New Releases for the Week of April 7, 2017


SMURFS: THE LOST VILLAGE

(Sony Animation) Starring the voices of Demi Lovato, Julia Roberts, Mandy Patinkin, Rainn Wilson, Jack McBrayer, Michelle Rodriguez, Ellie Kemper. Directed by Kelly Asbury

Has anyone ever wondered why there is only one girl Smurf? Neither have I but I’m sure someone has. Smurfette sets out with her friends through the Forbidden Forest to find a mysterious village before the evil sorcerer Gargamel does and when they do, we find out where all the girl Smurfs are. How Smurfy is that?

See the trailer, clips, interviews, featurettes, premiere footage and B-Roll video here.
For more on the movie this is the website.

Release Formats: Standard, 3D
Genre: Animated Feature
Now Playing: Wide Release

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

1 Mile to You

(Gravitas) Melanie Lynskey, Tim Roth, Billy Crudup, Stefanie Scott. When a teenage boy’s friends die in a car accident, he is completely devastated. He takes up running to deal with the pain and also to remember his friends. His running however catches the attention of track coaches who recognize his raw potential. Can they bring him from dwelling on his past into creating a bright future?

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

Release Formats: Standard
Genre: Sports Drama
Now Playing: AMC Loew’s Universal Cineplex

Rating: NR

The Case for Christ

(Pure Flix) Mike Vogel, Erika Christensen, Faye Dunaway, Robert Forster. Based on the experiences of Lee Strobel, an award-winning journalist and atheist, he sets out to disprove the existence of Christ after his wife undergoes a faith renewal. What he discovers in his investigation is not what he expected at all.

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

Release Formats: Standard
Genre: Faith Drama
Now Playing: Wide Release

Rating: PG (for thematic elements including medical descriptions of crucifixion, and incidental smoking)

Going in Style

(New Line) Morgan Freeman, Michael Caine, Alan Arkin, Ann-Margaret. Three retirees, lifelong friends all, are startled when their pension fund is wiped out by the greed of a bank. Desperate to make ends meet, they decide to not only solve their financial problems but exact a little justice as well when they determine to rob the very bank that stole their money. Poetic justice, yes, but much easier said than done when you consider that none of them has committed a crime in their lives.

See the trailer, a clip and a featurette here.
For more on the movie this is the website.

Release Formats: Standard
Genre: Comedy
Now Playing: Wide Release

Rating: PG-13 (for drug content, language and some suggestive material)

Mine

(Well Go USA) Armie Hammer, Tom Cullen, Annabelle Wallis, Clint Dyer. After their assignment ends in failure, a U.S. Marine sniper and his spotter are forced to cross the desert when the helicopter assigned to evacuate them from the enemy zone is grounded due to sand storms. Nearing the village where they will be driven back to their base, the two find themselves in a field of land mines where the sniper has stepped on a mine and cannot move without setting it off. Low on food and water with no way to go even a step further, he is forced to contemplate what got him there in the first place. Look for a review of this in Cinema365 tomorrow.

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

Release Formats: Standard
Genre: War
Now Playing: AMC Disney Springs

Rating: NR

My Life as a Zucchini

(GKIDS) Starring the voices of Will Forte, Nick Offerman, Ellen Page, Amy Sedaris. Nominated for a Best Animated Feature Oscar in the most recent Academy awards, this charming French stop-motion film follows an imaginative young boy who is sent to an orphanage after his mother passes away suddenly. Lonely in a sometimes hostile environment, he searches for a family to call his own while learning to trust once again. The Enzian will be presenting the film both in its original French with subtitles as well as an English language version. Be sure and check which version is playing when you head out to the theater.

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

Release Formats: Standard
Genre: Animated Feature
Now Playing: Enzian Theater

Rating: PG-13 (for thematic elements and suggestive material)

Queen of the Desert

(IFC) Nicole Kidman, James Franco, Robert Pattinson, Damian Lewis. The true story of Gertrude Bell, a English woman in the early years of the 20th century who chafed at the role she was relegated to in Victorian England. She traveled to the Middle East and fell in love with the culture and the freedoms it afforded her. Her views on the Bedouin helped shape the course of the century and indeed the modern world itself.

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

Release Formats: Standard
Genre: Biographical Drama
Now Playing: AMC Loew’s Universal Cineplex

Rating: PG-13 (for brief nudity and some thematic elements)

Raw

(Focus World) Garance Marillier, Ella Rumpf, Rabah Nait Oufella, Laurent Lucas. A vegetarian who is following in her family’s footsteps to become a veterinarian undergoes a ritual hazing involving eating meat. This awakens a taste for flesh inside her that becomes more and more irresistible until it threatens to consume her. This French film was the talk of the most recent Cannes Film Festival.

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

Release Formats: Standard
Genre: Horror
Now Playing: Enzian Theater

Rating: R (for aberrant behavior, bloody and grisly images, strong sexuality, nudity, language and drug use/partying)

Your Name

(FUNimation) Starring the voices of Michael Sinterniklaas, Stephanie Sheh, Kyle Hebert, Cassandra Morris. This beautiful anime, the number one movie in Japan last year, concerns two young people who randomly switch bodies from time to time. They learn to communicate with each other and eventually, bond for each other. At last that realize that they need to meet face to face but making that happen proves to be a much thornier problem than either one could anticipate.

