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AT A GLANCE
Directed by: Patrick Vollrath
Starring: Joseph Gordon Levitt, Carlo Kitzlinger, Aylin Tezel
Available on: Amazon Prime Video beginning June 18
Critical rating: 4 stars out of 4
Joseph Gordon-Levitt stars in the thriller “7500,” available June 18 on Amazon Prime Video.
By Forrest Hartman
German writer-director Patrick Vollrath has created one of the most claustrophobic, intense, well-acted movies of 2020, and these qualities are advantageous in a streaming media environment. Since the Covid-19 pandemic has largely put big-screen features on hold, we’ve had time to reflect on the difference between watching at home versus in a theater. The shared big-screen experience has joys that will never be recreated in one’s family room, but there are certain pictures that actually play better at home. I believe “7500” is one of them.
The terrorist thriller is streaming exclusively on Amazon Prime Video, included with the popular Amazon Prime delivery service, and the reason it feels so good in a home setting is that Vollrath and co-writer Senad Halibasic have gone out of the way to make it the antithesis of blockbusters like “Avengers: Endgame” and “Star Wars: The Rise of Skywalker.” Much of the appeal in the latter movies is spectacle. The scope of those pictures is massive, as they transport viewers to different worlds, balancing dialog and exposition against action sequences that are literally packed with mind-blowing special effects. “7500” is smaller in every way, and that’s a good thing.
The movie starts at a leisurely pace, with Vollrath introducing us to our protagonist, Tobias Ellis (Joseph Gordon-Levitt), one of two commercial pilots in charge of a flight from Berlin to Paris. Viewers enter the cockpit, where Tobias gets to know the flight’s captain, Michael (Carlo Kitzlinger), and works through routine pre-flight tasks. There’s not much space in the plane, and cinematographer Sebastian Thaler keeps the framing simple. This works well in a home viewing environment. If you watch with the lights dim, you might even feel as though you are sitting beside Tobias and Michael, helping them prepare for the trip. Unlike the spectacle that makes “Avengers” films special, “7500” is intimate, and intimacy works in our houses.
Vollrath does some of his finest character development before the plane leaves the ground. Before takeoff, we know that Tobias is in a serious relationship with one of the flight attendants. They aren’t married, but they live together and have a child. They also strive to keep their professional and private lives separate. Michael is established as a serious-but-amiable captain, and we learn that – despite Tobias’ youth – he has been flying for a decade. Each of these seemingly mundane details matters, and Vollrath refuses to rush through them with shortcuts. That patience pays dividends later.
Although “7500” begins at a trot, it hits full gallop about 20 minutes in, when one of several terrorists forces his way into the cockpit. This starts a chain of events leading Tobias to a series of near-impossible choices, all elevating the tension for the remainder of the picture’s 90 minutes. Throughout, Vollrath and Thaler remain focused on Tobias because this is his story.
Gordon-Levitt is a talent, who has turned in impressive work in projects ranging from the Christopher Nolan thriller “Inception” to the cancer drama “50/50.” Here, he is typically self-assured. Tobias is mild-mannered and kind, but also smart and disciplined. He doesn’t always make the right choices, and it’s enjoyable for viewers to imagine what they would do in his place. But … what is the right choice in an impossible situation? The movie is intriguing because it shows a good man doing his best to find hope in a terrible place. Saying that Gordon-Levitt’s performance is among the best of the year so far, is minimizing his efforts since the cinematic year is so off-kilter. But this is great work. The supporting cast is also solid, but this is Gordon-Levitt’s film, as every twist centers on Tobias’ decisions.
Vollrath makes the most of the confined setting … something that could hurt a weaker filmmaker. In some respects, “7500” must have been easy to produce. A single location, small cast and minimal set dressing all speed the shooting process, but these things come with restraints. When all the action is set in an airplane cockpit, there are no astonishing backdrops or special effects to use as a crutch. The weight of the storytelling is relegated to the script and its handful of actors … each forced to make up for the fact that the scenery is unchanged for 90 minutes. Again, this plays into the strengths of at-home viewing.
