RLTerry1

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Reviews

The Dark Tower
(2017)

Would Be Better Told in a TV Series
A paint-by-the-numbers "epic" story with a prolific number of Stephen King references. Adapted from the Dark Tower series of novels by Stephen King, Dark Tower introduces movie audiences to one of King's masterpiece works of literature. Unfortunately, the movie takes place in the middle of the series and fails to leave audiences wanting to see more. For the most part, it offers up little more than an enhanced SyFy Channel original movie or a one-time HBO film. With a powerhouse leading cast consisting of Idris Elba and Matthew McConaughey, it constantly feels that the actors were held back from that which we are normally accustomed. That is, not to say that there aren't enjoyable parts of the movie--certainly seeing all the King references are fun and it is a great premise. I only wish the story and characters had been allowed to develop over the course of three films. Although there is sufficient evidence to suggest that some movies in the recent past that have been forced into a trilogy instead of a strong, concise single film, this is an example of a one- time film that truly needed the room of three films to develop and emotionally connect with audiences. There is never a dull moment in the film, nor an opportunity to become bored because the film is incredibly rushed and turning points are forced into place.

At the center of the universe stands a massively tall dark tower that keeps the bulk of evil forces at bay. Under attack by Walter (McConaughey), the last gunslinger Rolland (Elba) must destroy Walter and his following before they destroy the dark tower and wreak havoc on Keystone Earth and the other planets in the universe. Harvesting children with "the shine" from earth, to use their minds to destroy the tower, is the method employed by Walter and he has his eyes on a child whose shine is greater than any other. After Jake (Tom Taylor) evades capture by Walter's henchmen, he finds himself on Mid World where he meets gunslinger Rolland. Under constant siege by Water, Rolland and Jake must make a arduous journey to Walter's headquarters where he is mounting his attack against the tower. With the fate of the universe at stake, Rolland, Walter, and Jake face-off in an epic battle of good versus evil.

There is not much to dissect here. One thing is for sure--and I have not read the books--BUT, from what I know of the books, fans of the literature will not like the film because it takes what happens over the course of "King" sized novels and condenses it down to little more than a short story turned 2hr film. Not having read the books, I was not set up for disappointment. That being the case, I enjoyed the film for the most part. But it was obvious that it was incredibly rushed and there was little if any development in plot or character. No emotional investment to be found. It's a shame; the premise of the film is fascinating and I think there is a high degree of probability that I would have enjoyed following the franchise had it been more than one film. The way the movie ends does lend itself to possible sequels, but after the very "television" feel of this one, it is going to have a hard time convincing future audiences to invest time and spend money on it. If anything, this film does prompt me to read the novels upon which it is based. One argument that could be made in the film's defense is the same one that can be made when looking at many of the films based upon King's works. His novels are so dense, internally driven, and detailed that is is difficult to successfully translate effectively from page to screen. Obviously, there are exceptions to this trend (i.e. the upcoming IT theatrical release).

If you are a fan of fantasy and adventure films with a hint of science-fiction, then you will likely enjoy this movie. If you love the series of books, I feel fairly confident that you will not like this adaptation. Perhaps this film will inspire a network to spearhead an epic television series. I think that is where this story will be best shown.

Written by R.L. Terry

Edited by J.M. Wead

Dunkirk
(2017)

Journalism meets cinematic visual storytelling
Journalism meets cinematic visual storytelling. Christopher Nolan's war epic Dunkirk provides audiences with a different kind of war movie experience. Different in that the narrative is nonlinear and highly experimental. From a technical perspective, the film is flawless. The cinematography, sound design, and score all work together to create an immersive experience in which that fourth wall is nearly removed. One of my friends that I saw the film with last night described it as being a fly on the wall within each timeline. With little dialog, the focus is on the various groups of the army, air force, and civilians. The stylistic film reminds me of photo/video journalism. Dunkirk demonstrates that an emotionally satisfying experience can be delivered without conventional storytelling. In many ways Norma Desmond would be proud of Nolan's film because "(he) didn't need dialog, (he) had faces." Dunkirk invites audiences in for a rare glimpse into the reality of war, and the reality of not only the armed forces but the civilian assistance that truly made the difference and just why this particular war story is so remarkable. Be sure to brush up on your knowledge of the events of Dunkirk before watching the film. You're definitely going to need to have a base of knowledge of the theatre before becoming the proverbial fly on the wall.

If you are approaching Dunkirk from a desire to see a Saving Private Ryan, then you may want to rethink going to see this film. With little convention in the storytelling, this film puts you on the beach, in the air, or on the sea alongside the civilians, pilots, soldiers, and officers. The focus is not on the characters, special effects, or the bloody atrocities of war, but focused on highlighting a significant event in WWII history that has largely gone unknown except for those in France and the UK. You are very much like a journalist who is capturing the imagery with your camera. It's a snapshot of war, not necessarily the story of war. War history buffs, this IS a film for you!

The Big Sick
(2017)

Organic and Relatable!
Organic and relatable. From Amazon Studios and Lionsgate comes Judd Apatow's The Big Sick directed by Michael Showalter. Despite being billed as a romantic comedy (romcom), it is more like a family drama with comedic moments. What makes the plot of The Big Sick so incredibly relatable is its central focus on two star-cross'd lovers caught between two seemingly incompatible worlds. Beyond featuring two people who fall in love quickly, then realize how there is little chance of a future in which they are together, this story has little in common with Romeo & Juliet. No feuding families or riots here, just two 20-somethings who are trying to make it in this world, and by sheer happenstance fall for each other. However, much like the families from which Romeo and Juliet came, there are two opposing forces at work in this love story. It is clear from the screenplay and cast that all the elements are at work to generate a response from the audiences that would make this an endearing classic in the vein of Terms of Endearment. The relatability and organicness of this film comes from the fact that the entire cast--not just the lead characters--are every-day 21st century Americans who are facing the real mountains and pitfalls of romance, acceptance, honesty, and devotion.

The Big Sick tells the true-life story of the courtship between Pakistani-American Kumail (Kumail Nanjiani) and Chicago native Emily (Zoe Kazan). Kumail is a stand-up comic--or rather--he is desperately trying to be. He's good enough for a small venue but he dreams of performing at the Montreal Comedy Festival. Emily is a graduate student at the University of Chicago studying psychology. Between family backgrounds and professional interests, the two of them could not be more different. When Kumail and Emily fall in love with each other, everything seems to be going so incredibly well over the next few months; but when Emily learns that Kumail cannot take the next step from dating to engagement because of his Pakistani family's traditions regarding arranged marriage to a Pakistani girl, their relationship falls apart. As circumstance would have it, Emily must be placed under a medically-induced coma in order to stabilize after her health takes an acute turn downward. With Emily's parents (Holly Hunter and Ray Romano) in town, Kumail must deal with his ex-girlfriend's health condition and the fact that her her parents despise Kumail after he led their daughter on. Realizing that he cannot allow his family to determine his fate, Kumail is determined to win over Emilys parents and show Emily that he can be who she needs him to be.

What sets The Big Sick apart from a typical par-for-the-course romcom is the dimension and depth of the plot and characters. Ordinarily, a romcom contains a lighthearted story that requires little critical thinking and analysis because it is meant to be simply entertaining with a little heart along the way. Great for date nights and girls nights. Often times, in a traditionally structures romcom, the female character is the most interesting with the rest of the cast playing a lesser role. However, in this film, the most interesting character is the male love interest. Furthermore, the character chemistry and plot are greatly helped by Kumail and Emily being interesting respectively. The underdog trope is often applied to romcoms, and it certainly played a role in this film. In addition to the character and plot development on screen, the audience also goes through some soul-searching. Incidentally, the movie opens the door of discussion regarding the predisposition to how Pakistani and Americans view marriage and dating. Just like past films that commentated on marriage or dating between the black and white communities--which is what was needed in the not so distant past--this film raises awareness regarding marriage and dating as it relates to middle-eastern and American relationships. A timeless plot told through a contemporary setting.

Baby Driver
(2017)

Exhilarating! Wildly entertaining!
Exhilarating! Edgar Wright's Baby Driver is an accelerated non-stop action-thriller that will have you in high-gear the entire drive time. Wildly entertaining! It offers up the best car chases, excellent characters, and displays solid writing in this subgenre of action films. During the golden age of Hollywood cinema, grand getaways, robberies, and car chase movies were a staple. Sony/Tristar, et al, demonstrate that one of the foundational plot types that provided audiences with thrills back then can be effectively resurrected today to embody the engine that drove those motion pictures and install it into a new, sleek body design to mesmerize and impress audiences of today. Certainly, Baby drives to the beat of his own mixtape in this movie, but the film itself goes further and integrates the rhythm of action into the sound design of the motion picture. Not to be left behind on the 80s throwback movies and TV shows bandwagon featuring hipsters and mixtapes, Wright crafts a summer film that rises above the all too cliché CGI robots taking to the sky and pirates swashbuckling across the seas to remind us that little can compare to the squeal of the wheel, love, and the witty turning of phrase. In short, Baby Driver is a self-aware pop-culture film but has the soul of a James Dean motion picture.

Meet Baby (Elgort). Yes, that's B-A-B-Y Baby. He's the unparalleled talented getaway driver for Doc's (Spacey) Atlanta crime ring. With earbuds in place, playing classic rock or his own mixtapes, Baby drives, speeds, and maneuvers to the beat of his tunes. No police force is a match for his ability to evade his would-be captors in order to return Doc's henchman (and woman) to the secret lair. As chance would have it, Baby meets Debora (James), the girl of his dreams, at his usual diner. All that stands in his way is one more job for Doc, or so he thinks. With payment in full of his debt to Doc on the horizon, Baby seen this as his opportunity to make a clean break and to ditch his shady lifestyle of crime. But when Doc approaches Baby with yet another job, Baby must decide to whom his allegiances lie and protect those he loves.

Any veteran filmmaker will tell you that it's vitally important to hook the audience within the first three to five minutes of a film. Fail to hook producers at the beginning of the screenplay, and it's file-thirteen for those 120 pages. As a director, it's encumbered upon him or her to grab hold of the audience's attention, creating the urge to want more, to know more. The first scene of Baby Driver is an incredible display of excellence in writing, directing, and the technical elements of motion picture creation. The magic of this scene lies in the ability for Wright to wow the audience without leaving anyone "out there in the dark" (Sunset Blvd) overly stimulated or left with the feeling of utter exhaustion. The scene is perfectly stimulating. It sets the bar high for the film, and continues to keep it up there for the entire runtime. Just like the pace of Baby's driving, the pacing of the film is exquisitely handled and couldn't be better! The biggest difference between this robbery/getaway film and similar films such as The Fast and the Furious is substance. In addition to the incredible cinematography and sound design paired with out of the world car chases, the film provides heart, soul, and qualitative substance that forms the foundation upon which the more superficial elements are laid.

The cast couldn't have been more brilliantly selected. One of the hallmarks of an Edgar Wright film is the charismatic leads that display solid chemistry on screen. Just who are our heroes in this film? You'll just have to watch it and decide for yourself. I love it when films take the more conventional concept of heroes and villains and turns it on its head. For whomever you decide are the heroes, you'll certainly find yourself actively rooting for their survival and rooting for the villains to meet their demise in shockingly creative ways. When Kevin Spacey isn't busy being the President of the United States, or more recently, an ex-President, he is the king pin of an Atlanta- based crime syndicate that stages fantastically wild robberies. And Baby is indebted to him and must reluctantly aid and abet as the best getaway driver ever to hit the screens in recent years-- think a modern-day James Dean. Jaime Foxx plays the veteran head henchman extremely well and adds his own repulsive, yet comedic charm to his role. It would have been far too easy to play off Spacey and Foxx's conventional talents to steel focus away from the central plot, but Wright strikes a perfect balance between his leads and the story. Elgort and Spacey's on-screen chemistry was crafted with strategic precision in order to quickly solidify the frien-emy relationship between the two characters. With Elgot increasing in popularity, Wright could have deflated to playing up the attractive bad boy tropes but instead allows Elgot's Baby to develop organically throughout the film.

If you are seeking a summer film that clearly demonstrates a movie in which all the creative elements work seamlessly together in the manner in which they were respectively intended, then don't miss Baby Driver while it's in theatres. The energy you will feel in this film is nearly unparalleled by any in recent times, and that's because both the major and minor components work together like a well-oiled machine. You will be at full throttle as you are instantly transported from your auditorium seat to the passenger seat in Baby's car.

