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

Intermission


 

Intermission
Colin Farrell unmasked.

(2003) Crime Comedy (IFC/MGM) Colin Farrell, Cillian Murphy, Colm Meaney, Shirley Henderson, Bryan F. O’Byrne, Deirdre O’Kane, Kelly Macdonald, Neili Conroy, David Wilmot, John Rogan, Kerry Condon, Owen Roe, Tom Farrelly, Michael McElhatton, Ger Ryan. Directed by John Crowley

Some movies are referred to as “slices of life,” and that can be a two-edged sword. For one, most of us go to the movies to escape life. Seeing a slice of someone else’s can serve to remind us of the things we went to the movies to escape from in the first place. Still, when done right, slice of life movies can give you a great deal of insight into the things that are happening in your own life, and a little wisdom never hurts in that regard.

The movie opens with a charming young man named Lehiff (Farrell) flirting with a young convenience store clerk (Condon) in Dublin. However, things take a shocking turn and Lehiff winds up being chased by the police. Meanwhile, on a nearby bus, a dissatisfied grocery clerk named John (Murphy) commiserates with a dissatisfied bus driver named Mick (O’Byrne) and John’s equally dissatisfied co-worker and friend named Oscar (Wilmot). John has just broken up with his gorgeous girlfriend Deirdre (Macdonald) and Oscar is having no luck with the ladies at all.

Deirdre responds by getting into an affair with Sam (McElhatton), a married banker. Sam’s wife Noeleen (O’Kane) is devastated. John, Oscar and Deirdre wind up at a pub where older folks hang out; Oscar and Deirdre wind up hooking up. In the meantime, Deirdre’s sister Sally (Henderson), who has a noticeable mustache, lashes out at nearly everyone who crosses her path despite the best efforts of their mum (Ryan). When Deirdre brings her new boyfriend home to meet the family, Sally can’t hide her contempt. At last, when Sam is about to leave, she stops him. “You stay right there, I’ll go – there’s a stench of adultery in here.”

Lehiff, who is mates with both John and Mick, manages to convince the two of them to aid him in a kidnapping and bank robbery involving Sam, which of course John is more than happy to participate in. However, police detective Jerry Lynch (Meaney), a man with a Celtic soul if ever there was one, is trolling the mean streets of Dublin to bring hoodlums to justice. So what if his car gets stolen during a drug bust? Lynch is as tough as nails, and he doesn’t like scumbags like Lehiff much. As all these stories are getting told, it is inevitable that these lives are going to collide.

This is a comedy that is so dark that you find yourself laughing and cringing simultaneously at times. Crowley has assembled a tremendous cast and they respond with solid performances that vie with one another for your attention. In fact, some of the performances are so good they create a little bit of a problem; you get so interested in the storyline of that particular character that you find yourself getting annoyed when another character’s storyline takes over. In fact, it is interesting to note that Ferrell, clearly the biggest star of the bunch, is not missed when he’s offscreen. Murphy gets the lion’s share of the screen time. While he’s done a couple of high-profile villain roles (in Batman Returns and Red Eye) he might be remembered best as the hero in 28 Days Later; those who liked him in that part will not be unsatisfied with his performance here. Meaney, best known here as Chief O’Brien from Star Trek, is gruff and rough around the edges, and while he’s a bit on the hypermale side, he’s still charming enough to make the character fascinating.

Frankly, the women are given fairly short shrift here (although Henderson is marvelous as the nasty-tempered Sally), but I found O’Kane’s performance as Noeleen to be a cut above most of the rest. As a middle-aged woman who has the rug cut out from under her when her husband takes up with a younger, prettier woman, she finds herself exploring her own sexuality and it is to our surprise (and no doubt, hers) that she turns out to be fairly aggressive in the bedroom.

There are several running jokes throughout. Although most will remember the constant conceit of John and cohorts putting brown steak sauce into their tea (sounds terribly revolting), I was particularly fond of the vile little boy in a red jacket, whose only function here is to periodically come onscreen and do terrible things to the main characters.

One of the things I liked the most about the movie was it’s setting. This is not the city center of Dublin, but rather its outskirts and you get a real feel for how people live there. Da Queen, who spent some time in Dublin in her youth (on a student exchange program), looked for landmarks she could recognize but at last realized that she was far more interested in the story and its characters and kind of gave up on the landmark search.

