Crawl

Directed by Alexandre Aja

Starring – Kaya Scodelario, Barry Pepper, Ross Anderson

The Plot – A young woman (Scodelario), while attempting to save her father (Pepper) during a Category 5 hurricane, finds herself trapped in a flooding house and must fight for her life against meat hungry alligators.

Rated R for bloody creature violence, and brief adult language

POSITIVES

– Thrill ride. This is easily one of the more intriguing sits that you will endure in 2019, and while most of that has to do with a consistency in thrills and stimulating sight gags, the smooth and rapid pacing developed from an 83 minute run time more than feeds into this circumstance. Whatever you say about this film, boredom certainly won’t be one of the nominated verbs, as this film’s constant fluidity leaves very little slow spots of exposition in between these moments of surreal horror that harvest a hybrid of entertainment between the screenplay’s hip personality that conjures from these very tense and horrific moments of horror curriculum. A film that doesn’t lag is difficult to come by, but “Crawl’s” biggest strength is in a story that flows as fast as the deposited water that leaves our characters stranded.

– Grave urgency. Speaking of that condemning rain, the gradual rising of this element not only feeds into the claustrophobia of this diminishing setting, but also outlines a visual reminder of the limited time-frame that these people face, perhaps illustrating a bigger adversary than even that of the alligators that surround them. Considering the screenplay does a great job in remaining focused on the characters and their predators, the blink-and-you-miss-it rising of this virtual hourglass of sorts increases before our very eyes, adding a completely different element of danger that isn’t as easily escapable as something that can be hurt or killed. This for me was the biggest and most rewarding antagonist of the film in terms of weight to the adjacent story, and brings forth a level of creativity of escape for the protagonists that was previously unforeseen.

– Story above storm. The problem with disaster films are often the necessity to substitute valuable characters for riveting storm sequences, and while “Crawl” does have an inescapable presence to its methods of mother nature, it’s the character building and backstories that I appreciated more than anything. As especially is the case with this father and daughter dynamic, the screenplay initially hints at a level of distance between them that evolves terrifically into a fully fleshed out narrative, giving us the audience extreme indulgence in the form of characters who we can grasp and understand the intentions behind their dangerous decisions. While I did have problems with Scodelario’s character and her overall performance, which I will get to later, the established backstory that is slowly revealed between them in candid flashback sequences more than solidifies an interest in their well-being that makes films like these all the more rewarding for my investment into them.

– Consistent theme. Further feeding into the film’s depth, the script has an obvious intention of feeding into ones past, and the negatives that come with constantly reveling in it. I won’t spoil anything important here, but this whole conflict starts because of the father’s road trip to his family’s former residence, which represents the happier times between them, when all was copacetic. Beyond this, every character, big and small, is dealing with the regrets of the past. Some in the form of immense mental blocks that leave their success in sports hindered because of the mental luggage that pins itself to them, as well as the way other supporting characters bring up their former significant others in moments that don’t necessarily require it. This burden that our characters face constantly feeds into every one of their motivations, bringing forth a couple of epiphanies along the way that are earned because of the dire pressure of their current conflict.

– Special effects. This element surprised me more than any, as the believability and weight established between storm influence and computer generated reptiles wasn’t as equally present in the illustrations within the trailer. Clearly another production rendering took place here, as the seamless dimensions and designs on display more times than not impressed me, and was made more apparent because of articulate measures along the way that prospered their consistency. For one, the cinematography by Maxime Alexandre, as well as the movie’s overall lighting scheme points to a weathered, grainy visual capacity that crafts opportunity within its darker frames, making it all the more difficult to zero in on an obvious weakness within the generation. Most of the storm is human-created elements, but the sky itself is computer generated, and left intimidating by its thickness in clouds and darkness in color, that never needed a skull to channel its intensity (See “The Hurricane Heist”).

– Aja’s devilish direction. You cast a man like Alexandre Aja to helm your film if you want a barrage of blood with a non-relenting atmosphere that persists like a rapid heartbeat, and while this film doesn’t reach the levels of blood or gore on something like previous Aja offering “The Hills Have Eyes”, it does manage a level of intensity that barely ever has time to breathe within the environment that he created. In addition to this Aja’s claustrophobic lens offers a combination water level, underwater, and alligator trailing sequences that conjure up the variety in shot compositions that shoots the action from many unnerving levels. But fear not horror hounds, as there is a solid offering of snapped limbs, bloody bites, and jump scare thrills that frequently remind us of the deacon of direction, who elevates a film like this if only for the hell that he puts his characters through.

– Clever joke. Beyond Aja’s stylish execution, his ability to instill a sense of dark humor is also a trait that he wears with pride, and his insertion into the film’s intro is one that made me laugh and roll my eyes equally, with unabashed glee. Upon our initial introduction with Scoloderio’s character, we learn that not only is she a college athlete swimmer, but she goes to the University of Florida, a school known for its prestigious mascot that plays quite an intended irony on the film’s future. The mascot is of course the gator, and this obvious level of foreshadowing is certainly the perfect litmus test for any audience curious to gauge the kind of atmosphere and attitude that they will soon be neck-deep in.

NEGATIVES

– Inconsistent sound mixing. Not only does the shallow sound mixing attain a level of manipulation within its audience, it also drops the ball frequently on the engaging nature of a storm that otherwise should swallow us whole. One example of my problem stems from the alligator’s abilities to move in and out of frame with such a lack of weight that makes them feel like a feather when they sneak up on these humans. Likewise, the spotty splashes of rain come and go in a way that makes it feel like the storm has subdued, despite the fact that the water from within this house continues to rise in elevation. If the sound mixing is shoddy, the disaster film that contains it won’t feel as imposing on the heat of the storm, and while visually we are shown no shortage of urgently impactful imagery, the lack of balance in the audio capacity proves that its production isn’t equally up to the task, leaving too much weight of presence on the field of imagination for us the audience to vividly fill in.

– Unlikeable protagonist. While the storytelling outline for this family was rewarding in keeping me invested to their well-being, my disdain for Scoloderio’s performance and overall direction was something that constantly kept me annoyed in her demeanor. For one, this woman’s closed personality all stems from divorce. That’s right, something most of us go through, and we’re supposed to justify her rude behavior because of it. She’s condescending towards her family, un-invested with her friends, and arrogant in moments where it feels like a lesson should easily be learned. In addition to this, Kaya’s dialogue does her no favors in articulating the proper emotional tug to give us goosebumps from her situation. As an actress, she’s alright, but all of her character’s that she has played in movies rub together, leaving no semblance of depth or distinguishing to showcase her skill.

– Leaps in logic. So much here to unload, but everything from laws of physics to human lung capacity is tested here, giving me several moments of unintended laughter that didn’t line-up so well to the film’s mostly serious tone. Humans can apparently outswim alligators, alligators can disappear and re-appear without hearing them, Scoloderio’s character can apparently hold her breath under water for over two minutes in real time, and so much more. There are also measures that could easily be taken to end this threat within ten minutes, but because of the sake of the already brief 83 minute run time, the necessity to pan out the sequence of events and overlook easily taken measures that any idiot could fathom, giving us frustrating scenes in logic that could easily be omitted if the screenwriters did the necessary studying in preventing what people like myself already know.

My Grade: 7/10 or C+

A League Of Their Own

Directed By Penny Marshall

Starring – Tom Hanks, Geena Davis, Lori Petty

The Plot – During World War II when all the men are fighting the war, most of the jobs that were left vacant because of their absence were filled in by women. The owners of the baseball teams, not wanting baseball to be dormant indefinitely, decide to form teams with women. So scouts are sent all over the country to find women players. One of the scouts, passes through Oregon and finds a woman named Dottie Hinson (Davis), who is incredible. He approaches her and asks her to try out but she’s not interested. However, her sister, Kit (Petty) who wants to get out of Oregon, offers to go. But he agrees only if she can get her sister to go. When they try out, they’re chosen and are on the same team. Jimmy Dugan (Hanks), a former player, who’s now a drunk, is the team manager. But he doesn’t feel as if it’s a real job so he drinks and is not exactly doing his job. So Dottie steps up. After a few months when it appears the girls are not garnering any attention, the league is facing closure till Dottie does something that grabs attention. And it isn’t long Dottie is the star of the team and Kit feels like she’s living in her shadow.

Rated PG for adult language

POSITIVES

– Lasting legacy. Before “A League Of Their Own”, there really were no shining examples of women’s presence in the sports film world, and thanks to Marshall’s respect and documentation for the subject matter, we receive a film that succeeds as a sports biopic on the surface level, yet transcends that accomplishment in giving us a real taste for the time. In this regard, during the 1940’s, women were left to run the country when the men departed for overseas, thrusting them into the limelight for the first time ever in situations that they otherwise wouldn’t be given a chance for. This is different for a war film because they’re often depicted as depressing and full of grim circumstance, but Marshall’s picture grants us an opportunity at solidifying that anything men can do, women can do better, and enclosed we see many examples of the unshakeable prejudice that an entire gender faced in the immense void left by the previous establishment. This film really was a trail-blazer in attaining a level for women’s sports in films that previously we never dreamed of, and it’s one that hasn’t been topped ever since.

– Production detail. This is arguably Penny’s strongest quality, as her scope for a particular age in American culture radiates ever so vibrantly in the many depictions that the film garners. Dated fashion trends involving flowing gowns and three-piece suits, ideal shooting locations involving non-lighted ballparks, an array of weathered billboards, and especially a grainy presentation from cherished cinematographer Miroslav Ondricek that transforms us accordingly. Ondricek was best known for his work in 1979’s “Hair”, and it’s clear that his absorbing radiance has a distinct advantage towards time pieces, especially during the cloudy uncertainty that was World War I. Everything here vibes synthetically, preserving a level of seamless believability that reaches the level of 40’s stock footage over this being a manufactured production of one.

– Precision in casting. Marshall’s one rule in her casting was that any actress would have to know how to play baseball, and it shows in the physical performances here that are twice as demanding as the emotional ones. Geena Davis, Rosie O’ Donnell, Lori Petty, and even Madonna all master a level of athletic professionalism that prove they aren’t afraid to get dirty to get the job done. Particularly, it’s Geena’s bat grip and choreography behind the plate that especially impressed this critic, and completely transformed this group of lady actresses into a full-fledged baseball team. Beyond this, Hanks is clearly the show stealer as the rundown alcoholic Jimmy Dugan. It’s especially unique to see Hanks in a role like this, as before this he was known as the sophisticated leading man in Hollywood cinema, but Tom’s dirtbag demeanor and unflinching rudeness preserves many iconic one-liners that age as gracefully as a fine wine, and further pertain to the redemption storyline for the character that I invested a lot of empathy into.

– In addition to the level of sports believability that I previously mentioned, Marshall’s flashy stance of crisp editing and montage sequencing play into a side of filmmaking, that while easy in outlining, certainly achieves the job in continuity to keep us firmly invested into the sights and sounds of the game. For my money, I could’ve used more long takes in these scenes to establish the impressive nature of learning a sports routine, but the accommodating narration by the film’s broadcast journalist (Played by Laverne and Shirley’s Squiggy) keeps enough of a grip on a game that practically flies before our eyes in progression. It’s especially surprising that outside of the World Series game seven finale, Marshall doesn’t necessarily focus much on the heat of the game’s environment for the film’s ambitious two hour run time, proving that the film values life experience and spiritual bonding over the perks of the game, which can sometimes feel a bit too demanding on a film’s screenplay direction.

