Mini-Reviews: Masterminds, Deepwater Horizon, Storks, & The Girl on the Train

Hey everybody!

Welcome to the third edition of Mini-Reviews. This time, it’s more of a mixed than it was last time. So let’s get to it, shall we?

 

*As always, these will be spoiler free reviews*

 

Masterminds

Director: Jared Hess

Writers: Chris Bowman, Hubbel Palmer, and Emily Spivey

Cast: Zach Galifianakis, Kristen Wiig, Owen Wilson, Jason Sudeikis, Kate McKinnon, Leslie Jones, Mary Elizabeth Ellis, Ken Marino, and Jon Daly

Synopsis: A guard at an armored car company in the Southern U.S. organizes on of the biggest bank heists in American history. Based on the October 1997 Loomis Fargo robbery.

 

Yes, Masterminds is based on a true story. Of course, I’m sure the film takes some liberties, but for the most part the film tells the story of David Ghantt (Galifianakis), an armored car guard at Loomis Fargo who wants to do more in his life. He gets the chance when his co-worker Kelly (Wiig), under orders of the town small-town criminal Steve (Wilson), convinces him to rob Loomis Fargo. David, of course does it thinking he has a chance with Kelly, even though he’s engaged to Jandice (McKinnon). The good news is that David gets it done and is convinced to go down to Mexico to hide out, the bad news is that the FBI is on to him and Steve wants to cut loose ends.

Masterminds was set to come out two years ago, until it got pushed back to this year, and even then its release was in question thanks to Relativity Media’s bankruptcy. It also didn’t help that the film had a pretty descent cast, so it’s a shame that after all this, the film didn’t turn out as good as it could have been. I will say it does seem hard to make a comedy based on a true story, since you can’t really force funny moments in true stories, but if you have the right cast I assume you could. Masterminds is sadly not one of those.

I will say I’m not a huge fan of Zach Galifianakis, but he does okay here as a somewhat lovable and gullible David, who gets fooled into robbing $17 million. Kristen Wiig is reliable as always, and is arguably the heart of the film. Owen Wilson has his small moments, but doesn’t stand out as much as Jason Sudeikis’ hitman character Mike McKinney. His part of the film is rather odd, and at times will probably make you cringe-laugh, but he goes all in for this. Kate McKinnon and Leslie Jones are put on the backburner for the most part. Jones plays a detective for the FBI hunting down David, while McKinnon plays David’s soon-to-be wife Jandice as an odd and cliché trailer park women, who has only one big moment.

All in all, Masterminds is a wasted opportunity to let all these great comedic actors to cut loose. There are some genuine funny moments in the film, but overall Masterminds fails to really connect, and make you laugh the way I think they thought it would.

Masterminds

2.5 out of 5

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Deepwater Horizon

Director: Peter Berg

Writers: Matthew Michael Carnahan and Matthew Sand

Cast: Mark Wahlberg, Kurt Russell, Kate Hudson, Douglas M. Griffin, James DuMont, Joe Chrest, Gina Rodriguez, J.D Evermore, Ethan Suplee, Dylan O’Brien and John Malkovich

Synopsis: A dramatization of the April 2010 disaster when the offshore drilling rig, Deepwater Horizon, exploded and created the worst oil spill in U.S. history.

 

Peter Berg has become a “based on a true story” film master. Friday Night Lights, Lone Survivor, the upcoming Patriots Day – based on the Boston Marathon bombing – and this. Berg has a way to really make the people in those films more important than the event itself sometimes, and Deepwater Horizon is another prime example of that. Not only that, he makes the film feel like a horror film at times, which is what the people onboard the actual rig probably felt like they were in on that fateful day.