As long as one watches distraction-free, it is easy to get sucked into Tobias’ world. It is easy to feel his pain, his anguish, and his uncertainty. And “feeling” is what great directors make us do.
AT A GLANCE
Directed by: Kenneth Branagh
Starring: Ferdia Shaw, Lara McDonnell, Josh Gad, Tamara Smart, Nonzo Anozie, Colin Farrell and Judi Dench
Critical rating: 1½ stars out of 4
Ferdia Shaw stars in “Artemis Fowl,” available now on Disney Plus.
By Forrest Hartman
It’s fair to say Kenneth Branagh is capable of greatness. We know this thanks to memorable acting turns in films ranging from “Dunkirk” to “Othello” (1995) and because of his equally thrilling work behind the camera.
Branagh is the rare screen star who has shown as much talent and breadth as a director as he has when chewing scenery. Although much of his directorial work is centered on Shakespeare adaptations – think “Henry V” and “Much Ado About Nothing” – he has proven himself equally capable in the superhero (“Thor”) and mystery “Murder on the Orient Express” (2017) genres.
Branagh is also adept at entertaining the family crowd, as one of his most-charming directorial works is Disney’s 2015 live-action reimagining of “Cinderella.” That fact made his attachment to the “Artemis Fowl” screen adaptation promising. Originally, intended as a May theatrical release, the movie was derailed by the Covid-19 pandemic and shifted to a June 12 debut on the Disney Plus streaming service. Since most of Disney’s high-profile 2020 pictures have been delayed rather than shifted to this platform, one imagines executives knew what they had when Branagh turned it in. It’s not good.
Although we know Branagh is capable of greatness due to his lengthy body of work, almost everything we know about the title character in “Artemis Fowl” is due to voiceover narration or poorly developed plot contrivances that leave too much to the imagination. In fact, “Artemis Fowl” is so poorly developed – both in terms of characterization and world building – that it’s hard to imagine how Branagh would let this pass.
The same can be said of the admirable cast. Ferdia Shaw, who plays young Artemis, is joined by Colin Farrell (Artemis Fowl Senior), Josh Gad, Judi Dench, Lara McDonnell and Tamara Smart. There is enough ability in this group for one to expect a serviceable film. Instead, we get a hodgepodge that – although nifty to look at – alternates between confusing, dull and outright frustrating. The latter is true because there is good material to work with.
The movie is based on the well-received young adult novels by author Eoin Colfer, and the focus is on the title character, a 12-year-old so bright that he has no patience for school. The intolerance stems from the fact that Artemis knows more than virtually everyone, including his teachers and the psychologist who ineffectually attempts to knock him down a peg. Viewers learn these background points through terse narration and a handful of hasty scenes that do nothing to build empathy with Artemis. That’s problematic because one has to care about him to invest in the adventure that follows.
Although young Artemis hates school, he dotes on his father (Artemis Senior), a single parent who thrills his son with fanciful stories about fairies, goblins and other mystical creatures. These seem like fantasy tales until Artemis Senior goes missing, and young Artemis discovers that his father has actually been feeding him the secrets of a hidden world. What’s more, Artemis must tap into that world to save his dad.
The movie’s visuals are admirable. In fact, they are quite good for a picture included as part of the base, original content of a streaming service. These are special effects one would expect from a big screen feature … because that’s what was initially intended. It’s not easy to make fantasy material look believable, but Branagh and his crew succeed on that front.
Viewers are legitimately transported to a land where fairies and goblins are real, and it’s all very dazzling and Harry Potter-like. “Artemis Fowl” would seem, then, to be a perfect film for fans of that series. Alas, the Potter features are painstakingly mapped out so viewers understand the rules of the magical world they enter. This is not so with “Fowl,” which teases viewers without elaborating. That leads to a long string of questions that are never adequately answered.
