Tasty Treats in the Dog Days of Summer
By Carl Kozlowski
With a Conan the Barbarian reboot so apparently bad that its studio, Lionsgate, is completely hiding it from critics and a Fright Night remake offering up warmed-over scares from a 1980s film that barely scored any box office revenue when it premiered back then, it is now sadly obvious that, at least when it comes to the movies, these are the dog days of summer.
In the interest of sparing potential viewers the agony of spending up to $16 on either one of those films, let us instead present a couple of alternatives that were actually inspired by more than just a craven effort to add to the corporate bottom line. And never fear; they’re entirely different kinds of flicks, so there’s still hope to see something original and enjoyable this weekend, no matter your favorite genre.
First up is the classy and intelligent romance One Day, which has the timeless look and atmosphere of director Lone Scherfig’s stellar 2009 debut An Education. While that film followed a high school girl (Carey Mulligan) in 1950s England as she subtly gets in over her head in an affair with a seemingly sweet yet mysterious older man (Peter Sarsgaard), this film offers a more equal romantic match in its tale of a mousy young British woman named Emma (Anne Hathaway) who secretly pines for her dashing bad-boy friend named Dexter (Jim Sturgess), even though he never realizes how much she loves him.
The film follows a rather ingenious plot device, depicting their rollercoaster relationship over the course of 20 years and focusing on July 15 each year—the day they met and nearly had a one-night stand after finishing college. Over time, Dexter becomes a Ryan Seacrest-style TV host who is a star solely because of his vapid charms and winning smile, while Emma works an unsatisfying restaurant job and endures a passionless marriage.
Yet, when Dexter falls into drug addiction, depression and the like, Emma is always there for him. But what could have easily become maudlin and formulaic with weaker direction and worse actors instead becomes a touching and occasionally powerful story of forgiveness, redemption and true love. If you think that that description points to an obvious conclusion, be forewarned that the film hinges on a shocking twist that completely upends viewer expectations.
Speaking of surprises, The Guard offers up plenty of its own, starting with performances by Brendan Gleeson in the lead role of a small-town Irish lawman who’s seen and heard it all for so long that he appears to have completely given up on all normal ethics, guidelines and procedures in his pursuit of stopping crime. One might reasonably wonder just how bad crime can be in a backwater Irish village, but things indeed go haywire when an international drug-smuggling gang attempts to use the burg for its outrageously dangerous activities.
When massive amounts of money and drugs go missing near the town, Boyle’s police partner disappears. Boyle also finds that his usual hooker is trying to scare him off the trail of all the wrongdoing. Ultimately, Boyle is tempted with bribes from the traffickers, just as a laconic African-American FBI agent (played by Don Cheadle with maximum slow-burn authority and a wicked set of hilariously calm facial expressions) arrives on the scene, primarily because the missing drugs and other goodies were from an American gang.
The rest of the film focuses on the matchup of this very odd couple of cops and the havoc that ensues when they work together. Cheadle wisely puts a 180-degree spin on the racially centered buddy-cop comedies of Eddie Murphy’s ’80s heyday, instead playing the straight man of the duo while Gleeson eagerly destroys nearly all the rules of the world he’s sworn to protect. Factor in the setting, which is unique for a cop comedy, and the Tarantino-worthy dialogue, clever twists and oddball soundtrack of oldies from seemingly other dimensions, and The Guard will knock you off guard.