Film Critic, Movie Blog, Movie Reviews

Causeway (2022)

Directed: Lila Neugebauer  Cast: Jennifer Lawrence, Brian Tyree Henry Rated: Runtime: 1h 32m  Studio: A24/Apple TV  Screenwriters: Ottesa Moshfegh, Luke Goebel, Elizabeth Sanders

Causeway follows Lynsey (Lawrence), a woman from a crappy family who gets out of her Louisiana town the same way many in her situation do; she joins the military. When an explosion overseas leaves her with a traumatic brain injury (TBI), she’s sent home. She believes, as many service members often do that she’ll recover enough to return to duty. But to recover, she’s sent to the one place she doesn’t want to be; home. 

The filmmaker starts with the mundane—the part where Lynsey must learn how to be a person again. Cinematically the tone of the film conveys “the everyday person” and the settings that go with it. It’s subdued but thoughtful. The characters are silently driven by deep emotions, which reverberate in everything they do. 

Nothing exciting happens in this film. It’s the exhale between heartbeats, where the precipitating events already occurred, and what’s left is the aftermath. Being in the shoes of the broken is what Causeway wants from its audience. Usually, stories about returning war vets are male leads/perspectives and how it affects them and their families. It’s refreshing to see a female lead because women also serve and are affected by war trauma. 

Brian Tyree Henry and Jennifer Lawrence in A24/Apple TV’s ‘Causeway’ via

The script is well written. It considers the nuances of dealing with a TBI, post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD), anxiety, guilt, and depression. The life-numbing psychological toll it plays on a person, with none of the loud, stereotypical bullshit. Lynsey is in her own private hell, so when she encounters James (Henry), who is living with his own pain and guilt from a life-altering event, the two become friends. Lynsey’s personality makes this new relationship difficult, but James mostly understands. 

Causeway’s script is a masterclass depicting people in their most vulnerable state. Showing the raw emotional parts of ourselves that we all have, but without the fluff, heavy exposition, and unnecessary buildup. The tone and flow of this film are spot on. Those involved did their homework on these topics or knew someone well enough to reflect accurately on them. 

Jayne Houdyshell and Jennifer Lawrence in ‘Causeway’ from A24/Apple TV via

I wasn’t sure I wanted to review this film because, at first, I wasn’t sure how to articulate the nothingness I felt when it was over. Causeway didn’t make me consider the perspective of people with TBIs, PTSD, or guilt. And I appreciate serious films that make the audience think about the subject matter they’re watching. I felt nothing about how the movie ended. I’m not heartless, but I know people who have gotten TBIs. I have PTSD and a few members of the alphabet soup club, so I get it. I don’t have to put myself in the character’s shoes; in a way, I already have a pair. In this movie, the audience doesn’t see who Lynsey was before, only how she is now. The adulterated version of her is what there is now, despite whatever progress she makes for herself. 

Causeway is a looking glass into a subject, a reality for many that aren’t talked about enough and not understood enough by the average person. It depicts valuable insight into a reality many deal with and suffer through and is worth discussing. You may only ever watch it once, but Causeway deserves a place on your watchlist. 

-A Pen Lady

Film Critic, Movie Blog, Movie Reviews

The Incredible Hulk (2008)

The Incredible Hulk (2008)

Directed by: Louis Leterrier   Rated: PG-13   Runtime: 1 hrs. 52 mins. 

Studio: Universal Pictures/Marvel Studios   Screenwriter: Zak Penn

Cast: Edward Norton, Liv Tyler, William Hurt, Tim Roth

Explosions. Car throwing. Jumping from choppers without a shoot. Destroying a part of New York. Mass destruction and collateral damage. People running and screaming in the streets. Yep, it must be a Marvel movie!

