Ryan Beltram - Page 3

Film Fanatic: ‘A Quiet Place’ Review

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From the moment A Quiet Place begins, it has you.

A family carefully maneuvers through an abandoned pharmacy looking for medication without making a sound. They’re cautious, but you can tell they’ve done this before. This is the world they live in now. The family includes the father, Lee (John Krasinski), the mother, Evelyn (Emily Blunt), and their three children Regan, Marcus and Beau.

After leaving, they follow the bread crumbs, or in this case sand, back to their home. They think it’s another successful trip. But something happens. Something I won’t spoil, but this event sets in motion not only the stakes of the film, but the drama surrounding this family.

The family lives in silence because there are creatures that hunt by sound. You so much as step on a leaf or whisper and the creatures will find you. As a result, the family begins communicating through sign language not only because it’s necessary, but because their oldest, Regan, is def. Adapt or die.

To call A Quiet Place one of the most ingenious thrillers ever conceived would be an understatement. What Jaws did for water, this film does for silence. Except in Jaws, Chief Brody and his family could escape by simply walking on land.

This happens a lot in ‘A Quiet Place.’ | (Paramount Pictures)

This family has no escape. You are on pins and needles for every second. It’s a unique theater experience. People are usually quiet during a movie, but this was different. People actually waited for music to play before clearing their throats or eating popcorn. The movie is that captivating and compelling.

But it’s not a simple monster movie. At the heart of A Quiet Place is a family struggling with things every family deals with including grief, resentment and pain. These themes raise the film to another level and despite the short running time, director Krasinski develops each character so that when trouble arises, you’re with them and care about what happens to them.

You would think that if an actor didn’t have to speak for most of a film, it would be an easy part because they wouldn’t have to learn their lines. But it’s probably more difficult because they must use different muscles in delivering the performance.

So, on top of being a thrilling and terrifying film, A Quiet Place is also well acted. Krasinski gives one of his best performances as a father with the weight of the world on his shoulders. He has a wife and three children to protect and even when the children make mistakes, he must show patience because if he doesn’t they could die.

Blunt is incredible as always and she’s also pregnant in the film. Let’s just say the birthing scene is a highlight and one that will be remembered.

Regan is played by Millicent Simmonds who is def in real life. She steals the movie as a girl who makes a mistake early on and spends the rest of the film tormented by that mistake. You can see the pain in her face and despite her disability, the filmmakers find a way to use that as a weapon that ultimately redeems the character.

Krasinski is actor, co-writer and director of ‘A Quiet Place.’ | (Paramount Pictures)

As mentioned earlier, this is a short film. But because silence is essentially a weapon, every second is important and Krasinski is efficient and surgical in the storytelling. There’s a couple of jump scares here and there, but the first two acts are about establishing this family and world.

And Krasinski can avoid the usual expository dialogue to his advantage. There is no explanation as to why, how or when these creatures arrive and other than a literal wall of exposition revealing a couple of things, we’re in the dark. Sometimes ambiguity just works better.  

Logic doesn’t always make sense however. If the creatures sense everything, why don’t they hear a paper blowing in the wind? And how is it that a room can suddenly be sound proof with nothing but a mattress?

When we finally get to the third act, all that buildup pays off in an extremely satisfying way with one thrilling sequence after another. Let’s just say a nail, water and corn all play key roles down the stretch.

To simply call A Quiet Place a genre film would be doing it a disservice. It’s a smart and emotional film about a family masquerading as a creature feature. But there’s still room for plenty of scares.

 

 

 

 

Film Fanatic: ‘Ready Player One’ Review

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When Steven Spielberg is releasing a film, it’s still an event. The most prolific filmmaker in history still tells great stories, but it’s been while since he’s dipped his toe in the action-adventure genre. Perhaps he was scared off following the release of Indiana Jones and the Kingdom of the Crystal Skull.

In the decade since, his focus has been on prestige dramas. Some hit (Lincoln, Bridge of Spies) while others (War Horse, The Post), seemed to fade away rather quickly. I didn’t even mention The BFG because I still haven’t seen it. Did anyone see it?

Which is why I was so looking forward to Ready Player One. Not only is it a return to Spielberg’s blockbuster roots, but I couldn’t imagine anyone else tackling the source material considering the book exists in large part due to Spielberg’s work.

Tye Sheridan stars in ‘Ready Player One.’ | (Warner Bros.)

The year is 2045. The real world isn’t necessarily dystopian, but it’s kind of boring. People need to escape. To do so, they enter the OASIS, an immersive virtual world where most of humanity spends their days. In the OASIS, you can go anywhere, do anything and most importantly, be anyone.

The OASIS is the creation of James Halliday (Mark Rylance), an eccentric but brilliant man who’s love of pop culture, books, movies and video games (Particularly anything from the ‘80s) inspires him to create the OASIS for everyone.

But after his untimely death, many wonder who will inherit not only the OASIS, but the great wealth that goes with it. Halliday planned for such a thing as he has left behind three hidden keys within the OASIS. Whoever finds all three will obtain an Easter egg and inherit everything.

