The 15:17 to Paris


Anthony Sadler muses aboard the 15:17 to Paris.

(2018) True Life Drama (Warner Brothers) Alek Skarlatos, Anthony Sadler, Spencer Stone, Judy Greer, Jenna Fischer, P.J. Byrne, William Jennings, Bryce Gheisar, Paul-Mikel Williams, Thomas Lennon, Jaleel White, Robert Praigo, Tony Hale, Lillian Solange, Ray Corasani, Irene White, Mark Moogalian, Steve Coulter, Seth Meriwether, Heidi Sulzman. Directed by Clint Eastwood

 

True heroism is a pretty rare thing. You never know where it might occur; in a school, or a nightclub – or on a train from Amsterdam to Paris.

But on a hot August day in 2015, the latter is precisely where it occurred. When a terrorist pulled out an automatic rifle and threatened to massacre the travelers aboard the high-speed rail. Director Clint Eastwood, one of the best in Hollywood history, is tackling the events of that day and the three Americans who were involved – boyhood friends from Sacramento, two of whom were in the military. You would think that this would be in Eastwood’s wheelhouse but strangely this is one of his most disappointing movies in decades.

There are a lot of reasons that this movie doesn’t work as well as it might but the biggest is the script of Dorothy Blyskal, based on the book by the three Americans involved. She chooses an odd narrative structure, starting with the beginning of the attack on the train but then going into a series of flashbacks into their boyhood and development into the young men they would become. It makes a bit of a mess of the story and there is a lot of necessary business – too much time sightseeing – that slows down a film that at just over 90 minutes should be zipping by.

Another part of the problem is Eastwood’s decision to cast the heroes as themselves. These young men have a lot of skills but acting is not among them. I’m not blaming them – you get the distinct feeling that these men are experiencing far more nerves in front of the camera than they did facing an armed terrorist – but I don’t think they should have been put into the position that they were. The child actors who play them as youths may be even worse.

The actual terrorist attack is done extremely well and is the highlight of the film. Unfortunately, it takes too long to get there and by the time you do you may have been checking your watch. Now, there are some conservatives who will think that I don’t like the movie because the heroes are Christians who are into guns and the military. Nothing could be further from the truth. In fact, I appreciate that they are a different brand of hero than we normally get on the silver screen and yes, they are normal Americans – that’s what makes their heroism more exemplary, even though they do have military training. The reason I don’t like the movie is because most of the time it’s boring and that has nothing to do with my political views but on my cinematic experience. The fact that mass audiences haven’t embraced the film is a testament to that.

REASONS TO GO: The story is truly inspiring.
REASONS TO STAY: The acting is stiff and there are too many flashbacks – this might have worked better as a documentary rather than as a narrative feature.
FAMILY VALUES: There is violence, profanity, some bloody images, sexually suggestive material and drug references.
TRIVIAL PURSUIT: The first person to tackle the terrorist was actually a Frenchman but he turned down the Legion of Honor and asked to remain anonymous because he feared reprisals from extremists.
CRITICAL MASS: As of 4/4/18: Rotten Tomatoes: 25% positive reviews. Metacritic: 45/100.
COMPARISON SHOPPING: 13 Hours: The Secret Soldiers of Benghazi
FINAL RATING: 5/10
NEXT:
Trouble is My Business

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New Releases for the Week of February 9, 2018


50 SHADES FREED

(Focus) Dakota Johnson, Jamie Dornan, Luke Grimes, Arielle Kebbel, Jennifer Ehle, Victor Rasuk, Max Martini, Marcia Gay Harden, Bruce Altman, Callum Keith Rennie. Directed by James Foley

This poorly-written BDSM bodice-ripper trilogy comes to a merciful end. There’s a story I think here somewhere but I’m not interested enough to figure it out.

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

Release Formats: Standard, Dolby Atmos, GDX, IMAX, RPX, XD
Genre: Romance (loosely)
Now Playing: Wide Release

Rating: R (for strong sexual content, nudity, and language)

The 15:17 to Paris

(Warner Brothers) Alex Skarlatos, Anthony Sadler, Spencer Stone, Jenna Fischer. Three young American military man are vacationing in Europe, taking a train to Paris when they uncover a terrorist plot. Their actions would make them heroes around the globe. Clint Eastwood directs this using the actual young men playing themselves.

