New Releases for the Week of February 28, 2020


THE INVISIBLE MAN

(Blumhouse/Universal) Elisabeth Moss, Oliver Jackson-Cohen, Harriet Dyer, Aldis Hodge, Storm Reid, Michael Dorman, Benedict Hardie. Directed by Leigh Whannell

When her abusive ex takes his own life, Cecilia is at first relieved. When he leaves her his fortune, she becomes uneasy. When a series of unlikely coincidences turns lethal, she begins to suspect that her ex may not be dead but hiding in plain sight.

See the trailer here
For more on the movie this is the website
Genre: Horror
Now Playing: Wide Release
Rating: R (for some strong bloody violence and language)

Blood on Her Name

(Vertical) Bethany Anne Lind, Elisabeth Röhm, Jared Ivers, Will Patton. When a woman accidentally kills a man, she panics and hides the body. When her conscience demands that she return the body to his family, things really spiral out of control.

See the trailer here
For more on the movie this is the website  
Genre: Suspense
Now Playing: Studio Grill Sunset Walk
Rating: NR

Disappearance at Clifton Hill

(IFC Midnight) Tuppence Middleton, Hannah Gross, David Cronenberg, Eric Johnson. A troubled young woman with a checkered past returns home to Niagara Falls. While there she is compelled to investigate a mystery that has plagued her since childhood, but that investigation will take her into a conspiracy of silence that runs deeper than she could possibly fathom.

See the trailer here
For more on the movie this is the website  
Genre: Drama
Now Playing: Barnstorm Theater
Rating: NR

Emma.

(Focus) Anya Taylor-Joy, Johnny Flynn, Bill Nighy, Mia Goth. Jane Austen’s beloved tale of a queen bee in a small town who seeks an equal to marry, discovers that sometimes you have to earn your happily ever after.

=See the trailer here
For more on the movie this is the website  
Genre: Comedy
Now Playing: AMC Altamonte Mall, Regal Winter Park Village
Rating: PG (for brief partial nudity)

Guns Akimbo

(Saban) Daniel Radcliffe, Samara Weaving, Ned Dennehy, Rhys Darby. A mild-mannered video game developer gets caught up in a real-life streaming deathmatch, waking up with guns grafted to his hands. He’s up against the game’s most successful killer and his usual fallback. of running and hiding won’t help him.

See the trailer here
For more on the movie this is the website  
Genre: Action Comedy
Now Playing: Barnstorm Theater, Studio Movie Grill Sunset Walk
Rating: R (for strong bloody violence throughout, pervasive language, drug use, sexual references and brief graphic nudity)

Impractical Jokers: The Movie

(truTV) Joe Gatto, James Murray, Brian Quinn, Sal Vulcano. The merry pranksters of truTV make the break for the silver screen, starring in a movie that involves their attempt for redemption, competing in hidden camera challenges that will help overcome a high school mishap that hangs over the lives of three of them.

See the trailer here
For more on the movie this is the website  
Genre: Comedy
Now Playing: AMC Altamonte Mall,  AMC Avenue 16, AMC Classic New Smyrna, AMC Disney Springs, AMC Lake Square, Cinemark Orlando, Cinepolis Polk County, Cobb Grand Winter Haven, Cobb Merritt Square, Cobb Plaza Cinema Café, Epic Theaters of Clermont, Epic Theaters of Lee Vista, Epic Theaters of Titusville, Epic Theaters of West Volusia, Fashion Square Premiere, Regal Port Orange Pavilion, Regal The Loop, Regal Wekiva Riverwalk
Rating: PG-13 (for suggestive content, language, some drug references and brief nudity)

Premature

(IFC) Zora Howard, Joshua Boone, Imani Lewis, Jimmy Lee Gary Jr. Two young people in Harlem – a poet getting ready to go to college in the fall, and an aspiring music producer, meet and fall in love. But the fantasy turns real as they – and particularly her – must deal with the consequences of their relationship

See the trailer here
For more on the movie this is the website  
Genre: Romance
Now Playing: Barnstorm Theater, Cinematique Daytona
Rating: NR

Seberg

(Amazon) Kristen Stewart, Jack O’Connell, Anthony Mackie, Colm Meaney. Actress Jean Seberg was the darling of the French New Wave cinema, but her involvement in the civil rights movement brought her to the attention of the FBI who did their best to derail her career and tarnish her reputation.

