Captive State

Directed By Rupert Wyatt

Starring – Ashton Sanders, John Goodman, Vera Farmiga

The Plot – Set in a Chicago neighborhood nearly a decade after an occupation by an extra-terrestrial force, “Captive State” explores the lives on both sides of the conflict; the collaborators and dissidents.

Rated PG-13 for sci-fi violence and action, some sexual content, brief adult language and drug material

POSITIVES

– A great sense of weight and world building. When science fiction is done right, you can feel the change in tone from environmental differences contrasted so differently from our own world, and “Captive State” rattled me with the hell that our once familiar world has become, at the hands of an unforeseen army watching from above. George Orwell frequently warned us against this kind of thing in “1984”, and like that movie, Wyatt’s world conjures up the kind of feelings in hopelessness and helplessness that invoke the biggest scares from the science fiction genre. To me, once you see how an event has changed a barrage of people, only then will you realize true terror, and the movie’s brand of science fiction terror is held competently in its grasp because it takes something so far fetched and grounds it in reality, so that we the audience can comprehend how our world became this way.

– The genius that is Rob Simonsen. This composer has been lighting up our ears for years, most notably with some of his best work in 2014’s “Foxcatcher” and 2016’s “Nerve”, but his influence in this film echoes constantly throughout, in a musical score that stays with the story un-flinched. Simonsen attains distress in the form of repetition in a single piece of music, and slightly alternating its composition each time through. It reminds me a lot of Cliff Martinez, particularly in his work in Soderbergh films, in that it’s asked repeatedly to amplify the tension of the action-less sequences transpiring, and masters it any and every time. Even though redundancy is the tool used most effectively for Simonsen, the entirety of his work on the score alters so frequently that it never tests the nerves of the audience who are engaged in it, often switching up the tempo alongside the movie when it switches scenery’s.

– Surprises behind every turn. While the screenplay does tend to get away from the general interest of the audience who were promised one particular film and given another, it does reward patience in the form of third rug pulls that do prominently pay-off. Constantly throughout the film, you’re wondering what the correlation is between these many different characters we’re seeing, and the unique way that it ties them all together is something that I admit I didn’t see coming, and made for the tightest of bows in combining truth and logic effortlessly. Aside from this, there’s much respect to be given for introducing us to a subgenre that I’m confident I’ve never seen before, and that is “Alien political thriller”.

– Stirring performances front and back. It’s exhilarating to see Ashton Sanders leading a genre film, especially as he offers up enough heart below the surface to play against what we see front-and-center: a bundle of anxiety, anger, and occasional hope. Goodman is also brilliantly duplicitous, offering an against-type turn as an alien enforcer and Chicago police officer, who thrives within the deepest parts of the new foreign planet leadership, when everyone else around him strives for daily survival. The film dazzles the brightest when these two are on-screen together, but the added intensity of supporting turns from familiar faces like Alan Ruck, Kevin Dunn, Ben Daniels, and of course Akron’s own Vera Farmiga, adds a layer of prestige to a film so unpredictable that any one of them could easily be labeled expendable.

– Unmistakable social commentary. During an age when our own freedoms are being encroached upon, the film’s raw material speaks volumes to the concept of social revolt, and just how long and how much has to be lost before someone is willing to risk it all to change the system. While “Captive State” is certainly a dystopian worst case scenario at best, the seeds of similarity ring true when vital exposition drops hints at walls being set up across major cities around the world, as well as a questionable mayor being criticized for his ties to the newfound leaders of the once free world. Whether or not writers Wyatt and Erica Beeney intended for this haunting story to ring so true with our own trials and tribulations, the fact remains that “Captive State” feels like the bombastic warning to inspire a stern message that if we give an inch, someone else will take a mile.

NEGATIVES

– Better suited for television. Aside from this film just trying to cram far too much story in a brief 104 minute run time, the cheap production value in effects and set pieces, as well as the episodic roller coaster of pacing, makes this feel like it would be better served on a media platform without such limitations. It’s certainly easy to see the clearly visible book ends with each respective act during the film, where one episode ends and another begins, but the dialogue heavy exchanges sacrificing the promised big budget action sequences more than pay homage to binge-worthy television, and makes this a difficult one to stay focused on when the confines of a theater start to feel testing. If “Captive State” were on Netflix, this would be a guaranteed gold mine, but the silver screen isn’t as kind to something that virtually glosses over important details, like how we even got here in the first place, in favor of a computer screen that tells-and-not-shows in a one minute over-stuffed vacuum bag.

– Doesn’t have a central protagonist. One could argue this point in favor of Sanders, but that debate is easy to dispute, especially when you consider that his character goes missing for twenty minutes at a time, multiple times during the film. Is it possibly Goodman? Well, he’s more of an antagonist at times, so the debate to mold him into even a redeeming protagonist with conflictions is something that is a bit of a bitter pill to swallow. With so many characters and sections of this story being fleshed out, there’s a severe jockeying for position in screen time that does nothing in managing the kind of consistency required for indulgence and investment. Did I feel for these characters? Absolutely, but the biggest hurdle to jump over is the fact that there’s not enough moments of self-reflection to allow me to see myself in any of their predicaments.

– Horrendous camera work. Much of the fast-paced sequences, especially those of on-foot chases, felt every bit as distorted as they did cropping. What I mean by this is every depiction feels zoomed in far too close, or rumbled with such gimmick shaking cam that leaves it difficult to focus for our eyes or the integrity of the shot respectively. This is one gimmick that I wish would die a horrible death in fast-paced action sequences, because it takes away from the stellar job of the editing, which is surprisingly well reserved here, as well as the impactful sound mixing that narrates the devastation, but thanks to the compact angles we don’t see.

– False advertising. This is without a doubt the biggest obstacle that the movie will face, as the trailer promises us this big budget action blockbuster that is never remotely realized with what transpires. In reality, “Captive State” is a strategic political thriller, the majority of which is spent on the ground building the plans. If this is your thing, fine, but the aliens themselves are shown for probably five combined minutes throughout the film, and even then only crack the glass of potential in terms of what they can actually do. Deceitful trailers raise expectations, and then slowly diminish them with a finished product that is anything but what was advertised, and I can see this unfortunate aspect being something severely compromising to people who paid to see it for a particular reason.

– Poor lighting serves a purpose. This might sound like a positive, but the lack of overall style associated with the film is clearly only used as a convenience to hide the lack of dimensions and rendering with the alien creatures, that makes them indistinguishable. I mentioned earlier that the aliens are barely in this movie, and even when they are we get these ugly depictions in the worst kind of lighting that makes it difficult to register what is taking place. This feeds into the uninspiring production quality of the movie, but the noticeably darker lighting scheme when these monsters show up is every bit as obvious as it is compromising, and gives those brief scenes of payoff yet another test of patience with an audience who have already had enough.

My Grade: 5/10 or D+

Captain Marvel

Directed By Anna Boden and Ryan Fleck

Starring – Brie Larson, Samuel L. Jackson, Jude Law

The Plot – The story follows Carol Danvers (Larson) as she becomes one of the universe’s most powerful heroes when Earth is caught in the middle of a galactic war between two alien races. Set in the 1990s, Captain Marvel is an all-new adventure from a previously unseen period in the history of the Marvel Cinematic Universe.

Rated PG-13 for sequences of sci-fi violence and action, and brief suggestive language

POSITIVES

– Delightfully engaging cast of characters all around. For the title character, Larson is solid at conveying the dramatic pull of Carol’s loss of life on Earth, as well as the personable side of her demeanor that allows her to have fun through some truly trying times in the balance. My lone problem is in her ability to come across as intimidating to her opposition because of her inherited powers. Perhaps it’s in the way that her enemies view her, as a weakling woman, but to me I felt that anger and fire deep below in Larson’s performance was missing from her complex character, and I hope it’s something they can further flesh out in future movies with her. What Larson does thrive at however, is being a sponge that soaks up and adapts to the change in personalities she comes across. Most notably, it’s in her impeccable chemistry with Jackson’s Fury and Jude Law’s Yon-Rogg where we get the most indulging sense of banter between scenes and characters, making for thoughts of a buddy cop movie that floats to the surface. Jackson is definitely the show-stealer for me, as finally we get a film where Fury is brought to the forefront of the conflict and resolution, allowing us to see him in his prime, long before time and shadows forced him to step away from the action. Ben Mendelsohn’s Talos also shouldn’t be slept on, as his exceptional range as an actor gives him the power to connect to the audience despite being under layers of make-up and prosthetics for his character.

– Complete musical package. For the first time in a Marvel film, we are treated to a female’s perspective in musical score and accompaniment, as Pinar Toprak’s electronic atmosphere gives the film’s scenes of war and reveal a fine combination of pulse and energy necessary to hook the audience firmly into the sometimes abrupt movements of the camera. Likewise, the film’s soundtrack collection of 90’s favorites, although topical at times, does succeed in capturing the eclectic essence of 90’s top 40 radio for now future generations to immerse themselves in. One such song near the end of the film, I actually predicted would pop up, and while there are instances like this that sometimes feel obvious, I’d be lying if I said I didn’t lip-sync along once they made their presence felt to the dynamic of the story and title character.

– Computer generation effects at their finest. For my money, the transformation effects used on Fury and Coulson in the film, to make them look decades younger, is some of the most seamlessly effective enhancements that I have seen to date, and speaks volumes to the way Disney calculates where to spend their cash. This is of course a story that takes place in the 90’s, so obviously make-up isn’t going to cut it. Instead, the actors are shot and redistributed to the audience in a way that adds an inspiring layer of reality to the movements and authenticity of their shapes and size to the film, that would before feel obvious in its inclusion. There’s subtlety in artificial effects work, and Marvel just paved the way for an entire generation.

– Touching tributes. Being that this was the first film after the untimely death of Marvel founder Stan Lee, you knew that the familiar face would pop up a time or two, and thankfully the movie takes ample time to pay respects to the reason we’re all here in the first place. I won’t spoil much, but there’s an introduction to the movie that is every bit as clever as it is resounding, as well as a usual cameo appearance that may be my new personal favorite for Lee, considering the prop that he carries with him in the scene, and where it fits from a timeline perspective. I’m not sure if this scene was shot before Lee’s death or not, but the computer generation that I mentioned earlier gives me hope that Excelsior will live on forever.

