Drama

The Commuter (2018)

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One man’s terrible day will soon become the biggest fight for his survival in this thriller starring Liam Neeson, who still proves he’s got it.

Every day for the past ten years, Michael MacCauley travels by train from his home in Tarrytown, New York to the big city for his job as an insurance agent. However, after ten years on the job, Michael has been let go. This makes up very upset as his son Danny is getting ready to start college in Syracuse. After meeting with an old friend, Lt. Alex Murphy, Michael makes his train to head home so he can break the news to his wife.

A mysterious woman named Joanna arrives on the train and begins a conversation with Michael. She describes herself as a behavioral therapist who only has one question. What kind of person is the person she is talking to? She asks Michael to do one small favor. It involves someone who she feels does not belong on the train and he will receive $25,000 now and $75,000 if he can identify who the mystery person is. When Michael learns that this is not a hypothetical situation but a harrowing situation, things come ahead when he learns his wife and son may be in danger if he doesn’t comply. This will truly be the longest night of Michael’s life as this deadly game of cat-and-mouse will not only involve Michael and Joanna, but everyone on the train.

Liam Neeson is truly a force to be reckoned with, especially playing the elder action hero type. With the successful Taken trilogy, Neeson has truly made a name for himself and while many will see this as Non-Stop on a train (after all, he does re-team with that film’s director Jaume Collet-Serra), Neeson truly brings that action panache but at the same time, brings something a bit different while Vera Farmiga’s nice mannerisms is seen as just as a ruse as she is the cat in this deadly game with Neeson’s mouse relying on some “special skills” to get through the film.

If one has not figured out “special skills”, it is revealed that after his firing from the insurance company, the viewer learns that Michael, prior to this job, was actually an ex-cop. This may have people up in arms, but Michael is actually quite smart, sort of like a Sherlock Holmes-type as he is trying to deduce who is the person who doesn’t belong on the train and why. This core plot keeps the viewer involved and all the twists and turns truly help drive the film. While we get part of the answer from Patrick Wilson’s Murphy, it still keeps the viewer guessing and that’s what helps make this a good thriller.

Another is the action scenes, which are all set on the train. Neeson relies on his good boxing skills against a few opponents on the train. However, what stands out are two things. One is that Neeson proves here he’s far from being invincible, getting quite a beating at times when necessary despite his ultimate superiority. The other is a highlight action scene, a one-shot fight sequence between Neeson and someone he suspected of being the possible person only to be working inside as one of the villains who must make sure Michael does his “job”. This is great because the actor playing the opponent shows some decent martial arts stuff against Neeson’s boxing and close quarter combat. The finale brings so much together that you may just breathe a sigh of relief but then adds a little twist of its own that ends it on a high note.

The Commuter truly melds a great story that keeps the viewer engaged and guessing, Liam Neeson once again shining, and Vera Farmiga playing a very dangerous villain. Some nice fights are involved as well, but it’s the story here that truly is the heart of the film.

WFG RATING: A

Lionsgate presents a StudioCanal production in association with Ombra Films and the Picture Company. Director: Jaume Collet-Serra. Producers: Andrew Rona and Alex Heineman. Writers: Byron Willinger, Philip De Blasi, and Ryan Engle. Cinematography: Paul Cameron. Editing: Nicolas De Toth.

Cast: Liam Neeson, Vera Farmiga, Patrick Wilson, Elizabeth McGovern, Sam Neill, Jonathan Banks, Killian Scott, Shazad Latif, Andy Nyman, Clara Lago, Roland Møller, Florence Pugh, Dean-Charles Chapman, Ella-Rae Smith, Nila Aalia, Colin McFarlane.

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Only God Forgives (2013)

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From famous Danish director Nicolas Winding Refn comes this tale of revenge set in the underworld of Bangkok.

Julian is the owner of a local Thai boxing gym in Bangkok. However, he is not just a gym owner. He is also a gangster who years ago, killed his father with his bare hands. This led him to Bangkok, where he is involved in a drug running operation led by his own mother, Crystal. When he learns of his older brother’s death, he finds his life has become more complicated.

While Crystal commands Julian to find and kill the ones who killed his brother, Julian cannot find himself to do so. The reason is that the killers were not only a top ranking rival criminal, but a sadistic and corrupt police officer named Chang. As Julian finds himself torn between revenge and redemption, Crystal begins to start a war with the rival gang. Finally, Julian decides the only way he can settle the score with Chang is to challenge him to a one-on-one fight.

