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+

Stuber

Directed By Michael Dowse

Starring – Kumail Nanjiani, Dave Bautista, Karen Gillan

The Plot – A mild-mannered Uber driver named Stu (Nanjiani) picks up a grizzled detective (Bautista) who is hot on the trail of a sadistic, bloodthirsty terrorist and finds himself thrust into a harrowing ordeal where he has to keep his wits, himself unharmed, and work with his passenger while maintaining his high-class rating.

Rated R for violence and adult language throughout, some sexual references and brief graphic nudity

POSITIVES

– Strong comical pull. This is really the most important aspect of this film, as it is a comedy before anything else, thanks in part to the combination of Nanjiani and Bautista, who improvise through many awkward situations and exchanges that left my gut busted. The most used device definitely comes from Bautista, who undergoes Lasik eye surgery for the improvement of his character, and it leads to several instances of audible, physical, and slapstick comedy that constantly kept me engaged to the many character dynamics and ever-changing backdrops that the film takes us through. As for the two male leads, their comical chemistry is impeccable, occasionally taking turns on being the straight man who unleashes a sarcastic poke to chew into his counterpart within the car, and setting the stage for the boundaries accordingly that exist between two strangers who are taking in complete polar-opposite directions in lifestyle choices and character demeanor.

– Delightful leads. In addition to the comedy that is top notch, the performances from minority-heritage Nanjiani and Bautista were the perfect display of their respective talents, giving us the same kind of fan service that has gotten us to fall in love with their personalities time and time again. For Bautista, it’s the ability to balance the tough guy action bulldozer that he was born to become with this element of emotional acting that he starts to convey once we eventually break down the walls from his character. Like his turns as Drax in “Guardians of the Galaxy”, Dave once again gives proof to something deeper beneath his registry, and while his ass-kicking is what you came for, it’s the scars his character wears from past parental issues that will make you stay. Nanjiani is also a pleasure once more, with his dry sarcastic delivery and reserved emotional investment that gives him a unique voice in today’s comedy landscape. Some of the best scenes for me were definitely those where Kumail is trying to assert some level of control over a situation that he is entirely incapable of, giving us several examples of scenes where he has to adapt to a world taking place far beyond his luxury sedan. As far as polar opposites go, these two were made for each other, and it’s that bond in chemistry between them that turns the script’s many pot holes into minor speedbumps.

– Joseph Trapanese. Yes, the very same man who musically scored films like “The Greatest Showman”, “Straight Outta Compton”, and “Tron: Legacy” returns for atmospheric work on “Stuber” that is every bit present as it is evolving with the tonal shifts of the movie. Like his work in “Tron”, Joseph’s work here points to a vaporwave encompassing that vibrantly pays homage to the 80’s buddy cop thrillers of yesterday, all the while maintaining a level in volume which never feels obvious or hindering to the integrity of the scene it accompanies. Particularly in the film’s third and final act, Trapanese fleshes out the urgency and intensity in ways that Dowse’s direction often falls flat on, and conjured up an element of surprise for a production that is otherwise blandly conventional on nearly every end of the artistic spectrum.

– Topical for the day. Another surprising element of the film was the dissection of toxic masculinity that gives the narrative a strong helping of emotional weight beneath the table dressing of shoot-out action in modern day Los Angeles. The measure taken with how this film approaches such a touchy subject is one that is as equally profound as it pertains to a real world, where until recently male protagonists were appreciated for the way they degrade everyone surrounding them. I definitely didn’t expect the film to dissect the cultural definitions of what we perceive masculinity to be, but the polar-opposite pulling of two male characters whose personalities colorfully off-set one another, leading to the answer being somewhere in between, not only proves that this casually slapstick comedy is so much more than that dreaded labeling, it’s a commentary on preventable poisons that deconstruct decades of personality building that build up one to tear down many.

– Commercial advertising. This is usually a problem for me, but the film’s inclusion of the Uber product is one that is cleverly more informative than it is a blunt marketing campaign for 88 minutes. Throughout the film, we are told in dialogue the many uses and rules associated with the taxi-cab application that will help fill in the gaps of curiosity for anyone who hasn’t been fortunate enough to use its services. What’s more important here is that the film isn’t out to make Uber anything more appealing than that of a modern day convenience, even going as far as to rarely show the emblem or the app itself to gain profitable interest. Does Uber play a pivotal role in “Stuber”? Absolutely, but the maintained focus on the screenplay, as well as the character-building bond between our male leads, harvests this film as anything other than “The Emoji Movie”, a kids movie that engorged an abundance of vital screen time in order to sell toys.

NEGATIVES

– Obvious foreshadowing. One of the film’s biggest adversaries is its inserts of tropes, which makes this film easily predictable to anyone who has ever watched a buddy cop movie. One such example is in the terribly weak antagonist of the movie, who doesn’t have a single scene dedicated to the exposition of his character for a bigger purpose. Almost immediately, you know a bigger swerve is coming, and come it does. A second antagonist develops from a mystery that was every bit as unpredictable as “Men In Black: International”, and as it turns out I accurately predicted from the moment this character was introduced. Beyond this, the film’s heavy focus on a romantic subplot, as well as no shortage of scenes involving convenient plot devices, constantly had me sarcastically saying “Gee, I wonder if that will come into play later”. Subtlety is certainly not Dowse’s bag, baby, and thanks to a series of telegraphed scenes that step over boundaries repeatedly, “Stuber” becomes a film where we are waiting for every character inside to catch up to what we’ve sniffed out in fifteen minutes.

– Uninspiring title. “Stuber” is as lazy of a movie title as you will find in 2019. Considering it stems from a jerk supporting character, who uses it as a combination of Nanjiani’s character’s name (Stu) and the part time job that he endures through (Uber), the studio heads prove that they don’t have a lot of imagination to sell their product, leaving many moviegoers confused heading into a screening of it. It’s not often that I hate on a movie for the title, but considering this is really the first thing that you learn about the film, and it’s supposed to be used as a summary of everything enclosed, the one word noun that isn’t even a word at that, only touches the surface of what the plot, narrative, and characters are building towards, making ambiguity feel like a bumbling curse that dooms it from the opening page of script.

– Shaky-cam action sequences. The biggest hindering for action movies is back, this time in the form of tight-knit compositions and sloppily choreographed camera movements that ruin every single set piece that the movie contains. Not only are these sequences so close that you could recognizes an acne sprouting on the film’s cast, but the intended direction to make us the audience feel like a pawn in the unveiling visual narrative is something that makes it difficult to depict what is actually taking place. If done right, the scene’s intensity can articulate a feeling of presence for our vantage point, but this intention is often done wrong because of commanders who substitute intensity for atmosphere, and try to capitalize on every little aspect of detail that the character’s in frame are going through. If I wanted to be an actor in Hollywood, I would’ve done it the second I graduated from high school in 2003, but my desire to be a moviegoer instead, means I would rather watch and follow a scene from the comforts of my seat, and this film’s supercharged sequences give me neither option to pleasantly chew on.

