The Drop

Posted on September 11, 2014 at 6:00 pm

Author Dennis Lehane writes about a world of desperation, fear, and damaged people inflicting further damage. His novels have been filmed as “Mystic River” and “Gone Baby Gone.” And now his short story, “Animal Rescue,” has been turned into “The Drop,” about a “drop bar,” a dingy place with dingy regulars, a bitter former owner still resentful of the thugs who took it over, a soft-hearted bartender and the dog he rescues from a garbage can, and lots of cash, dropped at the bar by racketeers to be picked up by bigger, tougher, racketeers. You know what that means: colorful, highly euphemistic dialog said by top-notch actors doing their best to play hard, hard men. Very little is said in this world but a lot is understood.

Fortunately, here that means we get James Gandolfini in a beautifully nuanced performance that makes us miss him even more sharply. He plays “Cousin Marv,” whose name is still on the bar, but no longer on the deed. Now he’s just the manager, and he quietly but meaningfully tells Bob (Tom Hardy), the bartender, to take down the Christmas decorations (“It’s December 27th!”) and stop running a tab for the flowsy barfly at the end of the counter. Oh, and no more rounds for the boys at the bar, even though they are observing the 10th anniversary of a friend’s death. We will learn later that there is more significance to the last two items than losing the revenue on a few drinks.

Copyright 2014 Fox Searchlight
Copyright 2014 Fox Searchlight

On his way home, Bob hears a noise in a neighbor’s garbage can. It is a badly injured puppy. The wary neighbor is Nadia (Noomi Rapace), who insists on taking a picture of Bob’s driver’s license on her cell phone and sending it to four friends before she will even talk to him about the puppy. She helps him clean it up and reluctantly agrees to care for it for a couple of days so he can decide what to do. He adopts the puppy and names it Rocco. And she offers to care for the puppy while he is at work to make some extra money.

For a moment, things are looking up for the lonely Bob. But not for Cousin Marv’s or for Cousin Marv. Marv and Bob are held up at gunpoint by two guys in masks who may not be entirely unknown to them. The owners are tough Chechen gangsters who expect them to get the money back and who give them a glimpse of some guys they are in the middle of torturing just to make sure the message is received. And Cousin Marv’s is set to be the drop bar for the biggest betting night of the year, the Super Bowl. A cop (John Ortiz of “Silver Linings Playbook”) is nosing around. And there is pressure on Bob as well. A very unstable guy in the neighborhood, reputed to have killed a guy, says he is Rocco’s owner and he may have some feelings of ownership toward Nadia as well. Also, there is a body part formerly belonging to someone who was formerly alive, and it will need to be disposed of.

The storyline is all right, but what matters here is the mood, and that is excellent, with Gandolfini, as always, a master class in acting. There are so many layers to his performance, whether he is answering his sister’s question about dinner or refusing to look inside a bag that clearly cannot contain any good news. His expression in his very last scene of the film is particularly compelling.

Hardy’s quiet power is beautifully restrained. Ann Dowd as Marv’s wistful sister and Matthias Schoenaerts as Eric, Rocco’s volatile former owner are also very good. In some ways, Eric is the most revealing character in the story. Asked what he wants, he isn’t sure, except that he doesn’t want Bob to think he has anything over on him. People want money, of course, and power, and to be left alone. But what drives them really nuts is the fear that someone has more than they do and there’s nothing they can do about it.

Parents should know that this plot concerns various crimes and attempted crimes including extortion, robbery, torture, and murder, with many characters injured and killed, as well as some graphic and disturbing images, drinking, smoking, and constant strong language.

Family discussion: The original title of the story this film was based on is “Animal Rescue.” Would that have been more appropriate for the film? Why did Bob stay at the bar?

If you like this, try: “Killing Them Softly” and “Get Shorty,” both featuring James Gandolfini

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Based on a book Crime Drama Thriller

Prometheus

Posted on June 7, 2012 at 6:00 pm

Is it possible that all of the elements of life on earth, from the protozoa to the human, were the gift of god-like creatures who came to a barren planet to create us in their image? And that they stayed long enough to teach our prehistoric ancestors, leaving evidence behind in cave drawings that date back 35,000 years, seven times as far from the present as we are from the earliest days of the Old Testament?  Hard to say.

