Home » 2013 » September

Monthly Archives: September 2013

Rush •••• 1/2

Rush_movie_posterStarring: Daniel Bruhl, Chris Hemsworth, Olivia Wilde
Director: Ron Howard
Screenplay: Peter Morgan
Action/Biography/Drama, Rated: R
Running Time: 123 minutes
Release Date: September 27, 2013


(Dr. Scott Allison, Professor of Psychology, University of Richmond)

Greg, I’m fascinated that they would make a movie about Rush Limbaugh.

It’s not a movie about the Right, it’s about going in circles to the Left!

Bahaha, good one, Greg. Rush is the story of the rivalry during the 1970s between two Formula 1 drivers, James Hunt (Chris Hemsworth) and Niki Lauda (Daniel Brühl). The movie opens with the two of them bumping cars during a 1970 Formula 3 race in England. Hunt wins the race but Lauda is outraged by Hunt’s disregard for safety. Lauda then borrows a large sum of money that enables him to make it to the big time of Formula 1.  Hunt also joins a Formula 1 team and the two men resume their rivalry on the big stage.

Hunt is a playboy. He is out for a good time. He wants to have fun. And the only thing he wants more than to have fun is to win. Lauda is meticulous, methodical, and rigorous. The only thing he wants is to win. These two men have the same goals in mind, but they have two different ways to get it. And it is these differences that make up the conflict in this movie.

Greg, Rush is an impressive movie with an impeccable cast and outstanding direction from Ron Howard.  I can’t imagine two better actors for the roles of Hunt and Lauda. These two men remind me of fire and ice, two contrasting styles reminiscent of Kirk and Spock in Star Trek. The resulting tension between Hunt and Lauda, both on and off the track, is pure sizzle and spark.  It’s rare to see such a powerful rivalry between two sports celebrities portrayed so well on film.

Scott, we saw this last week in Prisoners. Two men with the same goal but with opposite ways of approaching it. Lauda is hands-on all the way. Off the track, he works day and night preparing his car. He uses the latest materials, trims every ounce to make his car lighter and faster. On the track, he observes every rule and plays up to but not over the margins of safety.

Hunt, on the other hand, is very hands off. He expects his team to work the details of his car and the business of running the race. When the race is over, he’s off drinking and carousing leaving Lauda to go home to his dutiful wife. During the race, Hunt crosses the line from safe to reckless – doing whatever it takes to pass the next racer and win the race.

You note the resemblance to last week’s movie Prisoners, but I see some important differences.  In Prisoners, the two heroes share the same goal of catching an abductor, but in Rush there is a clear and intense competition between two heroes whose goals are in conflict. Plus, in Rush we see our two hero-celebrities over time develop a grudging respect for each other.

In fact, I’d say that this growing mutual admiration is an important element of their character transformations during their hero journeys. The pivotal moment in Hunt’s development occurs when he punches a reporter who disrespects Lauda during a press conference. Prior to this moment we see only hatred from Hunt toward Lauda, but Lauda’s recovery has forever changed Hunt’s opinion of Lauda. And of course the key transformational moment for Lauda takes place in the hospital when he shows remarkable resilience in the face of debilitating injury. Watching these two men change and grow in many ways — as drivers, as husbands, as businessmen, and as rivals — is a sheer joy to watch.

What Scott is referring to is a story element that is in all the trailers, but occurs late in the film. Lauda, against his better judgement, enters into a race and has a terrible accident where he is burned all over his body and face. Lauda undergoes painful surgeries to recover soon enough to get back into the race season and contend with Hunt for the cup.

What I walk away with from this movie is how much these men come to admire each other and still maintain their own styles. Lauda is ever analyzing and refining his craft. Hunt is constantly looking to have fun while he can. But each learns that the other’s way of approaching the race has its merits. Another buddy-hero story I’m reminded of is Bill Gates and Steve Jobs who had different ways of approaching the computer industry (Gates in favor of open systems and Jobs favoring closed systems). In the end there is a grudging admiration of the other.

I like that Gates-Jobs analogy a lot, Greg, and perhaps the recent film Jobs would have been a more effective movie if it had focused more on that rivalry with the same effectiveness as Rush. Ron Howard deserves great credit for telling a great dual-hero story that anyone can appreciate, even people like me who have no interest in auto racing. The key is to create compelling, multi-dimensional characters whom we care about and who undergo significant transformation. This was done to near perfection in Rush.

