The Secret Life of Pets 2

Directed By Brian Lynch

Starring – Patton Oswalt, Kevin Hart, Harrison Ford

The Plot – Max (Oswalt) faces some major changes after his owner Katie (Ellie Kemper) gets married and now has a child . On a family trip to the countryside, Max meets a farm dog named Rooster (Ford), and both attempt to overcome his fears. Meanwhile, Gidget (Jenny Slate) tries to rescue Max’s favorite toy from a cat-packed apartment, and Snowball (Hart) sets on a mission to free a white tiger named Hu from a circus.

Rated PG for some action and rude humor

POSITIVES

– Improvements on all things animation. Illumination Studios has always been a distant third in detailed animation, but thanks to the tightening of illustrations that fills this film, arguably the very best artistic film that the studio has ever produced, they can start to bridge the gap of their opposition. It isn’t just one thing but rather a barrage, as the believability behind stormy weather patterns is beautifully rendered, the expressions of animals during the most extreme occasions adds more to the comedic relief, and even the 3D effects give an immersive quality to everything flowing in frame that warrants paying a little extra to see this film. With time, this studio will hopefully continue this trend, and offer so much more than colorfully vibrant backgrounds against a city skyline that offers plenty of familiar geography to place this story accordingly.

– Talented cast. Oswalt is a more-than enthusiastic fill-in for Louie C.K, but it’s really the work of Slate and Hart who take center stage in incorporating intensity to their often familiar vocal tones. As Gidget, Slate is a force to be reckoned with, juggling an infatuation for Max all the while proving to the audience the extent of her cunning intellect. As to where the first film showed off Slate as a lover, this one cements her as a fighter, and her emoting of Gidget is my very favorite of this entire franchise. Hart should stick with animated properties for a while, because the combination of eccentric deliveries and polar opposite vocal capacity in comparison to that of his furry rendering, makes him perfect for voice range capabilities, and the focus and attention given to his character practically begs for a Snowball spin-off that feels just around the corner. New additions are those from Tiffany Haddish, Dana Carvey, and a wise, weathered dog leader voiced by none other than Han Solo himself, Harrison Ford. It rounds off arguably the brightest ensemble of comedic actors in quite some time, and prove that their talents serve a much bigger purpose than just physical humor in sight gags.

– Fluffy run time. This one clocks in at a measly 77 minutes, and with sharing time between three respective story arcs does so in a way that keeps the eagerness and intensity of the storytelling firmly in grip with regards to a youthful audience that sometimes slip away during slow periods of exposition. While this does create some problems for the fluidity of the transitions, which I will get to later, the confidence donated to each vital character receiving their own conflicts in the story gives the movie a three-movie-for-one quality within its pages that practically forces movement in the casual three act structure that can sometimes omit itself invisible in family genre cinema. There was never a time when I was bored or antsy watching this movie, and much credit goes to the producers of the film for knowing just how far to stretch each story before it becomes something in depth that it rightfully shouldn’t.

– Intelligence in gags. I said this about the first film, and it’s something that continues in this movie. The way the film takes real moments of familiarity from the pets in our own lives, and adds a layer of profound poignancy to each situation is something that not only reaches for audience participation, but also does so in a way that will have you intentionally remembering the occasions from this movie once you go home. This gives the film and its material a consistency in shelf life that many films in modern day don’t attain, and speaks volumes to the levels of attention that screenwriters Chris Renaud and Jonathan Del Val engage in to contrast with their audience’s. In that respect, the material itself feels very much fleshed out from real life, and performed in an exaggerated way that works because of its small amounts of truth that derive from these very humorously humbling moments of love from our best friends.

– Pre-credits rap video. I won’t give away much here, but Kevin Hart’s dream to be a rapper comes full circle in a spoof of a familiar rap track from the previous couple years that is given new context thanks to the world surrounding his character. Not since 2006’s “Waiting…” has a post-movie performance left such a lasting impression on me, and the work of creativity in rhymes combined with the sheer lunacy of the situation in mid-day form, makes this moment the one that stands out the most for me in terms of comic lasting power, and non-surprisingly gives the original track, which I hated tremendously, a new lease on life. If this song was heard on the radio even half as much as that original song, then I would be fine with it.

– Strong positive message. As is the case with every kids movie out today, this one has a takeaway message that bonds its respective subplots together for one cohesive beat, and it’s the importance of overcoming fear. Especially with younger audiences, this message will ring true from within them, because it’s at that age where battling adversities prepares them for the war that is adolescence, and it’s something that resonates on-screen in each of the fears that the main character’s have to overcome for the sake of their developments. If an on-screen message is presented strong enough, kids will take even more away from it, and thankfully the film never feels overly preachy or even condescending in the message it sends the next generation of adventure seekers home with.

NEGATIVES

– Incoherent structure. As I mentioned earlier, there are three different subplots competing for time, and while this does wonders in keeping the attention of younger audiences, it does nothing for experienced moviegoers who know how important seamless transitions really are to the progress of a particular narrative. The outline of each story feels episodic, mainly because of unshakeable predictability and adjacent plotting, which does the film no favors in establishing its story as a group effort like the first movie. Because of this triangle of direction, the script itself forgets certain early angles established early on (See Max’s protection of little boy) that would make great films on their own, but are relegated to split screen time with other stories not half as compelling. For my money, the Snowball story could easily be stretched out for his own spin-off, leaving the branches of the other two somewhat connected plots feeling cohesive because of the way one is the effect of the other’s cause.

– Lack of weight. The conflicts from this movie are practically non-existent, thanks in part to resolutions that often come too fast, and a shoe-horned antagonist character who feels completely wrong for this world. On the former, I could’ve used more time for fear or tribulation for the character’s embattled with their respective conflicts. This is where ten or fifteen minutes of additional screen time could’ve further fleshed out the urgency and vulnerability of these small pets in a big world setting, and given way to further audience participation who have shared the struggles that each character has gone through. As for the antagonist, it’s the loudest reminder that this is a cartoon kids movie, complete with bulging eyes, black ensemble, and a hatred for animals for no other reason than the script asked for it. Quick question, how many times have you seen a villain who owns an abusive zoo, where the protagonists have to rescue said animals from his clutches? If you’ve run out of fingers, so have I.

– Plot holes. When you consider that this is virtually a “Toy Story” ripoff, you must consider the rules established within the world that make absolutely no sense when you consider a sprinkle of logic. For one, many of these pets go missing for long periods of time that make me question why no human owner is freaking out about where they’ve gone. In addition to this, there are certain instances in the film where believability is stretched further than a “Fast and Furious” lesson on gravity. Some of my favorite examples are a dog outracing a train, two dogs riding a remote controlled toy car without it tipping over or losing speed, and a psychopathic old woman character who not only commits murder, but also sees no problem with owning a Siberian tiger. Considering much of this film is set-up with real world ideals and consequences, these instances soil the authenticity of the engagement, and disappointed me for how these films are still insulting the intelligence of their youthful audience.

– Additional complaints. While this will only be a problem for people who see advanced screenings of this film, the inclusion of a behind-the-scenes introduction that plays before the film is more than just a little spoiler-filled for the gags it gives away. Why would you include something like these before the film plays? It renders the power of your laughs weak because the audience has already seen it before the movie starts, and just feels redundant once it comes around in the movie itself. The trailers for this film were actually solid, in that they didn’t give much away other than spare instances of familiarity of the pets in our own lives, but this production video did absolutely no favors in those regards, and took away from material that by its own merits was effective at garnering a laugh or two on its original run through.

My Grade: 6/10 or C

Aladdin

Directed By Guy Ritchie

Starring – Naomi Scott, Will Smith, Mena Massoud

The Plot – A street rat (Massoud) frees a genie (Smith) from a lamp, granting all of his wishes and transforming himself into a charming prince in order to marry a beautiful princess (Scott). But soon, an evil sorcerer (Marwan Kenzari) becomes hell-bent on securing the lamp for his own sinister purposes.

