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The Foreigner (2017)
Complex and serious political action drama (Pierce Brosnan steals the show)
"The Foreigner" (2017 release from the UK and China; 114 min.) brings the story of Quan, an older Chinese restaurant owner in London. As the movie opens, Quan picks up his 16 yr. old daughter from high school to take her shopping for a dress. He drops her off at a boutique, and while he parks the car, a bomb explodes, killing his daughter and 11 others. The "Authentic IRA", a previously unknown IRA splinter group from Northern Ireland, claims responsibility. Northern Ireland's Deputy Prime Minister Hennessy fears this may end the 19 year old peace, and calls in all political leaders. Meanwhile, Quan decides to do to Belfast himself to track down the killers... At this point we are 15 min. into the movie but to tell you more of the plot would spoil your viewing experience, you'll just have to see for yourself how it all plays out.
Couple of comments: this is the latest movie from British director Martin Campbell, best known for directing the James Bond films "Goldeneye" and "Casino Royale". It also marks the reunion of Campbell and Pierce Brosnan (who plays Hennessy). I know little about the movie going in, and was surprised (in the best possible way) that this turned out to be a complex and serious political action drama. This is MILES away from the silly (if entertaining) "Rush Hour" movies. In fact Jackie Chan (playing the role of Quan) disappears from the big screen for significant stretches of time (I'm talking more than 15 min., and more than once). The biggest surprise for me is the outstanding work from Pierce Brosnan, in his best role in YEARS, and in that sense Brosnan ends up stealing the movie. The photography of London and Belfast is eye-candy. Last but certainly not least, there is a wonderful electronic score for this movie, courtesy of composer Cliff Martinez.
"The Foreigner" was already a big hit in China by the time it was released in the US last weekend. I finally got a chance to see it this weekend. The Saturday early evening where I saw this at was attended okay but not great. Perhaps it was because I had no specific expectations, but I was more than pleased with this movie. If you like a complex political action drama, I encourage you to check out "The Foreigner", be it in the theater, on VOD, or eventually on DVD/Blu-ray, and draw your own conclusion.
Inspirational life not done justice by this movie
"Breathe" (2017 release from the UK; 117 min.) brings the story of Robin Cavendish. "What Follows Is True" announce the big screen as the movie opens. We get to know Robin, who gets to know Diana at a cricket game and after a whirlwind romance, they marry. We are then transported to "Kenya 1958", where after playing a tennis match, Robin collapses. He is diagnosed with polio. Paralyzed from the neck down and tried to a ventilator, Robin is given three months to live At this point we are 10 min. into the movie, but to tell you more of the plot would spoil your viewing experience, you'll just have to see for yourself how it all plays out.
Couple of comments: this is the directing debut of British actor Andy Serkis, best known these days for playing Caesar in the "Planet of the Apes" franchise reboot. Here Serkis brings us a biopic of Robin Cavendish, who really didn't die after just 3 months. Instead Robin and his wife Diana refuse to give up and try to give Robin a glimmer of hope and some normalcy. The man's life is truly inspirational. Alas, I wish I could say the same thing about this movie. Andrew Garfield (as Robin) and Claire Foy (as Diana) do the best they can with the material they are given. But the movie lacks overall in drama and feels done strictly-by-the-numbers. The set's production certainly can't be blamed, and the photography is quite good as well. "Breathe" feels like Oscar-bait but in the end simply doesn't deliver.
"Breathe" opened this weekend at my local art-house theater here in Cincinnati. The Sunday matinée screening was attended so-so (probably the sunny 75 degree weather had something to do with that). I had high hopes for this movie. In the end I felt let down. I encourage you to check out "Breathe", be it in the theater, on Amazon Instant Video, or eventually on DVD/Blu-ray, and draw your own conclusion.
