Movie Review: “Big Eyes”

Big-Eyes-1Casting Amy Adams to star in “Big Eyes” is one of the great no-brainers in Hollywood history.
Yes, the movie’s about Margaret Keane, the secret painter behind those “big-eyed waif” paintings and posters that dominated pop art of the pre-Andy Warhol ’60s. But mention that titular phrase and the first face that comes to mind is Adams, the sweet, soulful star of “Enchanted,” “Junebug” and “The Fighter.” It’s practically Adams’ Hollywood nickname.
And it’s no eye-opener that she is stunning in the part, a demure Southerner who marries a San Francisco hustler who transforms her art into a kitsch phenomenon in a sort of Golden Age of Kitsch. Adams’ big eyes invite us into the hurt she feels when her husband starts taking credit for her waifs, the sad resignation that sets in as she goes along with the lies and the soul-crushing pain that comes with the withering reactions of the art establishment — critics included. Adams is great in a role she was born to play.
But Christoph Waltz and Tim Burton may be the real revelations here. Waltz, a two-time Oscar winner for taking on the outrageous and faintly charming sadists in a couple of Quentin Tarantino pictures, dials it down here. He makes Walter Keane a beguiler, a back-slapping teller of tall-tales. We can see what the newly-separated (with a young daughter) Margaret falls for. He is delightful, and if his stories of life in Paris, his Bohemian lifestyle choices and all the rest are suspect, his rash realization that Margaret is the one for him and that she needs him feels without guile. And since we know it isn’t, there’s the brilliance of the performance. Forget Tarantino. THIS could have won the man an Oscar.
And Burton? Now an elder statesman among cinema eccentrics, he re-makes himself for this delightful, light and moving film biography. There’s love in every frame, and not just the special effects-enhanced ones where Margaret starts to see everyone she meets with the over sized sad orbs that are “windows to the soul.” The director of “Edward Scissorhands” and “Ed Wood” must feel a kinship with the critically-derided Keanes. He’s made his most conventional film and one of his most moving.
“Big Eyes” lovingly re-creates the late ’50s-early’60s San Francisco scene, where cool jazz, beat poets and pretentious art were all the rage. Keane couldn’t crack into galleries with his “Pissarro-influenced” Montmartre street scenes. But then he sees the puzzled, yet still dismissive reaction of one gallery owner (Jason Schwartzman) to his new wife’s big-eyed portraits. In quick, tried-and-true brushstrokes, we see Keane glad-hand his way to showing their art at the ultra-hip Hungry I jazz club. Keane has an eye for the main chance, and so does the story’s droll, cynical narrator (Danny Huston), a newspaper columnist who creates the notoriety that turns Margaret’s paintings into must-have art.
Except that the super-salesman Walter is taking credit — accidentally, at first, and then with a vengeance. Margaret is caught up in the “fraud,” bullied into producing more work by his “If you tell anyone, this whole empire collapses.” It’s an empire that made them rich.
Terrence Stamp plays a huffy, self-righteous New York Times critic, Krysten Ritter a friend whom Margaret refuses to come clean with and Madeleine Arthur is the daughter, in later scenes, who has grown up only suspecting the lifetime of lies that her mother has told her.
But what sells the giddy fun of Walter’s empire-building chutzpah and the sorrow of Margaret’s invisible fame is the reason the movie could be made — Adams. From the first time we saw her on the screen, we knew what she was feeling and thinking, just from staring into those huge, hopeful and sometimes hurt eyes. Her big eyes make this “Big Eyes” one of the best pictures of the year.

3half-star
MPAA Rating: PG-13 for thematic elements and brief strong language

Cast: Amy Adams, Christoph Waltz, Danny Huston, Krysten Ritter, Jason Schwartzman

Credits: Directed by Tim Burton, written by Scott Alexander and Larry Karaszewski. A Weinstein Co. release.

