The Watch


 

The Watch

Ben Stiller finds another teen who thought Night at the Museum sucked.

(2012) Comedy (20th Century Fox) Ben Stiller, Vince Vaughn, Jonah Hill, Richard Ayoade, Rosemarie DeWitt, Will Forte, Mel Rodriguez, Doug Jones, Erin Moriarty, Nicholas Braun, R. Lee Ermey, Joe Nunez, Liz Cackowski, Johnny Pemberton, Billy Crudup, Sharon Gee. Directed by Akiva Schaffer

 

There are things that define a neighborhood that we seem to have lost sight of for the most part in the 21st century. Neighborhoods were once places where neighbors looked out for one another; where we shared lives with those who lived around us. Those kinds of neighborhoods are becoming increasingly rare.

Not in Glenview, Ohio though and that’s why Evan (Stiller) loves it so much there. He and his wife Abby (DeWitt) emigrated from New York to escape the cold, impersonal big city life and find a place where they could raise their children the right way – not that they have any children quite yet but they’re working on it.

When a security guard (Nunez) is gruesomely murdered in the Costco that Evan is managing, that galvanizes Evan. He has already founded a running club and a Spanish club in his neighborhood; now it’s time for something a little more useful – a neighborhood watch. The police, in the person of Sgt. Bressman (Forte), are doing little to find the killer and in fact Bressman thinks Evan is a strong suspect.

However, his neighborhood is less enthusiastic – only three other guys show up to the meeting that he calls. Bob (Vaughn) is a contractor with an epic man-cave who sees the Watch as an opportunity to hang out with the guys and drink plenty of beer. Franklin (Hill) is a bit of a nutcase who failed the psychological tests in order to join the Glenview Police Department; he lives with his mom and longs for police-like action. Then there’s Jamarcus (Ayoade) who sees the Neighborhood Watch as a means to meet women. Not exactly the battalion of crime fighters Evan was looking for.

Still, they are at least willing to play along for the most part, although much of their crime work has beer involved, and much talk of male penises. Bob and Evan start to bond in an odd way; Evan confesses that the reason he and Abby haven’t been able to conceive a child is because he’s sterile; Bob expresses his frustration over his teenage daughter Chelsea’s (Moriarty) increasing infatuation for Jason (Braun), a super-arrogant teen with designs on just one thing – the thing most teenage boys have designs on.

In the meantime, their investigation is leading them to the killer – and that killer isn’t local. And by not local, I mean not of this earth. When their beloved Glenview looks to be ground zero for an alien invasion, can these four screw-ups suck it up and become earth’s last line of defense?

Veteran SNL director Schaffer has a script co-written by Seth Rogen to work from but this isn’t one of his better efforts. Mostly what the problem is here is the unevenness. The movie has some genuinely funny moments, but not of the sort that will leave you sore from laughter as the better comedies will. The sci-fi aspects are for the most part pretty cheesy; why does every alien have to have lime green goo dripping from them? Just saying.

In any case, the two don’t mix well. At times we have some pretty odd moments of a joke in the middle of a serious scene that cheapens the drama; at others, a more dramatic episode in the middle of some of the more really funny moments. The effect is to keep the audience off-balance and not in a good way.

Stiller, Hill, Ayoade and particularly Vaughn are some of the most talented comic actors on the planet and they actually perform pretty well here. Vaughn is memorable even though his shtick is pretty much the same one he usually uses – the loud and aggressive manly sort with a heart of gold – we see the latter most clearly in his relationship with his daughter which is, as most dad-teenage daughter relationships are is a bit on the love-hate side. However, the relationship is depicted here a bit simplistically.

And what’s the deal with all the phallic references? There are so many references to the male sex organ that you have to wonder if there’s some sort of fetish being played out here. Hey, I’m as proud of my equipment as the next guy but sheez, I don’t feel the need to mention it quite so often.

So what we have here is a sci-fi comedy with some talented people in it (and lest we forget, the very sexy DeWitt who has some nice moments here) and simply not living up to its own potential. As much as I like Vaughn, Stiller and company, I think that talent like theirs deserves more than just an onslaught of dick jokes to deliver. So do we.

REASONS TO GO: There are some funny moments. Vaughn is one of my favorite comic actors at the moment.  

REASONS TO STAY: Much of the humor feels forced. Serious and funny stuff don’t flow well, leading to some jarring moments.

FAMILY VALUES: There’s a lot of sexual content and a bit of sci-fi violence. The language is universally foul.

