New Releases for the Week of July 15, 2016


GhostbustersGHOSTBUSTERS

(Columbia) Melissa McCarthy, Kristen Wiig, Kate McKinnon, Leslie Jones, Chris Hemsworth, Charles Dance, Andy Garcia, Cecily Strong. Directed by Paul Feig

Four women with different skills – an engineer, a physicist, a paranormal investigator and a subway token taker who knows New York City like the back of her hand – come together to fight a supernatural threat that menaces the Big Apple. This is a reboot of the 1984 classic which has been a bit controversial in the fanboy community because they are using an all-female team. Most of the original cast makes cameo appearances.

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

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

Rating: PG-13 (for supernatural action and some crude humor)

The Infiltrator

(Broad Green) Bryan Cranston, Diane Krueger, Benjamin Bratt, John Leguizamo. The true story of DEA agent Robert Mazur who went undercover in Pablo Escobar’s organization and ended up masterminding the biggest drug bust in U.S. history. Along with his team, Mazur is risking his family and his very life to take down one of the biggest drug kingpins in the world.

See the trailer, interviews, a featurette, a clip and B-roll video here.
For more on the movie this is the website.

Release Formats: Standard
Genre: True Life Drama
Now Playing: Wide Release

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

Undrafted

(Vertical) Tyler Hoechlin, Aaron Tveit, Chace Crawford, James Belushi. It was just a summer intramural baseball game, and for this bunch of misfit players who have not much of a future in the sport, it shouldn’t have been anything more than that. Unpredictably, it becomes the most important game of their lives.

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

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

Rating: NR

Kill the Messenger


Jeremy Renner doesn't want Matthew Lintz to hear what he's about to tell Rosemarie DeWitt.

Jeremy Renner doesn’t want Matthew Lintz to hear what he’s about to tell Rosemarie DeWitt.

(2014) True Life Drama (Focus) Jeremy Renner, Rosemarie DeWitt, Matthew Lintz, Oliver Platt, Michael Sheen, Mary Elizabeth Winstead, Robert Patrick, Barry Pepper, Andy Garcia, Paz Vega, Tim Blake Nelson, Richard Schiff, Ray Liotta, Dan Futterman, Gil Bellows, Aaron Farb, Josh Close, Yul Vazquez, Michael Kenneth Williams, Jen Harper, Jena Sims. Directed by Michael Cuesta

In 1996, Gary Webb was an investigative reporter working in the Sacramento bureau for the San Jose Mercury News. He had been part of a Pulitzer Prize-winning team for the newspaper’s coverage of the 1989 Loma Prieta Earthquake.

While covering the trial of a drug dealer (Farb) he is contacted by a beautiful, sexy but mysterious Latina woman (Vega) – the dealer’s girlfriend – who drops off some documents that his lawyer had been given during discovery, documents that clearly had never meant to be given to the lawyer. In it, the dealer had been apparently working for the United States government back in the ’80s as a paid informant – and selling drugs while he was. Not such a big deal until it became clear that the CIA was who he was selling drugs for.

Webb would dig deeper and discover that the proceeds of the drug sales were being used to fund the Contras in the civil war going on in Nicaragua, a war that then-President Reagan desperately wanted to wage and one in which Congress had forbidden him to do so. He would visit Nicaraguan jails, abandoned airfields, chasing his story wherever his leads took him.

With a supportive editor (Winstead), a loving wife (DeWitt) and a son (Lintz) who was as proud of him as could be, he brought all his facts together and wrote a multi-part series called Dark Alliance delineating the ties between the epidemic of crack cocaine that was impoverishing America’s inner cities, the Contra rebels and the Central Intelligence Agency. The Merc’s state of the art website (at the time) proudly pimped the articles for those outside of San Jose to peruse.

It was a bombshell. One of the first new stories to go viral, it brought Webb great acclaim and notoriety. Still, he’s warned by a former CIA whistleblower (Sheen) that the CIA would come after him by making the story not about the facts but about Webb himself. And that’s just what happened. The other major newspapers – the New York Times, the Los Angeles Times and the Washington Post – attacked Webb’s reporting and all but insinuated that he’d made the story up out of whole cloth. His own newspaper essentially threw him under the bus, refusing to defend their own reporter and his story even though they had every chance to confirm it during the editorial process. It was not the paper’s finest hour.

In the interest of full disclosure, I myself worked for the Circulation department of the San Jose Mercury News before getting laid off in 2006 after their afternoon edition was discontinued. The events depicted in this movie mainly took place after I’d left and I didn’t know Webb at all (he worked out of Sacramento and I was at the main office in San Jose) although I was acquainted with a number of people in the newsroom including Jerry Ceppos, the managing editor who is played by the great Oliver Platt here.