Rush is why I go to the movies. I fell right into the lives of these two men. I felt the power of racing and the will to win. I came to admire what each man offered and could see myself in their places. When I look back on Rush and wonder what could have been done better, I can’t think of a single thing. The film lasted 123 minutes and I wanted more when the story was done. And this is nothing less than what you’d expect from a Ron Howard film. Every detail of the story was attended to: from the 70’s look and feel, to the speeding cars, to the realistic crashes. I was hooked from the beginning.

For easily one of the best films we’ve seen this year, I give Rush 5 out of 5 Reels. And for telling a two-handed story with precision and style, I give Rush 5 out of 5 Heroes.

Movie: reel-5 Heroes: superman-5

I thoroughly enjoyed Rush and am happy to award it 4 Reels out of 5 and 4 Heroes out of 5. The reason I am hesitant to give the full 5 Reels and 5 Heroes is based on my belief that seeking to become the best car racer in the world is much more a quest for personal glory than it is a heroic quest. Last week I gave Prisoners two 5 ratings because the heroic goal was to save lives. We see no such virtuous goal in Rush.

Still, I agree, Greg, that Rush is one of the best films of the year. The two main characters are celebrities, not heroes, but it’s still a riveting and impeccably-told story. The performances were exemplary all-around and I anticipate an Oscar nomination for Best Director for Ron Howard.

Movie: reel-4 Heroes: superman-4

Prisoners ••••1/2

MV5BMTg0NTIzMjQ1NV5BMl5BanBnXkFtZTcwNDc3MzM5OQ@@._V1_SY317_CR0,0,214,317_Starring: Hugh Jackman, Jake Gyllanhaal, Terrance Howard
Director: Denis Villeneuve
Screenplay: Aaron Guzikowski
Crime, Drama, Thriller, Rated: R
Running Time: 153 minutes
Release Date: September 20, 2013




(Dr. Scott Allison, Professor of Psychology, University of Richmond)

Greg, it looks like Hugh Jackman has temporarily discarded his Wolverine costume just long enough to take on a new role as a desperate father.

Yes he has and he’s pretty convincing in the role.

Prisoners opens with two families sharing a Thanksgiving dinner together. We meet Keller and Grace Dover (Hugh Jackman and Maria Bello) along with their teenage son Ralph (Dylan Minnette) and their six-year-old daughter Anna (Erin Gerasimovich).  And we also meet Franklin and Nancy Birth (Terrence Howard and Viola Davis) and their young daughter Joy (Kyla Drew Simmons).  After their dinner, the families discover that the two young girls are missing. Ralph remembers that the girls had earlier been interested in playing on an RV parked near their home, and soon the police, led by Detective Loki (Jake Gyllenhaal) focus their search on the RV and its owners.

Loki finds the RV and its driver is Alex (Paul Dano) who is a full grown adult but has the mental capacity of a 10-year-old. He is taken into custody but offers no clue as to the whereabouts of the girls. Also, there is no evidence of the girls in the RV. The police let him go. But Keller Dover is not convinced that Alex is ignorant of the girls’ location and abducts the man. Together with his friend Franklin he hides the man in an abandoned home and beats him mercilessly trying to get some clue about where to find his daughter.

I’ll cut right to the chase. Prisoners is one of the best movies of the year. The film grabbed my attention from the opening minute and held it in earnest for 2 and a half hours. Prisoners is the most compelling movie I’ve seen since The Girl With the Dragon Tattoo which came out in 2011.

What explains the excellence of Prisoners?  For one thing, it’s riveting. We have a powerful storyline combined with the emotional anguish associated with innocent children gone missing. We witness the parallel hero journeys of two strong characters in Keller and Loki, each driven by the same goal of finding the missing girls alive yet they find themselves locking horns repeatedly. There are strong performances from the entire cast and some outstanding direction, too.

I have to agree. I was leary of a 150-minute running time, but every minute is put to good use. Detective Loki is not just dedicated, but obsessed with finding the girls. He hasn’t lost a case yet and he doesn’t expect to lose this one.  Despite Gyllenhaal’s cool exterior, his Loki is focused and intense.