Running time: 1:45

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Movie Review: “American Sniper”

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The acting drops away from Bradley Cooper’s performance as “deadliest American sniper” Chris Kyle. Cooper bulked up, kept a pinch between his lower lip and his lower jaw and became a man of few drawled words, the perfect Clint Eastwood hero in Eastwood’s film “American Sniper.”
The director, who has seemed distracted if not downright bored with his recent films — “Jersey Boys” was sort of a post-orangutan low — returns to form with a clean kill of a movie, an unfussy combat film that only drifts in a third act. And that drift only sets in because the director decided to err on the side of trying to do justice to the real hero’s life.
Kyle grew up in rural Texas, absorbing his daddy’s simple, black and white values. The world, Daddy (Ben Reed) taught him, is full of sheep, wolves and sheep dogs. He wasn’t raising sheep, and wouldn’t stand for his boys becoming bullies or predators (wolves). Since there’s “evil in this world,” his boys need to be “sheep dogs.”
That explains the reaction Chris had when American embassies were bombed in 1998. His moral code has him abandon the cowboy lifestyle and enlist in the Navy. Because that’s where the SEALS are.
By the time 9/11 rolls around, he’s already a top sharp shooter. Eastwood’s film follows Kyle from his first kill, through multiple tours in Iraq, a guy his own troops call “The Legend,” a man with a high Iraqi insurgent bounty on his head.
“American Sniper” tells this story not just from Kyle’s point of view, but through it. He is not shooting insurgents — snipers, bomb makers and “savages,” as he calls the enemy. He is “protecting” Marines as they deploy on house-to-house searches, giving up his secure sniper’s perch to bust down doors and show the green troops how to stay safe and do the job on later tours.
First scene to last, Cooper keeps Kyle buttoned down, a man of such moral certitude that he’s prepared “to answer for each and every kill to the Almighty” when his time is up. The war turns personal when an opposing sniper starts picking off Americans. But Kyle tries to keep his cool and works hard to keep his bride (Sienna Miller) sheltered from the dangerous and deadly details of the job.
An excellent early scene – Kyle flirts with that future bride in a bar during SEAL training. Miller’s Taya is quick with a brush-off. The swaggering SEALS are “arrogant and self-centered.” Kyle keeps his cool, seems to accept the dismissal. But “self-centered” he will not take.
“I’d lay down my life for my country.”
Too much of “American Sniper” is standard-issue military service movie, from the abusive training sequences to the standard operating procedure of house searches, dusty firefights and bodies dropped like a rising score in a first-person-shooter video game. No characters outside of Cooper and Miller make much of an impression.
Eastwood allows for a few grace notes in between the war movie cliches — the brother (Keir O’Donnell) who also enlisted and is first to weary of America’s longest war, the hint that Kyle’s crack-shot counterpart (Sammy Sheik) lives a life parallel to Kyle’s, that of the lonely hunter/family man.
The director has a reverence for his subject that goes beyond covering the usual bases such as a SEAL funeral, suggesting the cost even a guy as sure of himself and what he is doing as Kyle pays an emotional toll for this bloody work.
And that reverence trips Eastwood up as he looks for his own exit strategy, a way of getting into and out of a third act that isn’t as simple or neat as a “clean kill.”
But Cooper, to his credit, rarely flinches, never chest-thumps and never loses his cool, even when Kyle is starting to lose his. It’s a masterful interpretation of a man with a lot more on his mind and blood on his hands than he was ever inclined to let on. And it’s a performance worthy of Eastwood himself — 50 years ago.
3stars2
MPAA Rating: R for strong and disturbing war violence, and language throughout including some sexual references
Cast: Bradley Cooper, Sienna Miller
Credits: Directed by Clint Eastwood, screenplay by Jason Hall. A Warner Brothers release.
Running time: 2:12

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Movie Review: “After the Fall”

