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Reviews for March 16th, 2018

7 Days in Entebbe

Directed by José Padilha

      In June 1976, members of the Popular Front for the Liberation of Palestine (PFLP) hijacked an Air France flight from Israel to Paris carrying Israelis. They diverted the flight to Entebbe, Uganda where Idi Amin (Nonsoo Anozie) welcomed the hijackers, and the hostages remained there for 7 days. Two of the PFLP members, Brigitte (Rosamund Pike) and Wilfried (Daniel ), battled their inner demons as they questioned the morality of their roles in the hijacking. Meanwhile, in Israel, Prime Minister Yitzhak Rabin (Lior Ashkenazi) considered the option of negotiating with the terrorists. Shimon Peres (Eddie Marsan), the Minister of Defense, had a different idea of finding a solution: he planned a dangerous rescue mission, code-named Operation Thunderbolt, lead by officer Yonatan Netanyahu (Angel Bonanni), to rescue the hostages in Entebbe Airport by plane in the middle of the night.

      The opening scene with the Batsheva Dance Company's performance of "Echad Mi Yodea" is a very bold, provocative and refreshing way to begin 7 Days in Entebbe. The song and its lyrics become more meaningful as the plot progresses. Screenwriter Gregory Burke takes risks by goes back and forth between 2 different viewpoints: the terrorists and the Israeli government's perspective. Those risks pay off because the film remains spellbinding from start to finish. What makes 7 Days in Entebbe rise far above your average crime thriller is that its villains, Brigitte and Wilfried, aren't cartoonish, cookie-cutter bad guys. The film doesn't judge them; it merely shows them as complex human beings filled with many conflicting feelings and a moral conscience that's undergoing a crisis. Brigitte even refers to herself as a humanitarian in one scene. Brigitte and Wilfried's humanity in the midst all of the terror makes them interesting characters who you'll, surprisingly, end up caring about by the time the end credits roll. Their emotional battles feel just as compelling as the terrorists' physical battles.

      Through the stylish editing and the sensitive, smart screenplay, Burke and director José Padilha do a very effective job of building tension which culminates in a rescue mission that's just as nail-baitingly suspenseful as the rescue mission at the end of Argo. To be fair, 7 Days in Entebbe, lacks the comic relief and wit found in Argo, but that's forgivable because there's nonetheless just enough humanism to be found within its story to stop it from becoming a dry, pedestrian film. The film's costume design, lighting and set design become part of its substance while enhancing its authenticity. 7 Days in Entebbe offers its audience both style and substance while trusting their intellect and emotions. It's refreshing to see a thriller made for smart adults these days.

      Fortunately, Burke and Padilha find just the right balance between entertaining the audience, provoking them emotionally as well as intellectually without relying on excessive violence to tell the story. Moreover, it also avoids becoming lethargic like Clint Eastwood's disappointing 15:17 to Paris. Part of the film's emotional depth comes from the terrific cast, especially the charismatic Rosamund Pike and Daniel Brühl. Their nuanced performances feel convincingly moving in a way that brings their characters to life. Others, like Eddie Marsan and Lior Ashkenazi, are also believable in their roles and help to further anchor the film in humanism. At a running time of 1 hour and 46 minutes, 7 Days in Entebbe is a rousing, intelligent and engrossing thriller. It's this year's Argo!

Number of times I checked my watch: 0
Released by Focus Features.
Opens nationwide.

Journey's End

Directed by Saul Dibb


Number of times I checked my watch: 2
Released by Good Deed Entertainment.
Opens at Landmark 57 West.

Love, Simon

Directed by Greg Berlanti

      Simon (Nick Robinson), a closeted 17-year-old, lives with his mother (Emily), father (Josh Duhamel), and younger sister (Alexandra Shipp). Even his friends, Leah (Katherine Langford), Nick (Jorge Lendeborg Jr.), and Abby (Alexandra Shipp) aren't aware that he's gay. The only person who does know his secret is a classmate whom he exchanges emails with anonymously. Simon signs his name as "Jacques" while the mystery classmate signs his name as "Blue." When one of his classmates, Martin (Logan Miller), discover that Simon is gay when he reads his email exchanges with "Blue", he gives him an ultimatum: either set him up with his school crush, Abby (Alexandra Shipp), or else he'll out him to the entire school. Meanwhile, Simon desperately searches for the true identity of "Blue."

      Love, Simon doesn't quite reach the heights of teen movie classics like Say, Anything..., Sixteen Candles, Pretty in Pink, Clueless, Mean Girls or The Perks of Being a Wallflower, but it comes close enough to be one of the best American romantic teen comedies in recent memory. Nick Robinson is well-cast as the lead because he's got charisma and acting chops to boot. The supporting cast gets their chance to shine as well, particularly the scene-stealing Natasha Rothwell as the high school drama teacher who gets a lot of laughs with her lines and a scene toward to the end that will make audiences cheer. The screenplay by Isaac Aptaker and Elizabeth Berger does veer into cheesiness occasionally, and the dialogue is a bit too "on the nose" without much in terms of subtlety or nuance, but it more than compensates for those weaknesses by brimming with plenty of wit, warmth, wisdom and humor. One such warm and wise scene is a small, yet resonant one when Martin tells Simon that he wants Abby to like him for who he truly is; he doesn't want Simon to change him. What also helps to enrich and invigorate Love, Simon besides its wit, warmth and words of wisdom is its wonderful soundtrack curated by the talented Jack Antonoff. His band, Bleachers, has a beautiful solo song by Antonoff called "Alfie's Song (Not So Typical Love Song)" that's also part of the soundtrack. The music compliments the film's emotional scenes effectively without feeling overbearing or intrusive.

      The third act, which won't be spoiled here, feels a bit contrived with oversimplified resolutions and too much that's tight neatly in a bow. There's a scene that will be inevitably compared to a much more powerful scene in Call Me By Your Name. Also, the film's very last line sounds a bit silly in retrospect---the final scene itself is a very conventional and boring way to end the film. The real question, though, is, "Does Love, Simon truly earn its uplifting ending?" That will all depend on how much you can overlook its contrivances and cheesiness. Underneath it all there's actually a beating, compassionate heart to be found which can't be said for most modern Hollywood films these days. Love, Simon has both Truth and Spectacle. There are no car chases, explosions or superheroes that fly, so then "Where's its spectacle?" you ask. That can be found right within its Truth which is the best kind of Spectacle: the Spectacle of humanism, a truly special effect. Love, Simon deserves to become a sleeper hit and a cult classic. It's a big step in the right direction for Hollywood.

Number of times I checked my watch: 1
Released by 20th Century Fox.
Opens nationwide.

Tomb Raider

Directed by Roar Uthaug


Number of times I checked my watch: 4
Released by Warner Bro. Pictures.
Opens nationwide.
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