Playing With Fire

Directed By Andy Fickman

Starring – John Cena, Judy Greer, Keegan-Michael Key

The Plot – When straight-laced fire superintendent Jake Carson (Cena) and his elite team of expert firefighters (Key, John Leguizamo and Tyler Mane) come to the rescue of three siblings (Brianna Hildebrand, Christian Convery and Finley Rose Slater) in the path of an encroaching wildfire, they quickly realize that no amount of training could prepare them for their most challenging job yet; babysitters. Unable to locate the children’s parents, the firefighters have their lives, jobs and even their fire depot turned upside down and quickly learn that kids, much like fires, are wild and unpredictable.

Rated PG for rude humor, some suggestive material and mild peril

POSITIVES

– Tonal capacity. While there are very few positives about this movie, its channeling of the proper tonal structure is one that easily masters the level of fun and hijinks that transpire throughout the film. This isn’t a film that is even remotely serious, with no antagonist or major conflict of any kind, instead taking ample amounts of screen time to flesh out its slapstick sequences and wacky atmosphere in and out of the fire station that constantly keeps the pacing fluidly moving. This being a Nickelodeon Pictures production, the third big screen release of the year for said company, they’ve managed a level of consistency within their pictures, good or bad, that hammer home a pre-established continuity in genre that makes it a sure thing for families alike.

– Lots of heart. Even if this subplot was sloppily telegraphed in the way it was rendered the longer the film transpired, the third act gives way to a fine amount of dramatic sentimentality that really sent audiences home with a feel-good kind of conclusion. With kids being a central theme throughout the movie, it’s no surprise that their influence not only transforms the crew towards a family-first initiative, but also presents the audience with a firm message of commentary on investing too much into a career. The youths within the film really are the note of much-needed clarity that the storytelling and characters lean heavily on, making them feel a level of importance to a film that Nickelodeon has no problem elaborating on.

– One good set piece. As you will come to find out later, there is very little depiction of this crew in the heat of their element on the job, but the one chance we do get provides some surprisingly beneficial results in enveloping visuals. For one, the fire itself in frame is enveloping, surrounding Cena like a shadow, and giving way to the minimal time window that the guys have in rescuing these children. On top of this, the scene is shot wide enough to accurately convey the devastation in scale that conveys there being no way to salvage this location. It illustrates urgency in a way that stands as the biggest ‘What if’ to a movie that should’ve focused on combining the realism of the profession with the majority of the child audiences, who have never been this close to the danger in the shows and films that they are used to.

NEGATIVES

– Wasted ensemble. There’s plenty of talent here in name-power to be admired, but what’s disappointing is how the direction stunts their abilities in a way that is truly appalling. On a whole, everyone overacts to the point of their characters feeling like a Saturday Night Live skit, hammering home subtlety to the point of it being as loud as a marching band. Individually is no better, as Cena takes a role that offers him no complexity or challenge in illustrating something fresh for the action star. In addition, Key does his usual animated repetition in dialogue that gets tiring around twenty minutes in, and my oh my, what has this movie done to one of my favorite actors, in John Leguizamo? When John’s character isn’t crying or acting as the fire station kitchen maid, his delivery overshoots its intended destination every single time, bringing out the true desperation of the material that makes one of the funniest men on the planet virtually unnoticed. The child actors, minus Brianna Hildebrand, lack any kind of personality or appeal that craft them as anything but a cute face to make audiences go “Awwwww”. There’s times when they look directly at the camera, others when their line reads are virtually mumbled, and others when even five minutes of freedom from them can do so much to open up the appeal of the film. It’s a losing effort all around, made even worse by the fact that not one of them is deserving of a reputable recognition.

– Humorless. Yes, there’s comedy throughout, but its the tasteless kind that involves no imagination to sell it. Fart jokes with juicy noises, slapstick physical humor so manufactured that it comes off as a cartoon, and without question the most disgusting poop joke, that is only there to give us a reason to see John Cena shirtless. The unfortunate thing is this movie knows its audience to the point that it knows it will succeed in most of these gags, but for me I couldn’t escape this overwhelming feeling of classlessness that reached for the lowest hanging fruit time-and-time-again, resulting in eye-rolling so much that nearly made me blind. This is a fine example of kids being treated like idiots in cinema, and the more we approve of it by giving them the intended reaction, the more of these tasteless offerings we will be presented with.

– Lack of believability. This is essentially everywhere. From the lack of believing in these characters as firefighters, with the way they lack smart phone intelligence or have difficulty doing the most basic tasks in their jobs, to the complete lack of firefighting sequences throughout the movie, there was never a second where I was able to give in and believe that this crew was who they said they were. For a movie called “Playing With Fire”, there’s so little of it in the movie that these characters could’ve easily been a part of any other profession, and left the dangerous stuff with the movies that use it to amplify the tension and vulnerability of its characters. This one has one sequence at the very beginning of the movie, and then give their crew the longest extended vacation in firefighting history. Probably appropriate considering their chief can’t distinguish between a poop emoji and chocolate ice cream.

– Meandering musical score. The work by composer Nathan Wang is every bit as obvious as it is uninspiring, etching out a series of musical enhancements that could’ve doubled for studio stock compositions from a Windows Media program of sampled music. It’s complacent when it needs to be inspirational, and corny when alluding to sneaky hijinks taking place somewhere in the scene. This element more than any within the production gave this a familiarity within the realm of television that is known for phoning things in. Not to take away from Wang’s other work in such prestigious films like “Rumble In the Bronx” or “She’s The Man”, but he’s certainly not involving enough energy here to make these scenes pop in a way that duplicates the range in atmosphere. Comedies don’t have to phone in their scores, as evidenced by last year’s “Game Night”. It just takes a composer who allows his instruments to lose themselves within the element of the scene, instead of just underlying what’s transpiring in the most meandered way possible.

– Cheap special effects. This is entirely in the area of post-production computer generation, which outlines as much obviousness as Katt Williams jumping out of a Lucky Charms box. Two such examples exist in this film; one that was prominent in the trailers for the film, where the little girl halts the charge of a vicious dog coming her way, and the other involving the little boy swinging from a fire hose. On the former, the dog is so obviously looking at a trainer who is much taller than the little girl, and his halting is obviously two cuts spliced together to form one intendedly cohesive movement. It doesn’t work, and comes across with a complete lack of naturalism that is fumbled in execution. As for the fire hose sequence, it’s not as bad as the former, but shot close enough and saturated with enough computer influence to keep it from looking like anything other than a toddler swinging on a rope with pressure three times as strong as his grip. It’s the shoddy side of filmmaking that completely breaks investment into the film, rendering it with a level of amateur that stands out for all of the wrong reasons.

– Unoriginal. Let’s be honest, we’ve seen this formula a hundred times. Hell, we’ve even seen it duplicated from this very director. Fickman is the same man who directed The Rock’s tough-guy-turned-soft transformation in Disney’s “The Game Plan”, and even when that premise felt anything but original in 2006, it’s virtually its own subgenre by 2019. Films like these are a dime a dozen, and can easily be articulated to a tee with a trailer that hits the familiar beats and tropes of a movie like “The Pacifier”, which served as a wall-breaking vehicle for Vin Diesel to break being typecast. As I previously mentioned, this film doesn’t manage to do the same for Cena, and thanks to a screenplay that has the same direction but in a fireman capacity, it doesn’t translate to being anything beyond more of the same.

– Predictable. Within fifteen minutes of this movie, I managed to accurately predict every single resolution that was inevitable, and what’s even more surprising is how satisfied the film is with the nature of that obviousness. I say this because there are no curve balls thrown in the conflicts, nor is there even an attempt at using its minutes for anything other than a series of montages showing these big name actors invading a toy store, or having a game of dodgeball right there in the station. I mentioned earlier of a subplot that is easily more telegraphed the longer it goes on, and it all leads to a plot twist that was not only what I predicted a half hour earlier, but also produced no shortage of questions about the twist that the movie never properly addresses. “Playing With Fire” is the kind of film that you already know what is going to happen even if you’ve never seen it, ultimately giving you the perfect alibi not to see it.

My Grade: 3/10 or F+

Arctic Dogs

Directed By Aaron Woodley

Starring – Jeremy Renner, Anjelica Huston, James Franco

The Plot – Swifty the Arctic Fox (Renner) works in the mailroom of the Arctic Blast Delivery Service, but he has much bigger dreams. He yearns to become a Top Dog, the Arctic’s star husky couriers. To prove he can do it, he commandeers one of the sleds and delivers a mysterious package to a secret location. Once there, he stumbles on a hidden fortress overseen by the nefarious Otto Von Walrus (John Cleese). The blubbery evil genius commands an army of oddly polite puffin henchmen. Swifty discovers Otto Von Walrus’ villainous plan to drill beneath the snow-packed surface to unleash masses of ancient gas to melt the Arctic and become the world’s supreme ruler. To stop this sinister scheme, Swifty enlists the help of his friends: PB (Alec Baldwin), a neurotic polar bear, Lemmy (Franco), a scatterbrained albatross, Jade Fox (Heidi Klum), a brainy engineer, Leopold (Omar Sy) and Bertha (Heidi Klum), two conspiracy theorist otters and Magda (Huston), his curmudgeonly boss.

Rated PG for some mild action and rude humor

POSITIVES

– Diverse vocal work. The dedication of this exceptionally gifted cast helps overlap the confines of the lack of characterization, which I will get to later, and help establish some vibrant personalities to their deliveries that allow them to lose the air of familiarity from their celebrity. In particular, the few that I applaud are Franco as this groggy albatross, Klum pulling double duty with two vastly different characters, and especially Huston’s Nordic accent, which remains consistent throughout some lengthy diatribes. The work of the others aren’t exactly bad or anything like that, it’s just that this trio set a bar so high that I couldn’t figure out who was voicing them in the heat of the moment, and that’s a sign of impressively gifted vocal capacities.

