Movie Review – “The Greatest Showman”

“★ ★ ★ ★ ★”

“An inspiring storyline and romantic musical! This film’s production value is worth the price of admission!”

Patrick King, REEL BRIEF

While Marvel’s “Black Panther” easily cruises to the highest box office opening ever in February and, perhaps, the largest grossing super-hero movie of all-time, another worthy film is receiving loud cheers as its post-movie credits run. First-time director Michael Gracey astonishes audiences with a musical offering on the story of entertainer P.T. Barnum, the visionary entrepreneur behind the world-famous Barnum & Bailey Circus.

Hugh Jackman as Barnum headlines a spectacular cast that includes 4-time Academy Award nominee Michelle Williams, “High School Musical” graduate singer and actor Zac Efron, Rebecca Ferguson (“Florence Foster Jenkins”), and sexpot Zendaya all giving top-shelf supporting performances. But no work better or more powerful on the big-screen than Jackman’s as the showman.

The film masterfully tackles the rags-to-riches success of Barnum using his steadfast devotion to his family, snippets of sly humor, and a romantic early 20th Century New York City backdrop…all sold to viewers under the circus tent trademark proclaiming Barnum’s ultimate achievement as “The Greatest Show on Earth”.

“The Greatest Showman” is an enchanting and positive story about inclusion and acceptance of everyone regardless of one’s size, shape, or looks. Society’s “oddities” were proudly taken in and given historic opportunities under Barnum to combat ostracism, racism, and bullying stereotypes. Barnum’s exposure to poverty growing up not only instilled a tenacity to never accept going back to that lifestyle, but it opened Barnum’s eyes to other’s plight and what’s possible for them in life.

Not a drum beater for musicals in general, I found the movie’s use these pop-up ballads highly effective and universal amongst the cast. My only downgrade, arguably, is that a few too many songs were used and at the wrong time in a couple of otherwise strong scenes. But, overall, the singing tool afforded us with a tremendous storytelling technique that shines bright for a crowd-pleasing narrative on entertainment.

Go see “Black Panther”. But if you’re put off by packed theaters or comic book-inspired fandom, check out “The Greatest Showman” instead. For an inspiring storyline and romantic musical, this film’s production value to moviegoers is worth the price of admission! Throughout the movie you feel like the circus has come back into town—complete with elephants, acrobats, a trapeze artist, and fireworks.

P.T. Barnum’s creativity and foresight grew into one of the longest running entertainment businesses in showbiz history. Started in 1871, Barnum’s traveling tent performances manifested into the Ringling Bros. and Barnum & Bailey Circus, ending last year after a record-breaking 146-year run. Take that, “Black Panther”. Not bad for the son of a tailor in New York City.

I hope you enjoy the show.

Grade: A

“The Greatest Showman” is rated PG with a running time of 1 hour and 45 minutes.

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Movie Review – “15:17 to Paris”

Not one to shy away from using fake babies on a movie set or fostering adlibs from his film’s stars, Eastwood boldly takes his biggest directorial gamble to date in “The 15:17 to Paris” — casting the three twentysomething heroes as themselves.

Patrick King, REEL BRIEF

Few directors can match Clint Eastwood’s penchant for taking terrifying, split-second events and expanding them into full-length feature films. No Eastwood movie summation better or more fascinating than last year’s dramatic depiction of the true-life 2009 emergency landing in the Hudson River by Tom Hanks in “Sully”. That harrowing airline story’s 208 seconds encapsulating the big-screen for a full 96 minutes.

Now pressed with another headline-grabbing narrative to tell, the iconic filmmaker is challenged like he’s never been before: Take a terrorist incident aboard a Paris-bound train–that might have lasted two minutes–and stretch it into a watchable 94-minutes of film. Oh, and to complicate matters worse…the whole world already knows how this story ends. A very tall order indeed, even for one of Hollywood’s best.

