“The Current War” historical movie review

When the History Channel comes to cinemas. Despite what the title and tagline suggests, this movie is not electrifying and unfortunately plays off as forgettable Oscar bait. The only difference between this movie and one that you may catch on The History or Discovery Channels is the A-list cast. For students of history or those whom normally seek out and enjoy historical movies, you will most likely find this story interesting if not fascinating. Perhaps nearly as interesting as the historical background of this movie is the story of this movie’s journey from concept to screen. After the collapse of The Weinstein Company, this movie’s fate to never see the distribution was all but sealed. Enter from stage left Executive Producer Martin Scorsese to save this movie. With the backing of Scorsese, director Alfonso Gomez-Rejon recut the film to that which he originally intended before Harvey has his way with it (and others in Hollywood). While the details of the plot lack anything truly memorable, and the characters are one-dimensional, where this film shines is in the cinematography and editing. All throughout the movie, the camera becomes a character in and of itself, providing audiences with carefully crafted angles and beautiful tracking shots that attempt to draw us into the story on an intimate level with this cast of legendary inventors and businessmen. Perhaps we would be talking cast too had they been given anything to work with. Ultimately, the screenplay is to blame for this steady but low wattage story of one of the greatest chapters in US history.

Thomas Edison (Benedict Cumberbatch) and George Westinghouse (Michael Shannon)– the greatest inventors of the industrial age — engage in a battle of technology and ideas that will determine whose electrical system will power the new century. Backed by J.P. Morgan, Edison dazzles the world by lighting Manhattan. But Westinghouse, aided by Nikola Tesla (Nicholas Hoult), sees fatal flaws in Edison’s direct current design. Westinghouse and Tesla bet everything on risky and dangerous alternating current. (IMDb)

Upon watching this movie, it is clear that screenwriter Michael Mitnick forgot the cardinal rule of composing a well-developed screenplay with visual dimension: dramatize don’t tell (or simply show). Everything needed for a great screenplay is here: two central characters that equally function as the character(s) of opposition, a well-defined external goal (providing the electricity for the Chicago World’s Fair), motivated by an internal need (to prove that he is the best). It’s a relatively simple plot with complex characters–well characters that should have been more complex than they were written to be. Unfortunately, the plot was made complicated by too much technical jargon and felt too “telly” because of the perpetual exposition dumps. Further evidence of the weak screenwriting is witnessed in the lack of character development. What we are left with is a simple (yet dull) plot and simple characters. This would explain why all the elements for a great historical movie are there, but it still feels kind of weird.

As fantastic as the cinematography is, it certainly needed something to work with in order to deliver the luscious imagery we get in this movie. Fortunately, the cinematographer was given gorgeous sets, outstanding costumes, and locations that function as de facto characters. Good thing too, because the cinematographer was not given a script or characters to highlight. The stylistic cinematography provided by Chung-Hoon illuminates the dark with visually stunning choices that exude a strong commitment to visual storytelling. Had Chung been given a visually-driven screenplay, then perhaps we might be talking Oscar noms next year. Performing as strongly as the cinematography is the editing. If you like the way Broadway movies are edited, then you will enjoy the editing techniques employed to cut together this story. Just as this is a movie about inventors (of either inventions or clever ways of acquiring patents), the editing feels highly inventive for this style of movie. Whereas the screenplay feels very History Channel, the editing is fresh, sharp, and never feels dull (unlike the story itself).

Personally, what I found most interesting was the Edison story. Not because he was my favorite character, quite the contrary. After all, Edison comes off as the Ray Kroc of electricity. Why I was particularly interested in his story is because I’ve had the opportunity to visit the Ford and Edison Winter Estates in Fort Myers, Florida. For example, I’ve seen that same lightbulb map at the museum as well as one of his laboratories. Having visited his winter nome (which functioned as his supplementary research lab), I could literally place myself in his world. One of the labs that used to exist on the property has since been relocated to Henry Ford’s Greenfield Village, which is home to many historical houses and buildings that have been relocated from their original standing place to the living museum. After the movie has provided me with the inside story on Edison, next time I visit his Winter Estate, I will view it with new eyes. If you have the opportunity to visit Greenfield Village or the Ford and Edison Winter Estates, I highly encourage you to take your time to walk through the history of two of the greatest minds that transitioned us into the modern era though ingenuity and determination.