– Strong positive message. While this aspect is prominent in nearly every animated film today, the theme inserted into this film not only works so wonderfully for the path the screenplay blazes, but also offers youthful audience members a lot of positive reinforcement to take home with them. The story centers around the ideal of being comfortable in your own skin, and refusing to change for what society demands of you. This is prominent in the work of Swifty, as his bland skin complexion and petite frame keep him from attaining the career that he wants, but instead of wallowing in a pool of self-grief, he works twice as hard in proving the establishment wrong, and learns a lot about self-appreciation along the way. I love when films offer a profound blanket of affirmation to make the world a better place, and “Arctic Dogs” has a lot of bark to match the bite that it establishes early on.

– Beautiful color pallet. While I have a big problem with the film’s animation, the rainbow aesthetic of the film’s visual capacities preserve the air of consistency that is established by the light-hearted atmosphere of the screenplay. In this regard, the film feels like a Christmas film that is just missing the designation of taking place on the day to cement it all. It gives us an absorbing quality of white, fluffy snow, a variety of freshly painted houses that adorn a glowing quality to reflect the town’s lighting, and so many examples of splash that play terrifically against a mostly white backdrop. Entertainment Studios still has a lot of work to do on their character movements and illustrations, but their environmental paint is one that will fool enough mainstream audiences into thinking this film can compete with the likes of Pixar or Dreamworks.

NEGATIVES

– Uninspired animation. Here’s the compromise to the chewable colors that I previously mentioned. Character renderings look to be incomplete in some cases, with character mouthing movements not matching the delivery of the dialogue in some cases. This is topped by bodily movements that feel a decade late in their imaginative qualities, and instill an overall slow and dragging quality to a movie that promotes speed in its career objective. Overall, the animation lacks a strong pulse of conscience that establishes believability in these being living, breathing properties despite the lack of dimensions in facial resonation, or personal appearances that sets them apart. It helps that this is only the studio’s first animated property, but in an age when animation is doing some truly ground-breaking work with its most intimate of details, the work in “Arctic Dogs” simply doesn’t measure up.

– Failing humor. There are no laughs in this film for adults, and questionable instances of material for kids, who should be the essential focus in its visual sight gags and energetic line deliveries. One such example is a “Doctor Who” joke that comes and goes with about as much relevance as a walrus with robotic spider legs, also a real aspect within the film. I laughed one time during the film, and it was more of a hurling reaction towards motion sickness that was perfectly articulated by Baldwin. Aside from that, there’s no shortage of body humor, like the fart joke that was followed up literally one minute later by yet another fart joke. Classy material that reaches to the deepest level of bodily flatulence to attain its audience. Truly clever material.

– Action absence. The setting of the Arctic mountainside practically begs for some riveting impact, which amazingly enough never comes throughout the film. In fact, the overall lack of action sequences and scenes with even a shred of impact, keep this film’s boredom constantly attained in a movie that re-defines the term bland. So how does it settle the film’s third act conflict? By showing as little as possible of course. There is no physicality with the antagonist, as well as no moment of satisfactory revenge that would equal the devastation that would’ve been caused by said character’s evil intentions if he was left alone for even a minute. This also brings forth the overall lack of urgency that persists within the film, keeping us from investing in the heat of the conflict or the vulnerability of the characters. The predictability keeps its expectations grounded, and gives us a lack of influence from Cleese’s Otto, that makes him practically non-existent.

– Characterization. Otto also seems like a great place to start here, because his incorporation into the story comes with around 57 minutes left in the film, and proves how unnecessary he was to this underdog story that was better left without a cliche antagonist. In addition to this, because “Despicable Me” mastered this many years ago, and every other animated film has followed with more diminishing results each time, this film also has a group of cute, funny minions that back up their master with cute gibberish in their own bird language. Then there’s the protagonists, who are no better than their opposition. With the exception of Swifty’s one scene of backstory exposition, there isn’t a single instance donated to anyone else in scenes or dialogue that would better paint them with some level of history before this film ever began. The female of the group is nothing more than a love interest for a storyline that goes literally nowhere, and the supporting characters only instances of personality is to feed into puns associated with their particular breed. It makes for a bunch of empty shells that are so thinly developed that they might as well be part of the backdrops that they stand in front of. Completely inconsequential.

– Unlikely plot. I know that questioning a kids movie is like questioning the logic in our dreams, but the film’s far-fetched plot never attempts to answer the one question that stretches its setting miles from the realism of this story. If this is a village atop this mountain with no roads or clear paths for transportation, how in the hell are these dogs even getting packages to deliver to their village in the first place? It hurts even more that we never see humans throughout the film, nor do we see anything other than a truck carrying packages in the very last scene of the movie. If you can answer me where or how this stuff is delivered to them, then maybe I can start working on how tropical birds exist in a frigidly cold surrounding.

– Missed potential. This is again attributed to the screenplay, as the importance of fracking or global warming is only hinted at, and never fully realized as an influence to the chaos surrounding these characters and their situations. Maybe that will be saved for the optimism of getting a sequel. I wouldn’t hold my breath on that, based on the amount of people in my theater, but anything is possible with Hollywood. This points to a realization within the laziness of the screenplay that keeps it from reaching the emotional climax or underlying social commentary of animated films like “Inside Out” or “Coco”, instead settling for the tired and tedious narrative of protagonist overcoming the odds to reach greatness. That’s fine enough, but a film with more to say about the world outside of its screen could transcend it as a cliche kids movie, and redefine it as something socially conscience.

– Nameless soundtrack. Aside from the pleasant-but-grounded approach of the movie’s adventurous musical score from composer David Buckley, the film features three different lyrical tracks that even still I haven’t been able to track down who is responsible for. This points to another immense difference in budget between studios, as Pixar has been known to throw in a timely theme from top 40 radio to sell downloads and get kids toes tapping with familiarity. American Studios takes an ambiguous approach, incorporating a trio of songs that, while relevant to the complexion of the story’s narrative, does nothing to solidify the expense of the movie’s minimalist production. Perhaps “Arctic Dogs” will stand as the first step in the highly-necessary evolution of this studio’s quest for better days. As it stands right now, however, it’s a cheap execution lacking the kind of artistic expression to hook kids into its fluffy fun energy.

My Grade: 3/10 or F+

Inside Game

Directed By Randall Batinkoff

Starring – Eric Mabius, Scott Wolf, Will Sasso

The Plot – In 2007, when NBA referee Tim Donaghy (Mabius) got caught betting on games he worked, he said two men associated with the Gambino crime family; a bookie named Baba Battista (Sasso) and a drug dealer named Tommy Martino (Wolf) – threatened to kill his family if he didn’t give them gambling picks. That’s what Donaghy told the FBI, that’s what he told 60 Minutes, and that’s what he testified in court. But that’s not what really happened. That’s not even close. INSIDE GAME is the untold true story of one of the biggest scandals in sports history.

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

POSITIVES

– Sasso of truth. While you could poke enough fun at the casting, for how any of these lead actors don’t look a thing like the real life counterparts they are portraying, or the fact that Michael O’Keefe, who plays Tim’s father in the movie, is only sixteen years older than Mabius in real life, there is actually one solid performance in the bunch that constantly drove my interest, and it was that of Mad TV alum Will Sasso, who treats this like the Oscar winning turn that it so evidently was not going to be. Sasso is a wonder to behold, chewing away at no shortage of scenery throughout the movie, all the while embodying a drug and gambling addict with the nerves of a mental patient. It brings forth the urgency and dramatic depth within a couple of scenes that easily make them stand out in the film’s finished product, and preserves Sasso as an actor who deserves more lead opportunities in front of the camera. While everyone else is phoning in their performance as nothing more than a paycheck film, it is Will’s constant professionalism and commitment to this underwhelming production that prove he is simply too good to be involved with such garbage.

– High stakes. Even when the storytelling undercuts the opportunities that should be presented from lengthy exposition, the enveloping of some truly gripping scenes of tension materialize in the film’s early third act that earn your investment into it all over again. In addition to the many adversaries coming for this trio of friends because of what they owe them, it’s more so the deterioration of their family lives that strongly make you empathize for innocent people with nothing to do with said situation, except for the unlucky inheritance of a father with a clearly evident problem. Right up until Tim’s final game as a referee, you feel the weight of what would normally be a championship atmosphere in any sports movie, but here it represents the despair and risk of laying everything on the line for one final pay-off, and attains a level of pins and needles for this group’s darkest hour that it rightfully should not.

– Not boring. I know that sounds like a back-handed compliment, but the film’s air-tight pacing through a barely 94 minute run time keeps things constantly moving forward, leaving very little down time in between the very high’s and low’s that shape this evolving friendship. In that regard, if there is one thing that Batinkoff knows, it’s how to shape a story for fans and non-fans of sports alike, that limits boredom from ever setting in with their experience. It helps that its storytelling has a severe case of attention deficit disorder, in that it never stays grounded to soak up as much about curveballs that are thrown their way in playing the system. But more so it’s the tightness of establishing every scene as something pivotal to the development of where this story and these characters end up, giving the film an intriguing presence despite the many things that it does wrong.

NEGATIVES

– Cheap production. The aspect isn’t so much a surprise, but rather how badly it truly is. Tight shot composition’s during game sequences limit the obviousness of small crowds for the production scene, stilted editing that is consistently around two seconds off for where it should be cutting scenes, and of course the film’s lack of funds for purchasing the logo’s that these NBA teams familiarize themselves with. The last one is surprising because the NBA logo itself is represented a couple of times in the film, but I guess the line was drawn there to dig deeper into the visual integrity of the teams. Aside from this, the film’s cinematography is lacking of any style or substantial shot meaning to carve out something unique to fight off a miniscule production budget. It gives the film a made-for-TV quality that only looks worse when it’s shown on a big screen, making this one of the more strange studio releases of the 2019 fall season.

– Who’s story? It’s strange that Donaghy is a supporting character in a film about his dealings on and off the court, but even more than that it’s how the film goes these long span of minutes without even hearing from him, establishing Sasso and Wolf as the central leads for how the focus remains so tightly prominent with them. There’s no examples of self-reflection or anything complex about the character that makes his cause all the more deserving for what he’s robbed of, and makes me think that his involvement in the picture was very limited if anything at all. It would be like making a movie about the music of Kanye West, and then establishing Jay-Z the central protagonist. This is easily the biggest problem with the film’s overwhelming lack of information that goes unaddressed with a film that was supposed to donate 94 minutes to tackle such a subject. It’s kind of shameful.