Only the Brave (2017)
Wild fire disaster movie packs an emotional wallop
"Only the Brave" (2017 release; 133 min.) brings the story if the Granite Mountain Hot Shots fire squad. As the movie opens, "Based on True Events" we are reminded, we get to know Eric Marsh and his gang, as they are trying to get certified as Hot Shots, allowing them to combat wild fires in the front line. We also get to know Brendan, a doped-out loser whose girlfriend just got pregnant. Realizing he needs to turn his life around, Brendan applies to join the fire squad and for reasons unknown until much later in the movie, Eric decides to give Brendan a shot. In a parallel story, we also get to know Eric;s wife Amanda, a horse whisperer. But not all is well in their marriage... At this point we are 15 min. into the movie but to tell you more of the plot would spoil your viewing experience, you'll just have to see for yourself how it all plays out.
Couple of comments: this is the latest movie from up-and-coming director Joseph Kosinski, who previously directed "Ton: Legacy" and "Oblivion". In his latest, he steers away from sci-fi and instead brings us the incredible story of the Prescott, AZ wild fire squad, nicknamed the Granite Mountain Hot Shots. I expected a disaster movie, and there is certainly that too, but the movie does much more than that: it brings the story of a group of people in a way that you are completely emotionally invested in those people, and you CARE. Kosinski directs an all-star cast, headed by Josh Brolin as Eric. Is it just me, but Brolin only seems to get better as he is getting older. That guy is just solid and authentic. Miles Teller plays the role of Brendan, an unlikable character at first. Jennifer Connelly is outstanding as Eric's wife Amanda. Taylor Kitsch is one of the guys in the fire squad. In much smaller roles, Jeff Bridges is Duane (Eric's superior), and the ageless Andie MacDowell plays Duane's wife. The movie's photography is eye-candy, and the wild fire scenes, which I imagine are mostly CGI, look very real to me. Last but not least, there is a very nice musical score, courtesy of composer Joseph Trapanese (who has worked with Kosinski before).
"Only the Brave" opened wide this weekend, and I was really looking forward to seeing it. The Friday evening screening where I saw this at here in Cincinnati was attended only so-so (less than half a fairly small theater), somewhat to my surprise, given the stellar critical acclaim this movie has been getting. I can only speak for myself, but I found this to be an outstanding wild fire disaster movie that packs an emotional wallop I didn't expect. I encourage you to check out "Only the Brave", be it in the theater, on VOD, or eventually on DVD/Blu-ray, and draw your own conclusion.
Viceroy's House (2017)
I wanted to like this historical drama but it falls flat and is flawed
"Viceroy's House" (2017 release from the UK) brings the story of the partition of India. As the movie opens, the screen opens with "History is written by the victors". We then go to "Delhi, India. 1947", where the massive staff (all Indian, of course) is preparing the house (more like a palace) for the arrival of Lord Mountbatten, the last viceroy of India who is tasked with transferring power. In a parallel story, the viceroy's personal assistant Jeet (who is Hindu) reconnects with the beautiful Alia, who is the personal assistant of Mrs. Mountbatten and who is Muslim and already betrothed to another Muslim guy. At this point we are 10 min. into the movie but to tell you more of the plot would spoil your viewing experience, you'll just have to see for yourself how it all plays out.
Couple of comments: this is the latest movie from British-Indian director Gurinder Chadha, best known for directing "Benf It Like Beckham" (has that really been 15 years ago already)? Here she goes the direction of a historical drama reminiscent of, say, "Lawrence of Arabia" or of course "Ghandi". Alas, it didn't turn out that well. The acting is OK, no more, no less. Gillian 'X Files" Anderson is the best of the large cast as the inclusive Mrs. Mountbatten, but even she has to bring "memorable" lines like "We are bringing the future, let's not make a mess of it!", yes, really! More disturbing, the movie makes a specific allegation (no worries, I won't spoil it) about the underlying reason for the partition, which allegation has never been proved or substantiated and as far as I know is an outright fantasy. But worst of all is the cheesy romance/love story between Jeet and Alia, which never was engaging or believable as it played out here, even though in real life there were of course many such "inter-religious" instances. On the plus side, the photography is pure eye-candy, and the original score, courtesy of Indian composer A. R. Rahman, is outstanding.
