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-

 

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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+

Luce

Directed By Julius Onah

Starring – Naomi Watts, Octavia Spencer, Kelvin Harrison Jr

The Plot – A married couple (Watts, Tim Roth) is forced to reckon with their idealized image of their son (Harrison Jr), adopted from war-torn Eritrea, after an alarming discovery by a devoted high school teacher (Spencer) threatens his status as an all-star student.

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

POSITIVES

– Strong mystery. The audience for the film serves as the jury between Spencer and Harrison’s respective characters and conflict, and what I love about this gimmick is that as the film evolves in its unraveling, our vantage point for who is telling the truth becomes more blurred and obscured from what we previously started with, leaving us with a series of questionable characters and motives that deviate from their once honorable intentions. It forces us to hang on to the every interaction, as well as study their facial reactions firmly to gauge any level of insight into their motivations, conjuring up a delightfully ambiguous butterfly effect of consequences that increases with each accusation.

– Creativity with musical tones. The mastery of composers Geoff Barrow and Ben Salisbury find a unique manner of musical accompaniment that not only preserves the high school environment where most of this story takes place, but also composes these tones in a way that builds the tension of inevitability with each passing repetition of notes. It sounds like a high school marching band, complete with trumpets, horns, cymbals, and thunderous drums that brings forth easily the most distinguishable musical score of 2019. Even without sounding dark or forbodding, the tones offer a level of ominous uncertainty that plays into the hand of the teacher and student wonderfully, sounding like a countdown on the path to conflict before either side comes to blows. When you come up with something original with music in 2019, respect is earned from this critic, and this colorfully vibrant duo stamp a level of permanence and identity to the film that allows it to stand out from the competition in terms of juxtaposed tonal capacities.

– Stirring performances. Everyone here is deserving of academy recognition, but mainly the trio of Watts, Harrison Jr, and Spencer, who maintain these anything but ideal people. For Watts, the torn frailty of being forced to stand by your kid through muddy waters is something that emits a level frazzled nerves, complete with many long-winded yelling scenes of dialogue that cements the idea of an actress who gives everything emotionally to her craft. Spencer is equally riveting, outlining a teacher who is every bit as cryptic in movements and motivations as her title character opponent. Octavia commands attention every time she’s on screen, and you feel such a rumbling repertoire from an actress who doesn’t require yelling to sell her threatening menace. Harrison Jr is the show stealer for me, however, emoting Luce often as two different people who make up this troubled young man. He’s intelligent, good-looking, combative, and worst of all, knows it. He knows how to use his gifts from this adoption to gain what he wants, and regardless where the movie takes him, Kelvin chews up the scenery unapologetically enough that you almost laugh at the strings he pulls these people through.

– Complexity of protagonist. What’s so unique about Luce’s situation is that he has to excel in being both a role model for black youths, who aren’t often afforded the same level of opportunities in a white-dominated society, while also trying to escape the haunting memories of being a part of a war-torn nation. It begs the question if nurture can conquer nature, all the while maintaining this level of social commentary on the race forefront that teaches us about judging a book by its cover. What’s exceptional about this is that the movie doesn’t judge Luce by just a color, and doesn’t label any of the white characters as racist, feeling like a film that flows as naturally accepting as anything that I’ve seen in recent memory, and refusing to reach for the low-hanging fruit of racist subplots that too many black-led movies aim for. The material focuses on the similar predicaments that all of these combustible elements are placed into, and not just surface level insensitivity that demeans them to nothing more than a color. Very smart.

– Deeper meaning in cinematography. This is a gorgeously shot film, whose color tint always feels a bit darker than we’re used to in conventional cinema. The reason for this decision from cinematographer Larkin Seiple seems to point to a ill-conceived intentions or a sinister motive hanging over the heads of our characters, in this sort of inescapable poison that forces them to confront it once it comes to a boiling simmer. Aside from this, the still-frame shot compositions allow more complexity in the form of multiple styles of editing, both blunt and fading, that seems to feed into the intensity of the previous scene that is playing out before our very eyes. There’s no shortage of subtle style to this film’s visual presentation, and from the opening shot seduces us by inviting us into this world of privilege, and immediately telling us that something darker is being played out behind the picket fences of the town’s patrons.

– Challenges black awareness. As to where the film doesn’t attack its material from a racism level of conflict, the complexity given to its black characters showcases their demeanor’s in a way that isn’t the typical from cinema, in that they are put into a box that is either perfect or evil, with no depth for the in between. This allows relatability in a way that very few minority-led films are given the freedom of these days, and what’s most important is that the film doesn’t fall for the white savior role for Watts and Roth that worried me from the looks of things in the trailers. These two parental figures are every bit as conflicted as their adopted son, and the script is smart enough to not only focus on Luce’s jaded disposition being a black kid in a white neighborhood, but also what that does for the parents who open their door to him. This is clearly a movie that values its characters, and spends ample time not only getting to know and understand their intentions, but also to document what is ticking within them from behind closed doors.

– Sharp pacing. I love that this film wastes no time in bringing viewers into its world, bringing forth a confrontation between Luce and his teacher that eloquently paints the picture for the following 106 minutes. Once we’re off and running, the film rarely slows down, stacking the proverbial log of suspense to further prolong the fire of interest that keeps you glued to the screen at all times. Never in the film did I feel bored or subdued by the film, and even in an ending that required slightly more definition to sell this as one of my favorite films of the year, the film as a whole can’t stop offering any level of race, social wokeness, over-policing, and rape culture to offer plenty of conversation pieces long after the movie ends. I’ve always thought that the best films are the ones that should leave you shook hours after the film concludes, and “Luce” offered a moving focus on the important social issues associated with adoption that I never thought about until now.

