calvary

A couple of times every year a movie will come out that completely surprises me--where I find the plot cleverly disguised and 180 degrees from what I was expecting after the first twenty minutes.  Similarly, like most others, I detest movie trailers for the simple fact that they've become too long and too specific for my taste. Trailers today spoil our movie experience by connecting too many dots in the storyline and test driving all the laugh lines on us viewers-- all before we've even settled into our theater seats.

The interesting part of the film "Calvary" is that not only did I have no idea what the story was about ahead of time, but that once I started watching it my perception of the movie changed dramatically compared to how I felt about it afterwards.

The "Calvary" is about Father James (played splendidly by Brenden Gleeson), a priest in a small Irish town having to face parishioners who display little, if any, moral fortitude or reverence for the man of the cloth and the Catholic church.  The stakes are high for Father James, personally and professionally, as he must continue to stay true to his faith while answering difficult questions about past Catholic priests' misbehavior.   Gleeson's exceptional performance captivates audiences with his earnestness and likeability in what is easily his best role to date.

The beginning of the movie was extremely slow and nondescript, to the point that I contemplated getting up and leaving the theater by the twenty-minute mark.  The film's middle and ending, however, generated interest with the stark contrasts it draws between a society that openly rejects religion and those servants attempting to preach God's word.  Gleeson convincingly does his best to chart a corrective course for the sinning souls at the remote outpost while nearing his own personal threshold in tolerance for others.  It was due to Gleeson's endearing role of Father James that viewers not only see right from wrong, but more importantly, are left asking how and why our world has become so mean, nasty and void of religion?

This film painstakingly builds its case for society's mean-streak and how that lost moral compass may be due to the irrelevance placed upon religion.  Rather than forgive and understand, we tend to discard and dismiss others and their feelings.  Withstanding Gleeson's moving performance, the "Calvary" is just an average showing on the big screen. Its message, though, resonates and intensifies upon further reflection afterwards.  That introspect is the film's best message and one that makes it worthy seeing.

Grade: B-

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'The Other Woman' (2014)

This comedy oozes girl power from the first scene and continues until the final credits roll. ‘The Other Woman’ will surprise viewers with its higher-than-expected entertainment value and well-timed slapstick humor. From the director of ‘The Notebook’ and ‘The Hangover: Part II’, comes a comedy about women and delivered by women.   The two guys with diminished roles consist of the nice, older brother of the humiliated wife, and the schmoozing pig of a husband, who cheats on that guy’s sister. This villain is perfectly cast by none other than Nikolaj Coster-Waldau, whom many will recognize as the “Kingslayer” Jaime Lannister from the ‘Game of Thrones’ HBO series.

The charm of this movie is in how it sidestepped being solely about the unfaithful husband and smartly focused on the beautiful, quick-witted, adventurous women. ‘The Other Woman’ masterfully turned the table on any thought of the film depicting a loser playing his wife and girlfriends, and made it all about the gang of girls seeking revenge. The girls’ bonding moments and budding friendships not only kept the film fast-paced but also prompted many of the movie’s funniest moments.

This film is arguably Cameron Diaz’s best comedy work since 1998’s hilarious ‘There’s Something About Mary’ flick. Even more impressive than Diaz’s performance is the unbelievable job Leslie Mann (‘This is 40’) does in her role as the distressed wife, Kate. Mann’s impeccable sense of timing on her punchlines combines with an almost Jim Carrey-esque physical comedy presence, to accentuate Diaz’s humor and spark laughter throughout the movie.

Other Woman girls

A momentary slow start to the film is quickly overcome by the momentum gained through rapid-fire one-liners and solid camaraderie developed between the women. Later, scantily clad Kate Upton joins the fray as another betrayed hottie--completing the threesome hell-bent on scheming revenge.

