New Releases for the Week of July 12, 2019


STUBER

(20th Century Fox) Kumail Nanjiani, Dave Bautista, Iko Uwais, Natalie Morales, Betty Gilpin, Jimmy Tatro, Mira Sorvino, Karen Gillan. Directed by Michael Dowse

A mild-mannered Uber driver picks up a hyper-violent cop who has had his wheels taken away. On a high-stakes case, the cop will enlist the driver to go above and beyond the standard rideshare contract.

See the trailer, clips, interviews, video featurettes and B-roll video here
For more on the movie this is the website
Genre: Action Comedy
Now Playing: Wide Release
Rating: R (for violence and language throughout, some sexual references and brief graphic nudity)

Bethany Hamilton: Unstoppable

(Entertainment Studios) Bethany Hamilton. The subject of the hit movie Soul Surfer gets a documentary of her own. Champion surfer Bethany Hamilton has a brush with death when a shark attack takes one of her arms. Undaunted, she works hard and returns to being one of the best in the world at the sport she loves.

See the trailer here
For more on the movie this is the website  
Genre: Documentary
Now Playing: AMC Disney Springs, Regal Oviedo Marketplace, Regal Waterford Lakes
Rating: PG (for thematic elements)

Crawl

(Paramount) Kaya Scodelario, Barry Pepper, Ross Anderson, Morfydd Clark. When a massive hurricane batters Florida, a young woman, unable to contact her father, drives desperately to his lake house to find him gravely injured. As the flood waters rise, they discover that the flooding is the least of their problems.

See the trailer, interviews and a clip here
For more on the movie this is the website  
Genre: Horror
Now Playing: Wide Release
Rating: R (for bloody creature violence, and brief language)

The Fall of the American Empire

(Sony Classics) Alexandre Landry, Maripier Morin, Rėmy Girard, Louis Morissette. A delivery man with a PhD in philosophy is dropping off a package when he comes across the aftermath of a hold-up gone terribly wrong. With millions in money bags on the ground, will he do the moral thing or do the human thing?

See the trailer here
For more on the movie this is the website  
Genre: Comedy
Now Playing: Cinematique of Daytona, Regal Winter Park Village
Rating: R (for some strong violence, sexual content/nudity and language)

Super 30

(Reliance) Hrithik Roshan, Mrunal Thakur, Amit Sadh, Pankaj Tripathi. This is the true story of a mathematics genius from a poor family who is determined to prove that the best minds don’t necessarily come from the right side of the tracks. He begins a training program designed to help disadvantaged students in India the opportunity to attend the most prestigious technical college and make something better of themselves and their country.

See the trailer and clips here
For more on the movie this is the website  
Genre: True Life Drama
Now Playing: AMC West Oaks, Cinemark Artegon Marketplace, Touchstar Southchase
Rating: NR

Wild Rose

(NEON) Jessie Buckley, Julie Walters, Sophie Okonedo, Jamie Sives. A young British mother of two children dreams of being a country music superstar and has the talent to get her foot in the door. However, she is far away from Nashville and having just been released from prison, her responsibilities to her family are complicating the achievement of her dreams.

See the trailer and video featurettes here
For more on the movie this is the website  
Genre: Musical
Now Playing: Enzian Theater, Rialto Spanish Springs Square
Rating: R (for language throughout, some sexuality and brief drug material)

ALSO OPENING IN ORLANDO/DAYTONA:

Konttho
Phil
Summer Night
Sunshine Family
Trespassers

ALSO OPENING IN MIAMI/FT. LAUDERDALE:

Be Natural: The Untold Story of Alice Guy-Blanche
Dorasaani
In the Aisles
Maiden
The Other Story
The Reports on Sarah and Saleem
The White Storm 2: Drug Lords
Yuli

ALSO OPENING IN TAMPA/ST. PETERSBURG/SARASOTA:

Dorasaani
I Got the Hook-Up 2
Lying and Stealing

ALSO OPENING IN JACKSONVILLE/ST. AUGUSTINE:

Dorasaani

SCHEDULED FOR REVIEW:

Crawl
Maiden
Stuber
Wild Rose

Maze Runner: The Death Cure


How can they be surprised at the bad reviews?

