The Irishman

Directed By Martin Scorsese

Starring – Robert De Niro, Al Pacino, Joe Pesci

THe Plot – Frank “The Irishman” Sheeran (De Niro) is a man with a lot on his mind. The former labor union high official and hitman, learned to kill serving in Italy during the Second World War. He now looks back on his life and the hits that defined his mob career, maintaining connections with the Bufalino crime family. In particular, the part he claims to have played in the disappearance of his life-long friend, Jimmy Hoffa (Pacino), the former president of the International Brotherhood of Teamsters, who mysteriously vanished in late July 1975 at the age of 62.

Rated R for pervasive adult language and strong violence.

POSITIVES

– Tonally spontaneous. Like life, Scorsese balances the scales of ups and downs accordingly in emotional complexity, and does so without either of the extreme directions compromising the other. For the majority of the film it’s the obvious; drag-em-out gangster drama with equal parts brutality movements and derogatory dialogue. This is the Scorsese film that we have come to expect in classics like “Goodfellas” or “Gangs of New York”, but isn’t reliant on just this one cohesive tone. From there, there’s a surprisingly ample amount of humor that follows these very dangerous characters everywhere, bringing forth the scale of responsibilities that are anything but routine to common folk, and fleshing them out in a way that feels naturally resonant of a life they’ve come to expect. Some examples include Frank’s defending his daughter from a touchy grocery store owner, or the trials and tribulations of a road trip with the wives that spans out longer than it rightfully should. It proves that even for 50’s gangster characters, they aren’t people who are written one-dimensionally, and this human element adds a healthy dose of empathetic intrigue that helps in our investment towards each of them. Finally, the film’s concluding half hour revels in a somber blanket of regret and longing that brings forth the rarely seen tragic aspect of a lifestyle chosen. This angle not only humanizes these characters who have done unthinkably horrific things, but also proves that Scorsese doesn’t condone or endorse the intrigue of this lifestyle, proving emotional growth from films like “Taxi Driver” or The King of Comedy”, which could easily be misconstrued as an inspirational story.

– Time period subtlety. Part of what makes Scorsese so compelling as a visual storyteller in these distinct time pieces is that he maintains great restrain in evidence, where as a lesser director will make dated visual references a main character in the foreground. This not only keeps the focus on the heat of the unraveling story, but emits off a naturally simplistic approach to production that transcends its dating. With that said, there is evidence of the time frame here, most noticeably in the consistency of wardrobe of three piece suits and tea length swing dresses that were prominent during the 1950’s and 60’s. In addition to this, the backdrop locations and sound capacity bring forth an air of what I call deep cut notoriety that someone not familiar with the decades could easily miss by their existence. It proves that Martin took a lot of aspects from his childhood, and incorporated them in a way that gives weight of proof to the setting, but not enough attention to override the importance of the story and characters.

– Essential Scorsese. While certainly not the best film of Martin’s 26 movie filmography, “The Irishman” may be the most artistically enveloping, for the way it brings along all of the familiarity of past films while breathing life into an entirely new beast all together. Measures like the bigger-than-life rock-star appeal that gangsters maintained is certainly nothing new to Scorsese projects, but here they are articulated with an air of documentation that proves every relationship and interaction has an equally resistant reaction that will eventually catch up with them. Aside from this, the camera work is smooth and full of movement and environmentally-establishing focus, in that they use long takes to soak in more of the madness at the scene. This was prominent in films like “The Color of Money” or “The Last Waltz”, but where it differs in “The Irishman” is the way that locations change but the mission remains the same, and it grants Hoffa and company an almost untouchable feeling, where they have an advantage on every field. As the film focuses on Frank taking us through the many notable moments of his life, it feels like off camera so too is Scorsese, bringing along a career of experience that prospers in one lone installment to prove that even after fifty years why he is still one of the best going today.

– The real antagonist. Despite there being no shortage of crooked politicians and mob bosses in the film, it is the concepts of time and the levity materializing from it that bring forth an unbeatable opponent seen through the eyes of our jaded protagonist. Because these are gangsters first and foremost, we almost never expect them to grow old and be seen in a weak and fragile state, and for one of these characters in particular, that very reality comes to fruition. It adds a tighter grip to the idea of isolation, in that all of these horrible things have happened to people who are both innocent and not, and yet the ones who lived through it are the ones suffering the most, a strange juxtaposition at the very least. This alludes to the hinted at sacrifice that this character pays so dearly for, and establishes blood family as being the one matter worth fighting for when the world around you comes crumbling down one brick at a time.

– Mundane violence. There is definitely no shortage of violence deposited throughout the film, but what surprised me is that none of it is especially gruesome or exploitative in a way that we’ve come to expect from this director. Instead, these moments of horrific realism are captured either out of frame of the camera, or so brief and permanently rendered that they are almost afterthought’s to the resonating abundance of guilt and responsibility that is inescapable in a film with so many eyes and conspiracies afoot. There is one gruesome sequence involving a splash of red, but for the most part Scorsese instead focuses on the action itself instead of the result, and it allows this splash of clarity to contrast the confidence and assertion of what was conjured previously before it ever happened. For a Scorsese gangster drama, it is easily his most artistically restrained of his entire career.

– Family absence. One critique that I constantly keep hearing from critics is the lack of family characters that are given a voice in the film, and while I agree with their critique, I can say that it intentionally serves a purpose within Frank’s frame of mind. For Frank’s child daughter Peggy, this is especially resounding because she almost doesn’t speak throughout the entirety of the film, signifying the lack of connection that she shares with a father who puts work first constantly. This is even further brilliantly elaborated at during Peggy’s adult years, when academy winning actress Anna Paquin takes over the role. It puts a reputably accomplished actress at the helm of this minimally speaking role, which in turn even more so cements her importance, which is not being given the light of day that the character and Paquin so desperately deserve. On a whole, this could be considered irresponsible of the screenplay, but to me I felt that it defined Frank as a work-first, family-second kind of guy, and through a career that he chose so candidly, it proves that he cannot have both.

– Gripping talents. Where do you even start with this one? How about a trio of De Niro, Pesci, and Pacino, who rivet with a collection of performances that can and should easily be considered for academy recognition. De Niro’s fragility during Frank’s older years is especially endearing, giving the actor a chance to juggle enough heart and longing that literally jumps from the screen into our own soulful registries. Pesci carefully chose the right project to jump back into the game with, and it brings forth a methodically commanding presence to a character that we aren’t used to for the usually boisterous supporting actor. Here, Pesci’s soft-spoken demeanor and heavy hands are used to outline an intimidating presence who never loses his cool. In fact, his most unnerving quality is the composure kept through some testing scenarios that outlines the ferocity of the character in eyes of danger burning through rimmed glasses, and a facial registry that is as cool as a cucumber. Without question though, this becomes Pacino’s show midway through the movie, and it’s probably a good thing because it gives us one more chance to enjoy Al’s long-winded amplified audible capacity. This feels far deeper than an impression. It is simply Pacino becoming Jimmy Hoffa in the same way Jack Nicholson did nearly thirty years ago, and while Pacino equally balances the charisma and seduction of a politician, it is his room-clearing assertion when the bolts of composure come undone that brought Hoffa to life once more. These three in addition to a deep cast complete by Harvey Keitel, Ray Romano, Jesse Plemons, and Bobby Cannavale, to name a few, brings forth a gifted ensemble that proves that Netflix is willing to spend to even out the playing field.

NEGATIVES

– Ambitious run time. This is certainly going to be mentioned in every review of the film, so lets get it out of the way early. At three-and-a-half hours long, “The Irishman” is simply too long of a film to remain constantly engaging through the stretches of exposition that fill the film. As I mentioned earlier, the action and violence that keep audiences on the edge of their seats is mostly missing from this film, so unless you are faithfully invested in these characters and a historical story that has already been told many times, you will start to feel the weight of such a lengthy investment. The pacing of storytelling is solid enough, most notably from Thelma Schoonmaker’s exceptional editing in throwing something new at us every fifteen minutes or so, but once this becomes Hoffa’s story, Frank’s becomes less interesting by contrast, and the film’s tug-of-war with which takes center stage compromises its seamless progression. There is a two and a half hour amazing movie somewhere in here, but instead we’re given a director’s cut that brings with it all of the deleted material that can be a chore to sift through in DVD extras.

– De-aging. My problem isn’t with the technology itself, but the sum of its parts surrounding the effect, which deems it virtually un-affective. There is some use to seeing the central trio thirty years younger than they actually are, but the production’s dedicated to the de-aging gimmick makes it an easy transition due to its investment of being used on camera throughout. Where it does go wrong for me, however, is in the lack of de-aging on character movements, like aching, slow walking patterns, that make it feel like a forty year old face in an 80 year old body. This not only broke my immersion into the gimmick quite frequently, but also removed the charm of seeing these amazing actors visually in their primes once more. Aside from this, the faulty focus of the camera on characters hands is something that also compromises the facial likenesses, giving off an aging quality that doesn’t register as properly in the windows to ones aging mirror. It defeats the purpose of a decently crafted gimmick for the sake of obvious blunders that could’ve easily been hidden or subdued from the film’s finished product.