The film mostly follows the Deepwater Horizon rig’s chief electrical technician Mike Williams (Wahlberg) and installation manager Jimmy Harrell (Russell) or Captain Jimmy as the crew calls him, on the day they arrive on the Deepwater Horizon along with a few BP company men and control room operator Andrea Fleytas (Rodriguez). However, when they arrive they find out that BP management, lead by Donald Vidrine (Malkovich) on the rig, want the crew to start drilling right away because they are behind schedule. Of course, Mike and Jimmy aren’t having any of it because the safety of the crew is at risk, Mike lets them know that the rig isn’t running at one-hundred percent, but Vidrine pushes them and they start drilling. What follows is the Deepwater Horizon suffering massive failure and an explosion that sets the rig up in flames. The crew then tries to survive and escape the rig at all costs.

Berg does a great job of setting everything up. He even goes into the technical side of things even though he probably knows not all the audience is going to know what the hell they’re talking about – we can get the gist considering we know what happens and they make it sound pretty bad. We also get a descent sense of these characters, so when the rig goes up in flames we care for these characters. And while most films would tip-toe around the situation, Berg tackles it head-on and does lay some – arguably all – of the blame on BP for forcing the rig workers to keep going.

The other great thing Berg does is make us, essentially, part of the crew. When the Deepwater Horizon goes up in flames, you can feel the horror that these men went through. This isn’t your typical escapist disaster film, this was a man-made disaster that isn’t filled with your typical Hollywood hero. Wahlberg or Russell don’t make big speech to comfort everyone, they get hurt and are equally affected by the rig explosion like everyone else. 11 men lost their lives that night, and the way Berg makes the event look, it’s almost hard to believe that not more people died.

The cast holds their own. Wahlberg gives one of his finest performances to date, and one that pays off at the end. I know Wahlberg may make people think of the film a certain way, but when he’s given the right material with a great director like Berg, he always turns in a great performance. Russell is as reliable as ever, Gina Rodriguez and Dylan O’Brien have their moments, but are scattered throughout the film and only really pick up during the events of the explosion. Finally, Malkovich seems to be enjoying himself playing a sleazy BP official, and while maybe that’s not how the real life Vidrine was, it does give us the general idea of greed and not caring about the consequences.

All in all, Deepwater Horizon is a very effective thriller that sometimes feels like a horror movie. Peter Berg knows exactly what to show and what kind of story he wants to tell, and instead of focusing on the oil spill – which got the most attention in the news – this highlights the people actually onboard the rig. I’ll even admit that by the end of this film, I was in tears. Something not a lot of films can make me do, and make me admit.

Deepwater Horizon

4.5 out of 5

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Storks

Director: Nicholas Stoller and Doug Sweetland

Writer: Nicholas Stoller

Voice Cast: Andy Samberg, Katie Crown, Kelsey Grammer, Anton Starkman, Ty Burrell, Jennifer Aniston, Keegan-Michael Key, Jordan Peele, Stephen Kramer Glickman and Danny Trejo

Synopsis: Storks have moved on from delivering babies to packages. But when an order for a baby appears, the best delivery stork must scramble to fix the error by delivering the baby.

 

I didn’t really expect anything from Storks when I first read about it. However, that all changed when I watched the film, because I really liked Storks. The film follows Junior (Samberg), who works at Cornerstore.com which is where storks now deliver packages instead of babies because delivering babies became too much of a problem. Junior is not in line for a promotion from his boss Hunter (Grammer), but before he can take the position he has to do one thing: fire the only human worker at Cornerstone, Tulip (Crown). Junior doesn’t really do so and instead puts her in a building by herself.

However, that only complicates matters as Tulip gets a letter from Nate Gardner (Starkman) who wants a sibling, and accidentally makes one. Junior already thinking he’d be in trouble with Hunter decides to deliver the baby on his own with Tulip tagging along. Of course, a grand adventure ensues.

I had a lot of fun with this movie more than I thought I would. The film never loses steam and the jokes are top notch, so much so that I was still smiling or laughing way after they were delivered. The stories are also very touching. On one end you have the human story of Nate, an only child, who wants a sibling to play with because his parents (voiced by Burrell and Aniston) are always busy with their real estate business. On the other end you have the two stories of Junior wanting to be more than a delivery man, and Tulip trying to find her own place in the world, and wanting to really help. The two stories perfectly blend together near the end that makes the finale all the more touching and heartwarming.