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

Release Formats: Standard
Genre: Animated Feature
Now Playing: Wide Release

Rating: PG-13 (for bloody images,, violence, some suggestive material, drug references and language)

Becks

(Blue Fox) Lena Hall, Christine Lahti, Dan Fogler, Mena Suvari. A Brooklyn musician, reeling from the break-up with her girlfriend, moves back in with her ultra-Catholic mom back in the Midwest. Struggling to re-connect with her past and move on in her present, she begins performing in a local tavern where she meets the wife of an old nemesis. This is loosely based on the life of singer Alyssa Robbins.

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

Release Formats: Standard
Genre: Drama
Now Playing: AMC Universal Cineplex

Rating: NR

The Insult

(Cohen Media Group) Adel Karam, Kamel El Basha, Camille Salameh, Diamand Bou Abboud.  This is the Oscar nominee for Best Foreign Film from Lebanon and one of the five finalists. In it, a Palestinian refugee and a Lebanese Christian end up in court over a verbal confrontation that gets blown terribly out of proportion. With the eyes of the entire country on the legal proceedings, the fragile balance between religions in Lebanon could be a victim of the court case if things continue to spiral out of control.

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

Release Formats: Standard
Genre: Drama
Now Playing: Regal Winter Park Village

Rating: NR  

La Boda de Valentina

(Pantelion) Kate Vernon, Ryan Carnes, Omar Chaparro, Marimar Vega. Valentina is the daughter of a politically connected family in Mexico. She has moved to America to make her own way out of their shadow. When her American boyfriend proposes, she is thrown for a loop; her family isn’t the easiest to get along with and she’s uncertain what they will think about an American husband. Throw into the mix a handsome ex-boyfriend and you’ve got a recipe for disaster.

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

Release Formats: Standard
Genre: Romantic Comedy
Now Playing: AMC Disney Springs, Regal the Loop

Rating: R (for language)

Pad Man

(Sony International) Akshay Kumar, Amitabh Bachchan, Radhika Apte, Sonam Kapoor. This is a fictional biography of the real life Padmashri Arunachalam Muruganatham, a man who was shocked that his wife used unsanitary cloth to clean herself during her period. He spearheaded a movement to create low-cost sanitary pads for women throughout rural India, even though the subject of menstruation is very much taboo in that country…and it isn’t exactly a topic of polite conversation here either.

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

Release Formats: Standard
Genre: Comedy
Now Playing: AMC West Oaks, Touchstar Southchase

Rating: NR

Peter Rabbit

(Columbia) James Corden (voice), Margot Robbie (voice), Domhnall Gleeson, Rose Byrne. The beloved tales of Beatrix Potter come to live action combined with CGI life. A rebellious rabbit leads his friends in an attempt to access a farmer’s vegetable garden but the farmer has other ideas.

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

Release Formats: Standard
Genre: Family
Now Playing: Wide Release

Rating: PG (for some rude humor and action)

ALSO OPENING IN ORLANDO/DAYTONA:

Aadhi
Colao
Gayatri
In the Fade
Intelligent
Toliprema

ALSO OPENING IN MIAMI/FT. LAUDERDALE:

A Fantastic Woman
Basmati Blues
Colao
Demons 2
Film Stars Don’t Die in Liverpool
Gayatri
Intelligent
Toliprema

ALSO OPENING IN TAMPA/ST. PETERSBURG:

Aadhi
Colao
Gayatri
Humble Politician Nograj
Intelligent
Toliprema

ALSO OPENING IN JACKSONVILLE/ST. AUGUSTINE:

Gayatri
Intelligent
Toliprema

SCHEDULED FOR REVIEW:

The 15:17 to Paris
A Fantastic Woman
Film Stars Don’t Die in Liverpool
Peter Rabbit

The Promotion


The Promotion

Seann William Scott and John C. Reilly have a competition to see which one can look the stiffest.

