New Releases for the Week of February 14, 2014


RoboCop

ROBOCOP

(Columbia/MGM) Joel Kinnaman, Gary Oldman, Michael Keaton, Samuel L. Jackson, Abbie Cornish, Jackie Earle Haley, Jay Baruchel, Jennifer Ehle. Directed by Jose Padilha

In the near future, crime is out of control and military contractors have developed robotic law enforcement machines to keep the peace but the American public is wary to have them patrolling their streets. Enter RoboCop, a melding between human police officer and unstoppable machine. However, the global corporate conglomerate that created him may have a darker agenda in mind when they upgraded officer Alex Murphy.

See the trailer, a promo and a clip here.

For more on the movie this is the website.

Release formats: Standard, IMAX (opened Wednesday)

Genre: Science Fiction

Rating: PG-13 (for intense sequences of action including frenetic gun violence throughout, brief strong language, sensuality and some drug material)

About Last Night

(Screen Gems) Kevin Hart, Michael Ealy, Regina Hall, Joy Bryant. Two friends start dating a pair of roommates. As one relationship struggles, the other seems to blossom and then vice versa. A remake of an ’80s romantic comedy with a decidedly urban spin.

See the trailer, a featurette and clips here.

For more on the movie this is the website.

Release formats: Standard (opens Thursday)

Genre: Romantic Comedy

Rating: R (for sexual content, language and brief drug use)

Date and Switch

(Lionsgate) Nick Offerman, Megan Mullally, Nicholas Braun, Dakota Johnson. A pair of close friends in their senior year of high school make a pact; the experienced one determines to get his friend laid before senior prom. However, things take a turn for the different when the virgin comes out of the closet and explains that he’s gay.

See the trailer here.

For more on the movie this is the website.

Release formats: Standard

Genre: Romantic Comedy

Rating: R (for strong sexual content including crude dialogue, pervasive language, drug and alcohol use – all involving teens)

Endless Love

(Universal) Alex Pettyfer, Gabriella Wilde, Robert Patrick, Bruce Greenwood. A young man working his way to a better life meets a beautiful young girl from a privileged background at the country club resort where he works. The two young people fall in love, which doesn’t sit well with the rich dad who is ruthless and will do anything to keep the young lovers apart – including making them watch the 1981 Brooke Shields version of the movie.

See the trailer and clips here.

For more on the movie this is the website.

Release formats: Standard (opens Thursday)

Genre: Romance

Rating: PG-13 (for sexual content, brief partial nudity, some language and teen partying)

Gunday

(Yash Raj) Ranveer Singh, Arjun Kapoor, Priyanka Chopra, Irrfan Khan. Two young orphaned refugee boys, on their own in the mean streets of Calcutta, rise through the ranks of that lawless town in the 1970s to become folk heroes – legendary crime figures who were both feared and beloved.

See the trailer here.

For more on the movie this is the website.

Release formats: Standard

Genre: Bollywood

Rating: NR

Winter’s Tale

(Warner Brothers) Colin Farrell, Jessica Brown Findlay, Jennifer Connelly, Russell Crowe. Based on the novel by Mark Helprin, the movie depicts a love story that spans time from turn of the 20th century New York City to the modern Big Apple as an apparently ageless man chases his love through time pursued by the personification of evil

See the trailer and a featurette here.

For more on the movie this is the website.

Release formats: Standard

Genre: Romantic Fantasy

Rating: PG-13 (for violence and some sensuality)

Last Vegas


What happens in Vegas...

What happens in Vegas…

(2013) Comedy (CBS) Michael Douglas, Robert De Niro, Morgan Freeman, Kevin Kline, Mary Steenburgen, Jerry Ferrara, Romany Malco, Roger Bart, Joanna Gleeson, Michael Ealy, Bre Blair, April Billingsley, Stephen Scott Scarpula, Andrea Moore, Noah Harden, RJ Fattori, Aaron Bantum, Phillip Wampler, Olivia Stuck, Ashley Spillers, Karen Ceesay, 50 Cent. Directed by Jon Turteltaub

When I was a kid, 30 sounded pretty old to me. When I was a teen, 40 was over the hill. In my 20s, I thought that decrepitude started at 60. Now half a century on in my life, I realize that age is just a number, but aging is inevitable for all of us.

How we age largely depends on how we feel about aging. Some of us continue to be active and do things, get out of the house and live full bore as much as they did in their 30s. Others give in to their aches and pains, hunker down where they live and wait for the end of life to claim them. We do have a choice in the matter, although sometimes we are dealt some pretty nasty hands.

Friends since their boyhoods in Brooklyn, the Flatbush Four have gone their separate ways but the kind of friendship they had 60 years earlier has endured for the most part. Billy (Douglas) is the ladies man and the confirmed bachelor of the bunch. He’s a big successful Hollywood type and at last has met someone that he is willing to marry, although his proposal is  a bit unorthodox. Never mind that he’s in his 70s and his fiancée is just barely 30. Love happens when it does.

