Beowulf (2007)


If I saw Angelina Jolie rising naked out of a cave pool, I'd draw my sword too - but it would likely be a different sword.

If I saw Angelina Jolie rising naked out of a cave pool, I’d draw my sword too – but it would likely be a different sword.

(2007) Animated Feature (Paramount) Starring the voices of Ray Winstone, Anthony Hopkins, Angelina Jolie, John Malkovich, Robin Wright Penn, Brendan Gleeson, Dominic Keating, Alison Lohman, Crispin Glover, Costas Mandylor, Chris Coppola, Charlotte Salt, Julene Renee, Sebastian Roche, Chris Coppola, Sonja Fortag, Jacquie Barnbrook. Directed by Robert Zemeckis

We are in the midst of a cinematic superhero golden age. However, even before comic books there were heroes. Gilgamesh, Hercules, Theseus – all names that were spoken of with honor in ancient days. The legend of Beowulf is one of the oldest examples of heroic literature but today, few know his story – and it is a mighty one.

King Hrothgar (Hopkins) of Denmark and his much younger queen Wealthow (Penn) are celebrating their grand new meadhall in fine drunken fashion. The aging king may lament the lack of a son and heir but he has a full life of heroic deeds to sing of. He is drunk to the disgust of his queen, but to the praise of his warriors. The noise reaches the ears of the monster Grendel (Glover). Being a monster, he reacts predictably. None of the drunken Danes can stand up to the misshapen creature, as the smarmy adviser Unferth (Malkovich) cowers in a cistern. The carnage is considerable.

Fully aware that none of his people have the strength or courage to defeat the monster, Hrothgar sends word to all the nations of the earth that a hero is required. His desperate cry is answered by Beowulf (Winstone) of the Geats, a vain swaggering man who can thankfully back up his boasts. Although his trusted right hand man Wiglaf (Gleason) has reservations about the whole situation, he has his friend’s back.

Beowulf is greeted less than enthusiastically by the suspicious Danes, who find his stories a tad tall. Wealthow, for her part, finds the studly Geat intriguing, while Beowulf does the same. Hrothgar, who was friends with Beowulf’s father, is grateful to have him there to rid him of his curse. He orders a great celebration in the Meadhall, which is sure to attract Grendel’s notice.

True to form, Grendel arrives and again wreaks great havoc. The cocky Beowulf, who is fully naked since Grendel wears no armor nor carries any sword, watches his men get bounced around the room like ping pong balls, but soon sees Grendel’s weakness and exploits it. At length, he manages to chain the creature up so that it is half in, half out of the doorway and uses the chain to rip the arm off of the beast, which limps home to mama (Jolie). His killer’s name is the last word on his lips.

 

The grieving and furious mom (she has no name either in the movie nor the story it is based on) takes out her fury on Beowulf’s men. Only Wiglaf escapes the slaughter being down by the boat preparing it for the trip home. Beowulf is also spared by the demon, but only because she has plans for him. Beowulf has been given a beautiful dragon horn as a gift by Hrothgar, who has also promised Beowulf the throne of Denmark when Hrothgar dies, but with the demon still loose in the land, Beowulf knows he must kill the mother of the monster before he can truly call himself a hero, but he will face his greatest challenge; his own vanity and pride. Will he be hero enough to overcome them?

Yes, this is the same motion capture animation Zemeckis utilized in The Polar Express, but this is far more than the one-man show that movie was. Zemeckis hired a very impressive group of actors, led by Winstone – one of the finest character actors of his generation – and Hopkins, one of the finest actors period. They roar with the best of them here. Although you get a sense of the faces of the actors, they are altered enough so that they don’t quite look the same. Still, how can you go wrong with a cast that includes Gleason, Penn, Malkovich, Jolie and Lohman?

The animation here was stunning in its day – seven years ago While they are going for an almost photo-realistic style, it is still obviously animation and the characters have that lifeless expression that came with 3D photorealism in its earliest stages. Still, there are times when you forget that it isn’t live action, and that’s saying something. I saw this in a 2-D version which spared me the headaches of 3-D animation, but judging from what I saw, the 3-D version would probably be terrifying. The music is suitably heroic and martial. Not many are familiar with Beowulf’s story, one of the oldest heroic epics we are aware of.

As I said earlier, the cast is first-rate. There is quite a bit of entertainment to be had here. Winstone’s take on Beowulf makes him a big-time blowhard, but noble nonetheless – a tough trick to pull off.

There’s quite a bit of shouting and chest-beating here. The testosterone levels are abundant to say the least, even among the women in the cast. However, Neil Gaiman wrote the script which should tell you all you need to know about the quality of the writing.

Da Queen was not interested at all in catching this, so I didn’t see it until it hit On Demand. I would have liked to see this on a big screen – the visuals are worth it. Even on a small screen, it’s impressive. I wouldn’t say it’s up with Polar Express or the Back to the Future series in Zemeckis’ resume, but this is solid nonetheless.

WHY RENT THIS: Impressive visuals. Even in motion capture Winstone, Gleeson and Hopkins are terrific actors.

WHY RENT SOMETHING ELSE: Curiously lifeless. An over-abundance of testosterone.

FAMILY MATTERS: There is some animated nudity and quite a bit of carnage. The monsters can be awfully frightening, This PG-13 could easily have wound up being R-rated without too much of a stretch.

TRIVIAL PURSUITS: Glover previously worked with Zemeckis on Back to the Future.

NOTABLE HOME VIDEO FEATURES: There are featurettes on the history of the story of Beowulf, and how it made it from story to screen. The making-of featurettes are also unusually interesting given the demands of motion capture and the larger-than-life nature of the actors involved.

BOX OFFICE PERFORMANCE: $196.4M on a $150M production budget.

COMPARISON SHOPPING: King Arthur

FINAL RATING: 7/10

NEXT: Wish I Was Here

Four-Warned: August 2014


Guardians of the GalaxyEvery month I’m going to look at every movie on the release schedule and try to assign them a numerical value corresponding to how anxious I am to see it. The lower the number, the more I want to see it. A one means I would walk through hell and high water to see it; a four means there’s no interest whatsoever. The numbers are not arrived at scientifically but they aren’t arbitrary either.

