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Capsule reviews of recently released movies

New Releases

BREACH Though lacking the breadth and complexity of this past winter's The Good Shepherd, Breach is another dour cloak and dagger thriller set within the corridors of one of America's omniscient law enforcement agencies. In this case, it's the FBI, and the subject is the true-life saga of the apprehension of agent Robert Hanssen, who in 2001 was brought down for his role as a longtime spy for the Russians. The superb Chris Cooper plays Hanssen, who's presented as a deeply religious man with a disdain for homosexuals, strong-willed women (Hillary Clinton rates a diss) and many of his peers at the bureau. He's assigned a clerk named Eric O'Neill (Ryan Phillippe), not realizing that the young man is a budding agent who's been ordered by his superior (Laura Linney) to spy on him and collect any potentially incriminating evidence. Apparently adhering closer to the facts than many Hollywood fictionalizations (director and co-writer Billy Ray even works in Hanssen's fetish for secretly filming and writing about his sexual encounters with his unsuspecting wife), Breach is competent without being particularly distinguished, with Cooper working hard to provide any psychological subtext to the story behind the headlines. As the green Eric, Phillippe is adequate, though if there's any variance between his performances in Crash, Flags of Our Fathers and this film, I must have blinked and missed it. **1/2

Current Releases

BECAUSE I SAID SO A nasty piece of cinema posing as a romantic comedy, Because I Said So is this year's Monster-In-Law, a vicious stab at the maternal instinct that also manages to humiliate the iconic actress at its center. Diane Keaton headlines the film as Daphne, a 59-year-old woman who still dotes on her youngest daughter, Milly (Mandy Moore). Determined to find Mr. Right for Milly, Daphne interviews prospective suitors and settles on a wealthy architect (Tom Everett Scott), but her plans are upset by the additional presence of a struggling musician (Gabriel Macht). For all its faults -- reprehensible characters, grotesque racial profiling (check out the Asian masseuses), a dog not only humping the furniture after hearing moans emanating from an Internet porn site but actually licking the computer screen as well -- the movie's most unforgivable sin is its treatment of the great Diane Keaton. Jane Fonda had lost her acting chops by the time she returned from retirement to appear in Monster-In-Law, but Keaton is still an active and accomplished performer. But watching her humiliated on camera in the service of such a loathsome character (she shrieks! she whines! she falls on her ass!) is inexcusable. Just a few years ago, Keaton played a character who was sexy, funny and intelligent in Something's Gotta Give. This one's more like Something Gave Out. *

CATCH AND RELEASE Susannah Grant has written solid scripts for other filmmakers (Erin Brockovich, In Her Shoes), so it's lamentable that for her own directorial debut, she didn't keep a winner for herself but instead settled on a screenplay that must have been hiding for years in the back of her sock drawer. Catch and Release stars Jennifer Garner as Gray Wheeler, who, after the death of her fiancé, turns to his best friends for comfort and companionship. There's roly-poly Sam (Kevin Smith), who, unbelievable suicide attempt notwithstanding, will provide the comic relief; there's reliable but dorky Dennis (Sam Jaeger), who will provide the nervous tension; and there's bad boy Fritz (Timothy Olyphant), who will provide the romantic sparks once Gray realizes he's actually the right guy for her. Grant's best works reveal a real attention to detail when it comes to human foibles, which makes it all the more surprising that these characters are so broadly drawn: Take out a few PG-13 innuendoes and what's basically left is a sitcom pilot ready to be dropped into the prime-time schedule once American Idol wraps its latest blockbuster season. Garner, terrific over the course of five years on Alias, continues to search for just the right big-screen role -- this isn't the one -- while Juliette Lewis is depressingly cast yet again as a goober gal who possesses more eyeliner than brains. **

HANNIBAL RISING This prequel to the myriad Hannibal Lecter titles now lining DVD shelves hits theaters reeking of "cash-in-quick sequel," so it's somewhat shocking to note that, for a good while anyway, its creators actually make a go out of creating something beyond the expected. Director Peter Webber, who earned kudos for his Johannes Vermeer sorta-biopic Girl With a Pearl Earring, lavishes painterly attention to the film's look (cinematographer Ben Davis shares the credit), while writer Thomas Harris (who apparently wrote the recently released novel concurrent with the screenplay) takes great pains to fill in the backstory on the cannibalistic serial killer and how the events in his youth -- WWII-era through the early 1950s -- turned him into a human monster. Unfortunately, after a fairly gripping first half, the movie devolves into a routine rip-off of Death Wish, with the youthful Hannibal (played by Gaspard Ulliel) exacting his bloody revenge on those who abused him years earlier and thereby turned him into the killing machine he eventually became. Rhys Ifans is effective as the sneering heavy, Gong Li adds understated concern as the woman who takes Hannibal under her wing, and Dominic West functions as the audience surrogate in the role of the kindly police inspector who seeks to understand Hannibal even as he tries to stop him. **

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