Bad Times at the El Royale

Every once in a while a movie comes along that draws you in without giving you any information in the previews. Well that’s exactly what we have here with Bad Times at the El Royale. The previews show a great cast with a cool 60’s atmosphere but not much in the way of plot. Now its true most movies try to keep the plot pretty wrapped up but in general you have a basic idea of what the movie is about before going to the theater. But in talking about this movie with friends and family I still literally had no idea what this movie was really about besides there are a bunch of strangers staying in a hotel. That is all and despite knowing almost nothing else about the movie I was still tremendously excited to see this one and couldn’t wait to get to the theater to check it out.

A lot of things to like about the second movie from director Drew Goddard (Cabin in the Woods). If you had seen his previous film then you know he has a unique style of story telling and you should be ready to expect the unexpected. The cast is very impressive here with a few standouts. Jeff Bridges is outstanding as Father Daniel Flynn, a forgetful priest. At this point in his career, Bridges is almost expected to turn out great performances so it shouldn’t surprise you when he delivers. Now what may surprise you is Chris Hemsworth as Billy Lee, a charismatic fellow who steals the scene whenever he is on screen. I have not seen Hemsworth deliver a performance quite like this one so far in his career. The remaining characters all bring their own intrigue and mystery to the entire roller coaster of a film. Another interesting thing about the El Royale is the cinematography. There are lots of unusual camera angles and scrolling views that help heighten the suspense. I also really enjoyed the set design of the hotel itself. It absolutely nailed the time period and really helps reel you into the feeling of being in 1969 (or somewhere there abouts).

While this movie is absolutely enjoyable it is not without its blemishes. I did feel that the movie dragged a bit through some scenes on its way to the 141 minute run time which can be a bit long for those with shorter attention spans. I also found myself wanting a little more background on a few characters. Additionally there are some branches of the plot that get mentioned and then stay unresolved. I didn’t find too much to complain about beyond those things but it indeed kept it from a perfect review.

In the end all you really want out of a movie theater trip is to be entertained and this movie surely does that much. If you are looking for a wild ride then sit down, strap in and let this one blow your hair back with a rousing 2 Apology effort from Drew Goddard. Definitely looking forward to more entries to his filmography. I would recommend checking this one out if you get the chance.

-Movie Apologist

A Quiet Place (spoiler free)

When it comes to critical and box office success, horror/suspense is not usually the first genre that comes to mind. So when a new scary movie comes out and is getting generally positive reviews while raking in money at the box office, it definitely triggers some additional interest in my book. The fact that this movie was directed, written, and stars the goofy guy (John Krasinski) best known as Jim Halpert from the hilarious show “The Office” is the icing on the cake. Mrs. Apologist and I really enjoy scary movies so naturally this one found its way to the top of our list to see.

I don’t want to spoil this movie with too much detail about the plot. This is a tale about survival in the face of mass devastation and death. We start off right away seeing the Abbott family doing their best to not make any noise as they search for supplies in a very empty small town store. It seems something has thoroughly wiped out everyone and everything. The painstaking effort to be as quiet as possible while on their supply run leads us to assume that too much sound brings a swift death. I’ll leave the rest of it for you to discover on your own. It becomes quite interesting to see how they function on a daily basis while living in almost complete silence.

What isn’t to like about this film? John Krasinski completely blew me away as he wrote, directed, and starred in this thriller that had me on the edge of my seat for almost the entire 90 minute run time. The pacing is near perfection as it doesn’t move along too quickly but doesn’t drag its feet either. The whole concept of “be quiet or you can die” was well done and I have never heard an entire movie theater sit in such silence! There are a few legitimate jump scares thrown in for good measure and believe me, they will make you jump. I loved the family in this movie, each actor/actress was convincing and I truly cared about their well being. John Krasinski is wonderful as Lee Abbott, the father doing all he can to keep his family safe from constant threat. He is joined on screen by real life wife Emily Blunt as she plays his movie wife Evelyn. Their on screen chemistry is powerful between themselves as well as their children. It is very refreshing to see such a unique entry into the horror/thriller genre.

I enjoyed this movie so much that I don’t really have any complaints for this section! Everything from the story to the suspense to the actors all added up to an superbly entertaining trip to the theater.

