Open Range


Kevin Costner and Robert Duvall are home on the range.

Kevin Costner and Robert Duvall are home on the range.

(2003) Western (Touchstone) Robert Duvall, Kevin Costner, Annette Benning, Michael Gambon, Michael Jeter, Diego Luna, James Russo, Abraham Benrubi, Dean McDermott, Kim Coates, Herb Kohler, Peter MacNeill, Cliff Saunders, Patricia Stutz. Directed by Kevin Costner

Kevin Costner returns to the American West, a setting which has seen his greatest triumph to date in Dances With Wolves. Like that Oscar-winning classic, Costner directs as well as stars and once again proves effective in both roles.

Charlie Waite (Costner) is a former gunslinger who earns his keep these days as a free-grazing cattleman, along with his partner, Boss Spearman (Duvall). They are grazing their cattle on what appears to be an uninhabited meadow near a town; one of their hands, an easy-going doofus named Mose (Benrubi) gets into a fight in town and eventually has to be brought back to the range by his employers. The cattle baron who runs the town, Denton (Gambon) can’t abide the thought of free grazers in his territory, and he orders his thugs to take them out, while the law turns a blind eye.

Mose is killed, and Button (Luna), a young man that the partners have essentially raised, is gravely wounded. Of course, Waite and Spearman can’t just let this go by, and they return to town, aided by a comely physician (Benning), to take justice as best they can.

This blends the best of modern Westerns, including the easygoing relationship between Waite and Spearman, which is straight out of Lonesome Dove (it’s no accident that Duvall starred in both), as well as the division between town and prairie, with the town representing corruption and violence as opposed to the freedom of the range. This is a theme that recurs in Clint Eastwood’s best movies, especially The Unforgiven and Pale Rider.

Costner is a better director than he is often given credit for; he has had his share of bombs (Waterworld, The Postman) but he knows when to show us a pretty picture and when to show us an ugly one. He juxtaposes the openness of the West with the confines of the town, and makes the hard, relentless life of a free grazer almost desirable. He is also appealing as the lead here, and that is what makes Open Range so good. Charlie Waite is a wounded soul, suffering from the demons of his own guilt seeking to forget his past in the vastness that was the West. Boss, his truest friend, is a rascal, yes, but a fair one. The two have a compelling chemistry.

Costner as an actor has an affinity for Westerns. He gets the rhythms and the flow of them. Now, he doesn’t necessarily sound like someone from the Old West in the sense that he uses the same style of speechifyin’ but I’m talking about Westerns. He has the laconic delivery of a Gary Cooper with the innate honesty of a John Wayne and the rugged chiseled good looks of a young Eastwood. Costner captures the essence of a Western hero and by extension, of American men in general. We all aspire to those values that made Westerns the king of movies during an era when arguably America was at its most prosperous. We also yearn for a simpler time when life was hard but our prospects were unlimited. The West meant freedom and a man could make a fresh start out there, get a second chance in some cases. It is the most American of aspirations.

The gunfights are often at the center of traditional Western, and there is a mighty good one here. You should be warned that the gun battle is extremely loud; those who are sensitive that way may want to think twice before seeing this in a state-of-the-art home theater with Dolby sound and all the bells and whistles. Otherwise, this is a sprawling, wide-open movie with a terrific human story at its heart, aided and abetted by some fine performances in the lead roles. Even those who are not particularly fond of Westerns, such as my spouse, Da Queen, will give this a rousing thumbs up as she did.

WHY RENT THIS: A throwback to classic Westerns. Costner is at his finest. A human story on an epic scale.

WHY RENT SOMETHING ELSE: Overly loud in places. Cliche in other places.

FAMILY MATTERS: Can be loud and violent.

TRIVIAL PURSUITS: Tig is not only the name of the dog in the movie but also the name of Costner’s production company. It’s taken from his grandmother’s nickname.

