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Justice (2017/II)
0 out of 2 people found the following review useful:
A Lame, Saddle-Sore Western With Little Grit, 19 October 2017

*** This review may contain spoilers ***

A traditional law & order oater, "Justice" qualifies as a lame, saddle-sore, western populated with shallow characters and tiresome pacing. Director Richard Gabai and a quartet of scribes have written a predictable, by-the-numbers, town-taming dust-raiser that generates neither surprises nor reversals. The only thing memorable about this sagebrusher is Scott Peck's cinematography and the strong production designs. The frontier town setting and the buildings look exemplary. Meantime, nothing that takes place here breaks new ground. A solemn, laconic, U.S. Marshal, James McCord (Nathan Parsons of "Teeth") rides into a remote frontier town in Nevada in the year 1870 and clashes with a crippled villain, Mayor Pierce (Stephen Lang of "Avatar"), who has been stockpiling loot, explosives, and weapons in an abandoned mine with the dream of starting an insurrection. Pierce and his henchmen want to change things back to the way that they were before the Civil War ended. They terrorize a black blacksmith and try to horse whip his son. Marshal McCord has come to town to pay his respects to his late brother, Reverend McCord (Jackson Rathbone of "Twilight"), who had been stirring up discontent amongst the settlers. The lawman thwarts the efforts of Pierce's gunslingers to whip Abraham and intimidate Abraham's father. Meanwhile, the U.S. Calvary lurks on the periphery, waiting for the right time to strike. In this instance, the right time is where McCord amasses enough evidence to prove that Pierce is planning to mount an insurrection. McCord learns about Pierce's mine, but he doesn't nothing about it. The problem is the lack of drama. Every character is as one-dimensional as a mannequin. Stephen Lang's villain is sinister enough, but he doesn't conjure up real evil. Pierce's henchmen are nothing but bully-boys who run roughshod over the townspeople and Marshal McCord. Clearly, Gabai and his scenarists haven't seen enough westerns to know what they were doing. An episode of the long running television show "Gunsmoke" might have sharpened their wits and their aim. The U.S. Marshal here is as slow to rile as the villain is to intervene. Occasionally, some scenes stand out. For example, when Pierce's right-hand henchman Reb (John Lewis of "Gutshot Straight") challenges Pierce, we see a hide-out gun that our villain has under his desk ready to blast Reb to kingdom come. More scenes like this one would have bolstered "Justice." Sadly, the confrontations between the villains and the villains and the marshal drum up little tension. Marshal McCord is too easily drawn in by Reb and his sidekicks, particularly a seductive harlot who lures him into a barn under false pretenses. It is incredible to see how willingly this straight-up, plain-spoken lawman capitulates in the face of threats. Of course, the hero in a western must suffer the wrath of the villains so we can admire his strength in the face of adversity. In a scene reminiscent of the Marlon Brando classic "One-Eyed Jacks," the bad guys strip away McCord's shirt and lash him repeatedly with a whip. Unfortunately, our hero seems more simple-minded than strong. If you've seen as many westerns as I have, especially violent Spaghetti westerns, you will be shaking your head in disgust as the hero lets the villains ride herd over him. Truth be told, "Justice" could have been a lot better, and the violence could have been escalated a lot earlier. One of the standard practices in B-movies like this is that the hero and the primary villain must confront each other as soon as possible. The romance between our hero and a Sunday school teacher is embarrassingly bad. Veteran actors like Stephen Lang, Robert Carradine of "The Long Riders," Lesley-Anne Down of "The Great Train Robbery" were obviously looking for a paycheck when they made this lackluster horse opera. There is no justice in watching the amateurish "Justice."

2 out of 2 people found the following review useful:
A First Rate, Real-Life Drug Smuggling Saga, 16 October 2017

*** This review may contain spoilers ***

Doug Liman, the director of "The Bourne Identity," "Mr. & Mrs. Smith," and "Edge of Tomorrow," chronicles the rip-roaring, real-life exploits of good ole boy Barry Seal in "American Made," an exhilarating action-comedy, crime thriller that combines elements of the Mel Gibson epic "Air America" (1990) and the 2015 Netflix series "Narcos." If you saw the first season of "Narcos," Barry Seal went out in a brief blaze of glory. At one time the youngest commercial airliner pilot for TWA, the Baton Rouge, Louisiana native got intertwined with the CIA, the DEA, Pablo Escobar and the murderous Medellín Cartel as well as the Reagan White House, and lived up to the image of 'a wild and crazy guy' before the Colombians finally snuffed him. Mind you, "American Made" isn't the first time that Hollywood has depicted Seal's audacious antics. The late, great Dennis Hopper portrayed Seal in Roger Young's made-for-television docudrama "Double-Crossed" (1991) with Danny Trejo. Later, Michael Paré had a supporting role as Barry Seal in Brad Furman's "The Infiltrator" (2016) with Bryan Cranston as an undercover DEA agent. More recently, Dylan Bruno played Seal in an episode of "Narcos." Nevertheless, the charismatic Cruise delivers a broad, light-hearted performance as the amoral drug smuggling aviator in what amounts to a modern-day version of "Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid" in the skies. Basically, as Barry Seal, Cruise dominates "American Made" while other equally historic personages lurk on the periphery, including President Ronald Reagan and Lieutenant Colonel Oliver North. Helming this entertaining, 115-minute, R-rated opus with a light touch, Liman doesn't subject audiences to the usual blood-splattered carnage that characterizes the typical cartel crime expose. Although "Stash House" writer Gary Spinelli has altered the facts here and there to make Barry Seal appear more sympathetic, "American Made" qualifies as one of the better cartel crime sagas which shows audiences that you cannot smuggle your cocaine and live to tell about it without the fatal consequences catching up with you.

