Wednesday, September 2, 2015

Movie Review - Touched With Fire (Portland Film Festival)

Dr. Kay Jamison wrote a book called Touched With Fire about manic-depressive illness. This movie could be considered an adaptation of that book, but not really. This film has the same relationship to Jamison's book as movies like Think Like a Man or He's Just Not That Into You have to the books that inspired them. Writer-director Paul Dalio crafts a narrative for a book that doesn't have a narrative, giving a fictional story to what is essentially an advice, informational or self-help book. Like those aforementioned book-turned-movies, this one possesses a cameo of its author Kay Jamison. The difference is that this isn't a romantic comedy. This film is a more effecting drama.

Katie Holmes (Batman Begins and Dawson's Creek) stars as Carla Lucia, a published poet who has been diagnosed as manic-depressive. As a result, she's an insomniac and often will have feverish, late-night, writing sessions. She becomes obsessed with determining who she really is by digging into her past, before her diagnosis, much to her mother's concern.

Luke Kirby (Tell Me You Love Me and Rectify) co-stars as Marco, an underground rapper who has also been diagnosed as manic-depressive or what's known as bipolar disorder. His father looks after him but becomes nervous when he realizes that Marco has gone off his medications. The reason is two-fold. Marco doesn't believe he has an illness and even if he did, he believes that illness fuels his artistry as it probably has other artists who may have been bipolar.

Both Carla and Marco are committed to the same psychiatric hospital. The movie depicts a year in their lives. At first, the two are hostile and antagonistic toward each other, but a romance develops. Between the two, Carla doesn't seem as taken by her illness, meaning she seems more functional and stable, not dangerous. Carla's mom, Sara, played by Christine Lahti, reacts in ways that is indicative that maybe she's seen Carla be dangerous, but we don't see Carla that way.

Marco's father, George, played by Griffin Dunne, has a similar look on his face to Sara. His might actually be worse. Yet, we do see Marco acting out in ways that are potentially dangerous, or at least detrimental to himself. When he meets Carla and gets into a relationship, things become even more detrimental.

It feels as if the two might experience a folie à deux and briefly they do. Doctors identify that the two exacerbate their illnesses when they are together. They spiral down a rabbit hole holding each others hands. Dalio, however, doesn't keep track of this spiral and whether it's due to them being off their medications, or if somehow love is a fuel for their illnesses, or a gasoline thrown on fire.

Like with a lot of normal relationships, mainly teenage relationships, when parents tell or try to break-up the couple, this only makes the couple want to be together even stronger. The same occurs here, except the couple is comprised of two, thirty-something adults. It gets a little extreme because the parents have the power and threaten to institutionalize them, or literally imprison them.

Dalio presents an interesting dilemma. Can two people who are both mentally ill sustain a relationship? In that, it's a powerful exploration, an emotional tug-of-war that is very well-acted by Holmes and Kirby.

The only misstep that Dalio makes is his dedication to artists with bipolar disorder, which he does during the end credits. Some are artists that were diagnosed posthumously, so are speculative at best. Even if they weren't, a crux of the tug-of-war is Carla's disbelief or doubtfulness that bipolar disorder is good for art or anything.

By putting that dedication on the film, Dalio shows his hand and whose side he prefers, which wouldn't be so bad, if that side wasn't the shakier and more ephemeral side. The idea of bipolar disorder unchecked fueling artistry is the shakier side to the more solid side of Carla who thinks bipolar disorder unchecked can be physically dangerous as she witnesses first-hand. Dalio in a sense pulls the rug out from under Carla. It's a little unfair.

Four Stars out of Five.
Not Rated but contains language and sexual situations.
Running Time: 1 hr. and 46 mins.
Reviewed for Portland Film Festival.
For more information, go to http://portlandfilmfestival.com/

Movie Review - Yosemite (Portland Film Festival)

Writer-director Gabrielle Demeestere was one of the filmmakers who worked on The Color of Time, the film where James Franco played Pulitzer Prize-winning poet C.K. Williams. Demeestere now adapts some of the short stories in Franco's book A California Childhood. Some of the short stories from that book were previously adapted in the film Palo Alto directed by Gia Coppola two years ago. This movie in a sense is a sequel. It doesn't continue the story or the characters in Coppola's film. It merely continues similar themes and issues. Its focus, however, is on younger characters, which somehow makes it more compelling and dangerous.