It Comes at Night
(2017)

Emulates Shyamalan before "The Visit" and "Split" and after "Lady in the Water"
The 'Doore' of Red Death. A24's highly anticipated horror film "It Comes at Night" by writer- director Trey Edward Shults looks beautiful and beckons for attention, but fails to live up to the storytelling and payoff of A24's The Green Room. Another A24 film in the vein of It Comes at Night is 2016's The Witch, which was ultimately a failed attempt to capture the magic of a horror/mystery film and leave audiences with too many unanswered questions. The only "terrifying ambiguity" (to quote The Huffington Post), in this film, is just how terrifying it is to realize you just dropped money on a film that works better for Netflix, and the ambiguity comes from the plethora of underdeveloped plot elements. Essentially, It Comes at Night reminds me of a bad M. Night Shyamalan film (before he made his comeback with The Visit and Split). Like the aforementioned, the wind up is excellent but the delivery lacks any emotional impact and you're left with realizing that you never truly cared about any one of the characters. Character development is lacking and the third act is incredibly weak. However, there is something in particular that I find very interesting, and after reading other reviews, it seems to be something that has escaped most (if not all) the reviews at this point. That is the striking similarities between this film and the timeless classic short story The Masque of Red Death by the brilliant Edgar Allan Poe. From the painting on the walls of the house depicting the bubonic plague to the ominous red door, there are quite a few parallels between It Comes at Night and The Masque of Red Death.

Nestled deep in the woods is a secluded boarded up house belonging to a family of three seeking refuge from an unknown threat. Whatever has caused this family to live off the grid and fend for their very survival is tasteless and odorless. Forced to wear gas masks whenever venturing out into the woods and even around their own home, the family is forced to take drastic measures to ensure there ability to avoid coming into direct contact with the disease. With only now way in or out of the house guarded by a red door, the family has stopped at nothing to protect themselves. One night, the family's house is broken into and they must decide what to do with the man and his family. Having dispensed with courteousness and generosity in order to guard against any and all possible threats, the family must decide whether to listen to the man or kill him right then and there. Their decision will spark a fire that spreads into their deepest fears.

*spoiler alert* But, the analysis is fascinating.

Okay, now I know that the preceding program describes what should be a brilliant horror film, but the problem lies in the film's excellent premise that is greatly flawed by poor storytelling, development, and realization. Lack of connection to any one of the characters is also partly responsible for the lackluster experience of watching this horror-thriller with a hint of mystery and dystopia. The only saving grace the film has is the connection to elements of Poe's Masque of Red Death. For starters, the camera draws the audience's (and diegetic POV) attention to a painting of a depiction of the bubonic plague (or black death). At first, I was puzzled as to why this painting. Then as I go through the movie, I realize why. Between the constant reference to and runtime spent on talking about and showing the red door, it hit me that this film reimagined Poe's short story and set it in a dystopian or post-apocalyptic time and place. If you are unfamiliar with The Masque of Red Death, then I encourage you to read it or watch it on YouTube. It is allegory on the inevitability of death no matter how  hard you protect yourself, how much money you have, or how powerful you are. It also contains allusions to the seven deadly sins and the fate of those who party in the wake of mass death among a lower class of people. Although I find the short short to be a stronger narrative than Shults' variation on this reimagination of the classic tale.

Both the short story and this film contain people hiding out in a fortress. Whereas The Masque of Red Death's Prince Prospero is held up ins abbey with his wealthy and noble friends while the red death is killing off the rest of the kingdom, A24's It Comes at Night features a typical American family living off the land and secured in their rather tutor-looking mountain lodge. Like in Red Death, the family in It Comes receives an uninvited guest one night. Here's where we see some difference. In Poe's story, the guest is dressed to attend the masquerade ball and in this film, the guest attempts to break into the home. Although both stories take different approaches to the second act, once thing is in common. And that is the taking in of an outsider. All through the second act, there are hints at something not being right--a constant uneasiness. That apprehension and anxiety regarding the unknown works in the respective stories favors. The emotional impact and psychological payoff differs between the short story and film. Yes, the endings are very similar but feel incredibly different. You'll just have to read The Masque of Red Death and watch It Comes at Night to know for yourself.

If you're searching for a thriller to watch this weekend, as it is rain in many parts of the country, then perhaps you should watch Universal Pictures' The Mummy instead. However, if you are curious about how well It Comes at Night parallels Poe's short story, this definitely check it out. Not entirely sure why it's rated R, but in case that's important to you. To quote Dr. Ian Malcolm, "well, there it is."

Wonder Woman
(2017)

Exceptional. Outstanding. DC Hits a Homer! FINALLY.
WONDERful! No seriously, this is an excellent film! And I'm just not talking about the superhero genre. DC finally hit a homer with this one. This film also serves as evidence that Zack Snyder can WRITE a great story but should probably stay out of the director's chair. Warner Bros. and Ratpac Dune's Wonder Woman is the superhero film we needed. Trailing so far behind the Marvel brand and film quality, DC needed to produce a film that would make up for Batman v Superman and Suicide Squad AND catch up to Marvel. Seemingly setting out to accomplish the impossible, this film exceeded all measurable expectations and provided a comprehensive cinematic experience. With many themes, this film hits on many topics and does so with incredible precision and elegance. It's almost as if this film is an extension of Diana Prince herself. Never addressed or referenced as Wonder Woman actually, Diana Prince's origin story is powerful and ever so apropos in today's socio-political climate. If only we could all have the courage, compassion, and determination that Wonder Woman embodies and represents.

Ever since her creation in 1941 by psychologist William Marston, Wonder Woman has always been treated the best when all pre-existing inhibitions typically added to a female character in a "man's" role are removed, allowing the feminist ethos at her core to shine and erupt with unbridled passion and strength. Among other traits, the chief characteristic that separates her from other superheroes in both the Marvel and DC universes respectively is--no, not her gender--it is her ability to integrate truth, justice, compassion, and courage in everything she does to protect the planet entrusted to her people by the Greek gods. The key to understanding Wonder Woman is not through her brute strength or supernatural powers, but through her love and compassion for innocent people and her own integrity. Rarely has any film truly given women (or anyone, for the matter) a strong female protagonist who does not pander but exhibits excellence in well-developed strength of character and a complete eruption of the fantasies of many women to rise up to serve and protect. It would have been far too easy to sell Diana Prince as a vengeful women out to destroy men or seek revenge for the destruction that has befallen the planet; but no, that is not the Diana we see. We see a heroine of others--a completely unselfish hero who is of earth. Being of the earth is truly what separates her from someone like Super Man. Sure, some strong female characters from with the world of comics, literature, theatre, TV, or film have demonstrated strong characteristics and have been leaders; but Wonder Woman sands alone as a film that provides audiences with a female protagonist who is not merely a leader, but the engineer--the author--of her own destiny and story.

Why does this film work so well??? After all, that is the question you are likely asking yourself after so many DC flops (note: that does not count the Burton or Nolan films). The short answer is that Snyder was NOT in the driver's seat on this ride; however, there is more to it than that. Snyder's touch is certainly evident in many scenes (especially the action sequences); furthermore, he was greatly instrumental in the overall structure, but he took a backseat to the driver of this vehicle. His approach was important in the design of the car, and even building it, but when it came time to take it for a spin, he turned the steering wheel over to Director Patty Jenkins. Films featuring strong female protagonists most often seem to fair better when there is a women at the helm. And Wonder Woman is a testament to that observation. Whereas a male director would have likely spent some time sexualizing Diana, Jenkins spends the time on her courage and compassion. Instead of focusing on the terrain of Diana's mystical home beautifully appointed with white cliffs and sapphire water or spending time on her sleek blade or even her trademark lasso of truth, Jenkins spends a significant amount of screen time on the terrain of Diana's face. A face that communicates the heart, mind, and soul of Diana. Instead of a face displaying anger or disgust at the world of men, her face is often bright, hopeful, containing a winning smile with eyes overflowing with optimism. In terms of the production design itself, it only bares hints of Snyder's penchant for beautiful music videos; the production design is one that takes itself seriously, but in the perfect amounts. Although the film is quite dark, there are sufficient moments of levity.

Perhaps you're a stereotypical dude who does not care for films that feature female protagonists and feministic themes. No fear. Wonder Woman is actually a World War I film disguised as a superhero movie. As much as Wonder Woman works as an exceptional superhero movie, it is equally an impressive World War I film. Taking place in the days leading up to Armistice Day, this film displays the atrocities of war and the determination of both sides to win. You will find yourself in the trenches in France and Belgium with the Allied forces who, against all odds, are determined to defeat the enemy in order to stop genocide and widespread devastation. Placing Wonder Woman amidst the warriors of earth, connects her to humanity in ways that most superheroes cannot. Fighting for what you believe in is a major theme in this film. Some of the best war movies are those that "show don't tell." And Wonder Woman certainly shows what war really looks like instead of talking about it as some abstract concept or spending time in diplomacy. In fact, diplomacy is thrown out the window, and Diana lays the need to fight on the hearts of the bureaucratic leaders and soldiers alike. Pick up your sword and fight. Don't just sit idly by while humanity is destroyed.

Pirates of the Caribbean: Dead Men Tell No Tales
(2017)

Shallow Story in a Campy Pirate Movie
Of all the tales that the depths of the ocean contain, this one is quite shallow. Disney's latest installment in the swashbuckling franchise Pirates of the Caribbean: Dead Men Tell no Tales proves that neither changing directors, writers, nor the inclusion of an undead Javier Bardem, can bail enough water out of a sinking ship. No doubt the next chapter in the life and times of Jack Sparrow was one to be anticipated by fans, but sadly the writing was not strong or developed enough to carry the waning film series. This film reminds me of the Child's Play franchise. What??? That is likely what you're saying. But hear me out. After the first two Chucky films, the studio realized that the series was not working as a hard horror film, so the studio went the camp route and capitalized on the ridiculousness of the characters and the situations. Dead Men Tell No Tales contains many camp elements such as completely ludicrous antics and escapes that are even too much for a Mission Impossible movie. Although there is an attempt at some closure between characters at the end of the film, it plays out as forced and on-the-nose. Still, there are moments that will mildly tug at your heartstrings during the showdown, but it's not enough to add any dimension to this flat tale. One thing that this Pirates movie has going for it is the impressive visual effects. Both the editing and score are pretty outstanding, and certainly add to the experience of the film. However, if you watch the movie in 3D, as I did because there wasn't a 2D option at the earliest showing, some of the magic of the undead pirates will be lost due to noticeability of editing. Over all, Disney's Pirates of the Caribbean: Dead Men Tell No Tales is a great popcorn movie and a fun one to watch with friends or the family. Be sure to stay after the credits for a sneak peek at the next (and hopefully last) one.

Return to the swashbuckling world of the franchise inspired by the iconic Pirates of the Caribbean attraction at Disney Parks! Many years after the encounter with Davy Jones, Jack Sparrow (Depp) is being sought out by a young Henry Turner (Brenton Thwaites)–yes, that Turner. After witnessing his entire ship's compliment slaughtered by ghost pirates led by Captain Salazar (Bardem), Turner is even more determined to find Captain Jack. Unbeknownst to Turner, Jack Sparrow's fortune is not what it used to be. With his luck turned sour, Sparrow is captured and Turner must free him if the ghost pirates are to be stopped and the curse of Davy Jones lifted. By sheer happenstance, Sparrow is sentenced to die alongside an accused witch named Carina (Kaya Scodelario). If that wasn't bad enough, Captain Barbosa (Rush) has been cornered by Salazar into leading him to Sparrow as well. Other than a need to find Jack, Turner, Salazar, and Carina all share a common interest in locating the trident of Poseidon. That trident is the key to unlocking the power of the ocean and breaking curses.

Like so many franchises that have come before, Disney's Pirates of the Caribbean appears to have suffered the same fate. Although this can't be said of every franchise, the area that fairly consistently fails to deliver is strong writing inclusive of plot and character development. Often times it seems that story is exchanged for merchandising, impressive visual effects, or pandering in longstanding franchises. After an outstanding opening sequence that instantly hooks you, the rest of the movie just plays out so paint-by-the-numbers that it becomes nearly predictable and lacks any real substance. Sometimes franchises fall into the trap of realizing that it can no longer take itself seriously and allows the camp factor to increase significantly. That is the one word that pretty much sums up this film: camp. Whether you are talking the perpetually drunk Jack Sparrow (yes, even more than usual), unbelievable escapes that defy all logic and past precedents set is previous films, or the supernatural playing off more as a joke than a serious plot device, there are many elements in this film that attempt to cover up poor writing by going for the flash in a pan approach.

One of the down sides to the recent Guardians of the Galaxy I found was the film only focusing on Acts I and III, leaving out the chunk of story development typically found in Act II. By the same token, Dead Men Tell No Tales spends most of the time in Act II, leaving Act I and again Act III to be rushed through. The common variable in both scenarios is a weak third act. To explain where I feel that this movie should have ended and the next one begin would give away a plot spoiler, so I won't mention it. However, there is a place in this film in which there is a great opportunity to end this story on a high note of anticipation of what is to come but it just rushes through the rest of the story. Had more time been spent on developing a solid story, then this Pirates movie would definitely have turned out much better. Sadly, it seems like more time was spent in post-production and scoring the film. Certainly, the talent behind the lead characters is excellent. Perhaps the writing is poor and the screenplay was weak, but with a lead cast of Depp, Rush, and Bardem, the movie is fun to watch. And sometimes that's all you want–a good popcorn movie.

