Monster (2018) Review

RATING: 2.5/5

A film student is walking on a thin line between being free or being sent to jail for many years.

A movie with a great cast, but had mediocre end results.

Performances throughout ranged from decent to good. The standouts to me were Steven Harmon (played by Kelvin Harrison Jr.) and Mr. Harmon (played by Jeffery Wright). The scene with the two talking to each other was an emotional one especially when Mr. Harmon looked as though he was about to burst into tears, but he kept a calm and collective composure.

For the rest of the characters, while the movie featured an assortment of actors/actresses (Jennifer Hudson, Tim Blake Nelson, John David Washington, A$AP Rocky, Nas, Jharrel Jerome), they didn’t offer much when it came to complexity. They all gave fine performances, but there wasn’t a whole a lot of time or development for me to gravitate toward. That feeling fell in line some with Kelvin Harrison Jr. and Jeffery Wright.

The best example of this were the prison scenes. I didn’t feel the journey or pain that Steve was going through because of how the film was edited together. The movie was 98 minutes long, to which I feel was a tad short. If the movie was 10 or 15 minutes longer, I might have gotten more invested. With the prison scenes, there needed to be more scenes involving Nas being Steve’s emotional anchor. He was sorely underused. That unfortunately transcended onto the other high-profile figures like John David Washington and Jharrel Jerome, who were pretty much there and gone after a couple scenes. No offense to them, they can do phenomenal stuff, but here I don’t believe it was warranted.

One aspect I liked was during one of the film school sessions when Tim Blake Nelson was talking about how people have different perspectives when viewing any feature. That goes very parallel to what was happening in the courtroom scenes. People were watching the same event unfold in front of their eyes, but they all have varying opinions of what they think. People have their own mindset on how the world works around them. Something that Steve knew full well and that made him very nervous for all the right reasons. I liked the back and forth struggle that he was dealing with. Should he continue fighting and prove he’s not guilty or should he accept the harsh reality and give in to the consequences?

How the film was edited, shot, and arranged left me mixed. There were some nice shots here and there. But, the movie would jump from scene to scene or from location to location, thus hindering any kind of character development or emotional connection. Pacing was all over the place. There was a weird moment where tones clashed with one another. For example in the first courtroom scene, there was upbeat drums playing and one was supposed to feel bad for Steve. But the gray/dull look of the courtroom, the up-tempo music, and when Paul Ben-Victor called Steve a monster, I don’t know why but I laughed. Again, I’m supposed to feel bad, but the last two elements really hurt that scene for me due to it being tonally off and the execution of the dialogue.

While not bad, it was pretty average to say the least. A shame because with a really good cast like the one presented, one would have expected something good. The potential was there, but if there was more room to breathe, maybe the movie could have been something worthwhile. In the end, it didn’t really leave much of an impact for me.

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Malcolm and Marie (2021) Review

RATING: 3/5

A boyfriend and girlfriend have relationship issues regarding the release of a movie.

Fireworks shoot out in a matter of a couple hours, but they don’t leave too much of an impact.

John David Washington played the character of Malcolm pretty well. He delivered the most fun, energetic, and lifeful performance in the movie. I mean that rant he went on due to a good review was, for the most part, a nice summation of the character.

Zendaya as Marie was good. But it seemed like Washington’s performance, at a couple points, was running circles over her. Not to say Washington was perfect. Both he and Zendaya were cheesy and over-the-top in some areas, but as I said, he delivered the most star power I feel like.

Learning about the characters and their relationship through the conversations about Malcolm’s movie was nicely done. It was exposition heavy sure, but I felt like it was needed for the situation displayed. Offering story bits of the film and detailing the behind-the-scenes side, showcased the innerworkings of the two leads feelings for each other and how it would evolve over the course of the film. Though it can be lengthy in a couple scenes, the emotions that were released hit well. A great scene involved Malcolm’s response to being called “mediocre” by Marie. Marie’s emotional side truly blossomed in one of the final scenes begging for a thank you. A “genuine” thank you.