“The 15:17 to Paris” denotes the childhood friendship of three Californians, brought together through repeated trips to the principal’s office, who find themselves at the epicenter of a madman’s attempt to kill hundreds of innocent train passengers back in 2015. The trio’s courage and heroism attesting to the post-September 11 playbook to do something (anything!) to thwart a terrorist’s attack instantly. Shock, evil, and martyrdom met with quickness, surprise, and resolve.

The film gallantly illustrates the bond that builds between the three Americans and how one, then-U.S. Air Force Airman First Class Spencer Stone, believes fate has placed him on that Amsterdam to Paris trek. The culmination of his life spent preparing for just that moment where he goes from being the hunted to the hunter.

Obviously, the most chilling part of “The 15:17 to Paris” is the film’s dramatic final act. To witness the gratitude of France towards these brave Americans and others, champions the heartfelt patriotism that Eastwood always exudes in his films. Not one to shy away from using fake babies on a movie set or fostering adlibs from his film’s stars, Eastwood boldly takes his biggest directorial gamble to date in “The 15:17 to Paris” — casting the three twentysomething heroes as themselves.

Eastwood’s daring casting of the real-life participants is both captivating and distracting. The film’s script watered down to meet the first-time acting chops of these novice movie stars. Even Jenna Fischer, best known for her Pam Beesly role on the NBC sitcom “The Office”, brings a timid, underachieving performance. But none of that should matter…or the drawn-out storytelling by Eastwood. “The 15:17 to Paris” is about more than just the simple, ordinary lives it highlights. It’s about the extraordinary acts of so few, who instantly decide to do something when others don’t.

Not bad for three troublemakers back in their school days.

Grade: B-

“The 15:17 to Paris” is rated PG-13 with a running time of 94 minutes.

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Movie Review – “Call Me by Your Name”


“A similar uneasiness to that found on front-pages of U.S. newspapers highlighting the arrests of teachers having sex with their underage students. That tightrope, which this film bravely walks, is also its most refreshing quality…an older gay man helping a young teenager struggle through his own emotions and feelings.”

Patrick King, REEL BRIEF

Every year a film or two make the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences’ Best Picture Oscar nominees list. Just as routine it seems, we find a couple of the movies selected as the year’s best which do not quite live up to the highest achievement in filmmaking. For me, 2018’s Academy Award headscratchers are “The Post” and “Call Me by Your Name”. Both stories watchable with stellar cast performances. Neither film, though, with a robust or spectacular new narrative to share with viewers.

Great storytelling and cinematography can overcome poor acting, but great acting and cinematography can’t overcome a bland story. “Call Me by Your Name” falls picturesquely into the latter category. Based on Andre Aciman’s romance novel by the same name, “Call Me by Your Name” takes us back to the summer of 1983, in the small Italian town of Lombardy.

Armie Hammer, who played the Winklevoss twins in 2010’s “The Social Network”, portrays Oliver–a thirty-something American doctoral student interning in Italy for the father of 17-year-old Elio Perlman (Timothee Chalamet). Predictably, a seductive Oliver engages in a gay relationship with the somewhat confused, yet consensual, much younger Elio.

“Call Me by Your Name” has several redeeming film qualities, none more so than its exceptional ensemble highlighted by Chalamet and Hammer. Each delivers their best work seen to date. The most potent and memorable performance belongs to supporting cast member, Michael Stuhlbarg, as Elio’s father and Oliver’s professor. Stuhlbarg’s acceptance and understanding of his son’s gay preference depicts a love and nurturing at just the right moments in the film.

Aside from the wonderful performances, the cinematography is the real star of “Call Me by Your Name”. Director Luca Guadaguino proudly and effectively displays 17th Century Italy, underscoring the romantic setting that fosters the Elio and Oliver relationship. Between the bike rides through the tiny city and shoreline postcard views, cinematographer Sayombhu Mukdeeprom’s entire 35-mm film jumps out to the audience.

