Super Size Me 2: Holy Chicken!

Directed By Morgan Spurlock

Starring – Morgan Spurlock

The Plot – Morgan Spurlock reignites his battle with the food industry, this time from behind the register, as he opens his own fast food restaurant.

Rated PG-13 for brief strong adult language

POSITIVES

– Informatively provocative. In the fashion of the original film, this one as well has no shortage of scandalous facts and revelations to open eyes on everyone from Tyson Chicken to the advertising market for its unabashed manipulation of the consumer. In the first film, Spurlock taught us how our lifestyles had a negative effect on us, but in “Holy Chicken”, it’s really how that lifestyle has an effect on the animals who were sacrificed for the finished product, outlining a level of selfishness weighed heavily by the irony of a culture supposedly seeking change in the choices they’re given. There were times during this picture when I was angry, sad, and even grateful for the way Morgan turns the joke on those responsible, and through an expansive experimentation throughout the many fast food chains that make up the landscape, he proves that so very little outside of restaurant appearance has changed in fifteen years.

– Our leading man. While I definitely appreciate Spurlock more as a leader behind the camera rather than the one in front of it, I can’t dispel what his level of journalism brings to the uncovering of the information presented before us. As a detective, Spurlock’s blunt sarcasm is easily his greatest strength, narrating and navigating us through no shortage of on-screen guests and factual evidence at his disposal made even more appalling by the emphasis he gives in summarizing it all. He’s certainly a man not afraid of getting his hands dirty with the subject matter, putting himself front-and-center in the shoes of the many who experience these scandals. It establishes a bond between director and audience rarely ever seen on film, and allows him to come down to our level of reality when documenting it for the cameras.

– Riveting second act. This was easily the highlight of the film for me, as a conspiracy scandal against Big Chicken was brought to light through a series of farmer interviews that really struck a chord with the dreamer inside of me. What’s so endearing about this subplot is the way it really halts the humor of the film dead in its tracks, giving us a hard to swallow reality for many American workers forced to give up the family business because of the humbling circumstance brought forth by 21st century capitalism. Spurlock keeps the camera on them and allows the tears to flow, embracing the hurt ensued like a warm blanket of conscience that resonates soundly with anyone who watches it. With so much money flowing everywhere in the fast food industry, but especially the chicken wars, why are the people who make the biggest sacrifices the ones who are left with such very little proof of positives for their contributions?

– Effective animation. The most important continuity between films definitely comes in the form of these hilariously grim animated sequences that give visuals to what Spurlock is narrating through. These scenes prove fruitfully that the film has a strong sense of humor, and it’s one that uses animal torture to convey the message of what we otherwise can’t show in a PG-13 documentary. What I love about this besides the fact that the animation is so extreme in its rendering, is the way these visuals never allow the audience the same freedoms that they have been living through their whole life with when enjoying this product. They have to endure what it takes to feed their gluttony, and it’s nothing short of astonishing when you consider that actual animals go through this consumerism machine every single minute of every day. The coloring and fluidity of the sequences are gorgeous from an artistic level, and fill in the gaps of curiosity brilliantly during these sporadic moments throughout the picture.

– Razor sharp editing. This is especially important during a documentary because the words of the narrator and imagery that is transpiring have to move soundly throughout the many conversations and factual inserts, and in that regard, this was one of the best storytelling methods that I have seen in quite a long time. My favorite comes in the form of Morgan at the scene talking to someone, and the subject matter in question peeks into frame at just the exact moment to make the mention more effective dramatically. For instance, there’s a scene when the inevitable day comes for the chickens that Spurlock is raising, and the pacing of the editing reveals the big bombshell from the facial resonations of the feathered flock called into question. Besides this, we get a few exceptionally inserted newsreel clips of everything from the original “Super Size Me” and the effect that it had on the fast food nation, to shameful advertising that are heavy in manipulation. It’s great to have these examples present when they are brought up, and if nothing else Spurlock is exceptional as a director for always meeting his audience at eye level when stirring the proof into the pudding.

– As a sequel. There’s many decisions creatively that allows “Holy Chicken” to stand out on its own, all the while preserving the integrity and consistency of the original picture, which stands as a cultural landmark for many. In the initial first few scenes, we are taken through the events of fast food nation since the documentary aired, displaying the impact and awareness that Spurlock prescribed on many who were living with their eyes wide open for the first time. Where this film differs creatively from its predecessor, aside from focusing almost entirely on chicken, is the film’s on-the-ground approach that sees things through many different sets of eyes, instead of just Morgan’s. We are told the effects of the mass public in the original, but here we are shown it, and it’s an evolved and matured growth for a filmmaker who sticks so close to the subject matter between films.

– Genius ending. What better scene to be my favorite than the one that allows this film to end on a high note while maintaining almost all of the momentum that it attains on this steadfast journey of saturation? To say that the payoff is big for this film is an understatement, so instead I will indulge in the fact that it’s a cynically educated prescription for many who take truth in advertising. The saddest disappointment of this ending is that what is created physically doesn’t actually exist, because if it did it would be the tastefully devious approach at firing back against cryptic restaurants who shelter us from so much that is reality. The way this scene is edited in general realization is only surpassed by the mentally vapid’s inability to catch on, and the final threat that Spurlock makes towards the camera is one that challenges those businesses to do better.

