Gone Baby Gone


Amy Ryan and Casey Affleck look into the seedy side of South Boston.

Amy Ryan and Casey Affleck look into the seedy side of South Boston.

(2007) Thriller (Miramax) Casey Affleck, Michelle Monaghan, Morgan Freeman, Ed Harris, John Ashton, Amy Ryan, Amy Madigan, Titus Welliver, Michael Kenneth Williams, Edi Gathegi, Mark Margolis, Madeline O’Brien, Slaine, Trudi Goodman, Matthew Maher, Jill Quigg, Sean Malone, Brian Scannell, Jay Giannone, William Lee, James LeBlanc, Fanshen Cox. Directed by Ben Affleck

The American Experience 2015

There is no worse nightmare for a parent than the disappearance of a child other than that child’s death. In some ways, it’s more wrenching not to know – is the child alive? Is it dead? Is it suffering? Where could it be? A parent will do just about anything to get their child back.

South Boston is in an uproar when the baby of Helene McCready (Ryan) is discovered missing. Nothing will put together a neighborhood, particularly one as tight-knit as Southie as a kid in trouble. Like most of Boston, private detectives Patrick Kenzie (Affleck) and Angie Gennaro (Monaghan) hear about the incident on the news, shake their heads and wonder about how bad times have turned, and move on.

That is, until they are awakened by a knock on the door. It’s Helene’s aunt and uncle, Bea (Madigan) and Lionel (Welliver). They’re desperate to get their nephew back and are willing to do whatever it takes. Being longtime residents of South Boston, they know that there are people who might talk to Kenzie and Gennaro who might not open up to the cops. The two private eyes protest; they’re reluctant to take the case on. They’re new at the game and most of their experience revolves around tracking down people who have skipped out on their payments for their jet skis. But Bea and Lionel have faith in them.

They approach the police and Captain Jack Doyle (Freeman), in charge of a task force devoted to crimes involving children, is sympathetic. He also knows that the McCready clan is right – it might not be a bad idea to have some guys helping out the cops that aren’t on the payroll. So he assigns the two inexperienced private eyes to Detectives Remy Bressant (Harris) and Nick Poole (Ashton).

Pretty soon, the addition of Gennaro and Kenzie pay dividends as they begin to get some of the area lowlifes to cough up information. However, the two are taken in directions they couldn’t possibly expect. They’re in way over their heads and they know it. The problem is that a child’s life is depending on them – and their own lives are hanging in the balance as well.

This is based on a Dennis Lehane novel and like all of Lehane’s novels, the plot is amazingly tight and well-constructed. Ben Affleck, who would go on to Oscar-worthy work and becoming one of Hollywood’s most promising directors, was working on his first feature here. He is remarkably self-assured in his direction; apparently all that time as a pretty boy actor paid off as he definitely seems to have made notes from the various directors he has worked for. Nothing here is extraneous, from the images to the dialogue.

It helps that Affleck has assembled a fantastic cast, beginning with his brother. Some eyebrows were raised when Casey was cast in the lead; nepotism, right? Wrong. Casey had been mostly relegated to supporting roles but the guy can act – he would receive an Oscar nomination the same year this came out for The Assassination of Jesse James by the Coward Robert Ford and this performance is at least as good. Kenzie is not as self-assured as most thriller heroes; he is only too aware of his limitations, but given the stakes soldiers on as best he can.

The supporting performances are solid as well. Freeman and Harris are two of the finest and most respected actors in Hollywood and given material like this, they can’t help but shine. Ryan, mostly known for her Broadway work, absolutely breaks out with a magnificent performance. Helene is a drug addicted, selfish and promiscuous woman, absolutely unworthy of being a mother. To her credit, Ryan portrays her without any sympathetic moments; we only feel contempt for Helene and that’s the way the plot needs it. Madigan, Welliver and Ashton are all superb as well.

Sadly, Michelle Monaghan – a fine actress – is given little to do other than stand by Affleck and look concerned, or nod in agreement. She is little more than window dressing, which as I recall is not the way Gennaro was in the novel. Sadly, it feels like the Hollywood powers that be felt little confidence in having a woman be an equal to a man in a detective thriller.

