Movie Review ~ Operation Finale


The Facts
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Synopsis: Years after World War II, a team of secret agents are brought together to track down Adolf Eichmann, the infamous Nazi architect of the Holocaust.

Stars: Oscar Isaac, Ben Kingsley, Mélanie Laurent, Haley Lu Richardson, Nick Kroll, Joe Alwyn

Director: Chris Weitz

Rated: PG-13

Running Length: 123 minutes

TMMM Score: (7/10)

Review: With the prevalence of movie previews giving away major plot points I tend to stay away from them all together so I can go in as blind as possible. In the case of Operation Finale, I wound up going in double blind because not only did I manage to bypass seeing any trailers for the film but also my last flirtation with a WWII history class was more than decade ago. Now, truth be told, I could have done without the history lesson from a scholar before the screening who spoiled the entire plot and its, ahem, finale, but it was my bad for not remembering such an important moment in history.

This historical drama centers on Israeli intelligence officers plotting to capture former SS Officer Adolf Eichmann who has been found in Buenos Aires in 1960. Among the Mossand agents are Peter Malkin (Oscar Isaac, Annihilation), a man haunted by the loss of his sister and her children during the Holocaust. After a failed mission in Austria in 1954, Malkin has been on the outs with his commanding officer who sees him as a shoot first and ask questions later kinda army man. Selected alongside other agents with their own personal stake in the game to travel to Argentina and extract Eichmann, Malkin will have to place his own feelings of vengeance aside and protect the man that was responsible for orchestrating The Final Solution.

Director Chris Weitz (A Better Life) has amassed an interesting career as a writer/director. For me, he’ll always be associated with the raunchy teen comedy American Pie so every time I see his name that’s all I think of. His previous films have run the gamut from entertaining to enervating so I wasn’t quite sure what to expect from his efforts here. Working with a script from Matthew Orton, Weitz largely stays out of the way of his esteemed cast and let’s them do the heavy lifting. While it’s a well-made picture to be sure, it sometimes wearily creaks along like the Hollywood machine film it is. That’s not a (total) knock on anyone or anything involved with Operation Finale, just an observation that the film knows its place in the box office food chain.

Also serving as a producer, Isaac gets under the skin of Malkin and effectively creates a layered performance that goes far beyond the backstory the screenplay briefly fleshes out. Kept awake at night by painful musings on how his sister may have met her fate, he’s joined this mission not only to capture the man who was tangentially responsible for her death but to exorcise his own personal demons that won’t go away. Isaac and Academy Award-winner Ben Kingsley (Night at the Museum: Secret of the Tomb) go toe-to-toe in several gripping scenes that feel immediate…like we’re in the room with them. If you told me Operation Finale started as a play I wouldn’t have second guessed you – the scenes between the two men are easily the highlight of the film.

Speaking of Kingsley, it’s interesting to see him play a very different side to the WWII coin after his work in Schindler’s List. While you may need to squint you eyes a bit to buy the 74 year-old actor is supposed to be playing 56 year-old Eichmann, you’ll want to cover them during flashbacks when the filmmakers use iffy CGI to make him appear 20 years younger. Kingsley is a master of the blank faced reaction and it’s used to frustratingly perfect results as Malkin and his crew attempt to get Eichmann to sign a document saying he’s willing to be transported to Israel and stand trial for his crimes.

Weitz populates the film with a strong cast of supporting characters, from Mélanie Laurent (Now You See Me) as Malkin’s former flame employed as a physician to keep Eichmann alive to Nick Kroll (Sausage Party) bringing some appropriate humor to the film as a fellow Mossad agent. The international cast blend seamlessly with their American colleagues and there’s little trouble tracking who is a good guy and who is a bad guy. Special points go to two-time Oscar-winner Alexandre Desplat’s (The Shape of Water) nicely pitched score that aids in the intrigue of the spy shenanigans.

Everything about this movie feels unexpected in a good way. The performances are engaging, the direction taut, the writing solid, and the production overall is handsome. It suffers from being ever so slightly too slick (blame Hollywood) and for its rushed ending that seems to skip over some more interesting beats. Still, for a late summer movie this is a nice surprise of a quality film, a attention-grabbing precursor to a busy fall season.

The Silver Bullet ~ The Jungle Book (2016)

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Synopsis: An orphan boy is raised in the jungle with the help of a pack of wolves, a bear, and a black panther.

