Operation Finale – A Movie Review

Operation Finale is a movie based on historical fact.  It chronicles a team of Israeli agents sent to Buenos Aires in Argentina to capture the Nazi war criminal named Adolf Eichmann.  As records show, they were delayed several days after securing Eichmann and had to keep him in a safe house as they awaited extraction.

Oscar Isaac plays Peter Malkin, an actual member of the team that captured Eichmann.  He is credited with wrestling Eichmann to the ground when the murderer sensed something amiss.  Ben Kingsley plays the high-ranking Nazi official who organized the transportation of Jews to their deaths who, along with several Nazis, took refuge in South America.

My wife loves historical movies, so we went together to see this.  She enjoyed it even more than I did, and that’s saying something because I liked it quite a bit.

We agreed that for such a complicated story, it was surprisingly easy to follow.  The editing felt very smooth and the story unfolded fluidly.  Though I can’t say I totally remember every character’s name–there were several–each appeared visually unique and had a distinct personality which made them simple to recognize.

In fact, overall all, we thought the acting was superb, particularly in regards to Ben Kingsley.  Kingsley played Eichmann as a regular man.  He did not portray him as a two-dimensional villain, nor did he deliver a pompous, raging despot.  Fifteen years after the war’s end, Kinglsey characterizes Eichmann as quiet, reserved, even gentle.  But every once in a while, you see a flash, a brief glimpse, of the conniving, murderous Nazi hiding behind those eyes.

The filmmakers utilized another shrewd storytelling technique as they revealed snippets of Eichmann’s past, little by little, in short, potent vignettes.  Those scenes eventually piece together a vision of Eichmann that is horrifying and in stark contrast to the man being held prisoner at the safe house.  I specifically loved the image of him annoyingly wiping ink off of his cuff during a Nazi meeting.  He wore the same expression upon his face as he wiped something entirely different from his uniform near a death pit.  These little touches were remarkably effective at conveying character.

Make no mistake, however, even though Eichmann seems powerless while in custody, he is not.  He’s engaged in subtle, almost imperceptible, mental warfare with his captors, and the audience is led to believe he might just outlast them all.

Though I liked the movie very much, I’m the first to admit it’s a little on the slow side.  This disciplined pacing, though, absolutely illustrates the tension in the safe house as they waited nearly ten days to take Eichmann to Israel.  During this holdover, everyone is beginning to climb the walls, and it’s Oscar Isaac’s Peter Malkin who must keep his head for the sake of them all.

Truthfully, I entered the theater believing most of the movie would occur in the courtroom.  I thought we were going to see quite a bit of Eichmann’s trial.  This did not prove to be the case, and I felt totally fine with that.  We all generally know the outcome of that trial, but I knew virtually nothing about Eichmann’s detainment.  They were smart to zero in on the more enigmatic material of the story.

Operation Finale is a period film that appears authentic in terms of both era and locale.  It does not offer much in the way of special effects.  It’s fairly quiet.  But it’s also focused, deliberate, and well-constructed.  In the end, it was nice to experience a movie intent on delivering a captivating story with superb acting.

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(Did you enjoy this review?  Check out Scott William Foley’s latest books HERE!)

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The Predator – A Movie Review

Maybe you remember the other Predator movies fondly, like me, and have an urge to check this one out, especially because it’s directed by Shane Black.

Resist that urge.

This movie is awful from start to finish.

I’ll admit that it’s got a few funny one-liners, but the general story is a convoluted mess, the characters are about as thinly developed as possible, the special effects are not particularly impressive, and it honestly made absolutely no sense at all.

Furthermore, it treated mental disorders as punchlines throughout and made a rather insensitive reach regarding autism for the sake of trying to introduce a plot element.

At least with the other Predator movies we had actual stars that oozed charisma, but I can’t even tell you the lead actor’s name in this thing.  I felt really bad for Thomas Jane, by the way, an actor I really enjoy in The Expanse.  Man, he really lowered his standards with this thing.  I typically like Olivia Munn as well, but her character was all over the place.  One minute she’s a scientist, the next she can operate heavy artillery.

Another misstep is that there wasn’t enough Predator in this thing!  We spent far more time with humans than Predators, and those humans were not at all interesting.  Sadly, I couldn’t even keep track of the Predator’s story line.  The movie introduces a ridiculous premise involving a particular Predator while providing zero background information or motivation for said Predator.

Finally, at the risk of spoiling the ending of the movie a bit, Sterling K. Brown is set up to be the “bad guy” of the film.  At the end of the movie, he’s in a group with the “good guys” trying to survive the Predator.  I literally have no idea what ever happened to him.  I asked my friend who saw it with me, and he had no idea either.

