‘Ghost in the Shell’ Review

Director: Rupert Sanders

Writers: Jamie Moss, William Wheeler and Ehren Kruger

Cast: Scarlett Johansson, Pilou Asbaek, Takeshi Kitano, Michael Pitt, Chin Han, Peter Ferdinando, Danusia Samal, Lasarus Ratuere, Yutaka Izumihara, and Juliette Binoche

Synopsis: In the near future, Major is the first of her kind: A human saved form a terrible crash, who is cyber-enhanced to be a perfect soldier devoted to stopping the world’s most dangerous criminals.

 

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

 

Based, maybe to many loosely based, off the comic by Masamune Shirow and the hit anime in the early 90s, Ghost in the Shell has been under the radar for some time now. Whether it be the fact that most people think it shouldn’t have been remade or – the big one – the white washing controversy, the film has certainly been in the public eye so it indeed to impress a lot of people to justify it being made. Unfortunately, Ghost in the Shell impresses at the right moments, but then it becomes a bit bland and shallow.

Set in future Tokyo where people are now okay with doing cybernetic implants, we follows Mira Killian (Scarlett Johansson), who after an accident which only leaves her brain intact, a company called Hanka places her brain in a state-of-the-art robot body that will allow her to pass as human. We skip forward  a year, and she now works for a government division called Section 9, a tactical response unit tasked with hunting down terrorist, and is now known as The Major. The team soon realizes that they have a serious threat in Kuze (Michael Pitt), a terrorist who is hacking into and killing members of the Hanka robotics company. However, as the investigation goes on The Major starts to remember things from her past that throws the investigation in a different direction.

I’m going to throw this out there now, I haven’t seen the original anime – yet – I’ve wanted to for some time now, and wanted to before watching this, but time caught up with me and I couldn’t. So everything in this review is going to be based off this film, and solely this film. So please forgive me if I think something works or doesn’t work, but is essential to the anime or original source material.

Let’s start off with the cast, since that’s the biggest thing everyone was talking about before watching the actual movie. Scarlett Johansson does fine playing the conflicted character trying to figure out her place in the world, but also bound by duty to take down Kuze. Pilou Asbaek plays Major’s friend and partner Batou, who, honestly, doesn’t get enough screen time, Peter Ferdinando is a Hanka company man named Cutter who’s has a history with the program Major was a part of. “Beat” Takeshi Kitano plays Aramaki, Major and Batou’s boss who only speaks in Japanese, who also could have used more screen time considering the role he plays later on in the film.

Juliette Binoche plays Dr. Ouelet, the lead scientist that makes Major who she is, and while Binoche puts her best effort into the role, her character – to me – doesn’t rise up to the stakes her character should have been. Speaking of that, Michael Pitt’s Kuze is pretty disappointing. Not only is he not in the film enough, he only has one real good scene with Johansson which reveal the beginning of the secrets for Major. It’s nothing against Pitt either, he’s just not in the film long enough to really give Kuze that level of importance the film tries to five him at the beginning of the film. The rest of the cast, well, they’re just there unfortunately.

Ghost in the Shell also tries to ask the important deep question like what makes you human and can Major be an actual individual? But the film spends little time actually digging into to those questions, and instead takes the sci-fi crime thriller action route. Which would be fine if this wasn’t a remake of Ghost in the Shell – from what I heard anyway – and this was an original film, but it isn’t and it hurts the film in the long run. What also hurts the film is the white washing controversy does come to the forefront in multiple ways.

One is like I mentioned earlier, Kitano’s Aramaki only speaks in Japanese – and everyone else speaks to him in English. That wouldn’t be much of a problem if it wasn’t for the fact that he’s one of the only real Asian in the film who has a major role – Yutaka Izumihara plays a character named Saito, who I’m not even kidding, I think only has two scenes and Chin Han, who plays a character named Han, who is a member of Section 9, but doesn’t really do anything to stand out. However, the biggest way the issue lingers is near the end when you figure out what happened in Major’s past. You can make the argument that it makes sense to do that, but at the same time it is kind of stupid and disrespectful to the point that it took me out of the film completely. It’s not the best way to go, especially in a film that people were already up in arms about.

All in all, Ghost in the Shell isn’t a groundbreaking film like its predecessors. The one redeeming thing about the film, if you want to look at it that way, is the visual effects. It really gives you a sense of how different the world is, and it should be too much of a shock considering it is directed by Rupert Sanders, who got his start doing visual effects. However, like his previous film in Snow White and the Huntsman, Ghost in the Shell is all show with very little substance.

Ghost in the Shell

3 out of 5

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Mini-Review – Underworld: Blood Wars, Sleepless, Patriots Day, Live By Night & The Bye Bye Man

Hey everybody!

Welcome to another edition of Mini-Reviews. This is a longer one than usual, due to me falling behind. So let’s get to it, shall we?

 

*As always, these will be spoiler free reviews*

 

Underworld: Blood Wars

Director: Anna Foerster

Writer: Cory Goodman

Cast: Kate Beckinsale, Theo James, Tobias Menzies, Lara Pulver, James Faulkner, Peter Andersson, Clementine Nicholson, Bradley James, Daisy Head and Charles Dance.

Synopsis: Vampire death dealer, Selene fights to end the eternal war between the Lycan clan and the Vampire faction that betrayed her.

 

The Underworld series started off as an interesting franchise that had some cool mythology and made Kate Beckinsale a big name to those not familiar with her. The sequel came along and was just okay which lead to a prequel for the third film. Then the fourth film came out and things took a turn for the worse. The series had lost its footing and became lost in its attempt to make itself relevant. This now leads us to Underworld: Blood Wars, which is more of the same, but thankfully better than Underworld: Awakening, which isn’t saying much really.

