The Equalizer 2 (2018)

   Director: Antoine Fuqua  With: Denzel Washington, Pedro Pascal, Ashton Sanders, Bill Pullman, & Melissa Leo.  Release: Jul 20, 2018 R. 2 hr. 1 min.

Director: Antoine Fuqua
With: Denzel Washington, Pedro Pascal, Ashton Sanders, Bill Pullman, & Melissa Leo. 
Release: Jul 20, 2018
R. 2 hr. 1 min.

 

Antoine Fuqua’s “The Equalizer 2” feels like a game of peekaboo is being played with the audience throughout it's drawn out two hour and one-minute runtime. The first film was overly long as well, but it had something worth watching, worth investing in, the same cannot be said for Fuqua’s sequel. 

“The Equalizer 2” is exactly what it names suggests, a sequel. It begins presumably a few years removed from the events of the first film. There is no Ralphie or Teri to be seen; this is a whole new bunch of youthful kids in need of a guiding hand. He's that watchful guardian he evolved into from the first film, providing assistance and help to anyone who needs it, at least anyone that crosses his path. 

Our hero isn't watching over a city or a neighborhood, more like the ten to fifteen people he interacts with in his Lyft, like Susan Plummer (Melissa Leo). His former commanding officer, who now watches from afar, sending her good wishes and assistance whenever she can. Eventually, trouble comes across her path, and when our gunslinging hero hears the news, he launches himself on the warpath. Killing anyone and everyone involved, a mission that becomes more personal the further down the rabbit hole he goes. 

There are still those moments of wise-man teachings though, moments where Washington meets someone and tells them how they should be living their lives. Like Miles (Ashton Sander), a young black kid being torn between the two worlds of gang crime and honorable artwork. He takes part in some of the film’s best moments in which Denzel Washington, an outspoken critic of the Black Lives Matter movement, is sermonizing to this young blood on how you can blame the white man all you want, but you still have a life to live. It’s a sequence of dialogue that can either make you uncomfortable, like myself, or can invigorate you with energy.  

No matter which side of that conversation you fall upon, the rest of the movie is something of a lackadaisical effort from screenwriter Richard Wenk. What can you expect from the genius behind stories like “Expendables 2” and “The Mechanic,” right? Despite that sarcasm, Wenk’s story feels like a simplified, eighties, action movie. You can predict it's plot developments from a mile away, who the villain is going to be, who is in danger, the events to follow those moments in the story, all of them make you feel as if your a fortune teller. 

It’s a flat story too, one that rarely soars in quality, while never diving down towards poor taste. It just remains steady, rarely ever risking itself to do something daring or challenging for a packed out audience of either “Equalizer” fans or Denzel Washington fans, (I’m going to go with the latter of those two options) instead, it stays on course, merely sailing down a calm sea of mundane storytelling. 

Where the story becomes a game of peekaboo though, is when Wenk begins to hint at stories worth our time. Like an older black man teaching a youthful black kid, or a man’s sins catching up with him, or the price of heroism. There is a multitude of chances where Wenk could’ve turned this vehicle of a story into those directions. Instead, it's more of pitstop. Somewhere for Wenk to stop and say “Hey, look at the great story I could have written, alright onto the next cliche roadside attraction.”

Something worth noticing is my lack of character naming for Denzel. While the first film I let his un-nuanced performance slide, this time around it's near impossible to do so. It’s, once again, a marriage of two performances we’ve already seen. One quite recently in that of Troy from “Fences,” and the other feeling like a rehash of Eli from “Book of Eli.” Providing a performance that has the sermonizing of Troy and the calm dangerous persona of Eli. Denzel isn’t reaching for that next Oscar here, instead just looking to get a sizable paycheck. 

Now that I think of it, I may have been to easy on the first film, because the action here is worth mentioning, but not in a good way exactly. While the first film felt like it needed the swift hand of justice for a city corrupted by unlawful people like that of a “Luke Cage” or a “Black Panther.” This time around, Denzel feels as if he’s stepping into the shark cage out of some twisted fantasy to punish. It becomes sadistic and maniacal, never exactly exciting. It feels a lot more like Bruce Willis’ “Death Wish” than anything else, providing that macho man fantasy of setting the world right by brutality. I can't say the first film refuted that notion either. 

It can become a bit squirmy to watch some of these action sequences, but there are others worth the ten dollar ticker, one in which involves a tension-filled car ride in which someone in Denzel’s lift was hired to kill him. He must drive the car and fight off the assailant in what becomes a breathtaking scene to watch. The finale has its moments too, but the film continually places itself as an example in the on-going conversation of action in moviemaking. What line is unsafe to cross? What lines are we willing to pass? 

“The Equalizer 2” is everything you expect it to be, and everything you don’t. It can be surprising and expectable at the same time. Tierdering between the isles of mediocrity and watchability. It’s not something all that surprising though, Denzel seems to be on the mend. It’s been a while since we’ve seen him bring a new character to life, it makes me wonder, are we in store for something exceptional from the former Oscar winner? 

At one point, he tells a criminal how there are two kinds of pain in this world, "pain that hurts, and pain that alters." "The Equalizer 2" delivers the pain that hurts, watching something that continuously feels as if it's asking you "did you really like the first film?" After watching this sequel, I'm not sure anymore. 
 

The Equalizer (2014)

   Director: Antoine Fuqua With: Denzel Washington, Marton Csokas, Chloë Grace Moretz, David Harbour, Haley Bennett, Bill Pullman, Melissa Leo, David Meunier, & Johnny Skourtis. Release: Sep 26, 2014 R. 2 hr. 12 min. 

Director: Antoine Fuqua
With: Denzel Washington, Marton Csokas, Chloë Grace Moretz, David Harbour, Haley Bennett, Bill Pullman, Melissa Leo, David Meunier, & Johnny Skourtis.
Release: Sep 26, 2014
R. 2 hr. 12 min. 

 

Action films starring black men seem to have a common theme running underneath them, especially when you can look back on them from a distant point. Always about a man answering the call, being forced or coerced into becoming a guardian angel for a neighborhood, a community, a city, or even a country. We see it with stories like “Luke Cage,” “Black Panther,” and in 2014 we saw it with Antoine Fuqua’s “The Equalizer, a movie sharing a kinship-like relation to these comic book blockbuster. 

It’s about a hero in hiding, much like these fellow movies as the screenplay begins with an intimate look at this man’s routine. He’s disciplined, organized, competent, and when you think he’s merely an old man living a routine life, we see his struggles to sleep. He lies in bed, sitting in the darkness, calmly battering his book off his head as if he’s trying to forget something, but what? 

Presumably an insomniac with OCD, he leaves around the same time every night, carrying a neatly folded bag of tea with him to a local diner where he conversates with a troubled girl named Teri (Chloe Grace Moretz). It’s in these calm conversations where the intensity of the story is revealed to us, in a very on the nose manner. With McCall (Denzel Washington) describing the books he reads like spoilers for how the story will eventually develop. Like “Moby Dick,” a book about a fisherman wrestling the biggest fish he can as a symbolizer of a man confronting a final battle when he thought that part of his life had come to an end, eventually stating “You gotta be who you are in this world, no matter what.”

Another is “Don Quixote,” a book about “a guy who thinks he's a knight in shining armor. The only thing is, he lives in a world where knights don't exist anymore,” as Robert (Denzel Washington) describes, a similar way of characterizing our sleeper soldier. Richard Wenk’s screenplay, based on Michael Sloan & Richard Lindheim hit television series from the 80’s, is uncreative in that manner, unable to manifest a more clever way at hinting at the events we're about to witness.

Besides those moments, he produces a solid story, one that is filled with both heart and vigor. Maintaining a constant pushing momentum, building towards a crescendo of action, while, simultaneously, providing a deepened glimpse of a man discovering his role in life and questioning if it's a life worth living. 

He’s a formidable hero, watching idly, surrounding himself with good and honest people like Ralphie (Johnny Skourtis), a youthful man looking to get his start in life as a security guard. He has to make weight though, something he’s asked McCall’s (Denzel Washington) help for in making possible. Another is Teri (Chloe Grace Moretz), a troubled girl, a prostitute. She’s someone better than that, as every girl is above being more than that, and she wants to be a singer until she begins to be far too independent for her “owners” liking. He beats her up one night, really bad, leaving her in critical condition. 

Our hero attempts to provide a middle ground solution, trying to buy her freedom. After an immature and idiotic refusal to his offer, Robert (Denzel Washington) can't walk away as we soon learn that he’s a man of many skills. One that breaks down his deathful actions almost prematurely, setting up his attacks, his use of weapons, and predicts the amount of time it will take. Yeah, this guy’s a badass. 

The story becomes a conflicted when a formidable foe arrives to solve the problem that McCall (Denzel Washington) has become for his boss, the monster fish that our fisherman must fight off. This foe is a former Russian operative,  Nikolai (Marton Csokas), one who's become a monster that nearly beats a man to death with his bare knuckles, screaming and roaring like an animal that has been unleashed on this gang-riddled Boston community. He’s remorseless, immoral, and is skilled like his adversary, but our hero isn’t exactly a comic book hero trying to do the right thing, more like the proverbial sword that cuts the heads off of snakes that attempt to bite or poison those around him. 

Fuqua (“Training Day” & “Southpaw”) provides an overqualified helming of this film which, based on its story, sounds more like your average run of the mill action movie. The action is stylized, intense, and aggressive. Fuqua provides a sleek look to this film that is grungy and grimly lit, the camera moves and vibrates around our hero as he and cinematographer Mauro Fiore (“Avatar”) make this movie pop with energy. 

Hemsey’s exceptional score assists in fabricating an action film with more than meets the eye, but Denzel Washington is the engine that keeps the car running. Never providing something nuanced, more of a combination of depictions we’ve seen before, it’s like Coach Boone (“Remember The Titans”) meets John Creasy (“Man on Fire”). He’s calm, cerebral-like, but can be admittedly intimidating. The best scenes are when we see the man behind the facade, a man experienced and seasoned with men like Nikolai (Marton Csokas). 

He’s provided that wisened aspect with his character, making him seem like a cross between Yoda and John Wick, but in all actuality, he’s just a man trying to find peace in a world where harmony has been eradicated. Answering the call for his guardianship because he has to be who he is in this world, he’s good at something that few of us ever try to be good at, nor should we. 

The film builds as I said, to its big showdown like any other action film, but it takes place in a hardware store of all places, the same store where McCall (Denzel Washington) works. He becomes inventive with his killing methods in a finale that is worth the wait. What’s weird is the lack of surprise his co-workers reveal while discovering that their co-worker is a mercenary. Finally learning what he used to do for a living, a comical subplot that is continuously rehashed throughout the film in which his co-workers attempt to guess what he used to do before he started working at Home Mart. 

These everyday people are never surprised by both his actions or the events going on around them; I can't say ever say I was either. It's predictabilty, and that lack of plausibility makes “The Equalizer” feel more like a cross between a comic book vigilante tale and a thematically driven action film. Entertaining? Hell yes. Believable? Not for a second. 
 

Skyscraper (2018)

   Director: Rawson Marshall Thurber  With: Dwayne Johnson, Neve Campbell, Chin Han, Pablo Schreiber, Noah Taylor, McKenna Roberts, Noah Cottrell, & Kevin Rankin.  Release: Jul 13, 2018  PG-13. 1 hr. 42 min.

Director: Rawson Marshall Thurber
With: Dwayne Johnson, Neve Campbell, Chin Han, Pablo Schreiber, Noah Taylor, McKenna Roberts, Noah Cottrell, & Kevin Rankin. 
Release: Jul 13, 2018
PG-13. 1 hr. 42 min.

 

Walking into to my theatre to see Rawson Marshall Thurber’s (“Central Intelligence” & “We’re the Millers”) “Skyscraper,” I, like any other critic or savvy filmgoer, saw this movie as a potential rip off of “Die Hard” or “The Towering Inferno,” and when the promotional posters accepted those catcalls of early criticism, it felt more like an admission of those objections being correct, and they are. 

It’s a film inspired by previous, and much better, movies that rarely allow for Thurber’s voice to be heard. The film even maintains the familiar traits of Dwayne “The Rock” Johnson’s previous works, #family themes can be found throughout the entirety of this big Hollywood blockbuster of a movie. It’s energetic enough to provide a thrilling experience at times, despite those moments feeling rehashed, and that lack of unoriginality makes this film seamlessly forgettable because there is nothing that shocks or surprises. It’s not a great film; it’s not even a good movie, it's a watchable and harmless big budget movie, as long as you ignore a lot of the blatant flaws and copycat moments. 

The film begins with a flashback, of course. We open with a wintery and dark scene in which a suspect has locked him and his family inside of a lodge. After the negotiations fail to solve the problem, blunt force is relied upon as Will Sawyer (Dwayne Johnson) and his team breach the house. He makes the wrong decision, things go wrong, and he wakes up at a military hospital where he meets his future wife, Sarah (Neve Campbell). A familiar set up? Duh. 

