January 28, 2011, - 5:07 pm
Surprise! There are actually a couple of VERY good new movies out this weekend:
* “The Way Back“: This actually came out last weekend, but it wasn’t screened for all critics, so I was left out of the mix for this and paid to see it on my own. It was well worth the $10 and more than two hours that flew by. This is my kind of movie. It’s about freedom, patriotism, and the brotherhood of men. Plus, it’s a pretty good thriller/adventure.
Based on a true story, several men imprisoned in a Soviet gulag in Siberia plan their escape. If they remain, they know that they will surely die. Some of them are principled, good, and admirable, such as an inspired priest with moral integrity. Others are criminal, such as a murderous con man played by Colin Farrell. And still others are mysterious, such as an American who was captured while he was helping to build a Moscow subway. It takes place during World War II.
The men escape and travel through harsh conditions, struggling to survive. But, as they say, it is better to die in the cold as a free man, than to die inside the Soviet gulag.
The movie has beautiful cinematography, lots of heart-pounding suspense, and a great story about the cost and price of freedom versus Communist tyranny. I enjoyed it immensely.
But I had one problem with it: the casting of obnoxious uber-leftist Harris to play the American in this film. I’d consider him something of a real-life Communist sympathizer. As you might recall, when anti-Communist director Elia Kazan received an Academy Award for Lifetime Achievement, Harris and his then-girlfriend, Amy Madigan, were among the many lefties in attendance who deliberately sat on their hands, declining to applaud him, as a protest against Kazan’s anti-Communist activities. To me, it’s an outrage and a travesty that this Harris jerk should now get to play an American fleeing the Communist totalitarianism of the gulag. And that’s why I’m subtracting ONE-HALF REAGAN from the FOUR REAGANS I’d normally have given this otherwise fantastic movie.
Watch the trailer . . .
* “The Rite“: I guess even Sir Anthony Hopkins sometimes must do movies merely to pay the mortgage. This movie was awful. Absurd. Ridiculous. I laughed repeatedly when I wasn’t supposed to. Don’t get me wrong. I like a good exorcist/exorcism movie, but this ain’t it. It’s just dumb, long, slow, and boring.
The story: a guy (Colin O’Donoghue) who helps his father (Rutger Hauer) at their mortuary business must decide whether or not to go into one of the two family businesses. Everyone in his family either becomes a mortician or a Catholic priest. He chooses the latter and goes to a Catholic divinity school to train to become a priest. But he eventually loses faith and plans to leave. A priest convinces him to enroll in a course in exorcism taught at the Vatican before he makes his final decision. Soon, the man is taking the course, taught by a Vatican priest (Ciaran Hinds), and he’s being tutored by an exorcist priest (Hopkins). The young priest questions whether the people being exorcised are actually possessed, but soon he comes to believe.
Believe me, I’m making the story sound much better than it is. It was just plain silly, and the scenes of Hopkins possessed by the devil were just ridiculous. Sorry, but this is an absolute miss. Not a hit.
Watch the trailer . . .
* “The Illusionist [L’illusionniste]“: Two words: absolutely terrific. Even though this animated movie with no dialogue (but for a word or two here and there and some onomatopoeias) is melancholy and has a very sad, depressing ending, it’s a charming movie throughout, nonetheless. And I enjoyed it immensely.
An out of work French magician performs at various locales around Scotland, after he becomes displaced by Beatles-esque rockers. Soon he sees a poor, young chambermaid at one of his appearances at a small Scottish pub. After he makes a gesture of sympathy and generosity toward her, she stows away on his trip to Edinburgh, and he shows affinity and continuing generosity toward her. The illusionist watches her quickly grow into a grown up woman, after he struggles to provide her with the sophisticated clothes and accoutrements of an Edinburgh woman, which she craves more than the caring and companionship he amply provides. It’s similar to the reaction he gets after being relegated to a dank Edinburgh theater, amidst showgirls and vaudeville acts.
I recently tried to sell two ceramic hand-made dolls I ended up with, and, upon seeking information on their value, a local dollmaker told me that it’s a dying market because few in America want them anymore, preferring junky, throw-away dolls, texting, and video games. This movie is a commentary on how an old master and skilled performer, such as the illusionist, is quickly replaced by the less valuable, such as rock. It’s also about how admiration for generosity, gesture, and skill are replaced by modern materialism. It’s sad, but true.
A must see. Written by the late Jacques Tati, directed by Sylvain Chomet.
Watch the trailer. . .
* “The Mechanic“: I like a good hitman movie. This wasn’t it. It starts off with an interesting premise (but not one that hasn’t been done before): a skilled hitman assassinates his targets in a way that is often mistaken for natural causes. He’s that skilled. There’s never a trace. But, now, he’s assigned to murder one of his closest friends, and, suddenly, the cold, mercenary hitman develops a conscience. Sort of. He kills the dude anyway, but then teaches the guy’s son how to become a hitman, too.
I’m making it sound far better than it is. The movie is a mess, and nothing more than bloody torture porn and killing porn. It’s simply gratuitous violence for gratuitous violence’s sake, without any discernible point.
This has some scant similarities to the far superior, “The Matador,” but I’m embarrassed to mention the two movies in the same sentence. “The Matador” was somewhat charming, far more interesting, and very enjoyable. This, “The Mechanic,” was just a blood-fest, for absolutely no reason . . . other than to make another Jason Statham blood-fest. And that’s not reason enough to waste ten bucks and two hours. Not even close.
This “Mechanic” ain’t got the skills.
Watch the trailer …
* “The Company Men“: We’ve seen this movie a million times before, including in its incarnation as Michael Moore’s “Capitalism: A Love Story” (read my review). And it doesn’t get any better with this millionth-and-one version starring Ben Affleck. Affleck plays a big-time corporate executive who loses his job, fancy house, and everything else except his family, when his company downsizes. Also out are older, successful, long-time execs who can’t find work elsewhere (Chris Cooper).
Yes, it’s sad. But, as in sooo many movies out of Hollywood, this movie is an anti-corporate, anti-business movie in which the CEO and owner of the company is just a greedy, heartless bastard (Craig T. Nelson). The only people in America who are allowed to be heartless, rich, and heartlessly rich, without enduring moral judgment, are Hollywood filmmakers. Everyone else is evil. Tommy Lee Jones, and a fat, hardly recognizable Kevin Costner (with a really bad version of a Boston accent) also co-star.
Like I said, there’s nothing in this movie that’s new.
Watch the trailer . . . .
Tags: Anthony Hopkins, Ben Affleck, Catholic, Chris Cooper, Ciaran Hinds, Colin Farrell, Colin O'Donoghue, communism, Craig T. Nelson, Ed Harris, Edinburgh, Elia Kazan, exorcism, exorcist, gulag, hit man, Hitman, Jacques Tati, Jason Statham, Jim Sturgess, Kevin Costner, L'illusionniste, movie, movie review, Movie Reviews, Rutger Hauer, Siberia, Siberian gulag, Soviet gulag, Soviet Union, Sylvain Chomet, The Company Men, The Illusionist, The Mechanic, The Rite, The Way Back, Tommy Lee Jones