The numbers aren’t a reflection of the artistic merit of any of these films, but merely a reflection of my willingness to go to a movie theater and see it. The top four scores will be gathered as a means of reflecting the movies I’m anticipating the most; you may use that as a guide or not.

Most of the movies will never play theatrically where you live (unless you live in either New York or Los Angeles) but many of those that won’t will be available through Video-on-Demand; check with your local cable or satellite providers to find out if any specific movie is available through that medium.

Each entry is broken down as follows:

NAME OF FILM (Studio) Genre A brief description of the plot. Release plans: Wide = Everywhere, Limited = In selected markets. RATING A brief comment

Keep in mind that release dates are extremely subject to change, even at this late date.

FOUR TO SEE
1. GUARDIANS OF THE GALAXY (1.0)
2. FRANK MILLER’S SIN CITY: A DAME TO KILL FOR (1.1)
3. THE HUNDRED-FOOT JOURNEY (1.3)
4. THE GIVER (1.4)
TIE. INTO THE STORM (1.4)

FOUR TO SEEK OUT (FILMS NOT IN WIDE RELEASE)
1. TO BE TAKEI (1.3)
2. THE CONGRESS (1.4)
TIE. RICH HILL (1.4)
TIE. DINOSAUR 13 (1.4)

RATING SYSTEM: 1) Must-see, 2) Should-see, 3) Perhaps-see, 4) Don’t-see

AUGUST 1, 2014

4 MINUTE MILE (Gravitas) Genre: Drama. A young man in a desperate neighborhood uses track and field as an escape but even that may not be enough. Release Strategy: Limited. RATING: 3.3 Looks a little hokey but does have a pretty decent cast with Richard Jenkins and Kim Basinger.
THE ALMOST MAN (Big World) Genre: Dramedy. Although he’s 35, Henrik lives at home and parties with his high school buddies like he’s young but when his girlfriend gets pregnant, it’s time for him to become the man he was meant to be. Release Strategy: New York City only. RATING: 2.8 A celebration of life, Norwegian style.
BEHAVING BADLY (Vertical) Genre: Comedy. An awkward high school boy will do anything to secure the girl of his dreams but he doesn’t realize just how much he has to do to get her – and that it involves the mob. Release Strategy: Limited. RATING: 3.8 Definitely a “stop me if you’ve heard this one before” kind of movie.
CABIN FEVER: PATIENT ZERO (RLJ/Image) Genre: Horror. While on a Caribbean vacation, a group of friends swim in contaminated water and discover that an abandoned research facility may be the only key to save them from the flesh-eating disease they’ve contracted. Release Strategy: Limited. RATING: 3.1 Most of this series has gone direct-to-video; I’m wondering if this shouldn’t have as well.
CALVARY (Fox Searchlight) Genre: Dramedy. A good Irish priest must summon the courage to face sinister circumstances brought on by a mysterious parishioner. Release Strategy: Limited. RATING: 1.8 From the director and star of In Bruges.
CHILD OF GOD (Well Go USA) Genre: Thriller. A man who is deprived of home and family descends into a deep dark morass of crime and degradation. Release Strategy: Limited. RATING: 2.6 Based on a Cormac McCarthy novel; looks pretty intense.
FINDING FELA (Kino-Lorber) Genre: Documentary. The life of Nigerian musician and activist Fela Kuti whose fight for oppressed people and Pan-Africanist politics made him a hero in his native land. Release Strategy: Limited. RATING: 2.9 His music is most familiar to Americans through a Broadway musical based on his work.
GET ON UP (Universal) Genre: Musical Biography. James Brown came from a background of poverty to become one of the most influential figures in music in the 20th Century. Release Strategy: Wide. RATING: 2.2 Chadwick Boseman looks like he captures the essence of James Brown as he did with Jackie Robinson.
GUARDIANS OF THE GALAXY (Disney/Marvel) Genre: Science Fiction. A ragtag group of thieves, assassins and outsiders are all that stand between the galaxy and the ravages of a psychotic despot with unlimited power. Release Strategy: Wide (Standard, 3D, IMAX 3D). RATING: 1.0 An unusual choice for the next Marvel movie may end up being the best in the series to date.
LOUDER THAN WORDS (ARC Entertainment) Genre: Drama. Following the tragic death of their young daughter, a couple decide to honor her memory by founding a children’s hospital which isn’t as easy as it sounds. Release Strategy: Limited. RATING: 2.2 A great cast and an intriguing trailer make this one a sleeper to look out for.
RICH HILL (The Orchard) Genre: Documentary. Teenage boys in a small Midwestern town struggle to survive in an era of uncertain economics and hopelessness. Release Strategy: Limited. RATING: 1.4 This Sundance award winner is an early contender for an Oscar as a realistic portrayal of rural poverty in this time and place.
THE STRANGE LITTLE CAT (KimStim) Genre: Comedy. An extended family gets together for dinner in a middle-class Berlin flat. Release Strategy: New York City only. RATING: 1.9 An unusual but inventive looking piece of cinema that played last year’s Toronto Film Festival.

AUGUST 6, 2014

WEB JUNKIE (Kino Lorber) Genre: Documentary. Internet addiction among teenage boys is an epidemic; in China they have developed “boot camps” to deal with it but the problem seems to be beyond the reach of parents, governments or the medical community. Release Strategy: New York City only. RATING: 3.1 This is certainly a major problem but I’m not sure focusing on one failed solution really addresses it.

AUGUST 8, 2014

ABOUT ALEX (Screen Media) Genre: Dramedy. After one of them suffers an emotional breakdown, a group of 20-something friends gather for a weekend away but discover all the jealousies, political differences and unrequited love threaten to further divide them. Release Strategy: Limited. RATING: 3.2 Friendship and growing up in the age of Facebook.
AFTER (Paladin/Accretion) Genre: Suspense. The matriarch of a family struggles to hold things together when their family business starts to fail and shattering family secrets threaten to surface. Release Strategy: Limited. RATING: 2.9 The trailer doesn’t really differentiate this much from other family dramas with similar themes.
DEEPSEA CHALLENGE 3D (National Geographic) Genre: Nature Documentary. Director James Cameron’s passion for deep sea exploration culminates in a historic solo dive into the deepest place on Earth. Release Strategy: Wide. RATING: 2.0 An incredible adventure that even Cameron himself couldn’t script.
FIFI HOWLS FROM HAPPINESS (Music Box) Genre: Documentary. Bahman Mohassess is an Iranian artist known as “the Persian Picasso” was forced to abandon his country as a gay man in a repressive regime where such things were not accepted. Release Strategy: New York City (opens in Los Angeles August 15). RATING: 1.9 An iconoclastic artist allows access to his life and thoughts which may not necessarily be the nicest place in the world.
THE HUNDRED-FOOT JOURNEY (DreamWorks) Genre: Dramedy. In a small rural French village, a larger-than-life Indian restaurateur opens a garish Indian restaurant across the street from a Michelin star rated traditional French restaurant; warfare follows between the aristocratic owner of the bistro and the Indian with his talented son caught in the middle. Release Strategy: Wide. RATING: 1.3 The films of Lasse Halllstrom always have enormous heart.
INTO THE STORM (New Line) Genre: Adventure. A small town experiences a plague of tornadoes with weather scientists predicting that the worst is still yet to come. Release Strategy: Wide (Standard, IMAX). RATING: 1.4 Looks like Twister on steroids.
KEEP ON KEEPIN’ ON (Radius) Genre: Musical Documentary. Jazz piano legend Clark Terry undertakes one last mentorship as his health begins to fail. Release Strategy: Limited. RATING: 2.5 A trailer for this film is lacking.
THE MAID’S ROOM (Paladin) Genre: Thriller. When a maid to a wealthy family in the Hamptons realizes their teenage son was responsible for a fatal hit and run crash, the knowledge puts her in far more danger than she realizes. Release Strategy: Limited. RATING: 3.2 The trailer makes this look like a generic thriller.
STEP UP: ALL IN (Summit) Genre: Dance. A major dance competition in Vegas brings back stars from previous installments of this franchise. Release Strategy: Limited (Standard, 3D). RATING: 4.0 Can’t say as I have any interest in this sort of film.
TEENAGE MUTANT NINJA TURTLES (Paramount) Genre: Action. When New York City is beset by the evil Shredder, four unique brothers will rise up from the sewers to protect the city. Release Strategy: Wide. RATING: 2.2 While this has a bigger budget than the previous incarnations of the live action version of this comic book, it doesn’t look particularly better.
WHAT IF (CBS) Genre: Romantic Comedy. After a series of bad relationships makes a young man reluctant to engage in any romantic relationships, he begins to realize that his best friend may just be the woman for him. Release Strategy: New York City/Los Angeles. RATING: 2.4 Daniel Radcliffe and Zoe Kazan make for an intriguing couple.

AUGUST 13, 2014

LET’S BE COPS (20th Century Fox) Genre: Comedy. When a couple of pals dress up as cops for a costume party and are mistaken for the real thing, they decide to see how far they can push their newfound respect and attractiveness to the ladies. Release Strategy: Wide. RATING: 2.6 Looks like kind of a big dumb comedy; hopefully all the best parts won’t be in the trailer.

AUGUST 15, 2014

DINOSAUR 13 (Lionsgate) Genre: Documentary. The discovery of the most intact T-Rex skeleton ever found should have been a major triumph right? However, a bureaucratic government, powerful museums, Native American tribes and competing colleagues threaten not only to take the find of the paleontologist that made the discovery but also his freedom. Release Strategy: Limited. RATING: 1.4 Even in our most triumphant scientific discoveries the ugly head of greed can be reared.
THE EXPENDABLES 3 (Lionsgate) Genre: Action. Barney and the team must go up against someone who was once a friend. Release Strategy: Wide. RATING: 1.7 More Expendables, more action, more fun.
FOUND (XLRator) Genre: Horror. A picked on high school kid hides a terrible secret; his older brother is a serial killer. Release Strategy: Limited. RATING: 1.6 A cross between a coming of age movie and a slasher film; a really unique and refreshing take on the subject.
FRANK (Magnolia) Genre: Comedy. Looking to make it as a musician, Jon joins a cult band of eccentric personalities that might be a little more than he bargained for. Release Strategy: Limited. RATING: 1.5 Original, inventive and funny; could be the coolest movie of 2014.
THE GIVER (Weinstein) Genre: Science Fiction. A young man in a Utopian society discovers that all is not well with his world and that he himself may be the key to changing things. Release Strategy: Wide. RATING: 1.4 Based on the popular young adult novels which is a statement that is getting to be the kiss of death for movies lately.
LIFE AFTER BETH (A24) Genre: Horror Comedy. Grieving for the sudden death of his girlfriend, a young man is overjoyed when she mysteriously comes back to life but as it turns out she’s not the same as when she left it. Release Strategy: Limited. RATING: 2.1 The Walking Dead have feelings too y’know.
RAGNAROK (Magnolia) Genre: Adventure. A historian obsessed with the Oseberg Viking ship discovers that runes found on the vessel may hold the key to the end of days in Norse mythology – and that it may be coming sooner than we think. Release Strategy: Limited. RATING: 2.3 Where is Thor when you really need him?
SEPTIC MAN (Starz Digital Media) Genre: Horror. When a curious sewage worker is trapped in a septic tank, he undergoes a horrifying transformation that will help him take on the madman that trapped him there. Release Strategy: Limited. RATING: 2.1 Looks pretty gruesome which is just the way I like it.
THE TRIP TO ITALY (IFC) Genre: Comedy. Steve Coogan and Rob Brydon take another journey to fine restaurants, five star hotels and bicker with each other incessantly. Release Strategy: Limited. RATING: 1.7 The opening night film from this year’s Florida Film Festival; you can read my review of it here.
THE WORD (Scarlet Sky) Genre: Drama. After his son is kidnapped and murdered by a religious sect, a grieving father plots an elaborate and wicked revenge. Release Strategy: Limited. RATING: 2.5 Sounds interesting but couldn’t find a trailer for it.

AUGUST 20, 2014

EXPEDITION TO THE END OF THE WORLD (Argot) Genre: Documentary. Climate change scientists explore a remote area of Greenland only now accessible and find it to be a life-changing experience. Release Strategy: New York City only. RATING: 2.6 May not be as profound as it appears to be.
WINTER IN THE BLOOD (Kino Lorber) Genre: Drama. When a Native American’s wife leaves him and takes his beloved rifle with her, he sets out on a strange journey to get it back. Release Strategy: New York City only. RATING: 2.2 This played the recent Florida Film Festival; read my review here.