Nicolas Winding Refn is quite the director. Gaining a major following with his Pusher trilogy, he made a major switch to Hollywood with Drive, which was a breakthrough role for former child star Ryan Gosling. The former Mouseketeer and the Danish director re-team for this film set in the criminal underworld of Bangkok. What is interesting is not only Gosling having much dialogue, but the amazing use of visuals in the film. Gosling’s Julian can be seen many times in a dark room with a visual as if he is constantly in confession in church, hence a meaning to the film’s title. Refn’s visual tactics further enhance the underworld of Bangkok’s “red-light districts”, which are shot with a red color filter.

The highlight of the film is Officer Chang, played with sadistic charm by veteran Thai actor Vithaya Pansringarm. It is clear he is not only a dirty cop, but one who takes very extreme measures for interrogation. Armed usually with a sword, he is quite handy with anything sharp. In one very disturbing scene, he interrogates one of Crystal’s men by turning him into a human torture rack that would make fans of films like Saw and Hostel root him on. After appearing in smaller roles in films like The Hangover Part II, the role of Chang is definitely Pansringarm’s breakout role. He recently made a cameo in Isaac Florentine’s upcoming Ninja: Shadow of a Tear as a corrupt general in Burma who interrogates in Chang-style against Scott Adkins’ Casey. It is as if he channeled his role here and brought it to the Florentine film.

Kristin Scott Thomas can be viewed as a villainess of the film in her role of gangster Crystal. While there is no real protagonist in the film, Thomas brings a sense of craziness in a motherly type of fashion. She constantly berates Julian for not only not doing his job to find his brother’s killer, but goes as far as constantly saying how jealous Julian is of his brother, even in front of Julian’s girlfriend Mai, played by Thai actress Yayaying Rhatha Phongnam.

Which brings us to the very few action scenes. Refn could be a filmmaker who, if he ever decides to make a full-blooded martial arts film, can make it work in terms of shooting action. An opening fight sequence between two Muay Thai boxers is shot very well with the use of long shots and overhead shots. Those expecting quite a fight between Julian and Chang will be somewhat disappointed as Julian only gets less than two shots with Chang constantly beating the bejesus out of him. As Chang shows his power, it juxtaposes with a statue of a Thai boxer. However, Refn brings a sense of realism into this fight sequence. Realism is something not too often seen in martial arts fights in films. However, Refn makes it quite watchable using the right camera angles and editing techniques, even if the fight is one-sided. That’s why should Refn ever do a full-on martial arts film, he truly proves he has done his homework.

Only God Forgives is not a martial arts film per se, but Refn’s visuals combined with the two actual fight sequences in the film and the breakout performance of Vithaya Pansringarm make this a somewhat decent film from the Danish director. One can only hope Refn will one day do a full martial arts film because he definitely has the potential to do one.

A Gaumont/Space Rocket Nation/Wild Bunch/Motel Movies presentation in association with Bold Films in co-production with Film I Väst, DR/FilmKlubben, and Nordisk Film ShortCut. Director: Nicolas Winding Refn. Producers: Lene Børglum, Sidonie Dumas, Vincent Maraval, and Hanne Palmquist. Writer: Nicolas Winding Refn. Cinematography: Larry Smith. Editing: Matthew Newman.

Cast: Ryan Gosling, Kristen Scott Thomas, Vithaya Pansringarm, Gordon Brown, Yayaying Rhatha Phongnam, Tom Burke, Sahajak Boonthanakit, Pitchawat Petchayahon, Charlie Ruedpokanon, Kowit Wattanakul, Wannisa Peungpa.

Borg McEnroe (2017)

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Tennis’ biggest rivalry is brought to the big screen with excellent performances by lead actors Sverrir Gudnason and Shia LeBeouf in the titular roles.

It is 1980 and the Wimbledon championship tournament has begun. The heavy favorite to win is Swedish player Bjorn Borg, who has already won four titles in the tournament and is looking for his fifth title. However, he has some heavy competition in American player John McEnroe, whose hot-tempered antics on the courts have made him the “bad boy” of tennis. However, McEnroe is determined to win the tournament in London.

As Borg and McEnroe begin to win their matches, the pressure begins to mount on both players. For Borg, it has always been about perfection and not letting his coach and family down. For McEnroe, being second best isn’t enough. Both raised into having to be perfect with winning being everything, the pressure on both are at an all-time high. When the duo makes it to the finals of the tournament, only one can be champion. However, both soon learn that to win will be just the tip of the iceberg.

This Swedish-Danish-Finnish co-production is quite interesting in its depiction of the famous tennis rivalry between Sweden’s Bjorn Borg and the “bad boy” that was John McEnroe. In sports films based in other countries, one figure would be more glorified and when it came to a rivalry of sorts, it is usually one figure or team that would be the focus of the film. However, Ronnie Sandahl’s screenplay offers a look from both perspectives of the titular players as while they were known rivals on the court, it is their upbringings that made them more similar that what we are to have believed.

