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Rosewater, directed by Jon Stewart (who also wrote the screenplay) presents the real-life story of Iranian journalist Maziar Bahari. Bahari wrote the book that Stewart based the screenplay on. The story that’s told is of how Bahari was accused of being a spy and was detained by Iranian forces that interrogated him, tortured him, and threatened him after an appearance he made on The Daily Show with Jon Stewart. I regularly watched The Daily Show and saw the episodes of the show as his story unfolded.
It all started with a segment on the show hosted by Jason Jones as he grilled Bahari (jokingly, of course) about being a spy. The segment was obviously a joke to everyone that saw it; well, almost everyone with the exception of the Iranian government who weren’t in on the joke and who apparently have zero sense of humor. After his appearance on the show, Bahari was arrested at his mother’s home as he was visiting Iran working as a writer for Newsweek. Interestingly, the Iranian government considered Newsweek to be a propaganda tool (can’t really argue that too much) and Bahari a threat since he worked for them.
The film mostly covers Bahari’s time when he was detained as well as the events that led to his detainment and what he had to do to finally be released. Bahari had a pregnant wife that lived in NY that had to suffer through this ordeal as did his mother and the rest of his family and friends. Speaking of which, his loved ones started campaigns for his release and his wife spoke very publicly about the unfairness of his situation, much to the chagrin of the Iranian government who at one point tried to force Bahari to try to “control” his wife’s commentary to the public.
After 5 months of being incarcerated, beaten and tortured, Bahari was finally released. Soon after, he found himself back on The Daily Show with a completely shocked Jon Stewart whose show inadvertently led to this incredible situation in the first place.
This film was tragically overlooked in the theaters. It’s compelling, well written and directed, Stewart’s style includes some high-tech moments that illustrate Twitter’s importance to the process of Bahari being released adding a nice extra slick layer to the production. The actors are great too, Gael Garcia Bernal plays the lead as Bahari with passion and intelligence alongside some engrossing performances by Kim Bodnia, Haluk Bilginer, Shohreh Aghdashloo, and Claire Foy.
Rosewater is on Netflix and it’s worth your time.
reviewed by Sean McKnight
Another installment in the Coen Brothers collection of films, Burn After Reading turns out to be their version of a spy film (of sorts, it is a Coen Bros. film after all). And since it’s a film by the brothers Coen, it’s got the rich, great characters you’ve come to present when they put their brains together and come up with another masterful piece to their body of work.
I will add that the film isn’t as dark and sinister as No Country for Old Men, nor is it quite as quirky as The Big Lebowski, Burn After Reading falls somewhere between the 2 in terms of it’s degree of both quirky and dark. Starting with the demotion of ex-CIA agent Osborne Cox (played by John Malkovich) while exposing the affair his wife is having and eventually intertwining with a blackmail scheme from a couple of bumbling gym-employees, the film is expertly woven together through the antics of some really rich, intriguing characters.
One of the things I love about Coen films is those unexpected out-of-nowhere moments. I won’t reveal any of them in this film because that’s part of the fun of the ride. But (SPOILER ALERT), a prime example from No Country for Old Men is when Woody Harrelson’s character gets shot by Javier Bardem. There are numerous moments like that in here, one surprisingly blunt and grisly. The style of the directors also doesn’t allow overuse of those sucker-punch moments but allows some building to take place beforehand so you don’t see them coming, and considering their infrequency you tend to appreciate them all the more.
The lineup is a laundry list of amazing talent who all just crush their roles. You can tell actors like working with these guys as the talent always brings it’s A game to their films. The impressive lineup includes: George Clooney, Frances McDormand, Brad Pitt, Tilda Swinton, Richard Jenkins, J.K. Simmons and Elizabeth Marvel.
If you’re a fan of the quirky, compelling work of the Coens, be sure to give Burn After Reading a viewing.
reviewed by Sean McKnight
A story of espionage, double-crosses, and revenge, The November Man has it all in there wrapped in this slickly produced action-thriller. Sure, it’s a story we’ve seen before, but the film is well done, intriguing and entertaining overall.
Pierce Brosnan stars as CIA agent Devereaux who becomes a pawn in a political game between the country he used to serve and an old rival from the past. Even though he’s in a spy capacity, there’s no remnant of Brosnan’s days as James Bond. He’s not the suave, smooth agent with the seductive accent and demeanor he’s known for. In this film, he’s got an American accent (although his real accent slips in from time to time, which I found a little distracting), his character is rough, drinks a lot, and is more tough guy and less so sexy secret agent.
The story itself follows Devereaux as he answers the call to come to the aid of a fellow agent (and former lover) only to find out there are ulterior motivations to his involvement. His former partner is pitted against him as the story unravels creating more confusion, tension and subtext as the main premise plays out. The film builds to a satisfactory (albeit predictable) conclusion making the film worth a snowy night in with some popcorn.