AUGUST 22, 2014

ABUSE OF WEAKNESS (Strand) Genre: Drama. After suffering a stroke, an acclaimed filmmaker is determined to continue her career taking on the story of a con man who swindles celebrities, not realizing that his manipulation of her is spiraling out of control. Release Strategy: Limited. RATING: 2.4 Based on the director’s actual experiences.
ARE YOU HERE (Millennium) Genre: Comedy. When his eccentric BFF inherits his late father’s fortune, a womanizing weatherman helps him fend off a legal challenge from his overbearing sister.. Release Strategy: Limited. RATING: 2.1 Considering a cast of Owen Wilson, Zach Galifianakis and Amy Poehler, this looks surprisingly dramatic.
FRANK MILLER’S SIN CITY: A DAME TO KILL FOR (Dimension) Genre: Horror. Two tales from the Frank Miller graphic novel series are woven together in a prequel to the first movie. Release Strategy: Wide. RATING: 1.1 Retains the stylized graphic novel look of the original.
IF I STAY (Warner Brothers/MGM) Genre: Fantasy/Drama. Caught between this world and the next after a tragic accident, a young girl must decide whether to live or die. Release Strategy: Wide. RATING: 1.7 I’m a big Chloe Grace Moretz fan and this looks like a different kind of role for her.
LOVE IS STRANGE (Sony Classics) Genre: Romantic Comedy. A gay New York couple is forced by economic circumstances to separate until they can afford to buy a new place to live. Release Strategy: New York City/Los Angeles. RATING: 1.6 John Lithgow and Alfred Molina are amazing actors; this one looks like it shouldn’t be missed.
THE ONE I LOVE (Radius) Genre: Drama. In a last ditch effort to save their marriage, a couple escape to a beautiful vacation home in the mountains but a chance discovery forces them to reevaluate who they are, what they want to be and where they’re going. Release Strategy: Limited. RATING: 2.4 There’s some indie royalty in this one.
THE POSSESSION OF MICHAEL KING (Anchor Bay) Genre: Supernatural Horror. A documentary filmmaker decides to debunk religion and spiritualism once and for all following the death of his wife gets a lot more than he bargained for. Release Strategy: Limited. RATING: 2.0 Looks like a pretty wild ride.
THE PRINCE (Lionsgate) Genre: Action. When his daughter is kidnapped, a retired assassin must confront his former rival to get her back. Release Strategy: Limited. RATING: 1.9 It may look like standard B-movie action fare but with John Cusack, Jason Patric and Bruce Willis I’m all in.
TO BE TAKEI (Starz Digital Media) Genre: Documentary. George Takei, the beloved icon from Star Trek chronicles his life from an internment camp during World War II to his status today as cultural hero and fierce activist for progressive causes. Release Strategy: Limited. RATING: 1.3 This guy is a living legend and one of the most beloved people on Earth; if he isn’t one of your heroes he should be.
VOD (Inline Image 2) Genre: Thriller. After five tourists in Bangkok go missing, a new arrival gets involved with a provocative website in town, which may well end up with her being added to the list of the disappeared. Release Strategy: Limited. RATING: 2.5 No trailer for this Thai film.
WHEN THE GAME STANDS TALL (TriStar) Genre: True Sports Drama. De La Salle High School’s football team had the longest winning streak in the history of sports but when the streak came to an end the players showed what winning was all about. Release Strategy: Wide. RATING: 1.7 I gotta say that I’m a sucker for these sorts of inspirational tales.

AUGUST 27, 2014

THE NOVEMBER MAN (Relativity) Genre: Spy Action. A CIA superspy is lured out of retirement to protect an important witness, but is marked for assassination himself and is up against his own protégé in an environment where there is nobody he can trust. Release Strategy: Wide. RATING: 1.8 Pierce Brosnan proves that he hasn’t lost his Bond touch.
STARRED UP (Tribeca) Genre: Crime Drama. When he’s transferred to the same prison facility as his estranged father, a brutal inmate is taken under the wing of a prison psychiatrist who gives him hope that there might be something better ahead for him. Release Strategy: Limited. RATING: 2.1 Certain to cause some discussion over the nature and usefulness of prisoner rehabilitation.
THROUGH A LENS DARKLY (First Run) Genre: Documentary. African-American culture and society are reflected through the lens of photographers of color from the 1840’s until present day. Release Strategy: Limited. RATING: 2.9 An important subject I agree; the trailer sounds like though that the filmmakers have been caught up in their own self-importance.

AUGUST 29, 2014

AS ABOVE, SO BELOW (Legendary/Universal) Genre: Horror. A group of researchers venture into the catacombs of Paris and find something terrifying. Release Strategy: Wide. RATING: 2.0 Abandon hope all ye who enter here.
CANOPY (Monterey Media) Genre: Adventure. During the Second World War, an Australian fighter pilot shot down in the Singapore jungle finds an injured resistance fighter; together they must work together to survive the unforgiving terrain and the Japanese troops who have overrun the forest. Release Strategy: New York City only. RATING: 2.1 Could be very gripping; the trailer looks interesting.
THE CONGRESS (Drafthouse) Genre: Science Fiction. An actress licenses her digital image to a movie studio which then, twenty years later, initiates a comeback for her even though her image is much younger than the actress herself.. Release Strategy: Limited. RATING: 1.4 Startling and impressive images from the director of Waltz with Bashir.
THE LAST OF ROBIN HOOD (Goldwyn) Genre: Biographical Drama. The scandal of an aging Errol Flynn and underage actress Beverly Aadland and her fame-obsessed mother Florence would haunt the swashbuckling actor in the last days of his life. Release Strategy: Limited. RATING: 2.9 An interesting subject but I’m not sure they pulled it off properly.
LIFE OF CRIME (Roadside Attractions) Genre: Caper Comedy. After the wife of a corrupt real estate tycoon is kidnapped, he decides that he doesn’t want to pay the ransom to get her back. Release Strategy: Limited. RATING: 2.2 It’s based on an Elmore Leonard novel so that’s got my attention from the get-go.

