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The 15:17 to Paris (2018)

DIRECTOR: Clint Eastwood

CAST: Spencer Stone, Alec Skarlatos, Anthony Sadler

REVIEW:

I’ll get the obligatory disclaimer out of the way right up front: it goes without saying to any reasonable person that of course what Spencer Stone, Alec Skarlatos, and Anthony Sadler did on the 15:17 train to Paris in August 2015 is commendable.  That doesn’t mean it needed a movie.  Or at least definitely not this movie.  Veteran actor-director Clint Eastwood, whose right-wing propagandistic “rah rah” tendencies have increasingly permeated both his offscreen persona and his cinematic output in recent years, has churned out an amateurishly stilted, narratively meandering, and often frankly interminably boring misfired attempt at a tribute to the real-life heroes, counting not least among its various flaws the stunt casting of the (non-actor) heroes as themselves. Continue reading

12 Strong (2018)

DIRECTOR: Nicolai Fuglsig

CAST: Chris Hemsworth, Michael Shannon, Michael Pena, Trevante Rhodes, Navid Negahban, William Fichtner

REVIEW:

In some ways, 12 Strong is a bit of a throwback to war flicks of the ’50s and ’60s, rollicking adventures with more emphasis on creating a testosterone-fueled adrenaline rush than going into graphic details of the horrors of war (this slightly “old school” vibe is accentuated by the fact that our heroes spend much of the movie, including the climactic battle, on horseback).  To that end, it is strongly successful.  12 Strong doesn’t completely ignore or brush aside the grim realities of war, but it’s an action movie first and foremost and a substantially less downbeat experience than darker war films such as Platoon or Fury, and for fans of this kind of war flick, it represents an invigorating, solidly engaging couple of hours. Continue reading

The Post (2018)

DIRECTOR: Steven Spielberg

CAST: Meryl Streep, Tom Hanks

REVIEW:

The Post won’t appeal to everyone—it’s a predominantly dry, talky affair full of scenes of stressed-out people in smoky rooms and stacks of papers debating the course of action—-but for those who appreciate docudramas celebrating the triumph of investigative journalism over power, it’s a stirring spiritual brother to movies like All the President’s Men (to which it serves as a sort of direct prequel) and Spotlight.  In its portrayal of the free press versus an American President skirting the limits of his authority, The Post feels timely and relevant, and stresses the importance of an independent press.  The Supreme Court’s 1971 ruling that “the press exists to serve the governed, not the governors” is worth recalling today. Continue reading

Molly’s Game (2017)

DIRECTOR: Aaron Sorkin

CAST: Jessica Chastain, Idris Elba, Kevin Costner, Michael Cera, Jeremy Strong

REVIEW:

Molly’s Game, the directorial debut of Aaron Sorkin, the critically-acclaimed screenwriter of such films as The Social Network and Steve Jobs, tells the true story (with every name changed except the title character’s) of the so-called “Poker Princess” Molly Bloom (adapted from her own memoirs).  Those familiar with a Sorkin movie will recognize they’re in one straight from the get-go, with the restless pace and rat-a-tat-tat dialogue, but while with plenty of interesting scenes and solid performances, Mollys Game suffers from an overlong and overstuffed narrative structure and lacks the relentless taut intensity of Steve Jobs.  Sorkin fans may still find much to appreciate, but it’s not one of his strongest offerings. Continue reading

I, Tonya (2017)

DIRECTOR: Craig Gillespie

CAST: Margot Robbie, Sebastian Stan, Alison Janney, Paul Walter Hauser, Julianne Nicholson, Bobby Cannavale, McKenna Grace

REVIEW:

I, Tonya is not a straightforward docudrama of the infamous 1994 assault on figure skater Nancy Kerrigan that implicated her rival Tonya Harding, Harding’s husband Jeff Gilooly, and other associates.  Rather, director Craig Gillespie and screenwriter Steven Rogers have tackled the material as a dark comedy which in the third act has tinges of something the Coen brothers might have come up with (given the amount of criminal bumbling that takes place, that’s a not altogether inappropriate approach to take).  The movie takes its material from the sometimes completely contradictory interviews of Harding, Gilooly, and others, giving us multiple unreliable narrators, and also asks us to, if not necessarily condone or exonerate Harding, to come to at least some measure of understanding of what led up to the moment that, fairly or unfairly, would define her. Continue reading

Darkest Hour (2017)

DIRECTOR: Joe Wright

CAST: Gary Oldman, Lily James, Kristin Scott-Thomas, Ben Mendelsohn, Stephen Dillane, Ronald Pickup