The film’s drawbacks include a predictive plot and slow pace. It’s also a seduction story told too many times to count. The real-life nine-year age difference between Chamalet and Hammer looks nearly twice that span–to the point of almost awkwardness. A similar uneasiness to that found on front-pages of U.S. newspapers highlighting the arrests of teachers having sex with their underage students. That tightrope, which this film bravely walks, is also its most refreshing quality…an older gay man helping a young teenager struggle through his own emotions and feelings. In the end, no one explaining it better than a father who deeply loves his son.

With four Oscar nominations, including Best Picture and Best Actor (for Chalamet), we’ll see how this romantic tale fares against heavy favorites “Three Billboards in Ebbing, Missouri” and “The Shape of Water” next month.

Grade: C

“Call Me by Your Name” is rated R with a running time of 2 hours and 12 minutes.

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Movie Review – “Hostiles”

The best Western film since 2007’s “3:10 to Yuma”.

– Patrick King, REEL BRIEF

Sporting a sensational moustache akin to Hollywood veteran Sam Elliott, Christian Bale teams up with 2014’s “Gone Girl” Rosamund Pike in the best Western film since “3:10 to Yuma” (which also starred Bale in 2007). “Hostiles” recreates the terror and tension found back in the Wild West days of 1892. A bloody and violent history between the U.S. expansionism and the Native American population have left scars and wounds still fresh on both sides trying to heal.

As well-known and battle-tested U.S. Army captain Joseph Blocker, Bale is charged with taking his bitter war rival from New Mexico to Montana so that the aging Indian chief can die amongst his Cheyenne people. Their horseback journey, including Chief Yellow Hawk’s family and a few of Bale’s handpicked security detail, is fraught with vicious daytime attacks and uneasy campfire nights.

The film does a splendid job of illustrating the mental struggles that Bale’s character must continually fight off to stay focused on the last mission for the 20+ year Army veteran awaiting retirement. His years of fierce battling with the Indians has nearly broken the captain, leaving him bitter and on edge. He must honor his Army service to the end while knowing that many skirmishes lie ahead with the savage Comanches en route to the Valley of the Bears tribal lands.

“Hostiles” is a powerful film due to the many relationships Bale endures or continues to foster. Other bonds must be let go. The dangers he and his men confront changes the group’s dynamics several times over the course of the 2 hours and 13-minute movie. On the risky trail, the feeling of relief is never allowed to comfort knowing that one’s circumstance and chance at survival can change at any given moment.

Keeping up with Bale’s steady and mesmerizing performance is Pike, as a widow and grieving mother of a family killed at the hands of the evil Comanches…or, as Cheyenne chief Yellow Hawk calls them, “rattlesnakes”. We see Pike shine as she slowly regains her strength and compassion. All the scenes with Bale and Pike are earnest and heartfelt, watching them deal with shared horrors in their past and present.

“Hostiles” is a remarkable western film the likes of legendary John Wayne. Its strength and good-naturedness come from Bale leading the charge. His humility and character along the perilous trek can’t be overstated. Bale’s grappling of emotions while remaining true to his Army responsibilities is an intimidating, fascinating endeavor to witness. Fans of the Western genre will want to saddle up for this “Hostiles” ride. For the others, despite a couple of slow moments, the film will capture your attention with agony, fear, forgiveness, and honor.

Grade: B

“Hostiles is rated R and has a running time of 2 hours and 13 minutes.

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Movie Review – “12 Strong”

the real stars are the four-legged variety and this aspect is barely covered once the team mounts up and moves out…which is too bad, because I think the horse soldier revelation was one of the most surprising stories coming out in the weeks following 9/11…”

Patrick King, REEL BRIEF

In the immediate aftermath of the September 11, 2001 terrorist attacks in New York, Washington D.C., and Pennsylvania, the American people anxiously awaited the for our nation’s powerful response to these sick perpetrators and their leader (Osama bin Laden). But who and how would U.S. resolve to bring justice to al-Qaida in the Taliban stronghold of Afghanistan be implemented?

Within only a few weeks following 9/11, remarkable photos of U.S. military special operators riding horseback in enemy territory were released and explained by then-Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld. These horse soldiers were executing the last few thousand meters of American national security policy. Now, based upon Doug Stanton’s best-seller Horse Soldiers, moviegoers are reliving those early minutes, hours, days, and weeks after that fateful September 11th day.

