New Releases for the Week of January 19, 2018


12 STRONG

(Warner Brothers) Chris Hemsworth, Michael Shannon, William Fichtner, Elsa Pataky, Michael Peña, Rob Riggle, Austin Stowell, Taylor Sheridan, Geoff Stults. Directed by Nicolai Fuglsig

Even as the smoke was still rising from the rubble of the World Trade Center, a special forces team was dispatched to Afghanistan to prepare the way for the conventional military. Led by a new captain and untested in battle, the team must work with a local warlord to take on the Taliban and find themselves vastly outnumbered and fighting in an unfamiliar style that may doom their mission before it even starts.

See the trailer here.
For more on the movie this is the website.

Release Formats: Standard, IMAX, 4DX, DBox, XD, RPX
Genre: True War Drama
Now Playing: Wide Release

Rating: R (for war violence and language throughout)

Chavela

(Music Box) Chavela Vargas, Pedro Almodóvar, Laura Garcia-Lorca, Miguel Bosé.  Largely unknown outside of the Latin community, Chavela Vargas was one of the most influential ranchero singers of her time, a powerhouse whose influence echoes throughout the Latin music world after her death. A lesbian in a culture that didn’t take too kindly to different forms of sexuality, she remains an icon in the Latin LGBTQ+ community to this day. This is the latest installment in the Enzian’s monthly Music Monday series.

See the trailer here.
For more on the movie this is the website

Release Formats: Standard
Genre: Music Documentary
Now Playing: Enzian Theater (Monday only)

Rating: NR  

Den of Thieves

(STX) Gerard Butler, O’Shea Jackson Jr, 50 Cent, Pablo Schreiber. The movie follows an elite unit of the Los Angeles County Sheriff’s Department and a skilled crew of bank robbers as the two teams head on a collision course as the robbers plan the biggest heist ever – a robbery of the Federal Reserve Bank in Los Angeles.

See the trailer here.
For more on the movie this is the website.

Release Formats: Standard, Dolby Atmos
Genre: Crime Action
Now Playing: Wide Release

Rating: R (for violence, language and some sexuality/nudity)

Forever My Girl

(Roadside Attractions/LD Entertainment) Alex Roe, Jessica Rothe, John Benjamin Hickey, Tyler Riggs. After leaving his fiancé at the altar, a young man returns to his small home after achieving stardom in country music. He hopes to rebuild the relationships that his actions wiped out – and one in particular – which has a specific complication he never counted on.

See the trailer here.
For more on the movie this is the website

Release Formats: Standard
Genre: Romance
Now Playing: AMC Altamonte Mall, AMC Disney Springs, AMC Lake Square, AMC New Smyrna, AMC Universal Cineplex, AMC West Oaks, Amstar Lake Mary, Cinemark Artegon Marketplace, Epic Theaters of Clermont, Old Mill Playhouse, Regal Ormond Beach, Regal Oviedo Mall, Regal Waterford Lakes, Regal Winter Park Village

Rating: PG (for thematic elements including drinking, and for language)

Mary and the Witch’s Flower

(GKIDS) Starring the voices of Ruby Barnhill, Kate Winslet, Jim Broadbent, Ewen Bremner. A teenage girl finds a strange plant with a beautiful flower growing in the wild and discovers that it grants her fantastic powers. She is whisked away to a magic school where witches are cultivated and trained. She finally has found a place where she fits in – but discovers there’s a dark side to the school.

See the trailer here.
For more on the movie this is the website

Release Formats: Standard
Genre: Anime
Now Playing: AMC Disney Springs, AMC Universal Cineplex, AMC West Oaks, Cinemark Artegon Marketplace, Regal Pointe Orlando

Rating: NR

Phantom Thread

(Focus) Daniel Day-Lewis, Vicky Krieps, Lesley Manville, Gina McKee. A renowned dress designer in London during the 1950s lives a very precise, ordered life – one might say fastidious. Into that life comes the strong-willed Alma who becomes his lover and his muse, turns his life upside down and leads him down paths he never would have imagined taking. Day-Lewis has said this is his final film performance so this is worth seeing on that basis alone.

See the trailer, clips and featurettes here.
For more on the movie this is the website

Release Formats: Standard
Genre: Biographical Drama
Now Playing: AMC Altamonte Mall, AMC Disney Springs, Cinemark Artegon Marketplace, Cobb Plaza Cinema Café, Epic Theaters of Clermont, Regal Ormond Beach, Regal Oviedo Mall, Regal Pointe Orlando, Regal Port Orange, Regal Waterford Lakes, Regal Winter Park Village, Rialto Spanish Springs

Rating: R (for language)

ALSO OPENING IN ORLANDO/DAYTONA:

Freak Show

ALSO OPENING IN MIAMI/FT. LAUDERDALE:

A Better Tomorrow 2018
Felcite
The Final Year
Freak Show
Gintama
Happy End
Mom and Dad
The Wound

ALSO OPENING IN TAMPA/ST. PETERSBURG:

Delirium
Mom and Dad

ALSO OPENING IN JACKSONVILLE/ST. AUGUSTINE:

Mom and Dad

SCHEDULED FOR REVIEW:

12 Strong
Chavela
Den of Thieves
Forever My Girl
Mom and Dad
Phantom Thread

FILM FESTIVALS TAKING PLACE IN FLORIDA:

Saint Augustine Film Festival

Southpaw (2015)


Brothers in battle.

