Movie Review ~ Wrath of Man


The Facts
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Synopsis: A mysterious and wild-eyed new cash truck security guard surprises his coworkers during a heist in which he unexpectedly unleashes precision skills. The crew is left wondering who he is and where he came from. Soon, the marksman’s ultimate motive becomes clear as he takes dramatic and irrevocable steps to settle a score.

Stars: Jason Statham, Josh Hartnett, Scott Eastwood, Holt McCallany, Jeffrey Donovan, Laz Alonso, DeObia Oparei, Niamh Algar, Eddie Marsan, Rob Delaney

Director: Guy Ritchie

Rated: R

Running Length: 118 minutes

TMMM Score: (8/10)

Review:  Ever since his smash bang debut feature Lock, Stock and Two Smoking Barrels was released in 1998 and made him a hot ticket in Hollywood (not to mention catching the eye of future ex-wife Madonna), director Guy Ritchie has gone through various stages of an identity crisis.  While his follow-up two years later, Snatch, delivered the goods with a bigger budget and the star power of Brad Pitt, he stumbled hard teaming up with his then-wife for the messy vanity project Swept Away before firing off two other crime capers seen as pale imitations of his earlier work.  Finally giving himself over to the studio machine, he was behind the monumentally successful (but strangely forgettable) Sherlock Holmes films and the less seen but far better update of The Man from U.N.C.L.E.

Things were looking grim after his King Arthur movie tanked and even a surprising foray into Disney musicals with the Aladdin remake was also met with middling reviews and marginal box office.  Then, in 2019 it seemed like the Ritchie that showed such a knack for knotty narratives was back (not to mention his eye for luxe style) with The Gentlemen, an impressive but slight crimedy (crime+comedy…did I create a new genre?).  Though not exactly up to pace, it at least showed Ritchie was limbering up to get back in the race with material he obviously displayed a greater interest in spending time with.

I find that I get a little tense when approaching American remakes of foreign films, especially by established directors that have their choice of unproduced screenplays by new writers.  Why take the time to re-do the work of another artist?  You’re just asking to be compared to that earlier work.  Seeing that Ritchie’s newest was a remake of the 2004 French thriller Le Convoyeur, I wondered if Ritchie was stepping back into old habits.  As it turns out, Wrath of Man is Ritchie’s best film in ages, a lean, (very) mean, muscled grunt of a revenge thriller that will have audiences on the edge of their seats.

Before its moody opening credits sequence (oh, how I love a title sequence!), Wrath of Man opens on the robbery of an armored truck gone wrong, a scene viewers see played out from a static position that limits what we can take in.  It’s the first of many ways Ritchie and his co-screenwriters Marn Davies and Ivan Atkinson (adapting the original script from Nicolas Boukhrief and Éric Besnard) work with cinematographer Alan Stewart (Mary Poppins Returns) to point us in the direction they want us to go, which may not always tell the whole truth.  It’s not cheating, mind you, but it’s a form of misdirection for the moment that helps keep the larger secrets of the film hidden longer. 

Sometime later, a man (Jason Statham, The Meg) arrives as the Fortico armored truck company to apply for an open position as a driver/guard for the cash deliveries and deposits across the Los Angeles area.  This is the same company who had the guards held up in the prologue and are still on high alert after the guards wound up dead.  Needing to fill an empty space on their roster, hiring manager Terry (Eddie Marsan, The Virtuoso) appears to think the new recruit is perfect for the job, but we can tell he isn’t entirely convinced he’s the one to hire.  Passing all the background checks and meeting the requirements for the job, he joins the elite squad anyway and is paired with Bullet (Holt McCallany, Greenland) a senior guard with the company.  All the guards are gifted their own nicknames and soon the quiet new employee earns the moniker, H, “as in Jesus H.” 

H isn’t on the job long before a routine run with Boy Sweat Dave (Josh Hartnett, Halloween H20: Twenty Years Later) turns into a tense stand-off between the two men and an array of armed men wanting their deposits.  H’s response to this situation (spoiler alert: he’s a man of hidden talents) impresses the higher ups at Fortico but raises suspicion within the team that there’s more to H than meets the eye.  Everyone has a right to be somewhat concerned because H is there for more than a paycheck and through a series of detours in the narrative that folds the movie around like a pretzel it becomes brutally clear he’s shown up for something no money can buy…payback. 

To say more would spoil that pretzel plot which is baked to near perfection by Ritchie and his rough and tumble gang of amped up actors.  While the pieces start to naturally fall into place with a casual meter, they never present themselves as a workmanlike schedule of beats to hit.  There are some genuine surprises throughout the film and even if the biggest one is almost shockingly delivered as a throwaway line, I found that to almost be kind of amazing, too, because the film clearly thinks it has something better up its sleeves…and it does.