Danish first-time feature film director Nicolai Fuglsig delivers the inside narrative on one of the U.S. military’s greatest feats. “12 Strong” rapidly tells the story of a dozen U.S. Army special operators assigned to ODA 595, a unit given the responsibility to insert itself deep inside terrorist-controlled Afghanistan and assist the Northern Alliance in defeating the Taliban and al-Qaida.

“12 Strong” does an admirable job of displaying the selflessness and patriotism of those who wear the U.S. military uniform. There are, however, several missteps and underdeveloped subplots that don’t squarely hit the mark. Over-the-top acting by Chris Hemsworth, William Fichtner and comedian turned-actor Rob Riggle get the film off to a poor start. Thankfully, two other supporting cast members keep the film moving to higher ground: Michael Pena (“CHiPs”) as the satirist within the heavily armed group and Michael Shannon (“The Shape of Water”), the unit’s old-school Chief Warrant Officer who gives the movie any semblance of authenticity and realism.

Easily the movie’s best parts were the team’s initial embed with Northern Alliance, the American military interactions with a CIA agent already established in-country, and the visual look of Afghanistan’s sheer mountains on the big-screen (thank you, New Mexico!).

Besides the subpar overall acting, this story lacks the sustained excitement and concern for these guys caught in a tough spot and isolated. Both “Lone Survivor” and “American Sniper” capture these emotions much better than this true story. Additionally, U.S. Air Force combat controllers will find the depiction of B-52 close air support too dumbed down for civilian consumption. Yes, there’s some “danger close” terminology mixed in after Lat-Long coordinates are given out over the radio. But the overall homing of bombs using leading-edge laser targeting designators is blatantly missing. Important? Well, it was that battlefield magic which helped secure closer ties between the Northern Alliance and our clandestine military members.

Lastly, the real stars are the four-legged variety and this aspect is barely covered once the team mounts up and moves out…which is too bad, because I think the horse soldier revelation was one of the most surprising stories coming out in the weeks following 9/11 and our initial boots on the ground in Afghanistan.

Grade: B

“12 Strong” is rated R and its running time is 2 hours and 10 minutes.

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Movie Review – “Small Town Crime”

“Clever. Shocking. One of the best crime dramas in recent years.”

-Patrick King, REEL BRIEF

This latest film by writer/director brothers Ian and Eshom Nelms takes viewers on a frantic murder investigation by an alcoholic ex-cop trying to prove that he can still make a difference. Stellar acting throughout the cast delivers a solid script in this high-stakes crime drama.

Long-time character actor John Hawkes (“Three Billboards Outside Ebbing, Missouri”) steps up into the lead film role as dismissed police officer Mike Kendall, who discovers a severely injured and dying teenager on the side of a road. Armed only with beer and an occasional cup of black coffee, Hawkes must find the homicide suspects before other young women fall victim to the brutal killers.

“Small Town Crime” is a smartly written, fast-paced story about so much more than just good detective work. Hawkes, teamed with a sensational Anthony Anderson and the powerhouse Academy Award winner Octavia Spencer, magnificently transforms himself from a law enforcement outsider into a determined and relevant private investigation insider.  

This film’s deeper story goes back to the death and destruction left in the wake of Hawkes’ past police work. The dark circumstances surrounding his former line of work play out for us in a series of shocking flashbacks. The ex-cop’s alcoholism only masks his underlining problems—unemployment and strained relations with his friends, family, and old coworkers.

The story’s best feature is the growth of Hawkes personal relationships and regained crime-solving mojo. His character’s struggles are real and remain so until the end—never completely erased or hidden from view of the audience. The movie’s other main character roles are nicely explained and fully invested into the bigger picture…bringing clarity and passion to the audience.    

