A Review Of ‘Street Kings.’ In Theaters Now

STREET KINGS (R)

MOVIE BIASES:
Keanu looks miscast but I’m diggin’ the rest of the team.

MAJOR PLAYERS:
Keanu Reeves, Forest Whitaker, Chris Evans, director David Ayer

“We’re the police. We can do whatever the hell we want.” Very true, Officer Ludlow a.k.a. “LA’s deadliest white boy.” From the outset, Reeves’ Ludlow appears to be a cliche waiting to happen (vodka mini-bottle chain-drinking, ridiculously violent as if to prove something) until we see how he’s pissed off half the LAPD with his special brand of nihilism.

Initially not a very convincing cop, Reeves evolves into a convincingly broken one, with his monotone loneliness kinda working for the role. After spending a career brokering secrets as the price of doing (police) business with Forest Whitaker’s gregarious captain - a charismatic, breezily swaggering turn by the Oscar winner - a hint of late-game pathos shows Ludlow as a dirty cop whose conscience finally catches up with him.

Chris Evans (Fantastic Four) has one of his less wiseacre roles as a cop on the case (to better-than-normal-Chris Evans effect) while Hugh Laurie brings his cynical “House”-like demeanor to the big screen.

Much ballyhooed rapper-actor Common (with a scant ten minutes of total screen time) flaunts charisma for days, in a truly brief yet indelible starmaking performance as a laid back, menacing drug dealer.

A cheesily operatic, bombastic score matched by Ludlow’s comically abusiveness otherwise detract from a scrappy script co-written by James Ellroy (L.A. Confidential) and some stylish directing by David Ayer. Just when you’re about to tire of the pretty obvious thin blue conspiracy, the film never fails to hold your attention and to deliver outlandish entertainment. It may not be aces, but these “Kings” will do.

@@@ REELS
(THREE REELS)
It’s pretty hot - go give it a shot.

Edwardo Jackson is the author of the novels EVER AFTER and NEVA HAFTA, (Villard/Random House), a writer for The 213 Magazine, and an LA-based screenwriter. Visit his website at www.edwardojackson.com where his new novel I DO? is available NOW.

A Review of ‘Stop-Loss.’ In Theaters Now

STOP-LOSS (R)

MOVIE BIASES:
Intriguing cast, subject. But MTV’s behind this??

MAJOR PLAYERS:
Ryan Phillippe (Breach), Abbie Cornish (Candy), Channing Tatum (Step Up), Joseph Gordon-Levitt (The Lookout), and co-writer/director Kimberly Peirce (Boys Don’t Cry)

“I did what I had to do for the time I had to do it. I’m not doin’ it no more.” Highly decorated (think Purple Heart, Bronze Star) Sgt. Brandon King (Phillippe) returns home to Brazos, Texas with his outfit of wartime buddies for leave that should be permanent - he and his best friend Steve (Tatum) are getting out of the Army. Think again - Brandon is stop-lossed back into duty, shipping off for Iraq by the end of the month, causing him to go AWOL. With Steve’s frustrated fiancee’ Michele (Cornish) in tow, Brandon embarks upon a road trip towards Washington, DC with the hopes of having a local Senator overturn the military’s decision.

“I ain’t scared. I’m pissed off! This family’s done fighting this war.” Having never backed this country’s knee-jerk reaction to 9/11 to invade Iraq, I’ve BEEN “done fighting this war.” A movie like “Stop-Loss” would seem to merely preach to the converted like myself, yet it is much, much more. Try an examination of our soldiers, our “heroes,” most of them boys doing men’s work, lethally weaponized cauldrons of barely suppressed rage, often suffering from severe post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) once removed from the combat theater. Every situation in the real world is a reenactment of the war, these young men constantly fighting an enemy they can’t see, the enemy within.

The writing feels real, the dialogue appropriately salty; I am so glad they went “R” with this film, as life (especially in wartime) is rarely a PG-13 affair. Opening up with a fairly tense, violent, and surprisingly authentic looking firefight on the streets of Iraq, Peirce is then free to explore its aftereffects on the soldiers once Stateside, from the alcoholism to the VA hospital. While one major plot point is slightly predictable, the movie is powerful nonetheless, thanks to a gritty mix of handheld, first person, wartime camerawork and traditional setups of smalltown Americana.