The movie is trying to be a journalism/political thriller along the lines of a All the President’s Men. Some hold Webb in the same regard as Woodward and Bernstein are held in terms of investigative journalism. There is a curiously flat tone to the movie; Renner as Webb often articulates that his job is to bring the facts to the public and at times it feels like the movie is being directed by Jack Webb (no relation).

As I said, I didn’t know Webb in his Mercury News days and so I can’t say for certain how well Renner portrays the late reporter. His son Eric says that Renner caught his father’s essence and mannerisms to a “T” so I’ll go with his assessment on that. Renner is a passionate actor and this is a passion project for him.

As you can imagine, the movie’s presence has resurrected some of the old debates. Washington Post investigative journalism team managing editor wrote an op-ed last Friday excoriating Webb and calling the movie fiction. Other sources including the Narco News – an online newspaper that reports mainly on America’s war on drugs and other Latin American issues – have fired back, defending Webb. As for you dear reader, you don’t have to take anyone’s word on the veracity of Webb’s work. You can see it for yourself including the supporting documents – all published online in 1996 – at the Narco News here.

Frankly I don’t have the wherewithal to join the debate much. The piece itself remains explosive and controversial, even now. Was Webb a saint who just wanted to expose the truth of evildoers to the shining light of the public eye? In part, yes. By all accounts – even those of his detractors – have made it clear that Webb believed in the importance of investigative journalism and he believed in the truth of his own story. Certainly, it wasn’t perfect and he didn’t get everything right. Nobody does. However in the years since the publication of his work, the eventual repudiation of it and Webb’s eventual suicide in light of becoming unemployable at the job he loved, the essence of his story has been in fact validated. There was a connection between crack cocaine, the Contras and the CIA. How much crack was brought to the streets of Los Angeles and other American urban environments because of this dark alliance will probably never be known for certain.

What the movie does get right however is the decline of American journalism. At one time, the fourth estate existed independently of the other powers of American politics – the legislative, executive and judicial branches. It stood as a kind of advocate for the American people, tilting at the windmills of political hanky-panky and bringing that which was hidden in the boardrooms of industry and the back rooms of politics to the light of day. Today, in 2014, we no longer have that protection. The mainstream media is all owned by large corporations – the Mercury News itself is owned by a hedge fund which in recent days quietly closed down and sold its iconic headquarter building on Ridder Park Drive and moved what little staff remains to a downtown San Jose office building.

It was unheard of back in the day for a newspaper to throw one of its own reporters under the bus, but that’s what Ceppos and the Mercury News did. While in Ceppos’ extraordinary column which some have labeled an apology letter that in effect distanced the paper from Webb’s reporting there was some reference to “failure at every level and at every step” to properly edit the piece and verify the information (despite the presence of corroborating documentation which in what was then groundbreaking transparency was published online), at the end of the day we have since then seen a failure of mainstream journalism to stand up against corruption when it may potentially affect their advertising bottom line. We have seen an unwillingness to stand up against those whose activities cause harm to the public good, or segments of the public. We live in a world where real journalism, the kind that was meant to stand up for all of us, mainly exists on the Internet and is lost in the party-centric shouting of right wing and left wing posturing. In his grave, Gary Webb must be rolling indeed.

REASONS TO GO: Examines the erosion of journalism in this country.
REASONS TO STAY: Disappointing. Confusing at times.
FAMILY VALUES:  Plenty of foul language not to mention some drug content.
TRIVIAL PURSUIT: Both Brad Pitt and Tom Cruise at one time expressed interest in the Gary Webb role.
CRITICAL MASS: As of 10/20/14: Rotten Tomatoes: 75% positive reviews. Metacritic: 60/100.
COMPARISON SHOPPING: Absence of Malice
FINAL RATING: 6/10
NEXT: The Boxtrolls

New Releases for the Week of October 10, 2014


Dracula UntoldDRACULA UNTOLD

(Universal/Legendary) Luke Evans, Sarah Gadon, Dominic Cooper, Diarmaid Murtagh, Samantha Barks, Charles Dance, Noah Huntley. Directed by Gary Shore

The historical figure of Vlad Tsepes, also known as Dracula, is mixed with fantasy as his origin story is given a re-imagining. A Transylvanian warlord attempts to protect his family and his people from an Ottoman sultan who threatens them. He is willing to go to any lengths to save them, including making the ultimate sacrifice – his soul. This has been announced to be the first movie in the shared Movie Monster cinematic universe that Universal is undertaking.

See the trailer, clips, interviews and B-roll video here.

For more on the movie this is the website.

Release formats: Standard, IMAX (opens Thursday)

Genre: Horror Action

Rating: PG-13 (for intense sequences of warfare, vampire attacks, disturbing images and some sensuality)

Addicted

(Lionsgate/CODEBLACK) Sharon Leal, Boris Kodjoe, Tyson Beckford, William Levy. Zoe seems to have the perfect life; a handsome and loving husband, great kids and a business that she has built into a big success. However, Zoe hides a dark secret – a compulsion for sex that threatens to destroy everything she’s built. Based on the novel by Zane.

