…and by you I mean I.
There are several movies I MEAN to see, but for whatever reason, I don’t get around to. Not that I wasn’t genuinely interested in them, but they just weren’t high enough on the priority pole. And, based on how these films did in the box office, it’s a pretty good bet you didn’t go either. Now that they are all available via OnDemand or on your pay-streaming service of choice (or however you go about getting your films), hopefully, I can help guide your search when deciding where to put your extra couple hours and $4.99.
In this installment we have the Jesse Owens biopic, “Race”, the spy film / Sasha Baron Cohen vehicle, “The Grimsby Brothers”, and the Disney true-story rescue epic, “The Finest Hours”. I was really surprised by all three, but not in ways you would imagine, so…let’s begin:
Directed by Stephen Hopkins
The Jesse Owens story is one-of-a-kind, given its place in history. For those unaware…Jesse Owens, an African American collegiate track superstar, went to the 1936 Olympics in Berlin, just two years after the Nazi regime took over. Just in case you’re one of those people who doesn’t know anything about history prior to JFK, I won’t tell you how he does, but suffice it to say it’s one of the most important true American hero stories we have. I’ve always wondered why there was no Hollywood adaptation of that story that was worth anything. Now, with the wonders of CGI, it seemed the perfect time to tell the story with the grandeur it deserves, and in the hands of a wonderful director it would be phenomenal.
Alas, this “Race” doesn’t really even make it to the starting block. I believe this is the first feature for Stephen Hopkins, a very well-known and prolific television episodic director. And a TV movie is exactly what this film comes off as. The script is perfectly suited for The History Channel, and possesses literally NONE of the nuance necessary for the big screen. As a result, the actors, who try their hardest, flail about, spouting cliche after cliche with intense sincerity. By the third act you are simply watching out of curiosity to see how they handle the cinematization of the famous Newsreel footage (originally provided by Nazi propogandist, Leni Riefenstahl – who plays an important part of the film’s plot).
As stated, the acting suffers terribly from the paint-by-numbers script…or terrible miscasting. Stephen James is fine as Jesse Owens, I guess. Jeremey Irons is simply awful. Jason Sudekis is terribly miscast…or rather, is in a different movie altogether. If the rest of the film took itself even one iota as irreverently as Sudekis does, it would have been a MUCH better film. However, the German actors in the film are terrific…mostly because they are accurately played with the uber-seriousness that the rest of the film suffers from. Carice van Houten, as Riefenstahl, is a wonderful conduit between the two worlds. But the REAL standout of the film is Barnaby Metschurat as Joseph Goebbels. Creepy, intense, smouldering and bizarre, he instigates a twenty degree drop in temperature in whatever room you’re watching in.
Easily skipped. Watch “Chariots of Fire” instead.
“The Brothers Grimsby” (aka “Grimsby” in the UK)
Directed by Louis Leterrier
I REALLY expected to hate this film. Probably because my assumption was that this was going to be a Sasha Baron Cohen film. It’s not. Oh, his mark is all over it, but this is not one of his statements-on-modern-culture extravaganzas. No, this is a very simple parody of buddy spy films, and in this regard, it’s wildly successful (MUCH more so than the unbearable “Man From U.N.C.L.E.”). Under Leterrier’s direction (best known as the Transporter series helmer), the movie is suspenseful and quick. This is not to say there is no Cohen imprint. I mean, he did WRITE the film, so there are moments that are unbelievable, inappropriate and uncomfortable…I mean WILDLY so. But when the jokes land, which is a good 85-90% of the time, it’s hilarious, even if many of the jokes are very Brit-centric.
Much of the film’s success is due to Mark Strong. He plays it incredibly straight, as an actual MI6 spy, even when asked to do the most awful things for the sake of a joke. And with the 180-degree contrast to the idiocy of Cohen’s character so well developed, their relationship to each other and the world they inhabit somehow feels genuine.
Look, this is not a date film. This is the definition of a guilty-pleasure. Watch it with people you are VERY comfortable with, because, at two very specific points in the film, you WILL be embarrassed and slightly ashamed at how hard you are laughing.
“The Finest Hours”
Directed by Craig Gillespie
Here is another film I expected to disappoint. So imagine my surprise when I found a gripping, well-written, extremely well-acted epic. Gillespie, who was, heretofore, only known for his breakout film, “Lars and the Real Girl”, does a wonderful job of creating two communities of real people, which allows the stakes to rise and rise. The script is fairly basic, but thanks to the sincere and three-dimensional choices of the actors, it feels much more complex than it is. Even the rough sea boating action…something we’ve seen in dozens of films over the last few years…is absolutely harrowing, and I found myself jumping in my seat…at home.
The acting is pretty much all excellent to outstanding. Casey Affleck has become a fine, if underappreciated, actor. He’s especially good here, underplaying the tension…which, of course, adds to it in all the right ways. Chris Pine, as the second protagonist, gives his best performance to date. Not just a good-looking hero, he’s fallible, charming and down-to-earth…even his accent is pretty good. The only weak performances belong to Eric Bana, who plays his antagonist in a very stock manner, and Michael Raymond-James, who as the counterpoint to Casey Affleck, is just not very believable…at all. Luckily, neither have much screen time.
This is an excellent movie and I found myself wishing I had made the effort to see it in the theater. But if you have a decent-sized television with some version of surround sound, turn out the lights, turn it up loud, and enjoy the ride!
The Brothers Grimsby:
The Finest Hours: