‘Cars 3’ looks good with a little something more

Cars 3


     I have a written before that if I were making a list of all the Pixar feature films, “Cars 2” would be my least favorite, the bottom of the list. One notch above “2” would be the original “Cars.”  These are not bad films. Each of them have their moments. The “Cars” series can just not compete with the three “Toy Story” films, “Up,” “Inside Out,” “Wall-E” or “Finding Nemo” just to name a few.

     Needless to say, I went into “Cars 3” with very little expectations. “Cars 3” is once again spotlighting racing. “2” did not have a plot that focused on racing as the first film did. “2” was more about a mystery. Racing fans, of which I am not, will most likely embrace this third film as being more like the first, with exciting racing elements throughout the film.

     “Cars 3” is also about other issues beyond racing. The film is about the passing of time and the element of age that we all must face. Lightning McQueen is back racing once more, hoping for one more victory. There are flashbacks featuring his departed friend: Doc Hudson played by the late Paul Newman. Many of the fellow cast members are back as well. Then there are new voices including Cristela Alonzo, Chris Cooper, and Armie Hammer. Hammer plays McQueen’s greatest competition, a younger sleeker model who can simply move faster than McQueen ever could.

     As with all Pixar films, “Cars 3” looks great. The characters are wonderful creations merging the reality of metal cars with the ability to alter their expressions when emotions require it. Beyond the characters, the settings around them are beautiful. As with all Pixar films, there are too many things to see in one viewing and all of it is artistic masterworks.

     And as I said, the film is about the passing of time and the element of age. McQueen has to admit that the younger cars are faster. Learning new things can be frustrating. Also with the passing of time, there come disappointments with the changes life brings. Others, cars or people, begin to look at someone or some car differently because the passing of time has altered their perception. And the ones at whom we are looking actually have changed.

     It is not the racing action, which is well drawn. It is not the jokes and comedy which are often clever. It is not the vivid color, which covers every shade of the spectrum. The greatest strength in “Cars 3” is the sentiment. Most of the audience of “Cars 3” will not understand any of the passing time issues, but for those of us who have watched four or more decades pass, there are many things that resonate in the film, and that is the film’s greatest strength. The film moved me, more than I thought it would.

     And that brings me back to where I began. Now that I have seen all three “Cars” films, I think I like them a little bit better. However, collectively, these three are still my least favorites. Give me Nemo, Buzz, Woody, Carl Fredricksen from “Up” or all the cast of “Monsters, Inc” and “Inside Up,” and I will be happy. I even liked the short “LOU”, which is shown before “3,” more than “Cars 3.” But, I am glad I saw it. I am sure many racing fans and Pixar fans will like it even more; they will be hoping for “Cars 4.”

     One final note, “Coco” is Pixar’s next feature. There is a trailer before “Cars 3.”  “Coco” looks absolutely incredible. Once again, it may become harder and harder to pick the best five Pixar films. Leave it up to Pixar to make an animated feature about death. “Coco” opens November 22. The sentiment of “Cars 3” moved me; I expect that “Coco” will have me in tears for most of the film. 

Roger Thomas is a member of the North Carolina Film Critics Association. He reviews films for The Stanly News & Press.


Can ‘Transformers: The Last Knight’ be the last film?



    I have written before that the “Transformers” came out after I was too old for miniature robots that transformed in various things. I never watched the cartoons or purchased any of the toys.

     But now there are five of these films, and I have seen every one of them. I keep going to the theatre hoping that something will inspire me. This time I did discover a few qualities that I can compliment.

     First, the film looks good from start to finish. A few months ago, I charged that the film “King Arthur” had terrible 3-D. The whole film was too dark, especially after one placed the 3-D glasses over their eyes. I did not like “Transformers 5” much more “King Arthur” but one thing is sure, “Transformers” is a visual masterpiece compared to “Arthur.”

     As an interesting side-note, in this fifth film, fans find out that Merlin, the wizard from the stories of King Author, met the Transformers centuries ago. Merlin and the Transformers help Arthur and his knights win a battle. I am sure if one is a fan, that must be really exciting.

     So, the film looks good, and the 3-D is bright, are there any other redeeming qualities in the film.

     I liked the early scene where four young boys meet a young girl as they are exploring the ruins of a sports stadium. Those moments with the children have interesting action and dialogue, and the film would have been better if it had put more focus on the generation whose whole lives have been affected by the robots from space.

