February 10, 2012, - 3:27 pm

Wknd Box Office: Safe House, The Vow, W.E., Journey 2: Mysterious Island

By Debbie Schlussel

Incredible but true, I actually didn’t hate any of the new movies in theaters, today. But, two of them, I really liked.


*  “Safe House“: To my surprise, I really liked this (though I do really like Denzel Washington and Ryan Reynolds as actors). When, at the beginning of this movie, they describe rogue CIA operative Denzel Washington as first going off the reservation when he was believed to have leaked information to the Mossad, I wondered if this will be your typical Hollywood leftist anti-Israel fest. I wondered the same again when quick flashes of documents on a giant CIA projection screen show emblems of the Mossad and the Government of Israel. But, thankfully, it turned out not to be. In fact,without giving away movie spoilers, Washington’s dealings with Israeli intelligence turn out to be the thing that saves the day, in the end. While it’s vague positive stuff on Israel, from Hollywood that’s a big deal, since it’s usually the same old anti-Israel crap.

Even better is that the main bad guy you constantly see chasing after Washington–and who finally gets his–is very obviously, visibly an Arab. I was shocked that PC Hollywood would do this. Sure, in the credits, the guy is listed as “Vargas,” but he’s played by a Lebanese actor named Fares Fares. I smiled as the old Jewish couple behind me clapped and loudly cheered both times this guy gets shot. Glad to see that not all of my fellow co-religionists have turned left and Islamopologist. (Who was that Jewish couple? If you’re reading this, e-mail me!)


Washington is Tobin Frost, the CIA’s most legendary and skilled agent. He’s been off the grid and a rogue agent wanted by the CIA for the past ten years. He just bought a computer file of some sort from a former colleague and friend who is former MI6. And suddenly a group of Arab-looking and other men with machine guns are chasing and trying to kill him. He’s in South Africa and, when he sees no way out from their pursuit, he sees the U.S. Embassy and turns himself in to save his life.

Ryan Reynolds is a rookie CIA agent who is a “housekeeper.” He spends all day maintaining a CIA safe house in South Africa, but after nearly a year of this and lying to his girlfriend about what he does for a living, he’s bored to tears waiting for a “guest” to be interrogated and yearning for action in the field. That day comes when a CIA interrogation team brings Washington/Frost to the safe house and all hell breaks loose. There’s a mole in the system, and everyone’s getting killed.

I could have done without the waterboarding scene and references to Khalid Sheikh Mohammed being waterboarded, as if that’s supposed to make me think this is torture or feel bad for the mastermind of the 9/11 mass murder of 3,000 Americans. But other than that, I enjoyed the thrilling, non-stop action and suspense throughout. It’s my kinda movie–intrigue, guns, shooting, explosions, car chases, etc. Definitely NOT a chick flick.

The ending is sort of predictable, but you’ll like the movie anyway. It’s very violent and bloody and not for kids. But it’s one of the “good guys win” movies of which we’re in short supply these days. And, like I said, Israel is the good guy, even if it’s by vague reference. Given the state of Hollywood these days, I’ll take it and laugh as HAMAS CAIR and the other Muslim grievance theater actors whine.

THREE REAGANS
reagancowboyreagancowboyreagancowboy

Watch the trailer . . .

*  “The Vow“: Finally, Hollywood makes a movie in which the guy/husband is a mensch–the kind of guy all American men should be (even if he is sort of a hipster).  While I did feel that this movie was kind of manipulative, I still recommend it enthusiastically.  It’s a great date movie and the kind of chick flick which guys will find very bearable.  I really liked this, despite a few instances of unnecessary melodrama and a vague, sub-rosa element of class warfare.  If you liked Channing Tatum in “Dear John” (read my review), then you will definitely like this.  He plays a similar type of “classy guy” romantic lead role.

Based on a true story, the very hot Channing Tatum plays a Chicago husband whose sculptor/artist wife (Rachel McAdams) suffers a concussion in a car accident. When she wakes up from a coma, she cannot remember him and has regressed back to the time when she was still in law school, living with her wealthy family in Lake Forest, and was engaged to a previous boyfriend (Scott Speedman).  As she is challenged to recover her memory, Tatum must win her back all over again, since she not only can’t remember him, but doesn’t feel attracted to him.

