New Releases for the Week of March 25, 2011


March 25, 2011

Beautiful girls at war - Zach Snyder knows what makes teenage boys drool.

SUCKER PUNCH

(Warner Brothers) Emily Browning, Vanessa Hudgens, Abbie Cornish, Jamie Chung, Jena Malone, Carla Gugino, Scott Glenn, Jon Hamm, Oscar Isaac. Directed by Zach Snyder

A young girl is sent to an asylum against her will and discovers that in a few short days she will be lobotomized. She and a group of her friends mean to escape, but there seems to be no way. They enter a dream world where the keys to their salvation may lie.

See the trailer, interviews, a featurette and an animated short here.

For more on the movie this is the website.

Release formats: Standard, IMAX

Genre: Fantasy

Rating: PG-13 (for thematic material involving sexuality, violence and combat sequences, and for language)

Diary of a Wimpy Kid: Rodrick Rules

(20th Century Fox) Steve Zahn, Rachael Harris, Devon Bostick, Zachary Gordon. As Greg enters the 7th grade, he and his nemesis (his brother Rodrick) are thrust together by their parents in a misguided attempt to force the brothers to bond. Superglue couldn’t bond these guys together.

See the trailer, interviews and clips here.

For more on the movie this is the website.

Release formats: Standard

Genre: Family Comedy

Rating: PG (for some mild rude humor and mischief)

The Fifth Quarter

(Rocky Mountain) Ryan Merriman, Aidan Quinn, Andie MacDowell, Andrea Powell. Star Wake Forest football player Jon Abbate dedicates his season to his younger brother, who passed away tragically in a car crash. The rest of the team is inspired by Jon’s dedication and devotion and the team makes one of the most memorable turnarounds in college football history.

See the trailer, clips and interviews here.

For more on the movie this is the website.

Release formats: Standard

Genre: True Sports Drama

Rating: PG-13 (for some thematic elements)

Happythankyoumoreplease

(Anchor Bay) Josh Radnor, Malin Ackerman, Kate Mara, Zoe Kazan. When an aspiring writer finds an orphaned boy on a subway platform and agrees to care for him for a couple of days, his life is turned upside-down as is that of his friends.  This friendship with a young boy however may bring to him a new level of maturity as he begins to see life with a different perspective.

See the trailer and a clip here.

For more on the movie this is the website.

Release formats: Standard

Genre: Romantic Comedy

Rating: R (for language)

New Releases for the Week of March 18, 2011


Paul

What's wrong with this picture? That's right - nerds with beautiful girls.

PAUL

(Universal) Simon Pegg, Nick Frost, Seth Rogen (voice), Kirsten Wiig, Jason Bateman, Bill Hader, Sigourney Weaver, Jeffrey Tambor, John Carroll Lynch, Jane Lynch, David Koechner, Steven Spielberg, Joe Lo Truglio, Blythe Danner. Directed by Greg Mottola 

A couple of sci-fi nerds from England decide to take a road trip in the United States to visit all the UFO hot spots. While outside of Area 51, they pick up an unexpected hitchhiker – a genuine alien. However, he is nothing like you would expect an alien to be and as it turns out, the movies got them all wrong! Damn that Steven Spielberg!!! In any case, a shadowy government agency is after them because they want the alien back. They’ll want to keep him as far from Arizona as they can.

See the trailer, promos, interviews, clips and featurettes here.

For more on the movie this is the website.

Release formats: Standard

Genre: Science Fiction Comedy

Rating: R (for language including sexual references and some drug use)

I Saw the Devil

(Magnet) Byung-hun Lee, Min-sik Choi, San-ha Oh, Yoon-seo Kim. After the pregnant wife of a police inspector is brutally murdered by a serial killer, the inspector crosses the line of justice and vengeance. In so doing, he becomes worse than the monster he’s chasing. Is there a way back into the light once you’ve embraced the darkness?

See the trailer and a clip here.

For more on the movie this is the website.

Release formats: Standard

Genre: Drama

Rating: NR

Limitless

(Relativity/Rogue) Bradley Cooper, Robert De Niro, Abbie Cornish, Anna Friel. A failing writer discovers a drug that allows you to access all of your brain instead of the 20% or so we mostly use now. His new-found mental capacity at first gives him success, wealth and confidence but it also attracts attention from the unscrupulous who want to exploit him. And let’s talk about side effects shall we? 

