Movie Review ~ Only the Brave

The Facts:

Synopsis: Based on the true story of the Granite Mountain Hotshots, a group of elite firefighters risk everything to protect a town from a historic wildfire.

Stars: Josh Brolin, Jennifer Connelly, Jeff Bridges, Taylor Kitsch, Miles Teller, James Badge Dale, Andie MacDowell, Ben Hardy

Director: Joseph Kosinski

Rated: PG-13

Running Length: 133 minutes

TMMM Score: (8.5/10)

Review: It’s a good idea to go into Only the Brave without having seeing the trailer or knowing much about the true story that serves as the basis for the film. I say that because that’s how I found my way to the movie and I’m not sure I would have been as rapt as I was if I knew how it all turned out. Instead of being too informed as to what I was seeing, I was able to sit back and let this tale of heroism unfold without any pre-conceived notions. In a time when most movies arrive with spoiler-heavy fanfare, I took the viewing of Only the Brave as a rare opportunity to really experience the movie I was watching.

My grandfather was a firefighter for the city of Minneapolis so I’ve always had a bit of a soft spot for any movie/tv show that featured these courageous men and women running toward the flames as others were running away. Based on Sean Flynn’s 2013 article in GQ magazine, Only the Brave chronicles the story of the Granite Mountain Hotshots founded in 2008 in Prescott, Arizona. The first half of the movie shows how this scrappy and at times unconventional crew established themselves as a force to be reckoned with. Led by hothead Eric Marsh (Josh Brolin, Inherent Vice, never better) and mentored by town fire chief Duane Steinbrink (Jeff Bridges, Iron Man, who finds time to sing as well!), the merry band of firemen had egos as big as their heart and formed a bond of brotherhood that couldn’t be broken.

Entering into the established crew is Brendan McDonough (Miles Teller, The Spectacular Now) a troubled kid just out of prison trying to get on the straight and narrow now that he has a new daughter to take care of. Struggling to find his place, Marsh takes him under his wing and soon he’s cutting his own path as a valued member of the group. He even makes nice with a former adversary (Taylor Kitcsch, John Carter) and the two men form a bromance that is a cornerstone of the picture.  Another strong bond on display is between Marsh and his equally headstrong wife (Jennifer Connelly, Winter’s Tale, in an award-worthy performance). The married couple bicker and reconcile often throughout the film, both wanting to better themselves but not understanding how to bring their partner along in stride. Brolin and Connelly have some of the year’s best chemistry, accurately portraying a complex relationship with unexpected layers that keep getting peeled away throughout the movie.

Director Joseph Kosinski (Oblivion) and screenwriters Ken Nolan (Transformers: The Last Knight) and Eric Warren Singer (American Hustle) pay great homage to the town and crew that are featured in their picture. As they go from town to town saving homes and landmark trees from wildfires that put them in harm’s way, a camaraderie develops not only between the men onscreen but with the audience watching their adventures. Stock up on your napkins before the movie starts because this one has moments that might make even the hardest tough guy shed a few manly tears.

The Silver Bullet ~ 13 Hours: The Secret Soldiers of Benghazi

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Synopsis: An American Ambassador is killed during an attack at a U.S. compound in Libya as a security team struggles to make sense out of the chaos.

Release Date:  January 15, 2015

Thoughts: It’s no secret that director Michael Bay has become a bit of a joke in Hollywood.  A profitable joke, but a joke nonetheless.  Honing his skills in a number of empty headed blockbusters (though The Island is his best work to date) over the years, he was resoundingly ripped a new one in 2014 with the release of Transformers: Age of Extinction.  While some heralded its release as if it were the end of the free world, I didn’t mind it half as much as my knife sharpening peers and think it was actually an improvement over the previous installment.

So it’s interesting to see Bay’s name attached to this war drama that tells the true story of a team of soldiers that defy protocol to save a group under attack in war-torn Libya.  The filming style is unmistakably Bay and the bro-tosterone practically overwhelms the viewer…but it could be a nice change of pace for the hotshot (and, reportedly hot headed) director.

