Preview: ‘The Visit’

Director M. Night Shyamalan, who brought us the critically acclaimed, surprise ending to The Sixth Sense (1999) with Bruce Willis and the eye-covering sci-fi thriller Signs (2002)–with the Mel Gibson, Joaquin Phoenix and Abigail Breslin tip-toeing around an alien cornfield–now brings us another horror flick.  The Visit takes place in a remote Pennsylvania farm as two young siblings spend a long weekend with their grandparents.

You have to see it to believe it….

Another reason to never clean the oven.  I prefer this type of “horror” film trailer. Or even this one–which looks nail-biting to me.

The Visit hits theaters on September 11th and is rated PG-13 for disturbing thematic material, including terror, violence and some nudity and brief language.

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‘Mission: Impossible – Rogue Nation’

“It’s no surprise that Cruise insisted on being strapped to the Airbus to start “Rogue Nation”. Or that he hired an underwater trainer so he could learn to hold his breath for well over 6 minutes–leading to one of this movie’s most dramatic sequences filmed in a single cut.” – REEL


By now it would be nearly mission impossible to find moviegoers unaware of Tom Cruise’s penchant for doing his own movie stunts. Reprising his clandestine Ethan Hunt character for a 5th time, the 53-year old Cruise doesn’t disappoint fans wanting to see death-defying action and thrills. “Rogue Nation” immediately feeds the curiosity seekers with the famous scene rolled out in the film’s initial trailer; Cruise hanging on for dear life outside an Airbus A400M aircraft as it takes off with precious cargo. That’s the Tom Cruise action hero we’ve come to adore and respect over the years—immersing himself mentally and physically into an on-camera circus performer as we gaze in amazement and shock.

This latest spook film carries the same ingredients we’ve become accustomed to from protagonist Agent Hunt (Cruise) and his associates–keeping coveted knowledge and power outside the grasp of terrorists under the moniker of the Syndicate. As per “Mission: Impossible” movie protocol, betrayal and trust issues abound for cast and Western countries. Between the simplistic storyline stands challenges, or “missions”, deemed too dangerous or possible to accomplish nary a spy. Well, except one.

MI4The newest chapter of the “Mission: Impossible” franchise showcases a few new faces amongst the proven crowd, earning it mixed results. Attempting to infiltrate Hunt’s circle of trust is none other than Alec Baldwin, who overplays his CIA director part to the point of being dull and forgettable.

Another misfit that brings down the Impossible Mission Force’s professionalism and overall film–almost to the point of being a spoof–is Simon Pegg’s lackadaisical Benji Dunn character. The lack of seriousness and ineptitude displayed throughout by Dunn only waters down the special skills of Cruise, Jeremy Renner and handyman Ving Rhames—who is the only actor besides Cruise to appear in all five “Mission: Impossible” films.

Easily this movie’s most compelling star is Cruise’s eye-raising counterpart Ilsa, portrayed by newcomer Rebecca Ferguson. She’s not only the one who continually keeps Ethan Hunt alive, but is also the sole entity caught in the middle between disavowed, dangerous spies and her government. While Ilsa’s assortment of mixed martial arts moves may resemble the Queen in the game of Chess, Cruise rightfully remains the centerpiece King of “Rogue Nation”.


Cruise is an exceptional actor, earning three Academy Award nominations over a spectacular 34-year film career that started off with immediate success at age of 19. The young man who introduced himself to us in the 1980s with “Taps” and “Risky Business”, has grown up right before our eyes, both physically and professionally. By 1986, he reached the pinnacle any Hollywood movie star could aspire to, flying F-14 Tomcats in the mega-blockbuster “Top Gun”. As an established box office sensation, Cruise then dedicated himself to dramatic roles in such films as “Rain Man,” “Born on the Fourth of July” and “A Few Good Men”—diversifying his acting portfolio with meatier leading roles.

It wasn’t until the inaugural “Mission: Impossible” film in 1996, that has forever linked Cruise to action movies, effortlessly discarding his many other acting talents to the side in a heaping ball of flames.

Although the “Mission: Impossible” series may not challenge Cruise beyond a shrug or bewildered look, it does offer him a chance to exhibit his enormous physical talent. It’s no surprise that Cruise insisted on being strapped to the Airbus to start “Rogue Nation”. Or that he hired an underwater trainer so he could learn to hold his breath for well over 6 minutes–leading to one of this movie’s most dramatic sequences filmed in a single cut. It’s fitting that our action hero Cruise, who casually sidestepped a real-life accident with a double-decker bus while filming in London for “Rogue Nation”, resorts to thrills and spills on camera at this point of his career. The real question that remains unclear is how will Cruise elect to entertain us in M:I 6? Desperate times, desperate measures.

Grade: B

“Mission: Impossible – Rogue Nation” is rated PG-13 for sequences of action and violence, and brief partial nudity. Its running time is 2 hours and 12 minutes.