This movie is an instant classic in the eyes of this fanatic and I will be sure to add it to my collection the first day it is available. I get a kick out of the horror/suspense genre but too often I find movies too derivative or predictable or just flat out not scary enough. This movie checks all the boxes and felt refreshing in a sea of sequels and remakes. It may not shock you to discover that I give this movie an spectacular rating of 0 Apologies since I have been raving about this movie for awhile now. If you are a fan of the genre then this is a must watch but be careful not to make too much noise.

-Movie Apologist

John Wick 2 (spoilers)

Sometimes picking a movie to watch can be a difficult process. There are almost endless selections across multiple formats and it is easy to spend more time searching for a movie than actually watching a movie. Usually when I can’t pick a movie I find myself settling on action movies where there may not be too much of a plot but are still enjoyable because of the badass action. Fortunately for all my action movie fans out there John Wick 2 packs in plenty of amazing action and doesn’t totally ignore the plot. I absolutely loved the first movie so I couldn’t wait to sit down and watch the second one.

The plot does not overly complicate itself. If you have seen the first movie then you know that John Wick (Keanu Reeves) was a retired assassin with a massive reputation who gets pulled back into the game by the actions of a young Russian mobster. Chapter 2 essentially picks up right after the events of the first movie. After John briefly reenters his unique world to get revenge on the people who wronged him in the first movie he receives a visit from a fellow assassin: Santino D’Antonio. He has heard that John is back in the game and he needs to call on John to pay him back on a marker, which is sort of like a blood oath type favor. (A marker is given out between assassins when one needs a favor and it must be honored when requested. If refused then your life is basically put on the line.) John does not want to honor his marker with Santino and is adamant that he is still retired, despite the stories to the contrary. Since the marker was refused, John has now broken the honor code. In order to show John that he is serious in his request, Santino blows up John’s house. Eventually John agrees to hear Santino’s request but he isn’t happy about it. He is tasked with killing Santino’s sister Gianna who has a seat at the High Table: a group of powerful assassins and Santino wants that seat. John reluctantly accepts the assignment to clear his debt and goes about planning and setting up. I won’t spoil the rest of the movie from there but I can tell you it is quite exciting and action packed.

There are strengths galore in this movie. The action and fight choreography are second to none and they are on full display for the majority of the film. If you appreciate action then you will love John Wick Chapter 2. Keanu Reeves really is impressive with his dedication and training for this role. You can see how comfortable he is holding the various firearms and he looks natural in his movements while shooting and fighting. In addition to Keanu, the other actors are all enjoyable in their roles. Riccardo Scamarcio is bit bold and quite smug as Santino and his performance sort of makes you want to punch him in the face but that’s really a compliment to his acting. The rapper Common plays Cassian, one of Gianna’s bodyguards, and he delivers a no nonsense, straight forward tough guy.

Really the only weakness I found in the movie was the character Ares, played by Ruby Rose. She is a deaf bodyguard for Santino and is easily out shined by the other characters. She doesn’t necessarily do anything wrong she just doesn’t do anything particularly great either. She seems to be included in the cast since she was a trending celebrity at the time. I didn’t find anything else to dislike here.

Even though I felt Ares was a weak character it wasn’t a huge detraction from the movie as a whole. It kept me entertained for the entire 122 minute run time and didn’t feel like it was too long. I loved the action and was wowed by the choreography. The actors all played their roles well and worked with each other to keep the story moving along. You really can’t ask for much more from the action genre as this movie stands out from the crowd with a spectacular rating of 0 Apologies. I would recommend this to anyone and everyone, as long as you don’t mind the violence.

-Movie Apologist

The Lego Batman Movie (spoiler free)

There are two things that can be enjoyed by kids and adults throughout their lives: Legos and Batman. Naturally this movie was to be expected after the massive success of “The Lego Movie” and with how the popularity Batman’s character received in that movie it was bound to get a spin off. I was very excited to see this one as Batman is easily my favorite super hero and Mrs. Apologist was equally excited since she is a certified Lego fanatic. “The Lego Movie” set up some pretty high standards for Lego Batman in his standalone movie to follow but with a phenomenal cast and Chris McKay back to direct, it seemed poised to match up nicely.

