Film Review: “The Gentlemen”

THE GENTLEMEN

Starring: Matthew McConaughey abd Charlie Hunnam

Directed by: Guy Ritchie

Rated: Rated R

Running Time: 1 hr 53 mins

STX Entertainment 

There’s little that’s gentlemanly about the sordid cast of characters in director Guy Ritchie’s new action crime thriller “The Gentlemen.” However, there is plenty to enjoy in this wonderful caper that’s brimming with sharp dialogue, a delicious plot and a few laughs along the way. It is certainly Ritchie’s best effort since 2011’s “Sherlock Holmes: A Game of Shadows” and is only surpassed by 2000’s “Snatch” as his greatest overall work. With a talented, all-star ensemble cast, and a terrific hook at the start, Ritchie takes us on an exciting, twisting journey that’s certainly not for the kiddos. 

From an impoverished childhood in the United States, Mickey Pearson (Matthew McConaughey) rose above his situation to earn a Rhodes Scholarship to England’s esteemed Oxford University. Instead of becoming a law-abiding scholar, Mickey saw the monetary potential in selling marijuana to his fellow students. Those humble beginnings led Mickey, often through violent means, to build a multi-million-dollar illegal empire. Despite the power, and prestige he commands, Mickey has grown tired of the game and wants out to spend time with his beloved, yet equally criminal wife, Rosalind (Michelle Dockery, “Downton Abbey”), for whom he will do anything. 

Much of this background information is told to us during an extended, elaborate conversation between an unsavory, thick-accented private investigator named Fletcher (scene stealer Hugh Grant), who’s been hired by a jilted tabloid editor snubbed in public by Mickey, and Mickey’s righthand enforcer, Ray (played with subdued rage by Charlie Hunnam, “Sons of Anarchy”). For his efforts, which he has typed up in a screenplay form, Fletcher wants 20 million British pounds to keep his scoop silent. 

Meanwhile, Mickey finds a potential buyer for his empire, but there is a concern that this will show competitors that he has become weak. Blood is spilled in the water when one of Mickey’s illegal sites is robbed by a group of young, social media savvy thugs led by a man known simply as Coach (Colin Farrell). The plot only thickens with the introduction of overly ambitious, young Chinese mobster Dry Eye (Henry Golding, “Crazy Rich Asians”) and the accidental death of a Russian mobster’s son. 

McConaughey is perfect for this role. Of course, he is quite adept at playing it cool, calm and collected, as demonstrated in a variety of his previous performances. What makes this more notable is the vengeful side he fleshes out while playing Mickey. It’s something we don’t normally see from him and he is brilliant at unleashing the lion in “The Gentlemen.” For their parts, Golding is a nice surprise as a villain and Farrell is marvelously entertaining, harkening back to Brad Pitt’s unintelligible performance in “Snatch.” 

Written by Ritchie, the plot is chock full of twists and surprises that keep one glue to the silver screen, waiting on edge as to what is going to happen next. There are some laughs amidst the violence, which is brutal enough, along with adult-oriented lingo, to make “The Gentlemen” non-kid friendly. Ritchie’s pacing is just as quick as the dialogue with nary a dull moment. In the end, “The Gentlemen” is a jolly good time and the best release of the new year thus far!  

Film Review: “Three Christs”

THREE CHRISTS
Starring: Richard Gere, Peter Dinklage
Directed by: John Avnet
Rated: R
Running Time: 1 hr 57 mins
IFC Films 

When you think of great films with mental hospitals as the setting, indelible titles such as 1975’s “One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest” or 1990’s “Awakenings” probably come to mind. With a similar backdrop, the drama “Three Christs,” starring Richard Gere, boldly attempts to delve into the realm of paranoid schizophrenia by exploring a time when pre-fontal lobotomies, insulin-induced comas, and electroshock therapies were standard treatments. Directed by John Avnet (“Fried Green Tomatoes”), “Three Christs” alas fails to achieve any level of greatness as it is saturated with terrible melodrama and an overall lack of emotional connectivity.

 An adaptation of the 1964 psychiatric case study “The Three Christs of Ypsilanti” by psychologist Milton Rokeach, “Three Christs” takes us back to December 1960 when a bruised Dr. Alan Stone (Gere) is recording a defense of himself against accusations leveled at him by a disciplinary board. It’s a nice hook as it gives off a sense of mystery. We are soon taken back to the beginning during the summer of 1959 when he arrives at the Ypsilanti State Hospital.

 Having left a prolific teaching and writing career to pursue a study of delusional patients, Dr. Stone, with the help of his new assistant Becky (Charlotte Hope, “The Theory of Everything”), finds three men who all claim to be Jesus Christ. Joseph (Peter Dinklage), Leon (Walton Goggins) and Clyde (Bradley Whitford) are tragic figures with sad pasts. Each has been diagnosed as paranoid schizophrenics and left to essentially rot in near-barbaric conditions. 

With the encouragement of his wife (Julianna Marguiles), Dr. Stone challenges his peers and a reluctant hospital head by using more modern methods that don’t involve inflicting pain. The irony is that he is treating three men collectively who believe they are Christ while he himself does not believe in organized religion. Gradually he makes progress, but countless roadblocks make it a treacherous path. 

