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19 reviews in total 
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1 out of 2 people found the following review useful:
Mundane, misbegotten Tom Cruise rejuvenation vehicle, 16 October 2017

*** This review may contain spoilers ***

How many more of these boy-wonder performances is Cruise going to give before he finally acquiesces to something more... normal? Don't get me wrong, he still comes across as youthful and dynamic on-screen despite being well into his 50s. But if you've followed his career for decades, this kind of film becomes something of a fraud on his part. Generally, I'd rather watch a bona fide young actor make the endeavor in the type of performances Cruise continues to strive for even though he's now within shouting distance of 60. Because Cruise is an age-battling Hollywood movie star, his presence lacks depth. Notwithstanding the film's brisk, carefree tenor, it's a stunning miscasting.

In this film, Cruise attempts to give a performance as Barry Seal, the TWA pilot who quickly becomes a hired gun for the CIA in the drug smuggling era involving the South American drug cartels and the Sandinistas. He basically flies loads and loads of drugs into the United States and in the process becomes a very rich man. He works for the CIA and provides a service to the drug lords. It's fairly interesting and decently executed for a while. Domhnall Gleeson is the bright spot in this film as the shadowy CIA operative who becomes Cruise's demanding, unapologetic boss.

But maybe the filmmakers should have done their homework before putting this together because Cruise, evidently trying to capture a young protagonist, doesn't look anything like the corpulent Seal. Ironically, this miscasting makes Cruise's effort even more ridiculous. Not only was Seal not as athletic as Cruise, he wasn't particularly youthful-looking either. This central misrepresentation is really what kills the film, not to mention a relatively rote screenplay that we've come across a million times before. None of this is going to be too egregious to most viewers. Many people would probably never even know who Barry Seal was, if not for this film. Still, it's kind of silly for Cruise to continue to perpetuate a desperate jump into the fountain of youth in a role that doesn't even call for it that much. But perhaps stardom is the ultimate source of self-delusion. Not recommended.

0 out of 2 people found the following review useful:
Brooding, visually rich sequel diluted somewhat by running time, 15 October 2017

*** This review may contain spoilers ***

The long-anticipated sequel to the 1982 sci-fi classic is definitely something you should see in theaters. The visual effects and cinematography alone are enough to make this a movie event that should be watched on the big screen to get the full effect. The film's storyline is slowly hashed out in a smoke cloud of mystery, futuristic dark humor and dystopian milieu. It's Villeneuve's admirable achievement and a worthy sequel.

Ryan Gosling is solid as a latter-day Blade Runner, whose job is to hunt for a diminishing number of replicants from an earlier era. Gosling's cop begins to struggle with the question of his own identity and ponders whether the memories in his head are authentic or artificial implants. Ana de Armas is captivating as his artificial flame, who takes on many different forms. Robin Wright is sharp in a smallish role as Gosling's iron-willed superior. Jaret Leto is well-utilized as a creepy industrialist whose bleak vision for society is being implemented. Sylvia Hoecks is effectively menacing as Leto's ruthless enforcer. Unfortunately, the film could have used a bit more of Harrison Ford, who returns to his role as Rick Deckard, Gosling's predecessor from 30 years back. Ford's work in this film amounts to little better than a cameo appearance. But thankfully, Gosling and everyone else mostly fill the void.

The film's emotional core is real but very cold and deeply embedded. And some more editing probably would have helped. Although there is a storyline here that you do care about, the film's aloof, almost Lynchian sense of mystery keeps the viewer at a distance for a long stretch. There is a deliberate build-up in the labyrinthine investigation through which Gosling pieces together a macro scale of criminal activity. Villeneuve is able to sustain the film's gripping crescendo just enough that the film reaches a well-executed, well-earned catharsis. Strongly recommended.

2 out of 6 people found the following review useful:
Decent slice of American sports history, well-captured, 4 October 2017

*** This review may contain spoilers ***

Putting all judgments aside about what kind of statements this film might make about sexism and homophobia in the present day, this cinematic portrayal of the famous 1973 tennis match between Billie Jean King and Bobby Riggs is quite entertaining and well-acted. For those of us who weren't born yet, this light and diverting film provides a nice overview of the spark that Billie Jean King gave to women's equality in the 1970s and how she became a true pioneer in that regard. By contrast, the film tentatively touches upon the issue of homophobia, but it's better to have a true portrayal of the era rather than something anachronistic and too contemporary.