Lest we forget, let me tell you about the soundtrack. There are a number of Irish institutions who contribute songs, including U2 and Clannad, but also Farrell himself sings a credible version of the Bobby Fuller classic “I Fought the Law.” There are a number of other wonderful tracks, including songs by Magnetic Fields, Spandau Ballet, Ron Sexsmith, Turin Brakes and the Fun Lovin’ Criminals.

This is one of those movies you sometimes rent on a lark and are pleasantly surprised. I didn’t know much about Intermission before I rented it, but I enjoyed it thoroughly. Now I feel compelled to turn others onto this very enjoyable movie. If you’re looking to take a chance on a movie you’re not familiar with, this is a movie worth seeking out.

WHY RENT THIS: Enjoyable performances from Meaney, O’Kane and Murphy and an awesome soundtrack. An interesting slice of life from the outskirts of Dublin.

WHY RENT SOMETHING ELSE: Farrell’s character is a little bit underdeveloped.

FAMILY VALUES: Lots of sexuality and a lot of crude language. Some mature teenagers might find this enjoyable, but I wouldn’t want kids younger than that watching this.

TRIVIAL PURSUIT: This is the feature film directing debut of Crowley.

NOTABLE DVD EXTRAS: None listed.

BOX OFFICE PERFORMANCE: $4.9M on a $5M production budget. The movie lost money.

FINAL RATING: 6/10

TOMORROW: Hereafter

Law Abiding Citizen


Law Abiding Citizen

Gerard Butler's career is on fire.

(Overture) Jamie Foxx, Gerard Butler, Bruce McGill, Colm Meaney, Leslie Bibb, Michael Irby, Viola Davis, Regina Hall, Annie Corley, Roger Bart. Directed by F. Gary Gray

Justice is something of an abstract concept in our modern civilization, but when you get right down to it, justice is about wrongdoers paying for their wrongdoing. Most of us are well aware that justice isn’t guaranteed simply because the rights of all, even those who commit heinous crimes, must be respected. We are required to prove guilt rather than innocence, as most legal systems worked before ours. It can be tricky to prove what you know.

Engineer Clyde Shelton (Butler) has a good life, a beautiful family and a good deal of wealth. In one horrible evening, it’s all taken away from him when a pair of brutal home invaders murders his daughter, rape and murder his wife and leave him for dead. The Philadelphia police capture the two thugs who committed the crime, but the ambitious prosecutor Nick Rice (Foxx) trying the case decides to make a deal with the killer in exchange for sending his partner to death row. Shelton is outraged, but is helpless to do anything about it.

Ten years later, the convicted thug is finally getting his just desserts. The execution by lethal injection, however, goes horribly awry, leading to a particularly gruesome and agonizing end. Shortly thereafter, his partner who testified against him is kidnapped and cut into many, many pieces on camera while the horrified city watches. The killer is revealed to be Clyde who is subsequently arrested. That’s when the circus really begins.

All those who had something to do with the trial – from the defense attorney to the judge who tried the case to the assistant who worked with Nick on the case – meet a grisly fate, ostensibly at the hands of Shelton who is, incredibly, locked away securely in a prison cell at first, then a solitary confinement cell eventually. Even this doesn’t stop Clyde from exacting his revenge from prison. Does he have an accomplice, or is he the second coming of Houdini? How is he accomplishing all this mayhem from a prison cell?

Director F. Gary Gray has done some interesting movies in his time (The Italian Job and Be Cool among them) and this one is no less so. Here he takes a script that really forces us to examine the justice system and its priorities and turns it into an action thriller. The action sequences work to varying degrees, but the movie is truly at its best when Butler and Foxx are allowed to do their things. Yes, it can be said to be a direct descendent of Death Wish but it’s not a rip-off so much as it is a logical extension; the Charles Bronson character was not nearly so clever as the Gerard Butler character is here.

Foxx is a gifted actor who makes a basically unlikable character likable. Most of us will cringe when he takes the low road to get a conviction, but this is certainly not uncommon among prosecutors. He’s also a family man, and when that family is threatened he turns into a cornered grizzly, all the more dangerous.

