Where we left off: Saul (Mandy Patinkin) continued to track down those responsible for the Langley attack, Quinn (Rupert Friend) struggled with the death of the young boy he shot, Dana (Morgan Saylor) and Jessica (Morena Baccarin) attempted to fix their family problems, Carrie (Claire Danes) went off the deep end (thanks to Saul and the CIA), and Brody (Damian Lewis) was nowhere to be seen. (Check out our recap of Homeland season three, episode two if you need more of a refresher.)
"Tower of David"So long, Dana, and hello, Brody! In contrast to the previous two episodes of Homeland, which have been filled to the brim with Dana-drama, the third episode of the season kicks the angsty teen to the curb (and almost everyone in the main cast except for Carrie) and focuses in on daddy dearest.
Let's focus on the positives first: Brody is in our lives once again, and he's brought back the suspense that the show's been missing. The episode opens up in Venezuela with Brody frantically being transferred from one truck to the next because of bullet wounds to the gut and an insane amount of blood being spilled out of him. Cut to him in a poorly-lit warehouse being shot up with heroin (for the pain) before a suspicious looking (and sounding) doctor operates on him with the help of a little boy (the doctor might be a pedophile). Within minutes, there’s already almost enough suspense to make up for the lack of excitement in the first two episodes.
For an unknown period of time, he's cared for by Esme, a sweet young woman who can barely speak any English, and visited by El Niño (Manny Perez), Esme's father and the ringleader of the group that is keeping him hostage/safe. Unable to take being locked away in a decrepit, towering building looking over the city (and unable to stomach the sight of anyone else being pushed off the building to their death), he escapes his confines and seeks refuge in a mosque that he sees from his room. Assuming that those at the mosque will keep him safe, he graciously accepts the comfort of an imam's home only to be set up by the imam and attacked by Venezuelan police. Luckily for Brody, El Niño's men come to his rescue and quickly (and mercilessly) kill the police, the imam, and the imam's wife. Thanks to naïve Brody, the suspense and murder, which clearly makes the show what it is, is once again an integral part of Homeland.
As for Carrie, she's still locked up in the psych ward, but it looks as if she’s finally succumbed to taking her meds again – even though it's just for show. She doesn't want to be back on her meds, and she doesn’t want to be doing anything they're making her do (like building popsicle-stick model homes, an activity which drives her to bang her head against a mirror until she's bleeding), but she’s just doing it so she can go back home. Towards the end of the episode, a lawyer comes to visit her on behalf of an unknown associate who wants to work with her, but Carrie refuses his plea assuming that they want her to turn on the CIA. The episode ends with shots of both Carrie and Brody alone in their own personal cells.
And now for the bad, or rather, the shaky aspects of the episode: it tries too hard to mirror the "stuck-in-a-hole" positions that both Carrie and Brody are in (we get it, they're both alone), and for as much time as it spends on Brody, it doesn’t really explain too much of what's actually happening. Brody's plotline has brought back the suspense that has clearly been missing from the show, but it doesn't explain why Brody is in Venezuela, who El Niño is, what the creepy doctor is up to, or what they're planning on doing with him. You would think that at least one of those questions would be answered during the nearly 40 minutes that were devoted to Brody.
But in the end, while there are definitely some issues with the pacing and focus of the episode, Brody is finally back and that gives us hope that things are looking up for Homeland.
Highlight of the episode: When the imam calls out Brody for what he really is: "You’re not a Muslim. You’re a terrorist."
Merging Serpico with an almost Shakespearean sense of tragedy Pride and Glory details an extremely complicated investigation into the gunning down of four New York City cops after an attempted drug bust goes terribly wrong. With increasingly bad PR and an apparent cop killer still at large the Chief of Manhattan Detectives Francis Tierney Sr. (Jon Voight) assigns his son Detective Ray Tierney (Edward Norton) to lead the probe. The younger Tierney is reluctant since he knows all four cops served under his brother Francis Jr. (Noah Emmerich) and brother-in-law Jimmy Egan (Colin Farrell). Ray’s instincts may be right because as he digs deeper he discovers an awkward and uncomfortable connection between Francis Jimmy and the case. Could his own family have been involved in an inside job and tipped off the drug dealers? Soon Ray finds himself having to choose between the greatest moral dilemma of all: loyalty to the job or loyalty to his family. Although Pride and Glory doesn’t break any new ground and is composed of elements we’ve seen in many previous films dealing with police corruption this film is distinguished by some of the finest work in the storied careers of many of its cast. Norton follows up his summer comic-book movie The Incredible Hulk with a far smaller and more focused character in P&G playing a man caught in a moral bind facing the unthinkable prospect of going after his own family members. Norton wears his ticklish predicament on his face and is enormously effective conveying pure angst. Emmerich (Little Children) delivers a rich portrayal of a tortured soul not only caught up in an intense investigation but dealing with a wife (Jennifer Ehle) dying of cancer. Farrell is better than he has been in some time playing a shady officer who seemingly will stop at nothing to get what he needs. Voight as the proud family patriarch and veteran of the NYPD clearly understands the dilemma of this man who is watching his family torn apart. Co-writer/director Gavin O'Connor has spent a frustrating couple of years trying to bring this story to the screen but his perseverance pays off. Pride and Glory is a well-written cop tale that co-exists as an interesting character study about the power of family ties vs. personal pride. O’Connor manages to put us right in the center of the moral conflict at the heart of his story and with several first-rate actors (even in the lesser roles) crafts a film that seems authentic to its core. Incorporating Declan Quinn’s in-your-face realistic cinematography O’Connor resists going for a more obvious audience-pleasing flashier style achieving a look and feel that seems more grounded in the milieu he’s trying to capture. His script co-written with Joe Carnahan (who wrote and directed the equally gritty Narc) is tight and unsympathetic slowly letting layers of a very intricate and complex story peel away to reveal a core that packs a punch right to the gut.
