Tag Archives: film

‘Antebellum’ Review

Sometimes there is just a world of difference between concept and execution.

“Antebellum” stars Janelle Monáe as a woman who must escape a slave plantation she is being held captive at. Eric Lange, Jena Malone, Jack Huston, Kiersey Clemons, and Gabourey Sidibe also star while Gerard Bush and Christopher Renz write and direct.

Like many other films, this was set to be theatrically released earlier this year but was later delayed and will now be a video-on-demand release. I was really looking forward to it after a short and moody trailer, which when partnered with producer Sean McKittrick, gave a “Get Out” vibe. And while “Antebellum” delivers on the creative premise the trailer set up, it leaves more to be developed when you peak behind the curtain.

Janelle Monáe is quietly one of the better actresses working today, delivering sensitive work in “Moonlight” and arguably the strongest performance of “Hidden Figures.” Here, Monáe gets to play both strong and confident, as well as subdued and terrified. There are a few moments of over-acting, but I would attribute that more to direction of the scene than Monáe’s acting abilities.

There are handful of other actors who show up for a few scenes, but none of them are really noteworthy outside Gabourey Sidibe. Sidibe plays Monáe’s loud-mouthed friend, and she is just such an annoying character (I have to imagine on purpose) that I really was put-off when she showed up.

Shot in Louisiana for about $15 million, the film looks pretty good, including a nice tracking shot around a Civil War-era plantation to open things up. The score by Nate Wonder and Roman Gianarthur is also solid, with a nice blend of anxious and haunting.

Where the film flounders most is the screenplay, written by Bush and Renz. This marks the duo’s feature directorial debut as well as their first script (they have made a career in music videos), and while it is far from the worst freshman effort, the film’s biggest weaknesses lie at the feet of these two. I can’t really say what my issues are here without getting into spoilers, but I will say the film has a twist that really isn’t all too twisty, and then they make almost no attempt to flesh out exactly *how* something like that could happen. They also break things up into three distinctive acts, and they just don’t really mesh well. Bush and Renz clearly had a vision they wanted to put on screen, but seem to have struggled on how exactly to make them all work.

The film also offers social commentary about modern race relations, but I think it doesn’t get much beneath surface-level, nor does it use genre blending like “Get Out” to start a discussion. Plus, this was shot in May 2019 and intended to come out this past April, both before the resurgence of the race dialect and issues that have boiled to the surface in our country in recent months. I don’t exactly think “Antebellum” will start a discussion or hold a mirror up to society as much as just have people go “yup, racism is bad and slavery was an atrocity, agreed.”

“Antebellum” features quality production value and a strong central performance from Janelle Monáe, but the inability to really flesh out its premise or fully deliver on either thrills, horror, or uncomfortable truths make this one a bit of a disappointment, but maybe still worth checking out if you check your expectations at the door.

Critics Rating: 5/10

‘Unhinged’ Review

Not much has been consistent about 2020, especially when it comes to movies, but you have to give “Unhinged” credit: through all the delays and theater closings it has remained determined to get itself seen.

“Unhinged” stars Caren Pistorius as a recently divorced mother who gets into an altercation with a stranger (Russell Crowe) at a red light, and has him begin to terrorize her life. Gabriel Bateman, Jimmi Simpson, and Austin P. McKenzie also star while Derrick Borte directs a screenplay by Carl Ellsworth.

While many films were getting pushed back in the early summer due to the uncertainty of theaters, “Unhinged” was actually moved up to July 1 in by new distributor Solstice Studios in order to take advantage of the open field. Like “Tenet” and others, the film was then delayed several times as the pandemic progressed, but finally seems like it will see the light of day this month (ironically its original release month anyways). So, after all the hype and delays, is the film worth the constant perseverance of Solstice or you risking going out to the theaters? I mean, no, nothing short of “Tenet” really seems like it would be at this point in time, but it is a fast-paced and entertaining B-grade pulp film that, as the expression goes, does exactly what it says on the tin.