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

Release Formats: Standard
Genre: Animated Feature
Now Playing: AMC Altamonte Mall, AMC Disney Springs, Cinemark Artegon Marketplace, Regal Waterford Lakes, Regal Winter Park Village

Rating: PG (for thematic elements, suggestive content, brief language and smoking)

Million Dollar Arm


Jon Hamm misses the obvious.

Jon Hamm misses the obvious.

(2014) True Sports Drama (Disney) Jon Hamm, Lake Bell, Bill Paxton, Aasif Mandvi, Alan Arkin, Suraj Sharma, Madhur Mittal, Pitobash, Darlshan Jarlwala, Gregory Alan Williams, Allyn Rachel, Tzi Ma, Rey Maualuga, Bar Paly, Al Sapienza, Jaspaul Sandhu, Lata Shukla, Harish Shandra, Yashwant Joshi, Mike Pniewski, Suehyla El-Attar, Autumn Dial, Gabriela Lopez. Directed by Craig Gillespie

Baseball, that most American of all sports, has gone global. Asian teams routinely win the Little League World Series and there have been Major League players from Japan, South Korea, Taiwan and China. Latin America has long been a pipeline of major league baseball stars. There are even European players in the Majors. One of the places that have gone largely untapped, however, is India.

J.B. Bernstein (Hamm) is a sports agent. He’s a pretty good one, good enough to buy himself a good life; a beautiful house, a Porsche, a downtown L.A. office and a steady stream of models to date. He’s also cocky enough to think that he doesn’t need the big agency he works for, so he strikes out on his own with his partner Aash (Mandvi). There he finds out that things aren’t quite so easy.

In fact, they’re near impossible. With his agency nearly bankrupt, they are relying on signing a high-profile NFL linebacker named Popo (Maualuga) to save their bacon. However, when he is swept away by the omnipresent agents from a big corporate agency, they and their receptionist Theresa (Rachel) are left to ponder what to do next.

For J.B., the answer comes at him like a bolt of lightning. He is sitting at home, binge drinking beers and aimlessly switching back and forth on the channels of his satellite TV between Indian cricket and the talent show Britain’s Got Talent when it hits him – India has more than a billion people that don’t follow baseball. If they could find a couple of pitchers from India, guys used to bowling in cricket, it might open up a brand new market much like Fernandomania did in Mexico.

He pitches it to a Chinese-American gazillionaire named Chang (Ma) who likes the concept and decides to invest. JB wants a major league scout to go with him. Aash can’t find one but does find a retired scout named Ray (Arkin) who might just have narcolepsy but who really knows his stuff. Aided by a laid-back Indian handler named Vivek (Jarlwala) and a baseball-obsessed translator who wants to be a coach someday named Amit (Pitobash), he goes on a tour of India, setting up tryouts for the show which proves to be quite popular. Out of the tryouts he finds two prospects – Rinku (Sharma) who is gangly and graceful with an odd ritual before throwing the ball, and Dinesh (Mittal) who is a powerful thrower with control problems. The two winners accompany JB back to America.

There they will be as bewildered and confused by American culture as JB was by theirs. Working with former major league pitcher Tom House (Paxton) who now coaches at the University of Southern California, they know nothing about the game and have to be trained in the basics of fielding and batting, not to mention having their throwing motion worked on (incidentally, neither one of them played critic and both were ambivalent about the game both in the film and real life). JB kind of leaves them to the wolves.

That doesn’t sit well with Brenda (Bell), who rents the back unit of JB’s house and has gotten to know the boys. She knows they need to know he cares about them; that they feel lost and alone and without support. Of course, you know she and JB will develop a relationship but can these two raw talents from India beat the odds and get signed to a major league contract?

This is a Disney true life sports underdog movie so you can probably guess the answer to that question (and if you can’t, you can always Google it). Like a lot of these films that have come from Disney of late, this follows pretty much the same formula. Fortunately, there are some things that set it apart.

The sequences in India are colorful and amazingly shot. You get a sense of the chaotic conditions in that country, from the traffic to the lack of hygiene to the kind of crumbling colonial infrastructure that remains in a titanic bureaucracy. All that’s missing is the distinctive odor that, as Hamm puts it, comes and goes.

Lake Bell, so good in In a World… continues to develop into one of Hollywood’s most distinctive actresses. She’s smart, pretty and can be glamorous when she needs to be but seems much more comfortable in scrubs than in fancy dresses. She makes a fine foil for the likable Hamm who is looking for life after Don Draper. His role is surprisingly complex; he’s been able to get by on his charm and a grin, but that is no longer the case and he doesn’t quite know what to do about it. He also can be a bit of a jerk although he’s basically not a bad guy. In short, like most guys.

They do have Arkin amongst the fine supporting cast but he spends most of the movie literally asleep, which is a waste of the talents of a guy like Arkin. Mandvi, one of the funniest guys on The Daily Show with Jon Stewart is utilized mainly as the straight man here and while he gets his share of comedic moments, again this isn’t really what he’s best at. The two young Indian actors garner empathy, but they aren’t developed well enough to go much farther than “fish out of water” status.

This is decently entertaining; you won’t go wrong by spending your ten bucks on it at the multiplex, but it isn’t anything that you’ll go home wanting to see again. While the Indian sequences certainly looked pretty marvelous on the big screen, I wouldn’t blame you for waiting to catch this on home video, but as I said, there are things that elevate it above the sports film cliches that it is desperately trying to cling to. All that’s missing is Hamm screaming “Show me the money!”

