The 5th Quarter


The 5th Quarter(2010) True Life Faith-Based Drama (Rocky Mountain) Andie MacDowell, Aidan Quinn, Ryan Merriman, Andrea Powell, Michael Harding, Stefan Guy, Anessa Ramsey, Jillian Batherson, Ted Johnson, Patrick Stogner, Bonnie Johnson, William Smith Yelton, Maureen Mountcastle. Directed by Rick Bieber

 

None of us get through life unscathed. Sooner or later we all lose someone close to us. One of the worst things we can experience, however is losing someone long before their time. However, when we are in the depths of that despair we can sometimes find inspiration.

The Abbate family is a close, tight-knit family that is strong in their faith. Their son Jon (Merriman) is attending Wake Forest on a football scholarship and his little brother Luke (Guy) looks to be going down the same road. Mom Maryanne (MacDowell) is proud of her boys as is Dad Steven (Quinn).

But then the unthinkable happens. Luke goes out with a group of his friends; behind the wheel is a boy who is reckless, driving way too fast and too inexperienced to handle it. The car crashes. Some of the boys in the car are killed instantly; Luke lingers on for several days before the decision is made to let him go. Luke had signed up as an organ donor and the members of the family have a difficult time respecting that decision but after much soul reflection and speaking with their pastors, they at last give in. Luke’s organs are harvested.

The grief hits the family hard. Maryanne sinks into a deep depression while Steven throws himself into work. Jon goes on a bit of a rollercoaster ride; sometimes he is the rock the family leans on, other times he is furious at the Lord for taking his brother and other times he seems to have given up, sinking into a beer-colored haze.

After an intervention by Jon’s girlfriend (Batherson), assorted pastors and his weight trainer, Jon gets his life back on track. When the football season begins, he tells his coach (Harding) that he wants to switch his number from 41 to 5 which was the number Luke wore. As the 2006 season begins, the Demon Deacons – predicted to finish dead last in the tough Atlantic Coast Conference – start the fourth quarter of each game with Jon holding his hand with five fingers outstretched in tribute to his brother – the fifth quarter. Soon, his teammates take it up as a show of solidarity, then the fans pick it up and by the end of the year, even opposing players do it as a sign of respect to Jon and his deceased brother.

While the Deacons have an unbelievable season which ends up with an ACC title, a BCC bowl game (the first in the university’s history) and an eventual rating in the top 20, Jon’s family is still having real issues dealing with their grief and holding onto their faith, once a cornerstone of the family. Can they find their way back to happiness, or at least acceptance?

I’m not really a big fan of faith-based movies. I personally don’t like being preached to about how I should accept God’s plan and that if I accept Jesus Christ as my personal savior I’ll find eternal life and so forth. That’s all fine for Church but watching a movie isn’t going to convert me and if you need to have a movie re-confirm your faith, you’ve got problems, son.

Still, this one is a little more subtle about it than most which is fine by me – there is nothing wrong to my mind with portraying that a character or their family has faith, nor is portraying a crisis of faith something that should be avoided and it’s quite true that Hollywood tends to avoid anything that smacks of religious faith, so much so that Evangelical Christians have taken to making their own movies.

That’s fine and dandy. Most of them have been quite frankly just plain awful, having no edge to them whatsoever but kind of an attitude that no matter what life throws at you, everything will be better so long as you believe. The Polar Express is a lot like that but at least the visuals are better.

This at least has a bit of an edge, and some of the acting performances are all right particularly from Quinn as the grieving dad. While there are plenty of amateurish performances on the acting side, and a whole lot of cornball in the script, I’ve seen worse from more seasoned professionals so you can’t really complain too much.

This isn’t really a football story and the success of the Wake Forest team is really not what the movie’s about either; it is about the healing of a family. Personally (and nothing against the Abbates) but would a movie have been made if Jon Abbate hadn’t been a star football player and his team performed well above expectations? In making this a non-football story about a football player and his family, it kind of cheapens the similar experiences other families who weren’t lucky enough to have a star football player in their DNA have been through, and that’s really my main problem with the movie; if you’re going to use a football player in the movie, it should be a football movie. If you’re going to make it about a family, any family should do.

Otherwise, those who are devout Christians (and I’m not sure how many of those read my reviews to be honest) will find it a refreshing change of pace from typical Hollywood films. Those who aren’t can rest assured that they won’t feel too preached to during the course of the film. However to both sides I can say that the movie is merely average and won’t really tell a story with characters you can get to know and relate to. Perhaps that would have been the miracle this film needed.

WHY RENT THIS: An inspiring story. Quinn does a nice job as does MacDowell.

WHY RENT SOMETHING ELSE: Definitely a film meant for a Christian audience; can be preachy in places. Overdoes the sentimentality.

FAMILY VALUES: The themes might be a little bit rough on the young and impressionable. There are also some medical scenes that are a bit strong and a little bit of harsh language.

TRIVIAL PURSUIT: Most of the pastors in the film are played by real-life pastors. The weight trainer in the film is played by Jon Abbate’s real-life trainer.

