Whiskey Tango Foxtrot


Live and on location.

Live and on location.

(2016) Biographical Drama (Paramount) Tina Fey, Margot Robbie, Martin Freeman, Alfred Molina, Christopher Abbott, Billy Bob Thornton, Nicholas Braun, Stephen Peacocke, Sheila Vand, Evan Jonigkeit, Fahim Anwar, Josh Charles, Cherry Jones, Scott Takeda, Eli Goodman, Soledad O’Brien, Thomas Kretschmann, Vic Browder, Ava del Cielo. Directed by Glenn Ficarra and John Requa

There is a certain glamour in war correspondence. Being close to the front lines, embedded with fighting units, hearing the bullets whine overhead, seeing the results of the carnage…it takes a certain kind of personality to love it.

Kim Baker (Fey) is a copywriter for a cable news network whose career is going nowhere. So, too is her love life as her boyfriend (Charles) is rarely home and when he is he’s not really engaged. When the opportunity to volunteer to cover the war in Afghanistan arises, she seizes at it like a drowning woman clutching a life preserver.

Once in Kabul, her perceptions change. What was a desperate move to save a floundering career and a boring life becomes a lifestyle. Aided by a crusty Marine Crops general (Thornton), a lecherous local public official (Molina) and a gentle but effective local fixer (Abbott), she begins to learn her way about the armed forces and Afghanistan. She is befriended by a blonde and beautiful rival (Robbie) and an irreverent Scottish photographer (Freeman) with whom she shares moments of terror – and drunken revelry as well.

However, modern mass media is a monster with an endless appetite and the sorts of stories that should be getting told aren’t. Kim’s frustration begins to tell, particularly as her star – once on the rise – is definitely on the wane at the network. She needs a big new story to save her and when it finally presents itself, might just end up being a little too close to home.

This is based on the memoirs of an actual war correspondent, Kim Barker (the first “R” is inexplicably left out) who worked for the print media (not cable) and whose life story only slightly resembled what appears in the film. Ah, Hollywood – but then again, nobody ever said this was a documentary anyway. It was also mostly filmed in New Mexico, standing in for Afghanistan.

There has been some controversy regarding the casting, with white actors Molina and Abbott playing Afghan roles and I can see the point. Then again, both of them do very fine work here – which is likely why they were hired. I don’t know that you necessarily have to hire the same ethnic group to play every single role – and there is more scrutiny on Hollywood’s non-white employment record as of late. I’m not insensitive to that. However, it also must be said that the PC press can take that to extremes, so let us be wary of that. There’s inclusive and there’s impractical.

Fey does some of the best work of her career. That said, she is the queen of the smug look; she is also the queen of the cabbage patch which she seems to work in to her every film (stop it, Tina…just…stop it). There are occasions when that is inappropriate in the film and you’re taken out of a serious moment and thrust into an SNL sketch. However, throughout most of the movie, we get to see a greater emotional range than we’re used to from Fey. She still hasn’t shown the kind of range that one needs to be a great dramatic actress but I think it’s within her grasp. She certainly takes a step in the right direction here.

We’ve seen the life of a war correspondent in films like The Year of Living Dangerously and I’ll be honest, in some ways this film is a bit redundant but in other ways it makes a nice companion piece. We get that it is indeed a masculine profession but there are plenty of women who do it now and seeing the experiences of one is certainly welcome and worthy.

The movie isn’t exactly action-packed although it has its moments; there are an awful lot of expository scenes and that might irritate the attention-challenged. Plus one other roadblock is that films about the Iraq and Afghanistan wars have traditionally not done well at the box office (with one or two exceptions); perhaps the American public is war-weary but I think it is more that the American public really doesn’t care.

I do like the concept behind Whiskey Tango Foxtrot but I’m a little disappointed about the execution. There is plenty to recommend about it here, but the movie fails to take advantage of some of its potential by going for easy when they should go for deep. Don’t expect a movie that’s going to ultimately give you a ton of insight (when it could have) but at least it will be entertaining while it is not terribly illuminating.

