Kill the Messenger

October 10, 2014 by  
Filed under Cody, Reviews

Starring: Jeremy Renner, Rosemarie DeWitt, Ray Liotta
Directed by: Michael Cuesta (“Roadie”)
Written by: Peter Landesman (“Parkland”)

As print media continues its slow decline into becoming increasingly more obsolete, it is always fun to see a film tackle the seemingly lost art of the tenacious newspaper reporter out to break a story wide open. In “Kill the Messenger,” it just so happens that the target of this exposé is the United States government.

Based on a true story, “Kill the Messenger” follows San Jose Mercury News investigative journalist Gary Webb (Jeremy Renner) and the huge story he uncovers in the mid-90s. After following trails led by the girlfriend of a drug dealer, Webb discovers that the CIA knowingly allowed cocaine into the U.S. and allowed it to be sold in order arm rebels in Nicaragua. Once Webb releases his story, praise is soon met with scrutiny and danger as his career, family and life hang in the balance.

In the lead role, Renner gives his best performance since 2010’s “The Town.” It’s a role that is equal parts aggressive and vulnerable, both of which Renner excels at, elevating the material in the process. While there are good supporting performances from actors like Oliver Platt and Rosemarie DeWitt, “Kill the Messenger” unfortunately doesn’t make much use of his sprawling cast of great actors. Actors like Andy Garcia and Michael Sheen briefly appear and are gone in an instant, failing to make a lasting impact.

For the most part, the true-to-life story in “Kill the Messenger” is very intriguing, though it does tend to ebb and flow more than one might like. Scenes at the beginning of the film where Gary is putting together the initial pieces of the puzzle allow for the tenacious character traits to reveal themselves, setting the table for the rest of the film. These scenes also establish the tone as the film becomes very sharp and even a bit witty, especially in the scenes with a lawyer character played fantastically by Tim Blake Nelson.

As Gary begins to dig deeper into the conspiracy, he sets out on a journey to uncover the truth, which is where the film begins to lose a bit of its luster. These segments feel tenuous and while Renner carries them and character actors shuffle in and out, the scenes and story feel a little slight overall. The momentum is regained, however, and the strongest points of the film happen when Gary is under a smear campaign from competing newspapers. It is here where Renner is able to show his emotional range, from the fear for his life to the frustration of having people question his journalistic integrity. It’s an interesting study of and asks important questions like, “How much power does the government really have?” It’s an issue that is still extremely timely today.

Towards the end of the film and sprinkled throughout, director Michael Cuesta flirts with the larger implications that the CIA and the government heavily contributed to the crack epidemic that began in Los Angeles in the 1980’s. It’s a worthwhile connection of a social issue that ultimately has its impact blunted by a lack of exploration. Though the film may not connect on every level it sets out to, a mostly well-driven narrative and a great performance from Renner make “Kill the Messenger” a story worth telling.

The Identical

September 5, 2014 by  
Filed under Kiko, Reviews

Starring: Blake Rayne, Ashley Judd, Ray Liotta
Directed by: Dustin Marcellino (debut)
Written by: Howard Klausner (“Space Cowboys”)

Chalk up “The Identical,” the new unintentionally-hilarious-bizarro-world-Elvis-Presley-wannabe-fake-rock-‘n’-roll-era-church-sermon, as one of the worst musicals ever made. This is not hyperbole. We’ve hit the motherload.

Move over “From Justin to Kelly,” “Glitter” and “Spice World.” In the last 30 years, nothing will make audiences wish a hip-gyrating, sequin-flashing Sylvester Stallone would make a stage appearance singing country music like he did in the horrendous 1984 comedy “Rhinestone” to save us from the styling of newcomer Blake Rayne and whatever the hell first-time feature director Dustin Marcellino and screenwriter Howard Klausner (“Space Cowboys”) have sloppily thrown onto the screen and actually considered watchable.

