It’s summer season at the multiplexes, and this brings out the inevitable sequels of variable quality. Shrek Forever After (in 3D!) is a pleasant surprise, a vast improvement over the last installment and while it doesn’t quite reach the heights of the first Shrek, it does have generous helpings of wit and poignancy in addition to the visual wizardry.
Nothing you have seen in your life can prepare you for something as awe-inspiring as MacGruber. No movie I have seen recently (or perhaps ever) succeeds—through an overabundance of mind-numbing ineptitude masquerading as celluloid–in alienating the audience on so many levels. But where do I begin? One can start with the character of MacGruber himself.
Michael Caine is Harry Brown says the poster…and you know what, he really is. Caine’s Harry is an elderly pensioner in South London with a dying wife and a best (only?) friend who is being harassed by the young hoods who seem to have taken over the rundown area. After enduring the death of his wife and the brutal murder of his best friend, as well as the slow response of the police, the grieving Brown slowly takes up arms—did I mention he was a former marine and Northern Island vet—and exacts, if not justice, then certainly revenge.
Before telling you how much I enjoyed City Island, I should tell you that I have never been a big Andy Garcia fan. He’s always seemed to be a little uncomfortable, especially in scenes where he emoted, or should I say over-emoted. However I started liking him, believe it or not, in the Ocean’s 11-13 movies—Garcia’s appearances as the powerful casino owner exhibited menace as a well as a welcome sense of humor. Now with his role as a prison guard who dreams of being an actor, Garcia has finally turned me into a full fan.
The new ghost writer (Euan McGreggor) for the former British Prime Minister Adam Lang’s memoirs in Roman Polanski’s compelling thriller The Ghost Writer has good reason to be worried. His predecessor has died in a suspicious accident; his employer Lang (Pierce Brosnan) is facing charges that he sanctioned torture toward suspected terrorists;
Roger Greenberg, the titular character of Noah Baumbach’s new comedy Greenberg, is the type of person you would probably want to avoid if you had occasion to know him. As written by Baumbach and portrayed (in a sincerely insufferable way) by Ben Stiller, Greenberg is self-deluding, self-righteous, self-absorbed, and with no capacity for self-deprecation. At the beginning, Greenberg is recovering from a nervous breakdown while housesitting at his successful brother’s spacious Los Angeles home (complete with dog and visiting pool-users).
Joe Johnston’s The Wolfman also took its time getting to the theaters (2008, 2009?) but the results are fairly enjoyable. You know the story: Larry Talbot (Benicio Del Toro) goes back to England (in this case after his brother’s brutal death), gets bitten by a werewolf, turns into one himself (that darned full moon) and all hell breaks loose. He also falls in love with his brother’s fiancée (Emily Blunt) while trying to avoid the long arm of the law (Hugo Weaving) and the savage arms of the villagers—torches anyone?
Martin Scorsese’s new thriller Shutter Island seems to have been waiting for the same ferry that Leonardo De Caprio’s U.S. Marshal character hopes will take him off this forbidden, forgotten and foreboding island. Originally an October release, it has been pushed back to the wintry wastelands of February. Many speculated that it might have been because of a matter of quality, or lack thereof (well, maybe not many—perhaps just me). Others felt it was more economically viable to wait—and they may have been right, given the killer box office results. How you feel about the film may well be determined by how you feel about a certain revelation occurring two/thirds of the way through. (More about that—but not exactly that—later)
I enjoyed Michael Hoffman’s The Last Station when I was watching it, but as Lieutenant Columbo would say, I’ve got a problem. The basic plot concerns an aging Leo Tolstoy, his wife Countess Sofya, and the tense situation that arises when it becomes apparent that Tolstoy plans to leave his writings (and future royalties) to all of Russia–albeit in the care of Chertkov, an unctuous Tolstoy worshipper—rather than to his own privileged wife and family.
Scott Cooper’s Crazy Heart starring Jeff Bridges is one of those late-December releases that you’ll hopefully catch up with, especially to see Bridges in an Oscar-worthy performance surrounded by a terrific supporting cast. Not that you haven’t seen variations on this plot before: the washed-up, broken-down (fill in the blank with either athlete or performer) meets a lovely young lady (as in young enough to be his daughter), while facing a potentially life-threatening condition (usually drugs or alcohol infused) on the road to possible redemption (Wait a minute–am I reviewing The Wrestler?). However, it’s rarely been done so well.
Another film being sold as a warm-hearted family Christmas film is Kirk Jones’ Everybody’s Fine, and though it is a good movie, it’s more of a quiet drama of a widower who finds that not all is not fine as he travels by bus (health issues prevent him from flying) to pay his family surprise visits after they renege on visiting him for the holidays. Robert DeNiro is excellent as the patriarch who makes some unsettling discoveries with each grown child he visits.
For genuine uplift, I direct you to Clint Eastwood’s Invictus, another in a remarkable run of Eastwood films (including Changeling),with an intelligent script from Anthony Peckham (from John Carlin’s book) and an excellent performance from Morgan Freeman as the newly-elected South African president—and former inmate–Nelson Mandela. Facing challenges from a torn nation beset by lingering racial tensions, unemployment and crime, Mandela resolves to unify the nation through—rugby.
If you’re looking for a feel-good film for the holidays, Up in the Air is not it, despite the jaunty nature of the nonstop television ads. Jason Reitman, working from his and Sheldon Turner’s script, from Walter Kirn’s novel, creates an arresting yet ambivalent portrait of a smooth frequent-flyer who has spent his life avoiding personal connections, while racking up the miles by working for a company that has prospered- namely by firing employees for firms without the wherewithal to do it themselves. The film is graced by a winning George Clooney performance as a downsizer/motivational speaker (how’s that for a winning combination) who –when he isn’t preparing terminated employees for a life of “unlimited possibilities”, is motivating others to get rid of the excess baggage in their lives (I do believe there are some not-so-subtle metaphors here).
Tinchy Styrder’s highly anticipated third studio album, Third Strike, hit shelves Monday and has been open to great reception, rapidly climbing into the Top 10 album downloads. Having the chart single ‘In My System’ already, there are sure to be many to follow from this album, with anthems such as ‘Game Over’ and ‘Stereo Love’.
Irish Boys, The Script, released their sophomore album Science & Faith recently, with one smash hit and a number 1 album already, the follow up CD hasn’t done too bad so far. In the second album we see The Script take a deeper and personal direction; however, they have still kept the same unique sound we heard on the first album.