In Time


In Time

The future is a hell of a party.

(2011) Science Fiction (20th Century Fox) Justin Timberlake, Amanda Seyfried, Cillian Murphy, Vincent Kartheiser, Alex Pettyfer Johnny Galecki, Olivia Wilde, Nick Lashaway, Collins Pennie, Rachel Roberts, Matt Bomer, Yaya DaCosta. Directed by Andrew Niccol

Time is money they say and in some ways it’s literally true. When we are employed, we are not only being paid for our skills but for our time. A good percentage of us receive our wages paid by the hour and our work lives are measured in how many hours we work so when you buy a gallon of milk at the grocery store, the money you pay for it is symbolic of the time you worked. That gallon of milk represents twenty minutes of work you put in to make the money you paid for it.

In the future, there is no pretense about it anymore. Cash is a thing of the past and the only thing that matters is time. An hourly wage is literally that. We’ve been genetically engineered to stop aging at age 25; after that, we’re given a year of additional life and in order to extend it beyond our 26th birthday we need to work to add hours and days to our lifespan. We can even see how much time we have left by a digital countdown clock in neon green that is imprinted on our forearms. When it reaches zero, our time on this earth is done.

Like most people in the ghetto that is called Dayton (not Ohio – it looks a lot like Los Angeles), Will Salas (Timberlake) lives day to day, waking up each morning with less than 24 hours to live. He lives with his mother (Wilde) who’s in the same boat but for whatever reason she seems unable to hold onto time – time management is a necessity in this future. She is working a double shift and won’t be back for more than a day; Will goes out to a bar with his best friend and drinking buddy Borel (Galecki) and encounters Henry Hamilton, a millionaire with more than a century on his arm who seems out to kill himself.

It turns out he’s lived more than a century and has become disillusioned and bored; he wants to die. He has attracted the unfortunate attention of Fortis (Pettyfer), a gangster who leads a gang called the Minutemen who essentially rob people of their time. Fortis wants Hamilton’s but Will intervenes and hides Hamilton in a warehouse. Hamilton tells Will that there is plenty of time for everyone, but the rich are hoarding it so that they can live forever. The two men wax philosophic before falling asleep.

When Will wakes up, Hamilton is gone and Will has more than a century on his arm. He looks out the window to see Hamilton sitting on the edge of a bridge. Will tries to run out and save him but Hamilton’s clock zeroes out and he falls to his death. Security cameras catch Will on the scene and the police force, known as the Timekeepers, are alerted. Timekeeper Raymond Leon (Murphy) is assigned the case and the general perception is that Will stole Hamilton’s time and murdered him.

In the meantime, Will’s mom is getting ready to return home on the bus only to find out that they raised the fare and she doesn’t have enough to return home. She has about an hour left of life to her and a two hour walk so she runs. She tries to get people to help her, give her an extra 15 minutes of life (people are able to transfer time from one another by holding their wrists together) but nobody will help. Will, realizing that she’s not on the bus, takes off at a dead run; she sees him as her time is counting down and they run towards each other but it’s all for naught; she dies in his arms.

Determined to face down the injustice that is ruling the lives of the poor, the now-wealthy Will travels to the wealthy part of town (this costs quite a bit of money to cross from one “time zone” to another) which is called New Greenwich. This is where the wealthy live in spectacular luxury. There are also casinos where you can literally bet your life. Will plays poker with one of the richest men on Earth, Philippe Weis (Kartheiser) and wins a millennium. This catches the eye of Philippe’s daughter Sylvia (Seyfried) who invites Will to a party that evening.

At the party, Raymond catches up with Will and arrests him, taking all but 24 hours from his wrist. However, Will escapes by using Sylvia as a hostage. He manages to make it back into Dayton where he and Sylvia are both robbed of most of their time by Fortis; it would have been all but the Minutemen are scared off by the approaching Timekeepers. Will and Sylvia escape into the anonymity of the slums.

There Will demands a thousand year ransom from Philippe for the return of his daughter. However, Philippe refuses to pay it. Sylvia, incensed, tells Will where to find lots of time. They begin robbing banks, where people can get loans of time. The two take the time but distribute it to the poor. They go on a crime spree which threatens the balance of things; the rich retaliate by raising prices exorbitantly. Will’s Robin Hood crusade looks to be derailed but there might be one way yet to thwart the rich.

That this is an allegory of modern economics seems to be a slam dunk; substitute “dollars” for “time” and you have what is essentially a commentary on the widening gap between the haves and the have-nots. There really isn’t anything subtle here although I wonder if there is a connection between the Minutemen – taking from the poor, and the Tea Party who have been accused of doing the same thing. There is a bit of a Revolutionary War theme going here don’t you think?

Timberlake has shown a good deal of potential in going from boy band idol to serious actor. He gets one step closer with this role. It is mainly upon him to carry the movie and he proves to have strong shoulders .Will has got essentially a good heart that he keeps hidden because he’s smart enough to know that it can get you killed in an environment such as this one. Timberlake plays him very minimally, allowing audiences to read between the lines of his performance. Maybe I’m reading too much into it but for my money this is his best performance to date. He’s not quite ready for the kind of stardom of, say, a Brad Pitt or a Matt Damon but he’s getting there.

Seyfried spends the film in a Louise Brooks-like wig that contributes to the overall retro look of the film. In a sense it makes her timeless. Seyfried has at times been impressive in her short career but I would have liked to see a little more fire from her here; something tells me that she was directed to be more subtle with her emotions.

Speaking of the look of the film, it’s an odd mix between high tech (the arm digital display) and retro (the vehicles are mostly chassis from the 60s and 70s souped up a little). Although the movie is set in the near future, there are characters in it who are a century old. One wonders if there was some reverse genetic engineering done for people who were alive when the breakthrough was made. Certainly the wealthy would have been the ones to receive such treatment.