NEGATIVES

– Frustrating set-up. It’s not that I have difficulty believing that a teacher would freak out this bad over a paper that she herself inspired the students to write, but what plays into the rest of the story that follows is a bit of a stretch in logic for a film that is otherwise rooted in realism. Surely, there are better methods of set-up for this initial conflict, and while I do understand that its intentions were meant as a way to even the playing field for Spencer’s questionable character to look as cryptic as Luce, the manner used in garnering this response is something that is a stretch at least, and a gap in logic at most.

– The ending. Like its jaded protagonist, the final moments of the film lives somewhere in the middle, in terms of its satisfaction from the answers provided. It certainly wasn’t anything riveting for me in terms of permanance or epiphany, and it wasn’t a complete failure on the boundaries of anti-climatic. The film settles its conflict, then runs on for an addition ten minutes before the credits hit. One thing I will say is the final shot sequence involving Luce running at the camera is one that speaks volumes, not only for what he could be running away from, but also for running full steam towards a future that allows him to leave his troubles in the past. For my money, the closing moments could’ve used more focus particularly on Spencer’s character, because otherwise the film has an air of inconsequential that I know it didn’t intend for.

My Grade: 8/10 or B+

The Farewell

Directed By Lulu Wang

Starring – Awkwafina, Tzi Ma, Diana Lin

The Plot – A headstrong Chinese-American woman (Awkwafina) returns to China when her beloved grandmother (Shuzhen Zhao) is diagnosed with terminal cancer. Billi struggles with her family’s decision to keep grandma in the dark about her own illness as they all stage an impromptu wedding to see grandma one last time.

Rated PG for thematic material, brief adult language and some smoking

POSITIVES

– Cathartic direction. Wang herself lived through this story, so in her ability to write and direct these very intimate situations, she outlines a series of nuances within her family environment that are given these moments of personalization from her subtle touch. As a storyteller, Wang is someone who takes value in preserving the integrity and realism within a scene, choosing to let a laugh or emotional pull feel earned with the progression of those who move in and out of frame. This not only gives the movie a unique manner in its telling of exposition, but it also allows us the audience to absorb more of the ever-changing roller-coaster in tone that so much of the film rests its shoulders on. On the surface level, “The Farewell” is a Hallmark card to the woman who cemented such a legacy within Lulu’s heart, and it’s one that transcends geographic designation in favor of feelings and emotions that makes every culture similar in heart.

– Chinese culture. It was refreshing and even thought-provoking to learn about Chinese mentality, especially that with how they view America as a prestigious destination. Throughout the film, we are given many examples of Chinese citizens describing the dream that is the land of the free, but it’s in Billi’s love for her birthplace, as well as the absorbing quality in visuals that hint at that feeling of home being where you make it. Even though America is usually thought of as the greatest country in the world, here China makes its claim with entrancing landscapes and a yearning for family importance that offers plenty of poignancy for comparative dissection. With the success of “Crazy Rich Asians” and now this movie, the tide seems to be turning for cultural reaffirmation, and it’s great that American productions are allowing themselves the faith and integrity to focus on a demographic that has been ignored for far too long in cinema.

– Tonal balance. “The Farewell” is a full-fledged dramedy that competently and consistently reaches for two tones in direction that are mastered wonderfully without one ever compromising the other. What’s so rich about the humor is that it often comes at the expense of a family in their most intimate of settings, yet never feels condemning or insulting to them at the same time. Meanwhile, the dramatic weight preserved from such a condemning lie within this family keeps this cloud of regret hanging over them through each celebratory occasion that each of them knows will be the last for their beloved family member. What’s surprising is how each of these sides develop naturally through the dynamic of each relationship, giving us several moments, like life, that can throw a shower of moods our way thanks to the spontaneity that keeps us on our toes.

– The Lie. You always hear how something bad happening to one person doesn’t just hurt them, but everyone around them, and this case couldn’t be heard more loudly than the deceit that so many people keep buried deep inside. In one example, a couple within the family rushes their marriage all for the sake of Grandma being alive long enough to see it, and what this does is not only lessen what is supposed to be a once-in-a-lifetime special day, but also leaves the bride and the groom mentally paralyzed to shake their minds free of anyone or anything other than their sick grandmother. Likewise, the longer this lie is maintained, the more the characters flirt with eventually letting it all go, and it makes for some truly crippling scenarios that certainly hurt them, and leave the only person physically affected by all of this left unscathed. Perhaps justification and logic for why the lie was created in the first place.

– Eye-opening performance. Awkwafina is easily the main focus here, and it’s definitely a good thing, as this starring role allows her to shed most of her comedic impact that has typecast her so far in her career, in favor of dramatic chops that pull at your heart. Awkwafina’s watery eyes and soft-spoken demeanor are only topped by the performance of her body language, that channel what is taking place internally within her. What’s so pivotal about this is that it accurately portrays grief as something so much more than emotional, and articulates a measure in performance that other films dealing with grief often overlook when directing their films. It’s clear that Wang demanded more from Awkwafina, and thanks to her protagonist’s untouched dedication to the role, we get a transformative performance from her that serves as the cemented argument whenever anyone challenges her dramatic depth.

– A rare feat. It’s not often that a live action film, especially a dramatic one, attains a PG rating, but “The Farewell” proves that it doesn’t require unnecessary attributes to sell the meaning of its material. Never at any point in the film did these missing contributions hinder the quality of the film I was watching, nor did it make the character’s feel any less human because of my lack of familiarity with how I myself respond to grief. What’s truly compelling is despite the grown-up demeanor in consequences to the screenplay, this really is a film for the whole family, and one that pertains a gentle side of mental conflict that takes up so much time of the advancement within its character’s.

– Variety in shot composition. There’s a strong sense of maturity within Wang that helped her grow as on-screen presenter the longer the film went on. During the first act, much of her angles and framing rate felt very grounded and uninspiring, but during the film’s second half, her sense of experimentation took over, and brought us a series of memorable shots that gave the film strong artistic merit. Several long-take scenes, character following shots, That 70’s Show style during a Chinese memory game where everyone is drunk, and the gorgeous detailing of framing that reflects some vibrant levels of Chinese decorations. These shots are not only filled with lots of personality as described in the later shot I previously mentioned, but also visually reflect the change in tempo and mood from what is transpiring on-screen before our very eyes.

