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Posts Tagged ‘John Hawkes’

Mos Def, John Hawkes and kidnap victim Jennifer Aniston

Mos Def, John Hawkes and kidnap victim Jennifer Aniston

“LIFE OF CRIME”  My rating: C+  (Now showing at the Cinetopia)

98 minutes | MPAA rating: R

Movie chemistry is a weird thing.

Sometimes you can have a lot going for you — terrific performances, a literary pedigree — and yet the damn souffle won’t rise.

Such is the fate of “Life of Crime,” an adaptation of the Elmore Leonard novel The Switch and set in his familiar world of bumbling crooks and unlikely heroes.

Written and directed by Daniel Schechter, whose credits include the little-seen “Goodbye, Baby” and “Supporting Characters,” the film has a plot that might be a variation on O. Henry’s “The Ransom of Red Chief,” that classic short story about kidnappers who discover the rich brat they’ve snatched is more than they can handle. (It might also remind you of “Ruthless People,” the 1986 Bette Midler comedy about a kidnapping.)

Low-level Detroit crooks Ordelle (Mos Def, performing under his real name of Yaslin Bey) and Louie (the ever-excellent John Hawkes) cook up a scheme to snatch Mickey (Jennifer Aniston), the wife of local crooked businessman Frank Dawson (Tim Robbins).  They will hold her in the home of a third accomplice, a Nazi-worshipping head case (Mark Boone Junior).

What nobody counts on is that Frank is having an affair with a scheming younger woman, Melanie (Isla Fisher), and has no reason to cough up a $1 million ransom for the return of the wife he was already planning on trading in.

Typical of a Leonard yarn, “Life of Crime” is a mix of both humor and suspense. We’ve seen this formula work wonderfully in movies like “Get Chili” and “Out of Sight”, but something goes wrong here.  It’s not that Schechter’s movie lacks either humor or suspense, but rather that the proportions seem out of whack.  The best Leonard adaptations are actually funnier than the books they are based on. One is likely to respond to a Leonard book more with a wry grimace than with an outright belly laugh, and that’s the style Schechter adapts.

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“MARTHA MARCY MAY MARLENE” My rating: B (Opening Nov. 11 at the )

102 minutes | MPAA rating: R

One of the great thrills of moviegoing is coming across a young performer and realizing, within the space of just a few moments, that this could be a major star.

That’s what happens with Elizabeth Olsen in “Martha Marcy May Marlene,”  writer/director Sean Durkin’s moody, almost unbearably creepy look at a survivor of a Manson-type cult.

Durkin’s tightly-wound feature debut follows our titular protagonist as she surreptitiously slips away from the farm commune where she has lived off the radar for the last couple of years. She phones her older  sister Lucy (Sarah Paulson), who drives three hours to pick her up. Soon she’s living in the guest room of the posh lakeside vacation home of Lucy and her husband Ted (Hugh Darcy).

Martha and Lucy share a troubled history. Lucy is ambitious, well-educated; Martha a  rootless drifter.

But whatever sibling issues they’ve been through, it’s clear that the last few years have done a number on Martha.

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Vera Farmiga in "Higher Ground"

“HIGHER GROUND” My rating: B- (Opens Oct. 14 at the Tivoli and Glenwood at Red Bridge)

109 minutes | Audience rating: R

The loss of religious faith is a challenging, hot-button topic for a filmmaker’s directing debut.

So much could go wrong.

“Higher Ground,” from actress Vera Farmiga, doesn’t go wrong, exactly, but it never really adds up.

Working from a screenplay by Carolyn S. Briggs (adapting her memoir This Dark World), the film chronicles the gradual falling away from Christianity of Corinne (Farmiga), a young wife and mother.

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Gwyneth Paltrow...not feeling so good

“CONTAGION’’ My rating: B (Opening wide on Sept. 9)

105 minutes |MPAA rating: PG-13

There’s no shortage of big names in the cast, but the real star of “Contagion” is filmmaker Stephen Soderbergh.

His latest is a hypnotic juggling act, a carefully calibrated mashup of characters and situations that proves him a master storyteller.

This time the maker of “Traffic,” “Erin Brockovich,” “Che” and “Out of Sight” (and, yes, the “Ocean’s” flicks) delivers a “what if?” thriller about a killer flu pandemic that puts mankind on the ropes.

“Contagion” paints a grim but fully-detailed picture of how we’d react in such circumstances, and it’s not pretty.

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