(2008) Comedy (Dimension) John C Reilly, Seann William Scott, Jenna Fischer, Lily Taylor, Fred Armisen, Gil Bellows, Bobby Cannavale, Rick Gonzalez, Chris Conrad, Nathan Geist, Adrian Martinez, Masi Oka, Angel Guzman, Joshua Eber, Mario Larraza. Directed by Steve Conrad

 

Ambition is a fine thing sometimes. We all want to improve our circumstances, to provide better for ourselves and our families. Generally speaking we do this through getting new jobs or promotions through the companies we work for. Getting these, however, is much easier said than done.

Doug Stauber (Scott) is a mild-mannered assistant manager at a Chicago-area grocery store. He’s extremely good at it, although he isn’t what you’d call a forceful personality. When the chain he works for announces that they’ll soon be opening a new store in the area, he figures he’s a shoo-in for the job to the point where he sinks all of the savings of himself and his wife Jen (Fischer) into a down payment for a house that they can only afford if he gets the job which he’s sure he will.

But not so fast there Sparky. Also in the running is Richard Wehlner (Reilly), who has just moved his family to Chicago from Quebec. He is a recovering alcoholic and at one time ran with a biker gang who has turned his life around.  Getting this position would really help solidify his standing and help he and his wife Lori (Taylor), a hot-headed Scot, finally get over the hump.

Now if this sounds like we’re going to see 90 minutes of two men trying to sabotage one another, think again. Mostly the two guys sabotage themselves. This is not a Judd Apatow comedy by any stretch of the imagination, although the key elements for it might be there. Had Apatow gotten hold of this, it would have been a very different movie.

The thing is that both Doug and Richard are essentially nice guys. You’re not really sure who to root for (although Doug, who also does the voice-over narration, seems to be the surrogate for the audience) since there’s no real bad guy, although occasionally the two both make weak attempts to undercut the other.

Scott, best known as Stifler in the American Pie movies (and upcoming American Reunion) usually plays characters that are much more over-the-top than this one. Really, I found this to be the kind of character usually played by Paul Rudd – nice, mostly mellow with just a hint of wild man in him. Reilly, on the other hand, has that wild man in his past big time. Still he’s much more of a hangdog now, like a dog who’s been to obedience school and been neutered in the process. Few do that kind of role better than Reilly and he does it well here.

Taylor is a very talented actress more known for her indie films but she shines in her brief on-screen appearances here, stealing scenes effortlessly with her charm and comic timing. Fischer is sometimes underrated because of her beauty and sexuality but she does a fine job as the unsuspecting wife of Doug, unaware that the job he said was in the bag really isn’t.

There are some nice bits here (like an apology to community leaders after the company determines was a racially-motivated incident that turns horribly, horribly wrong) and director Conrad, one of the finest writers in Hollywood who you’ve probably never heard of tackles his first feature directing job with a surprisingly sure hand.

The whole movie is pretty low key which can be a double edged sword. A lot of comedies will “tell” viewers when to laugh, either using visual cues, sound effects or cues from the score. You don’t really get that here; Conrad trusts in the intelligence of his audience to know what’s funny. Of course, that generally means they don’t always do.

I give the film big props for trying something new but there isn’t enough tension here to keep the viewer’s interest, nor are there enough laughs to overcome that. This goes down as a good idea with good intentions that didn’t quite translate to a good movie.

WHY RENT THIS: A competitive comedy where both the leads are actually decent guys – a very innovative set-up.

WHY RENT SOMETHING ELSE: So low-key in places that you wonder if you’re supposed to laugh.

FAMILY VALUES:  There is plenty of foul language, a good deal of it sexual. There’s also a scene of drug use.

TRIVIAL PURSUIT: The movie was originally scheduled for release in May 2007 but was delayed for a full year, mainly to add the cameo appearance of Oka who at the time was starring in “Heroes.”

NOTABLE DVD EXTRAS: There’s a gag reel but other than that the usual suspects. 

BOX OFFICE PERFORMANCE: $424,030 on an unreported production budget; I think it likely that the movie lost money, probably quite a bit.

FINAL RATING: 5/10

TOMORROW: Handsome Harry

Hall Pass


Hall Pass

Life's a party when you have a Hall Pass.