The couple is a hipster/artsy couple living in downtown Chicago, but McAdams character came from a very preppy, wealthy suburban family.  There is a subrosa class warfare thing going on in which the parents are “evil, wealthy” parents, while McAdams’ character was living without health insurance and voted for Obama.  I didn’t need that part.

But, otherwise, it’s really romantic–though not in your typical saccharine or unrealistic Hollywood kind of way.  And I found it enjoyable and entertaining.  The husband in the movie is really very heroic and puts up with a lot, whereas the female is kind of bitchy.  You almost never see this dynamic in the movies, even though that’s the way it is, many times, in real life.

THREE REAGANS
reagancowboyreagancowboyreagancowboy

Watch the trailer . . .

*  “W.E.“:  I didn’t hate this Madonna-directed (and co-written) vehicle like most of the mainstream liberal movie critics.  While it is a bit disjointed and the camera moves way too much in the first third or so of the movie, I liked the dynamic of the modern story connected with the older story of the romance between Wallace Simpson and King Edward, who everyone knows gave up the throne to marry her, a commoner divorcee.  And that’s even though I believe the Wallace Simpson/King Edward story has been done to death and isn’t all that important or fascinating.  But, guys, you will not like this.  So stay home or see “Safe House,” instead.  This is a disjointed chick flick.

I could have done without some of the melodrama in the relationship between Wally Winthrop (Abby Cornish)–the modern-day admirer of Wallace Simpson, who daily visits the Sotheby’s exhibition of Simpson’s jewelry and belongings about to go up for auction–and her psychiatrist husband.  And I could have done without the absurd seen of Wallace Simpson and the Duke of Windsor dancing to “Sex Pistols” music with modern-day Black model Alex Wek in the late ’30s/early ’40s or Wallace Simpson with bad “old-people” make-up in 1972, dancing to “The Twist.”  Plot devices like that are just silly.  And I didn’t like that Madonna gave a free pass to Simpson and King Edward on their support for Hitler and the Nazis.

But I liked the story of Wally, the modern day woman who imagines what it must have been like back then. I guess you could call it an “Antiques Roadshow” romance.  I like to read letters back and forth between American soldiers fighting in World War II and their loved ones, so I can identify with someone reading Simpson’s letters and looking at her belongings, imagining what it might have been like.  (But this woman’s occupation with Simpson goes much further. It’s an obsession–check out how much she pays for her winning bid on Wallace Simpson’s leather gloves.) I also liked rising star Oscar Isaac, who plays the most likeable character in the movie, a security guard at Sotheby’s.  He’s probably the best actor in the movie and does a convincing Russian accent most of the time.

As I noted, the movie intertwines two stories:  the story of how Wallace Simpson and Edward meet and eventually marry, he gives up the throne, and they forced to leave England and live a boring life in France.  Wally Winthrop, a modern woman whose mother and grandmother were obsessed with Wallace Simpson named her for the woman.  She becomes fascinated with Wallace Simpson, as well, visiting the Sotheby’s exhibit daily, in order to escape her loveless marriage to an abusive, absentee husband.  At the exhibit, she meets a Russian immigrant security guard, Evgeni (the handsome Oscar Isaac), who is attracted to her and keeps an eye on her.  Will she eventually give Evgeni the time of day?  That’s the story I found more interesting that the Wallace Simpson one.

Sadly, the acting isn’t all that great.  Abby Cornish is cold and like a dead fish, as is James D’Arcy, the actor who plays the Duke of Windsor.  It’s not a “great” movie, but it’s not bad and it’s entertaining enough.  Plus, it’s a high-styled movie, with the most detail and attention having gone to exquisite period wardrobe, jewelry, and decor.  Women will love that.  But as I said, straight guys, this ain’t for  you.

TWO REAGANS
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Watch the trailer . . .

