The Family



EuropaCorp/Relativity Media

Directed by Luc Besson

Executive Producer: Martin Scorsese

Produced by Ryan Kavanaugh, Virginie Silla and Tucker Tooley

Written by Tonino Benacquista based on his novel “Malavita”

If you’ve seen the trailer for THE FAMILY then perhaps like me, you were expecting a mob/crime comedy with plenty of laughs and inside jokes at Robert DeNiro’s expense, poking fun at the numerous gangster roles he’s played with able backup from Michelle Pfeiffer and Tommy Lee Jones who have made more than a few crime/mob movies themselves and know the genre.  And yes, there are some laughs in THE FAMILY at the beginning of the movie.  But the longer the movie goes on, the fewer the laughs and by the time it gets to the end there’s an appalling no holds barred bloodbath with a platoon of mob hitmen shooting it out with a pair of teenagers wielding automatic weapons like Rambo on his best day while Robert DeNiro and Michelle Pfeiffer are locked in a hideously vicious fight to the death with a killer roughly the size of Richard Kiel.

Giovanni Maznoni (Robert DeNiro) was once one of the most powerful mob bosses in Brooklyn and as such became a threat to The Boss of Bosses, Don Luchese (Stan Carp) who orders a hit on Maznoni and his family that fails. Giovanni turns snitch and Don Luchese goes to jail.  The Maznoni family enters the Witness Protection Program under the supervision of FBI Special Agent Robert Stansfield (Tommy Lee Jones) and relocated to Normandy, France.


This assignment is far from being easy duty for Stansfield. In fact, the Maznoni family are a collectively big pain in his ass due to the fact that they simply cannot stop being what they are: a mob family.  Giovanni has…anger management issues, let’s say and he’s easily irritated by such things as his tap water coming out brown and nobody taking it seriously. Wife Maggie (Michelle Pfeiffer) doesn’t take kindly to the stereotypical comments that she overhears by pretending she doesn’t speak or understand French. Her response to such is…explosive, shall we say. Daughter Belle (Dianna Agron) is a sweet, soft spoken girl who falls in love with a substitute teacher who tutors her in math. She also has a ferociously violent streak that a Klingon would envy. Son Warren (John D’Leo) is a grifter/forger/hustler who in no time at all has his own junior mafia in his new school.


The situation is complicated by Giovanni writing a tell all book about his life in the mob. A book that both Maggie and Stansfield tell him can never be published. And through a really bizarre coincidence I just couldn’t buy, Don Luchese finds out where the Maznonis are hiding out and sends a hit team to whack ‘em out and that takes us to the blood-soaked final showdown between the mob and the Maznoni family.

Here’s what I liked about THE FAMILY: The performances are first rate but I wouldn’t expect anything less from old pros like DeNiro, Pfeiffer and Jones.  But the kids step up to the plate and hold their own with the seasoned pros.  Dianna Agron I know from “Glee” and I was surprised to see how well she inhabited this character. The movie was actually almost over before I finally remembered where I knew her from. Judging just by this movie I’d say she has a career in movies if she wants it.  John D’Leo is also a lot of fun to watch as he maneuvers his way towards running his school with the finesse and cold-bloodedness of a Michael Corleone.

I also liked how the movie doesn’t have the kids or the wife BMWing about how they want to have a normal life and why can’t they just be a normal family.  This is a mob family who have accepted and embraced their lifestyle.  They’re criminals and they don’t make any excuses for it. For them this is their “normal” life


The direction by Luc Besson is also first rate as I would expect from the writer/director/producer of some of my favorite action movies such as “Leon: The Professional” “The Fifth Element” the “Transporter” series “Taken” “Taken 2” and “District 13.”  And I think that’s the problem with THE FAMILY. Luc Besson is an action director and he seems uncomfortable with the comedy in this movie which puzzles me as I’ve seen “Angel-A” a couple of times and I know he can do comedy. Maybe what threw me off is the level of violence in THE FAMILY which is really bloody and brutal and really doesn’t mesh well with the comedy. Oh, there are are funny scenes and funny lines, don’t get me wrong. But right after that we’ll get a scene like the one with DeNiro and the plumber.  It’s a scene that would have been more at home in “Goodfellas” or “Casino” than in a movie that is billed as a comedy.