See the trailer here
For more on the movie this is the website  
Genre: Biographical Drama
Now Playing: AMC Altamonte Mall, AMC Disney Springs, Old Mill Playhouse, Regal Oviedo, Regal Winter Park Village
Rating: R (for language, sexual content/nudity and some drug use)

ALSO OPENING IN ORLANDO/DAYTONA:

Forensic
Hit
My Hero Academia: Heroes Rising
Nuuk
Thappad

ALSO OPENING IN MIAMI/FT. LAUDERDALE/KEY WEST:

Forensic
Hit
My Hero Academia: Heroes Rising
Nuuk
Once Were Brothers: Robbie Robertson and the Band
Thappad
Viral: Antisemitism in Four Mutations
Zombi Child

ALSO OPENING IN TAMPA/ST. PETERSBURG/SARASOTA:

Baahu
Forensic
Hit
My Hero Academia: Heroes Rising
Nuuk
Once Were Brothers: Robbie Robertson and the Band
Thappad
Viral: Antisemitism in Four Mutations

ALSO OPENING IN JACKSONVILLE/ST. AUGUSTINE:

Forensic
Hit
My Hero Academia: Heroes Rising

SCHEDULED FOR REVIEW:

Disappearance at Clifton Hill
Emma
The Invisible Man
Viral: Antisemitism in Four Mutations

FILM FESTIVALS TAKING PLACE IN FLORIDA:

Bonita Springs International Film Festival, Bonita Springs FL
Vero Beach Film and Wine Festival, Vero Beach FL

New Releases for the Week of May 10, 2019


POKEMON DETECTIVE PIKACHU

(Warner Brothers) Ryan Reynolds (voice), Justice Smith, Ken Watanabe, Kathryn Newton, Bill Nighy, Suki Waterhouse. Directed by Rob Letterman

When Detective Harry Goodman mysteriously disappears, his 21-year-old son Tim goes on the hunt to find his Dad, acquiring along the way Dad’s Pokémon partner, Pikachu. Tim turns out to be a gifted but unrealized Pokémon trainer, allowing him to communicate with Pikachu in a way nobody else has. The two of them come face to face with a monstrous conspiracy that threatens to unravel the entire Pokémon universe.

See the trailer, video featurettes, a clip and an interview here
For more on the movie this is the website
Genre: Fantasy
Now Playing: Wide Release
Rating: PG (for action/peril, some rude and suggestive humor, and thematic elements)

Her Smell

(Gunpowder and Sky) Elisabeth Moss, Cara Delevingne, Dan Stevens, Eric Stoltz. A femme punk icon from the 90s is having a tough go of it now. Relegated to smaller venues, their front woman has become a disaster of drug abuse and alcohol, Hollywood-crazy cults and lost inspiration. Having messed up a recording session and a national tour, she is forced to turn her life around or lose everything. In all honesty, I saw this at the Florida Film Festival and walked out after an hour, not being able to take the constant whining and unpleasantness of the lead character. I have friends who think this is one of the best movies of the year; I have other friends who think the film is absolute trash. I won’t try to make your mind up for you but be aware going in this is a very acquired taste.

See the trailer, clips and video featurettes here
For more on the movie this is the website  
Genre: Drama
Now Playing: Enzian Theater
Rating: R (for language throughout and some drug use)

The Hustle

(MGM) Anne Hathaway, Rebel Wilson, Tim Blake-Nelson, Alex Sharp. An elegant, sophisticated con artist takes a rough and crude Aussie under her wing as they attempt to fleece the visitors to a resort town on the French Riviera. Loosely based on the hit Dirty Rotten Scoundrels.

See the trailer, clips and video featurettes here
For more on the movie this is the website  
Genre: Comedy
Now Playing: Wide Release
Rating: PG-13 (for crude sexual content and language)

Poms

(STX) Diane Keaton, Jacki Weaver, Pam Grier, Rhea Perlman. A woman moves into a retirement community and tired of not fulfilling the things she wants most out of life, starts a cheerleading squad. Joined by fellow seniors, they discover in their journey that it’s never too late to follow your dreams.

See the trailer and clips here
em>For more on the movie this is the website  
Genre: Dramedy
Now Playing: Wide Release
Rating: PG-13 (for some language/sexual references)

Shadow

(Well Go USA) Chao Deng, Li Sun, Ryan Zheng, Qianyuan Wang. A general, severely wounded by an opponent who has captured an important city in his kingdom, is not who he seems to be in this lush and gorgeous production by master director Yimou Zhang. It has previously played both the Miami and Florida Film Festivals prior to beginning this short run at the Enzian. A link to a review for the Miami Film Festival appears below.

