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Hammerle on ... 'The Family' and 'Short Term 12'

September 25, 2013
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bob hammerle movie reviews“The Family”

How could any gangster movie starring Robert De Niro, Michelle Pfeiffer and Tommy Lee Jones that is directed by Luc Besson and has Martin Scorsese as an executive producer be worth missing? Even with its R rating and its uber-violent environment from beginning to end, it is a work of malignant art.

It seems that the Manzoni family is in its sixth year of being protected by the FBI as a result of daddy Giovani’s testimony against the mob. Forced to move repeatedly given the underworld’s continual attempts to kill them, they are now living in Normandy under the name of Blake.

Please understand that the parents, played by De Niro and Pfeiffer, were not fans of June and Ward Cleaver from the “Leave It to Beaver” TV series (1957-63). De Niro is a former hitman who has not lost his taste for blood. Writing his life’s story on an old typewriter to occupy his time, he dispatches anyone who makes the mistake of insulting him. God forbid if you sell him a bad batch of lobsters or try to con him just because you think you are a smug house plumber.

Pfeiffer is back on top of her game as De Niro’s wife, Maggie. There is nothing remotely weak about her, as a French grocery store learns to its detriment when customers try to ridicule her for being an American. And watch for her as she crawls across the floor with a knife to save her beloved husband, in the process looking like a lioness closing on the kill.

What also adds surprising strength to the film are the performances of Dianna Agron and John D’Leo, playing the teenage children whose hunted parents stay one step ahead of doom. As they enter their first day of high school in France, you quickly learn that both of them are capable of kicking the living crap out of any idiot who demeans them.

hammerleMs. Agron, the spitting image of Emma Roberts in her role in “We’re the Millers,” reveals her hidden Medusa Syndrome when she demolishes a high school student with a tennis racket when he makes unwanted sexual advances. If she could hit a tennis ball as accurately as she did this goofball’s head, even Serena Williams couldn’t defeat her at Wimbledon.

Finally, Jones plays Agent Stansfield, a withered old coot simply trying to keep De Niro’s besieged family alive. Though all of his wards drive him crazy when they continually violate simple house rules, he has an obvious affection for them despite their tarnished souls. Simply stated, if they are going to die, then the mob will have to take them out over his dead body.

For all of its violence and De Niro’s love of the “F” word, “The Family” has such immense charm and edgy humor that you can’t help but tag along to see what happens. Yes, the mob is destined to find them and people will die, but death waits for us all, doesn’t it?

“Short Term 12”

As you follow the travails of young staff members working in a teenage foster care facility, you are frequently left more emotional than the kids on the screen. All in their 20s, at least one of the counselors is as psychologically damaged as the kids who they care for, while the others are left trying to make sense out of a job that frequently doesn’t make sense.

Brie Larson is phenomenal as Grace, and her performance reminds me of Jennifer Lawrence in her Oscar-nominated breakthrough “Winter’s Bone” (2010). While I know this is always wishful thinking, she deserves her own Oscar nomination. Her simple, delicate innocence is breathtaking.

Here, she is a dedicated young woman trying to help her wards attain some balance and self-respect before they are forced to leave for the real world when they turn 18. On top of that, she discovers that she is pregnant and is forced to reveal to her loving live-in boyfriend/co-worker, Mason, a hidden past that profoundly haunts her.

John Gallagher Jr. is as good as Ms. Larson as he plays Mason, a young man who has a heart of gold both at home and at work. He embraces all of the children, as he knows what it is like to be a foster child.

Though the movie is seen through the eyes of Grace and Mason, the kids will burn a hole in your heart. Keith Stanfield plays Marcus, a fledgling gangsta rap lyricist who dreads turning 18 and being thrown out into the real world. Your eyes will fill with tears repeatedly during this film, particularly when Marcus describes his lost world in captivating rap lyrics.

hammerleIn addition, Kaitlyn Dever is unforgettable as Jayden, a psychologically damaged 14-year old holding horrid secrets about a father seeking to visit her. She dislikes everyone, including herself, and the film centers around Grace’s desperate attempt to save Jayden from the dark side. If your heart hasn’t broken by this point, wait until you hear Jayden’s fictional short story of the tragic friendship between a shark and a small octopus.

