'American Assassin' launches Dylan O'Brien as action hero

By Tom Von Malder | Dec 07, 2017
Photo by: Lions Gate Entertainment Dylan O'Brien stars as CIA operative Mitch Rapp in "American Assassin."

Owls Head — American Assassin (Lionsgate, Blu-ray or standard DVD, R, 11 min.). The action-packed film serves as the origin story of CIA black ops agent Mitch Rapp, a fictional character featured in 16 New York Times bestsellers -- more than 20 million copies sold to date --  13 written by the late Vince Flynn. Rapp, 25, is played by Dylan O'Brien, also 25, who has impressed on the small screen in MTV's "Teen Wolf" series and on the big screen in the "Maze Runner" trilogy (the third film is due to be released Jan. 26, after being held up for a year or so after O'Brien was struck by a vehicle during filming).

The film's plot beats are familiar -- except perhaps for the terrific climax -- but O'Brien and the other actors, including Michael Keaton as Stan Hurley, Rapp's CIA trainer, and Taylor Kitsch as Ghost, the film's bad guy, make it watchable. There is plenty of brutality onscreen, including a torture scene and some vicious hand-to-hand combat. One of the better staged examples of the latter has the two combatants thrown throughout the cabin of a boat that is racing pilotless through rough seas.

The film starts with Rapp proposing to his girlfriend on a beach in Spain and then going off to get drinks to celebrate. The viewer just knows something will go wrong and it does when gun-firing terrorists hit the beach. The globe-trotting film then switches to Tripoli, Libya, where a second act of violence is more unexpected. Rapp has made it his mission to single-handedly wipe out Middle Eastern terrorists, but he gets recruited by CIA Deputy Director Irene Kennedy (Sanaa Lathan) instead, despite Hurley's misgivings. During the subsequent mission in Istanbul, Turkey and then Rome, Italy, Hurley's qualms are proved correct, as Rapp continually strikes out on his own instead of following orders, but Rapp also proves effective. The small team is hunting down 15 kilos of weapons-grade uranium, stolen from Russia, and aims to interrupt a pending sale of the material by Ghost, who turns out to be a renegade agent trained by Hurley (no surprise there; in fact the film offers few surprises). Joining the team is a Turkish agent (Shiva Negar as Annika). The film, directed by Michael Cuesta ("Kill the Messenger," "Homeland"), makes good use of its locations in and around Rome.

There  are more than an hour of extras, including a making-of featurette (9:54), which explains the 9.5-year journey to make the film, which originally was based on a different book, "Consent To Kill," the seventh novel in the series. Included is an interview with Flynn's widow, Lysa. There also are featurettes on O'Brien's work in the film (9:53; when with beard, O'Brien sometimes looks like a young Mark Wahlberg); on the characters of Hurley and Ghost (13:43); a good piece on the training and stunts, with fight trainer Roger Yuen and stunt coordinator Buster Reeves (12:05); on the locations, which also included Malta, London and Thailand (9:29); and a post-screening Q&A with O'Brien and Kitsch at the Alamo Drafthouse that reveals the character of Ghost was not in the original book (26:05). Grade: film 3 stars; extras 2.75 stars

Rating guide: 5 stars = classic; 4 stars = excellent; 3 stars = good; 2 stars = fair; dog = skip it

The Osiris Child: Science Fiction Volume One (Australia, RLJ, Blu-ray or standard DVD, NR, 99 min.). The film not only has an awkward title -- the unnecessary subtitle is stupid -- but it also has an awkward presentation as writer-director Shane Abbess divides the film into seven chapters that are not told in chronological order. The nonlinear approach seems to be a reach to get beyond the film's limited budget that makes the film a science fiction epic without the "epic-ness."

Set in the future on a hard-scrabble world that is being terraformed by EXOR Corp., Daniel MacPherson plays Lt. Kane Sommerville, who is separated from his wife on Earth, but has his adored 11-year-old daughter (Teagan Croft as Indi) staying with him. Only she is on the planet below, while he is billeted on the EXOR space station above. A prison revolt -- the prisoners are used as manual labor to shape the planet -- has not only released prisoners, but also the Ragged, creatures mutated from prisoners into beasts that are designed to kill all indigenous life forms on a planet. The prison story is told in chapters two and four, and includes scenes of the riot. EXOR's reaction to the release of the Ragged is to sterilize the planet. Thus, Sommerville must steal a spaceship and find his daughter, so he can bring her to safety before the meltdown.

After Sommerville is engaged in a dogfight above the planet, he crash lands and is rescued by Sy Lombrok (Kellan Lutz of "The Twilight Saga"), who, of course, turns out to be one of the escaped prisoners. Along the way to the city of Osiris, they buy a ride from a weird, over-the-top couple (Luke Ford as Bill and Isabel Lucas as Gyp) who drive an armored prison bus. The ending, as well as the film's subtitle, sets in play future films. Rachel Griffiths plays General Lynex of EXOR.