NOTABLE HOME VIDEO FEATURES: There’s a 12 minute documentary about the history of the open range and free-grazing as well as a music video. It should be noted that the making-of featurette is unusually candid, dealing with the problems the film had obtaining financing (Costner and producers Jake Eberts and David Valdes put up about half of the budget from their own money) which weighed heavily on Costner during filming when there were no distributors lined up. Near the end of production, Costner was also working through severe abdominal pain which turned out to be appendicitis.

BOX OFFICE PERFORMANCE: $68.3m on a $22M production budget; the movie was a hit.

COMPARISON SHOPPING: Lonesome Dove

FINAL RATING: 7.5/10

NEXT: Nice Guy Johnny

New Releases for the Week of March 16, 2012


March 16, 2012

21 JUMP STREET

(Columbia) Jonah Hill, Channing Tatum, Ice Cube, Brie Larson, Rob Riggle, Dave Franco, Johnny Simmons, Dakota Johnson, Johnny Depp, Ellie Kemper. Directed by Phil Lord and Christopher Miller

A couple of misfit cops, once buddies in high school, go undercover as part of a unit headquartered at 21 Jump Street to chase down a ring of drug dealers at Sagan High. Unlike the iconic 80s Fox TV series (whose breakout star Johnny Depp cameos here), this one is played for laughs.

See the trailer, clips and promos here.

For more on the movie this is the website.

Release formats: Standard

Genre: Comedy

Rating: R (for crude and sexual content, pervasive language, drug material, teen drinking and some violence)

Being Flynn

(Focus) Robert De Niro, Paul Dano, Olivia Thirlby, Julianne Moore.  A young man just beginning to establish himself as a writer mourns his late mother and her gentle nature. However, he does not miss his father, a fellow writer, whom he hasn’t seen for 18 years. However when his dad is evicted from his apartment, he goes to the only place he has left – his son – and the two are forced to face the issues between them.

See the trailer and clips here.

For more on the movie this is the website.

Release formats: Standard

Genre: Drama

Rating: R (for language throughout, some sexual content, drug use and brief nudity)

Casa de mi Padre

(Pantelion) Will Ferrell, Diego Luna, Gael Garcia Bernal, Genesis Rodriguez. Armando has lived and worked on his father’s farm in Mexico his entire life. His younger brother, newly engaged, arrives back home pledging to save the farm from all the debts it has incurred. However as Armando falls for his brother’s fiancée, he discovers that his brother’s financial dealings aren’t all on the up-and-up and that he has placed the family in the crosshairs of Mexico’s most notorious and vicious druglord.

See the trailer, promos and clips here.

For more on the movie this is the website

Release formats: Standard

Genre: Comedy

Rating: R (for bloody violence, language, some sexual content and drug use)

Jeff, Who Lives at Home

(Paramount Vantage) Jason Segel, Ed Helms, Judy Greer, Susan Sarandon. A man who lives with his mom butts heads with her and his more responsible brother, and in the end teaches them something about what life is supposed to be, and what really matters. This is the latest from the highly regarded Duplass Brothers, a writing-directing team that has made some pretty awesome films of late, including Cyrus.

See the trailer and clips here.

For more on the movie this is the website.

Release formats: Standard

Genre: Dramedy

Rating: R (for language including sexual references and some drug use)

Kahaani

(Viacom18) Vidya Balan, Parambrata Chatterjee, Indraneil Sengupta, Nawazuddin Siddiqui.  A pregnant woman travels from London to find her missing husband. However the more that police investigate, the more puzzles they discover – for example neither the company that employs her husband nor the hotel he allegedly stayed in have any record of him. Worse still, he may have been involved with a fatal terrorist attack on a commuter train years earlier. What awaits the woman – a loving reunion or an assassin’s bullet?

See the trailer and clips here.

For more on the movie this is the website.

