By G. Michael Dobbs
This week's DVD column features two independent films that are not for all tastes, but will provide some challenging and provocative viewing.
Samuel L. Jackson has a strong work ethic and has appeared in many films playing a very similar badass. Sometimes he's a good guy, sometimes he's a bad guy, but frequently he is the same type of character.
That is the curse of being a movie star. Once you've established a successful persona that's what producers and audiences want from you.
That's why I enjoyed "The Samaritan," a new crime thriller that gives Jackson a chance to ditch all of those "Snakes on a Plane" roles for something more substantial.
Jackson is Foley, a man who has been released from prison after serving a sentence of 25 years. He's a consummate grifter who was caught by a victim midway through a con. The victim forced Foley to kill his best friend and partner in crime and then turned him over to the police.
Foley now wants simply to be left alone. He wants to find a job and go straight. A quick check shows most of his old friends and cronies are dead and the few left alive don't want anything to do with him.
The only person eager for his company is the son of his dead partner. Evan (played with slimy intensity by Luke Kirby) wants to recruit Foley into a big con. Foley refuses, but Evan has rigged Foley's life to draw the ex-convict into his scheme.
What complicates matters is that Foley has met a young woman, Iris (Ruth Negga), and has entered into a cautious, and at times reluctant, relationship.
This film is full of twists and turns, which I can't reveal, but I will say some of the plot points will leave your mouth hanging open in shock.
While there are moments of violence, this is not an action thriller, but rather is a character-driven drama. Jackson excels as Foley, a man who is actively trying to change his future. Foley is a thinker and Jackson's performance is filled with moments of quiet that convey much about the character.
Director David Weaver does well with the look and pacing of the film and co-wrote the script.
If you're up for a different kind of crime movie, seek out "The Samaritan."
As I've mentioned before, the movies to review quickly add up and this film has been in that pile waiting patiently. I thought that considering the success of two huge summer blockbusters, "The Dark Knight Rises" and "The Avengers," it may be time to look at a more realistic approach to superheroes.
"Super" stars Rainn Wilson best known for his role on "The Office" as a short-order cook named Frank. Frank's life has been marked by two positive events. The first is when he helped a cop catch a criminal and the second is when he married his wife Sarah (Liv Tyler), a waitress at the restaurant who is battling addiction.
Life is good for Frank until his wife falls back into a bad crowd and leaves him to live with a local drug dealer played with twitchy charm by Kevin Bacon.
Filled with grief, Frank makes efforts to retrieve her, but Sarah doesn't want to be rescued. Frank doesn't know what to do until a group of tentacles saws open his skull to allow the finger of God to massage his brain. Well, at least that's what Frank believes has happened to him.
Frank may suffer from delusions, and he understands that about himself. His love, though, for Sarah is so strong that he is willing to accept what he thinks has happened.
The resulting inspiration triggers Frank's alter ego, The Crimson Bolt. In a homemade costume and with a huge wrench as his primary weapon, Frank decides to fight crime and get his wife back. What constitutes crime ranges from robbery to someone cutting into a line at the movies and both are met with concussions from Frank's wrench.
Frank's rallying cry is "Shut up crime!"
The violence is increased with the arrival of his young sidekick, a comic book store clerk played with a frightening intensity by Ellen Page.
This movie is part dark comedy, part social commentary and, at its conclusion, part legitimate hardcore action film. Director and writer James Gunn was responsible for one of the most outrageous and entertaining horror films of the past decade, "Slither" and he shows here that his quirky style certainly extends to another genre.
Gunn's basic premise is that to be a superhero one must be mentally ill or at the very least, emotionally distraught.
Wilson does well with the lead role, making Frank a sympathetic character, while Page is a hoot as the cute sociopath who complains to Frank he didn't tell her that she shouldn't kill people.
A very different kind of superhero film, "Super" was certainly more entertaining to me than "The Dark Knight Rises."