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.
Written and directed by Golden Globe-nominated screenwriter Paul Schrader who is best known for 1976’s Taxi Driver, 1980’s Raging Bull, and 1988’s The Last Temptation of Christ, First Reformed is a first-rate drama exploring the complexities of religion, environmental issues, and self-reflection and is truly remarkable for the Oscar-worthy performance of Ethan Hawke. The plot follows the troubled Reverend Ernst Toller, played by Oscar nominee Ethan Hawke in perhaps his best role, who leads a very small congregation at an upstate New York Dutch Reform church that is about to celebrate its 250th anniversary. Struggling with alcoholism and past trauma, he finds little solace in his pastoral work and lives a lonely existence without practically any friends or family. His somber and quiet life changes course after meeting a pregnant parishioner named Mary, played by the terrific Amanda Seyfried, and her distraught husband who is an extremist environmental activist. While trying to navigate religious issues with Mary and her husband and coming to terms with the environment, the Reverend is under the guidance of his mother megachurch Abundant Life led by the influential Pastor Jeffers, played by Cedric the Entertainer in a very dramatic role, who has financial ties to the region’s largest polluter. The beautifully dark cinematography with a smaller aspect ratio and set during the depths of winter brilliantly underscores Reverend Toller’s quiet despair grappling with his own demons and conscience about the church’s involvement with what he sees as an immoral corporation. In the gripping climax towards the end of the movie, he contemplates committing a grievous act out of desperation and as his own form of environmental activism. Overall, I can say without any doubt that it is one of the best films of the year and Ethan Hawke’s mesmerizing acting should be universally applauded; therefore, I highly recommend the movie to true lovers of cinema.
Directed by critically acclaimed Scottish filmmaker Lynne Ramsay who is best known for 2011’s We Need to Talk About Kevin, You Were Never Really Here is a very dark and sometimes disturbing film remarkable for its gritty atmosphere and superbly dedicated performance from Joaquin Phoenix. It follows the violent exploits of hired gun Joe, played by Golden Globe winner Phoenix in one of his best performances, as he takes on one of his toughest jobs rescuing girls from the criminal underworld. A powerful New York State Senator enlists Joe through the middleman McCleary, played by John Doman, to rescue his young daughter Nina, played by terrific newcomer Ekaterina Samsonov, from an underage sex ring in New York City. Effectively portraying Joe’s descent into madness, a majority of the movie shows Joe walking through the rough streets of New York City beset by intense hallucinations and traumatic flashbacks the result of his serious PTSD. The uncomfortable moments of insanity are heightened through the random use of jarring imagery and discordant music and sound effects. Surprisingly, it is a slow burn story that focuses on Joe struggling with his mental issues while investigating the whereabouts of the girl, only interrupted by scenes of extreme and sometimes graphic violence. Joe is a truly complicated figure who dispassionately kills people in brutal fashion primarily using a hammer; however, his actions are somewhat justified because the people that he is viciously attacking are truly repugnant bad guys trafficking young girls. Over the course of the plot, things go horribly awry as he stumbles into a vast conspiracy involving the Governor and corrupt police officers who murder those closest to him. Overall, I found it to be an unpleasant yet mesmerizing cinematic experience notable for the realistic performance from Joaquin Phoenix and the uniquely brilliant filmmaking style of Lynne Ramsay; as fair warning, it is definitely not for the faint of heart.
Written by Tony Gilroy who is best known as the screenwriter for the Jason Bourne movie franchise first released in 2002, Beirut is a fairly typical espionage thriller set in the Middle East that is elevated by strong performances from the main cast and a uniquely complex script. Set in 1980s Beirut during the Lebanese Civil War, the story focuses on the former United States diplomatic officer Mason Skiles, played by the gruffly charismatic Jon Hamm in a Don Draper-esque performance, who must return to Lebanon a decade following the death of his family and departure from the Foreign Service. He learns that he is sent to Beirut following the kidnapping of his previously close friend Cal Riley, played by Mark Pellegrino, by a group of Islamic terrorists. While in-country investigating the crime and trying to rescue his estranged former coworker, he is handled by the undercover CIA operative Sandy Crowder, played by Rosamund Pike, in collaboration with State Department officials Donald Gaines, played by Dean Norris of Breaking Bad fame, and Gary Ruzak, played by Shea Whigham. Skiles eventually finds himself entangled in an intricate web of international diplomacy and espionage involving the Israelis, the Palestinians, and the religious factions fighting for control of Lebanon. He also discovers that not everyone is who they seem and that the whole mission is fraught with deceit and focused on the larger political picture of the Middle East. Strikingly reminiscent of the screenwriter’s earlier work with the Jason Bourne series, the movie has a gritty feel with its use of jumpy camerawork and moments of intense action underscored by a clever and somewhat complicated plot involving spies. Overall, I found it to be an entertaining movie that at times felt a little too complicated to be a stereotypical genre piece appealing to all audiences but was able to stay afloat primarily due to the strong acting.
