Clint Eastwood prevails in Trouble With the Curve; Jennifer Lawrence brave in House at the End of the Street
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
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