The 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.
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.
Directed by Jaume Collet-Serra best known for 2016’s The Shallows and collaborating with Liam Neeson on such action thrillers as 2014’s Non-Stop, The Commuter is a fairly typical action thriller in the spirit of Liam Neeson’s Taken movie series that does not really add much to the genre. Oscar nominee Liam Neeson plays an insurance agent named Michael MacCauley who finds himself mixed up in criminal intrigue on his daily train commute back home from Manhattan. He meets a mysterious woman named Joanna, played by Oscar nominee Vera Farmiga, who promises him $100,000 if he finds a particular person she is looking for that is out of place on the train. While interacting with several other people he has gotten to know over their daily commutes, including Walt who is played by Jonathan Banks of Breaking Bad fame, Michael surreptitiously tries to uncover the person he is tasked with finding. Similar to other action movies starring Liam Neeson, he uses a particular set of skills to fight much younger men and race against time before Joanna and the secret organization she works for harms his wife and teenage son. Eventually, towards the end of the movie, he discovers a criminal conspiracy in which not everyone is as they seem, and he himself is suspected to be a criminal or terrorist by authorities, including two police officers played by Patrick Wilson and Sam Neill who Michael knew when he was a NYPD detective. Overall, I found it to be a mediocre and silly action thriller that is good to pass the time with an entertaining performance from Liam Neeson but ultimately fails to transcend the stale stereotypes of an action flick.
Directed by Oscar-nominated filmmaker Ridley Scott who is best known for 1979’s Alien, 1982’s Blade Runner, 2000’s Gladiator, and 2015’s The Martian, All the Money in the World is a well-crafted and gripping thriller about the kidnapping of a grandson of one of the world’s wealthiest men in the 20th century. The story takes place in 1973 when the 16-year-old grandson of billionaire oil businessman J. Paul Getty, terrifically played by Academy Award winner Christopher Plummer who replaced the disgraced Kevin Spacey only one month before release, is taken hostage by an Italian criminal organization in Rome. They ask for a ransom of $17 million for the life of J. P. “Paul” Getty III, played by Charlie Plummer, from his mother Gail Harris, played by the brilliant Academy Award nominee Michelle Williams, who is now divorced from Getty’s troubled son. Without a financial settlement from the divorce and without help from her former father-in-law, she is distraught because she does not have the money to save her son’s life. As a result, she has no other recourse but to ask Getty who she greatly despises to help pay the ransom, but he refuses as a ruthless tactic to avoid having his other grandchildren being kidnapped and costing him money. The movie portrays Getty as a vicious tycoon who will do anything to keep his money even though he is worth over a billion dollars. To avoid paying a single penny, he eventually enlists a former CIA operative and negotiator for Getty Oil named Fletcher Chase, played by Mark Wahlberg, to figure out a way to free Paul from his captors. Chase is also told to remain in contact with Gail about the kidnapping and report everything back to Getty. The best moments of the film show Getty making rather brutal comments about his family and apparent lack of interest in helping his grandson and much hated former daughter-in-law even while he continues to spend millions of dollars on his art collection. To further illustrate the cruelty of Getty, the story dramatically captures the anguish and anger of Gail while her son is wasting away partly as a result of her former father-in-law’s actions. As Chase and the authorities get closer and closer to finding Paul and capturing his kidnappers, the movie evolves into more of a standard crime thriller full of riveting chases and shootouts. Overall, I found it to be a quite entertaining and truly fascinating film full of top-notch acting performances and thrills about a story I really did not know much about and am now quite surprised that the unbelievable true story has not been made into a movie earlier.
Directed by Martin McDonagh best known for 2008’s In Bruges, Three Billboards Outside Ebbing, Missouri is a terrific film with a stellar cast that expertly blends dark comedy with drama. Set in a small town in Missouri, the movie follows Mildred Hayes, played brilliantly by Oscar winner Frances McDormand, as she tries to find justice for the murder and rape of her daughter several months prior. A force not to be reckoned with, she hatches a plan to rent three abandoned billboards outside of town that directly question the police’s inability to find the culprit. A darkly funny tit-for-tat fight erupts between Mildred and the rest of the townsfolk who are sympathetic to the local police department and Chief Bill Willoughby, played by the always great Woody Harrelson. Things do not get any better with the intervention of the dim-witted and often racist Officer Jason Dixon, played wonderfully by Sam Rockwell, who does not always follow the law in protecting his chief and making sure Mildred removes the incriminating billboards. The issue over the billboards rapidly escalates into violence primarily as a result of the strong-willed and stubborn Mildred who does anything in order to avenge her daughter’s gruesome death. Even as Chief Willoughby is going through his own serious personal problem, she squarely blames the police department for not doing enough to find the perpetrator. To no avail, Mildred’s son Robbie, played by Oscar nominee Lucas Hedges, and her abusive ex-husband, played by Oscar nominee John Hawkes, insist she stop with all the shenanigans in order to prevent further shame to the family. However, she does have some strange bedfellows who encourage her, including the local slick used car salesman who happens to be a little person and excellently portrayed by Peter Dinklage. Although the background story is dramatic and depressing with it involving a rape and murder of a teenage girl, the filmmaker is remarkably able to bring some levity to the situation and allow the audience to laugh at some rather uncomfortable yet ridiculous moments of macabre humor. Overall, I found it to be one of the best films of the year because it contains such brilliant acting performances and is somehow able to effectively mix very real drama with perfectly timed dark comedy.
