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December at a glance

December at a glance
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Why would anybody ever want to watch a movie again when they can spend all their time on the internet watching Angelina Ballerina and Baby Wee Wee?

Someone asked me why movie reviewers didn’t review Youtube videos since they had so much charm and personality and were only three minutes instead of three hours. It’s a rhetorical question. Let me remind that I do know that the actor playing a small role as the Winklevoss lawyer in the Social Network is David Selby who played television’s best werewolf ever, Quentin Collins in Dark Shadows.

One thing that seemed to stand out thematically after watching several movies last week was the fact-based movie experience. I Love You Phillip Morris chronicles the criminal exploits of a man who’s now serving a life sentence, not for being a violent reprobate but for the three strikes rule that landed him, a common embezzler with a penchant for escaping jail, an uncommonly long penal term. Many of the crimes the protagonist (played by Jim Carrey like you’ve never seen him) commits took place in Harris County. One of his jail breaks involved dying his white prison garb medic green with the aid of his cell’s toilet and a green marks-a-lot, snagging a therapist ID and walking out. The movie’s based on a book by Houston based reporter Steve McVicker, and the author noted during a recent Q&A that many of his book’s facts have been artistically mutated for comic relief.

Okay this guy, Carey’s Stephen Russell, was a jerk who ripped off identities, credit card and insurance scams as well as millions from one company, where he’d finagled a job as CFO. Yet you can take Russell’s financial motives and cumulative scams and compare them another real life figure, also no stranger to Harris County, Tom DeLay, as portrayed in the film Casino Jack. Do you think DeLay’s going to get a life term?

Not oddly, the Russell character fakes his death another time to escape imprisonment by forging medical records. This device is also used in the recent film The Next Three Days. Russell stole less than they typical Wall Street executive as seen in the film about the current financial meltdown The Inside Job. Yet those guys sit in ivory towers while Russell sits in solitary, 23-hours per day.

Casino Jack lays waste to the true-life story of lobbyist Jack Abramoff, himself currently serving a six year prison stretch. Kevin Spacey gives his usual attention grabbing perf as Abramoff, a guy who “works out every day.”  There’s also a documentary by Alex Gibney called Casino Jack and the United States of Money that makes your head spin with the tabloid truth of Abramoff’s deeds. You realize Casino Jack leaves out the whole Ralph Reed subplot. Sadly, Casino Jack’s director George Hickenlooper died of natural causes during last month’s Denver Film Festival where his film was playing, and no less during the week of his brother Jack Hickenlooper being elected governor of Colorado. Abramoff presided over a three-ring circus of comic mob slayings, corporate shenanigans in Malaysia and casino cruise subterfuge, all in the name of lobbying Congress on behalf of his clients.

When you make films based on real life, even real life ends up being more than real. Both Casino Jack and I Love You Phillip Morris open in Houston later this month.

Mesrine never really climbs into the realm of the great crime epics yet it provides jolting violence and cinematic thrills over the length of two movies. It’s special trait is the way the action sequences unwind, not unlike 70s B-movie fare. In fact the main selling point would be the reality of the various shoot outs and occasional explosions – they don’t look faked and CGI-ed like today’s breed of studio actioners: The Losers and A-Team and Red (PG-13) or The Expendables (R).
Mesrine stars Vincent Cassel (also in Black Swan) as France’s most notorious criminal and traces his career from the 1950s until his death with his moll during an ambush that once again proves that the French love Bonnie and Clyde. Mesrine is the kind of guy who escapes from a high security prison and then returns the next day, heavily armed, to bust out the rest of the prisoners. Note that Mesrine was France’s enemy number une and not their most notorious terrorist. That would be Carlos and there’s also a current movie about him that could be considered one of the great movie epics.
Okay so you have Carlos as a three-movie spread, Mesrine as a two-parter, and the trilogies of The Girl With the Dragon Tattoo series as well as Red Riding 1974, 1980 and 1983. They all have their supporters and detractors, but what a great thematic array of films to enjoy.
– Michael Bergeron