friend to Moose. It would be the equivalent of making Farmer Fred the narrator in “The Waterboy”, which creates an entirely new list of problems that I don’t even want to think about.

– Leaps in logic. Plenty to unload here. Character’s driving by in a car looking at a character in the exact same spot despite the moving of the vehicle, incompetent use of cellular phones, and the absolute dumbest police officers that I have ever seen in cinema history. The latter really has to do with the movie’s finale, so I will get to that later, but Durst seems to lack even the smallest shred of logic to invest into his picture, making for some unintentionally hilarious scenes that once again do the film no favors for its already minimal tension hanging in the balance. Beyond the ones I already mentioned, there is a lack of continuity between cuts taking place in the same moment. For instance, Golja’s character is holding her phone high in one scene, then after a quick cut to Travolta’s perspective to replicate the same discussion in the scene from a different angle, it’s closer to the table. I’m not fooling anyone by saying that no care or attention was given to this film. If there was, then these instances of gut-busting delight would never make it on camera. More than a director, this film needs a realist.

– Bumbling dialogue. Easily the worst dialogue that I have heard in a film so far this year. In fact, you could remove all dialogue in this film all together, make it a silent Charlie Chaplin picture, and you would still understand everything that is developing, because of the visuals. There’s nothing of substantial depth or human-like believability that cements these conversations as authentic. I would be a lot angrier about it if some of the lines weren’t so damn funny. For instance, how a mentally handicap protagonist and his photographer friend continue to call celebrities “CelebRETARDS”, or “Los Angeles, I call it the city of bullshitters”, read to us by Golja’s tortured Sunset Strip enthusiast, or even our introduction to Travolta’s character, in which he mumbles “I can’t talk too long, I gotta poo”. Shakespeare, bow down and praise the new lingual lion-heart of the English language, Fred “Did it all for the nookie” Durst.

– Insensitivity. What makes this movie deplorable to me, and almost completely irredeemable, is its lack of responsibility with the subject matter of an autistic protagonist, that it could’ve used to enhance awareness on, but drops with a complete lack of compassion. First of all, his name is Moose. That by itself should elicit the necessary groans to show you where this film is going, but Moose is a bumbling idiot who is manipulated, humiliated, and stereotyped in a way that makes “Simon Birch” suddenly feel wholesome by comparison. What’s even more baffling is the fact that Travolta himself even has an autistic son in real life, so how is any of this low-hanging fruit acceptable from his parental standards? Then there’s Durst, who uses a real life condition like Autism to justify fandom in a way that many films like “The Fan” or “Big Fan” does humanly and respectably. Moose has a condition, but its necessity is only used as a justifiable mechanism, and it’s an irresponsible stance that crashes the moral compass of this movie during the opening scenes.

– That one scene. If I had to pick my least favorite scene in a movie this year, it would be in “The Fanatic”, where a father and son discuss how awesome and heavy Limp Bizkit is while jamming out to the band in their car. I speak of shameful product placement all the time, but when it’s the actual lead singer of the band who directs the film that said scene takes place in, it takes the limits to a whole new level. What’s strange is how the scene really has no sound reasoning for existing other than to be a commercial for shitty nu-metal music that lasted longer in the public eye than it rightfully should have. It halts the movie’s progress for forty whole seconds to cradle Fred’s egotistical boner, and makes Kirk Cameron look like a thespian in movies where his name is part of the title.

– The ending. There’s a lot of reasons why this ending doesn’t work for me, but lets start with the lack of closure itself. The film ends anti-climatically with ridiculous consequences for one character, who would easily establish himself as innocent if he would just speak up and tell the police what happened. The cops themselves are severely stupid because after surveying the whole area, they manage to somehow pin everything on a character who had absolutely nothing to do with it. In addition to this, the guilty party took pictures on his Twitter that would increment him in any courtroom in America, but we’re supposed to shut our minds off and believe the mindless mush that this movie is feeding us. In addition to this, the credits, complete with same order and texture, are repeated from the film’s intro, no doubt in an effort to pad the run time to reach minimal big screen run time acceptability. It was confusing, it was drawn-out, and it was illogical. Basically summarizing everything that came before it.

My Grade: 2/10 or F-

Jacob’s Ladder (2019)

Directed By David M. Rosenthal

Starring – Michael Ealy, Jesse Williams, Joseph Sikora

The Plot – After his brother (Williams) returned home from war, Jacob Singer (Ealy) struggles to maintain his sanity. Plagued by hallucinations and flashbacks, Singer rapidly falls apart as the world and people around him morph and twist into disturbing images.

Rated R for adult language, some violence, sexuality and drug content

POSITIVES

– Deviation from the original. If you have to give this movie credit for anything, know that it isn’t a plagiaristic rip-off of the original film that did every single aspect better by comparison. Aside from the names of the character’s being the same, the film does surprisingly take a refreshing direction in the form of the modern war on medicine, which allows it to stand on its own two feet of originality from an otherwise borrowed title. There were some measures taken in the film that I did enjoy, and with a little more time could’ve been properly fleshed out to convey its intentional message to the eyes and ears of the audience. In addition to this, the film is much better paced than the original “Jacob’s Ladder”, moving frequently throughout its 84 minute run time towards the twist that we’ve all been expecting. This quickness is rough on other aspects that I will get to later, but brings forth an easy one-sit watch that never stalls on the message it is conveying to its audience.

– Gifted duo. Ealy and Williams are sound in what they offer to the picture, despite a lack of characterization from Rosenthal that does no favors in fleshing out the hooks to their personalities. These two men are basically playing two sides of the character coin for the price of one performance, and their believability from post-war traumatic stress is only surpassed by the way their impeccable chemistry and near identical looks bring weight to the believability of the brotherly subplot. Ealy has always been an actor who I consider a secret weapon in Hollywood, despite appearing in some quite popular titles, but as the central protagonist, his grip on the constantly changing scenarios around him enhance the paranoia in trying to decipher what’s real, all the while bringing Michael’s soulful eyes to the surface to convey the fear.

NEGATIVES

– If there’s one constant theme throughout this screenplay, it’s the over-the-top nature in which every element of exposition is delivered. The dialogue flows about as naturally as an 80’s porno, the fantastical imagery feels forced even for monstrous visual transitions, and there’s certainly nothing subtle about the war subplot, which I easily predicted within a few minutes because a better movie did it already. At least in the original, we the audience could decipher the thin line between fantasy and reality, but here even the scenes that take place in the real world feel so convoluted to duplicate authenticity, and soon the entire film turns bored because too much is being repeated along the way.

– Cheap production values. Oh boy, where to start here? First of all, the handheld camera gimmick should only be used in action films to accentuate thunderous impact. Here, it depicts a sloppy mess that brings forth the idea of motion sickness with every movement in and out of frame. Secondly, the special effects in 2019 don’t even come close to matching the subtlety of the ones from 1990. Why is this? Well, this movie relies on them far too often, allowing them to lose their charm by the end of the first act, and they use the same facial filters that made “The Dark Tower” one of the biggest unintentional laughs of its respective year. Finally, the lighting in the film is intusively ugly to the point of scenes feeling like they took place on a green-screen. There is so much puke green tint throughout this film that I thought it was the Green Lantern sequel that Ryan Reynolds never wanted, and what’s even worse is that its consistency never allows it to shake itself free of the television style of production that ruins this film before it even gets its feet off of the ground.

– Changed setting. In the original film, the doom and gloom of the New York city landscape perfectly articulated the darkness from within Jacob’s double life, but the geographic change here to Atlanta does so little to establish its identity or importance within the story. The backdrops in the film reek of stage production, and offer nothing to distinguish itself as a one of a kind setting, instead of a film that easily could’ve been set anywhere if the film didn’t tell me in the opening that this is Atlanta. In addition to this, the war change from Vietnam to Iraq took away arguably the biggest benefactor to Jacob’s subconscious in Agent Orange, and now has to settle for a drug that this movie made up, that doesn’t even happen until soldiers return home. What Vietnam did was make everything believable. You could’ve told me that a character grew a third ear there, and I would’ve believed you because of so much uncertainty in the jungles of their countryside. With Iraq in this instance, far too much has to be explained, leaving an abundance of filling in the gaps that raises more questions than answered.