Russell Crowe is a bit removed from his blockbuster and Academy Awards days, opting instead lately for more character and dialogue-driven films like “Boy Erased” and “The Nice Guys.” “Unhinged” certainly won’t win him any awards, but for what he had to do and be (that being a hulking, growling sociopath) Crowe gets the job done. His accent is a little inconsistent (not sure if he was going for Southern drawl and his Australian half broke through or what), but he has a commanding-enough screen presence and it’s a role that not every actor could have pulled off.

The rest of the cast is solid enough, with Jimmi Simpson doing his nice, soft-spoken he’s known for and Caren Pistorius conveying stressed and scared. For a kid actor, Gabriel Bateman isn’t bad, but he has a few line deliveries that are easy to mock.

But you don’t see a film like “Unhinged” for the acting or script. You see it for car crashes and over-the-top kills, and there it mostly delivers. I do think that much like “Spree,” this is a theater or group of friends movie, because there are a few moments that are so insane they’d only be heightened by a crowd atmosphere. Director Derrick Borte also deserves credit for creating a few tense sequences, including the initial confrontation between Pistorius and Crowe even though we know what is coming.

“Unhinged” is not perfect and you need to suspend disbelief at several points (unless the New Orleans PD is truly incompetent, Crowe should get apprehended a half-dozen times), but I think if you go in knowing what to expect then there is lots to enjoy here. Is it the most tense or well-shot film of its kind? No. But in 2020, especially when it comes to cinema, we have to be thankful for what we are given, and I think that if you are truly dying to get out to the theater again, or if this comes to a drive-in near you, then it is a great way to spend 93 minutes.

Critics Rating: 6/10

‘The Nun’ is Just Another Bland ‘Conjuring’ Spin-Off

And I thought the DC Extended Universe had problems…

“The Nun” is the fifth installment of the “Conjuring Universe” and a prequel to 2016’s “The Conjuring 2.” It follows a Catholic priest (Demián Bichir) and a young novitiate (Taissa Farmiga) who uncover an unholy secret in a Romanian monastery in 1952. Corin Hardy directs while “Conjuring” creator James Wan produces.

I have never really been a fan of the “Conjuring” series. I think the first film is very competently made and has some tense sequences but just isn’t that scary, which is a bit of a crutch for a scary movie. All the subsequent films, especially the two “Annabelle” installments, are laughable (for the wrong reasons) and just plain boring. This film has better performances and more engaging set pieces than those films (a gothic castle screams “ghost story” more than a farm) but a dumb characters and a boring narrative make this just another bland film with a few bumps in the night.

Like I said, the film is set in the Cârța Monastery in Romania, offers a few creepy settings and an unsettling atmosphere. However as director, Hardy does little to explore any real possibilities or play with the world he sets up short of the expected. He doesn’t trust his audience, so any shadow is highlighted and every figure held in the frame. One of the things good horror films, including many by James Wan, do is have creepy images in the background but don’t emphasize them; this makes your brain paranoid if it caught something or not and then you start looking around nervously in every wide shot.

Performance-wise, both Demián Bichir and Taissa Farmiga (younger sister of “Conjuring” star Vera Farmiga, although I don’t believe their characters share relation) turn in solid work. You can sense their dedication to the faith and they (usually) are able to sell a lot of the laughable dialogue. However, their characters are so unbelievably stupid, walking towards creepy shadows in the middle of the night and not being creeped out or confused by figures suddenly disappearing, it makes you distracted more by that then admiring their work.

The first half of this film is a pretty boring investigation, even though we have seen that priests looking into possible possessions can be very interesting when done right. The second half is a nonsensical CGI monster movie, with the titular Nun running around screaming and jumping, plus a few other incoherent and stupid special effects.

