American Assassin

Based on the 2010 novel of the same name written by Vince Flynn, American Assassin is a mediocre spy thriller that follows a fairly formulaic plot line and does not contribute much to the genre. Played by the young actor Dylan O’Brien best known for his role in 2014’s The Maze Runner, Mitch Rapp is living a normal happy life until he and his girlfriend vacation in Ibiza, Spain during a terrorist attack in which many tourists, including his beautiful girlfriend, are killed. After this traumatic incident, he goes on a quest to infiltrate the Islamic terrorist organization responsible for the attack in hopes of enacting some sort of vengeance. As he is about to meet the leader of the cell in Libya, U.S. Special Forces ambush and take Mitch into custody to ascertain his involvement. Eventually, he is recruited into a secretive black ops unit known as Orion run by the unconventional former Naval Seal Stan Hurley, played by Michael Keaton. Mitch’s first mission is to intercept a nuclear device missing from Russia that is be purchased from the radical faction of the Iranian government in order to make a nuclear weapon. However, the team is unexpectedly faced with a former member of Orion who is now a dangerous mercenary helping the Iranians retrieve the weapon. Played by Taylor Kitsch who is best known for the 2012 box office flop John Carter, this mercenary known as Ghost takes Hurley hostage in Rome where he also takes possession of the now fully-working nuclear weapon in order to attack the U.S. Navy’s 6th Fleet. Overall, I was expecting a better spy thriller but came away sorely disappointed because the story seemed contrived and unoriginal. 

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War for the Planet of the Apes

The third installment of the third movie series franchise that began with 1968’s Planet of the Apes starring Charlton Heston and was revamped in the current series starting with 2011’s Rise of the Planet of the Apes, War for the Planet of the Apes like the previous two films represents a dramatic tonal and quality shift, arguably for the better. The movie takes itself much more seriously and delves into the negative impacts of modern science and the oppression of the unknown other. Portrayed by the great CGI motion capture artist Andy Serkis who is best known for creating the Gollum character in The Lord of the Rings trilogy, the first real intelligent ape Caesar is the leader in hiding with the remaining faction of apes in Northern California. Caesar’s desire for peace is destroyed by a renegade unit of the American military trying to eradicate the Simian Flu that has decimated the human population and made the apes intelligent. Serving as a prequel to the original 1968 film before the apes take over the world, Caesar and his followers are portrayed as sympathetic downtrodden minorities that are brutally oppressed by mankind out of fear. The plot line follows Caesar who suffers a tragedy at the hands of the humans and tries to lead his group to safety in the desert far away from humans. To protect the other apes and avenge the murder of his family, Caesar breaks off into a small group to enact “gorilla” warfare on the barbaric human militia, including its ruthless leader simply known as the Colonel, played by the terrifically vicious Woody Harrelson. Along with a orphaned young girl suffering from a mysterious ailment, Caesar’s ragtag group discover that the Colonel has imprisoned the remaining apes that were supposed to escape to the desert. The apes who prove to be smarter than the humans must figure out a way to rescue those enslaved at the remote former military outpost on the California border. The Colonel’s forces are also faced with an attack from a different group of soldiers to the North that has a more sympathetic view of the apes. Although it may sound strange, the movie does an excellent job of humanizing the apes through the emotionally powerful script and the remarkable magic of CGI to create realistic human-like apes. Overall, I found it to be a very high-quality blockbuster that brings a certain level of seriousness and cinematic beauty wholly unexpected from a story about talking apes.

Ingrid Goes West

Winner of the screenwriting award at the 2017 Sundance Film Festival, Ingrid Goes West is a dark comedy that glimpses into the societal ills associated with the rise of social networking like Facebook and Instagram. Ingrid Thorburn, played by the terrific Aubrey Plaza, is a mentally disturbed young woman who just lost her mother and is put in a mental hospital after stalking somebody on Instagram that she falsely believes is her friend in real life. After being released from the mental hospital, she decides to change her life and moves to Los Angeles in hopes of a better life. However, she becomes obsessed with an Instagram star named Taylor Sloane, played by the brilliant young actress Elizabeth Olsen, and she forces her way into a friendship with Taylor under false pretenses. A perpetual liar who is fully engrossed with being liked by popular society, especially on Instagram, Ingrid does whatever she can to impress Taylor and her cool friends. At the same time, she develops a relationship with her young black landlord Dan Pinto, played by O’Shea Jackson Jr. best known for his role as Ice Cube in 2015’s Straight Outta Compton. With the arrival of Taylor’s arrogant and obnoxious brother Nicky, Ingrid begins to lose favor with Taylor. Eventually, Ingrid’s sketchy past and questionable friendship with Taylor comes back to haunt Ingrid and possibly destroy her already fragile life. Overall, I found it to be an extremely incisive study of the problems perpetuated by the millennial generation oversaturated by social media and shows how today’s heightened societal pressures affect the mental well-being of individuals. In addition to its important social messages, the film itself can be highly entertaining and is especially well-crafted with excellent writing and acting performances. 