Despite having a solid cast, “Three Christs” falls flat on nearly every level imaginable. The story is without any unique qualities as it feels like any other run-of-the-mill medical drama. Its characters are nothing special and Gere seems to just rely upon every facial gesture he has ever used in his past films instead of pushing for something more. The pacing is sluggish, and the plot is predictable. Gere is also not believable as the father to two young, pre-teen daughters considering he was roughly 67 years old at the time of filming. Furthermore, we are supposed to believe Dr. Stone fought in WWII and Korea. Assuming his character matches his age, then Dr. Stone would have been 59 or 60 while fighting on the front lines against North Korea. Uh, no. Of course, to be fair I should mention the rest of the cast, which can be covered in one statement – every actor is so over-the-top with their performances you have to wonder how on earth the film ever got released, much less contemplate if Avnet should ever direct again. 

In the end, “Three Christs” is a strikeout.

Film Review: “Bad Boys for Life”

BAD BOYS FOR LIFE
Starring:  Will Smith, Martin Lawrence and Joe Pantoliano
Directed by: Adil and Billal
Rated:  R
Running time:  2 hrs 3 mins
Sony Pictures

Riggs and Murtaugh.  Carter and Lee.  Tango and Cash. 

The law enforcement teams above are some of the most beloved in film history.  Another powerhouse was the team of Miami-based cops named Mike Lowrey and Marcus Burnett.  Starting with 1995’s “Bad Boys” and continuing with the 2003 sequel “Bad Boys 2,” the two blazed their way across the screen with flashy cars and blazing guns.  It’s been awhile, but Lowrexy (Smith) and Burnett (Lawrence) are back…and it’s a welcome return.

It’s an ordinary day at the women’s prison.  In the laundry, the inmates do their best to fold and stack.  However, one inmate (Kate del Castillo) is motionless, staring off as if she was in a trance.  When she’s approached she suddenly springs to life.  The carnage that follows is horrific.

Meanwhile, in Miami, Detectives Lowery and Burnett are speeding through the streets in Lowery’s Porsche.  Their destination:  the local hospital, where Burnett’s daughter is about to give birth.  The new grandchild causes Burnett to rethink his future and soon he informs Lowery and their captain (the always great Joe Pantoliano) that he is going to retire.  But when you’re a “bad boy” do you ever really retire?

Moving at an almost breakneck speed, “Bad Boys for Life” plays on screen like a live action version of “Grand Theft Auto.”  The pace is fast, yet the plot never feels rushed.  Smith and Lawrence have great chemistry together and their playful banter feels natural.  They are assisted by strong supporting turns from Paola Nunez and rapper DJ Khaled, who does well in a small role.  And for fans of the original, keep your eyes open for a cameo from “Bad Boys” director Michael Bay.   

The production values are outstanding, with all of the light and color of Miami on display.  And I don’t know what cops in Miami make but Lowery seems quite comfortable in his penthouse pad and speedy Porsche.  All in all, a fine return to the screen for Lowrey and Burnett.  Now whatcha’ gonna do ‘til they come back for you?

Film Review: “Reality Queen!”

  • REALITY QUEEN!
  • Starring:  Julia Faye West, Denise Richards and Mike Tyson
  • Directed by: Steven Jay Bernheim
  • Rated:  Not Rated
  • Running time:  1 hr 24 mins
  • High Octane Pictures

You can’t get away from “them.”  The Kardashians.  The various Housewives of various counties.  “The Bachelorette.”  For good or bad, reality television has grabbed a major part of the world’s attention and, like it or not, it’s here to stay.

London Logo (Ms.West) is a CELEBRITY.  I use all caps to emphasize her status.  Known for her frequent magazine appearances, annual “nip slip” awards and exiting cars sans underwear, London is a mix of Paris Hilton and Jessica Simpson rolled up into one.  When things begin to go bad for London, who finds her fame declining with the appearance of the large-assed Kim sisters, she agrees to participate in a documentary about herself which will open the eyes of everyone involved.

As a critic, “Reality Queen!” is the kind of film you love to discover.  Cleverly written by a gaggle of writers, including director Bernheim, the film is an amazingly precedent look at the state of “fame” today.  Nothing is sacred as zinger after zinger is thrown out and the jokes hit much more often then they miss, a testament not only to the script but to the cast.

As London, Ms. West proves herself to be a fine comedienne.  Movies like this often rest on the shoulders of the actors who, if they don’t deliver the lines properly, bring the production down to the level of any recent National Lampoon film that didn’t begin with the words Van and Wilder.  She is also breathtakingly beautiful.  Denise Richards co-stars as London’s best friend, an actress named Angelina Streisand.  She also shows fine comic timing.  Other standouts include Loren Lister as London’s put-upon publicist, Cliff De Young and Jill Jacobson as London’s parents, the amazing Charles Fleischer as a Larry King-ish television host, Kate Orsini as the documentary reporter and the late John Witherspoon in one of his final film appearances.

