Lady and the Tramp

Directed By Charlie Bean

Starring – Tessa Thompson, Justin Theroux, Sam Elliott

The Plot – A timeless retelling of the 1955 animated classic, that features a pampered house dog (Thompson) and a tough but lovable stray (Theroux) embarking on an unexpected adventure and, despite their differences, grow closer and come to understand the value of home.

Rated PG for some mild thematic elements and action/peril

POSITIVES

– Distinguishable score. What I love so thoroughly about the musical compositions done here by composer Joseph Trapanese is there’s a real sense of geographical identity maintained by the flavors and instruments that he uses to accentuate our introduction into this world. The trumpets and horns seem to elaborate of a Louisiana feel, complete with big band swing numbers to remove doubt in the form of accents by the actors, which certainly aren’t present. Aside from this, Trapanese has fine audible timing as a composer to know just when to switch up his tempo’s from warm and light-hearted to suspenseful and ominously resonant, and it keeps so much of his work from remaining so very one-note, similar to how many of Disney’s animated property scores rubbed together in constant repetition.

– Intricate production value. For a Disney streaming offering, this section is highly exceptional for the budget that they’re given to work with. The dated wardrobe of 1909 is not only wonderful at immersing us into the thread designs of the established day, but their consistency between three-piece suits and free-flowing gowns are seen as far as the eyes can stretch, using every possible angle of framing to give subtle reminder of this place that feels far from our own. In addition to this, the set design is absolutely off the chain, using no shortage of shelving to show off some of the more sturdy inventions of yesterday. This gives the sets an almost three-dimensional rendering, complete with vibrancy in coloring that keep them from ever fading in the background.

– Surprising special effects. While not nearly as effective or believable as I would eventually prefer them to be, the subtle influence of canine movements in the film is a welcome step of positivity moving forward that will hopefully help the ball swing more in Disney’s live action favor. It helps that live action dogs are used for the integrity of the scenes, leaving the post-production to focus more on just the mouth movements and emotional resonance on the faces of these furry friends. On the latter, it’s slightly better than “The Lion King”, but still nowhere near as expressive as an animated movie made nearly seventy years prior to it. On the former, the mouth movements are nearly perfect with what’s being heard in dialogue deposits, and flow naturally once you get over the initial first ten minutes, where seeing dogs talk in live action form feels strange in the real world feel that Disney seems aiming towards. It proves that subtly rings truest in bringing two sides of artistic direction together, and bringing forth the realist depiction of animated animals from Disney to date.

– Differences. The overall structure of the story still remains very similar to the original “Lady and the Tramp”, but there are more than a few measurable changes to the direction of the story, which for the most part ground the story accordingly towards more of a dramatic enveloping. This is seen more than anywhere else during the late second act, where Lady and Tramp begin their cross-town descent through a night of silly hijinks, and end sampling some deliciously-appealing spaghetti and meatballs. It cuts through too much of the downtime, which stretches the original movie even for its 72 minute run time, and instead invests more time within the dynamic of the two dogs, making their eventual friendship all the more valuable because of the backstories receiving further emphasis. There are unfortunate sacrifices to the edit button, which I will get to later, but if nothing else I appreciate Disney instilling anything different from the live action shot-for-shot remakes that have made them all comfortably uncomfortable.

– Compelling vantage points. Part of what I’ve always loved about the Lady and the Tramp lore is its contrast in placing two characters from opposite sides of the track, and fleshing them out in a way that allows each of them to learn about the other in ways that help each of them grow as canines. This educative side of the ages old nature versus nurture debate not only creates some uncomfortable dynamics for Lady and the Tramp alike, but also supplants an air of social commentary poignancy that teaches us the importance of those less fortunate. Lady only survives during her time on the street because of Tramp’s intellect and awareness when dealing with danger and abusive authority, and Tramp’s family prejudice is only defeated when he opens himself up to the love that being adoptable can pertain. It teaches us against being close-minded, and reminds us that only possibilities come from opportunity.

NEGATIVES

– Human characters. I understand that this is a story first and foremost about the canine protagonists, but the human element of the film is so lukewarmly underdeveloped that they often come across as the very same cartoon characters that this film was trying so hard to get away from. Some of it’s on the performances, which I will get to later, but for the most part it’s the impossible personalities that are anything but honest in a real world rendering. I point to the cherished restaurant scene, where a snobby business owner yells at his staff to hurry along to the packed house waiting, but takes more than enough ample time bringing plates of food to dogs outside, as well as serenading them with a violin and ukulele. In addition to this, the owners might as well be pieces of paper. They have no personalities or influence on the dynamic of the film, nor do they make enough of an impression to warrant how much screen time the movie gives them. This is also prominent with the film’s antagonist; a dog catcher played by Adrian Martinez, who is a one-note Disney villain who might as well be spitting fire from his mouth. If you’re going to establish a real world conscience, make the characters live and breathe inside such a decision. Otherwise, these are cartoon humans living in a live action real world, and it just doesn’t blend well together for compelling characterization.

– Musical minimalization. This is where the edit button really starts to get over-zealous, as so many of the cherished tracks and musical numbers that familiarize people with a healthy dose of nostalgia is, for the majority, gone here. I can think of at least three musical numbers that are nowhere to be found, and the negative condentation that this has on the film is it makes it all the more difficult to indulge in the supposed depth of their personalities. The lyrics of the songs better help to flesh out the psychology of these furry characters and what they’re feeling. Without it, we not only lose the magic of the moments in translation, but the movie’s 96 minute runtime does eventually start to hold us prisoner because of how little material there is to fill it.

– Culturally and historically insensitive. I hate playing this card during a kids movie, but there are still more than enough heavy influences that creep up into the frame of this 2019 installment. For one, the depiction of a mixed race couple as Lady’s owners is one that I commend the company for in establishing some semblance of progressive ideals to the story’s merit, but in setting your film in 1909, it does do a disservice in educating youths on the influence that racism played in deep south America. Readers probably won’t agree with me, but things like these don’t sit well with me when you have the responsibility of educating during a time piece film. Whether it’s a kids movie or not, it ignores what was prominently a factor in the world’s foreground. This is why I would prefer that the movie be set in current day, as opposed to 1909, but then we’d lose so much of the production value, so damned if you do, damned if you don’t. There are other examples with Asian and Spanish characters, but those would be getting into spoiler territories, so I will save that for another day.

– Forgettable performances. This especially pains me because I’m a huge Tessa Thompson fan, but the limitations of the script and direction from Bean keep this high-brow talented cast from ever making the roles their own. On Tessa, she has enough energy donated to the role, but not enough emphasis on the dramatic side that engulfs her character whole during the second half. Theroux is virtually insignificant, meaning anyone could play this role and get at least the same charm and charisma that he minimally returns us on throughout the film. As for human characters, it was nice to see Thomas Mann, Kiersey Clemmons, and Yvette Nicole Brown do their thing, but all of them act like they were given these single word phrases to fill in the gaps of their characters, with not an ounce of intelligence between them. The cast was the last thing that I expected to be the problem here, but thanks to flat direction and meaningless choices made with the characters, they can’t even measure up to the physical performances of their furry on-screen co-stars.

– Uneven halves. The first half is dull and repetitive, offering no shred of intrigue to draw us into this story beyond the top-notch production design. It slugs along feeling the weight of its minutes because it’s approaching the story from far too many angles, when in reality all we want is two cohesively parallel narratives running simultaneously until these two dogs become one. There’s no relief in the second half either, as the lack of developed drama eventually catches up to the film’s final dramatic conflict (If you can call it that), where a rat who we’ve never heard from or mentioned once throughout this film is suddenly a threat to a pivotal character. Because of its spontaneous appearance, this feels every bit as tacked-on as it does inconsequential to what it brings forth. Was this rat going to poison this person, or bite it? What was the intention here? Ultimately, it tries to be too dramatic when it never shifts the gears in motion towards heading that way, and outlines no shortage of faults throughout this screenplay that Disney knew better than to show in a theater.

My Grade: 5/10 or D

Last Christmas

Directed By Paul Feig

Starring – Emilia Clarke, Henry Golding, Emma Thompson

The Plot – Kate (Clarke) is a young woman subscribed to bad decisions. Her last date with disaster? That of having accepted to work as Santa’s elf for a department store. However, she meets Tom (Golding) there. Her life takes a new turn. For Kate, it seems too good to be true.

Rated PG-13 for adult language and sexual content

POSITIVES

– Dark humor. For the first half of the movie, we are treated to the charming essence of Feig’s off-beat brand of laughs and visual sight gags that help the audience grow and invest in these characters, especially Kate in that her vulnerability towards humiliation is her greatest quality. For the majority of intended deliveries, I enjoyed a consistent helping of hearty laughter, that lured me right into the holiday setting and all of its strange, quirky characters. It proves that the film does have a vibrancy in personality that makes this anything other than the tacky Christmas or romance narratives, and instead grounds its reality in the awkwardness of the season that is every bit boisterous as it is testing.

– Likeable cast. Thompson has always been a national treasure to me, and even donning a Russian accent here, she still maintains the level of timely delivery and on-screen charisma that has made her a commanding presence for over four decades of film. Aside from her, the chemistry of Clarke and Golding is off of the charts, subtly developing their blossoming relationship, all the while preserving what’s so enveloping about the duo as leading stars. For Clarke, it’s easily her warm, bright smile, but it’s the infectious energy that she maintains in the role, even through some dramatic depths in material that prove she’s anything but one-note. For Golding, it’s more of the Tinsletown leading man suave that is a rarity in today’s movie landscape, but one that easily distinguishes him from his competition. Both of these leads have fun in their respective roles, all the while providing us with a relationship that is easy to get behind from an audience perspective.

– Soulful soundtrack. Being that this is a movie based on the music of George Michael, it would be difficult to screw this aspect up, and thankfully the production doesn’t waste away this opportunity. It’s important to note that it isn’t a song every couple of minutes, and instead it’s the cleverness of Feig to work it in topically when he sees fit, giving the song a newfound life through the eyes of a different situation that at least lyrically resonates. “Last Christmas” is obviously the focal point here, but non-Christmas classics like “Faith”, “Freedom”, “Heal the Pain”, and even “Wake Me Up Before You Go-Go” are dispersed in a way that provide a pleasant energy to the film that accentuates the entrancing visuals of England. Aside from this, Clarke herself is given the microphone a couple of times throughout the film to actually perform some of the catalog from her character’s favorite singer, and does a masterful job in doing justice to Michael’s ranging falsetto.

– Small details. I love a set design that the camera can allow us to immerse in, solidifying the lived-in quality that comes within the specifics of one’s geographical setting. In this regard, it’s specifically the year-round Christmas shop that Clarke’s character works in that dazzled me with rare product that I am sure will become a staple of real life retail once this film is seen by more opportunist eyes. There’s plenty of examples mentioned and shown by characters who present the miniature statues front-and-center, but it’s the stuff that is barely shown just over the shoulder of a character in frame that really impressed me, and presented plenty of inner-world Easter Eggs to prove that the production spared no expense in bringing its world and ideals to life. If nothing else, the visual appeal of the film will get you prepared for Christmas, and give a fruitful example of marketing in its most extreme of all stages.