Bonus features include a five-part making-of (28:56 that tells how the film originated out of two separate film ideas and looks at the actors, the Ragged (the main monster is played by Dwain Stevenson in the suit), the music and the world of the film. There also are three deleted scenes (5:27), one of which introduces the emergency beacon and a different, unfinished version of the space dogfight; a look at the visual effects by layers without narration (7:15); the "Mama I Miss You" music video (3:26); a photo gallery; and a concept art gallery. The film's story was written by Abbess and composer Brian Cachia, and both produced the film. Grade: film 2.25 stars; extras 2.5 stars

Rememory (Lionsgate, Blu-ray or standard DVD, PG-13, 111 min.). The film's science is a bit futuristic, but the basic story is a murder mystery, one that takes a while to become interesting. Certainly, the early car crash is something the viewer could see coming. The core of the film deals with a Cortex machine that Gordon Dunn (Martin Donovan) has developed that extracts a person's memories in their pure form, unaltered by the passage of time and the person's subsequent experiences. The idea is that the memories could be used in therapy, helping patients confront what they fear most. There also is mention that it might cure Alzheimer's. When Dunn turns up dead just after the unveiling of his discovery, Samuel Bloom (Peter Dinklage from "Game of Thrones"), who had been involved in the car crash, turns up and starts investigating.

For the longest time, the viewer is left without knowing why Bloom is investigating, although one might think it is because he wants to use the machine to recover his dying brother's final words. The film's script leaves many things unexplained: like how big a rock star was the deceased brother; and why is Bloom playing with architectural designs and little figures. (Is he an architect? He never is shown having a job.) Bloom visits the widow (Julia Ormond as Carolyn Dunn) under a false name, pretending to be an acquaintance of her husband's. However, in one of the film's way-too-obvious bits, among a mishmash of unobvious bits, the close-up of three hanging keys obviously means Bloom is going to steal one, and sure enough, there is another unnecessary pan showing only two hanging keys. Unnecessary, because we immediately see Bloom sneak back into Dunn's house and steal the Cortex machine and a box of memory slides from Dunn's study. Bloom then visits people who had been involved with the testing of the machine, showing them their memories. (One of those test subjects is played by the late Anton Yelchin in what must have been his last performance.) Bloom also uses the machine on himself, which makes him start to see his dead brother in the mirror or even riding along with him in the car.

Bonus features include audio commentary by writer-director Mark Palansky and Dinklage, and a making-of featurette (31:59). Grade: film 2.5 stars; extras 2 stars

Fargo: Year 3 (20th Century Fox, 4 DVDs, NR, 520 min.). Ah, such mayhem that can stem from which brother inherited the postage stamp. And such deliciousness when both brothers are played by Ewan McGregor. Emmy Award-winning executive producers Noah Hawley (showrunner/writer), Joel and Ethan Coen, Warren Littlefield and John Cameron all return for this third installment, which is set in 2010.

McGregor plays Emmit, the "Parking Lot King of Minnesota," and his younger brother Ray Stussy, a pot-bellied parole officer with a huge chip on his shoulder about the hand he has been dealt. Ray blames his brother and their sibling rivalry follows a twisted path as petty theft leads to murder (and the wrong victim at that), mobsters and cut-throat, competitive bridge. Following the death of their father, Ray and Emmit traded their inheritance, with Emmit handing over his precious Corvette to Ray for a valuable stamp, a deal that Ray now wants to reverse, spurred on by his parolee girlfriend, Nikki Swango (Mary Elizabeth Winstead),who urges him to steal the stamp back. Ray blackmails another parolee, Maurice LeFay (Scott McNairy), into carrying out the task. Murder and fraud follow, with local Police Chief Gloria Burgle (Carrie Coon) investigating the unexpected death of her stepfather, Ennis Stussy. Meanwhile, Emmit and his business partner Sy Feltz (Michael Stuhlbarg) seek to repay a two-year old loan on his parking lot. However, the conniving V.M. Varga (an excellently repellent David Thewlis) refuses to accept the money and instead takes over the business.

Also in the show are Emmy-nominated Mary McDonnell as wealthy widow Ruby Goldfarb; Russell Harvard reprising his role as deaf assassin Mr. Wrench; Shea Whigham as Burgle's new boss, Chief Moe Dammik; Olivia Sandoval as Winnie Lopez, who assists Burgle in her investigation; Hamish Linklater as an IRS agent investigating Stussy Lots; and Andy Yu and Goran Bogdan as Vargas’ henchman, Meemo and Yuri.

Bonus features include First Look; Ray and Nikki; Emmit Stussy and Sy Feltz; One Actor, Two Characters; Gloria Burgle; Varga; Anatomy of as Scene; The Digital Age; Connectivity and References; Locations; and Noah Hawley. Grade: season 4 stars; extras 2.5 stars

24: Legacy: Season One (20th Century Fox, 4 DVDs, NR, 525 min.). The 12-episode reboot centers on stopping a devastating terrorist attack on United States soil, using the same real-time format as before. Only this time, the series has a new lead in Eric Carter (Corey Hawkins), a military hero.