Mr. Bernheim keeps the pace moving smoothly and I must give credit to he and production designer Ryan Henneman, whose production values are amazing for a film you normally wouldn’t consider “big budget.”  If you’re not in the mood for football this weekend, I highly recommend checking out “Reality Queen!”

Will The Next Bond Film Be Daniel Craig’s Last?

Daniel Craig has served as one of the best James Bond’s of all-time, but could he be about to put down the gun following the released of the 25th Bond flick titled ‘No Time To Die’ in 2020.

The rumours have been ripe that it will be Craig’s last, but there has been no other Bond in the history of the franchise that can claim to have had as much box office success at the Layer Cake star.

Craig’s Bond Films

‘No Time To Die’ will be the fifth film that Craig has played Bond, and the success that the previous four have had will highlight that next year’s release is going to be an overwhelming success. His tenure at Bond started in 2006 with the release of Casino Royale, and 14-years is the longest that anybody has ever played Bond. Of course, the record of playing 007 the most still falls on the lap of Roger Moore, but the argument over who was the best will continue forever.

But, the box office figures certainly don’t lie. The 2012 release of Skyfall is by far and away the most successful Bond film of all-time in terms of the box office, as it earned over $943 million, which was almost double what the pre-Craig best was. The second most successful of all-time was the most recent release of Spectre in 2015 which brought in just over $725 million.

What It Takes To Be A Great Bond

Bond is one of the most beloved characters in the world of film, and any British actor would love to play the part. However, since the first film, only seven actors have been able to utter many of the countless Bond catchphrases that have become a common part of pop culture. But, should Craig leave his role, then that void will open up for a new opportunity. However, not all actors have the desired traits about them to deliver.

The secret service agent oozes cool, and the next actor must excel at being able to walk into a casino and look like the most confident man in there. Craig has excelled at this, as who could forget his scene in Casino Royale when he is in a battle of poker against the villain in the film- Le Chiffre. The films famously feature poker and casino scenes but the battle between the two in Casino Royale was possibly one of the best Bond scenes of the Craig era.

However, it wasn’t the only impressive casino scene as the Skyfall sequence when Bond walks into a Macau casino. He looks a million dollars and looks like he is about to get down to business as he tries to track down Patrice. The scene eventually ends when Bond has overcome two strong adversaries before he tells Moneypenny to put a briefcase full of cash on a game of roulette.

Who Are The Front Runners?

The betting markets for the next Bond are one of the most competitive around online, and there is a host of big-name actors being spoken about. Tom Hiddleston has been one of the favourites since the talk surrounding the long-term future of Craig has been in the air, while Sam Heughan is one of the big market movers.

Heughan rose to fame in ‘A Very British Scandal’, before becoming a household name in ‘Outlander’. His move to the favourite in the betting would be a shock to most, but he is likely to have a significant breakout moment in 2020 when ‘Bloodshot’ hits the cinemas. Other popular selections include James Norton, Idris Elba and Tom Hardy.

Cillian Murphy was also a front runner earlier in the summer, but his price has drifted after he admitted that he wouldn’t fit the role of Bond. Murphy would have been a popular pick among fans after his portrayal of Tommy Shelby in ‘Peaky Blinders’ has seen the show go on to become one of the most beloved dramas across the world.

However, whichever actors picks up the baton after Craig will have big shoes to fill. But, regardless, the Bond franchise will live on forever and will continue to produce box office smashes consistently.

Film Review: “Just Mercy”

JUST MERCY
Starring:  Michael B. Jordan, Jamie Foxx and Brie Larson
Directed by: Destin Daniel Cretton
Rated:  PG 13
Running time:  2 hrs 16 mins
Warner Bros

Recently here in Kansas City a gentleman was released from prison after serving 17-years for a crime he didn’t commit.  Naturally, your heart goes out to him and his family but, even in your worst dreams, there is really no way to understand what he went through.  I mention this because injustice is the theme from the new film “Just Mercy.”

Monroeville, Alabama.  Fans of the book “To Kill a Mockingbird” will recognize the town as the birthplace of author Harpee Lee.  It was also the birthplace of Walter McMillan.  We meet Walter (Foxx, in a top notch performance) in the woods, cutting down a tree and enjoying the freedom of nature.  However, Walter’s life takes a dark detour when he is arrested for, and convicted of, the murder of a young white woman.  I mention the victim’s race because that is an important part of the story.  You see, Walter is black.  Found guilty (in an amazing precedent the jury sentenced Walter to life in prison and the trial judge overrode the decision and sentenced Walter to death) he’s sat on death row for the past six years, waiting for the horrible dream his life has become to end.  Enter Bryan Stevenson (Jordan, equally strong) a young, Harvard-educated lawyer who has received a grant to start an advocacy program for inmates on death row.  To say Bryan is welcomed with open arms would be a lie.  More like welcomed with clenched fist – and closed minds.

A powerful film that pulls at your emotions, “Just Mercy” is based on a true story, one of racial bias and unscrupulous people.  It’s almost fate that the story takes place in the birthplace of “To Kill a Mockingbird,” That bit of information is played up by the locals, who urge Bryan to visit the Mockingbird Museum and stand in the same courthouse as Atticus Finch.  But “Mockingbird” also deals with the trial of an innocent black man, Tom Robinson, who is falsely accused and, even though there is mounds of evidence to prove his innocence, is found guilty.  Bryan, like Atticus Finch before him, believes in the system and can’t understand how that system has failed Walter.

