Concussion

Concussion is an important movie that will change lives. It will lead some parents to forbid their kids from playing football. It will cause some football players to step away from the game.

Concussion tells the story of retired NFL players whose brain damage has led them to take their own lives. Dr. Bennet Omalu (Will Smith), a Pittsburgh medical pathologist, investigates and finds that these players suffer from chronic traumatic encephalopathy (CTE). When his information is presented to the NFL, it is rebuffed.

This is not new information. News of these suicides has been widely reported. The GQ magazine article that the script is based on ran in 2009. PBS’s Frontline covered the story two years ago. But Concussion is the first presentation of these facts featuring a major Hollywood star. (The 2012 death of NFL Hall of Famer Junior Seau is mentioned at the film’s end. News of Frank Gifford’s CTE diagnosis apparently came after the film was finished.)

Despite being too long and failing to provide a big payoff, Concussion offers a few reasons to check it out: Will Smith does a better job with a Nigerian accent than Alec Baldwin does with a Louisiana accent. Character actor David Morse brings a world of gloom to his portrayal of longtime Steelers center Mike Webster. Albert Brooks is wonderful as Omalu’s smartass (but supportive) boss. Omalu enjoys romance with Prema (Gugu Mbatha-Raw), a woman he meets in church; she soon becomes his wife.

Will Concussion damage the popularity of the NFL? I don’t think so. Football continues to be the most exciting sport to watch on TV. The combination of grace and violence is compelling. Love of football and teams is well-entrenched in the hearts and souls of millions of Americans.

But any impact Concussion has will be another step that may lead the NFL to do more for player safety now and for players welfare after their careers end. It took many years and tons of evidence before the tobacco industry admitted what we all knew for decades… that smoking kills. Is it time for the NFL to concede that football—in some cases—kills?

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Mission: Impossible Rogue Nation

Mission: Impossible Rogue Nation does exactly what it is supposed to do: it provides action, thrills, suspense and a modest amount of sexual tension. Tom Cruise is back as Impossible Missions Force (IMF) agent Ethan Hunt with a new trademark stunt and a new motorcycle chase.

Holding of for dear life on the outside of a cargo plane as it ascends and flies through the air is impressive. Interestingly, this latest courageous Cruise daring action occurs just minutes into the film. An underwater mission to procure a computer file midway through the movie is tension-inducing as Hunt is forced to hold his breath for an extended period.

The basic plot: CIA head Alan Hunley (Alec Baldwin) wants the government to defund the IMF while an organization of rogue agents called The Syndicate wants to wipe out the IMF. Hunt with IMF teammates William Brandt (Jeremy Renner), Benji Dunn (Simon Pegg) and Luther Stickell (Ving Rames) work to take down The Syndicate and its leader Solomon Lane (Sean Harris).

As he does in the Star Trek films, Pegg adds a touch of welcome lightheartedness to the proceedings. He’s rapidly becoming one of my favorite character actors.

The gorgeous babe in the mix is Ilsa (Rebecca Ferguson), an appropriately named character since M:IRN has scenes set in Casablanca and elsewhere in Morocco. Ilsa’s allegiance initially appears to be to The Syndicate, but she’s on Hunt’s side in short order. Hers is a classy sexiness, but she wears a two-piece swimsuit and a yellow evening gown very nicely. There’s no Hunt-Ilsa hookup in the movie, but there’s an attraction bubbling under.

Settings include an opera performance in Vienna, a formal state event in London and… a used record store (where Ethan Hunt gets his instructions via disc).

Director/scriptwriter Christopher McQuarrie keeps the energy going with only brief pauses in the action. Yes, Tom Cruise overacts a bit, but that’s his thing and he does it well.

Mission: Impossible Rogue Nation hits its marks and checks off most of the items on the list of things you’d want in an action-adventure spy story. Enjoy the ride!

Blue Jasmine

How much money did Woody Allen lose to Bernie Madoff? If he was not among the many who were defrauded (Madoff’s ripoff total was some 65 billion dollars), Allen probably has friends in New York city who were losers in the gigantic Ponzi scheme.