Brothers in battle.

(2015) Drama (Weinstein) Jake Gyllenhaal, Forest Whitaker, Rachel McAdams, Oona Laurence, 50 Cent, Skylan Brooks, Naomie Harris, Victor Ortiz, Beau Knapp, Miguel Gomez, Dominic Colon, Jose Caraballo, Malcolm M. Mays, Aaron Quattrocchi, Lana Young, Danny Henriquez, Patsy Meck, Vito Grassi, Tony Weeks, Jimmy Lennon Jr., Claire Foley. Directed by Antoine Fuqua

The popularity of boxing has a lot to do with primal emotions; conquer or be conquered, imposing your physical will on another. But the ring has a lot more to it than that. Some look at it as a symbol of all that is corrupt with our society; others look at it as an opportunity for redemption. The ring is what you make it.

Billy Hope (Gyllenhaal) has made a lot out of it. An orphan from Hell’s Kitchen, he has managed to take his strength, his absolute drive and his rage and channel it into the light heavyweight championship. However, his wife Maureen (McAdams), who was also an orphan in Hell’s Kitchen, is concerned. Billy is taking a fearsome amount of punishment with every bout and in his most recent one against a fighter who shouldn’t have come close to doing as much damage, it’s worse than ever. She’s concerned that one day soon that he’ll push himself too far and be permanently damaged.

But in the meantime, they are basking in his success; his manager Jordan Mains (50 Cent) has negotiated a $30 million deal with HBO which would set him up for life, and while Maureen is hesitant to let Billy fight so soon after the last beating he took, there’s the future to consider.

But that future is about to get changed in a big way. A single moment leads to Billy losing everything; his title, his career, his family, his self-respect – a moment that Weinstein’s trailer department thoughtlessly spoiled. Billy finds himself out on the streets, looking for work. He finds it in a dilapidated old gym, run by dilapidated old Tick Wills (Whitaker).

Eventually Billy finds his center again but in his way is a payday that will help him regain some of what he’s lost but set himself up to take revenge on those who took it. He is left with a conundrum; to continue on the path he’s on and struggle indefinitely, or to go back the way he came to risk losing himself – but to possibly gain regaining himself. Tough choices, but the answer becomes clear – his daughter comes first.

And in fact, this is sort of the same choice that every hero in every boxing movie has ever made, from Rocky Balboa to Jake LaMotta and everywhere in between. This is, in essence, one 124 minute boxing movie cliche and as long as you understand that going in, you’re going to be all right more or less, but that’s as far as you would go normally; just watch it and move on to other entertainments. What elevates this particular film is Jake Gyllenhaal.

After an unjustly Oscar-snubbed performance in Nightcrawler, Gyllenhaal returns with an equally marvelous showing here. He went from the emaciated weasel in the former film to a buff muscle-bound athlete here and the two roles couldn’t be more dissimilar in every other standpoint as well. Both characters are imperfect and somewhat flawed but while his character here has a good heart that his wife brings out of him. While his character in Nightcrawler is slick and savvy, Billy is direct and simple. He’s not the sharpest tool in the shed, but he has street smarts. You never tire of watching him.

Mostly after that the level of supporting performances drop off. McAdams and Whitaker are both just fine but they get little screen time and . Laurence, as Billy and Maureen’s daughter Leila, is clearly a rising child star. She plays a little girl dealing with some absolutely adult issues and pulls it off like a champ. Hopefully being in a film with actors the like of Gyllenhaal and Whitaker will only help her skills rocket into the stratosphere.

The boxing scenes are solidly done, often employing a POV type of camera work that makes you feel like you’re in the ring with Billy and/or his opponent. This could have been gimmicky but it is used to great effect and never feels cheap. It’s a rare case where a camera trick actually enhances the movie rather than makes you realize you’re watching a movie, a very difficult line to balance. Also, Southpaw effectively captures the sordid world of boxing, but truthfully no better or no worse than most of the better movies about boxing.

There is a bit of a thug life vibe here – think Gyllenhaal in his End of Watch role – that at times rings a little false; it’s sort of like 1997 called and wants its attitude back. However, given Gyllenhaal’s performance (and that of Oona Laurence) there is enough to solidly recommend the movie despite a story that feels like it was written in 1949. And the fact that you could apply the story essentially to both eras is a reason to rejoice – or to get very depressed. Maybe both at the same time.

