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Hey everyone. Capone in Chicago here. I was torn this week about whether to bail on the new releases of the week in light of my jam-packed Chicago Film Festival screening schedule, or do another roundup. My decision was to go with a slightly expanded roundup, since this weekend features some fairly high-profile entries. As we fast approach awards season, I don't think it's in anyone's best interest to skip weekly updates. I'll be back to a more manageable schedule next week. So here is what's hitting theater today in many markets. I also happened to catch SAW V late lasts night, and my anus continues to ache. Enjoy…
CHANGELING Someone asked me what the last bad Clint Eastwood movie was as a director, and I had a hard time answering the question. I guess the last one I didn't recommend was SPACE COWBOYS, in which he also starred. I guess this is my weak-ass way at telling you that, while I didn't dislike his latest work CHANGELING, there is something about the film that just doesn't work. There is certainly no shortage of great performances in this film, especially the work done by such well-known players as Angelina Jolie and John Malkovich as well as lesser-known character actors like Michael Kelly and Jason Butler Harner. Perhaps it's the story that never quite drew me in. But more than that, it feels like Eastwood's heart just isn't in this tale of a missing child in 1928 Los Angeles. The twists and turns of this bizarre, real-life case--in which the police return a boy to Christine Collins (Jolie), who is in fact not her son--are so hard to conceive of and wrap your head around that they leave you a little empty. I know enough about the actual case to know that Eastwood and screenwriter J. Michael Straczynski took some serious liberties with the facts, but that's not my problem either. There's just too much going on here, and too many grand personalities vying for screen time and possible awards accolades. Eastwood covered a missing child scenario before in MYSTIC RIVER, but that film seemed more focused and less flailing. I loved Malkovich's take on radio evangelist Rev. Gustav Briegleb, who has made it his mission to expose corruption in the LAPD and protect Collins from them as her voice and claims get louder and believed by more. The police are so afraid of the embarrassment of having reunited Collins with the wrong child that they refuse to believe her claims that the young man is not her son, despite the fact that he is apparently three inches shorter and has different dental records. At one point, she's even put into an insane asylum by the police for acting hysterical. Last year's Oscar nominee Amy Ryan (from GONE BABY GONE and currently guesting on "The Office") makes an all-too-brief appearance in this sequence as a fellow patient who was also put in the loony bin falsely by the police. Part of the problem is that there are so many subplots to the Collins boy's disappearance that the film ends up feeling scattered and unfocused. The asylum sequence is too long and brings the plot to a grinding stop. Then there are the scenes involving a fairly honest cop (Kelly) interrogating a kid and eventually chasing down a possible serial killer. And the police chief and his right-hand stooge are involved in an endless succession of dirty tricks against Collins. While these distractions are meant to close the book on what exactly happened to Collins' son, they drag the film down and on (the running time is nearly 2.5 hours). Jolie's devastating good looks and solid acting are certainly welcome, but I got so lost in her perfect makeup and clothes, I sometimes lost interest in what was going on with the plot(s). As I said, there are many good things about CHANGELING, but there's a central piece needed to hold everything together that is simply missing. It should be Jolie, but it isn't. And I usually don't have issues with her as an actress. It might have been Malkovich, but he's not in the film enough to make that happen. No, the problem with this movie is that something--other than a little boy--is missing... a spark, an energy, a passion is lacking, despite a whole lot of trying. It's a valiant effort on Eastwood's part, but this is a rare instance where I did not connect with his usually flawless work.
HAPPY-GO-LUCKY Speaking of filmmakers who have rarely, if ever, made a bad movie, the 65-year-old British auteur Mike Leigh delivers what may be his most accessible but no less compelling work, featuring yet another in a long line of lead female performances that is worthy of every award nomination it's likely to garner. Sally Hawkins stars as Poppy, a schoolteacher with a spirit, attitude and sense of humor that is completely without boundaries. Hawkins plays the role like it was hers from birth, which in many ways it is. As with many of Leigh's films, the "story" (as much as there is one) emerges from what is essentially a character study of Poppy simply going through her day-to-day routine. She pretty, dresses a bit loud, and finds it in herself to laugh and crack jokes through even some truly painful experiences, such as throwing her back out. For her, life's glass is always half full. Although the film's title might lead you to believe HAPPY-GO-LUCKY is an unabashed comedy or some sort of light-hearted fare, don't be too sure. While this is certainly one of Leigh's lighter efforts, it's by no means lightweight as we see Poppy deal