Equally annoying is the lack of time given each key character. Artemis Junior is an outline at best. His father gets too little screen time to serve as anything other than a treasure for Artemis to chase, and Holly Short (a fairy who is key to the action) makes life-altering decisions with whimsical ease. Even the narrator, a “giant” dwarf named Mulch Diggums, is little more than a sketch. One might chalk this up to too many cuts if the film was longer, but at 93 minutes, “Artemis Fowl” could have added plentiful background without overstaying its welcome.
Every writing coach tells students to “show” readers what’s happening rather than “tell” them. The same advice is crucial with film, but “Artemis Fowl” is invested only in telling. Viewers never see the souls of the characters and – because of this – they’re never allowed to feel much of anything. A movie without feeling is a movie that fails.
The 24th annual Critics’ Choice Awards were doled out Sunday in Santa Monica. The awards are voted on by the Broadcast Film Critics Association (Forrest is a voting member) and Broadcast Television Journalists Association. Following is a complete list of winners.
Christian Bale – “Vice” (Annapurna)
BEST ACTRESS – TIE
Glenn Close – “The Wife” (Sony Pictures Classics)
Lady Gaga – “A Star Is Born” (Warner Bros.)
BEST SUPPORTING ACTOR
Mahershala Ali – “Green Book” (Universal)
BEST SUPPORTING ACTRESS
Regina King – “If Beale Street Could Talk” (Annapurna)
BEST YOUNG ACTOR/ACTRESS
Elsie Fisher – “Eighth Grade” (A24)
BEST ACTING ENSEMBLE
“The Favourite” (Fox Searchlight)
Alfonso Cuarón – “Roma” (Netflix)
BEST ORIGINAL SCREENPLAY
Paul Schrader – “First Reformed” (A24)
BEST ADAPTED SCREENPLAY
Barry Jenkins – “If Beale Street Could Talk” (Annapurna)
Alfonso Cuarón – “Roma” (Netflix)
BEST PRODUCTION DESIGN
Hannah Beachler, Jay Hart – “Black Panther” (Disney)
Tom Cross – “First Man” (Universal)
BEST COSTUME DESIGN
Ruth Carter – “Black Panther” (Disney)
BEST HAIR AND MAKEUP
BEST VISUAL EFFECTS
“Black Panther” (Disney)
BEST ANIMATED FEATURE
“Spider-Man: Into the Spider-Verse” (Sony)
BEST ACTION MOVIE
“Mission: Impossible – Fallout” (Paramount)
“Crazy Rich Asians” (Warner Bros.)
BEST ACTOR IN A COMEDY
Christian Bale – “Vice” (Annapurna)
BEST ACTRESS IN A COMEDY
Olivia Colman – “The Favourite” (Fox Searchlight)
BEST SCI-FI OR HORROR MOVIE
“A Quiet Place” (Paramount)
BEST FOREIGN LANGUAGE FILM
Shallow – “A Star Is Born” (Warner Bros.)