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Wes Bentley may be more than just another generic hunk, more than a “Hunger Games” and “Ghost Rider” alumnus, more than just the scientist with the “red shirt role” in “Interstellar.”
Not that “After the Fall” does much for his resume. Bentley is a mostly blank-faced hero of this less-than-thrilling thriller about an overextended home owner, husband and father who takes to a life of crime to keep up appearances.
Bill Scanlon is a meticulous guy, carefully going over the claims he works as an Albuquerque insurance claims adjuster. He’s upright, firmer with his kids than his wife (Vinessa Shaw), especially when his tweenage son is caught cheating.
“When we do something wrong, we own up to it. That’s what you do when you’re a man.”
His dad was a cop and we suspect that’s had a big impact on his character
But 15 minutes into the film, we learn that he’s not on the job. Not anymore. He was laid off.
“I need guys who can make it a little more…challenging for people” filing insurance claims, his less ethical boss confesses.
So Bill gets up, puts on a tie and heads out each day, badgering possible employers in the most polite, most pathetic way. His credit cards max out. Chasing the repo creeps who take his SUV in his pajamas is his wake-up call, even if his wife is still somehow without a clue. What’s worse, her rich, disapproving dad (Keith Carradine) is just waiting for him to fail.
That’s when Bill pulls out his dad’s old service revolver. That’s when he thinks about wandering into the subdivided desert where they live to shoot himself. And that’s when he stumbles into a life of crime.
Saar Klein’s film is a “Fun With Dick and Jane” without much of the fun. Bentley’s Bill is a good man going wrong, all poster-slogans about how his sons should try to live their lives.
“Intensity is doing something you hate…like you love it!”
But it’s all unraveling. The petty robberies — aimed at those who “deserve” it, a hooker and her john, the repo guys, a cruel convenience store manager — won’t cover their lifestyle. Bentley only lets Bill start to show emotion as all this gets to him.
Jason Isaacs is a hard-drinking cop who befriends Bill, takes him out target shooting and lectures him on the good life he has and the moral relativism of the world.
“There ain’t no sin. There ain’t no virtue. There’s just things people do.”
Bentley is pretty bland, start to finish, but let’s face it — the screenplay does him no favors. You introduce his career as catching people trying to commit insurance fraud, but you don’t use that expertise in the plot, in Bill’s crimes? That’s not tripping up our expectations. That’s looking a gift horse in the mouth.
The crimes start out polite and almost funny — almost. But this never rises to satire, never evolves into some bigger statement on morality and the world men live in.
And with unemployment below six percent, the “Fall” this is “After” seems instantly dated, robbing the film of whatever relevance and urgency it might have once had on the page.

1half-star
MPAA Rating: R for language and some sexual content.
Cast: Wes Bentley, Jason Isaacs, Vinessa Shaw, Keith Carradine
Credits: Directed by Saar Klein, written by Saar Klein, Joe Conway. A Phase4 Films release.
Running time: 1:50

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Movie Review: “The Gambler”

