The Predator (2018)

   Director: Shane Black With: Boyd Holbrook, Trevante Rhodes, Jacob Tremblay, Keegan-Michael Key, Olivia Munn, Thomas Jane, Alfie Allen, Sterling K. Brown, Augusto Aguilera, Jake Busey, & Yvonne Strahovski. Release: Sep 14, 2018 PG-13. 1 hr. 48 min.

Director: Shane Black
With: Boyd Holbrook, Trevante Rhodes, Jacob Tremblay, Keegan-Michael Key, Olivia Munn, Thomas Jane, Alfie Allen, Sterling K. Brown, Augusto Aguilera, Jake Busey, & Yvonne Strahovski.
Release: Sep 14, 2018
PG-13. 1 hr. 48 min.

 

Shane Black’s “The Predator” is a set piece of entertainment. It doesn’t use substance as much as it just lets you see the blood and guts of the action and the cracks of the comedy; it’s a blast. It wastes no time, jumping straight into the thick of things, like that of its hero. Little time is wasted, playing both like an homage to the action of the 80s and something that feels decisively contemporary. It’s not trying to mimic as much as if it's attempting to live in the same essence of McTiernan's “Predator.” It’s exactly what you want from a film called “The Predator.” Does that equal to one of the best movies of the year? No, but it does make for some buttery popcorn fun.

Wasting no time as I said, Black opens the film in the midst of a galactic chase. One bigger predator ship chasing a smaller one as a warp hole opens, transporting one of them to our atmosphere as they crash down into a forest that so happens to be the stage for a drug-bust/hostage rescue. A sniper named Quinn McKenna (Boyd Holbrook) is on the job when he notices this crashing unknown craft flying towards his location as he soon finds himself face to face with one of the galaxy’s most dangerous “Predators.”

He lucks out, using the alien’s weapons against him, then stealing parts of his technology for evidence and sending it home. Instead of arriving in his P.O. box, it goes straight to his doorstep leading to his presumably autistic son to discover it. Assuming it's a gift from his dad, Rory (Jacob Tremblay) slices open the package to find a predator mask and weapon.

While this is occurring, Dr. Casey Bracket (Olivia Munn) is brought in to examine the predator that McKenna took down. She meets the smug leader of this “project stargaze,” Traeger (Sterling K. Brown), who reminds us that this isn’t a reboot but rather a continuation of the story following “Predator 2.” As predicted though, things go awry, which seems to be the biggest problem with Black and, fellow 80s icon, Fred Dekker’s screenplay in that of how it struggles to surprise. We know what's going to happen before it happens, which is never a good thing.

What remains unpredictable throughout the film is the comedy, as when the shit hits the fan we are introduced to the goons of therapy group 2. The bus that McKenna is placed on allows us to meet this self professed ragtag team of “Loonies,” including the suicidal Nebraska (Trevante Rhodes), the hilarious Coyle (Keegan-Michael Key), the terret stricken Baxley (Thomas Jane), the Irish Lynch (Alfie Allen), and the sweet Nettles (Augusto Aguilera). This group of ragtag sociopaths band together to save McKenna’s son when he learns that he has the devices, manifesting a cat and mouse thrill and shrill adventure between these soldiers and the upgraded Predator.

Casting aside the backstage dilemma that Black needs to answer for, “The Predator” works as a film that is easy to take for granted, producing a mobile pace that jumps from point A to point B to point C at a pace that is both ferocious and exciting. He gives just enough time to the characters for us to care about them for just a moment, just the right amount for us to care about their outcome.

He’s assisted greatly from a talented and charismatic ensemble though, ranging from Olivia Munn’s quirky brilliance to Sterling K. Brown’s charming hostility. Keegan is on-fire as the comic relief as expected, but he’s assisted greatly by Thomas Jane. Holbrook and Rhodes have their strength’s amplified by Black, fabricating a buddy-cop duo that is begging for its own feature film, perhaps from the same director considering his success with the subgenre in the past. (“The Nice Guys” & “Kiss Kiss Bang Bang”)

A lot of what elevates “The Predator” is Shane Black, but he’s also true to form by allowing practicality to take center stage as much as possible. He recreates the first Predator with the makeup and props of the eighties, feeling tangible and tactile. He doesn’t just lean into the past though, the new and improved Predator is recreated digitally, becoming this eleven foot tall beast of a creature. He’s smart, fast, and one “beautiful mothereffer" as Munn puts so perfectly. It’s one of the many references to the past films, but Black never relies on our nostalgia, he leans into the future of a possible franchise re-birth. Making a portion of character motivations center around global warming, Black allows the film to feel modernized, but Black knows how to give us fans what we want. He brings back the 80s “kids know more than the parents” trope and echoes its brilliance with ease; it's an easy sell for me as a huge fan of the eighties “kid discovering mysteries” kind of movies.

No, “The Predator” isn’t one of the best films of the year, nor is it better than its predecessors (“Predator” & “Predator 2”). It does surpass every film that followed those, beating out the shotty remake from 2010 and the subpar versus films. It struggles to maintain realism at times, and the adrenaline pacing can work against the film’s best efforts sometimes, but “The Predator” knows how to balance parody and tribute. Black is both making fun of his first feature acting role and exhibiting his love for the franchise.

All that said, the backstage news has presumably led to critics punishing the film for its director’s wrong choices, and while that is fair, I am not such a critic. I condemn his decisions and cheerfully praise Munn’s actions, but “The Predator” is a good movie for me. It’s both entertaining and exhilarating. It’s not absent of its shortcomings obviously, but when you allow a Predator to be as bloody and violent as possible, reminding us of how dangerous and merciless these creatures can be, the fanboy inside of me grins from ear to ear. Add in some Predator dogs (Yes! I said Predator Dogs), and I will just shut up, and you can take my money!

A Simple Favor (2018)

   Director: Paul Feig With: Anna Kendrick, Blake Lively, Henry Golding, Ian Ho, Joshua Satine, & Bashir Salahuddin. Release: Sep 14, 2018 R. 1 hr. 57 min.

Director: Paul Feig
With: Anna Kendrick, Blake Lively, Henry Golding, Ian Ho, Joshua Satine, & Bashir Salahuddin.
Release: Sep 14, 2018
R. 1 hr. 57 min.

 

“A Simple Favor” is a film that walks a tightrope between melodrama and parody. It’s a thriller told with a generous sense of humor, humor that is twisted and self-referential of the suburban mom caricature. That ever-so-perfect mom. The one who cuts the crust off the edges, remembers everyone allergies including the children who don’t even belong to her. That mom that volunteers for anything and everything, desperately pleading to be a part of every waking moment of her child’s life. That’s the kind of mother that we see in Stephanie (Anna Kendrick). She’s the mother who makes every other parent feel like crap as if they are not trying enough.

She’s a single mother too. Both her husband and half-brother died in a horrific car accident; so that mama work-ethic is due in part to her keeping busy, refusing to be reminded of the grief that she has somewhat buried beneath her desire for friendship. She even runs a popular vlog, where she shares recipes, parenting tips, and how-tos for the everyday single mom out there. This super-mom persona seemingly stifles her from developing any sense of meaningful connection with other adults though, both romantically and friendly. That is until she comes across Emily Nelson (Blake Lively), a stunningly beautiful and alpha-like woman who seemingly allows no BS to slip by. She invites Stephanie over to her dazzling high-town house, just outside the hustling and bustling city of New York.

There, they exchange confessions. Drinking high-class martinis, and chit-chatting their stresses away. Least to say, Stephanie is star-struck by all of this. It’s not hard to see why either, Emily is that distinct kind of beautiful, striding around the screen in her red high heels and pin-stripe suits making sure all the attention is on her, like that of graceful painting brought to life. It’s the Manhattan dream to her, especially when she, like us, is swooped off her feet by Emily’s husband Sean (Henry Golding).

The handsome and smooth-talking charmer from “Crazy Rich Asians” graces us with his stunningly dapper presence once again, making all of us drool of course. Here he depicts a once-great writer, responsible for one New York Times Bestseller that has seemingly kept him from writing ever again. It’s also inherently enigmatic for Stephanie, both of these people seem to be piercingly contrasting to the stereotypical out of the city mom, they have threesomes, drink away their problems, and Emily is more unique than thought possible. She isn’t only stunning to look at, but her personality blows you back as well; swearing, and speaking directly to Stephanie. She’s intimate, encouraging, and seductive wrapped into one alluring package.

Some curious red flags go up while we are introduced to this gorgeous woman though, freaking out when her picture is taken, seemingly telling stories like that of a pathological liar, and when she suddenly disappears, it becomes more and more apparent that she was not an average person. As a former artist who used to paint her describes “I’ve never seen such a beautiful girl wanna be so invisible.” It becomes a mystery that isn’t worth solving. The breadcrumbs lead to conclusions seen from a mile away. It doesn’t take much to figure out where everything is going; it's the opposite of something like “Gone Girl." Never surprising us, but making it fun to participate in the hunt for the truth.

It’s what gives “A Simple Favor” this smooth edge to its classy grandeur, shifting fluidly from a bad and predictable mystery to an entertaining dramatic comedy with the charismatic woman taking charge of the story. It’s one of Paul Feig's best talents as a director. The acclaimed mind from films such as “Bridesmaids” and “Heat,” showcases his innate ability to work with strong and engaging woman once again. He gives them space to work, rightfully allowing them to take center stage, to be apart of the creation. There’s room for him to build off of, room for him to mold things, room for him to bounce off their spontaneity, improvisation, and behavior.

The plot isn’t intricate; it’s channeling the comedies or spy capers of the 60s as made apparent in the stylization of the opening credits. Designed funkily, single color stilettos and purses moving along in these angular cut-out shapes and frames that collage together in French-pop sort of way. Establishing that high-town mood from the get-go, relying on songs from artists like Serge Gainsbourg and Jean-Paul Keller to paint something ever-so similar to Guy Ritchie’s “The Man From U.N.C.L.E.” He speeds past the twists and turns, running over them like the speed bumps that they could become, a wise but noticeable maneuver from Feig. He knows the screenplay can be shredded if given too much leeway, so he remains reserved, relying on style and charm rather than substance and drama.

That’s not to say there are no radiating messages made by the screenwriter (Jessica Sharzer adapting from Darcey Bell’s novel). Emily points out wrongful female habits, like that of the constant insistence on apologizing for things that aren't their fault, or confusing beauty for strength. But the super-mom turned feminine detective aspects are over-blown; never ridiculed or pointed out for their innate ridiculousness, a missed opportunity.

Besides those kinds of missteps, the actresses are on fire here. Kendrick funnels that shy, awkward, and quirky happy-go-lucky attitude that makes her so effortless to yearn for, to resonate with. She executes that kind of character with ease, but she takes it up a notch from her performances in the “Pitch Perfect” films, able to introduce a more dagger edge to that plucky attitude. Lively is no different. She inhabits that ruthless yet charming persona, able to become sexy and detached, intimidating and provocative, like that of a thorned rose.

They are the gas that fuels the car, keeping this locomotive of charm going down the tracks which inevitably is where “A Simple Favor” nestles itself. It doesn’t try to outdo good mystery films like that of “Gone Girl,” nor does it try to match the classy dramatic crime films of the 60s like “Murder on the Orient Express.” It finds it's lane and drives the speed limit, coloring inside the lines. The best way to decide if a film is good or not as a critic, at least for me, is whether or not you had a good time, and I can answer that question with affirmation. It’s not going to be a prominent favorite for female lead filmmaking when the year reaches its end, nor does it do anything shocking and surprising. “A Simple Favor” merely entertains and satisfies, and that’s all you can ask for sometimes.

Castle Rock (2018)

   Creators: Sam Shaw & Dustin Thomason Credits: Executive Producers: J.J. Abrams, Scott Brown, Tamara Isaac, Stephen King, Mark Lafferty, Sam Shaw, Dustin Thomason, Michael Uppendahl, & Colin Walsh. Cast: André Holland, Melanie Lynskey, Bill Skarsgård, Jane Levy, Sissy Spacek, Scott Glenn, Adam Rothenberg, Noel Fisher, Ann Cusack, Chosen Jacobs, & Terry O'Quinn. Release: July 25, 2018 TV-MA. 10 Episodes. 1 Hr.

Creators: Sam Shaw & Dustin Thomason
Credits: Executive Producers: J.J. Abrams, Scott Brown, Tamara Isaac, Stephen King, Mark Lafferty, Sam Shaw, Dustin Thomason, Michael Uppendahl, & Colin Walsh.
Cast: André Holland, Melanie Lynskey, Bill Skarsgård, Jane Levy, Sissy Spacek, Scott Glenn, Adam Rothenberg, Noel Fisher, Ann Cusack, Chosen Jacobs, & Terry O'Quinn.
Release: July 25, 2018
TV-MA. 10 Episodes. 1 Hr.

 

The name Stephen King can invoke a multitude of responses, both positive and negative; even neutral. He’s an author that many will recognize, but may struggle to put the finger on his most recent works like that of “The Outsider,” a chilling novel worth reading on a mid-Sunday afternoon with a cup of coffee. He, like his books, has generated a polarizing perspective, with some acclaiming him to be one of the best writers of the 20th century, and others deeming him a hack. Whichever side of the conversation you land on, “Castle Rock” is a show that can change your outlook on the iconic author. 

The show centers around Henry Deever (Andre Holland), who begins the show in the midst of defending a man facing criminal punishment (the death penalty). Questioning how you can sentence a man to death with even the slightest amount of doubt? It sets the tone for him as a character, someone who doesn’t precisely cheer on for the demise of humanity, rather analyzing the world as the complex hoshbog of moral values that it tends to be. From there we cut to Shawshank, we meet Officer Dennis Zalewski who is a jailer. The former warden recently committed suicide by driving off a cliff into Castle Lake with a rope anchored to the stump of a tree knotted around his throat. 

The new warden asked for him and a colleague to clear out a cell block for usage. While investigating, they discover a shriveled but young man trapped within a cage. He’s silent, seemingly traumatized for his forced stay inside a cell, treated like that of an animal. When they ask for his name he replies “Henry Deaver,” an interesting response considering we’ve already met someone with that name as the story is set afoot as to solving the question of who this man is? How does the real Henry play into this? Why was he locked away by the old warden? How will the town itself play a factor? Most of those questions will be answered, but the majority of our curiosity is generated in the latter half of the season when new inquiries are manifested from the second half of a season that is sensationally brilliant for its bulk. 

For those who are die-hard King fanatics, “Castle Rock” is a show that is meticulously assembled for you. Each episode opens with cut out pages from many iconic King novels as the opening credits play. The cast consists of Sissy Spacek and Bill Skarsgard who have each depicted infamous novellas for King. (Spacek as “Carrie” and Skarsgard as “IT”) Among them is a healthy alumni from past King productions like Terry O’Quinn (Silver Bullet), Melanie Lynskey (Rose Red), Ann Cusack (Mr. Mercedes), Frances Conroy (The Mist), and that’s not all. The sheriff of the town is Alan Pangborn, depicted genuinely by Scott Glenn, who’s previously been played by Ed Harris (Needful Things) and Michael Rooker (The Dark Half). Key plot points are residing around Shawshank Prison and The Mellow Tiger. Along with key references to events that took place in this universe, like that of Jackie Torrence (Jane Levy), the niece of the infamous crazy-wielding ax murderer known as Jack Torrance from Stanley Kubrick’s “The Shining.” It’s all connected to a multitude of King memorabilia, like that of a collector’s museum where every turn reveals a snippet of the Author’s past and how they seemingly connect to one another. 

Fair warning though, the narrative unfolds at the pace of molasses, slowly and sloppily sprinkling details; leading  you to ask questions more in line with “why am I watching this show” than “what’s gonna happen next?” It plays like that of a cover band, beginning their set with more of the familiar hits than their stuff, referencing names and locations as if to shout “remember this?” That’s not to say there is no actual narrative occurring until the latter half of the season, rather that the show doesn’t drill into the nuts and bolts of that story until the fifth episode. 

