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Review of A QUIET PASSION (DVD)

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Grade: B-/C+
Entire family: No
2016, 125 min., Color
Biographical drama
Rated PG-13 for thematic elements, disturbing images and brief suggestive material
Music Box Films
Aspect ratio: 2.35:1 widescreen
Featured audio: English Dolby Digital 5.1
Bonus features: B
Trailer
Amazon link

Here’s a revealing statistic:  At Rotten Tomatoes, 92 percent of critics gave A Quiet Passion a “fresh” rating, while only 52 percent of readers liked it.

There have been a lot of very good films made about writers and writing—films like Finding Neverland (J.M. Barrie/Peter Pan), Becoming Jane (Austen), Saving Mr. Banks (P.L. Travers/Mary Poppins), or the fictional Finding Forrester, the latter inspired by the reclusive J.D. Salinger. They make for good family dramas because unless the writer is Ernest Hemingway they’re usually pretty tame, tied to an internal drive for success and full of advice that older children can certainly glean.

A Quiet Passion—the story of American poet Emily Dickinson—had the potential to be all that plus a model of enlightened feminism. But while older fans of literature may still warm to this 2016 film despite its flaws, I don’t see it working very well with family audiences.

Let’s talk about the positives, first. The cinematography by Florian Hoffmeister is exquisite and, coupled with Terence Davies’ brooding direction, creates a moody, atmospheric film that mirrors poet Emily Dickinson’s inner landscape: more trapped by societal limitations than freed by her own rebellions, more able to think than to feel, more dolorous than full of delight, and more plagued by doubt than most women her age—doubt over her writing, her attractiveness, her religious convictions, and her ability to overcome a shyness so extreme that she won’t even speak with non-family callers face to face.

Davies, who is such a fan of poetry that he memorized T.S. Eliot’s Four Quartets and rereads them every few months, wrote the screenplay based on biographies he read and decided to showcase the poetry. One of the film’s strengths is that we hear the poems read in voiceover after an event that likely inspired them, or at least is thematically compatible. The poems lend a richness to the production that would have been lacking had Davies gone another direction, and a nice bonus feature is an assortment of those poems read by Davies and lead actress Cynthia Nixon.

Nixon, of Sex and the City fame, is another of the film’s strengths. Casting her as the older Emily Dickinson was nothing short of inspired. Nixon is the Dickinson we think we know after reading the poems, and she manages to convey most of the poet’s complex and often conflicted feelings.

That’s quite a contrast from the outgoing teenager we meet in Young Emily (played by Emma Bell), who seems perky and contemporary. How can someone so normal seeming at that age turn so reclusive and even paranoid? The film never gives a clue, so it seems instead like a contradiction. So is the invented best friend Vryling Buffam (Catherine Bailey), whose inflections seem as modern as can be rather than something out of the Civil War era, though she speaks in the same sort of archaic prose as all the other characters. It’s like listening to Fonzie doing Shakespeare, and about as believable as a scene in which a publisher comes to the Dickinson Homestead and growls at her because she won’t come down to talk to him.

Then there’s Terence Davies’ direction, which seems influenced by the old Masterpiece Theatre series before shows like I, Claudius and Downton Abbey reinvigorated the format—which is to say, it’s ponderously slow-moving and celebrates austerity the way the old Alistair Cooke-introduced series did. Family audiences will find it painfully slow-moving. Meanwhile, the rapid-fire dialogue—as witty as it may be—is unconvincing, sounding like the transcripts of actual letters rather than speech. As Twain proved with The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn, there is a difference between the way people write and the way people speak.

Several deaths occur in the novel, and Dickinson rebuffs attempts to coax her to come downstairs or to leave the house and actually live life rather than writing philosophically about it. The characters in this film don’t smile a lot, and because there’s so much in the way of sickness and death and Dickinson’s growing orneriness, instead of Pride and Prejudice it feels like Death and Disagreeableness. There are more family-friendly writer biographies out there, but for lovers of literature it’s still a good film to watch—especially since the crew began shooting in Belgium with interiors reconstructed from the Dickinson Homestead, then shifted to America to actually film at the Emily Dickinson Museum and Dickinson Homestead. There are a lot of good things happening here—just not for the typical family wanting to enjoy a film together.

