Movie Review: “The Finest Hours”

Starring
Chris Pine, Casey Affleck, Eric Bana, Ben Foster, Holliday Grainger
Director
Craig Gillespie

It’s easy to see why studios are drawn to stories like the one behind “The Finest Hours,” where four Cape Cod Coast Guardsmen braved impossible weather to rescue the 33 men trapped on a severed oil tanker. By all rights, every one of them should have died a cold, miserable death that night in early 1952, but they didn’t, and it is still considered one of the greatest rescues in Coast Guard history, which is why someone thought, “We should make a film about this.” That in itself is not a bad idea. The bad idea is when the film they make about this incredible story looks like every other film ever made about a similar story. This is a pity; the water sequences are breathtaking, but it’s hard to get emotionally invested in any of the characters, not for a lack of effort on Casey Affleck’s part.

Coast Guard Boatswain Mate First Class Bernie Webber (Chris Pine) is about to meet, for the first time, the girl he has spent the last four weeks talking on the phone. He’s nervous about how she’ll feel about him, even though a) she’s taken his calls for four weeks, and b) he looks like Chris Pine. The girl, Miriam (Holliday Grainger), likes him just fine, and a few months later, unsung feminist pioneer Miriam asks Bernie if he’ll marry her. Almost immediately after he says yes (in the most awkward, bumbling manner possible), Miriam gets a taste of life as the wife of a Guardsman.

A nasty Nor’easter splits two oil tankers in half off the Massachusetts coast. Bernie, who works in nearby Chatham Station on Cape Cod, is instructed to look for the SS Pendleton, even though there has been no contact from the Pendleton, the Chatham office only has an educated guess where the Pendleton is due to a malfunctioning radar, and there’s a good chance that Bernie’s crew will get stranded on a sand bar before reaching the deep blue sea. The de facto captain of the Pendleton is Ray Sybert (Affleck), an unpopular engine room lifer who knows the ship better than anyone on board, and must convince the crew that he can lead them, or at least keep them alive the longest.

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Movie Review: “Kung Fu Panda 3″

Starring
Jack Black, Angelina Jolie, Bryan Cranston, J.K. Simmons, Kate Hudson, Dustin Hoffman, Seth Rogen, Lucy Liu, David Cross, Jackie Chan
Directors
Alessandro Carloni & Jennifer Yu

It would be fitting if this turned out to be the final installment in the “Kung Fu Panda” series, because the moral of “Kung Fu Panda 3” is “And in the end, the love you take is equal to the love you make.” Those were the last words of the last song on Abbey Road, the last album the Beatles made together. (Yes, there is a snippet of a song after it called “Her Majesty,” but that was the engineer’s doing, and was never supposed to be on the final master tape.) It’s an excellent piece of advice, and makes for a very touching finale, but there is a sameness to these films that cannot be denied. Po is the animated, martial arts equivalent of Dr. Gregory House, the one who continues to get it wrong before finally getting it right.

There is a great disturbance in the spirit realm, as the ox Kai (J.K. Simmons), a onetime friend of the recently deceased Master Oogway (Randall Duk Kim), is vanquishing all departed kung fu masters in order to steal their chi (think of it as channeling the energy of the universe) and use it to cross over to the mortal realm and continue his reign of terror. Oogway chose Po (Jack Black) to be the Dragon Warrior knowing that this was coming, though no one in the mortal realm has much faith that Po will succeed.

Po also receives a visit from his biological father Li (Bryan Cranston), much to the consternation of his adoptive father Ping (James Hong). Li lives with a group of pandas in a hidden location, and he brings Po (and Ping, reluctantly) back with him to learn the art of chi, as well as how to be a proper panda. Po doesn’t have much time, though; soon after crossing over to the mortal realm, Kai makes short work of the Furious Five, save Tigress (Angelina Jolie), and is coming for Po.

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Movie Review: “Dirty Grandpa”

Starring
Robert De Niro, Zac Efron, Zoey Deutch, Aubrey Plaza, Julianne Hough, Dermot Mulroney, Jason Mantzoukas
Director
Dan Mazer

Dan Mazer cut his teeth as a writer on “Da Ali G Show” and other Sacha Baron Cohen projects like “Borat” and “Brüno,” so it comes as no surprise that his directorial debut relies just as heavily on that brand of inappropriate comedy. Though “Dirty Grandpa” isn’t quite as nuanced as some of Cohen’s work, it has such a laissez faire attitude that you have to admire just how far it pushes the limit of what you can get away with in a studio comedy. The movie feels like it’s trying a little too hard at times, but thanks to some committed performances from Robert De Niro and Zac Efron, “Dirty Grandpa” isn’t nearly as unpleasant as its material warrants.