But, for those who weren’t either familiar with the “King of Horror” or share scorn for the popular genre writer, “Castle Rock” has some great things for you too. Yes, the easter eggs and references may go over your head or irk you with their production line assembly, but “Castle Rock” tells a story that will incite and invoke curiosity. It’s a good mystery built into an assembled tribute act, one that occasionally runs the risk of relying on its inside baseball knowledge more than a well-written narrative. It’s an anthology series though, meaning each season will connect in broadness but differ in the details. It’s a new story occurring in the same universe, which is why the first few episodes feel more fixated on fabricating the world that the characters inhabit more than the character and stories themselves. When the story does get going though, it’s an emotionally evocative journey that is both a great mystery and a traditional horror story in one. 

The series most notable elements derive from the screenwriting. It’s the kind of story that develops and molds and mutates over the course of the season in a meaningful fashion in which the surprises are earth-shattering. The reveals are dumbfounding, and the majority of the emotion produced is genuine, but each show has a standout quality, and this one is two-fold in both it's direction and performances. The camera work is cryptically radiant. Working like that of a crisp page-turner, each frame and cut tugging at your collar to lean in closer to the screen. It’s a masterwork of editing as well, though not on par with HBO’s “Sharp Objects,” few shows can compare to that level of editorial mastery though. 

What may be seen as cheap tricks, can also be seen as timeless tools. Transitioning sets in one-shot maneuvers, how a character walks from one place to another without a cut, mimicking that of a stage play. Some savvy film geeks consider this as a low totem, but for me, it's always brilliant, primarily when it serves the purpose of the story, like that of episode seven “The Queen.” An episode that swings and wanders through timelines, investigating the legitimacy of dementia, providing an expressive tour into a woman’s regret. Every show has their best episode and this the episode that reflects the best of what the show offers, a sci-fi/fictional outtake on a relatable issue that is constructed with splendor. 

It’s a tour de force of an episode where we focus on Henry’s mother Ruth, depicted by Sissy Spacek in an episodic performance worthy of an Emmy. Throughout the season she confronts the disease of dementia, forgetting the face of her own son at one point. The episode provides insight into those feelings of traumatization lingering through memories and how those memories teach her things she didn’t know, translating how the past affects the present. It’s framed, designed, and executed with a precision that ends with a reanalyzing of moments that crush the heart. Crumbling you into a mess of tears and sobs, realizing the hidden truth lying in front of you all the while. It's truly a masterwork of television. 

The episodes that follow struggle to match that level of expertise, but the best moments occur in Episode nine in which the story is given a whole new framing, forcing us to re-contextualize everything we know. It’s a genius maneuver that is immediately refuted by the show itself in a finale that echoes the authenticity of Stephen King. Marc Bernardin, writer & geekdom enthusiast, worked on the show and described the process of writing for the show as “pulling and choosing the elements that we like, but making an original story that feels like a Stephen King book, but isn’t really.” 

In that mindset, the ending feels like a King novella. As a self-admitted fan of both the man and the creator, King has consistently struggled with resolutions. He has his exceptions like that of “IT” and “The Green Mile” and his short stories, but for the bulk of his career, it has been his single-biggest weakness. He can manifest a heavy amount of tension through genius character development that builds to a large and compelling story that inevitably dwindles to a finish, the same happens with “Castle Rock.” 

It’s a show that delivers dramatically; boasting clever and understated performances from Holland, Skarsgard, Spacek, Lynskey, Glenn, and much more. It lives in the right vein to carry that essence of a Stephen King riff, understanding and updating his concepts of everyday American evil in one of his best adaptation in recent memory. As a horror story though, as a mystery, it works like a bad twilight zone episode; making promises and then all but going out of its way to breaking those promises. A grand bait and switch that makes us feel like a catfish victim, hooking us into a concept that isn’t nuanced but transforms the story into something transfixing, but it's all for nothing. 

It’s a big ruse, a big joke, an “I can’t believe you fell for it” kind of moment that finalizes a show that captured and gained steam over its tenure, inevitably concluding in shambles of disappointment. Each episode feels as if got better and better on each successor, delivering new themes, new references, and new places for this intertwining story to explore. 

It peaks in its near-season finale, an episode that wows and delivers a soaking amount of anticipation to set-up the finale, but when you reach the final credits, it's a moment where you feel empty. Asking for answers to be filled in, pleading for your time to be rewarding, but it's an ending that nearly crumbles the show if it weren’t for the previous entries being so staggeringly excellent. Endings are important, and hopefully, our next visit to this treacherous Maine town doesn’t let us down near as much.

MANDY (2018)

   Director: Panos Cosmatos With: Nicolas Cage, Andrea Riseborough, Linus Roache, Ned Dennehy, Olwen Fouere, Richard Brake, & Bill Duke. Release: Sep 14, 2018 R. 2 hr. 1 min.

Director: Panos Cosmatos
With: Nicolas Cage, Andrea Riseborough, Linus Roache, Ned Dennehy, Olwen Fouere, Richard Brake, & Bill Duke.
Release: Sep 14, 2018
R. 2 hr. 1 min.

 

Writer/director Panos Cosmatos describes his second original feature as an “expulsion of the things I was feeling,” it forces me to ask: what the hell was this guy feeling when he wrote this? Jokes aside, “Mandy” is one of those few films that is quite hard to watch and analyze. It’s heavy, both emotionally and literally. Panos has crafted a love letter to heavy metal, to 80s horror/sci-fi, to the post-apocalyptic genre; even self-referencing the enigmatic character that Nicolas Cage has become. It’s a stylish, visceral, and mad-house version of a film that is unrelentingly unapologetic for it's “against the grain” mentality. Some have compared it to an 80s heavy metal album cover brought to cinematic life, but that’s merely the style of “Mandy.” The emotional depth, heartfelt homaging to Panos influences, and the blending of a “slow-burn” artsy stylized tale of a journey into the depths of hell and a blood-soaking climb out of it.

Least to say, “Mandy” is not a film for everyone, nor should it be. There are plenty of blockbuster features and mediocre productions that are meant for everyone to “enjoy” throughout the year. It's the perfect kick-off for Oscar season, the time of the year where films focus a bit more on storytelling, on craftsmanship, on conveying meaningful messages.

“Mandy” does all of those things, but in a way that is inherently unique to a specific crowd, one that grew beloving films from directors like George Romero and Sam Raimi. Falling in love with those mid-80s sci-fi films that were both egregious and fascinatingly intriguing, like that of “The Fly” and “Scanners;" the movies that inspired the filmmakers of today that felt tangible in style, as if you could reach into the screen and pull something out of them. This is what Panos is channeling, at least in part. He’s also channeling his affinity for films like “After Hours” and “The Road Warrior,” conveying that “Kafkaesque” design while exhibiting his fidelity for the post-apocalyptic craze that sci-fi seems to generate endlessly.

With all of that said, “Mandy” is a tough film to capture tonally and even narratively, but I’ll do my best. Nicolas Cage stars as Red Miller, a peaceful lumberjack, residing in the outer rims of nature with his wife, Mandy (Andrea Riseborough). One day, Mandy catches the eye of a cult leader, one whose power is made up of ego, whose connections with an eerily demonic framed biker gang, which resemble that of the hounds of hell. Jeremiah Sand (Linus Roache), this zealot figure, conjures the hounds to steal away this woman, someone whose absence from his side makes him feel “naked.” In what is a horrifically stylized scene, these “things” kidnap Mandy and Red and take them back to Jeremiah’s residence in exchange for the sacrifice of one of the members of Jeremiah’s flock.

There, Red is tortured with his mouth gagged by being wrapped in razor wire, his hands restrained by the same material. Inside, Mandy is drugged by that of an insect’s venom and attemptively seduced by this cult fanatic in a scene that is hallucinantingly transfixing. It’s reminiscent of the production used in Alex Garland’s “Annihilation,” in how that film becomes hypnotic in that of it's framing and sound design. After Jeremiah’s charms work to no avail, Red is forced to watch an event that traumatizes him deeply, breaking that essential link that keeps us from going insane on everyone around us, shattering the moral compass entirely.

Cage goes home, dripping with blood, attempting to forget about the events that occurred. He awakes in the middle of the night, startled by a nightmare as he then proceeds to drink an entire bottle of booze while in his underwear, howling like that of a primordial beast. It’s a scene that is shot spaciously, we're encompassed by the distance between Cage and us something that dwindles the more prolonged the scene goes on because we’re witnessing a great bit of acting, conveying a man losing his mind to insanity, driven by grief.

While a few laughs and chuckles generated from the audience around me, I was mortified by the visual. It’s like watching the molding of a serial killer, a man no-longer seeing the world as something primarily benevolent, rather re-contextualizing his surrounding like that of objects in need of destroying. His eyes are filled with rage and a thirst for violence. Like a character off of an “Iron Maiden” album cover, as he sets out on a path of vengeance. Forging a grim reaper-like Scythe, as Nicolas Cage is set-off to embrace that infamous craze in which at one moment he slits someone’s throat and open his mouth, his tongue extended down to his chin, as blood spews all over his face.

The violence is insanely brilliant, but also bizarrely cautious. There is so much of the craziness that I love, but it shockingly falls short when it comes to blood and gore, at least at first. I do wish it started out at full-speed though, despite the final fights making up for it altogether. Nonetheless, the heavy metal comparisons become apparent at this time. As we are watching Red work his way through both the demons that Jeremiah conjured and, inevitably, the fanatic disciples themselves, but the nightmarish creatures that Red faces play out like songs on an album. Each of them is episodically cast in extremity; long color-saturated takes with shadows and bright colors being sharply constructed, like that of a marriage between Tarantino’s “Grindhouse” and Metallica.

Cage is at his best here. The former academy award recipient has become exotic in his decision making as an actor, taking on challenges in all shapes and sizes. He’s the proverbial idea of an actor brought to life, someone who speaks of acting like that of a spiritual experience, and he delivers something of an otherworldly performance as Red. He’s ranging from the subtly charming figure to the emotionally devastated man to the kooky but intimidating stoic hero. He’s everywhere, and anywhere the screenplay asks him to go, merely reverberating to watch. As is his counterpart, Linus Roache who is calmly chic. He speaks in poems, riddles, and monologues and his last moments as the character he is exceptional. Acting like that of a man treading water before he drowns, doing anything and everything he can to survive.

The performances, like that of the film itself, are walking a tightrope, one that is assisted by the last dose of brilliance to come from the late Johann Johannsson, one of the best to compose. His final film composition is incredible. The score is a series of screeching, violent noises that add to the tone, to the spirit of “Mandy.” His work alone is a justification of a theatrical viewing, the last great remnants of an artist lost too soon.

“Mandy” is indefinitely unique, but the magic stems from the passion of a fan exhibited by Panos Cosmatos. The way he mimics that of his favorite filmmakers through his heightened camera maneuverability, injecting energy into the silver screen like that of Raimi and Scorsese, two of his biggest influences. He’s over-loading a film with love letters, homages, and symbolizing exposes of male-ego, grief, and the deep-rooted infatuation fabricated by religious leaders. Some will say it's crazy for crazy sakes, and in some ways, they’d be right.

It feels like that of a fable turned biblical tragedy, becoming a fascinating genre exercise of both horror and action. Like that of “Evil Dead 2,” “Mandy” is something of an amalgamation of genres. It’s both invigoratingly bad-ass and downright terrifying, a perfect concoction of good vs. evil in a twisty but realized vision from the prolific mind of Panos Cosmatos.

Peppermint (2018)

   Director: Pierre Morel With: Jennifer Garner, John Gallagher Jr., John Ortiz, Annie Ilonzeh, Juan Pablo Raba, Jeff Hephner, & Cailey Fleming. Release: Sep 7, 2018 R. 1 hr. 41 min.

Director: Pierre Morel
With: Jennifer Garner, John Gallagher Jr., John Ortiz, Annie Ilonzeh, Juan Pablo Raba, Jeff Hephner, & Cailey Fleming.
Release: Sep 7, 2018
R. 1 hr. 41 min.

 

What should’ve been a subtle, but brilliant dark comedy on our socio-political status as a country is mutilated into a shoot em’ up, straight to DVD action film starring Jennifer Garner. It’s the kind of movie that makes sense for someone like Pierre Morel to helm. Continuing to feed off of the audience favoring that was brought to him from the enjoyable but brainlessly constructed “Taken,” Pierre struggles to make “Peppermint” much more than a feminized version of “Death Wish.” Screenwriter Chad St. John doesn’t have that stellar of a career either, and his work here is an example as to why, not being able to see the brilliance seeping through the cracks.

In “Peppermint,” a widowed and bereaved woman who seeks vengeance on the cartoonishly caricatured Latino drug-dealers who killed her husband and young daughter in a drive-by at a carnival. They do this after their leader, or “jefe,” learns that the husband and his friends were planning on stealing from him, it's a message that reads: “don’t cross the boss.”

This generic traumatic event sends Riley North (Jennifer Garner) on a rampage, a former blank employee who in a matter of five years, despite glaring psychological trauma that she never treats, can master the techniques needed to bring down a large and well-organized drug operation. Admittedly silly, Pierre and John make it out to be ever-so intense as if she is the grim reaper coming to force these sinners to pay their debts. Riley’s mental imbalance is so well known - shown through a matter of sped-up, over-exposed, and out-of-focus camera work - that nobody in a position of authority believes her to be a murder or a vigilante of some kind.

Nonetheless, audiences are supposed to root for Riley and her crusade on the joint-smoking, booze-drinking, gun-toting criminals who were never punished because the system is corrupt. So she and her mass arsenal are forced to get justice by force, to, for lack of a better phrase, “drain the swamp.” I don’t mean to be on-the-nose, but John is obvious in his intentions and craftsmanship. He simplifies the world around Riley so that her actions seem justified, never asking us to look past the tattoos and the gang mentality, rather to lust for their demise. He and Morel paint this black and white world, one that is meant to suggest that if you live life the “right way” you’ll be happy if you don’t then you're a scumbag. Crime is, sadly, not as simple as that. If it were, cops and lawyers lives would be a lot easier, but crime is not color-coded despite what many members of Trump-America would believe.

A presumably shared belief by both John and Pierre, as they stray away from complex and ingenious subjects of conversation. Like that of Riley’s privilege, how her “responsible” gun-owning actions are ironically viewed differently than the “criminal” gun owning Latinos. No, in their minds, Riley is a white woman whose sole purpose is to set the system right, to fix what is broken, to rail against the stereotypical Latino gangsters who work at a pinata store. If you were wondering why we, film critics, beg for diversity and fresh voices in filmmaking, this is why.

So that we don’t have to see the age-old cliche of the white person being held down by the criminal man of color, despite that relationship being the other way around on a more common occurrence. Morel and John even attempt to pencil in her representation of the common folk, how her self-image justifies her actions as a working-class martyr. She’s not a rich housewife like her former friend Peg (Pell James), a snobby mother who tells of Riley and her daughter (Cailey Fleming) during a flashback. Riley is supposed to be a symbol of Los Angeles’ fed-up frustration towards corruption, and the continuous mistreatment of middle-class America. How her injustices are echoed through the forbearance of old-testament like justice, I guess Morel and John are unfamiliar with the saying: “an eye for an eye makes the whole world blind.”

It’s this cynical and psychotic behavior that tends to suggest that the idea of justice presented in “Peppermint” isn’t exactly one that both makes sense or solves the problem, instead of medicating a symptom of the issue. Riley is meant to be an underdog, fighting the uphill battle of gun-heavy bodyguards, a high-powered lawyer, a corrupt judge, and the untouchable head honcho Diego Garcia (Juan Pablo Raba) who resides at the top of the mountain. So it’s up to Riley to de-corrupt the system with bullets and bloodshed, but unlike Frank Castle, another pantheon of Red-Blooded American Avengers, the pathos for her revenge never gains steam.