– Unique wardrobe. This is primarily towards Clarke’s character, whose color and style coordination reflects that of an alcoholic with little time for anything other than the bottle, except maybe sleep. Her work uniform has her in a green elf costume, complete with cute elf shoes, all of which seemed perfect for Emilia’s brand of irresistible spunk. Her casual attire features leopard skinned coat, multi-layered dresses underneath, all supplanted by grey stockings, which are every bit a staple of the character as the very bottles she clinks through. It’s not overly spectacular in its pageantry, but does the job in colorfully illustrating the personality and demeanor of someone so dispirited with the season.

NEGATIVES

– Theme overload. This is really only a factor during the disastrous third act, which so many of my negatives resonate in. For this particular problem, it’s the need to incorporate racism, gay prejudice, and even an unfolding social war in Yugoslavia into the mix, with such little effetiveness or direction to make it articulately pop with the pre-established Christmas theme that the entire film until that point was preaching. None of these themes are ever given even remotely satisfying resolution, nor the kind of clarity that hammers home a positively earnest message to send audiences home on. Instead, it mentions them once or twice, and then never follows through on cementing its necessary intention. The film is only 97 minutes long, but if you cut these pointless exercises for this particular film, you would have a tighter more cohesive direction that remains focused all the way to the finish line.

– Improv comedy. I mentioned earlier that the humor, particularly during the film’s first half, is one of the more stronger suits that the film preserves itself into earning the attention of its audience. For a majority, I was delighted into it, but occasionally there is that hint of pretentious Feig that sets in, giving unimportant extras the chance to hone their craft at the screeching halt of storytelling progression. If this is done once or twice, fine, no problem, but the need to incorporate two bumbling female cops, two homeless shelter characters who only serve a purpose to advance the mystery between the romantic leads, and a barrage of Kate’s family and friends, makes this unbearable. Every time these characters popped up on camera, I cringed knowing where the scene was headed, and I was right every single time. More cutting that could be used for positivity.

– Melodrama overload. I expect this kind of thing in a romantic Christmas movie, but the way it transitions with its overbearing third act took away much of what I enjoyed about the movie in the first place. Mainly it’s the complete removal of comedy that comes once Kate reveals some near-death troubles from her past that allows Tom to see her in a different light. The heavy handed nature of its evolution feels so far removed from the enjoyable film we once were receiving, in favor of a conventional third act conflict that sours when it should be sweet. It’s working with emotionally moving material and performances, but the film’s designated majority genre keeps it from ever properly attaining the tears that it calls on the audience so abruptly to disperse. If Feig directed the first two acts of the movie, Nicholas Sparks directed the third.

– Detestable twist. I expected something similar to this when I was watching the film, based on the awkward exposition of one of its characters, but what it amounted to couldn’t have been the intended ending meant to send audiences home happy with the result they were just given. This twist is so absurdly rendered, with a complete lack of logic in the rules of the consequence that it almost succeeds at being a science fiction movie. On top of all of this, it takes the song “Last Christmas” by George Michael, and attacks it with such a lyrical dissection in deconstructing it as something completely unintended. An example would be taking a song like “Enter Sandman” by Metallica, and making a film inspired by it, that revolves around a sand salesman. The last time a melodrama pissed me off this terribly was after “Collateral Beauty”, and at least with that film there was very little about it that I actually enjoyed. “Last Christmas” was close in succeeding, but the very next day, it gave it away. See? I can be clever too.

– Stretched ending. This is becoming a staple in Hollywood cinema, as this film as well doesn’t know the proper ending that it was trying for, so therefore will include them all in the film’s final ten minutes. For my money, I would’ve never included a Shelter ball, or a scene in the springtime that follows it. Yes, that’s right, the film’s ending is so long that it starts in Winter, and ends in Spring. How’s that for procrastination?

My Grade: 5/10 or D

Harriet

Directed By Kasi Lemmons

Starring – Cynthia Erivo, Leslie Odom Jr, Joe Alwyn

The Plot – Based on the thrilling and inspirational life of an iconic American freedom fighter, “Harriet” tells the extraordinary tale of Harriet Tubman’s (Erivo) escape from slavery and transformation into one of America’s greatest heroes. Her courage, ingenuity, and tenacity freed hundreds of slaves and changed the course of history.

Rated PG-13 for thematic content throughout, violent material and adult language including racial epithets

POSITIVES

– The character study. If nothing else, Lemmons earns herself the status as the right woman to tell Harriet’s immensely important story for the respect she instills within the mentality of her leading lady. Faith, family, and freedom are the three things that shape her actions, allowing her to risk everything for the themes she holds so closely to her heart, and it outlines her as this ahead-of-her-time historical figure that sadly hasn’t received the kind of historical praise that she so desperately deserves. Lemmons depicts her as a trail-blazer, and one that still maintains the vulnerability associated with putting so much on the line, despite her exuberant bravery that shines unflinchingly on the outside. In that regard, Tubman was an icon for the many black little girls, like Kasi, who owe her the kind of homage that the film, above all else, properly stands for.

– One thunderous performances. Everyone here does a fine job living through their respective parts, but this is clearly a one woman whirlwind of a performance done through the eyes of the vastly talented Cynthia Erivo. Ignoring the controversies that came with casting her in the first place, I will say that Erivo silences the doubters with an ample amount of long-winded inspirational diatribes and an equally riveting display of emotional and physical investment that articulate the mountains Harriet moved in fighting for her freedoms. Erivo, at only a barely five foot frame, gives Harriet the kind of fearless intensity in the eyes of her adversity, that resonated across the country why she was one to be feared by many, and admired by more. The film is only as watchable as it is because of Erivo’s extremely gifted performance, and if nothing else should earn her an Oscar nomination next February.

– Established production design. In the immersive quality for the film, there are many examples that give it that distinct look of 19th century appearance told through the lens of 21st century technology, but none more captivating than the amounts of throwback threads and impactful set designs that remain consistent throughout. On the former, there’s the mundane weathering of plantation outfits, which convey the idea that all names and identities are lost in a sea of similarity. For the latter, I thoroughly thought the log cabin’s captured a cheap quality of life for the many slaves, that visually conveyed a depravity that was typical for them. In addition to this, Philadelphia is granted a distinguishing aura of top-shelf class and sophistication that makes it the ultimate finishing line for Harriet’s testing cross-country journey. The production picks up the slack where the script dooms the film into conformity, and presents us with eye-popping visual aspects that absorb as much about the time period as possible.

– Use of color. There are two sides to this artistic integrity, and each have their own important ideal of rendering that plays a pivotal roll in Harriet’s journey. While initially I thought that the blueish hue that adorned so much of the film’s first half was used just a means to accentuate the many visions that Harriet was shown from God, they are in fact meant to represent the cold, damp atmosphere that many feel in being held captive against their will. This becomes evident when the same blue is used in scenes that don’t even feature Harriet, but remain persistent in the southland setting. The other color is gold, and this is used to convey freedom, as evidenced by its saturating quality in frame when Harriet finally arrives in Philadelphia. It’s an intoxicating layer of cinematography meant to inspire warmth in the registries of the audience watching, and does an exceptional job in illustrating the proper tone between the two sides.

– Scintillating score. The work done here by composer Terence Blanchard incorporates a fine combination of stirring compositions and gospel hymns sung by the characters in frame to give it a distinct uniqueness from other films of the slave subgenre. I say this because movies like these are often rare to spot characters still sporting the tool of Christ within their registries, but it brought forth no shortage of forth-coming goosebumps to my arms each time their notes relayed that they still fight. For the lyric-less music, the air of sentimentality that usually cripples my theatrical experience in sappy films prospered with driven intensity, that filled in the gaps by amateur direction in that field. There’s an achingly tense cloud of inevitability that is presented at sturdy levels of volume, never overtaking what’s transpiring on-screen, and always acting as the necessary highlighter of emphasis to push investment even further.

NEGATIVES

– Superhero framing. Tonally, this film couldn’t be anymore insultingly ineffective for the factual storytelling that should be enough. This feels very much like an origin superhero movie, and one that isn’t a good thing to the sensitivity of the subject matter. There’s personal loss, injuries that lead to super-powers, an over-the-top antagonist with some truly dreadful lines of dialogue, and a hero who pops up at just the right time to even the score. When I watched the trailer for this film, I felt that the decision to make this an action film was one that did a great disservice to the film, but looking at it now, that’s the least of my worries. “Harriet” is one Sam Jackson cameo away from being an Avenger, and commits the biggest error of its material, in that it never remains true to itself.

– Too soft. In the era of films like “12 Years a Slave” or “Birth of a Nation”, there’s simply no room for films about slavery to be reduced to a PG-13 rating, and somehow expect to properly attain the air of authenticity that it requires in relating the fear and disgust to its audience. In this regard, “Harriet” is the safest film about slavery that I’ve ever seen, trading in disgusting treatment for implication. In fact, it’s so astonishingly farce that the white slave owners don’t do anything worse than tearing up freedom papers or separating family members throughout the film. Instead, they recruit a black muscle to do all of their dirty work for them, and because of it, is never able to articulate the menace of the antagonist properly, nor give the audience as much empathy for the slaves as what should be easily intended. “12 Years a Slave” captured such unflinching intensity with its torture that never felt exploitative or unnecessary to the integrity of the picture. It used it to paint a picture of both sides of this world, and did so with such articulance that I begged for these slave owners to meet their makers, something this film doesn’t even come close on.

– Shortcuts importance. I’ve always thought that Harriet Tubman’s life story is simply unable to be adapted to the big screen because there’s so much to cover in such a short time that something is bound to be left unaddressed, and that’s the case here. The story starts with Harriet in the middle of being a slave, with no mention at all of her life before everything in frame. Aside from this, the period of Harriet being a spy during the Civil War, where she rescued as many as 800 rumored slaves is reduced to post-movie text that only hints at it. It seems like such a disservice to Tubman to not feature this in an action-dominated genre, and only offers a scope of her talents when you subtract it from the finished product.

– Taking liberties. This movie is what I call factual, but far from authentic. What I mean by that is the movie will take aspects like the Godly visions or the Fugitive Slave Act featured in the film, and spin them where the screenplay requires them to bend urgency. Yes, Tubman was rumored to have visions from God, but they aren’t the superpower that is shown in the film, but rather a mental seizure that the character suffered from each time one popped up. You could call them illusions caused by mental suffering, but lets just stick with the God stuff for now, because it’s convenient for the plot. As for the Fugitive Slave Act, it’s mentioned as being signed in 1836 in the movie, but in reality wasn’t signed until 1850. Once again, this is another example of a screenwriter who couldn’t log onto Wikipedia to cement the proper year it was established, bringing flashbacks of “Bohemian Rhapsody” for all of the wrong reasons.

– Amateur direction. I don’t have anything personal against Lemmons, but certain sequences prove she’s over her head in the bland shot compositions and lack of dramatic emphasis that go virtually unnoticed throughout the film. Scenes that should feature such suffocating intensity and peeling vulnerability, are instead illustrated as a momentary adversity, and one that the protagonists overcome with quite an inordinate amount of ease. It crafts the film’s pivotal sequences, but especially the ending, with an overbearing grounded approach, burdening us frequently with a sense of anti-climatic resistance that makes this forgettable five minutes after you finish it.

