The Kill Team (2019)


In battle there is brotherhood.

(2019) War (A24Alexander Skarsgǻrd, Nat Wolff, Adam Long, Jonathan Whitesell, Brian Marc, Osy Ikhile, Rob Morrow, Anna Francolini, Oliver Ritchie, Edd Campbell Bird, Adam James, Elham Ehsas, Tunji Kasim, Ian Attard, Taz Skylar, Zackary Momoh, Luka Schardan, Julio Perillan, Edward J. Bentley, Andreas Karraas, Amani Zafdoe. Directed by Dan Krauss

 

War is far from simple, although it is sometimes characterized that way. There are those who see it as the ultimate expression of masculinity, the place where young men go to prove themselves men. Others see it as institutionalized murder. It does require those who go to war to kill or be killed, putting them in a constant state of high stress. It also asks of them to violate some of the most sacred precepts both from a societal standpoint as well as a moral one – thou shalt not kill.

18-year-old Andrew Briggman (Wolff) has enlisted following high school. He wants to make a difference, to protect his country from terrorists and perhaps to some extent, be all he can be. Earning the pride of his father (Morrow), he goes to Afghanistan with a young man’s expectations. He quickly learns that Afghanistan is nothing like what he expected. Fortunately, he has a sergeant (Ikhile) who is a hearts and minds kind of guy, trying to win over the Afghan people with kindness. Unfortunately, that doesn’t work out too well for him.

Enter Sergeant Deeks (Skarsgǻrd) who is of the “speak softly and carry a big gun” persuasion. He is far more interested in winning over the hearts and minds of his command than in those of the locals. To Deeks, everyone is a potential enemy and he has no trouble sorting out the good from the bad – they’re all bad in his view and treats them accordingly. He appeals to the machismo of his men, rewarding them for their more bloodthirsty tendencies.

At first, Briggman buys into it but as he sees his platoon fall further and further from decency to the point where they are executing locals for sport, he is horrified. When he tries to report what he’s seen, he discovers Deeks has friends in all sorts of places and with Deeks falsifying reports, it boils down to the word of a three-tour decorated veteran versus a young wet-behind-the-ears rookie.

Briggman realizes that out in the field he is at the mercy of his comrades who are all trained killers. Soldiers survive because they know their brothers-in-arms have their backs; when you go out into the field not only uncertain whether your platoon has your back or might just shoot you in yours, it is not a place to be, to say the least. Briggman finds himself at odds with his conscience as well as his survival instinct.

Krauss based this loosely on a documentary that he directed back in 2013 (Florida Film Festival attendees may recall it and for those whose memory needs a jog, you can read my review here). That was a bit more of a morality play, chronicling a family’s encounter with the military justice system as the young soldier fights for the truth with his supportive family behind him. This version is fictionalized and the names are all changed, and the focus here is more on what the soldier endured and how it affected him. None of the film depicts the fall-out from the soldier’s accusations.

The role of Deeks is tailor-made for Skarsgǻrd and he responds with an intense performance. The actor underplays the role, giving the character a whole lot of menace. He certainly holds our attention on-screen. Wolff gives his character the right amount of naivete and gung-ho machismo to make him very relatable. Unfortunately, none of the other characters get much development.

Krauss also proves himself to be adept at building suspense and creating an on-screen tension that will keep audience members on the edge of their seats (or couches, as the case may be). The action sequences are a bit on the low-key side but they are adequate – in a lot of ways, the movie has the feel of a lot of recent war movies dealing with the conflicts in Iraq and Afghanistan.

Some of the moments in the film are truly terrifying and really hit you in the gut. There are enough of these to give the film a solid recommendation, but be warned that not all of the movie is like that and there is an awful lot of SSDD when it comes to modern war films. The Kill Team has been available on DirecTV for about a month and is just now hitting a limited theatrical release as well as being available on most streaming platforms. It’s not a must-see but then again you won’t go too far wrong if you do take a chance on it.

REASONS TO SEE: Truly harrowing in places, building the tension up nicely. Skarsgǻrd is absolutely amazing.
REASONS TO AVOID: The violence is curiously understated.
FAMILY VALUES: There is a cornucopia of profanity, war violence and some drug use.
TRIVIAL PURSUIT: Skarsgǻrd and Ikhile were both in The Legend of Tarzan.
BEYOND THE THEATERS: Amazon, AppleTV, Fandango Now, Google Play, Microsoft, Vudu
CRITICAL MASS: As of 10/24/19: Rotten Tomatoes: 84% positive reviews: Metacritic: 62/100.
COMPARISON SHOPPING: A Few Good Men
FINAL RATING: 7/10
NEXT:
Six Days of Darkness kicks off!

