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MOVIES: 'Straw Dogs,' 'The Guard' and 'Apollo 18'

Updated 7:39 pm, Friday, September 16, 2011
  • "Straw Dogs," the new version of the 1971 classic, is playing in area movie theaters. Photo: Contributed Photo / Westport News
    "Straw Dogs," the new version of the 1971 classic, is playing in area movie theaters. Photo: Contributed Photo

 

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Following are Susan Granger's reviews of the latest movies in area theaters:

"STRAW DOGS"

In 1971, Sam Peckinpah stunned audiences with "Straw Dogs," a provocative saga of violence and its consequences, starring Dustin Hoffman and Susan George. While writer/director Rod Lurie's remake follows the same plotline, it takes a markedly different perspective, focusing on whether animalistic behavior is man's nature or whether brutality is nurtured by a specific culture and societal acceptance.

It's deer-hunting season when Hollywood screenwriter David Sumner (James Marsden) and his actress wife Amy (Kate Bosworth) drive into her hometown of Blackwater, Miss., in his Jaguar convertible. She's going to prepare her late father's home for sale while he works on a screenplay about the 1943 fall of Stalingrad.

But Amy has become a local celebrity and protective David is unnerved by her exhibitionistic behavior, particularly in front of her rugged ex-boyfriend, former quarterback Charlie Venner (Alexander Skarsgard from "True Blood") who, along with three former teammates, is repairing the roof of their barn.

Because Friday night football reigns supreme in the Deep South, affluent Harvard grad David condescendingly refers to them as Straw Dogs, comparing them with the grass offerings that were revered in ancient Chinese ceremonies, then tossed aside when no longer needed.

But it's after flirtatious Janice Heddon (Willa Holland), teenage daughter of barfly former football coach Tom Heddon (James Wood), disappears with mentally retarded Jeremy Niles (Dominic Purcell), that an explosive confrontation seems inevitable.

Best known for his strong, character-driven dramas ("The Contender," "Resurrecting the Champ," "The Last Castle," "Nothing But the Truth"), Rod Lurie delves into the societal definition of masculinity, skillfully building the psychological tension, keeping it taut to its seemingly inevitable, fiery conclusion, as detailed in Gordon Williams' novel "The Siege of Trencher's Farm." Significantly differing from Peckinpah's misogynist interpretation, Kate Bosworth does not smile in complicity during the pivotal sex scene, changing the underlying implications of the thriller.

While Bosworth, Marsden and Woods are superb, Sarsgard's slyly nuanced performance is the most memorable.

On the Granger Movie Gauge of 1 to 10, "Straw Dogs" is an ambiguous, intense, exciting 8, keeping you transfixed with terror.

"THE GUARD"

While there's murder, corruption and drug trafficking, it is wry comedy that propels this buddy cop/crime caper, set in a tiny port town outside of Galway on the rugged west coast of Ireland.

To call paunchy, beer-guzzling Garda Sgt. Gerry Boyle (Brendan Gleeson) a rowdy, unorthodox rebel would be an understatement. He's a vulgar, irascible, crotch-grabbing curmudgeon as his new, young partner, Aidan McBride (Rory Keenan), discovers while they're examining a bullet-riddled corpse of a man with Bible pages stuffed in his mouth, a potted plant between his legs and the number "5½" written on the wall above him. Apparently, the victim is connected to half a billion dollars in drug-dealing money -- but Boyle doesn't realize that until the arrival of visiting American FBI Agent Wendell Everett (Don Cheadle) and the subsequent disappearance of McBride, as reported by his weeping Romanian wife (Katarina Cas).

Meanwhile, willful, whoring Boyle, who describes himself as a "lowly country nobody," is partnered with strait-laced, disciplined Everett -- an odd couple, if ever there was one -- as they search the provincial, Gaelic-speaking Connemara region for the ruthless, cocaine-smuggling culprits and Boyle keeps a watchful eye on his dying mum (Fionnula Flanagan).

Written and directed as a first feature by John Michael McDonagh (older brother of "In Bruges" playwright/filmmaker Martin McDonagh), it's more comedy than thriller, since the bad guys (Liam Cunningham, Mark Strong, David Wilmot) are revealed early on and, despite an inexplicable penchant for quoting Bertrand Russell, Nietzsche and Schopenhauer, their demise seems inevitable. So it's the battling banter between Boyle and Everett that commands attention, along with the growing respect that have for one another.

"I'm Irish," Boyle explains. "Racism is part of my culture."

One caution: if you have trouble comprehending the Irish brogue, you may miss much of the dialogue. Isn't it too bad that films with thick Irish/British dialects don't have subtitles for American audiences?

On the Granger Movie Gauge of 1 to 10, "The Guard" is an amusingly subversive 7, filled with nasty, impudent Irish humor.

"APOLLO 18"

Think "The Blair Witch Project," "Paranormal Activity," The Troll Hunter" or "Cloverfield" -- in outer space.

Supposedly, what's shown on the screen is culled from 84 hours of NASA footage found at an Internet site called www.lunartruth.com. It purportedly documents a final manned flight to the moon in 1974, two years after Apollo 17, and super-secretly funded by the Department of Defense. While NASA denies its authenticity, other say it's the real reason we've never gone back to the moon.

As the faux documentary begins, three eager astronauts are catapulted toward the moon on a Saturn V rocket launch. While John Grey (Ryan Robbins) pilots the command module, Nathan Walker (Lloyd Owens) and Ben Anderson (Warren Christie) descend to the lunar surface to place a payload of high-tech anti-missile detection devices, supposedly to monitor the USSR, but when they begin to gather what they think are "rock" samples, weird things start to happen: strange sounds, mysterious footprints and the disappearance of the American flag. While exploring a nearby crater, they're stunned to discover a Russian landing craft, meaning the Americans are not the only ones to stake a lunar claim. But what happened to the cosmonauts?

Screenwriter Brian Miller and Spanish director Gonzalo Lopez-Gallego ("King of the Mountain"), making his English-language debut, don't bother with individual characterizations and narrative. Instead, they rely on schlocky sound effects and jarring cuts, techniques which turn silly far too soon. And, of course, there's the nagging question: who was filming this allegedly covert mission?

None of this seems to bother producer Timur Bekmambetov ("Wanted") and editor Patrick Lussier, who are clearly aiming at an unquestioning horror market audience who relish jittery camerawork and humdrum dialogue and, above all, won't recognize the TV actors. It spoils the illusion if you identify Lloyd Owen from "The Young Indiana Jones Chronicles," Warren Christie from "Alphas" and Ryan Robbins from "Sanctuary."

On the Granger Movie Gauge of 1 to 10, "Apollo 18" is a tedious 2. Its stretched thin, 88-minute running time seems like more than two hours.