Trailer: Dad’s Army

Posted on September 12, 2015 at 8:00 am

This remake of the 1971 movie and 60’s television series about the WWII Walmington-on-Sea Home Guard platoon, a visiting female journalist, and a German spy, stars Toby Jones, Catherine Zeta Jones, and Bill Nighy.

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Based on a television show Remake Trailers, Previews, and Clips

RED 2

Posted on July 18, 2013 at 6:00 pm

Red-2-2013-1Catherine Zeta Jones seems to be making a habit of appearing in the dumbed-down sequels to big, all-star franchises.  First there was “Oceans 12,” and now there’s an utterly thankless role in “Red 2,” a stylish but empty follow-up to the original, based on the comic book about spies who are classified as “retired extremely dangerous.”

It was a lot of fun the first time around to see an over-the-hill-gang take on a spy story with an all-star cast that included Oscar-winners Morgan Freeman, Helen Mirren, and Richard Dreyfuss along with Bruce Willis, John Malkovich, and Mary-Louise Parker.  It was a lot of fun.  This one, not so much.

Dean Parisot (“Galaxy Quest”) takes over as director from Robert Schwentke (whose new action comedy, “RIPD,” is also being released this week).  Willis returns as Frank Moses, the once-top CIA operative with the American equivalent of a license to kill.  He is now living happily ever after with Sarah (Parker), the woman he met on the customer support line and sort of kidnapped in the first film.

Happily ever after is a little boring for both of them.  Shopping at Costco does not compare to the good old run-with-a-gun days.  When Marvin (Malkovich), somewhat paranoid following years of CIA-sponsored LSD experiments, shows up to tell them they are in danger, Frank and Sarah are almost relieved.  After all, she reminds him, he gets restless if he isn’t killing people (note: not saving the world — it is killing people he misses).

Parisot stages some nice fight scenes.  The bad guy points out that it’s seven to one and Frank is in handcuffs.  We know he will get out of it, but it is fun to see how he does it.  It would be more fun with less carnage.  Even if we were not living in a more sensitive time when it comes to the casual — even gleeful — treatment of senseless widespread slaughter, this would be over the top.  Almost as bad is the uselessness of another death that adds nothing to the story.

The plot is not much — there’s a MacGuffin thing that could destroy the world and our heroes have been framed so they are being pursued as they try to save the day.  Someone apparently did a Google search on what the best-protected international locations are and sent the RED team to break into them.

These always-watchable stars do their best.  Helen Mirren is clearly having a blast as a cheerful assassin with a freezer full of bodies, especially when she gets to pretend to be a madwoman who thinks she is a queen, the role Mirren has played many times.   Her “Hitchcock” costar Anthony Hopkins is a treat as a tweaked version of the fusty professor type he played in films like “Shadowlands.”  Willis and Parker have palpable chemistry, which makes it all the more disappointing that they are stuck with dreary jealousy banter.  Parisot tries to hide the script’s frequent sags with smartly-staged action scenes (the martial arts bouts with Byung-hun Lee, “G.I. Joe’s” Storm Shadow, are electrifying) and, less successfully, by having the characters chit-chat about relationship advice as they are chasing, shooting, and bombing.  The AARP-eligible cast still has it.  Next time, the MacGuffin they seek should be a better script.

Parents should know that this film includes constant action-style spy violence and peril with chases, crashes, explosions, guns, knives, martial arts, and a weapon of mass destruction. It has a casual attitude about a very large body count and a lot of property damage. There is also some strong language, drinking, drugs, and some sexual references.

Family discussion: What made some of the characters switch sides? What is the difference between following the rules and doing what is right?

If you like this, try: the original “Red” and “Hitchcock,” also starring Dame Helen Mirren and Sir Anthony Hopkins

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Action/Adventure Series/Sequel Spies

Side Effects

Posted on February 7, 2013 at 6:00 pm

Those “ask your doctor about” commercials for medication always have a lawyer-imposed “side effects may include” section briskly recited by the narrator in the second half of the ad in the same bright but soothing tones used for the near-miraculous results described in the first half.  It is a difficult choice to balance the risks and benefits of some of today’s pharmaceuticals, made more difficult by the conflicts of interest that doctors and drug companies face in balancing what is best for the patients with what is best for them.

Steven Soderbergh’s nicely nasty and genre-bendingly twisty thriller takes place at the heart of this conflict.  Emily Taylor (Rooney Mara of “The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo”) takes mood-lifting medication to deal with the crushing stress she faces with her husband Martin (Channing Tatum) in prison for insider trading and the loss of all their money and their luxurious life in Connecticut.  Martin gets out after four years and promises her that he will get it all back for her.  But the stress is too much.  After a suicide attempt, her new psychiatrist, Dr. Jonathan Banks (Jude Law), who earns a little extra money with a cushy “consulting” fee from a drug company pushing a new anti-depressant, prescribes medication, and then more medication to deal with the side effects of the pills she is already taking.  We know from the very first scene that this is not going to turn out well.

