The opening sequence of Mortal Engines is nothing short of spectacular. A lone woman scouts an open plain, and a moving object catches her eye. Distressed, she retreats to a settlement, yet warns no one. Moments later, the denizens of the settlement are alerted to the approaching object, and their ‘city’ breaks into pieces. Folding up onto wheels and into moving towns & villages, they flee the approaching leviathan.
One city, resembling a long-lost Bavaria, sputters to a start while attempting its own escape. But its smoke-spewing engines seem ill-matched for the enormous pursuer, whose front doors – emblazoned with the Union Jack – open to swallow the tiny ‘city’ whole.
Had Mortal Engines capitalized at all on the excitement of this opening, what a film it could have been. Instead, we get a laboriously paced, overly long film with too many side-plots and extraneous characters, some dressed as steampunk hipsters, others rejects from a colorized version of The Matrix.
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★ ★ ☆ ☆
WWII airborne GIs prepare to parachute behind enemy lines. We are introduced to them between volleys in the bombardment and see their fear behind the bravado. We sense their dread at stepping out the door. We know that nothing can prepare them for what they are about to face.
Then, in one fluid, effects-laden shot, a paratrooper drops through the sky, surrounded by explosions and aerial carnage, grasping desperately to pull his chute. Ten minutes in, you’re already rooting for the film’s hero to just survive.
Overlord is the rare genre crossover film that succeeds stupendously on both of its narrative levels at once. The JJ Abrams produced film offers a compelling vision combined with absolutely stellar filmmaking, while making you genuinely care about the fate of its cast, even though you know they won’t all live to the end.
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★ ★ ★ ★
Sometimes a person ends up where they do in life because of bad decisions. The younger they start making them, the worse they end up. They aren’t bad people deep down, but they’ve chosen bad company, and suffer the consequences as a results.
In director Melanie Laurent’s Galveston, Ben Foster plays just this type of person in Roy, a career criminal who continues to make poor choices even at the age of 40. Roy’s a compulsive smoker who has just received a lung disease diagnosis, but still pulls out another cigarette in the hospital parking lot. At this stage, Roy’s poor choices extend to his female companions, as his girlfriend has caught the eye of his boss Stan (Beau Bridges), who wants to eliminate the romantic competition.
One night, Roy finds himself in the middle of a double cross, and narrowly avoids summary execution at the hands of some fellow thugs. In a superbly crafted sequence where most of the violence remains just slightly off-screen, he turns the tables on his attackers, and in the process, liberates an imprisoned prostitute, Rocky (Elle Fanning). Roy’s a smart guy and it takes no time to figure out what has happened and what they need to do – which is run for their lives.
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★ ★ ★ ☆
Three wealthy men take a hunting vacation every year together. This year, Richard decides to brings his twenty-something year-old mistress along. There are a good number of bad decisions made by the characters in this film, many completely implausible, and that is by far the biggest one.
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★ ☆ ☆ ☆
There are the makings of a brilliant movie here. A movie about difficult choices, about moral quandaries, and about consequences.
With twenty minutes remaining in its run time, Passengers abandons that brilliant premise and goes all-in for a Hollywood ending, and guts the momentum it spent the last ninety minutes building. It leaves the viewer with many questions, but instead of them being significant philosophical ones, they are about the film’s failure to realize its own promise.
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★ ★ ★ ☆