Other Woman Kate

‘The Other Woman’ tiptoes around male-bashing and makes the concerted effort to drill down on the girls’ relationships with each other. This stroke of genius allowed Cameron Diaz and Leslie Mann to showcase their vast comedic talents. Between the pair’s deadpan delivery and their physical comedy, ‘The Other Woman‘ will delight audiences. The film’s worthy performances and well-written script create a formidable trio of women. And it’s these ladies that took out two unsuspecting men; the unfaithful husband of Kate, and ‘Captain America’ from atop the box office charts back in April.

"The Other Woman" is available to rent at Amazon, iTunes, Netflix and Redbox.   The film is rated PG-13 with a running time of 1 hour and 49 minutes.

9:11

September 11, 2001

On leave this Tuesday, I was enjoying my day off from work at Little Rock Air Force Base, just returning home after an early morning workout.

0749 (all Arkansas times) I turned on the television in my master bedroom and was walking to go start the shower when I heard a CNN reporter mention that a plane had hit the North Tower of the World Trade Center (WTC) in New York City. I immediately turned around in the bathroom and looked back at the TV in the other room; images showed the same weather in Lower Manhattan as we had in Cabot, Arkansas—brilliant blue skies.

I watched for a couple of minutes--assumed it was a small airplane with a pilot who had experienced a medical condition flying and couldn’t control his plane’s direction. I began to clean up, leaving the television set on.

0803 I’m getting dressed and flipping channels to get more information on the accident in NYC. As I’m watching ABC News, I see with my own eyes, United Airlines Flight 175 crash into the South Tower, taking out floors 77-85 in an instant! Holy ****!

I’m now glued to the television set watching people scramble for survival from downtown Manhattan. A bad feeling begins to set in for me. This is trouble. Big trouble.

News reporters on ABC, NBC and CBS speculate whether they are witnessing a terrorist attack or some rare accident—and a CNN anchor assumes the second explosion was caused by fuselage of first plane exploding. WABC suggests the two crashes might have been caused by navigational system failure.

0813 F-15 fighters from Otis Air National Guard Base leave military airspace near Long Island, bound for Manhattan.

0815 NBC News’ Today program reports United Airlines and American Airlines employees reported aircraft had been hijacked prior to hitting the WTC towers.

0817 CBS News correspondent in Washington DC mentions that in the intelligence community, Osama bin Laden is probable cause.

0825 Otis-based F-15s establish an air patrol over Manhattan.

0826 The FAA orders a national ground stop. No takeoffs of civilian aircraft regardless of destination. All military bases in the United States ordered to THREATCON DELTA.

0839 FOX News Channel reports “We—we are hearing—right now that another explosion that—has taken place. At the Pentagon.”

0845 All U.S. airspace is shutdown. No civilian aircraft are allowed to take off, and all aircraft in flight are ordered to land at the nearest airport as soon as possible. International flights headed for the U.S. are redirected to Canada. South American flights to the U.S. are diverted to Mexico.

0853 CNN confirms a plane crashed into the Pentagon.

0905 Andrea Mitchell, reporting on NBC from outside the Pentagon, reports that Osama bin Laden may have been involved in the attacks. CNN's headlines read: "SOUTH TOWER AT WTC COLLAPSES."

0928 The North Tower of the World Trade Center collapses, 1 hour, 42 minutes after the impact of Flight 11.

0941 NBC News confirms that a plane has "gone down" in Somerset County, 80 miles southeast of Pittsburgh.

0949 FOX New Channel is the first of the United States news networks to implement a “news ticker” at the bottom of its screen for supplementary information about the attacks. CNN adds one at 1011 hours, and MSNBC adds one at approximately 1300. All 3 cable networks have used a “news ticker” continuously in the years since.

0953 Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld orders the U.S. military placed at DEFCON 3, for the first time since the Yom Kippur War in 1973. DEFCON 3 increases force readiness above that of normal. DEFCON 1 is nuclear war is imminent.

1030 The 62nd Airlift Squadron (my unit) calls to notify me that my leave is now cancelled and I’m being recalled. They confirm I’m still in the local area and tell me to attend a mandatory mass briefing at 1500 hours in the squadron’s main auditorium.