First off, the men responsible for her situation are killed off-screen. The ones made out to be the trio responsible, the ones we're supposed to root against, the ones who did the crime; we never get to see them receive their punishment. Instead, were lead to witness the demise of the higher-ups. It’s misconstrued as a revenge plot, the film work behind it isn’t exactly any better obviously with most of the action being equivalent to that of “Taken.” With quick-cuts and satisfactory framed set-pieces that are embodied by Garner who, despite her strong efforts, is unable to become believable as an action heroine. Unlike female badasses such as Charlize Theron, Michelle Rodriguez, and Gal Gadot, Garner is unable to match that ferocity, that feminine fierceness that is needed to become both feared and believable as a female outlaw.

All of this, on top of the distorted image of so-called “justice,” is what leads to “Peppermint” feeling like a shotty spin-off of a Tucker Carlson wet dream. Riley’s actions seem far more monsterish than anti-heroic. She threatens to stab Peg at gunpoint for merely being a nuisance, she toys with a so-called “corrupt” judge despite his reasoning for dismissal making sense, and she threatens to kill a man for doing his job as an alcohol salesman. But this is never seen as a woman out-of-control, rather a heroine serving out justice.

Morel often seems desperate and pathetic in his attempts to make us care for her, as we see that her boss forces her to work late on the date of her daughter's birthday party, mere days before Christmas no less, and her husband is the ever-so-innocent and “good man” that refuses the temptation of theft to be with his family. Hearing all of this, how could you not root for Riley in her revenge path for the slaughter of these two innocent, good-natured, Americans? Meanwhile, the antagonists are characteristics through cheeky surroundings, and racist straw men caricatures, with the over-usage of tattoos and so-called Mexican styled furniture of De Los Muertos, designed homes that become tacky and obscenely ridiculous.

Morel attempts to cover up his racist slanderings with the gender-neutral and racially diverse group of detectives and FBI agents that hunt down this one-woman rampage. But it's to no avail, though Garner attempts to give everything she can to a film undeserving of her presence, Morel and St. John seemingly shout their opinions on what is “wrong” with America. Blaming the left-wing ideologies of rehabilitating criminals, thinking the only way to solve injustice is to put down the abusers once and for all. It's an ugly strain of modern America, insisting that your being bullied if someone tells you that you are bullying them, it's all hoshpog nonsense that sadly resonates with proportions of middle-class White-America.

In the end, Garner becomes the very thing she’s fighting. She’s unwittingly bolstering the same unfair system of power she hates, no matter how many people of color are forced to have her back and ignore the systemic favoritism towards her actions from a country that has lost its way. At one point in the midst of a flashback, Riley tells her daughter: “you can’t go around punching people who are jerks, then your just as bad as they are.” It begs the question, if she’s piling up bodies for breaking the law, what does that make her? It certainly doesn’t make her a hero.

The Nun (2018)

   Director: Corin Hardy With: Taissa Farmiga, Demian Bichir, Jonas Bloquet, & Bonnie Aarons. Release: Sep 7, 2018 R. 1 hr. 36 min.

Director: Corin Hardy
With: Taissa Farmiga, Demian Bichir, Jonas Bloquet, & Bonnie Aarons.
Release: Sep 7, 2018
R. 1 hr. 36 min.

 

Corin Hardy’s “The Nun” is a rollercoaster ride of a horror movie. It’s both exciting and frightening, but inherently forgettable and nauseating. It’s a film that is cognizant of its potential and humbly accepting of its role in the grand scheme of the, now, five-film franchise. The movie doesn’t set out to be the franchises stand out, nor does it attempt to place itself in the forefront for the best horror film of 2018. With “Hereditary” being the piece of genius that it is, knock-off Friday night frights like “The Nun” stand little to no chance of emerging themselves from the flock of mediocrity.

Which is the best way to characterize Hardy’s second feature film, a mediocre scare. Not bad, and not good, but a middle of the road entree. It sets out to explain the backstory behind one of the “Conjuring” universes stand out characters in the creepy Nun that Lorraine Warren fretted and was tortured by during both “The Conjuring” and “The Conjuring 2.” She, or it, is something of a brief but impressionistic figure; one that lingers in the back of your eyelids. Her nose is jagged and dagger-sharp. Her cheekbones are jutting from her haggard and pale skin. Her eyes are piercingly yellow, glowing through the darkest of shadows like that of an eerie reflection of evil staring back at you from the darkness. She, or it, is a profoundly unsettling image, like that of a nightmare embodied by a potent caricature, a nun which in itself can be reasonably creepy.

Now, we get an entire film devoted to her, serving as both an origin story for the character and the franchise itself. Her presence, when it graces the screen, is some of the film’s best and worst scenes. She, like many other memorable secondary characters, is best used in short-lived screen time. Let her image be terrifying enough, not the reasoning for her existence; it was the brilliance of James Wan to let her and “Annabelle” and the “Crooked Man” stand out as much as they did. Not because of how scary they are, necessarily, though they are eerie, but more in how we rarely see them; allowing their presence to seem unpredictable. At one point you're watching a family being haunted by an invisible force, at another that energy is embodied by something horrific, something we hope never to confront.

That genius is, of course, absent from “The Nun.” Not that this film is poorly constructed by any means, they are a fair share of skillfully executed and well-set up frights and shrills. None of which are dull. These are the high points of the rollercoaster, the moments where we scream with enthusiasm. Some of them are inherently predictable, those junctures where we turn to our friend and whisper “here it comes,” as loud screeches shred through the surround sound and our eyes bare witness to something sort of scary.

In “The Nun” it works at times and fails in others. One good one involves the local farmhand Maurice (Jonas Bloquet), a flirty French-Canadian who goes by the nickname Frenchie. He’s both the guide for our characters and us, giving us a heavy dose of necessary exposition in how this gothic and remote Abbey is the center for an unfathomable evil. He’s there to assist a Priest, Father Burke (Demian Bichir), and a Nun in training, Sister Irene (Taissa Farminga), who have been sent to investigate the nature of a suicide that occurred on the Holy grounds by the Vatican. Their first night there answers their question as to whether the grounds remain holy or not, experiencing multiple scares and psychological pranks of sorts from the demonic force that is present. Frenchie encounters one of the best of em’, lured in by a nun who suddenly disappears only to be lurking behind him, hung from the tree above him. The rope snaps and suddenly, Frenchie finds himself in a squabble with an undead Nun.

These are the best moments of the film; the worst involve our two main characters. Burke and Irene are chosen by experience, Burke has formerly embattled evil, enacting an exorcism on a young boy whose injuries suffered during the expulsion of evil lead to his death just days later. Irene is plucked for this assignment in accordance to her visions, as since a young age she’s been able to see evil in a way that only matches that of Lorraine Warren. A clever touch is that Irene is depicted by Farmiga, the younger sister of Vera Farmiga, who portrayed the clairvoyant in the “Conjuring” films. It’s a quiet and astute manner of connecting the movies, but the adept treatment of characters is not equivalent.

“The Conjuring” movies stand out from their ability to craft characters, all of whom are seemingly empowering and investing. “The Nun” and “Annabelle” have struggled to match that feat, fabricating characters who are both forgettable and somewhat detached. They’re drawn with such a narrative slight, a slacked and lax screenplay that struggles to tell a story. It’s bland, almost faceless like that of the Nun’s that haunt the cellar hallways of the Abbey. These are the stagnant interludes, where the screenwriters feel as if they are merely going through the motions, as is Hardy and the actors.

When those points of emphasis come to an end, The Nun (Bonnie Aarons) wanders the dark hallways, an elusive yet ominous force that becomes tranquilized by that of the over-reliance on her occupancy by Hardy. The Nun is employed as that of a pop-up ad, transforming from a needed tool to a cheap trick. Hardy goes on to operate some acrobatics and usage of claustrophobic horror, able to liven things up on the clammy church of a location. Some of his shots are inspired, others are used for cheap thrills, and most of them become like that of the jolts and jives of the best theme park rides.

The motivations are perhaps the most significant blemishes on Hardy’s final draft, by the end we are unsure of what this demonic beast wants precisely. We are uncertain of what it exactly is, why it's here, and if its desires reside past the unoriginal and straightforward ambitions of death and destruction. It’s something that, if James Wan were apart of the film's creation, would have been improved upon before arriving upon the silver screen.

In the end, “The Nun” is best described as an enjoyable but disposable entree into the Conjuring universe. It’s not near as bad as “Annabelle” and not near as good as “Annabelle: Creation,” and not worth comparing to the “Conjuring” films. It’s a theme park ride of a movie as I said, one that jolts and vexes, but by the time you get out, it will have already left you. You may have had fun, but you’ll be unsure as to why.

Destination Wedding (2018)

   Director: Victor Levin  With: Keanu Reeve & Winona Ryder.  Release: Aug 31, 2018 R. 1 hr. 26 min.

Director: Victor Levin
With: Keanu Reeve & Winona Ryder. 
Release: Aug 31, 2018
R. 1 hr. 26 min.

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Many astute filmgoers will live by the saying “less is more.” It’s typically a wise, but common, critique. In Victor Levin’s “Destination Wedding” it's quite the opposite, a film that takes that ever-so-common criticism to its peak by literally using the least amount of filmatic utensils as possible. The film is basic, but the lack of effort given to its inner workings is what makes it tiresome. It’s comparable to watching paint dry, only saving itself through the charisma of its star power. Something that is so essential to the film, that it maintains any sense of compelling essence that, if not there, the film would become the perfect lullaby for a mid-afternoon nap. 

“Destination Wedding” is a title that gives away the story, mostly because the story is enormously hollow. Lindsay (Winona Ryder) and Frank (Keanu Reeves) meet at an airport, waiting for an eight-seat plan to arrive and transport them to California wine country for a wedding, hints the name: “Destination Wedding.” They bicker at the airport, discussing erratically ridiculously meta topics such as the death of chivalry and the enactment of everyday pessimism that steals the organical optimism we maintain as an evolved species. They don’t stop there, they quibble and intellectually spar about their wits, hoping that the other will either sacrifice footing or slowly realize their inferiority. 

It’s a bit absurd to expect this style of conversational exchange to occur between strangers, I personally have to dig this sort of mental sparring out of my closest friends, let alone mere acquaintances. You would expect Cupid and his arrow to be hovering over them like that of a helicopter parent, but that’s one of the few subtle maneuvers of subversions that Levin exceeds at accomplishing. This story does end how you would quickly predict, but Levin extends it as far as he can until he arrives upon checking off the boxes of a romantic comedies' audience fulfillments. 

He does this through the snarky combating of dialogue between Reeves and Ryder, neither of whom are to blame for the humdrum tone of the film. They enact their brilliance and skills at will, providing performances that feel effortlessly captivating, you know they're having fun which forces a grin out of your mundane viewing experience. 

The title, while literal, is a bit subverting as well, camouflaging itself as an expectational romantic comedy that in all reality involves little romance and a style of comedy unfamiliar to the genre. It’s not on the nose and simple-minded, rather snarky and quick-witted. It’s twist and a bit hyper-verbal, but it never invokes enough charm to become more than that of a giggle or two to break you out of your hypnotization of fatigue. 

The treatment of the wedding itself is the final cornerstone of whispering praise; it's authentically adept. Depicting the usual boredom that comes from attending a wedding that you were neither excited for and never intended to be invited to. Reeves and Ryder sit in the back of the room at all times, keeping to themselves. Sharing life stories, meta discussions of perspective, and bashing everyone and anyone who pretends to be enjoying themselves. 

Exchanging happy-go-lucky charm for sarcastic crooked humor isn’t exactly a fair trade, but it's the only thing that Reeves and Ryder are working with, besides each other. They rely on no-one else it seems, seeing as there are no creative fingerprints to be found from Levin. His dialogue can become both pompous and agitating, watching two grown adults complain about how life isn’t fair isn’t exactly the building blocks of a classic. 

He relies far too much upon his stars who, despite burdening the load with a smile, struggle to maintain the jig for long enough that it becomes believable. They are not to blame, but they are not absent of criticism. Keanu relies far too much on the inhabitation of “John Wick,” both in his tone of delivery and embodiment. It’s like watching the masterful assassin go on a vacation. Ryder is elegant, but a bit too unenthusiastic at times, her line delivery can become void of emotion as if she has forgotten what the point of the film is, and I can’t blame her.

They are the entire movie, and while a two-lead drama has been accomplished before, it was done so by far talented filmmakers. While Reeves and Ryder are stumbling along the way, their work is embodied with charm and chemistry, never becoming the problem or a symptom of this bland potato of a movie. 

Writer/director Victor Levin shows his first-hand experience of these so-called cutesy wedding, the monotonous familiarity of them all, the lack of uniqueness or specialness they muster. But he never rectifies that emotion through the tools given to him, you can feel him trying, hearing the wheels spin out of control, but it's all a blurred vision. It’s empty, like that of the cups of coffee you’ll have to drink just get through it. 
 

Searching (2018)

   Director: Aneesh Chaganty  With: John Cho, Sara Sohn, Michelle La, Joseph Lee, & Debra Messing. Release: Aug 31, 2018 PG-13. 1 hr. 41 min.

Director: Aneesh Chaganty
With: John Cho, Sara Sohn, Michelle La, Joseph Lee, & Debra Messing.
Release: Aug 31, 2018
PG-13. 1 hr. 41 min.

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“Searching” is the kind of movie that you might look at on its face value as a gimmick. Using the now cliche format of on-screen perspective, which is where the camera is like that of a Youtube “Let’s Play” video, arranging itself around the entirety of a computer screen. Director/writer Aneesh Chaganty and co-writer Sev Ohanian’s take that format a step further by extending the perspective to its fullest extent. From news footage to Youtube videos to social media to Facetime to voice chat, this duo uses their subgenre framing to provide both a family drama and a mystery-thriller. With all that being said, is “Searching” a high-wire act of a movie, using its gimmicking composition as a crutch? No. Absolutely not. 

Structuring a film in this way can be impressive, specifically to the level of detail the filmmakers are willing to go to. In most cases, that's not what happens. Films like “Unfriended: Dark Web” merely uses it as a low-budget maneuver, attempting to maximize profits, a tool that ended up being wasted in the long-run. “Searching” is quite the opposite. The film doesn’t widen its pocketbooks nearly as much as it expands the potential of on-screen filmmaking. 

Although they adhere to that instinctive usage of the subgenre, providing talking points on the defects that technology presents; they first decide to open the film with the nostalgic sounds of Microsoft Windows XP booting up. From there we see our mouse, it scrolls through settings, selecting user profiles. The camera turns on, and we are introduced to the Kim family: the father David (John Cho), the mother Pamela (Sara Sohn), and their five-year-old daughter Margot (Michelle La). They smile and provide a family portrait for their home desktop. 

From there, we are treated to a montage that spans for fifteen-years of their lives. Including everything from the first day at Kindergarten to learning the piano to teaching family recipes to the inevitable heartbreaking twist in which we learn that Pamela (Sara Sohn) has Lymphoma. The family is optimistic though, googling ways to combat this disease together. Sadly, their efforts are not enough, as our montage finalizes with the deletion of a calendar reminder for her big coming home party. It’s a sort of high-tech version of the devastatingly, wordless opening of “UP." Smoothly and efficiently depicting that passage of time, handling her passing like that of a quiet tragedy. 

In the present day, David (John Cho) has grown distant from his daughter after the loss of her mom. A now widowed husband himself, the family attempts to mask the emptiness, thinking it would fix itself. At least David (John Cho) tries to do it that way. Though he believes to be close with her, Margot (Michelle La) is crying out for help, begging to have her grief seen and heard. Her father barely mentions her mother anymore, pretending as if nothing ever happened, while Margot (Michelle La) celebrates what would be her mother’s birthday. All of this leads to a disconnected family, one that becomes challenged when Margot (Michelle La) goes missing. 

