Film Review: THE REPORT (USA 2019) ****

The Report Poster
Idealistic Senate staffer Daniel J. Jones, tasked by his boss to lead an investigation into the CIA’s post 9/11 Detention and Interrogation Program, uncovers shocking secrets.


Scott Z. Burns

THE REPORT is about the alleged report which exposes the CIA for their use of torture on suspected terrorists.  Most of what has been going on is already well known, including the inhuman torture methods as these have since been publicized following the Oscar Winner for Best Documentary, Alex Gibney’s TAXI TO THE DARK SIDE.

Gibney’s film examines the U.S. policy on torture and interrogation, specifically the CIA’s use of torture and their research into sensory deprivation. The CIA re-terms the word torture with the phrase enhanced interrogation.  The film includes discussions against the use of torture by political and military opponents, as well as the defense of such methods; attempts by Congress to uphold the standards of theGeneva Convention forbidding torture; and popularization of the use of torture techniques in TV series such as 24. 

Burn’s film is highly different and employs actors to re-enact real life characters in the true story.  THE REPORT plays as a political thriller that explores matters of vital importance to the present. THE REPORT takes a deep dive into recent revelations that have lost none of their capacity to shock and appall.

Dan Jones (Adam Driver) is the man assigned to research and submit a report.  He is asked twice during the movie. “Did you sleep?” to which he answers.  “I used  to but it gets in the way of my work.”  Jones, a staff member of the US Select Committee on Intelligence, is tasked with helming a Senate investigative report into the CIA’s use of torture after 9/11.  Some $80 million was spent; 119 detainees were interrogated. Hundreds of hours of recordings of those interrogations were destroyed. What happened? Who is accountable? Faced with one seemingly insurmountable obstacle after another, Jones spent half a decade finding out.  The CIA expected Jones to do the study , uncover a few facts but never expected Jones to go through all the extreme lengths to find out the truth and to uncover it to the American people.

Burns elicits excellent performances from his entire cast.   Adam Driver and Annette Benning both deliver award winning performances.  One cannot imagine anyone else playing those two roles.

Some might complain about the film’s talkiness.  It is talky but that is not necessarily a bad thing.  The dialogue from the script, also written by Burns is sharp and witty, and able to carry ones attention throughout the film.  A few of the torture scenes are re-enacted to emphasize the terrible use of torture by the CIA.

Everybody knows the ineffectiveness of torture as a interrogation tool to get information from the enemy.  Which is basically the tortured person saying anything to get the torture to stop.  Most of the information surrendered are either information the U.S. already knows or lies.  The script offers little debate on the matter, as the fact is already well known and stablished inTAXI TO THE DARK SIDE.  The REPORT is an excellent companion piece to that film film and succeeds, despite all the bad stuff the American CIA has done, in extolling the United States as a democracy who can call out its bad people.  If only they would made these people pay for their crimes.


Film Review: LUCY IN THE SKY (USA 2019)

Lucy in the Sky Poster

Astronaut Lucy Cola returns to Earth after a transcendent experience during a mission to space, and begins to lose touch with reality in a world that now seems too small.


Noah Hawley


Brian C. Brown (story by), Elliott DiGuiseppi (story by) | 3 more credits »

      In short, LUCY IN THE SKY is the story of a crazy woman.  But how the journey gets to this point is quite the intrigue.

            The film begins with a stunning look of an astronaut in outer space.  Lucy Cola (Natalie Portman) is told: “Warp it up, you are going home.” To which she answers “Just give me a few more minutes.”  The film also flashes on the screen ‘Based on real events.’  The term real instead of true indicates events that are likely disturbing.

