I love the independent production and distribution company A24, founded by Daniel Katz, David Fenkel, and John Hodges. A24 is a force reckoned be with, despite releasing some disappointments as of late such as “Free Fire” (2017) and “The Lovers” (2017) that pale in comparison to the likes of “The Spectacular Now” (2013), “A Most Violent Year” (2015), “Ex Machina” (2015), and “20th Century Women” (2017). Long the story short, the studio provided some of my favorite films in recent memory. It is an understatement to proclaim how much I adore A24.
“It Comes At Night” is the second feature film by Trey Edward Shults (“Krisha”). Sarah (Carmen Ejogo), Paul (Joel Edgerton), and Travis (Kelvin Harrison Jr.) welcomes Kim (Riley Keough), Will (Christopher Abbot), and Andrew (Griffin Robert Faulkner) into the home during the mysterious and contagious plague.
It is always exciting to witness A24’s films due to their consistency and utter brilliance (there are more minor disappointments than major letdowns). I stepped out of my comfort zone to witness “It Comes At Night”, even semi horror films scare the living daylights out of me.
Anchored by the understatedly powerful performances, “It Comes At Night” relies on the eerie atmosphere, tension, and suspense. There are at least four “jump scares” if you have low terror tolerance. (I jumped when something bumped.) Shults is a master, regarding setting the tone – the initial frame allows you know what to anticipate ahead and the final frame may piss you off without the providing spoilers.
You must read in between the lines to completely understand and appreciate the narrative. The it is not literal. The it is metaphorical – the families surviving the fear, the paranoia, and the plague. Therefore, “It Comes At Night” surprisingly taps into the zeitgeist – you may dread the United States’ future under the Trump Administration. This film expresses my beliefs concerning the Trump Administration (the political message is extremely subdued).
Intelligent psychological thriller films are rare. With that said, I urge you to seek out “It Comes At Night”. B
The DC Extended Universe (DCEU) consists of “Man of Steel” (2013), “Batman v Superman: Dawn of Justice” (2016), “Suicide Squad” (2016), and “Wonder Woman” (2017) thus far. “Man of Steel” is fine; however, “Batman v Superman” and “Suicide Squad” are two of the worst films released during the 2016. I have good news to tell you, my lovely readers – DCEU redeemed themselves with their latest film, “Wonder Woman”.
Based on the characters by William Moulton Marston, Diana Prince also known as Wonder Woman (the utterly brilliant Gal Gadot) prepares to be a warrior in the Amazon and departs home to confront the World War One with Steve Trevor (the underwhelming Chris Pine). Meanwhile, Diana discovers her capabilities and destiny.
You may feel enlightened and empowered during the complete duration, especially if you’re a woman. Ms. Gadot is genuinely badass here. Diana is fierce, determined, and does not request a man to rescue her in the process. Director Patty Jenkins’ feminist voice elated me from the start to finish. Unlike “Ghostbusters” (2016), you actually recognize mainstream fare is slowly attempting to allow the feminine voice to be heard once and for all here.
Despite the tried and true origin narrative and the typical villain, “Wonder Woman” is a miracle. Men may be dominant everywhere, but women are strong, not weak. Diana sticks up for herself and you are able to do the same. We can be our own superhero, ladies. Don’t allow the men underestimate you.
Marvel is indeed the top tier superhero film studio and yet, DCEU proved redemption is the key to success. I am ready for “Justice League” (2017). B+
Based on the novel “Their Finest Hour and a Half” by Lissa Evans, the British film crew – involving Catrin Cole (Gemma Arterton), Tom Buckley (Sam Claflin), Ambrose Hilliard (Bill Nighy), and several others are tasked to produce propaganda films during the 1940.
Lone Scherfig is one of my favorite British film directors – helmed the utterly brilliant “An Education” (2009) and the respectable “One Day” (2011). “Their Finest” is a tad underwhelming, compared to her previous films.
Propelled by charming performances and beautiful production and costume design, the slightly meandering narrative follows the familiar beats – a film about producing a film (ponder the far superior “Birdman”). “Their Finest” admires and respects the motion picture art form.