This is where the intricacies of the technology used become impactful, as we begin to see all the unanswered texts, all of the nights left alone in her room, all of the social media “friends” who were never quite close with Margot (Michelle La). It becomes a fixation for us as audience members, connecting with that idea that these so-called "friends" and "followers" seemingly are unaware of our existence. Merely liking and commenting to get noticed, attempting to place themselves before you, screaming “look at me!” It’s these moments that remind us of the seemingly simple but ever-so complex digital age we’ve become accustomed too, a world where we’ve allowed privacy to become vacant for whoever deems themselves worthy, and it's this topic that “Searching,” unlike those who came before it, executes with precision. 

It’s not just a preachy soapbox of a story though, acting like a grandpa screaming how times used to be simpler and therefore better. No, “Searching” also showcases the great invention that is technology. Exhibiting its usage for connectivity and recollection, allowing us to relive times from the past and to reach out to someone who will listen and see through the facade that we use to shield the world from our scars. Chaganty and Ohanian provide a ray of hope in that way, reminding us of how great technology can be while telling us of how it can be ever-so encumbered. 

Someone else who provides a ray of hope in this story is Detective Rosemary Vick (Debra Messing), who shows up on the scene when David (John Cho) officially reports her as missing. She initially believes that Margot (Michelle La) ran away, presumably using the money she gotten by saving up the weekly hundred dollar bills her father gave to her for piano lessons, lessons she had not been attending for more than six months. When David (John Cho) notices that she had a favorite place to go-to, a spot that was a mere five minutes away from where she was last seen, they discover her car and the money at the bottom of a lake, but not Margot (Michelle La). 

The twists and turns that proceed this discovery are engulfing, providing a taut thriller that uses every ounce of drama and snippet of suspense it can to become something you’ll remember. The more they uncover together though, the more you begin to see how much David (John Cho) didn’t know his daughter, examining that ever-so paradoxical concern for parents. That sad realization of how technology, a tool designed to bring us closer together, can manifest a rift between us. It’s not a nuanced concept, but it's one that “Searching” uses and provides legitimacy to while maintaining intrigue into one of the year’s best mysteries and best twist-endings.

The concepts can become overshadowed by stylization, a style that retracts on itself, extending itself past David’s (John Cho) perspective to someone else’s who happens to be watching the local news station that is covering the story of Margot’s disappearance. The acting, while mostly gripping, can become hit and miss at times. With John Cho executing versatility and range as an actor, everyone else struggles to keep up. It’s not those things that cause this film to have a slight wrinkle in its skin though. It's the development of the characters we’re watching that keep me from going full gung-ho about “Searching.” 

Though I connect to them on the sheer basis of relatability, living in a time where technology is both God and the Devil, I struggle to dig past that superficial connection. When those scenes of great empathy or resonance turn up, I find myself intrigued because of the story, grappling to find any sort of feeling for the characters involved. 

Perhaps it's meant to be that way, maybe I, like most of us in today’s modern times, am unable to connect with them because of their normality. David is merely a widowed Asian-American father, there’s nothing more to him, and that should be the hook. That he’s just a regular guy like me, but with the world being so topsy-turvy, perhaps I am looking for spectacle, for escapism. Maybe that’s why we retreat to our dens of screen time and online messaging. It begs the question, what happens when the world we see outside the window furnishes more elation than the one dwelling in our pocket? I don’t know. 

Hopefully one day we will, if only for a little while. 

Operation Finale (2018)

   Director: Chris Weitz  With: Oscar Isaac, Ben Kingsley, Mélanie Laurent, Haley Lu Richardson, Joe Alwyn, Nick Kroll, Greta Scacchi, Lior Raz, Peter Strauss, & Michael Aronov. Release: Aug 29, 2018 PG-13. 2 hr. 2 min. 

Director: Chris Weitz
With: Oscar Isaac, Ben Kingsley, Mélanie Laurent, Haley Lu Richardson, Joe Alwyn, Nick Kroll, Greta Scacchi, Lior Raz, Peter Strauss, & Michael Aronov.
Release: Aug 29, 2018
PG-13. 2 hr. 2 min. 

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The Holocaust is a stain on human history, one that has been echoed and reverberated cinematically on more than one occasion, with films such as “Sophie’s Choice,” “The Pianist,” “The Boy in the Striped Pajamas,” and “Schindler’s List” being a few of the most notable. Spielberg’s depiction of the events is one of the most respected, a film about a Jewish tragedy that is crafted from Jewish hands. It’s one of the most impactful films made in American cinema, and the makeup and parallels of such a film can be seen, and more importantly, heard throughout Chris Weitz’s “Operation Finale.” 

With little to no quality to be found on his track record as both a director and a screenwriter (“The Twilight Saga: New Moon” & “The Golden Compass), Chris Weitz finds himself mirroring the successes of Spielberg’s tour de force as a filmmaker in “Operation Finale.” A film in which a group of Israel secret agents set out to track down a high ranking officer of the Nazi regime in 1961, one who is responsible for more than his fair share of blame for the Holocaust. Adolf Eichmann (Ben Kingsley; who was one of the quintessential members of the cast for “Schindler’s List”) is that man who is known as the architect of the “Final Solution,” the Nazi plan for the genocide and the extermination of the Jews in Germany. 

The film doesn't begin there though. First, we speed through the first act, barely giving a semblance of interest for the characters puked onto the screen, like that of Sylvia (Haley Lu Richardson) who meets a handsome boy named Klaus (Joe Alwyn) at a nightly showing of Douglas Sirk’s classic “Imitation of Life.” It’s ‘50s Argentina, and the country is suffering from its fair share of internal dilemmas and has begun to look for a scapegoat for someone to blame for Argentina's potential collapse, someone like the Jews. 

After deciding to date this boy, Weitz restages one of Sirk’s best scenes from “Imitation of Life,” as Sylvia (Haley Lu Richardson) discover her Jewish heritage is suddenly unwelcome when she accompanies Klaus (Joe Alwyn) to a gathering of anti-Semites and Neo-Nazis. His radicalism unbeknownst to her, she quickly becomes terrified as she watches a group of men and woman, filled with race hatred, Nazi salute to the claim for justice against Argentina’s “Jewish problem.”

They, like all hate groups, need leadership though, someone to organize them like a David Duke or a Steven Anderson. In this case, it's the hidden in plain sight Nazi general Adolf Eichmann (Ben Kingsley), who also happens to be Klaus’s (Joe Alwyn) father.

When Sylvia (Haley Lu Richardson) makes a note of this to Israeli officials, a plan is hatched; to transport him back to Israel to stand trial for his crimes, to be a public example as an open form of justice for the attempted genocide of the Jewish people. The leader of that group is Peter Malkin, performed by Oscar Isaac, a great actor, but it might have had more weight behind his performance if he were Jewish. Though not exactly an average white dude, being Guatemala-born, he is chosen over many others to play a hero to both Israel, the Jewish people, and to humanity itself. He’s not all goody two shoes though. He’s a damaged soldier, one who conducted a fail raid on what was presumed to be Adolf Eichmann’s household. It turns out, he and his comrades executed the wrong Nazi. That’s not the only thing following this character though; the film is interspersed with a series of flashbacks that shadow Peter (Oscar Isaac). 

Centering around Peter's sister, a beautiful young mother of three children who is menaced by German soldiers in a forest; who this woman was and is to Peter and what happened to her are all revealed as the flashbacks progress. He has to put that aside to lead this team though, and as you can guess from the film’s plot description of a title, the film partakes in its fair share of commonplaces and tropes in teaming up this like-minded, highly trained, military team. It does so with little to no ingenuity, using every trick in the book to get past its mediocre first act. The damaged relationships being placed on hold in exchange for being apart of the team that apprehends and tries a Nazi leader for the deaths of six million of their loved ones along with the differing opinions on whether he deserves to go on trial as opposed to merely executing him behind a shed; all of this and more is sputed and blattered out by both Chris Weitz and screenwriter Matthew Orton.

When Eichmann is captured and held captive for ten days inside a neighborhood home, waiting for their extraction flight to take them back home, the jokingly “covert” safe-house of their operation becomes the stage for what presumes to be the reason for Isaac’s role in the picture, as an acting duel takes place between Kingsley and Isaac. They need him to sign a paper that states that he agrees to stand trial in Israel. He refuses, declining to become the elected figure of blame, knowing he won’t be given a fair trial, merely treated as a war criminal. The conversations that ensue are where the film surges in quality, with these heightened exchanges of dialogue in which our two leads discuss the heinously of a man following the orders of a dictator. Who is at fault? 

Some of us might answer that question as both of them, but the debate is not that easily solved, becoming an intricate discourse upon the repercussions of evil, how we combat it and how we choose to designate its abuser. These moments are where the acumen behind electing Isaac and Kingsley are made clear, as Isaac mimics Clooney in being both harmful and soulfully gloomy in the first half of the film, but in these scenes, he is stern and subtly brilliant. Kingsley, though not at the top of his game (which is saying a lot because he sets the bar high), is at his best in years. Far superior to the enjoyable and amusing performance from him in last year’s “Collide,” which also starred Anthony Hopkins, Kingsley is dramatic and precise with his actions. He’s a veteran displaying that experience to both Isaac and us, showcasing why he is one of the best to call himself an “actor.” 

Their conflict heightens, and the film’s plot struggles to match the intensity and genuine, ingenious craftsmanship behind their dynamic, and it fails to do so. It’s like a runaway train trying to catch up with itself, unable to maintain the momentum of some of the film’s landmarks of flair and aptitude. Luckily the score is one of those highlights, despite sounding inherently familiar. 2018 Academy Award recipient Alexandre Desplat for “The Shape of Water” finds himself echoing Williams’ work from “Schindler’s List,” recalling the piano chimes of Williams’ brilliance. 

“Operation Finale” is ever-so watchable though, and there are genius moments lurking in the shadows and the frameworks of the film, and Isaac is capable and effective in carrying out Peter Malkin’s heroism and humanity, but the film doesn’t maintain either its intriguing philosophical quandary of evil, nor does the screenwriting match the intensity of the direction and vice-versa. Needing to learn the intricacies behind Spielberg’s greatness instead of attempting to borrow from it, it's not a rip-off by any means, just leaning too much on someone else’s greatness instead of creating its own

To All The Boys I've Loved Before (2018)

   Director: Susan Johnson  With: Lana Condor, Janel Parrish, Noah Centineo, Anna Cathcart, Andrew Bachelor, Trezzo Mahoro, Madeleine Arthur, Emilija Baranac, Israel Broussard, & John Corbett. Release: Aug 17, 2018 PG-13. 1 hr. 39 min.

Director: Susan Johnson
With: Lana Condor, Janel Parrish, Noah Centineo, Anna Cathcart, Andrew Bachelor, Trezzo Mahoro, Madeleine Arthur, Emilija Baranac, Israel Broussard, & John Corbett.
Release: Aug 17, 2018
PG-13. 1 hr. 39 min.

 

“To All The Boys I’ve Loved Before” centers itself around the character of Lara Jean (Lana Condor), a young Asian-American teenager who finds herself becoming the biggest sister of the household with her older sister leaving for college in Scotland of all places. She’s shy, introverted, but fairly charming, so why doesn't she find herself amongst friends or, better yet, amongst boys? (Not that girls do anything else, but talk about boys, obviously) She’s afraid of falling love. Beyond that, she’s afraid of letting herself become vulnerable to someone else’s charms, letting them swoop into her life, and possibly, eventually, crushing her world. It stems from the loss of her mother at a young age, to combat this fear she writes love letters to those she has crushes on, even addressing them. She never sends them out, of course, doesn’t even plan to. One of them though is addressed to her big sister’s recently dumped boyfriend, Josh (Israel Broussard), an obvious big “no no.” When her big sister leaves, and her younger sister, Kitty (Anna Cathcart), believes Lara Jean (Lana Condor) to be lonely, she sends the letters out without her knowing about it.  

Soon, one of these boys, Peter (Noah Centineo), approaches Lara Jean (Lana Condor) and breaks the news to her that he can’t be with her because of his history with Gen (Emilija Baranac), someone who used to be Lara’s (Lana Condor) friend in middle school. She freaks out when she sees Josh (Israel Broussard) approaching with his letter, and kisses Peter (Noah Centineo). Later, they find themselves meeting up at her favorite cafe, and Peter (Noah Centineo) hatches this idea that they should pretend to be together to gain the attention of his ex so they can, inevitably, get back together. 

What does Lara Jean (Lana Condor) get out of it? Attention, the eyes of the school noticing her instead of ignoring her. At least I presume that’s her reasoning, it’s not made clear exactly, but the lies are made to be real, and it soon becomes a question of if they are faking it or are they beginning to fall for one another?

It’s not exactly an original story, with films like “The Proposal” and “Just Go With It” carrying out a fairly similar plot, “To All The Boys I’ve Loved Before” can be seen as a product of its genre. Merely regurgitating the same story, but with a gender swap, a dropping in age, and a pinch of diversity. How that diversity is treated isn’t exactly for the better, it’s arguably stigmatized. Being treated as a young Asian girl falling for all the white men in her life, except for Lucas (Trezzo Mahoro) who is the one black guy to be found, but he’s gay so what does it matter, I guess. It’s not exactly racist, saying the ways it treats race is off-putting would be a better way of saying it. Oxford Kondō has a great article over it called “‘To All The Boys I’ve Loved Before’ Has Creepy Racial Things Going On,” I’ll leave the link for that here: (https://planamag.com/to-all-the-boys-i-ve-loved-before-has-creepy-racial-things-going-on-ad513e4dd470)

“To All The Boys I’ve Loved Before” has a lot of good things in it that makes it stand out from the crowd of romantic comedies, one of them is not the screenwriting. Written by Sofia Alvarez, adapted from Jenny Han’s YA novel, “To All The Boys I’ve Loved Before” isn’t nuanced, but more than that, it's a bit dull. The film begins with an introduction to our young protagonist fantasies of romance, she reads these Fabio-like stories, meeting her crush in the “field of desire.” (I can’t believe I just wrote that) She sees romance in this frame, like that of a cheesy-fable of sorts, why? It doesn’t make her intriguing, rather empty. She’s a stereotypical teenager, which doesn’t make for great character investment. The story doesn’t take the time for that sort of thing though. It races straight towards the highlights of all rom-coms. The cutesy moments, the montages, and the inevitable break-up which leads to the heartening confessions of love. 

All of the tropes and things of that sort are not just sprinkled on top of the story, rather brushed over whatever story there is to be had. Not to mention that motivations are never made clear, why does Lara Jean (Lana Conor) choose to go along with Peter’s (Noah Centineo) plan? Is it for popularity? Is it to make Josh (Israel Broussard) jealous? Why does she do it? It’s the kind of question that if left unanswered like it is in Sofia Alvarez’s screenplay, it’s hard to accept or go along with anything else happening on-screen. 

The good things to be found “To All The Boys I’ve Loved Before” have to deal with the things on-camera, specifically Lana Conor who nails the quirky and innocent teenage girl, merely trying to figure out how to be both who she used to be and who she wants to be. Struggling to both mature into a new woman, while remaining true to herself. It’s a character that is seen as cliche, therefore easy, but it's far more difficult to sculpt something as double-sided as this, Lana Conor accomplishes this actorial feat with ease. 

The surrounding cast is quite charming and enjoyable as well, but the screenplay provided to them gives them little room to grow. The portrayal of these characters is a different story, as Susan Johnson works closely with veteran cinematographer Michael Fimognari, framing these characters and their interactions with a silhouette and portrait style of design. Time stops for them, freezing and giving these characters a pause in artistry. Rarely does this genre provide such a visual treat, Jon M. Chu’s “Crazy Rich Asians” accomplished the same feat earlier this year, and just like that film, much of my praise goes out to both Susan Johnson and Michael Fimognari who are exceptional in their compositioning of such a bland and re-hashed story. 