He can’t wait to share it with his friends and immediately calls Archie (Freeman), recovering from a minor stroke in the home of his overprotective son Ezra (Ealy) and Sam (Kline), who is suffering from depression and can’t seem to get motivated to be happy about anything. Everyone agrees that an epic bachelor party in Vegas, thrown the way only the Flatbush Four can, is in order.

The fourth member however, Paddy (De Niro) is conspicuously missing. That’s because there’s a great deal of bad blood between him and Billy that has caused a gigantic rift between them in the past year. Paddy is also mourning the death of his lovely wife Sophie, the unofficial fifth member of their childhood group and basically stays at home in his bathrobe much of the day, other than to receive a regular dosing of really bad soup from his well-meaning neighbor. Getting him to Sin City is going to take some doing.

However all of them manage to make it there one way or another. Sam arrives with a blue pill and a condom that was given to him by his epically understanding wife who tells him “What happens in Vegas stays in Vegas.” She misses the fun-loving guy she married and hopes that a fling in Vegas will bring that guy back.

Things are still awkward between Paddy and Billy but they manage to get around it as they find ways to party on. They also meet a sexy sixtyish chanteuse named Diana (Steenburgen) who has reinvented herself from being a tax lawyer. All four of the men are immediately drawn to her including the prospective groom.

Their VIP host at the Aria, Lonnie (Malco), helps them put together the kind of party that even the most jaded Vegas performers will remember forever, with a female impersonator (Bart) with a surprising secret, as well as Cirque du Soleil performers, a bachelorette party and even a cameo appearance from Curtis “50 Cent” Jackson. They even have their own personal gopher (Ferrara, with a completely different kind of Entourage). But history is threatening to repeat itself. Can their friendship withstand Las Vegas and more to the point, will Las Vegas survive the Flatbush Four?

There’s no need to tell you that this is an impressive cast. Any one of the four male leads would make this a movie I’d be eager to see. Even though I had reservations about the plot and the script, I still wanted to see this just to see Douglas, De Niro, Kline and Freeman all perform. This isn’t the best work of any one of them – nor did I expect it would be. Still, they’re all pros (as is Steenburgen) and they all give performances that won’t disappoint anybody beyond the most jaded and cold-hearted of critics.

The script is as you might have guessed from the trailer not particularly scintillating. They aren’t re-inventing the wheel here nor do they have to. While I could wish they would have pumped up the funny a little bit, the personality of the leads more than makes up for it. While there are some off-putting moments (a male crotch gyrating in De Niro’s face during a bikini contest), for the most part there is nothing terribly sinful going on.

What surprised me was how touching the script was. These aren’t geriatric actors doing the standard old man gags. You know the sort – the kind that are like “Tee hee hee. Oh look at the adorable old man, he’s so horny, he’s using drugs, he doesn’t know how to use a computer tee hee hee.” Something tells me if the Flatbush Four had been anything like that, they wouldn’t have gotten actors of the caliber that they did. These are men dealing with the sorts of things the those entering old age actually deal with – grief, loneliness, a loss of virility/sexuality, being treated like an imbecile and/or porcelain doll by the well-meaning.

While the comedy might appeal to those who don’t see a lot of movies, it’s that charm of treating the aging with respect that won me over. Yeah, watching Freeman bust a move after drinking a Red Bull and Vodka in a Vegas nightclub might have been a bit patronizing but for the most part, it is the friendship between the Four that endures and makes this movie worth seeking out. It isn’t the greatest movie you’ll see this year, but it will be better than you’d expect – unless you fall under the jaded and cold-hearted category.

REASONS TO GO: Five veteran pros (the four leads and Steenburgen). Surprisingly heartwarming.

REASONS TO STAY: Fairly cliché and the humor is a bit low-key for modern comedies.

FAMILY VALUES:  There’s a bit of sexual content and a few bad words.

TRIVIAL PURSUIT: The scenes set in Brooklyn were actually filmed in Atlanta.

CRITICAL MASS: As of 11/13/13: Rotten Tomatoes: 44% positive reviews. Metacritic: 48/100.

COMPARISON SHOPPING: Grumpy Old Men

FINAL RATING: 6.5/10

NEXT:

Think Like a Man


The cast gets the box office figures for the film.

The cast gets the box office figures for the film.

(2012) Urban Romance (Screen Gems) Michael Ealy, Jerry Ferrara, Meagan Good, Regina Hall, Kevin Hart, Taraji P. Henson, Terrence J., Jenifer Lewis, Romany Malco, Gary Owen, Gabrielle Union, La La Anthony, Chris Brown, Wendy Williams, Sheri Shepherd, Caleel Harris, Arielle Kebbel, Steve Harvey, Angela Gibbs, Tika Sumpter, J.B. Smoove, Keri Hilson. Directed by Tim Story

Navigating the waters of modern relationships is tricky at best. A woman can use all the help she can get frankly – even if it comes from a man.

Ostensibly based on comedian Steve Harvey’s self-help book Act Like a Lady, Think Like a Man the film follows four different couples trying to make a go with it – the Dreamer vs. the Woman Who is Her Own Man pitting Dominic (Ealy), a struggling sous chef with ambitions of owning his own restaurant someday against Lauren (Henson), a self-made woman who has worked hard to make a success of herself.