The plot is pretty standard here. The Joker is on his quest to take over Gotham City and Batman is out to stop him. We see Joker’s diabolical plan to destroy Gotham city thwarted by Batman early on and we also see Joker’s feelings get hurt by Batman since Batman is kind of a loner who does not seem to appreciate the symbiotic relationship they have. Next Bruce Wayne attends a gala for Commissioner James Gordon’s retirement while his daughter Barbara prepares to  take his place. This gala gives young orphan Dick Grayson the opportunity to introduce himself to Bruce and try to get himself adopted. Bruce is very distracted as he seems to be instantly smitten with Barbara until she starts talking about her plans to have the police work with Batman since Batman hasn’t caught any of the major villains in Gotham. Joker has now rounded up all the major bad guys in Gotham and attacks the gala with a new evil plan. Its up to Batman to save the day yet again! I do not want to spoil the movie too much so that’s where we will leave the plot summary at this time.

This movie does have several strengths on its side. They assembled a great cast for this movie just like in “The Lego Movie”. We have Will Arnett back as the main star and he does a fantastic job with his delivery and his tone. Michael Cera (Robin/Dick Grayson), Rosario Dawson (Barbara Gordon), Ralph Fiennes (Alfred Pennyworth) and Zach Galifianakis (Joker) round up the main group of characters and they each deliver their own flair to the roles. Also included in the cast is Jenny Slate, Jason Mantzoukas, Conan O’Brien, Doug Benson, Billy Dee Williams, Zoe Kravitz, Eddie Izzard, Seth Green, Ellie Kemper, Channing Tatum, and Jonah Hill round out the voice stars here. The humor is another standout with plenty of silly jokes for the kids and quite a few jokes slipped in there for the adults as well. It wouldn’t be a Batman movie without some action and the action flows fast and furious throughout, keeping the 104 minute run time lean and exciting. I also really enjoyed the references to all the previous Batman films.

There weren’t too many glaring weaknesses in the movie but it did have a few cheesy or predictable moments, which are to be expected in a family movie. The story was just a bit lackluster with much of the focus was on how Batman is lonely and Joker is insecure. Some of the humor feels a little forced at times which again can be a symptom of movies aimed at children/family. The bar was set pretty high from “The Lego Movie” and Lego Batman just didn’t quite have all the goods to exceed it.

Overall “The Lego Batman Movie” provided enough action and humor to be enjoyable but I’m not sure that there is enough there to warrant multiple views unless you’re under 10 years old. It takes an excellent cast with some quality jokes and action and comes out with a very solid rating of 2 Apologies. You could certainly pick a worse movie for a night out at the theater by yourself or with the family.

-Movie Apologist

Rogue One: A Star Wars Story (spoiler free)

There are few world wide movie phenomenons like Star Wars. It generates such buzz and attention from fans and critics alike. Like many Star Wars lovers I got hooked when I was a kid and watched the original movies over and over. Naturally when I saw the trailer for Rogue One I was very excited to see it. Since we are still a year away from Episode 8 and a whole year since Episode 7 came out, this serves as a nice taster to keep everyone from going crazy during the long wait.

There could be minor spoilers from previous Star Wars entries.

The story gives some new information about an old event: the creation and subsequent destruction of the Death Star. Since this movie takes place between the events of Episode 3 and Episode 4 you should know  the basics if you have seen the previous films. Anakin Skywalker has become Darth Vader and his Empire is creating a massive weapon called the Death Star. As we all know at the end of Episode 4 the Rebel Alliance destroys the Death Star using stolen plans. What we don’t know is the story of how they got those plans but that is the story told during this chapter. We do get introduced to some new characters (Jyn Erso, Cassian Andor) and we also get some some familiar characters including the great Darth Vader. The main character we follow is Jyn. She is the daughter of one of the best scientists in the Empire and we get to watch her develop from a young girl into a rebellion fighter. She is tasked by the Rebellion with a mission to find her father and discover more information about the weapon the Empire is building. Not only do they have to confirm the existence of the super weapon but then they have to steal plans and get those plans back to the Rebellion. It is no easy task. As the Rebellion embarks on their plan, the Empire is also steady at work trying to destroy the Rebellion.