Despite the underwhelming narrative, “Their Finest” is an elegant period piece, regardless. B-
Based on the same biography of the same name by David Grann, The Lost City of Z tells the story of British Colonel Percy Fawcett and Henry Costin mission into the Amazon to search for a mysterious city, dubbed Z via Fawcett during the 1920's. The expedition ended with the disappearance of both Fawcett and his son.
Charlie Hunnam's performance is mediocre in the lead role of Fawcett. He's supported by Robert Pattinson in a disappointing turn as Fawcett's compatriot. Tom Holland rounds out the cast with a commendable performance as Fawcett's son.
It is difficult to deny James Gray’s “The Lost City of Z” is ambitious in terms of scope. Yet, Fawcett’s adventures depicted onscreen are far from exhilarating. The monotonous expeditions result in an extremely underwhelming film. I viewed the film twice, hoping to find something new with a second screening, but regrettably, the second viewing provided a confirmation of genuine disappointment.
Amazonian adventures are usually a genre full of surprises, however “The Lost City of Z” follows takes the predictable route, resulting in a lukewarm experience. C
Nacho Vigalondo’s “Colossal” is a subtly brilliant science fiction with an unexpected finale.
Alcoholics Gloria (the brilliant Anne Hathaway) and Oscar (the equally remarkable Jason Sudeikis) discover that tragic events occurring in Seoul, Korea, involving agiant monster and robot are connected to their recurring mental collapses.
“Colossal” is simultaneously refreshing, ridiculous, and hilarious. There are several laugh out loud moments, however beneath the hilarity, Colossal doubles as a cautionary tale about the dangers of substance abuse and its effect on friends and family. Flashbacks are used to enrich the relationship of the characters, however, the conclusion is outright insane and anticlimactic, undoing the groundwork of the first two acts.
Innovative science fiction films are few and far between in the current box office climate and “Colossal” presents a wildly entertaining story that shatters most sci-fi cliches. B+
The two gangs, involving Justine (Brie Larson), Vernon (Sharlto Copley), Ord (Armie Hammer), Chris (Cillian Murphy), Stevo (Sam Riley), Bernie (Enzo Cilenti), and a few others reunite in the warehouse to accomplish the gunfight and play a game of survival.
“Free Fire” boasts the recipe of success – the independent film studio A24, Larson, Hammer, and Murphy. Yet, the film never fulfills its hidden potential – certainly a complete blast and outrageously ridiculous; however, the narrative is nothing new and thus, predictable. The underdeveloped character arcs do not allow you to appreciate the characters, regardless when they die. I anticipated something a lot better, considering the studio and the talent involved. Nonetheless, “Free Fire” does not undermine A24’s excellent reputation. B-
Auteur director Terrence Malick is known for using multiple, nonlinear narratives and unconventional film making. His latest film “Song to Song” is experimental to the maximum.
Terrence Malick films are an acquired taste, akin to Woody Allen films. You either like or dislike them – divisive, to say the least.
The love triangles are the center of the narrative that involve Faye (Rooney Mara), Zoey (Berenice Marlohe), BV (Ryan Gosling), Rhonda (Natalie Portman), and Cook (Michael Fassbender), all of which intersect the Austin music scene.
“Song to Song” is confusing, frustrating, and infuriating – all at once. The intertwining, incoherent narratives do not reach their full potential during the conclusion. The multiple narrative technique should be effective, not shallow and confusing. Everything is open ended.
On a positive note, Emmanuel Lubezki’s cinematography is gorgeous and dizzying, making the viewer feel as if they are twirling, alongside the actors onscreen. There are several stunning nature shots, but they don't seem to correspond to the context of the story. This couples with mediocre performances to create a forgettable mess. "Song to Song" departs from the lucid "Tree of Life" (2011) into nonsensical territory, causing me to lose some faith with respect to his upcoming films. D+
The child prodigies are few and in between and hence, “Gifted” cannot determine to be the mainstream film or the independent film – a hybrid in the worst possible way.
The single father Frank Adler (the rather mediocre Chris Evans, he just cannot escape his Captain America alter ego) nurtures the niece and mathematical genius Mary Adler (the delightful McKenna Grace). Meanwhile, Bonnie Stevenson (the brilliant Jenny Slate) recognizes Mary is a gifted child. The biological grandmother Evelyn Adler (the respectable Lindsay Duncan) proceeds with the court custody battle. The neighbor and provisional Godmother Roberta Taylor (the always sublime Octavia Spencer) assist the Adler family if necessary.
