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.
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.
Based on the 2009 non-fiction book Horse Soldiers written by Doug Stanton, 12 Strong is a fairly typical war movie whose main strength is telling a fascinating true story about one of the first military operations in Afghanistan following the September 11th attacks. It follows a group of twelve United States Army Special Forces soldiers who are sent to Afghanistan on a covert mission known as Task Force Dagger in October 2001 to combat the Taliban harboring the al-Qaeda terrorist group responsible for the deadliest attack on American soil. The group known as Operational Detachment Alpha 595 within the elite 5th Special Forces Group are commanded by Captain Mitch Nelson, played by Chris Hemsworth, on his first leadership role in combat and is tasked with joining Afghan General Abdul Rashid Dostum and his Northern Alliance fighters. Their mission is to recapture the Taliban stronghold of Mazar-i-Sharif, a Northern Afghan city strategically vital to the Americans in the forthcoming war, and eliminate Taliban and al-Qaeda soldiers in the region. Once they arrive in Afghanistan, the American troops, including soldiers played by Oscar nominee Michael Shannon and Michael Peña, discover they are outnumbered by the Taliban heavily armored with tanks and rocket launchers. Earning their nickname the Horse Soldiers, the men are surprised to learn they must ride horses into combat due to the rough terrain. As to be expected from a Jerry Bruckheimer production, the film contains several well-coordinated and thrilling action sequences involving the Special Forces on horseback firing machine guns at the relentless Taliban and al-Qaeda forces. Overall, despite the talented cast and spectacular scenes of modern warfare, the movie never transcends the generic formula of an action flick as a result of the lack of character development and the bloated runtime. Unfortunately, it does not really do justice to the truly remarkable story of one of the first military responses to the terrorist attacks of September 11, 2001, an operation that up until recently was classified.
Directed by Academy Award-nominated filmmaker Paul Thomas Anderson who is best known for 1997’s Boogie Nights, 2007’s There Will Be Blood, and 2012’s The Master, Phantom Thread is a beautifully crafted arthouse film with outstanding acting performances, sumptuous cinematography, and a terrific script revolving around a rather unusual and evocative story. Set in 1950s London, the plot follows a famous couture dressmaker named Reynolds Woodcock, stupendously played by three-time Academy Award winner Daniel Day-Lewis, who lives a rather lonely and sheltered life obsessed with his work to make the finest dresses for the rich and famous. The only person he really shares his life with is his no-nonsense sister and fashion partner Cyril, played by British actress Lesley Manville, who insulates him from the harsh outside world and very much babies him to satisfy his peculiar habits. While eating at a restaurant near his country home, Reynolds becomes enamored with a beautiful young waitress named Alma, played by a revelation of a star Vicky Krieps, who he insists must go to dinner with him. Over time, she becomes his muse and is invited to live with him and his sister at their London fashion house where they embark on a rather unorthodox romantic relationship. As Alma gets closer and closer to Reynolds and learns more about the high fashion world, Cyril becomes weary of Alma and the disruption that she causes for her needy and obsessive compulsive brother. Throughout the film, the relationship between Alma and Reynolds fluctuates between emotionally and physically intimate and brutally distant as he focuses on his meticulous work making outfits. Underscoring their bizarre romance, the plot veers into unexpected territory with a puzzling ending. Daniel Day-Lewis, like his other equally terrific work over the years, delves deep into his role as evidenced by the realistic great care that his character takes for fashion and believably taking on the neuroses of his character. His mesmerizing performance is greatly enhanced by the talents of Paul Thomas Anderson who creates a beautifully meditative and emotionally delicate story with impressively detailed cinematography, musical scoring, and costuming. Overall, I found it to be a terrific work of art and a perfect ode to the fabulous Daniel Day-Lewis in what may be his last acting role.
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.
A follow-up to the successful 2014 original film based on the classic British children’s character Paddington Bear created by Michael Bond, Paddington 2 is a wonderful children’s movie appealing to all ages with an abundance of charm in storytelling and visuals that makes for a feel-good moviegoing experience. Taking place several years after becoming a member of the Brown family in London, the plot revolves around the lovable talking bear Paddington, voiced by Ben Whishaw, trying to find the perfect gift for his Aunt Lucy back in Peru but somehow finds himself entangled in a mysterious crime. He discovers at an antique shop run by his friend Samuel Gruber, played by Oscar winner Jim Broadbent, a marvelous pop-up book about London landmarks and decides to take out several odd jobs to pay for the expensive book as a birthday gift for his beloved Aunt Lucy. However, the pop-up book is stolen by a mysterious thief, and Paddington is accused and convicted of the crime. He is sent to prison where he befriends several inmates, including the cook known as Nuckles and played by Golden Globe nominee Brendan Gleeson. In several funny scenes, Paddington helps to bring cheerfulness to the prison with a large helping of his favorite food: marmalade sandwiches. His human family headed by insurance agent Henry Brown, played by Hugh Bonneville of Downton Abbey fame, and the sweet Mary Brown, played by Oscar nominee Sally Hawkins, try to solve the theft in order to prove Paddington’s innocence. Suspicions are raised about a local narcissistic actor named Phoenix Buchanan, played by a superbly villainous Hugh Grant, who has an unusual habit of dressing up as his most famous costumed characters. Once Paddington and the Browns discover the true culprit, they are led on a wild goose chase brimming with British charm and wit. Somewhat reminiscent of a Wes Anderson production, the filmmakers pay great attention to detail in creating stereotypically British and whimsical sets and an overall cute atmosphere. Overall, I thought it was a magical and clever movie with a heartfelt story and full of excellent British actors that feels quintessential British and is overflowing with lighthearted charm.
Directed by Scott Cooper who is best known for 2009’s Crazy Heart and 2015’s Black Mass, Hostiles is a beautifully shot Western with terrific acting performances from the main protagonists and provides a more nuanced view of the violent struggles between Native Americans and the American government. Set in 1892 at the height of the Indian Wars, the story follows U.S. Army Captain Joseph Blocker, played by Oscar winner Christian Bale, who is ordered to take the recently imprisoned Cheyenne war chief Yellow Hawk, played by the wonderful Cherokee actor Wes Studi, and his family back to their home in Montana. Blocker who is notorious for his brutal tactics against Native Americans is at first very hesitant to follow orders to help an Indian who was responsible for the death of several of his comrades in the past. Accompanied by a group of other American soldiers, the group are unexpectedly joined by Rosalie Quaid, terrifically played by Rosamund Pike, whose family was just brutally murdered by a group of Comanche in New Mexico. Along the perilous journey, the party must grapple with the violence and injustices perpetrated by both white Americans and Native Americans. Both sides have lost many lives, and the usually hardline Captain Blocker eventually comes to terms with the fact that the United States’ vicious and sustained campaign against Native Americans may have caused many of the problems between the two fighting groups. The challenges shared by everyone on the expedition helps create bonds between Blocker and his soldiers, Yellow Hawk and his family, and Quaid despite their justifiably grave misgivings about each other. Although there are several violent episodes, most of the film is almost a meditative experience for the characters as they cross spectacular Western scenery on horseback and come to understand one another. Overall, I found it to be a well-crafted movie with some of the most beautiful cinematography and gives a very important message about reconciliation between enemies during a very violent point in American history.