with a possible abuse situation regarding one of her students. But by far the film's most intense sequences comes from the least likely source: Poppy's weekly driving lessons with Scott (Eddie Marsan), a bitter and buttoned-up man whose methods of instruction would fit right in at any prison camp. His is one of the most well-rounded characters in the film, and we see a transformation in his persona that is both sad and scary. Almost as a means to counter that, there's a single sequence in which Poppy meets an older homeless man that is simply one of the most touching moments you will see on film all year. The film's final act centers on Poppy's almost accidental love life, a situation that arises out of the child abuse situation (irrefutable proof that she can turn any negative into a positive). Leigh is best known for his high drama in films such as NAKED, SECRETS & LIES, and VERA DRAKE, and while HAPPY-GO-LUCKY is no less satisfying, it falls more in line thematically and tonally with works like LIFE IS SWEET, CAREER GIRLS, and ALL OR NOTHING. If these titles mean nothing to you, first of all, shame on you, but second, this is an excellent opportunity to introduce yourself to the wonders of true modern British cinema. More importantly, the film gives us all a chance to meet one of the most richly drawn female characters of this year or any in recent memory.
ROCKNROLLA I keep waiting for Guy Ritchie to find his footing again, and his latest film does return him to the world of gun-toting British gangsters, rapid-fire editing and swirling camera movements, all of which are steps in the direction of his early and best works, LOCK, STOCK AND TWO SMOKING BARRELLS and SNATCH. But what ROCKNROLLA is missing is a solid entry point such as Jason Statham gave us in those two films. Although 300's Gerald Butler is being touted as the star of the film, he's not really; he's just one of many seedy types that populate the film and give Ritchie's vision its patented mixture of over-inflated machismo and dark, dark humor. The narrator of the film is actually one of my favorite actors working today, Mark Strong, who also happens to be the best thing about Ridley Scott's latest, BODY OF LIES. Strong is a chameleon, so you may not know exactly what he looks like. I remember first noticing him in STARDUST last year. In ROCKNROLLA, Strong plays the right-hand man to one of London's most important crime lords (played by Tim Wilkinson), who has made a small fortune getting things done in the real estate market. A few more scenes with Strong would have established him as our door into Ritchie's complicated plot, and allowed me to like this film a whole lot more. As it is, the movie isn't half bad. I couldn't begin to dive into the plot in any kind of detail, but it involves million of pounds of money meant for bribing purposes so a Russian gangster can buy up and develop massive amounts of London real estate. Money is stolen, low-level criminal types are beat up or killed outright, a valuable painting is passed around from scumbag to scumbag, and there's some drugged-out rock star whom most people think is dead but is actually just holed up somewhere taking massive quantities of drugs. Why do we care about him? It takes way too long to find out. Ritchie's strong suit is pulling together all of these stories and characters, and making the experience of watching them go through the paces fun even if the various plot elements don't all make sense (the did for me in this case). And he always seems to attract great (or at least interesting) actors to his movies. In RocknRolla, we see the likes of Jeremy Piven, Thandie Newton, Ludacris, Toby Kebbell, Gemma Arterton and Idris Elba (Stringer Bell from "The Wire"). Some of the characters are overly slick, while others are patsies and thugs, but they are certainly never boring to watch. In a weird way, RocknRolla's flaws are also its strengths. I've seen Ritchie do versions of this before, and working in his comfort zone is where he operates best. The problem with that is that he doesn't bring anything really new to the table beyond a chorus of new faces to replace the old. For the most part, I enjoyed this movie for my own reasons, but I'm not sure those reasons quite translate into a universal recommendation. If you've been impressed with Ritchie's work in the past (excluding SWEPT AWAY and parts of REVOLVER), you might really enjoy you time watching this one. Either way, I'm really excited to see his take on SHERLOCK HOLMES with Robert Downey Jr. and Jude Law (and Mark Strong as the villain, I might add), set for release next year. ROCKNROLLA is a toss-up.
PRIDE AND GLORY One thing no one can ever accuse writer-director Gavin O'Connor of doing is short-changing his audience on energy or being disingenuous about how he approaches his material. His two previous films (the fantastic 1999 indie hit TUMBLEWEEDS and MIRACLE, 2004's docudrama about the 1980 Olympic hockey team) are examples of what an absolutely solid filmmaker the guy is. His latest work (co-scripted with Joe Carnahan, director of SMOKIN' ACES and NARC), PRIDE AND GLORY, swings for the fences in terms of scope and intensity but is continually thwarted by its simply and constantly spiraling out of control. When you get two spirited actors like Edward Norton and Colin Farrell, with a shot of ham courtesy of Jon Voight, you can probably expect that reining those characters in might be a full-time gig. Still, the