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 ~ 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 ~ Stretch

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Synopsis: A hard-luck limo driver struggling to go straight and pay off a debt to his bookie takes on a job with a crazed passenger whose sought-after ledger implicates some seriously dangerous criminals.

Release Date:  TBA 2014

Thoughts: I’d like to have some sympathy for Patrick Wilson but after starring in a string of modest budget box office hits like The Conjuring, Insidious, and Insidious: Chapter 2 I don’t think the actor is necessarily hurting for work or to pay his bills. Still, whenever I see any actor given the chance to lead a film that’s then pretty much dumped by its studio like Stretch was (it’s OnDemand now) I have to admit my cold Grinch-y heart breaks a little. Directed by Joe Carnahan (The Grey) and co-starring Ed Helms (We’re the Millers) and Jessica Alba (Sin City: A Dame to Kill For) I’ve no doubt all involved will solider on to other projects that will be given a better chance at survival.

Movie Review ~ World War Z

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The Facts:

Synopsis: United Nations employee Gerry Lane traverses the world in a race against time to stop the Zombie pandemic that is toppling armies and governments, and threatening to destroy humanity itself.

Stars: Brad Pitt, Mireille Enos, Daniella Kertesz, James Badge Dale, Matthew Fox, David Morse, Fana Mokoena, Moritz Bleibtreu, Ruth Negga

Director: Marc Foster

Rated: PG-13

Running Length: 116 minutes

Trailer Review: Here

TMMM Score: (8/10)

Review: So far 2013 has been a very good year for zombies.  With the continued success of The Walking Dead on television, the February release of the surprisingly great “zom-com” Warm Bodies, and now the pulse-quickening epic World War Z…it’s not a bad time to crave brains.  I have to admit that with each new trailer for World War Z I grew less interested…mostly because it seemed like a run-of-the mill summer blockbuster that would open big and disappear within a few weeks.  So you can imagine my surprise when ten minutes in I was white knuckling it in my seat, barely able to catch a breath.

Many felt that Max Brooks’s 2006 novel, written as an oral history, would have been better suited for a television series/mini-series and not as a multi-million dollar picture starting one of the biggest A-listers out there.  Those same people should enjoy a nice meal of their own words because the novel has been brought to life in slick fashion that never feels like its cheating on the source material.  The film opens big and for the next two hours rarely lets the audience come up for air as we are taken along for the globe-hopping, zombie killing ride.

Pitt (The Counselor) is a retired investigator for the United Nations living a seemingly peaceful life with his wife (Mireille Enos) and two daughters.  As they get ready to start their day we can hear in the background news reports of virus outbreaks in other cities but given that it’s not in their neck of the woods the family pays no attention.  Soon they are packed up and heading out for their day when traffic jams put them in the center of madness as the entire city population starts to become infected around them.

Calling on his old contacts, Pitt eventually gets his family to safety but is then tapped to lead the investigation to find the origin of the outbreak.  This takes him away from his loved ones and into a mystery that moves him from one end of the globe to another…this is one guy who has a full passport by the time the credits roll.  Part of the fun of the film is following Pitt from as he country hops because you never know who he’ll meet or who will survive.  There are plenty of surprises in the movie, not the least is that Pitt is still a proven star who can easily navigate a picture filled with international actors and accents.

Thought Pitt is the star of the show, director Marc Foster (bouncing back nicely from the dreary Bond entry Quantum of Solace) spreads the love globally employing many new faces to fill the roles of people Pitt encounters in his journey.  Enos is so brilliant on TV in The Killing and though she starts strong her character is unfortunately eventually relegated to shouting Pitt’s name in the phone as the time between their connections grows longer.  James Badge Dale is an actor that seems to pop up a lot lately (he’s also in The Lone Ranger) and he’s put to good, albeit brief use, as part of the puzzle Pitt must solve to save the human race.  Israeli actress Daniella Kertesz is a force to be reckoned with too as a solider that accompanies Pitt on a most harrowing airline ride.