Then there’s the Mama’s Boy vs. the Single Mom which pits Michael (J) whose life has been spent trying to please his mama (Lewis) against Candace (Hall) who finds her boyfriend’s mom an obstacle despite her best efforts to please her as well. There’s also The Non-Committer vs. The Girl Who Wants the Ring, which gives us Jeremy (Ferrara), a confirmed bachelor who is in no hurry to take the next step and his girlfriend Kristen (Union) who is and will go to whatever lengths necessary to push him into popping the question.

Finally there’s The Player vs. The 90-Day Rule Girl with Zeke (Malco) a smooth lady’s man who loves ‘em and leaves ‘em and doesn’t seem to mind against Mya (Good) who has a strict policy of never dating a guy for more than 90 days. Both of them find in each other the person they want to make the exception to their normal modus operandi.

I’ll be honest with you; when I saw the trailer for this I really wasn’t very interested in seeing the movie – it seemed to be just another rom-com with an attractive ensemble cast in which misperceptions and untruths put the characters in hot water, particularly situations that can be resolved with a single phone call in the real world. However, I was pleased to discover that the movie had much more going for it than cliché although it has its share of those.

The cast is certainly about as attractive as they come, and there’s a pretty good rapport among them. The chemistry within all four of the couples is pretty solid and there’s additional comic relief from Kevin Hart as a happily soon-to-be-divorced man and Gary Owen who offers the counterpoint as a happily married man. While there are a few too many coincidences, you can believe that these are actual friends trying to help each other find someone to spend their lives with.

The conceit of the movie is that all four of the women are using Harvey’s book to help them overcome the issues their men bring to the table and the guys find out about it and attempt to turn the tables on their girlfriends with predictably disastrous results. Like with most Hollywood movies the ending is what you’d expect it to be – who wants to go to a date movie to see a couple break up after all – but let’s face it, not only are you rooting for these couples to make it work as Tim Gunn might say, but you’re actually enjoying the time you spend with them…which is pretty good news for Screen Gems since they’re making a sequel which will be in theaters next Spring. Frankly, I wouldn’t mind catching the next installment in a theater next time instead of on home video if it’s going to be anywhere near as good as this.

WHY RENT THIS: Funnier than I expected. Explores the differences between how men and women think. Some pretty decent performances.

WHY RENT SOMETHING ELSE: Falls into a lot of rom-com traps. Tries too hard to be inoffensive.

FAMILY VALUES:  There is a whole lot of innuendo and some blatantly sexual commentary, a fair amount of bad language and some brief drug use.

TRIVIAL PURSUIT: During the course of the film, Dominic discusses For Colored Girls with his pals and in particular the scene in which “the psycho drops his kids out the window.” Ealy, who plays Dominic, also played the role of that very psycho in the film version of For Colored Girls.

NOTABLE HOME VIDEO EXTRAS: A 5 minute gag reel is included but there is really not much in terms of extras on the DVD.

BOX OFFICE PERFORMANCE: $96.1M on a $12M production budget.

COMPARISON SHOPPING: Why Did I Get Married?.

FINAL RATING: 6.5/10

NEXT: The Europa Report

New Releases for the Week of September 21, 2012


September 21, 2012DREDD

(Lionsgate) Karl Urban, Olivia Thirlby, Lena Headey, Rakie Ayola, Wood Harris, Warrick Grier, Jason Cope, Joe Vaz, Scott Sparrow. Directed by Pete Travis

In the future, the world is divided into irradiated wastelands and vast cities overcrowded and crime-ridden. Justice is dispensed by Judges, a combination street cop, judge, jury and executioner. The most feared of these is Dredd, who with his rookie partner Anderson is tasked with riding the streets of Slo-Mo, a drug that allows users to experience reality at a fraction of its normal speed. However, the drug lord who controls most of it, an ex-prostitute named Ma-Ma doesn’t take too kindly to having her business interrupted and a war erupts that will push even Dredd beyond his limits. Based on the iconic British comic series.

See the trailer, promos and featurettes here.

For more on the movie this is the website.

Release formats: Standard, 3D

Genre: Science Fiction

Rating: R (for strong bloody violence, language, drug use and some sexual content)

10 Years

(Anchor Bay) Channing Tatum, Rosario Dawson, Justin Long, Kate Mara. A group of friends reunite for their 10 year high school reunion. This ensemble piece follows them through the big night to see how they have – and haven’t – changed over the years as their tangled relationships begin to unravel before their very eyes.

See the trailer here.

For more on the movie this is the website.

Release formats: Standard

Genre: Drama

Rating: PG-13 (for language, alcohol abuse, some sexual material and drug use)

End of Watch

(Open Road) Jake Gyllenhaal, Michael Pena, Anna Kendrick, America Ferrera. Two cocky young police officers patrol the mean streets of south central Los Angeles, one of the most dangerous areas in the country. They wind up in the crosshairs of a Mexican drug cartel after a routine traffic stop leads them into places they never dreamed they’d be. Only their loyalty and support for one another and the love of their families stands between them and oblivion.

See the trailer and clips here.

For more on the movie this is the website.