Some of us can overlook the cliches because we’re enjoying the ride so much that we don’t notice the familiar beats and bumps. I do that with my fair share of genres and blockbusters, I am sure you’ve noticed, but this is a genre where I wish to see something new. I know it's far more arduous than writing film and television reviews, but there has to be some wasted talent out there. 

This film has female voices behind it, and I love that, and it's painted with diversity, and I love that too, but I also love good stories. "To All The Boys I've Loved Before" may be constructed by new hands and new voices, but it never becomes something of its own. Blending in instead of standing out, I guess, in that way, it remains true to the teenage drama. 

Sharp Objects (2018)

   Creator: Marti Noxon Credits: Executive producers: Jason Blum, Charles Layton, Jessica Rhoades, Amy Adams, Gillian Flynn, Marti Noxon, Jean-Marc Vallée, Nathan Ross, & Gregg Fienberg. Cast: Amy Adams, Patricia Clarkson, Chris Messina, Eliza Scanlen, Elizabeth Perkins, & Matt Craven Release: Jul 8, 2018 TV-MA. 8 Episodes. 1 hr. 

Creator: Marti Noxon
Credits: Executive producers: Jason Blum, Charles Layton, Jessica Rhoades, Amy Adams, Gillian Flynn, Marti Noxon, Jean-Marc Vallée, Nathan Ross, & Gregg Fienberg.
Cast: Amy Adams, Patricia Clarkson, Chris Messina, Eliza Scanlen, Elizabeth Perkins, & Matt Craven
Release: Jul 8, 2018
TV-MA. 8 Episodes. 1 hr. 

 

It’s not wrong to describe HBO’s 8-episode miniseries “Sharp Objects" as a small-town murder mystery but to downplay the show to such a minimal description would be a disservice to the dexterity in which this story is told. Directed by Jean-Marc Vallée, who helmed the award-winning “Big Little Lies,” and written by the great Marti Noxon, the ingenious mind behind “Buffy the Vampire Slayer," "Sharp Objects" is adopting a tale from Gillian Flynn’s novel, a story that at its center is one about the family ties we share, how they grip so tightly, how those pulls and tugs can leave scars. 

Exteriorly, “Sharp Objects” grounds itself around the troubled journalist Camille Preaker, depicted by Amy Adams (one of her generations best actresses), a crime reporter from St. Louis who's been assigned a personal story, a possible big break for her career. The only concern is that her family resides in the small town of Wind Gap, Missouri, the central location for our murder mystery, but it's also the spot in which everything begins and ends for our story as this is not a linear tale, nor is it light-hearted. To say that our central protagonist carries baggage would be an understatement. She’s damaged goods, displaying her internal strifes through ritual scarring of her entire body, each scar spelling out words like “vanish” and “fornicate,” reflecting this weighing guilt she carries. She can do no good in this world, drinking away whatever sense of self-recognition she has left, replacing the H2O in her water bottle with vodka. It's these demons that are partially responsible for her being chosen by her editor to cover the developing story in Wind Gap, a missing little girl that seems to incite a trend is occurring in small town America. Being less than one year removed from another girl who was found dead, with all of her teeth removed; it begs the question, could there be a serial killer in Wind Gap? 

This and the personal affinity that her chief editor, Frank (Miguel Sandoval), has for Camille (Amy Adams) sends her into a paradoxical and tumultuous situation, confronting the monsters and ghosts that follow her, one in particular named Adora (Patricia Clarkson). The seemingly kind Southern Dame who’s pig slaughtering business crowns her with hidden and unacknowledged power that only the home-grown folks would recognize. She’s passive aggressive, being ever-so-subtly taunting of both Camille (Amy Adams) and many of the other town-women. All of whom act like the proverbial cougars and house-wife mothers, blind to the world unless it involves their baby’s or someone’s dirty gossip. Camille’s (Amy Adams) arrival to Wind Gap in an annoyance to the Wind Gap Queen, considering Camille’s (Amy Adams) story to be in both poor tastes and in spite of the haunting history that continually replays itself, shadowing every thought that Camille (Amy Adams) develops.

To make matters even more complicated, there is also a young lady to be found in Adora’s (Patricia Clarkson) house, Camille’s (Amy Adams) young half-sister Amma (Eliza Scanlen). Who not only reminds Camille (Amy Adams) of her younger self, depicted sporadically but wonderfully by Sophia Lillis, but of the sistering bond she once shared with her former sister Marian (Lulu Wilson), who passed away at a very young age. Death lingers around every corner and cracks in the walls of this house, echoing the ghosts and the memories in which Camille (Amy Adams) finds herself tormented and molested by. In fact, every place in Wind Gap has its fair amount of painful resonance for Camille (Amy Adams). 

The public parks where she was bullied, the funeral home where she caused a scene, earning the general disdain of the town, the woods where she was raped by a group of football players, a small-town ritual. These mirroring events of trauma and crimes for Camille (Amy Adams) become a nuisance, like that of a nail being constantly screwed into the ever-so damaged heart that she carries. This mirroring effect between the past interluding with the present, and how Camille (Amy Adams) construes her demons for a former life and how they remind her of who she believes she is, could not be accomplished with such brilliance without the exquisite editing put forth from an excellent team. 

It would be an understatement to say that “Sharp Objects” is the best-edited show on TV, going far beyond traditional storytelling styles of television; adopting a dreamy, third-person omniscient perspective that often puts us inside the mind of Camille (Amy Adams). Her trips into the past during her interactions, during everyday life, as we all do, is something of a constant astonishment for me. Exquisitely capturing that ever so intimate encounter we’ve carried out more than once every day, how we periodically confront significant words that take us back to a moment, a dream, a time in our lives in which that word seems to carry a more substantial meaning because of our memory. The intrusions of past and present breathing life into each other simultaneously. Triggering emotions for the character and us, the audience, giving us something to think about while watching her carry out a story that is also asking for our full attention.

It’s a show that demands concentration from its viewer, not just visually though. Pushing aside the immaculacy of the editing team and the languid cinematography by the tandem of Ronald Plante & Yves Bélanger, “Sharp Objects” is also a feat of screenwriting. Led by Gillian Flynn; Marti Noxon, Ariella Blejer, Dawn Kamoche, Scott Brown, Vince Calandra, & Alex Metcalf build a world that carries authenticity and pridefully shares it with the audience. Nothing feels forced or out of focus, and it’s textural, constructed with tangibility. The detailed craftsmanship behind the character depth is one key point worth noting. Not only with Camille (Amy Adams) who’s trauma is breaching the surface in highs and lows, but with Amma (Eliza Scanlen) and Adora (Patricia Clarkson) each of whom are given their fair share of life by the tremendous performances behind them, but the development they have through story can’t be overlooked either. 

Adora (Patricia Clarkson) is this spoiled woman, spiteful of attention, desiring to feel needed by anyone and everyone. She’s lives a life of routine, of good manners, and if anything disrupts those daily habituals, we see her sour and describe the day as a suddenly-turned tragedy. She attempts to live perfectly, rarely wrinkling both physically and emotionally. She strikes out against Camille (Amy Adams) the most, developing a rare and brilliant balancing act between the two which is stunning to watch. 

No one walks out of Adora’s (Patricia Clarkson) house unscathed, and many of the stories most insightful questions stem from the quarters of those living spaces. Not to be overlooked by the significance that Amma (Eliza Scanlen) has in concern to the story. She acts younger than her age around her ever-so toxic mother, pretending to share her mother’s affinity and fidelity for dollhouses and pretending to be in desperate need of a mother’s care. Outside, she’s a terror. Rolling around town with the luscious look for trouble; flirting with older boys, drinking with her friends, sharing ecstasy with fellow students. She is essential to the narrative of “Sharp Objects,” as both a potential victim and abuser, child and adult, she lives in two worlds at the same time. Carrying this prevalent dichotomy of being both Camille (Amy Adams), the girl who got away, and Marian (Lulu Wilson), the girl who did not. 

This battering of time is an essential theme that tethers itself to characters throughout the miniseries. Nothing is as simple as it seems. Each character is battered in their own ways, like Chief Vickery (Matt Craven), whose morning ritual becomes an introduction for more than a few of the episodes. Hot-shot Kansas City detective Richard Willis (Chris Messina) also plays a prominent role, becoming a haven for Camille (Amy Adams) as someone who is unbeknownst to the scars hiding underneath her clothes. 

Everyone has this unshakable organic chemistry and Adams is the obvious standout, with both Clarkson and Scanlen following behind for best supporting role, but it's not all perfect. The writers deserve a lot of praise, but also the blemish of criticism, as they seemingly struggle to capture this constant sense of developing trauma. Sometimes Camille’s (Amy Adams) internal strifes are thrown to the wayside in exchange for the murder mystery instead of treating it's as a duality between character analyzation and narrative bolstering. The book does this far better than the show, able to keep us entangled in this rising and boiling tension that internally resides inside Camille (Amy Adams). 

It starts strongly, and, like most of today’s TV, it stumbles in the middle. Luckily, it finalizes with shock and awe, instantly shoving you into a rewatch binge to see the signs and the breadcrumbs that revealed the hidden truth lying in front of you the entire time. It’s the kind of show that is a one and done kind of a story, only needing a one-time watch to become an instant must-see. It will garner attention for awards, specifically Adams, and Clarkson, and it will be deserved, but the construction is the secret ingredient that makes this show what it is. Vallée is genuine and pure in manifesting this investigation into a town’s history, Camille’s history, and a cinematical observance of revisitation. The essence of what it's like to retreat through the halls and doorways of our trauma, whatever it may be. 

In a sense, it’s what makes the show impeccably dramatic, the turns and twists we feel for learning about Camille’s struggles. It’s also what makes it effortlessly saddening, the pain she buries and the overwhelming desire to rest, by any means necessary. Not all of us have been there in our lives, where being dead sounds better than living, and for all the things it could have gotten wrong, it got that one thing absolutely right. We are all haunted. Some of us move on. Some of us don’t. I go back and forth, so does Camille. 

The Miseducation of Cameron Post (2018)

   Director: Desiree Akhavan  With: Chloë Grace Moretz, Sasha Lane, Forrest Goodluck, John Gallagher Jr., Jennifer Ehle, Emily Skeggs, Owen Campbell, & Quinn Shephard. Release: Jul 18, 2018 NR. 1 hr. 31 min.

Director: Desiree Akhavan
With: Chloë Grace Moretz, Sasha Lane, Forrest Goodluck, John Gallagher Jr., Jennifer Ehle, Emily Skeggs, Owen Campbell, & Quinn Shephard.
Release: Jul 18, 2018
NR. 1 hr. 31 min.

 

Great movies can present themselves in diverse styles. It can be a journey that transports you into a different world or something that is instantly relatable because you’ve seen or met someone that the person on screen represents. Another way these films reveal themselves is intimately, offering themselves as a tale that reflects your reality or a former life you once had. Desiree Akhavan’s “The Miseducation of Cameron Post” is that kind of film for me, a familiar and reminiscent journey through the trial and tribulations that I and my sexuality endured over time. Specifically, the hurdles implemented by Christianity, forbidding the same sex altercations and defining them as sins against God. The same confrontation presents itself to our young, self-assuring, lesbian protagonist Cameron Post (Chloe Grace Moretz) who is both forward thinking and an inevitable product of her era. 

Co-written by Cecilia Frugiuele and Desiree Akhavan and adapted from Emily Danforth’s best-selling 2012 YA novel, “The Miseducation of Cameron Post” is the emotionally abusing story of a young, orphaned, small-town Pennsylvanian, being forcefully sent to a Christian gay conversion therapy camp. Armed with nothing but her sense of identity, Cameron (Chloe Grace Moretz) confronts an uphill battle that distorts her to something of an abomination, her homosexuality or SSA (same-sex-attraction) being a symptom of a more internal stigma hanging on her heart. She seemingly battles back against the odds, refusing to let these self-appointed “counselors” tell her who she is and who she should be. 

She’s stubbornly strong-willed, displaying this empowering self-confidence from the get-go, being unafraid to go for what she wants, like that of Coley Taylor (Quinn Shephard), a girl from her bible study. She’s someone that Cameron (Chloe Grace Moretz) describes as a “special kind of person,” able to make you feel wanted no matter who you are or where you're from, but she’s also the girl that gets her sent to gay prison. They are passionately rambunctious with their sexuality, making out and sexually exchanging their affinity for one another, until prom night rolls around and they are caught in the backseat of a car, sealing Cameron’s (Chloe Grace Moretz) fate with a sentence to a facility known as “God’s Promise.” 

There, Cameron (Chloe Grace Moretz) becomes a disciple of the “camp,” joining fellow male and female disciples in trying to cure their “shameful” desires for SSA. At least that’s what the leaders of the residence teach, that these children of God are merely experiencing gender confusion, asking them to see themselves as an iceberg in which their SSA is the obvious sin residing above water, but the building blocks of their sins lie beneath the surface, being the cause for the infection. 

Who are these self-appointed experts? One of them is Dr. Lydia Marsh (Jennifer Ehle), a quietly, terrifying, and, for lack of a better term, bitch of a woman. Treating each of her disciples as guinea pigs for a therapeutic process deemed by the American Psychiatric Association as a process with “serious design flaws.” Something worth mentioning though, this process was not outlawed by the organization until 2009, barely a decade ago. 

Nonetheless, this psychotic zealot carries her visibly oppressed, “ex-gay” brother Reverend Rick (John Gallagher Jr.) as an example of the process's reward, evidence of its success. They spout off verses and life lessons, even going as far as to preach that “there is no such thing as homosexuality,” never giving the term an ounce of credibility or integrity. It’s this silent emotional abuse that slowly pours itself down Cameron’s (Chloe Grace Moretz) throat, building and flooding her beliefs and her confident self-assurance in telling right from wrong. Forcing her to antiquate herself with two fellow disciples socially, Jane Fonda (Sasha Lane; a made up name presumably) and Adam Red Eagle (Forrest Goodluck), a two-soul native American who was born with both a male and woman soul, so she can remain firmly planted in her self-appointed identity. 

The trio manifest an unbreakable bond and inevitably band together to survive the torment placed upon them by these so-called “leaders” and their shameful parents. The film reminds me of Peter Weir’s “Dead Poets Society” in that way, showcasing how a parent’s reprehensible action is refuted as them acting in the child’s “best interests.” When in reality, they are struggling to mask their shame for their son or daughter’s beliefs or actions, unable to cope with their “sinful” nature. 

Something that all of us, LGBTQ members, have seemingly encountered on more than one occasion, and a presumable strife that director Desiree Akhavan has faced before because she executes these disputes of ideologies with an assertive touch. She knows what she’s talking about and seemingly presents itself as a former experience, something she frames with an affectionate taste, wisely choosing to stray away from the doom and gloomy story of torture and misery; rather deciding to steer towards a “it gets better” tale of salvation, that we will, inevitably, move on from these times of oppression. That the war on love will fade to whims and whispers of disapproval, being overwhelmed by our passion for inclusion and expression. 

It’s, ironically, a spiritual experience. Speaking directly to the soul of any gay, bi, or trans member of the rainbow flag. Each performance feels that way too, inherently lived in and purposefully designed for the actor or actress depicting the character. Chloe Grace Moretz is the definite standout of course, with a terrifically ever-changing performance that ranges from emotion to emotion, never settling down for something simple and straightforward. The young star breaks out of that teenage melodrama stigma and becomes a woman, a performance that is worth watching and cheering for, like that of Sasha Lane who exhumes confidence and Forrest Goodluck who silently charms and generates heart-wrenching empathy. 