Highly underrated Ryan Phillippe anchors this talented cast. His shy, contemplative Brandon kicks into another gear when pushed, whether by battle or unfair military decree, proving to be the glue of the company by presence if not by example. Channing Tatum is a big, strapping talent, proving to be more than muscles and moves with this credibly “Robo-soldier” turn as Steve, a gung ho military man torn between his two loves, his country and his girl. Cranking out another utterly convincing performance, Joseph Gordon-Levitt chameleons his way into the skin of walking DUI Tommy Burgess, whose entire existence is defined by the military.

I must give pause (and a separate paragraph) to a new REEL DEAL Crush. I tried to fight it, y’all, but the more I think about Abbie Cornish, the more I like what she’s about. Thick (by Hollywood standards, which means she looks NORMAL), fierce, yet accessibly emotional, Cornish imbues Michele with a down-home sex appeal that’s very average, Texan girl-next-door - instantly relatable. She has a discernable hardness that’s brittle at the same time - not in a weak, stereotypically female way but in a genuine, human way. Plus she’s naturally curvy with a fashionably unkempt look about her… How could I not Crush on her?

But this movie deserves more credit than its casting. Kimberly Peirce reminds us that she’s a filmmaker to reckon with, adroitly dealing with such a highly charged subject. Although the country may have been late to the “we never should have been there in the first place” pity party, a third rail of politics is the American military. “We’re fightin’ over there, so we don’t have to fight ‘em over here!” “We’re bringing freedom to Iraq!” Pick your jingoistic cliche’ - they’re all equally well-worn and meaningless. What is meaningFUL is that after having completed their commitment, their contract to their country, at least 81,000 of our 650,000 troops that have been sent to Iraq have been stop-lossed; they completed their contract just for the U.S. government to break it. Can’t you be patriotic, support the troops, and still disagree with (such a criminal) policy?

The most patriotic thing you can do is debate, if not protest or support, this war. THAT is true freedom. Just for having the guts, guile, and talent alone to artistically bring up this discussion of the so-called back-door draft, Kimberly Peirce may be one of the biggest patriots of all.

@@@@ REELS
(FOUR REELS)
An urban legend/instant classic.

Edwardo Jackson is the author of the novels EVER AFTER and NEVA HAFTA, (Villard/Random House), a writer for The 213 Magazine, and an LA-based screenwriter. Visit his website at www.edwardojackson.com where his new novel I DO? is available NOW.

A Review of ‘City of Men’ (R)

CITY OF MEN (R)

MOVIE BIASES:
Love “City of God” and the TV show “City of Men.”

MAJOR PLAYERS:
Douglas Silva, Darlan Cunha, Camila Monteiro (all from TV’s “City of Men”), and producer Fernando Meirelles (City of God).

Acerola (Silva) and Wallace (Cunha) are lifelong best friends, having grown up in the hardscrabble Dead End Hill favela (slums) of Rio de Janeiro. How rough is it? So rough, you gotta pack heat just to go to the beach on a warm summer day. On the verge of their eighteenth birthdays, Ace deals with the pressures of teenage fatherhood without a father of his own while Wallace sets out to find the identity of his. The results of their individual endeavors are put in the spin cycle when a gang war explodes in the neighborhood, unexpectedly tearing at the fabric of their manhood, identities, their very friendship itself.

Fans of “City of God,” it is my pleasure to inform you that you will NOT be disappointed. Mining Ace and Wallace’s friendship via flashbacks culled from previous seasons of Sundance Channel’s “City of Men,” its cinematic counterpart basks in a tranquil 45 minutes or so of rich background and insight into favela life for these two fatherless boys-to-men, never once asking us to feel sorry for them or their environment - Dead End Hill is just their squalid but accepted existence; it’s as normal to them as your hometown is to yours. By the end of this stretch of film, you feel like you’ve grown up with these two young men, truly investing in them and their community.

Then all hell breaks loose. The violence is rarely gratuitous, the damage to the people tangible, the emotional fragility of the favela held hostage by a generationally recycling circle of violence feels all the more real. On one side you have Midnight (Jonathan Haagensen), Wallace’s cousin with a juvenile, sinister charisma as the local drug lord; on the other side, Fasto (Eduardo BR), the rebellious, slighted, overly-ambitious second in command.