Ready Player One is essentially Willy Wonka and the Chocolate Factory for the video game generation. Only instead of worrying about turning into a blueberry or falling in a river of chocolate, you have to be mindful of coins you collect to power up and grow stronger within the OASIS. It’s like a VR arcade.

Our protagonist, Wade (Tye Sheridan), much like Charlie in Wonka, is a young man who comes from nothing. But he also happens to be somewhat of an expert on Halliday as well as everything pop culture. When he eventually obtains the first key, he garners not only the attention of everyone within the OASIS, but an evil corporation that has unlimited resources to acquiring the keys and Halliday’s fortune.

Ready Player One is the definition of nostalgia. There are references on top of references. If you were a child of the ‘80s and ‘90s and you have a keen eye, you will no doubt spot and appreciate many of them. Although it will require multiple viewings to consume them all.

Based on the book of the same name, Ready Player One is a well-paced adventure with Spielberg sparing no expense in the set piece department. An early scene features a race through the streets of New York as Wade, while driving the DeLorean from Back to the Future, must dodge fellow racers, a T-Rex and King Kong.

In perhaps the best scene in the movie, Wade and his friends must enter a popular horror movie from the ‘80s and wander through it to obtain one of the keys. Everyone in my theater loved every second of it.

Some references are more obvious than others. | (Warner Bros.)

Despite a 140-minute runtime, Ready Player One flies by thanks to Spielberg’s direction. But it doesn’t overwhelm you and that’s a testament to Spielberg’s decades of knowledge in crafting and staging exciting sequences. You can follow the action and just when it feels like you’ve had enough, he’ll slow things down so you can catch your breath.

But perhaps the biggest flaw of the movie is the one it shares with the book. If the OASIS is so immersive and fun, why would anyone want to do anything in the real world? Spielberg asks the audience to appreciate what’s real and the people in it. But he doesn’t spend enough time there or develop the supporting characters enough for us to want to put down the VR goggles.

As a result, the ending doesn’t feel quite earned.

Sheridan’s performance is also a bit stale. Nearly all of his backstory is dumped on us through exposition within the first five minutes. From there, we have to just go with the fact that he’s this clever kid. But Sheridan isn’t given room to show personality or charm. Thankfully, his love interest, Samantha (Olivia Cooke), more than makes up for it. She’s a confident, intelligent and a bad-ass character who’s far from being the Princess Peach of this story.

The concept and plotting of Ready Player One is where the movie works best. It worships the past and while it doesn’t really offer anything new, it’s still an immensely entertaining ride.

 

Film Fanatic: ‘Tomb Raider’ Review

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Is Tomb Raider the one? Can Lara Croft break the curse of the video game adaptation? It’s been a helluva run. It began in 1993 with the release of Super Mario Bros. and the genre has never recovered.

Looking at a list of movies based on video games, I marvel at how consistently awful they’ve been. We talk about how bad they are every time a new one comes out, but you really have no idea until you look at the list. Seriously, from Street Fighter to BloodRyane to Max Payne to Assassin’s Creed, the batting average is .000. You could convince me of the merits of Mortal Kombat, but that’s it.

Which is why my expectations going into Tomb Raider were so low. This marks the second attempt at adapting the popular video game franchise of the same name from the ‘90s. Angelina Jolie previously starred in two movies in the early ‘00s.

Oscar winner, Alicia Vikander, takes over the new grittier version, which is based on the video game reboot in 2013.

Alicia Vikander put in the work. | (Warner Bros.)

Despite being the heir to a fortune, Lara Croft is reluctant to sign on the dotted line to her inheritance. Doing so would acknowledge that her father, Lord Richard Croft (Dominic West), who has been missing for seven years, is dead. But she rejects the idea that he’s truly gone.

While in the process of perhaps accepting his death, she discovers an artifact in his collection that quite literally holds the key to finding out what happened to him. Now she’s on a journey to a mysterious island somewhere off the coast of Japan in search of answers.

When Croft arrives on the island, she’s met with resistance from Mathias Vogel (Walton Goggins). He and a group of mercenaries have enslaved a group of people to help find an ancient tomb that may hold a secret power because that’s what tombs must always do in these types of movies.

Goggins is menacing, but we don’t really get to know anything about him other than he “needs to get off this island.” Which is disappointing considering Goggins has played a terrific villain before on the television show, Justified. I realize Tomb Raider is only a two-hour movie, but after seeing Black Panther, I need my villains to have a little more depth. I know, it’s asking a lot. But the actual raiding of the tomb isn’t what this movie is about.

Tomb Raider is a cross between Batman Begins and Indiana Jones and the Last Crusade. It’s an origins story and at the heart of it is the relationship between Lara and her father. It’s the driving force behind the film and if you accept that, then you’ll probably have a good time.