This movie is very enjoyable and has several strong points. First and foremost the movie has a slightly different feel than previous Star Wars entries which was a refreshing change as it felt more like a war movie set within the Star Wars universe. The battle scenes are hard fought and feel more real than before. The action is fast paced and fun to watch. The acting here also was nominally improved from several of the previous chapters. Felicity Jones puts forth a wonderful performance as Jyn Erso. Diego Luna portrays a convincing role of a captain in the Rebellion who may not always believe in the cause he fights for. Forest Whitaker puts out a fantastic effort as war hero Saw Gerrera. Star Wars has always been very good about injecting humor into the movies to keep it fairly light hearted and that doesn’t change here. Humor is mostly applied from the new droid character K-2SO and from blind monk Chirrut Imwe (Donnie Yen). As we have come to expect from the Star Wars saga the special effects are awesome, the sets and scenery are gorgeous, and the space battles are sleek and stylistic.

There aren’t many negatives in this movie and the few that exist don’t detract too much from the plot or the overall enjoyment. As a fan (nerd) watching the previews over and over I couldn’t help be excited about seeing a powerful Darth Vader working to destroy the Rebellion. We do get to see some very cool Vader moments but in my eyes there just wasn’t enough screen time for the coolest villain in the series. Similarly I wanted a little more character development for Saw Gerrera. I really enjoyed him but some backstory into why he was the way he was would have only added to my satisfaction.

In the end, this movie provided exactly what all Star Wars fans needed during the two year wait between Episode 7 and Episode 8. It delivers a quality story (even though its not necessarily a brand new story) that bridges the gap between the new trilogy and the original trilogy and leaves us excited for Episode 8 next December. I enthusiastically gave this movie 1 Apology and will soon be rewatching it along with the Episodes 1-7 with Mrs. Apologist to get pumped up for the next one.

-Movie Apologist

Don’t Breathe

This movie was on my must watch list from the very first preview that I saw in the theaters. “Don’t Breathe” appeared to hit all the check marks for what an amazing horror movie should have: believable story, taut suspense, jump scares, and very good reviews. One review called it “the best American horror movie in the last 20 years” which is a very bold statement and also definitely adds to the anticipation. Each time the preview came on it drew me in and the hype would build a little more. Unfortunately this movie fails to meet the hype that was generated.

The plot is very basic. We follow a trio of young thieves plan to break into an old, blind man’s house to rob him of a massive fortune they believe he has. They have performed many other burglaries without any incidents so how could they go wrong picking a blind man as their next target : all they have to do is drug the man’s dog, bypass the security system, drug the old blind man, find the safe, get the money and get back out. The plan seems foolproof but it does start to fall apart as the old man proves tougher than they thought. He is former military and is not about to just give up his money or his secrets. I won’t spoil any of those secrets that come along as they try to spice up the simplistic story. I will say that while I wasn’t terribly impressed with any of the twists I also wasn’t able to see them coming.

There are not many strengths that I found during the 88 minute run time but there are just a couple. Any time a plot twist can sneak up on me without me predicting it would have to be put into the strength column even if the twist isn’t that great. Another strength is that it breaks away from the cookie cutter type horror movie: there are no ghosts or demons or found footage scenes which seem so popular right now. I would also say that the relatively quick running time should be considered a strength. You don’t have to sit there for 2 hours watching a movie you aren’t enjoying.

Where do I start with the weaknesses in this film? There are so many to choose from. I’ve mentioned the simplistic plot earlier but in addition to that the characters are a major weak point. We have no connection to them,  why are we to care who lives and who dies? The film also tries to switch the protaganists and antaganists a few times to keep fresh but it just made me not care about all the characters. The acting is really nothing special from any of them and there are only 4 characters to choose from so not too much variety on that front. The entire movie is poorly lit so it is hard to see what is going on sometimes. But one of the biggest issues with the film is that its supposed to be a horror/suspense movie yet I didn’t find myself on the edge of my seat or even scared one time.  Mrs Apologist, who is probably the most easily scared movie viewer I know, was not in suspense for the entire movie and I didn’t see her flinch from any jump scares. I also felt the movie unnecessarily extended the film with added content and forced dramaticism that didn’t add any value to the story.

Overall this movie really let us both down. All the glowing reviews and well made previews built “Don’t Breathe” into a juggernaut with expectations that it just couldn’t meet. A horror movie should be suspenseful, it should be scary. It should not be boring and miss all the marks in both suspense and scares. It leaves a lot to be desired and earned 6 Apologies from me. There are much better choices if you’re looking for a good scary night on the couch or in the theater.