See the trailer here.

For more on the movie this is the website.

Release formats: Standard (opens Thursday)

Genre: Drama

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

Alexander and the Terrible, Horrible, No Good, Very Bad Day

(Disney) Steve Carell, Jennifer Garner, Dylan Minnette, Megan Mullally. 11-year-old Alexander wakes up with gum in his hair and things go downhill from there. Getting little sympathy from the rest of the family, he begins to wonder if terrible, horrible, no good, very bad things happen only to him until they begin to experience their own terrible, horrible…oh, you get the idea.

See the trailer here.

For more on the movie this is the website.

Release formats: Standard (opens Thursday)

Genre: Family Comedy

Rating: PG (for rude humor including some reckless behavior and language)

The Devil’s Hand

(Roadside Attractions) Jennifer Carpenter, Rufus Sewell, Alycia Debnam Carey, Adelaide Kane. Six girls are born to six different mothers on June 6th in a small, devout Amish-like town thereby setting in motion an ancient prophecy that on their 18th birthday, one of these girls will become the Devil’s Hand. As the day approaches and the girls begin to disappear, the town lives in terror that the prophecy might just be coming true.

See the trailer here.

For more on the movie this is the website.

Release formats: Standard

Genre: Horror

Rating: PG-13 (for disturbing and violent material, some partial nudity and thematic content)

The Guest

(Picturehouse) Dan Stevens, Maika Monroe, Leland Orser, Sheila Kelley. The grieving family of a soldier killed in action in Afghanistan welcome one of his friends from his unit into their home. The teenage sister of the dead soldier starts to get suspicious when people in town start turning up dead and she believes that their seemingly polite and perfect guest might be responsible.

See the trailer and clips here.

For more on the movie this is the website.

Release formats: Standard

Genre: Thriller

Rating: R (for strong violence, language, some drug use and a scene of sexuality) 

The Judge

(Warner Brothers) Robert Downey Jr., Robert Duvall, Billy Bob Thornton, Vera Farmiga. Returning home for his mother’s funeral, a high-priced defense lawyer discovers his estranged father, in the early stages of dementia, has been accused of murder. He decides to represent him even though the two don’t get along at all in a last ditch effort to repair the breach that separates them both.

See the trailer, clips, interviews and B-roll video here.

For more on the movie this is the website.

Release formats: Standard

Genre: Drama (opens Thursday)

Rating: R (for language including some sexual references)

Kill the Messenger

(Focus) Jeremy Renner, Rosemarie DeWitt, Ray Liotta, Andy Garcia. San Jose Mercury News reporter Gary Webb digs into a story that links the epidemic of crack cocaine, the CIA and arm sales to Contra rebels. He would ultimately win a Pulitzer Prize for the story but would also put his own reputation, his career, his family and his safety on the line to do it.

See the trailer, clips and B-roll video here.

For more on the movie this is the website.

Release formats: Standard

Genre: True Life Drama

Rating: R  (for language and drug content)

The Man on Her Mind

(Paladin) Amy McAllister, Georgia Mackenzie, Shane Attwooll, Samuel James. A girl dreams about the perfect man. A boy dreams about the perfect woman. But when those dreams begin to become reality, what will it really mean for the two of them?

See the trailer here.

For more on the movie this is the website.

Release formats: Standard (opens Thursday)

Genre: Romantic Comedy

Rating: NR

Meet the Mormons

(Purdie) Jeffrey R. Holland, Gail Halvorsen, Bishnu Adhikari, David Archuleta. A look at the people and the tenets of the Mormon faith, which some believe has been given a raw deal by the mainstream media.

See the trailer here.

For more on the movie this is the website.

Release formats: Standard

Genre: Documentary

Rating: PG (for some thematic elements)

Pride

(CBS) Bill Nighy, Imelda Staunton, Dominic West, Paddy Considine. In the era of Margaret Thatcher, the National Union of Mineworkers goes on strike, prompting a showdown in the corridors of power between the working class and the upper class. In London, a group of gay and lesbian advocates, seeing the struggle of the mineworkers, decides to support the strike. At first the mineworkers don’t want their aid but eventually come to see that together they are far stronger and can accomplish far more.

See the trailer, clips, interviews, featurettes and B-roll video here.

For more on the movie this is the website.

Release formats: Standard

Genre: True Life Drama

Rating: R (for language and brief sexual content)

Tracks

(Weinstein) Mia Wasikowska, Adam Driver, Jessica Tovey, Emma Booth. An Australian city girl decides to make a 2,000 mile trek across the Australian desert accompanied only by her dog and four somewhat unpredictable camels. Along the way she meets a National Geographic photographer who decides to document her epic journey.

See the trailer and a featurette here.

For more on the movie this is the website.

Release formats: Standard

Genre: True Life Drama

Rating: PG-13 (for thematic elements, some partial nudity, disturbing images and brief strong language)

New Releases for the Week of April 11, 2013


Rio 2RIO 2

(20th Century Fox/Blue Sky) Starring the voices of Anne Hathaway, Jesse Eisenberg, Andy Garcia, Jamie Foxx, will.i.am, Leslie Mann, George Lopez, Tracy Morgan. Directed by Carlos Saldanha

Blu and Jewel have begun a family, but they are keenly aware that they are the last of their kind. Now word comes that some of their species have been spotted in the wilds of the Amazon – and they know that they have to make that journey to find what family they may have left. When the rumors turn out to be true, Blu will come face to face with the two most fearsome adversaries a bird could possibly face; Nigel the macaw-napping villain from the first film, and even more terrifying – his father-in-law.

See the trailer, clips, interviews, videos and B-Roll videos here.

For more on the movie this is the website.

Release formats: Standard, 3D (opens Thursday)

Genre: Animated Feature

Rating: G

Draft Day

(Summit) Kevin Costner, Jennifer Garner, Frank Langella, Denis Leary. The embattled general manager of the woeful Cleveland Browns has the golden ticket – the first choice in the upcoming NFL draft. For the owner, it’s an opportunity to make a splash that will get fans into the seats. For the head coach, it’s a means of putting together the team he wants to coach. For the general manager, it’s one last shot at redemption.

See the trailer, clips, interviews, B-Roll video, a featurette and a promo here.

For more on the movie this is the website.

Release formats: Standard (opens Thursday)

Genre: Sports Comedy

Rating: PG-13 (for brief strong language and sexual references)

Jesus People

(Freestyle Releasing) Mindy Sterling, Octavia Spencer, Joel McCray, Wendy McLendon-Covey.A pastor believing he doesn’t have much time to live forms a Christian rock band in order to spread his gospel more thoroughly. But when the talent-challenged band finds themselves with a hit single, their already fragile unity begins to dissolve.

See the trailer and a clip here.

For more on the movie this is the website.

Release formats: Standard

Genre: Comedy

Rating: PG-13 (for some intense sequences of violence and terror)

Oculus

(Relativity) Karen Gillan, Katee Sackhoff, Rory Cochrane, Brenton Thwaites. A young boy and girl’s parents are brutally murdered and the boy is charged and convicted with the crime. Ten years later, he is released from prison and just wants to put the whole thing behind him. His sister however is bound and determined to prove that what was really responsible was a malevolent haunted mirror that can make you see things that aren’t there – and be blind to those things that are.

See the trailer, clips, interviews and B-Roll video here.

For more on the movie this is the website.

Release formats: Standard (opens Thursday)

Genre: Horror

Rating: R (for terror, violence, some disturbing images and brief language)

The Raid 2

(Sony Classics) Iko Uwais, Julie Estelle, Yayan Ruhian, Arifin Putra. After Rama, the survivor of the pitched battle inside the stronghold of a drug gang in Jakarta, returns home, he finds that his ordeal is far from over. Higher-ups in the criminal food chain want to see him and his family made an example of. In order to protect them, he must go deep undercover in the most dangerous criminal gang in the world. The first raid will be child’s play compared to this.

See the trailer, clips and a promo here.

For more on the movie this is the website.

Release formats: Standard

Genre: Action

Rating: R (for strong bloody violence throughout, sexuality and language)

The Godfather Part III


Just when I thought I was out...

Just when I thought I was out…

(1990) Drama (Paramount) Al Pacino, Diane Keaton, Andy Garcia, Talia Shire, Eli Wallach, Joe Mantegna, Sofia Coppola, George Hamilton, Bridget Fonda, Raf Vallone, Franc D’Ambrosio, Donal Donnelly, Richard Bright, Helmut Berger, Don Novello, John Savage, Franco Citti, Mario Donatone, Al Martino, Vittorio Duse, John Cazale. Directed by Francis Ford Coppola

“Just when I thought I was out…they pull me back in.” 16 years after the second part of the trilogy comes the conclusion, although Coppola prefers to think of it more as an epilogue. Coppola also wasn’t particularly eager to make this film but with his production company having serious money issues he went ahead and did it anyway.

Using real life events surrounding the Vatican Bank and the short reign of Pope John Paul I, Coppola weaves a tale that involves Michael Corleone (Pacino) – now a legitimate businessman, still fighting to keep his family out of the old family business. His nephew Vincent Mancini (Garcia) the illegitimate son of Michael’s brother Sonny and his sister’s friend and bridesmaid Lucy Mancini, has an issue with Joey Zasa (Mantegna) who runs what used to be the Corleone family in New York. Michael doesn’t want to get involved but reluctantly does so at his sister Connie’s (Shire) urging.

Michael has made at least an accord with his estranged wife Kay (Keaton) to let their children go their own way so that Anthony (D’Ambrosio) is free to pursue a career in opera rather than become the lawyer his father desires him to be. Mary (Sofia Coppola) is also free to pursue Vincent although Michael disapproves of the union. And despite Michael’s attempts to remain legitimate, his past will come back to haunt him in a big way.