– Magic of montage. As I previously mentioned, the exposition is limited throughout this film, and what this does is causes character traits that weren’t there before to pop-up in a way that makes us feel like we’re watching a completely different film. An example is in Sasso’s drug use, which goes from conventionally stable to out-of-control chaotic within about ten minutes of screen time, disallowing anything to materialize naturally because of something pivotal that transpired on-screen. There are three of these montages used throughout the film to fill in the gaps, and it’s compared to something like the movie “Click”, where Adam Sandler fast-forwards through key moments of his life, and is then surprised at the current state of where he lands. There’s enough intrigue in the story that it should’ve just went the documentary route with its story, instead of a film that meanders character motivations in a way that makes them feel bi-polar.

– Detestable characters. This was the hardest angle to get through for me personally, because there’s never a shred of empathy or hope that these trio of man-children will escape the inevitable fates that await them. Compare this to another real life story depicted in film like “The Wolf of Wall Street”, and you start to understand and appreciate how Scorsese never overlooks the horrible things that these men in suits do, but does outline them with a layer of humanity that helps us understand their reasons for doing so. In “Inside Game”, no such thing exists, as these are three Philly boys who do drugs, cheat on their significant others, and put their families in financial jeopardy in ways that are so selfishly condemning towards the appreciation of their characters. It made it to where I couldn’t wait until karma caught up to them, offering no level of civility to the perils of greed that overcome them whole.

– Fumbled sound mixing. This is always one of my favorite productional aspects to point out because it’s something so easy to attain, that nearly every movie stumbles on. For this movie, the two that I point to are in the heat of the arena, as well as a scene early on within the club, where the noise of others in the setting is about as established as a paper bag blowing somewhere in the background. The conversations between characters aren’t muffled or overrun in the slightest, and even when a character isn’t shouting or mouthing words in slow, bold movements of the mouth, you can still hear them like they are shouting in your ear. Try to do that the next time you’re in a dance club with a friend, and write down every word they said to you. I guarantee you won’t get half of their words correct.

– Movie cliche 1,363. This is another personal favorite of mine during the sports genre, for how ridiculous it appears in conjuring up reality. In this instance, Tim’s parents are watching the basketball game at home that he is referee on, and even during moments where a play is being run, the camera within the broadcast is focused on him and his reactions towards plays. Once again, imagine this in the real world, where Lebron James is bouncing a basketball out of the frame of our commitment to documenting referee Ken Mauer watching the play in question. This is obviously only done to illustrate the communication between two characters who are in a different setting from one another, but it soils the values of immersing ourselves into the realism of this established environment for the sake of visual stimulation.

– Strange narration. This is not done by Donaghy, but rather his best friend Tommy, who is arguably a distant third to audience investment between this trio of characters. It’s bad enough that his narration offers only an echoing quality to what transpires on-screen before us, but he also only pops up around three or four times in the film to begin with, making the gimmick feel every bit as unnecessary as it is unsubstantial to its inclusion. Finally, the last drop-in features no shortage of basketball puns to throw into the comparison of what the guys are currently going through, and it got so annoying that I screamed out “ENOUGH IS ENOUGH” in my empty theater. Yes, even at over 1400 reviews, films still find a way to antagonize me in a way that makes me quite literally scream.

My Grade: 3/10 or F+

Jexi

Directed By Jon Lucas and Scott Moore

Starring – Adam Devine, Alexandra Shipp, Rose Byrne

The Plot – Phil (Devine) has a major dependency issue; he’s addicted to his phone. He has no friends, he has a job writing pop culture “Top 10” lists, and his love life is non-existent. But his Facebook status is about to change. When he is forced to upgrade his phone, the latest model comes with an unexpected feature…Jexi; an A.I. life coach, virtual assistant and cheerleader. With her help, Phil begins to get a real life. But as he becomes less dependent on his phone, Jexi’s artificial intelligence morphs into a tech nightmare determined to keep Phil all to herself, even if it means ruining his chances of finding success.

Rated R for strong/crude sexual content and adult language throughout, some drug use and graphic nudity

POSITIVES

– The Setting. Over the last year, San Francisco has become arguably my favorite filming location, and with “Jexi” being the third film this year that I’ve seen to capture such a beauty, it’s clear why it is becoming the second coming of New York for film. Captured by no shortage of breathtaking wide angle lens photography, as well as an airy atmosphere internally that banks on the values of positivity and spontaneity, the Golden Gate city seduces us with its big city feel for its grounded everyday people. With each opportunity to bask in the glow of its never-ending sunshine and mountainous roads, the team of Lucas and Moore establish such a presence within this place for the film, that despite neither of them actually being from San Francisco, establishes the value of its importance to the unfolding of the story.

– Deeper meaning. Regardless if this film chose to capitalize on it fully or not, I found the self-commentary alluded to technological addiction to be one that was very moving to someone like myself, who also has difficulty stepping away from such modern day privileges. 2013’s “Her” did do it better, but there’s enough with “Jexi” that isolates and depicts it for the toxic that it can truly become in separating ourselves from human interaction and the relationships needed to grow and harvest the lifestyle that each of us yearn for. For Phil, it starts with irresponsibility on the part of his parents, for giving him this gift at such an early age. He has used it as the crutch that keeps him from ever truly fighting for the things in life that he wants, and that distancing has created barriers for technology used to bring us closer. I appreciate a film’s responsibility, especially during the peak of technology’s powers, to focus on the terrors that can come from such addictions, and even through the eyes of a comic genre rendering, still gets its lessons across for the things needed to keep us from becoming this shell of a man.

– Hilarious at times. I’m usually not a supporter of crude comedy with very little reasoning in a story that doesn’t truly require it, but the gags and punchlines for several instances of hearty laughter is exceedingly sold by the timing and commitment from Devine to get them over. Most of it is awkward humor, in how he embraces dating and friendships for the first time ever, but for my money the true brace for the film’s comedy resides in the vocal capacity of Byrne as this deconstructive tool for better or worse in Phil’s life. With only a vocal capacity, Rose emotes more disdain and discontent for this man than most can do with a majority on on-screen presence. The way she sells his ignorance not only stood as the voice of logic in a film full of illogical people, but also for the way her sarcasm molded him into feeling helpless quite often throughout this movie. Even if you take nothing else away from “Jexi”, it will give you the few necessary laughs to constantly keep you engaged with the picture, and cement the endless boundaries that comedy can explore with the desirable R-rating.

NEGATIVES

– Who are these people? No, I’m not saying that with a Jerry Seinfeld accent, but rather a desperate plea to the movie for the many disgusting and unrelatable personalities who I wanted to spend no time with. Characters in this movie are a Saturday Night Live sketch, or an overly animated commercial used to catch the attention of bored channel surfers. None of the conversations feel or sound authentic, and none of their decisions feel logical in the slightest, and it creates this unavoidable feeling of satire if “Black Mirror” was written by a stoner with zero priorities. It’s rare that characters will take me out of a movie completely, but after the initial introductions with Michael Pena’s boss-man character, or Wanda Sykes overzealous phone salesperson, I couldn’t believe anything that this screenplay was presenting to me. It basically outlines no consequences for terrible people, and in a movie where this voice from a phone is supposed to be our antagonist of sorts, this artificial intelligence is easily the most logical thinker who you will find anywhere in this movie.

– Speedy runtime. “Jexi” becomes the second movie this weekend that I abuse for its minimally acceptable runtime to barely warrant a big screen capacity. At 79 incredibly flawed minutes, the film whisks by at a marathon runner’s pace, breezing through important subplots and storytelling developments that are presented in a blink-and-you-might-miss-them mentality. The greatest example of this problem is in Jexi’s ever-changing attitude towards Phil, which could stand as a literal representation for Katy Perry’s “Hot or Cold” smash hit. So much about the theories of cause and effect are shoe-horned into the very same scenes, and they establish a sense of long-range storytelling and high stakes conflicts not residing anywhere near a film with such a short attention span. This one could’ve easily used another twenty minutes for Phil not only to confront the demons of his past with uncaring parents, but also to draw out the typical third act distancing, that comes and goes without fleshing out the loneliness of the situation.

– Television style production. It’s funny that Devine stars in this movie because much of the cinematography and handheld approach to filming it feels like an episode ripped straight from the clutches of a “Modern Family” episode. This is of course complete with unnecessary zooms on a character speaking, or editing transitions so amateur that they stitch two polarizing scenes together with prolonged audio from the previous scene to stretch over into the following one. I don’t watch a movie like “Jexi” for quality filmmaking, but the lack of technical mastery to compliment an already breezily told story made it very difficult to hold weight or even invest into the plights of these people. Nothing about it screams big screen appeal, and if I were brought in blindfolded, I could easily be convinced that this was a straight-to-streaming snoozer that could’ve been avoided from the public eye if the studio didn’t stretch its faith with this having an appeal for paying audiences.

– Redundant musical score. Pretty much the only way to alienate me when it comes to music in movies is to deliver such minimal effort to the compositions manufactured, and in this regard Christopher Lennertz and Phillip White set a new precedent for laziness in audible tonal depth. It’s not enough that the same ten seconds of musical familiarity repeat for the entirety of the movie like an 8-bit Nintendo game only capable of storing so much audible storage, but it’s also so unappealing in its jarring noise that it makes you shudder just thinking about a transition scene that will inevitably come within the next few seconds. Sure, there are a few lyrical tracks sorted throughout the film, like Kid Cudi’s “Up Up and Away”, or One Republic’s conveniently titled “Connection”, but it always comes back to a musical score so inept of transferring human emotion to its audience that it too feels like the very artificial intelligence inserted into Phil’s phone that leaves him equally annoyed.