NOTABLE DVD EXTRAS: None listed.

BOX OFFICE PERFORMANCE: $408,159 on an unreported production budget; I think it’s likely the movie barely broke even or possibly even made a little bit of money.

COMPARISON SHOPPING: Brian’s Song

FINAL RATING: 5/10

NEXT: Cafe

The Eclipse


The Eclipse

Iben Hjejele gets another awkward call from a psychic service while Ciaran Hinds tries to pretend he doesn’t notice

(2009) Romance (Magnolia) Ciaran Hinds, Iben Hjejle, Aidan Quinn, Jim Norton, Eanna Hardwicke, Hannah Lynch, Avian Egan, Mia Quinn, Billy Roche, Valerie Spelman, Jean Van Sinderen-Law, Hilary O’Shaughnessy, Declan Nash. Directed by Conor McPherson

 

Grief is one of the most powerful of human emotions. It can affect us physically, turn us into basket cases emotionally and mentally. We all deal with it in different ways and sometimes it overwhelms us, no matter how well-balanced we might be normally. We never know how we’ll react until it becomes our time to grieve.

It is Michael Farr’s (Hinds) time to grieve. A gentle good-natured shop teacher in a small but bucolic Irish village, his wife Sarah (Lynch) passed away from cancer two years previously. Now he is struggling to raise their two sons alone. As if that weren’t enough, his father-in-law Thomas (Hardwicke) is also dying in a nursing home. Michael does his best to be attentive but his time is limited.

That’s because it’s also time for the town’s literary festival, one of the highlights of their year. Michael has volunteered to ferry various authors around the village for the length of the festival, becoming something of a personal assistant to them. His main charge is Lena Morrell (Hjejle), a noted author of supernatural tales. That’s a godsend to Michael because he’s begun to have some supernatural visitations of his own, not only from his dead wife but from his father-in-law as well.

Lena has some ghosts of her own, mainly in the form of Nicholas Holden (Quinn), a bestselling American author who is, to put it bluntly, a drunken jackass. He had a fling with Lena at a similar literary conference a few years ago and ever since has been something of a stalker, feeling that there is a relationship between them. For her own part, Lena views it as a mistake she made but is too nice to tell the married Nicholas to go take a long walk off a short pier which is probably a lot nicer than Nicholas deserves.

She has begun to grow attracted to the quiet, grief-stricken Irishman who shows her kindness and respect. Nicholas has noticed this and has grown rather jealous. And the apparitions that are haunting Michael are growing more and more disturbing and threatening by the day.

This isn’t a movie that follows conventions. Yes, it tells a story but not the way you might be used to. There are things that happen, there is a beginning and a middle but the end is not so much a denouement as it is a stopping point. And I kind of like it that way. It unfolds at a pace that is its own, on the slow side for those ADHD sorts that make up most of the movie audience these days. It will drive them absolutely batshit.

And because of that, they’ll miss a performance by Hinds that shows why he is so in demand as a character actor. He has the kind of talent to carry a movie on his own as he does here – he just doesn’t have the dashing lead actor kind of face and build. These sorts of generalizations tend to make Hollywood look for stories that only happen to good-looking people, ignoring the ordinary and the less beautiful. Maybe that’s why those in the indie community feel that mainstream Hollywood is so out of touch.

Musing aside, Quinn also gives a damn good performance (and yes, he’s one of the pretty boys Hollywood usually goes for). It’s not a pleasant character and Quinn doesn’t pull any punches (literally) with him. There’s a drunken brawl Nicholas gets into that is note-perfect; it’s not two fighters facing off but two men whaling away on each other. They both grunt like walruses as they launch haymakers and miss. It’s a pretty realistic fight, the sort you really see in pubs and bars.

There’s also the romance with Hjejle, who is kind of caught up in a triangle. It’s not the usual love triangle; she clearly isn’t in love with either man, although she could potentially fall for Michael; it’s just that they live in two completely different and separate worlds. There’s an unspoken element of tragedy – that familiar tragedy we all undergo at some point in our lives when we meet someone we want to love but is completely wrong for us.

That said, there’s the elements of horror that grow in scope as the movie develops; from simple half-glimpsed figures to rotting corpses. I don’t quite know what to make of it; part of me wants to think that it’s more symbolic than anything else. I don’t think Michael is having a nervous breakdown although that’s certainly one interpretation. Still, it remains unsettling and keeps the audience off-balance which in and of itself isn’t necessarily a negative.

Where the movie fails is that it shows a good deal of passion – Michael’s grief, Nicholas’ obsession with Lena – but didn’t inspire any in me. I suspect I will like this movie more as time goes by, particularly if I choose to see it a second time which at this point is problematic. Still, it did at least bring about some intellectual stimulation which is more than a lot of films that purport to do. I’ll say see it, but only if you’re in the mood for thoughtfulness.

WHY RENT THIS: Strong performances by Hinds and Quinn. Not conventionally told; keeps the audience off-balance throughout.

