“Kin” is based on a short film by the brothers Baker called “Bag Man.” It follows a 14-year-old boy from Detroit, Eli (Myles Truitt, in his first feature film role), as he goes on the lam with his adopted ex-con brother, Jimmy (Jack Reynor). Eli’s brought along a mysterious gun, a large, box-shaped weapon he picked up in an abandoned building while scrapping to make extra money.
In pursuit is Taylor (James Franco), a psychopathic drug dealer out for vengeance after a robbery leaves both his brother Dutch (Gavin Fox) and Eli and Jimmy’s father Hal (Dennis Quaid) dead. Franco’s Taylor is essentially his character Alien from “Spring Breakers” with several hard years on him, cornrows chopped into a ratty mullet, sporting a moth-eaten sweater and many misguided tattoos, signifying his impulsive and reckless nature.
Eli and Jimmy, en route to Lake Tahoe, one of their dead mother’s favorite places, are also being followed by a mysterious pair of futuristic soldiers on a mission to repossess the weapon. Eli discovers how useful the “ray gun” can be when they find themselves in a brawl at a Midwestern strip club. The gun shoots blasts that can vaporize anything. After escaping evil club owner Lee (Romano Orzari), dancer Milly (Zoë Kravitz) joins the brothers on the run.
“Kin” is a movie about the bond between brothers, whether biological or forged in a blended family. Although the circumstances of Jimmy and Eli’s road trip aren’t ideal, Jimmy’s happy for the time he gets to spend with his little brother, on the cusp of manhood, after so many years in jail. But the reunion is contrasted with Taylor’s rage and grief at the loss of his own brother. That explodes into a tsunami of blood and death as he and his posse storm the Nevada police station where Eli and Jimmy have been detained, while liberally, graphically murdering many police officers.
The violence in the film’s third act is shocking, and it strains both the suspension of disbelief and the laughable, honestly shameful PG-13 rating. It’s not a blockbuster or a heroic young adult tale (though a last-minute button indicates at least the film thinks it is). It’s just a devastatingly sad and terrible story about two brothers who make bad choices, suffer the consequences and lose the last shreds of family they have left. No amount of 11th hour twists, reveals or bigger ideas can shake that inescapable feeling of dread and sorrow.
(PG-13, 2 of 4 stars, 1 hr. 42 min.)
– Katie Walsh, Tribune News Service
There’s something very familiar about “Operation Finale,” written by debut screenwriter Matthew Orton and directed by Chris Weitz. The film chronicles the thrilling, stranger-than-fiction 1960 Mossad operation to kidnap principal Holocaust architect Adolf Eichmann from Argentina and extradite him to Israel to be tried for war crimes. The event was depicted in the 1996 TV movie “The Man Who Captured Eichmann,” in the 2014 German Foreign Language Academy Award submission “Labyrinth of Lies,” as well as the 2015 German biopic “The People Vs. Fritz Bauer.” A recent “Drunk History” segment starring “Crazy Ex-Girlfriend”’s Rachel Bloom even dramatized the kidnapping. So, unfortunately, “Operation Finale” feels a bit behind the ball when it comes to the dramatic true story.
The execution itself is familiar: slightly too mannered, too polite, a color-by-numbers political thriller filled with character archetypes, and story beats we’ve seen before. Oscar Isaac stars as Peter Malkin, a Mossad agent tapped for the mission to Argentina to nab Eichmann (Ben Kingsley), a high-level Nazi bureaucrat who oversaw the transportation of millions of Jews to their deaths in concentration camps. Peter is tormented by surrealistic visions of his sister Fruma (Rita Pauls), who met her demise in a German forest with her three children at the hands of Nazi soldiers.
When Sylvia (Haley Lu Richardson), a young German woman in Buenos Aires, starts a relationship with Eichmann’s son, Klaus (Joe Alwyn), word gets back to Mossad that the elusive officer has been living in the country under an assumed name, working at a Mercedes-Benz factory. The intelligence agency plans a mission that involves surveillance, kidnapping under the cover of night and smuggling Eichmann out of Argentina on an El Al flight, sedated and disguised as a drunken pilot.
