Reviewed by Dan Lybarger
As the Shrek movies have progressed, the swashbuckling cartoon feline Puss
in Boots (zestfully performed by Antonio Banderas) has consistently upstaged
the lead ogre and his donkey sidekick. Banderas’ suave inflections and
braggadocio are contrasted by the character’s tiny size. It’s almost as if
Zorro (a character Banderas has ably played twice) is struggling to burst out
of the cat’s body. He also runs into trouble because moving lights and
hairballs can easily distract him from his daring feats.
If sheer ferocity doesn’t work, the
little critter gives potential assailants a long glance with his enlarged eyes.
His urchin face is so disarming that bad guys don’t see his foil coming their
It’s a given that any movie featuring
the fencing feline is probably going to be more entertaining than the last two Shrek movies. Thanks to a more dynamic
character and some gorgeous Spanish settings, Puss in Boots is a huge step up, even if the ogre and the donkey
are nowhere to be found.
Puss starts his new adventure trying to
stay a step ahead of the law. If that weren’t difficult enough, he’s also
trying to find some elusive magic beans. These powerful frijoles can grow into
a giant beanstalk, which leads to a gold filled castle.
He discovers that the seeds are in the
hands of the skuzzy roving outlaws Jack and Jill (Billy Bob Thornton and Amy
Sedaris, who are a riot together). Complicating his quest is the fact that
another cat, Kitty Softpaws (Salma Hayek) wants the beans, too.
Don’t let her name fool you. She’s as
tough as the other gato, but because she’s been declawed, she can effortlessly
pick pockets before her victims notice their stuff is gone. She’s also working
with Puss’ former best friend Humpty Dumpty (Zach Galifianakis). It seems the
treacherous egg man knows the only place where the beans can be grown, so Puss
has to join them in order to end his life as an outcast.
With the relentless action and the
stylized Iberian backdrop, for once the 3D glasses are worth it. Chris Miller,
who directed Shrek “the Third” and
the hysterically funny Lea Press on Limbs short, has teamed
with Mexican filmmaker Guillermo del Toro to create sweeping vistas and nail-biting
chases. Sonically, the film is also a treat, thanks to the nimble fingers of
Mexican guitarists Rodrigo
y Gabriela. Henry Jackman’s score owes a huge debt to the Spaghetti
Western scores of Ennio Morricone, but to his credit, he knows how to make
these themes fit effortlessly into the current offering.
The story mysteriously loses some
momentum around the third act. Humpty Dumpty isn’t all that appealing (it’s
easy to see why he and Puss parted ways), and the dialogue doesn’t have the
same wit and finesse of the first two Shrek movies. With Banderas’ graceful delivery, it’s a shame that the lines don’t
have the same finesses as the feline swordplay. Nonetheless, it’s nice to know
that the scene-stealing cat is comfortable in the spotlight (PG) Rating: 3.5
(Posted on 10/28/11)
The Rum Diary
Reviewed by Bruce
In the 2003 salon.com interview, Hunter S. Thompson relates
a story how Johnny Depp, when visiting Thompson’s home in Colorado, and himself
decided to buy a pair of 454 magnum revolvers. Whether Depp still has his gun
is unknown. But with Thompson, one has to wonder that if the writer had been
able to screen The Rum Diary (Thompson died in 2005 by suicide), would he have taken his magnum and emptied
a few rounds into the screen.
Despite the homepage paid to Thompson in this film, which is
based on an early novel by him, The Rum
Diary is a confused mess lacking a great deal of the sardonic brilliance
that could mark Thompson’s writing.
Depp plays Kemp, a journalist who has just arrived in Puerto
Rico to take a job at the “San Juan Star.” Looking puffy-faced — maybe to add a
realistic touch to the character’s lust for alcohol — we know little of Kemp
other than he could be from New York, claims to be a novelist and was the only
applicant for the job.
Kemp stepped into a newsroom populated by characters waiting
for the hammer to fall, consequently there seems to be little newsgathering
going on. It doesn’t really matter since most of the gringo reporters have
little regard for the Puerto Ricans while the locals heartily return the favor.
Attempting to run the place is Lotterman, played by Richard
Jenkins. His nemesis is Moburg, a Nazi-loving, liquor-loving nutcase played so
well by Giovanni Ribisi it’s as if he spent a month living under bridges and
eating from dumpsters as research. Moburg, supposedly on the crime beat, only
shows up at the newspaper on payday, which causes Lotterman to go ballistic. Kemp’s
mentor in all this is the newspaper’s photographer, Sala (Michael Rispoli),
also a drunk, though not as bad as Moburg.