– Layers in musical accompaniment. Alex Weston’s work here is seamless with emotional weight. So much so that his score for the movie mostly emits a level of ominous dread that really captures the essence of the task that this family is left to deal with. Likewise, the soundtrack of assorted top 40 favorites to a Chinese rendering is equally captivating, and gives the movie a level of pop culture familiarity that helps it in being as equally accessible as the film’s many central themes. It will probably take a re-watch to gather all of them, but some that I definitely noticed were “Killing Me Softly” from The Fugees, “Come Healing” by Leonard Cohen, and another 80’s favorite that I currently can’t put my finger on, that closed the film. The Chinese instrumentals that go alongside each of these tracks provides weight in geographic location to perfectly place where the story is at all times, and Weston’s ceremonious string of stingers presets the proper mood scenes before the character conflicts ever do.

NEGATIVES

– Abrupt ending. For a movie so content with sentimentality, the lack of care instilled in the film’s closing minutes felt anti-climatic, and left me yearning for more in terms of impactful closing moments, Sure, there’s a pre-credits visual text that tells us everything we need to know about the family associated with the story, but it does that on-going Hollywood cliche where it tells what it should be showing, and leaves the biggest article of importance as a post-movie afterthought, free from the disjointed closing shots, that felt a bit tacked-on.

– Plot hole. One thing that I couldn’t overlook in the movie was the grandmother’s condition not feeling clearly evident to her that she is dying, despite what everyone along the way is telling her. I myself have never had cancer, at least as far as I know, but I’ve heard that you literally feel the life draining out of you, and in spite of all of this, the grandmother in the film is completely clueless when it comes to her condition. Especially considering how long she has been told that she has to live, it’s a bit misleading that she hasn’t picked up on some of the long term symptoms that ride alongside a disease so conforming and shaping of the people we know and love.

My Grade: 8/10 or B+

Once Upon a Time In Hollywood

Directed By Quentin Tarantino

Starring – Leonardo Dicaprio, Brad Pitt, Margot Robbie

The Plot – Quentin Tarantino’s ninth feature length film visits 1969 Los Angeles, where everything is changing, as TV star Rick Dalton (DiCaprio) and his longtime stunt double Cliff Booth (Pitt) make their way around an industry they hardly recognize anymore, but after Rick gets a new neighbor in the form of actress Sharon Tate (Robbie), the two face a new level of prominence that they didn’t see coming.

Rated R for adult language throughout, some strong graphic violence, drug use, and sexual references

POSITIVES

– Deeper cuts. On the surface level, this film is marketed as an action thriller between two film star best friends who interact with their newfound famous neighbor, but the material reflects a passion much closer to the heart of its enthusiastic director. In such, Tarantino crafts “Once Upon a Time” as this commentary on all things film, balancing the many rises and falls of fame, as well as a colorful dynamic between real life and the silver screen that clearly has more respect for the former. For Quentin, it feels like the best things often happen in real life, as echoed by Margaret Qualley’s character when she states “Actors are so phony. The real people are the ones getting their asses kicked by life”, and boy is she correct. Through many vivid observations on the set, we gain a surreal gaze not only on the craft of acting, but also in the many conversations and background studio cliches that more than support the idea that Tarantino has soaked up a few things from the nine movies he has helmed.

– Production value. Easily the best that I’ve seen in 2019, as Tarantino bends the sands of time with a visual presentation that immerses us fifty years into the past, to conjure up this consistency in believability that continues to shine the longer the film persists. Throwback businesses, complete with neon signs, wardrobe and cars reminiscent of the flower power generation, unorthodox shot compositions by Tarantino that reflect the golden age of cinema, and an audible reminder in the atmosphere full of commercial advertisements and catchy jingles to construct weight for the time period. Everything here is perfect, and it allows transcendence in this idea of us the audience watching a film that takes place in 1969, and instead brands the whole feature itself as a tape from the era, giving us synthetic authentication for how Tarantino would’ve managed as a filmmaker in his favorite generation of cinema.

– Bone-crushing brutality. Tarantino has always captivated audiences with his exploiting nature in the way he documents violence, and this film may take the cake in that regard. What’s truly compelling is how little of it there really is throughout this movie, saving its opportunities for the moments when its impact will be heard the loudest, and boy did it ever ring true in the final fifteen minutes of this film. Capped with impeccable sound design and tight-knit editing that keeps the sequence wrapped inside of this ball of never-ending torture, the scene will serve as a divisive one for moviegoers, and stand as a virtual ink-blot test for psyche stimulus. For me, even with most of the violence being towards females, the atmosphere and sheer lunacy of its arrival constantly kept this in the hilarious realm of surrealism, keeping me from ever taking it seriously as anything other that fantasy filmmaking.

– Attention-grabbing performances. Tarantino has always had great casts, but this might be his single greatest to date, garnering a big name behind every corner and scene, that really gives the film this big budgeted feeling of fame that its troubled protagonist can’t shake. Dicaprio is a whirlwind as Dalton, balancing consistently a southern accent and many noticeable ticks and quirks that gives his character this element of fleshed-out humanity that I wasn’t expecting. Brad Pitt is easily the show-stealer for me, as during late in the second act, this film kind of becomes his character’s, and takes us through the eyes of a man who takes no shit, and gives nothing but brutish personality in the way he attacks life, easily outlining one of my favorite characters of 2019. One disappointment however came in the handling of Margot Robbie as Sharon Tate. Other than this free spirit who dances and pines for the limited fame she attains, Robbie is given very few chances for the audience to understand her character’s motivations, and feeling like nothing more than an attaining feat for Dalton, instead of her being a pivotal character during a film that is telling her life story.

