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Red Sparrow (2018)

DIRECTOR: Francis Lawrence

CAST: Jennifer Lawrence, Joel Edgerton, Matthias Schoenaerts, Jeremy Irons, Charlotte Rampling, Ciaran Hinds, Joely Richardson, Mary-Louise Parker

REVIEW:

For those seeking something a little less action-oriented and a little more nitty gritty than James Bond without being as cerebral as Tinker Tailor Soldier Spy, Red Sparrow (an adaptation of the 2013 novel of the same name by Jason Matthews) is an unflinchingly hard-R, unglamorous espionage thriller that serves up enough twists, turns, sex, and violence to hold the viewer’s attention for its 140-minute runtime. Continue reading

American Assassin (2017)

DIRECTOR: Michael Cuesta

CAST: Dylan O’Brien, Michael Keaton, Taylor Kitsch, Sanaa Lathan, Shiva Negar, David Suchet

REVIEW:

Based on Vince Flynn’s 2010 novel, one of a series of books following the titular “American Assassin” Mitch Rapp, American Assassin is diverting enough for undemanding fans of the action genre, but doesn’t do anything special to distinguish itself in a crowded genre.  The generic by-the-numbers plot could easily have been lifted from a Tom Clancy novel (in fact, with minor tweaks, it could have easily been a young Jack Ryan adventure), and the movie doesn’t feature any surprising twists or turns or anything we haven’t seen (and seen better) elsewhere. Continue reading

Atomic Blonde (2017)

DIRECTOR: David Leitch

CAST: Charlize Theron, James McAvoy, Sofia Boutella, John Goodman, Toby Jones, Eddie Marsan, Til Schweiger, Bill Skarsgard, Roland Moller

REVIEW:

Atomic Blonde plays out like a blend of the convoluted, labyrinthine Cold War intrigue of a John Le Carre novel with the kinetic action of a Jason Bourne movie, but the level of style and panache director David Leitch brings to the material, and the entertainment value of Charlize Theron kicking ass and looking stylish while doing it can’t quite make up for a murky, muddled plotline that’s difficult to follow. Continue reading

Allied (2016)

allied2DIRECTOR: Robert Zemeckis

CAST: Brad Pitt, Marion Cotillard

REVIEW:

Robert Zemeckis is no stranger to period films (Forrest Gump travels through decades of historical events), and now he’s turned his attention to crafting an old-fashioned wartime romance and potboiler of the like that Hollywood churned out in the 1940s.  Unsurprisingly for someone of his much-lauded technical craftsmanship, Zemeckis has succeeded on a superficial level, but while engaging enough to be worth a look for a fan of this sort of thing, Allied, a bit like Steven Soderbergh’s The Good Germanfocuses more on pretty pictures and capturing a certain style than on its pedestrian and undistinguished narrative.  It’s not a bad film, but while it pays homage to them, it’s not likely to become an enduring classic. Continue reading

Anthropoid (2016)

anthroDIRECTOR: Sean Ellis

CAST: Cillian Murphy, Jamie Dornan, Charlotte Le Bon, Toby Jones

REVIEW:

WARNING: THIS REVIEW WILL REVEAL “SPOILERS”

Anthropoid is a spare, gritty historical thriller chronicling in unvarnished fashion the true story of the operation (code-named “Anthropoid”) to assassinate high-ranking Nazi Reinhard Heydrich.  To that end, it’s not necessarily the definitive film adaptation of the event (1975’s Operation Daybreak provides a more comprehensive overview), but it’s a tense and unromanticized docudrama illuminating one of the less famous stories from WWII.   Continue reading

Jason Bourne (2016)

jasonDIRECTOR: Paul Greengrass

CAST: Matt Damon, Alicia Vikander, Tommy Lee Jones, Vincent Cassel, Julia Stiles

REVIEW:

WARNING: THIS REVIEW WILL REVEAL “SPOILERS”

With the total box office gross for Universal’s Bourne trilogy reaching nearly $1 billion, it was inevitable that the studio would want more, even when director Paul Greengrass and star Matt Damon were uninterested in returning, but their misfired attempt at expanding the Bourne “universe”, 2012’s The Bourne Legacy (starring Jeremy Renner as someone not named Jason Bourne), was a superfluous side tangent to nowhere.  A Matt Damon-sized hole was left in the franchise, a hole that has finally been filled, nearly a decade after he last played the part, with he and Greengrass returning to the popular action series.  Was it worth the wait (and the undoubtedly hefty paychecks involved in drawing both men back into the fold)?  Questionable.  Among long-awaited sequels to popular franchises, the simply-titled Jason Bourne is better than this summer’s unneeded sequels London Has Fallen or Independence Day: Resurgence, but it feels like a “greatest hits” cover of the original series, reheated and served for leftovers.  It doesn’t break any new ground; in fact, it rehashes various plot elements, to the extent that it comes across as an adequately engaging but ultimately superfluous sequel whose existence is unessential. Continue reading