"American Made" opens with TWA pilot Barry Seal (Tom Cruise of "Top Gun") flying passengers here, there, and everywhere, and growing bored and restless with being a just another pilot when he isn't smuggling Cuban cigars. In one scene, our prankster protagonist decides to wake up his serenely sleeping passengers as well as his snoozing co-pilot during a flight by switching off the auto-pilot and creating a little turbulence of his own. Eventually, weary of the predictable routine of shuttling passengers, Seal quits TWA just after his co-pilot and he complete their pre-flight checklist. Grabbing his gear, he exits the jetliner without a backward glance and goes off to work for an enigmatic guy named Monty 'Schafer' (Domhnall Gleeson of "Star Wars: The Force Awakens") who furnishes him a twin-engined aircraft and clearance to fly patriotic missions for the CIA. Initially, Seal refuses to let his sweet but superficial wife Lucy (Sarah Wright of "The House Bunny") in on his new gig until he runs into trouble smuggling cocaine for Pablo Escobar. Colombian troops bust Escobar and his associates while Seal winds up in jail and loses a tooth until 'Schafer' shows up to bail him out. The catch is that Louisiana authorities will be knocking on his front door at dawn the following day if Seal doesn't uproot his family on a moment's notice and relocate them to Mena, Arkansas. Lucy goes reluctantly along with his harebrained scheme, and the police with their blue and red dome light flashing careen pass him on the way out of town. Talk about a cliffhanger escape! Barry finds himself running guns to Contras in Nicaragua for 'Schafer' when he isn't pausing in Panama to swap contraband with General Manuel Noriega (newcomer Alberto Ospino) or flying more cocaine into Louisiana for Pablo Escobar. Basically, as long as Seal flies for the CIA, the Agency doesn't care what he does on his own time. Furthermore, to protect their investment in his services, the CIA provide him with information so he can elude the DEA. Seal winds up hiring four other misfit pilots, and they outfly the DEA back and forth from Central and South America. The last thing our free-wheeling hero could ever imagine happening happens: he makes a ton of money but he doesn't have enough bank accounts and front companies to conceal it. Indeed, he buries so much cash on property that the CIA has given him that he has nowhere else to hide aside from stuffing in suitcases in his hanger. At this point, the devil enters paradise in the person of Lucy's sleazy younger brother J.B. (Caleb Landry Jones of "X-Men: First Class"), who decides to take advantage of all those $100 bills cluttering up closets. Suddenly, not only do the authorities bust J.B., but the CIA decides to let the FBI, ATF, DEA, and the Arkansas State Police arrest him. In a last-ditch effort to save his wife and family, Seal agrees a mission for the White House and Lieutenant Colonel Oliver North to incriminate Pablo Escobar. Naturally, the Oval Office doesn't keep its end of the bargain.

Despite its historical basis in 1970s and the 1980s, the last thing that director Doug Liman wants audiences to do is take Barry Seal seriously, and "American Made" amounts to a nostalgic romp through headlines of the yesteryear. The excerpts from Ronald Reagan's Hollywood films as well as his White House press conference, featuring wife Nancy and her famous "Just Say No to Drugs" quote are thoroughly hilarious. One of the funniest scenes shows Seal crash landing a plane crammed with cocaine in a suburban neighborhood. Stumbling out of the aircraft, our clownish hero emerges covered in cocaine. Dumping packets of $100 bills at the feet of a gawking teenager, Seal takes the kid's bike and pedals away before the DEA arrives. Rarely has twentieth century history been so nostalgic as "American Made," and Tom Cruise will keep you in stitches as a guy who leaped before he looked.

Cell (2016/I)
Just Another Substandard Film, 14 October 2017

*** This review may contain spoilers ***

Stephen King adapted his own novel "Cell" with "Paranormal Activity 2" director Tod Williams and "Standoff" scenarist Adam Allena. Nevertheless, not even King's contribution in this forgettable film cannot salvage this momentarily imaginative but ultimately depressing spin on zombie sagas. Basically, some unknown, evil force contaminated all cellular communication with a pulse that transformed anybody on a cell phone into a zombie. The primary problem with "Cell" is neither King nor his collaborators provide a credible explanation for that mysterious cyber-connected malevolence that precipitated the pulse that turns mankind into zombies. Once they conjure up the cool idea that substitutes for the reason for zombies, "Cell" winds up being just another humdrum zombie flick. Mind you, as Clay Riddell, John Cusack plays a largely sympathetic protagonist—he works as a graphic novelist--in search of his estranged wife and son after the pulse triggers the zombie apocalypse. The story becomes a journey of hardship for Cusack's woebegone father and his new friend Tom McCourt (Samuel L. Jackson in a subdued performance) that they stick together once Cusack flees from the Boston Airport where everybody mutates into zombies. The idea that pulse transmissions could drive humans out of their minds and make them behave like flesh-eating lunatics wears off when our heroes gather a motley crew of survivalists and search for a refuge from the epidemic. Reportedly, King altered the ending of the movie to compensate for the ending in his novel that his public complained about. Sadly, neither Cusack nor Jackson bring anything either new or memorable to their characterizations. The villain--The Night Traveler, a creep in a red hoodie (with headphones)—qualifies as a half-baked but ugly adversary. "Cell" goes to Hell after its initial moments.