Affleck had been in the middle of a slow spot in his acting career when this came out; he not only established himself as a director to be respected, but shortly afterwards resurrected his acting career as well. These days, he is much in demand in both capacities. Gone Baby Gone is the kind of movie that will punch you in the gut repeatedly until you’re breathless and wiped out. Some may find the tension unbearable, particularly in terms of having a child at risk. This was a sleeper critical hit when it came out and remains one of those hidden gems that not very many people think about in terms of movies they want to revisit – but it is worth doing that very thing.

WHY RENT THIS: Excellently written thriller. Fine performances throughout. Realistic heroes.
WHY RENT SOMETHING ELSE: Monaghan given little to do. May hit too close to home for some.
FAMILY VALUES: There is a ton of foul language, some violence and drug use.
TRIVIAL PURSUIT: Amy Ryan’s Boston accent was so convincing that security guards refused to let her on the set because they thought she was a local trying to get in. It was only when a producer noticed her on the wrong side of the barricade that she was allowed on.
NOTABLE HOME VIDEO EXTRAS: There is a featurette detailing the thoughts behind the casting and how it was accomplished.
BOX OFFICE PERFORMANCE: $34.6M on a $19M production budget.
SITES TO SEE: Netflix (DVD Rental only), Amazon, iTunes, Vudu
COMPARISON SHOPPING: Mystic River
FINAL RATING: 7/10
NEXT: Inside Out

We Are Marshall


They are Marshall.

They are Marshall.

(2006) True Sports Drama (Warner Brothers) Matthew McConaughey, Matthew Fox, Anthony Mackie, David Strathairn, Ian McShane, Katie Mara, January Jones, Kimberly Williams-Paisley, Arlen Escarpeta, Brian Geraghty, Tommy Cresswell, Christian Kanupke, Nina Jones, Kevin Atkins, Mark Patton, Robert Patrick, Katie Kneeland Directed by McG

The American Experience 2015

On November 14, 1970, a chartered plane carrying the football team of Marshall University, the Thundering Herd, back to Huntington WV where the University is following a loss to the East Carolina Pirates clipped some trees on the approach to the runway and crashed into a gully a mile from landing safely. Every one of the 75 souls on that plane died in the horrific, fiery crash.

It remains the worst loss of life regarding an American sports team in history but it was more than that. Along with almost the entire Marshall football team, the plane carried the athletic director for the university, four trainers, all but one of the coaches, a state legislator, a city councilman, four physicians and 25 boosters. Seventy children lost at least one parent in the crash and 18 were orphaned.

The effect on the community was devastating. Huntington was then (and is now) a small college town; much of the town’s life revolves around the university and their football team, though it had been mediocre in recent years, still was a source of pride to the town. With the town paralyzed by grief, Marshall’s acting president Donald Dedmon (Strathairn) was ready to discontinue the football program. However, Nate Ruffin (Mackie), a wide receiver who hadn’t gone on the trip to East Carolina due to an injury, convinced Dedmon (with the help of the student body) to keep the team.

The surviving coach, Red Dawson (Fox) was offered the head coach position but was too grief-stricken to accept. After a long, fruitless search, Jack Lengyel (McConaughey) from tiny Wooster College, was given the job. It wouldn’t be an easy one. Essentially, they’d be starting a team from scratch, utilizing athletes from other sports at the University and former members of the Junior Varsity. Dedmon, at Lengyel’s urging, petitioned the NCAA to allow freshmen to be eligible to play on the Varsity. At the time, Freshmen were forbidden to play for the Varsity, the line of thought being that they didn’t have the maturity to handle the pressures of big time college athletics and that a year adjusting to college life would be more beneficial; the NCAA has since changed their rules on that matter.

Still, it would be an uphill battle and everyone knew that the team would be just awful that year. Would a team woefully unqualified truly be able to honor the memory of those who had died, or would they tarnish it? Is just stepping on the field enough?

While We Are Marshall disappointed at the box office when it was released, it has since become something of an icon of the true sports drama genre. Certainly the story is compelling enough; watching an entire town and university grieve for an unimaginable tragedy is almost mind-boggling. Even now, almost a decade after the movie came out, I still mist up just thinking about it.