NEGATIVES

– Phony interviews. Having sat through literally thousands of documentaries in my life, I would be foolish to think that the interactions between Spurlock and his guests were a hundred percent truthful, but with that said, the meeting up of each guest feels as artificial as a scripted film could manufacture. Call it terrible acting on the part of his guests, or logic suggesting that Morgan couldn’t just walk into an office with a film crew and start filming without permission, but these scenes during the first few moments of the film feel overly constructed to the point that the dialogue itself is lost in this cloud of desired reactions and perfect framing placements that chew away at the concepts of spontaneity. The film should’ve definitely just stuck with a dual camera interview sequence, which was primarily prominent during the first film. This cuts out the introductory period of Morgan meeting with them, that is every bit unnecessary as it is obvious for lacking the element of surprise.

– Pacing issues. Most of the movie is sound in its transitions and keeping the beat of the story pumping throughout the many angles it attacks its subject matter at, but the strings of conceit sneak into this film, outlining the fame of the same man who has been in tabloids for reasons not of the flattering kind. Occasionally, the storytelling will halt progress to squeeze in Morgan’s blossoming fame with how it complicates and challenges the idea behind this film. If you did this once or twice, fine, but there are four different times when this reality is brought into light, and after a while you just have to write it off as reflecting of the pretentious kind, which often comes in the form of a filmmaker receiving his first taste of global attention. It stands as the only thing that I would cut from the film entirely, and presents the lone speed bump on an otherwise perfect run time and storytelling progression for the film.

– Undecided. If you are going to make a film as judgmental and condemning as the material conveys, then you should have the guts to point blame at someone more substantial than the shadow figure associated with Big Chicken. It feels like a bit of a cop-out for this film to not have any political or social conscience to align itself with, especially considering that it has the uncanny ability to point at the problem, yet offers no solutions to deviate from reality. One could justify that the solution in itself is to quit feeding into the slaughter of animals all together, but that would then open up a bunch of other problems and freedom fights that I would rather not get into. Apparently, neither would Spurlock. Overall, it feels like too safe of a stance to truly appreciate the focus of the mission at hand, and leaves “Holy Chicken” with all cluck and no bite when it comes to feeling like a fearless documentary.

My Grade: 7/10 or C

Downton Abbey

Directed By Michael Engler

Starring – Matthew Goode, Maggie Smith, Michelle Dockery

The Plot – The continuing story of the Crawley family, wealthy owners of a large estate in the English countryside in the early 20th century.

Rated PG for thematic elements, some suggestive material, and adult language

POSITIVES

– Satisfies both sides. For longtime fans of the show, the big screen debut for Abbey’s world of colorful characters and vibrantly rich tastes is one in which nothing gets lost in translation. In terms of structure and storytelling consistency, this felt very much like a two hour episode of the television show, with even Engler himself, a staple in directing the show, there to helm its debut on the silver screen. The contrast to that is the new viewers to this world, like myself, who have only seen a few episodes, or never seen it at all. This film will appeal to them as well, because the plot in the film never feels over complicated, or relying upon knowledge of the history of these characters. It’s easily accessible for a new legion of fans, and one that I feel is entertaining enough to peak their interests further towards diving into the lengthier investment of the TV show head first.

– Strong humor. This was something that I certainly wasn’t expecting from the film, and it’s one that made my sit even easier when immersing myself into a film and era that I’m usually not smitten for. There is a lot of English style humor littered throughout the picture, most of which lands effortlessly, and all of which serves a bigger purpose in fleshing out these upper class citizens to human levels of personality at our delight. Sometimes it is a bit slapstick, and that direction doesn’t bode well for the dramatic tension that the film calls for during the second act, but the endless charisma and stark contrasts in so many different characters co-existing under one roof is too conflicting not to feel comedic, and it proved that “Downton Abbey” successfully juggles humor every bit as capably as it does dramatic enveloping.

– Complete team film. Move over Avengers, because the Abbey crew are here to stir their melting pot of personalities towards a bigger common goal. What I love about this film and setting is that there isn’t really a central protagonist, but rather an entire family and service staff that each share ample screen time in realizing these personalities, further adding to the bond that each of them have shared for many episodes under many years. Sure, I do have my favorites, mainly in the grip of Michelle Dockery’s future dilemma that has her feeling pulled from every direction, Allen Leach’s brave and humbling fight against a society fearing change, and of course Maggie Smith’s bickering traditionalist, Violet Crowley. The latter is definitely my favorite, but this is clearly an ensemble piece when it comes to screen time and storytelling focus, outlining a selfless effort all around that fires on all cylinders to give importance to each respective arc.

– Beautiful production value. Easily my favorite aspect of the film is the dynamic of wardrobe, set design, and stage props that transforms us back to the earliest days of the early 20th century seamlessly. In fact, there’s such a consistency when it comes to these elements that you don’t see these famous actors for being who they are off of the screen, you see them as real lived-in people who were each pivotal pieces of this long ago but not forgotten age. The elegantly flowing gowns for the ladies, and three piece suits for the gentlemen stimulate a class in taste that is inescapable throughout the many patrons that celebrate under the Abbey’s quarters. The set backgrounds and interior decorations offer just enough variation in design and coloring that further elaborates the immensity of this one-stage setting, and the attention paid to the dinner silverware, fine china, and sparkling glasses alike offers an indulgence on rich tastes so closely that it makes us feel like a guest that is sitting at this very table. This proves that “Abbey” really is much more than a movie, it’s the very invitation that the trailers promised.