Rated PG for some action/peril

POSITIVES

– Vibrant production design. The essence of the Middle East is represented fruitlessly in the combination of flowing gowns and colorful set pieces that convey a Bollywood kind of production for the mainstream audience, and offer a bold presentation to bring forth through the live action transition. In fact, the sizzling flavor that continuously envelopes itself around this movie is visually unlike anything that Disney has produced to this point, and stands alone as the one chance that this film took in an otherwise calming sea of conventional renderings that sticks far too close to its animated original. In the visuals absorbing the atmosphere of the film, we get a visual translation too expressive not to indulge in, and the fiery texture of each property continuously commands attention to this fictional place, in that we wish it were real if only for one day.

– Will Smith’s Genie. Considering all of the controversy surrounding this role, it’s amazing that it turned out as well as it did. When the script isn’t trying to mold him into being Robin Williams flashy pizzazz Genie, Smith succeeds at maintaining the sharp velocity of the tongue that constantly keeps his co-stars in check, and for a brief glimpse offers something experimental to what we expected. Smith’s comic landing power hits about 50% from the field for me, and nailed about double that for my interest in the film, which only grew whenever his big screen presence invaded each frame and instilled a positive energy that kept you glued to the familiarity of it all. This definitely isn’t a paycheck film for Smith, and thanks to the excitement and prestige that he brings to the role, we get a shadow that is nearly equally imposing as Williams presence was to the 1992 original.

– Soundtrack of hits. Despite knowing everything that’s to come from Brad Kane, Bruce Adler, and Danny Troob’s original classic collection of time-cherished songs, the inclusion of hip-hop inspired beats and Bollywood dance production gave new life to these familiar audible beats of story narration, and led to infectious moments of delight when even the toughest critic could be won over. The dance choreography is sharp and boisterous with each continuous frame, and song chorus’s are stretched and bent in a way that experiments with a fresh take for the song, that I wish remakes like “Beauty and the Beast” or “Cinderella” would’ve experimented a bit more with. As to where “A Whole New World” was my favorite song from the 92 original, the slow build to a roaring kettle of “Prince Ali” takes the cake for me in this film, and especially stands out because of Smith’s cool demeanor that plays so seamlessly into the pulse of the background beat.

– Progressive with a positive P. I won’t spoil anything, but I took great merit in how this film invests further in Princess Jasmine, not only with a noticeable increase in screen time as opposed to how limited she feels in the original movie, but also in the evolution of her character, which successfully lands a surprise twist in the final minutes of the movie that I audibly commended. Disney has definitely been opening up their horizons with little girls in the audience who are looking for a character to dream themselves into, and thanks to the movie’s way of rewarding her with power both in a narrative perspective, as well as a closer split between screen time with her title co-star, the film creators bridge the gap wonderfully in priding them along, and manufacture a sense of female empowerment within the story that garners something new without it feeling like a distraction (See Captain Marvel)

NEGATIVES

– Uninspired C.G. I was less than thrilled with the artist rendering of computer generation, both for being used too much and for not being refined enough to be believable in their weight played against the live properties in the film. If we’re making a live action remake of an animation movie, why is 40% of any shot you see at all times not authentic to the live action creativity of the picture? Why not just make another animated “Aladdin”? Aside from this, the finished product not only of the Genie, but also in the facial resonation of Abu the Monkey, really took a backseat to “The Jungle Book” remake in terms of fantasy believability, and stood out as a glaring negative each time the latter’s character made a close-up presence on-screen. As well, a scene involving the Cave of Wonders left me disappointed for how the lion’s head entrance didn’t move its mouth like it did in the animated counterpart. If this is because it ruins real world believability, stay tuned for my review of the ending coming up.

– Ritchie’s tweak directing. I’ve never been a big fan of Guy Ritchie’s style of directing. His influence over 2017’s “King Arthur” turned that Medieval setting film into “The Matrix”, for how he constantly slowed and sped up time during the most inappropriate moments, and unfortunately Guy has learned nothing in taking a two year hiatus. It’s really strange that some moments during songs are visually sped up, all the while some scenes during high intensity chase are slowed down in a way contains the adrenaline of the sequence. It made the film feel like someone was sitting on the remote, and frequently rolled over during the scenes that mattered most in character conflict and singing focus. If this is intended, please stop it now. It only comes across as hokey and ridiculous during a scene when you’re supposed to be on the edge of your seat.

– Inconsistent pacing. 1992’s “Aladdin” is a 92 minute movie that never sags or stretches the boundaries of its material. The same cannot be said for this remake, as the two hour runtime, with very little impactful extras, makes for a testy sitting that is especially prominent during the film’s bloated second act. For my money, the first thirty minutes of the film were easily the most engaging, as the combination of Aladdin’s street life and his mission into the cave were cast with such entangling urgency that none of the remainder of the film can ever come close to matching. The second act spends its time between rule setting for the Genie, as well as a high class gala affair that feels like it’s being played in real time. Not only did this area of the film slow down my building interest for the movie, but it more than any other padded the run time for unnecessary stretching of resolutions. The third act improves slightly, but is a defeated effort by that time for the immense jump in logic and off-the-wall lunacy that the closing minutes become saddled with.

– Casting decisions. I knew nothing about Massoud or Scott before this movie, and their roles as the two leads won’t leave me any further interested in wanting to dive into their limited filmography. These two lack any kind of personality that can’t be expressed in spare verbs, and if the overall lack of romantic chemistry between them doesn’t establish how wrong for the parts they are, the mundane deliveries of emotionally-charged diatribes certainly will. Speaking of Will, did I mention how much the movie fumbles whenever he isn’t on camera? We’re left with what feels like two stage actors who constantly don’t believe what they’re saying, and are only passed by an antagonist performance who I couldn’t stop laughing at. Every little boy wears his father’s clothes and pretends to be him at some point. I didn’t expect to see a grown man in a major motion picture doing this, as Marwan Kenzari feels about as threatening as a game of fantasy dress-up. Considering Jafar is one of the most evil and imposing antagonists in Disney animated history, the disservice of casting someone who is not only the same size as Aladdin, but also someone so visually opposite of what I expected from his animated counterpart. I can understand going in a fresh direction with a character, but the work of this trio lacked the magic of translating such iconic figures from the Disney library, underscoring what should be the easiest of decisions.

– No respect. I can overlook company greed to remake a property and manipulating audiences into seeing it, because, hey, childhood, but to not credit the original screenwriters from the 92 original is not only a slap in the face, but a kick to the balls of everything that is right with respectful representation. The screenplay here is credited to John August and Guy Ritchie, and while there are some light changes to the film in terms of material, to not commend the work of Ron Clements, John Musker, Ted Elliott, and Terry Rossio is a colossal mistake, considering 80% of the film is still from the story beats and character traits that they established from that original movie. There are even vital scenes in this film that are verbatim (Word-for-word) to the original film for how they play out, and the lack of attention given to the source material gives the closing notes of the film a grave feeling of plagiarism that shouldn’t be overlooked by even the most casual of film audiences.

– Ridiculous ending. LIGHT SPOILERS. You’ve been warned. I can understand this sort of thing in a cartoon, but during a live action movie, and even a kids one at that, the laws of travel aren’t negated because of what’s cute and appropriate for what fits into the story. With that said, a character gets transported to the ends of the Earth by their opposition, and two scenes later is back in Agrabah, like some touch of “The Dark Knight Returns” magic that I don’t care to relive any time soon. In addition to this, the final conflict basically never happens, at least not in a way that requires any of the character’s to get their hands dirty, and it all wraps up with the kind of convenient bow only necessary when you’re gift-wrapping something you know will be met with evil glares or family emancipation. Translating a cartoon to live action is a good time to take the ridiculous out of cartoons, not bring them to the real world. Yet one more reason why live action Disney remakes aren’t necessary in crafting something freshly unique to a new generation.

My Grade: 4/10 or D+

Rocketman

Directed By Dexter Fletcher

Starring – Taron Egerton, Richard Madden, Bryce Dallas Howard

The Plot – A musical fantasy about the fantastical human story of Elton John’s (Egerton) breakthrough years.