Release formats: Standard

Genre: Bollywood Thriller

Rating: NR

Contraband


Contraband

Kate Beckinsale won't bring up The Happening if Mark Wahlberg won't bring up Underworld

(2012) Action (Universal) Mark Wahlberg, Kate Beckinsale, Ben Foster, Giovanni Ribisi, Caleb Landry Jones, Lukas Haas, Diego Luna, .J.K. Simmons, William Lucking, Kevin “Lucky” Johnson, J. Omar Castro, Olafur Darri Olafsson, David O’Hara. Directed by Baltazar Kormakur

 

Heist films can be a diamond in the rough when they’re done right or a dime a dozen when they’re not. It isn’t easy getting them right. By their definition they need to be complex and light, a snowflake of a film that doesn’t overwhelm the viewer with too many details but yet must have those details worked out in order to retain its own internal logic.

Chris Farraday (Wahlberg) is a family man who owns a home security installation company. He used to be a smuggler but got out of the business (which is dad (Lucking) is in jail for) to raise his sons and provide a stable existence for his gorgeous wife Kate (Beckinsale).

Then Kate’s screw-up of a brother Andy (Jones) does a drug smuggling run, even though he promised Chris he wouldn’t and has to dump the cargo, which leaves him $750,000 in debt to a ruthless drug dealer named Tim Briggs (Ribisi). Drug dealers are not known for being compassionate, understanding sorts and Andy is hospitalized after Briggs tries to run him down.

Chris immediately realizes that Andy’s life expectancy has decreased dramatically and tries to make amends with Briggs. However Briggs is not a man to be reasoned with and Chris realizes that he has no choice. He has to make another run. Just when he thought he was out…

The problem here is that the plot is only superficially complex. There are some scenes in Panama that include a crazed drug dealer (Luna) that seem to come from another movie. There’s no cleverness here; it’s got the touch of a blacksmith where it needs the sure hand of a surgeon. None of the characters have much dimension to them. The big plot twists are telegraphed and Da Queen guessed it about 10 minutes into the movie, which even for her is pretty early.

Wahlberg is a capable lead. He’s got an innate decency that makes him a great everyman hero. He also is capable of action hero snarkyness  – witness his line “Did you think you’re the only guy with a gun?” which is perhaps the best moment in the movie. He isn’t particularly impressive here but he isn’t a disgrace either. Beckinsale is essentially a designated victim, a far cry from the Underworld movies.

While Foster has a great deal of potential, this is essentially the same role he played in The Mechanic and he’s way better there than here. He is still fascinating, but his performance here doesn’t continue his forward movement in his career. This is an Oscar nominee who deserve better than second banana.

There are a lot of inconsistencies from the casting  – Caleb Landry Jones is to Kate Beckinsale as Lyle Lovett is to Julia Roberts – to the cinematography, which is wonderful in Panama but kind of dreary in New Orleans. The action sequences are pretty nice, when they do come but they often feel like something added on rather than something germane to the plot.

It’s innocent enough entertainment mind you – you will not feel cheated of your ten bucks admission. However, it isn’t much more so you won’t feel like you got a bargain.

REASONS TO GO: Some nice action sequences and Wahlberg is now a more than capable lead.

REASONS TO STAY: Really predictable plot and characters. Telegraphs plot points, shows signs of lazy writing.

FAMILY VALUES: Plenty of violence, a whole lot of cursing and a little bit of drug use.

TRIVIAL PURSUIT: The movie is based on the Icelandic movie Reykjavik-Rotterdam which director Kormakur starred in, the same role that Wahlberg plays here.

CRITICAL MASS: As of 1/16/12: Rotten Tomatoes: 46% positive reviews. Metacritic: 52/100. The reviews are mixed.

COMPARISON SHOPPING: Gone in 60 Seconds

PANAMA CANAL LOVERS: Some very nice overhead shots of the canal are on view.