There are some good action sequences here and a nice car chase, but this is more a movie about ideas than action. As such, it isn’t going to get a lot of love from the fanboys who like their sci-fi with phasers set to kill. I get the sense that the design of the future world wasn’t terribly well thought out and budget limitations probably kept them from making the world look too futuristic but this is a well written movie that makes it’s point rather firmly. I suspect Herman Cain might not like this movie much which might be all the reason you need to go and see it.

REASONS TO GO: An intriguing premise with lots of modern day allegories about class distinctions. Timberlake’s best performance to date.

REASONS TO STAY: Lacks imagination when designing the future.

FAMILY VALUES: There is a bit of violence, some sexuality (with a little bit of partial nudity thrown in for good measure) and a teensy bit of bad language.

TRIVIAL PURSUIT: Although Olivia Wilde plays Justin Timberlake’s mother in the film, she’s actually younger than he is in real life.

HOME OR THEATER: Some of the chase scenes are going to look a lot better on the big screen.

FINAL RATING: 7/10

TOMORROW: Dinner for Schmucks

New Releases for the Week of October 28, 2011


PUSS IN BOOTS

(DreamWorks) Starring the voices of Antonio Banderas, Salma Hayek, Zach Galifianakis, Billy Bob Thornton, Amy Sedaris, Constance Marie, Guillermo del Toro, Ryan Crego. Directed by Chris Miller

Everyone’s favorite swashbuckling feline from the Shrek series gets a film of his own as we get to see his humble origin story. Here he teams up with cat burglar Kitty Softpaws and the legendary Humpty Dumpty to save the town. I’m wondering when all the king’s horses show up.

See the trailer and featurettes here.

For more on the movie this is the website.

Release formats: Standard, 3D, IMAX 3D

Genre: Animated Feature

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

All’s Faire in Love

(Patriot Pictures) Christina Ricci, Matthew Lillard, Ann-Margaret, Cedric the Entertainer. A football star working off non-attendance at his Renaissance literature class and an investment banker who really wants to be an actress join a theatrical troupe at a Renaissance Faire. They must fend off a rival troupe in order to win the coveted Shakespearean stage spot and perhaps even fall in love.

See the trailer here.

For more on the movie this is the website

Release formats: Standard

Genre: Comedy

Rating: PG-13 (for some sexual content including references)

Anonymous

(Columbia) Rhys Ifans, Vanessa Redgrave, Joely Richardson, David Thewlis. There are scholars who contend that Shakespeare didn’t write the plays he is credited with. Director Roland Emmerich of Independence Day and The Day After Tomorrow contends that Shakespeare was a front for a member of the royal court for whom anonymity was a necessity.

See the trailer, clips and an interview here.

For more on the movie this is the website.

Release formats: Standard

Genre: Historical Drama

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

In Time

(20th Century Fox) Justin Timberlake, Amanda Seyfried, Cillian Murphy, Alex Pettyfer. In the not-too-distant future, people stop aging at 25 and time has become the new currency. When you run out of time, you run out of life. When Will Salas, who lives minute to minute, gets an unexpected windfall, it upsets the balance of things and triggers some very desperate people to do some very dangerous things.

See the trailer and clips here.

For more on the movie this is the website.

Release formats: Standard

Genre: Science Fiction

Rating: PG-13 (for violence, some sexuality and partial nudity, and brief strong language)

RA.One

(EROS International Worldwide) Shahrukh Khan, Kareena Kapoor, Arjun Rampal, Sanjay Dutt. This is the prequel to the enormously popular found footage horror series. It depicts, in the 80s, how the supernatural forces that beset Katie and Kristi came into their lives as young girls.

See the trailer here.

For more on the movie this is the website.

Release formats: Standard

Genre: Superhero Sci-Fi Action

Rating: NR

The Rum Diary

(FilmDistrict) Johnny Depp, Aaron Eckhart, Amber Heard, Richard Jenkins. From Hunter S. Thompson’s first novel, this is the story of a rumpled American journalist from the 1950s who leaves behind the New York City beat for a more laid-back lifestyle in Puerto Rico. There he discovers shady land developers, disreputable newspapermen, sexy Connecticut debutantes and perhaps a vestige of his own dignity.

See the trailer, clips and a promo here.

For more on the movie this is the website.

Release formats: Standard

Genre: Drama

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

Boogie Woogie


Boogie Woogie
But is it Art?

 

 

 

 

(2009) Drama (IFC) Gillian Anderson, Alan Cumming, Heather Graham, Danny Huston, Jack Huston, Christopher Lee, Joanna Lumley, Simon McBurney, Meredith Ostrom, Charlotte Rampling, Amanda Seyfried, Stellan Skarsgard, Jaime Winstone. Directed by Duncan Ward

Art for art’s sake was the motto at the old MGM studio, and that might well be the battle cry for all artists. There is always a sense that art elevates the soul, but too many take that to mean that it elevates themselves as well.

 

Art Spindle (D. Huston) is a London art dealer with a distinct lack of scruples. He is charming to the max, but lethal if you get in between him and what he wants. What he wants at the moment is the Piet Mondrian painting “Boogie Woogie,” which is owned by an elderly gentleman named Alfred Rhinegold (Lee) who is reluctant to part with it, despite the urgings of his wife (Lumley) who knows that they are in dire financial straits.

 

Art’s assistants Beth Freemantle (Graham) and Paige Oppenheimer (Seyfried) are ambitious and have their own agendas. One of them is to service Bob Macclestone (Skarsgard), a wealthy client who has a roving eye not just for art but for the ladies as well (and in particular for Beth), much to the despair of his wife Jean (Anderson).