     There are some funny moments, especially among the Transformers. There are some quiet moments with some of the cast members. Mark Wahlberg’s character can call his daughter but cannot speak to her because he is a “wanted man.” Moments like those are somewhat touching. 

      On the other end of the spectrum, why did Anthony Hopkins join this cast? I know the answer most likely: money. I kept thinking, “This man played Hannibal Lector; why is he in a “Transformers” film?” Beside Wahlberg and Hopkins, the only other recognizable person I saw in the cast is Stanly Tucci who plays Merlin.

     The other problem with this series is that if offers more of the same repeatedly. There will be several battles, in which the good guys, lose because Optimus Prime is not there. Then there will be a final battle that first goes against the good guys, and then shifts with the help of Optimus Prime will show up at the last minute. No one should be surprised that the battle ends up with the heroes winning rather than the villains.

     So here it is. If you love special effects, flat dialogue, a few good moments, lots of chaos, and a set up for “Part Six,” this is probably the film for you. It certainly seemed to please the people around me.

     On the other hand, if you want story over effects, something different rather than the same old things, smart dialogue instead mindless banter, you want something more than the “Transformers.” I agree with you one hundred percent. 

     The original film, “Transformers” came out in 2007. It starred Shia LaBeouf, Megan Fox and Academy Award winning actor, Jon Voight. Few of us would have ever guessed that a decade later, there would still be an interest in “Transformers.” But there is.

     My guess is that Michael Bay will strive for five more. So, why don’t he change the story? Let all the bad Transformers break down and the good ones start building homeless shelters. Rather than participating in destruction, the benevolent Transformers change the world for good and along the way, they change a few human hearts. Would it not be great if “Transformers 6: Rise of Benevolence” became the greatest “Transformers” film ever.

Roger Thomas is a member of the North Carolina Film Critics Association. He reviews films for The Stanly News & Press.

‘The Book of Henry’ is intriguing start that becomes preposterous

Book of Henry


     The character named in the title is a gifted child. Henry is an incredibly intelligent young boy who impresses his teachers, his mother, his doctor, and anyone else who crosses his path. The screenplay makes sure the audience understands Henry’s brilliance from the beginning. 

      Henry is played by Jaeden Lieberher and his performance is the best part of the film. Lieberher has acted with one of my favorite directors, Jeff Nichols. “Midnight Special” was the name of the film; not one of Nichols best works, but Lieberher was one of the best things in it.   This young actor also did fantastic work in “St. Vincent,” a film that always makes me cry. His next work is the new version of Stephen King’s “It.” May it be better than “The Book of Henry” in every way.     

     There are other strengths. Naomi Watts, who has been nominated twice for Oscars in “The Impossible” and “21 Grams,” plays Henry’s mother. Watts character, Susan Carpenter, relies on her child prodigy for most of the responsible actions that take place in the home. This is the first flaw of the film. Susan is playing video games when she should be sharing time with her children or learning to take some of the responsibility off of her 12 year-old. Certainly in reality there are many negligent parents in the world, Susan’s character, however, just seems odd in an unbelievable way. She is smart, yet incapable.

     Besides, Henry has a younger brother named Peter who definitely needs his mother more than Henry. Peter played by Jacob Tremblay. Tremblay should have received an Oscar nomination for his role in “Room.” His work here is fine, but not near the quality he offered in “Room.”

     Other important characters include Glenn Sickleman, the police chief, played by Dean Norris who seems to get plenty of work these days. Sickleman is the next door neighbor of Henry’s family, who might just have a secret. Maddie Ziegler plays Christina, the stepdaughter of Sickleman.

     The performances are not the film’s weaknesses. Without giving away too many plot points, the film is built around Henry’s suspicion of what is happening next door. Anyone who has seen the trailer for this film, already knows what is suspected because it is spelled out on the screen. That possibility is what moves the second half of the film forward. After the focus has shifted from Henry to Susan, a plan is put into action.

     There are many dramatic moments in the film. There are good actors involved. The film has some clever humor and some sets that are ingenious. Some of the unexpected  twists work better than others. And there are moments when the emotional elements work. The problem is that the main plot does not seem based in reality. I do not think an adult would choose actions depicted in the film.

