Aaron Eckhart and Tom Hanks in Sully. Photo credit: Warner Bros. Pictures
Sully is the movie America needs right now.
Time is on Sully’s side.
But it wasn’t on Captain Chesley “Sully” Sullenberger’s (Tom Hanks) side on January 15, 2009, when a flock of Canadian geese took out both engines on the Airbus A320 he was piloting out of LaGuardia. Three minutes into US Airways Flight 1549, Sully and co-pilot Jeffrey Skiles (Aaron Eckhart) had to make life-or-death decisions under extreme duress as their plane lost power.
Sully, directed by Clint Eastwood, should not be seen by anyone who is already afraid to fly. It’s an understatement to say that its multiple sequences depicting what happened on that doomed flight were harrowing. They were downright terrifying. I was straight-up bawling each time Eastwood revisited the 208 seconds in which Sully decided his best bet was to guide the plane down to the water below. Bawling. I could not contain myself. Which is especially crazy because we all know this story has a happy ending! Maybe it’s because I spent three years of my life flying in and out of LaGuardia every few weeks for work. Maybe it’s because I could understand what the mother holding her baby must have felt like when she heard “Brace for impact” come over the speaker. Or the family members who were separated by several rows. Or the person traveling with an elderly wheelchair-bound relative. Maybe it’s because I remember being glued to the screen that fateful day, amazed to see 155 people emerge from a plane ON the Hudson River.
Or maybe it’s because the world—and the United States in particular—seems like an especially scary place right now, so the sight of dozens of people who didn’t know each other but were willing to help each other in an emergency is what I was really shedding tears over. Sully shows this country at its best, and we’re in dire need of such a reminder.
So I would recommend this film for those sequences alone. In the moments I wasn’t losing it, I was fascinated to learn exactly what happened in the plane, the cockpit, the radio control tower (which was also surprisingly moving), and elsewhere along the river as the flight began its descent.
Jane Levy as (Rocky) in ‘Don’t Breathe’ Photo credit: Screen Gems
Don’t Breathe keeps you breathless and gasping for air.
It has been an extremely long time since there has been a truly scary, jaw-dropping, tormenting and suspenseful horror/thriller. Don’t Breathe, co-written by Fede Alvarez and Rodo Sayagues (directed by Alvarez), is brilliantly crafted and keeps you on edge during the nightmare that three young home invaders/friends encounter when they break into the house of a blind veteran (played by Stephen Lang). Dylan Minnette (Alex), Jane Levy (Rocky) and Daniel Zovatto (Money) think they are at the top of their game with this no- brainer heist. They are pros at what they do, what could possibly go wrong? The man is blind; he lives in the middle of a run-down community, and he is sitting on a stash of cash from a payout for the murder of his late daughter. Is it too good to be true? Yes. It. Is!
A simple premise in the storyline, but there is nothing simple in the execution. This film turns itself on its head more times than you can count. What these three did not take into consideration was that even though the man is blind, he is not dumb and he’s a war veteran. With this come determination, survival skills, and strategic and combat experience. Combine these traits with his emotional state and you have an explosive individual and an even more explosive story. The anxiety you feel as you watch these teens try to detonate this human bomb, is like running through the maze in The Shining but the end is nowhere in sight. Just when you think you can exhale, you inhale even deeper until finally, it ends in an outward gasp or scream with the rest of the audience. I found myself using my sweater as an extra screening device to protect me from the spray of shrapnel. Alvarez does a magnificent job at developing these characters, and his direction is flawless. The characters motives are very ambiguous causing you to like and dislike them equally at different points in the film. One minute they are villains and then next, they are heroes. You will feel the conflict within yourself. Read more…
Jonah Hill and Miles Teller star as real-life arms dealers in War Dogs. Photo credit: Warner Bros. Pictures
War Dogs doesn’t know what it wants to be.