– Sloppy editing. If you ever have trouble understanding what constitutes a terribly edited sequence, just watch this film’s first meeting between Phil and his two co-workers who eventually become his friends. It takes what should easily be these long takes of character dialogue deposit, and slices them in a way that covers the reaction of such dialogue from every angle but the bird who is temporarily sitting on the window to rest after his long journey. It’s attention deficit for scene transitions, and what’s worse of all is it’s visually so unappealing and distractive that it often kept me from committing myself to the heat of the dialogue to understand important tidbits of information that I knew would come into play later on. This continues the terribly underwhelming production that I alluded to earlier, and renders “Jexi’s” visual capacities overly-influential when playing it conventional for an everyday Rom-Com would’ve been enough to get it a passing grade.

– Hard pills to swallow. There is no shortage of this anywhere in the movie, as the film’s horrendous leaps of continuity from shot-to-shot is only eclipsed by its complete lack of logic in understanding how cellular phone hard drives actually work. For one, the terms of condition aren’t something that you read once, and never again. It’s a very long list that is always present in your phone settings, and like those settings, easy to change or alter at any point with your experience. Secondly, I wonder how this company that produces the phones has managed to survive for so long, when this A.I is destroying important aspects of people’s lives. If you can overlook this aspect, you can also believe that there’s a McDonald’s on Saturn. Thirdly, there are consequences at the end of the movie that Jexi has done to Phil that he won’t ever be able to recover from, particularly in the form of money. This is given the kind of attention that Henry Bowers received in “It Chapter Two”, because it is never mentioned again, and all is forgiven with these cute hijinks. Finally, there’s a scene where Phil plugs back in his phone after Jexi tells him that she is at 3% battery. This of course is after she has threatened his girlfriend, and made life difficult for him throughout this movie. Here’s an idea; let the battery run out. See where it goes from there. We will never know because this, in addition to a cellular conflict that never gets fully resolved, is never attempted at. Maybe for fear that it will daringly push the ambitious runtime to a heart-stopping 82 minutes. SHOCKING!!!

– Tonally incompetent. This movie is marketed as a comedy, but I feel like the events in the film point more to a psychological thriller that would otherwise elicit some impactful moments once the phone starts abusing its powers. Because there’s no urgency to the vulnerability that Phil emotes, we never find ourselves feeling truly sorry for his dire situation. Beyond this, the film could pull a twist ending where Jexi doesn’t exist in the capacity that we hear her in, but rather a ploy in Phil’s mind, after a troubled childhood that we saw in the film’s opening sequence. I’m sure it sounds stupid, but it certainly beats a movie ruining a guy’s life, and it being played off for laughs.

My Grade: 3/10 or F+

3 From Hell

Directed By Rob Zombie

Starring – Sheri Moon Zombie, Sid Haig, Bill Moseley

The Plot – A sequel to the 2006 hit “The Devil’s Rejects” pairs our favorite maniacal trio once more, this time being imprisoned for their crimes. The film picks up after the events of the previous film, and is the third in Zombie’s trilogy.

Rated R for strong sadistic violence, adult language throughout, sexual content, graphic nudity, and drug use.

POSITIVES

– Throwback production quality. If you commend Zombie for anything in the director’s chair, it’s his ability to transport us to a time and place that he knows and admires fondly, giving his presentations a stand-out quality for very little buck in budget. As is the case with the first two films in this series, this one also takes place in the 70’s, and we’re treated to immersive values repeatedly in the form of grainy cinematography, complete with side-sliding transitions, classic cinema and TV shows that fill constantly pop-up from time to time, and a collection of Golden Oldies rock favorites that help to perfectly articulate the atmosphere within the scene. Everything lines up synthetically with the desired time frame, especially the variety in camera qualities, which articulate a documentary feel during the first act of the movie, and a full-fledged Western for the second. It cements once more the influence that this period had over Zombie’s filmography, and treats us to a confidence in style that he uses to differentiate from other horror films set in that era.

– Bill Moseley. The performances are mostly hit or miss for me, mainly in the form of Sheri Moon Zombie who once again substitutes dramatic depth for mumbling and inane bullshit, but Moseley’s growth as Otis is a pleasure to endure. His character is forced to take more of a leadership role in this film, and under the pressure of opposition in many forms, we are treated to a man who is every bit as confident as he is unforgiving in the clutch. Bill has always been one of my favorite horror actors of all time, but as this Charles Manson twin with a vendetta to constantly burn, his captivates and captures the attention of the audience with enough charm in personality, as well as aggression in brutality, which really defines what this family of psychopaths is all about. I could watch a one man show of this man, and really I wish I did. The movie is better every time he’s on screen, and worse when he isn’t.

– A new direction. The first half of this movie bored me, mainly because it doesn’t set itself up for any long term conflicts or character exposition besides our killer trio. The second half however, takes a couple of cues from “The Devil’s Rejects”, which while doesn’t land as effectively as the consistency of that prior film, does at least give us something to peak our interest in the form of conflict. It really goes from being a buddy road trip comedy to a western shoot-em-up, and the stakes of revenge come in the form of a man who has been wronged by this group during the early stages of this movie. For my money, I wish the first half of the film would’ve been cut shorter, and more time spent on this engaging evolution. It would’ve better fleshed out this rival of the Fireflies, as well as teased the urgency of the arrival in ways that doesn’t feel fully earned from the direction of Rob.

NEGATIVES

– Tasteless dialogue. I understand that asking for substance in a Rob Zombie movie is the equivalent of asking for purpose for a Tyler Perry one, but the lines and material uttered throughout this film felt like a child learned to curse for the first time. You’ve heard it before, it’s when Rob uses the F’ word every other word, usually mumbled so quickly and rhythmic that it lacks clarity in the ears of the audience. If this wasn’t enough, scenes drag on for an eternity because of this drifting in subject matter that changes at the drop of a hot. Improvisation is the biggest victim of the Fireflies madness, stretching scenes of purpose on for an eternity, in a way that will have you checking your watch if you can’t afford a Dave Chappelle “Wrap It Up” box.

– Hideous camera work. I commended the cinematography earlier, but the handheld styles used by Zombie here are among the very worst that I have seen in an action or any other respective genre in 2019. Besides the depictions feeling far too close to accurately convey the intended purpose of what is playing out in the scene, the editing instilled is choppy and full of abrupt machine-gun cuts that could certainly cause motion sickness to the wrong person. The physical conflict scenes are shot so poorly that more times than not you will have to mentally fill in the blanks to what you’re seeing, and while it’s so obvious that this purpose is to cover up a lack of believability from an aging cast, what we’re left with is something so visually disruptive that I had to look away each time any scene with physicality popped up.

– The kills. There’s nothing of style or substance to brag about here, and the lack of creativity given to scenes of permanence for characters made these instances feel like deleted scenes from “House of 1000 Corpses”. I say that because the brutality is certainly more in the tasteful direction of the first movie rather than its western genre dominated sequel, but nothing encased ever pierced my perceptibility, or made me feel squirmish from the finished result. Is there buckets of blood? Certainly, but the abundance of dependability upon them makes the red lose its appeal midway through the film, and had me in particular seeking some level of ingenuity to accentuate their existence. With a little bit of restrain, Zombie could earn more impact out of these instances, but the repetition in their demand makes them feel like a cliche by film’s end, and soon the main reason horror hounds are there in the first place turns into the biggest thing they are trying to escape.

– Rob Zombie. I know this man is capable of directing as proved in “The Devil’s Rejects”, but the decisions made by him in this film remind us why he hasn’t had a successful film since that 2005 occasion. For one, no character is anything but one-dimensional. Sure, there are times when it looks like the killers will question their dwindling existence, but nothing every materializes from it. Beyond that, it’s the lack of pacing used in these tense and anxious sequences that doesn’t master amplification when it comes to teasing audiences on the edge of their seats. For my money, this feels very much like a fan service film for Zombie, refusing to add anything of variance or originality to the series, and instead reaching for the same low hanging fruit that he has been riding on for two decades of filmmaking.

– Sluggish pacing. I wonder if I should even describe the details or just tell you that a man behind me in the audience fell asleep almost midway through this movie, and started to snore loudly to the delight of the audience. I can’t say what did it for this poor soul, but my guess is the dragging length of scenes that could easily be cut, but are left running to beat a laughing gag into the ground. In addition to this, the film itself is a story of two halves, feeling like two different films and directors are fighting for screen dominance in majority, and in this regard the worst half wins. Getting over this initial conflict during the first two acts of the movie takes far too long, and could easily be shortened if even a shred of logic was used by the script or these antagonists to save them and us some time. For a movie that is just under two hours, it feels like twice that, and thankfully Fathom didn’t include behind the scenes footage, or this run time would’ve inflated even more.

– The reason. How the Fireflies survived the events of “The Devil’s Rejects” was my biggest concern for this movie’s existence, and while the film did go the conventional horror route in those regards, the result is one that hurts two films for the price of one. It hurts that previous film because it takes away from the finality and impact of the film’s final shoot-out, which I felt was the most perfect way for revenge to finally catch up to this family. It also hurts this film because it removes any level of vulnerability or human quality for our trio, considering they’ve already been through much worse than anything this film could ever throw at it. This explanation lasts for about two scenes, and beyond that they never show even a tear of effect for what they went through, making Jason Voorhees scratch his head with the lack of logic.

– Nothing to say. There’s an attempt at some deep-seeded social commentary that Zombie is never smart enough to capitalize on. It happens during a couple of scenes, but mainly the scene in the intro, where a group of protesters are chanting to “Free the Three”. This speaks volumes at our nation’s love and obsession with serial killers, and could’ve worked wonders for the jaded line that these three toe in fighting for their freedom. Zombie, for whatever reason, never pulls the camera back from the trio of focus, adding another problem to the movie’s lack of protagonist that would’ve better established it as something more than just another reheated slasher special. It certainly beats treading on the familiarity of the first two films, leaving very little justification for its existence, and proving that the third time is indeed the harm.

