Gus van Sant likes to tackle issues, but always manages to give them a human face. In Promised Land he takes on fracking, the controversial method of tapping into natural gas resources, and puts on it the very appealing face of Matt Damon. A salesman (Damon) for a natural gas company experiences life-changing events after arriving in a small town. It is the transition for being a pawn of the corporation to realization and love for the environment. There are those who will find the soft-sell script as a cop out when dealing with such a complex and ugly issue, but scriptwriter John Krasinski has steered clear of making the movie too confrontational, opting more for a Capra-esque lightness that some may find offensive, while others might admire it for the absence of heavy-handed moralizing.
Olympus Has Fallen
An explosive new action thriller from director Antoine Fuqua, maker of the excellent police flick Training Day. But when the blurb refers to Olympus Has Fall, it seems to suggest nothing more than that there are lots of explosions. There is also a star-studded cast. But what we have is just a cocktail of shop worn tropes, including Morgan Freeman, playing the House Speaker, spouting lines like “open the gates of Hell,” about Gerard Butler as the overlooked security agent who is on the inside when the White House is overtaken by terrorists and the President taken hostage. Butler is prime beefcake, and sometimes even attempts acting, and with Melissa Leo as the Secretary of Defense and Angela Bassett as Director of the Secret Service, clearly this film has its genre politics in the right place. As for the story, think back to Die Hard and you get the idea.
Plodding teen romance with supernatural overtones. Sound familiar? For those who managed not to find The Twilight Saga utterly ridiculous, there now comes Beautiful Creatures. Indeed, there is a beautiful supporting cast, including Emmy Rossum, Jeremy Irons and Emma Thompson -- the two British actors verging on vaudeville with their take on the voices of the American deep South. The campiness among the supporting cast is great fun, but it does not make up for the total lack of charisma and chemistry of the leads, Alden Ehrenreich and Alice Englert, who do little to give the skimpy backstory about reincarnated Civil War lovers any emotional punch. This is the sort of film that makes people believe that Robert Pattinson’s Edward Cullen is a finely crafted exposition of the inner world of bloodsuckers.
Another film to prove that age will not wither them. And yet more echoes of The Best Exotic Marigold Hotel, including the presence of Maggie Smith, in an irresistible, but also rather forgettable comedy about aging musicians trying to save their retirement home by overcoming decade’s-long animosities to put on a peerless show that will bring in the needed money. Of course, the rather practical goal becomes a whirlwind journey of remembrance, nostalgia and acceptance. With Dustin Hoffman, at 75-years-old making his debut feature as a director, and a cast that in addition to Smith, includes Tom Courtenay, Billy Connolly, Michael Gambon and a host of equally talented if slightly less known others, it really does not matter that Quartet is a confection lighter than the musical theater that it celebrates.
And If We All Live Together
A Gallic take on The Best Exotic Marigold Hotel without the bright colors of India but with a similar appeal to geriatric celebrity, boasting the participation of Jane Fonda in her first French-speaking role for 40 years. There are plenty of other old pros from the Francophone cinema scene who provide the non-too-subtle reflections on aging with the necessary theatrical ballast. While perfectly effective as a piece of light entertainment, the whole thing is too fluffy and predictable to gain much traction on the imagination.