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Some face-punching seems to be in order

Posted: January 19, 2012 - 1:00am

The first couple of times, I chalked it up to character acting. You know, that snooty terminology used to describe, ah, acting. Giovanni Ribisi, I think, is a very good (character) actor. Dude can act.

Dude also has, apparently, one of the strangest voices around. I can’t remember when I first became aware of him. It was before his turn as Nic Cage’s kid brother in “Gone in Sixty Seconds” (2000). Maybe his reoccurring role as Phoebe’s brother on “Friends”? Not sure, and the truth is that it doesn’t matter. Mr. Ribisi always talks like he’s constantly teetering between sneezing or just whining incessantly. The words come out of his mouth and you’re ready to say, “Bless you!”

Or, “Why are you talking like that?! Does every character you play call for that nasally, I-might-sneeze-at-any-second-or-maybe-not voice? For crying out loud!” Then someone tells you that’s the way he talks. Like, in real life.

Awkward.

Ribisi can be seen (and heard) right now in the new Marky Mark action film, “Contraband” (20th Century Theatre). Marky Mark — sorry, Mark Wahlberg — is the star, the hero, of course. Ribisi is the villain, or at least he’s the most easily identifiable bad guy. Director Baltasar Kormákur (not of American descent, in case you were wondering — he’s Icelandic) has created an action film that checks in at just under 2 hours long, features solid acting from an impressive cast, and actually is driven more often than not by interesting characters and believable twists. I won’t spoil the surprises.

Wahlberg plays Chris, a former master smuggler. His old man’s in prison and Chris is busy trying to go, and stay, legit. Can you guess where this is headed? While Chris and his wife, Kate (Kate Beckinsale), are at a friend’s wedding, Kate’s little brother, Andy (Caleb Landry Jones), is busily following in his brother-in-law’s old footsteps. Except Andy ain’t as good. When Customs boards the ship Andy is smuggling cocaine on, he dumps the drugs.

Whew! Oh, except those drugs were for Tim Briggs (Ribisi). Briggs’ attitude isn’t exactly, “Whew!” It’s more, “I’m going to kill you unless…”

Cue the brother-in-law, who just happens to possess the skill-set needed to make good on the bad guy’s lost money and save Andy’s skin.

No, the hero ex-con getting dragged back into the game in order to save the life of someone he loves isn’t the most original premise in the world. “Contraband”, though, has several other elements going for it. The settings (New Orleans, a freighter, and Panama) are unique. Wahlberg, Ribisi and Beckinsale (largely wasted in a role that calls mostly for her to be periodically terrorized by Ribisi) are all fine actors. Ben Foster, who I still think deserved Oscar consideration for “Alpha Dog” (2006), might have them all beat in the talent department. Foster plays Sebastian, a trusted family friend of Chris and Kate. Sebastian is easily the most complex character in the story. I’ll leave it at that.

Take everything else away, though, and what makes “Contraband” work is that it has “it.” Having “it” is a way for people to describe something they don’t feel quite comfortable describing. Sports analysts use “it” frequently (see Tebow, Tim). For a movie like “Contraband”, I would call “it” the ability to invoke a ridiculous feeling of hope in the audience. Hope that Chris’ big plan to go down to Panama and smuggle a load of counterfeit money back to the U.S. to make good on Andy’s debt will go exactly as planned. You hope that, even though you realize as you’re doing so that the movie resulting from such a smooth ride would be terrible. Somehow, then, as the movie plays out on screen you’re hoping for something you know you don’t actually want to happen. And can’t. You’re engaged the whole time.

Or, way more succinctly, “it”. “Contraband” has “it” and it was a pleasant surprise to so genuinely enjoy an action flick.

Plus, Ribisi gets the snot kicked out of him a couple of times, which is satisfying on a couple of levels. Yes, his character deserves it. Also, though, that voice of his… well, sometimes, don’t you just want to punch him in the face to get him to stop talking like that?

Just me?

Yikes.

Quick subject change to avoid getting too deeply into why I feel the urge to punch Giovanni Ribisi in the face: the boob tube!

Same disclaimer as last month: I’m always on the hunt for shows to add to the repertoire. We all have shows that we watch and think, “Man! I have to get others watching this.” Tell me what I’m missing! Facebook. Twitter. Blog (alaskaCDC.tumblr.com). Email. Take your pick.

First up, The Retroactive Group: “Lost” (ABC) has been playing in our apartment at an average rate of 3 episodes a night. Netflix streaming is earning its keep this month, baby. The wife and I are closing in on the end of season 3 and all I can say is I admire those of you that watched it one episode at a time, one week at a time, when it was airing. As the kids say, OMG! It’s all we can do each night to shut it down and get a few hours of sleep. If you are looking for a way to kill about 900 hours, join us.

“Homeland” is one season old. Claire Danes just picked up a Golden Globe for her work as a bi-polar CIA agent. We ripped through the season in a matter of a few days and when it ended, of course, with a cliffhanger either my wife or I (can’t remember who for sure) simply yelled, “Nooooooooo!” Season 2 can’t come soon enough.

The It’s Still On And It’s Still Good Group: “The Biggest Loser” (NBC) is in its 100th season. The new season just got going and, ironically, we usually watch while eating dinner. “Southland” (TNT) is a cop drama (there are a few of those on TV, not sure if you noticed) that has managed to maintain its high quality thus far (i.e. David Caruso is not in it). New season just started.

The Brand New, Still Has That New Show Smell Group: “Alcatraz” (FOX) has J.J. Abrams’ (“Lost”) fingerprints all over it. That, FYI, is a good thing. So is having Sam Neil in a starring role. Nobody reveals the big mystery more maddeningly slowly than Abrams. Showtime has “House of Lies”, a show I have yet to sample but will. It’s Showtime. It’s Don Cheadle (not “Chead-lay” like I heard a radio deejay say during a promo recently).

Finally, if you have spent any time at all in Portland, Ore., give “Portlandia” (IFC) a dabble. I’m very familiar with P-town and I laughed a lot. My wife isn’t, and she didn’t.

Crap. I’m still thinking about punching Giovanni Ribisi in the face. That’s a little worrisome. Also worrisome: the sequel to “Ghost Rider” comes out next month (Feb. 17). Surely, I’m not the only one who wants to punch Nic Cage in the face!

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