With a strangely simplistic screenplay by William Monahan (The Departed), director Rupert Wyatt and his cast struggle to dig beneath the surface in a meaningful way. Mark Wahlberg does what he can in the lead role as a self-destructive gambling addict, but since he's never remotely likeable it's impossible to care what happens to him. It's decently made, but without strong characters or a resonant message the movie ultimately feels like a vanity project that's gone wrong somewhere along the way.
Wahlberg plays Jim, a swaggering university professor who torments his brightest student Amy (Larson) in front of the whole class. But she knows that he's also unable to pass a blackjack table without losing a small fortune. And it's probably money he owes to someone. Indeed, he's accruing such severe debts to a gangster (Michael Kenneth Williams) that he turns to his millionaire mother (Jessica Lange) for help, knowing that if she gives him the cash he'll gamble it away before settling his accounts. So he also turns to tough loan shark Frank (John Goodman), who stresses to Jim the importance of paying up and getting out of the betting world for good. But Jim seems incapable of even a shred of self-control.
It's virtually impossible to connect with a character this one-sided. Aside from his literary intelligence, there's nothing remotely redeeming about Jim, so it's difficult to escape the feeling that he's getting just what he deserves. And it gets worse when he starts romancing Amy, a nubile girl barely half his age. Wahlberg never plays Jim as anything but an unapologetic loser who has orchestrated his own misfortune. So why should we care what happens to him? At least the side characters interject a bit of complexity, most notably Lange and Goodman, who command the entire film with just a couple of scenes each. The usually terrific Larson barely registers in an underwritten role that makes very little logical sense.
Continue reading: The Gambler Review
Jim Bennett is an English professor at a college and he's also always been one for taking risks. By day he is the sensible, bookish type but by night his life is a dangerous spiral of gambling huge amounts of money to dire consequences. As the gambler he is, he takes a chance in asking his bank to loan him a quarter of a million dollars in order for him to pay back a gangster so that he may stay alive, but when that fails he is forced to take on the services of a loan shark named Frank. Meanwhile, his relationship with his mother is getting tenser and tenser by the day as she wishes more than anything for her little boy to be safe. Also, it seems a student of his named Amy Phillips has discovered his secret life, but wants more than anything for him to take her out to dinner even if it will wreck his school reputation.
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Despite a strong sense of the characters and the setting, this film struggles to engage viewers with its downbeat story about how tough life is. Even though the performances are powerful enough to hold the attention, the film feels like it drifts aimlessly along, never coming into focus in a meaningful way. And since everything is right on the surface, there isn't much subtext to help the events resonate with the audience.
In the God's Pocket neighbourhood in 1980s Philadelphia, everyone knows everything about each others' lives. Mickey (Philip Seymour Hoffman) works as a driver delivering meat, but spends just as much time planning small-time scams with his pal Arthur (John Turturro). Then his life is thrown out of balance when his hothead stepson Leon (Caleb Landry Jones) dies in what is suspiciously described as a workplace accident. Mickey's wife Jeanie (Christina Hendricks) struggles to cope with her son's death, so Mickey is easily pressured by the local mortician (Eddie Marsan) into buying a funeral he can't afford. To make some extra cash, he plans a heist with Arthur and their careless pal Sal (Domenick Lombardozzi), which predictably goes awry. Meanwhile, a famed local journalist (Richard Jenkins) starts looking into Leon's death.
It's not like the film is low on plot: there are plenty of story strands to push each character further into their own personal desperation. And the tightly knit setting provides an intriguing counterpoint as everyone's dirty laundry is aired for all to see, which pushes their true emotions even further underground. This lets the actors deliver riveting performances, even as they're all beaten down to mere husks of humanity. In one of his final roles, Hoffman is terrific as a guy for whom everything goes relentlessly wrong. Hendricks is pretty wrenching as the rather drippy Jeanie, whose interaction with Jenkins is both warm and depressing. Thankfully, Turturro and Marsan provide a spark of energy, as does Joyce Van Patten in a scene-stealing role as Arthur's gun-crazy aunt.