– Uneven halves. For the first forty minutes of this film, I really found myself invested to one of the more consistent comedies of the 2019 movie year, but the last forty-five minutes made it so obvious why this film isn’t receiving the best reviews globally. For the compromising second half, there are no shortage of violent tonal shifts, redundancy in comic gags, and antagonists who are handled about as easily as nick to the skin when you cut yourself shaving. For my money, “Stuber” is a film that originally takes pride in being what it is; a buddy comedy, but eventually feels ambitious on its way to transforming as a dramatic action thriller that simply hasn’t earned the kind of emotional tug that it asks of its pivotal third act. If it remained more true to the advertising it conveyed in its trailers, then the film would’ve been one of the sleeper hits of the year, and a film that I would be proud to stick up for, but “Stuber’s” resonance to change up the game far too often leaves it scrambling for an identity that is completely unnecessary.

– Revenge subplot. (LIGHT SPOILERS) We open up the film with a death involving Bautista’s cop partner, at the hands of the movie’s antagonist, and what’s truly puzzling is how little of weight and focus this impact leaves on the remainder of the film that follows it. Never again is this partner ever brought up again, or further elaborated on what kind of impact psychologically that this has on Bautista, considering the two were practically married at the wheel, and it all just kind of evaporates this personal level of vengeance that Dave’s character has for this antagonist without ever capitalizing on the rivalry that makes this dynamic special. More concerning, as I mentioned previously, the film also drops the ball on following that antagonist, which creates a level of disinterest within the film so deep that we lose sight of the subplot that was driving this whole thing.

My Grade: 5/10 or D+

Under the Silver Lake

Directed By David Robert Mitchell

Starring – Andrew Garfield, Riley Keough, Topher Grace

The Plot – Sam (Garfield) is a disenchanted 33-year-old who discovers a mysterious woman, Sarah (Keough), frolicking in his apartment’s swimming pool. When she vanishes, Sam embarks on a surreal quest across Los Angeles to decode the secret behind her disappearance, leading him into the murkiest depths of mystery, scandal and conspiracy in the City of Angels.

Rated R for strong sexual content, graphic nudity, violence, adult language throughout and some drug use

POSITIVES

– Sparkling style. Considering this is from the same man who helmed 2014’s “It Follows”, the entrancing visuals involving eye-catching color and velocity behind the lens isn’t surprising in the least. While Mitchell’s story itself is something that I had a lot of problems with, the beauty inside of this Lynch-meets-Refn world of color dominated sequences constantly allured me and kept me engaged into the progression of the scene with its unabashed focus. It’s unique how one particular color will take dominance over an entire frame, making everything else surrounding it weak to the lustrous glow that seduces us front-and-center, with the cherry on top being David’s signature slow, stirring close-up pans that conjure up an atmosphere of unnerving tension that conveys something sinister at play in the city of angels.

– Musical Majesticism. Both the variety of tones compiled by Disasterpiece to make another must-buy musical score, as well as the film’s storytelling soundtrack by rock band Silversun Pickups lights the way for an audible presence that sinks its hooks into us with all of its subtle nuance and nostalgia that breathes patiently without feeling like an obvious gimmick. Fresh off of his unsettling stirring that was “It Follows” Disasterpiece once again rivets, combining orchestral cues, beach vibe blues, and 8-bit sound bites to drill out a composition that evolves right along with the story. Disasterpiece rides the waves in tone complexity that the film sometimes rapidly shifts us under, and emits a level of euphoric mystery that competently articulates the inherency of its central protagonist. The new material from Pickups, one of my favorite current rock bands going today, is also appreciated, bringing forth an air of familiarity in the vocals of Brian Aubert to play into this band of characters within the film who thrive more for their pageantry instead of their aspiring talents.

– My interpretation. While the film certainly doesn’t settle for feeding into just one consistent direction of social commentary, the themes of paranoia against conspiracy theorists overwhelmed me, and brought forth an intended level of comical delight that at times elevated the lunacy of the material. The sheer silliness associated with Sam’s investigative measures are as far of a stretch as anything you’ll ever see in cinema, and feed fuel for the fire for the world’s theorists who sometimes look far too deeply in interpreting media. In a sense, you can argue that this is Mitchell’s way of getting back at the masses who interpreted “It Follows” as something far deeper than it rightfully was, spreading it as a completely different monster than the creator intended. Curiosity is an inspiring thing in film, but an audience audacity at searching for clues in the widest margins is clearly present throughout, and elaborates that the best battles are left carefully chosen by intelligent people.

– Direction reflecting performances. David has a way of stirring these never-before-seen performances from his cast, and none is more prominent of than the work of Andrew Garfield as Sam. Garfield’s usual endless charisma is reserved in small doses here, instead bringing along enough neuroticism and quirk to feed into his evolving curiosity, and while there are plenty of moments of laughter from Andrew’s nervous registry, his shining stride comes in the form of fabricated intelligence that lights up his face like a Christmas tree whenever he comes on to some kind of clue. Garfield is given occasional help from reputable turns from Keough, Grace, and especially one of Hollywood’s best kept secrets, Jimmi Simpson, but he commands 100% of the scenes that we tail through, so this one man show is perhaps the most emotionally demanding of Garfield’s still-young, storied career.

– Transformative editing technique. You’ll notice something off almost immediately with the editing, and like its material that reflects the beats, gags, and theories associated behind the picket fences of Hollywood, Mitchell’s permanence in editing is a throwback to silver-aged cinema, when dissolving was the majority editing direction over quick-cuts. Not only does this technique maintain the urgency associated with the investigation, but it also transfers time in a way that quick-cuts often leave you scrambling for how much time has passed between cuts. It’s measures like this that keep this from feeling like a completely pretentious presentation, and instead takes viewers with it down the rabbit hole to a setting that feels modern, but a production quality that feels anything but, stitching this collision of crossroads that immerse together as one cohesive quality.

NEGATIVES

– Meandering mystery. There are many in this film. So many in fact that the film feels muddled in its narrative direction long before the halfway point. What happened to this girl? Who is the Dog killer? Who is the Owl killer? Is there truth to there being clues in pop culture ads and products? and so many more. The girl one is obviously the one that sparks Sam’s initial movements, but throughout a majority of the film, the eye on the prize becomes more than slightly blurred, and we start to lose attention towards what is essentially driving him. I did manage to predict one of these mysteries correctly, but taking credit for it would be childish considering the film doesn’t take any time to develop any other characters to make it stir with intrigue. As I mentioned before, there are many ideas for this film…..too many, but what stilts the impact of each of their indulgence is an incoherent, disjointed manner of storytelling that challenges you for all of the wrong reasons, leaving you tossing and turning through a film that is every bit as jumbled as 2015’s “Inherent Vice”.