Swedish actor Sverrir Gudnason has an uncanny resemblance to the tennis legend Borg and complements that resemblance with an emotional performance as someone who feels the pressure of being the best. While as a kid, Borg seemed to enjoy the game, it is when he becomes the student of Lennart Bergelin that it becomes about being a winner and facing the wrath of his coach when he doesn’t live up to Bergelin’s expectations. Stellan Skarsgård churns out a brilliant performance as Borg’s mentor with Tuva Novotny giving a sense of grounded nature for Borg as Mariana Simionescu.

Shia LeBeouf could not be a better fit to play John McEnroe. McEnroe, forever known for his tantrums and outbursts on the courts during his heyday, is similar to Borg with his upbringing of being perfected. This is notable in a flashback scene where as a child, he tells his mother he scored a 96 on a test and his mother doesn’t find it acceptable asking what happened to the other 4 percent. In addition, LeBeouf’s recent real-life issues would aid in his nabbing the role and this could just be the comeback the former child star is dying for as he is perfect in the role.

The tennis sequences are exciting to watch as we see both Borg and McEnroe face their opponents, with McEnroe going postal on Jimmy Connors during the semi-finals and berating the officials. That is until the brilliant finale pitting the tennis juggernauts as we see McEnroe more collected, taking his frustrations out on himself rather than anyone in his path. Borg seems collected for the most part but also faces that pressure of getting his fifth title but shows that not all is bad when he even gives words of encouragement for his rival in between sets. This would eventually lead to the real-life rivalry turned friendship between the two.

One would think Borg McEnroe would focus more on one considering the nature of the production. However, the film wisely looks at the viewpoints of feeling perfection and pressure both Borg and McEnroe that would make history in the sport of tennis. Sverrir Gudnason and Shia LeBeouf truly personify the titular duo in an emotional story that would result in one of the greatest matches in tennis history.

WFG RATING: A

SF Pictures presents a SF Studios production. Director: Janus Metz Pedersen. Producers: Jon Nohrstedt and Fredrik Wikström Nicastro. Writer: Ronnie Sandahl. Cinematography: Niels Thastum. Editing: Per K. Kirkegaard and Per Sandholt.

Cast: Sverrir Gudnason, Shia LeBeouf, Stellan Skarsgård, Tuva Novotny, Leo Borg, Marcus Mossberg, Jackson Gann, Scott Arthur, Ian Blackman, Robert Emms, David Bamber, Mats Blomgren, Julia Marko-Nord, Jane Perry.

Surviving the Wild (2018)

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A teen decides to brave the odds to grant his grandfather’s final wish in this great family film featuring Jon Voight and Jamie Kennedy.

Shaun is a 13-year old who is saddened when his grandfather Gus has died. Gus was considered Sean’s best friend due to his parents’ separation, which has since gotten very bad. However, Shaun is the only one able to see the ghost of Gus. When Shaun comes up with the idea of going to what Gus called “Mount Delilah”, Shaun’s mother Rachel and father Kristopher decide not to take him. That night, Shaun comes up with a plan to take Gus’ ashes and play his parents against each other so he can make the journey himself.

Shaun finds himself, aided by Gus, on the journey to “Mount Delilah” with Gus’ dog Riley. As Shaun begins to enjoy the long journey to reach the top of the mountain, he slowly begins to find himself facing numerous challenges. They include a bear coming up to the tent, two crazy hunters in the area, and the ill-health of Riley. When Kristopher and Rachel learn of Shaun’s ruse, the estranged couple decide to work together to find their son. Will Shaun be able to face the challenges that come ahead of him to grant his grandfather’s final wish?

This family adventure film is quite a surprising film that brings together a variety of genres. They include the teen in the wilderness film, the ghost film, and the family drama film, all brought together in a nicely paced 87-minute film. The story of a teen determined to grant his late grandfather’s final wish with the help of said grandfather’s ghost may sound a bit farfetched upon hearing it. However, seeing the film takes on a more positive meaning, especially with this film, thanks in part to Patrick Alessandrin’s direction, the beautiful cinematography by R. Michael Givens (which includes some nice aerial sites of the forests and mountains), and the true driving force of the film, the cast.

Jon Voight is great as late grandfather Gus, who not only serves as the ghost of our hero Shaun, but brings some hilarious comic relief to the film with some funny one-liners when it deems fit. He truly brings that grandfatherly-best friend nature to the role and his chemistry with newcomer Aidan Cullen couldn’t be better. As for Cullen himself, he has this natural talent as a rising star in his role of Shaun, who must overcome the odds in both the wilderness as well as his life to become his own person. Shaun a kid who loves his technology, but also appreciates the world outside of that technology, by enjoying the confines of being in the forests, caves, and the rivers, all to grant his grandfather’s final wish to scatter his ashes on top of the mountain.