Continuing their decades long working relationship, Statham and Ritchie make a great team and if this represents Ritchie’s best work in years it’s also Statham’s most mature acting on screen to date.  Affording him the opportunity to remain an action heavy while showing range simultaneously, it’s a perfect role for the actor that has been known to make a trove of films that seem interchangeable playing characters indistinguishable from the next.  He receives some nice back-up from the always underrated McCallany as his guide into Fortico and while I’m not entirely persuaded with Hartnett turning up as a gruff and rough big-talker, I was convinced he’d go pale when faced with real life danger.  I’ll opt out of saying how they figure into the plot, but Andy Garcia (Barb and Star Go to Vista Del Mar), Jeffrey Donovan (Lucy in the Sky) and Scott Eastwood (Texas Chainsaw 3D), round out the top-notch supporting cast.  Mostly a male-dominated roster, the few women in the picture are wives that float into the frame to kiss their husbands goodbye on their way to work or cry over the loss of a loved one, but the lone female working at Fortico (Niamh Algar, The Shadow of Violence) is shown as just one of the guys but hops into bed with H after he barely blinks at her.  Strong female roles have never been Ritchie’s most dependable suit and that’s one of the film’s blatant weaknesses.

Now working on a television adaptation of The Gentlemen (smart move), another thriller with Hartnett, Aubrey Plaza, and Hugh Grant (interesting), and a likely sequel to Aladdin (please, no), Ritchie seems to be back in the groove of things.  Films like Wrath of Man are exactly the tone and temperament he excels at and knows when to pull back on.  There were a number of times I noticed acts of violence that could have been shown in greater detail were either omitted or quickly cut away from, giving the viewer the general idea because he’s engineered the film to paint that picture already in our mind.  Combine that with Statham’s blistering performance and Ritchie’s typically interesting song selections and you have a brawler bit of entertainment.

The Silver Bullet ~ Valley Girl (2020)

Synopsis: Set to a new wave ’80s soundtrack, a pair of young lovers from different backgrounds defy their parents and friends to stay together. A musical adaptation of the 1983 film.

Release Date:  May 8, 2020

Thoughts:  In Hollywood, the phrase ‘If it ain’t broke, don’t fix it’ doesn’t really apply…it’s more like ‘If it’s ain’t broke, remake it’ and that could explain why we’re finally getting a look at this trailer for the long in development new edition of 1983’s Valley Girl.  Now, at first, I was, like, totally horrified at the thought of a true time capsule of cinema getting re-done because, like, why? Gag me with a spoon.  Then I heard it wasn’t just a simple remake but would add some gnarly tuneage from the era to become a full blown musical so I was, like, open to the idea.  I’m pretty sure I’ll be all ‘Whatever’ about the end product but after, like, six weeks of stay at home quarantine I have to admit the fun frolicking in Day-Glo neon on display looks like totally tubular fun right about now.  Starring Jessica Rothe (Happy Death Day and Happy Death Day 2 U) with a little cameo from Alicia Silverstone (The Lodge), I’ll probably swing by this party….but only if the apps are tasty. 

The Silver Bullet ~ No Time to Die

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Synopsis: Bond has left active service. His peace is short-lived when his old friend Felix Leiter from the CIA turns up asking for help, leading Bond onto the trail of a mysterious villain armed with dangerous new technology.

Release Date:  April 8, 2020

Thoughts: Fans of James Bond have had to wait a little longer than usual for the 25th adventure of the international spy…but at this point we should be counting our blessings No Time to Die is arriving at all.  Star Daniel Craig (Skyfall) famously had become a bit grumpy with playing the role and it took some convincing for him to return to finish off his contract and it’s now been confirmed this will be his last outing as Bond.  When Craig finally signed on, the film went through several directors, which further pushed back its release date.  Script problems, onset injuries, and other maladies surrounding the production continued to delay Bond’s return.

Thankfully, this first look at No Time to Die appears to find Bond back in fighting form with the five-year gap between Spectre and this film hopefully worth the wait.  Plot details are thin but we know recent Oscar-winner Rami Malek (Bohemian Rhapsody) is the villain and Lashana Lynch (Captain Marvel) and Ana de Armas (Knives Out) have been added to the cast as strong females Bond has to contend with.  Directed by Cary Joji Fukunaga who was behind season 1 of HBO’s True Detective and with a script punched up by Emmy winner Phoebe Waller-Bridge (Solo: A Star Wars Story), my excitement for this one was already brewing but now the heat is definitely starting to rise.