FINAL RATING: 5/10

TOMORROW: Soul Surfer

New Releases for the Week of January 13, 2012


January 13, 2012

CONTRABAND

(Universal) Mark Wahlberg, Kate Beckinsale, Ben Foster, Giovanni Ribisi, Caleb Landry Jones, Lukas Haas, Diego Luna, J.K. Simmons, William Lucking. Directed by Baltasar Komakur

A former smuggler who had managed to escape the life of crime and go straight is drawn back in when his foolish brother-in-law screws up a drug deal and has to get rid of his cargo. Trying to make up for his brother-in-law’s foul-up not only brings him back into the life, but also puts his wife and sons into the crosshairs of the druglords and crooked cops who have a vested interest in his new cargo – counterfeit bills being smuggled in from Panama to New Orleans. He will have to rely on some very rusty skills if he is to see this thing through.

See the trailer, clips, promos, an interview and web-only content here.

For more on the movie this is the website.

Release formats: Standard

Genre: Action

Rating: R (for violence, pervasive language and brief drug use)

Beauty and the Beast 3D

(Disney) Paige O’Hara, Robby Benson, Angela Lansbury, Jerry Orbach. After a successful re-release of The Lion King last year, Disney once again moves to add a third dimension to another classic movie. While some (myself included) have bitched about the Mouse House squeezing every last dime from their classic films, it might be well to remember that they have had a history in the pre-home video days of periodically re-releasing their classics for those who haven’t seen it in a theater. Of course, they didn’t up-charge for those re-releases either…

See the trailer, clips, featurettes, music videos and a link to buy the movie at Amazon.com here.

For more on the movie this is the website

Release formats: Standard

Genre: Animated Feature

Rating: G

Carnage

(Sony Classics) Jodie Foster, Kate Winslet, Christoph Waltz, John C. Reilly.  The latest from director Roman Polanski is based on an acclaimed stage play. When a child injures another child in a Brooklyn park, the parents get together to discuss the situation in a civilized and adult manner. However as the evening wears on, the veneer of civilization begins to dissolve and the “adults” prove to be worse than children.

See the trailer and clips here.

For more on the movie this is the website.

Release formats: Standard

Genre: Drama

Rating: R (for language)

The Iron Lady

(Weinstein) Meryl Streep, Jim Broadbent, Roger Allam, Anthony Head. The story of Margaret Thatcher, one of the most powerful women of the 20th century and an icon of the conservative movement. Her era as Prime Minister is roughly concurrent to the Reagan years here and was very similar in many ways – neither Reagan nor Thatcher would have been considered leadership material and yet through savvy politicking and an understanding of what their electorates needed, both became influential in the world of the 1980s and their leadership, for good or not, still has ramifications in the world today.

See the trailer, a promo, a featurette and a clip here.

For more on the movie this is the website.

Release formats: Standard

Genre: Biographical Drama

Rating: PG-13 (for some violent images and brief nudity)

Joyful Noise

(Warner Brothers) Queen Latifah, Dolly Parton, Keke Palmer, Courtney B. Vance. Two feuding divas in a church choir find their tiff growing when one’s grandson falls for the other’s daughter. On top of it all, their choir is competing in the National Joyful Noise Competition and their community is counting on them to bring home the gold, which is hard to do when their best can’t agree on anything.

See the trailer and a clip here.

For more on the movie this is the website

Release formats: Standard

Genre: Musical

Rating: PG-13 (for some language including a sexual reference)

Rudo Y Cursi


Rudo Y Cursi

Hee Haw was never like this.

(Sony Classics) Gael Garcia Bernal, Diego Luna, Guillermo Fracella, Dolores Heredia, Adriana Paz, Jessica Mas, Salvador Zerboni. Directed by Carlos Cuaron

When you have nothing, it follows you have nothing to lose. That’s not the way life really works, however – there is always something to lose.

Tato (Bernal) and Beto (Luna) Verdusco are a pair of brothers living in the small impoverished Mexican village of Tlachatlan, whose economy revolves mainly around the banana plantation. Their mother has had a succession of husbands, each one a loser in some way shape or form. Tato dreams of becoming rich and famous as a singer; Beto is more of a realist, having a wife (Paz) and child that he must support, which he is content to do as the assistant to the assistant foreman on the banana plantation.