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Preview: ’13 Hours…’

“Michael Bay is no Clint Eastwood in the director’s chair…

“If Bay is smart, he’ll keep his film version in tight formation to the award-winning, investigative reporter’s novel.  After all, the book provides a stand-alone account of the events in Benghazi and, therefore, affords Bay the ability to refute any criticisms that may come up from others who were 7,000 miles away from the action that night.”        – REEL


Technically, this movie is called “13 Hours: The Secret Soldiers Of Benghazi”.  But, I’ll get to that in a minute.

The background.  This Michael Bay (“Transformers 5″) movie is based on the real-life terrorist attacks on September 11, 2012, as depicted in the book from Pulitzer Prize and New York Times #1 bestselling author Mitchell Zuckoff titled “13 Hours: The Inside Account of What Really Happened In Benghazi”.  Co-authors of Zuckoff’s non-fiction page-turner are simply referenced as the “Annex Security Team”.

This true story follows the heroism of a half-dozen security personnel charged with protecting the U.S. State Department’s compound and CIA station in Benghazi, Libya.  Of those six hard-chargers–all specially trained to run towards gunfire to protect others and the mission–only five survived to tell their first-hand account.  Or what the military refers to as “the ground truth”.

Let me start off by explaining how “13 Hours” could shape up to be a very good movie.  First, it gets widely released to theaters in January, the same time that “American Sniper” debuted and launched its spectacular blockbuster run despite Hollywood’s bewilderment and the media downplaying Chris Kyle’s story.  After Christmas, the American people were ready to start the year off with a military film about a patriotic American and his wife.  In five months, after continued political posturing as we enter a presidential election year, Americans might be ready once again for a story on real sacrifice and love of country.

Secondly, as you’ll see in this trailer, “13 Hours” looks good.  It will be hard to match “American Sniper’s” tactical release of its trailers–particularly that mind-blowing first sneak peek.  But this “13 Hours” trailer succeeds in sparking further discussion and should create some anxious moments for some presidential candidates on their campaign trails in 2016.

Third, this movie is based upon Mitchell Zuckoff’s book.  If director Michael Bay is smart, he’ll keep his film version in tight formation to the award-winning, investigative reporter’s novel.  After all, the book provides a stand-alone account of the events in Benghazi and, therefore, affords Bay the ability to refute any criticisms that may come up from others who were 7,000 miles away from the action that night.

Lastly, this movie has the potential to be a blockbuster hit for the simple reason that people are hungry for answers as to what really happened back on that 11th anniversary of the September 11th terrorist attacks in New York, Pennsylvania and Washington D.C.

My concerns for this film are only speculative at this time.  Michael Bay is no Clint Eastwood in the director’s chair.  In fairness to Bay, there’s only one Clint Eastwood.  Another worry is the title of the movie, and the civilian-ization of it.  Keep it simple, stupid.  “13 Hours: The Secret Soldiers Of Benghazi” sounds horrible.  Secret soldiers.  Really?  UFB.  “13 Hours” would’ve sufficed.

As you’ll see in the trailer, this film stars “Jim” (John Krasinski) from television’s successful comedy sitcom “The Office”. Krasinski (“Aloha”, 2015) may nail this role, but for now he’s an unproven liability.  Also starring is Pablo Schreiber and Max Martini (from TV’s military series “The Unit”).  Martini will be fine in “13 Hours” and Schreiber may come out of this movie “newly” discovered, a la Josh Hartnett in 2001’s “Black Hawk Down”.  We’ll see.

For now, check out the trailer…

We should know how accurate and hard-hitting this film is sometime between Thanksgiving and the New Year–as the potential for blow-back from the media heats up to dispel a narrative they don’t care for or approve of.

What did you think of this trailer?

Here’s a link to and Mitchell Zuckoff’s book:

13 Hours: The Inside Account of What Really Happened in Benghazi

13 Hours

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Reader of the Week

Liz B.

This week’s REEL BRIEF reader of the week photograph is submitted by Liz B., from Colorado Springs, CO.

Thank you, Liz, for sending me your picture sporting both the REEL BRIEF sweatshirt and coffee mug.  Even more importantly, thank you for your friendship and support over these past 4 years as I tip-toed into the sometimes chilly waters of “movie reviewing”.  You’ve always given me encouragement to follow my love of writing–especially penning film reviews.

I have no idea how many movies our families have seen together, but the total must be getting close to triple digits!  And remember our post-viewing wrap sessions, sometimes lasting for hours?  Great times.

I’m glad that you’re enjoying your REEL BRIEF coffee mug and staying warm this hot summer in our lightweight, fleece-ish sweatshirt.  You look fab, as always!

Thanks again for always stopping by, reading this website and offering me so much positive feedback.