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Mark Wahlberg takes on his most ambitious acting job ever in “The Gambler,” a gritty remake of a 1974 film that starred James Caan. And the new gambler doesn’t embarrass himself.
Playing a college professor addicted to losing, digging a deeper and deeper hole for himself with loan sharks, underworld gambling entrepreneurs and his family, Wahlberg never gives away the game — that long, erudite speeches about Shakespeare and Camus are not his forte.
But as Jim Bennett, one-time novelist turned arrogant assistant college professor with a gambling problem, Wahlberg also fails to let us taste the desperation. His fatalism — written into the character by William “The Departed” Monahan– locks the door on panic, and empathy. We see the clock ticking down on his debts, his repeated treks for cash to pay back what he owes, money that he then gambles away. We note his efforts to fight his attraction for the one promising student in his otherwise bored class (Brie Larson). And we never see him sweat. So it’s an impressive performance, not a moving one.
For Bennett, “Life’s a losing proposition. Might as well get it over with.”
That’s why he’s deep into debt with the shady Korean gambling mogul, Mr. Lee (Alvin Ing), willing to dive into dept with the even more dangerous Neville (Michael K. Williams, silky smooth) and hoping to get the massive, aged King of the Sharks, Frank (John Goodman) to lend him the cash that might cover his losses to the first two.
“Going on as I am is the only thing I’ve got,” he tells his mother, given a desperate fury by the great Jessica Lange. She can’t stop Jim any more than the threats made by the others.
“He wants to dance with the devil,” and that’s that.
Jim published a novel, “one of the best-reviewed first novels of 2007,” Neville cracks. But he realized his destiny with that book. And mediocrity was never going to be enough for a child of privilege, of intellectual advantage. “Victory or death” is his credo, which only partially explains why we see him, time and again, “double-or-nothing” his way out of a winning streak at blackjack or roulette.
Every character in this Rupert Wyatt (“Rise of the Planet of the Apes”) film is an articulate, quotable archetype-breaker — from the verbose and literary lowlifes who inhabit Jim’s secret world, to the students — even the jocks — who sit through his showboating, confessional, profane and semi-profound lectures.
The arrogant jerk cannot answer the challenge of a student athlete (Anthony Kelley) — “You’ve got a BMW M-1. How are you not happy?” He cannot learn the basic gambler’s lesson that Frank passes on between threats.
“You get up, you get out.” Jim never quits while he’s ahead.
But as meaty as this script sounds — every line another morsel — it never allows Wahlberg the chance to make us care what happens to Jim. Do we want him to get what’s coming to him, or are we rooting for him? Either way, Wyatt, Monahan and Wahlberg succeed only in frustrating our will, cashing out with a cop-out finale, making our two hour gamble on “The Gambler” something less than a sure thing.
2half-star6
MPAA Rating: R for language throughout, and for some sexuality/nudity
Cast: Mark Wahlberg, Michael Kenneth Williams, Jessica Lange, John Goodman, Brie Larson, Anthony Kelley, George Kennedy
Credits: Directed by Rupert Wyatt, screenplay by William Monahan, based on the James Toback script for a 1974 film. A Paramount release.
Running time: 1:51

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Box Office: “Hobbit” devours all, “Museum” $17, “Annie” $16

box“The Hobbit: The Battle of the Five Armies” will have earned over $90 million by midnight Sunday, according to tracking estimates. It opened Wed., and is expected to pick up $56 million this weekend alone.

That’s good, but not spectacular. Let’s face it, your average spring, summer or fall comic book blockbuster is managing $80 million on its opening weekend, without opening on Wed. But “Hobbit” should make a bundle for a few weeks, as families, fanboys included, are off for the holidays next week.

“Annie” is opening rather weakly for a movie shot in New York with the talent signed on for this musical re-imagining of the Depression Era musical. Reviews, early on, were withering, but moderated somewhat once we got past the pack mentality of the New York critics. $16 million, not great.

“Night at the Museum: Secret of the Tomb” probably split the kiddie audience with “Annie,” and is managing $17 million or so. “Annie” is the better movie, I thought, but neither is taking the world by storm.

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Movie Review : “Into the Woods”

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“Into the Woods,” the Stephen Sondheim fairy-tale musical that sent up every contrivance and cliche that The Brothers Grimm could cook up, earns a lush, grand and star-studded production for the big screen. Disney brought out and bought the big guns — director Rob “Chicago” Marshall, Meryl “Mamma Mia!” Streep and Anna “Pitch Perfect” Kendrick.
There’s even a role for the one-time rocker turned Captain Jack Sparrow, Johnny Depp, in this no-expense-spared extravaganza.
But that bigness is only a burden when you see some of your favorite fairytale figures shortchanged in the trimmed-down film, when you fret over the weaker voices and less charismatic players cast in lesser parts.
And if it’s still long enough to be wearying, blame James Lapine and Sondheim, whose original show was longer and so richly detailed that it inspired everything from “Wicked” to Disney’s “Enchanted” and “Tangled.”
A baker (James Corden) and his wife (Emily Blunt, a vocal surprise) live under a curse of childlessness. The witch (Streep, stunning) who holds that curse over them offers an escape clause. They can go into the woods and fetch the cow from “Jack and the Beanstalk,” the cowl from “Red Riding Hood,” a slipper from “Cinderella” and a lock of Rapunzel’s golden hair, and she’ll call it quits on the curse.
Of course, the couple doesn’t know these talismans belong to those characters. But stumbling through the woods, they intercept dopey young Jack (Daniel Huttlestone) on the way to the market, sent by his mum (Tracey Ullman) to sell the cow. There’s Rapunzel (Mackenzie Mauzy), pining away in her tower, sassy-brassy Red Riding Hood (Lilla Crawford, a hoot) on her way to granny’s.
And Cinderella (Kendrick, spot on) is making her way, night after night, into a prince’s (Chris Pine) festival ball, escaping his clutches before each midnight.
Crawford has the biggest “stage” voice here, but Streep’s preparation has turned her into a real Broadway baby. Her various witch laments are musical highlights of a show best known for its title tune and “Children Will Listen.”
Depp’s whiskers-twirling turn as the Big Bad Wolf is a stitch. But if you know “Red Riding Hood” at all, you know he won’t be around for encores.
Pine, apparently doing his own singing, and Billy Magnussen (as Rapunzel’s princely suitor) stop the show with “Agony,” a mock-comic duet about true truer truest prince-love which Pine just vamps up and kills. It’s so good that even if you’ve never seen the stage product, you miss the second act reprise of the show’s comic highlight, edited out here.