Nonetheless, “Skyscraper” fast forwards ten years to our present story. Will (Dwayne Johnson) and Sarah (Neve Campbell) have started a family, bringing two kids into this world, Georgia (McKenna Roberts) and Henry (Noah Cottrell). Will (Dwayne Johnson) has founded a small security company, out of his garage. After a solid recommendation from a former teammate, Will (Dwayne Johnson) finds himself testing the most high-tech skyscraper in the world. It has self-sufficient energy, top of the line fire safety measures, and is the tallest building ever constructed. What we have to presume is taller than the 2,717-foot record height, which is held by the Burj Khalifa in Dubai, a building used by another blockbuster franchise like “Mission Impossible,” which contains a daring stunt with Tom Cruise running alongside its skyrise windows. 

The same kind of movie magic can be found in “Skyscraper,” but Dwayne Johnson is not near as daring. He stands in front of green screens and a closed set. I guess that puts the debate to bed; we now know that Tom Cruise is tougher than Dwayne Johnson. Jokes aside, the story gets to those points of depth-defying thrills when a team of mercenaries and assassins joins together to get back some corrupting information from tech genius and the masterful creator behind this towering feat of tech, Zhao Long Ji (Chin Han). 

There is a lot of bloodshed that occurs before the building catches fire and this bland ensemble of replaceable mustache-twirling villains’ plan comes to light. Countless lives are taken and the unimpactful nature of those moments shows the long-lasting failure of blockbusters being unable to make us care about villains killing innocent people. Unlike a fellow blockbuster, “Tomb Raider,” “Skyscraper” struggles to treat death and murder as a necessary evil that our hero must endure, it’s meant for spectacle and “character development.” 

These characters aren’t very developed though, Thurber struggles, as his past endeavors show, to make the surrounding characters worth our time. They are never equivalent to purchasing a ten dollar stub, but Thurber does provide moments that make that investment worth it. Though they feel ripped out of a “Mission Impossible” movie or something better than the movie we’re watching, these “Skyscraping” moments are tense and well-handled. Are they inspired? Yes, but that shouldn’t take away from how exciting they are to watch. One of those moments involves the trailer ruined leap from a crane towards an opening in the building, and another takes place with him tying himself to the building itself and repelling down its vertical slide of an exterior. 

I, like any other knowledgeable film fan, can spot the influences and flat-out ripoffs, but they are still thrilling to watch nonetheless. The overqualified Robert Elswit provides a lens to the story. The usual go-to cinematographer for Paul Thomas Anderson, Robert Elswit is elected to be the man to make this film look a lot more artistic than it sounds on paper, and in some ways, he does just that. Providing some tangible scenery and some excellent camera movement, it would have been the icing on the cake for a much better movie. For “Skyscraper,” it's a needed pro for this film to become better than the average summer blockbuster, which it ends up being despite Elswit’s efforts. 

He’s not to blame for that outcome, and neither is Dwayne Johnson who made me eat my words a bit. I’ve always described him as an average actor, one that can play the two roles of charming and action hero, rarely delivering any semblance of emotion. Partially due to the poor writing behind his movies, and his inability to choose films that test him on that front as an actor. In “Skyscraper” he gives small glimpses of those talents, potentially displaying his range as an actor. It’s not concrete evidence that he can be more than a blockbuster hero, but it's something that should bring relief to his critics. Providing a snippet of a chance that this broad-shouldered, chiseled man of an actor might be more than meets the eye.

“Skyscraper” cannot say the same. It’s everything you expect it to be, and it remains fun to watch which makes it “successful?” I think what makes these movies successful is box office gross, but I can resonate with those who love this movie, perhaps they should see more movies though, better ones in that. I’ll admit that “Skyscraper” does surprisingly display some level-head brilliance, de-establishing the expected ego of a movie star like Dwayne Johnson, not that he has one. You would expect male actors like him to have one, but the third act of this film places him in peril with no one but a woman to save him, something rare to see in a movie like this one. She’s given plenty to do as well, as a military surgeon, she’s not helpless in these situations, and neither are the children. Everyone is given a role in saving the day, which was shocking to see, and one of the welcomed and genuine surprises to be found in this blockbuster tale.  

The plot is predictable, and the action feels staged and familiar, but I once heard indie-darling, and fandom favorite Kevin Smith recite a review for “Catch Me If You Can,” a much better movie, stating “sometimes you just want to be coddled in the bosom of a Hollywood movie.” With the vast amount of societally relevant and politically charged filmmaking to be found, “Skyscraper” came at a proper time for me, allowing me to sit down, relax, and enjoy a thrilling ride. It’s a ride I’ve been on before, but fun nonetheless. 
 

American Animals (2018)

   Director: Bart Layton  With: Barry Keoghan, Evan Peters, Jared Abrahamson, & Blake Jenner.  Release: Jul 13, 2018 R. 1 hr. 56 min.

Director: Bart Layton
With: Barry Keoghan, Evan Peters, Jared Abrahamson, & Blake Jenner. 
Release: Jul 13, 2018
R. 1 hr. 56 min.

 

Bart Layton’s “American Animals” is like a strange love child of “The Town” and “The 15:17 to Paris,” it could also be narrowed down as a rip-off of recent film endeavors like “I, Tonya.” The film opens with a title card that reads “This is Not Based on a True Story,” and then the “not based” segment of the sentence fades out of the screen leaving the title “This is a True Story.” Which makes you presume there will be a documentary sequence near the end-credits that reveals the reality of the film, instead, Layton splices interviews of the real men and women throughout the film. Continually derailing any momentum that had been built up before that interjection of legitimacy. I can see why a career documentarian filmmaker was assigned to direct this movie. 

Revolving around the fascinating events of the 2004 Transylvania Library robbery in which four college students banded together to steal a group of rare and expensive books, “American Animals” recounts their lives that built up to those moments, intercutting the stories behind the scenes from the boys turned men that we’re apart of this adventure. It’s a bit of bored white privilege being used as a motivation to do something special, as if the opportunity of college, job success, and a comfortable life aren’t sustaining enough for their happiness. 

It’s a bit hard to sympathize with these characters when you begin to consider that notion, as the film rolls on, the methodologies grow deeper. Itching vicariously at that idea of how we all so desperately desire to make our lives memorable, feeling that we waft through life as nothing short of mediocrity. Something examined far superiorly in “Sorry to Bother You,” but “America Animals” provides that dose of authenticity to make this film feel vigorously intense.  

The first hour of the runtime weighs itself down with that inter-splicing though, like your riding a roller coaster that is going straight waiting for something to happen. We meet Warren Lipka and his charismatic personality and Spencer Reinhard’s regret of the events, knowing there were more than a few opportunities for him to walk away.  That emotional examination of their lives became heavy and warranted in the latter half of the runtime, but the first half feels like it's stuck.

Revealing itself as a marriage of documentation and genre filmmaking, it takes a while for your expectations to adjust to the film your receiving instead of the artistically thrilling heist film you were anticipating. With one of the best trailers of the year that reminded me of an Edgar Wright production, “American Animals” never introduces itself with confidence, which is why that style comes to a surprise I think as if the filmmakers weren't confident that audiences would respond appropriately. They were right. The audience in my theater was filled with an atmosphere of excitement that was soon vacuumed out of the theater. We were duped. 

Once you sink in and accept the bill of goods you’ve been sold, you begin to study the intricacies behind Layton’s methods. It pays off when the third act occurs, when the actual robbery takes place. The tension is sky-high, the fumbling and unprofessionalism of our robbers are sensical, believable, and authentic. Seeing that visualization of fiction reflecting reality saves “American Animals” from becoming a bad movie, pushing it towards something that is more middle of the road, which is far better than failure I guess. 

The technicality saves it as well. Ole Bratt Birkeland provides a dour and grim look to the film that is continually pressing and closing in on these characters, oops, I meant real-life men. It’s as if the closer we get to these men; the more and more intimate the camera becomes, closing in on the actors, pushing towards them, even revealing them in their most private moments like bathing. The editing and music from Anne Nitkin work in perfect tandem, mimicking an Edgar Wright style of filmmaking that attempts to reproduce the sharpness and vigorousness that made Edgar famous. 

When given the green light, our cast steals the show. Evan Peters is relentlessly charismatic and provocative, and Barry Keoghan continues to feed on that brilliant subtilty that we’ve seen him excel with in previous films. Blake Jenner delivers that Luke Perry charm, smiling and confidently striding throughout the film. Jared Abrahamson fades into the foreground in some respects but maintains a substantial presence. 

These are the best aspects of the film that are outweighed and outshouted by the documentary traits of “American Animals.” It’s an experiment of a movie that wasn’t exactly worth it, I think. It’s a film worthy of study because it's derailing our expectations while simultaneously providing an authentic depiction of a heist that is merely invigorating to watch. It falls in the middle of the road for me; I find things that make me love the film and others that make me hate it, I don’t know which side is right. 

I do know that ignoring the victim of the crime, Betty Jean Gooch, isn't right. She was assaulted during these events, yet it's used more as a sympathizer for these men than a moment of vilifying. If she weren't given a slice of time to denounce their actions, this film would be receiving a much lower grade. 

Nonetheless, “American Animals” is about “good kids from good families” that find themselves grasping for the forbidden fruit, fruit that poisoned them almost entirely. Though they're, admittedly given a Hollywood idolization for artistic purposes, there's something worth watching here. 

They now reside with regular jobs, college responsibilities, and the stress of life itself, who knows, maybe a new adventure is on the horizon for these four adrenaline junkies. 

Sorry to Bother You (2018)

   Director: Boots Riley  With: Lakeith Stanfield, Armie Hammer, Tessa Thompson, Donald Glover, Terry Crews, Jermaine Flower, Steven Yeun, David Cross, Omari Hardwick, & W. Kamau Bell. Release: Jul 6, 2018 R. 1 hr. 45 min.

Director: Boots Riley
With: Lakeith Stanfield, Armie Hammer, Tessa Thompson, Donald Glover, Terry Crews, Jermaine Flower, Steven Yeun, David Cross, Omari Hardwick, & W. Kamau Bell.
Release: Jul 6, 2018
R. 1 hr. 45 min.

 

Satirical filmmaking has been condensed into forums of ignorance driven comedy. It is very rarely something speaking with a bright and outrageous voice. Boots Riley’s “Sorry to Bother You” is something that shakes up the genre in a way that doesn’t match audience expectations. Instead, remaining in the vein of the witty and hilarious Terry Gilliam while also staying rugged like a 60's Goddard film. It’s a movie that puts the laughter back in satire and fearlessly dissects the intricate socio-political subjects of corporate animosity, identity politics, and our American instinct to look the other way when chaos and turmoil erupt from the city streets. 

Boots Riley recognizes that cultural dilemma and manifests a world where literal corporate slavery goes under the radar, and a show that averages 150 million viewers is about watching people getting beaten up. Clearly, a mirage based reality, "Sorry to Bother You" is reflecting the insanity of a world that we dub as normal. 

It’s like walking into a mirror world that is reflecting the society we take part in fabricating. Shedding the blinders placed on ourselves by our fear of facing an unsolvable problem, never slowing down for those refusing to jump on the funky bandwagon, and speeding up for those who think they can keep up with Riley’s wit. 

It grounds itself around the character of Cassius Green (Lakeith Stanfield), a young black man suffering from a lack of money. He lives out of the garage of his uncle house, who is barely surviving his economic grievances as well, behind is rent for more than four months. With the self-imposed pressure of wanting to make his life memorable and the added stress of paying back his family for their sacrifices, Cassius (Lakeith Stanfield) gets a job as a telemarketer at RegalView. 

He’s sold a bill of goods by the management, told of the prestigious land of power callers where the best marketers find themselves selling big money for big people. Struggling to get one of these useless brown encyclopedias sold through a sequence of practically constructed scenes, a colleague advises him to use a “white-voice.” It’s not that Will Smith white as he jokes, it's the one that sounds absent of stress and confident that life is working out for him, a subtle in-take on the inherent trust given to white people based on stereotypical beliefs,

That’s just a little jab thrown from “Sorry to Bother You,” as we learn that power callers are responsible for selling things they shouldn’t, and Cassius (Lakeith Stanfield) doesn’t apologize for being successful at that either, gaining the attention of the maniacally charming Steve Life (Armie Hammer). He soon has the unjustifiable world revealed to him through a story that goes from earth-based satire to the stratosphere of insanity. 

It’s subversive and surreal take that doesn’t sway you with heavy messages; it jabs you with loaded jokes meant to make you laugh and to make you think, though both sides don’t always balance each other out. It can become far too serious of a subject to feel comfortable laugh at, and sometimes it's so blatantly funny that the point behind the joke may go over your head. 

Walking a tightrope with his humor, Boots Riley writes a narrative based on that instability. Writing his story as if he’s scooching alongside the edge of a tall building, peeking down at the den of failure, trying anything he can to save his film from disaster, and throws everything at this film. Including the kitchen sink and the rest of the house, never apologizing for it either. Including any and every idea possible to make this movie work. It can become bat-shit crazy to watch this movie as the third act dives from brilliant satire to intricately designed horror/sci-fi, and it’s a lot to take in. 