 

Meanwhile, up and coming performance artist Elaine (Winstone) has been making a name for herself with her tapes of her lesbian sexual encounters, much to the chagrin of Dewey (Cumming), her manager who has a huge crush on Elaine. For Elaine, Dewey is a means to an end and nothing more. Her cold-heartedness leads to tragedy which sends repercussions throughout the London art scene.

 

This is an ensemble piece along the lines of Robert Altman, albeit set in contemporary London. This is also based on a stage play which was set in 1990s New York. The subject for both is the hypocrisy and snobbishness of the art world. That is much like writing a movie about the corruption of politics. It’s not any great revelation after all.

 

Huston does a serviceable job in the type of role he typically excels at – the smarmy snake oil salesman type. He has as foils Graham and Seyfried, two of the most beautiful women in the world. Lumley, who made her career in “Absolutely Fabulous,” has a bittersweet role here, while veterans Rampling and Lee hold their own.

 

Unfortunately, the cast is given mostly one-dimensional portraits of people who are absolutely rotten to the core, so much so that you may smell decay in your soul for weeks afterwards just for having watched them. They’re the kind of people who operate from the same moral compass as Rupert Murdoch does.

 

The movie bounces from vignette to vignette without any discernable rhyme or reason. The flow of the movie is therefore choppy and at times it feels like you’re watching two or three movies spliced together with duct tape. The pace could have used some tweaking too – they could have easily cut 10-15 minutes out of the script and gotten away with it.

This is as talented a cast as you’re likely to assemble. It is also the biggest waste of talent you’re likely to see. It’s unfortunate too; an ensemble like this deserves better material. Sadly, this is a case of a script that doesn’t have too much to say about a subject that doesn’t require much.

 

WHY RENT THIS: There’s a lot of talent here.

WHY RENT SOMETHING ELSE: A waste of talent. The movie feels like a collection of scenes strung together at random at times. Pacing could have used some tightening up.

FAMILY VALUES: There is a very sexual element here; lots of innuendo, graphic nudity and frank sexual discussions. There’s also foul language throughout as well as a smattering of drug use.

TRIVIAL PURSUIT: Graham and Lee voiced the characters of opposing leaders in the videogame “Everquest 2.” Skarsgard and Seyfried also worked together in Mamma Mia!

NOTABLE DVD EXTRAS: None listed.

BOX OFFICE PERFORMANCE: $47,527 on an unreported production budget; this didn’t even come close to making its money back.

FINAL RATING: 4/10

TOMORROW: My Blueberry Nights

Mamma Mia!


Mamma Mia!

Blondes do have more fun, especially in the Greek isles.

(2008) Musical (Universal) Meryl Streep, Pierce Brosnan, Amanda Seyfried, Colin Firth, Stellan Skarsgard, Julia Walters, Dominic Cooper, Christine Baranski, Rachel McDowall, Ashley Lilley, Ricardo Montez, George Georgiou.  Directed by Phyllida Lloyd

I will admit it. I was a big ABBA fan in the 70s. Their influence can be felt in music today, from the alternative Swedish pop movement to the pop music of Rihanna and Lady Gaga. They were a phenomenon in their time, and despite the critical scorn heaped upon them, they actually wrote some pretty good music that stands the test of time.

That music also spawned a stage musical that has sold tens of millions of tickets all over the world. This is what is called a “jukebox musical,” one which is written around already established songs rather than having original songs. More on that in a moment.

Sophie (Seyfried) is getting married which is reason enough to rejoice. She is obviously deeply in love with Sky (Cooper), her fella but the one fly in the ointment is that she doesn’t know who her dad is. Her mom Donna (Streep), an ex-pop singer who has retired to the Greek Islands to run a taverna and raise a daughter on her own isn’t talking so Sophie resorts to reading her mom’s diary to find a clue and comes up with three possibilities; Bill (Skarsgard), an adventurer; Harry (Firth) a financier and Sam (Brosnan), a handsome guy.

Sophie invites all three to the wedding. It takes a little time for the boys to figure it out but eventually they realize that they could be daddy. In the meantime, Sophie tries to hide the three of them from her mom, who eventually discovers them. Not a happy surprise, let me tell you.

Mom has invited her best friends and bandmates Rosie (Walters) and Tanya (Baranski) more as moral support than anything else, but also so the three can perform at the bachelorette party for Sophie. However, the appearance of these three men has thrown Donna into turmoil, and Sophie is beginning to have doubts about her wedding too. Can love save the day?

If it can’t, ABBA certainly can. The music of the Swedish supergroup is infectious and uplifting; it’s hard not to crack a smile to songs like “Dancing Queen” and “Take a Chance on Me.” Director Phyllida Lloyd (who also directed the stage version) utilizes the beautiful Greek island landscape to further up the sunshine quotient.

Streep, who has sung onscreen previously in such films as The Prairie Home Companion and Silkwood, is the champ here. She belts out her tunes with confidence and aplomb and her rendition of “The Winner Takes it All” is a showstopper, one in which even the jaded movie theater audience applauded and cheered to. Certainly at home, you’ll feel goosebumps at the very least.

Unfortunately, not all of the cast fares quite as well. Firth has a pleasant enough voice and Seyfried is strong if not as gifted as Streep but Skarsgard is a much better actor than a singer and Brosnan…well, I like the man but his duet with Streep had me literally wincing. He can’t sing period.

Still, the singing and dancing is mostly okay, and is at least energetic if not always competent. While the acting performances are solid enough, if you’re going to cast a musical I think it’s wise to put people who can sing and dance in it; that is, after all, why we’re seeing the movie no?