Blood Wars starts off by giving us a bit of a refresher on the series so far – leaving some things out – but also shows that Selene (Kate Beckinsale) is now a fugitive from the remaining vampires and new Lycan leader, Marius (Tobias Menzies), who wants the location of Selene’s daughter. The problem is that even Selene doesn’t know where her daughter is, and with the help of David (Theo James), his father Thomas (Charles Dance), and a vampire council member Semira (Lara Pulver), Selene is brought back into the fold to help deal with Marius.

Like I mentioned, Blood Wars is more of the same from the previous films – stylized action set-pieces, new mythology and characters being introduced and Kate Beckinsale in tight leather kicking-ass. Other than that, the film doesn’t really do anything that feels substantial. Things are brought up that would be considered twists or could have landed bigger if written better or anything the film did actually mattered.

The film is too rushed for its own good. Everything lands too quickly, and the final act of the film just happens. One particular part in the final act does mean something since it’s connected to the beginning of the film, but other than that the final act is structurally not sound.

When it comes to the cast, they all do the best they can with what they are given. Kate Beckinsale is the only real saving grace of the cast since she’s played the part so many times now. Theo James is just as bland as he was in the last film, while Tobias Menzies’ Marius is supposed to be this great Lycan leader, but doesn’t really do anything that frightening – also his cheap two dollar CGI wolf character doesn’t do him any favors. Lara Pulver as Semira could have been a great character if she had more screen time as could have Clementine Nicholson’s Lena, who is part of a new vampire clan, Finally, Charles Dance’s Thomas should have had more time, because you know, its Charles freaking Dance.

All in all, Underworld: Blood Wars is a passable sequel, and a better one than Awakening, but again, that’s not saying much. Things feel like they just happen, and the structure of the film is just off that you can never really feel any sort of enjoyment. One thing that really bothered me is the ending. I obviously don’t want to spoil it, but considering how it ends, it just felt like the whole film was for nothing.

Underworld: Blood Wars

2.5 out of 5

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Sleepless

Director: Baran bo Odar

Writer: Andrea Berloff

Cast: Jamie Foxx, Michelle Monaghan, Scoot McNairy, Gabrielle Union, Octavius J. Johnson, T.I., Dermot Mulroney, and David Harbour

Synopsis: A cope with a connection to the criminal underworld scours a nightclub in search of his kidnapped son.

 

A remake of the French film Nuit Blanche, Sleepless takes place mostly in one location and is surprising a little better than I thought it would be, even though I had watched the original film years before.

Sleepless follows Las Vegas officer Vincent Downs (Jaime Foxx), who along with his partner Sean (T.I.) steal a bag of cocaine at the beginning of the film. Little do they know, the cocaine belongs to a crooked casino boss Stanley Rubino (Dermot Mulroney) who is going to sell the drugs to the dangerous Rob Novak (Scott McNairy), the son of a local mob boss. In order to get the drugs back, they kidnap Vincent’s son Thomas (Octavius J. Johnson) and demand he return their product. Of course, things don’t go over smoothly as Internal Affairs agents Jennifer Bryant (Michelle Monaghan) and Doug Dennison (David Harbour) become involved.

Like I mentioned, the film is a little better than I thought it was going to be, but Sleepless does run into some issues throughout. The film doesn’t do Jamie Foxx any favors besides making him look like an action hero. Foxx’s usual charisma is put on the backburner so he can be almost stoic at times, which is a bit of a shame. Although, the result does lead to impressive fight scenes, including a kitchen scene and a highly impressive hotel room fight.

The rest of the cast do their best with what they are given. Scoot McNairy is one of the best underrated and unknown actors around, and while he plays a villain well, they could have done just a little more with him. Michelle Monaghan plays the straight-laced IA agent who has her moments, and after watching this, I hope we see more roles like this from her, and her chemistry with the always reliable David Harbour is spot on. Dermot Mulroney looked like he enjoy playing a slimy villain, Gabrielle Union only has a handful of scenes, so her casting feels wasted and T.I. also has only a few scenes but all of his scenes feel the same when you look back afterwards.

All in all, Sleepless feels a bit hallow at times, but it does have its moments that make the price of admission worth it.

Sleepless

3.5 out of 5

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Patriots Day

Director: Peter Berg

Writers: Peter Berg, Matt Cook and Joshua Zetumer

Cast: Mark Wahlberg, John Goodman, Michelle Monaghan, Kevin Bacon, Alex Wolff, Themo Melikidze, Jimmy O. Yang, Rachel Brosnahan, Christopher O’Shea, James Colby, Michael Beach, Vincent Curatola, Jake Picking, Melissa Benoist, and J.K. Simmons

Synopsis: An account of the 2013 Boston Marathon bombing and the aftermath, which includes the city-wide manhunt to find the terrorist responsible.

 

Considering Patriots Day is based off a real event, and one that I’m sure most of us remembering watching on TV as the events unfolded, I’m going to play with the “no spoilers” rule here a bit. The film follows the events at the Boston Marathon and what the first responders and FBI did to find and capture the Tsarnaev brothers.

The film has a lot of players on the board, we mostly follow Boston Police Sergeant Tommy Saunders (Mark Wahlberg), a made up character based on several people, who is at the finish line of the marathon when the first bomb went off. The events bring everyone is like Police Commissioner Ed Davis (John Goodman), Governor Deval Patrick (Michael Beach) and FBI Special Agent Richard DesLauriers (Kevin Bacon) to find Tamerlan Tsarnaev (Themo Melikidze) and his brother Dzhokhar Tsarnaev (Alex Wolff) which involved shutting down all of Boston and lead to a dangerous shootout in Watertown.