Then there’s the zombies.  Not merely brain dead shufflers, these zombies take a page from Danny Boyle’s 2002 zombie classic 28 Days Later… and sprint after their prey.  Moving so fast amps up the adrenaline yet it doesn’t overwhelm the bottom line and the film takes care to explain behavior of the zombies/infected in a way that seems fresh and unexpected.  Even a sequence set in a sterile lab late in the film has little frenzied action at all and still manages to make the sweat bead up on your forehead.

These little character moments (from the living and the infected) do not go unnoticed and that’s what winds up setting World War Z apart from similar films.  It’s a brisk popcorn adventure that keeps trucking along with such expediency that you’ll probably be a little exhausted by the time the lights come up.  Yet even with its fast pace I left feeling that the movie had earned its quieter moments and called upon its actors in the right way to give solid performances.  One of the best films of the summer, it’s a movie that I feel will warrant repeated viewings alongside other zombie classics that came before it.

Movie Review ~ The Lone Ranger (2013)

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The Facts:

Synopsis: Native American warrior Tonto recounts the untold tales that transformed John Reid, a man of the law, into a legend of justice.

Stars: Johnny Depp, Armie Hammer, Tom Wilkinson, William Fichtner, Barry Pepper, James Badge Dale, Ruth Wilson, Helena Bonham Carter

Director: Gore Verbinski

Rated: PG-13

Running Length: 149 minutes

Trailer Review: Here and Here

TMMM Score: (6.5/10)

Review:  I made the mistake of reading too many early reviews of this update on the classic character featured first on the radio, then in a run of popular films in the 50’s, and finally on television.  Words like disastrous and failure were touted loud and clear and maybe that’s why I wound up like the film far more than I thought I would.  Does the film have its problems?  Oh yes.  Did it wind up being a total bomb for Walt Disney Studios?  Oh yes.  Is the film as bad as knife wielding critics would have you believe?  No, not by a long shot.

It’s probably safe to say that the deck was stacked against this from the start.  While The Lone Ranger has been a popular icon of American culture since his debut, there has been an inescapable cloud hanging over the franchise when looked at from a modern day perspective.  Simply put, there are some serious un-PC stereotypes going on and even dismissing these incidents as a product of the time in which the episodes were shot can’t fully exonerate those involved.  So the film had to find a way to parlay the relationship between John Reid (aka The Lone Ranger) and Native American Tonto into something more than a master/servant sort of relationship.

The casting of Johnny Depp (Dark Shadows) as Tonto didn’t start things off so well.  Though Depp has claimed to have Native American heritage, there were more than a few eyebrows raised when Depp, known for his broadly sketched characters, was cast in a role that already had studio heads sweating.  To the credit of Depp, director Gore Verbinski, and screenwriters Justin Haythe, Ted Elliott, and Terry Rossio there are strides taken to make Tonto his own man.  Given a back-story, motivations of his own, and ample screen time, the character becomes more central and fleshed out than the title character…so much so that it can feel like overcompensation.  Depp bookends the story under some quite impressive old age make-up and at times I totally forgot the actor was there.

Even though they spend the large majority of the film squabbling, Depp and star Armie Hammer (Mirror, Mirror) have a nice rapport and it’s their eventual team spirit camaraderie that gives the film some much needed steam as it trudges ever closer to its too long two and a half hour running length.

Working with Depp for the third time, Verbinski makes a case for the resurrection of the Western though there are perhaps one too many sweaty bearded men on hand and audiences may feel they need nametags to keep everyone straight.  It’s an efficient if overproduced picture that, while never boring, does meander through its middle section while Tonto and Reid find some footing in their growing friendship.

