New Releases for the Week of May 17, 2019


JOHN WICK: CHAPTER 3 – PARABELLUM

(Summit/Lionsgate) Keanu Reeves, Halle Berry, Ian McShane, Laurence Fishburne, Marc Dacascos, Lance Reddick, Asia Kate Dillon. Directed by Chad Stahelski

Wick, the world’s most ruthless hitman, has been excommunicated from the society of assassins and has a $14 million bounty on his head. There is no safe place for him anywhere as he tries to fend off a veritable legion of killers out to collect the reward.

See the trailer, video featurettes, clips, interviews and B-roll video here
For more on the movie this is the website
Genre: Action
Now Playing: Wide Release
Rating: R (for pervasive strong violence and some language)

A Dog’s Journey

(Universal) Dennis Quaid, Josh Gad (voice), Marg Helgenberger, Kathryn Prescott. Bailey, the loyal dog who had watched over Ethan from boyhood, makes a promise to keep an eye on Ethan’s granddaughter CJ who is being taken out of his life by his estranged daughter.

]See the trailer, clips and video featurettes here
For more on the movie this is the website  
Genre: Family
Now Playing: Wide Release
Rating: PG (for thematic content, some peril and rude humor)

The Biggest Little Farm

(Neon) John Chester, Molly Chester, Beauden Chester, Alan York. Apricot Lane Farms is the hard work of John and Molly Chester, two farming neophytes. John – a documentary director – and Molly – a chef, food blogger and cookbook author – decide to take on the country life when their landlord asks them to get rid of their dog. This starts them on a journey in which they make a farm in the philosophy of biodiversity where all the flora and fauna work together in harmony. You can read my review of this Florida Film Festival hit by clicking on the link below under “Scheduled for Review.”

See the trailer here
For more on the movie this is the website  
Genre: Documentary
Now Playing: Enzian Theater
Rating: PG (for mild thematic elements)

De De Pyaar De

(Yash Raj) Ajay Devgan, Alok Nath Dixit, Jimmy Shergill, Rakul Preet Singh. A middle age divorced man meets a woman 26 years his junior and the two fall in love. However, they will have to contend with his ex, their children (who are his new lady love’s age) and Indian conventions about age difference.

See the trailer and a clip here
For more on the movie this is the website  
Genre: Romantic Comedy
Now Playing: AMC West Oaks
Rating: NR

The Sun is Also a Star

(Warner Brothers) Yara Shahidi, Charles Melton, John Leguizamo, Jake Choi. A Jamaican-born young woman is fighting for the right to stay in the United States with the clock ticking down on her family’s deportation. On what might be their last day in New York, she meets a young Asian man who falls in love with her, despite her reluctance to commit to anything permanent. Based on the Young Person bestseller.

See the trailer and video featurettes here
For more on the movie this is the website  
Genre: Teen Romance
Now Playing: Wide Release
Rating: PG-13 (for some suggestive content and language)

Trial by Fire

(Roadside Attractions/LD Entertainment) Jack O’Connell, Laura Dern, Emily Meade, Jeff Perry. An uneducated heavy metal devotee with a criminal record in Texas is tried and convicted of murdering his own daughters by setting their house on fire. Despite his protestations, he’s sentenced to death. A Houston-based writer believes his story even when nobody else does and makes a heroic effort to prove his innocence in a system that doesn’t care. Based on a true story.

See the trailer, clips and video featurettes here
For more on the movie this is the website  
Genre: True Crime Drama
Now Playing: AMC Disney Springs, Regal Winter Park Village
Rating: R (for language throughout, some violence, disturbing images, sexual material and brief nudity)

The White Crow

(Sony Classics) Oleg Ivenko, Adėle Exarchopoulos, Ralph Fiennes, Sergei Polunin. The story of Rudolf Nureyev, the legendary Soviet ballet dancer who defected to the West in 1961 despite the best efforts of the KGB to stop him. This is directed by Fiennes.