TRIVIAL PURSUIT: The movie was originally titled Neighborhood Watch but the title was changed due to sensitivity over the Trayvon Martin shooting.

CRITICAL MASS: As of 7/30/12: Rotten Tomatoes: 15% positive reviews. Metacritic: 35/100. The reviews are uniformly negative.

COMPARISON SHOPPING: A Night at the Museum

COSTCO LOVERS: Evan is the manager at the Costco and the climax takes place there; as you might expect there are several jokes about bulk buying throughout the film.

FINAL RATING: 5/10

NEXT: Sympathy for Delicious

New Releases for the Week of July 27, 2012


July 27, 2012

THE WATCH

(20th Century Fox) Ben Stiller, Vince Vaughn, Jonah Hill, Rosemarie DeWitt, Richard Ayoade, Will Forte, Billy Crudup, Doug Jones, Erin Moriarty, R. Lee Ermey. Directed by Akiva Schaffer

A group of bumbling neighborhood watch guys led by a paranoid homeowner who thinks aliens are invading stumble into a conspiracy theory that proves him right. The question is now how to protect their beloved suburbia from a race of extraterrestrials hell-bent on conquering them who have a technological superiority.

See the trailer and clips here.

For more on the movie this is the website.

Release formats: Standard

Genre: Sci-Fi Comedy

Rating: R (for some strong sexual content including references, pervasive language and violent images)

Step Up Revolution

(Summit) Ryan Guzman, Kathryn McCormick, Misha Gabriel, Peter Gallagher. A Miami dance crew who specialize in elaborate well-choreographed flash mobs dreams of winning a contest for a major sponsorship opportunity but put those dreams on hold when they take on a businessman with plans to convert their neighborhood into a multi-million dollar development. In the midst of this, the daughter of the businessman falls in love with the leader of the flash mob.

See the trailer and a clip here.

For more on the movie this is the website.

Release formats: Standard, 3D

Genre: Urban Dance

Rating: PG-13 (for some suggestive dancing and language) 

Your Sister’s Sister

(IFC) Mark Duplass, Emily Blunt, Rosemarie DeWitt, Mike Birbiglia. A young man is still grieving the loss of his brother a year earlier. His brother’s ex, who is heartbroken to see him like that, ships him off to her family’s lakeside vacation home to be alone and maybe get himself together or at least pick up some of the pieces. When he gets there he finds her sister who is undergoing a trauma of her own. After an evening of drinking tequila and the predictable results, the ex arrives unannounced, touching off unexpected revelations and shifting dynamics. This played the Florida Film Festival earlier this year.

See the trailer here.

For more on the movie this is the website.

Release formats: Standard

Genre: Dramedy

Rating: R (for language and some sexual content)

Thin Ice


Thin Ice

Greg Kinnear and Billy Crudup wonder why they couldn't find a movie that is set in Aruba.

(2011) Thriller (ATO) Greg Kinnear, Billy Crudup, Alan Arkin, Lea Thompson, David Harbour, Jennifer M. Edwards, Peter Thoemke, Bob Balaban, James Detmar, Michelle Hutchison, Peter Moore, Michael Paul Levin, Michelle Arthur, Alan Johnson, Chris Carlson. Directed by Jill Sprecher

 

There is nothing warmer than the human heart. There is also nothing colder – even the Wisconsin winter pales in comparison. Greed and desperation can make of even the kindest of hearts one made stone and frozen, allowing nothing in and nothing to leave.

Mickey Prohaska (Kinnear) lives in Kenosha, Wisconsin and sells insurance. On the surface an amiable, trustworthy fellow, he is a predator in reality, preying on the fears of people to sell them policies that for the most part they don’t need and can’t afford. However, business is bad these days; Mickey needs the appearance of success and so drives an expensive car and wears nice suits. However, his bills are piling up and he is deep in debt. His wife (Thompson) has thrown him out – which he frankly deserves – and his secretary (Edwards) is getting fed up as well.

Mickey meets even more amiable Bob Egan (Harbour) at an insurance conference and in order to keep the earnest young man from his biggest competitor hires him on as an agent, even though he hasn’t been licensed by the state of Wisconsin just yet. That’s okay – the policies can be turned in under Mickey’s name and Mickey will pay him once the company pays Mickey his share. Right.