– Heavy run time. If you’re going to set out to make a 137 minute film, you better outline a script that makes it impossible to turn away from, but thanks to the abundance of drowning dialogue exchanges and repetition of similar scenes despite differences in location, “Under the Silver Lake” keeps burying us under suffocating weight of bumbling exposition, that quite frequently goes nowhere. Beyond this, if you use conventionalism in filmmaking to outline where you are at in the story, you will quickly become disappointed with where you’re at, at any given time. There were a few times during the film when it felt like things were starting to wrap up, only to discover that I still had 90 minutes left in the film. The pacing also does it no favors, building such little momentum between scene transitions, unless you’re half as stupid as Sam is, and believe half of the bullshit that you’re being asked to chew on.

– Sloppy editing. This is perhaps the biggest surprise to me, as “It Follows” was edited in a way that carefully carried over the tension and sense of dread that enveloped every scene and ensuing atmosphere, But with “Under the Silver Lake”, we get no level of consistency or transition with these scenes, jaggedly cutting with several fade-to-black measures that shoe-horn a wedge in between scenes that are supposed to be consistently running together. There are scenes where cuts come long after they were expected, leaving an ample amount of silence before the cut, and there are scenes where dialogue is cut-off in what I can only fathom as being intentional? This is the area of production that certainly could’ve used another measure of tweaking inside of the studio, and thanks to this disjointed nature of what is transpiring on-screen, it occasionally makes the film’s second act feel like two films involving the same characters being trapped in multiple plots, are running simultaneously.

– Lack of female depth. This could be considered intentional because our following of Sam orchestrates a treatment towards women that only values them for their physical attributes, and never psychological stimulation, but a film made in 2018 (It was on the shelf for a year) that only asks its female leads to be naked, or really stand as nothing more than a sexual target for Sam, makes it hard to believe that this intention serves a valid purpose within the film. In fact, even as I sit here typing this review one hour after watching the film, I can’t remember a single female’s name outside of Sarah (Keough), Sam’s increasing obsession, who is only in three scenes during the entire film. Everyone else is easily forgettable, and it’s this level of ignorance that only caters to one side of the audience spectrum, leaving the criminally ignored to be victims of a story that is every bit as tedious as it is condemning to half of its gender audience. Consider that Sam is only interested in Sarah and uncovering her mystery because she’s the only one who he hasn’t been with intimately. It casts a sleazy circumstance to the movie’s hook, and even worse never confronts its protagonist because of such. Progressive ideals, no?

– Abrupt tonal shifts. This is a film that is trying to obtain a level of seedy darkness in its mystery, all the while poking us occasionally with this sharp level of awkward humor that dares you to get lost in the cooky appeal of a place so far from your own. My problem with this is how uneasy the extremes of each direction blend together, frequently feeling like a jagged speed bump that lessens the effectiveness of each polarly opposite quality. If done to perfection, you get something like “Twin Peaks”, a world both wonderful and strange, but if done wrong, you get flat dimensions that leave your film feeling staggered in the ambiguously middle ground, and that’s the case with Mitchell’s compromise. Most sacrificial is the chills, by which this film has none, giving a director known for his piercing moments that transcend the screen nothing in regards to moments to make his audience relate with the uneasiness of the material, etching out this toneless hybrid subgenre that I would prefer never to cross into again.

My Grade: 5/10 or D

Men In Black: International

Directed By F. Gary Gray

Starring – Tessa Thompson, Chris Hemsworth, Rebecca Ferguson

The Plot – The Men in Black have always protected the Earth from the scum of the universe. In this new adventure, they tackle their biggest, most global threat to date: a mole in the Men in Black organization.

Rated PG-13 for sci-fi action, some adult language and suggestive material

POSITIVES

– Intricacy in action set pieces. While a majority of the backgrounds and action sequence designs are of computer generation descent, the vibrations of their use, as well as a slick, fast paced presentation, makes for an infectious dynamic that often feels too enthralling to not get lost in. The fight choreography here is top notch, but it’s really the energetic use of choppy editing used in a positive light that really kept my eyes glued to the screen, and kept the consistency of urgency locked firmly into the heat of the moment between the two sides in battle. If this film does one thing better than its predecessors, it’s in the way it incorporates the action side into the Science Fiction genre, balancing enough restrain through nearly two hours, then paying off in spades once the stakes get raised.

– Star studded cast. Everything from the fluffy cameos of Liam Neeson, Emma Thompson, and Rebecca Ferguson, to the dominance of Chris Hemsworth and Tessa Thompson, works here, and kept me hooked into the meat of the story where the screenplay often failed it. The chemistry between Chris and Tessa definitely holds over from its charms from two Marvel Cinematic Universe films, and the tease of romance between their characters without fully committing to its cliche reverence is something I greatly appreciated from their dynamic, perhaps leaving room for movement in future installments. Thompson commands a combination of cerebral intelligence, child-like innocence, and a sense of overall pride that burns from the sense of style that she emits from the character. Likewise, Hemsworth continues his comic precision with this slacker mentality that works as the perfect counteract to his rock-hard studly features, giving the audience enough reminder why he will never be limited to just one drama, all the while etching out a character that surprisingly does distance itself from the familiarity of Thor that I was expecting.

– World building. Perhaps my favorite aspect of the MIB franchise is the use of gadgets that breeds charm in arms within a series of films that are four-deep at this point, yet still find ways to astonish in this respect. The typical Cadillac used by Will Smith and Tommy Lee Jones is traded in for a fine line of Lexus land and air attack, like the QZ 618 Galactic Enforcer helicoptor, or the RC.F automobile that preserves a comical side of British craftsmanship. In addition to this, the introduction of all-chrome weaponry and where it sprouts from adds great integral value not only to the vehicle itself, but also to the automobile creativity that derives from their designs. Nothing feels too far-fetched, nor redundant when compared to the other tools of the trade from previous films, and cements the idea that the Men In Black are still at the cusp of arms advancement to better contend with outside world adversity.

– Distancing. This is the hardest sell for fans of the original trilogy, but I commend this film greatly for barely mentioning the events of those previous films, and choosing to blaze its own trail of originality within this secretive world. This allows the film to never feel restrained or conventional from those that came before it, all the while conjuring up this mystery that, for the first time ever, someone within the bureau has deceived them. I also feel that the long distance setting of London and Paris in the film better helps in the distancing, outlining a whole new line of rules and etiquette for the geographic setting that better serves and establishes the supporting characters surrounding the black suits. It would be easy for a sequel to save time and energy with re-heating the same room temperature gags and directions that worked more times than not in early editions, but screenwriters Art Marcum and Matt Holloway extend the lifespan for this series by nearly pressing reset on everything we’ve come to know and expect, and it leads to a sequel that creatively feels like the first fresh one of the entire franchise.

– Pacing. Even for nearly two hours long, the film never lagged or stalled for my investment into it, despite me having zero interest in it heading into it. This is not only a testament to the energy in chemistry between Hemsworth and Thompson that I mentioned earlier, but also in the ever-changing geography of the film, that vibrantly feeds into the big world international feel of the MIB promotion. There’s this breezy consistency in scene transitions that keeps the story firmly on its toes, and leaves so little of downtime between scenes of valued exposition, where a screenplay typically loses half of its audience. This was as easy of a two hour sit that I’ve been through this entire year, and while the movie does have a lot of problems in its structure, it’s impossible for me to say that I didn’t at least have fun with the way I fell in love with these characters.