Peter Berg really does have a knack for true-story films, Lone Survivor and Deepwater Horizon were great films, and all star Mark Wahlberg, but the thing that makes these films, along with Patriots Day is how he handles the material. Berg treats the events with tremendous respect and never tries to feed the audience a political agenda or lean the audience a certain way. He lets the story tell itself and lets the characters come to life in their own way, even though most of the characters are based on real people. It’s also a credit to the great cast that they are able to do so.

However, with a big cast like this, the film does have a lot of characters to follow that a lot of them don’t get real time to breathe and don’t get the justice they deserve. J.K. Simmons has a small, but good, role as the Watertown sergeant Jeffrey Pugliese, Rachel Brosnahan and Christopher O’Shea play couple Jessica Kensky and Patrick Downes who were close to the first blast sight, Jake Picking plays Officer Sean Collier, who was shot by the brothers, and Jimmy O. Yang plays Dun Meng, who has a dangerous encounter with brothers halfway through the film. Another thing Patriots Day falls into is some pacing issues before the final act of the film, but again, it’s the cast the keep the film together.

Two of the highlights of the film, if that’s what you want to call it considering the nature of the real life events, is the aftermath of the bombing. How Berg moves the camera through the destruction and through the eyes of Tommy is both horrifying and telling on how the first responders probably felt when they helped so many that day. The other is the shootout before Dzhokhar runs and hides in the boat he was later recovered from.

All in all, Patriots Day isn’t an easy film to watch due to the nature of the events and how Berg was able to recreate it. The cast, despite being one person too many, does a tremendous job paying respect to people they were playing and to those affected by the actions that happened that horrible day and what happened afterwards.

Patriots Day

4 out of 5

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Live by Night

Director: Ben Affleck

Writer: Ben Affleck

Cast: Ben Affleck, Chris Messina, Sienna Miller, Elle Fanning, Zoe Saldana, Robert Glenister, Remo Girone, Chris Cooper and Brendan Gleeson

Synopsis: A group of Boston-bred gangsters set up shop in balmy Florida during the Prohibition era, facing off against the competition and the Ku Klux Klan.

 

Based off the novel by Dennis Lehane, Ben Affleck writes and directs what has become a bit of a passion project for him, so it’s a bit odd to see what became of the film. Affleck has shown he’s a great to solid director with films like Gone Baby Gone, The Town and Argo, but Live by Night will be – hopefully – the only blemish on his resume.

Ben Affleck plays Joe Coughlin, a former World War I soldier and son of a police officer (Brendan Gleeson), who returns home and starts to see himself as an outlaw and runs heists throughout Boston. He eventually falls in love with Emma Gould (Sienna Miller), who happens to be the mistress of Irish mob boss Albert White (Robert Glenister). This puts him on the sights on White’s rival, Italian mob boss Maso Pescatore (Remo Girone) who wants Joe to work for him. Joe eventually does and Maso sends him down to Tampa to run his bootlegging operation. Once there, and reunited with his old partner Dion Bartolo (Chris Messina) and they make a nice empire for themselves. That all changes when Joe starts falling in love with Graciela (Zoe Saldana), and struggles to keep his moral code in place.

Live by Night is unfortunately a bit of a mess, which is odd considering Affleck was passionate about getting the film made, and took so long to make. That’s not to say there is some great stuff within the mess, but it is the scattered material that keeps the film from being great. Not only that, the film has a bit too much going on that by the end, it feels like the film is forcing itself to tie-up the loose ends that were introduced beforehand. It’s a bit of a shame too, considering Affleck has shown he can handle himself with great material.

The cast itself is great, but it’s a shame that some characters don’t have time to expand and get developed more. Chris Messina, who is always great with the right material, playing Joe’s right-hand man Dion Bartolo could have used more time onscreen as could Elle Fanning’s character Loretta, the daughter of Tampa sheriff Figgis played by Chris Cooper. Especially considering Fanning is involved in a big subplot. Zoe Saldana also pops in but doesn’t really do much after her initial introduction, and reminding Joe that he doesn’t need to be cruel to do the life he’s involved in. Brendan Gleeson’s glorified cameo suffers just a bit due to him using his natural Scottish accent that makes it a little hard to understand. Sienna Miller’s character could have been an interesting character, but her arc gets cut too soon.

Affleck does okay as the Joe, and even though we follow him throughout the film his moments of doubt and morality being tested are usually rushed to the point that it just feels like Affleck is trying to get to the next scene, which is odd considering the film is over two hours. When it comes to working with his production designer and cinematographer, he works well. Every scenic shot is beautiful to look at, and the sets look amazing.

All in all, Live by Night has some issues that could have been avoided, but sadly they aren’t which hurts the film in the long run. The cast is great, but none of their characters are developed fully or pushed to the wayside to tell Ben Affleck’s Joe story. While the action scenes are top-notch, Live by Night is just a tad underwhelming in the long run, but in no way should change your view on Affleck’s directing ability.

Live by Night

3.5 out of 5

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The Bye Bye Man

Director: Stacy Title

Writer: Jonathan Penner

Cast: Douglas Smith, Lucien Laviscount, Cressida Bonas, Jenna Kanell, Michael Trucco, Cleo King, Leigh Whannel, Doug Jones, Carrie-Anne Moss and Faye Dunaway

Synopsis: Three friends stumble upon the horrific origins of the Bye Bye Man, a mysterious figure they discover is the root cause of the evil behind man’s most unspeakable acts.