REASONS TO GO: Another outstanding performance by Gyllenhaal. Some fairly intense boxing scenes.
REASONS TO STAY: Very, very cliche. A little too thug life for some.
FAMILY VALUES: Violence both in the ring and out and lots and lots of foul language.
TRIVIAL PURSUIT: The role of Billy Hope was originally cast with Eminem and filming actually began with him in it, but production had to be halted when he opted to concentrate on his music career; Gyllenhaal was eventually cast in the role.
CRITICAL MASS: As of 8/25/15: Rotten Tomatoes 59% positive reviews. Metacritic: 57/100.
COMPARISON SHOPPING: The Champ
FINAL RATING: 6.5/10
NEXT: Down, But Not Out

New Releases for the Week of July 24, 2015


Paper Towns

PAPER TOWNS

(20th Century Fox) Nat Wolff, Carla Delevingne, Austin Abrams, Justice Smith, Halston Sage, Jaz Sinclair, Cara Buono, Jay Duplass, Ansel Elgort. Directed by Jake Schreier

A high school boy, who has his future all mapped out, has a crush on a mysterious neighbor. When she climbs in his window one night, the two embark on an adventure he never would have conceived for himself in his somewhat ordered world. When she disappears the next morning, he realizes that he is meant to find her again. Bringing along his best friends and hers, they embark on a journey not just to find Margo but to find themselves as well. From the novel by John Green, author if The Fault in Our Stars. Yeah, I know there’s a bigger budget movie on this list but something tells me this is going to be the (not-so) surprise hit of the summer.

See the trailer, clips, interviews, a featurette and B-roll video here.
For more on the movie this is the website.
Release Formats: Standard (opens Thursday)
Genre: Drama
Now Playing: Wide Release
Rating: PG-13 (for some language, drinking, sexuality and partial nudity – all involving teens)

American Heist

(Lionsgate) Hayden Christensen, Adrien Brody, Jordana Brewster, Akon. Two brothers have gone down the path of lawlessness and have been caught committing a crime. When one of them takes the rap for it, the other struggles to turn his life around and get back on the straight and narrow. When his brother is released from prison, he turns to the brother whose freedom he protected for one last job to get him back on his feet after attempts to find legitimate work are fruitless. Can the two truly change their lives with one last score, or will it be the key for them to lose everything they both have?

See the trailer and clips here.
For more on the movie this is the website.
Release Formats: Standard
Genre: Crime Thriller
Now Playing: AMC Downtown Disney
Rating: R (for strong violence, pervasive language, some sexual material and brief drug use)

Dark Was the Night

(Image) Kevin Durand, Lukas Haas, Bianca Kajlich, Steve Agee. When a logging company awakens something that should have never been disturbed in the forest surrounding a small town, it is up to the sheriff and his trusted deputy to save the town and the loggers from the evil that now stalks them.

See the trailer here.
For more on the movie this is the website.
Release Formats: Standard
Genre: Horror
Now Playing: AMC Downtown Disney
Rating: NR

The Little Death

(Magnolia) Bojana Novakovic, Patrick Brammall, Josh Lawson, Damon Herriman. Five suburban couples living in Sydney cope with the various sexual fetishes that unite or sometimes divide them, and try to navigate the sometimes troubled waters of modern sexuality within the confines of relationships. This played the Florida Film Festival earlier this year and returns for a limited run at the Enzian (it is only playing at 9:30pm most nights).

See the trailer and a link to stream the full movie on Amazon here.
For more on the movie this is the website.
Release Formats: Standard
Genre: Sex Comedy
Now Playing: Enzian Theater
Rating: NR

Pixels

(Columbia) Adam Sandler, Kevin James, Peter Dinklage, Michelle Monaghan. When aliens who misinterpret a video feed of classic arcade games as a declaration of war against them, they attack the earth using the games as models for their various assaults. The President is forced to turn to his childhood friend, once a champion gamer back in the day, and other arcade legends to find a way to beat the aliens or else the human race will be annihilated.

See the trailer, clips, interviews, promos and featurettes here.
For more on the movie this is the website.
Release Formats: Standard, 3D, IMAX 3D (opens Thursday)
Genre: Sci-Fi Action Comedy
Now Playing: Wide Release
Rating: PG-13 (for some language and suggestive comments)

Southpaw

(Weinstein) Jake Gyllenhaal, Rachel McAdams, Forest Whitaker, 50 Cent. A middleweight champion boxer sees his life torn apart and thrown into disarray after a tragedy outside of the ring. Deserted by those he relied on, his daughter taken from him by child protective services, he turns to the crusty manager of an urban gym to find guidance and a way back not to glory necessarily, but to win back the trust of those he cares about the most. But glory would be nice, too.

See the trailer, clips and B-roll video here.
For more on the movie this is the website.
Release Formats: Standard (opens Thursday)
Genre: Sports Drama
Now Playing: Wide Release
Rating: R (for language throughout, and some violence)

Unexpected

(The Film Arcade) Colbie Smulders, Gail Bean, Anders Holm, Elizabeth McGovern. A teacher discovers that she is unexpectedly pregnant. At the same time, one of her most promising students also finds out she’s pregnant. Both women will forge an unlikely friendship as they try to navigate the difficulties of pregnancy even though they come from vastly different circumstances.