– Overabundance of comedy. This would usually be a big negative for me, especially considering there are a few deliveries that didn’t land for my auditorium, but the film’s tonal decision to establish a healthy amount of humor for this character is one that I give great credit for. When the film was missing for me in waiting for this lead character to remember who she used to be, I was treated to clever quips in the form of a dangerous cat, Jackson’s impeccable straight man persistence, and of course 90’s nostalgia that constantly reminds us how far we’ve come with technology. The latter is also part of the genius of the particular place and time of the film’s setting, as they don’t have Tony Stark’s inventions or advanced technological measures to guide them through, therefore creativity is all of the rage, and it is incorporated in such a way that will poke and prod at anyone in the theater who is over the age of 25 and still remembers their America Online Password.

– Positive pacing. Perhaps the single biggest accomplishment in this two hour movie is how, despite its narrative flaws, it never manages to slug or stand in place for too long. Instead, the pacing of this script constantly keeps moving and keeps you glued to the unfolding characters who move in and out of frame in the fight for this unforeseen power. As far as Marvel movies go, pacing is often one of the biggest flaws that I have, often times padding a film’s run time to reach a certain time destination, but I feel like two hours was perfect with the knowledge dispersed inside, all the while allowing for just enough time to soak up these rare character engagements and 90’s setting all the same.

NEGATIVES

– Struggles under the weight of its responsibility. As a narrative, this is a link to the past, an origin story, a fitting chapter to the on-going Avengers story, and a potential entry way into the next phase of the Marvel universe, and I think all of that simultaneously struggles under that weight. This is a very scattered narrative in the form of a non-linear style of storytelling, and that direction presented some issues with exposition obvious dialogue, as well as audible character narration that was only used to solidify what the previous scene already showed us. Beyond this, the jump cuts are edited in a way that felt every bit as choppy as they did visually unappealing, and when sequences are this visually repulsive, you wish that they would just go with the conventional dream effects that, while overdone in cinema, at least don’t force you to stop every few minutes to wonder where they fit in.

– Speaking of visual presentation, the film never carves out a visual captivation for its film in the same way that Black Panther, Guardians of the Galaxy, or the Thor films made famous. It doesn’t have to be as beautiful looking or enchanted as those movies, but the coloring filters used in this film wasted some eye-catching landscapes in planetary details that would usually pop with their introductions, but instead came off as looking like they were clouded in a dense fog that rendered them colorless. I point particularly to the first act of the movie, when the establishing scenes waste away so much of the movie’s stylistic personality in ways that don’t even allow the colors of the costumes to make their presence felt, and it all made me think the finished product required one final post production edit to remind us of the vibrancy of the worlds that Carol is fighting for.

– Fumbled fight sequences. Too many cuts, too mundane of fight choreography, and especially far too close on the angle in depictions. It was not only very difficult to follow through with what was transpiring on screen between these scenes of physical conflict, but it suffers in the same way that D.C Films resolve their conflicts: By throwing everything at the screen in order to convince you of resolution. There are no shortage of explosion porn or crash devastation to make the audience flinch, but because we have an editor who is anxious in making their presence felt, it all just comes across as jumbled pieces from a puzzle that never fits together in the movement of the scene. My favorite fight scene of the film was a practice fight that happens in the first five minutes of the movie, and that’s a nothing fight between two characters. It’s all downhill from there.

– No struggle what so ever with her powers. Carol Danvers ability to adapt to any new knowledge or power that the movie gives her, is something that I think takes away greatly from the human side of Captain Marvel that is never truly fleshed out. In any superhero film, self-conflict is the strongest form of developing empathy, and there is none when there’s never truly a moment where this character fails. Even though Captain America or The Hulk now tangle with newfound capabilities, it’s their inner tortured souls in vulnerability that allow them to connect with the audience, and this movie doesn’t afford Danvers the same bend. Any miniscule level of adversity is really more of a hiccup or an accidental move incorporated by someone else around her, and it ultimately constructs what feels like an android developed in Tony Stark’s lab, as opposed to a human being coming to terms with the fear of a new gift that she knows nothing about. MINOR SPOILER – It doesn’t just stop with Carol however, as a little girl also manages to come up with a familiar costume, thanks to some Skrull technology that she herself has never used.

My Grade: 6/10 or C+

Happy Death Day 2U

Directed By Christopher Landon

Starring – Jessica Rothe, Ruby Modine, Israel Broussard

The Plot – This time, our hero Tree Gelbman (Rothe) discovers that dying over and over was surprisingly easier than the dangers that lie ahead.

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

POSITIVES

– A risky formula. Considering this sequel is convoluting everything about the first movie that was simplistically solid about the narrative, it’s surprising that it works in the best kind of way. The film adds many layers creatively not only in the redundancy of repetition, but also in further enhancing the personalities of supporting characters, who we only got a few instances with during the first movie. It takes something on a small scale and maximizes its potential on a scientific spectrum not only to try to answer how any of this is possible to begin with, but to also show off the increase in budget after a successful first campaign, and it adds a fresh taste to a series based on repetition.

– Speaking of repetition, if you think this is just repeating the same scenes of the first movie, think again. Because this is a parallel dimension of sorts, the writers are able to play with the character relationships and fateful possibilities that the first film wasn’t privy to. As you might imagine, this makes things increasingly difficult for Tree, not only in going through a mostly fresh take all over again, but also in the weight of consequences it finally establishes from her dying so much, giving each passing day urgency in the way a normal life typically would. This is something that bothered me with the first film, because there’s no suspense in the narrative if Tree can simply reset each and every day, and thankfully its much better sequel has addressed this issue to leave audiences more firmly invested.

– Juggling tone. While this film still has elements of horror in its material, the movie’s dependency on humor, particularly in that of the physical variety made this feel like a completely different film all together, and invested me much further than its predecessor. Most of the intended humor works as constructed, but the tonal evolution doesn’t stop there. It gives way to some third act dramatic pulls similar to those of the things Ashton Kutcher was fighting against in “The Butterfly Effect”, creating an air of unavoidable tragedy to Tree’s life that establishes even more empathy for the already sarcastically sizzling lead protagonist.

– How good is Jessica?. As to where Rothe was easily the best part of the first movie, the further development and attention paid to the supporting ensemble makes her earn it this time, and boy does she ever. Rothe’s energetic impulses and free-range facial canvas of response makes her the perfect leading lady for her particular situation, combining enough fear, aggravation, and trauma to the role to play off each new discovery that is for better or worse helpful. However, it’s in the script’s tugging her to unfamiliar dramatic ground where we see a star in the making. For much of the second half of the movie, Rothe’s character feels fully fleshed out in a matured way where we embrace a psychological connection for the first time, and it only cements that this series would be nothing without a charismatic lead who adapts when everything visually and creatively is changing around her.

– Instrumental throwback. Sadly, modern horror films rarely do musical montages, but the clever way that Paramore’s “Hard Times”, arguably my favorite pop song of the last three years, is used with the material not only adds a reflective take to what’s transpiring before us, but also gives a fun moment of toe-tapping release between the mounting details of scientific formulas. This sequence edits all of the death scenes together crisply, while garnering enough responsibility in documenting the dangers to stay on the safe side of influencing viewers in the wrong ways. This is as Roadrunner and coyote as you can get for something as serious as death, and I devilishly enjoyed every single moment of it and hearing Hayley Williams angelic crescendo in one tasty presentation.

– Synthetic production values. “Happy Death Day” happened two whole years ago, so in duplicating the appearances not only of characters, but also in set pieces and familiar pop-ups can be a difficult task, but it’s one that may be Landon’s single strongest feature as a director. There isn’t a single flaw in the work of believability that would make this movie feel like anything other than a faithful continuation of Tree’s everyday college routine, and it allows the audience the ability to quite literally watch these movies back-to-back as one cohesive film because it bonds to its predecessor so tightly. As to where aspects of other sequels bring to the foreground an air of obviousness to them, Landon has paid his tuition in whole to soak up one more semester at this college setting, and the result is seamless continuity.

– Bear McCreery’s nostalgic influence. The musical score to this film feels every bit as evocative as it does obvious towards a particular film mentioned during the first act, and while this point sounds condemning in terms of originality, it’s in that obvious audible atmosphere where we find the clarity we seek for why this sounds like anything but conventional horror familiarity. There’s plenty of wonderment and majestry during the science fiction scenes, all the while leaving extra room for dessert in terms of mellow, moving compositions that force you to swallow harder while gently tugging at your heartstrings. McCreery’s growing reputation among a variety of genre offerings have etched his name in stone among the best composers going today, but his work in “Happy Death Day 2U” summarizes the complete spectrum in depth that prove genre is only a word.

NEGATIVES

– Undercooked horror element. It’s a bit disappointing that the horror factor of the film is given the least amount of attention, and it shows when you consider the little growth it takes on in this pivotal second chapter. Because everything else is different in the film, so too is the masked killer, and even when I thought the first movie’s killer was completely predictable, it’s got nothing on the asinine obviousness of this film. For one, I don’t believe for a second that this person would go overboard because of what transpires, nor do I buy them as menacing in the slightest. Aside from this, horror is such a limited partner in this film that it almost feels tacked-on every time the film remembers to go there.

– First act miscues. The introduction to the film goes in a completely different direction with a new character, but unfortunately its exploration lasts all of ten minutes, and is resolved in such an easy manner that makes its inclusion feel almost pointless with where the narrative takes us. I can understand the script not wanting to hit on the same beats as the first movie, but surely there were much easier ways to make the connection between what is happening with Tree and another character’s science project to tie it all together. I felt that this character was going to be a bigger part of this film, but he’s only used when Tree’s character needs him, summarizing a first act introduction that speaks very little to the rest of the film it is conjoined to.