"Viceroy's House" premiered at this year's Berlin Film Festival, and it finally opened last weekend at my local art-house theater here in Cincinnati pretty much out of the blue and without any hype. The Tuesday early evening screening where I saw this at turned out to be a private screening: I was literally the only person in the theater. Given the flaws of this movie, I cannot see this playing long in the theater. If you are interested in "Viceroy's House" due to being a historical drama, keep your expectations low. I encourage you to check it out, be it in the theater, on VOD, or eventually on DVD/Blu-ray, and draw your own conclusion.
Towering last performance from Harry Dean Stanton
"Lucky" (2017 release; 90 min.) brings the story of an old man whom everyone calls Lucky. As the movie opens, we watch a turtle walk across the cactus landscape somewhere in the Southwest. We then get to know Lucky, as he gets ready for the day and does his daily exercises, all while smoking a cigarette. Other than a couple of milk cartons, his fridge is empty. Lucky gets breakfast at the small town's diner, where he does word puzzles. In the evening, Lucky meets up with his buddies at Elaine's, one of 2 bars in town. Howard tells of Mr. Roosevelt, his beloved turtle who has escaped. Next morning, as Lucky is starting his daily routine, he blanks out and falls. When he wakes up, he is in a doctor's office. What will become of Lucky? At this point we're 10 min. into the movie, but to tell you more of the pot would spoil your viewing experience, you'll just have to see for yourself how it all plays out.
Couple of comments: this is the latest movie from director John Carroll Lynch, who most recently brought us "The Founder" and "Jackie". Here he goes a very different direction, namely to give legendary Hollywood actor Harry Dean Stanton one last lead performance, in a role specifically written for Stanton. Lucky is, like Stanton in real life, 90 years and grew up in Kentucky, so this is almost (but of course not quite) a look at the real Harry Dean Stanton. There are some fine secondary roles in this, including David Lynch as Howard the turtle guy (Stanton has played in a number of Lynch movies), and Tom Skerritt as the WWI Marine veteran. But in the end this is all about watching Stanton, who remained in full control of all of his acting talent (check out the scene where Lucky attends a Mexican fiesta...). As it turned out, this was indeed Stanton's very last film (he passed away exactly a month ago today), and what a towering last performance that turned out to be! You can bet your last dollar that Stanton will get a posthumous Best Actor Oscar nomination for this.
"Lucky" finally opened this weekend at my local art-house theater here in Cincinnati. The Sunday early evening screening where I saw this at was not attended well (5 people, including myself), That is a darn shame. I imagine interest in this movie will pick up coming the awards season. If you want to see an amazing actor at work in the last part of his life, in a movie that is rich in so many ways, I'd suggest you check this out, be it in the theater, on Amazon Instant Video or eventually on DVD/Blu-ray.
Happy Death Day (2017)
A clever resetting of "Groundhog Day" for the horror genre
"Happy Death Day" (2017 release; 96 min.) brings the story of Theresa ("Tree")'s birthday. As the movie opens, she wakes up not knowing where she is (a guy's dorm room). Her phone tells her it's Monday. September 18, her birthday no less. The guy is Carter, with whom Tree partied the night before. Theresa takes the walk of shame back to her sorority house, where her sorority sisters are curious about the mystery guy she fell for. Later that evening, when Tree is going to another party, she is followed by a creepy baby-masked guy, who eventually stabs and kills her. Immediately, Tree wakes up and it's again Monday, September 18, 9:01 am. What is going on here? To tell you more of the plot would spoil your viewing experience, you'll just have to see for yourself how it all plays out.