Oh, and don’t even get me started on the Predator dog who decided to be man’s best friend for absolutely no reason at all.

Do yourself a favor, go see The Meg instead of this.  It’s terrible, too, but at least it attempted to make sense and was somewhat comprehensible.

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(Did you enjoy this review?  Check out Scott William Foley’s latest book HERE!)

The Meg – A Movie Review

I realize this has been out for awhile, but maybe I’ll get lucky and this review will still prove helpful to you.

If you have the chance to see this movie, let me go ahead and save you some money by saying you should pass.

Don’t get me wrong — I had a great time watching it.  It’s just that most of my joy derived from the movie’s terrible dialogue, lackluster acting, and enormous plot holes.  In other words, this movie was so bad that it was good.  If you’re into that kind of thing, then you should go for it.

But if you’re coming for Statham’s amazing fighting skills, you’ll be sorely disappointed.  There’s not one fistfight to be seen in this film.  If you’re hoping for incredible stunts, you’ll be let down on that front as well.

However, if you’re into special effects, The Meg will delight.  Obviously, the CGI shark is pretty incredible.  Don’t discount the nearly seamless blending of CGI and reality, as well.  I honestly had a hard time discerning where the CGI ended and the real materials began.  The underwater portion of the film was amazing, by the way.  It looked really, really good.

There were also some genuine thrills in The Meg.  One moment even made me jump.  Much of it will strike you as fairly predictable and cliched, but it’s still exciting to watch.

The movie comes crashing down a bit when you start to think … even a little.  There are several plot holes that are hard to overcome.  Even harder to get past, though, is the bad, bad, really bad acting.  I think the little girl in the movie may have been the best actor.  Contemplate that for a moment.

The real reason I wanted to see The Meg is because I heard somewhere that it was the best shark movie since Jaws.  Trust me when I say it’s not.  I have no idea what other shark movies outrank it, because I’m not that into shark movies, but this dud failed to give me what I most wanted — a giant shark wreaking havoc at every opportunity.  There were too many near-misses for my taste.  The film was far too kind to its characters.  Not enough wanton destruction for a monster movie.  I’m generally not into wanton destruction, mind you, but if I’m going to monster movie, then, yeah, I want wanton.

So if you want a fairly mundane giant shark movie, The Meg might be up your alley.  Probably not, though.  It was good for some laughs, however.  And yes, I was that annoying guy laughing at all the wrong moments.  Sorry.  I couldn’t help myself.

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(Did you enjoy this article?  Check out Scott William Foley’s short stories HERE!)

Christopher Robin – A Movie Review

I’ll be honest, when I first saw the trailer to this movie, I felt totally turned off.  It struck me as dark, dreary, and unnecessarily … adult.  Well, I’m happy to tell you that I couldn’t have been more mistaken.

Though we aren’t particularly big Winnie the Pooh fans, we like him well enough.  Once I heard good buzz about Christopher Robin and secured assurances from friends that it was an appropriate family film, I couldn’t wait to take my own kids.

I’m so glad I did.  The story is about a grownup Christopher Robin.  It has a charming beginning in which Christopher says goodbye to Pooh and his friends before he must head off to boarding school.  At boarding school, he learns to be efficient, serious, and unimaginative.  Once out of school, he has falls in love, goes to war, has a child, and now works in management for a luggage company.

Christopher Robin is an absolute bore.  He has forgotten how to enjoy life, and in doing so is missing out on the joy of his own wife and child.  As you guessed, Pooh and friends reenter his life, and from that moment forward a charming story ensues.

I won’t lie–I adore this movie.  As an adult, it provided some potent reminders about what is truly important in life.  And though it may have brought a tear to my eye here and there, it never struck me as overtly self-righteous.  It did not sermonize, lecture, or beat me over the head with its message.  It simply told a story, a story that even my nine-year-old could correctly interpret.

My children loved it because it was actually quite fun, cute, and upbeat.  Yes, the beginning is a little dour, but it’s all uphill from there.  Best of all?  Pooh and friends looked totally real.  I honestly couldn’t tell what was a puppet, what was a person in a suit, what was a robot, and what was CGI.  These old stuffed animals looked every bit the part, and as they walked and talked, it appeared natural in every respect.

On a deeply personal note, my six-year-old about made me start bawling in front of everyone.  As Christopher’s daughter was asking why he won’t go on trips with them and spend time with them, my daughter leaned over and whispered to me that she’s glad I take her places and spend time with her.  Crikey!  I about lost it.

