Tag Archives: Matthew Modine

Can We Talk About Your Car’s Extended Warranty?


by George Wolf

Retribution marks the third remake of the Spanish thriller El desconocido, just in the 8 years since the original’s release.

What is it about this bandwagon that has made it so tempting to jump aboard?

If the latest version is any indication, it’s most likely the easily digestible stakes amid a standard thriller framework that offers plenty of room for tweaks without altering the chances for purely surface-level satisfaction.

So when you’ve got such a ready-made template for an English language thrill ride, the Neeson hotline is sure to be lighting up.

But this time, Liam plays Matt Turner, a banking executive living in Germany whose particular skills mainly involve ignoring his wife Heather (Embeth Davidtz), son Zach (The Way of Water‘s Jack Champion) and daughter Emily (Lilly Aspell, young Diana from the Wonder Woman films).

Matt picks a bad day to begrudgingly take the kids to school, because a disguised voice calls to tell Matt his car has been rigged with bombs. And the bombs have been rigged with pressure plates under the seats that will trigger those bombs if anyone gets out of the car.

So, what does the caller want? Is it just a ransom demand, or maybe revenge for some bad investment advice that wiped out a client’s life savings?

Shut up and drive!

Director Nimród Antal (Machete, Predators) tries his best to bring some style to the automobile setting, grabbing any opportunity he can for a new POV angle or mirror reflection. His instincts are understandable, but the approach often lands as just showy desperation.

Neeson’s on phone-yelling/time racing cruise control. But, the kids are good and both Matthew Modine and Noma Dumezweni (The Little Mermaid) provide strong support with limited screen time.

No one in the cast is given much chance of character development from Christopher Salmanpour’s script, but you can expect a surprise or two while he makes some promising edits to the original mystery. And though the final showdown does shake off a very Scooby-level unmasking to eventually better El desconocido, any hopes for mining something meaty from this derivative premise are erased when the film all too eagerly reverts to “Liam defends his daughter” factory settings.

Time to put this one in “park,” it’s on E.

Death Becomes Him


by George Wolf

I love that “Barbenheimer” has become a thing. Why are people so excited that two films open in theaters on the same weekend? The polar contrast of tones is certainly a fun mashup, but it’s also the confidence we have in two uniquely visionary filmmakers.

Christopher Nolan reportedly became invested in making a film about “the father of the atomic bomb” when Robert Pattinson gave Nolan a collection of J. Robert Oppenheimer’s speeches. In adapting two source books, writer/director Nolan gives Oppenheimer an engrossing IMAX treatment that serves up history lesson, character study and mystery thriller during three unforgettable hours.

Cillian Murphy is simply mesmerizing and absolutely award-worthy as Oppenheimer, who – years after his Manhattan Project delivered the bomb that ended WWII – is facing the possible loss of his security clearance and thus, career. With his wife Kitty (Emily Blunt) seated nearby, Oppenheimer endures grueling interrogation on his past associates and activities from an Atomic Energy Commission security board led by Roger Robb (Jason Clarke) and Gordon Gray (Tony Goldwyn).

In the film’s first two acts, Nolan uses this questioning as the anchor to chart Oppenheimer’s rise through academia to become not “just self important, but actually important.” On the campus of Berkeley, he embraces revolution in both physics and the world, enthralling his students, supporting “left wing causes” and carrying on an intense affair with avowed communist Jean Tatlock (Florence Pugh) before being hand-picked by no-nonsense General Leslie Groves (Matt Damon) to lead the team tasked with inventing a nuclear weapon before the Nazis do.

From the outset, Nolan and Murphy craft Oppenheimer as an endlessly fascinating creature, a man unable to turn off his mind from constantly questioning beyond this world. Murphy never shrinks from the close-ups that pierce Oppenheimer’s soul, and his body language and manner are often awkward and brusk, revealing an intellectually tireless man with little regard for alienating those not on his level, including AEC Chairman Lewis Strauss (Robert Downey, Jr., never better).