My Grade: 3/10 or F

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

Annabelle Comes Home

Directed By Gary Dauberman

Starring – Vera Farmiga, Patrick Wilson, Mckenna Grace

The Plot – Determined to keep Annabelle from wreaking more havoc, demonologists Ed (Wilson) and Lorraine (Farmiga) Warren bring the possessed doll to the locked artifacts room in their home, placing her “safely” behind sacred glass and enlisting a priest’s holy blessing. But an unholy night of horror awaits as Annabelle awakens the evil spirits in the room, who all set their sights on a new target–the Warrens’ ten-year-old daughter, Judy (Grace), and her friends.

Rated R for horror violence and terror

POSITIVES

– Enjoyable cast. This is remarkable considering the lack of valuable exposition and laughably bad dialogue did them no favors in getting their characters over for audiences who have seen many important characters throughout the two series that are converging together. Despite a lack of meaningful screen time, Farmiga and Wilson are once again a delight to witness on-screen. The chemistry that exudes between them, as well as the grasp in confidence that each of them has over terrifying circumstances outlines the perfect protagonists for a horror film, whose greatest strength is the bond that only grows stronger with each terrifying case. The valued new addition is Mckenna Grace, who seems perfectly fit to be cast as the Warren’s daughter, thanks to her intelligence in paranoia, as well as her overall introverted demeanor that buries her in isolation at school. Grace is the constant lead on-screen, and provides frightened delivery that is decades ahead of her age, giving the film urgency where the inexperienced directing constantly lets it down.

– Seamless production design. Perhaps my favorite aspect of the Ed and Lorraine Warren films is their targeted setting of the 1970’s, which gives the production many chances at establishing something unique to the backdrops and imagery. In this film, the combination of throwback wardrobe, muscle car sedan’s, and attention to detail on the shelves is something that constantly impressed me, and established a level of accuracy for the film crew that gave us substance in the form of constant reminder. There’s a supermarket scene in the film that features an abundance of sugars, cereals, and candy to name a few, and the proper labels being used for the time fill an entire aisle of goods, further continuing the level of visual mastery that “The Conjuring 2” set the bar for. Beyond this, the soundtrack is full of decorated 70’s favorites, like “Dancing In the Moonlight” by King Harvest, and “Baby Blue” by Badfinger, to name a couple, cementing an inescapable presence of decade enhancement solidified by the lucid production value that continuously rings true.

– Cameo by comedy. There is finally some humor introduced to such a terribly bland franchise, and the results are mostly positive. The film’s script takes us through awkward teenage interaction in the form of two youths who have feelings for each other, and the way it is incorporated into this sadistic world that is happening around them brought to mind feelings of 90’s horror films, where the character’s love for each other almost feels unflinching despite everything transpiring around them. There’s a scene that pays homage to John Cusack’s performance in “Say Anything”, and the way that the young man who performs it plays it off speaks heavy reminders to the weak knees and embarrassment associated with puppy love. The humor incorporates itself without ever taking the tone hostage, and along the way I was treated to a few solid laughs that got me through some otherwise dry scenes of character interaction that often feel like they drown on for a few minutes too long.

NEGATIVES

– Counterfeit dialogue. People who watch horror movies usually associate this aspect with bad acting, but the work by the collective cast here is exceptionally positive. What hurts is these lines that are ever so evidently written by old men, and meant to authenticate that rich teenage dynamic that instead comes across as trying a bit too hard. The groaning that came with listening to these exchanges left me cringing in my seat, and created that feeling of unity between eight people in an auditorium, when you’re all feeling the same way at a particular time. One repeated line that was beaten into the ground more times than Disney remakes was a character’s nickname, who every single character shed light on in their own different way, and it got to a jaded point of overkill that practically made me scream “I GET IT!!” by the sixth or seventh time it’s mentioned.

– Pointless R-rating. This one is a mystery to me, because there is so little violence, peril, or even adult language in the film, therefore no reason why this film couldn’t have been marketed as PG-13 to open its scope up to a larger audience. The material certainly isn’t elevated because of this deeming, and I can’t point to a single scene or scare during the film that cemented this movie worthy of receiving the cherished R-rating to horror audiences. Perhaps the MPAA is getting soft as the decades fly by, but “Annabelle Comes Home” is one of the strangest uses of R-ratings that I’ve ever seen, and offers nothing of substance or reminder to plead its case. There are other 2019 horror films that did more risque visually, and they were given PG-13, so what gives?

– Manipulative advertising. If you haven’t figured it out by now, Ed and Lorraine Warren are in this film all of about ten total minutes, and considering the trailers marketed them as prominent figures in the film, it’s a shameless manipulation to say the least. Every horror franchise has one of these; a chapter in the franchise where the established stars are only used as a cameo, but are further elaborated on constantly throughout the film, reminding us of a better film that is biding its time somewhere off in the distance. This film reeks of a paycheck film for Farmiga and Wilson, who the film doesn’t even cut back-and-forth to while so much mayhem is taking place inside of this house with their daughter. It gives the usual loving couple a feeling of uncaring nature to their lack of incorporation in the film, making me constantly question why parents wouldn’t call and check in on their daughter at least once during the course of a sleepover, right after you took in this devilish doll.

– Where’s Annabelle? Speaking of manipulative advertising, we get it again in a doll character who, like her two human protagonists, couldn’t be bothered to show up to do anything except sit on a chair for the majority of the film. While this is certainly nothing different for the Annabelle antagonist, what forms because of it feels like a shameless plug for future franchise installments that puts “Justice League” to shame. We get scares and attacks in the form of other cursed materials in the Warren’s basement, taking valued time of film exposition to give each of these killers a backstory on their way to sequel solitary. If we do in fact get a bride sequel, or a sequel involving this strange fucking warewolf thing that feels like a holdover from the Dark Monsters Universe, then we will know the true intentions behind “Annbelle Comes Home”, a homecoming so lacking focus that it never feels like the most interesting antagonist in her own movie.

– Wrong road taken. In the fork in the road creatively between The Conjuring and Annabelle, this film rides with the latter for its scares department, harnessing a combination of cheap jump scares and hokey production involving no shortage of fog, that lets a franchise on the rebound down. Not only are the jump scares completely predictable and formulaic, but the Macguffins used to temporarily throw-off audiences aren’t even clever in the slightest. “Annabelle Comes Home” feels like a movie that I’ve already watched four previous times, except here the timely scares have reached Netflix level qualities of telegraphed depiction, frequently straining the pacing of the scene, as well as the attention of the audience before it lands on its scheduled destination. As a result, it’s the least scariest installment of a franchise that included a film where we didn’t actually see Annabelle move or do anything throughout the film.

– Boring. This film is barely 100 minutes, and constantly feels like it’s around 20 minutes too long, thanks to unnecessary footage left in that only prolongs scenes involving zero tension. For the first act of the film, there is one intended scare, then over thirty minutes of repetitious exchanges between characters. When the day turns to night, and we actually expect these scares, the film takes forever getting to the heart of the moment, testing our patience with false alarms and Macguffins that took a five hour road trip getting to the gas station of enthusiasm to excite its audience. Surely some of these scenes could’ve been trimmed for time, but the fact that the script doesn’t have an additional subplot like Ed and Lorraine to bounce off of and check in on from time-to-time, leaves it stranded in this one bland, lifeless setting for the duration of the film, creating an arduous task of getting to the finish line of no actual reaped rewards.

– Speaking of which, the overall lack of weight and consequences to the film is highlighted during its closing moments, in a scene where you could practically hear your cash being flushed down the toilet. SPOILERS………..You’ve been warned. Here we go. All of the film’s survivors (Essentially every character in the movie) meet at this birthday party, where it’s hinted at that they never tell Ed or Lorraine about what transpired on that one terrifying night. When a horror film ends with a secret, it means nothing of consequence or permanence emitted from it, meaning that this film could easily be wiped away from the continuity of the franchise, and not a single goddamn thing would be lost because of it.

My Grade: 3/10 or D-

Godzilla: King of Monsters

Directed By Michael Dougherty

Starring – Vera Farmiga, Millie Bobby Brown, Kyle Chandler

The Plot – The new story follows the heroic efforts of the cryptozoological agency Monarch as its members face off against a battery of god sized monsters, including the mighty Godzilla, who collides with Mothra, Rodan, and his ultimate nemesis, the three headed King Ghidorah. When these ancient superspecies, thought to be mere myths, rise again, they all vie for supremacy, leaving humanity’s very existence hanging in the balance.

Rated PG-13 for sequences of monster action violence and destruction, and for some adult language

POSITIVES

– Articulate computer generation. All of your favorite Toho monsters return to the silver screen, and are each given an upgrade in rendering that brings out the true diversity and grand scale in each character design. Godzilla is not only as big as he’s ever been in size and strength, but the rough texture that tells the stories of the various wars he has been through, compliments the gigantic lizard in ways that immediately capture your attention and intimidation of him in all of his god-like presence. In addition to this, most of the movie is computer generation, and what worried me about that initially was the loss of weight being diminished in artificiality, but thankfully the devastation feels every bit as thunderous as it does expansive, giving us the same kind of colossal damage that we all grew up loving, for half of the price and physical labor going into making and destroying live action sets. It gives the events in the film an air of permanence on a global scale that logically will make this easily the most difficult to clean up from of all of the Godzilla franchise.

– Bear with me. Music composer Bear McCreery steals our audible attention seamlessly with a scintillating musical score that pays tribute to classic Godzilla chords, all the while distorting the music in a way that creates something completely fresh and unique from the ages old piece. Godzilla’s main theme is of course heard a couple of times throughout the film, but it’s after those initial familiar intro notes where the track evolves to paying homage to the art in motion that we are seeing displayed before our very eyes. McCreery manages to capture the true wonderment and astonishing nature of the character, echoing his invasion to these scenes with operatic levels of volume that practically forces audience members to the edge of their seats for the brutality that is sure to follow. Also intriguing is a collaboration that Bear has with System of a Down front-man Serj Tankian, in covering the classic Blue Oyster Cult stadium anthem “Godzilla” for post movie credit sequence. In total, the music plays a pivotal role in amplifying the tension and drama of the moment, and establishes an influence by Bear that is every bit as immense as the movie’s title protagonist.