I absolutely recommend this for the whole family.  It would make for a great last outing before school starts back up.  It helps that Ewan McGregor is about as likable as they come, as is Hayley Atwell, the electric actress who plays his wife.  And Pooh’s lines are so funny.  He’s truly a genius in the guise of a silly old bear.

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(Did you enjoy this review?  Check out Scott William Foley’s latest book HERE!)

I Kill Giants by Joe Kelly and Jm Ken Niimura – A Book Review

I felt a bit conflicted about the movie adaption of I Kill Giants.  A friend on GoodReads suggested that I try out the source material to see if it settled a bit better with me.  I’m pleased to report that it most certainly did!

Joe Kelly’s I Kill Giants is far more transparent than the movie version, and I mean that in a good way.  The movie liked to straddle the fence about what exactly was going on, whereas the book just puts it right out there–yes, giants are real, and yes, people can see them.

I also like that the protagonist, Barbara, is a little bit younger, a little bit more likable, a little bit more vulnerable, and a little bit more … rounded.  The movie makes a mistake in that it keeps us guessing about Barbara, but in the book, Kelly tells us almost immediately about Barbara’s personal turmoil.  We know why she fights, and we know what she’s fighting.

By being so direct, Kelly creates a book fraught with emotion.  He makes Barbara so much more identifiable as well.  I appreciate that Kelly didn’t play games–he simply delivered the story in the best way possible.

Jm Ken Niimura’s black and white art is not especially my style, but it most certainly served this story exceptionally well.  His giants are unique, his action is kinetic, his panels are fluid, and his use of space is well-executed.  I can absolutely understand why he’s regarded so highly.

If you had to choose between the book or the movie, I would definitely recommend the book.  I’m glad Kelly and Niimura got the exposure they did due to the film, but this was a universally praised book even before the film adaptation arrived.  I hope you’ll check it out!

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(Did you enjoy this article?  Check out Scott William Foley’s short stories HERE!)

Ant-Man and the Wasp – A Movie Review

You may remember that I kind of liked the first Ant-Man.  (Read that review HERE.)  I’m not going to spoil Ant-Man and the Wasp for you, but I’ll say this–I liked it even better than the first one!

Everything the first one did really well got executed even better this time around.  The character dynamics are stronger, the family bonds tighter, the plot is way more interesting, and the conflicts are more complicated.  (Notice I didn’t say logical or even believable,  but hey, you’re watching a sci-fi super hero movie–don’t get persnickety.)

Best of all?  The comedy is faster, looser, and infinitely more genuine.

The heart and soul of this movie is Paul Rudd, to be sure.  He’s got amazing chemistry with everyone, but especially Michael Pena (his business partner), Abby Rider Fortson (his daughter), and Randall Park (his [redacted]).

Don’t get me wrong, he’s so fun to watch with Michael Douglas and Evangeline Lilly as well, but those three mentioned above just jump off the screen when together.

Speaking of Evangeline Lilly, seeing her as the Wasp has been well worth the wait.  While Rudd is the heart and soul of the film, Lilly is the muscle.  She’s got some fantastic action sequences and definitely gets top billing as the “action star” in my book.  I love her and Ant-Man fighting side by side, especially because she is by far the more capable of the two.  I both hope and want to see a lot more of the Wasp in the Marvel Cinematic Universe.

Michael Douglas is also far more likable in this sequel.  He’s got a lot of skin in the game this time around.  He’s still cranky as Hank Pym, but the central conflict allows us to connect with him in ways we couldn’t before.  We get to see Pym as an actual father and husband this time around, not just as a grieving shut-in.

I’d also like to mention that I loved the villain–Ghost.  I mostly appreciated that she is her own thing, not just a derivative of Ant-Man.  She’s also got actual motive and, by movie’s end, I dare you not to sympathize with her a little.  This is not a crazed business tycoon or an inter-dimensional despot seeking to take over reality.  This is a real person with a very real problem.

Laurence Fishburne had a far meatier role than I anticipated, and his role actually surprised me.  I ended up really liking his character and would love to see more of him.  I can’t get too much into it for fear of spoiling the plot, but I’m anxious to see how others liked him.  He’s not just a throw-away supporting actor, trust me.

Finally, it is SO great to see Michelle Pfeiffer on the big screen again.  Her charisma just oozes onto the audience.  Again, I won’t reveal too much, but I instantly loved her character and can’t wait to see more of her as well.  I could watch Pfeiffer in every Marvel movie from here on out.

