By Marc S. Sanders

A commercial passenger plane carrying a bomb with enough explosives to wipe out the entire eastern seaboard of the United States has been hijacked.  Fortunately, Steven Seagal has come up with an idea to get his squad of commandos on board and contain the threat.  It’s also a blessing that in the first twenty minutes of Executive Decision, Seagal dies during the midair transfer.  There!  I spoiled it for you.  I’m not big on spoilers, but this is worth it because I believe it’ll entice you even more to watch this scrappy, under the radar action picture directed by Stuart Baird.

Before all of the action gets started, Kurt Russell makes his introduction attempting to land a small plane during a flying lesson.  I wonder if that’ll play into the story later.  Hmmm!!!! Russell plays David Grant, a consulting analyst for the US Army. Dressed in his tuxedo, he’s swept up from a dinner party and informed of the terrorist hijacking at play.  Grant is familiar with the lead terrorist and his ideals.  For whatever reason he’s instructed to board a specialized jet with Seagal’s crew.  This jet carries a tube that will attach to the hull of the captive plane in midflight. The soldiers will climb aboard and go to work.  Complications ensue though, and after that harrowing scene is over, four members of the elite squad (one becomes paralyzed) have made it on board along with Grant and the design engineer (Oliver Platt) of the jet.  Now the fun begins. 

Baird invests a lot of moments with the commandos (led by John Leguizamo) sneaking around, and drilling small holes in the ceiling and floorboards of the plane to insert tiny cameras and get a look at the activity going on.  Every so often the terrorists threaten or give scary looks and we hope they don’t look down that hallway or in the elevator shaft.  The bomb also has to be deactivated but it’s never as easy as knowing to cut the blue or red wire, and there’s a “sleeper” passenger who can detonate the bomb by remote.  Where on the plane is that guy, though?  As well, the government debates with shooting down the plane of 400 passengers before it reaches America.  So, there’s a lot going on here.  Kurt Russell is especially good as a “work the problem” kind of leader who manages to earn the assistance of a flight attendant (Halle Berry).  We may know how this standard story will end up.  However, that doesn’t mean the journey can’t keep us on pins and needles. 

Executive Decision is never boring.  It’s engaging from beginning to end, even if we’ve seen this very basic formula countless times before.  Credit has to go to Stuart Baird and his lengthy experience as a film editor (the Superman and Lethal Weapon films), as well as the cast.  Kurt Russell is always reliable with upholding the tension of a situation.  Like Harrison Ford, he’s really good at playing the everyman caught up in a jarring, nerve-wracking situation.  Look at his film Breakdown for further evidence. 

Beyond Seagal’s early demise, the most amusing part of Executive Decision is watching Marla Maples Trump as another flight attendant emoting the worst panicked expressions for Halle Berry to act off.  Marla never delivers a single word of dialogue.  Even in 1996, long before the Trump name became regarded for many other reasons I need not discuss here, this likely unintended joke generated so much amusement for me, personally.  It must be seen to be believed.

That being said. Don’t watch Executive Decision just for Marla Maples Trump and Steven Seagal.  Watch it for the taut, suspenseful story it is, with a fantastic lead role performance from Kurt Russell, a solid supporting cast and a gripping assembly of tension from Stuart Baird.


By Marc S. Sanders

Whether you’re the storyteller or the viewer/reader, you take a chance with satire.  The darker the satire is, the even greater the risk you take. A film like The Menu, from director Mark Mylod, is one such example. You’ll hate it…like my wife did, despite the lively conversation we had afterwards.  On the other hand, you might love its invention to strike back at an upper class that lacks any clue or respect for the talents of others. Then again, you just might only like it.  Well…at least I liked it.