If you have a photo of your movie theater experience or of our REEL BRIEF mugs/sweatshirts and would like your picture posting on this website, please email me at for inclusion.

Thank you!

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A knockout! ‘Southpaw’

Southpaw is the most emotional and stirring boxing performance on film since Rocky chased chickens and ran steps in 1976 Philly.”  – REEL


From the opening scene, viewers are immediately shocked at the makeover of Jake Gyllenhaal into the Junior Middleweight boxing champion Billy “The Great” Hope. The 34-year old Gyllenhaal lost 25 pounds for his role in last year’s dark thriller Nightcrawler. Now in Southpaw, Gyllenhaal has transformed his body into a Tony Horton lab specimen, adding 15 pounds of pure muscle by doing over 2,000 sit-ups per day and spending 42 hours a week working out in a New York boxing gym.

The lean and mean Gyllenhaal we witness in Southpaw bears no resemblance to the eleven year old boy we first met playing Billy Crystal’s son in the 1991 comedy City Slickers. Likewise, Gyllenhaal has dramatically improved his acting skills with each year and movie, leading to a meteoric rise in Hollywood to leading-man status. His remarkable mental and physical commitment to the Billy Hope boxer role brings an authenticity to the big-screen, making it difficult to take our eyes off of the vastly talented Gyllenhaal.

southpawBetween songs from rapper Eminem, Southpaw takes us on a powerful journey of a devoted husband and father who has risen to the top of the boxing profession only to face one personal struggle after another. Extraordinary performances bookend Gyllenhaal’s most challenging and successful acting masterpiece to date. HBO True Detective star Rachel McAdams plays the strong wife to Gyllenhaal and nurturing mother to their daughter, portrayed by Oona Laurence (from Netflix’s Orange is the New Black). Both McAdams and Laurence shine bright as firm influences upon Gyllenhaal’s intense Billy Hope character, delivering the realism to Southpaw’s moving storyline.

Although Gyllenhaal carries Southpaw all 12 rounds, it’s the infusion of Academy Award winner Forest Whitaker as Hope’s trainer that makes this film a dominant success. Every scene between these two very distinct personalities garners our full attention—particularly the ad-libbed lines from Whitaker on life in general. This perfect chemistry of Gyllenhaal and Whitaker provides a credible and gripping look at being down, but not out, in the fight for one’s survival.

The powerful one-two combination from director Antoine Fuqua (2014’s The Equalizer) and screenplay writer Kurt Sutter (TV’s Sons of Anarchy director/writer/star) wisely make Southpaw a movie about a boxer, not boxing. Gyllenhaal’s Billy “The Great” Hope is first and foremost a husband and father. The body punches he takes in the ring are no comparison to the blows Hope must endure and overcome on the streets.

Southpaw is the most emotional and stirring boxing performance on film since Rocky chased chickens and ran steps in 1976 Philly. Gyllenhaal’s commitment and dedication to this Billy Hope boxing role, is no less than miraculous. His mental and physical metamorphosis, combined with an edgy script, disturbing story, rock solid supporting cast, and sensational soundtrack all make Southpaw a bout not to miss. No split-decision here; this film’s realism and gut-wrenching scorecard of a family’s ability to overcome staggering adversity is one that no odds maker in Las Vegas would take. The Jake Gyllenhaal we see in Southpaw is a leaner, meaner and better actor than we’ve ever seen before. This film makes Gyllenhaal an Oscar contender!

Grade: A

‘Southpaw’ is rated R for language throughout and some violence.  The film’s running time is 2 hours and 3 minutes.

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Checkmate: ‘Pawn Sacrifice’ trailer

Based upon the true story of American chess prodigy Bobby Fischer, Pawn Sacrifice follows the life of the world’s youngest grandmaster and future champion.  It also marks another Cold War film that appears like throwback to a Ronald Reagan political campaign ad from 1980.

Academy Award-winning director Edward Zwick (for Shakespeare in Love in 1998) teams up with brilliant writer Steven Knight (from last year’s The Hundred-Foot Journey) to give us a good old-fashion, red-white-and-blue war of perception against the evil Soviet Union.

Most of us can remember the U.S. gold-medal winning hockey team’s “Miracle on Ice” during the 1980 Olympics at Lake Placid, NY, defeating the Russians before taking the top spot with a win over Finland.  The U.S.A. victory was a much-needed win for the entire country.  American patriotism was palpable and the Soviet Union was put on-notice once again…America was back.  I, however, don’t ever remember Fischer’s rise to the top of the strategic board game.  Perhaps, because it occurred while I was too young in 1972.

Anyways, lets take a look back to another U.S. vs. the Soviet Union confrontation:

For those of you who didn’t get enough Chess in that clip, you can look up the “Fischerandom“.

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*EXCLUSIVE* Update on HBO’s ‘Masters of the Air’ WWII miniseries

UPDATE: Added reader photo below.