(2018) Science Fiction (20th Century Fox) Dylan O’Brien, Thomas Brodie Sangster, Ki Hong Lee, Kaya Scodelario, Dexter Darden, Will Poulter, Jacob Lofland, Rosa Salazar, Giancarlo Esposito, Aidan Gillen, Patricia Clarkson, Barry Pepper, Nathalie Emmanuel, Katherine McNamara, Walton Goggins, Dylan Smith,  Jake Curran, Greg Kriek, Liza Scholtz. Directed by Wes Ball

 

There have been a number of dystopian sci-fi trilogies in the young adult book market as of late, several of which have been converted to the silver screen. Divergent, The Hunger Games and Maze Runner all feature young heroes who shoulder the responsibility of changing their society for the better. It makes me wonder if that hasn’t rubbed off on the current generation who recently took to the streets to protest a lack of movement on gun control.

However, while one applauds the passion of the Parkland pack, it’s hard to appreciate the cinematic skills displayed on this, the finale of the Maze Runner series. It’s stupefying in its length – two hours and twenty odd minutes – and seems to be repetitive in its action. We learn the horrifying truth about WCKD – that in a latch-ditch effort to find a cure for the disease that has overtaken 80% of he population they have taken to experimenting on young people who have shown immunity to the disease which turns people into ravening homicidal maniacs – zombiesque you might say – that has essentially wiped out civilization in all but the Last City.

The original group of maze runners has shown up on a variety of sides; Teresa (Scodelario) is a researcher for WCKD and her mother (Clarkson) is the head scientist for them. Minho (Lee) has been taken by WCKD and its head security guy Janson (Gillen); Newt (Sangster) has finally come down with the disease while Thomas (O’Brien) is leading the rescue efforts to pick up Minho before they sail to a deserted island to live away from the madness in peace and tranquility.

The trend of dividing the trilogy finale into two separate movies was not adopted here, likely because the filmmakers did enough padding (for example, the opening train sequence doesn’t appear in the book) and still couldn’t fill up two movies. As usual with young adult adventure stories, kids are heroic (mostly) and adults are evil (mostly) and the adults underestimate the kids and don’t understand them – yes, it’s a bit pedantic but I suppose you have to appeal to the sensitivities of the market you’re after.

Sangster is one of my favorite young actors out there but he doesn’t get much to do here until the end. O’Brien shows tremendous potential but he hasn’t really won me over yet – the character of Thomas is just too cliché which is hardly his fault and yes, he imbues the character with nobility but Thomas is so one-note it’s difficult to assess whether O’Brien can pull off a multi-layered performance yet so the jury’s still out in my case.

There are plenty of pyrotechnics and oceans of CGI images and for the most part it’s executed well and why wouldn’t it be? With production delays incurred due to an on-set accident which put out the lead performer for almost a year, the effects houses were given plenty of time to work on the images. Still the story is so weak, the characters so been there done that and the movie way overlong that recommending this film is simply not in the cards. I am not convinced that this is the death cure but it sure is a cure for insomnia.

REASONS TO GO: The pyrotechnics and special effects were nifty in places.
REASONS TO STAY: The film is interminably long, dumb and predictable.
FAMILY VALUES: There is action and violence, some thematic concerns as well as a smattering of mild profanity.
TRIVIAL PURSUIT: O’Brien was seriously injured during the opening train scene when he fell off the top of the train; it took nearly a year for him to recover from his injuries, delaying the release of the film from 2017 to January 2018..
CRITICAL MASS: As of 3/26/18: Rotten Tomatoes: 43% positive reviews. Metacritic: 51/100.
COMPARISON SHOPPING: The Divergent Series: Insurgent
FINAL RATING: 5/10
NEXT:
The Family

New Releases for the Week of January 26, 2018


MAZE RUNNER: THE DEATH CURE

(20th Century Fox) Dylan O’Brien, Kaya Scodelario, Thomas Brodie Sangster, Will Poulter, Jacob Lofland, Giancarlo Esposito, Patricia Clarkson, Aidan Gillen, Barry Pepper. Directed by Wes Ball

The final chapter in the Maze Runner trilogy sees the young hero Thomas desperately searching the post-apocalyptic Earth for the cure to the deadly plague known as The Flare. The project was delayed after star Dylan O’Brien was injured during filming.