– Framing device missteps. There’s a few things to unload here. The first deals with the sometimes confusing transitions between respective timelines that required me to waste time distinguishing when I should be focused on what is transpiring in the current day. This was the least of my problems in this section, but big enough during the second act, when the film gets anxious in storytelling transportation. The two bigger problems for me deal with cinematic cliches that even in 2019 are still being committed on a grand scale. I hate when a movie has a flashback within a flashback, and this movie does it two different times. This adds to the already confusing distinguishing that I previously mentioned, and unnecessarily convolutes the narrow path of exposition that should cater to a simplistic approach, especially in an over three hour presentation. My other problem is in framing this as a collection of Frank’s memories, with him being the narrator throughout. This gimmick is fine enough if the script only entailed moments from the events that he was present for, but on more than a few occasions took us through intimate details of things he wasn’t. Most people can forgive this because they believe in the gimmick of script over narrator for their information, but when a film takes time to establish Frank as the eyes and ears of the story, it’s more than a bit of a betrayal to me when I’m supposed to be believing something that isn’t an absolution.

My Grade: 7/10 or B

Knives Out

Directed By Rian Johnson

Starring – Daniel Craig, Chris Evans, Ana De Armas

The Plot – When renowned crime novelist Harlan Thrombey (Christopher Plummer) is found dead at his estate just after his 85th birthday, the inquisitive and debonair Detective Benoit Blanc (Craig) is mysteriously enlisted to investigate. From Harlan’s dysfunctional family to his devoted staff, Blanc sifts through a web of red herrings and self-serving lies to uncover the truth behind Harlan’s untimely death.

Rated PG-13 for thematic elements including brief violence, some strong adult language, sexual references, and drug material

POSITIVES

– Stacked cast. Where do I start with the single best ensemble cast outside of a superhero movie this year? There are some performances like Daniel Craig, Ana De Armas, and Chris Evans, which are the very best of their storied careers, and then there’s no shortage of incredible big names in the backdrop, like Michael Shannon, Jamie Lee Curtis, and especially Toni Collette, who illustrate the dysfunction of this crumbling family. The energy from all proves that the casting was perfect, but beyond that each spin turns the gears of indulgence one step further with the pendulum of progression, and establishes this as a complete group effort. While my favorite is easily Craig, with his consistency for a southern drawl accent, as well as his meticulous investigative skills which poke and prod at each character under the spotlight, the hearty innocence of Armas, and the conniving arrogance of Evans can’t be under-appreciated. This is what a movie looks like when the actors get lost in the heat of their characters, and it makes for as easy of a two hour sit as possible because their demeanor towards one another fleshes out decades of mental anguish and neurotics that transcends them beyond just this one lone movie.

– Unpredictable. I was on the right track to accurately predicting the culprit in this movie, but my answer left so much out of the final spin of the picture, cementing what was truly intelligent about its investigation. The who is really the least important part of everything that transpires, but the how and why is what the movie focuses on so much more. It narrows its suspects down immensely within the first hour of the movie, and just when it does so, it throws motivation in the way of the actions by certain characters, which is as important as the final resolution. The interrogation scenes are witty, contrasting, and full of reflective assertion, which plays well off of one another. Capped off by two respective timelines, current and the night in question, which never convolute the progression of either narrative, nor do they have trouble distinguishing which is which, considering one takes place in the day, and the other at night.

– Tonal precision. I was really surprised at just how much humor was involved in this movie, and even more than that how cleverly deposited each of it landed in its intended purpose. For Whodunnit? mysteries, seriousness can lose the fun of the gimmick in translation. Most recently, “Murder On the Orient Express” succeeded at a stylishly sleek design and intriguing characters, but left much to be desired in the execution, which was far too serious to interact with its audience. “Knives Out” doesn’t have this problem, as the silliness and clumsy efforts of the characters trying to free themselves as suspects allows the script to play out several hilarious situations that only further illustrate how human each of them feel behind closed doors. When there’s money and freedom hanging in the balance, even a family will turn on each other, and not only is this the devilishly delicious offering intentionally released right around Thanksgiving, but it constantly breaks focus in a way that leads to no shortage of hilarious afterthought deliveries, that really force you to stay glued to every word to catch the snarky deposits. More on this later.

– Timely presentation. Watching “Knives Out” reminded me of a combination of Wes Anderson personality in atmosphere and musical incorporation with 70’s exploitation thrillers for experimental camera movements. It brings forth an artistic delivery of production that proves every hand was on-deck, and that Johnson allows them to influence the progression of the investigation. More than anything it’s the crisp editing, which never stalls too late or jumps too early in the proper rendering. Most notably during the interrogation scenes, the different characters almost continue the sentence in a way where the last one left off, elaborating at how many of their stories and answers are starting to run together. Likewise, the side pans and slow meandering shots allow for more facial resonation to take shape and influence the intensity of the scenes, if for no other reason than to truly soak in the permanence of the situation. Finally, the musical score from composer Nathan Johnson (Rian’s cousin) brings with it an elegance of classical offerings to play into the atmosphere of upper class surroundings. The Johnson’s have collaborated on “Looper”, “Brick”, and many other short films, and they breeze through an air of seamlessness that not only plays coherently with each’s control on their blossoming productional aspects, but also cements the chemistry between them which turns bond into blood.

– Sharp tongue. The dialogue in this film is some of my very favorite of the year, capturing some of the best one-liners and long-winded diatribes that left me hanging onto every word dispersed. It helps that there’s so much personality emoting from each of the talented cast who move in and out of frame, but Johnson as a screenwriter flexes his talent in a way that comprehends the very accents, manuerisms, and fears of every one of his characters, and this allows what is being written to transcend one continuous man writing everything, and instead craft it as the legitimate speech patterns of those he becomes. This is something that I watch for in a lot of movies, but it hasn’t become as obvious as it does in this film, as nothing ever feels like a betrayal or force-feeding for what each character delivers, and it’s what I believe makes each of them so fascinating, even when a majority are morally bankrupt people.

– Fluid pacing. “Knives Out” clocks in at just over two hours on the runtime, and never did I feel the weight of this to where it was compromising to the story, nor forcing me to check my watch every five minutes. Much of the story, especially in the scintillating first act, is pasted together in a way that leaves such little downtime in between, and really forces audiences to remain on their feet at all times if they are going to keep with the flow of information, or even outline their favorites for suspects. The second act is the strength of the film for me, as alliances start to form, bonds are tested, and a bombshell the size of Texas changes everything moving forward. It brings us to the third act resolution, which was not only satisfying for the intelligence of the mental chess game between characters, but also satisfyingly conclusive in tying everything together. It brings forth one of the more fun and investing experiences that I have had in quite sometime, and had me begging for more, even after 125 minutes being wrapped in this case, a sign of quality writing.

– Claustrophobia. Setting is everything for a movie with this much tension surrounding its plot, and thanks to Rian’s decision to helm roughly 90% of this movie in this mansion, we start to feel the urgency and vulnerability of our characters closing down around them, like the walls are growing closer. Some of this is because of the volume of this family, feeling like someone is always listening behind every corner, but most of it is in the set design, which depict some closed quarters in the tightest areas of the house. In particular, the scene of the crime is a stuffed attic, which adds to the wiggle room of the alibi, and always brings matters back to this one isolated location that the characters seem mentally trapped in to play through the events of a night in question. The movie does eventually move off of the house grounds, losing some of that smothering quality that prospers throughout the film, but it always comes back to where it all started, and adds food for thought for how many bad people can be housed under one roof.

– Socially relevant. Did you expect this from a whodunnit? murder mystery? Me either, but Johnson’s poignant script takes the responsibility of elaborating at some of the resounding issues politically and socially that are unfortunately clouding our world for the worst. In this case, it’s done through the eyes of immigration racism through the eyes of five upper class white snobs, who subtly include lines of offensive character definition at the end of their random dialogue, which are meant to cut them down in a derogatory manner. I’ve heard a lot of critics call this out, but I think it’s necessary, especially considering where the imagery and checkmate of the issue resolves itself by film’s end. A protagonist’s success only prospers when an antagonist has had their time to shine, and Johnson’s awareness to include this in this narrative that is in the majority unrelated not only raises necessary awareness for things that immigrants hear and deal with every day, but also makes each of his characters untrustworthy because of how little we truly know about them.

– Production design. This is mostly through the wardrobe and style of decor in the film’s setting. Both of which articulate the personality and influences of what’s important to each of them, once you spend enough time encased in it, but for me the champagne wishes and caviar dreams are second to the brief details that can be missed if you blink at just the wrong time. Without spoiling anything, I will say that you should pay close attention to the objects in frame during the introductions of Christopher Plummer, Ana De Armas, and Daniel Craig. Certain key’s are given to unlock not only motivations, but ultimately fates in where the story takes each of them, and I found it a very fun and secretive way to reward audiences for their dedication to soaking in every frame and angle that this movie had going for it. For me, it was knowing that leaving something which is otherwise so pointless in frame had to have some importance, and as it turns out, I was right.