“Gifted” delivers the effective manipulative narrative – meaning it really begs the audience to sob. And yes, I sobbed once during the final act. Moreover, it doesn’t help that we’ve seen this tale several times before – extremely predictable that you may be able to foretell the conclusion prior to occurring onscreen. Despite the inconsistent tone, Grace, Slate, and Spencer’s charm saved the day.
Geniuses may be rare and yet, “Gifted” is far from a mastermind. B-
Advance screening courtesy of Fox Searchlight Pictures. “Gifted” debuts in limited release tomorrow. The scheduled wide release is Wednesday, April 12, 2017.
Based on the manga of the same name by Masamune Shirow and the cult classic film by Mamoru Oshi, the cyber enhanced the Major (the surprisingly fine Scarlett Johansson) is devoted to terminate hackers and criminals. The Major is the human and artificial intelligence hybrid. I will leave you with this much plot due to I may suck the fun out of this live action remake if I tell you the rest – the rest is what allowed me to relish the film.
“Ghost in the Shell” provides the complex yet intriguing concept and narrative allowing you to fully immerse yourself and forget about the whitewashing controversy. I believe some unknown Asian actress should’ve replaced Ms. Johansson; although, she is the box office draw for the American audiences. From the gorgeous production design to the minimalist score, “Ghost in the Shell” is an admirable treat at best and a slight letdown at worst – a genuine example of pure popcorn, escapist entertainment. B
Based on the book of the same name by Marla Frazee, the Boss Baby (voiced by Alec Baldwin) collaborates with the seven year old brother Tim (Miles Bakshi) to terminate the cruel scheme implemented by the Puppy Co. CEO Francis Francis (Steve Buscemi).
“The Boss Baby” is a harmless family flick; however, it includes excessive toilet humor – initially fun yet quickly repetitive and redundant. The narrative is so darn focused on the toilet jokes that the heartfelt message (appreciating the sibling or two) is left in the dust. Nevertheless, the vibrant animation is decent eye candy.
Despite the cute infants, “The Boss Baby” is grueling – more so than the baby herself. C-
No one yearns to die, but it happens anyway. The circle of life, indeed.
The retired businesswoman Harriet Lauler (the legendary Shirley MacLaine) controls everything. Ms. Lauler hires the local obituary writer Anne Sherman (the underwhelming Amanda Seyfried) to establish a particular legacy and scribe the obituary when the time arrives. You may mostly anticipate Ms. Lauler’s death from the outset to the finish.
Let’s admit “The Last Word” is just outright ridiculous – like, let’s get real here – who would want to write their obituary before their death? Ugh, no one. Sort of depressing. Beyond the regular dose of melancholy. The caveat is Mark Pellington’s film attempts to be inspirational when the subject matter is not. Not even Ms. MacLaine and Ms. Seyfried could rescue the somber narrative.
If anything, “The Last Word” delivers the most bitter and disgusting aftertaste following the screening (by the way, I’m still recovering from it). C-
Director Amma Asante astounded me with “Belle” (2014) and hence, it was safe to conclude the expectations were raised high prior to the screening of her latest film “A United Kingdom”. (The Milwaukee Landmark Cinemas were playing the Oscar nominees, so I apologize for not immediately reviewing this motion picture.)
Based on the biography “Color Bar” by Susan Williams, Prince Seretse Khama (the brilliant David Oyelowo) marries the British white woman Ruth Williams (the understated yet exquisite Rosamund Pike) during the 1940s. However, the couple causes the international dispute.
Despite the utterly delightful performances, “A United Kingdom” provides the safe and conventional biopic. The several scenes attempt to be groundbreaking – but failed every single time. Whereas “Loving” (another interracial marriage tale of Mildred and Richard Loving) delivered urgency, “A United Kingdom” is rather detached. Love is vital, regardless of the circumstances. C+
“Alien” (1979) + “The Martian” (2015) = “Life” (2017), a cheap rip off of two Ridley Scott films.