– Masterful musical score by Hans Zimmer. That’s right, arguably the most well known composer by 2019 standards was still making his mark on a film’s audible impact way back in 1992, and the work he solidifies in the film provides a nuanced nourishment that is every bit reflective for the time as it is distinct for anything else Zimmer has ever produced. The combination of building drum beats, orchestral horns, and echoing vocals brings forth an infectious feel that makes it impossible not to tap your toes, and plays especially hand-in-hand with the pulse of the game, that rides a roller-coaster of many highs and lows for our team protagonists. Zimmer’s usual flow is dark, ominous, and challenging, but considering this was Hans first interaction with the sport (True story), his tempo in pace proves synthetically fused with the movements of the sequences. Beyond this, we are given a new track from Madonna called “This Used To Be My Playground”, that won her an Academy Award and mainstream recognition from elder audiences who previously deemed her flavor of pop music a bit too rebellious for their tastes. It rounds out a musical collection that articulately channels the uncertainty of a newfound world where women’s loss and fears became inspiration for something bigger.

– Rare accomplishment. My first screening of the film came in sixth grade, when my history teacher showed it to our class during our World War I week, and it was then that I realized this film is one of those rare exceptions that is every bit as entertaining as it is educational. While not everything in the film is factual, the script from four different screenwriters does attain a level of homage to the All-American Girls Professional Baseball League that it so rightfully deserves. Likewise, the 1940’s narrative begins with a montage taking us through the deployment of troops overseas, as well as the government’s dependency on women to pick up the pieces of a country going through an unforeseen adversity. So many films credit the sacrifice made by millions of brave men who fought an evil regime for many years, but this is one that values a completely different sacrifice, and outlines a level of history, both in baseball and this country, that would otherwise be forgotten if not given the proper light to shine under. Aside from this being educational and entertaining, “A League Of Their Own” is important, first and foremost.

– Dramatic progression. The third act is definitely my favorite of the film, as it is during that time when the seeds of redundancy are relieved in favor of some dramatic underlying tension that the film so desperately requires to push it to the finish line. Urgency develops in the form of soldier husband’s dying, a trade between the sister protagonists, and the return of troops home, which in turn leaves the women’s league with a foggy future. When there’s more stakes involved, the film reaches a level of intrigue that truly makes it memorable, and while every plot is sewed up a bit too easily at times (Especially Tom Hanks alcoholism being cured by Coca-Cola), every subplot culminates in a one game winner take all that serves as a volcanic blow to everyone and everything involved, illustrating a much-deserved center stage for the women athletes that continuously reminds us that there is no tomorrow.

NEGATIVES

– A missing voice. One thing that bothers me each time I watch this film is the missing voice of a black female player that could’ve added a new layer of depth to the film’s reservoir. Sure, there’s a scene of a woman in the audience throwing a baseball that amazes all of the players in frame, but I feel like the desire to establish their yearning to play is something that could’ve added more truth to the time, and given female minorities a familiar voice in a film that so obviously deserves it. Black women were banned from the A.A.G.P.B.L for the time, but still played in Negro Leagues all across the country, and considering this film is a work of fictionalized reality, the script could’ve used a few minutes to balance the blessing that the players shouldn’t take for granted.

– Minimal Characterization. Easily the biggest problem of the film, as every character outside of Dottie is given such a one-note description in personality that it reminds us how little we’ve come to know these ladies by film’s end. Madonna and Rosie’s characters are brought in at the same time because they are practically the same woman, Marla never receives a talking line of dialogue anywhere in the film, and Kit is really just Dottie’s jealous sister. It’s a bit of a surprise that the male characters are written better in a female directed movie, but when you consider that we know Jimmy’s entire backstory, his illness that ruined his fame, and the future direction of his character, it alludes us that the movie’s biggest misstep was trying to be anything other than a female-driven movie.

– The deleted scene. If you’ve ever seen the DVD edition of the film, you know of the many deleted scenes shot in the over four hours of film by Marshall, but none more memorable than the glowing scene between Hanks and Davis that hints at an underlying romance. In the scene, the two share a kiss after Dottie sees Jimmy hitting baseballs after a game, furthering the idea that the passion from within him still resides. Why this scene’s inclusion is pivotal for me is because the movie’s finished product alludes to it many times in the scenes the two share, but it feels like it comes out of nowhere because there’s no scene that ties those feelings all together. In addition to this, the scene develops Dottie even more, establishing her passion for the game that the finished product never fully capitalizes on. It allows the juxtaposition in her ‘Home Vs Game’ mentality to be further fleshed out and full of vulnerability to make her decision all the more complicated to us the audience. This scene definitely should’ve been left in, and if you’ve never seen it, Youtube has it in its 5 minute entirety.

My Grade: 7/10 or B-

Yesterday

Directed By Danny Boyle

Starring – Himesh Patel, Lily James, Kate McKinnon

The Plot – A struggling musician (Patel) realizes he’s the only person on Earth who can remember The Beatles after waking up in an alternate timeline where they never existed. Using it to his advantage, the songwriter takes credit for every Beatles song ever created, but soon the price of fame catches up to him.

Rated PG-13 for suggestive content and adult language

POSITIVES

– The gimmick. There’s much to be commended about this alternate dimension gimmick that the movie’s plot essentially focuses on, but none more credible than what’s left on the bone from what I originally thought was an overly revealing trailer. Aside from the loss of The Beatles here, there’s a series of startling exposition drops for everything from musical artists to soft drinks, that paint the pop culture tragedies within this complex situation that Jack becomes saddled with. In addition to this, the screenplay is wise enough to illustrate these what if scenarios, bringing along a series of smart and well-timed surprises that still persist even if artists like The Beatles actually don’t, and it’s a script that is every bit as profound and challenging as it is unique to the world with pop culture history so inferior to the one we live in.

– Absorbing presentation. Danny Boyle’s one-of-a-kind scope remains consistent in this film, garnering razor sharp editing and metaphorical transitions involving meaningful imagery that really allows us to soak in the atmosphere from all angles. One such example takes place during the initial bus accident, where we are treated to as many as four different perspectives on-and-off of the bus that fruitfully articulates the psychological beat that exists within this Chaos Theory. Likewise, Boyle treats us to a barrage of establishing setting sequences that engage us with vibrancy in color design, as well as big, bold lettering to better paint the big world feel that the pop star life quickly becomes saddled with. When you watch one of Danny’s films, it often feels like as many as two other films are cohesively and simultaneously playing at all times, giving the audience a perspective inside the mind of its protagonist where cameras aren’t often allowed to go, and in this case it reveals the one person who persists within Jack’s mind over the fame, the riches, and the overall popstar lifestyle.

– An emerging interest. While the gimmick of a world without The Beatles is enough to bring butts to the seats, it’s pleasantly remarkable that my interest became further invested in this nourishing love story from beneath that is brought along superbly by screenwriter Richard Curtis. The film values the bond between Jack and Ellie so much that it initially depicts them as friends and even business partners, and it’s in those introductory minutes where we better comprehend that there is enough room to grow in these subliminal romantic feelings between both to evolve into something more. As the film went on, I practically begged for the movie to return to their interesting dynamic that played so tenderly into the idea that absence makes the heart grow fonder. Jack and Ellie are confronted with an evolution in their relationship, and the progression throughout is anything but choreographed in the way you would expect a romantic comedy to stick a bit too close to conventionalism. It challenges them to confront this feeling inside, and demand more not only from themselves, but from the person staring back at them.

– Sturdy performances. For a first-timer, Himesh Patel strikes all of the right chords, balancing life on and off the stage in a way that nearly establishes the two sides as entirely different people. While wrapped in the spotlight, Patel’s Jack feels every bit as anxious as he does let down by all of the things he once craved, yet to the side that navigates through everything, there’s a relaxed and comical side to his demeanor that seems only present when he engages with James’ Ellie. Speaking of which, the chemistry between them is every bit believable as it is tasteful, and for a female lead there’s a lot of gentility and warmth behind Lily’s glowing smile that makes it easy to understand Jack’s falling for her. Notable supporting cast includes Ed Sheeran, Sanjeev Bhaskar, and especially Kate McKinnon as this overbearing manager who serves as a villain if anyone under the film’s cape.

– Musical incorporation. While not a musical itself, the film features 18 different Beatles songs that are played in compact form to keep the pulse of the story firmly in focus. This might upset some people to not hear a whole song in its entirety, but I liked the pacing of these clips because they were able to include more, offering a wide range of catalog that is sure to satisfy all interested parties. As for the performances themselves, Patel does do his own singing, and while his singing is at times inconsistent in attaining certain pitches, the passion that comes from his delivery, as well as altering to a song’s original speed, gives new life to a collection of timeless tracks without alienating audiences from experimentation. The finished products maintain the level of familiarity to their compositions, all the while establishing something fresh with the steep check written by the production that was second to none in the year’s soundtrack offering.

– Fantastical approach to iconic songs. How would a song like “Let It Be” do against today’s landscape of colorful personalities and downloadable content? “Yesterday” answers this in a poignant approach, depicting the difficulties of song writing in a toxic environment, that occasionally feels a bit too influential. In this respect, the material hints that The Beatles were lightning in a bottle not just for the abundance of classics that they produced, but also for them being a product of their time, in an age where music came before marketing. When presented in modern day rendering, we get a series of compelling circumstances that illustrates a mountain of opposition that John, Paul, George, and Ringo never had to embrace, and while we the audience side with Jack for his understanding of why these songs are genius, we can’t help but ask if they would receive the same praise in a decade known for exchanging content.

– Attention to detail. What I give a film like “Yesterday” over movies like “Rocketman” or “Bohemian Rhapsody” is the dedication to craft in mastering these big scale concert sequences that spare no expense or time to authenticate the experience. Live action audience over computer generation is the intended direction here, and it better masters this level of iconic impact that Boyle’s grandeur cinematography allows to stretch as far as the eye can see. In addition to this, the variety of shot composition camera angles and intensity in sound mixing articulately capture the big stage feel with no gimmicks required, and these intoxicating sequences that never over-complicated their intention restored my faith in cinematic concert footage that hasn’t been inspiring as of late.

NEGATIVES

– Fame fumbled. There’s a point midway through the movie where Jack of course becomes this mega popstar, being constantly mobbed by a barrage of fans that hunt him down to catch a glimpse of their idol. My problem with this stands as a film error of sorts, as for the rest of the film, any time Jack is in a highly public place, he isn’t bothered even in the slightest by an adoring fan. It’s not like his fame decreases. If anything, it increases as the film progresses, and this nagging error in continuity bothered me because I feel it could’ve better been used as a barrier between the love story of Jack and Ellie, that the two could never connect because of. To drop it completely just feels like an obvious oversight in production detail that was flawless until that point.

– Uneven pacing. This isn’t so much the case with the two halves of the film like is usually the case, but rather with an overly-anxious pacing that didn’t link up well with the nearly two hour run time that this story is blessed with. To do this right is to give each chapter of fame proper time to grow with its audience, but what we’re left with gives the film this constant feeling of montage storytelling that never takes advantage of the time it has been given. Particularly with the rising conflict of a new lover being added to Jack and Ellie’s complicated relationship, the screenplay introduces it then rarely addresses it ever again, until it absolutely has to. This film clearly has a lot of ideas, but without the proper execution in attention given, they fall off like B-side tracks that are only there to fill an album quota.

– Strange ending. I won’t spoil much here, but the lack of attention that the film’s alternate reality conclusion receives not only doesn’t explain things, but leaves us feeling like an important scene is missing that we’ve come to expect from movies like these. This could be considered good because it takes an original stance that is anything but conventional, but I feel like a scene of logic is required to better tie things together. For instance, the additional things erased from this world that I mentioned earlier are never elaborated at why those in particular are gone from this world. The Beatles could be connected to Jack’s obsession with them, but what about the other erased things? It’s never revealed, and while “Yesterday” has an interesting idea, its solution feels practically non-existent.

My Grade: 7/10 or B-

Child’s Play

Directed By Lars Klevberg

Starring – Aubrey Plaza, Mark Hamill, Brian Tyree Henry

The Plot – A mother (Plaza) gives her son (Gabriel Bateman) a toy doll for his birthday, unaware of its more sinister nature.