Whereas The Godfather was operatic in tone, The Godfather Part III is more soap opera than opera. Daddy Coppola is masterful at weaving multiple storylines into a crescendo, bringing them all together in a terrifying violent coda. He still shows that ability here but this script simply doesn’t have the power that the first two movies did.

Still, this movie has Pacino at the top of his game and while he didn’t get an Oscar nomination for his work here he richly deserved one. Here Michael is aging and his vitality is ebbing from him. He speaks in a gravelly voice roughened by time and tears, stooped with the weight of all his misdeeds. He may have gone legitimate but he still carries his sins like anvils around his neck. The eyes of Michael Corleone are haunted by demons so horrible that thee and me could never imagine it. It is in the eyes that Pacino’s performance truly becomes masterful.

He has some help. Talia Shire, often overlooked in the first two movies becomes a black widow here. Connie Corleone sits in the shadows, weaving her webs, Michael’s feminine support but also the demon of his lesser nature. She is the siren call of the Mafia life, the life Michael has struggled so hard to get away from. Her machinations are central to the movie’s plot and help Shire give the performance of her career.

Garcia who was so memorable in The Untouchables channels James Caan here playing his bastard son with explosive violence and yet the cool and snake-like intelligence of a Corleone. You can see Sonny in the son but that isn’t all Vincent is. Garcia imbues him with loyalty and malevolence, violence and cleverness but also love and respect. In many ways Pacino and Garcia have taken the roles of Brando and Pacino from the first film, allowing Michael to go full circle.

Sadly, Sofia Coppola – an excellent director – doesn’t fare as well as an actress. It’s not that she doesn’t have talent in that department – she actually delivers a decent performance. Unfortunately, the role and the situation both call for something better than that. She’s a housecat among lions, having to put her performances up against some of the best in the business and by comparison suffers badly. She doesn’t really have the screen charisma developed to give the role what it really deserved – a performance that forces the audience to care about the character. We kind of do but not enough by the end of the final reel. She was perhaps unjustly excoriated by critics and audiences alike which effectively ended her career as an actress which in a way is a good thing – we’ve gotten some pretty damn good movies from her as a director perhaps as a result. Still, I can’t help but wonder how well she would have developed as an actress had she not been kicked around so much in the press which surely soured her on pursuing acting at all.

There are other problems with the movie as well – the convoluted story line, Paramount’s inability to let Coppola make the movie he wanted (among other things they wouldn’t pay Duvall a salary akin to what other actors in the film were making so Coppola wound up being forced to write the character of Tom Hagen out) and perhaps most importantly the movie simply wasn’t able to hold up against two all-time classics. That’s not to say that The Godfather Part III is a bad movie – far from it. Part of the problem is that expectations are sky high after the first two. If There hadn’t have been the first two movies of the series, The Godfather Part III taken by itself probably would be remembered with far more fondness.

It is worth seeing as a closing chapter in the series although there has been talk on and off over the years of a Godfather Part IV but if there is it is unlikely Pacino or Coppola will be involved. With author Mario Puzo – very much Coppola’s muse when it came to these movies – passed away, it isn’t likely that another Godfather movie will ever capture the lightning the way the first two movies did. When you take the three films as a whole, it is as epic a saga of an American family as has ever been made. There hasn’t been it’s like before and there never will be again. While the third entry in the trilogy may be something of a disappointment, it is still a good movie if you avoid comparing it to the first two which is admittedly hard to do but if you are able to do it, you’ll enjoy this movie more.

WHY RENT THIS: Closure. Pacino is mesmerizing as always.

WHY RENT SOMETHING ELSE: Doesn’t really hold up to the other two films in the trilogy. Story often confusing and Sofia Coppola’s performance isn’t up to scratch.

FAMILY VALUES:  More than its share of violence (some of it bloody) and foul language.

TRIVIAL PURSUIT: The Godfather trilogy was the first to have all three films nominated for a Best Picture Oscar. The Lord of the Rings trilogy later duplicated the feat.

NOTABLE HOME VIDEO EXTRAS: Be warned that editions which contain the individual films tend to be fairly sparse with extras. If you’re looking for extras you’re better off picking up the trilogy boxed sets in either DVD or Blu-Ray which include some scintillating material as it relates to the trilogy plus it is a cost-effective way to get all three films in the saga. However if you want to skip the third film and are just interested in the movies themselves without the bells and whistles, buying them individually is the way to go.

BOX OFFICE PERFORMANCE: $136.8M on a $54M production budget.

COMPARISON SHOPPING: The Family

FINAL RATING: 6/10

NEXT: Saving Mr. Banks

5 Days of War


5 Days of War

Another New York City marathon gets underway!