Now…who is singing the theme song??

Movie Review ~ Child’s Play (2019)


The Facts
:

Synopsis: A mother gives her son a toy doll for his birthday, unaware of its more sinister nature.

Stars: Aubrey Plaza, Brian Tyree Henry, Gabriel Bateman, Mark Hamill, Ty Consiglio, Nicole Anthony, Carlease Burke

Director: Lars Klevberg

Rated: R

Running Length: 90 minutes

TMMM Score: (1/10)

Review: I’ve heard a lot of talk lately from podcasters and film pundits about how 2019 has been a disappointing year for theatrically released films and up until I saw the remake of Child’s Play I didn’t agree. Having now seen the low-budget and low-brain cell reimagining of the 1988 surprise shocker that launched an unexpectedly lucrative franchise, I can easily point to it as the type of film that is sinking the box office and eradicating audience expectations of quality. This is a bottom-feeding exercise in how to take a valued property and dumb it down to the lowest common denominator in filmmaking and leave nothing but crude remnants of an idea that have been hastily assembled.

In the original film, the soul of a murderer was transferred into a popular children’s doll that started wreaking small-scale havoc in the life of a boy and his mother. When young Andy told his mother that the strange things that have been happening were because “Chucky did it”, it was spooky and ominous. Spawning six sequels and a television series currently in development, the Child’s Play series morphed from outright horror into a mix of comedic meta commentary in-between some gruesome bits of gore…but they were always interesting thanks to the effects team that brought Chucky to life. Add in Brad Dourif’s instantly recognizable voice of the demonic doll and you have a one-name film villain that stands up next to the likes of Jason, Freddy, and Michael.

On paper, I can see why Child’s Play might seem like a good property to get an upgrade. It’s been over thirty years since the first film was released and technology has changed in the three decades since Chucky was first introduced. Why not re-imagine Chucky as Buddi, an Alexa-ish techdoll that not only would be a best friend to your kid but could also control all of your branded devices designed by the same manufacturer? And how about removing the supernatural element, while you’re at it. No more evil soul inhabiting the doll, just have him programmed without restrictions by a vengeful worker. Now his loyalty would know no bounds…he’d kill to be your friend to the end.

Having just moved to a new apartment, Andy (Gabriel Batman, Annabelle) and his single mom Karen (Aubrey Plaza, Safety Not Guaranteed) are still adjusting to their new environment. Karen works at a knock-off department store that is getting ready for the launch of the Buddi 2, the next generation of best-selling toys that every kid in America wants. When a first generation Buddi is returned, Karen convinces her manager to let her keep it and gives it as a gift to her son as an early birthday present. At first, the doll is fun in a kitschy weird way for Andy and it’s unfiltered vocabulary attracts the attention of several kids in the apartment building. As Andy makes more friends and loses interest in his weird-looking toy, the doll starts to get jealous of anyone that comes between him and his best friend and takes deadly measures to make sure he’s always #1.

The problem is in the, ahem, execution of Tyler Burton Smith’s hokey pokey screenplay. It just isn’t sophisticated enough to go beyond a simple logline concept that bears the fruit of a fully realized motion picture. There’s nothing in the movie that is of any value or permanence, be it character, motivation, or logic. We’re supposed to believe Karen and Andy are new to the area yet Karen seems to have a long-term boyfriend and appears quite settled in her dead-end job. Worse, the movie introduces Andy as having a hearing impairment that is barely discussed or factored into the plot unless it is the punchline for an off-color joke. One moment a detective (Brian Tyree Henry, If Beale Street Could Talk, slumming it here in more ways than one) is troubled by grisly deaths that seem to be linked the apartment complex his mom lives in and the next he’s laughing it up over dinner with a boy (Andy) he just met and invited in. I’m positive the movie was edited down from a longer cut (thank God!) but no one bothered to make sure the continuity was there from one scene to the next. A major character dies and aside from a scene showing Karen swigging a glass of wine they are barely mourned.

Then there’s Chucky himself. I don’t know how it’s possible in 2019 to have such an ugly, fake looking doll but the producers of Child’s Play have managed to make the 1988 doll look positively futuristic in comparison. The mouth crudely moves up and down, making a big O and a squished O, all while Mark Hamill’s (Star Wars: The Last Jedi) goofy, nasally voice of Chucky is coming forth. It’s like an awful roadside animatronic you’d find in some backwater Kentucky town. You never see the doll move independently and the few times he does move his hands in quick action the animation is decidedly questionable. The only performance worse than the doll is Plaza, who is atrocious and atrociously miscast.