If you ARE looking for a good popcorn movie to watch with your family or friends over the holiday weekend, then checkout Disney's Pirates of the Caribbean: Dead Men Tell No Tales. Perhaps the sequel to this film will be stronger and pick up where this one failed to deliver.

Alien: Covenant
(2017)

Return to Space Horror!
Alien: Covenant returns to its roots in horror. In 1979, Ridley Scott convinced audiences around the world that "in space, no one can hear you scream." And the newest film in the line of prequels leading up to the terrifying events aboard the Nostromo, attempts to make up for the rejection of 2012's Prometheus as a true prequel to Alien. Fortunately for fans of the franchise, Alien: Covenant is mostly successful at delivering what audiences loved about the original and missed in the subsequent Cameron movies--the trademark horror of the xenomorph and facegrabbers. Starting off like Prometheus and finishing more like the original Alien, the newest film in the nearly 40-year- old franchise will have you screaming, cringing, and completely immersed in blood-curdling terror. That is, until you realize that only some questions from Prometheus answered, and all new questions about events in this movie are now generated and left unanswered. That appears to be Ridley Scott's Achilles heal: always leaving more questions unanswered than providing closure or exposition, thus prohibiting the movie from being as great as it certainly had the potential to be. With one more film between this current installment and 1979's Alien, perhaps there will be far fewer unanswered questions and provide the history for which fans are looking.

One of the first technical elements that fans of Alien will notice is the opening title sequence. It is reminiscent of the manner in which the opening credits and title of the original were revealed in the emptiness of space on screen. I appreciated this homage to the original because it set me up to prepare for an Alien movie and not a second Prometheus. Perhaps that does not seem important to non-fans; but to make a long story short, while Scott was in the conceptual phase of a sequel to Prometheus (prequel to Alien), he was told by the studio that audiences didn't want another Prometheus--they wanted Ridley Scott's Alien. And now the rest is history. In order to best understand the flaws of Alien: Covenant it's necessary to understand the similar flaws of Prometheus. One of the many diegetic and technical problems with Prometheus was the fact that there was little direct connection to Alien and it felt like a whole new franchise and not an extension of the original. This lack of connection is best represented by the number of unanswered questions dwarfing the answered ones. Essentially, audiences only learned about David's origin and, to a lesser extent, why that particular planet. But enough about Prometheus, we are here to talk Alien: Covenant.

Although vastly improved, Covenant also leaves audiences with many unanswered questions; albeit, it is successful at making up for many of the diegetic flaws of the preceding film. To get into the questions would reveal too much about the film and perhaps hint at some spoilers, so I won't go into specifics. But enough about the flaws of this otherwise exciting and well-produced film-- just know that the writing is weak but hopefully will be better in the next installment. The most impressive elements of the movie are related to the cinematography, editing, and visual effects. From the sweeping landscape shots to intimate closeups of the xenomorph and its victims, Covenant is absolutely visually stunning. There is even a mild romantic encounter between David and a member of the Covenant crew that was shot incredibly well and strategically placed in the narrative. Where the story is weak, Scott makes up for in creating an impressive cinematic experience for long-time and new fans alike. There are even shot sequences that are taken directly out of Alien. Often times, I am extremely critical of computer-generated effects and characters versus practical effects and animatronics--and for good reason--nothing can replace the way real light bounces off real objects and is really captured by the glass lenses on a camera. Furthermore, it's rare that a character react in genuine fear to an object, villain, or murderous alien that is not really present on set. However, the combination of CGI and practical effects in Covenant is breathtaking and convincingly real. You will almost feel the facegragger latching onto you and the xenomorph's wet acid-breath on your skin.

Aside from the answered questions still residing in the minds of those who have seen the film, Covenant fails to live up to Alien in another rather conspicuous way. For everything that this film did right and make up for in Prometheus, it lacked any memorable crew member--more specifically--this film differs from Alien by not developing Dani(els) to be the strong female character that she had the potential to be. Dani could have been Covenant's answer to Sigourney Weaver's Ripley in Alien. One of the the diegetic elements that is most talked about and is often the topic of horror film humanities classes is the breaking of gender roles and heteronormative expectations by Ripley in Alien. Perhaps that is why Alien is almost avant-garde in the cinematic experience whereas Covenant is impressive but does not typify the art of cinematic storytelling nor contributes to groundbreaking character-types. Beyond strong female lead, the film simply fails to leave the audience with any one memorable character period. No one will be talking about any one particular character years from now. Both the unanswered questions and the lack of memorable signifiant characters can be traced by to one root cause: flawed writing.

If you loved the original Alien, then you will mostly enjoy Alien: Covenant. The experience is equally terrifying as it is beautiful. Whether you have seen Prometheus or not will not affect your enjoyment factor in this film. If you have seen Prometheus, then I would suggest watching the Ridley Scott short film The Crossing because it ties Prometheus to Alien: Covenant. Think of it as an extended prologue. This short film helps audiences to make the connection between the two films in hopes that it does answer some otherwise unexplained circumstances and events.

The Circle
(2017)

Full of endless circular logic and irony
Director James Ponsoldt's The Circle depicts the story of a not-so-distant future, or perhaps an alternative present, in which one company dominates digital media, data gathering, and surveillance services. Based upon the four-year-old novel by author Dave Eggers, you'll notice some stark similarities between this motion picture narrative and the smash hit TV series Black Mirror. The biggest difference between the two is that The Circle is fast-faced and poorly written whereas Black Mirror is a slow-burning but well-written anthology series. In addition to the similarities between the aforementioned, there are certainly elements of The Truman Show in this movie as well. With a powerhouse cast, brilliant composer (Danny Elfman), and excellent editing, The Circle appears to have what a blockbuster needs; however, the hollow characters, poor character development, fractured subplots, and overall diegesis hold the film back from reaching the impact that it could have had. Having taken a digital media and privacy class in graduate school, and published a few articles, this is a film that I was looking forward to in order to analyze how the social commentary or commentary on the human condition regarding reasonable expectations of privacy and big data were integrated into the plot. Sadly, the screenplay was not strong or developed significantly enough to provide big data and privacy discussions.

Mae Holland (Emma Watson) hates her job at the water company, so she is incredibly excited when her friend Annie (Karen Gillan) lands Mae an interview at The Circle, the world's most powerful technology and social media company. Mae's fear of unfulfilled potential impresses the recruiters at The Circle and she lands the opportunity of a lifetime. After Mae puts herself into harm's way but rescued, thanks to The Circle's newest surveillance and data gathering system, she is encouraged by the company founder Eamon Bailey (Tom Hanks) to take a more active role in technology development by participating in an experiment that puts Mae's life on display for the world (in the vein of The Truman Show) to see. Once Mae turns on that camera, she has more "friends" than she ever imagined and becomes an instant online celebrity. Unfortunately, this decision will affect those closest to Mae and the negative ramifications will reach far beyond her inner circle and begin to impact humanity at large. Sometimes, people just don't want to be found or be "social."

For all The Circle has going for it, the weak screenplay keeps it from being the blockbuster that it so desperately wants to be. A great movie typically begins with solid writing, and that is what's missing here. After five minutes (or so it seems) of opening title logos, perhaps that is indirect evidence that there were just too many hands in the pot, each trying to take the movie's narrative in a different direction. Much like Frozen plays off like two different movies crudely sewn together, The Circle appears to be one movie for the first two acts, but takes an unexpected and unfulfilling turn in the third. A couple of conspicuous unanswered questions come after Mae meets TrueYou designer and founder Ty (John Boyega). He designed the platform that launched The Circle. At one point he asks Mae to meet him in a secret tunnel (where all the servers are stored) and tells her that "it's worse than I thought." Great opportunity to introduce intrigue, suspense, and more. The problem is that the audience is never told what Ty finds or what happens with what he found. You can remove that whole subplot and the movie remains the same. There are other subplots that are nicely introduced, but never carried out as well. Any or all of them can be removed and the film proceeds the same. Not good. If you can remove several subplots or unfulfilled turning points and the film's diegesis remain largely untouched, then you have poor writing. The third act in and of itself leaves audiences with a hurried ending that does little to provide closure to the narrative; however, it does support the film's circular logic and irony. Hardly satisfying.

In terms of the allegory here, The Circle is a Google-like company with Apple's technology. Eamon Bailey is a Steve Jobs type innovator with characteristics of Mark Zuckerberg and Google's Eric Schmidt. Thankfully, The Circle does not represent any one company, but rather combines all the most notable innovations and technological achievements of Google, Apple, Facebook, Instagram, and more into one globally dominating company. Antitrust issues are introduced early on, but again, that's never fully developed. The movie highlights many issues faced by private citizens, governments, and digital data driven companies today; therefore, it sets the foundation for a movie that could have been thought-provoking, but the writing hinders that ability. The irony in the movie is for every digital answer to streamlining services or bolstering conveniences, a little privacy is eroded each time. Pretty soon, if one shares enough information, the idea of privacy is extinct. Privacy was central to the plot, but it just wasn't handled in the most effective way. Concepts such as "off the grid," self-proclaimed "celebrity," and "calls to action" are displayed and discussed in the film, connecting this augmented reality to real-world issues each of us encounter or think about. One particularly interesting theme in the movie is deep friendship. Unfortunately, this was not fully fleshed as is the case with most of the movie; but still, it does get touched upon.

If you were hoping for another film like the brilliant Social Network, then you will undoubtedly be disappointed. Films such as The Circle should be memorable, but unfortunately this one is very much forgettable. Coincidentally, the movie itself is as hollow as the plot and characters.

Written by R.L. Terry

Edited by J.M. Wead

Life
(2017)

In Space, No One Can Hear You Scream
Chilling! In space, no one can hear you scream. Although that tagline is associated with Ridley Scott's groundbreaking space-horror Alien, director Daniel Espinosa's LIFE delivers an intensely dark thriller that will have you screaming and cringing from the moment life on Mars is discovered. In the same vein as Alien, LIFE is a science-fiction horror that may look like Gravity and might even have the strong orchestral sounds of Interstellar, but provides audiences with an entirely different experience. Borrowing from Alien and Gravity, Sony and Columbia Pictures craft a new space- horror narrative that can sufficiently serve as a standalone film--and be great in that--but also has potential for a sequel or two. Interestingly, there are parallels to Ridley Scott's Alien beyond the premise; LIFE also features the same number of crew members and other more subtle elements. That being said, LIFE is definitely not a knockoff Alien nor is it trying to be Ridley Scott's critically claimed film as it does not contain the social commentary on gender, sex, and family. However, imitation is the highest form of flattery, and LIFE pays both homage to the film that likely inspired it but delivers a comprehensive science-fiction horror experience that provides ample twists, turns, and even some emotional connection along the way.

Initial impressions of LIFE leave you with noticing just how much like Alien it feels. It's been nearly forty years since the Ridley Scott cinematic masterpiece, but in that time, no other science- fiction/horror film has come this close to delivering a similar (note: not as high on the cinematic totem pole as its predecessor) experience to that which first terrified audiences in 1979. One of the primary differences between Alien and LIFE is just how much closer to home this horrifying experience occurs. Whereas with the former, the alien encounter takes place hundreds of lightyears away, the latter's narrative takes place just outside of our atmosphere on the ISS. Not that LIFE feels more intimate than Alien--it doesn't--but the proximity of this story might add a little something more to the edge that you're already sitting on as the horrific events unfold on the space station. Pacing is similar to Alien in that LIFE has a slow burn during the first act. To balance this slow burn or to keep audiences from thinking that it's taking forever for the movie to really get started, the film begins with the "big event" right at the very beginning. The "big event" being the apprehension of the satellite carrying the Martian specimen. But for all it's similarities, this movie provides a different experience that can certainly stand on its own. LIFE may have been inspired by Alien, but it is certainly not a ripoff.

I've been quite critical of the CGI-effects of films in more recent years, but the brilliance of the alien life form in LIFE is the degree to which it feels organic. In the beginning, the life form is little more than a single-celled organism; however, as the plot thickens, the organism begins to take a more chilling form and shape. Eventually, the alien develops a frightening grin and a mysterious- like form. One of the scariest parts of Ridley Scott's Alien was the degree to which the Xenomorph feels so real that, even in your seat, you could feel the acidic slime and your body likely felt the excruciating pains of that iconic moment when the alien shoots out of the stomach. Part of that can be attributed to the use of pneumatics, animatronics, miniatures, and other practical effects standards. Yes, the alien life form in LIFE is computer-generated, but it also has a very real nature to it. Instead of focussing on how to make the alien as impressive as possible, it would appear that the special effects artists (whose work can be seen in the Transformers movies) focused more on the small details that ordinarily give a CGI character away. Just like with the brilliant visual effects work in Ex Machina, the visual effects of the alien are flawless.

