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Movies: 'Koch,' 'Snitch' & 'Escape from Planet Earth'

Updated 9:44 pm, Friday, March 8, 2013
  • "Koch," a documentary about the late New York City Mayor Edward Koch, is playing in area theaters. Photo: Contributed Photo / Westport News contributed
    "Koch," a documentary about the late New York City Mayor Edward Koch, is playing in area theaters. Photo: Contributed Photo

 

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

"KOCH"

Former New York City Mayor Ed Koch died at age 88 on Feb. 1, the same day Neil Barsky's documentary about his life and legacy opened in Manhattan.

Almost two years in the making, it reveals Koch's refreshingly acerbic candor, beginning with his account of flying into New York, looking down and thinking, "All this is mine!" Born in the Bronx, Ed Koch began his controversial political life as a reformist Democratic congressman from Greenwich Village and went on to serve for three terms (1978 to 1989) as New York City's 105th mayor.

When he was first elected, the Big Apple was rotting. Traveling to Washington, D.C., to head off the city's bankruptcy, he was harsh in his budget cuts, even closing Harlem's Sydenham Hospital, which he admits was a mistake. That earned him the ire of the black community.

Koch also had problems with the gay community, which accused him of exacerbating the AIDS crisis. Since he never married, many believe Koch was a closeted homosexual. When asked about his sexual orientation, Koch snaps, "It's none of your ******* business!" In a particularly revealing sequence on Andrew Cuomo's election as governor in 2010, Koch is surrounded by admiring supporters, yet at evening's end, he goes home alone. According to Barsky, the price Koch paid for being in the public eye was that he did not have a lifelong companion.

A former Wall Street Journal reporter, Barsky shot extensive interview footage of Koch puttering around his small apartment, appearing at political functions, doing TV gigs and just walking around the city, asking everyone in his characteristically whiny voice: "How'm I doing?"

On a personal note, my husband and I had the pleasure of spending an evening with Ed Koch a few years ago. He had just started writing movie reviews, which he emailed from his law offices. Personal and to the point, eschewing objectivity, he never minced words about films he loved or hated.

On the Granger Movie Gauge of 1 to 10, "Koch" is a contentious 8, turning into a celebratory eulogy for the outspoken, opportunistic octogenarian.

"SNITCH"

When his troubled teenage son Jason (Rafi Gavron) accepts a shipment of Ecstasy for a friend, gets caught in a DEA sting and is sent to prison for 10 years, Missouri trucking company owner John Matthews (Dwayne Johnson) is determined to get him released -- by any means necessary.

Because of the federal mandatory minimum laws, the only way that can happen is for Jason to set up another drug dealer for a fall. Since Jason doesn't know any other drug dealers, John cuts a deal with a politically ambitious U.S. attorney, Joanne Keeghan (Susan Sarandon), to become an informant and help the DEA catch a kingpin in exchange for Jason's freedom. John's conduit to the drug underworld is one of his employees, Daniel (John Bernthal), an ex-con who is trying to go straight.

Loosely inspired by events recounted in a 1999 broadcast, also titled "Snitch," the script was written by Justin Haythe ("Revolutionary Road") and director/former stuntman Ric Roman Waugh. Their bias is obviously tilted against the severity of laws that mandate a lengthy sentence for drug possession with intent to sell. Indeed, Waugh's previous film, "Felon" (2008), was a moral commentary protesting a man's unjust incarceration after accidentally killing a burglar on his property.

So this is not your usual Dwayne "The Rock" Johnson movie, filled with mindless violence. Certainly, there's action, but it's more restrained than you'd expect. And the car chases involve Johnson driving a huge 18-wheeler, filled with cocaine and/or cash. But far more time is spent delving into John's father-figure character, allowing Johnson to prove he's a much better actor than he's usually given credit for. As a DEA veteran, Barry Pepper heads the strong supporting cast.

Problem is: There are plot loopholes large enough to drive a semi through and it's implausible that a U.S. attorney would allow a desperate, distraught dad to go undercover as part of a plea deal.

On the Granger Movie Gauge of 1 to 10, "Snitch" is a serious, suspenseful 7, as Dwayne Johnson uses brains, not brawn, to protect his son.

"ESCAPE FROM PLANET EARTH"

If you're looking for a family-friendly comedy, this animated 3D adventure strikes a familiar chord.

On the planet Baab (pronounced "bob"), the daring astronaut Scorch Supernova (voiced by Brendan Fraser) is a national hero to the blue-skinned, three-fingered alien population. But he couldn't pull off his derring-do without the support of his smaller, brainy brother Gary (voiced by Rob Corddry), an unacknowledged logistics engineer at BASA Mission Control.

Nevertheless, when BASA's chief Lena (voiced by Jessica Alba) receives an SOS from a notoriously dark and dangerous planet known as Earth, smug, self-confident Scorch is dispatched to save the day. When he's trapped in America's super-secret military base, known as Area 51, by fiendish Gen. Shanker (voiced by William Shatner), their interplanetary future rests with geeky, risk-adverse Gary, who bravely blasts off to save his sibling, determined to prove his mettle to his former test-pilot wife (voiced by Sarah Jessica Parker) and young son Kip (voiced by Jonathan Morgan Heit). What no one realizes is that duplicitous Lena has been conducting a long-distance online romance with the megalomaniacal general.

Heavy-handedly scripted by director Callan Brunker and co-writer Bob Barlen, it's the first theatrical feature released by Rainmaker Entertainment, best known for its bland, direct-to-video Barbie movies and promoted extensively on the Disney Channel and Cartoon Network. While Scorch Superhero comes across as a stock descendant of Buzz Lightyear, Fraser and Corddry get strong support from their vocal cohorts, including goofy Steve Zahn and Chris Parnell -- with Jane Lynch, Chris Robinson and George Lopez, as other, strange-looking Area 51 alien prisoners -- and Ricky Gervais as the dismissive voice of the mission-control computer.

On the Granger Movie Gauge of 1 to 10, "Escape from Planet Earth" is a serviceable, sci-fi 4. En route to its destiny on DVD, it's a generic, escapist diversion for young children, teaching teamwork and preach-

ing family loyalty and love.