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Picks and Pans Main: Movies

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Gangster Squad

Josh Brolin, Ryan Gosling, Sean Penn, Emma Stone | R |


The blonde in the train station is new in town, and trust me, they don’t make ’em any dumber. So, does Sgt. John O’Mara (Brolin) warn her that the mook she’s talking to is a thug, not a Hollywood talent scout? Nah. He just follows the pair back to the hideout, knocks a bunch of bad guys around, then rescues the dame. But that’s O’Mara for you—a man in full possession of a hero complex but lacking any semblance of finesse or sense. The whole movie is like that.

Intensely violent and dripping with period detail, Gangster Squad would have you believe that it’s in the same tradition as The Untouchables or L.A. Confidential, but it’s a sad knockoff in spite of its A-list cast. The gist is that O’Mara leads an off-the-books cop crew-including Gosling as the hot one and Giovanni Ribisi as the smart one-looking to take down ruthless gangster Mickey Cohen, a salty slab of ham played by Penn. (Forgive Penn. He’s just trying to live up to the Dick Tracy-villain mask that is Cohen’s face.) Though it has no shortage of bullets, the movie has nothing new to add to the cops-and-mobsters genre, with its forehead-slapper of a plot bursting with clichés. Plus it wastes Stone as Cohen’s two-timing moll Grace, giving her nothing to do but look pretty and/or vulnerable. An actress that talented used as a prop? Now that’s criminal.


Maggie Smith, Billy Connolly | PG-13 |


The news about Quartet, a light comedy of manners about the denizens of a home for retired opera singers, is that it’s Dustin Hoffman’s directorial debut. Here’s wishing that he had put more of a stamp on it. As it is, the film is perfectly pleasant but entirely forgettable.

Smith stars as Jean, the home’s newest occupant. She’s believable as a diva, just not necessarily the singing kind. Her arrival flusters longtime resident Reggie (Tom Courtenay), who happens to be Jean’s ex-husband. He’s also part of a quartet famous for singing Verdi that’s reunited with Jean’s arrival. You can guess the rest: Old loves and old wounds flare up, friendships are tested, and opera gets a cinematic love letter from Hoffman. With Connolly providing ribald comic relief as a randy tenor, Quartet is just entertaining enough for a Downton Abbey fan to pass a chilly afternoon.

On the Road

Garrett Hedlund, Kristen Stewart, Kirsten Dunst | R |


I’ll never understand the affection-literary or otherwise-for Dean Moriarty (Hedlund), the hero of Jack Kerouac’s treatise on the beat generation. Dean is a sponge, always drunk or high, who can’t choose between his ex-wife Marylou (Stewart), or his new one, Camille (Dunst). On the Road doesn’t exactly get him either. The film can’t capture the spirit or spontaneity of the book, in which Kerouac cast himself as writer Sal Paradise (Sam Riley), wandering across the country with various vagabond pals. It does, however, serve Stewart, who drops her trademark glower to play the sex pistol Marylou, willing to do whatever (or whoever) Dean tells her to. It’s also a nice star turn for Riley, who gives Sal a wide-eyed admiration for Dean that feels genuine, however ill-advised.