            After returning to earth, an obsessive astronaut (Natalie Portman) begins to question her place in the universe — including her relationships with her gentle husband (Dan Stevens) and her alluring crewmate (Jon Hamm.  When she returns, all Lucy wants is to go back to space, at all costs.  er modest family life loses its allure and the comforting support of her gentle husband Drew (Dan Stevens) is suddenly less appealing than the masculine charisma of a fellow astronaut, Mark (Jon Hamm), a divorcee disconcertingly eager to encourage an affair.  As she determinedly trains for her next mission, her growing dissociation threatens to dismantle both her personal and professional lives.  Hawley shows all the ugliness of Lucy’s obsession.  The sympathy goes to the poor husband.  The only reason Lucy can give her husband for her erratic behaviour is: “Can’t you see I have changed.”

  Director Hawley cannot resists using the Beatles song “Lucy in the Sky with Diamonds”.  In fact the title is probably taken from the song as well.  That sequence is artistically done in a surreal sequence Lucy in the foreground and images of her past changing in the background.

LUCY IN THE SKY is not a very good film. Director Hawley takes too much time to set up the film’s premise resulting in a very slow and ponderous first half.  It does not help that the character Lucy is an extremely annoying and unlikable one.  But Hawley pulls a good twist in the last third of the film when the audience finally realizes that the story is about a crazy lady that they are not supposed to sympathize with. 

The cinematography of outer space, courtesy of cinematographer Polly Morgan is nothing short of stunning, especially at the start of the film.

The film includes a few ridiculous bits like one part where Lucy picks up a wig for disguise.  Since when do they ell wigs in a hardware store?  The ending with the bees also makes little sense to the story.

Ellen Burstyn has a small role as Lucy’s mother.  Burstyn steals every scene she is in, with her bitter and somewhat sarcastic dialogue on life, something more of what the film needs.

There event that film is ‘inspired’ by is the story of Lisa Nowak, an astronaut who tried to kidnap another NASA colleague at the Orlando airport.

LUCY IN THE SKY is a dull disappointing drama disguised as a space movie.  It might have worked if the material were given a twisted twist with some black humour.  LUCY had its world premiere at the Toronto International Film Festival but to general lacklustre reviews.


Film Review: BAD TIMES AT THE EL ROYALE (USA 2018) ***1/2

Bad Times at the El Royale Poster

Seven strangers, each with a secret to bury, meet at Lake Tahoe’s El Royale, a rundown hotel with a dark past. Over the course of one fateful night, everyone will have a last shot at redemption – before everything goes to hell.

From the music, songs and vintage cars, the film’s setting appears to be the 60’s – a time when political correctness are not in place.  This might explain the girl cat fight (for male chauvinist audiences to get off on) scene in the middle of the film – similar to the gypsy girl fight put on for the entertainment of 007 James Bond in Terence Young’s (Young a director who loves to put in cat fights in his films) FROM RUSSIA WITH LOVE.

The film arrives with quite the bit of hype that anything can happen and the film is quite the mind-f***.  That said, audiences will be pleased to note that they will not be disappointed.

The film involves seven strangers, each with a secret to bury, who meet at Lake Tahoe’s El Royale of the film’s title, a rundown hotel with a dark past. Over the course of one fateful night, everyone will have a last shot at redemption – before everything goes to hell.

The film begins with an unseen stranger renting a room at El Royale.  He removes the carpet and floorboards to hide a bag of loot before being blown (shot dead) away.  The film moves forwards 6 months with the arrival of the seven strangers.

First to arrive is Father Daniel Flynn (Jeff Bridges) entering the empty hotel foyer only to be greeted by vacuum cleaner salesman Sullivan (Jone Hamm) and backup Motown singer, Darlene Sweet (Cynthia Erivo).  They are eventually greeted by the desk clerk, Miles (Lewis Pullman – yes, Bill Pullman’s son).  Later arrivals include a bad ass female, Emily (Dakota Johnson) with her even more bad ass sister (Cailee Spaeny) in tow.  Every person has a secret and no one is who he or she seems.  Father Flynn is no priest.  Sullivan is no vacuum cleaner salesman and Miles is no ordinary hotel clerk either.  One by one, the guests are done off, pretty much as in Agatha Christie’s TEN LITTLE INDIANS but with a difference.  This is a bad ass fucked up movie and be prepared to jump  out of your seats.  Not once but may times.  Director Godard, who also wrote the script ensures that there are lots of surprises around every corner.  So, be a little patient as the film has a bit of a slow start.

