One for the Money

To me, the bar was set so high by the 1988 film Midnight Run which starred Robert DeNiro and Charles Grodin, that they really haven’t wanted to make more Bounty Hunter films since then. They’d be compared to Midnight Run and come off second best. Oh, every once in a while someone tries; like in March of 2010 we had The Bounty Hunter which starred Jennifer Aniston and Gerard Butler. Roger Ebert described this movie as ‘drek‘. He said while watching it his ‘eyes glazed over‘. And finally, he said that this “is a film with no need to exist”. Strong words indeed. The rating scorecard on IMDB was 5.2 out of 10 by more than 34,000 viewers.

Well we are now about one month into 2012, and there’s been another attempt to mine some laughter, thrills, excitement, and cash through the sale of tickets to see another film in the Bounty Hunter genre. Released into wide distribution just last Friday, January 27th, was One for the Money. The film’s star is Katherine Heigl, and the film was directed by Julie Ann Robinson who directed some episodes of the hit TV series Grey’s Anatomy.

I can’t give you any quotes from Roger Ebert about this film because he hasn’t reviewed it yet. Most likely, that’s because he hasn’t seen it, as the producers chose to not make it available for press screenings. So far on IMDB, 796 viewers have rated this film, and the collective score averaged out at 4.9 out of 10. That’s an even lower score than The Bounty Hunter which was routinely panned by the critics.

Where to start? There’s very few laughs. In fact the only one I can remember is when Debbie Reynolds,   in this film she’s playing lead character Stephanie Plum’s grandmother – picked up Stephanie’s gun and was waving it around at the dinner table before shooting up the cooked turkey. This might have been more funnier if it had gone off immediately, but instead Reynolds waved it around for a few minutes to ‘set up the joke’. It’s been a long time since Debbie was America’s sweetheart when she starred with Gene Kelly and Donald O’ Connor in Singing in the Rain. That film was released only 60 years ago in 1952. Maybe she got the role because her number was less costly than Bette White‘s. (I’m guessing about that.)

Then, there’s no sex. The ‘hero’, who was the cop named Joe Morelli who skipped bail on murder charges, but instead of high-tailing it out of Trenton, NJ., he stuck around town – he ogled Heigl’s bra-clad figure for a moment or two.  All of which was a set up so he could install a microphone into her cleavage, so she’d be wired. Anything else about sex was only spoken of as a remembrance.

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36th Precinct

Take two cops. One heads up the Anti-Crime Unit (OCU) and the other is the head honcho of the tactical unit (BRI). When the Police Commissioner decides to step away and head off to his retirement, the Chief of Detectives is going to go upstairs and take over the huge corner office replacing the Commissioner. Before he does so, he tips off both of his top cops that one of them is going to get the nod to fill his position.

But the Chief of Detectives has a local mess on his hands. That would be the crime wave of armored car robberies likely committed by the same gang. The C of D tells his men, that he wants this gang busted. He wants them to go out of business, and he doesn’t care if they’re dead or alive – but he does warn his guys about the police procedures and the expectations.

The OCU guy is a bad-ass. He’s corrupt, he’s brutal, he won’t take no for an answer, and there’s nothing he won’t do to capture these guys who are running all over town taking down scores like the gang in Heat. He also drinks to excess, and if bed-hopping around town and cheating on your wife wasn’t bad enough, this guy is also having an affair with one of his subordinates.

The BRI Tactical guy is a different animal. He’s fearless, he tougher than tough, he adores his wife and their daughter, The wife was at one time was the girl friend of the OCU guy. So right away you know that the sparks are going to fly. But our Tactical guy is also loyal to his men, and to his snitches.

One day, he’s going to get a call from a guy who is getting a weekend furlough from prison. Our BRI guy was the one who got this guy captured and incarcerated. But this guy says he can break the case about the armored car robberies for this detective. In exchange he needs an alibi.

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The Grey

“Once more into the fray.

Into the last good fight I’ll ever know.

Live and die on this day.

Live and die on this day.”