REASONS TO GO: Hamm and Bell are endearing. India sequences are quite enjoyable.

REASONS TO STAY: Formulaic. Arkin is wasted.

FAMILY VALUES:  There are a few mild swear words and some suggestive content.

TRIVIAL PURSUIT: The real J.B. Bernstein wasn’t an agent. He was (and is) a sports marketer.

CRITICAL MASS: As of 6/9/14: Rotten Tomatoes: 61% positive reviews. Metacritic: 56/100.

COMPARISON SHOPPING: Invincible

FINAL RATING: 6.5/10

NEXT: Blended

New Releases for the Week of December 27, 2013


The Secret Life of Walter Mitty

THE SECRET LIFE OF WALTER MITTY

(20th Century Fox) Ben Stiller, Kristen Wiig, Sean Penn, Shirley MacLaine, Adam Scott, Kathryn Hahn, Patton Oswalt. Directed by Ben Stiller

Walter, a worker drone at Life Magazine as it gasps its last, is a dreamer who sometimes zones out as he imagines fantastic heroic scenarios starring himself. Yet he never acts on these impulses, never does anything memorable or notable. He yearns for love but does nothing to pursue it. When at last he is pushed into it, the greatest adventure he could imagine awaits.

See the trailer and a featurette here.

For more on the movie this is the website.

Release formats: Standard (opens Wednesday)

Genre: Adventure Comedy

Rating: PG (for some crude comments, language and action violence)

47 Ronin

(Universal) Keanu Reeves, Hiroyuki Sanada, Ko Shibasaki, Rinko Kikuchi. After a ruthless warlord betrays and murders their master, 47 now-leaderless samurai (known in Japan as Ronin) vow revenge. Standing in their way are wizards and demons who have their own plans.

See the trailer, clips  and a featurette here.

For more on the movie this is the website.

Release formats: Standard, 3D (opens Tuesday)

Genre: Martial Arts Fantasy

Rating: PG-13 (for intense sequences of violence and action, some disturbing images, and thematic elements)

Grudge Match

(Warner Brothers) Robert De Niro, Sylvester Stallone, Kevin Hart, Alan Arkin. Two out of shape boxers retired for 30 years are pushed into resuming their bitter rivalry with a final match to determine the whole she-bang, but are these two old codgers ready?

See the trailer here.

For more on the movie this is the website.

Release formats: Standard (opens Wednesday)

Genre: Sports Comedy

Rating: PG-13 (for sports action violence, sexual content and language)

Justin Bieber’s Believe

(Open Road) Justin Bieber, Scooter Braun, Usher Raymond, Ludacris. Unaware that his 15 minutes were done about an hour ago, here comes a concert video of Canada’s most shameful export.

See the trailer here.

For more on the movie this is the website.

Release formats: Standard (opens Wednesday)

Genre: Musical Documentary

Rating: PG-13 (for thematic elements including some unsettling images) 

Mandela: Long Walk to Freedom

(Weinstein) Idris Elba, Naomie Harris, Tony Kgoroge, Riaad Moosa. The story of the late Nelson Mandela and his struggle to end South Africa’s repressive system of apartheid appears in theaters only a few weeks after the great leader finally passed away. Some studios have all the luck.

See the trailer and a clip here.

For more on the movie this is the website.

Release formats: Standard (opens Wednesday)

Genre: Biographical Drama

Rating: PG=13 (for some intense sequences of violence and disturbing images, sexual content and brief strong language)

The Wolf of Wall Street

(Paramount) Leonardo di Caprio, Jonah Hill, Matthew McConaughey, Margot Robbie. A stockbroker goes from starry-eyed ambition to absolute corruption as he rides the wave that was Wall Street during the 80s. The rise and fall of Jordan Belfort mirrors Wall Street’s own in the eyes of the public. The latest from Martin Scorsese and a huge Oscar contender.

See the trailer and a clip here.

For more on the movie this is the website.

Release formats: Standard (opens Wednesday)

Genre: True Life Drama

Rating: R (for sequences of strong sexual content, graphic nudity, drug use and language throughout, and for some violence)  

So I Married an Axe Murderer


Scotland has a love-hate relationship with Mike Myers.

Scotland has a love-hate relationship with Mike Myers.

(1993) Comedy (TriStar) Mike Myers, Nancy Travis, Anthony LaPaglia, Amanda Plummer, Alan Arkin, Brenda Fricker, Matt Doherty, Charles Grodin, Phil Hartman, Debi Mazar, Steven Wright, Patrick Bristow, Cintra Wilson, Luenell Campbell, Michael Richards, Michael G. Hagerty, Jessie Nelson, Bob Sarlatte, Ken Grantham, Greg Germann, Holly Lewis. Directed by Thomas Schlamme

Do we really know the person we’re closest to? After all, it’s very easy to create a facade of normalcy. We can say anything about ourselves and the person who loves us will believe us. After all, why should we lie?

Charlie McKenzie (Myers) is a San Francisco hipster who writes beat-like poetry by night and…well, we’re not quite sure what he does by day. He has been through one abortive relationship after another, each one ending with the terminally paranoid and commitment-phobic Charlie finding a reason to end things. His friend Tony Giardino (LaPaglia) urges him to loosen up but Charlie isn’t inclined to.

