At the Movies: Country Strong, Casino Jack

The new year is not off to a shining start, movie-wise. I was going to see “Season of the Witch” until I learned it was not based on the old Donovan song.

Country Strong

“Country Strong” is the kind of movie that leaves an impression. In fact, I’m sure I’ll remember it 11 months from now when I’m putting together my list of the worst films of 2011.

Gwyneth Paltrow stars as country music superstar Kelly Canter. Kelly is in rehab because at her last concert she fell off the stage in a drunken stupor which resulted in the death of her unborn child.

Oh — we’re just getting started.

Kelly’s sleazy husband-manager James (Tim McGraw) pulls her out of rehab a month early so she can get back on the road on a comeback tour. Joining them on this ill-fated expedition are two up-and-comers: true-blue country boy Beau Hutton (Garrett Hedlund)  and beauty-queen-turned-country-popster Chiles Stanton (Leighton Meester).

What follows is bad melodrama piled so high and deep not even Evel Knievel — were he alive today — could jump over it. “Country Strong” is rife with bad dialogue and ludicrous situations. In fact, by the end it kind of became a game: They’re not really going to go there, are they? And sure enough, they would. Every time.

You want specifics? Well, Chiles has such stage fright that she can’t perform in front of a bar crowd, but two minutes later she’s belting it out in a packed auditorium. Kelly falls apart during the first song of her first comeback show, doesn’t even take the stage in the second show but by the make-or-break third show she’s putting on a multi-media spectacle with multiple costume changes. When did she have time to even rehearse that between the booze, pills, whining and sex?

I won’t even bring up cancer boy or the baby birdie.

But perhaps writer/director Shana Feste biggest mistake is making a film with four unlikable, unsympathetic characters. At first you think one or two are OK but then you learn they’re all sleeping around and engaging in other inappropriate behavior.

On the plus side, everyone sings well enough and the music isn’t bad.

Did it work for me? Lordy, no.

Casino Jack

Kevin Spacey is back in fine form in “Casino Jack,” a darkly humorous take on the life of lobbyist and power broker Jack Abramoff.

From his opening monologue Jack comes across as so supremely arrogant and sure of himself that you can’t wait to see him go down in flames. He’s not all bad — he loves his family and gives back to the community. But Jack and his cohort Michael Scanlon (Barry Pepper) love money and power and all that goes with it.

The film focuses on two of the duo’s scams. One involves an indian tribe seeking favorable legislation for its casinos while the other deals with Jack’s desire to be part-owner of a floating casino.

To make the latter deal work, Jack enlists the aid of Adam Kidan (Jon Lovitz), an unsavory businessman with mob connections. As you might guess, it doesn’t end well.

While not afraid to name names (Tom DeLay, Karl Rove and John McCain are among the Republican heavyweights presented in a not-flattering light), the late director George Hickenlooper’s film is more flash than substance. The movie doesn’t delve into the heart of what Jack’s doing wrong, it’s just one minute he’s on top and the next he’s not.

Despite its uneven nature, the film’s greatest strength is Spacey. His best scene takes place in the courtroom, when he fantasizes about what he’d really like to say instead of constantly taking the fifth amendment.

Did it work for me? Not a strong recommendation but yeah, I liked it well enough.






5 responses to “At the Movies: Country Strong, Casino Jack

  1. I think the strong point of Country Strong was Garrett Hedlund. I love him. And the baby birdie was pretty cute.

  2. Uh oh, I bet I will love Country Strong.

  3. Here’s a little known fact. The late George Hickenlooper was the son of current Lindenwood English professor and award-winning playwright George Hickenlooper.

  4. Thank God you hated Country Strong. We couldn’t be friends if you had liked it.
    And could Paltrow be a worse actress? Or McGraw a worse actor? His acting was even bad in the trailer.

  5. But you did say Gwyneth Paltrow…right?

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