As noted above, the performances from Mr. Jordan and Mr. Foxx are powerful.  Jordan continues to add great work to his resume’ and this is easily Mr. Foxx’s best performance in years.  As Bryan’s assistant Eva Ansley, Brie Larson delivers in a true supporting role and Tim Blake Nelson is well cast as a fellow convict whose testimony sent Walter to prison.  The film is well paced and Mr. Cretton’s direction is spot on, his camera capturing the little things that help make the story a powerful one.  He has definitely created one of the best films of 2019.

Film Review: “1917”

1917
Starring: Dean-Charles Chapman, George MacKay
Directed by: Sam Mendes
Rated: Rated R
Running Time: 118 minutes
Universal Pictures 

With three Golden Globe nominations, “1917” is not only a masterful example of the war film genre, but it is also a masterpiece of cinema in general. Directed by Oscar-winning British filmmaker Sam Mendes (“Skyfall,” “The Road to Perdition”), who also co-wrote the screenplay with Krysty Wilson-Cairns (“Penny Dreadful”), “1917” is a highly accurate depiction of the Great War with a plot that is essentially Great Britain’s “Saving Private Ryan.”

 The story takes place during Operation Alberich, a strategic German military withdrawal lasting from February 9 to March 20, 1917 in France. Its purpose was to shorten German lines along a section of the Western Front in order to consolidate forces along the Hindenburg Line. “1917” plays upon this event by thrusting two young men into what appears to be an impossible mission.

 British Lance Corporals Blake (Dean-Charles Chapman, “The King,” “Game of Thrones”) and Schofield (George MacKay, “Where Hands Touch,” “Captain Fantastic”) are suddenly pulled away from their unit on orders from their overall commander, General Erinmore (Colin Firth). The general needs a message dispatched deep into German territory to stop the advance of a Colonel MacKenzie (Benedict Cumberbatch), who believes he is pursuing a defeated enemy when in fact it is a trap that will cost the lives of 1,600 men including Lance Corporal Blake’s brother. 

Lance Corporal Schofield is the more seasoned veteran of the two and is wary of crossing No Man’s Land as he believes they are the ones who are walking into a trap. However, Lance Corporal Blake is doggedly determined go through with the mission, which must be completed by the next morning when the fateful offensive by Colonel MacKenzie is planned. In their way lies a myriad of obstacles including endless amounts of mud, deep craters, barbed wire, booby traps and German snipers. It is a heart-pounding, near-continuous sequence of events that will leave you riveted to the silver screen. 

Historically, “1917” delivers the goods with its accurate depiction of trench warfare ranging from the uniforms worn to the hellish conditions to the psychological effects on the soldiers. Painstaking care was clearly made to get every battlefield detail right as well as an accurate depiction of the Germans’ scorched earth policy as they pulled back to the Hindenburg Line. “1917” also delves into the toll the German occupation had on the French civilian population, best embodied by a young woman barely surviving in a burned-out city. 

Chapman and MacKay deliver solid performances throughout the film as they humanize their characters, thereby making it easy for us to become emotionally invested in their epic journey. The biggest praise, though, is reserved for Mendes direction. For example, the first half of the nearly two-hour film, which does not feel that long, is shot so seamlessly that it has all the appearance of being one, long continuous take. His orchestration of mass chaos with a multitude of extras and cameras, not to mention how his hand-held work puts us right in the trenches, is worthy of an Oscar for best cinematography. “1917” is nothing less than one of the ten best movies of 2019.

Film Review: “CATS”

CATS
Starring:  Idris Elba, Rebel Wilson and Judi Dench
Directed by: Tom Hooper
Rated:  PG
Running time:  1 hr 50 mins
Universal

I lived on the east coast for many years – from 1982 through 1995.  I was a frequent visitor to New York City and, every time I would walk by the Winter Garden Theater I would see the words “Now and Forever.”  These words were very true when it came to the show playing at the Winter Garden: the musical “CATS,” as it ran on Broadway for a then-record 18 years!  This week, 37-years after it opened on Broadway, “CATS” has finally come to the big screen.

We open on a London street where we see a car pull into an alley.  A woman takes a bag out of the car and casually throws it towards the garbage bins.  The bag lands with a thud and begins to move.  As the woman drives off the bag is surrounded by a motley group of cats.  They open the bag to discover a young cat who is obviously frightened.  One by one the cats introduce themselves.  So begins the film adaptation of the Tony-award winning Best Musical, “CATS.”

How do I describe this film?  When the trailer first premiered many people, myself included, were confused by what the film was being portrayed as.  It seemed almost like a joke, the way the cat characters were jumping around on over-sized furniture.  But it wasn’t a joke.  Unlike the Broadway show, which takes place in a junkyard, director Tom Hooper has opened up the sets, allowing the feline characters to jump on beds, sing on library steps and even tap dance across a railroad tie.  Fun stuff, to be sure, but creepy as heck.  And while the cast gives its all, the show seems to almost come to a stop in between musical numbers.