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

POSITIVES

– British led cast. Everyone here is on their marks in providing depth to their respective character’s, as well as instilling a sense of value and weight within the story that makes them vital as supporting cast, but it’s clearly the tour-de-force performance by Egerton that everyone will be raving about minutes after they see it. This is not an impression of Elton John, this is Elton John. Taron gives his best performance to date, transforming the look and sound of his familiarity to compliment that of the imposing figure who he’s taking on, and there’s much eye-opening to be complimented about his work in the film. For one, he does all of his own singing, a feat that until the movie ended I had no idea about. While obviously not as strong or passionate as John behind the mic, Egerton has clearly done his homework, establishing the line of variety in genre offerings from John’s catalogue of music that changed with the scenery of pre and post disco influence. In addition to this, Egerton’s psychological delve is one that captures the energy, love, loneliness, and despair of the singer through some of his biggest triumphs and darkest disasters, and Taron’s timely grip on the pulse of the ever-changing dynamic of the character is one that feels earned brilliantly with the tides of the script.

– Breathtaking production value. This is where the film separates itself from other biopics of the genre, as the look and feel of “Rocketman” was made for the big screen. What allows it to spare itself from feelings of TV-movie-of-the-week budget is in the immense scale of choreographed-led musical numbers, practical precision in make-up designs, vibrant boisterousness of costume design, and a feast for fantasy that blurs the line of reality and imagination seamlessly. If every musical biopic had this level of focus and budget expressiveness, then we would be able to emit the fun from all of the raw energy contained inside, but Fletcher knows that John’s story certainly isn’t a cheap one to tell, and it leads to a barrage of lucid surrealism that benefits from the drug-fueled intensity of the cocaine age.

– R-rating. I still don’t comprehend how “Bohemian Rhapsody” could even imagine telling Freddie Mercury’s life story with the limitations set by its studio and the PG-13 tag it was given, but the decision here to travel the adult route with its material pays off in spades for the way it can properly articulate the meat of its material. From the carelessness of Elton’s diverse sex life, to the abuse of illegal drugs and narcotics, to the rapid-fire fury of the English dialogue, everything is covered in vivid detail, giving audiences a no-apologies depiction of a heralded figure for better or worse, and it gave me great appreciation for the screenplay to use Elton’s biggest negatives to craft an enveloping layer of indulgence for the audience, as well as a dramatic layering to the story, which feels far from topical. Nothing ever feels overdone or desperate to fill an R-rating quota, and it keeps the air of honesty to Elton’s engagements on display in the exact manner they took place.

– Wide range of story. As to where most musical biopics only cover a brief sampling of the artist’s fame, “Rocketman” has an appreciation for everything Elton John, as well as Reginald Dwight. Kicking off during his early days as a kid in dealing with two mentally abusive parents, the film eventually takes us through the entire first half of Elton’s immense 40 year career, before settling down during the days in rehab that eventually changed his life for the better. This seems like a lot to cover in nearly two hours of film, but what’s remarkably shocking is how the film gives ample time to each important chapter without alienating the fluidity of pacing that is nearly always smooth in transition. Beyond this, the storytelling tool in narration is one that I found to be very clever, not only for the way it is set-up in the opening scene of the movie, but also for the way it evolves in diminishing wardrobe with every beat of the story. It gives food for thought in the stripped down nature of John starting and ending his career as Reginald, and comforting us with a blanket of clarity as he finally feels comfortable being the man he was born to be.

– Meaning behind the soundtrack. The film has no shortage of Elton favorites to choose from, conjuring up around twenty-five favorites from the musician that take us through the roller-coaster momentum in his trysts with fame, but there’s something more elusive to the way that each song and sequence transition, proving that Elton always used life as a means, and music as a therapy to bind the two world’s. Films make many mistakes in this aspect, because they often depict a popular song being made in the most topically obvious and unintelligent demeanor, but the almost freestyle effort of song writing that John displays feels replicated from the previous scene in a way that naturally harvests from a tortured soul. It was in this area where I learned the most about John that I didn’t previously know before the film, and helps cement an audible reflection to what’s transpiring inside of Elton.

– Passage of time. I hate to bring this film up again, but my biggest problem with “Bohemian Rhapsody” is how it mutilated important dates and events in Freddie’s life for the shaping of the film, but “Rocketman” gives an alluring and poetic design behind the way it collides with the sands of time. No dates or text is featured throughout the film, and even more shocking, huge amounts of time will pass not only for us the audience, but also for John, which results in him feeling like Rip Van Winkle, in that he just woke up from a ten year nap. What’s so cinematically appropriate for this direction is it captures the fragility and sacrifices paid not only to immersing in the live fast lifestyle that booze, drugs, and depression can form, but also in the routine of being a rockstar, which is anything but appealing by this film’s standards. We the audience are merely left to establish a time frame from iconic Elton fashions, as well as the look and feel of the world that changes around him with nuanced subtlty. It proves that the when isn’t nearly as important as the who or the why, and allows us to get lost in the devil of the details instead.

– Backdrop special effects. This is all done on green-screen, but you would never know it because of the impeccable technology associated with visual time travel in the same vein as Marvel’s ability to de-age a particular actor. This gives us time to soak in the glitz and glamor of the Hollywood specter, as the world famous Troubadour bar becomes youthful again, complete with posters in the windows which are no longer present, and an architecture design that reminds people that the location grew just like Elton did once the two were married in rock and roll on that legendary night in August 1970. If this is the direction that production teams are taking us, then soon there won’t be any need for on-site shooting, and while there is an element of tragedy to that circumstance, the believability and texture shading of flawless computer generation will at least help trim production budgets accordingly, all the while articulating past ages in a way that feels far beyond a visual gimmick.

– Juggling of tones. I wasn’t surprised in how much comedy filled the script, but what did surprise me was the landing power of such witty banter all the while the sting of dramatic elements were being felt. These two co-exist simultaneously through Reginald’s loveless home life, to his questioned sexuality in his later years, to the single most romantic non-sexual friendship between Elton and lyricist Bernie Taupin, and what’s more important is that neither are compromised because of the other’s influence on the dynamic of a particular scene. This film took me on an emotional registry of laughter, fear, curiosity, and sadness for the evolution of the story, proving that it would rather appeal to a broader spectrum of audience tastes rather than cater to the limitations and cliches of one respective field.

– Fletcher steals the light. This is the very same director who finished “Bohemian Rhapsody” (There I go again) from the disastrous production that hindered it to finishing as just a decent final product, but with “Rocketman” it’s a fresh and complete start for the man at the wheel. What we learn from his stroke is that he values the human side of the heralded superstar, carving out a helping of audience investment that keeps us glued to the unfolding drama and tension within Elton’s life that is more urgent because of that focus. Likewise, the influential photography breathes a light of audience connection that features John singing to us the audience, instead of the grand scale that we have come to expect in cinematic musicals. It cements a feeling of professionalism and on-screen presence in rendered style that garners a developing visionary in Hollywood, thanks in whole to commanding the stories of two of music’s biggest icons.

NEGATIVES

– Technical inconsistencies. This brought forth two noticeable problems, with the first dealing with the uninspiring levels of cinematography established in interior office scenes. The coloring scheme and textures establish a level of generated lighting that does nothing to compliment the appeal of the scene. Likewise, a continued problem for Fletcher’s editing team remains prominent in this film, as the editing is far too choppy during scenes involving two character’s. It made for some highly distracting scenes during moments of heartfelt resonance, which deemed it necessary to show us the same line of dialogue in as many as three different angles for what I guess is towards the better of understanding the essence of the conversation? Either way, less anxiousness in illustrating these casual scenes.

My Grade: 9/10 or A-

John Wick Chapter 3: Parabellum

Directed By Chad Stahelski

Starring – Keanu Reeves, Halle Berry, Ian Mcshane

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

Rated R for pervasive strong violence, and some adult language

POSITIVES

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

NEGATIVES

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

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

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

My Grade: 7/10 or B

The Sun Is Also A Star

Directed By Ry Russo-Young

Starring – Yara Shahidi, Charles Melton, Faith Logan

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

Rated PG-13 for some suggestive content and adult language

POSITIVES

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

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

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

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

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

NEGATIVES

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

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

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

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

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

My Grade: 5/10 or D

Brightburn

Directed By David Yarovesky

Starring – Elizabeth Banks, Jackson A. Dunn, David Denman

The Plot – What if a child from another world crash-landed on Earth, but instead of becoming a hero to mankind, he proved to be something far more sinister?

