Tag Archives: C-

THE 15:17 TO PARIS

Producer: Clint Eastwood, Jessica Meier, Tim Moore and Kristina Rivera
Director: Clint Eastwood
Writer: Dorothy Blyskal
Stars: Anthony Sadler, Alek Skarlatos, Spencer Stone, Jenna Fischer, Judy Greer, Ray Corasani, Paul-Mikel Williams, William Jennings and Bryce Gheisar
Studio: Warner Bros. Pictures

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On paper, this latest entry in Clint Eastwood’s string of films about American heroes (see “American Sniper” and “Sully”) must have sounded like an interesting experiment—a recreation of the thwarting of a recent terrorist attack in which the true-life protagonists play themselves. In the event, however, despite its potent subject matter “The 15:17 to Paris” proves inconsequential, largely because of the banality of the dialogue, direction that for the most part feels listless and unfocused, and strenuous stabs at acting by the leads that unfortunately fall far short.

The shortcomings begin with the script drawn by Dorothy Blyskal from the non-fiction account of their ordeal by Spencer Stone, Alek Skarlatos and Anthony Sadler (with help from Jeffrey E. Stern), which falls into a number of distinct parts. After an introduction reminiscent of (but greatly inferior to) the start of Hitchcock’s “Strangers on a Train” in its emphasis on waist-down shots of moving feet, we see the men, along with Ayoub El-Khazzani (Ray Corasani), boarding the fateful train on which they will confront each other on August 21, 2015. There will be periodic shots back to this lead-up to the encounter throughout, a tactic that actually undermines suspense rather than stoking it.

Then we flash back to the childhood of the three unruly friends. Spencer (William Jennings) and Alek (Bryce Gheisar) are close pals who stand apart from their classmates at a Sacramento Christian school, not least because of their insistence on wearing camouflage shirts, and are ridden hard by most of the teachers and the principal. Both are living with single moms (Judy Greer and Jenna Fischer, respectively) and seem to have a fixation on military role-playing. (It’s a mite unsettling to find Spencer hoarding a large collection of toy guns, for instance, and having a poster for “Full Metal Jacket” on his wall.)

The buddies link up with another student making regular trips to the principal’s office—cool dude Sadler (Paul-Mikel Williams), who’s soon trading darts with them in mock battles in the California woods. Though they’re separated when Alek moves with his dad to Oregon and Sadler transfers to public school, they remain close friends.

The focus now shifts almost exclusively to Stone, who decides to join the Air Force and goes through rigorous training to make the grade (echoes of “Jacket” again, though the outcome is nowhere near as dire). As both he and Skarlatos, who’s finishing up a tour in Afghanistan with the Oregon National Guard, are approaching leaves, they decide to meet and tour Europe together, and Stone invites Sadler, a Cal State student, to join them.

This leads into a long, rambling section of the picture depicting their visiting Rome, Venice, Berlin and Amsterdam—endless shots of them walking about, meeting locals and other Americans, and taking innumerable selfies, until they board the train to Paris. It’s then that the violence erupts, and they subdue and capture the gunman, in the process saving a passenger who has been shot. The picture closes, in a sequence blending news footage with newly-shot material, with their being awarded honors by French President François Hollande. (He also pins ribbons on a Brit and a couple of Frenchmen, though they receive little attention here.)

The train sequence is easily the best part of “The 15:17 to Paris,” shot largely with a hand-held camera by cinematographer Tom Stern, even if the lead-up to it, in which Ayoub is shown readying himself for the assault, generates surprisingly little tension as staged. The childhood scenes have an odd Afterschool Special feel that even Greer and Fischer can’t penetrate, while the touristy midsection is frankly as boring as watching someone else’s home movies of their trips abroad. Clumsy allusions in the dialogue about Stone’s feeling that a higher power is directing him to some important purpose are especially embarrassing, as are the spare, tinny music cues by Christian Jacob sprinkled throughout.

As for the three young men, they are undoubtedly heroes, deserving of celebration. They are not, however, actors. Sadler, who possesses a natural, loose charm, comes off best, though his background after elementary school is given short shrift. Skarlatos, similarly, gets little background treatment, and doesn’t appear very comfortable on camera.