The cast is phenomenal, featuring everyone from revered actors like Dame Judi Dench and Sir Ian McKellen to pop singer Taylor Swift.  Others spinning a yarn include Rebel Wilson, Jennifer Hudson and Ray Winstone.  Heck, even Idris Elba gets in on the action.  The actors are fine…they just don’t have shoulders enough to carry the film.

The high points here are the make-up, special effects and choreography.  Rather than follow in the footsteps of Broadway, where the cast wore unitards, here the very expressive faces of the cast are modified with whiskers and CGI.  Most of the makeup is fine, but Judi Dench comes off looking like Bert Lahr’s older sister from “The Wizard of Oz.”  The musical numbers, of course, are superb, which is a no brainer when you’re dealing with Andrew Lloyd Weber.  Sadly a few people in my screening fell asleep but those of us who stayed awake were treated to a very different way to tell a story.

If you’re a fan of the musical, or a member of the cast, then by all means go see “CATS.”  If you’re not a fan of musical theatre, go stand in line and see “Star Wars” again.

Film Review: “Star Wars: The Rise of Skywalker”

STAR WARS:  THE RISE OF SKYWALKER
Starring:  Carrie Fisher, Daisy Ridley and Adam Driver
Directed by: J.J. Abrams
Rated:  PG 13
Running time:  2 hr 21 mins
Walt Disney

In 1977, theatre owners everywhere were excited about an upcoming film from 20th Century Fox that they were sure was going to fill their theatres for weeks.

That film was “The Other Side of Midnight.”  Based on a very popular best-selling book, the demand for the film was so great that the studio was able to do a little quid-pro-quo with the owners.  If you promise to play this little space movie we have coming out in May we will make sure you get “The Other Side of Midnight.”  That “little space movie” was, of course, “Star Wars.”  The punchline to this story is that “Star Wars” proved to be so popular that, when “The Other Side of Midnight” opened two weeks later, many theatres NEVER played it as they were still filling the house.  I’m pretty sure I can guarantee that the final installment in the original series will do the same.

Let me begin by saying this will be a spoiler-free review.  Not only because the studio asked critics not to give anything away but also because if, like me, you’ve got 40-plus years of your life invested in the saga you don’t want some pencil neck with a computer spoiling your fun.  The story begins with our heroes Rey (Ridley), Finn (John Boyega) and Poe Dameron  (Oscar Isaac) still trying to defeat the First Order, led by Kylo Ren (Driver).  While Rey continues her Jedi training, Kylo Ren is raging his way through the galaxy, hoping to confront the all-powerful Emperor, the leader of the evil Sith.  Things are getting bleak for the resistance and General Leia Organa (Fisher) is out of ideas.  Will the final pieces of the rebellion be destroyed?  Sorry, the studio won’t let me tell you!

Here’s what I can tell you.  Director J.J. Abrams, who co-wrote the screenplay with Oscar-winning screenwriter Chris Terrio (“Argo) has crafted a story that should satisfy every “Star Wars” fan in the galaxy.  Old friends return while new friends extend the story.  You would have to have a heart colder than a Wampa not to enjoy this movie.

The cast is top-notch, with the three principal actors having grown into their roles.  It is obvious they are much more comfortable here than they were in Episode VII (“The Force Awakens”).  Rey is certainly my grandchildren’s version of “Alien” crewmember Ellen Ripley, a strong, young woman that others can look up to and admire.  Fisher’s Princess Leia in the original trilogy was the same kind of character and Ms. Ridley gives her both an outer and inner toughness, though the goodness she possesses is also visible.  Both Boyega and Isaac have larger roles here.  Finn is much more decisive in his actions while it’s nice to see Poe NOT in a spaceship for the majority of the film.  The filmmakers were able to include Carrie Fisher in the story by reshaping scenes she filmed for “The Force Awakens” and it is a joy to see her on the big screen one last time.

Driver has also grown into the role.  To me he came off as a little wimpy when he was introduced in “The Force Awakens” but here he is downright terrifying.  The man has some serious anger (and family) issues and you don’t want to be near him when he snaps.  To counter the intensity of some scenes Abrams has also included some good, old fashioned humor and the jokes play well.

Visually, of course, the film is a masterpiece.  Battles between literally hundreds of ships take your breath away and the musical score, by the great John Williams, is a perfect accompaniment to the action on screen.

The original 1977 STAR WARS campaign book.

In the spring of 1977 some friends of mine and I wrote away to 20th Century Fox for some information on “Star Wars.”  We each received a beautiful full-color campaign book, which I still have.  I was 16 when “Star Wars” came out.  Like many people my friends and I went to the theatre not knowing what to expect and walked out hooked.  I enjoyed the films so much that half of my basement is crowded with “Star Wars” memorabilia.  I was even asked to moderate the 40th Anniversary Q&A event that was held in Kansas City.  “Star Wars” is, and has been, a very important and memorable part of my life and I must say that “Star Wars: The Rise of Skywalker” is the perfect ending to my childhood!

