Greetings again from the darkness. Capturing a kid’s attention is difficult enough, but these days, it’s a real challenge to hold that attention for 90 minutes. You best offer something extremely entertaining, which is exactly what first time (co-) directors Harry Cripps and Clare Knight have done. Ms. Knight previously worked as the Editor on the MADIGASCAR and KUNG FU PANDA movies, and is married to actor Wayne Knight (Newman from “Seinfeld”). Mr. Cripps previously wrote the screenplay to THE DRY (2020) and here he co-wrote the script with producer Gregory Lessans. Of course making animals the center of a kids’ story is nothing new, and neither are the central topics of respect and family, yet this is quite an entertaining way to do so.
While watching the film with a four and five year old, I was able to witness first-hand the reactions and whether or not attention lapsed (theirs, not mine). The film opens at Australian Wildlife Park where Chaz Hunt (voiced by Eric Bana) is a Steve Irwin-type trainer who entertains the crowds and his son Jessie (Diesel La Torraca) with personal adventure stories that may or may not have a sprinkle of truth. But it’s the animals who are the main attractions here. The park features the world-famous cutest animal, Pretty Boy (Tim Minchin), a Koala who excels at posing for pictures. In contrast, the “ugly” ones, or the deadliest ones, include Nigel the neurotic scorpion (Angus Imrie), Zoe the wise-cracking thorny devil lizard (Miranda Tapsell), Frank the funnel web spider who breaks out in dance when attraction strikes (GuyPearce), and the newest addition, Maddie a taipan snake (Isla Fisher). Acting as a mother-figure to these creatures is Jackie the crocodile (Jackie Weaver).
After a dangerous event caused panic and misunderstanding, Jackie is shipped off away from the park. The other “ugly” animals decide to escape and head home (check the title). Pretty Boy accidentally gets caught up in the escape, and he ends up being quite obnoxious – in constant need of catering and compliments. This stands in stark contrast to the other animals who are quite likable and charming. That’s the gag here, as well as our lesson in ‘beauty is on the inside’. The road trip through the city and into the desert and mountains is quite an adventure and filled with things that don’t go quite right for this band of misfits. Along the way, they learn of the U.S.S. – the Ugly Secret Society, which is a rescue operation run by animals for other animals that aren’t lovable pets. They even have a funny catchphrase/password! Two of the most fun sequences involve Tasmanian Devils and a couple of toads named Doug and Dorene, who sing “When a Man Loves a Woman”.
The film is obviously aimed at kids who are fascinated with animals, and it’s charming and funny and entertaining for both kids and adults – exactly what you hope for with animated movies. The morals of the story about not judging a book by its cover, and the importance of family, are always good lessons to reinforce for kids. We should all be this ugly.
Greetings again from the darkness. Remember when an exonerated OJ Simpson vowed to dedicate his time to finding “the real killer” of Nicole Brown Simpson and Ronald Goldman? For some reason that memory came back in the early stages of this film as a Melbourne-based Australian Federal Police agent returns to his isolated hometown after his childhood friend is implicated in a murder-suicide. See, that agent left town as a teenager when he was suspected of being involved in the murder of a local teenage girl.
Eric Bana (MUNICH, 2005) stars as that AFP agent Aaron Falk. He’s been gone for 20 years, but agrees to return for the funeral of his friend Luke (Martin Dingall Wall) at the request of Luke’s parents (Bruce Spence, Julia Blake). The parents don’t believe Luke would have killed his wife and one of his two kids and then committed suicide, and they want Luke to investigate. Of course, the rest of the town believes Luke did it, and most are none too happy that Aaron has returned, as they haven’t forgotten the suspicion tied to him for the tragedy that took the life of his friend Ellie (BeBe Bettencourt) so many years ago.
