Tag Archives: review

Review: ‘Broker,’ Baby, It’s Cold Outside

Directed by Hirokazu Kore-eda, the absorbing drama stars Song Kang Ho.

'Broker' (Neon)

Who would sell a baby? More importantly: why? 

As he demonstrated in Shoplifters (2018), writer/director Hirokazu Kore-eda knows that family units are not always bound by blood. Instead, some of the tightest families are those who come together for a single purpose, and then remain united for a variety of reasons, no matter the obstacles they may face.

His latest film, Broker, begins with a young woman (Lee Ji-eun) leaving a newborn child at a church’s so-called “baby box,” where loving care will, presumably, be provided thereafter. Except that two miscreants have been abusing the charitable provision for some time, stealing babies left in the overnight hours and then selling them on the black market. 

Sang-yeon (Song Kang Ho) runs a clothing repair shop and has a gambling problem; he has teamed with the younger Dong-soo (Gang Dong-wan), who works part-time at the church-run orphanage and serves as  his ‘inside man.’ They don’t know it, but they are under surveillance by two police officers, the more-experienced Soo-jin (Doona Bae) and the less-experienced Lee (Lee Joo-young), who have caught wind of their scheme and are determined to bring them to justice. 

On the night in question, Soo-jin and Lee are watching as the young woman, and follow up in the morning when she returns to the scene, where they observe her heading off with Sang-yeon and Dong-soo. Things do not go as planned, as the baby brokers, accompanied by the infant’s mother and, later, a young boy, traipse around South Korea in search of qualified buyers, with the police in slow pursuit. 

The film steadily becomes more absorbing as it moves forward, as the characters are gently fleshed out through casual conversations and memories that turn poignant, haunting, and wistful, sometimes all at the same time. Song Kang Ho, who led the family unit in the brilliant Parasite, here plays a man who isn’t much of a father, even of the criminal sort; mostly, he’s just someone who wants to do the right thing, but doesn’t know how to do it.  

The other actors are similarly fine, with Doona Bae showing a believably desperate side to match her steely determination. Cinematographer Hong Kyung-pyo (Parasite, The Wailing, Burning) captures the grungy beauties of everyday life and gorgeous landscapes that appear also at random, as finely edited by the director himself. 

From the premise, it’s easy to expect something routine or tawdry. Hirokazu Kore-eda is not an ordinary filmmaker, however, as the simple yet profound Broker demonstrates yet again.

The film opens at Angelika Film Center in Dallas on Friday, January 13, via Neon. For more information about the film, visit Angelika’s official site. 

Review: ‘Top Gun: Maverick’ Chases Ghosts

Tom Cruise returns to a role that made him famous. 

Tom Cruise took flight into Hollywood’s firmament of stars in 1986’s Top Gun

Arriving midway through Ronald Reagan’s second term as U.S. President, the film glorified military activity to an obnoxious degree. Under director Tony Scott (The Hunger), the slick visual stylings resembled a feature-length Navy recruitment ad, filled with glistening male abdomens and submissive women who accepted their roles as supporting players in the game of life. Oh, and the jets, and the bombs and the smile. 

Needless to say, it minted a fortune. 

Emulating the original film, Top Gun: Maverick mimics its slick visual stylings, as well as copying its narrative threads and incorporating original footage aplenty, as well as its music cues, themes and characters. Cruise’s character, Pete Mitchell, better known by his military callsign, Maverick, has added a few well-placed wrinkles while otherwise remaining as close to his original appearance as the makeup artists can achieve. 

Evidently, he has learned nothing from his many years in the military. Refusing all offers for promotion, he remains a happy pilot, killing people from a safe distance and obeying only the orders that he likes. His one-time nemesis turned long-time friend, known as Iceman (Val Kilmer), is now commander in chief or some such title, and has consistently saved Maverick from the firing squad. 

Finally, though, Maverick breaks the proverbial last straw and is grounded, ordered to service as an instructor at the so-called Top Gun military training school, where he will teach a dozen top pilots how to do the impossible and blow things up on a mission whose simulation resembles the one in Star Wars (1977). And can you believe it? One of his students is Rooster (Miles Teller), the son of Goose (Anthony Edwards), who died in Maverick’s arms many years ago. 

For many years, Rooster has held a grudge against Maverick, but it’s not because his father died in Maverick’s arms or that he holds Maverick responsible. Oh, no, nothing that simple. Instead, Rooster holds a grudge because Maverick held Rooster back from enrolling in the Navy academy for four years and delaying the inevitable start of his destined military career. Can you believe it? The nerve of that guy! 

