' Won't Back Down'
2 stars = Mediocre
"Won't Back Down," filmed in Pittsburgh in 2011, is about a fictional public school in the Hill District called Adams Elementary, "where education goes to die," one disillusioned instructor says. It's where Nona (Viola Davis) teaches and Jamie (Maggie Gyllenhaal) has reluctantly transferred her daughter, a second-grader.
Jamie works two jobs but no longer can afford the tuition at the private school her child previously attended. She cannot move or mandate her child's shift to another classroom or school and, as her options dwindle, hears about something called the "fail-safe law," which prompts her to ask Nona, "You wanna take over the school with me?"
The fail-safe law is an apparent stand-in for California's 2010 parent-trigger law allowing parents in a failing school to force changes, convert it to a charter school or close it. It's since become a model for other states.
The movie, which proclaims to be "inspired by actual events," kicks a hornets' nest with its portrayal of teachers, unions and even the few school administrators shown. They are obstructionists or villains, and the union takes it on the chin, despite the conflicted leader played by Holly Hunter, whose parents organized a textile mill down South.
"Won't Back Down" features plenty of Pirates, Penguins and Steelers paraphernalia along with a ride on the Duquesne Incline and views of Heinz Field from across the river and Downtown looming over the Hill.
The odds are stacked in such a way that moviegoers of course would root for the women, and we even get the Tom Petty & the Heartbreakers' tune "I Won't Back Down." But you may walk away with as many questions and quibbles as the intended inspiration.
' Taken 2'
"Taken," about a former CIA operative who rescues his teenage daughter from sadistic sex-trade traffickers, was a surprise hit in 2009. Its appeal, apart from a straightforward, unpretentious approach to otherwise pedestrian material, was Liam Neeson.
As "Taken" protagonist Bryan Mills, he infused an otherwise by-the-numbers procedural with an ineffable, highly appealing blend of Celtic soul and 6-foot-4 heft. But the sequel is every bit as clumsy, ham-handed, outlandish and laughable as the original was sleek, tough and efficient.
"Taken 2" finds Bryan in Istanbul on business, with circumstances conspiring to bring his daughter and ex-wife there, too. Soon, all three are caught up in a nasty web of kidnapping, torture and revenge by earlier vanquished Albanian bad guys. It's a perfectly acceptable setup, but "Taken 2" seems more invested in going through the motions than raising its own bar.
Why an actor of Mr. Neeson's ability would play this character once, let alone twice, is a mystery for the ages.
The DVD includes an alternate ending (20 additional minutes), while the Blu-ray adds an unrated cut and deleted scenes.
-- Washington Post
' The Possession'
3 stars = Good
The film is proof a movie can be scary without having to resort to an onslaught of blood, guts and profanity that would earn it an R rating. Director Ole Bornedal gets the maximum chills from gloomy weather, a foreboding soundtrack, lighting trickery, decent special effects and acting performances that sell each startle. And it still comes in with a PG-13 rating.
It's shocking that the film was produced by Sam Raimi and Robert Tapert, who helped ramp up horror film violence with "Evil Dead." The restraint they showed should open up "Possession" to a larger audience.
Jeffrey Dean Morgan continues to show his versatility. He's gone from the outlandish superhero Comedian in "Watchmen" to the suave nightclub owner in "Magic City" to this believable father. His performance helps make the film work.
-- Rick Bentley, McClatchy Newspapers
TV on DVD
' Men of a Certain Age: The Complete Second Season'
3 stars = Good
The cable series looks at three average guys who wonder if their lives have been well spent. The focus is on males around the age of 50 but should reach viewers of all ages because of a first-rate cast and very smart writing.
It works because of the honest dialogue between these men. They don't suddenly know the meaning of life but struggle just to get through another day. Those struggles are both funny and serious.
Ray Romano, Scott Bakula and Andre Braugher turn in first-rate performances.
-- Rick Bentley, McClatchy Newspapers
ALSO THIS WEEK:
• "Thomas & Friends: Muddy Matters": Thomas and his friends go on a messy adventure.
• "Perry Mason: Season Eight, Volume Two": Raymond Burr continues his legal winning ways.
• "I Am Bruce Lee": Documentary on the life of the legendary martial artist.
• "Jackie Chan: Crime Story / The Protector": DVD includes two Jackie Chan films.
• "Littlest Pet Shop: Little Pets, Big Adventures": First DVD collection from the animated TV show.
• "The Chicago 8": Gary Cole headlines a stellar cast.
• "Story of Math Collection": Oxford professor Marcus du Sautoy offers a different look at the world of numbers.
• "Being Human: Season Four": BBC series about supernatural roommates.
• "Merlin: The Complete Fourth Season": British series starring Colin Morgan.
• "Waking the Dead: The Complete Season Seven": Trevor Eve stars.
• "Bill Moyers: Becoming American": The story of Chinese Americans.
• "The Amazing World of Gumball: The Mystery": This is the second DVD from the animated TV series.
• "Stone of Destiny": A college student reignites Scottish national pride with a raid on the heart of England.
• "Dance Moms Season 2: Volume 1" and "Dance Moms Season 2: Volume 2": DVD sets based on the reality show set in a dance studio.
-- Rick Bentley, McClatchy Newspapersmoviereviews
First Published January 17, 2013 5:00 AM