(2011) War (Anchor Bay) Rupert Friend, Emmanuelle Chriqui, Heather Graham, Jonathan Schaech, Andy Garcia, Val Kilmer, Richard Coyle, Rade Serbedzija, Dean Cain, Ken Cranham, Mikko Nousiainen, Mikheil Gomiashvili, Antje Traue. Directed by Renny Harlin

 

There is nothing good or noble about war. Men have waxed poetic about war and its virtues, but the truth of war is that it is savage and horrible, appealing only to the base instincts of men in reality – the need to take by force that which isn’t given freely. There is nothing noble about war.

War correspondent Thomas Anders (Friend) knows that better than most. The girl he loved (Graham) was caught in the crossfire during one of his assignments and left him alone and bitter. Then, a colleague, a cheerfully debauched Dutchman (Kilmer) points Anders in the direction of Georgia – not the state, the Russian republic – which was on the brink of war with Russia. The Georgian president, Mikheil Saakshvili (Garcia) frets and wonders why the West isn’t helping his tiny Republic take on the Russian juggernaut but the West is mostly focusing on the Beijing Olympics. Priorities.

Anders brings along his trusty cameraman Sebastian Ganz (Coyle) and manage to get in the thick of a wedding that winds up being scattered to the four winds when shelling interrupts the ceremony. They wind up hooking up with Tattia (Chriqui) whose sister’s wedding it was. She agrees to serve as their interpreter in exchange for them helping her locate and reunite with her family.

They witness the Russian army committing some atrocities and get it on film. The Russian commander Aleksandr Demidov (Serbedzija) gets wind of this and sends his brutal mercenary commando Danlil (Nousiainen) after them. Anders and Ganz get their footage onto a flash drive and try to escape to a place of safety where they can get their footage to the authorities. The trouble is, the authorities are corrupt and the major networks disinterested. Somehow Anders is going to have to find a way to make the world listen.

Harlin has directed some pretty nifty action films in his day including Speed but has hit a dry patch of late. This isn’t going to help him get back into the game to be honest. I understand that the film was at least partially financed by Georgia and the country allowed some of their military equipment to be used in the film and quite frankly part of the film’s highlights are the very realistically staged battle sequences.

However in a very real way that’s a deal with the devil; the film is certainly from the Georgian point of view with the Russians being loathsome monsters and the Georgians martyrs. The real war – and it was a real war – wasn’t like that. Like most conflicts, there wasn’t one villain and one hero although as with most conflicts both sides saw it that way.

Anyone who’s seen films like The Year of Living Dangerously will recognize most of the clichés about war correspondents in war situations. Whether or not they’re true (and for the most part they’re based in truth but like most Hollywood clichés made extreme) they still ring hollow here; it feels like a movie we’ve seen before only not as well made. Sure it’s not completely without value but it just feels more like propaganda.

When a film quotes “The first casualty in war is the truth” and then goes on to show only an aspect of it, two things happen – first, we are reminded that truth is often a matter of perspective. What one side considers unshakable fact the other usually considers to be an outright lie. Second, the filmmakers lose their credibility amid the further hypocrisy of trotting out Georgian survivors of war atrocities to tell their stories. At no point is any Russian allowed to refute any of this.

I’m not saying that the Russians didn’t do some of the things you see here – I have no doubt that they did. I’m certainly not excusing the behavior; it’s just that I don’t believe one side was made up of saints and the others sinners. The Georgians have their own culpability to bear here and we don’t get to see it, leaving the proceedings uncomfortably one-sided. A little more honesty would have made for a better movie.

WHY RENT THIS: Realistic war action.

WHY RENT SOMETHING ELSE: One-sided to the point of ridiculousness. Overwrought and cliché.

FAMILY VALUES: Lots of war violence and bad language but there are also some scenes of war atrocities that might be a bit too intense for younger and more sensitive viewers.

TRIVIAL PURSUIT: Early on President Saakshvili can be seen chewing on his tie; this was based on an actual incident in which the real President Saakshvili was accidentally caught on-camera when he didn’t think that it was filming munching on his tie. The footage can still be found on the Internet if you Google it.

NOTABLE HOME VIDEO EXTRAS: None listed.

BOX OFFICE PERFORMANCE: $17,479 on a $12M production budget; even those without math skills know this was a box office dud.

COMPARISON SHOPPING: The Bang Bang Club

FINAL RATING: 5/10

NEXT: Meet the Parents

New Releases for the Week of June 1, 2012


June 1, 2012

SNOW WHITE AND THE HUNTSMAN

(Universal) Charlize Theron, Kristen Stewart, Chris Hemsworth, Sam Claflin, Ray Winstone, Ian McShane, Eddie Izzard, Bob Hoskins, Toby Jones, Eddie Marsan, Lily Cole. Directed by Rupert Sanders

The fairy tale of Snow White is re-imagined as an epic tale of magic and battle. A wicked queen, obsessed with retaining her youth and beauty, uses a magic mirror to prophesy that her reign would be eternal if only she dispatched the only woman whose beauty could potentially eclipse hers – Snow White. However, the girl has fled into the dark forest in habited by all manner of creatures. She dispatches a brave huntsman who has no fear of the woods in to kill her. Instead, they form an unlikely alliance, along with seven doughty dwarves to take on the might of the queen and her magic minions.