See the trailer here
For more on the movie this is the website  
Genre: Martial Arts
Now Playing: Enzian Theater
Rating: NR

Student of the Year 2

(Fox STAR) Tiger Shroff, Tara Sutaria, Ananya Panday, Aditya Seal. The sequel to the 2012 Bollywood hit.

See the trailer here
For more on the movie this is the website  
Genre: Comedy
Now Playing: AMC West Oaks, Touchstar Southchase
Rating: NR

Tolkien

(Fox Searchlight) Nicholas Hoult, Lily Collins, Colm Meaney, Derek Jacobi. The story of the man who would go on to create Middle Earth and entrance billions of readers for almost 75 years with the tales of brave hobbits and noble kings.

See the trailer, clips and video featurettes here
For more on the movie this is the website  
Genre: Biographical Drama
Now Playing: Wide Release
Rating: PG-13 (for some sequences of war violence)

Wild Nights with Emily

(Greenwich) Molly Shannon, Amy Seimetz, Susan Ziegler, Brett Gelman. We’ve always pictured Emily Dickinson as an austere, passionless spinster but recent unearthed letters have revealed that the Poet Laureate of Amherst was far from that. This film takes a revisionist look at one of the greatest American poets to have ever lived.

See the trailer here
For more on the movie this is the website  
Genre: Biography
Now Playing: Regal Winter Park
Rating: PG-13 (for sexual content)

ALSO OPENING IN ORLANDO/DAYTONA:

Casi Fiel (Almost Faithful)
Charlie Says
General Magic
Mahafrshi
The Man Who Killed Don Quixote
Uyare

ALSO OPENING IN MIAMI/FT. LAUDERDALE:

Casa Fiel (Almost Faithful)
Charlie Says
Iyengar: The Man, Yoga and the Student’s Journey
Maharshi
The White Crow
Wine Country

ALSO OPENING IN TAMPA/ST. PETERSBURG:

100
Kee
Maharshi
The Professor and the Madman

ALSO OPENING IN JACKSONVILLE/ST. AUGUSTINE:

Maharshi
Uyare

SCHEDULED FOR REVIEW:

Charlie Says
The Hustle
The Man Who Killed Don Quixote
Pokémon Detective Pikachu
Shadow
Tolkien

The Journey


Two serious fellas take a walk in the woods.

(2016) True Life Drama (IFC) Timothy Spall, Colm Meaney, John Hurt, Freddie Highmore, Toby Stephens, Catherine McCormack, Ian McElhinney, Ian Beattie, Barry Ward, Kristy Robinson, Mark Lambert, Stewart David Hawthorne, Frank Cannon, John Wark, Michael Hooley, Aaron Rolph. Directed by Nick Hamm

 

Younger readers probably don’t remember much about what the Irish with their typical gift for grim understatement refer to as “The Troubles.” There was a time in Northern Ireland when the Catholics, represented by the Irish Republican Army and their political arm the Sinn Fein were in open revolt against the British-backed Protestant government. The IRA was in all senses a terrorist organization, planting bombs, assassinating political leaders and ambushing British soldiers sent to keep the peace. Belfast became a war zone. Readers over the age of 30 – particularly those in the UK – will remember these times vividly.

It is not like that any longer and while there are still some hard feelings particularly among older hardcore sorts, Ireland is at last at peace and Belfast is a wonderful place for tourists to visit rather than a place for anyone who didn’t have to live there to avoid. The reason for that is that the two sides got together and decided that peace was better than pride, but in order for that to happen the leadership on both sides – represented by firebrand minister Rev. Ian Paisley (Spall) for the Unionists (the Protestant political party) and alleged former IRA coordinator turned politician Martin McGuinness (Meaney) – had to take the message to heart.

Orchestrated by British Prime Minister Tony Blair (Stephens), the two sides met at St. Andrew’s in Scotland to discuss a final, lasting peace but early on the curmudgeonly Paisley informed Blair that he was going to leave for a few days to attend his 50th wedding anniversary celebration in Belfast. McGuinness, realizing that once Paisley was surrounded by hardliners in his party he would be unlikely to budge on important points to making the peace happen, invokes one of the rules of the meeting and arranges to be flown on the same plane to Ireland. However, due to storms the nearest airport in Glasgow had been socked in. There would be a chance to fly out of Edinburgh instead but they’d have to drive there quickly.