Blue Jasmine is ostensibly the story of Jeanette “Jasmine” French (Cate Blanchett) whose husband Hal (Alec Baldwin) went to jail for investment fraud a la Madoff. After the feds have seized all their belongings, Jasmine goes from Park Avenue to San Francisco to stay with a poorer relation, her sister Ginger (Sally Hawkins). Both were adopted and have never been particularly close.

Blue Jasmine also illustrates the damage done to people by investment scandals like the Madoff affair. Not just to Jasmine, but also to Ginger and her ex-husband Augie (Andrew Dice Clay) and to Hal’s son Danny (Alden Ehrenreich), among others. Cate Blanchett’s performance may be the main reason to see Blue Jasmine, but Allen’s script (based on repercussions of the real-life fraud) is flawless and is the framework for this excellent movie.

Other memorable characters populate Blue Jasmine. Ginger’s boyfriend Chili (Bobby Cannavale) is a volatile, tactless greaser who nonetheless accurately pegs Jasmine. Al (Louis C.K.) is a flirty charmer who momentarily woos Ginger away from Chili. Dwight (Peter Sarsgaard) is the classy guy who appears to be Jasmine’s ticket back to wealth and respectability.

Jasmine is, at various times during the film, a woman to be pitied and a woman to be scorned. She has no apparent misgivings about her behavior when she was a woman of leisure, the wife of a man with limitless wealth. She has difficulty adjusting to her new personal economy and lifestyle and, like many working women, has to fight off the advances of her boss. Her crises have left her dependent on booze and pills to maintain a semblance of sanity. When she meets a wealthy man who is impressed by her style and grace, she is ready to shove off from Ginger’s generous charity in a heartbeat. Can she handle reality or is she a big phony?

A favorite scene is the one that finds Jasmine in an eatery booth with Ginger and Augie’s two sons. She shares with them some memories of the unraveling of her charmed life in NYC. The boys stare back with blank expressions, but she tells the tale anyway, perhaps because she knows that they don’t perceive the ramifications as their mom might.

Cate Blanchett is a likely Oscar nominee for best actress. Woody Allen has given her a timely, memorable character and she has delivered a performance that may be her best. Blue Jasmine is a “must see” movie. Not just for Cate’s work, but also for Woody’s.

Rock of Ages

You will walk out of the theater humming this movie’s songs. Because you already know them all!

All musicals are at least a little a bit cheesy. Some are just more flagrant about it. “Rock of Ages” brings on plenty of cheese and has fun with it. The music is better than anticipated and script is funnier than expected.

The story, set in 1987, has all the rock’n’roll cliché themes. Girl meets boy: Julianne Hough plays Sherrie who comes to LA to be a star. She meets Drew, played by Diego Boneta. Rock is the devil’s work: Catherine Zeta-Jones plays a Tipper Gore type who wants to rid the city of rock. Rock is here to stay: Alec Baldwin is a club owner, fighting to keep his place open. You’re never too old to rock’n’roll: Tom Cruise is Stacee Jaxx, an Axl Rose type who may or may not be over the hill.

The big question people are asking: Can Tom Cruise sing? Well, yes. His versions will never replace the originals heard on St. Louis classic rock radio, but they get the job done.

Supporting cast members include Russell Brand as a club employee and Malin Akerman as a Rolling Stone reporter who interviews Stacee Jaxx and gets up close and very personal with him. Singer Mary J. Blige adds authenticity to the cast and, presumably, a bit of African-American audience appeal. Paul Giamatti is particularly sleazy as Stacee Jaxx’s manager.

“Rock of Ages” has a good balance of hard-rockin’ songs (“Pour Some Sugar on Me,” “Hit Me With Your Best Shot”), soft-rockin’ songs (“Waiting For a Girl Like You,” “Can’t Fight This Feeling”) and medium-rockin’ songs (“Don’t Stop Believin’,” “We Built This City”).

This is a fun movie. Music, dancing, laughs, romance, sex—they’re all there. It’ll rock you. Like a hurricane. (Also on the soundtrack!)