WHY RENT SOMETHING ELSE: Occasionally slow-paced. Fails to generate much more than intellectual curiosity.

FAMILY VALUES: As befits a story with supernatural elements there are some images that might be frightening, particularly to the sensitive. There is also a smattering of bad language.

TRIVIAL PURSUIT: The movie was filmed in the village of Cobh in County Cork.

NOTABLE HOME VIDEO EXTRAS: None listed.

BOX OFFICE PERFORMANCE: $159,852 on a $3M production budget; the film failed to make back its production costs at the box office.

COMPARISON SHOPPING: Who’s Afraid of Virginia Woolf?

FINAL RATING: 5.5/10

NEXT: What to Expect When You’re Expecting

Handsome Harry


Handsome Harry

Steve Buscemi wishes he could be as Handsome as Harry.

(2009) Mystery (Paladin) Jamey Sheridan, Steve Buscemi, Maryann Mayberry, Aidan Quinn, John Savage, Campbell Scott, Titus Welliver, Karen Young, Jayne Atkinson, Rutanya Alda, Bill Sage, Emily Donahoe, Asher Grodman, Andrew Dolan. Directed by Bette Gordon

 

That which we do in our past often doesn’t remain there. There are things that we do that can haunt us or influence us from the moment it happens all the way until this very moment and all the way to the future. Reconciling ourselves with those events sometimes is the only way to find peace.

Harry Sweeney (Sheridan) is, as the title proclaims, a good looking man who has gone gracefully into middle age. He’s one of those charming Irish guys who strides into a bar and everybody knows him. The ladies adore him and the men want to be like him.

Harry’s son (Grodman) is distinctly different in that sense. He and his father have a relationship that is strained to put it mildly, although why it is so is never really explained. Perhaps it’s just the way of fathers and their grown sons. Harry has been a mechanic most of his life, ever since he got back from Vietnam and the Navy in which he served.

When he gets a call from his Navy buddy Thomas Kelly (Buscemi) to let Harry know he needs to talk to him, Harry is a bit reluctant – he has ambivalent feelings about his military years. However when Kelly tells him that he’s on his deathbed and won’t be around much longer, Harry knows he has to go.

Kelly reminds him of an incident in the Navy in which five men, including Kelly and Harry, beat up a sixth and maimed him. Kelly wants to find the maimed man and apologize. At first Harry doesn’t want to do it; he would much rather say his farewells to Kelly and move on but when Kelly passes away, Harry knows the right thing to do is to find the victim of their attack and try to make amends.

To do so, he first needs to visit the other men involved in the beating and not all of them want to be reminded of it. There’s Peter Rheems (Savage), a wealthy blowhard who’s become an abusive husband to Judy (Mayberry), who takes quite a liking to Harry. There’s Professor Porter (Quinn), who pretends not to know Harry or have been in the Navy. There’s Gebhardt (Welliver), another wealthy man who has a love for golf but not so much for Harry.  All of this will lead to Harry’s face-to-face with David Kagan (Scott), whose potential career as a concert pianist was ruined and whose life was forever changed by the attack on him.

Gordon has directed a couple of indie films over the past 15 years – you wouldn’t exactly call her prolific – but this certainly has the look and feel of an assured hand on the tiller. The movie is on the uneven side but the good does outnumber the bad pretty much.

Let’s start with Sheridan. He can be very charismatic (as he was in “Law and Order: Criminal Intent” and in the TV mini-series of Stephen King’s The Stand in which he played Randall Flagg), and while he mostly does television and mostly supporting roles, he shows the ability to carry a movie here. He has that easy charm that translates well to the screen.

The supporting cast is strong. Buscemi, Savage, Quinn and Scott are all capable actors who rarely give poor performances and the quartet of them don’t disappoint here. Buscemi in particular has become a regular on the indie circuit, although his critically acclaimed and Golden Globe-winning performance on HBO’s “Boardwalk Empire” might bring him some meatier roles in mainstream films.

The writing is a bit uneven. Harry’s character doesn’t always act according to his own nature, going from pacifist in one scene to brawler in the next (and no, I’m not talking about the flashbacks either). There is also a feeling that the malaise that hangs over Harry’s life was hanging over the film as well; there are times it lacks energy.

Still, most films that depict middle aged regret in men show the men to be down and out losers who have drank, drugged or otherwise messed up their lives in almost incalculable ways and require some kind of redemption. Here you don’t get that sense; Harry is not after redemption so much as forgiveness, and the way that it is given is actually one of the film’s highlights.

Gordon never allows Harry to be completely forgiven – after all, the act that was committed by all five men was heinous and there need to be consequences for that and those consequences appear in very subtle ways. There is a lot to like here but there is also a lot that doesn’t quite work and so the recommendation is a mild one I’m afraid.

WHY RENT THIS: Middle aged regret is rarely portrayed as well as it is here. Sheridan does a great job. Terrific supporting cast.