Someone you won’t and shouldn’t cheer for is Jennifer Ehle whose performance is counterfeiting, depicting that snobbish falsified supervisor that boils your blood. It’s a well-executed performance that was undoubtedly followed by apologies and hugs after each take of portraying this vengeful and irrational witch. Her co-star John Gallagher Jr. offers a fascinating depiction on the other hand as her “cured” little brother, producing a scene in which he is sent to arrange one on one conversations with the disciples after one of them commits self-harm when his dad refuses to let him come back home because of his feminine weakness. The "formerly gay" pastor self-conflicts, presenting a subtle but ever-so significant reminder of how our oppressors are the remnants of someone else’s oppression, a homophobic builts by homophobia. 

These moments are where Desiree Akhavan pushes herself in the running for best screenwriter and director of the year thus far, able to insert microscopically eminent themes with casual precision. She’s gutsy and cautious as a filmmaker, knowing when to push and when to pull back, but the only trivial fault I can find throughout her second outing as a director is the inability to provide that extra oomph. I can’t describe it, but something feels as if it's missing from every essential avenue of the filmmaking process, as if everything is great, but could be a hair better. The acting, the directing, the screenwriting; all of it needs that nudge of something. I know it may not be a sensical complaint, and I can’t place my finger on it yet, but there is a tiny piece missing from this puzzle of elevation. 

I may be nitpicking for all I know, but “The Miseducation of Cameron Post” is best defined as a tragically optimistic gesture that feels akin to John Hughes. Letting us venture down a path with a teenager who finds herself in desperate need of companionship, for accompaniment, for someone to tell her that they love her just the way she is. It’s a serene experience that can be described as both sanguine and emotionally crumbling. Because while it is ever so heartrending to watch her overcome these things, the story of Cameron Post is far from dated. 

The 90’s may feel like a distant memory, but the 2018 Grand Jury Prize recipient of the Sundance Film Festival is not a hazy recollection or tragic reciting of yesterday’s America. With conversion therapy still being inexplicably legal in 41 states, Akhavan’s film is not only telling a story worth being heard, but she’s also telling a story that is urgently necessary for an America that wishes to call itself a homeland for all. 

"When all Americans are treated as equal, no matter who they are or whom they love, we are all more free."--Barack Obama

Summer of '84 (2018)

   Directors: Francois Simard, Anouk Whissell, & Yoann-Karl Whissell  With: Graham Verchere, Judah Lewis, Caleb Emery, Cory Gruter-Andrew, Tiera Skovbye, Rich Sommer, Jason Gray-Stanford, & Shauna Johannesen. Release: Aug 10, 2018 NR. 1 hr. 46 min.

Directors: Francois Simard, Anouk Whissell, & Yoann-Karl Whissell
With: Graham Verchere, Judah Lewis, Caleb Emery, Cory Gruter-Andrew, Tiera Skovbye, Rich Sommer, Jason Gray-Stanford, & Shauna Johannesen.
Release: Aug 10, 2018
NR. 1 hr. 46 min.

 

The thirst for nostalgia is in rapid demand, with shows like “Stranger Things” spurting in popularity, the eighties seems to be the go-to choice; nostalgically painting our multiplex with brights colors, kids riding bicycles, rock and roll, and iconic hairstyles of course. All of these things are quite easy to render, an old tv there, a poster of “Close Encounters” here, and you got yourself a set from the eighties. It’s no longer as remarkable as it used to be, especially when it's done on such a small scale as in “Summer of ‘84.”

A film that is begging to be given the same pass for its reminiscing essence, carrying out the retro songs and stripes t-shirts in hopes that you’ll see past the cliche mystery that is daring to be praised for its dark finale. No spoilers here, but the ending to this movie is a cop-out, a justification; you could even dub it as an alibi. Pleading not to be criticized for its unoriginality in exchange for giving you two endings that will both satisfy and horrify. One that is actually worth rewarding for its simplicity, providing an equally simple payment for a simple story. The other is an over-the-top waste of time, one that is demanding attention like a crying toddler, thinking the worse he does, the more mommy and daddy will pay attention. We should care less though, and it’s all because of the lacking effort put forth by screenwriters Matt Leslie and Stephen J. Smith. 

Borrowing the old-fashioned “my neighbor may be a murder” stories featured in both “Rear Window” and “Stranger Things,” “Summer of ‘84” struggles to fashion out a spot for itself. “Even serial killers live next to somebody,” Davey Armstrong (Graham Verchere) tells us in his opening voice-over while he flings newspapers down the cul de sac of his idealistic mid-eighties suburbia. 

He continues by stating “If I’ve learned anything it is that people hardly ever let you know who they really are,” a touchstone of every mystery and thriller, forcing us to look around the theater and rethink the potential of any of these so-called regular people being a wolf in sheep's clothing. Even begging the question if we, ourselves, might be a wolf in hiding, just waiting for the proper scent to catch our attention and reveal to the world that we are no better than the rabid killers seen on the ten o’clock news. 

I’ll admit it; there is something inherently fascinating about these kinds of moral and societal quandaries stemming from the perspectives of kids. Providing an essence of adventure that would not be matched if it came from the minds of adults, and that’s where this duo of screenwriters do best, supplying a fair amount of believable dialogue and innate character depth for this band of rebels. Yes, it’s inherently reminiscent of “Goonies” and “Stand by Me,” carrying that ever so familiar baton of banter and peeping-tom foolery. (Something that never gets addressed as a bad thing in these sort of movies, by the way.) 

But the four of them exchange the film’s best dialogue, both by delivery and design. Hanging out in a clubhouse, they bicker about things such as who could take down the Empire: Ewoks, who Curtis Faraday (Cory Gruter-Andrew) believes to be wielding magical powers, or Gremlins as proposed by the bad boy of the group Tommy “Eats” Eaton (Judah Lewis), the rumor mill of the town, and girls of course; even sharing a dirty magazine at one point and time. 

They’re on the cusp of adulthood, remaining young enough to be keenly aware of the dangers surrounding them though, having their curiosity peaked by the slightest amount of suspense. When they learn that a serial killer might be lurking within their town and that the leader of the group, Davey Armstrong (Graham Verchere), suspects it to be his neighbor Officer Wayne Mackey (Rich Sommer), they fall in line for operation “Mack Attack.” 

Gathering surveillance of his whereabouts and daily routines, montaging to an eighties matching score, developing character depth and an organic team dynamic; peaking my interest while doing so. That is until, the story begins to seep into coincidental hood-winking, adding a romantic interest who seemingly appears out of nowhere and implementing unnecessary fake-outs that detract far more than they furnish suspense. 

What makes it so frustrating is the potentially star-studded cast, bringing their A-game in more ways than one. Each of the four boys has the moment in the spotlight, and they don’t back away from it either. There are snippets where they needed that extra push, that final nudge to provide something worth calling attention to, but they come up short at those time. That blame doesn’t fall on their shoulders though; it falls upon the trio of directors François Simard, Anouk Whissell, and Yoann-Karl Whissell; each of whom is unable to provide as much as an ounce of help in giving this ragtag team of teenagers a standout moment. 

They fall short of expectations, only able to muster up scenery that matches the decade in view, not a nuanced or challenging feat to manage. The direction of the adults, on the other hand, is inexplicable. With parents barking marching orders with no sense of authority or emotion, Rich Sommer becomes the saving grace, granting the film with a performance that is both intriguing and compelling. Able to balance himself between the believable polite neighbor and the possible suspect in hiding, he adds another layer of mystery that couldn’t have been designed by the writers, it feels inherently belonging to him. 

It comes in no thanks to the team of filmmakers behind this movie, not that this movie is horrendously unwatchable, somewhat connivingly frustrating would be a better way of putting it. Because “Summer of ‘84”  builds a connection to these characters, crafts a small but believable stage, and fashions the building blocks for an investing story that, inevitably, drops the ball in carving out a mystery worth investing into. It merely jumps from imitation to imitation, never stamping itself onto the frame. Containing all the ingredients for a sleeper hit, but never defining the line between homaging and borrowing, becoming a jigsaw puzzle of a film that not only uses pieces that don’t fit, it even uses pieces from another puzzle. 

The Happytime Murders (2018)

   Director: Brian Henson With: Melissa McCarthy, Bill Barretta, Elizabeth Banks, Maya Rudolph, Dorien Davies, Kevin Clash, Leslie David Baker, Joel McHale, Victor Yerrid, & Michael McDonald. Release: Aug 24, 2018 R. 1 hr. 31 min.

Director: Brian Henson
With: Melissa McCarthy, Bill Barretta, Elizabeth Banks, Maya Rudolph, Dorien Davies, Kevin Clash, Leslie David Baker, Joel McHale, Victor Yerrid, & Michael McDonald.
Release: Aug 24, 2018
R. 1 hr. 31 min.

 

Puppets be crazy. Snorting lines of sugar, ejaculating silly string, ripping each other felt from felt, and more and more can be found in Ben Henson’s “The Happytime Murders.” A film that echoes the noir and femme fatale of the detective genre while simultaneously lifting the buddy cop movie formula and stitching it together into a film that’s premise can be simplified into: “What if the Muppets were Rated R.”

Imagine a beatdown PI, Phil Phillips (Bill Barretta), whose life has been ruined by one mistake, one bad day. He was on top of the world, had a strong family, a great partner,  even had a girl too. He finds himself, singlehandedly, responsible for the letdown of others until the job pulls him back into the game. Bringing our cop turned drunk into an investigation that becomes personal, horrific, and alongside a partner that cost him his job in the first place, Det. Connie Edwards (Melissa Mccarthy). 

Forced to work together, they combine their minds and begin to crack the case, sound familiar? Well, when you thought you had the answer, imagine that one of these noired characters is a puppet, not only that, but the world they reside in is immersed with puppets. Before you ask, yes, it becomes a movie that sounds like what it is and turns out to be exactly what you figured, a raunchy and obscene take on puppets. 

Existing in the vein of films like “Team America” and Vegas entertainments such as “Avenue Q,” “The Happytime Murders” is both an opportunity to expose the craftsmanship behind its creation and a passion project for Melissa Mccarthy and Ben Falcone who find themselves credited as producers. It’s not the first go around that we’ve seen something relatively innocuous get frankensteined into vulgarity, films like “Sausage Party” are examples in which the screenwriting process must have been: “the more outrageous, the better.” 

The art of puppeteering is exceptionally displayed during the end credits, showing the passion and the tinkering presented by these men and women who are buried behind green screen suits. Manifesting a believable look to a film that, if given life from the page, would seem likely in suspending disbelief. That is not the case, because the remarkability of the work of bringing puppets to life gets buried behind the haphazard attempts at world building and allegorical representing some form of discrimination that is ridiculously extremitized. Never establishing the rules of the world we, as an audience, have been dropped into. Merely complicating and contradicting points and indications that wouldn’t begin to rub against my viewing experience if there was something worth laughing at, that is not the case. 

The film has one joke, the idea of muppets being egregious. It carries that joke past its limit, then takes it even further, and then drills itself into the ground to dig its heels in for the long haul, a long haul that feels dullishly lengthy despite the ninety-minute runtime. Melissa Mccarthy and Maya Rudolph are the best parts when it comes to humor, but those moments occur on a literal one-time occurrence. 

It’s a sad attempt at crafting an entire film out of a funny SNL sketch, one that would be both funny and clever, but, most importantly, it would be short-lived. Never allowing itself to grow into something that requires world building, that cries out for an explanation, that begs for questions to be answered, none of which takes place in "The Happytime Murders." 

Ben Henson, the puppeteers, Melissa Mccarthy, and Maya Rudolph are the only things working for this movie, but they are over shouted by the idiocy of a screenplay that borrows far more than it creates. Todd Berger and Dee Austin Robertson co-screenwrite a mess of a story that attempts to hide behind the facade of “Muppets gone wild,” a premise that wears thin in a matter of minutes. Needing to get more out of its marketable proposition, Berger and Robertson struggle to gain any traction, even when telling the detective drama/murder mystery. Leaving a story that provides twists with no payoff, investigations that lack curiosity, and partners who share little to no chemistry. 

“The Happytime Murders” is a dumpster fire of dummies, dolls that are being construed to the point of crassness for laughs that will come and go for some audiences. For me, it’s a film past it's prime, more suitable for a release in the mid-2000’s than in the inventive and prosperous time that we, as film fans, find ourselves. I’m all for the bizarre and outside the box fanfare getting wide released, but the cheap service offered from “The Happytime Murders” is only watchable in the sense of seeing how masterful these artists can be in breathing life into felt. 

In this case, the ironic dumb-downed summary of this film is a group of writers sticking their hand of the backside of cinema’s past to spout out something anew, distracting us from the trickle in their throat. Confusing the craft for a party trick, “The Happytime Murders” is a puppet without a voice. 

Minding the Gap (2018)

   Director: Bing Liu  With: Zack Mulligan, Keire Johnson, & Bing Liu. Release: Aug 17, 2018 NR. 1 hr. 33 min.

Director: Bing Liu
With: Zack Mulligan, Keire Johnson, & Bing Liu.
Release: Aug 17, 2018
NR. 1 hr. 33 min.

3.5_4 stars.png
 

“Minding the Gap” is the equivalent of a life’s work, an expanding examination of youthful experience, one that is authentic and painted with a free-spirited mindset that outlooks towards an ugly world. Studying four intersecting lives that are on the cusp of adulthood, each of them dealing with their internal struggles, sharing some of the same burdens, but facing them with a difference of intensity. Something that could not be achieved without the blissful intimacy applied by Bing Liu, whose inclusion allows him to build an affectionate tour through these lives that are damaged, bruised, and battered. 

All of them are scarred in different ways though, like that of Kiere whose personal struggles stems from both his upbringing and the repercussion of losing his father at such a young age. A fascinating area of study that Liu, a natural born filmmaker, captures with grace and ease. The relationship between an overbearing father who struggles to contain his anger and frustrations, not out of hatred, but out of love. Kiere looks back on those moments with newfound maturity, how his father’s self-admitted abusiveness allowed him to learn lessons that are necessary to live life. Discussing the values that his father left behind, how the seething hatred blinded him from the love behind those immeasurable lessons. 

Like that of learning to be constantly aware of his blackness, despite being surrounded by white friends at any given time. There are multiple moments in the film where we see the knowledgeable affects that his white-skinned brethren have on him. The oblivious slinging of certain words and beliefs, even watching two of his friends argue about the differences between the struggles that white and blacks Americans face, despite both of them being white. Liu doesn’t stray away from those tough subjects, or any heavy subject for that matter, even dissecting the intricacies of domestic abuse, something that affected his upbringing and, now, plagues the relationship of Zack and Nina, two-young parents who find themselves in the midst of a toxic relationship. 

It’s not until we near the halfway mark that we learn that this young charismatically charming character, Zack, may have assaulted the woman who lives with him, the mother of his child. It calls into question the mindsets behind each party involved, Why she doesn’t leave, why he continues to lose himself in the chaos of the world, why they stay together, why do they “choose” to struggle. We see the seesawing battle that Zack faces, between being the soft-hearted father and the absent parent. He holds this anarchist mentality, one that he admits is a facade, comparing to a clown’s makeup. Painting this rebel attitude on the exterior, to camouflage the pain building within, leaving us asking questions as to why this relationship continues to occur. 

In time, we learn the intrinsic nature of the child abuse these men suffered. Disguised as "discipline," the experiences they've had begin to deform their sense of self-worth, their recognition for what it means to be a man or a father. Despite being Kinley aware of the damage done to them, and the necessity of moving past its unshakable hold on their lives, they lack the essential tools to process, to analyze, to comprehend their actions, placing them at risk of repeating the cycle; paying forward the violence they once deemed as unrepairable. Liu doesn't forget about the women either, all of whom are trapped within their own cycles of victimhood, unable to identify that needed independence to learn how to live alone. 