Rated R for horror violence/bloody images, and adult language.

POSITIVES

– Beauty in the darkness. As an expressive visionary, Cinematographer Michael Dallatorre has always been someone who visually brings forth an entrancing pulse to the settings and filming locations that make up his lurid shot compositions, but “Brightburn” is easily his best work to date. Channeling an ambiguous decay in coloring textures, which brings forth an inexplainable fog that constantly plagues our character’s, the film does what D.C couldn’t, in that it seeks out motive for the grittier, grimey presentation that is easily reflective of its central antagonist. Movies being dark for the hell of it are often taking advantage of a visual gimmick for nothing other than a brooding take on an ages old story, but Dallatorre grasps this poison in the air that many can feel, yet no one can admit, and it establishes a vibe for this film from the get-go that visually conveys that this superhero flick goes darker than any other one you’ve ever seen.

– Ties to Superman. This film has been credited as being James Gunn’s dark twist on the Superman origin relic that everyone young or old has come to know by this point, and while the similarities in alien powers and adoptive parents certainly goes a long way to cement this feeling, it’s the divided roads with the powers that each superhero has that makes this film stand-out as a ‘What if?’ tale of sorts, that brings Superman to The Twilight Zone. The kid in this film being too young to fully grasp the consequences of his powers is something that gives the movie great vulnerability and urgency for all of its character’s, and because of such we’re juxtaposed from a world seeking hope in Metropolis, to a world quickly losing it in Brightburn. It answers some long debated questions revolving around Superman taking the road less traveled, and stands as a worse case scenario when the world’s greatest strength is also its biggest destruction.

– Isolation in setting. This, just like the comparison to Superman, is inevitable, as the stretched countryside of this small town not only puts the character’s far away from the eye of the public when the devastation begins, which helps keep the lid on the details getting out, but also helps elevate the tension and anxiety of the constant silence that surrounds the curiosity of these people from what goes bump in the night. In addition to this, the nane of the town itself, “Brightburn”, is the answer to the question, as its banner is featured in a few blink-and-miss-it moments in the background, that play a subtle resolution to the film’s cryptic title. Finally, the school used in the film is actually the very same school used in “Stranger Things” seasons one and two, proving that other-worldly things is actually a common everyday occurrence for a place known for its curriculum terrors.

– Adolescent dynamic. One of the aspects of the script that I found so uniquely refreshing is in the way it contrasts and justifies what is going on in Brandon’s life to the spring of teenage puberty. In this regard, the film can be taken as a nuanced commentary piece towards adolescence, albeit in entirely satirically powerful directions given to our growing boy. When you consider that the terror begins on Brandon’s 13th birthday, the short nerves, testy decisions, and blossoming interest in females, all feel like familiar beats that every kid has to go through once he gets to that particular age, and with a quick re-write and a couple of scenes edited out, this film could’ve easily been just about the dreaded change associated with such a terrifying coming-of-age, but then we would miss out on so many of the cool things that I have yet to talk about.

– The birth of a new subgenre? Mixing the elements of superhero and horror is a very ballsy move, but thanks to the knowledge of the hands on deck of each respective genre, the film manages to seamlessly weld them into this Frankenstein project that lives and breathes with respect to the measures that make each familiar. Could these be considered cliches? Absolutely, but I feel like those familiar beats should be present, especially in a first time marriage between the two, if nothing other that to easily immerse audiences into how beautifully each of them vibe together. The jump scares, panning camera movements, and typecast parents dealing with a demented child, are all still there to represent horror, as are the origin story narrative, big budget effects, and of course iconic symbolism are to represent superhero stories, and each is represented in a way that gives a blissful 50/50 allowance for each to play into the story, without either of them encroaching on the effectiveness of their respective properties. During an age when superhero films are overcrowding the box office, “Brightburn” brings forth something fresh to breathe life back into it, and should be commended for the gutsy determination in stitching together two sides that up until now couldn’t be further from synonymous.

– One man stage. It’s not that I have a problem with Banks, Denham, or any of the other adult protagonists, but Dunn’s impression left on the film is one that commands much of the attention to him, leading to a breakthrough performance in his first starring role on the silver screen that echoes with each unsettling scene. As Brandon, Dunn’s stirring silence is something that seeps into our skin with triggered anxiety, establishing a level of sinkable weight on the perspective of this family that leaves them astonished in the transformation from this once sweet little boy, to the dangerously deviant defiant who stands before them. Most kid actors have trouble feeling believable in confrontations with adults, but because of the magnitude of powers instilled in him from a higher power, as well as the intelligence articulated from Dunn in understanding the depth of every situation, the work of Jackson flies higher than the heights reached by cape.

– Refined special effects. What is commendable here is that the inclusion of gravity defying feats are saved for sporadic moments of dazzle that maintain the wow factor in not overdoing it, as well as the sequences themselves having strong live action impact for the properties they collide with. This not only fleshes out the effects with weight for believability, but also renders the impossible possible with the scale of stunt feeling mostly reserved. There is one exception, however, and it deals with a lawnmower being thrown hundreds of yards to the bewilderment of the little boy. But the scene is shot and edited in a such a way that barely allows you time to focus on the mower itself, and long before logic sets in, the incredible launch of a 200 pound machine lights up the sky like a shooting star, solidifying a tempo for the film’s action sequences that remain sharp throughout the duration of the film.

– Perfect pacing. Although I have problems with the film’s run time, which I will get to in a minute, the pacing of the screenplay is so crisp in non-stop action and Brandon’s personal conflicts one after the other, that the film feels about half of the fluffy 85 minute run time that it boasts. It helps that the film wastes no time in bringing audiences into its world and character’s, introducing us right away to the couple and alien arrival that sows the seeds for each of their eventual confrontations, but what really triggered my interest was how little of downtime there is in between these scenes of extraordinary. This can normally hurt a film if it’s too much of the same thing, but what I appreciate is that each scene varies in pitting urgency, depending on that character’s kind of interaction with Brandon prior to this, and each evolution leads to dramatically different conclusions, bringing forth an air of creativity to the progression of scenes that constantly keeps familiar set-ups feeling fresh for the fun that this director and screenwriters incorporate into the fresh take of genre direction.

NEGATIVES

– Rushing the details. The backlash from that 85 minute run time is everywhere. From the limited exposition in the origin and backstory of our central character, to the longterm build of certain bully character’s not getting the revenge that they deserve, to the flat ending that just kind of lacked emphasis. In rushing through the script’s more personable moments, especially during the opening act, it will have an unavoidable consequence on your investment into the film and character as a legendary presence on-screen. For my money, the film could easily use another fifteen minutes to solidify the importance of some supporting cast, as well as offer more moments of personal reflection for the boy learning to grow with newfound powers.

– Skimping on the deaths. Aside from one death sequence, which is arguably the most lasting presence that an on-screen death has had on me in years, the majority of sequences minimalize the effects of the single biggest detail; the devastating final blow. For some of them, they happen so fast that we don’t register what actually happened. For others, the occasion happens so far in the distance that you don’t get to soak in the gory details of blood and prosthetics, which thanks to the exceptional death that I mentioned earlier, are actually superb when they get the rare focus that they rightfully deserve. While the elements of horror still resonate throughout the many obvious tropes throughout the film, the biggest one is rarely anywhere to be seen, standing as the one matter in a superhero horror film that requires articulation to reach perfection.