Not As Good As The Original, But Still Worth Watching!!!, 9 October 2017

*** This review may contain spoilers ***

"Kingsman: The Golden Circle" is a good action-comedy thriller, but it doesn't surpass director Matthew Vaughn's original "Kingsman: The Secret Service." Nevertheless, the sheer audacity of this outrageous sequel makes it worth watching, despite lackluster villains who aren't as intimidating as Gazelle with her razor-sharp blade-feet and her boss Valentine with the surgically inserted SIM cards in a person's head that stimulated hostility and suppressed inhibition. Unfortunately, if you missed "Kingsman: The Secret Service" (2014), you may find many of the story elements in the sequel difficult to follow. Several original cast members reprise their roles, among them newcomer Taron Egerton (slated to star as Robin Hood in "Robin Hood" next year), Colin Firth of "The King's Speech," and Mark Strong as Merlin. Matthew Vaughn and "Kick Ass" writer Jane Goldman, who adapted Mark Millar's graphic novel "The Secret Service," return respectively as director and writer. Although they don't scale the sensational heights of the earlier "Kingsman," they don't shrink from the task of trying to match it.

In the original "Kingsman," we learned about a private espionage agency in London, England, created after World War I, which hides behind the dubious façade of a Saville Row clothing emporium named Kingsman. This elite agency is comparable to the classic American television series "The Man from U.N.C.L.E.," but its agents not only far better trained, but also dressed immaculately for success. In the first film, after a raid on a terrorist stronghold, Harry Hart, code-named Agent Galahad (Colin Firth) interrogated a villain. The first thing out of the fiendish villain's mouth was the pin from a grenade. The explosion that ensued would have blown Galahad to bits had his fellow agent Lee (Jonno Davies of "In the Name of Ben Hur") not intervened to save Harry's life. Indebted to Lee, Hart provided Lee's son Gary 'Eggsy' Unwin (Taron Egerton) with a chance years later to compete with other candidates to become a Kingsman agent. In "Kingsman: The Secret Service," 'Eggsy' proved his ingenuity. Sadly, Harry died when Richmond Valentine (Samuel L. Jackson of "Pulp Fiction") shot him in the left eye at close range.

"Kingsman: The Golden Circle" opens with a careening, adrenaline-laced ride through London. The impeccably attired 'Eggsy' tangles with his old "Kingsman: The Secret Service" nemesis who initially competed with him to be a Kingsman agent. Charlie Hesketh (Edward Holcroft of "Vampire Academy") surprises 'Eggsy' outside the Kingsman tailor shop. 'Eggsy' is shocked to see Charlie, because Charlie's right arm was obliterated along with his vocal chords. 'Eggsy' dives into a cab, and Charlie plunges in after him. Charlie and 'Eggsy' clash in a monumental life-and-death struggle. Charlie constitutes a James Bond type villain because he comes equipped with a cybernetic arm. 'Eggsy' manages to defeat Charlie and tear off the cybernetic arm. Nevertheless, the arm conceals itself within the cab until the coast is clear and then hacks into the Kingsman server via an onboard computer in the cab. A cataclysmic attack on the Kingsman headquarters ensues that destroys everything and almost everybody. Happily, 'Eggsy' and Merlin survive this Armageddon. Director Matthew Vaughn doesn't let any grass grow under our heroes' feet during these first two dynamic super-charged, action scenes. Indeed, these over-the-top, larger-than-life exercises in sophisticated violence are worth the price of admission, even if you haven't seen the original "Kingsman."

Later, we're told that Charlie has gone into business with psychotic villainess Poppy Adams (Julianne Moore of "The Big Lebowski"), who ranks as one of the world's most notorious traffickers in recreational drugs galore. This malevolent Martha Stewart matron conducts her business from a remote corner of Southeast Asia, and she calls her enterprise 'The Golden Circle.' Everybody who works for Poppy has a golden circle branded on their anatomy. Poppy doesn't tolerate any nonsense from her minions. She grinds up one of her treacherous henchmen into a hamburger that she serves to another prospective employee. She decides to hold the entire world for ransom by tainting all her narcotics with a toxin that disfigures the user's face with blue veins. Eventually, the millions infected will succumb to paralysis followed by torturous death. Poppy offers an antidote if the President of the United States (Bruce Greenwood of "Thirteen Days") will halt the futile War on Drugs and grant immunity to all cartels. Of course, the President refuses. Instead, he hopes the deaths of all recreational drug users will end the War on Drugs. Meantime, 'Eggsy' and Merlin follow emergency protocol. They fly to the United States and sit down with their American counterparts at another elite but clandestine secret service agency named Statesman. Located in rural Kentucky, Statesman cloaks their hush-hush activities behind the façade of a whiskey distillery. Champagne (Jeff Bridges of "Iron Man") presides over Statesman, and he provides 'Eggsy' and Merlin with everything necessary to vanquish Poppy. He also assigns his two top agents, Tequila (Channing Tatum of "Magic Mike") and Whiskey (Pedro Pascal of "Narcos"), to aid them.