NEGATIVES

– No established villain. Are there antagonists in the movie? Yes, but my biggest problem is that because of the restraints of a weak whodunnit? the villain characters just kind of hang in the balance until their inevitable confrontations with the heroes comes to fruition. This is especially tragic for Ferguson, who we are fortunate enough to see don a Cleopatra wig and free-flowing gown, yet unfortunate enough to only get around ten minutes with her in the entire film. In addition to this, there are twin characters who are on the trail for a mysterious jewel (What else is new?), but never receive any kind of time or exposition to further sell the impact of their invasion. This is again another case of too many cooks in the kitchen, as the work of dual screenwriters and many antagonists feels like a virtual hodgepodge of throwing everything at the wall to see what sticks, and for a film’s underlying urgency, there’s essentially none in this installment.

– Texture of computer generation. While I did enjoy the weight established from C.G character properties in the film, the designs and vibrancy of their designs counteracted the work of some exceptionally done cinematography from Stuart Dryburgh. Even if intentional, there’s this visually jarring glow emanating from all hollow properties, giving scenes these very distracting and uncomfortably ugly circumstances that not only doesn’t match the boldness in tone from previous movies, but also constantly reminded me of the missed opportunity that this film could’ve attained from make-up and prosthetics work that could’ve earned it awards recognition. This is easily my least offensive problem within the film, but it’s something that came up frequently throughout, and gave off this cheap feeling of quality from the very same company that has visually rendered Spider-Man since 2002.

– Irritating sound design. Here comes the critic in me. Scenes like the one that takes place in the club in this film are ones that standout like a midget hooker in a WNBA game. In this scene, the two MIB agents can communicate with an alien in a club that features loud blaring music by softly talking to them while standing five feet away. Considering I can’t hear what they’re saying, I find it difficult to believe that the characters in the film can either, and these scenes always drive me nuts in a movie where loud music is bombastic. Speaking of bombastic, the overall musical score from Chris Bacon, with traces from Danny Elfman’s original score, are very much effective in delivering the heat of the moment, but are blared at such ear-shattering levels that it gave me a headache only twenty minutes in. If you watch this movie in a theater, maybe do it in one with lesser sound qualities than your big-budget multiplex, because the will of some ruthless asshole in the studio is responsible for this ringing in my ears that seems to be growing louder as I type this.

– Weak comedy. If not for the commitment to the craft that Hemsworth gives in shedding his pretty boy persona, the gag material in the film would fail at any and every opportunity possible. The twisted dark humor puns that we’ve come to expect from Men In Black movies are still there, but the line deliveries of conventional comic set-ups land with the kind of power of an ear-hair trimmer, and it fails so bad that it made me forget that this film was ever deemed partly a comedy in the first place. I blame part of this on predictable punchlines, but so much more can be said for limitations felt by its rating that doesn’t test or stretch PG-13 concepts even in the slightest. Don’t go to this movie to laugh, because you’ll be sadly disappointed, and it will only serve as further reminder how terribly this film misses the energetic charm of Will Smith.

– Telegraphed mystery. I figured this out almost immediately after the subplot of a mole in the MIB was introduced to the film, and the film certainly does no favors in making this even remotely climatic for its influence on the rest of the story. Besides the fact that it hardly mentions it again or teases it besides the beginning and end of its mystery, the fact that there are only two lasting characters to the film outside of our central two protagonists (Who it’s obviously not), increases your chances to 50% of getting it right. One of which would be so obvious that it wouldn’t be a mystery at all, so who does it leave? It’s an equation so elementary that a fifth grader could do it on a napkin, and such a disappointment to an aspect of screenplay that should be the enveloping paranoia that is breaking this elusive group apart at the seams.

My Grade: 5/10 or D+

X-Men: Dark Phoenix

Directed By Simon Kinberg

Starring – James McAvoy, Jennifer Lawrence, Sophie Turner

The Plot – Jean Grey (Turner) begins to develop incredible powers that corrupt and turn her into a Dark Phoenix. Now the X-Men will have to decide if the life of a team member is worth more than all the people living in the world.

Rated PG-13 for intense sequences of sci-fi violence and action including some gunplay, disturbing images, and brief strong adult language

POSITIVES

– Female empowerment. Jean Grey in this film isn’t just powerful, but the attention and focus dedicated to her character helps us understand and reason with the film’s antagonist in ways we’re not especially used to in comic book cinema. The film takes Jean and inserts her into these various dynamics with other X-Men characters in a way that establishes her dominance over them, all the while preserving food for thought with regards to other villains that the group has tangled with, over the last four films. In that respect, this is easily the biggest daunting task that the group-turned-family have ever faced, and helps break down barriers created by decades old cliche cinema that females can’t be believable antagonists. For this film, Jean is fierce, seductive, imposing, and most importantly, human, an aspect in character that the film cherishes every bit as much as it does her maniacal gifts of macabre.

– Performances. Every one here is united and still on top of their game, but for my money it was the work of a dazzling trio that firmly kept me invested in the unveiling of this narrative. The first is Michael Fassbender returning as Magneto. No character has fully evolved over the past four films than Fassbender’s jaded antagonist, and his work here preserves that sentiment, as he very much feels like a man who is searching for meaning within his own life, whose tenacity and fire between the eyes is lit when Grey plays a pivotal point in his resurgence. Also great is the addition of Jessica Chastain as a mysterious villain guiding the darker side of Grey’s pulse. Chastain plays completely against type not only in the comic book regards, but also in being a villain who is anything but limited to being just menacing, and her delivery preserves a fine level of believability to what the film asks of her. The best for me (No surprise) is of course Turner, who competently juggles a double side of Jean that allows the audience to notice the differences on their own, thanks in whole to Sophie’s limitless range that is constantly at play. Turner manages to conjure up every ounce of the emotional spectrum, both good and bad, for the character, and her psychological permanence on the audience further outlines the jaded dilemma that constantly fills her psyche with the walls built by others that she is crumbling one by one.

– Underlying commentary. One of my favorite aspects of the X-Men films is their strong current of political and sociological reflections that allow us to take an air of poignancy away from their often times spectacle of a film, and “Dark Phoenix” is certainly no different in this regard. Throughout the film, I viewed Jean Grey as this constant reminder of biological weaponry that grows more dangerous with each day that those in charge further ignore. To feed into this thought, there are obviously two sides fighting for the advantage that this power conveys, all the while an American government on-screen hanging in the balance who now put their faith firmly in the hands of a group of mutants that they once hunted. This series, despite its anything but human characters and traits, has always felt the most in-tuned with the pulse of our own world for the way Stan Lee and many since him have grasped onto the deep environmental issues that plague our everyday spectrum, and it feeds into a continuous reminder of how powerful the world would be if we work together as one unit for one common goal.

