REVIEW: HENRY’S CRIME

Starring

Keanu Reeves (John Wick)
James Caan (Elf)
Vera Farmiga (Bates Motel)
Judy Greer (Ant-Man)
Fisher Stevens (Hail, Caesar!)
Peter Stormare (John Wick: Chapter 2)
Bill Duke (Mandy)
Danny Hoch (Maniac)
Currie Graham (Pompeii)
David Costabile (Breaking Bad)
Guy Boyd (Sharp Objects)

Keanu Reeves in Henry's Crime (2010)Working the night shift as a toll collector on a lonely stretch of highway in Buffalo, New York, Henry is a man seemingly without ambition, dreams or purpose; a man sleepwalking his way through life. His wife Debbie is not happy with the situation. One morning Eddie, a friend, drops by to ask Henry to play in a baseball game, as one of the others is ill, and Henry agrees to. As they drive to the game in Henry’s car, Eddie asks Henry to stop at an ATM. But Eddie, and two acquaintances also in the car, instead rob the Buffalo Savings Bank, and Henry is arrested as an accomplice.Keanu Reeves and Vera Farmiga in Henry's Crime (2010)Rather than give up the names of the real culprits, Henry takes the fall and goes to jail. There he is celled with the irrepressible Max, a con man who has grown far too comfortable with the familiarity and security of his “idyllic” life behind bars, but one who also helps plant an idea in Henry’s mind which will change his life forever: for a man to find his purpose, he must first have a dream. Debbie decides to divorce him, and she marries Joe, one of the acquaintances. Upon his release eighteen months later, Henry finds his purpose. Having done the time, he decides he may as well do the crime. Discovering a long forgotten bootlegger’s tunnel which runs from the very same bank to a theater across the alleyway, he convinces the reluctant Max to file for his long overdue parole – to help stage a robbery of the bank.Keanu Reeves in Henry's Crime (2010)Max encourages Henry to become an actor in the theater’s current production of The Cherry Orchard by Chekhov, to assist Max, “volunteering” to work in the theater, in getting access to the tunnel. Meanwhile, Henry finds himself falling for the production’s mercurial leading lady, Julie. Debbie’s husband Joe is recruited to help clearing the tunnel of mud; he informs Eddie, who insists in participating too. Frank, a guard at the bank forced into retirement, helps by informing the robbers when there is a lot of money in the vault. During the actual robbery, Eddie uses a gun to try to take all the money himself, but is overpowered by Max and is left behind in the vault. As the three make their escape, Henry demands Joe stop the car. Henry wishes Max well, and he then returns to Julie.Keanu Reeves and James Caan in Henry's Crime (2010)Time Out described it as a “Quiet Triumph” and I tend to agree. It’s not the best movie ever made but is clever, multi-layered (stories within stories within…) and an interesting, often tongue in cheek, look at acting as a process. It is enjoyable, although slightly uncomfortable in places as Farmiga plays self reliant/involved diva and ego-above-her-status-actress very well and with great aplomb. Caan’s comic relief as the wannabe lifer adds some one liners and fun to a film that has an old-fashioned serious classic quality both in style and direction (something to do with dimensions of camera angles/screen apparently), and the soundtrack is brilliant. Chekhov’s The Cherry Orchard lends a certain gravitas to the proceedings, and a backdrop for the real-life storyline, as does Reeves’ deliberate delivery and method metamorphosis from downtrodden bored/boring-but-nice average Joe to cavalier passionate lovestruck criminal-mastermind, which is impressive! I think this film is a slow burner.