Ryan teaches screenwriting at the University of Tampa. If you like this article, check out the others and FOLLOW this blog! Interested in Ryan making a guest appearance on your podcast or contributing to your website? Send him a DM on Twitter or email him at RLTerry1@gmail.com! You can catch Ryan most weeks at Studio Movie Grill Tampa, so if you’re in the area, feel free to catch a movie with him!

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“Regression” movie review

RegressionIntimately disturbing and suspenseful. Emma Watson and Ethan Hawke star in a film that is one part crime drama and one part supernatural thriller. Inspired by actual cases and claims of growing Satanic cults in the Midwestern part of the country in the late 80s and early 90s, Regression follows one detective’s journey through science, superstition, and organized religion to discover the truth of what happened to a seventeen year old young lady named Angela (Emma Watson) who claimed her father molested her. Opening with the interrogation of her father, Detective Bruce Kenner (Ethan Hawke) is confronted with the conundrum of a suspect who does not deny the vomit-inducing allegations, but is greatly struggling to remember what happened. Cool color temperatures, dreary weather, effective acting, and a creepy small town all come together to make creepy psychological thriller of good versus evil.

Occurring at a time that reports of Satanic cults with blood curdling rituals began to hit a high, Regression brings you face to face with now-discredited psychological therapy practices, blood sacrifice, and sexual deviance. Follow detective Bruce Kenner as he attempts to put the puzzle of what actually happened to Angela together in order to solve this perplexing mystery. First approaching this as a disturbing but typical minor molestetion case, Kenner quickly learns that there is much more to this case than meets the eye. As evidence is uncovered and truths are made known, this investigation goes much deeper and crosses public safety and family boundaries.

This is one of those plots that is difficult to analyze without giving away key parts of the mystery. If you enjoy watching films that contain prolific symbolism and question institutions that exist for physical and spiritual protection, then you will undoubtedly find this film, from the Weinstein Company that flew under the radar, intriguing. Although it is definitely a slow burn, it never moves too slowly and does provide enough of a hook to keep you going. Be sure to pay close attention to every line of dialogue because (hind sight being 20/20 and knowing the ending) there are definitely clues dropped here and there that all point to the answers for which Kenner is looking.

The investigation at the core of the plot is three fold: spiritual, scientific, and legal. Bruce Kenner partners with both a local psychology professor and a reverend to uncover what happened to Angela. As one might expect in a movie such as this, the professor and reverend have vastly different approaches to this mystery. For psychology students or professionals watching this film, you will witness the practice of regression as it plays a significant part in the investigation. The aforementioned practice also raises awareness to invasive psychological therapy techniques. As this film technically falls within the horror genre, it is definitely not short on social commentary. With physical evidence in short supply and a suspect who cannot remember what happened, Kenner relies upon the psychological evidence gather by the professor. Little do our investigators know that these aggressive interview techniques play more into the mystery than they could have known.

Ugh. There is so much more about be plot I’d love to analyze but that would take the fun out of watching it and ruin the mystery for you. So switching gears. From a technical perspective, the film is not remarkable in any way. Neither is it lacking in cinematography or direction. However, movies in this sub genre of horror can so often feel and look like a Lifetime original movie, especially because it includes a significant female character who claims to have been molested. Thankfully, director Alejandro Amenabar (The Others) provides audiences with a “Lifetime” plot that is still cinematic enough to avoid the stigma of “another Liferime movie in theatres.” Emma Watson and Ethan Hawke display excellent acting prowess along with a few of the other key players in this narrative. For the most part, the acting is on par with this crime drama. All the filmmaking elements come together nicely to keep your attention for the hour and a half runtime.

If you enjoy mysteries that confront science and religion, then you will definitely enjoy this film. Right now, it is one of the movies included with your Amazon Prime subscription. Rated R for some visual sexual content, it is pretty tame as far as rated R movies go. There is a gritty and real feel to the movie that might be a little too terrifying for some viewers. However, this IS a psychological thriller that contains many of the earmarks of a good horror film.

