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Knight at the Movies: Puncture, The Ides of March, film notes
by Richard Knight, Jr., for Windy City Times
2011-10-05

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"Earnest Hunks" might be the categorical subtext of two flawed but entertaining dramas, both with heavyweight subjects, opening this weekend. The first, Puncture, stars Mr. Captain America himself, Chris Evans, while the second, The Ides of March, is headed by the moody beauty Ryan Gosling co-starring with yet another dreamboat, the film's co-writer-director, George Clooney.

Evans is front and center ( and, yes, shirtless and as buff as ever ) in Puncture, in which he plays Mike Weiss, an idealistic young lawyer whose life is heading for the deep end, thanks to his escalating addiction to drugs and hookers. Then he and partner Paul Danziger, the good yin to his damaged yang ( played by Mark Kassen, who also co-directed with his brother, Adam ) stumble on a case involving a young nurse infected with HIV/AIDS after being stuck with a needle in the ER. She leads them to a brilliant but difficult inventor of a retractable needle who can't get hospitals to buy it thanks to what amounts to a medical cartel. Via an antitrust lawsuit, the duo attempt to break up the cartel.

The film, set in 1998 and scripted by Chris Lopota, is based on a true story and is a familiar but nevertheless engaging variation on other David vs. Goliath legal dramas a la A Civil Action, The Verdict and, especially, Erin Brockovich. Paul does what he can to keep the small firm above water, watching helplessly as his renegade partner's dual obsessions with drugs and the case keep spiraling downward. A good supporting cast ( Brett Cullen, Vinessa Shaw, Michael Biehn and Kate Burton, among them ) helps, as does the beleaguered Kassen.

However, although Evans is spectacular in the role, the elements of this lopsided conspiracy thriller never quite jell—we end up focusing too often on the troubled Mike as he misses depositions and goes off on yet another bender ( and how does someone this drug-addled keep so toned, we wonder ) . Several of the rather fascinating questions the storyline raises are never explored and simply fritter away ( e.g., How culpable are reused, infected needles in the spread of HIV/AIDS in Africa? ) . In the end, the moviemakers apparently became more obsessed with their leading character ( which their film is dedicated to ) and his personal demons rather than the case that apparently obsessed him—an interesting but unfulfilling irony that Puncture doesn't quite pierce.

Ironies abound as well in George Clooney's political drama The Ides of March, based on a play by Beau Willimon's play ( who co-adapted the screenplay along with Clooney and Grant Heslov ) . Clooney plays Mike Morris, an ultraliberal presidential candidate who not only isn't afraid of that label but embraces it. Morris, a governor from Pennsylvania, is close to tying up the Democratic nomination when typical behind-the-scenes machinations kick into high gear. At first, his campaign managers—Philip Seymour Hoffman and the aforementioned Gosling as Morris' number one and two, respectfully—seem to be on top of it.

However, then Gosling gets drawn into a web of personal and political missteps involving a young, pretty intern ( Evan Rachel Wood ) ; Morris' conservative political opponent's manager ( Paul Giammatti ) ; and a cagey journalist ( Marisa Tomei ) that test his idealist aspirations with life-changing moral and ethical concerns. These same moral conundrums have been at the core of many of Clooney's movies and, sadly, like his previous endeavors, Clooney gives with one hand while taking with another.

Thanks to its promising premise and stellar work by the rest of the powerhouse cast, the movie hits the ground running. However, although the exploration of the political wheeling and dealing never fails to fascinate, eventually the holes in the plot twists ( which veer off into political-thriller territory ) require a huge leap of faith that The Ides of March can't hope to overcome. ( Gosling's character, especially is required to do some really dumb stuff. ) Ironically, one ends up feeling both skeptical and cynical about this movie that wants to have it both ways but, instead, ends up just as deeply cynical and flawed as its characters and the system it seeks to expose.

Film notes:

—Woke Up Black, the documentary focusing on five African-American teenagers with diverse backgrounds from the Chicago area by lesbian filmmaker and social activist Mary F. Morten, is screening several times and at several venues this fall. ( Check www.WokeUpBlack.com for times and other specifics. )

Oct. 5: University of Illinois-Chicago/James Stukel Tower ( 718 W. Rochford )

Oct. 6: Rafael-Cintron Ortiz Latino Cultural Center ( 803 S. Morgan )

Oct. 26: Roosevelt University/Ganz Hall ( 430 S. Michigan )

Nov. 2—University of Chicago ( 5710 S. Woodlawn )

—On Sunday, Oct. 9, at 2 p.m., Camp Midnight returns with a new edition of the film series that celebrates "the best of the worst"—this time featuring director Brian DePalma's 1976 adaptation of Stephen King's teen horror novel Carrie. Both Sissy Spacek ( as the telekinetic title teen ) and Piper Laurie ( as her religious nut of a mother ) were nominated for Oscars. My alter ego, Dick O'Day, will host along with Hell in a Handbag's David Cerda. The screening will feature a lively pre-show with costume contest and more followed by an interactive audience screening with commentary by myself and Cerda. The event will partially benefit both Handbag and Vital Bridges. ( Have your photo taken with Carrie and mum before the show in the lobby! ) . www.musicboxtheatre.com

—Sidetrack, 3349 N. Halsted, is hosting Queer Vision, an evening of all-queer clips ( film-TV-music video-Broadway-documentary ) in honor of National Coming Out Day on Tuesday, Oct. 11, 7-10 p.m. The evening will include the first sneak peek at some of the movies in this year's Reeling 30 gay and lesbian film festival. A donation of $10 includes a complimentary beverage and chance at fabulous door prizes ( including Kathy Griffin concert tickets ) . The evening will benefit the Queer Film Society ( of which I'm president ) the non-profit film group which promotes queer cinema in Chicago. www.queerfilmsociety.org

—Openly gay writer and academic Michael Schiavi, author of The Celluloid Activist, the biography of queer film historian and activist Vito Russo, will present a lecture on Russo Wed., Oct. 12 at 4 p.m. at the Elmhurst College Frick Center Founders Lounge, 190 Prospect Ave., Elmhurst. Schiavi's lecture is in conjunction with a two-day event honoring Elmhurst College alumnus Reverend William R. Johnson who is being honored for his longtime work on behalf of the LGBT community. ( In 1972 Johnson, Russo's onetime lover, was the first openly gay person ordained by the Christian ministry. ) Call 630-279-1009 or visit http://public.elmhurst.edu/calendar.

Check out my archived reviews at www.windycitymediagroup.com or www.knightatthemovies.com . Readers can leave feedback at the latter website.


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