There is also a time limit. Keller keeps reminding Loki that children that aren’t found after 7 days are rarely found alive, if they are found at all. And the days tick by with both men approaching the search in their own fashion. Loki is methodical. We get the sense that his every waking moment is focused on solving this case. We are drawn into Loki’s world and his intensity is palpable.

Whereas Loki is caught between his incompetent boss and Keller’s defiance, Keller is torn between his Christian faith and his desire to do whatever it takes to get Alex to talk.  This makes for a terrific hero story, as Keller’s intensity and devotion to his daughter’s safety compromise his better judgment.  Or so it seems.  Keller cannot find it in himself to live up to his own strong Christian belief in forgiveness, and yet in an interesting twist, Keller’s inability to forgive Alex leads him toward discovering the truth.

One of many things I liked about Prisoners is the way it invites us to ponder interesting issues like forgiveness.  Another theme is the idea of “readiness” for life’s obstacles. Keller believes he is physically and emotionally ready for any catastrophe, and he even drills this principle to his children, but it’s painfully clear that Keller isn’t ready at all for what unfolds in this movie. We learn that no one can be ready for every possible setback that life throws at us.

The title of the movie is misleading. We’re attracted to the movie because we think that the story is about two little girls who are prisoners. But in fact, the prisoners in this film are Loki and Keller. They’re both bound to their ideals and constrained by their beliefs. Loki believes that if he follows the clues and plays within the rules then he will solve the case. And he is trapped in that belief system. When things don’t work the way he thinks they should, he begins to make mistakes. But working outside the box means the system doesn’t work – and he needs it to work.

Keller believes that protecting his family is his sole responsibility. And it’s clear that he’s not able to protect his family from every eventuality. If he cannot find his daughter he will have to live with the fact that he has failed. And this is not something he can live with. This forces him to work outside the system and find his daughter by any means necessary.

Well said, Greg. Prisoners is one of the year’s best films and contains more memorable scenes than the previous dozen movies combined which we’ve reviewed. This film is a great reminder of why I love movies and how a good story can leave its audience thinking and feeling in meaningful ways. I give Prisoners 5 Reels out of 5.

The parallel hero stories here were also inspired and moving. Keller and Loki are most certainly not your Hollywood-stereotypical father and cop characters, nor were their journeys predictable. They were two highly memorable characters who travel the hero arc in surprising and powerful ways. There is absolutely no chance at all that their searing experiences could fail to transform them.  I give them 5 Heroes out of 5.

Movie: reel-5  Hero: superman-5

I agree, this is one of the best films of the year so far. I have to say that I didn’t find it as rewarding as you did. I was held captive by the plot and the performances. But I wasn’t satisfied that either man impacted the other. At the end of the day they were both vindicated in their own way of thinking. I don’t think Detective Loki was much changed at the end of the film compared to the beginning. In fact almost nobody was much different at the end of the film. Keller was tortured by the fact that he couldn’t keep his family safe from every evil thing and he became something that was far from heroic.

I award Prisoners 4 Reels out of 5 for an entrancing psychological thriller and 4 out of 5 Heroes for compelling characters that kept me watching. To get to a higher rating I would want to see some interaction between Keller and Loki that would catalyze them to change in some more compelling way.

Movie: reel-4 Hero: superman-4

The Family •• 1/2

The_Family_2013,_PosterStarring: Robert De Niro, Michelle Pfeiffer, Dianna Agron
Director: Luc Besson
Screenplay: Luc Besson, Michael Caleo
Action/Comedy/Crime, Rated: R
Running Time: 110 minutes
Release Date: September 13, 2013


Well you can’t leave ‘em and you can’t kill ‘em – it’s time to review The Family.

(Dr. Scott Allison, Professor of Psychology, University of Richmond)

Yes, let’s see what Robert De Niro and Tommy Lee Jones are up to in this new release.

Giovanni Manzoni (alias Fred Blake, played by Robert De Niro) is a member of the Italian mob. Or should I say former mob member. He ratted out his friends and family and is now on the run in the FBI’s witness protection program. He is stuck in a small flat in a small town near Normandy, France. He is joined by his lovely wife Maggie (Michelle Pfeiffer), teenaged daughter Belle (Dianna Agron) and younger teenaged son Warren (John D’Leo).

