Ford V Ferrari

Directed By James Mangold

Starring – Christian Bale, Matt Damon, Caitriona Balfe

The Plot – American car designer Carroll Shelby (Damon) and driver Ken Miles (Bale) battle corporate interference, the laws of physics and their own personal demons to build a revolutionary race car for Ford and challenge Ferrari at the 24 Hours of Le Mans in 1966.

Rated PG-13 for some adult language and peril

POSITIVES

– Production details. This is a film that takes place in 1966, yet doesn’t require the heavy handed quality of beating us over the head with such a presentation that is distracting to the pivotal pieces surrounding it. Instead, Mangold disperses an occasional reminder every so often, lie a dated magazine or grocery design that better helps illustrate the designated time frame. For coloring texture, it’s the sunbaked cinematography of Phedon Papamichael, who has an experimental side of expression shooting visuals classics like “Walk the Line”, “Nebraska”, or “A Beautiful Day”. Phedon’s subtly easily immerses us in the transformation of the era without requiring the desperation of saturated imagery to sell his point, instead letting the toys themselves in the foreground do the talking in giving us an alluring seduction to the automobiles of yesterday. In that regard, the Ford and Ferrari 60’s models are made from the very same scrap metal that is no longer found on cars, as well as a faithful curvature of the car’s framing that accentuates detail right down to the very tee of what Miles took with him across the finish line.

– Fluffy pacing. This is a movie that is nearly two-and-a-half hours long, yet never grinds its gears in presenting an intoxicating narrative. The reason for that is because the first two acts of the movie is constantly moving, taking us through the backstory of the race itself, in addition to the many real life dramatic circumstances that Miles and Shelby dealt with in partnering with a major corporation like Ford. I was surprised to find that when I checked my watch for the first time, there was only 25 minutes left in the movie, acting as a testament to the script’s ability to allow its audience to get lost in these characters, as well as the education lesson given to anyone like me, who knows so little about automobile education. For my money, this film could even afford another twenty minutes on fleshing out its antagonists, as well as diving a little deeper on a gut-wrenching finale that lays everything on the line. It’s definitely one of the easier two hour plus watches that I have had in 2019, and cements a testament to Mangold as a storyteller who knows what avenues to travel to keep audiences invested within the heat of the complexity.

– Surprising special effects. There aren’t many that are especially obvious, but the seamless inclusion of an eye-stretching crowd, as well as some computer generated tricks used on the track, prove that foreign properties to the live action dimension are anything but lifeless. In fact, there’s only one scene in the film, where a plane lands on a runway, that stood out as a bit cheap in its rendering for me. Aside from this, the proximity of the consistency of camera angles used, as well as proper coloring establishment with its live action surroundings, exceeded believability, and nearly fooled me into thinking that Mangold called on thousands of extras to line its rows of stadium seating. These give the film a big budget quality of attention that lesser filmmakers don’t spend nearly enough time on, and overall it’s proof computer generation, when done right, can have an impactful effect on materializing the proper influence that adds to instead of overrides.

– Musical depth. Hats off to musical composer Marco Beltrami for channeling no shortage of musical genre’s nor instruments in conjuring the proper urgency needed to push these racing sequences to suffocating levels of claustrophobic tension. In the first act, Beltrami uses a lot of jazz drums and increasing rhythmic pulse to give the atmosphere a level of ambition, all the while paying homage to the Motown presence that accompanies so much of the film’s consistent setting. In the second act, he switches it up by instilling a classic rock vibe of electric guitar’s and piano to enhance the natural quality of fast-paced racing, granting it an underlying presence that shifts and shakes almost in mirror comparison to the cars that dominate the visual capacity. By the final act, Marco throws what he can at the studio recording, producing a twisting quartet of range that persists with increasing volume like a screwing coming undone in the most unnerving way. I’m usually not a big fan of Beltrami’s scores for their practicality and obviousness to the films they accompany, but something like a racing film works so efficiently for him, if even just for the way he incorporates much of the audible flavor that was present with the particular time frame.

– Informative. Everything in the film is factually based, with regards to the developments of behind-the-scenes aspects that only a movie could bring forth, but what’s compelling is how deep the dive of privacy entails. Not only does this film invade the thick walls of the Ford elite, illustrating its bureaucracy inside with an elaboration of the story’s real antagonists, but it also vividly depicts the kind of faltering science associated with car building. In fact, no other racing movie has ever fruitfully portrayed the annoying-but-inspiring process of deconstructing something so permanently established, and reshaping it in a way that extends its lifespan tenfold because of the passionate team behind it. This screenplay has a love for the most intimate of details, and values their importance in a way that will provide even a few surprising revelations for even the most hardcore of automobile enthusiasts.

– Enthralling sequences. Without a question the most valuable positive of the movie is Mangold’s near perfect direction of shot composition versatility that puts us so close to the action that we nearly feel the heat from the engines pushing themselves in unnatural methods to win. Instead of using shaking camera effects that have become a staple of action movie cinema used to illustrate energy, James instead takes a consistent approach of using wide angle, semi-long take shots, where the cars move in and out of frame with such velocity that it nearly becomes a three-dimensional gimmick for how close they reside. In addition to this, there’s a healthy compromise of bumper point-of-view shots so immersive that we the audience nearly feel the wind blowing through our hair at the ever-changing landscapes emerging and diminishing before our very eyes. It presents the closest possible depiction of being in the driver’s seat without it being an outright first person movie, and thanks to the fine balance of experimentation used to literally drive its points home, the film presents many riveting exchanges where it feels like vulnerability is a character within the movie of so many characters playing with such high stakes.

– Characterization. This movie has tons of it. Aside from investing valuable minutes in its duo of central protagonists, the film outlines everyone from Henry Ford himself, to supporting pit crew members, and especially most important, the Miles family themselves, who are among my favorite characters in the movie. The screenplay has such a respect for these many emotionally diverse people, spending time to flesh out their fears and ambitions in a way that makes us feel like we’ve known and watched them grow for years. What’s important is no two characters are ever the same in personality or speech demeanor, proving that screenwriters Jez Butterworth and Jason Keller provided emphasis in their importance to the story. It offers no defining weak spots of scenes where our favorite characters are away from the camera, and keeps our interests at consistent highs throughout, because they’ve each had their examples to shine in the brightest ways possible.

– Complete cast. Bale gives another transformative performance, emoting Ken with a combination of neurotic intelligence and heartfelt family-man compassion that really presents two alluring sides of the racer’s personality. Damon as well shines with a southern drawl consistency and endless charisma that makes Shelby stand out as so much more than a pioneer of an assembly line, but also as a human being who valued the friendship with Miles so much that he often went to war because of it. Aside from this talented duo, Tracy Letts gives off a mafia-head vibe as the CEO of the biggest automobile company on the planet, Josh Lucas chews up atmosphere as this detestably vile Leo Beebe, and Jon Bernthal resides as the visionary Iacocca, who constructed the pieces that were pivotal to a war nobody thought was possible. Without a doubt, however, it’s Caitriona Balfe who stole the show for me as Mollie Miles. Mollie exudes the same intelligence that her husband has, but has a delightfully pleasant cynicism to her character that often sees moves being made a mile ahead of everyone else, often making her feel like the driver in the marriage. Her scenes with Bale feel so naturally convincing, and Balfe’s influence on the film doesn’t go unnoticed, giving us plenty of laughs along the way of the unfolding madness. During an age when men were at the forefront of many relationships and careers, it’s Caitriona’s Mollie that takes one step forward.

NEGATIVES

– Dated establishing. There is no on-screen text throughout the film, often making it difficult to distinguish how much time has passed, unless a character conveniently mentions it in informative dialogue. Why this is a problem for me is it not only adds unnecessary difficult in conveying to the audience the urgency of the situation of building a revolutionary car in such a brief period of time, but it also makes it a chore to comprehend just how much time has passed along the way. The film flashes forward through lengthy amounts of time so unceremoniously that it outlines a convoluted method of storytelling where simplicity should’ve been the intended measure used to maximize the importance of time. Without it, six months passing feels every bit the same as six days.

– Lack of Ferrari. Without including the side of our Italian rivals, the film unfortunately falls under the category of American propaganda, with a villain character that might as well be a shadowy corporation. It attains that level of ignorance because of its long span of time that passes before we see them again, and when we do see them, it’s only to sneer at the screen to remind us that they are bad, and America good. This is easily where the film could use even more time to commentate their side of the story. Without it, the title, “Ford V Ferrari” is a one-sided battle where only one side is important to the complexion and convenience of the narrative.

My Grade: 8/10 or A-

Dolemite Is My Name

Directed By Craig Brewer

Starring – Eddie Murphy, Keegan-Michael Key, Wesley Snipes

The Plot – Eddie Murphy portrays real-life legend Rudy Ray Moore, a comedy and rap pioneer who proved naysayers wrong when his hilarious, obscene, kung-fu fighting alter ego, Dolemite, became a 1970s Blaxploitation phenomenon.

Rated R for pervasive adult language, crude sexual content, and graphic nudity

POSITIVES

– Admirable protagonist. This isn’t a biopic about Moore, but rather the Dolomite character itself, taking us on a journey that begins with the inception of the character, and streams all the way through his success as a black big screen icon that transcended conventions. Because of this, you learn very little about Moore’s personal life when the lights and camera’s die down, but it’s the intelligence of the man inside that easily wins over here, and maintains our interest throughout. Moore was wise enough to spot an enormous black disconnect within the movie and critic industries alike, choosing instead to preserve his talents as this voice of the voiceless whose every move is inspired by the things he learned from his experiences as a black patron within the industry. Above all else, it was Rudy’s perseverance through doubt and adversity that prospered each time, and gave him the courage to make his own path when very few other men in suits would help him do so.

– 70’s aesthetic. This is easily Brewer’s most ambitious project to date, treating us to a visual spectrum that transports us to the heat of the disco decade, with enough stylish flare to convince us of a time so far removed from our own. In fact, there’s a lot of personality in the film’s camera movements and editing techniques that often make it feel like a property that was directly ripped from the same age of cinema that it is vibrantly depicting. Swing shots and blunt camera panning sequences are instilled to duplicate the same dramatic tension in the foreground of real life that is enveloping our characters within the realm of the fake movie taking place in the backdrop. Likewise, the cuts are used as a visual elaboration to the punchlines that Moore is dropping on-stage, used to better sell the reaction of the material. It documents Moore as so much more than an average joke-teller, and instead prides him on physically investing presence that made his act one of Shakepaerian efforts for its time.

– Unique conflict. In a biopic like this, you expect there to be some seedy corporate executive who uses and abuses Rudy and his friends for his own personal gain, but thankfully the screenplay rings more intelligent than that. Instead, we learn about midway through that it’s really the industry as a whole who serve equally as Rudy’s biggest doubters and motivators, breaking decades of pre-conceived prejudice within the dynamics of comedy to build something innovative for his race. Maintaining this as a faceless demon within Rudy’s own prosperity is something that weighs heavily on his every move, and allows the story to capture its pivotal importance in a way that blazed the trail for the many black comedians featured throughout the film. That more than anything speaks volumes to Rudy’s everlasting legacy as a pioneer, and allowed him to succeed on the very terms that he made for himself.

– Stunning enhancements. It’s amazing what a wig and light expressions of facial make-up can do with bringing to life the familiarity of Moore during the prime of his career. In this respect, Murphy becomes Moore with very little disbelief, other than the vast difference of vocal capacity that each men couldn’t be further from. Nothing inside ever feels ridiculous or overdone to the point that it takes away from the attention or the integrity of the scene, instead immersing us in the subtle transformation that Murphy and even Snipes dedicate themselves to wholeheartedly. It’s so effectively rich with authenticity that you buy it immediately, proving that sometimes subtlety is the best way to articulate character-defining traits.