– Nonsensical ending. MAJOR SPOILERS. Tree is forced by the end of the movie to basically live in a world between being with the guy she loves or her mom, but what’s hilarious is that she can have both if she just used some of the intellect that supposedly allowed her to remember a dry erase board full of formula. If she just talks to this guy and tells him her feelings, this whole thing could be avoided, and she could live in a world where she has it all. Instead, the film creates a choice that is completely unwarranted, trying to paint a lesson where it just doesn’t apply. What’s even funnier is that Tree and her beau do indeed fall for each other right before she returns to her normal world, proving that a conversation could’ve saved her mother.

My Grade: 7/10 or B

Alita: Battle Angel

Directed By Robert Rodriguez

Starring – Rosa Salazar, Christoph Waltz, Jennifer Connelly

The Plot – Alita (Salazar) is a creation from an age of despair. Found by the mysterious Dr. Ido (Waltz) while trolling for cyborg parts, Alita becomes a lethal, dangerous being. She cannot remember who she is, or where she came from. But to Dr. Ido, the truth is all too clear. She is the one being who can break the cycle of death and destruction left behind from Tiphares. But to accomplish her true purpose, she must fight and kill. And that is where Alita’s true significance comes to bear. She is an angel from heaven. She is an angel of death.

Rated PG-13 for sequences of sci-fi violence and action, and for some adult language

POSITIVES

– Flawless special effects pallet. Everything from the seamless stop motion capture used to inspire the movements of the title character, to the barrage of computer generated backdrops and character pixelation, especially that of Alita’s huge eyes that authenticate that Japanese Manga design fluently, screams evolution in the art of film, and just as “Avatar” was for the previous decade, James Cameron once again has his finger in the cookie jar of this evolution, this time as a producer to “Alita”. While we know that what we’re seeing before us is purely illustration, the movements and impacts combine enough weight with impact, as well as exceptional color texture in design, to allow yourself to feel immersed into this far away land of dangerous fantasy.

– The dynamic between Alita and Dr. Ido. Aside from the performances of Salazar and Waltz completely carrying the movie for me, the chemistry and bond between these two characters speaks volumes to the concepts of the father and daughter relationship without the link in DNA to prove it. From the very beginning of the movie, Ido is there every step of the way for Alita’s re-introduction of sorts to the world, and it’s in his most obvious traits of worrying and protecting where we feel a missing desire within himself and his past to be fulfilled by this angel who has given his life purpose again. It’s without question my favorite arc of the screenplay, and etches out a lot of heart and concern for the movie to balance these scenes of terrifying devastation.

– Solid structure in world building. While 2553 looks like anything but a place that I would want to live in for the unpredictable mayhem that floods the streets on the daily, the economical push for a world that lives and breathes around a sporting event, as well a place still on the brink of recovery after a paralyzing war, was something that I found great relatability in with our current social climate, and really made the distance in years feel that much more conjoined when you think about what could be if a couple of wrong decisions were made from our own current day. What’s important too, is that wealth still play a very pivotal role in this economy, and the idea with there being nowhere else but the sky to go for this minimal one percent is touched on more than a few times. This is science fiction at its best because everything feels easy to comprehend, the world is anything but a hopeless one, and the ideas associated with the gadgets inside will give unlimited potential in replay value with the more time that passes after this movie.

– An experienced master behind the lens. If I give Robert Rodriguez credit for doing just one thing effectively in the film, it’s in his caption of action sequences that rumble and rip apart the screen. I can imagine that seeing this film in 3D is probably the one rare chance that you want to take in paying extra money for a theater occasion, because the combination of limbs and velocity that rushes towards the screen fires on every cylinder of adrenaline that you can imagine, and spares no expense in doing so. What’s vitally important is that no sequence’s editing feels choppy, nor does the camera movement ever use the shaky-cam gimmick in translating itself to the audience, allowing us enough focus and detection to stay with these overwhelmingly-fast scenes every step of the way.

– One big surprise. I have my displeasures with the entirety of the supporting cast that I will get into later, but the last second reveal of the film’s REAL antagonist was something that really cements the legacy of what it means to work with someone like James Cameron or Robert Rodriguez. This person is nearly unrecognizable, which is a compliment to the practical make-up, not C.G, that adorn this person, and left me literally scratching my head until I looked it up online as to who this character was played by. I am someone who sees over 200 films a year, and when a movie’s production can conceal and hide away the familiar face of one of my favorite actors going today, I have to commend the designs on a completely different level.

NEGATIVES

– Sequel shielding. This is another example of a film that feels far too confined in what satisfaction narratively that it can give us in this introductory chapter. While I’m all for leaving audiences on a cliffhanger, the ending of this movie feels downright insulting, ending it during a time when so little has been established or confirmed for the progression of our title character, and it makes me wish that the studio could just make a great movie with the thought process that we might not get another shot at a second one. Because of such limitations, “Alita” loses so much momentum on its way to the finish line, and the film’s final moments are every bit predictable as they are anti-climatic. If you want to hone a ten hour narrative, shop it to Netflix and tell the whole story. Don’t waste the first hour by hinting at the following nine hours to follow.

– Dream team wasted. Mahershala Ali, Jennifer Connelly, Ed Skrein, Jackie Earle Haley, Michelle Rodriguez, Jeff Fahey, Casper Van Dien, and I haven’t even listed all of the big name actors who fill these roles. All of these faces come and go without even the slightest lasting impression of personality or impact upon this jumbled screenplay, and it gives them a flashback presence to a time when none of them could get anything better than a cameo appearance in a movie that was anything but them. With so much talent hanging in the balance, how could Rodriguez not take advantage of these once in a lifetime pairings? Their names are used for nothing more than to draw audiences in, and unfortunately those very same audiences will feel betrayed when they realize that only one of them is in the movie for more than ten combined minutes.

– Huge third act action set piece that is entirely inconsequential. This is one that bothers me from a logic standpoint. Towards the end of the film, there is a sort of alliance to finish of Alita once and for all, complete with thousands in attendance and a broadcast equal to that of the Super Bowl, and the way it ends unceremoniously is astounding when you consider the many in attendance who are going home without a defined conclusion. I can’t say a lot because of spoilers, but imagine if Tom Brady left during the third quarter when the Patriots had the ball, and he never comes back again. It’s baffling that anyone with a pen would write such an expensive and pointless sequence, and it only highlights the many faults of a screenplay riddled with chaos.

– Subplots introduced and never followed through. Dr. Ido’s previous daughter, Alita’s past before she was an android, the decaying relationship of Dr. Ido and his ex-wife, what led to said ex-wife taking a vicious personality change towards shallow lifestyles. These are just a couple of the arcs attached to the film that are never fully elaborated on, and stand as the biggest hurdle to getting any of these characters over for the audience to embrace. This screenplay has Attention Deficit Disorder, in that it can’t stop throwing a handful of subplots at us the audience without addressing and resolving what is front-and-center before us, and it overall gave the movie a very jumbled kind of circumstance that shreaded the pacing in ways that never quite got off of the ground.

– Undercooked romantic subplot. If there’s ever a single instance of this movie slipping away from the grip of the three writers who penned it, it’s in the unraveling of Alita’s romantic interest that burned the kind of kinetic energy below similar to the kind you get eating bad Thai food. The two actors lack even the slightest form of chemistry in capturing the kind of spark that the movie so desperately wants to establish, and the brief stint of time that this film takes place across only further muddles it. I get that Alita is essentially living for the first time, so all experiences are brand new to her, but she has known this kid for days and is quite literally willing to give her heart to him. It makes for some sappy, albeit unintentionally hilarious deliveries of dialogue that will have you either laughing or barfing, depending on how you react to artificial sugar.

My Grade: 5/10 or D

The Kid Who Would Be King

Directed By Joe Cornish

Starring – Rebecca Ferguson, Louis Ashbourne Serkis, Patrick Stewart

The Plot – Old school magic meets the modern world in this epic adventure. Alex (Serkis) thinks he’s just another nobody, until he stumbles upon the mythical sword in the stone, Excalibur. Now, he must unite his friends and enemies into a band of knights and, together with the legendary wizard Merlin (Stewart), take on the wicked enchantress Morgana (Ferguson). With the future at stake, Alex must become the great leader he never dreamed he could be.

Rated PG for fantasy action violence, scary images, thematic elements including some bullying, and adult language

POSITIVES

– Respects the source material. Any time you make a modern day adaptation to something of historical significance, the translation is usually less than stellar. However, what is sure to surprise a few people is that this film is actually a sequel to the Merlin saga we’ve come to understand, therefore it still abides by the same rules and history that we’ve come to enjoy. In addition to this, the film does successfully serve as a welcoming introduction to anyone who doesn’t know a lot about the ages old folk tale, taking valued screen time not only in filling us in about these character’s defining conflicts, but also in the traveled road of the sword itself, which gives whoever holds it a preservation of power that helps bring along their transformation.

– The modern spin. I loved how the very outline of the story, characters, and moments from the tale are translated in a way that makes them feel relatable to modern times. I won’t spoil much, but take for instance Alex’s estranged father, who we’re told heroically fought off many demons in his life before he was able to be an influence in Alex’s life. However, as we come to learn, demons in this context represent personal demons, and the man was anything but heroic because of such. It’s things like these that really gave the film a clever backbone of creativity, all the while grounding the fairy tale in the kind of realities that tell the audience this is anything but make believe. Likewise, the decision to not date this film numerically is one that keeps it from feeling dated, all the while harvesting an air of familiarity to our own world with how the movie frequently highlights the world feeling worse than ever before because of its leaders. I’d make an America joke here, but frankly I’m too depressed.

– Fresh faced cast that I couldn’t get enough of. I didn’t recognize a single one of the five youths that make up these new knights of the round table, but each of them have bright futures ahead because of the way their confidence harvests in each of their performances. For my money, the show-stealers are Serkis (Andy’s son) as the title character, and especially Angus Imrie as young Merlin. Serkis shows a ton of dramatic depth to the unveiling psychological fragility of his character, and Imrie rivets with a combination of finely-timed comedy and energetic hand movements that lead to beneficial spells. Both of them are stars in the making, and captivate the attention of every scene of long-winded dialogue delivery that hints that this film is the first step in bigger, bolder careers.