– Strong production design. With balance between locations and costume design, this becomes one of the more visually alluring X-Men movies, and does so without preserving a respective decade setting that has often felt like a required gimmick to the previous three films. Instead here, it’s the things we’ve come to love and expect about this series that is front-and-center, and only instills further reminder of how strong this group of extraordinaries have grown together over time. The costumes, especially those of the matching X-Men spacesuits are every bit as vibrant as they are durable to the kind of physical torture they endure. Likewise, the Xavier School For the Gifted feels as expansive as ever thanks in part to this being the first movie where no structural damage takes place there, as well as the litter of youthful exuberance that now adorn its halls, turning the once innagural class of X-Men into the teachers in a sense of life evolution coming full circle.

– Testing limits. Perhaps my favorite aspect of the screenplay was Xavier’s re-appearing arrogance from “First Class”, which cast he and his hubris in new and shape-shifting light for the first time in this series. This is where you can really invest into Grey’s disposition, for the way Charles has taken the hurt in her jumbled past and replaced it with things that only he sees fit, inspiring the student to break free from the shackles that the teacher have locked her in. I’ve always loved McAvoy’s Xavier for this side effect of fame that comes from the inevitability of being a modern day popstar of the public eye, but it proves that the film isn’t afraid of pointing the finger of blame at the mirror towards itself, and as a result we get to indulge on scenes of confrontation between Xavier and Grey, Xavier and Mystique, and Xavier and Hank, the latter of which being my single favorite scene of the entire movie.

NEGATIVES

– No surprises. Thanks to a trailer that not only spoiled every big reveal in the film, but also left so very little in terms of scenic screenplay transformation, we are now left with a movie that leaves so little meat on the bone of revelations that this film so desperately required. This not only took away from a major X-Men death that everyone could now see coming from a mile away, but it also left this film feeling so much more conventional than the previous installments that gave us at least one moment of mind-blowing awesomeness to send us home anticipating the next sequel. Considering this is the final film before Disney introduces the X-Men to the Marvel Cinematic Universe, perhaps Kinberg felt none of that was necessary. Either way, “Dark Phoenix” is a telegraphed string of evolving backgrounds that lack anything or surprise or intrigue to sell their impact.

– All around copout. I have to be careful not to spoil here, but considering the film’s title and way it’s marketed around the globe, the third act switch that this movie pulls on its central conflict is one that I found every bit as disappointing as it was inconclusive to what transpired previously. In addition to this, there’s a point in a movie called “Dark Phoenix” where Jean Grey herself becomes a supporting character in her own movie, not only for the lack of lines she receives in the second half of this movie, but also for how the film keeps her contained in ways that the other X-Men never could. Because of this, I can say that the Jean Grey storyline still hasn’t been done to pleasing levels of comic book nerds like me who grew up with its compelling storytelling and vibrancy in illustrations that still hasn’t been touched in terms of depth, in my opinion.

– For his first time behind the director’s chair of a feature length film, there’s much left to be desired about Simon Kinberg’s work on this movie. For one, the photography is horrendous, using a combination of close angles and hollow computer generation that takes out the fun and impact of every action set piece. Beyond this, there are some set pieces that come into focus that serve no purpose to the fight or anything in focus, other than to establish that character could do something powerful. One example of this takes place at a fight in New York City between two sides, and Magneto resurrects a train from underground that does nothing but sit there. He doesn’t hurl it at Jean, he doesn’t ride it to get away from her, nothing. This is expected for a first time director, but in terms of consistency for the rest of the series it is an obvious downgrade, hurting the serious most during the pivotal chapter when all elements of filmmaking should grow as one to match its learning of the craft over the last ten years.

– Convoluted. I appreciate that this is the shortest of X-Men films, clocking in at 108 minutes total, but what’s sacrificed in translation is a smooth and steady pacing of exposition that rarely ever exists in this movie. For my money, “Dark Phoenix” feels like a stitching of two different movies with two different antagonists, that never breathe together as one cohesive unit. Many times throughout the film, the two sides are quite literally sprawling with one another for dominance over the attention of the story, and it does a huge disservice to two compelling story arcs that each deserve a candid amount of time to properly engage the audience in its conflicts. If it were up to me, I would keep this purely as a Jean Grey story, and erase Chastain’s involvement all together. Especially considering this is the final chapter of the series, you have to establish the biggest stakes possible, and because Grey is sacrificed for time in her own movie, the world’s urgency because of her influence never reaches the levels of Apocalypse from the previous film.

– Rating limitations. How could this movie not be rated R? Especially considering how restrained the lumpy dialogue and emphasis in death scenes lack during its entirety. There is one F-bomb in the movie, but it’s said at the most laughably bad delivery throughout the movie, and only further establishes the missed opportunity and raising of the stakes that this movie could’ve established in a film where all bets are off. There’s very little blood, absolutely no gore, and somehow even less believability to a world with a walking timebomb hellbent on destruction and devastation. “Logan” most recently showed us that an R-rating can work smoothly in this world, but because the production behind Fox lacks any kind of fortitude for anything that would limit their purse intake, the material has to suffer by giving us more of the same, and it could’ve taken an already legendary character in the pages, and made her an icon on-screen.

My Grade: 5/10 or D+

The Dead Don’t Die

Directed By Jim Jarmusch

Starring – Bill Murray, Adam Driver, Danny Glover

The Plot – The peaceful town of Centerville finds itself battling a zombie horde as the dead start rising from their graves.

Rated R for zombie violence/gore, and for adult language

POSITIVES

– Entrancing musical score. Jarmusch pulls double duty here, as he and partner Chris Logan (Together known as Squrl) infuse an unnerving presence of moody blues rock to perfectly accentuate the trouble that is persistently brewing beneath this small town, all appropriately narrated by the king of blues rock himself, Tom Waits. Especially obvious is the ominously thick influence of organ music that gives the film the occasional serious tone that it requires so terribly to sell its scares, bringing forth a collection of groovy tunes from a soundtrack that I will inevitably buy with much eagerness to audibly treat myself again. On top of this, the film’s title track, “The Dead Don’t Die” from Sturgill Simpson, has so much more than a topical presence in the film. It’s very much the tie that binds these many off-beat personalities together for one night of chaotic bloody thrills. Jarmusch himself has musical ties all the way back to his days in high school, so it’s nice to see that he believes he doesn’t have to give up one passion for the sake of another, and as it stands, it’s easily the greatest aspect of any in his zom-com.

– Make-up/prosthetics. Not only are the effects work in the film durable for such a cheap production budget overall, but they also spare no details in the gory fashion of some truly cringing death sequences by the hungry undead. What I love about these instances is that they stand as the constant reminder of consequences existing in a world so heavily influenced by dark humor. What’s equally effective is that the graphic depictions never overstay or over-influence the 100 minute screenplay, instead being used sporadically to enhance their appearances at just the right time in impact. In this respect, Jarmusch values their purpose, but chooses to not takeaway from the artistic merit of the film, so as not to turn this into an unnecessary exploitation film that most zombie movies run towards.