For the most part, McG handles the tragedy with sensitivity. For one thing, he doesn’t show the actual crash, just the aftermath. He doesn’t beat the audience over the head with grief, although certainly the grieving process is a part of the film’s story. Less is more in this case.

McConaughey at the time this was made was best known for romantic comedies in which he usually found an excuse to take his shirt off. In many ways, this was the movie that led us to reconsider our opinion about the actor and reveal that there was more to him than a laid-back romantic lead. The guy can act, as was revealed more recently with an Oscar win and an Emmy nomination.

There are some other performances here that are worth knowing. McShane plays a University trustee in favor of discontinuing football; his son – the starting quarterback – had died in the crash and in many ways his grief had overwhelmed him. Fox is outstanding as Dawson, a man with survivor’s guilt who slowly comes on board with the idea of resuming his life. Mackie’s Ruffin provides leadership for the team and University. Strathairn gives Dedmon gravitas and the reliable character actor is at the top of his game here.

One of the few things I can fault the film for is its dialogue. It doesn’t sound like human beings talking; it’s mostly a series of inspirational quotes. I would have preferred fewer platitudes and more realistic conversation. While it might have looked good in the script, it creates a gulf between audience and character that is unnecessary; we really want to relate to them and it’s harder to when they sound like Gary Cooper delivering Lou Gehrig’s final speech.

That said this is one of the most moving sports films ever made, right up there with Hoosiers and The Miracle. Some might find it to be manipulative – the subplot involving Katie Mara’s waitress character (she was the fiance of Ian McShane’s son) certainly is – but overall I thought the movie comes by its emotional impact honestly. It can take more courage to get up in the morning and move on with your life than it does to step onto a battlefield, and in the face of overwhelming grief, the courage and heart of an entire town and University is to be admired.

WHY RENT THIS: McConaughey breaks out as a dramatic actor. Deeply moving and effective subject matter. Handled with reverence and respect.
WHY RENT SOMETHING ELSE: Subplots are occasionally manipulative and the characters tend to speak in platitudes.
FAMILY VALUES: The material can be very emotional and those who are sensitive about such things should probably steer clear. There’s also some mildly harsh language.
TRIVIAL PURSUIT: While much of the movie was filmed in Huntington, the stadium that the Thundering Herd played in back in 1971 – Fairfield Stadium – had been demolished in 2004. The filmmakers used Herndon Stadium in Atlanta for Marshall’s home games in the movie.
NOTABLE HOME VIDEO EXTRAS: The DVD and Blu-Ray both include an ad for West Virginia tourism, a featurette on legendary college coaches and what techniques they used to motivate their students and a brief look at Marshall University today.
BOX OFFICE PERFORMANCE: $43.6M on a $65M production budget.
SITES TO SEE: Netflix (DVD Rental only), Amazon, Flixster, iTunes, Vudu
COMPARISON SHOPPING: Hoosiers
FINAL RATING: 9/10
NEXT: The American Experience continues!

New Releases for the Week of July 3, 2015


Terminator GenisysTERMINATOR: GENISYS

(Paramount) Arnold Schwarzenegger, Jason Clarke, Jai Courtney, Emilia Clarke, J.K. Simmons, Dayo Okeniyi, Matt Smith, Courtney B. Vance. Directed by Alan Taylor

We’ve seen this one before; human resistance leader John Connor discovers that Skynet has sent a terminator cyborg back in time to kill his mother. He needs someone to protect her and brave Kyle Reese volunteers. Except when he gets back in time, things are a lot different than what John Connor remembered – and Sarah Connor is a whole lot tougher than John ever knew. She has a plan to keep Judgment Day from happening, but Skynet is going all out to ensure that it does.

See the trailer, clips, interviews, a promo and B-roll video here.
For more on the movie this is the website .
Release Formats: Standard, 3D, IMAX 3D (opened Wednesday)
Genre: Science Fiction
Now Playing: Wide Release
Rating: PG-13 (for intense sequences of sci-fi violence and gunplay throughout, partial nudity and brief strong language)

Aloft

(Sony Classics) Jennifer Connelly, Cillian Murphy, Melanie Laurent, Oona Chaplin. A woman abandons her son; he seeks answers, cutting himself off from feeling anything in order to bear the weight of a crushing tragedy. A woman who is obsessed with curing herself leaves everything she knows behind in a desperate attempt to follow her dream. All three will meet where past and present merge in an exciting film set in the mysterious and beautiful Arctic.