I wondered why, if Rooster wanted to fly, he didn’t just flap his arms up and down. (See? He’s named Rooster, so …) Or become an airline pilot. No, Rooster must fly jets, just like his dad, and then hopefully become qualified to kill Faceless Bad People from the air. 

When he’s not staring daggers at Maverick during class, Rooster jousts with Hangman (Glen Powell), who continually mocks him and says he isn’t good enough to fly this dangerous secret mission that’s been borrowed from Star Wars. (Reportedly, Glen Powell was up for the role of Maverick at the same time as Miles Teller, so I wonder if that helped him define his anger issues in this film?) 

Maverick is busy trying to get busy with former girlfriend Penny (Jennifer Connelly), as in, ‘if I had a penny for every time she mocked me, I’d have a fortune and could retire.’ Penny has learned better, it seems, though she does have a daughter who kinda looks like Maverick when she smiles. Who knows? I wasn’t there; I’m not judging. 

Admiral Cyclone (Jon Hamm), who, truth be told, would rather be in advertising, gets mad at Maverick a lot, while secretly admiring his nerve. By the Admiral’s order, Maverick needs to train the pilots in just three weeks, which gets repeated so often I lost track of exactly how much time had passed, which allows for much footage of actors in planes and many, many whooshing sounds — as in, “whoosh,” that jet is mighty fast — and a lot of pilots upside down and sideways, and Maverick is still better than all of them, because he’s the star of the movie, which I mention because you might have just been born yesterday. 

Five writers received credit for “writing” the film, though I suspect the actual number of people who typed scenes or lines or floated ideas for this sequel is much higher. I just hope they all got paid and that their checks have cleared. 

Joseph Kosinski, who directed TRON: Legacy, Oblivion and Taco Bell: Web of Fries (not kidding; it’s on IMDb), obviously knows how to make people, scenery and visual effects look really, really good on a big, big screen. I’m not sorry I attended the press screening, which was in an IMAX theater and looked very, very impressive, and boomed tremendously loudly. 

In many ways, this is a stupidly entertaining movie. Intellectually, I suspect I really shouldn’t like this movie so much, but we all need a little more whoosh in our lives. 

The film opens in Dallas, Fort Worth and surrounding cities on May 27, 2022, via Paramount Pictures. For more information about the film, visit the official site.

Review: ‘Death on the Nile,’ Of Murder and Mustaches

I never expected to see a cinematic adaptation of an Agatha Christie murder mystery that begins with an origin story of Hercule Poirot’s mustache, but here we are. 

Stately, sumptuous and suspiciously clever, Kenneth Branagh’s Death on the Nile follows largely in the narrative pattern that the director and screenwriter Michael Green established in Murder on the Orient Express (2017): the sets are exquisitely detailed, the costuming is gloriously glamorous, and the hair is perfectly coifed. And the special effects are as good as they can possibly be, except that the entire production displays an air of unbelievable extravagance. 

I suspect that Agatha Christie aficionados and modern moviegoers have one thing in common: a willingness to suspend disbelief. Under that assumption, Death on the Nile is wonderfully entertaining, if a bit bleak in its depiction of humankind. 

Kenneth Branagh returns as the world-famous detective Hercule Poirot, now on vacation in the Middle East during the late 1930s, as war is brewing on the horizon. Known for his great powers of deductive intelligence, even as a young soldier in The Great War, Poirot has become celebrated for his investigatory skills in London, where six months previously, he bore witness to the birth of a love affair in public. 

 The love affair between the foppish Simon Doyle (Armie Hammer) and the wealthy Linnet Ridgeway (Gal Gadot) broke the heart of Jacqueline de Bellefort (Emma Mackey), who was both Simon’s intended bride and Linnet’s best friend. After a hasty courtship, the two have married, and wish to celebrate their love by inviting a motley group of people along on their honeymoon trip, cruising the Nile River. 

From the title, we know that murder will occur; from the presence of Hercule Poirot, we know that everyone is a suspect. It is only a question of who and when. 

Once the deadly deed is done late one night, the film plays out to the accompaniment of a ticking clock. As in Murder on the Orient Express, the crime must be solved before the large moving vessel can reach its destination when the sun rises. 

Rather than a cup of tea and warm milk, Death on the Nile serves up a large mug of hot coffee that gradually cools and is continually topped off with another cup of red herrings. The cast members, including Tom Bateman, Letitia Wright, Sophie Okonedo, Rose Leslie and Annette Bening, look fabulous as they swing in and out of the plot as Poirot investigates in dogged, logical, methodical fashion. 

As he appears to turn his sharp eye of insight on first one suspect, and then another, the busy backgrounds swiftly change, like colliding carousels in the night. Since I am not a detective, nor a writer of mysteries, the increasingly complicated motivations became difficult for me to follow until I gave up. 