The first time we meet José (Eduardo Verástegui) the up-and-coming soccer star is boasting to a bunch of kids about the big-time contract he's just signed. The next thing you know he's slaving away as the chef at his ungrateful brother's upscale restaurant. How did he go from riches to rags so quickly? Bella takes its sweet time fully revealing the circumstances leading up to José's fall from grace though you can pretty much deduce for yourself what he did just by the way his eyes tear up whenever he gazes at a child playing on the street. For some unfathomable reason José abandons his post to comfort Nina (Tammy Blanchard) a waitress who's just been fired for her tardy ways. Turns out Nina's pregnant and has her mind set on having an abortion. Rather than butt out of Nina's business and go back to work José takes it upon himself to gently persuade Nina to have the baby. Clearly José's seeking a little redemption for his own past transgressions and what better way to achieve this than by making Nina see the error of her ways. Nina's willing to play along especially when José lands her a new job without any effort. Thus begins Bella's leisurely-though quite uneventful-stroll around New York City. The decision Nina makes won't come as a surprise but Bella's epilogue will likely leave you shaking your head in disbelief. It's pretty clear why the distraught Nina would happily spend the day hanging out with a handsome co-worker she barely knows. The soft-spoken Eduardo Verástegui—the Mexican model pop singer and actor who starred as the three-timing himbo in Chasing Papi—exudes an easy charm that would make any woman feel safe and comfortable in his presence. José obviously has an agenda—one born of guilt not religious zealotry—but Verástegui's casual demeanor ensures that the chef never comes across as pushy anxious or judgmental. But every now and then Verástegui allows us a glimpse at the terrible pain and suffering that's reduced José to a shadow of the man he once was. Tammy Blanchard who develops a nice rapport with Verástegui brings a necessary sense of fear and confusion to the role of Nina. That said Blanchard also makes Nina seem particularly strong willed so you never really think that José's soft sell would be enough to make this unemployed waitress change her mind about being a single mother or putting her child up for adoption. As José's unsympathetic brother Manny Perez does his best impression of Gordon Ramsey on a bad day. Perez never quite gets the comeuppance he deserves though he does share a nice moment with Verástegui at the end of Bella that shows that some brotherly bonds are hard to break. Oh and supermodel Ali Landry puts in an appearance during a couple of Bella's many flashbacks for no other reason than she's married to the director. José is a man on a mission. But is director Alejandro Gomez Monteverde? Bella does not appear to be a film overtly driven by faith and the politics of abortion do not serve as a motivating factor for José's decision to persuade Nina to keep her baby. So it is unclear whether Monteverde's using Bella to subtly advance an anti-abortion agenda or to implore women to think long and hard before making their decision to terminate their pregnancy. Either way it's not hard to imagine activists on either side of the abortion issue co-opting Bella for their own purposes. After all it’s Nina who makes the choice admittedly with a bit of prodding from José. Unfortunately Bellas biggest problem is that you never truly feel that José's accomplished what he set out to do even though the outcome is never in doubt so the big reveal at the end doesn't ring true. In other words Bella's just too sunny to end on a pessimistic note. Perhaps Monteverde intended to leave the door open for a sequel one that has romance on its mind. But Monteverde leaves too many gaps left unfilled for us to accept that this is the decision Nina would make no matter how much she is touched by the kindness of a relative stranger.
