A Week In Film #558: Back. On. Track.

A Civil Action title screen
A Civil Action
Saw it on Prime, thought it was a John Grisham number, but it wasn’t. John Travolta is a sleazy ambulance-chasing lawyer specialising in shaking down companies for settlements, who by chance takes on a class action suit on behalf of a small community over water poisoning. Based on a true story, so not as neat as other legal dramas. Directed and written by Steven Zaillian, based on the non-fiction book by Jonathan Harr.

The Yards
Tight little mood piece by James Grey, set in the milieu of New York transit yard contract-fixing. Mark Wahlberg is a basically decent kid just out of pokey, returning to his old ends and hoping to make things up to his sickly ol’ ma (Ellen Burstyn). Before long he hooks up with lifelong pal Joaquin Phoenix – the reason he went inside in the first place, naturally – who has clearly risen up the ranks in the intervening years. Oh, and is going steady with Charlize Theron, Wahlberg’s cousin with whom there is more than a little of the forbidden love going on. Soon things go south.

With James Caan (dialling things back a little, serving up a similarly solid supporting role as in The Way Of The Gun, plus minor roles for the likes of Faye Dunaway, David Zayas (later in Dexter) and a pre-The Wire Domenick Lombardozzi. Probably better than Gray’s later bent cop soap We Own The Night, but not as good as his script adaptation (co-authored with director Guillaume Canet) of French crime thriller Les Liens Du Sang, Blood Ties.

Somewhat interesting, if rather plodding, mystery-cum-meditation, set against the backdrop of the Cold War. Elliott Gould is an FBI security expert brought in to evaluate whether a man with a metal head repatriated to West Berlin by the Soviet authorities is in fact a valuable American scientist. Is he a Russian plant? Or is he really Dr Lucas Martino, who had been working on a military project when some months ago he was involved in a serious and disfiguring accident?

Played absolutely straight, with some strong acting and some creative moments, but overall a bit drab. With Trevor Howard, directed by Jack Gold from a script by John Gould adapting Algis Budrys’ novel.

Election title screen
Black comedy about the corruption of a popular, happy high school civics teacher (Matthew Broderick) when faced with a particularly entitled, precocious student (Reece Witherspoon). Horrifically plays with ‘right’ and ‘wrong’ and toys mercilessly with the audience – a real dark pleasure. With Chris Klein, Jessica Campbell, Mark Harelik and Molly Hagan, directed by Alexander Payne from a novel by Tom Perrotta.

A Simple Favour title screen
A Simple Favour
Pretty darn good dark comedy about a try-hard single mother (Anna Kendrick) who somehow becomes friends with a cynical, tough fashion PR (Blake Lively). When her new best friend disappears, our protagonist goes all Nancy Drew and investigates the shit out of things. With Henry Golding, Linda Cardellini and Joshua Satine. Directed by Paul Feig, based on a Darcey Bell novel.

Apollo 13 title screen
Apollo 13
Celebrating the 50th anniversary of the first moon landing with Ron Howard’s solid account of the later aborted mission led by Jim Lovell.

Look Away title screen
Look Away
So-so psychological horror, with emo teen India Eisley fighting back against her high school bullies with the help her feisty mirror image, who might or might not be her twin sister. Assaf Bernstein writes and directs, strong support from Mira Sorvino and Jason Isaacs. Nothing speacial.

The Campaign title screen
The Campaign
Quite droll, broad satire on American politics, with sleazy incumbent Will Ferrell forced to up his game when a Boy Scout candidate (Zack Galifianakis) selected and supported by Koch-like billionaire brothers (Dan Aykroyd and John Lithgow) starts to threaten his chances. Directed by Jay Roach from a Chris Henchy/Shawn Harwell script, with a great cast – Dylan McDermott, Katherine LaNasa, Sarah Baker, Karen Maruyama.

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