Fall flick rewind: Harvest of movies has both good and bad apples
December 5, 2011
As we head toward the end of the year, the studios prepare their best and brightest in the hopes of grabbing gold.
For some movie viewers, this may be the only time going to the theater may be worth the price of popcorn and Pepsi, but the months leading up to awards season has had its triumphs with some autumn films proving powerful.
Then again, other entries have shown exactly why the period between the end of summer and the beginning of winter doesn't bring in the biggest crowds.
"Terri" — Sensitive, overweight teenager Terri Thompson (Jacob Wysocki) is hardly popular at his high school, a problem expounded by his insistence on wearing pajamas every day.
However, when his school's assistant principal (John C. Reilly) tries to help him come out of his shell, Terri may have found someone who understands him.
Ever since "Napoleon Dynamite," we've seen a rush of low-budget, lackadaisically paced movies about the kids in high school that not enough people took the time to befriend. This is one of the better ones, with big-hearted Terri not overtly weird, just a little peculiar as he tries to figure out who he is and who he wants to be.
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Creed Bratton of "The Office" has an equally good showing as the boy's brain-addled uncle, who needs constant supervision from his nephew.
"The Guard" — Irish policeman Gerry Boyle (Brendan Gleeson) has his own system for how he approaches his line of work.
When a series of crimes add up to more than his department can handle, he's forced to accommodate an American FBI agent (Don Cheadle) on the beat, but their conflicting approaches to police work could be just what's needed to break the case.
Gleeson is hysterical as a cop who always speaks his mind, much to the exasperation of his temporary partner, with Cheadle an able straight man.
Skillfully written and directed by John Michael McDonagh — brother of Martin McDonagh, who brought the world the comparably politically incorrect "In Bruges" — this laugh-laden action movie became the greatest moneymaker to come out of the Emerald Isle's independent film industry.
"Colombiana" — Ever since childhood, Cataleya (Zoë Saldaña) has had a vendetta against the Colombian drug lord (Beto Benites) who killed her parents (Jesse Borrego, Cynthia Addai-Robinson).
Honing her skills for years as a killer for hire, she finally gets the chance to make her move, though even after she gets her vengeance, it could already be too late for her to ever have a normal life again.
Saldaña is slick as ever, but her character is woefully underdeveloped, as would be expected in a script by co-writer Luc Besson, whose heroes get increasingly less appealing.
Just check out the progression from earlier hits "Nikita" and "Léon" to the more convoluted protagonists of "Taken" and "The Transporter."
One high point is the use of Johnny Cash's cover of Nine Inch Nails' "Hurt," but the stylishness of such a choice is something we just don't see in the entirety of this misfire.
"A Good Old Fashioned Orgy" — Aimless Eric (Jason Sudeikis) lives for the weekends, the only time when he can goof off with his friends at his family vacation house in The Hamptons.
When he finds out the getaway will no longer be available to him, he draws on his years of experience throwing theme parties to come up with the best shindig yet — an orgy.
What sounds incredibly perverse is about 95-percent talk, as the male and female buddies prep themselves for a night without inhibitions. Think "The Big Chill" with a group of friends who never have, and probably never will, grow up.
Sudeikis serves as a decent lead, with the likes of Tyler Labine, Lake Bell, Nick Kroll and Will Forte serving up ample comedy, but the movie, filmed in 2008, never piques the kind of curiosity its title offers.
"Bucky Larson: Born to Be a Star" — Nice but naïve Midwesterner Bucky Larson (Nick Swardson) learns his folks (Miriam Flynn, Edward Hermann) were the king and queen of the nudie movie scene before he was born, a fact that inspires him to use his pedigree by traveling to California and making a name for himself in pornography.
Yet another flick that the average moviegoer would consider absolutely filthy without actually watching it.
It's hard to know what to make of a dopey kid with horse teeth and a bowl haircut whose reaction to seeing a naked woman for the first time makes him look like an epileptic spider monkey.