SCHEDULED TO BE REVIEWED HERE AS NEW RELEASES
Get On Up, Guardians of the Galaxy, The Hundred-Foot Journey, Into the Storm, Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles, Let’s Be Cops, The Expendables 3, The Giver, Frank Miller’s Sin City: A Dame to Kill For, If I Stay, When the Game Stands Tall, The November Man, As Above So Below

New Releases for the Week of August 1, 2014


Guardians of the GalaxyGUARDIANS OF THE GALAXY

(Disney/Marvel) Chris Pratt, Zoe Saldana, Vin Diesel (voice), Bradley Cooper (voice), Dave Bautista, Lee Pace, Michael Rooker, John C. Reilly, Glenn Close, Benicio del Toro. Directed by James Gunn

Peter Quill, a human adventurer in the far reaches of the galaxy – okay, maybe thief is a better word – acquires a strange and mysterious orb. What he doesn’t know is that the persistent and enigmatic Ronan the Accuser covets that item. What he also doesn’t know is that the orb possesses terrifying power. When the chickens come to roost – not that there are chickens in the far reaches of the galaxy – it will be up to Quill and a ragtag group of bickering teammates to keep that orb out of the hands of Ronan if the galaxy is to remain safe.

See the trailer, clips, interviews, featurettes, a promo and B-roll video here.

For more on the movie this is the website.

Release formats: Standard, 3D, IMAX 3D (opens Thursday)

Genre: Science Fiction

Rating: PG-13 (for intense sequences of sci-fi violence and action, and for some language)

Boyhood

(IFC) Patricia Arquette, Ellar Coltrane, Lorelei Linklater, Ethan Hawke. Richard Linklater’s acclaimed new film is already on track to appear on an awful lot of top ten lists at the end of the year. Linklater filmed the same actors portraying a family, particularly through the point of view of the son, over a twelve year period. The rocks and shoals of growing up are told with a soundtrack that keeps pace with the boy’s tastes in music year after year.

See the trailer, clips and a featurette here.

For more on the movie this is the website.

Release formats: Standard

Genre: Drama

Rating: R (for language including sexual references, and for teen drug and alcohol use)

Get On Up

(Universal) Chadwick Boseman, Viola Davis, Octavia Spencer, Dan Aykroyd. The story of James Brown, who rose from impoverished conditions, abandoned by his own mother to become the Godfather of Soul. Brown is one of the most influential figures in the history of music but is often relegated to a less important status behind white artists, many of who themselves were influenced by Brown. In other words, it’s about damn time.

 

See the trailer, clips, interviews, premiere footage, a promo and B-roll video here.

For more on the movie this is the website.

Release formats: Standard (opens Thursday)

Genre: Musical Biography

Rating: PG-13 (for sexual content, drug use, some strong language and violent situations)

Living is Easy With Eyes Closed

(Outsider) Javier Camara, Natalia de Molina, Francesc Colomer, Ramon Fontsere. Based on actual events, an English teacher in Spain who is obsessed with his hero, John Lennon, decides to take a road trip to Almeria in hopes of meeting his idol who is making a film there. Along the way, he picks up a couple of runaways and together the three will find a deeper meaning in their journey than they were expecting.

See clips here.

For more on the movie this is the website.

Release formats: Standard

Genre: Drama

Rating: NR

13


This is one gun club you don't want to be a member of.

This is one gun club you don’t want to be a member of.

(2009) Action (Anchor Bay) Jason Statham, Sam Riley, Alice Barrett Mitchell, Gaby Hoffman, Mickey Rourke, Stephen Beach, Emmanuelle Chriqui, Michael Shannon, Michael Berry Jr., Ray Winstone, Alexander Skarsgard, Starla Benford, Mike D’Onofrio, Daisy Tahan, Carlos Reig-Plaza, Forrest Griffin, Ed Bergtold, John Hoffman, David Zayas, Ben Gazzara, 50 Cent, Ashlie Atkinson. Directed by Gela Babluani

Some movies shouldn’t be remade by Hollywood. Not because the original is perfect as it was, but because there is a misunderstanding by Hollywood sorts of why the movie worked in the first place. That gets clouded when the director of the original also directs the remake.

13 Tzameti is not the perfect movie but it is a very good one. A French production set in France and in Georgia (the Russian one), it tells its story in black and white, lending a gritty quality that is largely absent here. While the story is nearly identical here, it is more fleshed out not only in backstory but also in palette – this movie is in color, which isn’t necessarily a good thing.

Vince Ferro (Riley) is a down on his luck laborer with a good heart. He is desperately in need of money – a lot of it – but the prospects of that are slim given his skill sets in life. While doing a job, one of the residents of the home he’s working in dies of a drug overdose. He overhears talk that the dead man was going to start a job that paid extraordinarily well. There are instructions for the job in an envelope which Vince, figuring the deceased wouldn’t need anymore, takes for himself.

 

He ends up taking a train to Chicago and is driven from there to a secluded dilapidated house where he is ordered to strip. His boot heels are cut off as the organizers look for electronic devices. To Vince’s horror, he is issued a gun and a single bullet, and a shirt with the number 13 on it. Other men, with other numbers on their shirts are also issued the same. They are made to stand in a circle and to load the gun with the bullet. The participants then spin the chambers until they are told to stop. They all aim the gun at the head of the man ahead of them. When a light bulb goes on, the master of ceremonies (Shannon) tells them, they are to pull the trigger. Those that don’t will be shot. Ferro is reluctant but knowing he will be killed for certain if he doesn’t, he participates.

Survivors of the first round will be issued two bullets in the second and those that survive the second round will be issued three bullets in the third round. At that point there are only five participants left, including Ferro. Two of the five are selected for a final duel – Ferro and Ronald Lynn Bagges (Winstone).

All this is done for the entertainment of a group of wealthy men, who bet heavily on the outcome of each round. Each of the participants has a wealthy sponsor, in Ferro’s case an elderly man (Gazzara) and in Bagges’ case his own brother Jasper (Statham). Should Ferro survive he will get a healthy payday, one that will allow him to live in luxury the rest of his life. But the odds are long, a dogged police detective (Zayas) is getting closer to busting the game and even if Ferro wins he will have to be on his toes to escape both the vengeful Jasper and the cops.