*  “Journey 2: Mysterious Island“:  This is fine for families and taking your kids to see.  It’s sort of a sequel to 2008′s  “Journey to the Center of the Earth” (read my review), but you don’t have to see that one to get this one.  They are completely different.  This is far inferior to the 1951 and 1961 versions of  “Mysterious Island.”  But, like I said, it’s fine to take your kids to.  It’s wholesome, and it features good grandfather/son dynamics and father/stepfather dynamics.  I must note, though, that I hate Luis Guzman, whose inanity ruins every movie he’s in.  Also, I definitely could have done without Dwayne “The Rock” Johnson’s “pec pop of love” schtick in which he flexes his chest muscles.  Please make it stop.

Josh Hutcherson plays a teen boy who is always getting into trouble and is saved by his stepfather (The Rock/Johnson) from his latest stunt, crashing a motorcycle into a neighbor’s swimming pool.  But Hutcherson, who dislikes his stepfather, really just wants to decode a message he believes was transmitted via satellite from his absentee grandfather (Michael Caine), who is an explorer believed to have discovered Jules Verne’s “Mysterious Island.”  His stepfather helps him decode the message, and soon they are on a bonding trip to the other side of the world to try to find the island and his grandfather.

If you’ve seen the far superior previous versions of “Mysterious Island” mentioned above, you know the drill:  giant animals and creatures, amazing, lush landscape, and a quest to get off the island before they are doomed.  Captain Nemo’s notebook and submarine/ship, the lost city of Atlantis.  All that stuff is in this version, too.  But this one seems too hurried and dumbed down for kids, even though I believe kids would really enjoy the original and other previous versions.

Nothing objectionable about this and entertaining enough for kids and families.

ONE-AND-A-HALF REAGANS
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Watch the trailer . . .

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22 Responses

I’ve thought about seeing “Journey 2″ but I’m saving my money for another movie called “The Secret of Arrietty.” I hope you’ll be reviewing it.

Ghostwriter on February 10, 2012 at 4:23 pm

Might be a first: All four films with at least One Reagan.

Rocky Lore on February 10, 2012 at 4:38 pm

Thanks for the reviews. “The Vow” sounds a little like it’s on the same lines as “50 First Dates” one of the few Adam Sandler flicks I actually like. For the same reason as you liked “The View”. The man has to win his wife back because she doesn’t remember him, although in “50 First Dates” he has to do it every day. That’s commitment. I was hoping “Safe House” would be worth seeing and it sounds like it is so that’s good.

Fr. Terry on February 10, 2012 at 4:42 pm

Awesome reviews! And what a coup that there are Reagans all through them! Weeks like this make movie reviewing to be the DREAM job everybody wants to do (since I always seem to forget about the bad movies one must endure)!

That “SafeHouse” sounds like a movie I would even love! I don’t see many American films but years ago when I saw “Training Day” I was so totally chuffed…an excellent film when I thought I would hate it. “Taken” was like that, too, but I read your review so I knew it would be good (and it was better than good).

I was hoping you’d hate W.E. I love seeing Madonna fail in her films because she is such a narcissist. All the reviews I have read said the detail to clothes and decor is outstanding. I’d love that part too. I have no interest in Wallis Simpson…although I have read recently that they never consummated their marriage (or her first marriage) because she was a hermaphrodite! That could be internet blather but if true, I’d have a new interest in their weird story. Reckon Madonna didn’t touch that aspect…just as she skipped the Nazi sympathization. I just made up that last word. Too lazy to make it proper.

She seems to be interested in females I would not admire. Evita Peron and Wallis Simpson. But I am not a nasty narcissist so I reckon we’d never be on the same plain. I think I would enjoy that Sex Pistol part thou’!

So it’s a good theatre time for me as the Wolf movie (it sounds so good) and “SafeHouse” playing at the same time for me to see! That’s a celluloid feast!

Skunky on February 10, 2012 at 4:48 pm

As a Soldier in the US Army, I had the opportunity to go on a tour of the Center for the Intrepid down in San Antonio at Brooke’s Army Medical Center. While there I noticed an article on display about Denzel Washington, who had written a very large check to the COI. After that I’ve always said Denzel can make a movie just walking around in a plastic bag, and I’d still pay to see it.

I have to echo Rocky I think this is the first time I’ve seen every movie get at least one Ronny. When was the last time you did that? Looking forward to your review of Act of Valor.