NEGATIVES

– Twist faults. As to where the heart of the mystery did intrigue me enough to peak my curiosity and maintain my interest in the dissection of the narrative, the execution for certain deliveries left a bit more to be desired. With the few small twists that are disposed every thirty minutes or so, I was able to sniff them out quite easily once the script headed towards an obvious direction that all but alluded to what I saw coming. In addition to this the final big reveal is satisfying enough in the person who is revealed as the culprit, but the explanation is every bit as tedious and convoluted as last week’s “The Good Liar” did with their big reveal. If you’re someone like me who likes to be able to piece together every bit of the resolution with the evidence we’ve been given throughout the other 90% of the film, then you will be a bit disappointed that some of the final assembly requires a bit more imagination that we would have no chance at piecing together.

My Grade: 9/10 or A

21 Bridges

Directed By Brian Kirk

Starring – Chadwick Boseman, J.K Simmons, Sienna Miller

The Plot – Thrust into a citywide manhunt for a duo of cop killers, NYPD detective Andre Davis (Boseman) begins to uncover a massive conspiracy that links his fellow police officers to a criminal empire and must decide who he is hunting and who is actually hunting him. During the manhunt, Manhattan is completely locked down for the first time in its history; no exit or entry to the island including all 21 bridges.

Rated R for violence and adult language throughout

POSITIVES

– Atmospheric shot composition. New York is an easy target for depicting an after hours crime thriller, but the work delivered from cinematographer Paul Cameron offers a visual siesta of meaningful frames and neon lighting scheme to further play into the gritty appeal of the big apple. There’s a naturally illustrated luster or gloss to much of the frames per second that tangles with the often suffocating atmosphere maintained from the constant paranoia enveloped in the heat of the conflict, and while it can sometimes feel too clean when contrasted in the seedy neighborhoods and characters we embrace, it does produce a surprisingly endearing quantity of style that often isn’t present in the abundance of cop thrillers. On top of this, every once in a while Cameron hangs subtle irony over our heads, like the shot involving Andre’s moral dilemma between two sides, with an American flag hanging over his head. This is to signify what’s hanging in the balance while two sides almost quite literally burn the world down around them, from the level of social commentary where everyone has to take a side.

– Rating with a bang. “21 Bridges” earns every bit of its coveted R-rating, bringing a barrage of brutality and bullets that build the stakes one blow at a time. Sure the vulgarity is there, mostly when the scenes of tension start to mount, and the race against the clock seems more desperate than ever, but it’s the unabashed quality of violence that not only provided the perfect resounding emphasis to where each sequence ends, but also echoes the kind of permanence that is grounded in devastating realism. During the 90’s, these were my go-to’s, when cop procedurals like “Oxygen” or “Copland” visually elaborated at the kind of horrors that our men and women in blue have to deal with everyday, and while “21 Bridges” doesn’t quite equal the never-ending amount of bloodshed that hits the ground, it does pack several convincing reminders of the spontaneous danger that lurks behind every corner.

– Thunderous action. While the close-knit angles during scenes of amplified tension don’t allow us to enjoy things from a street citizen perspective, the impact felt during car crash jump scares and on-foot chases do more than enough to rattle with fledging intensity. Most of the credit belongs to a sound design that offers the biggest argument why this film should be seen on the big screen, with a series of whizzing bullets and erupting collisions that jolted me each time, but there’s enough of a grip of professionalism on Kirk’s direction that rivets audiences to the physical game of chess taking place nearly every twenty minutes, refusing to ever get redundant or stale because of the change-up in scenery that is much appreciated. These certainly aren’t the best action sequences that I have seen in 2019, but there’s enough positivity in the craft maintained to rattle its way towards one of the more destructively satisfying watches, which surprisingly aren’t given away in a trailer that was more than revealing consistently.

– Deep cast. The trio of Simmons, Miller, and Stephan James offer enough of a big screen presence and performing depth to the complexity of their characters, all the while shifting in and out of frame accordingly where the screenplay requires them to, but it’s Boseman’s near perfect focus and professional consistency that reminds how far this leading man has transformed in such a small amount of years at the focus of some insightful films. “21 Bridges” is no different, as Boseman’s Andre is caught in the middle of a political tug-of-war, during a time when many African Americans and police officers stand on opposite sides of the fence, and while you see much of this resonating on the urgency of Chadwick’s deliveries, it’s his suave swagger that constructs one of the more determined performances of his young career. He’s composed in scenes of firepower, articulate in scenes of investigation, and controlled considering he not only stands in the middle of simmering war zone, but also while holding the emotional baggage of losing a father in the field of battle when he was only 13-years-old. Boseman proves once more that his range knows no boundaries, and even in a movie as flawed as this one, he makes a constant effort to elevate the material in a way that constantly made me wonder what if the screenplay brought the same passion that he did.

– Brisk pacing. At 93 minutes long, this film never overstays its welcome or overcomplicates the amount of wiggle room in direction that an investigation like this could possibly entail. There are some satisfying, yet predictable twists that keep audiences engaged, and allows the dynamic of the chase to be tweaked every so often, right before it gets complacent for remaining grounded and in place for so long. Likewise, the jumbling of both sides, good and evil, constantly kept me engaged, and attempted a hearty amount of exposition that really helped shape them in methods that might not justify their actions, but do give food for thought in a predicament where there’s always more that meets the eye. There was never a point in this film where I was bored or frequently checking my watch, and I believe that if you buy into the characters, you will buy into the endurance of the brief runtime, which feels perfect where it stands.

NEGATIVES

– Irresponsible. It seems strange that a movie with such a contemporary conflict in today’s social landscape misses the opportunity to dig slightly deeper, and offer a grade of poignancy that feels desired in a film with an African American cop protagonist. That alone should be enough to feel the crippling confines of two sides trying so desperately to influence him to lean one way or another, but like October’s “Black and Blue”, it doesn’t even attempt to approach this subject matter with any semblance of originality or attention that is so deservingly requires. “21 Bridges” could’ve certainly been a game-changing film similar to what “The Hate U Give” did in 2017, but it seems satisfied being just a popcorn flick for moviegoers not interested in fleshing out social commentary to take with them, and stands as the biggest disappointment in a movie with no shortage of them.

– Undercooked script. The series of tropes and cliches of this bountiful subgenre are more than prominent throughout the movie, they are practically a cut-and-paste job of other, better films that knew and understood exactly what they were. Aside from the familiarity of what has come before it, the predictability of this script didn’t surprise me in any way that I didn’t sniff out within the opening twenty minutes of this film. This is of course where it feels more like a movie than ever before, as the central conflict that plays ever so prominently during the film’s trailers, is resolved with 37 minutes left in the movie, leaving obvious tricks up the sleeves of the screenwriters that could be telegraphed by Ray Charles. Finally, the movie’s title itself is every bit forgettable as the lack of originality that dooms this movie from ever attaining a passing grade. It’s a safe, limited description of what’s encased inside, and will only have the appeal of a trivia question as time goes on, for people trying to remember just what film that was when brought up in friendly discussions.

– Logic stretches. This is the kind of investigative procedural where a detective basically has the shining without ever staying at the Stanley Hotel. I say this because Boseman’s Davis is able to produce unforeseen movements of his adversaries after only seeing brief glimpses of the crime scenes. Unfortunately, it’s not a Sherlock Holmes thing, where we get flashbacks of everything playing out before us, but rather just Andre verbally explaining everything in a way that had me shouting out “WHAT?” several times throughout. This is a stretch even for a detective as experienced as he is, and the overall lack of trouble with his investigation not only annoyed me for how cut-and-dry everything was that he accurately conjured out of thin air, but also never challenged him in a way that supplanted some much needed vulnerability for the character. It’s basically a superhero narrative, and he’s T’Challa, just trading in a kickass jumpsuit for a button-up and Dockers.

– Missing actor. This is a short one, but why would you cast terrific character actor Keith David if you had nothing for him besides two lines of dialogue in the entire film? This is every bit as baffling as 2015’s “Prisoners”, where Andy Garcia had no lines throughout the entire movie, and only appeared in one of the very last shots of the movie. Especially in a film that deals with corrupt officers, why not use David in a way that benefits him and the screenplay, especially for how close to Andre’s family he is, that is established early on in the film. It’s possible that a majority of Keith’s scenes were left on the cutting room floor, but to cast a constant professional like Keith David, and not use him to even a quarter of his abilities is not only insulting for the range of this cherished figure, but also compromising to the integrity of the film, for disappointing Keith fans like myself, who perk up every time we see him.

– Thin characterization. This is entirely with Boseman’s Andre, which only stands as a testament to Chadwick’s capabilities, for exceeding with a character what is insubstantially limited on the page. The opening scene of the movie takes place during Andre’s cop father’s funeral, and stands as what I deem as the single most important scene of the film, for how it illustrates Andre’s drive to make right of the biggest wrong of his life. Other than this, the father’s untimely death is mentioned once more during the movie, with such little impact or exposition for why the event is so important to even mention again, minus of course the obvious of it being Andre’s cop father. For my money, I could’ve used slightly more exposition for Andre, especially more with his mentally unstable mother, whom he has promised to keep with him wherever he goes. The script does a big disservice to fleshing out his character, and makes him just another of the stream of police officer faces that overcrowd the movie and the 85th precinct.

My Grade: 5/10 or D+

Hustlers

Directed By Lorene Scafaria

Starring – Jennifer Lopez, Constance Wu, Julia Stiles

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

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

POSITIVES

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

NEGATIVES

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

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

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

My Grade: 7/10 or B-

The Kitchen

Directed By Andrea Berloff

Starring – Melissa McCarthy, Tiffany Haddish, Elisabeth Moss

The Plot – The wives of New York gangsters in Hell’s Kitchen in the 1970s continue to operate their husbands’ rackets after they’re locked up in prison.