– Lack of scares. It’s not that there aren’t any attempts, but the ones that are reflect this “Goosebumps” flavor of chills that shouldn’t be even remotely scary to anyone who is able to pee anywhere but their pants. Thankfully, there are no jump scares, but this might be the case where some would’ve been appreciated, because this film in tone and lack of frights often forgets that it is a psychological HORROR movie. For my money, this is as close to an action movie as you can get, even resulting in a third act climax that results in two characters duking it out for survival. The original movie was filled with terrifying imagery in a subtly devilish way that inspired gaming franchises like “Silent Hill”, and rather than even attempt to master this creativity with the effects skills of today, this remake settles instead for the cliches that doom so many horror films in modern day.

– The mystery. Being that this is a “Jacob’s Ladder” movie, there is of course a twist in the third act that supposedly brings everything together, and while this twist is one that capably fills all of the holes in logic, it doesn’t escape the element of predictability, which was given to us long ago. I mentioned earlier that I figured everything out in this movie within the opening ten minutes, and what doesn’t help that fact is a series of clues and coincidences that all but write out on paper what will happen with every character and subplot. My biggest problem is the lack of punch that comes from the revelation as opposed to a first movie that was beautifully synchronized. There’s nothing even remotely compelling or cathartic about what this Jacob endures, and soon we come to understand that his only resolution is one that doesn’t benefit us the audience who have hung on this long in the hopes of closure. It’s an easy way out, and it feels like no one truly wins, a betrayal of the first film’s ending that made me tear up on first watch.

– Fumbling characterization. If we got to know our protagonists for a few minutes, then maybe we would invest in the heaviness of their respective conflicts, but nothing compels me to ever care slightly for one of them, and that has to do with them feeling like strangers even throughout 84 minutes of film. Jacob is our central protagonist, and one we spend the entirety of the movie with, but outside of the things that take place in the movie, I found out nothing about him for the things that happen off-screen. The one aspect we do learn deals with a romantic triangle that honestly doesn’t cast him in the greatest light when it comes to a man with strong family ideals. What did I find out about his girlfriend? Nothing. What did I find out about his brother besides he’s a war veteran? Nothing. These are the people you’re supposed to support and feel worried for when something bad happens to them.

– Disjointed storytelling. It’s important to distinguish what is intentional, and what is a result of sloppy editing. The entirety of this film is told on two respective timelines, so the disjointed nature of scenes feeling scrambled is one that will remain jumbled until the twist comes that fits them all into place. This is done to make us the audience feel the disorientation that Jacob Singer is feeling in the film, and I’m totally fine with that. What I’m not fine with are transitioning scenes the stunt the growth of the dialogue that is deposited, offering no time for audiences to ingest it as anything important by the necessary emphasis required to sell its purpose. Likewise, there were a couple of transitions in the movie where the next scene begins its dialogue while the previous one is still talking. It’s more of the amateur level of production that I mentioned earlier, but this one deserves its own column for how it limits the growth and potential of every scene, offering no bit of momentum to tease us for what is to follow.

– Faulty title. I have to be careful not to spoil this section. The title of this movie should only be there because this is a remake of a film that it is modernizing. My problem with the meaning within the title is that once you know the twist of this particular film, it doesn’t add up to the religious inspiration that Jacob’s Ladder refers to in the bible. Imagine if “The Breakfast Club” was remade, and in the new version the detention is actually done in the afternoon or evening, yet the title remains the same. Occasionally I complain about a title, but I try to save it for occasions when it really creates a problem when summarizing the film, and that is exactly the case here.

My Grade: 2/10 or F-

After

Directed By Jenny Gage

Starring – Hero Fiennes Tiffin, Selma Blair, Josephine Langford

The Plot – Based on Anna Todd’s novel of the same name, the film follows Tessa (Langford), a dedicated student, dutiful daughter and loyal girlfriend to her high school sweetheart, as she enters her first semester in college. Armed with grand ambitions for her future, her guarded world opens up when she meets the dark and mysterious Hardin Scott (Tiffin), a magnetic, brooding rebel who makes her question all she thought she knew about herself and what she wants out of life.

Rated PG-13 for sexual content and some college partying

POSITIVES

– Perhaps the most surprising thing about “After” is that it is at least technically sound in the presentation department. Soft, subtle lighting cast against beautiful scenery, compliments of cinematographer Adam Silver, and a tight precision in editing, which constantly keeps the flow of the movie moving at comfortable levels, are two of the beneficial aspects that this film indulges in, and proves that style was certainly heavier than substance in this vapid delivery of teenage fan fiction. If anything, the film will perhaps stand as a stepping stone for much bigger works by this production team, which simply feel far too advanced for anything it combines with in this movie that weighs down the law of its returns.

– A hidden narrative. One aspect of the film that is briefly touched upon, but never fully realized, is the sexual awakening of Tessa that springs forth her college curiosity. The aspect of first love’s for young women not living up to everything you expected, will offer strong relatability to the youths that take this film in, and even give them a general outline of what not to do when in that similar situation. In this regard, the film garners just enough responsibility to take Tessa down this road of self-identifying, and in turn carves out just enough ambiguity for beyond-the-screen companions right by her side. Very few films capture the complexity associated with love at such an early age, but “After” tackles it head on, juggling enough social commentary about the dating world along the way to give it substantial reasoning for its existence.

NEGATIVES

– No pulse. As far as modern day romances go, the bond between Harden and Tessa might be the single worst that I’ve seen in terms of chemistry or remote spark that helps convey their attraction. First of all, these are both terrible people in terms of how they treat everyone else around them, the dialogue between them is certainly nothing that makes us the audience feel weak in the knees, and the romantic scenes lack the kind of passion necessary to feel satisfaction in their mutual finding. I can imagine that watching a brother and sister romantically involved couldn’t be far off from what we’re presented, because there’s nothing fun or remotely engaging about two people who the movie wants to log-jam into fitting so perfectly together, yet what transpires in 97 minutes between them couldn’t be any further from the truth.

– Teenage fan fiction doesn’t translate well to the silver screen. For those who don’t know, this story is originally based off of One Direction (Yes, that One Direction) fan-fiction, that was originally switched up to instead depict every day people. As for the film itself, it can’t escape these obvious cliches that make it still feel like it’s being commanded by an adolescent girl. The irrational decisions, the over-abundance of easy listening like The Fray or Avril Lavigne, the barrage of red flags that are casually ignored by our ignorant protagonist, and the way the scenes stay with Tessa 100% of the time. It’s a modern day teenage fantasy that caters to the slimmest of audiences, and the ones it does haven’t lived through the kind of situations depicted to fully understand how maniacal they are.

– The cast. Nobody in the lead cast is redeemable, and what’s even more tragic about this is film veterans like Peter Gallagher or Selma Blair are subjected to such waste. I hate trashing actors who are trying to master their craft, but the reality is Langford and Tiffin wouldn’t be cast as even supporting character’s in a halfway decent film, due to their overall lack of commitment in each line read, as well as the flat emotional registry that lets each scene of connection to the audience slip away. I understand that the roles called for these kids to be introvert’s somewhat, but the complete lack of charisma made each interaction slug along with the kind of performance depth of a Charmin bathroom tissue commercial. Even Christian Grey and Anastasia committed themselves to the ridiculousness of the situation. These two never made the most of their most likely one and only chance.

– Redundancy in character’s. There are too many of the same kind of character personalities in this movie, and what’s even worse is the exposition between the leads could easily be summarized in a Wikipedia plot summary. For Harden, adjectives like “Quiet”, “brutish”, and “Bad Boy” could be inserted, but very rarely a character outline for who you see before you. If I’m not picking on Harden, then it’s Tessa’s cryptic roommate, who is introduced to the film early on, and then rarely tapped into again, and it speaks levels to the problems associated with sticking with two character’s for so long that you often forget that there’s a world that exists beyond them. That complete lack of initiative made it so difficult for me to invest in a single person, and even care remotely for what will become of them.

