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Summer sizzlers 

‘Vice’ stylish and sexy; ‘Listener’ a thrilling winner; we applaud ‘Ant Bully’ and like Ferrell’s “Talladega Nights.”

'VICE' BOYS:
  • 'VICE' BOYS:

In recent years, Michael Mann has emerged as one of this reviewer’s favorite directors. In flicks like “Collateral” and “Heat,” Mann’s penchant for showing the gritty side of the world’s flashiest cities — accentuated by his trademark handheld style, which makes other films look like they’re nailed to the floor of the theater by comparison — has helped him stroll to the vanguard of Hollywood directors. His films — cynical, raw, often filled with soul-sucking yellow light — have all but reinvigorated the tapped-out action genre by fusing the cinematic language of vapid shoot-’em-ups with deeper characters and plots.

It seems almost inevitable, then, that Mann would turn his talents toward a remake of the 1980s drugs-girls-cars-guns potboiler TV series “Miami Vice.” While Mann doesn’t entirely succeed in growing a complete film from those neon-drenched roots, his “Vice” does manage to capture the style of the series, and goes deeper into the motivations of detective partners Crockett and Tubbs than we ever saw on the small screen.

Colin Farrell and Jamie Foxx take over the roles of James “Sonny” Crockett and Ricardo Tubbs. Vice cops working undercover on the seedy side of Miami, Crockett and Tubbs get a visit from Agent Fujima (Ciaran Hinds), the head of an FBI drug task force whose deep-cover operatives were slaughtered by white supremacist dope smugglers after a government mole ratted them out. Fujima wants Crockett and Tubbs to go undercover as the middlemen between American dealers and Colombian drug lord Arcangel de Jesus Montoya (Luis Tosar), using high-powered cigarette boats to run coke and heroin from Haiti into Miami.

After a tense meeting with Montoya, Crockett and Tubbs are soon in deep, which leads to a torrid affair between Crockett and Montoya’s girlfriend/partner Isabella (Gong Li). Before long, with the skinheads trying to gain a bigger stake in the operation, Crockett and Isabella in love, and Montoya thinking they might be cops, it all goes very bad for everyone involved.

Though “Miami Vice” has a tendency to get a little too thick with the police procedural business, it’s still a fast-paced and enjoyable film, especially for those who kept their viewing of the original series to a minimum (you’re never going to please the fans). Some of the hallways lead to dead ends, but if you’re of the mind I was — that the loose ends are just Mann’s way of showing how even the cops involved understand that fighting international drug smuggling is like trying to lop heads off the fabled hydra — it doesn’t matter much. Smart, sexy and with Mann’s irresistible style, “Vice” is a film that’s definitely worth watching.

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Though the comedy territory Robin Williams once owned has pretty much been taken over lock, stock and barrel by Jim Carrey in recent years, Williams continues to prove his chops as a serious actor.

His latest, “The Night Listener,” serves as another feather in his already full cap. Suspenseful, dark, and yet full of emotion and intimacy, “Listener” is one of the best films I’ve seen in months, a thriller that doesn’t cheapen itself by resorting to dastardly deeds and violence.

Williams plays Gabriel Noone, a nationally syndicated public radio storyteller who openly mines his life for material. With his relationship with boyfriend Ashe (Joe Morton) disintegrating and his existence increasingly dreary, Noone receives a draft copy of a book from a publisher friend, a supposedly true story by a 14-year-old boy named Pete Logand (Rory Culkin) detailing a horror of childhood sexual abuse instigated by his own parents — a past that left him dying of AIDS. Pete is a fan of Noone’s, the publisher friend tells him, and asks to pass along Noone’s home number to the kid so he can call from his home in Wisconsin. Before long, the two are chatting by phone, and become fast friends, with Pete’s foster mother Donna (Toni Collette) popping in from time to time to report on Pete’s rapidly deteriorating health. After Ashe listens to the voices of both Pete and Donna on an answering machine, however, he plants a grain of doubt in Noone’s mind: that Donna and Pete might be the same person. From there, a trip to Wisconsin leads down some very dark and disturbing alleyways.