See the trailer, clips and interviews here.

For more on the movie this is the website.

Release formats: Standard

Genre: Science Fiction Thriller

Rating: PG-13 (for thematic material involving a drug, violence including disturbing images, sexuality and language)

The Lincoln Lawyer

(Lionsgate) Matthew McConaughey, Ryan Philippe, Marisa Tomei, Josh Lucas. A sleazy criminal defense lawyer who operates from the back of a Lincoln sedan stumbles into a high profile case that could well be his ticket to the big time. However, complications arise (as they inevitably do) and the lawyer winds up facing a crisis of conscience that may well destroy everything he has.

See the trailer, news stories, interviews and clips here.

For more on the movie this is the website.

Release formats: Standard

Genre: Thriller

Rating: R (for some violence, sexual content and language)

Lord of the Dance in 3D

(SuperVision Media) Michael Flatley, Bernadette Flynn, Tom Cunningham, Clara Sexton. The worldwide stage hit that popularized Celtic dance comes to the big screen in a lavish 3D environment that brings audiences right on the stage with the dancers. For all you who loved the stage show, this is your chance to become part of the show in this limited engagement performance.

See the trailer here.

For more on the movie this is the website.

Release formats: Special Engagement, 3D

Genre: Musical

Rating: NR

Tiny Furniture

(IFC) Lena Dunham, Laurie Simmons, Grace Dunham, Alex Karpovsky. A young woman moves back in with her mom after her boyfriend leaves her and she graduates college with a degree that’s more or less useless. Competing with an overachieving younger sister, she drinks, has meaningless, passionless sex and takes a dead-end job that she hates. She knows what her potential is; she’s just needing someone to tell her who she is.

See the trailer here.

For more on the movie this is the website.

Release formats: Standard

Genre: Comedy

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

 

Legend of the Guardians: The Owls of Ga’Hoole


Legend of the Guardians: The Owls of Ga'Hoole

Half the way there.

(Warner Brothers) Starring the voices of Jim Sturgess, Emily Barclay, David Wenham, Anthony LaPaglia, Miriam Margolyes, Helen Mirren, Joel Edgerton, Geoffrey Rush, Ryan Kwanten, Richard Roxburgh, Hugo Weaving, Barry Otto, Leigh Whannell, Sam Neill, Adrienne DeFaria, Abbie Cornish. Directed by Zack Snyder

As CGI animated features have become more sophisticated, they have begun to attract big-name live action directors. Snyder, who arguably has plenty of CGI experience with his previous two features 300 and Watchmen goes all the way with this adaptation of the first three of Kathryn Lasky’s series of novels for young adults, The Guardians of Ga’Hoole.

Young Soren (Sturgess) is entranced by the stories of the mythic Guardians of Ga’Hoole told by his dad Noctus (Weaving); the Guardians are a group of owls who live far, far away who come when owlkind is threatened – did I mention Soren is a barn owl? – and aid the weak against the strong. Soren even has his own hero, Lyze of Kiel, who defeated the evil leader of the Pure Ones in the Battle of the Ice Claw and disfigured him, forcing him to wear a metal helmet to hide his disfigurements.

His sister Eglantine (DeFaria) shares in his rapt adoration of the Guardians stories but his brother Kludd (Kwanten) is less impressed. He is in fact quite jealous of the attention Soren gets from his father, and is constantly falling short of Soren’s accomplishments.

The two go out to practice branching, a practice in which young owls glide from branch to branch in the large tree that they live in as a preface to learning how to fly for real. However, an angry Kludd knocks over Soren when he is attempting to leap off a branch, causing Kludd to lose his balance as well and the two brothers wind up on the ground, not the place they want to be.

It isn’t long before the two find out why their father warned them about the ground; they are attacked by a large rodent-like creature and it looks like one or both of them are destined to be rodent dinner until they are saved by a pair of strange owls who take them far away, to St. Aegolius, an aerie inhabited by the Pure Ones. Nyra (Mirren), the mate of Metalbeak (Whannell) who still lives, informs them that they’ve been abandoned by their families and are now part of the Tyto family – their word for Pure Ones. The strong will be Tyto warriors; the weak will be Pickers. When Soren speaks up to defend Gylfie (Barclay), an elf owl that Soren befriended on the journey to St. Aegolius, he and Gylfie are relegated with most of the others to being Pickers. Soren calls out to Kludd but Kludd denies him, and joins the Tytos.

