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Boot Camp

Director: Christian Duguay
Cast: Mila Kunis, Peter Stormare, Gregory Smith
Runtime: 99 minutes

What loving mother would sign over the care of her only daughter to a monster like me?
-Dr. Norman Hail (Peter Stormare)

 

Papillon meets Lord of the Flies in Boot Camp, a self-styled thriller about the tough love movement and its effect on the children that are thrust into it.

Sophie (Mila Kunis) is the troubled teen who has yet to come to grips with the death of her father or her mother’s remarriage. Lashing out at her family and embarking on a self-destructive path her stepfather signs her up for A.S.A.P., a tough love camp that promises rehabilitation for troubled youths in a serene tropical setting but delivers something else entirely. The children are beaten and abused, malnourished, brainwashed and eventually set against each other as the only way to “advance” up through the ranks and prove their rehabilitation. Ben (Gregory Smith) is Sophie’s boyfriend who refuses to write Sophie off the way her family has, endeavoring to find her and eventually getting himself sent off to the same camp by his parents. Dr. Hail (Peter Stormare) runs the camp with a monomaniacal zeal with the help of his “enforcer”, an Army deserter who apparently is there because Dr. Hail has leverage on him but takes to his activities with his own ruthless determination, routinely forcing girls to exchange sex for advancement and eventual release.

Boot Camp has a powerful tale to tell but reaches too far and tends to ask too much of the viewer. While many parents have relegated their children to boot camps such as Dr. Hail’s, this camp goes the extra step of seizing and handcuffing the children, dragging them off and sending them to an island for as long as two years with no communication from their families. Ben, desperate to find a way to be with Sophie, is apparently able to convince his parents to take this drastic step after a few weeks – claiming that he was depressed and turned to drugs when his girlfriend broke up with him. Wooden performances and shallow characters don’t do much to help suspend the disbelief.

The movie is meant to be an indictment of the parents who would subject their children to these measures instead of just doing their jobs as parents, with Sophie’s mother painted in passing as the villain for letting her new husband dictate what Sophie needs and Dr. Hail making a fleeting attempt at convincing the parents of the children in his care that they brought this on themselves. As the children rise up against their oppressors in the end, they are the ones who develop a conscience and refuse to be what their parents seemed to think they were, seemingly making them all innocent victims all along.

Boot Camp bills itself as an action/thriller movie, but plays best when viewed as a docudrama on the boot camp/tough love movement and the “parents” who choose that over doing their jobs as parents – the ones who truly deserve the boot.

-Late

Boot Camp

Rating by Larry McCloskey: 2.5 stars
**1/2

The Soloist

Director: Joe Wright
Cast: Jamie Foxx, Robert Downey Jr.
Runtime: 116 minutes
CARA Rating: PG-13 for thematic elements, some drug use and language

“…the simple act of being someone’s friend can change his brain chemistry, improve his functioning in the world.”
-Steve Lopez (Robert Downey, Jr.)

 

Steve Lopez is a writer looking for a story. Like most inspiration, he’ll find it where he expects it least.

The Soloist is the true story of Los Angeles Times reporter Steve Lopez and Nathaniel Ayers, a homeless man who Lopez discovers playing a broken violin of the streets of LA. The story takes on a twist as Lopez discovers that Ayers’ seemingly delusional stories of his studies at Julliard are true. Ayers, it turns out, dragged himself out of a poor neighborhood in Cleveland on the strength of his talent with the cello and made it to the prestigious halls of Julliard before suffering the onset of paranoid schizophrenia. Unable to cope with the stress, his illness and life in general, Ayers withdrew from society and his family but couldn’t walk away from his love of Beethoven – a love that he carries with him onto the streets and shares with the world in the only way he can.

Jamie Foxx masterfully handles a demanding role in Nathaniel Ayers. The role is sympathetic on its own, but his ability to hint at the darkness within Ayers’ psychosis is what really brings the movie to life. Robert Downey Jr. plays up the self-serving side of Lopez without making the character heartless, but often seems to be at odds with himself – perhaps more a fault of the script than the portrayal. The supporting characters, though, most notably Lopez’s ex-wife Mary (Catherine Keener), tend to be window dressing at their best and distracting at their worst and the movie has a tendency to get off-track with trivial side stories, making the whole seem long. This lack of restraint is the film’s biggest flaw. Too much attention is paid to the trivialities of Lopez’s job and personal life in a story that is supposed to be about his subject, Nathaniel.

The one thing that The Soloist does extremely well is maintain its soul and its compassion without becoming patronizing. Life on the streets is rarely about happy endings and there’s still no magic pill for the mentally ill. The Soloist is, at its core, the story of reaching out to help someone who doesn’t understand or even believe that they need help and seems ill-equipped to accept what aid can be given. At times the film can really make the viewer that we really are all alone, even in a crowd; it is a movie that appeals to the soloist spirit in all of us.

-Late

The Soloist

Rating by Larry McCloskey: 3.5 stars
***1/2

Slumdog Millionaire

Slumdog Millionaire DVD cover

It’s an escape. Isn’t it?
-Latika (Freida Pinto)

A modern-day Dickens tale, Slumdog Millionaire is the rags-to-riches tale of Jamal Malik (Dev Patel) and his star-crossed love, Latika (Freida Pinto). A young, uneducated “slumdog” from Mumbai, Jamal is a contestant on the Indian “Who Wants to be a Millionaire?” and has made it all the way to the final question, convincing the cynical host Prem (Anil Kapoor) that he must be cheating. Jamal is taken into custody and interrogated, saying only that “I knew the answers”. The story unfolds as a series of flashbacks as Jamal recounts how his life brought him to know the answers to the questions one-by-one.

Through a series of flashbacks we see Jamal and his older brother, Salim, as they struggle to survive the streets of the slum they were born into. Along the way, Jamal finds love while Salim finds his comfort at the end of a gun barrel – each finding largely the life that they make for themselves. Along the way, they meet another orphan on the streets, Latika, who joins them as their third musketeer. Some small joys and lot more pain follow, but the three always seem to somehow wind up back together one way or another despite the best efforts of fate and, at times, themselves. Strangely, despite the brutality of the world around our characters, the overall arc gets sappy. While the overwhelming theme of the movie is hope triumphing over adversity, the common theme through these panoramic glimpses of their lives is that we are all shaped by our life experiences and, more importantly, even the most innocuous moments can give us exactly what we need later in life.

Director Danny Boyle’s fingerprint is all over this film. The visual style and, at times, pacing are reminiscent of Trainspotting, but, like The Beach it has a tendency to get bogged down in its quest to be epic. The love story between Jamal and Latika seems contrived in the face of the larger story. Someone coming from nothing, without all of the education and other advantages that so many take for granted, making it out of the slums and doing it “the right way” is a strong enough story without him getting onto the game show because he knew that Latika would be watching so that they could once again be reunited. Salim’s story, as well, seems to come together a little too easily. Other minor points detract from the film: the constant shifting between English and subtitled Hindi is odd and the subtitles themselves aren’t particularly well done at times.

While not the technical masterpiece that it has been hailed as, Slumdog Millionaire is a pinnacle of escapism. For those who gladly suspend disbelief in search of a modern-day fairy tale, this is it – the other issues are easily enough overlooked by those of us who, in this day and age, want – or need – to see the slumdog who became a millionaire.

-Late

Slumdog Millionaire

Rating by Larry McCloskey: 3.0 stars
***

Marley and Me

Marley And Me DVD cover

Sometimes life has a better idea.
-Arnie Klein (Alan Arkin)

John and Jennifer Grogan (Owen Wilson and Jennifer Aniston) were a young couple of newlyweds with their whole lives in front of them, much of it planned out in advance by Jenny. The one thing neither of them had planned on was Marley. But life has a tendency to get in the way of one’s plans and with some love, laughter and yes, even heartache, sometimes the real thing is so much better.

Marley & Me is the heartwarming story of a dog and his family. While John and Jenny may think that they adopted a new “clearance puppy” for themselves in Marley, we learn pretty early on that it’s the other way around. Marley is more than a handful and at times more than they can handle but never any less than a member of their new family. As we watch their lives evolve into something entirely different from what they had intended or planned, Marley remains the one constant counterbalance: when they are at their happiest he’s at his worst and when they are at their lowest he’s right there to lay a warm, furry head on their lap.

Every year, Hollywood churns out a new batch of dog movies, but it’s rare that one has the heart of Marley & Me. The film gives us a believable look at the joys and pains of life through the eyes of the whole family, not just a family coping with a crazy dog throughout their lives. Poignant and at times provocative, Marley & Me gives one of truer accountings of a dog’s life and the family that took him in as a puppy, trained him (or tried to), and watched their children grow up with him and it does it with all of the bittersweetness of life. The fact that the film is based upon the real-life memoirs of columnist John Grogan definitely works well to flesh it out and make it “real”.