story of two generations of New York cops who become linked with a pretty ugly scandal involving dead officers, drugs, and all sorts of unseemly criminal types has its moments. Norton plays Ray Tierney, who is pulled back into the fold after a personal tragedy by his father Francis (Voight), the chief of Manhattan detectives, to lead the investigation into the deaths of four policemen. Farrell plays Ray's brother-in-law (married to Ray's sister) Jimmy, a lose cannon in the classic sense. One of the problems I had with this film is Farrell's choice to play Jimmy as so obviously guilty of something. And with my memories of Farrell note-perfect performance in IN BRUGES from earlier this year, it's hard to accept this half-hearted effort. The movie's secret weapon is the always-reliable Noah Emmerich as elder brother Francis Jr., the family's and the force's stable, often silent pillar. The investigation in this film seems secondary to the character portraits, and I'm OK with that. The film is strongest when it focuses on the relationships between the family members. There's a dinner sequence featuring the entire cast that is something to behold and feels wonderfully alive and spontaneous. In a way, I wish O'Connor had enough confidence in those sections of the movie to make that the focal point. Francis Jr.'s wife (Jennifer Ehle) has cancer, and Ehle is such a strong actress that whenever she's on screen, I never wanted to see her leave. Lake Bell plays the Tierney family's only sister (married to Jimmy), and she's terrific but gets so little screen time that it's frustrating. The world has enough police dramas on TV and in movies that Pride and Glory does not seem particularly special or necessary. I liked that O'Connor tried to draw parallels between the secretive world of the police and way governments or corporations protect and deal with their own, but even that isn't exactly uncharted waters. PRIDE AND GLORY has a great look, some fine acting, and a select few moments that I thought carried me through it, but ultimately the effort is disappointing considering how long we've had to wait for a new film from O'Connor.
HIGH SCHOOL MUSICAL 3: SENIOR YEAR Yeah, that's right. I saw it. What are you going to do about it, you sonofabitch? I not only saw it, I watched the first two High School Musical movies as a primer. I made the decision long ago that if I was going to dive in, I'd do so head first... and maybe I'd be lucky enough to crack my head open and miss the third installment of the single safest movie you will ever see (or not see) this year. I'll admit that the level of enthusiasm the largely young female audience I saw HSM3 with fascinated me to no ends. But more than that, I'm intrigued by Zac Efron for a couple of reasons. First, he's the only one of this bunch of not-so-young-anymore actors who can actually act. He's the best singer, the best dancer, and, based on the screaming when he flops his floppy hair a certain way or takes his shirt off, the best looking of the bunch. I'm really glad that my first exposure to him was HAIRSPRAY, and not one of these movies. Forgetting the easily forgettable plot of HSM3 — about Efron and his girlfriend (Vanessa "I Saw You Naked So Stop Playing All Virginal" Hudgens) and their friends preparing for graduation and college—the film's highlights are the musical numbers. But here's the thing, it's very clear to me that in order to secure Efron in this third sequel that I'm fairly certain he didn't want to do, the song-and-dance makers had to showcase him a whole lot more in this movie than the previous two. What's even more interesting is that those are the film's strongest moments. There's one angst-ridden solo sequence where Efron tears through the empty school trying to contemplate what his next move will be. Will he continue playing basketball at a nearby college in Albuquerque, or will her head off to Julliard where he can sing and dance until the gay cows come home? Will he and Miss Naked Virgin stay together, perform in the big senior show or will she leave to go to Stanford on an early admission program? These are important issues, people! There's another impressive song-and-dance scene with Efron and co-star Corbin Bleu set in a car junkyard that so clearly casts Efron as Justin Timberlake it made me laugh. It was a little frustrating watching HSM3 since none of the other actors seem to adjust their play to the back row style of overacting for the big screen. You don't have to wave your arms around and make faces on the big screen. We can see you; stop trying so hard to get noticed. Wait, am I trying to say I liked this movie? In a way, I guess I did. I wasn't clawing at my eyes as I ran screaming for the exits when it ended. And the fact is, I dig Efron as a performer, and I hope that in future roles he's able to continue in future musicals. I seem to recall he's going to star in a FOOTLOOSE remake, which actually sounds like a great idea. As an actor, the kid's not bad either. I'm hearing good things about him in Richard Linklater's ME AND ORSON WELLES. He'll probably be one of the actors who is always fighting to be taken seriously because of his good looks and his twinkle toes, but the fact is, Efron is a great all-around entertainer who will look back at HSM3 as the end of the first chapter of that part of his life, while I look at it as the beginning of a new chapter in mine called "Me and Zac: 2 Gether 4 Ever." Toodles! -- Capone