The family apparently has a history of being unable to remain inconspicuous and incognito, and the law enforcement officer in charge of the family’s safety, Robert Stansfield (Tommy Lee Jones) is forced to move them around Europe constantly.  Here in Normandy, the family continues to attract attention much to Stansfield’s dismay. Giovanni pretends to be a writer who is an historical expert about Normandy, Maggie blows up grocery stores, and the two kids are violent thugs at their high school.  Soon the mob discovers their whereabouts and the family is in danger.

Scott I had low expectations for this film and I was delighted with the depth of the characters and richness of the story. After the much maligned De Niro film The Big Wedding earlier this year, I was wondering if he had the chops to pull off a real role. And he did indeed. Giovanni is a textured man who can “describe the entirety of human emotion with one word – f**k.” He is a loving father, a doting husband, and a shrewd negotiator – although most people don’t survive the debate.

Greg, it looks like we had opposite reactions to this movie.  There were no heroes in this movie, unless you count the poor bored-as-hell government officials who are compelled to protect this horrible family from the mob.  De Niro does a nice job of playing the character of Giovanni, but this character has the moral fiber of Al Capone and the peaceful instincts of Charles Manson.  Giovanni says that he never hurt anyone who didn’t deserve it, but apparently nearly everyone deserves it.  In several scenes it is clear that he is ruthless sociopath.  It’s hard to root for a hero like this.

Compounding the problem is that the rest of the family is just as bad.  Maggie doesn’t think twice about blowing up the local grocery store because the shop owner doesn’t like Americans.  The daughter Belle beats people to a pulp with a tennis racquet.  The son sets up a mafia-like organization in his high school.  They are all reprehensible characters, and the entire movie is devoted to showing how another group of reprehensible characters hunts them down.  Do we really care about the well-being of any of these killers?  Are we supposed to root for them to get away with their disturbing violence?  I just couldn’t.

Scott, I’m shocked that you found Vin Diesel’s Riddick heroic and find The Family reprehensible. In each case the Blake family was attacked first. Maggie’s heritage was attacked. Some testosterone-laden boys wanted to have their way with Belle. And the high school bully made mincemeat of Warren. These small-time crooks didn’t know what they were in for. I think your problem with the Blake family is their clear overreaction.

But what shines out in my mind is how this family sticks together through thick and thin. There is a constant showing of affection for one another. There’s a definite caring attitude even between the siblings. They are a true family. Warped, perhaps, but very clearly devoted to each other. There’s a point in the film where the members of the family are separated and it looks as though they will go their separate ways. But when they sense the others are in danger, they work together as a unit. It’s what every mother would want for her family.

Greg, I’m glad you were moved by the mobsters’ tendency to look out for each other.  To me, that didn’t make them good heroes worth admiring.  It made them violent thugs who happen to be loyal to each other.  Riddick was an absolute choir boy compared to the characters in The Family.

But the complete absence of heroes isn’t my only problem with The Family.  The movie never really makes up its mind about what it wants to be.  It starts out as a dark comedy, with all the over-the-top violence being portrayed in a light, whimsical manner.  Then during the second half the movie turns into just plain darkness with no comedic edge to it at all.  I was disappointed with this inconsistency.  Either be a Fargo-like dark comedy, or a serious mob-drama like The Godfather, but don’t try to be intermittently both.

I’m sorry you didn’t see the comedy in a neighborhood picnic where the Blakes entertain the local yokels with a true American barbecue. They are in great form controlling every member of the town with their finely honed skills of manipulation. I loved the flash-frames where we get inside Giovanni’s head and see what he’d do to these numbskulls if he weren’t on the lamb. His restraint is itself heroic.

At its heart, this film is a look behind such films as The Godfather and Goodfellas. It asks the question “What happens to an old mobster at the end of his career?” Giovanni begins his memoir – a book he knows will never see the light of day. But it gives us a look into what makes this loving man a hard-nosed killer. For him there is no contradiction between a tender moment with his wife and dragging the local corporate stooge behind his SUV.

For me, there isn’t a single redeeming thing to see in The Family.  There is no character transformation at all.  All of the main characters grew up in horrid violence and will live their lives that way, no matter how much Tommy Lee Jones’ character implores them to change their ways.  I held out some hope that the two children would somehow evolve into decent people, and maybe one can envision that their lives will change for the better at the end of this movie.  But I doubt it.  They are part of the mob family for life, in all likelihood.