     As the film begins to focus on the plot that is the center of the preview trailer and the film itself, everything collapses. Not one moment of the climax resonates in reality. There are simply too many holes in the story. I continued thinking, “That would not happen in the real world.” There are too many things that simply do not ring with any truth.

     Then comes the climax. I suppose it works on some level. It is certainly sweet and wholesome at the end. All things are resolved.

     I am not sure who the audience is for this film. Few adults will find it compelling. Children under ten will have a lot of uncomfortable questions. Teenagers would probably laugh rather than empathize with the characters. So who would enjoy this film? 

      Someone who does not want to think too much. Or perhaps someone who likes this cast, because they are talented. Other films have proven these cast members are quite talented.

Roger Thomas is a member of the North Carolina Film Critics Association. He reviews films for The Stanly News & Press.

’47 Meters Down’ another attempt to scare us with sharks

47 meters


     I was twelve when I was first scared by a shark movie. Almost anyone in their fifties remembers that Summer of 1975. That was the year that just hearing the right music reminded us of our communal experience. I think I saw “Jaws” three times that summer, but it may have been more.

    The effects were not always good. Half the scenes had to be changed because the mechanical shark did not work. Yet somehow, a masterpiece happened.

     Is it time for a national audience to have a scare once again? But alas, I doubt that is going to happen. First, many of the people who loved “Jaws” forty-two years ago, do not go to the movies anymore. Besides there are only a few filmmakers achieving anything close to the magic and hysteria that was “Jaws.”

     In case you are wondering, “47 Meters Down” is not the new “Jaws.”

     There are a few good moments in this latest shark flick. And even The sharks look grand. CGI can do things that a mechanical shark never could. So the film earns points for the visuals.

     So what are the problems. First, the backstories of the two leading ladies are uninteresting and unrealistic. Lisa’s ex-boyfriend is going to reconcile with her after he knows that she went down in a shark-cage? That is what her sister Kate tries to convince her. These girls do not seem to exist in a real world. Brody the sheriff of Amity Island was scared of the water but lived on an Island. Hooper made fun of him for that. Now that’s a back story.

     Second, who would choose the economic shark cage crew rather than the licensed professionals. I am not going down in shark cage but if I was, I would want to know that there were extra equipments for every possible mishap. These young women are not hesitant enough, so they go into the deep with faulty equipment and large sharks already circling the boat.

     Most of the equipment is questionable, but when it comes to the underwater breathing gear, those items look expensive. Of course, the breathing gear has to be state of the art so that once the ladies are trapped on the bottom of the ocean, they will have enough oxygen to keep the film going for nearly ninety minutes.  

     Once the ladies became trapped at the bottom, they take all sorts of risk. Unfortunately most of it simply seems implausible.

     Toward the end, there is a slight twist. I did not find it redeeming but it was a creative attempt. Overall, the film had some potential that never manifested. The characters are not created in a way to make the audience sympathize with them. The situations seem far too unbelievable.

     I could forgive most of that if one thing had happened. I wanted to be scared. I was scared at twelve when Christy was pulled under the water and  tried to grab that buoy. I was scared when the one- eyed corpse startled Hooper. I was scared when the shark came out of the water when Brody is scooping out the chum. That is when he says those classic words, “We’re gonna need a bigger boat.” Granted I was young, but “Jaws” was scary.

     As I watched “47 Meters Down” I noticed that no one in the  audience seemed to be tense. We have come a long way in forty-two years since “Jaws” and it is harder to scare audiences today. But “47 Meters” certainly could have  tried a little harder.

     If you are looking for a well-made shark film, and you want something different from “Jaws,” check out last year’s “The Shallows.”  It is not a great film, but it is a good one, far better than “47 Meters Down.”

Roger Thomas is a member of the North Carolina Film Critics Association. He reviews films for The Stanly News & Press.

‘Baby Driver’ is a thrilling ride with heart

Baby Driver


     I had seen the trailer for “Baby Driver” many times but I never realized the plot was taking place on the streets of my former residence: Atlanta, Georgia. I saw several things that looked familiar and there was also some dialogue that discussed sights and roads I used to drive on. The references to that city are just one of the many elements that made “Baby Driver” a exceptional experience for me.