Sometimes it says too much, shouting it's messages at you instead of calmly stating them. Touching on the idea of selling our souls for greed, allowing capitalistic greed to strip away our humanity from us, quite literally. The film doesn’t tear apart a visual style though; cinematographer Doug Emmett works closely with Boots Riley by delivering a sleek, colorful, and practical look to a film that never shies away from speaking openly about tough subjects. Riley doesn’t hold back in that way even dubbing the “white-voice” with comedian David Cross. Recognizing satires are about creating a superficial and surreal world that seems insane at first glance, but continuously unfolds into rational thought the more and more you consider to dissect its makeup. 

In the third act, it goes way too far for my taste, confusing metaphorical artistry as an excuse to throw something so ridiculous into the screenplay. Does it have a reason for its existence? Sure, but one that doesn’t warrant it's stay. Riley has that first film anxiety of including any and every idea that he thinks will make this film memorable, probably involving too much and never crossing out ideas that should have never made it to the final draft. 

Nonetheless, the film does not act on its own accord of Riley’s brilliance, but rather a surrounding team of exceptional talent. Providing a potential launching pad for Lakeith Stanfield who does his best work to date, embracing the lunacy of it all with a performance that is matched by the rigorousness of Armie Hammer who strolls around his mansion in a muumuu. There’s an outstanding surrounding cast of Tessa Thompson, Donald Glover, Terry Crews, Jermaine Flower, Steven Yeun, Omari Hardwick, and even stand-up comedian W. Kamau Bell makes an appearance in this outrageous funhouse mirror of a movie. 

It goes way too far in some areas, yes, but I can give it a nod for that. Never shying away from a challenge, going all-in instead of playing it safe and boring. “Sorry to Bother You” is a provocative comedy that has a bright light shining upon it from the endless raves of critics, a spotlight that won’t be matched by audience approval I expect. I can’t blame them either; it's a large and grand formulation of a man shouting the importance of complex social dilemmas with inventive but bizarre methods. 

Some have compared Riley’s debut to Peele’s first feature film, “Get Out.” While they share the same inventiveness, Peele was able to deliver that necessary finesse to a film with such wacky storytelling, allowing his messages to hit with more acception due to that dose of believability. Riley does the opposite, on purpose I think. Choosing to go crazy for crazy sakes, being unashamed to be brash and original. If there is any “right way” to describe this film, it's just that, original. 

JAWS (1975)

   Director: Steven Spielberg With: Roy Scheider, Robert Shaw, Richard Dreyfuss, Lorraine Gary, Murray Hamilton, Carl Gottlieb, Jeffrey Kramer, Susan Backlinie, & Jonathan Filley. Release: June 20, 1975 PG. 2 hr. 4 min. 

Director: Steven Spielberg
With: Roy Scheider, Robert Shaw, Richard Dreyfuss, Lorraine Gary, Murray Hamilton, Carl Gottlieb, Jeffrey Kramer, Susan Backlinie, & Jonathan Filley.
Release: June 20, 1975
PG. 2 hr. 4 min. 

 

Some people like to narrify Steven Spielberg’s “JAWS” as a horror movie, centering around a man’s fear of swimming and him confronting that fear by force. Thinking that since it involves a monster, but not an unrealistically sized, great white shark, that the film is meant to scare you. In some ways they're right, “JAWS” does display a great deal of Spielberg’s love for Alfred Hitchcock, as someone who was a master in manifesting suspense, Spielberg learned from him and made the movie’s monstrous antagonist remain hidden for nearly half of the runtime. 

In 1975, this was a risky maneuver, one that could have sent audiences into a frenzy. Today, there would be twitter rants and youtube videos titled “Everything Wrong with Jaws” or “Why Jaws is a Bad Movie.” Those people would confuse expectation for fear with quality, assuming “JAWS” to be a film meant to terrify you, and on the one hand, that is what Spielberg is doing here, on another, he’s providing a fantastical journey led by three amazing characters. 

The story centers around the July Fourth holiday on Amity Island, a tourist spot for those who wish to celebrate the summer with beach water fun and a sunshine spirit. More than a week before this famous day swoops into town, Chief Brody (Roy Scheider), a former New York cop who got tired of fighting an unwinnable war, discovers whatever's left of a girl who encountered this monster. There’s an arm, a severed torso, and a few other things left of this poor girl. The cause of death? Shark attack, at least that’s what we see typed into Brody’s (Roy Scheider) report. It’s not until his doofus of a deputy, Deputy Hendricks (Jeffrey Kramer), starts blabbing about the beach being shut down that we begin to see our Chief faces the consequences of his decisions.
 
With the town’s number one source of income under attack, Mayor Vaughn (Murray Hamilton) steps up to Chief Brody (Roy Scheider), thinking he’s doing the right thing and this former hot shot detective has just gone into panic mode. The medical examiner redacts his cause of death, and the local newspaper owner agrees to make no fuss about the incident, sweeping all of this under the rug, so that out of town visitors have nothing to worry about. Even Brody (Roy Scheider) attempts to calm himself down, but he can’t help that instinctive gut feeling, as he and his family go out to the beach. His wife, Ellen Brody (Lorraine Grey), spends her time attempting to calm down her husband whose staring at the water, peeking over whoever decides to sit in front of him. Making sure to never look away for too long, maintaining a constant vision of this sea of people.

We hear his wife talk about how he’s afraid of the water, a drowning incident as a child. All the while, Spielberg keeps our camera pointed at Brody (Roy Scheider), cutting back to the people in the ocean every other shot, building this tension, producing this amount of expectation that our police chief is about to witness a tragedy up-close. We hear the bombastic rhythmic tones of Williams’ score droop into the frame, our camera’s perspective switches to the eyes of something lurking beneath the blue painted shadows. It’s swimming right under these kids’ feet, choosing and deciding which one will be easiest to pick off. 

One of these boys is relaxing on a yellow floaty, at least he was until this great white beast wrestled him out of it, spewing blood into the ocean, manifesting a horrific scene. Spielberg then uses the infamous forward tracking, zoom out shot as he captures Chief Brody’s (Roy Scheider) panicked reaction, realizing that he was both right for dubbing it as a shark attack, and wrong for not closing the beaches. He frenzies out of his seat, screaming for everyone to get out of the water, sprinting down the shoreline with fear and dismay in his voice. It’s a horrific scene, the scariest one in the film for me because it's us watching a tragedy take place, and a man’s failure to act to be the root cause of it, a terrifying picture to have painted by a genius like Spielberg, and John Williams of course. 

I say of course because Spielberg gets most of the credit for this gem of a film, and he’s deserving, being the director and all. He was quite essential in crafting this film’s scenery and tone, but he’s gone on to say that “without Williams's score, the movie would only have been half as successful and according to Williams, it jump-started his career.” It’s hard to disagree when you’ve seen this score become just as infamous as the movie, not to mention the countless other pieces of greatness that Williams has crafted in his career since, ranging from “Jurassic Park” to “Harry Potter,” Williams has become a certifiable legend in the realm of film composers. He’s one of the best, one that got his talents noticed with a young Jewish kid looking to show the world what he could do with a little money and a mechanical shark. 

The story begins to divulge from horror into a thriller, building the tension in the town. People are begging for justice, but wanting to keep the beaches open because they know that their lives depend on the business they get from those waters. It’s a fuss of an argument with hooting and hollering all over until a long screeching noise stems from the back of the room. Nails screeching down this chalkboard, a chalkboard with a childlike drawing of a shark on it. A narrow-eyed, rugged, and rough-edged man sits in the back of the room, offering his services as a bounty hunter stating: “You all know me. Know how I make a living.” He goes on to talk about how this ain’t no normal fish, how this is not a common occurrence, and how he guarantees to catch this “bird.” The mom of the boy killed offered $3000 to anyone who would kill this monster, but he wants $10,000 for his services, promising he’ll deliver “the head, the tail, the whole damn thing.”

It’s a remarkable character introduction of this sea captain known as Quint (Robert Shaw), one followed up by Oceanographer Matt Hooper (Richard Dreyfuss) later on when he arrives at a frenzy of fisherman attempting to be heroes, but looking more like a bunch of pirates searching for gold. Trying to fit too many men into the same boat, using dynamite as a weapon of choice, and enough chum to bring in a shark from Mexico. In the meanwhile, Hooper (Richard Dreyfuss) sees the first victim, almost vomiting up his lunch. He exclaims how this was no boating accident and how these men have a big problem on their hands.

A shark is caught and killed though, one that doesn’t match the bite radius of the original killer and one whose stomach is absent of human remains. Nonetheless, Mayor Vaughn (Murray Hamilton) is convinced that the shark found is the right one, at least it's good enough for him so that he can reopen the beaches for the Fourth of July madness, madness that Hooper (Richard Dreyfuss) sees as a man offering up free-lunch to a hungry shark, one that is territorial and ramping up his victim count. Things get even worse, and the Mayor is left with no choice but to feed into the bounty hunter’s demands, providing an endless bank of supplies for a town desperately looking for a savior, they get three of them though. All of whom share a great deal of interaction and motivation. 

The screenplay written by Benchley and Carl Gottlieb, with contributions by Howard Sackler and Spielberg himself, exhumes every detail it can in that way, providing small moments of naturalistic dialogue that allows us to feel resonance with these characters. Building the film’s tension around the characters, instead of the shark, this screenwriter becomes one worth studying and one worth quoting. With famous lines like “Your gonna need a bigger boat” or Shaw’s improvisational speech about his time on the U.S.S Indianapolis and the sea-songs about fair Spanish ladies, it all feels so naturalistic, almost driven by fate when you see the shooting stars streaking across in the night sky, a lucky break for Spielberg. 

It feels as if it was supposed to happen as if the film gods smiled upon Spielberg, but putting aside the luck he found, Spielberg found himself responsible for manifesting something rare. Something that invented blockbusters, becoming the first film to break past $100 million at the box office. A movie that exemplified the importance of a third act, building his tension towards a crescendo of events that were both terrifying and exciting to watch, not to mention the film’s best scene in how we view these differing men bond over scars and the saddening past of Quint (Robert Shaw), it all feels so historic. It’s almost disconcerting to think about this being Spielberg’s first, while he did make a TV movie before this, “JAWS” was his original debut. One that took place in 1975, and one that shocked the world. 

Oscar-nominated, phenomenally acted (despite some of the cast members being intoxicated onset), and masterfully fabricated by both Spielberg, his writers, and John Williams. It was the launching pad for both Spielberg and Williams, both who went on to become two of the most notable names of modern film. Becoming kings of their respective field of art, and “JAWS” went on to become something of historic magnitude, changing everything about movie making. The summer season may seem normal today, but in 1975 it wasn’t, that was until “JAWS” hit the silver screen. 

Few films change the industry like that; fewer maintain that popularity over time and the special ones get better over time, “JAWS” is one of those unique movies. Seemingly becoming better each time you watch it, aging like whiskey. It has all of the Spielberg tropes of family dynamics, patience with a character, perfected tone, and spellbinding entertainment; it’s a Spielbergian classic, one that is sure to stand the tests of time, in fact, it already has. 
 

The First Purge (2018)

   Director: Gerard McMurray  With: Lex Scott Davis, Y’lan Noel, Joivan Wade, Marisa Tomei, Rotimi Paul, Mugga, Patch Darragh, Luna Lauren Velez, & Mo McRae.  Release: Jul 4, 2018 R. 1 hr. 37 min. 

Director: Gerard McMurray
With: Lex Scott Davis, Y’lan Noel, Joivan Wade, Marisa Tomei, Rotimi Paul, Mugga, Patch Darragh, Luna Lauren Velez, & Mo McRae. 
Release: Jul 4, 2018
R. 1 hr. 37 min. 

1.5_4 stars.png
 

The Purge franchise has always had an inherent political vibe to it, but Gerard McMurray and James DeMonaco’s “The First Purge” is a movie that feels like a child misunderstanding political ideologies, choosing to follow the most extreme side on crucial issues such as gun control, the wealth gap, and racial tensions.

I guess we were forewarned with the hat in the poster that resembled something along the lines of "make America great again," but these filmmakers flip-flop between each side of the aisle, attempting to look as if they reside in the middle, only choosing an option that they believe is right. But the choices made are too far extreme for me to think that these filmmakers are middle of the aisle electorates that made a movie to speak out on some vital socio-political issues.

Taking place before all of the other nonsensical movies began, “The First Purge” starts with a psychological interview of sorts with a man named Skeletor (Rotimi Paul), who is an outright junkie. He has cuts on his face, bloody gums, and is being used as the prime example for why this murder night needs to occur. So that he can find a way to outpour his withdrawal frustrations, which then would encourage drug use, drug sales, and somehow lower crime rates?

Nonetheless, news clips of protests circulating the one percent, crime-rates, and low-income communities become evidence for a night of purging the hatred they’ve manifested for the system in which they reside. It begins discussions that were surprising to hear from a franchise that has attempted to be an original philosophically based horror movie, a straight up action movie, and a supposed commentary on the presidential election. The conversations encircling the ideas of low-income, minority-populated communities being the guinea pigs for the rest of America feels somewhat authentic with the amount of racial tensions and believed stereotypes in our current cultural climate, but it all feels like a fear-mongering technique attempting to show us the course of our nation's future.