See the trailer here.
For more on the movie this is the website.

Release Formats: Standard, Dolby Atmos, IMAX, RPX, XD
Genre: Science Fiction
Now Playing: Wide Release

Rating: PG-13 (for intense sequences of sci-fi violence and action, language, and some thematic elements)

Hostiles

(Entertainment Studios) Christian Bale, Wes Studi, Rosamund Pike, Timothée Chalamet. A legendary army officer is tasked at the close of the 19th century to escort a dying Cheyenne war chief from a New Mexico fort where he had been incarcerated to the grasslands of Montana where his tribe has been sent. It’s a perilous journey and the captain is none to pleased about having to make it but during the trip circumstances will force him to work with his mortal enemy in order to survive.

See the trailer and interviews here.
For more on the movie this is the website

Release Formats: Standard
Genre: Western
Now Playing: Wide Release

Rating: R (for strong violence, and language)

ALSO OPENING IN ORLANDO/DAYTONA:

49 Pulses
Ang Dalawang Mrs. Reyes
Bhaagamathie
In the Fade
Padmaavat

ALSO OPENING IN MIAMI/FT. LAUDERDALE:

The Ballad of Lefty Brown
Bhaagamathie
Humor Me
Kickboxer: Retaliation
The Neighbor
Padmaavat

ALSO OPENING IN TAMPA/ST. PETERSBURG:

Aadu 2
Bhaagamathie
The Ballad of Lefty Brown
The Competition
The Neighbor
Padmaavat

ALSO OPENING IN JACKSONVILLE/ST. AUGUSTINE:

Ang Dalawang Mrs. Reyes
The Ballad of Lefty Brown
Bhaagamathie
The Divine Order
Padmaavat

SCHEDULED FOR REVIEW:

The Ballad of Lefty Brown
Hostiles
In the Fade
Maze Runner: The Death Cure

New Releases for the Week of February 24, 2017


Get OutGET OUT

(Universal/Blumhouse) Daniel Kaluuya, Allison Williams, Keith Stanfield, Bradley Whitford, Catherine Keener, Caleb Landry Jones, Erika Alexander. Directed by Jordan Peele

A young African-American man has reached that dreaded milestone in his relationship with his girlfriend; it’s time to meet the parents. There’s extra pressure on the situation because his girlfriend is white. When the two of them are invited on a weekend retreat at the parents’ estate-like getaway home, it’s nervousness and awkwardness all around as you might expect. However, he learns to his shock that this is merely a cover for something far more sinister. This is a very different side of Peele, one-half the acclaimed comedy team of Key and Peele.

See the trailer, interviews, clips and B-roll video here.
For more on the movie this is the website.

Release Formats: Standard
Genre: Thriller
Now Playing: Wide Release

Rating: R (for violence, bloody images, and language including sexual references)

Bitter Harvest

(Roadside Attractions) Max Irons, Lucy Brown, Barry Pepper, Terence Stamp. In 1933, Stalin had seized control of the Soviet Union. His ambitions however ran to further expansion of the communist regime. In order to do that, he decided to enforce a program of mass starvation in the Ukraine. Millions would die while a young artist tried to keep his lover alive by any means necessary. If you’re wondering why the Ukrainian people are so vehemently opposed to a Russian tyrant, this is why.

See the trailer and clips here.
For more on the movie this is the website.

Release Formats: Standard
Genre: Historical Drama
Now Playing: AMC Disney Springs, Regal Winter Park Village

Rating: R (for violence and disturbing images

Collide

(Open Road) Nicholas Hoult, Felicity Jones, Anthony Hopkins, Ben Kingsley. After a heist goes terribly wrong, a young criminal finds himself on the run from a ruthless drug lord. Enlisting the help of his former employer – an equally ruthless drug lord who is a rival to the one chasing him – he must somehow protect his girlfriend and not get caught between the two enemies. Considering the cast, this film has bounced around the release schedule for a few years and has now been released with almost zero promotion. That doesn’t bode well for the quality of the film.

See the trailer and clips here.
For more on the movie this is the website.