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Sondheim’s tongue-twisting, footnotable psycho-babble lyrics challenge one and all, and none will have you humming the tune as you leave the theater. And despite the editing, the predictable story tends to seriously drag in the second act, when lesser lights make us long for the return of the princes, Cinderella or The Witch..
But Streep, Marshall & Co. still manage to do the “Woods” justice. And if it’s more impressive than embraceable, remember your Sondheim (“Sweeney Todd,” “A Little Night Music,” etc.). That’s kind of his thing.

2half-star6
MPAA Rating: PG for thematic elements, fantasy action and peril, and some suggestive material.

Cast: Meryl Streep, Anna Kendrick, Johnny Depp, Chris Pine, Emily Blunt, Tracey Ullman, James Corden, Lilla Crawford, Daniel Huttlestone

Credits: Directed by Rob Marshall, written by James Lapine, based on the musical by Stephen Sondheim and James Lapine. A Walt Disney IFC release.

Running time: 2:04

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Movie Review: “Unbroken”

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Whatever else Angelina Jolie has been doing in her busy personal, professional and activist life, we can be sure she wasn’t spending it watching World War II prisoner-of-war movies.
“Unbroken,” her film of Laura “Seabiscuit” Hillenbrand’s book about ex-Olympian Louis Zamperini’s true life survivor’s story, stumbles into most every movie of the genre in ways that suggest she hasn’t figured out how these things work. Suspense and pathos evade her as she turns an admittedly unwieldy biography into a dull, perfunctory and truncated film.
Sure, it’s a “true story,” which adds weight. Zamperini really did survive the ditching of his bomber in the Pacific, only to endure torture and starvation in Japanese camps. But if we’ve seen the beatings, the maddening stretches of solitary confinement, the war of wills between the stoic serviceman and the sado-homosexual Japanese camp commander in one film, we’ve seen it in five –pretty much every film from “The Bridge on the River Kwai” to “Merry Christmas, Mr. Lawrence” to last year’s “The Railway Man.”
So “Unbroken” relies on the novelty of Zamperini’s foot racing past, quick flashback sketches of the way he found his intense focus in his childhood thanks to running. The film too-obviously and un-cinematically tells us about the faith and aphorisms — “If you can take it, you can make it” — he claims got him through his ordeals.
Jack O’Connell, of “300: Rise of an Empire,” plays Zamperini once he’s old enough to race and reach the 1936 Berlin Olympics. A runner whose event was the 5,000 meters race, Berlin only set the stage for what was sure to be his moment of glory — at the 1940 Olympics, in Tokyo. But that one was canceled by World War II.
Instead, we ride along in Zamperini’s B-24 — the quietest and cleanest (and most digital) B-24 ever — as he (the bombardier) directs it over the target. Domhnall Gleeson (“About Time”) is the pilot who gets them home, even after they’ve been shot up. But one mission he doesn’t, and he, Zamperini and a crewmate (Finn Wittrock) are stuck in a raft for weeks and weeks. Llttle water, raw fish to eat, blistering sun, sharks and strafing by Japanese aircraft are not where their problems end.
Captured and shipped to Japan, Zamperini is dogged by a fiendishly cruel Watanabe, aka “The Bird,” given a prissy/sadistic delicacy by Takamasa Ishihara.
“Don’t LOOK at me,” he coos. If you do, he canes you. If you don’t, he canes you.

