Two very young girls are kidnapped at the beginning of Prisoners, and a suspect is soon in custody – a gormless young man with “creep” written all over him. But after a night of questioning, the lead investigator (Jake Gyllenhaal) believes that the fellow, who has the mental acuity of a 10-year old, is probably innocent. And with nothing but the scantiest of circumstantial evidence, the cops have to let him go.
That’s when what started out as a standard police procedural takes a disturbing left turn. One of the two fathers (Hugh Jackman), a sternly religious man and survivalist, turns vigilante and kidnaps the possible suspect, determined to make him talk. Suddenly the film is taking the audience into not one, but two very dark places: a missing-children thriller that winds deep into the past on the trail of a terrible evil, and into the heart of a decent man who finds himself able to do the most shocking things to save his child.
A few clues hint at strange possibilities, but nothing firms up. Days pass and desperation increases. A second “person of interest” emerges and the plot gradually shifts from the bleak realism of a crime classic like Mystic River to lurid territory more akin to Silence of the Lambs. This sudden onslaught of horror-movie tropes seem slightly unworthy in a thoughtful film showcasing Oscar-worthy performances. That said, Prisoners is still absolutely worth seeing. But be aware this is harsh and brutal cinema – one with several scenes that almost made my wife flee the theatre in search of a large restorative brandy.
Prisoners continues at the Empire 6, SilverCity, Empire Uni 4, and Westshore
Catching up to Salinger
Notoriously reclusive author J.D. Salinger, most famous for his coming-of-age novel Catcher in the Rye, would have hated the documentary that bears his name. Quite a few critics have sneered at Salinger too, complaining about everything from the bombastic music to its “tabloid” approach more interested in sensationalism than sensitive literary analysis. Notwithstanding its flaws, Salinger is an interesting and wide-ranging look at a true literary lion – a deeply flawed man whose very personal writing achieved a profound resonance with readers around the globe.
The director follows a simple psychological throughline, positing that Salinger’s horrific experiences in the Second World War left him with crippling emotional scars – a trauma that he forever after tried to purge by writing obsessively, often for days at a time. He did this locked down in the so-called “bunker” some distance from his house, totally isolated from his wife and children. It’s hard to ignore the irony of a man selfishly ignoring his own flesh and blood in order to spend endless hours in the company of the fictional Glass family whom he chronicled in numerous short stories. And Salinger’s pattern of seducing smart but impressionable girl-women and then controlling them is also explored – and in salacious enough detail to discomfit many of his fans.
There are a few dozen talking heads in Salinger, everyone from literary editors to his estranged daughter, from admiring actors like Philip Seymour Hoffman to acerbic cultural gadfly Gore Vidal. Given that the writer who published so little in his lifetime will posthumously double his oeuvre with the release of several books in the next few years, this documentary is a useful, albeit superficial, refresher course in the life and legend of a classic author.
Salinger continues at the Odeon
METALLICA: THROUGH THE NEVER -(SilverCity) A roadie for heavy-metal heroes Metallica is sent on an urgent mission during one of their concerts, only to become caught up in a surreal adventure. Bring your earplugs!
RUSH -(Odeon/SilverCity/Westshore/Empire Uni 4) Expect lots of kinetic sizzle from director Ron Howard as he tackles this biopic about the legendary 1970s rivalry between Formula 1 race car drivers James Hunt and Niki Lauda.
DON JON -(Empire 6/SilverCity/Westshore) Talented actor Joseph Gordon-Levitt (Looper) turned writer-director for this wry comedy about a guy with a “porn addiction” who is having trouble finding happiness and intimacy with his real-life girlfriend … who might just be his true love if he can get his act together.
THE SPECTACULAR NOW -(Empire 6) Spectacular reviews have greeted what is supposedly an affecting, insightful and fresh look at the challenges of teenaged first love.
CLOUDY WITH A CHANCE OF MEATBALLS 2 -(Odeon/SilverCity/Westshore/Empire Uni 4) The wacky animated comedy about an infamous machine that churns out scary food-animal hybrids was popular enough to merit a sequel. Consider yourself warned! With the vocal talents of Bill Hader, Anna Faris, and Will Forte.
★★★ WOLVERINE -(Roxy, 7:00) Hairy-faced and Adamantium-clawed Hugh Jackman travels to Japan to confront the diabolical Silver Samurai, in an entertaining Marvel Comics smackdown that combines X-men flair with martial arts and yakuza elements.
★★★ 2 GUNS -(Caprice) Denzel Washington and Mark Wahlberg play rival Drug Enforcement agents who think they are investigating each other but have actually been set up by the Mob … and now have to shoot their way out of a world of trouble. Lots of fun!