New Releases for the Week of September 12, 2014


Dolphin Tale 2DOLPHIN TALE 2

(Warner Brothers) Harry Connick Jr., Morgan Freeman, Ashley Judd, Kris Kristofferson, Charles Martin Smith, Nathan Gamble, Cozi Zuehlsdorff, Bethany Hamilton. Directed by Charles Martin Smith

Winter the dolphin returns in this story about those wacky folks at the Clearwater Marine Aquarium (who aren’t all that wacky in real life) who discover that Winter is in need of a companion, preferably a female or she’ll be taken away from Clearwater for the good of the animal. Into the lives of the Floridian folks comes a new dolphin, Hope but will she be enough to save Winter – and herself?

See the trailer, clips, interviews, a featurette and B-roll video here.

For more on the movie this is the website.

Release formats: Standard (opens Thursday)

Genre: Family

Rating: PG (for some mild thematic elements)

Atlas Shrugged III: Who is John Galt?

(Atlas) Kristoffer Polaha, Rob Morrow, Stephen Tobolowsky, Joaquim de Almeida. With the nation’s economy in shambles, a government seemingly hell-bent on ensuring that the economy is utterly destroyed and the most productive industrialists in the nation mysteriously disappearing, there seems to be no way out for the beleaguered citizens of the United States. Only one man can seemingly reverse the tide and save America but there is a woman equally determined to stop him. The conclusion of the trilogy based on Ayn Rand’s seminal novel.

 

See the trailer here.

For more on the movie this is the website.

Release formats: Standard

Genre: Drama

Rating: PG-13 (for some violence and a scene of sexuality)

The Drop

(Fox Searchlight) Tom Hardy, Noomi Rapace, James Gandolfini, Matthias Schoenaerts. A Brooklyn bartender works at a watering hole that also acts as a cash drop for the Brooklyn underworld. The bartender takes the cash, hides it in plain sight and then gives it to the mobsters when the time is right. However, a robbery gone sour turns everything upside down as the bartender fights to stay out of the violence that begins to gather in the neighborhood and threatens to turn a rough neighborhood into a war zone.

See the trailer, clips and a featurette here.

For more on the movie this is the website.

Release formats: Standard (opens Thursday)

Genre: Crime Drama

Rating: R (for some strong violence and pervasive language)

Finding Fanny

(Fox Star) Deepika Padukone, Arjun Kapoor, Naseeruddin Shah, Dimple Kapadia. A motley group of friends and family take a road trip to find the long lost love of an old postman. Nobody knows if she’s dead or alive or if she’s even real or just the figment of an old man’s lonely imagination. A mission that was supposed to take only 90 minutes is extended out over a matter of days as those involved in the search seek something sublime – and find it, although not what they expected.

See the trailer and a clip here.

For more on the movie this is the website.

Release formats: Standard

Genre: Romantic Comedy

Rating: NR

Love is Strange

(Sony Classics) John Lithgow, Alfred Molina, Marisa Tomei, Charlie Tahan. Two elderly gay lovers finally have it all. Once New York City makes gay marriages legal, they can finally be wed. However, their marriage gets noticed and one of them loses his job, meaning they can no longer afford to live in their tastefully decorated lower Manhattan apartment. Facing reality, they must live apart – temporarily, they say – until they can find a way to afford a place to live together but that’s easier said than done, particularly when one has moved in with his nephew, the other with a couple of NYPD cops. Not only are they missing each other, they find themselves being the glue holding all these disparate relationships together.

See the trailer and clips here.

For more on the movie this is the website.

Release formats: Standard

Genre: Romantic Comedy

Rating: R (for language)

Mood Indigo

(Drafthouse) Romain Duris, Audrey Tautou, Gad Elmaleh, Omar Sy. A wealthy Parisian inventor is lonely and longs for love. At last he finds it but his hopes may be bitterly dashed – the beautiful young object of his affections has a flower growing in her lungs. The only way to keep her alive is to keep a neverending supply of fresh flowers around her. This surreal and sweet film is the latest from inventive director Michel Gondry.

See the trailer and clips here.

For more on the movie this is the website.

Release formats: Standard

Genre: Romantic Fantasy

Rating: NR

No Good Deed

(Screen Gems) Idris Elba, Taraji P. Henson, Leslie Bibb, Kate del Castillo. On a stormy night with her husband away, a stranger turns up at her door needing to use her phone because he’s had car trouble. She takes pity on the charming man and allows him in, not realizing that the stranger is an escaped convict with an enormous sadistic streak and that he means to pick up where he left off before he went to prison.

See the trailer, clips, interviews, featurettes and B-roll video here.

For more on the movie this is the website.

Release formats: Standard (opens Thursday)

Genre: Thriller

Rating: PG-13 (for sequences of violence, menace, terror, and for language)

Begin Again


Can a song save your life?

Can a song save your life?

