Sunday, July 5, 2015

Terminator Genisys, Magic Mike XXL, Jimmy's Hall, A Murder in the Park, Amy

Terminator Genisys
Magic Mike XXL

Jimmy's Hall
A Murder in the Park


Capsule reviews on a mixed week of movies:

“Old, not obsolete,” Ah-nuld repeats during “Terminator Genisys,” and it’s an apt description of both the man and the franchise. The good humor and chemistry he shares with his two young leads make this fifth installment a pleasant surprise. The plot may prove too complicated for some viewers, but for those who invest the effort it’s a well-constructed time-warp across decades and potentialities. My only complaint is that it becomes less interesting and somewhat repetitive as we near (and pass) the two-hour mark. Still, Emilia Clarke impresses as Sarah Connor, who begrudgingly tolerates the guardian Terminator she calls “Pops”; Jai Courtney makes a hunky and highly appealing Kyle Reese; and Schwarzenegger carries the movie with his finely tuned comic sensibility. Note his almost imperceptible downward glance as he tells Kyle (who’s naked for time travel purposes), “I’ve seen little to suggest you can protect her” – maybe the funniest line of the year. “Terminator Genisys,” with its 27% Tomatometer, takes a place alongside such underappreciated flicks as “The 6th Day” and “The Last Action Hero.” My audience gave it a hearty ovation. 

No ovation, just silence after the surprisingly flat sequel “Magic Mike XXL.” The absence of original director Steven Soderbergh is keenly felt in a movie that never zings and in which almost nothing is at stake. His longtime first AD, Gregory Jacobs, takes over, and quickly announces (via returning star Channing Tatum, who needs to leave this series in the rearview mirror) that “80s rock is passé.” It’s not, of course, and never will be, but in place of its high spirits and winky suggestiveness we now get a song with the (frequently repeated) lyric “I could fuck you all the time.” Instead of “It’s Raining Men,” R. Kelly sings, “I kill the pussy, dig a grave, she grab the wood like grippin grain, I told her put it in my face, let it rain let it rain.” Any fool knows mystery heightens the excitement. An attractive man or woman in a skimpy outfit is far more stimulating than the same person naked, a lesson lost on Jacobs. You would also think that by now, with homosexuality legitimized to the tune of nationwide gay marriage, the series would at least advert to the men who patronize shows such as Mike’s or, say, The Thunder Down Under. Nope. What does work? Andie MacDowell, terrific as a long-deprived divorcée who’s utterly forthright about her desire. (She apologizes to Joe Manganiello’s Richie for “popping the hood” even as her fingers keep unzipping.) Jada Pinkett Smith, in command as an MC and owner of what appears to be a boutique members-only strip club for wealthy Savannah black women (though an extended scene at that club is the movie’s slackest). And Tatum’s face and body, which hold our attention while the underdeveloped supporting strippers generate a few laughs but go nowhere.

It’s sad to hear that Ken Loach’s new film “Jimmy’s Hall” may be his last. If so, the socially conscious English director of such first-rate films as “Hidden Agenda” (1990), “Bread & Roses” (2001, featuring a better performance by Adrien Brody than the one he won an Oscar for in “The Pianist” a year later) and 2013’s charming sleeper “The Angels’ Share” has gone out with a whimper. “Jimmy’s Hall” is little more than an Irish “Footloose” without the kicky soundtrack. Loach plucks from obscurity the labor organizer James Gralton (Barry Ward), the only Irishman ever deported from the Emerald Isle, who opens a dance hall that the movie portrays as a community center with art lessons and poetry readings, but which was in fact a forum for his political speeches. So when Father Sheridan (Jim Norton) – the movie’s equivalent of “Footloose’s” Reverend Shaw Moore – calls Gralton and his coterie “Communists,” it comes off as a classic bit of over-the-top demonization, but lo and behold, that’s exactly what they were! Loach also adds a fictitious love interest (Simone Kirby). Norton and Kirby give their all – outperforming the at best mildly charismatic Ward – in a vain effort to bring nuance to their characters that Loach hasn’t provided. He’s played fast and loose with the facts, and he should know better.

The same is true many times over of David Protess, the real-life villain of Brandon Kimber and Christopher S. Rech’s compelling documentary “A Murder in the Park.” Protess is a disgraced former professor of journalism at Northwestern’s prestigious Medill School who, motivated by zeal for the abolition of the death penalty as well as less lofty ideals (money and fame), conspired with an amoral private investigator named Paul Ciolino and a despicable lawyer named Jack Rimland to manufacture the lie that a death row inmate two days from execution had been wrongly convicted of a double murder and another man was guilty of the crime. Amid a breathless wave of media reports, the state of Illinois released the inmate, Anthony Porter, then-governor George Ryan (who, like most Illinois politicians, himself wound up in prison) commuted all outstanding death sentences, and the man Protess identified as guilty, Alstory Simon, accepted a plea bargain of 37 years. The problem – as Kimber and Rech establish beyond doubt – is that Porter was the real killer and Simon was never even at the crime scene. The film recalls Errol Morris’ seminal documentary “The Thin Blue Line” in its use of talking-head interviews, focus on quotidian objects, and reënactments in which each witness’ version of events is brought to life. It surprises at every turn, from Ciolino and his goon coercing a confession from Simon by brandishing revolvers and playing videotaped “witness testimony” that had been recorded by a paid actor, to Ciolino setting Simon up with criminal defense attorney Rimland, who happened to share office space with Ciolino and, while representing Simon, presented Protess an award for his success in freeing Tony Porter! Protess’ students come off as incredibly lazy and stupid, but more as pawns than malefactors.

Fewer words, but an equally unqualified recommendation for Asif Kapadia’s documentary “Amy,” a haunting photo and video diary of the abbreviated life of the singer Amy Winehouse, over which play the voices of those who loved her. Here was a brilliant singer (jazz singer, really) for whom success meant the freedom to hole up and write and perform her music, forced instead – by a father and junkie husband riding the gravy train – to become a pop celebrity. She had no support system to deal with fame and no ability to create her own. Even those of us who had only been exposed to her biggest hit – the cruelly apposite “Rehab” – can recognize what a grievous loss her untimely death meant for music.

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