– Watered down rating. I myself haven’t read the book that this movie is based on, but I did read a material summary that gave me the finer points of the story, and immediately I can say that PG-13 was not the right way to go to remain faithful to the literary origins. The rating is obviously to cater to more younger fans to feed into the profits, but those kind of kids shouldn’t be watching this movie anyway, and the ones who are old enough to are left with deflated content that feels like an after school special, instead of something that is compared to being the teenage version of Fifty Shades of Grey. When you look at that property, you understand that there’s no way it could be done with anything less than an R-rating, and that’s the case here, where vital scenes of sexual interaction are shot so tightly that you don’t properly register the kind of body language that comes with such passion.

– Not even unintentional humor can save us. The best parts of movies like these, often defined as so bad they’re good, is the ability to laugh at the struggle of script and filmmaking incompetence, but there’s never anything in the way of lunacy in the former, or amateur in the latter, and it makes the sit that much more intolerable because of it. What’s left is a vacuum of entertainment-sucking where even unintentional humor wipes away the sands of therapeutic cinema for relief. “After” is one of the worst films of 2019 in this regard, and if there’s much more like this, it will be a bleak year of pretentious filmmaking that inspires a new generation.

– Padding out time. I mentioned earlier that the pacing is acceptable enough because of the on-the-nose editing that remains consistent, but 97 minutes for a movie with this much repetition in musical montages or date montages between our two leads, makes me feel like fifteen minutes could’ve easily been trimmed from this movie to not make it feel so obvious in reaching a time destination. To remain at 97 minutes, perhaps more character development, or a bonding of relationships outside of our two lovebird protagonists to up the stakes once the conflict’s start could’ve offered a satisfaction of variety that could’ve also done wonders for spicing up what is otherwise 80% a mundane screenplay. For my money, these two meet and fall in love far too quickly in the film, and I feel like more restraint could’ve better planned for those eventual third act twists that take a lifetime to arrive.

– Speaking of which, the curiosity that I had with about a half hour left did present a fine line of interest as to what kind of direction this story is headed, but sadly I was letdown by the film’s flimsy final message and closing sequences that had my eyes hurting from rolling so much. Without spoiling anything, this film could’ve had so much fun with Harden’s character, in how he responds to the foundation’s in his life that are crumbling around him, but the twist comes and goes, feeling every bit as inconsequential if two people could sit down and talk, as it does contradictory with the film’s closing moments. What’s even more frustrating is there is a push for a sequel, which will inevitably go unfulfilled, but leaves the ending of this film feeling anti-climatic because of final imagery that leans one particular way.

My Grade: 2/10 or F-

A Madea Family Funeral

Directed By Tyler Perry

Starring – Tyler Perry, Cassi Davis, Patrice Lovely

The Plot – A joyous family reunion becomes a hilarious nightmare as Madea (Perry) and the crew travel to backwoods Georgia, where they find themselves unexpectedly planning a funeral that might unveil unsavory family secrets.

Rated PG-13 for crude sexual content, adult language, and drug references throughout

POSITIVES

– Still par for the course is the exceptional make-up work that distinguishes the many characters that Perry and friends portray. While nothing of substance that will surely win an Oscar in the category, there is enough detailing in the form of greying hairs, saggy skin, and additional prosthetics that allows the actor inside to fully immerse themselves in the beat of the character, and carve out an air of respect to the film’s limited production to be able to impress in any area of the spectrum. It’s one of the only things in Madea movies that I’ve always tipped my hat to, and the vibrancy in variety that each character sports makes each of them noticeable without their prosthetic designs rubbing together in repetition.

– A scene of substance? I know, in a Tyler Perry film this is groundbreaking news, but there is a moment late in the film in which the Mother of this family, portrayed by Jen Harper, not only steals the film, but does so by conjuring this emotionally moving strip of dialogue that will inspire female audiences who see it. Harper proves that she may be the one actress who deserves better than being subjected to this slop, and through measured responses of anger, regret, and patience, her character diminishes the line of what should be overlooked in modern day relationships.

NEGATIVES

– Bloated run time. There is absolutely no reason for this film to be anywhere near two hours, but it is because once again scenes are stretched in a way that assists Perry in containing budgets without frequenting between sets. Without question, the Improv humor is the thing that truly makes these scenes unbearable, muttering off line after line of atrocious conversation and jumbled dialogue that add about as much to the perspective of the film as integrity does. How can a movie bore you ten minutes in? “A Madea Family Funeral” feels like being a kid again, when you were forced to sit there and endure your older family members talk for hours about the “Good old days”, and you sitting there thinking how great your life would be if you were put up for adoption.

– Two cars racing towards a collision. This film has serious tonal problems, and I say that because half of it is a sluggish comedy with Madea and her friends, and then there’s a polar opposite direction with a family drama that is ungluing at the seams. Both are highly contradictive towards the other, making the progression of this film and each respective subplot feel like a tug of war that is constantly fighting against its own self-momentum. What’s most surprising is as a vehicle for Madea’s supposed goodbye, she never feels like the main character or focus in her own movie, with each appearance feeling like a shoe-horned cameo in one of Perry’s B-grade dramatic offerings that never got half of the box office take that his leading lady accomplished.

– Technical problems. Most productions and filmmakers grow from past blunders with experience, but Perry as a helmer has proven that he doesn’t take notes for the horrendous bloopers that fill his screen. Choppy A.D.R that feels like a Kung Fu film dubbed for American audiences, actors corpsing in laughter throughout serious scenes, and blurry lighting schemes that are so bright and unedited that they felt like I was waking up from a long night of drinking. All of this pales in comparison however to the biggest offender of all: body doubles in the background that come nowhere close to replicating the actor in question. There’s a scene where David Otunga, a muscular black man, obviously wasn’t there for the day’s shots, so the film fills in his absence with a light skinned, thin as a beanpole actor, whose comparison gave me the one laugh that I had during the film. Filmmaking this bad is offensive, not just to me paying money to watch this movie, but to the loads of aspiring filmmakers who can’t catch a break despite someone in Hollywood doing the craft much worse.

– Perry’s direction. The only thing worse than Perry as this wretched title character is his work behind the lens in inspiring his actors to go above the material. I mentioned Harper earlier, and that was only a single scene. The rest of the cast is virtually wasted playing second fiddle to Perry’s four characters who take up a majority of screen time. Beyond this, when the supporting cast do get a chance to shine, their deliveries feel cold and unconvincing in a way that lacked complete motivation. It’s sad because if this is indeed the big break for some of these actors, I see their days ahead for casting being very dark and humbling because Perry has given them the depth of a late night Skinemax flick. Without boobs, a Skinemax film becomes pointless. Catch my drift?

– What funeral? What’s commendable at least with the funeral scenes in the film is that they are sometimes a clever take on the bloated nature of funeral services, but the problem is that it takes so long to even reach the pivotal setting of this movie, pushing audiences through a redundant endurance test with scenes that feel so far removed from where this film inevitably takes us. There are 28 minutes remaining in the film when we finally hit the mourning services, and it comes and goes with so little weight compared to the rest of the story moving around it. When you compare it to “Boo: A Madea Halloween”, that whole film revolves around that magical night where anything can and often does happen, but the funeral here is a footnote in a bigger picture in a film that goes nowhere, emphasizing what little they could actually do with such a constricting gimmick.

– Characters missing frequently. As I mentioned before, Perry dons make-up and multiple costume changes to become four different characters in the film, and after seeing some flawed continuity errors catch up to him, maybe it’s best that he release his grip on feeling so ambitious. There are many examples of this throughout, but the most glaring one is the very last scene of the movie, where Madea and friends are leaving, with a certain driver missing from the goodbyes all together. Did they leave Brian (Perry) with this struggling family. Did he run away from the madness that is dealing with these window lickers every single day? I’d say we will never find out, but we all know that another mindless Madea effort is coming. Otherwise, I’d have to rely on Adam Sandler or Kirk Cameron to make my life a living hell, and they’ve been traded to Netflix in recent years, where I don’t have to give a shit about either of them.

– An uncomfortable commentary. I won’t go over it much, but I can’t escape this uneasy feeling that Perry continues to flirt with, in that light skinned African Americans are evil. Every single one of the characters who fill this description in the movie are either cheaters, abusive, or completely out of their minds crazy, and I can’t begin to even entertain the idea why this is the case in every single Perry directed movie thus far. It’s not only made it to where each character’s motives are completely predictable when fleshed out, but also a bit of a cliche for how he can’t remove himself from this particular agenda.