– Eye for Engler. This is my first delve into the mind of Michael Engler on the big screen, but it’s one that surprised me for how this TV-dominated director competently makes the transition to film with a wondrous eye. Besides admiring each pivotal piece of the characters along the way, giving them almost two hours of screen time to interact with our attention, Engler’s greatest feat of strength is definitely the movements behind the camera that seduce us with the Abbey’s charms. The swooping establishing shots, as well as the fine compromise of grounded and aerial depictions offers a versatility of shot composition to prove this man isn’t just resting on the laurels of repetition to sell its charms. This is a director clearly in love with this setting, as he rightfully should be, but it’s clear in the way that he stalks this setting, as well as indulges on the planning that goes into this big event, that he cements the importance that setting plays alongside story. I couldn’t imagine a better director for this film, and it will satisfy fans of the show to know that Michael is a big reason why this thing is a success in the first place.

– Chilling musical score. When I use that statement, it’s usually to capture the essence of horror, but the goosebumps induced on me by composer John Lunn is something that played wonders into capturing the immensity and wonder of a world far from our own. Aside from the show theme, which plays a few times with a few tweaked variations throughout the film, the collection of orchestral numbers conjured an air of equality between sentimentality and prestige that summarizes everything that this film is about. It’s another example of the producers of the movie bringing back another familiar element from the show to make this transition as easy as possible, and a lot like the same way that Engler establishes a visual entrancement, Lunn audibly enchants us with resounding capture of visual props and styles that are then transferred in musical form. It creates a perfect wedding of sight and sound that makes everything else easier because of that consistency.

– Relevant today. As they always say, “the more things change, the more they stay the same”. That phrase is a great one for “Abbey” because there were a couple of arcs of conflict in this movie that are synonymous with exactly what our world is still going through today. Why is this relevant? Well, besides linking up these two polarly opposite time periods in closer capacity than we originally thought, it offers an air of tragedy to the aspect that the less we learn from history, the more we’re doomed to repeat it. This goes for many subplots within the film, but none more prominent than a gay character arc that touched my heart deeper than anything else in the movie did, and really unfortunately initialized the hate for homosexual love that has grown with each passing generation. I can imagine that this age of storytelling more than any makes this subplot even more difficult to fathom, but I have respect to the script for elaborating on the struggles of a world not yet ready to change, allowing a film from the early 20th century to offer a surprisingly relevant level of social commentary for 2019.

NEGATIVES

– First act repetition. Long before many other subplots are introduced or followed through with, the first act focuses entirely on this royalty storyline involving the staff and families preparing for the visit of the king and queen. Honestly, there’s very little movement that you can expect from a direction like this, that should only take up around twenty minutes tops of film. That is not the case, as roughly the first 35 minutes of this movie is every character reacting to this shocking announcement, and the level of confidence, or lack there of, that they are attacking it with. It fumbles the early pacing a little bit, especially during the time when the movie should be hooking you in, and points to a few scenes that could’ve easily been cut to trim the finished 117 minute run time. Not a major problem, but one that creates more problems than it should initially for a first time fan like me who is trying to invest in these people.

– No weight. It’s important to invest in vulnerability when it comes to depicting rich characters on screen, and unfortunately this movie has very little of it to truly make the conflicts pop with uncertainty. This group runs into very little trouble that they can’t solve by the following scene, and it kind of only instills a temporary sense of urgency, instead of long term adversity that is needed for character growth and audience investment mutually. When you really think about it, there’s such little permanence or change that comes from this movie, establishing a level of superfluous storytelling that could easily be removed from the entire Downton Abbey timeline if someone who hated it really wanted to.

– Dishonesty. I get that it’s a television show-turned-movie, but I couldn’t escape this glaring noise coming from the depiction of British royalty that is a bit too polished to feel legitimate. My problem is in the lack of self-entitlement that is completely not present in their demeanor, making them feel like one of the family, especially considering so little time or attention is given to further flesh out their characters. As crazy as it sounds, it rides quite often on the side of British Propaganda, mainly just for how it glorifies the British class system during the 18th and early 19th century, which created an aristocracy that was anything but positively endearing. For my money, I could’ve used more struggle between the management of the house and the visiting guests. It would’ve presented an internal conflict within the staff that forced them to do things against their bitter judgements, and it definitely would’ve presented a greater conflict that solved the previous two negatives that I mentioned.

My Grade: 7/10 or C+

Hustlers

Directed By Lorene Scafaria

Starring – Jennifer Lopez, Constance Wu, Julia Stiles

The Plot – Inspired by the viral New York Magazine article, the film follows a crew of savvy former strip club employees who band together to turn the tables on their Wall Street clients.

Rated R for pervasive sexual material, drug content, adult language and nudity

POSITIVES

– Cross brand appeal. “Hustlers” is the perfect date movie, in that it offers plenty for both sides of the gender coin to thoroughly invest in. For the ladies, it’s a story of female empowerment, and lashing back against a system and its corrupt brokers, for the roles they played on nearly bringing our society down whole. For the guys, it’s obviously the benefit of seeing so many beautiful women showing off their stage presence, balancing sexy and classy handedly with very little nudity shown throughout the picture. This aspect got my foot in the door, but as the film continued, I found myself further investing in the beats and conflicts of the characters, putting to bed any pre-conceived notions about me supposedly knowing what kind of movie I was getting myself into.

– Storm of Scafaria. It’s perfect that this film is held together by female hands because in addition to battling back against stereotypes for the depicted career choice, at its core it’s really a story of female control, and the consequences that this plays on male masculinity. Lorene is brilliant in getting to know her characters first, but it’s her presentation that truly grips this story into unconventional methods, often feeling like the female “Wolf of Wall Street” for all of the depth contained inside. There’s also a devilishly delicious amount of humor that compliments the dramatic elements superbly, and rides the waves of sharp shift effortlessly because someone as capable as Lorene emits irony in these extraordinary situations. This is a director who understands the psychology of being a mother, a friend, a provider, and even a fighter, and it’s in those many molds where she grants us one of the more compelling outlines for female conflicts than we’re typically used to, establishing these protagonists as the shade of grey between good and bad.

