The story is driven by main characters making decision that lead you to throw out the notion of good guys vs. bad guys. Two detectives, played by Mel Gibson and Vince Vaughn, are caught on a cellphone video arresting a drug dealer. The act of the arrest is perceived as overly aggressive by the media. As a result, they are suspended without pay for several weeks. Their unexpected furlough compounds financial concerns for Mel Gibson’s character who is forced to reconsider moving his wife — who has multiple sclerosis — and a daughter, who is being bullied – away from their rough neighborhood. His questionable plan to make ends meet somehow intersects with a smart, recently released neighborhood felon. He wants to begin living a straight life but is pulled back into crime. That’s because he is faced with having to take care of his mother, who has taken up hooking to subsist, and a wheelchair-bound younger brother, whose dream is to someday go to college and become a videogame creator. As may be expected with any S. Craig Zahler film with such a graphic title, the movie is gritty and intense, leaving viewers to gasp just when they thought they could sit back and eat popcorn.
This isn’t an instructional video. It’s a comedy about an aging boy toy named Maximo, played by Mexican actor and comedian, Eugenio Derbez, who is tossed out by his much older sugar mama for a much younger man. Although Maximo has a friend, another aging trophy boy played by Rob Lowe and who lives with his own sugar mama in a mansion, the friend can’t put him up there because every room is a make-out place at any given moment. Maximo then seeks out his younger sister, played by Salma Hayek, whom he hasn’t contacted for years. She is a widow and single mom of a 10-year-old boy. Maximo’s attempt to use his somewhat antiquated notion of sexy skills to educate his impressionable nephew and charm a replacement wealthy dowager played by Raquel Welch is hilarious. The party scene with Maximo in the swimming pool is alone worth the price of admission. Get your sexy on and learn how to move those hips. Other stars joining this funny ensemble cast include Kristen Bell and Linda Lavin.
This is a heist movie directed by Steve Soderbergh, who also directed the well-known Ocean Trilogy heist films (Eleven, Twelve, and Thirteen). Although there’s a formula to this genre, the characters, their situation, and the sprinklings of comedy are ingredients that make each one different. Set in West Virginia and Charlotte, North Carolina, this story is about two down-on-their-luck brothers played by Channing Tatum and Adam Driver. Channing decides to plan a robbery soon after he is let go from his construction job at the Charlotte Motor Speedway because his limp from an old football injury is considered a liability at work. They bring in their hairdresser sister to help. To round out their crew, they recruit an imprisoned explosive expert, Joe Bang, played by Daniel Craig, whose British accent is replaced by a good ‘ole boy twang. As a condition of Joe Bang joining the group, he asks to have his two hilarious hillbilly brothers join the heist team. The film is enjoyable to watch as we see how the colorful characters plot, ply, and plow through such a convoluted, but clever undertaking. Although there are underlying tones of injustice within our society—think haves vs. have-nots mixed in with a bit of Robin Hood–there is nothing preachy about the movie. Just grab a box of popcorn and watch the story unfold amidst the rural settings and classic American stock car action.
I usually reserve films from my library, so I can watch them in the comfort of my home. When I came back from my vacation in Central Europe (Czechia, Slovakia, and Hungary), I received notice that a couple of movies were ready for pick-up. One of them was Walking with the Enemy, which is based on true events, although the characters themselves are fictional. The hero is a young Hungarian Jewish man, Elek Cohen, who joins the Labor Force during World War II, thinking it would be a way to help serve his country even though the Force has only Jewish people serving. He soon realizes the work he and his fellow countrymen are providing is met with harsh punishment if they show any signs of physical weakness. He eventually escapes with a friend. When they go back to their village, they find their families gone and their non-Jewish countrymen living in the houses where their Jewish friends resided. Elek is determined to find his family, which soon leads him to Budapest. There he witnesses the terrible fate unfold on those of Jewish heritage that happened toward the end of the War and Hitler’s rule.
He soon goes underground with the help of an acquaintance, Hannah Schoen, with whom he had flirted at a social club many weeks before and has come across again while in Budapest. Hannah’s uncle turns out to be working for the Swiss Council, which agrees to give passports to a fixed number of Jewish people to emigrate legally to Switzerland. However, by making more than the allotted amount, the Council hopes to save even more Jews by secretly delivering them to the Hungarian Jewish citizens. In the middle of all this, the Nazi presence continues to dominate and a Hungarian fascist group, the Arrow Cross Party, allies with Hitler. Together they round up the Jewish people to get them out of the country and into a concentration camp.
One night, Elek ends up killing two drunk German SS soldiers, as they try to molest Hannah. He and his friends bury the dead soldiers in an unmarked grave. Later, the death of those two soldiers turns out to be fortuitous for Elek and his friends because of their uniforms. When one of Elek’s good friends gets captured by the Nazis, he decides to save him by digging up the dead Nazi soldiers and taking their uniforms. He disguises himself as a Nazi SS soldier and pretends to have orders to take into custody his friend. With the successful rescue, Elek wears the uniform again and again, successfully executing similar types of rescues, often saving many of his countrymen at a time. Tragically though, as history later tallied, from Hungary alone, 500,000 Jews were exterminated.
The film has suspense, romance, and historical highlights. It was good timing that I was able to see this movie after learning so much about Hungary’s history during pre- and post-Hitler times. The pictures below are some taken from my trip in Budapest. They depict how the Hungarian Jews had to flee immediately because of the evil that fell on their country, and the world.
Jacqueline Kennedy Onassis, aka “Jackie,”has always fascinated me. She’s enigmatic. This recent film portrays the young widow’s perspective following the assassination of her husband on Nov. 22, 1963. The contrast of the shocking violence that unfolded against Jackie’s quiet demeanor reinforces the feeling of how painful it must be to endure such an unbelievable and unfair fate. For example, the charismatic and popular President John F. Kennedy’s brain matter splattered over Jackie’s lap is just one of the harrowing images showed in the film. The film’s focus on Jackie’s private moments in the first few days following the assassination gives us a new understanding that there was more behind her character than just a stylishly dressed woman, who appears stoic on TV. Natalie Portman plays Jackie’s character admirably, revealing the former first lady’s strength, intelligence, grace, and appreciation for history.
A movie about a family with dreams that somehow didn’t take off as they wished. John Krasinski directed this movie, as well as starred in it as a son who returns from New York to his Midwestern home due to a family illness. While visiting with his parents and brother, we soon learn about the family strains bubbling beneath the surface, not too different from many families experiencing hurt and feelings of inadequacy. Krasinski’s character himself is also wrestling with disappointment. He doesn’t quite know how he feels about his relationship with his live-in girlfriend, played by Anna Kendrick. She’s pregnant and ready to give birth at any time. In the midst of this angst comes the eventual realization of self-worth, gratitude and stronger family bonds. Overall, the movie is heartwarming and well-acted with a surprise twist in the end. Other stars include Charlie Day, Richard Jenkins, Margo Martindale, and Sharlto Copley.
At once a mystery and a love story, this road trip movie shows how three unlikely people come together to eventually trust and help one another in more ways than one. The three travelers are played by William Hurt, a newly released, middle-aged ex-convict; Kristen Stewart, a lonely young woman with insight beyond her years; and Eddie Redmayne, an awkward but earnest young man wanting to see more of the country in his big old American car. Together they travel the backroads of the southern bayou, unloading their emotional baggage and gradually finding hope. Prepare for a tear or two at the end.