DVD reviews
August 2008

 

 

All reviews by Loey Lockerby


The Bank Job

The Bank Job is based on a real 1971 London robbery whose details were hushed up by the British government. This gives the filmmakers carte blanche to invent whatever details they need, and they do so in a clever, astute fashion that makes it easy to forgive any historical lapses.

The main character, Terry (Jason Statham), is a tough-guy car dealer with a criminal past and some unsavory friends (not to mention enemies). When an old flame (Saffron Burrows) shows up offering a no-fail bank heist opportunity, Terry rounds up a group of crooks to pull off the job. These guys are hardly professionals, but they make up in creativity what they lack in experience. They’re just pawns in a larger game, however, and director Roger Donaldson pulls together everything from royal scandals to the Black Power movement to explain the “real” story.

While the actual crime remains a mystery, Donaldson and his screenwriters have obviously researched the general period extensively. They almost make it seem possible that their outrageous, convoluted narrative could have happened, despite having little evidence for any of it. The film’s gritty, low-tech feel is distinctly ‘70s, as is the straightforward dialogue (no talkative Tarantino-style thugs in this one). Watching The Bank Job is like going back in time, and in this case, that’s a very good thing.

Extras: Commentary by Donaldson, Burrows and composer J. Peter Robinson; features on the film’s production and the real bank raid; short deleted scenes with optional commentary. (R) Rating: 4.


City of Men

Fernando Meirelles’ City of God introduced many moviegoers to the world of the “favelas,” the slums that climb the hills around Rio de Janeiro. Meirelles produced a follow-up TV series called City of Men, which is also the title of this feature film, wrapping up the storylines introduced in the previous efforts.

Despite its long pedigree, the film City of Men stands alone effectively, ensuring that newcomers can follow the various characters and story threads. Director Paulo Morelli wisely focuses on two major figures from the series, childhood friends Ace (Douglas Silva) and Wallace (Darlan Cunha). Ace is married and has a baby he doesn’t know how to care for, while Wallace is about to celebrate his 18th birthday. They wander around, search for Wallace’s long-lost father, and ultimately get caught up in a gang war. Along the way, both young men learn secrets about their own pasts and face the challenges of an adulthood they’re lucky to achieve.

Morelli and his terrific cast bring the favelas to vivid life, offering a glimpse into a world where hope and despair battle each other as intensely as the vengeful gang leaders who prowl the streets. The script is melodramatic and depends on some extreme contrivances, but the setting is too authentic to be undermined by anything.

Extras: A short, but very informative, making-of feature. In Portuguese with English subtitles. (R).Rating: 3.5.


Bonneville

It's rare and refreshing to see middle-aged women as the main characters in a movie. This makes it tempting to heap praise on Bonneville, which gives great roles to Jessica Lange, Kathy Bates and Joan Allen. Still, it's a fairly mediocre film, enlightened attitudes notwithstanding.

Lange plays Arvilla, who has recently lost her husband and is getting trouble from his family. She can't even dispose of his ashes the way he wanted, and she's at risk of losing her home. On impulse, she fires up his vintage Bonneville convertible and enlists her best friends (Bates and Allen) to join her on a road trip from their Idaho hometown to the family's funeral in Santa Barbara.

Director Christopher N. Rowley was wise to make this a road trip movie — it gives him a chance to use some truly spectacular locations, many of which are rarely seen on the big screen. The scenery helps distract from the trite, hole-filled script. So does the presence of its terrific stars, who bring warmth and dignity to every frame they're in.

There are some nice, charming moments and a pervasive affection for the characters running throughout Bonneville, so it's not a total waste of time. If nothing else, it deserves credit for acknowledging that women exist after age 50, and capable of hitting the road and having a good time.

Extras: A brief but enlightening making-of feature; some deleted and alternate scenes; a gag reel. (PG). Rating: 3


Never Back Down

This ode to teen violence doesn't just kill brain cells; it sucks them into a super-massive black hole, never to be seen again. The special-needs child of Fight Club and The Karate Kid, it might appeal to mixed martial arts fans who can't watch the real thing on cable.

Set on the mean streets of Orlando, Florida, Never Back Down relates the travails of Jake (Sean Faris), an angry kid who just moved to town. It doesn't take long for him to run afoul of the local bully (Cam Gigandet), who coordinates a vicious underground fight scene. Seeking help from an immigrant gym owner (Djimon Hounsou), Jake learns the necessary MMA skills to take on the bad guy and get the girl (Amber Heard).

Director Jeff Wadlow is only interested in the action scenes, which he stages with an appropriately nasty, bone-crunching energy. In fact, his love of this extreme brutality is only slightly more confounding than his need to linger over the sweaty, muscular bodies of young men. The homoeroticism may not be intentional, but the sadism certainly is, and both hilariously undermine the stated messages about not wanting to fight, but really wanting to shag pretty girls.

The dialogue and performances are worthy of Mystery Science Theatre 3000, and it's hard to imagine anyone actually liking this film in an un-ironic manner. It's a lousy advertisement for mixed martial arts, and an even worse one for cinema.

Extras: Commentary by Wadlow, Faris and writer Chris Hauty; features on MMA and the movie's fight scenes; deleted scenes. (PG-13 & Unrated versions available) Rating: 1.


Loey Lockerby can be contacted at lrl94@aol.com.


              
              
                 

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