Demeestere sets the time period by the placement of computer technology. The opening in fact is a series of 8-bit graphics against a black background. The graphics are clearly before the advent of the Apple Macintosh and certainly before Microsoft's Windows software. It's very, very basic pixels slowly flashing across the screen. With the exception of a car or two, and references to 80's films as if they're present-day, this movie feels like it could take place in the here-and-now.

Everett Meckler stars as Chris, a prepubescent boy between the age of 10 and 13. He's an elementary school student in southern California. At the start, he's in the passenger seat as his dad, played by James Franco, drives him and his younger brother, Alex, up to Yosemite National Park. The trip leads them to hike the mountainous trail, see the amazing trees and soak in nature, particularly Yosemite's impressive waterfall.

Due to Franco's presence, this trek through rocky terrain invokes the feelings of his Oscar-nominated film 127 Hours. With no clear purpose or narrative premise, one is never sure where the story is going, so it's possible that it could become a story of survival, man and child versus nature and wilderness, the harshness and brutality of it.

Much like The Color of Time, there's some echoes of Terrence Malick and not just the shots that look upward at the light, no matter the source. There's even whispered narration and moments that feel as if Demeestere were certainly affected or inspired by The Tree of Life. Yet, this film is less a commentary on religion or religious influences.

As Franco states plainly in Interior. Leather Bar., he's more interested in the portrayal of sex, and not just its depiction but also its education to people culturally and personally. This movie walks a risky line when its education involves young children like Chris but Franco's character speaks clearly and directly to his children about sex and what it is, absent of any shame or puritanical fear.

Alec Mansky co-stars as Joe, a classmate of Chris. They go to the same school. We even see them in math class together. His story is a contrast or a foil to Chris'. Whereas Chris has his father and most of his family around him or has easy access to people who love and will take care of him, Joe does not have that. He doesn't seem to have any parental supervision.

I compared a character in Gia Coppola's Palo Alto to Plato from Rebel Without a Cause. I would make a similar comparison to the character of Joe here. Plato had no parental supervision, which made him desperate to cling to someone who could be a potential father, brother or family of some kind. Joe is similarly desperate.

Henry Hopper who was featured in The Color of Time is featured here too. He isn't given a name that's spoken aloud in the film but the credits refer to him as Henry. If Mansky's character is comparable to Plato, played by Sal Mineo, from Rebel Without a Cause, then Hopper's character is comparable to Jim Stark, played by James Dean. As portrayed by Hopper, his character is somewhere between that and Ethan Hawke's character in Boyhood. It probably helps that Hopper looks like a younger and sexier version of Hawke, but therein lies the danger.

The danger involves the fact that we don't know what Henry's intentions are. Given that Joe is experiencing what could be considered sexual harassment at school by a classmate, it's a wonder if Henry might be the adult that lures Joe further down a rabbit hole of secret, sexual acts. There's a moment where Henry touches Joe in a way that feels inappropriate. The comparison between Mineo and Dean doesn't help, given the sexual tension between those two. However, what progresses lands rather well, thanks to Demeestere's direction and Hopper's performance.

Calum John co-stars as Ted, the aforementioned classmate who does something that could be considered sexual harassment. When it comes to his relationship with his father, Ted is somewhere between Chris and Joe. Like Joe's story, Ted is always or at least comes within arm's reach of danger, sexual and physical harm, but, through it all, we get a stronger sense than even Richard Linklater provided of a boy exploring the world and coming into his own.

Unlike Linklater's Boyhood, there is a disturbing lack of female presence. However, if you consider this a companion piece to Coppola's Palo Alto, which has a greater female presence, then there is a balance and this movie does feel right, if at times tense and uneasy.

Five Stars out of Five.
Not Rated but for general audiences.
Running Time: 1 hr. and 21 mins.
Reviewed for Portland Film Festival.
For more information, go to http://portlandfilmfestival.com/

Tuesday, September 1, 2015

Movie Review - GRU-PDX (Portland Film Festival)

GRU is the short-hand for Guarulhous International Airport in São Paulo, Brazil. PDX is the short-hand for Portland International Airport in Portland, Oregon. This documentary by Daniel Barosa doesn't take us inside those terminals or is even about air travel. It's about a two-man, music group named Quarto Negro who travels back-and-forth to those terminals for half-a-year as the two men work to finish their second album. Except, this movie really isn't about Quarto Negro. The band is more or less a MacGuffin to carry us into and through a tour of the current, Portland, music scene.

The opening, 5-minute sequence is a template for what the film truly is. Barosa interviews 20, probably about two dozen, music artists or bands based in Portland. He edits most of them into his first, five minutes, as each talks for a few seconds setting the scene for what Portland means to musicians. Barosa edits sequence after sequence like this of all these artists commenting on the city, its history, its economy, its people in general and its spirit, giving us a non-specific or vague vibe of how it is there.

Aside from a few anecdotes, what we don't get are detailed explorations of these people. This is mainly because there are so many of them, so there isn't enough time. These dozens of interviews function as a chorus, which is fine, but all of the information these interviews provide is stuff I could have found on Wikipedia.

At one point, a band named Wild Ones has one of its members scream out, "Don't move here!" That line could have been said with literal sincerity from a band that is fed up with Portland's reputation of being a Mecca for indie rock bands and musicians in general. The band member could have also said it ironically, referring to several things.

In 2010, a web series by Aaron Rose premiered on YouTube. It was called Don't Move Here: Inside Portland's Music Scene. The title comes from a 1971 quote from Oregon's 30th Governor, Tom McCall, during a CBS News interview. The series was seven episodes, between 5-10 minutes, and it consisted of interviews commenting on aforementioned topics culminating in a musical performance from a local band.

This is essentially how Barosa's documentary is structured. It's essentially a series of the Don't Move Here episodes strung together. There are interviews and such, and every 10 minutes or so, Barosa inserts a musical performance from a local band. The band or artist performs a full song. After a while, it's like turning on VH-1: Portland edition. Each artist and each song are great, and Barosa, whether his idea or not, cleverly stages the musical performances in various scenic locales throughout the city.

Radiation City performs "Foreign Bodies" under a bridge. Sun Angle performs "Creeping Sun" in an abandoned prison. Natasha Kmeto performs "Idiot Proof" at the entrance to a train track-tunnel. Quasi performs "Fat Fanny Land" in a video arcade in a basement, and The Dandy Warhols performs "Horse Pills" in a strip club. If you live in Portland, this last paragraph probably makes sense, but Barosa's movie gives no context, so who these bands are and why these specific locations are never explained.

While all this is very entertaining, the Brazilian band at the center of this movie gets lost. Quarto Negro truly becomes an after-thought, one we cease to care about. Even when the band's founder, Eduardo Praça, a cute man with short, dark hair, worries how much debt they've raised, we still cease to care. The other band member, Thiago Klein, a tall, hirsute ginger, complains about being tired all the time but again we cease to care.

Unlike Amy, the documentary about Amy Winehouse, there's little here about the creative side or influences of Quarto Negro, or even little about their process or any kind of analysis of their songs or album. You'd think that one of the five musical performances that Barosa features would be Quarto Negro itself. Yet, we never see or hear Quarto Negro perform. The only interesting part of them is the fact that they're collaborating or mixing their album in the make-shift, recording studio of the group The Helio Sequence.

Benjamin Weikel and Brandon Summers of The Helio Sequence are interviewed, and we probably get just as much about them as we do Quarto Negro. I would have preferred more. Instead, we get diversions like with Justin Harris of the band called Menomena. He gives a tour of the renovated church that is now his home and recording studio, but why couldn't that time have been spent learning more about Praça and Klein?

It isn't that the tour of Harris' place isn't interesting, but more about Quarto Negro and more of a dive into their lives to make us care about them are lacking. This movie seems geared for a tourist who has no desire for deep investment or perhaps for a Portland resident who is already well-familiar with the culture and the community and would simply like a passing entertainment.

Three Stars out of Five.
Not Rated but for mature audiences.
Running Time: 1 hr. and 32 mins.
Reviewed for Portland Film Festival.
For more information, go to http://portlandfilmfestival.com/

Movie Review - Birds of Neptune (Portland Film Festival)

At first glance, it seems as if this film is taking place in the present, this recent year or so, but, specific pieces of technology showcased indicate that the time period is the 1990's, or just before the dawn of the 21st century. The phones used is one indication. The VHS cassette player used is another. However, the movie is set in Portland, Oregon, so the likelihood is high that it is the present and the characters are simply being kitsch or hipster.

Britt Harris stars as Rachel, a high school senior who like many young people in Portland is an aspiring musician. She plays guitar and has instruments and other music equipment in the basement of her family's house.

