It’s only been a couple years since the genuinely different Swedish vampire film Let the Right One In turned up on the vast majority of critics’ top ten lists, so it might seem odd for there to be an American version so soon. Fortunately, Matt Reeves’ Let Me In is not exactly a remake. The opening credits cite both the novel and the script [both by John Ajvide Lindqvist] as sources for the film. In a way, Reeves’ take on the story takes what’s best about the novel [and original film] and finds a way to give it a unique resonance for the North American audience.
The reason clichés become clichés is that they are rooted in truth. In Brooklyn’s Finest, director Antoine Fuqua [Training Day] and screenwriter Michael C. Mann attempt to see through the clichés to the truth that lies beneath. They are only partially successful.
The film follows three cops – about to be retired Eddie [Richard Gere], overwhelmed family man Sal [Ethan Hawke] and undercover cop Tango [Don Cheadle] – through a few very pressure packed days in the worst part of the most crime ridden precinct in Brooklyn.
Grant Heslov’s The Men Who Stare at Goats opens with the disclaimer: More of this is true than you would believe. Based on the non-fiction book of the same name, it is a film that looks at the U.S. Armed Forces’ attempts to explore the possibility of using paranormal abilities for war.
The framing story for the film follows minor league reporter Bob Wilton [Ewan McGregor] as he attempts to find a meaningful story to justify himself to his wife – who has left him for his editor. When he stumbles onto former soldier and “Jedi Warrior” Lyn Cassady [George Clooney], he finds himself in the Kuwait desert on a direct line to the story of the century: the Army trained psychic super-soldiers! Between the moments of the on the-road/buddies part of the movie, Wilton watches Cassady burst a cloud and run into the only boulder in sight – in any direction. And things just get loopier from there.
After Clyde Shelton’s [Gerard Butler] wife and daughter are murdered, Assistant D.A. Nick Rice [Jamie Foxx] makes a deal with one of the killers to put the other on death row. The deal maker pleads to third-degree murder and gets a remarkably short sentence. What Rice doesn’t know is that his deal has been made with the more vicious of the two men.
Ten years later, Shelton engineers the painful death of the one on death row and then leads the other to a truly excruciating death. When the police arrest him, a game of chess begins between him and Rice – a chess match that results in more, and more ingenious [and bloody] deaths.
Sunshine Cleaning, which opened wide this weekend, is a quirky, entertaining dramedy that mines the same kind of vibe that propelled Little Miss Sunshine to hit status. It’s about pursuing a dream even though it would have appeared that it was too late. It features a very familiar performance from Alan Arkin as Joe, the eccentric father to sisters Rose [Amy Adams] and Norah [Emily Blunt], and grandfather to Rose’s equally eccentric young son, Oscar [Jason Spevak].
Rose works for a home cleaning company [a kind of maids-on-wheels gig], but was once the captain of the cheerleading squad and girlfriend of the quarterback. She’s still the girlfriend of the quarterback, Mac [Steve Zahn], a married police detective], but that’s the only thing her life has in common with her younger self. This is not where she thought she’d be – something that being invited to a baby shower for a former fellow cheerleader drives home.
Norah was probably the class clown until she dropped out and began a series of wage-slave jobs. Where Norah is responsible and maybe more than a bit worn down, Norah still acts like she’s in high school. We meet her as she gets fired from yet another job.
When Mac suggests that Rose get involved the lucrative crime scene cleanup game, she takes the idea and runs with it – dragging Norah along with her. Working together has opposite effects on the sisters: Rose really gets into it, learning everything she can about the job – and excelling at it [plus, she believes it makes things better in some small way]; Norah, who really needs a handler at all times, is easily distracted and not really interested – a combination that brings about some really bad results. Since Rose needs the money to get Oscar into a private school, where he can get the kind of attention an eccentric kid like him needs, this drives a huge wedge between her and Norah. Meanwhile, Joe is trying various get-rich-quick schemes with little to no success.
Sunshine Cleaning is not the next Little Miss Sunshine, but that’s okay. It is a witty dramedy that gives us interesting characters who react to their circumstances in very real ways. The script, by Megan Holley, is rich enough in terms of both characters and situation that it feels real and we can easily relate to them. Director Christine Jeffs draws a solid performance from her cast, but I doubt that Amy Adams and Emily Blunt are even capable of turning a bad performance. Where Jeffs’ skill shows, is in her work with young Jason Spevak. Oscar could have been just another precocious kid, but he’s not – in a world of precocious kid actors, Spevak is intriguingly fresh. He cloaks his character’s intelligence within his eccentricities in a way that really does make Oscar unique.
If Sunshine Cleaning doesn’t quite hit all the heights to which it aspires, it still has enough wit and intelligence and warmth to balance its darker moments [and there are a number of them, right from the fade in]. It is a solid, entertaining film.
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