Clint Eastwood’s Mystic River is one of the most gut wrenching, haunting, stressful experiences one can have watching a film, and I’m only talking about the first ten minutes so far. On a quiet 70’s era Boston afternoon, three young boys play street hockey near their homes. After writing their names in freshly lain concrete sidewalk, a sinister ‘police detective’ (John Dolan, who I can never ever see as anyone but this character, he’s that affecting) hassles them and tries to lure the youngsters away. Two of them are wise to his game and escape. The third does not. This crime spurs a ripple effect into the future for these boys, as we see them grow up into very different and equally troubled men. Jimmy (Sean Penn has never been better) is a small time hustler with anger issues, Sean (Kevin Bacon) a cop with his own demons and Dave (Tim Robbins), the boy who was successfully kidnapped and held all those years ago, is a fractured shell of a human whose damaged soul lashes against the whites of his eyes and prevents him from functioning normally. Malcontent comes full circle to find them once again when Jimmy’s young daughter (lovely Emmy Rossum) is found murdered, setting in motion one of the great tragedies you’ll find in cinema this century or last. Eastwood lets his actors quietly emote until the floodgates open and we see raw despair roil forth from three men who are broken in different ways, and how it affects everyone in their lives. Penn is tuned into something higher here, and I’ll not soon forget him arriving at the scene of his daughter’s murder. Robbins let’s the horror of buried trauma deep through the family man facade until we see the deformed psyche left beneath, while Bacon reigns it in for a performance no less memorable than the others. Marcia Gay Harden and Laura Linney are excellent as Dave and Jimmy’s wives, while Laurence Fishburne provides the faintest ray of humour as Sean’s partner. This is as much a murder mystery as it is an intense interpersonal drama, but the whole story is ruled by emotion; that burning need for revenge from several angles, the hollow pit of loss left behind when someone dies, the psychological scar tissue that trails in the wake of abuse, everything slowly coming to light as the grim, doom laden narrative unfurls. Tom Stern’s camera probes inlets along the harbour, sprawling neighbourhoods and hidden barrooms, Brian Helgeland expertly adapts the novel from Dennis Lehane and Eastwood himself composes a beautiful lament of a score, while the actors turn in galvanizing work. One of the finest films of the last few decades and not one you’re ever likely to forget, once seen.
Yes Man is a loaf of fluffy, inconsequential Wonderbread amidst a career of denser comedic pumpernickel for Jim Carrey. Most of what he does has weight to go along with the laughs, and if it doesn’t it still has a raunchy bite that always hits below the belt. This is one of the few times he treaded lighter, a tone which can also be found in Fun With Dick & Jane, but that’s just not a good movie. Yes Man has merit in fits and starts, and it’s harmless fun for most of the ride. Carrey plays the consummate negative Nancy here, a guy who spends the better part of his time turning down offers, cancelling plans, avoiding people and saying no to everything. This all changes when he goes to a dodgy seminar preached by batty self help guru Terence Stamp. Inspired by his slightly odd teachings, he challenges himself to say yes to everything, and I mean everything, for one whole year. This gets him into all sorts of trouble, and steers him to the obligatory 180 shift in his character arc, and his own enlightenment. Guzzling red bulls after an all night club bender, guitar lessons, sexual favors from his experienced elderly neighbor (Fionnula Flanagan), driving a homeless dude (Brent Briscoe) to the middle of nowhere and giving him like two hundred bucks, life is just more fun when you say yes to everything, as Carrey quickly finds out. He also meets cutie pie Zooey Deschanel, whose initial amusement towards his lifestyle quickly turns to exasperation when his affirmative nature gets just a biiit too crazy for her. It’s all in good fun, and while most of it isn’t memorable or super noteworthy, there is one particular scene that makes the entire film worthwhile: Carrey has an awkward kiwi of a boss (Rhys Darby) who is constantly inviting him to cosplay parties. The moment he accepts is a symphony of quirky mannerisms, scotch taped facial grimaces and absurdity that is pure Carrey and could be used to sum up his career in half a minute. Watch for work from Danny Masterson, Spencer Garrett and Bradley Cooper. Like I said, it ain’t gonna rock your world like many of the iconic, beloved Carrey films, but it’s an amusing diversion with some scenes that do bring it home.
Antoine Fuqua’s Tears Of The Sun is a brutal, tough war machine of a flick in the tradition of the old 70’s war films, kind of like a brooding Dirty Dozen. Bruce Willis stoically heads up a team of special ops soldiers who are sent into a war torn region of Africa to rescue a doctor (Monica Belucci) from a missionary camp. Genocidal maniacs are encroaching into the area and it’s no longer safe for locals or relief workers. His orders are simple: locate and extract the doctor, and no one else. However, when he comes face to face with the refugees, and their situation, he simply can’t find it in himself to turn his back on them when he can do something to help. He then disobeys his orders, collects both his team, Bellucci and the Africans and makes a run through the jungle for diplomatic protected soil. His team are a grizzled band of warriors, each with their own unique qualities and opinion on his decision. Kelly (a badass, mohawk adorned Johnny Messner) believes it’s too much of a risk, and not their concern). Michael ‘Slo’ Slowenski (Nick Chinlund, excellent and understated) takes a compasionate standpoint. Second in command Red Atkins (Cole Hauser) trusts Willis is making the right call. Soon they are pursued by the extremists, led by a hulking Peter Mensah, before King Leonidas kicked him into the Sarlak pit. The combat scenes are hard hitting, seemingly very well rehearsed and researched. The only problem for me was the overbearing and extended sequences of genocide, which are harrowing and quite tough to watch. When it’s combat based it’s a damn fine piece, with a rugged, thoughtful band of heroes who are an absolute joy to see in action. Rounding out the team are Eamonn Walker, Charles Ingram, Paul Francis, Chad Smith and a briefly seen Tom Skerritt as Willis’s commanding officer. Tough, muscular and no nonsense, with burgeoning compassion that gives that soldiers purpouse beyond the cold lethality of the mission. Fuqua has a terrific collection of lean and mean action flicks under his belt, and this is one of the best.