Language: Nothing offensive
Sex: Two fully clothed people kissing in an implied adulterous situation
Violence: A character has seizures
Adult situations: Nothing objectionable
Takeaway: Dickinson was a terrific poet, and Nixon really brings her to life, however dismal that life was

Review of COLLATERAL BEAUTY (Blu-ray)

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Grade: C+
Entire family: Yes, but . . .
2016, 97 min., Color
Drama
Rated PG-13 for thematic elements and brief strong language
Warner Bros.
Aspect ratio: 2.40:1
Featured audio: DTS-HDMA 5.1
Bonus features: C+
Includes:  Blu-ray, Digital HD UltraViolet
Trailer
Amazon link

A feel-good movie about death?

Sounds crazy, but that’s what Collateral Beauty tries to be. It’s a message film that wants audiences to appreciate the beautiful moments that can accompany a death—whether it’s a final shared conversation, an act of generosity, or a small kindness that helps someone cope.

If you’re no big fan of message films . . . or contrived plots . . . or melodramas where you know the whole point of a film is to make viewers feel something, then you probably won’t care too much for this 2016 drama starring Will Smith. And if you are a fan, you won’t appreciate that most viewers will be able to see the plot twists coming long before the turn.

Smith plays Howard, a New York ad agency exec who shows up for work every day but is no longer engaged in day-to-day operations. He’s not retired—he’s grieving. He lost a six-year-old daughter to cancer, and now all he feels like doing is stacking elaborate domino structures in his office. He wanders through each day numb with pain and at one point rides his bicycle fast as he can against traffic on a one-way street.

Now here’s the biggest plot contrivance: Unable to participate in a therapy group for parents who have lost children, Howard writes letters to three abstract concepts and puts them in the mailbox. Dear Death . . . Dear Time . . . Dear Love . . . .

It’s a film about “threes,” as there are three of his associates who are begging him to snap out of it before they lose all of the accounts he personally landed: Whit (Edward Norton), the partner who built the company with him; Claire (Kate Winslet), one of the firm’s top account executives; and Simon (Michael Peña), another top account exec. Each of those people has problems of his/her own, of course, and the deus ex machina that sets everything right—or as right as anything can ever be again, when death is involved—is the trio’s plan to enlist three actors to play those abstract concepts and confront Howard. At first their intentions seem sympathetic—maybe it will shock him back to reality?—but then it’s clear that they put money ahead of feelings. They hope to film Howard losing it as he talks to these abstractions, and thereby take a page from Miracle on 34th Street and commit poor Howard to an institution.

That’s the whole plot, right there, and the character development you get is just as contrived because plot drives this narrative, not characters. People are just along for the ride—but that won’t matter to viewers who like “big picture” movies and crave answers as much as Howard does. And the performances are decent. Helen Mirren is only slightly heavy-handed as Brigitte, an actress-director of a local theater company who accepts a deal to play Death, Time, and Love in exchange for funding their newest production. She is the oldest and so she volunteers to be Death. Amy (Keira Knightley) plays love, while Raffi (Jacob Latimore) takes on the role of Time.

As the three actors confront Howard, he has extended conversations with them, but those conversations are frankly less interesting than a sideplot involving grief support group leader Madeline (Naomie Harris), who tells those in her group that have lost children that the pain will never go away. Yet, they can learn how to deal with it. That kind of honesty feels refreshing, especially when everything else about this film feels so artificial.

A Warner Bros. summary of the film says that it’s not until Howard’s letters to Death, Time, and Love “bring unexpected personal responses that he begins to understand how these constants interlock in a life fully lived, and how even the deepest loss can reveal moments of meaning and beauty.” That sounds a little tidier and a lot more ontologically satisfying than the film really is. You aren’t going to learn the meaning of life by watching this film, or even the meaning of death. Religion doesn’t even enter into the equation. In fact, I was wondering, as I watched, how the film would be received by people who are religious, or who are facing death themselves, or grieving like Howard, or still far removed from death’s ravages. Collateral Beauty was released in mid-December, and almost every scene has holiday decorations in it—so many that you can’t escape the implication. It’s a different kind of holiday film, for those who feel alone in the world, or who need even the slightest package of positives to unwrap. But be warned: Collateral Beauty is the kind of film that can affect people in profoundly different ways, and I’m guessing that not all of them will be beautiful.