Though the film markets Helena Bonham Carter (Les Misérables) as a supporting player she’s a glorified cameo with quite limited screen time.  She makes the most of it though in a role that has one or two tricks waiting to be discovered.  William Fichtner (The Dark Knight) is a wonderful character actor equally at home in good or bad roles.  He’s a real bad guy here and the performance would be a highlight…if the appalling decision to give him a cleft palate hadn’t been employed.  It’s pretty much an unforgivable move in my book.  Ruth Wilson (Anna Karenina) is memorable as Reid’s sister-in-law who finds herself and her son in trouble when a greedy landowner (Tom Wilkinson, Batman Begins) sets his sights on her and her property.

Halfway through The Lone Ranger I couldn’t help but think of 2012’s John Carter, another mega flop from Walt Disney Studios that I found to be unfairly maligned by critics.  Both films have handsome production values and maybe overreach and oversell in their attempt to make a proper adventure epic.  I feel both films got a bum rap and it’s up to audiences to make the final call

Movie Review ~ Iron Man 3

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The Facts:

Synopsis: When Tony Stark’s world is torn apart by a formidable terrorist called the Mandarin, he starts an odyssey of rebuilding and retribution.

Stars: Robert Downey Jr., Gwyneth Paltrow, Don Cheadle, Guy Pearce, Rebecca Hall, Stephanie Szostak, James Badge Dale, Jon Favreau, Ben Kingsley, Wang Xuequi, Ty Simpkins

Director: Shane Black

Rated: PG-13

Running Length: 130 minutes

Trailer Review: Here

TMMM Score: (8/10)

Review:  Last May, Marvel’s The Avengers roared onto screens around the world becoming the crown jewel of a tent pole franchise that Marvel Studios has been carefully planning for quite some time.  If everyone’s being totally honest the thanks should go to Iron Man and Iron Man 2, films which bore the weight of lofty expectations while other Avengers-themed material got underway.  Though subsequent films like Captain America: The First Avenger and Thor did solid box office, they couldn’t hold a candle to the kind of money that the Iron Man films brought in.  Of course, when Marvel’s The Avengers was released it set box office records a blaze, becoming the first film to gross over 200 million dollars in its opening weekend.

Now it’s a year later and Phase II of Marvel’s film series begins with Iron Man 3 and if this is any indication on what’s to come with Thor: The Dark World releasing in November and Captain America: The Winter Soldier releasing in 2014…it will be nothing but blue skies from now on for fans of these superhero films.

A lot has changed in a year for our Iron Man, aka Tony Stark (Downey Jr.) as he battles nightmares and paranoia brought on by the events that took place in Marvel’s The Avengers.  (This is a case where having some knowledge of the previous films is nearly required to get the most out of the story that Iron Man 3 is putting forth.)  While his relationship with his former assistant now CEO Pepper Potts (Paltrow) has moved forward, he struggles with being vulnerable in the face of protecting the one he clearly loves. 

Opening with a brief flashback to 1999 where we meet Aldrich Killian (Pearce, Lawless) and Maya Hansen (Hall, The Awakening), the film lays a groundwork for a plot of revenge that will take our hero on a difficult journey of redemption as makes a personal mission to take down a terrorist called The Mandarin (Kingsley, The Dictator, in a role that provides several nicely unexpected twists). 

Revealing anything more would spoil some of the surprises that new director/screenwriter Shane Black has in store for audiences.  Working with Drew Pearce, Black skillfully takes everything that we know about Stark from the previous films and gives the character a hefty shove forward into uncomfortable territory – and it works quite well.  Black first came to attention by penning such hardscrabble action films like Lethal Weapon, The Last Boy Scout, and The Long Kiss Goodnight (not to mention The Monster Squad) so he feels at home with melding the action-comedy genre to fit Downey Jr’s talents (the two previously worked together on Kiss Kiss Bang Bang).  Like Iron Man 2, having less screenwriters makes the film feel like it’s one voice rather than many that are bringing ideas forth to keep our characters growing and evolving.