– Informative. This is easily the biggest aspect of benefit for me, as what little I knew about Dolomite was really just Moore’s well documented backstory and upbringing. This film spends precious amounts of its near two hour run time to flesh out behind the scenes production notes and inspirations that really cast a shadow of credibility to the crew associated with “Dolemite”, in that it ever was as influential as it actually was. It finely illustrates the confines associated with independent cinema, and offers a rich texture of irony once you know how the donuts are made within a scene of familiarity that ever asked more questions than it answered. Aside from this, there’s a refreshing intimacy between the friends-turned-family that Moore brought all the way along to stardom, and the film articulates this within the many conversations and interactions that take place between them. The dialogue is rich, the weight of importance within the film is well defined, and it all gives Brewer’s film a feeling of intentional family values that I honestly wasn’t expecting.

– Vivacious musical score. It makes sense that the very same man, Scott Bomar, who was responsible for the award-winning score of “Hustle and Flow” is the composer tasked with capturing the scintillating atmosphere of the funk generation. This is realized in spades, as the soulful conscience that allures us through the many stylish transition sequences treats us to enough wawa guitar and up-tempo drum beats to audibly sedate us. Bomar captures a level of originality in trance-funk offerings that is unlike anything currently narrating tonal capacities in today’s big screen releases, and gave me several instances of toe-tapping glee that consistently channeled the cool factor atmosphere that was prominent throughout so much of the movie.

– Film within the film. This is such a creative way to blend the best of modern production values with the familiarity of the original “Dolemite” movie, creating the rare chance to see what might have been if a big name studio took a chance on this property. Not only are the backdrops and character placements perfectly rendered in the frame of each sequence that actually took place in the real movie, but they are enhanced with top-notch sound editing that give the scenes of physical conflict an air of authenticity. Sure, there’s still enough silliness maintained from the uninspiring set designs, which were really just hotel rooms being made to look like their intended story setting, but the differences here are unmistakable, and do an important duty in possibly illustrating Moore’s intended vision, if time, money, and production limitations weren’t a factor.

– Too much talent. There are no shortage of who’s who celebrities popping in to add a different dimension to the picture, assembling a collective ensemble that only rivals The Avengers in terms of reputable depth. Chris Rock, Snoop Dogg, Mike Epps, Craig Robinson, Kodi Mcphee-Smit, Keegan-Michael Key, and Netflix own Tituss Burgess all add their diverse personalities to the complexion of the film, offering multiple amounts of dream pairing scenarios that we’ve waited decades to experience. Beyond these names, however, there are two men who do an extensive amount of the hefty dramatic lifting, Murphy and Snipes, who deserve academy recognition for their passionate turns. Snipes as the condescending director of “Dolemite” exerts through many scene-stealing circumstances, including a death scene within the fictional film that captures the lack of excitement for the character. Speaking of excitement, the raw energy from Murphy to the film’s titular role is one that was exciting to see for this big Eddie fan, and preserved easily his greatest performance since “Dreamgirls”. It’s important that Murphy doesn’t try to emulate the familiar delivery of Moore, choosing instead to make the role his own in a way that provides several clever parallels to his own relationship with comedy. In fact, the most rewarding scenes of the film are the ones where Murphy himself stands on stage in front of a microphone, even if he isn’t delivering his own material for our delight. On the performance spectrum, Eddie gives a bigger-than-life portrayal that channels the kind of vulgarity, heartfelt sentiment, and of course endless charisma that he once adorned each film with. If nothing else, it’s great to see him back in his prime, paying homage to a man who he has a lot to thank for.

NEGATIVES

– Flat humor. It’s especially surprising in a comedy about Blacksploitation, a subgenre that has never offered me any shortage of gut-busting reprieve, that the film’s comic muscle fell so flat. There are a few times when I lightly chuckled, but nothing that ever reached the kind of firepower or consistency that Moore made a living off of. I think most of it deals with the film underestimating the weight of its dramatic details, only teasing moments when the much needed tension could’ve added to the uncertainty of Moore’s flailing big screen future. For my money, the comedy just doesn’t ring as effective with me for whatever reason, perhaps acting as the very same cultural disconnect that Moore was elaborating at when he and friends catch a Jack Lemmon and Walter Matthau movie during the film, and don’t laugh once despite everyone around them being crippled with laughter.

– Slight pacing problems. This is particularly during the second act of the movie, where the film’s grounded progression does positively replicate the pacing of 70’s social life, but unfortunately renders the film stuck in place creatively for longer than I would actually like. “Dolemite Is My Name” is above all else a fun sit, but it’s one that could afford to shave around fifteen minutes of screen time, particularly during the brainstorming sequences with friends, that are visually elaborated at only a scene later each time. On top of this, there’s an introduction for every character of which there are no shortage of. That means each time a new celebrity pops up, we know five minutes of exposition will follow. It gives the storytelling a halted progress to bring a new character up to speed, and strands us the audience during the moments when the developments were starting to materialize.

My Grade: 8/10 or B+

The King

Directed By David Michod

Starring – Timothee Chalamet, Joel Edgerton, Robert Pattinson

The Plot – Hal (Chalamet), wayward prince and reluctant heir to the English throne, has turned his back on royal life and is living among the people. But when his tyrannical father dies, Hal is crowned King Henry V and is forced to embrace the life he had previously tried to escape. Now the young king must navigate the palace politics, chaos and war his father left behind, and the emotional strings of his past life – including his relationship with his closest friend and mentor, the aging alcoholic knight, John Falstaff (Edgerton).

Rated R for some strong violence, and adult language.

POSITIVES

– Unexpected direction. Most stories revolving around the chase for the throne detail these deceiving characters using whatever advantage they can to seek the fame and fortunes that they desire, but “The King” uniquely flips this narrative in a way that boldly illustrates the pressures of the throne. For Henry V, it’s the character evolution while being on the throne itself that brings forth a determination to do the ugly deeds in order to attain what is necessary for peace. This more than anything compromises the young man we were introduced to early on, who turned down the throne so as not to be a part of the hierarchy that put so many of his citizens in danger. It takes this conventional re-telling of European history, and transcends that tag in order to become a candid character piece, full of enough political insight and profound weight in historical significance to constantly keep shedding its skin towards finding its own original method of storytelling.

– Fluid pacing. 140 minutes of screen time originally worried me when I saw while studying the film’s information, but the consistency of the dramatic tension, combined with emphasis in its brutality, brought forth a sit that even at nearly two-and-a-half hours I still didn’t want to walk away from. This is a story that is constantly moving forward, crafting a series of noise in subplots playing in the background in the same way they do King Henry V’s mind when making a pivotal decision, and it produces a strong amount of urgency that is not typical prominent in an early 19th century movie. Some liberties were certainly taken with the consistency of adverse arrivals, but for the integrity of the picture, everything is at least entertaining above all else, tweaking the factual capacities for an entertaining narrative that welcomes audiences to something they otherwise wouldn’t.

– Seamless production. This aspect is everywhere. From the personality that marries itself with the factual of multi-layered costume designs, to the immensity of sparse details that exist within the framing of each interior set design, to the attention given to British and French conversation structure, everything inside offers a teleporting experience that really caters to immersing yourself in these familiar faces losing themselves to the proper time period. In this regard, it is Netflix most ambitious property to date, and one that will surely make the awards war with the silver screen all the more difficult because of this gap-bridging that is visually commanding. Most of it falls on the shoulders of Michod, who balances the most in 19th century visual capacities with 21st century filmmaking, producing a hybrid marriage that blends surprisingly natural in maintaining its immersive qualities.

– One bright idea. Easily my favorite aspect of the film is the choice to use natural lighting to document these scenes. This not only plays wonderfully in establishing the dark, gritty atmosphere that cinematographer Adam Arkapaw vividly entrances us with, but conveys a natural presence in the pre-electricity age that offers an alluring quality to ugly rendering. That may sound like a back-handed compliment, but my investment to a film is made all the more tighter when I’m feeling the very same aspects that its people did for the proper time period, and while shadows might not be visually appealing to most because of their distracting nature, it’s the way they articulate its place in time that allows it to forget the ideal artistic prejudice that exists in most big budget presentations.

– War sequences. There are only two in this film, but even for a streaming service quality of scope, the scenes are enriched with a level of unriddled intensity that allows them to hold their own against the big boys of the genre. Most of it falls on composer Nicholas Britell’s magnetically riveting score, for the way it encapsulates the very tragedy and gratifying circumstances of war, but more than that it’s the use of some gorgeous shot selection’s that keep your eyes glued to the screen. Michod uses a lot of long take character tracking shots to impress us with physical stunt choreography, but even more than that, it’s the heat of the atmosphere with all of its mud-slinging frenzy that vividly paints this soggy, dirty battlefield, and one whose vulnerability resonates throughout its barrage of bodies and brutality that the film is not ashamed to donate ample time towards.

– Gifted cast. The collective group of names brings forth one of the more talented ensembles of 2019, but the work individually measures the constant professionalism in spades that allowed some of today’s best to lose themselves in the confines of their roles. Kicking it off in that regard is Edgerton, who pulls double duty as a star and screenwriter, is easily my favorite character of the film as Falstaff. This man is the film’s humor and personality, but even more than that it’s the devotion to Henry V that easily cements him as the heart of the film, and one that thankfully we get plenty of time with. Pattinson might be the show-stealer again, however, as this French army leader, who is every bit as intended over-the-top for the scene, as he is antagonizing as a villain. Pattinson lays it on thick with his English-French accent and endless conceit, almost turning the film into a comedy at times. But the way he once again transforms himself as a chameleon actor who lives and breathes through the character, is something that makes him one of the best going today, and the commander of many scene-stealing appearances throughout the film’s second half. Finally, one of Hollywood’s best kept secrets in Sean Harris is let out of the bag with a performance that toes the line of trustful and seedy accordingly. It helps that his delivery isn’t comical or over-the-top in a way that meanders the effectiveness of the intention, instead burning in the background like the tarantula that his character rightfully is, and popping into frame at only the right moments to stir the pot of dramatic tension.

– Profound reflection. One of the more interesting aspects of the film is who it depicts as the “Villain” of the war. There are many sides addressed in this regard; from the unsettling tensions mounting from the French adversaries, to King Henry IV, Henry V’s father, whose one man democracy has cost England so many lives and money from a war that many deemed unimportant, and then there’s the third refreshing side that could even resonate to the kinds of decisions that our own people in power today are going through, and that’s those string-pullers behind the scenes. It’s easy to comprehend how these whisperers are responsible for so much, stirring the shit with the king in a way that better manufactures this war, and has Henry himself making decisions that he never wanted nor expected to make. That’s what is truly rewarding about this film. That idea that anyone inside could be considered an antagonist to the story, and that there are no black or white characters, only varying shades of grey.

– Concept of hate. What really struck me about this film was the way it examines how hate is grown from ignorance and vanity, and fostered by the corrupt and greedy to have influence on those intended. This is certainly another one of those shape-shifting themes that can feel prominent in our own world, but how it’s used here condemns experience in a way that is reflective of the greed they seek, and how many people they’re willing to step on in order to attain it. This for me was an absolutely phenomenal statement for a film like this to make, if only to take time maintaining a theme in a way that coincides with what is transpiring on-screen, all the while cementing it further in the actions given. It gives poignant food-for-thought in a way that makes a story so dated surprisingly timeless with its themes, and makes this one of the more spiritually rewarding films of the 2019 movie year.