Language: Scattered minor swearwords and one F-bomb uttered, appropriately, on the F Train
Sex: Nothing really, except an implied affair
Violence: n/a
Adult situations: The whole concept is and the implied metaphysical argument is adult, so much so that I can’t imagine children getting into it
Takeaway: Playing Death, Time, and Love isn’t easy, but it’s still easier than making a film about those three abstract concepts

EVELYN (Blu-ray)

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evelyncoverGrade: B
2002, 95 min., Color
Olive Films
Drama
Rated PG for thematic material and language
Aspect ratio: 2.35:1
Featured audio: DTS 5.1 Surround
Bonus features: n/a
Trailer
Amazon link

I’m guessing that more than a few people will notice that Evelyn is a film about an Irish father trying to gain custody of his kids and immediately think of Kramer vs. Kramer. How in the world is that appropriate for family viewing? Well, the 1979 Academy Award-winning picture starring Dustin Hoffman and Meryl Streep isn’t appropriate, unless you think it’s character building for children to watch parents say and do some pretty nasty things to each other while tugging at their offspring as if they were a wishbone. But Evelyn isn’t like that at all. To continue the analogy, it’s more like Kramer vs. the Government.

Based on a real 1955 custody case that had an entire nation hanging on the decision, Evelyn stars Pierce Brosnan in a very un-Bondlike role. He plays Desmond Doyle, an out-of-work Irishman evelynscreen2who sings in his father’s band and drinks a little too much. But it’s clear that he has a good heart and he loves his children. He’s crushed when his wife (and their mother) runs off to Australia with another man, and Irish law at the time forbade children from being raised by a single parent. The children are removed from the home and placed in a Roman Catholic orphanage, where neglect and abuse are as common as the priest scandals that have dominated the headlines in recent years. Viewers soon discover that the orphanages are full of faux orphans—children taken away from a single parent who still loves them dearly and wishes to care for them.

Most parents give up, the film’s narrative tells us. It is, after all, Irish law. But not Desmond Doyle. After a few aborted attempts to get his children illegally, he attracts the attention of a woman working extra hours as a bartender to help pay for her education. She has a brother (Stephen Rea) who might be able to help him. And a would-be suitor from America (Aidan Quinn) who just happens to be a barrister. Before long, they’ve attracted the interest of another lawyer who moonlights as a sports announcer (Alan Bates). Suddenly, Doyle isn’t just a single father fighting the system in futility. He’s part of a team that’s trying to establish a new precedent in Irish law—one that’s fairer to families.

evelynscreen1The first third of this film can seem like a downer, but the performances are absorbing and in no time at all it takes an inspirational, feel-good turn. You find yourself quickly pulling for Doyle and Evelyn and his two boys, who apparently aren’t important enough to be included in the title, and as you root for them and realize that people all over Ireland were doing the same back in 1955, the film takes on a life of its own. Evelyn (Sophie Vavasseur, Becoming Jane) even has an inspirational speech, and that won’t escape the notice of young viewers. But Hollywood being Hollywood, the truth is stretched to accommodate such feel-good moments. If you dip into historical accounts or even go back as far as the film’s 2003 release, you’ll find that abuse survivors weren’t pleased with the film. Then again, if they were, I probably wouldn’t be reviewing it for Family Home Theater.

Evelyn is capably directed by Bruce Beresford (Driving Miss Daisy) from a screenplay written by Paul Pender (The Bogie Man).

