Denzel owns 'Safe House,' Swinton shines as mom of a monster
Published Friday, February 10, 2012 7:24AM EST
Richard's Review: 3 stars
For most of its running time, "Safe House" is a pretty exciting action movie. Things blow up, Denzel is a cool bad guy, but when the movie slows down to provide some back story it loses its explosive power.
Ryan Reynolds plays Matt Weston, a rookie CIA agent stationed at an underused safe house in Cape Town, South Africa. When agents bring in Tobin Frost (Denzel Washington), an ex-agent wanted for espionage, Weston is thrust into a wild escape plan and high-level intrigue. He must also learn who to trust.
The underlying sense of tension in "Safe House" originates with Washington. If this movie starred Tom Cruise or Will Smith, you would know that even though they might do dastardly things they're playing heroes. Washington is different. He's not afraid to explore the dark side of his characters and there's no guarantee that he will be alive by the time the end credits roll. That's not a spoiler, but a comment on an actor who brings some much welcome moral ambiguity to this role. If you want to find out if he lives or dies buy a ticket. The movie is mostly worth the ride.
The film slows down in its last quarter. The knee-deep intrigue, the clichés and Denzel's uncanny ability to walk between hundreds of fired bullets begins to wear thin. But it has some good action and a wall of tension so high it sometimes feels like you'll never be able to see over it.
The loser here is Reynolds, who is blown off screen by Washington's effortless cool. Reynolds never rises above the clichés that make up his role of a new guy thrown into a fracas of unparalleled danger and intrigue role. Too bad the "Green Lantern" didn't have action half as good as "Safe House." If it did, there might have been a sequel and we'd all be talking about Reynolds in his green tights instead of how he barely registers next to Washington's more complex character.
"Journey 2: The Mysterious Island"
Richard's Review: 3 stars
"Journey 2: The Mysterious Island," the sorta-sequel to "Journey to the Center of the Earth," is a family action movie about people who treat the writings of Jules Verne as a Fodor's Guide to adventure.
Josh Hutcherson (soon to be seen in "The Hunger Games") is Sean Anderson, a Jules Verne nerd who, with the help of his step-father (Dwayne "The Rock" Johnson) pieces together the location of the famed Mysterious Island using clues intercepted on a ham radio. With plane tickets in hand, they head off to see if the place really exists. Along the way they meet a crazy helicopter pilot (Luis Guzmán) and a beautiful daughter (Vanessa Hudgens), several giant bees and tiny elephants. They are also reunited with Sean's long lost grandfather, explorer Alexander Anderson (Michael Caine).
"Journey 2: The Mysterious Island" is a cross between "Gilligan's Island" and a Saturday afternoon serial. From "Gilligan" it gets its silly sense of humor -- "You know, if we die down there," says Sean ,"Mom's going to kill us." The film's sense of family friendly sci-fi fun comes from the serials.
Oscar winner Sir Michael Caine rides on the back of a giant bee, The Rock cuddles a tiny elephant and Guzmán tries to mine an active volcano made of gold.
It's all harmless good fun. Not really memorable, but Caine is in crazy old coot mode and Guzman is gonzo. Despite it's state-of-the-art effects, the whole thing plays like an old-fashioned kid's adventure story.
"We Need to Talk About Kevin"
Richard's Review: 4 stars
While Kevin may be the titular star of "We Need to Talk About Kevin," after seeing the movie the person everyone is talking about Tilda Swinton. She hands in an unforgettable performance as a New York suburbanite and mother of a monster and social pariah.
Swinton plays Eva Khatchadourian, travel agent, wife of Franklin (John C. Reilly) and mother of Kevin (played as a child by Rock Duer and Jasper Newell, as a teen by Ezra Miller). Kevin is a constant thorn in her side. From his colicky childhood to his troubled teens, she is at odds with her own son and convinced he is trouble. As her worst nightmares slowly come true, the film studies the build-up and aftermath of Kevin's violent behaviour. This it does by simultaneously by jumping back and forth in time.
Based on a bestseller by Lionel Shriver, "We Need to Talk About Kevin" is a hauntingly stylized look at a deeply troubled relationship. Using a fractured timeline, director Lynne Ramsey allows the viewer to decide whether Eva's interaction with her son turned him into a beast or whether she gave birth to bad seed. It's a fascinating character study that asks more questions than it answers, but is given real depth by the performances.
Miller is chilling in the role -- he's the personification of a troubled teen. But it is Swinton who steals the show. When she utters the line, "I'm going straight to hell. Eternal damnation, the whole thing," it would be funny if it wasn't so ripe with self-hate and pain.
"We Need to Talk About Kevin" is made for adventurous viewers; those who can stand watching real ennui played out on screen.