Look, these films are clearly not my cup of tea. I like my films to have relatable characters, engaging plots and smooth pacing, but some people get enough out of jump scares and demons in creepy Halloween masks, and if those two things are enough for you then “The Nun” should be fun enough (the person I saw this with said parts were almost too creepy, so maybe I’m just too brave). But being this far out from the end of October, I don’t think this is entertaining enough for even a “fun night out” at the movies.

Critic’s Grade: C–

Warner Bros.

‘Ocean’s 8’ is Simple Fun that Goes Down Smoothly

As far as all-female reboots/re-imaginings of classic film franchises go, the bar for this to beat “Ghostbusters” was not that high…

“Ocean’s 8” stars Sandra Bullock as the estranged sister of Danny Ocean, and follows her as she puts together a crew of women to steal a diamond necklace during the Met Gala in New York City. Cate Blanchett, Anne Hathaway, Mindy Kaling, Sarah Paulson, Awkwafina, Rihanna and Helena Bonham Carter fill out the group as Gary Ross directs and co-writes.

I don’t think anyone was dying to see this franchise revisited but when it was announced with the gender-swap twist there really wasn’t much backlash like the “Ghostbusters” remake/reboot saw. This was mainly because the trailers weren’t historically bad and the fanbase isn’t as cutthroat as that of “Ghostbusters.” And for the most part, also unlike “Ghostbusters” (which I’ll stop comparing this to because it’s a lazy association), “Ocean’s 8” does a good job of setting itself apart from its predecessors and (mostly) never trying to duplicate or one-up them.

The cast is obviously top-notch, full of Oscar, Emmy and Grammy winners, and they for the most part get equal screen time to play around. Some of them do get pushed to the side save for a randomly inserted “look at the crew bonding!” clip, like when Awkwafina shows Mindy Kaling how to use Tinder in a scene that last 30 seconds and leads nowhere. Anne Hathaway, my first true Hollywood crush, comes close to stealing every scene she is in playing a ditsy celebrity who is the target of the heist. Hathaway is essentially the exaggerated meme that society and the Hathahaters have painted her out to be and it’s a blast watching her play into it.

Much like the heist itself the glue at the center of the film is Bullock, who carries herself with a cocky but still kind-hearted way about her. We aren’t given much to her character besides she’s a thief who likes thieving and has a few bad relationships from her past but that never really hinders our viewing experience. James Cordon also shows up toward the end of the film and while the plotline he’s involved in goes on for far too long, he provides some of the film’s biggest laughs.

Now the heist itself is alright, there are a few intense moments and a couple creative ways the crew works around problems, but there are also *a lot* of things we’ve seen before, not only in the previous “Ocean’s” films but just heist plots in general. There is also a twist that I did not think was handled well (or plausibly) and it was only made worse by the fact that the marketing campaign inadvertently spoils it.

The film is shot well with a nice gleam (this is the Met Gala, after all) and the editing is sometimes fun and quick but other times holds for too long or don’t create a beat for the dialogue to be delivered properly.

“Ocean’s 8” is light entertainment that for the most part does not try to be anything else. There a few fun cameos and amusing one-liners, but mostly this is a movie focused on letting several Hollywood stars have a great time and allow the audience to do the same and there’s usually nothing wrong with that.

Critic’s Grade: B–

‘War for the Planet of the Apes’ Looks Great, but That’s About It


First Kevin Spacey in “Baby Driver” then Michael Keaton in “Spider-Man: Homecoming” and now Woody Harrelson: I keep forgetting how much I love certain actors until they show up on screen.


“War for the Planet of the Apes” is the third film in the reboot/prequel series and follows the final confrontation between the Apes, led by Caesar (Andy Serkis in motion capture), and the humans, led by a merciless Colonel (Harrelson). Steve Zahn, Amiah Miller and Gabriel Chavarria also star as Matt Reeves returns to directs.