The Family is a dark movie about senselessly violent people trying to avoid being killed by other senselessly violent people.  If you like seeing human beings being pulverized by baseball bats, then by all means go see this movie.  But if you want to see a good story about characters who grow and evolve in meaningful ways, then stay away from The Family.  I give it 1 Reel out of 5 and 1 Hero out of 5.

Movie: reel-1 Heroes: superman-1

Geez, Scott. Don’t hold back, tell us what you really think! I found De Niro’s portrayal of a man at the end of his useful life profound. And it’s a story of how a particular way of life is ending. The mob in this film is dying from the inside out. The world is changing around them. I think I’ll go out on a limb and predict Oscar® nominations for The Family.

If you want to see the elements of deep family devotion in the face of ingrained immoral behavior, then I think you’ll enjoy The Family. While our heroes don’t seem to learn any lessons, they do represent a classic family hierarchy. I found the violence to be on the verge of slapstick as it was always an over-the-top reaction to attacks on the family. I recommend this film and give it 4 Reels out of 5. I have to relent to Scott’s complaint that there isn’t much of a hero’s journey here. But that’s because our hero is at the end of his journey. I give The Family 3 out of 5 Heroes.

Movie: reel-4 Heroes: superman-3

Riddick ••••

Riddick_posterStarring: Vin Diesel, Karl Urban, Katee Sackhoff
Director: David Twohy
Screenplay: David Twohy, Jim Wheat
Science Fiction/Action, Rated: R
Running Time: 119 minutes
Release Date: September 6, 2013


(Dr. Scott Allison, Professor of Psychology, University of Richmond)

Hey Gregger.  Once again Vin Diesel reprises his role as the glowy-eyed bad-ass Riddick.

It’s always darkest before the dawn, unless you’re at a Riddick movie!

The movie begins with Riddick (Vin Diesel) stranded and wounded on a dangerous, desolate planet wrought with lethal predatory creatures.  He befriends a puppy from the gang of wild dogs trying to hunt him down, and he uses the puppy to develop immunity from the venom of a giant scorpion creature that he must conquer to get to safer ground.  Riddick then discovers an abandoned mercenary station and activates the rescue beacon, which attracts two sets of bounty hunters out to capture Riddick.

Riddick scrawls a message on the wall in the station: “Leave one ship or die”. Naturally the mercenaries don’t take his advice. They are divided on how to deal with Riddick. The unruly crew led by Santana set up camp and ready to take Riddick dead – putting his head in a box. The more military crew lead by Johns just want to talk to Riddick. It isn’t long before one of Santana’s men go missing and we know Riddick is on the prowl.

Greg, I liked this movie, and much of my enjoyment comes from Vin Diesel’s masterful job of portraying the character of Riddick.  There is a very telling scene toward the end of the film that pretty much explains why this hero is such a powerful character.  In the scene, Riddick is held captive by bounty hunters in a small shack while thousands of shrieking monsters are about break in and kill everyone.  Amidst all the chaos and clamor, Riddick softly delivers his lines about what is really happening, and while he does so, everyone — including the monsters themselves — draw silent.  It was an E. F. Hutton moment, signifying the immense magnetism and charisma of the character.

Riddick is an interesting anti-hero. On the one hand he is a killer. Which makes him villainous. But on the other hand, he always gives his adversary the opportunity to fall back. Riddick isn’t quite what I’d call a reluctant killer, but he has an unspoken code of honor that dictates his actions. He doesn’t attack unless attacked first.

And part of this code includes measuring his victim’s own code. In an early scene, Santana recognizes that to cart Riddick’s dead body back and claim his bounty, he needs to lighten the ship’s load. So, he releases a female slave and shoots her down as she runs for shelter. Riddick observes this and makes an internal assessment of his opponent. It’s a moral assessment. As viewers we can see that Riddick is unsettled by this craven act, and we respect Riddick for his code.

It’s interesting that you call him an anti-hero because in this latest installment of the Riddick franchise, there is no indication that he is anything other than a pretty decent guy trying to survive a hostile environment and evade some nasty dudes out to end him.  Yes, Riddick’s a known killer, but most of the bounty hunters after him are far worse.  We also see a number of redeeming actions on his part, such as his decision to risk his life to save the dog that he befriends, plus his decision not to kill any members of the bounty hunting team unless absolutely necessary.