Ralph Fiennes’ résumé has earned a reputation to intimidate an audience. He is a superb actor who can be absolutely frightening as a Nazi in Schindler’s List, or heartbreaking as a torn affiliate of a deceitful plot like in Quiz Show. He can also go toe to toe as a Greek god against Liam Neeson, or he can demand that James Bond “Stand down!” and strike with snake like glee at Harry Potter. He can also teeter along the antics of the devil himself as he portrays the world’s most esteemed chef in The Menu.

A collection of guests is escorted by boat to a remote island where the finest restaurant is located and run by Chef Slowik (Fiennes), with assistance from Elsa (Hong Chau).  There’s Tyler (Nicholas Hoult), a die-hard fan of the chef’s craft with his date Margot (Anya Taylor-Joy), who is nowhere near as impressed.  Tyler has to remind Margot not to smoke, otherwise it’ll destroy her palette for taste.  There’s an older couple who has frequented the Chef’s dining establishments before and are back for another visit.  There are a pair of restaurant critics. There’s a movie star (John Leguizamo) with his young assistant.  Finally, there is a trio of sophomoric, yuppie businessmen who are here because their last monthly commission likely afforded this exclusive opportunity, and their favorite hockey team was out of town.

When the guests arrive on the island, Elsa gives them a tour ahead of the restaurant where they will eventually dine.  A cabin is displayed to show how the meats are aged over a period of 152 days. Quite specific! One of the yuppies has the audacity to ask what happens if you age it to day 153. I don’t recall Elsa’s response.  I do remember her disdain for the question though. They walk through the lodge where Elsa explains that the entire staff reside and sleep in the one room together. One cot for each person. Odd, but okay. Moving on is a quick pass by the cottage where the Chef resides, and no one is permitted to enter. Oooo!!!! I know one thing I expect to happen.

It is important to note that I opted not to read up on anything The Menu was about.  I didn’t know if I was to see a comedy, drama or horror film.  As this tour continued though, I had eerie recollections of the film Midsommar, directed by Ari Aster. That movie still gives me the bejeebees.  So much so that I could not bring myself to write an article about it.  Like that film, our cast has become isolated in a desolate locale, and the guide could not be more unsettling.  When they arrive at the restaurant, a large horizontal door is thunderously closed behind them. Margot gives a quick look back over her shoulder. This cannot be good.

Lending to the structure of the film, courses are presented with a startling clap of the hands from Chef Slowik. Mark Mylod executes a nice pattern of gracefully displaying text across the screen describing what the next featured course is, along with its fine ingredients.  It is elegant but also only partially revealing of some of the guests. Tyler isn’t the kind of fan that Chef would welcome.  After a request has been made not to take pictures of the dishes, he does so anyway.  He is uncouth with his commentary and clumsy as well.  Additionally, bewildering for Chef Slowik is the presence of Margot. He was not expecting her to attend. Yet, here she is and he cannot understand why.

The Menu does not deviate from its intent to be strange. A bread dish is presented without any bread! Only the dips. Tyler is absolutely impressed. Margot thinks it is ridiculous. By the time, the fourth course has arrived, a shocking presentation is exhibited to the guests and that is where the film takes a graphic turn.

It’s best not to reveal much about the movie.  Its features work if you share the perspective of the guests, particularly Margot. What you are left to decide though is if you accept that dark satirical nature of the piece.  You will or you won’t.

I did not find The Menu to be very symbolic, allegorical, or even a reflection of the natures of social classes who partake in exclusive high-end cuisine.  Chef Slowik has prepared a specific plan for this assortment of guests. The execution and outcome cater to his personal satisfaction and no one else’s.  I guess that’s why I only liked the wit behind the message of the film.  I just could not fully embrace its invention.

My experience with satire typically allows me to think about how people behave and what they can learn from outrageous proposals or extreme actions. Network explores how the world responds to what is proposed for satisfying television audiences while generating business profits.  A film like The Menu delves into grandiose, unheard of actions that will satisfy the one puppet master behind everything you are seeing.  Maybe I was looking for the message the Chef delivers to include my own misgivings and sins and temptations in his overall delivery.  Instead, his machinations rely on these specific guests on this particular night, and so I kind of felt left out of the circle. As the guests are specifically affected by the developments of the evening, I can’t say I had any care or sense of suspense for them.  Nor did I care for Chef’s own satisfaction as the evening carries on.