 

The newer movie is much more detailed than the first which took place more in the immediate moment which added to the overall tension. Here we get more of the backstory to the various characters, both the participants in the game and the rich men betting on it. It also must be said that in some ways this is a better looking movie, although in the end result I don’t think that the gloss did the film any favors. The original succeeded largely because of its grim noir-ish look and because we are so locked into the horror of the situation we don’t have time to think of anything else.

Certainly the acting is better here and there’s something to be said for that. However, with all the added backstory the movie tends to take detours that we really don’t want to be on. While the suspense is still relatively high, it still doesn’t compete with the first movie in that department.

So it’s safe to say that this is one of those movies that is a lot better if you see it before seeing the movie it’s based on. If you see 13 Tzameti first this will suffer a great deal by comparison. In that sense, maybe having the same director worked against this film; he was given a bigger budget and name actors like Statham, Rourke and Winstone. Of course he’d want to make a bigger movie. However in this case, bigger isn’t better.

WHY RENT THIS: Gut-wrenching suspense. Makes a nice companion piece to the original.

WHY RENT SOMETHING ELSE: Doesn’t always hold up to the original. Meanders a bit. Needs more grit and less gloss.

FAMILY VALUES: Some fairly disturbing violence, a bit of foul language and some brief drug use.

TRIVIAL PURSUIT: Ray Liotta was originally cast in the part of Detective Mullane but had to bow out due to a scheduling conflict; David Zayas ended up in the role.

NOTABLE HOME VIDEO EXTRAS: None listed.

BOX OFFICE PERFORMANCE: Not available.

COMPARISON SHOPPING: Surviving the Game

FINAL RATING: 6/10

NEXT: Beowulf

The Fluffy Movie


Gabriel Iglesias works the crowd.

Gabriel Iglesias works the crowd.

(2014) Stand-Up Comedy Concert (Open Road) Gabriel Iglesias, Jacqueline Obradors, Gina Brillon, Armando C. Cosio, Jeremy Ray Valdez, Ron White, Tommy Chong, Alfred Robles, Rick Gutierrez, Piolin, Ray Williams Johnson, Juliocesar Chavez, Martin Moreno, Chuy Lopez. Directed by Manny Rodriguez and Jay Lavender

Some may not be aware that Gabriel Iglesias is one of the most popular comedians on the planet. Having taken a run on Last Comic Standing that was promising but was cut short due to a rules violation (he phoned home despite a ban on communication with family which got him disqualified), he has parlayed that disappointment into mega-popularity. He has sold out hundreds of shows around the world and his Unity Through Laughter tour took the portly comic to dozens of countries in an effort to embrace the philosophy that no matter how different our cultures we all have laughter in common.

Stand-Up concert films tend to be less cinematic than music concert films. A big budget production can fill a big screen but when it comes to stand-up, the focus is entirely on one guy telling jokes. While the small screen is adequate for that, sometimes on the big multiplex screen it can seem a bit lost.

Still, Iglesias is warm and funny and you get a sense of his commitment to his family (including a stepson he raised, something which I can relate to), his pride in his culture (comparing it to the culture of India) and his loyalty to his friends (discussed in a story of a drunken night with his friend Martin in a gay bar). You can’t help but like the guy.

Much of the comedy has to do with his teenage son Frankie who is at that phase in his life where he communicates in monosyllables and the most important thing in life is playing videogames. Iglesias describes his frustrations in communicating with his son and his inability to get him to take out the trash (sound familiar to anyone out there?) which leads Iglesias to the realization that he’d spoiled his son.

Like with most stand-ups, Iglesias is at his best when he gets personal with his own life. He talks about his battle with his weight – he had ballooned up to 455 pounds which is, as he put it, “just shy of a Discovery Channel show” – and has lost a significant amount of weight. What prompted him to lose the weight was his doctor’s diagnosis of Type II Diabetes and the doctor’s prognosis that if he didn’t do something about it immediately, he’d be dead in two years. That’s the kind of thing that motivates people. Not a candidate for gastric bypass surgery due to his lifestyle on the road, Iglesias did it by essentially eliminating carbs. He still eats tons of cholesterol but as he puts it, “that’ll only kill me in ten years. I figure I’ve gained eight years.” Barrio math.

Recorded at the Shark Tank in San Jose (previously known as San Jose Arena, HP Pavilion and currently as SAP Center) – an arena I’m intimately familiar with having attended several concerts and hockey games there – he turns an arena that seats close to 20,000 people into an intimate club setting. While he can’t interact with his audience the same way he might in a comedy club, he certainly relates to them.

The crowning glory of the movie takes place over the last twenty minutes or so and it is why I’ve rated this movie as highly as I have. The movie opens with a skit that depicts the meeting between his mom (Obradors) and his mariachi-playing dad (Valdez) in a Tijuana club. The result was little Gabriel who in the second act of the opening skit is inspired by a nefariously rented videotape of Eddie Murphy Raw. The two events become central to the film’s denouement. It is also no accident that Raw also begins of a skit enacting events from Murphy’s childhood.

Gabriel describes how his father, who had abandoned the child he’d created and the woman he’d created him with, got in contact with him after 30 years. Iglesias was reluctant to get together at first; there’s a lot of anger that comes in being abandoned by a parent as you might imagine. Some of that anger gets expressed here, some of it through humor. Iglesias finally agrees to meet his absent father which leads to some surprising discoveries.

Not long after, Frankie’s natural father contacts Iglesias and announces that he wants to get involved in Frankie’s life. That can be devastating to a stepdad who worries how the dynamic might affect his relationship with his son, and whether bringing someone into their lives who may well have been better off out of their lives might create tension. How this works out is a tribute to stepparents everywhere (as Iglesias gratefully acknowledges in the end credits).

Standup concert films aren’t for everyone, but this is one of the best I’ve seen. The end of the movie had some tears falling as well as the laughter and I don’t think you have to be a stepparent to feel the emotion that Iglesias brings out with his storytelling. Not everyone will relate but there is enough common ground here that all of us can find something to laugh about.

