Movie Review: “Good Kill”

Starring
Ethan Hawke, January Jones, Bruce Greenwood, Zoe Kravitz
Director
Andrew Niccol

Andrew Niccol’s filmography as of late has been nothing short of disappointing. The writer/director once showed promise as one of cinema’s next great visionaries with his directorial debut, “Gattaca.” Since then, his career has had its ups and downs. “Lord of War” was a bold look into the world of arms dealing, but he followed up that excellent dark comedy with “The Host” and “In Time,” two all-around lackluster studio pictures. They’re safe movies, missing Niccol’s personality and eye for moral ambiguity. With “Good Kill,” Niccol returns to his roots with a movie that exists firmly in the grey.

Air Force pilot Tom Egan (Ethan Hawke) is no longer fighting wars in the sky. Now operating as a drone pilot, he attacks from a box in Las Vegas, Nevada, far away from any serious danger. As a man who served six tours of duty in the sky, this doesn’t sit well with Tom, because even though he gets to spend more time with his wife Molly (January Jones) and their kids, he feels like a coward for having to fight like he’s playing a video game. At the start of the film, Tom is in bad shape, but once he and his fellow drone pilots, including Vera Suaraz (Zoe Kravitz), start taking questionable orders from the CIA, his job and life crumbles.

A soldier haunted by what he’s seen has been well covered on film by this point. Tom Egan isn’t exactly a new or fresh character, but drone warfare is a new world, and it’s one that Niccol fully dives into, leaving no morally complex stone unturned. The writer/director shows all facets of drone warfare – both pros and cons – and the film highlights a variety of perspectives, not only Tom’s. This isn’t an anti-war picture, it’s an honest war picture.

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Movie Review: “Hot Pursuit”

Starring
Reese Witherspoon, Sofia Vergara, Robert Kazinsky, John Carroll Lynch
Director
Anne Fletcher

“Hot Pursuit” is bad. Like, really bad; the kind of movie where the blooper reel attached to the end credits is funnier than the film itself. Not that outshining Anne Fletcher’s action-comedy was particularly difficult to do, but at least it looks like Reese Witherspoon and Sofia Vergara had fun making the movie. Unfortunately, sitting through it isn’t quite as pleasurable, akin to listening to fingernails on a chalkboard for 90 minutes while the two actresses yell at each other like a couple of high-strung Chihuahuas. Women in Hollywood may be desperate to prove that they can be funny too, but “Hot Pursuit” is so painfully dull, mind-numbingly stupid and just plain lazy that it doesn’t exactly help their cause.

Witherspoon stars as Officer Rose Cooper, the daughter of a well-respected cop who followed in her dad’s footsteps. But unlike him, Cooper is totally inept, recently demoted to the evidence locker after a now-infamous incident where she accidentally lit the mayor’s son on fire. When her precinct teams up with the U.S. Marshals Service to transport an important witness to Dallas ahead of his testimony against notorious cartel boss Vincent Cortez (Joaquín Cosio), Cooper is brought along as the police-mandated female escort for his wife, Danielle Riva (Vergara). But after her husband is killed by intruders, Cooper must protect Mrs. Riva from crooked cops and cartel hitmen looking to finish the job so that she can testify against Cortez the next day, even if Cooper has to drag the spoiled and unwilling witness there all by herself.

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Movie Review: “The D Train”

Starring
Jack Black, James Marsden, Kathryn Hahn, Jeffrey Tambor, Russell Posner
Directors
Andrew Mogul & Jarrad Paul

If you followed the news coming out of this year’s Sundance Film Festival, then you know that it was a very busy year for acquisitions, including Andrew Mogul and Jarrad Paul’s directorial debut, “The D Train.” Of course, not every movie that gets purchased at Sundance is a surefire hit, and based on the tepid reaction that the film received from attendees, it makes you question why IFC would spend a cool $3 million for the distribution rights. Though it boasts a pair of bankable stars in Jack Black and James Marsden, and features a surprising twist that’s better left unspoiled, this dark comedy about how far someone is willing to go to become popular falls disappointingly flat.

Black stars as Dan Landsman, a schlubby loser who works for an antiquated consulting firm in Pittsburgh and serves as the chairman of his high school’s alumni committee. After seeing popular classmate Oliver Lawless (Marsden) in a Banana Boat sunscreen commercial on TV one night, Dan devises a plan to fly out to Los Angeles and convince Oliver to make an appearance at their upcoming 20-year reunion in the hope that it’ll get more people to attend and earn him the respect of his peers. Dan doesn’t have any trouble tracking Oliver down, but when a wild night of partying takes an unexpected turn (hint: it gives the term “bromance” a whole other meaning), he becomes strangely infatuated with the struggling actor, leading to much bigger problems in his personal and professional life.