The movie does drag just a bit in the middle and might have benefitted from a firmer editing hand, but if the worst that one can say about a film is that we get too much of a look at the life of a real American family then that’s okay. The rest of the pacing and direction is fine: just as you’re starting to ask yourself why anybody would keep this out of control dog, Marley does something that melts your heart and reminds you all over again. Much like life, the highs in the film are always tempered with some sort of conflict (typically with Marley) and the lows are always accompanied by a knowing whimper or a much-needed hug.

Marley may be “the world’s worst dog”, but ultimately has a heart of gold – as does the film – take it from me…and Marley.

-Late

Marley And Me

Rating by Larry McCloskey: 4.0 stars
****

Quantum of Solace

Director: Marc Forster
Cast: Daniel Craig, Judi Dench, Olga Kurylenko, Mathieu Amalric
Runtime: 106 minutes
CARA Rating: PG-13 for intense sequences of violence and action, and some sexual content

“I promised them Le Chiffre and they got him…if they wanted his soul, they should have made a deal with a priest.”
-James Bond (Daniel Craig)

 

After furor amongst James Bond fans over his selection in Casino Royale, Daniel Craig is back to reprise the role in the latest installment of the franchise, Quantum of Solace.

A direct sequel to Casino Royale, Quantum of Solace picks up right after the conclusion, with Bond driving the enigmatic Mr. White to an MI6 safehouse for interrogation regarding the shadowy organization that he works for. This continues a chain of events that leads Bond to track down the principles of the mysterious Quantum group, who has people “everywhere” yet is largely unknown to the international intelligence community. Bond works backward, eventually crossing paths with Quantum’s Dominic Greene, and begins to see just how powerful this foe is and how deeply its tendrils dig into the politics and economy of the world.

Quantum of Solace continues the darker version of Bond that the previous film introduced and is only darkened by Bond’s personal stake in bringing down Quantum. Craig continues to make the character his own and the new Bond plays more as the international man of mystery and danger than the playboy that previous Bonds, notably Sean Connery and Roger Moore, have portrayed him as. Bond enthusiasts are still split on whether or not that is a good thing, but for the action-junkie crowd it’s a boon. In fact, a lot of this film appeals more to the action film crowd than the true Bond fans. Dominic Greene (Mathieu Amalric) is atypical as a Bond villain in that he has no secret lair and operates entirely in front of the world, a corrupt businessman that deals with corrupt politicians to achieve his ends instead of a deranged madman out to destroy the world. Likewise, Elvis (Anatole Taubman) is by far the most lackluster evil henchman in a franchise that has produced the likes of Moonraker’s Jaws (Richard Kiel) and Goldfinger’s Oddjob (Harold Sakata). For the Bond-enthusiast, these are unforgiveable transgressions, but for the “crossover” crowd, this is probably a truer look at the world of today. Movies, James Bond films included, have evolved past such obvious antagonists and most people understand and accept that the world just isn’t that clear cut anymore. While Quantum of Solace stands well on its own as a film that the uninitiated can enjoy, without being versed in the lore of James Bond, it takes some work to get up to speed, particularly early on, as Casino Royale is heavily referenced. The bulk of the missing pieces can be pieced together from the dialogue, but seeing both will certainly help. That may be the one flaw with the film: it appeals to non-Bond fans very well, but makes rampant use of assumed knowledge.

The action in Quantum of Solace in breakneck and non-stop. At times, this can make the action sequences seem disjointed and the logic of some of the scenes breaks down, but dissecting this sort of adrenaline ride on that level is missing the point. The characters also have a tendency to break down and become window dressing, but looked at in the light of using this film to further develop the new, darker James Bond, that is forgivable as well. Bond’s evolution and his working relationship with M (Judi Dench) are the keys here and both work well.

Technically, Quantum of Solace is brilliant. The stuntwork and special effects are top notch, allowing for some incredible action sequences that despite their audacity never seem unbelievable. The cinematography and editing, too, are incredible and put the viewer right in the flow of the action. One cannot watch this movie without being swept away at times and you learn early on not to dare look away, even for a second.

Quantum of Solace may take the character of James Bond in a new direction, but it’s one that suits him. While there’s something to be said for escapism in movies, there’s also a case to be made for keeping them current and relevant. As enjoyable as the classic Bond films are, the new, darker, deeper films translate better into today’s world. The action itself provides plenty of escape for your movie-viewing pleasure. Strap yourself in for this ride, there’s no solace to be found here.

-Late

Quantum Of Solace

Rating by Larry McCloskey: 3.5 stars
***1/2

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