WHY RENT SOMETHING ELSE: The writing can be uneven; certain changes in Harry’s behavior take place that seem a mite extreme.

FAMILY VALUES: There are a few bad words sprinkled here and there, as well as a bit of sexual content.

TRIVIAL PURSUIT: Handsome Harry premiered at the Tribeca Film Festival on April 25, 2009.

NOTABLE DVD EXTRAS: None listed.

BOX OFFICE PERFORMANCE: $13,500 on a $1M production budget; undoubtedly this lost money.

FINAL RATING: 5.5/10

TOMORROW: The Innkeepers

New Releases for the Week of August 26, 2011


August 26, 2011

COLOMBIANA

(TriStar) Zoe Saldana, Michael Vartan, Cliff Curtis, Callum Blue, Jordi Molla, Max Martini, Lennie James, Graham McTavish. Directed by Olivier Megaton

A young woman who witnesses the assassination of her parents is trained to become an assassin herself by her uncle. She continues to work for her uncle as a killer, all the while searching for the identity of those responsible for the deaths of her parents. Her pursuit will lead her to some dark, dangerous places..

See the trailer here.

For more on the movie this is the website.

Release formats: Standard

Genre: Action

Rating: PG-13 (for violence, disturbing images, intense sequences of action, sexuality and brief strong language)

Don’t Be Afraid of the Dark

(FilmDistrict) Katie Holmes, Guy Pearce, Bailee Madison, Jack Thompson. A young family moves into a spooky old house where the little girl is menaced by dark forces. Based on the 1973 made-for-television movie that some believe is one of the best horror movies ever made for any medium.

See the trailer, promos, interviews and clips here.

For more on the movie this is the website.

Release formats: Standard

Genre: Horror

Rating: R (for violence and terror)

The Guard

(Sony Classics) Brendan Gleeson, Don Cheadle, Mark Strong, Liam Cunningham. An Irish cop who is dealing with a local drug smuggling ring joins forces with a straight-laced FBI agent who gets involved when those smugglers turn out to be part of a larger operation.

See the trailer and clips here.

For more on the movie this is the website.

Release formats: Standard

Genre: Crime Comedy

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

Our Idiot Brother

(Weinstein) Paul Rudd, Elizabeth Banks, Zooey Deschanel, Emily Mortimer. The perennially cheerful but completely lacking in sense or smarts is forced to live with each of his uptight sisters who are disgusted with his upbeat attitude. However the longer he spends time with them the more they realize that he may be  a lot smarter than they gave him credit for.

See the trailer, interviews, promos and clips here.

For more on the movie this is the website.

Release formats: Standard

Genre: Comedy

Rating: PG (for mild action and rude humor)

Sarah’s Key

(Weinstein) Kristin Scott Thomas, Melusine Mayance, Aidan Quinn, Niels Arestrup. The life of a modern-day American journalist is entwined with that of a 10-year-old French girl in Nazi-occupied France. The little girl hides her little brother in a closet with a promise to come back for him shortly, a promise that echoes into modern day France as the journalist uncovers disturbing information regarding the French round up of Jews.

See the trailer, clips, featurettes and interviews here.

For more on the movie this is the website.

Release formats: Standard

Genre: Drama

Rating: PG-13 (for thematic material including disturbing situations involving the Holocaust)

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)

Unknown


Unknown

Diane Krueger has the unpleasant task of informing Liam Neeson that the grunge look is dead.

(2011) Suspense (Warner Brothers) Liam Neeson, Diane Krueger, January Jones, Aidan Quinn, Bruno Ganz, Frank Langella, Sebastian Koch, Olivier Schneider, Stipe Erceg, Mido Hamada, Clint Dyer, Karl Markovics, Eva Lobau, Rainer Bock. Directed by Jaume Collet-Serra

Who are we really? Are we who we are because we say who we are? And what if we are told that is not who we are, that someone else is who we thought we were? Would the sales of Excedrin go through the roof if that were true?

Dr. Martin Harris (Neeson) is a mild-mannered botanist speaking at a biotechnology conference in Berlin, accompanied by his beautiful, icy blonde wife Liz (Jones). It is snowing and the weather is awful when they arrive. In the haste to get into a warm cab, Martin leaves his briefcase behind at the airport. This briefcase contains his passport and all his other important documents, so he turns around at the posh Hotel Adlon and boards another cab to get back to the airport to retrieve it.

Unfortunately, as they say, the best-laid plans of mice and men…a dreadful accident sends the taxi plunging off a bridge and into the icy waters of the river. Gina (Krueger), the plucky driver, rescues an unconscious Martin (who had hit his head against the window) from the sinking car and while the paramedics work on the stricken man, slips quietly away.

Four days later, Martin wakes up in the hospital with fractured memories of not only what happened to him but his entire wife. The sympathetic doctor (Markovics) tells him he has a head injury which can be tricky when it comes to memory, but the more Martin remembers the more frantic he gets regarding his wife, who has no idea what happened to him and must be going out of her mind by now. However, when he finally checks himself out of the hospital (against doctor’s orders) and heads back to the Adlon, Liz doesn’t remember him. Not only that, she is with another man (Quinn) whom she calls her husband and who seems to be…him.