Six months ago in Yemen, an elite squad of U.S. Army Rangers, led by Sgt. Carter, killed terrorist leader Sheik Ibrahim Bin-Khalid. In the aftermath, Bin-Khalid’s followers declared a threat against Carter, his squad and their families, forcing them into federal witness protection. Then, an attempt on Carter’s life makes it clear to him that his team has been exposed. To thwart further attacks, Carter turns to Rebecca Ingram (Miranda Otto), who directed the raid that killed Bin-Khalid. The brilliant and ambitious intelligence officer has stepped down from her post as national director of the Counter Terrorist Unit (CTU) to support her husband, Sen. John Donovan (Jimmy Smits), in his campaign for president of the United States. Complicating things is that Carter tries to protect his wife (Anna Diop as Nicole) by stashing her with his brother Isaac (Ashley Thomas), also Nicole's ex-boyfriend, who is about to become involved with a gang war -- as a victim.

The series also stars Teddy Sears as Keith Mullins, head of CTU; Dan Bucatinsky as Andy Shalowitz, CTU communications analyst; Charlie Hofheimer as Ben Grimes, who suffers from PTSD after being in the army, is Eric’s old comrade in arms and who holds undeclared confiscated intel from the raid; Coral Peña as computer analyst Mariana Stiles; Gerald McRaney as Henry Donovan, a powerful man in the oil industry who is dedicated to helping his son win the presidential election; Raphael Acloque as Jadalla Bin-Khalid, who has continued his father’s jihadist campaign; and Sheila Vand as Nilaa Mizrani, Donovan's campaign manager. Carlos Bernard guest stars in a recurring role, reprising his original series character, Tony Almeida, now back to being a good guy. As usual, some of the events seem padded out -- particularly involving Carter's wife -- and, as usual, if people talked to each other more, things would have been a lot easier. Extras include deleted scenes and a look at the making of the new series. Grade: season 2.5 stars

The Simpsons: The Eighteenth Season (2006-07, 20th Century Fox, 4 DVDs, NR, 481 min.). Packed in a "Fat Tony" collectable box comes the 2006-07 season of TV's longest-running animated series.  Featuring Springfield’s lovable legitimate businessman, this season comes with audio commentary on each of the 22 episodes and never-before-seen deleted scenes, along with the bonus episode "22 For 30" from Season 28 that includes a memorable scene with Fat Tony.  This season was a historic one, the last before "The Simpsons Movie." The season finale was the 400th episode, "You Kent Always Get What You Want," plus there are "24 Minutes" with guest star Kiefer Sutherland, and "Treehouse of Horror XVII" with the sepia-tone classic, "The Day the Earth Looked Stupid." Guest stars include Michael Imperioli, The White Stripes, Tom Wolfe and Natalie Portman, while classic episodes include the Emmy-nominated "The Haw-Hawed Couple" and Writers Guild of America  winner "Kill Gil,  Volumes I & II." Bonus material includes deleted scenes with commentary, a multi-angle animation showcase, a special language feature and a conversation with Fat Tony.

CSI: Crime Scene Investigation: The Complete Series (2000-2015, CBS/Paramount, 93 DVDs, NR, 244 hours 4 min.). This mammoth box set, which contains four individual disc-housing units, includes all 15 seasons of the iconic, investigative drama that follows a team of forensic investigators trained to solve crimes by scouring the scene and collecting irrefutable evidence. There are  all 337 episodes, plus the series finale episode. The show stars William Petersen, Marg Helgenberger, Laurence Fishburne, Ted Danson and Elisabeth Shue. It earned six Emmy Awards. The set comes with more than 19 hours of special features, including interviews with cast and crew and audio commentaries, plus deleted scenes on select episodes. There is a set tour of the police station with production designer Richard Berg; a behind-the-scenes look at how the show's visual images are created; interviews with the writers on how scripts are developed; the technical advisors explain the equipment the cast uses; one episode is followed from concept to completion; a look at pre-production, production and post-production; and character profiles.

CSI: Miami: The Complete Series (2002-2012, CBS/Paramount, 65 DVDs, NR, 169 hours 19 min.). This spinoff of the above show stars David Caruso, Emily Procter, Adam Rodriguez and Khandi Alexander. Caruso plays Horatio Caine, a former homicide detective, who leads a team of forensic investigators in Miami. (The main series was based in Las Vegas.) The set includes all 233 episodes and nearly 10 hours of special features, including the cast and crew talking about the show; the creators and producers telling how the series came to be; a visit with technical advisor John Haynes on how evidence is handled; a tour of the autopsy theater set hosted by Alexander; a gun lab tour with Calleigh Duquesne, who plays Emily Procter; a look at the special effects shots through deconstruction and interviews; an interactive tour of the trace lab with technical advisor Haines; a tour of the A/V lab with technical advisor, writer and producer Liz Devine; the cast and crew discussing the character development and story content from seasons one to two; a look at creating the scripts with the writers and producers; a look at producing the show; a look at the post-production; audio commentary on select episodes; deleted scenes; gag reels; and behind-the-scenes featurettes. The set comes housed in three individual disc-housing units.

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