There is an inherent level of unpredictability in LIFE even after the unavoidable similarities to Alien. LIFE plays around with the final girl trope and the killings have a strategy or method to their madness. Conspicuously missing from the characters of LIFE in a comparison to Alien is a Ripley- like character. Does the film portray strong female characters? Certainly. But LIFE keeps you guessing because the order of the deaths do not follow any predictable pattern. Do not allow yourself to fall into the trap of being predisposed to the order of the killings to be based up on star billing. Speaking of the characters, effectively managing an ensemble cast is always difficult. So often, some characters in the ensemble get lost or do not receive nearly as much development as the more obvious leaders. Not true with LIFE. True that there is not a large degree of character development all the way around, but each of the characters is treated with equal screen time and emphasis. That is, until death occurs. The excellent handling of this ensemble gives LIFE an extra dynamic that lacks in other ensemble cast films, thus helping this science-fiction horror to stand out from others that are similar in premise or plot. This movie has a "life" of its own.

Beauty and the Beast
(2017)

Beautiful! BUT...Consistently Tries to Validate Itself...Ultimately an Unnecessary Remake
Prepare yourself for "a tale as old as time" that is ultimately better told through its animated counterpart. Director Bill Condon's live-action remake of Beauty and the Beast, the first animated film nominated for Best Picture at the (1992) Academy Awards, is an extravagant display of visual effects and digital imagery necessary to animate a live-action motion picture. Essentially, he took an animated movie, made it live-action, just to make it animated again. Sure, this new version of the "song as old as rhyme" can certainly stand on its own and is demonstrably well-directed, but 2017's Beauty and the Beast largely comes across as unnecessary. In terms of the storytelling (or diegesis), the film's effort to nearly shot-for-shot translate the most memorable parts of the film from animation to live-action pays off nicely! It's when the film tries to be different that it falls short in its delivery. You may find yourself exhausted and over-stimulated by the constant waves of computer-animated figures in a live-action world. Oh yeah, you'll likely miss hearing the legendary Angela Lansbury as the iconic Mrs. Potts.

Can this film stand on its own? Sure. There is no question in that. Moreover, is it enjoyable and magical? That, it is. But when most of the campaign, leading up to the highly anticipated release, was primarily built upon how similar the live-action film would be to its animated counterpart, therein a problem arises. Because most people going into the movie will have seen the animated version, Broadway show, or even the show at Disney's Hollywood Studios (which, in full disclosure, is a show that I worked when I was a Cast Member at Walt Disney World), you are predisposed to looking for and eagerly awaiting the nostalgic references and memories. And there is nothing wrong with that. In fact, I was looking forward to reliving the experience of when I first saw the animated movie. For the most part, if you are like me, then you will be pleased with the live-action translation–truly. However, it's when the live-action version departs from or adds in material not found or referenced in the animated classic that you may be disappointed or simply ask "why?" You may find yourself wondering why was a live-action remake even necessary?

One of the most memorable elements of Disney's Beauty and the Beast (1991) is the music! Still to this day, millions of people love hearing the classic music and lyrics by Alan Menken and Howard Ashman. Both the Beauty and the Beast and Be Our Guest can be heard as part of other shows at Walt Disney World and of course are included in the stage show at Hollywood Studios. Fortunately, the most iconic songs from the animated version are largely untouched; however, with a couple of the songs, there are breaks for diegetic dancing, fighting, or other material that essentially interrupts the organic flow of the music from the buildup to the climax and denouement. Furthermore, here's something quite interesting and odd: the song "Human Again" was written for but deleted when it originally hit theatres in 1991. It was, however, added back in for the Broadway show and in the 2010 (and Diamond Edition) re-release of the movie. Although it was seen as important enough to include in the Broadway show and add back into the animated version, it is conspicuously missing from the live-action remake.

Okay, now for the white elephant in the room: Josh Gad's Lefou. Unless you have been completely disconnected from social media and the news, you've undoubtedly heard or read about the first ever Disney "gay moment" in this film. Suffice it to say, the whole thing has been blown way out of proportion. In fact, more attention is likely being paid to Lefou now than had the story never grown to the size of Gaston's ego. For the most part, the subtext and subtitles of Lefou's are largely just that–subtle–unless you are looking for them. But, in doing that, you may miss some of the more important and impressive parts of the movie. Moreover, there is nothing in Lefou's actions that come across as offensive or obnoxious. Before audiences begin accusing Disney of pushing their ideals on those eager to attend this film, it is likely that the entertainment and media giant is simply delivering what audiences already expect or want. As a film and media professor, I can tell you that by in large, media simply delivers what audiences and investors are telling them to produce–not the other way around. Looking back at the animated film, it is pretty obvious that Lefou has a thing for Gaston anyway. Although most of the hints at his sexual orientation are more-or-less winks or nods at the audience (winks or nods that you have to be looking for), there is a moment that is a trifle more obvious at the end of the film. Diegetically, there is nothing bizarre about Lefou's behavior and it suits his character well.

Prepare to be whisked away to an enchanted castle in a remote part of France. So remote is this province in France, that most everyone speaks with a British accent. Bill Condon's film will take you back to when you first saw this magical tale of falling in love with someone based upon what's on the inside and not allowing a beastly outward appearance to detract from the gentle soul. Relive the music that you may still listen to in the car or eagerly look forward to when visiting the Disney Parks and Resorts. Ultimately, this film may not capture the magic of the original for you, but there is a lot to enjoy! Looking for a great date movie this weekend, then this is definitely it! Hopefully a side effect of this film may remind producers and audiences that some stories are better suited for an animated motion picture.

Kong: Skull Island
(2017)

Full body KONG with just a hint of story
"Hold onto your butts;" Warner Bros. and Legendary Entertainment's KONG: Skull Island is full body KONG with just a hint of story. Wait. Isn't that a line from Jurassic Park??? Sure is. And guess who delivers it? None other than Samuel L. Jackson himself--reprising his famous line from one of the most iconic films in the American cinema library. It's rather fitting since there are many shared elements between KONG and the Jurassic Park franchise. Both take place on an island and deal with science vs. nature and pit man against ancient creatures. King Kong is no stranger to most people, considering he's been a fixture in the cinema and theme park universes respectively for many decades. From silver screen to Universal Studios, he remains an icon to which few "monster" movies compare. Although the previous KONG films followed a very similar narrative, this newest incarnation of the king of Skull Island takes a modified route to the classic story. It shares many of the same elements or themes with its predecessors, but through the echoes of the past comes a reimagined story. Diegetically, the film certainly suffers; furthermore, it attempts to integrate social commentary on war, Captain Ahab allegory, and conservation, but none of those themes are effectively carried out. Due to the enormous "King Kong" sized cast, there lacks any real connection to any of the characters and development is certainly obscure, if any at all. Films such as this one can sometimes run into the danger of waxing nostalgic too often and forgetting that audiences want a new movie (i.e. Star Wars: the Force Awakens); and like the aforementioned, Jordan Vogt-Roberts' KONG: Skull Island provides audiences with connections to past King Kong movies in a new approach, but ultimately crafts generic experience.

At the end of the day, this movie accomplishes what it set out to do: revive Kong, thrill people for a couple hours, and setup KONG v. Godzilla. Action-adventure films are typically not expected to contain brilliant writing, character development, and strategically placed themed and subtext. What I respect about this movie is that is unashamedly pretends not to be anything other than a larger than life adventure centered around one of cinema's most iconic "monsters." Clearly, there are attempts in the movie to include some deeper themes such as anti-war, nature/conservation, and even a little Moby Dick; but those themes appear to have been great thoughts that were not fully executed. That being said, there is clearly a Captain Ahab figure in the film and there are many similarities between King Kong and Moby Dick--size just being one of them. For fans of Jurassic Park you'll appreciate not only Jackson's "hold onto your butts" line at the beginning of the film, but also several similar scenes, camera angels, and even the helicopter entry onto the island. Lots of nostalgia, but not so much that it feels like you've seen it all before.

In many ways, Kong is bigger than ever, but hardly better than previous Kong films. Ironically, this same thing can be said about the former Kongfrontation attraction at Universal Studios Florida. Much like the new attraction Skull Island: Reign of Kong at Universal feels far more generic than its predecessor, today's Kong lacks the magic and innovation that the original Kong did in 1933. Despite an attempt to successfully launch a series of "creature features," the script and human characters certainly suffer. Little can be said about the dialog except that occasionally there are lines that move the story along instead of stating the obvious or predictable. The dialog is cumbersome and never seems to remain focused very long. Of course, that is hard to do considering that Kong boasts an extremely large ensemble cast. At the forefront of the cast are Hiddleston, Larson, Jackson, Goodman, and Reilly's respective characters. Of all the characters, John C. Reilly's Hank Marlow steels the screen about as often as Kong does. One might even be able to say that this is as much a John C. Reilly film as it is a Kong movie. Part of the magic of the previous Kong films, the 1933 version to be more specific, is the setting and characters themselves. Much like the new KONG attraction at Universal took physical sets, animatronics, real fire, etc and crafted a virtual 3D experience, the special effects artists and set designers did the same thing in KONG: Skull Island. The film comes across as less Kong and more Pacific Rim. In other words: generic.

KONG: Skull Island will certainly keep you entertained the whole time as action-adventure films are supposed to do. You'll enjoy the fight scenes and the whole "creature feature" approach this film takes. If you're looking for moments taken right out of the previous Kong movies, then you'll mostly be satisfied. There are few scenes taken directly from the previous movies, but there are certainly allusions and nods to classic moments. You won't spend much time with the natives nor will you get to witness the famous Empire State Building scene, but you'll likely enjoy the film nevertheless. Just because a film takes a reimagined approach to a classic character that ultimately plays off as generic, doesn't mean that there isn't anything to enjoy. For action junkies, there is plenty to grab your attention and hold it for the duration of the movie.

Written by R.L. Terry

Edited by J.M. Wead

Logan
(2017)

Uncanny!
Uncanny! 20th Century Fox, Marvel, and TSG Entertainment's Logan is a compelling, grizzly, organic superhero movie that is the last to feature Hugh Jackman as Logan (Wolverine) and Patrick Stewart as Professor Charles Xavier. Prepare to have your mind blown as the action unfolds in such a way that your heart will be pounding, racing, and pumping adrenaline through your body and then tug at your heartstrings as emotions run high. Logan is quite possibly the most comprehensive and diegetically dynamic superhero movie ever, and perhaps best X-Men film in the long, successful franchise. With a penchant for thrilling, action, and even horror films, director James Mangold pulls out all the stops in the last chapter in the story of The Wolverine. While there have been several films about Logan/Wolvervine outside of the main X-Men films, this cinematic adventure will have you on the edge of your seat with anxiety and holding back tears simultaneously. Some of the responsibilities of the final chapter of a character or an actor portraying a long-standing character are striking a delicate balance between nostalgia, closure, but still providing audiences with a new story; overwhelmingly, this film delivers the absolute best as we bid farewell to Hugh Jackman and Patrick Stewart from the X-Men universe and exceeds any and all expectations.

What do James Mangold's 3:10 to Yuma and Logan have in common? They are both grisly western films. Evidence of this is not only seen in the character development, pacing, and overall tone of the film, but can also be seen within the film itself as Professor X and Laura (Dafne Keen), the young girl traveling with Logan and Xavier, watch a western film on TV–a film that Xavier references several times as he reminisces about films from his childhood. While many think that the American Western film died out with Hollywood Golden age, it has certainly not retreated from cinemas. In fact, many of Quinten Tarrantino's films are westerns, the original Star Wars: A New Hope was a post-modern western, and Mangold's Logan is yet another example of a reimagination of the American Western film. Reading the film as a western enhances the visceral experience of the film. Although directors seldom pit cowboys against indians anymore, there are subtle references to that relational dynamic from early western movies within this film. Much like the Lone Ranger and many of John Wayne's characters, Logan is also a solemn solitary character being pulled into a world built upon the idea of relationships but his baggage makes it incredibly difficult. Emotions run high in Logan; and it's these emotions that provide audiences with a comprehensive experience that fulfills the desire for gritty action plus moments that may stir you to tears.

Although we are just coming out of this year's award season, it's entirely possible that Logan may be the first superhero motion picture to be nominated and even win Best Picture at next year's Oscars. All the elements that make up a Best Picture nominee can be found in Logan. It has drama, romance, a little humor, feels organic, deals with prejudice (by extension), and is based on a book– a comic book that is. The R rating is also important because it (1) serves as further evidence in the direction Fox is going to proceed with films like Deadpool and X-Force–gearing toward an adult audience (2) it allowed for audiences to see the Wolverine at full bloody force, which has been a desire for quite sometime and (3) the degree to which the film can deal with real adult problems physiologically and emotionally. The financial success of Logan will depend on adult audiences speaking the word about the outstanding nature of the film and even bringing more mature younger superhero fans to see the movie. Since most of the film contains disturbing imagery in regards to both the bloody violence and with Professor X's debilitating cognitive disorder (most likely a severe form of dementia), I would not recommend bringing those under 13 to the film until you have screened it for yourself. It's an incredible, film; but, there is content that may not sit well with those that are quite young.