  • Movie Apologist

The Accountant (spoiler free)

As we exit the summer blockbuster movie season we can sometimes lower our expectations for entertainment at the theaters. Luckily for us, The Accountant does not allow itself to take advantage of those lowered expectations: it delivers fast paced action, a taut storyline, and talented actors to bring it all together. I never thought I would be excited to see a movie based on an accountant but I was very excited to see this movie as the previews looked excellent! I will try to keep this review as spoiler free as possible but I do recommend treading carefully if you have not seen the movie yet.

The movie starts with a pretty simple plot as we learn that Christian Wolff (Ben Affleck) is an accountant even though he has a form of autism which affects his ability to interact with other people. Despite his condition he seems to make a very good living uncooking the books for various criminal organizations. A junior accountant (Anna Kendrick) at a medical prosthetic company seems to have found an error in the books with a very large sum of missing money. As Christian takes on his new client we learn that he has been on the radar of the US Treasury Department for several years. Ray King (JK Simmons), Director of Financial Crimes at the Treasury, is nearing his retirement and wants to amp up the effort to identify and capture the man they call “The Accountant”. They have little information about him beyond the fact that he does the books for very dangerous people and somehow manages to survive. But as the Treasury department tries to close in on their target and as Christian dives deeper into his assignment we get more into the story as the mystery unfolds.

I really enjoyed this movie as a whole. It has several strengths to stand on. Most of the actors are excellent. Ben Affleck turns in a very strong performance as an accountant with high functioning autism. He was smart, tough, and funny though sometimes unintentionally. JK Simmons is a well respected actor and delivers a no nonsense turn as Director of Financial Crimes. He does not do anything out of the ordinary but is consistently solid. The action scenes are fast and sometimes brutal but help deliver that kick of adrenaline that helps move this movie along during the story setup. Though the pacing can be a little slow at times, it uses these moments to develop the characters and the story into more of a mystery instead of just a basic shoot-em-up action flick. Though not a major twist, there is a pleasent twist that I did not see coming! They also mixed in some humor to keep the movie from becoming too serious.

There are not too many drawbacks for this film but indeed there are a few. Anna Kendrick does not offer much value as Dana Cummings, the junior accountant who discovers some anomalies in the books at the robotics company she works for. Beyond that one contribution she wears thin on the patience of the audience. I was also disappointed with John Lithgow as I really appreciate most of his work and I felt he didn’t have as much freedom to deliver a complex character that could match his talent level. Even though I enjoyed the story and was surprised by one of the plot twists, I did find it to be slightly predictable at times.

This movie really hit the mark for what I was in the mood to see. The action, story telling and quality acting made this stand out from other standard action movies that rely on over the top action with cheesy lines and no plot what so ever. I give “The Accountant” an excellent rating of 1 Apology and would absolutely recommend it to everyone who enjoys a movie with brains and brawn. This was a very good start to the fall movie season and hopefully it sets the table for many more entertaining trips to the theater for the rest of the year. Be sure to leave a comment with your thoughts on the movie below!

  • Movie Apologist

The Magnificent Seven (2016 spoiler free)

This is a movie that I have been looking forward to seeing for months after the preview sank its hooks into me. It has all the right ingredients: an old west setting, an amazing cast, an accomplished director, and the perfect amount of action in the trailer that leaves you wanting more. If you have read my other reviews (check them out if you haven’t) then you’ll know how I feel about remakes: they are difficult to master and often face extra scrutiny if the original is considered a classic. The Magnificent Seven is a remake of a remake and that original film (Seven Samurai) is widely considered to be one of the best movies ever made. However, the fact that it is a remake coupled with some of the not so nice reviews I read did not manage to dwindle my desire to see it.

If you have seen either of the “original” movies then you should know the basics of the story. There is a small quiet town being taken advantage of by a merciless group of bandits, this time mining for gold. They are led by the ruthless Bartholomew Bogue (Peter Sarsgaard) who uses violence and intimidation to get his way. One of the townspeople Emma Cullen (Haley Bennett) reaches out to bounty hunter/lawman Sam Chisolm (Denzel Washinton) to help them fight back against their oppressors. Sam assembles a rag tag team of hired guns to battle Bogue and his army of mercenaries. Sam manages to recruit gunslinger Josh Faraday (Chris Pratt), former military man Goodnight Robicheaux (Ethan Hawke), his partner Billy Rocks (Byung-Hun Lee), wild man Jack Horne (Vincent D’Onofrio), wanted fugitive Vasquez (Manuel Garcia-Rulfo), and Native American bow master Red Harvest (Martin Sensmeier). Knowing that they are grossly outnumbered they come up with a plan to defend the town. This brings us to the climactic battle sequence which is fun and frantic and at times very intense. For those that haven’t seen either of the originals I will not spoil it for you.