Release Date: April 15, 2016

Thoughts: You’ve got to hand it to Disney, while other studios are remaking/rebooting their films (sometimes cannibalizing them along the way), the House of Mouse is taking an interesting approach and remaking their classic animated endeavors as larger than life live-action spectacles. With the success of the rides turned movies like Pirates of the Caribbean franchise (let’s forget The Haunted Mansion and The Country Bears happened, shall we?) and a splendid live-action of Cinderella, it’s looking like it is going to become a yearly event to see cartoons come to life. First up is The Jungle Book and it’s a challenging property I wouldn’t have thought Disney would take on so early but the first look presented here feels like an exciting take on the much loved story of a Mowgli and his jungle friends. Directed by Jon Favreau (Iron Man) and featuring the voices of Bill Murray (Aloha), Scarlett Johansson (Under the Skin), Idris Elba (Mandela: Long Walk to Freedom), Lupita Nyong’o (12 Years a Slave), Ben Kingsley (Iron Man 3), and Christopher Walken (Jersey Boys), it’s a wild gamble that I’m sure Disney is hoping will pay off…especially with a live-action Beauty and the Beast being prepped for 2017.

The Silver Bullet ~ The Walk (Trailer #2)

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Synopsis: The story of French high-wire artist Philippe Petit’s attempt to cross the Twin Towers of the World Trade Center in 1974.

Release Date: October 2, 2015

Thoughts: After the first true teaser, I can see a viewer watching the newest trailer for The Walk on their computer screen, tablet, or iPhone and thinking that the biopic is another technically proficient film from Robert Zemeckis (Flight). However, my first experience with the trailer was on a 7 story tall IMAX screen in 3D and the effect was, as intended, impressively dizzying. Inspired by the Oscar-winning documentary Man on Wire, Zemeckis looks to be using every cinematic trick in his repertoire to its fullest advantage as he brings audiences sky high for this true life tale of one man’s attempt to do the impossible. Those familiar with the documentary will know there’s more to the story than just stringing a wire between two buildings and with Zemeckis at the helm and Joseph Gordon-Levitt (Don Jon) in the leading role, I think the transition from documentary to biographical narrative will be a smooth one…one that’s required viewing in IMAX 3D.

The Silver Bullet ~ Self/Less

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Synopsis: An extremely wealthy man dying from cancer undergoes a radical medical procedure that transfers his consciousness into the body of a healthy young man. But all is not as it seems when he starts to uncover the mystery of the body’s origin and the organization that will kill to protect its cause.

Release Date: July 31, 2015

Thoughts: Here’s something interesting, a futuristic sci-fi yarn that isn’t based off an idea that sprang from the mind of genre favorites Philip K. Dick or Robert A. Heinlein. I must admit I’m a sucker for these kinds of far out fantasy films that pose questions about where our technology and scientific advances are taking us, exploring how each new boundary broken carries its own set of disadvantages. I’m a fan of director Tarsem Singh (his visually arresting but otherwise wretched Mirror, Mirror notwithstanding) but find it curious this is being deposited smack dab in the middle of a highly anticipated summer season. Perhaps it will provide a nice bit of brainy counter-programming to the bombastic sure-fire blockbusters headed our way.

Movie Review ~ The Boxtrolls

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The Facts:

Synopsis: A young orphaned boy raised by underground cave-dwelling trash collectors tries to save his friends from an evil exterminator.

Stars: Ben Kingsley, Isaac Hempstead Wright, Elle Fanning, Dee Bradley Baker, Steve Blum, Toni Collette, Jared Harris, Nick Frost, Richard Ayoade, Tracy Morgan, Simon Pegg

Director: Anthony Stacchi, Graham Annable

Rated: PG

Running Length: 97 minutes

TMMM Score: (6/10)

Review: I’ve been a fan of the last two films from Laika Entertainment, the stop-motion animation studio based in, of all places, Oregon. With Coraline and ParaNorman, the company showed that they weren’t afraid to craft a children’s film out of dark subjects and seemed to gleefully bask in their penchant for the ghoulish. It’s true that Coraline and ParaNorman have their intense moments as well as providing a way for parents to perhaps begin more sensitive discussions with their children about life and death.

Laika’s newest film is the Oscar nominated The Boxtrolls, based on the novel Here Be Monsters! by Alan Snow and it finds the company coasting rather than accelerating as they tell another fractured fairy-tale filled with oddball creations. While the film is entertaining in spurts, I found my mind wandering more than it should – even in the most desolate of rehashed children’s tales I can normally find something to latch onto but I found my grip never fit with what Laika’s team was offering.