The scientists Miranda North (Rebecca Ferguson), Katerina Golovkina (Olga Dihovichnaya), Rory Adams (Ryan Reynolds), David Jordan (Jake Gyllenhaal), Hugh Derry (Ariyon Bakare), and Sho Murakami (Hiroyuki Sanada) discover and examine the rapidly evolving life form – Calvin abroad the International Space Station (ISS); however, Calvin endangers the aforementioned crew.
“Life” is the outer space diary of sorts, a tense and terse nonlinear narrative that provides a strange case of déjà vu. Despite the spectacularly sinister Calvin, the crew is given nonexistent character development. Meanwhile, the crew’s mission and purpose is unclear. Calvin’s only intention is just killing every human for its pleasure and therefore, the audience is allegedly to enjoy it in return (spoiler: it’s the complete opposite).
Please return Calvin to Mars. Just witness the real deal – “Alien” – instead of receiving the mildly offensive déjà vu here. C
Based on the novel of the same name by Julian Barnes, Tony Webster (Jim Broadbent) discusses the mysterious letter with the former wife Margaret Webster (Harriet Walter). Mr. Webster reconnects with the former love Veronica Ford (Charlotte Rampling) and acknowledges the past. Meanwhile, the Webster duo comforts the daughter Susie (Michelle Dockery).
“The Sense of an Ending” provides the maudlin cautionary tale – the past remains in the past; however, sometimes haunts you. Whereas Broadbent, Walter, and Dockery are underwhelming, Rampling is extremely underused and brilliant. Ms. Rampling should’ve reversed roles with Ms. Walter.
Nonetheless, Ms. Rampling saved the day, regardless of the British charm. B-
The eighty American Belko Industries employees, including Michael “Mike” Milch (John Gallagher Jr.), Wendell Dukes (John C. McGinley), Barry Norris (Tony Goldwyn), and Leandra (Adria Arjona) are instructed to participate during the kill or be killed game via the unknown voice (deriving from the company’s intercom system).
Despite the rather mediocre performances, “The Belko Experiment” hates to admit the senseless narrative is the extremely modest guilty pleasure. Greg McLean’s film is excessively gory and disgusting. You may desire to vomit during the bloodbath conclusion. “The Belko Experiment” definitely strains your carnage tolerance, regardless. C+
Disney is enchanted with remaking the classic animated movies into the nostalgic live action films. The live action remakes initially provide magical bliss and the allure a.k.a. the Disney touch is steadily disappearing as of late. So much freaking nostalgia – almost too much that it becomes the curse – for better and for worse. The latest reimagining “Beauty and the Beast” almost emerges as the beast. Yet, the adequate charm remains afloat and saves the day.
Based on the 1991 film of the same name by Gary Trousdale and Kirk Wise, Belle (the utterly exquisite Emma Watson) and the Beast (the equally brilliant Dan Stevens) fall in love. The Beast is selfish and hence, the Enchantress/Agathe (the underused Hattie Morahan) commences the spell – the Prince is the Beast and the castle servants are antiques, wardrobe, and feather duster. Meanwhile, Gaston (the mediocre Luke Evans) flirts with Belle and consistently fails and LeFou (the understated Josh Gad) is the hilarious sidekick.
Disney understands how to tap into the zeitgeist and produce timeless films, regardless of your age. Despite the familiar and predictable narrative – old as time, “Beauty and the Beast” provides stunning production and costume design and irresistible tunes. “Be Our Guest” and “Tale As Old As Time” are easily the highlights and evoke the most nostalgia. The conclusion may allow you to sob once or twice. It’s so darn bittersweet. Nonetheless, the film’s definite meaning is obvious – do not judge folks based on the appearance and genuine love exists with time (slow, fast, whatever the heart desires).
Despite the evident shortcomings, “Beauty and the Beast” sublimely tugs the heartstrings. Be our guest, indeed. B
I attended “Kong: Skull Island” twice during the opening weekend and unfortunately, I must report that the monster film is meh, in simple terms.
Preston Packard (Samuel L. Jackson), James Conrad (Tom Hiddleston), and Mason Weaver (Brie Larson) explore the unknown island and confront the King Kong (voiced by Toby Kebbel).
“Godzilla” (2014) pales in comparison to the latest film in Legendary’s MonsterVerse. Despite the awesome cast, “Kong: Skull Island” is tedious – alongside, the subpar performances, action sequences, and visual effects.
