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Gapers Block published from April 22, 2003 to Jan. 1, 2016. The site will remain up in archive form. Please visit Third Coast Review, a new site by several GB alumni.
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Sunday, July 21

Gapers Block

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Hey, everyone. Well, the 43rd Chicago International Film Festival has completed its first week, and I've been too busy going to screenings to write a single word about any of it, but that's okay because most of what I would have written about would have been films that had already played and you would have been unable to attend. So let me offer some suggested viewing for the coming week, and you can go seek out details on these titles at

Sidney Lumet's Before The Devil Knows Your Dead.
The superbly realized Joy Division biopic Control.
John Cusack's harrowing Iraq War-related drama Grace Is Gone.
Director Julian Schnabel's The Diving Bell and The Butterfly.
Chicago's own Stuart Gordon's Stuck.
The fable-like perfection of Lars and the Real Girl, starring Ryan Gosling.
Juliette Binoche in Flight of the Red Balloon.
French actress Sandrine Bonnaire's lovely documentary about her autistic sister Her Name Is Sabine.
Slipstream, directed by and starring Anthony Hopkins.
John Sayles' latest Honeydripper.
The Russian powerhouse The Banishment.
The brutal family drama The Savages, starring Laura Linney and Philip Seymour Hoffman.

Not surprisingly, I'm hearing a lot of complaints about sold out shows during this year's festival. Guess why, folks? Because most of these movies are very good, even if you haven't heard of them. Do a little research, read up on what's being offered this year, but more than anything, take a few chances on things that look interesting to you. I book a pretty jam-packed schedule each year at the Chicago Film Festival, but I always leave room for a couple of wild cards, films that just look cool based on nothing more than a two- or three-sentence description in the schedule. That's what makes the festival fun.

I should also mention that Tyler Perry's latest, Why Did I Get Married?, opens today with no press screening. His films are wildly popular, but I think the savvy Perry knows he's pulling the wool over a community's eyes. I always go see his films just to see if my thoughts on his filmmaking might change, but so far they haven't.

Elizabeth: The Golden Age

I genuinely struggled to figure out how to start this review. I see so many unwanted and unnecessary sequels every year, that I thought it would be a treat to see one of my favorite films from 10 years ago get some sort of follow-up today. Cate Blanchett returns to play England's Queen Elizabeth I, a role that catapulted her into something resembling stardom. But more importantly, it was our first indication that, as an actress, Blanchett could do anything. Shekhar Kapur's vibrant and thriving direction also heightened the pure job Elizabeth gave us in 1998. The absolutely killer cast—including Geoffrey Rush, Joseph Fiennes, Richard Attenborough, John Gielgud, Vincent Cassel, Christopher Eccleston, Fanny Ardant, and Emily Mortimer—didn't hurt either.

So here we are today. Same lead actress, same director, another stellar cast, extravagant costumes and rich color schemes. So what the hell went wrong with Elizabeth: The Golden Age, a flimsy film that is in desperate need of a backbone? This movie is so bad in every respect that it's difficult to pinpoint exactly where things fall apart. Absolutely nothing works here. The cast seems to know that the words coming out of their mouths are essentially overblown, melodramatic junk that soap opera writers would laugh at. Rush returns as the queen's chief counselor Sir Francis Walsingham, but he doesn't do anything except skulk around looking devious. My latest crush Abbie Cornish is on hand as the queen's lady-in-waiting, but we know nothing about her, and she's given nothing to do except act as a plot device for Clive Owen's explorer/pirate Sir Walter Raleigh to fall in love with and make the queen insanely jealous. Owen's work here is perhaps the most disappointing in the entire film. As much as I think the guy can do no wrong, he's embarrassingly wrong for this role.

What's worse, Kapur gives the romance aspect of this film far too much screen time. I many not have mentioned it, but England is on the brink of devastation at the hands of the Spanish Armada and the imprisoned rightful queen, Mary-Queen of Scots (Samantha Morton, yet another great actress utterly wasted here). But the significance of these events pales in comparison to the queen having a hissy fit over Raleigh impregnating her servant girl…because that never happens.