See the trailer here
For more on the movie this is the website  
Genre: Biographical Drama
Now Playing: Regal Winter Park Village, Rialto Spanish Springs Square
Rating: R (for some sexuality, graphic nudity, and language

ALSO OPENING IN ORLANDO/DAYTONA:

General Magic
Mr. Local
Red Joan
We Have Always Lived in the Castle

ALSO OPENING IN MIAMI/FT. LAUDERDALE:

ABCD
Journey to a Mother’s Room
Mr. Local
Slaughterhouse Rulez

ALSO OPENING IN TAMPA/ST. PETERSBURG:

99
ABCD
Ayoga
Monster
Mr. Local
Slaughterhouse Rulez
This is Personal
We Have Always Lived in the Castle

ALSO OPENING IN JACKSONVILLE/ST. AUGUSTINE:

ABCD
Mr. Local

SCHEDULED FOR REVIEW:

A Dog’s Journey
The Biggest Little Farm
John Wick: Chapter 3 – Parabellum
Journey to a Mother’s Room
Red Joan
Trial by Fire

New Releases for the Week of May 3


LONG SHOT

(Summit) Charlize Theron, Seth Rogen, O’Shea Jackson Jr., Andy Serkis, June Diane Raphael, Bob Odenkirk, Ravi Patel, Randall Park, Alexander Skarsgård. Directed by Jonathan Levine

Flarsky is a gifted journalist but also a loose cannon. His childhood crush, Charlotte, is his polar opposite; accomplished, refined and now running for President. When they accidentally reconnect, she impulsively hires him as her speechwriter, much to the chagrin of her elite team. In the stranger things can happen department, the two develop the most unlikely of romances.

See the trailer, clips, interviews, video featurettes and B-roll footage here
For more on the movie this is the website
Genre: Romantic Comedy
Now Playing: Wide Release
Rating: R (for strong sexual content, language throughout and some drug use)

Bolden

(Abramorama) Gary Carr, Erik LaRay Harvey, Ian McShane, Michael Rooker. Buddy Bolden is one of the greatest unsung musicians of history. Credited with inventing jazz, his music was misunderstood during his lifetime and his contributions to the genre all but forgotten as time went by.

See the trailer and clips here
For more on the movie this is the website  
Genre: Biographical Drama
Now Playing: AMC Altamonte Mall, AMC Disney Springs
Rating: R (for sexual content and graphic nudity, brutal violence, language and drug use)

El Chicano

(Briarcliff) Raul Castillo, Aimee Garcia, Jose Pablo Cantillo, David Castaneda. A police detective is not convinced that his brother committed suicide. Believing that he was murdered, he goes on a crusade to discover the truth as his neighborhood is about to be caught in the crossfire of a drug cartel turf war. The detective will soon find himself up against a childhood buddy who is now a cartel leader.

See the trailer and a clip here
For more on the movie this is the website  
Genre: Crime Drama
Now Playing: AMC Altamonte Mall, AMC Disney Springs, Cinemark Artegon Marketplace, Regal Pointe Orlando, Regal Waterford Lakes, Regal Winter Park Village
Rating: R (for strong violence and language throughout)

Hesburgh

(O’Malley/Creadon) Fr. Theodore Hesburgh, Jimmy Carter, Bill Clinton, Dwight D. Eisenhower. Although many are unfamiliar with his name, Hesburgh was the long-time President of Notre Dame whose wisdom and political savvy led him to be an adviser for presidents, an envoy for his faith and one of the most influential Catholics of the last century.

See the trailer here
For more on the movie this is the website  
Genre: Biographical Documentary
Now Playing: AMC Altamonte Mall
Rating: NR

The Intruder

(Screen Gems) Michael Ealy, Meagan Good, Dennis Quaid, Joseph Sikora. A young married couple, looking to move on to the next step in their lives, find and purchase their dream house in the Napa Valley. However, when the former owner begins to insinuate himself into their lives, they begin to realize that his motivations are far more sinister than just a quick sale.

