Movie Review ~ The Apology

The Facts:

Synopsis: Twenty years after the disappearance of her daughter, recovering alcoholic Darlene Hagen is preparing to host her family’s Christmas celebration when her estranged ex-brother-in-law arrives unannounced, bearing nostalgic gifts and a heavy secret.
Stars: Anna Gunn, Linus Roache, Janeane Garofalo
Director: Alison Star Locke
Rated: NR
Running Length: 91 minutes
TMMM Score: (2/10)
Review:  For me, the biggest test of a mystery or high-tension thriller is how well it holds up once it starts to reveal its secrets.  If it’s a corker, it can keep going on the built-up strength of the steel trap it set for its audience, refusing to let go.  The weaker ones only show they were merely treading water from the beginning and quickly find they can’t keep their head above the waves they created, eventually drowning under the weight of a back half they can’t support.    

Written and directed by Alison Star Locke, The Apology might be one of the most disappointing thrillers I’ve seen lately, primarily because there is so much promise in the premise.  Here we have an isolated home on a snowy night before Christmas when evil tidings from the past come to haunt a woman (Anna Gunn, Sully) continuing to grieve her daughter’s disappearance two decades before.  Her long-absent brother-in-law (Linus Roache, Non-Stop) unexpectedly turns up bearing wrapped gifts and offering a present for her, a present involving information she’s been waiting years to receive.

I’ll let you guess what he might have to share, but I bet you can discern that it sets into motion a battle of wills between the two that occupies much of the 91-minute run time.  Unfortunately, while Locke was lucky to nab the underappreciated Gunn for the lead, she’s paired her with the less intriguing Roache for an overly talky two-hander that goes nowhere fast.  Despite having a best friend played by an oddly muted Janeane Garofalo (The God Committee), a hop, skip, and a jump away, most of The Apology is just Gunn and Roache trading power positions.  And it’s sadly weak.

Letting the cat out of the bag so early damages what little goodwill The Apology had going for it.  Despite the ideal locale and major potential for something special, this is a present you’ll want to re-wrap and pass along to someone else.

Movie Review ~ A Call to Spy

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The Facts
:

Synopsis: In the beginning of WWII, with Britain becoming desperate, Churchill orders his new spy agency to recruit and train women as spies. Their daunting mission: conduct sabotage and build a resistance.

Stars: Sarah Megan Thomas, Stana Katic, Radhika Apte, Linus Roache

Director: Lydia Dean Pilcher

Rated: PG-13

Running Length: 123 minutes

TMMM Score: (3/10)

Review:  As a critic, the absolute worst feeling is coming across some film that you desperately wanted to like and find that it just doesn’t like you back.  You’ve read about it and think it sounds like a perfect subject to base a movie off of and wonder why it hasn’t been told before, or if it had why you hadn’t seen it yet.  Then you see it’s a largely female production behind the scenes as well and it only makes you more convinced you’re on the right track and you’re bound to be in for a project done right.  Only then you get that opportunity to see the film and wonder where things went wrong and why you didn’t warm to it like you thought you would, why it felt so phony, and why you now have to write the next sentence.  I did not like A Call to Spy.

Yes, it’s unfortunate to admit it but I was severely disappointed in the new WWII historical drama that revolves around the recruitment of females to be sent behind enemy lines as spies and radio transmitters, risking their lives just as much as their male counterparts.  We’ve been treated to countless stories of men doing the same thing and even ones that spied and transmitted without ever having to leave the UK, but A Call to Spy suggested it was going to provide more of the backstory about this program and its participants.  The trouble is that it’s such a thinly written piece with a narrow focus, it doesn’t allow for a broader view of the initiative beyond it’s limited scope.  It’s general topic may be interesting but the movie is a fairly solid snoozefest.

Recognizing that women were less likely to be perceived as a threat or wouldn’t be thought to have the capacity to spy for their country by the Nazis, Churchill instructed his recently formed spy agency to move forward with a proposal raised by Vera Atkins (Stana Katic, Quantum of Solace) that would allow women the opportunity to receive formal training.  If they were cleared and a mission presented itself, they would be prepared to go where the need was.  This is how the agency came to recruit Noor Inayat Khan (Radhika Apte) a quiet but brilliant radio operative and Virginia Hall (Sarah Megan Thomas) an American stationed in Britain continually denied her request to be a diplomat on account of her wooden leg.   Both are unlikely choices…which, in a way, makes them perfect choices.