– Rides the waves of tonal change smoothly. I was expecting a comedy after seeing the trailers for this film, and for the most part that is correct. What surprised me however, was the consistency of each joke landing for a kids movie. Especially during the first act, when the lunacy of this legendary sword shows up for some hilariously awkward situations. In addition to the humor however, the film succeeds in adventure, science fiction, and especially drama, harvesting some gut-punch scenes of character development once the truth comes to light. A film will usually fall apart when it tries to attempt too many changes in tone, but “The Kid Who Would Be King” reigns in royalty because it takes enough time to fully flesh out the directions of where it’s heading, and ultimately it leads to a roller-coaster of mixed emotions that will have you pulling back so much more than you were expecting.

– Electric Wave Bureau’s beautifully immersive musical score. This group have had success with films such as “Lucy”, “Broken”, and the Paddington series, to name a few, but the work done in this film is easily my favorite from them because of the control in sound mixing that makes us the audience reach for something faint in the distance. In my interpretation, the eclectic tones channel a lot of 80’s coming of age flicks, like “Stand By Me” or “The Goonies”, in that they exert enough danger in the wonderment of adventure that you sadly don’t hear much in today’s child movie landscapes. The music fits on the ideals of war and blossoming adolescence that aren’t two of the easiest things to blend together, but E.W.B’s complete score is a taste test of rich flavors and layers that will have you putting your ears before eyes to see what hints become prevalent to you.

– Passion of filmmaking instilled to a kids movie. It would be easy for this film to fail for the fact that it’s released in January, but the combination of shot selection, gorgeous cinematography from the mastermind Bill Pope, and intriguing character arcs, render this one a rare gem to the days when kids movies could be films that looked and felt like award worthy presentations. The detail here to its themes and inspiring message is something that I feel will leave a lasting imprint on the rapid fire list of releases that they endure each year. It’s the perfect introduction for any kid wanting to learn more about film, and seeing the kinds of artistic integrities that expands their horizons, and it’s in bringing along that adult filmmaking mentality to a kids genre where I have the deepest respect for this picture.

– Feels like there is actually weight and stakes to the movie. Part of what I miss in the movies from my childhood are those instances of fright or daring imagery that supply a ball of uneasiness in the pit of my stomach, and this film is an homage to exactly what I’m talking about. Aside from an antagonist who is visually and personally sinister, there’s much to the idea surrounding school bullying and where the evolves with the progression of the story. It’s one of those films where the kids feel alone and legitimately responsible for what transpires, proving age is only a number in the inspiration and ambition to grow into what you’re destined to become.

NEGATIVES

– Misuse of the antagonist character. I have been a fan of Rebecca Ferguson for a few years now, so when I heard she was cast as the film’s central evil enchantress, I looked forward to seeing a side to her acting that I haven’t been privy to before. First of all, Ferguson is NOT the problem. She gives her all in these deliciously devilish takes when she is front-and-center. The problem comes from the lack of energy and time dedicated to her character that make her motivation nothing more than just another villain. Even the confrontation itself comes and goes with very little struggle or psychology to its movements, and it ultimately drops the ball on a character who deserved to have more influence on this group banding together to stop her.

– A bit too long. Clocking in at nearly two hours long, the film does begin to test patience during the third act, in which there are two different final battles. The second confrontation that rendered the first completely pointless and worthy of being edited out, feels like the real ending. This is really the only script disagreement that I had during the film, as the second conflict is bigger, more visually indulgent, and goes on a bit longer. I think without that first battle, the film could’ve trimmed fifteen light and inconsequential minutes that would’ve done wonders in carrying audiences through the home stretch.

– Computer generated saturation. While the generated effects in the film do supplant enough weight and believable color filtering to where they stand out, the percentage of its use becomes too much by film’s end, ridding itself of what simplicity made the movie sweet in the first place. Even for the fantasy genre of film, its imaginary properties don’t theoretically blend well with the whole Arthur folklore, and felt like too much was being thrown at the screen during the most impactful of sequences.

My Grade: 7/10 or B-

Glass

Directed By M Night Shyamalan

Starring – Bruce Willis, Samuel L. Jackson, James Mcavoy

The Plot – Following the conclusion of “Split”, “Glass” finds David Dunn (Willis) pursuing Crumb’s (Mcavoy) superhuman figure of The Beast in a series of escalating encounters, while the shadowy presence of Price (Jackson) emerges as an orchestrator who holds secrets critical to both men.

Rated PG-13 for violence including some bloody images, thematic elements, and adult language

POSITIVES

– One more chance with these characters. I still stand by that James Mcavoy should’ve been nominated for an Oscar for his work in “Split”, and here that momentum only continues. Mcavoy easily carries the movie, ushering us through 23 different personalities that all casually make an appearance in this installment, giving James a phenomenal range with improv characteristics. Likewise, Samuel L. Jackson as the title character is also impressive, combining a wide range of intelligence and anger that really make you feel for this man who has only ever known pain in his life. When Mcavoy and Jackson interact, it’s easily the best parts of the film for me, but unfortunately this is again a case of Bruce Willis phoning his performance in. It doesn’t help that the film has so little for him to do, but Willis’ calm demeanor doesn’t win him any awards in the category of most charismatic.

– A wide variety of shot compositions. While there is one problem in this area that I will get to later, the overall choices of angles and creativity associated with the film’s movement left me satisfied, and proved that above all else, Shyamalan still knows how to shoot a movie. What’s interesting is that “Unbreakable”, “Split”, and “Glass” are all part of the same series, yet none of them look visually anything alike. This allows each of these films to stand out on their own, so as to never repeat or derive the style about its respective films that harvested that air of originality that made each of them thrive visually.

– Creative use of flashback storytelling. There are no shortage of flashbacks throughout the film, in fact, I think “Glass” may have topped last year’s “Fantastic Beasts” sequel in how many times it recalls the past. Why it worked more here for me is not only the surprising instances of what it reveals, but also in triggering pivotal moments in these characters lives that peel the layer of the psychological onion one layer further. The transitions are never sloppy or rushed, and most importantly they keep the pacing of each scene they accompany firmly in their grip, never allowing them to drag or stall for too long.

– Shyamalan’s love for comic books once again shines through. “Glass” takes ample time not only in explaining the history surrounding some of the more important comic book novels of the past, but also incorporates them to this particular narrative, and it pulls out this poignancy that crafts an honorable message to the film’s social commentary. My take is that the film is reminding us that greatness exists in all of us, and this world will constantly try to diminish or devalue its existence, but it’s us who must stand up and give them irrefutable proof of the gifts we’ve always known were inside of us. If you take anything from this film, take this inspiring message that Shyamalan preaches, reminding us that all of us should be considered super.

NEGATIVES

– One terribly bad shot choice. This film has no shortage of close-up POV angle shots, particularly in that of the film’s fight sequences, that render them with a complete lack of believability. For one, we as an audience can’t register what is happening in each of them because we only see the face of one man, not what is transpiring beneath this face, therefore we can’t detect when a pivotal blow has been landed. For two, this screams PG-13 limitations, as well as an overall lack in chemistry between Willis and Mcavoy that tried so hard to frame the violence in ways that wouldn’t expose their limited capabilities. It could be forgiven if it happened a few times, but this gimmick is exploited so much that I couldn’t help but wince each time it popped up, and I can’t begin to imagine why Shyamalan felt that this was the way to go for capturing the impactful devastation.

– Plot holes/inconsistencies. I could write a book on this section alone, but I won’t bore you with the endless details that even the movie couldn’t answer for itself. Characters making irrational decisions, rules of Mcavoy’s character being changed from the previous film, continuity errors from scene to scene transitions, and issues with the capture of these men that had me scratching my head. Because of these frequent road blocks in creativity, the film feels like it can’t go ten minutes without the same question of logic popping up into my brain, and even in an era where we don’t question how Captain America can’t suffer any difficulties in the unfreezing process, or a selfless billionaire donning an iron suit to constantly risk his life, “Glass” feels like the biggest fabrication of truth in the comic genre that I’ve ever seen.

– Far too much humor. I expected that some of the line deliveries that Mcavoy gave were going to come across as comical. You can’t play an 8 year old or a woman without the audience snickering a time or two, but the overwhelming amount of comedy, not only with Mcavoy’s character, that constantly filled the screenplay, frequently pulled me out of the film’s immersion, giving the audience far too many moments of breath in between what should be these tense and epic showdowns. A joke about rap artist Drake is repeated on three different accounts, leaving Shyamalan as a screenwriter feeling like your hip grandpa who just discovered Youtube last week.

– Disjointed storytelling. “Glass” feels like three different stories being told simultaneously that never mesh together to form one cohesive unit. My biggest problem comes in the form of pivotal characters disappearing for long stretches of time, smashing any kind of momentum that the film requires in giving audiences each perspective side. Mcavoy feels like the one constant, but the lack of revenge conflict between Mr Glass and Dunn never actually happens, leaving the very same dynamic that blew the roof off of the theater in “Unbreakable” feeling underwhelming. It makes for a finished script that is often pulling us in different directions without us fully understanding why.

– Shows its hand far too often. If you seek a movie that gives away pivotal twists and turns constantly throughout the movie, then this might be the film for you. The first rule of competent screenwriting is that mentioning something once is forgettable, but to mention it twice or more means its important, and the film’s idea of repeating its own rules within this superhero world it establishes left me with a few telegraphed instances within the film, where I knew something was coming. That’s not to say that “Glass” is entirely predictable, it’s just entirely far too obvious and lacks any kind of nuance to slip one by you.

– That convoluted ending. When there was one twist, I loved it. That added layers to a previous film that wasn’t originally established. When there were three twists, I felt it was beginning to get out of hand. When there were six twists, I felt that the film got way ahead of itself, and it all became this overstuffed vacuum bag that blew minutes prior, yet still kept pumping. This is Shyamalan at his most Shaymalan, and what I mean by that is he has what he feels is a genius idea and keeps poking at it until we the audience scream “ENOUGH”. The final twenty minutes of this film could easily be considered the ending, and each scene that follows could easily be the ending in any film. But Shyamalan leaves the camera on for far too long, and the closing moments take this film to an ending that I’m confident will be unsatisfying to anyone who watches it, ending a once promising trilogy on a note of obvious disappointment that reminds you why the name Shyamalan scares you in the first place.