Emma Stone plays against type here, giving a solid performance as the awkward but quietly competitive King. She fully embodies King's principled drive and down to earth charm. Her deep angst about finally embracing her sexual orientation and her determination to successfully advance gender equality in the sport of tennis provides a source of character conflict that, again, was true to that era.

But the film's trump card is Steve Carell who gives his most likable performance ever as the goofy and cocky Riggs who had no problem becoming the standard-bearer of male chauvinism in a game whose culture and pay structure strongly favored men. We come to see Riggs as considerably less off-putting than the ideology he humorously defended. The real villain in this story is not Riggs, but Jack Kramer, (a smug Bill Pullman) the head of the Association of Tennis Professionals, whose unapologetic institutional sexism pervaded the sport at the time. We come to learn that Kramer's genuine disdain for women's equality is the motivating factor that helps light a fire under King in her match against Riggs.

My only criticism would be that the match itself could have been a bit more gripping. It's filmed in a way that, although true to the game, feels detached and distant. Perhaps the filmmakers wanted to make it look as real as possible, but for a cinematic climax, it lacks tension, even if it's gratifying watching King put Riggs away with one power stroke after another. Recommended as light, quality filmmaking.

Stronger (2017/I)
6 out of 7 people found the following review useful:
Workmanlike and well-played but an unremarkable film, 27 September 2017

*** This review may contain spoilers ***

Let me say this off the bat. I saw this film primarily because of Jake Gyllenhaal and the rave reviews he's gotten in portraying Jeff Bauman, the young man who lost his legs in the '13 Boston Marathon bombing and became a symbol of hope. Not because I think the bombing itself has not gotten enough attention and analysis from all quarters imaginable. The film is less about the day of the bombing than about Bauman's long road back afterward. On paper, this didn't look exceptionally enticing, but the rousing reviews drew me in. A well-received film with an actor of Gyllenhaal's caliber is tough to pass up.

There is enough narrative flow and great performances from Gyllenhaal and Tatiana Maslany as his transient girlfriend and Miranda Richardson as his hard-drinking, boisterous mother to make this film worth seeing. And the depiction of the bombing itself is well-executed and flashback scenes to Bauman's ravaged condition in the seconds and minutes immediately following the blast are gritty and powerful. The depiction of the family's insensitivity to Bauman's personal hardship is a worthwhile theme here. A scene in which his friends and family are blithely watching a Red Sox game while he has a painful collapse in the bathroom is one of the film's more genuine moments. Maslany captures the girlfriend wonderfully, though I'm tempted to argue her prominence in the film has been overstated in the reviews.

But make no mistake. I've seen this kind of film many, many, many times before. It does not stand out as far as doing anything ground-breaking. It's a simple blue collar tale of struggle and recovery through sheer heart and will power, the kind of story that has been told through the ages. That's what's disingenuous about the reviews. They led me to believe this was something more than conventional. It's as tried and true as they come. Everything from Hollywood's fixation on the feisty Boston persona to the moment of a tempestuous argument between two loved ones to the bar fight with the token idiot who spouts his nonsense. And there is also that moment in the spotlight with one of your favorite sports teams while masking deep personal turmoil. You have it all here in spades. I give David Gordon Green credit in making hay with a formula that has been done before, seemingly since the earliest of days. Recommended for the great performances.

Mother! (2017)
6 out of 13 people found the following review useful:
Aronofsky exceeded my expectations with this extraordinary, satanic film, 19 September 2017

*** This review may contain spoilers ***

I had no idea of the magnitude of what I was in for with this film. I went in knowing as little as possible. The trailers convey so little of what this is, and that's definitely for the better. It's one of those films that sneaks up on you and becomes something so monstrous, startling and impactful that you can't remember the last time a film struck you that way and you also might wonder if you'll ever have a cinematic experience like it ever again. It left me speechless for two days before I could review it.

Jennifer Lawrence gives an uncharacteristically innocent and vulnerable performance here, one of her best ever. Javier Bardem is magnetic as her older husband. They live together in a secluded pastoral house when their privacy is soon encroached upon by an uncouth Ed Harris and an odious Michelle Pfieffer. To reveal more would be to give away a bit too much. Let's just say it builds into something allegorical in a way that you just don't see coming. I would argue the best way to prepare for this film is to read as few reviews as possible and just go in cold.