See the trailer and a clip here.
For more on the movie this is the website.
Release Formats: Standard
Genre: Dramedy
Now Playing: AMC Downtown Disney
Rating: NR

The Vatican Tapes

(Lionsgate) Michael Pena, Kathleen Robertson, Djimon Hounsou, Dougray Scott. When a woman is apparently possessed by something demonic, the Vatican is consulted and experts brought in. When the entity possessing the woman turns out to be far more evil, ancient and malignant than at first thought, one brave priest must stand up and fight not just for the soul of a single woman but for the fate of the entire world.

See the trailer, interviews and clips here.
For more on the movie this is the website.
Release Formats: Standard
Genre: Supernatural Horror
Now Playing: AMC Altamonte Mall, AMC Downtown Disney, AMC Loew’s Universal Cineplex, Regal The Loop, Regal Waterford Lakes
Rating: PG-13 (for disturbing violent content, and some sexual references)

Spy


Fish out of water.

Fish out of water.

(2015) Spy Comedy (20th Century Fox) Melissa McCarthy, Jason Statham, Rose Byrne, Jude Law, Bobby Cannavale, Allison Janney, Jessica Chaffin, Miranda Hart, Morena Baccarin, Will Yun Lee, Carlos Ponce, Richard Brake, Raad Rawi, Michael McDonald, Peter Serafinowicz, Nargis Fakhri, 50 Cent, Ben Falcone, Katie Dippold, Jamie Denbo. Directed by Paul Feig

We are, as a moviegoing public, fascinated by spies. Of course, there’s the glamour – playing baccarat in Monte Carlo, wearing designer suits and dresses, using sophisticated gadgets that look like ordinary items, only deadly. Who wouldn’t want that kind of life?

Certainly Susan Cooper (McCarthy) does, to the point that she works for the Central Intelligence Agency. She is this close to getting an assignment in the field, but she winds up being a kind of handler/assistant to debonair field agent Bradley Fine (Law). She’s also quite smitten with the devilishly handsome spy, but he won’t give her a second look. In fact, nobody gives her much respect, not even the deputy chief (Janney) who supervises the team.

Unfortunately, while trying to discover the location of a nuclear bomb that is up for sale to the highest terrorist bidder, things go horribly, terribly awry. It turns out that the bomb seller, Reyna Boyanov (Byrne), has somehow identified every one of the CIA field agents. With a nuclear bomb in play and crippled by the fact that every agent she sends up against the bitchy Boyanov is sure to be spotted, the harried deputy chief is forced to send in someone that Reyna doesn’t know – Susan Cooper is finally getting her chance to be a field agent.

She is aided in her quest by gawky fellow basement dweller Nancy (Hart) and over-the-top touchy-feely Italian agent Aldo (Serafinowicz). She’ll also be hindered by egotistical, braggadocios agent Rick Ford (Statham) who, like about everyone else in the CIA, thinks that Susan doesn’t have a chance out in the field and will only mess things up. Susan, however, has a few surprises in store and is determined to complete her first mission. Will it be however, the last thing she does?

I’ve always blown hot and cold about McCarthy; she shows flashes of comic brilliance but Hollywood seems interested in casting her only as a boorish slob or an overbearing bully. One gets the sense that Hollywood can’t see past her weight, which coincidentally is Susan Cooper’s problem. One person who does see more in McCarthy is Feig, who has been at the helm for her three best performances yet – Bridesmaids, The Heat and now this.

McCarthy has always been adept at physical comedy, although it has often been to her detriment (having to do with her size) but here she outdoes herself. That’s not what makes McCarthy’s performance so memorable though; it’s that she portrays Susan as intelligent, capable and dare I say it, pretty. She turns all of our prejudices about overweight women on their ear, and for that alone one should applaud this movie, and Feig and McCarthy specifically.

What holds this movie back is that the story is really kind of generic spy stuff. We’ve seen the plot in movies and on television many times before. However, it is executed very well  here, with some cool high-tech sets in the CIA and lovely exotic (to American eyes anyway) locations. I would also have liked to see the villains be less bitchy and more evil. A spy movie is only as good as its villain and while Byrne is delicious as Reyna, one doesn’t get the kind of threat from her as one might from Auric Goldfinger, Ernst Blofeld or even Siegfried of KAOS.

Still, McCarthy gets to be James Bond and how cool is that for her? You can tell that she’s having the time of her life in this role, and it translates onto the screen and audiences are picking up on that, judging from the box office and audience test scores. It is said that Fox intended this all along to be a new franchise for them and quite likely it will be and I for one can’t wait for a sequel if McCarthy wants to do one.

REASONS TO GO: Statham plays against type and McCarthy is at her best. Some nifty sets and locations.
REASONS TO STAY: Doesn’t really explore new territory. Villains not villainous enough.
FAMILY VALUES: Foul language, some violence, a little bit of sexual content and a brief scene of nudity.
TRIVIAL PURSUIT: Feig is a huge fan of Jason Statham and wrote the part of Rick Ford specifically for him.
CRITICAL MASS: As of 6/23/15: Rotten Tomatoes: 95% positive reviews. Metacritic: 75/100.
COMPARISON SHOPPING: This Means War
FINAL RATING: 6.5/10
NEXT: The Departed

Home of the Brave (2006)


A sadly far-too-common sight during the Iraq and Afghanistan conflicts.