Vikander is tremendous in the titular role and despite not having a lot of dialogue, she does a terrific job of emoting just with her face. It’s a surprisingly nuanced performance for a video game movie. West is equally strong as the absentee father. He loves her, but to protect her, he must stay away to prevent something catastrophic from occurring.

Tomb Raider is directed by Roar Uthaug, a Norwegian filmmaker best known for his 2015 disaster film, The Wave. Despite this being his first big Hollywood film, Uthaug shows great promise. The set pieces are well executed and different. The first act features a terrifically shot chase scene through the streets of London and he continues with a foot chase on boats and Lara attempting to escape an abandoned plane that teeters on the edge of a waterfall.

Lara’s got daddy issues. | (Warner Bros.)

He also acknowledges pain and consequences. At one point, Lara kills a man to survive and Uthaug takes a moment for her to soak in what she’s done. You don’t see that very often. Vikander also nails the physicality.

Despite being tiny, she bulks up for this role and it’s convincing when she lands a punch or falls from a tree. But she isn’t indestructible or a superhero and Vikander sells every grunt and grimace.

The film might disappoint fans of the older video games and perhaps the two Jolie films. It definitely takes itself seriously and as a result, there isn’t much humor in the film. The ending however sets up a more fun sequel that we will hopefully get. This one needed to lay the groundwork.

They also don’t treat her like a sex object which is great. Lara Croft is a pioneering character in a predominately male culture and to see her as a smart and bad-ass character who doesn’t randomly take a hot steamy shower or fall in love was great to see.

Despite some pacing issues here and there and the usual exposition problems, the filmmakers were able to take their time to develop not only Lara’s desire to forge her own path, but also the idea of family legacy. Does a video game movie only work if it closely follows the source material? Not necessarily. Tomb Raider is a good summer action movie. Does it reinvent the wheel? No. But who cares. It’s a video game adaptation that’s ACTUALLY WELL MADE!

We’re on the right track. Baby steps, people. That is until Rampage comes out in a couple of months and brings it all crashing down again. Hopefully Dwayne Johnson remembered his time on Doom while making Rampage.

 

Film Fanatic: ‘The Hurricane Heist’ Review

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This is the basic description of The Hurricane Heist: Under the threat of a hurricane, opportunistic criminals infiltrate a US Mint facility to steal $600 million for the ultimate heist.

Done. I’m in.

The Hurricane Heist is the kind of movie people who grew up in the ‘90s would appreciate. It’s an action movie set against the backdrop of mother nature’s wrath. This type of genre first became popular in the ‘70s, died off in the ‘80s when the likes of Arnold and Sly rose to prominence and then resurfaced in the summer of 1996 with the release of Twister. That was one of the biggest movies of that summer and because Hollywood is a copycat business, more movies like it followed.

The following summer saw the release of competing volcano movies, Dante’s Peak and the aptly titled, Volcano. The summer after that, we got a pair of asteroid movies in Deep Impact and Armageddon. There’s also a pair of lesser movies released that hold a soft spot in my heart.

Remember Broken Arrow? It was a John Woo action movie starring John Travolta. It also starred Christian Slater and to a lesser extent, Howie Long. Hollywood attempted to make both Slater and Long action stars with the release of Hard Rain and Firestorm. Both failed miserably at the box office, so they were never heard from again in the genre.

Toby Kebbell and Maggie Grace star in ‘The Hurricane Heist.’ | (Entertainment Studios)

I bring both of those movies up not just to plug them, but because The Hurricane Heist reminded me so much of them. Heist is a $35 million early March release with director Rob Cohen ( The Fast and the Furious and xXx) behind the camera.

This is a movie that has zero aspirations of winning any awards. All it asks is for you to turn your brain off for 90 minutes and enjoy the ride. And did I ever.

The opening scene is basically the opening scene in Twister and the remainder of the movie is pretty much the plot of Hard Rain. But because I love both of those movies, I didn’t care.

Toby Kebbell stars as a meteorologist preparing for an impending storm. The scientific readings are telling him its going to be another routine storm. But his gut tells him this will be the storm of the century. And gut always wins in the movies. Between the Ben-Hur remake, his thankless role in Kong: Skull Island and this, Kebbell needs to hire a new agent.

Maggie Grace also stars as an ATF Agent whose job is to transport the money to the facility. I haven’t seen Grace in anything other than the Taken movies where she’s playing 15 years too young. In this she’s a pleasant surprise mixing great sarcastic humor with welcomed female badassery.

Kebbell and Grace’s paths meet once the facility is taken over and they must work together to not only prevent the robbers from succeeding, but also save Kebbell’s brother, played by True Blood’s Ryan Kwanten.

The reason this movie works for me is because it knows what it is. It embraces the ridiculousness. Death by hubcap, peanut butter and jelly jokes and outrunning a storm in a semitruck are just some of the things to look forward too.

Is this 1996 or 2018? | (Entertainment Studios)

Despite the small budget, Cohen reminds us that he’s a veteran of the action genre. The set pieces are confidently shot and the effects are passable. The finale even features terrific stunt work that reminded me of Cohen’s work on the first Fast & Furious movie. There’s also great chemistry between the main characters and even the bad guys have at least a little bit of depth besides just being bad.