Rated R for bloody horror violence, and adult language throughout

POSITIVES

– 80’s aesthetic. When I first saw trailers for this film, I thought the overall cinematography looked very cheap and uninspiring in finding its artistic integrity, but what I overlooked was its cheap design serving a purpose for a bigger, nuanced idea of 80’s neon that remains consistent throughout the film. This glow of conscience that the film has brings us back to the start when “Child’s Play” was born, but it does so without it being actually set during this influential decade, and instead borrowing the best parts stylistically from it. This gives us many dreamy images during the film in which many different colors collide among each other, bringing us a canvas of colorful expression to influence and enhance the devilish ideals just lurking in the shadows. In addition to this, the child gang in the film feels very much like a delightful trope of 80’s cinema, a-la “The Goonies” or the newfound nostalgia of “Stranger Things”, in that we get a group of profound youthful characters who dominate the foreground of the film’s attention, and feel like the best shot at stopping the madness behind a sadistic doll.

– Blood binge. One of the more surprising aspects of the film was the use of splatter against a series of brutally devastating kills that satisfies even the biggest horror hounds of the genre. This is certainly nothing surprising for a horror film, but is for something like “Child’s Play” that, while known for its gimmick of creative kills, wasn’t always the most satisfying in terms of what it actually showed. This film simply doesn’t have that problem, as a fine combination of practical effects involving prosthetics and computer generation marries a hybrid of young and old enhancement that kept me firmly engaged on the crushing blows that transpired on screen. Also unlike its 1989 original, the film allows the bodies to stack up slightly higher, making Chucky’s reign of terror feel more impactful because of his growing reputation as the film progresses.

– Perfect tone. Klevberg gets it. He understands the ridiculousness of the Chucky character combined with what’s asked of him, therefore it allows him to competently balance this dynamic of terror and tease that makes this one of the more delightfully engaging in the history of horror slasher remakes. Never during the course of the 85 minutes did I feel like this film was taking itself too seriously, nor did it ever feel compromising towards two opposing directions that sometimes fleshes itself out in a movie trying to accomplish far too much. This ones intentions remain firmly grounded in the tonal department, and because of such brought a barrage of laughter and chills that perfectly articulates the kind of effect that only certain horror antagonists bring forth. Chucky is a roaring good time, therefore a film depicting him at his infancy should be as well, and Klevberg never loses the attention of his audience because he never loses focus of what kind of movie this rightfully should be.

– Speaking of remake. On the topic of all time slasher horror remakes, this one is the very best, not only because it manages the consistency of the very best entries of the franchise, but also because it takes a familiar plot and really diverts itself away to make what feels almost like an entirely new film in the series. Aside from this at its roots being the story about a boy who receives a birthday gift from his mom, and that gift turns sinister, the film masters more human impulses for its characters, syke-outs in scares from scenes that felt similar to original entries, more capabilities in tools for what Chucky can do, and many more characters than the original movie that at times felt constrained because of its tight-knit nature of a production. Remakes to me should only be done if they add something unique and original to the material, and this one does it in spades, conjuring up a remake that has enough respect for the original without trying to replicate it.

– Social commentary. The last thing I expected from a Chucky movie was a profoundly poignant observation about society, but this film gave it to me in a series of scenes that not only establish some level of empathy for the character, but also supplant food for thought in where psycho killers originate. Chucky is victim to a series of angry exchanges and violent cinema (Texas Chainsaw Massacre 2, YESSSSS!!!) that falls at his doorstep because of his close ties to Andy, and while soaking all of this up we get a tease for the rage that developes from being a product of the environment around him, giving us complex layers of exposition that Charles Lee Ray never found in seven Chucky movies. It proves that horror films are still capable of delivering an attention-grabbing scene, all the while never backing down from the point that it makes against its own material. It’s clever writing that metaphorically casts Chucky in the role of our kids, and allows us to step back for a second and soak in how strange we look as a species that craves all things violent.

– Technology incorporation. “Blair Witch” take notes. This is a film that introduces modern day technological advancements to its killer and makes full use of the gimmick in a creatively menacing manner. Because of such, Chucky’s eye for his future victims feels wider than ever before (Especially thanks to a Jack Black look-a-like that serves as his biggest ali), and the thought process that went into illustrating some unique kills supplanted a level of purpose for the incorporation. Everything feels like a series of believable bad ideas that we as outsiders can see the negatives of long before our characters do, yet remaining faithful to real life, in that not every modern day idea is a well thought out one. Likewise, the commercials that constantly fill the screen, and even open up the film to give us our first dose of valued exposition, give the android design this kind of lived-in believability with its marketing that really seduces us the audience immediately with its tantalizing of the newest gadget that we must buy regardless of price.

– Delightful cast. Plaza and Henry are especially brilliant, outlining two sides of Andy’s adult intake that balance love and paranoia respectively. Henry is someone I’ve been watching for a while now, and his on-point delivery of sarcasm among a glowing child-like twinkle in his eyes made for constant scene-stealing, that brought forth my single favorite character in the film. Plaza sadly doesn’t get enough time to further flesh out her character, but her mom character establishes the human aspect that I mentioned earlier better than the prophet Catherine Hicks ever even attempted to. Plaza’s dry delivery and distant facial registry still persists in this film, but it’s her abilities under fire from Chucky that bring forth a scrubbing of typecast roles for her that will hopefully spring her in different movie directions going forward. Mark Hamill is good enough as Chucky, but his familiar vocal tones to Brad Douriff never allow him to make the role his own, nor does the lack of memorable one-liners from the iconic figure do him any additional favors in this department. The attention falls solely on the shoulders of 13-year-old Gabriel Bateman, who was a whirlwind of emotional dynamics for the film. Bateman’s line delivery and emotional evolution feel very much earned and soaked in believability, and his character’s personality feels especially refreshing from the original Andy if only for how the doll must win him over before he falls under his spell. I don’t often commend child actors, but Bateman is leagues ahead of the competition for the immense task he is asked to juggle with being the focused protagonist for roughly 85% of this movie, and I certainly can’t wait to see where his career takes him from here.

NEGATIVES

– Chucky design. I hated the visual and character building for this character, mainly because it takes something so perfect and boggles it up with a series of plot contrivances that feel more obvious the longer the film runs. On the latter, the serial killer Charles Lee Ray is traded in for an android that is the creation of an angered employee, and it just doesn’t feel as personal or effectively tragic as a curse for the man locked into this laughable body. As for the appearance, the computer generation is a bit too influential here, garnering an overall design that is creepy from the get-go, and doesn’t feel believable as a product that families would actually purchase. The original Chucky design looks friendly on the surface, and only becomes evil as the film unravels. I also didn’t care for the blue-to-red color transitions that the doll constantly conveyed to obviously channel its evil side. This is essentially exposition for idiots. It’s a bit too obvious and on-the-nose for something that should require the toy being brought to life.

– Episodic pacing. It’s a bit aggravating to me when a film will edit and paste scenes together that feel like no time has passed, but that’s totally the case with this one. A mess on the post-production department, “Child’s Play” often looks and feels like an episode of “Black Mirror” for how long spans of time will pass with very little leverage on our attention, and instead of feeling like one cohesive unit that balances many subplots simultaneously, stumbles with repeat setting scenes back-to-back in a way that constantly jarred me and brought me out of focus in questioning repeatedly how much time has passed. With more attention given to Henry’s character, especially in the refreshing dynamic with his Mother, the Andy/Mom side of things could be given proper time to age to better establish not only the bond between them, but also Andy’s dependability on Chucky when no one else has time for him. The friends subplot is also especially unearned with how little time is devoted to it, and it screams for around 20 additional minutes to better supplant the supporting characters.

– Poor special effects. The budget for this film, despite using C.G influence, somehow feels cheaper than its 30 year prior original, and I point particularly to the movement of the doll in this regard. Close camera angles and choppy editing are to be expected in a film with a doll antagonist, but that’s maybe the best thing that this production does for Chucky, because his wide angle scenes where he’s running feel very weightless and even counterfeit to the believability that allows this to flow naturally in our vision and imagination. The original “Child’s Play” used child actors in the costume to make its movements feel seamless, and I think that stroke of brilliance and authenticity in choosing computer generation over live action really limits its potential in what they are able to accomplish in real time.

My Grade: 7/10 or B

Ma

Directed By Tate Taylor

Starring – Octavia Spencer, Diana Silvers, Juliette Lewis

The Plot – In this new psychological horror-thriller from Tate Taylor and Blumhouse, a lonely woman (Spencer) befriends a group of teenagers and decides to let them party at her house. Just when the kids think their luck couldn’t get any better, things start happening that make them question the intention of their host.

Rated R for violent/disturbing material, adult language throughout, sexual content, and for teen drug and alcohol use

 

POSITIVES

– High Octavia. While the rest of the performances mostly by the teenage cast don’t live up to anything outside of the conventional box of adolescent youth, the work by the film’s central antagonist is treading new ground for the decades of experience that the Academy Award winner has gained. Spencer’s Ma channels just enough loneliness to make you feel for her character, yet equally enough maniacal mange to remember why some people are better left alone in the first place. Octavia’s commitment to giving this character the proper amount of energy and growing disappearance of nuance sanity proves she is having the time of her life with the role, and that raw precision to insanity makes her especially engaging for the audience, especially being one of the only female black psychopaths on-screen in movie history. Side note- Screw Mark Wahlberg, I want to listen to Octavia talk to animals for the rest of my life. Seriously the funniest shit I’ve ever heard.

– Tuned-in tone. One thing that Blumhouse usually manages to attain more times than not is this perfect compromise of tone and seriousness for the movie that gives their films a hip edge with younger moviegoing audiences. Continuing this tradition is “Ma”, a film not afraid to show its personality with timely awkward laughs, or a barrage of thrills that articulately depicts the evolution of the script. This is very much a film that I had a lot of fun with, but one that also surprised me for how much emphasis is given to the coveted R-rating that often times feels like a reason to get extreme for the sake of shock violence. This one instead takes its time, and does so while solidifying an indulging atmosphere that allows you to forget about the cares of the world for 90 minutes of calculated revenge that constantly pokes and prods at the audience that it knows so well.

– Double tiered storytelling. Aside from the real time narrative that much of the movie’s attention is dedicated to, there is an addition subplot that occasionally appears detailing Ma’s mysterious past, giving us insight for why she is the way she is. As to where this cliche of explaining too much about the mystery usually soils the mystique of the character for me, this angle provides blocks of knowledge not only for why there’s something truly unsettling beneath her exterior of super hip elder, but also why much of her manneurisms and reactions envelope the teenager inside of her that has never evolved or moved past the demons of her past. What’s important is that it doesn’t effect the attention of its audience, nor does it make this timeline transition too often to take away from the current day progression. It’s a seamless delve into the mind of a mad woman, who for better or worse, provides possible justification for what she has become, and it gives the film two compelling stories for the price of one.

– Kicking tunes. What’s so refreshingly engaging about this soundtrack and accompanying musical score, is that the collection of top 40 classic hits from the 70’s and 80’s that Blumhouse surprisingly shelled out a big amount for transcends the screen, and puts us the audience front-and-center at the heart of a party full of drunken debauchery and endless good times. Some of the featured tunes include “Kung Fu Fighting” by Carl Douglas, “The Safety Dance” by Men Without Hats, and my personal favorite for Ma’s one-of-a-kind robotic dance choreography that she gives during it, “Funkytown” by Lipps, Inc. As for the musical score by composer Gregory Tripi, it’s a lucid anxiety-riddled ravage of synth sounds that adds a trancing outline to the scenes of tension that sharpen with increasing volume until they are ready to cut like a knife. Music was the last thing I was expecting to compliment in a movie this focused on revenge narratives, but the inclusion of a toe-tapping tapestry of terror only increased my delight of this picture, and put me in the moment of living out these awkward moments with these young characters.