Another surprising performance comes from Jamie Kennedy as Shaun’s father Chris. The one time comic fodder of the early 2000’s with films like Malibu’s Most Wanted, Kickin’ It Old School and the very horrific Son of the Mask, Kennedy truly has matured into a serious actor and brings that to the role of the embittered Kristopher, who is seen as a workaholic whose only connection with his son is technology. Vail Bloom seems like she has a constant chip on her shoulder as embittered mother Rachel, who is constantly at odds not just with Kristopher, but before that with Gus as well. The worse is that Rachel seems to vent out her issues to Shaun, refusing to pretty much let him do anything. While it may seem like Kristopher and Rachel may not be Parents of the Year, it is when they work together to find Shaun that redemption for these two in terms of their relationships with both Shaun and each other may seem imminent.

Surviving the Wild is a pretty good family film that truly takes the negatives of life and turns in truly into a positive. The story of overcoming the odds in life is truly one adventure for the family.

WFG RATING: A-

A SP Releasing Production. Director: Patrick Alessandrin. Producers: Steven Paul, Patrick Alessandrin, Mark Hefti, Vail Bloom, and Kyle Otto. Writer: Mark Hefti; story by Steven Paul. Cinematography: R. Michael Givens. Editing: Robert A. Ferretti.

Cast: Jon Voight, Jamie Kennedy, Vail Bloom, Aidan Cullen.

SP Releasing releases this film in select theaters today.

Dance Baby Dance (2018)

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A former dancer sets to live his dream and overcome the odds in this fun dancing film from filmmaker Stephen Kogon, who also stars in the lead role.

Jimmy Percer has had a dream to become a professional tap dancer. However, a knee injury took him out of the competition and despite all efforts, his knee never has fully healed. He eventually married fellow dancer Tess and got a regular job. However, he spends his free time at the studio where his wife works to continue his dream. He learns of an upcoming dance showcase and he is determined to be a part of a touring company, whose members will be chosen through the showcase.

However, despite his determination, Jimmy finds himself having some obstacles. Hector, the owner of the dance studio, won’t sponsor Jimmy because of his age and knee injury. Tess is worried Jimmy will seriously injure himself. However, that all changes when Tess’ sister Lanie and niece Kit arrive after Lanie and husband split up and Lanie falls on hard times. Kit learns about Jimmy’s talents and the two forge a bond. With the showcase coming up, will Jimmy be able to overcome the odds and get the chance to live his dream?

Shall We Dance? Dance of a Dream. These are examples of feel good films that revolve around the world of dancing and this film, from Stephen Kogon, is a terrifically made film about overcoming the odds and living your dream through hard work. The story of a man who in his prime nearly lost the chance to become a professional only to get a second chance years later barely has a tone of anger and sorrow but instead is a film that helps bring about feeling good about what one wants to do and even helping those close to you feel good in the process.

That is truly in the case of our protagonist Jimmy, played by director Kogon. Throughout the film, Jimmy’s determination constantly makes him happy. He is perhaps the ultimate likable fellow whose aspirations and determination keeps him smiling. Kogon even does all of his tap dance scenes and his chemistry with 7th Heaven star Beverly Mitchell as his wife is great but the fun piece involves his bonding scene with Hayley Shukiar as Tess’ niece Kit. The scene plays out in a tap dance battle that soon becomes perhaps a tribute to classic Hollywood tap dancing on screen.

While there are sparse comical moments from Kogon, the real comic relief comes in the form of Hector, the owner of the dance studio, played by the hilarious Carlos Alazraqui. The well-known voice actor plays it off pretty funnily as the constantly complaining owner, who doesn’t seem to have a liking for Jimmy and does everything in his power to convince him not to get in the showcase. However, Jimmy finds support not just within his family, but his boss and even two fellow dancers, Ravon and Dex.

Dance Baby Dance truly stands out as a feel good film about facing the odds and living the dream. A likable Stephen Kogon and the tap dancing sequences are fun to watch. If you want a film that just makes you feel good without expecting something mindblowing as well as enjoy some fun dancing scenes, then this is your film.

WFG RATING: B+

Indie Rights Movies presents a Wings of Hope production. Director: Stephen Kogon. Producers: Roy Bodner, Stephen Kogon, John Kaiser, and Travis Huff. Writer: Stephen Kogon. Cinematography: Shanele Alvarez. Editing: Jason Horton.