This is awfully distressing to Martin. He is desperate to prove that he is him, but has no documentation, and very little cash. He visits a colleague, Dr. Bressler (Koch) who invited him to the conference only to find the other Dr. Harris there, who not only has proper documents but also family photographs. This so disturbs Martin that he faints.

The next thing he knows he is getting an MRI but when he comes out of it, an assassin (Schneider) has murdered his doctor and an even more sympathetic nurse (Lobau) and to Martin, that means that maybe he isn’t crazy. He goes to see Jurgen (Ganz), an ex-Stasi agent who the lately murdered nurse had recommended he sees. This sets into a chain of events involving the reluctantly recruited Gina, a Saudi prince (Hamada) and a covert team of murderers for hire.

Collet-Serra is better known for horror films and indeed, the movie is produced by Dark Castle, which specializes in horror but this is more Hitchcock than horror. It has a lot of the elements of a Hitchcock film – an ordinary man drawn into international intrigue that he doesn’t understand; a beautiful, icy-cold blonde, and an unlikely ally – also blonde.

Neeson has assumed the mantle, in his mid-50s, of an everyman action hero, one which Harrison Ford wore in the late 80s and 90s. Neeson’s perpetually gentle puppy dog aura can change into a ferocious fighter at a moment’s notice, and does so upon occasion here. He is so likable that he immediately resonates with the audience, and that’s half the battle in a movie like this.

Jones, who made her reputation in “Mad Men,” is given little more to do than look beautiful and, occasionally, sexy. Having seen her in a number of different roles, I believe she is one good part from being a major leading lady in Hollywood, but that hasn’t happened yet and this film doesn’t really provide her one. Still, she is very good at what she does.

Part of the problem here is that the movie relies on implausibility – considering the importance of what was in the original briefcase (which is more than the passports and is a critical plot point that I won’t reveal here) it’s hard to believe that Martin would leave it on the curb in a luggage cart, no matter how bad the weather. From the way his character is developed in flashback, it seems unlikely that he would let that particular bag leave his grasp but its disappearance is the fulcrum around which the plot is driven.

While based on a novel written by a French writer named Didier Van Caulweleart in 2003, there is a Cold War feel to the movie that would have been better served to be set in the same city but in 1963, with the Wall up and tensions high. As thrillers go, it’s a little bit on the old-fashioned side and some of the twists and turns are a bit predictable.

Still, there is a marvelous car chase, even though it seems a bit ludicrous that a botanist can drive a car like Remy Julienne, the famous French stunt driver although that is explained more or less by proxy by the film’s denouement. There are also some marvelous German actors in the film, not the least of which is Krueger (Inglourious Basterds) and Ganz (one of Rainier Werner Fassbinder’s mainstays and best known here for his work in Wings of Desire, as well as Bock, an unctuous security chief here but better as the schoolteacher in The White Ribbon.

What we have here is a moderately serviceable thriller that owes much of its appeal to its rather heavy-handed nods to the master, Alfred Hitchcock and much of the rest of it to its star, Liam Neeson. This isn’t going to re-write the book on the genre by any stretch of the imagination, but if you liked Neeson in Taken and loved basically anything the Master of Suspense directed with Jimmy Stewart in it, you’re going to enjoy Unknown very much.

REASONS TO GO: Neeson elevates the material. The car chase scene is nifty and the tension is elevated nicely throughout.

REASONS TO STAY: Much of the plot relies on implausibility and one gets the feel that this film would have been better served being set in the Cold War era.

FAMILY VALUES: As you probably figured out from the trailer, there is plenty of violence here but there’s also a little bit of sex as well.

TRIVIAL PURSUIT: The Bridge that the taxi takes its plunge from is the Oberbaumbrucke in Berlin.  

HOME OR THEATER: Not a lot of really big screen-type of cinematography here; it will work just as well on your own home screen.

FINAL RATING: 6/10

TOMORROW: Stolen

New Releases For the Week of February 18, 2011


February 18, 2011

Tell 'em Liam Neeson's coming...and a Cold Day in Hell's coming with him!

UNKNOWN

(Warner Brothers) Liam Neeson, Diane Kruger, January Jones, Aidan Quinn, Frank Langella, Bruno Ganz, Sebastian Koch, Olivier Schneider. Directed by Jaume Collet-Serra

A trip to a conference in Berlin for a doctor and his wife turns into something far more sinister when the two are involved in a car accident. When the doctor wakes from a four-day coma, his wife doesn’t recognize him and there appears to be a different person in his identity. Is he suffering from brain damage and doesn’t realize his true identity, which is what the authorities believe? Or is there something different going on, something with terrible ramifications?

See the trailer and a clip here.

For more on the movie this is the website.