Release Formats: Standard
Genre: Action
Now Playing: Wide Release

Rating: PG-13 (for violence, frenetic action, some sexuality, language and drug material)

Journey to the West: The Demons Strike Back

(Magnolia) Likun Wang, Kris Wu, Kenny Lin, Yiwei Yang. A young monk who has made it his life’s calling to rid the world of demons (and there are MANY of them) has converted three of them to his cause through his love and self-sacrifice. Now this quartet undertakes a journey to the West that will be fraught with peril and test their bonds, but is necessary to save the people from a terrifying threat. This is a sequel (of sorts) to the 2013 film and represents a collaboration between two of the greatest names in Chinese cinema; writer Stephen Chow and director Tsui Hark.

See the trailer here.
For more on the movie this is the website.

Release Formats: Standard
Genre: Martial Arts Fantasy
Now Playing: Regal Waterford Lakes

Rating: PG-13 (for fantasy action violence, some suggestive content, rude humor and thematic elements)

Punching Henry

(Well Go USA) Henry Phillips, Tig Notaro, J.K. Simmons, Sarah Silverman. A struggling singer-songwriter (of satirical songs) thinks he’s finally gotten his big break when a high-powered TV producer summons him to Hollywood to pitch a reality TV show that is centered around him and his obstacle-laden career. What Henry doesn’t know however is that the actual intent of the producer is to create a show that is about the life of a loser.

See the trailer and a clip here.
For more on the movie this is the website.

Release Formats: Standard
Genre: Comedy
Now Playing: AMC Disney Springs

Rating: NR

Rock Dog

(Summit) Starring the voices of Luke Wilson, Eddie Izzard, Lewis Black, Sam Elliott. From time immemorial a clan of mastiffs has guarded the peaceful residents of Snow Mountain from a lunatic pack of wolves. However, when the son of the clan leader discovers a radio that plays that demon rock music, suddenly he wants a new path in life – that of a rock star. However, he’ll have to abandon his family and his home in order to do that. And, in true animated feature fashion, his music may end up saving Snow Mountain forever.

See the trailer and clips here.
For more on the movie this is the website.

Release Formats: Standard
Genre: Animated Feature
Now Playing: Wide Release

Rating: PG (for action and language)

Toni Erdmann

(Sony Classics) Sandra Hüller, Peter Simionischek, Michael Wittenborn, Thomas Loibl. A hard working German woman has a very strained relationship with her eccentric, practical joking father. In order to get her attention, he invents the character of Toni Erdmann, a life coach who challenges her to change her corporate lifestyle. At first she resists and the contest between them escalates until she eventually realizes that she needs her father more than she thought. This is an Oscar nominee for Best Foreign Language film.

See the trailer and clips here.
For more on the movie this is the website.

Release Formats: Standard
Genre: Comedy
Now Playing: Enzian Theater

Rating: R (for some sexuality/nudity)

Voodoo

(Freestyle) Samantha Stewart, Ruth Reynolds, Dominic Matteucci, Ron Jeremy. When a straight-laced Southern girl takes a vacation to Los Angeles to escape her increasingly complicated life, she comes face to face with an ancient voodoo priestess who curses her to relive all the horrible deeds she’s done – in this life and in previous ones.

See the trailer here.
For more on the movie this is the website.

Release Formats: Standard
Genre: Horror
Now Playing: AMC Loew’s Universal Cineplex

Rating: NR

Maze Runner: The Scorch Trials


Maze Runner The Scorch Trials

You’ve got to learn how to crawl before you learn how to run mazes.

(2015) Young Adult Sci-Fi (20th Century Fox) Dylan O’Brien, Thomas Brodie-Sangster, Kaya Scodelario, Ki Hong Lee, Rosa Salazar, Dexter Darden, Alexander Flores, Jacob Lofland, Giancarlo Esposito, Patricia Clarkson, Aidan Gillen, Terry Dale Parks, Kathryn Smith-McGlynn, Lili Taylor, Barry Pepper, J. Nathan Simmons, Alan Tudyk, Lora Martinez-Cunningham. Directed by Wes Ball

It seems that whenever you’re in the middle segment of a cinematic trilogy, there’s always a bit of a letdown; there’s usually more exposition that action and it lacks the kind of energy that marks the first installment, nor the emotional punch of the third. Would that happen to this sequel to the successful young adult science fiction adaptation The Maze Runner?