Rated R for violence, adult language throughout and some sexual content

POSITIVES

– Star-studded cast. Give credit to this trio of ladies, because they are making casserole out of dogshit. McCarthy, Haddish, and especially Moss are a continuous presence in front of the camera, and offer a combination of delightful exchanges between them, as well as the opportunity in portraying a role that is against type for them, was something that gave dimensions to these usually iconic comic faces. The best for me is easily Moss, who endures loneliness, everyday abuse, and a complete character transformation that stood as the only protagonist who I found myself getting behind for support. On the opposite of that, it’s not that McCarthy and Haddish’s characters are detestable, but rather the film gives them no ounce of empathy to make you truly invest in the predicament’s of their characters, and soon it becomes two seasoned veterans of acting who are emoting through these average human beings, who don’t offer a shred of relatability to bring out the indulgence in their character’s. Aside from this, surprising cameo appearances from Common, Bryan D’Arcy James, Margo Martindale, and the loose cannon rumblings of Domhnall Gleeson round out a production of big names, who colorfully express themselves within arguably the single most dangerous place in America during the 1970’s.

– Hard R rating. What I commend this film for is it doesn’t beat around the bush in its violence or graphic material, cutting straight to the pulse of the streets for better or worse to the integrity of the environment. Some of the deaths in the movie were so blunt and unapologetic that it felt conventional for the time period, etching out a level of brutal honesty that most films try to glamorize for the sake of pleasing a rating that accomodates more audiences. In addition to this, the language authentically replicates the mob mentality, complete with four letter words and stern threats throughout that serve as the only framing device where it feels like the script immersed itself as so much more than an entertaining film.

– Female empowerment. Even with a script that does little favors in getting to know and justify the actions of our female dominated cast, the angle of being a metaphor for female inspiration is one that takes some unusual turns. It turns out that anything men can do, women can do more gruesome, especially in the instant of Moss’ character working closely with Gleeson to dispose of a body. In addition to this, each of the three women strive to overcome someone who works to keep them reserved in their role as an obeying housewife, transforming themselves in the face of adversity as this trio of terror who keep moving through the punches of adaptability. This is certainly the easiest aspect that the film could’ve attained, but it’s nice to know that it doesn’t lose its charms anywhere in the sea of male faces that could’ve easily overstepped their boundaries where the film didn’t sell it that way.

NEGATIVES

– Fumbling direction. It’s clearly evident that this is a first time effort behind the directing chair for Berloff, because nearly everything is disappointing in her visual flare for the drama that practically removes itself from this story. From her disjointed level of storytelling, to her rushed character development and sloppily rushed pacing for the story, to the complete lack of conscience associated with the editing, that leaves it feeling episodic by its brunt dissection, this is a presentation that almost immediately takes you out of it from the first scene, and leaves you feeling so dejected from the lack of adversity that makes it easier for these ladies to takeover with very little speed bumps. On top of all of this, the inspiration given to these performances make it feel like a paycheck film, and one that shouldn’t be associated with something so vital to a female director directing a female empowerment film.

– Lack of believability. This film has no time to slow itself down and set the stage for the events that lands responsibility at these ladies feet practically overnight. Especially considering that this is 1978 in Hell’s Kitchen, New York, the lack of male dispute towards a female takeover is something that I grew more concerned with the longer the movie progressed, and in terms of a story of adversity, this one has practically none of it. These dangerous male mobsters sit back because business is good, and we’re supposed to believe that there isn’t a single bone of machismo beneath their gruff exteriors, leading to dangerous home lives where a fine level of suspense could easily be developed. No mob movie should ever showcase a takeover being this easy, but “The Kitchen” proves that the only heat coming from it is the momentum that slowly omits itself with each passing scene.

– Tonally inbalanced. Being that this is actually a comic book movie, it’s no surprise that there is an element of comic timing to off-set the seriousness of graphic material that paints itself throughout the film. The problem is the level of organic that these compromising tones don’t competently balance, leading to an environmental capacity which is every bit as forced humorously as it is compromising to the true urgency of the situation. A couple of laughs here and there are fine to cool off these very surreal deaths being shown to us, but too much can leave it searching for an identity, and in this case one it never finds. The cheesy dialogue also does it no favors in capturing an essence of vulnerability within the characters, and outside of McCarthy, the ladies never feel the weight of the circumstances that they’ve drawn to them within the heat of the neighborhood, thanks to their newfound inheritance of power.

– As a period piece. While mostly cohesive with that of the essence of 1978, there’s no sense of alluring style or compelling cinematography to truly sell the dated visuals as something entrancing. There’s never any effort made to transform the neighborhood into the proper day and age, where the barrage of signs and product placement find weight in a particular age of era. Beyond this, the only time when the script tries to establish itself in its designated year is during a bar scene involving some super sloppy sound mixing, which elaborates on the most basic of conversations involving Reggie Jackson and the New York Yankees. This is definitely a conversation that could and did exist in 1978, but the most obvious in terms of story location. It underwhelms at the one thing nearly every period piece today radiates with, and never duplicates the comic book appeal that comes with splashes of vibrant colors.

– Montage game. This is two reviews in a row where valued exposition is cashed in for musical montages, which visually rush us through a story that would better be served living through the events themselves. If done once or twice, fine, but this film has no fewer than five musical montages, complete with 70’s rock tracks which manipulate the audience into feeling like they are fine with such an abrupt shredding. In my opinion, this film never had a chance to succeed if it wasn’t interested in telling a complex story for at least two hours, and through a series of montages with a show rather than tell mentality, we get a taste for the juicy parts of the film which could’ve better progressed the pace of the events naturally, giving us characters and situations that feel grown rather than topical.

– Strange storytelling methods. There’s a lot to unload here, but I will keep it brief to limit spoilers. Two major things that bothered me about the script were the introduction of Gleeson’s character, as well as a second act twist, which limits the appeal that the story was going for in two such instances. For the former, the manner in which his character is introduced not only undermined his introduction, but also the scenario that was taking place in the heat of the moment. It felt like they were going for something with dramatic pull, but neither ever attributed to such an obvious direction competently. In terms of the second act twist, there was no set-up to it at all. It’s a surprise that nobody was wondering about, which comes out of nowhere and sells itself as a twist just because. Most of this goes back to the first time director being a reputable screenplay writer all of her life, not understanding how to telegraph the impacts of these scenarios in a visual capacity, taking something that looked good on paper, yet translated terribly in uninspired execution.

– Unnatural story pacing. This is within the story itself, and not the run time of the film overall. The husbands are given a three year sentence early on in the movie, and literally three scenes later (I’m not kidding), a whole year has passed in storyboard movements. If this wasn’t mentioned from Moss’ character, I would’ve never known this at all, and the lack of digestion for time that the film so ruthlessly ignores would make it feel like everything inside takes place within a matter of days. This is as disorienting of a watch as I have seen in 2019, and if the husband’s time was anything like the passing of time that takes place in this movie, then consider it was the easiest time that any criminal has ever endured.

My Grade: 3/10 or F

Cold Pursuit

Directed By Hans Petter Moland

Starring – Liam Neeson, Emmy Rossum, Laura Dern

The Plot – Quiet family man and hard-working snowplow driver Nels Coxman (Neeson) is the lifeblood of a glitzy resort town in the Rocky Mountains because he is the one who keeps the winter roads clear. He and his wife (Dern) live in a comfortable cabin away from the tourists. The town has just awarded him “Citizen of the Year.” But Nels has to leave his quiet mountain life when his son is murdered by a powerful drug lord. As a man who has nothing to lose he is stoked by a drive for vengeance. This unlikely hero uses his hunting skills and transforms from an ordinary man into a skilled killer as he sets out to dismantle the cartel. Nels’ actions ignite a turf war between a manically unpredictable gangster known as Viking and a rival gang boss. Justice is served in one final spectacular confrontation that will leave no one unscathed.

Rated R for strong violence, drug material, and some adult language including sexual references

POSITIVES

– The harsh elements of the setting. Not since 2017’s “Wind River” has a film established the ingrediants of an environment so fruitfully that easily transcends that of the screen that we the audience are watching it on. Thanks to the immersive shot selection, as well as the various imagery throughout the picture, I found myself feeling the sting of the frost-bitten cold, combined with the isolation and confinement of the overwhelming snow that surrounds our cast of characters. Visually, it outlines a hell-frozen-over kind of vibe to replicate the actions of what is going on in the story, and it frequently gave me chills the longer we are engaged in it.

– Fresh takes on performances all around. I know what you’re thinking: this is the typical Liam Neeson role, in which he saves the day after something horrible is done to a member of his family, but that’s merely a rough take and not the entire picture of his performance. What is so different about Nels as opposed to the other characters that Neeson has portrayed is his sense of vulnerability and the consequences catching up to him with thinking on the fly. Outside of maybe his role in “The Grey”, this feels like the most relatable character of his action movie filmography, balancing enough heart and menace to the role that never forgets this man’s pain through the many dirty deeds he unloads. Aside from Neeson, I also enjoyed the work of Emmy Rossum as an upstart police detective whose soul motivation is to save the town from rival drug gangs, as well as Tom Bateman as the film’s central antagonist, who may or may not be directly out of a superhero movie for his unorthodox movements and over-eccentric personality that constantly keeps things interesting.