What I enjoyed about this film (and all of Iron Man’s appearances on the big screen) is how willing everyone is to let Tony Stark be as irascible as possible.  His relationship with a fatherless boy (Simpkins in one of the better child performances lately) in the films mid-section is refreshingly off-the-cuff and very in line with how Stark would relate to an adult that crossed his path the way this kid does.  That’s what makes Downey Jr. so perfect for this role – he’s able to make an unlikable character very likable without making sacrifices.

Iron Man 3 marks a turning point for Paltrow’s character as well – it appears that someone finally took note that Paltrow can do more than just play the straight-woman to Stark’s childish behavior because her role is amped up here to good effect.  Pearce looks mighty buff in the arms but old in the face and is a nicely smarmy villain. Hall is, unfortunately, typically bland and Cheadle does the most with what is still a sadly underwritten role.  Director of the first two installments, Favreau literally sits this one out as his character (looking like a meatball in a too-small suit) is laid up for most of the film.  Nice turns from James Badge Dale and Stephanie Szostak as fiery henchman top off a decidedly eclectic cast.

What sometimes bothered me about the movie is that we all know by now that Iron Man has some friends in super places yet no one shows up to help him out as he goes through a particularly rough patch (spoiler alert: Samuel L. Jackson doesn’t appear in this one as Nick Fury).  I kept waiting for someone to pop in and lend a hand but as the movie has a theme of isolation it winds up working well that Stark has to go it alone.

Though it can’t match Marvel’s The Avengers for sheer jaw-dropping action sequences, it comes close with a finale set on an abandoned oil dock that seems right out of a Lethal Weapon movie.  Wildly ambitious and easy to follow, it’s quite overwhelming…especially in 3D which for the rest of the film doesn’t add much to the proceedings or your ticket value.  What it does add is parting excitement as you leave the theater because the way that things are left the movie can go in any number of different ways.  With a Captain American and Thor movie set for release before the next Avengers movie in 2015, who knows if we’ll see Tony Stark again for a few years…but based on the series famous end credits of cameos (this is no exception…please stay until the end) I bet Stark will pop in again soon.

The Silver Bullet ~ The Lone Ranger – Trailer #2

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Synopsis: Native American spirit warrior Tonto recounts the untold tales that transformed John Reid, a man of the law, into a legend of justice.

Release Date:  July 3, 2013

Thoughts:  The first trailer for summer’s would-be blockbuster The Lone Ranger kept its cards close to its chest, revealing just enough to let audiences know that Johnny Depp was falling down another rabbit hole of chameleon acting as Tonto, the trusty sidekick of the titular character (Armie Hammer).  The second preview is more of the same with some added plot details and a few more impressive effects shots.  For the most part, I enjoyed Depp’s previous collaboration with director Gore Verbinski (Rango, the first three Pirates of the Caribbean movies) but westerns have traditionally been a tough sell for modern audiences.  If anyone can breathe some life into the old genre, it’s the dynamic duo of Depp and Verbinski.  Count me in as ‘highly interested.”

The Silver Bullet ~ World War Z

Synopsis: A U.N. employee is racing against time and fate, as he travels the world trying to stop the outbreak of a deadly Zombie pandemic.

Release Date:  June 21, 2013

Thoughts: Though not arriving until June of 2013, World War Z’s first trailer presents a fairly detailed description of the zombie apocalypse epic we’ll be lining up for next summer.  Helmed by Marc Forster (who might be done nursing his wounds from Quantum of Solace) and starring top tier A-Lister Brad Pitt, I found myself enjoying the trailer but getting the churning feeling like we’ve seen this all before in Independence Day and I Am Legend.  Why not just replace Pitt with Will Smith and call it a day?  I’m a bit zombie-d and end of the world-ed out so forgive me if I say I’ll for sure see this but I won’t be counting down the days.