American Animals

Written and directed by British filmmaker Bart Layton best known for the 2012 critically acclaimed documentary The Imposter, American Animals is a terrific heist movie that reenacts a truly extraordinary true story about a group of college students daring to commit one of the largest art thefts in American history. The filmmaker makes a truly unique and brilliant decision to mix the majority of the film’s dramatized narrative with interviews with the real life characters portrayed. We first meet Spencer Reinhard, played by the terrific Irish actor Barry Keoghan, as an art student at Transylvania University in Lexington, Kentucky who is looking for a way to escape his ordinary life. He teams up with his lazy childhood friend Warren Lipka, played by another terrific young actor Evan Peters, to steal several rare books, including an original book of paintings by the famous wildlife artist John James Audubon, worth millions from the special collections library at Transylvania University. As they plan what they believed was a relatively simple heist, they run into a series of problems and must enlist two other friends: Chas Allen who is played by Blake Jenner and Eric Borsuk who is played by Jared Abrahamson. As the day of the robbery in December of 2004 approaches, several of the guys, especially Spencer, are worried that the robbery will fail and ruin their lives if they are caught, but Warren who acts as the ringleader successfully encourages them to go through with the plan. The movie keeps a quick and exciting pace as soon as the robbery commences by relying on shaky camera work and acting performances that make their characters’ intense emotions palpable. The filmmaker also does a remarkable job of crafting a film about reality; in the real life interviews, almost all of the individuals tell a slightly different story about what happened, which makes the audience question what really happened and what was fictionalized. Overall, I found it to be a terrific film that brilliantly transcends the formulaic aspects of a heist film while raising fascinating and important issues about storytelling, reality, and the desire for the individual to become extraordinary through reckless actions.


Ocean’s 8

A spin-off of the Ocean’s 11 trilogy first released in 2001, Ocean’s 8 is an entertaining heist movie that follows the formula of the first films but with the unique twist of having an all-female cast. The movie involves the planned robbery at the highly fashionable Met Gala in which a 15 million dollar diamond necklace is to be stolen from a pretentious actress named Daphne, played by Oscar winner Anne Hathaway. The elaborate heist is devised by the sister of Danny Ocean, played by George Clooney in the trilogy, Debbie, played by Oscar winner Sandra Bullock, who was just released from prison after 5 years. Like almost all heist movies, the beginning introduces the audience to the cast of characters making up the team: Oscar winner Cate Blanchett plays Debbie’s former partner-in-crime Lou, Emmy winner Mindy Kaling plays the jeweler Amita, Golden Globe winner Sarah Paulson plays the surburban mom and stolen goods salesperson Tammy, Oscar nominee Helena Bonham Carter plays the disgraced fashion designer Rose, Grammy winner Rihanna plays the hacker Nine Ball, and Awkwafina plays the pickpocket Constance. The rest of the movie follows the group as they get ready for the heist that involves penetrating the high security surrounding the extremely valuable Cartier diamond necklace and the Metropolitan Museum of Art on its most glamorous and exclusive night. The film is a fairly rudimentary heist movie complete with unexpected events that could derail a successful operation and surprise twists of who else is involved. What sets it apart is its female focus by having the protagonists be highly capable women who target an over-the-top high fashion event full of self-absorbed socialites and actresses. Overall, I found it to be an enjoyable cinematic experience that provides mindless entertainment, but it falls short of the original Ocean’s 11 and its sequels that helped redefine the heist narrative.