In easily his finest performance to date, Hawkes shines in this crisply told whodunit. A clever, shocking, tightrope drama, “Small Town Crime” perfectly establishes the hardships and issues faced by the ex-police officer turned private investigator. The superb supporting cast moves this action-packed thriller at a brisk pace coupled with timely bouts of humor. Violent scenes are earmarked by seconds of warning, sidestepping any jumpy moments for viewers.

One of the best crime dramas in recent years, “Small Town Crime” mixes old-fashion police work with one’s struggle to get back on his feet. Hawkes effortlessly carries the film with this breakout headliner performance. A muscle car and rough edges can’t hide Hawkes’ good heart or his attempt to make a difference in others’ lives.

“Small Town Crime” opens in theaters and on Video On-Demand this Friday.

Grade: B+


“Small Town Crime” is rated R for strong violence, language, and some sexual references. Its running time is 1 hour and 30 minutes.


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Movie Review – “The Post”

“A yawner.”

– Patrick King, REEL BRIEF

Longtime fans of Tom Hanks, Steven Spielberg, and Meryl Streep will find their latest political collaboration a misleading yawner. The Academy Award-winning trio attempt to bring suspense to the true-life discovery of classified marked Pentagon Papers, dating back 50 years to the Vietnam War. When “The Post” isn’t trying hard to manufacture drama in the Washington Post’s editorial room, Spielberg mischievously prosecutes the Republican Nixon Administration for the military and political sins of two Democratic presidents…John F. Kennedy and Lyndon Johnson.

Under the disguise of Katharine Graham’s (Streep) remarkable rise to publisher of the Washington Post (the first-ever for a female at a major U.S. newspaper), the film articulately spells out the systemic lying to the American people on the secret expansion of the U.S. commitment in Vietnam and the neighboring countries of Cambodia and Laos. These lies, combined with years of Pentagon assessments, acknowledge that despite numerous increased American troop levels Vietnam was a lost cause from the start. For political and reelection reasons, however, the papers disclose that the Kennedy and Johnson administrations continued to tout success as if victory were soon at hand.

The dubious retelling of history in “The Post” leaves viewers believing that Richard Nixon was the true culprit for the secret war in Vietnam as well as all the emboldened lies contained in the internal Pentagon study. Between cocktail parties or sidebar admissions from Bruce Greenwood’s character (Robert McNamara) and numerous shots of President Nixon on his Oval Office phone clamoring for the newspapers to not print the contents of the Pentagon Papers, the audience gets misled. Defense Secretary McNamara served during the Kennedy and Johnson years, with his successor, Clark M. Clifford, receiving the completed Pentagon Papers five days before Nixon’s inauguration.

Once the rampant government deception is laid at Nixon’s White House, “The Post” congers up a simplistic noble journalism narrative in stark contrast to the rogue Republican. Tom Hanks’ plays Washington Post editor Ben Bradlee, who gets completely scooped by his largest competitor, the New York Times, on the newly leaked 3,000-page military study. From here the film tries too hard to establish a strong moral compass for journalism while at the same time highlighting the press’ willingness to print just about anything…as long as they’re first.

Ultimately, “The Post” doesn’t place newspapers or the media in much of a positive light. Only one true journalist with old school investigative talents is shown. Instead, in a fight to see which publication can go out to the public first, we watch Streep’s Graham character and Hanks’ Bradlee struggle with two simple demands of journalists—report the truth and don’t reveal any classified material that could affect our national security. Both requests manageable and reasonable.

Grade: C-

“The Post” is rated PG-13. Its running time is 1 hour and 55 minutes.

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What Have We Learned From 2017’s Superhero Movies?

Last year was another great year for superheroes, with seven superhero films making their way to the silver screen: Logan, Guardians of the Galaxy Vol. 2, Wonder Woman, Spider-Man: Homecoming, Thor: Ragnarok, Justice League, and The LEGO Batman Movie. Two of the aforementioned movies, in fact, made REEL BRIEF’s “Top 10 Films of 2017” list–with Wonder Woman placing eight and The LEGO Batman Movie coming in at ten.

