Broken City

broken_city_xlgO Brother, Where Art Thou?

Yes, that was the title of the 2000 film that starred George Clooney about escaped-from-a-chain-gang fugitives on the run in search of treasure in the Deep South circa 1930. The key element connecting that film to this one is that the film was made by Coen Brothers. In film circles, we also have the former Wachowski brothers now more accurately described as siblings, and the Hughes Twins – Allen and Albert all of whom DIRECT films.

Broken City was directed by Allen Hughes working from Brian Tucker’s script. There’s no sign of Albert Hughes in this effort. In this film there are a number of people in search of the truth, and while the word treasure is strictly not being sought, there is a huge payday for a few of the characters at stake.

By way of a short synopsis, the IMDB entry for Broken City reads:

In a city rife with injustice, ex-cop Billy Taggart seeks redemption and revenge after being double-crossed and then framed by its most powerful figure: Mayor Nicholas Hostetler.

Now the casting is pro forma and doesn’t require any head scratching at all. The ex-cop Billy Taggart is played by Mark Wahlberg, who also appeared in a similar role exactly a year ago in Contraband. Is Wahlberg aiming to become the King of January releases? Any way, Taggart’s from the neighborhood, he’s all blue-collar, and he believes in justice – though he’s not necessarily locked into the thought that justice can only be found in a courtroom.

Russell Crowe, fresh from a lengthy stint as Javert in Les Miserables, may have needed a paycheck to tide him over while he waited for the productions of Man of Steel and Noah to begin. Here he plays the Mayor of New York, one Nick Hostetler, and one need not require a large leap of faith to figure that if Mark Walhberg is the good guy, then Russell Crowe must be the bad guy. Yes, Crowe is once more  saddled with a horrible hair cut. Now a haircut doesn’t make you either heroic nor villainous. but this Mayor is also a guy who looked like he bathed in a tub filled with quick tanning bronzer – you know a suntan without the sun.

IMG_3114.CR2

Then we have Jeffrey Wright as the out-in-the-field Police Commissioner Carl Fairbanks, Catherine Zeta-Jones as the Mayor’s wife with an agenda of her own, Barry Pepper as the other Mayor election candidate, Natalie Martinez as Mrs. Taggart, Alona Tal as Taggart’s gal friday, and Kyle Chandler as the would be MacGuffin. Even Griffin Dunne shows up as a rich s.o.b. with no social conscience at all in a distinctly small role.

The film has been assembled as a modern-day noir – with corruption peeking out of every nook and crevice. Yet nothing is as you think it is. Every time you think you know what’s going on they toss a new twist or surprise at you. Only it isn’t all that difficult to see the ‘surprises’ coming. At least from the audience’s perspective. Unfortunately, Billy Taggart is always the last one to figure something out.

Allen Hughes is working from a weak script. He has a few eye-popping shots of the Verrazano Bridge, and other famed Manhattan bridges. He also has a nice shot of the exterior of Grand Central Station, and a few seconds of an interior shot of this station. Unfortunately, Hughes overlooked the fact that trains departing for points east, like Montauk out on Long Island never leave from Grand Central Station. To get to Montauk you’d board at Penn Station. But maybe you think that is being picky.

Continue reading

Les Miserables (2012)

It was the day after Christmas, and the 10:15 AM show played to a packed house in Sarasota, FL. Such is the drawing power of Les Miserables. The film, directed by Tom Hooper from the beloved theatrical musical of the same name, an adoption itself of the Victor Hugo novel, opened on Christmas Day.

Claude-Michel Schonberg’s music with lyrics by Alain Boubel was first performed theatrically in Paris in 1980. The show closed after a three-month run. In 1983, theatrical producer Cameron Mackintosh was asked if he’d be interested in bringing it to the stage in London. It took two years for the English language version (lyrics by Herbert Kretzmer) to reach London audiences. It opened on October 8th, 1985. As they say, the rest is history.

The show has been performed in forty-two countries, and has been translated into 21 languages. But I am not someone who has had the good fortune to have purchased a ticket (60 million have been sold) to see a theatrical production of Les Miz. As such, I really didn’t know much about it at all. I hadn’t read the Hugo novel either. But I did see a bit of the Les Miserables 25th Anniversary Concert from 2010 when it was broadcast on the televised PBS fund-raiser here last month. I knew the film was scheduled for release on Christmas Day, so I turned off the show after only seeing one or two songs. However, I was hooked and committed to seeing the new film version at the earliest.

lesmiz00004

As the film opens, we watch a mighty struggle by the forced laborers (convicts) to tow a huge sea-going vessel into a dry dock in Toulon, France. After, the convict # 24601 – Jean Valjean – is granted parole, and freedom, we will later come to understand that he will never be completely free from his jailer, Javert, who promises Valjean, that if he doesn’t follow the letters of his  written parole document completely and exactly – Javert will be there to toss him back in prison. Javert offers a chilling reminder: Do not forget my name, do not forget my face. As Valjean departs, the prisoners sing Look Down, all under the watchful eye of Javert. That along with the film’s stirring closing shot of thousands of Parisians on the ramparts, enables us to say that the film is book-ended by images stunning in scope.

lesmiz00007

There was another magisterial shot of Jean Valjean standing on the top of a promontory overlooking the sea that begins with the camera at his level and then we soar far above him by means of a seventy foot crane shot followed by a seamless transition to a view of the same from a rising helicopter. Yes there were these amazing shots to take your breath away.