Now about jukebox musicals in general; while they don’t disturb me in principle, they have an inherent flaw. Because the songs are already written, the plot must be written around the songs. In regular musicals, the songs are written to enhance and advance the plot; here the plot is set decoration to the songs. The story, which bears a remarkable resemblance to the 1968 Gina Lollabrigida movie Buona Sera, Mrs. Campbell (a fact that the makers of the musical have written of as coincidental) often takes twists and turns and careens right into the ludicrous.

Still, there is the kind of energy that makes you feel good just radiating from the film. Kudos have to be given to the producers and Lloyd for making the movie feel like a movie. Often stage plays that are converted to the big screen have a stagey feel to them, but the beautiful Greek backdrop lessens that to a large extent. You don’t ever feel like you’re viewing this over a proscenium.

However be warned; Lloyd’s decision to let all the actors do their own dancing and singing was a questionable one at best and if she was going to pursue that route, she should have damn well made sure that her cast could handle it. It’s not like there aren’t leading men out there who could have handled the singing and dancing (Hugh Jackman and Neil Patrick Harris anybody?) at least adequately. Still, you know what you’re going to get going in and if you’re an ABBA fan, this is heaven on earth. If you’re a movie fan…not so much.

WHY RENT THIS: Joyous and energetic; it’s hard not to be uplifted. Streep is a surprisingly strong singer and Seyfried became a star. Not as stagey as you might expect.

WHY RENT SOMETHING ELSE: Some of the singing and dancing is really, really bad. The plot is shoehorned in to fit the songs, rather than songs written to enhance the plot.

FAMILY VALUES: There are a few comments that are sexually-oriented but otherwise pretty harmless.

TRIVIAL PURSUIT: The film was the first to film on the new Pinewood 007 stage after the original had been destroyed in a fire.

NOTABLE DVD EXTRAS: There’s an interesting featurette on training the actors to sing, as well as a complete musical number that was cut from the final print (“The Name of the Game”). The Blu-Ray edition also includes the “sing-along” version (with lyrics subtitled during the songs) and Universal’s signature “U-Control” feature with picture-in-picture interviews and trivia. There is also a Gift Box edition that includes the soundtrack on CD as well as a nicely done booklet about the genesis of the film from on stage to on screen.

BOX OFFICE PERFORMANCE: $609.8M on a $52M production budget; the movie was a blockbuster.

FINAL RATING: 5/10

TOMORROW: Seraphim Falls

Letters to Juliet


Letters to Juliet

When Victor looks into Sophie's eyes, he can see a really fine...chianti.

(2010) Romantic Comedy (Summit) Amanda Seyfried, Christopher Egan, Gael Garcia Bernal, Vanessa Redgrave, Franco Nero, Oliver Platt, Marcia DeBonis, Luisa Ranieri, Marina Massironi, Lydia Biondi, Milena Vukotic, Luisa De Santis. Directed by Gary Winick

Nearly all of us have at least a ghost of a bit of romance within us. We secretly believe that the secret to our redemption is that great love, the one that is trumpets and swans and fireworks exploding overhead. We want our love to be grand gestures; we want it overcome every obstacle. We also want it to be eternal.

Sophie (Seyfried) and her fiancée Victor (Bernal) are on a little pre-marriage vacation to beautiful Verona in Italy. It’s partially a working vacation – Victor is in the midst of opening an Italian restaurant back in New York and he’s all about wine tasting, finding the right ingredients so he can present New Yorkers with the most authentic Italian cuisine ever.

Sophie is working as a fact-checker for the New Yorker and longs to be a writer, which her editor (Platt) encourages somewhat. She also longs to sightsee beyond the interior of wineries and cheese factories, indeed to experience the romance and charm of Verona firsthand.

In wandering about the ancient town she comes upon a strange sight – dozens of women, some obviously upset and distraught, leaving letters and notes on the wall of a courtyard of a Renaissance-era home. She learns that this was the palace of the Capulets, the family of Juliet (of Romeo and) herself, and these women are seeking her advice in love.

To her astonishment, she discovers that these letters to a 13-year-old fictional character are actually being answered – by a group of older women who call themselves the Secretaries of Juliet. Intrigued, she joins them and begins to write responses of her own. One in particular grabs her imagination – a 50-year-old letter found hidden behind a rock in the wall, belonging to a lovestruck teen named Claire who found the love of her life in a Tuscan farmer named Lorenzo Bartolini but chose to give him up for practical considerations, then regretted her decision. Sophie writes an impassioned letter back to Claire, urging her to return and find her love.

Amazingly the letter finds its way to Claire (Redgrave) who shows up in Verona and brings her flinty, curmudgeonly grandson Charlie (Egan) in tow. Charlie’s not a big believer in love or romance and considers this so much foolishness, but he obviously adores his grandmother so he goes along for the ride reluctantly, wanting to be there to protect her.

Inspired by Sophie’s letter as Juliet, Claire means to find her Lorenzo. The problem is that there are apparently quite a few men named Lorenzo Bartolini in Italy and so they must weed out all the wrong Lorenzos. This means quite a bit of driving through the bucolic Italian countryside, many opportunities for the romantic Sophie to argue with the pragmatic Charlie (they’re so at odds with each other you just know they’re going to wind up together) and the increasingly conflicted Sophie texts with Victor, wondering now if perhaps she’s not making the same mistake Claire did half a century earlier.

Romantic comedies are a dime a dozen these days but good ones are on the endangered species list of Hollywood. Fortunately, this is a pretty good one for the most part, mainly due to the travelogue-like Italian countryside, beautifully photographed for sun-dappled orchards and vineyards, bright blue skies and charming villages. Equally charming is Seyfried, who can be one of the more likable actresses when she has the right part. You would think this would be right up her alley, but she is curiously lifeless here; I’ve seen her far more energetic in parts that were less worthy of it. It’s a bit disappointing – I do like her very much as an actress – but not fatal.