“No Escape” movie review

NoEscapeLook for an escape–from this movie. The Weinstein company’s No Escape is an over-the-top, absurd, and confused movie. Often times I can find something positive to say about even the worst of films, but this one IS the exception. Rumor has it that this movie was almost nixed from a theatrical release, and I can easily understand why that is. This film has no idea what it is, and tries to fit the tropes of multiple genres. Because of the state of confusion that this movie is in, the plot lacks adequate structure and the pacing is ridiculous. Is it supposed to be funny when people die??? Is it propaganda on not doing business in Asia??? Why are the events in the opening of the movie never explained??? I could go on and on. From the casting to the writing and direction, this film took events that actually happen in that part of the world, and treated them with irreverence and disrespect. Simply stated, don’t get trapped into watching this movie from which there is no escape.

No Escape is about a family that relocates to Southeast Asia for a a bright new future. Jack Dwyer (Owen Wilson) and his wife Annie (Lake Bell) travel with their kids to the other side of the world in order for Jack to take a new job as an engineer with a water treatment company in (most likely) Cambodia. Upon arrival at the airport, they meet frequent British visitor Hammond (Pierce Brosnan) who offers them a ride to the hotel that both are staying in. The morning after Jack’s arrival, he finds himself in the middle of a civil war-like battle in the streets. Unbeknownst to Jack and his family, he and his coworkers are the target along with other Westerners. Virtually trapped in the small Cambodian town, Jack and his family, with help from Hammond, must escape to safety. Only, around every corner there are rebels who will stop at nothing until they see blood flowing from those they see as a threat to their way of life.

As I mentioned in my opening paragraph, there is quite literally nothing positive I can say about this movie. Interestingly, it starts out with an intense scene that sparks excitement and suspense. So, I can understand how this film even got the green light. It did what all screenplays should do–capture the attention by showing something big/important within the first 3-5 pages. I suppose, that is kind of positive. But, had the producers just read the next several pages, they would have realized that this is a travesty of an idea for a film. And casting Wilson in the lead did not help the film’s case any. Unlike the performances in True Story delivered by James Franco and Jonah Hill, that proved these icons of comedy can play serious roles, Wilson just proves that he needs to be confined to comedies, satires, rom-coms, and parodies. The casting choice for Brosnan as the eccentric British traveler was acceptable, but his character also suffers from poor writing and direction.

It is unclear what the message is supposed to be. On one hand, it can be read as a ‘don’t travel to Southeast Asia if you are a Westerner’ but it can also be read as a ‘the West needs to stop exploiting the East.’ Unfortunately, the message/subtext is opaque at best. Instead of treating the plot of this movie with the reverence it deserved, due to civil wars like the one depicted in the movie happen in that part of the world on a fairly regular basis, the movie plays it too close to a satire or dark comedy. It never quite crosses the threshold into blatant comedy, but it gets pretty close. There were numerous times that the audience laughed at the deaths of people. And understandably so, because the scenes, actions, and dialog were choreographed in such a way that they begged for chuckles and giggles from the audience. My roommate, who is originally from that part of the world, was made very uncomfortable by the movie due to the lack of respect for what real people face everyday in some parts of the world.

There is a great lack of explanation for most of the scenes and motives in the movie. The events in the opening of the movie are never re-visited, despite the scene that follows states “17 Hours Earlier.” So, I am unsure what the significance was in the slaughter at the beginning of the movie. Furthermore, the entire reason for the revolt against Jack’s company and other Westerners is vaguely explained in some rushed exposition by Hammond. Even after his hurried explanation as to the source of the resentment that sparked violence, Hammond fails to actually explain in such a way that even Jack completely understands. It is like the explanation for the violence was an after thought–just stick it in there somewhere. If the intent of the movie was to highlight the fact that Westerners have been known to exploit the resources and workforce of the East, it should have been done in such a way that the movie did not make a mockery of itself.

Perhaps after this early release, Weinstein will decide to pull this movie from cinemas. I mean, Sony did that with The Interview, even though that movie was fun and entertaining and should have been shown. Much like the Taken movies could be subtitled “don’t leave America,” this movie could easily be subtitled “don’t do business in or visit Southeast Asia.”