See the trailer and clips here.
For more on the movie this is the website.
Release Formats: Standard
Genre: Drama
Now Playing: Regal Winter Park Village
Rating: R (for language and some sensuality)

Faith of Our Fathers

(Goldwyn/Pure Flix) Kevin Downes, David A.R. White, Stephen Baldwin, Candace Cameron Bure. As the Vietnam War is at its height, two new fathers report for duty – one a cynic, the other devout. They send to their new sons letters hand-written from in country. Years later their sons – now grown men – make a pilgrimage to the Vietnam War monument in Washington DC. They will meet as strangers but they will share a common bond – loving fathers whose bonds cannot be shattered by the chaos of war.

See the trailer here.
For more on the movie this is the website.
Release Formats: Standard
Genre: Faith-Based Drama
Now Playing: AMC Altamonte Mall, AMC Downtown Disney, AMC West Oaks, Regal Oviedo Mall, Regal Pointe Orlando, Regal Winter Park Village
Rating: PG-13 (for sexual content, drug material, language and some thematic elements)

Magic Mike XXL

(Warner Brothers) Channing Tatum, Amber Heard, Jada Pinkett Smith, Elizabeth Banks. Three years after Magic Mike, the legendary headliner of the Kings of Tampa hung up his g-string for good, the troupe is ready to call it a day. However, they want one last blow-out at a festival in Myrtle Beach and they convince Mike to dance one last time. On a road trip with stops in Jacksonville and Savannah, the boys will learn that it takes more than moves to be legendary.

See the trailer, clips, interviews and B-roll video here.
For more on the movie this is the website.
Release Formats: Standard (opened Wednesday)
Genre: Dramedy
Now Playing: Wide Release
Rating: R (for strong sexual content, pervasive language, some nudity and drug use)

The Overnight

(The Orchard) Adam Scott, Jason Schwartzman, Taylor Schilling, Judith Godreche. Newly arrived in Los Angeles, a young couple with their young son know nobody in the trendy Silver Lake district. A chance meeting at a birthday party gets them invited to a pizza dinner with the young son who their own son has become fast friends with and his sophisticated parents. Once the kids are put to bed, things get very, very strange very, very fast. Not only has this been getting a huge buzz but this was one of the more acclaimed films at the recent Florida Film Festival and you can read my review of the movie here.

See the trailer and clips here.
For more on the movie this is the website.
Release Formats: Standard
Genre: Sex Comedy
Now Playing: AMC West Oaks, Regal Winter Park Village
Rating: R (for sexuality/nudity and language)

The American Experience 2015


The American Experience 2015With Independence Day just around the corner, that means it is time for our annual mini-review festival that looks at what it’s like to be an American. The American Experience centers around movies that depict the American lifestyle, events in American history or famous Americans. In fact, our banner this year depicts an iconic scene from an Oscar-winning biopic about a famous American warrior. Perhaps ironically, that’s not one of the films I’m reviewing this year, although I will get around to reviewing Patton one of these days. It was one of my father’s favorites.

So hopefully those readers who are Americans will be enjoying their holiday weekend with traditional barbecues, fireworks and getting together with family and friends as we celebrate our home. And what could be more American than a motion picture, something that an American invented and has been an American art form for more than a century? Happy Fourth everybody!

Me and Earl and the Dying Girl


Bet you can guess which one is the dying girl.

Bet you can guess which one is the dying girl.

(2015) Drama (Fox Searchlight) Thomas Mann, RJ Cyler, Olivia Cooke, Nick Offerman, Molly Shannon, Connie Britton, Jon Bernthal, Katherine C. Hughes, Matt Bennett, Massam Holden, Bobb’e J. Thompson, Gavin Dietz, Edward DeBruce III, Natalie Marchelletta, Chelsea Zhang, Marco Zappala, Kaza Marie Ayersman, Hugh Jackman, Etta Cox, Nicole Tubbs. Directed by Alfonso Gomez-Rejon

Hollywood tends to churn out movies aimed at the teen market and why not; teens make a sizable chunk of their audience and even though they don’t necessarily go to movie theaters as often as they once did – many view movies via the internet or other sources – they still are an important economic factor to the studios. Indie films tend to be less teen-centric although that doesn’t mean that we don’t see coming of age films emerge from the ranks of the indies.

Greg (Mann) is just trying to navigate the treacherous waters of high school without hitting a reef. He determines that the best way to avoid being picked on by a clique is to be part of all of them, at least to an extent. So he is friendly with everyone in a nondescript way; he’s carefully built up anonymity at his school. Everyone likes him, but nobody knows him and he wants to keep it that way.

He doesn’t have any friends per se except for Earl (Cyler) and even Earl he refers to as a co-worker. The two spend most of their time making short parodies of famous films with oddball titles and premises; The Godfather becomes The Sockfather; The 400 Blows becomes The 400 Bros and so forth. The two of them spend their lunch periods in the office of Mr. McCarthy (Bernthal), a history teacher who lets them watch movies in his office and is the only teacher they respect.

His parents aren’t the most ordinary on the block. His mom (Britton) mostly is, although she snoops around his stuff which irritates the hell out of him. His dad (Offerman), a college professor, mostly stays at home in a bathrobe, making unusual snacks of foreign delicacies that only Earl seems to appreciate. Neither one of them seem to be into telling him what to do, although his mom worries about his lack of friends. Nonetheless one day his mom badgers him to go spend some time with Rachel (Cooke) who was recently diagnosed with leukemia.

Greg doesn’t really know Rachel at all but his mom insists so he reluctantly hangs out and to his surprise the two of them have a lot more in common than you might think and what was supposed to be a one-time chore for an hour or two becomes a regular thing. Some mistake the budding friendship for romance but as Greg says repeatedly in voice-over narration, this isn’t that kind of story. He allows her to watch his crappy movies and keeps her company while she suffers through her chemotherapy and depression. Greg though doesn’t really know how to handle the really emotional stuff and eventually alienates both Earl and Rachel as well as Madison (Hughes), a very pretty girl who is Rachel’s friend and seems intent on what Greg believes to be manipulating him but could just be a teenage girl with a crush on a guy that doesn’t normally attract girls like her. High school can be a real drag that way.

This movie probably generated the most buzz at Sundance earlier this year and it is for good reason; Me and Earl and the Dying Girl is for coming of age films as (500) Days of Summer is to romantic comedies and that’s high praise indeed. While this film isn’t quite as innovative as the other, it has that same spirit and gives the conventions of a genre a slight twist to give the audience a fresh perspective of that type of film.

You could say that the situation is not unknown in coming of age movies and you’d be right. You could say that this film is full of indie cliches and rote characters and you’d be right on target. And yet still the movie manages to hold my attention and stick in my mind after the film had thoroughly unspooled, and that’s surprising; on paper it would seem like the kind of film I’d forget after enduring it. You don’t find many movies that defy characterization like that.

The young leads – Mann, Cyler and Cooke – all turn in strong performances and all of them show the ability to become big stars in the not-too-distant future. While in Mann’s case the character is given a ton of indie quirks, he manages to overcome the tendency to make him a cliche and instead imbues the character with authenticity. He reacts as a real teen would which is not always the way you would want him to. Greg makes mistakes as all people do but in particular teens who lack the life experience and perspective to make the right decision all the time. This is also true of Rachel and Earl as well.

Cooke as the dying girl refuses to be maudlin; she is terrified of what is to come but she’s also weary of the effects of her treatment. She isn’t a vain person by nature but when her hair falls out it affects her unexpectedly.

The supporting performances are also strong. Offerman is fatherly in a quirky sort of way; his character understands his son much better than Greg’s overly critical mom does even though when push comes to shove his mom has his back more than he realizes. Offerman is offbeat here but never overwhelmingly so and thus fits into the story like a glove. Bernthal, best known for his role as Shane in The Walking Dead, doesn’t play your typical high school teacher, tattooed and a fan of Pho but able to connect with his students in a meaningful way. Once again, Bernthal makes a character that could easily become cliche and makes him believable.