Directed by Kenneth Branagh who is best known for his work in Shakespeare plays and film adaptations, Murder on the Orient Express is a stylish adaptation of the classic 1934 Agatha Christie novel of the same name and later adapted into a critically acclaimed movie in 1974. It feels very much like a modern update to the murder mystery genre and is jam-packed with an all-star cast, but the film largely does not live up to its predecessor and the novel itself. The always terrific Academy Award nominee Kenneth Branagh stars as Hercule Poirot, a brilliant and eccentric Belgian detective who is a recurring character in Christie’s books. While on a break between cases in the winter of 1934 in Istanbul, he is recruited to investigate a case in the UK and is offered a ticket on the world-famous luxury train the Orient Express headed to Calais, France in order to quickly reach his destination. He, along with thirteen strangers, mostly keep to themselves on an uneventful first leg of the journey. The first few scenes on the train introduce the audience to the passengers ranging from a governess, a professor, a duchess, a secretary to a mobster and are played by such famous faces as Willem Dafoe, Judi Dench, Johnny Depp, Penelope Cruz, Michelle Pfeiffer, Josh Gad, Daisy Ridley, Leslie Odom Jr., and Derek Jacobi. Things rapidly become chaotic after the Orient Express is stranded after an avalanche and a body is discovered in one of the cabins. Detective Hercule Poirot is then enlisted to help solve the murder before the train reaches its next destination. With unique cinematography, including overhead shots and long panning shots, and sumptuous detailing of the original Orient Express and 1930s costumes and decor, the meticulous detective interrogates all the passengers and tries to piece together the evidence to discover the culprit. The best part of the movie is Branagh’s portrayal of the charismatic and mysterious Poirot and the fascinating ways he is able to solve the murder mystery, all the while interacting with a terrific ensemble cast. Overall, I found it to be an enjoyable and beautifully shot movie that does not reach perfection as a result of its bloated cast, sometimes too slow pacing, and attempt to revitalize an already beloved classic murder mystery novel and film.
Directed by George Clooney, Suburbicon is a strange movie mixing satire, murder mystery, and racial social commentary that ultimately fails its great potential with such a stellar cast of actors and famous writers and director. Going into the movie, I was fully prepared for a zany and eccentric experience since it is partly written by Joel and Ethan Coen, both highly-skilled writers and filmmakers known for oddball humor and satire. The movie starts like a stereotypical vintage infomercial for a bizarrely exaggerated picturesque and quiet suburban community with a 1950s-sounding narrator and imagery associated with that era. I was almost immediately reminded of the 1998 movie Pleasantville, which effectively captured the 1950s and was mostly shot in black-and-white. We first meet the protagonist Gardner Lodge, played by Matt Damon, who appears to be a gentle and normal middle class suburban father and husband in the relatively new predominantly white town of Suburbicon. Coinciding with the first African-American family moving into the community, much to the consternation of the white neighbors, Gardner, his wife Rose, played by Julianne Moore, their young son Nicky, and Rose’s twin sister Margaret, also played by Julianne Moore, are robbed by two mysterious strangers. Rose who is bound to a wheelchair after a recent car accident is subsequently killed during the robbery. Gardner, in a peculiar calm fashion, tries to return to a life of normalcy and asks Margaret to stay and help with raising Nicky. Reinforcing that not all is well in the seemingly perfect Suburbicon, the residents’ hatred and problems arise as their discomfort with the black family becomes a race riot. With such chaos surrounding them, suspicions about the robbery and Rose’s death are raised by the police and the life insurance company Gardner is trying to collect from his wife’s death. To make matters worse, a slick insurance agent named Bud Cooper, played by Oscar Isaac, arrives at the Lodge residence aggressively investigating the life insurance claim and if the death of Rose was orchestrated to defraud the insurance company for money. Chaos rapidly engulfs this supposedly idyllic town where everybody gets along, and the increasingly violent acts expose the hypocrisy and true nature of the residents, especially Gardner and Margaret. Unexpectedly, the movie becomes predominately a murder mystery almost immediately after the satirical opening act and does not have as much dark comedy as the promotional material would have you believe. Overall, I thought that the film tries too hard to blend several genres together to provide biting social commentary, and, unfortunately, fails to capitalize on the terrific talent involved and thereby becomes a wholly different movie than expected.