NEGATIVES

– Minimal character depth. This shines more prominent when you have these familiar faces playing such unimportant characters to the dynamic of the time they’re given to make an impact. Even for a movie as lengthy as “The King” is, characters like King Henry IV, Henry’s sister Philippa, or even the love interest subplot that is coldly introduced in the final ten minutes of the film, all required more exposition and interaction to get the beats of their characters over, and warrant their inclusion at all to the integrity of the film. Without it, they all feel like obvious plot devices in a bigger scheme with each scene they accompany, and it leaves so very little opportunity for a female presence to dominate in the foreground of this picture.

– Leading man. If you noticed one big name missing from my performance section, it’s Timothee Chalamet as King Henry V, who is every bit as underwhelming in the role as he was miscast. I have nothing against Chalamet as an actor. His turns in “Beautiful Boy” and “Call Me By Your Name” are some of the very best of their respective years, but when tasked to emote as the inspirational figure who led the Brits into France, Chalamet’s reserved registry just doesn’t fit the bill. The long-winded diatribes are fine enough, but when the camera opens up Chalamet during personal scenes of reflection, it’s clear there’s so very little to the character that is only hinted at, and very rarely ever realized. With a volted protagonist performance, “The King” could be one of the best films of the fall season, but because Timothee feels more fit for a Calvin Klein commercial instead of a decorated soldier of war, it doesn’t quite fit the throne that it inherits.

My Grade: 8/10 or B

Jojo Rabbit

Directed By Taika Waititi

Starring – Roman Griffin Davis, Thomassin McKenzie, Scarlett Johansson

The Plot – A World War II satire that follows a lonely German boy named Jojo (Davis) whose world view is turned upside down when he discovers his single mother (Johansson) is hiding a young Jewish girl (McKenzie) in their attic. Aided only by his idiotic imaginary friend, Adolf Hitler (Waititi), Jojo must confront his blind nationalism.

Rated PG-13 for mature thematic content, some disturbing images, violence, and adult language

POSITIVES

– German soundtrack. Composer Michael Giacchino incorporates a combination of humor and familiarity to the tracks he adorns the film with, preserving an element of pop culture to play against the scene they audibly decorate. What’s truly rewarding is that Giacchino takes a song like “I’m a Believer” by The Monkees, and dubs it in a German language alternative, which not only comes across as clever to the audience for the way they recognize each track despite it being sung in a foreign language, but also rewarding to the story in the sense that it plays into the very setting of the film. Even further than this, the German rendering gives the Nazi’s in the film an unshakeable presence, which alludes to what was transpiring for the territory at the time. In terms of cohesive collection, this is one of the more complete compilations for soundtrack in 2019, and thanks to Michael’s precision for adding a different dimension to theme of the song than we’re used to, it conjures up a devilishly delightful context that brings new life to their immortality.

– Mother/Son subplot. The chemistry between Davis and Johansson takes the movie miles, and offers a truly earned transformation for the dramatic enveloping that takes place at around the halfway point of the film. Scarlett often feels like the glimmer of hope to us the audience, in that her warm spirit for positivity and equality will hopefully rub-off on her toxically influenced son, and as the film progresses we start to cherish and indulge in the loneliness that forces each of them to take comfort in the other, and it’s one that took a film that I was only remotely interested in, and fleshed it out to where I couldn’t get enough of their moral tug-of-war dynamic. Mother characters often take a backseat to the central narrative of the picture involving a kin, but Waititi values that bond in a way that has an endearing significance on the rest of the film.

– Spirited performances. Even though the work of A-listers Johansson and Sam Rockwell are enough to keep you engaged in their energetic personalities, it is the youthful cast, as well as Waititi himself, who steal the show, and preserve some buzzworthy performances that will have them sifting through scripts for potential roles for the rest of their lives. Taika’s performance is one of the more intelligently-gifted performances this year, performing the imaginary Hitler in a way that a 10-year-old boy would act and speak. His bumbling personality help to keep any of his material offensive, and even more importantly offer a fresh perspective for the character than we’ve ever been accustomed to in life or cinema alike. Tomassin McKenzie has already been mentioned by me after last year’s “Leave No Trace”, for the way her sorrowful registry weighed heavily over the tonal shifts of the film, and it only continues to broader strokes in “Jojo Rabbit”. Playing a teenage Jewish girl whose family and fiance have since been removed from the equation, leaving her stranded in isolation, McKenzie balances enough sarcastic wit to counter-balance her dramatic capabilities, and her character is one we mentally relay back to each time the Nazi’s take another freedom-breaking liberty. In addition, the work of Davis and Nick Frost junior sized Archie Yates captures a precision for comedic timing that most child actors simply can’t attain for their first few roles. Here, their jaw-dropping moral banter and endless supply of raw charisma puts them years ahead of their ages because of the maturity of the subject matter that they’re placed into. In addition, Waititi gives them no shortage of screen time, which in Davis’ case outlines an immense responsibility as the film’s jaded protagonist, who toes the line of moral ambiguity the longer the film progresses.

– Object incorporation. Waititi has an unmistakable eye for the details necessary to put the audience constantly one step ahead of the movie’s characters, giving it immense meaning to the visual storytelling that is sometimes just as moving as what’s spoken. In this film in particular, it’s the shoes of a prominent character that are focused on in two different scenes for an unnatural amount of screen time, and once you remember seeing them for the first time, you will understand the significance with how they pop up for a second time. It’s a bit obvious at times, but it rewards audiences for the way they commit themselves to the screen, and proves an intelligence for imagery captivation that captures so much emotional pulse to fill in the blanks of exposition necessary to comprehend the intention of its re-incorporation.

– Surprising dramatic depth. I certainly did not expect a comedy about a movie making light of the most vile faction in world history, but even more than that, I didn’t expect said movie to possess the kind of dramatic tension necessary in fleshing out some emotionally resonant material that catches up to your tears quickly. This is where the film really earned its grade for me, because as to where the humor element of the film let me down more times than not, it’s in one character’s epiphany while finally understanding the other side that played so prominently on-film, and maintained one of the more therapeutic sits that I’ve had recently with World War II drama’s. The humorous elements are still definitely there, but they never encroach or demean the punching power of the seriousness, and instead persist in giving us a fully fleshed-out narrative for the many characters you will inevitably fall in love with.

– Scope of the story. Speaking of characters, the film spends ample time on everyone minus maybe Rebel Wilson’s character, in order to capture the victimization from the many sides of the conflict. You would expect this for the tortured Jewish communities, or even the innocent German population who didn’t have a hand in an overall message of hate, and while the movie does present these narratives, it’s really the look inside of the Nazi camp itself that offers some startling contrasts. This is one of the only films that I can remember that values the deep down good men who were held captive by a tyranical reign. It’s important to understand that the movie doesn’t justify or condone the terrible things that they did regardless, but just that not everyone in the camp were swallowed by the evil that surrounded them. I feel it’s important to know and understand that position, even if the movie is a work of tremendous fiction.

– Timeless message. This is especially difficult during a specific time-frame of the movie’s setting to conjure up something that any generation can take away from the movie. The message of the film isn’t just that Nazi’s were terrible people, but that we as human beings should understand and accept people defined as different before we become those very same people who used genocide to justify their hateful message. This is resonating loudly now perhaps more than ever, as our current social landscape has cast a great divide between the world, that now has our own country feeling like two different ones at all times. The movie teaches us that curiosity and acceptance are two tools that will save us from dooming ourselves to repeat history, and prove we can all live and be free to practice whatever under one world. It’s a deep-rooted and convincing message in a movie where the lunacy of hate and prejudice is depicted for the silliness that it entails, but further than that, Waititi establishes that there’s plenty we can learn from even the darkest days of history to preserve our future.

– Clever poignancy. Just a quick observation here. I find it funny how in Waititi’s narrative the adults act like children, and the children act like adults. It offers a striking degree of ageism in role reversal in a way that caters to the gimmick of the story, all the while fleshing out the ridiculous things that each side says and does when read by someone who we in the outside world can identify with being against conventionalism in the rendered personality of the actor who dons it.

NEGATIVES

– Diminishing results. The humor itself is strong in its introductory period, specifically with the satirical direction of the montage training sequence. Then begins a noticeable decay of less impactful laughs the longer the film’s comedic direction persists. I’m not saying that I didn’t laugh occasionally during the movie. Particularly the interaction between Jojo and imaginary Hitler gave me more than enough clever instances of fantastical glee that feel very therapeutic to Waititi. However, the one joke premise gets old fast, and even with some angles being full of ridiculousness in their approach towards the Jewish people, I couldn’t bring myself to laugh at it regardless. It’s probably a good thing that the film evolved tonally when it did, because the humor muscle for the movie was fluttering in redundancy at around the forty minute mark of the film. I do believe in my heart that many people will love the level of hijinks and gags that the movie incorporates to the Nazi’s hatred of the Jewish community, but for me it loses its flavor fast in translating to 105 minutes of cinema.

– Lack of punch. Even though some of the humor aims at being audacious over offensive, the sensitivity of the direction taken with the social commentary for the time feels soft in its execution. This is a necessary mention because I feel like it always keeps the evilness of the Nazi’s themselves at bay, and the humor majority of the direction itself never allows you to fully hate their characters in the way you rightfully should. Aside from this, I was a bit disappointed at the experimentation with this being a satire. If nothing in the film is meant to be factual, then why not play with the result of the war, or tweak some things for the unpredictablity of the film? The film seems conditioned on sending its audience home without even a slight detection of testing their nerves, and safe is never the trait I thought I would feel about a comedy depicting Nazi’s.

My Grade: 8/10 or B+

Monos

Directed By Alejandro Landes

Starring – Sofia Buenaventura, Moises Arias, Julianne Nicholson

The Plot – Teenage commandos perform military training exercises by day and indulge in youthful hedonism by night, an unconventional family bound together under a shadowy force know only as The Organization. After an ambush drives the squadron into the jungle, both the mission and the intricate bonds between the group begin to disintegrate.

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

POSITIVES

– Entrancing photography. For a film involving such savage brutality, as well as an overall animalistic means of survival for these characters, “Monos” captures some of the most beautiful shot compositions and movements of any film that I have seen this year. Its reputation is built in a style of direction that isn’t afraid to get its lens dirty, tracking our characters through a barrage of bushes and free-flowing rapids that easily immerse us into the heat of the scene, thanks to the camera’s physical interactions with each of these properties. In addition to this, the bold capture of mountainous clouds dominating the focus of the screen that are being portrayed at eye level for the setting offers a subtle allusion to the idea that these kids are a pawn in the bigger game of life that is passing them by. It values them as nothing more than a spoke in the wheel to someone’s devious plan, and gives us plenty of social commentary in its imagery long before it mumbles even a single word of dialogue.

– Buzzworthy performances. Considering Nicholson is the only actress of familiarity to me in the film, the gripping nature and emotional resonance of this mostly youthful cast was one that opened my eyes, and gave coherence to the idea that even kid actors should be valued as equals to their adult counterparts. Because the camera work gives us several long takes to focus on their facial likenesses, these kids are asked to convey their internal registries with nothing more than what they can do with their faces, and it outlines some general dissention in the ranks for what initially feels like a paradise for all of them. On the subject of Nicholson, it’s the anguish and exhaust that she wears continuously for her character that dominates our time with her, giving her a performance that asks her to be every bit as physical as it is psychological. This woman goes through no shortage of grueling punishment, and even considering films are based on acting, I can imagine the emotional scars of resistance that Nicholson invested throughout this film will have a presence within her career regardless of how many movies she dominates like she does this one.

