The Foreigner Review

You know who I’ve never seen in a serious role? Jackie Chan.

He’s been in countless films, yet every one that comes to mind is upbeat and light-hearted. I’ve heard Chan’s done a few dramatic films here and there, but I can guarantee none are like his most recent political drama, the Foreigner.

Based on the book the Chinaman by Stephen Leather, the film follows Ngoc Minh Quan (Jackie Chan), a special forces veteran whose only daughter is killed in a horrible terrorist bombing. Fueled by his desire for retribution, Quan’s search for answers leads him to Irish government official Liam Hennessy (Pierce Brosnan) who may hold the key to understanding the attack. Much to Quan’s chagrin, Hennessy is reluctant to reveal any information on the terrorists, possibly because of the terrorist’s links to Irish nationalism. What ensues is a deadly game of cat-and-mouse between Quan and Hennessy, as Quan presses him for answers and accountability for the unspeakable crimes.

The Foreigner doesn’t have the levity of a buddy-cop drama like Rush Hour. It grapples with all too familiar themes of terrorism, loss of loved ones to said terrorism, and suspicious political intentions.

To my disappointment, the story gives too much focus on the character of Pierce Brosnan, and all the diplomatic and shady political motives behind the acts of Irish terrorism. Not a bad idea, except it’s carried out in such a disjointed and needlessly complex way. We get wrapped up in a plot with too many characters and not enough screen time to really understand their motives, and Brosnan is at the heart of it all.

The Foreigner would’ve honestly been a more well-rounded movie without the foreigner himself, Jackie Chan. Often Chan felt more like a footnote to a political drama than being the central character trying to take revenge.

It’s a real shame too, as we have this perfectly fine story of a grieving father going rogue, doing everything in his power to extract revenge and get answers. Committing his own acts of self-justified terrorism that would make even John Rambo proud. It’s a concept that’s been done several times before, but a more dramatic take with Chan at the helm is one I don’t mind seeing again. However, when the story tries to juggle between two separate plots in under two hours, we’re left with an uneven and tonally inconsistent film.

Jackie Chan plays the part of a defeated yet determined man quite proficiently, delivering a nice and convincing performance. He spends most of the film stone-faced and quiet as a mouse, but you can feel the anger and malice hidden just beneath the surface. As a small Asian immigrant, his enemies underestimate his perseverance to get what he wants. But Jackie Chan isn’t messing around.

The action is rather subdued and infrequent, but when we got it in small doses it was very satisfying. The climax was particularly energetic and engrossing, a great payoff to an almost unbearable amount of buildup. Quite possibly because the film never felt much like a mystery, although sometimes intended to be one.

Despite the Foreigner’s confused tone and muddled story, there’s a certain level of appeal to the film that I admire. Jackie Chan is a likable actor and has a talent for playing the outgunned underdog. The premise is interesting and had a lot of potential to be a successful political drama or action/revenge movie. It’s when your movie can’t choose between the two that you start to have problems.

Thankfully the raw acting talents of Chan and Brosnan held the Foreigner together like glue, and we the audience reaped the benefits.

The Verdict: C

-Zachary Flint

The First Purge: White People Ruin America (A Review)

After the financial success of not one, not two, but three Purge movies, I guess it was inevitable that Blumhouse would sooner or later make a fourth Purge flick.

In The First Purge, we see the political origins of how the Purge eventually came to be, and how the initial round of participants respond to the carnage. It turns out that the first purge didn’t take place all throughout the U.S., but instead acted as a trial run on Staten Island. Think Escape from New York but not just criminals. We follow an unlikely group of heroes as they attempt to survive the night; while they also discover a sinister plot by the political party who began it all, the New Founding Fathers of America.

The First Purge makes the grave mistake of thematically following in the footsteps of the 2013 Ethan Hawke Purge movie. The film spends most of its time trying to convince the audience that this is some realistic dystopian future that the United States is heading towards rather than give the audience what they came for. People watching The Purge want to see mindless violence, awesome kill sequences, and entertaining costumes. All of which we were given very little of.

The bottom line is that The Purge is a ridiculous concept, period. It cannot and will not ever happen in real life. Please make whatever pun you’d like about the current political climate, because I’m sure it’ll be better than anything in this film.

The movie lazily tries to comment on all things race related; including poverty, crime, violence, and an assortment of other things. This is a feat The First Purge is not properly equipped to deal with. The film’s basic principles are such thinly veiled propaganda that, when I left the theater, I had a bruise from where filmmakers beating me over the head with their nonsense.

If the messages of white vs. black weren’t already too evident for the viewer, there’s even a scene where white supremacists commit mass murder inside a black church. I personally found this to be a bit out of place and too heavy-handed for what this film is, but maybe that’s just me.