Following the conclusion of that film, the survivors of the Glade are brought into an underground facility, a way station before being taken to their final destination. No, that doesn’t sound sinister at all, right? In any case, Thomas (O’Brien) hooks up with Aris (Lofland), a survivor of a different Maze (there are apparently many of them) and discovers the truth about the facility – it is wholly owned by WCKD (pronounced “wicked,” possibly the most unsubtle acronym ever), the corporate blackhearts who created the Mazes and they’re conducting medical experiments on the kids who have made it this far.

Naturally, this doesn’t appeal much to Thomas and he takes the rest of his crew – Teresa (Scodelario), Newt (Brodie-Sangster), Minho (Lee), Frypan (Darden) and Winston (Flores) out of the frying pan and into the Scorch. The Scorch is the world above ground, an arid desert with unpredictable weather patterns, terrifying storms and creatures that roam the wasteland by night. A trip to the local mall leads to the discovery that they are victims of the Flare, a virus that turns the victims homicidal and utterly insane.

Thomas and the gang are looking for The Right Arm, an underground resistance group who may be able to shelter them from WCKD who clearly want them back badly; the chief scientist for WCKD, Dr. Ava Paige (Clarkson) has sent her assassin Janson (Gillen) to go fetch Thomas and his tank engine…er, crew.

After being captured by Jorge (Esposito) and his daughter Brenda (Salazar), they get away from WCKD and head out to find Marques, the man who might be able to find the Right Arm. Once again, it’s back into the fire as a happening party turns into a 90s rave and turns into a real bad trip. Once the kids find the Right Arm, however, they are going to find out that there are worse beasts in the wasteland than madmen, and that courage may not be enough to get them all through. Making it out alive may not be in the cards for all of them, but there may be worse things ahead for all of them.

No need to keep you in suspense; this isn’t as good as the first movie. That movie had a kinetic energy that is severely lacking here. Not that there aren’t some superior action scenes; there are, but while Maze Runner felt like a sprint, this is more of a distance run. Most of the same folks that didn’t get snuffed in the first film are back with a passel of new characters as well as the bulk of the same talent behind the camera. The problem with middle films in trilogies is that they are often connectors, linking point A and point B. The middle of a story is never as interesting as the beginning or the end.

O’Brien is a little bit more animated here but the same problem that plagued the first movie plagues this one; Thomas isn’t a very interesting lead character. They try to make him that way with references to his unremembered past but the real issue is that Thomas acts like every teen hero in every cinematic adaptation of a young adult novel ever, and it really is kind of tiresome. There’s nothing here to distinguish it from its competition and even given that the audience this is playing too is a lot less discriminating, they aren’t dummies; they know lazy writing when they see it.

Most of the rest of the cast is adequate to decent; the most promising performer in the first film doesn’t appear here. It’s just that they’re not given a lot to work with; the characters are mostly bland, recycled from other stories and films. None of them really grab your attention much. That’s the problem with having characters who can’t remember their past; there isn’t a lot for the audience to hold onto other than their actions and when you’re talking about actions that are pretty much standard young adult fantasy fare that’s only worse. Even the zombie-like Flare victims don’t measure up to the monsters of The Walking Dead and the special effects here are pretty much standard.

This is bargain basement sci-fi that doesn’t really generate enough enthusiasm in me to really give it much of a recommendation which is a shame because I thought the first film had some potential. Maybe we’ll have to wait until the final installation in the trilogy to see that potential fulfilled but at this point I’m not especially waiting on the edge of my seat for February 17, 2017 to come around – the date that Maze Runner: The Death Cure is set to wrap up the series. Sad to say, I’d be just fine with them wrapping it up here unless they can do a whole lot better next time.