Cast: Beverly Mitchell, Stephen Kogon, Carlos Alazraqui, Lisa Brenner, Hayley Shukiar, Clare Grant, Isaiah Lucas, Jim Nowakowski, Jim O’Heir, Ellen Kim.

The film will make its debut at the Arena Cinelounge, Hollywood on January 19, 2018.

Madtown (2017)

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A young man comes face to face with his past while learning to accept his new life in this indie drama from Charles Moore.

Denny Briggs arrives late for what he promises will be a one-time gig as a stand-up comedian. He decides to make the audience his jury as he is on trial. He first begins with talking about how he lied on his job application for a job at Miller’s Family Restaurant. Having gotten the job, he becomes close to the owners Lloyd and Linda, fellow waiter Shaun, cook Marcel, and prep cook Sarah. However, Denny’s new life will soon find its obstacle as the past comes back in the form of his sister Madison.

Having served a twenty-year sentence for the murder of their parents, Madison has made parole. As Madison adapts to life outside of prison, Denny adapts to his new surroundings as he grows closer to Sarah, who is a young single mom to Isabella. However, when Madison decides to go back to controlling Denny and forces a move to Chicago upon him, Denny finally learns that in order to move on with his life, he must face the past and confront it before he is ever to be happy.

This is quite an interesting indie drama that is told all in flashbacks from what we are led to believe to be a seven-minute comedy gig from the main character Denny, played by an excellent Milo Ventimiglia. Denny is truly conflicted with facing his past and coming to terms with the present. The 112-minute running time allows Ventimiglia to bring a variety of emotion to the role of Denny as he grows closer to the cast of characters who he works with and yet at the same time, feels a sense of obligation to his overprotective sister Madison, played by Amanda Aday, who is the daughter of music legend Meat Loaf.

Rachel Melvin’s Sarah brings to sense a possible romance that may be worth having for the troubled Denny while John Billingsley and Bonita Fredericy’s Lloyd and Linda serve as the parental figures Denny has yearned for all his life, especially when the events that lead up to Madison’s prison stint is revealed. While Denny himself is an aspiring comic with Lenny Bruce as inspiration, Matt Lockwood’s Shaun provides the comic relief of the film in terms of the developing story while Joshua Elijah Reese’s Mandel is the big brother-type who also helps Denny feel grounded and indirectly helps him with the issues he face.

The film does offer some twists to the story where you may expect one thing to happen, but end up getting something else. This may either get fans who expect something straightforward to go up in arms, but most will likely be intrigued with the twists, especially towards the third act of the film, where it goes an totally unexpected route by the film’s end.

Madtown has a really good story about one man’s old and new lives coming together and his determination to break from his past and move on to the present, all driven by a great performance by Milo Ventimiglia.

WFG RATING: A-

SP Distribution presents a Two Car Garage production in association with Burning River Productions. Director: Charles Moore. Producers: Stephen R. Campanella, Liz DuChez, J. Scott Scheel, and Charles Moore. Writer: Charles Moore. Cinematography: John Turk. Editing: Charles Moore.

Cast: Milo Ventimiglia, Rachel Melvin, Amanda Aday, John Billingsley, Bonita Fredericy, Matt Lockwood, Joshua Elijah Reese, Brett Castro, Kinsley Funari, Kristina Kopf, Christopher Mele.

The film will be released on January 5, 2018 from SP Distribution.

1987: When the Day Comes (2017)

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South Korea’s government turned upside down thirty years ago and this film depicts the events of what had transpired during that period.

Director Park, a defector from North Korea, has been hired by the South Korean government to apprehend and interrogate any suspicious persons who may be accused of coming from the North. However, when 22-year old college student Park Jong-Chul is found dead during his interrogation, Park finds himself in a possible world of trouble. He decides on behalf of the government to cover up the student’s death and make it look like it was a heart attack.

Prosecutor Choi finds himself under constant pressure from Park’s men to authorize cremation without an autopsy, which is clearly against the law. Having already suffered a major setback within the company, Choi decides he will do things right and investigate what really had happened. Meanwhile, Kim Jung-Nam, a potential whistleblower on the excessive force of Park and his men, is hiding out and looks for clues as to what has happened to Park. When the media gets wind of the events surrounding Park’s death, university students begin to protest for many days and as a result, history is destined to change in South Korea.

Based on actual events that occurred in 1987 that culminated in a major change in the government of South Korea, this film uses both historical facts and fictionalized drama to bring together a story about what is now known as the June Democratic Movement, which resulted in the end of then-President Chun Doo-Hwan’s military regime and use of excessive force for interrogations. The script, written by Kim Kyung-Chan, brings together a series of interweaving stories from the point of views from both sides of the spectrum.