 

It’s a bit of a shame that after the great year horror had last year – finally – a film like this comes along and washes all that away. Apparently based off a story called “The Bridge to Body Island” by Robert Damon Schneck, The Bye Bye Man has an interesting concept that falls apart once the film gets going. That’s only the beginning of this film’s issues.

The film follows three college friends in Elliot (Douglas Smith), his girlfriend Sasha (Cressida Bonas) and their friend John (Lucien Laviscount) who buy and move into an old house off campus. Everyone seems okay at first until Elliot finds an old coin on his nightstand left by the previous owner. He then discovers writing underneath the drawer that says “Don’t Think it, Don’t Say it” and under that are craved words “The Bye Bye Man.” At first he laughs it off, but when the three start experiencing strange things in and out of the house, they soon learn The Bye Bye Man (played by the awesome character actor Doug Jones) is indeed real, and after them.

One of the problems with The Bye Bye Man – one of many – is we don’t get a sense of the characters, and hardly care for them. Elliot is the closet one to actually having a backstory, while Sasha is just the girlfriend who, at the beginning, tries to convince Elliot that what is happening is real, but after Elliot goes along with it, she becomes a bit annoying, and John somewhat disappears for a bit and we really don’t miss him. Jenna Kanell pops in as Sasha’s friend Kim, who is a psychic of sorts and, based off the trailers, is the one that gets killed by the train, which is the highlight of her character.

However, the saving graces of the film – cast wise – is the small roles by Carrie-Anne Moss, Faye Dunaway and Leigh Whannell. Faye Dunaway appears near the end of the film and adds to some backstory of The Bye Bye Man, Carrie-Anne Moss plays a local detective that could have been played by really anyone else, but Moss adds some gravitas to the role. Leigh Whannell plays Larry Redmond a writer that “discovers” The Bye Bye Man and is involved in the best scenes in the film: flashbacks. Finally, Doug Jones does this best he can with what he’s given as the titular character.

All in all, the concept of the film sounds good at first, but once we start seeing what he does and really think about it afterwards, The Bye Bye Man fails to execute on its promise. The characters are bland and are never developed and a muddled story doesn’t help. The Bye Bye Man is almost passable film while watching, but nothing you’ll remember.

The Bye Bye Man

2 out of 5

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Let me know what you think.

New Podcast: Jon Favreau and Disney Reimagining The Lion King, Sony Developing New Cinematic Universe & More

The podcast is here! And early!

Like I mentioned in the podcast, I’m going out of town this weekend so I decided to record the podcast early and put this out before I left. Enjoy!

‘The Magnificent Seven’ Review

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Director: Antoine Fuqua

Writers: Nic Pizzolatto and Richard Wenk

Cast: Denzel Washington, Chris Pratt, Ethan Hawke, Vincent D’Onofrio, Byung-hun Lee, Manuel Garcia-Rulfo, Martin Sensmeier, Haley Bennet, Peter Sarsgaard, Luke Grimes, and Matt Bomer

Synopsis: Seven gun men in the old west gradually come together to help a poor village against savage thieves.

 

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

 

Based on the classic Western of the same name, that was based on the classic film by acclaimed director Akira Kurosawa Seven Samurai, Antoine Fuqua brings is take to The Magnificent Seven with his own star-studded cast and great visuals of his own. I’ll be honest, I’ve been looking forward to this – and yes, I’ve seen the originals – but of course I actually don’t mind remakes and knee-jerkingly reject them just at the thought of it. So, was my excitement worth it? Or does it have to take a long walk into the sunset with my head down? Let’s load up our horse and find out.

The Magnificent Seven starts off by showing just what kind of person the heroes would be going through. The town of Rose Creek are being taken over by a mining corporation run by Bartholomew Bouge (Sarsgaard) who wants the townspeople to sell him their land, but when he shoots the husband of Emma Cullen (Bennett) – played by Matt Boomer – she goes to find men to help her and townspeople take back their town. She eventually finds and recruits bounty hunter Sam Chisolm (Washington), who in turn brings in gambler and playboy Josh Farraday (Pratt) to help him bring in the best people to give the town a shot. The two haul in famed sharpshooter Goodnight Robincheaux (Hawke) and his knife-wielding partner Billy Rocks (Lee), an outlaw named Vasquez (Garcia-Rulfo), tracker Jack Horne (D’Onofrio) and Comanche Native American named Red Harvest (Sensmeier). All seven of them get together to protect the town, even with odds stacked against them. What follows is a grand – or magnificent? – finale that will make any Western fan happy.

(l to r) Vincent D'Onofrio, Martin Sensmeier, Manuel Garcia-Rulfo, Ethan Hawke, Denzel Washington, Chris Pratt and Byung-hun Lee star in Columbia Pictures' THE MAGNIFICENT SEVEN.

(l to r) Vincent D’Onofrio, Martin Sensmeier, Manuel Garcia-Rulfo, Ethan Hawke, Denzel Washington, Chris Pratt and Byung-hun Lee 

I know I watched the originals, but let’s focus on the Western here, but it was a while ago so I can’t remember too much of it. However, I do know Fuqua’s version is different in its own way, and makes sense for the story he’s trying to tell. I know many won’t, and don’t like the idea of a Magnificent Seven remake – even though it itself is a remake, but whatever – but the film is a lot of fun, and completely worthwhile for new fans or old fans.