Bob brings Gorvy Hauer (Arkin) to Mickey’s attention and Mickey is at first not interested – the old man is in the beginning states of dementia and doesn’t have much money to his name. What he does have is a rare violin, one worth $25,000 according to the appraiser (Balaban) but Gorvy thinks it is a toy for him to play with his dog.

Mickey can’t resist – he needs the money desperately and the old man won’t miss the money. However, there is a fly in the ointment – Randy (Crudup), who is installing the alarm system that Bob is advising Gorvy to put in, gets wind of what Mickey’s up to. When meddling neighbor Frank (Thoemke) discovers something fishy going on, Randy panics and suddenly Mickey is in the middle of a real mess.

This is the kind of suspense movie worthy of the Coen Brothers; just a little bit offbeat, lots of twists and turns but always with a nice gotcha at the end. However, this is also not quite in that league and it’s really hard to pin it on the director. As I mention below in the Trivial Pursuits section, distributors ATO got together with some of the producers and ordered that the film be re-cut which Sprecher refused to do. The movie was then re-cut using outtakes, the voice-over narration was removed and various subplots and characters were cut from the film. Sprecher has sent letters to prominent film critics (including Roger Ebert) to let them know the situation and to divorce herself from the movie. She is unable to comment further for legal reasons; however it must be said that she doesn’t consider Thin Ice to be her own work.

That makes it kind of difficult to assign credit and blame as the case may be. My gumption is to credit Sprecher for most of the things that work and blame the producers for those that didn’t. Strictly speaking that may not be fair but it is human nature to take the side of the person who did the work and had the vision against those whose only goal was to make money rather than necessarily make the best movie possible. How do I know that the producers weren’t trying to make a better movie?

Simple. The film was screened in its original director cut version at Sundance and received raves. Since its limited release in this edited version, the reviews have been lukewarm. However, I must say that if that’s the case, the original cut must have been special indeed because I really like this movie a lot.

Kinnear excels at these sorts of roles, the ordinary Joe with a bit of an edge to him. Mickey is a congenital liar who’s always looking for the angle that benefits him most. Ostensibly he is in love with his wife but for the most part treats her like a possession or a status symbol – you never get the sense he needs to be with her so much as wants to.

Crudup plays the volatile Randy nicely, giving him the right edge of kicked puppy to go with the volcanic temper. Randy puts Mickey off-balance and the audience as well. Arkin has some tender moments having to do with his dog that are heart-rending. No matter how good or bad the material, Arkin always finds a way to elevate it.

It’s no surprise given the history of the movie that the pacing is irregular. Sometimes the movie goes at a snail’s pace and other times it races along willy-nilly. This has a jarring effect on the audience; I would have liked to see something a bit smoother.

There are plenty of Hitchcockian twists here and the final one is of the sort that makes you want to see the movie a second time knowing what you know about what really happened. Some of the twists aren’t too hard to figure out but others do take you unawares. That’s always a lovely surprise in movies of this sort.

I have to wonder what might have happened had we been allowed to see this the way the original director intended us to. Would it have been a better film? Did the producers make the right call? I doubt we’ll ever know – when it makes it to home video it is unlikely the original directors cut will ever see the light of day, given the contentious relationship with the filmmakers and the distributor. I find it somewhat ironic that the initials of the distribution company, ATO, stands for “Artists Take Over.” Certainly that’s not what happened in this case.

REASONS TO GO: Some really nifty twists and turns. Kinnear knows this role as well as anybody. Arkin and Crudup also do stellar work.

REASONS TO STAY: Seems choppy and rushed in places.

FAMILY VALUES: All sorts of bad language, a bit of violence and sexuality.

TRIVIAL PURSUIT: After rave reviews at its 2011 Sundance appearance, the distributor demanded massive re-cuts and a title change (from The Convincer); the director has since disassociated herself from the film.

CRITICAL MASS: As of 4/3/12: Rotten Tomatoes: 74% positive reviews. Metacritic: 61/100. The reviews are solidly positive.

COMPARISON SHOPPING: Fargo

ICE FISHING LOVERS: There’s a sequence early on in which Randy discusses the sport with Mickey, ending up with Randy attempting to drill a hole in the ice – unsuccessfully.

