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Movie Review: ‘Only The Brave’ Brings Tension and Tears

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Only The Brave

Director Joseph Kosinski takes the heartbreaking tale of the Granite Mountain Hotshots in his late that fought to contain wildfires and gives it the most appropriate of tellings. He never favors heavily on the melodrama, technicalities or patriotism that could ooze from such a story. This could have easily been a soft drama for families and an appropriate tribute to the many firefighters that attended the preview screening. Despite keeping the film on its expected track, Kosinski earns the tears that come with this tragic story.

The film treats the Arizona based Hotshots as men that are devoted and heroic, but still rowdy and flawed. They’re led by Eric Marsh (Josh Brolin), dedicated to making the tough call more than adequately communicating it. He struggles to get his group of hard-working firefighters approved to be Hotshots but has to keep his attitude in check. He has a loving relationship with his ranch-owning wife Amanda (Jennifer Connelly), but their relationship turns rocky with extended hours and the debate over having a baby. Only with a little cheerful encouragement and strategy from the former fire chief and family member Duane (Jeff Bridges) can he finally make a difference.

josh brolin only the brave

Josh Brolin as Eric Marsh in Only The Brave

There’s a lot of stories to take in with the many men of this unit, and we only follow a handful. The most prominent is Brendan “Donut” McDonough (Miles Teller), a loser of a pot-smoker that with a pregnant girlfriend that wants nothing to do with him. He’s rough, but Marsh thinks he can mold him. Sure enough, he keeps up with the rowdy bunch and gets his life together enough to be a dad. The rest of the crew just seem like decent and average guys, chatting about ladies and boasting about their band.

It’s the little details that make Only The Brave stand out from the pack of other heroic and tragic tales. I didn’t expect much from Brendan and his baby, suspecting we’d only see him holding his daughter a few times. But there’s a surprisingly sweet sequence where he and another Hotshot struggle with the baby running a fever and they scramble with how to handle it. One of the Hotshots happens to know a nurse and the crisis is averted, with Brendan admitting that was the most frightening moment of his life. Amanda also has her own experience of frustrations, struggling to maintain the ranch on her own and push her new business of shoeless horses to local farmers. She may have to share her man with the fires, but she gets equal enough time in this story to be more than just the worrying wife back home.

The fires these boys combat are as terrifying as they are believable. They approach their strategies with a calm demeanor, committed to digging trenches and cutting off the path of flames, but are aware that one miscalculation could lead to a swift death. There’s a moment when they start spreading flames with a device that spits out embers, only for it to turn into a flamethrower when the mixture gets too hot, forcing Brendan to launch it into the fire. Brendan is slightly panicked about what went wrong, but Eric brushes it off as just being a bad batch. He’s more concerned about promptly leaving the area before the flame spread faster. And when the team tackles the massive Yarnell Hill Fire, the mission turns dark and harsh, all of them striving to be brave amid the most horrific of disasters.

Hotshots: Only The Brave

Hotshots: Only The Brave

While I didn’t feel as though I genuinely grasped the detailed technical aspects of firefighting, I was never out of the loop with these characters. They speak plainly and to the point, rarely taking moments to deliver some overly dramatic line. The film isn’t devoid of these, however. I set my expectations a little low in the first shot where Eric has a dream about a bear made of flames, running through the woods as it growls and leaves a blaze in its wake. This vision is seen at least three more times, and the movie must stop at one moment so Eric can spell out this imagery for the audience. There are also a few scenes in the third act that are a little too on-the-nose with the themes at play. Eric doesn’t want to let Brendan transfer for a safer gig with his family but realizes that it’s Eric’s hangups bringing this distaste.

There’s no significant surprise with how Only The Brave plays out. We watch the tragedy unfold with dignity, the tears flow in the aftermath and are treated to photos of the real Granite Mountain Hotshots to close the film. It’s built to be a tear-jerking tribute but assembled with great care to make a movie of character and courage, so the inevitable event that claims many lives carries a more substantial impact of heroism than the apparent acknowledgments.

Kosinski could have favored more comfortable melodrama and emphasize the wildfires, but he manages to avoid the many pitfalls of adapting such a story. Much like the Hotshots, his film manages to make the quick calls of where to take a tale about family, fire, and frustration. I’ve sat through so many of these real stories of tragedy and heroism meant to evoke tears, most of the audience was quickly won over to weep by the simplest of drama. This film earns its watery-eyed audience and nearly brought me to that emotional pique as well, thanks to Kosinski’s moving portrayal of these people and events. Calling the film moving is a given for those invested in the lives of firefighters, but it carries a more critical impact and grander surprise for those not as involved or aware of these events.