Couple of comments: this is the latest horror movie of director Christopher Landon, who previously also directed "Paranormal Activity: The Marked Ones", among others. Here Landon, working from a script by Scott Lobdell, essentially revisits "Groundhog Day" for the horror genre. Set on the beautiful (fictional) campus of Bayfield University, Tree has an even worse day than Bill Murray in Groundhog Day, as she knows that each day will end in death. Why is this happening to her? How can she make it stop? And who is the killer? These are the questions we want answered, and keep us guessing. The movie's got a nice rhythm to it, and there are some funny moments too. In the movie's very first seconds, the Universal musical theme starts, and restarts, and restarts again, a clever ode and sing of things to come. The movie is helped immensely by the likable Jessica Rothe, here in a leading (and break-out) role as Tree. She leads a cast of mostly no-names, and that suits this film perfectly fine. At a certain point, Tree lands in the hospital, and the doctor examining her concludes "Technically you should be dead", ha! Considering this movie's production budget was less than $5 million, a mere peanuts in Hollywood these days, this movie is bound to be successful no matter what.
"Happy Death Day" opened wide this weekend. The Saturday early evening screening where I saw this at here in Cincinnati was attended very nicely (although not quite a sell-out). There is a good reason this movie is rated PG-13 It is MILES away from the all-out horror-porn that you find in the "Saw" franchise (which is rebooting later this month with "JigSaw") and similar over the top movies. "Death Happy Valley" is clever, sometimes scary, other times funny, always fast-paced, and before you know it the hour and a half has come and gone just like that. I encourage you to check it out, be it in the theater, on Amazon Instant Video, or eventually on DVD/Blu-ray, and draw your own conclusion.
The amazing life and times of Steven Spielberg
"Spielberg" (2017 release; 147 min.) is a documentary about the life and times of legendary film maker Steven Spielberg. As the movie opens, Spielberg describes in glorious detail the profound impression left on him when he saw "Lawrence of Arabia" in the theater in 1962, and again and again (much later in the documentary, Spielberg confesses he still watches that movie at least once a year). We then go to the "Bridge of Spies" movie set, where Spielberg is seen giving detailed instructions as a particular scene is being prepped. Next comes a lengthy passage about "Jaws", whose unexpected commercial success (in particular in view of the almost disastrous production) "changed my life", Spielberg comments. "It Was a free pass into my future". At this point we are less than 15 min. into the documentary.
Couple of comments: this documentary is directed by Susan Lacy, best known for being the Executive Producer of the American masters TV series. Here she presents a portrait of Steven Spielberg. While of course spending lots of time on Spielberg's key movies (none gets more screen time than "Schindler's List"), we also get a peek into Spielberg's personal life (reason that I refer to "the life and times"). "I am a child of divorce" could well easily have been the sub-title of the documentary, as Spielberg points out time and again how profoundly this has affected his film-making, and why there are so many "dissolution of family" themes in his films. We also get some fascinating 8mm footage from the Spielberg family when Steven was growing up (no mention, though, that Steven was born in Cincinnati--where I live). Lacy interviews a ton of people, including Steven's parents and three sisters, but of course also many contemporaries (in particular George Lucas, Brian de Palma, Martin Scorsese and Francis Ford Coppola). But in the end, the most fun remains watching the many highlights of Spielberg's most important movies, commentated by Spielberg himself. Counting his early 70s TV work, Spielberg has been making movies for almost half a century! It simply blows the mind. You may or may not like Spielberg's style of movies, but he undeniably has been one of the top directors in Hollywood for decades, and still is to this day. Can't wait for his upcoming movie "Ready Player One", to be released in early 2018.
"Spielberg" premiered at this year's New York Film Festival to good acclaim, and recently opened up on HBO, where I saw it a few days ago. While the documentary isn't "revolutionary" (and clearly was made with the blessing of the Spielberg family), I nevertheless quite enjoyed it and was amazed how quickly these 2 1/2 hrs. flew by. If you are a film buff, or a fan of Steven Spielberg, you cannot go wrong with this.
