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Mini-Movie Review Roundup: “Drug War,” “Enough Said,” “The Counselor,” “Gangster Squad,” “Safe Haven”

Sections: Movie Review, Movies

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I have absolutely no idea why this man is smiling

I have absolutely no idea why this man is smiling

More thoughts from this critic’s end-of-year movie catchup:

– “Drug War.” Johnnie To’s Chinese film is the most purely enjoyable action film of the year. It tells a well-worn plot in an original way, along with great characters, and it wastes no time at all. Just awesome all-around, and I hope the inevitable American remake doesn’t screw it up too badly. (Available on Netflix streaming and on DVD from Amazon.)

– “Enough Said.” Yes, we all know how sad and cruel it is that James Gandolfini finally gets to play a romantic lead, and it’s after he’s dead. It’s bittersweet, but this is a wonderful, original film, telling a realistic story about an adult love affair- and it’s never a distraction for one second that the two participants are played by people as iconic as Tony Soprano and Elaine Benes.

Bonus points for an eclectic supporting cast that includes Catherine Keener, Toni Collette, Eve (daughter of Bono) Hewson and Tavi Gevinson, the well-known blogger who I didn’t even realize was an actress. (Coming to DVD in early 2014.)

– “Gangster Squad.” Probably the year’s most squandered cast, in a boring, by-the-numbers crime film that plays like a fifth-generation re-do of “L.A. Confidential,” or perhaps the weakest-ever episode of Boardwalk Empire. It’s probably the worst performance of Sean Penn’s career, and no one else- Ryan Gosling, Emma Stone, Josh Brolin- will be putting this one on any career highlight reels. (Available on DVD, Blu-ray and Netflix disc now.)

– “The Counselor.” I know some people- led by my colleague Bill Gibron- who despise this movie with the fire of a thousand suns; I know others who consider it a misunderstood masterpiece. I think it’s just unbelievably weird, and not only because Cameron Diaz screws a car.

Not to defend the car scene, but this is actually Diaz’s most interesting movie role in years. Javier Bardem gets to be sleazy, which is a delight although Michael Fassbender, in the lead role, is just sleepwalking.

The rest of the movie, though? Cormac McCarthy’s screenwriting debut consists of a whole bunch of overlong dialogue scenes. That can work- Tarantino does it all the time, after all- but then QT is good at dialogue. Characters say a lot of things that are just strange and don’t make sense.

And Brad Pitt actually tells the Jesus/Mexico/”three wise men and a virgin” joke. I turned 35 this year, and that joke is older than I am.

The plot is also boring, who-cares nonsense. At least, thanks to “Vanilla Sky,” it’s not the worst movie ever to star both Cameron Diaz and Penelope Cruz. (Coming to DVD and Blu-ray in early 2014.)

Safe Haven.” A generally by-the-number Nicholas Sparks adaptation, featuring an uncharacteristically passable performance from Julianne Hough and all the usual romance and idyllic locations-and-vengeful-violent-ex-husband, up until the weirdest, most out-of-nowhere plot twist ever. I can only hope How I Met Your Mother doesn’t end the same way, with the same actress. (Available now on Netflix streaming and from Amazon.)

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