– A surprising direction of tone. “Cold Pursuit’s” strongest quality is in its dark and twisted sense of humor, which gives the elements at play a very ironic sense of circumstance behind them. I certainly didn’t expect myself to laugh with a plot like this one, but the film is constantly tugging at the patience of audience in the most devilishly delicious manner, showing it’s not afraid to get silly with a premise as outlandish as this one. One such example involves an incredibly slow and noisy morgue lift that would otherwise be edited for time in a typical movie, but here is played in real time to translate the awkwardness of the situation in the air. Beyond this, the deaths themselves are given a lot of free-range creativity to play around with, satisfying the crave of carnage candy in anyone who values intense revenge in circles like these.

– The immense responsibility cast upon cinematographer Philip Ogaard. Philip himself has done a lot of Danish film projects, including the original film that this movie is based on, and you can see that country of influence translate superbly to the way the film looks and feels. The color pallets have a very absorbing quality to them, in that they soak up the color scheme inside of each and every room, but beyond that they do wonders in depicting the elegance associated with these wealthy families of Denver, giving scenes of chewable scenery for us the audience to sample these extraordinary set designs. There’s also respect to be given for how Denver is presented from the wide lens angle, presenting it as sort of an isolated snowpacalypse that has paused the everyday operations of such a city.

– Unorthodox focus in where it spends its time. It’s interesting that the screenplay spends a majority of its time getting to know our antagonists, but the benefits as a result of such are rewarding in more ways than one. For my money, this creative direction gives the film a more cerebral sense, in that we are seeing the cause and effects of each and every move by each respective side, as well as it taking its time in forcing the audience to understand each calculation along the way. Beyond even this however, it gives light to these horrible people being just that: PEOPLE, and not some hokey, cliche-ridden bad guy who we ourselves can’t relate to in the slightest. It’s a big chance that pays off handsomely in giving us a who for the why, and I wish more films would take this as a much-needed gift to better flesh out the motivations of characters inside of their stories.

– Creativity in visual text. Each time a character dies, and believe me when I say there are many times of it, the film cuts to a black backdrop white text visual that gives the name of the deceased, their nickname, and an icon symbol to match each. It gives each bout of revenge a compartmentalized and almost chapter-esque feel inside of the bigger picture, and only further plays into the personality that the screenplay instills. If a character is seconds away from facing what we realize is an inevitable death, the quick cut to black visually communicates and confirms what we already knew was coming, and no matter how many times this gimmick is used, I never lost my smile because of it.

– Impactful ending. A problem plaguing many films these days is the director not knowing where to end it to leave audiences with the biggest gut-punch right before the credits, and thankfully “Cold Pursuit” never has this problem. Aside from there being some twists with its resolution that I didn’t see coming, there is one last surprise in the final shot of the movie that made me laugh, wince, and only confirmed the awesome time I had with this movie through nearly two hours. It’s one last stinger that reminds audiences of the cold and unforgiving nature of such a place, and does so in a way that the previous scenes thrived at: ironic inevitability.

NEGATIVES

– Obvious plot device introduced midway through. There’s a character who pops up midway through the film who has very little ties to either side, and whose progression and conclusion only appear because the movie needed him to. I won’t give away anything, but without this person, the antagonist would never know the name of the person coming after him, nor would there ever be any form of war between the two sides, since Nels knows his enemy and not vice versa. This character only appears for about ten minutes during the film, and because of such we know that the intention was to draw these two sides together in the most obviously sloppy kind of manner.

– Important character disappearance. One strange directing decision along the way involves Laura Dern’s character vanishing from the screen and never re-appearing or further elaborating on the relationship between her and Neeson. The reason for this to me feels like too many cooks in the kitchen in terms of characters introduced to the on-going narrative, but the mother to the deceased boy is such a pivotal and redeeming quality to a conflict like this, and only further wastes the time and talents of arguably the most talented worker in the entire cast.

– Moland’s broken promise. I am one of few American critics to have seen “In Order of Disappearance”, and director Moland has gone on record as saying he would only remake his previous film if it were completely different from his original film, and that just isn’t the case here. With the exception of different actors, and one minimally unimportant subplot, the only difference is Nels last name, with it in the original being Dickman, and in this one being Coxman. Yes, that is indeed a dick joke. My point however, is that this film is sadly an almost shot-for-shot remake that will do little for people who have seen the original chapter, and only further convolutes the definition of the term “Remake”.

My Grade: 7/10 or B

The Mule

Directed By Clint Eastwood

Starring – Clint Eastwood, Bradley Cooper, Michael Pena

The Plot – Earl Stone (Eastwood), a man in his 80s who is broke, alone, and facing foreclosure of his business when he is offered a job that simply requires him to drive. Easy enough, but, unbeknownst to Earl, he’s just signed on as a drug courier for a Mexican cartel. He does well, so well, in fact, that his cargo increases exponentially, and Earl is assigned a handler. But he isn’t the only one keeping tabs on Earl; the mysterious new drug mule has also hit the radar of hard-charging DEA agent Colin Bates (Cooper). And even as his money problems become a thing of the past, Earl’s past mistakes start to weigh heavily on him, and it’s uncertain if he’ll have time to right those wrongs before law enforcement, or the cartel’s enforcers, catch up to him.

Rated R for adult language throughout and brief sexuality/nudity

POSITIVES

– Great responsibility towards the outlook of Earl as a person. One of the things that worried me during the trailers was the film trying to cast Earl under this light of heroic happenstance that was easily relatable to anyone watching, and while the film certainly gives its central protagonist a lot of unapologetic personality, he is anything but honorable when you consider the things he puts above those who love him unconditionally, as well as some of his unabashed speech patterns that carve out a borderline racist. Especially is the case with Eastwood serving as the director and star of the movie, it gives him great selflessness to take this character in the direction that mirrors that of his real life counterpart.

– A hidden secret. It’s quite intelligent and even remotely poetic that Clint uses his own real life daughter Alison in the role of his on-screen daughter Iris. While the film somewhat drops the ball on this element of the film creatively (More on that later), there’s no mistaking that the fire and chemistry that harvests between them makes for some truly gut-wrenching scenes of dramatic entanglement. I love when a director isn’t afraid to blend the worlds of life and film accordingly, and this instance gives the movie the kind of subtle creative nuance needed to bring out the best in scenes of importance.

– Poignant approach on the value and appreciation of family. There’s nothing subtle about this element even if you’ve seen the trailers, but the underlying value of what grows beneath the phrasing as the story transpires is something that adds great depth and personal identity far beyond that of words uttered in a trailer. No matter how successful Earl is, he can’t escape the magnitude of what he gave up in life to follow his careers, and there’s strong representation with this feeling in a majority of the film being spent with Earl, alone, staring out a window, being isolated from the surrounding world, with all he has to show for his choices. Hard hitting material indeed.

– Eastwood and Cooper carve out two respectably complex characters for completely different reasons. Aside from the film measuring them as equals in terms of importance to the story, each of them are easy to marvel at for how they remarkably play against type roles than they’re used to. For Clint, it’s being depicted as this weakling of sorts, being pushed around by those of higher rank in the cartel, leaving him often the victim instead of the power player we’re used to. For Cooper, he portrays this no-nonsense FBI type that he only hinted at in “American Hustle”, and manages to grip onto with much more confidence in this film. While the film features other big names like Dianne Wiest, Laurence Fishbourne, Michael Pena, and Andy Garcia, it is the work of Eastwood and Cooper presenting us a fresh side of two reputable careers that really keeps their cat-and-mouse game fresh throughout.

– Exceptional photography of the open road. Some of the wide angle lens shots in the film are breathtaking, proving Eastwood has merit when it comes to establishing a setting and vibe comfortably, all the while visually narrating us through Earl’s many journeys. The winding road shots put us right in the frame of mind of Earl without feeling like too obvious of a gimmick, and the in-depth look at some Midwest American landscapes contains food-for-thought in the film’s valued depiction of an old soul in an ever-changing society.

NEGATIVES

– Strange social commentary. As is the case with all Eastwood directed films, he deems it necessary to take big amounts of minutes out of the film to discuss matters that are on his mind, that mean nothing to the context of the script. For “The Mule”, it’s poking fun at gay relations, certain words being offensive for minorities, and the difficulty associated with using the internet. Each of these aspects literally come out of nowhere when they’re brought to light, and end up feeling like a series of great debates started by your grandfather. Ya know, the one who never admits when he’s wrong and refuses to grow with the progressing world around him. They are all matters that are never required in the film, and only make Clint himself look like a senile spud, whose filter probably should’ve been left on.

– Sloppy editing transitions. You have to look a little more carefully for this one, but late in the first act there are some horrendous editing sequences with Earl interacting with his newfound employers that feel like a first time job opportunity for someone fresh out of film school. I say this because the continuity of characters in frame is every bit as poorly telegraphed as the variety in angles displayed from scene-to-scene of focus on Earl. What I mean by this is that he will be itching his head in one scene, while pointing at his watch in the very next cut. Teleporting in place is an aspect I never imagined with a film like this, but due to some uninspired cuts in the film, we make the impossible possible.