FINAL RATING: 8/10

NEXT: Mirror, Mirror

New Releases for the Week of March 30, 2012


March 30, 2012

WRATH OF THE TITANS

(Warner Brothers) Sam Worthington, Rosamund Pike, Bill Nighy, Liam Neeson, Ralph Fiennes, Danny Huston, Toby Kebbell, Edgar Ramirez. Directed by Jonathan Liebesman

Retired hero and demigod Perseus has been living a life of quiet satisfaction as a fisherman but a visit from his father Zeus changes all that. Apparently the power of the Gods has been siphoned out by the lack of worship from their human charges and the Titans, the cruel and vicious forbears of the Gods who have been imprisoned in Mt. Tatarus for thousands of years, are growing strong enough to break out of the weakened Gods’ bondage. With Hades and Ares switching side, it will take the combined might of the humans and Gods to save the world from the tyranny of the Titans.

See the trailer, clips, featurettes and a promo here.

For more on the movie this is the website.

Release formats: Standard, 3D, IMAX 3D

Genre: Fantasy

Rating: PG-13 (for intense sequences of fantasy violence and action)

Mirror Mirror

(Relativity) Julia Roberts, Nathan Lane, Armie Hammer, Lily Collins.  A wicked Queen who has lived life as the fairest of them all gets a rude shock when she discovers there’s a new contender for the title – princess in exile Snow White. Snow has about had enough of the evil Queen and vows to reclaim her kingdom with the help of seven rebellious dwarves who will also help her win back her Prince – once he finishes sniffing his own hind end, that is.

See the trailer, interviews and featurettes here.

For more on the movie this is the website.

Release formats: Standard

Genre: Fantasy Comedy

Rating: PG (for some fantasy action and mild rude humor)

Salmon Fishing in the Yemen

(CBS) Emily Blunt, Ewan McGregor, Kristin Scott Thomas, Amr Waked. A visionary sheikh decides he wants to import the pastime of fly fishing into Yemen. He enlists the help of a skeptical Scottish fisheries expert who doesn’t think it can be done. However when the British Prime Minister’s overzealous press secretary, looking for a feel-good story in the Middle East turns the screws to see that it gets done, the Scot begins to fall for the sheikh’s strange dream as well as for an attractive consultant.

See the trailer and promos here.

For more on the movie this is the website

Release formats: Standard

Genre: Dramedy

Rating: PG-13 (for some violence and sexual content, and brief language)

Thin Ice

(ATO) Greg Kinnear, Alan Arkin, Billy Crudup, Lea Thompson. An insurance man trying to turn his life around and win back his estranged wife hits upon a scheme to con an old man out of a rare and valuable musical instrument. Things go sideways when a nosy, volatile locksmith inserts himself into the plan and creates havoc that spirals dangerously out of control.

See the trailer and clips here.

For more on the movie this is the website.

Release formats: Standard

Genre: Crime Comedy/Thriller/Drama

Rating: R (for language, and brief violent and sexual content)

W.E.

(Weinstein) Abby Cornish, Oscar Isaac, James D’Arcy, Andrea Riseborough.  A young woman obsessed with the story of King Edward VIII and Wallis Simpson is given access to private correspondence from the American divorcee which may put her romantic notions of the couple to the test. Madonna directs this love story set in two different time frames.

See the trailer and clips here.

For more on the movie this is the website.

Release formats: Standard

Genre: Romance

Rating: R (for domestic violence, nudity and language)

Eat Pray Love


Eat Pray Love

Julia Roberts looks soulfully at the Eternal City.

(Columbia) Julia Roberts, Javier Bardem, Viola Davis, Richard Jenkins, Billy Crudup, James Franco, Tuva Novotny, Luca Argentero, Giuseppe Gandini, Rushita Singh, Hadi Subiyanto, Christine Hakim, Anakia Lapae, Arlene Tur.  Directed by Ryan Murphy

Most of us, at one time or another, undergo a rigorous self-examination of the soul, one usually brought on by some kind of crisis. We are forced to face our own deficiencies, define who we are and compare ourselves to who we need to be. Most of us must do us all by our own lonesome; some of us use the benefit of a therapist. Others take a different route.

Liz Gilbert (Roberts) is a successful freelance writer who’s married, lives in a great apartment in Manhattan and is surrounded by a coterie of friends and admirers. Of course, this means she’s absolutely miserable. Her husband Stephen (Crudup) is a bit of a self-involved dweeble, perpetually trying new careers in an effort to find something that’ll stick. He has announced that he is going back to school to get his masters, just as Liz is looking forward to spending some time in Aruba. When he asserts “I don’t wanna go to Aruba,” she replies tearfully “I don’t want to be married.”