I enjoyed the first “Planet of the Apes” reboot, “Rise,” as it was a fresh take on a worn franchise and featured a (to me, at least) always likable James Franco. Its sequel, “Dawn,” was a letdown as it was never as much fun as it should’ve been (an ape riding a horse wielding duel machine guns should be a blast) and despite its clear intentions, fell into standard blockbuster territory instead of an emotional drama. This follow-up is more of the same, as it’s visually striking but narratively weak, resulting in a middle-of-the-road, at times monotonous, experience.


As to be expected, Andy Serkis again shows why he is the king of motion capture as he plays the king of the apes. Every one of Serkis’ squints, lip quivers and growls are depicted on the face of Caesar the ape and there are scenes where you are transcended by it; I’m sure we’ll have to sit through another “give Andy Serkis his Oscar!” campaign this fall.


Woody Harrelson is the best part of the film, however, playing the iron-fisted military leader. Having lost his son to the same disease that wiped out most of humanity, Harrelson is determined to keep humans as the dominant species. He shares two fantastic scenes with Serkis where both men are at the top of their game, and makes you question what really are the traits that separate man from beast?


The film is visually constructed well, too, with Reeves again trying to use as many practical effects and sets as possible. Mostly set in a snowy military base in Northern California, there are plenty of moments of visual awe to behold. In what is basically Ape Auschwitz, Reeves sets up plenty of simple and subtle visual cues to concentration camps that I was impressed by.


However then he feared that the audience would be too stupid to understand a “Schindler’s List” reference, so he takes things one step further to ensure everyone gets that this prison is a bad place and the humans are evil. It’s this refusal to stay subtle that is one of my biggest faults with the film.


If there was a dedication to subtlety here then I would appreciate the film a whole lot more, but Reeves (who also co-wrote the script) doesn’t trust his audience to be able to understand imagery. Instead, he chooses to have Caesar have continuous hallucinations of his former ape rival to show the audience that eventually all apes (and people) fall victim to hate. Visual similarities to a Nazi concentration camp not clear enough? Let’s have the victims start getting whipped to liken things to slavery. And much like “Captain America: Civil War” there’s the overlying message that revenge is bad and won’t bring the people you love people back, no matter how much you try; children’s stuff.


The final conflict is impressive and surely where a lot of the $150 million budget went, but much like “Dawn” it’s just never as much fun as it should be.


“War for the Planet of the Apes” is going to be about as good as you thought “Dawn” was. If Serkis’ motion capture performance and the imagery of apes riding horses through a post-apocalyptic landscape is enough for you then you’ll enjoy it; but if you like films with engaging narratives and emotional payoffs, then this will be yet another disappointment.


Critics Rating: 5/10


‘Spider-Man: Homecoming’ a Welcome Return-to-Form for the Character


Much like Kevin Spacey, I always seem to forget how much I love Michael Keaton until I see Michael Keaton pop up on screen.


“Spider-Man: Homecoming” is the second reboot in five years of the character, and features Tom Holland reprising his role as the titular hero from last year’s “Captain America: Civil War.” This time we skip over all the origin stories and Uncle Ben’s death and get right into Peter Parker trying to be a friendly neighborhood Spider-Man, until a new supervillain named Vulture (Keaton) threatens New York City with dangerous weapons. Jon Favreau, Jacob Batalon, Marisa Tomei and Robert Downey Jr. also star as Jon Watts directs.


I love the character of Spider-Man. He’s no Batman (duh) but when done right there is something about a sarcastic teenager in red, white and blue spandex that is just impossible not to find enjoyable. Sam Raimi’s first film back in 2002 redefined the modern superhero genre (and literally changed the start date of the summer movie season from Memorial Day to first weekend of May) and “Spider-Man 2” is universally accepted as one of-if not the-greatest superhero films of all-time. The third film then had a mixed response while the Andrew Garfield reboot series (if you want to call two films no one liked a “series”) were a colossal misfire that resulted in Sony negotiating a deal to give the character back to Marvel, and it will be interesting to see how history remembers those two outings. But enough Spidey history, let’s get talking about this latest rendition.