The stark contrast of glass and steel Melbourne towers and the drought-stricken cracked soil of (fictional) Kiewarra are as distinct as the comparison of today’s Kiewarra with Aaron’s flashbacks to those carefree days of swimming in the river with Ellie, Luke and their friend Gretchen – who is now a single mom played by Genevieve O’Reilly, and one of the few to welcome Aaron back. The film is based on the 2016 international best-selling novel by Jane Harper, and there is a lot to keep up with, despite a pace that never feels rushed. The two cases may be separated by twenty years, but they seem connected, even though we aren’t sure how murder and suicide and a slew of suspects all fit together. Aaron works with local police officer Greg Raco (an excellent Keir O’Donnell) in an attempt to make sense of what’s happened.
There are angry and suspicious people throughout the town. William Zappa plays Mal, Ellie’s grudge-bearing father, while Matt Nable plays her obnoxious and quick-to-accuse cousin Grant. James Frecheville (ANIMAL KINGDOM, 2010) is local farmer with a motive Jamie Sullivan, while John Polson plays school Principal Scott Whitlam who isn’t quite as put together as he’d like everyone to believe. Farmer Sullivan remarks (with the film’s best line), “You think you’re gonna get the truth in a town like this?” And by that time, we know exactly what he means.
The flashbacks to Aaron’s teenage years provide much of the context to the story and his character, and they are handled beautifully. It’s a small town whose residents hold an abundance of secrets, rumors, and grudges, creating a web of misinformation that challenges Aaron and Officer Raco. The two cases (past and present) collide, and cinematographer Stefan Duscio does terrific work with the vast, dusty landscape, as well as the many interior shots where the characters reveal their true selves. Writer-director Robert Connolly (a heavy TV workload recently) co-wrote the script with Harry Cripps and Samantha Strauss, and they have created a suspenseful and entertaining whodunit. With the heavy dose of crime shows on TV these days, it’s a pleasure to see a well done film with high production value and a cohesive story. Just remember to use an alibi other than “shooting rabbits”, if you are ever working on a cover story.
Greetings again from the darkness. The U.S. Coast Guard has played a role in many movies over the years, but only a few have placed this service branch directly in the heart of the story … most recently The Guardian (2006), which was little more than a cheesy, too-talkative water-based rip-off of Top Gun. Director Craig Gillespie (Lars and the Real Girl, 2007) takes a much different approach as he presents a look at one of the most legendary and heroic real-life rescues in Coast Guard history.
The Oscar-nominated writing team behind The Fighter(2010): Scott Silver, Paul Tamasy, and Eric Johnson have collaborated on the screenplay based on the book from Casey Sherman and Michael J Touglas. It’s a worthy tribute (and clearly Disney-influenced) to what is described as the greatest Coast Guard small-boat rescue. It combines a boat-load (sorry) of tension-filled ocean-based sequences with some pretty interesting character-based sub-plots within a Massachusetts community that has become all too familiar with storm-based catastrophes.
Chris Pine stars as Bernie Webber, an awkwardly shy and obsessive rule-follower, who has lived under a cloud of doubt ever since a previous rescue mission failed, resulting in the death of a local fisherman/husband/father. We first meet Bernie as he bungles through a first date with Miriam (Holliday Grainger, a young Gretchen Mol lookalike). The film then jumps ahead to 1952 when they become engaged and Bernie is ordered into a questionable mission by his “not-from-around-here” commanding officer Daniel Cluff (Eric Bana). See, a huge storm has literally ripped apart not one, but two giant tankers, leaving crew members battling for survival. It should be noted that Bana the Australian, tosses out a laughable southern accent that is a joke within the movie and within the theatre (for different reasons).
Bernie and his crew: Richard Livesay (Ben Foster), Andy Fitzgerald (Kyle Gallner), and Ervin Maske (John Magaro), take off against all odds in a too-small boat against too-big waves in a desperate attempt to rescue the tanker crew that includes brilliant engineer (and quiet leader) Ray Sybert (Casey Affleck) and characters played by John Ortiz and Graham McTavish. Affleck excels as what can be termed a quiet leader. Of course, we know how the story ends, but the heroic efforts against a very powerful Mother Nature show-of-force make for compelling movie watching.