The cast is a terrific eclectic assortment. Anya Taylor-Joy is a smart and forthright hero against Ralph Fiennes’ antagonist. A well written conclusion that made me applaud is included by her character’s deductive reasoning. The other players though are not given much fat to chew on in terms of dialogue or scenes.  Their purpose is specifically explained, and then they are left to watch and wait for the climax of the film. I like the veil that is lifted from Margot’s character.  I would have welcomed a little more subtext on the other characters, however. Again, their purpose is laid out, but I think the film, which clocks in at around an hour and forty-five minutes, could have dug a little deeper into the guests sitting at the other tables. Not to mention those few who also serve on the Chef’s cooking staff.

The Menu is an unusual film, like an episode of Tales From The Darkside or The Twilight Zone.  It is limited like a TV episode. I just think it needed two or three more courses to savor just a little more meat on the bone.


By Marc S. Sanders

Michael Connolly authored a series of best seller legal thrillers featuring his famed character Mickey Haller. His most favored book of that series was adapted into a 2011 film called The Lincoln Lawyer with Matthew McConaughey in the role and directed by Brad Furman. I only wish more of Connolly’s books were adapted thereafter, because this movie is at least as good as the novel.

McConaughey is well cast as Haller, a defense attorney who operates out of his Lincoln Town Car working to get low level criminals off on technicalities or by easy settlements with the prosecution. His clients range from prostitutes accused of possession to notorious motorcycle gang members. When these clients can’t pay, Mickey wisely becomes resourceful with favors they can provide later on. One of his former clients drives the car while Mickey works in the back seat making calls out of his mobile office.

Louis Roulet (Ryan Phillippe) has just been arrested for beating up a prostitute at knifepoint. Roulet is a spoiled, preppy thirty something who is protected by the vast wealth of his mother (Frances Fisher) and their successful real estate enterprise. So it’s surprising that Roulet turns to street lawyer Mickey to be his legal counsel. At the same time though, this is a big score in legal fees. So Mickey is enthusiastic to accept the case, and go to trial. Louis doesn’t want it any other way to prove and insist upon his innocence.

It wouldn’t be fair to reveal much more about The Lincoln Lawyer because it’s got a lot of welcome surprises and twists along the way. What I can reiterate is how good an actor Matthew McConaughey is as I’ve written before. He just performs with a relaxed and confident swagger about himself. Mickey Haller is written as a smart and very strategic attorney. He knows the ins and outs of the courtrooms. He not only uses his clients for additional help, but he also sidles up to the bailiffs so he gets his clients cut ahead of the line to quickly face a judge. McConaughey is really good at not glamorizing the intelligence of Mickey Haller, but rather the charming personality of the guy. The character doesn’t come off as having all the answers at his fingertips, even though he likely does. It makes the film that much more dynamic to see McConaughey’s personality ahead of a Sherlock Holmes or Perry Mason kind of lawyer who might telescope everything five steps ahead of what’s eventually going to happen.

The supporting cast of The Lincoln Lawyer is also magnificent with Marisa Tomei, Bryan Cranston, John Leguizamo, Bob Gunton, Michael Pena, Trace Adkins, Josh Lucas and William H Macy. These are just great character actors. Everyone serves a purpose, even if it is just for a few moments.

Again, Mickey Haller is a great, modern day crusader. Like other literary characters such as Alex Cross and Jack Ryan, based on this film, I always hoped McConaughey followed up with at least one or two more additional films. I’d sure as hell be there to watch. Heck, the eventual Oscar winner went on to be a spokesman for Lincoln automobiles. So why couldn’t he have continued to carry the torch on the big screen?