The rest are led outside and made to sleep under the glare of the full moon, which Gylfie informs Soren will lead to a zombie-like state in which they’ll become pliable and docile. Soren means to resist the effect by staying awake the night, which he and Gylfie do. They discover the next morning that their work will involve sifting through owl pellets, the regurgitated remains of the mice and other animals that owls eat, to find a small metallic bit called a fleck, which the Pure Ones are using to create a weapon that creates a magnetic field that disorients owls. They use bats to actually handle the flecks as bats are immune to the effect.

Soren and Gylfie make plans to escape but before they do they are taken aside by Grimble (also Weaving), the Pure One who had kidnapped Gylfie. Once safe in his library, he tells them he’s been waiting for someone who would stand up to the other Pure Ones and avoid being moon-blinked; he would have left long ago if his family wasn’t being held hostage. He tries to teach them how to fly so they can escape and warn the Guardians, but they are interrupted by the arrival of Nyra, Kludd and a group of Tyto warriors. Grimble tries to hold them off to buy the two some time to escape; Soren hesitates and calls again to Kludd but it is clear that Kludd has become one of the Tytos and he again denies Soren. The two, forced to flee, barely manage to escape but Grimble dies defending them.

Exhausted, they look for a place to rest and meet Digger (Wenham), a somewhat eccentric burrowing owl and his friend Twilight (LaPaglia), a great grey owl who fancies himself a warrior bard, although his poetry leaves something to be desired. Hearing that Soren and Gylfie are off to find the Guardians, they offer to go with them on the adventure, Twilight knowing where the Sea of Hoolemere is, which is where the Island of Ga’Hoole resides. Twilight has also captured Mrs. Plithever (Margolyes), the snake that acted as nanny to Soren, Kludd and Eglantine, ostensibly as dinner but now they have a fifth companion.

On the way there, they discover an Echidna (Otto), a mystic who knows more about their journey than they let on. While flying through a raging ice storm, they are discovered by two guardians – one of whom happens to be King Boron (Roxburgh) – and escorted back to Ga’Hoole. There their story is heard, disbelieved by Allomere (Neill), one of their trusted advisors, but believed by Ezylryb (Rush), who is very eccentric but also an advisor. Boron decides to send Allomere to scout out the situation.

Eventually he returns, having barely returned alive but with two young owlets that have been moon-blinked, one of whom is Eglantine, who was led to it by her own brother. As the guardians gird for war, they have no way of knowing that they will be betrayed by someone close to them and that a hero will rise from the least likely among them. But will it be enough to overcome the numerical superiority of the Pure Ones, or evade the trap that is being laid for them?

The first thing you need to know about this movie is that the animation is absolutely superb. The owls look real, and the backgrounds are spectacular. An owl civilization is created that looks not unlike the elf civilization of Lord of the Rings. The owls are given human characteristics and each one is easily distinguishable from the others. Considering that in the past all owls looked pretty much alike to me, that’s no mean feat. Kudos must be given to Animal Logic, the Aussie firm that did most of the animation. Work like this will put them in the league of Pixar before too very long, and I wouldn’t be surprised if this winds up nominated for a Best Animated Feature Oscar come February.

This is certainly a work of fantasy, and it borrows heavily from all sorts of genres, from the high fantasy of the aforementioned Lord of the Rings to the Star Wars saga and even bits of the Indiana Jones adventures. The Pure Ones have been compared to the Nazis and while in some ways that comparison is dead on, I would also liken them to the Kali cult of India as depicted in Indiana Jones and the Temple of Doom.

While the Aussie accents are occasionally thick enough that some of the small tykes around me were repeatedly asking their parents what was just said, the voice acting is top notch here, particularly Sturgess (whose star is rising these days) as the heroic Soren, Wenham as the loopy Digger, LaPaglia as the unctuous Twilight and Mirren as the imperious Nyra.