See the trailer, a clip and a video featurette here
For more on the movie this is the website  
Genre: Thriller
Now Playing: Wide Release
Rating: PG-13 (for violence, terror, some sexuality, language and thematic elements)

Sunset

(Sony Classics) Juli Jakab, Vlad Ivanov, Evelin Dobos, Marcin Czarnik. In 1913 Budapest is a part of the crumbling Austria-Hungarian Empire. A young woman seeks a position as a milliner at the hat store that once belonged to her late parents but is turned away. Disappointed, she follows a mysterious man who might be the only link to her treasured past.

See the trailer here
For more on the movie this is the website  
Genre: Drama
Now Playing: Regal Winter Park Village
Rating: R (for some violence)

UglyDolls

(STX) Starring the voices of Emma Roberts, Kelly Clarkson, Gabriel Iglesias, Janelle Monáe. Not all dolls are created equal and those misfits who are deemed not of the norm are sent to live in Uglyville. A group of free-spirited citizens decide to find out what life is like outside of town and discover that not everyone agrees with their philosophy of life.

See the trailer, clips, interviews, video featurettes, World Premiere footage and B-roll video here
For more on the movie this is the website  </strong
Genre: Animated Feature
Now Playing: Wide Release
Rating: PG (for thematic elements and brief action)

ALSO OPENING IN ORLANDO/DAYTONA:

Nuvvy Thopu Raa
The River and the Wall

ALSO OPENING IN MIAMI/FT. LAUDERDALE:

Ask Dr. Ruth
The Extraordinary Journey of Celeste Garcia
Knock Down the House
Red Joan

ALSO OPENING IN TAMPA/ST. PETERSBURG:

The Convent
I’ll Take Your Dead
Oru Yamandan Premakadha
Red Joan
Wild Nights with Emily

ALSO OPENING IN JACKSONVILLE/ST. AUGUSTINE:

Degas: Passion for Perfection
Dogman
Nuvvy Thopu Raa
Oru Yamandan Premakadha
Wild Nights with Emily
Woman at War

SCHEDULED FOR REVIEW:

Ask Dr. Ruth
Knock Down the House
Long Shot
Red Joan

FILM FESTIVALS TAKING PLACE IN FLORIDA:

Canes Film Festival, Coral Gables FL

New Releases for the Week of Aptil 12, 2019


HELLBOY

(Summit) David Harbour, Milla Jovovich, Ian McShane, Sasha Lane, Daniel Dae Kim, Penelope Mitchell, Sophie Okonedo, Thomas Haden Church. Directed by Neil Marshall

Hellboy, the cigar-chomping half-demon entity and operative for the Bureau of Paranormal Research and Defense, must go up against Nimue, a resurrected sorceress with a grudge. She seeks to avenge a past betrayal; he seeks to stop her without bringing about the end of days.

See the trailer, video featurettes, clips, interviews and B-roll video here
For more on the movie this is the website
Genre: Action/Adventure
Now Playing: Wide Release

Rating: R (for strong bloody violence and gore throughout, and language)

After

(Aviron) Josephine Langford, Hero Fiennes Tiffin, Selma Blair, Jennifer Beals. Based on the Anna Todd bestseller, After follows the dutiful, lawyer and well-behaved Tessa as she enters her first semester of college. Unusual for her age in that she has a clear idea of who she is and what her goals are in life, she meets a brooding, handsome young rebel who throws her carefully planned life and future into absolute chaos.

See the trailer, clips, interviews and B-roll video here
For more on the movie this is the website  
Genre: Romance
Now Playing: Wide Release

Rating: PG-13 (for sexual content and college partying)

Little

(Universal) Regina Hall, Issa Rae, Marsai Martin, Tone Bell. A young woman feels the stresses of adult life getting to her to the point she can’t stand it anymore. She longs to relive her carefree childhood days and this being the movies, it comes to pass. Think of this as the anti-Big.

See the trailer, video featurettes and a clip here
For more on the movie this is the website  
Genre: Comedy
Now Playing: Wide Release

Rating: PG=13 (for some suggestive content)

Master Z: Ip Man Legacy

(Well Go USA) Jin Zhang, Dave Bautista, Michelle Yeoh, Tony Jaa. After suffering defeat at the hands of Ip Man in a martial arts battle, Cheung Tin Chi turns his back on fighting to raise his young son and run a small store. However, he’s reluctantly drawn back when the hotheaded brother of a gang leader has a run-in with him.