Molly Elizabeth Parker co-stars as Mona, the older sister of Rachel. She works as an exotic dancer and does characters on stage that are provocative. She's essentially taking care of her sister given that they've recently become orphans. They had a younger brother who drowned, probably due to negligence on Mona's past.

Director and co-writer Steven Richter begins the movie utilizing a lot of close-ups to tell his story. There isn't much dialogue in that Richter lets close-ups relay most of the information here. This is effective for about half the movie, but it reaches a breaking point where dialogue becomes necessary and Richter's resistance to dialogue becomes a detriment.

Kurt Conroyd also co-stars as Zach, a thick-bearded, graduate student studying psychology but doesn't seem to take it seriously. He meets Mona at the strip club or topless bar where she works. With little effort, he's able to go home and have sex with her. He then launches into a relationship with her, which then has an effect on her relationship with her sister.

The key reason is because only two seconds after waking up from sex with Mona, he then becomes obviously interested in having sex with Rachel. Immediately, Zach comes across as unlikeable and disgusting. At one point, Mona and Zach call themselves adults. They also call Rachel an adult, but she claims to be a high school senior, which means she's most likely 18 or younger. That would make Zach having sex with her possibly a crime.

This doesn't seem to be anything Richter wants to acknowledge. One could presume she was left back a grade and can be a high school student of consenting age, but because Richter doesn't do a lot of dialogue, this aspect is never explored. The assumption is that Rachel has a thing for older guys in general, but there is no exploration as to why or what specifically is it about Zach or any other guy that is attractive to her. Is it unresolved daddy issues because that would be cliche?

There are questions about Zach's sexuality as well. During his first encounter with Mona, she whips out a strap-on dildo, which he doesn't mind or seems to enjoy. Rachel later sees Zach with another guy with whom he appears to be flirting. Immediately after that, it appears that Zach is living in the house with Mona and Rachel, and it's not clear when that happened, or how much time has passed.

It's then unclear what exactly is going through Zach's head. He claims to want to help them, but his actions prove otherwise, or prove him manipulative or using them for completely libertine purposes. His actions also prove him violent and the antithesis of anyone you'd want as a psychologist.

His character is uneven and nonsensical in that regard, but that's not as unforgivable as the unevenness of the two female characters. Rachel seems smart in instances and then dumb or nothing more than a plot device at other times. Never at any point do I get what she wants or what her motivation is. Her sister Mona seems stuck in the past or desperate to stay where she is, but Rachel comes across as all over the map, and mainly this is due to the vagueness of her past and her relationship with the other older guy as well as her relationship with what could be called a cult.

The images of birds and the references to them, along with the reference to Neptune, all feel completely random. There might be a metaphor to be gleaned, but it all literally went over my head.

Two Stars out of Five.
Not Rated but contains full-frontal, female nudity and sexual situations.
Running Time: 1 hr. and 36 mins.
Reviewed for Portland Film Festival.
For more information, go to http://portlandfilmfestival.com/

Monday, August 31, 2015

TV Review - Wet Hot American Summer: First Day of Camp

The prequel series of the 2001 cult classic, spoofing the idea of camp retreats for teenagers is essentially a remake of the film, stretched out and padded, improving on some things, decreasing in others, maintaining a consistent level of humor and comedy, but ultimately not living up to the potential therein. The entire cast is back with a lot of guest stars who are new from the original. Even though every guest star is great. The cast gets too big and some things get lost in the shuffle. Similarly, the series takes place in one 24-hour period, but with the goal of explaining how the characters came to be where they are at the film's start and doing so in the most ridiculous or absurd ways possible.

Some have been comparing this series to the fourth season of Arrested Development. The comparison is apt because it involved a comedic property that since its end has built a cult following and since its end, all of its stars went on to do really big things or become more famous people. Both were revived by Netflix, but the consensus seems to be building that where Arrested Development failed on Netflix, this show succeeds. I'm here to put on the record that this consensus is wrong.

People commend creators Michael Showalter and David Wain for getting all of these big stars back together. People bash Mitchell Hurwitz of Arrested Development because instead of trying to wrangle everyone, he embraced the idea of breaking his premise and doing individual stories. Yet, writing-wise, Showalter and Wain can't touch Hurwitz.

Not all of Hurwitz's jokes landed for people, but his joke-per-capita was extremely higher. His jokes were more nuanced and layered, and unlike Showalter and Wain, Hurwitz had to build a narrative that in the end made sense. Showalter and Wain can get away with anything most notably revisionist history by simply reveling in silliness, and just brushing it aside when it suits them.