Just like in “Civil War” Tom Holland shines here. He is just so darn charming, innocent and likable, and that’s just as Peter Parker. His Spider-Man has all the quips that Garfield’s was missing (saying “wait a minute, you guys aren’t the real Avengers!” to a group of bank robbers in Halloween masks) and he is just so much fun and it is clear that Holland himself is having a blast in the role of a lifetime.


The supporting cast are all great, too, with Robert Downey Jr. reprising his role as Tony Stark aka Iron Man, acting both as a bridge for the Marvel Cinematic Universe and this reboot series as well as Peter’s father figure since we don’t get an Uncle Ben this time around. Downey isn’t in the film all too much (every scene he has is in the trailer) but he is as sarcastic and witty as one may hope. Marisa Tomei has some genuine moments as Aunt May, and chooses to make this version of the character a little more nerdy and “try hard” (and clearly younger) than Rosemary Harris’ elderly, always worried take.


Michael Keaton is arguably one of the better villains that the MCU has seen, although that bar isn’t set too high. A blue-collar worker screwed over by a rigged system, Keaton doesn’t want world domination he just wants to make money while getting back at the elites. He gets some scenery to chew and has one genuinely tension-filled scene but overall he feels slightly underused, but it was still great to see him in a villain role, and continuing his mini-career renaissance of his.


There really isn’t too much action here to speak of, a lot of the film focuses on Peter trying to balance high school and being Spider-Man, and he isn’t always punching men in big flying monster suits; more often than not he’s stopping bike thieves and helping give old ladies directions. When the action does hit it is as clean and fun as any film with a $175 million budget and the Marvel brand slapped on it can expect to be, and is all the more impressive coming from a director who had only made small indie dramas (see Watts’ “Cop Car” if you haven’t).


What holds this back from the levels of Raimi’s first two films is a bit of a sloppy narrative here and there. The film isn’t always focused on Vulture and his plan, it just cuts back to him every now and again for a while to remind you that eventually we’re going to get to a big confrontation with him and Spider-Man. There were six screenwriters on this and it’s clear, sometimes the balance between big-budget superhero blockbluster and coming-of-age comedy are seamless, other times they’re jarring.


The film’s trailers also ruin *a lot* so if you have managed to avoid seeing the four of them up to this point, try to keep it that way. Scenes will be going on and suddenly you’ll realize you know exactly how things are going to play out because the trailers all spoil it.


“Spider-Man: Homecoming” is a welcome return to form for the titular character and a nice little side-entry into the MCU. When I saw “Spider-Man 2” in theaters as a 10 year old it was the first time I was ever truly left speechless by a film’s greatness; and although “Homecoming” isn’t perfect, it does bring me joy knowing that today’s kids finally have a Spider-Man worthy of being looked up to and enjoyed, because leaving them with Andrew Garfield’s would have been a travesty.


Critics Rating: 7/10

Sony Pictures

Sony Pictures

This ‘House’ Built on a Pile of Wasted Talent


Will Ferrell really needs to stop making R-rated comedies, they’re never good.


“The House” stars Ferrell and Amy Poehler as parents who start an underground casino in order to pay for their daughter’s college tuition. Jason Mantzoukas, Ryan Simpkins and Nick Kroll also star as Andrew J. Cohen makes his directorial debut.


I was looking forward to this one ever since it was announced in early 2015. Even though he has had a losing streak lately I always try to give Will Ferrell films a chance, and writers Andrew J. Cohen and Brendan O’Brien penned “Neighbors,” its sequel and the entertaining “Mike and Dave Need Wedding Dates” so there was a lot here to make one opportunistic, and I would have been willing to bet on this being a success. But just like “Semi-Pro,” “Get Hard” and “Step Brothers” (don’t @ me), Ferrell again stumbles with his R-rated attempt as “The House” wastes its cast in a thinly scripted, dull and uninspired romp.