Aside from the slipping accent, Brosnan plays his role well as does the rest of the cast. My only complaint was with Mediha Musliovic who plays Natalia Ulanova, Devereaux’s former lover. Unfortunately she comes off as trying a bit too hard in an almost soap opera-ish degree of delivery with her performance. The other actors are more subtle and effective by comparison. The llineup includes Luke Bracey, Olga Kurylenko, Bill Smitrovich, Will Patton, Lazar Ristovski and Amila Terzimehic.
If you enjoy thrillers that include plenty of action, political intrigue, peppered in with some drama, check out The November Man.
reviewed by Sean McKnight
Told in a mockumentary style, What We Do in the Shadows showcases the life of 3 vampire roommates as they go through everyday life. In a very original, and very funny presentation, this film re-invigorates the vampire and mockumentary genres by mashing them together.
From New Zealand, Jemaine Clement and Taika Waititi star in the film as well as serve as writers and directors. Clement’s name may seem familiar from his HBO show Flight of the Conchords that also included Rhys Darby (the Conchords manager) who plays the role of Anton the werewolf in this film.
The “story” centers around the roommates Viago, Deacon and Vladislav who, due to conflicts earlier in the film are in search of a new roommate. They vary in age from 183 to 8,000 years old and they have troubles as vampires do with things like not having any mirrors so they have to draw each other when trying to make wardrobe decisions. Their clothing by the way is wildly outdated, so they stick out a bit when out in public. There are some additional (and hysterical) obstacles that get in their way, such as not being able to get into a nightclub unless they’re invited in, encroaching on their night-life so to speak…
I don’t want to give the rest away as it’s really something you should see for yourself. The last gag I’ll point out is one of the roommates gets particularly upset at their apartment getting messy from another roommate hitting an artery while feeding on a victim. The film is really clever and unique that way.
Be sure to check out What We Do in the Shadows.
To parallel the release of Tarantino’s Hateful 8, Adam Sandler presents The Ridiculous 6, the first film through his deal with Netflix. Speaking of which, the film recently broke a record for being the most-watched movie opening in Netfilx history. This is a great success both for Netflix and Sandler whose work has been wavering a bit theatrically.
As for the film itself, it’s what you would expect from Adam Sandler although this one’s a bit better than some of his more recent faire. Some of his films lately have been very formulaic where this one is a bit more original and fun. A western surrounding 6 brothers from the same outlaw father, Sandler plays a man raised by indians sent on a quest reuniting his family and saving their father. Along the way, the brothers must raise money to save their father by stealing from the bad guys of the west. And of course, antics ensue.
There’s plenty of slap sticky moments (I was raised on The 3 Stooges and Abott and Costello so I have an appreciation for this brand of humor), as well as silly dialog and visuals. Sandler plays his white man with Indian powers straight and tough, he’s no Clint Eastwood but that’s probably on purpose. One of the more fun portrayals from the acting standpoint is (believe or not) Taylor Lautner. His portrayal of the simpleton brother Lil’ Pete is pretty damn funny and very consistent, he really gets lost in the role and excels in his delivery of it. All of the actors involved bring enjoyable, engaging performances to the screen. Funnily enough, the most ridiculous thing about the film is the amount of recognizable names in it. The lineup itself is jam packed with talent including Terry Crews, Jorge Garcia, Rob Schneider, Luke Wilson, Will Forte, Steve Zahn, Harvey Keitel, Nick Nolte, Jon Lovitz, Whitney Cummings, David Spade, Danny Trejo, Nick Swardson, Blake Shelton, Julia Jones, Steve Buscemi, Norm MacDonald, Chris Kattan, and Vanilla Ice as Mark Twain??
The story itself is somewhat predictable but has some a-ha moments as well such as the brothers stumbling upon Abner DoubleDay (John Turturro) as he is inventing the game of Sticky McSchnickens (baseball). The ending takes an unexpected left turn as well, which was nice to see that Sandler still challenges himself as a writer. Nicely directed and produced, it’s not a sweeping epic of the west but the film has some really nice visual moments and humorous use of effects.
Overall, if you like Sandler and the types of films he produces, you’ll probably get a kick of The Ridiculous 6, presented in 4K!
reviewed by Sean McKnight
Wishful Drinking is a documentary based on the life of Carrie Fisher; the film isn’t so much a documentary as it’s really a recording of her hit stage show. Fisher is best known for her role in Star Wars as Princess Leia, but you won’t get a lot of Star Wars here so if that’s what you’re looking for, you might be disappointed. Personally, I enjoyed this performance as what the material does cover is Fisher’s life which to say the least, has been colorful…
The overview of this is a history of Carrie Fisher including growing up with celebrity parents who married and re-married multiple times, to being merchandised as a sex doll (yes, there is a Princess Leia sex doll), to her battles with addiction and much more. Her story is delivered with the flair of someone who’s been-there-done-that many times over and probably isn’t shocked by much these days. Fisher’s demeanor is mostly upbeat and tongue-in-cheek, while occasionally being cynical mixed in with a little bitter but without hovering there for too long.