But Oppenheimer’s commitment is total, as is Nolan’s. With strategic use of black and white (an IMAX film stock developed exclusively for the film) to contrast cinematographer Hoyt Van Hoytema’s eye-popping detail, Nolan utilizes impeccable visual storytelling that enhances his script’s ambition without overshadowing it. Ludwig Göransson’s score dances beautifully with production design from Ruth De Jong, totally immersing us in the manufactured town of Los Alamos, where three years of development finally led to a successful bomb test (a breathless sequence that alone should land sound designer Randy Torres an Oscar nod).

For two hours, the historical tale is assembled through precision and care by a master craftsman with the finest tools at his disposal (including a spotless ensemble that also includes Kenneth Branagh, Rami Malek, Casey Affleck, Tom Conti, Matthew Modine, Olivia Thirlby, David Dastmalchian, James Remar and Benny Safdie), and then Nolan digs into the human failings, moral ambiguities and philosophical grappling that surround a man and his mission.

As Oppenheimer realizes that “genius is no guarantee of wisdom,” and his superiors only want to expand America’s nuclear arsenal, the film’s final act becomes a dizzying mix of JFK, Amadeus and The Tell Tale Heart.

Haunted by the devastation the bomb brought to both the “just and unjust,” Oppenheimer ignores his wife’s pleas to fight back as his character is assassinated, and a naive senate aide (Alden Ehrenreich) starts to piece together the puzzle about who is pulling the strings.

As the film races toward a tense and satisfying reveal, some of the dialogue does flirt with needless explanation, but these sensational actors never let a word of it land as completely false.

Much like any film of this nature, Oppenheimer takes its liberties and leaves room for further study. But Nolan takes you inside the personal journey of one of the most important men in history, with resonant and challenging lessons on hubris, envy, blind faith and the search for redemption. And by the end of hour three, he leaves you drained but thankful for the experience

There’s no Barbie here, but you will find a cinematic dream world with so very much to offer.

Farewell and Adieu

47 Meters Down

by Hope Madden

Is it Shark Week?

If it isn’t, why the hell not?

There’s a new shark attack movie in theaters this weekend. It’s no Jaws, but it’s no Sharknado, either. Johannes Roberts’s 47 Meters Down treads some similar waters as last year’s surprise hit The Shallows, with a little less intelligence and a lot more sharks.

Lisa (Mandy Moore) and Kate (Claire Holt) are sisters on vacation in Mexico. Lisa, the play-it-safe older sister, is nursing a heartbreak, which loose cannon Kate hopes to heal via the worst imaginable decisions. Like a shark cage expedition.

Cage goes in the water.

Sharks in the water.

Our shark.

Because tourists are stupid.

How stupid? Sea Captain Taylor (Matthew Modine) has to repeatedly say, “Stay inside the cage.”

But, if you can get past the idiocy – or even embrace it because, if YouTube is to be believed at all, people really are just this moronic – you’ll find some fun jump scares and genuine tension.

Something goes wrong and the girls and their cage drop to the sea floor, a dangerous 47 meters down. They have little oxygen and they’re surrounded by sharks. How will they survive?

The Shallows basically created the Girl Power Shark Movie, and Roberts and co-scripter Ernest Riera end up playing out a far less empowering tale. Roberts’s background is horror, though, so he does know how to deliver some visceral action now and again.

Plus, there is one shot that’s almost worth the price of admission.

Atmosphere is Roberts’s talent, and he creates a good deal of it. Aided by impressive CGI, the sisters’ plight on the ocean floor is often nearly as breathless for the audience as it is for the characters.

Dialog, on the other hand, is definitely a weaker point. Pair the banalities of the conversations with the contrivances that put the characters where they are, then add a first act that’s weighed down with cartoonishly ridiculous choices, and the cool shark sequences have a lot to overcome.

For a mindless, squirmy summer shark fest, though, it’s a fun time-waster.