Film Review: TRIPLE FRONTIER (USA 2019) ***

Triple Frontier Poster
Trailer

Five former Special Forces operatives reunite to plan a heist in a sparsely populated multi-border zone of South America. For the first time in their prestigious careers these unsung heroes… See full summary »

Director:

J.C. Chandor

Writers:

Mark Boal (screenplay), J.C. Chandor (screenplay) | 1 more credit »

Written by director J.C. Chandor (A MOST VIOLENT YEAR, MARGIN CALL) and Mark Boal, TRIPLE FRONTIER is an American action thriller filmed in Hawaii but set in Colombia where drugs and drug lords rule.  Mark Boal also wrote the Oscar winning THE HURT LOCKER which explains Kathryn Bigelow serving as executive producer for this film.  The film involves a drug money heist from unseen drug lords.  The film is not so much a robbery caper but an escape caper and more than half of the film involves the gang trying to escape from Colombia with the money.  TRIPLE FRONTIER is a Netflix original movie.  Netflix movies have the reputation of having scenarios that Hollywood studios are afraid to touch.  There are reasons that can be imagined studios would not touch this none.  It is not the conventional action film but the less said is better so that no spoilers may be revealed.

Five former Special Forces operatives reunite to plan a heist in a sparsely populated multi-border zone of South America.  For the first time in their prestigious careers these unsung heroes undertake this dangerous mission for self instead of country.   But when events take an unexpected turn and threaten to spiral out of control, their skills, their loyalties and their morals are pushed to a breaking point in an epic battle for survival.

The film looks at both greed and sacrifice, the former coming across more convincing than the latter.  In fact it is greed for money that accounts for the major part of the group’s problems.  As expected, loyalties are tested with  big fights resulting from the clash of personalities.  As stated at the start of the film when one of the Special Forces claim, as he lectures a new class of recruits on what it means to be a warrior; “We are trained to achieve an aim at the expense of any human being.”   The script ensures that this is reasoning behind how the five robbers behave and act during their escape.

The script, story-wise is nothing spectacular and leaves many holes in terms of credibility.  But the script leads to a few excellent action setups, most of these leaving the audience at the end of their seats.  The cinematography by Roman Vasyanov is stunning, especially the shots from the helicopter of the jungles and mountains.  The big crash of the chopper in the middle of the Colombian countryside in the midst of panicking horses is truly well executed.  The other action segment where the mules passing along a narrow mountainside path carrying large bags of money is cliff-hanging suspense.

Music is by Disasterpeace and contains few neat songs that suit the action of the film.

The five stars playing the Special Forces include Ben Affleck, Oscar Isaac, Charlie Hunnam, Garrett Hedlund and Pedro Pascal do a fair job and could be replaced by any other.  Oscar Isaac fares the best paying the lead character that keeps everything in check, while Affleck plays the wild card asshole in the group effectively.

The film scores strong points on the authenticity of the setting especially in the scenes set in Colombia even though the film was shot in Hawaii.  But why would these Colombian villagers go chasing after the 5, risking their lives in the process?

Trailer: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Fo3yRLLrXQA

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Film Review: PAPILLON (USA 2017) ***1/2

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Papillon Poster
A prisoner detained on a remote island plots his escape in this second adaptation of the novels by Henri Charrière.

Director:

Michael Noer

Writers:

Aaron Guzikowski (screenplay by), Henri Charrière(based upon the books “Papillon” and “Banco” by) |2 more credits »

 

Why bother remaking the successful 1973 biography of French convict Henri Charrière nicknamed PAPILLON who escaped from Devil’s Island in 1941?  After all, that film directed by Franklin J. Schaffner and starring two huge stars of the time Steve McQueen and Dustin Hoffman is still readily available on DVD.

A few reasons!  One would be that no one would likely remember anything about the 1973 film.  After all it is is is almost half a century ago.  I can only remember two things about the 1973 film – Dustin Hoffman eating a cockroach and Steve McQueen jumping off the cliff in the final escape scene.

The new PAPILLON is not too bad.  Despite not having as big star names, Charlie Hunnam (THE LOST CITY OF Z) and Rami Malek (I, ROBOT) inhabit their roles very convincingly.  There is no cockroach eating scene but the food served actually looks not half bad, like the consommé with diced vegetables in a tin can.  In fact, Papi (as Charrière is called in short) is tempted with the soup in order to reveal the name of his conspirator.  