"Boogie Nights" it ain't, but in spite of the subject material, the story and its central character are actually pretty sweet if inherently idiotic, with some worthwhile supporting names, like Don Johnson as a down and out porno director looking to get back on top, Stephen Dorff as Bucky's seasoned rival and Christina Ricci as our boy's new girlfriend, a diner waitress with an aspiration — of waitressing at a larger restaurant.
Dream big, baby.
"Warrior" — Brendan Conlon (Joel Edgerton) is barely making ends meet for his family working as a high school science teacher, leading him to fall back on his talents in mixed martial arts for exhibition matches.
Meanwhile, his estranged brother Tommy (Tom Hardy), a Marine newly returned to the U.S. after serving overseas, is making a name for himself with his own fighting abilities.
Though the two have nothing to say to each other following a bitter parting of the ways earlier in life, they may have to come to terms with their past when they both enter a high-paying MMA tournament in Atlantic City.
Edgerton is good as a guy who will do anything for his wife (Jennifer Morrison) and kids, but Hardy is nothing short of magnificent as his sibling, a hurricane of rage packed inside a human body just looking for someone on which to unleash a maelstrom.
Nick Nolte is perhaps the best of the bunch as their father, once an abusive drunk who pushed his boys to the brink in the sport of wrestling, now a repentant church mouse in recovery taking it one day at a time and trying to make amends by training Tommy.
The punches and kicks fly and bones crunch and snap with reckless abandon, but however you may feel about ultimate fighting, this multi-layered family drama will put you in an emotional chokehold.
Looks like "Rudy" and "Field of Dreams" have some competition on the list of sports movies where it's OK for men to cry while watching.
"Drive" — A Hollywood stunt driver (Ryan Gosling) who also hires himself out as the wheelman for robberies finds himself drawn to his neighbor (Carey Mulligan), a young mother whose husband (Oscar Isaac) is in prison.
Upon the jailbird's release, he tries to extricate himself from the friendship to save face, but when her spouse gets into trouble with the wrong people, he can't help but get involved.
The hero here may never receive any kind of name, but he makes his presence known, with actions speaking louder than words as he braves the criminal underworld of L.A., including a pair of vicious mob bosses (Albert Brooks, Ron Perlman) who are pulling the strings of his mentor (Bryan Cranston).
There are no road signs in sight as this transcendent action film takes us along, but with a good man in the driver's seat there's no need to worry.
"Straw Dogs" — Screenwriter David (James Marsden) and his actress wife Amy (Kate Bosworth) uproot themselves from their California life to return to Amy's small Mississippi hometown.
Hiring her ex-boyfriend (Alexander Skarsgård) to perform some much-needed renovations on her family home proves to be a bad idea, as David clashes with the crew and their foreman, prompting some very dangerous retaliation from both sides.
Remade from Sam Peckinpah's landmark 1971 film, the scenario changes from intellectual Americans in rural Britain to liberals facing off against good ol' boys in the Deep South. Same kind of conflicts with some solid performances, but while Peckinpah set new standards in terms of how much graphic violence could work onscreen, writer/director Rod Lurie can't really take things much further.
Lurie may have a skillful hand, but if he thinks he can shock today's desensitized masses the same way Peckinpah did 40 years ago, he's got another thing coming.
"Killer Elite" — After swearing off his way of life as a soldier of fortune, Australian mercenary Danny Bryce (Jason Statham) is forced to save his old partner (Robert De Niro), who has been taken prisoner by mysterious Middle Eastern bigwigs.
In order to gain his friend's freedom, Danny must complete a series of assassinations, but doing so won't be easy, especially once a new opponent (Clive Owen) presents himself.
As long as we're talking about Peckinpah movies, this has nothing to do with his 1975 feature starring James Caan and Robert Duvall.
Based on the Ranulph Fiennes novel "The Feather Men," this gun-toting, messy affair has so many plot holes and strained characterizations that you'll be snoozing well before Statham does away with his first target.
Owen's ugly look as a man named Spike with a skeevy mustache and heterochromic eyes is just one of many cons going against the minimal content of the pro column, with De Niro's presence perhaps the only entry in that list. And, even he's not very good.