(2013) Romance (Weinstein) Mark Ruffalo, Keira Knightley, Hailee Steinfeld, Adam Levine, Catherine Keener, Cee Lo Green, Mos Def, James Corden, Marco Assante, Rob Morrow, Jennifer Li, Ian Brodsky, Shannon Maree Walsh, Mary Catherine Garrison, David Abeles, Jimmy Palumbo, Colin Love, Ron Voz, David Pendleton, Jasmine Hope Bloch, Sheena Colette. Directed by John Carney

Music has great restorative properties; studies have concluded that certain tones can stimulate the brain to produce endorphins. There are some therapists who use music to help those with depression and other emotional and mental challenges. Music can heal people, even people in the music business.

In a Greenwich Village bar on an open mike night, Steve (Corden), an ex-pat Brit is playing guitar and singing his song. He invites a friend onstage, but Greta (Knightley) isn’t very willing to go. In fact, she’s downright reluctant but with the patrons urging her on she finally goes up onstage. Thirty seconds into her song, they lose interest and resume their conversations and ordering drinks.

That is, except for one guy – Danny (Ruffalo), a middle aged former record executive who that afternoon had been fired from the record label he had started with his partner Saul (Def). Danny had been sinking into an alcoholic morass ever since his wife Miriam (Keener), a music journalist, had an affair with a colleague which provoked Danny into leaving him and his daughter Violet (Steinfeld). Violet has entered the sexual phase of teen angst and dresses provocatively to get attention, much to the horror of her dad and the indifference of her mom.

Greta isn’t without a backstory of her own. A Brit, she’d come to New York with her boyfriend Dave (Levine) who was also a musician but one that a major label had signed. His career trajectory was promising indeed and of course promptly he falls into an affair with Mim (Li), an assistant with the label. Greta had essentially booked her flight home and was staying the night in Steve’s tiny apartment which was how she wound up in the bar in the first place.

Maybe everyone in the bar hears a lifeless tune that sounds like every other folk-influenced song that seems to hold so much sway in alternative rock and pop these days but Danny hears something different. He hears an arrangement with violin, drums, bass, piano and backing vocals. He hears a song that has meaning and will inspire people. After having been on a cold streak for so long he finally hears something that he can work with.

At first Greta isn’t interested. She understandably just wants to go home. However, something about him is sincere. This is a man who needs fixing – as someone who needs fixing herself she can recognize the trait in others. Maybe they can fix each other. That going out on her own and making it as a musician would be a gigantic middle finger to her ex probably had its appeal as well.

Danny comes up with the idea of recording the album live outside of the studio in various outdoor locations in New York – the roof of a building, a subway station, rowing boats in Central Park – sounds kind of gimmicky but Danny uses Steve as an engineer to set up a mobile recording studio (not as hard as it sounds in this digital era) and assembles a band. For financial help, he uses one-time discovery Troublegum (Green) who realizes he owes his success to Danny and is willing to help him be successful once again.

Danny begins to reconnect with Violet who also bonds somewhat with Greta. Danny and Miriam are beginning to make reconciliation noises while back into Greta’s life comes Dave. Will they be able to go back to their past relationships with this new artistic synergy in place? Or will the past drag them down back to where they were before?

Carney also directed Once which may well be the best movie about songwriting and the redemptive power of music on those who write it and those who hear it ever made. Like in that movie, the actors do their own singing and to a large extent, their own playing. Knightley actually has a pretty pleasant voice although it isn’t remarkable. Levine, a veteran of Maroon 5 and a fixture on The Voice, has a kind of asshole role to play and he does surprisingly well, making the character somewhat sympathetic even though his behavior isn’t always the best. In fact, none of the characters here is perfect and all of them are subject to their own flaws at one point or another in the movie.

In fact, the music is pretty dang good here, surprisingly so. The music is mostly the work of Gregg Alexander, better known as the lead vocalist and songwriter for the New Radicals. While the film name checks (or tune checks) luminaries like Leonard Cohen, Hoagie Carmichael, Stevie Wonder and Sinatra, the bulk of the soundtrack is a folky poppy adult alternative that won’t offend anybody unless of course one is offended by folky poppy adult alternative music.

Ruffalo is always solid and while he hasn’t achieved the kind of status of a Tom Hanks or a Brad Pitt, he is nonetheless dependable for turning out good performances and he does the same here. Yeah, Danny has a few personality tics and he can be overbearing but you get the sense that his heart is in the right place – with his estranged wife and daughter. He knows he has some work to do on himself but given the right inspiration he might actually be able to get it all back. One roots for him to do just that.

While this isn’t to the level of Once, this is a better movie than a lot of the disappointing mid-summer films that are out in theaters currently and will certainly be worth having in your library once it makes it to home video. You might just find it in ours when the time comes.