When I heard Todd Phillips was directing War Dogs, I became uneasy, even though I’m a huge fan of Old School and the first Hangover film (his other movies . . . not so much). I assumed that if Phillips was behind the camera, the true story of two guys who duped their way into becoming successful arms dealers would be given his typical “bros behaving badly” comedy treatment. I don’t know about the rest of you, but these days I just don’t feel like laughing about anything having to do with guns, ammo, war and violence.
It turns out that War Dogs isn’t really about any of those things. Instead it focuses more on exactly how screwed up the U.S. military’s weapons-purchasing system was in the very recent past. So much so that Efraim Diveroli (Jonah Hill)—a fast-talking, drug-loving twentysomething—figured out a brilliant way to win certain types of government contracts for guns and ammo. In 2005, he returned to his hometown of Miami Beach, just as his best bud from junior high, David Packouz (Miles Teller), is hitting rock bottom. David’s barely making a living as a masseuse for creepy rich dudes, his girlfriend is pregnant, and then he loses all of his money on a lame get-rich-quick scheme he dreams up. David needs a savior, and Efraim needs a partner he can trust. After the two friends reunite, it’s not long before Efraim brings David in on his hunt for government scraps.
Their business, AEY, grows and grows, thanks to bold moves the guys make, such as personally delivering weapons to a U.S. base in Baghdad (which didn’t actually happen, but was still one of the best parts of the film). They get richer and richer. Of course they can’t stop there—they have to try their hand at bidding for high-ticket contracts. And of course they end up winning one: a $300 million order for 100 million rounds of AK-47 ammo, among other things, for our troops in Afghanistan.
Elliott the dragon and Pete (Oakes Fegley) in Pete’s Dragon. Photo credit: Disney Enterprises
Yes, it’s true! Dragons and honest-to-goodness family-friendly films still exist.
I love dragons. I was “the mother of dragons” (Game of Thrones’ Daenerys Targaryen) for Halloween, received “Dragonology” books for past birthdays, love the dragon-centric Eragon novel series, have little dragon figurines decorating my workspace, and proudly wore my Bay of Dragons t-shirt and sported a “year of the dragon”-inspired purse to the screening of Pete’s Dragon. And of course I was a fan of the original 1977 film. How many of you actually have Helen Reddy’s “Candle on the Water” from the old soundtrack on your phone right now? I rest my case.
So, as I am with all remakes of movies I loved as a kid, I was trepidatious about Disney’s 2016 version of Pete’s Dragon. Its first few minutes made my heart sink—as we watch a station wagon carrying a five-year-old boy and his parents flip over and crash, leaving the parents dead and the scared little boy alone in the forest, soon to be chased by FREAKING WOLVES—and I was like, “Whhhhhyyyyyyyy??????!!!! Curse you, Disney!” in my head. Rest assured that the parents aren’t actually shown after the crash, but I knew the scene was disturbing enough that I wasn’t going to be able to let my 4.5-year-old son watch it at the theater. (Other kids might not be bothered by that sequence, but I know my little guy would.)
A silent, furry green dragon scares the snarling wolves away and rescues the boy, whose name is Pete (Oakes Fegley). Then the film fast-forwards, and we see that Pete has continued to live in the forest with Elliott (named after a character in Pete’s favorite book) for the last several years.
Aside from the fact that there’s a boy named Pete and a dragon named Elliott in both, the 1977 and new versions of Pete’s Dragon have pretty much nothing else in common, storyline-wise. Truth be told, now that I’m an adult and think about all of the dark overtones in the original, the remake is quite mild by comparison.
This time around, Pete’s curiosity about forest ranger Grace (Bryce Dallas Howard) and lumber mill crews led by Jack (Wes Bentley) and Gavin (Karl Urban) leads to both him and Elliott being discovered. Gavin represents “humans that suck” in that he immediately gets his gun and tries to shoot and capture Elliott in the pursuit of fame and fortune. Whereas Grace, who hasn’t actually seen Elliott but still doesn’t discount Pete’s claims thanks to her dragon-legend-believing dad (Robert Redford), just wants both the boy and his supposed mythical beast of a friend to be safe.
Equity. Photo credit: Sony Pictures Classics.