So should you see THE FAMILY? I say Yes. There’s really nothing wrong with THE FAMILY except for what I feel is an uneven tempo and off center mix of really violent violence with humor.  It’s as if Luc Besson really wanted to make this a full blown thriller but every once in a while an AD poked him with the script and reminded him he had to throw in a joke here and there.

112 minutes

Rated R

Hope Springs


Columbia Pictures

Directed by David Frankel

Produced by Todd Black and Guymon Casady

Written by Vanessa Taylor

I’m highly reluctant to describe HOPE SPRINGS as a “romantic comedy” because it’s nowhere near as brain dead as 90% of the movies in that genre. HOPE SPRINGS is too smart for that. I suppose the best label that can be slapped on it is “dramedy” as it’s got too much drama to be a flat-out comedy but yet it’s got more than its share of lighter moments to be classified as a straight-up drama. But whatever you do, don’t be taken in by the trailers which makes this movie out to be a wacky laugh riot with Meryl Streep, Tommy Lee Jones and Steve Carell trading funny lines.  HOPE SPRINGS is most definitely not that kind of movie.

Kay (Meryl Streep) and Arnold (Tommy Lee Jones) have been married for thirty-one years.  They apparently have an affluent life-style and have raised good children. He works hard at his job and she keeps a good home. But for Kay it’s not enough. There’s an emotional disconnect between herself and her husband she doesn’t know how to fix. Fortunately she runs across a book written by Dr. Feld (Steve Carell) who is a specialist in couples counseling. Desperate to reignite the long dead flames of passion in their marriage, Kay persuades Arnold to attend a weeklong counseling session in the small Maine town of Hope Springs where Dr. Feld lives and works.

It isn’t going to be easy. Arnold doesn’t see the need for counseling and even though at first Kay is all for it, there are some long buried feelings inside her that get poked and she’s not entirely comfortable with that.  There are some deep emotional and sexual issues in conflict here and it’s going to take a maximum effort from Arnold and Kay to get this marriage back to where it once was.  But can they? Do they even want to?

This is very much a relationship movie targeted at an older audience. Not that younger movie fans of Meryl Streep and Tommy Lee Jones can’t go see this and won’t get something out of the struggles of their characters as they re-learn how to love each other in ways that are sometimes heartbreaking, sometimes sad, sometimes funny and occasionally downright hilarious.

Saying that Meryl Streep and Tommy Lee Jones are extraordinary actors is as unnecessary as saying water is wet. And you would think that this kind of role is one that Meryl Streep could play with her eyes closed but as usual she makes whatever she does on camera look as fresh as if she’s making it up as she goes along.  As for Tommy Lee Jones, he’s one of those very few actors who are funniest when they’re not trying to be funny. Some of the best laughs he gets are when he’s delivering his lines with an absolute straight face and deadly seriousness.  He trusts that the situation and the reaction from his co-stars will sell the lines and it does.  Steve Carell’s role as Dr. Feld is the most surprising one in the movie and I’ll leave it for you to discover how if you choose to see this movie.  He’s really interesting in how he quietly stays back and doesn’t try to steal scenes from the two old pros. Watch what he does in this movie and I think you’ll agree with me that it’s some of his best work so far.  I can’t stand him in “The Office” but I don’t think there’s a movie Steve Carell has been in I’ve seen I didn’t thoroughly enjoy his performance.

There’s some solid work from Jean Smart, Mimi Rogers and Elisabeth Shue in roles that are actually extended cameos.  But they use their time wisely like the talented actresses they are and it’s always welcome to see them in a movie.

So should you see HOPE SPRINGS? If you’ve been lamenting that movies now are all about superheroes and special effects this is most definitely the movie for you. There’s nothing here except for a mature story about rebuilding a marriage, the usual wonderful acting from Meryl Streep and Tommy Lee Jones, a surprisingly different performance from Steve Carell and solid support from Jean Smart, Mimi Rogers and Elisabeth Shue. Combine that with beautiful photography and locations and you’ve got the perfect date movie for married couples.  Enjoy.