Justin Hurwitz – “First Man” (Universal)
BEST DRAMA SERIES
“The Americans” (FX Networks)
BEST ACTOR IN A DRAMA SERIES
Matthew Rhys – “The Americans” (FX Networks)
BEST ACTRESS IN A DRAMA SERIES
Sandra Oh – “Killing Eve” (BBC America)
BEST SUPPORTING ACTOR IN A DRAMA SERIES
Noah Emmerich – “The Americans” (FX Networks)
BEST SUPPORTING ACTRESS IN A DRAMA SERIES
Thandie Newton – “Westworld” (HBO)
BEST COMEDY SERIES
“The Marvelous Mrs. Maisel” (Amazon)
BEST ACTOR IN A COMEDY SERIES
Bill Hader – “Barry” (HBO)
BEST ACTRESS IN A COMEDY SERIES
Rachel Brosnahan – “The Marvelous Mrs. Maisel” (Amazon)
BEST SUPPORTING ACTOR IN A COMEDY SERIES
Henry Winkler – “Barry” (HBO)
BEST SUPPORTING ACTRESS IN A COMEDY SERIES
Alex Borstein – “The Marvelous Mrs. Maisel” (Amazon)
BEST LIMITED SERIES
“The Assassination of Gianni Versace: American Crime Story” (FX Networks)
BEST MOVIE MADE FOR TELEVISION
“Jesus Christ Superstar Live in Concert” (NBC)
BEST ACTOR IN A LIMITED SERIES OR MOVIE MADE FOR TELEVISION
Darren Criss – “The Assassination of Gianni Versace: American Crime Story” (FX Networks)
BEST ACTRESS IN A LIMITED SERIES OR MOVIE MADE FOR TELEVISION – TIE
Amy Adams – “Sharp Objects” (HBO)
Patricia Arquette – “Escape at Dannemora” (Showtime)
BEST SUPPORTING ACTOR IN A LIMITED SERIES OR MOVIE MADE FOR TELEVISION
Ben Whishaw – “A Very English Scandal” (Amazon)
BEST SUPPORTING ACTRESS IN A LIMITED SERIES OR MOVIE MADE FOR TELEVISION
Patricia Clarkson – “Sharp Objects” (HBO)
BEST ANIMATED SERIES
“BoJack Horseman” (Netflix)
Batman v Superman: Dawn of Justice
151 minutes, Rated PG-13
Critical rating: 3 stars out of 4
Directed by: Zack Snyder (“300,” “Watchmen,” “Man of Steel”)
Starring: Ben Affleck, Henry Cavill, Amy Adams, Jesse Eisenberg and Gal Gadot
Rated: PG-13 for intense sequences of violence and action throughout, and some sensuality
The story: The movie is set after 2013’s “Man of Steel” in a world that has come to love Superman’s (Henry Cavill) heroic deeds but fear his immense power. One of the people most concerned about Superman’s extraordinary abilities is Bruce Wayne (Ben Affleck), the billionaire businessman who moonlights as Batman. Wayne watched as Superman battled the Kryptonian super villain Zod, laying waste to much of Metropolis in the process. Although Superman didn’t intend on the destruction, Wayne takes it personally because many of his employees were killed when a building was destroyed. At the same time, Superman is growing increasingly concerned about Batman’s vigilante tactics. This, and some meddling by Lex Luthor (Jesse Eisenberg), leads to a showdown between the two heroes.
The scoop: The film boasts plenty of silly moments, but it’s also a lot of fun. Director Zack Snyder’s visuals are beautiful, and he allows time for the cast to develop their characters. Cavill and Affleck are good, as is Gal Gadot who makes an appearance as Wonder Woman. Although some plot points strain credibility, viewers willing to go for the ride can have plenty of fun.
Forrest recently interviewed Ryan Reynolds and T.J. Miller about their box office smash “Deadpool” and the full conversation is up on his new YouTube channel, Forrest on Film.
Here’s hoping you enjoy!
Considering the fact that I’ve been offering broadcast film reviews to the public for years, I probably should have started a YouTube channel long ago. Well, better late than never. A recent interview with Ryan Reynolds and T.J. Miller, about the film “Deadpool,” inspired me to make the launch. In the future, I plan to populate the channel with movie reviews, other film related insights and the occasional interview. So, pop by and subscribe if you like what you see: http://www.youtube.com/forresthartmanFILM
The Critics’ Choice Awards were handed out Sunday in Santa Monica. Following is a full list of winners.