A sadly far-too-common sight during the Iraq and Afghanistan conflicts.

(2006) War Drama (MGM) Samuel L. Jackson, Jessica Biel, Christina Ricci, Brian Presley, Curtis “50 Cent” Jackson, Chad Michael Murray, Victoria Rowell, Jeff Nordling, Vyto Ruginis, Sam Jones III, James MacDonald, Sandra Nelson, Ginger Ewing, Jack Serino, Brendan Wayne, Mohamed Zinathiah, Richard De Mayo, Kiara Johnson, Joyce M. Cameron. Directed by Irwin Winkler

For three soldiers serving in Iraq, the word has come down; they’re shipping back home in two weeks. When in Hollywood, that’s a sure sign that something Bad is about to happen.

And so it does. Dr. Will Marsh (Jackson), Vanessa Price (Biel), Tommy Yates (Presley) and Jamal Aiken (50 Cent) are part of an Army National Guard humanitarian convoy bringing medical supplies and personnel to a small Iraqi village when they are ambushed by insurgents. The firefight is sudden and brutal, with the soldiers taking on well-armed adversaries. None of them get out without some kind of wound; Vanessa loses her hand in a roadside bomb explosion, Jamal accidentally shoots an unarmed civilian, Tommy takes a minor wound to his leg and as a result is unable to help when his best friend is killed. As for Marsh, he’s supposed to stitch them all together.

Once they recover from their physical wounds, they’re all shipped home and essentially left to fend for themselves. The VA bureaucracy is bewildering for some, while others fail to take advantage of the programs that are available to help them cope. Vanessa is having problems dealing with her mutilation; not only is she having physical problems adjusting to the prosthetic, her emotional issues are threatening to overwhelm her and alienate her from her family. Jamal is angry and frustrated; his former girlfriend Keisha (Ewing) refuses to have anything to do with him and he can’t seem to navigate the paperwork that will help him get the treatment he needs for his injured back. Tommy is aimless and drifting, unable to handle the guilt of failing his friend; on top of that, he finds himself attracted to his dead buddy’s girlfriend (Ricci), but neither of them seem able to help the other cope with their grief.

Dr. Marsh seems to have the most complex issues. His teenage son (Jones) is angry (what teenage son isn’t?) and takes it out on his father, who struggles to understand him. His wife (Rowell) in turn wants to help him with his pain, but can’t find any sort of common ground to begin with, even if he was willing to let her in which he isn’t. Instead, he turns to the bottle to ease his suffering, with predictable results.

The turmoil of soldiers placed into extremely stressful situations returning into a normal life is daunting. Not many go through the process unscathed but which of these returning vets will break and which, if any, will overcome?

Outside of Jackson, Biel and Ricci, few of the cast were really name actors at the time this was made. Jackson is, as always, terrific as the tormented medic while Ricci has only a couple of scenes in which to display her grief, which to her credit doesn’t seem to be a product of Acting Out Grief 101. Most of the rest of the cast is solid, although 50 Cent at times has difficulty enunciating in one of his first screen roles – his third, to be exact. As for the rest of the cast, most resist the urge to denigrate drama into melodrama but some succumb to the temptation.

The battle sequences are pulse-pounding and realistic, although it reminded me a little bit of the ambush sequence in Clear and Present Danger. Winkler is a veteran director and does a solid job of moving the story along. While the script is extremely flawed in terms of its characterization of the emotional state of the majority of our veterans of Iraq and Afghanistan, the elements that work do so extremely well.

I’ll pretty much see Samuel L. Jackson in just about anything. Yeah, he can be over-the-top but he’s never boring. Winkler manages to make each soldier’s story gripping and you wind up caring about the characters and being interested in their individual journeys but the movie doesn’t really add anything to the overall conversation. In a lot of ways, the topic is and has been better explored in documentaries about the subject. I was disappointed that the script portrayed all of the returning veterans as psychotic, which is not true of the majority of returning war veterans. Yes, there are plenty of Iraq War vets who have problems returning to normal life, but there are plenty who are able to adjust without falling apart.  I’m not saying that they all come through unscathed and adjust easily to civilian life, but most don’t have the extreme reactions these vets did. I would have hoped for more realistic portrayals of vets adjusting to their return to normal life. In short, this is no Best Days of Our Lives.

While this seems to be a modern take on The Best Years of Our Lives, there is at least enough about it that give it some resonance. However, the 1946 movie about returning WWII vets is still the best movie ever produced on the subject and let’s face it, Jessica Biel is no Harold Russell. There is some resonance here however, particularly given the recent VA scandal and the difficulties veterans are encountering getting the assistance they need. Overall I have to say that I found myself interested in the lives of these soldiers and if you get me to that point, that’s half the battle.