– Vital character study. When you start to attack Landes’ film beneath its surface level of war, torture, and longing, you start to piece together a social narrative that feeds into the ages old debate of nature versus nurture, and it’s one that leads to some truly gut-wrenching results. Because these are youths left on their own to survive and defend, we start to not only see the immaturity of their decisions weighing heavily on the rest of them, but also the consequences that emerge when rules and reform are nowhere to be found in the scope of stability. As the film progresses, these kids and their surroundings evolve to a more animalistic distinguishing, outlining them as a product of their environment because of the conventional things that their lives lack that starts to weigh heavily on the dynamic of their characters. Landes casts grave importance on the irresponsible decisions made for kids that eventually define them for better or worse, and in the same vein as 1995’s “Kids”, fleshes out a cohesive narrative that serves as a cautionary tale to anyone who doesn’t comprehend how important healthy influences are in the absorbing mental capacity of someone so inexperienced with the ferocity of life.

– Enthralling sound mixing. You can take beautiful and exotic scenery and use them to visually tell a story, but without articulate sound that invests weight into the heat of the environment, these places don’t allow us to immerse ourselves in it, but thankfully “Monos” doesn’t have this problem in the slightest. Using typical noises like birds, crickets, and weatherly influences to the echoing of the character in frame, the film’s on-location approach to its production value grants us an inescapable aspect of weight within the narrative that increases in volume the closer the kids get to society. It grants the audibility a level of believability that lesser films skim over without valuing the importance of their influence. The lesser the influence that post-production has on a film, the better the integrity for consistency that a film maintains, and for 97 minutes of film, Landes constant reminder of the world surrounding this madness is one that proves vital in establishing this nightmarish fever dream that he surrenders us to.

– Why kids? Using a younger presence when playing adult games is certainly nothing new to cinema, but why it works exceptionally in this particular story is the way a group so young gives everything to fight for something that isn’t clearly evident to them. This gives the film a tragic aspect of its storytelling that is present long before the hail of gunfire reigns down around them, granting an uncomfortable attention to the audience that wouldn’t feel as important with older characters. When it’s kids, there’s always a sense of moral ambiguity just beneath the surface of this invisible safe zone that we create in our heads, and this gives this film in particular an unpredictable sense of evolution that keeps the audience constantly on its toes to see if it explores the depth that an adult narrative does. The good and bad news? It totally does.

– Mica Levi. If you don’t already know this amazing composer from her mesmerizing work in films like “Under the Skin” or “Jackie”, you won’t be able to escape her from this point forward. Levi’s rhythmic trance over the film and its accompanying scenes serves as the conscience for a film so riddled with increasing tension and inescapable sorrow, to the point where it develops this suffocating layer of fog that constantly hangs over the heads of our respective characters. What’s important is that Mica’s work rarely feels repetitious or grounded. Instead, her numbers use unconventional sounds like echoing whistles or fuzzy synth to conjure up an evocative experience that echoes for miles inside of the story. The whistle itself foretells an inevitable confrontation that is constantly heading our way, and expands and diverts the longer the track carries out before resolution is met. Because of such, Levi might be the film’s most valuable player, manufacturing atmosphere with instruments in the exact same way a painter adds artistic dimensions to life. It leads to a must-buy composition, as well as an unseen character in the film itself that is constant for far longer than the actors themselves are as a presence.

– Bold cinematography. In addition to the breathtaking capture of the lens that I previously mentioned, the film’s sharp sting of color saturation to a landscape and particular atmospheric item is something that plays heavily into the imbalance constructed from such a moral disposition within the story. For my money, it’s the seafoam green’s that overlooks the unsettling heights of the mountainside, or even the metallic reds that emit themselves from the smoke of enemy fire in the air, that are easily my favorite. Colors by themselves are fine, but the rendering itself is something of three-dimensional outlining that makes them pop with the rested eye without wearing heavy 3D glasses that often take away from the presentation of a movie. Cinematographer Jasper Wolf, an artist responsible for some of the most distinguishing arthouse films of the last five years, accomplishes this entrancing feat, marrying the worlds of reality and fantasy in a way where unorthodox color pallets reflect to the uncertainty that plagues the story and its rambunctious characters.

– Not exploitative. It would be easy for a film like this to get lost in the clutches of its own brutality or adult stakes, but surprisingly everything testing with the material is commanded with enough tasteful class and imagination to fill in the gaps colorfully of expectations. Despite the ratings header above, there is very little profanity in the film, saving the instances when they feel the most naturally flowing with the patterns of human dialogue. For sex, there are two scenes in particular that deal with it in regards to these kids, but with no offensive nudity to shock you out of your enjoyment of the film. In fact, the love sequences themselves are shot similar to the lone drug sequence of the film, in that they are both focused on the reaction, and not necessarily the act itself. It very much transforms these kids, and forces them to grow up a lot quicker than they rightfully should, cementing the importance of this film’s rating in a way that is anything but a tool for extremism.

NEGATIVES

– No protagonist. Easily the biggest problem that “Monos” faces is its lack of characterization that leaves us searching for a familiar face to invest in. Usually it would be Nicholson’s character, for the way she’s held captive, but the film’s lack of personal attention given to scenes of her in isolation feel like a missed opportunity to further flesh out a level of empathy that the screenplay never reaches. In addition to this, none of the kids themselves are attacked from anything other than a surface level, with no backstory or distinguishable traits for us to grip on to. I can understand the desire to place everyone on equal ground to the integrity of the story and camera attention, but without an established home base, these characters don’t gain enough interest to make any of their arcs truly tragic.

– Small problems. There are two things in this regard; one dealing with continuity, and one dealing with lack of resolution from a certain subplot. On the former, Nicholson’s character is beaten down badly in one scene, resulting in a barrage of cuts, bruises, and even a swollen left eye. However, in the following scene directly after it, that swollen eye is gone. In fact, there’s not even a remote sign that the swelling has reduced. It’s completely gone, and there’s no excuse why this would happen in the exact same day. On the latter, without spoiling anything, a group of characters are held at gunpoint in the final three minutes of the film, and we get no resolution or information as to what happened to these characters or their captor. These kinds of things bother me, especially in this case because it’s the climax of the film. It ends the film on a good, but not fully satisfying note, that remains some of the air of momentum because of the lack of attention given to the many plots set-up by these final scenes.

My Grade: 8/10 or A-

El Camino

Directed By Vince Gilligan

Starring – Aaron Paul, Matt Jones, Jonathan Banks

The Plot – After escaping Jack and his dangerous gang, Jesse Pinkman (Paul) goes on the run from the police and tries to escape his own inner turmoil.

This film is currently not rated

POSITIVES

– Complex shot composition. Almost immediately, we return to the familiarity of the Breaking Bad world, thanks in part to the immense depth deposited in a variety of unorthodox angles and vantage points captured to establish the essence of the mood properly. Gilligan instills a sense of consistency from the show that easily immerses us once more, and makes this feel like two extra episodes that were kept from the public. It helps that Vince is patient with his editing, choosing instead to brood over an object in focus almost to increasing uneasiness from within us, giving us a sense of the urgency in the air from its very birth. It’s difficult enough to pick up a story six years after you left off from it, but to articulate the style and conscience so seamlessly proves that this unfinished business was still brewing deep beneath Gilligan, and his visual presentation stands as a therapeutic response, like Jesse, to finally completing this maniacal world that he helped create.

– Chilling performance. Paul is easily at the forefront here, but it’s a group effort of characters and personalities that we’ve grown with that do their parts to flesh out this compelling narrative. This movie has no shortage of cameo’s big and small from the television show, and while a couple feel like fan service deposits for how they are injected into the narrative, none of their scenes leave minimal impact on the direction and choices that Jesse makes on his road to redemption. Speaking of Jesse, Aaron Paul once more captivates us with a chilling portrayal of frail psychosis that you can’t help but feel an endless amount of empathy for the decisions that have defined him. Paul says as much in a stare as he says in an enthralling release of built up anger, and it’s that unabashed focus for his facial resonations that the film leans so heavily on to tell the story and feelings where heavy exposition deposits usually do. Gilligan’s confidence in Paul as an actor has shown brightly from the evolution of the character, and this last step on the full-fledged transformation is one that showcases Jesse as being more ruthlessly avenging and fearless than ever before.

– Stinging score. I can’t commend Gilligan enough for bringing along composer Dave Porter back to the scene of the crime, where so many of his scintillating scores have helped ratchet the tension in scenes of suffocating anxiety, and “El Camino” is certainly no different. Dave time-and-time-again conjures up a minimal boil within the atmosphere that emits something terrifying is on the cusp of arrival, and by the time the conflict fully materializes, that light, easily ignorable simmer has grown to reach intoxicating levels of intensity that leaves the audience begging for closure. In fact, it’s his evolution over six years of audible storytelling that has produced this dark and extremely ominous bubble of tones that not only prove that so much unforgiving bad has materialized already, but that this cloud of consequences weighs so heavily over the well-being of its characters that anyone could become just another statistic within it.

– Continuity. While I do have one problem with the visual continuity of the film, which I will get to later, the believability from the place we last left off from is one that seamlessly immerses us once more, and establishes a great sense of continuation moving forward. For one, the make-up and prosthetics are used exceptionally as a familiar singularity to tell the difference between the past and present multiple story arcs that the film takes us through. Coming from someone so well versed in the Breaking Bad history, I can say that every scar and hairstyle measures up perfectly to where it was dropped, proving Gilligan’s attention to detail that often gets lost in translation with immediate sequels. In addition to this, the story itself realizes so much left unanswered within what we thought was a perfect series finale, producing a great deal of importance and justification for this movie’s inception. It proves that the show’s ending was anything but happy, and that Jesse’s consequences as a result of the many bad decisions made from him and Walter are only beginning.

– Psychological weight. It’s important to me that a film showcase the lasting effects of physical and psychological abuse that Jesse has endured with being held captive, but the way the film attacks it in a sense that it’s bringing all worlds of the past, present, and future together is one that I truly wasn’t expecting. Jesse not only feels disturbed in doing everyday things like taking a shower, but also embraces every relationship, good and bad, from the past that have rendered this shell of a man you see before you. In this sense, “El Camino” feels like the culmination of years of irresponsibility, some of which Jesse himself owns up and takes responsibility for, but all of which feel detrimental to who he has become. It’s important to distinguish that Jesse isn’t a full-on Heisbenberg here, but so far from the ambitious kid who accepted a deal based on its measured easiness, which eventually brought forth so much death and devastation for those encased in it.

– Pacing perfection. One complaint that Breaking Bad often got was its jarring pacing to storytelling that often had trouble advancing the narrative in a typical television style capacity. If this was a problem for you in the show, you will be equally disappointed by “El Camino”, as Gilligan and writers take their time riding out the speeds of life to produce materialization that is every bit true to its realism as it is rewarding to its patience. What’s important is that Gilligan isn’t shooting just anything (See Twin Peaks Season 3). He’s very much enveloping us in this ball of finely tuned atmospheric tension that bounces of the walls with increasing intensity, until we the audience are left screaming for resolution that comes with finely illustrated conflict. I’ve often heard that this movie feels like two episodes glued together to produce one big picture, and I agree and disagree with this sentiment. I agree because it intentionally does feel like an extension of the show, from the one-of-a-kind production that I mentioned above, to the episodic conflicts that wrap up in a finale sort of resolution. However, “El Camino” never halts its progress, nor does it add unnecessary speedbumps along the way. it very much remains focused on Jesse’s on-going narrative, all the while throwing in the occasional monkey wrench of spontaneity to tease the audience with some unforeseen adversity developing off screen. For two hours of streaming cinema, this is as good as it gets, and will stand as the measuring stick for other shows looking to do the same.