– Why the humor fails. Aside from the material residing in the grounds of redundancy where every joke missed by audiences is replayed three or four times, there’s very little diagraming or set-up to Perry’s comedy that builds towards the big payoff. The accents as well do their parts to take audiences out of the attention span of the conversation, playing into audible kryptonite for much of the expectations in deliveries that never reach their desired destination. Patrice Lovely is by far the worst in this regards, because her screeching delivery and stroke victim face come off as feeling catered to three year old’s who just need a funny face and boisterous enactments to earn their praise.

– Visually, this film still withstands the presentational value of a Sears Air conditioner commercial, complete with cheap cinematography and stilted editing that is a chore to keep focus on. Establishing shots feel very conventional, refusing to leave the safety of exterior house depictions that was made famous only thirty years ago during the boom of network sitcoms. For all of the money that Perry has made, he deserves to flex some cash into crafting an exceptional Madea movie that stands out above the rest, but one unfortunate common theme in these films is that each one feels substantially more amateurish in its filmmaking, an aspect that continues with “Family Funeral”.

My Grade: 2/10 or F-

Serenity

Directed By Steven Knight

Starring – Matthew McConaughey, Anne Hathaway, Diane Lane

The Plot – Baker Dill (McConaughey) is a fishing boat captain leading tours off a tranquil, tropical enclave called Plymouth Island. His quiet life is shattered, however, when his ex-wife Karen (Hathaway) tracks him down with a desperate plea for help. She begs Dill to save her and their young son from her new, violent husband (Jason Clarke) by taking him out to sea on a fishing excursion, only to throw him to the sharks and leave him for dead. Karen’s appearance thrusts Dill back into a life he’d tried to forget, and as he struggles between right and wrong, his world is plunged into a new reality that may not be all that it seems.

Rated R for adult language throughout, sexual content, and some bloody images

POSITIVES

– Exceptional framing work. While I have quite a few problems with the technical aspects of Knight’s style and circumstance, the man knows how to craft informative character framing in a way that helps you understand their characters more than this script ever could. Color coordination and particular objects are they key here, giving us exposition in the form of varying lifestyles that vividly paint the person in focus. These moments of self reflection were easily my favorite scenes of the film, and prove the sting of subtlety in ways that Knight never ties to other areas of his production.

– Gorgeous on-site filming locations. “Serenity” takes place on this gorgeous island that is full of dirty deeds and secrets that counter that of the breathtaking visuals that we are being treated to, courtesy of the island of Mauritius, which the movie spent six weeks shooting on. Very little green screen design is instilled into the picture, instead allowing cinematographer Jess Hall a bulk of the responsibility that he dazzles in consistency, thanks to a combination of wide lens movements out in the ocean and manipulated lighting that surprisingly remains consistent with the glow of the island sun. Like the setting itself, “Serenity” offers us lots of beauty, but it’s unfortunately never enough for the ugliness that is boiling just beneath the surface.

NEGATIVES

– That painful plot twist. Five minutes into this film, you can already comprehend that something deeper is at play with these characters and situations, and unfortunately it leads to a second act revelation that once again reminds us how influential the TV show “St Elsewhere” was in this newest generation of writers. This manipulative direction not only undercuts the meaning of everything and everyone up to this point, but it inevitably paints the movie in a corner that it will never find its way out of, in terms of satisfying its audience. We pretty much either cheer for the bad thing to happen, or we cheer for the bad thing to happen. Also, as with any plot twist, this one brings to light a series of questions that don’t add up to what the message is trying to convey. It’s a brain-dead movie that is trying to disguise itself as genius, when in reality its creative muscle gets caught in its zipper before it truly begins.

– Lack of narrative progression. Factor everything that takes place in “Serenity”, and you have a series of events that are every bit as stretched in pacing as they are selfish for even thinking this belonged anywhere near its 100 minute runtime. This film is the very definition of sluggish, as there are at least two instances in the film where everything moving forward comes screeching to a grinding halt, requiring the audience to be patient for the big blow that they’re being reminded of frequently, yet never rewarded in terms of satisfying payoff. It really is a train-wreck in slow motion, and if you’re fortunate enough to bring popcorn to the scene of the accident, you’ll be finished with the bucket before the script gets to the point.

– Insufferable characters. My problem with a lot of sex thrillers is that they often involve these characters that I truly can’t tie myself to, and that’s once again the case with “Serenity”. These are disgusting people who grow worse with each passing moment, making the challenge of spending time with them the film’s biggest obstacle. Hell, our main character mocks his best friend for being bad luck after his wife’s untimely passing. Your hero, ladies and gentlemen. I think I saw more sensitivity from McConaughey when he played a sadistic killer in “Texas Chainsaw Massacre: The Next Generation”.

– Cold, callous performances from an A-list cast. There’s plenty of familiarity in the expanding cast that the film has to offer, but there’s nothing in the way of meaningful depth or subtle nuance to deem any of their deliveries the proper guidance that this movie needs to steer the ship. McConaughey at least is giving his all in trying to make salad out of shit, but the stilted dialogue and the overall way his character is presented reminds us of the B-movie stinkers that he was subjected to before he won an Oscar. Hathaway is someone out of a 30’s crime noir novel, complete with cigarette in hand and sex being her only weapon against the more powerful men. Her character alone sets women’s rights back another thirty years. Finally, Lane, Jason Clarke, and Djimon Hinsou are all wasted, preserving only a couple of scenes between them that echo the sound of a paycheck film that they have since tried to forget about.

– Rough editing transitions. The consistency of cuts in between the scenes of exposition, particularly in that of that during the first act, feel jagged and dissolving of any kind of momentum that the film has in winning its audience over. The result is a hack and slash feel in post production that gives pivotal confrontations a cliff notes feel of authenticity. I’m willing to bet that there is a two hour plus director’s cut sitting on a producer’s shelf, that may help answer some of the contrivances in story time reveals that practically grow because character interaction is treated like a poison in this film, and if you can’t invest into a movie early on, it makes for a painful sit that disallows you to feel even an inkling of interest into what evolves.

– Strange camera movements. One such choice for character introduction shots involves a sped-up revolving shot that slows down once an important character’s face is revealed. This trope is most commonly used in comedies, usually involving a gorgeous male or female character who is the object of affection for a protagonist, so you can imagine how it comes across in a film that juggles serious themes like sex, murder, and female abuse. Instead of coming across like a visionary stimulation, the sequences feel like a road-block of distraction that only served as one more instance of interruption that delayed me once more from reaching the finish line of this cinematic lobotomy.

– Horrendous dialogue. Once again, when discussing a sex thriller that felt dated even in the 90’s, you should expect dialogue exchanges between characters that will leave you gagging, but this film took it completely over the top. To be honest, I could quote the entire film, but my favorite line uttered by a post-sexed McConaughey goes “I’m a hooker who can’t afford hooks”. Huh? What? How can this film be written by the same man who penned the genius that was 2013’s “Locke”? A film so enriched with psychological bruising from family’s past that I was able to accurately paint a picture with just Tom Hardy talking in a car for 82 minutes. As for the dialogue in this film, it will test your patience in ways, while squeezing out an unintentional laugh or two during a scene that wanted so desperately to be moving and engaging.

– Then I suddenly became uncomfortable. I was OK when the sexual material stayed on McConaughey’s trysts with Lane or Hathaway, but an emerging bond between father and son characters is presented in such a way that harvested a rock of uneasiness deep in the pit of my stomach. McConaughey speaks telepathically by rubbing circles of spilled water. Doesn’t hit it for ya? How about a two minute underwater sequence where a naked McConaughey (Complete with Ken-doll crotch mound) floats while staring into the eyes of his adolescent son. If this is where the future of sex thrillers is headed, count me out. I left my Victor Silva shoes of pedophilia in ashes in the center of my fireplace. No thanks.

My Grade: 2/10 or F-

Holmes & Watson

Directed By Etan Cohen

Starring – Will Ferrell, John C. Reilly, Ralph Fiennes

The Plot – Legendary detective Sherlock Holmes (Ferrell) and his partner Doctor Watson (Reilly) return for a comedic take on their classic literary partnership, as they use their incredible deductive minds to solve a mystery involving the Queen.