Hotel Artemis

Written and directed by Drew Pearce who was one of the writers for 2013’s Iron Man 3 and 2015’s Mission: Impossible – Rogue Nation, Hotel Artemis is an entertaining and stylish action thriller with the hallmarks of a midnight B movie and a surprising all-star cast. Set in dystopian Los Angeles in the near future, the story revolves around a secret hospital for criminals that becomes the refuge for outlaws from the intense violent riots enveloping the entire city. The hospital, which is located on the top floor of a vintage old world hotel, is run by a rules-bound and efficient nurse, played by Oscar winner Jodie Foster in her first role since 2013. A large muscular orderly nicknamed Everest, played by Dave Bautista, is the only other person working at the futuristic hospital, and he is sometimes enlisted as the enforcer. On a particularly busy night, the Artemis is filled with a variety of dangerous criminals who only behave because of the rules enforced while in the hospital. It begins with a pair of bank robbers, one played by Emmy Award-winning actor Sterling K. Brown, who escaped a botched robbery while being pursued by the police. The other patients include a world-class assassin, played by Sofia Boutella, and a wisecracking criminal, played by Charlie Day. Things get increasingly complicated and violent with the arrival of the so-called Wolf King, played by Jeff Goldblum, who is the criminal overlord of Los Angeles and is accompanied by his obsequious son, played by Zachary Quinto. Foster’s character is trying to keep everyone happy and allow Hotel Artemis to continue running smoothly while she also has to deal with her anxiety deriving from the traumatic memory of losing her son. Overall, I found it to be an exciting and fun action flick that is notable for its unique vision of a dystopian future in which medical technology advances, but society as a whole collapses.

Super Troopers 2

super_troopers_two_ver2_xlgThe sequel to the 2001 cult comedy classic Super Troopers featuring the Broken Lizard comedic group, Super Troopers 2 is a ridiculously silly comedy that, like the original, is full of vulgar and very juvenile humor that tries to be nothing more than a more traditional slapstick comedy. The movie follows a group of former Vermont State Troopers who were fired after the shenanigans of the first film and are looking for a way to get back into law enforcement. The main characters are made up of the Broken Lizard comedy troupe: Jay Chandrasekhar playing Senior Trooper Arcot “Thorny” Ramathorn, Paul Soter playing Trooper Jeff Foster, Steve Lemme playing Trooper MacIntyre “Mac” Womack, Erik Stolhanske playing Trooper Robert “Rabbit” Roto, and Kevin Heffernan playing Trooper Rodney “Rod” Farva. The rather ludicrous plot involves the group of highly incompetent troopers led by Captain John O’Hagen, played by Golden Globe-nominated British actor Brian Cox, being recruited to help set up a new highway patrol station outside a small Canadian town transitioning into joining the United States after a border dispute between the two nations. They must take control from a group of three extremely stereotyped Canadian Mounties, including one played by Will Sasso of MADtv fame, who become engaged in prank war with the obnoxious American troopers. Many of the practical jokes that the characters play on one another are sometimes hilarious and almost always rely on gross-out and lowbrow humor that could be upsetting to some viewers. Over time, the ribald story becomes increasingly absurd with the appearance of the slick French-Canadian mayor Guy Le Franc, played by Rob Lowe, and a criminal organization smuggling drugs and a female version of Viagra outlawed in the United States. All of the Canadian characters are over-the-top composites of a stereotypical French-Canadian, complete with the different pronunciation of the word sorry and the notion that all Canadians are nice in addition to poking fun of the fact that some of them speak French and love hockey. Overall, I found it to be a mind-numbing comedy that furthers the stupidity of the original Super Troopers, which will definitely appease fans, that has its moments of uproarious hilarity fueled by some rather immature material.

7 Days in Entebbe

Seven daysDirected by Brazilian filmmaker José Padilha who is best known for 2007’s Elite Squad and producing the Netflix series Narcos, 7 Days in Entebbe is a fairly routine crime thriller hampered by a slow pace but noteworthy for its retelling of a truly remarkable true story. The movie is about the 1976 hijacking of Air France Flight 139 from Paris to Tel Aviv by a group of terrorists sympathetic to the Palestinian cause against Israel. Its primary focus is on the German terrorists Wilfried Böse, played by Daniel Brühl, and Brigitte Kuhlmann, played by Oscar nominee Rosamund Pike, who decide to join several other Palestinians to hijack an airliner in order to make demands in favor of the Palestinians. After overtaking the plane, they divert to Entebbe, Uganda whose ruthless dictator Idi Amin is pro-Palestinian will harbor the terrorists and the 248 passengers and crew members taken hostage. The characters spend most of the movie waiting for a response from the Israeli government while also showing the ideological differences between the German and Palestinian terrorists. At the same time, the film switches to providing an inside glimpse into the Israeli response led by the hawkish Minister of Defence Shimon Perez, played by Eddie Marsan, and the more moderate Israeli Prime Minister Yitzhak Rabin, played by Lior Ashkenazi. Furthermore, it also follows a few of the Israeli Defense Forces soldiers as they go about their daily lives in preparation for the climactic raid on the airport to free the hostages that occurred on July 4, 1976. In a creative twist, the movie begins and ends with a very dramatic modern dance performance that metaphorically represents the delicate dance of negotiating with terrorists and the highly choreographed military maneuvers involved in the raid. Overall, I found it to be a rather disappointing film that I had high expectations for as a result of its fascinating story; unfortunately, it was rather lacking in providing a gripping and gritty account of one of the most publicized terrorist acts in modern history.