The details of her life and the stories surrounding it are what Hollywood movies are made from such as the film about Fisher and her mother Debbie Reynolds in Postcards from the Edge. Watching this performance and hearing what she lived through made me appreciate her much more as a resilient person and entertaining storyteller. Not too many people are “invited” to a psychiatric hospital, are re-created as a Pez dispenser, get to star in one of the biggest film series of all time, and are listed as an example in a abnormal psychology textbook.
With all the Star Wars fervor presently hitting the fever pitch it’s hitting, it seemed like a cool idea to review this doc and shed some light on one of the humans behind the legend. I’m glad I did, it gave me a chance to know more about the real Carrie Fisher and just how cool she is beyond the galaxy far, far away.
reviewed by Sean McKnight
So I’ve been thinking about this one for awhile. You have to understand dear reader that this series of movies has been very important to me as the original Episode IV: A New Hope was the film that made me want to become a filmmaker. Then I heard J.J. Abrams was involved and my heart sank as I am not a fan of his work. Unfortunately some of J.J.’s stink is on the film in the form of various problems I recognize from his other work but the good and bad of it certainly doesn’t rest on his shoulders alone. Don’t forget that the producers and executive producers have the power…
Rant aside, I place this film 5th on my list of favorite Star Wars films. Unfortunately for each good point of the movie, there’s a sore point, but still it is a Star Wars film, so there ya go. Here’s the good and bad of it:
The script itself is mediocre at best. It has some interesting aspects for example (don’t worry, I won’t be revealing any spoilers in this review): the story picks up 30 years after Return of the Jedi, so there are some interesting nods to the history throughout the script. There are also some new, mysterious characters who we don’t know much about yet, but I found intriguing. And, there a few left turns, but not many and that’s the beginning of the bad…
The script overall is wildly un-original. It’s almost like a reboot in Obi-Wan’s clothing. It’s very much New Hope and Jedi told again, almost beat-for-beat. We even have a villain that has the same respiratory gasp as his predecessor. There’s a lot of lazy writing and convenient plot hole short cuts that make this film fall low on my list due to a lame script. Say what you want about the prequels but at least they had variance to the stories. It’s surprisingly repetitious if you’ve seen the other films, and I have, many, many, many, many times.
The visuals are often spectacular during the battle scenes, but on the bad side, there are times when they also look remarkably amateur such as in the case of Supreme Leader Snoke. Snoke (played by Andy Serkis) looks distractingly CGI to the point where I missed dialog related to the storyline because I thought the character looked so fake. But seeing the Millennium Falcon back in action was a lot of fun to watch…
The new actors and characters in the lineup are ok but there weren’t any standouts for me. They were adequate but at times trying a little too hard and other times just not capable of reaching the emotional depths they should’ve been hitting. Harrison Ford saves the day when he brings his swagger to the screen as things are kinda flat until he shows up. Daisy Ridley as Rey and John Boyega as Finn are the new potential Jedi generation and they’re both ok but just not that charismatic or passionate. They both came off more mechanical than genuine. Adam Drive as Kylo Ren has potential but he’s going to need to dig deeper, he’s kind of clumsy, but perhaps that’s the idea of his approach? Carrie Fisher is back too which was nice to see and so is Mark Hamill. The lineup includes Max von Sydow, Peter Mayhew, Anthony Daniels, Domhnall Gleeson, and Lupita Nyong’o.
See it in the theater because it’s a Star Wars film and that’s still enough.
reviewed by Sean McKnight
Will Ferrell and Kevin Hart team up in this comedy about a millionaire, falsely convicted of crimes he didn’t commit, having to prepare for his time in the big house while he tries to clear his name. While topically centered around white collar greed, don’t expect any kind of originality here as the film heavily borrows from films like Trading Places. Ferrell plays the dethroned millionaire James King while Hart plays the guy who cleans his car and helps him train for life in the slammer. Trouble is, Hart’s character has never been to prison…
The plot largely serves to set up the training gags and while it’s funny to see Ferrell’s character be put through the hilarious paces of his prep work (take note of “kiestering”), the premise is stretched a bit thin as the film starts to rely too much on the gags to the point of the dilution of the story. More heart to this film would’ve been a good ingredient to add while dialing back a little on the schtick. Even though the film does have its moments, I didn’t find there were a lot of laugh-out-loud points in the experience.
My concern here is that Ferrell is going in the direction of Adam Sandler in that he’s fallen into a cycle of cranking out formulaic comedies that just regurgitate films we’ve seen before only with contemporary cultural references. Hopefully that’s not the case as I like a lot of Ferrell’s work alongside his production partner Gary Sanchez. We’ll have to see what they do next…
Overall, the film is ok but not great mostly due to the formulaic approach of the movie and mediocre writing. The actors are all decent with the standout for me being Kevin Hart who has a lot more flexibility than I gave him credit for initially. He had more funny moments for me than Ferrell who was phoning in a lot of repeat gags we’ve seen him do in the past. The lineup includes Craig T. Nelson, Alison Brie, Edwina Findley Dickerson, Paul Ben-Victor, and John Mayer.
reviewed by Sean McKnight