Best of all is former SNL standout Molly Shannon as Rachel’s mom, who is coping with her baby having a deadly disease, and she self-medicates in order to do it. Her relationship with Greg is borderline inappropriate and she always seems to have a glass of wine in her hand, but the role – while funny – never descends into parody and we wind up having enormous empathy for a woman who knows that if her only daughter dies, she’ll be all alone in the world. How unbearable must that be.

This is a movie that rather than being manipulative as these types of films tend to be comes by its emotional payoffs honestly. We become involved in the story and in Greg, and care about the characters in the movie as if they were in our own neighborhood. In a summer full of blockbusters and big studio releases, this might get lost in the shuffle in a lot of ways but is worth keeping an eye out for. It is expanding into a wide release this weekend and is one of those rare teen movies that I can not only recommend to teens but to adults as well. This might just be the best movie you see this summer.

REASONS TO GO: Excellent performances all around. Feels authentic. Gripping when it needs to be, funny when it needs to be.
REASONS TO STAY: Occasionally suffers from indie preciousness. Sometimes feels like it’s borrowing from too many other sources.
FAMILY VALUES: The thematic elements are fairly adult; there is some sexuality, some drug use and a bit of foul language.
TRIVIAL PURSUIT: Fox Searchlight purchased this film for $12 million at this year’s Sundance Film Festival; it is as of this date the most ever paid for a film at Sundance.
CRITICAL MASS: As of 7/1/15: Rotten Tomatoes: 82% positive reviews.. Metacritic: 74/100.
COMPARISON SHOPPING: The Fault in Our Stars
FINAL RATING: 8.5/10
NEXT: The American Experience 2015 begins!

Pick of the Litter – July 2015


BLOCKBUSTER OF THE MONTH

Ant-Man

Ant-Man

(Disney/Marvel) Paul Rudd, Michael Douglas, Evangeline Lilly, Corey Stoll. Only two months after their blockbuster success with Avengers: Age of Ultron, Marvel is right back in the saddle with the final chapter in their Cinematic Universe Phase II. This one is a bit controversial within the fan community as fan favorite director Edgar Wright left the project over the proverbial “creative differences” to be replaced by Peyton Reed (who was also considered for Guardians of the Galaxy by the way). There are those who think that Wright’s version was too funny for Marvel; there are others who think just the opposite. Whatever the reasons are, Ant-Man is an interesting choice at this stage in the Marvel game; one of the original Avengers, he never really took off on his own. Once again it will be curious to see whether he connects with the moviegoing audience – but given Marvel’s track record, it seems the smart money will bet on the House of Ideas coming out ahead. July 17

INDEPENDENT PICKS

Jimmys Hall

Jimmy’s Hall

(Sony Classics) Barry Ward, Francis Magee, Aileen Henry, Simone Kirby. Master director Ken Loach brings to the screen this film based on true events. An Irish political activist who owns a meeting hall wherein political discussion is encouraged, but also (horrors) dancing is forced to flee during the Red Scare of the 1920s. Eventually he returns home from America to care for his ailing mother, vowing to lead a quiet peaceful life but as he sees the cultural oppression brought on by politicians and the Catholic Church, he knows he can remain silent no longer. He reopens the hall, knowing that the repercussions may be devastating. Given the control of our lives seems to rest in the hands of the politicians and evangelical Christians these days, the movie has particular resonance. July 3

10,000 km

10,000 KM

(Broad Green) Natalia Tena, David Verdaguer. A Spanish couple is separated when Alex gets a medical internship in Los Angeles while Sergi is left behind in Barcelona. The two try to keep their romance blossoming over the Internet, but distance can breed divergence. This debut film by Spanish director Carlos Marques-Marcet takes romance to the next level and modernizes it in the age of social media. The movie that has quietly been racking up global critical acclaim and is one of the first American releases by new distributor Broad Green. July 10

