Sept. 14 (Bloomberg) -- Four Americans storm Normandy in Luc Besson’s dark comedy “The Family,” with only a bit less bloodshed than the last time around.
Fitfully good and scrupulously perverse, “The Family” plays on the title’s double meaning -- mafia and nuclear -- to chronicle the misadventures abroad of some very Ugly Americans.
How ugly? Shopkeepers with attitude experience the gas-dousing side of mama bear Michelle Pfeiffer. A greedy plumber who overcharges Robert De Niro’s fallen mafia don meets the fat end of a baseball bat.
De Niro and Pfeiffer play the pseudonymous Fred and Maggie Blake, formerly of mobbed-up Brooklyn and, with state’s evidence in their wake, now sharing life in small-town France with their two teenage kids (Dianna Agron, John D’Leo).
Part “Addams Family,” part “Sopranos,” the Blakes are always on the move, forever blowing their covers with flare-ups of bad temper and sociopathy.
Under the watchful, impatient eye of their FBI Witness Protection Program minder (Tommy Lee Jones), the Blakes have settled grumpily into their latest backwater existence.
But with daughter Belle taking an unhealthy interest in a hunky teaching assistant and son Warren quickly establishing himself as a high-school racketeer, the Blakes probably aren’t long for the quiet life.
Riskiest of all, Fred has decided to pen a tell-all memoir, probably not a great choice for self-reinvention.
Written by Besson and Michael Caleo from Tonino Benacquista’s novel “Malavita,” “Family” peppers its comic convolutions with bouts of extreme violence.
Even the sweet-faced Belle gets in on the family act, viciously taking a tennis racket to a goofy nerd who presumes one liberty too many.
The gut-churning scenes, audacious at first, become repetitive -- a joke told too frequently. Plots and characters are left dangling, and the script sometimes makes little sense even by the movie’s own rules.
But even the silliest contrivance can be forgiven when De Niro and Jones face off, their craggy, deadpan mugs telling tales all their own.
“The Family,” from Relativity Media, is playing across the U.S. Rating: *** (Evans)
A decade of “booms, bail-outs and easy money” comes under withering scrutiny in Jim Bruce’s “Money for Nothing: Inside the Federal Reserve.”
The director’s debut feature (funded “in significant portion,” he says in a press release, through profits made on short trades), “Money” chronicles the hundred-year history of the Fed and its role in America’s financial life.
At 104 minutes (not so much of it actually “inside”), “Money” works its way through any number of Greats -- the Great War, the Great Depression, the Great Society and the post-Reagan Great Moderation before arriving at the crash of 2008, when Bruce points a great, big finger at the Fed.
Current chairman Ben Bernanke and, especially, his predecessor Alan Greenspan come in for particularly harsh treatment. Multi-billion-dollar stimulus programs, in the words of economists interviewed by Bruce, merely “papered over” a broken system and created “an illusion of richness.”
Bruce combines archival news clips and fresh interviews with current and former Fed officials, economists and investors, keeping “Money” at a livelier pace than might be expected.
Even so, the film would seem a likelier candidate for a PBS slot than a theatrical release, particularly in the first history-heavy section.
Nor does Bruce offer much by way of specific, novel solutions, recommending short-term pain (higher interest rates, an emphasis on personal saving) for long-term gain.
No country, warns the film (narrated by actor Liev Schreiber), “is too big to fail.”
“Money For Nothing: Inside the Federal Reserve,” from Liberty Street Films, is playing in New York, Washington D.C. and Dallas. Rating: *** (Evans)
The Schubert andantino playing under the opening credits of “Blue Caprice” signals you that the horrifying events to follow are going to be handled tastefully, and they are: You never have to look away from the screen.
The picture dramatizes the random sniper killings that terrorized suburban Washington, D.C. in October 2002, leaving 10 people dead and three more injured. The perpetrators were a former army sergeant, John Allen Muhammad (Isaiah Washington), and a 17-year-old named Lee Boyd Malvo (Tequan Richmond).
Alexandre Moors, the film’s director, and his scenarist, R.F.I. Porto, calmly and convincingly show how such a sick relationship might have developed.
The older man is a loser with a rage problem who can’t stop chafing that his ex-wife has custody of their three children. The boy has been abandoned by his mother; it’s easy to see how desperate he is for adult love, approval and guidance.
The movie is inventively shot, well-acted and absorbing; everyone involved is full of promise. Because it’s good but not great, however, it doesn’t transcend its terrible subject matter to answer the viewer’s inevitable question: Why am I watching this?
“Blue Caprice,” from Sundance Selects, is playing in New York. Rating: *** (Seligman)
What the Stars Mean: ***** Fantastic **** Excellent *** Good ** So-So * Poor (No stars) Avoid
(Greg Evans and Craig Seligman are critics for Muse, the arts and leisure section of Bloomberg News. The opinions expressed are their own.)
Muse highlights include Jeremy Gerard on theater and New York Weekend.
To contact the editor responsible for this story: Manuela Hoelterhoff at firstname.lastname@example.org.