The Hurricane Heist offers nothing new. It’s just a throwback action movie to a time when our heroes didn’t have super powers and the real villain was inclement weather. It moves at a great pace; the characters are likable and it also features one of my favorite things in movies: actors attempting to do southern accents.

So, if you need a break from superheroes and just want an easily-digestible action movie with absolutely no intention of world-building or sequels, check this out. You’ll love it, and then forget it the moment it leaves you until it resurfaces on cable next year for a second life.

https://youtu.be/gAuppGGnEeo

 

 

Film Fanatic: ‘Annihilation’ Review

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On its surface, Annihilation is a genre film. It’s a monster movie or an alien encounter movie. And yes, there are elements of The Thing and Alien in Annihilation. But really, the film is intellectual genre. It’s Apocalypse Now but without the backdrop of Vietnam.

And the five brave (Or psychotic) women tasked with walking into the heart of darkness include a biologist, anthropologist, psychologist, surveyor and linguist. Some of them have military experience, but they’re not soldiers. Their mission is to investigate and research Area X.

Originally just another place in the south, Area X is now a quarantined zone after something fell from the sky and struck a lighthouse. Now the surrounding area is encased by an unknown surface that is slowly expanding. They call the area inside; the Shimmer.

Natalie Portman in ‘Annihilation.’ | (Paramount)

Surface is a key word to remember when thinking about the film. Director Alex Garland makes it a point to visualize certain things we’ve seen before, only he presents it behind the veneer of something either sinister or beautiful or perhaps both. A couple holds hands, but he shoots it through a glass full of water which makes their fingers look like worms. In another scene, the two are embracing, but through a decontamination room.

That dichotomy: beautiful and disturbing, perfectly encapsulates Annihilation.

Natalie Portman stars as Lena, the biologist who is a last-minute addition to the expedition. Her husband, Kane (Oscar Isaac), has suddenly remerged from the Shimmer. He’s the only person to ever come back alive. But he’s not quite the same person Lena remembers and after he becomes ill, Lena agrees to go into the Shimmer to not only discover what’s inside, but perhaps find answers to what’s really going on with her husband.

The film is based on a book of the same name by Jeff VanderMeer. The author wrote the novel after a dream he had. And that’s a great way to describe the book. A dream you can’t quite remember.

The book is dense, cerebral and unlike anything I’ve ever read. The thought of a film adaptation seemed unfathomable. But Garland has managed to put his own stamp on the material. Annihilation is a weird, hallucinogenic, meta-physical trip where nothing is quite what it seems. Once our team enters the Shimmer, the world is a serene, ecological miracle full of strange and beautiful things.

There are creatures that look like deer with flowers growing on their antlers. Ice trees sprouting from the ground near the coastline and foliage forming into what look like people. Kind of like the bodies permanently preserved in ash at Pompeii.

But there’s an antithesis to this serenity. Compasses are useless, they can’t communicate with anyone outside of the Shimmer and there are mutated crocodiles. The environment isn’t the only thing they have to worry about.

Nothing is quite what it seems in the Shimmer. | (Paramount)

As the film progresses, each of our characters begin to break down in their own way. Each of them is damaged, and the façade they’ve carried with them in the outside world is useless in the Shimmer.

Perhaps a better title is self-destruction. Portman has a unique quality of showing poise and a sense of control, but you see glimpses of damage in her that begin to peal away. She’s a strong, capable character, but she’s also vulnerable.

The other characters have far less to do. Garland assembles a terrific cast of actors including Tessa Thompson, Jennifer Jason Leigh and Gina Rodriguez, but none of them are given enough time to develop.

This is Portman’s film and at the heart of the movie is a love story between her and Isaac’s character. The film occasionally provides flashbacks to their time together and it’s sweet and innocent. It’s also necessary to provide her with motivation as the film nears its end.

Annihilation is an immersive experience. Garland requires participation in an explicit way from the audience that makes you feel like you’re there with the team. The movie is largely a slow burn. But there are a few disturbing sequences including the team watching a video made from inside the Shimmer and a truly terrifying sequence at night in an abandoned house. Let’s just say it involves a mutated bear.

As the third act progresses, the film becomes even more unpredictable. Garland has no interest in answering questions. His focus is atmosphere.

The juxtaposition of beauty and horror is present throughout the film, but it is best represented in the final shot which manages to be comforting and haunting. It stays with you long after the film is over like an infection.

 

 

Film Fanatic: ‘Black Panther’ Review

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Going into a superhero movie, particularly one from Marvel, you expect things to go boom, a signature if not assembly-line-looking color pallet and some energetic humor. They’re perfect summer fare. But over the last few years, they’ve made a conscience and welcomed effort to evolve into something a little smarter.