That is, until he meets Harriet (Travis) in a butcher shop and it’s chemistry at first sight. Things are going really well as they get to know each other and Charlie thinks at long last this might be the one. Even her little sister Rose (Plummer) is nice.

Then, Charlie is reading one of his mother’s (Fricker) Weekly World News papers (her sole source of news and information) and happens upon an article about Mrs. X, a woman whose three husbands have all disappeared under mysterious circumstances – as has she. The more Charlie reads, the more he realizes that the facts about Mrs. X happen to match up with those Harriet has let slip.

Suddenly Charlie is certain that Harriet is Mrs. X and ends things with her, not wanting to end up as the fourth husband – and victim. Tony is just as certain that his friend is a wacko who is inventing yet another excuse to avoid committing to another person, albeit the most bizarre excuse yet. Then when someone confesses to being Mrs. X in Texas (all our X’s are in Texas), Charlie realizes what a fool he’s been and at the anniversary party of his mother and father (Myers again) he proposes. Nothing but smooth sailing ahead, right?

This was Myers’ first film after the lucrative Wayne’s World established him as a movie star and it was a critical and commercial flop at the time. Over the years the opinion about this gem have been revised and now it has a bit of a cult following and I for one couldn’t be happier about it.

While Charlie is pretty damn quirky, this is Myers’ most “normal” role to date and quite frankly I wish he’d do more of them. He is really likable as Charlie and has a terrific chemistry for Travis who is one of the more underrated actresses of the last 20 years, although she’s getting a regular paycheck these days on the Tim Allen sitcom Last Man Standing. Myers also does his Scottish eccentric role to perfection as Charlie’s dad. “Heed.. Newspaper. Now!” he bellows at his other son, the poor set-upon Doherty, lobbing bon mots at the oversized noggin of his son.

There are plenty of cameos ranging from Arkin as Tony’s way-too-sensitive captain and the late great Phil Hartman as a creepy park ranger at Alcatraz to Steven Wright as a laconic pilot and Charles Grodin as an uncooperative driver whose car is commandeered. The city of San Francisco is shown off as effectively as it has been in any recent movie – watch this one and you might just want to move there.

This is as charming a movie as Myers has done. He’d go on from here to the Austin Powers franchise and the Love Guru misstep but one look at this will convince you that even with the success he’s had he could have gone much farther if he’d continued on the road of movies like this. Sadly, the box office underperformance convinced him otherwise although Austin Powers fan might be happy enough that it did. This is one of those underappreciated comic gems of the 90s that may well have fallen below your radar; it’s well worth a look if you haven’t seen it (and it has a fabulous soundtrack to boot).

WHY RENT THIS: One of Myers’ best. Underrated. Terrifically quirky and cute.

WHY RENT SOMETHING ELSE: A bit dated and relies too much on shtick.

FAMILY VALUES:  There’s some bad language, a bit of nudity, some sexual situations and what they called “mock terror.”

TRIVIAL PURSUIT: The Poet’s Corner Hotel scenes were filmed at the Dunsmuir estate which is actually in the Oakland hills east of San Francisco, not North of the city as depicted in the film.

NOTABLE HOME VIDEO EXTRAS: None listed.

BOX OFFICE PERFORMANCE: $11.6M on an unknown production budget.

COMPARISON SHOPPING: Haunted Honeymoon

FINAL RATING: 8.5/10

NEXT: Good Ol’ Freda

New Releases for the Week of March 15, 2013


The Incredible Burt Wonderstone

THE INCREDIBLE BURT WONDERSTONE

(New Line) Steve Carell, Steve Buscemi, Jim Carrey, Olivia Wilde, Alan Arkin, James Gandolfini, Jay Mohr, Brad Garrett, David Copperfield. Directed by Don Scardino

A duo of superstar Vegas magicians rule the strip with iron fists; publically they’re the best of friends while privately they can’t stand each other. However, when competition in the form of a cocky street magician whose outrageous stunts puts their illusions to shame threaten to derail their reign, the two must put aside their differences while the incredible Burt Wonderstone gets in touch with that which made him love magic in the first place – that is, if his ego hasn’t crushed it forever.

See the trailer here.

For more on the movie this is the website.

Release formats: Standard

Genre: Comedy

Rating: PG-13 (for sexual content, dangerous stunts, a drug-related incident and language)

The Call

(Tri-Star) Halle Berry, Abigail Breslin, Morris Chestnut, Michael Imperioli. A 911 operator is shattered by the worst experience someone in that profession can have – to listen to a caller die due to their own mistake, in her case at the hands of a brutal serial killer. When she receives a call from a panicked teen calling on a disposable cell phone from the trunk of a car where her kidnapper has stored her, she soon realizes that the kidnapper is the same serial killer. It will be a race against the clock if the operator is going to be able to save the killer’s latest prey.

See the trailer here.

For more on the movie this is the website.

Release formats: Standard

Genre: Thriller

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

The Gatekeepers

(Sony Classics) Ami Ayalon, Avi Dichter, Yuval Diskin, Carmi Gillon. The Shin Bet is the Israeli equivalent of the CIA; their covert operations have been at the center of Israel’s policies towards defense. Six former heads of the agency are interviewed for the first time anywhere regarding their roles in the decision-making process and implementing their countries policies towards terrorism foreign and domestic.

See the trailer here.

For more on the movie this is the website.