– Taylor’s presence behind the lens. This is the same guy who directed visual feasts of coloring like “The Help” and “Winter’s Bone”, but it’s really what Tate does in framing work that gives way to an artistic integrity of range, that pokes and prods the audience with efficiency. The way this guy is able to tease with mirror images on a wall, or shadows in the background of a scene that show someone’s coming, or even the way he uses flash-edited close-ups of his leading lady to garner that heavy feeling in the pit of your stomach, amplifies the tension because of calculated shot photography, and gives a stylized beat of precision for the movements of the camera that are often swift and full of pulse. For a Blumhouse produced movie, this is exceptional to say the least, and Taylor’s personality of visual storytelling masters a command over the film that would be overlooked for importance in lesser hands.

– Third act switch. What’s particularly surprising about this film is that it goes nearly 70 minutes without showing a single drop of blood, reserving itself for the moment when its impact will be heard the loudest, and boy does this ever materialize during the final twenty-five minutes of the film. To say this film matures into material that solidifies its R-rating is putting it lightly. The combination of brutal violence, shocking nudity, and devilish details mirror that of Ma’s diminishing grip over that growing voice inside of her head that she can’t escape any longer, and it made for some impressive scenes of character resolution that made me laugh and shriek in terror at the same time. Are these artistically respectable death scenes? Absolutely not, but the placement of their gore is something that infuses it that much more with attention, and will have audiences wondering frequently if they really just saw what they think they did.

– Poetic final shot. Many people will have problems with the ending of this film, for feeling anti-climatic, but to me the imagery of the fading moments from this film felt every bit as conclusively satisfying as they did honorable by Taylor to not tease an unnecessary sequel. Short, sweet, and right to the point with some poignancy to tie everything together. The work goes more into the artistic side of it rather than the reactive one, and it’s especially rare in modern day where you get a movie where the end is literally that; the end.

NEGATIVES

– Shows cards too often. This is especially heavy on the mystery and plot twist of the movie, that the revealing trailers have already done a great job of revealing prematurely. In the film itself, the movie makes a couple major mistakes on its way to selling what Ma herself is hiding, and it’s something that I was able to figure out within the opening ten minutes of this movie (No kidding) for the way a character reveal in the background makes them look like an obvious character within this movie. In addition to this, the script does nothing to dress this aspect up as something totally different than what it actually is, and it left much of the film’s second half for me a delayed relay, where the movie was catching up to me in terms of exposition that was often stilted. The meandering on random objects that easily don’t tie into the scene was also a glaring red flag for me, giving off a not so secretive vibe that something bigger was coming with this focus that came completely out of left field.

– On-the-nose dialogue. Easily the weakest aspect of the film for me, as the lines read by the younger cast completely reek of older influence trying to be hip, and instead just come off as completely unnatural line reads that feel force-fed. These created a series of unintentional laughs and groans from me that certainly didn’t lack volume in the auditorium, and did no favors to some first time starring roles that completely lacked believability or immersion into their respective roles. I could give examples, but I want this element of the film out of my head as soon as possible, for how truly gratifying it was on my precious ears.

– Rushed pacing. It’s no surprise that this film is a light, fluffy sit in terms of its minimal time commitment, but the jarring contradiction of actions from character’s between scenes rendered the continuity virtually pointless, and made for some actions of character that felt completely illogical for what they’d already been through at that point. One such example points to a negative cell phone video made by a teen within our group of protagonists, who sent it to everyone (Ma included), telling them to stay away from Ma’s, yet magically appears at that very spot in the very next scene of the movie. It’s possible that there are additional scenes missing that tie moments like this together, but I can only grade the paper that is left on my desk, and a lot of these transition scenes are disjointed to say the least.

My Grade: 7/10 of B-

John Wick Chapter 3: Parabellum

Directed By Chad Stahelski

Starring – Keanu Reeves, Halle Berry, Ian Mcshane

The Plot – In this third installment of the adrenaline-fueled action franchise, skilled assassin John Wick (Reeves) returns with a $14 million price tag on his head and an army of bounty-hunting killers on his trail. After killing a member of the shadowy international assassin’s guild, the High Table, John Wick is excommunicado, but the world’s most ruthless hit men and women await his every turn, looking to cash in on a payday that will set them for the rest of their lives.

Rated R for pervasive strong violence, and some adult language

POSITIVES

– Picture perfect action sequences. The mixture of Tai Kwon Do, amateur wrestling, Martial Arts, Judo, and elements of Brazilian Ju Jitsu make for air tight choreography that went a long way in registering the believability and detection of every bone crunching blow, but it’s really the range of variety in settings and weaponry that really take the creativity in this film to new heights for the franchise. Horses, motorcycles, glass fortresses, and even a library are put to devastating levels of punishment, proving that Wick is adaptable in any surrounding with any object in his hands to use as a tool of terror. The sequences in the film are every bit as enticingly fun as they are brutally humbling, and it certainly makes for one of those cinematic experiences where you’re glad that you’re watching it in the comforts of a theater, as opposed to suffering the impact of John’s will fully realized.

– Invasive sound mixing. Like the visuals of the sequences that I already mentioned, the swift, echoing nature of the noises that reflect from a series of non-stop physical engagements put us front-and-center in the heat of the conflict. In many cases, the sounds create a stinging symphony of suffering that elevate gradually to reflect the intensity of the fight, as well as the urgency of the stakes that constantly hang in the balance, and the work of some brilliant technicians behind the scenes marry the elements of believability and precision with a finished product that audibly kicks your ass in ways that big budget action set pieces don’t cohesively articulate nearly as well. If you can close your eyes and make out everything that is going on in sound, you know you have an exceptionally tuned audible enhancement, and the post production work here should never be understated for the way it reflects the speed and spark of the dynamic.

– New and familiar faces. Halle Berry is an excellent addition to the film, despite her only being in the movie for around fifteen minutes. Berry, like Reeves, endured months of physical training and target practice to capture the essence of the character, and as Sophia we meet a woman who despite being wronged by Wick somewhere in life, knows and appreciates the value of paying your dues. She etches out the female equivalent to Wick’s trilogy of terror in a few spare scenes, and Berry’s cunning intellect and vicious lack of empathy left me wanting a movie of her own to further illustrate the jaded backstory of this character. No surprise however, Keanu continues to be in the driver position. As Wick, Reeves again brings such uneasiness and commanding attention to the cold, blank stare that constantly outweighs the mental chess game he plays with his opposition, and as good as Reeves is in physical combat, it’s the ounce of humanity left in him for the people he loves that is easily the most indulging trait for me personally, and Keanu proves once again that this franchise has plenty of miles to go thanks to a protagonist who literally travels them for the positivity of the picture.

– The story. While not my favorite Wick movie in this regard, it’s nice to know that even three chapters into this saga, we are still learning vital pieces of information about our mysteriously vicious figure. In this regard, the world-building introduced in the second movie is further realized in this one, bringing forth a global domination in expansive scenery that vividly articulates the stakes that Wick’s opposition are guiding against him. Likewise, many elements of Wick’s past, particularly his training and schooling, are further elaborated on, presenting us with the most revealing aspects of John’s life in molding who he has become today. Despite as much screen time being donated to seven different thrilling action sequences, the unraveling of the narrative is the true meat of the story that adds layers of depth to the value of the character, and in just three films, it proves that the best cards about the character are still being played, issuing strong confidence for future chapters that never put anything in front of the character.

– Consequences. This is the overall theme of the movie and really the entire franchise when you think about it. It’s interesting to see what has evolved as a result of a bunch of punks killing a dog in the first movie, and that value for the effect from the cause resonates strongly throughout the many interactions and relationships associated with Wick. This gives the plot a very cerebral setting, in that we, like Wick, must think several moves ahead in the lightning flash industry of hired killers, or risk sealing our fate long before we ever realize it. When you really think about it, this presents an even more elaborate level of unpredictability to the dangerousness instilled by Wick fighting for his life every single second of every single day, and in a Butterfly Effect Dickensian spirit, makes me wonder what kind of roads for John have already been paved in future installments, thanks to the decisions and actions taken in this movie. It’s strange to commend a John Wick film for feeling philosophical, but “Parabellum” gives meaning to the mayhem, all the while conjuring up a profound idea of awareness that will eventually be the means to an end for all of us.

– Lavish imagery. Setting a film in New York is certainly nothing new for cinema, but the Big Apple depicted in “Chapter 3” reaches the heights of “Blade Runner” or “Ghost in the Shell” in terms of these immensely blinding billboards and unshakeable neon influence that soaks the wet streets with a sizzle of style that illustrates a timeless look in cinematography. But not all of the visual seduction is outside, as the interiors of the Continental Hotel, as well as a Casablanca getaway by Wick also charm us with a sophistication in lifestyle that gives luxury to such a devilish business. The former has no shortage of glass, sure to play mind-games on the audience and protagonist similarly, all the while complimenting the glow of illumination that is beaming from the city that doesn’t sleep, and the latter constructs these wide angle depictions that capture the immensity and suffering of being trapped in the desert decay, among the sunbaked sand covering the never-ending hills. It proves how big this once local franchise has evolved, establishing a global presence to the third and most important chapter that spares no expense in contrasting geography.

– More personality. There’s always been laughs sprinkled throughout John Wick’s previous two installments, but the consistency and landing power associated with the awkwardness of piercing dark humor really felt more prominent in this film than any other. What’s vitally important is that the juggling of tones never compromises the integrity of the film, nor does it take away from the intensity and stakes of the moment in hand. Especially considering so much of this film deals with an ever-increasing body count and dark subject matter, the natural flow of these timely sight gags and dry deliveries from Reeves feels like a therapeutic release to a building powder-keg of anxiety-riddled nerves that spring from these very violent exchanges. You won’t mistake this for a comedy in the slightest, but the inclusion of getting the audience further involved is always something that works in the favor for relatability, and proves that Wick doesn’t have to be a constant grump to get over with his people.

NEGATIVES

– Special effects. SPOILERS AHEAD. DON’T READ ON IF YOU DON’T WANT TO BE SPOILED. THIS IS LITERALLY YOUR LAST CHANCE. WHAT ARE YOU STILL DOING HERE? Wick loses a body part towards the middle of the film, and it leads to some computer generated effects that were sketchy at best in establishing the continuity of what’s missing. When something like this happens in a film, you bet your ass that I will be watching for it during the rest of the movie, and at the beginning of the big final war scene, there were more than a few instances where this once disappearing part popped up in more than a few candid frames that show it being fine. This is solely on the production department, as they really should be more careful with what to keep in mind in distinguishing marks, but I can’t give a pass to generation so lacking detail that it ruins the immersive quality of the scene, and this constant blunder became even more obvious the longer the movie progressed.

– Weak antagonists. This is a continued problem not only for this film, but the entire franchise alike, as these one-note, weakly written antagonists don’t manage even an ounce of weight for being able to silence the execution of Wick. In this film, the villains are even slightly over-confident, passing on many occasions to easily kill John, in favor of gushing about how famous he is in this inner circle of dangerous assassins. Likewise, the many stupid decisions by them gives way to one of my favorite cliches in Hollywood cinema, where a villain has to explain every single detail before they kill their opposition and collect the bounty. It leaves very few moments of vulnerability or urgency for our title character, and even worse, it takes away from the paranoia that the humbling final scene of “Chapter 2” gave us, where it felt like a whole city was coming after Wick. Here, the number is actually much less imposing, and we’re left with a barrage of idiots, who can fight, but lack intelligence in the smallest decimal.

– Those last ten minutes. Easily the weakness of the film for me, as the impact of a bad twist (My opinion), as well as the lunacy associated with being fine from an easily paralyzing blow from not one, but two character’s, completely sends the final minutes of this film to cartoonish levels of conclusion for an otherwise near-perfect action film. As to where the last movie was the highpoint for the film, teasing us in ways for the third film that sent your anticipation to a boiling point, the ending for this film stretches the boundaries of what’s possible from a very human character, who otherwise lived and breathed by the laws of gravity to this point. I expect to be alone on my feelings for this one, but I would prefer if this franchise doesn’t become one of those action series where you have to turn off your brain to enjoy. You know, “The Fast and Furious” franchise.