For a while Kemp attempts to be a journalist, something
Lotterman has no interest in nurturing. An oily gringo capitalist named
Sanderson (Aaron Eckhart) eventually recruits Kemp as a PR writing specialist
to help push a plan for developing a nearby island once the U.S. military stops
using it as a practice bombing site. Sanderson has a beautiful girlfriend,
Chenault, played by Amber Heard, who, unsurprisingly, catches the eye of Kemp.
Nothing is really spelled out in how the plan for developing
the island will work, but it doesn’t matter. Kemp’s chaste pursuit of Chenault,
which one night leads to Chenault getting gang raped — though we’re not really
sure of that — has Sanderson nixing the deal and declaring Kemp an enemy, one
in danger of disappearing into the blue waters of the Caribbean.
Throughout all this is the usual Thompson-trademark mayhem —
heavy drinking, drug-taking, running from pissed-off people, pissing off the
cops, getting arrested and going to jail … and always, it seems, fighting
hangovers. Interesting, there’s no real gunplay though Kemp does learn to be a
fire breathing drunk with the help of Moburg’s special brew.
On paper all this probably sounded like great satirical fun.
Under the direction of Bruce Robinson — who is also credited with the
screenplay — the only reason to watch this film is out of respect of the actors
because most of them really try to make The
Rum Diary succeed. Jenkins, Rispoli and especially Ribisi put a lot into
their characters. Depp, besides some close-camera mugging, never makes much of
an effort to carry this film beyond its chaotic presentation.
The ending is particularly lame. Chenault splits back to New
York, the newspaper has folded, Moburg seems now able to speak coherent
sentences and Sala continues to whine about not having a car. And into the
sunset floats Kemp, stealing Sanderson’s boat as revenge and in the hope of
again meeting up with Chenault.
On the plus side, the cinematography by Dariusz Wolski is
stunning, as is the period setting in clothes, cars and overall island feel of
the early 1960s. But it’s not enough, even with Johnny Depp. (R) Rating: 1.5
by Brandon Whitehead
the fact that the collapse and bailout of the housing market openly revealed
both the culture of corruption that passes for a "free market" and
the utter failure of politicians to prove they are anything but big-bank
bitches, you would think Hollywood would jump at the chance to dramatize such
an important event.
while writer/director J.C. Chandor does attempt to explain how the collapse
happened — sort of — his small
budget-big movie star film Margin Call is more infuriating for its "nobody's fault" tone than the events it
a 24-hour period at an unnamed investment bank, we start with Eric Dale
(Stanley Tucci) being laid off in a most inglorious manor. As he leaves, he
turns over a computer file to young Peter (Zachary Quinto) with a simple
phrase- "Be careful." The reason for that statement quickly becomes
apparent as Peter stays late finishing the file. Soon, in terms even the
filmmaker doesn't seem to understand, Peter explains to his boss Will (Paul
Bettany, not killing vampires for a change), who calls his boss Jared (Simon
Baker), that basically all their investments are worthless. I don't really know
any other way to explain it: There are several references to "the
formula,” the system that they use to make millions trading mortgages back and
forth, but I doubt a dozen economists could explain what the hell their talking
the night progresses and ever-higher up people arrive, the decision is finally
made: Sell off everything as fast as possible, saving the company by destroying
the careers of their own traders. Opposing this is Sam (Kevin Spacey), who
stands as a somewhat sympathetic figure here, although even he in the end
chooses his bank account over his morality.
made, with a stellar cast, great dialog and impeccable timing, Margin Call has just one problem: It
feels more like a big-business propaganda piece than an indictment. Even if you
accept the attitude here that nobody was really at fault (and if you believe
that, I have some great mortgages I can sell you), that still doesn't change
the fact that the entire company committed fraud to get out of the hole they
had themselves created.
once here is there a single mention of the damage this and other big banks have
done to this country with their snake-oil tactics and endless greed. Soldiers
overseas who lost their homes while they fought for us, family's destroyed by
debt, people who committed suicide when they saw no other way out ... well,
according to this movie, they just shouldn't have listened to the financial
advisers that told them they could afford a home. Pathetic.
maybe somebody will make a film that actually points out that all these people
— expensive suits and all — are very possibly the biggest criminals in the
history of America, but all Margin Call does is shrug and say, "Gee, sorry about destroying the economy guys! Oh,
well, what can you do?" That's one margin that this film misses by miles.
(R) Rating: 1 (Posted 10/28/11)
Reviewed by Dan Lybarger
If poverty and crime are unavoidable,
there are signs that homicide and violence aren’t. That’s the idea behind a
Chicago organization called CeaseFire, who go into bad neighborhoods and try to
stop residents from shooting each other.