Rated PG-13 for crude sexual material, some violence, adult language and drug references

POSITIVES

– On-location filming and detailed set design. One of the few fortunate aspects of this film is in the beautifully rugged England scenery, which gives the film an authentic channeling of its late 19th century setting accordingly. The interiors are laced and loaded with a barrage of English colonial furniture and Gothic wall decor, to add a lot of style to the bumbling substance that fills the air like a clogged toilet. Thankfully, the historical accuracies providing a lot of depth and legacy to the interiors at least gave me something to look at.

– A big name presence behind every corner. While there’s nothing to rave at in terms of performances, the work of everyone on-screen constantly emits a level of professionalism that is far too good for this movie. Actresses like Kelly Macdonald and Rebecca Hall supply endless energy and tasteful pulp to their respective characters, treating this like a stage show of “Macbeth”, instead of the illegitimate step cousin of “Taladega Nights”. My favorite however is definitely that of Fiennes, whose air of sophistication and mental prowess outline an antagonist to the movie that I wish we spent more time with. In the end, anyone who acted in this film should get a free coupon to be cast in an Oscar bait contender, squarely out of pity, but the dedication to the craft is never stilted for a single second, outlining a glow of respect for these film veterans who go above and beyond the smell of duty.

NEGATIVES

– One flimsy idea. “Holmes and Watson” is based off of a Saturday Night Live skit, in which Ferrell dons the raincoat and three piece suit to garner a bunch of laughs in a four minute allowance. The problem comes when you try to stretch out the ideas within a four minute skit and turn them into an 86 minute feature length film, complete with new comic material and a narrative that should’ve easily been solved in five minutes. Television laughs don’t translate well to the silver screen, and it makes for a very subdued, straight-faced comedy that feels too dull to ever be intriguing. Because of such, the entertainment factor for the duo characters suffer tremendously, adding nothing of value or even originality to the tale that could’ve taken this ages old story in an intriguingly fresh direction.

– Poor audio mixing. Not that I expect flawless execution when it comes to a spoof film, but the amateur work of some horrendous sound mixing and possibly the worst A.D.R of 2018 is something that would be bad for a Sears infomercial at three-o-clock in the morning. There are times when mouths move, but words aren’t heard, there are times of vice versa when the words are heard with no mouth movements, and then there are times when words are shaped and manipulated so that they cater to the PG-13 tagging. This film was butchered in post production, and it shows behind scenes of tweeked dialogue that may have been the only laugh that I got during the entirety of the film.

– Weak material. If you don’t feel confident in the laugh you’re trying to pull from your audience, yell repeatedly. That’s the thought process behind Ferrell and Reilly, whose comic delivery rival that of a mortician, and made for an experience so mind-numbingly annoying that it made “Step Brothers” material look like “The Godfather” by comparison. In addition to this, the material doesn’t have enough cleverness to stay in its designated time frame, so it moves on to modern day gags that make absolutely zero sense, and feel forced for their redundancy. In particular it’s the inclusion of “Unchained Melody” to mimic the scene from “Ghost”, a 1990 drama that revels in the freshness of its passing decades, and the work of (Count em’) FOUR Trump Jokes that were so desperate to cater to audiences that they had a Trump hater like me saying enough is enough when I saw an obvious one coming. Are you starting to see the SNL ideas coming into play? To wrap it all up, yes they actually went there: A “No Shit Sherlock” joke of course is included, leaving the last bit of shame evaporating from my body just in time for the holidays.

– And then there’s…… If the work from above isn’t enough to tickle your funny bone, take comfort in knowing that each of them drag on and are repeated endlessly throughout the film. If you cut off Ferrell or Reilly after their first delivery for a respective joke, this film would barely clock in at an hour. Instead, with the lack of depth in script or even pacing for audiences still with a percentage of battery left on their phones, Cohen would rather replay each delivery, in case you may have missed it the first, second, or fourteenth time. Believe me, the law of averages diminish every time you have to go through something you may have laughed at only minutes before.

– Female abuse that is played off for a laugh. I left this one separate because it really does deserve a section of its own to scoff at any director’s idea in 2018 that female abuse is an admirable trait of any big screen protagonist. If this happened once, I could forgive Holmes and Watson, but in physically assaulting multiple females in the film, the movie creates an air of acceptability that proved where this movie and screenwriter’s moral compass were at. If there’s even a glimmer of consequence to what these two idiots are doing, then fine, but it’s all brushed off like a pat on the back, and if I’m the only person who sees anything wrong with it, it proves to me how many moviegoers have already been dumbed down by bodily humor stick that should’ve died in the Post-silver screen, Pre-Netflix era of Adam Sandler flicks.

– Lack of believability. Even for a spoof, Ferrell and Reilly’s portrayal of the title characters lack a single bit of familiarity to make them easily immerse themselves into the roles. Both are braindead idiots, whom I would have difficulty believing that they could tie their shoes, let alone solve a crime. Every other character surrounding them is at least a football field ahead of them in terms of intelligence, and if it had not been for supporting cast practically beating the answer over the heads of these buffoons, then this film would never end (An idea I don’t even want to think or joke about).

– Telegraphed twist. It shouldn’t come as a surprise that even the mystery of this film is a big letdown, ushering in a switcheroo during the third act that has prepared us for this throughout the film, thanks to Cohen’s script spoiling things almost an hour in advance. To put it lightly, I sniffed out the twist of this movie at around the twenty minute mark, and that was with mild interest toward the movie. It’s about as subtle as a colonic volcano, and even more incredible is that the twist totally breaks established history with Mortiary, in that we know from past stories he doesn’t have a daughter. But once the movie so bluntly establishes this point of reference during the first act of the movie, you see it coming from a mile away, which wouldn’t be so bad if you were having a good time in the first place.

– Rating limitations. Courtroom masturbation, heroin, cocaine. These are a few of the mentions in the movie, but are unlikely to receive further elaboration because of a PG-13 rating that does the material, nor its leading males any favors in highlighting forbidden material. Any movie can talk about anything endlessly, but there comes a time when showing it would elicit more of a general reaction from surrounding audiences, but sadly the film just can’t capitalize on such a thing. For my money, even mentioning something that you can’t further in material or shock factor is completely pointless, and only serves as a reminder of why some films lack that compelling edge that leaves them otherwise searching for an identity of their own.

My Grade: 2/10 or F-

Life Itself

Directed by Dan Fogelman

Starring – Oscar Isaac, Olivia Wilde, Annette Bening

The Plot – As a young New York couple (Isaac, Wilde) goes from college romance to marriage and the birth of their first child, the unexpected twists of their journey create reverberations that echo over continents and through lifetimes within Life Itself.

Rated R for adult language including sexual references, some violent images and brief drug use

POSITIVES

– Immersive shot composition. While I had loads of problems with this film’s psychology overall, one thing that can’t be debated is Dan’s visual compass for depicting these very tender moments. He uses a lot of soft lighting to compliment the very intimate and claustrophobic angles, and what this does is not only engage us into the atmosphere of this loving couple, but also forces us to focus on a particular facial reaction that is played for an entirely different reaction the more we know about the story. It’s about the only dose of warmth and compassion that you will get from this film, and it does so without feeling like a gimmick, where the characters look into the lens to speak to us directly.

– One valid performance in a field of complete trash. It’s a shame that a majority of this prestigiously stacked ensemble cast are repeatedly under-directed and ineptly utilized, but one such man in Antonio Banderas overcame all of the odds to give us a valid amount of substance to his character. Maybe it’s saying something bad when Antonio Banderas is the best actor in your film, but the sadness that haunted his eyes made for some truly gripping dialogue exchanges that were easily the highlight of the film for me.

NEGATIVES

– Protagonists? These are insulting lead characters, who go for personable in their sarcastically naive deliveries, but it comes across more as dastardly unsympathetic when you really break it down. This film accomplished the insurmountable task of making me hate an Oscar Isaac character, in all of his rude and obnoxious communication that wears itself out after five minutes. He is only topped by Olivia Cooke’s emotionally vapid drone of a human being, who feels like she could accomplish more if she were dead. These are the kind of characters you don’t want to spend 108 minutes with, and you’re reminded of it redundantly, each time the story reboots itself to a new subplot. Hell is repetition.