See the trailer here
For more on the movie this is the website  
Genre: Martial Arts
Now Playing: Regal Waterford Lakes

Rating: NR

Mia and the White Lion

(Ledafilms) Daniah de Villiers, Mėlanie Laurent, Langley Kirkwood, Ryan McLennan. 10-year-old Mia’s life is turned upside down when her family decides to move from London to manage a lion farm in South Africa. Mia is heartbroken to leave everything she knows but develops a close friendship with a rare white lion cub. As the cub grows to full maturity, Mia uncovers a family secret. Distraught, she decides to run away with her white lion on a desperate journey to find somewhere her friend can live in peace and freedom.

See the trailer here
For more on the movie this is the website  
Genre: Family
Now Playing: AMC Altamonte Mall, Cobb Plaza Cinema, Regal Oviedo Marketplace, Regal Pointe Orlando, Regal Waterford Lakes, Rialto Spanish Springs Square

Rating: PG (for thematic elements, peril and some language)

Missing Link

(Annapurna/United Artists) Starring the voices of Hugh Jackman, Zach Galifianakis, Zoe Saldana, Emma Thompson. The latest from the inventive animation house Laika, an anthropological wonder who lives in the Pacific Northwest longs to find others of his kind in the fabled valley of Shangri-La and recruits a famous adventurer to take him there.

See the trailer, clips, interviews, a video featurette and B-roll video here
For more on the movie this is the website  
Genre: Animated Feature
Now Playing: Wide Release
Rating: PG (for action/peril and some mild rude humor)

ALSO OPENING IN ORLANDO/DAYTONA:

Acres & Acres
American Warfighter
Chitralahari
Diane
Los Domirriqueños 2
Madhura Raja
Mary Magdalene
Noah: Sight and Sound

ALSO OPENING IN MIAMI/FT. LAUDERDALE:

Chitralahari
Diane
Ferrante Fever
Los Domirriqueños 2
Madhura Raja
Manje Bistre 2
Mary Magdalene
Noah: Sight and Sound
Penguin Highway
Sherdil
The Sower

ALSO OPENING IN TAMPA/ST. PETERSBURG:

A Dark Place
Chitralahari
Diane
Gangs of Madras
Kavacha
Los Domirriqueños 2
Madhura Raja
Noah: Sight and Sound

ALSO OPENING IN JACKSONVILLE/ST. AUGUSTINE:

Chitralahari
Madhura Raja
Noah: Sight and Sound
Transit

SCHEDULED FOR REVIEW:

Hellboy
Master Z: The Ip Man Legacy

FILM FESTIVALS TAKING PLACE IN FLORIDA:

Florida Film Festival, Maitland/Winter Park FL
Sarasota Film Festival, Sarasota FL

Bilal: A New Breed of Hero


A future warrior at play as a child.

(2015) Animated Feature (Vertical) Starring the voices of Adewale Akinnuoye-Agbaje, Ian McShane, China Anne McClain, Thomas Ian Nicholas, Michael Gross, Cynthia K. McWilliams, Jacob Latimore, Fred Tatasciore, Jon Curry, Mick Wingert, Dave B. Mitchell, Al Rodrigo, Andre Robinson, Sage Ryan, Quinton Flynn, Mark Rolston, John Eric Bentley, Keythe Farley, Sherrie Jackson. Directed by Khurram H. Alavi and Ayman Jamal

 

Dubai’s first foray into animated feature films is a bit of a mixed bag. On the one hand, it boasts some truly glorious animation. On the other hand, the human characters are almost without expression throughout. It also focuses on a character from the very early days of the Islamic faith, of a figure who was part of the Prophet’s inner circle, although that is only tangentially referred to in the film and of course Muhammad isn’t depicted at all in keeping with their faith.

The movie is (very) loosely based on the life of Bilal ibn Rabah, a 7th century African man who in childhood was taken as a slave and became one of the first followers of the prophet Muhammad. He is in Islamic culture credited with being the first muezzin who calls the faithful to prayer reputedly because of his beautiful voice.