Stephen contests the divorce and doesn’t want to let go. Liz does what any sensible woman just getting out of a marriage to a decent enough guy that she was miserable in – she leaps into the bed of David (Franco), an off-Broadway actor who has adopted Eastern philosophies and follows an Indian guru. He is just as superficial as Stephen is, and Liz decides to leave on a year-long journey of to find out who she is since she feels numb inside, as she tells her best friend Delia (Davis). Of course, it doesn’t hurt that despite being cleaned out in the divorce, her publisher paid for the trip with an advance on the book that Liz would eventually write (a fact not mentioned in the movie).

Her first stop is Rome, where she meets Sofi (Tuvotny), a Swedish ex-pat; Giovanni (Argentero), Sofi’s Italian boyfriend and Luca Spaghetti (Gandini), who claims his family invented the namesake pasta. Here, she dives headfirst into Italian cuisine, from Neapolitan pizza to Roman pasta to gelato and everything in between. She eats without feeling guilty, launching herself into La dolce far niente – the sweetness of doing nothing. Check.

From there, she goes to the ashram of the Indian guru that David follows. Here, she meets Richard (Jenkins), a garrulous Texan who, as she puts it, speaks in bumper stickers. He chides her into finding a way to meditate despite the attacks of mosquitoes and an inability to clear her mind. He calls her “Groceries” because of her appetite and the two wind up being pretty good friends, enough so that Richard confesses to her the reason he’s there in one of the movie’s more compelling scenes.

She also befriends a young girl (Singh) who is about to enter an arranged marriage, which troubles the both of them. Eventually she gets with the program, but Liz not so much, the wedding reminding her inevitably of her own. Eventually, she finds some inner peace. Check.

After that, it’s off to Indonesia – Bali to you and me – to meet up with the medicine man Ketut (Subiyanto) whom she met a year earlier and predicted that she would be back to teach him English. She stays in the area, translating old parchments for him in the mornings and exploring Bali in the afternoons. It is here that she meets Phillipe (Bardem), a Brazilian ex-pat who runs an import business. The two begin to fall for each other, but Liz doesn’t need a man anymore – does she?

This is based on the New York Times bestseller, and it’s appeal to women can be measured by its appearance on Oprah (the daytime talk diva devoted two entire shows to the book) and the number of women in the audience at the movie, which was roughly about 80%. There is certainly an empowering element to the book and the movie, which teaches women that they need to find fulfillment from within.

At least, that’s the message I think is intended, but the movie doesn’t really bring that across so much. Most of the wisdom that Liz arrives at comes from others, be it the irascible Texan in India, or the gentle healer in Bali. She seems to bring little to the table internally other than a penchant for whining about how unfulfilled she is.

I don’t know the author personally so I can’t guess at how accurate the portrayal of her is. I’m sure she couldn’t have been disappointed to have Roberts, one of the most beautiful women on Earth, playing her. Roberts is a fair actress in her own right, as Erin Brockovich conclusively showed, but this won’t be measured as one of her finer performances. To be fair, it can’t be easy to portray someone whose chief trait seems to be inner emptiness but you never get a sense of that emptiness being filled in a significant way. Perhaps that’s a subtlety I overlooked.

She is also matched with two of the best actors in the world in Bardem and Jenkins, and neither one disappoint. Jenkins’ rooftop soliloquy in the Indian portion alone may win him Oscar consideration for Best Supporting Actor, if Academy members remember that far back come voting time this winter. Bardem plays a wounded divorcee who desperately loves his children, but is terrified of getting his heart broken again.

Murphy crafts a very slick, good-looking movie that runs a very long time – I was definitely shifting in my seat right around the India sequence – and doesn’t have as much depth as it purports to. As Liz accuses Richard of speaking in bumper stickers, so is the movie a series of motivational posters of cats hanging from ledges and eagles gliding into sunsets. There is nothing truly profound here, other than the simple advice not to worry so much about what you eat, find balance in your life, and then find a hot Brazilian to fool around with. Sage advice all, but especially for those who can afford to take a year off and embark on an all-expenses paid journey of self-discovery. Most of us don’t get that kind of opportunity.

The secret to finding self-realization is to look inward. You’re simply not going to find it in a book or a movie, although those desperate enough will look in those places first. As Richard says repeatedly to Liz (repetition is a theme in the movie), you have to do the work. Nothing comes easy in this life, not even something simple like a plate of spaghetti. Realizing that is the first step towards wisdom.