Language: Fewer than a dozen lesser obscenities
Sex: Just one very subtle joke about sex
Violence: A drunken Desmond has a bout with a priest
Adult situations: Desmond is no saint, and there is plenty of smoking and drinking
Takeaway: Hollywood may have given this the feel-good treatment, but there’s still an argument to be made for hopefulness and heartwarming cinema

THE EDGE OF SEVENTEEN (Blu-ray combo)

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edgeofseventeencoverGrade: A-/B+
Entire family: No (17 and older)
2016, 104 min., Color
Universal
Comedy-Drama
Rated R for sexual content, language, and some drinking, all related to teens
Aspect ratio: 1.85:1
Featured audio: DTS-HDMA 7.1
Bonus features: D
Includes: Blu-ray, DVD, Digital HD
Trailer
Amazon link

More than a few critics have remarked how ironic it is that some 17 year olds might not be able to get past the ticket-taker to see the R-rated film The Edge of Seventeen, which stars 20-year-old Hailee Steinfeld as a teen whose world is turned upside down after her only friend starts dating her only sibling—a brother who is everything she’s not, and who has never shown her any kindness. In fact, the only person young Nadine felt connected to died several years ago, and that’s no spoiler: we see it fairly early in the film.

edgeofseventeenscreen2Nadine and best buddy Krista (Haley Lu Richardson) really capture the behavior of teenager besties, while Blake Jenner as the got-everything-going-for-him older brother struts his stuff—those perfect abs, great hair, and jock standing that make him popular. The gap between the outgoing and accomplished Darian and his introverted and awkward sister is so great that you wonder if they’re really brother and sister . . . until you see more of the mother (Kyra Sedgwick) and realize how incapable she seems of handling life’s problems. The ratings paradox, meanwhile, is the result of another gap: the one between reality and standards of decency. Are today’s teenagers drinking, swearing, and having sex? Not all, and maybe not even most . . . but many, certainly. Do parents feel comfortable admitting this? Not remotely.

The Edge of Seventeen is a film that teenagers would like, and a film that ultimately models the kind of behavior most parents would hope would be their children’s default, no matter how much they experiment or stray (as even the best ones are apt to do). Nadine sexts the boy she’s crushing on and she goes with him in his car to an isolated spot, but her default morality kicks in when it matters most. It’s implied that another couple has had sex, since they’re in bed together, but aside from bare shoulders and a hand moving up and down under the blanket, nothing is shown. Aside from teens making out at a party, that’s the extent of the sex in this 2016 film from newcomer Kelly Fremon Craig. I’ve seen PG-13 films that have had more explicit moments.

edgeofseventeenscreen1So what makes The Edge of Seventeen R-rated? Language, mostly (some of it sexually explicit), plus teenage drinking and puking—the filmmakers certainly don’t glamorize partying. Nadine says the f-word a lot, and her teacher almost matches her. Woody Harrelson makes a small role large as the acerbic Mr. Bruner, who has embraced deadpan understatement as a defense against students who tend to be overly dramatic . . . like Nadine. There’s a certain amount of shock value attached to hearing a teenage girl talking like a phone sex operator, but it’s part of life—at least part of her life while she tries to get it together.

“There are two types of people in the world: the people who naturally excel at life, and the people who hope all those people die in a big explosion,” Nadine says in voiceover. Nadine has issues, to put it mildly. While The Edge of Seventeen isn’t as edgy a film as the title implies, it provides enough space for her to grapple with those issues and emerge by film’s end a better person. It’s not exactly a caterpillar-to-butterfly tale. More like a grub to a beetle—a different kind of coming-of-age story, yet one that’s oh so familiar as Nadine learns to appreciate the people right there at arm’s reach.

The cover says this is one of the “best reviewed comedies of all time” and the trailer makes it seem like it’s going to be a laugh-fest, but The Edge of Seventeen is a drama with comedic moments, some of them laugh-out-loud. Think Juno, but a little edgier. With a lot more F-bombs.