Against a beautiful juxtaposition of abject poverty and coastal mountainous beauty, the civil war on the Hill is only engulfed in script and spirit by the themes of fatherlessness, loyalty, and friendship. The Elena Soarez script is so poignant and the natural acting of everyone involved so fluidly convincing, it creeps up on you as a potential, bullet-ridden tearjerker toward the end. If it’s not the slowly dawning, historical relevance of Acerola’s father’s death that gets to you, I promise that Wallace’s heartbreaking scene in the third act, rife with paternally absolute disappointment, will. Much in the gritty style of “City of God” and the TV series “City of Men,” director Paulo Morelli (a director on the TV series as well) elegantly captures the everyday life and emotions of the neighborhood, if not in our two boys trying to become - and raise one, in Ace’s case - men.

Admittedly, this subject is a little personal for me. While not having grown up in a Brazilian slum, I have been poor growing up without a father. Born another time, another place ,like a favela for instance, Acerola or Wallace could have been me. It is their touching, life-preserver bond of a friendship that communes with our common humanity; by the end of this movie, I felt like a survivor of a Brazilian gang war myself. Trust that whether it be Acerola’s on-the-job daddy training or Wallace’s reconciliation with his father’s checkered past, this “City of Men” is a city for us all.

@@@@ REELS
(FOUR REELS)
An urban legend/instant classic.

Edwardo Jackson is the author of the novels EVER AFTER and NEVA HAFTA, (Villard/Random House), a writer for The 213 Magazine, and an LA-based screenwriter. Visit his website at www.edwardojackson.com where his new novel I DO? is available NOW.

A Review of ‘Semi-Pro’ (R)

SEMI-PRO (R)

MOVIE BIASES:
Will Ferrell and sports? Are you kidding me? Presold!

MAJOR PLAYERS:
Will Ferrell, Woody Harrelson, Andre Benjamin, and writer Scot Armstrong

Hear that? That’s the sound of a beaten, dead horse. Ferrell knows it as much, too, having admitted in an “Entertainment Weekly” article that he’s going to semi-retire from sports movies (off the top of my head, he’s done soccer, figure skating, basketball, NASCAR); “Semi-Pro” is case and point why it is time.

Disappointingly random, sometimes aimless, and always profane, “Semi-Pro” is a significant letdown from the Will Ferrell comedy camp. Silly more than funny, with ample doses of juvenile stabs at humor that seem dated in their attempts (script was by 2000’s “Road Trip” maestro Scot Armstrong; sorry, the teenage gross-out comedy is a lot smarter now, Scot), this movie is a fairly one-note sight gag (Look! Will Ferrell with a white afro! Look! People getting upset at “jive turkey!” Yawn.) that however (un)fairly mocks the decade of my birth as its superobjective. They invested more in the costume design than the raggedy plot, wedging in a lamebrain love story with Woody Harrelson’s (recycling Billy Hoyle’s “you’d rather look good and lose than look bad and win” demeanor from “White Men Can’t Jump”) Ed Monix and his old flame Lynn (Maura Tierney, using about one-tenth of her “ER” talent).

Even Ferrell’s performance feels scattershot and disinterested; his goofy commercials in character for Old Spice and Bud Light are far funnier than 90 percent of “Semi-Pro.” In fact, his glorious bushel of puffed up hair is more interesting. But when the movie’s throw-it-against-the-screen-and-see-what-sticks filmmaking hits, it can be pretty amusing (i.e. a hilarious man v. bear cage fight, trading a player for a washing machine, etc.).

And for a sports movie, the basketball is absolutely, unequivocally horrendous. (Total aside: Can someone explain to me why this movie is unnecessarily “R” when none of its language or gags needed the extra f*$%ing flavor? There’s no nudity, guns, or anything. New Line, I’m glad Time Warner’s pulling your card. You just cost yourselves an extra $15 million on the opening weekend with this rating…)

Part of me wondered if this movie would emerge as a cult classic upon repeated viewings, kinda like “Friday” and Ferrell’s previous ’70s send-up “Anchorman.” I remember tittering out of “Anchorman” like “What the hell was THAT?” but having had a few laughs along the way. It wasn’t that funny the first time but it gets funnier the more you watch it. It’s the type of movie that plays far better on DVD, having spawned not-so-grudging comedic respect from this critic (I even own it). Could “Semi-Pro” fare as well? To paraphrase the Tropics’ war cry, let’s NOT get tropical.

