Sunday, January 27, 2013

Parker: Honor Among Thieves

Parker (Jason Stratham) is a thief with a unique ethical code. He steals from those who don't need or deserve what they have. He eschews excess violence. (Indeed, the first time we see him he's disguised as a priest and acts the part.)

He'll also dish out justice and seek revenge. But only when he has to.

His diagnosis in the Diagnostic & Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders would probably be sociopath. With a touch of autism. While he steals well with others, he doesn't play well with them. He's pretty much of a loner.

Parker is a promising anti-hero, which makes the failure of this film based on the novel "Flashfire,"
all the more disappointing. In fact, it doesn't really take off until Jennifer Lopez sashays on the screen as a Palm Beach real estate agent hungry for a full commission.

Alas, the trouble with Parker, the movie, is that like too many flicks, it drowns itself in Hollywood blood. What could have been a fun film about an interesting character devolves into just another bloodbath.

So sad.

Tuesday, January 22, 2013

Rust & Bone: Body & Soul

 Rust & Bone is a gritty, emotionally-wrenching movie that will break your heart and paste it back together again.

It takes place on the Côte d'Azur but not the posh French Riviera we usually see in films. It involves a man and a woman who are unlike movie characters we've seen before. And it's a love story, but not the usual Hollywood hokum.

 This is not love at first sight. Nor is it bickering at first words. It's love that grows from a casual acquaintance, to friendship, to friendship with benefits, to a full-blown, no-holds-barred emotion, all the richer and more surprising because neither Alain nor Stéphanie have loved before.

Alain (Matthias Schoenaerts) and Stéphanie (Marian Cotillard) move through hardship, near-tragedy and shattering disaster. Their resilience will startle and cheer you. Their love will fill you with warmth and bring you to tears.

Sunday, January 20, 2013

Zero Dark Thirty: Kill Bin

Kathryn Bigelow's new movie begs comparisons with Ben Affleck's latest flick — Argo. Both are based on true stories. Both have endings moviegoers know. One is a rescue mission and the other an operation to kill.

Of the two, Argo is the superior flick. As the Movie Slut wrote in her glowing review, this was an edge-of-your-seat thriller, even though we knew the end. Not so much with ZDT.

The assassination of Osama bin Laden, if Bigelow's account is factual, was the result of intelligence gathered by "enhanced interrogation techniques" and the obsessive perseverance of one CIA Operative, a woman named Maya (Jessica Chastain.)

The emphasis on the torture of prisoners has made the film controversial, and well it should be. This  aspect of the movie dominated the first quarter of the 2-hour and 37-minute film. (At least it seemed that long. Or longer.) In one scene, President Obama is seen on television denying that our government employs torture even as moviegoers witness it. This kind of heavy-handed editorializing is distracting in a movie about the brilliantly orchestrated and executed operation that took out the mastermind of the World Trade Center destruction and resulting loss of innocent lives.

Later in the film, Bigelow may have been bogged down by the back-and-forth of real-live events that led up to the successful mission, taking away from what should have been a suspenseful story arc. But that's just the MS's opinion. Many critics wrote more positive reviews and ZDT was nominated for a best picture Oscar.  

Friday, January 18, 2013

Parental Guidance: Just Don't Say "No"

Being a grandparent in the 21st century is a lot like being Miles Monroe in Woody Allen's Sleeper. After he was cryogenetically preserved for decades, he returns to Earth only to learn that everything he believed has been disproved. In this flick what's changed most drastically is the notion of raising children.

And so it is with Artie  (Billy Crystal) and Diane (Bette Midler), who arrive at the home of their daughter (Marisa Tomei) to babysit for their three grandchildren. Add to the intrigue the fact that they are the "other grandparents," called in when all else failed, and the plot is ripe for a good comedy.

But Parental Guidance is more than that. Diane sees this as an opportunity to be the grandmother she hasn't been, and to a lesser extent, so does Artie, who's just lost his job and the career he loves. Add it all together, with superlative acting, and you get a funny, touching movie about family relationships and second chances.