My Grade: 8/10 or B

A Dog’s Journey

Directed By Gail Mancuso

Starring – Dennis Quaid, Marg Helgenberger, Kathryn Prescott

The Plot – Bailey (voiced again by Josh Gad) is living the good life on the Michigan farm of his “boy,” Ethan (Quaid) and Ethan’s wife Hannah (Helgenberger). He even has a new playmate: Ethan and Hannah’s baby granddaughter, CJ. The problem is that CJ’s mom, Gloria (Gilpin), decides to take CJ away. As Bailey’s soul prepares to leave this life for a new one, he makes a promise to Ethan to find CJ and protect her at any cost. Thus begins Bailey’s adventure through multiple lives filled with love, friendship and devotion as he, CJ  (Prescott), and CJ’s best friend Trent (Henry Lau) experience joy and heartbreak, music and laughter, and few really good belly rubs.

Rated PG for thematic content, some peril and rude humor

POSITIVES

– Canine control. These movies more than others have a tight grasp on the often times tricky art known as animal acting, but the crisp editing and grounded stunt work from these furry creatures make each of their influences on the scene feel seamless. It helps that most of these sequences are given ample time between cuts, keeping the cut-and-paste option minimal, all the while allowing the dogs to muscle out the commands they are being given. Never once in the movie did I feel the air of cinema magic for brash difficulty in attainability, and this more than anything is the biggest testament to Mancuso as a leading hand, for the way she brings extraordinary precision out of grounded requests from her four-legged co-stars, closing the gap between human and animal actors with a commitment to craft that goes a long way.

– Speaking of human performances, the work of the collective cast here is a majority solid. Quaid is back with his second film in a week, but this time it’s to showcase the sweet and sensitive side of his demeanor that outweighs the hammy nature of his dialogue. Likewise, Kathryn Prescott also carves out confidence in maintaining roughly 60% of the movie. Mancuso keeps the story firmly in-tow with her character, and throughout a series of dramatic beats and life-altering events, Prescott proves her emotional registry being years above her cinematic inexperience. Also, as Bailey the dog, Josh Gad is once again every bit as infectious as he is connected to the audience he engages with. Gad rarely has trouble emitting the energy that each scene requires, and through a healthy amount of audible narration, we are given ample time with the continued presence over the story, who takes us through all of life’s unique quips and quirks.

– Further developing of human protagonists. This is arguably the biggest difference from the first film, as the sequel sticks closer to this dog’s interaction with just the one family, as opposed to the many it came across in reuniting with its original owner. This allows the script to enhance our investment into their story-time dynamics, as well as cutting out a lot of the unnecessary padding associated with pushing the reset button every time Bailey dies, giving us a natural flow of pacing for the plot that (Lets be honest) is the main thing we care about with these movies. In doing this, I found a strong interest with CJ’s well-being, as well as the tumultuous uneasiness that her family is left with after many instances of dramatic tension formed from misunderstanding. It proves that “A Dog’s Journey” values the human protagonists every bit as much as man’s best friend, and can succeed a lot easier with an audience when it sets them on equal footing.

– Mature themes for family audiences. I value a kids movie so much more when it treats the youths with the respect associated in guiding them through meaty material without truly testing the limits of a PG rating. Likewise, the material itself doesn’t suffer a hinderance in effectiveness because of such, taking us through themes of alcoholism, abandonment, reincarnation, and even cancer that constantly keeps them on their toes. To a certain degree, you could say that each of these are used in manipulative ways that damned the first movie from receiving a passing grade from this critic, but the unraveling of events feels natural here, and not necessarily catering to a meandering cause. It’s all about educating its youths in ordinary circumstances which some of them will someday be confronted with, and it elevates the dramatic tension of the film effectively because of its upping of stakes from the first movie.

– Detailed make-up and prosthetics. While only used for one scene and two character’s in the movie, the film’s use of natural aging enhancements feels naturally convincing and reflective of the time that has passed from when we last saw them. This was one of my biggest concerns with watching the trailers, as the film’s multi-decade progression was depicted without any of the scenes of these actors after their separation, but thankfully the surprise was saved for the film itself, and it does so with a modest amount of wrinkling cream, glasses, and wigs that go a long way where computer graphics aren’t necessary. These kind of effects normally do cost more in studio productions, but the integrity of realistic visual effects is something that I commend it greatly for, and I hope it’s a healthy direction that many more films will follow with it.

– Important life lessons. This is especially, but not limited to, youthful female audiences, as the protagonist of the film becomes embattled with some internal conflicts that ages her well ahead of her years in terms of wisdom. Because of such, the film boosts and a message of resiliency and self-belief to young girls everywhere, educating them on the importance associated with entertaining the right choices in male suitors where looks certainly aren’t everything. In a perfect world, films like these would serve as strong poignancy pieces for the future females of tomorrow, but in the overabundance of intriguing details in the movie, it’s easy to see that it could easily be lost or overlooked in translation. Even still, the script takes an approach especially to adopted little girls, who have to blaze their own path after those they depended on fell off of theirs.

NEGATIVES

– Stilted dialogue. Much of the line reads and dialogue associated with still reek of hokey, obviousness, that occasionally makes this feel like a Hallmark Channel movie, instead of the big screen presentation that we’re supposed to feel. One such example is in the continuity of speech by Gad throughout a time-passing montage, that doesn’t make sense when you consider he’s in the scene he’s supposed to be talking over a passage of ample time. This makes it clearly evident that the film values audience narration over storytelling believability, and I wish I could say it’s the only problem associated with Gad’s narration. As well, it’s every bit as re-affirming as it was in the first movie, explaining to us audibly what we’ve already seen visually. It’s like being told every detail twice, and this occasionally gets irritating with the pacing and progression of scenes that should be shorter than they rightfully are.

– Formulaic redundancy. When I saw the trailer for this film, it felt very much like the first movie narratively, and with the exception of cutting down on multitudes of owners that I mentioned earlier, the film’s general outline feels very much identical to the first movie. This is the biggest argument in terms of why audiences who saw the first movie should see the sequel, and especially if you are against seeing dogs being put to death in movies, you should definitely keep your distance from this one. While only happening three times in this film, as opposed to seven in the previous installment, the death sequences themselves are very hard to engage in, and manipulative for how they focus on the face of the animal each time it’s at its weakest hour.

– Obvious foreshadowing. There’s certainly no shortage of this one, as the barrage of unnecessarily-bitchy supporting characters and out-of-nowhere details in storytelling directions, further flesh out the predictability in a story this minimal on depth. Because our central trio of character’s are such good people, it makes the bad ones feel that much more cartoonish by comparison, and because of this we can easily sniff out that relationships and karma are certainly not going to be on the sides of these miserable people. On the subject of plot foreshadowing, the film introduces a scene of cancer-sniffing dogs midway through the film that comes out of nowhere, and is given such an inordinate amount of focus rendered upon, that we know its elements will come into play at some place during the film, and re-appear they do, as a character becomes plagued in a battle with cancer that definitely benefits the convenience of this earlier inclusion.

– Outdated soundtrack. I’m not saying that it isn’t possible that teenage characters are listening to fifteen year old music at a hip high school house party, but the majority of such big numbers surely flock more to what’s current and fresh at the moment. In this regard, the inclusion of The All American Rejects, Phillip Phillips, and Matt Nathanson feel about a decade too late in marketing to the soundtrack hounds that attend these movies. In addition to this, the musical score by composer Mark Isham feels completely uninspiring and piano-repetitive throughout the length of the film. If I could watch this film on mute, I really would, but the importance of details shouldn’t suffer because the musical choices associated with the film feel like they are from a middle aged woman’s IPOD on shuffle.

My Grade: 6/10 or C-

Poms

Directed By Zara Hayes

Starring – Diane Keaton, Pam Grier, Jacki Weaver

The Plot – A comedy about a group of women who form a cheer leading squad at their retirement community, proving that you’re never too old to ‘bring it!’

Rated PG-13 for some adult language/sexual references.

POSITIVES

– Enjoyable cast. Keaton’s usual May fare is exceptional this time around, investing in a character who actually has a bit of flare and attitude to the usual types she has unfortunately become saddled with. In addition to this, the role has an unordinary amount of physicality to it, proving that age is only a number, and that Keaton’s persistent filmography is all about the way she feels in the roles she consistently takes on. As good as Keaton is however, it’s actually Weaver who steals the show as her sexually active neighbor/best friend. Jacki has had a resurgence of late in Hollywood, but Sheryl is a role that feels like she has invested the most of herself into, combining dry sarcasm and a no-nonsense demeanor that keeps the people around her constantly on their toes. These two are a delight to watch interact on-screen, and it makes me wish that the film, especially in the second half, would’ve donated a bit more to watching their unfolding drama play out with the attention that it rightfully deserves.