Former MI-5 director Harry Patterson (Hurt) arranges for the driver Jack (Highmore), a field operative normally, to have a hidden earpiece and for the car to have microphones and cameras all over it. The hope, shared by Republican politician Gerry Adams (Beattie) and Protestant politician Bertie Ahern (Lambert), is that the two men, who have never spoken to each other and had publicly disdained one another, would get to talking if forced to by a long car ride. All of them felt like McGuinness that once the crusty Paisley, who once declared Pope John Paul II to be the Antichrist, was in Belfast the talks would essentially collapse and the bloodshed would continue.

Essentially the whole movie is two people talking to each other with periodic interjections from Jack and occasional switches to the command center where the two are being observed. There is a prologue (which unusual for a true life drama features pictures of the actual participants rather than having the actors digitally inserted) that explains the lead up to the peace talks (and to be sure, it’s very well done) and an epilogue but mainly it’s just two guys talking. That can be a good thing or a bad thing but when you have two great character actors the caliber of Spall and Meaney, it’s definitely the former.

While I wouldn’t say necessarily that the performances here are Oscar-worthy (although Spall comes pretty close), they are super strong nonetheless. Both actors are riveting and the two have tremendous chemistry. Meaney, chiefly known for his Star Trek role as Miles O’Brien, is jocular as McGuinness, the one who truly understands the horrors of the Troubles and is quite eager to end them but knows that he won’t be very popular with his own people, as Paisley won’t be popular with his if they do find a way to make peace. However, he also realizes that they’ll both be popular with history. Spall is stentorian as Paisley, a perpetually sour expression on his face although he is prone to a somewhat impish (and corny) sense of humor. We’re used to seeing Spall portray English bulldogs; here, he portrays an Irish one.

While the actors don’t really resemble their real life counterparts in the slightest, they both capture the essence of the men they’re portraying, from Paisley’s bombastic speaking style to McGuinness’ haunted thousand-yard-stare. Neither man is with us any longer which is likely just as well; neither one would have been comfortable with the liberties taken with history here.

The former child actor Highmore is solid and likable in an adult role, while the late John Hurt is as dependable as always in a fairly small role but it is enough to remind us of what a great talent he was. Most of the rest of the cast are fine but unremarkable in their parts but Spall and Meaney get the lion’s share of screen time.

Yet the filmmakers cover themselves during that prologue by boldly stating that “this story imagines that journey” which covers a lot of sins. The tale of how two sworn enemies who literally loathed what the other stood for could bury the hatchet and not only learn to work together but indeed became fast friends whose banter was so universal they became informally known as “The Chuckle Brothers” during their tenure as Ireland’s number one and number two politicians.

The cinematography is beautiful as Greg Gardiner gives us lovely vistas of the Scottish countryside (although ironically some of the scenes were filmed in Ireland) and gathering storm clouds, of quaint villages and lonely country roads. It’s a beautiful film to look at. Spall and Meaney are given a lovely sandbox to play in.

I’m conversant with the events of the actual peace talks rather than expert in them but from what I understand the actual story behind how Paisley and McGuinness came to become friends after being enemies is more interesting albeit less dramatic than what’s portrayed here. The changing of hearts and minds tends to be a gradual thing rather than something that happens during the course of a road trip. In some ways the film cheapens the life journey that Paisley and McGuinness actually took with this imagined one but I suppose one could look at it metaphorically and find some common ground with history.

This is despite its laissez faire attitude towards facts a solid and impressive film thanks largely due to the performances. It’s never a bad thing seeing great actors act well and you’ll certainly see that here. One gets a sense of the depth of hatred that each side had for the other and the desperate but slender hope that they could find some common ground for peace. One thing is for certain; it was hellaciously difficult  for both sides to get past their hatred and distrust for the other and learn to live in peace. If the Irish can do it, that gives us some hope that it can happen here too.

REASONS TO GO: Tremendous performances by Spall and Meaney who work very well together. The cinematography is top-notch.
REASONS TO STAY: History is fudged quite a bit and the story is oversimplified and “Hollywoodized” for the sake of unneeded dramatic tension.
FAMILY VALUES: The themes are adult and there are some violent images as well as plenty of foul language.
TRIVIAL PURSUIT: The journey depicted, sadly, never actually happened. The Rev. Paisley did not fly to Belfast for his Golden Wedding anniversary as depicted for the simple reason that his wife Eileen accompanied him to St. Andrew’s. McGuinness later recalled that the two didn’t speak directly at the St. Andrew’s Peace Talks and didn’t have their first actual conversation until about six months later.
CRITICAL MASS: As of 6/20/17: Rotten Tomatoes: 64% positive reviews. Metacritic: 51/100.
COMPARISON SHOPPING: Hunger
FINAL RATING: 7/10
NEXT: F(l)ag Football

Mystery, Alaska


Russell Crowe on ice.