On the rare occasion, I am at a loss for words to tell you how much I enjoy a particular film, but in this case words fail to convey just how colossal a failure The Golden Age manages to be. Forget being bored; I eventually became downright pissed off at how this film was slapped together. There's an assassination attempt on Elizabeth that is so staged as to be laughable. It's clear Kapur prefers style over substance, almost opting to make Blanchett look exotic and strange instead of developing her character and the backstories of those around her. A master class could be taught showing just bits of this movie as an example of how not to make a film and how to ruin a perfectly good thing by trying to repeat yourself. Do yourself a favor: If you have any affection for Elizabeth, stay as far away from The Golden Age as you possibly can.

We Own the Night

No New York City cop cliché is left unused in this competently made but otherwise uninspired work from writer-director James Gray (Little Odessa; The Yards) about the deteriorating crime problem in the Big Apple circa the early 1980s. Joaquin Phoenix plays Brooklyn nightclub manager Bobby Green, whose El Caribe hot spot is frequented by Russian drug dealers and mobsters. Bobby allows this element to roam free because it brings in business and the club's owner treats Bobby like a son. Bobby's smokin' hot girlfriend Amada (Eva Mendes in full vixen mode) can't get enough of the guy, and together they play the King and Queen of the Brooklyn nightlife with much vigor. But right from the start, We Own the Night kicks in with the "how-cool-can-we-make-these-people-look" attitude. In one of his less impressive roles, Phoenix walks around with a smarmy sneer to the infectious beats of Blondie or some other disco-era tunes. He snorts a little something here, mashes faces with his girl over there, and rubs elbows with some scary-looking, leather-jacket-wearing Russian thugs. Never seen that before.

What many of Bobby's buddies (including the truly obnoxious Danny Hoch, who plays his right-hand man) don't know is that he comes from a family of top-ranking, highly decorated cops, including his chief of police father (Robert Duvall) and his rising-star brother, Joseph (Mark Wahlberg). Neither father nor brother hides the fact that they are sorely disappointed in Bobby's choice of profession or friends, a point underscored when Joseph leads a raid of El Caribe and arrests some Russian mobster types.

Most of what happens in We Own the Night from this point forward is a series of revenge killings or attempting kilings. The Russians attempt to kill Joseph; the police enlist Bobby to help them catch the people that put the hit out on his brother; Bobby and Amada go into protective custody and immediately become targets along with Bobby's father. There isn't a step of this plot that isn't completely predictable or executed in ways we've seen a hundred times before in far better movies. Phoenix looks pale and sweaty all the time; Wahlberg has rarely been as good as he was in last year's The Departed, so why would he play another cop role in such a lesser movie? Mendes fares a bit better as the sex kitten who quickly loses her interest in Bobby once he falls out of favor and the money goes away. At least her performance is somewhat believable. Duvall couldn't turn in bad work if he tried, but he gives us a familiar take on the stubborn, set-in-his-ways dad character that adds very little to the proceedings.

To director Gray's credit, there is one chase sequence that takes place during a nasty rainstorm that is breathtaking. Filmed primarily from a point of view inside Bobby's car, we see crashes and near misses going on around his vehicle but without the deafening sounds that typically accompany these events. It's almost silent, and for some reason that makes what we're seeing so much more terrible.

Without giving too much away, by the time the story gets to the point where Bobby makes a major career detour, I lost interest, and not just because that moment in the script seemed implausible. No, I stopped caring about anything or anyone in this movie because it was trying too hard to throw too many plot devices at us in one film. What's worse, I never really liked or cared about anyone in this movie. Everyone is kind of an asshole and not the fun kind you invite to a party to keep things interesting. A little self-centered behavior goes a hell of a long way. It's not a good sign when you throw up your hands and say to yourself, "I've officially stopped caring about these people from this point forward."

We Own the Night takes its title from the motto that the Street Crimes Unit of the NYPD used during the 1980s. A film about that unit's seedy misadventures might have been worth putting camera to, but this is yet another sketchy, surface-skimming cop movie with generic mobsters, family-trumps-everything, cops-protect-cops crime thriller that we've seen more times than my limited memory capacity can sustain. I expected better from nearly everyone involved and was let down at every turn.

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About the Author(s)

A Windy City resident for nearly 20 years, Steve writes about everything but movies at his day job for a trade journal publishing company. Using the alias Capone, he has been the Chicago Editor for Ain't It Cool News since 1998, and has been writing film reviews since he was a wee lad of 14, growing up in Maryland. Direct your questions or comments to

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