The Incredible Hulk is the fifth MCU film if you’re watching in logical viewing order. And the second film, in general, to be released. This film starts with snippets of images to convey information and actions to progress the story while the intro credits run. It spends zero time showing you how Bruce Banner (Norton) ends up as ‘The Hulk,’ and it’s better for it. There are plenty of other places in the film that show and tell what gamma radiation/poisoning is and what it does. These snippets are gritty, bloody, and convey a heavy scientific and militaristic tone. This film predates Disney’s acquisition of Marvel. 

Marvel Studios and Universal Pictures Officail Trailer for ‘The Incredible Hulk’ via YouTube

Even for a Marvel film, The Incredible Hulk has a darker, more sinister feel to it. While there is plenty of violence in any of the MCU films to date, this movie has the unfortunate use of humans and regular weapons. These two factors set it apart from the other MCU characters and their stories because there are no aliens or futuristic technology to act as a visual boundary. The Hulk and his foe aside. 

Bruce Banner is a scientist who has an accident in a laboratory experiment, which results in him morphing into a gigantic, green mutation known as the Hulk. When he’s calm, he turns back into Bruce. General Ross (Hurt) always wanted to use Banner’s work and weaponize it. When Banner changed, General Ross felt Bruce was government property to be experimented on and exploited. So, Bruce fled. One of Bruce’s scientific collaborators was Dr. Betty Ross (Tyler), Bruces’s love interest and General Ross’s daughter. 

Liv Tyler and William Hurt in Marvel Studios ‘The Incredible Hulk’ Imgae Credit: Marvel Studios/Universal Pictures via

General Ross seeks out where Bruce is hiding for years. Given the plot so far, it wouldn’t be much of a story if the general didn’t locate him at some point. At this junction, the general enlists the help of Emil Blonsky (Roth) to help track and capture Banner. After seeing the Hulk up close, Blonsky wants to be like the Hulk and works towards that goal. Because of this choice, Blonsky ends up the primary foe of the film over General Ross. 

The premise overall isn’t flawed; it’s acted well by everyone. Yet…the pace is what trips this film up. It transitions well from scene to scene so that the audience understands the flow of time and such. The problem is the movie relies too much on its action sequences and explosions. Some of which are genuinely unbelievable (that’s not a compliment). Without them, the story would flop around like a fish out of water. There is lots of destruction and violence with an origin story like the Hulks or most stories about him. It’s difficult to tell such an origin story without it. And that’s the root of the problem. The Hulk shouldn’t have his own standalone film. It’s simple enough to convey in other ways and should have been. 

Tim Roth in ‘The Incredible Hulk’ Image Credit: Marvel Studios/Universal Pictures via

This film does show the Hulk doing his ground stomp, makes boxing gloves from cars, performing a thunderclap, and yelling his iconic catchphrase. All these things are utilized and absolutely belong. It’s not enough to make this film stand out. Its failure to captivate is in the limited complexity or nuances that Bruce/Hulk has as an origin story. It’s pretty cut and dry. 

While the events depicted in this film are referenced later in the MCU, General Ross (Hurt) is the only actor to ever be seen again. The others are never shown or are recast altogether. There are nods to S.H.I.E.L.D.’s existence in the movie. Still, they come across as confusing afterthoughts that are meaningless in this film. To that end, the only real thing that connects this film to the MCU is in the last minute of the film, where Tony Stark makes an appearance. If it were not for that, this film couldn’t even be considered a part of the MCU. 

Edward Norton in ‘The Incredible Hulk’ Image Credit: Marvel Studios/Universal Pictures via

More than enough comments happen in future films, allowing the audience to understand the Hulk/Bruce Banner’s situation. It’s because of this fact that this movie is totally one you could skip seeing. Keep this off your watchlist and move on to whatever’s next on your list. 