Russell Crowe on ice.

(1999) Sports (Hollywood) Russell Crowe, Ron Eldard, Burt Reynolds, Hank Azaria, Maury Chaykin, Colm Meaney, Mary McCormack, Lolita Davidovich, Ryan Northcott, Michael Buie, Kevin Durand, Scott Grimes, Mike Myers, Michael McKean, Adam Beach, Judith Ivey, Beth Littleford . Directed by Jay Roach

From then-TV flavor of the month David E. Kelley comes the town of Mystery, a small settlement amid the magnificent scenery of Alaska. There isn’t much to do there, so an awful lot of fornicating goes on. There is also a weekly hockey game that involves the young men of the town playing against one another on the town pond. The wide open space of the pond breeds tremendous skaters, guys who take flight on ice.

It also attracts the attention of Sports Illustrated writer Charlie Danner (Azaria), who is actually an ex-townie who was never well-liked. He calls them the best pond-hockey players in the world, and arranges a game with the NHL’s New York Rangers (like that would happen). And, predictably, this energizes the town and it’s somewhat quirky inhabitants.

There’s the passionate, but somewhat befuddled lawyer (Chaykin) who sits on the town’s hockey committee, and loves Mystery perhaps more than anyone else. There’s the crusty but good-hearted mayor (Meaney). There’s the curmudgeonly judge who wants nothing to do with the game (Reynolds). There’s also the libidinous defenseman (Eldard) who has more cojones than sense. Finally, there’s Sheriff John Biebe (Crowe), who is a veteran of the Saturday game recently demoted, now the reluctant coach of the team.

There aren’t a lot of ladies in the cast and most of them are either supportive and long-suffering (McCormack) or bored and unfaithful (Davidovich). The fact that hockey was so central to the plot was probably the biggest reason this movie did so poorly at the American box office which is a shame – the movie deserved a better fate.

This being a sports underdog movie, the overall outcome is more or less predictable. Director Jay Roach (both of the Austin Powers movies) has assembled a fine cast. Reynolds, for example, was just settling in to becoming a great character actor after years of floundering in lead roles after his glory years. Crowe shows some of the qualities that would elevate him in movies such as The Insider and Gladiator, but here he’s not quite as luminous as he would become in those breakout roles.

The success of Mystery, Alaska lies in creating a mood, and that is done rather well. Take away the unbelievable scenario and the sports-film clichés and you’d have a mighty good movie. Those obstacles, alas, are too difficult to overcome and this becomes just a pretty good movie instead of a great one which given its cast it could have been.

WHY RENT THIS: The movie’s got heart. Reynolds, Crowe and Azaria have some fine moments.

WHY RENT SOMETHING ELSE: The premise is preposterous. Too many clichés spoil this broth.

FAMILY MATTERS: There’s plenty of rough language and a fair amount of sexuality.

TRIVIAL PURSUITS: Mike Myers’ character of Donnie Shulzhoffer is reportedly a gentle spoof of legendary Canadian hockey commentator Don Cherry.

NOTABLE HOME VIDEO FEATURES: None listed.

BOX OFFICE PERFORMANCE: $8.9M on a $28M production budget; the film lost money.

FINAL RATING: 6.5/10

NEXT: The Goonies

Turning Green


Turning Green

When you reach the edge of the world there's nothing left to do but fall off.

(2005) Crime Drama (New Films International) Timothy Hutton, Alessandro Nivola, Colm Meaney, Donal Gallery, Killian Morgan, Jill Harding, Brid Ni Chionaola, Deirdre Monaghan, Frank Kelly, Myles Purcell, Billie Traynor, Katherine Kendall, Gavin O’Connor. Directed by Michael Aimette and John G. Hoffman

 

Wherever you go, as a wise man once said, there you are. Sometimes where we are isn’t necessarily where we want to be. Sometimes we need to get a little creative to get where we want to be.

James Powers (Gallery) is in Ireland but he sure doesn’t want to be there. He and his little brother Pete (Morgan) were shipped there to his overbearing aunts when their mother passed away; now James can only think about finding a way back to America.

