Denzel Washington in Familiar Role as Hero Who Saves the Day
Frank Barnes (Denzel Washington) is winding down a 28-year career riding the rails with the Allegheny and West Virginia Railroad (AWVR). Despite the lack of a blemish on his sterling record, the veteran engineer’s being forced by the company to take an early retirement in a cost-cutting measure set to take effect in just a couple of weeks.
To add insult to injury, Frank finds himself partnered with Will Colson (Chris Pine), a young conductor who’s recently been hired because of his union connections. It is therefore understandable that there might be some tension in the air when, because of the rookie’s mistake, they end up leaving the train yard pulling a few more freight cars than intended.
However, that faux pas pales in comparison to the one simultaneously being made elsewhere in Southern Pennsylvania. For some inane reason, AWVR’s worst engineer (Ethan Suplee) decides to jump off his slow-moving locomotive to throw a switch to direct it onto another track.
Trouble is that, before he can climb back up, the throttle inadvertently slips down into the “FULL” position and the half-mile long freight train takes off without anyone aboard, quickly accelerating to 70 mph. Worse, this frightful development puts the runaway diesel on a collision course with a passenger train filled with school kids on an outing emanating from the Northern end of the state.
Can what looks like certain disaster somehow be averted? Of course, that challenge falls at the feet of fearless Frank who nobly rises to the occasion as soon as he learns about the dire situation. In so doing, he both grudgingly buries the hatchet with inexperienced Will and also suppresses his bitterness about being fired.
That, in a nutshell, is the clichéd premise established practically at the outset of Unstoppable, an edge-of-your-seat rollercoaster ride designed with the attention deficit generation in mind. The thrill-a-minute adventure, based on actual events, proceeds to serve up a series of near misses one after another, much like the mind-numbing, taser-like overstimulation offered by your typical computer game.
Though this film features Denzel Washington doing what Denzel does best, namely, playing the selfless stoic with good teeth, the performance is undermined a bit because his character feels so familiar. There’s definitely a “been there, done that” about the predictable goings-on here since, just last year, he similarly saved the day in the remake of another train thriller, The Taking of Pelham 123.
How long are you willing to watch an out-of-control locomotive barrel all over Pennsylvania while waiting for the altruistic heroes to enjoy their climactic moment? An hour and a half, I hope.
Running time: 98 minutes
PG for smoking, mature themes and mild epithets.
Cape Cod Costume Dramedy Comes to DVD
One of the best episodes of The Little Rascals was the He-Man Woman Haters Club in which Spanky and the gang promised each other they’d never associate with girls only to have Alfalfa break the pact by falling head over heels for adorable Darla. The Lightkeepers, directed by Daniel Adams (The Golden Boys), is an adult-oriented variation on the same basic theme, a character-driven dramedy with a point of departure of June of 1912.
The film stars Richard Dreyfuss as Seth Atkins, the lonely keeper of the Eastham lighthouse, located at the tip of a peninsula on Cape Cod. As the film unfolds, we find Seth living by himself, but it isn’t long before he has himself a male companion when John Brown’s body (Tom Wisdom) washes ashore.
Once revived, the almost-drowned, young stranger claims to have fallen off a passing steamship, which is a good enough explanation for the crusty curmudgeon who could use a little company, given the distance to town. Better yet, when the pair get to talking, they discover they share a distaste for the opposite sex, having both been decidedly unlucky at love.
Seth has taken a vow of celibacy while John says he never even wants to see another woman for the rest of his life. So, this makes it easy for the former to hire the latter as his assistant, and the two peas in a pod agree to turn the lighthouse into a female-free zone. This understanding works great as long as there aren’t any within miles.
However, their plans for a testosterone-only oasis of solitude is ruined upon the arrival from Boston of Ruth Lowell (Mamie Gummer), a gorgeous, eligible young heiress accompanied by her equally-attractive domestic servant (Blythe Danner). It just so happens that the newcomers have rented a nearby beach cottage for the summer, and it is not lost on the audience that their ages quite conveniently match those of their misogynistic neighbors.
Thus, it’s no surprise when John’s hormones start to rage, and he’s soon taking long romantic strolls down the beach alongside the fair Ruth who’s appropriately attired in a tasteful outfit trimmed with pretty petticoats and a matching parasol. When Seth becomes aware of the sparks flying between them, the only mystery left is whether he’ll feel betrayed or simply fall prey himself to the womanly wiles of the fetching Ms. Bascom.
A pleasant, if predictable, period piece to be savored as much for the breathtaking seascapes as for the deliberately-paced romantic roundelays.
Running time: 97 Minutes
For movies opening November 19, 2010
BIG BUDGET FILMS
Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows: Part 1
PG-13 for intense violence, frightening images and brief sensuality
First half of the final installment of JK Rowling’s series has Harry (Daniel Radcliffe), Ron (Rupert Grint) and Hermione (Emma Watson) joining forces to wrest control of Hogwarts and the Ministry of Magic back from evil Lord Voldemort (Ralph Fiennes) and his minions. Cast includes Bill Nighy, Richard Griffiths and Helena Bonham Carter.
The Next Three Days (PG-13 for violence, profanity, sexuality, drug use and mature themes). Oscar-winner Paul Haggis (for Crash) directs this remake of Pour Elle, a French crime thriller revolving around a desperate college professor (Russell Crowe) who hatches an elaborate plan to spring his wife (Elizabeth Banks) from prison where she’s doing time for a murder he’s convinced she didn’t commit. Cast includes Liam Neeson, RZA, Brian Dennehy and Olivia Wilde.
INDEPENDENT & FOREIGN FILMS
Dysfunctional family documentary about three sisters’ lifelong effort to recover from being molested by their father over the course of their childhood. Directed by their brother, Chico David Colvard.
Made in Dagenham
R for profanity and brief sexuality
Female empowerment flick, set in London in 1968, recreating events surrounding the 1968 strike staged at a Ford Motor Company factory by machinists demanding equal pay for women. Cast includes Sally Hawkins, Miranda Richardson and Bob Hoskins.
Romance drama revolving around the relationship which blossoms between a young man with Down’s Syndrome (Pablo Pineda) who falls in love at first sight with a social worker (Lola Duenas) with a checkered past. With Mario Bravo, Antonio Naharro and Consuelo Trujillo. (In Spanish with subtitles)
Romance drama about a depressed Dutch misanthrope (Anne Verbeek) who throws all of her earthly possessions away before abandoning Amsterdam to wander around Ireland where she finds a kindred spirit (Stephen Rea) living like a hermit in a cottage on the country’s west coast.
Cross-cultural comedy about a jaded Sous-Chef (Aasif Mandvi) whose passion for cooking is rekindled after he quits his job at a trendy Manhattan bistro to assume the reigns of his family’s Indian restaurant. Cast includes Kevin Corrigan, Ajay Naidu, Jess Weixler and Harish Patel.
Post-colonial drama, set in a war-torn African country in the midst of racial strife, about a French coffee farmer (Isabelle Huppert) who refuses to flee like the rest of the whites whose plantations have been nationalized. With Christopher Lambert, Nicolas Duvauchelle and Isaach De Bankole. (In French with subtitles)
William S. Burroughs: A Man Within
Biopic about Godfather of the Beat Generation featuring recently found footage and interviews with friends and contemporaries of the author of “Naked Lunch,” the notorious 1959 novel banned in Boston because of descriptions of pedophilia which subsequently became the subject of a famous Federal obscenity trial.