And he loves — in a perverse, leering way — caning Zamperini.
Jolie’s best contributions to the genre are a few early imprisonment scenes that capture the myopia of men unable to see beyond the crack in the bottom of their cell door, or only through a loose corner of a blindfold.
But every time we’re meant to fear that a summary execution is nigh, Jolie blows the build up. Every moment of Zamperini’s silent (no Bruce Willis wisecracks for this hero) struggle against The Bird, rooted on by his fellow POWs (Garrett Hedlund plays the senior officer), fails to ignite.
The performances, save for Ishihara’s, are colorless. Even the formidable young Gleeson fails to make much of an impression.
Jolie, with four credited screenwriters, Oscar winners among them — ends this real history so abruptly that whatever moral her story was aiming for has to be dealt with in the closing titles. And whatever the virtues of her directing debut, the Balkan tragedy “In the Land of Blood and Honey,” she’s into “Well, there’s always Maleficent II” territory here.
2stars1
MPAA Rating: PG-13 for war violence including intense sequences of brutality, and for brief language
Cast: Jack O’Connell, Takamasa Ishihara, Garrett Hedlund, Domhnall Gleeson
Credits: Directed by Angelina Jolie, screenplay by Joel Coen, Ethan Coen, Richard LaGravenese and William Nicholson, based on the Laura Hillenbrand book. A Universal release.
Running time: 2:17

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Mark Wahlberg on gambling, “The Gambler” and the pardon