On the other hand, it is not hard to see the evidence of the DNA building blocks in this film that trace directly back to its predecessors, the Aliens “In space no one can hear you scream” series.  It wavers at times between enthralling variations on the themes of the originals and over-reliance on repeating and reinforcing them.

One of those building blocks is stunning visuals and it is a tribute to the earlier films (which take place after this one) that the special effects and design were were so prescient that the connection feels seamless.  This is not like those early “Star Trek” episodes where the computers look like shoeboxes with blinking lights.  Scott is meticulous about making sure that all of the technology in his films looks both amazing and believable and the visuals here are enthralling.  The rolling 3D probes feel as immediately real and indispensable as Dekard’s then-not-yet-invented scalable computer display.

“Prometheus” is the name of the spaceship that is taking a crew in search of the very origins of life on earth.  Archeologists have decoded ancient pictures (like the Chauvet cave paintings documented in Cave of Forgotten Dreams).  They believe it is an “invitation” to find the beings who brought the original genetic building blocks to our planet.  A monumentally wealthy man who is very old (Guy Pearce) funded the voyage, knowing he would not live to see the results.  The expedition is led by the fiercely disciplined Meredith Vickers (Charlize Theron), who lives in Captain Nemo-like luxury quarters while the scientists on board sleep their way through space travel.  As they approach the target planet, they are awakened and prepare to land.

The archeologists are thoughtful seeker Elizabeth Shaw (Noomi Rapace of the Swedish “Dragon Tattoo” movies) and excitable, impetuous Charlie Holloway (Logan Marshall-Green of “Dark Blue”), who are a couple.  Along for the expedition are some other scientists you don’t have to worry about getting to know very well and an all-knowing and extremely polite and handsome android named David (a well-cast Michael Fassbender) who seems like a combination of Data, C-3PO, and the “Danger, Will Robinson” robot from “Lost in Space.”  The captain of the ship, Janek (“The Wire’s” Idris Elba) has a different mission from the others.  They are seeking what is out there.  He is there to make sure nothing gets back to earth that could be destructive.

Interruption for an important safety tip: no matter what your instrument readings tell you and how excited you are, when you are exploring a new planet, keep your helmet on.

Things are exciting, things are promising, and then things start to go very, very wrong.  As in previous Scott films, we end up with a woman in her underwear being chased by something pretty appalling.  And the call is, if you know what I mean, coming from inside the house.

Scott and his screenwriters, Jon Spaihts and Damon Lindelof, are not afraid to take on the big, big questions, and this movie gets credit for making room for Shaw’s insistence on wearing a crucifix despite Holloway’s claim that what they have found invalidates her faith.  “It’s what I choose to believe,” her father tells her about heaven in a flashback.  The movie leaves some questions open (wait until the very end of the credits for an enigmatic clue relating to “Alien”), but the answers it does give are disappointingly superficial and a little silly.  (See point about helmets above.)  Instead of Prometheus (the Greek mythological figure who was thought to have created man from clay and stolen fire from the gods to give to humans), they could have just named the spaceship “The Hubris.”  But without some audacity, no big undertaking would ever be attempted and this one succeeds in so many categories that the suggestion that another chapter is to come allows us to hope it will be as good as “Aliens.”

(more…)

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Action/Adventure Science-Fiction Series/Sequel

Spoiler Alert: What This Week’s Two Big Action Blockbusters Have In Common

Posted on December 15, 2011 at 5:37 pm

Just in time for the holidays, two huge Hollywood action films are arriving in theaters.  One is set in Victorian times and one in present-day.  But they have more in common than mysteries, chases, explosions, trains, and meaningless after-the-colon titles.  They both star actors from the superb Swedish “Girl with the Dragon Tattoo” series, just as the American remake with Daniel Craig and Rooney Mara is about to open next week.  In “Mission: Impossible Ghost Protocol” Michael Nyqvist plays a brilliant scientist after some nuclear launch codes.  In “Sherlock Holmes: Game of Shadows,” Noomi Rapace plays a gypsy looking for her missing brother.

The movies have something else in common — a remarkable similarity in the aspirations of the villains.  They may be a century apart but their outlook and their dastardly plans are very similar.  I don’t think it’s a coincidence but I don’t think there was any copying involved.  I think both are a reflection of current concerns about world affairs while general enough to be fun-scary, not scary-scary.  When you see them, let me know what you think!

 

 

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