The cast is what makes the remake really worthwhile. Washington has worked with Fuqua three times now, and continues to show the duo have a lot of fun together and are great together. Chris Pratt’s Faraday looks like he’s enjoying poking fun at his fellow cast members and being a bit of a playboy, but he does have a sense of pride and duty once everything goes down. Peter Sarsgaard’s Bogue doesn’t have enough screen time as he probably should, which is saying something considering the film is a bit over two hours. Haley Bennett’s Emma Cullen gets a lot of screen time at the beginning, but blends into the background as the film moves forward.

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Ethan Hawke’s Goodnight has an interesting arc, although it takes a while for it to really come up and it kind of just slides away. Vincent D’Onofrio’s Jack Horne is a tracker that gets compared to a bear a lot, Byung-hun Lee’s Billy Rocks is the calm and collective one, Manuel Garcia-Rulfo’s Vasquez has a nice little rivalry with Faraday, and Martin Sensmeier’s Red Harvest has his moments.

Some, and even I’ll agree with some of it, will say the group gets together is too fast and there isn’t enough conflict between them. Especially since we hear that Jack Horne has killed a lot of Native Americans, and while their interactions with Red Harvest are minimal they never come off as standoffish but slight jabbing. It’s nice dynamic – all the characters have them – but it’s something that I know people will bring up. There are some other things that are never fully developed, but for the most part the film doesn’t suffer that much from it.

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The action is top notch and the final shootout is a sight to see. There is a lot going on in the scene, but you always know where you are and can follow the action throughout. It’s also pretty satisfying considering the film builds up to it for half the film. It also helps that the final shootout is great since right before the ending the film loses some steam and slows down.

All in all, The Magnificent Seven is a great, fun ride of a film. The cast is great and the final shootout is a great time. While the film may not be perfect in terms of some pacing issues and not going fleshing out some details, it is a worthwhile remake to a remake of a remake.

The Magnificent Seven

4 out of 5

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New Podcast: Mr. Sinister will be in Wolverine 3, Stan Lee Becomes Action Hero & More

The Movie Pit Podcast is live!

I talk about some of the biggest news items of the week, the trailer released and this week’s limited and wide releases. Also, go like my Facebook page to get a preview of what we’ll talk about on the podcast, and to keep up with all the biggest news items of the week. https://www.facebook.com/MoviePit/

 

 

 

Mini-Reviews: Ben-Hur, War Dogs, Hell or High Water, & Sully

Hey everybody!

Welcome to the second 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*

 

Hell or High Water

Director: David Mackenzie

Writer: Taylor Sheridan

Cast: Chris Pine, Ben Foster, Jeff Bridges, and Gil Birmingham

Synopsis: A divorced dad and his ex-con brother resort to a desperate scheme in order to save their family’s ranch in West Texas.

 

Hell or High Water may start off as a typical bank robbers vs. the law film, but underneath all that is much more. Brothers Toby (Pine) and Tanner (Foster) Howard start a string of bank robbers that are actually to save their mother’s ranch in the desolated West Texas for a bigger reason we don’t find out until the final act. On their trail is a on the verge of retiring Ranger Marcus Hamilton (Bridges) and his partner Alberto Parker (Birmingham). As the Rangers get closer, the risk for Toby and Tanner gets bigger and it leads to an explosive finale.

The film is written by Sicario writer Taylor Sheridan, which you can immediately tell once the film gets going. The themes of the film are nicely layered and scattered throughout, which may seem off or forced to many, but once you look at film as a whole, you’ll appreciate the nuances.

However, it’s the cast that really makes this film fantastic. Chris Pine and Jeff Bridges are reliable as ever with Bridges seemingly enjoying his more livelier role to date, while Ben Foster once again showing he’s a force that shouldn’t be forgotten.

All in all, Hell or High Water is a fantastic film with a great cast and story. The film is slow ride, but so worth it for the final outcomes that fits in today’s world.

Hell or High Water

4.5 out of 5

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War Dogs

Director: Todd Phillips

Writers: Todd Phillips, Stephen Chin and Jason Smilovic

Cast: Miler Teller, Jonah Hill, Ana de Armas, Kevin Pollak and Bradley Cooper

Synopsis: Based on the true story of two young men, David Packouz and Efraim Diveroli, who won a $300 million contract from the Pentagon to arm America’s allies in Afghanistan.

 

Todd Phillips has come a long way from The Hangover. War Dogs is a much more mature film for him that tackles a huge subject of the second Iraq War, but doesn’t do so in a way that says “war is bad,” but takes a conversational, or to some the real reason, “war is an economy.” The film even stars with a voiceover by Teller’s David Packouz telling us how much it costs to gear and arm every soldier in our military.

The film follows David, an unhappy massage therapist working in Miami in 2005, who reunites with his old junior high best friend, Efraim Diveroli (Hill). Unlike David, Efraim is living a rather successful life as an arms dealer who picks up government contracts. Efraim needing help, and David with a baby on the way with his wife Iz (de Armas), the two decided to grow their own business and take on government contracts. However, their partnership and friendship are tested as the money gets bigger.

I will say the film was better than I thought it would be, and it helped that Jonah Hill and Miles Teller were on their A-game. Hill almost steals the film with his sleazy performance as Efraim. While Brady Cooper pops in and out through the film after being introduced around the middle of the film. Although the film doesn’t really bring too much new to the table, you can pretty much tell how this film will turn out by the end. It’s not a bad thing – considering it’s based on a true story – and while the chemistry between Teller and Hill seems spot-on, the movie does go into a lull after a while.

All in all, War Dogs is much more of a drama than comedy, but the film has plenty of laughs to balance out the seriousness and crazy reality of the film.

