At The Movies

Harry Brown

Directed by Daniel Barber
It would be easy to describe “Harry Brown” as an English “Gran Torino” – but “Gran Torino” itself was somewhat misunderstood. Clint Eastwood’s character in that movie was sometimes described as an older Dirty Harry, but he was more like the character from Eastwood’s “Unforgiven,” a man for whom death and killing are distant, haunting memories he didn’t expect or want to resurrect.  

“Harry Brown” has the senior citizen, reluctant hero dealing with local gangs of “Gran Torino,” but in more of an “Unforgiven” way, via Charles Bronson’s “Death Wish,” with a dash of John Wayne’s “The Shootist” thrown in for good measure. Harry Brown is a retired, decorated army veteran living in an out-of-control housing complex, where young gangs run guns and drugs and harass the weak and vulnerable. But circumstances change and Harry has every reason to fight back, with nothing to lose by doing so.  

Interestingly, where American movies have Korean and Vietnam War vets, Brown is depicted as a veteran of Northern Ireland. At one point, another character, who suspects his vigilantism, remarks, “This isn’t Northern Ireland. Harry replies by saying that the people he faced in Northern Ireland were fighting for a cause, something they believed in, whereas the youth gangs are fighting for entertainment. It’s a profound moment that doesn’t just dismiss the local thugs but also shows deep respect for the motivations of his former opponents.

Those local gang members are depicted in a very harsh light. Be warned, this is a very dark movie. There’s little cause to wonder if he’s doing the right thing by taking matters into his own hands as the people he is fighting are almost universally depicted as irredeemably bad. One dealer is as ugly a character as you are likely to see on screen.

This is a great role for Michael Caine at this stage of his career, still a leading man at 77. It’s a neat film, and I would recommend it to anybody who has enjoyed any of the aforementioned revenge films. (Opens June 11th)

The A-Team

Directed by Joe Carnahan
Excessive violence is a complaint leveled against “The A-Team,” following the film’s premiere, by original TV team member, Mr. T. His concern being that the original was a primetime show for families, with lightweight action and relatively bloodless violence. But this isn’t a film made for primetime television, and the nature of the action is in keeping with other films of its ilk.

“The A-Team” follows the exploits of a crack group of army rangers who have a reputation for solving the most ridiculous of problems. At times, it’s a little like “Mission Impossible” in fatigues, with a penchant for scenes in which the action is edited together with scenes in which the lead characters explain their plans, in advance, with an unlikely level of congruency. It’s set largely during and after the team’s involvement in Iraq, with a villain who is a thinly-veiled Blackwater-type operative (Black Forest in the movie). That villain is played by Joe Carnahan’s co-writer and friend, Brian Bloom, who has come a long way since he lusted after both a local girl and a cupcake in “Once Upon a Time in America.”

The film is as loud and fast as one would expect from Sacramentan Carnahan (“Smokin’ Aces,” “Narc”), and falls into the shallow fun realm of summer movies, but with more of a plot than some of that genre, as one might expect from a Carnahan script. I can’t comment on the film’s ultimate conclusion, as the print burned to a crisp in one of the Downtown Century’s projectors, but it was fun enough up to that point for me to sneak in and catch the end someday. (Opens June 11th)


Directed by Vincenzo Natali
A couple of weeks ago, I said it was a bad week for the Middle East with “Sex and the City 2” and “Prince of Persia” barraging local culture. Then the Israelis capped it off by night-boarding an aid ship off the coast of Gaza. Now this week seems like a bad one for genetic research, with an obscure Russian experiment hitting the blogosphere in which hamsters, who had been fed bio-engineered soymeal, were found to be sterile by the third generation. Then comes “Splice,” which is the poster child for the anti-human DNA experimentation crowd.  

If you spliced “Splice” with 1988’s “A Cry in the Dark,” you’d end up with Meryl Streep crying “The Baby’s got my Dingo!” Instead you get to watch married scientist couple Adrien Brody (Academy Award winner for “The Pianist”) and Sarah Polley (“Go” and writer/director of the phenomenal tale of a couple coping with Alzheimer’s, “Away From Her”) taking their freedom of choice a little too far in the experimental-life-form lab. The resultant creature conveniently ages quickly enough to propel a feature film plot and the movie jogs along as quickly and creepily as a pair of backwards bending legs can carry it. Not one for the squeamish, or those who might prefer to see Brody and Polley engaged in heavier fare. Leave the good taste, the kids, and the fear of gratuitous sequel-setups  at home.

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