– A surprise behind every corner. I knew of the first three or four celebrities who were in this film, but I had quite literally no idea the depth of big name personalities that make up one of the best collective ensembles in a disaster movie ever. What’s gratifying is that none of them are a temporary cameo, sticking around for the entirety of the movie to give this installment a higher value of caliber than we’re rightfully used to from this otherwise hokey franchise. I will choose not to spoil any of the names, but for my money the supporting cast is what kept me constantly intrigued into the movie, and the main character’s dominance of the screenplay did them zero favors in gaining popularity the longer you spend with them, and it’s nice to know that Godzilla’s timeless influence rings true for even some of Hollywood’s most elite actors and actresses, as they simply can’t turn down a chance to act in infamy.

NEGATIVES

– Same shit, different day. The very same problem that I had in 2014’s “Godzilla” exists in this sequel, but made even worse for the longer run time that completely fries the pacing with its choices in direction. Once again, this is Godzilla’s movie, but humans and unlimited long-winded series of exposition scenes make up roughly 90% of its 127 minute run time, complicating a film so easy to construct that even the trailers did it for them. When I say that I didn’t like the human character’s in this movie, I’m not embellishing slightly. They are every bit as stupid in their actions as they are deceitful in their morals, and being forced to spend scene after scene with each of them became increasingly frustrating when all I wanted to see what exciting monster collisions with carnage chaos to spread. We are told during the film that there are 17 monsters scattered all across the globe, but because Godzilla becomes a supporting character in his own movie, we really only passionately follow four of those monsters in the foreground, and it’s a humiliating missed opportunity for all of the hardcore fans of the series to see their favorite character with a modern rendering.

– Too much humor. The dialogue in this film isn’t just meandering, it’s down right humiliating in regards to how it chops the urgency and seriousness of the situation each time a character opens their mouths to say something cute. The only other Godzilla film that I can compare this stance to is 1998’s “Godzilla”, a failure on nearly every aspect of technical filmmaking that many fans have chosen to forget its existence. You can’t tell me this banter is any different, as the commentary coming from this crew of class clowns feels a bit too protected in their ivory towers to truly soak in the tragedy that exists on the ground, reminding me of those 2000’s VH1 shows, where a bunch of comedians are brought in to tell jokes towards an internet video playing in real time. Not only did I find this direction counterfeit of the story taking place around it, but it also felt childish for the very laughs that the lines reach for in some truly hideous deliveries, that feel so out of place to the previous film’s serious demeanor.

– Disgusting cinematography. Another continued problem from the first film are these darkly colored, shaky-cam frames that make it so difficult to focus firmly on any of the fight choreography transpiring. With the exception of the movie’s final battle, the previous three are a smoke-filled, never-ending rainout of cluttered catastrophe, that often make it feel like you’re riding Godzilla’s back for how chaotic everything appears. The shakey-camera effect was fine in 1998, when “Saving Private Ryan” perfected it in a way that took nothing away from what registered, but in 2019 imitators are still conjuring up new ways to make you run to the bathroom in motion sickness delirium. At least the finale fight pulls back a hair in its otherwise tightly claustrophobic angles, but the damage of character building physical exposition for a new generation is done, soiling in the process anything of rarity or uniqueness about these monsters to make them stand out.

– Stupid story. This is typical for Godzilla movies, but I can’t give a pass to a world existing beyond the screen where I’m smarter than every single character that exists in it. SPOILERS YOU’VE BEEN WARNED. The main idea behind unleashing these monsters is that one character believes they will fix the problems caused by humans. BY KILLING THEM ALL? How will we be around to reap the benefits of this reward? Beyond this, problems with logic involved an electronic machine getting drenched in rain, yet not malfunctioning at the very least, a barrage of particles flying at a group of characters, where not one rock or wooden board hits them anywhere on the body, a child being able to access government run operations and programs, and suits being worn by some characters because of the radiation being distributed into the air, yet others going as far as touching said creature without even a raincoat on. I get that these movies are stupid goodness that you turn your brain off and watch, but when a film is trying to be overly preachy about the real problems we face in our own real world, it’s difficult for me to afford it the courtesy of being naive when the movie asks for it. You built a world reflective of our own, so you simply can’t overlook the tremendous holes of logic in the way your story plays out.

– Contradicting directions. It’s hard to decide what kind of tone Dougherty seeks to attain in the film when aspects of the script don’t mesh well with others in creating one cohesive narrative. As I mentioned earlier, there is an overwhelming amount of humor from the dialogue, yet a serious attention given to the trio of performances by Chandler, Farmiga, and Brown. There’s an attentive focus to political commentary on humans being the real monsters, yet a story driven narrative that is painfully contained and limited because it begins and ends because of one family’s stupid decisions. This is a film creatively that is experiencing an identity crisis, thanks in part to five different screenwriters having a hand in its fate feeling like five different directions, and if it managed to settle down and establish a layer of consistency for longer than three scenes, the accomplishment of a continuous pace of tone would feel concrete, but “King of the Monsters” endlessly searches for a direction that it never comfortably finds, and takes so much away from the weight of what’s on the line in so much tragedy.

– Lack of character. The consequences of bare minimum character exposition and a total lack of family interaction throughout shows through the seams here, and the result is a collection of people who we the audience find great difficulty in grabbing onto, especially considering the thoughtless, selfish decisions that they are making for the rest of us. For my money, I could’ve accepted losing any of these characters, and it not having one ounce of heft on my conscience towards the story, and that’s a problem when you’re thrusting these humans in a situation so unlike anything that they’ve ever experienced before, and asking us the audience to invest in them because big bad monsters are everywhere. Godzilla is in this movie maybe a collective twenty minutes, and I cared more for him when he suffered pain of any kind. He’s a computer generated lizard who is a constant danger to anyone beneath him. Yep, that’s the kind of fleshing out that we get in this film.

– Messy editing. Mainly on the value of continuity in scene-to-scene transition, the film fumbles in cohesive visual storytelling, that otherwise makes for unintentionally humorous scenes of shattered continuity that prove more directing incompetence. There are scenes of Brown’s hair being tied one second, and down in the next, scenes where character’s magically transport from one part of a ship to the other in the next frame, and an overall consistency in splicing that feels far too intrusive at all of the wrong moments. The fight scenes in a particular have far too many cuts, especially considering this is the Godzilla franchise, a series known for its long takes of choreography during fight sequences. The post production on this film is underwhelming to say the least, and proves that no care went into the consistency of the film, for which there is none with regards to gaining momentum to carry over the pacing of the film’s two hour plus run time.

My Grade: 3/10 or F+

The Hustle

Directed By Chris Addison

Starring – Anne Hathaway, Rebel Wilson, Alex Sharp

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

Rated PG-13 for crude sexual content and adult language

POSITIVES

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

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

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

NEGATIVES

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

My Grade: 3/10 or F

The Intruder

Directed By Deon Taylor

Starring – Meagan Good, Dennis Quaid, Michael Ealy

The Plot – When a young married couple (Ealy and Good) buys their dream house in the Napa Valley, they think they have found the perfect home to take their next steps as a family. But when the strangely attached seller (Quaid) continues to infiltrate their lives, they begin to suspect that he has hidden motivations beyond a quick sale.

Rated PG-13 for violence, terror, some sexuality, adult language and thematic elements

POSITIVES

– Quaid’s raw energy. A testament to Dennis Quaid’s experience as A grade-A actor for many decades is the grip that he has not only on his role as this landlord of lust, but also in the knowledge of what kind of film tonally will come out as. For my money, Quaid is the only person who feels like he is emoting the proper responses for this particular film, juggling a combination of creepy and hokey in the same vein of something from a villain in a superhero movie. Every other actor feels like they take their roles a bit too seriously, and because of that, it allows Dennis to shine once more in a role that is anything against typecast for the typically protagonist hero that we are used to seeing from him, and reminds us that the leading man still finds ways to evolve as an actor even at the age of 65.

– Shooting location. Roughly 80% of this movie takes place in and around this beautiful countryside mansion, which has no shortage of lavish interiors or immersive scenery to get lost in. What’s vital about the location is the isolation from the rest of the world, particularly the police, that constantly keeps the antagonist of the movie in control. The film’s photography takes every chance to explore the grounds fruitfully, giving us a vivid documentation of every room and hallway to better comprehend our understanding of the character movements and intentions in the heat of the fight. It’s no surprise that the film was shot entirely in British Columbia, Canada, as it’s becoming a tradition for studio’s seeking cheap production costs to shoot there, but it’s nice to see a movie explore some of its more expansive scenery to the integrity of the plot and film, and if nothing else, you will fall in love with the property in the same way that Good and Ealy’s character’s do.

– Prompt pacing. Despite the fact that so much of this movie was predictable, and brought forth very few surprises creatively, this is a very easy sit, thanks in part to the stakes constantly being elevated throughout the progression of the film. 97 minutes is a little challenging for a narrative this minimally profound, but there was never a time during it when I was bored or checking my watch to see how much time remained, serving as a testament to Taylor’s engaging atmosphere that reaches out for the things that go bump in the night.

NEGATIVES

– Blandly predictable. Aside from a terribly revealing trailer that gives away roughly 90% of the movie, the screenplay itself written by David Loughery capitalizes on the very same tropes and cliches of past serial stalker thrillers that have become a right of passage for new installments preserving the mantle. It offers very little in the way of suspense or audience anxiety for us to hang our investment on, and ultimately dooms the picture to these long periods of emptiness that only negatively tests Quaid’s raging influence on the film. What’s even more compromising is that the film doesn’t try to preserve any angle of mystery on the backstory of Charlie (Quaid), instead choosing to keep us the audience one step ahead of the protagonists at all times, as we wait for their bumbling stupidity to tiptoe to a catch-up point.