If the idea sounds naïve and overly
optimistic, the new documentary The
Interrupters indicates that some of the techniques that we’ve used to fight
violent crime might need to be reexamined. Epidemiologist Gary Slutkin has
likened the transmission of violence to the transmission of disease. In his
theory, the idea is to address grievances that lead to shootings before someone
gets hurt or killed.
To keep tempers from reaching the
boiling point, CeaseFire has a group of interrupters who go to crime scenes or
potential crimes scenes in order to prevent someone from searching for a Second
Expectedly, this is not an easy task,
and it takes a certain kind of individual to pull off these sort of mediations.
The film focuses on three astonishingly effective interrupters. The one thing
they have in common is that they’ve all done hard time before they devoted
their lives to preventing murders. In fact, some of the people they talk down
from the ledge would probably only talk to them if they had been to prison.
Cobe Williams, Eddie Bocanegra and
Ameena Matthews are three fascinating people in that their present lives bear
little resemblances to their criminal pasts. Bocanegra and Williams have
changed dramatically since their outlaw days, and the former now looks more
like an art teacher than someone who did 14 years for murder.
Matthews’ path is especially
intriguing. She is the daughter of former Chicago crime lord Jeff Fort, and
became a gang leader herself. Now a devout Muslim, she now uses her commanding
presence and silver tongue to keep a new generation from living the life she
used to. When a backsliding pupil says that she’s simply doing “shit,” Matthews
warns, “I don’t abide by shit. I flush shit down.”
Director Steve James (Hoop Dreams) and long form journalist
Alex Kotlowitz (There Are No Children
Here) follow these three for a year and cover the trio’s successes and
struggles. Right when the task looks easy, Matthews has to stop an angry
relative from going after the man who assaulted her brother. The sister has a
butcher knife at one point and a concrete block during the other. It’s
remarkable that Matthews manages to prevent a melee. At other times, we can see
when things don’t go right.
James gets to know his subjects
intimately, and he and Kotlowitz coax astonishingly frank and thoughtful
comments from the three. While their efforts are heroic, it’s great that James
has resisted the urge to put halos on their heads. It’s downright gut busting
to see the intelligent, commanding Matthews locking herself out of her car. She
may be able to convince gangs of large, angry men from rumbling, but she can
make the same blunders we do.
James and Kotlowitz are unsparing in
their depiction of how rough life in Chicago’s mean streets can get.
Nonetheless, they also have a deep compassion for the people they follow.
Individuals a viewer might be tempted to write off as losers go through
dramatic transformations during the course of the film. The two would not have
captured these moments if they hadn’t have followed their subjects so closely
and for so long.
One might wonder if merely stopping
violence does nothing to stop the other evils facing the neighborhoods that
CeaseFire patrols. The Interrupters proves simply doing that is a major accomplishment. People can’t leave lives of
crime if they’re in jail or dead. (N/R) Rating: 4.5 (Posted on 10/21/11)
Reviewed by Dan Lybarger
On TV, British comic Rowan Atkinson is
a riot. If he’s being an annoying jerk in Blackadder or a delightfully infantile imp on Mr.
Bean, Atkinson’s voice and body can contort themselves into bizarre forms
that mock the laws of physics. In 20 to 30-minute doses, Atkinson is a complete
In a feature film, however, Atkinson
can get old quickly. While he certainly has the talent to hold a feature, the
filmmakers he teams up with can’t seem to come up with 90 minutes worth of
silliness to keep him busy.
English Reborn, he’s paired with Oliver Parker, who normally does literary
adaptations such as An Ideal Husband and Othello. Neither Parker nor
screenwriter Hamish McColl (Mr. Bean’s
Vacation) come up with much in the way of quality insanity to make this
sequel to 2003’s Johnny English worthy of Atkinson. To be fair, it’s a shade better than the dreary movie that
The title character (Atkinson) is an
MI-7 agent whose courage is undone by his smugness and complacency: two traits
that are not conducive to spycraft. Essentially, he’s a far less successful
version of James Bond.
After bungling a revolution in
Mozambique, Johnny is called back into duty because a shadowy organization
known as Vortex has been hired to kill China’s premier. To prevent the plot
from succeeding, Johnny and his new, smarter partner Agent Tucker (Daniel
Kaluuya) head to Hong Kong to stop the three members of Vortex from meeting.
Needless to say, Johnny creates as much
trouble as he solves. One wonders why his impatient boss (Gillian Anderson)
sent him on the job instead of his slicker co-worker Simon Ambrose (Dominic
West). About the only person who believes that Johnny is up to the task is a
psychologist (former Bond Girl Rosamund Pike), who seems to find the short,
wiry Johnny something of a hunk.