WHY RENT THIS: Jackson is always interesting. Opening ambush sequence very powerful.
WHY RENT SOMETHING ELSE: Heavy-handed. Doesn’t really cover any new ground.
FAMILY MATTERS: The subject matter is difficult for less mature audience members to latch onto, and the ambush sequence is fairly realistic, particularly when the roadside bomb does its work. The language is salty throughout; definitely not for younger and more sensitive types.
TRIVIAL PURSUITS: The closing credits song, “Try Not to Remember” performed by Sheryl Crow was nominated for a Golden Globe.
NOTABLE HOME VIDEO FEATURES: There is a trivia track on the Blu-Ray edition; the DVD edition has the usual audio commentary and deleted scene.
BOX OFFICE PERFORMANCE: $499,620 on a $12M production budget.
SITES TO SEE: Netflix (DVD/Blu-Ray rental only), Amazon (buy/rent), Vudu (buy/rent),  iTunes (buy/rent), Flixster (unavailable), Target Ticket (unavailable)
COMPARISON SHOPPING: Stop-Loss
FINAL RATING: 5/10
NEXT: Deli Man

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

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:

Escape Plan


AARP action movie stars.

AARP action movie stars.

(2013) Action (Summit) Sylvester Stallone, Arnold Schwarzenegger, Jim Caviezel, Faran Tahir, Amy Ryan, Sam Neill, Vincent D’Onofrio, Vinnie Jones, Matt Gerald, 50 Cent, Caitriona Balfe, David Joseph Martinez, Alec Rayme, Christian Stokes, Graham Beckel, Rodney Feaster, David Leitch, Eric R. Salas, Brian Oerly, Jeff Chase, Lydia Hull. Directed by Mikael Hafstrom

There is a certain comfort in movies that recollect past eras. The action films of the 80s were one such. It can be said justifiably that the 80s were the golden age of the action film as stars like Stallone, Schwarzenegger, van Damme and a fairly large contingent from Hong Kong plied their trade in multiplexes across the country. Most of these actors are largely in their 60s now and while guys like Jason Statham and Dwayne Johnson have picked up the slack, they haven’t equaled the popularity of those other men in their prime.

Ray Breslin (Stallone) breaks out of prisons for a living. He is a security specialist, finding the weak points in institutional security and pointing them out to their clients so that those weak points can be shored up. It’s a fairly lucrative business with Ray being the brains and his partner Lester Clark (D’Onofrio) the money man.

They get an unusual request from a representative from the CIA to see if a new Supermax facility, one which will hold people the government wants to see go away and never be found again – terrorists, domestic and foreign, that sort of thing. While Ray’s computer genius Hush (50 Cent) and his handler Abigail (Ryan) have misgivings, Ray thinks that the unusually high payday is worth the risk.

Then he is kidnapped off the streets of New Orleans and taken to a strange facility with glass cells and a massive central hub known as Babylon – all of which is clearly indoors but Ray has no idea where. He quickly realizes that things are awry when his contact doesn’t seem to exist and his evacuation code doesn’t work. Instead, he has the soft-spoken Warden Hobbes (Caviezel), a sadistic sort whose right hand man Drake (Jones) has plenty of muscle to enforce Hobbes’ wishes.

Ray gets an ally inside the prison in Emil Rottmayer (Schwarzenegger) who appears to be the middle man for a financial terrorist who targets corporations. Hobbes wants to know where the terrorist is in the worst way and Emil so far isn’t talking. Ray realizes that he’s been set up and betrayed and he is not supposed to escape – ever. What happens when you have a prison that’s truly escape proof? Do you settle in and accept your fate or die trying to get your freedom?

This definitely harkens back to the golden age of action films I referred to earlier in tone and layout. The plot and writing aren’t going to be confused with Henrik Ibsen nor are Schwarzenegger and Stallone going to be confused with Barrymore and Olivier. However, both of the former have become iconic screen personalities and they don’t really need to act. They just need to show up and react.

This is definitely Stallone’s movie with Schwarzenegger playing little more than comic relief, although he gets his testosterone moment when he lifts a huge machine gun out of a helicopter and opens fire on the baddies. It’s as preposterous as any moment in the film yet one of the most gratifying. In fact, all those who grew up with the movies of the heyday of these two men will find this comfort food of the highest order, cinematically speaking.

The sets of the massive prison are pretty impressive, as are the black-masked prison guards. While Arnold and Sly do what they do so well, Caviezel – generally the Eastwood-ian hero of Person of Interest on CBS and quite possibly the softest-spoken actor in Hollywood – makes his character silky smooth and with all the delicious evil of a serpent. He makes for an excellent antagonist and given the Bond-like set and soldiers, might make for a Blofeld-like bad guy for the venerable British spy series if they’re looking for a villain to go up against Daniel Craig in the next movie.

