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Black Widow (2021)

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DIRECTOR: Cate Shortland

CAST: Scarlett Johansson, Florence Pugh, David Harbour, Rachel Weisz, O-T Fagbenle, Ray Winstone, Olga Kurylenko, William Hurt

REVIEW:

Black Widow, the movie to finally give the long-running MCU character her own posthumous solo movie, arrives at an awkward time, skipping back to sandwich itself into the time period between Captain America: Civil War and The Avengers: Infinity War and attempt to give more depth and backstory to a character who’s already dead. If timing is everything, Black Widow has missed the boat and feels like it should have come out several years ago, but setting the awkwardness of its release date aside, it’s an enjoyable enough stand-alone adventure, although it’s more successful in giving an often underdeveloped supporting Avenger a deeper backstory than it is in its generic narrative that feels like it borrows a page—or several pages—from other movies in the spy thriller genre.

Continue reading

Operation Finale (2018)

DIRECTOR: Chris Weitz

CAST: Oscar Isaac, Ben Kingsley, Melanie Laurent, Nick Kroll, Haley Lu Richardson, Michael Aronov, Joe Alwyn, Lior Raz, Torben Liebrecht, Greg Hill, Greta Scacchi, Peter Strauss, Russell Simon Beale

REVIEW:

Operation Finale is a well-crafted, sure-handed, engaging spy thriller chronicling in unvarnished docudrama fashion the (mostly) true story of the 1960 mission by agents of Mossad (Israeli secret service) to track down, apprehend, and extradite fugitive Nazi war criminal Adolf Eichmann from his hiding place in Argentina.  It’s not the first production about this subject (there is a 1996 TV movie, The Man Who Captured Eichmann, starring Arliss Howard as lead Mossad agent Peter Malkin and Robert Duvall as Eichmann), but it’s the most big-budget and the best quality.  It’s a good starting point for anyone unfamiliar with the story, and worth a watch for those who already are, even if it doesn’t really bring much new to the genre. Continue reading

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

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