Release formats: Standard

Genre: Crime Drama

Rating: R (for strong violence, some disturbing images, pervasive language including sexual references, and some drug use)

Heroine

(UTV) Kareena Kapoor, Arjun Rampal, Randeep Hooda, Shahana Goswami. A Bollywood actress, once the best in the business, sees her career go on the decline despite her best efforts to stay on top.

See the trailer here.

For more on the movie this is the website.

Release formats: Standard

Genre: Bollywood

Rating: NR

House at the End of the Street

(Relativity) Jennifer Lawrence, Elisabeth Shue, Max Theriot, Gil Bellows. A newly-divorced mom and her teenage daughter move into a new house hoping to make a fresh start. That is, until they discover that a neighboring home was the scene of a gruesome multiple murder. Things go downhill from there when the daughter develops a relationship with the only survivor of the massacre – and the person responsible for the crime may be back for seconds.

See the trailer, featurettes and a clip here.

For more on the movie this is the website.

Release formats: Standard

Genre: Horror

Rating: PG-13 (for intense sequences of violence and terror, thematic elements, language, some teen partying and drug material)

The Master

(Weinstein) Philip Seymour Hoffman, Joaquin Phoenix, Amy Adams, Rami Malek. Shortly after the Second World War a down-on-his-luck veteran is ensnared by a charismatic intellectual who has created a faith-based organization to which the vet becomes his right-hand man. However, the ex-soldier begins to see and hear things that cause him to question the faith he has embraced and the man who has become his mentor.

See the trailer and clips here.

For more on the movie this is the website.

Release formats: Standard

Genre: Drama

Rating: R (for sexual content, graphic nudity and language)

Trouble With the Curve

(Warner Brothers) Clint Eastwood, Amy Adams, Justin Timberlake, John Goodman. A baseball scout, one of the most respected in the game, is starting to show his age. His eyesight isn’t so good and he wants to go out on top, but his team is questioning his judgment. His only option is to ask his daughter, a bright young lawyer who has grown apart from him as of late, to help him. She puts her career on hold despite her misgivings and her father’s objections to spend some quality time with him and in the process, the two find out some long-held secrets about one another that might tear them apart permanently.

See the trailer here.

For more on the movie this is the website.

Release formats: Standard

Genre: Sports Drama

Rating: PG-13 (for language, sexual references, some thematic material and smoking)

Unconditional

(Harbinger Media Partners) Michael Ealy, Lynn Collins, Bruce McGill, Diego Klattenhoff. When a senseless act of violence takes the husband of a children’s author away from her, she loses her faith and her desire to live. However, an encounter with a couple of kid leads to a reunion with her oldest friend whose compassion and kindness towards the kids in an underprivileged neighborhood leads to new revelations about God’s role in her life.

See the trailer here.

For more on the movie this is the website.

Release formats: Standard

Genre: Christian Drama

Rating: PG-13 (for some violent content and mature thematic elements)

New Releases for the Week of April 20, 2012


April 20, 2012

THE LUCKY ONE

(Warner Brothers) Zac Efron, Taylor Schilling, Riley Thomas Stewart, Adam Lefevre, Blythe Danner, Jay R. Ferguson, Robert Terrell Hayes, Joe Chrest. Directed by Scott Hicks

A young soldier’s life is saved in Afghanistan when he pauses to pick up a photo of a woman from the rubble; his platoon, where he’d been standing just moments before is wiped out by an explosion. After his tour of duty ends, the soldier vows to find the woman and thank her. Against all odds, he finds her – and has trouble explaining why he was looking for her in the first place. Soon enough, he falls in love with the comely lass, but there are those who’d rather not see the relationship happen. From the works of Nicholas Sparks.

See the trailer, featurettes and a promo here.

For more on the movie this is the website.

Release formats: Standard

Genre: Romance

Rating: PG-13 (for for some sexuality and violence)

Chimpanzee

(DisneyNature) Tim Allen (narrator). The latest Earth Day Disney nature feature follows a young chimpanzee named Oscar for the first four years of his life. His life is irrevocably changed when tragedy befalls his mother and he finds himself with a surprising ally.

See the trailer and featurettes here.

For more on the movie this is the website.

Release formats: Standard

Genre: Nature Documentary

Rating: G  

Think Like a Man

(Screen Gems) Michael Ealy, Regina Hall, Kevin Hart, Gabrielle Union. A group of women read Steve Harvey’s best-selling book and put the information in it to good use in the romantic skirmishes we call modern dating. Stung, the victimized men determine to turn things around by using the book against their women. And here I thought dating was supposed to be fun.

See the trailer here.

For more on the movie this is the website

Release formats: Standard

Genre: Urban Romantic Comedy

Rating: PG-13 (for sexual content, some crude humor, and brief drug use)  

Vicky Donor

(Eros Entertainment) Yami Gautam, Annu Kapoor, Ayushmann Khurrana, John Abraham.  The desperate director of a fertility clinic whose success rate has been taking a nosedive sees his fortunes reversed when he discovers a handsome, virile Punjabi whose donated sperm begins creating babies left and right. When the young man falls in love however, his shady past as a sperm donor threatens to kill his relationship before it begins.

