Directed by Martin Campbell who is best known for the 2006 James Bond film Casino Royale, The Foreigner is a fairly typical yet entertaining action thriller significant for the dramatic acting performance given by the usually funny martial arts superstar Jackie Chan. The aging Chan plays Ngoc Minh Quan, a hard-working Chinese restaurant owner in London whose beloved teenage daughter Fan is killed in a bombing claimed by a group of terrorists sympathetic to the anti-British IRA movement in Ireland and Northern Ireland. After his wife and other children were murdered as they migrated to England years ago, the death of his only remaining family member sets Quan on a path to find those responsible and enact revenge. He approaches the Irish Deputy Minister Liam Hennessy, played by a dramatic Pierce Brosnan, who Quan believes knows the perpetrators. Hennessey is suspicious because he was once a powerful figure in the IRA who still has connections with active members despite his apparent allegience to the United Kingdom. Chan’s character rapidly escalates his anger at Hennessy by bombing his office in Belfast and systematically terrorizing him at his farmhouse. Throughout the entire conflict, Hennessy claims he has no knowledge about the bombing in London and actually investigates it himself to see if any of his former IRA associates were involved. As he tries to find the culprits and smooth over relations with the central British government, Hennessy tasks his bodyguards, including his ruthless nephew Sean, with hunting down Quan who we learn has a particular set of skills as a former Special Ops trained by the Americans during the Vietnam War. Towards the end of the movie, things get more complicated with surprising twists on who was really involved in the London bombing. As with any other Jackie Chan film, there are several well choreographed fight sequences in which Jackie Chan uses his martial arts skills to the fullest. However, I was surprised by the relatively few scenes involving Jackie Chan; the promotional material gives the impression that his character would be the central focus and that Pierce Brosnan’s character would be less of a major character. Overall, I found it to be an enjoyable but fairly formulaic action thriller whose strengths include the dramatic turn of Jackie Chan and the uniquely fresh take on the IRA.
Based on a novel of the same name written by Charles Martin in 2011, The Mountain Between Us is an interesting take on the romance genre by fashioning it as a survival movie and whose greatest asset is the always terrific acting performances of Golden Globe winner Idris Elba and Academy Award winner Kate Winslet. Both are strangers who find themselves chartering a small plane out of Idaho because they need to be somewhere after flight cancelations. Dr. Ben Bass, played by Elba, is a talented neurosurgeon who must be back in Baltimore to perform an emergency pediatric surgery, while Alex Martin is an acclaimed photographer who must be home for her wedding the next day. Piloted by Beau Bridges’ character and accompanied by his loyal dog, their small aircraft crashes in the extremely remote mountains of the High Uintas Wilderness somewhere in Utah en route to Denver. Both Ben and Alex, along with the dog, survive the crash but quickly realize that they are stranded because no flight plan was filed and none of the radios and cell phones are working. The more pragmatic and cautious Ben urges Alex who injured her leg that they must stay at the crash site in hopes that rescuers will come to them. Despite her condition, the much more adventurous and emotional Alex decides that it would be in their best interest to hike down the mountains to find civilization and survive. Eventually, they decide to venture through the increasingly brutal wilderness even with the full knowledge that it could lead to their deaths. Throughout the ordeal, they discuss fairly intimate details of their lives, including Ben’s wife and Alex’s engagement and marriage ceremony that she is missing. Their unique bond caused by the human desire to survive over time leads to a romantic spark, which puts their future lives into question if they make it out of the mountains alive. For better or worse, the movie is a relatively simple romantic story of two strangers coming together and finding love in the most unusual way possible. Overall, I was expecting more of a survival movie with thrilling adventures and came feeling like something was lacking to create a movie worthy of the immense talents of the two actors.