Kansas City Film Critics Circle names “1917” Best Film of 2019

“1917,” Sam Mendes’ look at a secret mission during World War I, was named the Best Film of the Year by the Kansas City Film Critics Circle.  The film also took home honors for Mendes’ direction and for its cinematography.  “1917” and “Us” were the only film to receive multiple awards, with “Us” star Lupita Nyong’o being named Best Actress while the film was chosen to receive the Vince Koehler Award for the year’s Best Science Fiction, Fantasy or Horror Film.

Each year the Kansas City Film Critics Circle, the second oldest critics organization in the United States, votes on their choices for the groups James Loutzenhiser Awards.  2019 marks the 54th time the group has passed out its awards.  The South Korean film “Parasite” was named the year’s Best Foreign Film while “Toy Story 4” joined the first three films in the series by also being named the year’s Best Animated Film, an amazing achievement.

Below is a complete list of the winners of the 54th Annual James Loutzenhiser Awards

  • BEST FILM:                                        “1917”
  • ROBERT ALTMAN AWARD
  • FOR BEST DIRECTOR                      Sam Mendes for “1917”
  • BEST ACTOR                         Adam Driver in “Marriage Story”
  • BEST ACTRESS                                 Lupita Nyong’o in “US”
  • BEST SUPPORTING ACTOR           Joe Pesci in ‘The Irishman”
  • BEST SUPPORTING ACTRESS        Da’Vine Joy Randolph in “Dolemite is My Name”
  • BEST ORIGINAL SCREENPLAY     Rian Johnson for “Knives Out”
  • BEST ADAPTED SCREENPLAY      Greta Gerwig for “Little Women”
  • BEST CINEMATOGRAPHY Roger Deakins for “1917”
  • BEST ANIMATED FEATURE           “Toy Story 4”
  • BEST FOREIGN FILM                       “Parasite” – South Korea
  • BEST DOCUMENTARY                    “Amazing Grace” and “Apollo 11” (tie)
  • VINCE KOEHLER AWARD
  • FOR THE BEST SCIENCE                “Us”
  • FICTION/FANTASY/HORROR
  • FILM  
  • TOM POE AWARD FOR THE
  • BEST LGBT FILM                              “Portrait of a Lady on Fire”      

Film Review: “Richard Jewell”

RICHARD JEWELL
Starring: Paul Walter Hauser, Sam Rockwell
Directed by: Clint Eastwood
Rated: Rated R
Running Time: 1 hr 59 mins
Warner Bros 

Richard Jewell. I cannot help but wonder how many Americans recognize the name and the heroic actions associated with it. Better yet, who can recall how Jewell’s heroism during the 1996 Olympic Games in Atlanta, Georgia was tragically stained by an assumption of guilt by the FBI and the news media, which subsequently caused millions to believe he was a domestic terrorist. Thankfully, someone in the form of iconic, Oscar-winning filmmaker Clint Eastwood did not forget and has now made a poignant drama that pays tribute to a simple man who saved dozens of lives one hot summer night. 

It’s 1986 in Atlanta where Richard Jewell (Paul Walter Hauser, “BlacKkKlansman”) has just started work as a mailroom employee at a law firm. Portrayed as respectful and observant with a dose of simple-mindedness, Jewell catches the eye of attorney Watson Bryant (Oscar-winner Sam Rockwell). A pivotal friendship develops between them with long-term consequences and when Jewell announces that he is leaving to become a security guard, a first step in what he dreams will become a career in law enforcement, Watson, a bit of crusader, warns him to not let the badge go to his head.

 Flash forward ten years later where Jewell, who lives with his doting mother, Bobi (Oscar-winner Kathy Bates), is fired from his job as a college campus security guard after a series of events that include him unlawfully pulling over students on the road as they return to school grounds. Having previously been dismissed as county sheriff’s deputy, it would seem likely that Jewell would have a hard time getting another security guard job. However, with the arrival of the Olympics in Atlanta, bodies are needed, so Jewell, almost delusional about being a member of law enforcement, gets another chance to patrol Centennial Park. 

No one takes Jewell seriously, that is until he finds a suspicious backpack filled with pipe bombs. Two people do perish as a result of the subsequent explosion and dozens are wounded, but it would have been much worse without his actions in a pre-9/11 world that wasn’t quite as vigilant. Jewell is hailed as a hero, but he is quickly labeled as a villain by fictional FBI agent Tom Shaw (Jon Hamm in a one-dimensional performance), a man desperate to get vengeance, and newspaper reporter Kathy Scruggs (played with over-the-top acting by Olivia Wilde), an unscrupulous and brash journalist willing to do anything to get a headline, even if it means destroying Jewell’s life in the process. 

One of the most sacred principles of our judicial system is the presumption of innocence. That all persons are presumed innocent until proven guilty. “Richard Jewell” reminds us all just how terribly wrong things can go when that fundamental adage can be so easily forgotten by a rush to judgment fueled by motives that are less than noble. Although Jewell was exonerated, his case remains a stain on our nation’s history. While Eastwood’s effort does not rise to the level of cinematic achievement as some of his other later works, such as “Gran Torino,” it is still a solid film that successfully plays the emotional heartstrings. Rockwell is a joy to watch, but the breakout star is Hauser. On the surface, his portrayal of Jewell appears too simplistic. However, as the film flows along, his performance reveals itself to be far more complex and impactful than what we first realize. By the end, his role makes you so invested in the story that it will stick with you long after the curtains close. 