Now how Malcolm’s movie interplayed with the relationship was good exposition, but the ones involving the political side of filmmaking and movie critics as a whole, slashed the movie. The feature seemed to not know what type of story to follow. On the positive side, I found Malcolm’s rant to be humorous and I got to hand it out to him for remembering all of his lines to pull it off. I liked the little detail of Zendaya laughing in the foreground as I felt that wasn’t in the script. But again, that rant on critics and how the political side of filmmaking is perceived, should have been handled in a way that ran parallel with the movie’s plot and Malcolm and Marie’s strained relationship. Those expositions went on for quite of bit of time and the focus was lost to some extent. Like is it a simple romance drama or a romance drama with socio-political themes thrown into the mix at the last second?

The cinematography was great all around. It was really showcased in the scenes where the emotions and atmosphere were slow yet tense. The camera would pull off nice close-ups whenever they occurred. Scenes where a character was alone contemplating or wondering where the partner was, looked good in the wide shot format. Times where scenes were done in one shot were executed so well.

Music was pretty good. Artist Labrinth did nice work at composing jazz-influenced tunes. My favorite was the piece that played after the bathroom scene. Though at times the music was a bit on the nose, particularly when an old-timey song came on to explain the emotional language occurring in the scene. It came off as childish.

The style was something to take interest. With its cinematography, music, atmosphere, and the film grain, I could maybe see the film being made in the 70s. In addition with the poster, the feature felt like a blast from the past.

“Malcolm and Marie” suffered from identity crisis. Two plotlines seemed to coexist with one trying to match the more empowering one. The movie didn’t know what to focus on properly. But nonetheless, with good performances, great cinematography, nice music, and some finely delivered hard emotions, this was a romance drama that one should see. Albeit there were cheesy and corny vibes brought out, but it was pleasantly made at how and if a relationship can survive.

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One Night in Miami (2020) Review

RATING: 4/5

Four famous 20th century African-Americans, from different backgrounds, spend the night at a hotel and have intense talks about what it means to be who they are and it how it impacts the world they live.

Regina King, as an actress, she nails it. As a debut director, I’m looking forward to her next project.

The introduction to this was nicely done at introducing the four main characters, Muhammad Ali, Malcolm X, Sam Cooke, and Jim Brown. From their introductions, one can tell who they are based on their personalities and what they were striving in life; based on the difficulties brought onto them around a volatile and hateful time in U.S history. It also gave forth some good foreshadowing of how there different perspectives on things was going to bring about some heated conversations.

Now a majority of the movie took place in one room in a hotel. This isn’t the first where one setting is used. A great example is “12 Angry Men.” These types of film really need to strive and entertain the audience with its dialogue to distract them from being bored at looking at the same scenery for extended periods. To which “One Night in Miami” did that well.

When each of the four men’s ideologies clash, primarily Malcolm and Cooke, it was engaging and one can understand their point of views. Their goals for something better are there, but their journey in achieving that differed from one another. One wished to be militant in their approach, while one geared more into the passive path. One wanted to see who would get the best chance of one upping the other. Which journey was the best for all? It was nice to see the four men learn from each other and from their, build off some form of pact in wanting to make a rightful change for the world.

Performances in the movie were great. Though I will say the casting was a tad dodgy. Most notably for Malcolm X played Kingsley Ben-Adir. I just didn’t see him as X when looking at the face. As I said prior, the dialogue was really good. Each scene seemed to touch a different part of the character’s lives. It made one wonder how these men would take each other’s stances on touchy subjects.

The music was pretty good. The standouts scenes of course came from Cooke. One was where he had to improvise when his mic cut off and his closing track “A Change Is Gonna Come.”

Now the movie was selling on the interactions/confrontations between four men, but it felt more like two. This seemed more like an X vs. Cooke feature, while Ali and Brown were there as moral support. Brown suffered the worst in terms of development. One got tidbits of what his life was like during the time, but there wasn’t a lot shown about him for me to latch on. Ali was better for he was on the fence on whether accepting a new faith was the right choice. There was development there.

But the movie felt liked it focused more so on X and Cooke. Which made sense seeing they were practically opposites for how the movie portrayed them. Both used mics to say what’s on their minds, but their voice was different. Still entertaining, but it would have been nice if Ali and especially Brown, contributed more.