REASONS TO GO: Solid dramatic performance by Fey. Nicely illustrates the allure of a war correspondent’s life.
REASONS TO STAY: A little bit on the slow-paced side. A little bit too glib at times.
FAMILY VALUES: A whole lot of profanity, some brutal war images, a little bit of drug use and sensuality.
TRIVIAL PURSUIT: Fey dedicated the film to her father, who passed away during filming.
CRITICAL MASS: As of 3/24/16: Rotten Tomatoes: 63% positive reviews. Metacritic: 57/100.
COMPARISON SHOPPING: Restrepo
FINAL RATING: 6/10
NEXT: The Forbidden Kingdom

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Chalet Girl


Tamsin Egerton and Felicity Jones have a lot on their plates.

Tamsin Egerton and Felicity Jones have a lot on their plates.

(2011) Romantic Comedy (IFC) Felicity Jones, Tamsin Egerton, Ed Westwick, Bill Nighy, Brooke Shields, Bill Bailey, Georgia King, Sophia Bush, Nicholas Braun, Rebecca Lacey, Tom Goodman-Hill, Jo Martin, Miquita Oliver, Ken Duken, Alex Macqueen, Mike Goodenough, Tara Dakides, Gregor Bloėb, Adam Bousdoukos, Abbie Dunn, Amber Atherton, Jessica Hynes. Directed by Phil Traill

Not everyone has an easy life. In fact, most of us don’t. It can be a matter of circumstance – being born into poverty, in a place where escaping from poverty isn’t an option. Sometimes, we make our own lives hard through poor choices and foolish mistakes. However, sometimes life just serves up lemons. It’s up to us whether to suck on those lemons or make lemonade.

Kim Matthews (Jones) has every reason to make a sour face. She was brought up in a happy, middle class English family and had become a champion skateboarder but all that came to a screeching halt when a car accident that she was involved in took the life of her mother. The trauma of the crash rendered her unable to take on the more daring aspects of her sport, so she is reduced to flipping burgers at a British fast food joint to make ends meet for her and her dad (Bailey). Then, opportunity knocks.

After fruitlessly searching for a better-paying job, she finally nets one – working at an Alpine chalet as a kind of factotum for wealthy vacationers wintering there. She’s a combination waitress, maid, butler, chef and essentially facilitator for Richard (Nighy) and his snooty American wife Caroline (Shields). However, she takes more than a passing interest in their hunky son Johnny (Westwick).

At first, the other chalet girls look down on the less posh girl, particularly Georgie (Egerton) but as time goes by the staff at the resort begin to warm up to Kim as does Johnny, which doesn’t please Caroline. No, not one eensy weensy tiny little bit, especially since his girlfriend is spoiled American rich girl Chloe (Bush) whom Caroline thinks is far more suitable for little Johnny. Well, not so little anymore.

Mikki (Duken), seeing a bored Kim struggling while learning to snowboard, teaches her and realizes she has a natural gift for it. He urges her to enter a competition in which the top prize is $25,000 and after some persuading, she agrees to. Johnny, noticing that Kim has gotten good at snowboarding, pays her additional cash to teach him as well, which doesn’t sit too well with either Caroline or Chloe.

However, the same demons that haunted Kim in skateboarding continue to make her snowboarding difficult. Will she be able to get past her fears and become the athlete she is capable of being? Or will she lose everything to the ghosts of her past?

Like most romantic comedies that are being made today, both in Hollywood and on independent sets, Chalet Girl is fairly formulaic. You have two people from opposite sides of the tracks, both extraordinarily good-looking and surrounded by quirky but supportive friends who are almost as good-looking, who fall in love despite having little in common, then a misunderstanding and/or mistake on the part of one or both tears them apart only to (and this shouldn’t be much of a spoiler to anyone who watches a lot of rom-coms) get back together in the end.