Thomas Twigg on February 10, 2012 at 4:55 pm

Wow!! lots of Reagans all around. I will definitely take the hubby to the movies this weekend!

sharon on February 10, 2012 at 5:17 pm

Are you in a good mood today? This is the first time I’ve seen you give all regans in your reviews. But can you tell me if The Rock did any of the following…

- The rock bottom on some bad guy?

- The people’s eyebrow?

- Said anything about smelling what he’s cooking?

Squirrel3D on February 10, 2012 at 9:40 pm

I was hoping to see a review of Star Wars in 3D but I imagined you
would give it a negative review anyway. I never got to see it on the
big screen so it should be fun even if its not one of the better entries
in the series.

DM: It was not screened for critics, so I didn’t see it. : ( Sorry. DS

Daniel Middleman on February 10, 2012 at 10:20 pm

When exactly did Channing Tatum change from the “white ebonics guy” to “the very hot Channing Tatum” for you?

H: I like him on-screen, not off. He is very attractive on-screen, especially in movies like this and “Dear John.” Off-screen, he’s way too ghetto (as I’ve noted before on this site). DS

Hopewell on February 11, 2012 at 10:17 am

    I did see “Dear John” and I thought he nailed the role of a selfless soldier who puts duty to country above the love of his life. The military life is not for every one but I admire and respect those who sacrifice everything to keep the rest of us safe.

    NormanF on February 11, 2012 at 9:08 pm

Channing Tatum is originally from Alabama, in a town I know very well…lovely people in Cullman.

By the way, Debbie, you should note that the Rock does a lot of decent kid flicks, and they are in short supply these days…

Occam's Tool on February 11, 2012 at 5:47 pm

I’ve thought that Mrs. Simpson was secretly a man.

Jo on February 11, 2012 at 11:25 pm

leticia olalia morales of 15501 pasadena ave #h tustin ca 92780 submitted fake documents and 5000 dollars to a person name sandman at the US embassy in manila. she also submitted fake employment records to obtain a work visa. Her husband carlos b. morales also submitted fake documents (land titles and bank statements) to obtain a tourist visa. Her son carlo iii also used such and helped 2 other people to obtain a US tourist visa.

ronb on February 12, 2012 at 7:00 am

Some notable films with amnesia as a plot device: I Love You Again (1940), The Bourne Identity (2002), Regarding Henry (1991), Anastasia (1956), Memento (2001), Marnie (1964), Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind (2004), Spellbound (1945), RoboCop (1987), Random Harvest (1942), Mulholland Drive (2001), Overboard (1987), The Snake Pit (1948), The English Patient (1996) and Unknown (2011).

PatrioticUSGlory on February 12, 2012 at 5:02 pm

I’m still waiting for obamacare to come up with a date-rape-like drug for awful movies. You can’t recall any details of the movie but your brain hurts like hell and you know you have been traumatized. Especially useful for mattdamon flashbacks.

Lars on February 12, 2012 at 6:55 pm

I saw “Journey 2: Mysterious Island” yesterday. Here is what I think are the main differences between the 1961 version and this updated one. First, the ’61 original used a terrific Bernard Herrmann score which set a “mysterious” mood. Any film with Herrmann score (e.g., “Psycho,” “Day the Earth Stood Still”) was made appealingly distinctive by his music. The score to this recent movie was unremarkable. Second, the original’s Harryhausen effects were wondrous –not just in regard to the giant animal effects but also the scenery which was breathtakingly strange and eerie. In contrast, the updated effects, even using modern CGI, looked cheap. Third, the original was convincing as a period piece set when Verne wrote his classic, with hot air balloons and references to the technology and historical events of the time. The just-released film in contrast was crassly updated with helicopters and black holes (reminiscent of the Jack Black-starring “Gulliver’s Travels”). Finally, the ’61 version was beautifully conservative. The captain who set the boundaries may have been tough, but he “knew best.” The callow youngster (in his twenties–not a teen!) wasn’t featured as a hero but was marginalized as someone who still needed to mature. And the women never pretended to be ball-busting Laura Crofts–but they did possess feminine attitudes which added to the social health.

