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Thumbnails May 14

by Tony Medley

The Railway Man (8/10): Screenwriter Frank Cottrell Boyce says, “It’s hard to make any film, but ‘The Railway Man’ was particularly hard.” Hard as it might have been to write and produce, it is equally hard to watch. It’s far more accurate in its treatment of the “death railway,” that the Japanese constructed with POW-enhanced slave labor, than David Lean’s “Hollywood” treatment about a fictional bridge over a fictional river Kwai. Colin Firth’s performance of the true story of Eric Lomax and his battle with post-traumatic stress and his eventual confrontation with his inhumane captor highlights the telling of the brutality of the Japanese, supported by a fine performance by Nicole Kidman as his wife. It’s made more poignant by the fact that it was filmed on the actual railway where more than 100,000 slaves died and many more were tortured.

For No Good Reason (8/10): This is a fascinating, revealing documentary about artist Ralph Steadman, who “Rolling Stone’s” Jann Wenner says “was crazier than (gonzo journalist) Hunter S. Thompson” with whom Steadman worked. It shows Steadman creating one of his paintings from scratch, which emphasizes his bizarre work habits. Be warned, Johnny Depp adds exactly zero to the film, just following Steadman around like an adoring lapdog.

 Sabotage (7/10): Olivia Williams gives a good performance, even if she does try to outdo the men (like Arnold Schwarzenegger) in being a tough cop. With fine pace, there’s a mystery to be solved and revenge to be gained, just another action picture that’s entertaining enough.

Draft Day (6/10): For those who think they know a lot about professional football this thinly disguised 2 hour infomercial for the NFL (which had what is tantamount to final cut) should be enjoyable. For those who actually do know a lot about football, it could be more aggravating than entertaining. Despite a gratuitous flippant attitude towards unwed pregnancies, even with range-challenged Kevin Costner the acting is good. Highly predictable, it’s still mildly enjoyable even if it is a frivolous, frothy flight of fancy.

Transcendence (5/10): More than 40 years after the idea of artificial intelligence taking over the world was first broached in film in 1970’s thought-provoking “Colossus: The Forbin Project,” and this is the best they can do? Good performances by Rebecca Hall and Paul Bettany are wasted in this implausible tale as far-fetched as 2010’s “Inception.”

Under the Skin (3/10): This is a movie that is as incomprehensible as the classic, “Last Year at Marienbad” (1961). With little dialogue, most of the film consists of Scarlett Johansson wandering around with a dazed look on her face looking for men to pick up and take to her lair where a bad fate awaits them. While Johansson appears naked, so do several men in a state of sexual excitement, which normally calls for an NC-17 rating.

Fading Gigolo (2/10): If this is not the worst Woody Allen movie (he neither wrote nor directed), it’s not far off. Woody’s acting can sometimes be annoying, never more so than here. His constant whining voice becomes as bad as fingernails across a blackboard. As writer/director/star John Turturro wanders around like he’s in a stupor, this is a film that completely misses on all levels. On the positive side, all the women, Sharon Stone, Vanessa Paradis, and Sofia Vergara, are gorgeous.

Dom Hemingway (1/10): Rarely does the opening scene of a film project its quality and entire content, but this one does. Jude Law’s naked opening monologue is a profanity-laden, cringeworthy paean to his male member. The movie does not get less distasteful as it progresses.