Jones, who has since gone on to bravura performances in films like The Theory of Everything and True Story with high-profile roles in the upcoming Star Wars: Rogue One and Inferno, is delightful here. A cross between an English rose and the American girl next door, she’s winsome, a little bit naive, but pure pluck. She is grappling with the demons resulting from the car accident, but she soldiers on nonetheless. She’s the kind of girl that you figure a fella would be crazy not to fall in love with.

Nighy is always reliable and turns in a solid performance here; veteran British comic Bailey also shines in his brief role. The humor here is bone-dry which fans of English humor will enjoy but those who don’t like British comedy may find this not to their liking, although I’m glad to say that I’m a fan. For the most part unfortunately, Traill and writer Tom Williams seem content to follow establish formulas and play it safe at every turn. That’s not necessarily a bad thing – not every film should be an excuse for innovating – but this one feels so forgettable and disposable that it wastes some fine performances and some good chemistry.

WHY RENT THIS: Jones is a charming romantic lead. Dry humor welcome.
WHY RENT SOMETHING ELSE: Rom-com cliches abound. Takes no chances.
FAMILY VALUES: There is enough rough language to merit an “R” rating.
TRIVIAL PURSUIT: Filming was briefly interrupted when a snow storm threatened the location in Austria where the skiing sequences were being filmed.
NOTABLE DVD EXTRAS: Cast interviews and YouTube “viral videos.”
BOX OFFICE PERFORMANCE: $4.8M on a $10.5M production budget.
SITES TO SEE: Netflix. Amazon, iTunes, Google Play
COMPARISON SHOPPING: The Devil Wears Prada
FINAL RATING: 5.5/10
NEXT: Brooklyn

New Releases for the Week of October 30, 2015


Scout's Guide to the Zombie ApocalypseSCOUT’S GUIDE TO THE ZOMBIE APOCALYPSE

(Paramount) Tye Sheridan, Joey Morgan, Cloris Leachman, David Koechner, Logan Miller, Sarah Dumont, Halston Sage, Niki Koss. Directed by Christopher Landon

The motto of the Boy Scouts is to be prepared, but how does one prepare for the unpreparable? Why, there’s a handbook for it of course. And no doubt, merit badges.

See the trailer here.
For more on the movie this is the website.
Release Formats: Standard
Genre: Horror Comedy
Now Playing: AMC Altamonte Mall, AMC Disney Springs, AMC Loew’s Universal Cineplex, AMC West Oaks

Rating: R (for zombie violence and gore, sexual material, graphic nudity, and language throughout)

The Algerian

(Hannover House) Ben Youcef, Candice Coke, Harry Lennix, Tara Holt. An Algerian travels around the world as part of a sleeper cell, masquerading as a university student. He knows that his enemy is America, but as he begins to develop relationship and even love with various Americans, he becomes conflicted. What is his mission and what is his purpose? Whatever it might be, there will be a bloodbath by the time it ends.

See the trailer here.
For more on the movie this is the website.
Release Formats: Standard
Genre: Suspense
Now Playing: Regal Pointe Orlando

Rating: NR

The Armor of Light

(Fork) Lucy McBath, Rob Schenck. A conservative Evangelical minister meets the mother of Jordan Davis, a teenage shooting victim in Florida whose death focused attention on the controversial “Stand Your Ground” laws. Despite her pro-choice leanings, the two decide to work together to bring about real change in gun laws and more importantly, in attitudes towards guns. Incidentally, NRA members can get free tickets to this movie; go to the website to find out how.

See the trailer here.
For more on the movie this is the website.
Release Formats: Standard
Genre: Documentary
Now Playing: Regal Waterford Lakes

Rating: PG-13 (for thematic content and brief strong language)

Burnt

(Weinstein) Bradley Cooper, Sienna Miller, Emma Thompson, Uma Thurman. A once-promising chef who suffers a spectacular meltdown having fallen from grace due to his own excesses. Hungering for that elusive third Michelin star, he opens a new restaurant, knowing he’ll have to have the best of the best working for him which includes Helene, a comely sous chef who might bring him the redemption he is seeking – and also that of an unexpected kind.