The drug that “helps stop the brain from telling you you’re sad” and lets you “take back tomorrow” is something “everyone takes.”  “It doesn’t make you anything you’re not,” the doctor explains. “It just makes it easier to be who you are.”  But is his recommendation compromised by the $50,000 he gets just to “go to a few meetings, recruit some patients, track some data?”  Law is excellent as the doctor who wants to do the right thing but may want to do right by too many people.  And his judgment may be further compromised by a problem from his past.

Soderbergh and screenwriter Scott Z. Burns (“Contagion”) build some meta-surprises into the story. And just about anything more I can tell you after that would require a spoiler alert, so I’ll just say that the less you know about the movie before seeing it, the better you will be able to appreciate it.  In fact, don’t watch the television commercials.  They give too much away.  But if you need to know more now, I’ll just say that the movie’s biggest surprise may be how conventional it turns out to be.

 

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Drama Thriller

Broken City

Posted on January 17, 2013 at 6:00 pm

Another January weekend, another dumb shoot-out.

Last weekend, it was 1950’s Los Angeles.  This week, it’s contemporary New York.  It’s still about corruption, betrayal, and bang-bang.  Co-producer Mark Wahlberg plays Billy, a cop exonerated after he killed a suspect because there was not enough evidence to refute his claim of self-defense.  Mayor Nick Hostetler (Russell Crowe in a very bad Boehner-orange spray tan) congratulates him and then explains with engaging directness and considerable charm why Billy still has to leave the police force.  “It is a necessity that we remain un-f’d.”

Seven years later, Billy is almost making a living as a private investigator.  He is good at his job but he is too nice a guy to push for payment.  His loyal and very beautiful assistant Katy (a likably sharp performance by Alona Tal) reminds him that they are broke because their overdue accounts amount to $42,000, which leads to a pointless scene of phone calls using assorted tactics to get people to pay.  There are a bunch more pointless scenes in the film but I cannot say they are any worse than the pointed ones.

Billy hears from Mayor Hostetler, who wants to hire him for the same purpose as all of his other clients but for a lot more money.  Hostetler wants to pay Billy $50,000 to find out who is having an affair with his wife, Cathleen (Catherine Zeta Jones).  Billy takes the pictures but then, just as the mayor snatches them out of his pocket, it begins to dawn on him (he may be a cop, but he is not much of a detective) that things may not be what they seem and people may not be telling the truth, starting with the mayor.

All of this is happening in the midst of a tough re-election campaign.  Hostetler likes to come across as one of the guys, rough, sometimes crude, but effective.  He tries to paint his opponent, Jack Valiant (Barry Pepper) — names are not this movie’s strong point — as an out of touch elitist who comes from Connecticut and went to Harvard. But a controversial sweetheart sale of public housing to a private developer (a seedy-looking Griffin Dunne)  has tightened the race.  Guess what!  That surveillance job was not about an affair after all.  One clue?  Despite a massive shredding operation in the bad guy’s expensive lair/manor, the evidence conveniently shows up in the garbage can in mint condition, not even any coffee grounds or banana peels stuck to it.

It feels like they were making this up as they went along, without regard to what has already happened.  A detour about Billy’s actress girlfriend (the very lovely Natalie Martinez) and his fall off the wagon just drags things out in between the chases and shoot-outs.  It’s too bad to see top talent slumming in an underwritten, under-thought, under-whelming piece of multiplex fodder.

Parents should know that this film has constant very strong and crude language, sexual references and explicit situations with brief nudity, drinking and drunkenness, shooting, fighting, car crash, corruption, rape (offscreen), and characters who are injured and killed.

Family discussion:  What did Billy’s relationship with Natalie tell you about him?  Why did he visit her parents?  What will happen to him?

If you like this, try: “Inside Man”

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Crime Politics

No Reservations

Posted on February 12, 2008 at 8:00 am

It may be a three-star movie about a four-star chef, but it is still a sweet summer treat and a great date night hors d’oeuvre.
Kate (Catherine Zeta Jones) just does not understand what everyone’s problem is. All she wants is to have every single detail in her kitchen meet her uncompromising standards. And for every single detail in her life to be as easy for her as coming up with an exquisite new recipe to enchant her foodie groupies. Is that too much to ask?
Apparently, it is, because the owner of the restaurant where Kate presides (one could never say “is employed”) has insisted that she get therapy if she would like to continue to preside. It is not good for business if Kate insults customers who fail to appreciate the subtle flavors and delicate complexities and just want undercooked steak. So, Kate goes to therapy, where she recounts the details of her food preparation in terms so swoonably delectable that for a moment both patient and therapist get a glimpse of a perfectible world. But that would mean a world in which we could be in control. And Kate is reminded of just how little control she has when her adored sister is killed in an automobile accident, leaving Kate as guardian for her young niece, Zoe (Little Miss Sunshine’s Abigail Breslin).

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