Language: Pretty much a steady stream that eventually tapers off
Sex: Other than what I’ve written in the review, nothing else
Violence: Nothing here
Adult situations: The Edge of Adulthood is probably a more exact title, as all the situations are adult or borderline adult
Takeaway: Being a teenager used to seem so much easier, and yet some things never change

VICTORIA: SEASON 1 (DVD)

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victoriacoverGrade: A-/B+
Entire family: No, small children will be bored
2016, 415 min. (8 episodes), Color
PBS
Rated TV-PG for some adult situations
Aspect ratio: Widescreen
Featured audio: 5.1 Dolby Digital Surround
Bonus features: C+
Trailer
Amazon link

Recently we’ve seen a lot of TV series telling the stories of royals and nobility—so many that it’s hard to keep them all straight, especially if you’re wondering what’s suitable for viewing if you have children old enough to appreciate the intricacies of a historical drama. I’m reminded of the Three Bears porridge: The Royals (E!), Reign (The CW), and Versailles (BBC2/Ovation) can run a little hot; The Crown (Netflix) can be a bit too cold; but Victoria (Masterpiece/PBS) seems just right. There are no graphic sex scenes here, no language to grapple with, no violence to speak of, and no serious breaks in morality . . . just nicely handled adult situations and complications.

If you have teens, they’ll be most drawn to Reign (with its hip young cast) and this series starring the effervescent Jenna Coleman as young Queen Victoria, with the first season covering her ascension to the throne as an eighteen year old and continuing through her battles with family and members of the privy council. The first season focuses mostly on her growing dependence upon (and eventual distancing from) close advisors Lord Melbourne (Rufus Sewell) and Baroness Lehzen (Daniela Holtz), and her courtship and first year of marriage to Prince Albert (Tom Hughes)—a cousin from the German royal side of the family.

victoriascreen3In the past, Masterpiece could tend toward the staid or austere, but since the phenomenal popular success of Downton Abbey they’ve grasped the value of the old maxim “If it ain’t broke, don’t fix it.” Fans of Downton Abbey will recognize here a similar structure and a number of familiar elements. As in Downton Abbey, viewers get a two-tiered look at life in England: the royals and nobles who live, work, and play in and around Buckingham and Windsor Palaces, and the servants who tend to them and have their own interactions. It’s hard, for example, not to think of Downton Abbey’s Mr. Bates and Anna while watching a maid with a tawdry past (Nell Hudson) pursued by a pastry chef (Ferdinand Kingsley). While the below-deck cast of characters isn’t as compelling as the royals, there’s enough here to provide a nice contrast and introduce side plots that keep the series from dragging.

Some of young Victoria’s problems are peculiar to royalty. Parliament must approve her marriage, she must deal with a power grab, she must find a way to be “an ordinary woman” so her relationship to Prince Albert can work while she also rules as the most powerful and wealthy woman in the world, and she must name a regent in the event that she dies in childbirth. But there is also much here that young viewers can identify with. Overbearing and would-be controlling mother? Check. Disapproving elders? Check. Put off by a young man and yet oddly attracted to him? Check. Feeling awkward around a member of the opposite sex? Check. Trying to live up to expectations while also figuring out how to be yourself? Check.

victoriascreen2Fans of A Knight’s Tale will enjoy seeing Sewell, too often cast as a sinister fellow, playing a warmly sympathetic character. And those who enjoyed the 2009 film The Young Victoria will find it fascinating to see how two different production companies approached the portrayal of Prince Albert, an interesting combination of intellectual-nerd and brooding bad boy. But the big draw is Coleman (Doctor Who), who, as young Queen Victoria, is just as fresh and bubbly and strong and vulnerable and candid and dignified as can be. This is her series, and she is a talented and charismatic enough actress to carry it.

One note: if you’re used to HD, this title is available on Blu-ray and I’d advise you to get that version rather than the DVD, which isn’t as sharp as some standard-res offerings I’ve seen. Some of the CGI work to recreate Old London seems a little two-dimensional, but the soundstage built inside a hangar to replicate the interior of Buckingham Palace is so detailed and the cinematography so beautiful that you’ll want to better appreciate them in HD.