(2011) Sex Comedy (New Line) Owen Wilson, Jason Sudeikis, Jenna Fischer, Richard Jenkins, Christina Applegate, Alexandra Daddario, Stephen Merchant, Nicky Whelan, Larry Joe Campbell, Tyler Hoechlin, Joy Behar, J.B. Smoove, Alyssa Milano, Kathy Griffin. Directed by Peter and Bobby Farrelly

 

Hollywood has made a good profit off of the immaturity of men who are really adolescent boys in grown-up bodies. It plays into a female stereotype of men as being more or less lost and helpless without them, not to mention oversexed and a little bit ridiculous. Not that there isn’t any truth to this, mind you – where there’s smoke there’s fire – but definitely it’s a stereotype the movies have helped perpetuate.

Rick (Wilson) and Fred (Sudeikis) are best buddies, and their wives Maggie (Fischer) and Grace (Applegate) are likewise. Rick and Fred have a lot of things in common, not the least of which is possessing the names of the “I Love Lucy” husbands, but also they both possess a case of the Wandering Eye. You know; whenever a pretty girl walks by the two of them are compelled to stare. Fred is a little bit more subtle about it than Rick is but nonetheless both are caught out by their wives who are none too pleased by their propensity to girl-watch.

Finally fed up with their spouses behavior, the two women determine to give their fellas a hall pass. They agree to leave for a week on a Cape Cod vacation and whatever happens during that week is a freebie – they can do whatever they want without repercussion. The boys accept eagerly.

Of course, these guys – who have been married 15 years or more – have absolutely no game. They are as rusty as Newt Gingrich’s exercise equipment. They flounder around trying to pick up hot chicks – at Applebee’s. Meanwhile, their wives – far better looking physical specimens – are discovering that they have a Hall Pass of their own and are far more likely to cash in with the minor league baseball team whose manager is friends with Maggie’s dad (Jenkins).

Of course each member of this foursome will have their moment of truth and they may find out just what is important to them and who they are. At least, that’s the idea.

The Farrelly Brothers had the blessing/curse to make an iconic movie early on. Everything they’ve made since has been compared to There’s Something About Mary and let’s face it folks, not many movies are going to turn out that good. Hall Pass is nowhere near that level, which is disappointing but inevitable in some ways. There are some moments that are laugh out loud funny but the movie, like many comedies, is uneven to say the least.

Owen Wilson has made a career out of playing affable young men who have a good deal of charm, and he does it very well. Still, there are occasions when he breaks out of the mold a little bit and those tend to be his best movies. This won’t be remembered as one of those, however; that doesn’t mean he is any less capable in it. He pulls off his part with charm.

Sudeikis has shown some flashes of brilliance over his career and has been impressive in a number of films as of late. He plays the everyman with a bit of a twinkle in his eye, and that again serves him well here although the part is not written as well as I might have liked. I get the sense that Sudeikis didn’t really get a handle on the character, although I may be wrong on that score – I certainly didn’t and that did make the movie less successful for me.

I enjoyed the parts with the wives more and not just because Applegate and Fischer are far easier on the eyes. It just seemed more realistic to me and less of a goof. I mean, yeah make the guys a little awkward in terms of their game but don’t turn them from horndogs into eunuchs. That seemed a little stereotypical – guys talking a good game but falling short when it came time to man up.

I’ll admit the male ego is easily bruised and has a tendency to overcompensate for our insecurities. I am also willing to admit that this is a legitimate source for humor and entire movies have been made – successfully – about this fact and this one could have been successful as well. It could have used less juvenile humor and a little more wit. I have nothing against dumb jokes but maybe my fragile male ego could have used a little less smacking around. I’d rather laugh with this movie than be laughed at by this movie in other words.

WHY RENT THIS: The girls are very hot. Jenkins, Smoove and Merchant are veteran scene-stealers.

WHY RENT SOMETHING ELSE: Dumb and dumber. Too many gags fall flat. Too much sophomoric humor.

FAMILY VALUES:  Well, there’s quite a bit of crude sexual humor, a little bit of drug use, some graphic nudity and its share of bad language.