This bit of ‘Irish’ poetry serves as both a repeated mantra in The Grey, as well as a description of what the film is about. Take some very tough men who work in the Arctic oil fields. As John Ottway played by Liam Neeson describes them, they are ‘criminals, ex-cons, and the assholes of the world‘. They work hard, they party hard, and they’re far away from both the society and civilization that we take for granted. By their own choice. All are fleeing some inner demons as well as out to earn some tough money; having signed on to do work that most of wouldn’t even consider.

After a particularly rough night at the bar, (Neeson’s Ottway considered ending his life on this night) a large group of them saddle up for a flight to somewhere – maybe to another work site, or maybe back to civilization (Anchorage) – we aren’t told, and it doesn’t matter. Because the plane crashes. In the middle of nowhere.

Ottway awakens from his dreams about his wife, not during the crash, but afterwards. Temps in the single digits will do that to you. About 8 men survived the crash but one will die off right away. And then there were seven.

The survivors will have deal with everything the Nature can hurl at them – bitter cold, snow, ice, and a lack of water, warmth, shelter, and food. If that wasn’t enough – a pack of wolves – aren’t very happy that these intruders have suddenly descended into their territory.

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I can remember when HBO was known for showing the pay-per-views of Championship boxing matches – and not much else. After The Sopranos, Boardwalk Empire, Band of Brothers, John Adams, Six Feet Under, Deadwood, and The Wire – that perspective has drastically changed for the better.

These days, HBO is more than just a rival of the broadcast networks. If anything, I think HBO has run right on past those behemoths, and now HBO sees the big box stores of TV in their rear-view mirror.

Beginning this Sunday, January 29th, HBO launches a brand new, 9 episode series called Luck. The pilot aired 6 weeks ago on December 11th, and the comments weren’t very pretty.

I’m hoping that the pedigree of the makers of this series along with the great cast will result in some necessary improvements and will propel the series into becoming a ‘must see’.

On another level, I’ve been to the races myself quite often. Now that I am in Florida, and aren’t living anywhere near NY’s Belmont Park and Aqueduct Race Track, I don’t get to go at all – so that’s another reason why I am interested in this production.

What’s it About: If you start with luck, which we all have (in one form or another) and extend it out to gambling, we can then safely find ourselves at the racetrack, and by that I mean where horses race and people wager on the outcome of those races. In California that would mean Santa Anita, Hollywood Park, or Del Mar. The Series Luck is about the crossing or intersection of lives in and around horse racing and the world of gambling around one specific track, and in this series, that would be Santa Anita. Those folks would be bettors who might be celebrities or just plain folks, owners of the horses, trainers, jockeys, stable hands, vets, the media who provide coverage of the races, and all that goes with trying to win money by betting on the ponies.

Who’s In It: The headliner is Dustin Hoffman in his very first regular role in a TV series. You could argue that he was in a series once before, but that was Tootsie, and that was a movie about a TV series. Here he plays Chester ‘Ace’ Bernstein.

Dennis Farina plays Bernstein’s driver Gus Demitriou. Not sure why he was cast as a Greek, but he’s got plenty of charisma, and he’s got oodles of talent. Farina starred in the TV Series Crime Story, and was seen in 46 episodes of Law & Order as Detective Joe Fontana. His most famous role was that of the gangster Joey Serrano in the film Midnight Run.

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For regular folks like you and me, when your employer decides to downsize, or decides that he wants someone other than you on his payroll, you get your walking papers, which are also known as the pink slip. Generally the following message is delivered: We are sorry – your services are no longer necessary or required.

In the world of government trained or hired contract operatives otherwise known as assassins – things work a tad differently. You don’t get called to take an asap meeting in HR, nor do you sit down with a person hired to fire you a la George Clooney in Up in the Air. No, in this world, you get, as Noah Vosen said in The Bourne Ultimatum, the sharp end of the stick.

Vosen also said – “Issue a standing kill order on Jason Bourne, effective immediately”. He later went on to add, “All agents have shoot-on-sight authorization.

That’s how it went for Bourne, only he proved to be not only unwilling, but also the toughest target they ever went after.