– Slamming soundtrack. Music is such a continued presence in the film that it practically becomes a character alongside the many familiar faces we engage with. What’s beneficial about this is not only does Tarantino match the consistency in continuity with the particular time period, but his musical selections for the majority are deep cuts that really only appeal to lovers of the generation. It’s also not close-minded in its eclectic nature, bringing us big name artists like Neil Diamond, Paul Revere and The Raiders, Vanilla Fudge, and of course Deep Purple to constantly keep our toes tapping. There’s a wide versatility in the volume level given to the many tracks, and this allows each of them to feel much closer to the characters instead of this beacon of post-production that our actors and actresses are so obviously not hearing and interacting with.

– Tarantino’s Truth. This is another case of a real life event that is bended with an air of fantasy and surrealism through the director’s eyes, and it allows us another ‘What If’ example of storytelling that changes the complexion of the things about the Sharon Tate murders that we’ve come to know. What I love about this is that it combines fiction and reality in a way that is not only respectable to the people involved, but never sacrifices entertainment value because we the audience know we’re watching something that truly didn’t happen this way. I view Tarantino films as this Twilight Zone of never-ending possibilities. Taking something that would otherwise be predictable if it followed every single measure of fact, and instead weaving us through these three stories intricately in a way where fate binds them together to craft this new tale.

– Deconstructing the narrative. As is the case with what Tarantino did in 1994’s “Pulp Fiction”, he once again strips everything we’ve come to know about a three act structure, and presents us with this hybrid of tonal shifts and dialogue-driven long takes that completely reinvents storytelling once again. Surprisingly, the film is essentially plotless, instead taking us through the lives of many people in a way to further realize the momentum of the swing that fame currently holds them within. This will definitely not be for everyone, as I compare it to his film “Death Proof”, a movie polarized by many Tarantino faithful for its abundance of talk with very little walk (Action). The same thing is present here, as the dialogue takes its time to get to know the characters and atmospheres accordingly, catering to many sides of tonal shifts along the way, with everything from comedy, to action, to downright horror for the sake of conflict evolutions. If you’re expecting one of his films that cuts straight to the point, you will probably be disappointed with this one. Quentin is certainly a painter who wants us to embrace every broad stroke for the integrity of the painting, and it has no problem taking its time in this regard.

– Character placement. I wanted to mention this in a separate section from the production, as the editing of familiar films from cinema are given the inclusion of Dalton in them, and the look and feel of the manufacturing feels seamless for the attention given to the details here. Leonardo Dicaprio obviously wasn’t in “Marlowe”, but thanks to grainy cinematography for the screen within the screen, as well as the directed performances of Dicaprio instilling a sense of weight to the interaction with those characters, these sequence bits astound in a way that really makes me wonder just what Hollywood can do if they wanted to take a modern day actor and throw them into “Back to the Future” or “The Breakfast Club”. Production like this is so good it’s scary, and gives Dalton a visual reputation to go with the audible one we hear so much about throughout.

NEGATIVES

– Constant nagging. While not a major problem, the fact that some elements inside of the storytelling weren’t fully rendered did serve as a problem for me. Aside from focused characters disappearing anti-climatically throughout the film, there’s a major backstory with Pitt’s character that I wish would’ve been given more time to further elaborate on. Without spoiling anything major, his character was previously married, and while it’s hinted at in rumors how it ended, I could’ve used more attention to flesh out the intention behind it, if it even is true in the first place. It could’ve produced an air of regret to a character who feels, for the most part, like he lives conflict free.

– Too long. Not a surprise that a film being over two-and-a-half hours has some pacing issues, but for me it was really more about scenes being trimmed that could’ve shaved a much-needed twenty minutes off of this finished run time. The heaviness of the dialogue never alienated me, but the repetition of familiar scenes without a break certainly did. It kind of rivals what I said earlier about Tarantino molding a new medium of storytelling, but it happens with some casualties along the way; mostly in the idea of scenes that sync up in a way that I certainly wasn’t expecting. Tarantino indulges in these conversations sometimes a bit too much, and it will test anyone who isn’t a Tarantino enthusiast in a way that will have them checking their watches at least once.

My Grade: 8/10 or B+

The Art of Self-Defense

Directed By Riley Stearns

Starring – Jesse Eisenberg, Alessandro Nivola, Imogen Poots

The Plot – After he’s attacked on the street at night by a roving motorcycle gang, timid bookkeeper Casey (Eisenberg) joins a neighborhood karate studio to learn how to protect himself. Under the watchful eye of a charismatic instructor, Sensei (Nivola), and hardcore brown belt Anna (Poots), Casey gains a newfound sense of confidence for the first time in his life. But when he attends Sensei’s mysterious night classes, he discovers a sinister world of fraternity, brutality and hyper-masculinity, presenting a journey that places him squarely in the sights of his enigmatic new mentor.

Rated R for violence, sexual content, graphic nudity and adult language

POSITIVES

– A Stearns sense of humor. Riley Stearns is my spirit animal when it comes to his style of humor. In being every bit as blunt as he is unapologetic, this whirlwind of social commentary appropriately articulates the ridiculousness associated with toxic masculinity in a way that the characters on-screen take seriously, yet us watching in the theater translate as elementary behavior. This not only gives the film’s material a unique blend of dark humor rarely capitalized by other independent films, but also makes us the audience dig a little deeper to properly channel what kind of tonal ranges the film is taking us on at any given minute. There were moments so dark and depraved that made me want to laugh, and moments so silly that made me want to cry, and it speaks volumes to a writer and director so involved in both aspects of a film’s creative process that allows them to flow cohesively throughout the picture.