Spectre (2015)

spectreDIRECTOR: Sam Mendes

CAST: Daniel Craig, Lea Seydoux, Christoph Waltz, Ralph Fiennes, Naomie Harris, Ben Whishaw, Dave Bautista, Andrew Scott, Monica Bellucci, Rory Kinnear, Jesper Christensen

REVIEW:

After taking iconic super spy James Bond back to the nitty, gritty basics in 2006’s Casino Royale and 2008’s Quantum of Solace, the “new” rebooted 007 film series slowly worked familiar Bond ingredients (Q, Moneypenney, the Aston Martin, more liberal use of the Bond theme) back into the mix with 2012’s Skyfalland now with Spectre, director Sam Mendes and star Daniel Craig, reuniting from Skyfall, have brought Craig’s Bond full circle with his most “traditional” outing yet.  Of Craig’s four Bond films, Spectre has the most “classic Bond” feel, but admittedly part of the strength of Casino Royale and Skyfall was that they eschewed the conventional Bond formula, or at least used it with restraint.  Spectre is entertaining, but it lacks the freshness of Casino Royale and the emotional depth of Skyfall.  In resurrecting the shadowy global domination organization Spectre, last seen as a recurring villain in Sean Connery’s Bond films of the ’60s, the “classic Bond” pieces have nearly all clicked into place, but the movie lacks a certain spark.  There’s a by-the-numbers feel here that makes Spectre an entertaining Bond adventure but, unlike Casino Royale and Skyfall, not one that transcends the genre. Continue reading

Kingsman: The Secret Service (2015)

kingsmanDIRECTOR: Matthew Vaughn

CAST: Taron Egerton, Colin Firth, Samuel L. Jackson, Mark Strong, Michael Caine, Sophia Cookson, Sofia Boutella, Edward Holcroft, Mark Hamill, Jack Davenport

REVIEW: 

With Kingsman, Matthew Vaughn has done for the ‘60s British spy genre what he previously did for the comic book superhero genre with Kick-Ass: part tongue-in-cheek, part affectionate homage.  Like Kick-Ass, Kingsman won’t be everyone’s cup of tea, but fans of the over-the-top action and cheeky humor of Roger Moore’s 007 outings might find much to appreciate here, even as it pokes fun at the conventions of the genre without going so far as to completely mock its obvious inspirations. Continue reading

Jack Ryan: Shadow Recruit (2014)

CD10002_JackRyan_ShadowRecruit.jpgDIRECTOR: Kenneth Branagh

CAST: Chris Pine, Keira Knightley, Kevin Costner, Kenneth Branagh

REVIEW:

Has any film character, apart from the continually recast James Bond, been rebooted as many times as Jack Ryan?  Originating in Tom Clancy’s Cold War international espionage novels and then played onscreen first by Alec Baldwin, then Harrison Ford, the CIA operative was rebooted as a fledgling new recruit—and transported into the present day—with 2002’s The Sum of All Fears, where he was played by Ben Affleck, and now he’s been rebooted all over again, with Shadow Recruit doing what Casino Royale did for James Bond and starting the character completely fresh with no connection to the previous films.  Clearly Kenneth Branagh and the studio is hoping for Shadow Recruit to be more successful at kickstarting a new Jack Ryan franchise than the previous attempt at a reboot, The Sum of All Fears, which spawned no sequels, but only time will tell.  Clancy fans might grumble about Ryan being removed from his Cold War origins, but taken on its own terms, Jack Ryan: Shadow Recruit is a smoothly diverting action thriller that represents a worthy fresh start for the long-running character. Continue reading

Skyfall (2012)

DIRECTOR: Sam Mendes

CAST:

Daniel Craig, Judi Dench, Javier Bardem, Naomie Harris, Ralph Fiennes, Ben Whishaw, Berenice Marlohe, Albert Finney, Rory Kinnear, Helen McCrory, Ola Rapace

REVIEW:

WARNING: THIS REVIEW WILL DISCUSS SPECIFICS OF THE FILM’S PLOT

While Martin Campbell started the process in 2006’s Casino Royale, with Skyfall, Sam Mendes has truly finished what Casino Royale started—rebooting James Bond as Christopher Nolan did with Batman and J.J. Abrams did with Star Trek, taking the series back to the starting gate as if the previous films never happened. Casino Royale, star Daniel Craig’s debut—which was well-received—took 007 back to the basics, whittled down to the bare bones, with no gadgets, no Moneypenny, no Q, the quipping and sexcapades kept to a restrained minimum, and 2008’s Quantum of Solace—which was generally regarded as a disappointing follow-up—continued in this vein, but Skyfall truly completes the circle of the old and the new, keeping the “new” series’ restraint and seriousness (by Bond standards, at least), while adding a few familiar ingredients that were MIA in its two predecessors back into the mix. Most notably, Skyfall can stand on its own as an individual film. Familiarity with the events of Casino Royale and Quantum of Solace is not necessary. Continue reading

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