Readers Talkback
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  • Oct. 24, 2008, 12:43 p.m. CST

    my anus hurt continues to ache

    by Porrohman


  • Oct. 24, 2008, 12:51 p.m. CST

    I wonder how Guy Ritchies divorce will affect his career.

    by DerLanghaarige

    I don'T just mean in terms of seeing him as Mr.Madonna, but also if he gets his mojo in terms of filmmaking back. (Although I really liked Revolver)

  • Oct. 24, 2008, 12:53 p.m. CST

    hey Capone

    by fartedinthefaceofhollywood

    the clean up crew at the theater wanted me to tell you they are sorry...they accidently stepped on the testicles you left behind while watching High School Musical 3, they must have rolled down your pants leg while you were watching. just being a "sonofabitch" and fuggin around with ya...its all good.

  • Oct. 24, 2008, 12:57 p.m. CST

    No spoiler warning on that Changeling review?

    by Aloy

    I also know the original story but the promos haven't indicated one way or the other. Maybe it's obvious right away. Just sayin' And on the High School Musical 3 - Do I need to see the first two to follow this one? I just hate getting confused...

  • Oct. 24, 2008, 1:15 p.m. CST

    Gran Torino

    by drewlicious

    I'm willing to bet that this will be the better movie coming from Clint this year. Judging from the synopsis his heart could be more into it. Look at his last two movies that were shot in a flash: Million Dollar Baby and Letters from Iwo Jima. Two terrific movies.

  • Oct. 24, 2008, 1:17 p.m. CST

    Really? HSM2?

    by darf13

    What's next Capone? My Best Friends Girl review?

  • Oct. 24, 2008, 1:17 p.m. CST

    Really? HSM3?

    by darf13

    What's next Capone? My Best Friends Girl review?

  • Oct. 24, 2008, 1:23 p.m. CST

    Trailer for Eastwood's Gran Torino is up

    by eric haislar

    looks bad ass!

  • Oct. 24, 2008, 1:36 p.m. CST

    Hey, Farted. Capone's balls couldn't b

    by worldofwarcraft

  • Oct. 24, 2008, 1:44 p.m. CST

    Mike Leigh Rules

    by Aquatarkusman

    Topsy-Turvy and Secrets and Lies are both in my top 10 from the last 25 years. Sally was also one of the only good things in the subpar (for him) All or Nothing. Just wanted to make sure they both got a shout-out in the talkback before being drowned out by Ritchie-talk.

  • Oct. 24, 2008, 1:46 p.m. CST

    Hey, Farted. Capone's balls couldn't be...

    by worldofwarcraft

    ...getting stepped on in a theater as they're currently in Paris Hilton's handbag. And in the review of Rocknrolla it's said that Statham's the lead in to Snatch and Lock Stock, but I don't think that's true with Lock Stock.

