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McCabe and Mrs. Miller returns. The Illusionist, The Mechanic, Casino Jack, The Company Men and The Rite

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Granted, it’s a high-flying lobbyist who says that Jack Abramoff went to jail for fraud over an Indian casino project and an offshore gambling venture. But the film shows how right he was with his cynical view of the political process. He’s shown as a fast talker who peddles influence and takes down two Congressmen with him. Apparently now, since he’s out of jail, he denounces lobbyists. Kevin Spacey plays him with a smug bravado, spouting self-affirmations in the mirror and movie star imitations at the office. Vancouver's Barry Pepper plays his business partner and other Canadians, including Graham Greene and the late Maury Chaykin have key roles. (The film was made in Ontario and Florida). Jon Lovitz tilts the mood a little too much into comedy. It’s light in tone, speedy and thick with content that’s meant to criticize not celebrate yet another American rogue. (International Village) (3 out of 5)

THE COMPANY MEN: The movies so rarely deal with real subjects like the economy and corporate working life that even run of the mill efforts like this have to be welcomed. This one says all the right things but does it so directly and obviously that it comes off as an illustrated essay, an editorial even, instead of an authentic drama. Ben Affleck, Chris Cooper and Tommy Lee Jones all play executives at a Boston transportation conglomerate that has to downsize to satisfy its shareholders. Betrayal within the company and fruitless job searches, family conflicts and loss of self respect on the outside are all detailed in the script. 

Ben goes first and most of the film is about his problems. Unable to find an equivalent job, he describes himself as a “37-year-old, unemployed loser,”  sells the Porsche and the house and starts working as a carpenter for his brother-in-law (Kevin Costner). Chris Cooper (seen in the photo) has the toughest time and Jones fares best. His stock keeps its value as he and his colleagues are ousted. There are subplots that fizzle out, some feel-good outcomes too good to be believed and a few, but only a few, obligatory swipes at the CEO who takes home millions as he orders staffers fired. Many individual scenes feel authentic; the movie as a whole feels contrived. International Village  (3 out of 5)

THE MECHANIC: When it comes to telling stories about working people, the movies sure have a thing for the hitman.  George Clooney, Tom Cruise, even Angelina Jolie have all played one recently, among many others. Jason Statham has played one several times and is back with another. This time he repeats a story that Charles Bronson first acted way back in 1972.

He’s an A-list assassin who does his job with professional pride. For instance, he studies insurance statistics for ideas on how to kill a person and make it look like a credible accident.

When he follows orders from high up and kills the man he works for (Donald Sutherland), he attracts the man’s son (Ben Foster) who wants to learn the trade so he can find the killer and get revenge. That master and apprentice relationship, pairing a cool operator and a hot-head, takes them through a few killings, various fights, chases and stunts involving busses, boats, SUVs, a garbage truck and a spectacular fall off a high-rise building. Director Simon West, who was the ringmaster for a similar outburst in Con-Air (1997), one of my favorite action pictures, amps up the violence and turns the ethical reflection down to a very modern zero. Oakridge, Scotiabank and many suburban theatres  (2½ out of 5)

THE RITE:  “What do you expect?” asked Anthony Hopkins on the subject of exorcism. “Spinning heads? Pea soup?”  Well, yes, or at least some scares and chills. Something to make us fear that the devil really is at work, as the quote from Pope Paul II at the start of this film suggests. Instead of suspense, we got a debate and some low-key dread. Atheist versus a believer. Both arguments are clearly and fairly outlined but considering the backdrop and what we thought was coming, they come off as tedious. We get only three good startles, three relatively tame attempts to expel a demon from a young pregnant woman and finally a ludicrous climactic crisis of faith that has Hopkins talking like Hannibal Lecter again. It’s “inspired by true events," which only means that it’s based on Matt Baglio’s book about today’s real exorcists.  

 

The film centers on a young American drop-out priest (played convincingly by Irish newcomer Colin O'Donoghue). He’s beset by spiritual doubts and  flashback visions of watching his mortician father at work. When he’s sent to study at the Vatican’s school for exorcists, it’s supposed to reignite his faith. Instead, it only stirs up his doubting side, especially about the alleged demonic possession. For much of the film, he contends these people need a psychiatrist not an exorcist. I didn’t see much reason to argue with that. International Village and many suburban theatres  (2 out of 5)

NOTE The images and photos were supplied by the movie studios and are the exclusive property of their copyright owners.

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