Thursday, May 13, 2021

FINDING YOU

 Rose Reid     Jedidiah Goodacre     Katherine McNamara   

Tom Everett Scott     Vanessa Redgrave     Patrick Bergin

 


           Finding You.  I was turned off by the title right away; what does that even mean?  Another rom com?  Then I saw the movie.  Wow!  The number of connotations of the phrase is so artfully blended into the story, I was incredulous by the end.

            Finley Sinclair (Reid) is a high school graduate who, after failing a violin audition, decides she wants to spend a year abroad in Ireland, just as her brother did.  (Her brother is part of the story.)  By happenstance, on the airplane over to Ireland, she meets a famous movie star, Beckett (Goodacre), who tries to charm her with his usual skills, but she is completely turned off and mistrusting.  She had picked up a film rag on the trip and seen his picture plastered all over with all his hysterical fans and adoring leading lady (McNamara).  

            It turns out that her host family in Ireland—the same one that had hosted her brother—has inherited an inn.  And who should Finley meet on her first day there?  Beckett—you guessed it.  All their initial meetings are prickly and verbally combative, so of course you figure they will be entangled.  

            But not in the usual ways, and that is the charm and essence of a story that goes beyond light and cute and instead reflects the real challenges encountered in our modern world, i.e., the power of money and the responsibility it brings for some people, the burdens of fame, the double binds encountered by a parent’s control over his child, and, finally, whom to trust in life.

            Writer-director Brian Baugh, who started out as a cinematographer, but quickly transformed into a writer-director-producer with a commitment to stories that are inspiring and relevant, has created a film that weaves in these concepts into his work that will elate and inspire, as well as produce a chuckle.  “Things are not always as they seem” is one of those adages that stand out loud and clear when a young woman is not sure of a new suitor, a volunteer at an old folk’s home meets a crusty grouchy old woman, (Redgrave)  and a sleeping drunk (Bergin) is being routed off a village bench in the daytime.

            So, Finding You is about Finley finding herself and finding her love, Beckett finding himself and finding his love, Finley’s finding her brother, and an old woman and her estranged sister finding each other.  That’s a tall order for a movie, but it has succeeded here with all the elements necessary.  The acting is superb, especially by Rose Reid, Jeddiah Goodacre, Tom Everett Scott as Beckett’s father/manager, and Vanessa Redgrave (what a thrill to see her again!).

 

One of those good-for-the-soul movies that will still inspire you and make you chuckle.

 

Grade:  A                              By Donna R. Copeland

SPIRAL

Chris Rock     Samuel L. Jackson     Max Minghella     Marisol Nichols



             As the film explains toward the end, a spiral is symbolic of change, evolution, and progress.  Of course, this typically refers to the spiritual development of a human.  In the context of Spiral the movie, it does symbolize change, evolution, and progress—but in a distinctly different sense.  One of the first messages received is “I’m here to help reform the police.”

            When the movie starts, we’re immediately pitched into a torture scene—one of many that will follow as a deranged killer leaves his trademark of a spiral and delivers ominous messages and ghastly mementos to Detective Zeke Banks (Rock).  Right away, it becomes clear that Banks has earned the enmity and scorn of his fellow cops in the South Metro Police Department, so even though he’s assigned lead on this case, he’s not always getting cooperation from his associates, although Chief Angie Barza (Nichols) seems to understand him better than the others.

            The rest of the movie has all the devices commonly used in the horror genre—a series of startling frights and mysterious puzzles, confounding all those trying to wrestle with the situation.  We get a bit of father-son drama between Det. Banks and his father, (Jackson), the previous chief of the department.  These two characters are only fairly developed, but Rock—normally a comic—shows his skill as a lead actor in drama.  Jackson’s role is more as supporting actor, but his character is referred to frequently enough throughout the story, we get some sense of who he is.

            Director Darren Lynn Bousman and writers Josh Stolberg and Pete Goldfinger and some of the crew in this film have previously worked together on Saw franchise movies, this being the eighth.  (Bousman directed Saw II, III, and IV.)  Still another Saw is in the works, and Spiral is clearly set up for its sequel.  Obviously, despite their gore and redundance in plot, fans continue to favor them.  On the other hand—partly because of the gore and repetition—they have not been well received by critics in general.