– Minimal plot. In writing the synopsis up top, I squeezed a martini from sand. In general, this film has no plot. It’s a derivatively wretched country song of human misery that never has the capability of building an inch of momentum for itself, ridding itself of positivity the same way a cat does with fleas. What’s even worse is because it’s one of those stitched together films, with new additions every twenty minutes, the film never allows you the comfort in getting settled with what little develops. It’s every bit as forgettable as it is crass.

– Aims for a bigger picture in life meaning, but never earns what it doesn’t stride for. I compare the material enclosed to a depressed teenager who claims their life is over, but then turns their thought process around when they get a new Iphone, and I say this because ‘Life Itself’ is a constant self-wallowing mess that misses the beauty in the true spontaneity of life. Its grief and despair vastly overshadows those fast-forwarded moments of light that feel like the proper nourishment during a film that otherwise starves us of what we need to balance it out.

– To a certain degree, this film, as well as Fogelman’s writing, feels sadistic. It’s a word that I don’t often use in critiquing films, but how else can you describe a man who inevitably sets his characters up for doom in the most unapologetic of ways. Fogelman would want you to believe this accurately depicts life, but the overly-exaggerated depiction feels so unfamiliar from our own world, that it gives it this feeling of an emerging villain. Death from the Final Destination series of films doesn’t have shit on life in ‘Life Itself’.

– Television quality. This film proves to me what I already knew about Fogelman as a writer; he feels better suited for the television world of pacing that appropriately allows a writer to spread those impactful moments out. That’s not to say that Dan hasn’t made good movies, it’s just that with the recent success of his award-winning TV show “This Is Us”, it’s clear to spot where to compartmentalize his style of writing. In particularly, it’s in the redundancy of events so closely stitched together to ever allow us a welcome period of breath. Because of such, if you want to see this film, just don’t see it in theaters. Allow yourself the decency of being able to pause in between material that never relents for all of the wrong reasons.

– We get it!!!. This film has such an erection for the concept of unreliable narrator, bringing it up every five minutes, that it often feels like Fogelman just discovered this conveniently placed plot device. What’s funny is that his inclusion of the perk doesn’t enhance the dramatic pulse, nor does it satisfyingly surprise us in any method. As mentioned above, the bigger moments of this film are those sadistic ones, and nothing ever feels remotely satisfying because of such. Then there’s the problem with Fogelman’s definition of characters in an unreliable narrative that don’t match up even closely to what’s depicted front-and-center here. These characters are too bluntly honest to ever be unreliable, and it’s probably the only time in film that I wish I were lied to.

– Disjointed and contrived. This film is told in four different chapters from four different character’s perspectives, and this angle of storytelling doesn’t work here in the way it does other films because that connection feels between the arcs feels coincidental at best. When you divide this film into two halves, it often feels like you’re watching two completely different films, even two completely different languages, and that imbalance constantly asks us to start over before we have received closure from the previous offering. Because you’re dividing this film into quarters, none of the subplots ever receive ample enough time to feel properly effective, nor does their allowance of time ever feel remotely equal to what necessarily required more development.

– How did this end up being the script approved final ending? It’s clear that the intention is to go for something sweet and metaphorical, but these closing developments are truly morbid when you take even ten seconds to truly think about it, and dissect how awkward this family’s gatherings will really be when their two sides come together. Also, it’s kind of a betrayal of its material when said big message is told through the Spanish speaking characters in English, when the entire rest of the movie they spoke in Spanish, with subtitles being displayed underneath. It’s not a big deal creatively, it just doesn’t apply to what we already knew about one of these characters in particular, in that she was born, raised, and only spoke in her native language.

2/10

Peppermint

Directed by Pierre Morel

Starring – Jennifer Garner, John Gallagher Jr, John Ortiz

The Plot – Tells the story of young mother Riley North (Garner) who awakens from a coma after her husband and daughter are killed in a brutal attack on the family. When the system frustratingly shields the murderers from justice, Riley sets out to transform herself from citizen to urban guerilla. Channeling her frustration into personal motivation, she spends years in hiding honing her mind, body and spirit to become an unstoppable force — eluding the underworld, the LAPD and the FBI; as she methodically delivers her personal brand of justice.

Rated R for strong violence and adult language throughout

POSITIVES

– Wrong Place, Right girl. Garner once again gives a stimulating performance, this time as a gang-fighting vigilante, with a lot of pain from her tortured past. In living up to the bill, Jennifer showcases Riley’s transformation as one that clearly divides the two sides of her life, before and after the murders, giving the character the perfect confliction within herself that still yearns to love and be loved. The problem is never Garner in the slightest, but rather the film’s stumbling direction, that sadly once again doesn’t live up to its end of the agreement, in the same way 2004’s ‘Elektra’ nearly ruined her career.

– This is a solid hard-R rating, and those are the kind of stances unfortunately missing from today’s action genre scene. ‘Peppermint’ is anything but sweet, and its visceral carnage candy is the kind that will resonate with audiences, for its combination of fast-paced fight choreography and impactful gun violence that never disappoint. In this regard, ‘Peppermint’ is a homage to mid 90’s shoot-em-up’s that reminded us of the high stakes that our characters so enthusiastically engage in. It feels comfortable in its skin, and there’s something that I respect about that.

NEGATIVES

– This is a film that could’ve greatly benefited from a better editor. Scenes feel like they’re missing between supposed breathing periods of the story, pasting together two scenes that bring to light the problems without allowing time in between. Riley feels like she literally flies across town with impossible speed, characters meet their fates from one scene to the next without much explanation, and the action sequences themselves sometimes feel far too choppy, especially when combined with claustrophobia in location that has it lacking detection.

– Strange effect choices. No film should ever be compared to ‘Suicide Squad’, let alone in this example, but ‘Peppermint’ brings throughout a visually forced exposition that is every bit as unappealing to the eye as it is unnecessary to character psychology. The things the film is telling us aren’t exactly groundbreaking, and the snap-cut instances of their inclusion constantly reminded me of the Joker introduction scene from the film I mentioned earlier, with characters (Including Riley herself) popping in and out of frame like a disappearing trick.

– Offensive pacing. While the film never lagged for me in a 95 minute runtime, the story progression is an entirely different story. The film’s halves are uneven, with the second half feeling like it is constantly speeding towards a red light, and this handicaps the films in many ways. For one, we are told more than shown of the deaths that matter to us. Considering the first half of the film builds up a few characters in particular who hurt Riley, it feels like a betryal that we never get to see her revenge game realized against them. One scene has three victims hung up high on a ferris wheel, and I’m curious how this was even possible by Riley alone?? Then there’s Riley’s backstory when she vanishes for five years. Talking about this time and not showing it is a GREAT misjustice because it is in those scenes where we can gain great believability in Riley’s transformation. It’s the worst kind of slop, and proves the screenwriter didn’t care enough to stack the momentum to the film’s favor. Beyond this, the film overall lacks great urgency for how easy Riley is slicing through this Los Angeles gang like knife through butter. Pacing that is too quick can greatly hinder what’s memorable about a film, and that is what you have here.

– Three different endings. If this film ends in the first or even the second scene that feels like it is wrapping things up, then I would’ve been able to commend it for the bravery and sacrifice of believing in a cause, but unfortunately that isn’t the case here. Not only does this movie sequel bait for a second chapter that will undoubtedly never happen, but it buys its way out in the easiest of escapes, making the touching scenes before it that much more pointless because of it. There’s also a third act twist, which is easily predictable for the lack of exposition given to the antagonists in earlier scenes. The reason I was able to call it out is because the film spends a little too much time with a certain character who has minimal interaction with Riley, setting up an inevitable confrontation between them that can’t come quick enough.

– A Fox News wet dream. It’s great that even during a pivotal time when gun violence in schools is all the craze, there are still movies that have an unflattering agenda to sell. I have no problem with guns being used in action films, in fact they’re basically required, but the film’s lack of responsibility that comes with picking one up is something that still greatly troubles me. Guns look cool in movies, so youths are that much more inspired to pick one up, proving that two wrongs by characters does indeed make a right. If this isn’t enough, the antagonists are of course entirely one-dimensional Mexican characters, and given an immense amount of facial tattoos that make them conveniently easy to recognize in a line-up. I’m certain that movies don’t come on after Hannity, but I believe ‘Peppermint’ might be the first.