If phase one was about establishing the individual characters culminating in the first Avengers movie, phase two is where they tackled specific themes to ground each film. In Iron Man 3, Tony Stark dealt with PTSD following the events of The Avengers. In Captain America: The Winter Soldier, they chose to focus on national security and surveillance and how it relates to our freedom.

It continued with Avengers: Age of Ultron where an overreliance on technology could lead to our downfall. Government oversight was a major theme behind Captain America: Civil War and it provided an interesting conversation about superheroes perhaps inciting the very evil they aim to defeat. It was also an acknowledgement of the collateral damage they can sometimes cause.

Chadwick Boseman is a great Black Panther. | (Walt Disney Studios Pictures)

In the case of Marvel’s latest entry in the Marvel Cinematic Universe (MCU), Black Panther, director Ryan Coogler has made perhaps the most political and subversive Marvel movie to date.

In describing the central theme of Black Panther, Coogler chose to focus on responsibility and identity:

“What do the powerful owe those in need? It separates the good-guys from the villains. What value is strength unless you’re using it to help someone?”

It’s that old adage from Spider-Man; with great power comes great responsibility. But Black Panther, also known as T’Challa (Chadwick Boseman), the newly appointed king of Wakanda following the death of his father in Captain America: Civil War, has a responsibility to his people first and foremost.

On the surface (Quite literally), Wakanda is a Third World country struggling to survive. But in reality, it is a technologically advanced African nation that thrives thanks to a rare metal known as vibranium that powers the entire country.

But wouldn’t such a powerful thing be helpful for other struggling countries? T’Challa believes it would. But at what cost? He’s reluctant to share anything from Wakanda with the rest of the world because he knows such a move could threaten their peaceful existence. Wakanda doesn’t sound like a “shit-hole country,” does it?

What makes Black Panther stand out from other Marvel movies is how relevant it feels. There’s obvious parallels between Wakanda and America including border security, immigration and the corruption of power, but to have a predominantly black cast at the center of it is even more ironic considering the political climate we’re in.

The costume design is on point. | (Walt Disney Studios Pictures)

And the cast is spectacular. Every single character has depth and purpose thanks to Coogler and writer Joe Robert Cole. Lupita Nyong’o is T’Challa’s former lover who now risks her life as a spy for Wakanda. Danai Gurira puts down the samurai sword from The Walking Dead and plays Okoye as a proud general in T’Challa’s army who still has the courage to question him in times of crises.

Danial Kaluuya, fresh off of his Oscar-nominated turn in Get Out, plays W’Kabi, leader of another tribe within Wakanda who feels T’Challa must embrace his new leadership by evolving and sharing their resources with the outside world.

But the standout is Letitia Wright as Shuri, little sister to T’Challa. Not only is she the smartest person in Wakanda and the creator of all of their technology, she’s also Q to Black Panther. She provides him with all of his gadgets while also throwing in the occasional sibling jab to keep him humble.

The heroes aren’t the only three-dimensional characters. Michael B. Jordan plays Erik Killmonger, a troubled soldier out for revenge against Wakanda for reasons I won’t get in to. He could have been just another bad guy reveling in seeing destruction. But Coogler and Cole give him sensible motivation for his actions. By the end, he delivers a poignant monologue that kind of justifies everything he does in the film. He’s by far the best villain in the MCU since Loki. I do wish there was more of him though.

Michael B. Jordan is charismatic, imposing and terrifying as the villain. | (Walt Disney Studios Pictures)

We’ve established that Black Panther is a smart Marvel movie. But is it entertaining? Most definitely. I mentioned Q from James Bond earlier and that’s a great description of this film. Marvel has made a James Bond film. Black Panther looks spectacular thanks to Coogler bringing in his own team of people including cinematographer Rachel Morrison, production designer Hannah Beachler and composer Ludwig Goransson. The costumes are vibrant and colorful, the music is energetic and distinct and the whole world feels new and fresh.

Despite not having much experience in the action department, Coogler directs the set pieces with confidence. From hand-to-hand fights atop a waterfall to car chases in South Korea and aerial battles above Wakanda, Coogler gives each action sequence its own unique stamp on the film.

I was worried that Boseman would lack a certain level of charisma. But the script doesn’t take itself too seriously, allowing for Boseman and the supporting cast room for some levity.

Black Panther is an immensely satisfying movie that perfectly balances real-world issues with Marvel’s signature appeal. It’s a popcorn movie that asks interesting questions about identity, legacy and responsibility.

Film Fanatic: ‘The 15:17 to Paris’ Review

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The 15:17 to Paris marks the end of an unofficial trilogy for director Clint Eastwood. From American Sniper to Sully to this, true acts of heroism fascinates Eastwood. And it’s been a very lucrative fascination as both Sniper and Sully were huge hits at the box office.

But those films had movie stars backing them in Bradley Cooper and Tom Hanks. This time around, Eastwood decided to use the actual men; Alek Skarlatos, Anthony Sadler and Spencer Stone, to tell the true story of how they thwarted a potential terrorist attack aboard a train bound for Paris in 2015.

