Out of the Furnace”
Jeff Bridges won an Oscar for writer-director of Scott Cooper’s last film, “Crazy Heart,” so perhaps Christian Bale had a vision of a statuette in mind when he took on the lead in Cooper’s latest film, “Out of the Furnace” (wide release). But though Bale is quite good, the picture is problematic.
It does an excellent job of conveying the rust-belt devastation of northeastern Pennsylvania and the disregard of the government for the plight of many Iraq War veterans. But it situates those issues within a clichéd narrative about an honest, hard-working man who takes matters into his own hands when his brother is killed by a maniacal villain.
It’s a story that would have been made into a cheap exploitation movie in the 1970s, and here, though it’s elevated by Bale’s performance as the protagonist, Casey Affleck as his doomed sibling and a superb supporting cast – including Woody Harrelson as the brutal bad guy – the film can’t entirely escape an air of melodramatic overstatement.
It’s worth seeing for the acting and atmosphere, rather than for its plot.
Sylvester Stallone wrote “Homefront” (wide release), but passed along the lead role to Jason Statham. Nonetheless, it’s essentially a replay of the sort of nonsensical action stuff that Stallone used to star in.
Stone-faced Statham plays an ex-cop who moves with his little daughter to a remote Louisiana town to escape the wrath of a drug dealer he put in jail. There he falls afoul of a local scumbag, played sleepily by James Franco.
The big denouement finds Statham using his skills to hold off an assault on his house by a small army of goons who happily prove terrible shots, and saving his daughter from Franco’s clutches. “Homefront” is strictly a by-the-numbers action flick, and one that’s not particularly well-executed.
The revenge theme is even more pronounced in “Oldboy” (wide release), Spike Lee’s misguided remake of Chan-wook Park’s 2003 Korean cult favorite about a man who suddenly finds himself free after being abducted and imprisoned in a secret jail for 20 years. Naturally, he’s determined to identify the man who ordered his incarceration and to terminate him.
Park’s film was a bizarre, hallucinatory tale that reveled in grotesquerie – like the famous scene in which the protagonist swallowed a live octopus as its tentacles grabbed at his face – and it treated the ludicrous plot with offhanded disdain.
By contrast, Lee’s picture is less bloodily over-the-top and considerably more conventional in dealing with the narrative’s puzzle-like elements, which italicizes the absurdity of the final revelations.
The result is a remake that should have never been remade.
“The Armstrong Lie”
The fall of Lance Armstrong from grace as a result of long-overdue admissions of doping while winning his seven Tour de France titles is covered in Alex Gibney’s documentary “The Armstrong Lie” (Magnolia). Though it wasn’t originally intended to be another in the director’s string of pictures about the self-destructive consequences of hubris – Gibney originally intended it simply to celebrate the cyclist’s triumphant return to the Tour in 2009 after three years in retirement – that’s what it became after Armstrong’s 2013 retraction of his previous denials about using performance-enhancing drugs.
The film is well-done, and shows Armstrong to be even now prone to evasion and stonewalling. But his story has been told so often (and so well) on television news programs and in print that Gibney is able to bring little new to it. So “The Armstrong Lie” seems almost redundant, and at over two hours it’s much too long.