See the trailer, interviews, clips and premiere footage here.
For more on the movie this is the website.
Release Formats: Standard
Genre: Dramedy
Now Playing: Wide Release

Rating: R (for language throughout)

Dancin’ It’s On

(Medallion) Gary Daniels, Witney Carson, Jordan Clark, Ava Fabian. A beautiful young girl travels from Beverly Hills to Panama Beach for the summer to work at her father’s hotel and falls in love with a handsome young dishwasher. The two have a mutual love for dance and decide to partner up for the Florida State Championships but will have to navigate long odds to achieve their dreams. Did anyone else just throw up a little in their mouths or was it just me?

See the trailer here.
For more on the movie this is the website.
Release Formats: Standard
Genre: Music/Dance
Now Playing: Regal Oviedo Marketplace, Regal Pointe Orlando, Regal Winter Park Village

Rating: PG (for some suggestive material)

Freaks of Nature

(Columbia) Mackenzie Davis, Nicholas Braun, Joan Cusack, Denis Leary. In one small town, vampires, zombies and humans have all managed to co-exist – until an alien invasion throws everything into chaos. Now it’s every being for themselves and all of them being chased by aliens. It will take three teens – one human, one zombie and one vampire – to convince the town to unite against the real threat: bad reviews.

See the trailer here.
For more on the movie this is the website.
Release Formats: Standard
Genre: Horror Comedy
Now Playing: AMC Disney Springs, Regal Waterford Lakes

Rating: R (for bloody violence and gore, pervasive language, sexual content and drug use – all involving teens)

Goodnight Mommy

(Radius) Susanne Wuest, Lukas Schwarz, Elias Schwarz, Hans Escher. After facial reconstructive surgery, the mother of a pair of precocious 10-year-old twins returns home, her face covered with bandages. Soon after, however, the twins begin to suspect that the woman under the bandages isn’t their mother; she acts very differently than the woman who raised them. So they decide to find out who the woman is but most importantly where their real mother is.

See the trailer here.
For more on the movie this is the website.
Release Formats: Standard
Genre: Horror
Now Playing: Regal Oviedo Marketplace

Rating: R (for disturbing violent content and some nudity)

Our Brand is Crisis

(Adopt) Sandra Bullock, Billy Bob Thornton, Anthony Mackie, Scoot McNairy. With Bolivia’s economy teetering on the edge of catastrophe, a presidential election between the incumbent president and an upstart rival, the incumbent trailing in the polls by 30 points (a nearly insurmountable margin) enlists a damaged but brilliant American political strategist to aid him. Unfortunately, the opposition has hired her nemesis whom she has never beaten. With the election taking on global proportions, the price of losing could be intolerable. Based on the real events chronicled in the documentary of the same name.

See the trailer, clips, interviews and B-roll video here.
For more on the movie this is the website.

Release Formats: Standard
Genre: True Life Drama
Now Playing: Wide Release
Rating: R (for language including some sexual references)

Room

(A24) Brie Larson, Jacob Tremblay, Joan Allen, William H. Macy. A woman and her young son escape from a shed where they’ve been held captive for the son’s entire life. The woman returns to a woman she doesn’t understand anymore and the son to a world he’s never known. Both damaged, they rely on each other as much or more outside the single room that was their entire world than they did in it.

See the trailer, clips and interviews here.
For more on the movie this is the website.

Release Formats: Standard
Genre: Drama
Now Playing: Enzian Theater

Rating: R (for language)

Truth

(Sony Classics) Cate Blanchett, Robert Redford, Topher Grace, Elizabeth Moss. When respected CBS news anchor Dan Rather broadcast a story regarding then-President George W. Bush’s service in the National Guard during the Vietnam War, he was doing his job. Instead, it turns out that the story was factually inaccurate, putting one of the most prestigious news organization’s reputation in tatters and nearly bringing it down. The CBS network is refusing to air ads for this film, incidentally as you might expect.

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

Release Formats: Standard
Genre: True Life Drama
Now Playing: Wide Release

Rating: R (for language and a brief nude photo)