My Grade: 4/10 or D-

Inception

Directed By Christopher Nolan

Starring – Leonardo Dicaprio, Joseph Gordon-Levitt, Ellen Page

The Plot – Dom Cobb (Dicaprio) is a skilled thief, the absolute best in the dangerous art of extraction, stealing valuable secrets from deep within the subconscious during the dream state, when the mind is at its most vulnerable. Cobb’s rare ability has made him a coveted player in this treacherous new world of corporate espionage, but it has also made him an international fugitive and cost him everything he has ever loved. Now Cobb is being offered a chance at redemption. One last job could give him his life back but only if he can accomplish the impossible – inception. Instead of the perfect heist, Cobb and his team of specialists have to pull off the reverse: their task is not to steal an idea but to plant one. If they succeed, it could be the perfect crime. But no amount of careful planning or expertise can prepare the team for the dangerous enemy that seems to predict their every move. An enemy that only Cobb could have seen coming.

Rated PG-13 for sequences of violence and action throughout

POSITIVES

– One of a kind direction. Before “Inception”, Christopher Nolan already carved his name out as one of the best directors of the current era, but after the distinct imprint that he left on this picture, he became one of the greatest minds of all time, challenging the audience in ways that films often don’t anymore. This is very much a passion project for Nolan, whose pictures envelope the very best in all areas of the technical spectrum, and are only surpassed by a script that is the epitome of a game of mental chess. This film is the very definition of expedition, treating us to an idea that geographically feels galaxies away, yet in reality is something that we ourselves can reach out and touch, and it’s because of this quality that the science fiction in a film feels possible for once, because it is grounded in such reality.

– Art imitating life. Nolan based the roles of the Inception team similar to roles that are used in craft filmmaking, with Cobb being the director, Arthur being the producer, Ariadne being the production designer, Eames being the actor, Saito being the studio, and Fischer being the audience. What this does is mold a team-based exercise for the movie out of something that Nolan knows best, giving what I interpreted as an immersion into the mind of a literary and visual genius. In addition to this, the initials of each character spell out a bigger message to the audience at home. D(om), R(obert), E(ames), A(rthur), M(al), S(aito), P(eter), A(riadne), Y(usef) = Dreams Pay.

– Best of both worlds. There is this prejudice in Hollywood that big budget Summer blockbusters can’t be intelligent and poignant, but “Inception” was really the film that changed this dimming perspective. Combining a monstrous budget of 160 million dollars with a script so expansive in material that it took ten whole years to write, made for the rare breed of Summer releases that challenge the audience in ways that disaster films and monster movies simply never could, and man did it pay off. Every time I watch this movie, I learn something entirely new about it, and it’s in those clever nuances that have since become known as Easter eggs where the film has tremendous value as a two-and-a-half hour film that you actually yearn to watch again and again. As far as heist films go, it is easily the most challenging and most evocative that I have ever seen.

– Sight and sound. There are no shortage of achievements when discussing this film, but the exceptional perfection that is the rumbling texture of the film’s sound mixing, as well as the practical-dominated work of visual effects serve as the strongest duo, for far greater reason than it taking the Oscar in both respective categories. The movie’s audio thrives as this building ball of momentum, constantly mimicking that of the intensity in dream conflicts that builds to a satisfying blow-off without ever decreasing the urgency in the atmosphere. Everything introduced into the dream is always enveloped by this emphasis that engages you with its presence, and it’s even more incredible when you consider that most of the jaw-dropping visuals we’re seeing are done with limited- to-no computer generation. It’s a technical marvel that sheds light on the tremendous confidence that Nolan had in his crew in depicting this world that looks very similar, but feels eerily foreign to our own laws of gravity.

– Tremendous world building. While I do have a problem with some of the inconsistencies of the rules established that I will get to later, you can’t deny that this idea within these dream worlds were treated as so much more than just table dressing to the film’s essential plot. The film takes valuable screen time in explaining the rules, ideas, and consequences within this state of sleep that give it this rich sense of originality when compared to anything else in film history. Likewise, the set designs and backdrops feel vastly different in channeling the deeper levels of tranquility that the team invades, so as not to feel redundantly confusing to the audience keeping score at home. Also, the fine tuning of superb editing allows for great visual definition when it comes to each ever-changing layer of the dream, and kept things from ever feeling convoluted in a film where it easily could’ve been. This is editing that is visually telling us as many as four different stories at once, and never lost its location for the story along the way.

– Hans Zimmer’s best musical score to date. Zimmer has always been one of my personal favorite composers, but the work done here is exceptionally breathtaking in the way it takes command of these impactful sequences. Hans not only treats us to a fine variety of eclectic compositions, but his dedicated influence through a majority of this picture prove that he is working overtime when actors need a break from the frame. The music very rarely ever leaves the picture completely, and Hans even manages to save the best for last, as “Time”, a somberly building track that plays during the film’s emotional finale, may just be my single favorite piece of music not only by Zimmer, but by any composer in any film ever.

– Collective ensemble. I’ve read a lot of disdain for the performances in the film feeling wooden, but to me this couldn’t be further from the truth, as Dicaprio’s Cobb channels a lot of anger and grief in the valuable things lost that I felt his addiction to the past to induce shivers each time he comes at a crossroads to let them go. In addition to this, the banter and engagement of these top notch actors constantly keep things fresh because of their differences in dynamic, especially that of Levitt and Hardy, who feel like they have a complicated past between them that have left them uneasy towards one another. My favorite scenes really are just the ones when these characters interact with one another, proving that if personalities and presence are strong enough, you can’t get enough of their influence on the picture.

– Absorbing cinematography. The shot composition and color illustration in the film serve so much more purpose here than to outline a beautifully intricate film, it also establishes versatility in complexion that mimics each room it invades. Pay close attention to the background lighting or color pallet in each scene, and you’ll get an undeniable sense of how something so distant plays such an unavoidable presence in the foreground. What made it a done deal for me is that the color correction never feels overwhelmingly artificial, instead endearing subtly in a sponge-like quality to harvest the artistic merit in each scene. For a film made in 2010, it could easily stand tall with the 4K definition of a 2019 film.

– That controversial ending. (Light SPOILERS) Like most artistically poignant films, this one has plenty of room for interpretation, during the film’s pivotal closing moments. Many people have their own take whether Cobb is indeed awake or not when he is reunited with his children. My personal take is that there is a wobble on the spinner right before the screen fades to black, therefore instilling the idea that this is the real world. I say this because in the dream world there never was one instance of this even slightly wobbling even a little bit, therefore he must be in the real world. Either way, I applaud Nolan for giving food for thought to the idea that there is no wrong answer, and that either ending could alter the feeling of the film and its characters conclusively. It proves that endings don’t always need clarity to hit you the hardest emotionally, and if done right they can leave plenty of room for incorporated fan feelings, because after all, that is why movies are made in the first place.

NEGATIVES

– Inconsistencies with the rules. Some of the glaring problems upon my recent watch involved a few things that crossed my mind as being false, based on the established rules. The first is with the Limbo stage of the dream itself. If Limbo is indeed thought of as the point of no return, why is it so easy for Ariadne, Cobb, and Fischer to escape it by simply killing themselves in the dream? What about Cobb’s incarceration? How was he found guilty when he wasn’t even in the hotel that his wife jumped from? Doesn’t the hotel have cameras showing who went in and out of each room? Wouldn’t they have record of her checking into two different hotel rooms? It seems pretty clear cut to me. Finally are the audience conveniences that make absolutely zero sense in the context of the movie, but are there to forcefully teach the audience about the dream world. Why is Cobb even set up for a water kick when any kind of kick would work in waking him up? Why does it have to be water, and why not a mattress? How come the fall itself into the bathtub doesn’t wake Cobb? I’ll tell you why: So the movie can show water invading a dream. Once again, it only makes sense in the context of speaking to the audience. What about Cobb failing three different times during Saito’s test, and yet he still hires him anyway? What about Cobb’s kids being in America while he lives in other countries? Why not send the kids with Grandpa (Michael Caine) over to where Leo is, so they can be together? I could go into these things for years, but these were the ones that really bothered me.

My Grade: 9/10 or A-

Replicas

Starring – Keanu Reeves, Alice Eve, Emily Alyn Lind

The Plot – A daring synthetic biologist (Reeves) suffers through a brutal car accident that kills his family. In response, he will stop at nothing to bring them back, even if it means pitting himself against a government-controlled laboratory, a police task force and the physical laws of science.

Rated PG-13 for thematic material, violence, disturbing images, some nudity and sexual references

POSITIVES

– Cohesive musical score that channels the vibes of science fiction authenticity. While much of the audible deliveries in dialogue lacked anything of depth or convincing nature for my ears, the experimental touches of tones performed here by composers Mark Kilian and Jose Ojeda echo the paths of uncertainty brewing beneath the surface, and were a treat to my otherwise tortured eardrums. As expected, there are plenty of techno samples incorporated into the general outline, but it’s more so in the majority of practical piano that brings with it an air of class and sophistication to the picture, preserving the high stakes feel that our characters are playing with.

– Unintentionally humorous. Whether the film meant to instill such a ridiculous amount of cheese and silliness to the film, the result more times than not brings us the audience some delightful refrains in the area of hearty laughter. One thing that I can say about “Replicas” is that I was never bored during its 97 minute presentation, and a lot of that has to do with shaky line reads and braindead scientific accuracy that constantly demeaned this film from taking itself too seriously. This might sound like a glaring negative, but I would rather have a terribly funny movie than a terribly boring one, and the former is what helped push me through many of the problems that I will mention coming up.