            As a critic, I am in sync with my colleagues.  Although this version of Saw might be novel and even entertaining to a newcomer, I have to question the worth of seeing one grisly torture/murder after another—just  for the sake of being gruesome—in a shole string of films. This series seems to have run its course sometime back, making the prospect of doing two more particularly odious.

 

Spare yourself another movie intended solely to gross you out, without much of anything to redeem it.

 

Grade:  D                              By Donna R. Copeland





Thursday, May 6, 2021

THE HUMAN FACTOR

 


            This chronicle of all the times since 1991’s Oslo Accord that Israelis and Palestinians have attempted to come to a peace agreement with the U.S. as negotiator demonstrates how deep-seated the hostility is between the two sides.  Israelis were so against Yitzhak Rabin’s signed agreement with the Palestinians he was killed.  Palestinians were so much against an accord in progress almost made by Nasser Arafat with Israel it resulted in outright warfare between the two.  Because of the U.S. being considered as the major world power in 1991, and its interests in maintaining peace between Israel and the Arab states, it offered to be the outside negotiator during this period of time.

            It had a big—perhaps impossible—job.  Along the way, there are many encouraging signs during the process of negotiations.  For instance, in the earlier stages, it is remarkable how Rabin changes his attitude toward Arafat, and the efforts of U.S. personnel is clearly evident.  At first Rabin is stiff, but by the end he is smiling at Arafat and shaking his hand.  Many times in the beginning, Arafat agrees to terms, showing a lot of trust.  But as soon as he senses that the other side is not respecting him or giving the Palestinians their due, he balks.

            Through it all, the importance of support staff of the leaders in furthering along the negotiations is clearly visible.  At times, they advise the leader and are absolutely on target.  Although, toward the end, when an apprehensive Clinton polls his staff about whether to have another summit with Israel’s Barak and Palestinian Arafat, they advise him to do it—it turns out to be a questionable judgment, as noted by 

            Overall, The Human Touch comes to be a brilliant way of showing how much diplomacy and negotiations in world affairs is so much about human interactions, language, and history.  The human touch is apparent throughout the film—whenever diplomacy succeeds.  When it is missing—when there is no empathy or historical understanding—diplomacy is useless.  Historical events may encroach upon whatever is proceeding, but that awareness of humanity and empathy can make all the difference in the world.

            If one wonders why there has never been a successful accord between Israelis and Palestinians, The Human Touch will help you understand.  It’s a combination of history, leadership, and negotiations that have so far been beyond our reach.

            The film is good at charting the course of negotiations during the Bush and Clinton administrations, but it should have covered as well those prior, in the Carter Administration.  An improved version would also give more consideration to the Palestinian position and more clearly identify the commentators.  By the end, I cannot tell you who they were.

 

Explaining—to some extent—the tenacious problem of Israeli-Palestinian relations.  Diplomacy on the line.

 

Grade:  B                  By Donna R. Copeland                             

THE PAPER TIGERS

 Alain Uy    Ron Yuan     Mykel Shannon Jenkins     Yuji Okumoto     Matthew Page


            This is a kung fu action movie like you’ve never seen before, most likely.  Three middle-aged men who had special status in their youth for being the chosen of their master teacher, (“the unbeatable Paper Tigers) feel bound to defend the honor of their idol after he has died, despite the fact that they have not kept up with their martial arts skills, nor their relationships with the teacher, and are mostly involved in their paying jobs.  When prodded, they feel guilt about having abandoned the master, and now that he has passed and wanna-be kung fu fighters unmindful of his teachings and the principals behind them, they resolve to step up to the plate.

            We learn more about one of the stars, Danny (Uy), who is trying to hold up his part of the bargain he made with his ex-wife to be involved in his young son’s life—and not doing a very good job of it.  Hing (Yuan) is notable for a major problem with his leg, despite which, he manages to step up whenever there is a challenge, but he is the one who has taken it upon himself to get in touch with the other two to remember the master.  Jim (Jenkins) is still envied because the master (who was a cook) always gave him the best piece of chicken.

