September 21, 2012, - 6:26 pm
UPDATED: Wknd Box Office: End of Watch, Trouble With the Curve, House at the End of the Street, The Possession, Dredd
Here are my reviews of the new movies debuting at theaters, this weekend. “Dredd” was not screened for critics, though I may go see it over the weekend and, if so, will post my review, next Friday. I am also posting my review of “The Possession,” which is almost a month old and wasn’t screened for critics. I was asked about it by so many readers that I decided to go see it for myself. *** UPDATE, 09/23/12: My Dredd review is below. ***
* “End of Watch“: I have mixed feelings about this cop buddy movie about two partners who work the beat of South Central Los Angeles. I don’t like Jake Gyllenhaal and Michael Pena, and they are even more annoying together. Their characters are also annoying, conceited, and, at least with Gyllenhall, not nearly as smart as they think they are (Gyllenhaal has this problem in real life, too, so not much acting needed). The most likeable character in the movie is the Sarge (Frank Grillo), but the movie’s not about him.
The movie is also extremely violent and bloody, not to mention, filthy (not in images, but in themes, language, and dialogue). There are depictions of dismembered bodies, including limbs and decapitated heads. Why pay to see that (unless you’re a sicko)? Also, I hated the silly herky-jerky video, taken from the cops and gangsters filming themselves and each other. Um, is there some reason any director on earth still thinks they are helping me by doing a “Blair Witch Project” video? It’s been done . . . to death.
On the other hand, the cops in the movie are generally honest, decent, and heroic, unlike the way they are generally portrayed. And they constantly sacrifice themselves for others (all while they face and are soon hunted by cold-blooded, south central members of a drug gang, after the cops’ assassination is ordered by a drug cartel). It’s a nice change to see the police as the good guys (even if they are filthy), especially since the movie is made by the writer of “Training Day,” David Ayers. The cops become more likeable toward the end than they are at the beginning. But the movie seems more like a slice of cop life, rather than anything with a discernible plot or anything of value.
Since the dangers of the lives police live every single day to patrol dangerous urban America are portrayed here well and the police are the “heroes” for a change, I give this a better rating than I would normally give such a graphic, gritty, violent, filthy movie. If you are a cop in the inner city and live this life, you will like it far more than I did. But, then, if that’s your life, why would you pay to relive it in your free time? And if you aren’t a cop like this, I ask the same question: why would you pay to see this?
One other thing: Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) has a couple of cameos, with ICE agents making appearances in one scene and ICE surveillance footage portraying a drug kingpin ordering a hit. The “POLICE ICE” jackets and t-shirts make several appearances, and I get the feeling that ICE brass cooperated in making this movie, but I could be wrong. On the other hand, those shirts have since been changed at great cost to the government, with “HSI” (Homeland Security Investigations) replacing ICE on a good deal of the gear.
HALF A REAGAN
Watch the trailer . . .
* “Trouble With the Curve“: I had mixed feelings about this movie, too. Clint Eastwood plays an aging Major League Baseball scout for the Atlanta Braves. He has macular degeneration, a debilitating eye condition for which there is no known cure (the movie doesn’t say that, but my late father, an ophthalmologist told me that). A younger Atlanta Braves employee is gunning to have him fired, and his job depends on a scouting trip to see a high school ball player. But with his eyesight severely affected by his condition, he’s in bad shape as far as scouting goes. His hard-charging, ambitious lawyer daughter (Amy Adams) is chasing a partnership at her law firm, to which she devotes her entire life, at the cost of romance and a life. She resents her father and isn’t close with him for reasons we’re not initially told. But she risks her career to accompany her dad on the scouting trip so he can keep his job (or try to).
I liked the fact that, ultimately, the movie shows a very loving father who did the best he knew how to take care of and raise his daughter after his wife/her mother died when the daughter was only six years old. But on the way to learning this, we must endure the insufferable, constant melodrama of the daughter shrieking at her father, accusing him of being a bad, absentee dad. Even after he explains what actually happened and why he did what he did (to protect his daughter), she still shrieks at him. Had no use for that.
Also, I couldn’t help but notice that there is a bigoted juxtaposition between like characters of different ethnicities that goes along with the typical liberal narrative. A high school baseball prospect heavily scouted by Eastwood and other Major League Baseball teams is a complete jerk, and he’s, of course, a White guy with a Southern accent, who is blindly lauded by fellow White Southerners. A Hispanic kid (who is ostensibly the son of Mexican illegal aliens–his mother is a motel maid) is polite, obedient, and constantly berated by the White guy with the Southern accent. When you see what happens between them in the end, it’s quite obvious that the filmmakers wanted to make a statement . . . against Whitey and for the illegal alien Hispanic.
And, finally, I had no use for Justin Timberlake, whose acting is, per usual, awful, and whose presence wasn’t needed. But other than the melodramatics that briefly invade a few unenjoyable scenes, the movie is light and entertaining. And, since it stars Clint Eastwood, the only thing missing is an empty chair.
Watch the trailer . . .
* “House at the End of the Street“: I like a good thriller, a good creep-fest of a movie. This is neither. It was just hilarious. At times that I was supposed to scream, I laughed out loud. And even though the movie is clearly aimed at tweens (unfortunately), teens, and 20-somethings, the many from these age groups that attended the same showing I did just laughed, too. And, as with many horrible thrillers not worth the time or money, the “twist” at the end that explains everything isn’t even hinted at anywhere until the very end. Clumsy.