BEST PICTURE: Spotlight
BEST ACTOR: Leonardo DiCaprio – The Revenant
BEST ACTRESS: Brie Larson – Room
BEST SUPPORTING ACTOR: Sylvester Stallone – Creed
BEST SUPPORTING ACTRESS: Alicia Vikander – The Danish Girl
BEST YOUNG ACTOR/ACTRESS: Jacob Tremblay – Room
BEST ACTING ENSEMBLE: Spotlight
BEST DIRECTOR: George Miller – Mad Max: Fury Road
BEST ORIGINAL SCREENPLAY: Josh Singer and Tom McCarthy – Spotlight
BEST ADAPTED SCREENPLAY: Charles Randolph and Adam McKay – The Big Short
BEST CINEMATOGRAPHY: The Revenant – Emmanuel Lubezki
BEST PRODUCTION DESIGN: Mad Max: Fury Road – Colin Gibson
BEST EDITING: Mad Max: Fury Road – Margaret Sixel
BEST COSTUME DESIGN: Mad Max: Fury Road – Jenny Beavan
BEST HAIR & MAKEUP: Mad Max: Fury Road
BEST VISUAL EFFECTS: Mad Max: Fury Road
BEST ANIMATED FEATURE: Inside Out
BEST ACTION MOVIE: Mad Max: Fury Road
BEST ACTOR IN AN ACTION MOVIE: Tom Hardy – Mad Max: Fury Road
BEST ACTRESS IN AN ACTION MOVIE: Charlize Theron – Mad Max: Fury Road
BEST COMEDY: The Big Short
BEST ACTOR IN A COMEDY: Christian Bale – The Big Short
BEST ACTRESS IN A COMEDY: Amy Schumer – Trainwreck
BEST SCI-FI/HORROR MOVIE: Ex Machina
BEST FOREIGN LANGUAGE FILM: Son of Saul
BEST DOCUMENTARY FEATURE: Amy
BEST SONG: Furious 7 – “See You Again”
BEST SCORE: The Hateful Eight – Ennio Morricone
BEST ACTOR IN A COMEDY SERIES: Jeffrey Tambor – Transparent
BEST ACTOR IN A DRAMA SERIES: Rami Malek – Mr. Robot
BEST ACTOR IN A MOVIE MADE FOR TELEVISION OR LIMITED SERIES: Idris Elba – Luther
BEST ACTRESS IN A COMEDY SERIES: Rachel Bloom – Crazy Ex-Girlfriend
BEST ACTRESS IN A DRAMA SERIES: Carrie Coon – The Leftovers
BEST ACTRESS IN A MOVIE MADE FOR TELEVISION OR LIMITED SERIES: Kirsten Dunst – Fargo
BEST COMEDY SERIES: Master of None
BEST DRAMA SERIES: Mr. Robot
BEST GUEST ACTOR/ACTRESS IN A COMEDY SERIES: Timothy Olyphant – The Grinder
BEST GUEST ACTOR/ACTRESS IN A DRAMA SERIES: Margo Martindale – The Good Wife
BEST MOVIE MADE FOR TELEVISION OR LIMITED SERIES: Fargo
BEST SUPPORTING ACTOR IN A COMEDY SERIES: Andre Braugher – Brooklyn Nine-Nine
BEST SUPPORTING ACTOR IN A DRAMA SERIES: Christian Slater – Mr. Robot
BEST SUPPORTING ACTOR IN A MOVIE MADE FOR TELEVISION OR LIMITED SERIES: Jesse Plemons – Fargo
BEST SUPPORTING ACTRESS IN A COMEDY SERIES: Mayim Bialik – The Big Bang Theory
BEST SUPPORTING ACTRESS IN A DRAMA SERIES: Constance Zimmer – UnREAL
BEST SUPPORTING ACTRESS IN A MOVIE MADE FOR TELEVISION OR LIMITED SERIES: Jean Smart – Fargo
BEST ANIMATION SERIES: BoJack Horseman
BEST REALITY SHOW – COMPETITION: The Voice
BEST REALITY SHOW HOST: James Lipton – Inside the Actors Studio
BEST STRUCTURED REALITY SHOW: Shark Tank
BEST TALK SHOW: Last Week Tonight with John Oliver
BEST UNSTRUCTURED REALITY SHOW: Anthony Bourdain: Parts Unknown