REASONS TO GO: Some fairly well-done action sequences. Attractive leads.
REASONS TO STAY: Really been there-done that. Lacks energy.
FAMILY VALUES: A fair amount of violence, some thematic elements, a scene of substance use and some mild language.
TRIVIAL PURSUIT: The studio greenlit the sequel two weeks before the first film opened after early reviews and audience scores proved to be overwhelmingly positive.
CRITICAL MASS: As of 10/5/15: Rotten Tomatoes: 50% positive reviews. Metacritic: 43/100.
COMPARISON SHOPPING: The Hunger Games
FINAL RATING: 5/10
NEXT: The Intern

Broken City


Wahlberg turns away from the corruption of the Broken City.

Wahlberg turns away from the corruption of the Broken City.

(2013) Thriller (20th Century Fox) Mark Wahlberg, Russell Crowe, Catherine Zeta-Jones, Jeffrey Wright, Barry Pepper, Alona Tal, Natalie Martinez, Michael Beach, Kyle Chandler, James Ransone, Griffin Dunne, Odessa Sykes, Britney Theriot, Luis Tolentino, Tony Bentley, Andrea Frankle, William Ragsdale, Dana Gourrier, Teri Wyble. Directed by Allen Hughes

Honesty and politics don’t mix in modern America. The rule is that most politicians will do just about anything to win, stopping short of murder. Some don’t even stop there.

Billy Taggart (Wahlberg) is a New York City cop but one with anger issues. When a lowlife who raped and murdered a teen is released on a technicality, he snaps and murders the scumbag in cold blood. Police commissioner Carl Fairbanks (Wright) wants to throw his detective to the woods but then New York City Mayor Hostetler (Crowe) buries the evidence and tells Taggart he’s a hero. However, while Billy won’t be going to jail even the Mayor can’t protect his job under those circumstances.

Seven years later, Billy is working as a private investigator but his business is failing. While his loyal assistant Katy Bradshaw (Tal) hangs in there, Billy knows he can’t survive much longer. However apparently coming to his rescue, Mayor Hostetler comes to Billy with an assignment; to follow Hizzonor’s wife Cathleen (Zeta-Jones) and find out if she’s having an affair or not. The Mayor is in the middle of a vicious campaign for re-election and he can’t afford the hint of a scandal to get out; it’s something his opponent Jack Valliant (Pepper) and his canny manager Paul Andrews (Chandler) would make a great deal of hay from.

Billy is more than happy and grateful to take a paying job, even when it leads to Cathleen’s lover – none other than Paul Andrews himself. But when Andrews turns up dead, Billy realizes he’s in way over his head and that someone in this equation is hiding something, something they’re willing to kill to keep hidden. Not knowing who to trust and fighting his own demons – alcohol and jealousy of his girlfriend (Martinez), an aspiring actress – it’s going to be no easy thing to fix this broken city.

This originally saw the light of day on the Black List of unproduced scripts. Hughes snapped it up and sent it out to some Hollywood A-listers and both Wahlberg and Crowe jumped at the chance to work on the project. The first clue though that things didn’t turn out so well was when the studio scheduled the film to premiere in January 2013. January is the graveyard for movies; few films of any quality surface during the first month of the year when Oscar contenders and Holiday blockbusters take up most of the screens at the multiplex.

But seeing this made me wonder how the script could have wound up on the Black List considering just how poorly written the movie is. Plot points are explored and then abandoned. Holes in logic abound. Dialogue that doesn’t sound like real people talking. And lest we forget, a ludicrous ending.

Fortunately the movie has some pretty good actors who are playing this (mostly) with straight faces. Wahlberg can play this kind of part without working up much of a sweat and yet he gives it his earnest best. Billy is far from lovable but at his core he has a sense of justice – not always an accurate one – that just can’t be denied. For example, when he sees a sex scene his girlfriend filmed for an indie film at the premiere, he is horrified. He simply can’t get past seeing her do those things where everyone can see them. He’s a rumpled knight in dented, rusting armor but he’s also the sort you’d want at your side if you were fighting for a hopeless but just cause.

Crowe also gives the Mayor easy charm and smile on the surface with a crocodile’s teeth just under the facade. It’s a mesmerizing performance and would ordinarily overwhelm someone as blue collar as Wahlberg but the two make a good point/counterpoint sort of chemistry for themselves. Zeta-Jones remains one of the most beautiful women in Hollywood, but she didn’t win that Oscar in a Cracker Jack box; the lady’s got chops and she shows them here in a character study that’s as complex as any in the movie. However, the Israeli actress Tal seems to be having more fun than anyone else in the movie and she is a delight with a future in Hollywood if she keeps getting these sorts of roles.