To use the real heroes is a truly ambitious endeavor. For a man pushing 90, you have to admire Eastwood’s continued passion for filmmaking (He still cranks out a movie every two years) as well as taking risks such as this.

Unfortunately, the decision to use ordinary men instead of actors, as well as a dismal script, undermine what could have been a compelling film.

Skarlatos and Sadler have little to do in ‘The 15:17 to Paris.’ | (Warner Bros.)

At 94 minutes, The 15:17 to Paris is Eastwood’s shortest film. But it feels twice as long. For the first 75 minutes, Eastwood attempts to develop them from their childhood struggles through finding their footing in adulthood.

“Struggles” is a loose term because this story defines it as not paying attention in class and failing to have a hall pass. Minor offenses like these lead to transferring schools and in one case, a boy being removed from his mother to live with his father in another state. Seriously, the teachers in this movie are ridiculous to the point where there should be a formal investigation into their abilities as educators. That or there’s more to the story and Eastwood just glossed over it to get to the train.

But we can’t get to the train just yet because it’s important that we see the three men figure out what to do with their lives. Actually, Eastwood and screenwriter Dorothy Blyskal seem to only care about Stone’s story as Skarlatos is barely seen and Sadler is basically reduced to the token black friend role.

I can see why they chose to focus on Stone. Of the three men, he’s the only one with even an ounce of acting chops. I hate writing these words because the three men should be celebrated, but by having them portray themselves, Eastwood has turned an ambitious gamble into a poorly-conceived gimmick.

For being friends in real life, the three men have little to no chemistry on screen. It doesn’t help that Blyskal’s script (Her first credited screenplay) is cringe-worthy at times.

“Let’s go outside and play,” says one kid to another. Kids don’t say that. In another scene the three men wake up after a night of partying in Amsterdam. “Last night, man,” one says. After a few beats another replies, “Wow. Last night was crazy.” Other clunky lines include, “Words are painful” and “Three California kids in Italy, what are the chances?”

Nothing seems natural or authentic. Even professionally trained actors like Judy Greer and Jenna Fischer have trouble delivering their lines. It doesn’t help that Eastwood is notorious for only doing a couple of takes before moving on. He’s the last person who should be directing a movie with a terrible script and non-actors.

When the three men eventually do meet up in Europe, the film turns into a boring travel log. Let’s take endless selfies. How about some gelato. Let’s take a bicycle trip. The movie basically turns into an Instagram feed.

Get ready for a lot of this. | (Warner Bros.)

Finally, we arrive on the train and for the final 15 minutes, The 15:17 to Paris is exciting and compelling. Eastwood shoots in a documentary style akin to Paul Greengrass that really elevates the suspense. The takedown of the terrorist is thrilling and terrifying and the ending is a great celebration of the four men (There was a fourth guy on the train).

But everything that precedes this finale is an unmitigated disaster. Despite the short length, the first 75 minutes is nothing bit tepid filler where nothing even remotely interesting happens. There’s a hint of a Christian bent to the story. But that’s eventually forgotten and it really highlights how unfocused and shallow the script truly is.

We love stories of ordinary people doing extraordinary things. But if you look beyond their shining moment and there’s nothing worth telling, then you’re just patronizing them instead of celebrating them.

 

 

 

Film Fanatic: ‘Hostiles’ Review

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“Sometimes I envy the finality of death. The certainty. And I have to drive those thoughts away when I wake.” Rosalie Quaid (Rosamund Pike)

Quaid loses her husband and three children (Including a baby) at the hands of Comanche renegades. This happens in the first 10 minutes of the film. If war is hell, what does that make the old west?  

Hostiles, written and directed by Scott Cooper, is a dower western about the guilt one carries from a life of violence. If you had any desire to live in the late 19th century, such thoughts would be nixed after seeing this.

Christian Bale stars as Joe Blocker, a Cavalry Captain known for his brutal violence against Native Americans. After more than 20 years of service, he’s ready to leave the life behind. But not before he’s ordered to escort Cheyenne war chief Yellow Hawk (Wes Studi), also a notorious killer, and his family from New Mexico to his home in Montana. The government determines he should die there.

Christian Bale gives the only worthy performance in ‘Hostiles.’ | (Entertainment Studios)

After reluctantly agreeing, Blocker and a group of men begin their treacherous journey. They eventually come across Quaid who they agree to take with them. 

Cooper’s specialty seems to be damaged characters and he’s always been able to get terrific performances out of those characters. Whether it’s Jeff Bridges’ Oscar-winning turn as an alcoholic father in Crazy Heart or Woody Harrelson’s psychotic skinhead in Out of the Furnace or Johnny Depp’s portrayal of Whitey Bulger in Black Mass, these actors respect Cooper’s vision.

But the films themselves have all been mediocre as Cooper prefers style over substance. His interests are in environments and the circumstances that lead characters down a certain path. That’s an interesting theme. But he often undermines story and plot which result in stagnant plots with little to no momentum.