Release formats: Standard

Genre: Documentary

Rating: PG-13 (for violent content including disturbing images)

Stoker

(Fox Searchlight) Nicole Kidman, Mia Wasikowska, Matthew Goode, Dermot Mulroney. When a young girl’s father dies in a car accident, her uncle that she never knew she had comes to live with her and her emotionally unstable mother. The girl begins to suspect that the uncle is much more than he claims to be and may have ulterior motives for his presence. This only serves to deepen her infatuation with him, leading her down a deadly dangerous path.

See the trailer, clips and a featurette here.

For more on the movie this is the website.

Release formats: Standard

Genre: Thriller

Rating: PG-13 (for disturbing violent and sexual content) 

New Releases for the Week of February 1, 2013


Warm Bodies

WARM BODIES

(Summit) Nicholas Hoult, Teresa Palmer, Rob Corddry, John Malkovich, Analeigh Tipton, Dave Franco, Cory Hardrict. Directed by Jonathan Levine

The zombie apocalypse has come and life is no picnic. Hordes of shuffling monsters rule the streets and skeletal monsters, called Bonies, are even worse. In the mix a young man named R, turned zombie, is able to develop feelings for a beautiful young girl named Juliet (yes, R and Juliet – get it?) and that love may change the world, assuming they don’t get shot or eaten or both.

See the trailer and clips here.

For more on the movie this is the website.

Release formats: Standard

Genre: Romantic Horror

Rating: PG-13 (for zombie violence and some language)

Bullet to the Head

(Warner Brothers) Sylvester Stallone, Sung Kang, Christian Slater, Jason Momoa. A New Orleans hitman is force to join forces with a police officer from Washington DC when they discover that they are chasing the same person – the one responsible for murdering both of their partners. Their alliance is an uneasy one but necessary if they’re going to make it through this gauntlet alive. Based on a graphic novel.

See the trailer here.

For more on the movie this is the website.

Release formats: Standard

Genre: Action

Rating: R (for strong violence, bloody images, language, some nudity and brief drug use)

Stand Up Guys

(Roadside Attractions) Al Pacino, Christopher Walken, Alan Arkin, Julianna Margulies. After serving 28 years, a retired gangster is picked up by his best friend, also a retired gangster and the two join forces with yet another retired gangster. The three go out to celebrate but one of them has a secret – they are to kill one of the others on the orders of their boss in order to make sure he doesn’t talk.

See the trailer and a clip here.

For more on the movie this is the website.

Release formats: Standard

Genre: Crime Comedy

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

Argo


Argo

I just wish Ben Affleck had shed this much light upon his character.

(2012) True Life Drama (Warner Brothers) Ben Affleck, Bryan Cranston, Victor Garber, John Goodman, Alan Arkin, Kerry Bishe, Kyle Chandler, Rory Cochrane, Tate Donovan, Scoot McNairy, Clea DuVall, Christopher Denham, Zeljko Ivanek, Richard Kind, Bob Gunton, Titus Welliver. Directed by Ben Affleck

 

In late 1979, a group of Iranian “students,” angered over the United States giving shelter to the dying former Shah (with some justification – the despotic Shah had many, many atrocities committed in his name) had taken over the U.S. Embassy (without justification – this was a violation of International law and was almost universally condemned) and held some 52 Americans for what would turn out to be a total of 444 days, accusing them of being spies rather than diplomats. Depending on your perspective, they had some justification for thinking that as the coup d’état that had placed the Shah in power in the first place had been organized by the British and American espionage agencies and had used the U.S. Embassy as something of a headquarters.

Six Americans escaped the embassy takeover – a fact that I’d forgotten and I consider myself a student of history – and hid in the residences of Canadian ambassador Ken Taylor and immigration officer John Shearsdown (although Shearsdown’s part in the affair is left out completely in the movie). Their ordeal is captured here.

The six Americans – Robert Anders (Donovan), Joe Stafford (McNairy), his wife Kathy (Bishe), Mark Lijek (Denham), his wife Cora (DuVall) and Lee Schatz (Cochrane) see the writing on the wall as the angry mob chants for blood outside the doors of the Embassy. Because they are in a side office with direct access to the street and lacking any sort of directive, they make a run for it. They wind up at Taylor’s (Garber) home after being refused safe harbor at the British and New Zealand embassies which in fact was untrue – that was a bit of license taken by the filmmakers to give a sense that the Americans had nowhere else to go to.

Back in the United States, the State Department is in an uproar over the hostage crisis. They feel, correctly, that the 52 hostages in the embassy are reasonably safe as they are in the public eye but the six who have been separated are in far more danger, and their presence is putting Canada in an awkward diplomatic position. CIA supervisor Jack O’Donnell (Cranston) has brought in exfiltration specialist Tony Mendez (Affleck) into a meeting in which the State Department is exploring ways to get the six out safely but the ideas they come up with are ludicrous to say the least.

While watching Battle for the Planet of the Apes on television, he hits upon the idea of giving the six cover stories as being part of a Canadian film crew doing a cheesy Star Wars rip-off movie using Iran as an exotic location. In order to add plausibility to the story, he enlists Oscar-winning make-up artist John Chambers (Goodman) to help create a production company. To lend credibility, producer Lester Siegel (Arkin) is also brought aboard. They stage a publicity event in which actors perform a reading of the script which gets enough press coverage that give credence to this being a “real” film.