– Intelligence in shooting schedule. Outside sequences in films often cost much more money to shoot and finalize, and this film’s capability to keep their screenplay indoors is certainly something that helped slim production costs. More than 90% of this movie takes place inside, and it’s probably a good thing because so much of the cinematography outside, especially during daytime scenes, radiate with an overall feeling of artificial lighting design that constantly break the fourth wall of realism. It’s not only believable why these instances would take place inside, but never hinders the creativity associated with the progression of the picture, and it’s awesome that they took something that would be considered a negative and blossomed it into a positive.

NEGATIVES

– How important is a good director? Well, they are responsible for garnering the best in emotional range and gut-punching relatability to us the audience, and neither are anywhere close to where they should be for this film. The movie just kind of glosses over the concepts of grief and its importance to investing so deeply in its characters, riding along with the kind of wooden performances that are easy to sniff out for even occasional moviegoers. When you take a film like “John Wick” and come to understand the importance of his dog, and what losing him meant to John, you back the character through anything, and that was anything but the case in “Replicas”. In a sense, it almost makes Reeves character here feel detestable, in that his selfishness and lack of emotions expressed during the film’s most impactful scene goes unfulfilled, and it made for characters who I just didn’t care for at all.

– Horrendously phony C.G effects. The movie “I, Robot” came out in 2004, and I mention that because not only did this film rip-off the android designs from that movie, but also did it with half of the captivation and weight that a film fourteen years prior did better. Aside from the live action actors totally getting the height capture wrong when staring at their android counterparts, the movements of fingers and limbs is so hollow that you can almost see the computerized dimensions moving stiffly without perfecting. Thankfully, these properties aren’t in the movie much, but the end result makes me think that was more intentional than anything.

– Has a show-and-don’t-tell mentality when it comes to its science. If you can somehow ignore that transferring memories is done in a basement, and done so flawlessly, the lack of explanation that goes into the surgical transfer itself will bother you in hanging on to what is transpiring. Instead, the film shows us a bunch of “Iron Man” touchscreen visuals, which translate to nothing more than lazy screenwriting so that no one calls it on its bullshit. Speaking of that sentiment, why doesn’t the film cover the issue of internal bacterial flora? In real life, these clones would die of constipation or some other stupid disease in no time, just from breathing in our air and not being used to its level of pollution. To be fair, the movie does showcase something going on in Alice Eve’s body while she’s out running, but we never get any explanation if this is what I’m talking about, or just vicious diarrhea from Reeves challenging breakfast offerings.

– In addition to what I just mentioned, the movie also has enough plot holes to drive a Range Rover through it. For one, this research team is specializing in memory transferring, so how are they top notch experts in cloning? If this guy is able to move a whole laboratory to his basement without error, why can’t he just work from home? There’s a scene where Reeves steals car batteries the night before to gain enough power for the transfer, and the cops come to his house the next morning asking if his car is ok, to which he replies “No, they didn’t get me”. How would he know when the thieves did it the night before, and he’s just now waking up? Wouldn’t they ask him to at least check his car before answering? Doesn’t this make him at least remotely suspect? Who cares, because it’s a movie, and you’re supposed to be stupid when watching a movie. Hating it means you’re an old grump.

– Obvious foreshadowing. The many times during the movie when something is unsubtly squeezed into a conversation, removes any kind of suspense or nuance to the developments of the picture. This as you might expect renders much of the screenplay predictable, giving us ample time to sniff out where and when it will pop up in the scenario to remind us why it was mentioned. The biggest instance of this is a crayon drawing by Reeves daughter on their kitchen table that the camera shows us for no reason than to hint that it will pop up somewhere down the road later, and of course it does. Reeves character is so stupid and unbelievable as a scientist that he somehow logs onto his kids Facebooks to clear up their disappearances, gets rid of all of the pictures and clothes in his house, yet somehow doesn’t see this abnormally big drawing of a dinosaur in crayon on a place he frequents often in the film. UGH!!!

– Uneven pacing. While the film was never boring to me, the polarly opposite first and second act did a complete disservice in settling down and enjoying the narrative. The first act speeds through any character introductions, and feels like it starts where a movie’s tenth minute usually is at, yet the second act slugs along in such a way that hinders the progression of some solid suspense up to that point. If the film could ever settle itself down and gain some consistency for itself, these acts would flow seamlessly, but as it stands the script lacks confidence in translating how much entertainment value it pulls from the material.

– It’s been a while since I’ve been this angry at a movie’s ending, but “Replicas” final five minutes renders everything that came before it completely pointless. SPOILERS – The antagonist group that moves in the shadows are never stopped or dealt with, the world evolves in a way with these replicas that is every bit as ridiculous as it is unexplained, and the negatives that hindered Reeves’ family replicants are never addressed again. I guess they just diminish in the same way my expectations for this movie did. It ends as abruptly as you can possibly imagine, leaving ten minutes of credits to inflate the movie’s run time to feel like a big screen run time.

My Grade – 3/10 or F

Bird Box

Directed By Susanne Bier

Starring – Sandra Bullock, Trevante Rhodes, John Malkovich

The Plot – In the wake of an unknown global terror, a mother (Bullock) must find the strength to flee with her children down a treacherous river in search of safety. Due to unseen deadly forces, the perilous journey must be made blindly.

Rated R for violence, bloody images, adult language and brief sexuality

POSITIVES

– Kicks off right away. I love a film that wastes little time in getting the pulse of the action going, and the first fifteen minutes of “Bird Box” perfectly set the precedent for what’s to come in the following two hours. We are caught off-guard with the ensuing mayhem in the same way Malorie (Bullock) is, learning things as we go in this unpredictable circumstance. This momentum sticks around permanently throughout, making a challenging runtime feel like half of that because of constantly-evolving challenges and suffocating atmosphere that boil together to produce one electrifying experience.

– Non linear story that actually pleases. It’s a lost art anymore to piece together a story that adds anything of originality to its structure, but screenwriter Eric Heisserer does a solid job of constructing two respective timelines, one in current day and one five years prior, while instilling intrigue to both. What’s impressive is that each arc adds to the other, delivering a series of bombshell deliveries that make certain aspects about the opposite timeline come to light because of the important information. What’s valuable is that neither is more compelling or lagging, building two enthralling stories for the price of one.

– Performances. While I did have many problems with the characterization of the film, there’s a familiar face behind every corner that only adds to the big name atmosphere of the streaming presentation. There are many challengers in the way of Sandra’s domination of screen time, most notably in Malkovich’s stuffy snob, whose conservatism keeps him reserved on the front of human interaction, or in the continuation of “Moonlight’s” soft interior bad boy Trevante Rhodes, who acts as the protector of sorts to Bullock, but it always comes back to her. Bullock captivates the screen frequently, bringing a combination of on-call tears and Motherly instinct that make her an indulging protagonist. Most leads get stronger the more they’re tested, but Bullock’s Malorie feels grounded in reality, etching out a layer of vulnerability with the character that comes with parental instinct.

– Unavoidable weight and consequences. One thing often missing from post-apocalyptic movies is the air of permanence that elevate its conflict and illustrate a line of urgency that resonates with the audience. That’s never a problem here, as stakes are constantly raised between an adapting antagonist and an increasing body count that diminishes the hope of ever going back to the old ways. There is no quick and easy solution to the mayhem that persists throughout, and if a depressing story challenges you negatively, this isn’t the story for you.

– Decaying beauty in the film’s cinematography. Especially is the case during scenes on the river, there’s an overall greying tint and literal fog in the air that make for some exceptional scenes of transfixing focus amongst the gorgeous photography. Salvatore Totino brings with him the same textures and filters of somber ambiance that made his work on “Everest” one of that year’s best, and harvests a big screen level of toxicity in the air of post-apocalyptic backdrop that conjures a big screen stature for Netflix films.

– A gift of anxiety for all. This is one of the things that I hear most about the film, and after watching it I can say that the exhilaration of tense sequencing is clearly the strongest aspect of this film. Between a combination of finely documented camera work whose editing increases between each respective character in frame, and the powerful duo of Trent Reznor and Atticus Ross once again providing gas for the proverbial fire, we get a collection of exchanges that constantly ratchet the tension and hang just perfect enough in air to amplify our intrigue without it ever carrying on for far too long. In addition, the periodic use of point-of-view camera work casts the audience in Bullock’s shoes, exerting that feeling of uneasiness that comes with being blindfolded against an adversary you’re so unfamiliar with. In general, there are very few films that can compete with “Bird Box” this year in terms of audience investment, and that constant elevation of the elements at play cook to make a boiling pot of nerves on the audience’s indulgence.

– Interpretive poignancy. As with any movie, there are tons of interpretations at a deeper meaning beneath the material, and “Bird Box” expanded my mind on a couple of self-observations that transcends the table dressing of the plot. SPOILERS AHEAD. The first is the entity’s lack of physicality on humans throughout the film, instead choosing to possess the ones that see so that they can hurt others. I interpreted this as the film believing that we the humans are the ones that are killing everything and everyone around us, and that we are the only ones capable of preserving our future as a race. The second one is really my opinion on the film as a whole. It’s about mental health and depression, and how we as a nation are blind to its effects. This not only explains the influence of suicide throughout the film, but also why it happens to random people instead of everyone, hinting that it can plague anyone at any time. Like I said, these are just my opinions on the material, and certainly nothing that’s concrete. I like a film that makes you think, and this one had no shortage of that.

NEGATIVES

– Thinly written characters. Outside of Bullock’s central protagonist, the film doesn’t waste any time donating exposition or backstory to the pasts of the group of eclectic survivors who surround her. This is probably why many of their deaths didn’t resonate any kind of emotional feeling from within me, and more than that creates an unintentional highlight of its own for who is expendable, based on the amount of screen time that each of them receive. Some characters die without little impact, some disappear to never show up again, and some I still don’t know the name to. May they rest in peace, forever nameless.