My Grade: 5/10 or D+

Terminator: Dark Fate

Directed By Tim Miller

Starring – Mackenzie Davis, Linda Hamilton, Arnold Schwarzenegger

The Plot – More than two decades have passed since Sarah Connor prevented Judgment Day, changed the future, and re-wrote the fate of the human race. Dani Ramos (Natalia Reyes) is living a simple life in Mexico City with her brother (Diego Boneta) and father when a highly advanced and deadly new Terminator – a Rev-9 (Gabriel Luna) travels back through time to hunt and kill her. Dani’s survival depends on her joining forces with two warriors: Grace (Davis), an enhanced super-soldier from the future, and a battle-hardened Sarah Connor (Hamilton). As the Rev-9 ruthlessly destroys everything and everyone in its path on the hunt for Dani, the three are led to a T-800 (Schwarzenegger) from Sarah’s past that may be their last best hope.

Rated R for violence throughout, adult language and brief nudity

POSITIVES

– Heavy action set pieces. The Terminator franchise is one of the godfathers of big budget action, so in turn it’s a must for the newest installment to have no shortage of demolition mayhem to satisfy audiences into remembering what they loved so dearly about the franchise to begin with. Offering a satisfying compromise of aerial and ground attacks to keep the integrity of the set designs fresh with innovation, the film spares no degree of immersive sound mixing to play complimentary to musical composer Junkie XL’s eclectically riveting compositions, nor does it ever not result in the impact of these characters being felt on said properties. In addition to this, the sequences are shot with a degree of stable handheld camera work that maintains the detection of what transpires, and offers a surprisingly absorbing quality to its movements that better helps us feel engaged in the plight of these characters enveloped into it. If you’re only watching a Terminator movie for intense action sequences, “Dark Fate” will continue the trend in what has brought forth some heavy stakes in the war of man versus machine.

– The queen returns. There’s not much to say positively in the performance department here, with the exception of Linda Hamilton’s glowing return to form as badass Sarah Connor in the role that made her a household name. Sarah’s demeanor still embodies the feminine toughness that all female characters should be privy to, but it’s really Linda’s dramatic depth instilled to the character that helps push her transformation once more. In this unveiling chapter, we learn about the kind of loss that plagued Sarah for more than two decades, and left her with a mission of revenge as her only life’s meaning going forward. It offers a side of vulnerability to the character that we haven’t seen since the original movie from 1984, but brings with it the ruthlessness of the character from “Judgment Day”, which captures the complete evolution. This movie is better any time Linda is on-screen, and Miller’s desire to involve her moving forward is among the most rewarding of decisions that he has made for the integrity of the franchise.

– New toys. After seven films in this franchise, it’s difficult to keep coming up with fresh and innovative traits to give to these invading machines, but the arrival of Davis’ heroine, and antagonist Gabriel Luna as the Rev-9, bring forth some startling developments in on-screen technological advances that make them deadlier than anything previously established. For Davis, it’s her lightning-fast speed, as well as her ability with a chain that competently articulates her position as a protector. In addition to this, it’s her dynamic of not exactly being a machine but rather an enhanced human, that help her maintain the values of human existence, and what hangs in the balance from this invasion of the machines. For Luna’s Rev-9, he is able to melt himself into maintaining two forms of existence at the same time, doubling the odds against the opposition in a way that forces them to keep their eyes in both directions. Aside from this, however, it’s his ability to hack and absorb character signals and camera devices accordingly, in order to make it even more difficult to escape him.

– Production aspects. There are two things here that I believe are owed to Tim Miller’s attention for detail that better accommodate some of the beats that the film surprisingly takes us one. The first one is terrific de-aging in the form of two past characters to the franchise, that really makes you do a double take a few times, and maintains the gimmick even more than something like “Gemini Man” ever could. Beyond this, the C.G for the film is more good than bad consistently. Sure, there are a few instances where the movements of the Terminator’s while crawling or in mid-air felt a bit hollow or uninspired, but the overall spectrum here left me dazzled more than dazed, and solidified the production in a way that marries the best of ambitious practicality in set designs and computer generation in special effects, that accomplishes some impressive feats visually.

– Diversity in the cast. I commend this film greatly for instilling some Spanish born characters to the front-and-center position of one of the biggest franchises in the action genre history. Not only does this story’s reach expand its grip on its audience to include more minority moviegoers, but it also helps flesh out more of the scenery where the story takes place. It proves that the producers aren’t afraid to add a contemporary spin of social commentary to the dynamic of its plot, proving that there is a John Connor in every corner of the globe.

NEGATIVES

– Horrendous dialogue. This film tries so desperately to be humorous in some instances, and inspirational in others, and thanks to the unnatural flow of deliveries, as well as the forceful puns of familiarity to the franchise, they fail more times than they succeed. If this isn’t bad enough, the way they are presented brought forth several groans within me, where the intention never left the station, and immediately took me out of the heat of the scene, periodically throughout the film. The kind of dialogue that I expect in an action movie should inspire me to the point of goosebumps developing on my exterior, but the majority here are a series of pun deviations trying to capitalize on a bigger, better period for the franchise long ago, and just feels here like your grandparents learning words like “For shizzle” or “Crunk” for the first time ever.

– Lack of originality. Tim Miller has gone on record stating that “Dark Fate” ignores the continuity of films 3-5, and stands as the sole sequel to “Judgment Day”. “Halloween” recently did the same thing with its franchise, and it’s interesting to compare the two films because their abilities to push reset brings forth the meaning of their intentions when you find out just how little the newest edition brought to the franchise. Aside from the plot being the same in all six movies, there are moments and dialogue repeated from films 3-5, but presented in a different light here. It chooses not to acknowledge those films, then has no problems with ripping them off? I searched far and wide for something original in this movie that no other film before it has done, and even hours after the film I still struggle with the realization that this is just more reheated fan service to manipulate you into thinking it’s something fresh or ground-breaking for the series. It isn’t.

– Disrespectable. This is in regards to one particular subplot, and I want to be careful not to spoil it because it is a shocking development when you consider the previous films omitted from the continuity of this franchise. It deals with a death that takes place in the opening ten minutes of this movie, and it not only diminishes the heartfelt impact of a previous film, but also disposes of this person in a way that is nothing more than a speed bump to the roads this screenplay travels down. I have always said that the worst sequels not only damage themselves, but also previous successful films that should’ve been left alone in the first place, and “Dark Fate” is the latest in that selfish execution. It takes something as timelessly precious as the air-tight perfect ending of a previous movie, and shakes it in a way that lessens the meaning and stakes of its conclusion.

– Sharp tonal shift. I commended Miller and most of this movie for not reaching for the low-hanging fruit of his brand of humor that he’s very well known for, but then something happened in the early stages of the third act that made this feel every bit of the weight of the five screenwriters that it maintains. Arnold pops into the frame, and suddenly we’re treated to no shortage of corny material, slow punchline executions, and an important narrative that gets lost in the fog of these characters able to joke about their truly dire situation. I’m fine with a line or two here or there, but there are whole scenes of this act where Arnie brings forth so much of the character-ruining material that made “Rise of the Machines” such a difficult watch, for the road of pop culture that the character traveled between nearly twenty years of film. Here, I could’ve done with more urgency, and less dependability on using humor as a crutch for slow periods of script.

– Arnold. Speaking of the man himself, I wish he was kept to merely a one scene cameo, where his meaning within the film is established, and then he’s never seen again. Why do I feel this way? Well, so much of the film centers around these tough female characters fighting for themselves and the world surrounding them, and then the screenplay tells them that they need help in the form of a man, about 70% into the movie. Not only does this lessen the effects of Davis’ enhanced super human, but it also conjures up a very disturbing and timely insensitive message to the ladies in the audience, who are enjoying their first dose of gender dominance in 35 years throughout the entire franchise. Aside from this, Arnold is really just exploring the familiar third act beats of his character between “Judgment Day” and “Rise of the Machines”, that etched out this layer of predictability for this film that was inescapable. For a film and director so determined to build a fresh direction for itself, this one saunters through the muddy waters of repetition in a way that limits the evolution of its characters and permanency of its story, relying far too heavily on where we’ve been instead of where we’re going.

My Grade: 5/10 or D

Black & Blue

Directed By Deon Taylor

Starring – Naomie Harris, Mike Colter, Tyrese Gibson

The Plot – An action thriller about a rookie cop (Harris) who inadvertently captures the murder of a young drug dealer on her body cam. After realizing that the murder was committed by corrupt cops, she teams up with the one person from her community who is willing to help her (Gibson) as she tries to escape both the criminals out for revenge and the police who are desperate to destroy the incriminating footage.

Rated R for violence and adult language

POSITIVES

– Against type performances. This is an eye-opening showcase for everyone involved, not because of the dramatic depth of their deliveries, but rather the unique characters they portray, that gives us something outside of the box of expectations. For Harris, it’s the chance to play an action lead, and it’s one she takes very seriously. Not only does her physical performance offer a satisfying equal to the emotional registry that is firing on all cylinders for the actress as expected, but the jaded moral line that her character toes as being an African American AND a police officer keeps her constantly feeling in the middle of a tug-of-war between two sides who she loves very much. In addition to Harris, Colter, the man known for playing Luke Cage on Netflix, gets to portray a seedy gang leader, Gibson gets a darker shade of personality from the light-hearted goon we’re used to in the Fast and Furious franchise, and Frank Grillo serves as the film’s central antagonist. It was satisfying to see them all play their respectively diverse roles, and if nothing else offers a chance to establish the complexity of their range as character actors.

– Social stigma. As you may have expected, the film has a lot to say between the conflict of police and black citizens, and even despite the sometimes heavy handed nature of its depictions, it does offer a revealing scope towards both sides that may be a tool used to better understand them. There are good and bad people on both sides of the line, and often because of their sworn allegiance to what they claim, conflict ensues. Taylor seems persistent on his message of communication and coherence, two things often misconstrued in pre-conceived prejudice that both sides are guilty of. Because of this, there are very few more important or socially conscious films that you will see this year, making “Black & Blue” the rare exception that deconstructs both sides of the conflict for us to absorb.

– Lens originality. Taylor incorporates police body cameras, as well as police cruiser cameras to paint the action and conflict from an entirely unorthodox angle of film storytelling. What this does for the presentation of the film is cover the mayhem from an angle so unnaturally prominent that it not only adds to the intensity of several chase scenes throughout the film, but also presents us with easily the most candid side of depiction that stands as the gimmick of truth and clarity for the film. As to where the camera work in a film can be used as a blinder to expel what is later revealed in plot-twisting detail, this eye-level approach, like its real life intention, gives us the complete picture, establishing it as the single most important character in the film, for the way it will clear the innocent. Even though this film feels like it was made a decade late in terms of its plot holes, the use of contemporary gadgets to the integrity of the cinematic design gives it a professional level of approach that, surprisingly, more cop dramas haven’t attempted.

– Atmospheric. If nothing else, Taylor’s day-turning-to-night thriller is one that articulately captures the anxiety and paranoia that is conjured up from Harris’ character feeling more alone than ever in her fight for justice. Part of it is the brilliant setting of New Orleans, a city riddled in its own tragedies and racial injustices, which in personality brings forth a very dangerous and vengeful side to its opposition. There is simply no safety zone, and very few instances of trusting characters who she can turn to, and this isolates her as even more of a minority in the established environment than her African American heritage ever could. The unique perplexity of her standing in the direct middle between two feuding sides supplants her with enough belief to bestow upon either side, opening her up to be a victim of a double-cross time-and-time-again, and thus fleshing out her vulnerability in a way that ratchets this tension to satisfying levels for the pacing.