@@ REELS
(TWO REELS)
Extra medium.

Edwardo Jackson is the author of the novels EVER AFTER and NEVA HAFTA, (Villard/Random House), a writer for The 213 Magazine, and an LA-based screenwriter. Visit his website at www.edwardojackson.com where his new novel I DO? is available NOW.

A Review of ‘The Other Boleyn Girl’ (PG-13)

THE OTHER BOLEYN GIRL (PG-13)

MOVIE BIASES:
Just started watching “The Tudors.” I’m intrigued.

MAJOR PLAYERS:
Natalie Portman (V for Vendetta), Scarlett Johansson (Scoop), Eric Bana (Munich), and writer Peter Morgan (The Queen)

“Families improve their standing through their daughters,” intimates Sir Thomas Boleyn (Mark Rylance) to his wife Lady Elizabeth (Kristin Scott Thomas). Indeed. When the simpler, eager-to-please Mary Boleyn (Johansson) is offered up to King Henry VIII (Bana) in order to vault the Boleyn family up the ranks of the aristocracy, Henry quickly tires of her, despite her having given birth to his illegitimate son.

Enter Anne (Portman), the other Boleyn girl, fresh from a family-imposed exile in France, returning a more confident, vibrant, and notoriously hard-to-get young woman whose calculating disinterest bewitches the impetuous king. Moving heaven and earth (if not religions) in order to achieve his much sought-after divorce from the politically-arranged marriage to Spanish Catherine of Aragon (Ana Torrent) so that he may replace her as queen with Anne, Henry risks losing the direction of his kingdom and the faith of his people - just so he can get him some.

“Will you accept the challenge?” Yes, that question was posited to the ambitious, duplicitous Anne Boleyn, but it might as well have been posed to the audience. “Girl” is an excellent period drama rife with conflict, politics, and strong dialogue (thank you, Peter Morgan). With sweeping presentation, Justin Chadwick directs a seamlessly believable cast through the maze of gender and cultural politics (”A man’s love is worthless…Love is nothing without power and position.”) from Morgan’s exquisitely political script with monstrous, inspired twists and turns.

Usually playing the vixen, Johansson takes a noble turn as the more demure Boleyn sister (or one of the “Boleyn whores” as the jilted Queen Catherine calls them). Eric Bana is tall, imposing, and widely frocked as savvy charmer King Henry VIII, whose focused intelligence belies a raging, almost juvenile impulsiveness. Chadwick also wrests a pitch perfect, conniving performance out of Natalie Portman as Anne Boleyn, described as “not a simple, uncomplicated girl.” Sporting an “Ugly Betty” style necklace and a head full of confident empowerment from her time away in France, Portman’s Anne is a talented schemer, dangling her “virginity” as tantalizingly as an Oscar to a movie studio during awards season. With Bana giving Henry just a rakish does of humanity, it’s clear that these two deserve each other; determined to get whatever they want no matter the cost, Anne and Henry are both a cold piece of work.

Even in our cynical times where divorce has eclipsed marriage, “The Other Boleyn Girl” is a fascinating examination of marriage - in that time and for all times. Then, marriage is never about love but always about power; now, you can’t quite say that the converse is entirely true (there’s a show called “The Millionaire Matchmaker” for goodness sake). How swiftly life for a mistress aspiring to be a queen could pivot on a coin flip’s chance of pregnancy: heads, it’s a boy - your family wins and you are queen; tails, it’s a girl - your family’s ruined and you’re beheaded for not providing the king an heir. Oops! Chadwick brilliantly conveys the joy of impending motherhood without needing a line of dialogue as well as the agony of despair of a woman falling out of the king’s favor.

“When was it that people stopped thinking of ambition as a sin and started thinking of it as a virtue?” Perhaps I’ve been watching too much MSNBC during our “historic” presidential primary season but the Machiavellian nature of “Girl” really struck a Clintonesque chord with me (nothing is sacred for these social climbers: “When you sleep with the king, it ceases to be a private matter,” chides chief instigator the Duke of Norfolk, demanding bedtime details from Mary). Jealousy, desire, paranoia, rivalry, revenge…Sounds like just another day on the campaign trail.