Strangerland

Strangerland

(Alchemy) Nicole Kidman, Joseph Fiennes, Hugo Weaving, Maddison Brown. In this Aussie thriller, a teenage girl disappears and in a small town on the edge of the desert, that is no laughing matter indeed. As her desperate mother tries to find her little girl, the lid is opened on a Pandora’s box of secrets involving her daughter, her husband and her own infidelity. One of the many movies that got a distribution deal out of this year’s Sundance Film Festival, it has fallen a bit under the radar compared to other bigger profile films but judging on the trailer and the quiet but insistent buzz, this might turn out to be one of the more memorable films from that Festival to make it out into theatrical distribution this year. July 10

The Look of Silence

The Look of Silence

(Drafthouse) Adi, Joshua Oppenheimer. In Indonesia in 1965, a brutal military coup led to the death of a million people, a genocide that even today the government of Indonesia has essentially turned its back on. Some of the atrocities committed during the period were documented in Joshua Oppenheimer’s amazing documentary The Act of Killing which was my number one movie of 2013. Now comes this companion piece in which the family of a victim of that genocide confronts the killers of their family member. July 17

The Stanford Prison Experiment

The Stanford Prison Experiment

(IFC) Olivia Thirlby, Ezra Miller, Michael Angarano, Billy Crudup. In 1971, Stanford psychology professor Dr. Philip Zimbardo selected 24 male students to play prison guards and prisoners in a mock prison set up in the basement of the psychology building. The results of that experiment were chilling and had the entire world talking about it. While there have been movies based on the events that took place there, this is the first one to tell the true story of the experiment. This looks to be one of the more intense cinematic experiences of the summer. July 17

A Gay Girl in Damascus The Amina Profile

A Gay Girl in Damascus: The Amina Profile

(Sundance Selects) Sandra Bagaria, Tom MacMaster. As the Arab Spring picked up steam in that heady days of May 2011, a courageous blogger named Amina Abdallah Arraf al Omari started a blog titled A Gay Girl in Damascus began reporting on events there as someone who apparently had intimate knowledge of the organizers of protests in that city. On June 6, 2011, it was reported that Amina had been forcibly abducted from the streets of Damascus by three armed men who took her in a van bearing the name of the President’s brother. An outpouring of protest from international sources put pressure on Syria to release the young lesbian woman. However, the story then took a turn that nobody expected. July 24

Phoenix

Phoenix

(Sundance Selects) Nina Hoss, Ronald Zehrfeld, Nina Kunzendorf, Kirsten Block. At the conclusion of World War II a badly disfigured woman is rescued from the concentration camps and given facial reconstructive surgery. She goes in search of her husband – who may have been the one who betrayed her to the Nazis and now is cooking up a scam to have this woman, who resembles his wife but can’t possibly be her, collect on her inheritance and split the money with him. A stylish thriller in the tradition of Hitchcock from renowned German director Christian Petzold. July 24

Listen to Me Marlon

Listen to Me Marlon

(Showtime) Marlon Brando. One of the greatest actors of his generation, or of any other, was Marlon Brando. This documentary features Brando, from a variety of interviews, talking about his own life and philosophies. Notoriously reticent, these recently discovered tapes are a gold mine and coupled with home movie footage and behind the scenes footage from his great movies, fans and non-fans alike will be able to get a glimpse of one of the most fascinating personalities of the 20th Century completely uninhibited. While this is going to be primarily aired on the Showtime premium cable network, there will also be a brief theatrical release in New York City and possibly elsewhere. July 29

Best of Enemies

Best of Enemies

(Magnolia) William F. Buckley Jr., Gore Vidal, Dick Cavett, John Lithgow. During the 1968 Presidential election, essayist and conservative commentator William F. Buckley Jr. and novelist, essayist and liberal commentator Gore Vidal were hired to provide political commentary for ABC News. Both men were urbane, literate and patrician but putting them together was like bringing together gasoline and a lit match. The two traded insults and often the insults turned ugly. The two men genuinely disliked one another, but both men reflected the best of their respective ideologies of their day. July 31

Outside the Law (Hors la loi) (2010)


Gangsters, Algerian-style.

Gangsters, Algerian-style.