For her debut, King soared. She proved herself that not only she can be a great actress, but also a great director. “One Night in Miami” had great performances, good characters, nice music, and engaging and thought-provoking dialogue. Highly recommend it.

Check out: Malcolm X (1992) Review

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The Polar Express (2004) Review

RATING: 2.5/5

A doubtful little boy hops aboard a train ride to the North Pole to wonder if the mythical Christmas icon himself exists.

Some deem it as a Christmas classic, while others say it is rather dated and very standard with its delivery. For me, the latter seems more appropriate.

The visuals and effects were mixed across the board. Around the time of its release, it was deemed revolutionary with the film’s reliance on motion-capture. Though honestly, 16 years after, it did not age well. The expressions shown by the characters didn’t look convincing and sometimes it can be rather creepy if the camera held onto a face for extended periods. Funny to think Pixar films such as “Toy Story,” “Toy Story 2,” and “The Incredibles,” which that one was released the same year, had CGI models that emoted way better than the “realistic-depiction” that this was trying to replicate. Goes to show that better, isn’t always better.

With the rest of the visuals, they can be nice, detailed, and beautiful at times. The snow sparkling in the forest, the Northern Lights, the detail on the train, etc. The cinematography at times can be very good. Especially at times whenever its following a certain person or object of interest. It would follow the subject wherever it would go from A to B.

There were two main settings, the Polar Express and the North Pole. One was shown fine, while the other was majorly disappointing. The North Pole was the one that appeared decent. I’m all for seeing different interpretations and this wasn’t too bad with its city of elves. There were buildings, a large globe with t.v sets showing the kids of the world, and a present-making factory which led to the sled drop-zone. The operations of getting the sled with the presents lifted in the air and carrying it was cool seeing.

The other setting, the one which this movie was named after, was not good. When it came to the train operations, I wish one could have gotten to see more. We got to see the dancing hot chocolate chefs, the engineers, and a glimpse or two of the other cars of the train, but that was it. The film was more focused on the main boy and his two friends. One doesn’t get perspectives from the other kids. The best example was the intense rollercoaster scene. The movie tells what happened after, rather than shows during. Thus making the journey feel hollow.

The lack of depth continues with the characters. The children were the ones I have the most problem with, as they either ranged from bland or annoying. I would say the adults were the most enjoyable, they brought the most life in the film. Primarily the Conductor and the Hobo. Both of whom played by Tom Hanks who did a pretty good job.

As far as comparing the movie with the book, the movie definitely placed scenes in here that either benefited some or dragged the experience down. I mean I understand the filmmakers needed to add more substance seeing that the book was only 32 pages. Like I said, adding substance to the train operations was a good idea. But there needed to be a lot more of it. I mean the kids were given a couple cups of hot chocolate and no food, come on. The main kid having doubts and questions about whether or not everything he had seen was real, was executed blandly. The world-building of the North Pole was nice. The Hobo was a fun character and it did raise questions on who exactly he was. The film placed some background info on that Billy character, as opposed to the more crucial ones. Not for the main one which the film started with. The action scenes were nicely done, but I could see how they might have been there to spice up the source material onto the screen. In terms of differentiating from the book, I say it wasn’t handled too well. Some new elements got to shine more than the other new elements.

Pacing and editing was an issue at times. Like when the Conductor was punching the tickets in a matter of seconds. The nerdy kid in some way getting to reach the three main kids to the pile of presents faster. I mentioned before the camera tracking of certain objects was cool, but what exactly does it add? Is it to show the visually nice scenery of the woods or the Arctic? Is it to boast on the film’s technical and “revolutionary” achievements (for the time)? Also the odds of that ticket flying back to the train, with all of the mess it went through, is astronomical.

A couple times there were musical pieces, The hot chocolate one was kind of pointless. Billy’s singing was a heart-warming one. When it came to the rest of the sounds of the movie, it was decent. It for sure did the best at immersing one in the environment.

Being an achievement in the technology used in the production, can only get one so far. There were good merits. At times it felt like a Christmas epic, with the various, nice-looking locations and environments shown. The substance thrown in here, to add to the original source material, worked in some areas but wasn’t expanded upon in the others. Resulting in a Christmas classic that could have been really special if the potential was fully reached.

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