Wednesday, January 9, 2013

Promised Land: Fracking 101

                             Matt Damon & John Krasinski are worthy adversaries. Or are they?

 "I'm a good guy," says Steve Butler (Matt Damon). It's his refrain in this movie about big money's battle with the environment.

And he is. He's also either naive, gullible or not the sharpest colt in the barn. He works for a big company, so big it's called Global. And his job is to convince farmers to sell drilling rights to their land.

He believes wholeheartedly — in this alternative energy source and what it can do for farmers whose way of life is sputtering to a stop.

Enter a charismatic Krasinski in a green pickup truck with an Athena logo on its side. Beware of Global, he tells the locals. But what's he got up his pushed-up sleeves? 

To its credit, Promised Land is not as predictable as it seems at first blush. Then again, it's not surprising enough.

Sunday, January 6, 2013

The Impossible: But True

On Dec. 26, 2004, the largest tsunami to ever hit the coast of Thailand swept across a resort shore bringing with it unimaginable carnage and death.

The Impossible is the story of how one family, vacationing by the sea, managed to survive.

It's a difficult film to watch, filled with real life horror. Spanish director Juan Antonio Bayona drags moviegoers into the murky, gritty waters. And he takes you under, too. You're not merely watching Maria (Naomi Watts) as she's swept beneath the churning sea, you're there with her, debris as large as tree trunks careening toward you.

One strength of this film is its ability to realistically recreate this horrifying event. But what is even more compelling is its emotional truth. Whether Watts is on screen, or her husband, played by Ewan McGregor, or one of their three sons, or any number of people they meet on their journey to find each other and restore their health, there's not a false note on screen. 

Despite this cinema verite, at its core The Impossible is a movie about the tenacity of family ties, the unstoppable struggle for survival, the resilience of the human spirit and, yes, the power of love. 

Friday, January 4, 2013

Not Fade Away: Rock On

 It was 1963 and Douglas (John Magaro), an Italian high school kid from New Jersey, dreamed of becoming a rock 'n' roll star like his idols, John, Paul, George and Ringo or Mick, Charlie, Keith, Bill, Brian and Ian.

He had talent. But did he have enough? And did he have the perseverance —the willingness to expend the 90 percent perspiration that comprises any success story?

Not Fade Away, which takes its name from a Buddy Holly song, is a coming-of-age story about both the boy and the music.

The film takes us through the historical events between 1963 and 1968, the tearful (the assassination of John Kennedy) and the tumultuous (the Viet Nam War). To name just two emotionally-charged events. But they play on screen as a background laundry list, stripped of emotion.

And though we see the generation gap at play between Douglas and his dad, Pat (James Gandolfini) the movie fails to capture the angst and thrill of the times that were a'changing.

Nor does it ignite the fire that is rock 'n' roll. Still, it's a likeable and serviceable movie for anyone who fervently wants to believe that rock 'n' roll will never die.

Tuesday, January 1, 2013

Les Misérables: C'est Magnifique

Victor Hugo's 151-year-old epic — with its sweeping themes of honor, dignity, loyalty, love, kindness, cruelty and obsession — resonate with 21st-century moviegoers because these are the themes that define our lives.

The newest retelling of this captivating drama, the movie in theaters now, honors Hugo by remaining faithful to his story. It's not a Broadway show that's morphed onto the big screen. It's a grand opera worthy of Lincoln Center or La Scala.

Hugh Jackman as the star-crossed Jean Valjean gives an impeccable performance both acting and singing. If only the same could be said about Russel Crowe, as Javert, his nemesis. Why a non-singer was cast in this role is one of those Hollywood mysteries.

But then nothing in life, or art, is perfect and this movie comes as close as is humanly possible. The story is heart wrenching, the music is glorious, the characters are compelling, the plot is absorbing.

Les Misérables reveals us at our best and worst, our suffering and our joy, our strongest and weakest, our cruelest and most compassionate.  And we can't look away.

Check out the cast.

Listen to the music.