It also doesn’t hurt that he falls for Dahl (Katee Sackhoff), the token attractive woman on the team that’s after him, and of course she falls for him, too.  As I’ve mentioned, there’s a palpable, appealing charisma to the Riddick character that, to me, makes him more of a hero than an anti-hero, at least in this sequel.  And by the way, Katee Sackhoff deserves props for a compelling performance as a virtuous bad-ass herself.  She’s one of the strongest female characters that we’ve seen in the movies this year.

I don’t know Scott, I don’t think a proper hero starts his introductions by telling his “guests” to leave him a ship or die. That’s an open threat. Still, like Rambo from the 1980’s films, Riddick doesn’t kill until his adversary draws first blood.

I liked the contrast Riddick offered. There are three types of men presented in this film. Each rugged and leaders in their own rights. Santana is the quintessential mercenary – he’ll do anything to get what he wants at someone else’s expense. Then there is Johns, very orderly in his methods and actions who just wants answers to draw things to closure. And finally Riddick, a classic loner who is just out to survive by his own wits and strength. This film played the three personalities against each other in an elegant balance.

Yes, this movie has many strengths that go well beyond Vin Diesel’s performance.  The film’s secondary characters are superb, led by two sets of memorable villains, a first group that is absolutely detestable and a second group whose motives are less heinous. There is a deliciously nasty tension between the two villain factions, and Riddick benefits from the rift.

Another star of the movie is the planet itself, replete with hazards both biological and geological in nature.  All the classic obstacles on the hero journey are in place.  Riddick took awhile to get to the main story but the delayed set-up was worth waiting for, and it was a real treat witnessing Riddick’s epic effort to overcome long odds in outsmarting, and out-muscling, the two posses after him.

Probably the only weak point of this film is the long time it took to get to the action. There was a lot of time spent watching Riddick rise from the dead, hone a knife, raise a dog, kill a snake, etc… Not to mention throwing in the backstory of how he went from being King of the Necromongers to eeking out an existence on a barren world. But I thought the rest of the film’s action and drama made up for the initial affront.

So, for a compelling science fiction drama with great villains and strong heroes, an unusual otherworldly setting, and a psychological chase I give Riddick 4 out of 5 Reels. And for a much improved anti-hero (compared to the previous installment of the franchise) in Riddick, and contrasting villains as well as a strong female hero, I give Riddick 4 out of 5 Heroes.

Movie: reel-4Heroes: superman-4

Gotta agree with you, Greg, Riddick delivers some outstanding late-summer science-fiction action and adventure.  Vin Diesel continues to show why he remains one of Hollywood’s great leading men.  His character of Riddick commands such respect that even the squealing monsters out to get him are rendered silent when he speaks.  I enjoyed watching Riddick think his way out of impossible situations and show far more heroic qualities than anti-heroic qualities.  Like you, I also award this film 4 out of 5 Reels, and for one of the most charismatic performances of the year from Vin Diesel, I also give Riddick 4 out of 5 Heroes.

Movie: reel-4 Heroes: superman-4

Getaway •

Getaway_PosterStarring: Ethan Hawke, Selena Gomez
Director: Courtney Soloman
Screenplay: Gregg Maxwell Parker, Sean Finegan
Action/Crime, Rated: PG-13
Running Time: 94 minutes
Release Date: August 30, 2013


Scott, there’s no escape for you – it’s time to review Getaway.

(Dr. Scott Allison, Professor of Psychology, University of Richmond)

Alas, I wish there had been a way to stay away from Getaway.

Brent Magna (Ethan Hawke) is a former race car driver with a past. He comes home to find that his wife has been abducted. He receives an anonymous phone call telling him to find a special car (a Shelby Mustang Super Snake) that has been outfitted with internet cameras that can watch him drive both from inside and outside the car. Once Magna is inside the car the anonymous villain calls him at regular intervals with instructions to do dastardly deeds with the car or risk the harm of his lovely wife.

At one point a girl in her late teens (Selena Gomez) jumps into the car, points a gun at Magna, and demands possession of the car, claiming it is hers.  Magna is able to disarm her and is ordered by the villain to keep her with him while he completes his remaining tasks.  The girl is very tech-savy and manages to use the cameras against the villain as well as figure out the villain’s ultimate goal, which she and Magna attempt to thwart.