REASONS TO GO: Ruffalo and Knightley had a different kind of chemistry that is strong in its own right. Great music.

REASONS TO STAY: May be too offbeat for some. A little bit fairy tale-esque.

FAMILY VALUES:  A fair amount of profanity.

TRIVIAL PURSUIT: Knightley had to learn to play the guitar for her role and her husband, musician James Righton, offered to teach her but his lessons proved to be so atrocious that, in her own words, “they nearly led to divorce and murder,” but the couple remain happily married to date.

CRITICAL MASS: As of 7/23/14: Rotten Tomatoes: 81% positive reviews. Metacritic: 62/100.

COMPARISON SHOPPING: Once

FINAL RATING: 7.5/10

NEXT: 22 Jump Street

The Emperor’s Club


The Emperor's Club

This teacher has eyes in the back of his head as his students have found out to their sorrow.

(2002) Drama (Universal) Kevin Kline, Emile Hirsch, Emberth Davidtz, Rob Morrow, Edward Herrmann, Harris Yulin, Paul Dano, Rishi Mehta, Jesse Eisenberg, Gabriel Millman, Chris Morales, Luca Bigini, Roger Rees, Patrick Dempsey, Caitlin O’Heaney. Directed by Michael Hoffman

 

In the end, the measure of a person is in their actions, not just their ideals. It’s a fine thing to have lofty moral values, but another to live by them. The difference between doing what’s right and doing what’s right for yourself can be a very hard line indeed.

Professor William Hundert (Kline) lives a very ordered existence. As assistant headmaster and history teacher at the exclusive St. Benedict’s School for Boys, he is passionate not only about teaching Greek and Roman civilization, but also about making the right choices for the greater good, Hundert is beloved amongst his students and respected among his peers.

Into this existence comes Sedgewick Bell (Hirsch), the brash son of a powerful U.S. Senator (Yulin). Bell has little respect for anything or anyone, least of all himself. At first irritated by the constant challenges to his authority, Hundert grows to see the potential for excellence in Bell. Hundert attempts to inspire the young man, urging him to take part in a prestigious academic competition. It is here where his most cherished ideals are put to the test, both by the student and the teacher.

Based on the excellent novella ”The Palace Thief” by Ethan Canin, The Emperor’s Club is all the timelier for the recent spectacular examples of the lack of ethical behavior in business, government, Wall Street and academia which was sadly as true in 2002 as it is now. Kline’s performance as Hundert is memorable, although it borrows a bit from the Goodbye, Mr. Chips/Dead Poets Society line of teachers.

Hundert believes very deeply in his principles, but abandons them for what he thinks is the greater good of another person. However, when that greater good is betrayed, Hundert is challenged more than ever to keep his belief system intact. He does so in a marvelously human manner, one to which all of us can relate. Hundert is no saint, but he is a good man – better than most in fact – but fallible. That sets him apart from Mr. Chips and other such dedicated super-teachers who Hollywood has showing his or her students that the high road is the right road. Hundert makes a moral choice that turns out to be wrong but one with which most of us can identify with – it is made out of hope.

It should be noted that several young actors that are coming into their own in Hollywood appeared in this movie, not just including Hirsch but also recent Oscar nominee Eisenberg and Paul Dano, so good in Little Miss Sunshine. The extra added attraction of seeing them early in their careers is appealing to movie buffs such as myself.

I was blessed to have a father who also had a very highly developed moral sense. He used to tell me that the harder road was usually the right one. It has been a principal that has guided me through some sticky situations. In that sense, I can identify with Hundert because of my father’s example.

Everyone should be lucky enough to have examples such as these in our lives. Lacking them, one can use this movie as inspiration to take the moral high ground. If seeing a movie can cause us to look in the mirror, then watching that movie is a worthwhile endeavor and The Emperor’s Club is that, and more.

WHY RENT THIS: Fine performance by Kline and early performances by several Hollywood stars. Presents a great teacher as fallible and human. Unexpected twists for the classroom drama genre.

WHY RENT SOMETHING ELSE: A bit melodramatic in places. One wonders if Sedgewick Bell learned anything valuable in his time at St. Benedict’s and if not, why bother?

FAMILY VALUES: There is bit of sexuality in the content, but not enough to make the movie uncomfortable. There are also implications of teen smoking and drinking.

TRIVIAL PURSUITS: The movie was filmed at the Emma Willard School in Troy, New York where the prep school scenes for Scent of a Woman were also filmed. Kline stood in as an English instructor for several classes at the school to prepare for his role, for which he got rave reviews from his students.

NOTABLE DVD FEATURES: None listed.

BOX OFFICE PERFORMANCE: $16.3M on a $12.5M production budget; the movie didn’t recoup it’s production budget in it’s theatrical release.

FINAL RATING: 9/10

TOMORROW: Incredible Hulk