The Spanish word mija is one I wish we had in the English language. It is a word, spoken sometimes with exasperation but always with affection in regards to your children. “What do you want, mija?” or “Don’t cry, mija.” There’s nothing analogous to it in English; we tend to use existing words like son or sweetie or baby with our kids but we don’t have a specific word that carries with it such love and affection. Hearing a parent refer to you as mija is like being wrapped in a warm blanket of love and that reference continues well into your own adulthood. We are all children of somebody and our relationship with our parents informs our relationship with our kids, those of us that have them. When a movie comes along that reminds you of how amazing that relationship is, it’s a movie worth seeking out. That it comes from a stand-up comedy routine is even more amazing.

 

REASONS TO GO: Very funny stand-up work. The last 20 minutes are absolutely devastating.

REASONS TO STAY: Some may find the personal material jarring after the more traditional comedy.

FAMILY VALUES:  A smattering of mildly foul language and some sexual references.

TRIVIAL PURSUIT: The stand-up content was aggregated from two shows filmed on February 28, 2014 and March 1, 2014.

CRITICAL MASS: As of 7/29/14: Rotten Tomatoes: 50% positive reviews. Metacritic: 62/100.

COMPARISON SHOPPING: Eddie Murphy: Raw

FINAL RATING: 8/10

NEXT: 13

Lucy


Lucy in the sky with data streams.

Lucy in the sky with data streams.

(2014) Action (Universal) Scarlett Johansson, Morgan Freeman, Min-sik Choi, Amr Waked, Julian Rhind-Tutt, Pilou Asbaek, Analeigh Tipton, Nicolas Phongpheth, Jan Oliver Schroeder, Luca Angeletti, Loic Brabant, Pierre Grammont, Pierre Poirot, Bertrand Quoniam, Pascal Loison, Claire Tran, Sifan Shou, Paul Chan, Laura D’Arista (voice). Directed by Luc Besson

What would it be like if we could be smarter? What kind of miraculous change in our lives would we be able to affect? What sort of secrets would we unlock?

The myth is that we only use 10% of our brains – according to Scientific American that’s simply not true. We actually use all of it, which debunks the science in this movie thoroughly. So, let’s play a game of “let’s pretend” that Besson’s assertion here is true, that we go through our lives only using 10% of our potential.

Hard-partying grad student Lucy (Johansson) might not even use that much. She hooks up with Richard (Asbaek), the sort of guy who would set off all sorts of alarm bells in any rational person but apparently that particular function of her brain is inactive. He is supposed to deliver a brief case to Mr. Jang (Choi) in a posh Hong Kong hotel but wants Lucy to do it instead. She is reluctant and they spend the first seven minutes of an 89 minute film arguing about it. Think of a movie starting with an old style Life cereal commercial “I’m not gonna try it you try it” “I’m not gonna try it – hey let’s get Lucy! She won’t like it! She hates everything!” “She likes it! Hey Lucy!”

 

Actually she is forced to do it when he cuffs the briefcase to her wrist and tells her that Jang is the only one who can remove it. Jang turns out to be a ruthless criminal and Richard, instead of saving his own skin, ends up being the first to exit stage left. Lucy is hustled up to a swanky suite where Jang has just finished murdering a couple of people, stepping over corpses and washing his blood soaked hands in front of an understandably panicky Lucy.

She is knocked out and when she wakes up, there is an incision in her tummy and she is told she is to be a drug mule, transporting a new drug called CPH4 which Jang’s suave English speaking flunky (Rhind-Tutt) assures her that the kids in Europe are going to love. However through a set of unforeseen circumstances, the bag of drugs begins to leak into her system. Lucy begins to learn at an amazing rate, develops powers of telekinesis and control of magnetic waves. She is able to wave her hands and have people fall asleep. The more of the drug that’s absorbed into her system, the more her powers develop. She goes from 20% to 30%, 30% to 40%.

She is easily able to escape from Jang’s thugs and makes her way to a Hong Kong hospital where she demands that the bag be removed from an astonished surgeon, doubly astonished when she shoots the patient he’s operating on dead, telling him “You couldn’t have saved him. The tumor’s already spread.” Even though there still remains about half a bag of the stuff, the damage is done. Lucy can feel her cells reproducing at an accelerated rate. She estimates she has about 24 hours before her body dies.

She flies to Paris to enlist the aid of Professor Norman (Freeman), an expert on the development of the human brain, as well as Parisian detective Del Rio (Waked) whom she brings aboard to protect her but also to nab three other drug mules sent by Jang to other European cities. She needs the drugs they are carrying to complete her work which is now essentially to download everything she knows, which is growing more considerable. As she inches towards 100% neither Professor Norman nor even Lucy herself knows exactly what’s going to happen.

Besson, who has written or directed some of the most compelling action films of the past 20 years (including The Fifth Element, District B-13 and The Professional) channels Stanley Kubrick a little bit here. He inserts mostly vintage clips of all sorts of things like animals mating, magicians creating illusions and cameras travelling through canyons and across endless oceans to denote the gradual increase in Lucy’s powers and knowledge. He is fairly liberal about it when he should have used it a bit more sparingly; it does get distracting and in a film this short feels like filler it doesn’t need, particularly when he could have used the time to build relationships.

Johansson has never been an actress who has played “smart” but this year with roles in Under the Skin as an alien with a superior intellect, and as the operating system in Her she has shown beyond a shadow of a doubt that she is more than an agent of SHIELD. The trouble is that once the drug enters Lucy’s system Johansson’s expression essentially doesn’t change and she speaks in an emotionless monotone. I’m not sure why it is that in science fiction that evolution of the human species seems to be that we move past our emotions. I would argue that our emotions would evolve along with our intellect but that’s another fight for another day.

The special effects are nifty, with Lucy able to see trees absorbing nutrients through their roots, or streams of data travelling from cell phones to the satellites above. Near the end of the movie she takes a journey backwards through time in a sequence reminiscent of the opening sequence of The Tree of Life only with a human element involved – Lucy meets the first known human ancestor, also named Lucy (not a coincidence with the names, that) – going all the way back to the Big Bang and before.

 

But for all the scientific gobbledygook, my favorite sequence in the film is the most human – a phone conversation between Lucy and her mother (D’Arista) in which Lucy tearfully tells her that she can remember everything – even things she shouldn’t have been able to, like the taste of her mother’s milk in her mouth. It is a sense of saying goodbye, and it is a poignant moment because Lucy knows that she will be evolving past the feelings shortly and not long after, departing this Earth entirely.