Like I said in my review of “Rough Night,” I am pretty generous to comedies. If it makes me laugh, I tend to give a film a passing grade, since a point of a comedy is to make you laugh. But “The House” doesn’t really have that many genuine moments of comedy, and the best parts of the film are in the trailer. The film is stretched so thin (it’s only 88 minutes long) that it almost doesn’t feel like a real movie, which would explain why there was only one trailer for this; had they made a second one they would have ended up showing entire film.


Some scenes last for 30 seconds simply to deliver a single punchline, while other sequences come and go without even attempting to create a laugh; or at least, no one in my audience laughed. Which is always awkward, when a film delivers a punchline then has the beat before the next line of dialogue so the audience can laugh without missing a line. But when no one laughs, the silence in the theater is only more uncomfortable.


To their credit, Ferrell and Poehler seem to be putting in at least some effort and in another project I’m sure would be a great comedic pairing. But the script doesn’t make them anything besides cookie-cutter “parents who are losing their kid to college and dread empty nest syndrome” and the supporting cast are all over-the-top characters that only exist in movies. The film’s lone bright spot is Jason Mantzoukas, who I am normally not a fan of, I think he is grating and always has the dial turned to 11 out of 10, but he is a little more tame here and has some great delivery of lines that had no right being so funny (someone asks him why he didn’t drive his car to the party and he simply goes “ha, I can’t find it.” I don’t know, I laughed).


There really isn’t much more to say about “The House.” I saw it just a few hours ago and it’s already all but gone from my mind. I can’t see this being entertaining enough for anyone to really enjoy and it is certainly a letdown given the talent on both sides of the camera. The last time Ferrell had an R-rated film in the first half of a year was “Get Hard” in 2015, and he followed it up with the not-so-great “Daddy’s Home” later than holiday season. “Daddy’s Home” is getting a sequel this November, so here’s hoping history doesn’t repeat itself.


Critics Rating: 4/10

Warner Bros. Pictures

Warner Bros. Pictures

‘Baby Driver’ is Well-Acted and Original, but It Just Wasn’t For Me


Every time I see Kevin Spacey in something I’m reminded how much I love seeing Kevin Spacey in things.


“Baby Driver” stars Ansel Elgort as a young getaway driver for a crime boss (Spacey) who has to do one last job before getting out of the life and running away with his girlfriend (Lily James). Jon Bernthal, Eiza González, Jon Hamm and Jamie Foxx also star as Edgar Wright writes and directs.


I’ll give Edgar Wright all the credit in the world, when the man makes a film he often takes the most basic, cliché genres and plots (like zombies, cops and heists) and somehow manages to put a fun, unique twist on them. I enjoy his trilogy of films with Simon Pegg and Nick Frost and was looking forward to his version of “Ant-Man” before he left the project. Here, his “Baby Driver” is a heist film set to music, and while I can appreciate the attempt at originality there was something about this film just didn’t work for me.


I’m more than sure this is going to be one of those instances where I’m in the very minute minority opinion of a film and that’s fine. I wanted to like this movie; it was near the top of my 2017 watchlist. The cast is great, the trailers seemed fun and like I said, I’m a fan of Wright’s style, ambition and previous works. But about 15 minutes into this film I got “that feeling” that you occasionally get when you’re watching a film that has gotten good buzz, that “ohhhh no, I’m not gonna like this, am I?” feeling.


The cast is solid and they all play their roles well. Basically playing caricatures of who they play in everything they do, Jon Hamm is solid as the rogue and mysterious  badass, Jamie Foxx is the wise-cracking gangster and Kevin Spacey is the dry “don’t dare double cross me” leader. Ansel Elgort, having seemingly survived the “Divergent” franchise, does good work in his first starring role without Shailene Woodley, although he does more swaying and nodding through Ray-Bans than actual talking. The characters all have nice dynamics between one another and Wright continues to excel at writing nice banter.