There are a few segments that could have been left out like the politically incorrect cat fight scene, without much change in the story.

All the actors appear to be having fun, hamming up their roles, especially THOR star Chris Hemsworth (a regular in Godard films) playing the villain, Billy Lee.

For a 60’s setting, the atmosphere is well created and believable.  All details from wardrobe, vintage cars to music are in order.

The film contains a good satisfactory ending where the deserving characters get to live and the bad ass guys get their come-uppance.  BAD TIMES AT THE EL ROYALE should satisfy bad ass movie fans with bad ass entertainment, Tarantino/Rodriguez style.


Film Review: BEIRUT (USA 2017) ***

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Beirut Poster
Caught in the crossfires of civil war, CIA operatives must send a former U.S. diplomat to negotiate for the life of a friend he left behind.


Brad Anderson


Tony Gilroy


Set in the 1980s during the Lebanese Civil War, BEIRUT is a fictional action film centring on a former U.S. diplomat who returns to service in the city of Beirut in order to save a colleague who is held hostage by the group responsible for the death of his family.

Unlike films dealing with hostage situations like 7 DAYS IN ENTEBBE and ARGO, BEIRUT deals with the next best thing.  It is a fictional story based on a true event – the hostage taking during the Olympics in Munich.   While the lead is no super spy like James Bond, he is the next best thing, a diplomat that has revenge on his agenda, as in the Liam Neeson TAKEN films.  BEIRUT benefits from a script by Tony Gilroy who penned the BOURNE films and more important, also directed one BOURNE film and the excellent MICHAEL CLAYTON.  There are shades of MICHAEL CLAYTON in BEIRUT with the main character similar to the George Clooney character and a strong supporting female character here played by Rosamund Pike.  

The film opens in 1972 at a posh party thrown by  Mason Skiles (Jon Hamm), a U.S. diplomat living it up in Beirut with his wife Nadia (Leila Bekhti).   They have no children of their own, and so they adopt and treat 13-year-old orphan refugee Karim (Yoav Sadian Rosenberg) as family.  Karim serves hors d’oeuvres.  During a posh cocktail party, however, uninvited guests bring unwelcome news: Not quite so alone in the world as he’d pretended, little Karim has an older brother.  Things never go as well as planned – especially not in movies.  Mason is then informed that Karim is the brother of Abu Rajal (Hicham Ouraqa), a notorious Palestinian terrorist linked to the recent Summer Olympics massacre in Munich as well as other attacks.  Just as Mason is about to say, “I don’t believe it,” the party is stormed by gunmen under the orders of Rajal attempting to spring Karim.

To cut a long story short, Mason is sent home, takes to the drink but later asked to return to Beirut,  There he learns, that his friend Cal of the CIA (Mark Pellegrino) is held hostage by the now grown Karim.  Karim wants his brother Abu Rajal freed.

Despite the long story, it is an interesting one and one that allows a mild mannered man to resume his glory days and save the day or in this case, his best friend Cal.  The subplot between Mason an cultural attache Sandy Crowder (Pike) makes a good diversion.  The film feels like a mix between MICHAEL CLAYTON and the BOUNRE movies.  Morocco, where the film is shot stands for war-torn Beirut.

Unlike most action films where the heroes spurt out funny one-liners, the dialogue here is more subtle and at times a bit cynical, which suits the mood of the film.  Hamm makes a good reluctant hero.  

The film has had complaints of being racist.  The film’s trailer ended with voice-over from Mr. Hamm’s character: “2,000 years of revenge, vendetta, murder. Welcome to Beirut.”  It does not help too that Beirut looks nothing like the real Beirut since the film was shot in Morocco.


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