More pleasant is Redgrave, who plays the elderly lover with wide-eyed wonder, both the wise mentor and the eternal ingénue. She lights up the screen whenever she’s on, and her scenes with Nero (who plays the right Bartolini) instantly transport you back to the days of Camelot when Nero’s Lancelot fell for Redgrave’s Guinevere. The two have the kind of chemistry you can’t fake (see Trivial Pursuits below) and it adds a nice touch to the movie. Bernal is kind of the odd man out here, as close as there is to an antagonist; he’s merely more passionate about his restaurant than he is about Sophie and in some ways I can’t blame him.

The charm here is easy to digest, perfect for mindless cuddling. There is a sense of romance that is missing from most romantic comedies these days, which seem to concentrate more on buffoonish physical gags and formulaic script writing than in making an interesting story about believable people. There is a little bit of that here – as in Charlie and Sophie detesting each other so much that you know they’ll be together by the final credits. That does knock down the final score a bit, but it’s still an enjoyable, charming little romance. Unfortunately, it’s little else.

WHY RENT THIS: A bit of sweetness here, particularly when Redgrave is onscreen. Plenty of gorgeous Italian countryside to feast your eyes upon.

WHY RENT SOMETHING ELSE: Pretty much by-the-numbers romantic comedy. Seyfried is curiously de-energized here.

FAMILY VALUES: There is a little bit of bad language (but only a smidge) and an inkling of sexual behavior.

TRIVIAL PURSUIT: Redgrave and Nero are a couple in real life, marrying 40 years after meeting on the set of Camelot; also real are the secretaries for Juliet, who actually do answer letters left behind in Verona and are known as the Juliet Club.

NOTABLE DVD EXTRAS: There is a five minute feature on the actual courtyard in Verona where letters to Juliet are placed.

BOX OFFICE PERFORMANCE: $79.1M on a $30M production budget; the movie was profitable.

FINAL RATING: 5.5/10

TOMORROW: Dylan Dog: Dead of Night

Red Riding Hood


Red Riding Hood

Gary Oldman reacts to charges that this is Twilight with werewolves.

(2011) Romantic Fantasy (Warner Brothers) Amanda Seyfried, Gary Oldman, Billy Burke, Shiloh Fernandez, Max Irons, Virginia Madsen, Julie Christie, Lukas Haas, Shauna Kane, Michael Hogan, Adrian Holmes, Cole Heppell, Michael Shanks. Directed by Catherine Hardwicke

The woods are deep and dark for a reason. There are things there that defy the world we know and keep to the shadows, leaping out only when some helpless unsuspecting maiden passes by.

Valerie (Seyfried) lives in a bucolic village in the woods surrounded by snow-capped mountains. It is winter and the woods have become dark and threatening. It is full moon night and a sacrifice is being left out for the wolf that has beset their village for generations.

She has been in love with Peter (Fernandez), a woodcutter who works with her father Cesaire (Burke) who mostly drinks. Her mother Suzette (Madsen) however has promised her to another – Henry (Irons), the blacksmith’s boy and considerably well-to-do in a village like this. It’s a great match – only Valerie loves Peter, not Henry.

Things start to go wrong when Valerie’s sister turns up dead at the hands of the wolf. The townspeople go out to hunt the beast dead. It turns out the hunters killed a beast but not the beast. They call in Father Solomon (Oldman), an expert hunter who asserts they have a werewolf at work – and the beast lives among them in their human form.

Suspicion turns on everyone, from Valerie’s quirky grandma (Christie) living out in the woods by herself to Valerie herself. At first the villagers pooh-pooh the good Father but when the werewolf crashes their celebration, there is no longer any doubt that they are dealing with a diabolical beast. But which one of them is it? And can they stop the beast in time?

Director Catherine Hardwicke last did Twilight and obviously this is the kind of thing that is in her comfort zone. It has all the elements that made that movie a hit; a virginal lead forced to choose between two hotties that have a secret that involves the supernatural. However, what this movie lacks is that sense of tragedy that makes the hearts of teen girls go pitter pat. Twilight works because there’s that knowledge that Bella and Edward can never be together and because if they do, they will both be changed forever.

That’s not here at all; there’s nothing epic about the romantic angle at all and say what you will about the Twilight series, that quality is there in spades. You have to care about the couple in a romantic fantasy or else it doesn’t work. Here, the sparks never really fly. Seyfried is a fine actress and Fernandez and Irons are both pretty good in their own rights, but the chemistry fails here.

The location is really beautiful which is inevitable because it’s mostly computer generated. Majestic snow-capped mountains, endless dark green swaths of forest and quaint vaguely-Germanic villages make it a fantasy setting right out of Grimm’s Fairy Tales. In a sense, the location is too perfect, too bucolic – at times the sense of menace that should be palpable is overwhelmed by the charm of the setting.

The werewolf itself is also a bit of a letdown – it’s more of a big shaggy dog than anything else and the wolfish side which should be wild and untamed is suborned by a silly ability to communicate telepathically with Valerie. He comes off like a talking animal and less of a ferocious monster. So as a horror movie, this doesn’t really work either.

So it boils down to suspense, figuring out who the werewolf is. Quite frankly, it’s not that hard – Da Queen figured it out pretty damn quickly, even more so than her movie-loving husband. Still, it’s not difficult to spot the wolf, as it were – and that is also a problem.

It’s a movie that needed more guidance from the writer; it’s almost as if three different studio executives with three different ideas for the movie were telling the writer “More romance. No, more horror. No, it’s gotta have suspense.” In trying to be something for everybody it ends up being nothing to anybody.

REASONS TO GO: Some beautiful-looking sequences. Some of the music is impressive.