– Moral compass. One of the things concerning me about this film heading into it was how much compassion I would have for a group as dirty as the men they deceive, and thankfully the movie is responsible enough not to invest enough stock in one side or the other. Yes, you may feel inspired by the stand these women take against their suitors, but the screenplay presents us more than enough examples of what they’re doing being wrong, complete with a few of the ladies even questioning if they’ve crossed a line that they will never get back to. This gives the characters more of a human element than I was remotely expecting, and doesn’t feel like the events in the film are being sugar-coated for the convenience of buying them unearned empathy. A lot of wrong takes place during “Hustlers”, but the attention given to consequences and moments of self-clarity prove that it’s teaching a greater lesson than a get rich quick scheme, it’s really carving out a cautionary tale for taking life into your own hands.

– Ladies night. Everyone minus maybe Cardi B hits the mark brilliantly here, but it’s especially Lopez and Wu who easily steal the show. The most time is definitely dedicated to their characters, but Wu’s fiery emotional registry combined with Lopez’ guidance over her learning ladies reminds you that there’s no place you’d rather be. This is easily Jennifer’s best performance to date, and I say that because of the control she exerts over the attention of each scene, as well as the jaw-dropping impressive feats that she masters physically in such shape-shifting stage sequences. Even after a couple of decades of captivating us on-screen with her endless beauty, J-Lo proves that it’s her gravity over dramatic tension that proves she’s much more than a pretty face. Her and Wu are giving everything to their respective roles, and it’s the dynamic established early with a pivotal coat-sharing scene that perfectly sets the stage for the bond that develops between them.

– Style AND substance. Beneath this real life story that is playing out before our very eyes, we are treated to these mesmerizing sequences of flare being played out, bringing us wholeheartedly into the wild nightlife of a strip club and all of its seedy patrons. The neon lighting is a must for the kind of visual hypnosis that the ladies have over their prey, and the handheld camera compositions allow us to follow them every step of the journey, from pregame warm-ups to sales interactions with customers. Scafaria adds a touch of class and trance to the underbelly of New York nightlife, even preserving her nudity deposits during the moments when their inclusion doesn’t dominate or take away the focus of the scene. Ironically enough, there are two scenes involving nudity, and one is male nudity. Take from that what you will.

– The music. Completely brilliant choice of songs, as well as articulation in incorporation to make the music serve a storytelling gimmick of its own. On-stage, the song, dance, and essence of the environment play out seamlessly together, cementing an artistic consistency that fires on all cylinders. Off stage is where the real magic happens however, as the topical nature of a cohesive soundtrack adds a touch of humor and relevancy to what is being discussed by our characters in the foreground. For instance, there’s a scene where Wu’s grandmother discusses meeting Frankie Valli, and sure enough playing in the background is “Rag Doll” by the very same artist. This is far from the only example of this brilliance, but I would rather not spoil the charm and cerebral nature of its intention any further than I already have.

– Sound enhancements. During the third act, there are these measures taken during interview scenes that prove Scafaria has complete control over her story. It comes in the form of audible tweaks that will leave the audience wondering if the theater they watch it in is having technical difficulties, but actually its use plays perfectly into what is transpiring within the heat of the scene. One character shuts off a recorder, and suddenly we can’t hear the dialogue that is being exchanged between them, giving us a full immersion into the recorder serving as the gimmick that we are hearing played out in real time. Another example muffles a microphone during a sting being orchestrated, and it establishes another level of scene transformation that I never truly thought about prior to this movie. From this point forward, I will be looking for this in every movie where a character carries a mini microphone with them. Truly marvelous.

NEGATIVES

– Abrupt pacing. Easily the biggest problem that this film faces is the fact that it should’ve been longer. I say this especially during the first act of the movie because so many elements of dramatic tension are compartmentalized and rushed, leading to diminished returns later on when a scene reaches for them. The second half of the movie definitely slows it down more satisfyingly, but there are still angles within the holes being filled in with the investigation that don’t feel fully rendered, leaving us with a neat and tidy explanation of a real life story where there’s definitely more to it, especially since I’ve read the article that the movie is based on. If this film lands around two hours, it can take its time with more of highs, which would further flesh out the tragedy of the lows, and allow us the audience to see the stark contrasts in both extremes.

– Plot device. The central character in the film is Constance Wu, who is being interviewed by Stiles’ reporter character to detail all of the events of her time with Jennifer Lopez’ character. My problem with this angle are some conversations and events that take place without Wu’s character ever being present at the scene. Because the film uses Wu as a storytelling device, we rely on her to present us all of the facts, but anyone with half a brain could sniff out the logic that persists in events transpiring where she is nowhere to be found. This did at least inspire me to seek out the real story for myself, but establishes a theory that the film would work better if Stiles was interviewing every girl involved in the scam, for the sake of our believability. That way, the events would seem pieced together by four different voices, instead of one whose knowledge can only be justified by everyone telling her every single word and every single action after it happened?

– Cardi B. This easily feels like a written-in cameo at the last minute, as the dialogue and movements of the character feel unlike any other one within the confines of the film. Her line reads would be blamed entirely on her lack of character transformative acting, but the lines themselves are tacky and cliche’d to the point of feeling like lyrics from one of her songs. In addition to this, her lack of screen time in only three scenes throughout the film gives us this unshakeable feeling that her name was put on the poster to manipulate her fans into thinking that this was her first big screen role, and while that sentiment is true to a degree, it’s such a minimally diminishing role that she might as well be one of the many background dancers who don’t mumble a single line of dialogue throughout the film. At least then her tongue constantly hanging out wouldn’t have a soundtrack to accommodate it.