Blade Runner 2049 (2017)
One of the best sequels EVER
"Blade Runner 2049" (2017 release; 162 min.) brings the story of K. As the movie opens, we get a thumbnail reminder/explanation of what replicants are and what a blade runner is. The newest generation replicants (in "California 2049" we are told) are fully integrated into society. We see K visit a farm outside LA, where he "retires" an old model replicant who had taken up farming. On the farm, K stumbles upon a mysterious box that contains the remains of a female replicant who it seems was pregnant and died while delivering the child. How could that be possible? At this point we are less than 15 min. into the movie but to tell you more of the plot would spoil your viewing experience, you'll just have to see for yourself how it all plays out.
Couple of comments: first, this is the long-awaited (35 years!) sequel to the seminal sci-fi movie "Blade Runner", which when it came out in 1982 was light-years ahead of its time and cemented Ridley Scott as one of the top directors of his generation. This time around, Denis Villeneuve (who previously has brought us, among others, the excellent "Sicario" and "Arrival") is at the helm, and, apparently not feeling the weight of sky-high expectations 3+ decades in the making, Villeneuve takes us on a journey that delivers, and then some. This is a plot-heavy movie, so the lesser said, the better. But a couple of general observations: I cannot easily recall a movie where the production and set design is so integral to the plot, and so remarkable. The production budget for this movie reportedly was $150 million, and it certainly shows. But even more important, it is absolutely amazing how closely this sequel stays true to the original movie in spirit and in tone. If you are expecting an "action movie" (as the Blade Runner 2049 trailer gave the impression), you will be wildly disappointed. Sure there are some action scenes, but the movie is slow-paced in the best possible way. Ryan Gosling brings perhaps the finest performance of his career as K. And don't be mistaken, this is a Ryan Gosling movie far more than it is a Harrison Ford movie (who finally appears almost 2 hours into it). Cuban actress Ana de Armas (previously in "Hands of Stone" and "War Dogs") has a break-out performance as K's virtual PA. Jared Leno has a small but noteworthy role as the replicant manufacturer Wallace. Robin Wright stars as K's boss in the LAPD. Dutch actress Sylvia Hoeks (keeping the Dutch connection with the 1982 movie starring Dutch actor Rutger Hauer) is remarkable as Wallace's enforcer Luv. Last but certainly not least, the original score (credited to Benjamin Wallfisch and Hans Zimmer) is very much Vangelis-inspired and sounds glorious. Beware: at 2 hrs. and 45 min., this is a dense movie which takes its time, but which rewards richly for those wanting to invest their time, interest and emotional involvement.
"Blade Runner 2049" opened wide this weekend and I couldn't wait to see it. I went to see it with my 30 yr. old son. In anticipation, we had watched (for me: re-watched) the original movie, and our expectations were high. Even so (or despite that), we were both stunned how good this movie was. We literally couldn't movie from our seats when it was over and we stayed stuck for the entire end credits (which seemingly take forever). The Saturday early evening screening where we saw this at here in Cincinnati was attended nicely, but by no means was it a sell-out. Regardless, if you liked the 1982 movie, I bet you will LOVE this sequel, one of the best ever sequels in my humble opinion. I'd readily suggest you check out "Blade Runner", be it in the theater, on VOD, or eventually on DVD/Blu-ray, and draw your own conclusion.
Rebel in the Rye (2017)
Strictly by-the-numbers biopic lacks sparkle
"Rebel in the Rye" (2017 release; 106 min.) brings the story of the early years of "Catcher in the Rye" author J.D. Salinger ("Jerome David, my friends call me Jerry"). As the movie opens, we see Salinger struggling in a care center. We then go "6 Years Earlier - 1939", and we get to know the young man as a college drop-out who likes to impress women--but fails. When he introduces himself as a writer to a young lade, she asks him "What have you published?", and he is speechless (he hasn't published anything--but now he forms a plan: return to college (now at Columbia) and take a Creative Writing class. By chance he ends up in Professor Burnett's class. At this point we're 10 min. into the movie, but to tell you more of the plot would spoil your viewing experience, you'll just have to see for yourself how it all plays out.