While the leads labor through some of their action sequences (after all, they are both well past AARP age) and remind us that their prime has come and gone, they nonetheless have the experience and wisdom to simply rely on the images they’ve both carefully crafted over the years and use them to help push them over the top. Sure, there’s nothing here that is going to essentially stand out above other action movies in the year of our lord 2013 but this isn’t a disgrace either. It’s fine, mindless entertainment for a nation that desperately needs the same. Still though, you’d be better off renting Predator, Rambo, The Running Man and Cobra if you want to see the best work of these gentlemen.

REASONS TO GO: Nice set design and pacing. Caviezel makes an intimidating villain.

REASONS TO STAY: No surprises. The stars show just how long in the tooth they have become.

FAMILY VALUES:  A fair amount of action violence and bad language.

TRIVIAL PURSUIT: Stallone’s eldest son Sage passed away during filming, causing a brief break in shooting while he attended to family matters.

CRITICAL MASS: As of 11/3/13: Rotten Tomatoes: 49% positive reviews. Metacritic: 49/100.

COMPARISON SHOPPING: Escape From Alcatraz

FINAL RATING: 5.5/10

NEXT: The Counselor

Limelight (2011)


To some, New York club culture was more of a religion.

To some, New York club culture was more of a religion.

(2009) Documentary (Magnolia) Peter Gatien, Michael Alig, 50 Cent, Jay-Z, Moby, Ed Koch, Howard Safir, Sean Kirkham, Michael Caruso, Edgar Oliver, Frank Owen, Steve Lewis, Benjamin Brafman. Directed by Billy Corben

Once upon in New York City there was a club scene like no other. It was in the late 80s, early 90s and it just about put Studio 54-era discos to shame. Four of them – The Limelight, Tunnel, Club USA and the Palladium – were run by the same guy.

His name was Peter Gatien and he was notorious in his day. He was a Canadian, Ontario-born (although it was said he rooted for the Montreal Canadiens which was not unlike a native of the Bronx being a lifelong Red Sox fan) and wore a buccaneer-like eyepatch which was, contrary to popular rumor, not an affectation. He’d lost an eye playing hockey as a youth.

His clubs were like nothing else seen before or since; full of pulsating music and lights, sweaty bodies and essentially a place where new music was created. Moby has been quoted as saying that without these clubs there would have been no techno. These places were like stationary raves and in a sense were incubators for youth culture which has affected popular culture to this day.

It wasn’t always easy. Gatien started out selling jeans and after his hockey accident used the money to open his own nightclub in Ontario, which he parlayed into a club in Atlanta and then four in New York. In his heyday he was the toast of New York, name-checked by the Fun Loving Cannibals and THE man to know if you wanted to be somebody in that town.

But with notoriety like that comes attention, some of it of the negative sort. Drugs were rampant in Gatien’s clubs and they were sold to the point where some referred to the Palladium as a “drug supermarket.” Mayor Rudy Giuliani used Gatien’s clubs as a focal point for his anti-crime campaign and eventually after failing to pin any drug-related arrests on Gatien, nailed him for failing to pay his taxes (well after the clubs began to shut down) and had him deported back to Canada with only $500 in his pocket.

This after making millions from his cash cows. It was a precipitous fall after a remarkable climb. Gatien remains an engaging character and he’s surprisingly forthcoming in his interviews here. Many of those who were around Gatien – managers, bartenders, DJs and such – all have something to say. Most have never attained the pinnacle of hip that they achieved during those years and they still carry that borderline arrogance that comes from being Somebody.

One of those interviewed here is the notorious Michael Alig, who in a drug-induced haze murdered and dismembered fellow Limelight scenester Angel Melendez. Alig ran several parties at Gatien’s clubs and in fact Gatien was an early suspect in Melendez’s murder.

Corben peppers the documentary with animations and psychedelic images which I imagine gives you more of a feeling of being in an altered state as you watch. The movie is really a rise and fall affair with the beginning on Gatien’s meteoric rise much more interesting than the details of his ignoble fall. And yes while I get that “the higher the rise the further the fall” lesson, that’s essentially a story we’ve seen literally thousands of times, some in more compelling ways.

What I missed here was more of a look at how Gatien’s clubs affected pop culture and their lasting impact on modern society. Really what this turns out to be is a movie made more for the people who were there in that time and place. While I wasn’t a part of the New York club scene, I was part of a club scene in a different city at roughly the same time so some of it is recognizable to me. Fortunately I didn’t see the same kind of drug use and trade to the extent that it was here in my part of the world, although that could partly be ascribed to my own personal naiveté as well as that most people don’t want to transact drugs in front of a journalist.

Be that as it may, this is probably more of interest to those who clubbed in the late 80s and early 90s in general and in New York City in particular. It was an era that has come and gone, and will never return. So in that sense the movie has nostalgia value and on that level works like a charm. Gatien is an interesting enough subject that at least for the first part of the movie his engaging character is worthwhile. It’s only when the story of his downfall starts that your attention will start to wander. Gatien (and by extension the filmmaker) blames many of his troubles on a vindictive government but he’s only partly right – Gatien allowed that rampant drug use and sales to take place in his clubs. They were HIS clubs as he is quick to tell you and thus his responsibility. He has to shoulder at least some blame for his fall – and you get the sense he doesn’t see it that way. That might be the most tragic element of this story.

