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Films I Neglected To Review: The Knight Abides
by Peter Sobczynski

Please enjoy short reviews of "Love, Rosie," "1971," "Outcast" and "Seventh Son"

Apparently set in an alternative world where neither "When Harry Met Sally" nor the dozens of "When Harry Met Sally" clones never existed, "Love, Rosie" is a romantic comedy-drama that asks the question "Can two friends work as a couple without ruining the friendship in the process?" Since the answer is, of course, "yes," this quickly becomes one of those films that goes to ridiculous lengths to throw obstacles in the way of our two Irish-born heroes, played by Lily Collins and Sam Claflin, to keep them apart for most of the running time even though it is patently obvious from when they meet at the age of 5 that they are made for each other. One gets unexpectedly pregnant (no fair saying who), one gets admitted into Harvard and is leaving home in three days, both are dating the wrong people at the wrong times, one writes a love letter that the other never receives until it seems to be too late. . . the list of contrivances goes on and on and after a while, even fans of this particular genre are likely to grow exasperated with it fairly quickly. Collins and Claflin generate some degree of charm in their scenes together but that only makes the film as a whole even more frustrating. Unless you have an unhealthy desire to watch a film that, save for a few bits of gross-out humor here and there, plays like a lesser Hallmark Channel offering, there are literally thousands of other movies of this type that you would be better served by watching instead of this one. For example, there is this thing called "When Harry Met Sally". . .

Long before the revelations of Edward Snowden or even the publication of the Pentagon Papers, a group of eight young anti-war activists broke into an FBI branch office in suburban Pennsylvania, stole all the documents kept there, including many outlining in damning detail the many illegal activities performed by the organization under J Edgar Hoover's command (including the far-reaching domestic counter-intelligence project known as COINTELPRO) and began mailing them anonymously to the media. Their actions had wide-ranging implications ranging from the closing of hundreds of field offices to a dramatic scaling-back of the government's ability to spy on its own citizens (until those rollbacks were reinstated with a vengeance via the Patriot Act) and though a combination of good luck and a bungled investigation, the eight were never caught. Through archival footage, a few dramatic recreations and interviews with five of the eight perpetrators, "1971" tells the story of this largely forgotten incident and quietly illustrates the parallels between those events and what is happening today in terms of government intrusion in the lives of its citizens in the name of "freedom." Although obviously lacking the immediacy of the likes of the current Edward Snowden documentary "Citizenfour" (whose director, Laura Poitras, serves as one of the producers here), this is nevertheless a compelling slice of little-known American history that, because it is not quite as famous as later whistle-blowing cases, also works fairly well as a straightforward thriller to boot.

On the surface, "Outcast" looks like another example of the kind of borderline inexplicable garbage that has been padding out Nicolas Cage's filmography (not to mention his bank account) for the last few years. However, the one big difference this time around is that outside of appearing in a brief prologue, he doesn't even show up until the film is more than halfway over. Instead, Hayden Christiensen--remember him--turns up in this post-Crusades-set epic as a disillusioned former warrior/ current opium enthusiast who finds himself charged with protecting young Prince Zhao (Bill Su Jiahang), the newly appointed emperor, and his spunky sister (Liu Yifei) from the depravations of his older brother Shing (Andy On), whose thirst for power has already driven him to murder dear old dad and is prepared to do the same to his sibling. For most of the running time, the film is a total drag--the story is as old as the Crusades themselves with absolutely no surprises to be had, the indifferently staged battle scenes appear to have been edited with weed whackers in a failed attempt to create something resembling excitement and Christensen is a total bore as the would-be hero who comes across as far too listless throughout even though he is supposed to be playing a opium fiend. Finally, Cage reappears in the last half-hour or so, missing an eye but sporting John Travolta's hair from "Battlefield Earth" and vocal inflections that suggest Keith Moon attempting to imitate Robert Newton after the seventh round at the local pub. Like everything else in "Outcast," his performance is pretty awful but at least he commits to it, which is more than can be said about his zoned-out work in recent efforts, for lack of a better word, like "Rage" and "Left Behind" and the results should at least please the people who put together YouTube reels of his more over-the-top moments.

Speaking of Oscar-winning actors who have been squandering their talents on a series of increasingly inexplicable career moves, Jeff Bridges has spent the last couple of years doing the kind of lumbering crapola that Nicolas Cage used to make when his films were guaranteed major theatrical releases, things like "R.I.P.D." and "The Giver" (and don't even get me started on those sleep aid tapes or whatever the hell it was he was pimping in those Super Bowl ads). That streak continues with "Seventh Son," a long-delayed medieval fantasy misfire in which he plays an aging "spook" who goes around fighting evil spirits. When the fearsome witch Mother Malkin (Julianne Moore. . .yes, this is a "Big Lebowski" reunion to boot) breaks out of the prison he created for her, he has one week to properly train a new apprentice (Ben Barnes), the titular seventh son of a seventh son (and therefore endowed with some damn thing or another) to defeat her before she can assume unimaginable power and destroy everything in her path.

The whole thing would be embarrassing if it weren't so utterly forgettable--the story is the usual array of sword & sorcery cliches, Barnes is an utter bore as the callow young hero and if anyone actually goes out to see it this weekend (and they almost certainly will not), it could have the same effect on Julianne Moore's status as a current Oscar front-runner that "Norbit" did for Eddie Murphy. To be fair however, the film does have a couple of compensating factors. There are one or two striking visuals courtesy of visual effects legend John Dykstra. Swedish actress Alicia Vikander (who you saw in such films as "Anna Karenina" and "A Royal Affair") turns up as a slightly friendlier witch and while the role and her performance are negligible at best, she is so heart-stoppingly gorgeous that you won't even notice. Finally, I have to admit that Bridges is kind of a hoot throughout--clearly not giving anything even remotely resembling a fuck, he clomps through the proceedings as though he is just making everything up as he goes along, right down to his often risible dialogue. His performance, to use the word very loosely, may not be worth the price of admission (even if you snuck in after seeing something else) but if fate does require you to sit through it at some point, it will come across as a welcome distraction--a bit of entertaining silliness amidst the noise and nonsense.

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originally posted: 02/07/15 04:18:22
last updated: 02/07/15 05:32:23
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