*There is no end credit scenes for this film

—a pen lady

Film Critic, Movie Blog, Movie Reviews

Max (2015)

MAX ( 2015)

Directed by: Boaz Yakin   Runtime: 1 hr. 51 mins.   Rated: PG  

Studio: Warner Bros. Pictures & MGM  Screenwriter: Boaz Yakin, Sheldon Lettich 

Cast:  Carlos, Robbie Amell, Josh Wiggins, Mia Xitlali, Lauren Graham, Thomas Haden 

Church, Luke Kleintank

The people who put together the trailers for their respective movies and create something like Max’s trailer should have them fired or smacked upside the head. Bad trailers happen with alarming frequency. Max is another film that suffers from morons while editing. It should be a category for a Razzie award. I add the trailers to the movies I review as a convenience to you, the reader. However, if I add the trailer for Max, it’s like I’m giving the plot away. I usually don’t watch movies where I feel like I just saw the film after seeing the trailer. What would be the point of that? Yet the trailer for Max does just that. Back when this film came out, I still had a Belgian Malinois, like Max, so I saw it based on that. 

Max is a film based on a fictional American military working dog of the same name. Max (Carlos) is handled by Marine Kyle Wincott (Amell), who dies in Afghanistan. The events that lead to Kyle’s death leave Max unable to perform as trained, and he is sent back to the United States. Kyle’s family is given the option of what to do with Max, as he cannot be handled due to his PTSD. The one person he ‘accepts’ is Kyle’s younger brother, Justin (Wiggins). 

Robbie Amell & Carlos in ‘Max’ Image: Warner Bros. Pictures & MGM

Justin is several years younger than Kyle. Wiggins portrays the self-absorbed, sulky teenager with a chip on his shoulder better than most “teenagers” are depicted. Compared to the rest of the humanoid cast members, Justin’s character is the only one with depth. The film, more or less, is about Justin and his relationship with Max, so it’s bearable. 

While Max is semi-predictable and lacks any deep character development, it does highlight its themes well. How processing grief is healthy, courage, and character. For what it does well in those areas, it creates stereotypes in others. 

Carlos, Mia Xitlali, Dejon LaQuake, Josh Wiggins in ‘Max’ Image: Warner Bros. Pictures

The Wincott family hasn’t had Max long in their home when a friend and former service member Tyler (Kleintank) arrives back in town. He and Max clearly don’t like one another, yet no one seems to notice. Yakin does nothing to hide that Tyler is trouble; in the same way, Justin’s parents (Church and Graham) are obliviously stupid when necessary. Yakin also put no effort into anyone in this movie, sounding like they are from Texas. It’s not complicated. 

So, Justin learns how to own a dog, let alone one like Max, with the help of his friends (not his parents). The plot unfolds with Justin’s mistrust of Tyler’s reason for leaving the Marines. Deepening into more of an edgy, back-to-school special, modern-day Mystery Inc. storyline. If Scooby-Doo was a fearless bad-ass and not a cowardly eating machine and the gang all got around on bikes and not in a van. 

Lauren Graham, Luke Kleintank, Josh Wiggins, Thomas Hayden Church in ‘Max’ Image: Warner Bros. Pictures & MGM

This film is full of areas I can point out as logistically wrong. Still, its target audience is best appreciated by those 10-16 years old. Or those like me who enjoy seeing a Belgian Malinois on the big screen. Really, it makes me miss my dog. Sometimes we all need a dose of sappy. Max is a decent film that’s pace moves along well enough to keep a parent or kid engaged until the end. 

This movie is undoubtedly under the lens of Americans and their working dogs in Afghanistan. It can also be appreciated by anyone connected to or served with K-9 handlers from any country. Yakin tried to honor the working service dogs of the military, and does to a point, but could have done more with a better script.

Max is a feel-good movie that is meant to tug on your heart, to make you appreciate the efforts of K-9 military service animals. It does that, more or less in a tolerable way. While adults may like it, many younger viewers will love it. With that in mind, Max should find its way onto your watchlist. 

a pen lady

Film Critic, Movie Blog, Movie Reviews

Arrival (2016)

Arrival (2016)

Directed by: Denis Villeneuve Runtime: 1 hr 56 min Rated: PG-13 Studio: Paramount Screenwriter: Eric Heisserer Based on: Story of Your Life, 1998 short story by Ted Chiang Cast: Amy Adams, Jeremey Renner, Forest Whitaker 

Arrival is a cerebral experience that delivers a compelling sci-fi story with novel ideas through minimal CGI, well-edited sound, and strong performances by the cast. 