For those of us who like to maintain a level-head and listen to our oppositions to manifest solutions instead of continuing this cycle of division, these moments will feel painfully obvious, like a hole in the wall is attempting to be hidden with duck tape. The inherent racial targeting of it all sounds believable, acting like an alt-right conservatives wet dream. With an intoxicated political system and the poisoned electorate, power has been given to those ideologies we once deemed as lunacy.  

The film does offer some more buyable socio-political commentary by painting its local neighborhood gang boss as someone who stands for the community but has done it in a way that fabricates far more trouble than he intended. Our main character, Nya (Lex Scott Davis), confronts this man, Dmitri (Y’lan Noel), in a scene that discusses how he hurts this community 364 days a year while this purge only affects one day a year. It’s a touching scene speaking on the dangers of choosing a gang lifestyle while displaying the hardships that can influence someone to make that decision.

It goes from that clever screenwriting to a dumb Purge movie on the flip of a coin when we learn that people are actively participating in this sociological and psychological study for a mere five thousand dollars. How bad is our country at this point? Are we in a great depression of sorts or recession? How far down have we gone where five grand is enough of an incentive to kill people?

From there, our movie goes from that rationally leveled mindset to a radical alt-right conservative mindset (not congressional republican, there is a difference between the two) that formulates the importance of the second amendment. It's as if the screenwriter, James DeMonaco, is screaming at you “this is why we need the amendment, to keep the government from killing black people.” It’s so unashamedly alt-right and NRA supportive that it's almost worth a tip of the cap for being so honest.

What’s confusing is how it goes from a level-headed, I’ll be it, left-leaning mindset, to something so ridiculous. The film does the same thing with that of its tone, and it's genre, something that is as indecisive as the screenplay is, going from straight up drama to thriller to horror to an action film. This movie seems to have no idea what it wants to be, flip-flopping with its political philosophies and with its genre, but when the film does allow it's action to take the spotlight, it becomes far more entertaining.v

Our John Wick 2.0 character is the gang leader Dmitri (Y’lan Noel), which is cool and a somewhat good character arc, but how did he become such a mercenary? Was he ever apart of the military? Was he self-trained? It was the one thing that continuously bothered me in this last twenty minutes of action; it was that annoying bit that stuck in my teeth.

However, the film before that was displaying haunting imagery of white extremist groups murdering off large groups of minority-populated neighborhoods. It’s quite disturbing to see something as extreme as this, and know that they are alt-right militia groups preparing for such a thing. Gerard McMurray directs these scenes with such vigor, something he maintains in the action sequences at the end of the film which are handled with intensity and unconventional camera techniques. Holding the camera close to the action, but never obscuring it from the viewer.

All of the performances are equal and satisfactory across the board, with no one standing out more than the other. Although, Mugga provided some laughs and gags that were far more entertaining than the horror intended scenery of these overnight sociopaths.

“The First Purge” corrects that past mistake of the franchise though, showing how people wouldn’t become monsters when giving the green light to become one, but it all remains so ridiculous with it's narrative surrounding something as preposterous as providing legal action to murder, primarily when it's used to satisfy a close-minded argument.

It’s a politically charged film, receiving a politically charged review from both me and most likely many others. It’s has a lot more going for it than the past three films, but it maintains that same clickbait mentality. Trying to make something controversial, so that you have to see it and give it some money. Never delivering something worth a feature-length runtime, feeling better suited for an overfunded Youtube video on someone’s political channel feed.

Sicario: Day of the Soldado (2018)

   Director: Stefano Sollima  With: Benicio Del Toro, Josh Brolin, Isabela Moner, Jeffrey Donovan, Manuel Garcia-Rulfo, Matthew Modine, Shea Whigham, Elijah Rodriguez, & Catherine Keener. (English, Spanish dialogue)  Release: Jun 29, 2018 R. 2 hr. 2 min.

Director: Stefano Sollima
With: Benicio Del Toro, Josh Brolin, Isabela Moner, Jeffrey Donovan, Manuel Garcia-Rulfo, Matthew Modine, Shea Whigham, Elijah Rodriguez, & Catherine Keener. (English, Spanish dialogue) 
Release: Jun 29, 2018
R. 2 hr. 2 min.

 

“Sicario: Day of the Soldado” is a film that in the midst of its story feels as if it's missing something. It’s almost incoherently speaking about something, but it is speaking about something. As unlike "Sicario” providing no message to its story, questioning whether our actions as a country should be equivalent to the evil we face, "Sicario: Day of the Soldado" delivers a message. The first film provided a lens surrounding the subject, observing without choosing a side to argue for. 

It was that itch that I needed to be scratched for me to dub the first film as something exceptional. Sheridan chooses a side of the moral puzzle to fixate upon at the beginning of this film in a disturbing sequence. He then flips flops to another viewpoint halfway through and then chooses neither side near the end. It’s as if he’s just as conflicted as we are when watching this movie because our first film was carried by Emily Blunt, who was our moral compass. Allowing us to see this dirty world through idealistic eyes, this time around that morality is missing. 

This time around we're watching a sequence of events that begin with a visceral glimpse of a terrorist attack. Up close and personal, we observe four men walk into a retail store in Kansas City and unleash mayhem on innocent American lives. Playing up to this idea that their actions justify our violent retaliation with hellfire and fury and “the full weight of the United States military” as Matthew Modine states while depicting this film’s secretary of defense. 

From there we cut to our C.I.A operative turned boogeyman depicted by Josh Brolin, he’s grown out a beard (Brolin with a beard is money by the way), and he finds himself targeting Somalia crime lords who gave those terrorists access to ships to get across the sea to Mexico. He displays new rules of engagement, threatening to launch an airstrike on this man’s home if he does not give him the information needed, and he’s not bluffing. 

Soon after that, Matt Graver (Josh Brolin) is brought back to American soil to receive the orders of creating a war between cartels as he did with terrorist groups in the middle east. To assist in starting this war, Matt (Josh Brolin) brings back Alejandro (Benicio Del Toro) into the fold, like the rabid dog that he’s going to let loose. To start this battle, they plan on kidnapping the daughter of a cartel leader, Isabella Reyes (Isabela Moner), who soon becomes a bit of a problem when the job goes awry. Manifesting a film that becomes your necessary action-centric thriller of the summer that serves up the violence with a level of brutality that matches the first film. 

The violence is not given the same moral complexity or the same visual treatment that the triple Oscar nominee recipient provided. That film had vital tools in its fabrication, devices that are noticeably missing this time around. Stefano Sollima (“Suburra”) attempts to offer that same attention to detail and realism that the first film contained, using authentic sound design and a mimicking score that tries to inject that same tension. 

He falls short on all fronts though because he’s attempting to replicate instead of creating. He uses 360-degree tracking shots that take place during shootouts, providing intimate glimpses of the violence from a perspective that is thrilling. He also maintains that grim tone, a tone that is exemplified during these interactions between these shady government officials and Matt (Josh Brolin). When he lives in his own skin, he delivers some remarkable sequences, a key lesson for those who try to replicate another artists' genius.

Dariusz Wolski (“All the Money in the World” & “Alien: Covenant”) replaces the legendary Roger Deakins and unashamedly attempts to imitate Deakins’ techniques. He uses those extended branching shots of the helicopters hovering over the border, and using his lighting to cast shadows in a way that matches Deakins’ style. He falls short as well, and with no shame added because Deakins is a rare genius that comes around once in a lifetime. 

Sheridan is that one common thread behind the film’s production. He wrote the first film which remained ambiguous with its meaning in a way that worked and didn’t work for that film. It was an itch that needed to be scratched as I said, “Sicario: Day of the Soldado” scratches it. He flip-flops between moral decisions as I stated above. He chooses one side that suggests that stronger violence destroys weaker violence, then shows a sequence of events that refute that notion, as if to say there is no right answer. No matter what we choose to do, it's the wrong answer. Maybe that is his message, a message that he has to sacrifice footing for, as I don’t believe he supports that hard-right leaning way of thinking that takes place in the first half of the film. 

However, the film doesn’t bring the same amount of productional heft and artistry to be found in the first film; rarely having a flavor of its own, and it weighs the film down in a noticeable way because it feels as if your missing that critical piece to finish the puzzle being crafted by Sheridan. 

He doesn’t write nearly as cleverly as the first film either, which suggests that Villeneuve may have assisted in that fabrication of that moral examination. The violence was meant to be a measuring stick of how far we’re willing to go to solve an unsolvable problem, “Sicario: Day of the Soldado” seems to use that violence almost gratuitously. Using it to make a point, yes, but one that doesn’t reveal itself until the end of the film. 

It can become as conflicting as the subject of cartel crime and immigration policies, but Sheridan is in full form in providing those masculine moments of gun porn and glorifying violence as a form of entertainment. Where we draw the line in that area is a complex dilemma in itself.

Nonetheless, “Sicario: Day of the Soldado” feels more like a remake than a sequel. Never matching or attempting to make it's own voice be heard, Sheridan provides a screenplay that is just shy of being as complex as the first film but delivers a message this time around. A message that is manifested through questionable methods, but one that is delivered and resounding with that same hollowness and dourness of “Sicario.” 

If this film is anything, it’s a testament to the magnificence of Denis Villeneuve, Johan Johansson, and Roger Deakins, and just how irreplaceable they are. Brolin and Del Toro may provide some charisma and that macho man mentality that some audiences will crave, Isabela Moner is fantastic as well, but it all seems so unnecessary, a message falling upon deaf ears. 
 

Gotti (2018)

   Director: Kevin Connolly  With: John Travolta, Spencer Lofranco, Pruitt Taylor Vince, Stacy Keach, Chris Mulkey, William Demeo, & Kelly Preston. Release: June 15, 2018 R. 1 hr. 44 min. 

Director: Kevin Connolly
With: John Travolta, Spencer Lofranco, Pruitt Taylor Vince, Stacy Keach, Chris Mulkey, William Demeo, & Kelly Preston.
Release: June 15, 2018
R. 1 hr. 44 min. 

 

Critics versus audiences is a subplot kind of narrative that anyone on either side of the argument can become infatuated by, I am at fault for this as much as anyone else. It can become increasingly frustrating to see films that you find immensely powerful to go under the radar of most moviegoers as if they never actually happened. It can be just as difficult to see a movie that you and your friends love that critics trashed with their reviews, or to see a lack of genre films at the Oscars. 

It’s a type of sociological discourse that all of us can seek our teeth into and share some kind of resonation with either side, but it’s never meant to be something that proves one is better than the other. Kevin Connolly’s (“E” from “Entourage”) “Gotti” is a film that struggles to grasp that concept. It’s a film centering around the life of the notorious mobster John Gotti (John Travolta), focusing on his family life, his most infamous moments as a criminal, and his indirect leadership of his community. 

The screenplay, written by Lem Dobbs (“Dark City” & “Haywire”) and Leo Rossi (Budd from “Halloween II”), attempts to paint this picture of him being a people’s man brought down by a group of corrupt government officials. As if he’s someone like Billy the Kid or Robin Hood, but in fact, he’s a criminal using propaganda and a forceful hand to maintain face. He’s like a local dictator residing over his neighborhood’s who does occasional beneficiary things for the community as a part of PR. The film never treats him as a criminal, but rather an outlaw, a folk hero mobster. 

The film seems to be confusing murder with avenging, to be fair most films don’t play up murder as something worth denouncing. Instead, its served up as something spectacular and worth watching. Nonetheless, “Gotti” received a zero percent rating on Rotten Tomatoes which has led to it's rising popularity for its strong negative response from critics. The screenplay I described above is, in part, at fault for that rating. It’s seemingly inconsequential with it's writing, meaning that none of its storytelling has any merit or emotion to its story. It’s a one hour and forty-five-minute sequence of cliche mobster moments, including poor joisy accents and the throwaway lines to make the film seem a lot cooler than it actually is. 

Not to mention, “Gotti” breaks a golden rule of screenwriting in establishing who is telling the story we’re watching or are we observing these events as they happen. “Gotti” begins with John (John Travolta) seemingly speaking to us from beyond the grave, the point of view transfers between him and his son, and it ends with a multitude of news clips from that time. It’s shocking to see such a simple rule broken by professional screenwriters, but they are not the only one at fault for the lousy critical reception of “Gotti.”

Connolly and his cinematographer, Michael Barnett, provide a grim and shadowy look to the film. The lighting struggles to paint anything with visual prominence as if Connolly is trying to shield his movie from us through the obscurity of its poor lighting. The camera doesn’t do anything remarkable either, remaining still and relying on its star to provide the oomph of charisma that the film desperately needs, and Travolta doesn’t shy away from the challenge. 

Though his accent drops in and out of his dialogue, Travolta does deliver more times than not throughout this film in good and bad ways. He provides those unintended laugh out loud moments that are so bad they’re funny, but he also delivers some of the films best moments, specifically a sequence of moments in which we watch this crime family deal with the loss of a child. It’s one of the few moments in the film that has some sense of passion residing in its scenery. 