– Respect for the genre. A right of passage in zombie movies is to respectfully homage or audibly mention the greats that came before it, educating youthful audiences in a way that seems necessary with the overabundance of undead properties that even in 2019 are still all the craze. Sequences with zombies invasions are given the George Romero style of cinematography, in that they take ample time to capture the very shock factor of the dead walking the Earth again, for the sheer importance of how this changes everything in the setting. Likewise, the film’s various mentions of Romero, his films like “Dawn of the Dead”, or the glaringly obvious homage to “Return of the Living Dead”, with these zombies muttering one word comments like “Coffee” or “Chardonnay” to whet their thirsts. It proves that Jarmusch has done his homework, and has great respect for the genre classics that blazed a trail so wide that we now have no shortage of zombie television shows on mainstream TV.

– An Ohio boy. For those who don’t know, Jarmusch was once a native of Cuyahoga Falls, Ohio, and like many other famous world pop culture icons like The Black Keys, Chrissy Hynde, or Lebron James, Jim cherishes his roots and takes pride in fusing them in to every film he heads, and “The Dead Don’t Die” is certainly no different. For one, the film takes place in Centerville, a real life suburb of Dayton, garnering around 24,000 people within its beautiful city limits. Beyond this, the articulate rendering of small town talk and demeanor’s are captured in a way that only people from the area will truly connect and take connection to, preserving an inside joke that I constantly felt like I was the only one in on. Finally, the mention and fun-poking at the expense of the city of Pittsburgh is something that surely burns on for a native Ohioan who has spent decades being on the humiliating side of comparison to said big city. In many ways, “The Dead Don’t Die” is a reminder of Jim’s ability to never forget who he is or where he came from, and the way he incorporates such a pride into his latest big screen presentation gave me a bountiful amount of pride and conscience for my home that too many simply don’t value.

– Riveting social commentary. Any good zombie film requires something extra simmering just beneath the barrage of blood and brains that reach the surface level, and Jarmusch’s latest proves that he has a lot to talk about in the current Trump landscape. While not feeling overly preachy or disjointed in its boiling issues, the unshakeable combination of immigration, consequential fracking, stock in fake news, and of course an unmistakeable red hat that reads “Make America White Again” does more than enough to register where Jim stands on the debates of the modern day that clearly hit home for this visionary. The sheer creativity associated with how Jim works in these themes to something as polarly opposite as a zombie epidemic is beautifully stitched, and does wonders in depicting a world, that while visually may look so far from those watching, does in fact hit a soft spot for how synonymous their conflicts collide with ours.

NEGATIVES

– Very few laughs. Perhaps the biggest disappointment of the movie, as Jarmusch’s usually dark twisted depravity is something I’ve taken strong merit with in his films like “Paterson” or “Only Lovers Left Alive”, is the overwhelming lack of accuracy or consistency in laughs that drain so much of the fun from the picture. The gags here are every bit as telegraphed as they are lazy, and especially with a phenomenal cast that includes the iconic Bill Murray, it’s shocking that so much of the humor involved is one-note, never evolving from the precedent set during the first act that frankly wasn’t convincing to begin with. Did I laugh a few times? Sure, but the film’s biggest obstacle is that so much of the screenplay lacks quotability with audiences who will inevitably give it more than one spin in their DVD player, and coming back with fewer scenes of reward for their funny bones each time. Considering the film is marketed as a comedy first, it’s discouraging that Jarmusch hangs much of his hat on the presence of big name actors to sell lines of dialogue that sound like they originate from a Noah Baumbach movie.

– Sequencing repetition. This film could easily be an even 90 minutes, and lose nothing from the edit of redundancy that overwhelms the set-ups in each scene. For instance, when a character is killed, the three cops will each experience seeing the dead boy. That’s fine enough for a realistic perspective, but what’s troubling is nothing about their reactions is different enough to cement reasoning for why we have to relive the same scene for as many as three different times back-to-back. This isn’t a one and done kind of thing either. I counted three different scenes during the film where this happens, and it’s increasingly more frustrating by that final time because it’s a mistake that translates tragically for the pacing of his film, giving audiences a steep uphill climb in the first half of the movie, if they want to reap the rewards of the zombie euphoria of the second half that they’ve waited patiently for.

– Jarmusch’s directing. As an Akron boy, this more than anything troubles me, because Jim has proven that he’s an incredible actor time and time again, but with this film he doesn’t understand the value of urgency in a post-apocalyptic script. Part of this is the bored environments that Jim himself intentionally creates in his films that are dry of thrills or cinematic revelations to keep the audience hooked. If you don’t get lost in the thickness of the dialogue and diverse conversations in the film, this will be a rough sit. One such troubling direction is the frequent breaking of meta for the audience that is supposed to come off as smart, but just kind of demeans everything set-up before it. Throughout the film, cast members mention reading a script, or Sturgill Simpson’s previously mentioned track being the theme song for the film, or Driver’s character saying an obviously foreshadowing line of dialogue that takes away any and every level of surprise during the pivotal third act. What was he thinking?

– Rules convenience. One clumsy level of storytelling comes from how quickly the humans adapt to their undead counterparts, that defines logic for the way things are interpreted in this particular setting. Character’s who lack the kind of intelligence to accurately interpret the meaning of human emotional response can apparently tell us everything there is to know about a first time invasion that they have no time to prepare for. I guess we can easily file this under the meta format that I mentioned earlier, but it just further adds to everything wrong with that level of disbelief in a genre like this. In order to save time for valuable exposition, we compartmentalize everything in a way that feels like vital scenes are missing from the overwhelming amount of knowledge that Driver’s character in particular conveys throughout the film.

– The performances. What a shame. Bill Murray, Danny Glover, Adam Driver, Chloe Sevigny, Selena Gomez, Steve Buscemi, Iggy Pop, and Carol Kane, and not one of them are commanded with any kind of emotional depth or physical weight to the story they accompany. With the exception of Tilda Swinton as this badass sword-wielding morgue working heroine, the rest of the appearances of this exceptional ensemble fumble away any kind of measure to have an impact on the story, and none more tragic than Murray. This is a man who oozes charisma in his sleep, yet the lack of inspiration from Jarmusch’s control over him constantly gives his lack of energy in the film a paycheck-first kind of deal, and wastes away a real opportunity to take Bill in a new genre-defining direction that only further elaborates that there’s nothing this man can’t do. If I summarized the work of this cast in one word, it would be “Boring”, as far too much of their performances rely on your already pre-determined interest in them.

My Grade: 5/10 or D+

The Sun Is Also A Star

Directed By Ry Russo-Young

Starring – Yara Shahidi, Charles Melton, Faith Logan

The Plot – Natasha (Shahidi) is a girl who believes in science and facts. Not fate. Not destiny. Or dreams that will never come true. She is not the type of girl who meets a cute boy on a crowded New York City street and falls in love with him. Not when her family is twelve hours away from being deported. Falling in love with him will not be her story. Daniel (Melton) has always been the good son, the good student, living up to his parents’ high expectations. Never a poet. Or a dreamer. But when he sees her, he forgets all that. Something about Natasha makes him think that fate has something much more extraordinary in store for both of them. Every moment has brought them to this single moment. A million futures lie before them. Which one will come true?