Butler is one of the most likable screen presences going right now; that saves him quite a bit here. He has to rely on audience sympathy to keep them aboard as most of his actions are pretty sick and twisted. If there’s a problem with the character, we don’t get enough of him as a sane family man at first in order to see his descent into amoral vengeance taker by the movie’s end. Plus, often he seems to be omniscient, which makes it harder to relate to him. Keeping him human makes the character more relatable to audiences and that is better for the movie.

The support cast is mainly solid character actors who fill their roles admirably. Meaney, of Star Trek: Deep Space Nine fame is particularly memorable as the dogged detective who assists Nick in his investigation, but McGill is solid as the DA that Foxx replaces.

This took a critical lambasting when it was released, but I really can’t say why. This is actually a good movie, not just a decent one but a good one. It kept my attention and had a few interesting twists in it; you can’t ask for much more from a suspense movie than that. While it doesn’t claim to have a fix for the justice system which will always be imperfect as long as humans are involved, it at least initiates the conversation which puts it a step up of most suspense movies to begin with.

WHY RENT THIS: This is a taut, suspenseful thriller that is surprisingly well-acted. Raises some compelling questions about the justice system.

WHY RENT SOMETHING ELSE: Makes Clyde out to be nearly superhuman; a little more realism might have been more effective there.

FAMILY VALUES: There’s a good deal of brutal violence, some of it rather sadistic. There is a fairly graphic rape scene, as well as a whole lot of bad language. This is definitely for mature audiences only.

TRIVIAL PURSUIT: The man holding the Bible as Nick is being sworn in as the new District Attorney is the actual Mayor of Philadelphia at the time the film was shot.

NOTABLE DVD EXTRAS: An interesting featurette entitled “The Justice of Law Abiding Citizen” has a couple of legal experts debating the plausibility of the script which has to be a first for Hollywood.

FINAL RATING: 8/10

TOMORROW: The Cove

Get Him to the Greek


Get Him to the Greek

Fear the Diddy.

(Universal)  Jonah Hill, Russell Brand, Sean Combs, Rose Byrne, Elisabeth Moss, Colm Meaney, Aziz Ansari, Dinah Stabb, Carla Gallo, Kristin Bell, Meredith Vieira, Rick Schroeder, Stephanie Faracy, Lino Facioli, Kurt Loder. Directed by Nicholas Stoller

At one time or another we all dream of being a rock star. Who wouldn’t want to live a life of excess, adored by millions and rich enough that we can afford to indulge our every whim?

Aldous Snow (Brand) has been living that dream for 20 years, but like the rest of the music business, his career is in jeopardy. A spectacular fall from sobriety after an ill-advised album painted the very white British rock star as an “African Child” (don’t ask) has left him on shaky ground, his professional and personal life in tatters. That’s because his girlfriend and baby momma Jackie Q (Byrne) has flown the coop and has taken up with Metallica drummer Lars Ulrich.

Pinnacle Records chief Sergio Roma (Combs) doesn’t care about any of that. He just knows his six kids need new Nikes and the record label is hemorrhaging money. He needs a great idea and fast. Surprisingly, that idea comes from Aaron Green (Hill), a lowly underling on the label publicity staff. It seems that it is the 20th anniversary of Snow’s epic Greek Theater concert that would lead to one of the biggest selling live albums in history. If the present isn’t yielding a lot of great artists, why not mine the past?

Sergio tasks Aaron with bringing Aldous from London to a Today show appearance in New York and then across the country to Los Angeles for the concert itself. Aaron, a bona fide music nerd (I can totally relate), is overjoyed. Infant Sorrow (Aldous’ band) is one of his all-time favorites. The only cloud on the horizon is that Daphne (Moss), his medical intern girlfriend, is thinking seriously of taking a job in Seattle, far from Aaron’s record label dreams.

Snow proves to be quite the handful. Evidently his fall from grace has become a spectacular drop into sheer debauchery. Aldous is more interested in banging every bird he lays eyes on, indulging in every drug that he can get his hands on and drinking every bar in London dry. Aaron, not especially a straight arrow but certainly not used to partying on the epic scale that Aldous does, panics as the time for the flight to New York comes and goes, as it does for each succeeding airline booking that he makes.

They finally get to the Today show studios, a scant 15 minutes before Aldous is supposed to be there. By now Aaron has been sucked into the rock star’s world and it is chewing him up and spitting him out. It doesn’t help matters that Aaron’s cell phone is constantly ringing with an enraged Sergio on the line demanding that Aaron take control of a situation that simply cannot be controlled by anyone. How’s that rock star fantasy looking now?