My Grade: 7/10 or B-

Good Boys

Directed By Gene Stupinitsky

Starring – Jacob Tremblay, Keith L. Williams, Brady Noon

The Plot – Three sixth grade boys (Tremblay, Williams, Noon) ditch school and embark on an epic journey while carrying accidentally stolen drugs, being hunted by teenage girls (Molly Gordon, Midori Francis), and trying to make their way home in time for their first kissing party.

Rated R for strong crude sexual content, drug and alcohol material, and adult language throughout, all involving tweens

POSITIVES

– Strong humor content. As expected from a series of trailers that articulated precise timing for its adult content, the film itself has no shortage of gut-busting material that constantly pushes the envelope. What matters most is not all of the good stuff is used in those trailers, leaving clever kid-aged quips, inexperienced naivety in mature situations, and a solid bond of chemistry between this trio of infectious personalities, while you would have to be heartless not to indulge in each time they share screen time together. While not as effective as “Booksmart” in terms of its unpredictability factor, “Good Boys” still embellishes enough in its good times to easily make this one of the three best comedies that I have seen thus far in 2019, and establishes youths as an untapped force to be reckoned with for truthful interactions.

– Surprisingly poignant. Perhaps the biggest positive that I pulled from the film was its responsible take for pediatric friendships that most movies don’t have the balls to feed to us through in an honest depiction. As the film progresses, we come to understand that being friends at the age of the boys in this movie is more built on convenience instead of deep-seeded similarities, and soon the air of inevitability rings true in testing them in ways that they never expected. What I love about this is it feeds into the mentality how barely any of us have friends from our childhoods, and the air of borrowed time is something that certainly adds a refreshing claustrophobic weight to the memories that they are currently relishing in. In fact, the entire third act feels like a precedent for the days that are about to come, nearly matching “Superbad” in that somber mall scene, where Michael Cera and Jonah Hill say goodbye for the last time.

– Star-making performances. Everyone already knows how much I adore Jacob Tremblay, after becoming a fan of his in 2016’s “Room”, and his work here is equally committing and precise in his timing for fine quality. So I will use this time to praise the duo of Williams and Noon for the unshakeable impact that they had on the film. Noon was originally who I thought would steal the show, but Williams’ combination of impatient yelling in pressure-filled situations and unique personality was something that allowed him to stand out from his on-screen co-stars. Noon is nearly equally captivating, delivering with a blunt brutality in vocal deposits that hints at a teenage badass in a 12-year-old’s body. These two not only gave me a majority of the laughs in the film, but also proved how far their versatility of emotional range will inevitably play into their blessed futures.

– As a pre-teen film. The coming-of-age story is certainly nothing new in modern cinema, but to document it from this age definitely is, and in doing so takes us through plenty of the complexities associated with junior high that stand in the way of our boys’ progression. For one, I love the anxiety that the film develops, not only with kissing for the first time, but also in the socially awkward enveloping in meeting people who we perceive as being “Cooler” than us. It tackles this as well as impressionable minds living in a grown-up world, and does it with a sense of unshakeable humor in personality, that keeps it from refusing this to ever turn dark in tone. Finally, I love that our trio of boys think so spontaneously. This more times than not gets them into trouble, and creates believable conflicts that evolve thanks in part to the mental incapacities of being placed in situations that they certainly aren’t used to, which in turn allows them to grow with every learning experience.

– A twist with plot devices. There’s a lot of surprises in this area, as a script so heavily outlined by obvious pivotal pieces in the first act weren’t used in ways that I was expecting throughout. For instance, a $600 object gets broken by the boys, and we know that a playing card that one of the boys has will easily solve this convenient conflict, but the refreshing positivity comes in the fact that this isn’t the eventual route that the film takes. In addition to this, a couple of other plot devices are distributed throughout, and not one of them ever materialized into the solution that I was expecting. There was absolutely no way that “Good Boys” was going to be anything but a predictable screenplay, but they pull it off with these momentary lapses of twists that prove that the duo of screenwriters are thinking outside of the box, further preserving an air of urgency that plays brilliantly with the party being only hours away.

– No time stamp. One of my problems with coming-of-age films is that they’re often given this air of modern day production in objects and backdrops that easily makes it a product of this time, in term limiting its appeal with each passing age. But “Good Boys” keeps its soundtrack ambiguous, saving a few familiar tracks only for instances involving humor within school plays or wherever else it doesn’t feel fresh for the setting of this story. In addition to this, there’s nothing in focus, outside of maybe the current day IPhone, that makes it feel like it won’t age well with future re-watches. The technical aspects of the movie are very grounded and conventional, but the productional aspects in set design and timely seamlessness gives the film crossover appeal that these subgenre films don’t often partake in, giving it the one true advantage where it can prosper.

– Highly quotable. What’s the key to any great comedy? Tons of quotes that become a part of pop culture conversation with our peers, and in this respect, the measure of comic firepower in “Good Boys” hits us with a barrage of one-liners and punchlines that I won’t be able to get out of my head for quite some time. Some of my favorites involve words being said wrong, or these loudly boisterous responses that elevate the laugh because of the physicality involved in the heat of the performance, but the cake-taker for me is definitely the hip demeanor with how these clean-cut boys lingo themselves in and out of conversations with their upper class classmates. This wave of slang sweeps over them like a transformational spirit, and soon I found myself whisked away to a time when I too tried to replicate what was hip for the current age.