Rated PG-13 for some suggestive content and adult language

POSITIVES

– Articulate photography. If nothing else, this film is a love-letter to the city of New York, in all of its immense architecture and melting pot population that lives and breathes within the city. In capturing such passion, Russo-Young’s blissful strokes of the canvas paint a sunny, serene setting for the world inside of the film to exist in, capturing more than several examples of artistic personality in unflinching focus, which feels like an homage to director Barry Jenkins, in that her setting becomes a character within the film, that surrounds the blossoming of these two love-struck young adults. The Bronx feels clean, poetic, and lived-in to the point of unabashed hope from the light above that continuously shines down on that front-and-center stage.

– Detailed montage sequences. This is where the film authenticates that literary feeling, stopping frequently throughout the progression of the plot to give us these sharply-edited, poignantly-informative flashes of backstory that matches the audible narration cohesively. These scenes are presented in such a crisp and absorbing way that it gives the film these brief moments of feeling documentary-esque, taking great pride in its responsibility to educate the audience not only in the history of the bi-racial cultures represented in the film, but also in the unrivaled path of collision that has set everything we know today in motion. Science is everything for a film that constantly seeks the evidence in matters, and thanks to some expressive montage sequences, we the audience engage in the important specs of information that blur the line between fate and coincidence.

– Speaking of the battle between those two themes, I love that the screenplay isn’t afraid to challenge centuries old debates in philosophy, like those from Carl Sagen, to contrast to the values obtained from choices of love. One line mentioned in the film is that “Love is the only proven thing that can’t be measured from science”. Interesting observation there, and it certainly adds weight and unpredictability to the single greatest emotion in the human stratosphere, for the odds of obtaining that one in a million who you were meant to spend your life with. As a single man myself, the script’s material reminded me not to overlook the smallest details, which may serve as signs for a bigger picture, but as a lover of film, the movie challenged me mentally in ways that romantic genre movies simply don’t in 2019, and it gives the movie a spring of pep in distinguishing itself from the overpopulation of such a territory.

– Surprise cameo. This film earns points just for finding a way to cast one of my all time favorite actors in a role that becomes evidently more important the longer the film proceeds. This guy is not only the most charismatic performance in the film, in all three of his scenes, but he also conveys the kind of presence needed in making you care and invest in anything that he’s involved in. It’s a bit of lesson to the film’s two central character’s, whose shoe-horned exposition against some less-than thrilling aspects about their character’s, brought forth two human beings who couldn’t sell me a bottle of water in a 365 day drought. I commend this actor for reminding me that there is no role too small for him, and that his variety in selected projects continues to expand even at the age of 54.

– Reflection to our own world. The fight for immigration plays a big hand in the developments of the movie, and especially considering this element is so prominent in today’s society, it gives the events a feeling of art-reflecting-life, that makes this movie feel more human than even its discussions on love. One question asked frequently throughout the film is what America means to this woman, an answer adored for its diversity, yet humbled for its honesty. It reminds us that even though this is the land of the free, we truly have a long way to go for everyone to feel the emphasis of that meaning, shedding light on the battle of the current day administration that now more than ever feels ever so urgent. Respect also goes to casting a Korean male and black female to echo those sentiments for the duration of the movie. It goes a long way when you can invest in one aspect; the love story, yet be entirely ripped apart by another; deportation, proving dramatic depth which is anything but timely.

NEGATIVES

– Clunky dialogue. Nope, this didn’t change from the terribly sappy trailers. The lines uttered in the film, mostly by Melton, are every bit as childish as they are meandering to the gullible audiences watching them and wondering why they can’t be romanced in such a way. The answer is simple; this wouldn’t work. Winking and nodding at a girl that you’re waiting for something from her would get you slapped and receiving of a restraining order the very same day. Likewise, the overbearing nature of Melton really made me uncomfortable, especially in the ‘Me Too’ era, where many men like this one manipulated women into thinking their intentions were honorable. LIGHT SPOILER – Melton, like those men I previously mentioned, eventually ends up in a dimly lit room, alone with the girl, and wastes no time making a move. Well, I guess they did wait four hours before they banged. Commendable.

– One PAINFUL song. I was mostly enjoying the soundtrack to this film, which authenticated the musical cultures from each respective family, with songs like “Don’t Stay Away” by Jamaican singer Phyllis Dillon, as well as “Here With Me” from Korean singer Susie Suh. But one performance tore it all down and soil the sanctity of every song that came before it. To anyone who hasn’t seen the trailer, Melton performs a version of “Crimson and Clover” by Tommy James and The Shondells, and to say it’s uninspiring is putting it totally lightly. To say Melton’s voice is every bit as flat as it is reflective of a cat getting its nuts stepped on in the middle of the night, is an honest one. The performance is so bad in fact, that the movie mutes his performance to play us Tommy James version during a fantasy sequence from Shahidi. If this scene didn’t already feel like a stalker’s ploy to command attention, it now feels like that out-of-tune street singer who we must take pity on and spare a dollar if he’s ever going to move forward with his life.

– The performances. While separated, Shahidi and Melton display enough dramatic flare for the benefit of their character’s depth , but when they are together, it deconstructs everything positive up to that point. These two have no chemistry together, despite the film trying ever so obviously to convey that they do, and what’s even worse is that the sequence of events does nothing to issue believability that Shahidi has in fact fallen for him. It just kind of happens with a total lack of subtlety, and the lack of emotional registry from Shahidi frequently reminds us how cryptic it is to get an accurate read from her radar. Nice enough kids, but not who I picture when I think of convincing leading cast.

– Unnecessary padding. This movie is 95 minutes, and feels like it has an additional half hour thanks to plot halting that happens far too often from points A-to-Z. Every time the conflict advances, you can almost time that a convenient plot device or temporary adversity will present itself to further draw out the miniscule depth of this conflict. The good news is that there is a good movie in here somewhere, but it’s buried under too much unnecessary exposition explanation and not enough advancement, dimming the average of returns for dramatic material that is put on pause far too often to maintain audience concern. There were times in this film when I was edge-of-my-seat interested, yet times when I couldn’t be more bored, and when you average these two points out, it leads to average pacing, which shouldn’t be a challenge by hour-and-a-half measures.

– Predictable. If you’ve seen one of these films, you’ve seen them all. When a film is riding positive momentum, you know it will eventually go bad to put one over on the audience. The problem is that this has become a cliche of sorts with Young Adult cinema, so you are able to telegraph what comes next, and that’s the case here. The film, with all of its heavy-handed intentions towards fate, was easily predicted by me about a quarter of the way in, and I ended up batting 100% in that regard, leaving me nothing in the way of surprises or unexpected turns for me to hang my hat on. This film goes about the way you’d be able to pick out after watching the trailer, and for a film so expansively unique in its commentary in material, the people themselves are the least interesting and imaginative aspect in going against the grain.

My Grade: 5/10 or D

Tolkien

Directed By Dome Karukoski

Starring – Nicholas Hoult, Lily Collins, Laura Donnelly

The Plot – The film explores the formative years of the orphaned author (Hoult) as he finds friendship, love and artistic inspiration among a group of fellow outcasts at school. This takes him into the outbreak of World War I, which threatens to tear the “fellowship” apart. All of these experiences would inspire Tolkien to write his famous Middle-Earth novels.