He at first tries to raise some cash by performing drinking tricks at the local bar (which cause him to throw up after all the patrons have left) and then he starts running numbers for Bill the Bookie (Nivola). Bill takes a liking to the industrious James while his right hand enforcer Bill the Beater (Hutton) is a little bit more suspicious.

James, being 16 years old, is also discovering the joys of masturbation. He is constantly in the bathroom, so much so that his aunts are under the mistaken impression he’s suffering from severe constipation. The aunties dote on the local priest and have no idea how to handle a young man who is awakening sexually.

While on a visit to London, James is introduced to the wonderful world of dirty magazines. He realizes that they’re illegal in Ireland and that if he could figure out a way to smuggle them in, he’d make a fortune and make enough to get him and Pete back home in no time. So he does just that, not realizing that he is attracting the wrong kind of attention, the kind of attention that will get friends like the drunken fisherman (Meaney) who is the closest thing he has to a father figure in deep trouble.

This is a fairly low-key affair that wants to steep itself in rural Irish charm but doesn’t quite get enough of a soaking. Part of it is that we spend a lot more time dealing with James’ tallywhacking than anyone should have to sit through. Gallery is a pretty decent actor, but he doesn’t really have the roguish charm that Irish actors like Colin Ferrell and Liam Neeson possess and in any case, few actors who can easily pass for 16 have that ability anyway but Gallery gives it a good solid effort and is likable enough.

Hutton is a very strong and able actor who has an Oscar under his belt but playing Irish muscle is a bit out of his comfort zone and he also gives it a good try but is ultimately unconvincing in the role. The actor who fared best IMHO is Nivola, who made the charismatic Bill the Bookie come to life. His is the character I remember most vividly from the movie.

This is a very masculine movie – most of the female roles are either sex objects or comedy relief and there is very little in between. It is also quite schizophrenic; the first two thirds seems to be more of a coming of age film but then it makes an abrupt left turn into a crime drama. There is a good deal of wit through both portions which kind of ties the film together but I would have preferred that the movie stuck to one set of guns. Goodfellas this ain’t.

Nonetheless I can give it a mild recommendation. It certainly has a different point of view and has a different feel than most of the films out there. If you’re looking for something that is a little bit off the grid, this might not be a bad choice.

WHY RENT THIS: Good cast performs solidly. Doesn’t have much of a female point of view.

WHY RENT SOMETHING ELSE: Overuse of masturbation as a thematic issue. Can’t decide if it wants to be a crime drama or a coming-of-age film.

FAMILY VALUES: There is some sexuality and nudity, teenage drinking, a wee bit of violence and a whole lot of foul language.

TRIVIAL PURSUIT: The script was a runner-up on HBO’s first season of “Project Greenlight.”

NOTABLE DVD EXTRAS: None listed.

BOX OFFICE PERFORMANCE: Not available.

FINAL RATING: 6/10

NEXT: John Carter

The Conspirator


The Conspirator

Robin Wright's bodyguards have had enough of her Civil War fetish.

(2010) Historical Drama (Roadside Attractions) James McAvoy, Robin Wright, Justin Long, Tom Wilkinson, Kevin Kline, Colm Meaney, Evan Rachel Wood, Alexis Bledel, Toby Kebbell, Danny Huston, Stephen Root, James Badge Dale, Johnny Simmons, Norman Reedus, Jonathan Groff, Marcus Hester. Directed by Robert Redford

Sometimes in the course of a nation great events take place that change everything. Sometimes these events are terrible tragedies in which the nation’s safety is compromised. Is it during these times when the essence of that nation must be compromised in order to maintain the nation’s safety?

Such a time would be the assassination of Abraham Lincoln. Simultaneous attempts on the lives of Vice-President Andrew Johnson and Secretary of State William Seward were also made, unsuccessfully. It was immediately apparent that the heinous actions were the results of a conspiracy, at the head of which was actor John Wilkes Booth (Kebbell).

Booth had met at the boarding house of Mary Surratt (Wright) with her son John (Simmons) and fellow conspirators David Herold (Hester) and Lewis Payne (Reedus). When Secretary of War Edwin Stanton (Kline) essentially took over the government, he had the lot of them arrested including Mrs. Surratt. Only her daughter Anna (Wood) was spared.

The conspirators were brought before a military tribunal presided over by General David Hunter (Meaney) and prosecuted by Judge Advocate General Joseph Holt (Huston). The mood of the country was such that few lawyers wanted to risk their careers representing them. However Maryland Senator Reverdy Johnson (Wilkinson) agreed to represent Mrs. Surratt, assigning the case to his associate Frederick Aiken (McAvoy), a hero of the Union Army.