My Grade: 7/10 or B

Long Shot

Directed By Jonathan Levine

Starring – Charlize Theron, Seth Rogen, June Diane Raphael

The Plot – Fred Flarsky (Rogen) is a gifted and free-spirited journalist with an affinity for trouble. Charlotte Field (Theron) is one of the most influential women in the world. Smart, sophisticated, and accomplished, she’s a powerhouse diplomat with a talent for mostly everything. The two have nothing in common, except that she was his babysitter and childhood crush. When Fred unexpectedly reconnects with Charlotte, he charms her with his self-deprecating humor and his memories of her youthful idealism. As she prepares to make a run for the Presidency, Charlotte impulsively hires Fred as her speechwriter, much to the dismay of her trusted advisors. A fish out of water on Charlotte’s elite team, Fred is unprepared for her glamourous lifestyle in the limelight. However, sparks fly as their unmistakable chemistry leads to a round-the-world romance and a series of unexpected and dangerous incidents.

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

POSITIVES

– Evolving chemistry between the two leads. What’s so believably fleshed out about the relationship of our protagonists is the way that it’s given ample time to mature throughout a two hour runtime. When they reunite at the beginning of the film, they feel like nothing more than friends, and at that moment lack the noticeable spark that bonds them together. But as the film progresses, and they each help balance what the other one lacks, the distance of inevitability between them draws thinner, and it helps attain this level of earned romance that I felt would be my biggest obstacle going into this film. At their peak, Theron and Rogen blend beautifully well together, and the film goes all the way in cementing that growing connection without ever reversing because of their obvious physical differences.

– Profound political commentary. Aside from the gags and obvious fingers being pointed at one political party only, the film harvests a fine combination of satire in the entertainment and real world that brought more than a few laughs of familiarity to my viewing. There’s a network hosted by braindead anchors that is obviously a stab at Fox News, with all of its unimportant equations that go into discussion. Beyond this, the great Andy Serkis acts his way in a wig and prosthetics that brings former White House Chief Strategist Steve Bannon to mind. Finally, the film has a very unabashed honesty in the way it depicts female candidates, in how they are relegated to answering demeaning questions and negotiating with power hungry white majorities to house their ambitions. It proves that “Long Shot” has much more to say beneath its plot of opposites attract, and within it offers a social reflection that proves poignant for this romantic comedy.

– Effectiveness of the humor. When this film is in its element and shining as a dual romantic narrative with bits of classy humor ingested into it, the landing power is that much more consistent. This gets away from the kinds of raunch comedies that Rogen is used to, but unfortunately not completely. I will get to that more later. But when the screenplay focuses more on its ironies involved in awkward situations, as well as romance dynamic between its two leads, the film garners a level of being a modern day “The American President”, which it so badly requires to transcend the typical Rogen typecast, and make this a recommendation for all audiences. The crossover value is certainly there, all the while never alienating its Rogen enthusiasts, and landing what I would consider an astonishing 70% of gags that it illustrates. The humor inside succeeds without being entirely political, and proves that it has a bigger scope that the predictable laughs associated with a White House comedy.

– Delightful cast. Theron couldn’t give a bad performance if she studied eight months to give it. As this Secretary of State character, she’s strong, caring, and most of all blinded to the political and physical politics associated with the relationships that surround her, and carves out a refreshing female lead that we just don’t see enough of in 2019. Rogen is his usual stick, but with an air of untypical intelligence to his character that really makes him pop in this kind of elegant environment. Aside from them, there’s appearances from Serkis, Bob Odenkirk (As the President, no less), Alexander Saarsgaard, and my personal favorite, O’Shea Jackson as Rogen’s best friend. Why doesn’t Jackson have his own starring movie yet? This kid combines enough conviction in comedic line reads, as well as an illuminating smile to pay homage to the stars of the tinsel age of Hollywood, and makes any film better that he pops up in.

– Positive messages. Aside from the obvious table dressing in the movie pointing to beauty being skin deep, Levine is all about inclusiveness, and because of such harvests two motivational messages for the price of one. The first is about self-image, in that our leading lady cares too much about what her peers think of her decisions. The film alludes to overcoming those biases by being true to yourself, and only live by the rules set by one person: you. The second message, and more surprisingly compelling to this critic, was the desire to bring both sides of the political spectrum, Republican and Democrat, together to work for the better of the nation. This direction I found refreshing, especially considering the beatdown that Republicans take in satire throughout the film, but it makes me forgive when the script itself realizes the vital importance that coming together casts, hinting especially at not judging someone who doesn’t share the same political beliefs as you. If you put every message together, “Understanding” seems to be the common theme, and it proves that the heart of Levine is in the right place when it comes to the world that he is calling upon.

– Against type performances. Another thing that I find appealing to the dynamic of Theron and Rogen is the fact that each of them are working in a genre that they’re not typically used to. For Theron, it’s the rare comedy casting that we haven’t yet gotten from her until now, bringing forth a new side to her one woman storm that prove she has a distinct timing for intelligent humor. For Rogen, it’s viewing him as the leading man in the romance genre, that would probably be the last direction that I would expect from the lovable goofball. Rogen himself will tell you that he isn’t the first guy he would cast as the dreamy male protagonist in any movie, but his personality gives way to strong male morals like supporting his woman, equal rights among gay relations, and an explosive opening confrontation against Nazi’s that prove he can take a hit. It’s refreshing in films when one actor will walk new ground, but here we get two for the price of one, and it’s a team-up combination that will open up many new avenues for this star-studded duo.

– Levine as a director. One thing that I respect Jonathan for deeply is the fresh spin on a contemporary setting that offers a serving of poignancy within the world that transcends the screen. In setting this film in the current day, Levine signals that much of the film’s ideals, both sociological and political, could in fact be ours if we stop focusing on the pety, and like his previous films like “50/50”, “Warm Bodies”, and “The Night Before”, he challenges the status quo that we cement within our own ideals, and turns them upside down by offering the truth in the dynamic of screen and real life. This is clearly a director who is every bit as ambitious with his world building as he is with his comedy, and like those movies that I previously mentioned, touches on a lot of different aspects creatively that somehow each fit in to the narrative that he ties together wonderfully, and the depth instilled upon “Long Shot” proves that it might be his single greatest film to date.

NEGATIVES

– Tonal tug of war. For my money, the film is a comedy first movie with elements of romance sprinkled in throughout, and this all vibes wonderfully together, until these unnecessary instances of gross-out humor spoil the elegance of its demeanor. In this regard, the film struggles to nail down what it wants to be between a rare romantic comedy without any of the cliches, or a typical Seth Rogen movie, and what we’re left with doesn’t really commit to either side of the equation because it too often contradicts itself one scene after grounding its feet, leaving this film struggling for a directional distinction to get away from the tonal inconsistencies that occasionally feel uneasy from scene to scene transition. If we cut anything away from this film, it should be the gross-out humor that just doesn’t fit with this setting or plot, but somehow keeps finding its way to soil the sanctity of everything inside.

– Hypocritical stances. One flub that the film commits is in its ability to go back on its word in the morals department it establishes for its two leads, and soils them in a way that breeds hypocrisy in the very next scene. For instance, Theron’s character constructs an eco-friendly bill that will ease carbon gases being introduced into the air, yet she drives around this abnormally massive airplane that does exactly that. Not to be left out, Rogen also comes to the parade of hypocrisy thanks to his disdain for major corporations that we hear about on more than one occasion. He says this, and then mentions how much he enjoys watching Marvel movies. Small nitpick? Sure, but it proves that the screenwriters don’t fully value their character’s in a way that makes them practice what they preach, and in doing so make themselves no better than the very same people they criticize.

– Hollow third act conflict. Yep, there has to be another late movie distancing, but this time it is setup in such a way that feels so ineffective when you really consider what’s at stake. Without spoiling much, I will say that the Steve Bannon type that I mentioned earlier blackmails Charlotte with a recording that damns Fred, and he uses it as leverage for her to accept his endorsement. The problem with this is the tape in question is condemning to Fred, and not necessarily Charlotte, so where does it hurt her if it is released to the public? In addition to this, wouldn’t he be held just as accountable if someone tracks the source for how a laptop was hacked into to attain private footage? But it happens because the movie needs a conflict between Theron and Rogen, leaving me scratching my head wondering if this is the best the writers could come up with, why even include a conflict at all?

My Grade: 7/10 or B-

High Life

Directed By Claire Denis

Starring – Robert Pattinson, Juliette Binoche, Andre Benjamin

The Plot – Deep space outside the solar system. Monte (Pattinson) and his daughter Willow (Scarlett Lindsey and Jessie Ross, respectively) live together aboard a spacecraft, in complete isolation. A man whose strict self-discipline is a shield against desire, Monte fathered her against his will. His sperm was used to inseminate the young woman (Mia Goth) who gave birth to her. They were members of a crew of prisoners who were death row inmates. Guinea pigs sent on a mission. Now only Monte and Willow remain. Through his daughter, he experiences the birth of an all-powerful love. Together, father and daughter approach their destination: the black hole in which time and space cease to exist.

Rated R for disturbing sexual and violent content including sexual assault, graphic nudity, and for adult language

POSITIVES

– Elaborate set designs. It’s clear where the budget went with this one: in the highly detailed set pieces and intricate backdrops where roughly 90% of this movie takes place. Despite being shot with such tightness overall in photography, the variety of rooms and vibrancy in color filters, gives the ship an immense feeling of privacy, where ulterior motives lurk in the shadows of what we’re not seeing with any character at any particular time. Films aboard ships often revel in the claustrophobia of such limited surroundings, but “High Life” embraces the idea that life carries on for these prisoners, despite being virtually held against their will in a mission clouded by uncertainty, and the purpose established in the many different areas on-board proves no deficiency in scientific capabilities or living perks required to silence the sting of isolation.

– Gripping performances. Pattinson has his own gravitational presence in films. No other way to say it. This is once again another transformative performance, but one in the mentality sense, bringing forth a conflicted protagonist who is very much a wild card when it comes to his troubled past, which now leads to the shaky interactions with the crew in the present. Robert’s delivery feels very in-tune with the person spending a lengthy trial far from human civilization, and the nuance delivery that deep down tugs through a war of hopelessness that the character is juggling with within himself. Also in tow is a physically demanding performance from Binoche, who looks on over this cast of misfits as the poke that constantly keeps them in arms. As usual with movies concerning prisoners, it’s the authority that is the true menace, and Juliette’s dry delivery, complimented by an unflinching, blank stare, surrounds her with a sense of dangerous authority that we know we should fear, despite never seeing a single weapon or restrictive object of enforcement throughout the entire film.

– Lack of special effects. My biggest praise of Denis’ direction is her decision to make everything from the gravitational pull that the character’s experience, to the G-force endurance in speed, authentic in its manufacturing, giving the movements throughout the ship a feel of honesty that most space movies made today try to speed through in order to avoid complications. The cast and crew were put through a rigorous test of physical exertion that equally told the story on the facial registries of the actors, and stood as the lone adversary that they couldn’t act their way out of. I admire an immersive production like this for the way the ideal surroundings better engage the intensity of the performances, and Claire’s experienced hand constructs a world that is normally millions of miles away from our own, and grounds it in reality so that we visually convey what is transpiring in the uncertainty of the darkness that lurks outside of their shift, and it proves that some acting jobs require a bit more than audibly becoming a character for a few weeks.