Woman in Gold

WomanInGoldAn absolutely beautiful film about art, history, and seeking justice. They say a picture is worth a thousand words, but The Weinstein Company and BBC’s Woman in Gold is demonstrably worth 120 pages of words. Woman in Gold is a powerful movie with a timeless, unparalleled story about returning Nazi-stollen art to its rightful owner. Veteran actors Helen Mirren and Ryan Reynolds deliver commanding performances in this film based on the true story of one of the cases in Austria’s Art Restitution program. Follow along for a compelling journey that is both an historic investigation and a gripping courtroom drama that goes all the way to the US Supreme Court. Witness one woman’s fight to have returned what is rightfully hers, but meeting with seemingly unsurmountable obstacle after obstacle along the way. Woman in Gold is one of those films that will quickly become a favorite of many because of the passion, beauty, and determination showcased in this true story about justice.

Woman in Gold begins with the death of Maria Altman’s (Mirren) sister. Following the funeral, she discovers paperwork that reveals that now-famous paintings, that once belonged to her family prior to the pillaging by the Nazis, are hanging in the Belgrade Museum in Vienna. Also at this time, the Austrian Government has initiated an Art Restitution program to return artwork to its rightful owners–art that was unjustly stolen and illegally acquired by the Nazis. The painting, known as Gustave Klimt’s Adele, is the Austrian equivalent of DaVinci’s Mona Lisa. Facing the daunting fight to get the painting back, Maria hires newly-minted lawyer Randol Schoenberg (Reynolds) to lead and advise her in her legal quest. Their battle will take them from Maria’s quiet Los Angeles bungalow to the bustling historic streets of Vienna, and eventually all the way to the US Supreme Court. Join Maria and Randol for an adventure to right a wrong that dates all the way back to WWII.

Women in Gold is a beautifully produced movie that comes complete with art, history mystery, and litigation. The bedrock of a film like this one requires an incredible screenplay, otherwise, it could turn out to be nothing more than a National Geographic or Smithsonian Channel docudrama special. Alexi Campbell’s screenplay is meticulously written to include both the present action paired alongside the historic events that lead up to the case, which would come to be known as Republic of Austria v. Altman (2004). It is important to note that movies that heavily use flashbacks can take away from the importance of the story at hand; but Campbell’s screenplay strikes a powerful balance between the two, keeping the present story center stage. Director Simon Curtis takes Campbell’s words and brings them to life for the screen. His ability to create a dynamic experience for the audience is showcased well in this film–he truly brings the audience into the world of Maria and her impossible battle for justice. Underscoring the visuals and the gut-wrenching words is an incomparable score by Hans Zimmer. He successfully pairs a classical sound with a modern flare to match the mood of the film set by Curtis, Campbell, and cinematographer Ross Emery in each and every scene.

Once again, Helen Mirren shines beautifully, as she always does, in the roles she plays.  Without a doubt, she was the best choice for this historic role. Her elegant mannerisms with her sharp tongue and quick wit bring Maria to life. The role of Maria is a complex one that required Mirren to have the faced of strength and determination whilst revealing vulnerability and frailty. Playing her counterpart, is the handsome and talented Ryan Reynolds as lawyer Randol Schoenberg. Reynolds was an excellent choice for the role because he can both deliver the character of an underdog lawyer and boyish charm concurrently. His chemistry with Mirren is evident in each and every scene. Even though most of the film is spent with just the two actors principally, the audience will never grow tired of their arguments and banter back and forth. Supporting the principle performers, is an excellent cast that creates the world in which this story of justice and love of art takes place.

For lovers or art and history, this is definitely a movie to catch while in theatres. Seeing the famous Klimt Adele on the screen is overwhelming at times. Thankfully, the world can still see the painting, acquired by Ronald Lauder, in the Neue Museum in New York City. Although this film has not received the attention it deserves, it could very well be one of the year’s first films on its way to an Oscar nomination since Oscars 2015 proved that movies, released early in the year, can make it all the way to the Academy Awards. If you enjoyed The Monuments MenBig Eyes, or Museum Hours, you will likely fall in love with this film.