This is a spin-off from the hit comedy Forgetting Sarah Marshall (Stoller also directed that movie and the titular character makes a cameo appearance here). Brand nearly stole it as the sober yet completely bullcrap-engorged rock star that he plays here as a drunken yet complete bullcrap-engorged rock star. Hill was also in that movie in a different role but one that had one thing in common with Aaron Green – they both worship Aldous Snow.

This isn’t nearly as funny as FSM although it has its moments. Hill and Brand, both of whom have been second bananas in lots of movies, both show they can carry one on their own. Combs, the artist formerly known as P. Diddy, Puff Daddy and quite possibly Prince, is outstanding as the Type A mogul with impulse control issues. The role reminds me a little bit of Tom Cruise’s part as studio boss Les Grossman in that both are over-the-top portrayals that work really well.

The music is pretty good here too; the songs written for Aldous Snow have a bit of an Oasis quality to them and indeed Brand’s vocals are not unlike Noel Gallagher’s, particularly on “Furry Walls” (sung during the movie’s conclusion).

The movie is meant to take the rock star lifestyle to excess, which is hard to do in and of itself. There are a buttload of female breasts (and male butts too), an enormous load of drinking staggering amounts of alcohol, a terrifying intake of drugs and more vomiting from Jonah Hill than I ever want to see again.

This isn’t a movie that is breaking any new ground. It’s funny enough to be entertaining, but certainly not the ride that The Hangover or Superbad are. It’s just a decently funny movie with a surprising heart of gold at its center that you will find easy to get at once you clean off all the vomit.

REASONS TO GO: Hill is a great straight man and Brand is zany enough to be watchable for the whole movie. The soundtrack is surprisingly good.

REASONS TO STAY: Not in the laugh-a-minute category. Most of the plot action is pretty much outrageous for its own sake.

FAMILY VALUES: Sex and drugs and rock and roll. What more do I need to say?

TRIVIAL PURSUIT: The band Bob and the Yeoman on the Greek Theater marquee is a reference to Director of Photography Robert Yeoman.

HOME OR THEATER: Nothing epic here. Unless you really have to see it right away, it’s perfectly fine to wait for the home video release.

FINAL RATING: 6/10

TOMORROW: Lakeview Terrace

New Releases for the Week of November 13, 2009


2012

 

Northwestern Airlines REALLY needs to do something about their pilots flying to the right destination.

2012

(Columbia) John Cusack, Woody Harrelson, Chiwetel Ejiofor, Amanda Peet, Oliver Platt, Danny Glover, Thandie Newton. Directed by Roland Emmerich

From the director of The Day After Tomorrow comes another end-of-the-world epic, making Roland Emmerich the modern-day Irwin Allen (younger folk not familiar with the name can google him). The Mayan calendar warns that the world will end in December, 2012 and there are several scientists – some fairly notable – who took that seriously. Not seriously enough however, as global cataclysmic mayhem ensues on a blockbuster scale.

 

See the trailer here.

For more on the movie this is the website.

Rating: PG-13 (for intense disaster sequences and some language)

The Damned United

(Sony Classics) Michael Sheen, Timothy Spall, Colm Meaney, Jim Broadbent. In the late 1960s, the most powerful football club – soccer to us Yanks – in the UK was Leeds United. They were a formidable dynasty with some of the top players in the sport and managed by Don Revie, one of the most revered coaches in the game. When Revie’s greatest rival Brian Clough was tapped to take over the United coaching reign, it would usher in one of the most notorious coaching situations in the history of the game.

See the trailer here.

For more on the movie this is the website.

Rating: R (for language)

Pirate Radio

(Focus) Philip Seymour Hoffman, Bill Nighy, Kenneth Branagh, January Jones. In the swinging 60s, British rock and roll bands were changing the face of music and culture forever, yet the English people were only permitted to hear two hours a week of rock music. A group of enterprising and passionate DJs took to the high seas to launch their own pirate radio stations, free of government restrictions and rules. The British government didn’t take kindly to the open defiance of their authority and did everything in their power to shut them down. I’m told this is loosely based on actual events of the time but regardless the soundtrack to this movie is killer!

See the trailer here.

For more on the movie this is the website.

Rating: R (for language, and some sexual content including brief nudity)