Movie Review: “The Light Between Oceans”

Starring
Michael Fassbender, Alicia Vikander, Rachel Weisz, Bryan Brown
Director
Derek Cianfrance

In the summer of 2011, I had a brief gig with a gigantic movie database, tagging films with certain key words. Under the ‘Plot’ category was my favorite tag: “Hide the Body!” It brings to mind movies like “Very Bad Things,” “I Know What You Did Last Summer” and “Shallow Grave,” films where someone dies under gruesome or mysterious circumstances and the remaining characters keep the death a secret because it benefits them somehow. “The Light Between Oceans,” a period piece set off the western coast of Australia, is a Hide the Body movie. Gotta say, didn’t see that coming.

This aspect of the plot wreaks havoc on the rest of the story, too. Try as they might to make a tasteful art film about love and betrayal – and for a few stretches, they succeed – the thriller angle of the story disrupts the tone once it comes to the forefront. There is clearly a lot going on between the ears of the main characters (grief has many layers), but very little of it is translated on screen for the viewer.

After serving his country in the Great War, Tom Sherbourne (Michael Fassbender) enlists to man a lighthouse on an island off the western Australian coast. Before he leaves for the island, he meets cute with Isabel Graysmark (Alicia Vikander). When Tom receives an extended contract to stay on the island, he asks Isabel to marry him, so she can be with him on the island. The two try to start a family, but Isabel’s first two pregnancies end in miscarriage. Days after the second miscarriage, a dinghy washes ashore and inside it is a dead man and a live newborn baby. Isabel convinces Tom not to report the encounter, and then they bury the dead man and claim the newfound baby as their own.

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Movie Review: “The Intervention”

Starring
Melanie Lynskey, Jason Ritter, Cobie Smulders, Natasha Lyonne, Alia Shawkat, Clea DuVall, Vincent Piazza, Ben Schwartz
Director
Clea DuVall

With “The Intervention,” Clea DuVall leaves a striking impression with her feature-length directorial debut. The actress, who starred in the far too short-lived HBO series “Carnivale,” has written and directed an observant, funny and sometimes moving relationship film. Its similarities to famous old-friends-getting-together-for-the-weekend movies are apparent, but since DuVall’s story is driven more by honesty than conventions, its familiar qualities are not a problem.

Putting together an intervention often comes from the right place. And as misguided as Annie’s (Melanie Lynskey) idea of a marriage intervention may be, her heart is in the right place. Annie and some other longtime pals are tired of seeing two of their closest friends, Ruby (Cobie Smulders) and Peter (Vincent Piazza), remain stuck in a seemingly loveless marriage. They’re not the only couple on this getaway having problems, though. In an effort to try to resolve Ruby and Pete’s issues, Sarah (Natasha Lyonne) and Jessi (Clea DuVall), Jack (Ben Schwartz) and Lola (Alia Shawkat), and Annie and Matt (Jason Ritter) end up confronting their own relationship problems.

All of these conflicts unfold naturally, and that naturalism is inherent in DuVall’s thoughtful script. As the story progresses, the characters slowly reveal themselves to be more than what they initially appeared to be. Every single one of them, including a character that easily could’ve been reduced to a one-note caricature (Lola), is so well-drawn in DuVall’s script – each with their own problems, fears and motivations. These are fully-realized characters, and rarely does a simple conversation or confrontation ring false in “The Intervention,” except for maybe one of its broader scenes.

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Movie Review: “Don’t Breathe”

Starring
Stephen Lang, Jane Levy, Dylan Minnette, Daniel Zovatto
Director
Fede Alvarez

Director Fede Alvarez’s previous film, the 2013 remake of “Evil Dead,” is considered the bloodiest movie of all time. (I prefer the word ‘sinewy,’ as it was needlessly, almost laughably gory, but oh well.) His latest film “Don’t Breathe” appears to be an attempt at karmic payback of sorts, because he’s downright stingy with the corn syrup this time around, and the film is better because of it. It’s a claustrophobic thriller; it doesn’t need to be bloody. Indeed, Alvarez has multiple opportunities to shed blood on screen (if Mel Gibson is directing, you’re seeing that blood) but resists. This is a good thing.