So too is Mallory Kane, played by Gina Carano, in the brand new Steven Soderbergh helmed actioner called Haywire which opened today. The references to Bourne are unavoidable. As are references you might want to make about Jolie’s Salt. Similar stories, different year, different stars. Speaking of stars, Soderbergh, as usual, has cast a rather lengthy list of well-known  actors some of whom will be summarily butt-kicked by Ms Carano.

Antonio Banderas, Michael Douglas, Michael Fassbender, Ewan McGregor, Bill Paxton,and Channing Tatum are the male headliners, or nearly the universe of the major male players in this film.

So much for the ‘Who’. Our next question might be ‘What’s it about?’ Aside from the obvious which you can surmise from my intro – that Mallory Kane’s days are numbered – we have missions that aren’t really explained all that thoroughly, motives that aren’t really clear, except when McGregor’s Kenneth says, ‘It’s always about money’.

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Hodejegerne aka Headhunters

I had the opportunity to watch the 2011 Norwegian thriller called Hodejegerne. I know that for most of you (and me) that Norwegian title is meaningless. But if you translate the title to English. you’ll have Headhunters.

This film is about a high level headhunter who finds executives for large and wealthy corporations. But as we find out rather quickly, his real career is that of an art thief.

He meets these top of the food chain executives, who are looking for even better deals, susses them out, and when he strikes gold, he not only has a possible candidate for the position he’s been hired to fill, but he also has a target who owns art, has a set schedule, and most importantly – a home that will be empty.

So our hero is called Roger Brown. He lives in elegant modern home, has a statuesque and beautiful trophy wife – Diana, and more than anything else, he commits these thefts to keep his wife living in the style he thinks she wants.

At a cocktail party, Roger is introduced to a man, Clas Greve, who might be a candidate for the Pathfinder CEO job that he’s been working on. But more importantly, Brown is told that this man owns an original Rubens painting. Visions of millions dance before Brown’s eyes; and that’s about all the set up you need.

The film was sharp, and clever with plenty of unexpected events. It is extremely well made, and I’m telling you that it really was a thriller. It is also not for the squeamish though the violence blends in very well in the sense that they don’t make it more important than the plot .

The film carries a MPAA rating of R (Restricted) for bloody violence, including some quite grisly images, strong sexual content, and nudity. In short – it’s got it all.

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The Flowers of War

The Flowers of War has been reported to be the most expensive film ever produced in China. I’ve seen the numbers and they are in the range of 100 Million US dollars.

Directed by Zhang Yimou, this epic film is about courage and sacrifice set against the ravages and horrors of war in 1937 in Nanjing, China. This film also marks the first time that a Western Actor has the lead role in a Chinese production.

The film has a limited opening playing only in a short list of select cities (just 21 theaters nationwide) beginning on Friday, January 20th, 2012.

Since it is not playing anywhere in Florida, I have to hope that it will achieve a wider distribution later on, or I’ll have to wait for the DVD to review it.

Christian Bale (an Oscar winner for The Fighter and he starred as Batman in The Dark Knight) has the lead role. He plays a traveling mortician, attending to the dead, while not an adventurer, he’s kind of a wayfaring dissolute man who happened to find himself in Nanjing, and at the church, when the Japanese troops attacked the city in December of 1937.

By circumstances unknown to me, so I’ll call them luck and fate, he and a group of frightened Chinese Catholic schoolgirls and another group made up of a dozen beautiful courtesans, find themselves trapped inside a walled compound, a home to a cathedral – which they hope will afford them safety from the marauding soldiers. Bale’s character, John Miller, will take up the role of the church’s priest, donning the clothing and vestments of a recently killed priest for the impersonation.

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The Iron Lady

The consensus of the notable film critics, and by many film bloggers, seems to be that The Iron Lady offers a fascinating impersonation of Margaret Thatcher by the Grand Dame of actresses, Meryl Streep. But although Director Phyllida Lloyd and screenwriter Abi Morgan provide us with a series of interesting images, an impressive yet not particularly memorable musical background, along with a rather creaky and well worn platform of flashbacks mixed with the present – yet they somehow fail to take a stand on Margaret Thatcher – the person, or Thatcher – the three term Prime Minister of Great Britain.