Here are some of the takeaways from a super year for superheroes:

“Spider-Man” as Popular As Ever

After five Spider-Man movies, you’d think that spider fatigue would have set in by now. Wrong! Your friendly neighborhood spider remains as popular as ever, with Spider-Man: Homecoming grossing $880 million worldwide, making it the biggest superhero film of 2017.

Star-Lord and Company Are For Real

Guardians of the Galaxy came out of nowhere in 2014 to gross over $700 million worldwide. Star-Lord, Raccoon, and the rest of the gang proved in 2017 that their initial success was no fluke, as they teamed up yet again in Guardians of the Galaxy Vol. 2 to rake in upwards of $860 million globally.

Thor Can Be Witty and Funny!

Thor: Ragnarok was action-packed and surprisingly light-hearted, thanks in part to Thor’s quick wit and comedic timing. Kiwi director Taika Waititi managed to tap into the character’s comic potential and make the fifth onscreen outing for the character feel fresh and new.

The Hulk has a . . . Soft Side

For all the seemingly uncontrollable rage The Incredible Hulk has shown through the years, the soft side he showed in Thor: Ragnarok was an unexpected curveball. It was, nonetheless, refreshing, and a gentle reminder that there are layers to the character beyond that vaunted berserker anger.

Wonder Woman Can Hold Her Own

Wonder Woman broke the curse of superheroine films as it was both a commercial and critical success. It earned over $830 million worldwide, and was widely praised by critics, with the Wall Street Journal’s Joe Morgenstern effusive in his praise of the film. He even claimed that Wonder Woman “puts the super back in movie heroism.”

With the film’s smashing success, a sequel is now in the pipeline. The character was also the highlight of the Justice League film, outshining both Batman and Superman.

The Genre is Still a Moneymaker

The seven aforementioned superhero movies combined earned more than $4.5 billion. That is undeniable proof that the superhero genre is a certified moneymaker, and that the genre is currently at the zenith of its popularity.

The genre has such a large fan base that companies have started to create their own heroes inspired by the official Marvel and DC characters. Such inspiration is apparent in Foxy Casino’s slew of games inspired by today’s superheroes.

One such game is Dragon Kingdom which is a nod to Wonder Woman as it features a character who closely resembles the Amazing Amazon. The fact that Themyscira’s Champion has inspired a slot game isn’t too surprising, as she has been inspiring fans since she first appeared in All Star Comics #8 back in October 1941. It is a testament to the character’s status in pop culture that companies now only need to allude to Wonder Women and fans will instantly recognize the connection.

Logan will be Missed

Logan without doubt is one of the most popular superheroes ever, and he went out with that proverbial bang, saying goodbye to the silver screen in the most Logan-esque way possible: By fighting like a madman until the very end.

Make no mistake…fans will miss the man with the adamantium claws.


Article by REEL BRIEF contributor Ethan Mills Dixon

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Movie Review – “Molly’s Game”

“Molly’s Game is a fascinating story of boldness, charisma, and integrity. A Top-5 film of 2017!”

-Patrick King, REEL BRIEF

Making his directorial filmmaking debut, Academy Award-winning screenwriter Aaron Sorkin deals moviegoers in on the true-life exploits of poker game hostess Molly Bloom. Portraying Bloom, the Olympic-class skier turned moderator of high-stakes underground gambling, is the always reliable and razor-sharp Jessica Chastain (“Zero Dark Thirty”).

In “Molly’s Game”, we find Chastain’s Bloom character caught up with the law and facing federal gambling charges and in dire need of a competent, straight-shooting lawyer (Idris Elba). It’s this dynamic attorney-client relationship between Chastain and Elba that truly benefits from Sorkin’s frantic filmmaking and rapid-fire script. The more we get to know Molly Bloom, the more we like her and her integrity.

Based on the Bloom’s memoir “Molly’s Game: From Hollywood’s Elite to Wall Street’s Billionaire Boys Club, My High-Stakes Adventure in the World of Underground Poker” the film takes viewers back to Bloom’s childhood and skiing under the watchful eyes of her trainer and father Larry Bloom (Kevin Costner). It’s here that we find the fabric to Bloom’s fierce independence and meticulous personal drive.