REASONS TO GO: Bardem and Jenkins are two of the best actors working and are worth seeing in their roles. Gorgeous cinematography makes this worth checking out.

REASONS TO STAY: Spiritual aspects are a bit hazy. Quite frankly, this seems quite self-indulgent and new age-y.  

FAMILY VALUES: There’s some sexuality and occasionally bad language, as well as a bare male derriere; otherwise, it’s suitable for teens and above.

TRIVIAL PURSUIT: Director Murphy is responsible for creating the hit Fox Network show “Glee.”

HOME OR THEATER: There is some beautiful cinematography here, but not the sweeping majesty that would compel home viewing.

FINAL RATING: 5/10

TOMORROW: Trucker

Public Enemies


Public Enemies

Johnny Depp, unphased that they didn't spring for a convertible, finds another means of open-air driving.

(Universal) Johnny Depp, Christian Bale, Marion Cotillard, Giovanni Ribisi, Billy Crudup, Stephen Dorff, Rory Cochrane, Stephen Lang, David Wenham, Stephen Graham, Channing Tatum, Jason Clarke, Branka Katic, Leelee Sobieski, James Russo, Bill Camp. Directed by Michael Mann.

The difference between a hero and a folk hero is often vast. Folk heroes are often regarded as villains in their time, becoming favorites long after their deaths. Sometimes, they are terribly misunderstood by their contemporaries.

John Dillinger (Depp) qualifies as a folk hero more than a traditional hero. He robs banks yes, but he has a certain ethical code; the movie starts out with the jailed Dillinger being broken out of prison by his gang members. When the brutality of one of the men leads to the death of Dillinger’s mentor Walter Dietrich (Russo), an enraged Dillinger kicks the offender out of the escape car.

G-man Melvin Purvis (Bale) receives notoriety by gunning down Pretty Boy Floyd (Tatum). FBI chief J. Edgar Hoover (Crudup) promotes him to a task force with one directive: capture Public Enemy Number One, John Dillinger. The ambitious Purvis immediately heads to Chicago to do just that.

Dillinger, relaxing at a restaurant between train robberies, meets coat check girl Billy Frechette (Cotillard) and immediately falls for her. He woos her by buying fur coats and expensive gifts. Even after he tells her who he is, she decides to stay with him.

A failed ambush at a hotel that leads to the death of an agent at the hands of the brutal Baby Face Nelson (Dorff) leads to Purvis calling in seasoned professional lawmen, Texas Rangers led by the dour Charles Winstead (Lang) despite the objections of Hoover. Shortly afterwards, Dillinger is actually captured after a hotel fire in Tucson and extradited to Indiana. He boldly escapes from the “escape-proof” prison there by ingeniously whittling a fake gun out of wood.

Dillinger returns to Chicago and finds himself unwelcome there. The heat the manhunt for him is bringing down on the city is interfering with the mob’s lucrative bookmaking operation, and Mafioso Frank Nitti (Camp) has hung out the get out of town sign personally. Dillinger is short on funds and reluctantly takes a squirrelly bank job, despite the presence of the twitchy Nelson. Predictably, Nelson opens fire on a cop outside the bank, leading to a shoot-out.

The G-Men capture a wounded gang member who is tortured until he reveals the location of the gang, the Little Bohemia Lodge in Wisconsin. The feds surround the lodge and would seem to have the element of surprise, but trigger happy G-Men open fire on civilians mistaken for gangsters and a gun battle ensues. All of Dillinger’s gang, including Nelson die in the gunfire as does Purvis’ partner Carter Baum (Cochrane). Dillinger barely escapes with his best friend, Red Hamilton (Clarke) who is mortally wounded. Dillinger, alone, buries his friend.

Things are spiraling towards the inevitable for Dillinger. Frechette is captured by the G-Men after Dillinger drops her off at what he thought was a safe location. She refuses to divulge the location of her lover, even after being beaten by a brutal agent, although Purvis and Winstead stop the assault before it gets out of hand.

In the meantime, Purvis is pointed at Madam Anna Sage (Katic) by a crooked cop. He threatens her with deportation unless she co-operates. The stage is set for the denouement that even Dillinger knew was inevitable given his lifestyle.

One has to admire the look of the film. Michael Mann went to great lengths to insure historical accuracy in the set design, costumes and vehicles (going so far to use a car that Dillinger actually drove). Unfortunately, he wasn’t a stickler for it in his script. Glaring inaccuracies – for example, Baby Face Nelson did not die in the Little Bohemia gunfight as depicted here, but several months later and not in the presence of Purvis. In fact, none of Dillinger’s gang perished in the battle.