Efron stars as Jason Kelly, an uptight corporate lawyer who has allowed his father (Dermot Mulroney) to control his life ever since college, including the arrangement of his upcoming marriage to the beautiful but bossy Meredith (Julianne Hough). When Jason’s grandmother dies from cancer and his grandpa Dick (De Niro), whom he used to be close with as a kid, asks him to drive him to his Florida vacation home as part of an annual tradition, Jason grudgingly agrees. But as he soon discovers, Dick has ulterior motives for their road trip – namely, to get laid – and persuades Jason to take a detour through Daytona Beach to soak up the spring break festivities after they bump into one of his former classmates (Zoey Deutch) and her rowdy friends (Aubrey Plaza and Jeffrey Bowyer-Chapman) along the way.

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Movie Review: “13 Hours: The Secret Soldiers of Benghazi”

Starring
John Krasinski, James Badge Dale, Pablo Schreiber, David Denman, Max Martini, Dominic Fumusa, David Costabile, Toby Stephens
Director
Michael Bay

Michael Bay has wasted the better part of the last decade making “Transformers” movies, each one more awful than the last, so it’s always refreshing when he takes a break from the blockbuster franchise to produce smaller films (comparatively speaking) like “13 Hours: The Secret Soldiers of Benghazi.” Based on Mitchell Zuckoff’s book about the 2012 attacks in Libya, “13 Hours” is an exhilarating and surprisingly apolitical military thriller that reconfirms why Bay is one of the best action directors in the business. Though the movie isn’t without the typical Bayisms (from the overuse of slow motion and lingering shots of the American flag, to the corny dialogue), it thankfully plays more to his strengths as a filmmaker.

John Krasinski stars as Jack Silva, a former Navy SEAL who has reluctantly resorted to military contractor work to help pay the bills. He’s the newest member of a six-man security team – the innocuously named Global Response Staff (GRS) – tasked with protecting a small group of CIA operatives working out of a top-secret outpost in Benghazi. Tensions within the city are already boiling over following the death of dictator Muammar Gaddafi, so when U.S. Ambassador Christopher Stevens (Matt Letscher) makes a peace trip to Benghazi and insists on staying in a nearby diplomatic compound instead of under CIA protection, the GRS is placed on high alert.

The rest, as they say, is history. On the evening of September 11, 2012, Islamic militants attacked the poorly guarded compound where Ambassador Stevens was residing, and while the GRS – comprised of Silva, team leader Tyrone Woods (James Badge Dale), Kris Paronto (Pablo Schreiber), Dave Benton (David Denman), Mark Geist (Max Martini) and John Tiegen (Dominic Fumusa) – was ready to mount a rescue attempt within minutes, they were forced to stand down by the CIA chief in charge (David Costabile). When the team finally arrived at the compound, the damage had already been done, but it was just the beginning of their hellish night as they returned to the CIA annex to defend against wave after wave of rebel attacks until support arrived.

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Movie Review: “Point Break”

Starring
Luke Bracey, Édgar Ramírez, Teresa Palmer, Ray Winstone, Delroy Lindo
Director
Ericson Core

Kathryn Bigelow’s 1991 cult classic “Point Break” has already been remade once before with “The Fast and the Furious” (if not in name, then certainly in spirit), but whereas that film retained many of the key elements that made “Point Break” so enjoyable, the 2015 version – which coincidentally is directed by Ericson Core, the cinematographer on the first “Fast and Furious” – is an overly serious dud. Though replacing Californian surf culture with the high-adrenaline world of extreme sports was a smart choice by writer Kurt Wimmer, the movie is hindered by an overbearing stream of hokey Zen philosophy and a paltry story that cares less about its characters than what cool stunt they get to do next.

Luke Bracey stars as Johnny Utah, an extreme sports poly-athlete who joins the FBI after his best friend dies in a motocross accident. Desperate to prove to his academy instructor (Delroy Lindo) that he’s ready for field duty, Johnny volunteers to go undercover to investigate a gang of fellow extreme athletes posing as modern day Robin Hoods who steal from the rich and give to the poor. Johnny believes that the group, led by the enigmatic Bodhi (Édgar Ramírez), is attempting to complete The Ozaki 8 – a series of trials created to honor the forces of nature and deliver spiritual enlightenment – which they’re using to rationalize their crimes. They don’t view themselves as criminals, but rather as righteous eco-activists who give back to the planet by returning something that was taken from it (like raining diamonds onto the streets of Mumbai) after each death-defying ordeal. But as Johnny’s admiration for Bodhi grows the closer he gets to the idealistic daredevil, he must decide where his true loyalties lie.

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