In the film, we see Bilal (Robinson) and his sister Shufaira (Robinson) watch horrified from a closet as their mother is murdered. The two children are taken as slaves and sold to the cruel idol-seller Umayya (McShane) whose son Safwan (Ryan) may be just a little bit crueler than his dad, although more cowardly.

Bilal grows into a man (Akinnuoye-Agbaje) who is prized for his singing voice by his master. Run-ins with Safwan to protect his sister has left Bilal discouraged and essentially accepting his fate as a slave, flying in the face of the wisdom his mother taught him as a child. However, there are others in Mecca who disagree with the idol-worshiping money-grubbing slave-oriented economy and atmosphere of the city. Hamza (Mitchell), a noted warrior and the Master of the Market (Gross) both see greatness in Bilal and gradually win him over to monotheism and freedom. However, despite Bilal leaning towards pacifism, they will have to fight for that freedom – in a place called Badr.

This is a very different kettle of fish for animated features. For one thing, it is a story of a Muslim hero and portrays the religion in a very different light than it is generally portrayed in the West. Few will remember this from their history but at one time the Muslims accepted Jewish refugees driven out of Europe and under Arabic rule they thrived and often worked in the great centers of learning established in the Arabic world.

Sadly, a lot of American viewers won’t be able to look past the rhetoric and will see this as Muslim propaganda and while it certainly leans towards a positive vision of Islam, it is no more propaganda than Christian faith-based stories and animations. Americans are sadly notorious for turning away from the unfamiliar.

As mentioned earlier, the animation is a bit uneven but when it’s good, it’s really good. Strangely though, there is an awful lot of violence and cruelty depicted in the film, much more so than in the average children’s animated film which might give some parents pause. However, those parents who wish to teach tolerance as a lesson should certainly high-tail it to their local VOD site of choice or their local DVD/Blu-Ray dealer because that lesson is certainly honed in on. Sure, the dialogue is a bit clunky (the characters rarely use contractions and end up all sounding like Data from Star Trek: The Next Generation) and full of aphorisms which may drive the average adult batty but it is meant sincerely. I also question the title a little bit; how is a 7th century figure a “new” breed of hero?

The movie got a brief theatrical release in February, more than three years after it had been released elsewhere globally. Likewise, it is only now showing up on home video. This is a pretty solid animated feature which although flawed shows some potential for the studio that the directors established in order to make this film. Although perhaps Americans may continue to resist features that give the colorful and often brilliant history of the Islamic faith, I hope the studio continues to produce them. Learning more about the culture of Islam is the first step in learning not to fear it but rather coexist with it.

REASONS TO GO: The animation is occasionally breathtaking. The story is interesting.
REASONS TO STAY: This is much too long for younger kids. The English dialogue is a bit stiff.
FAMILY VALUES: There is some surprisingly intense violence, child peril, some disturbing images as well as thematic issues.
TRIVIAL PURSUIT: In the depiction of the Battle of Badr, animators brought to life 5,000 human characters and 1,000 horses – more than took place at the actual battle which involved 1,300 warriors and 270 horses.
BEYOND THE THEATERS: Amazon, Fandango Now, Google Play, iTunes, Vudu, YouTube
CRITICAL MASS: As of 11/23/18: Rotten Tomatoes: 53% positive reviews. Metacritic: 52/100.
COMPARISON SHOPPING: Up and Away
FINAL RATING: 6.5/10
NEXT:
Write When You Get Work

New Releases for the Week of February 2, 2018


WINCHESTER

(CBS) Helen Mirren, Sarah Snook, Jason Clarke, Angus Sampson, Eamon Farren, Laura Brent, Tyler Coppin, Emma Wiseman. Directed by Michael Spierig and Peter Spierig

An eccentric heiress to a firearms fortune believes her husband and children were victims of the enraged ghosts of all those who died at the hands of a Winchester gun. In order to protect herself from the same ghosts, she begins building a mansion in San Jose, California with unusual architecture – doors that open into nothing, stairs that lead nowhere, secret doors and hidden passageways. A psychiatrist sent to investigate her soon determines that she might not be crazy.