Mendez enters Iran posing as a producer for the film and makes contact with the refugees. At first, there is some skepticism that this idea will even work – and Joe Stafford in particular has some trust issues for Mendez. Still, all of them realize that it is only a matter of time before the Iranian authorities realize that there are Americans missing from the embassy and once that happens, only a matter of time before they are found and that once they are found, their deaths will be extraordinarily bad.

As I said earlier, I’d let this incident – known as the Canadian Caper – fall into the recesses of my mind and I suspect most people my age are going to find the same effect. Younger audiences may not have any recollection of the incident at all and may know the hostage crisis as something they read about in modern American history or saw on the Discovery channel.

Affleck has really come into his own as a director; while The Town served notice of his skills both as a lead actor and director, Argo is likely to net him some serious Oscar consideration in the latter category. This is a movie that has you on the edge of your seat from beginning to end and even if you remember the incident in question, you’ll still be right there. He also captures not only the look of the United States and Iran circa 1980 but also the feel of both; it is an era when disco still reigns and America is beginning to grow bloated and ineffectual. Still reeling from Watergate, Vietnam and a moribund economy, there is a feeling that our country had lost its relevance and in fact, its cojones.

There are some strong performances here. Garber always carries himself with a certain grace and as the courageous Canadian ambassador that’s in evidence a ‘plenty here. The Emmy-winning Cranston continues to make his presence felt in supporting roles in films; now that his “Breaking Bad” run is over he no doubt will be getting lots of feature roles thrown at him and here he has some really good moments. On the Hollywood side, Arkin and Goodman are pros that can be relied upon to deliver solid at worst and spectacular at best performances and both are more towards their best here.

Strangely, the one performance I found less than compelling was Affleck’s. There is a little distance in him; Mendez clearly cares very much about the fate of the six and this spurs him to actions he might ordinarily not have taken. Still, Affleck doesn’t show us very much about the man Tony Mendez is/was and that’s puzzling since the real Mendez was available for him to study from; it’s possible that Mendez himself is this hard to know as well.

Still, this is likely to wind up on some end of the year lists and quite deservedly so. This is one of the Fall’s must-see films and if you haven’t already caught it, you really should before it gets pushed out by all the Thanksgiving blockbusters that are already making their way into the multiplex. Even if you’re not old enough to remember the hostage crisis, you’ll appreciate one of the great thrillers of the year.

REASONS TO GO: Captures the era perfectly. Puts you on the edge of the seat even if you know how the affair concluded.

REASONS TO STAY: Affleck’s performance is a bit distant; I left the movie wondering who Tony Mendez was. Plays fast and loose with the facts.

FAMILY VALUES:  The language is pretty rough in places and there are some disturbing images, as well as some violence.

TRIVIAL PURSUIT: Hamilton Jordan, Jimmy Carter’s chief of staff, and Kyle Chandler who played him in the movie were both graduates of the University of Georgia.

CRITICAL MASS: As of 11/11/12: Rotten Tomatoes: 95% positive reviews. Metacritic: 86/100. The reviews are extremely strong.

COMPARISON SHOPPING: Syriana

JIMMY CARTER LOVERS: The former President makes several appearances in the movie via archival footage.

FINAL RATING: 8/10

NEXT: The Imposter

New Releases for the Week of October 12, 2012


October 12, 2012

ARGO

(Warner Brothers) Ben Affleck, Bryan Cranston, Alan Arkin, John Goodman, Kerry Bishe, Kyle Chandler, Tate Donovan, Clea DuVall, Victor Garber, Zeljko Ivanek, Richard Kind. Directed by Ben Affleck

Most people are aware of the Iranian Hostage Crisis which occurred on November 4, 1979 when Iranian “students” overran the U.S. embassy and took all of the personnel hostage. What isn’t well-known (and only came to light after top secret documents were recently declassified) was that six American embassy workers escaped to the home of the Canadian ambassador. There’s no doubt if they are discovered they will all be killed and in a most unpleasant way. That’s when a CIA operative comes up with a wild plan so bizarre it just might work.

See the trailer here.

For more on the movie this is the website.

Release formats: Standard

Genre: True Life Drama

Rating: R (for language and some violent images)

Arbitrage

(Roadside Attractions) Richard Gere, Susan Sarandon, Brit Marling, Tim Roth. A Wall Street mogul tries to hide the evidence of his sins – an extramarital affair, financial impropriety and a drunk driving accident – while his company is in the middle of a merger that will allow him to retire. However, a bulldog-like detective is on his trail. This was screened this past January as part of the Sundance Across America program (which was in turn part of the Sundance Film Festival) at the Enzian and was reviewed here.

See the trailer, a clip or stream the full movie here.

For more on the movie this is the website.

Release formats: Standard

Genre: Financial Thriller

Rating: R (for language, brief violent images and drug use)

Atlas Shrugged Part II

(The Strike) Samantha Mathis, Jason Beghe, Esai Morales, Diedrich Bader. With the global economy collapsing, innovators and artists disappearing from sight and the world in the throes of a debilitating energy crisis, a beautiful and resourceful industrialist thinks she may have found the answer – a motor, discovered in the ruins of a once-thriving factory, that could conceivably solve the energy crisis and bring the economy back. However, the motor doesn’t work and there are forces in play that don’t want it to work. The inventor must be found or civilization may very well collapse.

See the trailer here.

For more on the movie this is the website.