REASONS TO STAY: Isn’t terrifying enough to be horror; not sentimental enough to be romance; too mundane to be a suspense film.

FAMILY VALUES: There’s violence and sensuality, along with some creature feature-like thrills.

TRIVIAL PURSUIT: Actor Max Irons is the son of Jeremy Irons.

HOME OR THEATER: Some of the wide CGI vistas are best seen at the multiplex.

FINAL RATING: 5/10

TOMORROW: Inugami

New Releases for the Week of March 11, 2011


March 11, 2011

Even alien invaders love to blow a good smoke ring.

BATTLE: LOS ANGELES

(Columbia) Aaron Eckhart, Michelle Rodriguez, Bridget Moynahan, Ne-Yo, Michael Pena, Ramon Rodriguez, Noel Fisher. Directed by Jonathan Liebesman

Those pesky aliens are back and they are after Los Angeles in a big way. Having taken over most of the rest of the world, they only have L.A. to take down and then Earth is theirs. Mankind will make its last stand in the City of Angels, which could be bad news for mankind;  saving the planet might have to wait if there’s really bad traffic.

See the trailer, promos, interviews, clips and a featurette here.

For more on the movie this is the website.

Release formats: Standard

Genre: Science Fiction Action

Rating: PG-13 (for sustained and intense sequences of war violence and destruction and for language)

Even the Rain 

(Vitagraph) Gael Garcia Bernal, Luis Tosar, Karra Elejalde, Raul Arevalo. A film crew making a movie about the landing of Christopher Columbus in the Americas becomes involved with the fight of native aboriginals of Bolivia to secure water rights in the small village of Cochabamba. The concurrent story of Columbus’ affect on the natives as well as their fight for rights in the 21st century makes for a powerful juxtaposition.

See the trailer and a clip here.

For more on the movie this is the website.

Release formats: Standard

Genre: Drama

Rating: NR

Mars Needs Moms

(Disney) Starring the voices of Seth Green, Dan Fogler, Joan Cusack, Mindy Kaling. From the folks that brought you The Polar Express comes this new motion capture film about a young boy who, like most young boys, resents his mother because she demands soooo much from him. When she is kidnapped to provide some mothering to Martian children, however, he accidentally stows away and realizes he must find a way to bring her back home and along the way gets an interesting new perspective on what it means to be a parent.

See the trailer, clips and a featurette here.

For more on the movie this is the website.

Release formats: Standard, 3D, IMAX 3D

Genre: Animated Science Fiction Feature

Rating: PG (for for sci-fi action and peril)

Red Riding Hood

(Warner Brothers) Amanda Seyfried, Gary Oldman, Billy Burke, Virginia Madsen. When a werewolf terrorizes a small village, a famed wolf hunter is called in to help hunt down the beast. When he declares that the beast is human by day, suspicion falls on a young girl and several who are close to her. When it appears she has a connection with the werewolf, she becomes prime suspect numero uno – or, failing that, bait for the beast.

See the trailer here.

For more on the movie this is the website.

Release formats: Standard

Genre: Horror

Rating: R (for violence and creature terror, and some sensuality)

Dear John


Dear John

Sharing a kiss in a southern summer rain.

(2010) Romantic Drama (Screen Gems) Channing Tatum, Amanda Seyfried, Richard Jenkins, Henry Thomas, Keith Robinson, Scott Porter, Braeden Reed, D.J. Cotrona, Cullen Moss, Leslea Fisher. Directed by Lasse Halstrom

Nicholas Sparks is a novelist, many of whose works have been turned into movies (all based in his native South Carolina at least to some degree) including The Notebook, A Walk to Remember and The Last Song. There are many who adore his novels and although I haven’t read them, I’m sure he’s a decent enough writer. In all honesty while I liked the adaptation of The Notebook, I have not been felt the magic in his other adaptations.

So when noted director Lasse Halstrom (Cider House Rules, What’s Eating Gilbert Grape, The Shipping News) was attached to it, I had some hopes that this movie might actually be the second Nicholas Sparks movie to move me.

No such luck. John Tyree (Tatum) is a soldier on leave who must return to Germany in a few days in the summer of 2001. When young Savannah Curtis (Seyfried) accidentally knocks her purse into the water off of a pier, John dives in to its rescue, forever earning her gratitude. Yes, it’s yet another case of a sodden accessory leading to romance. Happens all the time.

There before our eyes young love blossoms. We know it does because there are montages of late summer South Carolina and soulful music. But then he has to return to his post in Germany. But they’ll write….he’ll send her all his love every day in a letter….sealed with a kiss. Hey, they had to say goodbye for the summer after all.

Of course, September arrives and we all know what happened in September 2001. His enlistment nearly over, John winds up with a choice – either love or duty. This being a Nicholas Sparks movie, he chooses duty. Savannah understands but she winds up falling in love with someone else while he’s gone; hence the double entendre title. Clever, this Nicholas Sparks fellow.

I neglected to mention the autism factor here. Sparks’ son suffers from a mild form of autism and so that becomes a major theme here. Savannah has a neighbor (Thomas) whose son (Reed) is autistic. John’s dad (Jenkins) is mildly autistic, or at least so Savannah thinks – this leads to a fairly major argument between John and Savannah.

Halstrom is a gifted director who has a habit of choosing material that is overly maudlin. Sparks is pretty much the poster boy for maudlin, 21st century style. That’s why the pairing of the two makes much more sense than it at first appears. Like with most Sparks works, there is a palpable sense of melancholy that suffuses the mellow golds and oranges of the half-light of a South Carolina sunset. It lends a certain nostalgic air, particularly with the scene, pictured above, in which the lovers kiss in an idyllic summer shower. Yes, it’s very cliché but it’s also very effective.