This is meant to be a vehicle for stars Depp and Bale, but turns out a bit disappointing. Depp is so low-key as to be nearly comatose, and Bale, so good in The Dark Knight, seems unsure of what to do with his character. Mann has successfully directed two stars in the same film before (Collateral) but for some reason their performances fall a little flat here.

The gun battles are impressive and exceptionally LOUD. Throughout, the film looks impressive and I really wanted to like it more than I wound up doing. Maybe I wasn’t in the best of moods at the time, or maybe I missed the point. Whatever the reason, I didn’t really connect with the movie. I found myself feeling like I didn’t know either Dillinger or Purvis any better after the credits ran than before I walked in. I also found the liberties taken with the facts disquieting; especially in light of how hard Mann worked to make the look and sound of the film more authentic (Crudup perfectly catches the Cagney-like staccato of Hoover’s voice). In fact, some of the supporting performances make this worth seeking out.

In the end, it compares unfavorably with other gangster action movies such as The Untouchables. It re-creates the Midwest of the Depression era near-perfectly, but doesn’t really make you want to spend any time there. Now there’s a crime even Dillinger would never have committed.

REASONS TO GO: A near-perfect re-creation of Depression-era Chicago and the Midwest. There are some superb supporting performances, particularly from Crudup, Clarke and Lang.

REASONS TO STAY: Oddly enough, the leads are almost un-interesting. Sticklers for historical accuracy will be dismayed at the sometimes unnecessary gaffes that permeate the film.

FAMILY VALUES: There is a heavy serving of violence and graphic carnage, including scenes of torture and brutality. Definitely not for the squeamish.

TRIVIAL PURSUIT: Much of the movie was shot in locations where the events depicted actually happened, such as the Little Bohemia Lodge in Wisconsin (site of the famous shoot-out) and the Lake County Jail in Indiana, where Dillinger’s daring “wooden gun” escape took place.

NOTABLE DVD FEATURES: The standard DVD edition includes a featurette called “Larger Than Life: Adversaries” which discusses the rivalry between Purvis and Dillinger, featuring newsreel footage, interviews with Purvis’ son as well as the actors from the film. The 2-Disc Special Edition DVD featrues a featurette entitled “Last of the Legendary Outlaws,” a feature on the real-life Dillinger with some wonderful newsreel footage. Finally, the Blu-Ray has an interactive historical timeline as well as a gangster movie trivia game in addition to the featurettes previously mentioned.

FINAL RATING: 7/10

TOMORROW: Sunshine

Watchmen


The Nite Owl stands before Archimedes, his high-tech flying machine.

The Nite Owl stands before Archimedes, his high-tech flying machine.

(Warner Brothers) Malin Ackerman, Billy Crudup, Matthew Goode, Carla Gugino, Jackie Earle Haley, Jeffrey Dean Morgan, Patrick Wilson, Matt Frewer, Stephen McHattie, Laura Mennell, Rob LaBelle, Robert Wisden. Directed by Zack Snyder

Watchmen is perhaps the most honored and revered graphic novel of all time. Originally written by Alan Moore (who has refused to let his name be associated with the film version, although don’t let that fool you), in many ways it changed the way graphic novels – and superhero-based ones in particular – are perceived.

The year is 1985, although not the one we remember. Richard Nixon is still president, having been elected for an unprecedented fifth term. The Soviets invasion of Afghanistan has brought the world to the brink of nuclear war. And the American superhero squad known as the Watchmen has been forced to disband due to a government ban on masked vigilantes.

The film opens with one of the former Watchmen, a super-conservative psychopath called the Comedian (Morgan) being murdered. He won’t be missed much – he was a wretched human being. However, Rorschach (Haley), a strange and possibly deranged man whose mask constantly changes into a series of inkblot-like patterns, thinks there’s more to the crime than the attempted robbery story the police say is what happened. He thinks that there might be a killer going after the ex-Watchmen, so he visits his former partners – the second Nite Owl (Wilson), who visits the first Nite Owl (McHattie) and commiserates over the life of a retired masked crimefighter. The second Silk Spectre (Ackerman), who lives with the god-like Doctor Manhattan (Crudup) and whose mother, the first Silk Spectre (Gugino), was once assaulted by the Comedian.  Finally, there is Ozymandias (Goode), the world’s smartest man, who has gone public with his secret identity and has become a very wealthy industrialist.

