Clint Eastwood prevails in Trouble With the Curve; Jennifer Lawrence brave in House at the End of the Street
The bar will be raised a great deal next week when the Vancouver International Film Festival starts up again. I’ll have some recommendations for you starting Wednesday.
Meanwhile, there’s mostly mainstream fare among the new movies this week. You could check out two other possibilities. The VanCity Theatre is honoring the late Tony Scott by bringing back True Romance, the gritty, profane and violent film he directed from a script by Quentin Tarantino. It screens tonight (Sept 21). Later tonight and Saturday, the wacko Iron Sky, about Nazis from the moon, also returns.
Over at the Denman, which is about to close down, a week of classics starts on Sunday. Check out the website VancouverRetroCinema.com for the list that includes The Big Lebowski, the first two Godfathers, Tarantino’s Pulp Fiction and Inglorious Basterds , Back to the Future and more.
Here are the films I’m reviewing this week:
Trouble With The Curve: 3½ stars
House at the End of the Street: 3
Dredd 3D: 3
End of Watch: 2½
Roller Town: 2½
TROUBLE WITH THE CURVE: Exactly the kind of mainstream filmmaking Hollywood has done forever. People we like find themselves in a bundle of relatively mild problems and manage to solve them without a lot of straining–although in one case here, with extreme improbability— in time to get you out and home feeling satisfied. Set everything in crisp bright colors and add a love story and you’ve got a pleasing light entertainment.
Clint Eastwood, who just may have been doing a sly publicity stunt with his talk to that chair, plays a senior with memory, vision and other old-age problems. He scolds his willy for instance for taking so long dripping. He’s been a long-time scout finding players for the Atlanta Braves baseball team but a young and mean computer-armed challenger is trying to push him aside. He’s allowed to go on one more trip if he takes his daughter (Amy Adams) along. They have father-daughter issues that go way back and she’s also in tough for a promotion at the law firm she works at.
As if that’s not enough, she meets and slowly warms up to Justin Timberlake, who plays an ex-pitcher, now trying to be a scout but dreaming of a broadcast career. They have a great time trading baseball trivia and bantering gently. Clint, though, carries the central story about ignoring ageism and carrying on in his old ways. He’s crusty, dignified and often very funny. You don’t have to be a baseball fan to like that. (The Ridge, Scotiabank and many suburban theatres) 3 ½ out of 5
HOUSE AT THE END OF THE STREET: No, this is not a slasher film. Good. After all, there are two former Academy Award nominees for Best Actress here. Jennifer Lawrence and Elisabeth Shue play a daughter and mother newly moved into a rural house made affordable by a terrible history. In a neighboring house, just visible over there through the trees, a young girl killed her parents. She’s now missing; her brother has come back to live there and Jennifer hears strange noises in the woods.
The brother (Max Thieriot) is shunned by everyone except the local cop who says he’s never had any trouble with him. Elizabeth shows empathy and Jennifer befriends him.
Then things happen. The film is well-paced and progressively builds a mood of unease and tension. The dialogue is natural and the actors are believable. The story though slips out of control and by the end is overwrought with creepiness. It was filmed in Ottawa of all places by English director Mark Tonderai before Lawrence became a big star with The Hunger Games. And definitely on the plus side, this film has one of the all-time greatest startles in movie history. (Scotiabank and suburban theatres) 3 out of 5
DREDD 3D: This is take two in trying to turn this British comic character into a movie hero. Sylvester Stallone’s 1995 attempt is almost universally condemned as a failure. Karl Urban fares much better but the film bears a striking resemblance to the gunfest and martial arts extravaganza, The Raid: Redemption, that came our way from Indonesia back in April. In both films most of the action takes place inside one high-rise building controlled by criminals.