– Tight action. There’s nothing exceptionally special about the film’s action sequences, which are spared for the most meaningful time to disperse amongst its audience. What I like about them is they maintain the intensity of their surroundings without choppy editing or shaking camera effects, choosing instead to maximize the amounts of bullets and hit detection, which brings forth a healthy amount of the red to splash at the screen. As for the chase sequences themselves, there’s some energetic shot compositions and long takes that breathe life into the believability of the actor or actress who is invested into the scene, as well as some a fine illustration of distance to better elaborate how far ahead the prey is of the pursuer. There’s nothing here that is truly memorable for its creativity, but it’s rather the consistency of its efforts that don’t dilute or convolute the focus of the screen, and allows what transpires to be the rolling snowball of momentum to indulge in the fast-moving high-stakes of the picture.

NEGATIVES

– Disbelief suspended. That is what you will need to keep your head in the game of this modern day setting, where cell phones and social media could easily play a part in proving this woman’s innocence. This more than anything alludes to the idea that this was a 90’s idea that didn’t get made until twenty years later, fleshing out a series of inconsistencies and enormous plot holes that solve the film’s conflict from ever becoming a matter of issue in the real world. Aside from this, police cameras themselves are hooked into the police station database, so if this were to ever happen, one call to headquarters for the victim officer would clear her of any of this, and store this film at best as a glorified period piece, that doesn’t hold up when told in a 2019 backdrop.

– Horrendous A.D.R. Sloppy production values can be seen mostly everywhere in this film, but the audio editing done in post-production for roughly 60% of this movie is done so obviously amateur that their inclusion often feels like an unseen character talking somewhere behind the camera. The problems are aplenty; audio that doesn’t line up with lip movements, audio that doesn’t coincide with mouth movements, sound mixing of audio a few levels above every other dialogue in the scene, despite the talking character never shouting in the least, and choppy placement so hollow that you could practically hear the clicks in its involvement. This is one of my favorite negatives to point out in a movie, but rarely is it ever as evident as it was in “Black & Blue”, offering no solidification that any effort was put into getting this film to the finish line.

– Fumbled twists. There are two of them in this movie, but none of them are ever directed in a way that gives them even an essence of jaw-dropping nature to the complexity of the screenplay. If done correctly, there’s a fine amount of exposition deposited on their character, but also clever camera tricks that document the big reveal in a way that we the audience feel the betrayal of the protagonist, but these scenes are produced in a way that made me feel like I should’ve already been in on the corruption. Considering these are arguably the most pivotal scenes to elaborate on, not only the corruption within the force, but also the evolution of characters on both sides that prove just how alone this woman truly is. It dropped the ball on giving me any chance to fully invest myself in the heat of its riveting social commentary, making this as forgettably bland of a screenplay as can be expected from anything by Deon Taylor.

– Backstory of Harris. This is strange because she’s our central protagonist, yet we learn so very little about her, except for these rare instances used in between these tense moments of speed, bullets, and betrayal, which are nothing more than an afterthought to the two subplots that are driving this movie. This lack of insight is a problem to me because it falls into one of my biggest problems with movies, where if I don’t care about the characters, it’s very difficult to care about anything else, and it doesn’t follow through on some interesting directions that are merely just speculation for the lack of attention given to them. One deals with Harris’ deceased mother, who is never mentioned or defined, other than these two scenes of Harris at her gravesite. The second is a conflict with who I’m guessing is either Harris’ sister or best friend from back in the day. It’s only briefly hinted at what happened between them, and is missing a tearful scene of regret to further illustrate why one of their lives didn’t turn out the way she expected.

– Uneven halves. The first half of this film is certainly much stronger than the back half of this movie, which falters frequently by settling for repetition quite often. The opening act of this movie sets the tone, the backdrop of New Orleans, and a dangerous disposition that puts this protagonist on the run from any and everyone she doesn’t trust. Unfortunately, as it progresses, the movie’s lack of visual flare, as well as its reliance on its message brings forth the air of melodramatic that hindered all of the moody intensity that the film had built for itself early on. It starts to feel very formulaic and full of familiar genre tropes that takes an adrenaline-fueled drama, and meanders it to an assembly line genre flick with a routine third act seen as much as three times already in this movie year alone.

My Grade: 5/10 or D+

Maleficent: Mistress of Evil

Directed By Joachim Ronning

Starring – Angelina Jolie, Elle Fanning, Michelle Pfeiffer

The Plot – Maleficent (Jolie) and her goddaughter Aurora (Fanning) begin to question the complex family ties that bind them as they are pulled in different directions by impending nuptials, unexpected allies, and dark new forces at play.

Rated PG for intense sequences of fantasy action/violence and brief scary images

POSITIVES

– Durable veterans. Make no mistakes about it, this is definitely Jolie and Pfeiffer’s film for the taking. Emoting through two characters who come from completely different worlds, yet are remarkably similar with regards to the way they see their enemies, this duo of leading ladies constantly steal the attention of the movie, and make it that much better each time they are front-and-center. For Jolie, it’s another chance to play the role she was born to play. As Maleficent, she channels a wide range of emotional resonance, choosing to supplant dark humor when necessary, but never straying far from the intimidating presence that unsettles those around her. It also helps to have an equal, and that’s where Pfeiffer’s queen comes in. From start to finish, the evolution of this character is one that takes Michelle through a transition of her own, from good to evil, bringing forth the single best performance for the actress in easily over a decade. It makes for quite an intriguing confrontation whenever they lock horns, all the while giving us a chance to indulge in two of Hollywood’s best to ever immerse themselves in character acting.

– Meaningful color. Easily my favorite aspect of the film is the absorbing color pallets that contrast variety in feelings and atmosphere within every setting, and giving us no shortage of visual beauty to reflect upon the film. For the castle, there’s a lot of protruding sunlight that hangs over the queen like a permanent fog, giving us stark contrast from the dark and dreadful that follows Maleficent on her road to redemption. In addition to this, it’s nice to see the green magic of Maleficent back, elaborating to her evil streak or jealousy, that prove her intentions each time it passes up. The depth of color schemes inserted into the film stands as a character on their own merits, giving us a consistency without repeating that proves the kind of wide range of storytelling that the film has going for it. As to where most narratives are told audibly, “Mistress of Evil” takes it one step further by visually seducing us with imagery so meaningful and full of personality that they could easily be hung on the walls of any museum or apartment.

– Costume designs. Disney always simulates past era’s of history seamlessly, and a lot of that has to do with the gorgeous threads of wardrobe that mentally place us in a particular age far from our own. For this film, the free-flowing vibrant gowns of the rich collide with the weathered cloths of Maleficent’s species of people, and it cements an articulate capture of the rival worlds creatively in a way that further elaborates their differences. Likewise, Maleficent’s own costume has evolved, trading in a leather bodysuit This is an aspect to the production that never relents, putting the money anywhere but where the mouth is to prove its big budget influence, in turn allowing us another chance to lose ourselves in this fantastical world. This is one consistency that I’m glad carried over from the previous film, as the textures and colors of the wardrobe choices tell a story of the worlds that the characters who wear them come from, giving us exposition in the most obvious sense of what we the audience are seeing constantly.

– 3D Effects. While I had more than a few problems overall with recommending this movie, its three-dimensional presentation offers that complex juxtaposition for moviegoers that ironically encourages me to tell my readers to spend a few more bucks if you’re going to see this in theaters. The reason for this is a collection of scenes that get the cameras involved with what is transpiring in the heat of the moment. The war sequences offer an immersive quality with no shortage of pebbles and red smoke to dominate the screen, and an opening sequence taking place in Maleficent’s forest whisks by with the camera in a way that we the audience can almost feel the brushing of plants flying by. It leads to one of the best 3D presentations that I have seen in quite some time, and actually justifies its transfer in a way that other films only do so to reap more monetary benefits.

– Thunderous musical score. Composer Geoff Zanelli amplifies the intensity and urgency with a collection of orchestral-influenced numbers that weigh heavily on the progression of the scenes they accompany. It’s important that a score this prominent in volume doesn’t repeat or meander itself in a way that undermines its capabilities, and thanks to the beats within the story capturing a variety of human emotions, it gives Zanelli an opportunity to flex his diversity of audible storytelling. For my money, the war scenes are easily his bread and butter, engaging us with a barrage of horns and 808 drums that replicate the abundance of ammunition being flung between the rival armies in the sequence. Likewise, the scenes of chill-out exposition conjure a sentimental quality of somber that establishes nuance to the bond that Maleficent and Aurora share with their family dynamic. Geoff constantly has his pulse on the prominence of the scene, producing what is arguably Disney’s most resonant musical score of any property they’ve adapted in 2019.

NEGATIVES

– Computer generated saturation. Are the artificial properties and characters in the movie beautiful in their renderings? Absolutely. The textures and color coordination dazzle brilliantly in their execution. My problem lies in calling this a live action film, because most of the time our actors seem like the only real thing in any particular frame that you pick out. It loses a lot of the inspiration and technique of the filmmaking first and foremost, settling for the easy way out on establishing its world-building or artistic integrity meant to capture it in a realistic approach. Computer generation does often create something beautiful, but it’s never anything that floors you with its creativity or technical achievement because it takes the easy way out.

– Cluttered screenplay. Easily the biggest problem this movie has is its approach to attack far too many subplots from too many unimportant characters, giving us a convoluted finished product that makes it evident how this film reached nearly two hours in length. I mentioned earlier that the heart of this movie is when Jolie and Pfeiffer share the stage, and I mention that here because the rest of the film around them screeches to a grinding halt, working overtime for pacing that often times feels longer than its actual length. In my opinion, the film could’ve easily tossed or combined some of these subplots together, based on the way their narratives run together. Leaving it this way not only tests the patience of its audience, but also offers very little solidification for why Maleficent is a title character in a movie that frequently moves away from her.

– Irresponsible. War is perhaps the most surface level definition for what’s transpiring here, but genocide is the perfect one. Yes, a Disney movie that evolved from “Sleeping Beauty” has an uncomfortable scene involving a wiping out of an entire race because of prejudice, and this direction writes itself into a corner for where the third act transpires towards. For one, the resolution itself isn’t even remotely as satisfying as the many who suffered and even lost their lives in the war that emerged from such a selfish person. One could argue that this person answers for their sins in a way that is humiliating, but anything short of death is really a disappointment for something as prejudicial as this. Secondly, a PG rated film can never truly explore the disgusting depths that genocide entails, therefore it renders the gimmick unfulfilling of getting its honesty across to its audience.

– Weak love angle. Besides the fact that Fanning’s character is a distant third in on-screen importance to her two female co-stars, the time and energy deposited to the film’s central plot formation is one that is every bit as cold as it is compromising to the characters. The prince himself (Played by Harris Dickinson) is completely void of personality, bravado, or any semblance of weight to the dynamic of the developments. In fact, he even goes missing for a lengthy amount of time, during the events when an appearance from him would truly ratchet up the tension of a family coming apart at the seams. It makes this love angle as unrealized as a Pixar cartoon with no color, and does no favors to Fanning’s character when asking us to see what she sees in this six foot tall piece of paper. Bland as vanilla, and not even half as satisfying.

