Review: The Last Full Measure

I really wish I could bestow high critical honors on The Last Full Measure because I totally support what it aims to do: share the story of a true American war hero and the decades-long effort to have his sacrifice acknowledged with a Congressional Medal of Honor. However… while the movie is inspired by actual events, it leans too heavily on character composites, over-dramatization, creative license, and one righteous speech after another by a cast of heavy-hitters. Christopher Plummer, William Hurt, Ed Harris, Samuel L. Jackson, Diane Ladd, the late Peter Fonda. Each delivers passionate dialogue that feels like something you’d see on a Memorial Day tribute to the nation’s fallen. Or a star-studded made for television movie. It feels exactly like what it is: a passion project that finally made it to the big screen as a low-budget indie. The key takeaway: U.S. Air Force Pararescue Jumper William H. “Pits” Pitsenbarger risked – and gave – his life to save dozens of men caught in an ambush in the jungles of Vietnam on April 11, 1966. He deserved a Congressional Medal of Honor, and his parents finally got to accept one on his behalf 34 years later. A very rare honor for an enlisted Airman.

Review: Citizen K

In his latest documentary award winning director Alex Gibney (Enron: The Smartest Guys in the Room, Taxi to the Dark Side) takes his audience into the world of the Russian oligarchs and their contentious relationship with Vladimir Putin. The citizen K of the title is Mikhail Khodorkovsky, who was at one time the richest man in Russian and one of the 7 oligarchs who controlled 50% of the country’s economy. They stepped in when the Soviet Union collapsed and took advantage of the vacuum, taking over the media, the oil industry and all the state’s most valuable assets. And they were flying high during the 90s, but when Putin came to power with their help, they expected that it would be business as usual. Boy, were they wrong!

Review: The Gentlemen

The Gentlemen is a stylish crime caper with writer/director Guy Ritchie’s fingerprints all over it. It’s very much a “Guy” movie – and a “guy movie”, with a splash of estrogen provided by Michelle Dockery (Downton Abbey) in some lethal-looking Christian Louboutin stilettos. She’s surrounded by an A-list cast of chaps including Matthew McConaughey, Charlie Hunnam, Henry Golding, Jeremy Strong, Eddie Marsan, Colin Farrell and Hugh Grant winding their way through a witty and wily narrative about drug syndicates, blackmail, bribery, murder and all-around mischievousness. The plot thickens, and thins, simmers and boils over to yield a dish that’s a bit messy, but still tastes good.

Review: What She Said: The Art of Pauline Kael

My first experience with reading film criticism was with my mother’s New Yorker magazines. Most of what was in the magazine was too highbrow for me as an adolescent, but the film reviews by Pauline Kael were such fun to read. She was opinionated and frequently went against the consensus of the other critics who were mostly male. She had a voice that set her apart, seeing films as if she were in the audience not separated from them. This new documentary made me appreciate her even more. She was a feminist, having fought to get her foot into the boys’ club that was the film critics’ world of the 50s and 60s. She had encyclopedic knowledge of movies and wasn’t afraid to say when she thought something was derivative or a filmmaker was being repetitive, something she saw a lot in the beloved “auteur” directors of the 60s. She was loved by many and hated by many others. But even the haters admitted that she was a hell of a writer!

Mini-review: A Patient Man

This one is so very indie. Not a recognizable big-name actor in sight. That’s sometimes a good thing. You don’t know where to look, who is the important person. Sadly in the case of this film, you wish there had been a more recognizable, better actor in the lead. For a thriller, it comes off as less than engaging because you never connect with the central character. I can’t tell you the particulars because, it’s is one of those films that the less you know going in, the better, since things unfold slowly as the story drops a clue here and there. But the gist is that a man is returning to work after having been in a horrible traffic accident and he’s trying to piece it all together. But he’s also trying to figure out who is to blame and how to punish them.

Review: Weathering with You

I’m not a big animation watcher, at least not of the big Disney/Pixar variety. But anime is a different story. Films like Spirited Away or Akira feel every bit as “real” as any live action film. The stories are complex and the visuals stunning. I haven’t watched many lately though. But I was happy to return to the genre with Weathering With You. It’s the story of a climate disaster and a teenage girl who has a mysterious power to fix it, alongside a love story set in Tokyo with a runaway boy. It’s a narrative that will probably resonate most with adolescents, but adults will certainly appreciate it for it’s jaw-dropping animation.

Review: Bad Boys For Life

“Bad boys, bad boys, whatcha gonna do…?” Gonna make a movie and a sequel or two.

It all began in 1995, with Bad Boys, starring Will Smith and Martin Lawrence as two Miami narcotics detectives who live by the motto, “Ride together. Die together.” Then came Bad Boys II in 2003, with more of the same. And now, there’s Bad Boys For Life, more of the same – again – with a slightly twistier twist than its immediate predecessor. In other words, you know what you’re in for with this franchise: Two longtime friends who drive each other crazy also have each others’ backs through a barrage of violence, comedy, drama, car chases, motorcycle chases, helicopter chases, bloodshed, bromance, and collateral damage.

Quickie Review: Dolittle

I often skip the “kids movies” since my nieces and nephews have aged out of them. But I will generally make an exception for animation, musicals and anything with Robert Downey Jr. Dolittle has the latter. After years of playing Iron Man, Sherlock Holmes, and other PG-13 and R-rated characters, Downey wanted to make something his younger kids could see. Thus, we have Dolittle – a sweet, harmless, sometimes goofy film reminiscent of the family-friendly comedy adventure films of my youth. It won’t displace the 1967 Rex Harrison version (with music!), or Eddie Murphy’s 1998 take on the classic tale; but for a new generation, this re-imagining of the doctor who can communicate with animals is superficially satisfactory. It’s got enough heart and animal shenanigans to entertain the kids and placate most of the adults in tow.

Review: Underwater

The most shocking thing to me about Underwater is that some critics are actually calling it entertaining and fast-moving. That may be true for the first half-hour of the 95-minute subterranean Alien-ripoff. But after that… it sinks into a murky morass devoid of any real plot, character development or geographic orientation. The film opens with electrical engineer Norah (Kristen Stewart, Charlie’s Angels, Twilight) brushing her teeth in the communal bathroom of an underwater laboratory and waxing poetic via voiceover about her angsty, cynical existence. Then something rocks the lab. It appears to be an earthquake (but we never find out for sure). Whatever the cause, it forces Norah to run for safety as water starts to infiltrate the lab, compromising the infrastructure. If there’s one thing you’ll learn off the bat, it’s that skimpy underwear may seem like a poor choice during an earthquake, but it comes in handy if you need to slip into a bulky pressurized suit to trek across the ocean floor.

Review: Just Mercy

Just Mercy is an infuriating and inspiring legal drama based on the true story of a man who spent six years on death row for a crime he didn’t commit, and the young, Harvard-educated lawyer who worked feverishly to get him sprung. That lawyer – Bryan Stevenson (Michael B. Jordan) – is not some long-dead legal eagle who won his case and faded into the sunset. He’s a champion of social justice who created the nonprofit Equal Justice Initiative in Alabama, and continues his crusade to this day to help the disenfranchised.