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Weekday Lounge Exclusive | In theatres today

Weekday Lounge Exclusive | In theatres today
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First Published: Fri, Feb 01 2008. 12 27 AM IST
Updated: Fri, Feb 01 2008. 12 27 AM IST
American Gangster
Two Hollywood biggies’ face-off
By Kirk Honeycutt, Reuters/Hollywood Reporter
The title is catchy but misleading. Frank Lucas (Denzel Washington) was less an “American Gangster” than an original Old Gangster in sable, a caricature in the tradition of 1970s’ blaxploitation flicks.
He is in fact a real-life character, an apparently highly attractive person—likeable even—who made millions by killing people and ruining lives with the powdered death of heroin. Going up against him is Richie Roberts (Russell Crowe), an incorruptible cop from the street who is determined to put him in prison.
Director Ridley Scott takes on these familiar subjects, themes and characters with a keen eye for the social fabric, false assumptions, suffocating corruption and vivid personalities that make such a story worth retelling.
Scott and writer Steven Zaillian make certain their Old Gangster is original and true to himself and his times rather than a concoction of movie fiction. Zaillian, working from Mark Jacobson’s magazine portrait of Lucas—a heroin kingpin of Harlem in the late 1960s and early 1970s—sets two men on a collision course. Lucas Washington), a country lad from North Carolina, is the nearly invisible driver and right-hand man to Ellsworth “Bumpy” Johnson, the most famous of Harlem gangsters. When Bumpy dies in his arms, Frank moves into the vacuum caused by his death with ruthless guile and a friendly personality.
Meanwhile, Richie Roberts, a street-smart drug cop in New Jersey, is Frank’s opposite: He can’t help alienating everyone who crosses his path.
Frank’s stroke of genius in the drug trade is to cut out the middleman. His heroin, branded Blue Magic, hits the street twice as good and half as much as the competition. Richie, whose whacked-out partner is one of Blue Magic’s victims, is given his own task force. He finally targets Frank, but no one will believe him.
Scott covers a lot of territory, often in low-light levels and with the Vietnam War playing on background TV sets, soaking up the sordid atmosphere, including naked, surgically masked women cutting the dope—so no one will steal anything—and celebrities like Joe Lewis cheerfully slumming with the gangsters. The scruffiness of Richie’s world makes a brilliant contrast to Frank’s penthouse in American Gangster. Yet both worlds teem with moral ambiguity.
Releasing in theatres today.
I Know Who Killed Me
Lohan’s new movie is one of the worst of the year
By Michael Rechtshaffen, Reuters/Hollywood Reporter
There’s a fresh candidate in the running for worst movie of 2007 honours. I Know Who Killed Me, a ridiculous thriller (minus the thrills) starring the embattled Lindsay Lohan in a dual role, has all the hallmarks necessary for qualification.
The movie has a nonsensical plot that grows sillier by the second, tawdry special effects, heavy-handed symbolism that’s big on electric-blue hues and mechanical performances, are all culprits as far as the title’s concerned.
Lohan plays Aubrey Fleming, an aspiring writer and promising pianist who disappears one evening while out with friends only to turn up in a hospital minus a hand and a leg after barely escaping from a madman’s torture chamber.
When her distraught parents (Julia Ormond, Neal McDonough) rush to her side while guys in FBI T-shirts methodically hunt for her would-be killer, she doesn’t recognize the name they call her, insisting that she’s Dakota Moss, a pole dancer in a seedy strip joint who subsequently has reason to believe she may actually be Aubrey’s identical twin sister.
Don’t even ask.
You might, however, find yourself asking just what was Lohan—whose promising career already has taken a few hits with such films as Just My Luck and Georgia Rule—thinking when she signed on to this nonsense?
Lohan, harshly lit throughout much of the film, finds herself fighting a losing battle as she attempts to breathe some sort of life into an alter ego character that already has serious credibility issues.
It’s also curious how she’s the only stripper in the place who gets to keep all her clothes on while strutting her stuff, and the grisly clientele doesn’t seem to mind.
But that’s the least of the problems with Jeffrey Hammond’s script and Chris Sivertson’s pretentious direction, which signals the identity of the real killer so early on in the game, you’re sure it has to be a red—or, make that blue—herring.
And whatever remaining subtlety somehow managed to escaped Sivertson’s attention in this HD film is effectively blasted into oblivion by Joel McNeely’s bombastic, derivative score.