Let's start with the two biggest stars, Bradley Cooper and Amy Poehler. Cooper is now one of the most popular, movie stars in the world. He's been nominated for three, consecutive Oscars for acting. The last time was for a film that made half-billion in the box office. He did a play on Broadway and he's also producing another TV series for CBS, so his availability was limited, and that fact becomes painfully obvious.

Poehler is busy too. From wrapping up her TV show, hosting gigs and doing several films, her availability is short. Even though she appears on screen more, her character feels marginalized. She in fact is given a back seat to new guest star, John Slattery. He sucks the oxygen out the room and upstages her unfortunately.

Speaking of marginalizing, there is a lack of group interactions between all the camp counselors this go-round. The 2001 film had a lot of group interactions where all the characters were present and doing things together like a drive into town, a baseball game or lack thereof, a gay wedding and flag football. This series tries the same with a musical theater performance and a party at the end. Yet, it again becomes painfully obvious that not all the actors were actually together. Many were just inserted using the magic of filmmaking.

This takes away the power of what these actors are good at doing, which is interacting and riffing off each other. This doesn't mean that the original characters don't get good or great bits with new characters. Janeane Garofalo gets a great bit and storyline with Jason Schwartzman who is new to the cast. Elizabeth Banks gets a great bit with Jordan Peele who is new. Molly Shannon gets a great bit with Randall Park who is also new but the bit isn't enough. David Hyde Pierce has a great bit, which fully fleshes his back story, but it feels like it exists in a vacuum.

New players like Josh Charles are hilarious and work. Other new players like Chris Pine don't. There are just as many hits as misses. Yet, it's nowhere near as effective and impactful as Arrested Development. Nor is it as funny or humorous overall.

Three Stars out of Five.
Rated TV-MA.
Running Time: 30 mins. / 8 eps.
Available on Netflix Watch Instant.

TV Review - The Honorable Woman

This series premiered in July 2014 on the Sundance Channel. It's a production of the BBC. It's comprised of eight episodes, each one-hour. It's slow and methodical. It deals with the conflict between Israel and Palestine. It also deals with how government forces or how those within government seek to manipulate and control situations, as well as how technology like broadband is very much the new battleground. It stars Maggie Gyllenhaal as the titular character named Nessa Stein. She won a Golden Globe this year for her portrayal. Written and directed by Hugo Blick, the program has been nominated for four Emmy Awards, including Outstanding Writing, Outstanding Directing, Outstanding Actress and Outstanding Miniseries.

In addition to Gyllenhaal, the show has a great cast of actors. Andrew Buchan (Cranford and Broadchurch) co-stars as Ephra Stein, the brother of Nessa and the son of Israeli immigrants who came to the United Kingdom. In fact, his father fled from Israel because of the conflict with Palestine and things he's done. Unfortunately, he couldn't flee far enough because the opening of the first episode is his murder by Palestinians, as Nessa and Ephra witness it as little children.

29 years later, Nessa and Ephra have created their own foundation, which Nessa now runs. Their foundation wants to build or establish broadband for high-speed Internet in the Middle East in attempt to promote education and progress in that part of the world, as well as foster better relations between the Israelis and Palestinians. In a surprise, instead of awarding the Israeli contractor and family-friend named Shlomo, played by Igal Naor (House of Saddam and 300: Rise of an Empire), Nessa awards a Palestinian contractor.

In a well-delivered speech in the first episode, Nessa does this to a crowded room, but there are two noticeable absences. The first absence is the Palestinian contractor himself. The second absence is the little boy who is the son of Ephra's live-in housekeeper. The disappearance of these two people kicks off a mystery and a conspiracy that was eight years in the making.

That mystery and conspiracy are complicated and possess a lot of intrigue. It's all very well-written and extremely smart, but I'm not convinced how compelling it is overall. With the exception of the first and last episode, the majority of it is paced slowly and is somewhat boring. Blick does manage to end each episode with a cliffhanger that does help to pull viewers along.

The first episode in fact ends in a long, exhaustive, foot chase that's exciting not only because you're not sure where it's going, but also because Blick photographs it like it's a film noir, utilizing great angles and shadows. The cliffhangers in the other episodes are typically acts of violence, including kidnapping, rape and murder.

