Lots to get through this week, including the Robert De Niro/Zac Efron comedy Dirty Grandpa, Oscar-nominated financial comedy The Big Short, Sandra Bullock and Billy Bob Thornton in Our Brand Is Crisis, Feng Xiaogang in mainland gangster drama Mr. Six and Japanese musical shenanigans in La La La At Rock Bottom.
Parkland is the Dallas hospital where President John F. Kennedy was treated and ultimately died after being shot in 1963. It is also, by a cruel twist of fate, the same hospital where his assassin, Lee Harvey Oswald was taken one day later.
“What a shitty place to die,” exclaims one of the President’s secret service agents during a startling early moment in the film Parkland. It’s one of a serious of astonishing scenes, immediately following the President’s death, when his staff struggle to come to grips with the tragedy and return the President’s body to Washington with some degree of decorum and dignity, in what where shocking and unprecedented circumstances.
The tone of these scenes, which culminate in officials hacking and kicking away a bulkhead on Air Force One in order to carry the President’s coffin onto the plane, signals the way Parkland stands apart from other similar historical dramas. The focus is less on the investigation, the assassin, or the President’s immediate family. We only see Jackie in speechless, often out of focus moments of extreme grief and the attention is focussed more on Oswald’s family than the killer himself. Parkland chooses to see this historic moment through the eyes of many lesser known but historically significant people who were caught up in the tragedy.
First time director Peter Landesman tells this story with a star studded cast. Zac Efron plays Dr. Charles James “Jim” Carrico, who along with Head Nurse Doris Nelson (Marcia Gay Harden) were among the first medical staff to treat J.F.K. Ron Livingston is F.B.I agent James P. Hosty, who had a lead on Lee harvey Oswald before the shooting and David Harbour brings a good deal of angst and rage to the role of Hosty’s boss, James Gordon Shanklin.
Billy Bob Thornton plays Secret Service Agent Forrest Sorrels whose shock quickly turns to steely focus when he meets Abraham Zapruder (Paul Giamatti) a local businessman who inadvertently captured the assassination on 8mm film.
Giamatti’s performance is complex and deeply moving. Zapruder was standing on a plinth only a few yards away from the motorcade as the shots where fired. His 8mm film camera was relatively new technology at the time and the scenes, where Zapruder and secret service agents lead by Sorrels try to find a lab that can develop the film is a testament to Parkland’s costume and production design.
Jeremy Strong bears a stark resemblance to Lee Harvey Oswald, but true to form, Parkland spends more time with his older brother Robert (James Badge Dale, in perhaps the best of this film’s many good performances) and his spectacularly deluded mother Marguerite (Jacki Weaver).
After the first day, whose events moved in a way famously summed up news anchor David Brinkley as “too much, too ugly, too fast,” Parkland slows down and draws breath. This not only gives us time to reflect on the story and the depth of human emotion we have seen, but also on Barry Ackroyd’s brilliantly stark cinematography and James Newton Howard’s evocative score.
However, these technical details overshadow the story-telling. Parkland never tries to be more than a straightforward and well told version of an important and familiar historical moment. Perhaps this is not surprising, given the film is a adapted from a book (Reclaiming History: The Assassination of President John F. Kennedy, by Vincent Bugliosi) which tries to argue for the official version of these events.
In fact, Parkland’s commitment to playing it straight with the assassination story might be its undoing with some viewers. Fans of conspiracy theories or investigative procedurals will not be satisfied here. The focus is always squarely on the human drama rather than any abstract arguments.
Parkland is a serious, authoritative and dignified film. Assured cinematography, stirring music and award-worthy performances combine to create a deeply moving account of three days in 1963 that shook the USA and unsettled the world.
The long awaited follow up to Lee Daniels’ Precious, The Paperboy is a sticky Southern Gothic crime drama, set in late-sixties Florida. Matthew McConaughey plays an investigative journalist, Ward Jansen, who returns to his hometown to investigate the trial of Hillary Van Wetter (John Cusack), accused of murdering a local police officer. Jansen’s father (Scott Glenn) runs the local paper and his younger brother Jack (Zac Efron) also works in the “family business” delivering papers for his father, since being kicked out of college.
Ward travels with a fellow writer, Yardley Acheman (David Oyelowo), whose British accent confuses those who would judge him on the basis of his coloured skin. Racial tensions are further brought into focus since the whole film is narrated, in somewhat incomplete detail, from the perspective of Anita Chester, (Macy Gray) the Jansen family’s housekeeper.
The film’s tension arises when Nicole Kidman’s Charlotte Bless, a woman who makes a habit of writing to convinced felons in the hope of finding dangerous love, arrives at the Jensen home looking to enlist Ward and Yardley’s help in having Van Wetter’s conviction overturned, while also brewing a tawdry and flirtatious relationship with Jack.
The Paperboy is a trashy, swampy, fractured mess. It’s incoherent in the way that only sweaty, alcohol fuelled tropical days can be. This noir-ish tale, where everyone has secrets and mixed motivations, writhes, drips and sidesteps in sunshine, but never quite manages to land its strongest punches.
As if starting the year with a thumping hangover and a list of resolutions destined for failure wasn’t enough, cinemagoers are also faced with enduring Garry Marshall’s risible New Year’s Eve. After the surprise success of Valentine’s Day, which renewed the age-old Hollywood trend of large ensemble comedies, the same creative team returns for a second holiday-themed dose of the feel-goods that fails to deliver on almost every level.
Taking place in New York City on the last day of the year, we follow a random assortment of strangers as they prepare to ring in 2012. The film is convinced that not only will New Yorkers have their eyes glued to Time Square, but that the whole world will unite in simultaneous celebration the moment the big ball drops. One of the film’s major story strands revolves around Hilary Swank, Ludacris and Hector Elizondo ensuring the ball works properly, but audiences outside the US may be forgiven for not even knowing what the ball is, let alone the relevance of it dropping, as for them, midnight will have long passed by the time the East Coast begins its celebrations.
But the sad truth is that this is one of the film’s more engaging and sensible subplots. Elsewhere, Zac Efron’s bike courier plays fairy godmother to Michelle Pfeiffer’s disgruntled secretary. Why? Because it’s New Year’s Eve and time for new beginnings! All past indiscretions are absolved at the stroke of midnight in this ridiculously illogical world. Teenagers sneak out to attend street parties, pregnant couples forget they are about to bring a new life into the world and feud over winning a cash prize from the hospital if they deliver the first baby of the new year.
Meanwhile a chef (Katherine Heigl) and a rockstar (Jon Bon Jovi) attempt to reconcile their differences and a terminal cancer patient (Robert De Niro) just wants to see one last New Year with his daughter before he dies. The film is so utterly devoid of meaning, yet determined to point out that an arbitrary moment every year resonates around the world and inspires us to be better people. While it does, admittedly, promote goodwill towards men and women and the bringing together of families and friends, NEW YEAR’S EVE does so on the most flimsy and superficial of levels and cannot hide the fact that it’s nothing more than a half-baked cash grab for the studio, its stars and even its parent company.
Product placement is rife throughout the film – whether it be for hand cream, restaurants, magazines or even other movies, but viewers really only have themselves to blame. There is only one reason to see a movie like New Year’s Eve and that is to watch your favourite stars up on the big screen, and in that respect, the film delivers. What it fails to do is produce anything resembling an actual film, suggesting that perhaps in future these old acquaintances should be forgot.