See the trailer here.

For more on the movie this is the website.

Release formats: Standard

Genre: Bollywood

Rating: NR

Underworld Awakening


Underworld Awakening

Selene can be a real bitch when she doesn't get her morning coffee

(2012) Horror Action (Screen Gems) Kate Beckinsale, Stephen Rea, Michael Ealy, Theo James, India Eisley, Charles Dance, Sandrine Holt, Kris Holden-Ried, Jacob Blair, Catlin Adams, Wes Bentley, Adam  Greydon Reid, Robert Lawrenson. Directed by Mans Marlind and Bjorn Stein

 

Things change, especially in a movie universe. The vampires and the Lycans (Underworld-speak for werewolves) are no longer existing in a vacuum where the humans are oblivious to their presence. The secret is out, and as humans will do when confronted with new things a genocidal war is in full swing and the humans are winning.

Selene and her half-vampire half-Lycan lover Michael (Scott Speedman in archival footage but he doesn’t actually appear in the new film – an uncredited stand-in took his spot for several scenes in the movie) see the graffiti on the wall and figure to get out of Dodge but it doesn’t work out quite the way it’s supposed to and she is captured by humans and put into cryo-stasis.

Twelve years pass and an unknown party rescues Selene from her frozen sleep. The former Death Dealer is out in a world she doesn’t know, and not particularly well-liked by the vampire coven that finds her, as leader Thomas (Dance) says, to be someone untrustworthy, who has chosen humans over her own kind every time. However his son David (James) is a bit more supportive and a bit more aggressive than dear old dad.

Selene has a lot to deal with. Not only is she in a brand new world with a dead lover, she also has a daughter who is known as Eve (Eisley) but is also known as Subject 2 at Anti-gen, the mega-corporation that held Selene in stasis. It seems that Dr. Jacob Lane (Lea), the head honcho over at Anti-gen, was experimenting on finding a cure for vampirism and lycanthropy, or at least that’s the story. It turns out he has a much different agenda in mind, one which Eve figures in quite a bit. The icy Selene has never particularly had a ton of maternal instincts but her hybrid daughter seems to be stirring those to life – and the fact that rescuing Eve will piss off her enemies mightily is just an added bonus.

Beckinsale is actually an accomplished actress (if you haven’t seen her in Snow Angels by all means do) who is also an accomplished action heroine. The fact that she’s pretty hot in her catsuit, bustier and long leather coat doesn’t hurt either. She kind of goes through the motions here, but with the digitally-enhanced cobalt blue eyes she looks pretty good at least.

James makes for a pretty decent hunkazoid and gives the film a certain flair. He is coming into an established film universe that is actually pretty well drawn out, four films in. We kind of know what to expect more or less. That works for and against the movie; there’s a certain comfort in that but there’s also a certain amount of “been there done that.”

Still, the action works although the CGI Lycans tend to look like CGI Lycans. It’s a fun universe to play in and it’s good to see Beckinsale in it again (she missed the 3rd movie which was more of a prequel). Not the best action movie you’ll see this year – it’s not even the best movie in the series, but it’s adequate for the needs of most action fans – fun and not too complicated.

REASONS TO GO: Beckinsale is a terrific action heroine. The Lycan/Vampire world is well-drawn.

REASONS TO STAY: Plot is confusing and the suspense is non-existent.  

FAMILY VALUES: There is a lot of violence, a bit of gore, some horrific images and a few choice words here and there.

TRIVIAL PURSUIT: This is the first film in the series in which either Bill Nighy, Michael Sheen or both weren’t in the cast.

CRITICAL MASS: As of 1/26/12: Rotten Tomatoes: 30% positive reviews. Metacritic: 39/100. The reviews are pretty bad.

COMPARISON SHOPPING: Resident Evil

CATSUIT LOVERS: Kate Beckinsale still looks plenty awesome in one.

FINAL RATING: 6/10

TOMORROW: Gangs of New York

New Releases for the Week of January 20, 2012


January 20, 2012

UNDERWORLD AWAKENING

(Screen Gems) Kate Beckinsale, Stephen Rea, Michael Ealy, Theo James, India Eisley, Sandrine Holt, Charles Dance, Kris Holden-Ried. Directed by Mats Mjarlind and Bjorn Stein

Selene, the warrior vampire from the first two Underworld movies, returns for the fourth and we have sorely missed her. She has an excuse however – she was captured by humans and placed in suspended animation, which sounds like Pixar in detention. Bad puns aside, she escapes and discovers that the humans have discovered the existence of the vampires and the Lycans and has entered into a war into the both of them – and is winning. However, there’s a new player in the game, one that threatens to wipe out everybody – and a little girl is the key to it all, a little girl under Selene’s protection.

See the trailer, interviews and a clip here.

For more on the movie this is the website.

