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Three Movies: A Buddy Flick, a Doc, and a Comedy
Directed by Baltasar Kormakur
Two guys you wouldn't ordinarily think of teaming. Two guys known more for serious drama than for comic relief. But you'd be stunningly wrong.
A funky DEA agent and an outsourced naval intel officer find themselves on the run from all sides, "good" guys and bad, after a not very effective attempt to infiltrate a drug cartel. A severed head of a safe colleague serves as a cautionary tale. Fleeing, the reluctant partners learn the secret of their shaky alliance: neither knows that the other is an undercover agent.
Mark Wahlberg, faster with a gun and assumed dumbo wit than a dozen regular stage comedians, and Denzel, great as a quick-trig straight man, are both ideal presumed bad eggs haphazardly paired as they supposedly work the drug trade down in Tejas (Texas to you gringos). They don't much like each other, but the turbulence that results from their barely contained annoyance with each other serves up high-caliber laughs. Neither Beans (Robert "Bobby" Trench), done by Washington, nor Stig (Marcus Stigman), Wahlberg, realizes the other is not who he seems, working for some aspect of our apparently octopus government. The tough critics attending this general screening (250+) all agreed: this'll deliver the goods to rope in the sun-worshipers by even larger factors than the cost of an Obama family vacation week in Africa.
Giddy, self-silly, almost screwball in its superfast repartee between the principals, 2 GUNS features these two at the top of their game, enmeshed in drug dealings, twists, reversals, and unexpected cavalries of indeterminate etiology. A second viewing is recommended, to fix who does what to whom, and to catch the back-and-forth giggle lines you missed the first time. There are pretty G-men (Paula Patton, gorgeous as a not-really-so-tough white-hat babe), hilarious drug-lord Mexicans (Edward James Olmos), dishonest CIA ops (Bill Paxton as mustachioed hard-case), and fantastic stunts, wrenching chicken-shoots, and in general nasty men who should be good, and good men who should be nasty. Bank heists. Money all over the place. Car chases in the desert. Crashes. Explosions. A little sex scene or two. And betrayals every which way. Abbott and Costello-worthy bits are done over food in cafés, kitchens, and outside, escaping. Risible as they are, they require close attention, lest you miss some of the gems from this upscale enactment of a graphic novel. We even stayed to see the Humane Society line at the end attest to the "No animals were hurt in the making of this film." Whew.
There's one scene that bothered my companion and myself, and all the still-grinning reviewers gabbing near the water fountain after the screening agreed: a matter of abdominal "torture" that wasn't realistic, and should not have been included, since no one seeing the movie believed that it could be done without crippling the recipients. But that's a small quibble, as is the eyebrow one could hike at the amazingly swift recovery you notice whenever our heroes get zinged by a bullet. But okay. We give them that.
For the low-expectations, low-vocabulary crowd, those previous short-blip descriptions of the action do not lessen the enjoyment, since the film's self-mockery lifts the goings-on to a what'll-they-do-next level of delight. Crisp writing, great two-liners, and terrific pacing.
Sequel: 3 GUNS, anyone? We'll bite.
Producer/Director: Amy Nicholson
Coney Island occupies a nostalgic, dowdy, but beloved niche in the mind of adults who grew up in Brooklyn. It has, for three decades and counting, fallen on depressed days, even as throngs still bought the cotton candy and the Nathan's French fries and visited annually to see the raucous and over-the-top Mermaid Parade. Some of us recall the Tuesday-night fireworks over the tacky hurdy-gurdies, Parachute Jump, and Cyclone. Some of us played racquetball, handball, and squash in some of the concrete courts nearby.
Coney has been a cultural icon at the far end of Brooklyn for over 100 years. Even for those in faraway states, Coney Island was a state of mind, the lure of not-glitzy, ungated, down-home rides and ramshackle grazing in America's grungy hotdogs and syrupy ice cones. (Is that where Coney Island got its name? one wonders.) This is not the hygienic sealed-in pristine world of Disney, but that's what millions of average working people wanted for decades. Accessible family fun, on the relative cheap.
ZIPPER is a doc about the demise of what was Coney Island and its stellar rides, and the hard-fought land-grab and fight-back of land developers (chiefly Joe Sitt) and the Bloomberg administration. It chronicles the ethnic and union guys, like the sympathetic Eddie Miranda, whose entire career has been manning the vomititious carnival contraption (three active movements: up, around, and down; swaying cabs on another axis; and the cabs turning end over end in a sickening or thrilling couple of stomach-churning minutes). A cute moment comes as the operators and paunchy, sweaty guys dismantling the rides explain that though their salaries weren't that hot, anything that wasn't battened down inside the cabs rained down on them -- coins, keys, false teeth, artificial eyes, whatever. A constant shower of money, they thought, lagniappe for working the attractions. The cage holes are just big enough to let it all through. "Paper money, though, doesn't fit through," one worker laments.
We go to middle America, to Wichita, Kansas, to Chance Rides Manufacturing Company, the largest manufacturer of "amusement park rides, roller coasters and people movers," in the country -- if not, they say, the world. The operations warehouse at Chance is as big as the rocket and spaceship housing at Cape Canaveral. We were there, so that's plenty huge. THE ZIPPER interviews enthusiastic and thoughtful Amanda Burden, developer Sitt (who has been buying land parcels for 30 years, to the tune of $150 million), and earnest Brooklyn Council members trying to moderate between the noisy residents of the area with their signs to Save Coney Island! and No Malls! And the Bloomberg people who want revenue from new condos to offset the limited income provided by the (all-cash) amusements. The 60-acre parcel that is supposed to be kept as a "C-7 regulated acreage" for amusements alone, not residential purposes, is significantly whittled to a fractional footprint of its charter as the two sides fight for primacy.
In an increasingly mogul-dominated landscape, authenticity and unflashy everyday fun access is usually sacrificed for dollar dominance. THE ZIPPER chronicles what we see disappearing across America. Sometimes to acceptable results. Sometimes, not.
Affront to tradition? Or the path to progress? You decide.
THE WAY, WAY BACK
Directed by Nat Faxon and Jim Rash
Speaking of summer sports and rides, THE WAY, WAY BACK is a light, unexpectedly enjoyable ride clothed in a dorky coming-of-age story. Shy 14-year-old Duncan (Liam James) is forced to summer on the Massachusetts shore with his single mom (the always great Toni Collette, here in a subdued role) and her unbridled jerk of a beau (Steve Carell, in a rare noxious turn) and his daughter. Ugly duckling Duncan finds himself, and the smokin'est girlfriend, as a go-fer at a nearby water park run by the completely hilarious Sam Rockwell, worth the price of admission, and his spitfire co-worker, the funny-unappreciated Maya Rudolph. Allison Janney as a loopy hyperactive mom of a troubled teen son is another eruptive bright spot.
There's a bit of philandering, a dash of spicy language, and a slice of betrayal. Over all, this comedy navigates between garish big-studio goop and astringent vegan egg-white fare that yawns you to death. All that water also serves as a refreshing way to spend a two-hour respite. Sort of the adverse of LAWRENCE OF ARABIA, an endless Sahara vista of dunitude (yes, it's a neologism, for those who object to the self-created suicide in a prior review) making you sprint to the refreshments counter for a Mega Slurp. Even the ending is a winner.
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