As a legendary Coast Guard Rescue Swimmer Ben Randall (Kevin Costner) was all heart and no regret. But it all comes undone in the span of one night when he goes out to the menacing seas with his crew to make a rescue and he is the sole survivor. Following that fateful night he’s ordered to teach at “A” School--a demotion for a man of his stature and seniority--an elite training program that helps turn the best recruits into the best Rescue Swimmers. Randall teaches the cocky students the only way he knows how and his tough tough love is initially met with skepticism by his fellow trainers who think of him as a has-been. But one student in particular Jake Fischer (Ashton Kutcher) catches his eye and draws his ire. Fischer is cocky hotheaded and highly skilled--just the right pedigree to make a great Rescue Swimmer and a lot like Randall was at his age. Randall rides him extra-hard while Fischer only hopes to one day be in the same boat as his mentor. Be careful what you wish for Jake! Costner's always been an acquired taste--sometimes a downright noxious one on first bite--but there's no denying he slides right in here. Roles that feature him as the aging provider of wisdom are now his true calling and the sooner he accepts it the better. And even still Costner gets to flex his action muscle a bit. As for Kutcher the only thing he shares in common with Costner is the last two letters of his last name--as actors these guys are each other’s antitheses! And in a weird way they strike a nice chemistry because of it one that is borderline exciting to watch. As a standalone actor in The Guardian Kutcher is a bit misplaced and seems to know it. He nails the physicality of the role but while the character's attitude and brashness befit Kutcher the peak dramatic scenes with Costner leave something to be desired. A pleasantly surprising turn from relative unknown Melissa Sagemiller (The Clearing) as Kutcher's girl toy and reliable supporting performances from Sela Ward and Neal McDonough round out the cast. Director Andrew Davis' proximity to his career peak The Fugitive cannot be measured in time: He's a lot further away from the mega-hit than a mere 13 years. But in Hollywood if you have a Fugitive under your belt you'll never run out of chances to replicate it. That's the current juncture for Davis--one last shot at Fugitive glory...till his next last shot. It's hard to say what The Guardian will do at the box office but Davis' stodgy direction doesn't necessarily help its chances. The movie can be boiled down to awful pacing: the first and last 15 minutes are high-octane action and everything in between is low-octane Top Gun (the non-action scenes!). That blame belongs to Davis and writer Ron L. Brinkerhoff. But only Davis can shoulder the other flaws such as a single scene of dubious camerawork--filmed to look like handheld-montage style completely deviating from the movie's context--and the special effects during the somewhat cheesy action sequences which may remind you of a theme-park tour during which you learn how they filmed a boat scene...in the '80s!
Well the verdict is in: Jackass: Number Two is not soft-core. In fact the stunts are more vomit inducing than ever before which in the immortal word of Steve-O is rad! All of your favorite Jackasses are back for more um fun. That’s right--Johnny Knoxville Steve-O Bam Margera Chris Pontius Preston Lacy Ryan Dunn Jason 'Wee Man' Acuna and others have returned to again defy death and sober logic as they take on more elaborate stunts. The stunts this time around involve guns rockets ramps terrorism and animals but not to be forgotten are the fail-proof anatomical gags some of which involve said animals and all of which are too vulgar to reference in any way shape or form here. In summation: more of the same tom-Jackass-ery we’ve come to expect out of these borderline-sane skate-punk dudes. A lot’s changed since Jackass’ early days as an MTV show--most of these “actors”/circus freaks have since gone on to stardom--but all the Jackasses still share an undying love for hurting themselves. Aww. With Jackass the secret weapon has always been the disparate personalities: No two of these guys react the same to their own demise and frankly it’s hilarious. Truth is the commentary’s half the fun! Knoxville brims with charisma and pulls off the rare feat of endearing himself to the Jackass faithful even after having become a movie superstar. His drunken (sounding) laugh is infectious and yes the guy with the most to lose takes the biggest beatings and risks in this movie--how can you not love that?! Then there’s Steve-O whose trademark drawl could be mistaken for a stoned Fran Drescher; he’s the resident self-mutilation whiz. And Margera renowned for terrorizing his folks actually displays a soft side in Number Two (to say more would give away the twist). Cameos from directors Spike Jonze and John Waters Miami Dolphin Jason Taylor Dukes of Hazzard director Jay Chandrasekhar and more only add to the fun. Indeed everyone wants to be a Jackass! While hard to pinpoint clearly there is talent necessary somewhere to make Number Two succeed like it does. That talent likely comes from the behind-the-scenes troublemakers like writers Sean Cliver and Preston Lacy and director Jeff Tremaine the latter two of whom appear in Number Two. Neither the reactions of the Jackasses nor their spontaneity during the stunts are choreographed but it does take a lot of advance preparation--i.e. contingency plans a portable hospital and it would seem booze by the boatload to get the mania into full swing--for a single scene to work. Furthermore to think up such absurdly elaborate ideas is either very painstaking and difficult or very easy--as in watching-episodes-of-Tom-and-Jerry-and-Roadrunner easy. Paramount though to pulling off each and every sequence is getting it all in one take for obvious reasons and Tremaine and co. manage to pull that off like they do everything else.