Featuring the voices of such trusted players like Ben Kingsley (Iron Man 3), Elle Fanning (Maleficent), Toni Collette (The Way Way Back), Jared Harris (Pompeii), and Tracy Morgan (Rio 2), The Boxtrolls is centered on an orphan boy raised by trolls in a town prized for its taste in cheese. When a mean ole exterminator desperate to break into the upper crust makes a deal to rid the city of the troll vermin in exchange for entrance into high (blue) cheese society, it’s up to the young lad and his precocious gal pal to save the say.

Stuffed to the gills with wondrous stop-motion imagery, the film fills you up pretty fast in the visual department and at times it all becomes a troublesome blur. Where Laika’s previous efforts felt like a good mixture of style and substance, at 96 minutes The Boxtrolls seem to stay with us a little too long. No question that the film offers better entertainment than the majority of similar films aimed at families, but I wanted to be enchanted more than impressed.

Movie Review ~ Night at the Museum: Secret of the Tomb

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The Facts:

Synopsis: Larry spans the globe, uniting favorite and new characters while embarking on an epic quest to save the magic before it is gone forever.

Stars: Robin Williams, Ben Kingsley, Steve Coogan, Ben Stiller, Owen Wilson, Ricky Gervais, Rebel Wilson, Dan Stevens

Director: Shawn Levy

Rated: PG

Running Length: 97 minutes

Trailer Review: Here

TMMM Score: (5/10)

Review:  I believe the statute of limitations has run out by now so I can say to you now that I snuck into the first Night at the Museum on Christmas Day 2006.  My family had caught the first showing of Dreamgirls and I stuck around to see another flick while my parents started making the rounds to all of our relatives.  That first film was a pleasant, if silly, fantasy that provided good opportunities for its cast to do their thing while interacting with the kind of special effects that aren’t summer blockbuster “wow” worthy but succeeded on their own merits.

The sequel, released as summer entertainment in 2009 was the very definition of a movie studio and cast cashing in and making a quick buck.  The jokes were stale, the actors checked out, the direction given over to the special effects teams, and a higher emphasis on potty humor and gross gags made it nearly an intolerable watch.

I didn’t even know a second sequel was in the works until I caught the teaser trailer for Night at the Museum: Secret of the Tomb in early 2014 and by the looks of it I gleaned we were in for more of the same tired quips and even more screen time for the wily capuchin that delights in urinating on anything that gets in its way.   Seeing a Christmas release date it wasn’t hard to put the equation together that another “just for the paycheck” experience awaited all those willing to plunk down their greenbacks at the box office.

The third (supposedly final) entry in the series winds up being better than its predecessor but still falls short of the wonder the original brought forth.  Yes, it’s a near retread of the other films with scenes filled with characters seemingly chosen via random lottery (or whoever was willing to work the cheapest) and star Ben Stiller (The Secret Life of Walter Mitty) couldn’t be less invested if he tried but a compact plot keeps the action moving and largely contained to a single night of adventure.

Making it past the awful first 20 minutes is key here.  As is the case with sequels, a heavily populated opening is an easy way to give audiences a view of their favorite returning characters before finding a way to justify their absence in the latter half of the film.  Here we have night security guard Larry (Stiller) traveling to London with, among others, Teddy Roosevelt (the late Robin Williams, Lee Daniels’ The Butler), a Neanderthal doppelgänger of Larry (also played by Stiller), Jedidiah (Owen Wilson, The Internship) and Octavius (Steve Coogan, Philomena) to discover why the magical Tablet of Ahkmenrah is corroding and causing mayhem.

It’s at London’s British Museum that Larry and company encounter a bumbling security guard (Rebel Wilson, Pitch Perfect, proving once again that a little of her goes a long way), Lancelot (Dan Stevens, Downton Abbey), Ahkmenrah’s Pharoah Papa (Ben Kingsley, Iron Man 3), and a nasty serpent in their quest to save the tablet from destruction.

The film holds a few surprises, the best being a funny and finely timed cameo by an eternally game superstar known for his singing chops as well as his action hero status.  It’s nice to see the likes of Bill Cobbs (The Bodyguard), Mickey Rooney (who also passed away in 2014), and especially Dick Van Dyke as the old security guards from the first film.  The first time we see Van Dyke probably gave me one of the best laughs of 2014…in much the same way his appearance in Alexander and the Terrible, Horrible, No Good, Very Bad Day did in October.  Though the main baddie is somewhat bland, there’s ample opportunity for moments of creativity that are too often stymied by pee jokes and the stubborn need to flesh out a coming of age story for Stiller’s son.  All are distractions (along with Stiller’s oddly changing haircut) from what could have been a nice holiday adventure.