If you think I've told you too much about "Kingsman: The Golden Circle," think again! This synopsis barely scratches the surface of all the outlandish antics in this globe-trotting extravaganza. Clearly, director Matthew Vaughn and scenarist Jane Goldman revere the James Bond blockbusters because they have borrowed characters and predicaments from "Goldfinger," "On Her Majesty's Secret Service," "Live and Let Die," and "The Spy Who Loved Me." Meanwhile, the Statesman agent code-named Whiskey, as portrayed by Pedro Pascal, could pass for Burt Reynolds's twin brother. Furthermore, Whiskey wields an electric lasso Wonder Woman might have a tough time evading. Miraculously, Harry Hart returns to the fold with an eye patch and accompanies our heroes for a do-or-die assault on Poppy's headquarters against an army of henchmen as well as two ravenous, robotic canines with stainless steel jaws. "Kingsman: The Golden Circle" amounts to an all-around showcase for gravity-defying stunts and boisterous comedy you won't forget.

Fair Potboiler in the Tradition of "Wait Until Dark", 5 October 2017

*** This review may contain spoilers ***

Michael Keaton portrays a psychotic killer searching for $20-million in diamonds in "Money Train" director Joseph Ruben's lackluster suspense thriller "Blindsided," alternately entitled "Penthouse North," co-starring Michelle Monaghan. Just about everybody involved in this half-baked crime saga has done better work elsewhere. You cannot watch this potboiler without comparing it with Terence Young's seminal blind woman in peril suspenser "Wait Until Dark," though "Lakeview Terrace" scenarist David Loughery has conjured up a lesser effort.

The film opens in with our heroine Sara Frost (Michelle Monaghan of "Kiss Kiss Bang Bang") as a civilian photojournalist embedded with American troops in war-torn Afghanistan who loses her sight when a female suicide bomber cradling a baby doll in her arms blows up in front of her. The action fast-forwards three years later with Sara in a relationship with a mysterious hunk, Ryan (Andrew W. Walker of "Ambush at Dark Canyon"), who wants to marry her. She keeps holding out. After striking out on her own in New York City to buy some champagne for Ryan, she re-enters her apartment and discovers to her horror that her boyfriend has been stabbed to death. The knife-wielding assailant has stuck around for her, and Chad (Barry Sloane of "Noah") threatens to kill her if she doesn't tell him where Ryan stashed a fortune in cash. The problem here is that Chad gained entrance to an apartment complex without arousing suspicion, and Ryan opened the door and let his former accomplice in crime into his place. This makes no sense, but then most of this generic thriller doesn't make sense. Ruben and Loughery keep things thoroughly contrived. For example, our heroine manages to escape from Chad's clutches, scrambles down a stairway, and never screams or pounds on anybody's door for help. Furthermore, she never trips the fire alarm, because that would have alerted the police. The closest that they come to involving somebody else is the doorman, Antonio (Phillip Jarrett of "Exit Wounds"), who tries to rescue our heroine but winds up getting Chad's knife in his guts.

The action expands momentarily by the confines of the penhouse with a balcony when Sara escapes from the apartment building. She begs everybody that she encounters to help her. Predictably, a helpful guy, Hollander (Michael Keaton of "Batman"), escorts her back to her building while masquerading as a cop. She realizes the horrible mistake that she has made when Chad joins them, and she ends up stuck back in her apartment with two greedy killers. She learns that Ryan stole millions from Hollander and Chad, and they want to find his cache of bills and diamonds. Another flaw in this flimsy thriller is the inclusion of a black cat that is our heroine's pet. Earlier when she came back to the apartment, walking around unknowingly about Ryan's murder, Sara finds her cat Shadow. As a cat owner, I can attest that strangers spook my cats and they won't come back out into the open until the strangers leave. Hollander has no problem scooping Shadow up into his arms. This is unbelievable. Later, Hollander hurls the cat over the balcony. Cat lovers will hate this scene, and they will probably stop watching this nonsense at that point. Okay, spoiler alert, the cat survives a fifteen-story plunge, and it emerges at the end. Meanwhile, it is a cat and mouse game between Hollander and Chad with Sara as the villains struggle to get the information out of her about the whereabouts of Ryan's stash. Little about this by-the-numbers thriller is memorable. Aside from Hollander's lying, the filmmakers don't have any big surprises to enhance the tension. Eventually, Sara's pregnant sister and her NYPD husband show up at the apartment, and Sara manages to send them packing, primarily because her sister's water breaks and her husband has to rush her to hospital.

Michelle Monaghan plays the damsel-in-distress without a clue, while Michael Keaton is wasted in a bland role. Keaton usually blows away his co-stars, but this time he radiates little wattage as a killer. None of the dialogue is remotely quotable. "Blindsided" qualifies as a fair thriller, but nothing that you should waste your time watching.