Aiken is loathe to represent Surratt, feeling her guilty – if she didn’t know what was going on under her own roof with her own son then by God she should have – and this feeling is echoed by his good friends Nicholas Baker (Long) and William Hamilton (Dale), as well as his sweetheart Sarah Weston (Bledel). Gradually, Aiken raises some doubts about Mrs. Surratt’s guilt and is certainly disturbed by the apparent railroading of the boarding house owner by Stanton for political purposes. He will give up friendships, his career and a potential marriage in order to save her.

Redford is a first-class director who doesn’t make a whole lot of movies but when he does they’re always interesting and this is no exception. Said to be historically accurate with the transcripts of the trial providing dialogue, he creates the atmosphere and look of post-Civil War Washington meticulously.

As you’d expect with a movie being directed by Redford, there’s a first-rate cast. McAvoy is the lead here and he does his usual strong job. It becomes necessary for him to change from stiff-necked and unyielding to having doubts about not only the guilt of his clients but also of the means by which they are being tried. Wilkinson plays a savvy politician who distances himself from the trial while keeping true to his convictions. Wilkinson is another terrific character actor who specializes in playing characters reacting to moral dilemmas. He may be soft-spoken but he projects a great deal of power.

Wright, who has dropped the Penn from her name since divorcing Sean, plays Surratt enigmatically which is as it should be because so little is known about the woman. She is a fiercely protective mother (repeatedly telling Aiken not to besmirch her son’s name in order to save her) and a proud Southern sympathizer. Whether or not she actually plotted Lincoln’s assassination is not known to history – although David Herold, who attacked Seward, reportedly insisted she was innocent – but one gets the feeling Redford and Solomon believed she was.

There are modern parallels for this story, particularly in our handling of the prisoners at Gitmo and Al-Gharib, as well as the freedoms we’ve given up in the name of security. As 9-11 has irrevocably changed us as a nation, so too did the Lincoln assassination. History tells us that the process of reconstruction was spearheaded by radical elements in the Republican Party which was far more interested in punishing the South and creating economic opportunities for Northern business interests than in re-integrating the Confederate states back into the Union. As a result, the Southern economy would be in shambles for decades, carpetbaggers would loot the former Confederate states, education would lag to the point where the cotton belt states continue to be among the worst in measurable education statistics even today and a rift between South and North would continue to divide the country in many ways throughout the years through now.

Lincoln certainly would have chosen a different path to reconstruction; one that would have been forgiving and welcoming. His assassination by Booth would have far-reaching consequences for this nation and for the South in particular. How our handling of Iraqi prisoners, how we react to the eroding of our freedoms are going to have far-reaching consequences for our future. This is not only a historic drama, it is also a cautionary tale.

REASONS TO GO: Even though I knew what Surratt’s fate was, I was still on the edge of my seat. Relevant not only in a historical sense but also for today’s events.

REASONS TO STAY: I get the sense that Redford and screenwriter James D. Solomon were making assumptions about Suratt’s guilt/innocence.

FAMILY VALUES: There is some violence and smoking.

TRIVIAL PURSUIT: This is the first production of the American Film Company, a production company dedicated to making movies about the United States that are historically accurate.  

HOME OR THEATER: While much of the movie takes place in enclosed spaces, it still has the grand epic sweep that requires a big screen.

FINAL RATING: 7/10

TOMORROW: Water for Elephants

The Damned United


The Damned United

Peter Taylor and Brian Clough did precious little celebrating during Clough's tenure at Leeds United.

(2009) True Sports Drama (Sony Classics) Michael Sheen, Timothy Spall, Colm Meaney, Jim Broadbent, Stephen Graham, Peter McDonald, Elizabeth Carling. Directed by Tom Hooper

People in the United States can’t really appreciate just how rabid the love for their football clubs the English hold. Comparatively, our American football fans are like the polite Wimbledon audience, politely applauding a spirited volley. In England, people live and die by their favorite clubs, their love spanning generations in the same family. Songs are written about their favorite clubs and the fans know every word, singing them at the matches in unison, tens of thousands of voices strong or in the pubs watching the matches on the telly, voices soaked with whiskey, beer and gin. For many, their identity consists to a large part of which club they support.

In the 60s, Leeds United was one of the most dominant teams in England, regularly winning the league title and representing England in the European Cup. Their manager was Don Revie (Meaney), a bull of a man who was beloved in Leeds but not so much elsewhere. His United club played a rough and tumble brand of football that some said crossed the line of fair play.