Release formats: Standard

Genre: Mystery

Rating: PG-13 (for brief language)

Here Comes the Boom

(Columbia) Kevin James, Salma Hayek, Henry Winkler, Joe Rogan. After his school, faced with massive financial shortfalls is forced to cut all extracurricular activities, a teacher with a background in college wrestling resolves to make up the deficit by earning money in MMA bouts. His determination and devotion to his students ends up inspiring the staff and kids in unexpected ways.

See the trailer, clips and a featurette here.

For more on the movie this is the website.

Release formats: Standard

Genre: Comedy

Rating: PG (for bouts of MMA sports violence, some rude humor and language)

Seven Psychopaths

(CBS) Colin Farrell, Sam Rockwell, Christopher Walken, Woody Harrelson. A group of misfits who make a little extra cash on the side by kidnapping pets and returning them for the reward money pick the wrong Shih Tzu to steal when they kidnap the beloved dog of a vicious mobster. Caught in the middle is their screenwriter friend who needs to figure out a way out of this mess before things get out of control – if they aren’t already. From the writer-director of In Bruges.

See the trailer, a promo and a spoof trailer here.

For more on the movie this is the website.

Release formats: Standard

Genre: Caper Comedy

Rating: R (for strong violence, bloody images, pervasive language, sexuality/nudity and some drug use)

Sinister

(Summit) Ethan Hawke, Vincent D’Onofrio, Fred Dalton Thompson, Clare Foley. When a novelist and his family move into a new home they discover a cache of old home movies that seem to indicate that the previous owners of the home fell victim to some sort of demon. He soon discovers that seeing is literally believing – and that his own family is now in danger because of it.

See the trailer here.

For more on the movie this is the website.

Release formats: Standard

Genre: Supernatural Horror

Rating: PG-13 (for some disturbing and sexual images)

Thin Ice


Thin Ice

Greg Kinnear and Billy Crudup wonder why they couldn't find a movie that is set in Aruba.

(2011) Thriller (ATO) Greg Kinnear, Billy Crudup, Alan Arkin, Lea Thompson, David Harbour, Jennifer M. Edwards, Peter Thoemke, Bob Balaban, James Detmar, Michelle Hutchison, Peter Moore, Michael Paul Levin, Michelle Arthur, Alan Johnson, Chris Carlson. Directed by Jill Sprecher

 

There is nothing warmer than the human heart. There is also nothing colder – even the Wisconsin winter pales in comparison. Greed and desperation can make of even the kindest of hearts one made stone and frozen, allowing nothing in and nothing to leave.

Mickey Prohaska (Kinnear) lives in Kenosha, Wisconsin and sells insurance. On the surface an amiable, trustworthy fellow, he is a predator in reality, preying on the fears of people to sell them policies that for the most part they don’t need and can’t afford. However, business is bad these days; Mickey needs the appearance of success and so drives an expensive car and wears nice suits. However, his bills are piling up and he is deep in debt. His wife (Thompson) has thrown him out – which he frankly deserves – and his secretary (Edwards) is getting fed up as well.

Mickey meets even more amiable Bob Egan (Harbour) at an insurance conference and in order to keep the earnest young man from his biggest competitor hires him on as an agent, even though he hasn’t been licensed by the state of Wisconsin just yet. That’s okay – the policies can be turned in under Mickey’s name and Mickey will pay him once the company pays Mickey his share. Right.

Bob brings Gorvy Hauer (Arkin) to Mickey’s attention and Mickey is at first not interested – the old man is in the beginning states of dementia and doesn’t have much money to his name. What he does have is a rare violin, one worth $25,000 according to the appraiser (Balaban) but Gorvy thinks it is a toy for him to play with his dog.

Mickey can’t resist – he needs the money desperately and the old man won’t miss the money. However, there is a fly in the ointment – Randy (Crudup), who is installing the alarm system that Bob is advising Gorvy to put in, gets wind of what Mickey’s up to. When meddling neighbor Frank (Thoemke) discovers something fishy going on, Randy panics and suddenly Mickey is in the middle of a real mess.

This is the kind of suspense movie worthy of the Coen Brothers; just a little bit offbeat, lots of twists and turns but always with a nice gotcha at the end. However, this is also not quite in that league and it’s really hard to pin it on the director. As I mention below in the Trivial Pursuits section, distributors ATO got together with some of the producers and ordered that the film be re-cut which Sprecher refused to do. The movie was then re-cut using outtakes, the voice-over narration was removed and various subplots and characters were cut from the film. Sprecher has sent letters to prominent film critics (including Roger Ebert) to let them know the situation and to divorce herself from the movie. She is unable to comment further for legal reasons; however it must be said that she doesn’t consider Thin Ice to be her own work.

That makes it kind of difficult to assign credit and blame as the case may be. My gumption is to credit Sprecher for most of the things that work and blame the producers for those that didn’t. Strictly speaking that may not be fair but it is human nature to take the side of the person who did the work and had the vision against those whose only goal was to make money rather than necessarily make the best movie possible. How do I know that the producers weren’t trying to make a better movie?

Simple. The film was screened in its original director cut version at Sundance and received raves. Since its limited release in this edited version, the reviews have been lukewarm. However, I must say that if that’s the case, the original cut must have been special indeed because I really like this movie a lot.

Kinnear excels at these sorts of roles, the ordinary Joe with a bit of an edge to him. Mickey is a congenital liar who’s always looking for the angle that benefits him most. Ostensibly he is in love with his wife but for the most part treats her like a possession or a status symbol – you never get the sense he needs to be with her so much as wants to.