PAPILLON is the nickname of Charrière likely from his butterfly tattoo on his body.  The film opens with his frolicking with his girlfriend, Nenette (Eve Hewson) in Paris after nicking some jewels from the big boss he was working for.  Thus framed for murder, Charrière, is unjustly convicted of murder and condemned to life in a notorious penal colony on Devil’s Island in French Guiana, South America.  Determined to regain his freedom, Papillon forms an unlikely alliance with quirky convicted counterfeiter Louis Dega, who in exchange for his protection, agrees to finance Papillon’s escape, ultimately resulting in a bond of lasting friendship.

For a film shot in Paris and set in France and French Guiana, not a word of French is spoken in the film.  The filmmakers must thing speaking English with a French accent is sufficient, though the 1973 original had the same flaw.  But true that commercial audiences rather hear dubbed dialogue than read subtitles.

If one can remember the 1973 version, this film is very similar as the new script by Aaron Guzikowski is based on Charrière’s autobiographies Papillon and Banco, as well as the former’s 1973 film adaptation, which was written by Dalton Trumbo and Lorenzo Semple Jr.  In fact, credit is given to the script by Trumbo and Semple Jr. in the closing credits.

PAPILLON 2017 moves fast enough for its 133 running time.  The film is not a film about escape but a film about the strained but lasting relationship of the two men.  But the film’s only escape sequence with Papi, Dega and two other prisoners (Roland Moller and Joel Bassman) is the film’s highpoint, especially trying to survive a storm in a broken boat in the wide ocean.  The hard prison conditions, though hard to watch make extremely intriguing fodder.  One wonders how inhuman human beings can be.  The film also demonstrates the triumph of the human spirit over mounting adversities.  So, despite the dim outlook of the film’s heroes, it is still a film of hope and not despair.

It would be interesting to watch both films back to back to observe the different treatment of each director and actors towards this timeless material.  Both films are equally well shot and absorbing and definitely worth seeing.

Trailer: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=xqj7XOv9mC8

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Film Review: LOST CITY OF Z (USA 2016) ***

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the_lost_city_of_z.jpgA true-life drama, centering on British explorer Col. Percival Fawcett, who disappeared while searching for a mysterious city in the Amazon in the 1920s.

Director: James Gray
Writers: James Gray (written for the screen by), David Grann (based on the book by)
Stars: Charlie Hunnam, Robert Pattinson, Sienna Miller

Review by Gilbert Seah

(Spoilers)

LOST CITY OF Z is an exploration film about British explorer Percy Fawcett (Charlie Hunnan) obsessed with finding the lost city which he nicknames Z (pronounced zed in Britain and in the film and Zee in North America) in the wild Amazon jungles of Bolivia in South America.

The film is as expected of this sort of big productions, a handsomely mounted production with lots of candid shots of the horrors as well as the beauty of the wild. But it follows the same mould as many past exploration films, those that say track the expeditions into Africa or up Mount Everest or into Antarctica.

These films normal includes the identical premise consisting of:

getting limited or no funds for the expedition.

The same can be said for LOST CITY OF Z. Though Percy is first coerced into taking up the plight to Bolivia, he is initially reluctant. He is a soldier and a major (he gets promoted later to Lieutenant Colonel) in the British military. There is extended segment of him fighting in World War 1, always advancing towards the enemy lines, showing him the titular hero, but distracts from the main story at hand. In fact, Percy makes no less than 3 separate expeditions. For his final expedition – he had to fight for funds, most of it provided by the Americans and secondly but he British Geographical Society. It is ironical that the film was also financed by the U.S. with director Gray (THE YARDS being my favourite film of his), an American director offered the job of director. He was himself surprised, as many, for the reason he was offered the job.

The objection of the explorer’s immediate family to the task and the conflict that ensues.

The wife, Nina (Sienna Miller) objects but also decides to join him, though never realized. A strong argument is given here to update the film on a strong feminist point of view. The son (Tom Holland, the new SPIDER-MAN) objects vehemently but buries the hatchet at the end by joining his father n the third expedition.

The white man always doing what is right in the wilds

It is odd to see white men in full uniform or suits traversing the humid and wet jungles. Percy is often seen in full military garb in the incredibly uncomfortable hot weather.
But there is always something fascinating about watching a film about explorers making an expedition to foreign lands. This fascination is present and Gray capitalizes it with the strange vegetation and dangerous insects and animals around. There are scary scenes involving piranhas devouring human beings and native shooting arrows at Percy and his men.

The film is based on a true story. Percy and his son never returned from the last expedition,. This fact elevates the film out of the normal exploration films. Gray etches the main character here to a romanticized hero, worthy of the audience’s time at the cinema.

LOST CITY OF Z is long and runs close to 140 minutes. But the 3 expeditions and the war segment make the time run fast. Still, Gray’s film is a beautiful piece of filmmaking.

Trailer: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=hjqtP459uo8
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