Director Lars Klevberg has had some small success with his Norwegian horror entries but his big shot at a Hollywood film is a major bust. The creativity is nil and even the cinematography is frustratingly pedestrian. There’s also a major question on taste level here. Eviscerating animals, ripping off faces, spraying little girls with blood, and viciously knifing old ladies isn’t exactly the type of horror film we should be clamoring for right now. It’s like the movie got a greenlight and then no one knew what to do…though I’m not convinced any studio head actually read the screenplay for this nonsense. Usually I roll my eyes at devotees of a film that whine about a modern remake but in the case of Child’s Play I can say the fans were right to be worried. This is an abysmal effort, unworthy to carry the Child’s Play moniker.

Movie Review ~ The Hustle

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The Facts
:

Synopsis: Two female scam artists, one low rent and the other high class, team up to take down the dirty rotten men who have wronged them.

Stars: Rebel Wilson, Anne Hathaway, Alex Sharp, Ingrid Oliver

Director: Chris Addison

Rated: PG-13

Running Length: 94 minutes

TMMM Score: (5/10)

Review: Just a few short months ago I was praising actress Rebel Wilson for her starring role in the February rom-com Isn’t it Romantic, remarking that I was glad she seemed to be less reliant on her usual fallback shtick to get laughs. The respite from this broad comedy was brief, though, because The Hustle has arrived on the scene as a stealth counter-programming move to the unstoppable blockbuster Avengers: Endgame and it finds Wilson back in well-worn territory that doesn’t do anything to convince her naysayers she’s capable of surprising viewers.

That’s too bad, too, because there was real potential for The Hustle to be more than it winds up being. A more faithful remake of 1988’s Dirty Rotten Scoundrels (which itself was a remake of 1964’s Bedtime Story) than I originally thought it was going to be, it gives Wilson her best co-star to date in Oscar winner Anne Hathaway but doesn’t seem to really know what to do with either lady. Therefore, it winds up being a modestly entertaining time waster providing some gentle chuckles (and one riotously funny sequence) but it’s mostly content to sneak away with your summer money…much like the two female thieves at its center.

After a frothy animated title scene (side note: boy, do I miss a nice credit sequence in movies) we meet up with Penny (Wilson, Pitch Perfect 3) as she’s sidling up to catfish a man (Timothy Simons, The Boss) in a bar. Penny wants people to like her for who she is on the inside not the outside…but she’s going about it in all the wrong ways. Luring the man to the bar using a picture of a different girl, she waits until he proves himself to only care about looks before justifying swindling him out of cash.  This scene is totally unnecessary to the overall plot of the film and seems to only be in there for a visual gag that’s already been selfishly spoiled (as many, many, many of the jokes have) in the trailer.

The movie starts to show some life when Penny meets Josephine Chesterfield (Hathaway, The Dark Knight Rises) on a train to Beaumont-Sur-Mer on the French Riviera. Amused after observing Penny’s efforts in conning an easy mark, Josephine comes to realize Penny might be more competition than she original thought and decides to take her under her wing. After some brief training passages involving physical comedy at the expense of Wilson’s nether-regions and a nice reimagining of a memorable scene from the 1988 film, Penny has graduated and is ready for the big time cons.  Together, the two women grift rich unsuspecting men until one guy (Alex Sharp, How to Talk to Girls at Parties) comes between them and the stakes are raised even higher when love comes into the mix.

By far, the funniest sequence in the film has Wilson posing as a blind innocent hoping to get money for an experimental therapy…only to have Hathaway show up as the German therapist Wilson created as part of her scheme. Watching Hathaway “test” the extent of Wilson’s blindness and try to cure her had me absolutely crying with laughter. Perhaps it was just the mood I was in or the fact that the rest of the film was so weary in its doling out of genuinely funny moments, but this section of the movie alone is enough for me to give it a recommendation.

With Oceans 8 and now this, Hathaway seems to be trying to politely shed the twee persona that became so aggravating around her Les Misérables days, anxiously sinking her teeth into another unapologetic man-eater role. She takes on a befuddling basso profundo Brit accent as Josephine and I couldn’t quite tell if she was actively trying to be bad or if director Chris Addison didn’t have the heart to tell her it stunk.  Thankfully, she gets into her groove right around the time she takes on the German therapist persona and rides that nicely for the rest of the feature. As I mentioned before, she’s matched nicely with Wilson and they seem to get along swimmingly – you get the impression the scenes were cut off right before the actresses burst into laughter.