The main complaint I have about the movie is that it seemed to be cramming a whole lot of story into the 90 minute runtime. At times the pacing seems a little rushed, which gave short shrift to some of the characters and story points. However, that’s a fairly minor sin when compared with all the positives the movie had going for it.

Another aside; the music here is wonderful, and they made effective use of Dead Can Dance’s “The Host of Seraphim” during the climactic battle scene. That happens to be one of my favorite songs, and it is so cinematic in tone that I have often wondered why it hadn’t been used in a movie until now. Dead Can Dance singer Lisa Gerrard’s voice is used on two occasions in the movie (once from one of her solo albums) and it enhances the movie’s mythic quality.

In fact, that is one of the things I liked the most about the movie, and the word “mythic” sums it up well. Lasky created a credible owl mythology, as credible as any of the fantasy worlds you would find in adult fantasy (I’m talking George R.R. Martin’s A Song of Fire and Ice, Piers Anthony’s Xanth and Robert Jordan’s Wheel of Time so get your mind out of the gutter, it’s crowding me) and it translates nicely to the screen. I found it easy enough to follow, and it gives the movie an epic scope.

Perhaps because the movie is something of a hybrid, or perhaps people just aren’t plain interested in seeing owls as lead characters, the movie has underperformed at the box office thus far, although good word of mouth may eventually wind up saving it. I hope so, because it is clearly one of the class of the field of this year’s animated movies, clearly as good as How to Train a Dragon or Despicable Me, both of which did far better at the box office than this one has thus far. Even if you don’t have kids who want to see it, I urge you to go anyway; there’s plenty there to delight adults and if you like some of the aforementioned influences, you will love this as much as I did.

REASONS TO GO: The animation is phenomenal, up there with Pixar’s best work. The storyline is easy to follow, and along the lines of great fantasy works as Lord of the Rings.

REASONS TO STAY: Sometimes the pace seems a bit too hurried, as if the filmmakers were trying to cram too much in to the time kids would be likely to sit still for.

FAMILY VALUES: There are some scenes of brutality that might be too much for the very young, but otherwise okay for most family audiences.

TRIVIAL PURSUIT: This is the first film directed by Zack Snyder not to be rated R. This is also the first film Snyder directed not to debut in the number one position in the box office rankings.

HOME OR THEATER: Absolutely this should be seen in a theater; the breathtaking animation is worth it, and I would also recommend that you shell out the extra few bucks for 3D as well.

FINAL RATING: 8/10

TOMORROW: City of God

A Good Year


A Good Year

Not even Russell Crowe can look cool in that jacket and Marion Cotillard knows it.

(20th Century Fox) Russell Crowe, Albert Finney, Marion Cotillard, Abbie Cornish, Freddie Highmore, Archie Panjabi, Didier Bourdon, Isabelle Candalier, Jacques Herlin, Tom Hollander, Rafe Spall, Kenneth Cranham, Richard Coyle.  Directed by Ridley Scott

Life is what happens, according to John Lennon, when we’re making other plans. As with many other things, the Beatle had it right. Too often we’re so involved with the day to day distractions of mortgages, raising children, work, school, and the little recreations of TV and internet that we lose sight of what it is to truly live. As a species, I don’t believe we were meant to live this way, and yet we do, day after day.

For some, life is all about the pursuit of money, and for none more so than Max Skinner (Crowe), an underhanded, cold-hearted bond trader in London. He has no scruples when it comes to making profit, whether it involves bending the laws to the breaking point or screwing over friends, colleagues and God knows how many strangers. He is a human shark without pity or feeling. His is a life full of sex but lacking love. In fact, he has only truly loved one person in his entire life; his Uncle Henry (Finney).

Uncle Henry has a chateau in Provence, France where he makes a liquid that somewhat resembles wine. As a boy (Highmore), Max used to visit regularly, especially after his parents died. Henry was a bit on the eccentric side, an avowed ladies man who never married and never intended to. As time went on and Max grew into the adult he would become, he and Henry grew apart. They hadn’t spoken much in ten years when Max received word that Henry had passed on.