The movie is largely unsatisfying. We get Hong Kong-style gun battles and the car chases Besson is known for but little development in the way of the characters. Besson likes to move things along at a frenetic pace and that’s not a bad thing but we get no sense of human connection – other than that one scene I just described – between Lucy and the world so when that connection begins to drift away, there is no sense of loss. Certainly there is some fine eye candy but eye candy alone doesn’t make for a substantive and ultimately satisfying film experience. Besson is certainly capable of delivering on those sorts of films but in this instance he fell short.

REASONS TO GO: Nice premise and some nifty special effects.

REASONS TO STAY: Directing misfires. Johansson misused. Look ma, I’m directing!

FAMILY VALUES:  Violence, some of it disturbing, some drug use and sexuality.

TRIVIAL PURSUIT: Angelina  Jolie was originally cast in the title role but had to drop out due to directing commitments and Johansson was cast in her place.

CRITICAL MASS: As of 7/28/14: Rotten Tomatoes: 57% positive reviews. Metacritic: 61/100.

COMPARISON SHOPPING: Limitless

FINAL RATING: 5.5/10

NEXT: The Fluffy Movie

The Purge: Anarchy


Purge biker chic.

Purge biker chic.

(2014) Thriller (Universal) Frank Grillo, Carmen Ejogo, Zach Gilford, Kiele Sanchez, Zoe Soul, Justina Machado, John Beasley, Jack Conley, Noel G., Castulo Guerra, Michael K. Williams, Edwin Hodge, Keith Stanfield, Roberta Valderrama, Niko Nicotera, Bel Hernandez, Lily Knight, Jasper Cole, Brandon Keener, Amy Pierce-Francis, Chad Morgan, Dale Dye, Amy Paffrath. Directed by James DeMonaco

In a brutal environment, survival itself requires more brutality. When the world is kill or be killed, so must you in order to survive it. The way things are going in this world, the future won’t be for the faint of heart.

As explained in last year’s surprise hit The Purge, the New Founding Fathers – a kind of crypto-fascist neo-Conservative Tea Party on steroids gun-loving bunch have taken over the country and given the people what they wanted – safety, stability and prosperity. Of course, only if you happen to be white and wealthy.

The rest of us have the Purge, an annual night in which all laws are suspended and everything is legal including rape, murder and destruction of property. It is a night to, as the newscasters enthusiastically endorse, unleash the beast. As the day draws to a close and the Purge draws near, people look at each other nervously, murmuring to each other “stay safe” and praying that whatever protection they have be they state of the art security systems with steel window  covers and titanium doors, or plywood nailed hastily over doors and windows will hold against the onslaught of the night.

Sergeant (Grillo) is grimly gearing up for the evening. He has a small arsenal at his disposal and he means to go out hunting. Sweet waitress Eva (Ejogo) returns home to her ailing pop (Beasley) and her rebellious daughter (Soul) – is there any other kind – and prepares to ride out the storm as best she can. She can’t afford her papa’s medicine and her bitchy boss won’t give her a raise so that she can live decently. She is one of the working poor and although she does her best to make a decent life for her family there’s not much she can do on the paycheck of a diner waitress.

 

Liz (Sanchez) and Shane (Gilford) are a couple who are on the verge of splitting up. They can’t even agree on who to tell first. Picking up groceries on the way home, their car breaks down as the sun begins to set and they know they’re in deep trouble. They will have to find a way to safety on a night when there is none to be had and when every human they see will be out to kill them.

All of these five’s paths will coalesce in a moment of conscience and Sergeant will find himself trying to lead these people ill-equipped to survive in the urban jungle to safety, all the while his mission of vengeance uppermost in his mind. The night though is long and the odds are longer that they’ll make it through.

I will say right off the bat that this is a slight improvement from the first film. While there continue to be holes in logic and common sense in the overall story I found there to be fewer in the sequel than in the original and the pacing of the story was much more frenetic. The political overtones continue to be fairly blatant – this is certainly a fairly thinly veiled uppercut aimed at the American right, particularly the neo-cons in the Tea Party and the religious right (before nearly every murder, the lily-white upper crust Purge participants pray, invoking God’s blessings on the New Founding Fathers). I can’t imagine Fox News will love this movie particularly and I can’t say as I blame them for once.

 

Grillo who has been a sterling supporting performer for years finally gets a lead role and quite frankly I see more of the same in his future. He’s got the brooding Clint Eastwood-esque anti-hero quality to him only there’s a little more warmth to him. He definitely carries the movie along and stands out in a group of solid but unremarkable actors.

Another issue I have with the movie is that while there’s a ton of violence, there’s no imagination to it. People just open fire with automatic weapons and pepper human bodies with bullets. Not that I expect that in a real life situation that mirrored this it would be any different, it just kind of all runs together. There’s no cleverness here, just carnage.

I think that those who liked the first movie may well like the second while those who didn’t will definitely NOT like this one. While I get the sense that the filmmakers are probably on the same side of the political aisle as I am, their views may be a little bit too extreme for me. Even Fox News has something of value once in awhile and not all conservative ideals are as bad as they are made out to be here. I’ve met plenty of compassionate conservatives although it must be admitted that there are some who the New Founding Fathers resemble very much.

 

Needless to say, this still isn’t quite good enough for me to recommend. There’s just too many plot issues and not enough well drawn-out characters to capture my interest. This is very much a one-trick pony and if you happen to like that trick, more power to you – enjoy. For those of us who need a little bit more variety in our hour and a half in the multiplex, this probably isn’t the movie to see.

REASONS TO GO: Different sort of film than the first. Grillo a promising lead.

REASONS TO STAY: Overtly political. Relentless violence. Not very thrilling as thrillers go.

FAMILY VALUES:  Lots of violence, much of it unsettling and plenty of foul language.

TRIVIAL PURSUIT: The lead character, known here only as Sergeant, had most of his backstory cut from the film during post-production; his name in the script is Leo Barnes.

CRITICAL MASS: As of 7/27/14: Rotten Tomatoes: 56% positive reviews. Metacritic: 49/100.

COMPARISON SHOPPING: The Warriors