     The film boasts a strong cast. Ansel Elgort plays the title character “Baby.” He was previously seen on the “Divergent” series of films of which I was not a fan. He also did “The Fault in Our Stars” which I liked more than the “Divergent” films. None of his previous work, however, comes close to his work in this film. He is the greatest strength of the film and I am looking forward to seeing what he will do next.. 

     Elgort is surrounded with talent including three villains played by Jon Hamm, Kevin Spacey, and Jamie Foxx. Lily James plays Baby’s love interest, Debora, and she does good work as a waitress who happens to meet Baby one day at the diner where she works. It is a superb cast all the way around.

     Beyond the setting and cast, the film is choreographed with so many high speed chases that I could hardly keep up with all of them. This film reminded me of the films I saw as a child and a young teenager. My brother and I were always excited when a another film about people in cars chasing one another came to our local theatre. The only title I remember was “Vanishing  Point” but back then it seemed like a car chase movie came out every other week. In the 70’s I believed in all that stunt driving; now I know that most of the car chases on screen would never actually happen in a metropolitan city. The chases in “Baby Driver” are slick and cool scenes. Plus they are incredibly fun even if they are not realistic.

     So the film has a great setting, Atlanta, a fine cast pushing a strong story, and great action sequences. All that would add up to a fairly good film. But there is so much more. Edgar Wright is not a household name in the United States. When the credits were rolling on the screen, I did not recognize his name. Wright is a British filmmaker who has given the world such films as “Shaun of the Dead,” “Hot Fuzz” and “The World’s End.” Thanks to a friend who pointed this out to me.

     Wright has done great work for years. “Shaun” came out in 2004, so it has been more than a decade that Wright has been making entertaining and fun films that are also smart. “Baby Driver” follows right along with that tradition. First and foremost, this is a action film. It is a thriller. But it is also a story of a good person trapped in a bad world. Baby wants to escape from the darkness where he dwells, but his situation denies him that freedom.

     Then there is Debora, Baby’s first love and Joseph, Baby’s foster father. These two influences challenge Baby to escape and become something new. Their presence in the story offers redemption. Whether it is within Baby’s grasp is the question between all the car chases and crimes being committed.

     I will not reveal how all this plays out, but there is a coda that I, for one, appreciated. Sometimes films end and we have questions. Sometimes actions set up a potential secret for a sequel. Sometimes when we see a film, we get the feeling that the film truly concludes; whether the story ends happy or sad, it ends right. 

     “Baby Driver” has one of those endings. It concludes just right.

Roger Thomas is a member of the North Carolina Film Critics Association. He reviews films for The Stanly News & Press.

‘Norman a film that charms and surprises



        Actually, I did not reveal the entire title of the film above. “Norman” is the title but there is also a subtitle. Here is the complete title of this intriguing film: “Norman: The Moderate Rise and Tragic Fall of a New York Fixer.” Now that is a title!

     Does this second title capture your imagination? If it does not, that is ok. It did not grab me at first either. But the more I watched Norman, obviously the main character, the more I understood his life, and his attempts at success, the more I empathized with him, and the more I hoped he would succeed.

     There is a lot going on in the film. It was all surprises for me because I had not even seen a trailer for the film. Therefore, I will try not to reveal anything about the plot. May it unfold for you as it did with me, filled with twists and turns and surprises.

     I will offer a couple of thoughts however. First, Richard Gere is great. This film should have been released toward the end of the year. That way the film might have consideration for some awards. Not knowing what is coming up, it is hard to know if Gere’s performance will even be remembered. As for now, I think it is subtilely grand. 

     I remember seeing Gere when I was in college in his role as Zack Mayo in “An Officer and a Gentleman.” He had done other films before but “Officer and Gentleman” was a great success. Gere’s character was all bravado and us young college boys were envious of his appeal to the young ladies. 

     Eight years later, he did another role which almost eclipsed his “Officer” performance. That little film made a star out of the title character, “Pretty Woman” played by Julia Roberts. The film also reminded fans how much they liked Gere. He received Golden Globe nominations for both “Officer” and “Pretty Woman” but he eventually won the Globe for the musical “Chicago.”

     The character Norman is as far from Mayo, Lewis or “Chicago’s” Billy Flynn as any characters could be. In all four films, Gere makes the audience care about these incredibly different men.

     Another element that makes the film intriguing is the politics. Many shy away from that word especially with the strong opinions circulating these days. I am pretty sure that neither of our two prominent political parties are mentioned in the film, but there is a lot of politicking by many of the characters.