WHY RENT THIS: Fascinating look at maybe the nadir of all club scenes. Gatien is a fascinating character.

WHY RENT SOMETHING ELSE: The second half spends far too much time on the legal battles that went on, less time on the lasting impact of the scene.

FAMILY VALUES: There is some bad language and alcohol and drug use depicted.

TRIVIAL PURSUIT: One of the producers is Gatien’s own daughter, Jen.

NOTABLE HOME VIDEO EXTRAS: None listed.

BOX OFFICE PERFORMANCE: $60,335 on an unreported production budget; might have made money but more likely just broken even or lost money.

COMPARISON SHOPPING: Party Monster

FINAL RATING: 6/10

NEXT: Eastern Promises

Righteous Kill


Righteous Kill

This is what happen to screenwriters who deliver subpar scripts to De Niro and Pacino.

(2008) Police Drama (Overture) Robert De Niro, Al Pacino, Carla Gugino, Donnie Wahlberg, 50 Cent, John Leguizamo, Brian Dennehy, Trilby Glover, Melissa Leo, Alan Rosenberg, Rob Dyrdek. Directed by Jon Avnet

It takes a special kind of person to be a police officer. The temptation of corruption is always there, plus there’s the endless string of disappointment and frustration as felon after felon that you’ve worked hard to convict gets let off on technicalities or under the auspices of a sympathetic judge.

Turk Cowan (De Niro) and Rooster Fisk (Pacino) are New York City Police Department detectives. They make a pretty good team; Rooster is the brains, Turk is the brawn. They are pretty well regarded by their peers, although there are some whispers that once upon a time Turk manufactured some evidence to put a killer away.

Well, that part is true, and it might be that he’s up to his old tricks again. Guilty parties who had escaped justice are turning up dead with the same bad poetry left with the bodies that Turk had left previously. Nobody is really mourning the bad guys, but the cops know that if one of their own falls under suspicion, they all are under suspicion and so Rooster knows he must go about protecting his partner by finding the real killer.

This is standard cop show plotting, not something you’d put on the plates of two of the most decorated actors in history, but here it is. Of course, Pacino and De Niro could elevate anything put before them; heck, you cast Pacino as Bella Swan and De Niro as Edward, you could even make the Twilight series more interesting. Okay, maybe not.

But the two of them need to be at the top of their game, right? Not here they’re not. Pacino operates barely above a whisper most of the time, sort of like Michael Corleone having a real bad sore throat. De Niro also seems oddly dispirited, like his mind was elsewhere. Maybe Jake LaMotta took one too many to the head.

Jon Avnet also has better films than this one on his resume. There just seems to be a feeling of punching a time clock here. This is a pretty impressive cast when you look at it on paper; it seems almost unheard of that Donnie Wahlberg would give the most memorable performance out of all of them, but there you have it. Wahlberg, as a fellow detective, is the most believable and the most intense. If everyone had given the kind of energy to their performance that Wahlberg did, this movie would have been a whole different story.

But when you give Carla Gugino a role which is basically all about having rough sex with De Niro (who ironically enough played her father in A Boy’s Life), it’s a waste of a terrific actress, one who doesn’t get enough work as it is. It’s not that Gugino isn’t sexy or kinky enough; it’s just you need to give her more to work with than just her sexuality. Take that away from the role and you have a television medical examiner part that could be done by any actress who can pronounce the jargon.

When you get a team up of De Niro and Pacino, you set expectations extremely high. The two have only had essentially six minutes of screen time together prior to this movie which, to be fair, gives them an awful lot of screen time together. The problem is that you wonder why they cast these two in roles that any halfway decent actor could do, and you get the feeling that this was simply stunt casting that the two bought into for the paycheck. Not that they shouldn’t get paid – after all, they’ve contributed some of the most memorable movie moments of the past twenty years – but Righteous Kill is very much like seeing a match race between Jeff Gordon and Jimmy Johnson, only to see them both coast around the track.

WHY RENT THIS: A case can be made for Pacino and De Niro to be the two greatest actors to appear in American films, and seeing them together is a big treat.

WHY RENT SOMETHING ELSE: The rest of the movie, particularly the script, doesn’t fit the prestige of the two leads.

FAMILY VALUES: As with most police dramas there’s plenty of violence and bad language, but in this one there’s some kinky sexuality, as well as a little drug use.

TRIVIAL PURSUIT: Pacino and De Niro have appeared in three movies together; in the first Godfather Part II, they both played gangsters. In the second, Heat, one played a gangster and one played a cop and in this one, both play cops.

NOTABLE DVD EXTRAS: There’s a featurette on the temptations of police work, the kind of personalities attracted to the job and real life cases of corruption and brutality.

BOX OFFICE PERFORMANCE: $77.4M on a $60M production budget; the movie was a flop.

FINAL RATING: 6/10

TOMORROW: Eagle Eye