Since Henry had not updated his will, Max as his closest known blood relative inherited everything; the chateau, the vineyards and the possessions. Max is not interested in these things and wants to sell them as quickly as possible, preferably with as little involvement in time or trouble as possible. Unfortunately, he is forced to go to Provence to sign paperwork and so he returns to the chateau. There, he is re-introduced to Duflot (Bourdon), who takes care of the vines and makes the wine and his wife Ludivine (Candalier) who is also the chateau’s housekeeper. They are happy to see him, but are also wary; they don’t know what his intentions are and they can smell the trouble on the horizon.

Nor does he disappoint them. When Duflot discovers what Max’s intentions are, he is furious but essentially helpless. After all, the property does belong to Max, who is getting ready to leave when a chance encounter with a headstrong local waitress named Fanny Chenal (Cotillard) causes Max to miss his flight back to London. Things are now further complicated by the appearance of Christie Roberts (Cornish), a Californian who claims to be Henry’s daughter. Max decides to stay in order to protect his property.

And yet the charms of Provence and the leisurely lifestyle of the wine country of France are beginning to weave their charms on him. Moreover, he has begun to fall in love with Fanny Chenal. Reconciling his life as a high-powered bond trader and the life that is part and parcel with the chateau is nigh on impossible. Which life is Max to choose?

This is a stab at comedy, something neither Crowe nor director Scott (who previously worked together on Gladiator) is known for. In point of fact, this isn’t an all-out comedy along the lines of a Borat or Talladega Nights. There are a few moments that are genuinely funny, at Crowe gamely tries his hand at slapstick in a couple of places with some effect. What I liked was watching Crowe poke fun at his own image as a tough guy, particularly in the scene where he is reduced to a gibbering wreck by an intruding scorpion and must be saved by Ludivine. However, it must be said that some of the comic moments do fall a little flat.

Fortunately, that doesn’t cause too much damage. The movie relies on sedate charm, languid pacing and gorgeous photography to cast its spell, and it doesn’t hurt to have some nice work from the cast. Candalier is particularly effervescent in a small role, but when she’s onscreen, she lights things up. Cotillard is a luminous beauty whose strong willed nature doesn’t overwhelm the movie’s gentle spirit. Highmore does a commendable job as the young Max; he has a genuine rapport with Finney, and you get the distinct impression that the two forged a nice bond during filming. Finney is always marvelous, and he doesn’t disappoint here.

The message of living life as if you love it is one that can’t be repeated often enough, because we lose sight of the lesson far too easily. I can see tourism in the Provence region picking up after people see this movie; it looks like a marvelous place to recharge and reflect. This is a romantic movie that is relatively painless for those who are prone to distrusting romantic movies. Sometimes, the proper prescription is a movie that rather than shouting its message at you prefers to deliver it in a soft, soothing voice.

WHY RENT THIS: The charm of Provence is bound to work its magic on you. The acting here is superb, particularly the French actors.

WHY RENT SOMETHING ELSE: Not all of the comedy works here.

FAMILY VALUES: There’s a little rough language and some sexual content but nothing too out there. This is fine for most audiences.

TRIVIAL PURSUIT: According to director Ridley Scott, all of the scenes set in Provence were filmed less than an eight minute drive from his home there.

NOTABLE DVD EXTRAS: None listed.

FINAL RATING: 6/10

TOMORROW: Get Him to the Greek

Bright Star


Fanny Brawne is so fashionable she never goes outside unless the flowers match her dress.

Fanny Brawne is so fashionable she never goes outside unless the flowers match her dress.

(Apparition) Abbie Cornish, Ben Whishaw, Paul Schneider, Kerry Fox, Thomas Brodie Sangster, Samuel Barnett, Antonia Campbell-Hughes, Edie Martin, Olly Alexander, Samuel Roukin, Roger Ashton-Griffiths, Sebastian Armesto. Directed by Jane Campion

John Keats is now considered one of the greatest poets of all time, but during his lifetime he was almost universally reviled and when he died at the tender age of 25, he considered himself a failure.

Keats (Whishaw) lives with his friend Charles Brown (Schneider), a burly Scot in Brown’s home (a sort of pre-Victorian duplex) in Hampstead, which at the time was on the very edge of London (but today part of the borough of Camden). Brown is disdainful of neighbor Fanny Brawne (Cornish), whose family lives in the other part of the house. He thinks her vain and spoiled, a typical society flirt who has little understanding of poetry and little intelligence beyond what is in fashion and what is not.