     Then there are the unique twists and turns of the plot. I write often that I want to be taken somewhere I did not expect. I never want the same old thing. Norman kept my attention because I went in knowing nothing and was surprised as things developed. 

     I should offer a warning, the first fifteen minutes did make me wonder where we were going. There is a scene in a men’s store and specifically a pair of shoes that had me asking, “Am I supposed to know what is going on?” It will make sense and there is much more to come after the shoe store scene early on.

     “Norman” is written and directed by Joseph Cedar. I looked up his previous films but I had never heard of any of them. I hope he has more ideas and I hope those stories will be as insightful. 

     Finally, as I close this review, let me offer one other thought. “Norman…” has one of the best endings of this year. To say more would be stealing the experience from others. However, the ending is no better than the whole story. 

     “Norman” still surprises me; I did not expect to enjoy it so much.

Roger Thomas is a member of the North Carolina Film Critics Association. He reviews films for The Stanly News & Press.

‘Wonder Woman’ to the rescue to fix some bad super hero movies

Wonder Woman


     I  have noticed that I have been tempted often lately to call several films “busy.” When I write that word I am usually meaning that the film has too much going on at once so that it is hard to follow the story. “Wonder Woman” is a busy film. Most of the two hours and twenty-one minutes of the film are filled with action, dialogue, and revelation. But early on, I noticed something that was missing of many films these days. This film has good pacing.

     “Wonder Woman” takes time to show the audience one thing and then another. Here is an example. Those of us who are not “comic-book fans” do not know the lore of the island where Wonder Woman, who is actually named Diana, grew up and learned her ability to fight. The opening twenty minutes or so of the film lay that foundation. And with each new setting and adventure, the audience is ready for it, because the pacing of the film is right. Or perhaps smooth may be a better descriptive term.

     There are other strengths beyond the pacing. I particularly like the decision to have the entire film set during World War I. (I know that the first film featuring this Wonder Woman character was in “Batman v Superman: Dawn of Justice” but this is the first film in this series to tell her story specifically.) Setting the film sometime during the first “War to End All Wars” was a grand choice; the time and place offered exciting scenes one after another. 

     My advice to the filmmakers is to continue taking Diana through history in the second film and maybe even the third. There is no rush to get Wonder Woman to the audience’s setting in her individual films. She will be doing enough of that action in the “Justice League” films that are on the horizon. 

     Another strength of the film is the cast. Gal Gadot is perfect as the title character. She  plays a smart,  beautiful, and witty woman as I am sure she is. Chris Pine, the most recent actor to play Captain James T. Kirk, plays an American spy who works with Diana after she saves his life. One other actor who has a pivotal role is David Thewlis as Sir Patrick. He has a very interesting conversation with Diana, one of the best moments in the film.

     Speaking of dialogue, the film is very smart with words. I am not sure we have seen a “Superhero” film with this clever words since perhaps “The Dark Knight.” However, I would note that the “Marvel World” seems to be a little more successful with wit than the DC Comics. “Wonder Woman” is better, but the writers polish the humor a wee bit more.

          Beyond these strengths the technicians for the film must have been very busy. There is great cinematography, set design, special effects, costumes and a whole host of other technical items. It is simply a well-made film, one of the better ones based on a comic book.

    That is not to say that I thought everything in the film was perfect. I had issues along the way, but they were all minor. There were a few more battle scenes than necessary. I guessed early on who the main villain was. 

     However, I did not predict everything. There were a couple of things that surprised me, which I will not share; these are things one needs to discover in the darkened theatre.

     I hope “Wonder Woman” succeeds at the box office. I also hope Gal Gadot’s next role as Wonder Woman will be successful as well. That film is “Justice League” which opens November 17 of this year. May the “League” film be as well-paced and compelling as is “Wonder Woman.”

Roger Thomas is a member of the North Carolina Film Critics Association. He reviews films for The Stanly News & Press.

‘Baywatch’ bawdy version of TV show



     I remember watching “Baywatch,” the television show years ago. The series actually ran for  twelve years, spanning the gap between 1989 and 2001. I  had no idea it lasted that long. It was one of those shows that you stopped on when you were flipping channels. I doubt many people recorded the series, or actually looked forward to it.  One just happened upon it, and stayed because the cast was filled with pretty people in simple plots.