Dunkirk

Written and directed by the acclaimed Christopher Nolan who is best known for 2008’s The Dark Knight and 2010’s Inception, Dunkirk is a top-notch war movie crafted by Nolan at his finest and joints the ranks of the greatest war films, including Steven Spielberg’s 1998 modern classic Saving Private Ryan. The remarkable true story chronicles one of the most pivotal moments of World War II: the British surrender and massive evacuation at Dunkirk, France beginning in late May and ending in early June of 1940. Up to 400,000 mostly British soldiers representing almost the entirety of the British military were stranded on the beaches of Dunkirk with no real way of crossing the English Channel and reaching home even though it was within sight across the shore. With outstanding cinematography, greatly enhanced by the all-encompassing IMAX 70mm format, the film uses spectacular and often horrifying imagery to follow all the major aspects of the massive operation led by the British Commander Bolton, played by the Oscar-nominated actor Kenneth Branagh. The wide sweeping shots of the thousands upon thousands of war-weary soldiers waiting to be rescued while being constantly bombarded by the German air force reinforce the unbelievable scope of the evacuation. There are also mesmerizing dogfighting sequences between the strained British Royal Air Force, represented by a particularly heroic pilot played by Tom Hardy, and German warplanes and bombers targeting the vulnerable British troops. Further underscoring the horrors of war and the difficulty of evacuating so many men are the scenes showing jubilant soldiers finally getting on British Naval vessels after surviving the battle, only to be killed after many of their ships are torpedoed or bombed by the Germans. Throughout the film, Nolan is able to effectively recreate what it must have been like at Dunkirk and thereby engenders an anxiety-inducing cinematic experience. The visceral reaction is not only created by the stunning visuals but also by the simple yet effectual soundtrack, which is mostly composed of what sounds like a ticking clock to heighten the nerve-wracking situations the characters are facing. Besides speaking to the hell that is war, the film also presents the hopeful and inspirational aspect of the evacuation of Dunkirk: the massive flotilla of ordinary Brits using their fishing and pleasure boats who journey to Dunkirk in the face of danger to help evacuate the many thousands of soldiers and bring them back home safely. To develop a personal connection with these unlikely heroes, the film also follows a father, played by Oscar-winning actor Mark Rylance, and son and a local teenager as they venture their way on their civilian boat to pick up survivors from Dunkirk. They themselves face the harsh reality of warfare when they rescue a severely shell-shocked soldier, played by the Irish actor Cillian Murphy, who is adamant that he must not return to Dunkirk. Overall, I found it to be one of the more engrossing and emotionally powerful depictions of war and was nothing short of a cinematic masterpiece from the auteur filmmaker Christopher Nolan. His remarkable attention to detail and beautiful cinematography is probably the closest a filmgoer can get to experiencing war, both the horrific and inspirational qualities. The uplifting moments appeal to what many Brits still affectionately refer to as the Dunkirk spirit, the forces for good during times of adversity.