Release formats: Standard

Genre: Action Thriller

Rating: PG-13 (for some intense sequences of violence and action, and brief sexual content)

Barney’s Version 

(Sony Classics) Paul Giamatti, Dustin Hoffman, Rosamund Pike, Minnie Driver. A seemingly ordinary man writes a book about his life, which is far from ordinary. His story spans three decades, three wives, two continents, one wacky dad and a bizarre best friend. This is based on a novel by Mordecai Richler, best known for his novel The Apprenticeship of Duddy Kravitz. Yeah, I know – that’s like counting the rings on trees to determine how old they are.

See the trailer, featurettes, clips and an online review here.

For more on the movie this is the website.

Release formats: Standard

Genre: Drama

Rating: R (for language and some sexual content)

Big Mommas: Like Father, Like Son

(20th Century Fox) Martin Lawrence, Brandon T. Jackson, Jessica Lucas, Faizon Love. FBI Agent Malcolm Turner returns as his undercover alter ego, this time as a house mother in an all-girls school – where he is taking his son with him to learn the family business. Oy vey.

See the trailer, clips and interviews here.

For more on the movie this is the website.

Release formats: Standard

Genre: Urban Crime Comedy

Rating: PG-13 (for some sexual humor and brief violence)

I Am Number Four

(DreamWorks) Alex Pettyfer, Timothy Olyphant, Teresa Palmer, Dianna Agron. A young teenager in a typical small American town is anything but typical. In reality, he’s one of the last survivors of an alien race who is being hunted into extinction by powerful alien assassins, who are trying to wipe him out before his powers begin to manifest. That can make finding a date for prom problematic.

See the trailer, clips, interviews and featurettes here.

For more on the movie this is the website.

Release formats: Standard, IMAX

Genre: Science Fiction

Rating: PG-13 (for intense sequences of violence and action and for language)

Dark Matter


Dark Matter

Ye Liu examines Meryl Streep's face for unsightly blemishes.

(2007) Drama (First Independent) Meryl Streep, Ye Liu, Peng Chi, Aidan Quinn, Blair Brown, Yonggui Wang, Lei Tsao, Jing Shan, He Yu, Bo Yi, Boris McGiver, Bill Irwin, Taylor Schilling. Directed by Chen Shi-Zheng

We struggle to understand the complex workings of the universe. Mostly the discoveries we make serve to illustrate that we are painfully ignorant and that the universe is a far more wondrous place than we could ever imagine. However, there is a dark side to the universe, one that resides in the matter that not only binds the universe together but touches the dark places in the human heart.

Liu Xeng (Liu) is a Chinese student studying for his doctorate at an unnamed Southwestern U.S. university. He is admonished by his family as he leaves for the great unknown that is America to make his family proud and bring no disgrace to the family name. No pressure, right?

He is brought into a world of academic politics, woefully unprepared. Brilliant in the science of cosmology (the study of the workings and origins of the universe), he is interned to Dr. Reiser (Quinn), one of the most respected scientists in the United States. At first, they get along very well – Xeng is brilliant which reflects positively on Dr. Reiser.

Xeng joins a number of other Chinese students sharing a house in the university community. Mostly, they like to hang out, drink beer, talk about chicks – and particle physics. Those wacky college students! Xeng even develops a crush on a comely barista (Schilling), although that turns out to be unrequited. He’s living the American dream, college nerd style.

The Chinese students stay in America is being facilitated by Joanna Silver (Streep), a wealthy patron with a keen interest in Chinese culture. She takes a special liking to the young Xeng, whose brilliance and shy sweetness intrigue her. Then one day, Xeng has a breakthrough – a theory about dark matter that might change the way we see the universe.

But the wheels start to fall off. His theory comes into direct conflict with Dr. Reiser’s own – which the arrogant and egocentric Reiser can’t allow. Reiser works behind the scenes to discredit Xeng, who loses an important prize to one of his roommates who has been making a point of kissing Dr. Reiser’s ass. Xeng is unable to land a job following his graduation and is forced to sell skin care products door to door to make ends meet. His mental state fractures and shatters, leading to tragedy.

This is loosely based on events at the University of Iowa in 1991 when a graduate student named Gang Lu opened fire on several professors and students, killing five before turning his gun on himself. The academic world depicted here is not necessarily the one that was encountered by Lu in his downward spiral, but it is pretty accurate as to some of the down side – dark side – of modern American universities. It is sadly true that politics usually trump performance when it comes to human endeavor.

The culture clash between the Chinese students and their American hosts is one of the most compelling things about the movie. The students are astonished to discover that Americans send their elderly to separate facilities; in China, caring for the elderly is part of a family’s responsibility and to not do so would be a serious loss of honor.

There are a lot of scientific ideas that are put across here that are necessary for the advancement of the plot. They could easily be dry and confusing to the audience, but Shi-Zheng manages to make them at least reasonably understandable with a liberal use of computer graphics to aid him.