Though it starts slow and might confuse some with its use of an actor to portray Pete even though Pete might not exist at all, “Listener” is an excellent film. The drama really picks up steam when Noone gets to the snowy Midwest, with the character and the audience repeatedly yanked back and forth between belief and doubt until you feel like your arms are going to come out of their sockets. A perfect example of how to create suspense while leaving the pistol in the desk drawer, it’s a fine film, one that might well be remembered at Oscar time.
— David Koon

“The Ant Bully” is outstanding animated family fare from Tom Hanks’ production company, Playtone. It’s the story of a boy, Lucas Nickle, who feels he has no friends and is easy pickings for the neighborhood bully, and who takes his own feelings out on an ant colony in the front yard.

In a stretch of fantasy even for animated movies, this ant colony is populated by brilliant thinking ants, including a wizard (voice of Nic Cage) who comes up with a magic potion that will shrink the “Human Destroyer,” as the ants know him, into something their size.

What to do with Lucas then, they’re not sure, but the Queen Ant (Meryl Streep) suggests he be made to live like an ant and understand their ways, under the guidance of ant Hovah (Julia Roberts). Those ways happen to be constant teamwork and a focus not on oneself but the entire colony — sort of the “honor, duty, country” motto of the armed forces. Plus, it’s also about growing up.

Our 4-year-old loved it, as did his parents. Whether this is state-of-the-art animation technology, we could not care less: The story has impact, and the visuals are impressive. Most moving are scenes that take flight: In one, tiny Lucas and his new ant guardians “hang-glide” with rose petals through his living room, and in another, the ants use their one-time enemies, the wasps, to carry them like fighter planes in an attack on the despicable bug man (Paul Giamatti).

This film is getting panned by national critics, but we found it good fun.
— Jim Harris

We don’t mean this in the back-handed way it might sound, but “Talladega Nights: The Ballad of Ricky Bobby” is Will Ferrell’s funniest movie yet.

Is that reason enough for those with a “fear of Ferrell” to see it? All we know is, as silly and stupid as some of this comedy may seem, it still had us laughing loudly from beginning -– when Ricky Bobby is born in the back-seat of a souped-up stock car roaring down a back road to the hospital, and projected out of his mother’s womb when daddy hits the brakes -– to the finish, which is a kiss scene like nothing you can imagine (nor will we give away).

In between, the good cast, which includes Gary Cole, John C. Reilly, Sasha Baron Cohen, Michael Clarke Duncan, Jane Lynch and Leslie Bibb, seems to have a blast –- the same type of fun we saw come across from the actors in “The 40 Year Old Virgin.”

In one scene, painfully reminiscent of a moment in “Virgin” when Steve Carell really had the hair removed from his chest and the people in the room were trying to keep from cracking up, Ferrell’s Ricky Bobby tries to prove he’s got no feeling in his legs by stabbing himself with a knife. Let’s hope Ferrell didn’t go to the extremes that Carell did in his slapstick moment, but Reilly and Duncan nearly lose it during this scene, and so did the audience at our advance screening.

As easy as it would be to make fun of NASCAR, this film instead embraces in a fun way all that makes NASCAR so interesting to the masses.

Director Adam McKay and Ferrell keep this from turning into “Anchorman,” which really seemed to go goofy with Ferrell’s buddies –- Vince Vaughn, Ben Stiller, et al. — entering the picture, and Ferrell seems to “get” the NASCAR driver character better than any role he’s tried. Instead of Vaughn, the nemesis here is Cohen as a gay, Formula 1 driving Frenchman, who does one horrendously funny French impression.

Where “The Ant Bully” was PG and suitable for younger kids, we’d advise keeping anyone under 10 away from “Talladega Nights.” For one, your kids might get the idea they can act like Ricky Bobby’s sons, who are as insolent as dad is arrogant in the early going. There’s also that age range of children who will get the double-entendre jokes, so consider that, too. But for the rest of us, it’s just harmless, laugh-a-lot fun.
— Jim Harris












 

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