REVIEW:

2017 has been a good year for the Dunkirk evacuation, a pivotal event in WWII but an incident which had previously received little Hollywood attention.  Combined with Christopher Nolan’s “you are there” docudrama Dunkirk, which took us to the beaches, onboard the ships, and into the sky, and Lone Scherfig’s Their Finest, about a British propaganda film made about the event, Darkest Hour takes us to the vantage point of 10 Downing Street and centers around Winston Churchill himself.  To this end, Darkest Hour features no real battle scenes—apart from fleeting glimpses—and its stodgy, talky tone will limit its primary audience to history buffs, especially those with a particular interest in Churchill, but for those who consider themselves in that category, Darkest Hour is an engaging docudrama about the first two weeks in office of perhaps Britain’s most famous Prime Minister, and how he almost lost the position no sooner than he’d been offered it. Continue reading

Breathe (2017)


DIRECTOR: Andy Serkis

 

CAST: Andrew Garfield, Claire Foy, Tom Hollander, Hugh Bonneville

REVIEW:

For his directorial debut, Andy Serkis (best-known as Hollywood’s go-to guy for motion capture performances) has elected to eschew the CGI and special effects his career is so entwined with, and tell the true story of Robin Cavendish.  Cavendish, who passed away in 1994 at age 64, was one of the longest-surviving responauts (people who relied on a respirator to breathe) in the UK.  In its portrayal of a real-life quadriplegic, and its focus on his marriage, Breathe is a sort of cousin to The Theory of Everything (about Stephen and Jane Hawking), and might appeal to some of the same audience, although those seeking something fresher and more stimulating than the standard-issue “inspirational biopic” formula won’t find it here. Continue reading

Dunkirk (2017)

DIRECTOR: Christopher Nolan

CAST: Fionn Whitehead, Aneurin Barnard, Harry Styles, Mark Rylance, Cillian Murphy, Tom Hardy, Kenneth Branagh, James D’Arcy, Jack Lowden, Tom Glynn-Carney, Barry Keoghan

REVIEW:

With Dunkirk, Christopher Nolan has switched gears into a genre he’s never explored before, the war film, with a docudrama depiction of the Dunkirk evacuation (named after the French town where it took place), where 300,000 British soldiers with their backs against the sea were rescued by an armada of civilian volunteers, including fishing boats and private yachts, in what became known as “the miracle of Dunkirk” (despite being a retreat, the mass rescue was so unlikely that Winston Churchill himself cautioned the celebratory mood by stating that “wars are not won by evacuations”).   Perhaps partly because it focuses on an Allied retreat, perhaps partly because no Americans were involved (Dunkirk took place over a year before the United States entered the war), the Dunkirk evacuation hasn’t gotten much Hollywood attention; the only high-profile film I can recall even touching on it is Atonement, and that only in one sequence.  For the venerable writer-director, Dunkirk showcases his often-cited greatest strengths and weaknesses perhaps more starkly than ever before; a technically virtuoso filmmaking accomplishment but emotionally cold.  Dunkirk may strongly appeal to WWII buffs, but its appeal to mainstream audiences is in doubt. Continue reading

Hidden Figures (2016)

hiddenDIRECTOR: Theodore Melfi

CAST: Taraji P. Henson, Octavia Spencer, Janelle Monae, Kevin Costner, Jim Parsons, Kirsten Dunst, Mahershala Ali, Glen Powell

REVIEW:

Hidden Figures could be summed up as The Help in space; while it differs from the 2011 drama in telling the true story of three unsung minds behind the 1960s NASA space program, the two films are close cousins in telling a civil rights story through a PG, “feel good” tone that sometimes makes it feel watered down and lightweight (in fact, the two films share an actress, Octavia Spencer, in a main role).  Hidden Figures is enjoyable and occasionally moving and uplifting, but also sometimes feels like an “inspirational” Lifetime original movie bumped up with a bigger budget and a pedigreed cast. Continue reading

Loving (2016)

lovingDIRECTOR: Jeff Nichols

CAST: Joel Edgerton, Ruth Negga, Christopher Mann, Nick Kroll, Jon Bass, Michael Shannon, Marton Csokas, Bill Camp

REVIEW:

Loving, writer-director Jeff Nichols’ low-key, stately chronicle of actual events spanning 1957-1967 that led to the landmark 1967 Supreme Court ruling overturning state laws against interracial relationships, serves a similar purpose to films covering the same time period and similar subject matter such as 2011’s The Help in serving as a history lesson to those too young to remember a time when racism was still officially written into law.  Continue reading

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