Travolta’s effort and one good sequence of filmmaking is not enough to craft a good movie though, the sheer lack of focus given to a film that feels as if it was made through a blender of events than actual proper filmmaking tools makes “Gotti” something worth forgettin’ about. The rest of cast surrounding Travolta is either overdoing the whole mob thing or not doing it enough, refusing to embrace the ridiculousness of it all to provide something worth watching. Not to mention the on-the-nose soundtrack played during the most cliche of moments ranging from artists such as Duran Duran, James Brown, Dean Martin, The Escape Club,  and Pitbull. It's all just so ridiculous. 

This film should not be used as a prime example in this ongoing argument of critic versus viewer, “Gotti” is feeding off our desire to feed into that narrative, attempting to cloud its shortcomings by manifesting discourse to camouflage its lack of quality, like a criminal pretending to be a folk hero. It may not be a good movie, but at least it remains consistent with its story in that way.  

The Death of Superman (2018)

   Director: Jake Castorena & Sam Liu. With: Jerry O'Connell, Rebecca Romijn, Rainn Wilson, Rosario Dawson, Nathan Fillion, Christopher Gorham, Matt Lanter, Shemar Moore, Nyambi Nyambi, & Jason O'Mara.  Release: July 24, 2018 PG-13. 1 hr. 21 min.  

Director: Jake Castorena & Sam Liu.
With: Jerry O'Connell, Rebecca Romijn, Rainn Wilson, Rosario Dawson, Nathan Fillion, Christopher Gorham, Matt Lanter, Shemar Moore, Nyambi Nyambi, & Jason O'Mara. 
Release: July 24, 2018
PG-13. 1 hr. 21 min.  

 

The DC animated universe doesn’t share the same glitz and glamour as it's live action counterpart, but it does maintain that darker edge. The films themselves have balanced that of levity with that of conflict, constantly waging a battle against the forces of evil, both internally and externally. It’s what makes these films kind of awesome to watch, not only as a comic book reader, but as someone who's become engulfed with frustration towards DC's recent outings, these animated tales don't just match their live-action older brothers, they surpass them. 

Following the story created by Dan Jurgens, Louise Simmons, Roger Stern, Jerry Ordway, Karl Kesel, and others, during the 1993 multi-issue series that was designed to increase comic sales and show readers that the character was not invincible. It revolved around the monster known as Doomsday, an incredibly powerful monster with regenerative abilities that allow him to come back from death, unable to be killed in the same previous manner. He’s strong, fast, and immensely terrifying due to his lack of cerebral conception. It’s like Superman, but without his morality, that’s why he poses such a threat to the man of steel. 

Comics-wise, it becomes incredibly noticeable that this monster provides a formidable contest for our hero, but not in a way that is overwhelming, at least not at first. When their battle begins, Doomsday hits Superman, and with no avail to that first attack, he then kicks him through Anderson’s home. Jake Castorena and Sam Liu’s “Death of Superman” is a version of that same story that carries the universe's past subplots along with its new one. The story also manifests a Doomsday that is far more overwhelming and destructive than the one from the comics. He merely overpowers and destroys the Justice League, powering through the shield of the Hal’s (Nathan Fillion) ring, and catching the Flash (Christopher Gorham) in mid-stride. 

Then a battle with Diana (Rosario Dawson) ensues, one of the highpoints of the action in the movie. It’s bloody and mimics to that tale of man versus beast, but it's a badass woman this time, one that puts up an admirable fight. Speaking of the action, the film never shies away from brutality, displaying it front and center for the world to see. There’s blood, broken bones, and graphical visuals that are sure to scar some of the younger audience members. 

The movie has more to it than just a battle between heroes and monsters, Lex Luthor (Rainn Wilson) is apart of that as a man hoping to fight against the alien God the world has dubbed a hero. He believes in representing humanity with a hero who shares their morality. That fascinating character arc remains intact for this film, and even more so, it becomes an ultimate weapon in creating an arc that shows the difference between our caped hero and the others in the Justice League. A man with every power, who chooses to save those who don’t share that immense power. He’s not forced, no tragic backstory that psychological fabricated him into a hero, he’s the one hero who is not only the most powerful, but chooses to save instead of destroying. He appoints himself, instead of being elected by others. 

It’s one of the many things that Peter Tomasi’s screenplay does far better than Chris Terrio and David S. Goyer’s story in “Batman V. Superman.” Exhuming the ideas of what makes this hero special, instead of displaying him as a god amongst mortals. He’s a god attempting to be mortal, not the other way around. 

The story can become tedious with that of its use of the heroes, in that of Batman or any of these heroes surviving the battle by the skin of their teeth. It’s incredibly convenient that something always pulls them out of the fire. The romance in the story between Lois (Rebecca Romijn) and Clark (Jerry O’Connell) is a bit of a detractor in the screenplay. Providing another glimpse into what makes this alien a hero, his fears of including more people in his life, placing them in danger. It’s something all heroes share, but choose to do anyway. The film could go without it though; it's not the icing on the cake that the directors were hoping for. 

The animation isn’t something to behold either, it’s very formalized and staying in accordance with the last few films. It’s very digitalized and slim, painting the character in a much smaller version than the Justice League show from the mid-2000’s would have you believe. 

I’m not surprised by the lack of press this film is getting, most animation that isn’t Pixar or Dreamworks tends to go under the radar. It’s not something to behold, or that rivals the live action universe of heroes, but it's something worth watching to see how much potential DC has as a live action franchise. They should be competitive in a dogfight with Marvel Studios, but they remain at the back of the pack, even trailing behind Fox. It starts with how they don’t seem to get the mentality of what makes these heroes incredible. It’s not the abilities or the fights; it’s the ideologies they possess that makes them far better than we could ever be. 

In Whedon and Snyder’s “Justice League,” Bruce describes Clark as someone more human than him. A better version of this emotional interaction takes place in Tom King’s latest run on the Caped Crusader, in which in issue #36 of DC Universe’s “Batman,” he and Selina discuss why he is not the hero that Clark is, while Clark and Lois do the opposite. 

Both of them exchange their reasons for not being as good as the other, Clark describing Bruce as a man without powers, but can overcome with his will and his wit. Bruce illustrates Clark as the last remnant of a genocide and one who chooses to be a hero, a choice that he didn’t have. This interaction is what makes these heroes unique, not the capes and powers, but the emotions behind them, a note that Warner Bros needs to take note of with their live action films. 

Sicario (2015)

   Director: Denis Villeneuve With: Emily Blunt, Benicio Del Toro, Josh Brolin, Victor Garber, Jon Bernthal, Daniel Kaluuya, Jeffrey Donovan, Raoul Trujillo, Julio Cesar Cedillo, & Bernardo Saracino. (English, Spanish dialogue) Release: Oct 2, 2015 R. 2 hr. 1 min. 

Director: Denis Villeneuve
With: Emily Blunt, Benicio Del Toro, Josh Brolin, Victor Garber, Jon Bernthal, Daniel Kaluuya, Jeffrey Donovan, Raoul Trujillo, Julio Cesar Cedillo, & Bernardo Saracino. (English, Spanish dialogue)
Release: Oct 2, 2015
R. 2 hr. 1 min. 

3.5_4 stars.png
 

Denis Villeneuve's “Sicario” opens with a title card that reads: “The word Sicario comes from the zealots of Jerusalem, killers who hunted the Romans who invaded their homeland. In Mexico, Sicario means hitman.” When we are introduced to a world beyond the already savage scenery found on U.S soil, we start to meet our “Sicario,” and his lawlessness and freedom granted by our government to commit cross both codes of conducts and moral boundaries. Something that the narrative treats itself in accordance with this character in which it crosses lines that may disturb audiences, and delivers a dreaded atmosphere where no light is shined through. Something that Villeneuve’s past films like “Enemy” and “Prisoners” analyze as well, testing an audience limits in absorbing an amount of bleakness that we as filmgoers are unaccustomed to. 

The film follows it's title card with this heavy score, one that repeats itself throughout the film. Johan Johansson composes this sound of grimness, matching the film’s tone, as it draws us closer to the screen. From there, we are placed inside of a swat truck, one that is about to force its way into a house by ramming through its wall at full speed. F.B.I units and local swat teams swarm the house. Searching throughout the house for suspects, Kate (Emily Blunt) barges into a room where a man with a shotgun is waiting for her. He shoots, she ducks, she fires, and he falls. It’s a quick transition of events in which we see a woman who knows this is part of the job, but a piece that you want to avoid as much as possible. 

Why was he protecting this room though? There’s nothing in there, until her partner, Reggie (Daniel Kaluuya), notices something that resides within the wall, behind the hole created by Kate’s (Emily Blunt) attacker. They pull back this thin sheet of drywall to discover bodies wrapped in plastic bags. Their butchered, bloody, bound like the packaging of meat, and there’s more than thirty of them throughout the walls of the house. It’s a rough and merciless sequence of events that set a tone that is dour and dark and filled with moral ambiguity. 

That tone doesn’t kick into high gear until Kate’s (Emily Blunt) record and ability to scratch the surface of these cases draws the attention of Matt Graver (Josh Brolin). He’s an advisor of sorts, one that reeks of C.I.A and is mysterious in both his reasoning and his objectives. He likes what he hears from her, and brings her along a mission to find a drug trafficker in El Paso, but we learn that he’s actually in Juarez, Mexico. Introduced to an even more mysterious compadre named Alejandro (Benicio Del Toro), Kate (Emily Blunt) finds herself apart of a group of men that shoot first and ask for permission later. 

The scene that exemplifies this takes place shortly after their arrival to Juarez in which their objective is to retrieve this high-level drug trafficker from local authorities and transport him across the border for questioning in exchange for residence in prison on American soil. On their way back to the border they run into a little mishap in which a broken down car blocks their escape route. Stuck in traffic, the tension builds as cars begin to pull past the convoy slowly. Each person becoming a possible attacker, a possible cartel member, a potential killer. The scene builds to a crescendo that Deakins produces with vigor as the camera resides in the car, pointing out at the cronies, circling like jackals. Joe Walker’s editing assists in assembling this masterpiece of tension that eventually climax’s with gunfire and bloodshed, bloodshed that horrifies Kate (Emily Blunt), and tells her that these guys are playing by different rules. 

It’s the best sequence in the movie because it introduces a multitude of storylines, as well as informs us of the tone being set. All of this occurs while a memorable shootout takes place, which is where the film begins to stumble. Denis Villeneuve, Roger Deakins, and Johan Johansson bring an immersive level of production that Sheridan’s screenplay struggles to meet. 

The story itself is not flawed, per say, nor is it nonsensical. It all makes sense and has answers to our questions, but it is admittedly basic. It’s a story you’d expect in a mild to solid quality film that doesn’t match the technical mastery that we see with “Sicario.” It’s not the basicness that gives me that annoying itch that keeps me from dubbing this film as something great, it’s the lack of purpose to the story. 

What is the end game? What is the message? Why are we viewing these events? These are inquiries that Sheridan doesn’t provide solutions too. It’s a long, enveloped view on morality, but what are we supposed to take away from that examination. How does this affect our views on immigration, drug crime, and the politics surrounding the drug war itself? Sheridan never takes a stance; he refuses to do so. 

The frustrating aspect is that he lays down the breadcrumbs to follow that could lead to a big message like that of Kate (Emily Blunt) confronting her superiors and demanding a semblance of procedure, in which her higher up breaks down how far up the chain these orders stem from, as far as the Oval office. He then states: “if your fear is operating out of bounds, I am telling you, you are not. The boundary's been moved.”

From here you’d expect more focus on how far we are willing to move that boundary as a society, but we, instead, rely back on a story that turns into a revenge thriller that is brought to life by a remarkable team of filmmakers. Deakins, as I said, lenses the film with vigor and provides a shot that tells a better story than Sheridan can. It’s a wide shot with the sunset residing in the foreground and the silhouettes of these domestic soldiers walking down into the darkness that awaits them. It’s visual storytelling foretelling how these men are walking into a darkness where the light no longer meets, a final threshold for our protagonist to confront. 

Emily Blunt brings that protagonist to life, but she is more of an observer than a hero. We go where she goes, and she is the shield of morality that doesn’t conflict with the world she’s brought into but attempts to learn from it. Realizing that her by the book mentality barely allows her to scratch the surface of this world. She’s not shaking trees, forcing the fruit to fall out, she’s merely mowing the yard at the neighboring house. 

Kaluuya and Brolin are exceptional in their roles as well, delivering an amount of seriousness to the film that maintains the tone. Kaluuya depicts Kate’s (Emily Blunt) partner who is a former lawyer and believes in the law but knows that we can’t cut off the head of a snake if we’re given a spork. Brolin is that mysterious government agent who crosses every threshold possible with one goal in mind. He’s far more comfortable around men in uniform than those everyday people; he lives in a world that he’s been dragged into, fighting a war he believes in waging.  

Benicio Del Toro is the “Sicario” of the story; he’s the man who belongs to a Colombian cartel. He works for whoever he can to find his vengeance for the men that beheaded his wife and threw his daughter in a bin of acid. He’s the hitman for hire that keeps the government's hand clean by a technicality, allowing him to do all the dirty work for them to clean up later on. Kate (Emily Blunt) opposes him at one point in which he responds “Nothing will make sense to your American ears, and you will doubt everything that we do, but in the end, you will understand.”