The King will continue to live. Meanwhile, Kong deserves the superior film than this tolerable mess. C
Seventeen years ago, Hugh Jackman brought to life the Wolverine a.k.a. James “Logan” Howlett a.k.a. X-24. The Wolverine is ready to peace out ten films later – the initial series, the standalone trilogy, and the spinoffs.
Based on the comic books of the same name by Roy Thomas, Len Wein, and John Romita, Logan Howlett (the handsome yet awesome Jackman) is the caregiver to the ailing Professor X (the rather underwhelming Patrick Stewart). Meanwhile, Mr. Howlett discovers the young mutant Laura (the quietly brilliant Dafne Keen) during the 2029.
I cannot declare “Logan” is the steadfast farewell that I personally anticipated. Perhaps the timing was terrible. The moviegoers demand X-Men during difficult times, especially during the Trump Administration. The X-Men are complete badass and cool, regardless of the era. Yet, the notion of Ms. Keen succeeding Mr. Jackman is admirable – too young to own the additional X-Men series yet. Goddamn it.
The presumptuous final Wolverine film follows the typical superhero recipe – nothing is groundbreaking except the R rating. “Logan” is unsuitable, regarding the youngsters – akin to “Deadpool” (2016). The explicit gory violence is only meant to be seen via the mature adult audience – several beheadings and stabbings and that is only touching the surface. I guess we shall expect at least one adult oriented superhero film every year, thanks to “Deadpool” (cheers to ya, Merc with a Mouth)!
Farewell to the beloved X-24. (But, seriously, I would not be surprised to encounter the Wolverine during the upcoming Marvel films.) B
The individual skepticism is the blessing and the curse. I am able to handle horror films that primarily provide tension. Yet, I cannot fathom haunting narratives that will deliver the nightmares. However, “Split” is a delightful surprise – meaning the darn cynicism is rather terrible.
Kevin Wendell Crumb (the understated yet brilliant James McAvoy) possess twenty three distinctive personalities – including Barry, Dennis, Patricia, the Horde, the Beast, and other characters – identified as dissociative identity disorder (DID). Dr. Karen Fletcher (the underused Betty Buckley) provides the riveting context to the semi original narrative. Mr. Crumb kidnap the troubled teenagers Casey Cooke (the impressive Anya Taylor-Joy), Claire Benoit (the always marvelous Haley Lu Richardson), and Marcia (the rather mediocre Jessica Sula) and lock the threesome in the windowless bunker.
It is safe to announce M. Night Shyamalan returned to form – providing shocking and amusing B movies. “Split” will constantly surprise the audience. You will gasp – the jaw may drop in disbelief. The scattering hysterical jokes arrive during unexpected moments – but the quick revelations are moderate to the point you may or may not foresee the conclusion.
Ms. Cooke enjoys the most character development via the random flashbacks; however, you may yearn to witness additional flashbacks, regarding Marcia and Ms. Benoit. Dr. Fletcher allows you to sympathize with Mr. Crumb and the teenagers – also known as the middle woman – absolutely necessary to care about the insane man.
You could proclaim “Split” is the beast: difficult to pass – genuinely tense, unique, and troublesome to ignore. I guess thank you to the gut instinct – yanking this woman to witness one of the early surprise films to arrive during the 2017. B
Lasse Hallstrom’s latest film reminds me why I own two cats – the grey tabby Abigail and the Black Bombay Jim. There isn’t much to offer – the dogs live and die, the humans live their life with the pups, and Josh Gad’s trite voiceover appears to grow progressively worse during the duration. Imagine “Marley & Me” (2008) including multiple dogs rather than one pup and amplify the saccharine to a thousand that results to manipulative nonsense. Still, I cried – but manipulatively cried because the film tells you to do so. Produce the cat version for cat lovers and remain in bad shape, Mr. Hallstrom. D
Review Structure Key
Regular reviews ~ Word count varies.
Mini reviews ~ Positives and negatives (+/-) analysis.
Brief reviews ~ One hundred words, more or less.
Thirty Second reviews ~ Multiple films will be reviewed all at once, hence the editions. One sentence to three sentences. Primarily utilized for when I have personal commitments (may or may not be stated).