     The new film, by the same name, in some ways parallels the series. The main characters are lifeguards. Most of the action happens on the beach. Lifeguards save lives and thwart crime, as they often did in the series. So in some ways both versions of “Baywatch” are similar. However, there are differences.

     First, “Baywatch” the television series was family viewing. In fact, as I remember, the head lifeguard played by David Hasselhoff was a widower with a young son. Some of the plots of the series were built around family and the youngest among the cast.

     The new film is not for family viewing. There is a great deal of vulgar language and situations in the plot that are not for “Family Friendly.” This film earns the R-rating in the opening scene and only goes down from there. If you are easily offended, you will probably regret your decision to see this film in less time than it took to purchase your ticket.

     Another difference of the film versus the series is that there is a big plot-line that involves a lot of violence and other elements that one would not expect. There are politics involved in this main plot. There is also murders, gunplay, drugs and some other elements that are simply different from the previous “Baywatch.”

     Then there is the fact that the film is really a spoof of the original series. From the very beginning there is one joke after another. Some of the humor works, other parts are just weak or gross. I commented to a friend after seeing the film that “I think I laughed out loud five times.” That is a measure of a strong comedy for me; “How many times did it make me laugh out loud?” Five times is not a good score for a film that lasts 116 minutes.

     I realize some people like Dwayne “The Rock” Johnson. I have never been a fan though he did good job hosting “Saturday Night Live” recently. Of the films he has done, I would probably put “Moana” as his best and he is never on screen because it is an animated film. 

     The film also stars Zac Efron as a former Olympics Gold Medalist that has been hired to join the “Baywatch Staff.” Efron offers the film about as much as Johnson does. The film could have been just as well without either of them. I would note however, that it was recently reported the Efron is going to play serial killer Ted Bundy in an upcoming film entitled “Extremely Wicked, Shockingly Evil and Vile.” That might change Efron’s career.

     So, if you like silly, vulgar and often gross humor, “Baywatch” may be for you. If you like Johnson or Efron, you might enjoy this cinematic beach party. If you really liked the old series, the film has a couple of cameos of David Hasselhoff that might spark fond memories. Or if you like a film where the corrupt politicians do not get their way, “Baywatch” may be for you.

     Then, on the other hand, there are quite a few films playing in theaters near you. I can guarantee you, most of them are better than “Baywatch.” I say that for most of the films I have seen this summer, and most of the ones that are still ahead.

Roger Thomas is a member of the North Carolina Film Critics Association. He reviews films for The Stanly News & Press.

‘Pirates’: Let this please be the end of the story!



     Movie-lovers have traveled with Captain Jack Sparrow for the last fourteen years. It is almost hard to believe that the first “Pirates of the Caribbean” film opened in 2003. That one was subtitled as “The Curse of the Black Pearl.” The film was fun and who would of thought that a film based on an amusement park ride would actually be clever, but it was.

     Four sequels later, the “Pirates” stories seem to be wearing thin. But let’s cover the artistry of the new film first. “Dead Men Tell No Tales,” the fifth movie of the series has some moments. The phantom sharks are quite creative. The scene when Jack Sparrow is about to be executed by a guillotine is strong comedic moment. The flashback, which offers a younger version of Jack played by Anthony De La Torre, explains in thrilling fashion the story that previously has not been told. So there are some moments when the film works well.

     Technically, almost all the visuals impress. However, effects cannot carry a film if the story is lacking. Early on in the film there is a scene dealing with a bank vault. This whole scene is excessive. There were a lot of laughs in the theatre when I saw the film, but I kept thinking, “The filmmakers are going too big  too soon.”

     But that is just one example of excess. There is a wedding scene that plays for laughs but produces few chuckles and the wedding does nothing to enhance a film that is already collapsing. The cameo of former “Beatle” Paul McCartney contributed nothing to the film, except to excite fans of the singer. 

     Then there is the young love between Henry Turner and Carina Smyth, played by Brenton Thwaites and Kaya Scodelario respectively. Neither of these characters demonstrated the passion that existed between Henry Turner’s parents, Will Turner and Elizabeth Swann in the first three films. The cameos of Orlando Bloom and Keira Knightley, who have now played Turner and Swann in the “Pirates” films four times, do not produce a strong emotional moment either.

