MOVIES: 'Contraband,' 'Being Elmo' & 'Carnage'
Updated 1:06 pm, Friday, January 27, 2012
Following are Susan Granger's reviews of the latest movies in area theaters:
This generic action adventure about high-seas smuggling is a remake of a 2008 Islandic thriller, "Reykajavik-Rotterdam," which starred this film's director, Baltasar Kormakur ("101 Reykjavik").
When it begins, legendary New Orleans smuggler Chris Farraday (Mark Wahlberg) has abandoned an international life of crime to become a Louisiana home-security contractor, settling into middle-age, middle-class domesticity with his wife, Kate (Kate Beckinsale) and two young sons.
But at a family wedding, Chris finds out that his punk brother-in-law, Andy (Caleb Landry Jones) botched a drug deal by dumping his cargo of cocaine in advance of a customs raid, and now he is terrified of his ruthless, tattooed gangster boss, Tim Briggs (Giovanni Ribisi), because he owes him $700,000. Chris tries to intervene in his behalf but he's rudely rebuffed. So cocky Chris decides to do one last job, running a pallet stacked with counterfeit bills from a distant barrio in Panama City to New Orleans to settle Andy's debt.
He dutifully assembles a crew, which includes his hot-head buddy, Sebastian Abney (Ben Foster), and their dimwitted pal Danny Raymer (Lukas Haas). But the contraband cargo arouses the suspicion of the container ship's blustering Captain Camp (J.K. Simmons), who was none too fond of Chris' father, and there's mounting danger to Chris' family from treacherous drug runners, lethal hit men and the police.
Adapted by Aaron Guzikowski, it's such a contrived, predictable plot that its formulaic familiarity cannot be disguised by the jerky, hand-held camera work that is so often employed by cinematographer Barry Ackroyd, who won an Oscar for "The Hurt Locker," nor Elisabet Ronalds' deft editing. The most compelling scenes are nautical, involving freighter ships, dock workers and maritime law, particularly the claustrophobic interiors aboard the nearly 900 foot-long S.S. Bellatrix.
It's interesting that the user-friendly online support includes Facebook's Training Grounds (https://apps.facebook.com/traininggrounds) and Contraband Hustle Game (http://contrabandhustle.com), which should appeal to the target audience.
On the Granger Movie Gauge of 1 to 10, "Contraband" sinks to an undercurrent 5 and seems to be quickly headed for a perch on the derivative dvd shelf.
Who doesn't love Elmo, the familiar, furry, red Muppet from "Sesame Street?" But did you know that Elmo's the only non-human ever to testify before the United States Congress? That and other fascinating nuggets are part of this documentary about Kevin Clash, best known as Elmo's hand, voice and soul.
Narrated by Whoopi Goldberg, the journey begins outside Baltimore where, after watching "Captain Kangaroo," young Kevin Clash cut up his father's raincoat to construct a monkey character to animate for family and neighborhood friends. Initially mocked for "playing with dolls," by the time Kevin graduated from high school, he'd created more than 70 puppets and landed his first gig on a local Maryland children's TV show.
Supported by his parents, Kevin was obsessed with puppetry, snagging a breakthrough job with "Captain Kangaroo." After that, he worked on PBS' "The Great Space Coaster," bypassing Jim Henson's "The Dark Crystal" to do the 1968 movie "Labyrinth." That gave him a foothold into the "Sesame Street" universe, where Henson became his friend/mentor, teaching him the tricks of the trade.
Curiously, Kevin wasn't Elmo's first puppeteer, but he is the one who contributed the helium-infused, falsetto voice and developed the personality of a perpetual 3-year-old, speaking in the third person. He was the first African-American to join the Jim Henson organization and currently serves as Muppet Captain and co-executive producer.
Kind and thoughtful, Kevin epitomizes the observation of "Sesame Street" veteran Martin P. Robinson: "When a puppet is true and good and moving, it's the soul of the puppeteer you're seeing."
Adapting his 2006 autobiography "My Life as a Furry Red Monster: What Being Elmo Has Taught me About Life, Love and Laughing Out Loud," director Constance Marks ignores Kevin's role as a single parent, never completely revealing the man behind the Muppet.
On the Granger Movie Gauge of 1 to 10, "Being Elmo" is an adoring, sweet 7. Shown at 4 p.m. Saturday, Jan. 28, Christ and Holy Trinity Church in Westport. Tickets are $10 and benefit the Westport Cinema Initiative.
Set in New York City and shot in real time, this brutally edgy, biting comedy revolves around differences in bourgeois ethics and styles of parenting.
After a playground incident in which one young boy knocks out another boy's front teeth with a stick, the protective parents of the victim invite the chagrined parents of the bully to their Brooklyn apartment to work out their issues. While it begins as a request for an apology and a polite discussion about child-rearing, it soon deteriorates into ferocious verbal warfare and none of them escapes the carnage.
As Penelope (Jodie Foster) and Michael (John C. Reilly) Longstreet are filing an insurance claim against Nancy and Alan Cowan, they begin to bicker about the wording of the document. A stressed-out, uptight investment broker, Nancy (Kate Winslet) feels guilty about the time she spends away from her son, a sentiment that is not shared by her amoral, cell-phone addicted, lawyer husband, Alan (Christoph Waltz). An angry liberal, Penelope finds the Cowans' behavior disgusting, while genial Michael, a hardware supply salesman, just wants everyone to try to get along, breaking out Bruichladdich 18 year-old single-malt Scotch to put all four of them at ease. Instead, the tension between the couples, as well as their respective spouses, grows tighter as the veil of civility is lifted.
Directed and adapted by Roman Polanski ("The Pianist") from Yasmina Reza's Tony Award-winning play, "God of Carnage," it's a savagely satirical commentary on morality and psychology, like a welterweight version of Edward Albee's "Who's Afraid of Virginia Woolf?"
Problem is: Jodie Foster is miscast and that dilutes the ensemble's effectiveness. On-stage, Marcia Gay Harden was able to make the same psycho-babbling character less brittle and far more vulnerable, particularly after Kate Winslet's Nancy eats her apple cobbler and then projectile vomits onto the coffee table, staining Penelope's treasured old book of Oskar Kokoschka paintings.
Aimed at mature art house audiences, on the Granger Movie Gauge of 1 to 10, "Carnage" is a slick, simmering, scathing 7 -- with a suitably ironic conclusion.