Director Lydia Dean Pilcher stages early scenes of training in a strangely haphazard way, which begins a pattern of confusion over location and timeline that continues through the remainder of the film.  It’s never truly clear where or when the action is taking place because the Pilcher switches often between Noor and Virginia in their separate missions and Vera back home keeping an eye on the program and trying to plan for her own survival should the Nazis get closer.  The main men in the film, Linus Roache (Non-Stop) as Vera’s superior and Rossif Sutherland (Possessor Uncut) as a contact Virginia befriends are around for emotional sounding boards, no more, no less.

What is meant to elicit suspense barely raises the pulse and in these espionage films there should be a little tension here and there.  Though I was paying attention to the film and following along with the women on their assignments, it got muddy to who was aligned with whom and where everyone was heading — making moments meant to be shocking just confusing.  Perhaps that’s due to the leading performance of Thomas.  Serving also as the writer, Thomas has given the role some meat that is likely meant to be a stretch but doesn’t seem to sit well on her.  I didn’t buy her transformation into the covert emissary she becomes and it’s from that weak point other lacking areas are exposed.  The dialogue is trite, the scenes staged without much precision, and, again, the editing doesn’t help keep the narrative in check.

This one bummed me out.  I had high hopes for it and wanted to like it far more than I did.  I’m a sucker for movies set at this point in history and anything to do with untold stories of ordinary people called in to do extraordinary things is grand in my book.  It just hit none of the marks for me that I expected.  On the other hand, I can’t stress enough how vital the story being told by all involved is and on that basis, I would absolutely recommend the film as a jumping off place for viewers wanting to know more about this part of history.  As a film, though, A Call to Spy is one I wouldn’t venture to answer a second time.

Movie Review ~ Non-Stop

nonstop
The Facts
:

Synopsis: An air marshal springs into action during a transatlantic flight after receiving a series of text messages that put his fellow passengers at risk unless the airline transfers $150 million into an off-shore account.

Stars: Liam Neeson, Julianne Moore, Nate Parker, Michelle Dockery, Scoot McNairy, Lupita Nyong’o, Linus Roache, Corey Stoll

Director: Jaume Collet-Serra

Rated: PG-13

Running Length: 106 minutes

Trailer Review: Here

TMMM Score: (6/10)

Review: I’m that weird duck traveler that loves to head off for an adventure but dreads the flight that will take me to my destination.  I don’t know why I have this irrational fear of flying and though I’m not someone that white knuckles it from wheels up to wheels down let’s just say that the sooner I’m back on solid ground the better.   

All that aside, can I just tell you how much I enjoy a thriller that involves any sort of in-flight dilemma?  I’m sure the root of some of my fears has come from seeing various maladies befall passengers in the Airport films and the hostile takeovers of Flightplan, Executive Decision, Passenger 57, Turbulence, et. al.  Though flying is the safest way to travel it can be the most dangerous when you toss in an action star like Liam Neeson looking for a killer on a transatlantic flight.

Let’s get this straight…Non-Stop is exactly the quality of film that you think it is.  It’s all muscle with little logic available to explain away large leaps of faith that it asks the audience to just go with.  And y’know what…for the most part it works well as a short fused thrill ride that gets you cruising along nicely up at 40,000 feet before encountering some midflight turbulence in anticipation of a watery landing.

Neeson (The Grey, The LEGO Movie) doesn’t have to stretch much to play a weary air marshal first class-ing it on a plane bound for London.  The film opens by letting us know there’s more than a few red herrings that will be joining him as each person he passes in the airport somehow manages to turn slllloooowwwlllly around with a grimace on their face.  For all we know, the entire plane is full of psychopaths.

Though he’s seated next to a kinda quirky kinda mysterious female (Julianne Moore, Carrie) and doted on by a lovely trolley dolly (Michelle Dockery, showing she’s capable of more than merely looking glum on Downton Abbey) his attention turns to the mysterious in-flight texts he receives from a passenger threatening to trim the flight manifest every twenty minutes until a payload of 150 million dollars is delivered…to a bank account in Neeson’s name.

So begins an in flight cat and mouse game that gets less interesting the more implausible it gets.  Non-Stop shows early promise with its slow burn first half but winds up flaming out long before the end is near.  And that’s too bad because had it capitalized more on the Hitchcockian mystery it aspired to it may have been a film that would be worth repeat viewings. 

Director Jaume Collet-Serra has been behind the camera for several flawed but interesting thrillers in his short career.  After the guilty pleasure House of Wax he scored nicely with the creep-fest Orphan before scaring us even more by casting the awful January Jones alongside Neeson in the marginal UnknownNon-Stop is more middle of the road work and wind up being best known for wasting 12 Years a Slave star Lupita Nyong’o in a throwaway role – though she does rock some serious Fresh Price of Bel Air meets Grace Jones afro realness. 

If you’re willing to check your logic in the overhead bin and keep your rolled eyes in the upright position, Non-Stop is harmless entertainment.