100 minutes


Captain America


Marvel Studios/Paramount Pictures

Directed by Joe Johnston

Produced by Kevin Feige

Screenplay by Christopher Markus and Stephen McFeely

Based on “Captain America” created by Joe Simon and Jack Kirby

Before we get into the review, please indulge me for a minute…hit it:

I had hopes that when Jon Favreau snuck in the 1960’s Iron Man theme song, they’d find a way to do it in other movies based on Marvel superheroes.  Such was not the case.  “Star-Spangled Man” was okay, but it can’t beat this song.  CAPTAIN AMERICA is in my head, fighting “The Avengers” and “Thor” as my favorite Marvel superhero movie made to date.  Joe Johnston doesn’t get a single thing wrong in this movie which is actually two movies in one: it’s not only a superhero movie but it’s a World War II movie as well and never do the two elements clash with each other.

4F Steve Rogers (Chris Evans) tries time and time again to enlist in the U.S. Army as he desperately wants to do his part and fight the Nazis.  But his list of physical aliments prevents that until chance puts him in the path of Professor Erskine (Stanley Tucci).  The professor left Germany to willingly work for the United States on his greatest experiment: The Super Soldier Serum which can transform a man into the perfect human fighting machine.  Erskine wants to try his serum on Steve as he is impressed with the man’s heart and compassion.

Colonel Phillips (Tommy Lee Jones) the head of the Super Soldier Project isn’t so sure this scrawny specimen is the right man.  But Agent Peggy Carter (Hayley Atwell) of the Strategic Scientific Reserve agrees with Erskine and the experiment goes ahead.  Steve is endowed with enhanced strength, reflexes, heightened senses and a metabolism that heals him at a faster rate than normal.  Tragedy dims the success of the project and as a result Steve is regulated to being used a mere publicity tool to sell war bonds, going on USO tours as ‘Captain America’ dressed in a gaudy red, white and blue costume.

But over in Europe, the war isn’t waiting for Steve.  Johann Schmidt (Hugo Weaving) is the head of HYDRA, a separate organization within the Nazi party dedicated to developing advanced weaponry for its own purposes.  Schmidt is also known as The Red Skull, due to an unfortunate side effect of Erskine’s Super Soldier Serum which he took himself.  Along with his chief scientist Arnim Zola (Toby Jones) The Red Skull has his own plan of world domination that doesn’t involve Hitler.

Things really kick into high gear when Steve, fed up with being treated as a joke, goes on a one-man rescue mission behind enemies lines to rescue his best friend James Buchanan ‘Bucky’ Barnes (Sebastian Stan) and over four hundred prisoners of war, including a bunch of fightin’ fools known as The Howling Commandos (Neil McDonough, Derek Luke, Kenneth Choi, Bruno Ricci and J.J. Field).

Captain America, now a front line soldier with Bucky and The Howling Commandos backing him up as well as a new protective uniform and shield developed by genius inventor/industrialist/futurist Howard Stark (Dominic Cooper) is regarded as a genuine real American hero.  His battles are rapidly becoming the stuff of legend.  But it’s a legend that may be cut short when he finally confronts The Red Skull…

There are so many things that CAPTAIN AMERICA gets right I could easily take about an hour listing them.  Elements of the origin are moved around but the spirit of the character is intact.  Chris Evans finds exactly the right note for Steve Rogers/Captain America and never strays from it.  Just like when he played Johnny Storm/The Human Torch in the two “Fantastic Four” movies, I get the impression that he took the time to read the comics.

The only problem I have with Tommy Lee Jones is that his character wasn’t named “Happy Sam” Sawyer since to me that’s who he’s playing.  Neil McDonough is absolutely scary in how much he looks like “Dum Dum” Dugan.  And he sounds exactly like I always heard Dugan’s voice in my head while reading those “Sgt. Fury” comic books.  The changes in the relationship between Steve Rogers and Bucky Barnes is one I thought made that relationship even stronger.  I really liked how Tony Stark’s dad got in on a lot of the action and we get to see a lot of where Tony gets his swagger from.  Hugo Weaving and Toby Jones make for an effective pair of bad guys and Hayley Atwell steals every scene she’s in as Peggy Carter, a woman definitely ahead of her time.

But the star behind the scenes is Joe Johnston who I’ve been telling you folks for years now is a genius.  Hopefully the success of CAPTAIN AMERICA will cause people to finally acknowledge “The Rocketeer” as the masterpiece it is.  And “Jurassic Park III” and “The Wolfman” ain’t bad either.

So should you see CAPTAIN AMERICA?  Are you kidding me? You haven’t? What are you waiting for?


124 minutes