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Mark Wahlberg plays a college professor with a near-suicidal addiction to gambling in his new film, “The Gambler.” While he knew moviegoers would have little trouble buying into him as a guy with an obsession for blackjack, the “day job” side of his character would be trickier. The Boston native, famed for his “blue collar types” on the screen, is “no viewer’s idea of a professorial type,” Justin Chang complained in Variety.
“You need to challenge yourself and surprise audiences,” Wahlberg says in his own defense. “People have me figured out? Mix it up on them. I jumped at this chance. That meant committing to being the most prepared I’ve probably ever been on a set. I had to, just to be believable. I mean, me as a college professor? I read with some professors, went to lectures, got a taste of how they hold a class. “
Jim Bennett, his character, teaches literature and quotes Shakespeare. He once published a novel, but now he’s lost, sure of only one thing — that he’s headed for mediocrity. Wahlberg knew he’d have to master screenwriter William “The Departed” Monahan’s dialogue to have a prayer of being convincing in the part. Whatever other prep he did would not matter as much as having Monahan’s lines “trippingly on the tongue,” as Shakespeare’s Hamlet put it.
“The first lecture alone was 14 pages, basically just a long, long monologue,” Wahlberg recalls. “I had to know that, inside and out, because I couldn’t be referring back to the script. Know that scene, all  those pages, and you know the character. That was key. And we shot that scene first, the first day of filming. I ‘knew’ him by the end of that day. We just dove right in. That’s the hardest scene for me in the film, but why not? Let’s get the heavy lifting out of the way.”
The actor loved “the way the script sounds. Monahan writes scripts that are ‘writer’s piece’ movies. Everybody in the movie –John Goodman (as a quotably clever loan shark), all of us — got drawn in by that.”
Wahlberg, who only finished up his high school degree last year, insists that the real “stretch” for him in “The Gambler” is the actual gambling. Whatever you might guess about the muscular movie star, rolling the dice in Vegas with his “Entourage” is not his thing.
“I try to refrain,” he says.  “I do. I try to make the only times I bet be when there’s a repeat of a fight on TV, and I can talk one of my friends into betting on the loser. I like sure things, knowing I’m gonna win.”
He waxes poetic on the subject.
“But I DO gamble on myself every day in my career. I make the wrong bet and lose, I have nobody to blame but myself.”
Sweet. But hey, what about that $45,000 you dropped in a Macao casino recently? “For the movie,” he laughs.
And there was the time we spoke as he and his posse were on the golf course and he said, “Wait a minute. I gotta make this putt. Lotta money riding on it.”
Wahlberg laughs loud and hard at that.
“Oh, that’s another situation where I KNOW I’ve got a sure thing! It’s not like I’m in Vegas, throwing it all away. I don’t do the Vegas thing.”
He gets why people gamble, “the thrill. You know, in the original version of ‘The Gambler’ (1974) Jimmy Caan’s character only feels alive in that instant, waiting for the dice to stop rolling, the roulette wheel to stop, for that last card to turn over.”
But there’s another way the addiction manifests itself. Jim Bennett “is trying to strip himself of everything positive in his life…He’s not the kind of guy who will do himself in. But he’s not bothered all that much about putting these loan sharks in a position to do some harm to him.”
Critics are collectively undecided about Wahlberg‘s work in the film, though Todd McCarthy of The Hollywood Reporter says he “carries off the central role with what could be called determined elan.” And with awards buzz for the remake fading, Wahlberg is already focused on a couple of other William Monahan projects — “Mojave,” which he has filmed, and “American Desperadoes,” a period piece about the “Cocaine Cowboys” of Florida’s drug trade in the 1980s.
And then there’s the thing that has put Wahlberg in the headlines over the past month, his efforts to be pardoned for his criminal record, assault and other crimes he committed in Massachusetts in the 1980s when he was a teenager. He caught some flak for asking for the pardon, but got a break when his most prominent victim, a man named Johnny Trinh, came out in favor of the pardon. Wahlberg had allegedly blinded Trihn in an assault in 1988, but Trihn told The Washington Post Wahlberg “was not responsible for that…My left eye was already gone.”
Wahlberg takes a deep breath and sighs.
“What a weight lifted off my shoulders, to realize that I didn’t cause this horrible injury to him,” the actor, now 43, says. “I have carried that guilt for years and years and years. That is such an act of graciousness, him saying that.
“But look, I’ve lived my life ever since trying to better myself as a person, to do right, knowing that I’ve caused pain and grief. That’s what I will continue to do whether I receive a pardon or not. I teach my kids, it’s about giving back until you get a second chance. I got my diploma, just so I could show my kids that self-improvement never stops. You stick with it. So, pardon or not, I’m in a good place.”

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Weekend Movies: “Hobbit” passes muster, “Museum” doesn’t, “Annie” panned

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So Sony Pictures’ OTHER holiday movie will have to tote the load that it was to have shared with “The Interview,” a film the studio pulled from release after North Korea’s ranting threats against the studio, theatergoers and America in general.

I like George Clooney’s take on all this, Hollywood refusing to rally around the studio that was under assault, media complicity in publicizing the hackers’ embarrassing releases, etc.

The assault on Sony continues with what seem like irrationally bad reviews for “Annie,” which I found to be a cheerful, kid-friendly and clever updating of a stale musical that’s devolved into a cornball cliche. They did a good job — Jamie Foxx, Rose Byrne, Bobby Cannavale, Cameron Diaz and Ms. Wallis made a perfectly charming lead. What, they’re not allowed to update “Annie” or alter a musical to make it work for modern kids?

“The Hobbit: The Battle of the Five Armies” brings Peter Jackson’s Middle Earth years to a close in decent fashion. I found it OK, the best of this non-trilogy/trilogy. Reviews are mixed, leaning slightly positive.

Then there’s the desultory “Night at the Museum: Secret of the Tomb.” I am stunned that this got as many positive reviews as it did. Attribute that to affection for the late Robin Williams, who was on half-speed here. It’s a lifeless movie, three decent laughs in the whole thing. Blah.