– Speaking of stupidity, Ealy and Good’s character’s defy human logic even in terms of unrelatable people we’ve come to know in movies. For Good, it’s the typical understanding female presence who is somehow able to overlook deeply concerning traits in Charlie because the film calls for it. It continues a trend in Taylor directed films where females are the subject of nothing deeper than male lust, and really makes me concerned for his views on an evolvingly-progressive world. Not to be outdone however, Ealy’s contradicting directions as time goes on made me wonder if the script was trying to convey this man as a bi-polar character for how he often compromises a previous scene. One second he’s a loving, healthily-infatuated husband who would do anything for his wife, and in the next he’s flirting with a female client. This would be impactful if it actually went somewhere, but the boiling subplot comes and goes with the kind of effectiveness of a dry fart, and reeks of desperation for a character who has so little to do between the growing dynamic of Quaid and Good.

– Oversexualization. This is becoming a growing trait in Deon Taylor’s filmography, a director who seems destined to takeover Michael Bay’s mantle for perverted camera work that focuses on the simpler things in cinema. Here he has the beautifully gifted Megan Good at his disposal, and in doing so wastes no time in documenting her body through two sex scenes, one shower scene, and many revealing outfits during non-sexualized events like Thanksgiving Day dinner. The problem is two-fold, the first is that it obviously only values Megan as this physical presence, instead of carving out an acting side of her that we have yet to see, and two, it conjures repetition in getting the same idea of Charlie’s stalking across, padding out the time to eventually reach 97 minutes. Sex factor should be used to serve a purpose in films, but when that purpose reaches overbearing levels of important plotting, its seedy intentions are further unveiled, and only further cements how audiences engage in sexy people being in trouble.

– Meandering musical score. An early favorite for worst musical enhancement of 2019, composer Geoff Zanelli overly inserts his obvious tones in the middle of every scene, made less seamless by the boisterous command of sound mixing that has it reaching orchestral levels of volume during tension-building sequences. The music itself is synthetic for the kind of tones necessary in a genre like this, but the problem is the way they manipulate audiences into feeling one way, instead of letting the actors master their craft without boost, and for my money it made for one of the more obviously distracting aspects of this movie. If it serves any point, other than to be used during a cheesy Halloween party between you and your friends, it’s the fine line of divide between acting and post production, and what not to do to step on the toes of one or the other.

– Obvious visual foreshadowing. This is one of those visual presentations where the movie has a few counterfeit shots in a sequence early on, that feel out of place when compared to the sum of their parts. The reason for this is a series of revealing foreshadow images that prepare you for where this story’s setting is headed, and once again leave nothing to the idea of imagination in maintaining some level of suspense for audiences seeking thrills. For instance, if a movie focuses on a particular closet for an inordinate amount of screen time, you can bet your last dollar that it will come back into play eventually, and serve as a pivotal moment during an unfolding conflict that will come full circle. If the storyboards are doing their job properly, and the direction is crisp, these elements within the house can work their way into the elevating drama without an unnecessary underlining to them, but unfortunately this movie, in so many ways, uses bells and whistles to signal what’s to come, and for anyone like myself who has seen this no shortage of times, it’s really a waiting game for when it will choose to pop up once again.

– Continuity errors. (Light spoiler) There are many examples of this throughout the film, but my favorite happens during the final conflict, when the two male leads of the film are armed with knives when they walk through the house, but once they come to blows those weapons are nowhere to be seen or used between them. It builds to a fist fight in which these weapons disappear, and only re-appear when the fight subdues, and one of them is forced to get out of the room that they are locked in. It introduces elements to the persistent drama, and then does nothing to enhance the results of such. While certainly not as funny as Quaid’s ever-changing hair growth throughout the film, does signify the kind of hands-on effort that goes virtually unnoticed during the duration of this movie, and garners unintentional laughter when the movie really doesn’t need it.

– Back and forth. There are some scenes in the film where the exposition heavy dialogue alludes to the fact that the only reason for its inclusion is to feed the audience bits of information. I say this because character’s move in and out of this film to never be seen again, and it’s a sloppy transition that doesn’t feel naturally believable in the slightest. To counteract this, there are then aspects of the exposition that are never further touched upon. For instance, Charlie’s backstory with his wife and family. Sure, we find out what happened, but we don’t know why, and it only emits more questions the more you think about it. An on-going subplot with Charlie’s daughter in partular, is hinted at, but never fully realized in a way that could shed more light on the mystery of this obviously mentally challenged antagonist. Too many things just simply don’t add up, and a more detailed screenwriter could better flesh out the holes in a story that everything besides Quaid practically falls right into.

My Grade: 3/10 or F+

UglyDolls

Directed By Kelly Asbury

Starring – Kelly Clarkson, Nick Jonas, Janelle Monae

The Plot – In the adorably different town of Uglyville, weird is celebrated, strange is special and beauty is embraced as more than simply meets the eye. Here, the free-spirited Moxy (Clarkson) and her UglyDoll friends live every day in a whirlwind of bliss, letting their freak flags fly in a celebration of life and its endless possibilities. In this all-new story, the UglyDolls will go on a journey beyond the comfortable borders of Uglyville. There, they will confront what it means to be different, struggle with their desire to be loved, and ultimately discover that you don’t have to be perfect to be amazing because who you truly are is what matters most.

Rated PG for thematic elements and brief action

POSITIVES

– Meaningful casting. It’s always baffled me why musical kids movies rarely cast singers in these roles, but “Ugly Dolls” takes advantage of some of pop music’s biggest names, and puts them to work, performing no fewer than ten songs in this film. Transcending the film itself, this merging offers dream collaborations for music fans of every age, and while the music itself leaves more to be desired in terms of addictive beats and catchy hooks, it’s an 80 minute concert none the less, whose infectious energy and familiar accents of the cast bring forth all of the right gifts to musical cinema. Are they the best vocal performances? Outside of Jonas, absolutely not, but in a film with an overwhelming amount of musical influence, they are the way to go in this intended direction.

– Deeper meaning? As my readers know, I love watching a movie on a conventional level, and viewing it as something so much ulterior, and I certainly found a devious one with “UglyDolls”. The villain, Lou, (Jonas) teaches perfect dolls how to be perfect for their future children. It basically establishes him as this toy Hitler that is creating a master race of perfection to rid the world of peace and acceptance. Hitler also viewed blonde hair, blue-eyed boys as the future of the human race, and that is none other than Lou’s physical features, perhaps hiding something much more sinister behind his pearly-white smile. Naturally, a child won’t make this comparison, but it establishes a demented layer of fantasy to a film that needs anything to make it that much more entertaining, and for my money, this is the best I could come up with.

– Craziness in a finale. If you see this movie for any reason, watch the final twenty minutes, which includes a robot dog and baby, a legion of zombie followers, a nightmarish darkening sky, and the world’s biggest washing machine. In a sense, this movie is throwing everything at the screen to see what sticks during this pivotal third act, but to a certain degree it’s in this carefree execution where a sequence this convoluted can present the only scene in the movie that I am sure to remember three months from now. It reminded me somewhat of 90’s Disney finales, when all rules were off, and the setting itself became almost a character of sorts for what was revolving between protagonist and antagonist. If STX were willing to take more chances like this one, then maybe “UglyDolls” could be the anti-animated film that paves its own unpredictable path to infamy, but in the end it’s just a lone kickass finale that spiked my interest from non-existent to remote.

NEGATIVES

– Rips off two different franchises. Between the animation textures and musical similarities of “Trolls”, and the plot structure of “Toy Story”, “UglyDolls” finds no shred of originality to counteract the strokes of familiarity that are all over this picture. Because of this, the film reeks of a cash grab, where a studio once again tries to capitalize on the intake of a popular kids toy line, while throwing together a series of flimsy ideas that never add weight of meaning to the purpose of its inception. Aspects like these truly bother me about kids movies, because studios will often slip in these plagiarizing points of plot because they feel that younger audiences either won’t be aware that they’ve seen this movie before, or won’t care because of the vibrant colors or boisterous noises that come with it, and it gives “UglyDolls” an unmistakable feeling of incomplete that it never manages to shake.

– Stretched screenplay. 80 minutes is the bare minimum of acceptable major motion picture run times, but when we dig deeper to the root of the material, we find that the progressing story could easily be told in a half hour special on Nickelodeon or Cartoon Network with some tweaks of edit to better pace the story. I mentioned earlier that there are at least ten songs in the film, each of which are around three minutes, so you have already wiped away thirty minutes in songs alone, leaving fifty minutes to establish character’s, build a conflict, and offer a resolution that satisfies your audience. Needless to say, it doesn’t happen, and it makes this film feel like one of the least ambitious and phoned-in movies from a big budget studio that we’ve seen in quite some time. It’s not just a bad movie, but one lacking a sprinkle of creativity to contend in an age where animated movies are doing ground-breaking things.

– Lack of finesse with the animation. I understand that STX Films is certainly no Pixar or Dreamworks with their animation budget, but the combination of computer generation and live action illustration on our title character’s conjures up a Frankenstein finished product that conveys its inability to compete, leaving us the audience limited in our ability to feel dazzled by the presentation. The backgrounds, particularly in the detail given to the Ugly town are three-dimensional, but the same dedication is never given to character movements or facial registration, which feel as lifeless and incoherent as any animated property in 2019. Mastering a visual feast is half the battle with animated films, and with counterproductive traits in animation styles that make up most of what is front-and-center at all times, STX cuts off their legs before the war of comparison has ever begun.

– Combination of cliches. As a screenwriter, Alison Peck combines enough lukewarm sentimentality and empty-handed motivations to make this the Hallmark Cards of movies, for how truly corny and unearned every inspiration felt in the execution. Themes like “Be yourself” or “Listen to your heart” are good in theory, but so obvious in a film genre that does this sort of thing almost weekly. The screenplay tries to jam in far too many, and eventually it just feels like a game of bingo, where you wait until your motivation meme is called, all the while practically slapping kids across the face with intentional clarity long before they are able to piece it together themselves. Good intentions are one thing, but when a movie uses too many of them, especially with an ending conflict that condemns one character for being true to who he was, makes it all feel like a shallow piece of propaganda that is preached, but rarely practiced in the film.