– Revealing introduction scene done right. My biggest pet peeve in modern day films is even done superbly, as the initial images when the film opens visually communicates that the majority of this crew have paid the ultimate price in scientific discoveries, but as what should be expected with a scene like this, there’s more that meets the eyes. A scene this cryptic and ambiguous left construing my own theories about where the story was headed, and as I found out, I was satisfyingly wrong about those assumptions for the better of the film’s shock factor. Once you know the whole story, those early images, as well as Monte’s mental psyche, are given layers of depth to play into our understanding of what transpired, and it proves that even with a scene so revealing in the backs of our minds, that sometimes the truth is something far more unexpected than our minds could even interpret.

– Inescapable sound mixing. Without atmospheric audio overstepping the sanctity of isolation, a space movie is doomed, and thankfully the cutting and pacing done here by some highly qualified technicians remains as consistent as the gravitational rules introduced early on in the first act. My favorite scenes in particular are the ones where Pattinson’s Monte in suited up in a spacesuit, colliding with the audibly immense volume of space, only for us the audience to hear nothing, since Denis instead puts us front-and-center in the shoes of her depicted protagonist, and it gives an immersive quality to the scene that helps us better interpret Monte’s mission without using anything as corny or overdone as Point-of-view sequence. The sound here is the established blanket that continues to smother, no matter how drowning out the events inside of it seem, and its continued presence gives reminder to where we are, even when the depth and space inside of the ship can sometimes fool us into thinking that normal everyday life exists within it.

– Interpretive pallet. Denis herself has commented that the movie is about “Tenderness in space. It’s about truth, fidelity, and sincerity”, and while those themes are certainly evident by the many interior adversities that this crew face for being trapped inside for so long, I found a few others that brought a thought-provoking poignancy to the film’s material. Themes like personal desires, desires, passions, motivations to keep going, and the choices we make having an intended consequence on us because of such. With so many psychological questions like these, it’s no secret that “High Life” compares these themes in a setting so far from our own, and boils them in a pot together to ask the question if they can still exist despite the circumstance. The answer is an overwhelming yes, and it’s unique and even life-affirming to watch each of them play out when everything else we’ve come to know and expect in our own definitions of life has been stripped down and reduced to the bare minimum aboard this ship of no rights and all responsibilities.

– Time distinguishing. “High Life” is told with a non-linear style of storytelling that depicts as many as three different time periods being played off simultaneously, and something that inclusive can get confusing if the right visual steps aren’t taken, an aspect that this film has in spades thanks to some personal touches of production creativity that can be missed if you blink. For one, the plants inside of the ship’s garden double in size during the later scenes, giving an overcrowded feeling to the once maintained eco-life. The second is Monte’s hair color giving way to an aging grey. I do have some problems with the aging process in the film, which I’ll get to later, but it’s clear with how big these grey patches are that an ample amount of time has passed, further allowing us to distinguish what particular timeline we currently exist in. The final is the cinematography inside of the ship. During the earlier timeline aboard, there’s a sense of vibrancy and livelihood aboard, but in the latest timeline imagery of scattered props and a much more visually convoluted atmosphere overtakes our focus, and visually echoes what we slowly learn about the crew and this ship, with how it’s come upon some uphill climbs for each of them respectively. This is very much an artsy film that won’t appeal to mainstream audiences, and if you don’t appreciate the craft of filmmaking, you won’t care much for the technical achievement that is the central focus here.

NEGATIVES

– Sluggish pacing. In telling this story out of order with the non-linear style fashion that I mentioned earlier, the first act of the film struggles greatly with hooking up from the start, showing us only Monte and his baby daughter as they live life alone on this ship. It’s a dry period of storytelling that takes a lot of time to get you used to conditions in their life, without any use of accommodating information for a good 30 minutes before the rest of the timelines get going. Likewise, the script has difficulty telling multiple plots of suspense simultaneously to build the tension long-range for a big payoff. It seems like the film brings up a conflict, follows through with it, then settles it. Wash, rinse, repeat. It hinders the film from maintaining the consistency of momentum, and makes for a dry transition in between these scenes of extreme graphic detail that feel so forced and foreign from the sum of its parts.

– Uneven aging process. During the third act, we begin to see Monte’s daughter as a teenager, and what this does is establish how many years the duo have been in space, especially considering time is slowed down up there. If she’s arguably fifteen in this timeline, then they’ve probably spent roughly thirty years in space at this point, and it brings forth a problem with her male counterpart that not only lacks believability, but also doesn’t line up with the progression of time inside of the story. Monte has a bigger grey patch, sure, but that’s it. No wrinkles or sagging skin, not even the slightest attempt at production make-up, nothing. It’s a missed opportunity for a film that did its homework up to that point, and would rather deviate from the gravity associated with the passing of time, rather than to make its cute leading man lack familiarity in his physical appearance.

– Anti-climatic ending. This will probably be the biggest grounds for debate in the film, as the ambiguous final images leaves much interpretation for the audience to fill in the blanks. My problem with this particular case is the leaving to imagination never matches up to the build and suspense earned by the last ten minutes of this movie, where these character’s risk it all for a chance at life. Most audiences will wait to see the answer inside of this dimension of mystery, and be disappointed for the note that the film concludes on with providing those answers. Self-interpretation is one thing, but a total lack of resolution with a character (Monte) who I was firmly invested in, feels like a cop-out. Last images are everything to open-ended movies, and the one we’re left with here definitely had me wanting more, but the sudden appearance of post-movie credits forced the air of suspense to diminish slowly with an inescapable feeling of unresolved disappointment.

My Grade: 7/10 or B-

Teen Spirit

Directed By Max Minghella

Starring – Elle Fanning, Agnieszka Grochowska, Archie Madekwe

The Plot – Violet (Fanning) is a shy teenager who dreams of escaping her small town and pursuing her passion to sing. With the help of an unlikely mentor (Grochowska), she enters a local singing competition that will test her integrity, talent and ambition. Driven by a pop-fueled soundtrack, “Teen Spirit” is a visceral and stylish spin on the Cinderella story.

Rated PG-13 for some suggestive content, and for teen drinking and smoking

POSITIVES

– Beautifully captured world of pop stardom. The combination of hazy, smoky cinematography by experimental artist Autumn Durald, as well as the well as Minghella behind the lens, gives way to a visual aesthetic that is easily one of my favorite so far in 2019, and left me transfixed for a rendering of a world that feels so far from our own for its consistency of beauty in every frame. The smoke in the air seems to follow Violet throughout her story, establishing a feeling of a stage play come to life, as well as this unshakeable desire to be a star that overlaps into her daily routine. What’s even more effective is how the use of smoke further enhances the volume of neon effects that overtake our screen, and dares us to look away from the hypnotic lure that we embrace in the same way Violet does.

– Deep-seeded material. It would be easy to make a film that serves as your typical rags-to-riches story in teenage pop euphoria, but Minghalla’s screenwriting lends itself to some adult themes and revealing looks into this members only world that is sure to change our views on the price of fame. The film uses ample screen time to invest in the fear associated with young, pretty women and how they’re objectified on-stage, as well as the backstage politics of dealing with an industry that is constantly trying to change who you are and what makes you special. It proves that Minghalla isn’t just resting on the power of his visual laurels, and his power of the pen is sure to move audiences with some thought-provoking strokes of career building that gives respect and pays its dues to every singer who has come before it.

– Stage presence. I knew that Elle Fanning could sing before this film, but the choice to perform all of her songs is something that I give her great respect for, but isn’t the lone surprise that she captivates us with. As Violet, Fanning oozes a level of confidence, sex appeal, and dance choreography that casts her usual reserved demeanor in previous films in remarkably new territory, and it’s easy to understand why she was cast as this overnight superstar, if only for the way she commands the attention of those she sings for, directly into the camera. I do have some problems with the song selections, which I will get to later, but this is a completely vulnerable actress who leaves everything on stage, and never leaves room to question how much she studied for the role, as her moves and eyes mimic modern day singers to a tee in terms of the total package.

– Additional ensemble. Aside from Fanning, who is spectacularly captivating in this role, the work of Rebecca Hall and Agnieszka Grochowska are especially effective in their respective roles, serving as a virtual good and bad angels on the shoulders of Violet, but not on the sides you would expect each of them to be on. Hall is this devilish record executive who has clearly fooled many young kids before Violet into signing their lives away, and it’s every bit as refreshing as it is unnerving to see the kind of grip that Hall has on the slimy demeanor that seeps its way into the wish of every ambitious singer, without her ever feeling cartoonish or cliche’d because of ambiguous direction. Grochowska is however the show-stealer for this critic, harvesting the surprisingly comedic backbone and overall heart of the movie, in a way that makes each scene he’s not in weaker because of it. His interaction with Violet is something that nuanced its way into my heart, and established a two-against-the-world vibe in the film’s second half that instilled great intrigue to their dynamic, and made a star out of this aging veteran, for fans of a new generation.

– Captivating editing. This feeds into the visual presentation, but deserves its own mention for how it visually communicates to the audience in this music video style fashion that doubles as Violet’s psyche. When she’s on stage performing, we cut frequently to events from her past that may be in her head at that particular moment. They could be things we haven’t yet seen as an audience engaging her story, or not, but the cuts are as sharp as glass here, offering us thought for the food that we are feasting on in terms of the music she performs, and the fantastical depiction inside is foreign enough that we immediately pick up on its surrealism. It proves that even during scenes of pause from the usual narrative, the movie never stops feeding us these monumental things that the protagonist has been through, and it taps into Minghalla’s grip on the material that speaks volumes to this being a passion project for him.

– I commend the script for deviating from the familiar beats of the teenage dream formula, and instilling a series of curveballs for the audience to feast on, that challenges Violet to to rise above the adversity that is keeping her from her dream. Without spoiling anything, I will say that making her anything but a sure thing definitely helps materialize the idea of stakes and weight into a film that is about something as silly as pop music, and better fleshes out Violet’s vulnerability to remind us of the little girl inside who has come this far. Despite a familiar outline, this film takes anything but the conventional route, and especially during the social media era, there’s this accountability for actions that could soil everyone’s perception of who they see on the television, and really reminds us how these artists play to the gimmick literally twenty-four hours a day, seven days a week.

– Perfect setting. What’s effectively nuanced about this small island in the United Kingdom being the foreground for this story is the small town mentality of its citizens, combined with the weathered buildings and almost lack of color on the townhouses that mentally channels Violet’s frustration with living a mundane life with such a rumbling talent, and this, as well as a couple of montage sequences early on in the film, illustrated the struggles not only with a daily routine, but also in the claustrophobia of a place where everyone knows everything, leaving much to be desired with seeing the world and living for today. Because of such, Wight Island feels like so much more than just a location, it feels like a state of mind for the troubled protagonist, who spots an opportunity to rid herself of the condemning associated with simply settling.

NEGATIVES

– Not long enough. At only 87 minutes, “Teen Spirit” is too rushed in pacing and too minimal of an effort to further elaborate on the compelling drama within the third act, that otherwise ties up a bit too neatly to feel believable. For my money, I could’ve easily used another twenty minutes to focus particularly on this area of the film, and further depict the effects that a competition this immense has on Violet’s crumbling psyche. I can appreciate a movie that never lags or feels uneven, but the tease of a darker twist late in this film is simply too seductive to walk away from, and the film is left trying to run through many themes and subplots in the final twenty minutes, that minimalize the trouble.

– Issues with the soundtrack. First of all, let me say that I am a fan of artists like Sia, Ellie Goulding, and Robyn. Their music summarize a complete listing of tracks that feel like a virtual dream team assembly from someone’s Ipod, that they threw together without the fear of lawsuits or cease and desist letters because of such. My problem comes with how they compliment Elle Fanning’s particular tones, and vitally affecting scenes where we’re supposed to feel the power of her performances. With the exception of the final performance from Violet, the other numbers reach for precision in notes from highly unorthodox singers with near-impossible vocal ranges that humble her. The performances aren’t bad, but they leave more to be desired in those convincing moments where Elle falls a bit too flat to add anything of dimension to these familiar heavy-hitters.