– Hardcore fan Easter eggs. Aside from “El Camino” being anything but a catering to new and inexperienced fans of the series, it conjures up no shortage of deep cut Easter Eggs not only from the Breaking Bad television series, but also in the Better Call Saul capacity to get anyone’s mind working overtime to spot the significance. This not only gives “El Camino” exceptional replay value to spot the many coincidences and elaboration that are easily skimmed over when you’re focused on one particular character during initial first watches, but also compliments the dedication by longtime fans in a way that still preserves an air of nuance to the world-building it perfected in so many hours of television. One such example deals with the number 1800, which plays more than one unnerving coincidence to Jesse’s road of fate. Very clever indeed.

– Closure. This is immensely important so that we don’t get one of these movies every year for the next decade. “El Camino” is a worthy epilogue to arguably one of the greatest television dramas of all time, giving air-tight finalization to the story and its many colorful characters who have found themselves left behind by an adrenaline-fueled finale that could be heard throughout the Albuquerque desert. It brings us a high-stakes denouement through the eyes of one of its originals, and gives us the most realistic satisfaction from the character than we could possibly imagine at this point. Nothing is stretched in logic, nor exceeded in expectation. In fact, there’s much to be argued that even what produces isn’t a complete happy ending to say the least, but it’s one that at least brings peace, to Jesse, to the show, and most importantly to those of us who were bothered with the ambiguity of driving off into the night.

NEGATIVES

– Actor aging. While a problem that many continuous sequels face, the advancement of de-aging technology in today’s filmmaking could’ve better suppressed the obviousness of some actors feeling the sting of years of aging playing heavily on the integrity of their preservation. This is mostly in the flashback sequences with Paul, but also exceptionally with Jesse Plemons ‘Todd’, who looks like he has put on about twenty pounds of weight somewhere in between this kidnapping arc with Jesse. It stands as the lone complaint that I had with the otherwise perfect continuity, and could’ve gone a long way in giving this movie a big screen presence with special effects that are often not a part of the Breaking Bad world.

– The title. Calling the movie “El Camino” is a bit lazy to me, mainly because the car plays such a minimal importance to the overall complexion of the story. For my money, I would’ve called this “Redemption” or “Denouement”, because it more than El Camino captures the complete picture of what Gilligan is trying to convey. I can understand keeping your product ambiguous with the marketing and just how little you reveal about yourself, but I feel like the two titles that I recommended before preserve this quality to the film, all the while illustrating a memorably big working title for everything encased inside. Titles are a part of the movie, so yes, even that is always graded for this critic.

My Grade: 8/10 or B+

Ad Astra

Directed By James Gray

Starring – Brad Pitt, Liv Tyler, Ruth Negga

The Plot – Astronaut Roy McBride (Pitt) travels to the outer edges of the solar system to find his missing father (Tommy Lee Jones) and unravel a mystery that threatens the survival of our planet. His journey will uncover secrets that challenge the nature of human existence and our place in the cosmos.

Rated PG-13 for some violence and bloody images, and for brief strong adult language

POSITIVES

– Stinging sound mixing. My respect for a space film that channels the absence of sound accordingly is far greater than a film that tries to pass off blaring volume as a substitute for a script’s inability to craft earned anxiety, and the former can be said for “Ad Astra”. Articulately channeling the isolation and immensity of space, the intense sequences put us front-and-center in the suit alongside of our protagonist, giving us a rich audible vibrancy of authentication that other space movies can’t maintain consistently. Saying that this is a quiet film might not appeal to a mass audience, but it’s my belief that Gray and Bradley were going for an immersive quality to the setting that audibly articulates a distance in space where no one can hear you scream, and that element plays wonderfully in the many adversities that Pitt and crew endure throughout the longest road trip ever put to film.

– False advertising. Another negative sounding positive comes from the marketing team’s inability to sell this picture for what it really was, which resulted in no shortage of pleasant surprises for me in all of its thought-provoking human commentary. Depicted as a science fiction thriller through the cosmos, the finished product itself is a character study on the boundaries of interaction, grief, and especially love, bringing forth a slow-burn cerebral undoing that gave me much more rewards than a by-the-numbers action film ever could. There’s definitely action sequences in the movie, but 90% of them are the ones shown in the trailers, and even then they never stick around long enough to dominate or take away from the poignancy of its vital importance.

– Useful narration. I could be in the minority here, but I felt that “Ad Astra” is a movie that earns its narration, for the way it illustrates what the visual storytelling refuses to commit to. Sure, there are scenes on the ship where Pitt’s mental elaboration paints what we already interpreted, but it’s really in his past dynamics with his ex-wife and estranged father that allows us to crack open his psyche and absorb the kind of feelings that reside within from no shortage of mistakes that he frequently regrets. The editing of flashback sequences only appear sparingly, so some audible dialogue that novelizes the value in deconstructing Pitt’s character is one that I greatly appreciated, especially for the way its audible capacity is presented. Throughout the film, this narration is deposited with a slight echo, giving off the impression of the full spectrum when it comes to his character’s position inside of the space suit. In addition to this, it also further paints the poison that comes from his career obsession, and the many ways that it has destroyed his chance at a normal life.

– As a science fiction picture. The best kind of science fiction films to me are the ones that bridge the gaps fruitfully between our current landscape and the future in the film, which feels closer than we think initially. Aside from some outstanding world building, which includes a sampling of some off-in-the-distance familiar product placement, the film also values a social commentary that is cherished by me for being “Hopeful and disastrous”. Instead of giving us a post-apocalyptic rendering, the film feels more effective in giving us slight deviations from our world, in a way that colorfully paints our similarities, all the while giving food for thought towards our differences. It treads its creative feet as a smart science fiction film instead of a cool one, and this unshakeable presence of a subgenre surprisingly feels more accurate because of its creative restraint.

– Variety of conflict. This script constantly evolves, bringing forth a series of adversities and even frights that I truly wasn’t expecting, but one that kept me invested to the sometimes arduous pacing of the film. A lot like life in this regard, the mission at hand sometimes becomes slightly skewed, and antagonism materializes in the form of conflict spontaneity that tests this group of astronauts in unforeseen circumstances. What’s valuable is that none of these set pieces feel hollow or tacked-on to the rest of the film surrounding it. They transition in a way that feels honest and even in some cases pre-conditioned to the exposition that gave us pieces of speculation before they come forth. It keeps the anticipation and anxiety firmly gripped in to the integrity of the picture, and succeeds in mastering a level of vulnerability that makes space undefeated in that regard.

– Human themes, big stakes. Grey has always been known for taking these big epic surroundings, and boiling them down to relatable eye level, thanks in whole to these reflective themes that his audience goes through every day. There are many to dissect in “Ad Astra”, but the ones that feel the most prominent to me deal with workplace dependability, forgiveness, and the fear that we have in becoming our parents. The last one is mentioned unabashedly in dialogue, but the way the shot compositions elaborate this paranoia gives something unique and visually receptive to that fear. For instance, there’s one scene where Pitt is in front of us, staring at a video of his father right in front of the camera. As the camera moves upward, the screen of the father slowly takes over the face of the son, and soon this humbling juxtaposition gives visual way to the quote in the movie “The sins of the father soon become the sins of the son”.

– Breathtaking cinematography. I saved my two favorite aspects of the film for last because their consistency in excellence alone kept this from ever becoming a disappointing film. Cinematographer Hoyte Van Hoytema has crafted some gems in the form of 2017’s “Dunkirk”, 2014’s “Interstellar”, and 2013’s “Her”, but his work in “Ad Astra” feels more prominently eclipsing of those past counterparts because of the way he moves elaborately with his angles to move the image towards crowding. The shots of the planets transfix us in all of their colorful immensity, and the absorbing color schemes within these structurally complex set designs better helps emit the tension of the atmosphere more fruitfully than words or actions ever could. When you have a master of the lens this impressively gifted, you wish you could pause specific frames within the movie, and hang them on the walls of your house to gaze at for decades to come, but thankfully Hoyte’s work has already done that, giving us no shortage of gorgeous scenery and unshakeable focus to capture the immensity of our solar system. It’s my early favorite for best cinematography this year.

– The Richter scale. Musical composer Max Richter’s constant influence over the integrity of the picture gives us these classically rendered compositions that build the anticipation for the inevitable wonderfully. Max’s electronica-tinged opera relies on a lot of persistence in volume, feeling equally effective as any other musical score this year, despite his incorporation sounding at half of the volume. It throbs away at these scenes like a riveted heartbeat that beats stronger with each second it’s put through physical intensity, and while Van Hoytema visually stimulates us with imagery that weakens us in the knees, it’s Richter’s audible emphasis that gives us the bed of gravity to float on. Together the two make an unstoppable duo, which will bring forth depression the next time they work on a film without one or the other.

NEGATIVES

– Weak performances. I know, this one is especially shocking when you consider the talented big name cast that fills its ensemble. Unfortunately, Gray’s weakest stance as a director comes from the complete lack of emotional resonance that he pulls from his protagonist and Tommy Lee Jones, making both feel terribly miscast in their respective roles. For Pitt, it’s his constant stone-face that keeps us from fully investing in these gut-punch scenes involving a scarred boy searching for his father, but we never embrace the hurt because neither does Pitt, and it leaves the big payoff for the movie feeling cold and underwhelming because he never loses sight of the tough guy demeanor. Beyond this, the use of these big name stars like Jones, Donald Sutherland, Ruth Negga, Liv Tyler and even Natasha Lyonne felt insulting for how little screen time they are actually given. Pitt is certainly the main character, but everyone else is a glorified cameo, with most of which adding so little importance to the value of the film.

– Disappointing ending. Aside from the emotionally vapid performances of Pitt and Jones, which I previously mentioned, the conflict resolution to me didn’t work for an array of reasons. MAJOR SPOILERS. DO NOT GO ANY FURTHER IF YOU WISH NOT TO BE SPOILED. The first deals with the scene in question between father and son. Terribly acted, yes, but it feels rushed considering how committed Jones is one second to staying on board, yet in the next he is walking out with his son. Secondly is the conflict resolution itself. I would never promise to be a science major, but does blowing a power grid that is giving off power surges to planets away sound like a good idea to you? I get destroying the product, but something made of so much energy might not be a good idea to release into the environment. Finally, after Pitt lets go of his father during an exchange in space, Jones floats out to darkness to die. Pitt later mentions in the closing moments that he has no nightmares now that everything is resolved. I guess his conscience allowed him to forgive himself for basically honoring his father’s suicide wish. It points to aspects with the script that caused me to do a double take, and really left the big payoff for the movie feeling like the scene where nothing adds up.

My Grade: 8/10 or B

Brittany Runs a Marathon

Directed By Paul Downs Golaizzo

Starring – Jillian Bell, Jennifer Dundas, Patch Darragh

The Plot – Hilarious, outgoing and always up for a good time, New Yorker Brittany Forgler (Bell) is everybody’s best friend, except maybe her own. At 27, her hard-partying ways, chronic underemployment and toxic relationships are catching up with her, but when she stops by a new doctor’s office to try to score some Adderall, she gets slapped with a prescription she never wanted: Get healthy. Too broke for a gym and too proud to ask for help, Brit is at a loss, until her seemingly together neighbor Catherine pushes her to lace up her Converse sneakers and run one sweaty block. The next day, she runs two. And soon, after finishing her first mile, she sets an almost unthinkable goal: running in the New York City Marathon.

Rated R for adult language throughout, sexuality and some drug material

POSITIVES

– Committed performance. What an eye opener this is for Jillian Bell, who receives her first starring role in the form of a character so unconventionally outside of the box for her. As Brittany, Bell channels a combination of insecurities, impatience, and depression, which really force her to use her humorous personality as a crutch. Her work here dramatically tears down any misconceptions about her acting, and brings forth an actress with depth, who isn’t afraid to immerse herself in the confines of the character. Speaking of immersion, Bell’s performance is also a physical one, as the transformation that takes place with her during the movie is one that instills believability to the progress that the character is making with her running. Bell becomes an entirely different physical specimen by film’s end, and the practicality of an actress willing to shed herself to accommodate the role is one that enhances the dynamic of her effort to the picture.

