CHANGELING * * *
Cert 15, 142 min
On March 10, 1928, telephone exchange supervisor Christine Collins (Angelina Jolie) returned to her home to find nine- year-old son Walter missing. Four months later, Los Angeles police announced that he had been found alive and well. In a force riddled with corruption police chief (Colm Feore) was looking for some positive press and arranged a press conference to reunite mother and son at the railway station. Except, the moment Collins saw him she knew the boy was not Walter.
However, Capt Jones (Jeffrey Donovan) refused to believe her. Over the course of the year, she was subjected to a concentrated police campaign to discredit her (explaining away how her ‘son’ was now three inches shorter) and portray her as delusional, climaxing in her being sectioned in the city asylum (like many women who had crossed the force).
However, between the efforts of activist radio preacher Gustav Briegleb (John Malkovich) tirelessly working to expose LAPD’s brutality and corruption and the discovery by honest detective Lester Ybarra (Michael Kelly) of the bodies of 20 boys on a California ranch, slaughtered by serial killer Gordon Northcott (a mesmerisingly creepy Jason Butler Harner) in what would be called the Wineville Chicken Murders, Collins was eventually vindicated. The ensuing Police Commission inquiry brought radical changes in LA police enforcement.
Director Clint Eastwood handles all this with old-school class, keeping a tight leash on melodrama and seamlessly guiding the narrative from thriller through procedural to issues drama, trial movie and David and Goliath crusade, never letting the sense of outrage falter, while withholding Walter’s likely fate until the final moments.
And yet, frustratingly, its sober, conventional handling means much remains emotionally cold. Jolie’s Oscar-wringing – and indeed glove-wringing – performance (the asylum scenes inevitably evoking Girl Interrupted) may resist affectation but it cannot overcome those distractingly garish scarlet lips which must surely have had their own make-up artist. It is an impressive, melancholic work but, ultimately, never reaches the heights of the similarly-themed Gone Baby Gone or Eastwood’s own Mystic River.
FLAWLESS * *
Cert 12A 108 mins
Anonymously directed by Michael Radford, this heist thriller delivers little suspense while stumbling around trying to make a political message. Opening with Laura Quinn (Demi Moore behind bad old-age make-up) chatting to a female reporter, it quickly flashes back to 60s London where she was the only woman exec for London Diamond.
Unable to break through the glass ceiling while less-qualified colleagues get promoted, she has little regard for her bosses. She has even less when, having just saved their bacon after a South Africa mine disaster, soon-to-retire caretaker Mr Hobbs (Michael Caine) tells her she is getting fired as a scapegoat.
So, when he invites her to become his accomplice in a perfect heist, she is up for revenge by swiping a few stones. However, when the crime is discovered, the entire vault’s empty. And Hobbs is unwilling to reveal the how or where. So, with loss adjuster Finch (Lambert Wilson) already suspecting her, she too has to play investigator to discover how he pulled it off and what his true motives were.
There’s a good sense of period and Caine is enjoyable as the Cockney geezer circuitously settling an injustice.
But a brittle Moore never sparks while attempts to address class, Third World exploitation, sexual discrimination and fatcat corruption are clumsily handled, ultimately collapsing into a lame coda with a Robin Hood punchline.
WHAT JUST HAPPENED? * * *
Cert 15 102 mins
Tinseltown’s machinations having been sharply skewered in such films as Blake Edwards’ S.O.B and Robert Altman’s The Player, and director Barry Levinson has now turned in his own satire of Hollywood behind the camera.
It is adapted from producer Art Linson’s memoir, so buffs will enjoy matching onscreen fictions with real counterparts. But it doesn’t have any teeth. Altman savaged the hand that feeds. Levinson merely nibbles.
Twice-divorced producer Ben (Robert DeNiro) is trying to get a reconciliation with his second wife (Robin Wright Penn) when his career goes into a tailspin. A test screening of his Sean Penn movie horrified audiences by shooting a dog in the final scene and now he has been told by tough studio boss Lou (Catherine Keener) to change the ending before its Cannes premiere or the film is dead. Which doesn’t sit well with its hothead Brit director (Michael Wincott) who is just coming off two years of rehab.
Then his new Bruce Willis movie is in danger of collapse unless Willis shaves off the bushy beard he has spent the last six months growing. But no one, especially not his terrified neurotic wimp agent (John Turturro. never knowingly underacting) has the guts to tell the tantrum-prone star.
Watching DeNiro negotiate the bluffs, backstabbings and blow-ups as the power balance shifts is amusing and Penn and Willis gamely use their own images to mock prima donna stars. But, unless you are totally naive about the industry, it has considerably less to say than the weakest episode of Extras or Entourage.
FOUR CHRISTMASES * *
Cert 12A 88 mins
After foisting Fred Claus on us last year, the heart sinks at the thought of another Vince Vaughn festive offering. This isn’t as awful, but it is not It’s a Wonderful Life either.
With the mercifully fairly restrained Vaughn playing opposite and about two foot up from Reese Witherspoon, smug live-in lovers Brad and Kate cannot bear the thought of seeing their respective divorced dysfunctional families for the holidays, so they always invent a reason to be out of the country. However, caught on live TV at the airport where all flights have been grounded, they have no option but to visit each in turn.
Beginning with Brad’s chauvinist father (Robert Duvall) and dim brothers (Tim McGraw and Jon Favreau) things start badly and get worse. By way of first encounters with her preacher-dating mom (Mary Steenburgen) and cleavage-flashing sister (Kristen Chenoweth) and his hippie mother (Sissy Spacek), who is now living with his former best friend, childhood secrets are spilled, property is destroyed, and a parade of screaming babies and brattish kids reinforces resistance to getting married and having children. At least on Brad’s part.
As the relationship starts to flounder, it’s easy to see where this is heading long before it reaches her dad’s (Jon Voight) place for the dramatic life-lessons denouement and inevitable feelgood finale. However, despite intermittent laughs, the chances are you will feel like emulating Brad and Kate’s time-to-go code word and shout ‘mistletoe’ long before then.
HEAVY METAL IN BAGHDAD * * *
Cert 15 84 mins
Giving forked-finger signs and in thrall to Black Sabbath and Metallica, Acrassicauda are a typical heavy metal band – except for the fact they are Iraqi Muslims. A rockumentary with a difference, this follows filmmakers Eddy Moretti and Suroosh Alvi from their attempt to promote a concert through arriving in the middle of 2006’s war zone and discovering half the band had had to flee Iraq. The others soon followed.
Eventually they track the band down in Syria, where they live in poverty, homesick and disillusioned.
Although they only played three gigs before the invasion, there is some amazing performance footage of them belting out the pro-Saddam headbanger needed to keep the secret police off their backs, while all four (who speak perfect American rockstar) make fascinating subjects as they talk emotionally and articulately about the realities of post-liberation Iraq and of, quite literally, being ready to die to play rock ’n’ roll.