Blick does write some very decent drama, particularly for his predominantly female cast. Two-time, Oscar nominee Janet McTeer (Tumbleweeds and Albert Nobbs) and Eve Best (Prime Suspect 7 and Nurse Jackie) are heavily featured and they're allowed to shine in that decent drama. Katherine Parkinson (The IT Crowd and Pirate Radio) who plays Ephra's wife, Rachel, isn't as heavily featured but her brief moments on screen certainly pack a punch.

Other than Gyllenhaal, the female actor who is really outstanding is Lubna Azabal (Paradise Now and Incendies) who plays Atika Halabi, the aforementioned, live-in housekeeper. She's a hidden weapon, literally and figuratively. She's not used to her full potential until the eighth and final episode, which is a bit of a mistake. We get a brief glimpse of Atika's power, but it's shelved until the end.

I understand that Gyllenhaal's character Nessa needed to go on a journey that deliberately built to the confrontation in the eighth episode, which Blick crafts fantastically. It's just on the back-burner for too long, and what Blick has on the front-burner simmers for a time that ultimately wastes it.

Four Stars out of Five.
Rated TV-MA.
Running Time: 1 hr. / 8 eps.
Available on Sundance TV.
Also on Netflix Watch Instant.

Sunday, August 30, 2015

Movie Review - No Escape (2015)

There is extreme, political turmoil going on in this southeastern Asian country, which isn't identified, except that it borders Vietnam, so the country is either Cambodia or Thailand. There are no subtitles, so we never know what these brown-skinned people are saying. We don't get any of the issues from the point-of-view of the Asian natives. There are some scenes where the issues can be extrapolated and there are some scenes of English dialogue where problems are explained. Because of which, it could be seen as just another example of stereotyping brown-skinned people as evil savages, and white-skinned people as the saints, but it didn't come across that way to me.

Owen Wilson (Midnight in Paris and Wedding Crashers) stars as Jack Dwyer, an engineer working for a corporation named Cardiff. He has a wife and two daughters. They all relocate to the aforementioned, Asian country from Austin, Texas, for Jack's job, which he thinks is to help improve the water system in that city or area. Unbeknownst to him, his arrival coincides with all the political turmoil, including a large, violent, street riot and the unleashing of a brutal and vicious militia that targets all foreigners and foreign sympathizers.

Directed and co-written by John Erick Dowdle, the film feels like the recent World War Z, minus the zombies. It's essentially about a family trying to escape aggressors that have over-run the city. That comparison could be in itself offensive because it's not really minus the zombies. The zombies are transposed as the nation-vague Asian antagonists depicted. Maybe a better comparison would be the recent Purge: Anarchy, except this film doesn't just have random acts of violence for violence's sake.

I would argue that this film is better than World War Z and Purge: Anarchy because even though it is vague and non-specific, it's highly effective much in the same way as Gravity or The Grey. No, it doesn't take place in outer space or the Alaskan wilderness, but Alfonso Cuarón and Joe Carnahan crafted the action to escalate as the protagonists moved from scene to scene toward its goal-location.

As a pure, action flick or thriller, it thoroughly succeeds. It's always tense or exciting. It's at times scary and shocking, thanks to great use of sound editing. It also has great escalation. Despite all the death and destruction, it also is able to be funny, if only in small doses to ease the constant uneasiness. The movie, thanks mainly to the performances, always has you on seat's edge, worried that these people could really die in horrible fashion.

Lake Bell (In a World and Million Dollar Arm) co-stars as Annie, the wife of Jack. She's also the mother of his two daughters, Lucy, played by Sterling Jerins, and Beeze, played by Claire Geare. From scene-to-scene, they really maintain this sense of terror and dred.

Pierce Brosnan (GoldenEye and Mrs. Doubtfire) also co-stars as Hammond, a mysterious but seemingly fun-loving and charming man who is there in southeast Asia on business too. When all Hell breaks loose, he steps up and becomes the Liam Neeson of this film. He even has a great moment proving he won't die lying down. Yet, it's through him that we surprisingly get the heartless reality but at least the recognition is made that there is no difference between us and them. It's an attempt to counter-act the demonization that can easily come with such a depiction here of these brown-skinned and angry people.

What undermines that is the ending. The political turmoil that kicks things off is simply abandoned. We don't even get a title card on the tail that explains what happened to the government or the people of that Asian country. A U.S. Embassy is attacked and Cardiff company members are killed and there's no follow-up.

Four Stars out of Five.
Rated R for strong violence including a sexual assault, and for language.
Running Time: 1 hr. and 41 mins.