– Confronting the poison. This is the second straight week that I have reviewed a movie dealing with toxic masculinity, and the kind of consequences it has in raising a generation of glorified entitlists. Where it stands in the movie takes us through themes involving firearms, mental manipulation, crude behavior involving the polarization of females, and an overall demeanor in demographic that tells us what to listen to and how to act at all times. What’s so rewarding about seeing this through Stearns eyes is not only is it layed out in a way that feels every bit truthful as it does obtuse, but the lessons learned by the end of the film reward us in a way that promotes hope through progression. Even for a film that classifies its material as satirical, it still wraps up in a way that deconstructs the mentality and lifestyles of decades worth of movements, and gives itself a lasting image that reminds us to strive for better.

– Wonderful performances. This is a three course dinner of uniquely gifted performances by the cast that shine for completely different reasons. It begins with this being the perfect role for Eisenberg, in that it allows him to bring along his nervous ticks and quirks for the nuance of the role. His Casey has very much been a victim his whole life, so Eisenberg’s introverted shyness gives us no shortage of body language to visually narrate what we already learn in his backstory without the narration telling us anything, and it leads to his best work in years. This is my first experience with Alessandro Nivola, and I have to say that his antagonist of sorts is endearing for how much he truly believes in his disgusting and deceitful ways. Almost immediately, you notice the mental advantage he holds over Casey, in that he is able to convince him to follow through with Karate, and it outlines this sort of mental chess game that feels ten times stronger than the physical hurdles that Casey endures in competing with dojo students who command years of experience ahead of him. The real shock however, is Imogen Poots, transforming herself once more to illustrate the film’s only female character. Her character’s personality feels tougher than anyone because of the treatment she has had to endure, and through a couple of near-tearful exposition dumps, Poots displays a variety in range and on-screen presence that proves those teenage romantic comedies were thankfully a thing of the past.

– Complex compositions. The camera work in this film is beautifully constructed, illustrating a range in personality that visually takes us through the roller-coaster in tone that is the film’s juggled tonal capacity. When it reaches for humor, it usually signals out one character in particular with a still-frame long take that reaches for awkwardness in isolation. When it reaches for unnerving uncertainty, it gives us a slow pan-out shot similar to David Robert Mitchell’s style of reveal that focuses on the smaller aspects in the background coming into focus to grow into something much bigger. In my interpretation, every shot in the film has meaning in establishing a greater purpose of gimmick within the script’s many themes, outlining a level of pulse and presence for the film’s cinematography that I certainly wasn’t expecting in a film advertised mostly for the psychological abuse of Casey disposition.

– Crisp editing. In addition to the colorful blend in shot layers that stimulated with precision in variety, the editing gimmick used in the film also provides these sharp cuts that provide a particular advantage of its own for what transpires on-screen. Not only is there a treat in the form of heavy metal karate montages a couple times throughout the film that marry two sides of the coin I was truly never expecting, but the self-defense action itself is cut and pasted in a way that preserves the continuity in a sequence that was probably shot and run through three or four different times to pull from the best takes of each run. This makes Hollywood actors look and feel like authentic Karate athletes, and thanks to the consistency of timely editing preserves that level of Hollywood magic often overlooked with independent cinema.

– Color representation. Being a film that revolves around karate and the many ranks associated with color in belts that the students wear, Stearns intelligently uses this as a mentality tool that follows the characters along with them everywhere. For example, Casey spends most of the movie being a yellow belt, and the influence of that color that seems to pop up everywhere from that point forward prove that it is anything but unintentional. Some of the examples are obvious, like the shopping scene where he buys nothing but yellow products, and it’s elaborated upon by the cashier mentioning it, but there are other scenes so obscure in size that really require future re-watches of the film to catch them all. This takes character framing to a whole new level, and provides food for thought in the absorbing quality that Stearns provides in transferring the mental capacity to the outside where it vibrantly flows with pride alongside the character it is intentionally supposed to represent.

– Delicious dialogue. Not only are the lines in the film clever in the way they construct conversations, but also in how the actors are directed with a dead-pan to deliver emotional lines that should feel more animated. This only adds to the comical layer of the film that I mentioned earlier, that further feeds into this unique and satirical world where nothing sounds too strange, and allows the actors to commit to an idea so silly and contrived that it feels routine in a male-dominated society like the one depicted in the movie. Likewise, jokes that are originally introduced during the first act return later on, and bring with them greater landing power because we the audience now grasp the situation in better detail after living through it with our central protagonist, and understanding what he’s gone through to reach this transformation in mentality.

– Visual props. To rebel even more in Stearns cleverness, the film rewards audiences so in-tuned with scenes by supplanting visual extras that honestly land just as effectively as the rich dialogue. Particularly present during the first act, we are treated to a couple of jokes in the form of a male magazine with the male icon on the cover, and a combination of guns, cologne advertisements, and female nudity within its pages, as well as an opening scene payoff that is genius for how it turns the advantage of a character dynamic on its head. Without spoiling much, two strangers are insulting a character in their native language, and we learn that their assumptions get the best of them. Where the visual comes in is during the second setting scene, where one reveal shows us everything that we need to know about the prior scene, and pays it off in a way that could be condemning if our attention is wandering during these initial minutes.

NEGATIVES

– Predictability. There are essentially two twists during the second half of the movie, and with relative ease I was able to predict each of them correctly. It’s not that the film shows itself too early, but rather its lack of moving room creatively within the story and minimal amount of characters leaves it claustrophobic with the available directions it could take with its mystery. The second twist is more something that happens within the reveal of a scene that I saw coming because of how uneven the odds were against a particular character. Both are credible reveals within the movie, but ones that I saw coming from early on in the second act, and the focus for the second half of the film revolved around this element of the reveal that I waited for the screenplay to catch-up to.