– Evolving humor. As expected, there is a lot of laughing material scattered throughout the picture, but what surprised me was how the humor is used as a manner to reflect the transformation in her personality, as the things in her life that never seemed attainable before come forth. As an example, the first half humor doesn’t land as strongly in punchlines, nor does it feel confident in Brittany’s delivery, and this is entirely intentional. As the film progresses, her deposits feel more timely and reminiscent within the dynamic of the scene, leaving nothing to feel out of place or smoothing out awkwardness that exists. This movie did make me laugh more than a few times, and the comedy inside offers a nice compliment to the romantic elements that spring during the second act of the film.

– Experimental camera work. There’s certainly nothing original or ground-breaking here, but I have to give Golaizzo credit as a filmmaker for inserting enough practicality in his compositions to really transcend this as a major motion picture. The handheld style never slips or distorts what’s depicted in frame, and the candid claustrophobia of body shots conjure up the vulnerability within Brittany’s discomfort that grants us further empathy for the character. The chosen angles certainly aren’t afraid to get dirty with their showcases, and as to where I would hate someone like Michael Bay for focusing on a woman’s body for perverted reasons, the requirement here further serves the argument of what needs to change within our protagonist’s life. At times, “Brittany Runs a Marathon” feels like a documentary, and if it wasn’t for some of the big names associated, the visual flare that Golaizzo promotes would be enough to cement this feeling.

– Educational. This is a movie that touches on more than a few important topics with women and body-shaming, taking ample time to flesh out the feelings far beyond the fat girl who dominates our story. For Brittany, there is a lot of contrasts in how she’s treated before and after her transformation by others, as well as the way she’s used as a crutch for careless friends who never take her interests to heart. For supporting characters, they endure the skinny-shaming from Brittany in a way that helps them escape the conventionalism of a role within these kinds of stories. This gives everyone included a substantial amount of heart and trail-blazing that I certainly wasn’t expecting, and reminds us that Brittany is every bit as guilty of the toxins unleashed in this society as everyone else she comes into contact with. I love a film that says something deeper about today’s place and time, and “Brittany’s” script never rests on its surface level laurels to sell the poignancy of its conflicts.

– Responsible. Perhaps the most important element of this story is the script taking an opportune stride to remind us that living healthy is so much more than just eating properly. Brittany’s disposition is hurt because of her choice in the binge eating, drinking, and drug lifestyle, but it’s really breaking down decades of walls within her friendships, lack of career, and dating dynamics that hints at a lot more than needs an epiphany. In this regard, her transformation is one that challenges her to examine every angle of her life thoroughly to get where she once felt she deserved to be. This positivity transcends the movie as just an entertaining one, and pushes it through to the side of inspirational that it wholeheartedly earns, as opposed to other so-called positivity films of the current day, like 2018’s “I Feel Pretty”.

– As a sports film. “Brittany” is obviously so much more than just another token in this popular subgenre, but on that merit it attains an informative level of depiction that outlines the difficulty with competitive running. The struggle of the protagonist is easily the most important aspect here, as Brittany is seconds from death when she initially begins her journey, highlighting the urgency of the situation. Even more, it does feel easier to her as the film persists, but she’s never Wonder Woman when it comes to the enhancing challenges that she continuously tackles. Even during the film’s prime conflict in the title of the movie, we feel the difficulty of the task, thanks in whole to Bell’s expressions of pain, as well as the deconstruction of her body. Even throughout all of her training, the marathon is one that grinds at her to unrelenting levels, and establishes runners who are every bit as much warriors as football, basketball, or baseball athletes.

– Surprises. Even though you can see the traces of familiarity as the story persists, the third act switch-ups really left me awestruck, and only increased my interest in the unraveling story. I won’t give anything away, but you should expect that nothing in Brittany’s life ever goes as it rightfully should, molding a totally unforseen antagonist within herself that she expects, but never sees coming. The tweaks in the script here were a bit stuffed at times, in terms of how much time is donated to them, but I appreciate a movie that deviates from conventionalism, because it keeps me firmly in-grip with the pulse of the story and characters.

– False advertising. This is one of those rare times where I’m glad that a film was marketed terribly, as the promising of a wacky comedy is anything but in a shape-shifting movie of this caliber. It is a comedy, sure, but it’s one that doesn’t rely on classless gags or insensitivity in its body-shaming. This is very much a classy film, and it’s one that eventually evolves into elements involving romantic comedies and even full-on dramatic tension that transcends its deeming. If you see this film, you should know that you’re getting something so much deeper than what Bell is usually typecast to, and even while this film is trying to attain so much tonally, it all fits together as this seamless ball of success that is every bit entertaining as it is important.

NEGATIVES

– Weak second act. There’s a point in this film where the running aspect is shelved in favor of a romantic comedy subplot, which even though I enjoyed, does take too much time away from the mission at hand. Because so much of the pacing within Brittany’s year during the first act is lightning quick, the second act stalls when it pauses everything around these two romantically linked characters, in favor of a dynamic that I honestly would’ve been fine without. That’s not to say that I didn’t enjoy the romantic aspect of this script, but rather I felt that Brittany was so much stronger when she didn’t need a man hanging in the balance to motivate her into being someone she has always wanted to be. At a certain point, we forget what the primary conflict is, and it’s an example of this script trying to juggle too many aspects at once.

– Third act separation. Yep, even in a movie this experimental, it can’t escape the trope of a third act distancing between Brittany and everyone else, which nearly implodes the movie because of its length in appearance. First of all, the distancing itself doesn’t feel believable to me from Brittany’s standpoint or her friends. They are there to support her, yet they suddenly develop a sensitive exterior to her treatment? She appreciates their bond the entire movie, and then because of one comment she throws everything away? The other thing that bothers me about this is, unlike those other movies that use this trope, it doesn’t solve everything in the time it needs to still produce a pleasing ending. The ending here is OK enough, but it’s clear that this unnecessary conflict took too much air out of the momentum of the home-stretch, which was progressing smoothly until this. For my money, give us a small conflict, but let it be within Brittany herself, and not the many others she selfishly puts on pause, distorting her character in a way that contradicts everything that came before it.

My Grade: 8/10 or B+

Tool – Fear Inoculum

I don’t often do music reviews, but when my favorite band comes out with their first album in thirteen years, I have more than two cents to give to how I feel about it. Check out my review for Tool’s “Fear Inoculum”, below

‘Celebrate this chance to be alive and free” – Maynard James Keenan

Waiting thirteen whole years for an album to be released rarely pays off with positive results, but “Fear Inoculum” is accomplishing and audibly unlike anything that has come before it. Brought front-and-center with ten new Tool tracks that somehow feel even more experimentally ominous than we’ve come to know from the band, the album takes us on an anxiety-riddled roller-coaster of deposited fear, that guides us through the many stages of acceptance for such an unpleasant toxin, that weighs so heavily on the decisions of our lives. With this new experience, Maynard, Justin, Adam, and especially Danny have brought their best to the forefront, giving us a combination of visual eye-popping artwork that plays on a monitor included with the record, as well as audible entrancement that transcends time and space elusively.

The album itself is anything but a quick listen, averaging ten whole minutes per song, but offering enough tasty groove sections throughout to satisfy the hardcore instrumentalist in all of us. I’ve heard critiques from others that tracks are a bit too long for their taste, and to those I question what band you were listening to in the first place. Albums like “10’000 Days” and “Lateralus” were known for their long-winded approaches, taking ample time to enjoy the skill of the craft that each member of the band have excelled at. If I do have one critique for the album however, it’s definitely in the decision to give us four different tracks of relief, where nothing but sound effects can be heard. For my money, two of these should’ve been removed for two more songs, but the six new songs that we do receive give us plenty to digest, all the while reminding us that perfection isn’t attained in the short term of creativity.

Kicking us off is the stimulating “Fear Inoculum” title track, which guides us through 90 seconds of ambiance establishing before the rhythm section eventually kicks in. Justin Chancellor and Danny Carey prove that nearly thirty years after Tool first burst onto the scene, they are still the very best at creating a dark and ominous tone to audibly seduce the listener. After that tone is set, Maynard returns to the microphone with a crooning of the opening lines that are appropriate for far more than just the context of the song. It’s no accident that the first lyrics we hear are “Immunity, Long overdue”. A statement so fitting for the band that have redefined timely releases and studio obligations in favor of their own artistic integrity, which has gained them a legion of patient hardcore enthusiasts who indulge them faithfully. What I love about this track is the slight deviation in repetition that overwhelms us to a suffocating claustrophobia, compliments of Maynard’s soft eloquency and the fuzz guitar work that serenade us so serenely.

The drums and bass are definitely the stars of the album, and no one can change my mind about that. The following track “Pneuma” establishes this prominence in attention with a gritty and brooding demeanor in Adam Jones riffs coming in hot. The stylized percussion adds to the transcending quality of the track, giving us over eleven colorful minutes of trance-inducing music that flows like a pulse. This song more than any pays homage to the 90’s Tool that made them household names, and cements it with a modern day production value that seamlessly mends the crossroads of each generation for the best of both worlds.

We are then treated to the two leaked songs that the band have been playing live since March, in “Invincible” and “Descending”. These are the ideal jam tracks that you would expect Tool fans to blast while losing weight within the bubble of space and time, and give us no shortage of tempo changes and emotional spontaneity to always keep the listener guessing. Thanks to riveting closing directions and alluring climaxes for both songs, these two feel like sister songs in all the best ways, and bring with them the best lyrical abilities of Maynard’s pen throughout the entire album. If there are any two tracks that I would play for people who have never heard Tool to allure them to this album, it would easily be these two.

“Culling Voices” is the natural midpoint of the album, and while it has a slow build initially, it’s the second half of the track that delivers. The guitar and bass chug along, working in coalition with Maynard’s digs a little deeper for a melodic spell over the listener. This is certainly the story of two halves, which sets it apart from other songs on the album, giving it an evolution from start to finish that only proves the band gets stronger the longer they push the envelope creatively. This is my least favorite song of the new material, but it’s only because so much of the work surrounding it is invasive and brunt, and doesn’t take as long to deliver on the heat of its contextual message.

We then go into “Chocolate Chip Trip”. If you go into this song blind and hear the alienesque effects being looped, you will think that Maynard had too much of his own wine to put this track on the finished product. If you stick with it though, you will hear one of the best drum solos ever recorded. Backstory on Carey’s work on the track reveals that Danny laid it down in between takes on the album, and it was so thunderous and incredible that the band decided they needed to incorporate it somewhere on the album. I’m glad they did, because it proves that the band does things with sounds that no one minus maybe Nine Inch Nails can pull off with hypnotic enchantment. With this track, Tool proves that they have no fear when it comes to the power that they have over their fans, and the way that the freakishly cryptic four minutes fits into the rest of the album’s message is one that surprisingly fits with such little force.