The world has become a mean place, and gangs rule the streets of New York. Most people believe that nuclear annihilation is inevitable and act accordingly. The former superheroes are depressed, fatalistic and have issues of their own. The kindest is Nite Owl, who has grown a bit timid over the years, although basically a decent man. Rorschach is nearly psychotic, narrating a series of journal entries that make plain his belief that humanity is essentially a genetic cesspool that has more in common with vermin than with higher life forms.

Dr. Manhattan, a former nuclear physicist who became able to manipulate matter at will in a horrifying accident, is becoming less and less connected with the world and its inhabitants. His affection for Silk Spectre is almost all that keeps any sort of caring for humanity in his nature, but that all changes when he discovers that he may have caused cancer in those closest to him. Shocked and horrified, Manhattan exiles himself to Mars. With America’s most powerful nuclear deterrent out of the way, the path is cleared for the Russians to begin building to the inevitable climax of assured mutual mass destruction. Can the costumed heroes, once hated and reviled, pick up their masks and save the day one more time?

The original graphic novel was cerebral on the one hand and visceral on the other. There is brutal violence and explicit situation, all elements preserved in the movie. Director Snyder and writers David Hayter and Alex Tse have done a magnificent job of translating a work thought unfilmable to the big screen. The subtleties of the original graphic novel are for the most part, retained here. The movie is rated “R” and there is a good reason for it; impressionable kids shouldn’t be seeing this. There is graphic sex, realistic violence and adult themes. This is no Super Friends to say the least.

The cast is excellent, mostly comprised of character actors who have started to develop a reputation for solid work. Haley, who was nominated for an Oscar last year, might bag another nomination this year for his work as the tormented Rorschach. Dogged, cynical, bitter and brutal, he is constantly underestimated by those who oppose him but winds up on the brink of solving the crime at the heart of the story.

The world presented here is gritty and nasty. You feel like you’ve stepped into a sewer, and the film is darkly lit to go along with its dark tone. Special effects abound – in fact Dr. Manhattan is mostly a special effect himself. Far above the need to wear clothes, the bright blue Billy Crudup spends most of the movie with his package dangling for all to see. The fight sequences are pretty nifty as well.

However, this is a fairly long movie as action films go and there is a lot going on in terms of plot. Snyder tries to follow the storytelling methods employed by the original comic (which started life as a 12-issue maxi-series) by showing the various backgrounds and viewpoints of the main characters, which can sometimes be confusing. An excellent opening titles sequence really tells you all you need to know about the world of the Watchmen. Familiarity with the source material is a plus but not a requirement in order for you to follow the story.

I was hoping for something along the lines of The Dark Knight in terms of quality and it isn’t quite there, although it is very good. I wanted to like it more, but I still liked it plenty. In that sense, Watchmen is a victim of its own excellence. I doubt somewhat that any motion picture could truly equal the scope and the complexity of the source material, as hard as Watchmen tries. It must be said, however, that I think it captures those elements about as well as any movie could.

In that sense, I can easily recommend Watchmen for general audiences without any qualms, just in terms of overall quality. Parents should be aware that some of the scenes are extremely rough when it comes to language, violence and sexuality, which I believe I have harped on sufficiently here. For my money, I think that lovers of action movies, superhero fanboys and aficionados of complex, compelling cinema are all among those who should be watching the Watchmen.

WHY RENT THIS: Hey, it’s the ever-lovin’ Watchmen! Compelling performances by strong character actors make well-written characters seem real and vital. Terrific (although not groundbreaking) special effects keep the wow factor high.

WHY RENT SOMETHING ELSE: Some of the course language, extreme violence and graphic sexuality can be off-putting.

FAMILY VALUES: Not for children. Adult themes, graphic violence, nudity and explicit sexuality may be too much for even some adults.

TRIVIAL PURSUITS: Watchmen has been in development for almost 20 years at various studios. Among the directors at one time or another attatched to the project: Terry Gilliam, Paul Greengrass and Darren Aronofsky.

NOTABLE DVD EXTRAS: The director’s cut edition includes 24 minutes of additional footage, mostly revolving around Hollis Mason, the original Nite Owl who compared to his involvement in the original graphic novel gets little more than a cameo appearance in the theatrical release;

FINAL RATING: 7/10

TOMORROW: Henry Poole is Here