Directed by Jonathan Dayton and Valerie Faris who are best known for the 2006 indie smash hit Little Miss Sunshine, Battle of the Sexes is a highly entertaining and inspirational film about the true story of the famed tennis match between Bobby Riggs and Billie Jean King in 1973. In one of her best performances to date, Academy Award-winning actress Emma Stone portrays the feminist and sports icon Billie Jean King who we first meet fighting for equal pay for female tennis players and eventually helps form the all-female Virginia Slims Circuit with the promoter Gladys Heldman, played by comedian Sarah Silverman. The impetus for breaking off from the major tours was the chauvinism showed by the male-dominated sports community best represented by former number one tennis player and legendary tennis commentator and promoter Jack Kramer, played by Bill Pullman. Along with the other star women, King, the reigning number one female player and winner of multiple Grand Slam titles, has success on the female circuit and is depicted as having fun yet healthy competition with the other players. Eventually, the self-proclaimed male chauvinist and perpetual showboating former number one tennis player Bobby Riggs, played by Steve Carell, tries to reclaim the spotlight by proposing to play a female tennis player. Already way past his prime at the age of 55, Riggs is finally able to woo the 29-year old Billie Jean King to participate in the so-called Battle of the Sexes at the height of the feminist movement. While dealing with the pressures of the cultural phenomenon that the match has become, King grapples with her sexual orientation while being married to a man and must push back on the pervasive sexism in society. During the tour, she begins a relationship with a carefree female hairdresser named Marilyn Barnett, played by Andrea Riseborough, who encourages King to embrace being a lesbian at a time when it was taboo. Despite the serious issues raised, the film is able to keep audiences entertained as a result of the buffoonery of Bobby Riggs who does anything to promote himself and has a playful back-and-forth with King until the tides shift during the actual match. The movie does an excellent job of building up the tension to the much-hyped exhibition between man and woman, which takes place in Houston at the Astrodome on September 20, 1973. I came away from the film feeling even more the unpleasant truth that sexism was so pervasive at that time, and that it was normal for male commentators to make clearly chauvinistic comments in public without much rebuke. Overall, I thought the filmmakers were expertly effective in portraying the trials and tribulations of such a trailblazing figure in American history as Billie Jean King, all the while keeping the audience fully engaged with moments of humor and levity.
Directed by Denis Villeneuve who is best known for the 2016 Oscar-nominated movie Arrival, Blade Runner 2049 is an extraordinary film that lives up to its predecessor, the science fiction cult classic Blade Runner released in 1982 and based on a 1968 Philip K. Dick novel. Heavily influenced by the first movie’s director Ridley Scott who is one of the producers of the sequel, the film remarkably recreates the dystopian hallmarks of the original with beautiful cinematography of a bleak yet futuristic world of monolithic skyscrapers illuminated by extravagant neon signage rising above a rain-soaked suffering population. The story takes place thirty years after the first Blade Runner and follows an officer with the LAPD officer named K, played by Ryan Gosling, who is sent on a secret mission by his boss Lieutenant Joshi, played by Robin Wright, to discover the truth behind the discovery of a mysterious skeleton. K is what is known as a blade runner whose job it is is to hunt down and destroy renegade replicants, human-like robots originally created by the now defunct Tyrell Corporation featured in the original. Officer K is a replicant himself but of a more advanced and better controlled version built by the all-powerful Wallace Corporation led by the vicious Niander Wallace, played by the especially creepy Jared Leto. The Wallace Corporation is intrigued by the LAPD’s investigation because it may lead to a key development in their replicant program. Throughout the slow burn and sometimes complex esoteric scenes, K questions his own existence and whether he is in fact a human and not a replicant with implanted memories. The very nature of what it means to be human is the core of the film’s deep dive into the philosophical exploration of humanity and artificial intelligence. Eventually, Gosling’s character comes to a greater understanding of who he is after encountering Rick Deckard, the main character from the original played by a particularly gruff Harrison Ford. Deckard is a replicant who has been on the run over the past thirty years and had a romantic relationship with another replicant named Rachael who may have had a very unique capability desired by Wallace. Overall, although the heavy dose of sci-fi and philosophical elements may not appeal to all viewers, the movie is without a doubt a cinematic masterpiece as a result of being a visual marvel presenting a stylized dystopia complete with a very futuristic-sounding soundtrack emphasizing the dark and moody themes. If you are a fan of the original Blade Runner or any other sci-fi flick, you will not be disappointed by this long-awaited sequel.
Directed by Academy Award-nominated British filmmaker Stephen Frears who is best known for 2006’s The Queen also about a famous British female monarch, Victoria and Abdul is the fascinating untold true story of Queen Victoria’s unlikely relationship with an Indian servant. Clearly, the film’s greatest strength is the magnificent acting performance from Dame Judi Dench, already well-regarded for her portrayal of Queen Victoria in 1997’s Mrs. Brown and her Oscar-winning role as Queen Elizabeth I in 1998’s Shakespeare in Love. Celebrating her golden jubilee commemorating 50 years on the throne in 1887, the Queen is sent two Indian servants as representatives of British-ruled India and begins a fond relationship with one of the men named Abdul Karim, played by Indian actor Ali Fazal. Eventually, he becomes a close confidant of the lonely Victoria who lost her husband Albert many years ago and invites Abdul to palace functions and is even taught his native Indian language. Abdul also is given a house on Royal property and is able to bring his Indian wife and mother-in-law to England. The film does an excellent job of realistically depicting what it must have been like at Queen Victoria’s residences, mostly because it was filmed at the real Osborne House on the Isle of Wight where much of the movie takes place. As Abdul becomes increasingly closer to Victoria, the Royal household and Victoria’s successor and son Prince Bertie, played by Eddie Izzard, continue to get fed up with her unorthodox friendship to a man that they believe is racially inferior and a simple-minded servant unworthy of her attention. Her real deep connection with Abdul forces her to fight back against her own family and royal duties and defends him until her death in 1901. Apparent by the story of Abdul not being uncovered until only recently, there was a actual animosity evidenced by Bertie ordering the destruction of all records pertaining to Abdul immediately after he takes the throne. Overall, I was particularly intrigued by the film’s plot and especially struck by Judi Dench’s terrific performance; however, it was too full of cliches to transcend the genre and was much more of a sad story than the promotional materials lead the viewer to believe.