20 FEET FROM STARDOM -(Odeon) The lives of talented but nearly anonymous back-up singers in some of the biggest bands in the world are explored in a marvellous documentary that includes archival footage and interviews. Featuring Darlene Love, Merry Clayton . . . and slightly more famous performers like David Bowie, Sheryl Crow, Mick Jagger, and Ray Charles. Anyone who enjoys Motown and R&B will love this ravishing showcase of full-throttle singing.
★★½ THE ART OF THE STEAL -(Empire 6) Kurt Russell plays a third-tier motorcycle daredevil and part-time thief who comes up with the idea to steal one of the most valuable books in the world. This is decent enough entertainment … especially for those few viewers unfamiliar with the plot tricks common to caper films where people tend to double-cross each other. With Jay Baruchel, Terence Stamp, and Matt Dillon.
BATTLE OF THE YEAR -(SilverCity) Here comes another of those flashy “dance off” movies, this one featuring hip hop-style teams from around the world.
★★★★ BLUE JASMINE -(Odeon) Cate Blanchett is headed for an Oscar nomination for her role as an emotionally fragile woman struggling to recover after her life as a glamorous socialite implodes. Complete with a great cast, this is one of Woody Allen’s best films. Ever.
CHENNAI EXPRESS -(Empire 6) South India is the setting for this exuberant, Bollywood-style action-comedy starring Shah Rukh Khan.
THE CROODS – (Caprice) A prehistoric family taking an unexpected “road trip” into a magical land is the plot of this whimsical animated charmer (which has been getting great reviews). With the vocal talents of Emma Stone, Nicolas Cage, and Ryan Reynolds.
★★½ DESPICABLE ME 2 – (Westshore) The 2010 original, about a loathsome criminal mastermind who was reformed by the love of three young orphan girls, was a goofy delight. The sequel, although still clever, is much more scattershot, with an unimaginative plot and unwelcome dashes of mean spiritedness. Steve Carell, Kristen Wiig, and Russell Brand supply the voices.
★★½ ELYSIUM -(SilverCity) Matt Damon and Jodie Foster star in a futuristic sci-fi thriller where the Earth has become a polluted ghetto and the lucky few get to live in luxury on a floating space station orbiting languidly above. Well, that’s about to change. It’s hard to argue with the politics, but this new film by the writer-director of District 9 is too heavy-handed and cliched to take seriously.
★★ THE FAMILY -(Odeon/SilverCity/Westshore) Robert De Niro and Michelle Pfeiffer star in a lame and mostly unfunny black comedy about a Mob guy who goes into Witness Protection and gets himself and his family relocated to a small town in France. Pfeiffer is pretty good, but overall this is a wreck.
FRUITVALE STATION -(Odeon) There is lots of buzz around this truth-based reenactment of the turbulent last day of a young black man in 2008.
INSIDIOUS: CHAPTER 2 -(Empire 6/SilverCity/Westshore) The poor old Lambert family once again find themselves doing battle with evil entities from the darkest corners of the spirit world in this nightmarish but rather jumbled sequel. With Patrick Wilson, Rose Byrne, and Barbara Hershey.
LEE DANIELS’ THE BUTLER -(Odeon/Empire Uni 4) Forest Whitaker heads up an amazing cast in a drama about a black butler at the White House whose long tenure there overlapped with many powerful domestic and international political events. Costarring Vanessa Redgrave, Oprah Winfrey, David Oyelowo, Terrence Howard, James Marsden, Jane Fonda and Alan Rickman.
★★½ THE HEAT -(Roxy, 9:10/Caprice) In this raucous and sometimes hit-and-miss comedy from Paul Feig (Knocked Up), Sandra Bullock and Melissa McCarthy (Bridesmaids) play odd-couple cops who will have to learn to work together if they are to stand a chance of taking down the drug lord who’s their assigned target.
MONSTERS UNIVERSITY -(Caprice) In this prequel to the 2001 animated smash about fuzzy plush-toy monsters, we go back to the early days when Sully (John Goodman) and Mike (Billy Crystal) met at university.
THE MORTAL INSTRUMENTS: CITY OF BONES -(Empire 6/Caprice) Only the bones were left after the critics universally savaged this derivative, overwrought tale of a young woman who discovers that she has unusual powers as she gets drawn into a battle involving a band of angel-like creatures struggling to squash a demonic threat to the entire world.
PLANES -(Empire 6/SilverCity/Westshore) The same people who made Cars have taken to the skies with a similar family-friendly animated tale about a crop-dusting plane with dreams of winning a famous aerial race.