This movie has a lot of very good qualities to it. As I mentioned before the actors all do a wonderful job with their roles. Bogue is played masterfully by Peter Sarsgaard and his character is just begging us to hate him. Sam Chisolm is portrayed by Denzel Washington who doesn’t really do anything we haven’t seen from him before. He just delivers the rock solid performance we have come to expect. Chris Pratt also does not vary too much from his known style but its not necessarily a bad thing: he is witty, a little smug and sarcastic, but overall very likable. Ethan Hawke turns in one of the better efforts in the movie as Goodnight Robicheaux. He is emotional and very believable. Byung-Hun Lee is energetic in his action scenes as Billy Rocks. Vincent D’Onofrio turned in a surprising role as mountain man Jack Horne. He was hilarious with his one liners and his delivery. Manuel Garcia-Rulfo and Martin Sensmeier were both more than adequate in their roles. In addition to the outstanding acting in the film there were many other standout features. The set design and costumes were nearly perfect for creating an authentic old west feeling. The action sequences were all done superbly without relying on too much shaky camera work. I appreciated the comedic touches to break from the serious and sometimes slow moments as well.

This movie does not have that many negatives against it but there are a few. There are some slow moments in between the actions scenes and they happen to seem extra slow making the 133 minute run time seem even longer. The movie introduces many characters with not much back story. With so many interesting characters in this film, it would have been nice to have more background information to learn about why they are who they are. During the final shootout I had an issue with the depiction of the gatling gun being such an unstoppable force of destruction. Since gatling guns are most useful in short range situations (under 100 yards) it seems far fetched, even for a movie, that the gun could be so accurate and deadly at 400-500 yards. That obviously did not make me hate this movie but it was a detractor none the less.

Overall I quite liked this movie. It was a nice addition to the end of summer movie experience. The great actors combined with a compelling story line and fast paced action all added up to a fun day at the theaters. This modern version of a classic western earned itself a respectable 2 Apologies and I would definitely recommend it.

Ben-Hur (2016)

Remaking a movie can be a tricky endeavor. Remaking an Academy Award winning movie can be an even trickier endeavor. Remaking a movie that won 11 of those Academy Awards and is listed as #197 on IMDB’s best movie list seems like a nearly impossible task. This movie had a steep mountain to climb before I stepped into the theater and needless to say I did not have very high expectations for it.

This version does not deviate too much from the story we all know. Judah Ben-Hur (Jack Huston) is a Jewish prince who is very close with his adopted brother Messala (Toby Kebbell). As they grow older, Messala is longing to make a name for himself and joins the Roman army. Upon Messala’s return to Jerusalem, he betrays Judah and falsely accuses him of treason against Pontius Pilate. Judah is sent away to slave in the bowels of a ship as a rower for many years. He lets himself become consumed by revenge and anger, and eventually returns to challenge Messala at chariot racing in the arena. Most of that information is known without seeing those movies but if anyone has not seen Ben-Hur from 1959 or this version of Ben-Hur I won’t give away too much else related to the story.

The actors in this version are all respectable in their individual roles but lets be honest, no one is taking home an Oscar. Judah, played by Jack Huston, is leading the way with a strong performance. He shows a wide range of emotion throughout the film and is easily the standout in the film. Toby Kebbell is no slouch in his interpretation of Messala, but I think he is outdone by Huston. The lead actresses all turn in quality roles as well. Esther (Nazanin Boniadi), Naomi Ben-Hur (Ayelet Zurer), and Tirzah Ben-Hur (Sofia Black-D’Elia) all delivered acceptable performances for secondary characters. I can’t recall seeing them in many other roles but they definitely impressed with what they were given to work with. The most well known actor, Morgan Freeman, turns in a pretty standard role as Ilderim, who mentors Judah in the art of chariot racing. Now even though I did call his role standard, that doesn’t mean he was bad. It just means he does the traditional quality job we expect from Morgan Freeman without pushing the envelope too much. Another aspect that was mostly enjoyable about this movie were the special effects and the set design. Almost the entire movie looked gorgeous and the action sequences appeared real enough to cause Mrs. Apologist to squirm on a few occasions.