It’s these daunting, thematical puzzles of reality that, by the end of the film, allow us to see Liu’s innate ability for crafting a film. The way he tackles these hefty and sensitive subjects with generosity, never assigning these individuals to a category. Never appointing them to something they are not, he allows them to speak for themselves, allowing us to formulate an opinion on them that grows as they do, crafting this breathable essence that, when attached to the manifestation of this story, enables us to feel a natural resonance for these “kids.” 

Though the time-lapsing of the story begins to wear thin, shooting a film over the course of years, we see our subjects grow, thrive, suffer and rise through the adversity slung towards them. It takes a second to notice that though, Liu never uses title cards to inform us that times have changed, merely allowing to happen, organically almost. It can become distracting as if you need a second to be cognizant of the time difference, a small criticism to make for a filmmaker’s debut venture. 

It's a work of molding palpability, one that contains a sense of tactile honesty that formulates and entangles. Like that of how Liu captures the texture of the small, impoverished, sickened neighborhoods of Rockford, Illinois, a city that has been slowly forgotten by an evolving America, one that has left those pleading for help behind. It’s a city overrun with violent crime, abandoned by the job market, and will, inevitably, become the remnants of yesterday’s America. 

It’s inherently perfect fit for the topics at hand, crafting a sense of fate to the lives we get to become apart of for ninety-three minutes. Painting a vivid picture of lower-middle-class America, Liu produces a work of documentary filmmaking that markets itself with skateboarding, providing these elegantly and precisely cut tracking shots that follow our skaters. Tracing the path they leave behind, riding with them through the forgotten streets of middle-class America, but “Minding the Gap” has so much more to offer than that. It brings out a conversation rarely had in the ugly blended mixture of American society. The expectations of adulthood, the expected responsibility and exterior portrayal that is supposed to be enacted by us all. 

More specifically, Liu begins to nibble at the societal forecasts of manhood. The poisonous cultural belief that teaches young straight men to trap their emotions, to laugh off the pain, to mistake insecurity for weakness, to blindly wander through life with falsely constructed confidence, meant to hide away the pain buried beneath the skin. The sheer blunt force of adulthood forces them to confront these ideas, demanding they acknowledge the cultural, societal, and historical challenges awaiting them in life. 

It’s all so heavy, a burden we all must bear, some of us more than others. These are the few that must carry a more onerous burden, choosing to skate through the blissful busy streets of metropolitan areas to forget about the world around them. It lacks the cohesivity of a story being told, but it's that bustling and hustling approach that can provide the invaluable life-lessons of time, realizing what a drag it is to get old. We all need something that brings us that sense of euphoria, that reminder of what being alive feels like, transporting us back to that child-like outlook where we don’t think, we just do. It’s how we carry on in a world as painfully devastating as this one. It’s how we keep living. 

Blaze (2018)

   Director: Ethan Hawke  With: Benjamin Dickey, Alia Shawkat, Josh Hamilton, Charlie Sexton, Sam Rockwell, Wyatt Russell, Steve Zahn, & Kris Kristofferson.  Release: Aug 17, 2018 R. 2 hr. 7 min. 

Director: Ethan Hawke
With: Benjamin Dickey, Alia Shawkat, Josh Hamilton, Charlie Sexton, Sam Rockwell, Wyatt Russell, Steve Zahn, & Kris Kristofferson. 
Release: Aug 17, 2018
R. 2 hr. 7 min. 

 

Ethan Hawke’s “Blaze” is a Texas-sized story with a southern hearted tone. It’s easy to like and full of notable and simplified deep-south wisdom like that of “Rain doesn’t try and fall, it just falls," it also tells these elongated jokes that are simplistically amusing. Feeling southern rooted in more ways than one, it’s the kind of tale meant for audiences in favor of both that blues/folk/country style music and those who find themselves head over heels for the lone star state. As a Lonestar native myself, I can’t help but admit that my heritage belongs to the Banner state, but my soul has belonged to the northern and western ways of life for a good while now. That’s not to say this movie is meant for prideful Texans only though, “Blaze” has more to it than it's Texas foreground. 

It’s a spiritual chronology through one-man’s life, one that has a lot of relatability within it, as well as some gaping holes that are soaked with wasted potential. Inspired from his work in “Born to be Blue,” the Oscar-nominated actor/writer/director/producer displays his affinity for the folk-tale music legend of Blaze Foley (Ben Dickie). It’s not a biographical journey through his life as much as it is a cinematic translation of Foley’s (Ben Dickie) music. Providing a soul-filled glance at how his art developed through his life, how his interactions, affairs, romances, and journey’s through his wistful life affected his music. 

If you’ve never heard of Blazy Foley (Ben Dickie), then you’ll feel the same confusion I did in understanding what made this man the talk of East Texas. He was something of a contemporary of musicians, having a reminiscent flair for country music legends like Merle Haggard and Willie Nelson, who recorded one of his songs, bet you didn’t know that. I bet you were also unaware of his intimate friendship with country legend Townes Van Zandt, infamous for his heartbreakingly despairing works of songwriting. Telling stories that are sure to crack the coldest of hearts, and Foley’s (Ben Dickie) is something of the same breed. 

The story condenses itself into three major storylines, a wise movie from veteran filmmaker Ethan Hawke, choosing to avoid the typical bumps and back roads of the traditional biopic. Each of these three narratives takes place from separate times in Foley’s (Ben Dickie) life. Opening with a radio interview between Townes Van Zandt (Charlie Sexton) and his long-time friend and collaborator; Zee (Josh Hamilton; whose year of indie prominence is worth noting). The two gentlemen reminisce on their times with Foley (Ben Dickie), telling stories of someone who was a legend to one of them, and a real-life friend to another. It’s a duality of storytelling that could’ve been focused more upon, but I’ll get into that later, as the story flashes back to his final moments. His last performance in a podunk bar in the middle of a nowhere town. He’s drunker, sadder, and poetically philosophical throughout his final 24 track recording session. The last echoes of a folk-hero. 

In the midst of that final outing, we are given an anchoring glance through his life, especially his once in a lifetime kind of love with Sybil Rosen (Alia Shawkat), a young Jewish girl he met inside of floundering artistic community. She became his muse. He became her anchor. Each of them in desperate need of one another’s companionship, but both needed to learn how to love each other from afar. It’s one of the year’s best romances, one that eclipses the stereotypical standards of the genre; perhaps it's the reality breathed into it from Hawke. 

His visuals are predominantly responsible for that, painting these grungy but sunset colored manners that echoes the heart of small-town Texas, despite the majority of the story being filmed in Louisiana. The use of colors is also something worth noting, as Hawke and cinematographer Steve Cosens fashion some of the year’s most striking silhouettes. From Foley’s (Ben Dickie) portrait imagery to the heart-wrenching imagery of a dying father hearing his children sing, maybe for the last time. All of it echoes a heart that cannot be matched, but it begins to derail from its prominence the further it goes on. 

Forgetting to match the story with technical brilliance, Hawke lets the music overstay its welcome. The use of montages borders between the lines of cinematic adaptation and an over-long music video, manifesting an aloofness to the emotion buried beneath the happy nostalgic trails of Foley’s (Ben Dickie) life. It’s not just that protracted walk through the highlights of Foley’s (Ben Dickie) past that thwart the film’s prominence. It's the negligence for potential. 

Hawke sets the foundation for more magnificent storytelling points, assembling a groundwork that dissects the themes of remembrance, an artist’s conflict, and even the dissection of small-town America. He sees these recipes for success, he also begins to let them breathe, but he plays the film safe. When Foley’s (Ben Dickie) music becomes the focus of our storyline, the film succeeds, allowing the most outright critics of country music to fall in love with the soft-acoustic rhythms of this pseudo-musical romantic biopic, but “Blaze” could have become so much more than that, placing itself in the forefront for best indie-pic of the year. 

Hawke’s hesitance becomes a noticeable gap in quality, Ben Dickie is the complete opposite of that notion, standing outright and head and shoulders above everyone else. He’s not only the star of this film but the commanding voice behind the film’s best aspects. He’s a musician in real life, and it shows throughout his time as Blaze (Ben Dickie). Being able to perform the wistful and songbird exceptionality of the musical excellence were given witness to. He describes the struggle being in the matching of Foley’s (Ben Dickie) pitches and tones with the chords. He along with co-star Alia Shawkat provide performances that are lived-in, breathing a sense of long-grated experience to them at every point and time. 

It’s a talented piece of work, put together through a multitude of proficient filmmaking from both Hawke’s visual acuity and his direction of both his breakout star and young up and comer. It’s a cohesive body of work that accomplishes its task in bringing more eyes to the forgotten legacy of Blaze Foley. It’s much like the line delivered by Ben Dickie when asked if he want’s to be a star he replies, “I don’t want’st to be a star, I want’st to be a legend. Stars shine bright, but they, eventually, go dark. Legends last forever.” 

“Blaze” is a star of a movie, shining bright and flying high, eventually fading into darkness though, becoming a film that missed it's potential by a noticeable margin, like that of it's subject. Remaining one of Hawke’s best outings as a filmmaker thus far and a prominent introduction to the star quality of Ben Dickie, but nowhere near as great as it could’ve been. 
 

Mile 22 (2018)

   Director: Peter Berg  With: Mark Wahlberg, Lauren Cohan, John Malkovich, Iko Uwais, Ronda Rousey, Elle Graham, Niklai Nikolaeff, Carlo Alban, Terry Kinney, Poorna Jagannathan, Sam Medina, & CL.  Release: Aug 17, 2018 R. 1 hr. 35 min. 

Director: Peter Berg
With: Mark Wahlberg, Lauren Cohan, John Malkovich, Iko Uwais, Ronda Rousey, Elle Graham, Niklai Nikolaeff, Carlo Alban, Terry Kinney, Poorna Jagannathan, Sam Medina, & CL. 
Release: Aug 17, 2018
R. 1 hr. 35 min. 

 

Peter Berg and Mark Wahlberg's fourth collaboration, “Mile 22,” is a shocking drop off in quality. This is not the “Deepwater Horizon” Peter Berg, whose visual taste can be breathtakingly cinematic, this is the “Battleship” Peter Berg, where the story and visual language are ferociously absurd. It’s an incomprehensible mess of a movie, so much so, that the “style over substance” criticism feels insufficient. It’s the kind of movie that waves it's masculine mentality throughout its runtime, as well as attempting to carry a semblance of a fear-mongering political message, spouting off how all the injustice in the world cannot be solved by diplomacy or governments, but by bullets.  

It levels with the same silliness that “Bad Boys II” contained, solving problems through violence and only violence. It’s the only absolute answer to the world’s issues apparently, and screenwriter Lea Carpenter makes sure we’re aware of that at all times. Vehicularizing Mark Wahlberg’s monologues as diatribes about how governments are ridiculous and how our American eyes are blind to a world in need of cleansing, yadda yadda yadda. We are consistently reminded of the shadiness that we’re watching. These hitmen are not working for the government. They are deep secret outlaws, they are the unsung heroes, blah blah blah. 

It’s horrendously amusing to watch, mostly because how serious Berg and Carpenter treat the matter. Managing the message like that of the hidden truth that we need to hear as Americans because no has attempted to gush about this nonsense before, but I am getting ahead of myself. 

The narrative surrounds a rogue group of mercenaries for hire, codenamed “Overwatch.” They sign their resignations, live in the darkness, and save the United States from threats hitherto unknown. They are the most elite of the elite, and they walk through the scenery of the film like that of the diplomats in Michael Bay’s “Transformers” franchise. Pacing through hallways, spouting off how they know everything about everything and how they are the best of the best until they are faced with a mission of the highest importance. 

A former-source that recently provided terrible intel arrives at the gates of the embassy with a heavily encrypted disc of some kind, stating it contains necessary info that will prevent a massive terrorist attack and he will provide the key to its lock if he is granted asylum in the United States. He’s conspiring against his home country and is seen as an immediate threat to his government, one that needs to be removed from the equation as soon as possible. The “Overwatch” team is called to act, being assigned to deliver the package to an abandoned runway, “22 miles” away.

It’s your basic shoot em’ up thriller. With a bunch of bullets flying and shaky cam mumbo jumbo, “Mile 22” is a film belonging in the ere of the mid-2000’s. It becomes incredibly dated once we see the briskly editing, hypertension, hacked up treatment of the action sequences, which is confusing, considering the first action scene we’re treated too is a cleverly designed brawl starring stunt mastermind, Iko Uwais. He’s handcuffed to a hospital bed, being tested for a multitude of things, I guess, then suddenly he notices that the doctors are assassins in hiding. The fight breaks out, and the battle ensues, and it's handled adequately. The camera is vibrant, not tumultuous, but energetically charged. 

The rest of the action scenes are not near as skillful, they diverge in quality on each occasion, becoming more and more like a Paul W.S Anderson film. Snippety cuts, excluding the use of time or spacial awareness for the audience, and becoming a film that leaves you asking “what is going on?” There is no moment where we settle down, no moment where we get to catch our breath, re-acquaint ourselves with the characters, and begin to resonate with them. The film frantically moves through those sequences, excusing itself as a straight-up action film, so that it doesn’t have to provide characters that are worth our time. 

It’s not the worst thing in the world. The performances tend to get lost amid the fog of the firefights anyways, supposedly trying to be a frenetic showcase of style over substance. The method of “Mile 22” is a frenzy of extremity that is irritatingly ridiculous though, with Mark Wahlberg screeching and hollering and swiftly spouting off monologues of his affinity for killing people, even innocent people if necessary, like that of the trigger-happy drone mechanic who overlooks these missions, begging to kill anyone and everyone. The cinematography is absent of a voice, merely shooting the action with fumbling hands, and the characters are assholes with names. It's a surprising shell of a film from a filmmaker I thought was back on the beaten path; I guess I was wrong. 

Where “Mile 22” become one of the year's worst though, is when Carpenter wants us to resonate with characters that kill innocent people, because we live in an unjust world and we should desire to make it just by any means necessary like that of our heroes in hiding. Rational minded people see the illogicality of that kind of characterization, we can see through the macho man persona and the gun-ho facade that lurks behind that mentality. The skills and precisions of this deep cover unit are not the focus; it's the bloodshed and broken bones that stem from those conflicts, the mayhem is the hidden beauty, it’s the necessity to cleaning up this mess of a world.
 
At least that’s what Peter Berg wants us to see as if there is no other feasible solution. I am guessing that Berg is not a fan of the sentiment “the pen is mightier than the sword,” neither is Wahlberg I presume. They might take a walk through history, see how many lives could have been saved by such a weapon, they might learn a thing or two, unlike me. I walked in and walked out knowing next to nothing about this movie; it’s a frenetic mess of absurdity, one that runs past you like a crazed man shouting “doomsday is upon us.” It’s a marathon of idiocy. 
 

Crazy Rich Asians (2018)

   Director: Jon M. Chu With: Constance Wu, Henry Golding, Michelle Yeoh, Gemma Chan, Lisa Lu, Awkwafina, Harry Shum Jr., Ken Jeong, Sonoya Mizuno, Chris Pang, Jimmy O. Yang, Ronny Chieng, Remy Hii, Nico Santos, & Jing Lusi. Release: Aug 15, 2018 PG-13. 2 hr. 

Director: Jon M. Chu
With: Constance Wu, Henry Golding, Michelle Yeoh, Gemma Chan, Lisa Lu, Awkwafina, Harry Shum Jr., Ken Jeong, Sonoya Mizuno, Chris Pang, Jimmy O. Yang, Ronny Chieng, Remy Hii, Nico Santos, & Jing Lusi.
Release: Aug 15, 2018
PG-13. 2 hr. 