The primary focus of the film is that of defected Director Park, played in a very powerful performance by Kim Yoon-Seok. Park is truly seen as someone who is determined to keep his loyalty to President Chun and will do whatever it takes and that is meant in a literal sense, to make sure that the death of Park Jong-Chul is covered up as well as ensuring that as the mastermind behind it all due to the nature of the regime, that there are no loose ends. The level of power that Park intends to keep is shown in a very emotional scene where he threatens one of his own men, who serves as a scapegoat, by threatening to make the scapegoat’s family North Korean spies and executing them.

Ha Jung-Woo gives a pretty good performance as the embittered Choi, who resorts to always drinking as a sign of regret for a past mistake which nearly cost him his job. When the opportunity arises in Park Jong-Chul’s death, he finds redemption by doing things the right way despite constant pressure from Park’s men, who are depicted in the film as thugs whose actions are no better than common criminals or gangsters. Yoo Hae-Jin and Kim Tae-Ri make up the third subplot as a benevolent prison guard and his college bound niece, who are also affected by the events as the guard knows and helps whistleblower Kim Jung-Nam with the niece reluctantly finding herself involved, especially after meeting Lee Han-Yeol, who would go on to be the “face” of the movement, played by Kang Dong-Won.

A very powerful film with great performances and a mix of interweaving stories, 1987: When the Day Comes brings to life the shocking events that would lead into the changing of the guard forever in South Korea.

WFG RATING: A

CJ Entertainment presents a Woojeung Film production. Director: Jang Joon-Hwan. Producer: Jung Won-Chan. Writer: Kim Kyung-Chun. Cinematography: Kim Woo-Hyung. Editing: Yang Jin-Mo.

Cast: Kim Yoon-Seok, Ha Jung-Woo, Yoo Hae-Jin, Kim Tae-Ri, Yeo Jin-Goo, Kang Dong-Won, Choi Kwong-Il, Park Hee-Soon, Lee Hee-Joon.

The film will make its U.S. debut at the CGV Cinemas in Buena Park, CA and Los Angeles, CA on January 12, 2018.

The Program (1993)

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The trials and tribulations of a college football team over the course of a season are explored in this film from the director of the hit baseball comedy Major League.

Eastern State University has been unable to enter the college playoffs in three years. This year, they look to turn things around. They recruit a freshman tailback, Darnell Jefferson.  Quarterback Joe Kane is a candidate for the Heisman Trophy. Linebacker Alvin Mack wants to be a true leader for the defense. Cornerback Steve Lattimer has come this season fully pumped and ready. However, as the season comes to a head, problems begin to slowly plague the team.

Joe suffers from constant drinking and adrenaline to make up for the lack of support from his father. Darnell needs a tutor to help with his entrance exams and when he falls for his tutor, Autumn, he finds himself in competition with Ray, a tailback who turns out to be Autumn’s boyfriend. This causes a rivalry both on and off the field between the two. Lattimer is revealed to be doing steroids and during an after party, he goes on a roid rage and finds himself suspended for three games. Joe’s drinking takes a turn for the worse, causing him to go to rehab. Backup quarterback Bobby Collins is expelled from school because he convinced his girlfriend Luanne to take his exam for him. Even worse, Luanne is the coach’s daughter. As the team goes through their personal problems off the field, they must persevere if they want to break the streak and make the playoffs.

Director/co-writer David S. Ward has an interesting way to tell the story of sports teams. He stretches out the film to explore the trials and tribulations of teams throughout an entire season. His hit film Major League was a comedy that focused on the Cleveland Indians, which was made up of a band of ragtag players. For this film, Ward and co-writer Aaron Latham bring a more emotional tale in the world of college football.

While James Caan is given top billing as the coach of the football team, the focus of the film is more on the players, notably Craig Sheffer’s star quarterback, freshman tailback Omar Epps, and in some cases, defensive end Andrew Bryniarski. These three are the ones who go through the most in the film. Sheffer does well as Joe Kane, the Heisman candidate who lets his alcoholism nearly shatters his dream of getting the brass ring. Epps does quite well as newcomer Jefferson, who finds himself trying to do his best on the field while he has a rival both on and off the field with someone who is not only starting tailback but is also the boyfriend of the girl he falls for. As Steve Lattimer, Andrew Bryniarski does well as someone who is overpowering due to steroid use and then realizes his mistakes only to try to make himself a better person.

There are some set comic pieces in the film, but there is an excised scene worth mentioning. An initial screening of the film shows three football players lying in the middle of the street with cars passing them. After the screening, some kids tried to emulate this stunt and were killed. As a result, all of the prints no longer have this particular scene…and for good reason.