All of this sets up excuses for
Atkinson to trip, fall and put his foot in his mouth. McColl’s script is
noticeably short on bon mots, which are necessary when Atkinson has to speak in
more than the grunts he uses on Mr. Bean.
That said, because the 56-year-old
Atkinson is no longer a youngster, the most entertaining sequence is when he
hast to frantically chase a much younger and more agile assassin in Hong Kong.
In corner after corner, he has to find less strenuous ways of catching up to
his more nimble foe. When Atkinson isn’t pratfalling his way through two
continents, Johnny English Reborn drags. McColl’s story is fairly routine so much of the film is spent waiting
for Atkinson to stumble over some new obstacle. If the exposition is handled
properly, viewers shouldn’t have to wait for the fun.
Parodies of 007 are almost as old as
Bond himself, so it takes something special to make the satire feel fresh.
Atkinson certainly gives it his all. It’s too bad the people around him
haven’t. (PG) Rating: 2.5 (Posted on 10/21/11)
Reviewed by Dan Lybarger
Most movies about religion seem to fall
into two categories. The first is made as a sales pitch for a particular faith
or a warning about the perils of unbelief. The second is a blistering attack on
the hypocrisy of believers. After a while, it gets tiresome to hear blanket
praise or condemnation.
What makes some of the newer films I’ve
seen on the subject interesting is that many look at faith issues from a richer
or more intriguing perspective. With Machine
Gun Preacher, Sam Childers’ life (as played by Gerard Butler) actually
becomes more frustrating and complicated after he accepts Jesus, and he
frequently experiences doubts about the calling for which he has given his
life. Similarly, The Way indicates
that miracles can occur but not in the way we mortals might expect them, and
that most significant moments in our lives can be the smallest ones.
Actress Vera Farmiga’s directorial
debut Higher Ground is based on
Carolyn S. Briggs’ memoir This Dark World,
and it helps viewers understand how people can become disillusioned with their
involvement with tightly bound sects. What makes Higher Ground fascinating is that it also shows how communities
like the one Biggs belonged to can also be appealing.
Corinne (played by Farmiga as an adult
and by her sister Taissa as a teen) watches her parents (John Hawkes and Donna
Murphy) as their marriage collapses after a miscarriage. She herself marries a
struggling musician named Ethan (Joshua Leonard as an adult, Boyd Holbrook as a
teen) she’s been writing songs with after they discover that some of the ways
they’ve been harmonizing lead to pregnancies.
When their daughter survives an
incident that should have killed her, Corinne and Ethan become involved with a
Christian Church that rarely interacts with outsiders. Throughout Higher Ground, Corinne encounters almost
no one who doesn’t share her and Ethan’s faith.
This isolation results in moments that
seem alarming or hysterically funny to non-Christians, or even to the legions
of Christians who interpret the Bible differently than these folks do. For one
thing, although men and women in this community have strict and distinct rules
to follow regarding sex, that doesn’t stop them from thinking about it often
and in bizarre ways.
The men listen to a male voice
informing them how to satisfy their wives in the most sensual and presumably
holy manner. It’s too bad the actor heard on the tape isn’t eligible for an
Oscar nomination. It’s impossible to keep a straight face as he recites the names
of lady parts as if he were teaching English as a second language. The women,
in turn, draw pictures of their husbands’ manhood.
At the same time, Corinne marvels at
how her best friend Annika (Dagmara Dominczyk) can spontaneously break into
speaking tongues and sounds as if her body has been taken over by an angel.
Their lives can, in other situations, seem stifling. An older woman in the
church scolds Corinne for wearing a dress that arouses a man after the
gentleman compliments it. The garment in question covers most of her body. She
also chews out Corinne for speaking too much in church. That’s a man’s job.
Briggs co-wrote the script with Tim
Metcalfe so Higher Ground often feels
episodic, and characters abruptly leave never to return. As a result, the film
is often tricky to follow. There’s only a vague sense of when the story takes
place and how long a period Higher Ground covers.
Fortunately, Farmiga compensates for
the narrative speed bumps by practically immersing viewers into Corinne’s
world. The clothes and even the smallest objects in rooms mean something. When
strangers do venture in, they can seem charming and polite, but their lack of
faith in God is sometimes reflected in the treacherous way they behave toward
her and others. While Corinne is physically and economically safe, outsiders
will have to bend over backward to earn her trust.