            Kung fu challenges are presented by a former acquaintance of the three, Carter (Page), who had a reputation for being inept, but has secured a high-level position at the former master’s school.  An even bigger challenge is made by a dangerous local punk (Okumoto) who has learned kung fu, but has not taken on the principals of honor that are supposed to be a part of it.  It’s said he is a part of the urban criminal underworld.  Indeed, the successor to the master Sifu has been murdered, and his predecessor may have been as well.

            Paper Tigers is the first full feature film written and directed by Quoc Bao Tran.  He’s been involved in a number of aspects of filmmaking, but mostly shorts and television. shows  He will most likely improve across time, but for now in this film, writing and character structure are treated superficially and stretch plausibility.  Most glaring in this respect is that three out-of-shape middle-aged men could expect to take on the younger kung fu specialists.  The issue of their confronting aging and ways of coping with it are completely ignored.  Left hanging is the obvious conflict between Danny’s and his ex-wife’s positions about fighting.  She is clearly a pacifist, whereas Danny believes strongly that fighting is necessary at times, and he is committed to teaching his son certain skills.  If the movie had dealt with this conflict and had fleshed out the characters of the other two Tigers, I think it would have been a much better movie.

            

A kung fu movie that stretches plausibility in its older protagonists taking on their youthful heirs of the martial arts.

 

Grade:  D                              By Donna R. Copeland

WRATH OF MAN


Jason Statham     Josh Hartnett     Scott Eastwood     Andy Garcia     Eddie Marsan

Holt McCallany     Rocci Williams     Jeffrey Donovan



            The film’s section titles give you some idea of what’s ahead: “A Dark Spirit” (introduction of “H”, a new employee in the security company Fortico that transfers millions of dollars a day for companies; “Scorched Earth”; “Bad Animals Bad”; and “Liver Lungs Spleen Heart.”  This is a Guy Ritchie film, so you’re already prepared.

            We meet our hero named “H” (for Hill) (Statham) by his new supervisor “Bullet” McCallany), who sees him as someone he needs to mentor.  H quickly gains the reputation of “a dark spirit”, as named by the segment title both by his peraonality and his first job.  He proves himself a hero right away in taking out a gang trying to steal Fortico cash.  Although…one supervisor observes that “I’m startin’ to think he’s a psychopath.” 

            In reality, H had worked for another security company that had gone bankrupt, so he was not na├»ve to the business.  Part of the thrill of Wrath of Man is finding out who this character is, what has brought him into the company, and what, basically, drives him.

            The film is based on a previous French action drama, Le Convoyeur (Cash Truck) directed by Nicolas Boukhrief, and writer-director Guy Ritchie has attempted to convert it to a more Americanized version, bringing in one of his favorite leading men, Jason Statham.  

            Statham is quintessential as the inscrutable player who can mold himself into any environment—but always with an ultimate goal.  He makes this exploration into a detailed plan with contingencies exciting and suspenseful.  It also weaves in some pain and grief, making the plot more understandable.  We see both sides of the ultimate encounter at work, but we cannot tell how it will all turn out.

            There are some “hmmm” moments when what goes on onscreen seem improbable, but for the most part, the story keeps you engaged.  It’s not anything new really or earth-shaking, but it’s an entertaining ride for those ready for such an adventure.

 

Loyalty and truth are the primary themes in this action thriller spotlighting Jason Stathem.

 

Grade:  C                              By Donna R. Copeland





Thursday, April 29, 2021

TOM CLANCY'S WITHOUT REMORSE

 Michael B. Jordan     Jodie Turner-Smith     Jamie Bell     Guy Pearce

            John Kelly is an elite Navy Seal whose home is invaded one evening, and although the intruders were not able to kill him, they did kill his wife.  Wounded, John manages to kill most of them in retaliation, but one gets away.  He realizes this is related to a top-secret operation in Aleppo, Syria he was participated in.  He is tried and put in prison for his crime.  He senses the attack on him is part of some government’s plot, but he isn’t sure what it is.  It was Russians who attacked his home.