They are both gifted soccer players and play on the local team on weekends. One fateful day, the expensive sports car of Batuta (Fracella), the best talent scout in Mexican soccer, breaks down in Tlachatlan on the day of a local game. Unable to get the local repair shop to move faster than the average snail, Batuta and the first in a series of gorgeous girlfriends decide to watch the game to alleviate the boredom.

He’s pleasantly surprised at the play of the brothers, each of whom has the talent to be a big star in the Mexican First Division of soccer. Unfortunately, Batuta can only take one of the brothers with him. As to which one he brings with him, it all boils down to a penalty kick.

It turns out the lucky brother is Tato, a forward with a scoring touch, leaving Beto angry and frustrated – pro soccer had been his dream, not Tato’s and Beto can’t help feeling cheated  by life. His wife Tona (Paz) is trying to help make ends meet by becoming a salesperson for a dietary supplement whose befits are murky at best. However, eventually when a club needs a goaltender, Batuta is able to bring Beto up for his own shot at the brass ring.

Both boys want to build a beachside home for their mother, but a is usually the case when those in abject poverty come into wealth, the money gets squandered, Beto on high stakes poker games, Tato on Maya (Mas), the beautiful supermodel and television personality that Tato is dating.

The two brothers wind up on rival teams, each brother having been given a nickname – Tato is Cursi (which can be translated as corny) and Beto is Rudo, which critics have translated as tough; that’s not quite the case. The word in Spanish implies a certain lack of manners or temprament. It’s not quite “Rude” which you might think it is, but it’s pretty close.

Over the past decade, Mexican cinema has really started to take off thanks to directors like Cuaron, whose brother directed the stunning Y Tu Mama Tambien (which Carlos wrote and Luna and Bernal starred in). Rather than playing rich kids exploring rural Mexico as was the case in the prior film, this time Bernal and Luna – who are actual childhood friends, part of the reason that their chemistry works so well together – are from a rural background, exploring the bright lights of the big city.

While soccer is a central theme to the movie, it remains a bit of a metaphor. The Beautiful Game is a ticket out of poverty, just as pro sports are here in the States. There, as here, there is a mystique to the lifestyle of the pro athlete. The fans in Mexico are a bit more rabid than you can imagine, however. For example, when Cursi goes on an extended scoring slump, he is given death threats by zealous fans – just before they ask him for his autograph.

Luna and Bernal have an uncommon chemistry that only comes from being close friends for a good long time. They have an easygoing rapport that descends into verbal shorthand from time to time; like any pair of brothers, their fights are more vicious than those between strangers and yet when push comes to shove, they are there for each other.

There is a lot of quirky humor here. When Cursi gets the big singing break he’s looking for, he chooses to do a norteno version of Cheap Trick’s “I Want You to Want Me” which would lead anyone to tell him not to quit his day job. The music video he makes for his song borders on the surreal.

Like most good cinema, there’s an element of the morality play here but the filmmakers choose not to hit you over the head with it. The movie pokes gentle fun at obsessions and dreams, and on the difference between the rural and the urban. The humor breaks down in places and descends from zaniness into silliness (the difference between the two is subtle yet profound), but has its heart in the right place. This is the kind of movie that could only be made in Mexico and it captures the sensibility and humor that seems to be in the DNA of the Mexican people.

WHY RENT THIS: A slice of Mexican life, well directed and with a wry sense of humor that permeates it like a good mole sauce.  

WHY RENT SOMETHING ELSE: Descends into silliness in some places.

FAMILY VALUES: There’s a good deal of foul language as well as some sexuality and drug use. Not that your kids are itching to see subtitled films, but you should probably think twice before showing it to them – this isn’t Goal.

TRIVIAL PURSUIT: All the soccer teams and their players that appear in the movie are fictional, although some of the action is filmed in actual Mexican Division I soccer stadiums.

NOTABLE DVD EXTRAS: There’s a karaoke version of Cursi’s hit single on the Blu-Ray edition if you want to sing along.

FINAL RATING: 6/10

TOMORROW: Life is Hot in Cracktown