Not sure what the outcome of the squadron briefing will be, or how much time I’d have if I came back home to pack up, I decided to take my mobility A-3 bags and flying gear to the unit that afternoon.

1204 President Bush puts the U.S. military on high alert worldwide.

1420 I drive to work in my uniform, planning for the main gate to Little Rock Air Force Base to be packed with people reporting for duty and briefings.

1445 As I suspected, the entrance to the base was much different than at any previous time in my decade on active-duty. Instead of the security forces looking at our base ID stickers on our windshields and waving us onto the installation with a crisp salute, we had 100% ID checks.

Just beyond the front gate sat a Humvee with netting and a .50-caliber gun, manned by 2 security forces. Surrounding their set-up were sandbags.

1500 Everyone in my squadron was in attendance and seated early for this briefing. My squadron commander, Lt Col Damon Booth, came in and started off with what most of us had already realized…we were at war.

He continued and said things were different from anything we’d ever seen before. This wasn’t Desert Storm. Or Bosnia. This was our Pearl Harbor. America was attacked and he explained into more details what our intelligence sources knew at the time.

Lt Col Booth ended with a note of caution; be ready. We were currently on the receiving end of a very tragic day for our Nation. However, we would get the opportunity soon to go on the offensive. 'Be ready'. We’re going to get these folks who did this.

1945 I returned to my home in Cabot that night, just a short 20 minute drive from the base. I had a lot on my mind. Were my kids OK? What did they know? What would I tell them?

One thing that wasn’t on my mind and needing worry, was the spirit of the American people. The images in NYC of volunteers going into Manhattan to help. Firefighters and police officers risking their lives…seeing their brothers and sisters die that day. Truly heroic efforts by all first responders and New Yorkers. And throughout America...fire departments nationwide started sending their crews and trucks to NYC to help.

As I departed the highway and got closer to my home, I begin to see America fight back. To stand together like I’d never seen her do before. Driving through the first neighborhood towards my house it hit me. All the flags in the front yards. The yellow ribbons and banners people had already put up. Neighbors were out talking to each other, not coiled up in their homes. People came together. We would be OK.  American would not falter.  The United States of America, a nation now acting as one, would survive and respond to the people who did this.

Never forget.

***

Stunning...  A film that will shake every fiber in your body.

A documentary that chronicles the lives of people looking for a fresh start on life. And hope.  It follows their trek to the North Dakota oil fields searching for the American dream while trying to outrun their pasts.  From Drafthouse Films, "The Overnighters" earned this year's Intuitive Filmmaking award at the Sundance Film Festival.

It asks the hard question..."What is community any more?"

Risk.  Opportunity.  Disappointment.  Hopeless should never win:

"CLICK" here for "The Overnighters" movie trailer.

Thank you to all of the readers who have visited this website over the past several months. August was our best month ever and you've made 'REEL BRIEF' one of the fastest-growing movie review blogs out there.  Every month we continue to increase readership and that's because of YOU.  Thank you for making 'REEL BRIEF' a part of your entertainment reading and telling others about this site.

I will continue to provide you with my honest ratings on films while not giving away spoilers or scene-by-scene descriptions of movies like other critics or movie blogs.

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'November Man'

Former James Bond 007 actor Pierce Brosnan returns to the world of professional assassin in this film based off the bestselling November Man book series by Bill Granger. In “The November Man” Brosnan plays Peter Devereaux, an ex-CIA agent who earned the nickname of the movie’s title for always leaving an unmistakable path of death and destruction behind him. Brosnan’s Devereaux is forced out of retirement and back into the field to help save an undercover agent and secure intelligence information. Directed by Roger Donaldson (“No Way Out” in 1987), “The November Man” is an espionage thriller that could have been ripped straight off of the front page of today’s newspapers.