See the trailer and a featurette here.
For more on the movie this is the website.

Release Formats: Standard, 4DX, DBOX, Dolby Atmos
Genre: Horror
Now Playing: Wide Release

Rating: PG-13 (for violence, disturbing images, drug content, some sexual material and thematic elements)

Bilal: A New Breed of Hero

(Vertical) Starring the voices of Adewale Akinnuoye-Agbaje, Ian McShane, Thomas Ian Nichols, Michael Gross. Based on an actual historic figure, a young boy who dreams of being a great warrior is kidnapped along with his sister and sold into slavery. Refusing to accept this as the life he was intended to lead, he raises his voice and inspires his people to throw off their shackles and demand freedom.

See the trailer here.
For more on the movie this is the website

Release Formats: Standard
Genre: Animated Feature
Now Playing: AMC Disney Springs, AMC Universal Cineplex, AMC West Oaks, Regal Oviedo Mall, Regal Pointe Orlando, Satellite Cinemas Titusville

Rating: PG-13 (for violence/warfare and some thematic elements)

ALSO OPENING IN ORLANDO/DAYTONA:

A Ciambra
Aadu 2
Cardcaptor Segura: The Sealed Card
Chalo
Touch Chesi Chudu

ALSO OPENING IN MIAMI/FT. LAUDERDALE:

1945
A Silent Voice
Chalo
Django
Happy End
Lies We Tell
Lover for a Day
Oru Nalla Naal Paathu Solren
Touch Chesi Chudu

ALSO OPENING IN TAMPA/ST. PETERSBURG:

Cardcaptor Segura: The Sealed Card
Chalo
Oru Nalla Naal Paathu Solren
Scorched Earth
Street Lights
Touch Chesi Chudu

ALSO OPENING IN JACKSONVILLE/ST. AUGUSTINE:

Cardcaptor Segura: The Sealed Card
Humble Politician Nograj

SCHEDULED FOR REVIEW:

Django
Scorched Earth
Winchester

John Wick: Chapter 2


Even John Wick’s dog looks badass.

(2017) Action (Summit) Keanu Reeves, Riccardo Scamarcio, Ian McShane, Ruby Rose, Common, Claudia Gerini, Lance Reddick, Laurence Fishburne, Tobias Segal, John Leguizamo, Bridget Moynahan, Thomas Sadoski, Erik Frandsen, David Patrick Kelly, Perry Yung, Franco Nero, Peter Serafinowicz, Peter Stormare, Vadim Kroll, Kelly Rae LeGault. Directed by Chad Stahelski

 

One of the better action films to come down the pike in recent years was John Wick. In it, a retired assassin un-retires himself when the son of a Russian mobster steals his car and kills his dog. Bad career move. Wick kills everyone associated with the dumbass Russian scion and adopts a new dog.

When the movie starts, Wick is going to retrieve his car from yet another Russian mobster (Stormare) and while all he wants is the car, of course the Russian mobster and his men try to take the master assassin down. Yet another bad career move. Even as the boss retells the story of how Wick once killed three men with a pencil (which we also saw in the last movie), Wick mows down every mobster who comes at him, wrecking the car he came to retrieve in the first place but the point is clear.

Wick returns home and puts all of his arsenal under concrete, apparently intending to retire again. However, he has a visitor – an Italian mobster this time named Santino D’Antonio (Scamarcio). Wick owes Santino a favor and the guy intends to collect. It’s what’s called a marker and in the world that Wick lives in, these cannot be refused. Wick promptly refuses and Santino promptly blows up his house.

Deciding that discretion is the better part of valor, Wick decides to fulfill the marker anyway (now minus a house) and takes on the job of killing Santino’s sister Gianna (Gerini) who Santino’s dad made head of the mob after he retired – or in other words, passed on. This didn’t sit well with Santino so he figured that if his sister was out of the way, he could take his rightful place as head of the family.