Seyfried is a very charming actress but sadly in my opinion, she has a much smaller role than you would think. It is Tatum who must carry the load, and quite frankly it’s a little beyond him at this point. He is not one of the most emotionally open of actors, which in a situation where the audience needs to strongly identify with the lead, can be a deal-killer. Tatum is good looking and when given roles in his emotional wheelhouse can bat them out of the park, but this one is not one of those.

A quick word about Richard Jenkins. Ever since winning an Oscar nomination for The Visitor Jenkins has performed in a series of roles that have played to his strengths. This is actually a little bit different than we usually see from him; he is pushed in the role of the coin-collecting dad who cooks lasagna every Sunday (my kind of dad) and has a bit of the obsessive-compulsive to him. Jenkins lends the role dignity and compassion and makes it the most interesting and human of all the characters here.

Dear John isn’t going to boost me on to the Nicholas Sparks bandwagon; for me, he is an acquired taste that I have failed to acquire. I realize that there are some who think he is the bee’s knees, and that’s fine – there is nothing wrong with a good bittersweet romance. I would just like to see a little variation in the storyline and until then, his first movie that I had contact with – The Notebook – remains the one that I will hold up as the bar to judge all his adaptations against and unfortunately, Dear John falls short of that bar.

WHY RENT THIS: Nice chemistry between Tatum and Seyfried. Jenkins as always puts in a memorable performance.

WHY RENT SOMETHING ELSE: The Nicholas Sparks formula holds true. Seyfried’s character disappears for a good chunk of the movie and when she reappears near the end, the movie loses a lot of its steam.

FAMILY VALUES: There is a little bit of violence and a little bit of sensuality but not so much as to alienate family audiences.

TRIVIAL PURSUIT: This was the movie that dethroned Avatar from the #1 spot in the box office which it had held since its debut in December 2009.

NOTABLE DVD EXTRAS: There is a moving featurette on Braeden Reed, the actor who has autism in real life and plays the autistic Alan here.

BOX OFFICE PERFORMANCE: $115M on a $25M budget; the movie was a hit.

FINAL RATING: 5/10

TOMORROW: When in Rome

Jennifer’s Body


Jennifer's Body

Besties belly up to the bar before the barroom gets baked.

(Rogue) Megan Fox, Amanda Seyfried, Johnny Simmons, Adam Brody, J.K. Simmons, Amy Sedaris, Kyle Gallner, Aman Johal, Lance Henriksen. Directed by Karyn Kusama

Diablo Cody, a former exotic dancer, bagged Oscar gold with her screenplay for Juno and became something of a mini-celebrity in her own right, a status rarely accorded screenwriters. The problem with being a flavor of the week, unfortunately, is that sooner or later the week comes to an end and your cooking is judged on its own merits.

Jennifer Check (Fox) is the girl next door in sleepy Devil’s Kettle (so named for a waterfall that disappears down a glacial pothole) if you happen to live next door to the head cheerleader, homecoming queen and town hottie all rolled into one. Jennifer’s best friend is “Needy” Lesnicky (one presumes her parents didn’t put that first name on the birth certificate) who wears unattractive glasses, has a perpetually concerned expression on her face and actually does well in school. Needy (Seyfried) isn’t a goody two-shoes by any stretch of the imagination but there is something in her that Jennifer bonds with.

The two head to a local roadhouse to see an indie rock band called Low Shoulder play. During the show, the roadhouse catches fire and burns to the ground. The band, Jennifer and Needy are among the survivors, but the body count is pretty severe for a small town. All Needy wants to do is go home, crawl under the covers and stay there but Jennifer inexplicably decides to hook up with Low Shoulder frontman Nikolai Wolf (Brody) much to Needy’s concern.

When she doesn’t hear from Jennifer for hours, Needy starts getting frantic, even calling her boyfriend Chip Dove (Simmons) in a tizzy. Eventually Jennifer shows up, but there’s something strange about her. She has a hunger for raw meat – and she vomits up a respectable stream of black goo.

The next day at school, Jennifer acts as if nothing has happened but soon afterwards a local jock turns up horribly murdered, eviscerated and partially eaten. Police are thinking wild animal, but Needy knows better. She confronts Jennifer who tells her the horrible truth; Low Shoulder had driven her to the Devil’s Kettle where they sacrificed her to the devil in exchange for success (and sure enough they got it with a hit record released after the fire). However, the dimwitted musicians had messed up – they were supposed to sacrifice a virgin which Jennifer was most decidedly not, so she wound up possessed by a demon. When she feeds on the blood of a living human, she becomes super powered; strong, nearly invulnerable and able to fart a long stream of flame. Okay, so I was lying about the last one, but that would have been really cool.

Needy is torn. On the one hand, her friend is murdering local boys and eating them, but she’s still her BFF so she can’t betray her. All bets are off, however, when Jennifer turns her carnivorous attentions onto Chip at the prom.

Cody has a great ear for dialogue, particularly in the high school vernacular. In other words, she speaks the language of the teenager, with all the slang, jargon and craptacular turns of phrase popular among Generation RFNGDI. Unfortunately, like most teenaged slang, you get the sense that the characters, and through them the filmmakers, are talking down to the audience. “Hey, we’re hipper than you and more in the know. If you don’t speak our language, you don’t deserve to watch our movie.” It’s an elitist conceit and unfortunately it instantly dates the movie, which will lose its relevance within four or five years simply because teenaged dialogue changes almost yearly.

So as a touchpoint for teenaged culture it is, like all such touchpoints, very temporary. Will the rest of the movie stand on its own merits? To put it frankly, probably not; it’s essentially at its heart a pretty standard horror movie with a slightly elevated ambition. Kusama directs it well enough, but playing the movie as an extended flashback takes away a lot of the suspense at the end – you know that Needy is going to survive the prom. The only question is whether Chip and/or Jennifer are.