– Tonal imbalance. Too many tonal transitions doom this film’s direction from ever feeling cohesive, and leaves the finished project feeling like disjointed bi-polar cinema that is still searching for an identity. The first act feels fun and cheesy in the good way that knows what it rightfully is. The second act removes all of the cheese in favor of a mundane evolution that is riddled by boredom. The final act reaches for the action, and wants so terribly to be a kids version of “Game of Thrones”, albeit without the colorful characters, high stakes, or compelling drama of the popular TV show. Classifying this film into just one particular drama is an uphill climb that never gets easier the longer it goes, and due to a collection of sharp tonal shifts, it alludes to this trying to throw anything to a wall to see what sticks. As it stands, very little actually does, leading to a minimum of momentum that it builds for itself long-term.

My Grade: 5/10 or D+

Gemini Man

Directed By Ang Lee

Starring – Will Smith, Mary Elizabeth Winstead, Clive Owen

The Plot – A retiring assassin, Henry Brogan (Smith), finds himself pursued by a mysterious killer (Also Smith) that can predict his every move. Discovering that he’s being hunted by a younger clone of himself, Henry needs to find out why he’s being targeted and who the creator is.

Rated PG-13 for violence and action throughout, and brief strong adult language

POSITIVES

– Jaw-dropping special effects. Obviously the major gimmick for the movie is the value of two Will Smith’s for the price of one, and while this gimmick within cinema is certainly nothing fresh or ground-breaking, the effects used to realize this perk are done with an air of believability and de-aging that really makes audiences do a double take quite frequently. The movements in fighting are crisp, the facial resonation shows no chips in the armor of continuity, and the camera work done by Lee doesn’t require gimmick shots, like personal vantage points, to hide its obviousness. There are plenty of scenes with both sides of Smith in frame, providing plenty of fuel for the conflictual fire that burns stronger the longer the movie progresses.

– Cinematography choices. Lee adopted the 120 frame rate during the less-than stellar “Billy Lee’s Halftime Show”, and has brought it along to “Gemini Man”, perfecting it in a way that adds big stakes and geographical flare to the action genre. Considering most movies are shot on a 24 frames per second rate, the expansion of focus allows something to constantly transpire in the background, all the while our main cast is conversing in the foreground. It gives the scenes an air of authenticity that within the many people and places revolving around our story, and conjures up no shortage of breathtakingly globe-trotting scenery to chew on along the way. In addition to this, the decision to film everything with 3D cameras is one that pays off immensely for the eye-popping detail of people and objects flying across the lens in real time. This is one of those rare cases where seeing a movie in 3D will offer an immersive quality to what’s transpiring, instilling a justification on this element alone to pay a few extra bucks to see it on the biggest and brightest screen that you can.

– Thrilling set pieces. The action in the movie is done with very little torque on the shaky-cam permanency that has become a cliche stable within modern day action films, giving us plenty of depiction and unabashed focus to what’s transpiring within the fast-paced heat of the scene. Thanks to the high frame rate that I previously mentioned, the fight choreography is slightly sped up, giving the clone an inhuman quality to his movements that make him easily distinguishable from the protagonist Smith that we follow through this journey. Continuing this positive is the space that Lee gives his actors to thrive far away from the camera. There are very few tight or claustrophobic angles in the movie, instead settling for a wide angle depiction that greatly caters to what audiences can see approaching in the background. These perks in turn allow the actors to succeed on their own physical performances without relying on cheap tricks to enhance their believability, and giving us a collection of enthralling action that boils the urgency to a kettle-blowing climax.

– Smooth pacing. This script wastes very little time setting the pieces in motion, as well as getting to understand what makes our protagonist such an advantage to the corporation that is out to kill him. Opening with a scene where Henry is hired to assassinate a shady businessman, we learn that he is every bit precise in his area of expertise as he is remorseful to the skills that he has attained in decades of this service. It perfectly sets the stage for what’s to come in 107 minutes of screen time, all along the way leaving very few moments of downtime between delightful characters and continued ambiguity in mystery that keeps audiences glued to the screen. There’s very little that I would cut from the finished product, and even plenty more exposition that I would add to certain respective subplots, which I will get to later.

– Sturdy performances. Smith pulling double duty here does so with a varying degree of personalities and persistence that establishes that while these two men look the same, they are anything but inside. As Henry, Smith still engages us with the warm charm that we’ve come to indulge in from one of Hollywood’s most notorious leading men of the past twenty years, but it’s his finger on the pulse of being an action icon that still resonates within his weathered exterior. It’s proof that Smith is still a reputable vehicle in selling a movie, and that even at the age of 51, he still doesn’t sleep through any performances. In addition to Smith, Masterson is equally charming as a spy with an agenda of her own. The two have great chemistry together on-screen, but it’s Mary’s cunning intelligence and anxious confidence in execution that is really the prime story here, etching her out as anyone other than a damsel in distress role that we would expect in a movie with such 90’s action similarities.

NEGATIVES

– Weak antagonist. How is Clive Owen the worst part of any movie? This sad-but-true revelation comes in the form of laughably bad dialogue, a complete lack of human emotional detection, and an overall lack of screen exposition sent on the character that practically reduces him to a supporting role. On a logic perspective, this character might as well be wearing a white lab coat with spiked hair and glasses to complete the mad scientist that the movie so prominently wants him to be. On top of this, the final conflict between good and bad comes and goes with so little stakes or amplification of struggle between the respective side. It outlines a performance for Owen that I know he would love to forget ever happened, and wastes the most reputable actor in the cast with a role so rudimentary that even the movie can’t be bothered to waste valuable minutes of screen time on.

– Weak mystery. This is a very predictable film, and a lot of that is a combination of poor marketing with an overly-revealing trailer, and confusing mental framing within the movie that really grants no favors on the intelligence of our protagonists. Even after multiple confrontations where Smith’s Henry sees the face of his pursuer, it still takes him and Masterson nearly fifty minutes of investigation and script time to realize that this is a clone of himself. That may sound like a spoiler to those of you reading this, but the movie’s trailer even reveals this fact in both of the ones produced to sell the movie. So it’s that aspect within a film where the audience are constantly one step ahead, instead of vice versa, leading us to several instances where I was practically screaming for the characters to catch up to what is so prominently evident. It’s sold as a mystery, but never one to the people that matter the most; us.

– Cheesy dialogue. It’s everywhere in this film, and not always the fault of Smith or his forced humor bone that is brought to light in every movie he’s in. Instead, the lines written by five different writers often alienates the complexion of the tone within the film, trying desperately to give us personality within a movie that is anything but. Some lines are spoon-fed exposition that are completely obvious, some are horrendously underwhelming comical gags, and the worst are these cringing one-liners that play into the twin gimmick, similar to 1997’s “Face-Off”. There are many examples, but my favorite is during the first scene when Smith and Masterson meet, and he says “You grow to hate the man you see staring back at you in the mirror”. This is so on-the-nose that it might as well hit it with a lead pipe, and ruins so many serious scenes of urgency with this obvious layer of 90’s cheese that is unintentionally humorous.

– Underdeveloped subplots. For every positive that comes with smooth pacing, there’s a few different negatives that materialize because of complete lack of time donated to subplot progression. For one, Smith’s Henry constantly mentions the anxiety of sleepless nights, yet we see him sleep two different times throughout the film. Perhaps if there was even a single dream sequence scene that served as the ghosts of the past haunting him, then we would further believe and empathize with the darkness that supposedly clouds him. Besides this, there’s certainly a father/fatherless subplot that the film obviously has something to speak on, but the lack of focus and contrasting sides to fruitfully solidify this angle loses far too much in translation for the movie to successfully garner any element of deep emotional tissue to connect with audiences. This is where Owen’s character could come into play much more frequently, but instead we are treated to a one-off scene that is easily my favorite of the movie, but required so much more to play into the nature versus nurture debate that the film was pointing to.

– Script inconsistencies. Once you start thinking more about the rules instilled in this movie between the twin gimmick, you start to realize more problems that transpired because of it. We are told about halfway through the movie that Henry’s clone Junior knows Henry’s every move, and does so without feeling any of the pain of emotional weight that comes with assassinating people. The first lie comes in the form of the mental similarity, where there is far too much landing offense to believe that these two are one and the same. The second deals with that lack of empathy that Junior supposedly has, yet almost every single scene (I’m not kidding) that he comes into during the movie, he’s noticeably crying. But wait, I thought he had all of the skill of Henry without any of the feeling that comes with such a profession? If a movie can’t even stick to the rules of its own gimmick, then it has failed itself long before the rest of the movie can, and “Gemini Man” is an example of all style with very little substance to equal it.

My Grade: 5/10 or D+

The Goldfinch

Directed By John Crowley

Starring – Ansel Elgort, Nicole Kidman, Finn Wolfhard

The Plot – 13-year-old New Yorker Theo Decker’s (Elgort) life is turned upside-down when his mother (Kidman) is killed in a terrorist attack at the Metropolitan Museum of Art. Confused in the rubble of the tragedy, he steals a priceless piece of art known as The Goldfinch.

Rated R for drug use and adult language

POSITIVES

– Gorgeous cinematography. If a film that deals with art so closely wasn’t beautifully rendered, only then would this movie be a complete and total tragedy. Thankfully, the team of Crowley and famed cinematographer Roger Deakins present us with an absorbing pallet that really captures the tonal complexities of the picture. For coloring and texture, there’s a lot of callous whites and greys to match the abstraction of the mystery surrounding these events, giving us tasteful melancholy that constantly reminds us that this is an arthouse film first and foremost. For shot composition, it’s mostly still-frame, and I feel that’s the best vantage point for facial resonation and the small things out of focus that the movie’s themes allude to so candidly. It summarizes the lavish lifestyles of the characters thoroughly, which practically allows this adaptation to immerse us in the details of the novel.

– Rounded cast. The performances are vibrantly complex, starting especially with the combination of Oakes Fegley and Elgort, who round out consistency in psychology for the respective character they embody. For Fegley, it’s interpreting him coming out of his shell the longer that time and people allow him to distance himself from this unshakeable tragedy, and Elgort is really the embodiment of such timing. Not only are these two believable in portraying the same character, but every single dual time-frame character transformation is only rivaled by Stephen King’s “IT: Chapter Two” for most seamless visual transformation. Rounding out the leads is a stoic performance from Kidman, an indulging outcast by Wolfhard, despite an inconsistent Russian accent, and a captivating focus on Jeffrey Wright, whose tapped-into wisdom gives the picture direction and moral fiber during the times when it requires it the most.

– Grief channeled. Perhaps the thing that I respected most about this script was the focus it portrays in depicting grief, and the vulnerability that leads our protagonist through many dark paths that he otherwise would’ve never reached. In embracing the loneliness and disposition of living with a parent who isn’t fully invested in him, Theo’s desperation to attach himself to anyone and anything to release everything inside is something that is admirably honest, especially for youths who sometimes aren’t mature enough to properly emote what is taking place inside. Aside from this, it’s another tip of the hate for Fegley, whose blank stare authenticates a boy who is still very much in shock, granting no shortage of empathy for the character, despite us the audience knowing so very little about the details of the day in question, at least early on in the film. I’m a sucker for a movie that gets emotional resistance right, and doesn’t play it for the temporary cliche that has become a consistency in Hollywood big screen releases. It’s a long and shape-shifting road, and with the right people for guidance, it it allows us to heal by confronting what was there all along.