– Same old same. You don’t have to look far for Punisher style vigilante movies over the last ten years. Hell, after March’s ‘Death Wish’, this is the second one this year with an identical premise and progression. Riley even dons a bullet-proof vest to her wardrobe that makes a die-hard Punisher fan like me yawn with displeasure. What’s troubling about this is ‘Peppermint’ never does anything to break itself away from the pack, feeling like a greatest hits or tropes and cliches for the subgenre that we mark off like a virtual checklist the longer the film goes on. Even if you haven’t seen ‘Peppermint’, you really have. It’s derivative of movies that did it better, and did it first.

– The name Peppermint itself is such a terrible title for this movie, because its usage in the film is minimal at best. Her daughter sells Thin Mint Girl Scout cookies and indulges in peppermint ice cream before the incident, and apparently this was enough to justify the title of the movie. While it has nothing to do with the film itself, a title can articulately set the mood for what a new viewer is getting themselves into. Just imagine if ‘The Shawshank Redemption’ was called Soapstone, for the material Andy carves the chess pieces out of. It’s stretching at the very least, and is a terrible one word representation for everything that follows.

– Spends far too much time with the lawful supporting cast than it does with the leading lady. This might be the biggest offense of all, because Garner feels like a supporting character in her own movie. Instead of trying to piece together Riley’s fragile psyche and taking time to value her interaction with the surrounding homeless residents who view her as an angel, we instead get this boring, by-the-books investigation that is only highlighting what we’ve visually been watching.

2/10

A.X.L

Directed by Oliver Daly

Starring – Alex Neustaedter, Thomas Jane, Becky G

The Plot – A.X.L. is a top-secret, robotic dog created by the military to help protect tomorrow’s soldiers. Code named by the scientists who created him, A.X.L. stands for Attack, Exploration, Logistics, and embodies the most advanced, next-generation artificial intelligence. After an experiment gone wrong, A.X.L. is discovered hiding alone in the desert by a kind-hearted outsider named Miles (Neustaedter), who finds a way to connect with him after activating his owner-pairing technology. Together, the two develop a special friendship based on trust, loyalty and compassion. Helping Miles gain the confidence he’s been lacking, A.X.L. will go to any length to protect his new companion, including facing off against the scientists who created him and who will do anything to get him back. Knowing what is at stake if A.X.L. is captured, Miles teams up with a smart, resourceful ally named Sara (Becky G) to protect his new best friend on a timeless, epic adventure for the whole family.

Rated PG for sci-fi action/peril, suggestive material, thematic elements and some adult language

POSITIVES

– At least it’s short. Clocking in at a mere 90 minutes, ‘A.X.L’ never felt sluggish or dragging, despite the fact that I couldn’t have cared less about these characters. It is incredibly self aware about the lack of depth that the film entails, and because of such never tries to make the experience longer than it rightfully should be.

– Motocross stunt work by extras that really brought the sport to life. Even though the film kind of forgets about its initial roots by the third act, there’s just enough instances of adrenaline that pulse through the aired-out bike sequences that were responsible for what little interest I had in the film. High risk choreography resulted in some devastating crash sequences, allowing Daly the opportunity in showing us the live fast lifestyle that many are addicted to.

NEGATIVES

– No guts, no glory. There’s a sharp B-grade horror film that is locked inside this dull kids movie, and there’s several instances of its existence. Midway through the film, there’s a violent tonal shift that overtakes the direction, giving us what feels like a similar road that films like ‘Dawn of the Planet of the Apes’ took. Unfortunately, this dog has no balls, as the film waters down these instances of brief violence and panic, opting for the easily forgettable side of August cinema that has become customary over the last decade. Even for PG, this feels terribly limited.

– Film errors. Considering this film is such a far-fetched idea, it should come as no surprise that it can’t even follow the rules of logic for its audience. One character touches a football dipped in gasoline, then controls a blowtorch without anything happening to him, no tracking device is ever put on the dog for the company to find him, U.S marine soldiers point guns at Miles and A.X.L and never fire a single bullet, and yet these aren’t even my personal favorite. In one scene, the robot dog jumps in the bed of a truck, allowing its weight to bury it underneath dirt. Yet in the next scene, the dog gets in the bed of the truck and everything is fine.

– Offensive editing. There’s two major problems with the editing in this film. The first, it cuts scenes of exposition in half so that the it has no relation to the scene that follows. One example involves a party scene where the antagonist for the film has something to show our main character, then the film just cuts to a scene involving the main character and his father in the garage. The second problem involves scenes of dialogue that are brutally cut off before they can finish. I know this because there are several instances where the audio of a character speaking will overlap that of the new line of dialogue that begins before the prior one finished. Completely sloppy.

– With the exception of Thomas Jane’s three scenes, the film’s acting is completely in the toilet. Neustaedter has the emotional registry of an aged boot at the bottom of the stairs after a terribly long fall, and Becky G continues to underwhelm with a nasally delivery that constantly sounds like she’d rather be doing something better. In this instance, that’s probably true. What’s worse is these two have the chemistry of an E-harmony first date constantly, and that lack of connection and physical spark never grows. Their kissing scenes feel like cousins who decided to test Arkansas laws with little regret.

– Intrusive musical score. When the film first started, Ian Hultquist’s new wave vibes gave me hope that at least the music would echo that of late 80’s science fiction, like ‘Robocop’, but my positivity quickly gave way to what I describe as blunt manipulation of the audience. This is when compromising tones will overtake a scene, often blaring too loudly, and force the proper atmosphere and tone on us, whether we appreciate it or not. The antagonist has his own clunky theme because he’s extreme, and the government character’s tone conjures sounds of orchestral intrigue that promises us thrills that honestly never come.

– This film lacks any sense of focus or identity. To me, it feels like a rehashing of kids movies from the 80’s, like ‘E.T’, bringing absolutely nothing fresh in terms of originality to the table, with constant cliches dragging the plot forward. There’s everything checked off here that you’ve seen before, including loud E.D.M music, forced romance, psycho evil antagonist that get away with everything from arson to downright attempted murder, and of course extremely unnatural dialogue. Daly fails as a director and screenwriter because his feature lacks any kind of excitement or suspense, even in scenes where characters are supposedly in danger.

– One near positive for me was in the decision to work with practical effects, as opposed to C.G that have outnumbered multiplexes everywhere in modern day. Unfortunately, this film does nothing for the practical effects lovers like me, because the very design of A.X.L feels far too massive to ever be used conveniently on the field of war. Beyond this, the direction to compromise the physical with C.G movements is one that doesn’t come across as fluid for the robot itself, conflicting the balance between slow movements while on the ground with those of superhero-like flying while in the air.

– Problems with the robot design itself. An aspect to the plot that I still don’t understand is why the emphasis on this robot being a dog. The movie explains quite often that dogs are the most faithful animal, so their dedication to getting the job done will be that much easier because of its species type. The problem is that this isn’t a natural dog, it’s a robot that can easily be programmed, so faithfulness should really have nothing to do with the idea. Another problem is that apparently despite being made of metal, fire is the only weakness for the dog’s design. I guess the advantage will still hold up as long as America doesn’t go to war with anyone who has ever heard of fire.

2/10

Slender Man

Directed by Sylvian White

Starring – Joey King, Javier Botet, Julia Goldani Telles

The Plot – In a small town in Massachusetts, four high school girls perform a ritual in an attempt to debunk the lore of SLENDER MAN. When one of the girls goes mysteriously missing, they begin to suspect that she is, in fact, His latest victim.

Rated PG-13 for disturbing images, sequences of terror, thematic elements and adult language including some crude sexual references

POSITIVES

– Creepy visuals that are very well edited and pasted together. For this reason alone, I wish this film was a 30 minute short to capitalize more on the lore aspect of Slender Man, instead of being a jump scare fest that feels drawn out even twenty minutes into the movie. When the focus is on this viral video to capture the essence of the character, it’s so much more unnerving than something we can predict the formula to.

– If one thing stands out above the rest in this film, it’s definitely the atmosphere of Slender Man’s woods and surrounding landscapes, that properly set the mood. Almost immediately, we’re treated to cheap production qualities that include blurry out-of-focus lenses, and dimmed lighting to properly set the mood, and it’s something that I would normally call out for a negative, but in films like this you need the presentation to look so far from anything else in its respective genre. This measure is valuable in a visual metaphorical sense as well, because it constantly feels like this virus or plague continuously follows around these ladies in their everyday routines, and they just can’t shake it.