In the end though, I don’t understand. Sheridan is making the complex problem of immigration feel even more complicated, not answering or providing an opinion. He, like most of us, is stunned by the callousness shown by these “gangs," though they seem more like terrorist organizations.  How can we combat such a problem? How do we begin to separate those innocent of the crime from the ones that are not? Our current president has chosen a path that most of us have revolted against, but we have to acknowledge the complexity of the problem, and the inherent dangers within it. I, unlike Sheridan, will attempt to take a stance, sadly, I don’t have artists like Villeneuve and Deakins to back me up. 
 

Jurassic World: Fallen Kingdom (2018)

   Director: J.A. Bayona  With: Chris Pratt, Bryce Dallas Howard, Jeff Goldblum, Ted Levine, James Cromwell, Toby Jones, BD Wong, Rafe Spall, Daniella Pineda, Geraldine Chaplin, Kamil Lemieszewski, Justice Smith, & Peter Jason.  Release: Jun 22, 2018 PG-13. 2 hr. 8 min.

Director: J.A. Bayona
With: Chris Pratt, Bryce Dallas Howard, Jeff Goldblum, Ted Levine, James Cromwell, Toby Jones, BD Wong, Rafe Spall, Daniella Pineda, Geraldine Chaplin, Kamil Lemieszewski, Justice Smith, & Peter Jason. 
Release: Jun 22, 2018
PG-13. 2 hr. 8 min.

 

Monster movies are apart of the many subgenres of blockbuster moviemaking that seems to have been aborted by Hollywood. They used to be the surprisingly thrillingly and seemingly unageable stop-motion creature features of the 1930’s, films like that of Cooper and Schoedsack’s “King Kong” and Harry O. Hoyt’s “The Lost World.” They were crafted in good nature of manifesting something different and unseen, just like what Spielberg and Scott did in the latter half of 20th-century filmmaking. The stories either served the purpose of smart representation through genre storytelling, or they were so original that the flaws found in their narrative were camouflaged by the spectacle of watching a dinosaur come to life. 

Now, in 2018, “Jurassic World: Fallen Kingdom” is the newest addition to the dying genre of monster movies that have been purged for the inherent commercial potential. Joining 2017’s “Kong: Skull Island” in which the film circulates around the actions of ignorantly designed characters and subplots that are purposefully designed to carry us to the next movie. It’s financial prosperity driven story, which hasn’t worked in the 120 plus years of filmmaking’s history, and J.A. Bayona’s “Jurassic World: Fallen Kingdom” is a prime example of this second-rate notion. 

The story, written by Derek Connolly & Colin Trevorrow (director of the previous “Jurassic World), is absurdly designed. It’s a story that picks up a few months removed from the horrific events of “Jurassic World.” The company behind the park has been sued for damages and medical expenses, while someone with a butt load of money has sent a team of DNA retrieving pirates to grab some sample from the Indominus Rex. They discover the boned remains of that hybrid genetic monster, which makes no sense. Didn’t she get eaten by the Mosasaurus? Why would there be bones left? 

Nonetheless, they retrieve a bone from the dead monster, and things go wrongs, because of course they go wrong, and a Tyrannosaurus Rex attacks the man attempting to close the bay doors that keeps the Mosasaurus locked in its giant pool. Running for his life, he fails to close those doors, releasing that giant monster into the open sea, and from there we pick up in a court hearing where Ian Malcolm (Jeff Goldblum) is offering his sentiment on an animal rights issue that has been sparked from the events of the first film, as a dormant volcano has become active on the island, placing all of these de-extinct animals in danger of going extinct once again. Do they deserve to be saved? Should they be treated with the same rights as domestic animals?  

Malcolm (Jeff Goldblum) sees it as nature correcting the course that we screwed up. Stating how we, as humans, never seem to be ever to use the discoveries we make in a way that doesn’t create war, starvation, or force nature to create a course correction for our mistakes. It’s the only part of the screenplay that attempts to introduce themes that speak to a larger crowd than the one in my theater, asking questions that we can’t answer. Do we deserve access to genetic engineering? What is our role as the superior species on this planet? Shouldn’t we make the earth better with the innovations we’ve made? 

That wittiness dissipates, and we’re reconnected with Claire (Bryce Dallas Howard) whose apart of the animal protection campaign. She talks to senators and is attempting to help pass an act that is giving these dinosaurs sanctuary, but it all works to no avail. Congress sees these cataclysmic events as a natural course correction, as they should. MSNBC reports this with a fantastic with an amusing quote on the ticker that offers a jab at President Trump stating “President questions if dinosaurs ever existed.” 

An adept snippet that should’ve been more a part of the actual narrative, but we watch Claire (Bryce Dallas Howard) being offered to take part in a private rescue mission to move these dinosaurs to a different island, a mission funded by the Lockwood estate, one of the co-founders of the first park. She accepts, of course, and we watch her get the band back together, reaching out to Owen (Chris Pratt) whose building his cabin in the woods. The two split apart between these two movies, and find themselves reconnecting on their mission back to the island. We also get two new members to the crew with the techy and annoyingly panicky guy in Franklin (Justice Smith) and a feisty dino-medic named Zia (Daniella Pineda). 

They join together with a small militia led by Ted Levine who depicts the stereotypical greed filled mercenary who inevitably turns on our heroes when the volcano erupts, and the heroes are left to fend for themselves. Running from CGI rendered dangers as they barely survive in very illogical ways such as Chris Pratt surviving volcanic ash without a scratch to be found. Banding together to save these dinosaurs from the money leaching hands of a wealthy family divided between making more money and correcting mistakes of the past, our heroes are faced with the same stupidity of Trevorrow’s film in which these dinosaurs are placed into an auction for black market buyers to use for military purposes. 

Our auctioneer played by the incomparable Toby Jones, states how we’ve been weaponizing animals for century’s, didn’t we stop doing that for a reason though? Like the invention of cars, helicopters, tanks, and other advancements that helped in making travel far more comfortable for us, but let's use dinosaurs to ride into battle once again. With the help of the enigmatic granddaughter of the old man depicted with a shockingly remarkable performance from Isabella Sermon, our heroes band together to stop these events as Owen (Chris Pratt) transforms into our Indiana Jones-like hero who swashbuckles his way through armed guards. 

Ted Levine returns after all this goes down asking for his bonus, he finds himself face to face with the new genetic hybrid created by these people. The Indoraptor which has been engineered to follow the commands of a specific noise, a noise that seemingly gets forgot when this monster inevitably gets out in a dumbly written sequence in which this mercenary is attempting to collect the tooth of this creature to help fashion his dino-tooth necklace. 

From there, J.A. Bayona attempts to flex his Ridley Scott-like muscles by transitioning this film from a rescue mission gone awry to an unimaginative and tensionless cat and mouse game between this genetically designed creature and our heroes. It’s an Alien homage that fails, not because of Bayona and his cinematographer’s, Oscar Faura, strong stylistic efforts to make this film look far prettier than it deserves to be. It doesn’t work because the story has moved devastated slowly and in all this time has been unable to manifest any resonance for these characters or any more significant themes that the story adds up to. The fun to be had stems from an entire visual point of view in which Bayona provides some awesome T-Rex killing moments and some exquisitely crafted portraits of a film that doesn't use that beautiful imagery to its benefit. 

The visual effects team and production team deserve just as much praise as Bayona and his cinematographer, but Trevorrow and Connolly drop the ball entirely. Carrying a film with a moment to moment mentality that adds up to a film acting more as the intermission between the first film and the forthcoming third film that is slated for 2021, a finale film that seems to be setting up the idea of how will we cohabitate with these creatures? How will Pratt and Blue reconnect? What will happen with the genetic codes that have been sold off to terrorist groups and militia groups? All of those questions will be answered in three years, the questions answered in this film are lacking. There’s a lack of energy, a lack of spunk, and a desire for something more charismatic, despite having a star like Chris Pratt and a plot surrounding dinosaurs. 

It’s a film that knows your not going to enjoy it and knows that you’ll pay to see it anyway. It feeds off the bones of those great monster features I named above and replicates them to make another buck. It's what I described it as in that of money driven story; it’s an intermission snooze fest that has a visually satisfying touch from a cinematographer and a director that exhumes as much entertainment from his stars as he can. 

There are emotional snippets to be found like that of Brachiosaurus roaring it's final breath as our heroes helplessly watch from afar, a scene that stands out far more than anything in the second half of the film. I think that’s a clue as to what makes these monster features so good; it’s not spectacle, it’s emotion. Take note of this Trevorrow.   
 

Ocean's 8 (2018)

   Director: Gary Ross  With: Sandra Bullock, Cate Blanchett, Anne Hathaway, Helena Bonham Carter, Mindy Kaling, Sarah Paulson, Awkwafina, Rihanna, Richard Armitage, & James Corden.  Release: Jun 8, 2018 PG-13. 1 hr. 50 min. 

Director: Gary Ross
With: Sandra Bullock, Cate Blanchett, Anne Hathaway, Helena Bonham Carter, Mindy Kaling, Sarah Paulson, Awkwafina, Rihanna, Richard Armitage, & James Corden. 
Release: Jun 8, 2018
PG-13. 1 hr. 50 min. 

 

In the midst of Gary Ross’s, not Steven Soderbergh's (though he was a producer), “Ocean’s 8” there is a scene in which our family made crook, Debby Ocean (Sandra Bullock), is browsing through possible additions to the crew with her confidant Lou (Cate Blanchett). Lou (Cate Blanchett) pulls up a headshot of a rather handsome fella, and Debby (Sandra Bullock) turns him down stating “A him gets noticed. A her gets ignored.” This scene is where I began to catch on to the con being fronted by “Ocean’s 8,” and it's one worth watching. 

The film sets itself as a sequel, instead of a reboot. Taking place years after the heyday of Danny Ocean (George Clooney) who has passed away, at least we assume he has, and his younger sister has seemed to have learned all of his best moves and made them even better. Opening with a scene that harkens back to “Ocean’s 11,” quite literally, in which our feminine lead crook is attempting to earn parole. She says she wants the simple life, that her days as a thief are done, she even gets choked up discussing how her brother’s legacy has not inspired her, but we all know that’s a crock a shit. She, in fact, is playing a con, something that seems to be as natural to her as breathing air. 

Why is she playing a con? To get out of prison right? I mean, obviously, but it's not that simple. Nothing is ever that simple with these movies though, as expected she’s been planning something big. A job that involves robbing the Metropolitan Museum of Art, but not the museum itself, but rather a particular item that is persuaded its way around the neck of the beautiful Daphne Kluger (Anne Hathaway). Known as the Toussaint, an infamous necklace painted with a French history that is fabricated with six pounds of diamonds and is valued at $150 million. With a crew of eight, that splits the prize at about $16.5 million each, a substantial enticement for anyone who needs anymore persuading beyond the challenge that lies ahead of them in this big, grand, con of the century. 

The money is great, but that doesn’t seem to be the only incentive because these women all seem to share that same appetite for thievery that Debby Ocean (Sandra Bullock) and her family seem to have inherited almost organically. Lou (Cate Blanchett) is an old friend who's been with Debby (Sandra Bullock) since the start; she also shares some of the same connections she does to the old Soderbergh crew of swindlers. Amita (Mindy Kaling) is someone who can fake the jewelry but also lives with her mother whose constant harassment can be quite an enticement to try and steal your way to something better. 

Constance (Awkwafina) and Nine Ball (Rihanna) are the two utility and necessary tools, one is that sleight of hand smuggler, and the other is the hacker. How they learned their trade or who they are beyond that is not very important to “Ocean’s 8,” as Rose Well (Helena Bonham Carter) and Tammy (Sarah Paulson) or any of the other members of the crew that aren’t Debby Ocean (Sandra Bullock) seem to be overlooked and treated as unimportant. It’s a glaring flaw in the middle of “Ocean’s 8” that showcases the lack of style or nuance presented by Gary Ross, who also assisted Olivia Milch in writing the screenplay. The cast feels consistently mishandled, which for a film that is meant to use the sly socio-political messages of feminism to be the little jabs underlying this brash but familiar story, this misuse of the cast seems to be something that directly refutes the notions presented. 

Sister-hood is supposed to be something of pride, and it's something that is never heavily focused upon. If you're reading closely though, you may have noticed that the film is called “Ocean’s 8,” and I have only named seven members of the crew. Well, the eighth member is a bit of a surprise, that’s all I’ll say for now, but it's one of the many surprises that is fantastic. It’s one of the great things that Gary Ross borrows from the past four films in that the wonders that the heist includes, or the hidden cameos and twists of the narrative can be predictable, yet still feel invigoratingly enjoyable.

 It’s almost like a mainstream horror movie in that way, in the sense that the film has twists that are predictable due to the expectational assumptions that are brought to a movie about stealing stuff. You know what’s coming next, but you still want to be a part of the ride, despite the predictability of it's best parts. It’s one of the aspects of “Ocean’s 8” that I was already signed up for, so, to no surprise, it was one of the many things that made me grin during my screening. 

