Take a look at the picture that accompanies this brief review. That's Jason Statham in another tough-guy movie from director Guy Ritchie. If you know the work that Statham and Ritchie have done together (1988's Lock Stock and Two Smoking Barrels was their first movie), you pretty well know what you'll be getting with Wrath of Man, a remake of Cash Truck, a French thriller from 2004. Statham plays a character named "H." It doesn't take long for H to find himself in a position in which he must avenge the death of his son, a hapless bystander during an armored-truck robbery. Wrath of Man goes easy on Ritchie's customary eye-popping flourishes. Here, the director pretty much relies on stony-faced characters and a revenge saga that contains few new twists but is told with darkly expressed competence and a familiar disregard for chronological order. Not surprisingly, Ritchie pours on the violence, which becomes increasingly easier to tune out as the movie progresses. Ritchie and Statham have made four films together, although it's been 15 years since their last collaboration. This time, Statham and Ritchie deliver the expected goods, the worth of which depends on your tolerance for this kind of movie. Oh, by the way, other actors crop up from time-to-time. Among them: Holt McCallany, Josh Hartnett, and Scott Eastwood. You can place bets on who in the supporting cast will make it to the finish line.
Thursday, May 6, 2021
In Here Today, Billy Crystal plays a comedy writer who’s beginning to suffer the effects of dementia. To compensate, Crystal’s Charlie Burnz follows the same route to his office every day, reminding himself what to do at every turn. If he diverges, he's lost.
Wednesday, May 5, 2021
The Human Factor
Beginning in 1991 and running through the final days of President Bill Clinton's first term, The Human Factor takes a fascinating look at diplomatic efforts to forge a peace agreement between Israelis and Palestinians. In some ways, The Human Factor qualifies as the ultimate insiders film with a variety of US diplomats revealing the moves and countermoves that created a process that ultimately failed. Israeli director Dror Moreh doesn't deal with Palestinians, although the various diplomats elaborate on Palestinian views. He focuses entirely on various US teams. Among those interviewed are Martin Indyk, a US diplomat with a self-explanatory title: US Special Envoy for Israeli-Palestinian Negotiations, a post he occupied from 2013 to 2014, and Aaron David Miller, a 24-year veteran of the State Department. The movie spends more time with Clinton's efforts than with previous attempts at peacemaking, although it charts James Baker's Middle east efforts as Secretary of State under George H.W. Bush. The movie proves invaluable for many reasons aside from demonstrating the frustrating difficulties of trying to make peace in the Middle East. It highlights the personalities of the principal players including Yasser Arafat and Yitzhak Rabin and brims with fascinating detail: Told he couldn't wear his pistol at the Rose Garden ceremony where he was to shake hands with Rabin, Arafat suggested he'd settle for an empty holster. The request was denied. The differences between Rabin, who was assassinated in 1995, and another Israeli PM, Ehud Barak, proved particularly consequential when the talks landed at Camp David. Moreh skillfully uses photos, news footage and interviews to create a sense of intrigue even though we know that all these efforts will end in failure. Those interviewed reflect on their experiences with insight, and a fair measure of self-criticism, and The Human Factor reminds us that if negotiations are to reach anything resembling compromise, each side must be prepared to feel some serious pain.
When director Sian-Pierre Regis's 75-year-old mother was laid off from a hotel housekeeping job she'd held for more than 30 years, he decided to pick up a camera and make a film. Rebecca Danigelis, who moved to the US from Britain when she was 28, survived two marriages, gave up a daughter to a sister living in England when she became too ill to care for the child, and raised two sons, one of whom suffers from schizophrenia and is still partially supported by her. Regis helps his mom become computer literate so that she can apply for jobs but also decides that after years of sacrificing, Mom deserves a reward. He begins a Kickstarter campaign to fund a year in which his mother would be able to realize her bucket list, which includes items ranging from milking a cow to visiting England for a reunion with her now-grown daughter and other family members. She also tries Hip Hop dancing and sky diving in Hawaii. Regis's concern for his mother can be affecting but Duty Free remains a limited documentary, perhaps because learning about Danigelis' often-difficult life struck me as more interesting than watching her jump out of an airplane.
Thursday, April 29, 2021
The only rooting interest I found in Tom Clancy's Without Remorse, the latest thriller based on (what else?) a Clancy novel, was Michael B. Jordan. A fine young actor, Jordan probably could benefit from becoming the key figure in another franchise, adding diversity to the group of actors who have played Clancy heroes. Other than that, Without Remorse clocks in as a brutal thriller in which Jordan plays John Clark, a Navy SEAL who feels betrayed by his government and possibly by a CIA agent (Jamie Bell). The notion that the true patriot finds himself in opposition to both foreign enemies and a conniving US government laces through all of Without Remorse, which also features Guy Pearce as the Secretary of Defense and Jodie Turner-Smith (Queen & Slim) as no-nonsense SEAL commander who understands Clark's fury. After being misled about the Syria-based mission that opens the movie, Clark's real suffering begins: When a team of assassins tries to murder him in his suburban home, his pregnant wife is killed. Though wounded, Clark kills most of the assassins. One (Brett Gelman) escapes. Sent to prison, Clark makes a deal that springs him, becoming the rogue who seeks vengeance -- with help from his military friends. Many bullets are fired as director Stefano Sollima delivers a by-the-numbers thriller that may please action fans but can’t shake the feeling that it rolled off the Clancy assembly line. A recall may not be necessary but a sequel would require significant improvement.