– Surprising soundtrack. While I have problems with the musical score, which I will get to later, the cues in soundtrack brought audible pleasantries to my ears in the form of familiarity to my album deck that I appreciated probably more than most. Radiohead’s “Everything In Its Right Place” is given about two minutes of run time, to the point that I was desperate for Thom Yorke’s repetition of lyrics, which never come. It’s more used as a compartmentalized score inside of this otherwise awfully obvious one, and really adds to the dimension in dynamic of the scene it accompanies. In addition to this, Van Morrison’s “It’s All Over Now Baby Blue” articulately captures the depressive progression of the movie’s third act in a way that an abundance of obvious dialogue never truly captures. Sometimes music is the way to go to allow the audience to reflect on the impacts of a previous scene or sequence, and that’s the case with these two tracks that I wasn’t expecting in a plot and characters with champagne wishes and caviar dreams.

– Go in blinded. I have heard from readers of the novel that this isn’t the best adaptation in terms of faithfulness to a product that some have deemed as “Incapable of being adapted”, and I can accurately interpret that from my own ignorant and inexperienced position. For someone like me who hasn’t read the novel, I enjoyed the many twists and turns that played as a placebo for the ambitious run time, that we start to feel by the third act. There’s enough intrigue and misdirection in the heart of these subplots to not only grant a layer of much-appreciated empathy for Theo as a protagonist, but also to further flesh out some of those scattered pieces that didn’t seem to materialize until they are given the light of realization. This is a story that certainly didn’t end the way that I wanted it to, nor that I expected to, and that’s more of a homage to the spontaneity of our short time here, and how nothing goes the intended route of conventionalism to our satisfaction.

NEGATIVES

– Violent tonal shifts. If I had to summarize this movie’s biggest problem in a single area, it’s that it often tries to be too many different genres in the same picture, and none of them transition believable enough to feel like they’re helmed under the same director. This is definitely Crowley’s biggest problem with adapting the source material, because too often too many of his tones are abruptly rendered, and it ends up changing the entire dynamic of the attitude surrounding the central plot. In the third act alone, there are three different kinds of subgenres introduced and not followed through on, making the important and pivotal climax feel as scatter-brained as anything that I’ve seen in 2019.

– Disjointed storytelling. Another mess that the movie endures is this spontaneous jump in multiple timelines, that is every bit unnecessary as it is compromising to the pacing of the sequences. What’s most important during a steep timeline jump is to introduce all of the elements that have transpired, and while the script does do this, it does it in a way that makes us the audience feel like we were already privy to this information, and it’s not exactly a big deal. One such element deals with a romantic subplot for Theo, which is frightening in itself considering what these two characters are to each other, but made even more sudden because of how little the story decides to develop between them. This kind of story shift is littered throughout the film, and cements the idea to me that this film would be better served on Netflix as a ten episode streaming series.

– Meandering music. I won’t mention names, but the composer of this film has been known for some less than thrilling audible emphasis’ in movies, and his streak continues for “The Goldfinch”. To say that this movie manipulates audiences into feeling a certain way that it doesn’t truly earn with its storytelling is the understatement of the year. He takes these sharp and obvious deposits of music, and makes them inescapable, made even more apparent by a choice in volume that drowns out the performances and dramatic capabilities of this talented ensemble cast. This is one of my least favorite musical scores of 2019, and stands as a directional booklet on what not to do when incorporating music into your film.

– Distracted. Considering this film was advertised with the bombing being the central focus of the film, there’s so little attention paid to it, which becomes more obvious the longer the film runs. I was pulled into this movie with the lure of a mystery that centered around what happened on that one important day, and the longer the film goes, it has moved on from it in a way that essentially makes it feel inconsequential. That seems almost disgusting to say considering this is a little boy losing his mother in an act of terrorism, but there’s so little details given with the who and the why that it almost feels like it could’ve happened on accident with the building itself malfunctioning. What’s even more confusing is that Theo blames himself for it throughout, which I get is one of the stages of grief, but there’s nothing revealed that should make him even remotely think that he was a factor in this bombing, so I don’t get it.

– Incapable of satisfaction. This is dealing with the ending primarily, because there are so many dynamics introduced and never followed through that leaves us with an unavoidable inevitability of disappointment that we know is coming. It writes itself into a corner with a long-winded run time, as well as closing moments that are completely anti-climatic, and doesn’t pay-off in the way that entertaining movies rightfully should. For the most part, it’s being asked to come along on this journey with many different arcs and characters, with the promise of something great at the end, but then when it eventually comes, it’s nothing more than a thank you for braving it out. If the closing moments were predictable, it would even be fine, but this film finishes on such a loss of momentum from a previous act that transforms everything in the movie to something completely different tonally and creatively, and it sends us home with the weakest scene of the movie during the time when it needed strength the most.

My Grade: 5/10 or D

Don’t Let Go

Directed By Jacob Estes

Starring – David Oyelowo, Storm Reid, Byron Mann

The Plot – After a man’s (Oyelowo) family dies in what appears to be a murder, he gets a phone call from one of the dead, his niece (Reid). He’s not sure if she’s a ghost or if he’s going mad, but as it turns out, he’s not.

Rated R for violence, bloody images, and adult language

POSITIVES

– Electric cast all around. Oyelowo and Reid are definitely the prize centerpieces here, but the surprising inclusions of Bryan Tyree Henry, Alfred Molina, and the endlessly charismatic Mykelti Williamson round out a collection of big screen presences that transcends the Blumhouse production value that most of his films become saddled with. Reid continues to be a revelation who is decades ahead of her age. The tremendous range and emotional captivation that comes with someone so interactive with the camera pays off immensely through some pretty soul-crushing sequences. Storm lives up to her name by rumbling the ground, and devastating everything in her wake, complimentary of her timely tears and uncontrolled angst that earns her tremendous empathy from this critic. Oyelowo is another national treasure by this point, and his central protagonist here outlines a complex character who may be at the breaking point of his life, not only for the valuable loss, but also for what toll it took on his psyche. This is a man who contends that he may be unstable, especially after he receives calls from the deceased, and David’s articulation to craft outlines the delicacy of a man so shattered by the circumstances. Oyelowo gets to transcend his drama dominance for some physicality in this role that he otherwise isn’t known for, and it presents a new direction for the young actor that is every bit believable as it is fresh for the course of his early career.

– Uncle and niece dynamic. This relationship is enriched with a combination of believable dialogue and inside jokes, which gives their bond a real lived-in feeling of quality that better illustrates their history. In fact, the chemistry between Oyelowo and Reid is so precise that they often times feel like father and daughter, giving them an importance to one another that better captures the tragedy of the one fateful day between them. In addition to this, it’s nice that the film’s initial plot points before the madness are only between them, keeping the pacing leveled before we’re off to the races with the conflict of our story, at only fifteen minutes in. Beyond this, it’s a relationship that talks over the phone instead of texts, establishing their strength in unity once more for the subtleties that a modern day technological snob like myself can enjoy. As someone who has 11 different nieces and nephews, it’s nice to see a story that caters to the relationship that is rarely given center stage attention in film, and this dedicated time adds emphasis to the crippling weight of loss that occurs once the inevitable comes.

– Meaningful editing. I will get to my problems with the overall presentation of the movie later, but the one positive that I did take away was metaphorical editing, which brought these two worlds together seamlessly before our very eyes. Particularly during the scene at the diner, while both uncle and niece are on the phone together, their unabashed focus at the camera, as well as sharp cuts between each line of dialogue distributed gives the scenes a feeling like both exist in the same timeline for the first time since the beginning stages of the film, feeding further into the tragedy of the conflict for how close they feel in distance, yet so far away in reality. It’s very rare that I get to commend a film for giving meaning behind something as common as editing, but the pasting of these two respective timelines fools us into thinking that for just a moment everything is alright in this world, presenting a catalyst that satisfies ours and the character’s yearning’s to fit the pieces together competently, on the road to solving this mystery.

– The mystery. Speaking of which, there is a resolution to this conflict, and thankfully it wasn’t the one I was thinking throughout the entire movie. Upon looking back on it, the aspects that I fell for seem a bit too obvious now, and instead of settling for the “Shutter Island” ending, which seems all of the rage in 2019, the film does give us a face for the culprit, and it’s one that equally satisfied and intrigued for how everything was paid off. This is presented in a third act presentation that plays side-by-side with our current day narrative, and proves that anyone who you’re supposed to be trusting within this world, you really shouldn’t. There’s enough Macguffins thrown in along the way to keep our mental engines finely tuned, but in the end the script makes the right movements not only in bringing forth a fun performance by this revealing antagonist, but also in refusing to settle for a supposed shocking direction that feels conventional by this point.

– Golden musical score. The real breakthrough star of the film is musical composer Ethan Gold, a man well known for instilling these ominous tones to these worlds of darkness and corruption. His work here may be his single best to date, as the repetition with subtle twists thrown in the deeper the tracks get keeps your ears glued to the speakers, all the while fleshing out the atmosphere of the character’s living in this nightmare world within the sunny side of Los Angeles. In this perspective, the articulate juggling of paranoia, urgency, and tragedy radiate ever so transfixingly throughout, stalking our characters like an unforeseen gunman who they can’t see, yet one whose presence constantly influences the dynamic of this intensity.

NEGATIVES

– Miscalculations. There’s a lot that clearly wasn’t thought out about this gimmick, but a couple of big ones come to mind. For one, what halfway competent police force leaves a victim’s blood-covered cell phone in the bathtub, yet grabs several other meaningless items like magazines? This is obviously a convenient plot device to allow Oyelowo to find and communicate with his niece’s phone, but one scene of him (A cop) finding it in evidence could’ve cleared all of this up. Secondly, the rules of things changed in the past has almost no effect on the future. This practically re-defines the butterfly effect to perplexing levels, as nothing within Storm’s past movements rumbles the dynamic of the present, other than the ones the scene asks for, like paint or chewing gum. Surely this child would’ve messed something up in current day, but her time travel would make Marty McFly awestruck, for how flawless her track disturbs the present. Finally, the ending is the most ridiculous dealing with physics that I have ever seen. SPOILERS, DO NOT PROCEED. When a character who is killed in the past, it vanishes not only them but another character in the present, deeming this timeline inconsequential to the story. How is this possible? You can’t erase present day, and then live in the past. Time travel doesn’t work like that. Even worse, it practically kills characters who had nothing done to them from that previous age. I’ve gone cross-eyed just thinking about it.

– Jarring presentation. Easily the most offensive aspect of this production, as the visuals in the movie gave me Vietnam flashbacks for how headache-inducing they feel. For one, the decision to craft this movie in handheld style is one that comes with visually incoherent chase scenes and conflicts, that make it difficult to register even the tiniest of details in the complexion of the scene. The other problem is this horrendous visual dissolving effect that was last seen in “Suicide Squad”, and is given an unnecessary rebirth here. At least in that movie, the point was to obstruct healthy thinking with Joker’s corrupt insanity, but here the gimmick is a failed attempt at art that adds nothing but a visual speedbump to what we are interpreting. Estes direction is amateurish at best here, leaving tons of opportunity in capturing the essence of the seedy L.A nightlife in exchange for a shaking camera hangover that makes it difficult to stay invested during scenes of action.