Couple of comments: this is the directing debut of former actor and current writer-producer (for the "Empire" TV series, among others) Danny Strong. With the credentials he has, and the tumultuous early years in Salinger's life, one (at least, I) would expect a rousing and drama-filled movie. Alas, one could be very wrong. This movie feels as if it's strictly by-the-numbers. Salinger's incredible WWII years (the man was at D Day, no less) are glossed over in a few minutes and fail to leave any gravitas. Salinger's early struggles as a writer also miss the mark. Likewise with his ups and downs in romance. British actor Nicholas "X-Men" Hoult leaves me completely unmoved as Salinger. There are a couple of plus points that I want to mention: Kevin Spacey is having a ball as the Columbia professor (and mentor) of Salinger. Zoe Deutsch is delightful in the small role as one of Salinger's early love interests. And there is a delightful original score, composed by Bear McCreary. Finally, the movie's title is an all too obvious (and awkward) attempt to synthesize "Rebel Without a Cause" and "Catcher in the Rye" into one. Truth be told, Salinger may have been many things, but a rebel? Not hardly. If you really want to learn more about Salinger, I'd readily recommend the "Salinger" documentary of a few years ago. It is miles ahead of "Rebel in the Rye".
"Rebel in the Rye" opened this weekend at my local art-house theater here in Cincinnati. The Tuesday evening screening where I saw this at was attended poorly (5 people, including myself), although the gorgeous and warm Fall evening may have had something to do with that. I can't see this playing very long in the theater, so if you are curious about this movie, you're likely to check it out on VOD or eventually on DVD/Blu-ray, and draw your own conclusion.
American Made (2017)
Fast-paced and zany action-drama is Tom Cruise's best movie in YEARS
"American Made" (2017 release; 115 min.) brings the story of Barry Seal. After a clever 1970s montage featuring Jimmy Carter's infamous feel-bad speech, the movie introduces us to Seal, a TWA pilot Who is not adverse to shaking things up a bit (literally causing turbulence). It's not long before Seal is approached by a CIA agent to do clandestine reconnaissance in South America. It's not long before Seal gets involved in the Medellin drug cartel in Colombia... At this point we're not even 15 min. into the movie, but to tell you more of the plot would spoil your viewing experience, you'll just have to see for yourself how it all plays out.
Couple of comments: this movie reunites director Liman with Tom Cruise, who previously teamed up on the well-received "Edge of Tomorrow" (for which a sequel is being planned). Here they bring us ("Based on a true story", we are reminded at the beginning of the movie) the story of a TWA pilot turned CIA informant turned drug runner. The movie is divided up in chapters, from "CIA '78" to "Colombia '80" and so on. While the subject matter is quite serious and Barry Seal not particularly likable per se, the movie is fast-paced and zany, and is helped tremendously by Tom Cruise's charming and very effective performance. The supporting cast are for me relatively unknowns, including Sara Wright as Barry's wife, and Domhnall Gleeson as the CIA handler. A minus point is the incessant use of hand-held cameras as well as the use of extreme close-ups. Enough already! We get that it is an action movie! There are tons of great song placements in the movie, and when George Harrison's "Wah Wah" plays of the closing moments and the end titles, it perfectly captures much of the movie's ebullience.
"American Made" opened wide this weekend, and I was looking forward to seeing it. The Saturday early evening screening where I saw this at here in Cincinnati was attended poorly (about 20 people in a huge auditorium), much to my surprise. Perhaps strong word-of-mouth can generate a stronger box office performance in theaters. Regardless, this is bound to find a wider audience on VOD and eventually on DVD/Blu-ray. If you are in the mood for a quick-paced and charming drug-smuggling action movie that is Tom Cruise's best movie in, literally, years, you cannot go wrong with "American Made"