This film reminded me of when I taught the 5th grade at an all-black public school in Indianapolis in 1969-70. Several of my male students had to use a rope to hold up their pants, and I quickly realized that my job exceeded teaching math and science.

“Short Term 12” has a spirit that captures Ms. Larson’s name, Grace. Despite the noblest efforts of the “Graces” of this country, the film reminds us why government has to play a role in helping those in need due to no fault of their own.

Brilliantly acted and a composite of all that is decent and good in life, it is the best film that I have seen this year.•

__________

Robert Hammerle practices criminal law in Indianapolis. When he is not in the courtroom or working diligently in his Pennsylvania Street office, Bob can likely be found at one of his favorite movie theaters watching and preparing to review the latest films. To read more of his reviews, visit www.bigmouthbobs.com. The opinions expressed are those of the author.

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  1. I have been on this program while on parole from 2011-2013. No person should be forced mentally to share private details of their personal life with total strangers. Also giving permission for a mental therapist to report to your parole agent that your not participating in group therapy because you don't have the financial mean to be in the group therapy. I was personally singled out and sent back three times for not having money and also sent back within the six month when you aren't to be sent according to state law. I will work to het this INSOMM's removed from this state. I also had twelve or thirteen parole agents with a fifteen month period. Thanks for your time.

  2. Our nation produces very few jurists of the caliber of Justice DOUGLAS and his peers these days. Here is that great civil libertarian, who recognized government as both a blessing and, when corrupted by ideological interests, a curse: "Once the investigator has only the conscience of government as a guide, the conscience can become ‘ravenous,’ as Cromwell, bent on destroying Thomas More, said in Bolt, A Man For All Seasons (1960), p. 120. The First Amendment mirrors many episodes where men, harried and harassed by government, sought refuge in their conscience, as these lines of Thomas More show: ‘MORE: And when we stand before God, and you are sent to Paradise for doing according to your conscience, *575 and I am damned for not doing according to mine, will you come with me, for fellowship? ‘CRANMER: So those of us whose names are there are damned, Sir Thomas? ‘MORE: I don't know, Your Grace. I have no window to look into another man's conscience. I condemn no one. ‘CRANMER: Then the matter is capable of question? ‘MORE: Certainly. ‘CRANMER: But that you owe obedience to your King is not capable of question. So weigh a doubt against a certainty—and sign. ‘MORE: Some men think the Earth is round, others think it flat; it is a matter capable of question. But if it is flat, will the King's command make it round? And if it is round, will the King's command flatten it? No, I will not sign.’ Id., pp. 132—133. DOUGLAS THEN WROTE: Where government is the Big Brother,11 privacy gives way to surveillance. **909 But our commitment is otherwise. *576 By the First Amendment we have staked our security on freedom to promote a multiplicity of ideas, to associate at will with kindred spirits, and to defy governmental intrusion into these precincts" Gibson v. Florida Legislative Investigation Comm., 372 U.S. 539, 574-76, 83 S. Ct. 889, 908-09, 9 L. Ed. 2d 929 (1963) Mr. Justice DOUGLAS, concurring. I write: Happy Memorial Day to all -- God please bless our fallen who lived and died to preserve constitutional governance in our wonderful series of Republics. And God open the eyes of those government officials who denounce the constitutions of these Republics by arbitrary actions arising out capricious motives.