Getting Streep was amazing; I don’t know how they convinced her to do this movie but she is typically wonderful, performing in a way that is effortless and authentic. She doesn’t exactly steal the movie but she is the most prominent reason to see the film. Liu as Xeng does a credible job, but his mental deterioration doesn’t feel authentic; he goes from frustrated to homicidal almost without any sort of transition. It’s a little bit jarring, even if you do know it’s coming.

The middle third drags a little bit, but the first and last parts of the movie are exceptionally paced. The feeling of impending tragedy hangs throughout the movie. Shi-Zheng has divided the film into five chapters, each pertaining to a specific element. He utilizes a Chinese children’s chorus singing standard American songs as a kind of linking device that foreshadows and forebodes.

I like many of the elements of the movie; it just doesn’t generate a movie that is a cohesive whole. The conceit of Dark Matter as an allegory for petty human emotions under the surface is a nice one, but a bit obscure. That may wind up losing some audience; still, anything with Meryl Streep is going to be worth a look.

WHY RENT THIS: Meryl Streep elevates the movie with yet another unforced performance. Shi-Zheng manages to present complex scientific ideas without sailing completely over the heads of the audience. The cultural clash between the students and their hosts are the best element of the film.

WHY RENT SOMETHING ELSE: The middle third drags a bit and Liu Xeng’s mental breakdown doesn’t feel authentic.

FAMILY VALUES: There is a scene of intense violence, some sexual content and a modicum of bad language.

TRIVIAL PURSUIT: Director Chen Shi-Zheng is best known in China for directing Chinese opera productions; this is his feature film directing debut.

NOTABLE DVD EXTRAS: None listed.

BOX OFFICE PERFORMANCE: $66,375 on an unreported production budget; the film lost money.

FINAL RATING: 5/10

TOMORROW: I Want Someone To Eat Cheese With

Flipped


Flipped

John Maloney is fully aware that youth is wasted on the young.

(Warner Brothers) Madeline Carroll, Callan McAuliffe, Anthony Edwards, John Maloney, Aidan Quinn, Rebecca de Mornay, Penelope Ann Miller, Kevin Weisman, Ashley Taylor, Israel Broussard, Cody Horn, Ruth Crawford, Stefanie Scott. Directed by Rob Reiner

Everyone remembers their first love. It holds a special place in our hearts, something that is never recaptured in quite the same way. Often we can remember minute details about the object of our affection, where we were when we first realized what we were feeling, the music that was playing, even the smell of their shampoo. It’s the kind of magic that science can’t explain, that nobody can really put into words but nearly everyone can understand on one level or another.

Bryce Loski (McAuliffe) is moving into a new neighborhood, which in itself is a traumatic thing when you’re in the second grade in 1957. However, when you’re a 14-year-old boy in 1963, nothing is more traumatic than attracting the attentions of the girl next door, or in this case the girl across the street. She’s Juli Baker (Carroll) and she has the kind of smile that lights up a room, and the kind of spirit that warms that brightly lit room. Besides that, she has the kind of character to stand up for what she believes in, even if there’s risk. She also has the compassion to understand the frailties of those around her, especially her dad Richard (Quinn), who paints pictures for a living and sells them at local art shows and county fairs. She has the kindness to want people around her to be comfortable.

All that is lost on Bryce, however; he’s more concerned with the mortification of having someone besotted with him. He does everything he can to deflect her attention, some subtle and some downright cruel. The only thing he doesn’t do is tell her to leave him alone and that he’s not interested.

She takes his disinterest for shyness and redoubles her efforts. Even when he starts going out with her nemesis, Sherry Stalls (Taylor) she just sits back patiently and waits for the relationship to fizzle, which it does courtesy of Bryce’s best friend Garrett (Broussard), possibly the worst best friend ever.

Most everyone can see the shine on Juli, especially Bryce’s grandfather Chet (Maloney) who is grieving for his wife that Juli reminds him of strongly. Certainly Bryce’s Mom (De Mornay) can see it; perhaps the only one who can’t is Bryce’s dad Steven (Edwards) who is a bitter, angry man although he disguises it with a crooked grin and a manly slap on the back. Eventually all of Bryce’s little cruelties open Juli’s eyes to the thought that the boy with the dazzling eyes may not be greater than the sum of his parts. He may be, in fact, less.

This is bad news for Bryce who has begun to see Juli for what she is and has flipped for her. He’s made so many mistakes in running away from this girl; can he convince her that he is the boy she saw those years ago the day he moved in to the house across the street?

Rob Reiner has a great eye for era; he proved that with Stand By Me and Ghosts of Mississippi. He’s gone a few years without a truly outstanding movie on his resume, although he has plenty of great movies, including The Princess Bride, A Few Good Men, Misery and When Harry Met Sally among them.

Here he takes the acclaimed Wendelin van Draanen young adult’s novel and transplanted it from a modern setting to 1963, an era in which he seems comfortable filming, possible (because he was a teenager himself at the time albeit an older one (his IMDB page lists his birth date as 1946). What he does retain from the novel is the alternating point of view, relying on voice-over narration from the two main characters to address the same incidents from different points of view, something Kurosawa made famous in Rashomon only on a grander scale.