Maybe the biggest lesson to learn from Death on the Nile is that you are not as smart as Hercule Poirot. And maybe he isn’t, either. 

The film opens in Dallas, Fort Worth and surrounding cities on Friday, February 11, via 20th Century Studios. For more information about the film, visit the official site

Review: ‘The Boss Baby: Family Business,’ Teachers and Students

Designed and built strictly for family audiences, The Boss Baby: Family Business pumps out a steady stream of jokes, wisecracks, and cultural references in a boldly frank endeavor to appeal to both parents and their pre-teen children (but no real-life babies). 

The sequel to The Boss Baby (2017) requires absolutely no knowledge of the first film, since the premise remains the same: babies are far more intelligent that their parents will ever know. The sequel reheats the same tropes as before, while obeying a surefire rule for all subsequent installments of films that earn a multiple returns on the studio’s investment: add even more characters, doing the same kind of thing. 

The titular baby was introduced originally as the younger, infant, suit-wearing brother of putative hero Tim. Subsequently it was revealed that he had an adult mind, thanks to a secret formula that enabled him to serve as a secret agent for a mysterious company. 

Tweaking the premise a bit, the sequel finds Tim (James Marsden) and Ted (Alec Baldwin) all grown up and living separate and very different lives. Tim is married to Carol (Eva Longoria) and a stay-at-home dad to two daughters, Tabitha (Ariana Greenblatt) and her baby sister Tina (Amy Sedaris), while Ted is a fabulously successful single businessman. 

An inciting incident brings Ted home to help out Tim, where they both discover that Tina is actually the new Boss Baby with a fresh new mission to go undercover and investigate a suspicious school started by Dr. Armstrong (Jeff Goldblum). That’s also where Tabitha already attends, and so Tim is eager to help out, hoping that he can learn why Tabitha has been drawing away from him recently, even after Tina explains that he will need to drink a new secret formulate that de-ages him into childhood. 

Returning screenwriter Michael McCullers wrote the first film, adapted from a book by Marla Frazee, and his style of witticisms is clever and rapid-fire, as he demonstrated in his past. He is a Saturday Night Live veteran from the late 90s and has been writing live-action comedies like the Austin Powers movies and animated films starting with The Boss Baby. His script meshes well with the visual style developed by director Tom McGrath over the years in films such as Madagascar and Megamind and their sequels. 

From its opening frames,  The Boss Baby: Family Business never pretends to flesh out anything resembling real life. That’s not its intention. Instead, it wants to teach good solid family lessons, stretching that here to encompass good reminders for adults. 

With its plethora of jokes and snappy pace, the film avoids the “sag” that is common to sequels, even though it spends a considerable amount of time on elaborate action sequences that don’t necessarily add to the story at all. It doesn’t present anything new or unexpected, but it does supplies a thirsty audience with a few cups of water on a parched day. That’s not bad at all. 

The film opens in Dallas, Fort Worth and surrounding cities on July 2. It will also be available to stream on Peacock. For more information about the film, visit the official site

Review: ‘Raya and the Last Dragon,’ Warm Hearts, Cool Adventures

Kelly Marie Tran and Awkwafina lead the voice cast in Disney’s magnificent, heart-warming animated adventure. 

Refreshing in its approach to story, drawn from Southeast Asian folklore, and, perhaps even more importantly, in its depiction of the traditional “Disney princess” (compare with the company’s own descriptions and marketing of such), Raya and the Last Dragon is an encouraging step into a world first broached in Moana (2016), depicting a culture that is not drawn from broad European archetypes. 

Instead, it’s an original work, based on a story credited to a slew of writers; the screenplay is credited to Malaysian-born writer Adele Lim (Crazy Rich Asians) and Vietnamese-American playwright Qui Nguyen, who both have past experience in writing for television and films, while American Don Hall and Mexican-American Carlos Lopez Estrada served as directors. That so many people were involved in writing and directing the project is no surprise, since sprawling animated adventures take far more time than live-action narratives, yet the involvement of people from a number of diverse backgrounds is notable, and suggests why the film is markedly different from past Disney animated films. 

On one hand, Raya and the Last Dragon loosely follows a typical modern Disney pattern: young female lead sets off on an adventure in which she meets a motley collection of supporting characters who teach her about life and empower her to achieve goals that empower others. On the other hand, the film’s narrative undercurrents stress the need for humility and self-sacrifice for the greater good, rather than self-fulfillment, or striving after personal or family goals. 