Twelve alien crafts suddenly arrive on Earth in places all over the globe. Top translation linguist Professor Louise Banks (Amy Adams) is…requisitioned by the U.S. Army to help communicate with these beings and find out why they came. Dr. Banks is aided by Dr. Ian Donnelly (Jeremy Renner), a theoretical physicist.  

Two key points I found refreshingly novel compared to other alien films involving the military were: they put in a woman in charge, and they listened. In many professions, women are not at the top or even respected for the work they do. Chiang’s choice for a female lead, believably, drives the story forward. The studio’s version could have changed that but did not. Second, the American military could have listened and taken a ‘we’ll take that under consideration’ mentality to Dr. Banks’s assessment. Instead, more or less, she was permitted to work without interference. 

The military wants answers as quick as possible before another country starts shooting. Knowing that and trying to communicate correctly with a species you don’t understand… is a lot of pressure. In numerous films, the military person in charge is a hard ass, which would not fit this movie’s tone. Colonel Weber (Forest Whitaker) is the man in charge of operations. Forest Whitaker naturally projects a strong authority of presence without trying. His calm assertiveness and respectful demeanor when things are explained to him is a great example of why patience in this film is so important. It’s one of the main themes. 

Amy Adams delivers a grounded performance that is nothing short of graceful. She (Dr. Banks) is learning an alien language, teaching English-under the military’s eye, while processing some intensely personal events. She never misses a beat.

Why is it that alien movies with potential global destruction are what it takes to make the world work together and share information? Teams like Dr. Banks and Dr. Donnelly’s are also in contact with their local alien ships. How and why all these teams choose to communicate the way they do should remind us that one way isn’t the only way. 

Forest Whitaker, Amy Adams, and Jeremy Renner in Paramount Pictures ‘Arrival’ via

The subtle nods to the other teams and the world’s reaction to finding out aliens are real are very believable. It helps with scene transitions and story progression. Some of the scenes may be confusing as more about the aliens are discovered: how they travel, how they view time, their belief of the notion of fate, and language itself. I did say this movie is a cerebral experience. 

The authentic responses to the alien’s arrival are as intense emotionally as it is mentally. The alarms and subsequent evacuation of students from campus are relatable to me, as I’m sure it is for many. (It’s in the trailer, so I’m not spoiling anything). Who doesn’t remember how they felt when they learned the news of something huge? A war starting, a natural disaster wiping out places, the assassination of someone? For me, it was being in a college lecture hall on 9-11. It’s not the arrival of aliens, but there is a relatable sense of anxiety and dread. Scenes like this, created to resonate with the viewer, enable the filmmakers to craft a film with much less CGI than most sci-fi pictures.

Another cerebral form is physics. I’ve said in another review that I don’t do physics, it’s still true. However, when watching this film, pay attention to the comments about the ship’s design, how they move, and the energy they put out. For such a large object, my thought was, that’s one green ship! I don’t know if that was intentional. Still, I think it says a lot about this alien species and their intellect without explaining anything more. I reviewed the 2012 film Prometheus, and a ship in that film is similar to those in this one. Both are a nice departure from how other spacecraft are depicted. 

Amy Adams is Louise Banks in Paramount Pictures, ‘Arrival’ via

Ted Chiang created this alien language, and it was further fleshed out when adapted to the screen. It became a believably functional, artful, and original depiction of a language not based on our own. That takes immense creativity and understanding. When Dr. Banks learns enough of their language to understand their purpose on Earth, well, it’s absurd for real life, but for a movie? Sure. Go with it. 

If you don’t like to think when watching a film and want everything spelled out for you, this film is not for you. If movies like Alien and Independence Day are more your thing, this movie will disappoint you on multiple levels. If, however, you enjoy a great sci-fi story with good acting and original perspective, you should put this film on your watch list. 

—a pen lady