Tag Archives: Speed

Broken City – Spin City 2000

Broken record: Crooked mayor Russell Crowe reminds Mark Wahlberg who's boss. Again.

Broken record: Crooked mayor Russell Crowe reminds Mark Wahlberg who’s boss. Again.

Another tale of political corruption in the US here, Broken City feels very much a product of a different time, that time being the 1990s.

Written by newcomer Brian Tucker, Broken City sees New York’s slimy mayor Nicholas Hostetler (Russell Crowe) trying to win a tight re-election campaign against improbably nice politician Jack Valliant (Barry Pepper). His name sounds like valiant, so you know he’s the good guy. Unfortunately for everyone (including us), the manipulative Mrs. Hostetler (Catherine Zeta-Jones) is having a not-so-subtle affair, and her accomplice may be a member of Valliant’s campaign team. Proper scandal here, like.

Enter Mark Wahlberg’s Billy Taggart, a disgraced former cop let off the hook by Hostetler back in the day, now a struggling private detective. Taken on by Hostetler to spy on his wife, Billy soon ends up getting caught in a web of intrigue and back-stabbery that might make a good TV movie version of L.A. Confidential.

Breaking so little new ground that it actually manages to pack dirt back into that hole, Broken City is however a passable entertainment, the sort of film that you might catch on the telly at 11pm after an aborted night out and be very grateful to have stumbled upon.

Crowe and Wahlberg, two actors prone to violent bouts of over-acting when under-directed, make a surprisingly good pair here, neither quite able to out-class, or out-yell, the other. Zeta-Jones sleepwalks through her role like never before, but the always reliable Jeffrey Wright and comeback king Kyle Chandler provide quality support, however rarely.

Director Allen Hughes, out on his own for the first time having made the likes of From Hell and The Book of Eli with his twin brother Albert, goes for a gritty look in his film, but finds the night sky of New York too polluted with office lights and street lamps. Even in the darkest corners of Brooklyn Hughes can’t quite make New York look like a bad place to live. The constantly moving camera makes one wonder if his D.P. was involved in some twisted re-enactment of the film Speed, where if the camera dropped under 2 miles per hour it would explode.

The main plot may be nothing new, but it has enough little twists to keep the attention, even if it never gives a sense of New York City beyond the corridors of power. The subplots are a mess however, with Billy’s troubled relationship and even more troubled past feeling like after thoughts, which are hardly resolved at all.

With some nice touches, particularly a television debate between Hostetler and Valliant – in which Crowe is finely caked in fake tan – that takes a turn for the nasty, Broken City is still little more than another post-Oscars screen-filler. It will do fine until something better comes along, but it’ll do even finer on Netflix during a post-Christmas party hangover. If you must see it, save it for then.

2/5

(originally published at http://www.filmireland.net)

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The Blind Side – Review

"And then the Ugly Duckling realised he was no longer an ugly duckling, he was now an enormous black guy."

The Blind Side will forever be known as that film that got “your one from all those romcoms” an Oscar. Because let’s face it, after her exciting first appearance in Speed, no-one ever thought Sandra Bullock would win an Oscar. Even Julia Roberts won an Oscar in less time than she did.

But its one factoid aside, is it actually any good?

Well, surprisingly, yes. As good as any straight-forward, feel-good, triumph-over-adversity, could-easily-have-been-a-made-for-TV-movie film can be.

The Blind Side has a lot in its favour – it’s a true story, and a recent story at that. It has reasonably strong actors with fun, punchy dialogue and a few important life lessons. It has an ever-so-slightly over-the-top dramatic soundtrack by Carter Burwell. But most of all, it has something that very few films successfully achieve these days, and that’s pacing.

Somehow, in all of its 130 minutes, while you may never be utterly riveted to the screen, looking at your watch will be far from your thoughts. The Blind Side is so excessively endearing that you get strangely caught up in its suspiciously nice world.

And my is it nice! Somehow Sandra Bullock, as successful interior designer cum would-be philanthropist Leigh Anne Tuohy, takes a character who is almost inhumanly decent, overpoweringly Christian and altogether just plain nice and invests in her a puzzlingly suitable bitchy charm. For all Bullock’s claims that it was a tough role to prepare for, you can’t help but imagine she is very similar to Tuohy in real life, at least in terms of personality – ever-so lovely but would kill you if you got in the way of what she wanted most of all. (No, I will not be getting into her private life, thank you.)

Similarly, her husband Sean, played with Waltons-style charm by country singer Tim McGraw, is just plain nice. Like, inspiring nice. A part of you wants to believe that if he’s not having affairs all over town (don’t even go there) then he at least has a few door-to-door salesmen chained up down in the basement. But the other part of you just deals with the fact that these people probably are that nice. The real-life photo montage that plays over the credits confirms it. They’re nice. Good lovely people. Damn them.

It’s because they’re so believably nice that what happens next doesn’t jar. They take in an enormous black kid off the street – because they’re just that nice. Yes, we can work in rich-guilt or whatever, but the film doesn’t want to deal with that. It wants to deal with them being nice to poor Michael Oher.

Quinton Aaron, as Michael, never quite gets across much more than repressed sadness and meekly expressed joy. Of course, this is such a simple story that he doesn’t need to. Any anger he might feel at his former life is saved for the football field, and those scenes are largely played for laughs, as the lumbering menace discovers his inherent skills.

There are little moments of rich versus poor, white versus black, and the film treads into areas of drugs and gang culture, but it quickly returns to themes of family and self-worth. The whole thing reeks of saccharine, and yet you can’t really complain about it.

There are the lesser moments. Sean Junior, the family’s biological son, as played by 11-year-old Jae Head, is a bit too annoyingly cutesy, but even he manages to endear at times. In one sequence, where Michael saves Sean Jr’s life, the audience is downright patronised as Leigh Anne slowly pieces together how it happened. And Kathy Bates shows up as a tutor for Michael, who helps him get into university (and thus a proper football team), but her relevance seems empty until her appearance (or rather, the appearance of someone she resembles) in that final photo montage – no doubt her character became an important friend to the family, but the film never quite captures that.

Again, the blips are brief. The film strolls along at its own pace, only speeding up for the football games which are few enough to just about keep sports fans interested without actually making this a “sports film”.

The Blind Side will undoubtedly become another forgotten film that never won much but never offended anybody – it’s just another touching heart-warmer about a troubled kid who gets lucky and, pushing himself, becomes a hero.

It’s far from perfect, but who needs perfect when you can have ever-so-very nice?

3/5

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