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Movie Review: “Maggie”

Starring
Arnold Schwarzenegger, Abigail Breslin, Joely Richardson, Aiden Flowers
Director
Henry Hobson

Arnold Schwarzenegger’s return to the big screen hasn’t been as triumphant as it should’ve been. In addition to the abominable David Ayer picture, “Sabotage,” the former California governor has appeared in a number of disappointing efforts, including his charismatic cameos in the consistently underwhelming “Expendables” franchise. But for the first time in a long time, not only does Schwarzenegger star in a film worthy of his name, but one that’s way out of his comfort zone, lending considerable emotional depth to the deadly serious zombie drama, “Maggie.”

A few months after the necroambulist virus struck the nation, the rate of infection is beginning to dwindle. Day by day, there are less infected roaming the streets. In no way is the country returning to normal, though, with many families and loved ones still being torn apart by the disease. Wade Vogel (Schwarzenegger) is a Midwest father of three. His oldest daughter from a previous marriage, Maggie (Abigail Breslin), escapes from home after becoming infected with the virus in fear of harming her family. This doesn’t stop Wade from searching for his daughter, and once she’s found, Maggie is brought home. But she only has a few weeks left to live, and it’s up to Wade whether to have her quarantined or kill her himself before she “turns.”

That’s about as much plot as there is in director Henry Hobson’s film. Don’t expect Arnold to fight off zombies or search for the cure to his daughter’s illness. “Maggie” is driven far more by character than story. It’s a quiet, slow burn – albeit a little too slow at times. Even with a 95-minute running time, writer John Scott 3’s screenplay is pretty thin, and although that’s acceptable because it’s not the film’s priority, even for what it is, “Maggie” could have used a few trims and some tightening up.

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Movie Review: “Avengers: Age of Ultron”

Starring
Robert Downey Jr., Chris Evans, Chris Hemsworth, Mark Ruffalo, Scarlett Johansson, Jeremy Renner, James Spader, Aaron Taylor-Johnson, Elizabeth Olsen, Paul Bettany
Director
Joss Whedon

Seconds into the film, “Avengers: Age of Ultron” is already overdoing it. It opens with an assault on a Hydra base, and the team is kicking ass, but with the exception of a fantastic shot straight out of “Kung Fu Panda 2,” it’s underwhelming, a more elaborately choreographed and at the same time less thrilling version of the battle sequence at the end of “The Avengers.” The ‘bigger is better’ mentality is to be expected, but what isn’t expected, or appreciated, is the “Transformers”-like fixation it has with breaking stuff (as in entire cities) for no reason, and worse, there are no consequences for doing so. On top of that, writer/director Joss Whedon’s normally snappy dialogue is woefully lacking. Whedon has said that he’s walking away from the Marvel universe after this (Joe and Anthony Russo, who directed “Captain America: The Winter Soldier,” are taking the reins on the next two “Avengers” movies), and after seeing “Ultron,” it makes sense; from the looks of things, this movie killed him.

Inside the aforementioned Hydra base is a gold mine of military weapons, both mechanical and human, created by Baron von Strucker (Thomas Kretschmann). He’s used Loki’s scepter to give orphaned twins Pietro and Wanda Maximoff (Aaron Taylor-Johnson and Elizabeth Olsen, respectively) superhuman powers, namely (and again, respectively) super speed and all sorts of telekinetic abilities. The Avengers do not get any of Hydra’s data, but they do acquire the scepter, and in studying it, Tony Stark/Iron Man (Robert Downey Jr.) gets the brilliantly stupid idea to convert the scepter’s alien power source into an artificial intelligence that will work to achieve world peace, an idea he’s had for years but has never been able to perfect. This time, it works, and the new consciousness, which he had nicknamed Ultron (James Spader), has a plan for peace on Earth. Unfortunately, his plan involves the extinction of mankind.

Wanda can get people to see things, namely their worst fears. We see the nightmares of everyone she touches, except for Bruce Banner/Hulk (Mark Ruffalo), who goes on to do the most damage: he terrorizes a large city, the very thing he spent years of his life in exile in order to prevent. Of all the nightmares that the audience absolutely has to see, this is the one. Instead, we get Hulk’s reaction to his visions without context, which culminates in a ridiculous street fight between Hulk and Iron Man that does tens of billions of dollars’ worth of damage (though it admittedly has a good laugh halfway through). Everything about this is wrong, and the opposite of what Whedon normally stands for as a storyteller. Just one line explaining that Stark will pay for everything, or that the Avengers are losing the people’s trust, would do. We get neither.

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