The chase sequences are cool, but they suffer from two things: the best shots being in every trailer and TV commercial, and failing to compare to other car chase films. The most impressive moments of the car sequences (and there’s really only two of them in the film) are shown in the ads, whether it is when Baby does a 180 degree whip around a backing up truck or kicks the police road spikes back at them. Also, nothing in this film is as intense as, say, the opening scene to “Drive,” and that featured no real dialogue or musical score, just the commentary to a LA Clippers game (YouTube that fantastic sequence if you haven’t seen it).


One of the things everyone will talk about in regards to this film is how it pretty much always has a song going on in the background, to represent how Baby is constantly listening to his iPod. For the most part this is interesting and there are times the editing and character movements coincide with the beats which was cool.


But despite the good performances and ambitious take on a worn genre, I just sat there looking at the screen waiting for something to happen that would grab me and suck me into the world, but it never came. I felt like I should be enjoying things a lot more than I actually was, and the last thing you ever want to do is resent a film just because it didn’t meet your expectations.


“Baby Driver” isn’t bad and it’s the type of film that Hollywood needs right now- relatively fresh and upbeat-but it just wasn’t for me. Maybe down the road I’ll watch it again and realize I was horribly naïve and that this is a masterpiece, and I’m sure everyone and their uncle will be praising it all summer long, but this is my review and my thoughts, and for me, even the perfect Kevin Spacey wasn’t enough to validate this ride.


Critics Rating: 5/10


TriStar Pictures

Subtle Performances Elevate ‘The Exception’


Christopher Plummer’s lone Oscar was a career achievement award and I think the man has been criminally underrated in his career.

“The Exception” is a romantic drama set in the early years of World War II. The plot follows a young Nazi officer (Jai Courtney) who is sent to keep an eye on the exiled German Emperor Wilhelm II (Plummer), only to fall in love with one of his maids (Lily James). David Leveaux makes his feature film directorial debut after a career in stage work.


I love me a WWII-set drama. Even when the films themselves may be a bit underwhelming (“Allied”), the setting and production design usually sucks me into what is one of my favorite time periods in human history. Things are no different here, as while certain aspects of the film fail to deliver as much as they’d like, the setting, and a subtly brilliant performance by Christopher Plummer, make this one worth checking out.


Like I said up top, although he finally won an Oscar for “Beginners,” I feel Christopher Plummer doesn’t get the love he deserves. He quietly steals the show in films like “Inside Man” and “The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo” and the 87-year-old is masterful again here. Plummer brings a sense of warmth to the Kaiser and I cherished every scene he was in. He makes you sympathize with him without feeling pity, relate without empathizing.


Following a surprisingly solid performance in “Suicide Squad,” Jai Courtney again shows that perhaps he can in fact act after all. There’s a running joke that Courtney is a bland and charismatic-less actor who Hollywood has tried to shove down our throats following top billing in big-budget blockbusters like “A Good Day to Die Hard” and “Terminator: Genisys,”  but I have to hand it to Courtney: he does a surprisingly nimble job here. Playing a Nazi with dark past and conflicting loyalties, Courtney never over-acts or makes you roll your eyes, which at this point in his career is a compliment.


Mostly taking place in Wilhelm’s mansion, the production design is a solid recreation of 1940 Netherlands. German cars and Nazi banners roam the grounds while chipped paint and rusted bedframes fill the bedrooms; much like the film’s performances the attention to detail is subtle but appreciated.


Where the film falters is its execution of its narrative. The film reveals that there is a British spy somewhere on the grounds and it is Courtney’s job to find them; however instead of building to some great twist, the culprit is revealed in the first 20 minutes. The romance between Courtney and James never fully feels fleshed out or earned, either, as they share just a few scenes together and we are to believe they fall in love over several days simply because they slept together.