– “Flashdance” remake? This is obviously just one of the many genre comparison that I can make, but the similarities with “Flashdance” in particular are endless. Aside from familiar beats and story outlines from the 1983 dance movie, the very song “Flashdance What a Feeling” is re-used in this movie, and it points to the biggest problem that this movie has: finding its own originality to deviate from familiar formulas in the genre. In this regard, it feels like I’ve seen “Teen Spirit” before, and likely will see it again because of the nature of derivative green-lighting, but Minghalla’s greatest feat in visual pallet is also his biggest weakness in terms of narrative redundancy.

My Grade: 7/10 or B-

Missing Link

Directed By Chris Butler

Starring – Hugh Jackman, Zoe Saldana, Timothy Olyphant

The Plot – The charismatic Sir Lionel Frost (Jackman) considers himself to be the world’s foremost investigator of myths and monsters. The trouble is none of his small-minded high-society peers seems to recognize this. Sir Lionel’s last chance for acceptance by the adventuring elite rests on traveling to America’s Pacific Northwest to prove the existence of a legendary creature. A living remnant of Man’s primitive ancestry. The Missing Link (Zach Galifanakis).

Rated PG for action/peril and some mild rude humor

POSITIVES

– Flawless animation. Laika Studios continues to be my single favorite animation design company, if only for the vibrant dimensions that they add to inspirational stop-motion animation. Aside from the impeccable attention to detail that has been documented at taking hours to frame a single shot, Laika adds weight and reaction to elements of water and cold, that are often overlooked in animation properties. The liquid itself not only splashes with layers of believability, but also affects hair and make-up on character’s that seamlessly transcends this manufactured art form. Likewise, the cold locations in the screenplay thrive with rosy red cheeks and breathing clouds of exertion, that better help contrast the rapid geographical movements that are present in the film. It proves once more that nobody works even half as hard at Laika, and they deserve our money in truckloads.

– Exceptional casting. Everyone meets the mark of desired impact here, but a few in particular stand out above the rest. Jackman and Galifanakis establish in chemistry with vocal work what some duo’s don’t master side-by-side in multiple film installments, and it’s the interaction between them that helps better flesh out the personalities of their character’s that sometimes goes undeveloped. Jackman’s straight man routine and Galifanakis’ bumbling goofball vocal ranges are perfect for the illustration’s of the character’s, establishing an outline of transformation before our eyes that distances your mind from thinking that anyone else’s deliveries could work so fittingly with the combination of sight and sound that is playing out. The big steal for me however, was Timothy Olyphant, as a bounty hunter with a raspy southern drawl. There’s just enough familiarity in his delivery to identify who this is, but Timothy has the time of his life in giving raw, untapped energy to the role, that is sure to open more doors for him in animation opportunities. There isn’t a single actor who didn’t offer something compelling in the way of personality, and what’s more important is that none of the character’s ever rub together in striking similarities.

– A rare presentation. “Missing Link” was shot with a 2.35:1 aspect ratio, and stands as only the sixth animated film to indulge in such an expansive lens. Aside from properly capturing the depth in scale of these visually compelling territories of the globe, it also allows the character’s to play to the backdrop and never vice versa. The opposite can be said in movies where the people are usually the focus to what’s transpiring in establishing shots, but here the opposite can be said in the form of visual storytelling that better convey the distance traveled for Frost and Link, as well as the vulnerability for the latter, in being out of his comfort zone for his whole life. It’s a striking variation that will go overlooked by the casual film fan, but stands as the first thing you can take note of when you lose yourself in Laika’s visual hypnotic canvas.

– Fluid pacing. “Missing Link” clocks in at a measly 85 minutes. A piece of cake in terms of animated movies in 2019, which are known for overstaying their welcome. That never happens here, as aside from the opening ten minutes, which are used to set-up the central protagonist’s career of choice, the film progresses at a speed that constantly keeps moving without sacrificing the important themes and emotional response triggered by the journey of knowledge. There’s nothing in the film that I would cut or trim to further enhance my unflinching attention to it, and I feel it’s a testament to Butler’s dedication to the project to know just how much juice he can squeeze from a story that has peaks of familiarity as far as road trip movies are concerned.

– Positive hard-hitting message. Without spoiling anything, this is a screenplay that centers around the concepts of identity and acceptance, and it’s in these two themes where I feel that different age brackets will interpret differently, allowing plenty of conversation between generation’s looking for mutual interest. The pull of the surprisingly heavy third act was something that I didn’t fully see coming, especially with the movie’s dedication to humor, but I feel like it stands as a moral epiphany for Frost, all the while solidifying what’s important to Link, in terms of finding a place where he belongs. I always give animated movies extra points for sending youths home with a desire to make the world a better place, and I can’t credit this film enough for such a concept of reminder that digs deeper.

– Badass female lead. Saldana’s Adelina isn’t just a damsel in distress who is looking for a man, she is very much a commanding presence over the story’s movements, that one could argue develops into the strings that ties this trio together on their adventure. Further steps are taken to better flesh out her character, instill a sense of surprise with her movements playing against male counterparts, and even selling to the audience a branch-out sequel that would establish her at the helm of it all. What I found refreshing about this is the movie goes against history, especially in kids movies, where they feel routine in outlining a female character only to be rescued or serve as a love interest for the much further developed lead protagonist, and Adelina is someone who is every bit as intelligent as she is lethal, and I feel will have a bigger hand than anyone or anything else in bringing little girls in search of reflection, to the theater.

– Easter Eggs. Again, there is something for the youth, as well as something for the older audiences, that will get a kick out of connections to other properties that you might miss if you blink. The first one is in connection to Laika’s previous release “The Boxtrolls”, in which Frost has a report on the creatures of that movie. What’s cool about this is it confirms a Laika extended universe, and makes me wonder where other previous installments could play into in terms of the timeline of this story. As for the more obscure reference, 1984’s “A Passage To India” is mentioned in one scene, and even if this doesn’t make sense with the 19th century setting of this story, it is cleverly inserted in its dispersion into the dialogue.

NEGATIVES

– Forceful humor. More than the other four Laika films, there’s this overwhelming desire of comedy that rarely ever fit or connected with the intended reaction. I do think that this film can be funny, but it’s in the small doses of reactions transpiring in the background (See Monty Python), rather than lines of dialogue, which can sometimes feel far too juvenile when compared to the movie it’s playing against. I get that this is a movie that plays to a mostly younger audience, but I would be doing a disservice if I tried to convince my readers for a second that I came out of this film with an ample amount of hearty laughter. It never truly materialized, and I only hope that Laika can get back on track with investing in sight over sound, when it comes to gripping audiences.

– Too many villains. There’s little weight or attention donated to the film’s antagonist, which there are no shortage of. At one point early in the third act, we are dealing with three different antagonist’s sharing the screen at once, and it sort of feeds into the problem that none of them have been fleshed out in a way that makes any of them feel like an essential threat, nor pivotal presence to the entertaining integrity of the rapid-fire pacing. Every time they appear, they just feel like the proverbial conflict in the road to inevitability, and for my money I wish they would’ve removed two-thirds of them, and followed the other one closer, in terms of motives or connection to Frost.

– Uncomfortable stereotypes. This was one of the big problems I had with my favorite Laika film “Kubo and the Two Strings”, in which character’s of a particular geography are depicted in a way that isn’t the most complimentary. For “Missing Link”, it’s even worse, as a Himalayan family eat nothing but Yak to survive, and talk in a way that pushes the envelope to be funny rather than educational about different cultures. I’m not trying to label Laika as insensitive in their intentions, but once is an accident, twice is a shame, and three times is a pattern. If you absolutely require this direction in your movie, do it in a way that honors their traditions while making them comparible to the protagonist.

My Grade: 7/10 or B-

Mrs. Doubtfire

Directed By Chris Columbus

Starring – Robin Williams, Sally Field, Pierce Brosnan

The Plot – Eccentric actor Daniel Hillard (Williams) is an amusing and caring father. But after a disastrous birthday party for his son, Daniel’s wife Miranda (Field) draws the line and files a divorce. He can see his three children only once a week which doesn’t sit well with him. Daniel also holds a job at a TV studio as a shipping clerk under the recommendation of his liason. But when Miranda puts out an ad for a housekeeper, Daniel takes it upon himself to make a disguise as a Scottish lady named Mrs Doubtfire. And Daniel must also deal with Miranda’s new boyfriend Stu Dunemyer (Brosnan).

Rated PG-13 for some sexual references

POSITIVES

– Taboo subject matter. It’s refreshing, especially in the early 90’s, that a children’s movie takes the time to convey the complications and effects from a distanced marriage that has run its course over many years, and what “Mrs. Doubtfire” preserves in originality, it also brings with it an underlying tug at the heartstrings for compelling drama that every member of the family can enjoy. This is very much a story that is reflective of the kind of things that were going on in my household, and what’s even more commendable is that the film maintains its set of consequences all the way till the end, choosing never to relent on the real problems that originally existed within this marriage for the sake of a happy ending. What’s even more accredited is that my opinion of importance for the film has changed as I’ve gotten older. I used to think it was Williams alone that made the movie, but as I got older I realized it’s the believability of the relationship dynamics that preserve a level of heart rarely seen in a movie for all ages.

– Elevation in the material. The humor in the movie is alright, but made even better by Williams’ endless raw energy to the commitment of the role, that would otherwise stop these gags dead in their tracks. Daniel’s personality transcends that of the animated characters who he voices, juggling a double threat of sarcasm and quick wit that make it easy to depict the perfect father and testing husband in the same breath. For my money, it’s the times of vulnerability over the changing complexity of Daniel’s world, like the Children’s Services interviews, that left more of an impact over me than the physical humor ever could, bringing with it some unforgettable one-liners that couldn’t be quoted or remembered without Williams’ one-of-a-kind familiarity.

– Plenty of material to fill two hours. For a comedy in the 90’s, 120 minutes might be asking a lot, especially in the waning attention span of younger audiences, but “Mrs. Doubtfire” is all about dynamics that ultimately lead to Daniel becoming a better person for himself and his kids. So it’s in the time dedicated to these dynamics that better materialize this transformation, and help better establish the characters surrounding the film’s dual protagonist. My favorites are Doubtfire’s interaction with Stuart, depicting a virtual tug-of-war where only one man sees all of the cards laid out on the table, as well as Daniel’s personal time with his kids, in which each of them displays a different emotion towards their father. It proves that not only is Daniel fighting a physical battle within himself and the Doubtfire persona, but also in many battles surrounding him that demand him to try harder in ways he never could’ve imagined.

– An important lesson. Many people have a favorite line from this movie, but the one throwaway line that I’ve always taken with me in my critic career is the one at the dinner meeting, in which Daniel describes to Mr. Lundy (Played warmly by Robert Prosky) what it takes for kids shows to succeed. He says “Don’t patronize kids. They’re little people, you have to personalize. Make it fun and educational. If it’s something you’d enjoy, they’d enjoy”. What’s so important about this line is it establishes what so many kids movies (Especially in modern day) get wrong about the children’s genre of films. Boisterous explosions and fart noises are on display instead of heart, and this is something that I’ve always tried to communicate to my readers, who think that judging kids movies so personally is ridiculous.

– Firing on all cylinders. This is a very utilized cast on every end of the age spectrum, and far just beyond Williams’ dual threat dedication to the role, that sometimes required as many as twenty takes and multiple cameras per scenes, due to Williams’ constant improvisation, there is much depth as well in the supporting ensemble. Sally Field’s Miranda juggles a complexity of what’s right for her children versus what’s right for her heart, and even though she is the responsible one, we never take anger in the mature decisions that she is forced to make. Likewise, Pierce Brosnan is also an exceptional antagonist for Daniel without becoming a cartoonish version of a character. Brosnan’s charm and articulate demeanor is something that moves him miles in feeling like a perfect suitor for Miranda’s now empty nest, and Columbus masters him with being everything that Daniel is not. The kids are also surprisingly on-point, especially that of 8-year-old Mara Wilson, who was at the height of her career during this picture. Wilson gives some shall we say adult line reads, but is delivered in a way that doesn’t feel forced or manufactured like most kid actors do. Mara’s range is right at eye level with her respective age, and that helps these scenes of engagement feel all the more natural because of it.