Directed by Doug Liman who is best known for 2002’s The Bourne Identity and 2014’s The Edge of Tomorrow, American Made is an entertaining and thrilling drama loosely based on real events and stars Tom Cruise in one of his better performances from the past couple of years when he had a string of poorly received movies. The plot follows the unbelievable life story of Barry Seal, played by Cruise, who was a pilot recruited by the CIA in the 1970s and later worked for the Medellin Cartel led by Pablo Escobar as well flying secret American missions to support the anti-communist Contras hoping to overthrow several Central American socialist governments. We first meet Barry as a wild TWA pilot who lives in Baton Rouge with his beautiful wife and young children in the 1970s. One day, he is approached by the CIA operative Monty Schafer, played by Domhnall Gleeson, and asks Barry to work for the CIA to fly reconnaissance missions over Central America. Eventually, he is recruited to do increasingly dangerous and questionably legal activities for the CIA, including acting as a covert courier between the American government and General Manuel Noriega who would eventually become the authoritarian leader of Panama and delivering weapons and supplies to the rebel Contra militias who President Reagan secretly supported. However, as he is helping the American government, he finds himself flying cocaine out of Columbia to Louisiana for Pablo Escobar’s drug cartel and makes millions of dollars in the process. To help protect Barry, Monty sends him and his family to a small town in Arkansas named Mena where he can continue his operations out of a private airstrip. Although he is mostly shielded from arrest for drug trafficking because of his CIA connection, things begin to unravel after the arrival of his troubled brother-in-law JB. Towards the end of the movie when it takes place during the 1980s, the involvement with the CIA and particularly the Medellin Cartel ends poorly for Barry. Overall, I found it to be a fun and energetic movie that tells a hard to believe story that is somewhat based on reality, but I thought that the rest of the film’s pieces fell short of my expectations. It felt like a continuation of the hit Netflix TV series Narcos, which superbly dramatizes the rise and fall of Pablo Escobar as well as other Colombian drug cartels throughout the 1980s and 1990s.
The sequel to the widely successful 2015 film Kingsman: The Secret Service from the director Matthew Vaughn, Kingsman: The Golden Circle is a crowd-pleasing action spy comedy that like its predecessor has an irreverent twist and is brimming with comically over-the-top violence. It takes place a year after the original and follows Eggsy, played by Taron Egerton, as a newly recruited member of the secret British intelligence agency known as Kingsman. Towards the beginning, he is still dealing with the loss of his mentor and fellow agent Galahad, played by Colin Firth, when the entire Kingsman organization is obliterated after missile strikes on its safehouses, including its London headquarters at a high-end tailor. Eggsy along with the only other surviving agent Merlin, played by Mark Strong, are confronted with a vengeful former recruit and a secretive criminal organization known as The Golden Circle. They must activate the so-called Doomsday protocol, which connects them with a similar secret American organization based out of a whiskey distillery in Kentucky called Statesman and led by Jeff Bridges’ character Champagne. Eggsy and Merlin must join forces with the very Western Statesman agents Whiskey, played by Channing Tatum, and Tequila, played by Pedro Pascal from the hit Netflix TV show Narcos, and are subsequently taken on a globe-trotting, shootout-filled mission to save millions. They are put into action after a previously unknown and extremely powerful drug trafficker named Poppy, played by Julianne Moore, has laced her illicit drugs with a deadly poison that will kill millions of drug users throughout the world unless the President of the United States agrees to legalize drugs at which point she will release the antidote. One of the more bizarre characters, Poppy is portrayed as ridiculously vicious and lives in a 1950s-themed headquarters in the jungles of Cambodia where she also has Elton John held captive. Eggsy learns that no one can be truly trusted and must also please and protect his beautiful girlfriend who happens to be the Crown Princess of Sweden during some particularly inappropriate missions. Overall, I found it to be an entertaining movie that contains some of the same elements of fun and thrills as the original, but, unfortunately, falls short of the first film’s originality and hilarity and is hampered by its bloated two and a half hour runtime.