 

It had been 25 years since a film had an entire ensemble of Asian-Americans as it's cast, let alone an Asian-American filmmaker. Wayne Wang’s “The Joy Luck Club” was that last piece of absolute representation, an indie-darling of a film that focused on the relationship between Asian mothers and their American born daughters. It’s no coincidence that twenty-five years later, almost exactly to the date, Jon M. Chu’s “Crazy Rich Asians” has been released into American theaters, framing a similar story to screenwriter Amy Tan’s novella. Being a novel adaptation itself, “Crazy Rich Asians” co-screenwriters Peter Chiarelli and Adele Lim adapt Kevin Kwan’s 2013 best-selling story. A tale about a native new-yorker, Rachel (Constance Wu), getting lost in the depths of undiscovered secrets, kept from her by the man she loves. She discovers these secrets when she travels with him to meet his family in Singapore. 

She discovers his wealth, his family history, the in’s and out’s of an unfamiliar culture, and the struggle of gaining approval from a traditional-devout mother, one who refuses to believe that Rachel (Constance Wu) could ever be good enough for her son. Amongst the rom-com formula, you may also discover subplots that focus on the inherent conflicts that wealth can create, as well as the fish out of water cliche of our desperate lover attempting to wear shoes that don’t belong to her, pretending to be someone she’s not. It’s a story that is inherently familiar to American audiences, but the film provides a cultural flair that is unmistakably un-American. How great is that? 

This isn’t a criticism of why America is awful. I’m not going to break out into “This is America” raps and grunts, and “Crazy Rich Asians” doesn’t do that either, it merely celebrates its heritage and its makeup. It transports us to a corner of the world that is rarely shown in this grand of fashion. Jon M. Chu and talented cinematographer Vanja Cernjul ( “The Deuce” & “Marco Polo”) do just that though, providing a natural flow and bloom of Singapore that is conducted with a taste of wisdom. 

They masterfully stage these majestically transformative silhouettes of the beautiful terrain and ecology of a place that is hardly treated with such prestige. The glimpses of this culture that we get to see are nothing to shake a stick at either. It’s where Jon M. Chu earns his pinstripes as a director to be reckoned with, taking us on a private tour through the beat-up streets of Singapore, where we learn that the street vendor food is to die for, and we get to see the grandeur of Asian American tradition and style, peeking its head out with confidence. 

Its chin is held high, looking down upon us, as if to remind us of the power and the beauty that culture, such as this one, can possess. It’s a marvelous journey through a society that is rarely treated with such honesty and brilliance, usually focusing on the Samurai’s and NInja’s of its past, forgetting that this world has more to offer than mere swords and throwing stars. It’s a visual marvel, one that can take your breath away at times, as well as riddle you with goosebumps as the wedding ceremony that takes place in this film is perhaps one of the most poetically stunning sequences of imagery I’ve seen this year. 

It all serves up to something spectacular, but the story is unable to match the opulence of diversity seen on the silver screen, it crumbles underneath a reliance on cliches and tropes. Bordered by the tiresome formula of a rom-com, Peter Chiarelli and Adele Lim’s adaptation feels vapid, broadly stroked, but with little heart. Though it has its fair share of surprises, using our assumptions against us like that of the screenwriters behind “The MEG,” it never provides a voice worth listening too, rarely stepping out and shamelessly expressing itself. 

They are sprinkles here and there, moments where the defiance and the unbashful pride swell up, and we get to feel the fervency lying behind the closed doors of the screenwriting, but it’s few and far between. Unlike “Black Panther,” a similar empowering body of work, “Crazy Rich Asians” suffers from trying to be too American at times, despite the world building and the landscapes of the scenery feeling inherently opposite. The story is something you would see from a Reese Witherspoon movie, which is not a compliment. 

The performances are notable though, Constance Wu is strikingly charming, providing a solid outing that only suffers from a lack of investing character writing. Awkwafina is given her time in the spotlight, being the comic relief of the film, just overstaying her welcome on a few occasions. Her partner in crime is Nico Santos who depicts a presumably gay fashion designer (because gay guys can only be fashion designers apparently), and they provide some genuine chemistry, both with each other and Constance. 

The stand out of the film, undoubtedly, is Henry Golding. He is effortlessly charming throughout this entire runtime, never feeling out of place, or out of character. He is perfection in this role as the suave, hunk, prince-charming, bachelor of Singapore. He’s funny, earnest, and kindling an organically resonating relationship with Constance, one that is both believable and tangible. His disapproving mother, phenomenally depicted by Michelle Yeoh, is a great character as well, one that doesn’t feel out of bounds either. 

These are the twists of expectations that are used against us, superbly. There is no secret conspiracy, no big melt-down moment, no-corny material, it all makes sense. It just adds up to something that isn’t quite as memorable as the tour of culture given to us by Justin M. Chu. He has a knack for visuality, one that I hope is put to good use throughout his career, which is what we can only wish will be the result of a film like this one. 

Opportunity. More chances to invite us into a new world that is visible and tangible, merely hidden from our American eyes. It’s a trait of filmmaking that can invigorate an experience with an intangible spirit, like that of the same beaming, elation of energy I felt when walking out of “Crazy Rich Asians.” 

Though the narrative is bogged down, broken down into something more readily digestible for American audiences, the scope of this film is vast, grand, and spectacularly diverse from expectations. It’s an all-access pass into a washed away culture, one that is radiating with hidden potential. 
 

The MEG (2018)

   Director: Jon Turteltaub  With: Jason Statham, Li Bingbing, Rainn Wilson, Winston Chao, Cliff Curtis, Page Kennedy, Jessica McNamee, Ólafur Darri Ólafsson, Robert Taylor, Shuya Sophia, & Masi Oka.    Release: Aug 10, 2018 PG-13. 1 hr. 53 min. 

Director: Jon Turteltaub
With: Jason Statham, Li Bingbing, Rainn Wilson, Winston Chao, Cliff Curtis, Page Kennedy, Jessica McNamee, Ólafur Darri Ólafsson, Robert Taylor, Shuya Sophia, & Masi Oka.   
Release: Aug 10, 2018
PG-13. 1 hr. 53 min. 

 

In the dog days of August, we all need to go see a movie like Jon Turteltaub’s (“The Sorcerer’s Apprentice” & “National Treasure”) “The MEG," a movie that exemplifies the sheer blissfulness of a Hollywood movie, the conflict of man and nature in an extravagant spectacle of a movie. To no one’s surprise, the newest adaptation of Steve Allen’s bestselling novel comes nowhere near the 1975 Spielbergian classic “JAWS,” one of the few truly perfect works of American cinema. Despite making that separation, “The MEG” is what you want out of a movie of it's kind. To confine my sentiments, it's a well-tuned see through thriller at it's best, a film in which action star Jason Statham battles a prehistorically resurrected monster Shark known as the Megalodon.  

The science behind the existence of that beast is nonsensical, but the sight of the shark itself is spectacular. The magnitude of this kind of animal, lurking in our unnatural habitat, giving it a natural edge over us as a predator, is striking. How does Statham develop his rivalry with this creature though? Well, his first interaction with the revived dinosaurs cost the lives of three of his friends as well as many others. He’s a rescue diver, one of three whose attempted a dive of more than 1000m or something like that. He’s a formidable hero, for reasons, most of them being his bravery, not saying much considering few of the characters surrounding him are not nearly as courageous. 

One of the best parts of all of this is the name of our hero, “Jona,” short for “Jonas,” and yes the tale of “Jona” does play a factor at some point and time. Nonetheless, his tales of an enormous predator intruding on his last mission, are dismissed as pressure-induced psychosis. He leaves the scene of deep rescue diving, resorting to the land of Thailand, spending his time as a damaged hero whose never-ending bender is used to wash away his failures. He’s a broken man, one we’ve seen before, who inevitably finds himself back in the saddle when a research facility which just so happens to employ his ex-wife, the doctor that got him fired, and former teammates suddenly require his assistance. 

Coincidental plot points aside, the monster was rediscovered when this $1.3 billion facility spends its opening day exploring the bottom of the Marianas Trench. The theory? A rift of musky cold air has hidden an undiscovered world beneath, one that inhabits new life, new species, and beasts that were thought to be extinct. They soon discover that this new world has locked away a feat of predatory evolution, one that immediately endangers the lives of the divers, who are later saved by our resurrected hero. During this suicidal mission, they accidentally provide a “mega-shark highway,” as Rainn Wilson put it, one that allowed this unevolved beast to slip through into the open sea. A creature that evolution has passed by, and one that mother nature locked away for a reason.

Jonas (Jason Statham) knows that and immediately has the right idea of killing this beast, an opinion not shared by the scientists or the investor. It’s an opportunity for both of them, and “The MEG” takes off from there as the drama kicks in and the forced romance occurs, and the predictable thrills and shrills unfold onto the silver screen, and it’s all so much fun. 

It’s not often to hear a critic utter the words “fun,” but here I am. The film is what it's trying to be, recognizing the fandom for the absurdity of “Sharknado” and the box office thirst for the horror of “JAWS,” Dean Georgaris and co-screenwriters Jon Hoeber and Erich Hoeber provide a formulaic blend of those styles, one that is insanely thrilling. It has a lot of redundancy and goofiness and cliches sprinkled throughout its runtime, but it all amounts to something that knows what it is and what audience it's aiming to be accepted by.

The direction is sensically and arguably skillful, Jon Turteltaub finds himself as the perfect choice to helm the directorial reigns of a movie such as this one, relying on the lessons he learned from the “National Treasure” trilogy. Taking something that began so preposterously serious and grew to become sillier than intended, recognizing the bizarreness of the events on screen. Same thing goes with “The MEG,” Turteltaub goes in with the right state of mind, recognizing that the film lacks the potential to surpass something like “JAWS,” not that another film like this ever will, and knows that it won’t be taken seriously if he makes it as tongue and cheek as films like “Sand Sharks.” He’s in the right frame of thinking, knowing when to showcase his abilities as a filmmaker by providing genuinely thrilling shark sequences while reining the film in with the silliness of a Hollywood movie. 

The screenwriting has all the tropes and the expectational twists and turns and direct references to "JAWS," but it has a style and sense of wit to it, even giving its characters some believable choices at times. Going as far as to use the audience’s assumptions to manifest a surprise or two, "The MEG" emplores every resource it has, allowing former diver turned movie star, Jason Statham, to depict a character that smiles every once in a while, becoming the essential anchor of this movie. He’s the one that makes this movie work, along with an ensemble that does nothing but provide that extra oomph the movie needs, like that of Ruby Rose and Bingbing Li providing some energetic moments, as well as Rainn Wilson and Page Kennedy who dash a few sprinkles of charisma on top of this donut of a movie. 

An adequate analogy of what this movie is, a donut, something delicious and worth trying, but not necessarily good for you. The same goes for "The MEG," it’s not necessarily a good film, but it's honest. Everyone is on the same page; no one has false expectations, no one is aiming for a comparison, it all makes sense. It’s a movie that knows what it is and who it's for, only missing scenes like Statham punching a Megalodon. That would have made this movie the "Citizen Kane" of the modern-era.
 

Slender Man (2018)

   Director: Sylvain White  With: Joey King, Julia Goldani Telles, Jaz Sinclair, Taylor Richardson, Annalise Basso, Javier Botet, Alex Fitzalan, & Kevin Chapman.  Release: Aug 10, 2018 PG-13. 1 hr. 33 min.

Director: Sylvain White
With: Joey King, Julia Goldani Telles, Jaz Sinclair, Taylor Richardson, Annalise Basso, Javier Botet, Alex Fitzalan, & Kevin Chapman. 
Release: Aug 10, 2018
PG-13. 1 hr. 33 min.

 

The “Slender Man” is a mythological monster born out of the wedlock of ghost stories and the internet, told by Creepypasta, the modern-day equivalent to telling ghost stories around a campfire. Created by Eric Knudsen (also known as “Victor Surge”), the well-dressed figure grew a following, with fans of the folktale doctoring older photos to seemingly include him as something long-gestating, as well as spreading his name onto digital platforms such as Reddit, and even going as far as to make a video game. The story surrounding this urban legend monster that scares away social media obsession becomes horrific when it’s legend is given authenticity with that of the two twelve-year-old girls who murdered their friend in the woods, all in the name of the “Slender Man.” 

The well-serviced and well-executed documentary “Beware the Slenderman” from skilled documentarian filmmaker Irene Taylor Brodsky, tackles that story and examines the real-life terror of folktales possessing our youth to the point of atrocity. Exploring the vast and terrifying potential of the digital media age, bringing urban legends to life, influencing children into a position of committing murder. 

This background pays no dividends in creating a masterful horror film. It actually should be slightly offensive to see a movie depict a make-believe monster in a legitimate fashion four years removed from the tragedy in Waukesha, Wisconsin. It’s a bit shocking to see that a film such as this one has not been dismantled and protested against by twitter activists, but “Slender Man” found its way into theaters, and it's one of the year’s worst. 

This narrative involves teenagers, of course, revitalizing that old cliche of teenagers doing dumb shit, getting in over their heads, discovering the horrific reality of the world they’ve been shielded by, all of these cliches are there once again because who wants originality anymore, right?  Nevertheless, the cast is made up by an ensemble of well-known and unknown teenage actresses, ranging from the inept Jody King to the talented Annalise Basso. Each of them finds themselves in the midst of an inescapable event in which they summoned the infamous child-terror known as “Slender Man,” a tall, creeky, and multi-appendaged figure whose face is empty of emotion. Like that of a mannequin, he shares no sentiment, no expression, a mere white canvas resides on the top of his body as he possesses and torments these teenagers, driving them into madness.  

Is this “Nightmare on Elm Street” recreated? Yes. The film knows that too, even borrowing more from the horror genre’s prominent past, like that of referencing “The Exorcist” by re-creating the bed-ridden imagery of the younger sister, Lizzie (Taylor Richardson), whose hair stylization is reminiscent of a young Linda Blair. You can also find familiar imagery that echoes films such as “Blair Witch," and “The Ring” is perhaps the most noticeable work that "Slender Man" replicates for a digital audience. Though it never becomes as hilariously horrendous as other horror films from earlier this year, looking at you “Truth or Dare," "Slender Man" never becomes worth a viewing experience. 

“Slender Man” becomes worse in that way, unable to manifest any sense of entertainment, mistakingly or otherwise. The visualizing of this legend turned real-life nightmare is atrocious as well, and where this film loses a lot of its merit, cinematographer Luca Del Puppo provides one of the worst framings of his career. Shooting these events with the mindset of a student short film, one that spent all of its money on the VFX of the creature, forgetting about the necessity of lighting, editing equipment, and seemingly constructed a purposefully designed framing that seems as if it had a veil pulled over the lens. It’s murky, overly shadowed, dark, and forgets that the absence of light makes it hard for us to see the characters. 

Then again, the characters might as well as be invisible. The attempts to create resonance for them from screenwriter David Birke (“Elle”) is abysmal. We learn that they like boys, watch POV porn together, and enjoy texting one another. It would be easy to say that this film needed a woman’s touch, but I can imagine that few female filmmakers would stake their careers on a movie such as this one. 

The females to be found on-screen aren’t any better either, each of them has their fair share of moments, even beginning the film with an array of hope that seemingly gives off the idea that the modern folk-tale turned movie may have more to offer than a well-known name. These actresses deserve better too, they're left with characters devoid of personality, like that of the empty cipher stalking them. Their shared quality as actresses seemingly dissipates over time, becoming more and more like your stereotypical scary story for teenagers, and it feels like it resonated with that demographic. 

The wave of teenagers that packed themselves into the back rows of my theater squirmed and jolted in their seats, seemingly enjoying their experience. I wish I could say the same. My near-developed brain would not allow me to mindlessly stare at the visualization of the slandering and faceless creature. Those unfamiliar with this faceless figure will find themselves asking “what’s all the fuss about?” I could say its the forewarnings of digital media's significance in our culture, examining how the ongoing fear-mongering of false tales is gaining prevalence over the broad reach of the interwebs, how it seems to be an unstoppable phenomenon, but it does none of those things. (despite trying to do so) 

If “Slender Man” was meant to forewarn us of these dangers, they did a piss poor job.