 

REVIEW: WHEN THEY SEE US

When They See Us (2019)

Starring

Caleel Harris (Goosebumps 2)
Jovan Adepo (Mother!)
Chris Chalk (Gotham)
Kylie Bunbury (Game Night)
Aunjanue Ellis (The Help)
Vera Farmiga (Bates Motel)
Felicity Huffman (Cake)
John Leguizamo (Kick-Ass 2)
Niecy Nash (Scream Queens)
Michael K. Williams (12 Years a Slave)

When They See Us (2019)

RECURRING / NOTABLE GUESTCASY

William Sadler (Iron Man 3)
Aurora Perrineau (Truth or Dare)
Blair Underwood (Agents of SHIELD)
Joshua Jackson (Fringe)
Omar Dorsey (Our House)
Suzzanne Douglas (School of Rock)
Famke Janssen (X-Men)
Christopher Jackson (Moana)
Logan Marshall-Green (Prometheus)
Storm Reid (12 Years a Slave)
Adepero Oduye (Geostorm)
Dascha Polanco (Orange Is The New Black)

Marquis Rodriguez in When They See Us (2019)When They See Us,  premiering on Netflix, is the kind of miniseries you get when the right showrunner assembles the right team and right performers with the unequivocating intent to correct an important story that many people still get wrong. In this case, the celebrated producer, director and screenwriter Ava DuVernay (“Selma”; “Queen Sugar”) takes on the injustice of what happened to the Central Park Five — four African American men and one Hispanic man who, as teenagers, were rounded up, taken to a police precinct office and coerced into saying they brutally assaulted and raped a white woman who was jogging in Central Park one evening in April 1989.When They See Us (2019)There was never any physical evidence that they did. The boys, who ranged in age from 14 to 16, confessed after many hours of coercion, intimidation and threats from detectives; two of the boys were separately urged by their fathers to tell the police what they wanted to hear. In media coverage, the boys were compared to savages who took part in a “wilding” crime spree. The real estate mogul Donald Trump took out newspaper ads to demand their execution. The boys — Korey Wise, Yusef Salaam, Raymond Santana, Kevin Richardson and Antron McCray — were found guilty on some of the charges in a 1990 trial. They spent between six and 13 years in detention centers and prisons. As everyone ought to know by now, the jogger’s true attacker confessed in 2002 and his DNA matched the physical evidence. A state Supreme Court vacated the Central Park Five’s sentences on the district attorney’s recommendation. As adults, the five men sued the city and finally reached a $41 million settlement in 2014When They See Us (2019)If the next words that occur to you are “Yes, but what about the victim?” (meaning the jogger, Trisha Meili, who wrote a memoir and still publicly expresses her doubt about a lone attacker, as well as her disappointment that the city agreed to a settlement), then it seems you have two options, 30 years later: You can absorb what “When They See Us” is trying to tell you, or you can retreat comfortably back to the open-shut templates of “Law & Order” reruns.When They See Us (2019)Split into four episodes, DuVernay’s approach bluntly but successfully turns this story inside-out, borrowing the look of true-crime dramas while discarding the genre’s usual tropes. It focuses primarily on the boys, their families and the irreparable effects of their jailing. Rather than lionize them, it goes one better and humanizes them. As the title suggests, it’s all about how they were seen, and, by extension, how most minority teenage boys are still often seen — not as children and young citizens, but as potential thugs. The series is deftly