Crudup plays the volatile Randy nicely, giving him the right edge of kicked puppy to go with the volcanic temper. Randy puts Mickey off-balance and the audience as well. Arkin has some tender moments having to do with his dog that are heart-rending. No matter how good or bad the material, Arkin always finds a way to elevate it.

It’s no surprise given the history of the movie that the pacing is irregular. Sometimes the movie goes at a snail’s pace and other times it races along willy-nilly. This has a jarring effect on the audience; I would have liked to see something a bit smoother.

There are plenty of Hitchcockian twists here and the final one is of the sort that makes you want to see the movie a second time knowing what you know about what really happened. Some of the twists aren’t too hard to figure out but others do take you unawares. That’s always a lovely surprise in movies of this sort.

I have to wonder what might have happened had we been allowed to see this the way the original director intended us to. Would it have been a better film? Did the producers make the right call? I doubt we’ll ever know – when it makes it to home video it is unlikely the original directors cut will ever see the light of day, given the contentious relationship with the filmmakers and the distributor. I find it somewhat ironic that the initials of the distribution company, ATO, stands for “Artists Take Over.” Certainly that’s not what happened in this case.

REASONS TO GO: Some really nifty twists and turns. Kinnear knows this role as well as anybody. Arkin and Crudup also do stellar work.

REASONS TO STAY: Seems choppy and rushed in places.

FAMILY VALUES: All sorts of bad language, a bit of violence and sexuality.

TRIVIAL PURSUIT: After rave reviews at its 2011 Sundance appearance, the distributor demanded massive re-cuts and a title change (from The Convincer); the director has since disassociated herself from the film.

CRITICAL MASS: As of 4/3/12: Rotten Tomatoes: 74% positive reviews. Metacritic: 61/100. The reviews are solidly positive.

COMPARISON SHOPPING: Fargo

ICE FISHING LOVERS: There’s a sequence early on in which Randy discusses the sport with Mickey, ending up with Randy attempting to drill a hole in the ice – unsuccessfully.

FINAL RATING: 8/10

NEXT: Mirror, Mirror

New Releases for the Week of March 30, 2012


March 30, 2012

WRATH OF THE TITANS

(Warner Brothers) Sam Worthington, Rosamund Pike, Bill Nighy, Liam Neeson, Ralph Fiennes, Danny Huston, Toby Kebbell, Edgar Ramirez. Directed by Jonathan Liebesman

Retired hero and demigod Perseus has been living a life of quiet satisfaction as a fisherman but a visit from his father Zeus changes all that. Apparently the power of the Gods has been siphoned out by the lack of worship from their human charges and the Titans, the cruel and vicious forbears of the Gods who have been imprisoned in Mt. Tatarus for thousands of years, are growing strong enough to break out of the weakened Gods’ bondage. With Hades and Ares switching side, it will take the combined might of the humans and Gods to save the world from the tyranny of the Titans.

See the trailer, clips, featurettes and a promo here.

For more on the movie this is the website.

Release formats: Standard, 3D, IMAX 3D

Genre: Fantasy

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

Mirror Mirror

(Relativity) Julia Roberts, Nathan Lane, Armie Hammer, Lily Collins.  A wicked Queen who has lived life as the fairest of them all gets a rude shock when she discovers there’s a new contender for the title – princess in exile Snow White. Snow has about had enough of the evil Queen and vows to reclaim her kingdom with the help of seven rebellious dwarves who will also help her win back her Prince – once he finishes sniffing his own hind end, that is.

See the trailer, interviews and featurettes here.

For more on the movie this is the website.

Release formats: Standard

Genre: Fantasy Comedy

Rating: PG (for some fantasy action and mild rude humor)

Salmon Fishing in the Yemen

(CBS) Emily Blunt, Ewan McGregor, Kristin Scott Thomas, Amr Waked. A visionary sheikh decides he wants to import the pastime of fly fishing into Yemen. He enlists the help of a skeptical Scottish fisheries expert who doesn’t think it can be done. However when the British Prime Minister’s overzealous press secretary, looking for a feel-good story in the Middle East turns the screws to see that it gets done, the Scot begins to fall for the sheikh’s strange dream as well as for an attractive consultant.

See the trailer and promos here.

For more on the movie this is the website

Release formats: Standard

Genre: Dramedy

Rating: PG-13 (for some violence and sexual content, and brief language)

Thin Ice

(ATO) Greg Kinnear, Alan Arkin, Billy Crudup, Lea Thompson. An insurance man trying to turn his life around and win back his estranged wife hits upon a scheme to con an old man out of a rare and valuable musical instrument. Things go sideways when a nosy, volatile locksmith inserts himself into the plan and creates havoc that spirals dangerously out of control.

See the trailer and clips here.

For more on the movie this is the website.

Release formats: Standard

Genre: Crime Comedy/Thriller/Drama

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

W.E.

(Weinstein) Abby Cornish, Oscar Isaac, James D’Arcy, Andrea Riseborough.  A young woman obsessed with the story of King Edward VIII and Wallis Simpson is given access to private correspondence from the American divorcee which may put her romantic notions of the couple to the test. Madonna directs this love story set in two different time frames.

See the trailer and clips here.

For more on the movie this is the website.

Release formats: Standard

Genre: Romance

Rating: R (for domestic violence, nudity and language)