This harrowing morality play is timely and riveting, but never remotely subtle. The setting is the mortgage crisis, during which savvy fast-talkers figured out how to make a fortune on the back of other people's tragedy. It's strikingly written and directed by Iranian-American filmmaker Ramin Bahrani with an attention to internalised detail, revealing an aspect of Western culture that's deeply disturbing.
It's 2010, and the economy is in freefall as families and small businesses struggle to survive. When Florida builder Dennis (Andrew Garfield) loses his job, he has no idea how he'll support his mother and son (Laura Dern and Noah Lomax). Unable to pay their inflated mortgage, they're evicted from the family home by ruthless estate agent Rick (Michael Shannon). Then Rick sees something in Dennis that he admires, and hires him to do some building work, eventually taking him under his wing and teaching him how to profit from the record number of repossessions. But this means taking advantage of government grants, banking loopholes and people whose lives have collapsed. And it isn't long before it starts eating away at Dennis.
Garfield gives an open, searching performance as this desperate young father who's grasping at any lifeline he can find for his family. It's a complex, difficult character, mainly because his moral dithering sits in contrast to Shannon's flashier, shark-like Rick, who's often scary in the way he's able to avoid empathising with people in pain. In a much smaller role, Dern is the polar opposite, a warm blast of straight-arrow morality who continually prods her son to do the right thing. Yes, these characters are somewhat constructed as three points in a triangle, but they beautifully highlight the issues involved. And the actors dig deep into the emotional ramifications.
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Although the plot itself is nothing special, this kidnapping comedy keeps the audience entertained by filling every scene with outrageous characters and twisty interaction. Based on an Elmore Leonard book, this free-wheeling movie is such a tangle of colourful people and riotous 1980s hairstyles that it can't help but be enjoyable. Especially once we realise that the story isn't the most important thing.
It's set in 1984 Detroit, where trophy wife Mickey (Jennifer Aniston) has finally had it with her chilly husband Frank (Tim Robbins). As she's thinking about taking their son (Charlie Tahan) and leaving, he's holed up in the Bahamas with his mistress Melanie (Isla Fisher) while preparing to serve Mickey with divorce papers. Just then, low-life criminals Louis and Ordell (John Hawkes and Yasiin Bey, aka Mos Def), kidnap Mickey and demand a $1 million ransom. Of course, Frank thinks his problem is solved until he realises that they also know about his dodgy business dealings. And things are further complicated by Louis and Ordell's Nazi-loving sidekick (Mark Boone Junior) and an amorous dork (Will Forte) who's in love with Mickey.
As the chaos escalates, writer-director Daniel Schechter keeps the focus tightly on the offbeat characters rather than the gyrations of the narrative. This makes it easy to identify with everyone on-screen, particularly Aniston and Hawkes, who have the most complex roles. They're the only people who have either emotional shadings or a story arc to travel, so watching them become increasingly aware of the opportunities around them is a lot of fun. Everyone else is here to get laughs, and it's amusing to see each of them reveal things about themselves that add to the mayhem, from Fisher's surprisingly savvy bombshell to Bey's womanising prowess. And of course each character approaches the various moral dilemmas from a distinct angle.
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That's right: I walked out (after an hour). And this is the only movie I've walked out of my entire life.
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Director James Wan's (Saw) version of Death Sentence is practically a celebration of vigilantism. Sure, the film hammers home the message that the business of revenge is soul-rotting, but it doesn't offer up any other solutions. The legal system doesn't work. Cops are lazy and slow. Worse, they are helpless. And the bad guys always can and will find you. The only place a person is safe today is behind the barrel of a gun.
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I don't know how Martin Lawrence -- the former 1987 Star Search winner with an arrest record that would make Tommy Lee envious -- has been able to survive with all of the bad, bad films he has starred in during the past 6 years. [Two words: Bad Boys. -Ed.] Big Momma's House, Blue Streak, Life, and A Thin Line Between Love and Hate are all forgettable movies which can be found in quantity on the clearance table at your local video store. But survive he has, and in Worst, Lawrence is a mediocre Eddie Murphy stuck playing another jewel thief in another run-of-the-mill studio comedy.
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Doing time for unknown crimes, Joe (Bruce Willis) and Terry (Billy Bob Thornton) are milling about the clink one day when our hunky inmate Joe engineers a daring escape, taking his milquetoast pal Terry along for the ride. Within a few nights on the lam, they've engineered a plan for a new kind of bank robbery -- kidnap the bank manager at his home, spend the night at his house, then waltz in with him first thing in the morning and abscond with all the money.
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Martin, in a plain, white guy role that's getting a bit tired, is tax attorney Peter Sanderson. He's got a fairly palatial suburban home, an ex-wife, two kids... and a chat room buddy named "lawyergirl." Peter quickly learns that making friends on the Internet can be a bitch -- his dream girl ends up being an ex-con named Charlene (Latifah), a sly loudmouth who's served time for armed robbery. Through some not-so-gentle blackmail, Charlene enlists Peter's legal aid and moves into his house and life.
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Based on a 130-page story by Martin that is commonly termed a novella, Shopgirl is about a Saks 5th Avenue glove counter clerk named Mirabelle (Claire Danes). There's not much call for gloves in Los Angeles, so Mirabelle spends most of her days expressionlessly leaning against the glass, waiting for life to start. By night, she occasionally sketches a nude picture of herself: She's also an artist, again waiting to be discovered.
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Let's not sugarcoat it. Tall remains a one-note genre picture specifically tailored to its shining star - The Rock. For what it is, though, Tall is quite good. It has fun with its limitations. It boasts strong fight choreography and interesting direction by Kevin Bray, who keeps the spotlight on its charismatic and camera-friendly leading man.
Continue reading: Walking Tall (2004) Review