attuned to context, portraying a late-’80s New York that seethes with mob mentality when it comes to solving and prosecuting this particular crime — which, to be sure, was both heinous and infuriating. This is a drama about modern lynching; rather than leading to a noose and branch, it follows the Central Park Five on a ruinous trip through a penal system that finds ways to punish inmates even after they’re paroled.SEI_70399735In tone and execution, “When They See Us” fits somewhere between John Ridley’s underwatched ABC anthology “American Crime,” which also subverted the procedural genre in revealing ways, and Ryan Murphy’s FX hit “The People v. O.J. Simpson: American Crime Story,” which taught viewers a thing or two about the effects of time and context. Without any background primer, the first episode moves quickly through the night of the crime and the days after, beginning with the adolescent lure of watching a group of one’s peers decide, in the moment, to head off to Central Park on a spring evening. The pace and dialogue are not expository, nor do they provide much time to get to know the boys intimately as characters. (That comes later.) The young actors playing the teens (Jharrel Jerome as Korey; Ethan Herisse as Yusef; Caleel Harris as Antron; Asante Blackk as Kevin; Marquis Rodriguez as Raymond) ably convey the confusion and panic of being misidentified, hauled in and falsely accused.la-1559144992-gzayf72d4e-snap-imageFelicity Huffman (talk about timing) plays Linda Fairstein, the newly appointed head of the district attorney’s sex-crimes unit, who arrives at the crime scene not long after an unconscious, nearly dead Meili was discovered. “When They See Us” is unsparing in the way it portrays Fairstein pushing detectives to make the case fit the wilding narrative. You better believe DuVernay is in no mood to re-litigate, build a Wikipedia page or pay lip service to anybody’s doubts. Here, in this telling, the cops are almost always corrupt, Fairstein is menacingly reckless and the prosecutor (Vera Farmiga as Elizabeth Lederer) lucks out in the second episode with a jury willing to convict the boys based on the videotaped confessions alone.WTSU_102_Unit_01838R-1This swift treatment of the crime and the trial allows DuVernay and her co-writers(Robin Swicord, Attica Locke, Yusuf Hassan and Michael Starrbury) to spread their wings in the series’ second half: Once the headlines die down, the boys become men — first languishing behind bars and then, after most of them make parole, trying to put their lives back together. The story of their parents and family (with fine performances from Niecy Nash, John Leguizamo and Michael K. Williams, among others) also begin to take shape. The showstopper comes in the fourth episode, as Korey, who was tried and convicted as an adult rather than as a juvenile, embarks on a violently terrifying, dozen-year journey through the state prison system, which includes a long detour into solitary confinement and a heartbreaking, hallucinatory (yet artfully envisioned) glimpse of his past and present. Jerome, the only actor in the series to play both the teen and adult versions of his character, gives a remarkable performance, as the system beats Korey down to the mental equivalent of rubble and he emerges as an entirely different man. When the news of his freedom comes — and the series reaches its full, swelling sense of the miraculous — the viewer will finally understand his or her part in all this: All that’s being asked of us is to see.