That’s why Wick heads to Rome, visits a tailor who has a way with Kevlar as well as a sommelier who has a nose for fine German firearms and heads over to a rave cum orgy celebrating sister’s ascension to the head of family status at a Roman ruin – those decadent Italians – and takes her out. This doesn’t sit well with her bodyguard (Common) who now unemployed decides to make a point of expressing his displeasure to Wick. Mayhem ensues.

The plot is a little more labyrinthine than before and we get more background on the world of assassins. The Continental Hotel, neutral ground in the first movie, is apparently a chain and the managers (Ian McShane in New York, Franco Nero in Rome) enforce that neutrality vigorously. We get a sense of the complex support system for the killers and the fairly cut and dried rules governing their behavior. This is all to the good.

The production design is also highly stylized from the Hall of Mirrors-like museum display in Rome, the gaudily lit rave, some of the most stylishly lit catacombs I’ve ever seen, the genteel and urbane Hotels and of course Wick’s Fortress of Solitude before Santino blows it to smithereens.

Where the movie fails, curiously enough, is the action – the strength of the first film. Stahelski fails to maintain the interest of the viewer for the length of the movie which he was able to do in the first. Here, the sequences have the effect of numbing the viewer until you feel quite blasé about the whole thing. I didn’t think I could get jaded in an all-out action film like this, but I did.

I will admit my complaints about the film have not been echoed by other reviewers or by friends who have seen the sequel and proclaimed it better than the original. I disagree, respectfully but nonetheless firmly. While it gives us more plot and more insight into the world the first film created and inhabits it with interesting characters who are portrayed by some fine actors like Fishburne, McShane, Nero and Common, at the end of the day I wanted to be wowed by the action and I just wasn’t. This is reportedly intended to be the middle segment in a planned John Wick trilogy. I hope that the third movie will combine the best points of both movies and create an action movie for the ages. When you’re a movie critic, hope should spring eternal.

REASONS TO GO: The mythology started in the first film is fleshed out more in the second.
REASONS TO STAY: The action scenes become mind-numbing after awhile.
FAMILY VALUES: There’s a stupid amount of violence, a fair amount of profanity and a scene with graphic nudity.
TRIVIAL PURSUIT: Stahelski was Reeves’ stunt double in The Matrix trilogy.
CRITICAL MASS: As of 4/5/17: Rotten Tomatoes: 90% positive reviews. Metacritic: 75/100.
COMPARISON SHOPPING: Kill Bill: Vol. 1
FINAL RATING: 5.5/10
NEXT: The Great Wall

We Are Marshall


They are Marshall.

They are Marshall.

(2006) True Sports Drama (Warner Brothers) Matthew McConaughey, Matthew Fox, Anthony Mackie, David Strathairn, Ian McShane, Katie Mara, January Jones, Kimberly Williams-Paisley, Arlen Escarpeta, Brian Geraghty, Tommy Cresswell, Christian Kanupke, Nina Jones, Kevin Atkins, Mark Patton, Robert Patrick, Katie Kneeland Directed by McG

The American Experience 2015

On November 14, 1970, a chartered plane carrying the football team of Marshall University, the Thundering Herd, back to Huntington WV where the University is following a loss to the East Carolina Pirates clipped some trees on the approach to the runway and crashed into a gully a mile from landing safely. Every one of the 75 souls on that plane died in the horrific, fiery crash.

It remains the worst loss of life regarding an American sports team in history but it was more than that. Along with almost the entire Marshall football team, the plane carried the athletic director for the university, four trainers, all but one of the coaches, a state legislator, a city councilman, four physicians and 25 boosters. Seventy children lost at least one parent in the crash and 18 were orphaned.

The effect on the community was devastating. Huntington was then (and is now) a small college town; much of the town’s life revolves around the university and their football team, though it had been mediocre in recent years, still was a source of pride to the town. With the town paralyzed by grief, Marshall’s acting president Donald Dedmon (Strathairn) was ready to discontinue the football program. However, Nate Ruffin (Mackie), a wide receiver who hadn’t gone on the trip to East Carolina due to an injury, convinced Dedmon (with the help of the student body) to keep the team.