TRIVIAL PURSUIT: Maggie’s father is played by longtime Boston Red Sox outfielder Dwight Evans. The Farrelly Brothers are both sports fans, particularly of Boston-area sports teams and often have sports personality from that region cameo in their films.

NOTABLE DVD EXTRAS: Nothing listed.

BOX OFFICE PERFORMANCE: $83.2M on a $36M production budget; the movie was profitable.

FINAL RATING: 5/10

TOMORROW: Encounters at the End of the World

Solitary Man


Solitary Man

Michael Douglas - alone again, naturally.

(2009) Drama (Anchor Bay) Michael Douglas, Susan Sarandon, Danny DeVito, Mary-Louise Parker, Jenna Fischer, Jesse Eisenberg, Imogen Poots, Ben Shenkman, Richard Schiff, Olivia Thirlby, Jake Richard Siciliano, David Costabile. Directed by Brian Koppelman and David Levien

As men get older, they see their vitality slipping away from them, their attractiveness. It is the nature of men to seek out sexual validation, particularly from younger, more attractive women. We need it to remind us that the lion still has teeth and can still roar when need be.

Ben Kalmen (Douglas) was once the toast of Manhattan. As Honest Ben Kalmen, he was one of the top car dealers in the Big Apple. He had a great wife in Nancy (Sarandon), a beautiful daughter in Susan (Fischer). However, he lost all of it – his wife because of his numerous and public infidelities, and his business because of his shady bookkeeping practices.

Now, he’s trying to get it back. He has a new girlfriend, Jordan (Parker), who used to be married to a mobster and now is trying to get with someone nice. She sends Ben up to a school near Boston with her daughter Allyson (Poots) to help check out the place, which also happens to be Ben’s alma mater – and he is able to pull a few strings to get her in. He takes a tour of the joint with Daniel (Eisenberg), a kind of socially awkward kid that Ben takes under his wing a little bit and tries to educate in the ways of men, at least the way manhood as Ben sees it. And then, Ben does something incredibly stupid and in the space of a few moments wipes out everything he’s trying to do.

Now Ben is struggling openly, now with serious heart trouble he finds a job at a deli with an old friend (De Vito) and learning humility in ways that he never thought he could – but are those lessons really taking? Or is Ben still the same man he always was, doomed to make the same mistakes?

This is one of those roles Douglas has excelled at. Not a very nice guy, is this Ben Kalmen. Like Gordon Gekko and the heroes of most of Douglas’ movies, there is a real son of a bitch at the core of his character. He isn’t particularly likable but in every instance he’s compelling. You hate what he’s doing but you can’t look away. Here, Douglas is at his best – this is one of his best performances in the past ten years hands down. When his doctor tells him that his heartbeat is irregular, Douglas’ face freezes and you can see his world coming to a stop. It’s a terrific moment, one that can only be accomplished by a great actor and Douglas is most certainly that.

His scenes with De Vito, who worked with him so regularly in the 80s, are masterful, two old pros comfortable together with one another and knowing each other like an old married couple. It doesn’t hurt to have people like Susan Sarandon supporting you either, and in all honesty, all of the actors here do a terrific job, with Eisenberg, on the cusp of stardom as he filmed this, particularly good in a role that on the surface seems a lot like the other roles he does but the more you watch him you realize that Eisenberg has some pretty good range that you never thought about.

It’s too bad the story here didn’t measure up to the acting. Unfortunately, there are a few cliches that get in the way of truly enjoying this. In addition, the movie loses steam near the end and the ending is a bit predictable leading up to the final scene.

In that final scene, Ben is given a shot at redemption but a pretty girl walks in front of him. He stands up, with the option of walking after the girl and into his old self-destructive ways, or towards forgiveness and maybe, a life. The credits roll before he makes his choice, but you honestly don’t know which way he is going to choose. Even though the events leading up to this moment are somewhat cliché, you are still left wondering which way events are going to transpire and for my money, that’s a great ending.

This is a seriously flawed work that is redeemed by the strength of the performances, which are almost to a person worth seeing. Ben Kalmen is not someone you’d probably want to have in your life, but he is incredibly charming and I sure didn’t mind spending a couple of hours with him. You’ll no doubt find yourself feeling the same way.