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

For more on the movie this is the website.

Release formats: Standard

Genre: Fantasy

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

Battlefield America

(Cinedigm) Marques Houston, Mekia Cox, Christopher Jones, Zach Belandes. A young businessman takes a group of kids from the wrong side of the tracks and tries to turn them into a champion underground dance crew. They’ll have to battle the odds – and each other – to rise above the streets, the drugs and the hopelessness they came from.

See the trailer and a featurette here.

For more on the movie this is the website.

Release formats: Standard

Genre: Urban Dance

Rating: PG-13 (for thematic elements involving some drug material, and for some language)  

Bernie

(Millennium) Jack Black, Shirley MacLaine, Matthew McConaughey, Rip Torn. The true story of a beloved figure in a small Texas town who taught Sunday school, sang in the church choir and worked at the local funeral home. When he befriended a rich widow whose outlook on life was as sour as her bank account was large, nobody was surprised – everybody liked Bernie, after all. When she turned up dead and Bernie was arrested for the murder, though, that was a surprise.

See the trailer and clips here.

For more on the movie this is the website.

Release formats: Standard

Genre: True Life Drama

Rating: PG-13 (for some violent images and brief strong language)  

Crooked Arrows

(Freestyle Releasing) Brandon Routh, Gil Birmingham, Michael Hudson, Chelsea Ricketts. A native American reluctantly takes on the lacrosse coaching duty at a reservation high school. As he helps the kids connect with a game that is largely part of their heritage, he in turn reconnects with his own native American spirituality as he leads his decidedly underdog club against an elite prep school with its own longstanding lacrosse tradition.

See the trailer here.

For more on the movie this is the website.

Release formats: Standard

Genre: Sports Drama

Rating: PG-13  (for some suggestive references)

For Greater Glory

(ARC Entertainment) Andy Garcia, Eva Longoria, Peter O’Toole, Oscar Isaac. The story of General Gorostieta, a Mexican military officer who had retired from war and hoped to live his life out in peace. However when civil war came to his country fueled by the injustice and repression of a corrupt regime, he feels compelled to take up the cause and turn a ragtag group of farmers and peasants into an army.

See the trailer here.

For more on the movie this is the website.

Release formats: Standard

Genre: Biographical Drama

Rating: R (for war violence and some disturbing images) 

High School

(Anchor Bay) Adrien Brody, Michael Chiklis, Colin Hanks, Mykelti Williamson. After a high school principal declares a zero tolerance for drugs and initiates mandatory drug testing for all students, the class valedictorian takes offense. In fact, he sees this as a grave injustice. So rather than risk that some of his fellow students be expelled for drug use, he decides to get the entire student body high – they can’t all get expelled, can they? This will take some doing however, but with the help of an epic stoner, he might just succeed.

See the trailer here.

For more on the movie this is the website.

Release formats: Standard

Genre: Comedy

Rating: R (for pervasive drugs and language, crude and sexual content, some nudity – all involving teens) 

The Intouchables

(Weinstein) Omar Sy, Francois Cluzet, Anne Le Ny, Audrey Fleurot. A wealthy but spiritually bereft white French man who is a quadriplegic brings a black ex-con into his life as his attendant. Both men end up transformed by the experience. Saw this at the Florida Film Festival in April; you can read my review here.

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 drug use) 

Rowdy Rathore

(UTV) Akshay Kumar, Kareena Kapoor, Sonakshi Sinha, Supreeth Reddy. A conman meets and falls in love with a woman at a wedding he wasn’t invited to. Yearning to turn over a new leaf in order to keep the girl of his dreams, he runs into a six-year-old girl who inexplicably believes him to be her father. In the meantime the small town that he wants to settle down in, ruthless gangs are set to make life there a living hell…and he will need to find the inner hero to save the town, get the girl and be the father he needs to be.

See the trailer here.

For more on the movie this is the website.

Release formats: Standard

Genre: Bollywood

Rating: NR 

City Island


City Island

The cast realizes the catering truck is serving Tuna Surprise again.

(2009) Comedy (Anchor Bay) Andy Garcia, Julianna Margulies, Steven Strait, Emily Mortimer, Alan Arkin, Dominick Garcia-Lorido, Ezra Miller, Carrie Baker Reynolds, Hope Glendon-Ross, Louis Mustillo, Jee Young Han, Sarah Saltzberg. Directed by Raymond de Felitta

Families have dynamics that are often much more complicated than you think they are – or than they have to be. You’d think the dynamics are simple with the people who know you best, but often family members conceal things from other members and before long, you find that they are living lives much different than they let on to their own flesh and blood.