Death Wish

death_wish_ver3_xlgThe sixth installment of the Death Wish movie franchise and a direct remake of the original released in 1974, Death Wish is an average action flick that relies heavily on the stale genre conventions of the revenge/vigilante action thriller and ultimately feels like an unnecessary exercise in re-creating the original movie starring Charles Bronson. An aging Bruce Willis plays Dr. Paul Kersey, a talented emergency surgeon living in Chicago, who one day becomes a vengeful vigilante after a home invasion leaves his wife Lucy, played by Elizabeth Shue, dead and his high school senior daughter Jordan, played by Argentinian model Camilla Morrone, comatose. Angry that the police led by Detective Kevin Raines, played by Dean Norris of Breaking Bad fame, is unable to fully investigate the crimes and identify the culprits, Dr. Kersey transforms into a typical Bruce Willis character who takes justice into his own hands and eventually discovers those responsible. He keeps his violent retaliations secret even from his brother Frank, played by Vincent D’Onofrio, and becomes known by the public as the Grim Reaper, either vilified as an unjustified killer or lionized as a justice warrior. Typical of the director Eli Roth’s oeuvre as a well-known horror filmmaker and producer of such films as 2005’s Hostel, the movie contains some graphically violent scenes that sensationalizes vicious acts involving weapons and overall brutality. Overall, I did not find it to be a particularly satisfying moviegoing experience and was underwhelmed by the simple premise of a revenge thriller that has been used far too many times; furthermore, the glorification of violence and assault rifles comes at a particularly bad time as a result of the recent mass shootings occurring just prior to the film’s release.

In the Fade

Winner of the 2018 Golden Globe Award for Best Foreign Language Film and directed by acclaimed Turkish-German filmmaker Fatih Akin, In the Fade is a terrific dramatic thriller remarkable for the superb acting performance from German actress Diane Kruger. The tragic story follows a German woman named Katja Sekerci, played by Kruger who is best known for her performance in the 2009 Quentin Tarantino film Inglourious Basterds, whose Kurdish husband Nuri and son Rocco are killed by a bomb placed outside her husband’s office in a predominantly Turkish neighborhood of Hamburg, Germany. Clearly ravaged by grief and anger, she all but gives up on her own life immediately following her family’s deaths and turns to using illicit drugs after the police insinuate that her convicted felon husband may have been murdered as part of his prior connection to the drug underworld. She also feels alienated from her parents and her in-laws who never really approved of their marriage as a result of their very different backgrounds. When the two young suspects with connections to the neo-Nazi movement are apprehended and put on trial, Katja who is represented by her lawyer friend Danilo becomes very involved with the trial in order to seek justice for her husband and son. She is promised several times by prosecutors and her lawyer and becomes convinced herself that the trial will end with easy murder convictions and possible life imprisonment for the racist couple. Towards the end of the movie, Katja heartbreakingly realizes that she may have to take her own revenge at a high cost outside the judicial system. Overall, the film through mesmerizing acting did an excellent job of portraying grief and loss and the emotional tumult and sheer anger experienced by those whose loved ones die through violent means. Diane Kruger’s emotionally raw and heartfelt performance really brings to life what it must be like to undergo incomprehensible heartbreak caused by the hands of those filled with hatred.