There is some gore, some of it pretty gooey, but the gore is really played off to the side. There is also sexuality, but no nudity, so the movie in some ways doesn’t even have the courage of its convictions from that standpoint. There is a make-out scene between Needy and Jennifer that’s plenty hot, but besides that the sexuality is pretty tame. I would have liked the movie to allow itself to go to extremes in both areas; if you’re going to be an R-rated horror movie, you might as well push the envelope.

Fox is surprisingly good in her role of Jennifer, or at least better than her work in the two Transformers movies. She’s not yet at the point where I look to see her movies for her performances rather than her looks, but this is a step in the right direction. Seyfried is even better as the plucky heroine Needy; yes, the character does some incredibly stupid horror heroine cliché things during the course of the movie that no sane, rational person would EVER do but Seyfried still imbues the character with personality. Ever since breaking out in Mamma Mia she has improved each time I’ve seen her onscreen; she is certainly on the road to being an actress that I go to a movie just because she’s in it.

Cody is a clever writer, perhaps too clever for her own good. I would like to see her apply her talents to a movie that isn’t trying to be hip in a specific time and place, but one that is timeless and will stand long beyond its shelf life. I don’t know where she stands on horror movies per se, but I get the sense that she has a fondness for them – even while she pokes fun at some of the conventions as she does here. There’s nothing wrong with that – Scream and it’s successors made bank doing just that – but if you’re going to relate to a single target audience, well, be well-assured that you are subject to the whims of that target audience and when it’s as fickle as the teen audience is, you’re already treading water before the movie makes it to the video store shelves. For the record, I really wanted to like the movie much more than I ended up doing. Still, it’s not a bad movie, it just could have – and should have – been way better. That’s just freaktarded.

WHY RENT THIS: Seyfried does a pretty good job as the plucky heroine. Some pretty neat shocks and terror sequences.

WHY RENT SOMETHING ELSE: The script is a bit too hip for its own good; it comes off as talking down to people, which is never a good thing. Essentially this is a standard horror movie with contemporary dialogue.

FAMILY VALUES: There is plenty of gore, although not as much as other horror movies. There is also a lot of sexuality although no nudity. There’s a crapload of foul language and a couple of scenes of drug use; in short, it’s rated “R” for a reason.

TRIVIAL PURSUIT: The movie title derives from a song by Courtney Love’s band Hole.

NOTABLE DVD EXTRAS: There are a series of video diaries from the various stars and filmmakers; there is also a montage of Megan Fox being, well, Megan Fox. Diablo Cody gets the spotlight on a “Life After Film School” segment from the Fox Movie Channel.

FINAL RATING: 5.5/10

TOMORROW: Flipped

New Releases for the Week of May 14, 2010


May 14, 2010
Robin Hood takes aim, which means someone is going to get perforated.

ROBIN HOOD

(Universal) Russell Crowe, Cate Blanchett, Danny Huston, William Hurt, Max von Sydow, Mark Strong, Matthew Macfayden, Kevin Durand. Directed by Ridley Scott

The latest reimagining of the legend of Robin Hood reunites the Gladiator team of director Scott and actor Crowe. Here, a lethal bowman in the Crusades returns home to find Nottingham suffering under the rule of a despotic Sheriff enforcing the rule of a cruel monarch. Only the spirited widow Lady Marion acts as a beacon of hope for the downtrodden people of Nottingham. Robin determines to free the people from the yoke of oppression and gathers together a crew of mercenaries and outlaws to steal from the rich to give to the poor, but finds himself embroiled in larger issues – as in keeping his country from descending into a bloody civil war.

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

For more on the movie this is the website.

Release formats: Standard

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

Harry Brown

(Goldwyn) Michael Caine, Emily Mortimer, Liam Cunningham, Iain Glen. Harry Brown lives in a flat in a neighborhood that while once good, has fallen into ruin and crime. The police are unwilling or unable to do anything about it. Harry’s only companion is Leonard, his closest friend. When Leonard is murdered by the gang bangers, Harry – a former military man – takes matters into his own hands.

See the trailer, clips and a music video here.

For more on the movie this is the website.

Release formats: Standard

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

House Full

(Eros International) Akshay Kumar, Ritesh Deshmukh, Deepika Padukone, Lara Dutta. When a young man gets fed up with all his rotten luck, he decides that only finding true love will break him out of the cursed life he is leading. The quickest way to find true love is to date as many women as possible, so he dates three women at once – and through a series of misadventures, winds up married to all three of them in this Bollywood comedy.

See the trailer here.

For more on the movie this is the website.

Release formats: Standard

Rating: Not Rated (but parental guidance recommended due to comic violence and some sexual situations)

Just Wright

(Fox Searchlight) Queen Latifah, Common, Paula Patton, Phylicia Rashad. A physical therapist finds she is falling for a pro basketball player whom she is rehabilitating from a career-threatening injury. The relationship is threatened when her man-eating best friend also sets her sights on the NBA star.

See the trailer here.

For more on the movie this is the website.

Release formats: Standard

Rating: PG (for some suggestive material and brief language)

Letters to Juliet

(Summit) Amanda Seyfried, Vanessa Redgrave, Christopher Egan, Gael Garcia Bernal. A young American woman engaged to be married takes a vacation to romantic Verona and winds up joining a group of volunteers who answer letters from the lovelorn addressed to Juliet, of the Shakespeare play Romeo and Juliet. One particular letter grabs her imagination and she sets out to bring two people together who have been waiting 50 years for it, and finds the meaning of love in the process.

See the trailer here.

For more on the movie this is the website.

Release formats: Standard

Rating: PG (for brief rude behavior, some language and incidental smoking)