Statham on familiar, if fun, ground in 'Parker'
R for strong violence, language throughout, brief sexual content/ nudity; ★★★ (out of 4)
Based on a novel in a series by Richard Stark, the alter ego of the late, great Donald E. Westlake, “Parker” is basically a heist-and-payback movie, but it's made with skill and smarts.
As played by the ever-stoic Jason Statham, Parker is more antihero than hero: He operates on the wrong side of the law, but he's got a complicated code of ethics.
He will steal — and steal quite unremorsefully — but only from people who can afford it, he says. If you stumble into one of the many crimes he commits, he won't hurt you as long as you do exactly what he tells you to do. And woe unto anyone who dares to cheat him.
A double-cross is precisely what happens in the opening scenes of “Parker”: A crew carries out a daring robbery at the Ohio State Fair. The heist does not run smoothly and after their escape, the second in command, the menacing Melander (Michael Chiklis), demands that Parker turn over his share of the profits to help finance the next job.
Like any sensible individual who hears those words, Parker is skeptical. So, he refuses and gets shot, robbed and dumped at the side of the road for his trouble.
The rest of the movie follows what happens when Parker recovers and decides to get his money back from — and revenge on — the guys who left him for dead. This requires him to figure out precisely what the next job is and where it's happening. The road to payback leads him into the orbit of Leslie (Jennifer Lopez), a real estate agent dying for her first commission.
Directed by Taylor Hackford (“Ray,” “Proof of Life”), Parker is not without its absurdities. But Statham turns out to be a good choice to play the taciturn thief. He looks like the sort of guy who stands a good chance of getting out of any tight corner, even if his assailant is armed and he's not.
• Wide release
— The Miami Herald
‘Hyde Park on Hudson'
R for brief sexuality; ★★1⁄2
When did FDR have time to be president? That's the question you come away with upon watching “Hyde Park on Hudson,” Roger Michell's film about Franklin D. Roosevelt's affairs, many of the amorous type, while staying at his mother's home in upstate New York.
The FDR role is one of the odder choices in Bill Murray's odd career, but one that he makes the most of. His Roosevelt is approachable, with a twinkle in his eye. Murray always brings a little of himself to his roles, sometimes a lot. Here, it's just the right amount.
Yet his performance is not enough. There's an intriguing middle act when the king and queen of England come calling, hand out, for support against the Germans, knowing that war is inevitable. But this is bookended by the story of Daisy, played by the usually solid Laura Linney. Daisy is Roosevelt's distant cousin, dowdied up until she practically blends in with the wallpaper.
She lives at home with her mother. But in 1939, struggling against the Depression like everyone else, Daisy gets a call. The president, whom she has not seen in years, would like to see her. Thus begins what Michell and screenwriter Richard Nelson portray as a romantic affair, one that includes a rather-earthy scene set in Roosevelt's car in the middle of a field full of flowers.
King George VI (Samuel West) and Queen Elizabeth (Olivia Colman) pay the Roosevelts a visit, feeling both intimidated and superior, Elizabeth in particular. She is appalled that Eleanor Roosevelt (a fine Olivia Williams) plans to serve them hot dogs at a picnic, among other slights, real and imagined.
The gamesmanship between the royals and the Roosevelts is far superior to Daisy's story. It grows even stronger when, after a calamitous dinner, FDR and the king get down to brass tacks over drinks in the study. It's the single best moment in the film, as the stammering Bertie, as he's called, reveals his insecurities and the fatherly Roosevelt reassures him.
It's touching. And fleeting.
Somewhere beyond the fields, the Depression rages in the United States and Germany threatens Europe.
They're a fun bunch, these Roosevelts and their friends. But even in this crowd, fun's just not enough.
• Manor Theatre
— The Arizona Republic
‘Hansel & Gretel: Witch Hunters'
R for strong fantasy-horror violence and gore, brief sexuality/nudity and language; ★1⁄2
“Hansel & Gretel: Witch Hunters” is more Gatling guns and grenades than The Brothers Grimm. It takes the kidnapped kiddies into adulthood, where they've parlayed their fame at cooking a witch's goose into an extermination business.
High-concept pitch or no, the movie doesn't really work. They were shooting for sort of a witch-hunting “Zombieland,” a curse-riddled “Van Helsing” packed with comical anachronisms — a Bavarian forest past with witch trials, pump shotguns and primitive tasers, where bottles of milk have woodcut pictures of “missing children” on the labels.
Hansel (Jeremy Renner) and Gretel (Gemma Arterton) show up just as the village of Augsburg is about to burn a redhead. “Gingers” were a favorite target of witch hunters. Hansel shrugs this barbaric crime off, but Gretel insists that the locals need “evidence.” That puts them in conflict with the sheriff (Peter Stormare), who can't get a handle on their “witch plague” and the missing children who come with it. H & G have been hired to do what he cannot, chasing lesser witches in pursuit of the Great Witch, played by Famke Janssen.
Writer-director Tommy Wirkola focuses on the fights and flings all manner of viscera at the 3-D camera as limbs are whacked off and heads and torsos explode. Less attention was paid to the story. The cleverest touch? Hansel's mania for candy-covered houses is what landed Hansel & Gretel in that witch's clutches, all those years ago. Now, he carries an ancient hypodermic needle and takes injections to ward off insulin shock.
• Wide release
— McClatchy-Tribune Newspapers
‘The Central Park Five'
Not rated; ★★★★
The sense of outrage “The Central Park Five” evokes is considerable. Five black and Latino boys were convicted of brutally beating and raping a white jogger in Central Park in 1989. The case created a media firestorm; words like “wilding” entered the lexicon.
New York went insane, as did the newspapers and television stations that covered the city. These kids and the hideous violence they inflicted were surely a sign of the decline of civilization.
There is only one problem.
They didn't do it.
This is not a spoiler; we learn at the beginning of the film, directed by Ken Burns, his daughter Sarah and her husband, David McMahon, what really happened. But you'll notice something odd as you watch and your anger rises at the injustice of it all: The anger of the wrongly convicted does not.
Instead, Antron McCray, Kevin Richardson, Kharey Wise, Yusef Salaam, and Raymond Santana are reflective, soft-spoken. There are a few tears shed as they think about what might have been.
How could this happen?
The five confessed, for one thing. But video of their interrogations, along with their side of the story, suggests that they broke under repeated questioning and threats, along with promises. Each was told that one of the others had placed him at the scene.
New York in 1989 was a city living in fear, we see from news clips. Prosecuting and convicting these boys became paramount, a balm for a city where crime was running rampant. The boys weren't exactly busy with charitable works at the time of the attack, either. The beating and rape wasn't the only violent incident in Central Park that night. But there was no physical evidence linking the kids to the crime. DNA tests were negative.
No matter. All five were convicted. And all five served their sentences before a serial rapist named Matias Reyes confessed to the crime. His story matched. So did his DNA.
But that question remains for us: How could it happen?
— The Arizona Republic
R; Not reviewed
Everyone you have ever heard of stars in, writes or directs this intertwined raunchy comedy. Names? Hugh Jackman, Emma Stone, Richard Gere, Elizabeth Banks, Kate Winslet, Halle Berry and many, many more.
• Wide release