So which did I prefer? Like Debbie, the ’61 version! That said, like Debbie, I enjoyed this recent film for what it offered. I enjoyed the pithy insults hurled between Michael Caine and Dwayne Johnson. Guzman’s clowning amused rather than annoyed me. This wasn’t Verne, and it wasn’t a classic, but it wasn’t grating either. In the end, as with the Jack Black-version of “Gulliver’s Travels” which I also somewhat liked because I never took seriously, I’m glad I saw it.

Burke on February 13, 2012 at 10:59 am

I also saw “Safe House” on Sunday– a terrific adult-action political thriller. Not a frame was slow or wasted by the director. Reynolds and Washington both play interestingly complex and admirable characters. The cast in general was superb, even small roles filled by fine actors. Suspenseful scenes in large crowds gave the film an expensive rather than chintzy feel. And I agree with Debbie that featuring an Arab villain is a kind of breakthrough–especially since hints in the film suggested that the Washington character had worked for a while in Lebanon. (Although, as Debbie points out, “Vargas” is not an Arab name.) “Source Code” from last year was far more typically politically correct– with great effort expended trying to demonstrate that the real problem of terrorism actually lies not with Arabs but with the Anglo Tea Party wingnuts.

(My favorite anti-Arab-terrorist film has always been and continues to be “Black Sunday” which pulls no punches.)

But “Safe House” still has a deeply flawed subtext in that, as in Ludlum’s adapted Bourne movies, the scariest villain revealed turns out to be the corrupt C.I.A. According to Ludlum and this film, corruption runs so deep in the various intelligence agencies around the world that nobody is safe from the supposed conservatives who guard the henhouse. This isn’t the case of a single mole who’s become a communist for ideological reasons as in “Tinker Tailor Soldier Spy,” wreaking havoc on a country by exploiting bureaucratic politics. (Now that movie I unreservedly loved!). This is a case of depicting Intelligence as being a deeply corrupt institution because every other person in it is a crook chasing dirty money.

Furthermore, the scene where the C.I.A. jumps enthusiastically into waterboarding torture looked clumsily partisan to me. Was that realistic at all? Is it likely that the C.I.A. would commence “torture” of someone who is no immediate threat to the U.S. but who is disliked because it’s assumed he’s become a traitor? I doubt it.

The film had so many obvious merits and was so flawlessly executed that it’s a shame the subtext was problematic.

Burke on February 13, 2012 at 12:11 pm

I also saw “The Vow.” That movie I didn’t like as much as Debbie did. As a guy, I really don’t find Rachel McAdams all that appealing. She’s pretty, yes, like a bird is pretty–but she’s not really sexy. Also, her movie persona tends towards being cute-while-also-controlling. Men in relationships with her don’t generally fare well, from what I’ve noticed. A good movie illustrating her character was “Morning Glory” where she played a high-powered TV exec who clothed her fierce ambition in perky enthusiasm. I could list other examples. Anyway, she has the same role in this film and her poor husband in the story doesn’t fare too well. All I could do was pity Tatum Channing who goes through the film woefully smitten while receiving nothing in return.

I like Channing generally and I enjoyed “Dear John,” but in this film, his character is dumbed down and made so completely inarticulate and powerless that he’s pathetic. Numerous camera angles from different perspectives show him oozing sexuality out of every pore while he lumbers around in a mournful funk, bares his upper torso and even bears his lower parts for McAdams to her shocked-while-pleased-and-impressed expression. Does that sound fun, guys?

Burke on February 13, 2012 at 1:11 pm

Rachel McAdams looks like an identical twin of my ex-wife. That’s both good and bad. Make of that what thy will.

Seek on February 13, 2012 at 3:22 pm

    Seek, I’m sorry for you. :(

    Burke on February 13, 2012 at 5:37 pm

Glad Debbie enjoyed The Vow. Much of or was filmed in Toronto, standing in for Chicago. Channing Tatum owned a recording studio in the movie, and those scenes were shot at my studio in Toronto. We even gave them most of the lines that were used in the film.

It was a different kind of romantic movie, as Debbie points out. Not a superb movie but worth seeing with someone special.

Barry on April 10, 2012 at 5:38 pm

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