– Strays too far from the family narrative. There’s a period of around forty minutes in the middle of the film where Earl’s family isn’t seen or heard from amidst all of this unraveling chaos, and this has tremendous impact on the dramatic pull of the movie that feels non-existent. Without Earl saving his money for a greater cause, his intentions feel selfish, leaving nothing of focus for the character hanging in the balance for us to understand his motives. Aside from this, it gives us nothing of breather between the fight for power of the dry driving sequences of Earl singing and the pulse-setting thrill of FBI strategy that are the constant back-and-forth of this grounded screenplay.

– Tonally bankrupt. If you watched the deceitful trailers for “The Mule”, you’ll be excited to see an edge-of-the-seat dramatic thriller with all of the possibilities and none of the predictability. Sadly, this film is anything but, as Eastwood’s direction instead chooses to make 80% of this movie a comedy of all things, leaving any kind of intensity for the vulnerability of drug trafficking on the editing room floor. While the comedy is effective at more times than once, I never wanted to watch this movie to laugh, I wanted to see a cross-country chase with the elements of a western subtly nuanced beneath, but unfortunately Eastwood’s fumbling focus leaves this story feeling miles from its destination. Likewise, the trailer also gives away what few moments of tension the film artfully crafts for itself, showing us the steak before the sizzle that easily goes cold because of the familiarity we are patiently expecting.

– Anti-climatic ending. The most important scene in any film is the closing moments that remind you of the greatness you just experienced, and leaves us with the extra emphasis of driving the intention of its material home. “The Mule” doesn’t have this, in fact its final moments are so remarkably underwhelming and ineffective that the music doesn’t start for five seconds after the credits show, so as to say that even the film crew were expecting more. The only emphasis this ending provided me was an outline for the single biggest disappointment of the Winter movie season, as I was anticipating this film almost more than any other, but was left feeling the wear and tear of a film that felt like a million miles.

My Grade: 5/10 or D

White Boy Rick

Directed by Yenn Demange

Starring – Matthew McConaughey, Jennifer Jason Leigh, Richie Merritt

The Plot – Set in 1984 Detroit at the height of the crack epidemic and the War on Drugs, the film is based on the moving true story of a blue-collar father (McConaughey) and his teenage son, Rick Wershe (Merritt), who became an undercover police informant and later a drug dealer, before he was abandoned by his handlers and sentenced to life in prison.

Rated R for adult language throughout, drug content, violence, some sexual references, and brief nudity

POSITIVES

– Articulate production value in its respective decade setting. Considering I searched far and wide for something in the film to stand out as illegitimate of its 80’s establishment, the film does a solid job of echoing the very fashion trends and automobiles that were prominent in the Ford city. The males don flashy leisure suits of all shapes and color, but it’s in the furry jackets with gang surroundings where we get perhaps our most vivid take on the defining decade. These were very much the members only jackets of their time, long before it was only acceptable for a woman to wear fur.

– Variation in soundtrack that authentically represents the changing of the guard. For the first half of the movie, we’re treated to several tracks of Motown favorites, but as the film persists it’s the overtaking of rhymes and rhythm that distinguishes the change of voice within the streets. What this does is audibly represent Detroit’s transformative period from doo-wop to hip-hop colorfully enough in a way that echoes the very increase of violence and tension that we’re treated to from our character engagements.

– Presence behind the lens. There’s much to credit in Tat Radcliffe’s impeccable cinematography that unintentionally brings to life the beauty of the slums, but it would be nothing without the inclusion of Andrew Amine’s daring movements that really brings us along into this world of drug and weapon trafficking. The long takes are very persistent, studying the ever-changing locations and situations long enough to get a vibe for its danger and elegance alike, and the revolving shots that surround our cast give off the impression of life constantly moving around them with little reluctance.

– Dedication to Rick Junior. It would certainly be easy for this movie to overlook the importance of this being the youth’s story, especially with the big A-list names that more than make-up the celebrated cast inside, but Demange’s desire to see this as Ricky’s coming of age story is one that I greatly commend the movie for, in that he is the line between law and family that influence his every move as the glue between both. Mconaughey gets top billing, but the film’s unshakeable faith in keeping the focus on his kin is a decision that isn’t always easy, but one that pays off in spades for the integrity of the title and the story that never feels distracted.

– Without the family element, all else would fail. Because of the continued desire of Ricky to put his family back together, the film takes on a much more sentimental direction than I was rightfully expecting, proving itself as so much more than just another infiltration or get-rich-quick film that are currently all the rage in the drama category. In particular, it’s the bittersweet finale of a gut-punching third act that proves how much the dramatic pull was earned throughout, so much so that your heart is engaged in seeing this family outrun the live-fast lifestyle and setting that constantly surrounds them.

– Strong performances all around. What a breakthrough for Merritt, who manages roughly 90% of this movie’s story on his own. As Rick Jr, Merritt leaves enough divide in naive adolescence and street-smart hustle to represent how fast this youth is forced to adapt and grow-up to the ever-changing neighborhood around him. On top of that, the casting director couldn’t have chosen a more identical actor to play the real life figure. McConaughey gives another gripping dedicated turn as this father of two, who is trying to change himself for the better during a time when his kids are changing for the worst. Matthew emotes so much love and torture for the way he looks at his blood, and you start to really understand how vulnerable a parent’s responsibility really is, especially when their voice only goes as a far as the door their children go out to enter the world. Bel Powley was also a scene-stealer as Rick’s daughter, who herself has her own personal demons that she’s running from. This girl commands attention every time she enters the screen, and my heart ached for the decisions she made that cost her so much time along the way.

– Seedy setting. I’ve always had a soft spot in my heart for films that are set in the Motor City, and thankfully ‘White Boy Rick’ doesn’t squander the opportunity at some layered atmosphere that fill in the blanks of the imagery that surround it. Rick’s Detroit stage in the 80’s is one that still feels optimistic enough in the lurid seduction of neon lights and post-disco skating rinks, but it’s in the arrival of a cold, despairing Winter where the air of optimism quickly fades to grey, giving way to a chillingly numbing dose of reality that the characters simply can’t run from.

NEGATIVES

– Treads, but never fully walks through the poignant debate of guns versus drugs, as well as the corruption of the American judicial system. On the former, there’s a brief scene in the film where the father and son discuss their mutual poisons being unleashed onto the community, and what the real difference is between either. Unfortunately, the scene quickly and unfortunately evolves into something of bigger physical magnitude, and we’re left without a conscience for a movie that so desperately needed one. As for the law itself, it never feels like a big enough presence on the screenplay, disappearing halfway through the movie for a long period of time.

– Feels like scenes are missing. Rick moves in with his grandpa immediately after doing something terribly wrong to him? The mentioning of dad’s roommate girlfriend, despite us never seeing or meeting her? The formation of Rick’s gang and how he even met them? These are just a couple of examples of scenes during the movie that came out of nowhere, and feel like they constantly did a disservice to editing that was otherwise on-point for holding down the consistency of storytelling. These examples give off the feeling that this 106 minute movie could easily have a two-and-a-half hour director’s cut lying around somewhere.

– Questionable time transformations. While I mentioned earlier that the music, wardrobe, and production are spot-on for their respective era, the lack of attention to physical character progression is something that deeply troubled me. This film goes through four years of story, and in that time father, son, daughter, nor anyone ever change hairstyles or facial growth, or really anything to articulately translate the many lapses in time. It’s this kind of thing that constantly takes me out of a story, and is the easiest thing to clear up in terms of continuity.

7/10

Peppermint

Directed by Pierre Morel

Starring – Jennifer Garner, John Gallagher Jr, John Ortiz

The Plot – Tells the story of young mother Riley North (Garner) who awakens from a coma after her husband and daughter are killed in a brutal attack on the family. When the system frustratingly shields the murderers from justice, Riley sets out to transform herself from citizen to urban guerilla. Channeling her frustration into personal motivation, she spends years in hiding honing her mind, body and spirit to become an unstoppable force — eluding the underworld, the LAPD and the FBI; as she methodically delivers her personal brand of justice.

Rated R for strong violence and adult language throughout

POSITIVES

– Wrong Place, Right girl. Garner once again gives a stimulating performance, this time as a gang-fighting vigilante, with a lot of pain from her tortured past. In living up to the bill, Jennifer showcases Riley’s transformation as one that clearly divides the two sides of her life, before and after the murders, giving the character the perfect confliction within herself that still yearns to love and be loved. The problem is never Garner in the slightest, but rather the film’s stumbling direction, that sadly once again doesn’t live up to its end of the agreement, in the same way 2004’s ‘Elektra’ nearly ruined her career.

– This is a solid hard-R rating, and those are the kind of stances unfortunately missing from today’s action genre scene. ‘Peppermint’ is anything but sweet, and its visceral carnage candy is the kind that will resonate with audiences, for its combination of fast-paced fight choreography and impactful gun violence that never disappoint. In this regard, ‘Peppermint’ is a homage to mid 90’s shoot-em-up’s that reminded us of the high stakes that our characters so enthusiastically engage in. It feels comfortable in its skin, and there’s something that I respect about that.