The other things that made me grin were the powerhouse of performances brought to the table by this ridiculously talented ensemble of women. Anne Hathaway plays this ditzy girl in hiding, whose obvious sex appeal, and pretty but dumb persona lends to her performance being one that is multi-faceted. Both in the way she is directly trolling her critics and in how she keeps you guessing as to what her importance is to the screenplay. Is she just the butt of the joke, or is she apart of the fun? 

Sandra Bullock is magnificently charming and cunning. She has the dose of calmness and sternness that makes her seem as if she’s sleeping through her performance, but that’s the whole point of her character. This con isn’t her first, nor is it her last. She’s not going to have those rookie jitters; she’s a veteran and one of the best at what she does. Cate Blanchett shares remarkable chemistry with that facade of her character, continually dispensing her charisma all over the screen in a way that makes her feel like she’s giving far more to the role than the role is giving back to her. Rihanna and Awkwafina are the two comic reliefs of the group, something they excel at, and Sarah Paulson and Helena Bonham Carter are given roles that allow them to feel necessary, but never unique. 

Someone who feels completely underused is Mindy Kaling, she’s such a talented actress, and one that deserves some more opportunities because she leaves a lot of her fingerprints on this film, unlike Gary Ross. Not only is his screenplay rather dull in that of the meat of what makes this story tick, but the visual language presented is something of mundane quality as well. He’s continuously showcasing these wide shots of New York City as if we forgot where this film was taking place, and his edits feel more like he’s mimicking Soderbergh, instead of making this franchise his own. 

He plays second fiddle, not to these exceptional women, but to the man that made these films famous. At least the woman look incredible though, thanks to some impeccable costume design from Sarah Edwards who works alongside top designers such as Valentino and Naeem Khan, to name a few. She allows these women to embrace that feminine side of glitz and glamour, something that alongside the constant jabs of feminist pride, can become quite special to watch. 

It’s a long con, pulled off by both the cast and the filmmaker behind them. “Ocean’s 8” is presenting itself as a female-led reboot of a film, one that has no unique attachments, but in all reality, it's just that. It’s a female-led film that has a unique touch because of its womanhood, something that doesn’t get brought to light enough by the “man” behind the camera. If only this film had a director with a woman’s touch, I might not be describing this film as almost great. I guess that might be the great con of it all, a movie about women, with no woman behind the camera, such a shame. 

Hereditary (2018)

   Director: Ari Aster  With: Toni Collette, Gabriel Byrne, Alex Wolff, Ann Dowd, & Milly Shapiro. Release: Jun 8, 2018 R. 2 hr. 7 min. 

Director: Ari Aster
With: Toni Collette, Gabriel Byrne, Alex Wolff, Ann Dowd, & Milly Shapiro.
Release: Jun 8, 2018
R. 2 hr. 7 min. 

 

Curled up in my seat, grasping my arms, breathing heavily, and struggling to not look around me at all times. These are the traits of an experience that a great horror film can manifest from its viewer, traits that I exhibited tonight at my screening for Ari Aster’s feature film debut, “Hereditary.” It’s a horror film designed to produce something different from the guessable and unimpactful mainstream horror that audiences are accustomed too, in fact, it's hard not to say that this film isn’t original. From it’s story to its use of the camera, “Hereditary” maintains this sense of unique and nuanced storytelling. 

A brilliantly written story that builds from something slow and dramatic that lingers with an atmosphere that chills you to the bone, to something off the rails with unexpected twists and shadowed silhouettes that are sure to haunt my dreams when I lay my head down later tonight. However, it’s also a story that is easy to spoil and ruin for someone unaware of the brilliance that they're about to witness. Ari Aster structures this story in a way that makes it that way, continually blending expected reality with that of horrific fiction making sure that if you give away the surprise, the party's ruined. 

You're never sure if the events your witnessing are occurring or just another figment of a nightmare though, like that of Annie’s (Toni Collette) sleepwalking, a habit of hers that once led her to drown her children and herself in paint thinner one night. Waking herself out of the numbified trance with the sound of a match being lit. It’s a story that explains this disruption in the family, well one of them that is. It all takes place after the death of Annie’s (Toni Collette) mother, a woman whose dominating personality estranged them away from each other. We learn her family has a lineage littered with tragedy, a father whose depression drove him to death from starvation, and a brother whose schizophrenia drove him to suicide by hanging. Leaving behind a suicide note that blamed his mother for letting them inside him. 

Annie (Toni Collette) doesn’t become stricken with grief, but somewhat guilt. Fearing her mother’s behavior would somehow become her own, tearing apart the family she loves. To deal with this fear, she articulates small figurines. Building a little three-dimensional portrait of her life, from the birth of her children to the recent loss of her mother. She crafts a small glance into the shell of her life, one that begins to haunt her when her family begins to struggle with inexplicable things. 

Her youngest daughter, Charlie (Milly Shapiro), ticks with creepiness and behavioral perplexions, like her deadly allergy to nuts. Yet it seems she’s chosen to eat them before, as we see her eating a chocolate bar during the funeral of Annie’s (Toni Collette) mother. Her father asks if it has nuts in it as if she willingly ate them before, well aware of her allergic liability. 

Her son, Peter (Alex Wolff), is someone attempting to understand his mother. Unable to forget her sleepwalking occurrence, he’s hard on her and always butting heads. They exchange a passive-aggressive tone of dialogue in a scene in which Peter (Alex Wolff) is asking to borrow the car to attend a friend’s party, a conversation that haunts our story later on. 

The husband, Steve (Gabriel Byrne), is a man of rationality and one that seems to be the backbone of the family, constantly reeling his wife back in. 

All of this is as much of the story that I am willing to give you in, why the fear starts or how it starts is something you’ll have to discover on your own. These are merely foregrounds for the characters, to allow you to understand the inherent emotion found in the horror that develops a sense of naturalistic realism. Realism that is maintained even when the story jumps from lingering articulative atmospheric fear to in your face and strangely believable events that are handled with a level of mastery from Aster. 

Aster in his first feature film has earned that definitive description of mastery because he continuously berates the story with nuance and sense of organized erratic behavior. Unable to predict what’s coming next, and feeling uneasy while you try to be two steps ahead of both Aster's visuals and his screenwriting. They work hand in hand, barely placing pressure on the strain of the audience until they suddenly reveal an image in which you see something lurking in the shadows. Something is remaining entirely still, staring back at you. The camera lingers, staying wide, steady, and calmly placed. Your eyes darting across the screen, and your hands gripping the theater chair, expecting to see something sporadically move, but Aster is not that simple. 

Aster keeps you on your toes in that way, always peeking around every corner of the story with this unsure sense of confidence, unable to predict the outcome. It’s unlike horror to do such a thing; we’re supposed to go in a be able to say “wait for it, here it comes,” as a loud screeching noise jolts through the surround sound, convulsing your friend out of their seat. Aster doesn’t do that though; he begins the film with slow, lingering, and depthful camera movements. They methodically meander throughout the frame, never in a rush to get to a scare or the next scene. He manifests an atmosphere; one the exemplifies something worth experiencing in a theatre. 

It’s worth that ten dollar ticket, if not to see the magnificent fright that awaits you, then to see Toni Collette throw her name out in front of the pack for the best female performance of 2018. Her facial expressions, her movement, her subtle smiles and twitches, and her constant evocation of emotional outrage is something worth a lot more than ten dollars. She grasps every drop of attention from the audience, pouring out her emotions on to the screen. Never shying away from going all-in, and knowing when to hold back. 

Milly Shapiro isn’t far behind though, in her first performance she inhabits a character that dispatches shivers. Manifesting a sound that is sure to be mimicked and replicated for years to come, one that merely involves you clicking your tongue. It becomes a dreaded noise in the film, one that when it occurs, it automatically riddles your body with goosebumps in anticipation for what could be lurking in the shadows. 

Alex Wolff and Gabriel Byrne are the backboned performances that could make or break this film. They remain tethered to reality, being the two representatives of those afraid of the events they witness. Not curious, not inspired by, just merely scared. Their performances hold the film together when it needs it most, being those utility tools that every filmmaker needs to craft something of this magnitude because they are essential to “Hereditary” becoming what it has been dubbed as, a masterpiece. 

It’s not this generation's “Exorcist,” nor is it the twenty-first century’s “Psycho.” “Hereditary” is something of its own, and it's insulting to call it something otherwise. It’s original; it’s the most prolific attribute that is worthy of the most praise. Ari Aster is a genius and one that has a bright future ahead of him. His direction of the actors, of the cinematographer, of the production team, and his pure manipulation of the audience is something exceptional from any director, let alone a first timer. Pawel Pogorzelski's cinematography, Colin Stetson's music, and the array of impeccable performances can’t go unmentioned, and now, neither can “Hereditary” when discussing the best of the horror genre. 

Upgrade (2018)

   Director: Leigh Whannell  With: Logan Marshall-Green, Betty Gabriel, Harrison Gilbertson, Christopher Kirby, Simon Maiden, Benedict Hardie, Melanie Vallejo, Richard Cawthorne, Clayton Jacobson, Sachin Joab, Michael M. Foster, Linda Cropper, & Roscoe Campbell.  Release: Jun 1, 2018 R. 1 hr. 40 min. 

Director: Leigh Whannell
With: Logan Marshall-Green, Betty Gabriel, Harrison Gilbertson, Christopher Kirby, Simon Maiden, Benedict Hardie, Melanie Vallejo, Richard Cawthorne, Clayton Jacobson, Sachin Joab, Michael M. Foster, Linda Cropper, & Roscoe Campbell. 
Release: Jun 1, 2018
R. 1 hr. 40 min. 

2.5_4 stars.png
 

Indie filmmakers have a particular talent for extending a clever logline to its absolute limit. Leigh Whannell shares that same talent; he takes a familiar and almost bad-shit crazy idea like that of a man being given a chance at revenge by being given a small computer chip implant called STEM (Simon Maiden) to its absolute limit, and then he strides past that barrier. A technological innovation that allows this violently made quadriplegic and technophobe Grey Trace (Logan Marshall-Green) to gain access to his limbs once again, STEM (Simon Maiden) does that for him, as well as becoming a new friend that only he can hear. One that speaks into the drums of his ears and provides a vaster sense of knowledge and ability to himself, but also an inherent danger. 

It’s a “Blade Runner” meets “RoboCop” kind of tale, a man turning to technology to return to life but also to hunt down the men that took that life away from him as well. It takes place in a world that feels apart of that noirish world of “Blade Runner,” almost feeling mimicked even. The grungy technologically advanced future that feels far more disconnected, despite the lack of available connectivity, which is not a nuance theme by any means. Grey (Logan Marshall-Green), is a technophobe with a wife who works for a tech company. He’s a grease monkey that fixes manually driven cars, while she rides in a car that drives itself home. 

After dropping off one of his renovated projects to a wealthy technological innovator, Eron (Harrison Gilbertson), who introduces him to his newest prototype known as STEM (Simon Maiden), this self-driving car goes haywire. Driving off the road and an accelerated speed before crashing and flipping upside down. The droned recording devices for the Police arrive promptly to watch a group of men come and kill Grey’s (Logan Marshall-Green) wife and paralyze him completely. These droned footage finders are unable to assist in finding these murders though, seeing as they removed some kind of chip that allows them to remain escapable from the reach of the law because criminals always find a way, don’t they?

Drenched in grief and unable to overcome his lack of physical ability, Grey (Logan Marshall-Green) finds himself unable to desire to live. Being offered a reset on his life by Eron (Harrison Gilbertson), he states “I’m not looking for the reset button kid, I’m looking for the off switch.” He gives in though, reminiscing on the idea of what his wife would want for him. The procedure goes all-too-well, and he soon finds himself with a technological “Upgrade” that pushes him towards vengeance in a sequence made famous by the trailer in which he gives STEM (Simon Maiden) permission to take over his bodily functions. Making for some exceptional acting from Logan Marshall-Green in which he delivers facial expressions of surprise and third-person perspectives because his body is now a separate entity from his mind. 

It makes for Dr.Jekyll and Mr.Hyde kind of character, but a character that was never brought to light enough to evoke resonance from me. He hates technology and something terrible happened to him is about all we learn about the man controlled by a machine, but the action and surprisingly hefty themes attached to his character’s journey provide that extra boost that the film needed which harkens back to an indie filmmaker stretching an idea as far as possible. 

Written and directed by Leigh Whannell (“Saw” & “Insidious”), “Upgrade” is an expected action flick with no heart and no ambition, but becomes an action film hidden inside of a sci-fi drama discussing the dangers of technology and our desire for self-happiness over human prosperity. Whannell stretches this story way farther than expected, writing something that continuously maintains a constant state of investment in this world, despite his characters never making me fret for their well being. 

There is some insane ingenuity that makes for sheer cinematic momentum like that of a gun for an arm or sneezing razor-wired germs. This is a world that weaponizes the limitless potentials of technology, and one that remains to feel both original and reprinted from fellow sci-fi masters. It’s not just the world-building, or the ingenuitive writing that becomes too big for its own good, Leigh Whannell also visualizes this story exceptionally. 