Farmiga earned on Oscar nod for Up in the Air and should have won a
little gold man for her work in Down to
the Bone. The quality of her own work is therefore a given. What is
astonishing is that she has a great eye for talented, but unfamiliar performers
and an ability to get the most out of them. She also paints even the most
buffoonish believers in a sympathetic light. Don’t be surprised if anybody here
starts landing work elsewhere.
In the end, Biggs and Farmiga present
neither faith nor doubt as the answer. Perhaps the Almighty wants us to keep
guessing. (R) Rating: 4 (Posted on 10/14/11)
by Brandon Whitehead
there are few films with such an impressive cult following as John Carpenter's The Thing, news that a
"prequel" was in the works was met with a collective roar of geek
outrage. For those not of this planet, Carpenter's 1982 version of The Thing was itself a remake of 1951’s The Thing from another World. All are
based on a John W. Campbell Jr. short story titled “Who Goes There.”
core idea is as simple as it is chilling: A small group of people, working at a
remote base in Antarctica (the ‘50s version placed the base in the Arctic) find
what appears to be a crashed spaceship under the ice, and frozen remains of a
creature inside it. Thinking they've made the discovery of a lifetime, the
bring the "thing" back only to find out that is both alive, and
extremely hostile not to just them, but possibly the entire human race — if it
ever makes it to mainland.
‘50s version made the creature a humanoid vegetable, immensely strong and
unstoppable. But Carpenter went back to the original story and made the alien
an intelligent virus capable of infecting and replicating humans. The result, a
taunt psychological thriller combined with fantastically unnerving and gory
animatronic effects, became a cult standard against which other sci-fi/horror
films would be forever measured (and often found wanting...).
fans argued that if they were going to screw with the original, they should
just do a remake, or better yet a sequel, pretty much nobody wanted a prequel ...
and man, we're we all wrong.
in concept and almost fanatically faithful to Carpenter's classic, The Thing hinges on an important plot
point in the original: The Americans, after apparently being attacked by some
Norwegians from a nearby base, travel there only to discover a ruined camp, the
body of a man frozen in a chair after slitting his own wrists, and a burned,
monstrous two-faced creature. The filmmakers here ran with a simple idea: What
exactly happened at the Norwegian camp and who actually found the monster
sheer feel of this film is so close to the original that, other than the mostly
now CGI monsters, both would seem to have been made back-to-back. The music is
the same, the look and feel of the camps, the ensemble-type cast, the growing
feeling of paranoia all match perfectly — hell, even the font for the titles
are the frickin' same. If anything, the prequel at times almost matches
Carpenter's film a little too closely in some scenes, but that's hardly a
not going to get much into the plot here other than to note that yes, there are
several Americans present so the whole film isn't in subtitles, most notably a
scientist (Mary Elizabeth Winstead) and a pilot (Joel Edgerton). The block of
ice with the Thing inside is brought back, and you can guess from there.
the geeks out there, let me answer a few quick questions. Does it try and match
the base found in the beginning of the original movie, scene by scene? Yes, and
in a sequence far different and effective than I thought possible. Are the CGI
effects weaker than the animatronics? Yes, but so slightly you won't really
notice. Does it end with the helicopter chasing the dog? Geez, you really are
greedy, aren't you?
have only one complaint and that's Winstead's performance. Maybe it's just a
case of miscasting, but her bland, doe-eyed face just doesn't work as a
hero/scientist type. Also, there is one obvious change from the events of the
first movie, but it's done to give help to an ending that is original while
also matching the other film (Don't jump up to leave after the credits start — there's
more, and it ends exactly where it should).
to a highly regarded geek classic, fun, chilling and original in it's own
right, The Thing is the best film I've
ever seen based off an idea I absolutely hated. Well done, sirs, well done. (R)
Rating: 4 (Posted 10/14/11)
Reviewed by Dan Lybarger
Any remake of the 1984 hit Footloose is unnecessary.
While the film is fondly remembered by
those who are courageous enough to admit they were teenagers nearly 30 years
ago, the original isn’t that great. It had dull, derivative plot, but was
somewhat redeemed by its ubiquitous soundtrack (it was practically sold with
cassette decks back then) and a classy, nuanced performance by John Lithgow as
the preacher who didn’t want his small town to dance.
While there are some fans that are
understandably annoyed at seeing one of their fondest childhood memories
desecrated, the makers of Footloose 2.0
can be faulted for actually sticking too closely to the original.
Writer-director Craig Brewer copies entire sequences from the first movie,
Fortunately, the Virginia-born
filmmaker makes one noticeable change that gives the film more character and
vitality. The original movie was inspired by an incident in Oklahoma but was
shot in Utah. Brewer moves it from a sort of Midwestern-ish locale to Georgia.