The action scenes are for the most part forgettable although there are a couple of nifty little set pieces here. This is the kind of mindless fluff that is forgotten as soon as the popcorn is gone but there’s nothing wrong with that sort of movie. I just get the sense that isn’t what the filmmakers had in mind when they undertook this project to begin with.

WHY RENT THIS: Solid performances from terrific cast. Some gritty action sequences.
WHY RENT SOMETHING ELSE: Plot holes and dangling plot points a-plenty. Falls flat overall.
FAMILY VALUES: Plenty of bad language, violent content and a bit of sexuality.
TRIVIAL PURSUIT: This is the first time Hughes directed a film solo; normally he works with his twin brother Albert.
NOTABLE HOME VIDEO EXTRAS: None listed.
BOX OFFICE PERFORMANCE: $19.7M on a $35M production budget.
SITES TO SEE: Netflix (DVD rental only), Amazon (buy/rent), Vudu (purchase only),  iTunes (buy/rent), Flixster (buy/rent), Target Ticket (Purchase only)
COMPARISON SHOPPING: Clear and Present Danger
FINAL RATING: 5/10
NEXT: Forgetting Sarah Marshall

Kill the Messenger


Jeremy Renner doesn't want Matthew Lintz to hear what he's about to tell Rosemarie DeWitt.

Jeremy Renner doesn’t want Matthew Lintz to hear what he’s about to tell Rosemarie DeWitt.

(2014) True Life Drama (Focus) Jeremy Renner, Rosemarie DeWitt, Matthew Lintz, Oliver Platt, Michael Sheen, Mary Elizabeth Winstead, Robert Patrick, Barry Pepper, Andy Garcia, Paz Vega, Tim Blake Nelson, Richard Schiff, Ray Liotta, Dan Futterman, Gil Bellows, Aaron Farb, Josh Close, Yul Vazquez, Michael Kenneth Williams, Jen Harper, Jena Sims. Directed by Michael Cuesta

In 1996, Gary Webb was an investigative reporter working in the Sacramento bureau for the San Jose Mercury News. He had been part of a Pulitzer Prize-winning team for the newspaper’s coverage of the 1989 Loma Prieta Earthquake.

While covering the trial of a drug dealer (Farb) he is contacted by a beautiful, sexy but mysterious Latina woman (Vega) – the dealer’s girlfriend – who drops off some documents that his lawyer had been given during discovery, documents that clearly had never meant to be given to the lawyer. In it, the dealer had been apparently working for the United States government back in the ’80s as a paid informant – and selling drugs while he was. Not such a big deal until it became clear that the CIA was who he was selling drugs for.

Webb would dig deeper and discover that the proceeds of the drug sales were being used to fund the Contras in the civil war going on in Nicaragua, a war that then-President Reagan desperately wanted to wage and one in which Congress had forbidden him to do so. He would visit Nicaraguan jails, abandoned airfields, chasing his story wherever his leads took him.

With a supportive editor (Winstead), a loving wife (DeWitt) and a son (Lintz) who was as proud of him as could be, he brought all his facts together and wrote a multi-part series called Dark Alliance delineating the ties between the epidemic of crack cocaine that was impoverishing America’s inner cities, the Contra rebels and the Central Intelligence Agency. The Merc’s state of the art website (at the time) proudly pimped the articles for those outside of San Jose to peruse.

It was a bombshell. One of the first new stories to go viral, it brought Webb great acclaim and notoriety. Still, he’s warned by a former CIA whistleblower (Sheen) that the CIA would come after him by making the story not about the facts but about Webb himself. And that’s just what happened. The other major newspapers – the New York Times, the Los Angeles Times and the Washington Post – attacked Webb’s reporting and all but insinuated that he’d made the story up out of whole cloth. His own newspaper essentially threw him under the bus, refusing to defend their own reporter and his story even though they had every chance to confirm it during the editorial process. It was not the paper’s finest hour.