★★★½ PRISONERS -(Empire 6/SilverCity/Empire Uni 4/Westshore) Quebec director Denis Villeneuve (Incendies) has been getting great praise for this bleak and violent police procedural about two kidnapped girls and the dad who will do anything to get them back. The superb cast includes Hugh Jackman, Jake Gyllenhaal, Viola Davis, Terrence Howard, and Melissa Leo. See review.
★★½ RED 2 -(Caprice) Newcomer Anthony Hopkins joins Helen Mirren, John Malkovich, Bruce Willis, and Mary-Louise Parker as they reprise their roles as retired CIA “black ops” agents marked for death by their own agency. Although not as good as the 2010 original, this is entertaining enough, mostly due to the sly dialogue and killer performances.
★★ RIDDICK -(Caprice) Vin Diesel blasts back into outer space for the latest iteration of this gory and terrifying sci-fi series about a fugitive who once again finds himself battling alien predators and bounty hunters who want his head – literally.
★ R.I.P.D. -(Caprice) Jeff Bridges and Ryan Reynolds star in a dismal action comedy that is nothing more than a crass ripoff of Men In Black. Bridges, who plays an “undead cop” who patrols the Earth looking for weird monsters to exterminate, should probably return the Oscar he received for Crazy Heart.
★★★ SALINGER -(Odeon) J.D. Salinger, the reclusive literary icon who gave us Catcher in the Rye, surrenders a few of his secrets in this occasionally lurid but undeniably interesting documentary with contributions from ex-lovers, estranged family members, literary lions, and such luminaries as Philip Seymour Hoffman, Edward Norton, John Cusack, Tom Wolfe, and Gore Vidal. See review.
SMURFS 2 -(SilverCity/Westshore) The blue munchkins are back for more pint-sized adventures, this one involving a sorcerer and a diabolical kidnapping.
TURBO -(Caprice) The latest from Dreamworks Animation is a family comedy about an ordinary garden snail who acquires magic powers – and the chance to achieve his dream of winning the Indy 500. With the voices of Ryan Reynolds, Paul Giamatti, Maya Rudolph, and Samuel L. Jackson.
★★½ THE WORLD’S END -(Odeon) In a disappointing but occasionally funny follow-up from the makers of Shaun of the Dead, five old friends reunite for a pub crawl only to find themselves in a droll sci-fi action-adventure of epic proportions. Starring Simon Pegg.
★★½ WE’RE THE MILLERS -(SilverCity) Jason Sudeikis and Jennifer Aniston star in a crass comedy about a long-time pot dealer who hires a stripper and two feral teens to pretend to be his middle class family as cover for when he smuggles a massive load of weed across the border from Mexico to the States. Intermittently quite funny, this is a case of talented performers struggling with a second-rate script.
FLIGHT OF THE BUTTERFLIES- (2pm)
KENYA: ANIMAL KINGDOM – (11am, 3 pm)
★★★½ PACIFIC RIM -(Fri.-Sat & Thurs., 8 pm; Sun.-Wed., 7 pm)
★★★½ ROCKY MOUNTAIN EXPRESS -(Fri.-Sat., & Thurs., 7 pm)
★★★½ SHACKLETON’S ANTARCTIC ADVENTURE -(Fri.-Sat.: noon, 5 pm, 7pm & Sun.-Wed.: noon, 5 pm)
MOVIE MONDAY – is screening Hit ‘n Strum, the debut film by Vancouver’s stuntman-turned-writer-director Kirk Caouette. The story involves a female business exec who hits a homeless street musician with her car, then gets involved with his world while trying to atone for the accident. This is a touching and insightful movie that avoids sentimentality while exploring the complex issues around homelessness. 6:30 pm Monday in the 1900-block Fort. By donation. 595-FLIC. moviemonday.ca.
Cinecenta at UVic screens its films in the Student Union Building. Info: 721-8365.
★★★★ BLACKFISH -(Fri.-Thurs., Sept. 27-Oct. 4: 7:15, 9:00 & 3:00 matinees on Sept. 27-29, Oct. 4) Nothing but praise has greeted this powerful and engaged documentary about captive Orcas and how places like SeaWorld are probably driving them insane. See review in the October issue of Monday Magazine.
EPIC -(Sat.-Sun., Sept. 28-29: 1:00 matinee) In this animated family adventure a teenage girl is magically transported to a deep forest setting where she bands together with a wacky crew of critters to help battle a terrifyingly dark force that is threatening their world … and ours.
★★★ THE ROCKY HORROR PICTURE SHOW -(Fri.-Sat., Sept. 27-28: 10:45) Still crazy after all these years, one of the original cult films still has a kicky, gleefully transgressive wit. Let’s all do the time warp again!