– Lack of originality. Jason Blum must not have seen 2000’s “Frequency” a movie where Jim Caviezel is trying to save his deceased father (Dennis Quaid) through the use of a ham-radio. There are subtle differences here and there, mostly in the graphic nature of the hard-R rating that comes with colorfully illustrating more of an adult rendering, but the overall spectrum of comparison between the films points to more than a few identical coincidences that proves Hollywood doesn’t even have the energy to go back thirty years when trying to pull the wool over the eyes of its mostly teenage audience. For my money, “Frequency” is a better movie, not only for the originality of its release, but also for the heart of the story, and attention to its rules, which ever kept it from feeling convoluted.

– A missed opportunity. One aspect that I wish the film would’ve explored was in the contrast between brothers, one being a cop, and the other being a criminal. This road isn’t taken because the supporting characters are barely even supporting, receiving nothing of exposition or valued screen time to better flesh out their personalities for the exposure of the audience. This film could’ve carried with it a complexity for today’s modern justice landscape with minorities, especially considering its two males in question are African Americans, and ones whose paths have taken entirely different routes in outlining the humans we see before us. With very little poignancy or provocative social commentary to its material, “Don’t Let Go” wastes a mostly black cast’s chance at connecting the seams of distance that today’s racial injustices have further distanced, leaving us nothing beneath the surface level plot to stick to us, minutes after leaving the theater.

– Rushed. This is really more with the lack of natural development in the plot, as well as minimalist characters, who are only there as a body count to the borderline torturous violence. For the pacing, the movie is solid enough, clocking in at 98 fluid minutes that constantly keep the unraveling of the mystery at entirely satisfying levels. Where that’s a problem to someone like me, who appreciates the little aspects that make a bigger picture, is in the answers given to the question relying on far too much convenience. In my opinion, “Don’t Let Go” would work better as a weekly television show instead of an under two hour narrative. There’s very little struggle in the detective work, nor is there rarely ever a feeling of helplessness for the little girl. It always feels like it will work out, and that’s a major hit for compelling drama, which often relies on vulnerability or determination to sell its human factor.

My Grade: 5/10 or D+

Angel Has Fallen

Directed By Ric Roman Waugh

Starring – Gerard Butler, Morgan Freeman, Piper Perabo

The Plot – After the events in the previous film, Secret Service agent Mike Banning (Butler) finds himself framed for an assassination attempt on the President (Freeman). Pursued by his own agency and the FBI, Banning races to clear his name and uncover the real terrorist threat which has set its sights on Air Force One.

Rated R for violence and adult language throughout.

POSITIVES

– Grounded realism. Perhaps the biggest aspect that sets itself apart in this film as opposed to its predecessors is the overall lack of ridiculousness that keeps audiences remaining gripped into the developments of the story. That’s not to say that leaps of faith don’t happen in the movie, it’s just that these are minimal in execution when compared to the gaps that was “London Has Fallen”. This not only gives the film a much more needed reserved quality to its action sequences, but also keeps heartbeat of the film firmly planted on its story, which takes us through many dynamics and backstories within Mike’s past.

– Vulnerability. The strongest consistency in terms of continuity for the trilogy comes in the form of wear and tear on Mike that resonates the traumatic and physical exertion that comes at the toll of some lengthy battles. Throughout the film, Mike deals with headaches, fainting, and even psychological anxiety that shapes him in a pleasurable human shape, unlike the previous movies have. For the first time ever, he feels human and very capable of defeat, wiping away the godlike armor of invincibility that takes away much of the urgency associated with his conflicts. It reminds me a lot of Rocky Balboa’s pain catching up with him in “Rocky V”, albeit without the immersing look inside of his psyche that replicates shoot-outs from the previous films, and helps us convey a life in the secret service better than most films articulate.

– Resilient performances. Even if the script fails it due to certain devices which I will get to later, the work of this gifted cast cements professionalism behind every turn. This begins and ends with Butler, who has made a career out of being the brutish badass who we can depend on. Gerard’s Mike feels more fleshed out than ever before, thanks in part to the vulnerability that I previously mentioned, but also because of the heart that Butler deposits in mending a relationship with the father who left him behind as a child. It forces him to reach deeper for a change, and actually proves that he has the dramatic chops to finally take his career one step further. Also reputable in this third chapter is Danny Huston as a longtime friend of Mike’s, Jada Pinkett-Smith as a no-nonsense FBI agent, and especially Nick Nolte as Mike’s estranged father. All of these character’s keep the franchise fresh while revealing more about the central protagonist, revealing fresh exposition even in this late into the game of this franchise.

– Vibrating action. While nothing is dazzling visually from a spectacle standpoint from this director, the competent manner in which he shoots and juggles sound kept me constantly glued to the screen. For camera technique, there isn’t an abundance of choppy editing, nor shaking camera effects, but rather a documentation from many different angles that allows the object in focus to move simultaneously with each passing cut. In addition to this, the sound mixing here is exceptional, whizzing by us with a barrage of bullets and blasts to immerse us seamlessly into the heat of the environment. If the action isn’t done well, this film is a failure from the get-go, but three different directors on three different films have helped to make this series a notable contender in the ever-growing field of big name blockbuster series that have helped reignite the action genre. This one is the perfect closure to a summer movie season that rattled us with fierce presentational aspects to make our popcorn pop.

– My favorite scenes. For my money, the brief time that we get to experience father and son reuniting is easily the highlight of the movie for me. This is not only because the scenes are entertaining and compassionate, but also because tonally they are the only ones that know what kind of movie they are in. This is mostly because they are among the only scenes in the movie that incorporates comedic value to the dynamic of the scene, but in addition to that, the conventional plot taking place around them pauses for this moment of clarity that enhances the stakes of the situation. In my opinion, I could’ve used more time donated to this area of the screenplay, but as it stands this interaction got me through the second half of the movie, when it felt like the pacing was starting to give in to the predictability of what was inevitably to come.

NEGATIVES

– Uninspired computer generation. Yikes!! Where to begin? The combination of unrealized green-screen backdrops and special effects stand out like a sore thumb in a movie with such dismal cinematography. For most of the scenes outside during the daytime, nothing but the actor in focus feels real, giving the production an amateur feel of mastering that stands as a repeated distraction to what’s taking place. The driving sequences are even worse, settling for 50’s style film effects replicating passing landscapes behind the actors, which rival only that of “Who Framed Roger Rabbit” for believability. Oddly enough, the C.G in the film reminds me a lot of another Butler film, in 2017’s horrendously awful “Geostorm”, probably the last movie that you want to be compared to in…..well…..any category.

– Tonal evolution. Another aspect of the script that makes this one stand out is its tuning of seriousness which didn’t exist in the previous two movies. There was always a sense of ridiculousness that make it delightfully self-aware, but “Angel Has Fallen” is aiming for an entirely different kind of beast, and it’s one whose grown-up demeanor keep it from experiencing the fun that is most commonly experienced with action thrillers. One could argue that this is because of the delicate nature of what Mike is dealing with, or how the immensity of the conspiracy, but the stakes themselves felt bigger in each of the two films, and I for one could’ve enjoyed Mike feeling more in control here, while showing off a bit of cockiness that could’ve translated well to the personality in the atmosphere.

– Plot device. This is a big one because it completely wipes away any level of urgency that the movie develops for itself. This isn’t a spoiler because it’s featured vibrantly in the trailers, but Mike is framed for an attack on the president by a cryptic group. The group needs him to be the patsy for the attack, but the problem with this is that it keeps them from ever killing him, outlining every conflict scene with an element of predictability that keeps it hanging in the air. It’s made even sadder when the leader of said group tells the men coming after Mike to lay off of him because they need him to take the blame for everything, and it will look more suspicious if he comes up dead to the rest of the world. So we know our hero is safe, cool, so why are we watching this again?

– Forced social commentary. This one almost took it down two points, but I’ll be nice. This is another movie that tries to tie its world to ours by giving us reminders of the world we live in. There are many problems with this, but two that come to mind is people going to the movies to escape their lives, and two, the use of it in this story doesn’t exactly make sense. Let me explain. The first instance of this use comes when a character mentions that the Russians hacked into our election. Who did they help? Morgan Freeman? Does this make him a less honorable president? The second instance is a familiar slogan with a twist, in “Make America tough again”. This line is every bit as macho as a Barbie playhouse, and even worse molds two worlds together that couldn’t be any further apart in comparison if five-eyed aliens made up the population on screen.

– Antagonist twist. There’s a late second act reveal, if you can call it that, for who is controlling this whole mission, and it’s as predictable as you would expect for a script with only two possibilities. When one of those possibilities already joins the group early in the second act, we know who it is, and have to wait another forty minutes before our thoughts materialize. The worst part is the movie tries so hard to be clever with this character reveal, but if you’re paying attention to their demeanor and reactions to everything transpiring, you will already sense that something isn’t stirring the Kool-Aid properly. This turn reeks of 80’s political action thriller, but instead of making the group stronger, it makes them look less intimidating once you see behind the curtain who pulls all of the strings.

My Grade: 5/10 or D+

Them That Follow

Directed By Britt Poulton and Dan Madison Savage

Starring – Alice Englert, Walton Goggins, Olivia Colman

The Plot – Set deep in the wilds of Appalachia, where believers handle death-dealing snakes to prove themselves before God, Them That Follow tells the story of a pastor’s daughter (Englert) who holds a secret that threatens to tear her community apart.

Rated R for some disturbing violence

POSITIVES

– A different breed of scares. “Them That Follow” doesn’t have a freak monster coming after its kind, nor does it have paranormal frights for the things that go bump in the night. Instead, this is a grounded film about the drastic measures taken in the form of religion when people practice it with dangerous uncertainty. Besides the cleansing of the wicked being done by these poisonous snakes, the movie is a haunting depiction of people dedicating themselves and their lives to a cause without any concrete evidence of its gospel being truth. In this regard, the film gave me an ominously haunting feeling throughout, which establishes a kind of breed in horror movies that are rarely seen; religious zealots. In this regard, it makes the story feel more surreal because these are everyday people positioning themselves in this way, and feeling so far off the beaten path of healthy mental capacity that they themselves almost look like the beasts that I mentioned at the beginning of this paragraph.

– Alluring shot compositions. Coulton and Savage’s style requires a lot of intimacy when it comes to their character’s and unraveling predicaments, and thanks to a visual seduction in the form of these slow, methodical panning angles that replicate the pulse of the movie’s serpents full circle. The sequences with the snakes cleansing the wicked are easily my favorites, revolving around our protagonists like real magic is being displayed to rid them of the trouble that’s eating them from the inside, but I would be a failure not to mention the unabashed focus on facial resonation during each dynamic of storytelling exposition. Coulton and Savage make sure to document the fear that resides in every one of its congregation, so as to hint that these people know that they are literally dying for this expensive cause. It tells us more about them than any backstory ever could, and hints that the bond between them could be wider than the movie would like you to believe.

– Strong cast. While there’s nothing flashy or long-winded in dialogue about the performances of the talented cast here, there are still some dream scenario interactions, which really bring forth the committed work of three performances in particular. The first is my boy, Walton Goggins, who brings along the Boyd Crowder we know and love from television’s “Justified”, and turns it up to eleven as a preacher who feels menacing and dangerous without speaking loudly. Olivia Colman, fresh off of her Oscar win, is also noteworthy here, as a conflicted mother torn between the sides of right and wrong for the health and protection of her son. When things go crazy, that’s when Olivia is in her comfort zone, and through watery eyes and a tired facial resonation, we understand a woman who has faced many uphill climbs in her life. The lead, Alice Englert is also eye-opening, living for something she knows in her heart is wrong, but standing firm with enough love for her father to stay put. I really found her emoting of this character intriguing, and considering we see a majority of the film through her eyes, she is the film’s moral compass.