Overall, Eastwood and Hauser are successful in accomplishing at least one thing – making us remember who real heroes are. 

Film Review: “Inside Game”

Starring: Will Sasso, Scott Wolf, Eric Mabius
Directed by: Randall Batinkoff
Rated: Rated R
Running time: 97 minutes

Inside Game is a rather new film directed by Randall Batinkoff and written by Andy Callahan. The movie revolves around the NBA’s gambling scandal when three men were able to nearly bankrupt multiple gambling operators by simply being in close proximity with NBA coaches and players as well.

Depending on the talks going on behind the curtains, three friends played expertly by Will Sasso, Scott Wolf and Eric Mabius managed to make a fortune which didn’t really last them that long.

The movie came out on November 1st, 2019 and has received quite a positive reply from the community. It currently has 29% rotten tomatoes, and a 5.6 IMDB rating, while 87% of Google users have said that they enjoyed the film very much.

What isn’t there to enjoy as well? The adventure of three friends, James “Baba” Battista, Tim Donaghy and Tomy Martino tackle a whole industry wich just their specialties is a marvel to look at.

The plot thickens

The plot itself is that Donaghy, who is a trainer himself will supply both Baba and Martino with valuable inside information from locker rooms and conversations with players themselves. This later allows Baba to apply the magic in his and many other sportsbooks considering he works in one, while Martino is like the “lay low” detector who tries to protect the group from being spotted.

Unfortunately, the trio becomes a bit too careless due to greed and is approached by the FBI which finds a lead on them through an unrelated case they were doing earlier.

All three men find themselves arrested and trialed in a courtroom, which is all too familiar for an average blockbuster, crime or drama fan.

The movie stands as a bastion of what greed and chasing alternative loyalties could do to childhood friendships, and that insider information and cheating can get men nothing but dozens of years in jail, rather than dozens of stacks of franklins.

Although the movie is not sensational in any way, it does stand on its own for a gambling/crime movie, to begin with.

The performance of the actors is more than adequate, especially the almost “effortless” amazing delivery from Sasso playing the serious yet exciting Baba.

Film Review: “This Is Our Home”

THIS IS OUR HOME

Starring: Simone Policano, Jeff Ayars, Drew Beckas
Directed by: Omri Dorani
Rated: Not Rated
Running time: 1 hr 13 mins
Uncork’d Entertainment

  We meet Reina (Simone Policano) and Cory (Jeff Ayars) in what could be one of the most memorable moments of their relationship. Reina eagerly fidgets while trying to share the news that she’s pregnant. The next scene is something most parents will find touching and familiar… our couple, intertwined, in a playful and intimate baby-naming brainstorming session. Things are going well and we’re optimistic for these people who seem like a nice team. The next scene shares a fleeting and incredibly terrifying and intimate moment where you begin to watch the process of mourning that child. This moment alone will decide what how the rest of this film is received depending on the audience’s personal experience.    

Reina and Cory head upstate to her family vacation home, secluded in the woods. A relaxing few days, of which we can only assume is intended to serve as a last-ditch effort relationship repair. Scene after scene they become more unbearable to observe together and then an unexpected third party joins them, a child who has seemingly emerged from the woods claiming to be their son. Drew Beckas, who portrays Zeke, brings a remarkable set of eccentricities to his new family unit. His arrival, received by his “parents” in violently varying ways, is agonizing to watch. His age, mannerisms, vocal cadence or the toddler-like prance that doesn’t match his adolescent body all make the second half of the film unsettling and strangely efficient.       

After their initial agreement to call the authorities about his arrival, Zeke separates the couple for one on one time, finding Reina submitting to her maternal instincts (and grief) and Cory growing increasingly more agitated and threatened. Both drawn into different corners of madness, the story commits to serving as a psychological thriller when layers of their relationship are peeled back and you start to question how much of what you’re viewing is actually happening, where it’s happening and why?

     “This is Our Home” is the equivalent to being a guest at a highly dysfunctional family dinner. You go home, glad you’re not related to these people but with a great story to discuss with others. It’s 73 minute run time falls just short of feeling complete. An early sequence involving the couple’s interaction with some backwoods-y motorists feels wedged in to an otherwise claustrophobic story. There’s additionally several unnecessary lingering shots that unnecessarily pad the film’s short runtime for style’s sake. Director Omri Dorani still makes a very worthwhile attempt at constructing a very horrific study of the demolition of a relationship. His storytelling commits to trusting his audience to piece together their own interpretation warranted a few days digestion and earned a second viewing dissection where it proved even more effective.  

Our Favorite Classic Film Slots

People spend hours trying to choose an online casino that works for them, but there are plenty of decisions to make. Do you trust the site and do they provide the best games? With your mind at ease knowing you can play online gambling games safely at Paddy Power, the selection of games is your next task.

