Tuesday, September 15, 2015

The Interpreter (2005)

Good grief.

The Interpreter goes off the rails - twice - in its last minutes.

How sad this is the last feature helmed by American director Sydney Pollack (Tootsie, Out of Africa). He made some fine films that will stand up well. The Interpreter is best forgotten.

This suspense film has potential.

Silvia Broome (Nicole Kidman) has experienced violence in the African country where she lived. She is an interpreter at the United Nations, the only place where she believes real change can happen.

Cue the first head-scratching scene, which becomes even odder when more becomes known later in the film.

Broome returns to work to pick up items she has forgotten - and hears a conversation of a planned assassination of the leader of the country where she once lived.

What's strange here is the United Nations building appears completely empty. Dark corridors, no staff around. Does no one clean this meeting place at night? Security guards keeping an eye on things? The timing is impeccable too for Broome to show up just as nefarious plans are being discussed.

Enter Tobin Keller (Sean Penn), the government agent assigned to probe what Broome reports what she heard. He's skeptical. There is, surprise, surprise, conflict when Broome and Keller meet for the first time.

Keller has just lost his wife. She was having an affair with a man. The pair died in a collision. Broome is mourning the loss of her family to violence back home.

Someone wants Broome dead. That seems a bit odd when she's already reported the planned killing to the authorities. What else is she going to do? Grab a gun and kill the perpetrators themselves?

There's a nice buildup of tension heading into the African leader's speech at the UN. What a shocker it is when a crazy plot twist left this movie fan slack-jawed. I thought the alternate ending offered on the DVD would offer a more plausible finale. No. Incredibly, it's even more far-fetched than the theatrical version.

The Interpreter is a good-looking film, but the late twists in its plot make it unbearable to watch.

RATING: 4/10

FUN FACTS: Earl Cameron, appearing here as Zawanie, was the Prince of Ardentia in Flash Gordon and Katanya in raiders of the lost ark. How many actors can claim to have "Death to Ming" on their resumes?

Tuesday, September 8, 2015

My Cousin Vinny (1992)

I find My Cousin Vinny guilty of the following:

1. too long at 120 minutes;

2. too much swearing;

3. running the same joke into the ground - ties in with first offence;

4. only being occasionally funny.

My memory suggested I enjoyed this film from director Jonathan Lynn upon its release in the early 1990s. I was wrong.

Bill (Ralph Macchio) and Stan (Mitchell Whitfield) are on their way to college when they stop into a corner store in Alabama. They're mistaken for a couple of suspects who robbed the business, and shot a clerk dead, shortly after their departure.

Bill has a cousin, Vinny (Joe Pesci), who's a lawyer. Well, that's true, but it also took this member of the Gambini six years to pass his bar exam. He's never participated in a criminal trial. Vinny is joined by his long-time fiancee, Mona (Marisa Tomei), the brains of the operation.

Vinny's ways don't sit well with Judge Haller (Fred Gwynne), who's hearing the case.

It's hard to believe just how clueless Gambini is about courtroom procedure and decorum when meeting with the judge. Putting his feet up on Haller's desk. Really? Showing up for court without a tie? Surely Gambini isn't that dumb. Or, how about Vinny's continually making snide remarks to Haller, thus being found in contempt of court. How dim is this guy?

Stan begins to lose confidence in Vinny's abilities, prompting him to go with public defender Austin Pendleton (John Gibbons). Too bad he stutters. Is this kind of humour still considered funny in 2015?

But, surprise, surprise, Vinny begins to shine in the courtroom, which is also hard to believe after all the incredibly stupid questions he asks when he interviews witnesses before the case begins.

Now, about those jokes being run into the ground. Vinny can't get a good night's sleep. This fact is repeated over, and over, and over again. The only really funny moment comes with the final reference when he's so tired he sleeps through a riot in jail. That's funny.

I found the best moments in My Cousin Vinny, and unfortunately there's not a lot, comes from subtle humour like that. A restaurant menu reference is funny. Vinny noticing a bar patron with a neck brace, and seeing a potential client, is funny.

Marisa Tomei won an Academy Award for best supporting actress for her work here. I give her top marks for her Bambi speech when Vinny prepares to go hunting with the prosecutor.

Director Jonathan Lynn directed another courtroom comedy, Trial and Error, with Jeff Daniels, Michael Richards and her fourth film role, Charlize Theron, five years later. I'm curious to watch that film again because I think it's funnier than this so-so effort.

RATING: 5/10

Tuesday, September 1, 2015

3:10 to Yuma (1957)

Great film, too bad about the ending.

3:10 To Yuma generates plenty of suspense with a simple premise.

Outlaw Ben Wade (Glenn Ford) is taken prisoner in a small town after robbing a stagecoach. Business owner Mr. Butterfield (Robert Emhardt) offers $200 to two men who'll bring him to prison.

Dan Evans (Van Heflin) needs the cash. Badly. Extended drought over three years has hit the farmer hard. The only other person willing to bring Wade to justice is town drunk Alex Potter (Henry Jones).

Wade, and his armed escort, know his men want to free him before he darkens a cell.

The crime boss is the quiet type. He turns the screws on Evans by various means - offering him more cash to let him go, suggesting he'd take better care of his wife and asking why he's continuing with his assignment when others will surely bail when they see what they're up against.

"Don't make it hard on yourself," Wade suggests to Evans.

A good chunk of the film is set in a hotel room where Wade torments Evans as the train arrival nears.

What also gives 3:10 To Yuma an extra kick after so many years is its exploration of people not wanting to get involved. Wade uses Evans' cattle when he robs gold from Butterfield's stagecoach. Evans' boys ask him what he'll do in response. "Not much else I can do."

But when Evans gets a backbone, others try and talk him out of his resolve to deliver Wade to jail. Butterfield, as Wade predicted, doesn't have the stomach to possibly die in a shootout. His wife urges him, "Don't go through with it." Townsfolk recruited to help beef up guards to make sure Wade gets on the train back out. Hey, it's not our fight, they declare.

It's six against one when Evans makes his way from the hotel to the train station. But the film's ending strikes me as a copout, as opposed to a final showdown between Wade and Evans. Too bad.

RATING: 8/10

FUN FACTS: 3:10 to Yuma was made 50 years later with Russell Crowe and Christian Bale.

The film is based on a short story by Elmore Leonard.

That's Jack Lemmon's future wife, Felicia Farr, who catches Ben Wade's eye as a barkeeper. Loser's Crown, released in 2014, is her first film since That's Life in 1986.

Alex Potter's credits also include Vertigo, Warren Beatty's Dick Tracy, Support Your Local Gunfighter and Support Your Local Sheriff.