War Dogs

3.5 out of 5

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Ben-Hur

Director: Timur Bekmambetov

Writers: John Ridley & Keith R. Clarke

Cast: Jack Huston, Toby Kebbell, Nazanin Boniadi, Rodrigo Santoro, Pilou Asbaek, Sofia Black-D’Elia, Moises Arias, Ayelet Zurer, and Morgan Freeman

Synopsis: Judah Ben-Hur, a prince falsely accused of treason by his adopted brother, an officer in the Roman army, returns to his homeland after years at sea to seek revenge, but finds redemption.

 

I have no connection the old Ben-Hur films or novel since I never saw them or read it. I do know the cultural and film significance the film the property has had, so I was always going to go off what this new iteration bought to the table. I wasn’t really looking forward to the film too much since the trailers weren’t that great, but I gave it a shot and you know what? It wasn’t a complete waste of time.

Ben-Hur follows Judah Ben-Hur (Huston), a prince in Jerusalem, who lives his family including his adopted brother Messala (Kebbell) who knows his place amongst the family is at the very bottom. To find his own place in the world, Messala leaves and joins the Roman army, and after years have passed returns home as a successful soldier. Messala goes to Judah and pleads with him to name anyone that would think about attacking Pontius Pilate (Asbaek) when he passes through Jerusalem. Judah, not wanting to get dragged into anything, tells him he thinks Pilate will be safe. Of course, something happens and Messala seeing no other choice and viewing this as a betray sends Judah to be a slave.

However, when Judah’s ship does down, Judah finds land and is employed by a wealthy African named Ilderim (Freeman) to help him and become his chariot rider for a big race coming soon. Of course, the chariot race will have Messala in it. Along the whole way, Judah has small run ins with Jesus (Santoro).

One of the good things the film does is make the relationship between Judah and Massala a big part before we mostly follow Judah for the rest of the film. We see the love they have for each other, but you can see Messala is conflicted with his position in the family, and knows Judah will always first in the family’s eyes. It also helps that Jack Huston and Toby Kebbell have descent chemistry together, and Kebbell has enough acting chops to not make Messala a villain, but enough to make us not root for him in some way.

The rest of the cast does okay with what they given. Freeman doesn’t show up until the final third of the film, and does his typical reliable Freeman performance. Nazanin Boniadi plays Esther, Judah’s wife who tries to play Judah’s moral compass, and Rodrigo Santoro’s Jesus is nicely scattered through the film.

The film does bring up some political issues into the film, and thankfully aren’t shoehorned in. However, when Judah gets free from the ship, that message is gone and focuses on Judah’s journey of revenge, and from there the performances do take a bit of a dip, but thankfully come back near the end of the film.

All in all, Ben-Hur isn’t that bad of the film. It’s not perfect, and I’m sure most people will say it’s not like the other iterations, but something tells me that’s okay for this one. Also, the much advertised chariot race was a descent enough action set-piece.

Ben-Hur

3 out of 5

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Sully

Director: Clint Eastwood

Writer: Todd Komarnicki

Cast: Tom Hanks, Aaron Eckhart, Mike O’Malley, and Laura Linney.

Synopsis: The story of Chesley Sullenberger, who became a hero after gliding his plane along the water in the Hudson River, saving all of the airplane flights 155 crew and passengers.

 

I barely remember the actual event of “The Miracle on the Hudson” on the news, but I never actually knew, many most of us too, what happened afterwards. So who better to tell that story on screen than Clint Eastwood and everyone’s favorite actor Tom Hanks. Hanks is, of course, not untested playing real people as he already did it in Captain Phillips and Saving Mr. Banks. But there is something a little different about playing the man that saved 155 people in a forced water landing.

Sully follows ‘Sully’ (Hanks) as he deals with the aftermath of landing on the Hudson River. Sully and his co-pilot Jeff Skiles have to deal with an investigation by the FAA and the insurance company. Despite Sully pulling off the impossible and viewed as a hero by many, he’s viewed as reckless to the investigators for putting everyone and the plane in danger since the simulations all show he could have made it back to the airport or make it to another one.

For what it’s worth, Sully is a very engaging film that keeps you hooked from beginning to end. The plane sequence is tense to watch, and will probably make you a little afraid of flying now, and it’s interesting to see it play out in multiple ways. We see the sequence in two different ways that are completely different, but they are a thrill to watch in their own ways. I will say the film does lack a certain something that keeps the film from being a more powerful film, not saying the film isn’t powerful, but for me there was something missing.

Of course, the main draw here is Tom Hanks. Hanks is – once again – reliable in every way possible and carries the film on his shoulders. I wouldn’t say it’s his best performance, but you believe him as this conflicted man that probably risked the lives on everyone onboard. Aaron Eckhart as Jeff Skiles is pretty good here too and might be a performance some will forget. Mike O’Malley plays Charles Porter, the lead investigator in the case against Sully. O’Malley is a surprise choice for the role, considering he’s known mostly for his comedic performance, but has put on some dramatic roles as of late and nails the performance here. Laura Linney feels almost wasted here as Sully’s wife Lorraine, as her whole performance is talking on the phone to Sully, but does have one moment near the end of the film that makes it work.

All in all, Sully isn’t that bad of a film. It’s not Eastwood’s or Hanks’ best film, but it’s not their worst.  The film is engaging and tense throughout to keep you invested more than you think, and it shines a light on a hero. The CGI plane moments do take you out of the film a bit, but Eastwood hasn’t really worked with too much CGI before, so we can probably let it pass.

Sully

3.5 out of 5

sully

September Movie Releases

Hello everybody!