The special effects are stout, though not be as spectacular as The Perfect Storm(2010) or In the Heart of the Sea (2015), and it’s the human-factor that provides more than enough thrills, excitement, and tension. In fact, the biggest issue I had was that I saw a 3-D version which is an absolute disservice to the film. Most of the story takes place at night and at sea, so the 3-D consequence of dimmed light and muted colors results in a far too dark and dull look to the film. I spent much of the movie sliding the 3-D glasses down my nose in a simple attempt to enjoy a bit more brightness. The recommendation would be to skip the higher-priced (money grabbing) 3-D version and take in the more pleasing “standard” version.
Disney makes feel-good movies. Their target market is not cynics or the overly critical among us. The romance pushes the “corny” meter, but keeps with tradition of other Disney movies based on true stories like The Rookie(2002) and Dreamer: Inspired by a True Story(2005). Keep this in mind you’ll likely find this one pretty entertaining. Stick around for the closing credits as a slew of real photographs from the actual 1952 event are displayed, as are photos of the real heroes from that night.
Greetings again from the darkness. This is one of those times where, in order to analyze a movie, one must separate from the emotion of the subject matter. In the traditional sense, this is not a great movie. However, in terms of practicality, the true story and characters and their actions, leave us emotionally exhausted and questioning whether any war actually makes sense. The other thing it does is bring to light just what impressive beings these brave soldiers really are.
The story is taken from the book (co-written by Patrick Robinson) and real experience of Marcus Luttrell. A Texan and member of Navy SEAL Team 10, Luttrell was one of four chosen for the June 2005 Operation Red Wings … the capture or kill of al Qaeda bad guy Ahmad Shahd. Dropped into the Afghanistan Hindu Kush mountains, the mission goes horribly wrong once the group is stumbled upon by goat herders. The Rules of Engagement provide guidance that is supported by CNN concerns … and the decision is made to release them and call off the mission.
To say all hell breaks loose after that is simply an understatement. The four SEALs face insurmountable odds that end according to the spoiler title. If you have seen Blackhawk Down or the opening sequence of Saving Private Ryan, then you have some idea of what to expect on screen as these elite soldiers fight for their lives and their country. The intensity and visceral violence is impossible to describe here. The bullets rip flesh and bone, while desperate re-grouping efforts lead to horrendous tumbles down rocky cliffs.
The movie begins with a glimpse at SEAL training, followed by a few minutes of base life … the competitiveness, the bonding, the breeding of fighting machines. Director Peter Berg does allow for a peek at humanity and personality, but the Band of Brothers culture is unmistakable. When one of them states “moderation is for cowards“, we never doubt for a second that this is part of their psyche.
The four Seals are played by Mark Wahlberg (Marcus Luttrell), Taylor Kitsch (Michael Murphy), Emile Hirsch (Danny Dietz), and Ben Foster (Matt “Axe” Axelson). While they are all believable, this is not an actor’s seminar. Neither is it a geopolitical editorial. Partisanship is non-existent here. Rather, we are reminded of the sacrifice that comes with war, and left to decide for ourselves if this approach is the best we can do … but never having any doubt that these are heroes and extraordinary men.
The real Marcus Luttrell makes an appearance in the movie … he is the SEAL that spills coffee and tells the rookie to clean it up. Finally, as director Berg was meeting with the families prior to filming, this quote came from Danny Dietz’s father after reading the obituary: “That’s who my son was. That’s how hard he fought. Make sure you get that right“.
SEE THIS MOVIE IF: you’re looking for a realistic glimpse at just how horrific war can be
SKIP THIS MOVIE IF: you’re looking for a political statement about whether US policy is right or wrong
Greetings again from the darkness. I try to spend very little time re-hashing movies that deliver very little … I prefer to move on to the next one with a clear head. This one frustrated me because it could have – even should have – been so much more.
Director John Crowley was responsible for the very entertaining Michael Caine film Is Anybody There? and writer Steven Knight penned three scripts that I very much enjoyed: Dirty Pretty Things, Eastern Promises, and Amazing Grace. The cast is very talented with Eric Bana, Jim Broadbent, Ciaran Hinds, and … well … also Rebecca Hall and Julia Stiles. So why does it feel so empty?