Young Brian Clough (Sheen) manages Derby County, a second division club with high hopes – some would say delusions of grandeur. An outspoken self-promoter prone to saying outrageous things at inappropriate times, he succeeds at winning Derby County a promotion to the first division and even a spot in the European Cup, but Clough is snubbed by Revie during a match between the two clubs.

From then on Clough felt a passionate hatred for Leeds United, one that perhaps wasn’t quite warranted. His assistant manager Pete Taylor (Spall) was not quite as angry about the snub. A great football tactician, Taylor and Clough, a master motivator,  made a formidable team. However, Derby County chairman Sam Longson (Broadbent) continually butted heads with his brash manager over personnel decisions and finances. Clough accused him of putting profits ahead of winning, which is easy to do when you’re not spending your own money. Eventually, he would turn in his resignation, never believing for a moment it would be accepted and that his demands for more control over the football team and a higher salary would be met. To his horror, his resignation was accepted.

Clough would eventually accept a position with the Hove and Albion Brighton club, but would renege on that agreement when Leeds United came calling. It seems that Don Revie was taking the job as the manager for the national team. Clough was one of the brightest up-and-coming stars in English football management; it was thought he would bring Leeds United decades of similar success as Revie had.

That wasn’t to be. Clough despised the players of Leeds United and made that clear. He continued to make incendiary remarks to the press and as a result his team started losing. It went from the champions of English football to being in real danger of being relegated to the second division. There was nothing for it but Clough had to be sacked. His reign in Leeds lasted a grand total of 44 days.

Now, that is a whole lot of English sports history and to most English schoolboys, this is as well-known as Michael Jordan and the Chicago Bulls are here. Here in the United States, most people don’t know Leeds United from Manchester United and Billy Bremner (Graham) from Billy Idol. Still, that shouldn’t diminish from the enjoyment of the movie. This is a football movie in the same way Brian’s Song is a football movie – the game stays on the periphery of the story, which is about the people who lived these events.

Sheen does a bang-up job in his role as Clough. Not being familiar with the real Brian Clough (the pronunciation rhymes with rough), I can’t really say if he caught the nature of the real man, but I can say that his performance showed equal parts arrogance and insecurity (which are two qualities that generally go together). He is fascinating to watch, and keeps your attention throughout the movie. Spall does a terrific job as the yin to Clough’s yang, or vice versa. The two actors mesh well together and the real genuine love and respect between the two sports icons comes through. As with any relationship of love and respect, it inspires some epic bickering, but there is never a sense that there is a false moment in that critical relationship which is at the center of the story.

Meaney and Broadbent are reliable actors and neither disappoint here. Scripter Peter Morgan (who also penned The Queen) has put together some impressive writing yet again; I think it’s fair to say he’s one of the top handful of screenwriters working in the business today. Hooper does a great job of building the era and the atmosphere surrounding a championship sports team nicely.

This is an interesting look at how ego and vanity can turn even someone driven and intelligent off-course. Clough went on to be one of the greatest managers in English football history, more or less the equivalent of a Vince Lombardi or a Tom Landry, and is regarded as such in England. Those 44 days are the only stain on an otherwise superior record and given the talent he had to work with, it’s easy to wonder what went wrong. While the Clough family and many players for both Derby and Leeds United have gone on record as regarding this work as fiction, it nonetheless works on a dramatic level.

WHY RENT THIS: Stellar performances from Sheen and Spall help illuminate the inner machinations of an English football club in the ‘70s. The movie doesn’t require audiences to be English football fans in order to appreciate it.

WHY RENT SOMETHING ELSE: American audiences may not appreciate the place in the history of the sport that Clough and Revie held and not be much interested in the subject.

FAMILY VALUES: There is a good deal of foul language, more than smaller kids might be used to. Should be okay for teens that have an interest in the history of English soccer.

TRIVIAL PURSUIT: The scenes set at the Derby County practice field were actually filmed in Leeds, ironically on a pitch overlooking the stadium where Leeds United plays.

NOTABLE DVD EXTRAS: There are a couple of features on how Sheen took on the formidable task of re-creating Brian Clough, channeling him in a typical Clough-like press conference. There’s also a feature on English soccer in the 70s and Clough’s lasting influence on the game.

BOX OFFICE PERFORMANCE: $4.1M on an unreported budget; if I were a bettin’ man I’d wager they made a little bit of money.

FINAL RATING: 6.5/10

TOMORROW: A Serious Man