Releasing in New Delhi theatres today.
Rambo 4
Rambo should have left sleeping dogs of war lie
By Michael Rechtshaffen, Reuters/Hollywood Reporter
Everybody’s favourite Vietnam vet with post-traumatic stress disorder is back.
By going the unplugged route, Stallone has removed the over-the-top comic-book element that made the Rambo movies such a pop-culture staple of the Reagan era.
What remains is a lot of hyperrealistic, brutal violence; snatches of banal dialogue; and all the escalating dramatic tension of a video game.
In short, No. 4 is one big snore.
The last time we saw Rambo, he was kicking butt in Afghanistan. Since that time he has been laying low in northern Thailand, minding his business as a longboat driver on the Salween River and wrangling boa constrictors for snake fights.
But when a group of human rights missionaries gets caught in the crossfire of the still-raging Burmese-Karen civil war, Rambo ultimately rises to the challenge. Accompanied by a group of mercenaries, he soon finds himself ripping out a guy’s throat with his bare hands, just like the good old days.
Also, just like the good old days, Rambo remains the strong, silent type, which ensures that speeches like “When you’re pushed, killin’ is as easy as breathin”’ are kept to a grateful minimum.
The other trite characters in the Stallone and Art Monterastelli-penned script aren’t so lucky, which makes it easier not to become emotionally invested when a good portion of them are beheaded or vivisected or blown to bits by the intense, bloody violence. It’s ironically the only thing that’s really alive in this otherwise dull film.
From an audience point of view, you wish Stallone had instead headed in the other direction, pulling out all stops and going out in a blaze of glory, taking a page out of the John McClane playbook for last year’s guilty-pleasure Die Hard revival.
Instead Stallone is intent on showing the introspective, vulnerable man behind the legend, stripping him of most of that showy ’80s gear (but allowing him to keep his shirt on) and ending on a sun-drenched, silly coda during which a weary Rambo discovers that you can go home again.
Sorry, Sly, not this time.
Releasing in New Delhi theatres today. Already running in Mumbai.
Evening
Great cast, but still disappointing
By Kirk Honeycutt, Reuters/Hollywood Reporter
In Evening, an all-star team of film-makers takes on a minor-league story.
Budapest-born director Lajos Koltai (the Oscar-nominated Hungarian feature Fateless) cuts between two visually appealing settings: a high-society wedding on an awesome sea cliff home and the final days of the maid of honour from the wedding, a half-century later, in a lovely art and memorabilia-filled residence.
It is in the latter setting that Ann Lord (Vanessa Redgrave) is dying. She is (barely) comforted by two daughters, a happily situated mother and wife, Constance (Natasha Richardson), and her restive sister, Nina (Toni Collette). The flashbacks to the weekend wedding of 50 years earlier—where all the movie’s action is—take place in the dying woman’s mind.
As these events, as fresh as if they were yesterday, churn over in her mind, what they tell her about life and the mistakes people make is meant to hugely impact Nina’s current dilemma. Nina is in a shaky three-year-old relationship and, secretly pregnant, is uncertain what to do.
In her memories, the young Ann (Claire Danes) finds the bride-to-be, Lila Wittenborn (Mamie Gummer), in a state. Her engagement is a sham since her true love is longtime family friend and intimate Harris Arden (Patrick Wilson). Within moments, Ann herself falls under Harris’ spell. He is destined to become the “man that got away” for both young women.
For some reason, the whole movie and therefore the dying woman’s memories focus on that wedding rather than subsequent loves, marriages and daughters. So when she looks back on a life of “waste and failure,” you can’t judge. What happened afterward in her life is what matters, not that brief fling and a tragic event that forever marred the wedding.
Possibly too much has been removed from the source material. Occasional bits of magic realism indicate other means of attack in the novel. We’d also like to know much more about the bride’s curiously aloof parents (Barry Bostwick and Glenn Close).
Nevertheless, we must be grateful to any film with such glorious actresses still at the top of their game, including Meryl Streep, who turns up briefly as Lila the Elder.
Evening itself represents a master’s course in how to make do on a limited budget, a fabulous cast and Rhode Island’s generous tax incentives for filmmakers.
Releasing in Mumbai theatres today.
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First Published: Fri, Feb 01 2008. 12 27 AM IST