There is not an abundance of negatives about this film, but the ones it has do manage to hurt the overall rating quite a bit. There are several scenes of what should have been very cool action/battle scenes that just seem wasted with incredibly overused “shaky cam”. The camera moves around so wildly, jumps between extreme zoom ins, and odd angles so many times as the action continues that we begin to lose interest. As good as the actors and actresses mentioned earlier were, there were some very forgettable characters turned in as well. Pontius Pilate (Pilou Asbaek) was a very subdued role for someone that I imagined as much more lively. There were also some minor characters that were badly outperformed and seemed out of place.

Overall I was surprised with the quality in this retelling of Ben-Hur. I headed into the viewing with very low expectations and this movie proved to be better than I would have guessed. A serviceable story, a few  actors, and some entertaining action pieces led to another happy trip to the theater. But for me the drawbacks of the “shaky cam” along with some bland characters dropped this movie down to 5 Apologies, which is a higher rating than I was thinking when the previews were airing.

-Movie Apologist

War Dogs (spoiler free)

I developed an interest in seeing this movie at the very first viewing of the trailer. Seeing the trailer several more times during our recent trips to our local AMC Theater only increased our desire to see it. The movie shows strengths even before actually seeing it: two young talented actors (Jonah Hill, Miles Teller), a quality director in Todd Phillips (The Hangover, Starsky & Hutch, Old School), and an interesting plot line that is based on true events. Those all added up to some pretty high expectations heading into the showing.

The film plot follows the true stories of David Packouz and Efraim Diveroli and their rise from low level gun deals all the way up to landing a $300 million deal with the Pentagon. David (played by Miles Teller) is trying to provide for a nice life for himself and his girlfriend. He works as a massage therapist and has an idea to sell luxury bed sheets. Efraim (Jonah Hill) is his best friend from childhood who now has a small business dealing weapons to the US government and its allies. As they begin to work together, their jobs and personal lives get more complicated. It kept me drawn in waiting to see what would happen next. There are plenty of tense moments along the way with some humor mixed in to keep it light-hearted. I actually never heard about the true events this movie is based from before seeing the movie. Without having any knowledge of said events before hand, I think that worked in my favor and lead to a more enjoyable film experience because the plot unfolded as the director and authors intended it to unfold.

This movie offers its fair share of strengths. As mentioned before the two young stars really steal the show. Miles Teller does a good job as David, just doing whatever he can to provide for his family. He is likable and believable in that role. He makes it easy to feel what he goes through from scene to scene. He seems authentic, making David’s story feel so much more tangible. Hill turns in a tour de force performance as Efraim. He absolutely nails the role with his personality and style. This role is one of his best in his acting career. The director, Todd Phillips, did a outstanding job overseeing a more serious movie than he is typically known. With his film history, I expected the movie to be a little more aimed at the comedy side, but was very pleased that it was more dramatic. He did work in some funny scenes and dialogue to keep the movie fresh. Several scenes had outstanding cinematography. I do not want to delve too much into the scenes and give anything away just yet but feel free to give a more detailed opinion in the comments below. I also thought it was a nice touch to have the movie broken down into sections with little chapter title cards, if you will, to give us a taste with what may be coming up. It was something that was relatively minor but ended up making this movie stand out among its competition this summer.

The negatives against this movie may not be the biggest ones you’ll find in a summer movie, but they are there nonetheless. It does not avoid the pitfalls of cliche story telling. Again, I don’t want to spoil anything for potential viewers, so I won’t go into too many details. Another negative about this movie is it may not be exactly what viewers expect it to be. The combination of the trailer showing some comedy and the director’s film history can lead people to believe they are seeing a more of a comedy. It definitely has some comedy elements and some humorous scenes but overall it has more of a drama feel. I personally don’t think its a that much of a negative that the movie is more drama than comedy, but it was a little unexpected.

I really enjoyed War Dogs as a whole. I liked the actors, the story, and the cinematography. As it sits right now, War Dogs has the top spot as my favorite movie of the summer. I enthusiastically give this movie only 1 1/2 Apologies and I highly recommend it.

-Movie Apologist