The movie begins with a horrible act of terrorism – a suicide bomb in London that we view through a grid of 12 closed circuit screens. You would be incorrect if you think there is a payoff for frantically scanning all screens looking for clues. This device is nothing more than a reminder (over and over again) that we are constantly being monitored while in public.
The ensuing trial provides a peek at the British legal system, but the most interesting sub-plot … the young son of the accused terrorist … is minimized in favor of the generic romance between two legal defense attorneys (Bana and Hall). Additionally, Ciaran Hinds’ character is simply too easy to read and Ann-Marie Duff is totally miscast. My favorite moments were the all-too-rare exquisite verbal diatribes from the great Jim Broadbent.
Chalk this one up as a forgettable would-be/should-be political legal thriller that just doesn’t thrill. It’s of little comfort to know that I was probably being watched on the theatre security cameras as I longed for something worth watching on the screen. They may be watching, but you shouldn’t.
SEE THIS MOVIE IF: you have an ongoing wager with your friends that you must see every Eric Bana movie
SKIP THIS MOVIE IF:you prefer your political and legal thrillers to actually have some thrills and not concentrate on some absurd secret romance that everyone knows about
Greetings again from the darkness. I am struggling a bit with how much to say about this one. It is such a different type of film that it’s difficult to categorize. Yes, it is definitely an Action-Thriller (in the Bourne vein), but it also has some dark comedy, as well as some commentary on parenting, governmental agencies and coming of age.
Let me first say that I highly recommend the film if you are a fan of thrillers and/or action films. It succeeds well on both fronts. However, there is much more to this movie, particularly the fantastic talents of Saoirse Ronan. You will remember her stunning turn in both Atonement and The Lovely Bones. Here she plays Hanna, a girl raised in the deep forest by her father (Eric Bana). His sole purpose in raising her was to train her to be a deadly weapon in any situation. Oh and he also “schooled” her with some generic encyclopedia that has the look of a gas station giveaway. Her head is filled with facts, figures and data on all parts of the world, and somehow she speaks an infinite number of languages.
When she finally tires of gutting deer in the wild, she tells her father she is “ready”. We then find out that her father is some type of former CIA agent and with the flip of a sonar switch, the two separate and the CIA moves in to capture her. While sitting in a secured bunker in the desert, her “mission” becomes clear. She is to kill the CIA agent played by Cate Blanchett, who is connected to Hanna’s “birth” and the death of her mother. That’s when the movie kicks into gear.
What follows are some terrific action and fight sequences, a wonderful segment where Hanna hangs out with a traveling British family led by Olivia Williams and Jason Flemyng … and their daughter Sophie, played exceptionally well by Jessica Barden. The “friendship” that Sophie and Hanna create really brings into focus how sheltered from society Hanna has been.
The cat and mouse chase with Blanchett and her thugs would have worked even better if Blanchett’s character had been better defined and she wasn’t just god-awful in it. Usually Ms. Blanchett is a strong actress who adds much to a film. Here, she is the dead-weight keeping it from reaching even greater heights. And what’s with her dental hygenic practices?
The film is directed by Joe Wright, who has also provided Pride and Prejudice, Atonement, and The Soloist. The man knows how to make a movie … and that’s why this is so much more than an action flick. I must also mention that the Chemical Brothers are standouts with the film score, and though it catches you off guard at first, it really adds impact and effect to the film. There have been a few recent films with young girls in action/fight films. And while Chloe Moretz was excellent in Kick-Ass, this film is far superior. Get to know Saoirse (pronounced Sur-Shuh) Ronan. She is a real talent!
SEE THIS MOVIE IF: you are a fan of the action-thriller genre … especially those with a twist
SKIP THIS MOVIE IF: you’ve had your fill of fight scenes OR anytime you see a female field dress a large mammal, you think of Sarah Palin