0 out of 1 people found the following review useful:
Too Derivative 2 Be Memorable!!!, 2 October 2017

*** This review may contain spoilers ***

You'd think with gifted writers like Stephen Schiff, who wrote "True Crime" and "Lolita," Michael Finch who penned "Hitman: Agent 47" and "The November Man," and Edward Zwick & Marshall Herskovitz who teamed up for "Defiance" and "The Last Samurai," that "American Assassin," with "Maze Runner" star Dylan O'Brien, would have rivaled the James Bond movies and the Jason Bourne franchise as an international terrorist thriller. Indeed, a sturdy cast gives their best, particularly Michael Keaton who radiates throughout, while the youthful O'Brien has grown up sufficiently so he appears credible as a vengeful adult. Nevertheless, mediocre scripting sabotages "American Assassin." The chief problem lies with its bland hero. Cinematic heroes must stand out. As the gung-ho, 'go-out-and-kill-all-terrorists-and-come-back-alive,' O'Brien is given little with which to forge a charismatic character. Basically, Mitch Rapp qualifies as an adequate but nondescript hero. The only reason we feel sympathetic toward him is the tragedy involving his fiancée's death; this incident now fuels his every waking moment. Conversely, as CIA survivalist specialist Stan Hurley who trains black ops agents, Michael Keaton energizes every scene with his brazen bravado. You have fun watching Keaton dominate every scene whether he is shooting at an enemy or withstanding the villain as the latter tortures him. Similarly, as the treacherous villain, Taylor Kitsch is almost as captivating as Keaton. Furthermore, he is the best kind of villain who manages to stay one step ahead of the heroes and keeps surprising us and them. Adversaries like Keaton's trainer and Kitsch's terrorist make O'Brien's Mitch Rapp look like dreary. Happily, "Kill the Messenger" director Michael Cuesta keeps things moving so swiftly that it is possible to overlook the colorless but driven hero. Little of the high stakes plot, however, registers as original. "American Assassin" appropriates characters and predicaments from earlier movies, specifically "Black Sunday" (1977) "The Amateur" (1981), "The Peacemaker" (1997), and "Munich" (2005) where the villains have nuclear warheads.

Mitch Rapp (Dylan O'Brien) is vacationing in sunny Ibiza, Spain, with his beautiful, blonde, bikini-clad girlfriend, Katrina (newcomer Charlotte Vega), when he surprises her with a marriage proposal. Suddenly, murderous Islamist jihadists shatter their happiness and shoot everybody in sight. The terrorists wound Mitch twice, and by the time that he reaches his fiancée, she is dead. Over a year later, Mitch has learned to defend himself with his bare hands, practiced enough with firearms until he can obliterate bullseyes, and learned enough about his Middle-East adversaries so he can infiltrate their cells. Little does our hero know CIA Deputy Director Irene Kennedy (Sanaa Lathan of "Love & Basketball") has had him under surveillance. Eventually, Mitch tracks down the monster who orchestrated the bloody Ibiza beach massacre, Adnan Al-Mansur (Shahid Ahmed of "Syriana"), to Tripoli, Libya. Mitch has just confronted Al-Mansur when CIA agents barge into the room and blast him. Mitch watches in horror as Mansur dies from a bullet in the head. This doesn't keep Mitch from stabbing Al-Mansur's corpse repeatedly until the Americans drag him off the body.

The CIA keeps Mitch on ice for 30 days until Kennedy convinces CIA Director Thomas Stansfield (David Suchet of "Agatha Christie's Poirot") to allow him to join the Agency. Initially, Cold War veteran and former Navy Seal veteran Stan Hurley (Michael Keaton of "The Founder") abhors the prospect of training a civilian. Nevertheless, Mitch ranks at the top of his class, despite all of Hurley's dirty tricks to run him off. The action comes to boil when the Agency learns about the theft of weapons grade plutonium from an off-line Russian nuclear facility. Worse, Hurley recognizes the thief as an ex-CIA agent, referred to as Ghost (Taylor Kitsch of "John Carter of Mars"), left behind to die on a mission. Miraculously, Ghost survived and plans to use the plutonium to construct an atomic bomb. Ghost double-crosses everybody along the way who helped assemble the bomb, and the CIA don't discover his plan until it is almost too late to thwart him.

If you've read Vince Flynn's bestseller, you'll know director Michael Cuesta and his writers have scrapped the novel's plot. Indeed, they have preserved certain scenes, primarily the boot camp and the torture scenes. The plot about Stan's former student Ghost is a figment entirely of the screenwriters' imagination. Ghost doesn't exist in the novel. Instead of a saboteur like Ghost, our heroes in the novel contend with Middle Eastern regimes clashing with each other in bombed-out Beirut. While an entirely different character tortured Stan in the novel, the villain suffers the same fate as Ghost does in the movie. Letting down his guard momentarily, the torturer gives Stan the chance to chew off a piece of his ear. Comparably, Flynn dispatched Rapp and Hurley to Europe to kill an amoral banker who had been investing millions of dollars for the terrorists as well as Russian espionage agents in Moscow. Furthermore, Mitch's girlfriend didn't die on the beach in Flynn's novel. Instead, she died aboard the doomed Pan Am flight 103 that blew up over Lockerbie, Scotland. Mind you, sticking Mitch and his fiancée together on the same beach gives our protagonist greater incentive to embark on a "Death Wish" style revenge spree since he witnessed her death. Obviously, staging the beach massacre was easier than generating a CGI model of the Pan Am jetliner exploding. In Flynn's novel, Mitch didn't experience his girlfriend's death first-hand as his cinematic counterpart. Most of the last part of the novel occurred in Beirut where terrorists abducted Stan, and Mitch launched a rescue mission. The grand finale in the film occurs in the Atlantic, and Ghost is playing for far higher stakes than his villainous counterparts in the novel. Altogether, Schiff, Finch, Zwick, and Herskovitz have done an exemplary job of ramping up the action, and Mitch displays greater initiative in his efforts to complete his mission. Although competent and fast-paced, "American Assassin" is still far too derivative to be memorable.