(2010) Drama (Cohen Media Group) Jamel Debbouze, Roschdy Zem, Sami Bouajila, Chafia Boudraa, Bernard Blancan, Sabrina Seyvecou, Assaad Bouab, Thibault de Montalembert, Samir Guesmi, Jean-Pierre Lorit, Ahmed Benaissa, Larbi Zekkal, Louisa Nehar, Mourad Khen, Mohamed Djouhari, Mustapha Bendou, Nacer Chenouf, Kheiza Agboubi. Directed by Rachid Bouchareb

In the mid to late 20th century, European colonialism kind of came to an end. It didn’t come easily. The Algerians, for example, fought the French tooth and nail to get them out – took the fight to France, even. There were acts of terrorism committed on French soil; some compared the Algerian FLM group to the Irish IRA. There was a lot of that going on.

Three brothers live on a farm that their family has worked for generations. Then, the family is dispossessed of their land, not because they’ve done anything wrong but because an indolent French aristocrat wants the land for himself.

They scatter to the four winds. Said (Debbouze) becomes an apolitical pimp and promoter of underground boxing matches. Messaoud (Zem) joins the French army and fights in another French colony – French Indochina, what we now call Vietnam. There he sees similarities to what is happening in Algeria, leading him to join a nationalist group when he returns to Algeria. Abdelkader (Bouajila) also joins the FLN – the Front de Libération Nationale or National Liberation Front, and becomes an organizer. Both brothers will be chased by Colonel Faivre (Blancan) who has formed a secret police group called the Red Hand, who answer to nobody in their quest to stop the terrorist attacks.

All three bear a lifelong resentment to the French government for leaving them homeless. Said doesn’t at first want anything to do with his brother’s politics but an unspeakable act of violence leads the brothers on a collision course with the French government.

This movie met with some controversy when it was released in France back in 2010. Even though the Algerian War occurred well over 50 years ago, the wounds from it still run deep. Bouchareb, who is himself of Algerian descent, makes no bones that this movie is from any other viewpoint than that of Algeria. Some felt that the real events depicted – in particular the Setif Massacre, which France has held was a reaction to terrorist attacks in France by the FLN. History tends to side with the FLN and the filmmakers clearly do.

Bouchareb is clearly influenced by Frances Ford Coppola, Sam Peckinpah, Sergio Leone and other directors of that era. The violence here is almost beautiful in its choreography and the action sequences are well-executed and exciting. While at well over two hours the movie does drag in places, for the most part it moves pretty swiftly.

The three lead actors don’t look very much alike but still have a chemistry (they all appeared in Bouchareb’s previous film Days of Glory) that helps the movie work. As with most brothers, they don’t necessarily agree on everything but one thing they agree on is that they have each other’s backs no matter what. While some of their characters are a bit on the cliche side, the actors all deliver commendable performances.

What the movie doesn’t do is provide a whole lot of context. While in France and Algeria the events here are well-known, here in the States they are not. Of course, not every movie needs to be made for American audiences, but I would think younger audiences in France and Algeria might need a little bit of background as well.

Essentially this is a decently made, well-executed drama with action sequences that stand out. If you’re looking to find out more about history, this is the wrong place to look. However, if you’re looking for an Algerian perspective on the events of that time and place, this isn’t a bad place to start.

WHY RENT THIS: Solid action sequences. Fine chemistry among the leads.
WHY RENT SOMETHING ELSE: A little bit cliche. Doesn’t enlighten about the real-life issues.
FAMILY VALUES: Violence, language and adult themes.
TRIVIAL PURSUIT: The official submission for Algeria for the 2011 Oscars; it did make the short list but ultimately didn’t win the statue.
NOTABLE DVD EXTRAS: While we normally don’t extol the making-of featurette, this one contains some information about the real-life events that inspired the film. There are also extensive interviews with the filmmakers and cast.
BOX OFFICE PERFORMANCE: $3.4M on a $22M production budget.
SITES TO SEE: Netflix (DVD/Blu-Ray Rental only). Amazon, iTunes
COMPARISON SHOPPING: Public Enemies
FINAL RATING: 6.5/10
NEXT: Me and Earl and the Dying Girl