I’m in a similar quandary of trying to figure out what they want us to think of Mrs. Thatcher. But I also have a question: A.O. Scott of the New York Times, and the venerated film critic Roger Ebert, and many other film critics and bloggers have used the term ‘impersonation’ referencing Meryl Streep as Margaret Thatcher. How come, no one referred to Leonardo DiCaprio ‘impersonating’ J.Edgar (Hoover) in the same way?

While you ponder that – the film played before a theater that was about 75% filled for a 10:45 AM show on this rather chilly Saturday morning in Sarasota, FL. The crowd was mostly senior citizens, and I believe a good many of them were British. The crowd was quiet and well behaved – I didn’t detect even one cell phone in use during the film. As we filed out, the crowd was rather reserved and quiet. Or maybe I should say deferential.

There’s no doubt that Thatcher was not only dynamic, but she was a lightning rod who both united and divided the citizens of her country. But Britain was always so class-conscious. Even back in the 50’s when Margaret was still Margaret Roberts and looking to use her mind, and her degree from Oxford, as an entry way into the world of politics, she was reminded of her working class status – she was called the daughter of a grocer – at least three times in the film.

After she loses her first attempt at being voted into Parliament, and her future husband reminds her in the post-election gloom, that she lost because she is a grocer’s daughter, in their eyes, and a SINGLE grocer’s daughter at that. He suggests that she’d do better if she was the wife of a moderately successful businessman – in short, he proposes marriage to her.

After accepting the proposal she lays her cards out on the table for Denis. She’s says that she will never be one of those women – who stay silent and pretty on the arm of her husband. Or remote or alone in the kitchen doing the washing up.

She says, “No … one’s life must matter, Denis. Beyond the cooking and the cleaning and the children, one’s life must be more than that – I cannot die washing up a tea cup.”

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I guess I’ve loved Mark Wahlberg as an actor since he did so wonderfully as Charlie Croker in The Italian Job in 2003. What made that film so much fun was the fact that they had to steal the same gold bars twice. In the brand new (opened today – Friday the 13th) Contraband – Wahlberg and company do a great job of marketing the film, but it ends up with you and I, the consumers, being the victims as we are out the cost of our tickets. And 2 hours of our lives.

The best thing I can say about my trip to the cinema to see this film today, was that along with Contraband, I saw the trailer for the next Denzel Washington thriller called Safe House which opens on the 10th of February.

Contraband isn’t so much of a stinker, it’s more like competent and workmanlike at best but most folks won’t be willing to rate it that high. It’s the tale of someone who thought he was out of the life (of crime), and then he was (all-together-now) pulled back in.

Wahlberg ‘s character is Chris Farraday – a super smuggler now going straight with his own security installation business. He’s MWK (married with kids), he’s very happy, and his Dad, now incarcerated, calls the day when Chris left the life, the happiest day of his life.

But Farraday’s brother-in-law got himself between a rock and hard-place. He was running in a drug shipment aboard a ship that the CPB (Customs & Border Protection) cops decided to interdict. He was either going to be found in possession of more than 10 pounds of an illegal drug by the cops, or he could dump it in the harbor, and then hope for the best with the bad guy who would have neither his drugs nor his buy money.

The bad guy, called Tim Briggs, is played by Giovanni Ribisi. What goes around comes around as it was in 2000 that Ribisi played the relative caught between a similar rock and a hard place in Gone in 60 Seconds, and had to be rescued by his brother played by Nicholas Cage. So Ribisi has ‘graduated’ from the not-ready-for-prime-time-crime kid to the other side of the coin as a tough crime boss who wants his shipment.

Ribisi doesn’t quite have the look or feel of what the role requires. It wouldn’t matter how many jailhouse tats he sports, or his beard and general scruffiness – he’s not right for the role.

So Wahlberg as Chris Farraday, has to strap it on, and get himself down to Panama, on a freight carrying ship, so he can earn a sizeable chunk of change running in (smuggling) 15 Million in super-notes aka counterfeit US Currency. That’s what’s wrapped in plastic (above).

That’s your set up. The action begins and ends in New Orleans which is the USA’s largest and busiest shipping port. In between we have the middle section of the film set in Panama.

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