[author title=”About the Author” image=”http://popstermedia.com/wp-content/uploads/2015/07/mark_mcpherson-300×221-150×150.jpg”]Movie Reviewer Mark McPherson has been all about movies since working at a video store in his youth. His talents range from video editing to animation to web development, but movies have always been his passion to write about.[/author]


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“The Grinch” Steals Box Office, “Overlord” and “Spider” Left With Scraps

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The holiday Christmas movie season starts early as it usually does in November. Just one week after The Nutcracker and the Four Realms, along comes Dr. Suess’ The Grinch, the theatrical animated adaptation of the classic children’s novel, helmed by Illumination Studios of Despicable Me fame. The animated comedy raked in $66 million for its first weekend, well on its way to conquering its $75 million budget as the holidays roll on. Given Illumination’s track record with comedy among kids, expect the film to stick around for the next two months.

The rather high box office of Grinch stole the thunder of the other two films debuting this weekend. Overlord, a Nazi zombie action/horror romp, debuted at #3 with a domestic gross of $10.1 million, which is not exactly a strong opening for a film with a $38 million budget. But it could’ve been worse as The Girl in the Spider’s Web: A New Dragon Tattoo Story, the action sequel to The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo, premiered at #5 with a box office take of only $8 million on a $43 million budget. Don’t be surprised if you see these darker, violent films take a tumble coming into the holiday season that seeks more PG-13 genre films for the families to venture out to the theater for.

Bohemian Rhapsody, the Freddie Mercury and Queen biopic, is holding firm at #2 on its second weekend with a weekend gross of $30.8 million, bumping its domestic total up to $100 million. The Nutcracker and the Four Realms, however, isn’t doing so well in its second weekend. The Disney fantasy adventure only made $9.5 million over the weekend, a 53% drop with a domestic total sitting at a meager $35 million. Not a very strong take for a Disney Christmas fantasy that cost $120 million.

It’s no surprise, however, that David Gordon Green’s Halloween took the biggest dip of the weekend at 64%. It’s surprising the horror film is even still here at #9 in the box office, the domestic total now sitting at a very pleasing $156 million. Also holding firm once again at #10 is The Hate U Give, having made $26 million for only being in 1,100 theaters.

View the full top 10 box office weekend results below.

Dr. Seuss’ The Grinch ($66,000,000)
Bohemian Rhapsody ($30,850,000)
Overlord ($10,100,000)
The Nutcracker and the Four Realms ($9,565,000)
The Girl in the Spider’s Web: A New Dragon Tattoo Story ($8,015,000)
A Star is Born ($8,010,000)
Nobody’s Fool ($6,540,000)
Venom ($4,850,000)
Halloween ($3,840,000)
The Hate U Give ($2,070,000)

Next weekend will feature magical beasts versus dysfunctional families versus women robbers. Fantastic Beasts: The Crimes of Grindelwald, the second film in the new Harry Potter spin-off series, will debut in 4,000 theaters. Instant Family, a family comedy starring Rose Byrne and Mark Wahlberg, will hit 3,000 theaters. Also debuting in 3,000 theaters will be Widows, the all-star heist picture directed by Steve McQueen and starring Viola Davis.


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Review: “Overlord” is a Gritty, Gory Genre Mash

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Overlord is one of those delicious genre blenders that delivers World War II action and viciously gruesome body horror into a beautifully bloody cocktail of entertainment. In the same way that From Dusk Till Dawn convinced you into watching one type of film before switching gears, so too does this war film that soon mutates into an equally as frightening tale of science experiments gone wrong. And although the subgenre of Nazi zombies is a fairly small one, this is by far one of the most fun.

Starting loud and explosive, making great use of IMAX, we’re quickly thrown into the action with an interesting ensemble of soldiers tasked with taking down a Nazi control tower in French territory. Private Boyce (Jovan Adepo) is fearful of combat and reasonably so when everyone is shooting at you when making a rocky landing and losing more than half his comrades. His methods of choosing the least lethal options clashes greatly with the ruthless Captain Ford, played by a stellar Wyatt Russell, son of Kurt Russell who has that same great level of grit in his performance. Meeting up with a handful of other soldiers, they secretly make their plans in a Nazi-occupied French village to assault the tower where the Nazis have established a base.

Though Boyce is prepared to take down the target, he’s not prepared for what he discovers underneath the base. The Nazis have a classic mad doctor hard at work on breeding the ultimate race of super soldiers. These monsters are not ready yet and Boyce, unfortunately, happens upon the stepping stones of mangled corpses, howling undead, and decapitated heads begging for death. Of course, this is all helmed by a nervous mad scientist, Dr. Schmidt (Erich Redman), and a sneeringly sinister overseeing Nazi Officer Wafner (Pilou Asbæk).