'November Man' Brosnan

“The November Man” reminds us of why Brosnan was once selected as only the fifth person to play Bond (“GoldenEye” 1995)--he’s cool, confident, unflappable and never flustered by mayhem around him. A strong and convincing Brosnan plays the experienced CIA killer, selected to teach to a new journeyman (Luke Bracey) his deadly trade skills. This relationship between instructor and his flailing student provides a compelling back-story to a very watchable movie for viewers who enjoy the James Bond, Jason Bourne and Mission Impossible spy thrillers. Yes, the overall plot in “The November Man” may not be difficult to decipher early on, but subtle intricacies to the storyline appear throughout to keep viewers entertained as the action slowly burns.

'November Man' Olga

Another 007 connection exists in the film with Ukrainian actress Olga Kurylenko portraying the woman Brosnan must keep alive long enough to provide vital information on a deadly Russian conspiracy. Kurylenko, the former Bond Girl to Daniel Craig’s 007 in 2009’s “Quantum of Solace”, provides excellent company to Brosnan while showcasing her own undercover talents.

'November Man' Maxim

Aside from these two main characters, Pierce Brosnan saves an otherwise weak cast. The Peter Devereaux character in this movie is easily Brosnan’s best performance since 2005’s “The Matador”. The former MI6 James Bond actor clearly shines in his covert spy roles, tugging beautiful girls through gunfire and chase scenes. Despite several predictable themes, “The November Man” offers an intriguing and sleek film that will leave viewers making comparisons between Brosnan’s CIA assassin in this film and his alter ego, superspy gig as Britain’s 007 agent. For that reason alone, “The November Man” will keep audiences entertained and thankful we have dedicated assets with these skillsets in today’s world of troublemakers.

Grade: B

"The November Man" is Rated R with a running time of 1 hour and 48 minutes.

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"Margin Call" (2011)

Similar in some ways to 2013's blockbuster hit 'The Wolf of Wall Street', this film depicts the business side of Lower Manhattan.  However, whereas 'The Wolf of Wall Street' is the Candy Land of board games, 'Margin Call' is more of the intellectual, Chess game variety.

You'll find yourself sitting between Kevin Spacey and some rocket scientist in a Wall Street boardroom during the 2008 financial crisis. Superb acting and an Oscar nominee for Best Original Screenplay, 'Margin Call' will have you crunching numbers and disbelieving how much money and American power is in the hands of so few. Place this flick in your viewing portfolio soon so you can understand how the game is played and by whom.

A brilliant cast includes several Academy Award nominees and winners led by Frank Underwood Kevin Spacey (Netflix's "House of Cards"), Jeremy Irons ("Reversal of Fortune"), Stanley Tucci ("The Lovely Bones") and Mary McDonnell (Sci-Fi Channel's "Battlestar Galactica"). Also included are Zachary Quinto ("Star Trek Into the Darkness"), Englishman Paul Bettany ("The Da Vinci Code") and Demi Moore ("Ghost").

'Margin Call 3'

"Margin Call" is available to rent at Amazon, Apple's iTunes, Netflix and Redbox.  It's rated R with a running time of 1 hour and 48 minutes.

 

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Bradley Cooper (Left) plays the late U.S. Navy SEAL sniper Chris Kyle (Right)

It's been announced that the movie version of the book "American Sniper" by the late U.S. Navy SEAL Chris Kyle, has been set for release in limited theaters on Christmas Day of this year.  The move by the studio appears to be an attempt to get the movie into consideration for 2014 award nominations.  "American Sniper" will be widely released to U.S. theaters on January 16, 2015.

Two-time Oscar winner Clint Eastwood ("Unforgiven", 1992 and "Million Dollar Baby", 2004) will direct "American Sniper", which is based off the bestselling autobiography by Kyle--the most lethal sniper in American history--and his 4 tours of duty in Iraq.

Chris Kyle will be played by Bradley Cooper (Academy Award nominated for "Silver Linings Playbook" and "American Hustle").  Sienna Miller will portray Kyle's wife, Taya Renae Kyle in the movie.