And Hostiles is no different. Bale is once again strong playing Blocker as a stoic and tormented man. He excels at playing characters who are always on the brink of destruction. But Cooper decides to give him an arc of redemption. Unfortunately this leads down a path of white guilt. This is a theme that has become quite prevalent in these types of films.

It doesn’t help that none of the Native American characters are given much to do except occasionally pop in to give the white characters words of wisdom to make them feel better. It’s not only patronizing to the Native American actors, but a waste of their talents. Studi (Dances with Wolves, Heat), Adam Beach (Smoke Signals, Flags of our Fathers) and Q’orianka Kilcher (The New World) have all been terrific in past performances and many where they play Native Americans. But Cooper relegates them to background characters.

He wastes the white actors as well with forgettable turns from Jesse Plemons, Bill Camp and Timothee Chalamet who was superb in Call Me By Your Name. He even relegates Pike to sobbing and cowering for the majority of the film.

Rosamund Pike is an emotional wreck. | (Entertainment Studios)

What Cooper lacks in character development, he makes up for in beautiful shots of the landscape. Whether it’s the sun rising in a valley, interesting rock formations or the classic western shot of a silhouetted cowboy walking through an open door out into desolate land, Cooper has seen his fare share of westerns, particularly those directed by John Ford.

But it always comes down to the story and the characters within that story. Cooper is so preoccupied with focusing on themes such as PTSD, racism, guilt and pain that he forgets to allow them to be represented through the character’s actions. We won’t care about the characters if they’re nothing more than broad archetypes.  

Cooper’s desire for the characters to constantly wallow in misery also slows the film to a meandering pace. The occasional threat is often followed by quiet campfire scenes where characters wax poetic about the things they’ve done and seen.

Cooper focuses on the past when really he should be worrying about the present.

Hostiles offers nothing new to the western genre. It’s a slow, depressing experience with hallow characters and a weak story. Cooper does manage to throw in a somewhat uplifting ending, but by then we don’t care.

 

Film Fanatic: ‘Call Me By Your Name’ Review

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I love surprises at the movies. As a writer and daily consumer of everything film, it takes a lot to floor me at this point. But after seeing Call Me By Your Name, I am reminded once again that this medium is truly special.

Call Me By Your Name takes place in Northern Italy in the summer of 1983. Elio Perlman (Timothee Chalamet), is a 17-year-old vacationing with his parents. His father (Michael Stuhlbarg), is a professor specializing in Greco-Roman culture and his mother (Amira Casar), is a translator.

Reading books, embracing different cultures and art is a daily occurrence. Elio in particular is very bright. He speaks multiple languages and he transcribes and plays classical music (Often to his father’s delight).

But he’s also a teenager enjoying the summer. He flirts with the locals, including the lovely French girl, Marzia (Esther Garrel), and he spends hours exploring the countryside, swimming and eating from the peach trees.

The family spends every summer at this 17th century villa and with each summer brings a new intern who stays with the family to work with Elio’s father.

The latest student is an American named Oliver (Armie Hammer). From the moment he arrives, Elio is interested in him. “He seems very confident,” says Elio to Marzia as they watch from afar. Oliver certainly stands out as a tall, handsome man with broad shoulders, blonde hair and blue eyes.

Elio finds Oliver intimidating. It doesn’t take much for the American to become acclimated to the foreign country and he’s quite independent. Elio is even a little taken aback by Oliver’s behavior. The American will say “later” following breakfast with the family and disappear for hours.

But really Elio is in awe of Oliver. Here is a “man” seven years older than Elio who seems to have everything figured out. Oliver’s confidence attracts Elio at first, but slowly he begins to feel a deeper connection that begins as a flirtatious crush and transforms into a full-blown summer romance.

A delightful romance. | (Variety)

Call Me By Your Name is an intoxicating experience. The beautiful Italian landscape, the music, the language and the characters are all delightful. It’s as if you’re living there with the family through Elio’s eyes.

Director Luca Guadagnino embraces everything in this script to create a love story that runs the gamut of emotions from tenderness, sensuality, compassion and wisdom to heartbreak. The tone and performances are so perfect that I didn’t even see a gay romance but rather a sweet connection between two people captured in a specific time and place.

And Guadagnino takes his time. Elio and Oliver are a bit distant both physically and emotionally for the first act of the film as Elio is attempting to figure out what he’s feeling and how to process it all. As the film progresses, the two become closer through shared experiences like daily bicycle trips, meals and adventures.

By doing this, Guadagnino creates a romance that feels completely organic and in no way rushed or forced. He also avoids clichés by embracing every main character with a sense of morality and honesty.

Chalamet is a revelation as Elio. He’s charming, funny and confident, but also vulnerable and aware of his naivety. “How is it that you know everything?” asks Oliver in a crucial scene. “I know everything except what really matters,” says Elio.