– Unanswered questions and plot holes. There were no shortage of times when I scratched my head at the lack of answers from a movie that clearly didn’t think things out all the way through. SPOILERS AHEAD How were they able to properly determine that sight was the cause of the mayhem? Why not breathing, or hearing? How do only a few people see the thing in an enormous crowd who are all looking in different directions? How did Malorie’s sister see it but she didn’t when they were in the same car, looking the exact same direction? How does a blindfold secure you, but seeing it on a surveillance camera doesn’t? It’s proven that this thing can kick down sturdy structures, so why does a house remain its weakness? It knows people are in there, so why isn’t this thing blowing this house down? What about animals? Why are they safe from seeing it? Wouldn’t there be more animals in the streets than humans if this were the case? During the GPS car scene, there isn’t a single flipped or turned car on the road that would block their path? GPS is never an exact science, so when it tells them to turn? How did the guy know EXACTLY when to turn? How was a guy the size that size able to sneak up on someone in the water? Especially considering the hearing sense of the trio should be at its peak with other senses diminished. These are just a few of the questions that I left the theater with, but I saved my real money for……….

– Lack of believability with the ending. SPOILERS. Why is a village of blind people the safe zone for Malorie and her family? What does them being safe have anything to do with her safety? How has this house stood for this long without some kind of conflict from the monster against it? How were all of them even able to get here? How will blind people defend themselves from someone getting in? It’s happened before, so it’s not crazy to think that it will happen again. Is an ending where the monster is still alive supposed to be satisfying? Are you the audience anymore relieved or confident because Malorie and her family reached this place? This is my problem when I think about the final moments to a story that was so edgy and unpredictable. It’s too neat and tidy to feel believable, and let a lot of momentum out of a film that was otherwise seductively suspenseful.

My Grade: 7/10 or B

Spider-Man: Into the Spider-Verse

Directed By Bob Persichetti, Peter Ramsey, Rodney Rothman

Starring – Shameik Moore, Jake Johnson, Hailee Steinfeld

The Plot – Miles Morales (Moore) comes across the long-dead Peter Parker (Johnson). This Peter Parker is not from his world though; he’s from somewhere else in the multiverse. With Parker’s guidance, Miles will become Spider-Man: and through that he will become part of the ever-expanding ‘Spider-Verse’.

Rated PG for frenetic sequences of animated action violence, thematic elements, and mild adult language

POSITIVES

– Comic book magazine come to life. There have been films classified as a comic book movie endlessly before, but “Into the Spider-Verse” is the rare exception that actually lives and breathes by this definition. Aside from the breathtaking cinematography that literally transfers the backdrops and landscapes of the comic book accordingly, the movie also brings with it some unique traits in personality that sets it above its kin of the genre. As an animator turned director, Persichetti instills on-screen text that reacts to sounds, on-screen text boxes that serve as the narrator inside of Morales’s mind, three-cut perspectives that radiate that side-by-side feel of a comic book dynamic, and of course the wind range of animation from each respective Spider-Man in the film, that cohesively bonds to feel smoothly in the same film or in this case universe.

– Entrancing visuals in animation. Everything from the variety of ever-changing set designs, including but not limited to a cyberpunk inspired 2018 New York, to the texture of the animation itself, feels every bit as authentic as it does transcendent of the screen, carving out that layer of comic book euphoria that takes precise expertise to competently master it. Sometimes the animation feels straining, like watching a 3D movie without the glasses, but it’s all intentional, as it echoes the vibes perfectly of comic book pages that sometimes lose a little bit of that focus in being the victim of a copy of a copy. But when it’s smooth in depiction, “Into the Spider-Verse” is not only the most beautiful comic book movie of all time, but easily the most beautifully textured film of the year for the knockout presentation that constantly raises the bar with each passing minute.

– Transformative voice acting from a well rounded cast. Shameik Moore is brilliant as the film’s central protagonist, vocalizing the combination of immaturity, fear, and daring nature that we’ve come to expect in the character, from Miles big screen debut. Moore himself is 23 years old, but excels because of a softer and gentler side to vocalizing that easily allows him to immerse himself in this teenage nerd of sorts. Likewise, Nicolas Cage is delightfully meditated as my favorite Spider-Man offering: Spider-Man Noir. His voice is unmistakable, but the smooth deliveries in the manner that only Cage can deliver makes him perfect for the role, and carves out a second animated role of the year (Teen Titans Go To The Movies) that should provide a rebirth for one of America’s most celebrated actors. Jake Johsnon steals the show as Peter Parker, and does so by giving us an older, depressed side to Peter that movie fans aren’t used to seeing. Johnson’s dry delivery and constant undercutting of Miles made for some of my favorite exchanges of the movie, and carved out a dynamic in chemistry between them that had me begging for more films between just these two characters.

– Like most Spider-Man movies, there is a twist midway through the film, and it couldn’t have come at a better time. Between weak underwriting of the antagonists, as well as a story that was starting to lose steam, this reveal comes and sort of adds fuel to Miles’s fire, serving as the catalyst to motivate him to become who he’s destined to be. This twist actually did throw me off, and reminded me repeatedly of the one thing that comic books do better than telvision shows or movies, and that is the capability to make something so small feel so devastating to everyone enveloped in the unraveling narrative.

– Thunderous sound design. Although the narration deliveries are a bit mumbled and hard to hear throughout the film, the rumbling intensity of character perspectives allowed the audience several takes to investing themselves into the shoes of the character. One such example is early on in the film during a ride to school between Miles and his father, and we are treated to the faint sounds of cars whizzing by. Sounds small in effect, but I can’t tell you how many movies bumble this sound design repeatedly, taking something so honest as influence of environment and wiping it away to constantly remind us of studio interference. This of course isn’t the only aspect of this impactful sound scheme throughout, but just an example of how much time and effort went in to establishing an environment and seeing it all the way through to the finish line of the scene’s progression.

– Patience in storytelling. What I appreciate about the story inside is that it never feels rushed or forced to approach the same kind of familiar tropes that so many of these films are about. As much as this is a coming of age story for Miles, it’s also a family drama, and the elements of both of these slow cook, giving time to each to boil to the top once they’ve reached their respective intensities. Likewise, I also appreciated Miles growing into his capabilities as Spider-Man, instead of being great at them right away. This drives me nuts constantly in Spider-Man films because no one should be able to master these gifts without practice, and Morales’s story finally gives us insight, as well as concentration into the one who accepts these responsibilities.

– Doesn’t try to be something that it’s not with time allowance. So many superhero films are encroaching on that two-and-a-half hour mark with very little reason, but “Into the Spider-Verse” stays confidently firm at 108 minutes because that is how much story it has to tell. Because of this, the pacing feels smooth, never giving us an obvious moment of downtime or lag to the progression of the movie, nor the bottling of momentum that never manages to lose even a single drop. I was very much consistently invested in this story and characters, and this feeling gave off the impression that I was being re-introduced to the superhero genre all over again.

– The more you know. The film will appeal to fans young and old of Spider-Man all the same, but if you have followed this legendary character with more dedication, you will be rewarded for your years and dollars invested. Throughout the film, we are treated to an endless offering of inside character jokes, surprising cameo appearances, and a post credits scene that pokes fun at a certain meme that is all the talk of the comic book community. Aside from this, the humor is above average, and more importantly does so by providing observation at the honest, awkward moments of life, instead of catering to a set-up and delivery that can otherwise grow tiresome.

– Thrilling action sequences and set pieces that add to the intensity of the scene. Much of the fresh consistency comes from the variety of villains that adorn the film, but two sequences in particular stood out as fantasy in possibility that remind us why animated is the way to go for comic book lore. One such scene takes place with Peter and Miles swinging throughout the woods of what feels like an endless forest, giving us several intelligent uses of the web that a city setting just can’t accommodate, and the other is the film’s climax fight high above the city limits, at crossroads of the many universes we’ve been told about. Both of these scenes are great for their super quick arsenals of choreography that exchange like dance partners, but the true beauty and consequences of the latter gave us a finale with a familiar antagonist that fully realizes the Miles transformation.

NEGATIVES

– For my money, I could’ve used more development in the relationship between Uncle Aaron (Voiced by Mahershala Ali) and Miles. We’re constantly told what Aaron means to Miles, but rarely shown it, and I could’ve used a few more scenes to flesh out and truly feel the drama of something that goes down between them. Even if this is nit-picking at this point, this stands out like a sore thumb as the film’s most noticeable weakness, and I could’ve used a couple more scenes to magnify Aaron’s importance to the script and give the movie enough reason to reach for that two hour runtime.

My Grade: 9/10 or A

Aquaman

Directed By James Wan

Starring – Jason Mamoa, Amber Heard, Willem Dafoe

The Plot – Arthur Curry (Mamoa) learns that he is the heir to the underwater kingdom of Atlantis, and must step forward to lead his people and be a hero to the world. Standing in his way is the leader of a dangerous army, led by Arthur’s brother King Orm (Patrick Wilson). Will the communicator of underwater life stake his claim, or will the wrath of the Seven Seas provide too much for him?

Rated PG-13 for sequences of sci-fi violence and action, and for some adult language

POSITIVES

– James Wan’s immense scope on this decades old property. After you see the film, you will have no doubts that this modern day maestro was the right man for the job, as the variety of geographical set pieces and enhanced world building gives new life to the property many deemed impossible to bring to the big screen. Wan spares zero expense when it comes to capturing the sheer magnitude of the world beneath our feet, bringing with him several rumbling action set pieces and believably textured C.G work as far as the eye can see, that is sure to silence even the loudest doubters.

– Consistency of tone is key. One thing that D.C has failed with at nearly every big screen release until now is the cohesive bond that appropriately measures humor and drama respectively. Thankfully, “Aquaman” feels like the blueprint for future successes here because it keeps each within their boundaries, so as to never encroach on the importance of the other. What’s most commendable is the humor doesn’t feel forced or immature to the kinds of personality that the characters maintain throughout the film. There’s this very accommodating sense within the material that doesn’t just cater to older audiences like in past movies, allowing kids the chance to enjoy the wonderment and light-hearted atmosphere that this company has been under-appreciating in its comic movies.