For a moment, the film seems to be heading off into the sunset in fine form…until a total unnecessary epilogue ruins it all.  Director Shawn Levy (This Is Where I Leave You) either was under pressure from the studio to leave the franchise door slightly ajar or just couldn’t resist one more chance to let his special effects team run amok…either way it turned a warm send-off into a chilly finale that was most disappointing.

The Silver Bullet ~ Knight of Cups

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Synopsis: Unknown (and the trailer won’t help you)

Release Date: TBD 2015

Thoughts: Director Terrence Malick doesn’t play the Hollywood game so it’s interesting that his newest film seems quite focused on the California lifestyle of the Tinsel Town elite…or does it? It’s hard to say because plot details are scarce and any attempts at figuring out who Christian Bale (Out of the Furnace) is playing could provide you ample amount of head-scratching time. Though only Malick’s seventh feature film since 1973, his style is instantly recognizable and it’s intriguing to know that it was mostly improvised. People either love or hate Malick; there’s no halfway camp (hello, Tree of Life bashers!) but even in his most obtuse the man knows how to frame a scene to make ordinary images seem extraordinary. Co-starring Cate Blanchett (Blue Jasmine), Natalie Portman (Thor), Imogen Poots (That Awkward Moment), Jason Clarke (The Great Gatsby), and Joel Kinnaman (RoboCop).

The Silver Bullet ~ The Walk

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Synopsis: The story of French high-wire artist Philippe Petit’s attempt to cross the Twin Towers of the World Trade Center in 1974.

Release Date:  October 2, 2015

Thoughts: Inspired by the Oscar winning documentary Man on Wire, this is the true story of a high-wire daredevil that pushed the limits of his technique.  The original documentary was a nail-biting bit of wonderment, easily deserving of its Academy Award and I’m interested to see what director Robert Zemeckis (Flight) makes of the material that was already told so well.  Zemeckis isn’t as formidable as he once was, opting to produce more films that he directs but when he does the results have been unique and defined by real storytelling.  Featuring Joseph Gordon-Levitt (Don Jon) as Philippe Petit, our first look at The Walk doesn’t give away much…but at least you’ll have time to check out Man on Wire before The Walk arrives in October

The Silver Bullet ~ Night at the Museum: Secret of the Tomb

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Synopsis: Larry leaves New York City for London on a quest to save the magic before it is gone forever.

Release Date: December 19, 2014

Thoughts: I usually keep decent tabs on movies but I must have been asleep when a second sequel to 2006’s Night at the Museum was announced…that or else the film was greenlit when no one was looking. While the original reminded me of the type of fun Disney may have rolled out in the early 70s, the sequel was a cash-grab from all involved…adding nothing but loud noises and special effects. Can’t say the third film looks to be anything different with star Ben Stiller (The Secret Life of Walter Mitty) returning alongside director Shawn Levy (This Is Where I Leave You) and the rest of the crazy characters that come to life when the museum is closed. Looking at the positive, one can be hopeful that the film inspires the youngins to take a more active interest in history and their local museums.

The Silver Bullet ~ Exodus: Gods and Kings

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Synopsis: An account of Moses’ hand in leading the Israelite slaves out of Egypt.

Release Date:  December 12, 2014

Thoughts:  After March’s Noah and the modest success of films like God’s Not Dead and Heaven Is For Real I’m thinking we’ll look back on 2014 as the year that studios got Biblical.  Coming in right under the wire this December will be Ridley Scott’s (Prometheus) take on the story of Moses as told in the book of Exodus.  With Christian Bale (Out of the Furnace) as the Red Sea parter himself and Joel Edgerton (The Odd Life of Timothy Green) as Pharaoh Ramses (his brother from another mother) joining Scott’s favorite alien hunter Sigourney Weaver (Working Girl), Ben Kingsley (Iron Man 3), and Aaron Paul (Need for Speed) for some Egyptian action this looks more in line with the epics from the 50s and 60s.  Scott is certainly a competent filmmaker so hopes are high Exodus: Gods and Kings won’t make as quick a box office exit as Noah did earlier this year.