– Snappy comic dialogue. I’m not ashamed to say that I laughed a lot in this film, despite the fact that its outline is typical set-up for adult comic sitcoms. Hayes biggest strength as a director is in the polished timing that each of ladies exert on the conversations, allowing enough time to soak the punchline of the material in without taking away from the pacing and progression of the scene, and it conjured up an effectiveness that struck a funny bone within me around 70% of the time. Perhaps it’s the awkwardness of seeing senior citizens in these unconventional situations, or the fact that Hayes knows her audience very well. Either way, “Poms” infectious material is a pep rally of timely dialogue and classy sight gags that is easily one of the more feel good films of the spring movie season.

– Crisp editing. This accomplishment is two-fold. The first is its enhancement of the dual scene jokes that require a sharp slice between to truly sell them. An example of this is a character who is repeatedly told by her husband that she can join the cheerleading group over his dead body, and then cuts to his funeral. While morbid in its punchline, the editing does convey the point with blunt force that reaches for the laugh as quick as it can. The second thing the editing is used for is the dance routines themselves, which attain a level of professionalism to them, thanks to a barrage of quick-cut edits that help maintain the intensity of the number. When you especially consider how little edits were used early on in the group’s routines, and how inexperienced they looked, it’s remarkable that the closing number establishes a feeling of the group growing together as a unit, making what they accomplish that much more believable because of talented editing that is always one step ahead.

– Profound examples of senior treatment. This is perhaps the biggest reason to see this film, as the depictions by higher authority and youthful outsiders feels every bit as honest as it does absorbing. As someone who works in a senior citizens community, I can say that the transition into assisted living isn’t always the easiest. It leads to a loss of freedoms that they never choose to happen, but are relegated to thanks to the effects of aging. For where that plays in “Poms” is the interaction with high-schoolers, who are often too immature to understand that these are people who were once where they now stand. As well, the overprotective family member, who often oversteps his boundaries for better of the person in question. Hayes touches on this multiple times in the film, and I appreciate the focus given to such an often overlooked plague that hinders the spirit in senior citizens long before anything else sets in. These are people who wish to live their lives as similar as they did before they moved into this community, so the best we can do is support that yearning for routine.

– An easy sit. At 86 flimsy minutes, “Poms” is one of the easier watches that I have had in quite sometime, and this is in part due to the progression in scenes that rarely stalls or remains in place for too long. This is a movie that continuously shifts from one setting to the next, and I feel that movement helps vitally in keeping this film from being something that it doesn’t necessarily need to be, in the idea of unnecessary padding. Each act here is given ample time to prove its weight to the progression of the story, and it helps even more that Martha (Keaton) is a protagonist who we can get behind, especially for the secret conflict that she is keeping from her friends. We, like the pacing of the film, embraces her growing connection between them, allowing us to invest in the group’s dynamic thoroughly while maintaining the care-free attitude of the minutes that are passing off-screen.

– Gorgeous setting. Sunnyside Acres is a place that I want to live in, if only for the inordinate amount of suburban ranches that stretch as far as the eye can see. Keaton’s character even comes from a New York apartment, so her move is a definite upgrade. In addition to the gorgeous housing quarters, the benefits of multiple heated pools, sports courts and alley’s, and the ideal weather that always lives up to its name, definitely puts the audience in the frame of mind that this place is unlike anywhere else you’ve ever seen, and it better translates the immensity of the change in Martha’s life that now comes at her in every possible direction. It proves that the film definitely took some time in scouting the proper locations to keep this from feeling like a stage-style setting, and the absorbing quality of the film’s desirable setting is one that I seek permanent residency at.

NEGATIVES

– Clunky soundtrack. I hated the soundtrack for two reasons. The first is because the familiar beats of modern day pop music don’t mesh well with the age grouping of the cast and audience that accompany it. I understand that they need dance tracks to sell the dance sequences, but surely there are more timely appropriate measures to be taken with the music director who tied everything together. The second reason is because it feels too desperate and obvious to include any track that has been on the top 40 in recent years. From a personal level, I don’t enjoy one of these songs on the radio, and when I hear them in a film where their inclusion feels completely inappropriate, it culminates in an opportunistic feel that reeks of studio involvement.

– For the sake of it. There are measures taken with a trio of antagonist characters and two dramatic inducing situations that happen for no other reason than the movie calling for it. On the former, the film’s three antagonists have no serious motivation to go after these women, and it almost gets to cartoonish levels of evil by the time is over. What’s even more convincing is if you take these scenes out of the film, you trim about ten minutes from the run time and lose nothing of substantial value because of it. On the subject of the situational drama, these can easily be solved with even a shred of intelligence that so obviously did not go into them. As an example, one scene deals with the ladies creating a diversion to break out one of their crew free from their overbearing son. MINOR SPOILER – It ends with them throwing a rock through his car window, and they sneak around the back of the house to pull her through the window. Couldn’t they have just done this without throwing a rock? Won’t it be even more difficult to accomplish since they have to go back out front to the bus anyway? Then there’s the conflict of them needing a place to practice since a power hungry manager is cutting their time down. There are literally hundreds of places on this campus that they could practice. The film even realizes this midway through, as they start practicing in Martha’s garage.

– No exposition for supporting cast. It’s a bit frustrating that the film really only builds two women throughout the entirety of this film, and it leaves some credible actresses like Grier, Rhea Pearlman, and Phyllis Sommerville appearing without much emphasis behind their inclusion other than to fill a quota. For my money, the film could’ve omitted its antagonist desire in favor of further establishing these ladies for the importance they deserve. It would make your interest in the overall group that much tighter, and cement the screenwriters for having depth in writing beyond just the table dressing of the plot.

– Montage sequence overkill. Everywhere you look in this film, there’s a musical montage to shortcut the values and importance that exposition sets, and it gives the film a frequent feeling of fast-forward that does more harm than value for the believability of the routines. If I’m remembering correctly, I am currently counting eight different musical montages. This would be overkill for a 90’s underdog sports movie, and even worse for a film that doesn’t necessarily require these huge jumps in a time frame that isn’t that immense to begin with. It’s an overdone cliche that reaches ridiculous levels of incorporation by the end of the film, and triples the numbers of times that we actually see the group doing their thing without cut and paste.

My Grade: 6/10 or C

The Hustle

Directed By Chris Addison

Starring – Anne Hathaway, Rebel Wilson, Alex Sharp

The Plot – Rebel Wilson and Anne Hathaway star as a pair of con artists plying their trade in a stunning seaside town in the south of France. Josephine Chesterfield (Hathaway) is a glamorous, seductive Brit with a sprawling home in Beaumont-sur-Mer and a penchant for defrauding gullible wealthy men from all corners of the world. Into her well-ordered, meticulously moneyed world bursts Penny Rust (Wilson), an Aussie who is as free-form and fun-loving as Josephine is calculated and cunning. Where Penny amasses wads of cash by ripping off her marks in neighborhood bars, Josephine fills her safe with massive diamonds after ensnaring her prey in glitzy casinos. Despite their different methods, both are masters of the art of the fleece so they con the men that have wronged women. Wilson’s talent for physicality and Hathaway’s withering wit are a combustible combination as the pair of scammers pull out all the stops to swindle a naïve tech billionaire (Sharp).

Rated PG-13 for crude sexual content and adult language

POSITIVES

– Heart of Hathaway. If there is any single redeemable quality about this film, it’s the work of the Grade-A actress, who chews up an overabundance of scenery on her way to another delightful performance. While the character itself wasn’t someone I could admire and hang my hat on for obvious reasons, the untamed energy of Anne showing off no fewer than three different accents for three completely different personalities highlights her range every bit as it does her investment into the picture, and there’s something deeply commendable about an actress who is so obviously better than this film, yet doesn’t let it dampen the work level that we’ve come to expect from her. Each time Hathaway was on-screen, the humor didn’t feel desperate, and just sort of fit into place because of, like her character, her commitment to the role. I’ve viewed it as a sequel to the character she played in “Ocean’s Eight”. Makes it slightly more entertaining that way.