– Strong ensemble work all around from this talented cast. While this is certainly a breaking out vehicle for its main star, who exuberates enough brawn and bravado behind a crooked smile, I was surprised at the allowance given to the supporting cast as well. Heard possibly steals the movie in my opinion, carving out another female heroine for D.C in ways Marvel can only dream of. Likewise, Dafoe, Nicole Kidman, and Patrick Wilson each turn in impactful dramatic turns, giving the franchise name tremendous value because of the sum of its big name parts. It could be easy for any of them to get lost in the ridiculousness of wearing these costumes or donning these tridents, but each actor brings with them a level of professionalism that makes them believable in their respective roles, transcending the familiarity of their appearances into the characters they are portraying.

– The single most beautiful looking superhero film of all time. Yes, I just gave “Aquaman” the honors over films like “Guardians of the Galaxy” or “Thor”, mainly because the difficulty in capturing the beauty of something as dark and mysterious as the sea is something film just hasn’t captured until now. Don Burgess’s turquoise filtering reaches an astonishing level of consistency throughout, but it’s his enveloping nature of the above water landscape shots that constantly captured my attention and stretched the boundaries of imagination, making these two worlds truly rub together synthetically. Whether you like or hate this movie, everyone will feel like they just came out of a film where the pages of a comic book came to life, and that above everything else is probably the most important aspect to any comic book adaptation.

– Learning from mistakes. Where “Aquaman” takes perhaps its biggest step forward is the decision not only to not make this an origin story, but also not to cater to a future installment before attaining greatness with this current film. Sure, there’s certainly flashbacks to Arthur’s training growing up, but they actually serve a purpose in echoing the timeline of current day, all the while leading to a big discovery that shakes both timelines immensely. If you’re watching this film for a link to other D.C movies, you will be very disappointed, but I think that’s the proper steps necessary for finally gaining some traction of momentum for this once storied company.

– Hits and misses with the music. While I despised the soundtrack for this movie (A Pitbull cover of Toto’s “Africa”? Seriously?), the compositions of Rupert Gregson Wagner more than carried the load in this particular area. Wagner’s entrancing and wonderous musical score instills enough fantasy to the outline of the picture that really makes those moments of triumph truly pop. In addition, the thunderous audible presentation of the war sequences bring with them a sense of rumbling urgency that frequently hold your attention, and echo that of war genre films like “The Thin Red Line” or “The Patriot” that juxtapose that level of uncertainty on the screen.

– Creative touches in serene camera work. Wan is the culprit here once again, as his revolving scope around these important scenes of dialogue experiment in a way that truly allows the audience to move and immerse themselves in the thick of the water itself. This one-of-a-kind experience gives us several takes of textbook pasting in editing that made even me question several times if what we are seeing was long take sequences of long-winded dialogue delivery. It’s great to see Wan has developed a level of personality behind the lens that constantly evolves with each project, and never distracts or takes away from the beauty within the fantasy of the setting.

– Despite the setting being this fantasy realm of caves and creatures, the material itself is instead grounded in this family hierarchy, debating the bond of blood relatives in a way that everyone watching can relate to. Think “Game of Thrones” set in a world of fantasy and you’re already halfway there. What I love about this dynamic is it takes something as unfamiliar to us as the deepest darkest blue and withdraws from it this level of family drama that everyone has dealt with at one time or another in their lives. More than anything, this makes “Aquaman” certainly the most relatable and accessible to audiences enjoying one of these movies for the first time ever, and highlights yet another layer of brotherly bond that we thought we’ve seen enough of.

NEGATIVES

– Manta, while looking menacingly awesome in a detailed body suit, never feels like an important or vital part of the film because of limitations of time given to his development. This is also the only light pacing issues I have with the film, as every time we cut to his subplot, it all just feels like filler to reach the 130 minute desired run time and breath for the more important war that Arthur is building towards. I would’ve preferred they saved this antagonist for an Aquaman sequel instead, allowing them not only to properly flesh out the revenge associated with the character, but also proper time for Yahya Abdul-Mateen to shine in the role.

– Clunky dialogue. There are still problems in the script with characters speaking these cringing lines with such a lack of conviction. That’s not to say that it’s the actors faults, just that far too often these lines don’t flow as natural conversation, instead catering to the superhero demographic that literally forces these people to say these same tired lines. A great example is “The Dark Knight”, where no one speaks like a superhero or villain, instead sounding like a conversation between HUMAN beings, that transcends its superhero label. “Aquaman” shakes itself of all of these familiar tropes except for this one, and it makes for instances of unintentional humor that were distracting.

My Grade: 8/10 or B+

Bumblebee

Directed By Travis Knight

Starring – Hailee Steinfeld, John Cena, Jorge Lendeborg Jr

The Plot – On the run in the year 1987, Bumblebee finds refuge in a junkyard in a small Californian beach town. Charlie (Steinfeld), on the cusp of turning 18 and trying to find her place in the world, discovers Bumblebee, battle-scarred and broken. When Charlie revives him, she quickly learns this is no ordinary, yellow VW bug.

Rated PG-13 for sequences of sci-fi action violence

POSITIVES

– Most of the reason that this film works for me is in the dynamic between Charlie and Bumblebee that transcends the conventional film friendship. These are two outcasts who feel alone in the world they both inhabit, so when they do cross paths it allows each of them to open up and shine to their truest potential. Charlie in particular, is still reeling from the untimely death of her father, while B feels like a prisoner on his new home, so we invest in the friendship between them because in turn each one of them represents what the other is missing. Likewise, this dynamic is something that has been missing from this franchise for a long time, and Knight guides along a movie about relationships that just happen to be on the eve of this robotic day of justice.

– Personal touches on the bots. Knight’s beneficial detail is something that certainly didn’t go unnoticed by this critic, as he gives the robots a more relatable side to human emotion and interaction that sometimes felt strained in past editions. Bumblebee’s facial registries are more clearly defined in this film, emoting happiness, fear, sadness, and worry as well as any of the actors in the film. The fight scenes are also better choreographed and full of more hand-to-hand arsenal than we’ve seen, making for sequences when we telegraph the devastation in each and every blow.

– 80’s aesthetic. It makes sense that this film takes place in the 80’s because that is when the Transformers were brought to life, and its influence over this film is something that makes for some truly enjoyable occasions when it’s done right. One such example is in the subtleties of the housing designs, complete with shag carpet and wood paneling on the walls that remind audiences of the setting of their past accordingly. This angle did sometimes feel a bit too on the nose, like when the movie “The Breakfast Club” pops on the tube, or a box of Mr T cereal non-chalantly pops into frame, but overall I think it’s done with enough vibrancy that rarely takes the attention away from the characters and situations of the screenplay. Which leads to…..

– There’s actual consequences. People died in the other Transformers movies, but we rarely ever saw it. “Bumblebee”, despite its small scale on the number of bots that adorn the film, feels like the most dangerous of the series films because it’s never afraid to get its hands dirty. There are three human deaths in the movie that even I thought were a bit risky for youthful audiences, but I commend a movie for documenting the ferocity and dangerous demeanor of the Decepticons physically. Because of such, there’s a bit of uncertainty to a story that would otherwise be predictably cartoonish, and I welcomed this responsibly stern take on depicting the perils of war without flinching.

– Plenty of laughs for the whole family. In addition to the physical bodily humor that was depicted in the trailers for the film, there’s surprisingly no shortage of hearty laughs between the interaction of our two main characters. What’s even more important is that these instances of humor never soiled the heart or the integrity of the franchise, instead instilling these welcome moments of breath in between the carnage and devastation that were the majority of the movie. My favorite is definitely a car vandalization scene, in which B gets his first taste of revenge against an antagonist who clearly messed with the wrong girl.

– Appropriate run time. This might be the single most important aspect of the film, because the previous Transformers chapters felt like an eternity when I watched them. Clocking in at a respectable 109 minutes, “Bumblebee” carries with it the smooth pacing and frequent transitions to constantly keep the screenplay moving at a pleasurable stride, making it feel unlike anything before. There was never a moment in the film where it felt lagging or derivative of an earlier scene, and because of such, this will certainly be the first Transformers movie that I will have no problem watching again.

– My favorite soundtrack of 2018. This could easily fall into the category of 80’s touches, but I felt it required its own mention because of the impressive collection of assorted artists that will earn my first soundtrack purchase of the year. Some of my favorite tracks of the decade, like “Take on Me” by A-Ha, “I Know It’s Over” by The Smiths, or “Everybody Wants To Rule the World” by Tears For Fears, are just a few of the tasty grooves that shine in their respectable moments, signaling the end of a decade of music that some still argue as the very best that ever graced our speakers. While it’s the 80’s that shines for a majority, stay during the artistic post-film credit sequence for an uplifting track called “Back To Life” from the film’s leading lady Hailee Steinfeld. It proves there’s nothing she can’t do.

NEGATIVES

– One character doesn’t fit. I will probably be in the minority here, and I certainly have nothing against this actor, but I felt Lendeborg Jr’s character didn’t work in the dynamic chemistry of B and Charlie. This is especially the case considering where this forced romance to the plot ends up by film’s end. Not only this, but it kind of takes away from the aspect of Charlie feeling like a loner until she meets this one-of-a-kind robot who completely transforms her world. Do me a favor if you don’t believe me: take every situation that Lendeborg’s character is in, remove him, and see if it changes anything at all.

– Choppy editing. This is sadly still a problem in the franchise, and frankly it’s not the soul reason to blame for some sloppy action sequences. The camera angles themselves are certainly far too close on the immense size of these dueling bots, but too many cuts in the sequencing itself is the most obvious enemy that these big budget battles spoil. The special effects themselves look great in the film, so there’s absolutely no reason why we should be using this ploy that hides negatives so frequently. Everyone wants to be “Saving Private Ryan”, but sometimes less pageantry of the visuals is more.

– Too many endings. There’s a shot on the Golden Gate Bridge that was the perfect conclusion to this film, but sadly it’s ruined by an additional three scenes that frankly don’t add anything more of substance, and doesn’t allow us to hit the credits during the most impactful moment. More than anything, it’s to link itself to the other movies in ways that should go without saying, but I would prefer if a movie this special demolishes any roads that leads it to the awful Michael Bay directed movies that kidnapped a lot of adult’s childhoods.

My Grade: 7/10 or B-