– Plot conveniences. This is the biggest problem I had with the film, as many coincidences during the first act are a stretch at best for lining up properly to the plot twist reveals that I previously mentioned. Things perfectly work to the advantage of the movie’s antagonist without really taking the time to understand how such things are possible, and why Casey would choose something like karate over the permanency and intimidation of owning a gun. Hell, the whole jumping happens when Casey is walking home from a supermarket trip that he walked to. We find out later that he owns a car, so why would you walk at night in a dangerous neighborhood to a store when you have valuable transportation? It doesn’t get any easier with the progression of the film, as there are a couple of situations that are easily escapable for someone with the intelligence of Casey that the film must ignore to further prolong the conflict. This also feels like a world where no cops or consequences exist, giving us about as much urgency within Casey’s blackmail conflict that never allows itself the time or opportunity to flesh itself out properly to coincide with the weight that we are visually told resides within this deal.

My Grade: 8/10 or B+

Framing John Delorean

Directed By Dan Argott, Sheena M. Joyce

Starring – Alec Baldwin, Morena Baccarin, Josh Charles

The Plot – The documentary recounts the extraordinary life and legend of the controversial automaker, tracing his meteoric rise through the ranks of General Motors, his obsessive quest to build a sports car that would conquer the world, and his shocking fall from grace on charges of cocaine trafficking. Interweaving a treasure trove of archival footage with dramatic vignettes starring Alec Baldwin, “Framing John DeLorean” is a gripping look at a man who gambled everything in his pursuit of the American Dream.

Currently not rated

POSITIVES

– Crisp presentation. Argott and Joyce visually seduce us with a free-flowing allure in editing and storyboard movements that gives the documentary an investigation kind of format to its storytelling. With a combination of photographs from news stories, magazines, and personal family collections, as well as an array of guests close to the story, the film’s grasp on the intimate details is astonishing, granting us a level of access into the psychology and circumstance of Delorean that no other news story on the figure has given us before. Beyond this, the film’s own framing method of sliding each picture into frame with the uniqueness of a slide-show is one that constantly kept the pacing of the story moving, all the while covering so much of the time frame with a shocking abundance of accompanying visual flare.

– Surprises. Considering I knew very little about the Delorean trials, as well as the complications that he dealt with while building an entirely new automobile company from the ground up, I was surprisingly enlightened to learn about a figure who is every bit as innocent as he was guilty. It’s a strange juxtaposition because John was a man with honorable dreams and intentions, yet his naivety often got the worst of him, and cemented this ideal that for every one step forward he was often taking two steps back. In addition to this, the lasting image effects left on his family and work colleagues is something that conjures an air of tragedy to the story, where one man’s vision became the catalyst in the destruction for many careers and futures. In particular, the footage of John’s adopted son in present day is the most effective in garnering a feeling of empathy that I honestly wasn’t expecting for a family that had everything that the American dream entailed.

– Two for one. In addition to this being a documentary-first category of filmmaking, there’s also a Hollywood presentation that plays alongside the details of the previous, colorfully filling in the gaps of storytelling for the footage behind closed doors that we are unfortunately not afforded because of the circumstances. The production itself is believable enough without feeling cheap or cheesy, and the make-up work of a talented production transforms Baldwin to Delorean seamlessly before our very eyes. What’s important is that these cinematic inclusions never overstep their boundaries, or happen frequently enough to stall the pacing of the story, balancing two appreciated levels of filmmaking for the price of one. It capitalizes on the documentary’s many mentions of there never being a Hollywood film about the life of John, all the while living and breathing inside this bubble of biographical fact that documentaries thrive on.

– Appropriate tone. There’s a great deal of blunt personality that radiates from the many ironies of the story that take us through some very suffocating beats within Delorean’s life. Not only is the film not afraid to capitalize on the sheer lunacy of the many trials that John faced as a result of his own judgment, but it also hints at the selfishness of an elevated capitalist market within the American landscape in the 1980’s that maximized production of product into overdrive to satisfy demand. It helps that many of the speaking guests on-film are mostly animated in their deliveries, but it’s made even more convincing by the stakes in adversity that always seems present in John’s life and social surroundings, outlining a protagonist who was every bit unorthodox as the model car that he campaigned to an otherwise conventional market of consumerism.

– Enjoyable cast. This is really on the acting spectrum for the movie within the documentary, as the many familiar faces that move in and out of frame gives the story a big-screen presence in transforming this story for the glitz and glamour of Hollywood. While none of the performances are transformational in anything other than look and character design, the intention of the character direction is something that clearly capitalizes on the big personality feel of the silver screen, skewering the pulse of the character for the conveniences of the story that it is trying to tell. Besides Baldwin, Gotham’s Morena Baccarin, Josh Charles, Michael Rispoli, Dean Winters, and Twin Peaks Dana Ashbrook are just a few of the names who give nuance to the respective characters within Delorean’s story, giving us a vibrant array of colorful personalities that play into a story involving drugs, gang warfare, and two class action lawsuits brought before congress.

– Back to The Future. The most alluring area of the screenplay to me going in was clearly going to be the behind-the-scenes access for how the Delorean automobile made its way onto one of the most memorable 80’s movies of all time; “Back To The Future”, and this film definitely didn’t disappoint. Considering the Delorean name was dead by 1985, the representation of the Delorean on the silver screen immortalized its name for future generations, benefiting in the way of advertisement that some automobile brands can’t pay for. For my money, I could’ve used more time dedicated to the meat of the pre-production aspect, in terms of John’s involvement in getting the car onto the set, but the interviews from screenwriter Bob Gale, as well as iconic footage playing simultaneously during it, proved why this was the perfect marriage of temporary product meeting timeless cinema to create something truly cohesive on all levels within the feature film. You certainly couldn’t imagine anything else being the time machine now, and this gives the Delorean immortality in a day and age where cars come and go like musical trends.