Home Again (2017/I)
Yeech!!!, 24 September 2017

*** This review may contain spoilers ***

Just because the parents made several good movies doesn't mean that they passed the 'good movie' gene along to their children. First-time writer-director Hallie Meyers-Shyer is the daughter of Nancy Meyers, who directed "What Women Want" (2000), "Something's Gotta Give" (2003), "The Holiday" (2006), "It's Complicated" (2009), and "The Intern" (2015). Furthermore, her father, Charles Shyer is best known for "Irreconcilable Differences" (1984), "Baby Boom" (1987), "Father of the Bride" (1991), "I Love Trouble" (1994), and "Father of the Bride, Part II" (1995). Now, Meyers-Shyer has made her cinematic debut as the director of "Home Again," a sickly-sweet, featherweight, contemporary romantic comedy about love, friendship, and families that comes laden with clichés. Indeed, if you look scrutinize it, you may spot the tale of Goldilocks and the Three Bears lurking in this treacle-flavored, feel-good comedy that would send a Grinch into convulsions. America's sweetheart Reese Witherspoon plays Alice Kenny, a fortysomething mom who uproots her two young daughters from New York City and moves back to her hometown Los Angeles. Alice has grown weary of her stale marriage to her smug, British-born, music mogul husband, Austen (Michael Sheen of "Passengers"), who has made it a habit of coming home with Jose Cuervo on his breath. Now that she is back in L.A., where her mom, former movie starlet Lillian Stewart (Candice Bergen of "Soldier Blue") lives, Alice decides to embark on a free-lance career as an interior home designer. Meantime, her two daughters, Isabel (Lola Flanery of "Trauma") and Rosie (Eden Grace Redfield of "The Glass Castle") find the transition from East Coast to West Coast a little disconcerting. Truth be told, Alice is feeling a bit blue, too. Among other things, this frivolous potboiler involves a May-December romance between Witherspoon and a far younger Romeo that kindles few sparks as well as some screwball humor about one of our heroine's flaky clients. Ironically, the advertising campaign for "Home Again" insists that: "Starting over is not for beginners." Comparably, starting up is not for beginners either, considering that Hallie Meyers-Shyer's freshman effort is as inoffensive as it is lukewarm.

Mind you, Alice and her daughters have little trouble finding a place to live. They settle into the palatial bungalow where Alice once lived as a child with her late father, John Kenny (David Netto), a renowned director of 1970's era art-house movies. Later, during an alcohol-fueled birthday party at a local restaurant with her girlfriends, Alice runs into three aspiring, twentysomething filmmakers who have just been evicted from their hotel because they cannot pay their rent. You couldn't find a nicer trio of handsome, charming, broke guys like Harry (Pico Alexander of "War Machine"), Teddy (Nat Wolff of "Paper Towns"), and their friend George (Jon Rudnitsky of "Patchwork"), but where did these guys get the money to pay for those drinks? Anyway, the party grows legs, and everybody winds up at Alice's place. Hormone-addled Harry cannot resist making a pass at Alice, and Alice cannot resist the 27-year old stud muffin's confidence. They wallow in some guilt-free sex behind closed doors. The two awaken the following morning without any concerns about indiscretion, and Harry treats Alice like a princess. The night before Alice went out with her girlfriends, she had entrusted Isabel and Rosie to the care and supervision of her mother. Lillian was supposed to take the girls to school. Instead, she brings them over to find everybody recovering from their mild Bacchanalian without any repercussions. It doesn't hurt matters that the guys worship the films of Alice's late father. Moreover, they not only recognize, but they also idolize Lillian, who starred in John Kenny's movies. Lillian revels in their adulation and rustles up breakfast for them while recounting her glory days in Tinseltown. Later, she convinces a reluctant Alice to let these adorable dudes move into the guest-house rent-free until they can get on their feet. As it turns out, Harry, Teddy, and George have just signed with a Hollywood talent agency, and they are struggling to get their short movie produced as a feature length film. It doesn't hurt matters that Harry's brother Teddy knows how to cook, and George becomes Isabel's best friend. Furthermore, George inspires Isabel to write a play for her elementary school about her family. Naturally, Alice's jealous husband learns about this odd arrangement and tears himself away from his business to fly out to Los Angeles so he can reunite with his daughters and perhaps even reconcile with Alice. He is also around to make sure that Alice doesn't make a fool of herself with gallant Harry. Indeed, Alice does make a fool of herself with Harry, before she realizes the error of her ways. Meantime, the guys don't care for Austen any more than he cares for them. Inevitably, this happy house of cards collapses, and Alice explains to Harry that they aren't made for each other. Teddy and Austen clash in the most inoffensive and sloppy fistfight in cinematic history. Naturally, Alice intervenes, and she sends the guys packing, much to Austen's delight. No sooner have they left the premises than Alice lowers the boom on Austen and asks for a divorce.

"Home Again" is not one of Reese Witherspoon's better efforts. It lacks the sparkle of her better movies, such as "Sweet Home Alabama" and "Freeway," and conjures up none of the wit of her "Legally Blonde" chick flicks. Nothing about this breezy but superficial saga is remotely memorable, and it relies primarily on hopeless artifice that amounts to sheer fantasy. Basically, this movie resembles a situation comedy where nobody suffers any consequences for their actions, and everybody kisses and makes up without any lingering ill will to others. Finally, most moviegoers may find it difficult to sympathize with our affluent white protagonist who doesn't have to struggle to assert herself. Ultimately, "Home Again" qualifies as 'a comfort food movie' for audiences that prefer to shun anything approaching reality.