Before Logan begins, fans of Deadpool will be excited to know that there is a short film (glorified promo, really) for Deadpool that does a successful job at promoting the highly anticipated sequel to last year's blockbuster. Its placement is also important to Logan in that it provides some levity before the rather somber tone of the feature film that follows Ryan Reynolds' offensively endearing witty charm as Deadpool. Logan is proof that superhero films can take the more serious route without sacrificing the art of the story. Both Jackman's and Stewart's acting is on point, and probably some of the best of their respective careers. Stewart, more specifically, delivers a command performance as Professor X and demonstrates that an accomplished actor who was primarily first known as Captain Picard can excel in both the horror (Green Room) and superhero genre films, all the while continually adding the touch of class that comes with his formal Shakespearean training as a performing artist.

This is NOT repeat NOT a kids superhero movie. Unless you have screen the film first, I would not recommend bringing anyone under the age of 13 with you to the cinema for Logan. There may not be "adult" content in the conventional sense; but, there are themes, subtext, and some violent content that may not be suitable for a younger audience who typically flock to superhero genre movies. Over all, Logan is an outstanding film, not just of the superhero variety, but also in general. From the writing to the directing and technical elements, this movie is a fantastic example of a superhero film that attempts to be and successes at breaking the mold and cementing itself as serious cinema.

Get Out
(2017)

The epitome of the American horror film
Jordan Peele's Get Out is an outstanding work of horror cinema, in that the American horror film is the best genre for creatively commentating on the various social, economic, and psychological constructs of life in such a way that can be visually thought-provoking. And the best part about this film is Peele does not pull out any of the usual horror tropes or clichés until the showdown. Before you begin to think that Universal Pictures and Blumhouse are pulling a bait-n-switch–selling you a psychological thriller when the film is really a heavy drama–think again. Get Out is every bit a horror film as its more traditional counterparts. In terms of its contribution to the library of horror films, the movie is flawless. From the writing to directing to acting and even the score, editing, and cinematography, Get Out is a film that you should definitely "get out" to watch. With a current 100% on Rotten Tomatoes, this film is certain to grab prolific attention from movie patrons, film studies, and social studies professors alike. It's a brilliant film to discuss in future American horror film classes. Never before has a film been used in such a creative and visceral way to comment on how one culture appropriates the best of another for purposes of exploitation or simply because it has something that you want, and then attempt to change, assimilate, or remove altogether because that which you want is seen as wasted on the originator. "A mind is a terrible thing to waste."

It is difficult to explore some of the themes and subtext of this film without giving too much away, but I'm going to try my best to analyze what I can without spoiling anything for those who plan to see the movie. The first element I took note of in the film was the choice of music. Not so much a score (although, there is a score to the film), the music selections in the film serve as an allusion to the overall message and theme in the film. For those who know a little something about music history, you may pick up on the strategic selection and placement of the various songs and musical scores used throughout the film. There are moments in which the music does not seem to match up with the mood or tone of the film–at least, at face value. However, as you delve deeper into the film, you will realize that the music fits in all too well with the plot. I'll give you this: think about the origins of the music in the film when you watch it. Before music, such as jazz and hiphop, became popular amongst a predominantly white society, it originated amongst the black community.

Another aspect of the film that hints at the big reveal in the turning point just before the third act is the physique, athletic talent, and sexual stereotypes of black males. You'll notice that clues are dropped here and there, albeit subtly, at the relationship between Rose's family & friends and members of the black community. The worship of Chris' body by many of Rose's family friends makes for an incredibly uncomfortable sequence of encounters at the outdoor picnic. The unsettling weird encounters between Chris and all the people he meets at Rose's family home each work to grow the level of tension and terror in the film–the fear of something dreadful looming on the horizon. Without relying upon a proliferation of jump scares and visceral horror, Peele successfully increases the level of anxiety to terrifying levels in the film. Reminiscent in the ways that Hitchcock or Kubrick may have directed this film–in terms of relying upon the fear of something not visible to the naked eye–Peele incorporates the feeling of uneasiness every moment he can without over saturating the plot. Perfect amount of all the elements that make up the American horror film can be found in this deeply disturbing narrative.

This is social commentary on how back males are often exploited for economic gain in areas such as football, basketball, track, and even music and fashion too. So, Peele was using this horror film to comment on how many in the white community have stolen from or appropriated elements from the black community in order to further their own gain or develop ways of entertaining the masses without proper acknowledgement, formal recognition, or even payment. For example, the jazz music at the beginning of the film. That style of music came out of black culture before it was rebranded high class white music for nightclubs, shows, and weddings. Further evidence of this social commentary can be found in other areas of talent that many want to steel for their own and then reprimand the black community or not being 'more white.' I could go on and on. Fascinating stuff! As it is a horror film, do not plan to see it alone. Horror is the one genre that is best experienced in a group setting.

A Cure for Wellness
(2016)

An intriguing, provocative psychological thriller that's an innovative example of neo-noir avant-garde cinema with a touch of mystery.
Gore Verbinski's A Cure for Wellness is a thought-provoking film that hooks you from the very beginning and continues to draw you into the narrative with its labyrinth of subplots and incredibly beautiful cinematography. Although it certainly borrows turning points and plot devices from past films, A Cure for Wellness provides audiences with an experience that is unique and protects the film from being pigeonholed into any one sub-genre of horror or directly compared to other movies that have similar attributes. With impeccable production designs and serene landscapes juxtaposed against cringe-worthy disturbing imagery, Verbinski's ambitious film is one that cinephiles will appreciate and find enjoyment in discussing the various themes, symbols, and visual storytelling elements that seamlessly work together to create a cinematic experience that stands out against the homogeneous horror/mystery-thriller past films. Justin Haythe's screenplay sets him up for continued success as he demonstrates, with this film, that he can cross into new genres and hook the audience early on. Despite the occasional slow-burning periods in the narrative, you will not likely feel the nearly 2.5hr runtime.

Beautiful. The first cinematic element that will jump out at you will be the incredible cinematography and picturesque landscapes of the Swiss Alps. From the moment the film opens, there is a tone that inspires you to look at and listen for details throughout the film. The fact that the teasers and trailers reveal very little about the plot is beneficial to the overall experience of the film. Just when you think you have the plot figured out, you will be thrown for a loop and question what you thought was predictable. In all fairness, I figured out a very important aspect to the plot midway through after a particular line delivered by one of the central characters prompted me to have one of those aha moments. However, I was still continually intrigued by the film's diegetic delivery and visual storytelling. The fact that I figured some rather crucial information did not detract from the experience. Early on, it is clear that there is something not right with the spa, and gathering information and piecing together the puzzle will draw you in closer to the film. Without giving anything away, there are definitely clues along the way that reveal the dark mystery and history behind the exclusive mountain retreat wellness institution.

Dane DeHaan delivers an excellent performance as Lockhart, and provides the perfect balance of entitled Wall Street prick, detective, and humanitarian on a rescue mission. Jason Isaacs, no stranger to playing a creepy villain, delivers a disturbingly convincing performance as the strange doctor overseeing the almost clandestine treatments for an unknown sickness. Mia Goth's performance adds a great deal of uneasiness to the film by coming across as innocent, child-like, all the while hiding something creepy and peculiar about her very pretense at the facility. Bojan Bazelli's cinematography is breathtaking and is successful at completely immersing the audience into the mountain top world of the Swiss Alps. Whether following a train or an extreme close-up of the human eye (a staple in horror films), the visual art he paints with the camera serves to provide solid visual storytelling. Directing such a complex film requires great patience, organization, and effective guidance. Verbinski channels his success with The Ring (2002) by integrating some similar stylistic techniques in A Cure for Wellness. Speaking of the title itself, the irony in the title isn't realized until the third act; but, delivers an outstanding payoff that will prompt many discussions in a film studies class. Stylistically, the film sits at a crossroads between avant-garde horror and neo-noir with some science-fiction and mystery thrown in for good measure and intrigue.

Despite many reviews slamming the film for a complex system of subplots and not enough traditional terror in the narrative, this film is a fine example of an outstanding vision that is seldom seen on the silver screen due to the fact that it will not likely make a lot of money, but it adds critical value to the art of motion pictures. Instead of creating a film that would have included many of the more typical tropes in this hybrid science-fiction mystery/thriller, Verbinski chooses to meticulously craft art for the screen. For the squeamish, there are definitely some scenes that will churn your stomach and even some disturbing imagery that many will like to unsee. If you enjoy avant-garde cinema or even innovative neo-noir storytelling, then you will likely enjoy this film and appreciate the vision of the director as well as the beautifully complex themes, subplots, and symbolism.

Written by R.L. Terry

Edited by J.M. Wead

The Lego Batman Movie
(2017)

Nonstop antics, action, and thrills!
Warner Bros. and Ratpac Dune present a movie that is equally one-hundred percent Batman whilst still completely LEGO. From the moment the opening title sequence of logos appears under the voice-over of a self-aware Batman, this brilliant animated film will take captive your attention and draw you in with a batarang of perfectly choreographed fight scenes and incredibly well timed self- reflexive humor. The LEGO Batman Movie is a brilliant combination of a contemporary story on the backdrop of Batman nostalgia. Whether you are a fan of the show from the 1960s, the Burton universe (as I am), the dark world of Nolan, or Snyder's, you will find strategically placed references that fit exceptionally well into this LEGO universe. While the film is aimed at a younger audience, there are humor, easter eggs, and allusions to the various Batman shows and movies for adults to appreciate. Underscoring the over-the-top high concept plot, is a heartwarming story of love, family, and friends. This Batman movie pulls out all the stops as most, if not all, Batman's villains receive screen time as well as other members of the Justice League with Batgirl and Robin. Oh yeah, the Joker IS actually in this Batman movie! With a 90% on Rotten Tomatoes and an 8.1 on IMDb, this film is sure to be a huge success this weekend.

When after a failed attempt at a takeover of Gotham by the Joker (Zach Galifianakis) and his henchmen, Batman (Will Arnett) is all too happy to accept all the credit for stopping the squad of villains. However, this time is different. The Joker and his henchmen give themselves up to the new Commissioner Gordon (Rosario Dawson). When the law enforcement and people of Gotham conclude that there is no longer a need for a masked vigilante, Batman finds himself having an identity crisis. Meanwhile, at a party, Bruce Wayne accidentally adopts young Richard Greyson (Michael Cera), and now is faced with the challenge of balancing his newfound role as a parent with Batman's penchant for crime fighting. With pressures from Alfred (Ralph Fiennes) and Barbara Gordon mourning in Batman's personal and professional lives, he must work through these challenges in order to save the city. Only this time, he may not be able to do it on his own.

What's not to like??? The LEGO Batman Movie is one of those animated films that is perfect for (1) the whole family and groups of friends, as well as (2) legacy and new Batman fans. Just the animation and production design are positively mind blowing. With few exceptions, every design in the film from people to buildings and vehicles can be created with those iconic plastic building blocks. Much like with the previous LEGO movie, other LEGO universes get screen time as well (some of which are mentioned by name and others are implied), such as Lord of the Rings, Harry Potter, Jurassic Park, King Kong and more. With all the characters in the film, the focus is never shifted from Batman and Joker. There are many rabbit trails the film could have gone down, but it always stays true to the central characters. Overstimulation is another risk in a film like this one; but, for all the action sequences and ensemble casts, never once does the film feel that it is way too much to take in and enjoy. On top of the brilliant animation and design, is solid writing with excellent character development. Crafting the vision is director Chris McKay. Selecting the right director to handle all the elements of a LEGO movie is no short order. And Warner Bros and Ratpac Dune made a killer choice in McKay who brought us Robot Chicken: Star Wars: Episode III.

One of my personal favorite elements from the movie is the nostalgia meticulously and strategically woven into the plot. If you grew up watching the show from the 1960s or even reruns with your parents, you will be surprised with the echoes of the past and how they fit in perfectly with this Batman world written by Seth Grahame-Smith et al. Even the pow, bam, zap sound effect bubbles make a cameo appearance. The LEGO Batman Movie offers the best of all the Batman stories over the years. As I am not familiar with the Batman comics, I imagine that there are comic book references in the film for the enjoyment of that audience as well. Not as self-aware as Deadpool, this film does contain a hint of self-awareness, but never takes the place of the foreground action; however, it supports the main story nicely. Even the costumes are representative of many Batman universes. For the most part, Batman's costume is rooted in the one worn by Michael Keaton in Batman and Batman Returns, but Batgirl and Robin's costumes, respectively, are more reminiscent of the show from the 1960s. Joker is an excellent combination of the, in my opinion, definitive Joker: Jack Nicholson but hints of the more recent Jared Leto and Heath Ledger Jokers are in his costume, makeup, and behavior. We even get a more accurate representation of Harley Quinn in this film. There is quite literally something for everyone in LEGO Batman.