Hammer delivers the best performance of his career. Ever since The Social Network, Hollywood wanted to anoint him the next big movie star thanks to his leading-man looks and seemingly perfect cadence. But perhaps the string of flops he appeared in (J. Edgar, The Lone Ranger, The Man From U.N.C.L.E.) was a blessing in disguise which allowed him to find a role like this one which plays to his strengths.

I want to go to Italy and eat and drink wine after seeing this. | (herald.net)

Much like Chalamet, Hammer plays Oliver as a fun and intelligent young man who thinks he knows everything until Elio comes into his life.

Stuhlbarg is once again excellent as Elio’s father. He’s so joyful and delightful in every scene he appears in and gives a wonderful monologue at the end to Elio full of wisdom and intellect. It’s the kind of monologue and performance that should be shown to every parent in the world.

There’s a scene in the film where a character quotes the words from a book: “Is it better to speak or to die?” This might encapsulate not only the entire film, but the whole idea of love. It might actually be even more crucial in queer cinema. Do we tell the people who we love how we really feel or wither in agony and fear because we’re afraid of how they’ll react?

Call Me By Your Name is a film about embracing everything in life no matter the cost and accepting the pain that comes with it. Guadagnino creates this through wonderful performances, beautiful visuals and a pitch-perfect script. Don’t miss this one.

 

Film Fanatic: ‘Star Wars: The Last Jedi’ Review

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Anticipation is always high going into a new Star Wars movie, but you could argue “Star Wars: The Last Jedi” had the most pressure. Coming off of “Star Wars: The Force Awakens,” fans were eager for something different.

While “The Force Awakens” is immensely entertaining, it also caters heavily to nostalgia, call backs to the original trilogy and a need to please and reenergize fans with the franchise. It’s basically a greatest hits album.

“The Last Jedi” on the other hand needed to take the characters introduced in the last entry and develop them while also celebrating the familiar ones we’ve come to love. And for the most part, director Rian Johnson succeeds.

“The Last Jedi” picks up right where we left off in “The Force Awakens” as Rey (Daisy Ridley) tracks down Luke Skywalker (Mark Hamill) in an attempt to convince him to not only train her in the ways of the force, but also help the Resistance defeat the First Order.

Time is of the essence too as the First Order has found a way to track rebel fighters through hyper speed. Outgunned, undermanned and low on fuel, Princess Leia (Carrie Fisher) and the Resistance could use all the help it can get.

Johnson smartly bypasses yet another death star sub plot in favor of a rich and compelling story line between Rey, Luke and Kylo Ren (Adam Driver). If “The Force Awakens” was about remembering the past, “The Last Jedi” focuses on moving on and forging a new path.

“Let the past die. Kill it, if you have to,” says one character. What makes these three and their performances so astounding is that they’re each conflicted about their place in the world despite all coming from a different perspective or circumstance.

Rather than showing heroes and villains, Johnson has crafted areas of grey that keeps the audience unsure as the film progresses. Will Rey be influenced by the dark side? Can Kylo Ren be convinced to forgive Leia and Luke? What choice will Luke make? We don’t really know until the end.

These are damaged characters and Driver in particular shines. He is selfish and vain at times, but he also reveals vulnerability and complexity. Marvel should take note about writing villains.

Mark Hamill gives his best performance to date. While he’s marooned on the island for the majority of the film, the character is given ample time to come to terms with his guilt for being unable to keep Kylo Ren from turning to the dark side. That earnestness in Luke is long gone, but he still has lessons to learn. Luke also gets some of the best jokes in the film as well as a wonderful reunion scene with R2-D2.

As for other characters, Poe Dameron (Oscar Isaac) is given more to do this time around, but I wish he was a little more suave and a little less serious. New characters: including Rose (Kelly Marie Tran) and Vice Admiral Holdo (Laura Dern) make the most of their screen time and Benicio Del Toro shows up for yet another “I’m in a different movie” performance.

This brings us to the major flaw with the film which is the Finn (John Boyega) story line. We’re now two movies in and they still haven’t figured out what to do with his character. Unmasking a storm trooper seemed like a cool idea on paper, but  Boyega has been relegated to comic relief.

Finn and Rose go on a mission in search of something that — while being key to the film’s plot — felt like a detour that sapped momentum from the film. Finn does have an opportunity near the end to redeem himself, but Johnson (Or the studio) gets cold feet.

Despite being the longest Star Wars film at 2 1/2 hours, “The Last Jedi” flies by thanks to an exhilarating opening scene, compelling scenes between Rey, Luke and Kylo Ren and a thrilling climax that features the best light saber battle to date.

And just when you think the film is going to end, there’s another exhilarating set piece that uses hyper speed in such a way that we’ve never seen before.

The jokes work, the porgs aren’t annoying and the final shot encapsulates the entire franchise which is that a person’s drive and talent has nothing to do with where they come from.

“The Last Jedi” is a refreshingly “different” kind of Star Wars movie that takes interesting turns. Not only is it the best in the series since “The Empire Strikes Back,” but it sets up an intriguing finale to this new trilogy.

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