NEGATIVES

– Shameless Sony as usual. For those who have read my reviews about Sony produced films, you know that I have no problem calling them out on the obvious promoting that they do for their products in films, and ‘Slender Man’ is more of the same. Nothing keeps you more in that terrifying frame of mind from horror than your concentration being broken when you notice the obvious Sony logo on a Vaio laptop or cell phone that the characters have. Maybe I wouldn’t mind as much if the name brand was edited out of the frame, but it’s so obviously intentional the way a particular frame zooms in on the outer layer of a screen.

– Terrible acting all around. My problem with the main four girl protagonists in this film is that they know they’re in a horror movie, and that constant over-reaching to make up for a lack of overall personality shows in spades. Long before Slender Man ever comes into the story, these ladies talk and act like they are the victims of some terrible tragedy that has plagued their family, worse of which being Botet, who couldn’t summon one ounce of dramatic depth to her often numbingly-dull facial reactions.

– No scares equals boredom. If you are searching for cinematic Nyquil, look no further. Because of its lack of capitalizing on an already established atmosphere, as well as a desire to play towards the cliches of thoughtless jump scares, the film loses its fresh factor quick, feeling a condemning of redundancy that keeps it from ever evolving. The film is hoping that this imagery that is completely out of context will satisfy the easy-to-please horror fans who don’t need meaning or even remote psychology to what they’re seeing.

– Something is missing. Considering this is a film that has sat on the shelf for almost a year now, it definitely feels like some judgemental cuts were made that hinders its exposition. Aspects of subplots come out of nowhere in the film, like the offering to Slender Man, as well as what comes from a love interest that completely goes nowhere, leaving me frequently scratching my head where this opposite direction even stems from. I felt this way a lot in ‘The Bye Bye Man’, although not quite to that damning of a level. ‘Slender Man’ just feels like a director’s cut that suffers from amnesia, for the way its shapeless pieces never fit the rest of the puzzle.

– There is a satisfying twist at the beginning of the third act that involves a character betrayal, but it’s quickly ruined for the lack of intelligence and logic that went into it. I can’t give away everything, but a character is outed because she turned the cell phone on herself when she’s talking to another person, and this makes no sense for a couple of reasons. For one, why even do this? If you’re looking to not get caught, the only way would be to keep the camera on the other person. For two, how is she even turning the camera on herself this cleanly without it stumbling or feeling shaky? For three, why have I already put more thought into this than the director did?

– After coming out of the film, I feel like I know even less about Slender Man than I did going in. The lack of overall conviction and energy lended to this urban legend is something that only makes me shake my head, and leaves me appalled for how they could’ve made this terrifying figure their own. No backstory in legend? CHECK, No consistency in rules for how to suppress him? CHECK, Nothing that makes you root against him, especially with stupid kids who are dumb enough to mock his legend? CHECK

– The sound mixing in this film is every bit as deafening as it is ineffective. The idea here is to blare as much loud noise and buzzing as possible, whenever Slender Man appears, taking audiences completely out of the moment every time they have to clutch their ears in agony. I guess if they can’t conjure up any meaningful scares, the only way to have people running out of the theater is to make the auditorium sound like the worst Sweedish death metal band you’ve ever heard.

– Attrocious C.G effects that stick out like a sore thumb more because everything else in the production feels so grounded. This is sloppy levels of post-production even for an afterthought horror movie that is nine years past its shelf life, but it does beat the many times we are constricted by the PG-13 rating that does us zero favors. For the first half of the movie, we are treated to a barrage of cutaways that offer horror hounds nothing in the way of satisfying gore or violence, and in the second half it’s C.G effects that wipe away anything and everything from the imagination and practicality of the picture.

2/10

Unfriended: Dark Web

Directed by Stephen Susco

Starring – Colin Woodell, Betty Gabriel, Chelsea Alden

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

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

POSITIVES

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

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

NEGATIVES

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

2/10

Gotti

Directed by Kevin Connolly

Starring – John Travolta, Kelly Preston, Stacy Keach

The Plot – The film follows infamous crime boss John Gotti’s (Travolta) rise to become the “Teflon Don” of the Gambino Crime Family in New York City. Spanning three decades and recounted by his son John Jr. (Spencer Rocco Lofranco), GOTTI examines Gotti’s tumultuous life as he and his wife (Preston) attempt to hold the family together amongst tragedy and multiple prison sentences.

Rated R for strong violence and pervasive adult language

POSITIVES

– While the performances certainly aren’t anything of award worthy, Travolta and Preston are giving it their all in their respective roles. My only complaint from Travolta is that his performance feels like more of an impression of John Gotti, and less of an immersion. What pushes it through to positivity for me are some of the committed deliveries that he gives to some truly outlandish dialogue that did him zero favors.

– The inclusion of real life footage does a much better job in relaying information than the film does. I would normally complain for how much this film goes to the well for the added effect, but it was the only reason why I was able to follow what was transpiring from scene-to-scene.

NEGATIVES

– This film has attention deficit disorder of the worst kind. If you can get by the first five minutes of the movie, in which there are three different timeline switches, then you will have difficulty deciphering why this film can’t tell one cohesive direction from oldest to most recent in storytelling. This never settles down, and the whole film feels like a disjointed Frankenstein project that should’ve never seen the light of day.

– It’s not often that I complain about the dialogue feeling like it got its respective film genre wrong, but that’s what we have here. Most of the lines and conversation pieces feel like they’re ripped completely out of a satirical comedy that pokes fun at the gangster lifestyle, instead of hard-hitting, moving reads that make you feel their impact. Never for a moment was I shook or even remotely moved in the way that films like Goodfellas or The Godfather films achieve.

– Where the film begins is a bit of a mystery to me, because it makes Gotti feel like a sequel to a film we’ve previously seen. There is not a single mention of John’s earlier life, or anything before this twelve year period that the film rushes through, making the presentation feel like a two-and-a-half-hour movie that was horrifically trimmed to 100 minutes. Maybe we should be so lucky.

– My job as a critic is to point out aspects in time period pieces that don’t line up to the respective decade that a particular film is trying to depict, and Gotti has two of my absolute favorites of all time. Consider first of all that this film takes place between 1977-1989, then ask yourself why acclaimed rapper Pitbull has two songs that play overwhelmingly loud during an outdoor barbeque thrown by Gotti’s mob family. If this isn’t enough, ask yourself why during a New York skyline shot, the 9/11 tribute can easily be seen. WHAT WERE THEY THINKING?? Were they even remotely trying?

– There’s are these huge leaps in time that only further contribute to the idea that this film was gashed in half. Events and things just tend to happen without much planning or warning, and we as an audience are left to pick up the pieces and figure out what happened along the way. I don’t care much for audible narration, but this is a film that needed it terribly, because surviving without it is like trying to learn a foreign language on one hour of experience.

– Much of the film’s production falters, feeling like a cheap made-for-TV experiment that they couldn’t sell to F/X. One such example is in a scene in which a rival mob boss walks up the street with his henchmen and turns down the corner. The problem comes in the fact that this exact same take is played three different times throughout the film. How do I know this? The boss’s limping pattern and clothes are the same in every take. After the second time, I didn’t even laugh anymore. I became concerned for how anyone could ever give Connolly a job in the director’s chair.

– Offensive character framing. If I was a citizen of New York or an Italian, I would be more offended watching this than watching an episode of Jersey Shore. I’m not sure if Connolly’s point was to depict Italians as braindead human beings, but bravo to a job well done. The movie has this strange angle of portraying Gotti as this hero of the community, and that he didn’t deserve what he got in the end. This gives me hope for that Dahmer film in which they depict him as a vegetarian.

– Much of the push-the-envelope material feels like watered down scenes from other, better gangster movies. In fact, as I sit here not even an hour after the movie ended, I remembered very few details to Gotti’s life that even made him such a valued angle for American cinema. There is definitely a compelling story somewhere underneath Connolly’s disheveled pieces, but they never combine with one another to craft anything of dramatic pull or tension for the movie. Even the death scenes feel like temporary hiccups instead of deconstruction to the title character.

2/10