"Red State" — The pastor (Michael Parks) of a fundamentalist Christian church comes under fire figuratively and literally when he and his congregation take a trio of high school boys (Michael Angarano, Kyle Gallner, Nicholas Braun) hostage with the intent of killing them. As an ATF agent (John Goodman) tries to handle the situation by seizing the church's compound, things quickly get out of control.
Writer/director Kevin Smith's take on the horror genre is about what you'd expect from the man who made the wildly sacrilegious comedy "Dogma."
Instead of seeing the 13th apostle or disgruntled angels, things are deathly realistic this time, with Parks frighteningly good as a self-ordained man of the cloth who raises his flock to revile homosexuals, minorities and other people he deems unworthy according to the good book, in which he keeps a handgun, packing plenty more heat in his surroundings.
Controversial from the start — partly because of Smith's attitude about the production process — this is sure to polarize audiences, some of whom likely won't be too pleased with the portrayal of a church as being akin to the locale in "Hostel."
"What's Your Number?" — Ally Darling (Anna Faris) has never been lucky in love, but the ever-growing string of boyfriends she's left behind is really starting to weigh on her mind lately.
Reading an article about how women who have bedded a certain number of men rarely find their soul mates leads her on a search for her exes to find out if there are any sparks left.
Faris does all she can to make this romantic comedy appealing, but the premise is too laughable to function.
Raising the issue that men and women are judged by different standards in their sexual history only makes the attempt to fashion yet another failure in the "edgy chick flick" faction seem more pathetic. Adding to this complication is the fact that the men in the story have all the best laughs, whether it's Ally's smug musician neighbor (Chris Evans) or her variety of relationships gone bad.
Take your pick from a lineup of a former fatty (Chris Pratt), a pimply puppeteer (Andy Samberg), a self-righteous environmentalist (Zachary Quinto) or a gynecologist (Thomas Lennon) who only recognizes her when she's up in stirrups.
"The Ides of March" — Democratic presidential candidate Mike Morris (George Clooney) is a freight train going through the primaries, coming closer and closer to clinching the party nomination, much to the satisfaction of junior campaign manager Stephen Meyers (Ryan Gosling), who firmly believes that the right man can make a difference. However, Meyers soon becomes deeply embroiled in the dirty side of politics when a rival camp starts inquiring about stealing him away.
Even more complicated is his relationship with a young intern (Evan Rachel Wood) who could potentially destroy the whole campaign.
There's not a bad performance to be seen from the array of stars, with Gosling proving a powerhouse among talent like Philip Seymour Hoffman and Paul Giamatti as seasoned politicos and Marisa Tomei as a reporter snooping around for a story.
Clooney takes somewhat of a backseat as an actor, focusing more on the tasks of directing, producing and co-scripting the adaptation of the play "Farragut North," a fictitious account of Howard Dean's presidential run. This political thriller feels less personal than Clooney's "Confessions of a Dangerous Mind," "Good Night, and Good Luck" or even "Leatherheads" but no less adroitly made.
"The Rum Diary" — In 1960, New York journalist Paul Kemp (Johnny Depp) makes the move to the San Juan Star, a Puerto Rican newspaper. Writing puff pieces about American tourists is of little interest as he sees the locals struggling, but he may have found a new cause to investigate when a shady businessman (Aaron Eckhart) tries to sway him.
Falling for the man's girlfriend (Amber Heard) only makes matters thornier.
Based on Hunter S. Thompson's semi-autobiographical account of his early career, which went unpublished for decades, this leisurely paced tale of hard drinking and shenanigans among writers is oceans apart from the actor's stint in the Thompson-centric "Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas."
The Deppster is on his game to be sure, but the story is devoid of any real momentum and never seems to make its point before sailing off into the sunset.
Giovanni Ribisi has the best moments as Kemp's slovenly colleague who wears a bathrobe to work while being completely sloshed — now that sounds like Thompson's manic spirit — but at least Depp has one of the funniest quotes of the year while in the middle of a drug-induced freak-out: "Your tongue is like an accusatory giblet!"