Having become something of a specialist
in Southern Gothic with his previous movies Hustle
& Flow and Black Snake Moan,
Brewer has a clearer, more authentic feeling for place and a better ear for
dialogue. The soundtrack, while it includes new versions of the original ‘80s
songs, has a twangier feel, and the lyrics to the title song can finally be
understood. It’s almost, but not quite enough to make viewers forget it’s been
In the role that made Kevin Bacon a
trivia god, Kenny Wormald plays Ren MacCormack, a teenager who doesn’t look a
day over 26 (neither did Bacon). The lad is forced to move to Bomont, GA, a
town barely over 1,000 people, after his mother’s untimely death. His aunt and
uncle (Kim Dickens and Ray McKinnon) treat Ren with genuine Southern
The rest of the town, however, doesn’t
think much of the former Bostonian. Ren’s fondness for hoofing and loud music
gets him in trouble with the town’s leaders, particularly the influential
pastor Shaw Moore (Dennis Quaid). The reverent pushed through a law that banned
big outdoor dances because his son died after dancing, drinking and driving.
Apparently banning the other two Ds is impossible, so Ren has to keep his itchy
feet to himself.
Rev. Moore also notices that his
teenage daughter Ariel (Julianne Hough) making eyes at Ren and figures the
young carpetbagger might lead her astray.
He needn’t worry about the Yankee.
She’s already getting into trouble with
Chuck Cranston (Patrick John Flueger), the son of the local dirt track owner
and a wannabe racer. The lad also likes intoxicants, chasing other women and
using his lovers as punching bags. Needless to say, the otherwise clean cut Ren
would make a significant improvement. The new kid also knows that dancing can
lead to salvation instead of ruin.
While the original Footloose may have
been made in the ‘80s, the new film is still effective because its premise
isn’t dated. In January, a Democratic Assemblywoman from California named Fiona
Ma tried to push through legislation that banned
events that featured pre-recorded music and lasted more than three and a half
hours. Written in reaction to the ecstasy-related death of a
15-year-old girl at the Electric Daisy Carnival rave, the law ran afoul of the
Constitution and commonsense. Perhaps busting the dealer who sold the young
woman dope might have been more effective and, oh, legal.
Because well-meaning adults still think
separating kids from dancing will keep them away from drugs or sex, neither
Lithgow’s nor Quaid’s pastor seem like raving fanatics. The latter’s easy charm
almost makes his misguided ideas seem appealing.
On second thought, maybe Footloose remakes are essential. As the
California case illustrates, curbing our rights does nothing to cure the wrongs
of this world. (PG-13) Rating: 3 (Posted on 10/13/11)
by Brandon Whitehead
the current “occupy” protests on Wall Street and across the country, a film
about the inherent corruption of today’s politics would seem to be a no-brainer.
While director/actor George Clooney's latest film Ides of March is far more than a Glengarry Glen Ross with campaigners instead of salesmen, it still
manages to capture some of the cynicism inherent in the system today, and backs
that up with some remarkable performances from all involved.
Myers (Ryan Gosling) is an up-and-coming staffer for Governor Morris (George
Clooney) who is locked in a dead-even struggle to win Ohio, and the Democratic
presidential nomination. Mentored by a savvy and war-weary campaign leader Paul
Zara (Philip Seymour Hoffman), Stephen quickly jumps on board his "win at
all costs" mentality, while also jumping into bed with a twenty-something
intern with a big surprise. Meanwhile, Tom Duffy (Paul Giamatti) who runs the
opposing campaign gives Stephen an offer to jump ship and side with him. As
Stephen struggles to keep up with the ever convoluted turns from both sides
that threaten to destroy his career, a choice bit of information about an
undiscovered scandal gives him a sudden opportunity: Use it for some rather
ugly leverage or stay quiet and lose everything.
the "scandal" here is rather laughably passé, the visual narrative
presented by Clooney, showing bleakly how the system takes good men and grinds
them down into soulless, paranoid egotists, is perfect. You can't help but root
for Stephen as each twist leaves him with fewer and fewer choices only to
realize at the end that he has achieved the essence of a Pyrrhic victory.
a doubt Clooney has proven he can mesh large A-list casts, getting the best out
of each actor— himself included. The Sorkinesqe dialog snaps in each scene, and
Gosling continues to prove he is one of the best new actors in film.
it is a shame the filmmakers here missed out on a chance to really delve into
the hopeless and heartless (and very, very greedy) soul of current American
politics that hardly keeps this from being a great film. It could be because
it's based on a play that does seem somewhat dated, but I can forgive that.