Out of respect for the squeamish and even those not all that squeamish, I will warn you there is a moment of undeniable barbarism near the end, and possibly the biggest reason this film is so virulently hated by some. But other than that, there is not much to be offended by. The work of this filmmaker is academic and metaphorical. Nothing is spelled out, nor should it be. It's a film that is open to several different interpretations, which obviously depend on what you find. Like I said, it's best to just go in cold and emerge with a foundation upon which to parse Aronofsky's stunning creativity that takes place here.

There are moments when the film's excesses might seem preposterous but once you understand that the film's events are meant to stand for something much more universal, the excesses are no longer a flaw but rather a detail that is captured in the filmmaker's sweeping, devilish brush. What humanity has done to the world and what its fate might be in turn, is the biggest question ever grappled with by Aronofsky. He has done it before but not like this. From a distance, this film might look entertaining but also conventional. It is considerably more than that. Bravely recommended to everyone and to the highest degree.

0 out of 1 people found the following review useful:
Caper film has a sluggish start, comes up a tad short, 1 September 2017

If this film is Soderbergh's return from his brief retirement, his craft is a touch rusty. Not for nothing, his style of filmmaking is uniquely dynamic and almost always has a crisp air of confidence. Here, that kind of verve is largely absent and the narrative is curiously tentative and low-key for the much of the early part of the film. This surprising lethargy is not terminal, thankfully.

This film seeks to emulate Soderbergh's work in Ocean's Eleven, but with a scruffy, backwoods, up-from-the-bootstraps kind of flavor. This heist story centers around two redneck brothers (Tatum and Driver) in West Virginia, both of whom have a sad history of setbacks and little to show for as grown men, who boldly decide to pull off a robbery of the Charlotte Motor Speedway right around the height of NASCAR season. They enlist the help of a skilled explosives expert who is still in prison (Daniel Craig) and their erstwhile law-abiding sister (Keough).

No one can fault the performances. Everyone here excels with what the script affords, especially Craig, Tatum and Driver. I never had much of an impression of Riley Keough's screen presence before, but I know it now and she's quite good in this. Unfortunately, a lot of acting talent is squandered in smallish, thankless roles. Katherine Waterston is one example as a medical practitioner who happens upon Tatum. Katie Holmes, although quite good as Tatum's scornful ex-wife, fades into the background. And Hilary Swank gets way too little screen time with a law enforcement role that she clearly has fun with. On the bright side, it sure is nice to see a familiar face from Wedding Crashers in the person of Dwight Yoakam as a somewhat clueless prison warden.

But the film's muddled first half is molasses slow and so low-energy that it feels like an eternity before we get to the greatly anticipated heist. At that point, the film takes on the more brisk pacing and vitality you would expect from Soderbergh, but it's a bit too late. I try to look at the big picture and call this a near-miss, mostly because this is still a joyful portrayal of a criminal scheme perpetrated by a bunch of dim bulbs with a little help from a hardened, smug professional. And a wonderfully touching rendition of John Denver's "Country Roads" adds to this film's plus side. Recommended to those looking for carefree, lowbrow fun.

Good Time (2017)
7 out of 10 people found the following review useful:
Robert Pattinson shines in this hard-hitting NYC nightmare, 13 August 2017

*** This review may contain spoilers ***

The Safdie Brothers' newest film is a bleak, unflinching tale of a career criminal (Pattinson in the most intense performance of his career) who furiously objects to his mentally deficient brother's psychiatric treatment and blithely coerces him into helping him carry out a bank robbery. When their plans unexpectedly fall apart and the brother gets arrested, this lowlife proceeds to use every means possible to try to bail his brother out.

Pattinson's acting in the past has never caught fire the way it does here. It's a transformation. He completely embodies a born loser who has no other way to get through life other than lying, conning and flat out breaking the law. Simply put, if this is your first on-screen impression of Robert Pattinson, you've hit the jackpot. Benny Safdie is affecting as the mentally handicapped brother. By contrast, Jennifer Jason Leigh is regrettably under-utilized as the older female companion whose inclination toward generosity is misplaced with the criminal schemer. Taliah Webster gives a fine turn as the street-smart but still somewhat innocent Queens teenager who gets caught up in a web of crime and deception. And Buddy Duress is solid as Pattinson's random criminal accomplice.

A percolating, perpetually menacing soundtrack guides the skittish, volatile pace of this film in which there are plenty of moments of tension and ungovernable aggression. The hellish world that is presented here is alternately scary but also consoling in a weary-world kind of way, much like the 1970's films of Martin Scorsese back in the day. Here, iPhones, texting and newer New York news channels add to the mix of anger, misery and desperation.

