(On Cable TV, August 2018) Don’t tell anyone, but I do have a soft spot for those dumb catastrophe movies that run on a stream of special-effect sequences. Geostorm really isn’t anywhere close to being an exemplar of the form, but it’s enough to scratch that itch. The setup, with its runaway weather-altering satellites in a rigid grid, makes zero sense … but that’s irrelevant as it’s merely meant to enable a series of distinctive action vignettes. Gerald Butler is the lead here, his square jaw and dubious ability to pick good movie projects being all we need in a protagonist. Dean Devlin has his first solo directing job here (although reshoots three years later under another director kind of sabotage this achievement), which makes sense considering that he, alongside Ronald Emmerich, had a hand in similar global-destruction projects such as Independence Day and Godzilla. Alas, for all of the destructive joy found in Geostorm as it targets Hong Kong, Tokyo, Rio de Janeiro, Mumbai, Moscow and Dubai (and an entire space station), the plot has trouble keeping up with the spectacle. We’re soon stuck in a familiar morass of rogue American officials, conspiracy theories, out-of-control systems and rote character dynamics. The actors don’t do much to help: Butler is his usual reliable self, with Ed Harris and Andy Garcia also doing their best, but Abbie Cornish continues to be distinctively boring. Only Zazie Beetz distinguishes herself in a small role. Still, that’s not much, and seeing the disjointed result only makes one wish for a tell-all documentary showing what prompted the reshoots and how they tried to patch Geostorm into its final form. Otherwise, the film does better as a battle between spectacle and stupidity, as very little effort is made to even make the mayhem halfway plausible. Considering that we’ve seen a lot of these movies lately, Geostorm may have worked as an almost-parody camp version of those films … but it chose to attempt a straight version, and the very middle-of-the-road result speaks for itself.
(Video on-Demand, September 2015) At a time when it seems as if we’ve seen every mob movie concept imaginable, here’s a slightly different twist on the genre, and what’s more it’s based on a true story. Here, against the backdrop of the 1991-92 Gotti trial in New York City, we get a sympathetic but dim-witted couple that decides to make ends meet by robbing mob social clubs. The idea is smarter than it sounds when the protagonist realizes that there are no weapons allowed in mafia clubs. Still, the protagonist makes plenty of mistakes along the way, and Rob the Mob is never stronger than when it can indulge in the inherently comic aspect of two small-time crooks taking on the powerful NYC mob and holding their own for a while. Michael Pitt is fine as the lead Tommy, but Nina Arianda is a bit of a revelation as Rosie his charismatic wife, while Andy Garcia plays a fine fictional mob boss and Ray Romano is unexpectedly interesting as a journalist covering criminal developments. The film moves well, doesn’t dwell on gore, makes heroes out of its unlikely protagonists and delivers the expected entertainment. As an adaptation of real events, Rob the Mob sticks to the main points of the original story –still, it’s tempting to say that a far funnier film could have been made had the screenwriter taken a few more liberties with the source.
(On DVD, December 2009) This “Part III” has a bad reputation only when it’s compared to its two classic predecessors. While it’s pretty good filmmaking, it’s just not up to the standards set by its prequels. It’s not bad when considered as a straight-up epilogue, but then it runs into the vexing issue of being nearly three hours long, which really isn’t appropriate for the type of story it tries to be in the Godfather universe. Part of the problem is that by going to Italy and spending a lot of time dealing in Vatican business, The Godfather III gets farther and farther away from the all-American core that made the success of the first two films: The issues get more abstract and diffuse, and the plot seems to over-complexify itself. There is a noticeable lull near the middle of the film, and all of it contributes to the feeling of an overlong experience. Acting-wise, it’s Al Pacino and Andy Garcia’s show: Sofia Coppola may be the most attractive performer in the entire trilogy, but her much-derided performance, all mushy-mouthed and indifferent, is another of the reasons why she’s become a far better director than actress. More happily, though, the film works more often than it doesn’t, and while some elements that made the first film now feel familiar (the opening celebration/introduction scene; the final operatic barrage of violence), it’s handled with a lot of lavish skill by director Francis Ford Coppola. Conventional wisdom is correct: Not a bad film, but a let-down compared to its lineage.
(In theaters, April 2003) Ah yes. The con film that begins with the narrator describing his own death. It doesn’t take a genius to figure out that this is all going to turn out nicely, but the twists and turns are the name of the game and if Confidence isn’t particularly revolutionary, it plays well enough. I’ve been, inexplicably, a mild fan of Ed Burns for a while and he certainly knows how to play as the lead man in a gang of con artists on a rampage in Los Angeles. One operation goes too well, they find out they just double-crossed a powerful crime lord and suddenly, they must atone for their miscalculation by performing another con. Double-crosses, counter-crosses, infini-crosses follow. Fans of Rachel Weisz will not be disappointed, as she demonstrates an uncanny capability at playing a scheming seductress. The rest of the supporting cast is also quite good, with the usual props to Dustin Hoffman, Paul Giamatti and Andy Garcia. The direction moves with a certain style and the screenplay efficiently propels the story forward. The ending is a bit of a mess; I’m not even sure if it makes any sense at all. But in a con film, these senseless twists are the norm, and they are easily forgiven as long as it ends in a satisfactory fashion. Indeed, it’s hard to imagine a happier ending than the one featured here, and this happy impression is the one to keep.
(On DVD, September 2010) Years later, this film may play even more smoothly than it first did: I had forgotten much about the smooth scene transitions, clever dialogues and exceptional ensemble cast. Director James Foley knows what he’s doing, and his Los Angeles is drenched in unusual color accents. As a con film, it’s hardly revolutionary… but it promises a good time and it fulfills its part of the bargain handily.