Directed by Academy Award-winning filmmaker and actor Clint Eastwood, The 15:17 to Paris is a well-intentioned movie remarkable for its use of the actual people that the true story is based upon but ultimately fails fairly miserably as a result of its poor writing and risky casting choices. The story revolves around a group of three American friends who unexpectedly become heroes while on a European vacation after they prevent a terrorist attack on a train from Amsterdam to Paris on August 21, 2015. We first meet Spencer Stone, Alek Skarlatos, and Anthony Sadler as troublesome middle schoolers at a Christian school in California where they become close friends interested in the United States military. The movie fast forwards several years later when the men, all played by themselves, are in their 20s still friends but living separate lives. It primarily focuses on Spencer who decides to join the Air Force in the Pararescue division and Alek who is deployed to Afghanistan as a soldier in the Oregon Army National Guard. In a rather lackluster build-up to the incident, we see all three friends join together on a stereotypical American vacation across Europe filled with drunken nights and sightseeing. The stilted dialogue does not really add much to a greater understanding of the moments leading up to their heroics. Also, the movie sometimes inexplicably switches back and forth between snippets of the action-packed train sequence and the rather mundane activities of their trip. Finally, towards the end, the movie reaches its climax when it details the men boarding a high-speed train from Amsterdam, the interlude as typical passengers, and the remarkable moments when they face off against a radical Islamic terrorist set on killing everyone aboard the train. Spencer makes the quick-fire decision to tackle the terrorist whose gun luckily jams, and a bloody fight ensues between the two men with Spencer sustaining injuries. At the same time, Alek and Anthony along with other brave passengers help to subdue the gunman until the train reaches its next stop where the police can take him into custody. Unquestionably an amazing story of courage, the creative use of the real people in a dramatized motion picture unfortunately backfires and does not really do justice to what happened. Overall, I found it to be a wasted opportunity to pay tribute to three American heroes who undoubtedly saved many lives; therefore, the story would have been better served by a documentary or a more conventional movie with real professional actors.
The final installment in The Maze Runner trilogy that was first released in 2014, Maze Runner: The Death Cure is a fairly typical action movie based on a series of young adult books about a dystopian future, reminiscent of the wildly successful Hunger Games franchise. The plot follows a group of young people led by Thomas, played by Dylan O’Brien, who are immune to a virus that has killed off much of humanity and become members of The Right Arm rebellion against the all-powerful organization known as WCKD who experiment and torture those who are immune to find a cure. Thomas along with characters Frypan and Newt, played by Thomas Brodie-Sangster, go against the orders of The Right Arm leaders Vince, played by Barry Pepper, and Jorge, played by Giancarlo Esposito of Breaking Bad fame, by breaking into the heavily fortified Last City, one of the few remaining uninfected cities and home to the headquarters of WCKD led by Patricia Clarkson’s character, to rescue one of their immune friends Minho. After meeting up with the resistance forces outside the city walls led by Lawrence, played by Walton Goggins, the group are reunited with their friend Gally, played by Will Poulter, who can help them fight their way in against the vicious leader of WCKD troops Janson, played by Aidan Gillen of Game of Thrones fame. They must also convince a previous member of the group Teresa who now works for WCKD to align with the rebels to undermine the malevolent organization. However, things get more complicated after Teresa discovers that Thomas may help lead to a cure for the deadly virus. Overall, I found it to be a somewhat entertaining film that helps pass the time but ultimately does not add much to the already bloated genre of young adult dystopian movies.
Written and directed by Dean Devlin who is best known for writing 1996’s Independence Day and 1998’s Godzilla, Geostorm is a ridiculous and cheesy movie that tries to be an epic blockbuster disaster film but largely fails through a combination of underwhelming writing and acting and a laughably improbable premise. The story involves the cataclysmic failure of a massive space satellite program created to control the weather that has increasingly become extreme as a result of climate change. Played by Gerard Butler, Jake Lawson is a brilliant scientist and the creator of the program known as Dutch Boy but is removed from his position as a result of his reckless behavior in front of American government officials. Several years later, with his brother Max, played by Jim Sturgess, as the head of the program, Dutch Boy is to be handed over to be controlled by an international coalition of climate scientists and government officials. However, the satellites controlled from the International Climate Space Station malfunctions and results in extreme weather events that kill hundreds of people and poses an existential threat of creating what is known as a geostorm, a massive storm enveloping the entire Earth. Jake reluctantly returns to the program to help investigate the problems and travels to the space station where he works with a female commander named Ute Fassbinder. Themselves in danger as the space station self-destructs, they begin to unravel a vast conspiracy that may involve the President of the United States, played by Andy Garcia, and the powerful Secretary of State who is played by Ed Harris. The film becomes a race against time as the Earth is beset by colossal tornadoes, flooding, and other natural disasters. After a while, the obviously CGI-enhanced disaster sequences become tedious as a result of the low quality visual effects used and the preposterous situations. The movie concludes with a overly dramatic climax in which some high-ranking officials prove to be untrustworthy for self-gain. Overall, I found it to be a rather generic disaster blockbuster that never really provided the necessary thrills for a truly entertaining experience. The film could actually have been somewhat interesting because of its timely premise about climate change and the science fiction solutions that could be used to fix such a massive issue. However, it never gets past the sloppy writing and acting skills that made the movie more of a comedic disaster.
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.
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.
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.
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.