  • Oct. 24, 2008, 1:54 p.m. CST

    Oh, and I forgot:

    by DerLanghaarige

    SPACE COWBOYS RULES! Just because the director of Mystic River and Million Dollar Baby made a movie that does nothing else than entertain you, it doesn't mean it's a bad movie!

  • Oct. 24, 2008, 2:44 p.m. CST

    HSM3 will destroy Saw 5

    by Sithdan

    I hope Saw 5 bombs. Maybe it'll send Hollywood a message to stop cranking those sumbithces out.

  • Oct. 24, 2008, 3:16 p.m. CST

    I'm being dragged to HSM3 by my girlfriend and her friends tonig

    by InstantClassic

    I'm 23, my girlfriend and her friends are 22. This is their Dark Knight somehow. And just like I made her watch Batman Begins as a refresher she made me was 1 & 2. I just can't wait to see what's in store for me now that I'm getting her to read Watchmen. There isn't a Hannah Montana movie coming, is there?

  • Oct. 24, 2008, 3:16 p.m. CST

    But the one good thing

    by InstantClassic

    We will be helping in bringing down the horrible Saw franchise.

  • Oct. 24, 2008, 3:55 p.m. CST

    Ritchie's career aided by Divorce

    by Stormwatcher

    His marriage only messed it up and his output, sorry his quality output, went away. So good news! Cuz I freakin love Snatch.

  • Oct. 24, 2008, 3:57 p.m. CST


    by fartedinthefaceofhollywood

    i applaud the effort...for "watching" High School Musical 3 with your girlfriend (bring something to bite down helps) and bringing down the Saw "franchise"...unfortunately, there is a legion of "left my brain in my mothers womb" MORONS already lining up to see this shit and watch a 5th version of what is seemingly the SAME damn movie every fucking gives me a headache to think that somewhere some asshole is filming Saw 6 AS WE SPEAK

  • Oct. 24, 2008, 4:22 p.m. CST

    Pride & Glory aka We Own The Night 2

    by Nasty In The Pasty

    Only without Eva Mendes fingering herself to late-80's pop.

  • Oct. 24, 2008, 4:38 p.m. CST


    by fartedinthefaceofhollywood

    i think your on to something. that would be funny watching Jigsaw strap them (THEM being the cast of High School Musical) all into the contraptions of torture, and right before he sets the timer on all the traps he stops and thinks "60 seconds???....fuck that, i can barely handle 30 seconds of these fuckers" and sets it to 20 seconds instead....aaaahhhh cinematic gold.

  • Oct. 24, 2008, 6:25 p.m. CST

    Aint it Cool for tweens?

    by lagomorph

    Fuck dude, when High School Musical 3 gets more press on AICN than a genre movie like Saw V, you know Saw V must have been atrocious. Still, I wish the AICN crew would tear into it and get back to talking about movies genre geeks care something about. I doubt HSM3 nor Capone's gay crush on Zac Efron is really playing to this site's strengths.

  • Oct. 25, 2008, 1 a.m. CST

    hey nasty in the pasty

    by ranma627

    It's the same movie without Eva Mendez. Which I believe is a big fucking deal. The bitch can't act for shit and is dreadful in everything she's in. I just saw Pride and Glory and I liked it a lot. It's nothing special but the performances are riveting and the film is consistently thrilling. I also saw The Wrestler at the Chicago Film Festival. My boy Aronofsky is the man.

  • Oct. 25, 2008, 3:39 a.m. CST

    Efron is a good actor? Stop it Capone. Just stop.

    by IndustryKiller!