– An undying spirit. Without question, the most endearing quality of the film for me was the final moments of footage, where John’s mock-ups for the D.M.C 2 come into frame, and outline a vision in automobiles that was decades ahead of its time. Even for something that is only a first draft drawing, the dimensions and curvature associated with a product that is every bit fast as it is luxurious is something that even today is still unavailable to lower and middle class drivers. What this does is cement an idea about John that conveys him as being one of the good ones, who catered to the mass instead of the minority, and preserved that level of drive and determination that stuck with him until the day he died. To humanize a public figure so high up on the food chain of fame and fortune is remarkable, and perhaps stands as the single greatest achievement for Argott and Joyce, if only for the way add vulnerability to a man who was once considered to be, like his cars, indestructible.

– Similarities to other prominent figures. My interpretation of the film brought familiar feelings in watching documentaries about Nicolas Tesla, the man credited by some as the creator of electricity. In comparisons to Delorean, both men were hunted by the government, set-up in a sting operation to ruin their careers, and then had their visions ripped from them for profit at the hands of someone else. Most people don’t know that Delorean’s can still be manufactured in special requests to this day, conjuring up an unnerving feeling within me that gets the conspiracy wheels spinning. Both of these men were considered geniuses ahead of their respective times, and challenged the conventionalism within a system that ultimately led to their untimely downfalls.

NEGATIVES

– Stumbling pacing. This film was running smoothly until the cocaine trial, which takes up an inordinate amount of screen time to cover every single angle of the world-wide focus, and while it’s vital to include this in John’s story, the dominance that it has over the rest of the film offers too much separation from our protagonist’s psyche. Especially with a third act that breezes through with an ending that feels incomplete at best, the particular trial section bleeds the brakes on a progression that until then covered a variety of topics without staying put for far too long. Opposing that, there were many times in the film’s final half hour where I frequently checked my watch, and even stopped the film for an entire day because of waning interest. With more devotion to John’s final days, the film could’ve further fleshed out the real tragedy of his lasting memory, but it simply doesn’t seem interested in the weak John, leaving much of the weathered transformation on the floor of under developed curiosity.

– Unnecessary cursing. As mentioned up top, this film doesn’t have a designated rating, but one guest’s desire to drop F-bombs every other word soiled a level of class within the picture that had been maintained up to that point, and illustrated him as a nutcase of sorts to the case that he was trying to prescribe to the audience. One or two of these words is fine to articulate the anger from this particular character, but a barrage seems unnecessary, and reminds me of the freedom that the director’s had in allowing their guests to get get everything out. Even if you don’t agree with me on this, the desire of including the film’s final text with a line “He died in 2005. He lived to be 80 FUCKING years old” feels highly unnecessary.

My Grade: 8/10 or B+

Spider-Man: Far From Home

Directed By Jon Watts

Starring – Tom Holland, Samuel L. Jackson, Jake Gyllenhaal

The Plot – Our friendly neighborhood Super Hero (Holland) decides to join his best friends Ned (Jacob Batalon) , MJ (Zendaya), and the rest of the gang on a European vacation. However, Peter’s plan to leave super heroics behind for a few weeks are quickly scrapped when he begrudgingly agrees to help Nick Fury (Jackson) uncover the mystery of several elemental creature attacks, creating havoc across the continent!

Rated PG-13 for sci-fi action violence, some adult language and brief suggestive comments

POSITIVES

– Maturity of a script. As a tie-over from the previous installment, the film still feels very enriched in this teenage romantic comedy direction that just so happens to take place in a superhero universe, and while this tone was consistently satisfying for me, the film’s evolution during the second half as this cautionary tale for technology heightened my interest for where this film would take us. It certainly didn’t disappoint, as the social commentary of becoming too vulnerable in the devices that guide our every day occasions, as well as difficulty in distinguishing what’s real and what’s manufactured news is something that resonates ever so soundly in the current day landscape of our own political stratosphere. Like Peter, this is a film that matures as it ages, and in turn Marvel maintains the fantasy of a superhero dynamic with this unnerving echo of a world not too far from our own, conjuring up a balance that harvests this very lived-in feeling of patented world building.

– The difference. If there’s one thing that Spider-Man films in this version of the M.C.U does better than its company, it’s the inspiring camera work on-and-off the ground that bring to life the movement of its characters full circle. In this installment, we get a series of long-take, no-cut shots for sequences involving Peter with a pivotal character. These intended delves not only amaze us in the youthful cast’s capabilities in memorizing long exchanges of dialogue, but also allude to the real time that is playing out before Peter’s very eyes that he often doesn’t get enough time to live inside of. To contrast this, the flying and web slinging sequences attain a level of calculated introversion that maximizes the height of the danger without sacrificing the audience’s ability to follow the events of the scenes with their eyes. The editing is used only when necessary, and the POV camera gimmicks aren’t nearly as depended on as they were in “Homecoming”, an aspect that pleases an easily motion-sick moviegoer like myself wholeheartedly.

– Musical Michael. Music continues to be a character in these Spider-Man films, but this time their inclusion feels very much absorbing in attaining the geographical designation that the film often switches up. Because this is a film that takes us through many diverse cultures in country, composer Michael Giacchino wastes no time tuning us into the very pulse of these rich locations with a score that audibly tells the story. If you’re paying close attention, you’ll notice instruments used during particular scenes that radiate the flavor that we’re used to in our understanding of the environment, and in addition to this the soundtrack itself of assorted pop culture favorites are inserted at the most opportune time to really make them pop. Some of my favorites involve New York-heavy artist The Ramones to channel that big apple state of mind, as well as one of my favorite 80’s tracks “Vacation” by The Go-Go’s narrating through a series of vacation photo stills for the film’s end credit sequence that establishes an infectious vibe that makes it difficult to say you didn’t have a fun time.