Looking for a great film to watch this weekend that doesn't involve some sappy victimized Stockholm Syndrome-esque warped love story? Then head to your local theatre to catch The LEGO Batman Movie on the big screen! What better way to spend the weekend leading up to Valentine's Day than laughing with your date??? Even if you're spending Valentine's Batman style-- flying solo--you will still have a great time at this movie.

The Founder
(2016)

Keaton Delivers a Command Performance as "the founder" of McDonald's
Outstanding biopic that typifies what the American dream actually looks like--but that's the scary part. Michael Keaton's portrayal of Ray Kroc, the (self-proclaimed) "founder" of McDonald's, is positively brilliant! Comparing his look and performance to the real Ray Kroc seen before the credits roll, there is no doubt that director John Lee Hancock (known for The Rookie and The Blind Side) made the right choice. "The Founder" takes us on a journey from Southern California to Illinois and beyond as we follow the course of events that radically revolutionized an entire industry and gave birth to one of the most recognized brands in the world as well as the very concept of modern franchising. What Henry Ford did for American motorcars, Kroc did for American "speeedee" service food. Ray Kroc realized the American dream by stopping at nothing until he built his empire, even if it meant stealing from a business and breaking up a marriage--all within the confines of the law. We've all heard about "the American dream;" well, The Founder depicts what it takes for that dream to come true. If you're willing to be a cut-throat bully with few if any inhibitions, then you can build an empire claim to be the founder of another's company or even run a country.

Although the film is presently foundering in box offices, it is definitely worth a watch because of depicting the story of one man's American dream that would essentially steal the laurels from baseball and apple pie to become a larger than life symbol of America recognized throughout the world. It's unfortunate that this film is not garnering more attention because the writing, directing, and acting are absolutely brilliant. Full of irony and ambiguity, The Founder could have easily been called or at least subtitled "Birth of a Salesman." While watching the movie, I could not help but compare the plot of this film with the iconic play "Death of a Salesman" by Arthur Miller. Both tell stories of salesman but the end result is vastly different. Both Willy Loman and Ray Kroc were dedicated to their respective craft of salesmanship; however, Kroc took the practice of sales and pitches to the next level--in fact he created his own game in which only he could win. Where else have we seen a bully play by his own rules and build an empire into a brand in and of itself? I'll allow you to draw that conclusion. Further irony can be seen in Ray Kroc's surname. His sheer cunning, predatory ways of conducting business can easily be likened to the crocodile itself. Despite receiving credit for inventing the fast food assembly line, much like Ford did for American car manufacturers, the "speedee" service was invented by Dick and Mac McDonald of San Bernardino. Thankfully, the brothers are receiving the credit that they deserve--albeit posthumously.

The cognitive dissonance that many will experience during diegesis of this film is fascinating in and of itself. Early on, you will find yourself rooting for Ray Kroc because he comes off as an underdog. He is able to provide decently for him and his wife, but it is evident that his business is in the process of collapsing. Even after striking the proverbial deal with the McDonald brothers, you may still root for him because the brothers make it difficult for Kroc to actually engage in successful franchising. The tide begins to subtly shift when the chain begins to take off. When the brothers deny Kroc a request to renegotiate the terms of the contract in order to boost capital and revenue, Kroc hires a new business partner who provides the knowhow to shift the focus from running a burger chain to being a real estate mogul. Interestingly, when confronted by the brothers on a break in the contract, Kroc points out that they could take him to court and probably win, but by the time he would drag them through hearing after hearing, and trial after trial, the brothers would be completely bankrupt. Much like the milkshake substitute that boosted revenue and mitigated refrigeration costs, but contained no milk, a handshake deal with Kroc is just as fake.

Ray and Joan Kroc are well known philanthropists--in their later years. In fact, Joan Kroc left most of her vast fortune to many charities. The most well-known recipient of the inheritance is NPR. Even today, if you listen to the programming, you will hear the Estate of Joan Kroc mentioned as a supporter of the public radio organization. Whether you appreciate NPR or not, one cannot help but think that all the philanthropy of the Kroc (namely Joan) is a result of easing the conscience since the Kroc fortune can be likened to blood money. It's entirely plausible that much like Marion Crane figuratively cleanses her spirit in the infamous "Psycho" shower after having stolen the money from her employer, Joan may have very well given her fortune away in an effort to ease her conscience and do good with the figuratively ill-gotten money. If there is anything inspirational to take away from this film, it is the power of that persistence and looking for potential in the most unlikely of places.

Split
(2016)

Intensely Captivating! Hitchcockian!
Intensely captivating! M. Night Shyamalan stages a successful return to the horror-thriller genre in the brilliantly intriguing motion picture Split. When Universal Pictures, arguably the king of the American horror film, Blumhouse Productions, and Shyamalan combine their respective visual storytelling skills, the result is a dynamic thriller full of outstanding twists and turns. Shyamalan, long known for surprise or bizarre endings, provides audiences with the biggest surprise of all: he is back, and it's a completely satisfying cinematic experience! Beginning with 2015's The Visit, Shyamalan has been working on a comeback; and Split is the final evidence needed to support his successful return to the silver screen. James McAvoy delivers an outstanding performance–or should I say performances–every minute of the film. Although the concept of building a suspense- thriller around a character with dissociative identify disorder (DID), formerly known as multiple personality disorder, is not a new one–after all Norman Bates is the most iconic example. M. Night Shyamalan puts his own spin on the character-type by adding his special blend of what can only be referred to as "shyamalan-ness." You'll definitely want to see it again in order to catch everything that you missed the first time.

Just when you think the movie is going one direction, it throws you for an unpredictable loop. Split provides audiences with the same level of captivation as M. Night delivered in Signs or even in The Visit. Very much character-driven, this film could have easily taken a turn for the campy or par-for- the-course approach to a central character with DID; but Shyamalan proves that a familiar premise can be crafted into a whole new experience. After the incredible success of 1999's The Sixth Sense, audiences everywhere set the bar for Shyamalan quite high–in fact he was prematurely compared to a 21st century Alfred Hitchcock. While it is highly unlikely that any director will reach the iconic status of Hitchcock, Shyamalan was seen as a director who would provide a similar experience to that which earned Hitchcock the moniker the master of suspense. Evidence of his admiration of Hitchcock can be been in the title sequence of Split. It bares a striking resemblance to the opening title sequence from Psycho.

However, the danger in prematurely setting expectations too high is that you may likely be setting yourself up for disappointment. And that is precisely what happened with Shyamalan. From killer plants to invisible supernatural entities, he began to lose the cache he earned in the early 2000s. M. Night would spend years disappointing audiences to the point that he became a joke–a parody– perfect material for Family Guy. Then just when all hope for Shyamalan to regain the admiration of movie patrons–especially those who enjoy horror/suspense/thrillers–he gives us The Visit in 2015. That film was the glimmer of hope he needed to begin to rebuild his status as a thriller/suspense/horror filmmaker. And with the incredibly satisfying Split, M. Night Shyamalan is BACK!

Films like Psycho and Split only work as well as their respective director and cast–primarily the villain. Obviously, Psycho stands up to the test of time and will forever be a favorite of many cinephiles and a testament to the power of visual storytelling, Split had to be a new experience while still channeling the director that Shyamalan admires and patterns himself after. The success of Split rested upon the performance of McAvoy as Kevin (and the 23 others with a 24th on the horizon). McAvoy's performance in this film is quite possibly the best of his career. Each identity is clearly seen as individuals. From his facial expressions to his gait to the manner in which he carries himself, every identity is unique in voice and appearance. Even in the middle of a conversation, one identity goes away while another surfaces into "the light." Although there are only a few identities that have prominence in the diegesis, the others give audiences just enough nuance to register them as having a presence in the subconscious of Kevin.

For all the excellence in cinematic storytelling Split has to offer, there is no denying that it may be controversial in that it uses DID to construct a "beast." There are already members of the mental- illness community who have expressed disdain for the subject matter and context of the film. However, prematurely dismissing this film as offensive to those suffering from cognitive disorders would be ill-conceived. After screening the film, it is clear that the focus is not on DID itself (or any other cognitive disorder that Kevin may have), nor is Kevin crafted to be an unredeemable monster; but, this film uses DID and the character of Casey (one of the young ladies who is captured at the beginning of the film) as tools through which to explore childhood trauma, abuse, and coping mechanisms. Isn't that what films do? Push the envelop in an effort to provide a different perspective on an issue, problem, or circumstance? Horror is often concerned with "other" scenes–revealing that which should remain hidden–and Shyamalan does precisely that in Split.

If you enjoy horror, suspense, or thriller films, then you are definitely going to enjoy Split. There is so much to take in, that you may want to watch it again in order to catch everything that you may have missed the first time. Even if you are skeptical or think the content may be offensive to the mental-illness community, you may be surprised that there is a lot that can be gleaned from the narrative. With brilliant performances, excellent writing, and outstanding direction, Split should be on your radar of films to watch this weekend.

Patriots Day
(2016)

Emotionally intense–not for the faint of heart
Patriots Day is the dramatic account of the Boston Marathon Bombing and manhunt for Dzhokhar Tsarnaev and his brother Tamerlan Tsarnaev. Starring a powerhouse cast on top of extensive research, this film couldn't come at a better time when there exists such a low general public opinion of law enforcement. Boston Police Department (BPD) shines as it shows that law enforcement officers and officials truly care about the city they are responsible for protecting. Although tragedies often are more conducive for a documentary film, writer-director Peter Berg combines the information found in a doc film with cinematic storytelling techniques to successfully construct a narrative that will rock you to the core and keep you on the edge of your seat. With the inclusion of first person, news, and surveillance footage, Patriots Day does not shy away from the visceral horror that befell the City of Boston and surrounding areas. You think you may know the story, as I did, but nothing will prepare you for coming face to face with one of the most tragic events in modern U.S. history.

Ordinarily, this is where I summarize the plot; but the plot is mostly known all too well. Fortunately, this film goes beyond the news reports and constructs a diegesis (story/narrative) around the stories of eye-witnesses, victims, the wounded, medical first responders, and law enforcement– both local and federal.

Mark Wahlberg, John Goodman, Kevin Bacon, J.K. Simmons, and the rest of the principle and supporting cast deliver outstanding portrayals of the real men and women who were instrumental in the response to and apprehension of the bombers as well as those who fell victim to the arson and shrapnel. It isn't often that films depicting tragedies are produced this close to the events contained therein. Occasionally, there are films about tragedies that are truly better suited for a documentary; but, in order to convert it to a cinematic motion picture, a love story is added for diegetic affect. That is not the case with Patriots Day. The focus is on the BPD, FBI, and medical first response to the bombing and massive manhunt that ensued immediately after the explosions. There are certainly romantic relationships indirectly connected to the narrative, but they are mostly included to juxtapose the everyday life that everyone thought they were going to have on April 15, 2013 against the horrifying events that transpired at America's longest running marathon, which has become such an iconic event each year.

Logistically and diegetically, there is a simple answer as to how this tragedy was so successfully translated to the silver screen so close to the day it occurred whereas other tragic events (mass shootings, bombings, aero-spacial, maritime, etc) are more conducive for and translate to a documentary better. This tragic event is a combination of (1) the explosions themselves (2) the manhunt afterwards and (3) the impressive work of law enforcement. There is more to this story than the bombing itself. Certainly the bombing was the catalyst for the events that ensured afterwards, but the real story is of the incredible actions of law enforcement and other first responders. While there seems to be a general focus in broadcast news media on the negative actions–whether perceived or otherwise–of law enforcement officers, this powerful film shows police officers in a positive light–shows them as individuals who love the city under their protection and stop at nothing to protect the innocent. This is so important in today's climate of scrutiny of public safety officials.

The cinematography, visual effects, and production design are flawless. So incredibly realistic that you will likely feel transported from your seat into the film itself. To my surprise, the film included interviews with key figures directly involved with or affected by the Boston Marathon Bombing. It's not uncommon to include photos with textual exposition on the lives of central figures in a historical film; but this film goes beyond telling you "where they are now" or what happened after the events in the film. It includes video footage of interviews–you get to hear from the individuals upon whom the characters were based. I could not think of a better ending to a film such as this one. Patriots Day works because it is the best of what a documentary offers with the brilliance of cinematic storytelling techniques.

For those of you who appreciate historical films depicting tragic events, then this is one that you need to watch. It is not a film to be enjoyed in the conventional sense, but one that packs a powerful message and neither glorifies nor undermines the real historic event. Such a visceral film. Rated R for adult language.

Written by R.L. Terry

Edited by J.M. Wead

Hidden Figures
(2016)

An absolutely 'out-of-this-world' biographical film!
Theodore Melfi's incredible film depicting the lives and careers of three African-American women whose work was extremely influential in the early days of NASA's Mercury, Atlas, and Apollo missions will hit close to home for many. In all likelihood, there may not have been successful launches, orbits, and landings if it weren't for these brave women who refused to back down and take the back seat to white men and women at a time that even government buildings still segregated restrooms, water fountains, and "community" coffee pots. Every once in a while, there is a biographical drama that packs a powerful socio-political message within a simple but brilliant story that is told incredibly successfully. Hidden Figures is a film that should have been released many years ago. How stories like this one go untold, is bewildering. Between the powerful performances, excellent writing, meticulous direction, and fantastic score, this is definitely a film to catch in theaters this weekend.