When the film sticks to the skeleton of its predecessor it really hums and that’s a testament to how well Dale Launer’s script has held up over the last three decades. There’s a few amusing references to the earlier film that fans will likely catch and I liked that there were times I couldn’t tell if this was a remake or a sequel – I half expected original stars Steven Martin or Michael Caine to make an appearance at some point. Yet with too much reliance on Wilson’s same-old comedic foibles and despite the best attempt by Hathaway to drag her co-star away from the obvious jokes, it can’t make an assertive enough play to be remembered as a lesser-than remake of a more joyous film. Still – I’d be totally lying if I said I didn’t enjoy myself more than I thought I would for the majority of the 90 or so odd minutes the film occupied my consciousness.

Oh…and stay until the very end of the film. There’s a post-credit scene that’s decently long with one very good joke in it.

31 Days to Scare ~ He Knows You’re Alone (1980)

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The Facts:

Synopsis: A young bride-to-be is being stalked by a serial killer.

Stars: Don Scardino, Caitlin O’Heaney, Patsy Pease, Elizabeth Kemp, Tom Rolfing, James Rebhorn, Dana Barron, Tom Hanks

Director: Armand Mastroianni

Rated: R

Running Length: 94 minutes

TMMM Score: (7.5/10)

Review:  For years all I had heard about He Knows You’re Alone was the tiny trivia factoid that it was the screen debut of Tom Hanks.  Over the years it’s become a footnote to his resume and not much else, falling into the forgotten pit of early slasher films.  Usually, these movies earned their place on the bottom of the heap so when I finally caught this one I was pleasantly surprised to find He Knows You’re Alone to be a competent, if not outright totally entertaining, bit of ‘80s nostalgia.

It’s almost impossible to watch the movie now and try to bear in mind just how early it arrived on the scene.  Released in August of 1980, it came out three months after Friday the 13th and two years after Halloween.  Sequels to both these lasting franchises hadn’t been released and the clones and copycats hadn’t reared their low-budget heads yet so He Knows You’re Alone was still a newcomer to audiences looking for some scares.  Also, the focus on guts and gore hadn’t become de rigueur yet which is why the film is curiously absent of grotesque make-up and buckets of blood.

Leading with a strong opening that’s meta before it became a cliché, we quickly get down to business as a killer dispatches of a young lass at a movie theater.  This killer (creepily played by Tom Rolfing) doesn’t wear a mask so we always know who’s behind it all, but screenwriter Scott Parker has fleshed out the maniac and through flashbacks shows him to be a jilted lover triggered by any female ready to walk down the aisle.  While heading out of town, the killer happens upon a woman (Caitlin O’Heaney) saying goodbye to her fiancé as he departs for his bachelor weekend.  She’ll be spending time with her bridal party so they’re all vulnerable to the killer stalking them over the next few days.

While it draws comparisons in hindsight to Friday the 13th (even though it was filming at the same time) the movie obviously follows the rough outline set out by Halloween, the granddaddy of all slasher films.  The three women each have their own agenda for the weekend; one is going to get some (the delightfully slutty Patsy Pease romping around with her married professor lover played by the late, great James Rebhorn, I Love Trouble) one wants to get some (Elizabeth Kemp, looking to hook-up with a jogger played by Hanks, Saving Mr. Banks), and our bride still isn’t sure her fiancé is the man for her and entertains leaving him for a former flame (Don Scardino).

Director Armand Mastroianni plays it relatively cool for the first hour or so, peppering the film with the occasional suspense sequence but focusing a large amount of time on character development. They might be one-dimensional creations but they sure do get time to talk!  With a lack of blood and gore the film can feel a bit “soft” for the genre but I for one appreciated not seeing every last person disemboweled or sliced up.  I’m sure budget had everything to do with it but the restraint shown here is admirable.

Performances are strong and O’Heaney is a steely lead.  With her beady eyes and pointed features she comes off as an ordinary woman caught in an extraordinary circumstance.  I appreciated that when she starts running from the killer she doesn’t stick around the house to be picked off but instead runs as fast as she can into town and, admittedly, into the protective arms of her ex.  Kicking into high gear for a finale set inside a cavernous mortuary that stretches ever so slightly longer than it should, there is a nice wrap-up that allows our final girl to get up close and personal with her stalker.  For what it’s worth, Hanks is nice enough to have around even though he doesn’t play much of a part in the grand scheme of things.  Not making an appearance until the film is more than half over, rumor has it his character was supposed to be killed off but producers felt like the audience would find him too likable to be killed so he just kind of disappears near the end.