Neither does Stone, quite frankly, though the burden of carrying the picture is placed on his broad shoulders. He handles the concluding action, as one might expect, convincingly, but his line readings have the frantic tone of an amateur straining desperately to seem convincing. Oddly, a professional actor would probably have brought greater authenticity to Stone than Stone himself does.

The story of Stone, Skarlatos and Sadler is, as Hollande said, an inspiring one that deserved to be told. It’s a story, though, that deserved to be told better than Eastwood manages to do.

FOREVER MY GIRL

Producer: Mickey Liddell, Jennifer Monroe and Pete Shilaimon
Director: Bethany Ashton Wolf
Writer: Bethany Ashton Wolf
Stars: Alex Roe, Jessica Rothe, Abby Rider Forstan, John Benjamin Hickey, Tyler Riggs, Peter Cambor, Gillian Vigman and Travis Tritt
Studio: Roadshow Attractions

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The stories told in most country songs are pretty rudimentary, and so is the one Bethany Ashton Wolf relates about a self-absorbed country-western superstar forced to confront his responsibilities in “Forever My Girl.” Using a novel by Heidi McLaughlin as inspiration, to use that term loosely indeed, Wolf has fashioned a sappy, mawkish romantic drama about Liam Page (Alex Roe), who left his small-town fiancée Josie (Jessica Rothe) literally at the altar for a life of musical success, only to return to his childhood home in St. Augustine, Louisiana eight years later (moved by the sudden death of an old friend) to find her the single mother of an adorable daughter named Billy (Abby Rider Forsten), who’s just a bit over seven, of course.

The revelation comes as a shock to Liam, who’s spent the intervening years becoming a country-western icon, his face gracing the cover of every fan magazine there is. He’s also turned into a rather spoiled, self-indulgent bad boy, encouraged by his pushy publicist Doris (Gillian Vigman) and only barely kept in line by his good-natured but frazzled road manager Sam (Peter Cambor). Yet he cherishes his old cell phone, simply because it contains Josie’s last message to him—you know, the one he never answered.

Liam is determined to do the right thing once he finds out about Billy, wanting to get close to Josie again, and to get to know his daughter, who turns out—miraculously—to possess hidden musical talent. Josie’s brother Jake (Tyler Riggs) is not too happy about his reappearance, but Liam’s father Brian (John Benjamin Hickey), the local pastor, welcomes his son back into the modest family home with a knowing smile and barely a hint of a discouraging word. (He also serves to provide some comic relief surrounding the coffee maker Liam buys him.)

Much of “Forever My Girl” is devoted to Liam’s renewed romancing of Josie (including one of those extravagant outings rich guys often indulge in to impress their inamoratas, complete with a helicopter ride to New Orleans and a session in a horse-drawn carriage there), and his bonding with Billy. But he is beset with doubts about whether he has the stuff to be a good father—his reluctance to commit is explained in very simplistic psychological terms by flashbacks to the death of his mother—while Doris and Sam keep reminding him of his obligations to his fans and the record label that pays him. It comes as no surprise, however, that in the end everything turns out sweetly.

Roe cuts a handsome figure as Liam, though it’s hard to believe for an instant that’s he’s a superstar in any field, while Rothe does a hundred and eighty degree turn from her role in “Happy Death Day,” morphing from a hard-as-nails mean girl to a young mother with a totally bland personality. Forsten is one of those uber-precocious sitcom kids you might tire of pretty quickly, while the rest of the cast go through their paces without a hint of the irony the story would seem to demand. (Among them is singer Travis Tritt, who plays a fellow who sings at the town’s watering hole and reminiscences about appearing there with Liam’s mom.)

This is a modest production and looks it, with Georgia locations standing in for the little town of St. Augustine. For the record John Collins served as production designer, Duane Mankiller as cinematographer, and Priscilla Nedd-Friendly as editor. Brett Boyett contributed the nondescript music score, and collaborated with Jackson Odell on the forgettable songs.

The publicity likens this movie to those made from Nicholas Sparks’ books. Unhappily, the comparison is all too apt.