Release formats: Standard, 3D, IMAX 3D

Genre: Horror Action

Rating: R (for strong violence and gore, and for some language)

Extremely Loud and Incredibly Close

(Warner Brothers) Tom Hanks, Sandra Bullock, Thomas Horn, Max von Sydow. An inventive, imaginative 11-year-old boy’s world is shattered when his father dies in the World Trade Center on September 11, 2001. He finds a key in his father’s belongs and becomes convinced that the key unlocks something of great significance to his dad. Therefore, he goes on a quest to find the lock that the key opens and along the way will find others with broken hearts in need of healing just like him. I don’t often cry during trailers but I did during this one.

See the trailer here.

For more on the movie this is the website

Release formats: Standard

Genre: Drama

Rating: PG-13 (for emotional thematic material, some disturbing images and language)

Haywire

(Relativity) Gina Carano, Ewan McGregor, Michael Douglas, Antonio Banderas.  A highly trained CIA operative is sent on what appears to be a routine mission mostly acting as arm candy for another agent. However when that other agent tries to kill her, she realizes that she’s been betrayed by someone at the agency close to her. She has to go out on her own in order to find out who’s behind it and get them before they get her. MMA star Carano makes her film debut in the latest from prolific Oscar-nominated director Steven Soderbergh.

See the trailer, clips and web-only content here.

For more on the movie this is the website.

Release formats: Standard

Genre: Action

Rating: R (for some violence)

 

Red Tails

(20th Century Fox) Cuba Gooding Jr., Terrence Howard, Bryan Cranston, Nate Parker. This is the story of the Tuskegee Airmen, a squadron of African American fighters during World War II who not only had to fight the Nazis but the U.S. Army as well who didn’t believe they had the ability to be fighter pilots. As it turned out, they were one of the most decorated squadrons of the war, with more enemy kills than almost anybody else.

See the trailer here.

For more on the movie this is the website.

Release formats: Standard

Genre: War Drama

Rating: PG-13 (for some sequences of war violence)

Takers


Takers

You can tell these cats are cool because of the blue lighting. Really.

(2010) Action (Screen Gems) Matt Dillon, Idris Elba, Paul Walker, Zoe Saldana, Hayden Christensen, Chris Brown, Michael Ealy, Tip “T.I.” Harris, Jay Hernandez, Steve Harris, Jonathan Schaech, Marianne Jean-Baptiste, Glynn Turman, Nicholas Turturro, Gideon Emery.  Directed by John Luessenhop

There are those who go through life wishing they could have things, and there are others who simply take what they want. There are those who admire such people and wish they had the brains and the cojones to do the same.

Detectives Jack Welles (Dillon) and Eddie Hatcher (Hernandez) are on the trail of a group of bank robbers who pull of daring heists that operate like clockwork. Welles knows that he’s after some smart, competent men who know how to plan down to the smallest detail.

The crew is led by Gordon Cozier (Elba), a smart, dapper sort who has a sister (Jean-Baptiste) who’s addicted to crack. He is anxious to get out of the business while he still can so he can take care of his sister. Also in the crew is Jesse Attica (Brown) and his brother Jake (Ealy), A.J. (Christensen) and John Rahway (Walker). Missing in action is Ghost (T.I.) who was one of the leaders in the crew before he got caught during a botched robbery and imprisoned. Now he’s out and even though his ex-girlfriend Lily (Saldana) is engaged to Jesse, he is letting bygones be bygones.

In fact, he has a plan for a heist that should bring enough money in so that they can all retire. It’s an armored car heist, a very daring and seemingly impossible one. However, with Ghost’s help, the crew manages to pull off the heist although not exactly as planned. However, taking the money is not the whole crime. Getting away with it is what counts and with the cops hot on their tails and double crosses awaiting within the crew, who is going to be left standing when all the money is taken?

This is meant to be a slick, modern heist thriller with an urban cast. It can’t be denied that the movie looks stylish. However, the script is incredibly derivative with elements of many other heist films coming into play, The Italian Job coming chiefly to mind.

There are also way too many characters who come and go throughout the movie. Even the crew seems terribly interchangeable and some members redundant. It’s difficult to keep track of who’s who without a scorecard, and at the end of the day the movie would have been better if some of the parts had been consolidated.

What’s worse is that none of the characters that are here really stand out. Elba comes close as Gordon; he has a natural charisma that shines through a part that is essentially a stock character. His relationship with his sister is one of the elements in the movie that actually works; the interrelationship with the gang is largely forced and seems to come straight out of a music video.

The palate here is in soft hues and neon bright; there is also an overreliance on the hand-held cam which sabotages the filmmakers’ attempt to look slick and cool. There are moments however when the film succeeds and that is mostly in the action sequences.

The armored car heist is spectacular and is the best part of the movie by far. The fact that it doesn’t go off like clockwork only adds to the thrill factor. There are several chase scenes and fight scenes that are also effectively staged, although a hotel shoot-out with slow motion tumbles and bullets flying looks way too 90s for my tastes.

This is one of those movies that is all concept. It could have been a decent movie if the filmmakers (and likely, the studio) had taken more chances and tried to be a little more of its own film but sadly, there seemed to be more attention made to attracting box office numbers than making a good movie. In that sense, you get what you pay for.

WHY RENT THIS: Some really impressive action sequences.. 

WHY RENT SOMETHING ELSE: Too many characters who are too interchangeable; a smaller crew would have benefitted the film. Nobody really becomes the film’s center although Elba comes close. Too much style over substance.