It works here because everything that happens is about motivation, and you can’t always tell what someone’s thinking by what they do and it’s very important that the audience understands what the two young people are thinking. That Reiner makes the back-and-forth work so seamlessly is a tribute to his skills as a filmmaker.

The movie is sentimental without being unnecessarily sweet; this is largely because the two young actors, Carroll and McAuliffe are so stellar. It may be my imagination, but we seem to be going through a phase where really good juvenile actors are much more common, from Dakota Fanning to Abigail Breslin to Saorise Ronan and now, these two. Carroll, in particular, strikes me as the kind of actress who could have a legitimate career that could extend well beyond her teen years; sometimes you catch a glimpse of that and it strikes a chord in you. I may be wrong about her, but it wouldn’t surprise me if I was right.

There are some notable performances in the supporting ranks as well, particularly from Maloney who always manages to project character and kindness in every role he plays; as the grandfather he is wise and giving, although saddled with a son-in-law who is not. Edwards, who we’re used to playing sympathetic roles as in “E.R.” and Revenge of the Nerds, plays a thankless, unlikable role and manages to give the character hidden depth; just enough of the source of his frustrations are revealed to hint at humanizing Steven Loski and making him almost sympathetic.

There is a different family dynamic between the Loskis, who are outwardly more prosperous but internally dysfunctional, and the Bakers, who are outwardly struggling and inwardly close. The differences between the two fathers – Richard who is loving, artistic and a little bit Bohemian and Steven who is uptight, condescending and boorish – help explain why the two children are who they are. I have to say that one thing that impressed me was that nothing here seemed manufactured in any way; everything about the plot is organic and flows nicely, even the flipping back and forth between like and dislike for Bryce and Juli.

Quite honestly, I initially wasn’t looking forward to seeing this and did mostly because something about the trailer spoke to Da Queen. While I like Reiner as a director, his recent track record has been spotty and I was thrilled to see him not only return to form, but deliver a movie that will seriously challenge for the number one spot on my year-end list this year. I was touched by the movie and left it feeling warm inside, remembering my own childhood crushes and aware of how wonderful sitting in a sycamore tree and able to view the world around you can be. I tell you, hand to God, you will not find a movie with more heart than this one.

REASONS TO GO: Beautiful and rich in detail, this presents a romance in an organic and non-manufactured way that is charming and yet realistic. This is a movie that will grab you by the heart and keep holding you there.

REASONS TO STAY: People who have difficulty dealing with the finer emotions may find this boring.

FAMILY VALUES: There are a couple of scenes that might be a little difficult for the smaller sort to understand, and there are a few suggestive words here and there but certainly this is fine for teens and most pre-teens as well.

TRIVIAL PURSUIT: Rob Reiner founded Castle Rock, the production company behind Flipped but later sold it to Warner Brothers; this is the first time he’s worked with them since 1999.

HOME OR THEATER: While much of this movie is shot on an intimate level which is normally fine for home viewing, I think the overall experience is heightened by seeing it in a theater.

FINAL RATING: 10/10

TOMORROW: Frost/Nixon

New Releases for the Week of September 10, 2010


Resident Evil: Afterlife

Unfortunately, this isn’t an S&M fantasy: Milla Jovovich is going to kick some SERIOUS ass!

RESIDENT EVIL: AFTERLIFE

(Screen Gems) Milla Jovovich, Ali Larter, Kim Coates, Shawn Roberts, Boris Kodjoe, Sienna Guillory, Spencer Locke, Wentworth Miller, Sergio Peris-Menchta. Directed by Paul W.S. Anderson

In the fourth installment of the franchise based on a hit videogame, superhuman Alice continues to search for survivors in a world ravaged by a bio-plague unleashed by the Umbrella Corporation that turns people into flesh-eating zombies. She finds an unexpected ally when she runs into an old friend. With clues pointing to a small survivor enclave in Los Angeles, Alice and her ragged band of humans walk into a deadly trap, but escape it to force a deadly confrontation with Umbrella’s executives. Talk about global downsizing!

See the trailer, promo, featurette, clips and interviews here.

For more on the movie this is the website.

Release formats: Standard, 3D, IMAX 3D

Genre: Action Horror

Rating: R (for sequences of strong violence and language)

Flipped

(Warner Brothers) Madeline Carroll, Callan McAuliffe, John Mahoney, Aidan Quinn. For 7-year-old Juli, it’s love at first sight. For 7-year-old Bryce, it’s a horror beyond imagining. For the next five years, Bryce does everything in his power to hold the love-besotted Juli at bay, until finally he does something that may rip Juli’s heart into pieces. By then, Bryce begins to realize that he kind of likes the girl. Is it too late? This is based on Wendelin Van Draanen’s book and is directed by Rob Reiner.

See the trailer, interviews and clips here.

For more on the movie this is the website.

Release formats: Standard

Genre: Romantic Comedy

Rating: PG (for language and some thematic material)