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Gangster Squad

WHAT would Brian De Palma's The Untouchables have been like if, instead of David Mamet, it had been scripted by a hack?

Here y'go. This hokey attempt at L.A. noir laboriously attempts to duplicate what made The Untouchables interesting.

Idealist cop out to rescue a city from corruption: Josh Brolin as Sgt. John O'Mara.

A powerful, charismatic, out-of-control mobster played by an Oscar-winning character actor: Sean Penn as feisty psychotic Mickey Cohen.

A savvy, streetwise cop initially resistant to the idealist's pleas for help? Well, as Sgt. Jerry Wooters, Ryan Gosling is clearly not an exact parallel for Sean Connery -- he even gets a love interest in Mickey Cohen mistress Grace Faraday (a miscast Emma Stone) -- but he more or less fits that bill.

Director Ruben Fleischer (Zombieland) adds other components to the mix that serve as a faint echo of The Untouchables, including an unlikely dweebish cop and sundry psychotic thugs. But scriptwriter Will Beall, adapting journalist Paul Lieberman's book of the same name, favours cheap, melodramatic thrills over The Untouchables' tone of mythic grandeur.

While the film delivers lots of violence and bullets, it is a trivial piece of work, written indifferently and performed with an eye to style over substance. A wealth of documentary extras doesn't make it any more impressive. 'Ö'Ö

Manborg

WITH their two feature films, Father's Day and now Manborg, the local film collective Astron-6 demonstrates a better handle on cheesy '70s and '80s exploitation movies than Quentin Tarantino and Robert Rodriguez did in their double homage Grindhouse.

It helps, perhaps, that director Steven Kostanski's Manborg is authentically dirt-cheap. It was shot among a group of friends in sundry basements and stolen locations, utilizing green screens, miniature sets, clever makeup and most important of all, an abiding love of genre.

The plot: After witnessing the combat death of his brother at the hands of vampiric superman Count Draculon, a soldier (Matthew Kennedy) is himself killed, only to be revived, a la RoboCop, as a part-man, part-machine warrior dubbed Manborg.

He joins with a handful of plucky rebels fighting Draculon's post-apocalyptic rule, including the dubbed, kung-fu-fighting #1 Man (Ludwig Lee), the fist-pumping glitter punk Justice (Conor Sweeney, hilarious) and his beautiful blond sister Mina (Meredith Sweeney). The group is promptly captured by The Baron (Jeremy Gillespie, also hilarious), a Hellraiser-esque mutant overlord who amusingly carries a torch for Mina.

For a movie depicting non-stop violence and dystopian doom, this sure feels like sunny fun at the movies.

The DVD includes some illuminating extras detailing how it all came together, with a montage of stop motion animation and a montage of visual effects, and a bloopers reel (or "Shenanigram Reel," as it's called) in which Kostanski reveals the stunning amount of work it took to put this project together, including repeatedly filming himself falling on a mattress for every time a thug/soldier/innocent bystander is cut down, which is frequently.

Stay for the howlingly funny faux Bio-Cop trailer after the movie. 'Ö'Ö'Ö1/2

The Impossible

PRODUCED in Spain and directed by Juan Antonio Bayona, The Impossible is set against the devastating tsunami that swept the Indian Ocean on Dec. 26, 2004. Contrary to the star-studded disaster-movie template, however, this is a determinedly intimate story, focusing on a single British family.

Maria (Naomi Watts), her husband Henry (Ewan McGregor) and their three sons are set to enjoy a tropical Christmas vacation in Thailand. Henry is harbouring some worries about his job. Their eldest son Lucas (Tom Holland, excellent) is grumping about his two younger brothers, as eldest children will do.

But on the fateful morning, everyone's perspectives are in for a radical overhaul. While in the vicinity of the hotel pool, a rumbling noise is heard. The power goes off. And Maria watches in horror as trees in the direction of the oceanfront tumble down as if in the path of an unstoppable rolling monster.

That is precisely what the tsunami was, at least for Maria, who is swept under the water, like a rag doll in a tornado. When she surfaces, wounded but still breathing, only Lucas is with her. The two begin an impossible search for the rest of the family. And Lucas is forced to grow up quickly as he attempts to aid not only his mother, but other tourists attempting to find their own loved ones in the refugee camp-like chaos of a hospital inundated with an unthinkable number of patients.

The disaster killed nearly a quarter of a million people and the film has been taken to task in some quarters for emphasizing the story of a European family (Maria, her husband and sons were, in fact, Spanish) when the citizens of the afflicted countries suffered far worse casualties. That may be another movie for another time. This particular story achieves its own universality on the strength of these very specific characters.

From a technical standpoint, director Bayona (The Orphanage) has created a potent recreation of that disaster. But more importantly, he has created a stirring tale of one young man's tumultuous journey to empathy. And for that, one family --- this family -- is more than sufficient.

Documentary extras on the DVD include Realizing the Impossible, an illuminating look at how the film managed to duplicate the tsunami's devastation on a smallish budget. 'Ö'Ö'Ö1/2

randall.king@freepress.mb.ca

Republished from the Winnipeg Free Press print edition April 25, 2013 c16

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