It's almost a rule. An actor or actress wins an Oscar and the next time we see him or her in a movie it's a dud. In the depressingly dreary Virtuoso, Anthony Hopkins, recent winner of the best actor Oscar for his work in The Father, plays a mysterious Vietnam vet called The Mentor. During a scene set in a cemetery, Hopkins talks about his character's Vietnam experiences, delivering a monologue that sounds as if Hannibal Lecter is auditioning for the role of Colonel Kurtz in Apocalypse Now. Listening to The Mentor describe a massacre of civilians in which he participated becomes a self-conscious aria of Hopkins' speak. Hopkins isn't the main event in director Nick Stagliano's misfire. Anson Mount portrays the assassin who takes his assignments from the Mentor. After an early picture job results in some disastrous collateral damage, the assassin is sent to a small town to kill someone identified only as White Rivers. He arrives at a diner where he scopes out the clientele and meets a waitress (Abbie Cornish) who seems attracted to him. Throughout what seems intended as a guessing game about who’s trying to kill whom, the assassin talks to himself in what becomes the movie's monotonous narration. He blandly recites dialogue that sounds as if it had been lifted from Assassination for Dummies. He reminds himself that he's a professional. He emphasizes the need for perfection and precision. He should have reminded himself to inject some life into a movie that's pretty much DOA.
Wednesday, April 28, 2021
The Outside Story
Movies don't get much more streamlined than Outside Story, a look at a man (Brian Tyree Henry) who locks himself out of his Brooklyn apartment, interacts with his neighbors, and wonders whether he should have broken up with his girlfriend (Sonequa Marin Green). Henry's Charles seems to be a nice guy, a film editor who specializes in assembling visual obituaries of celebrities. The key to the movie involves Henry's performance as a stressed-out but nice New Yorker who has encounters with a cop (Sunita Mani), a neighborhood kid (Olivia Edward), and an older woman (Lynda Gravatt) whose husband recently died. Director Casimir Nozkowski, who also wrote the screenplay, has a nice feeling for the idiosyncrasies of neighborhood relationships but he can't prevent the material from feeling a bit thin. Henry, currently on view in Godzilla vs. Kong, holds the movie together. Although the movie contains some conflict, the stakes feel pretty low -- which can be viewed as a blessing or a severe limitation or perhaps a bit of both.
Percy Vs Goliath
After seeing Christopher Walken miscast as an Irish farmer in Wild Mountain Thyme, I was dubious about Percy Vs Goliath, the story of a Canadian farmer who takes on the Monsanto in a prolonged court battle over patent rights involving canola seeds. But damn if Walken doesn't pull it off, doing credible work as Percy Schmeiser, a farmer who inadvertently planted Monsanto GMO seeds that had blown onto his property from a neighbor's farm. The result: a prolonged suit. Roberta Maxwell portrays Schmeiser's wife Louise. Zach Braff signs on as the small-town lawyer who represents Schmeiser, and Christina Ricci appears as an environmental activist who encourages Schmeiser to challenge Monsanto. She also helps him take is story global with a visit to India. The story of a little man fighting a major corporation isn't exactly fresh but director Clark Johnson does a good job presenting complicated issues as Schmeiser's case makes its way to the Canadian Supreme Court.
Familiarity may not always breed contempt, but it can breed fatigue when it comes to movies. Glenn Close and Mila Kunis play mother and daughter in an addiction drama about a young woman (Kunis) nearly ruined by drugs. Kunis' Molly wants to make another stab at kicking her habit so she asks her mother, Close's Deb, to take her in. This time she really means it -- or so she says. Director Rodrigo Garcia doesn't skimp on realism: Kunis has been given rotting teeth and a distressingly scrawny look. Deb blames Molly's addiction on the doctors who prescribed an Oxycontin regimen after a skiing injury. Since then, Deb has left her husband (Joshua Leonard) and her two kids. The title stems from the offer Molly receives from a detox doctor: If she can stay clean for four days, he'll give her a shot that will keep her from getting high on heroin. If she takes the shot before her system has been cleansed, she could die from its effects. Close and Kunis deliver strong performances but the movie can't escape the dogged quality of the storytelling. It's difficult not to feel a bit guilty about wanting a fresh charge from an addiction movie, particularly one based on a true story. Still, we feel a bit like Deb feels when Molly shows up at her door after 14 failed attempts at rehab. What? You want us to go down this movie road again?