Nevertheless, if you are a fan of sports films, then it is good to check out The Program to see the world of college football both on and off the field. James Caan, Criag Sheffer, Omar Epps, and Andrew Bryniarski as well as the rest of the cast do quite well. Definitely worth checking out.

WFG RATING: A-

A Touchstone Pictures production. Director: David S. Ward. Producer: Samuel Goldwyn Jr. Writers: David S. Ward and Aaron Latham. Cinematography: Victor Hammer. Editing: Kimberly Ray and Paul Seydor.

Cast: James Caan, Craig Sheffer, Omar Epps, Kristy Swanson, Halle Berry, Abraham Benrubi, Duane Davis, Jon Maynard Pennell, Joey Lauren Adams, Andrew Bryniarski, J. Leon Pridgen II.

Throw Down (2004)

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Johnnie To returns to the martial arts genre and melds it with his use of action-dramatic storytelling with this tale of a ex-judo champion on a road to rediscovering himself amidst the chaos that surrounds him.

Nightclub owner Sze-To spends his days gambling and drinking while performing at nights in his club. However, when a mysterious stranger, Tony, arrives, Sze-To’s true past is about to catch up with him. Sze-To was a former judo champion known as the “Judo Golden Boy”. However, as he prepared for a competition with fellow judoka Kong, Sze-To mysterious disappeared and his life took a downfall from his gambling and drinking.

Tony is a fellow judoka who spends his time challenging various experts and he wants to challenge Sze-To. Meanwhile, a young woman named Mona is attempting to start a career in Hong Kong as a singer. She meets Sze-To, who gives her a job at the nightclub while Tony is given a job as a saxophonist, on the promise that Sze-To will eventually accept his challenge.

One night at the club, Sze-To is besieged by a loan shark he stole money from, fellow shareholders of the club, and his former teacher Master Chang. Mona is besieged by her agent, who only plans to exploit her. Tony is exploited by goons he had challenged and defeated. The night turns into chaos when all those involved with the trio begin to pick a fight. However, Kong, who has wanted to have that long awaited match with Sze-To also arrives at the club and takes out all who stand in his way.

When Tony challenges Kong, his arm is dislocated and devises a way to counter Kong’s attacks. Meanwhile, Sze-To begins to evaluate his life after his master dies in a competition. He soon begins a road to discovering who he truly is, accepting both challenges from Tony and Kong to prove he still has the spirit of judo within him.

Johnnie To shows that he truly an auteur in Hong Kong cinema. While he started out doing martial arts films in the 1990’s, he is more known for his work with his trademark style of action and exhilarating dramatic storylines. With this film, he melds the genre he first started with (martial arts) and the genre he works with now (modern action/drama) into one of the most exhilarating films of the millennium.

While To could have picked any style of martial art to focus on, one can’t help wonder what To was thinking when decided to focus on the martial art of judo. Judo is a Japanese art that consists of mainly throwing your opponent, hence the name of the film. Hollywood legend James Cagney used this style of martial art in his World War II-set piece Blood on the Sun while legendary director Akira Kurosawa focused on the art in his 1943 classic Sanshiro Sugata, which is referenced in this film by Master Chang’s mentally challenged son Jing.

Let’s start with the cast and their performances. Louis Koo delivers a knockout performance as Sze-To, a man going through a downward spiral due to his constant gambling and drinking at the nightclub he owns. One would never think Sze-To was a former judoka until young fighter Tony arrives. Aaron Kwok delivers an interesting performance as Tony. Reasons behind as to why he challenges Tony may seem one way, but the truth is revealed towards the finale. Kwok and To have worked with each other before in the 1993 film The Barefooted Kid. Veteran To cast member Cherrie Ying gives one of her best performances as Mona, a young woman who just wants to be famous. Her subplot truly drives the film and becomes somewhat of a catalyst for the road Sze-To must embark on to rediscovering himself, whole Mona attempts to make a better life for herself as well. As for Tony Leung Ka-Fai, he doesn’t offer much dramatic wise, but action wise, his few scenes show lots of impact.

The action in this film is well done. Choreographed by To’s veteran stunt coordinator Yuen Bun, the art of judo truly stands out here. The cast trained in the art prior to the film and they look simply great. Aaron Kwok is perhaps the stand out of the cast and he uses a combination of throws and a scissor leg/armbar technique to choke out his opponent. He also knocks down the club’s bodyguard in friendly bets before entering the club. While Louis Koo doesn’t really fight until the final half-hour, he does well too and this would come in handy a few years later when he studied a bit of mixed martial arts with Donnie Yen’s stunt team for Flash Point. As mentioned, Tony Leung Ka-Fai just makes an impact on the screen when he arrives. The finale, pitting Koo and Leung, takes place in a grassy field, perhaps a tribute to some of the greatest martial arts film over time.

Throw Down truly marks Johnnie To’s return to the martial arts genre without losing his style for modern action and drama. Great performances and exhilarating judo fights make this a worthy martial arts film.

WFG RATING: A

China Star Entertainment and One Hundred Years of Film Co. Ltd. Presents a Milkyway Image (HK) Ltd. Production in association with Sil-Metropole Organisation Ltd. Director: Johnnie To. Producers: Johnnie To and Stephen Lam. Writers: Yau Nan-Hoi, Yip Tin-Shing, and Au Kin-Yee. Cinematography: Cheng Siu-Keung and To Hung-Mo. Editing: David Richardson.

Cast: Louis Koo, Aaron Kwok, Cherrie Ying, Tony Leung Ka-Fai, Jordan Chan, Eddie Cheung, Calvin Choi, Jack Kao, Lo Hoi-Pang, Jimmy Wong, Hung Wai-Leung, Lu Ching-Ting, Ronald Yan.

Kepler’s Dream (2017)

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A young girl goes on a emotional roller coaster that becomes a catalyst for her family coming to terms in this well-made family drama.

Having lived in the city all her life, Ella McKenzie has been through a lot. Her parents have divorced, and she has been estranged from her father, who does fishing excursions. When her mother is diagnosed with leukemia, she must be taken out of state for stem cell research. Ella is forced to stay with her paternal grandmother, Violet Von Stern, whom Ella has never met. Things don’t go as planned the first few days due to Violet’s strict rules and harsh manners.

Ella does find some friends in ranch hand Miguel and his daughter Rosie. The bond between Ella and Violet slowly begins to develop over their love of astronomy, with Violet’s prized possession being a rare first edition of Johannes Kepler’s Somnium. When the book is found to be missing, Miguel is the prime suspect, but Ella believes the culprit to be Violet’s guest and fellow book collector, Christopher Abercromie, and his visiting nephew Jackson. As Ella digs deep into the mystery, her father, who has been away from the family home, returns. With Ella on the hunt for the rare book, some secrets are revealed, and that may result in something much needed for this family.

Based on the novel by Juliet Bell, this is a tale that meshes the fish out of water story with a mystery that all results in something that may look like it comes out of a Hallmark movie, but done with a realistic sense that both breaks and keeps the family traditional film alive. The themes of meeting for the first time, estrangement, and the near loss of a loved one seems a bit much. However, it all smooths out in its running time making it bearable.

Isabella Blake-Thomas brings a sense of realism in the central role of Ella, who has endured so much, but is so loyal to her mother that her opening scene involves her cutting her hair as a donation for her mother, played by Kelly Lynch. Lynch doesn’t get much screen time as her character of Amy spends most of the film recovering in a hospital bed from leukemia. Sean Patrick Flanery makes the most of his screen time as the estranged Walt, whose fishing excursions and family secrets make him somewhat of an outcast to both his mother and his daughter. Holland Taylor is a delight to watch as the stern Violet, whom Ella nicknames “G.M.”, not for grandmother, but “general major”. The chemistry between Taylor and Blake-Thomas is a vital part of the film’s story.

Steven Michael Quezada’s Miguel and Esperanza Fermin’s Rosie bring a sense of comfort to Ella, as it seems like they are the only ones she can trust throughout this journey. Even David Hunt’s Abercromie seems to have that shady side to him as he only seems to care about monetary value rather than sentimental value, which is in the case of Violet and Kepler’s Somnium. What helps drive the film overall is that when it looks crystal clear who took the Somnium, some unexpected twists and turns not only reveal the theft itself, but the reasoning behind the theft will make jaws drop.

All in all, Kepler’s Dream may seem like a lot going into one film. However, both smooth scriptwriting and some great performances, notably from Isabella Blake-Thomas and Holland Taylor, make this an ultimately heartwarming drama.

WFG RATING: B+

Leomark Studios present a Kepler’s Dream Etc. Production. Director: Amy Glazer. Producer: Sedge Thomson. Writers: Sylvia Browning, Sedge Thomson, Ann Cummings, Amy Glazer, and Vijay Rajan; based on the novel by Juliet Bell. Cinematography: Nancy Schreiber. Editing: Mags Arnold.

Cast: Isabella Blake-Thomas, Holland Taylor, Kelly Lynch, Sean Patrick Flanery, Kelly Hu, Steven Michael Quezada, Esperanza Fermin, David Hunt, Stafford Douglas, Hank Rogerson.