This is one that’s too good to be totally forgotten.  Though other movies would come around that would be scarier and gorier, there’s some fun stuff going on.  It may be too slow for audiences weaned on numerous jump scares and too tame for those with a bloodlust but I feel the film holds up nicely even when you do compare it to other films in the genre.  It may sit alone on a shelf during this time of year as more intense films are dusted off, but give this one a go if you have the chance.

Movie Review ~ Operation Finale


The Facts
:

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.

Movie Review ~ Tomb Raider (2018)


The Facts
:

Synopsis: Lara Croft, the fiercely independent daughter of a missing adventurer, must push herself beyond her limits when she finds herself on the island where her father disappeared.

Stars: Alicia Vikander, Dominic West, Walton Goggins, Daniel Wu, Sir Derek Jacobi, Kristin Scott Thomas

Director: Roar Uthaug

Rated: PG-13

Running Length: 118 minutes

TMMM Score: (5.5/10)

Review: I’m more of a Mario guy so I don’t pledge allegiance to Lara Croft and the Tomb Raider series of games that originally spawned two movies starring Angeline Jolie in 2001 and 2003. That’s important to note because while most fans of the video game didn’t care for the Jolie adventures I found them to be pleasant (if slight) diversions and a noble attempt to introduce a strong female into the male-dominated halls of gamer heroes. With Jolie declining to continue, the series sputtered out until a recent reinvention of the game got Hollywood interested in further adventures of Lara Croft.

Enter recent Best Supporting Actress Oscar winner Alicia Vikander (The Danish Girl) who beat out a host of fresh faced ladies for the role of feisty Lara Croft in a reboot of Tomb Raider. With direction from Roar Uthaug, a Norwegian who first made a splash with his 2015 film The Wave and scripted by Geneva Robertson-Dworet & Alastair Siddons (fairly new names on the screenwriting scene) the results of this new take on an old premise are decidedly mixed. While the first half of the film lays some nice groundwork in re-introducing audiences to our heroine, there’s precious little in the way of overall payoff during the last hour of action.

Vikander’s Croft is less self-assured than Jolie’s previous incarnation and that makes for a nice entry point to her world. Vikander’s impressive abs actually appear onscreen before she does when she’s found sparring in a London gym and getting her butt whupped. Mountain biking her way around town working for a delivery service, she proves she’s one of the guys early on during a spirited race through the city streets that leads to trouble with the law. That’s when Ana Miller (Kristin Scott Thomas, Darkest Hour) appears as Croft’s guardian and she’s none too pleased with her ward’s antics.

After her globe-hopping employer disappeared, Miller was left to take care of his young daughter and the vast family estate and business that bears his name. Long declared dead, the memory of Lord Richard Croft (Dominic West, John Carter) lives on in his daughter who still can’t fully accept he’s gone. When it comes time to sign over the company to her, Lara discovers a clue that sends her on an adventure around the world to an uninhabited island in Japan that supposedly holds the remains of a Queen who brought death to all she touched that was buried alive and forgotten.

Once Lara makes it to the island, the myth of this evil royal turns out to be the most interesting thing the film has going for it. I was more invested in seeing her remains unearthed than I was in watching Lara outwit Japanese street thugs or escape the clutches of a deranged treasure hunter (Walton Goggins, The Hateful Eight). While Uthaug puts Vikander into many perilous predicaments, many of these are so CGI and stunt double heavy that it felt like the film was moving through levels of a video game instead of building any kind of cinematic momentum.

While Vikander makes for a plucky lead, her Croft is almost completely devoid of any kind of personality to speak of. She’s clearly damaged by the absence of her father but aside from that we know as much about her at the end as we did at the start. Goggins has made a career out of playing these big toothed crazies so this doesn’t feel like much a stretch for him, his danger comes not from anything internally cracked but all external weapons that easily take down targets. Appearing only briefly, Scott Thomas seems to be waiting for a sequel script to arrive to give her something more to do (though the film makes a pretty giant leap at the end to keep her involved) while West finds his way back into the movie through predictable means.

I kind of knew what Tomb Raider was going to be when I went in but honestly I was hoping it would be a little more intelligent. Lara and her dad shared a love of puzzles so the assumption would be that we’d see her solving some clues to his whereabouts along the way…but Lara tends to solve all of these riddles and clever traps in her mind. We, the audience, never see the inner workings of that thought process so it becomes dull viewing when we aren’t let in on the secret. Even a finale inside a tomb has oodles of opportunities to bring some fun obstacles to overcome, ala The Goonies and Indiana Jones and the Last Crusade that sadly never come to be.

The framework is clearly laid for future installments of this new Tomb Raider franchise and I’d be up for more of Vikander if the plot was firmed up a bit and more fun was injected into the mix. This first outing, while sporadically entertaining, felt too paint-by-numbers to be considered much more than a middling popcorn feature.