For her part she considers Brown a rude misogynist of little talent who has made no money from his scribblings and has no prospects of making any. At first, she finds Keats attractive but like most poets, impractical. She sends her brother Samuel (Sangster) and sister Toots (Martin) to a local bookseller (Ashton-Griffiths) to purchase Keats’ recent publication “Endymion.” This proves to be no problem, as the bookseller had purchased 20 copies and has sold, counting the one to the Brawne children, one copy.

As she reads “Endymion”, she realizes that his poetry may be difficult to understand in places but is leaps and bounds ahead of his peers (Brown, a poet himself, also realizes this). She begins to fall for the callow young man, not so much for his looks but for his soul. This is cemented when she observes him nursing his brother Tom (Alexander) who is dying of tuberculosis. 

For his part, he slowly falls for the young woman who is more self-possessed than most women he knows. She winds up being his muse, inspiring some of the most beautiful poetry of all time. Their relationship blossoms despite the objections of Fanny’s mother (Fox) who is concerned that Keats is penniless and has no means of supporting her, and of Brown who simply doesn’t like Fanny and is highly protective of his friend, whose genius he recognizes.

When Brown rents his half of the cottage out for the summer, he and Keats head off to the Isle of Wight where Keats writes ardent letters to his ladylove. Well aware of his social status and the impossibility of a relationship between the two, he moves to London initially but is unable to stay away from the love of his life and returns to Hampstead to be with her. However, their courtship is destined to be short-lived.

Oscar-winning writer (for The Piano) and Oscar-nominated director (for the same film) Campion once again performs both functions on this film. Her task was to create a movie that was as visually beautiful as the words of Keats. She succeeds, mostly using the landscapes of Hyde and Bedfordshire. There is something magical about the English countryside, and the Australian-born Campion captures it like lightning in a bottle. Her characters take long, languid walks in meadows filled with spring flowers and wetlands with dry summer reeds. She also manages to recreate rustic 19th century country village life, as well as the harsh alleyways of London.

Whishaw has the thankless task of portraying the dying, love-struck poet and that’s not nearly as easy a job as you might think. How does one portray a sensitive genius and yet make him accessible to general audiences? If you aren’t sure, just watch Whishaw here. He does a really good job of making Keats seem like a real person instead of an icon, which biopics often do with the poets and authors of the period.

Cornish, mostly known for her Australian television appearances, is a revelation as Fanny. She plays the woman at turns forthright and self-confident, and at others completely besotted by love. She’s complex and not always likable, but always true to her convictions. It’s a career-making performance and one which potentially may generate some Oscar buzz. Schneider play Brown like a Scottish laird, witty and not without charm but fiercely possessive of his friend.

Keats himself wrote that a thing of beauty is a joy forever, and Bright Star certainly fits the bill. Is this the definitive biography of Keats? No, because this is more a chronicle of his relationship with Fanny, the details of which must be inferred mostly through letters later in life from Fanny to her sister – most of the letters Keats wrote her from the Isle of Wight and Italy (where he went at the end of his life in an attempt to beat the tuberculosis) were destroyed at the poet’s request. Still, I’ve always wondered what makes a romantic poet so gosh-darned romantic, and Bright Star gives us an answer worth considering. There is no overt sexuality – the two followed the morals of their day, limiting their affection to ardent hand-holding and a few chaste kisses – but nonetheless this is a sexy movie – sexy in the ways of the heart.

REASONS TO GO: Cornish’s amazing performance, as well as solid work from Whishaw and Schneider is buttressed by cinematography of extraordinary beauty. Stay for the closing credits to listen to Whishaw read the poet’s own words regarding his love affair, which are worth the price of admission alone.

REASONS TO STAY: The film moves at a glacial pace at times which may drive modern movie audiences to distraction.

FAMILY VALUES: Perfectly suitable for all ages.

TRIVIAL PURSUIT: The Hyde House and Estate substituted for the actual Keats House in Hampstead Heath because the director deemed it “too small.”

HOME OR THEATER: A British costume romantic drama set at the turn of the 19th century? Sounds like home video to me.

FINAL RATING: 7/10

TOMORROW: Year One