@@@@ REELS
(FOUR REELS)
An urban legend/instant classic.

Edwardo Jackson is the author of the novels EVER AFTER and NEVA HAFTA, (Villard/Random House), a writer for The 213 Magazine, and an LA-based screenwriter. Visit his website at www.edwardojackson.com where his new novel I DO? is available NOW.

A Review of ‘The Bank Job’ (R)

THE BANK JOB (R)

MOVIE BIASES:
Love Statham (usually), and Roeper’s ga-ga for this movie.

MAJOR PLAYERS: Jason Statham (Snatch), Saffron Burrows (TV’s “Boston Legal”), Richard Lintern (Syriana), and director Roger Donaldson (No Way Out)

Jason Statham is almost a cottage industry unto himself these days, happily typecasting himself as the charismatic gangster with big, huge testicles. He’s rough, he’s tough, he’ll street fight your house down. But is it getting a little old? Using the old “based on a true story” bit, “The Bank Job” demonstrates that while Statham may only be playing Statham, he’s a man who clearly knows, and excels at, his niche.

Terry Leather (great name; Statham), a small time, retiring hood with a burgeoning family and a serious debt to gangster Mr. Jessel, is approached by old flame Martine Love (Burrows) for a robbery of Lloyd’s Bank of London, a plot held together by a shady associate of hers named Tim (Lintern). Tim happens to be a vital cog in the British government over on Whitehall Street, a government desperate to get rid of drug dealing, pimping shakedown artist/black nationalist tyrant Michael X (Peter de Jersey), who keeps flouting the law by his blackmail of the Royal Family with compromising photos of Princess Margaret. Mix in sheisty local pornographer Lew Vogel (David Suchet), bribery, racial politics, the ’70s, MI5 (or 6), walkie-talkies, and a stout limey accent to the proceedings and the title is the simplest thing about this “Bank Job.”

Nipples, brothels, threesomes, oh my! Setting the tone from the outset, “The Bank Job” is a very sexy, briskly paced, solid piece of entertainment. Although set in 1971 London, Donaldson’s “Job” doesn’t mock the period or the setting; nary a piece of tie-dye to be found. However, it does plunge you headfirst into a freer, more liberal time of flower power, peace sign bracelets, and fluffy afros without commenting or passing judgment. No silly ’70s era musical scores either - just a heist-worthy, adventurous score backed by nice sound effects of a crime caper. All this is window dressing for a well-scripted, complex web of deceit and intrigue, penned by Dick Clement & Ian La Frenais (Across the Universe) that is, like the rest of the movie, flashy in a low-key way. This isn’t a James Bond, Q-inspired “Bank Job” but a good old fashioned pick-axe-and-tunnel type of affair.

With Jason Statham leading the charge, what did you want - subtlety? Perennially unshaven, oddly balding, and charismatically growling, Statham is the Brit-pick portrait of a very flawed antihero (Terry’s “been involved in the odd bit of skullduggery”) leading a gang of other amateur misfits. As the only female of the crew, the winsome Saffron Burrows projects poise and an active, charmingly duplicitous mind as effortless beauty Martine Love (another great name). Richard Lintern’s Tim is understandably smarmy as a government official while Daniel Mays’ Dave Shilling is appreciably goofy as an unlikely onetime porn star cum bank robber.

So why does Richard Roeper have a thing for this film? Well, I guess it’s just one of those movies that does what a movie is supposed to do: it takes you to another place. I have to admit I was a little down going into this screening. Yet for those 110 minutes of the film, I was sucked in and simply had a good time. This flick is genuinely exciting - you’re really pulling for the thieves. Even more remarkable, this truly IS based on a true story, known about the Isle as the “Walkie-Talkie Robbers” - plus Statham’s roguish charm (and de rigueur dose of fisticuffs) holds it all together. For those who are hoping that Jason Statham’s time is up, I’m sorry to inform you that he has at least one more (brilliant) “Job” to do.

@@@@ REELS
(FOUR REELS)
An urban legend/instant classic.

Edwardo Jackson is the author of the novels EVER AFTER and NEVA HAFTA, (Villard/Random House), a writer for The 213 Magazine, and an LA-based screenwriter. Visit his website at www.edwardojackson.com where his new novel I DO? is available NOW.