October 01, 2004 10:40am EST
As Ladder 49 opens Baltimore firefighter Jack Morrison (Joaquin Phoenix) gets trapped inside a blazing warehouse while rescuing a trapped civilian. With his escape routes either caved in or burned down Jack has to keep his wits as he waits for Fire Chief Mike Kennedy (John Travolta) and his fellow firefighters to rescue him. Lying in a bed of rubble Jack has rather vivid and detailed flashbacks of pivotal moments in his life including his first day at the firehouse the day he met his wife-to-be at the supermarket their wedding day the birth of their daughter and so on. While these flashbacks provide neat chronological accounts of his life they do very little to shape or build Jack's character because they are focused on his heroic antics rather than the man underneath the uniform. The film also works feverishly to showcase the brotherly bond between the men but doesn't extend beyond silly firehouse pranks including putting a goose in someone's locker or tossing a lit newspaper into an occupied toilette stall. The only thing missing from these tawdry sitcom-like moments is a laugh track. Third Watch the NBC drama following New York City police paramedics and firefighters on the 3-11 p.m. shift offers more character development and intrigue in a one-hour episode than this feature film dishes out in two hours.
Phoenix is both sweet and awkward in the role of Jack a rookie firefighter who can't hide his enthusiasm about his line of work. Jack's charming side is demonstrated in his relationship with his wife particularly in the intensely loving way Phoenix looks at his co-star Jacinda Barrett whether they're at a crowded birthday bash or riding on the back of the fire truck following their humble small-town nuptials. Phoenix's Jack also has a slightly dim-witted side which comes through in the "Aw shucks" way he reacts to being the butt of many firehouse pranks. But there's a third sadly missing dimension missing to Jack: He's a hero with no fire in his belly. Travolta on the other hand just isn't convincing in this blue-collar role of fire chief. Perhaps it's just that these characters are too damn perfect. Post 9/11 firefighters have become more than rescuers they are in the eyes of many Americans heroes and Ladder 49 adopts the biased notion that they are also faultless.
Director Jay Russell (Tuck Everlasting) visually captures the essence of this working class Baltimore neighborhood and its firehouse from Jack's cluttered wood-paneled home to Mike's utilitarian firehouse office. Production designer Tony Burrough paid meticulous attention to set details particularly in how the backdrops age over a decade; Jack's house becomes junkier and his gear gets dingier. The controlled fires on the set look incredibly real and feel equally oppressive--and this is where Russell's direction really shines. A scene in which Jack enters his first burning building for example adds to the film's authenticity: The probie (firefighter lingo for a new guy) runs up the stairs too fast and doesn't aim the hose high enough. These small details remind moviegoers what an exact line of work this really is. But while Ladder 49 effectively demonstrates the risky and altruistic work firefighters do it doesn't delve any deeper than its spectacular rescues. Throughout the film Jack is asked what motivates him to run into a burning building when everyone else is running out--a question scribe Lewis Colick never lets Ladder 49's characters answer.
Hardened bad guy Yamamoto (Beat Takeshi who also wrote and directed) sneaks out of Tokyo after his Japanese mob family disbands. He travels to Los Angeles and tracks down his much younger half-brother Ken (Claude Maki) a petty drug dealer. Because thuggery is the only way of life Yamamoto knows he starts his own mini crime ring with Ken and Ken's buddies. Thanks to Yamamoto's determination not to mention his penchant for violence their little posse goes quickly from small time to the big league taking over turf from Ken's Hispanic suppliers teaming with a rival Japanese faction and facing off against the Mafia. Meanwhile as Yamamoto's gang's success grows and the money flows he develops an unexpected friendship and unlikely brotherhood bond with Ken's friend Denny (Omar Epps).
Takeshi's hard-boiled Yamamoto has two facial expressions--one with tics one without. Could one really reach the levels of violence he does in this movie without batting an eyelash? But he has an intriguing way of drawing out the viewer's sympathy even though he's hardly sympathetic toward others in the movie himself. The sadly underused Epps is very good as the wary young homeboy from a nice family who is caught up in the events around him and who has a genuine soft spot for the hardened Yamamoto. Think of Brother as the anti-Rush Hour 2 of the summer.
Sometimes it's hard to figure out what's going on in this stylish violent and weirdly comic thriller. Cryptic messages delivered in Japanese often are no more decipherable despite English subtitles and much of the first half is told in flashback a fact you may not realize until the second half starts. But once you figure it out the story moves quickly and keeps your attention--that is if you can stand to watch. There are some horrifically violent moments that just don't let up and by the second half the brutality is nonstop. Not only do you have bloody shoot-'em-ups taking place every other minute you've got a guy committing hara-kiri in front of his dinner companions fingers getting chopped off yakuza-style death by chopsticks etc. etc. (Oddly the gangsters seem to be L.A.'s only inhabitants--the cops are nowhere to be found.)