NEGATIVES

– Obvious social commentary. My biggest problem with the script easily comes from these unbelievable lines of dialogue that no kid walking this earth would ever say. It mostly deals with female consent when it comes to kissing or any sexual activity, but springs as far as tax abandonment, the difficulty of political aligning, and of course equal rights, which we all know is a huge topic of conversation for eager youths. This wouldn’t be a problem if the film did it once or twice, and then dropped it, but these subject matters are brought up so frequently that it quickly becomes an agenda that the screenwriters are trying to instill, and while they are all admirable ones, they aren’t ones that gel synthetically with a child rendering.

– Plot conveniences. There were a few instances where things didn’t add up, with solutions from conflicts feeling like a disjointed mess in what we the audience are supposed to fill the blanks in with. Without spoiling anything, I refer to two different examples where reality didn’t gel with what transpired. The first is something that the boys buy, and how even without taking it out of the box are able to plug it into their phone to sync-up accordingly. The other one is how a drug dealer who sees the boys only hours before when they interrupted a kiss with his girlfriend, can’t recognize them face-to-face in a drug deal. One could write this off as coincidence, but these matters don’t add up for me, and instilled a level of incohesive storytelling that wore on the longer the film transpired.

– Choppy editing. When the jokes need visual assistance to sell their punchlines, the film fumbles in productional aspects, thanks in part to a framing device in editing that constantly drops the ball. Occasionally, you will get a bad joke that doesn’t land properly, and most of that has to do with a cutting to a character that sometimes happens too quick in terms of cutting, and often times too untimely with where it would better cater to the pause for reaction. Some reactions take too long to get to, and sometimes scenes cut during lines of read dialogue that are pasted together with the next scene in a way that abruptly crushes the prior, and overlaps the latter. It’s clear that this film is at the helm of a first timer in the directing chair, but hopefully with more experience comes a smoother presentation that better accentuates timing.

My Grade: 7/10 or B

Dora and the Lost City of Gold

Directed By James Bobin

Starring – Isabella Moner, Q’Orianka Kilcher, Benicio Del Toro

The Plot – Having spent most of her life exploring the jungle with her parents, nothing could prepare Dora (Moner) for her most dangerous adventure ever: high school. Always the explorer, Dora quickly finds herself leading Boots (Danny Trejo), Diego (Jeff Wahlberg), a mysterious jungle inhabitant, and a ragtag group of teens on a live-action adventure to save her parents and solve the impossible mystery behind a lost Inca civilization.

Rated PG for action and some impolite humor

POSITIVES

– Responsibility realized. When Dora debuted on Nickelodeon, she not only became a pop culture icon, but more importantly a Latino one, and especially during a time when our neighbors to the south are feeling the sting of freedom falling apart, the film is perhaps more important than ever in giving them a hero they can feel proud of. As an action protagonist, Dora is tough, charming, intelligent, and even dangerous when she needs to be, and the never-ending flow of her spirit is something that represents the Mexican demographic candidly, etching out a persistence for always getting the job done. Likewise, the film is shot on location in the Amazon, so many of the sets and wardrobe associated speak vibrantly to an Aztec culture that is very rarely rendered in cinema. Everything from family traditions, to free-flowing gowns is on display for the group better known as the people of the gods, and with it holds valuable weight to the film that makes them anything but just a beautiful shooting location.

– Set designs. Speaking of which, the imagination donated to fun and audience immersive puzzles is something that added a lot of intrigue to the film, crafting this as a kids version of Indiana Jones without fully ripping it off for inspiration. Not only is their detailed variety in the gorgeous backdrops that surround our leads, but every trap that they find themselves having to get out of requires each particular character to indulge in something that they are good at, building them stronger as a group the longer the film persists. In contrast to this, the scenes in Los Angeles offer a stark variation on everything that Dora is used to, bringing forth the boisterous sounds and toxic personalities that come with upper class privilege. It gives the film a big budget feel with so many varied locations, allowing it to transcend some of the bigger budget problems that the film faces in other areas that I will get to later.

– Perfect tone. Most importantly, this film knows what it is; a wacky slew of hijinks that vibes togetherness and inclusion in an adventurous manner. It finds a comfortable balance somewhere in the middle between being taken too seriously and feeling so off the wall that it feels disjointed in its sequencing. This one stays focused with all of its madness, and brings forth a level of comic firepower that left my gut in knots more than a couple of times. It’s mostly kid humor, but there are a few clever zingers scattered throughout that only adults will pick up on, and while I appreciate a kids movie that treats youths with respect, the accessibility for all ages of audience is something I appreciate so much more. My favorites are definitely the scenes where everything stops so Dora can speak to the audience beyond the screen, paying homage to the television show in a way that makes her look like a nut here. Loved it.

– Spanish flavored soundtrack. There’s a couple of things to compliment here. The first, Dora’s incredible freestyling skills, which takes the group through many embarrassing and tense situations in which she talks them through peacefully. One such song involves a character taking a dump, and I’ll be damned if it wasn’t the most catchy and detailed lyrics that I’ve heard from an original piece of music in a long time. Beyond this, the soundtrack itself includes many pop culture favorites, but done in Spanish, complete with mariachi style musical accompaniment. There are many, but the two I caught were Nancy Sinatra’s “These Boots Were Made For Walking”, and of course my second favorite song from The Cure “Just Like Heaven”. It keeps the flavor of the movie finely tuned with the rest of the film’s cultural setting, all the while preserving a level of familiarity in choices that will have the parents toes tapping.