A compelling financial thriller, but still not the “women on Wall Street” film I was hoping for.
As possibly the only film critic in the world who has two business degrees, used to work in the financial services industry, has been through tech IPOs and also happens to be female, I approached Equity with great interest. There have been several memorable financial thrillers over the years, but I can’t recall any that were directed by a woman, written by women, produced and financed by women and revolved around female characters.
Equity kicks off by introducing us to Naomi Bishop (the always fantastic Anna Gunn), a seasoned investment banker who’s reeling from being blamed for screwing up the deal of the decade. Now she’s desperate to rebuild her once-sterling reputation by landing the IPO for the Next Big Thing, an online privacy firm called Cachet. Naomi often relies on a younger and equally ambitious banker, Erin (Sarah Megan Thomas, who also helped develop the story), who may or may not have her own All About Eve-ish agenda.
The problems pile up quickly: Cachet has disgruntled employees who might want to throw the company under the bus. Cachet’s CEO is an arrogant tool. Naomi’s boyfriend Michael (James Purefoy) is being pressured by his hedge fund buddies to get insider intel about the Cachet IPO. Naomi’s old college friend Samantha (Orange is the New Black’s Alysia Reiner) is now investigating sketchy Wall Streeters (like Michael!) on behalf of the U.S. government. The cast is excellent, the plot is easy to follow (but still intriguing to those who understand the industry), and I found nearly every single thing about the film to be completely realistic. The problem is that even if every single thing a film portrays is realistic, it still doesn’t mean that those things should all be in the same film together.
Jai Courtney, Margot Robbie, Will Smith, Joel Kinnaman and Jay Hernandez star in Suicide Squad. Photo credit: Clay Enos/Warner Bros
Suicide Squad makes very little sense.
When I was at Comic-Con a few weeks ago, I couldn’t believe there were hundreds of people—many of whom were in full Joker or Harley Quinn costumes and makeup—standing in the sweltering San Diego sun for hours, waiting to get into the Suicide Squad virtual reality experience. “People are really that into Suicide Squad?” I asked my friends. (Never mind that we were across the street in a five-hour line for the Game of Thrones exhibit, because that’s totally different.)
And then like some sort of Forrest Gump, cluelessly trying to make my way around the massive Comic-Con Exhibit Hall a few days later, I wandered smack dab into Will Smith, Margot Robbie and the rest of the Suicide Squad cast as they arrived at the DC booth for autograph signings. I have to admit, that got me a little pumped. (See photos at the very end of this review.)
But I still went into the film with hardly any expectations, and I had only watched its trailer once, more than a year ago. I am aware there are DC vs. Marvel fandom wars going on right now and that the angriest of DC diehards want to shut down Rotten Tomatoes because of the film’s negative reviews. Quite frankly, I just don’t care about any of that. All I was hoping for is pretty much what I’m always hoping for when the lights go down in the theater: to totally forget about reality for a few hours.
Suicide Squad failed in this mission, because about every 20 minutes I had to lean over and ask a fellow critic if I’d missed something. (Sorry, Dave!) I’d been mostly digging the opening act, which shows how and why Amanda Waller (Viola Davis) brings together a group of “bad guys”/“metahumans”—Deadshot (Will Smith), Harley Quinn (Margot Robbie), El Diablo (Jay Hernandez), Boomerang (Jai Courtney), Killer Croc (Adewale Akinnuoye-Agbaje) and Enchantress (Cara Delevingne)—to act on the U.S. government’s behalf, should there ever be another Superman-like figure who isn’t so friendly. I’m a sucker for flashbacks and origin stories, so to learn the background of each member in the self-named Suicide Squad was fun. The soundtrack was a fairly nonstop playlist of catchy songs, and there were some inventive pops of animation here and there. I was enjoying myself. Who cares if the flashbacks that were supposed to explain things like the ride-or-die romance between Quinn and the Joker (Jared Leto) seemed full of holes? Surely this stuff would become clearer later in the movie. I just had to be patient.