Movie Review ~ The Magnificent Seven (2016)

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The Facts:

Synopsis: Seven gun men in the old west gradually come together to help a poor village against savage thieves.

Stars: Denzel Washington, Chris Pratt, Ethan Hawke, Vincent D’Onofrio, Byung Hun Lee, Manuel Garcia Rulfo, Martin Sensmeier, Haley Bennett, Matt Bomer, Billy Slaughter, Vinnie Jones, Peter Sarsgaard

Director: Antoine Fuqua

Rated: PG-13

Running Length: 132 minutes

TMMM Score: (7.5/10)

Review: I have two things to admit right off the bat. I’ve never seen the original The Magnificent Seven from 1960 or, worse yet, Kurosawa’s Seven Samurai, the movie that inspired both films and countless other knockoff Westerns throughout the years. The second admission is that I’ve been wanting Oscar winner Denzel Washington (Flight) to lighten up a bit already…all of his movies are so serious, so steely, so tortured inside that it has me almost dreading every new film he’s headlining even though he’s one of our great working actors today. While Washington doesn’t quite achieve tranquility during the course of this remake, the actor does show some signs of a sense of humor in between the gunfire and exploding dynamite sticks.

The prologue sets the stage. It’s the 1870s and the town of Rose Creek has a problem whose name is Bartholomew Bogue (a typically ratty Peter Sarsgaard, Lovelace). Determined to buy up all the land in the area for 1/10 of what it’s worth, Bogue has staked his claim on Rose Creek and dares anyone to stand his way. Protected by a crooked town sheriff, Bogue and his army of gunslingers draws a line in the sand for the townsfolk; accept his low offer to purchase their plots of earth or suffer deadly consequences. Before the credits even begin, Bogue has struck down several strong-willed citizens (including an actor listed in the opening credits after he’s been killed) and prepares to return in three weeks to start rounding up and kicking out.

Rose Creek needs a savior, that’s why Emma Cullen (Haley Bennett, The Girl on the Train) offers bounty hunter Sam Chisolm (Washington) all the town has to offer in exchange for his protection. Taking her up on her proposition partly because he empathizes with her and partly to exorcise his own personal demons, he recognizes he can’t go up against Bogue alone and recruits a sextet of men as he makes his way back to Rose Creek. First up is wise talking gambler Josh Faraday (Chris Pratt, Jurassic World), as good with a gun as he is with a deck of cards. Goodnight Robicheaux (Ethan Hawke, Boyhood) a longtime friend of Chisolm and former army sharpshooter now making a living off of managing the duels of the deadly Billy Rocks (Byung Hun Lee, I Saw the Devil). Vasquez (Manuel Garcia-Rulfo, Cake), a Mexican criminal on Chisolm’s wanted list is given a reprieve if he pitches in while Comanche Red Harvest (Martin Sensmeier) makes nice with Chisolm by chowing down on the heart of a freshly killed animal. Finally, we have Jack Horne (Vincent D’Onofrio, Sinister) a soft spoken bear of a man that proves a dangerous person to underestimate.

Look, there’s a formula here and it’s shown to have worked for more than a century. Find someone that needs help, gather a rag-tag group of would-be heroes, and then let them loose in a fiery blaze of glory. It helps The Magnificent Seven that the heroes would likely be the bad guys of another movie but find themselves put to better use doing good. Working together they arm the town and stage some Home Alone-style booby traps that are a, ahem, blast.

At 132 minutes, it’s a long film but I found myself responding to it more than I thought I would. I love a good Western and while this won’t be remembered as any kind of classic I found it engaging and entertaining, two things we’ve had a serious lack of in 2016. It takes it’s time and maybe moseys when it should be sprinting but I didn’t seem to mind it and I think it’s largely due to the cast.

Director Antoine Fuqua (Olympus Has Fallen) teams up with Washington for the third time and clearly the two men have worked together enough to develop their own rhythm. Fuqua nudges Washington ever so slightly out of his run of stone-faced champion and gets the actor to feel his inner cowboy. Pratt’s role isn’t quite as challenging, largely being an extension of the good ole boy he’s played before. Hawke, too, turns in a performance that I wasn’t quite expecting. Robicheaux has some ticks and tricks that Hawke takes and runs with…much like D’Onofrio does with his odd, child-like lumberjack of a man. As the lone female, Bennett more than holds her own, stopping just short of going full on Linda Hamilton/Terminator 2 mode as the film reaches its pinnacle.