Rated PG-13 for some sequences of war violence

POSITIVES

– Thomas Newman’s gripping score. If I didn’t mention my single favorite aspect of this movie first, I would be doing a huge disservice to the maestro of magic, who once again enhances each scene with an element of drama that tinsels in the air from his lucid compositions. Newman’s music rides an emotionally surcharged roller-coaster of goosebumps, eclipsing each arm hill with a wave of enchantment and majestic radiance of “The Lord of the Rings” movies themselves, all the while outlining that invisible line of urgency that much of the movie unfortunately doesn’t capitalize it. Newman’s name for whatever reason is often overlooked when the best composers of the 20th century are talked about, but thanks to the moving renditions that he stirs into a hopeless World War I battlefield, the 21st century are ever in his favor.

– Riveting wartime sequences. Visually the highlight of the film for me. In addition to Newman’s influence that I just mentioned, we are treated to tight-knit editing, immense weight in impact, and a shot composition that definitely paid homage to “All Quiet On the Western Front” in terms of heavy breathing claustrophobia that gets as close in the trenches as being safe can buy. Never does the sequences feel staged or compromised for the lack of scope associated with both sides, instead using character narration and crisp, sharp sound mixing to audibly immerse us in the unpredictable drama. Even in knowing above average details of Tolkien’s biographical background, there was still much about orchestra of anxiety from Karukoski that left me uncertain about what transpired, and it all eventually leads to a convincing third act that does give you moments of satisfaction for remaining so patient.

– Seamless 1940’s design. From the soft color scheme of Finnish cinematographer Lasse Frank Johannessen, to the classy wardrobe design, to the consistency of visual likeness that never compromises the time frame, everything here is ideal for the look and feel of England during the time of great war, giving a strong attention to detail for the production that visually fired on all cylinders. Faded coloring filters are always the way to go in replicating the authenticity within an atmosphere of a prior decade, and it all manages to impress in ways that dazzle a level of time travel on the silver screen fluently.

– Effectively informative. I feel like “Tolkien” will at least succeed in outlining the important parts of Tolkien’s life, if literary biographies aren’t your thing. This film covers the rags-to-riches orphan tale of Tolkien’s early up-bringing, the bonds of fellowship in this friendship of boys, the lure that language plays in his stories, and of course the blossoming love between he and eventual wife Edith. If you’re a diehard fan of Tolkien, the film will offer you very little in the way of beneficial reinforcement, but if you’re someone seeking information for a term paper, or just looking to satisfy random curiosity after binge-watching the Rings films, “Tolkien” will educate just enough to fill in the gaps, all the while preserving a general outline for the mind behind the magic of arguably the single most influential series of novels in the English language.

– Special effects poetry. One nuanced aspect from the director that I wish was used a lot more, was a psychological delve into the mind of Tolkien, during which he sees familiar imagery from future books. It was during these scenes when I realized the crossroads of past, present, and future within J.R’s life, and it practically stands as these brief moments of inspiration that never require bloated or obvious dialogue in getting its point across. These are the scenes that will be most satisfying to fans, as we finally get a glimpse of the genius at work, proving that even in the heat of battle with fighting for survival, the execution of a creative mind still lives and breathes within the soul of a writer.

NEGATIVES

– Formulaic exposition. I don’t doubt for a second that artists pull inspiration from every spec of intrigue in their lives, but what I do have a great ounce of disbelief with is that it plays out in such a television soap opera, complete with practically wink-and-nod moments that illuminate for the audience. I have this same problem particularly with modern day musical biopics, as the overabundance of information deposited in a two hour film all but comes with a Wikipedia sign posting that each of the screenplay pages hit on ever so conveniently. Examples of this are scattered throughout the film, traveling through themes of fellowship and incredible journeys that provide material for the gifted writer, but do so in a way that prove in this film to be topical to ever come across as natural.

– Disappointing performances. I’ve been a fan of Hoult’s since I saw him on screen for the first time, and for a majority of his career he constantly elevates the material that sometimes does him no favors in connecting to the audience. But his work as this prestigiously humbling writer provides shoes that are just too big for him to fill, and leave us with a lack of personality in his portrayal that does highlight the genius in intelligence, but sadly leaves much of the twitches in Tolkien that he was well known for, on the floor of omittance. Collins likewise is an equally blank canvas, leaving as much of a lasting impact on the film as background wallpaper. The two exceptional leads try what they can to light the spark of chemistry between them, but it simply isn’t there, and without the love element providing warmth, the movie alludes and reaches to a motivation through war that simply doesn’t feel earned.

– Lack of influence from the source. The Tolkien family themselves have distanced themselves from the making of the film, not because they saw it and hated the movie, but because the production chose not to involve them when crafting a tale about their legendary ancestor. Why I think this is a big mistake is obvious: the movie is crafting a story without the ideals of heart needed to sell the man behind the books, and that’s essentially the common plague with this film. Throughout the movie, I felt like I was watching a cinematic character with very little shade of personality to help me understand and grow with who Tolkien was as a person. This is especially troubling because in a biopic it is important to separate the fame and the life, and draw the comparison between them that links almost magnetically. We don’t understand what drives J.R, and likewise the movie searches for that very same drive, traveling in a directionless fog, with all of the wrong people steering the machine.

– Sludgy pacing. I am not a “Lord of the Rings” fan by any stretch of the imagination. I can know and understand that they are exceptionally made films without personally indulging in them, but I can’t say the same about the quality exchanged in “Tolkien”. For the first hour of this movie, I was nearly falling asleep. The film’s disjointed screenplay that alternates between three different timelines transitions about as smoothly as hitting a pothole at 80 MPH, and does so with very little emphasis or distinction that a jump is coming. The film is able to gain very little momentum because it feels like it’s trying to cram in too many details in each respective age, and even at 107 minutes long, it could use another studio edit to trim the fat of adolescence that has such little bearing on anything other than the formation of his schoolboy fellowship.

– Not enough originality. For a film that preaches the theme of imagination, it’s remarkable how little there is of it throughout. When I see how boggled down and formulaic the screenplay feels for such an exceptional figure, I am reminded of similarly structured films that did it better. Just two years ago, “Goodbye Christopher Robin” depicted an author whose psychological durress with war equated out to making some revolutionary material in children’s literature. Likewise, “Dead Poets Society” managed dialogue and poetic insight better than any film before its time. So where does that leave “Tolkien”? As it turns out, searching for an identity of its own, and that’s what bothers me about a movie that should cast an immense shadow on the silver screen. There’s nothing about it that is remarkably fresh or insightful to have you screaming of its originality. It’s a collection of scenes from other films that can never jumble together to stand at eye level with its imposing title character, and feels like the forgettable secondary film to the bigger Tolkien blockbuster that feels just around the corner when a movie like this doesn’t quite live up.

My Grade: 5/10 or D +