Playing out like a dramatic version of the 2007 musical parody “Walk Hard: The Dewey Cox Story” (just think about that: it’s a drama that feels like an inadvertent comedy reminiscent of a comedy that satirizes a drama), “The Identical” takes the little known fact that Elvis Presley was born an identical twin in 1935 (his older brother was stillborn), and turns the story on its head to create this awkwardly meta narrative that offers up a laughable “what if” scenario of pathetic proportions. Suppose this: Instead of dying at birth, what if Elvis’ brother was adopted to a God-fearing family (Ashley Judd and Ray Liotta) and, instead of following in his father’s footsteps to become a preacher, grows up with a passion for music and unknowingly idolizing his twin brother who goes onto become a superstar rock ‘n’ roll icon? Make sense? It doesn’t have to.

See, this isn’t an Elvis Presley story. It just so happens to be about a couple of Alabama boys, who grow up and look like dead ringers for Elvis and also happen to sing. One of the problems with the believability of the story, however, is that these circumstances aren’t taking place in an Elvis-free world. Are we to believe that the main fictional character Ryan Wade (Rayne), a popular singer in the 50s who moves and shakes and croons like Elvis, would be taken seriously in the music industry when the real Elvis Presley was already doing the same exact thing? “There’s only one Elvis,” a producer tells the faux-Elvis at one point in the film. It’s an obvious lie Klausner hoped audiences would overlook since, well, there’s also this other guy going around the country acting like Elvis, too! Is anyone even paying attention to what’s going on here? This quickly turns into ignorant self-parody.

Let’s regress. The careless storytelling, which includes terrible narration throughout the overlong film, is only a fraction of what turns out to be a painful cinematic experience. Aside from Rayne’s gooberish performance (he plays both brothers and does so without giving an ounce of personality to either one of them), every song he belts out is a slap to the face of music lovers everywhere. From “Boogie Woogie Rock N Roll” to “Bee Boppin Baby” to the migraine-inducing “City Lights,” the soundtrack to “The Identical” sounds like it was produced by someone who did research on 50s rock ‘n’ roll by reading a 30-year-old encyclopedia Britannica…once…while dozing off. If the studio hopes they’ll be able to recoup some of the money they’ve wasted on this production by peddling a collection of hokey tunes destined to do worse than a Kevin Federline Christmas album, they better have a solid back up plan. Our advice: a Ryan Wade World Tour. First stop: the Sahara.

Observe and Report

April 6, 2009 by  
Filed under Reviews

Starring: Seth Rogen, Anna Faris, Ray Liotta
Directed by: Jody Hill (“The Foot Fist Way”)
Written by: Jody Hill (“The Foot Fist Way”)

Take it for what it’s worth: the new comedy “Observe and Report” is the best mall-cop movie of the year.

That doesn’t say much since the only other film under that category this year is the terrible “Paul Blart: Mall Cop,” where we were able to witness actor Kevin James hamming it up on a Segway against skateboarding ninja wannabes. After that, who wouldn’t want another mall-cop movie, right?

In “Observe and Report,” Seth Rogen is our anti-hero and he’s got a lot more punch behind the silver badge he wears so proudly than James has in his porn-stache. As Ronny Barnhart, a bipolar security cop working at the local mall, serving and protecting the establishment’s patrons is everything he cares about.

His pride takes a hit, however, when a streaker in the mall starts showing off what’s under his trenchcoat to shoppers. When the pervert, as he is referred to in the movie, flashes himself to Ronnie’s love interest, cosmetics girl Brandi (Anna Faris), the shriveled-up exhibitionist becomes Ronnie’s only link to her life and therefore the only way he can win her over.

With that, Ronnie sets forth to catch the perv with help from his curly sidekick Dennis (Michel Peña) and a few other uninteresting secondary characters that rely on their physical awkwardness and not their actual personality to make them memorable additions to a sometimes hilarious script. Ray Liotta (“Wild Hogs”) as a city police officer befuddled by Ronnie’s acute stupidity is the only saving grace in this aspect.

While the narrative pushes the breaks one too many times, Rogen, Liotta, and especially actress Celia Weston (“In the Bedroom”) as Ronnie’s drunk mother, are enough reasons to tip the scales of justice toward favorable. And if you do find yourself less than entertained by another mall-cop movie in 2009, stay for the third act, which pushes the humor onto a level very few comedies dare to tread.