The story’s details are truly wild and unbelievable, but the plotting and characters feel rote. Perhaps that’s just overfamiliarity with the story. The second half, when Isaac and Kingsley face off in a war of philosophies, is when the film truly comes together. El Al refuses to transport Eichmann until he signs a document assenting to the extradition and trial, so the team must wait, holding him hostage in a safe house. To get him to sign, Peter appeals to the man’s ego, vulnerability and ultimately, his humanity, facing down the man he believes responsible for the death of his sister.
Eichmann has long been seen as the face of the “banality of evil,” and Kingsley portrays him as a fastidious, meticulous man claiming he was just following orders. He was just trying to protect his country, the same thing Peter wants. But underneath the proper manners and moments when he declares himself simply a cog in a machine, there’s something simmering. That’s actually what Peter and Adolph have in common, a burning rage that threatens to boil over their controlled demeanors. What do the Israelis want: revenge or justice?
At the 11th hour, Peter strips away Eichmann’s propriety, revealing his true nature, and wins the psychological war. It’s a personal moment that sits at the core of the collective catharsis Eichmann’s trial provided, conducted in Israel and televised globally — the first time many heard testimony of the Holocaust. In the war for minds and hearts, justice must always prevail over hatred, and over vengeance. It’s a lesson we must take to heart again and again.
(PG-13, 2 ½ of 4 stars, 2 hr. 3 min.)
– Katie Walsh, Tribune News Service
Crime has a natural path into comedy, especially if it doesn't sacrifice its core of darkness. "Arizona," a hilariously unflattering portrait of the suburban Southwest, roars down that trail with both feet on the accelerator, guns blazing, kerosene-soaked rags in the trunk and nobody wearing a seat belt.
If you liked "Breaking Bad's" bloody transformation of a sad sack science teacher into a meth-dealing Scarface, this will have you jumping up and down. Bad things happen, punchlines land hard enough to pop your eyes and Judeo-Christian principles are torn away like bark being ripped off old trees. It's a lot of fun.
The setting is a slice of Arizona wasteland; the time is the 2009 mortgage meltdown when the housing market collapsed like a tower of Jenga blocks. That is the rampaging elephant in the room when Cassie (Rosemarie DeWitt, TV's "Mad Men"), a real estate agent and single mom, walks her clients around a McMansion in a largely unpopulated development. She's dead broke and struggling for sales with a tone of forced optimism so sunny it could give you heatstroke.
After a delightfully malicious face-to-face with her arrogant con man boss, she witnesses an even angrier showdown he has with an upset client. Sonny (Danny McBride from "Pineapple Express" in a long-deserved leading role) is ticked off because his home, which was promised to double in value, is now underwater, which leads to the two men slapping each other like irate T. rexes.
The fallout from that spat results in Sonny taking Cassie as his hostage. They go on the run, a flight that takes them places together, apart and in pursuit of each other. Along the way they cross paths with, among others, her ex-husband, his much younger girlfriend, Sonny's ex and their town's one-man police department, leaving impressive, and often accidental, destruction in their wake. Discovering the veteran comedians who show up for cameos is part of the movie's charm.
The characters try to take a rational approach to an increasingly irrational world. McBride makes Sonny, who is in big trouble from early on, oblivious to admitting how big a hole he is digging himself into. He holds Cassie prisoner in an apologetic, humane manner. When she tells him she won't cooperate, he's not threatening, he's exasperated.
This wicked directorial debut from Jonathan Watson tickles your ribs and then slides a kitchen knife between them.
(No rating, 3 of 4 stars, 1 hr. 25 min.)
-- Colin Covert, Star Tribune (Minneapolis)
Clearly expensive to produce, “Papillon” takes us to penal colonies so bleak, dark and claustrophobic that they drive prisoners insane, and doubtless many viewers, too. It was filmed with impressive care and the performances are good, if you’re in the mood for starvation, madness and harsh physical cruelty.
Calling this gritty-as-dirt story of crime, punishment and the unquenchable urge to escape enjoyable is a stretch. Nonetheless, it has been popular. Henri Charriere’s supposedly true account of his imprisonment in French Guiana and Devil’s Island has sold 13 million copies since its 1969 publications, and the 1973 film starring Steve McQueen and Dustin Hoffman was a hit.