    I don't get this bleeding heart policy toward feeling bad about not liking genres that you don't like and aren't SUPPOSED to like because they are objectively terrible. Now I know you had to find something that praise in HSM 3 because you would feel bad and cliche for hating it, but why Zac Efron? What, Ashton Kutcher isn't enough for you? He's as corporate and homogenized as they come and frankly we have to start moving away from this trend of cookie cutter bullshit young actors and we have to stop now because in 7 years when we need 30 something actors to play men the only fucking guys who are gonna be available will be Gosling, Gyllenhaal, and Gordon Levitt and if you don't have them and you need to hire another name to get your film funded then you are completely fucked because everyone else is gonna suck. Zac Efron aint gonna be a powerhouse actor, ever. It's not gonna happen anymore than it will for Justin Timberlake. Why? Because he's not an actor. He's the idea of an actor, nay performer or "entertainer" as you are forced to refer to him as because you can't bring yourself to truly say actor, molded from plastic and happy thoughts by corporate interests who don't give one fucking care about quality and want to cynically sell you easy to take, not-make-you-think crap from now until the end of time. And you heard he was good in Me and Orson Wells? Where? You have spies on the set? I will bet you money, no joke name your price, that at BEST he is workmanlike, which despite what Shia Labeouf might have told you is not good. Merely delivering a line without drooling does not a good actor make. I've seen parts of the high school musical films and the reason he came out on top of the fame heap has NOTHING to do with his charisma and everything to do with the fact that he's white (sorry Corbin Bleu) and his character is the jock with the heart of gold, which is so non threatening little girls HAVE to love him. This is not a star in the making, this is a star already made before he ever hit celluloid, created like a frankenstein out of the ether, and rooking you of your intelligence.

  • Oct. 25, 2008, 3:44 a.m. CST

    People also described Lindsey Lohan as talented

    by IndustryKiller!

    Probably because since they read about her so much they figured she must have done something to deserve it. But I bet they all feel stupid for thinking that now. Same thing with Zac Efron. Don't believe the hype on these corporate hacks.

  • Oct. 25, 2008, 10:12 a.m. CST

    George C Scott The Changling = Better

    by picardsucks

    Still scares the fuck out of me. George C Scott in any Horror film means it is the fucking best ever. The Changling, Exorcist III. None better screw any movie that dares borrow the title from a George C Scott film.

  • Oct. 25, 2008, 11:09 a.m. CST

    picardsucks and industry killer

    by ranma627

    picard, I saw the Changeling for the first time the other day. Brilliant ghost story and very effective film. Scariest Wheelchair Scene Ever! That scene had my heart punding. And industrykiller, you need to relax. I see how Capone admires Zac Efron, I saw Hairspray, a movie I hated, but Zac was brilliant in it. Is he an entertainer? Yes. But the kid has got charisma and that star quality look going for him. What's so wrong with something like High School Musical. It's made for teenage girls and why don't movies like that have a place in the world? There's a wide variety of different genres and different films and a lot of it is just meant to entertain you and make you feel good. What's so wrong with that? I don't go to the movies just to be entertained, I go for a variety of reasons. But the moviegoing public, go just for that, to have a good time. Like I said, I may not be one of those people, but I see what they're after and I see nothing wrong with something like High School Musical 3. Fucking uptight douchebag is what you are!

  • Oct. 25, 2008, 1:47 p.m. CST

    that last line...

    by necgray

    Capone, I think that is the single funniest line in an AICN review I've ever read....

  • Oct. 25, 2008, 1:53 p.m. CST

    IndustryKiller, shut up

    by necgray

    Go put on your Jim Jarmusch Halloween costume and masturbate to Buffalo 66 you care so fucking much about "corporate hack" actors. Mainstream corporate Hollywood can be annoying and soul-crushing, no doubt. But you fucking whining indie types or taste-making "film" snobs are just as bad. Sometimes it's okay to enjoy pablum. And sometimes people involved in the creation of pablum are talented.

  • Oct. 26, 2008, 8:40 a.m. CST

    Instant Classic

    by toxicbuddha

    Montana is the voice of the female lead in a CGI flick about a dog named Bolt. Travolta voices the canine. For your sake I hope Watchmen is one incredible film, coz the Movie karma your gonna pay to balance it WILL be ugly.

  • Oct. 26, 2008, 7:41 p.m. CST

    Happy Go Lucky...

    by ephor

    This was released months ago in Australia. Highly recommend it! Not much of a fan of Leigh's other more bleak works, but this is a truly refreshing film. And Driving instructor Scott is a classic character, as is Poppy.