The Ant-Man world is slowly growing (no pun intended), and they are making fantastic choices with the actors they are electing to cast in this franchise.  They are all either very funny, very charismatic, or very likable–in most cases all three!

But again, Paul Rudd is the key to making these movies work.  Has there ever been a more lovable “regular dude?”  His character, Scott Lang, is brave but not too brave.  Smart but not too smart.  Tough, but not too tough.  What he is, though, is a great friend and an even better father.  I won’t lie–there were a few scenes with his daughter that made me tear-up.

These scenes weren’t heart-breakers, though, just the opposite.  The scenes with his daughter were touching, uplifting, and positive.

In fact, I think I like the Ant-Man movies so much because they are light-hearted, action-packed comedies.  I was either laughing or marveling (again, no pun intended) through the entirety of Ant-Man and the Wasp.

There’s much to marvel at, by the way.  The special effects are unreal in this movie.  First of all, they pulled their de-aging trick again, and it’s flawless.  Michael Douglas, Michelle Pfeiffer, and Laurence Fishburne all get the treatment for flashback scenes, and I swear I felt like I’d entered a time machine.  It was astounding.  Rudd and Lilly are shrinking and growing, shrinking and growing nonstop!  Cars, houses, buildings, even PEZ dispensers are shrinking and growing, too!  The Wasp’s aerial combat is mesmerizing, and Ghost’s phasing is phenomenal.  Even the giant ants look perfect.

All in all, Ant-Man and the Wasp is just plain fun, and in an era of very heavy super hero movies, this action-comedy is really a breath of fresh air.  Imagine that?  A fun super hero movie that celebrates the bonds between friends, partners, and family.

There are two post-credits scenes, by the way.  The first one comes pretty quick after the credits start rolling.  It’s fairly important to the Marvel Cinematic Universe timeline.  The other one is not important at all, but worth seeing if you don’t have anywhere to be.  You could skip the second one and be fine.

I wholly recommend that you see Ant-Man and the Wasp.

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(Did you enjoy this review?  Check out Scott William Foley’s latest book HERE!)

The Beach by Alex Garland – A Book Review

Yes, it’s true, I’m reviewing a book that’s been on the market for over twenty years.  The truth is, I’ve grown to greatly appreciate Garland’s film directing and wanted to check out his written work.

The Beach, which you may remember was a film released back in 2000 which starred Leonardo DiCaprio, was based upon the book published just four years prior.

It features Richard, a young man who suffers from a seemingly permanent case of wanderlust.  He is constantly searching for the perfect destination–a place untouched by tourism, commercialism, or average people, really.  While in Bangkok, he happens across a man who gives him a map to just such a place.

The man cannot travel with Richard, and I won’t tell you why, but Richard does manage to befriend a French man and woman–a couple–to join him.  None are sure the map is real, but they chance it anyway.  After a courageous swim through the ocean itself … they find the beach.

The beach seems idyllic in the beginning.  There is a small group of people living in tandem with one another–all vested in the same interests.  Life is very good … until ill-timed tragedies strike.  The group could handle these adversities well, or they could … fall apart.  I’m sure can guess which occurs.

The Beach is a well-written book.  At almost 450 pages, it’s a long read, but it’s also a relatively fast one.  I would not describe it as a page-turner, but Richard’s psyche is particularly interesting and it’s fascinating to witness his development throughout the story.

The tale itself is rather complicated.  On one hand, the beach dwellers are in love with nature, independence, and a simple life.  They are perfectly happy to pull their weight, support one another, and waste the days away in paradise.  On the other hand, a certain selfishness resides in each of them, as does a touch of irresponsibility.  The beach is a total secret, one worth killing for, and everyone there has decided to turn their backs on their previous lives in order to enjoy their Eden.  It takes a bit of a misguided person to go to such an extreme, wouldn’t you say?

Garland executes perfect pacing in establishing Richard, logically delivering him to the beach, allowing us to see the beauty of the island, but then also in dissecting each character as catastrophe unfolds.

After all, when you think about it, if each one of these individuals was willing to turn their backs to their own flesh and blood, how much can they really depend upon one another when things go bad?

Some have compared it to Lord Of the Flies as well as Heart Of Darkness, and these are certainly appropriate comparisons.  I personally don’t feel it achieved that level of mastery, but it’s a solid read well worth your time.

As I said, Garland was a very good writer back then and has only gotten better.  His characters in The Beach are interesting from start to finish.  The story itself, while enjoyable, felt awfully derivative of the classics mentioned already.  I have to wonder if I’d feel differently had I read it back in 1996.

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(Did you enjoy this review?  Check out Scott William Foley’s latest book HERE!)