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Cooper with the 84-year old director, Clint Eastwood, on the movie set.

It's apparent that Bradley Cooper is taking his SEAL role serious--bulking up for the film.

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Kyle was shot and killed at a shooting range on February 2, 2013, in Texas.  You can purchase the book "American Sniper" at Amazon.com here - along with his other novel, "American Gun: A History of the U.S. in 10 Firearms".

Proceeds will go to his wife to help defend herself from this Scruff Face assclown. Additionally, here are some cool shirts you can order too.

American Sniper book

When the Game Stands Tall

Inspired by true events, “When The Game Stands Tall” is the story of the De La Salle High School (Concord, CA) football team posting the longest winning streak in football history. The film neatly illustrates the De La Salle Spartans 12-year rule on the gridiron and how “the streak” ending comes almost as shocking to the world as a Harlem Globetrotter loss in basketball. The difficultly the coaches, players and community have in confronting their rare defeat--and moving on in life--gave the film so much potential. Unfortunately, the remarkable real-life story that helped propel De La Salle to triumph once again on and off of the football field, fails to inspire filmgoers the same way on the big-screen.

Thomas Carter, who brought us the stirring “Coach Carter” movie starring Samuel L. Jackson in 2005, directs the film. Jackson’s Coach Ken Carter character brilliantly turned around his underachieving high school basketball team from worst-to-first using stern practices and tough love. In “When The Game Stands Tall”, De La Salle football coach Bob Ladouceur (played by Jim Caviezel) also stresses personal responsibility, focusing on each player’s future after football. But Caviezel (from CBS’ “Person of Interest” and the 2004 film “Passion of the Christ”) doesn’t provide any spark or connect with audiences like Samuel L. Jackson’s demeanor did on the hardwood floor.

Caviezel’s monotone locker room and pre-game speeches, combined with blank stares over the practice field and fruitless discussions with his wife about a job at Stanford, all lack an emotional fireworks. As an absent father, Ladouceur gets respected by his son more for his X’s and O’s strategy than any investment to the family dynamics. Denzel Washington’s memorable portrayal of the even-keeled coach Herman Boone in “Remember the Titans” (2000) used very effective outbursts and flashes of raw emotion to bring the story and Boone’s character alive both on the field and at home. Director Carter played it too safe with Caviezel’s coaching character in this film, stiff-arming the marriage and co-parenting aspects of Ladouceur’s life—both of which could have offered Caviezel a chance to make us want to stand up and cheer not only the successful coach, but also the honorable man.

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“When The Game Stands Tall” had a playbook full of established and proven storylines to call upon; faith-based teachings and mentorship, unexpected adversity for a close-knit community, successful inner-city kids earning a life-changing opportunity at college, and a coach--with job security for life--weighing lucrative offers to teach elsewhere. Together, these themes should have made “When The Game Stands Tall” the perfect feel-good movie heading into football season.

Perhaps sports films about already successful teams attempting to stay on top are less enjoyable to watch than a group of underdogs making their quest to be the best. Regardless, “When The Game Stands Tall” fumbled in its emotional connection to viewers as a result of the inexpressive, monotone delivery by Caviezel’s coach “Lad”. And that turnover cost moviegoers the chance to be as inspired by the De La Salle’s coaching staff as the players were back in 2004.

Grade: C+

"When The Game Stands Tall" is rated PG and the running time is 2 hours and 35 minutes.

 

 

Star Lord

Check this out.

Well done, Mr. Pratt.  How do you not like this guy?  Summer's biggest hit movie.  Already has a huge fan base of kids from his "The LEGO Movie" earlier this year.

I keep thinking Chris Pratt's movie career may be at the same point we found Tom Cruise back in 1983 with this gem--about to skyrocket into one of the most demanded actors in Hollywood.

If you haven't seen Pratt yet in "Guardians of the Galaxy" you're missing out.  Go see it!