Jennifer Lawrence of “The Hunger Games” movies plays the 17-year-old daughter of divorcee Elisabeth Shue. They’ve left Chicago to live in a swanky town somewhere in the country. They can afford the rent because the house behind them was the scene of two murders, and that has made the rent cheaper than it normally would have been. A daughter murdered her parents and disappeared. The only surviving member of the family, a son, lives at the house where the murders took place. He spends most of his time at the house because he’s ridiculed and treated like a pariah by the rest of the people in the town, who are upset that the murders lowered their property values. Lawrence befriends him, despite the worries and concerns of her mother, who did not care much about her when they lived in Chicago. Is he what he seems–a misunderstood nice guy, who is unfairly the victim of being the survivor of a family of murder victims? I didn’t really care much because the movie is laughable and its creepiness isn’t creepy in an entertaining way. Just obviously manipulative and stupid. The only exciting parts are toward the end of the movie, but by then, it’s too late.
Watch the trailer . . .
* “The Possession“: Acrimonious divorced parents (Jeffrey Dean Morgan, Kyra Sedgwick) have two daughters of whom they share custody, though the mom is the neurotic, over-protective one, per usual. One of the daughters buys a mysterious wooden box at a garage sale. It turns out the box is a “dybbuk (Yiddish for “evil spirit”) box,” which the father learns after the daughter becomes possessed. He seeks out Chassidic rabbis to perform an exorcism on his daughter and gets the son of one of them (Matisyahu) to come on the Jewish Sabbath to perform the exorcism. There are a few technical errors regarding Orthodox Jews and the Jewish Sabbath. For example, at first, the movie shows Matisyahu listening to his iPod on the Jewish Sabbath, which is forbidden (something Matisyahu, who is an Orthodox Jew–or was, should know). Also, Matisyahu says, “I can go with you on the Jewish Sabbath because of pikuach nefesh.” But he doesn’t explain what the term means, even though I doubt the many non-Orthodox Jewish moviegoers who see this movie (it was #1 two weekends in a row and has done very well) will know what the term means (it means you are allowed to violate the laws of the Jewish Sabbath and most other Jewish religious laws to save a life.
As exorcism movies go, this wasn’t very scary or thrilling. But it was fine for teens and isn’t dirty.
Watch the trailer . . .
* “Dredd“: This comes in both 2D (regular movie) and 3D. I saw the 3D version, and unlike most movies, the 3D in this is very cool and worthwhile to see. This is yet another movie I had mixed feelings about. It’s incredibly, graphically violent, and unnecessarily so. Human beings are skinned and thrown off the 79th floor of a tall building. And they show the beginning of the skinning. And there is other blood, guts, and gore I didn’t need to see. I abhor that stuff, and we are seeing more and more of it in the movies coming out of Hollywood, these days. On the other hand, there is a clear good-versus-evil narrative in this movie. Unlike in most movies today, we feel for the officers of law and order and definitely are against the criminals, who are cold, unsympathetic, and completely evil. And I like actress Olivia Thirlby, who is up-and-coming and mostly unsung after having been a force in many independent films.
The movie takes place in the future, and I’m told it’s more loyal to the comic books on which it is based than the Sylvester Stallone bomb, “Judge Dredd.” Dredd (Karl Urban) is like all of the judges in the future, the police, the judge, the jury, and the executioner. They keep the streets clean in a post-apocalyptic America in which 800 million people live in the buildings that have emerged from the ruins of a great cataclysm over the world that we know. Dredd is assigned to shepherd a new recruit–a woman, named Anderson (Thirlby), who is substandard and doesn’t meet qualifications. But she’s been given a special exemption because of her unusual psychic abilities, which she has because she’s a mutant, like many who were exposed to the nuclear chemicals, etc. Anderson and Dredd go to the bleak, dark “Peach Trees” housing development, where 96% of the residents are unemployed and living on government assistance and where several of the top floors are ruled by drug kingpin (or is that queenpin?) and former prostitute, “Ma-ma” (Lena Headey). The two judges are there to respond to a report of three skinned bodies having been thrown to their deaths by Ma-ma and her gang. They also learn that Ma-ma and her gang are the exclusive producers of an illegal drug. They capture one of Ma-ma’s top henchmen, and Ma-ma is afraid he will talk, and she will be executed because of it. So, she traps the judges and their prisoner in the Peach Trees project and sends her people to hunt them down. The rest of the movie is the judges trying to escape and out wit Ma-ma.
While the adventure is thrilling and suspenseful, it’s nothing I haven’t seen before–although with far less graphic violence–in such movies as “Escape from New York” and the more recent “Lockout” (read my review). And, as I said, I liked that there a stark good-versus-evil narrative, as well as cool 3D effects. But the movie is yet another push-the-envelope notch in the ever more graphic and, frankly, disgusting violence and torture that we’re served up from Hollywood. Maybe that’s why they didn’t screen this for Detroit-area critics. This movie is a hard “R” rating (and should probably be NC-17). Don’t be a dummy and take or send your kids. It’s not for them. It’s also not for the faint of heart . . . or even those with a pretty tough stomach. And it’s why, while I’d normally give this TWO REAGANS, I will only give it . . .
Watch the trailer . . .
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