While the Nazi experiments are in desperate need of improvement, Overlord shoots straight for the guts with gusto when it comes to the action and terror. The US soldiers are portrayed as a lot of colorful characters, including the nasally joking Tibbet (John Magaro) that provides vital comic support. The Nazis are seen as unhinged evil, never wasting an opportunity to shoot a civilian in the streets or rape a woman when she is cornered. And the monsters all feel like brilliant works of terrifying body horror, where necks snap open and chunks of flesh fall off the face. Consider how when the French civilian of Chloe (Mathilde Ollivier) gets in on the action; she quickly goes from fearful sister looking after her ailing aunt to a flamethrower-touting badass.

But what’s most remarkable about all this is how it never feels the need to blatantly wink with its theatrics, shying away from trying too hard to seem badass. This movie is badass and it knows enough not to amp up the humor when setting undead zombies aflame or watching someone’s body contort in unnatural ways. The tongue is buried firmly in cheek, chewing on its meaty set pieces of blood and explosions to stand firm without a knowing nod to the audience. Such earnest seems almost rare in films that want to replicate that grindhouse flavor of filmmaking.

Overlord more than earns its brutal showdown of fierce fights and abundance of firey blasts, putting in all the grunt work of a capable war and horror film. With the relatively fresh direction of Julius Avery, it’s a film that is smart enough to have faith in its grit of the disturbing elements from both genres that it never feels the need to spice it up too high with self-consciousness. And in its own weird way, it’s serious and subtle enough that we can buy into the fantasy of a Nazi zombie story told straight with character and cunning. After all, we’ve already had the over-the-top angle with Dead Snow. The time has finally come for this subgenre to be taken seriously. Or about as seriously as it can be taken.


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Big “Bohemian Rhapsody” Opening While “Nutcracker” Trails

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In weekend box office battle, it’s Queen who is king. Bohemian Rhapsody, the Freddy Mercury and Queen biopic, came in at #1 making $50 million domestic. With a $52 million budget, this is a very successful opening for the film, despite the mixed critic reaction. Falling just behind it with less than half the take is The Nutcracker and the Four Realms, Disney’s latest fantasy adventure debuting early for the Christmas season. The film did poorly with critics and even poorer at the box office, bringing in only $20 million which is not a good debut at all for such an expensive epic. Also just behind is Tyler Perry’s new romantic comedy, Nobody’s Fool, taking in $14 million, strangely low for a Tyler Perry movie, especially when you consider that higher budget of $19 million.

Since Halloween is over, it’s natural to see that David Gordon Green’s Halloween would dip in the box office and it certainly fell the lowest this week with a 64% drop. Falling sharply from #1 to #5, the film made $11 million for the weekend but it’s not a huge concern given the film has already made $150 million on a budget of $10 million. Almost tying with the picture is A Star Is Born, the Bradley Cooper/Lady Gaga musical drama that has proven to be a box office darling, earning $11.1 million over the weekend with a $165 million domestic gross. And still sticking like goo to the box office is Venom, Sony’s solo villain picture starring Tom Hardy, making another $7.8 million for a domestic total nearly at $200 million.

Aside from A Star is Born being the smallest drop of the weekend, it also tied for the lowest drop with Smallfoot, Warner Bros animated comedy that is proving to have modest legs to stick around. The animated film with the voices of Channing Tatum and James Cordon made $3.8 million for a $77 million domestic gross. And The Hate U Give, the racial drama, is still hanging in there at #10 with a domestic total now sitting at $23 million, rather strong for a drama that slowly rose up over the course of October.

Bohemian Rhapsody ($50,000,000)
The Nutcracker and the Four Realms ($20,000,000)
Nobody’s Fool ($14,000,000)
A Star is Born ($11,100,000)
Halloween ($11,015,000)
Venom ($7,850,000)
Smallfoot ($3,805,000)
Goosebumps 2: Haunted Halloween ($3,700,000)
Hunter Killer ($3,525,000)
The Hate U Give ($3,400,000)

We hope you’re ready for Christmas because those movies are going to start early. Next weekend will see the 4,000 theater debut of The Grinch, the latest animated comedy from Illumination Studios based on the classic Dr. Seuss book. But it’ll have some adult competition with The Girl in the Spider’s Web: A New Dragon Tattoo Story opening in 3,000 theaters (the sequel to 2011’s The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo), and Overlord, a Nazi zombie action picture, opening in 2,500 theaters.


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