Finally, we get to “7empest”, easily my favorite track on the album, and one of my top ten favorite Tool songs of all time. The long wait for new Tool music seems forgivable when you go through sixteen minutes of gorgeous music. The guitar chords leading into Jones’ distortion are amazing, and Maynard sounds like he’s coming undone here with a lyrical repetition that hammers home song ideals with commanding stature. Summarizing “7empest” in a few sentences would be doing a grave disservice. It’s a huge track, and one that is worth every second of your time. For my money, there’s pieces here that colorfully paint the entire journey that every Tool album has taken us on, and like Maynard alluded to in “Schism”, they all fit wonderfully.
Overall

Looking at the album piece by piece, there is a huge time commitment, especially in the form of lyric-less tracks that could’ve easily been omitted as a whole to keep the pacing of the songs and album that much more fluid. However, even with that detraction, I still love this album. My expectations for the album were met accordingly, in that it was over 80 minutes of a jam session through tons of change in speeds, style, and overall mood. It meets the expectations of Tool fans remarkably, especially considering the last album’s title “10’000 Days” seems like it’s hinting at a joke within the Tool community for when the next release will come. With that said, “Fear Incoculum” is the answer to years of anticipation. It’s a sonically deep and masterfully executed album that will undeniably have replay value for years to come, giving us plenty to dissect within the dangerous territory that is Maynard’s mind. Even after seven albums and a catalog of work that spans thirty years, the band proves that age and evolution are meaningless to four guys who blaze their own paths, and do so with a little fear for our digestion.
My Grade: 8/10 or A-

 

ojo

 

 

Ready Or Not

Directed By Matt Bettinelli-Olpin, Tyler Gillett

Starring – Samara Weaving, Adam Brody, Mark O’Brien

The Plot – The film follows a young bride (Weaving) as she joins her new husband’s (O’Brien) rich, eccentric family (Brody, Henry Czerny, Andie MacDowell) in a time-honored tradition that turns into a lethal game with the bride fighting for her survival till dawn.

Rated R for violence, bloody images, adult language throughout, and some drug use

POSITIVES

– Ideal setting. The entirety of this movie takes place in and around this immense mansion, full of stretching secret hallways and unlimited isolation, which make it the perfect board for all of the pieces to intersect one another. The interiors have a gothic style to their decor, speaking volumes in preservation to just how long this family tradition has been taking place, and the surrounding woods that surround this place in the woods allows freedom free from the clutches of the law, which in turn feeds into the mentality that the rich are above it. The dark contrast of cinematography inside of the mansion to that of the wedding sequence in the beginning of the film lends itself to the idea of this secretive world that Weaving’s character has become a part of, and further fleshed out the air of freedom that she said goodbye to once the ceremony ended. Major respect to the set designer for making not only the mysticism of this family come to life, but also the articulation in believability that helps our protagonist against the overwhelming odds.

– Strange backstory device. In a normal movie, we would come to understand the grit of our heroine with each brush with death that she comes across, but something with “Ready Or Not” truly surprised me, and that’s where the movie chooses to invest its backstory on. Not only do we learn so little about our protagonist, but in turn we learn almost everything about our antagonists, fleshing them out in a vibrant way that puts weight on the cause and effects that the game has had on all of them. This takes a rich family, and forces us to make as many connections with them as possible, giving meaning to their mayhem, that while not entirely justifiable, is at least captured in a way where all of the pieces of intention line up smoothly. I’ve always said that the best antagonists in films are the ones we can dissect and give meaning to, and this family is given so much time, that we the audience in turn feel like a distant cousin who is in on their secrets and personality quirks.

– Superbly paced. As far as entertainment factor goes, “Ready Or Not” might be one of my favorite films of 2019 thus far. Its barely 90 minute run time never stilts its growth with each passing development, nor does it breeze through the details in a way that makes them easy to miss. Instead, this is a film that values exposition and violence seamlessly, and constantly keeps the fun in anxiety prominent throughout a film that is always moving forward. This is never more solidified than in the opening twenty minutes, which take us through the wedding, the celebration, and the beginning of the game with ease, making it the perfect recommendation for someone who finds difficulty in movies that require two hours for everything to materialize. I never once checked my watch during any point in this film, and even through the hour-and-a-half that I was given, I felt that twenty more minutes in this environment could’ve only added to the positivity encased in its well-crafted production.

– Expositional dialogue. Nothing feels heavy or out of place here, instead allowing conversation pieces to flow naturally, giving us knowledge in the details of what’s explained between character dynamics. For example, we the audience already know the rules of the game because of the trailers we sat through, but it’s really the meaning behind the why that catapults our intrigue, and forces us to hang on to every dialogue exchange bit-by-bit instead of one long-winded diatribe that we’ve come to expect in cinema. When the bigger picture is seen in completion, we have a brief history of the game that gives certain in-laws around the table still living believability and understanding for how they could’ve possibly survived these rituals, considering they aren’t the brightest crayons in the box.

– Perfect casting. Everyone here is off the chain in complimenting the film where it requires it, but the work of Weaving, Brody, and a rambunctious aunt by the name of Nicky Guadagni easily stole my attention in every scene they are given to chew up the scenery. For Weaving, what’s remarkable is there isn’t much a transformation to her character considering we learn very little about her along the way, but rather her instinct and brawn, which pay off immensely for the dependence of her survival. Weaving’s dry wit is also on display here, depositing several one liners in a defeated way that easily makes her the protagonist we can get behind, if only for how her reactions replicate ours the audience from just beyond the screen. Brody is the M.V.P for me, balancing sarcasm and alcoholism in a way that colorfully outlines the past for this tortured soul, and preserves him as this dark horse of sorts for a family so opposite of him in motivations.

– Tonal hybrid. One of the most difficult combos in genre offerings to balance is comedy and horror, yet “Ready Or Not” masters both sides of the coin without ones volume ever compromising the other. Much of the humor works for me because it’s so off-the-wall because of this plot that you can’t help but laugh out of nervousness and awkwardness that never leave the heart of the environment. As for horror, there is not only solid violence depicted in the form of top-notch prosthetic and make-up work, but also a strong amplification of suspense that is highlighted by Brian Tyler’s encompassing musical score. The third act definitely depends more on the humorous aspects, but it’s a transition that I will love more than other people will, if only for the way it gives weight to the things we believe in that eventually catch up to us, leading to a final five minutes that has to be seen to be believed.

– Upper class satire. Without question, the most rewarding scenes for me were the ones where this wealthy family struggle with certain aspects because none of them have ever been forced to get their hands dirty in the many ways the film requires them to. There’s a struggle with weaponry as seen in the trailers, but really it’s more towards the privilege that each of them inherits that presents an entirely different circumstance of challenges than those of a disappearing bride. This is a film that isn’t afraid to embarrass its antagonists, and some of that shame comes with the reward of satisfaction from those of us who love to watch them squirm, eventually giving way to a barrage of Youtube self-help and butler accommodation that speaks volumes to the kind of social commentary that goes well beyond stereotypical.

– Leaves room for future installments. I don’t say this often in the horror world, but I wouldn’t be opposed to seeing more childhood games brought to life with a devilish rendering in following chapters. From the very beginning, it’s clear that “Ready Or Not” has touched on something positive here for the horror community, balancing endless brutality with a self-aware tone that welcomes the fun into the environment, so I would be a liar if I said that I wouldn’t want to embrace this feeling again, albeit with an entirely new set of characters and game that could follow the satisfying formula cemented by this initial chapter. While this plot is wrapped up in a way that is fulfilling to the conflict of the plot given to us, the script leaves enough meat on the bone of optimism to make us wonder what devious roads they could take us down next. I’m talking to you, Red Rover.

NEGATIVES

– Erroneous tidbits. There were a couple of things in the film that I feel could’ve and should’ve been written out of the finished final draft. One comes in the form of dialogue from the auntie character, who says she hopes the bride can hide better than that, long before the game has ever been picked for her. I was hoping it would lead to a revelation that the game was rigged for the bride to receive this punishment because certain family members don’t like her, but it never happens, and leaves this line feeling entirely out of place with the sequencing of events within the film. My other problems stem from two second half character switches, which would’ve worked fine without the twists given to them. To say this without spoiling things, their twists never mean anything consequential to where they end up, so essentially they aren’t needed in the first place, and only feel like unnecessary padding for the sake of the movie to reach its 90 minute plateau.

– Special effects. This is only in the case of that batshit finale that I earlier referenced. There are some violent ends that require special effects to sell their impacts, but the editing and pasting of these blows are done so sloppily that you can easily see the cuts in between their riveting nature. It creates an emptiness of artistic merit that was almost entirely consistent up to that point, and makes me wish the film’s editing would’ve been as crisp as it was in earlier scenes with a character getting an arrow in the throat. That particular scene rattled with an intensity and speed that made it impossible to see the strings in the trick, supplanting believability before you even have a second to question its artificiality.

My Grade: 8/10 or A-

Blinded By the Light

Directed By Gurinder Chadha

Starring – Viveik Kalra, Kulvinder Ghir, Hayley Atwell

The Plot – In 1987 during the austere days of Thatcher’s Britain, a teenager (Kalra) learns to live life, understand his family and find his own voice through the music of Bruce Springsteen.

Rated PG-13 for thematic material and adult language including some ethnic slurs.

POSITIVES

– Intriguing social commentary. Beyond this being a story about a dreamer, Bruce’s music, and the tie that binds them together, the film has a surprisingly deep amount of absorbing environment for Pakistani citizens living in England during the 80’s. This is at the cusp of a Nazi re-emergence which almost crippled the country whole, and led to a boom in racist rhetoric that challenged what many were viewing as a fresh start. For this family in particular, it leads to tight times for finances, tense conflicts in dynamics from within, and treatment for them by others, which documents racial inequality in a film that is otherwise upbeat. Credit to Chadha for tackling such mature content, and transitioning it smoothly enough to make everything gel with proper context and believability.

– Musical passion. We’ve all had something that inspires us, and speaks volumes to the kinds of tribulations we go through in our daily lives, and it’s the framing device for this excitement that gives the film a relatable quality in its content, serving psychologically as a story for the dreamers in all of us. For Jarev, Bruce Springsteen feels like a spiritual epiphany, and one that brings forth an air of clarity for him not being alone in his troubles. Comparing Bruce to a Pakistani teenage boy isn’t the easiest line to draw, but the film wonderfully articulates the accessibility of a poor boy from Jersey, who just wanted to escape his town of mediocrity for better ideals on the other side of the bridge. It highlights a power that music has in terms of emotional resonance, standing as the brick that holds everything together from crumbling down.

– SPRINGing soundtrack. There’s a fine offering of early Bruce favorites that adorn the collection of tracks heard throughout the film, but what’s more important than that is where they fit in to their real life time-frame. No song included is ever out of place with its 1987 setting, proving once again to “Bohemian Rhapsody” how the most simple things can preserve the strongest integrity for the artist. Surprisingly though, the boss isn’t the only artist featured in a song so deeply rooted in musical mastery. A-Ha, Pet Shop Boys, and even Debbie Gibson formulate nuance within the 80’s new wave bubble of pop, which was everywhere, and work so cohesively with the method of how the story frames them in their particular scenes. Bruce is clearly the artist in charge here, but it’s refreshing when a movie about a particular artist includes familiar faces and sounds from the designated era, giving light to complexity in musical tones, which serve as an audible scrapbook of memories from a past era.

– Borderline musical. The musical genre is grounded in reality here, as the performance scenes not only feel real with how they progress initially, but also immerses itself in the environment, with actors and actresses real voices doing the singing in the fluidity of the scene. Nothing is done in post-production or sound mixing, giving these fantastical sequences a manner of realism that doesn’t require the perfection of a musical to sell its allure. What sells it is their amateur singing styles never overlap the volume of the music itself, nor do they compromise the sizzle of the song. Completing the fun is Bruce lyrics, which come in the form of visual text seen on screen. This not only highlights where the lyrics hit so hard with Jarev’s particular situation, but also gives us the audience a chance at a sing-a-long for those tracks that we fell in love with like our jaded protagonist.