Unlike many biographical dramas, there is a comprehensive nature to this film as it contains two important stories. There is the foreground story featuring the women at the center of the movie, but there is also the story of the state of the U.S.' domestic socio-political policies at a time of civil rights unrest--especially in places like Virginia. Both stories parallel one another and serve to pack a powerful punch. After watching this film, it is clear that this film wishes it had existed in the 1960s. Within the former story, the focus is primarily on the life and career of Katherine Goble followed by Dorothy Vaughn, and to a lesser extent, Mary Jackson. Each woman specializes in a different STEM (as it is now commonly referred) area. Katherine is a mathematical genius matched by none, Dorothy understand early computer language better than anyone at NASA, and Mary is an aspiring engineer with a brilliant mind for aerospace design. The latter story, underscoring the socio-political civil rights unrest, is certainly highlighted in the film but never takes the focus completely off the story in the foreground; however, is vitally important to this powerful story with a message that those who you least expect to rise to be leaders in their respective fields, can and will!

Although this truly is a powerful film with a beautiful message that is just as relevant today as it would have been 50 years ago, it never quite hits the mark that I had hoped it would. Suffice it to say, there are some remarkable scenes with powerful speeches, but the film never quite hits that emotional mark as intensely as it should. I realize that some of what transpired in the Space Task room, wind tunnels, and courtroom may have been taken from transcripts for authenticity, as this is a movie, I feel that there should have been more of a dramatic license taken out to increase the emotional impact of the film. It certainly has a moderately high emotional impact, but there was definitely the potential to take it up several more degrees. Two scenes come to mind. (1) Katherine challenging the segregation policies at NASA as it relates to common comforts such as restrooms and coffee and (2) Mary positioning the court to permit her enrollment for graduate level engineering classes held at an all-white school. Dorothy also has a couple of encounters with her superior but they are more subtle--no less powerful and important to the film. In regards to the scene in which Katherine confronts Mr. Harrison, the scene feels a little cut short of where it should have ended and Mr. Harrison's (Kevin Costner) response could have been more dramatic. When in the courtroom as Mary was addressing the judge, this would have been the perfect time for a speech that would have brought a flood of tears to the eyes, but it stops short of where it could have gone too. Over all, the screenplay is excellently written. These are just two areas that I feel could have struck a more powerful emotional cord. As it is, these scenes are still some of the most brilliant in the film and leave an impact.

One of Mr. Harrison's lines in the film contains a large degree of irony. The line was something to the effect of "How can the U.S. government justify NASA when it is consistently unable to get into and explore space?" The irony therein is seen in today's defunding of NASA for, essentially, that very concept. NASA did not lose the bulk of its government funding due to any particular presidential administration but from remaining in the 80s and never launching into the 21st century. After the Space Shuttle program, NASA did very little to grow--its technology and engineering remained fairly stagnant. Sure, combinations technologies greatly benefited from NASA engineers, but that is not what made NASA an exciting organization from the 60s thru the 90s. What made NASA great was the perception of being explorers--exploration excited a society! Once NASA no longer appeared to be focused on exploration and shifted its focus to communication technologies, it lost that public support that was such a part of what brought so many people together. In many ways, the perceptions and issues facing NASA prior to and during the early missions is plaguing it today. Instead of an inability to launch a man into space and orbit the earth (later to land on the moon), there is now the demonstrable evidence and perception that NASA has an inability to create manned vessels capable of exploring space.

More than a biography of the glory days of NASA, this is a story of three women who, against all odds, rose to the challenges they faced on a daily basis to prove that women are capable of anything that a man can do.

Written by R.L. Terry

Edited by J.W. Wead

La La Land
(2016)

A Modern Motion Picture Musical Masterpiece!
Simply dazzling! A beautifully produced motion picture musical that is sure to delight audiences around the world. Ryan Gosling (Sebastian) and Emma Stone (Mia) shine brightly in this self- reflexive modern romantic film set on the backdrop of a classically composed movie musical echoing the song and dance numbers that Busby Berkeley brought to the silver screen through Hollywood studio system powerhouse Warner Bros. Summit Entertainment's La La Land will have you laughing one moment and crying the next in this roller coaster of emotions. Every aspiring professional who has the dream of a substantive career as an artist in the visual and performing arts--or just an artist in general--needs to watch this film. If you have ever been discouraged on your career path, or lack thereof, this film will aid in reigniting the flame that fuels your dreams of writing, acting, playing, or whatever your passion happens to be. Whereas many films similar to this one would have shot it as a period OR modern piece, this film is nothing short of a masterpiece that harnesses the nostalgic appeal of the classic musical with the power of modern cinematic storytelling.

Best part about Damien Chazelle's La La Land? The old-school movie musical feel from the moment the film opens. From set pieces to matte paintings to the manner in which the cameras capture the story as the drama unfolds, this is both a modern story of romance and conflict and classic Hollywood musical. While some may find the cinematography, lighting, and editing to be nothing remarkable, the fact of the matter is that it required great skill and hundreds of hours of effort to capture the essence of an old Hollywood musical. To recreate a nearly extinct film genre, is an outstanding achievement in cinematic storytelling and deserves all the 9s and 10s this film is receiving from critics and fans alike. La La Land takes pages right out of the books of Busby Berkeley (Footlight Parade) and Gene Kelly (Singin' in the Rain). Such a gorgeous combination of a classically structured and choreographed musical within a modern Hollywood. And the film could have easily rested its laurels on the technical and artistic achievements alone, but the film also possesses an incredibly beautiful love story between two aspiring artists.

In a modern studio system who appears all too often to be more concerned with franchise building, merchandising, theme park integration, and rebooting, this film is fresh, real, gritty, and endearing. In a climate so predisposed to the Star Warses, Harry Potters, Jurassic Parks, and Avengerses, this film brings with is a breath of fresh air that is nearly unmatched by any other film this year. While many are concerned with the lack of original stories coming out of Hollywood, may this film be a testament that masterpieces can still make their way into cinemas nationwide and not simply the art house theatre of the US' largest metro areas. Although film is a visual medium and should not rely upon the score or songs to carry the bulk of the film (i.e. Frozen), this film is very much about the music. However, unlike films that integrate music in order to cover up poorly structured and developed writing, La La Land embraces the music as much a part of the story as the writing itself. In many ways, the film plays out like music and flows like a musical score. The way the cameras moves, the editor cut, and the blocking of the characters is very much like a musical staff, like the way music is composed and performed. But at the same time, the movie is not simply about the music but about the relationship between Mia and Sebastian; and furthermore, about their aspirations for the spotlight. Solid writing and a solid score.

The casting of La La Land could not have been more brilliant! Both Stone and Gosling successfully bring about that 1940s feel in a modern story. That could be due to the successes of both in 1940s era films prior. Stone in Magic in the Moonlight and Gosling in The Notebook. While both can successfully carry a period piece on their own respectively, together they are a powerhouse couple like Fred Astaire and Ginger Rogers. Their performances in this film were so incredibly natural, no real, and believable. At the same time, the actors are also very much contemporary--just like the film classic yet contemporary. Even though the audience is well aware that Stone and Gosling are anything but struggling artists, they play their respective parts so convincingly that you'd swear that we were actually watching a pair of struggling artists who do desperately want a substantive piece of that Hollywood pie. A great screenplay possesses protagonists that the audience will love or love to hate, and the characters in La La Land connect so incredibly well with classic and contemporary audiences.

Inspirational. This film will help to inspire those who have a talent for storytelling, music, or writing to continue to work hard and remain dedicated to one's craft because that is the only way that a career can pay off. The moment you stop trying is the moment that the dream dies along with settling for less. Not that day-jobs aren't important. Certainly the importance of a day job is shown in the film, but it's imperative that the day job never cause an artist to sell out or give up on the dream. Day jobs should fund imaginative dreams not eclipse them. There is much to love about this film; so much so that you will likely find yourself with a desire to watch it again. This IS definitely my pick for Best Picture as we head into award season with the holidays coming to a close.

Passengers
(2016)

Great premise, but ultimately fails to pull into the station
An intriguing journey with lots of potential but ultimately fails to pull into the space dock. The highly anticipated visually stunning science-fiction film starring Jennifer Lawrence and Chris Pratt proves one thing: Pratt and Lawrence have excellent on screen chemistry and play off each other very well. With films like this one, it's hard to know where the fault lies. Typically, a film with such potential and a powerful cast is weakened by either the writing or directing. Since the director principally works with the cast, it can be concluded that the writing lacked the drive that this film needed. On a more positive note, this film depicts deep space travel how it could likely be in the not-so-distant future. From the centrifugal force created by the rotating space craft to simulate how artificial gravity could be generated to the onboard technology to the sickbay, this film does a fantastic job of providing audiences with a science-fiction that is almost tangible. Having such a limited cast in one location can spell disaster for cinematic storytelling; but, the film is quite interesting to watch and sufficiently keeps the audience's attention. Furthermore, the audience mostly connects with Aurora (Lawrence) and Jim (Pratt) well enough. But, the film fails to truly provide audiences with a new adventure because it amounts to a glorified Castaway set in the Disney Springs of shopping malls in outer space--just completely empty of scooters, strollers, and other park guests. Lack of surprise pretty well sums it up.

Welcome aboard The Avalon on the Homestead Company's routine transport to Homestead II, a new earth colony. All is going well until two passengers find themselves awakened from suspended animation about 90 years too early during a cascade of ship wide malfunctions. Faced with living the rest of their respective lives on board and only the company of an AI bartender (Michael Sheen), Jim and Aurora must cope with the challenges of living together in a world that is merely 1000 meters from stem to stern. When the ship begins to increasingly malfunction and life support at risk, Jim and Aurora much solve the mystery of what originally caused the problem that began the cascade. Just as the ship is keeping a secret, there are other dark secrets on board the ship as well. Meeting with psychological, emotional, and engineering challenges, Jim and Aurora have 5000 other passengers and crew to save while maintaining their own sanity and psycho-social health.

As the movie faded to black, I began discussing it with the friends who accompanied me to the cinema last night. And we shared a mutual reaction of hmm, not exactly sure what this was or how to read it but it had some interesting components. And that pretty well covers it. The film will likely keep you entertained but with few surprises, it lacks anything to make it memorable in a positive way. Forgettable is what this movie will become in the no-so-distant future. Essentially, Passengers is what you would get if Gravity and Titanic were to have a baby. Star-crossed lovers on a ship that is self-destructing in the vacuum of space. One of the most intriguing components in the plot of the film is also highly disturbing. While love and infatuation causes many to go to great lengths in order to see desire become reality, it is a double-edged sword that can cause one to behave selfishly if not displaying signs of sociopathy. While Pratt's performance is what is to be expected from one of the most bankable actors in Hollywood who is equally a dedicated family man, his performance is never quite on par with his Castaway counterpart. However, Lawrence delivers an intense performance as she plays off Pratt,the bartender, and The Avalon itself.

The cinematography and editing are excellent. In fact, the technical elements of the film are impressive! Not quite as groundbreaking as Gravity or Interstellar but still outstanding. There is one scene in particular that still has me puzzled as to how it was able to be achieved so flawlessly. The set design, albeit spartan, is beautifully sleek and functional. As film is a visually driven medium of storytelling, the camera often pulls in close to characters to establish intimacy but juxtaposes that against pulling back to reveal the oppressive loneliness of being alone on a massive ship in space. For a brief moment, I experienced the dread that is created in Kubrick's The Shining when Jim meets Arthur the bartender. Interestingly, the music (composed by Thomas Newman), camera direction, dialog, blocking, an set design all work together seamlessly to establish that unparalleled sense of dread, loneliness, and self-destructive despair that are so iconic to The Shining. Unfortunately, that powerful sense of dread is lost in weak writing. Had the film embraced the potential to channel The Shining, it may have played out more memorably. But, this is a love story so the horror plot devices that could have helped the film were not integrated into the plot. Although there are may significant contributors to a film's success, the success of a film often relies upon the direction, writing, and cast. As the director (Morten Tyldum) of a film principally works with the cast, it is likely the screenplay by Jon Spaihts that is responsible for the weak story.

Despite sharing the screen with Aurora, this truly is Jim's movie and others simply happen to appear in it when necessary. As a side note, I could easily see how this film could be translated into a stage production. Perhaps on stage, the story could evolve to leave more of an impact on the audience.