But most of the film is shot with the scale down to human levels. And often in tight closeups during many of the songs. Now this particular directorial decision to shoot closeups of the singers has brought forth discussion that has been quite strong both in praise and condemnation. When you see a show in person, you don’t always get a seat in the orchestra level – sometimes you are in the ‘alpine’ regions of the balcony, and you have no chance at all to see facial expressions.You hear just fine, but the distance from the vocalists is not kind, even with opera glasses.

If you have dealt with being seated so high up that cannot visually distinguish the singers’ faces then you know what I’m saying. So Hooper brought his lenses up close and up tight. But that was criticized as well – the faces were not centered, the upper foreheads and/or chins were cut-off. Given that Hooper also decided to film the songs live as opposed to the actors lip-synching to prerecorded music, this was bound to happen. However this decision allowed the actors to have more creativity in their performances. But this is also risky as tight shots may often be too close, and when the singer turns his or her head, the cameras may find themselves slightly out of position.

les-miserables_poster01_anne-hathaway

But I think that the pay-off of the closeups makes the songs all the more powerful. Why concentrate and make mention of a few less than stellar angles? When you see Anne Hathaway’s pain and anguish as the doomed Fantine, when she sings I Dreamed a Dream, you will truly understand the term ‘show-stopper’. Hathaway gave everything she had in this song. She held back nothing. It was a bravura performance.

Continue reading

A Good Year

Max: This place doesn’t suit my life …

Fanny: No Max, it’s your life that doesn’t suit this place ..

This little bit of the dialogue from the 2006 Ridley Scott film, A Good Year, might say more about the directorial effort than the film itself. Many critics have said that this film wants to be a rom/com but is neither funny nor particularly romantic. They further state that Scott is out of his element in doing this type of film.

The former I don’t agree with, and the latter I do agree with, but, when you take a look at the movie as a whole, for sure it is a beautiful film to look at, and it certainly pleased this viewer.

Yes it is true that when we look at Ridley Scott’s portfolio,; his Cinematic CV, we do find Alien, Blade Runner, Black Rain, Gladiator, Black Hawk Down, American Gangster, and Robin Hood. All of these films were heavy on action and laughs were non-existent. That is Scott’s pedigree. But even if we say that this film was off the mark with its slapstick humor, and even if we agree that the romantic elements seemed to be more on the side of attraction and passion and less so about romance, that still leaves you with more plusses than minuses.

Probably, the reason I decided to watch and review A Good Year now was because I had just seen The Next Few Days, well … a few days ago, and Russell Crowe was fresh in my mind. Though Gladiator was a 2000 release, and A Good Year was a 2006 release, Crowe was still doing a Max. While General Maximus rallied his Roman legions in Germania, Max Skinner rallied his ‘troops’ on the trading floor of a large financial firm in London. Max calls them ‘lab rats’.

Good morning lab rats ...

Continue reading

The Next Three Days

It used to be that Russell Crowe had a great marquee name. What with Gladiator, Robin Hood, State of Play, A Beautiful Mind, and American Gangster where he was second billed to Denzel Washington, when you saw ‘Crowe’ on the marquee you sort of auto-programmed yourself to put that movie on your list of must sees.

But, according to a recent Time Magazine article, Crowe’s box-office numbers haven’t met expectations lately. In fact, his The Next Three Days, which just opened three days ago on the 19th, took in only about $6.75 million over its first weekend. Granted it opened against the latest installment of Harry Potter, but that number was quite weak.

I saw the film today, on the 22nd, and while I won’t call it a dud, it did seem lacking.

The story is that Crowe’s wife in the film,  Lara, played by Elizabeth Banks, is arrested for murder, convicted and locked up. This happens so quickly, that they don’t even bother with showing any part of the trial. But Crowe’s character, John Brennan, a community college Lit professor, steadfastly believes that his wife is innocent.

Continue reading

Robin Hood

Ask me nicely...”

This was a line that Director Ridley Scott and his screenwriter Brian Helgeland loved so much, that they used it twice in the just released Robin Hood. Both times it was spoken by Robin played by Russell Crowe.

But no matter how nicely they, or anyone else might ask me – I’m not going to be able to come up with a positive review.

To begin with, this is not your grandfather’s Robin Hood. And if you think you’ve read something similar from me before, you’d be right as I made the same stylized reference about last December’s Sherlock Holmes. The bad guy in that one was played by Mark Strong (below)who is the bad guy in this one too. Continue reading

What Do the Papers Say?

I wrote this last spring…a short discussion on some of the best movies about newspapers…

So today being Friday, a day when many if not most motion pictures open in the movies houses, I went to the movies. I saw The Soloist


…and only a few days ago, I had gone to see State of Play, which I’ll discuss later.

Continue reading

So Who Do You Like Today?

“So, who do you like today?”

This was the tag-line for some new promotional TV and radio spots that were being aired in the New York City Metropolitan area a few years ago. They were trying to lure you to go to Belmont Park, which is the primo place for Thoroughbred Horse Racing in America. I’m not going to be writing about horse racing at Belmont Park or anyplace else today. But I do like that line, and I’m asking that question but about a different subject.

Specifically, which movies for men do you like? You know, women have chick flicks, rom-coms, and love stories, then there’s comedies, tear-jerkers, and wholesome family movies. What I have in mind are movies that guys like you and me will watch again and again; and we’ll watch them every time they’re broadcast. So if I say, “Do you like this one?” you’ll say, “Hell yes! When is it on?” These are the kinds of movies that if I show you just a single image, you would probably recognize the movie. How about this one?
I don’t have to wipe out everyone, Tom – just my enemies.

I don’t have to wipe out everyone, Tom – just my enemies.

Continue reading