– Flat humor. It’s hard to even classify this film as a comedy, because not only did I not laugh once in the entirety of the film, but the script often goes too far between in even attempting to gain emotional expression from its youthful viewers. This will be the hardest sell to them, for how little it gets them involved in the process of the plot, as well as the complexity of personalities to grip onto. What little comic opportunity there is speaks to the weirdness of the creatures themselves, and really nothing outside of the box in that regard. I was honestly expecting juvenile laughs in the form of bodily humor, but what I got was somehow less than that, cementing one of the most difficult films that I’ve had to sit through in 2019, thanks to arid material so undercooked that it defies the laws of genre classification.

– Lack of character exposition. I mentioned earlier that this film has roughly fifty minutes to get its feet wet in distinguishing these character’s, and with the exception of a dog played by Pitbull, the rest of the UglyDolls are interchangeable if not for the color of their skin. Seriously, there is nothing between them in personalities or motivations that make them even remotely different, and thanks to the film’s lack of time devoted to bringing each of them along with their own respective conflicts, the line of division is that much more blurred because of such. In addition to this, the dialogue feels very clunky, in that it explains the bare basics of the world and conflict without digging deeper to soak in the atmosphere. This makes the character’s and UglyVille world feel like a prop to a hinted at bigger picture that never truly materializes, and scrambles for focus in a screenplay that constantly struggles with disjointment.

– The music. Not only does the musical accompanyment drop the ball on catchy jingles that parents will wear out their IPOD’S playing, but the music itself fails in progressing the story during the momentary instances where everything else stops. In a musical genre film, the music is often used as a tool to fill in the gaps of unseen backstory and inner character psychology, but the lyrics disappoint on a very topical kind of level, keeping the depth of their inclusion pointless, in that we as an audience have seen what they are further repeating. If I had to pick a favorite, it’s easily “Broken and Beautiful” by Kelly Clarkson, a power ballad about seeing the beauty in something deemed different. But by the time the film is finished, this theme is repeated endlessly in the sequences and situations, rendering the power of its message that much more ineffective because of how much it’s hammered home.

My Grade: 3/10 or F

Hellboy

Directed By Neil Marshall

Starring – David Harbour, Ian McShane, Milla Jovovich

The Plot – Hellboy is back, and he’s on fire. From the pages of Mike Mignola’s seminal work, this action packed story sees the legendary half-demon superhero (Harbour) called to the English countryside to battle a trio of rampaging giants. There he discovers The Blood Queen, Nimue (Jovovich), a resurrected ancient sorceress thirsting to avenge a past betrayal. Suddenly caught in a clash between the supernatural and the human, Hellboy is now hell-bent on stopping Nimue without triggering the end of the world.

Rated R for strong bloody violence and gore throughout, and adult language

POSITIVES

– Charming ensemble. While he will never be no shadow-filler for Ron Pearlman, I can say that I found a lot of redeeming qualities about Harbour’s delve into Anung Un Rama that kept this film interesting at times when the story failed endlessly. David’s timely deliveries for comedy, as well as his registry as a tortured soul aching for belonging, is everything different that Ron Pearlman’s brute demeanor didn’t convey. Instead, Harbour instills a sense of vulnerability to the character that we often don’t see, bringing him closer to humanity as he tangles with this immensely powerful adversary. Speaking of which, Jovovich is serviceable enough as well, even when the dialogue she delivers does her no favors in terms of intimidation along the way. Milla is giving her all to play an antagonist for the first time, and there’s a lethal dose of seductive sting that she offers to the role that makes her dangerous for all of the things that comic book movies are afraid to attempt, especially with PG-13 renderings. It was also great to see Sasha Lane getting a big stage presence, as I’ve felt for years that this girl is an eventual Oscar winner in the making.

– Make-up and prosthetics work. It’s amazing that a film with such dominance towards computer generation has a secret weapon thriving underneath it all, in the form of practical character designs that channel everything we love about Hellboy, while establishing that this is a fresh start for the character. The amputated horns are still there, but the facial structure supports more of a slouching outline for Harbour’s take, giving way to an aging process that didn’t feel possible before in the previous two films. In addition, the cheek prosthetics stretching out Harbour’s familiar facial traits is something that allows the actor to transform properly with very little reminder of who is underneath because of the complete picture of it all. It proves that while a lot is lost in translation in the decade-and-a-half since the previous film, the work of some highly skilled cosmetic magicians behind the scenes still pump as the heartbeat of this franchise.

– Coveted R-rating. This is a film that knows its audience. It’s the very same people who grew up with the 2004 film, and are now full-fledged adults, who have since been craving an edgier sequel to compliment the character. It comes in the form of mature material in language and brutal violence that cater to the rock-and-roll lifestyle of the character. The violence and blood splatter satisfied the deep-seeded horror nut inside of me, and the inclusion of some personal favorite curse words improved the bumbling dialogue in a way that made it feel human instead of manufactured. R-ratings in third installments don’t typically work, but I feel that the spike here better elevates the impact of the action, all the while fleshing out the growth of the character that mirrors that of his faithful audience.

NEGATIVES

– Lifeless computer generation. To say the effects work in this film are bad would be a compliment. No, this is the kind of lifeless digitalization that was present in the 90’s, during a period when that could be forgiven for our complete inexperience with it. This is a film made in 2019, whose backdrops and violence feel about as real as claiming I.T.T Tech for a major college degree. Scenes that are supposed to show Hellboy as a badass are nothing more than a humorous exercise in ridiculousness, and for the majority take much away from the impact of what should be these scenes of visceral devastation. I could forgive a film’s effects for playing into the mayhem transpiring with the film’s other technical deficiencies, but nothing on screen is a pleasure to look at, and I’m simply not going to allow weak post production a pass when it comes to creating a one-of-a-kind feel that is anything out of this world for comic book movie adaptations.

– What narrative? As a story outline, “Hellboy” might be the sloppiest screenplay that I have endured in quite sometime. When the movie isn’t stacking another log on the pile to see what burns with effectiveness, the beatdown of rapid fire sequencing makes it very difficult to accurately interpret what is taking place right in front of us. There is no slow down period to soak everything in. It’s a near two hour long-winded delivery of breath that feels seconds away from fading to black at any moment because of exposition overhaul. I myself am not a fan of the original two Hellboy films by Guillermo Del Toro, but I can say in those movies that there is at least a straight and narrow line of storytelling that keeps us firmly in-tuned with what is transpiring. In this movie, I felt like a child was making up their own version of story time, where no two ideas rub together to feed into a lone cohesive unit.

– Far too long. Marshall’s chapter of Hellboy clocks in at 110 minutes, and while that might not seem like a huge investment for comic book audiences who have endured nearly three hour epics, the combination of forced flashback’s and simply too many big set fight sequences, make the sit an uphill endurance test. For the former, I mentioned this problem in my review of “Fantastic Beasts: The Crimes of Grindelwald”, but here it feels much more padded and unnecessary, especially when the use of audible narration is already telling us everything that transpires visually before us. It’s a strange breed because I feel the film could easily be trimmed, but I think this would only further compromise the cyclonic storytelling, whose speed has us seeing only streaks. I guess you’re simply damned if you do and damned if you don’t.

– Mundane heavy metal score. Composer Benjamin Wallfisch (Real name) has honorable intentions here, but the lack of royalty in track selection dooms his opportunity to make “Hellboy” the rock-and-roll opera that we deserve. With the exception of a couple key inserts, like “Kickstart My Heart” by Motley Crue, the majority is a DVD stock composition that is used when a studio doesn’t want to pay for commercial rights to sample the proper song. There’s even traces of what Wallfisch wanted in each scene, whether it be in the form of familiar metal guitar riffs that borders plagiarizing because of what I previously mentioned. It gives the film an easily identifying trait of cheap production value that doom the art of some eye-catching visuals, and teaches us to pay extra when the scene calls for it.

– Distracted editing. There’s no big surprise here: too many cuts and too little consistency in visual storytelling. In any single sequence of action, you can expect three different angles to watch the same scene, giving me this inescapable feeling of dementia that made me question reality. There’s also this annoying trait, where a scene cuts far too early, and the dialogue from scene one bleeds into the dialogue from scene two. I get artistic expression, but this feels like an unnecessary transition effect that cuts into the focus of the previous scene. Likewise, the editing during scenes of explanation or exposition take a page out of Guy Ritchie’s “King Arthur”, where frames are inserted that don’t add anything to what we’re hearing. For instance, one heartfelt scene between Hellboy and an old acquaintance comes and goes with many visuals of the details in the kitchen that houses them. Filmmaking attention deficit at its finest, and it hinders even the smallest shred of momentum that the audience gains for investing into this story at any particular moment.

– Tonal clashing. If this was a film that was firmly committed to being a cult comedy, then I could forgive it for ridiculous levels of material and production that do it no favors in gaining an audience, but there are deeply dramatic scenes in the film that revolve around love and loss that speak to a totally genre of film, and in turn make the dominant direction in this film feel even more jumbled because of it. The humor in the material is far too juvenile far too often to render the transition needed for some deep-seeded moments of heart that the film calls on late in the movie. In turn, these scenes of dramatic pulse take away everything that everyone was enjoying about the character up to that point, and it all feels like a balance of power behind the scenes from a studio that didn’t know what they truly wanted from this legendary figure. As to where the previous two films were dominant action movies with an occasional speck of dark, twisted humor thrown in for good measure, this installment feels 70% comedy and 30% the occasional speck of drama, and it never worked at finding a comfortable balance for all to enjoy.

– Continuity flaws. This more than conveys the hack-and-slash finished product that we were left with. Consistency in scenes is a constant problem for this film, especially one involving Hellboy and a cocky agent late in the first act that made me do a double take for its documentation. Hellboy and the agent are talking on top of a building, then the scene cuts to the agent taking the elevator to the ground floor to meet another agent, and Hellboy is now there with this secondary character. It’s possible that Hellboy jumped off of the building, but why? What purpose would this even serve? I wish I could say that a scene like this is rare, but it happens frequently throughout, making me wonder just how long the first draft of this film was before the editor removed the threads that binds the continuity together.

My Grade: 3/10 or F+