Language: Just a few mild swears here and there
Sex: No nudity, no sex scenes, but Victoria and Albert do kiss and there is implied coupling as she is expected to produce an heir
Violence: A gunshot is fired point blank at someone, a woman is briefly threatened, and a man is taken to a brothel
Adult situations: The whole series is pretty adult in its situations, with one woman a former prostitute, stealing for survival a theme, and the whole idea of cousins marrying something you might have to discuss with your older kids
Takeaway: Downton Abbey is alive and well, reincarnated as a new series about Great Britain’s second-longest reigning queen, and a woman who publicly championed morality

QUEEN OF KATWE (Blu-ray)

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queenofkatwecoverGrade: A-/B+
Entire family: Yes (with a one-scene caveat)
2016, 124 min., Color
Disney
Rated PG for thematic elements, an accident scene, and some suggestive material
Aspect ratio: 2.39:1
Featured audio: DTS-HDMA 5.1
Bonus features:  B
Includes:  Blu-ray, Digital HD
Trailer
Amazon link

Queen of Katwe is a co-production of Walt Disney Pictures and ESPN Films, and it does have the road-to-success structure of a typical sports biopic. The difference is that the “sport” here is chess—that two-player brainy board game enjoyed worldwide. If that sounds nerdy or dull, it’s not. This is no Bobby Fischer story of a temperamental prodigy living a life of privilege. Queen of Katwe is based on the true story of Phiona Mutesi (Madina Nalwanga), an Ugandan girl who grew up in a slum known as Katwe. And it’s not just her story. There are many places to find inspiration in this wonderful little PG-rated film, which seems perfect for family viewing on so many levels.

queenofkatwescreen1Shot in Kampala, Uganda in the actual slums of Katwe, the film provides a detailed picture of life as it’s lived in a Third World country . . . and in a section that’s impoverished even by Third World standards. Just to glimpse daily life there gives an eye-opening perspective to children raised in a western city, suburb, or small town. Though what you see isn’t overbearingly oppressive, it’s impossible to watch this film and not feel your mind and your own world expanding. There is poverty in Katwe, and yet there is still dignity and an attitude of joyfulness, especially in the children, that cannot be squashed. You feel it throughout the film, and as a result you come away from it appreciating your own life all the more—no matter what struggles you might have . . . or think you have.

You also develop an admiration for Nakku Harriet (Lupita Nyong’o), a young single mother who was determined not to go the easy way of women in such situations and trade sexual favors for cash in order to survive—a point made as subtly as possible. And you admire missionary outreach social worker queenofkatwescreen2Robert Katende (David Oyelowo), who coaches youth soccer and a group of dedicated young chess players he calls the Pioneers. He inspires them with his own story of learning to play well enough to beat the “city boys” and find enough pride in that moment to turn his life around. They can do it too, he tells them. They can use chess to find their way to a better life. He and his wife make sacrifices in order to take in some of the children, to help them, to convince reluctant parents like Nakku to let her two children join his little group of Pioneers and travel to matches. Queen of Katwe is a film about making good choices, and the characters we grow close to are wonderful role models.

Though it’s Phiona’s story, Queen of Katwe is also very much an ensemble film. The children in the film are all very good, and the camaraderie that the Pioneers have is contagious. It’s not just Phiona that you find yourself rooting for—it’s all of those chess-loving youngsters, and all the residents of Katwe and Uganda who, like the Jamaicans cheering their unlikely bobsledding Olympic heroes in Disney’s Cool Runnings, find inspiration and take pride in their accomplishments.

Queen of Katwe isn’t your typical feel-good Disney movie or biopic, but that’s another strength. With winning performances by the two stars and young Nalwanga, it’s the kind of film that sticks with you.