Continue reading: God's Pocket Review
God's Pocket seems to be an ordinary working class neighbourhood at face value; full of people with ordinary jobs and ordinary families. However, a dark undertone begins to show when Mickey Scarpato's insane stepson Leon dies following a so-called accident at a construction site. Mickey wants people to believe he slipped and fell to his death (not that anybody cares that the town is short of a man like Leon), but Leon's mother Jeanie is desperate to know what really happened. While Mickey tries to comfort his wife, Jeanie is approached by a shameless reporter named Richard Shellburn who is also investigating any mystery behind the death. All Mickey wants is the body in the ground and a large debt of his to be repaid - but it looks like his life is about to get a whole lot more complicated.
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Frank is a remarkable cop with a lot to look forward to in his life, but as happy as he is, he still has major worries for the people around him. His brother Chris has just been released from prison after a gang-related murder several years ago. Frank wants to make sure Chris stays on the straight and narrow as he rebuilds his shattered life, and offers him shelter, a job and an opportunity to restore his relationships with his former wife Monica and his children. However, Chris also finds himself reconnecting with some old 'friends' and it soon becomes clear that he has no intention of living straight. All Frank wants is a happy and secure family, but if he keeps trying to save his wayward brother's back from the law, he could find himself facing an uncertain future in the force.
'Blood Ties' is the Hollywood re-make of Jacques Maillot's 2008 French film 'Les liens du sang' which is also adapted from the novel by Bruno and Michel Papet. It has been directed by Guillaume Canet ('Little White Lies', 'Tell No One', 'Whatever You Say') and co-written by James Gray ('Two Lovers', 'We Own the Night', 'The Yards') and is due to appear in theatres on March 21st 2014.
Despite a promising trailer and a great cast, this French-American comedy-thriller is a complete misfire because Luc Besson seems unclear about how to create a black comedy. He merely mixes silliness and violence, but the script is so lazy that it's neither funny nor suspenseful. With the talent on screen we keep hoping everything will come together at some point, but it never does.
It's set in Normandy, where the Manzoni family has just moved after another disastrous attempt at witness relocation. They snitched on the mob back in America, and are having a tough time blending with locals anywhere. Even here, Fred (De Niro) gets a little too frustrated with a plumber while Maggie (Pfeiffer) doesn't take insults lying down, and their kids Belle and Warren (Agron and D'Leo) quickly take over the system at their new school. Their handler Stansfield (Jones) is doing his best, but it can't belong before what they are up to gets them noticed back home.
For a French movie, this is oddly packed with negative French stereotypes, from the ugly casting to the locals' backwards technology (only the Americans have mobile phones). And everyone speaks English with a silly accent. But then the script is packed with head-scratching inconsistencies and far-fetched touches. We never believe a single element of the plot, which leaves these solid actors looking lost on screen. De Niro, Pfeiffer and Jones have at least played these characters before, so know how to punch the comedy notes.
Continue reading: The Family Review
Giovanni Manzoni is a gangster boss who has been placed under witness protection by Agent Stansfield after betraying the mafia. However, wherever they are relocated and whatever names they are given, they always manage to get themselves into trouble as blending in to their new towns becomes more and more difficult. With their lives under threat from their old pals again, the Manzonis are moved to Normandy in France where they become the 'Blakes'. Unfortunately, they have barely moved one day before the family manage to create chaos yet again, with Mrs Blake blowing up a convenience store in response to a snide comment from the French shopkeeper, the daughter getting into numerous fights and the son in trouble at school for theft and bribery. As expected, they manage to attract attention from the mob and they are forced to fight back to protect themselves in the only way they know how.
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James Caan, Zoe Saldana, Billy Crudup, Noah Emmerich, Guillaume Canet, Clive Owen, Marion Cotillard, Jamie Hector, Lili Taylor, Domenick Lombardozzi and Mark Mahoney - 66th Cannes Film Festival -Blood Ties - premiere - Cannes, France - Saturday 1st January 2000
Since being cut from the USA softball team Lisa hasn't been having the best time of it, her relationship with her professional baseball pitcher boyfriend isn't as strong as she'd like and there's not much else going on in her life; until she meets George in a lift, George is instantly infatuated with the beautiful Lisa and so begins a love triangle, but who'll win out? The business man in the middle of a crisis or the baseball player?
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