– Complex editing. There’s a music video kind of serenity to what transpires during scenes of musical incorporation, giving us a visual presentation that works beautifully with the pulse of the song. The editing movements themselves move cohesively with the beats of the track, giving us a firework of cuts that influence the firepower of the song without alienating the style of the sequence in an unflattering way. There are also many instances of photograph framing, where as many as four different angles of the same sequence are being presented in the same shot, giving us an abundance to focus on, instead of the conventional angle that we become accustomed to. These measures prove the energy and excitement entangled in the production of the film, and capture the essence of the boom in the music video era, which presented our musical icons as movie stars for the first time ever.

– Equal exposition. This is obviously Jarev’s story as advertised, but what’s a bit flattering about the screenplay is it takes valued time to contribute to these one-off side characters, teachers, and even every member of Jarev’s family, to better articulate the environment around him. A typical movie would throw a few lines in the direction of these characters, yet bind them from having any emotional weight to the progression of the script. Here’s a film that not only invests in them, but compares and contrasts the differences of their dynamics with our established protagonist. In my opinion, there wasn’t a character in the film who was unnecessary, and even more than this, one that I found unlikeable or non-deserving of their importance to the story.

– Production design. There’s plenty to unload here, but I’ll start with wardrobe design, which was synthetic in displaying the fashion trends of the late 80’s, which were a reflection of famous pop stars. For Jarev’s friends, there’s a lot of suit jackets, complete with padded shoulders and loud, boisterous color designs. For law enforcement, a three piece design, which prove those cops in “Austin Powers” were in fact moving and grooving with extreme comfortability. Aside from the fashion, the interiors are beautifully decorated, and reflective of the style for the Pakistani family , depicting a consistency of reds and golds from wall to wall that preserves a very lived-in quality to their influence. The production masters a level of personal identity without ever springing to feel too obvious within the focus of the scene, and during an age where absorbing styles and fashion trends were constantly changing, the film has a masterful approach in articulating this age of identity.

– Buzzworthy performances. Most of the cast here are virtual unknowns to American audiences, and what I love about that is it gives us the rare chance to paint on a blank canvas. In that regard, Viveik Kalra is a breath of fresh air for how he maintains teenage angst with a level of fresh optimism you don’t typically see. As Jarev, Kalra captures the essence of a dreamer, and one whose isolation from the family falling apart around him weighs heavily on our conscience. This is an actor who has never acted in a big screen movie before, and the professionalism and personality exuberated on his debut effort proves him as a face for the future, especially for his dedication to the craft, which allows him to transform spectacularly into a visual role that looks anything but similar to how he appears in real life. Aside from Viveik, Hayley Atwell is nourishing as a supportive teacher who drives Jarev to be better. The role is a bit cliche, which I will get to later, but Atwell’s energy and persistence for long-winded dialogue is something that translates wonderfully to the kind of mentorship that this character needs to drive him, and Atwell’s impression left on each scene proves that no role is too big or small for her endearing smile.

NEGATIVES

– Something doesn’t add up. While nothing in yearly consistency was problematic for me, there is a mentality introduced early in the film with Bruce which was a stretch for the particular time frame. Most of the teen characters surrounding Jarev allude to the fact that Bruce is a washed-up singer whose best days are behind him, yet to anyone who knows about late 80’s Bruce, he was fresh off of the success of “Born in the USA”, an album that made him a stadium rock mega-icon. Why is this such a problem for me? Because it makes those spare Bruce fans out to be loners of their kind, and while British new wave was extremely popular for the time, to only credit two kids in the film for having a love of Bruce is an extreme disservice to the one and only boss.

– Cliche’d. There’s a ton of cliches and tropes in the film’s plot that makes it every bit familiar as it is predictable to a scene’s conflict. Supportive teacher? CHECK, disapproving parents? CHECK, A kid trying to escape the town that limits him? CHECK, Neatly tucked in conclusion? CHECK. Everything is there, and stays so reserved from the trailer that we see, which gave us no additional surprises from the outline in my head that I had going into the film. It stands as the one major negative that I wish the film would’ve worked hard to clear itself from.

My Grade: 8/10 or A-

The Peanut Butter Falcon

Directed By Tyler Nilson and Michael Schwartz

Starring – Shia Lebeouf, Dakota Johnson, Zach Gottsagen

The Plot – An adventure story set in the world of a modern Mark Twain that begins when Zak (Gottsagen), a young man with Down syndrome runs away from a nursing home where he lives to chase his dream of becoming a professional wrestler and attending the wrestling school of The Salt Water Redneck (Thomas Haden Church). Through circumstances beyond their control Tyler (Lebeouf), a small time outlaw on the run becomes Zak’s unlikely coach and ally. Together they wind through deltas, elude capture, drink whisky, find God, catch fish, and convince Eleanor (Johnson), a kind nursing home employee with a story of her own to join them on their journey.

Rated PG-13 for thematic content, adult language throughout, some violence and smoking

POSITIVES

– Southern sizzle soundtrack. The musical incorporation has a huge part in this movie, echoing its twangs and bluegrass vibes for a majority of the film’s 92 minute run time superbly. There’s a seamless quality to the way it plays hand-in-hand with the documentation of the ever-changing visual environments, remaining consistently in-grip to the backroads channeling that the film holds so strongly in inescapable reminder. No track was ever familiar to me, and the benefit that holds is to maintain the attention of the audience firmly in tow to the dynamic of the story, leaving no escape routes of audible familiarity to drift away from what is transpiring on-screen. Very few films this year use music as a way to properly channel their unique setting, but “The Peanut Butter Falcon’s” immersive quality is nearly good enough to make you sweat with the humidity of the southern landscape.

– True tale of friendship. This is a feel good film that really tugs at the heartstrings of your cinematic vulnerability for how the movie values the common importances of life. It’s easy to see how these three characters alone have been jaded by life’s defining of each of them, but when they come together everything just clicks, and soon the trio find themselves blazing their own path of destiny as this lovable, disfunctional family that forgets the rules of conventionalism. What’s most important is the bond between them feels believable because of the time they spend interacting with one another, all for the interest of this magical man whose journey has united them. It teaches us not only to follow our dreams regardless of how big and boisterous they are, but also that the term family doesn’t always refer to blood. It’s a heartfelt reminder of life at its sweetest immagining, and gives the film a thought-provoking quality that radiates within its simplistic views towards life.

– Triple threat. It was great to see Shia back to dedicating himself to a character that requires a bit of a transformation to truly sell. Not so much in the visual capacity, but rather the audible one, Lebeouf maintains a southern accent wonderfully throughout, in addition to articulating enough quirks and ticks to his speech patterns that gives the character a very lived-in feeling of existence. Dakota Johnson also hands in another reputable turn in her post Fifty-Shades days. She emotes a character who balances a lot of love for Zak, as well as responsibility for the desperation of her job, and it makes the character easily the most complex of the film’s island of misfit toys. Gottsagen however, will repeatedly capture your attention in every scene he tears down the walls of personality which were built for him. In spite of his condition, the film has a lot of respect for Zak, comparing his dreams to that of us the audience, and offers one of those rare instances where he is defined for that quality instead of a condition that he was born into, and even when clashing with some of Hollywood’s biggest names, Gottsagen’s turn is the one you will definitely be talking about once the credits roll.

– Wacky personalities. Aside from the incredible work from the main cast, the combination of celebrity cameos and zany side characters added an endearing quality to the progression of the road trip, which surprised me at every turn. For the former, there’s a couple of professional wrestling cameos that made a wrestling fan like me do a double take, and added a layer of realism to Zak’s squared circle dreams, and for the latter, there’s apparently something in the water that intensifies the eccentric southern drawl that redefines the term southern hospitality. I couldn’t get enough of the many guests that this group came across, proving that compelling characters don’t necessarily require hours of exposition, but a flattering angle to capture the madness on display.

– Mesmerizing visuals. What I love is the complexity dedicated to the craft of shooting anything but a conventional shot composition to the immensity of the everglades, choosing instead to harvest it in some truly alluring wide angle lens combinations that speak wonders to a metaphorical double meaning. The first, is the distance of the journey itself, acting as a visual reminder to persevere through the miles that stand in the way as an adversity to ones dream, and the second is the preserving of this warm blanket of Heaven that the trio of newfound family find themselves in, under this vibrant blue sky that never seems to fade or diminish. This is a gorgeously shot film, and one that will easily transform your stereotypical opinion of the southern states in exchange for an endless amount of sunshine glow radiating off of the water so perfectly.

– As a wrestling interest piece. The list of credible professional wrestling movies is every bit as long as amazing video game movie adaptations, but “The Peanut Butter Falcon” gives way to a surprising third act that takes its time portraying the craft of Zak’s favorite sport. I mentioned earlier that there are two professional wrestlers in the film, but far beyond that, there’s a very candid depiction of the depths that ones career falls when the glitz and glamor wear off, and the few passionate fans are all that remains. There’s also a fantastical aspect to the wrestling’s choreography that would otherwise feel out of place in a film so grounded in reality, but works here because of the sentimental value it holds within the weight lifted from Zak’s psyche. The wrestling is so much more than an emerging subplot, it’s really central focus for the final twenty minutes of the film, and quenches the thirst of a wrestling fantatic like me, who rarely gets a chance to see it depicted with the air of class it deserves.

– Derivative to a plus. There’s no escaping this feeling like a Mark Twain deciple, and instead of the film trying to allude us from the obvious comparisons that this film draws from something like “Huckleberry Finn”, the central character himself even mentions the author in a moment that feels like the crossroads for two respective properties on the path to moral highground. There’s certainly nothing wrong with paying homage to a piece of literature that inspired you, and the team of Nilson and Schwartz incorporate the outline and themes to said novel, all the while distancing itself the longer that the film persists. Nothing feels remotely disrespectful or plagiaristic, and if it inspires someone who has never picked up a Mark Twain novel to give it a shot, then shouldn’t we be all the more grateful because of such?

– The ending. Even in a film that isn’t the strongest for its unpredictability factor, the closing moments throw a couple of twists and turns that rival 2006’s “Running Scared” for changing complexion. At first I thought that this, along with the wrestling match that I previously mentioned, were all elements inside of a dream sequence, but soon the walls of reality seem clearly evident, leaving us with a feeling of uncertainty that shakes everyone and everything for what transpires. You may read this paragraph and think it is all a major spoiler, but I promise that what you think happens doesn’t. It’s an entirely different direction of dramatic heft that closed the film out brilliantly, and stood as the biggest metaphor for the roller-coaster of emotional free-fall that I just rode.

NEGATIVES

– Too many musical montages. As to where I commended the film’s use of music throughout, the abundance of montage sequences constantly hindered the minimal amount of exposition for an already brief run time. It compartments these dynamics that aren’t given the proper two hours to fully flesh out, and gives the film’s second act an overwhelming rushed feeling that it never escapes from. The personalities and interactions of this trio are so compelling that I could never truly get tired of them, and this abrupt aspect of the film hints that the studio or the movie’s writers didn’t think that audiences like me would indulge in them as easily as it ultimately was, but their faith should’ve afforded them another half hour of exposition, particularly in the love angle between Lebeouf and Johnson, which feels like overdrive from their initial meeting.

– Brother subplot. Jon Bernthal is in this movie? I seriously had no idea. What’s even more troubling is that his inclusion offers very few moments of tender reflection or much needed explanation for the audience given constant reminder of this aspect. Almost immediately, you realize the meaning of this inclusion, but it holds so little weight on Shia or anything else within the film, earning it a badge of disjointed storytelling that would’ve been fine being omitted from the finished product. It felt like it was setting itself up for a confrontation that never came, and never truly established who this character was, what happened to him, and how did it happen to him?

My Grade: 8/10 or B+