Wish I could say the same thing about our real politicians. (R) Rating: 4
Reviewed by Dan Lybarger
Sam Childers is such a complicated guy
that his life would probably work better as a miniseries than a movie. In his
50 years, he’s been a criminal, a biker, a father, a husband, a drug abuser, a
pastor, a building contractor, a foreign relief worker and the founder of a
successful orphanage. That’s a lot to stuff into two hours.
Gun Preacher covers a good deal of Childers’ adult life, so the abrupt switches in tone and
direction are to be expected, even if they threaten to derail the film. At
least the producers were wise enough to cast Scotsman Gerard Butler in the
The burly actor can pull of the
intriguing hat trick of coming off as both a blue-collar, regular guy and a
natural leader. He can make Sam’s shifts from sinfulness to salvation credible.
Considering the extremes depicted in the film, that flexibility comes in handy.
Gun Preacher starts with Sam getting out of prison and all too eager to repeat the actions
that put him into the big house. When one of his first stops is to get a shot
of smack, it’s a safe bet he’ll return to incarceration.
Thanks to the influence of his wife
Lynn (Michelle Monaghan), Sam begins to see the error and futility of his ways
and abandons the syringe for Jesus. Considering his long rap sheet and hard
living, it’s an adjustment, but the change quickly becomes noticeable. He makes
his cash building houses instead of stealing others’ dope stashes. He also
wants to start a church that will accept people who had sunk as low as he had.
This winds up leading him to Uganda and
southern Sudan where he builds an orphanage that helps children who’ve lost
their families to the Lord’s Resistance Army, a Ugandan rebel group that
employs child soldiers and makes life miserable for its enemies. Sam is as
eager to help the children outside of Kampala as he used to be for injecting
This might have been easier if Sam
hadn’t set up an active church back home or could live with ignoring his
teenage daughter (Madeline Carroll) and struggling best friend (the eternally
glum Michael Shannon). Screenwriter Jason Keller and director Marc Forster
shift gears like a Harley with a ruined transmission. Machine Gun Preacher appears to end simply because the film has
reached the two hour mark.
Forster has made both action flicks (Quantum of Solace) and gritty dramas (Monster’s Ball), so he can be forgiven
if he can’t quite make up his mind on which Machine
Gun Preacher is. At times, Sam blasts his way at the LRA as if he were John
Wayne charging at Comanches, and in other instances, we see him as a fellow
whose faith may be leading him down the same dark path as his enemies.
Occasionally, this ambivalence give Machine
Gun Preacher more dramatic weight than it might have had ordinarily because
people who’ve gone through spiritual journeys like Sam’s don’t have neat, tidy
lives simply because they’ve made peace with the Almighty. As the examples of
Doubting Thomas, St. Peter and the prophet Jonah prove, even the most devout have
moments of uncertainty. It’s also tough to have a crisis of faith with hundreds
of orphans and a heavily indebted church back in the States need attention.
Ivorian actor Souléymane Sy Savané, who
starred in the terrific Goodbye Solo,
is stuck in a rather thankless role as a Sudanese rebel who guides Sam. Savané
is a performer of considerable charm, so it’s a shame to see him reduced to
being a sort of African Tonto to Sam’s Lone Ranger. With more vivid African
characters, Sam’s efforts to help them would seem even more involving. While
the orphans certainly need help, it might have been instructive to learn more
than a few sound bites about the situation that led to bands of marauding child
At least Forster and company deserve
some credit for trying to examine faith issues in a manner that’s more
thoughtful and urgent than a stale, simplistic sermon. Both Sam Childers and
the people watching his story certainly deserve more than that. (R) Rating: 3 (Posted
Reviewed by Dan Lybarger
The Way is a rare
movie in that it deals with religion and family issues without playing like a
sermon or a satire. Writer-director Emilio Estevez (who once starred in movies
such as The Breakfast Club and Repo Man) manages to find the right
balance between earnestness and restraint. He’s dead set on moving viewers to
tears or filling them with awe. Thankfully, he also knows he’s going to have to
earn that sort of reaction.
It helps that he’s chosen a terrific
setting, the north of Spain, and that he’s given his father Martin Sheen one of
his juicier roles in recent memory. The
Way concerns a California ophthalmologist named Tom (Sheen), who has made a
comfortable existence for himself but has alienated his only son, Daniel
While Tom seems content to simply treat
patients and have banal discussions with his peers over golf, Daniel is
determined to see the world beyond the Golden State. At times, Tom is almost
glad that he rarely hears from his son.
That changes when Daniel dies in a
storm trekking through the Pyrenees. Tom flies to the western border of France
and discovers that his son was attempting to follow a nearly one thousand year
old pilgrimage called Camino de Santiago or “the way of St. James.” Because
Daniel’s gear is still there, Tom, a lapsed Catholic, decides to finish where
his son started in the hope of connecting with him in a way he couldn’t when
Daniel was alive.