The only movie for grownups who aren’t Hobbit fanboys and fangirls is “Goodbye to All That,” and it’s a winner. The screenwriter of “Junebug” steps behind the camera and finds a screwball dating scene awaiting a careless man who has to start over after a divorce. Winning performance by Paul Schneider, several funny players (Heather Graham, Melanie Lynskey). It’s in limited release, so hunt for it.

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Movie Review, “Night at the Museum: Secret of the Tomb”

There’s a mildly amusing Pompeii gag midway through “Night at the Museum: Secret of the Tomb.” It involves a scale model toy Roman soldier (Steve Coogan) and his Old West cowboy pal (Owen Wilson) and a monkey in need of extinguishing a model volcano’s fire.
Later, there’s a funny bit of business with Ben Kingsley, playing a pharaoh brought back to life, riffing with Ben Stiller as security guard Larry Daley, about “Exodus” — the Old Testament event, not the new movie co-starring Ben Kingsley but not Ben Stiller.
And then there’s a gag that tops both those rare highlights, one which involves a famous song and dance man, a London theater and a wax figure of Sir Lancelot (Dan Stevens of “Downton Abbey) who is dashing and yet awfully confused upon coming to life in The British Museum.
Otherwise, “Secret of the Tomb” is a tedious, sentimental affair, a kid-friendly comedy with delusions of “Toy Story 3″ when “Ace Ventura 3″ — if Hollywood had made one — was all that was within reach.
Stiller plays two roles in this third “Museum” piece — Larry, the night watchman who knows the museum’s exhibits come to life after hours thanks to some ancient Egyptian magic, and a Neanderthal exhibit made in Larry’s image.
Larry has been promoted and looks bored and perhaps annoyed with the makeup that casts dark stripes on the splash of orange that they put on his face. Or maybe that’s Stiller.
But La grunts and gestures and mugs for the camera, John Belushi style, as Stiller’s hairy/monobrowed doppelganger. “La” finds a laugh while Larry is basically reduced to high-priced straight man.
Not that the anybody has a lot of comic wriggle room here. The Museum of Natural History’s exhibits are in danger of losing their after-dark/after-lives because of the failing powers of an Egyptian tablet. Larry and his friends slip off to London, where the parents (Kingsley included) of young Pharaoh Ahkmenrah (Rami Malek) may know how to save the day. Larry drags his aspiring DJ son (Skylar Gisondo) along, to no purpose.
The British Museum is guarded by Rebel “Pitch Perfect” Wilson, a funny lady who manages a couple of modest zingers in her few scenes.
tomb2But Stevens is the real find here, cut loose from his pale, lovesick turn on “Abbey” to wear long hair, armor and a dashing swagger as Lancelot, a knight in need of a quest. Even he never rises to hilarious.
Robin Williams, in his last film role, returns as Teddy Roosevelt, whose symptoms as the tablet’s magic wanes have him impersonating everyone from FDR and JFK to Reagan and W. — weakly.
It was Mickey Rooney’s final film, too, and he has but a single scene. At least Dick Van Dyke gets to show off his dancing moves, one more time. He, Rooney and Bill Cobb return as the original night watchmen, the ones who tried to rob the Museum of Natural History in “Night at the Museum.”
The Brits show the Americans up as only Stevens, Wilson and Ricky Gervais seem inclined to throw themselves into this paycheck picture.
There’s a cleverly conceived fight inside a Maurice Escher pen and ink drawing, stairways folding in on themselves, dimensions bending. Minor moments of slapstick may tickle the kids, but anybody older, especially those who remember what Williams was like in his prime and how funny Stiller was just two “Museum” movies ago, will wish this tomb had stayed sealed.
1half-star
MPAA Rating: PG for mild action, some rude humor and brief language
Cast: Ben Stiller, Robin Williams, Rebel Wilson, Ricky Gervais, Owen Wilson, Ben Kingsley, Dan Stevens, Skylar Gisondo
Credits: Directed by Shawn Levy, screenplay by David Guion and Michael Handelman. A 20th Century Fox release.
Running time: 1:37

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