  3. From back in the day before secularism got a stranglehold on Hoosier jurists comes this great excerpt via Indiana federal court judge Allan Sharp, dedicated to those many Indiana government attorneys (with whom I have dealt) who count the law as a mere tool, an optional tool that is not to be used when political correctness compels a more acceptable result than merely following the path that the law directs: ALLEN SHARP, District Judge. I. In a scene following a visit by Henry VIII to the home of Sir Thomas More, playwriter Robert Bolt puts the following words into the mouths of his characters: Margaret: Father, that man's bad. MORE: There is no law against that. ROPER: There is! God's law! MORE: Then God can arrest him. ROPER: Sophistication upon sophistication! MORE: No, sheer simplicity. The law, Roper, the law. I know what's legal not what's right. And I'll stick to what's legal. ROPER: Then you set man's law above God's! MORE: No, far below; but let me draw your attention to a fact I'm not God. The currents and eddies of right and wrong, which you find such plain sailing, I can't navigate. I'm no voyager. But in the thickets of law, oh, there I'm a forester. I doubt if there's a man alive who could follow me there, thank God... ALICE: (Exasperated, pointing after Rich) While you talk, he's gone! MORE: And go he should, if he was the Devil himself, until he broke the law! ROPER: So now you'd give the Devil benefit of law! MORE: Yes. What would you do? Cut a great road through the law to get after the Devil? ROPER: I'd cut down every law in England to do that! MORE: (Roused and excited) Oh? (Advances on Roper) And when the last law was down, and the Devil turned round on you where would you hide, Roper, the laws being flat? (He leaves *1257 him) This country's planted thick with laws from coast to coast man's laws, not God's and if you cut them down and you're just the man to do it d'you really think you would stand upright in the winds that would blow then? (Quietly) Yes, I'd give the Devil benefit of law, for my own safety's sake. ROPER: I have long suspected this; this is the golden calf; the law's your god. MORE: (Wearily) Oh, Roper, you're a fool, God's my god... (Rather bitterly) But I find him rather too (Very bitterly) subtle... I don't know where he is nor what he wants. ROPER: My God wants service, to the end and unremitting; nothing else! MORE: (Dryly) Are you sure that's God! He sounds like Moloch. But indeed it may be God And whoever hunts for me, Roper, God or Devil, will find me hiding in the thickets of the law! And I'll hide my daughter with me! Not hoist her up the mainmast of your seagoing principles! They put about too nimbly! (Exit More. They all look after him). Pgs. 65-67, A MAN FOR ALL SEASONS A Play in Two Acts, Robert Bolt, Random House, New York, 1960. Linley E. Pearson, Atty. Gen. of Indiana, Indianapolis, for defendants. Childs v. Duckworth, 509 F. Supp. 1254, 1256 (N.D. Ind. 1981) aff'd, 705 F.2d 915 (7th Cir. 1983)

  4. "Meanwhile small- and mid-size firms are getting squeezed and likely will not survive unless they become a boutique firm." I've been a business attorney in small, and now mid-size firm for over 30 years, and for over 30 years legal consultants have been preaching this exact same mantra of impending doom for small and mid-sized firms -- verbatim. This claim apparently helps them gin up merger opportunities from smaller firms who become convinced that they need to become larger overnight. The claim that large corporations are interested in cost-saving and efficiency has likewise been preached for decades, and is likewise bunk. If large corporations had any real interest in saving money they wouldn't use large law firms whose rates are substantially higher than those of high-quality mid-sized firms.

  5. The family is the foundation of all human government. That is the Grand Design. Modern governments throw off this Design and make bureaucratic war against the family, as does Hollywood and cultural elitists such as third wave feminists. Since WWII we have been on a ship of fools that way, with both the elite and government and their social engineering hacks relentlessly attacking the very foundation of social order. And their success? See it in the streets of Fergusson, on the food stamp doles (mostly broken families)and in the above article. Reject the Grand Design for true social function, enter the Glorious State to manage social dysfunction. Our Brave New World will be a prison camp, and we will welcome it as the only way to manage given the anarchy without it.

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