Pure popcorn entertainment with some great shots of canyons and dust bowls set to a purposeful score by the late James Horner, The Magnificent Seven doesn’t rise to the level of greatness its title implies. Still, there are far worse ways to spend your time at the movies and the cast makes it worth your while.

Movie Review ~ Me Before You

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The Facts
:

Synopsis: A girl in a small town forms an unlikely bond with a recently-paralyzed man she’s taking care of.

Stars: Sam Claflin, Emilia Clarke, Charles Dance, Jenna Coleman, Matthew Lewis, Vanessa Kirby, Stephen Peacocke, Brendan Coyle, Janet McTeer

Director: Thea Sharrock

Rated: PG-13

Running Length: 110 minutes

TMMM Score: (4/10)

Review: I’m not averse to shedding a tear or two at a movie if the mood strikes me.  I’ve been known to get all misty for outright tearjerkers (Steel Magnolias, Terms of Endearment) and well up for joy/happiness (Lava, The Way Way BackJurassic World…yes…it happened), a little water around the eyes never hurt anyone.  Still, you have to earn my tears and when a movie like Me Before You aims for the tear ducts and winds up conking me upside the head instead, I tend to be less than forgiving.

JoJo Moyes’ two hanky novel has been adapted by the author herself into a two-hour snoozer that features two ostensibly engaging stars that can’t manage to make a connection with themselves or its target audience. Sure, on the way out of the theater I saw people dabbing their teary eyes (using Kleenex that came in a box branded with the movie poster…the one truly clever detail of the experience) but they just as easily could have been wiping away an eye bogey from the nap they just woke from.

Saucer-eyed Emilia Clarke (Terminator Genisys) is Lou, a cheerful working class pixie in town on the outskirts of London. Stuck at home helping to support her family by working odd jobs, she’s just lost employment at a local café when she’s sent by a temp agency to care for a quadriplegic at the stately Traynor house. Well, it’s not so much a house as it is a castle at the center of town.  Something about her spunky attitude convinces Camilla (Janet McTeer, Albert Nobbs) to hire her on the spot and soon enough Lou is face to face with Camilla’s son, Will (Sam Claflin, The Hunger Games: Mockingjay – Part 2).

Injured in a rainy accident on a London street, Will is confined to a wheelchair without the use of most of his limbs and wouldn’t you know it, he’s not entirely happy about his new situation.  So we have this cheerful but poor girl meeting a handsome but broken prince in a castle and you’d think that the fairy tale sparks would fly and a whimsical romance would develop that cures all the woes before reaching a happy ending, right?  Not so my friends.

Now I can’t deny there’s something oddly watchable about Clarke but what it boils down to is that her performance is comprised mostly of puzzled blinks, nervous gulps, and strained smiles. Lou is a Free Spirit, something the filmmakers never fail to remind us of with each new set of off the wall shoes, zany tights, and granny chic outfits she turns up in. It’s not hard to see why Will finds her ray of sunshine aura a bit much to take at first, I certainly understood his antipathy toward her.  When they inevitably fall in love, it feels false and merely a story development rather than any real feeling that’s been believably developed.

For his part, Claflin is far more successful as the former devil may care party guy that water skied like a madman now in a wheelchair prison from which there is no escape. Claflin takes the role seriously, perhaps a bit too seriously, but ultimately his commitment gives the film its only true authenticity as we watch Will struggle with sickness and setbacks. As he sees his former flame marry his best friend, the pain he hides feels relatable and understandable which makes it all the more unfortunate that he can’t find a way to develop chemistry with his leading lady.

First time director Thea Sharrock comes from the theater world and it shows with much of the film feeling stagey and confined to simply constructed scenes with rarely more than two characters interacting at once. The views of the countryside are gorgeous and I guess it’s a technically well-made picture, but one that’s unfortunately missing an emotional center and a willingness to see things through. Characters are introduced only to disappear for long stretches of time and a late in the run game changer is only danced around instead of confronted head-on.  Here was a chance to say something about life and the power of choice but Sharrock and Moyes are more interested in flying the lovers off to exotic locales as Lou tries to show Will that his current state doesn’t mean he can’t enjoy life to its fullest.

And then we get back to where we started…tears.  By the time it gets to the moments where the tears should fall I felt like the movie made a desperate plea to wring water from a stone after so many ramshackle constructs along the way. I found the final fifteen minutes and especially the epilogue quite irritating, placing a Mr. Smiley sticker over moments that deserved to be more composed and thoughtful.

Moyes has already published a sequel and depending on how well this movie fares in the wake of so many recent and future summer blockbusters, if there is another opportunity to drop in on these characters I hope it can be a more honest visit.