Based on actual testimony and historical records, Chappaquiddick is a compelling glimpse into one of the many tragedies that befell the Kennedy family and effectively portrays the complexities of Senator Ted Kennedy as a result of Jason Clarke’s terrific performance. The film chronicles the horrific defining moment of a young Ted Kennedy, played by Jason Clarke, and his political career: the so-called Chappaquiddick Incident in which a young woman named Mary Jo Kopechne, played by Kate Mara, died after a car driven by Kennedy was involved in an accident. Attending a party on Chappaquiddick Island near Martha’s Vineyard with the “Boiler Room Girls” who worked for Senator Robert Kennedy’s presidential campaign before his assassination, Kennedy becomes close to the 28-year-old Mary Jo discussing his brother’s untimely death before driving her back to a hotel late at night on July 18, 1969. Still under mysterious circumstances, the car veers off a small bridge into a body of water where Mary Jo is trapped and ultimately drowns while Kennedy escapes unharmed. The movie then shifts to its central focus of showing the audience the lengths taken by such a powerful political dynasty as the Kennedy clan and their close allies to cover up the misfortunate incident that would have serious repercussions for Senator Kennedy’s presidential aspirations. Immediately after the wreck, Kennedy enlists the help of his cousin Joe Gargan, played by Ed Helms, and lawyer friend Paul Markham, played by Jim Gaffigan, who both attended that night’s party, to clean up the PR disaster that could lead to criminal charges by the local police department. Later, at the behest of his tough yet very sick father Joe Kennedy, played by Bruce Dern, a group of powerful lawyers are assembled to basically brush off the accident as simply another unfortunate Kennedy tragedy in which Ted Kennedy is not culpable for the death of Mary Jo. Attempting to give a fair balance to the horrific events, the filmmaker presents what Kennedy claimed to have happened as well as the narrative ascertained by the police investigations. Furthermore, Kennedy is vividly depicted as a complicated figure who felt immense guilt over what happened at the same time that he is attempting to put the whole situation in a better light in which he takes liberties with the truth to become the victim and keep his political career intact. Overall, I felt it to be a truly fascinating movie that tries to present an unvarnished account of one of the most consequential occurrences in the Kennedy saga after the assassinations of JFK and his brother Robert: many people may not remember that the beloved Senator Ted Kennedy, at least by many Democrats, was intricately involved in such a tragedy.
Directed 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.
Directed by Francis Lawrence who is best known for several of The Hunger Games films starring Jennifer Lawrence, Red Sparrow is a highly eroticized spy thriller aiming to become a prestige espionage film like 2011’s Tinker Tailor Soldier Spy and whose greatest asset is the acting performance from Oscar winner Jennifer Lawrence. Lawrence stars as a Russian ballerina named Dominika Egorova who suffers a career-ending injury and enlists, at the urging of her powerful uncle Ivan, played by Matthias Schoenaerts, as a Russian operative known as a red sparrow in order to support her sick mother. After her recruitment, the film uses a training montage to depict the brutal tactics, including using one’s sexuality to obtain valuable information from targets, she learns at a secret training facility run by the stone-faced character played by Oscar nominee Charlotte Rampling. Eventually, Dominika is sent to Budapest to uncover the identity of a Russian double agent working for the CIA and also to get close to the CIA agent Nate Nash, played by Joel Edgerton. Things begin to get complicated after she begins an intimate relationship with Nate and discovers that there may be other double agents at work for both the Russians and Americans. Overall, I found it to be a somewhat entertaining and stylized film, but it, unfortunately, fell short of my high expectations for a well-crafted intelligent espionage thriller suited for such a talented cast.