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Catch-Up Capsule Reviews for the Week of 10/7/2007:

The Jane Austen Book Club



Rated PG-13 | 106 mins


     The Jane Austen Book Club is as annoyingly estrogen-injected as chick-flicks come, so cutesy and eager to cater to a menopausal audience that writer/director Robin Swicord’s targeted approach often becomes unbearable. Swicord throws just about every story-gimmick that could easily affect women eager to be easily affected by a movie into the script: a lesbian daughter, a cheating husband, a drug-addicted mother, a dead dog, a loyal friend. Frankly, everything about The Jane Austen Book Club sounds like it came straight off of the Lifetime Channel when described in print. The sole feature that makes the movie tolerable is its cast, which is comprised of wonderfully talented performers who breathe life into the stereotypical material. From Maria Bello to Kathy Baker to Emily Blunt to Hugh Dancy (whose hunky male sidekick Grigg is about the only “quirk” in the movie that actually charms), the actors and actresses at work here are absolutely phenomenal given the two-dimensional characters and plot that they have to work with. In fact, the authentic feel of their efforts will often con viewers into believing that the movie is a realistic, introspective look at the lives of women in contemporary American society. That is, until one of Swicord’s many eye-rolling plot-developments or cheesy lines of dialogue enters the picture, at which point said viewer will remember the entirely mediocre nature of this film. Depending on how one looks at it, The Jane Austen Book Club can either be viewed as a bland movie made involving by the abilities of a terrific cast or a condemnable misuse of these abilities.

We Own the Night



Rated R | 117 mins


     We Own the Night is a standard police procedural that is made thoroughly involving by its impressive production values. In making the film, writer/director James Gray clearly decided to craft a piece more concerned with nailing an established formula than ambitiously failing at creating something new. And nail a formula he does! Even though We Own the Night tackles familiar “cops and drug-lords” territory, it oozes in an involving embrace of the Hollywood style. Gray effortlessly captures the film’s setting, a crime-ridden late-1980s Brooklyn plagued by moral dilemmas such as the one experienced by club-manager protagonist Bobby Green (Joaquin Phoenix). Bobby finds himself smack in the middle of a drug-war taking place between the NYPD (in a task-force headed by his father and brother) and the Russian mafia (of which his boss’ nephew, Vadim Nezhinski, is a verified part of). As he decides how much to involve himself in the conflict, Bobby is highly influenced by the atmosphere around him, which Gray brings to life vividly. Aiding Gray’s development of the setting are the efforts of the tremendous cast, which is excellent across the board. Phoenix, Mark Wahlberg (as Bobby’s brother), Robert Duvall (as Bobby’s dad), and Eva Mendes (as Bobby’s girlfriend) all steal a fair number of scenes, realistically inventing their characters and the sense of moral consequence that they embody. Not to mention, the picture reaches its conclusion in one of the most brilliantly executed, heart-pounding sequences of the year, a high-grass-set game of cat-and-mouse between Bobby and Nezhinski. On the whole, We Own the Night makes for a terrific entertainment.


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