The surviving coach, Red Dawson (Fox) was offered the head coach position but was too grief-stricken to accept. After a long, fruitless search, Jack Lengyel (McConaughey) from tiny Wooster College, was given the job. It wouldn’t be an easy one. Essentially, they’d be starting a team from scratch, utilizing athletes from other sports at the University and former members of the Junior Varsity. Dedmon, at Lengyel’s urging, petitioned the NCAA to allow freshmen to be eligible to play on the Varsity. At the time, Freshmen were forbidden to play for the Varsity, the line of thought being that they didn’t have the maturity to handle the pressures of big time college athletics and that a year adjusting to college life would be more beneficial; the NCAA has since changed their rules on that matter.

Still, it would be an uphill battle and everyone knew that the team would be just awful that year. Would a team woefully unqualified truly be able to honor the memory of those who had died, or would they tarnish it? Is just stepping on the field enough?

While We Are Marshall disappointed at the box office when it was released, it has since become something of an icon of the true sports drama genre. Certainly the story is compelling enough; watching an entire town and university grieve for an unimaginable tragedy is almost mind-boggling. Even now, almost a decade after the movie came out, I still mist up just thinking about it.

For the most part, McG handles the tragedy with sensitivity. For one thing, he doesn’t show the actual crash, just the aftermath. He doesn’t beat the audience over the head with grief, although certainly the grieving process is a part of the film’s story. Less is more in this case.

McConaughey at the time this was made was best known for romantic comedies in which he usually found an excuse to take his shirt off. In many ways, this was the movie that led us to reconsider our opinion about the actor and reveal that there was more to him than a laid-back romantic lead. The guy can act, as was revealed more recently with an Oscar win and an Emmy nomination.

There are some other performances here that are worth knowing. McShane plays a University trustee in favor of discontinuing football; his son – the starting quarterback – had died in the crash and in many ways his grief had overwhelmed him. Fox is outstanding as Dawson, a man with survivor’s guilt who slowly comes on board with the idea of resuming his life. Mackie’s Ruffin provides leadership for the team and University. Strathairn gives Dedmon gravitas and the reliable character actor is at the top of his game here.

One of the few things I can fault the film for is its dialogue. It doesn’t sound like human beings talking; it’s mostly a series of inspirational quotes. I would have preferred fewer platitudes and more realistic conversation. While it might have looked good in the script, it creates a gulf between audience and character that is unnecessary; we really want to relate to them and it’s harder to when they sound like Gary Cooper delivering Lou Gehrig’s final speech.

That said this is one of the most moving sports films ever made, right up there with Hoosiers and The Miracle. Some might find it to be manipulative – the subplot involving Katie Mara’s waitress character (she was the fiance of Ian McShane’s son) certainly is – but overall I thought the movie comes by its emotional impact honestly. It can take more courage to get up in the morning and move on with your life than it does to step onto a battlefield, and in the face of overwhelming grief, the courage and heart of an entire town and University is to be admired.

WHY RENT THIS: McConaughey breaks out as a dramatic actor. Deeply moving and effective subject matter. Handled with reverence and respect.
WHY RENT SOMETHING ELSE: Subplots are occasionally manipulative and the characters tend to speak in platitudes.
FAMILY VALUES: The material can be very emotional and those who are sensitive about such things should probably steer clear. There’s also some mildly harsh language.
TRIVIAL PURSUIT: While much of the movie was filmed in Huntington, the stadium that the Thundering Herd played in back in 1971 – Fairfield Stadium – had been demolished in 2004. The filmmakers used Herndon Stadium in Atlanta for Marshall’s home games in the movie.
NOTABLE HOME VIDEO EXTRAS: The DVD and Blu-Ray both include an ad for West Virginia tourism, a featurette on legendary college coaches and what techniques they used to motivate their students and a brief look at Marshall University today.
BOX OFFICE PERFORMANCE: $43.6M on a $65M production budget.
SITES TO SEE: Netflix (DVD Rental only), Amazon, Flixster, iTunes, Vudu
COMPARISON SHOPPING: Hoosiers
FINAL RATING: 9/10
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