The Foreigner

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.

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The Mountain Between Us

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.

American Made

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.

Kingsman: The Golden Circle

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. 

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. 

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.

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.