Another month has gone by and we’re on to another packed month full of great films. September seems like it’s going to be great by the end of the month. In with a few surprises. Let’s take a look at what’s coming out this month.

 

2nd

Limited Release: Yoga Hosers

Kevin Smith directs – and also stars – this odd comedy horror fantasy film that follows two teenage yoga enthusiasts, one played by his own daughter Harley Quinn Smith and Johnny Depp’s daughter Lily-Rose Depp, who team up with a legendary man-hunter to battle with an ancient evil presence that threatens their major party plans. The film has already opened on the film festival circuit to let’s call it a mixed reaction. The film also stars Johnny Depp, Austin Butler, Tyler Posey, Haley Joel Osment, Justin Long, Genesis Rodriguez, Adam Brody, Jason Mewes, and Natasha Lyonne

 

The Light Between Oceans (Walt Disney Motion Pictures/Dreamworks SKG/Touchstone Pictures/Amblin Entertainment/Reliance Entertainment/Participant Media)

A lighthouse keeper (Michael Fassbender) and his wife (Alicia Vikander) living off the coast of Western Australia raise a baby they rescue from an adrift rowboat. They start to raise it as their own until a woman (Rachel Weisz) comes around claiming she’s lost her baby. With a cast like this, and what sounds like a compelling story, I can’t imagine this film being bad at all.

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Morgan (Thriller – 20th Century Fox/Scott Free Productions)

Directed by Luke Scott – the son of director Ridley Scott – a corporate risk-management consultant (Kate Mara) has to decide and determine whether or not to terminate an artificial being’s (Anya Taylor-Joy) life that was made in a laboratory environment. This film came out of nowhere for me, but the film looks pretty damn good. The teaser trailer that came out automatically hooked me and with a great cast, this jumped to my anticipated films of the year. The film also stars Toby Jones, Michelle Yeoh, Body Holbrook, Sam Spruell, Jonathan Aris, Rose Leslie, Jennifer Jason Leigh, and Paul Giamatti.

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9th

The Wild Life (Lionsgate/StudioCanal/nWave Pictures/uFilm)

An outgoing parrot named Tuesday, who dreams of seeing the outside world, and his friends enjoy their time on their exotic island until a violent storm brings Robinson Crusoe. Seeing him as a way off, they try to help get off, but not without trouble. The film is originally a French animated film that is being dubbed in English. Personally, the film doesn’t look very appealing to me.

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When the Bough Breaks (Drama – Sony Pictures/Screen Gems/Unique Features)

A surrogate mom for a couple becomes dangerously obsessed with the soon-to-be father. Regina Hall, Theo Rossi, Morris Chestnut, and Glenn Morshower star. The film isn’t really targeted toward me, but the film doesn’t look that great to me honest.

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The Disappointments Room (Drama Thriller – Relativity Media/Demarest Films/Media Talent Group)

Written by Wentworth Miller and directed by D.J. Caruso (Disturbia, Eagle Eye, xXx: Return of Xander Cage), the film follows a mother (Kate Beckinsale) and her young son (Lucas Till) release unimaginable horrors from the attic of their rural dream home. This film has sat on the shelves for a while, and will finally come out. It does look creepy, but the film will have to do some heavy marketing to get on people’s radar since it just moved to this date right before the beginning of the month. The Disappointments Room also stars Michaela Conlin, Michael Landes, Duncan Joiner and Gerald McRaney.

disappointments_room

 

Sully (Biography Drama – Warner Bros./Village Roadshow Pictures/RatPac Entertainment/Malpaso Productions/Flashlight Films)

The film tells the true story of American pilot Chesley “Sully” Sullenberger, who heroically landed an aircraft full of passengers on the Hudson River. But the story is much more than just him landing the plan. Sully look pretty impressive after that trailer, especially the plan going into the river. The film is directed by Clint Eastwood and stars Tom Hanks as Sully himself and Aaron Eckhart as his co-pilot. The film also stars Laura Linney, Anna Gunn, Autumn Reeser, Sam Huntington, and Holt McCallany.

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16th

Limited Release: The Good Neighbor

A pair of high school kids try to trick a neighbor into thinking a house is haunted, but their intended victim turns out to be far more dangerous than they imagined. The film stars James Cann, Logan Miller, Keir Gilchrist, Laura Innes, Edwin Hodge, Anne Dudek, Bailey Nobel, Lili Reinhart, and Mindy Sterling.

 

Hillsong: Let Hope Rise (Pure Flix Entertainment/Grace Hill Media/MediaWeaver Entertainment/Cantinas Entertainment)

The film is a documentary following the Australia-based worship band Hillsong. The film will follow their humble beginning and rise to an international church.

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Bridget Jones’s Baby (Romantic Comedy – Universal Pictures/Working Title Films)

The adventures continue for British publishing executive Bridget Jones (Renee Zellweger) as she enters her 40s, and yeah, she has a baby. Colin Firth returns as Mark Darcy and Sally Philips returns as Shazza, and the film will also stars Jim Broadbent, Gemma Jones, and Patrick Dempsey. I don’t know if anyone was screaming for another Bridget Jones movie, but here it is.

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Snowden (Biography Drama Thriller – Open Road Films/Onda Entertainment/KrautPack Entertainment/Sacha Inc.)