NEGATIVES

– This is a film that could’ve greatly benefited from a better editor. Scenes feel like they’re missing between supposed breathing periods of the story, pasting together two scenes that bring to light the problems without allowing time in between. Riley feels like she literally flies across town with impossible speed, characters meet their fates from one scene to the next without much explanation, and the action sequences themselves sometimes feel far too choppy, especially when combined with claustrophobia in location that has it lacking detection.

– Strange effect choices. No film should ever be compared to ‘Suicide Squad’, let alone in this example, but ‘Peppermint’ brings throughout a visually forced exposition that is every bit as unappealing to the eye as it is unnecessary to character psychology. The things the film is telling us aren’t exactly groundbreaking, and the snap-cut instances of their inclusion constantly reminded me of the Joker introduction scene from the film I mentioned earlier, with characters (Including Riley herself) popping in and out of frame like a disappearing trick.

– Offensive pacing. While the film never lagged for me in a 95 minute runtime, the story progression is an entirely different story. The film’s halves are uneven, with the second half feeling like it is constantly speeding towards a red light, and this handicaps the films in many ways. For one, we are told more than shown of the deaths that matter to us. Considering the first half of the film builds up a few characters in particular who hurt Riley, it feels like a betryal that we never get to see her revenge game realized against them. One scene has three victims hung up high on a ferris wheel, and I’m curious how this was even possible by Riley alone?? Then there’s Riley’s backstory when she vanishes for five years. Talking about this time and not showing it is a GREAT misjustice because it is in those scenes where we can gain great believability in Riley’s transformation. It’s the worst kind of slop, and proves the screenwriter didn’t care enough to stack the momentum to the film’s favor. Beyond this, the film overall lacks great urgency for how easy Riley is slicing through this Los Angeles gang like knife through butter. Pacing that is too quick can greatly hinder what’s memorable about a film, and that is what you have here.

– Three different endings. If this film ends in the first or even the second scene that feels like it is wrapping things up, then I would’ve been able to commend it for the bravery and sacrifice of believing in a cause, but unfortunately that isn’t the case here. Not only does this movie sequel bait for a second chapter that will undoubtedly never happen, but it buys its way out in the easiest of escapes, making the touching scenes before it that much more pointless because of it. There’s also a third act twist, which is easily predictable for the lack of exposition given to the antagonists in earlier scenes. The reason I was able to call it out is because the film spends a little too much time with a certain character who has minimal interaction with Riley, setting up an inevitable confrontation between them that can’t come quick enough.

– A Fox News wet dream. It’s great that even during a pivotal time when gun violence in schools is all the craze, there are still movies that have an unflattering agenda to sell. I have no problem with guns being used in action films, in fact they’re basically required, but the film’s lack of responsibility that comes with picking one up is something that still greatly troubles me. Guns look cool in movies, so youths are that much more inspired to pick one up, proving that two wrongs by characters does indeed make a right. If this isn’t enough, the antagonists are of course entirely one-dimensional Mexican characters, and given an immense amount of facial tattoos that make them conveniently easy to recognize in a line-up. I’m certain that movies don’t come on after Hannity, but I believe ‘Peppermint’ might be the first.

– Same old same. You don’t have to look far for Punisher style vigilante movies over the last ten years. Hell, after March’s ‘Death Wish’, this is the second one this year with an identical premise and progression. Riley even dons a bullet-proof vest to her wardrobe that makes a die-hard Punisher fan like me yawn with displeasure. What’s troubling about this is ‘Peppermint’ never does anything to break itself away from the pack, feeling like a greatest hits or tropes and cliches for the subgenre that we mark off like a virtual checklist the longer the film goes on. Even if you haven’t seen ‘Peppermint’, you really have. It’s derivative of movies that did it better, and did it first.

– The name Peppermint itself is such a terrible title for this movie, because its usage in the film is minimal at best. Her daughter sells Thin Mint Girl Scout cookies and indulges in peppermint ice cream before the incident, and apparently this was enough to justify the title of the movie. While it has nothing to do with the film itself, a title can articulately set the mood for what a new viewer is getting themselves into. Just imagine if ‘The Shawshank Redemption’ was called Soapstone, for the material Andy carves the chess pieces out of. It’s stretching at the very least, and is a terrible one word representation for everything that follows.

– Spends far too much time with the lawful supporting cast than it does with the leading lady. This might be the biggest offense of all, because Garner feels like a supporting character in her own movie. Instead of trying to piece together Riley’s fragile psyche and taking time to value her interaction with the surrounding homeless residents who view her as an angel, we instead get this boring, by-the-books investigation that is only highlighting what we’ve visually been watching.

2/10

Kin

Directed by Jonathan and Josh Baker

Starring – Myles Truitt, Dennis Quaid, James Franco

The Plot – The story of an unexpected hero destined for greatness. Chased by a vengeful criminal (Franco), the feds and a gang of otherworldly soldiers,? a recently released ex-con Jimmy (Jack Reynor) and his adopted teenage brother Eli (Myles Truitt) are forced to go on the run with a weapon of mysterious origin as their only protection.

Rated PG-13 for gun violence and intense action, suggestive material, adult language, thematic elements and drinking

POSITIVES

– When this film focuses on the brotherly element being the forefront for the story, it’s surprisingly a lot of fun. For my benefit, the time when this is a road trip movie that pays homage to the grown up children’s movies of the late 80’s/early 90’s it works the best, and makes the most sense to the film’s title that articulates how the only thing these brothers have in this world are each other.

– Perfect film location. This film takes place in Detroit, Michigan, a city that is no stranger to the live fast style that many youths grow up with, and that concept in establishing the stage emphasizes why these characters have fallen on such hard times in each of their respective lives. For Eli, being a youth in this geography leaves him with little hope at a positive future, and it’s only until Jimmy comes back in his life where he realizes he’s not alone in the effects that this place has had on both of them.

– Tightly shot action sequences. Perhaps the biggest surprise to ‘Kin’ is that it is filmed competently enough, bringing a wide range of angle accessibility, as well as impact in devastation that makes its weight feel believable. The shot composition is versatile in its documentation of the fast firepower that comes in its direction, but thanks to the lack of shaking camera effects and average spring of cuts in between that feels nice on the eyes, we never miss any of the carnage.

– Performances over characters. This is a prime example of when a script does no favors for outlining exposition of each character, so the talented cast must go into business for themselves. Surprisingly, this is Truitt’s first feature length film, bringing with him a lot of heartache and isolation in Eli that would otherwise be mulled over in the establishing introductions. Reynor does wonders as the single dumbest character that I have seen in 2018. Thankfully, even though this character angered me on several occasions, for the selfish choices he makes, his chemistry with Truitt moves this film miles, and much of the dramatic pulse weighs heavily on their interaction with one another. I also can’t forget to mention Franco as the film’s gun-toting antagonist. James has played a villain character before, but never as energetic or as impulsive as he does with this opportunity. When you get a chance to urinate on a gas station floor, you call James Franco. He is Mister Dependable in that regards.

NEGATIVES

– Terminator Part duh? I don’t want to channel what thought process the Baker brothers were conjuring up when they wrote ‘Kin’, but I can bet it was within days of watching the Terminator franchise. Not only are plot points touched on from this respective influence, but scenes are completely played out action for action, and it’s in that obvious influence where this film constantly struggles to find a voice of its own.

– Convoluted third act dooms this one completely. For my money, the science fiction element is what dooms this film, because it’s in that where you start to see how shoe-horned this idea is with its minimal time allowance. The scenes with the gun constantly feel like they serve as a reminder that this element is still there in the film, waiting to jump in, and it picks the final ten minutes of the movie to transform what realism and grounded actions it took in the previous 80 minutes of the film to compromise it for some details that come completely out of left field.

– Indecisions doom what could’ve been. Simply put, this film tries to move in too many directions for it to ever work out to its benefit. Of the subgenres that I counted in this movie, it’s a road movie, a family drama, a violent crime shoot-em-up, and an offbeat science fiction thriller. It’s a virtual tug-of-war for creative control, and all of its disjointed pieces never form together to make one creatively cohesive project, choosing instead to throw a bunch of ideas at the wall to see what sticks. As it turns out, little does.

– Questionable cameo. In addition to everything else wrong with the film’s final ten minutes, the surprise reveal of a certain celebrity made me scratch my head for how little this person has to do. If you pay close attention to the credits at the beginning of the film, you can figure it out pretty easily, but it’s obvious that this actor wanted very little to do on-screen with this film, because they are visually represented for a matter of five minutes. Why not introduce them early on for more celebrity firepower? See my theory two sentences ago.

– Limited by its rating. Besides the fact that I still wonder what age group this film is geared towards, I scratch my head even more at the scenes that can’t be fully attained by such a tight rating from the academy. There’s a strip club scene with the dancers wearing jean shorts, gun violence that shows limited penetration and absolutely zero blood, and curse words that were obviously edited out post production with terrible A.D.R. This continues the realization that this film had zero confidence in the original vision that it had for itself, choosing instead to cross promote itself to anyone that would bite.