Scott, I’m not against the odd improbable plot device to set up the situation for a movie, but the premise that we’re asked to swallow in Getaway is an extremely odd device. We’re asked to believe that some disembodied voice (ala Charlie’s Angels) is going to control the acts of a desperate man. Second, we’re asked to believe that a techno-kid is going to aid the man.

But the most unbelievable thing (that we can disclose without exposing too much) is when Magna extracts the gun from the kid and the voice says “Kill her!” Magna does the heroic thing and defies the voice (although risking his wife’s safety, which is his major motivation) only to have the voice tell him that it is “Good – as you’ll need her for what awaits you.” I suppose if Magna had killed the girl as ordered the movie would have been over prematurely.

Greg, this movie should serve as a warning to future filmmakers, and the warning should read, “How not to make a movie.”  The scene you mention is only one of 50 scenes that baffled me.  I suppose Magna’s decision to spare the girl’s life is supposed to endear us to him, but this scene occurs right after another scene in which Magna rams his car at high speed at dozens of cars, presumably driven by innocent people, and through innumerable Christmas displays, also filled with innocent people.

So there is absolutely no doubt that Magna is willing to kill many other people (including dozens of law enforcement personnel) to save his wife, a fact that I found reprehensible.  But let’s not forget the main problem with the movie, which is that 60 of the 90 minutes were devoted to car chases, car collisions, and cars turning into accordion-like hunks of metal.  That means we saw a half-hour of plot, if you could call it that, spread over 90 minutes.  For me it was torture.

It’s true, this movie is thin on plot and high on octane. I didn’t think it possible, but Getaway is a poor approximation of the Fast and Furious movies. And those are already a poor approximation of good entertainment. This movie is derivative of a genre of movie that should have no derivative.

The one thing I did like about this movie was Selena Gomez. She comes to us from the Disney kid-actor-factory where she starred in the TV series The Wizards of Waverly Place. Unlike so many of the young people who survive that teen-actor puppy mill (Miley Cyrus, for example), Gomez appears to be easing herself into a more adult career path. While there really wasn’t much for her to do or say (and she says “sh*t” a LOT in this film) she does it with conviction and we believe that she is the character she claims to be playing. Kudos Selena.

You’re right, Selena Gomez is the lone high point of a film that has more low points than Death Valley.  This movie reminds me of the typical Tom Cruise movie of late — there is a premium on action and a pittance of character development.  Magna doesn’t change as a character, he merely survives the ordeal thrown at him.  In fact, if there is a hero in this story, it is the car he drives.  His car apparently has its own Iron Man suit, indestructibly colliding with countless cop-cars which are crushed like beer cans in a fraternity house.  By the way, most drunken frat boys are probably too sensible and mature to enjoy Getaway.

I struggled with giving this film a zero rating, which I reserve for the worst of the worst. But Ethan Hawke and Selena Gomez both give everything they’ve got although they’re not given much to work with. I give Getaway 1 Reel out of 5. Both characters try hard but they are mere shadows of heroes, doing the things that are expected of them to be heroic without being actual heroes. I give them just 1 Hero out of 5.

Movie: reel-1 Hero: superman-1

Getaway is a 90-minute collision-fest that is saturated with the senseless repeated bludgeoning of automobiles.  I have no problem giving this movie as much as 1 Reel because I enjoyed seeing the lovely Sofia, Bulgaria, where the movie takes place.  Selena and Sofia make the film reel-worthy.  The car and its ordeals are more of a hero than Magna, and any time an inanimate object shows more transformation than the human who drives it, we have a problem.  So I give Getaway one mere Hero out of 5 as well.

Movie: reel-1 Hero: superman-1

Closed Circuit ••

Closed_Circuit_filmStarring: Eric Bana, Rebecca Hall, Jim Broadbent
Director: John Crowley
Screenplay: Steven Knight
Action/Crime, Rated: R
Running Time: 96 minutes
Release Date: August 28, 2013


(Dr. Scott Allison, Professor of Psychology, University of Richmond)

Greg, it looks like we have another corrupt democratic government out to do harm to the good guys.  For a change, it isn’t the U.S. government.