– Twists. Many people, including myself, had theories heading into this film, and while I did accurately predict nearly everything that transpired on-screen, it was really where the film took it after the twist that I truly didn’t expect. Without spoiling anything, there was a distinct feeling that I had when this occurred that gave me unnerving chills towards “Iron Man 3”, a film nearly ruined by its direction of an unexpected twist, and while the charms of a gimmick are slowly evaporated in this film alike, the grounded progression associated brought forth an antagonist that was not only easy to invest in and understand, but also brought forth much needed weight to a very localized threat when compared to what these films have faced in dangerous adversity. What I truly loved was this earned feeling of paranoia that persists from within Peter, casting great vulnerability for a character who usually overcomes by expressing his personality. That’s really taken away here, and brings forth an antagonist who succeeds not because of an empathetic backstory, but because of the sharpness of intellect that brings forth power that we surprisingly haven’t yet seen in the Marvel Cinematic Universe.

– Strong leads. Tom Holland continues to amaze, balancing the two sides of this character that no actor has completely enveloped before him. As Peter, Holland very much wraps himself in the awkwardness and nervousness of being a teenager, and we’re treated to a series of firsts for the character that might as well be home movies levels of revealing for his usual code of armor. As Spider-Man, Holland feels every bit believable in combat as he does evolving as a superhero. Throughout the film, the character is forced to deal with these imposing expectations that everyone has for him, and it better fleshed out a performance for Tom that competently articulates those needle-inducing levels of anxiety that all teens must live up to in one way or another. Also great are turns from Zendaya, and especially Jake Gyllenhaal as one of my favorite characters in the Spider-Man universe, Mysterio. On the former, Zendaya’s version of Mary Jane very much soaks in the ideals for women of the time, delivering on a character who is weird, guarded, intelligent, and especially cool. Like “Homecoming”, it took me a while to warm up to her, but I found myself falling for the uniqueness and originality of her version of M.J in the same vein that Peter does, and the chemistry that exists between them accurately moves through the motions of teenage romance to a lump-in-the-throat tee. Gyllenhaal is spectacular in this role, chewing through enough scenery in the scene to make him an unshakeable presence even in a scene that doesn’t include him. He’s one of those characters you just can’t wait to get back to, and while I loved the scenes where he’s the new Tony Stark of sorts to Peter’s open void, Jake’s work when he’s in action really dazzles the complexity of his character’s abilities.

– Costume design. The combination of practical and computer generated are married seamlessly here, sketching an eye for transition in believability that were practically lifted from the pages of a comic book. For Spidey, we get not one suit, but four different ones, taking us through the genius of Tony Stark’s attention to detail. Most of the suit’s movements and artificial shine are obviously manufactured, but there’s no substitute for the grandeur associated with a new suit reveal, that if you’re watching closely will take you through the past, present, and future of Spider-Man sheik. On the material side of design, Mysterio’s suit, especially his neon armor, is possibly my favorite of the entire Marvel Cinematic Universe. Considering how fantastical his suit is in the comics, it’s remarkable what the production team is able to accomplish here, giving us pride that for once a better suit wasn’t make on the Comic Con floor by an adoring fan.

– Crisp pacing. For a film that exceeds the two hour mark (Barely), the surprise of a film that breezes through left me yearning for more. For me, this doesn’t happen often in superhero movies, especially ones where the events from start to finish take us through so much complexity, but the screenplay’s ability to value the two sides of the Parker dynamic respectively equal is enough to pay-off for fans of every Peter spectrum, giving us possibly the single easiest sequel to watch to date. What helps even more is that the film’s strength for me is the second half, elaborating that “Far From Home” will only get better the deeper you invest into it. Along the way, there’s no shortage of valuable action set pieces, intoxicating dialogue that reaches for the one laugh a scene ratio, and alluring characters, lead and supporting, whom we don’t think two hours with is ever enough to satisfy our pallets for them.

– Post credit scenes. NO SPOILERS HERE, but I wanted to mention them because for once BOTH scenes are important not only in the future of Marvel installments, but also for the degree of permanence that exists because of them. The first reminds me of a John Wick direction for Spider-Man that hints that darker days are certainly ahead for the integrity of the character, and the second proves that our once conventional world of occupants will no longer be the same after the Endgame has come and gone. In the past, post-credit Marvel scenes don’t always bat a thousand, in fact, it’s become quite expected that one of these scenes will be a snoozer, but thanks to urgency associated with getting this second volume of the M.C.U off of the ground, the necessity to grab the attention of audiences ensures them that despite so many losses on-screen, the integrity of the name Marvel will still persist in telling a whole new collection of stories involving diverse characters.

NEGATIVES

– Exposition dumping. There are many examples throughout the film where the need to explain too much overwhelms the sequence that accompanies it, making them feel like manufactured inserts instead of this rich level of authenticity that if done right will feel like natural conversation. I point particularly to the big twist scene as the shining example, where the film halts progress to explain far too much about what has transpired to get here, but there’s a collection of scenes like this during the first act that tie itself a bit too tightly to Endgame before allowing itself to break free on this new chapter of life that Marvel is headed towards. I feel that the exposition could spread itself out a little easier to reach its intended purpose, but what we’re left with are a couple of scenes that drown on a bit too long, and are a bit alluding to perfectly tie them in a neat bow for audiences who have difficulty paying attention.

– Same problems. As is the case with an on-going cinematic universe, this film has the same lack of believability that other superheroes wouldn’t come to the rescue to stand alongside their favorite web-slinging superhero, and take down the powerful nemesis. It’s mentioned early on where the big guns like Thor and Captain Marvel are at that particular moment, but what about the other Avengers? What about Hawkeye? What about War Machine? I find it difficult to believe that this madness is transpiring in a major place like Paris, and no one is catching wind of it? In addition to this, convenient plot devices like Stark’s glasses being introduced exactly one scene before Peter needs to wipe away a picture on a phone is clumsy to say the least, but still persist in a world with too many coincidences to feel engulfed in reality. Likewise, the more that I start thinking about the villain’s gimmick with technology, the less it makes sense in all measures of gravity. Can a movie playing on a projection screen touch or cause damage to objects around it?

My Grade: 8/10 or B+