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Films I Neglected To Review: The Amber Alert Is Over--"Mandy Lane" Has Been Found
by Peter Sobczynski

Please enjoy short reviews of "All the Boys Love Mandy Lane," "Captain Phillips" and "Romeo & Juliet"

Thanks to an astonishing series of distributor-related snafus that would take far too long to get into at this time, the low-budget horror film "All the Boys Love Mandy Lane" was completed way back in 2006 but is only now getting theatrical distribution in America. Because of this, the title has developed a certain fascination amongst genre buffs--at least those who didn't bother to seek it out via any number of alternative methods during that time--but it is highly unlikely that it will maintain such interest amongst such people now that they can finally see for themselves just how much of a non-event it really is. Amber Heard--largely unknown when she was cast--stars as a pretty teen queen whose plans to celebrate her graduation from high school with a weekend trip to a remote ranch with the most popular clique of kids are interrupted when her classmates begin getting bumped off in any number of messy ways. Could the killer be one of them? Could it be the hunky lone ranch hand (Anson Mount)? Could it be the class weirdo (Michael Welch) that used to be Mandy's best friend until a tragic accident caused a rift between them? Could it be. . .someone else?

Well, if you have seen more than your share of slasher movies over the years, you will probably figure out what is going on pretty quickly and the screenplay by Jacob Forman does little to try to mix things up in any significant way. Director Jonathan Levine (who made his feature debut here before going on to direct "The Wackness," "50/50" and "Warm Bodies") presents the material in a relatively stylish manner that gives the film an appealingly retro feel that also belies just how old it really is but his efforts only serve to transform a bloody bore into a good-looking bloody bore. The best thing about "All the Girls Love Mandy Lane" (and presumably the only thing that has kept interest in it amongst distributors alive over the years) is the presence of Heard as Mandy--it may not be the most challenging role but she is undeniably sexy and charismatic throughout and it isn't hard to understand why she went on to bigger and better things. The film may not be worth watching as a whole but she certainly is.

Following in the footsteps of such previous efforts as "Bloody Sunday" and "United 93," acclaimed filmmaker Paul Greengrass offers up another highly detailed cinematic recreation of a tension-filled real-life event in "Captain Phillips." This one involves the 2009 incident in which a group of four Somali pirates hijacked the freighter ship Maresk Alabama and eventually took its captain, Richard Phillips (Tom Hanks), hostage in an attempt to ransom him for a fortune. (The film was based on Phillips' memoir of the event, a work which has been criticized by members of his crew for minimizing the mistakes that he apparently made that led to the capture of his ship in the first place and to the failure of a rescue attempt that they made long before the arrival of the U.S. Navy.) Like Greengrass' previous films (which also include the latter two Jason Bourne films with Matt Damon), this is an impeccably made work from a cinematic perspective in that its sets up any number of massive technical challenges for itself that it goes about mastering with relative ease throughout. Unlike his other films, however, I came out of feeling nothing but "meh" towards it.

One big problem is that the story as a whole is not nearly as compelling as it wishes to be--we never get the sense that we are learning something in the way that we did during "Bloody Sunday" and "United 93"--and at 135 minutes, it starts to drag considerably in the latter stages even though that is theoretically when the tension should be at its highest. The other big problem, quite frankly, is Tom Hanks. Oh, his performance isn't bad (although he gets one bit of Acting towards the end that might as well have a subtitle reading "Oscar Show Clip" running underneath it) but every time that Greengrass achieves the sort of documentary-like verisimilitude that he has pulled off so beautifully in the past by casting relative unknowns in the roles, he winds up ruining it every time that America's Most Beloved Actor wanders into the frame and reminds us that this is indeed a movie. By comparison, first-time actor Barkhad Abdi is absolutely mesmerizing as the leader of the kidnappers--so much so, in fact, that I found myself thinking that the whole thing might have been more interesting if it had been told entirely from his perspective. That might have given "Captain Phillips" the shot of energy that might have made it into a truly gripping movie going experience that it should have been instead of the vaguely forgettable bore that it is.

As I have presumably not see every one of its numerous screen incarnations--both the official versions and those "inspired" by the classic William Shakespeare tragedy--I could not in good conscience say that the new adaptation of "Romeo & Juliet" now hitting theaters is the weakest of the bunch but I cannot readily think of one less passionate, less exciting and less necessary than this one. Wanly adapted by Julian Fellowes and lifelessly directed by Carlo Carlei, this is a by-the-numbers and overly streamlined take that returns the story to its original period setting but does nothing else to bring the overly familiar words to life. Say what you will about Baz Luhrmann's still-controversial modern-day take, it at least demonstrated a fundamental interest in the material as well as, in Leonardo DiCaprio and Claire Danes, two stars whose on-screen charisma was undeniable. Here, neither Fellowes nor Carlei are able to make the case for why we need a new film version in the first place, other than the fact that it has been nearly 20 years since the release of Luhrmann's.

In her first major role since her knockout screen debut in the Coen Brothers remake of "True Grit," Hailee Steinfeld is an undeniably gifted actress but does not make for a very good Juliet--her grasp of Shakespeare's words is uneven at best and she always seems to be reciting rather than speaking. That said, she is still more likable and interesting than Douglas Booth and his lifeless turn as her mismatched Romeo--he looks too old for the part, he never connects with her on any convincing level (possibly because it looks as though she could break him in half without breaking a sweat) and while I don't want to suggest that he is some kind of pretty boy, I will note that all through the film, I kept having the nagging feeling that if the two of them had survived and lived a long and happy life together, this Romeo would have clocked a lot more time in front of the bathroom mirror every morning than his Juliet. As Friar Laurence, Paul Giamatti is a blast throughout and whenever he is on the screen, "Romeo & Juliet" comes momentarily to life. Unfortunately, those moments are few and far between and the rest of the time, the film is so draggy and lifeless that it feels like it also paid a fateful visit to the local apothecary.

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originally posted: 10/11/13 13:16:25
last updated: 10/11/13 22:31:28
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