– Doesn’t overstay its welcome. Even if you have as many problems with the material as I did, there’s a saving grace in the concept of this 89 minute movie being a quickly moving script that constantly maintains the pacing of the story. I was flabbergasted when I checked my watch to reveal only twenty minutes left in the film, and the screenplay’s direction to constantly keep the geography, as well as the evolution of the scams, is something that allows very few grace periods in the film, or even unnecessary padding. If this film were two hours long, it would be so much worse than it actually is, but screenwriter Jac Schaeffer is responsible for much of the consistent movement that maintains the energy of the shenanigans at place, and if it all were for a better movie, it would make “The Hustle” one of the easier sits of 2019.

– Spicy foreign flavor. Another great Anne in this production is that of Anne Dudley, the film’s musical composer, who instills a great sense of geographical reminder every time her notes of accompaniment strike the perfect sizzle for our traveling scenery. For French opulence, it’s obviously the inclusion of Accordion’s or Bombard’s to replicate the feel of romance in the air. For American style casino’s, it’s the slick evocation of electric guitars beating a similar vibe to that of a James Bond movie, in all of its jagged curves that signal ulterior motives in the atmosphere. They both offer a stirringly satisfying juxtaposition of compositional bliss that compliments the many invasive qualities of the cerebral sequences perfectly. Music is rarely complimented in comedies, but here the credit deserves center stage among the film’s rare better qualities.

NEGATIVES

– As a remake. It can be expected that many people aren’t aware that this is in fact a female spin on the 1987 film “Dirty Rotten Scoundrels”, but what’s so viciously evident is how little this gender swap has on the weight and complexity of the film, that breathes new life into the treasured comedy. For most of the film, “The Hustle” is trying to pave its own way, outlining cons and character’s who don’t feel remotely familiar, and fleshing out a new direction to try to capitalize on the one track minds that males often possess. The problem though, is that the screenplay is never wise enough to offer proof for this pudding, with the exception of a few sleazy millionaires who are cartoonish levels of sex and greed. Aside from this, the motivation for Hathaway and Wilson’s duo never rises above just getting rich. There’s no shred of vengeance or anger behind Hathaway’s delivery that states that men find women too weak to be smarter than them. So despite it distancing itself from the material of the previous film, there’s not enough nuance in social commentary to make the heists not feel like they have the weight of a Saturday Night Live skit, and if anything it just further cements the appreciation for the original.

– Detestable personalities. I expected to lack indulgence for thieving character’s, but Hathaway and Wilson, as well as the supporting cast of one-off dopes, took my expectations to seething levels, if only for the film’s minimal view of the world outside of the upper one-percent. Wilson is her usual trashy self, complete with inappropriate vulgarity and unabashed horniness that wears thick early on. If you’ve seen one Rebel role, you’ve seen them all, and sadly after the shattering of typecast that was this year’s “Isn’t It Romantic”, the young actress has regressed in terms of acting depth. Hathaway essentially has no heart, and never really learns from her devious ways as the film concludes. She’s essentially a mean-spirited, conniving teacher who always must be one step ahead of her student, so that she isn’t forgotten. Aside from this colorful duo, the supporting cast of males are every bit as braindead as they are one-dimensional, making me wonder if the female switch-up has indeed learned anything from years of being presented as one consistent thing. As a male myself, there are very few films that offend me for my gender, and this is one of those rare exceptions, as instead of separating males into respective categories, the film groups us all together into one insensitive bracket, and it kept me from fully buying into the support of the duo’s thefts.

– Lifeless comedy. “The Hustle” made me feel like I lacked the ability to laugh and have fun in a movie theater. It’s an easily written, terribly telegraphed combination of set-ups and punchlines that beat a joke dead into the ground upon the third or fourth time that it is brought up again. Even worse than that, the air of improv comedy is back yet again for Wilson, who uses valuable screen time to stretch a punchline so far that it slowly wiped away what shred of effectiveness that it had for the poor souls in my theater who laughed upon initial delivery, then gave a decreasingly smaller laugh each time she would carry on with it. This is mindless humor at its most immature, and if it wasn’t for the remarkable investment from Hathaway that I elaborated on earlier, I wouldn’t have laughed a single time throughout this movie, and that’s a major problem for a film deposited in the comedy genre.

– As a feminist piece. I’m not trying to make “The Hustle” into something it’s not, but you’d be ignorant to see a plot about two women ripping off rich male counterparts without a single ounce of feminism in the atmosphere to their deceitful games, but sadly the film goes back on this concept so brutally that it practically feels like the biggest con is the one that the script plays on the pride of itself. MINIMAL SPOILER – The film eventually becomes about a rivalry between Hathaway and Wilson to sleep with this male character (Sharp), making me wonder who in fact is the disappointed party in this scenario. Is it the male? Yeah, because him having two women fighting over him will surely teach him a lesson. With films like this depicting the bond of feminism, I feel that an inevitable revolution is coming, and it’s one where female moviegoers will lash out on a generation of filmmaking that values their moral stamina as a bump in the road to male euphoria. If I were a woman, I wouldn’t support a movie like this.

– Horrendous green-screen visuals. Why does a movie like “The Hustle” even require special effects? Is the budget so minimal on this production that it can’t even convince itself of its champagne wishes and caviar dreams? There’s a series of takes midway through the third act where Hathaway chases a plane on a runway, where she is the only aspect that is actually real. What’s even worse is how poorly digitalized this sequence felt, where the lighting of Hathaway and the property surrounding her don’t look even remotely like they took place in the same day or place. Rendering like this is usually evident in natural disaster movies, but for a movie that requires this just to depict an airplane lifting off of the ground, really makes me lack believability in the riches of the story both in and out of the movie itself.

– Glaring plot holes. This movie made me think far too often than I’m proud to rightfully admit, but when a scene plays out that lacks logic in even the minimalist sense, I can’t turn my brain off to the point of it becoming a vegetable. There are many examples that I found throughout the movie, where the chain of events simply didn’t add up to what eventually transpires, but none more than that of my favorite hole in the movie. It happens when Wilson and Sharp are alone on a date, and Wilson faking her blindness makes up the name of a Russian doctor who she requires a surgery from to see again. Sharp looks him up, and even manages to find his website and Facebook, the latter of which reveals that he’s actually staying in the same hotel as them at that moment. It turns out to be Hathaway who made the site and becomes the doctor for this point on. Ok, even if you can overlook the fact that Hathaway made a believable website in three minutes tops, how in the living hell could she have known the name that was discussed in an isolated scene between Wilson and Sharp? What were they thinking?

– Problems with the ending. So much to unload on here, but there’s a late twist that happens with about ten minutes left in this movie, that not only did I see coming from a mile away when you think for too long about this particular character, but also does nothing for sending audiences home satisfied. The main problem is that so much develops in the final ten minutes of the film, that not only jars the dynamic and importance of the two woman rivalry, but also makes the very last two scenes of the film feel tacked on after writing an ending that no one at the studio felt accomplished with. It shoves so much into those closing moments, and it almost feels like the collection of DVD special feature endings that were all edited together to the finished product, throwing as much at the screen to once again get us back to a happy ending. What an anti-climatic mess.

My Grade: 3/10 or F

Detective Pikachu

Directed By Rob Letterman

Starring – Ryan Reynolds, Justice Smith, Kathryn Newton

The Plot – The story begins when ace detective Harry Goodman (Paul Kitson) goes mysteriously missing, prompting his 21-year-old son Tim (Smith) to find out what happened. Aiding in the investigation is Harry’s former Pokémon partner, Detective Pikachu (Reynolds): a hilariously wise-cracking, adorable super-sleuth who is a puzzlement even to himself. Finding that they are uniquely equipped to communicate with one another, Tim and Pikachu join forces on a thrilling adventure to unravel the tangled mystery. Chasing clues together through the neon-lit streets of Ryme City, a sprawling, modern metropolis where humans and Pokémon live side by side in a hyper-realistic live-action world–they encounter a diverse cast of Pokémon characters and uncover a shocking plot that could destroy this peaceful co-existence and threaten the whole Pokémon universe.