The poor directing and camerawork often got in the way of enjoying the few good scenes of action sprinkled about. Towards the climax of the film there’s a big fight inside a dimly lit apartment complex that started out pretty promising. The imagery is quite frightening and intense, and the location itself was a fascinating one. But as soon as the action begins, this obnoxious strobe effect gets intercut throughout the scene and distorts the audience’s view. Why purposefully make it difficult for us to see the best part of the movie?

At the very least the movie was well-acted, a particularly tough task when the level of filmmaking is subpar. I give special props to Y’lan Noel, whose acting I highly enjoyed. He somehow managed to give a convincing performance despite the series’ goofy limitations.

If The First Purge would’ve dropped the serious shenanigans and gave audiences more of what they came for (cool costumes/masks and intense action) I think more could’ve been redeemable. Unfortunately, this pill is hard to swallow. The writers behind The Purge want us to take this ridiculous plot as sensible commentary on modern society yet throw in cartoon-like villains named Skeletor. What an unbelievable cluster of a series.

All in all, don’t let this film trick you into believing it has something intelligent to say. It doesn’t.

The Verdict: D-

-Zachary Flint

Red Sparrow Review: A Muddled Spy Drama

Famed Hollywood actress Jennifer Lawrence returns to the screen with her Hunger Games director Francis Lawrence in one of the harder to follow dramas of recent past.

Lawrence plays Dominika Egorova, a ballerina dancer who suffers a terrible injury that puts her and her mother’s fate in jeopardy. As a last resort, Dominika is enlisted in Sparrow school, a Russian intelligence organization that trains individuals to use their bodies as weapons against enemies of the state. After completing her grueling training process, Dominika is assigned to extract information from a CIA agent named Nate Nash (Joel Edgerton). But when he convinces Dominika that he’s the only true person she can trust, she begins to question her allegiances to Russia.

Red Sparrow contains an abundance of sexually explicit content that will certainly shock viewers, as I believe gratuity was the intention. I also believe it was well meaning, serving the general themes of sexual servitude and what it means to give yourself away. I thought this was a vastly interesting concept to dive into, especially given the strong performance of Jennifer Lawrence and the unique storyline.

And for the first hour or so, they do a lot with these ideas. The pacing is fast and keeps the audience on its toes, and we learn much about our protagonist and the horrifying things she’s put through by Russian Intelligence.

But slowly and surely the plot of Red Sparrow starts to meander about, and more or less turns into your run-of-the-mill spy movie. Complete with too many characters overstuffed into the story, tediously predictable scenes, and generally just too many things going on to stay focused.

This detrimentally harms the messages and themes of the film, which are stretched so thin by the elongated plot that it all becomes quite skewed and confusing. When the film finally ends you can’t remember what it was all about in the first place. The motives of our protagonist and the moral messages/takeaways are so ever-changing that I can’t confidently state what Red Sparrow was trying to convey. Is it a film on sexual servitude, current political corruption and ideals, or just a dramatic spy movie overindulging in offensive gratuity? Maybe it’s none of those things, or maybe it’s not, I think the audience deserves to know.

The Verdict: C+

-Zachary Flint

The Post Review

What I assume will be my last belated review from 2017, The Post was one of the more politically motivated (and dividing) films of the year.

Directed by Steven Spielberg, The Post focuses on American newspaper publisher Katherine Graham (Meryl Streep), who recently inherited ownership of the Washington Post. Graham works feverishly with editor Ben Bradlee (Tom Hanks) in an attempt to play catch-up with The New York Times, who just exposed a massive government secret spanning decades.  This secret, known today as the Pentagon Papers, detailed the United States’ military interests in Vietnam, even years before military action took place. This included major lies from four U.S. presidents, government deception of the public, and even the acknowledgement that we might not win the war if the U.S. decided to fight.

So, when the Nixon administration tried to silence the news media by making the papers illegal to publish, The Washington Post throws it all on the line for their right to bring this information to the public eye.

When it comes to The Posts storytelling capabilities, they happened to be both powerful and conventional. Spielberg has this natural style of filmmaking that’s always so engaging, with the ability to suck viewers into the most mundane of scenes. That ability translates over nicely in The Post, which stays interesting, topical, and compelled. Scenes are shot with some variety, and the actors were motivated to give their all.

That being said, The Post doesn’t really throw anything new into the mix. We’ve seen biographical dramas on journalism before, and The Post didn’t really stand out as being revolutionary (as many critics would have you believe). How The Post stands the test of time has of course yet to be seen. It’s messages and themes about the government attempting to censor and control the media are undeniably topical, for the moment. But its methods are so similar to films like Spotlight that I’m skeptical how well it will age. A lot of The Post’s critical praise has come from its relevancy to the current U.S. administration, but without that context I’m afraid that it won’t stand as strong.

At the very least, The Post is a well-directed and intriguing drama, with passionate performances from Tom Hanks and Meryl Streep. Beyond this, I’m not sure if The Post is  award-winning material.

The Verdict: B-

-Zachary Flint