The actors in this iteration are comfortably at home in their roles. Charlie Hunnam, a sympathetic outlaw in the FX series “Sons of Anarchy” and quite good in last year’s “The Lost City of Z,” has the title role as Papillon, a tough safecracker framed for murder. Rami Malek, best known as the lead in USA Network’s “Mr. Robot,” plays wealthy dandy Louis Dega, who faked government defense bonds.
When they are convicted, the French courts banish them to hell off the coast of South America. The insecure Dega, who has never been in captivity, suspects the scum-of-the-earth prisoners who eviscerate his first bodyguard will slit him open, too. Papillon steps in between him and the dregs of humanity, protecting Dega for his promise “to underwrite any escape you care to arrange.”
That is, to say the least, an uphill struggle. As the warden tells the new inmates, fleeing will result in starving in the forest, being eaten by sharks at sea or recapture and serving an even longer, worse sentence. Still, returning to civilization is Papillon’s passion. Dega, in a moment of underplayed humor, calls him an “optimist.”
The focus of the story, beyond the procedural aspect of their escape attempts, is the honor between the two thieves that slowly grows into trust. Its an important point that the characters convey through subtle implication. Long before their Titanic-sized prison ship deposits them, it’s understood that in this realm any expression of emotion is a sign of weakness and a hard poker face must be worn at all times.
There are unintended laughs here, mostly at Malek’s expense. His character wears his eyeglasses even while asleep. With no explanation, he remains perfectly barbered throughout his decades-long confinement. When Papillon goes mad from starvation (Hunnam shows off his body dieted to almost nothing), he dreams of Dega dancing for him in a carnival-worthy mime’s costume and whiteface makeup that is pure Marcel Marceau.
“Papillon” is a memorable film that’s not fun to watch.
(R, 3 of 4 stars, 2 hr. 16 min.)
-- Colin Covert, Star Tribune (Minneapolis)
‘The Happytime Murders’
Henson Alternative, an offshoot of the Jim Henson Company, creators of our beloved Muppets and Sesame Street characters, bills their content as “not intended for our youngest viewers.” Don’t expect Elmo or Grover or Big Bird around here, these are Muppets for grown-ups. And they’ve truly swung for their fences, and a hard R-rating, with their first feature film, “The Happytime Murders,” which is a hard-boiled detective neo-noir film starring these fuzzy puppety friends alongside human actors. Unfortunately, some mildly-amusing ideas shouldn’t be full-length feature films and “The Happytime Murders” falls victim to that.
Directed by Brian Henson, and written by Todd Berger and Dee Austin Robertson, the entire conceit of “The Happytime Murders” is: Puppets Behaving Badly. It’s just that there’s nothing else to the joke. That’s it. And frankly, that joke’s been done before. The film pushes the levels of decency and taste into the gutter, then pushes it further, and that’s supposed to be funny. Because puppets!
Bill Barretta voices the hero, Phil Philips, a puppet private investigator and former detective living in LA, where puppets are equal, but discriminated against. Their poor treatment is a racial metaphor that never quite takes off. He’s hired by a comely female puppet, Sandra White (Dorien Davies), asking him to look into a series of threatening blackmail letters. In his search, he becomes witness to a brutal murder in a porn shop, which turns into the systemic execution of a group of puppets who starred on ’80s TV show, “The Happytime Gang,” including his brother, Larry. He runs into his old police detective partner, Connie Edwards (Melissa McCarthy) and the two are soon begrudgingly working the case together.
McCarthy does everything in her power to propel this project forward, but no amount of physical comedy can erase the fact that this movie is simply D.O.A. Despite the best efforts of McCarthy, and a winsome Maya Rudolph as Phil’s 40s-style secretary Bubbles, “The Happytime Murders” is more like the “Boringtime Slog.” It’s only 90 minutes, but this unoriginal and crude dreck isn’t even worth your hour and a half.
(R, 1 of 4 stars, 1 hr. 31 min.)
– Katie Walsh, Tribune News Service