FAMILY VALUES: There is a good deal of violence action-style, some nudity and sexuality and  a fair share of bad language.

TRIVIAL PURSUIT: Author Stephen King called the armored car heist sequence the best action sequence of 2010.

NOTABLE DVD EXTRAS: With a cast this heavy with rappers, you know there’s going to be a rap video on the extra menu.

BOX OFFICE PERFORMANCE: $69.1M on a $32M production budget; the movie broke even.

FINAL RATING: 4/10

TOMORROW: Bless the Child

Miracle at St. Anna


Miracle at St. Anna

If you mess with these guys, they'll sic the kid on ya!

(Touchstone) Derek Luke, Michael Ealy, Laz Alonso, Omar Benson Miller, Pierfrancesco Favino, Valentina Cervi, Matteo Sciabordi, Walton Goggins. Directed by Spike Lee

It all begins with a post office and an old man trying to buy some stamps. This leads to a senseless murder, a nearly-retired postal worker pulling a gun on the old man and shooting him dead in cold blood. Further investigation turns up something startling; hidden in the apartment of the postal worker is the head of an ancient Italian statue, worth a ridiculous amount of money. What was it doing in the home of a postal worker and why did he kill that old man apparently at random?

See, it all really begins with World War II, and the 92nd Infantry Buffalo Soldiers during the invasion of Italy. Four servicemen – straight-arrow SSgt. Stamps (Luke), huge child-like PFC Train (Miller), steady Cpl. Negron (Alonso) and skirt-chasing asshole Sgt. Cummings (Ealy) – survive the brutal crossfire of a Nazi ambush coupled with the artillery barrage from their own commanders who didn’t believe black soldiers could have advanced that far that quickly. They flee across a river to relative safety where Train befriends an injured Italian orphan boy (Sciabordi) who refers to the lumbering Train as his “chocolate giant.”  

Train carries around the head of a statue he picked up in Florence, which he believes makes him invisible or invulnerable when he rubs it (Run, Forrest, RUN) which fascinates the boy. The four soldiers and the boy make their way to a small Italian village which has suffered cruelly under the yoke of the Nazis and the Fascists. They welcome the soldiers in, and nurse the injured boy back to health.

The soldiers feel at ease here, as Stamps comments “I feel freer here than I do at home.” The bond between the soldiers is tested when both Stamps and Miller chase after the same white Italian woman, while an Italian partisan shows up trying to find out why a small Italian town nearby was massacred by the Nazis. The interlude allows the men to talk about why they’re fighting. However, it becomes clear that it isn’t a matter of if the Germans are going to come back to town but when, and getting the four soldiers back to their unit is going to take a miracle.

I’m deliberately withholding a good deal of plot points here, mainly so that they don’t get spoiled, although to be honest it makes the plot sound like a bit of a mess. It all winds up making sense, even though it takes nearly two and a half hours to get there. Lee hasn’t directed a war movie before, but he does a credible job. Some of the battle scenes are brutal indeed, with limbs flying everywhere and blood spattering everywhere else. It might even be argued that the battle scenes are too brutal, although I found them to be no less visceral than Saving Private Ryan, I can see where sensitive sorts might feel a little queasy.

The problem here is that the movie tells a story that is about an hour and a half long in two and a half hours. The bookending sequence of the post office murder and its aftermath seems a bit unnecessary and there are places where the plot gets bogged down. I think it might have been a mistake to let novelist James McBride adapt his own novel; it is difficult for writers to edit their own work and the script could have benefitted from someone less emotionally invested in it cutting some of the fat.

The battle sequences, while gory, are really well done, particularly the final Nazi assault on the town. There is a bit of a mystical background that I won’t get into that plays a role nicely here; the movie could have easily ended at this point, although it goes on for some time after that.

This is an ensemble piece in the truest sense of the word, with none of the actors really standing out, but here that’s actually a compliment. Luke, Ealy, Miller and Alonso work off of each other to make a good movie rather than a star turn; it shows professionalism and sacrifice on the part of each man and they should be applauded for that if nothing else. However, you can also applaud them for bringing some humanity to their roles which could have easily descended into one-note caricatures.

I have always blown hot and cold about Spike Lee. When he is at his best, as in Malcolm X and She’s Gotta Have It, he is one of the best directors of this generation. When he’s at his worst, as in She Hate Me and School Daze, his work can be mind-numbing. Miracle at St. Anna falls somewhere in between; while it raises the conversational bar about racism in the military and the motivations of African-American fighting for freedoms that they didn’t enjoy at home, it fills so much space with soap opera and extraneous material that the film’s message gets lost in the noise. Still, when you have a director as technically proficient as Lee is, even the noise is entertaining.  

WHY RENT THIS: A sometimes brutal look at World War II from a different angle than the more mainstream films we’ve seen lately like Saving Private Ryan and A Flag for Our Fathers.  

WHY RENT SOMETHING ELSE: The movie runs overly long and some of the combat sequences seem to be carnage for their own sake.