Rogue One
(2016)

The Force has FINALLY Awakened
Just when all hope was lost, the force has awakened this time. After the disappointingly stale installment last year, I did not have high hopes for Rogue One. To my surprise, the first standalone Star Wars franchise film exceeded expectations. Although the public is accustomed to Star Wars films coming in threes, Lucasfilm and Walt Disney Studios took a risk in creating an original story to successfully setup A New Hope. With twenty-some-odd years to fill between Revenge of the Sith and the original movie, how was one film going to do it? Focus on what was ultimately important. Not that the development of the Empire would be uninteresting, but the white elephant in the room was "how did the rebels get the plans that setup the events at the beginning of A New Hope"? And that is precisely what director Gareth Edwards did, and it paid off! One of the elements that plagued Episode VII was the simple fact that it was little more than a remix and mashup of everything that had been done before, including main plot points, subplots, and predictable behavior. Rogue One feels fresh and new. Thematically darker than the original film but not as dark as Empire Strikes Back, this installment strikes a balance in the force that makes it interesting to watch.

Already, this film seems to have sparked arguments among fans of the franchise and those who enjoy them but may not be fanboys. Interestingly, at first glance, it seems as those who liked Episode VII: The Force Awakens did not like Rogue One, and those--like me and the friends I went with last night--who thought The Force Awakens was garbage but found Rogue One to be fun, exciting, and refreshing. Of course, there are plenty of people who like both films released under the Disney banner, either because the Big D can't possibly do anything wrong or because they are true fans for better or worse of the nearly forty-year-old franchise and staple in the future fantasy genre (notice I did not say science-fiction--no real science here). At this point, I am unsure why those who liked last year's film may not have liked this weekend's installment; however, it appears to be clear from multiple comments and reviews that the reason why those who did not like Episode VII enjoyed Rogue One is the newness of a film that embodies the spirit of the original but provides audiences with a new adventure that connects well without redundancy. One of the reasons for the success of the original film--aside from a great cast--is the focus on the drama between characters and camps. There is the drama between Rebels and the Empire but also drama within the camps themselves. Rogue One borrows from A New Hope in that the focus is more on the drama than resting its laurels on the technical elements. Not that this film lacks in the technical category. Rogue One comes complete with great direction, color grading, cinematography, and impressive editing.

For all that this installment did well, the beginning of the film following the prologue was dreadfully ill-conceived and mostly unnecessary. Unlike all the other Star Wars films, this one did not open with the trademark scrolling written prologue offering exposition to setup the movie. Instead, after the "A long time ago, in a galaxy far far away" the film cuts to the opening scene of Krennic recruiting Galen. Following the prologue and rather PowerPoint-looking Rogue One title card, is a rapid, incoherent, and confusing sequence of montages. Honestly, I am still unsure why that whole sequence was necessary. Between the PowerPointy title card and this sequence of montages, I did not have hope for the film at all. Obviously, I ended up enjoying it immensely, but I look back and feels strongly that it could have been left out. The settings/planets that were depicted did not play into the plot at any level of significance. Felt like filler. Thankfully, the scenes following the prologue are but a small portion of the film and the film really begins to take off after Captain Cassian and his team rescue Jyn from a prison transport vehicle. After Jyn's rescue covert operation, the rest of the film is nice paced and developed. Other than knowing the ending, the majority of the film was unpredictable. Unpredictable in that you know the direction it's going and ultimately what's going to happen but you don't know HOW it all happens and works together to setup A New Hope.

Just the right amount of nostalgia and Easter Eggs. For those who are fans of or simply familiar with the movies, there are cameos, references, and shots taken from the preceding films (mostly A New Hope). Just enough nods to and direct connections to provide the audience with a film that IS as much a part of the Star Wars saga as the official Star Wars cannon. It's no surprise that the Death Star is a big part of Rogue One, Senator Mon Mothma is seen leading the rebels, Darth Vader (still voiced by James Earl Jones) makes several brief appearances, and a couple other nostalgic cameos; but there are some characters who are included in the diegesis of this film who will delight old and new fans alike--one in particular that will incite an eruption of cheers! Beyond the human characters, there are other appearances by iconic ships and war machines that aid in cementing this story in with the rest of the franchise. While the film contains some lighthearted, witty dialog between the core group of principle and supporting characters, the film also contains some dark moments. Personally, I think the film should have been a little darker since it sets up the installment all about hope reborn; but, the atrocities of war are definitely not hidden from the audience and events transpire that are atypical of future fantasy films between heroes and villains.

A Monster Calls
(2016)

Bring your tissues for this "Terms of Endearment" for a new generation
Focus Features' "A Monster Calls" directed by J.A. Bayona is nothing short of a "Terms of Endearment," in theme anyway, for a new generation. You are certain to laugh and cry your way through the film. Based upon the novel, by the same name, written by Patrick Ness and illustrated by Jim Kay and conceptualized Siobhan Dowd, Bayona's adaptation of the novel plays out to be a deep, rich, story that will touch the hearts and minds of each and everyone in the audience. For anyone going through the stages of grief, this film will especially ring true and perhaps bring about comfort. Although the protagonist Connor, played by Lewis MacDougal, is twelve years old, this dark melodrama with a plot revolving around terminal illness, is not typically something that will appeal to kids of Connor's age. Despite the fantasy elements and the young protagonist, A Monster Calls is more suited for older teens and adults; however, by the same token, the movie isn't entirely going to appeal initially to adults since the protagonist is quite young. I screened the movie last night in an auditorium filled with patrons of all ages and there was not one dry eye in the audience. Looking at the film from the outside and analyzing the plot and cast, it would appear that it may not attract droves of people because of the Gothic fantasy film, typically aimed at kids and young teens, with content and theming best suited for older audiences; however, the film truly transcends age barriers and stereotypes to touch those who are young or young at heart.

This is certainly a year for fantastic monsters and fantasy, isn't it? However, A Monster Calls is definitely not your typical fantasy. It deals with deep emotions, dark themes, and material usually better suited for adults. Why then choose such a young protagonist? Perhaps the author Patrick Ness wanted to reach those kids who are going through tough times and who are dealing with situation that most kids won't face until they are much older. Some kids are just forced to grow up more quickly than other. It's important that cinema and literature not forget them because words on pages or moving pictures may be the only source of comfort, escape, or allegory. Director J.A. Bayona appears to have successfully translated the novel to screen--from what I know. Interesting that the movie opens with the narrator describing Connor as being too old to be a kid but to young to be an adult. By extension, that is precisely where this movie fits in. It's too "old" to be a kid's movie but too "young" to be an adult movie. And that's okay. Growing up is hard, and when faced with a family member or close friend with a terminal illness, life is exponentially more difficult emotionally and even psychically. Unconventional as it may seem, this film is powerful and transcends the age spectrum to provide a strong emotional journey that audiences can appreciate and from which people may receive comfort.

From the opening credits alone, I was confident that this was going to be a visually stunning movie. The water color animation and brushstrokes are reminiscent of the story of the three brothers in Harry Potter. Absolutely beautiful. Much in the same way Kubo and the Two Strings was an innovative animated film, A Monster Calls also contains unconventional and innovative methods of telling its story. Similar to how the animated story of the three brothers in Harry Potter was integrated into the diegesis of a live action movie, so it is with this film. The more I thought about the technical and emotional elements of A Monster Calls, it is clear that it's truly a dynamic means of cinematic art. Dynamic in that there are three different types of storytelling methods used diegetically each highlighting a different form of art: (1) motion pictures (2) visual art (3) oral storytelling. It's been said that the novel is an extension of oral storytelling, the play an extension of the novel, and motion pictures an extension of the play. At the root of all those methods of communicating through art is the very concept of storytelling. And A Monster Calls has the art of storytelling in spades. The cinematic storytelling elements of direction, cinematography, editing, and score are all equally beautiful.

Structurally, A Monster Calls is an intimate story reinforced and surrounded by artistic German expressionism calling attention to its own artifice. From the exterior shots to interior rooms, the various sets appear to be meticulously constructed on a stage and the wardrobe much like perfect costumes. The art tells the story effectively with little exposition required. Fernando Velazquez' score is so incredibly moving that you may find yourself listening to the score as it too truly assist in the overarching means of telling this story. The design of the monster is brilliant and ominous all at the same time. Almost animatronic in nature, the tree plays out like there is a puppeteer on the inside articulating the movements. The monster feels just as much like an actor as the actors playing the human characters. Liam Neeson was a perfect choice to cast as the tree's voice. His deep bass is comforting, warm, and wise-sounding. But just who is the tree (in the story)? Although we are never told whose spirit inhabits the tree that has seen thousands of years go by, there are a couple of hints as to who it might be if you pay close enough attention to subtleties in the film. At the end of the day, whether it's the spirit of someone or the personified life of the tree itself, it is of little consequence to the movie. Still, its definitely fun and interesting to talk about as my friend and I did after the film.

Nocturnal Animals
(2016)

A meta-thriller that is equally shocking, seductive, bizarre, and beautiful
Tom Ford's adaptation of the best-selling novel Tony and Susan (1993) will either repulse or intrigue you from the opening credit sequence. There is definitely a pronounced shock value in this cinematic erotic mystery that includes an incredible amount of symbolism and theming just eager to be interpreted and dissected. Not typically found in mainstream cinema, the avant-garde seems to be the inspiration for many films this year. Nocturnal Animals is one of those films that is destined for discussion in a film or media studies graduate class. With solid acting, writing, and cinematography, you will be sucked into this twisted mystery within the world that the wealthy live in and the real world that most of us live in. You will likely find yourself thinking about what everything means, how it might apply to you, or simply appreciate non-linear storytelling. Although the film certainly rests upon the flashback as a chief storytelling method, Ford plays his cards right and creates a film in which all three stories are equally interesting. You may have heard it said– even by me–that some good movies are poor films; but, this is a case of a good film but a poor movie. That is usually the case with films that fall into the artistic or avant-garde stylistic way of conducting a visual story that contains a strong emotional impact.

Cognitive cinema. Focus Features' Nocturnal Animals is one of those films that requires higher thinking in order to truly appreciate the symbolism and theming. Not that it cannot be enjoyed as a beautifully dark and disturbing story, but there is so much that can be analyzed in this film. From the sequence of obese nude females dancing with sparklers, ringmaster hats, and cheerleader regalia to the reoccurring imagery of crosses and death–both in terms of emotional and physical– director Tom Ford provides audiences with a film that can only be characterized as a mystery that is meta-thriller meets hints of erotica. Even now, I am analyzing the symbolism and theming as I write this review. There are so many elements to talk about. And I think that is the best part about a movie like this. Don't watch it alone. Not because it is too intense or scary but because you will want to talk to someone about the theming or emotional commentary. I find myself with a deep desire to analyze the film with someone, but none of my friends or colleagues have seen it yet. Visually driven. Even without the dialog, Ford's Nocturnal Animals can be understood through the imagery in and of itself. Trace amounts of Tom Ford's legacy as a high fashion designer can easily be seen in the design of this film. And I am not just talking about Adams' stunning wardrobe and hair/makeup. In many ways, this film–as a whole–is symbolic of high fashion clothing. It can be read in some of the same ways fashion is read and appreciated. Because this is only the second feature length film from Ford, there are elements of the story that give the impression that his talent for visual storytelling is still in the development process as there are times that his method of directing is that of an observant student or scholar of cinema.

There are three distinct narrative threads in this film. (1) is the main story that we open up to at the interpretive and conceptual art exhibit establishing Susan, her gallery, her husband, and lavish lifestyle (2) is the narrative of her first husband Edward Sheffield (Gyllenhaal)'s novel Nocturnal Animals and (3) is the story of the rise and fall of the relationship between Susan and Edward. Juggling three plots is no easy task. Contrary to how it may appear, the narratives are not confusing or incoherent. Each plays an important role in the overarching theme and story of the film. The incoherency is found in the interpretation and analysis of what everything means. It's as if the film is providing the audience with puzzle pieces that can be arranged to depict something different for everyone. Perhaps you want to read the film as commentary on the relationship between Susan and Edward. Maybe you view it as symbolic of the estranged relationship between Susan and her current husband. Or maybe the novel is self-reflexive of the life Susan has created for herself.

Each story is stylized in such a way that they complement one another–do not necessarily correlate or match each other, but the narratives are complementary. Although the audience is asked to draw their own respective conclusions to the story, presumably Susan's once lavish and charmed life will continue to rot and crumble as her husband is likely cheating on her just like she cheated on Edward. Still, there is a lot left up to interpretation in the best possible way. The Roger Ebert website review of this film commented that there are parallels between this film and Alice Through the Looking Glass. Fascinating take on this film. That is probably the best analogical interpretation of Nocturnal Animals. Looking at the film in such a way that Susan is Alice and the two other narrative threads are her adventures in Wonderland opens a whole new window through which to view the events as they unfold. On the surface level, there is a clear theme of revenge woven throughout the plot. This is indicated by a painting that catches Susan's attention on her way to a board meeting. The metaphysical thrilling aspect to the subplot of revenge is the revenge the past has on the present and the present on the past. In a manner of speaking, Susan is listed by ghosts of her past, present, and future. Okay, perhaps not in the same way Scrooge was visited, but there are certainly some commonalities.

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