– My favorite scene. I was never a fan of Dora the Explorer during its television run, but the scene that left the biggest imprint on my memory even an hour after the film is this sequence where the characters go through a bit of a drug trip, and their embodiment changes to animated form. I won’t spoil anything else, because there is a lot of creativity donated to the dialogue of the scene, but this three minute fantasy pays homage wonderfully to the spirit of the original television show without soiling the integrity of everything that it’s accomplishing originally within this film. What’s important is the animation is the exact same, not exactly transferring well to the silver screen, but doing its job on the subject of homage integrity that many remakes can’t master accordingly.

– Committed performance. I’ve been a fan of Isabela Moner for a long time, but her work here is her single most convincing role to date. Moner was born to play Dora, and even more than that, she embodies every single aspect about the character that no other acting adaptation has mastered this year for a pre-established character. Isabela’s infectious demeanor requires you to be heartless to not be touched by her magnetic charms, and the girl kicks ass in a way that very few kid properties allow their characters to instill. Capped off with an openness that naively sees the best in people, Dora is the character we don’t deserve, but the one we need right now, and thanks to Moner in the driver seat, there’s no way that a young actress as dedicated to the craft as her would ever let this opportunity pass her by.

– Room on the bone for a sequel. The first half of this film is Dora experiencing real life in America, complete with the awkwardness of high school, and while I enjoyed the adventure that this film took me on, it was the America part that I could’ve used more of. The positive out of this is that it leaves plenty of meat of creativity for a second movie involving Dora’s vulnerability living now permanently in America, as well as dating, bullying, and everything else that comes with a fish out of water story. As for this film, it gives enough satisfaction in its material easily being worth the ticket price for a matinee screening, but it’s wise enough to build a second movie in which the expectations will be much higher since this film became a success.

NEGATIVES

– Awful computer generation. I figured the animal properties and certain effects work of the film would be computer generated, but what I didn’t expect was how lifeless their renderings left my mind having to fill in the gaps of believability. The animals themselves are the worst I’ve seen in a few years, not only for failing to attain the level of natural lighting in any scene that they are involved in, but also for the lack of weight they deposit on a live actor’s interaction. Even for Nickelodeon animation, this is bad on a whole new level, and is easily the biggest flaw for a movie that has a surprising amount of integrity to its reputation.

– No consequences. I understand that this is a cartoon world, but the lack of scrapes, blood, or any kind of injuries through death-defying leaps of faith is something that erases any level of vulnerability, which in turn takes away any shred of suspense for the audience. The excuse will be that people don’t watch Dora for suspense, but this is an action first movie, so therefore it requires even an ounce of real world consequence to its many stunts. The worst of all for me is a jump that Dora makes across two sides of the cave, which can be seen in the trailers for the movie. After her jump, it cuts, and we see Dora laying on the ground at least a hundred feet beneath where she jumped, with no scratches or bone breaks to make her regret doing it in the first place. If Dora doesn’t subdue to pain, then why not have her lunge herself at her opposition at all times? Part of what makes the character so relatable is the fact that she is a teenager, and one who lives, breathes, and hurts just like all of us.

– Weak antagonist. For my money, there never should’ve been an antagonist character in this movie. The antagonist itself should’ve been the cave, with Dora and her crew trying to find their way out of it. With that said, we receive an antagonist halfway through the film, and it holds very little bearing or impact to the remainder of the film. What’s worse is this antagonist makes even less sense the more you think about it. SPOILERS DO NOT READ ON. So you’re telling me that this guy went through everything that Dora and friends did just so he could turn on her? Every death defying instance? One of which he almost drowned on, and all of which he leaves his life in the hands of kids for. Not exactly the criminal mastermind kind of thinking you would expect.

My Grade: 7/10 or B-

Scary Stories To Tell In the Dark

Directed By Andre Ovredal

Starring – Zoe Margaret Colletti, Michael Garza, Gabriel Rush

The Plot – It’s 1968 in America. Change is blowing in the wind…but seemingly far removed from the unrest in the cities is the small town of Mill Valley where for generations, the shadow of the Bellows family has loomed large. It is in their mansion on the edge of town that Sarah (Colletti), a young girl with horrible secrets, turned her tortured life into a series of scary stories, written in a book that has transcended time-stories that have a way of becoming all too real for a group of teenagers who discover Sarah’s terrifying tome.

Rated PG-13 for terror/violence, disturbing images, thematic elements, adult language including racial epithets, and brief sexual references.

POSITIVES

– Immersive set designs. Sometimes the balance between dim lighting and background decoration establishes a level of atmosphere that perfectly sets the mood for what’s to come, and in this regard, Mill Valley is the seventh circle of hell for all of its nightmares being played out in real time. Beyond this feeling like just hollow backgrounds used for tension amplification, the gothic style sets and props interact with each of the characters wonderfully, and create an air of weight within the shots that document their subtle influence to the dynamic of each conflict. A fine example of this is the dreaded Red Room scene, where a character is running from a slow, methodical stalker, and uses each hospital hallway as a manner to buy time. All the while, Ovredal as a director is diminishing the distance between them with each scene’s edit, creating a juxtaposition between he and his characters that use these locations as a gimmick that is every bit as terrifying as the monster that chases our protagonists.

– Respects the source. Reading these books as a kid, the nightmare imagery had a lasting effect on me that very few other books have had since, and because of this, I am happy to report that this is a film that, despite its designated rating, gets almost everything correct. Beyond the imagery, the stories themselves are stitched together in a way that maintains the pressure inside of this terror, allowing very few moments of book-end breath that the movie doesn’t allow audiences. It has such an immense task to retread those legendary tales, and does so while maintaining the tinsel of big screen magic and acceptable horror cliches that really lifts these events from the pages vibrantly, and does so to a degree of even character movement shifts in the scene being documented in the very same way it’s told from its literary origins. The imagery itself is very tense and unsettling, and this feeling of overwhelming dread envelopes our characters whole, and leaves them feeling miles far from the world they once knew.