Dialogue heavy but fast-paced, “Molly’s Game” is a fascinating story of boldness, charisma, and integrity. The rapport between Bloom and her lawyer evolves into a mutual respect…neither compromising their beliefs along the way. Instead, they find common ground and begin there.

Two memorable scenes stand out among many great give-and-take sessions in the movie. One, Elba’s powerful case he presents in Bloom’s defense to the prosecuting attorney while seeking a plea agreement. And, second, Costner’s condensed therapy session to his daughter (Bloom) near the film’s ending. Both dramatically highlight the film’s tight script and the amazing supporting performances of Elba as Bloom’s legal rep and Costner as her repentant father.

“Molly’s Game” is sensational film about a young woman unwavering in her drive for redemption and to prove her success. A headstrong female driven and independent, she’s willing to take on all competitors and stereotypes. She’s also fine standing pat, playing the cards dealt to her and facing those consequences.

The film’s blistering pace delivers triumph and tragedy like cards being dealt from a dealer’s hand. One minute we’ve got a winner, the next a loser folding his life away. Along the way, a tenacious young woman is gambling to make a name for herself…to achieve success in a family of successful achievers.

A Top-5 film of 2017, “Molly’s Game” opens in wide release on January 5.

Grade: A

“Molly’s Game” is rated R for language, drug content, and some violence. Its running time is 2 hours and 21 minutes.

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Movie Review – “All the Money in the World”

“All the Money in the World” is a fascinating chess match between family and money!

– Patrick King, REEL BRIEF

By now, most moviegoers are aware of the multiple sexual assault allegations leveled at Netflix’s “House of Cards” star Kevin Spacey. While many tabloid headlines covered the television series’ formal break-up with the actor in November, fewer Hollywood watchers may have noticed the rapid-reaction and recasting of Spacey prior to this Monday’s release of the movie “All the Money in the World”.

The film’s director (three-time Academy Award nominated Ridley Scott) and the movie’s production studio (Columbia Pictures) immediately made the proper decision to recast veteran Christopher Plummer into Spacey’s role of true-life billionaire J. Paul Getty. The studio’s bold move, made with less than 30 days before the film’s release, required the reshooting of 22 scenes in Europe with costars Michelle Williams and Mark Wahlberg…both of whom left their families during Thanksgiving and flew to Europe for additional filming without asking for even a dime in compensation.

It’s difficult to watch this real-life story on the 1973 kidnapping of J. Paul Getty’s grandson without staring at Plummer’s remarkable job as the oil magnate. He outshines both Williams and Wahlberg with ease…and neither are acting pushovers on the big-screen. But with over 5 decades of filmmaking on his resume, it’s easy to see why Ridley Scott had originally penned Plummer into the tycoon role before settling on Spacey.

“All the Money in the World” is a fascinating chess match between family and money. We see how blackmail techniques and stiff demands aren’t solely used by the kidnappers seeking a hefty ransom. Rather, glimpses into the harsh Getty family dynamics and hierarchy evoke as much shock in viewers as the film’s criminal elements.

The film successfully balances the emerging danger to the missing 16-year old grandson with the tenuous relationship between the world’s richest man and his daughter-in-law–the grieving mother Gail Getty (Williams). Both subplots are interesting to watch fester and boil over, but perhaps none more so than seeing Plummer and Williams in the same room. Their rapport and respect for each other, ebbing and flowing with high stakes tension.

With an abundance of high-caliber holiday films to watch, it would be easy for “All the Money in the World” to get lost in a galaxy far, far away. Plummer’s miraculous last-minute lineup change, however, deserves notice. This film’s a satisfying crime thriller about blackmail and misfortune from several directions…a worthy storyline despite the absence of Jedi moves.  

Grade: B+

“All the Money in the World” is rated R for language, some violence, disturbing images and brief drug content. Its running time is 2 hours and 12 minutes. The film opens in theaters nationwide on Christmas Day. 

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