Crown Heights

Based on a true story chronicled in a 2005 episode of the NPR radio show This American Life, Crown Heights is the heartbreaking tale of a young man living in the Crown Heights neighborhood of Brooklyn, New York who spends many years in prison after being wrongfully convicted of a homicide in 1980. The talented young actor Lakeith Stanfield plays an 18-year-old immigrant from the Caribbean island nation of Trinidad and Tobago named Colin Warner who leads a troubled life as a petty criminal. After a young man is shot to death in broad daylight, Warner gets caught up in the corrupt and negligent justice system eager for convictions in crime-ridden 1980’s New York. As a result of false testimonies given by predominately young immigrants pressured by the police, he is quickly ushered through the court system and sentenced to 15 years to life for the murder of someone he had never heard of, along with a likely guilty co-defendant who is sentenced to less time as a juvenile. Disgusted by the injustice in which he was convicted and later lost appeals, Warner’s close friend Carl ‘KC’ King, played by former NFL Pro Bowler Nnamdi Asomugha, tirelessly makes it his mission to prove his childhood friend’s innocence and get him released from prison. The film does an excellent job of providing an intimate glimpse into prison from the perspective of an innocent man, including the difficult moments resulting in angered violence and coming to the harsh belief that he may be behind bars for the rest of his life for a crime he did not commit. King remains tenaciously hopeful even when Warner is despondent and spends day and night learning the legal system with the occasional help of a generous criminal defense attorney, played by Bill Camp best known for the 2016 HBO miniseries The Night Of. With his new knowledge, King investigates and interviews witnesses in order to create a compelling appeal for Warner’s exoneration. Over the course of the movie, the filmmaker expertly contextualizes the sometimes injust justice system in the United States by inserting newsreel montages depicting the government crackdown on crime for each decade Warner spends in prison. Overall, I found it to be a truly enlightening and emotionally powerful film about some of the problems with the criminal justice system, including the depressing statistic that up to 120,000 innocent people may be currently incarcerated. 

Wind River

Written and directed by Taylor Sheridan who wrote 2015’s Sicario and 2016’s Oscar-nominated Hell or High Water, Wind River is a gritty and riveting crime mystery thriller with terrific acting performances and excellent cinematography capturing the dark nature of the story. Set in remote Wyoming on the Wind River Indian Reservation, the film follows U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service agent Cory Lambert, played by Jeremy Renner, as he investigates a possible homicide after discovering the frozen body of a 18-year-old Native American girl miles away from civilization. He is forced to team up with the novice FBI agent Jane Banner, played by Elizabeth Olsen, who is brought in to see whether it was a murder and help the Wind River Reservation Tribal Police investigate. Based out of Las Vegas, she is woefully unprepared for the frigid weather and must rely on Lambert for his animal tracking skills to literally follow the trail of the mysterious crime. Shot in such a desolate and unforgiving location in which exposure to the elements can result in death within minutes brilliantly underscores the unsolved brutal death of a young woman among the largely overlooked and oppressed Native American population suffering from severe poverty and substance abuse. Throughout the film, there are moments of intense standoffs and violence at unexpected times and places that help to create a gripping thriller in which audiences are desperate for answers. Overall, I found it to be one of the best movies of the year, and the brilliant script and acting fashions not just a truly great crime thriller but a stark exploration of the plight of many Native Americans, especially the disproportionately large number of missing girls cases that are never solved in the community.

The Hitman’s Bodyguard


The Hitman’s Bodyguard is a fairly formulaic action comedy that is full of over-the-top violence and rapid-fire comedic banter and whose main strength is the charisma of Ryan Reynolds and Sammy L. Jackson. Reynolds plays Michael Bryce, a once top-rated head of a bodyguard firm, who finds himself scraping by with any bodyguard job he can get after one of his high-powered clients is assassinated on his watch. However, he is called into action by his ex-girlfriend Amelia Roussel, played by Élodie Yung, serving as an Interpol agent tasked with protecting the notorious hitman Darius Kincaid, played by Samuel L. Jackson, who is a key witness in a war crimes trial against fictional former Belarus dictator Vladislav Dukhovich, played by Gary Oldman. Amelia recruits Bryce to ensure that Kincaid makes it from his prison in England to the International Criminal Court at The Hague despite the fact that both men hate each other as they have been fighting against one another over the past several years. En route to the witness stand, Interpol agents are ambushed and Bryce becomes the personal bodyguard to Kincaid, and they both encounter many assassins hired by Dukhovich who are subsequently dispatched in hyper-violent bloody killing sequences. All the while, Reynolds’ and Jackson’s characters are engaged in quick-witted and profane banter, predominantly about how they despise one another. As a parallel storyline, Kincaid is willing to be a witness in order to free his imprisoned and equally violent wife Sonia, played by the beautiful Salma Hayek, and he secretly calls her in the Interpol detention center in Amsterdam. Things rapidly devolve as they get closer and closer to The Hague as they are faced with increasingly lethal forces and even bombings. However, through their shared ordeal, both men begin to develop a friendship and desperately want to remain alive and reunite with their love interests. Overall, I found the film to be entertaining as a Hollywood summer blockbuster, but it never really elevated above the action comedy genre despite the attempts by the talented actors who exude unique and funny personalities.