     In the midst of all this criticism, I would offer praise for three performances. First, Academy Award winning actor Geoffrey Rush is back as Captain Hector Barbossa and he is great. However, a more menacing pirate is Captain Salazar played by Oscar winner Javier Bardem.  Bardem is not quite as menacing here as he was in his award-winning role in “No Country for Old Men.” Third is the work of Brenton Thwaites. I have watched Thwaites in the films “Oculus” and “The Giver” and keep hoping he is going to find another good role. His early scenes work well, but as the film spirals downward there is less quality moments for any of the actors to shine.

     Which leads us finally to the climax of the film. I will not attempt to describe it, because I am not sure I could. It is very busy and very loud, as is most of the film. At least one character loses his or her life, but not even that brings a sense of peril. The film simply does not capture and hold one’s attention completely for very long.

     There were advertisements claiming that “Dead Men Tell No Tales” will be the final “Pirates” film. My guess is that will be determined by how much treasure the “Pirates” rake in in the coming weeks. I, for one, say let’s let the series end. The five films have given us some “highs and lows.” And one character most will never forget: Captain Jack Sparrow. May he always bring a smile to us when we remember him, but it is time for us and Disney to let him sail into the horizon. 

Roger Thomas is a member of the North Carolina Film Critics Association. He reviews films for The Stanly News & Press.

‘Their Finest’ a making of a historical epic in the middle of historical war

Their Finest


  Christopher Nolan has written, produced, and directed some of the best films of the last twenty years including three “Batman” films, “Inception,” “Memento,” “The Prestige,” “Interstellar” and opening this summer on July 21 “Dunkirk.” This epic film portrays one majjor event during World War II. The trailer for “Dunkirk” is already playing in theaters and it has caught my attention every time it appears on the screen. Needless to say, it is one of the films I am anticipating most in a busy summer of films.

     I mentioned this in a review of a film not directed by Nolan, because there is another film about Dunkirk that is currently playing in a theatre nearby. This film is entitled “Their Finest.”

     “Their Finest” tells the story of a British film crew who wants to honor the story of the allied soldiers at Dunkirk who lost their lives and the civilians who fought valiantly to rescue at least some of the soldiers. In the film, World War II is still raging, and the filmmakers believe they can offer a production that inspires hope, courage and perseverance.

     The crew finds a set of twins, young women, who the filmmakers believe helped some soldiers during the Dunkirk situation. As the film progresses, the twins story of taking a boat and rescuing some of the soldiers at Dunkirk gets called into question. However, the filmmakers just want an exciting story of war, true or not.

     The film is filled with colorful characters. There is a female writer, Catrin, who believes in the story she has discovered. She wants to write the story herself, but ultimately has to have a male co-writer because the producers are sure a woman cannot write a “war picture” on her own. There is also an actor with a huge ego, Ambrose Hilliard, played by Bill Nighy. Many more fun characters populate the film.

     During the midst of getting a script ready, and a film made, the characters face air raids, and other struggles. 

     The film starts slow but as it builds, there are unexpected twists and moments that are true gems.

     “Their Finest” also has a good sense of humor. There are a lot of reasons for the characters to be discouraged. London is habitually bombed. Arguments flare among the filmmakers and some of the players have difficulties in their personal lives, and yet they persevere. Sometimes their fun and joy must be manufactured for the good of all. Watching a movie like “Their Finest” or “The Zookeeper’s Wife” reminds us how small are our daily struggles. My generation, and those who have come after we “Baby Boomers,” are a bit spoiled and we need films and other things to remind us how truly blessed we are. 

      Then there are the scenes where the characters are creating the film. Films in the early 1940’s did not have the sophisticated sets and effects as most films have today. Nolan’s “Dunkirk” will certainly have a great many shots that are created by special effects long after the character filming is finished. The filmmakers in “Their Finest” have much less filmmaking magic but they have great pride in the work they do and the story they tell.

     We still have a while before “Dunkirk” opens on July 21 of this year. So if you are curious to learn about the events, or review them before you see Nolan’s story of Dunkirk, I recommend you seek “Their Finest.” 

     For me, it was one of those films that surprises; it turns out to be something better than I ever expected. As I say often, the best experience you can have at the cinema is  when a film presents you with more than you hoped.

Roger Thomas is a member of the North Carolina Film Critics Association. He reviews films for The Stanly News & Press.