“The Exception” is far from the best World War II film (it’s not even the best WWII romance to be released in the past year) and it is certainly forgettable. Normally a romantic thriller that struggles with both its romance and its thrills would turn out to be a disaster; however if you appreciate the time period and some fine performances, including a stunning Christopher Plummer, then I think this film may be an exception to the rule.


Critics Rating: 6/10



Tupac Biopic ‘All Eyez on Me’ Isn’t Very Well Made, but I Liked it Anyways

AllEyez_posterYou know those movies that you’re aware aren’t that good but you can’t help but enjoy anyways? That’s this.


“All Eyez on Me” is the long delayed and long overdue biopic about the rapper Tupac Shakur. Demetrius Shipp Jr., whose father worked with Tupac on one of his albums, plays the late artist as Kat Graham, Dominic L. Santana, Hill Harper and Danai Gurira also star. Benny Boom directs.


The behind-the-scenes stories of what it took to get this film made are interesting enough to be a movie on their own. It went through several directors, including Antoine Fuqua and John Singleton, as well as a handful of legal trouble and lawsuits, including pushback from Shakur’s mother. However it is finally hitting the big screens and while it is no “Straight Outta Compton,” and one could argue it’s not even that good at all, there is something about “All Eyez on Me” that I just found enjoyable.


I loved “Straight Outta Compton” so when they announced that Tupac was getting a biopic it only seemed natural and I was intrigued. The trailers for this were a bit of a mixed bag, with half being intense and gripping while the other half felt like they were stitched together by a film student and the finished product is a lot like that, too. There are parts that are engaging, interesting and worthy of Tupac’s legacy; however just as often the film is a sloppy mess that doesn’t know how to get from scene to scene.


As the lead role Demetrius Shipp Jr. shines. He is a spitting image of Tupac, to the point it is almost eerie, and he does a good job (for the most part) of capturing that charismatic smile that Shakur had, as well as some of the more emotionally heavy scenes with his mother.


The rest of the cast do solid work, too, but Shipp is really the only one with enough screen time to be considered a main character. Others flow in-and-out of the film depending on what the current scene requires, with Tupac’s friends Jada Pinkett (Kat Graham) and The Notorious B.I.G. (Jamal Woolard, reprising his role from 2009’s “Notorious”) showing up here and there. Dominic L. Santana takes over the role of Suge Knight from “Compton’s” Ryan Marcos Taylor and he does alright. The man has the large frame, beard and scowl that Knight had, however he never captures the same intimidating sense that Taylor showed in 2015.


The scenes that work best in the film are when Tupac is on stage, which makes sense because director Benny Boom is best known for his music videos. I constantly found myself nodding my head and moving my feet in my seat, and I forgot just how many hits Tupac had that I was familiar with; even critics of the film as a whole won’t be able to deny the powerful pleasures of its musical moments.


But when the film isn’t focused on Tupac’s musical career is where the real faults lie. The first half is lazily told through flashbacks as Tupac talks to a reporter while in jail for sexual assault (a topic the film brushes over and almost villainizes his victim for) and things are really choppy. Boom wouldn’t know subtlety if it hit him in the back of the head and he makes sure you know exactly how every character is feeling at every moment and even puts location and date stamps at the start of near every scene, because he’s not a strong enough visual director to get either point across on his own.


The ending is also cheesy and over-the-top and knocked my enjoyment down a little bit, just because it doesn’t tug at you as much as it should and Boom and the screenwriters, again, take such a by-the-numbers and straightforward approach that it’s just indolent.


At two hours and 20 minutes, “All Eyez on Me” does not justify its runtime and had it been cut down to a solid 120 minutes then I think this could have been a genuinely good movie. That being said I still enjoyed a lot of it, almost like it is a TV movie spiritual sequel to “Straight Outta Compton,” and I think if you’re willing to overlook some of the lazier execution and excessive runtime then there’s enough here to like.


Critics Rating: 6/10

Summit Entertainment

Summit Entertainment