In the interest of full disclosure, I myself worked for the Circulation department of the San Jose Mercury News before getting laid off in 2006 after their afternoon edition was discontinued. The events depicted in this movie mainly took place after I’d left and I didn’t know Webb at all (he worked out of Sacramento and I was at the main office in San Jose) although I was acquainted with a number of people in the newsroom including Jerry Ceppos, the managing editor who is played by the great Oliver Platt here.

The movie is trying to be a journalism/political thriller along the lines of a All the President’s Men. Some hold Webb in the same regard as Woodward and Bernstein are held in terms of investigative journalism. There is a curiously flat tone to the movie; Renner as Webb often articulates that his job is to bring the facts to the public and at times it feels like the movie is being directed by Jack Webb (no relation).

As I said, I didn’t know Webb in his Mercury News days and so I can’t say for certain how well Renner portrays the late reporter. His son Eric says that Renner caught his father’s essence and mannerisms to a “T” so I’ll go with his assessment on that. Renner is a passionate actor and this is a passion project for him.

As you can imagine, the movie’s presence has resurrected some of the old debates. Washington Post investigative journalism team managing editor wrote an op-ed last Friday excoriating Webb and calling the movie fiction. Other sources including the Narco News – an online newspaper that reports mainly on America’s war on drugs and other Latin American issues – have fired back, defending Webb. As for you dear reader, you don’t have to take anyone’s word on the veracity of Webb’s work. You can see it for yourself including the supporting documents – all published online in 1996 – at the Narco News here.

Frankly I don’t have the wherewithal to join the debate much. The piece itself remains explosive and controversial, even now. Was Webb a saint who just wanted to expose the truth of evildoers to the shining light of the public eye? In part, yes. By all accounts – even those of his detractors – have made it clear that Webb believed in the importance of investigative journalism and he believed in the truth of his own story. Certainly, it wasn’t perfect and he didn’t get everything right. Nobody does. However in the years since the publication of his work, the eventual repudiation of it and Webb’s eventual suicide in light of becoming unemployable at the job he loved, the essence of his story has been in fact validated. There was a connection between crack cocaine, the Contras and the CIA. How much crack was brought to the streets of Los Angeles and other American urban environments because of this dark alliance will probably never be known for certain.

What the movie does get right however is the decline of American journalism. At one time, the fourth estate existed independently of the other powers of American politics – the legislative, executive and judicial branches. It stood as a kind of advocate for the American people, tilting at the windmills of political hanky-panky and bringing that which was hidden in the boardrooms of industry and the back rooms of politics to the light of day. Today, in 2014, we no longer have that protection. The mainstream media is all owned by large corporations – the Mercury News itself is owned by a hedge fund which in recent days quietly closed down and sold its iconic headquarter building on Ridder Park Drive and moved what little staff remains to a downtown San Jose office building.

It was unheard of back in the day for a newspaper to throw one of its own reporters under the bus, but that’s what Ceppos and the Mercury News did. While in Ceppos’ extraordinary column which some have labeled an apology letter that in effect distanced the paper from Webb’s reporting there was some reference to “failure at every level and at every step” to properly edit the piece and verify the information (despite the presence of corroborating documentation which in what was then groundbreaking transparency was published online), at the end of the day we have since then seen a failure of mainstream journalism to stand up against corruption when it may potentially affect their advertising bottom line. We have seen an unwillingness to stand up against those whose activities cause harm to the public good, or segments of the public. We live in a world where real journalism, the kind that was meant to stand up for all of us, mainly exists on the Internet and is lost in the party-centric shouting of right wing and left wing posturing. In his grave, Gary Webb must be rolling indeed.

REASONS TO GO: Examines the erosion of journalism in this country.
REASONS TO STAY: Disappointing. Confusing at times.
FAMILY VALUES:  Plenty of foul language not to mention some drug content.
TRIVIAL PURSUIT: Both Brad Pitt and Tom Cruise at one time expressed interest in the Gary Webb role.
CRITICAL MASS: As of 10/20/14: Rotten Tomatoes: 75% positive reviews. Metacritic: 60/100.
COMPARISON SHOPPING: Absence of Malice
FINAL RATING: 6/10
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