Dredd is a futuristic judge and cop combined. He can convict and execute on the spot, a power made necessary by the runaway crime statistics. When he and a new recruit he’s training (Olivia Thirlby) are lured into a mammoth housing project where crime boss Ma Ma (Lena Headey)has her headquarters, we get a rarely-stopping sequence of action, ambush, shooting and machine gun fire. True to the comic, Dredd never shows his face thereby coming across like a Robocop with a dry wit. Headey, though, has a psychotic great time insisting on “just a bunch of bullets to the head.” She peddles a drug called Slo Mo, whose effect the film simulates by slowing everything down now and then. Stylish thrills and ultra-violence unencumbered by anything like a message. The 3D is superfluous. (International Village and many suburban theatres) 3 out of 5
END OF WATCH: This look at cops doing their work is far more realistic than Dredd but also less fun. We’ve seen gritty authenticity before and as well done as this is, who needs to see more of it? To show how things really are, the film by police movie specialist David Ayer veers into unpleasant, brutal, even repulsive territory. Then it pulls back and shows the cops as human beings chatting in their squad car about wives, girlfriends and what do heros feel like anyway? Those conversations almost make the film worthwhile. Almost.
Jake Gyllenhaal and Michael Peña play the cop partners and Anna Kendrick is Jake’s girlfriend. They talk a great deal about love and honor and later at a funeral how police are all family. We’ve heard it before. It’s almost obligatory in these films. What is interesting is the updated picture of Los Angeles. Latinos are displacing the blacks, one of whom rails about taco stands on every corner pushing out the fried chicken joints. Mexican cartels have branched out into people smuggling and it’s of them that our two cop heroes run afoul. They also irritate their colleagues by videotaping everything. That’s annoying for us too because we get their story through what they shoot, what security cameras catch and generally a lot of shaky camera work. (The Park, International Village and suburban theatres) 2 ½ out of 5
ROLLER TOWN: Back in 1979, there were two movies about roller skating to disco music. That was enough for the Halifax comedy troupe Picnicface to declare it a genre and revive it in this funny romp. Like a mashup of Footloose and some of the recent dance films, it gives us a mayor trying to shut down a low class roller rink while sending his daughter to the much more refined Brookfield Conservatory of Roller Skating.
It’s not long, of course, before she wanders down and over to skate with the coolest guy in town. Also, of course, her self-styled boyfriend objects and, oh yes, gangsters want to dump the skating and move in video games. It’s silly and absurd, appropriately cheesy, sometimes raunchy and ridiculous but right on in recreating the look of the times and the bounce and banality of the music. The troupe sends that up as a trio called The Boogaloos in a series of videos.
Picnicface has been popular on U-tube and The Comedy Channel and used its fans to finance this film. A contribution got your name in the end credits with a title of your choosing. Zombie slayer, animal detonator and “Guy at place with thing” are included. (International Village) 2½ out of 5
INESCAPABLE: Somewhere late in this film, Joshua Jackson, playing a shifty official at the Canadian embassy in Syria, barks into a telephone “I just want to know what is going on.” I sympathize. Not two minutes before I was thinking the same thing. The story had just thrown yet another revelation at us that didn’t clear up anything but sure did muddy things. Too bad because it started with much promise. A man in Toronto (Alexander Siddig) is told his daughter has gone missing in Damascus, where, we learn in good time, he had been a secret intelligence agent for the Ministry of Defense. He goes back to find her thereby running into former colleagues, enemies and even an old flame still seething that he had left her without a word.
A bit of advice for Toronto-based writer-director Ruba Nadda. Marisa Tomei should not be playing a feisty Syrian. My Cousin Vinny she fit and that won her an Oscar. Here she’s out of place and counteracts the authenticity Siddig brings to his role. Another problem, nobody’s fault but still a mood breaker: thanks to the news, we expect Damascus to be chaotic with civil war. Not here. There are only two brief references to "these times" and it doesn't feel right. The chief problem though is the story. It’s nicely complex with intrigue and is doled out gradually but requires a far firmer hand than the director has given it. It should bristle, not meander inscrutably. (International Village) 2½ out of 5
NOTE: Images are movie stills provided by the studios and are therefore the exclusive property of their copyright owners.