FAMILY VALUES: As this is a war movie, there is some battle carnage, also a good deal of salty language. There’s also some nudity and sexual situations; rent this for viewing after the kids are in bed.

TRIVIAL PURSUIT: Wesley Snipes was originally cast in the film, but had to drop out due to his tax evasion trial.

NOTABLE DVD EXTRAS: Exclusively on the Blu-Ray edition there is a roundtable discussion between Lee, McBride and veterans of the Buffalo Soldiers and the Tuskegee Airmen regarding racial prejudice in the armed forces, and a featurette on the history of the Buffalo Soldiers.  

FINAL RATING: 6/10

TOMORROW: Yes Man

Seven Pounds


Seven Pounds

An idyllic picnic with Rosario Dawson, Will Smith and behemoth.

(Columbia) Will Smith, Rosario Dawson, Woody Harrelson, Michael Ealy, Barry Pepper, Elpidia Carillo, Robinne Lee, Joe Nunez, Bill Smitrovich. Directed by Gabrielle Muccino

We all must shoulder the burden of the responsibility for our own actions. When those actions lead to terrible consequences, we might come to the conclusion that those consequences deserve terrible responsibilities.

Ben Thomas (Smith) is an IRS agent who, on first glance, isn’t a terribly nice guy. He badgers a blind customer service operator named Ezra (Harrelson) on the phone to the point of cruelty. He is curt, grumpy and often condescending to people. His relationship with his brother (Ealy) has gone into the dumpster, which mystifies the brother; why does Ben want to keep his family at arm’s length that way?

Ben does a lot of things that don’t make a lot of sense. He is investigating the finances of a nursing home operator, and then punches him in order to get an elderly woman her bath. He follows Ezra into a bar, striking up a civil conversation with him. He inserts himself into the lives of people with health and relationship problems, and seems to be falling for one of them, a beautiful woman with a heart that is slowly ticking down to its last beat named Emily Posa (Dawson). His best friend Dan (Pepper) owes him a favor, one that Dan is reluctant to repay but that Ben insists that he does. He apparently owns a beautiful multi-million dollar beach house but has checked into a seedy motel. You find yourself wondering why Ben does the things he does.

To tell you too much about the plot would be to ruin the movie for you. Suffice to say that Ben has plenty of reasons for doing the things he does and that his master plan, hinted at throughout the movie, resolves itself in the final minutes of the film.

For Will Smith, this is one of the finest performances of his career. Reunited with director Muccino, who got another great performance out of Smith in The Pursuit of Happyness, Smith plays a character that is deeply wounded, highly intelligent, highly driven and very compassionate, sometimes all at once. He can snap and snarl in one moment and be pulling weeds and fixing an antique printing press in the next. He has an engineering degree from MIT, but has the charisma to be a motivational speaker. There are a lot of layers to this character and Smith brings them all together in one believable package. Of course, Smith is so likable an actor that he can make his audience relate to him and root for him even when he is being unlikable. Not many can pull that off.

Dawson, his love interest in Men in Black II, returns to fill the same role here and she also does some of her finest work. She plays a woman living with a death sentence, knowing that the odds are long that she’ll be able to survive long enough to get a heart transplant from a donor with the same rare blood type as she has. She manages to remain upbeat most of the time, although she has her moments of despair. She is articulate, creative and beautiful, in nearly every way the perfect woman which makes Ben’s reluctance to let her in all the more puzzling until the final reel.

This is not always an easy movie to watch – there are some scenes in which raw emotions are laid bare, and others in which there are some very disturbing images. Much of this movie is about redemption although not in the way we usually think about it. Again, I’m being deliberately vague not to ruin the power that the movie has.

There are a few plot points that require us to be a little more trusting of the writers than perhaps we should be – some of the plot points wrap up certain elements neatly but defy logic when examined closely. We have to assume that Ben did the research to justify his actions before carrying them out, otherwise some of his attempts to help people may have turned bad in the long run.

Be that as it may, this is a movie that makes you think about how far you would go to make amends for your actions. I have an inkling of the burden Ben Thomas lives with because I was involved with a similar incident to the one that sends Ben on his journey, and in all honesty I had many of the same impulses he did, although not the resources to carry them out. I do, however, understand what guilt can do to a person – and perhaps that’s why I loved this movie as much as I did. It’s outstanding, with a performance by Will Smith that by itself is worth checking the movie out for, but it’s the themes of the movie that kept it in my memory long after the film was over.

WHY RENT THIS: A serious and sober look at how men deal with trauma, responsibility and loss. Smith is fabulous in the role.

WHY RENT SOMETHING ELSE: The last scene is a little treacly, and some of the plot points require a whole lot of suspension of disbelief.

FAMILY VALUES: The content is definitely on the adult side so you may want to watch this with your smaller kids. There are a couple of disturbing scenes and a little bit of sexuality as well.

TRIVIAL PURSUIT: The Travel Inn that Ben Thomas stays in during the movie is the same one used in the movie Memento.

NOTABLE DVD EXTRAS: There are featurettes on box jellyfish and on antique printing presses like the one Ben refurbishes for Emily.

FINAL RATING: 7.5/10

TOMORROW: Hotel for Dogs