Slots have many different themes. Some of the most popular games are fruity and mythical adventures. One category of Slots is film, not only are these exciting to play, but their familiar storylines make for a joyous experience. We’re going to talk about our favourite classic film Slots games, so the next time you spot them, you’ll know how great they are.

Jurassic Park

Dinosaurs have been popular among all age groups for generations. Whether you’re a young child learning about the Tyrannosaurus Rex or a palaeontology enthusiast. Perhaps you always dreamed of discovering a dinosaur on an archaeological dig. In reality, these animals are extinct, but in the film Jurassic Park, ground-breaking technology has brought these creatures back to life.

In the film, billionaire John Hammond (Richard Attenborough) invites palaeontologists Alan Grant (Sam Neil) and Ellie Sattler (Laura Dern) to his island which is populated by genetically produced dinosaurs. Although security is said to be tight, it proves to be useless when predators break out and start hunting their human prey. In total, there are five Jurassic films in the franchise with Jurassic World 3 set to be released in 2021.

The Jurassic Park Slot is as exciting as the film and will have you on the edge of your seat. It’s a five-reel game with 243 pay-lines and the background depicts the same jungle setting as the film. The symbols include all the main characters as well as dinosaurs, with the infamous T-Rex as a wild symbol.

Planet of the Apes

Another film where animals come face-to-face with humanity is Planet of the Apes. There have been many Planet of the Apes films throughout the years, but the Slot is based on more recent versions; Rise of the Planet of the Apes and Dawn of the Planet of the Apes.

In the 2011 film Rise of the Planet of the Apes, we meet Caesar, a baby chimpanzee who becomes an orphan after his mother, Bright Eyes, is shot in a testing lab. Will Rodman (James Franco), the biologist who was running the testing programme, feels responsible for the death of Bright Eyes so decides to look after the young chimp. As his intelligence grows, he becomes a bigger concern to neighbours. After an incident occurs, Caesar moves into a primate facility for everyone’s safety.

In the Slot, there are two playing areas, one for the 2011 film and one for the 2014 sequel, Dawn of the Planet of the Apes. The game has five-reels and 20 fixed pay-lines, stacked with free spins, wild substitutions and bonus features. There is a dual symbol feature which can trigger on any spin potentially winning you up to 1,000 times your bet.

Although there are plenty of other film Slots out there, these classics will be around for a long time, much like the films they were based on.

Film Review: “21 Bridges”

  • 21 BRIDGES
  • Starring: Chadwick Boseman, Sienna Miller
  • Directed by: Brian Kirk
  • Rated: Rated R
  • Running Time: 1 hr 39 mins
  • STX Entertainment 

Perhaps the greatest consequence of watching the crime drama “21 Bridges” is how much it makes you appreciate actual great movies. Some of the words that come to mind while reflecting upon 99 minutes of what were presumably good intentions to make a quality film are predictable, stereotypical and cliched. Despite having a bankable star in the form of Chadwick Bosman (“Black Panther”) in the lead role, Irish-born director Brian Kirk (“Game of Thrones,” “Boardwalk Empire”) fails to make much of an impression with his first foray into feature-length films. 

We meet Andre Davis (Bosman) when he is a little kid attending the funeral of his father, a NYPD officer who is described with such sappy, glowing prose that it is easy to feel like you are being hit over the head with a radioactive mallet. Unsurprisingly, when we fast forward 19 years, we see that Andre has grown up to become a driven NYPD detective with a history of fatally shooting his suspects. Some credit is due to Kirk because at least he tries to provide a glimmer of insight into Det. Andre’s motivations, but it is so fast-paced that neither he nor Bosman are able to turn the lead character into someone that is more than just a cliché cop. 

Kirk does grab our attention for a bit when two military veterans – Ray Jackson (Taylor Kitsch, “John Carter”) and Michael Trujillo (Stephan James, “Race”) – pull a late-night heist that goes completely sideways. It goes so wrong that eight NYPD officers are gunned down. Of course, who is the first person called in to lead the investigation? You guessed it, the most famous detective in all of New York City. Everyone believes he will track down the two thugs and shoot them dead without any questions being asked. However, Det. Andre has some questions of his own as he begins all-night investigation the requires all twenty-one bridges leading into Manhattan to be shut down, thereby preventing the two gunmen’s escape.

 Shockingly, Det. Andre doesn’t like having partners, but he is saddled with narcotics Det. Frankie Burns (a bland Sienna Miller) who often acts as a cheerleader as she roots for their prey to be shot down like dogs. The vice squeezes tighter on the cop killers as they try to figure out both a way out and how they ended up in the situation they are in. (We are left to wonder how they never seem to run out of bullets.) It all leads to a giant conspiracy that is so blatantly obvious that it would cause Sherlock Holmes to turn over in his grave, if such a thing is possible for a fictional character.

 Kirk is consistent as he maintains his swift storytelling from beginning to end, which does occasionally give an artificial sense of suspense. His lone bright spot is Bosman, whose presence is about the only thing that makes “21 Bridges” watchable. Bosman does the best he can with material that should have had a team of writers to rework to prevent it from being something less than satisfactory. Oh, and Oscar-winning actor J.K. Simmons is in it but his character in the Farmers Insurance commercials is far more multi-dimensional and interesting.