Remember when Thanksgiving weekend marked a great time for the whole family to gather around the TV to watch a network broadcast of a classic family movie like “It’s a Wonderful Life” to kick off the most joyous season of the year? Or the movie theaters had bright sunny comedies the whole family could enjoy together after a turkey dinner, like “Planes Trains & Automobiles”?
Good luck this year, as Hollywood has inexplicably decided to foist the following cinematic smorgasbord of choices upon us: “Hunger Games 2,” which features people killing each other for sport in a despotic future America; “Delivery Man,” which is a great movie but its plot about a guy who learns he donated enough sperm to produce over 500 kids isn’t exactly easy for grandma or little kids to handle; and “Frozen,” a 3D Disney cartoon that feels like an uninspired leftover from the Pixar rejected-ideas pile.
And then there’s the two winners I’m about to discuss here: “Homefront” is a movie that stars action hero Jason Statham in a screenplay by Sylvester Stallone, about a former undercover DEA agent who finds his retired life in the Louisiana swamps disrupted by a feud with a local gang of meth-making bikers.
Meanwhile, “Oldboy” is a Spike Lee-directed remake of a nasty cult-classic South Korean thriller about a man who is held prisoner for 20 years, then seeks revenge while solving the mystery of who put him away. It’s extremely well-made, but it’s dark, brutal, has a graphically acrobatic sex scene and involves a series of final plot twists that give a whole new and disgusting meaning to close family relations.
Let’s start with “Homefront,” which features Statham in the latest in a string of gritty B-movies in which the filmmaking level is way better than you would ever expect. He plays Phil Broker, who in keeping with Statham tradition, is extremely soft-spoken and even seemingly gentle until someone talks to him the wrong way, at which point he punches, kicks or hurls them into submission.
Broker quit the DEA after killing the son of a biker drug kingpin two years before, and went into hiding in retirement to avoid revenge from his fellow gang members. But when his 10 year old daughter impressively beats up a fat and stupid class bully in their backwoods town, the townspeople start to wonder what kind of dad knows how to teach his daughter such incredible fighting skills.
Thus begins a surprisingly twisty and deviously fun story of escalating revenge between Statham and local meth kingpin James Franco, the Oscar-nominated actor whose presence is just one example of the fact this movie is way better than it has to be. Add in surprisingly gritty turns from formerly glamorous actresses Kate Bosworth and Winona Ryder as trailer trash who are pawns in the games between Statham and Franco, plus a propulsive pace from director Gary Fleder and impressive cinematography in unique rural settings, and “Homefront” is solid entertainment for adult action fans in the family to get away from the homefront during the drawn-out holiday weekend.
Be forewarned, that “Homefront” is definitely R-rated fare. There is an over-abundance of F-words in several scenes, but nothing that should be too shocking for adult fans of R-rated action, while the violence is frequent but mostly consists of gun battles, explosions, a couple of car chases and then the kind of chopsocky hand to hand combat that is so ridiculously fast-paced that it’s more humorous and awe-inspiring than seriously brutal. The movie scores points for positivity overall in its portrait of Statham as a man who will use any means necessary to protect his daughter.
“Oldboy,” on the other hand, is an utterly baffling choice for a holiday release. As mentioned above, Josh Brolin stars as Joe Doucette, a hopelessly alcoholic cad who hits on a client’s wife after landing a major business deal and winds up wandering the streets of his city drunk out of his mind before approaching a mysterious Asian woman that’s been following him.
He wakes up naked in a spartanly furnished room, with only a Bible, a set of Encyclopedia Britannica, and a TV that plays a bizarre mix of infomercials, old kung fu movies and a reality show about famous crimes to keep him occupied. He then learns from the TV show that he’s been accused of raping and murdering his ex-wife while their daughter was at home with them, and then disappearing from the authorities.
He spends the next 20 years in that room, a time span that Lee conveys in riveting fashion using TV reports of the most famous incidents of the past two decades, including 9/11 and President Obama’s inauguration.
But he finally escapes, and embarks on a quest to seek revenge on his captors and find his now-grown daughter. But things get really weird when a man with a high-pitched European accent calls to tell him he has 48 hours to figure out who captured him and why, or his daughter is going to be killed by his mysterious nemesis. But if he can solve the mystery and relate the answers in time, Joe will not only get his daughter back, but will also receive $20 million in diamonds and the satisfaction of seeing his captor commit suicide before his eyes.
Sounds like a real family charmer, doesn’t it? As director, Lee draws incredible performances from Brolin and Elizabeth Olson as a young social worker who offers to help him in his quest, and the complex script certainly should keep audiences riveted. But it also features sequences of brutal violence, a horrifying torture scene, quick video glimpse of Joe’s wife’s rape and murder as well as a near-assault on Olson’s character, and a graphic, fully nude and lengthy sex scene between Brolin and Olson.
But worst of all is that the big reveal of what’s actually going on - involving parallel incidents of incest - is as disturbing as it gets and sexually oriented to boot, leaving audiences with a movie that’s akin to “Seven” and “The Silence of the Lambs”: well-made but that will leave you feeling awful about humanity afterwards. It’s a must-avoid for all discerning Catholics.
Don’t worry, there are a couple of family films coming up in the next month, including Tom Hanks as Walt Disney in “Saving Mr. Banks,” and we’ll be getting to those as they come out. Until then, “Delivery Man” is great for teens and adults, and “Frozen” is a passable way to keep the kiddies entertained if they’re dying for a movie