Closed Circuit, strangely, isn’t about cameras but about circuit courts. Let’s take a look…

The film opens with a bang, literally, as we witness a terrorist bomb go off on a crowded London street, killing 120 civilians.  Farroukh Erdogan (Denis Moschitto) is arrested and charged with masterminding the attack, and two lawyers, Martin Rose and Claudia Simmons-Howe (Eric Bana and Rebecca Hall) are assigned the task of defending Erdogan in court.  Rose and Simmons-Howe are not allowed to speak to each other, as Rose is assigned the task of defending Erdogan in open court while Simmons-Howe is assigned the separate task of defending him during a closed hearing that weighs classified evidence.

Things are going well when Rose realizes that Erdogan was actually an MI-5 agent. That means that the government is indirectly responsible for the bombing and Rose starts to get pressure from shadowy characters to let the courts hang Erdogan in the name of patriotism. Things start to get exciting when Rose tells Simmons and they are on the run.

Greg, I had mixed feelings about Closed Circuit.  On the positive side, the film is slick, sleek, and stylish.  The pacing is excellent and director John Crowley deserves kudos for some clever camera work and some smart, judicious editing.  We even have two very appealing heroes in Rose and Simmons, who show great chemistry and romantic sizzle.

On the negative side, I was disappointed that two obviously intelligent heroes could make so many questionable decisions. Rose and Simmons display incredible naiveté and end up backing themselves into the darkest of corners.  Innocent people die because of their stupidity, making it hard for me to root for them despite their obvious virtue and charm.

This film was strangely prophetic having completed filming in October of 2012, just months before the bombing of Boston in April of 2013. I was surprised that the film was still released under these circumstances. In many ways it was very reminiscent of the events of that case. Strangely, the use of closed circuit cameras which played a big part of catching the instigators of the Boston bombing had no place in a movie about the same topic called Closed Circuit.

I had similar misgivings about the logic these characters used.  Rose realizes that his predecessor had been killed for the knowledge that MI-5 had a part in the bombing. Then proceeds to tell several people about his misgivings. Only in the movies would someone be so stupid.

Yes, several times I slapped my forehead with my palm, exasperated that Rose would essentially do the opposite of what anyone with an ounce of common sense would do.  That’s pretty much an unforgivable offense.  Surely both of our heroes would realize how much they were in over their heads.  Is it a surprise that virtually everyone they confide in turns out to betray them? And when Simmons knows she has a bulls eye target on her forehead, does it make sense to go home to an apartment that is all glass with mini-blinds that are never pulled shut?  And then appear surprised at the possibility that someone might be watching her?

I really wanted to like this movie, because our heroes are so likeable and have such an interesting history and lusty spark for each other.  But they show questionable judgment over and over again.  What a shame.

I actually had a lot of trouble with the direction of this movie, contrary to your earlier accolades. The movie plods along in a characteristically British fashion. The few chase scenes in the film were merely people walking fast to avoid being caught. And some of them were filmed as though the characters were being tracked by closed circuit cameras – which ultimately had nothing to do with the story. I found it annoying and distracting.

I’m not sure where the hero’s journey is in this movie. By the end of the film our heroes come together but they seem unchanged by the events of the film. They are no better, or even worse off than when the film started. Aside from the revelation that the government was involved in the bombing and subsequent cover up, there isn’t a lot of excitement in this film.

I agree, Greg, that the hero story is largely absent.  We have two failed individuals whose only consolation is that after all the carnage they’re partly responsible for, they’ve at least rekindled their romance.  If that’s the transformation that’s supposed to move us and stir us, it most definitely falls flat.  For that reason, I give Closed Circuit just 1 Hero out of 5.

The film overall was a bit stronger, due to some fine performances by Bana and Hall and also to some impressive direction and pacing.  Closed Circuit didn’t impress me but it did somewhat entertain me despite my frustrations with the actions of the lead characters.  I award this movie 2 Reels out of 5.

Movie: reel-2 Heroes: superman-1

There were a number of attempts to pull at the heart strings. There is a subplot regarding Rose’s divorce and his relationship with his 12-year-old son that goes nowhere. It could easily have been left out of the film and no one would be the wiser. For a dry and slow presentation I give Closed Circuit 2 Reels out of 5. And for a mostly absent hero’s story I award the film a mere 1 out of 5 Heroes.

Movie: reel-2 Heroes: superman-1