The rest of the voice cast is filled with Keegan-Michael Key and Jordan Peele playing Alpha and Beta Wolf, who are one of the many highlights of the film, and Danny Trejo as Jasper, a stork that comes into play in the second half of the film. Finally, another highlight of the film is Stephen Kramer Glickman as Pigeon Toady, who will leave you laughing for sure.

All in all, Storks is a ton of fun that takes a while to bring its core theme out, but the ride is so much fun that it doesn’t matter. Storks will leave you laughing out loud and leave you wanting a bit more.

Storks

4.5 out of 5

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The Girl on the Train

Director: Tate Taylor

Writer: Erin Cressida Wilson

Cast: Emily Blunt, Haley Bennett, Rebecca Ferguson, Justin Theroux, Luke Evans, Edgar Ramirez, Laura Prepon, Allison Janney and Lisa Kudrow

Synopsis: A divorcee becomes entangled in a missing persons investigation that promises to send shockwaves throughout her life.

 

Based on the popular and one of the fast-selling novels of all time by Paula Hawkins, The Girl on the Train is being labeled as the possible next Gone Girl. A comparison that doesn’t really help any film since Gone Girl was vastly different animal that some people haven’t seen before. While the film does show shades of that, The Girl on the Train is a completely different animal altogether that is a less effective thriller and drama than Gone Girl.

The Girl on the Train follows alcoholic and divorced Rachel (Blunt) who rides the train every morning. During her rides, she always stops and spots the house of a couple who she doesn’t know but pretends to give them names and jobs. However, one day the woman, Megan (Bennett), ends up going missing and the day she did she noticed Megan with another man. What follows is Rachel trying to figure out what happened to a woman she’s made an unnatural connection to, but her obsession also becomes a problem for her ex-husband Tom (Theroux) and his new wife Anna (Ferguson), who she has been harassing them.

Going more into detail will probably lead me into spoiler territory which is something that I obviously don’t want to do. The film does jump back in time – a few months – so we get enough scenes with Haley Bennett’s Megan before she goes missing. The film also spends some time with Rebecca Ferguson’s Anna, who shines more near the end of the film than in the beginning. All that said though, this movie belongs to Emily Blunt. I’m okay with saying Blunt is one of the best actresses working today, and this film proves it. The rest of the cast, while they have their moments, kind of fall to the wayside. Edgar Ramirez and Laura Prepon are underutilized, especially Prepon, and Allison Janney, while her character was meant to only be small, would have been nice to see more of her.

The characters are probably going to make some people not like the film. There are times when you probably want to go into the screen and smack one of them around, which is what makes the film a little more relatable – to the characters anyway. It also helps that these characters are in the thriller genre, so their actions will make us question where they fall in line to the case. Although, there are times when the film gets bogged down in its own drama.

All in all, The Girl on the Train is held together by Emily Blunt’s great performance, along with Haley Bennett. The film gets bogged down a bit by its own drama, and while some things from the book don’t carry over, they make up for it by telling their own story. The Girl on the Train isn’t the next Gone Girl, but its effective while watching.

The Girl on the Train

3.5 out of 5

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‘Hardcore Henry’ Review

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Director: Ilya Naishuller

Writer: Ilya Naishuller (Additional writing by Will Stewart)

Cast: Sharlto Copley, Danila Kozlovksy, Haley Bennett, Oleg Poddubnyy, Andrew Dementiev and Tim Roth

Synopsis: A first-person action film from the eyes of Henry, who’s resurrected from death with no memory. He must discover his identity and save his wife from a warlord with a plan to bio-engineer soldiers.