Alex (Dylan Minnette), Rocky (Jane Levy) and Rocky’s boyfriend Money (Daniel Zovatto) are low-rent Detroit kids who commit petty theft on the houses protected by the security company that employs Alex’s father, careful to avoid anything that would make them guilty of grand larceny. Money gets word of a potential robbery target, an older man (Stephen Lang) with no family, living on an abandoned block and sitting on $300,000. The man uses the same security company, so the three scout the house and learn two valuable things: the man is blind, and he has a Rottweiler.

Alex wants no part of this job but is guilted into taking part by Rocky, who wants to take the money and run, making a better life for her and her daughter. The house has more locks than they’re used to, making the job infinitely riskier, but they break in anyway. It is at this point that the three discover, once it’s much too late to back out, that the blind man is a war veteran. Needless to say, the job goes poorly.

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Movie Review: “Hands of Stone”

Starring
Edgar Ramirez, Robert de Niro, Ana de Armas, Usher Raymond, Ruben Blades, Ellen Barkin, John Turturro
Director
Jonathan Jakubowicz

Most boxing fans know the name Roberto Duran, but for someone who’s widely regarded as one of the greatest fighters of all time (in addition to holding titles in four different weight classes, he’s the only person to beat Sugar Ray Leonard in his prime), Duran lacks the mainstream recognition of fellow boxers like Muhammad Ali, Mike Tyson and even Leonard himself. Writer/director Jonathan Jakubowicz hopes to remedy that with his new film, “Hands of Stone,” but while it boasts a pair of solid performances from stars Edgar Ramirez and Robert De Niro, the true-life drama doesn’t offer anything different from the dozens of other boxing movies that came before it. “Hands of Stone” is your typical rise-and-fall redemption story, so aggressively mediocre that Jakubowicz would have been better off taking some risks and failing than to settle for this.

The film begins in 1971 with Panamanian boxer Roberto Duran (Ramirez) already on the rise. Despite his natural talent, however, Duran lacks the discipline required to succeed at the highest level, so his manager Carlos Eleta (Ruben Blades) convinces legendary trainer Ray Arcel (De Niro) to turn him into a world champion. Arcel has been retired since being run out of boxing by the mafia nearly 20 years earlier, but he sees something in Duran that reignites his love of the sport and agrees to train him for free, a stipulation of his agreement with local gangster Frankie Carbo (John Turturro). Though the hotheaded and fervently nationalistic Duran is hesitant about working with an American trainer due to his experiences growing up in the U.S.-controlled Canal Zone, he ultimately learns to trust Arcel and builds a successful career over the next decade, culminating in a pair of fights with American sports icon Sugar Ray Leonard (Usher Raymond) that would both make and break his career.

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Movie Review: “War Dogs”

Starring
Miles Teller, Jonah Hill, Ana de Armas, Bradley Cooper, Kevin Pollack
Director
Todd Phillips

It’s been three years since director Todd Phillips released the critically derided final installment in his “Hangover” trilogy, and in that time, his aspirations as a filmmaker have clearly grown. Phillips’ latest movie, based on the 2011 Rolling Stone article “The Stoner Arms Dealers” by Guy Lawson (which was later turned into a book titled “Arms and the Dudes”), is a measured attempt to showcase his serious side à la “The Big Short.” But while “War Dogs” occupies a similar space as Adam McKay’s Oscar-winning dramedy, providing an entertaining look at how a pair of ambitious twentysomething pals became millionaires due to the U.S. government’s own negligence, it doesn’t really have anything important to say – or rather, the important stuff feels like an afterthought compared to the highly dramatized events at the center of the film.

The year is 2005, and college dropout David Packouz (Miles Teller) is working as a licensed massage therapist in Miami Beach while trying to launch his own business selling bedsheets to retirement homes. When his latest scheme fails and his girlfriend Iz (Ana de Armas) announces that she’s pregnant, David decides that he needs to find a real job in order to support his family. Enter childhood friend Efraim Diveroli (Jonah Hill), a bottom-feeding arms dealer who’s moved back to town after working for his uncle selling police-seized weapons in California. Efraim has started his own arms dealing business in Miami, and it’s pretty successful, living off the crumbs of small military contracts that the major companies generally ignore. Efraim offers to bring on David to help with the day-to-day operations, and within six months, the pair lands its biggest deal yet. But when that contract leads to a more lucrative opportunity with the Pentagon to supply weapons and ammo to the Afghan army, the two friends quickly find themselves in over their heads.

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