 

REVIEW: UP IN THE AIR

CAST
George Clooney  (The Ides of March)
Vera Farmiga (Bates Motel)
Anna Kendrick (Into The Woods)
Jason Bateman (Identity Thief)
Amy Morton (Blue Bloods)
Melanie Lynskey (Two and a Half Men)
J.K. Simmons (Spider-Man)
Sam Elliott (Hulk)
Danny McBride (The Pineapple Express)
Zach Galifianakis (The Hangover)
Chris Lowell (Veronica Mars)
Adam Rose (Santa Clarita Diet)
Ryan Bingham (George Clooney) works for an HR consultancy firm which specialises in termination assistance, and makes his living travelling to workplaces across the United States in order to conduct company layoffs and firings on behalf of employers. Ryan also delivers motivational speeches, using the analogy “What’s In Your Backpack?” to extoll the virtues of a life free of burdensome relationships with people as well as things. Ryan relishes his perpetual travels. His personal ambition is to become only the seventh person to earn ten million frequent flyer miles with American Airlines. While traveling, he meets another frequent flyer named Alex (Vera Farmiga) and they begin a casual relationship.
Ryan is unexpectedly called back to his company’s offices in Omaha, Nebraska. An ambitious, freshly-graduated new hire, Natalie Keener (Anna Kendrick) is promoting a plan to cut costs by conducting layoffs via videoconferencing. Ryan argues that Natalie knows nothing about the actual process, live or not, and does not know how to handle upset people. He plays the role of a fired employee to demonstrate her inexperience. His boss (Jason Bateman) assigns him to take Natalie with him on his next round of terminations to show her the ropes, much to his annoyance.
George Clooney in Up in the Air (2009)
As they travel together and become better acquainted, Natalie questions Ryan’s philosophy, but he is satisfied with his lifestyle. During the trip, Natalie is shattered when her boyfriend unceremoniously dumps her by text message. Ryan and Alex try to comfort her. Natalie later lectures Ryan about his refusal to consider a commitment to Alex in spite of their obvious compatibility, and becomes infuriated; she apologizes later, but soon afterwards they are both ordered back to Omaha to begin implementing Natalie’s program. There are problems during a test run; one laid off person breaks down in tears before the camera, and she is unable to comfort him.
Instead of returning immediately to Omaha, Ryan convinces Alex to accompany him to his younger sister’s wedding. He learns that the reason the couple had him take photos of a cutout picture of them in various places was because they cannot afford a honeymoon trip. When the groom gets cold feet, Ryan’s older sister talks him into using his motivational skills to persuade him to go through with it. Although this runs counter to Ryan’s personal philosophy, he successfully argues that the important moments in life are rarely unshared. The wedding goes off without any further hitches.
George Clooney and Anna Kendrick in Up in the Air (2009)
Ryan begins having second thoughts about his own life. As he starts to deliver his “What’s In Your Backpack?” speech at a convention in Las Vegas, he realizes he no longer believes it, and walks off the stage. On an impulse, he flies to Alex’s home in Chicago. When she opens the door, he is stunned to discover she is a married woman with children; Ryan leaves without saying a word. She later tells him on the phone that her family is her real life and he is simply an escape. Again, he ends the conversation wordless. On his flight home, the crew announces that Ryan has just crossed the ten million mile mark. The airline’s chief pilot (Sam Elliott) comes out of the cockpit to meet Ryan. He notes that Ryan is the youngest person to reach the milestone. When asked where he is from, Ryan can only respond “here”. Back in his office, Ryan calls the airline to transfer five hundred thousand miles each to his sister and brother-in-law, enough for them to fly around the world for their honeymoon. His boss tells Ryan that a woman he and Natalie fired has killed herself, and that an upset Natalie has quit via text message. The company also puts the remote-layoff program on hold because of related concerns.
George Clooney and Vera Farmiga in Up in the Air (2009)
Natalie applies for a job in San Francisco, the city she was originally offered a job before following her now ex-boyfriend to Omaha instead. The interviewer is impressed by her qualifications and a glowing recommendation from Ryan, and hires her.The film concludes with Ryan standing in front of a vast destination board, looking up, and letting go of his luggage.
The acting is exemplary; Vera Farmiga and Anna Kendrick are perfectly cast as muse and apprentice respectively.  The movie is sad at times, funny at others, never giving right or wrong answers just an observational peice in the study of life.

REVIEW: RUNNING SCARED

 

CAST

Paul Walker (Hours)
Cameron Bright (Juno)
Vera Farmiga (Bates Motel)
Chazz Palminteri (Analyze This)
Karel Roden (Hellboy)
Johnny Messner (Tears of The Sun)
Ivana Milicevic (Vanilla Sky)
Michael Cudlitz (The Walking Dead)
Elizabeth Mitchell (V)
John Noble (Sleepy Hollow)
Arthur J. Nascarella (Billions)

MV5BMTM0MzU1NjI0OF5BMl5BanBnXkFtZTcwNTI4NjU0NA@@._V1_SY1000_CR0,0,1539,1000_AL_Joey (Paul Walker) is a small-time mobster hired to dispose of ‘hot’ guns for his bosses. One of these weapons (with particular value over all the others) falls into the hands of his son’s best friend and is used to startling effect. Here is where the real fun starts. Joey can find neither the child nor the weapon in question, and he has only 18 hours before either the police, the Russian mafia or his own employers catch up with him.

Walker is surprisingly impressive, here he plays Joey as someone well aware of his impending death should he fail, and throughout he is totally watchable and believable. The story occasionally flags, particularly in the middle of the film, but Kramer is not afraid to play with the camera-work to keep the audience’s attention – whip-pans, CSI-style extreme close-ups, super slow-motion, sepia filters and colour bleaching are all used to give the film a gritty and somewhat unique look.MV5BMTYwOTY4OTY3Ml5BMl5BanBnXkFtZTcwNzI4NjU0NA@@._V1_SY1000_CR0,0,1539,1000_AL_The film’s charcoal-dark tone may be too relentless for some viewers, and the paedophilia subplot could be considered as taking things one step too far, but as long as you’ve got a strong stomach and can face hearing lashings of creative swearing, there’s a lot of enjoyment to be found here.