Raya (voiced by Kelly Marie Tran) has spent years in search of a legendary figure, Sisu, who disappeared at the same time as Raya’s father, Benja (Daniel Dae Kim). Poor Benja transformed into stone, along with throngs of other people, when the malignant forces known as the Druun came to power. If Raya can find Sisu and convince her world “last dragon” to help her, perhaps she can reunite her long-divided land and bring her father (and every other transformed soul) back to life. 

Naturally, Raya is bold, courageous, and headstrong, just like past Disney princesses, though the title she holds is self-effacing. She also displays a delightful capacity for fun and games, but she ain’t got time for that now; she is living during wartime, as it were, since the divided nations that sprang up in the wake of the devastating ‘stone war’ remain continually hostile, suspicious of each other’s motives. 

In time, Raya teams up with Sisu (voiced by Awkwafina), who proves to a most unexpected dragon, and collects a mixed team of collaborators (including a gruff giant warrior voiced by Benedict Wong), who all assist in her ultimate battle against her longtime rival, Namaari (Gemma Chan). 

It’s a good story with good characters and good selection of twists and turns, some of which fit broadly into Western narrative tradition, but even more that do not, which flow together to help make the entire film a memorable, sweeping tale that resolves in a very satisfying manner. And, again, the path to the resolution is not entirely expected, which is always a welcome sign as Disney Animation charts a path for the future. 

The film opens theatrically in Dallas, Fort Worth and surrounding cities on February 5, and will also be available to watch on the same date, as a premium Video On Demand title, at DisneyPlus.com.

Review: ‘You Should Have Left’ Unsettles to a Diabolical Degree

Kevin Bacon and Amanda Seyfried star in the psychological thriller, directed by David Koepp. 

All they wanted was a pleasant, relaxing family vacation. They got something else, instead. 

By all outward appearances, Theo Conroy (Kevin Bacon) should be a happy man. Rich and retired, Theo is married to successful actress Susanna (Amanda Seyfried). They are very much in love and are happily raising their daughter, Ella (Avery Essex), 6 years of age and full of energy. Something from his past continues to gnaw at Theo, however, giving him traumatic nightmares, so ahead of Susanna’s next job in London, they decide to spend some private time together as a family.

They rent a large, modern house in Wales, a short drive from a sparsely-populated village, and settle in for a restful retreat. Large and comfortable as it is, though, the house contains some puzzling design elements, and before long, both Theo and Susanna realize that something is not quite right about their vacation home, which is turning into a horrifying nightmare of its own. 

Based on a novella by German-language writer Daniel Kehlman, first published in 2017, You Should Have Left has been written for the screen and directed by David Koepp, who previously adapted Richard Matheson’s Stir of Echoes (1999) — with Kevin Bacon in the lead — and Stephen King’s Secret Window (2004) into clever, unsettling tales of filmed horror. 

Known for his contributions to screenplays that allowed directors to put their own distinctive stamps upon the films, starting back in the 1990s with Toy Soldiers, Death Becomes Her, Jurassic Park, and Carlito’s Way, in his own films as a director, Koepp has consistently served up personal, audience-pleasing films that defy easy expectations, such as The Trigger Effect (1996) and Premium Rush (2012). 

After the manifold disappointments of Mortdecai (2015), then, it’s a pleasure to watch You Should Have Left and observe how he deftly introduces familiar tropes, such as traumatic memories, an impossibly huge house, and a child in peril, only to pull the rug out from the expected route to a satisfying resolution. It’s not that the tropes simply vanish, or that Koepp is able to completely elide genre expectations, but it’s more a matter of his elegance in dealing with what the audience might anticipate, like a rollicking rollercoaster that appears to be headed off a cliff. 

Koepp presents the film with a delicious balance of visual cues and flourishes, complemented by a well-honed script that mostly avoids the obvious pitfalls. Impressively, for the most part, there are no more than three actors on screen at any one time, and all three are capable of holding the attention of the audience, especially Kevin Bacon, who dives into the idea that his character is, in fact, getting older, and sufficiently weathered that his wife and daughter both merrily mention it frequently. Amanda Seyfried brings full-bodied vitality to a relatively thankless role as The Wife, while newcomer Avery Essex makes a believable and spirited child. 

Really, the only constant reminder that You Should Have Left is meant to be a horror movie is the spooky musical score composed by Geoff Zanelli, but that feels more like an after-thought by director David Koepp, as if anyone in the audience might forget what kind of movie they are watching. 

That won’t happen. The film is a sturdy, sure-footed thriller that keeps things nicely off balance until its very last moment. 

The film opens everywhere on Thursday, June 18, 2020 , via various On Demand providers. For more information about the film, visit the official site.