Rated PG for action/peril, some rude and suggestive humor, and thematic elements.

POSITIVES

– Easily the most accessible of the Pokemon films. In straying a bit from its conventional roots, “Detective Pikachu” is able to accommodate to a bigger audience, all the while remaining faithful to its world building and rules that have garnered legions of faithful followers for many generations. If you want to see a typical Pokemon movie, there are thousands of those, but putting its familiar furry protagonist in a noir mystery that touches on some surprisingly dark territory in material, gives the franchise new life on screen and in direction, which will inevitably make it all the more adaptable for audiences like myself, who have never been struck by the Pokemon lore. This isn’t the first Pokemon film that I’ve ever seen, but it is the first one that had me leaving the theater with an unshakably positive feeling, all the while solidifying my iron-clad views towards the importance of family, that the film takes with it throughout.

– Sparkling special effects. Pay attention Sonic, this is how you seamlessly immerse an obviously computer generated property into a live action background, without alienating the texture of color that lacks believability. Every design here is perfectly rendered and exceptionally detailed, illustrating the very fur and facial movements of the Pokemon creatures with an air of consistency that you rarely see in live action computer-generated kids movies. Likewise, the artificial destruction of some pretty intense and heavy action set pieces rumble the screen in ways that make them inescapable from what is transpiring, cementing a beautifully vibrant transition from animated movies that never leave much to the imagination in terms of what it loses in the transfer. If more live action transformations looked like this, I would gladly welcome the string of video game movies that will inevitably leave me braindead from, among other things, phony post production effects work.

– Cohesively juggling tones. What really surprised me about the movie was how it managed to evolve into this drama during pivotal scenes of emotional wrangling. Aside from the opening fifteen minutes, which feel like they set the ground wonderfully for a revenge narrative, the beginning of the film’s final act constructs a conflict within Pikachu, as well as one with Tim that is anything but the typical third act distancing we’ve come to know. Instead, it’s more about the discovery of the role that Pikachu plays in this progressing mystery, establishing a series of twists that add a fine combination of intrigue for the character’s, as well as a somber atmosphere of tension that adapts to being much more than a lazy comedy. With this film having such a resting backbone on the values of family and friendship, and how those aspects tie together perfectly sometimes, it makes this a recommend for the whole family, remembering to instill the profoundly powerful gut-punch literally moments before they walk out of the theater.

– Ryan Reynolds. Simply put, there is nothing that this man can’t do. While Ryan’s familiar vocal tones never experiment with stretching or tweeking to make them sound different, it’s Ryan’s timely delivery and enthusiastic energy in dangerous situations that made him the focus for audiences well beyond being the title character. When Pikachu is at his most vulnerable, which is roughly 80% of the movie, Ryan delivers his best stuff, emoting a cowardice side of the familiar hero, which certainly casts him in newly hilarious light than I’ve ever seen. His influence is felt so much that in the rare occasion when Pikachu isn’t on-screen, that the movie immediately loses the air of momentum that it builds each time his unshakeable sarcasm and endless wit isn’t there to enhance the interaction of his live action counterparts, and it’s one of those performances that will make it difficult to shake free from his voice, every time you watch a Pokemon movie from this point forward.

– The setting. Ryme City is about as cool a place that I’ve seen in cinema since “Blade Runner”, and it’s clear in the details how the current pays a respectable homage to the previous. The neon lights adorned on sky-scraping signs reflect beautifully on the rain-soaked concrete, and the assortment of opportunity-seeking businesses gives a lived-in feeling to capitalism that ranges even in the locations that feel planets away from our own. It juggles this strange juxtaposition, where the technology feels decades ahead of our own, but the similarities in balance for power and current business time fashions gives it a searing reality not far from where we currently stand. Overall, it gives the location a timeless feeling, which in turn will allow it to age gracefully as the years pass by.

– Easter Egg reference. This is about as unexpected as you can get for a hidden Easter Egg, but I tip my hat for a lengthy amount of time, for the way this film managed to include a reference to my favorite Christmas movie of all time. Even more incredible is that this reference within a reference was created especially for that Christmas movie, so the use of its inclusion is obviously an homage to this movie, and plays incredibly for how it plays simultaneously with the crime noir narrative that is playing out before our very eyes in Ryme City. Despite that movie and this one feeling legions apart in terms of similarities, the way it is inserted is every bit as clever as it is commanding of the attention of moviegoers for the way it practically takes over the scene right from our actors in frame.

NEGATIVES

– Exposition heavy dialogue. Sometimes the spring of knowledge feels as forced as a screenplay can make evident, and it stood as the one aspect (Especially during the first act) that weighed this movie down heavily in my final grade. When a new Pokemon comes on-screen, the film almost stops in its tracks to tell us who they are and what power they possess, and while it doesn’t conjure up the cliche of showing a visual stat-sheet like some films do, the overabundance of long-winded delivery isn’t far off either. I can understand teaching audiences about the character’s and backstories accordingly, but when a scene with an amazing actor (Ken Watanabe) is only there to serve a purpose for Tim, you have to wonder if there were easier and more believable ways to introduce this knowledge without the smell of obviousness dimming the potential of said scene, and it happened more times than I would’ve liked.

– Painful human character’s. There’s no one in “Detective Pikachu” who I related to on a personal level, and that’s a shame considering much of this story’s hidden narrative deals with you indulging and empathizing with these people and their newfound tragedies, and it rendered much of the impact of devastation that much more ambiguous because I couldn’t allow myself to fully invest in their bland personalities. Speaking of which, Smith’s Tim is a sludgy sap of moping reality, and his interaction with Newton romantically felt as cold as arctic temperatures, and about as forced as a spontaneous colonic volcano. The screenplay isn’t interested in developing them individually, so it builds them together in-tow, and as far as lead character’s go, these two aren’t nearly charming or confident in their abilities to get across the magic in their bumbling personas.

– Comedy power. While Reynolds makes miracles out of mirages, the overall landing power of the comedy in this film left slightly more to be desired, especially considering we’ve seen Reynolds at his rudest, in the R-rated duo of the “Deadpool” franchise. For this being a PG movie, it’s clear that PG restrictions were taken, and even despite Reynolds hinting at more adult material from time to time, the film’s firepower remains mostly grounded for what we expect from kids movies that demean their intelligence with sounds and flatulence humor. Aside from this, the film commits the crime of showcasing its best material in the trailer, leaving very little of surprise or payoff in the way of what remains. So if you watched this trailer and weren’t sold on the material, the movie itself won’t provide much other relief in that department.

– Problems with the mystery aspect. There are many here, and unfortunately they are made the more evident the longer the film goes on. The answer is predictable, the interrogations in dialogue and sequencing are repetitive, the plot holes in some aspects are glaring, and there’s simply not enough of a struggle for Tim and Pikachu in solving this case. Most of the latter problem deals with a 95 minute run time, which could use another ten minutes to help stretch the dynamic associated with team thinktank’s to illustrate how thick this mystery really is. The quicker they figure everything out, the more painful it is for the power of the mystery itself, and more alluding to this being a kids-first movie that will do no favors for adults in preserving anything mysterious. For my money, they could’ve targeted somewhere in between these age groups to offer something cryptic to both sides, but unfortunately the youth will get more out of these twists that are visible from a mile away.

My Grade: 6/10 or C

Tolkien

Directed By Dome Karukoski

Starring – Nicholas Hoult, Lily Collins, Laura Donnelly

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

Rated PG-13 for some sequences of war violence

POSITIVES

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

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

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

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

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

NEGATIVES

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

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

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

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

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

My Grade: 5/10 or D +

Long Shot

Directed By Jonathan Levine

Starring – Charlize Theron, Seth Rogen, June Diane Raphael

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

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

POSITIVES

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

NEGATIVES

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

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

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

My Grade: 7/10 or B-