42 Grade: C+
Was it possible to make a biopic about Jackie Robinson that was anything more than pleasant?
42 isn't a bad film, but it's not a particularly riveting -- or even informative -- one either. Cigar-chewing Brooklyn Dodgers president Branch Rickey (Harrison Ford) decides to mine the Negro Leagues for talent because he considers himself an equal opportunity employer. So he chooses Robinson, a fleet-footed second baseman from the Kansas City Monarchs, to be the first black player to play in the major leagues. Some of his teammates despise him at first before coming around by the end in a triumph of the human spirit. Woo-hoo.
42 hits all the typical beats for a film like this -- you cheer when Robinson steals his way around the basepaths, you turn up your nose at the white players who resent him.
In the end, however, you don't know any more about Robinson the man than you did coming into the theater. With no characterization outside of "he's a hot-head who's not allowed to fight back," Robinson's just this Christ figure of baseball, a tortured symbol of pioneering rather than an actual pioneer. It's the situation we're drawn to, not the man, when it should be the other way around.
Ford as Rickey growls all the best lines and speeches, embracing the easy role as the radical in his own time whom everyone in the contemporary audience knows is right. Most of the players are stock characters, clearly falling on racist/non-racist sides until almost all the racists change.
One scene elevates the movie from its safe, mythical haven however: During a game against Philadelphia, Phillies manager Ben Chapman gets on the top step for every one of Robinson's at-bats and spews a slew of racial epithets and vitriol directly at him. It doesn't go on for 10 seconds -- the whole scene lasts about five minutes and it is ruthless and raw, capturing at least a sliver of the inhumanity Robinson had to experience. The rest of it -- like pitchers yelling at Robinson, "You don't belong here!" -- seems downright childish by comparison.
Rated PG-13 for thematic elements, including language.
The Company You Keep B-
Robert Redford always has to be the good guy. In The Company You Keep, he plays someone whom everyone thinks was a bad guy -- but come on. He's Robert Redford!
Redford directs himself in The Company You Keep as Nick Sloan, a former member of the Weather Underground group who's been safely hiding from the FBI for 30 years after a Michigan bank robbery that left an innocent person dead.
The Feds arrest another Weather Underground member, Sharon Solarz (Susan Sarandon), and Albany Sun-Times reporter Ben Shepard (Shia LaBeouf) snaps at a lot of people to put the pieces of the story together. LaBeouf's character acts just as he does in real life, in that he has an annoying attitude without the aptitude to back it up.
But he isn't bad for the part, as he brashly maneuvers through the multi-tiered mystery, which involves what seems like every person in Redford's Rolodex. Chris Cooper, Julie Christie, Richard Jenkins and Sam Elliott are all involved, and Nick Nolte plays someone who needs a fresh larynx.
Redford creates Nick Sloan to not just be a slippery escapee but also an infallible human being in general. Sarandon's great in her role because she makes you feel her steely resolve and believe that she actually was in the Weather Underground. But not Redford. He's just so precious, which makes you tell from the beginning that he's a wronged man searching for justice, not a guilty man running from it. It doesn't make him unwatchable -- just a little annoying. At age 76, he has earned the right to let his hair down a bit.
Rated R for language.
The bad guy in Disconnect is the Internet -- you know, that thing that 99.9 percent of us operate every single day without dramatic incident.
Disconnect intertwines three stories, the most interesting of which concerns teenager Ben Boyd (Jonah Bobo), a quiet social outcast who posts his avant-garde music on Facebook. Two classmates, Jason (Colin Ford) and Frye (Aviad Bernstein), torment Ben by creating a fake profile for a cute girl who messages him. It plays out in predictably depressing fashion, but at least it seems real and it's well-acted by Bobo, Ford and Frank Grillo, who plays Jason's P.I. father. On the other hand, Jason Bateman does a mundane job playing Ben's father; another great post-Arrested Development move for him.
The other two tales pale in comparison, and that's saying something. One follows a journalist (Andrea Riseborough) who befriends a participant (Max Thieriot) in an illicit underage online sex chat ring. In the other one, a husband (Alexander Skarsgård), who has an online poker problem, and a wife (Paula Patton), who grieves over their dead son in a chatroom, get their identities stolen. They try to figure out themselves who took their identity, and no, Jason Bateman doesn't help them with that.
This movie might not have left such a disgusting taste in my mouth if its slo-mo, worlds-colliding climax, where one character charges at another with a hockey stick, wasn't actually laughable. Probably not though.
Yeah, some sordid stuff can happen online. But these cautionary tales would seem so much less ridiculous if they were handled with any degree of subtlety or relevancy with the world of 2013, not the one of 1998. Instead, it feels like Rubin and Stern still run on dial-up while the rest of us have moved on to broadband.
Rated R for sexual content, some graphic nudity, language, violence and drug use -- some involving teens.
-- PETE MCQUAID
Visit whatdoUwannado.com on Friday for Pete's review of Oblivion.