– Tonal maturity. During the first act of the film, the screenplay’s goofy and immature tone had me fearing that this would be another “Goosebumps” movie, but in the vein of “Trick R Treat”, this too is a film that progresses smoothly, and earns its big cost consequences with a second act that transforms this world and characters accordingly. In this respect, to label this as a kids-acceptable horror film might be a bit of a stretch. Despite the overall lack of blood or deaths being free from audience eyes, Ovredal’s manner of exceeding tension and drawing out the slow-burn of what is chasing these kids in the distance is something that proves right away that this is no “Stranger Things”, where everybody in the group is safe as long as they have a starring role. There are real consequences in this film, and a sense of enveloping dread that is being consistently stirred by the man in charge, and all of his devastating tracking spots.

– Combination of special effects. I loved the balance between live action and computer generated effects, both of which worked together so smoothly without ever stepping on the toes of the other. The make-up and prosthetics work here delivers on some truly creepy monster designs, and the computer generation instilled upon their movements give them a surreal reminder that these are anything but human reincarnations. There wasn’t a single example where the effects seemed hollow or lacking of inspiration, and considering most of the film is done during nighttime scenes, the lack of light preserved an ominous level of mystery, free from the lines of dimensions that usually take me out of generated properties.

– As a period piece. One surprising aspect for me was the underlying tension developed from a 1968 setting, during the inauguration of Richard Nixon, which perfectly articulated the paranoia of the Vietnam era. Aside from the noticeable comparisons that Nixon’s campaign has to our current day Trumpian age, the screenplay hints at a home world falling apart because of never-ending war playing such a heavy slug on our conscience, including a character who is later revealed to have a bigger role than we initially thought in said engagement. What’s even more important is the production and aesthetic value is serene in giving us a glimpse into seamless fashion trends, and a groovy soundtrack that perfectly articulates the birth of the flower power generation, sampling tracks that play hand-in-hand with the very beats of character introductions and hangout hijinks.

– Scare factor. I’ve always said that once you hit adulthood, being scared in films is kind of a thing of the past, but with that said, “Scary Stories” is probably the closest that we will get to this rare circumstance in 2019. There is creepy imagery gallore in this film, not just with the monsters, who are bone-chilling in design and movements, but also with the gross-out humor, which will certainly never allow me to eat beef stew ever again. I do wish the film didn’t rely as heavily on unnatural jump scares to sell its execution, because Ovredal certainly has the tools of the trade for maximizing tension, and if he had more faith in his terrifying visuals, I feel like the film would prosper in captivating audiences in the same vein that the novels did. With that aside, the film is still an unsettling sit, and will definitely give you 103 minutes of horror hysteria as a treat to get us through to Halloween.

– Stirring sentimentality. Exploring depths of storytelling in a way very few other films do, “Scary Stories” is a film that commends authors everywhere as both a healing and harming force in the vein of grieving. The film explains throughout that words are used by us to sometimes put a face on something as cryptic or uncertain as death, giving the pen holders the power on settling the longing of our pasts. This gave the film a glowing radiance to its tragedy that I wasn’t expecting, and proved that it values people as the trail-blazers to their own pasts, present, and future. People often ask me why typed reviews are still the way to go, and for me personally it’s in the therapeutic permanence that they preserve in shelling out the thoughts and words that I will live by for a lifetime. “Scary Stories” better helped capture that ideal, and gave me poignancy long after I left the film.

NEGATIVES

– Lack of characterization. With the exception of the main girl, I didn’t feel a thing for any of these characters. Blame it on their immature personalities, or the overall lack of screen time dedicated to accentuate their colorful backstories, but I wasn’t sold by them, and couldn’t care less each time one of them was shuffled off-screen. The screenplay feels this too, as the characters with the least amount of exposition die in order, from least to most, making each of their results as predictable as a mixed weather pattern in Ohio. If you don’t believe me, make a list of the five main characters, and write down what you learned about each one of them. You’ll find yourself describing their appearances more than anything, mainly because the film doesn’t care about what makes them tick.

– Plot convenience. I find it interesting that the group always has to be separated for these stories to work. In addition to this, the characters never try to outrun or dodge their opposition, leaving them as easy meals for their predators. In addition to this, the kids never go to the authorities or anyone who could help to give a witness to the terror that Is transpiring, leaving them vulnerable to exploit. Even if it’s impossible for this object to be vanquished, show us that they are continuously trying for the sake of vulnerability or desperation. To me, this antagonist is only as strong as she is because this group couldn’t find their way out of a paper bag, and during an era when horror movie characters are trying to think of anything to lessen the impact of their opposition, “Scary Stories” prefers to pretend these options don’t exist from real HUMAN characters.

– Anti-climatic ending. This film ended at just the right time for me, as the final ten minutes of the movie tie itself in an inconsequential bow that left so much of the momentum unfulfilled. At the beginning of the girl’s dream, I really enjoyed what the script was setting up for itself, in how it compared her situation to that of Sarah’s, but the sharp detour that wraps the conflict up is something that feels like a copout to this movie for how it replicates other films that not only used this ending, but did a whole lot better. The closing moments also have the guts to set itself up for a sequel, which despite my enjoyment of this film, I would prefer not to have because this ending tried to prove to us the things that we already knew, and then tried to sell it as the epiphany needed to make matters right.

My Grade: 7/10 or C+

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