The camera movement is especially interesting because it's both frustratingly cutting while maintaining childlike excitement. The camera snips and snaps in some fight scenes, but in others, it moves with our hero, like that of something out of a video game or a comic book. It pushes the limits of camera maneuverability while allowing the flaws of the quick cutting of the action genre to remain prevalent. It’s as if Leigh Whannell got lazy on some days, and was caffeine filled excited on others. 

Someone that remains consistent is Logan Marshall-Green, who is the only actor worth mentioning because everyone else plays the stereotypical bad guy or necessary girlfriend. He provides a performance that gives his character far more emotion that it deserves, he delivers one of his best performances yet, but his character noticeably limits his reach at times. 

Unlike that character though, Leigh Whannell surpasses the limits of this fun-filled logline of a screenplay. He goes further and more profound than expected, but that third act finale is a bit too much. He slams on the gas pedal towards something ambiguous and thought-provoking when he should have steadily applied pressure towards the finish line. 

He’s expanding “Upgrade” past my expectations, and he helms it remarkably, but like every other compliment I can give him, there is a fair critique to be stated. Constantly pushing the film too far, and not far enough. He extends it to the point that is sheerly remarkable that it all makes sense that we went from a man on a path of vengeance to a philosophical glimpse on our desire for happiness. Our mind has limits, and this film does too, I just hope Leigh Whannell didn’t pull anything while stretching “Upgrade” to it’s stumping finale.  
 

Zombieland (2009)

   Director: Ruben Fleischer With: Jesse Eisenberg, Woody Harrelson, Emma Stone, Abigail Breslin, Amber Heard, & Bill Murray.  Release: Oct 2, 2009 R. 1 hr. 28 min.     

Director: Ruben Fleischer
With: Jesse Eisenberg, Woody Harrelson, Emma Stone, Abigail Breslin, Amber Heard, & Bill Murray. 
Release: Oct 2, 2009
R. 1 hr. 28 min. 

 

 

Zombies are apart of a subgenre of horror that can be entirely predictable. The human focus, the virus spreading, the massive amounts of weaponry, and the overabundance of gore are all common expectations within any film that becomes apart of this flesh-eating genre. Ruben Fleischer’s “Zombieland” is no different, but like Edgar Wright’s “Shaun of the Dead,” “Zombieland” doesn’t exactly fit into the niche of the genre like you would expect. Instead, the film grasps the core essence of the genre and adds a humorous amount of normality with a young man being our narrator, as if this zombie-filled world is now something of comfort and expectation. With zombie kill of the week awards, rule lists, and makeup covered celebrities, everyone seems to have embraced this world that has been overtaken by the undead. 

Its an unusual perspective on the narrative of zombies right? Add in the facet of a narrator like Colombus (Jesse Eisenberg), a germaphobe, anxiety polluted, and little spit f*$k of a man. He’s the one who fills us in on how the world has gone to shit; the mad cow turned mad person disease that causes you to have a high fever, induced vomiting, and an extreme case of the munchies. He gives us advice on how to survive as well with a long list of rules, but four core guidelines give you the best chance of survival. 

Cardio, because the fat people were the first people to go when the world became a run for survival. Always double tap your attacker, because you don’t want to be that person who assumes you re-killed the undead flesh eater, only to learn that they’re now feasting on your corpse. Beware of bathrooms; zombies are not completely stupid; they know when your most vulnerable like in a bathroom with your pants down. And finally, always wear a seatbelt. You have enough things trying to kill you, so don’t be dumb and die because you got flung out of a car when attempting to escape from a group of cannibals. 

These are the four rules that Colombus (Jesse Eisenberg)  tells us to live by, but the list doesn’t stop there. It also includes guidelines such as limbering up, traveling light, and most importantly, don’t be a hero. These rules are challenged when Colombus (Jesse Eisenberg) runs into the ass-kicker known as Tallahassee (Woody Harrelson). (By the way, none of these names are real but are actually their destinations, because you can’t trust anyone anymore, so their names remain hidden) He’s a man that lost the only thing that kept him sane and now spends his life enjoying the little things and finding happiness by killing as much of these flesh-eating assholes as he can. He’s a gun loving, banjo playing, and hedge clipping killing machine that not only inspires Columbus (Jesse Eisenberg) but teaches him along the way. 

Columbus (Jesse Eisenberg) has some lessons to teach Tallahassee (Woody Harrelson) as well though, meeting Wichita (Emma Stone) and Little Rock (Abigail Breslin). Two girls who even before “Zombieland,” have spent their time bamboozling guys with their looks and with emotions. Tricking both Columbus (Jesse Eisenberg), the man desperate for companionship, and Tallahassee (Woody Harrelson), the man desperate for a family, Wichita (Emma Stone) and Little Rock (Abigail Breslin) play these guys with ease, and take all of their weapons as well as Tallahassee’s (Woody Harrelson) Cadillac. From there, our story gets jolted into this exciting, slick, and fun-filled ride. 

That’s not to say that genius screenwriters Rhett Reese & Paul Wernick don’t include the expected emotional struggles that would arrive with a world filled with zombies. Each character has their struggles, like Wichita (Emma Stone) just trying to allow her little sister to feel like a kid again, or Columbus (Jesse Eisenberg) just wanting to be that nice guy turned hero for one lucky girl. There is plenty of emotion included in the screenplay, but never enough that it overshadows our witty comedy, which is the genius of Rhett Reese & Paul Wernick’s work in “Zombieland.” 

Ruben Fleischer provides a lense to the story, which is not his shining point as the director of “Zombieland.” The way he directs these actors is where Fleischer stands out, his ability to give these stars a sense of correlating direction. Driving Jesse Eisenberg to use that quirkiness he's known for to formulate a character that only he could depict, and giving Woody Harrelson this self-proclaimed badass who's actually a man trying to run away from his past. Add in the brilliance of a kid stuck in “Zombieland” in that of Abigail Breslin, and a big sister like Emma Stone trying to let her little sister feel like a kid once more, and you'll find a cast deserving of a sequel. This is where comedy directors shine, rarely is it the visual language that evokes the brilliance of a comedic filmmaker, but the way he’s able to direct his actors is where the best of em’ stand out. 

Ruben Fleischer displays that ability with “Zombieland,” a film that reminds us of our own ability to adapt. When things go wrong, even as wrong as zombies eating their way to our extinction, we continue to find a way to live with it all. Whether it's traveling to theme parks, invading celebrities million dollar homes, finding ways to make killing fun, or even making up a bunch of rules to keep us feeling safe. We can find a new home, a new family, and a new way of life. It’s one of our best qualities as human beings and one that “Zombieland” weaponizes into this comedic awesomeness of a zombie movie. 

Cloverfield (2008)

   Director: Matt Reeves With: Marlena Diamond, Jessica Lucas, T.J. Miller, Michael Stahl-David, Mike Vogel, & Odette Yustman.  Release: January 18, 2008. PG-13. 1 hr. 25 min. 

Director: Matt Reeves
With: Marlena Diamond, Jessica Lucas, T.J. Miller, Michael Stahl-David, Mike Vogel, & Odette Yustman. 
Release: January 18, 2008.
PG-13. 1 hr. 25 min. 

 

J.J Abrams has become a king of marketing. Exploiting the use of surprises, mystery, and trailers in a far superior format than almost anyone else. One of his most significant feats of marketing was Matt Reeves 2008 film, “Cloverfield.” The “Godzilla” and “Blair Witch” crossover that took the film community by storm in its inaugural trailer drop that occurred during the opening night pre-show for Michael Bay’s “Transformers.” The trailer was mysterious and sent all of us film fans into a frenzy of research and obsession on the IMDB pages of the internet, but we would soon be even more surprised that the found-footage subgenre of Hollywood had manifested a surprisingly frightening thriller that answers the question: What would it be like to witness a monster attacking your city? 

Providing a lensed perspective for our journey, literally, Director Matt Reeves (“Dawn of the Planet of the Apes” & “War for the Planet of the Apes”) joins Screenwriter Drew Goddard (“The Cabin in the Woods” & “The Martian”) as they team with J.J Abrams’ Bad Robot Studios to provide an answer to that question. 

The film opens with a seemingly normal state of living as we are introduced to our first camera operator, Rob (Michael Stahl-David). He’s just awoken from a beautiful night out with the girl he loves, Beth (Odette Annable). She is his college crush and one that he finally got to spend a night with, and it leads to a setting that the camera continuously flashes back to when it becomes faulty, as if to say to the audience and whoever is watching this footage: “Remember when things were normal?” The footage fast-forwards by a month as we meet Lily (Jessica Lucas) and Rob’s (Michael Stahl-David) brother Jason (Mike Vogel) as they are shopping for supplies for Rob’s (Michael Stahl-David) going away party, as he’s been awarded a vice-president position at a company in Japan. While this party is being put together, Jason (Mike Vogel) hands off the camera to our chief camera operator, Hudson (T.J. Miller). 

He’s the best friend of the party’s star, but he’s that guy whose best friend with the most important guy, not necessarily friends with everyone else. He’s awkward, and constantly interrupting private conversations with the excuse that he’s “documenting.” Luckily, he continues documenting when the city comes under attack from something, as in the midst of some party drama, Manhattan shakes and quivers. As off the shores of the New York Harbor, an Oil Rig was surprised to unlock a crevasse that unleashed an organism of some sorts that is believed to have suffered from the scientific theory of deep-sea gigantism. Unlike a giant squid though, that may grow to be as big 13m in length, this monster is the size of buildings. It's lurking, carries multiple appendages, and has small arachnid/arthropod-like creatures descending from its outer shell. It's a reptilian-like arthropod creature that seems to be incredibly hard to kill. 

With missiles, machine gun fire, and massive caliber weaponry from tanks and fighter jets being unable to put a dent in its rampage. Our camera holder catches its fearsome arrival, but it's rarely shown in full view. No wide shots or steady frames are to be found, which can be quite frustrating as a filmgoer, but in that same frame of mind, it's the logicality behind the filming that bothers me. 

I can get past the shaky camera movements because this inexperienced photographer isn’t going to set-up a tripod to film, he going to carry it and point it to see what’s happening, he's not going to give the viewer a visual language to follow. But the idea of the camera surviving nuclear fallout, multiple drops to the concrete floor, or that its battery lasts this long is something hard to believe. This is a cheap 2008 camera being used in the midst of firefights; I doubt it would make it as far as it does. 

Nonetheless, the film does maintain a sense of realism that overcomes that one aspect of implausibility. Its perspective lensing provides for some incredible sequences that would never be shot by some random dude, but a talented cinematographer like Michael Bonvillain (“Zombieland” & “American Ultra”) could definitely fabricate them. His mastermind direction from Matt Reeves leads to a multitude of scenes that are exceptionally thrilling, one that continues to send shivers down my spine takes place in the subways tracks of New York City. 

Our group of everyday joes head back into the city, after losing a few friends, to help Rob (Michael Stahl-David) save the girl that he loves. On their way back into midtown, they are bombarded by a fleet of U.S soldiers launching another attack on the gargantuan beast, the sounds of war drown out our characters' dialogue, a realistic use of the sound design that warrants some applause. Stuck down in the subways, they wait for the war zone to move on, but after a few hours pass they attempt to take the trails of the subway to her apartment. While in the midst of awkward conversation made by our doofus camera operator, rats begin to flee between their feet. 

Lily (Jessica Lucas) states “They’re all running in the same direction,” Rob (Michael Stahl-David) calmly suggests “Yeah, like they’re running away from something.” Moments later an eerie growl echoes through the tunnels, as Rob (Michael Stahl-David) shows Hudson (T.J. Miller) how to use the night vision. Once it comes on, we see those same small creatures walking on the ceiling, staring into the lens of the camera. Their growls and rumbles begin to overwhelm the audio as they attack our group, even biting one of them as she risked herself by saving our camera holder. 

It all feels too cinematic to be believable as someone’s lost footage from the event known as “Cloverfield,” but it lends to some frightening sequences nonetheless because it's doesn’t carry too much of Hollywood’s fingerprints to seem implausible. It sucks you into the story as if your there alongside them, watching all of this as it occurs. The use of shielding the identity of the monster, the performances from relatively unknown actors, and the constant barrage of shaky cam assist in the film feeling naturalistic or like the legitimate dose of realism that found-footage is designed to be. “Cloverfield” is one of those films that alongside its brilliant marketing, uses it's filmmaking techniques to assist it's storytelling past the hurdles that if filmed otherwise, would be seen as mundane. 

The camera operator, Hudson, depicted by T.J. Miller in his first acting gig, is someone that assists in that believability. Many see him as kind of douche who is continually sticking the camera in his friends face instead of consoling them or making conversation about flaming homeless men in the midst of an already stressful situation. If a monster attacked your city though, wouldn’t you find some way for your brain to comprehend everything? What if talking out of your ass was your defensive mechanism? Things become weird when were placed in those sort of life or death situations, it just so happens that this is how Hud (T.J. Miller) dealt with it all. I can’t blame him for that, which is just the icing on the cake for a film that uses all the tools available to become something far more legitimate than you’d expect. 
 

No Country for Old Men (2007)

No Country for Old Men (2007)

Which is what “No Country for Old Men” is at its heart, it’s a noir western in which the cynicism of the world that our gunslingers inhabit is no longer something worthwhile, but rather something to be feared.

Read More