This film has neither the pedigree nor the marketing for it to be considered an Oscar contender. It also hasn't been heavily touted; I watched it in a mostly empty theater in Manhattan. But it's still one of the most well-made films of the year- a potent story of the clash between family love and hopeless criminal tendencies, one that will leave its mark. Highly recommended.

Detroit (2017)
2 out of 2 people found the following review useful:
This film beats you over the head until you cry "uncle", 12 August 2017

*** This review may contain spoilers ***

This dramatization of a major incident of police brutality that took place during the 1967 Detroit riots starts off strong. It has great period detail in recapturing the Motor City in its roiling state of anxiety and resentment- an image of a great city on the verge of combustible catastrophe. A growing sense of anger and lawlessness is well-captured here. Furthermore, the film boasts vivid performances by an exceptional ensemble cast. Will Poulter is a standout as a violent, psychopathic police officer who cannot subtract his personal prejudices from the line of duty. John Boyega is also effective as a private security guard who makes a good faith effort to keep the peace but soon finds himself questioning his own judgment.

Unfortunately, where the film goes wrong is its decision to have a key police interrogation and torture sequence go on so interminably and so relentlessly that ironically the film loses its power and emotional grip in the process. The evil that is portrayed here goes from convincing to almost cartoonish. A viewer might be forgiven for no longer having their head in the film once the narrative finally moves on. Although no one can accuse this film of having the wrong intentions, it becomes so overheated in its depiction and so didactic in its approach that it becomes a textbook example of cinema where less could have been more. Perhaps less hand-wringing and more tonal balance would have made this a more potent film. But subtlety is not the word here.

This is not to say that all was lost. The film goes on to have quite a heartfelt, anguished conclusion and offers a cautionary word that the law and not reason is sometimes the biggest weapon. However, a better work would have left some room for debate instead of trying to pound its audience into submission. Not recommended.

Wind River (2017)
28 out of 40 people found the following review useful:
Grim, slow-burn crime thriller marks Sheridan's directorial debut, 4 August 2017

Taylor Sheridan's achievement in this film lies in his success in crafting an old school crime drama that doesn't try to re-invent the wheel but instead relies on good old-fashioned storytelling. Jeremy Renner and Elizabeth Olsen are both exceptional as a dissimilar pair who out of sheer happenstance form an alliance to solve the mystery of a young woman's brutal death on an Indian reservation. Renner is a U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service tracker. Olsen is an FBI agent sent on an assignment very much alone.

The narrative remains low-key but gradually builds toward its gripping conclusion. We come to learn quite a lot about Renner's character through his backstory. He's quite understated and effective in this role. Olsen enters the picture as an outsider to the bleak region of despair that the American wilderness is portrayed as here. She must learn quickly in order to do her job or leave a possible crime completely unsolved.

Because this film deals with life on an Indian reservation, much of the social and economic woes might seem unfamiliar at first, but the film does a good job of providing a snapshot of the hardship that pervades in this part of the country and the difficulty that law enforcement has in conducting even a workmanlike investigation. Sheridan depicts a world that is sympathetic and troubled at the same time, masking its tears with courage and doggedness. Recommended to everyone.

Menashe (2017)
4 out of 5 people found the following review useful:
Old world story of personal struggle, low-key and affecting, 30 July 2017

This quiet drama portrays the scuffling life of a man within the Hasidic community in Brooklyn as he endeavors to regain custody of his son in the aftermath of his wife's passing. He is expected to find a new wife and achieve stability as he holds down a low-paying, labor-intensive job as a grocery clerk that drains him of his time and his spirit. He has difficulty keeping his own modest life in order, let alone being strong enough to provide for another human being.

His efforts to better himself in order to regain custody of his son are met with dismissal from those around him, including his more devout and financially stable brother-in-law whom the community has decided should look after the man's son. He gets little encouragement from those within his community, yet he persists.

There is a considerable schism within the Hasidic community that comes to light in this film, especially on account of the man's less-than-pious lifestyle and more secular demeanor. He doesn't readily embrace the hard-line teachings of his sect as forcefully as his peers, but he nevertheless wants what's best for his son and wants to fulfill the requirements of his denomination in order to remain a real father. In that regard, this is an exceptional portrayal of loyalty to one's religious faith in the face of ongoing personal conflict. It's definitely not for many viewers who wouldn't relate to religious doctrine as a deciding force in one's life, but it's still a story that's effectively conveyed and devoid of proselytizing. Recommended to open-minded viewers.

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