Directed by Oliver Stone, Snowden is about the former CIA employee Edward Snowden (played by Joseph Gordon-Levitt) who leaked thousands of classified documents. The trailer makes it seem like the film will focus on Snowden before he leaked everything a bit, and then jump to what maybe happens after. The film has a very talented cast, and was supposed to be released late last year before it was pushed back to this year. Snowden also stars Shailene Woodley, Scott Eastwood, Nicolas Cage, Timothy Olyphant, Zachary Quinto, Rhys Ifans, Tom Wilkinson and Melissa Leo.

snowden

 

Blair Witch (Horror – Lionsgate)

You want to talk about films that came out of nowhere, Blair Witch is the definition of that. Originally called The Woods, it was recently revealed that the film was really a sequel, yes a sequel, to the Blair Witch films. Directed by Adam Wingard (You’re Next, The Guest) the film follows Blane, as he takes a group of friends into the woods, after he discovers a video of what could be his missing sister. The problem they find is that they have gone into the same woods that belong to the legendary Blair Witch. I always already looking forward to The Woods because of Wingard, but now that it is a Blair Witch film, my excitement went down just a little, but it’s still Wingard so I’m going to watch this.

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23rd

Limited Release: Queen of Katwe

Based on the book by Tim Crothers, a young girl from Uganda trains to become a world chess champion. I’ve only seen the trailer once, but I felt like I’ve already seen the film. Nonetheless, it looks like an impressive story and the film will find the right people. The cast includes Lupita Nyong’o, David Oyelowo, and introduces Madina Nalwanga playing the main character.

 

Limited Release: Beauty and the Beast

Directed by visionary filmmaker Christophe Gans (Crying Freeman, Brotherhood of the Wolf, Silent Hill), the film is, well, Beauty and the Beast in French. The film looks great and has two great leads in Lea Seydoux as Belle and Vincent Cassel as the Beast/Prince. Of course, people are looking forward to the Disney live-action version next year, but this could hold you over.

 

Limited Release: The Dressmaker 

Based on the novel by Rosalie Ham, a glamorous woman named Myrtle ‘Tilly’ Dunnage (Kate Winslet), returns to her small town in rural Australia. With her sewing machine and haute couture style, she transforms the women and exacts sweet revenge on those who did her wrong. The film also stars Liam Hemsworth, Sarah Snook, Judy Davis and Hugh Weaving.

 

Storks (Animation – Warner Bros. Animation)

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. Voice cast includes Andy Samberg, Jennifer Aniston, Ty Burrell, Keegan-Michael Key, Jordan Peele, Danny Trejo and Kelsey Grammer. It seems like 2016 is the year of talking animals and Storks will continue the fashion.

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The Magnificent Seven (Western – Sony Pictures/Village Roadshow Pictures/MGM)

Based on the classic Western that was really a remake of Akira Kurosawa’s classic Seven Samurai, The Magnificent Seven follows seven gun men in the west come together to help a village against a gang coming through. The film already carries some heavy hitters in director Antoine Fuqua and stars Denzel Washington, Chris Pratt, Peter Sarsgaard, Matt Bomer, Haley Bennett, Vincent D’Onofrio, Byung-hun Lee, and Ethan Hawke. This looks pretty great to be honest. Even with the cast, I was a little hesitant, but the trailers have completely won me over.

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30th

Limited Release: American Honey (Drama Comedy)

A teenage girl (Sasha Lane) with nothing to lose joins a traveling magazine sales crew, and gets caught up in a whirlwind of hard partying, law bending and young love as she criss-crosses the Midwest with a band of misfits. The film won some awards in the film festivals it played in, and has gotten some pretty high praise. The film also stars Shia LaBeouf and Riley Keough.

 

Masterminds (Action Comedy – Relativity Media/Michaels-Goldwyn)

A night guard (Zach Galifianakis) at an armored car company in the Southern U.S organizes one of the biggest bank heists in American history, problem is others on his trail, and they want the money too. The film doesn’t really look too bad – and I’m not the biggest Galifianakis fan – and again like Before I Wake trailers were put out before Relativity Media pull every movie they had off the release schedule because they filed for bankruptcy. Masterminds also stars Kristen Wiig, Kate McKinnon, Owen Wilson, Jason Sudeikis, Leslie Jones, Jon Daly, and Ken Marino.

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Deepwater Horizon (Action Drama – Lionsgate/Participant Media/Di Bonaventura Pictures)

Directed by Peter Berg, Deepwater Horizon is based on the true story of the offshore drilling rig Deepwater Horizon which exploded during April 2010 and created the worst oil spill in U.S. History. I’m sure this might still be a touchy subject with some, and people will probably say why the trailer calls the people onboard “heroes,” since they “caused it” or at least a part of it. But Deepwater Horizon still looks pretty descent. The film has a great cast of Mark Wahlberg, Dylan O’Brien, Kurt Russell, Kate Hudson, Gina Rodriguez, J.D. Evermore, and John Malkovich.

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Miss Peregrine’s Home for Peculiar Children (Fantasy Adventure – 20th Century Fox/Tim Burton Productions/Chernin Entertainment/St. Petersberg Clearwater Film Commission)

Based on the novel of the same name by Ransom Riggs, the film follows Jacob (Asa Butterfield) who follows clues that take him to a mysterious land, where he discovers the ruins of Miss Peregrine’s School for Peculiar Children. As Jacob explores the building, he discovers that its former occupants were far more than peculiar; they possessed incredible powers. And they may still be alive. I haven’t read the book, but honestly, I’m not the biggest Tim Burton fan anymore. However, this looks pretty good. The cast also includes Eva Green as Miss Peregrine, Samuel L. Jackson, Allison Janney, Ella Purnell, Kim Dickens, Rupert Everett, Chris O’Dowd, Terence Stamp and Judi Dench.

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So, what are you looking forward to?