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Review: “The 15:17 to Paris” Stops More Often Then Starts

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The story of three Americans who stopped a terrorist on a train in 2015 is a heroic one. But is it noble enough to be worthy of a film? While director Clint Eastwood indeed finds enough character in the three heroes and plenty of high drama in the violent encounter they faced, there’s undeniable padding to fluff this story up to hit that 90-minute running time.

EastwoodBefore we get to the shooting on the 15:17, teased throughout the picture, we get to know our three brave men. Alek Skarlatos of the Oregon National Guard is a big guy that strove through many hardships of weight and time management to become a soldier. Spencer Stone of the US Air Force served his country in Afghanistan. Anthony Sadler is a college student that has been best friends with the other two since Catholic school. Oh, also on the train was British businessman Chris Norman who helped on the train as well, but we don’t learn his story. Not in Eastwood’s patriotism guzzling version of the story.

has created a nearly ironclad defense for the actors playing the three Americans since they’re all played by themselves. You can’t call them bad actors because they’re not actors. You can’t say they’re wrong for the roles because they’re playing themselves. That being said, Eastwood still could have used Skarlatos, Stone, and Sadler in a more professional manner where they’re not awkwardly stumbling through most scenes.

Where the three work best is when they are in their element. When Skarlatos attends military training, he takes it seriously, and with a real determination and knowingness, you can see in his eyes. But when he’s just hanging out with his friends to have a beer and have a laugh, the off-acting becomes far more noticeable when they need to dominate the screen. This leads to many situations that I’m sure were hilarious between the trio, but don’t translate very well to the screen. I would have overlooked these issues if only the film didn’t have us spend so much time with these characters goofing off and having fun. It also doesn’t help when you have the stronger comedic talents of Thomas Lennon, Tony Hale, and Jaleel White in supporting roles to act as comparisons.

The story becomes far too analytical with detailing these three lives. The movie begins with them in the Catholic school where they all first meet. Their school days are nothing groundbreaking; just a regular suburban life, even when one of them moves away. They grow up to attend college where Skarlatos sets his sights on the military, inspired by a serviceman that ambles into a Jamba Juice. He goes through heavy weight training to become worthy of the service, but we don’t see much of it past a quickly-edited montage with motivating narration and music, perfectly assembled for a Nike commercial. Spencer Stone was in the field in Afghanistan, but his scenes of working with his unit during operations are so dull that even Stone himself admits to the monotony of it all.

Oh, but you don’t know monotony until you’ve seen the film slam on the brakes for the extended showcase of the boys on their European vacation. Watching this section of the film has all the allure of watching your not-so-interesting friend put on a slideshow of their trip. We see everything these three do to an absurd degree. We watch them check in to their hotel, go sightseeing, take selfies, go on boat rides, take more selfies, eat gelato, go to a museum, more selfies, and go to a nightclub where they drink too much. Nothing all that funny or exciting happens during these scenes unless Eastwood is trying too hard to weave the ennui of these heroes into the narrative. But, to be fair to the actors, they did seem natural; I believed their subtle level of interest in the pivotal scene where they enter a gelato shop, buy some gelato, and then leave without saying too much.

Thankfully, after a crawl through the desert of unnecessary vacation footage, the film finally picks up steam when we arrive at the moment on the train everyone has been waiting for. Eastwood’s direction is at its best in these moments that treats the attack with real energy and grit, but low on theatrics. The music is kept to a minimum, and the camera is held close. Eastwood’s almost clinical approach to the events work, keeping perspective on the situation rather than draw out more drama. On its own, this is a profound short film that does well with both paying tributes to the heroes and letting them naturally shine on the screen.

As surprising as it is to watch Eastwood take a Richard Linklater approach to examining the lives of American heroes, there’s an underwhelming lack of flow, coherence, and complexity to this story. Just look at his previous film, Sully, which let us understand the mindset of Chesley Sullenberger and the specifics of what went down on that flight. Not much is divulged about the situation on the train, including the attacker which is portrayed as a faceless bad guy. Not much is worth knowing about Skarlatos, Stone, and Sadler, all of which seemed to be relatively easy-going young men.

But I’m sure the relatively inert scenes of the three guys, in addition to them being in the right place at the right time, will inspire any American to know that they can be a hero as well. And while I do like these three men and find their heroism commendable, their film treatment comes off with a certain hollowness of giving a passing a grade to the high school quarterback failing English. The real story of Skarlatos, Stone, and Sadler is a great example of American heroism; their movie counterpart is just not as inspiring or entertaining.


Box Office

“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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