 

*Reviewer Note: This will be a spoiler free review.*

 

A couple of years ago, the music video for Biting Elbows’ “Bad Motherfucker” came out and it made a lot buzz when it did. It was an impressive – and bloody – first-person perspective, or POV, action video shot on a GoPro by Ilya Naishuller, the frontman of the band. So, when Naishuller was asked about extending that idea to a feature-length film in the same format by producer – and star of the film – Sharlto Copley and producer Timur Bekmambetov, he accepted the challenge. What we get is a full-fledged, jam-packed action film that will satisfy any movie fan that wanted or thought it would be cool to see a movie shot like a first-person shooter game. Is Hardcore Henry for everyone? No, but if you want to try and watch something new, then give the film a chance.

Hardcore Henry, despite its experimental format, is rather simple in terms of storytelling. The film is told through the eyes of Henry, who wakes up in a lab by his wife Estelle (Bennett) who gives him a cybernetic arm, leg and eyes after a terrible accident – that is never actually revealed – and Henry is about to get a new life, since he memories have also been erased. That is until the process is interpreted by a telekinetic warlord named Akan (Kozlovsky), who wants Henry for something. Estelle manages to get Henry out of the lab, only for Estelle to get kidnapped by Akan and Henry having to go save her with the help of Jimmy (Copley), or should I say, Jimmy’s.

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Hardcore Henry doesn’t take itself too seriously, which works for film and was probably the best way to go. This kind of film lives off being ridiculous in the action, especially since the villain in the movie has telekinetic powers, Sharlto Copley plays wildly different characters all named Jimmy, the film is told in the POV format with a main character that does not talk, and it’s called Hardcore Henry.

On a technical level, Hardcore Henry is pretty successful. No matter how you feel about watching a whole movie told through the eyes of someone else, everything that happens onscreen is mind-blowingly great to see. The stunts and the set-pieces are all amazing to watch and I’m surprised that we didn’t read anyone getting seriously hurt or worse. So credit is due to the stunt team involved, and for Naishuller – in his directorial debut – for being able to pull everything off, because Hardcore Henry is filled with crazy stunts in every single action scene.

Not only that, but Naishuller making his first movie a movie that is filmed like a first-person shooter video game is pretty ballsy. Some parts even feel like a video game. None of the action sequences are the same, I mean sure there all pretty loud and have shaky camera work, but if you can make it past that, you’ll see how Naishuller tries his best to not make any of the action sequences the same. The action is pretty engaging and makes the film work even more. Again, if you’re not use to the format then Hardcore Henry is going to be pretty hard for you to watch. I’m a video gamer, so I’m use to the format, but even I felt a headache coming in near the end. The nice thing is that Naishuller takes into account the fact that not everyone is going to be ready for the POV style, and even slows the action down a bit, but when the action is on, the action is jam-packed and in your face (literally).

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The only real person that gets any real screen time is Sharlto Copley, who steals every scene he’s in with his different characters. I won’t get into how that works, and Copley brings something different to every character that makes him a standout in every possible way. Kozlovsky’s Akan is clearly enjoying himself as the villain, and even has a certain charm about him that make him a pretty good villain, but if he was given more screen time he could have been even greater. Of course the film is told through Henry’s eyes, so that cuts out that option. Haley Bennett’s Estelle doesn’t get enough screen time to really shine, but she is good in the limited screen time she has.

Now, Hardcore Henry isn’t a perfect film by any means. The ending falls a bit flat and doesn’t really carry the emotional punch it probably should considering what happens, but the whole film doesn’t really have anything else going on. It’s a simple “get back your girl and kill the bad guys” story, which is fine as long as there is compelling characters, and while Hardcore Henry has two major compelling actors, it doesn’t mean it’s all that great. I’m not bashing the film by any means. Like I said, Hardcore Henry on a technical and stunt level is fantastic, but when it comes to everything else, it’s just okay.

All in all, Hardcore Henry will probably spark the curiosity of other studios and directors to try, but for the movie itself it’s not that bad. Ilya Naishuller does a fantastic job bringing the scope of this film together. An easy standout is Sharlto Copley and the format itself is an interesting experiment that worked for the most part, but it won’t be for everyone.

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Hardcore Henry

3 out of 5