While the 60-something Tom might be up
for the physical challenge of the six-week journey to the Cathedral of St.
James in Santiago de Compostela, he slowly has to learn how to deal with people
as something more than patients.
Wherever he goes, he’s accompanied by a
randy Dutchman named Joost (Yorick van Wageningen). The Dutchman isn’t terribly
preoccupied with the significance of the Camino. He’s simply hoping to loose
some weight even those the cuisine the pilgrims sample is too delicious to eat
Also along for the long walk is a
cynical Canadian woman named Sarah (Deborah Kara Unger) who seems to resent
Tom’s comfortable but stale lifestyle and a burned out Irish writer named Jack
(James Nesbitt). Out of necessity and out of a previously unrealized desire to
see beyond the bubble he’s lived under all his life, Tom gradually starts
connecting with his fellow pilgrims.
While The Way is a deeply personal film for both Sheen and Estevez
(Sheen’s father grew up in a town near Santiago), it’s thankfully anything but
a vanity project. The Spanish landscape is rugged but beautiful, and the
sequences inside the Cathedral do merit being seen on the big screen.
In addition, since his last theatrical
directing effort Bobby, Estevez has
developed a sharper eye for character. His pilgrims feel more like real people,
and he gives them credible problems and aspirations. It’s a testament to
Estevez’s growing maturity that he can have two characters in the film frankly
discuss an abortion without having the scene become maudlin or demeaning.
Having decent performers was a good
first step. Sheen gets to dig through emotions he hasn’t been called on to play
in some time, and van Wageningen and Nesbitt are funny without being broad or
Another refreshing touch is that while
Estevez plays Daniel’s ghost through much of the film, he resists the urge to
have the specter tell Tom what he’s supposed to learn from the journey.
Similarly, he lets viewers reach their own conclusion about what the quest
means. There’d be no point in taking a six-week walk across Spain if the
answers were that easy. (PG-13) Rating: 4 (Posted on 10/07/11)
by Brandon Whitehead
this movie first started popping up here and there on film-geek websites titled
"Rock-em Sock-em Robots-The Movie,” nobody really expected much even if it
would get made considering film studios have a habit of buying up project ideas
just to keep anyone else from using them.
then the first photos went up, showing a shadowy robot in a giant boxing ring
next to ... Hugh Jackman? Really, they got Wolverine to be in this ... questionable
script? How can you turn a game about plastic robots hitting each other,
combine it with a huge action star and come up with anything watchable?
it turns out that answer is actually pretty simple: Make a kid's movie and
advertise it as an action film. First of all, don't worry: Jackman is not the
main character. That honor goes to Dakota Goyo, a child-actor who plays
Jackman's estranged son, Max.
start with Max's absentee father, Charlie (Jackman), an ex-boxer whose attempts
at "robot fighting" always end in disaster, mostly because he's an
idiot (in one of the best scenes here, Max actually says exactly what the
audience was thinking concerning those fights, to my delight). Enter Max, whose
mom has just died for some reason. Stuck with Max for the summer until his rich
aunt takes the boy in, the man and boy bond as their new robot, a once-scrapped
fighter named Atom, begins to win its way up to a big title fight.
per any script aimed at and written by twelve-year old boys, Max is smarter
than all the adults around him. The robots are more cartoonish than anything,
the rules make no sense, Max has the perfect quip for every moment, and of
course his dad is Hugh Jackman. After a while I just gave up trying to keep
track of all the kid-movie moments sprinkled with Rocky clichés even if the
main villains are a Russian woman and an Asian emo-guy.
course, let us get to the most important thing about a fighting robot move:
fighting robot battles. There's a good half dozen or so, and they're okay.
Very, very predictable but okay. Atom's "shadow function,” where he mimics
the movement of Max or Charlie, is used both for laughs and action, although it
does make one think if it's so great why don't any of the other robots ... you
know — the best thing you can do here is just NOT think. There are more holes
in this plot than a golf course, the main actor is a kid (Goyo tries, but my
argument that virtually no child can be good lead actor is not disproved here),
and the script is a Frankenstein's jigsaw of plot points ripped off from any
other movie unfortunate enough to have wandered too close.
this is a movie for dads to take their sons to, eat some popcorn on a Sunday
afternoon, while the boy secretly dreams of what he would do with his own
robot, and dad quietly contemplates that it is unlikely he will ever have
Jackman's abs. Otherwise, this movie goes down in the first round. (PG 13)
Rating: 1 (Posted 10/07/11)