Anyone with photographs of loved ones from World War II, particularly the 8th Air Force, and would like them added to the above post, please email your pictures to and provide any information/background on the photo. Thank you!


8th Air Force’s 93rd Bomb Wing (photo by

This afternoon REEL BRIEF had the pleasure of talking with award-winning and New York Times bestselling author Donald L. Miller.  Continuing the companion piece to the successful World War II miniseries Band of Brothers (2001) and The Pacific (2010), HBO Films will film a third, ten-part series based upon Miller’s bestselling 2007 book titled Masters of the Air: America’s Bomber Boys Who Fought the Air War Against Nazi Germany.  Executive producers Steven Spielberg and Tom Hanks, who teamed up previously to produce Band of Brothers and The Pacific, as well as directed and starred in 1998’s epic war film Saving Private Ryan, will once again be the steady hands behind Miller’s book-to-film Masters of the Air air campaign thriller.  Miller has worked with Spielberg and Hanks previously, as both a historical consultant for The Pacific and co-producer and co-creator for Hanks’ He Has Seen War HBO documentary on World War II soldiers returning back to the United States.

Lafayette College Mac Cracken History Professor Donald Miller who is writing a new book of New York in the 1920's pictured at his office in Ramer History House 4583

Miller reports that this newest World War II miniseries from HBO Films will showcase the camaraderie inside the airplanes, similar to how Band of Brothers focused on personal stories of Easy Company on the ground.  Masters of the Air will tell the impressive military story of the 8th Air Force, or “The Mighty Eighth” as they were called more affectionately once their reputation of distinguished service spread across all of Europe.  Known for launching 2,000 bombers and another 1,000 fighter aircraft on a single mission, “The Mighty Eighth” had 17 recipients of the Medal of Honor, 220 Distinguished Service Crosses earned, along with another 850 Silver Stars awarded to their aircrews during WWII. This newest HBO 10-hour miniseries will focus on the air war, specifically the bombing campaign from high altitude over Nazi Germany, while featuring the personal stories of aircrews and leadership within 8th Air Force.

Having just returned from a trip to England in the past month, Miller unofficially scouted out possible filming locales at several airfields.  However, he reports that Hanks will have final say on the miniseries’ film locations throughout Europe.  Miller stressed that filming hasn’t begun at this time, but the start of production could commence very soon–since the script is just about ready to go final.  No formal air time has been announced by HBO….yet.  But with the script nearly complete and filming to begin quickly thereafter, Masters of the Air could arrive for HBO viewers in late 2016 or by early 2017.

More to come…

Masters of the Air

Master of the Air at


UPDATE: Since many readers (see the Comments section below) told us they had a family member who served during WWII, I asked if anyone would be interested in sending along old photographs of their loved ones for posting.  And here you go, from the Saffir family:

WWII Tribute

This photograph is from December 1944, at the Copacabana in New York City, of Staff Sergeant Robert Saffir after he returned to the United States at the completion of his flying tour of duty.  Sergeant Saffir was a member of the 448th Bomb Group, flew aboard 35 missions, earning the Distinguished Flying Cross and the Air Medal with clusters.  To the Saffir family, thank you for sharing this photo of a true American hero with our readers!

Anyone with photographs of loved ones from World War II, particularly the 8th Air Force, and would like them added to this thread, please email your pictures to and provide any information/background on the photo. Thank you!

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Entertainment News…

Please excuse my divergence from movies for one moment.  Well, for two minutes and 52 seconds, really.  But this to too good to pass up.

This is from a few years ago, December 2011, but it’s worth watching (again).

DISCLAIMER: Singer Michael Bublé utters a “Holy s*** balls, Mom!” comment and an F-bomb near the end.

For more reaction to this performance, you can watch ABC’s Good Morning America team discuss here.


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New Bond ‘SPECTRE’ Trailer

The first trailer for this upcoming James Bond action-thriller came out in April.  From all appearances in this newest sneak peek, any ill effects of the sprained knee suffered by Daniel Craig during the filming of SPECTRE have healed nicely.

This latest Sony/MGM released trailer runs almost 2 1/2 minutes–at least twice as long as I prefer for films. But, it’s Bond. So, watch if you’d like…

More Bond coverage is available at these links:

Preview: James Bond ‘SPECTRE’

First Look – James Bond’s ‘SPECTRE’

The next 007 Bond film announced – ‘SPECTRE’

Films to Watch in 2015

SPECTRE arrives in theaters on November 6.

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Reader of the Week Photo

This week’s REEL BRIEF reader of the week is Richie G., from Marana, AZ.

Richie G.Thanks Richie!  Glad you’re enjoying your REEL BRIEF coffee mug!  If you have a photo of your movie theater experience or using one of our coffee mugs and would like it posted on this website, please email your pictures to for inclusion.  Thank you!

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