– Academy award winning make-up. This is obviously the staple for the movie, as the whole plot is based on the transformation from Daniel to Mrs. Doubtfire. While there are some believability issues on the very size of Doubtfire’s physical profile, particularly in the immense shoulder structure, I can say that the prosthetics involved do a solid job of making Williams familiar face virtually disappear in the role. What’s even more credible is that the movie takes three minutes of a montage sequence to show you everything involved in the behind-the-scenes tweaking of the actor, an aspect on camera that you rarely get to see, if only during DVD additional extras that are never anything but tacking-on for special features. The facial wrinkling feels authentic of the natural aging pattern, and the wig and wardrobe combination are the perfect closing notes on bringing to life this complete elderly immersion. An interesting note is that Robin Williams own real life son didn’t recognize him in the costume until he began speaking, cementing that the work was years ahead of its time in terms of attention to detail.

– As an adaptation. Many people never knew that the movie is based off of a novel by Anne Fine in 1987, called Madame Doubtfire, and when comparing the two forms of media, the movie is around 90% faithful, all the while changing the things necessary to translate it smoothly to film. Of the major differences from the novel, Natalie (Mara Wilson) is the first child to find out it’s her father in costume, the children as a whole are more rebellious and almost always act out in self-interest, and Daniel is an actor, not a voice actor. On the latter, I think the change is necessary because it makes it easier to believe Daniel’s voice distortion as much more versatile when you consider he has been doing it his whole life. Likewise, we would never have such great scenes as the prank calling one to Miranda, in which he sports no fewer than seven different voices while calling.

NEGATIVES

– Third act problems. Aside from the fact that Daniel commits to two different people in the same place on the same night at the same time, the believability in changing four hour prosthetics with such ease in such a confined space is something that I have a great strain in coming to terms with. At the very least, this would take around ten minutes to completely strip off what he’s currently wearing, then another ten minutes to change in to the next costume, and that would seem a bit suspicious to two parties that are patiently awaiting his arrival. This set-up as a whole is a desperate attempt at bringing every on-going plot to a head, for the convenient third act wrap-up Not to mention how not one single person asks a single question as to why Doubtfire is carrying in a gigantic gym bag to an elegant restaurant in the first place.

– Conventional filmmaking constantly on display. Part of what has always bothered me about Columbus as a director is his complete inability to include any form of excitement or experimentation to his presentations, and “Mrs. Doubtfire” is surely no different. The camera work is mundane, operating at the usual character eye level frame that we’re used to, as well as nothing of tantalization with long takes or unorthodox editing style in pasting everything together. Likewise, the musical score from Howard Shore is about as uninspiring and par for the course as you can imagine, garnering a balance between flute and piano music that is sure to be playing the next time you are fortunate enough to spend more than ten seconds in an elevator or dental office. For me, lack of style is the one glaring negative that the movie features, and if it managed to even attempt to carve out a 90’s niche in cinematography personality, then I think it would better prove that not just anyone could’ve helmed Robin Williams in drag.

– Too many liberties with the final cut. I watched the DVD special edition of this film, and was shocked and dismayed to see that some of the most important and character-driven scenes were left on the cutting room floor, leaving some obvious holes in development once you’ve seen them. For one, there isn’t a scene in the movie where we truly witness Daniel’s misery without being around his kids, but the deleted scenes features such a scene, and on top of it does a strong job in displaying the case for Williams as a serious actor, a fact that was unknown in 1993. We also rarely get enough opportunities at seeing the negatives of divorce from a child perspective, and that too is included in a scene that primarily focuses on the effect of the kids hearing the cause of parental squabbles. Scenes like these could’ve better supplanted “Mrs. Doubtfire” with more of a much-needed dramatic pulse to better illustrate that real lives were hanging in the balance here. Without them, there’s the unshakeable conclusion that no matter what, everything will be alright, and I think it’s a huge disservice to the paralyzing nature of a child’s world crumbling down.

EXTRA

– Robin Williams in real life divorced his wife to marry his nanny. In the film, his wife divorces him, and he becomes her nanny. Strange.

My Grade: 7/10 or B

Five Feet Apart

Directed By Justin Baldoni

Starring – Haley Lu Richardson, Cole Sprouse, Claire Forlani

The Plot – Stella Grant (Richardson) is every bit a seventeen-year-old. She’s attached to her laptop and loves her best friends. But unlike most teenagers, she spends much of her time living in a hospital as a cystic fibrosis patient. Her life is full of routines, boundaries and self-control – all of which is put to the test when she meets an impossibly charming fellow CF patient named Will Newman (Sprouse). There’s an instant flirtation, though restrictions dictate that they must maintain a safe distance between them. As their connection intensifies, so does the temptation to throw the rules out the window and embrace that attraction. Further complicating matters is Will’s potentially dangerous rebellion against his ongoing medical treatment. Stella gradually inspires Will to live life to the fullest, but can she ultimately save the person she loves when even a single touch is off limits?

Rated PG-13 for thematic elements, adult language and suggestive material

POSITIVES

– Familiar premise. An aspect with the romantic genre is that you often have these two people in love who simply can’t be together because of contrasting worlds tearing them apart, and as to where that plot is redundant for this particular genre of film, the necessity of it here makes sense more than ever. Considering these are two people suffering from a very dangerous strain of CF, it forces them to keep their distance so as to avoid possible death, and what this does is not only give the premise reason for its existence, but it also gives it immense weight in the form of the conflict itself. To be together means that these two will sacrifice touch, and it really begs the question if a relationship can survive without such intimacy.

– Responsible approach with its subject matter. Aside from this being a mostly entertaining film in whole, the task of educating its audience on the specifics of Cystic Fibrosis is taken with enough tender care in explanation that makes it so much more than just another movie. The director and actors spent ample time with a Cystic Fibrosis foundation in order to capitalize on accuracy, as well as the hopelessness of the care given to the medical staff themselves. What’s vital here is that nothing is glossed over or fancied up for the screen itself. The depictions in the film can look and sound grueling and dejecting for its audience, but without those valuable depictions, the film would be doing an extreme disservice to the impact of living with a disease that cuts literally everything short.

– Method of exposition insertion. Stella’s character has her own Youtube channel, and aside from this aspect of the film inevitably feeling someday dated, the aspect of it allows the film to tell some pivotal moments in her life that the screenplay might otherwise have difficulty conquering. Through her daily VLOG’s, Stella explains what impact the disease has on her, some of her favorite tastes in her otherwise limited world, and the importance of a missing family member that has weighed heavily on her development. This gimmick hasn’t worked in other films because of how much it’s often trying to convey in such a small window, but the details here feel natural and synthetic to the kind of videos and conversations that are prominent on video sharing websites in modern times, and allows us the audience to pick up on things at the exact same time that our co-protagonist Will is.

– Cute, charming lead cast. This is definitely a leading cast kind of film, as the supporting characters are kind of reduced to keep them front-and-center, but it allows the chemistry of Richardson and Sprouse to shine because of the care given to the progression of their relationship. The movie takes ample time in preserving them as friends first before dropping the romantic star-crossed lovers angle that was promised, and I appreciated this because it does sort of depict how love is a progress that sometimes doesn’t fit right away. As for performances, Richardson is given her first meaty dramatic role and thrives with ample colors. Stella has no shortage of running tears or vibrancy in personality, and for Haley’s first dramatic lead it really opens your eyes to how the young actress can captivate audiences with an arrangement of emotions that are brought out and returned like Mister Rogers suit jackets. Sprouse also has plenty to be grateful for, mostly in the form of precise comedic timing and a conflicted character who feels like the responsible shoulder that the story so desperately requires. Sprouse’s Will walks that fine line of responsibility on the eve of his 18th birthday no less, and his honest outlook on life gave his character many miles for his age, and actually turned out to be my favorite character in the film.

– Intimacy in camera work. While I wasn’t blown away with the complete presentation of the movie’s cinematography and movements behind the lens, I can say that the variety in handheld and still-frame pageantry shows great responsibility from Baldoni’s nurturing hands. The framing here is exceptional, bringing with it a necessity to focus on the facial registry of the actors respectively, and giving us the audience and immersive quality to what is transpiring. This allows the film to frame its two leads close in ways that the disease inside of the story keeps them conflicted, conjuring up a feeling of satisfying fantasy in ways that we know will rarely ever pay off in real time.

– Elements of the novel coming to life. Like most successful films in 2019, this film is based off of a book with its own artistic vibes that the movie felt necessary to bring along. Featured in the movie are drawings that were prominent in the first run editions of the novel itself, and these portraits can be seen and mentioned not only in the artistic capabilities of Will’s ever-trusting notebook, but also in Stella’s hospital room home away from home. Each of these hold strong merit to their inclusion to the film, and adds a wink-and-nod element to longtime fans of the novel, who are otherwise tired of the originality of such stories being forgotten for movies that take more than a few liberties. That isn’t such the case here, as “Five Feet Apart” proves that a book and movie can live together in near perfect harmony, without one infringing on the benefits of the other.

– One stage setting. I’m a sucker for movies that exist in one continuous place, so much so that I commend the movie for illustrating the claustrophobia for these kids being forced to live without much escape, as well as its ability to stay mostly entertaining considering its landscapes stay almost entirely grounded. It helps that the film stays faithful to the two leads instead of depicting the reactions of parents or supporting family. This not only allows the film to set up this world inside of a world, but it remains a testament to the movie’s confidence for how it’s able to constantly maintain my interest considering visually it is going nowhere. You don’t see one stage setting films often anymore, but “Five Feet Apart” proves that this angle can succeed if the story is gripping enough, and the characters are easily engaging.

NEGATIVES

– Prolonged dramatic tension. Right around the beginning of the third act, the wear of redundancy in the screenplay feels evident, and it forces the story to take some forceful directions in logic to grip the audience in their seats and push forward towards the two hour run time that Baldoni so desperately wants. For one, most of the typical third act distancing that we’ve become saddled with in movies feels particularly unnecessary here, and could easily be resolved with much-needed communication. One such occasion with Will distancing himself from Stella comes out of nowhere, and had me scratching my head because of things about his disease that we must believe he is learning for the first time in his life. In addition, the third act scene away from the hospital is not only ridiculous for how many red herrings it forces against us the audience that takes away from the dramatic elements of the scene, but Stella herself goes against established directions in her character with a decision that could easily help her. Instead, a simple decision leads to irresponsibility on one character that costs two, and only brings forth a visible line of desperation that this story couldn’t escape from.

– This might be the worst hospital ever. In addition to having no security cameras of any kind to keep an eye on its patients who just might interact with one another, there are nurses who ignore monitors going off and dismissing it as nothing more than a patient sitting on a button. I get that the reason this angle happened is because this very thing does happen earlier on in the film, but there isn’t a nurse on this planet who asks questions first and takes action later, and it just made me question how many lawsuits this place may have fought through along the way. In fact, the one nurse explains that a couple already died on her watch for them interacting behind staff’s back. Maybe that incident might lead to some tougher safety precautions, but no, we need it for the plot device, darling.

– Unnecessary opening monologue. Once again, we are treated to narration by an actor that is every bit pointless as it is spoiling to what it gives away. When you think about it, you know this character will probably live considering they are talking in the past tense. Not only this, but it doesn’t add to any particular scene or established plot because it is stating the obvious to anyone who has already seen the trailer. This is one of those major flaws that I hate in films, and it only further convolutes the relationship that a movie this cerebral establishes with the audience it conveys to. If it is indeed purposeful, take it out of the movie and see what it changes.

My Grade: 7/10 or B-