An Abysmal Spaghetti Western, 23 September 2017

*** This review may contain spoilers ***

An uneven blend of comedy and violence undermines Mario Bianchi's low-budget Spaghetti western "For A Book of Dollars," with Lincoln Tate as a sharp-shooting bounty hunter who comes to the aid of a quartet of nuns. You can tell that this Spaghetti was lensed exclusively in Italy and mostly on a set since most of the middle of the movie occurs in a village where a murderous gang rule. The action unfolds with our buckskin-clad gunslinger riding through the country. He reins up his horse near a stream and dismounts to refresh himself with some water. Three tough-talking, loud-mouthed hombres surprise him, and Amen surprises them by gunning all three down. The scene shifts to a bunch of nuns heading for a nearby town where on of their sisters is hoping to find a dentist. She winds up in the hands of a blacksmith and he extracts her tooth. During their ride to the town in a buggy, the nuns and their ineffectual driver are waylaid by outlaws. Later, the head nun, Sister Angela (Gabriella Farinon of "Assignment: Outer Space") hires Amen to get their loot back after a stuttering sheriff (Francesco D'Adda of "Stormtroopers") refuses to pursue the villains. Amen goes after the gang led by a boastful outlaw named Catapult (Gianclaudio Jabes of "Acquasanta Joe") who happens to own a catapult. His favorite pastime is to jam firecrackers into the pants of innocent bystanders and hurl them into the air with a catapult so everybody in his gang can laugh their sombreros. Amen rides into Catapult's town and he is placed in confinement while the outlaws amuse themselves with their catapult. Eventually, Sister Angela shows up and helps him escape and he takes the villains. This altogether forgettable horse opera generates little excitement because the villains are a lackluster gang who never pose a real problem for our indestructible protagonist. Amen looks like pony express rider more than a bounty hunter. The comedy is lowest common denominator material, particularly when Amen spikes a keg of liquor with something that prompts all the outlaws to lose control of their bowels.

It (2017/I)
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A Cacophony of Horrific Claptrap!!!, 17 September 2017

*** This review may contain spoilers ***

The best horror movies rely on subtlety to scare the shenanigans out of you. The worst bombard you with CGI galore, and the fiendish monster's arrival is often heralded by ear-shattering, high-decibel blasts of either music or sound effects. "Mama" director Andy Muschietti's adaptation of Stephen King's 1986 bestseller "It" qualifies as half-baked hokum with its mischievous but demonic, fun-house clown and all the standard-issue shivers that ensue. Muschietti goes for the gullet every time he wants audiences to scream like bloody maniacs in this tiresome, overwrought, 135-minute marathon. Indeed, the movie bristles with heavy-handed homages to 80's movies, including earlier King adaptations, such as "Stand by Me" and "The Shining," when it isn't reminiscent of Richard Donner's "The Goonies" (1985). The blood, gore, and violence is enough to justify its tame R-rating, but "It" never repels you with offensive sights that would generate nightmares. Interestingly, "Nightmare on Elm Street" (1984) appeared two years before King's bestseller was published. The "Nightmare" influence on King is obvious, and the ghoulish clown Pennywise behaves like Freddie Kruger with his razor-tipped gloves. Freddie preyed on his victims while they slept and sabotaged their dreams, while Pennywise preys on them while they are fully awake. The problem is that only children can see Pennywise and the horror that he unleashes. Meantime, a collection of youngsters, nicknamed 'The Losers Club,' who constitute an ensemble protagonist, is the best thing about "It." Although they are adolescent, they are not only believable but also charismatic in their aim to destroy Pennywise. Each kid differs from the other so they are a miscellaneous group. Furthermore, the predicaments that they plunge themselves into are exciting until the cretinous clown rears his ugly head. The actors and actress that portray this motley crew deliver credible performances. Indeed, this youthful group hurl themselves heart and soul into tracking down the wicked clown who has been killing children.

"It" unfolds during a thunderous storm in October 1988 as an older brother, Bill Denbrough (Jaeden Lieberher of "Aloha"), fashions a boat out of paper and wax paste for his younger sibling Georgie (newcomer Jackson Robert Scott) to sail in the gutter. Georgie is having the time of his life when his boat flounders in a storm drain. Miraculously, a guy dressed as a clown, Pennywise (Bill Skarsgård of "Atomic Blonde") catches the boat. Georgie reaches out to retrieve it, but the clown tears off his forearm and then hauls him into the sewer. Georgie's mysterious vanishing act fuels rumors about a serial killer who slays kids. Bill and his playmates: motor-mouthed Richie Tozier (Finn Wolfhard of Netflix's "Stranger Things"), germophobic hypochondriac Eddie Kaspbrak (Jack Dylan Grazer of "Tales of Halloween"), Jewish-raised Stanley Iris (Wyatt Oleff of "Guardians of the Galaxy") befriend a chubby kid, Ben Hanscom (Jeremy Ray Taylor of "Ant-Man"), who has spent his summer investigating a recurring serial killer in Derry, Maine, that strikes every twenty-seven years. Bill, Richie, Eddie, and Stanley meet Ben after he escapes from the clutches of a trio of bullies led by a sadistic, switchblade-wielding Henry Bowers (Nicolas Hamilton of "Captain Fantastic") who carves the letter H into Ben's soft, flabby belly. Ben becomes fast friends with Eddie and company, and later they rescue Mike Hanlon (Chosen Jacobs of "Cops and Robbers") from Henry and his hooligans. Each kid suffers from a ghastly encounter with Pennywise the Clown. The guys accept Beverly Marsh (Sophia Lillis of "A Midsummer Night's Dream") into their group, and they set out to destroy the horrific Pennywise.