– Isolated setting. This duo of directors and screenwriters are wise enough to set this story far off in the woods of Ohio (Strangely enough), free from the help or watchful eye of the outside world. What this does is dessert this film with an overwhelming sense of claustrophobia and dread from within these trusty walls, and leaves our central protagonist in particular feeling alienated from the religion she once adored so fondly. This not only further enhances the shot composition that I mentioned earlier, but also feeds into the sentiment that anything can and most likely will happen far from wandering eyes. It’s meaningful in the sense that visually communicates how alone these people are, and how far from reality this religion has left them stranded.

– Real, live-action props. This might not impress people as much as it did me, but in a day and age of filmmaking where every non-human creature is computer generated, along comes a movie that invests in the real thing, and further reminds us of its grave importance to the integrity of the scene. Not only did the actors in the film require ample training time in learning to handle these dangerous devils, but their fear and uncertainty as such adds a complexion to their performances and the scene that wouldn’t have been half as effective with a hollow property in tow. Even if they are de-venomized, snakes are every bit as predictable as anything on Earth, so to interact them with these very credible actors is something that pays respect to a lost age of filmmaking, where all of the magic was left on-screen.

NEGATIVES

– Tell not show. The biggest obstacle that audiences face in growing interested with this film is the best things seem to always be explained as happening off screen. This is fine for a movie once or twice, but when meaningful spins of the plots are engagements that we aren’t being privy to, it disjoints the audience into feeling like two films are being played out simultaneously, and the better one is somewhere off in the distance, beyond what we’re being offered. It becomes essentially frustrating midway through the second act, when we’re forced to piece things together based on character’s facial reactions to things being mentioned in passing. If you’re not fully tuned into this film, you will be lost immediately, and never recover because of my next problem.

– Weak pacing. I treat the opening scene of a movie as the welcome mat for everything you are about to engage in through the next 92 minutes, and in this regard “Them That Follow” never gets off the ground or lays enough scintillating bait at our feet to keep us anxious for the next scene. It doesn’t improve either, as the remainder of the film is every bit as sluggish as it is grounded in its storytelling. The film is simplistic to a fault, and never explores themes within a deeper meaning to open the eyes of audiences who saw this film come and by without ever elevating itself to something more suspenseful. Considering this did well at Cannes Film Festival, it explains everything that I despise about that particular festival, valuing anything different as long as it is different. The problem is that a film still needs to be entertaining, and this one simply wasn’t to me.

– Predictable. There’s nothing even remotely shocking or stirring about the events that played out, and the reason being because this film shows its hand far too often on things that could’ve been used to appal the audience or elevate its complete lack of tension. One example deals with a character who eventually loses a limb, with the parents explaining three scenes prior that, “He will be alright, but his arm won’t”. So for the next couple of scenes we are just kind of waiting around for the inevitable, and when the movie finally catches up, it’s less effective with its shocking visuals because we saw it coming for minutes prior.

– Lack of exposition within the religion. It’s strange that the film doesn’t dive too deep into the rules and lifestyles of this group in the woods, because I find it the single most intriguing aspect of this script. They are really depicted at face value, and we the audience are treated like a member of their congregation, that already knows everything from their pasts that have shaped who they are now front and center. It’s during important storytelling scenes like these when you get a true sense of the tragedy of lives wasted within this belief, but because the script leaves them as ambiguous as retail store mannequin’s, we never latch on to the urgency of their tribulations.

– The secret. So much of this film’s three act structure relies on this secret, that isn’t revealed until the final half hour of the movie, leaving very little meat on the bone beyond the idea itself. If I’m being honest, the secret itself isn’t that compelling or shocking compared to the things happening in the real world. I understand the point is that something from the outside world is being introduced to this sheltered community, but we the audience are from said outside world, so once we find out what is being hidden, the shock factor is totally lacking anything worthy of drawing it out for so long. It’s also inconsequential to the film’s closing moments, and left me wondering why or how this film got the huge positive reaction that it did coming out of Sundance Film Festival. This movie is an idea, nothing more.

My Grade: 5/10 or D+

The Angry Birds 2 Movie

Directed By Thurop Van Orman

Starring – Jason Sudeikis, Maya Rudolph, Bill Hader

The Plot – The flightless angry birds and the scheming green piggies take their beef to the next level when a new threat emerges that puts both Bird and Pig Island in danger.Red (Sudeikis), Chuck (Josh Gad), Bomb (Danny McBride), and Mighty Eagle (Peter Dinklage) recruit Chuck’s sister Silver (Rachel Bloom) and team up with pigs Leonard (Hader), his assistant Courtney (Awkwafina), and techpig Garry (Sterling K. Brown) to forge an unsteady truce and form an unlikely team to save their homes.

Rated PG for rude humor and sequences of action

POSITIVES

– Animation improvements. As to where the vibrancy in color designs were equally as captivating in the original film, it’s really the dimensions given to character outlines, as well as the animator’s firm grip on landscape influence that makes this film stand out as visually superior. In particular, the action sequences feel far more impactful thanks to the detail in devastation that equals that of the rhythmic sound design. Likewise, the eye-popping arrival of the snowy mountainside offers a stark contrast to the sunny tropical climates we’ve grown used to from the franchise. This is certainly a beautiful triumph for Sony Animation, and it’s one that will hold the attention of its youthful audience, if only for the dazzle that comes with production experience.

– Consistently persistent. A film clocking in at 87 minutes is expected to be swift in its storytelling movements, but what works for “Angry Birds Movie 2” is that it constantly keeps the pressure on the movements of the conflicts and environments without it weighing heavily on the pacing of the scenes. There are problems I had with the disjointed nature of the continuity in scenes edited together, particularly during the second act, but never once can I say that I was bored by the film, and that’s almost entirely because, like its feathered flock, this one is always flying by, leaving little in the way of heavy exposition. The material encased isn’t exactly thought-provoking or poignant in deeper meaning, so the decision to keep it short, sweet, and directly to the point is one that I greatly appreciate.

– Charismatic cast. Much thanks goes to Saturday Night Live’s Lorne Michaels for having a much bigger hand than people think in the casting of this film. Jason Sudeikis, Bill Hader, Leslie Jones, Maya Rudolph, Pete Davidson, and Beck Bennett lead a cast of prime time players who each give their signature flare and raw tapped-in energy to a barrage of eclectic personalities who make up our group. Beyond the SNL crew, we get noteworthy turns as well from Josh Gad, Sterling K. Brown, Tiffany Haddish, Danny Mcbride, Peter Dinklage, and a birds debut from Awkwafina, who steals the show and screen time for the lessons instilled by her character that better materialize Red as the protagonist we’ve always needed. This talented cast goes well above the material, and really invest their all into the heartbeats of their respective characters, and in a collaboration world that recently just saw Dwayne Johnson and Jason Statham come together to save the world, the credibility associated with this film comically is second to none in 2019.

– Positive lessons. As is the case with any kids movie, this one summarizes its lessons in the material it conveys, and it’s clear that the intentions are easy to emit from the many scenarios that play out on-screen. “Angry Birds 2” harvests a message of teamwork, as well as a comfortable blanket of being yourself, and not worrying about the way other people see you. As is the case with Red, his newfound heroism is something that he is still learning to grow with, and because of such he allows this thought process to cloud his judgment when it comes to the friendships he has gained for the first time in his life. This gives the film a great continuance on the guidelines it set for opening up during the first movie, and teaches us that being a good person relies on so much more than being there for other people, it’s also being there for yourself.

– My favorite arc. I love that much of the film focuses on the psychology of Red’s moves while in control, and the way that his peers see him since the triumph of the closing moments of the first film. It gives the film an unusually heavy layer of subconscious that breathes alongside the storytelling in ways that allows the central protagonist to grow naturally from one film to the next. Because of the weak antagonist plot, which I will get to later, this more than anything felt like the sail that was steering the fragile masculinity of the character, and gave him a surprising amount of depth in the way that no other character even comes close to. I may not have a lot to say positively about this film, but Red is one of my favorite animated protagonists of 2019.

NEGATIVES

– One sided humor. Like the first film, many of the gags both audibly and visually in the film are geared towards youthful audiences, with very few moments of reprieve for the parents forced to tag along. Especially as is the case with kids movies today, there’s often a desire to please both sides of the coin, but “Angry Birds 2” isn’t clever enough to find the same kind of double meaning in its material to invite multiple age groups to pull something different from the joke, and it demeans it from having strong crossover appeal with those forced to take it in. For my money, I laughed twice in the film, and these certainly weren’t gut-busting blow-offs, but rather bombastic instances where the animation practically leaped off of the screen, and sold the lunacy of the situation better than the set-up ever could. In this regard, the moody crumudgeon Red of the first film gave me at least a few more giggles where I could relate for the similar personality that I possess.

– Weak antagonist. For about the first forty minutes of this film, it felt like there was no villain for the birds and pigs to go against, but out of nowhere, without properly navigating through this character’s backstory, she is turned and sold as the central conflict of the story, and given the tired destructive role that antagonists in kids movies are practically born with. Leslie Jones does a decent enough job emoting this character, but the screenplay couldn’t take a scene to build her on her own when the protagonists aren’t standing right next to her, and it signifies an already cluttered character list didn’t have enough time to properly build one more, and overall it gives much of the conflict dynamic within the film this underwhelming lack of urgency that ironically feels even more cliche’d despite not wasting half of the normal screen time on her.

– Outdated soundtrack. Another tired trope for kids movie is to market these top 40 dance tracks that are a few years too late by the time the film eventually drops, and make a sight gag out of them in lazy, uninspired manners of comedy for the purpose of selling downloads. The easy answer is that the typical animated movie takes 2-3 years to make, but the most familiar offender here, “Turn Down For What” by Lil Jon, is from 2013, giving its inclusion a salmonella level of shelf life that made me sick just from hearing its familiar initial notes. It embodies everything that is wrong with the Angry Birds name to begin with; a corporate manufactured product with the only intention being to sell downloads.

– Too much borrowing. There’s nothing original about “Angry Birds 2”, and what’s even worse? it shares writers with the very films it lifts its material from. Peter Ackerman, who penned many of the Ice Age movies, brings along hijinks scenarios where everything around the characters goes wrong far beyond their control…..similar to Scrat in “Ice Age”. Beyond this, the whole mission itself, from tonal capacity to event outlines, serves as a discount version of “Despicable Me 3”, a film that was easily the weakest of that respective franchise. Finally, how many animated movies have a peaceful group led by a hero, who then comes across a new-and-improved character, which then makes the former feel alienated from the power he has attained? It’s like preserving chewed-up meat, and then throwing it on the grill to hope it will sizzle. It doesn’t, and it leaves this film every bit as uninspiring as it does predictable.

– Pointless padding. Towards the end of the second act, there’s a subplot introduced involving the finding of three eggs that some of the supporting characters try to hunt down. Not only does this not hold any weight within the confines of the central conflict, but its conclusion essentially holds no weight or bearing on the closing moments of the picture. This makes it feel like an obvious device for getting the run time to the desired minimum, and what’s even more confusing is that it should’ve been used to better accommodate the fumbled antagonist focus, which as I mentioned earlier is virtually non-existent throughout the first half of the film.

My Grade: 5/10 or D+