– Questions I have. As a nod to how much this film couldn’t explain in logic, I have gathered a couple of questions for the Baker Brothers that maybe they can someday answer. Minor spoilers ahead. Why would Taylor (Franco), a gang leader in Detroit, agree to arrange for Jimmy’s in-prison protection for sixty grand, not demand any of the money until he serves a full sentence, and then wonder why he can’t pay him when he gets out of prison? Why would a murder in Detroit turn up on a news broadcast in Nevada? Why is Carrie Coon given second-billing for the eight valuable minutes of screen time that was completely forgettable? Where the hell is Sulaco County in Nevada? and finally how did a team leave behind a gun so important, in a place where literally anyone could get it? Couldn’t they have just left it in Eli’s bag or house, or something more available to the one party?

4/10

The Happytime Murders

Directed by Brian Henson

Starring – Melissa McCarthy, Elizabeth Banks, Maya Rudolph

The Plot – A murder mystery set in a world where humans and puppets co-exist, but puppets are viewed as second-class citizens. When the puppet cast of an ’80s children’s TV show begins to get murdered one by one, a former cop (McCarthy), who has since become a private eye, takes on the case.

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

POSITIVES

– This is a funny movie without question. Whether it’s the practical sight gags of two puppets having sex, or the witty banter of McCarthy and her Private Investigator partner, somewhere some way this film is going to make you laugh, and its consistency rate is one that certainly warrants you the ability to give it a chance. My problems with the material itself, I will get to later, but you will have to have lockjaw to escape this film without falling under its spell a time or two.

– Superb cast all around. McCarthy never feels too good or famous for the material, instead having the time of her life playing against manufactured character properties while investing every bit of her body into each scene. The real movie-stealer though, is Bill Baretta (Perfect name) as the film’s central protagonist puppet. Baretta is famous as a voice actor, working with Henson properties in the recent Muppet movies, as well as a decades long career that translates his versatility in vocal range. Here, he voices three different characters, all of which sound different and delivery, but all of which hit their marks with the kind of precision of guidance that a film like this requires. Baretta’s raspy delivery is perfect for a crime noir story of this magnitude, and the chemistry between he and McCarthy transcends the hollow property that his voice is reduced to.

– Hard-hitting fight sequences. Considering the production is working with puppets, it’s incredible to see the tricks that they do in camera angles and editing to make this flow so smoothly. Most of the time, you get puppet movements in movies that feel uninspiring, lacking believability that they move without human interaction, but in ‘The Happytime Murders’ every movement responds well enough so that the puppet characters echo off of their human counterparts with little to no resistance, making for fast-paced action that rarely relents.

– No matter how you feel about the film after you see it, please make sure you stay for the credits, as there’s a brief making-of montage that colorfully illustrates how the puppet effects worked. What’s so captivating about this, is that it’s mostly green-screen digitalization that impacts why this was the perfect place and perfect time for a film like this. As to where the film fell by the wayside by the third act, I could definitely watch two hours of production features for an ensemble team who kept such a tight grip on creativity.

NEGATIVES

– Fails as a crime noir story as a whole. This is a film that is every bit predictably bland as it is compromising to its own gimmick, and both of those make the introductory intention to cast this film alongside a classic like ‘Who Framed Roger Rabbit’ that much more depleting when compared to a film that came out thirty years ago. There’s no style to compliment the gritty nature of the street game, and my ability to figure out the murderer in the opening ten minutes made me feel like I was constantly waiting for the movie to play catch-up. Even more disappointing, the film forgets about this noir style of audible narration midway through the movie.

– There are absolutely no established rules for the puppets and what counts as a vital blow. In one scene, a character is taking several punches by a human biker gang and saying that he can’t feel them because he’s virtually a soft pillow, then in the next scene he’s near death because of a gunshot wound. You can’t do one without the other, so which is it? These characters don’t have organs, yet McCarthy’s character was saved early in her career because she has a puppet liver. Also, where do puppets come from? Are they stitched? Are they born? I know it’s pointless to argue about the rules in a puppet movie, but the film’s repeated contradictions are simply too frequent to ignore.

– Repetition in material. Once you get over the giggles of seeing a puppet curse, take drugs, and have sex, you start to understand how limited this movie’s appeal truly is. Smart writing to me should work whether the characters are human or not, and there’s no way that this juvenile material would have the same effect in a film entirely with human characters. As I mentioned earlier, I did laugh quite a few times at it, but that’s mostly in the third act when the basis of the material is still very fresh. After twenty minutes, you’ll be screaming enough is enough.

– Sloppy third act. Not only does the film reveal the murderer far too early, with nearly thirty minutes left, but it also reverts to improv humor of the worst kind from two of its female leads. McCarthy and Rudolph are the culprits, and because they’ve been in every other movie together we must have an out-of-place scene between them despite their characters having no interaction up to this point, where the material stretches as long as the pacing does. Once the mystery is revealed, we should theoretically wrap the movie up, but the storytelling is still piling miles of unnecessary exposition down our throats, making the final act of the film an arduous race to the finish line.

– Nothing subversive at play here. As to where a film like ‘Who Framed Roger Rabbit’ was intelligent enough to articulate the underlying issue of cop/minority relations, ‘The Happytime Murders’ has nothing remotely thoughtful to grab onto. This film is based purely for shock factor, nothing more. It’s lacking in a deeper motion to prove that it is something entirely different than the shock-and-awe factor that is plastered all over the trailers.

– As someone who understands the impact that puppets can have on immersing people into a particular world, it’s slightly surprising that a Henson directed this. The production quality is cheap, the puppets lack any kind of eye-catching detail, and the presentation never lifts itself from this stilted quality that limits it at every turn. This is great for a short film or a limited Youtube series, but as a feature film the benefits rarely materialize, making for a sit that is every bit as frustrating as it is boring.

4/10

Billionaire Boys Club

Directed by James Cox

Starring – Ansel Elgort, Taron Egerton, Kevin Spacey

The Plot – A modern day remake of the 1987 film by the same name, the film is about A group of wealthy boys in Los Angeles during the early 1980s, who establish a ‘get-rich-quick’ scam that turns deadly.

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

POSITIVES

– If there’s any reason to see this film, it’s for Spacey’s energetic delivery as the film’s most experienced con-man. While it definitely makes me shudder to say anything complimentary of Kevin, it goes without saying that this film is enhanced whenever he enters the room, and flounders whenever he disappears. As for the rest, Elgort is terribly miscast, Egerton is failing at his best Leonardo Dicaprio impression, and Emma Roberts is completely phoning in what little material the script has for her.

– Hip 80’s soundtrack. ‘Only You’ by Yazoo is one of my personal favorite new wave favorites, but when it is presented on the same collection with Talking Heads ‘This Must Be the Place’, as well as ‘Let’s Dance’ by David Bowie, you have one of the very best assorted soundtracks in 2018. I couldn’t wait to hear what popped up next, and it’s clear that music has a very pivotal place in Cox re-imagining of this world.

– No expense spared on production aspects. The fashion trends, cars, and neon landscapes do an excellent job of elevating the important details, both big and small, giving life to the pulse of Los Angeles terrifically. This at least allowed the time period of the story to thrive visually, while almost every other aspect of the movie never lived up.

– Informative, tightly-edited 80’s montage sequences that translate the very vibe of the times. If the feature film world falters for Cox eventually, he has a place in visual storytelling in the eye of documentaries, because these instances are magnetic.

NEGATIVES

– As an adaptation of the real life events, this barely scratches the surface. The film greatly lacks the attention that is needed in depicting the transformation of Joe’s character over time with the influence of corporate greed, and truly makes him a roarschach test when it comes to gauging his reactions to the inevitable downturn that his company takes. Beyond this, subplots and character habits feel like they come out of nowhere, making this feel like a film that is cut in half, with the deleted half catering to those important bits of information.

– Doesn’t bother with backstory or character development, breezing through the first act like an afterthought. Most importantly, the friendship between Joe and Dean never feels fleshed out enough, leaving a vital bond to the story on the cutting room floor. Because of such, the third act greatly lacks the kind of impact that it so desperately yearned for.

– Tries to capitalize on the exuberance and seediness with greed that a film like ‘The Wolf of Wall Street’ tapped into effortlessly. There are plenty of instances when this feels like the Redbox version of such mentioned feats, even so much as mirroring much of Wolf’s first act scenes and situations beat-for-beat, but continuously lacking the appeal in intimate details necessary to engage the audience in its schemes. Because of this, nothing in the film ever felt believable or gripping to me, and constantly gave me the overwhelming feeling that I was one-up on the intelligence factor over investors of the 80’s.

– Undercooked love interest in the film. Because every film in 2018 requires a love story, we get one here as well, and it lacks the chemistry and conviction between Elgort and Roberts for audiences to believe it. As opposed to the lack of time devoted to the friendship of Elgort and Egerton, the love subplot is given plenty of time to prosper, but simmers because of the lack of bond that never develops with time.

– Pointless voice-over narration. It is (Once again) pointless in its usage, and more importantly adds nothing to the storytelling that we as an audience can’t already interpret. You could literally close your eyes and just listen to the obvious narration, and you will have a clear vision for what is transpiring on-screen. As if you needed another reason to not watch this film.

– Abrupt, un-satisfying ending. It feels like the film is just getting going when it’s ready to say goodbye, and it makes the mistake where it tells but doesn’t show what happens to those guilty of everything that takes place in the film. The most fascinating angles of this story are those that take place off-screen, and it’s the final nail in the coffin for a story that was told so much better on a 45 minute Youtube documentary that I watched before it.

4/10