Currently browsing posts by Hannah Buchdahl.

American Pastoral

American Pastoral starts off strong, then takes a turn down a very long, dark and twisted road that I was more than ready to exit by the end of the film’s 108 minute running time. It felt much longer. The film is based on a 1997 Philip Roth novel that tells the story – over several decades – of Seymour “Swede” Levov (Ewan McGregor), a man who seems to have it all: He excels in sports at his New Jersey high school, becomes a successful businessman, marries a beauty queen, Dawn (Jennifer Connelly), and builds a seemingly idyllic life for himself and his family in a small town outside Newark. But his daughter Merry (Dakota Fanning) is a nut job. She gets mixed up with a bunch of radicals in the turbulent 1960s and disappears after being accused of a murderous act. Dawn has a breakdown, then a facelift, and seems content to never see Merry again. But Swede refuses to give up on his beloved daughter and embarks on a years-long quest to find her. The journey takes a heavy toll on Swede – and the audience.

The Accountant

There’s a whole lot going on in The Accountant, but somehow it all adds up to a surprisingly entertaining action movie with an interesting story, some well-timed comic relief, and a very strong cast. So don’t let the odd premise — of a brilliant but socially-awkward numbers-crunching assassin with Asperger’s — scare you away. It’s one of my favorite movies of the year for sheer mainstream movie appeal, easily besting last week’s highly-anticipated drama The Girl on the Train.

The Girl on the Train

Forgive me if I call this one Gone Girl on the Train. But comparisons will be made, and understandably so, between The Girl on the Train and 2014’s Gone Girl. Both are crime drama thrillers based on popular novels by Paula Hawkins and Gillian Flynn respectively. Both feature strong performances. And both do a decent job remaining faithful to the source material. So if you liked the book(s) and the genre, then rest assured there’s plenty to like about The Girl on The Train (though honestly, if I had to choose, I’d give Gone Girl the edge).


I hate to get political in a review, but it’s hard to watch Denial and not think about what’s happening in the current election cycle. A guy with an inflated ego and a propensity for spouting lies and crazy theories manages to convince others that he is being wronged. Sound familiar? That’s sort of what happens in Denial. The film is based on the true story of a legal battle between American historian Deborah Lipstadt (Rachel Weisz) and British historian David Irving (Timothy Spall). In 1996, Irving sued Lipstadt for libel after she called him a liar in her book, “Denying the Holocaust”. Irving claimed the Holocaust never happened, and that the gas chambers at Auschwitz were merely storage units, or used for disinfection. Uh-huh. You’d think that with history and truth on Lipstadt’s side, the law would be too. But it’s not that simple, especially in London, where the burden of proof is on the defense, i.e. Lipstadt.


Masterminds is another movie based on a true story. But unlike the intense new action drama Deepwater Horizon, Masterminds plays for laughs. It’s a bizarre comedy directed by Jared Hess (Napoleon Dynamite; Nacho Libre) that recounts one of the largest bank heists in U.S. history: the 1997 Loomis Fargo robbery in North Carolina. Zach Galifianakis plays David Ghantt, a gullible schlub whose ‘work crush’ Kelly (Kristin Wiig) convinces him to use his position as an armored-car driver to pull off the ultimate inside job. David steals 17 million dollars and turns most of it over to the yahoos who masterminded the heist and set him up to take the fall.

Deepwater Horizon

Deepwater Horizon is a well-cast but fairly standard disaster movie that attempts to put a human face on the worst oil disaster in U.S. history. On April 20, 2010, an explosion rocked the offshore oil rig Deepwater Horizon (owned by Transocean and operated by BP) during a drilling operation in the Gulf of Mexico, triggering an environmental disaster that sent an estimated 210 million gallons of oil sweeping and seeping its way to the shores of Louisiana and beyond. The movie, “inspired by the true story”, isn’t so much about the environmental impact or the blame game that ensued, but rather about the human toll. We are reminded that eleven people died that day (their remains never found), and that among the victims and survivors were untold stories of bravery and heroism.


Storks delivers. Okay, now that I’ve gotten that over-used pun out of the way, I’ll move on. The movie is a solid, entertaining animated flick that will keep kids engaged without boring adults to tears. It’s not as good as Zootopia, but it’s way better than the likes of The Wild Life, Ratchet and Clank, Norm of the North, and other animated misfires lobbed at us this year, and I personally liked it better than The Secret Life of Pets. Storks relies on a solid formula of good story, wacky adventure, quirky characters, and a sweet exploration of the true meaning of friends and family. Awwwwww.

Queen of Katwe

Queen of Katwe is a feel-good movie, typical of what we’ve come to expect from a Disney sports drama based on a true story. The “drama” is a bit limited considering the sport is chess. But the story itself is interesting and inspiring, and delivers a good message for girls and boys – and adults as well – about discipline, mental toughness, and overcoming adversity. The movie is based on an ESPN article and book about Phiona Mutesi (Madina Nalwanga), a young girl from the slums of Katwe, Uganda who beat the odds to become an international chess champion.

Bridget Jones’s Baby

Welcome back, Bridget. As sequels go, this movie is entertaining enough to satisfy most fans of the franchise that chronicles the life of an insecure single woman in London trying to find her place in the world, personally and professionally. As Bridget Jones’s Baby opens, we find Bridget (Renée Zellweger) celebrating her 43rd birthday in somewhat pathetic fashion, with a bottle of wine and a cupcake with a candle in it. She’s now at her ideal weight and is doing well career-wise, as a news producer. But in the romance department, she’s still (or again?) struggling. A free-spirited co-worker (Sarah Solemani) takes Bridget on a ‘glamping’ trip where Bridget literally falls for the first guy she meets, Jack (Patrick Dempsey, aka McDreamy), and they have a one-night stand. Fast-forward a few days and Bridget runs into her old flame Mark (Colin Firth). The two, um, reconnect. Next thing you know, Bridget discovers that she is pregnant. Who’s the Daddy? No spoilers here…


This movie is like Tom Hanks himself – a celebration of the everyman, in this case, Captain Chesley “Sully” Sullenberger (Hanks), the US Airways pilot who was thrust into the limelight by a confluence of gut instinct and really good luck that culminated in the so-called “Miracle on the Hudson” on January 15, 2009. Sully and first officer Jeff Skiles (Aaron Eckhart) were justifiably hailed as heroes in the aftermath of that incident for their ability to remain incredibly calm and composed as they “landed” their Airbus A320 in the middle of the Hudson River after a bird strike took out both engines shortly after take-off from New York’s LaGuardia Airport. Miraculously, all 155 souls on board the plane that day survived. We all saw it, either live or on constant televised replay… dramatic images of commuter boats and first-responders in helicopters plucking scores of passengers from the wings of the aircraft. And therein lies the problem with Sully. It’s hard to get overly-invested in the drama when you know everything works out in the end. So while director Clint Eastwood makes an admirable attempt to tell an interesting, lesser-known story about the subsequent investigation by FAA and NTSB desk jockeys and computer-simulated recreations devoid of the “human factor”, all that really matters is the 208 seconds that had passengers and crew heeding the Captain’s call to “brace for impact!” and flight controllers on the ground fearing the worst when the plane drops off their radar. It’s dramatic stuff for sure. But you can only replay 208 seconds so many times in a movie that stretches to hit a 95-minute running time.