WHY RENT THIS: Douglas is spectacular and gets some fine support from DeVito, Parker, Eisenberg, Poots and Sarandon.

WHY RENT SOMETHING ELSE: The story was a bit cliché and lost steam in the final 20 minutes.

FAMILY VALUES: There’s plenty of bad language and a fair amount of sexual content.

TRIVIAL PURSUIT: The college scenes were filmed at Fordham; Douglas’ next movie (Wall Street: Money Never Sleeps) also was filmed at Fordham and also had Sarandon in the cast.

NOTABLE DVD EXTRAS: None listed.

BOX OFFICE PERFORMANCE: $5.2M on a $15M production budget; the movie was a flop.

FINAL RATING: 7/10

TOMORROW: The Twilight Saga: Eclipse

New Releases for the Week of February 25, 2011


February 25, 2011

Somehow, this shot of Amber Heard in the drivers seat doesn't make me angry at all.

DRIVE ANGRY 3D

(Summit) Nicolas Cage, William Fichtner, Amber Heard, Billy Burke, Simona Williams, Katy Mixon, David Morse, Christa Campbell, Charlotte Ross, Tom Atkins, Jack McGee, Todd Farmer. Directed by Patrick Lussier

A criminal who has died and gone to Hell breaks out of the Inferno and returns to Earth to save his baby granddaughter who has been kidnapped by a charismatic cult leader (who also murdered his daughter in the process). The cult leader means to sacrifice the baby during a full moon in order to bring about Hell on Earth. Naturally, Hell has a vested interest in this and so they send one of their best demons to keep Nicolas Cage from preventing the sacrifice. Hmmm…Nicolas Cage in a cool motor vehicle fighting against Hell. Sounds familiar somehow…

See the trailer, promos, interviews and clips here.

For more on the movie this is the website.

Release formats: Standard, 3D

Genre: Supernatural Action

Rating: R (for strong brutal violence throughout, grisly images, some graphic sexual content, nudity and pervasive language)

The Concert 

(Weinstein) Melanie Laurent, Francois Berleand, Alexi Guskov, Miou Miou. When a disgraced former conductor of the Bolshoi who now works as a custodian intercepts a message meant for his former orchestra, he hits upon the idea of bringing together a group of ragtag musicians and bringing them to Paris for a triumphant return to the music scene. It will take some audacity but before he can find redemption he first must face the demons of his past – and present.

See the trailer and order the full movie here.

For more on the movie this is the website.

Release formats: Standard

Genre: Comedy

Rating: R (for language and some sexual content)

The Grace Card

(Goldwyn) Michael Joiner, Michael Higgenbottom, Louis Gossett Jr., Joy Moore. A cop loses his faith in God when his son is killed in a tragic accident.  He also becomes bitter and mean, alienating his friends and partner and threatening to erode his already shattered family. It will take a miracle to bring this man who has suffered so much back from the brink.

See the trailer here.

For more on the movie this is the website.

Release formats: Standard

Genre: Spiritual Drama

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

Hall Pass

(New Line) Owen Wilson, Jason Sudeikis, Jenna Fischer, Christina Applegate. Two buddies going through middle age crazy – midlife crisis seems a bit too mild here – are given a hall pass from their exasperated wives. This grants them one week to do anything they want, no questions asked, no recriminations afterwards. Sounds like heaven until reality sets in as it inevitably does.

See the trailer, clips, interviews and promos here.

For more on the movie this is the website.

Release formats: Standard

Genre: Comedy

Rating: R (for crude and sexual humor throughout, language, some graphic nudity and drug use)

KABOOM

(Sundance Selects) Thomas Dekker, Juno Temple, Kelly Lynch, Haley Bennett. From acclaimed indie director Gregg Araki comes this very stylized thriller in which a drifter who will sleep with anything of any sex or species uncovers a mysterious conspiracy in a Southern California seaside resort.

See the trailer here.

For more on the movie this is the website.

Release formats: Standard

Genre: Comedy Thriller

Rating: NR