            John is considered to be a risk both in terms of someone killing him, and in terms of his determination to seek out and kill the one remaining intruder.  While he is in prison, the CIA (which still has its suspicions about him) recruits him for a secret mission in which Americans would be sent to Russia to capture a Russian agent suspected of working against the U.S. for years and bring him to justice.  He may be the one who got away from John’s house, which makes him determined to go on the mission.

            The trip is a dangerous one, and sure enough, there are many treacherous encounters that ensue even after they manage to get to Russia. 

            Without Remorse provides the origin story for Tom Clancy’s John Clark, a character in his Jack Ryan series.  It helps if one is familiar with the background, but the script is so well written by Taylor Sheridan (Hell or High Water, Wind River, Sicario) and Will Staples, it’s exciting on its own, with a mixture of daring and persistence on the part of Kelly, government politics and intrigue, and realistic characters showing their hopes and anxieties.

            Michael B. Jordan has a fine record of performances (television’s “The Wire” and “Friday Night Lights”, and movies Fruitvale Station, Black Panther), which have prepared him well for this role of an astute, skillful Navy Seal with a conscience and a compelling force that makes him soldier on against all odds.  

            The softer but highly competent role of Jodie Turner-Smith provides good balance to the masculine forces all around her.  Jamie Bell serves well as one to be suspicious of, but always equipped with an intelligent plan.  Guy Pearce seems to be able to merge into any character that comes his way; he has a record of a multiplicity of all different kinds of roles, and I always enjoy seeing him in all of them.  His role here is a bit mysterious, which is just as it should be.

            The film doesn’t really stand apart from other good films in the genre but will entertain the viewer interested in the genre.   

 

Tom Clancy fans will be treated to fine writing and acting in this thriller mixing intrigue with physical combat.

 

Grade:  B                              By Donna R. Copeland

LIMBO

Amir El-Masry     Kwabena Ansah     Vikash Bhai 

            One really gets the meaning of limbo when you wait and wait and wait on a remote Scottish island with a small clutch of young men from places like Syria, Afghanistan, Ghana, and Nigeria who are seeking asylum.  They are housed in modest lodgings and get supplies from the donation shop.  They attend classes on acculturation, applying for a job, etc.  And of course as time goes on friendships begin to gel.

            Omar is from Syria and is known for always having his oud (a musical instrument) with him—although he never seems to play it.  He is reserved, but Afghani Ferhad pulls him in by not being too forceful; and they are roommates.  Omar has periodic conversations on the phone with his mother who invariably asks if he is changing his sheets, and other motherly questions.  The parents are in Turkey, but Omar hopes to bring them to Scotland when his immigration is approved.  His brother has remained in Syria to fight against the harsh regime, which is an issue for the family as well.

            This is a delightfully quirky film written and directed by Ben Sharrock who is eminently successful in weaving together profound relevant issues with wry humor, funny caricatures, and intrigue.  First, he captures so well the experience of those seeking asylum where waiting is the main game.  (Albeit much better than the current U.S. asylum seekers being detained between Mexico and Texas.)  These hopeful emigres are given reasonable places to stay and some funding, although the locals may sniff and roll their eyes at them sometimes.  

            We hear about the various frustrations these particular men have to deal with, which makes you appreciate the determination it must take to persevere.  We also come to know their ambivalence and the profound sadness and pull simply to go back home.  But little comic bits and motifs are interspersed here and there—a delivery truck that comes and goes with operatic music blaring, one of the men stealing a chicken and naming it Freddy after Freddy Mercury—along with meaningful episodes such as Omar needing to help the local farmer find missing lambs in a snowstorm.

            Cinematographer Nick Cooke’s artful framing makes you want to pause the film at times and just admire his composition.  Long shots of characters peeling an egg or an orange somehow becomes interesting and contributes to everyday realism.  Cooke captures as well the sweeping landscape and beauty of Scotland, where filming took place.  

            This is the kind of film I like best, where characters are touchingly fleshed out, the story is well told, and creativity abounds.  I was a bit disappointed toward the end of the story when instead of ending with the solo performance, orchestral music took over.  I would have preferred relishing the moments a bit longer and seeing Omar’s reactions.

 

What better way than Limbo for us to learn what it takes to leave one’s own country and seek asylum in another?

 

Grade:  A                              By Donna R. Copeland