Language: Nothing to speak of
Sex: A sister is seen glamming up and going on a motorcycle with a man, and it’s implied that she is having relations with the man; it’s all very tastefully presented
Violence: One accident scene that could traumatize very young children
Adult situations: Talk of what the mother could be doing to pay the rent
Takeaway: Director Mira Nair has given us a wonderful triumph story that really resonates and inspires

DEEPWATER HORIZON (Blu-ray combo)

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deepwaterhorizoncoverGrade: B+/A-
Entire family: No
2016, 107 min., Color
Summit Entertainment
Rated PG-13 for prolonged intense disaster sequences and related disturbing images and brief strong language
Aspect ratio: 2.40:1
Featured audio: Dolby Atmos
Bonus features: B+
Includes: Blu-ray, DVD, Digital HD
Trailer
Amazon link

Superstition has it that bad things come in threes. I don’t know how true that is, but disaster movies certainly seem to come in clumps, starting in the 1970s, when Airport was followed by The Poseidon Adventure, The Towering Inferno, Earthquake, Flood!, and Hurricane. The next bunch came in the late ‘90s—films like Twister, Titanic, Volcano, Firestorm, and Armageddon.

Last year’s San Andreas may have sparked another revival of the genre, with filmmakers discovering that it provides a terrific opportunity beyond sci-fi superhero movies to flaunt new advances in CGI special effects.

deepwaterhorizonscreen1True to its disaster movie roots, Deepwater Horizon gives only a brief introduction to the main characters—just a glimpse of their personal lives so we care whether they survive the calamity or not. The rest of the film unfolds with breakneck speed, hampered only by the amount of technical stuff going on and a combination of jargon and accented slang that can make deciphering dialogue somewhat difficult—especially given the background noise on a semi-submersible oil-drilling rig located some 250 miles from the Texas-Louisiana coastline. In other words, those who work on the rig designed to extract oil from a vertical depth of 35,000 feet must take a helicopter to get there. By boat, it would take forever.

But isolation is just one problem. There’s so much shoddy equipment onboard you could play a drinking game by hoisting a glass every time another piece of broken or malfunctioning equipment was pointed out—the result of oil giant BP, rig-builder Transocean, and oilfield services company Halliburton wanting to maximize profits by skimping on maintenance, repairs, and work hours. As the plot unfolds—as you watch test crews sent home before doing a requisite test, all because the project was running 40-some days late and it was costing the company too much money—you start to develop a real hatred for big corporations and their profit-over-safety decision-making. This was no small incident. The blowout explosion and fires killed crewmen and spilled roughly 210 million gallons of oil into the Gulf of Mexico, making it the largest disaster of its kind. Ever.

deepwaterhorizonscreen2As disaster movies go, Deepwater Horizon is pretty solid, with a cast that bridges three generations of moviegoers: Kurt Russell (Backdraft, Big Trouble in Little China) for the Baby Boomers, Mark Wahlberg (Ted, Entourage) for the Gen Xers, and Dylan O’Brien (The Maze Runner) and Gina Rodriguez (Jane the Virgin) for the Millennials. And John Malkovich is on hand to add a little touch of the sinister. Though disaster movies are all about the action and special effects, they still depend on actors to “sell” the disaster, to make us all believe it’s really happening and to like them enough to where we pull for them to somehow make it out.

With a serious cast of big names and bigger talents, Peter Berg (Battleship) is able to go for realism rather than putting all the burden on the special effects team. Yet, when all is said and done, Deepwater Horizon is still a disaster movie, which means the disaster itself is the real star. For it to succeed, the special effects, visual effects, and stunts must be totally convincing . . . and they are. You’d swear you were watching footage of the real disaster, and if the oil rig looks real, it’s because the filmmakers built one especially for Deepwater Horizon, making it one of the biggest set pieces ever. Deepwater Horizon is a taut thriller, so intense that the PG-13 rating really holds true.

Fans of the genre can look forward to the September 2017 release of Granite Mountain, about a team of elite fireman who tackle a deadly wildfire that ends up taking a huge toll.

Language: One f-bomb and plenty of other language once the calamity strikes, but really your focus is on the action and the extremely tense and believable disaster as it unfolds
Violence: LOTS of violence, with some objects imbedding in people and fires and explosions and flying shrapnel everywhere
Sex: No nudity, but a man and woman kiss in bed together; that’s it
Adult Situations:  The entire film is an adult situation
Takeaway: Though a lot of oil-rig workers were worried a movie like this would dishonor the memory of those who died, it does just the opposite . . . especially since it ends with actual photos of those who perished

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