Inevitably, Muschietti and scenarists Chase Palmer, Cary Fukunaga, and Gary Dauterman have taken liberties with King's thousand page-plus epic novel. For the record, Fukunaga wrote the film "Beast of No Nations" about child soldiers fighting a war in an anonymous African nation, while Dauberman penned the infinitely superior horror prequel "Annabelle Creation." Whittling the characters down strictly to kids confronting their fears instead of kids as well as adults qualifies as their first editorial decision. The film's stellar box office success has guaranteed a sequel which had been hinted at from the start. If you stick around for the closing credits, you'll see that the film's title has been modified to "It—Chapter One.'' Comparatively, the flashback-riddled 1990 television miniseries chronicled 'The Losers Club' as both adolescents and adults. Muschietti and his writers have cut the adult counterparts of Eddie and company. Second, they have altered the setting from the 1950s in both the novel and miniseries to the late 1980s. Third, they have swapped around two characters. Instead of Mike Hanlon, Ben has become the group historian who spends his summer in the Derry Library learning about the town's tragic history. In both the novel and the miniseries, Mike Hanlon handled that task. Moreover, Mike was a grown-up when he delved into Derry's past. Fifth, King's novel loosened a monster mash of evil fiends. Not only did Pennywise the Dancing Clown frighten the kids, but also The Mummy, a Werewolf, a "Creature from the Black Lagoon" gill-man, and Frankenstein's creation got in on the fun. For the sake of simplicity, Muschietti has focused primarily on Pennywise and dropped the other monsters. Furthermore, the kids don't launch silver slugs from slingshots to vanquish their foe in the film. Instead, Mike packs a bolt gun designed to kill animals at his grandfather's farm. Those who have read the novel know that after the Losers Club defeated Pennywise, they got themselves hopelessly lost in the sewer. Beverly decided in the best interests of the group to have an orgy so the guys could come to grips with their hysteria and find their way out of the underground network of sewer lines. Clearly, this scene was left out for obvious reasons. Indeed, "It" received an R-rating, but the orgy that Beverly orchestrated in the novel was taboo. Altogether, if you want to scream your lungs out every time that Pennywise makes a startling entrance, "It" is your dish of mindless gobbledygook.

The Dark Side of Capitalism and the American Dream, 15 September 2017

*** This review may contain spoilers ***

Michael Keaton delivers a tour-de-force performance as a hero and a villain in director John Lee Hancock's cynical business biopic "The Founder," about real-life Ray Kroc who discovered the McDonald brother's hamburger joint in San Bernardino, California, and took it far beyond their dreams. Initially, Keaton's Kroc toils for a living as an unfulfilled, Illinois-based milkshake-mixer salesman who lugs his unwieldy contraption around from one business to another in a woebegone effort to sell it with success. Indeed, Keaton evokes images of Willy Loman from "Death of a Salesman" as he appears to get nowhere. "The Founder" takes place in the early 1950s, and "Saving Mr. Banks" helmer John Lee Hancock takes us back in time to witness the changes that revolutionized the fast-food business. After repeated setbacks to sell the milkshake-mixer with his repetitive line: "You increase the supply, and the demand will follow... Increase supply, demand follows.," our beleaguered protagonist learns that the McDonald brothers in California have ordered six of them. An incredulous Kroc phones them because he is sure that his secretary has made a mistake about the order, and he learns that the brothers now need eight instead of six. Kroc puts the mixers in the mail and cruises out to the West Coast to take a gander at their restaurant. What Kroc sees astonishes him beyond his wildest dreams. Dick (Nick Offerman of "22 Jump Street") and Mac McDonald (John Carroll Lynch of "Face/Off") have perfected the fast-food business through considerable trial and error. They cook hamburgers every 30 thirty seconds, and they have whittled down their menu to burgers, fries, drinks, and milk shakes. The moment that Kroc eyeballs their operation, it is like nothing that he has ever imagined, and he wants to be a part of their business. Actually, in real life, Kroc saw something that he could franchise, and he struggled for years against the McDonald brothers whose fair play values grated against his cut-throat business initiative. At one point, in an effort to triumphant against the competition, Kroc spells it out for the McDonalds, "If I saw a competitor drowning, I'd shove a hose down his throat." Ray Kroc is reminiscent of Alec Baldwin's unsavory salesman in David Mamet's who has no sympathy for anybody who cannot cut the mustard in the sales business. In one respect, "The Founder" celebrates the triumphant of capitalism, particularly in the story of the McDonalds, and then Hancock and scenarist Robert D. Siegel of "The Wrestler" show us the dark side of capitalism. Kroc embarks on a hostile takeover of the McDonald's business when they stonewall him in his efforts to expand the number of stores and spearhead innovations.

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