Vince Rizzo (Garcia) is a prison guard who dreams of being an actor. He and his family live on City Island, a spit of land jutting out from the Bronx that has more in common with a New England fishing village than the Big Apple. Embarrassed by his dream, he takes acting lessons in the City at night, telling his wife Joyce (Margulies) that he’s out playing poker with the boys. She’s convinced he’s having an affair.

Vivian (Garcia-Lorido) is the pride and joy of Vince and Joyce, a college girl with a bright future ahead of her. At least, that’s what they think; in reality Vivian has dropped out and is stripping in clubs to make enough cash to pay her own way through school when she’s ready to re-apply. Her brother Vinnie (Miller) has a thing for Internet porn, particularly watching overweight women eat. Yes, a chubby chaser – deal with it.

Vince sees one of the parole candidates where he works is a young man named Tony (Strait) whose last name sounds familiar. When he looks into his file more thoroughly he is shocked to discover that Tony is the son he had with a woman other than Joyce. Tony has no place to go so Vince volunteers to put him up when Tony gets out.

Joyce of course has no clue about Tony’s paternity, nor does Tony for that matter. She’s predictably unhappy about having an ex-con in the house and lets all and sundry know about it. However her frustration at Vince’s secretive behavior is beginning to blow over. Vince’s acting coach (Arkin) has assigned the class into pairs to work on a scene together. Molly (Mortimer), Vince’s partner and he begin to meet up after class – strictly platonically – and Joyce stumbles into their relationship accidentally, believing the worst. Feeling hurt, she comes on to the hunky ex-con in an effort to get revenge. Things are spiraling out of control, especially when Vince is called in for an audition for a role in a Scorsese movie.

This is a movie with a lot of heart, and a lot of soul. Yes, dysfunctional families with lots of idiosyncrasies are staples of comedies but here they aren’t quirks for the sake of quirkiness. These are genuine people, who genuinely care about one another even if they aren’t always able to display it properly. Their bickering sounds like any family and they capture the cadences of a Northeastern Italian-American family perfectly.

Garcia has always been an actor I’ve liked ever since The Untouchables and he’s at his best here. He plays blue collar as well as anybody (his role as the Casino king in the Oceans movies notwithstanding) and he brings Vince’s hopes and dreams to life as well as his failings. Margulies has never been sexier than she is here. This is a role a bit out of her comfort zone, particularly when she’s attempting to seduce Tony but that scene is one of the highlights of the movie and gives you a great deal of insight into Joyce and her bitterness – only a consummate actress like Margulies could have pulled it off.

Mortimer is another actress who has quietly built up a reputation for terrific performances and although she’s not utilized extensively here, she shines in every scene she’s in. She acts as a kind of outsider’s view, not quite part of the community but understanding it.

The filmmakers are successful at establishing a place and time. City Island, which is a real place by the way, comes to life as do the people who live there. Their lives aren’t particularly less or more wonderful than yours or mine, but the way that de Felitta presents them, I think most people wouldn’t mind the life they find onscreen here.

WHY RENT THIS: There is an authentic feeling here that gives you a sense of place and family. The family interacts less like a sitcom family and more like a real one. Garcia, Mortimer and Margulies give fine performances.

WHY RENT SOMETHING ELSE: A few too many revelations near the end.

FAMILY VALUES: There is some sexual content (including a bit on the fetish-y side) and some inappropriate language.

TRIVIAL PURSUIT: Dominick Garcia-Lorido, who plays Andy Garcia’s daughter in the movie, is…Andy Garcia’s actual daughter.

NOTABLE DVD EXTRAS: None listed.

BOX OFFICE PERFORMANCE: $7.9M on a $6M production budget; the movie lost money.

FINAL RATING: 7/10

TOMORROW: Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows Part 2

Top 5 Starfests


One of the big draws of The Expendables (see review) is the star power; many of the biggest stars in the action genre of the last 20 years make an appearance in the movie. Loading up a movie with as many stars as you can fit in is nearly as old as Hollywood is itself; having multiple stars draws across various fanbases and give the movie a wider potential audience to draw from. Some movies exist for little reason beyond just getting those self-same stars into the same movie; how many people would have seen Heat for example had it not had both Pacino and De Niro in it? At their best, Starfests can be a romp allowing big stars to shine in small little-more-than-cameo roles. These are my favorites.

HONORABLE MENTION

There are several movies that didn’t make the top five but were worthy of mentioning here. Robin and the Seven Hoods (1962) was ostensibly a Rat Pack movie with Sinatra, Deano and Sammy, it also boasted Bing Crosby, Peter Falk, Barbara Rush, Victor Buono, Tony Randall and Edward G. Robinson, along with a number of Borscht Belt comics of the day. The Towering Inferno (1974) followed the tried and true disaster film formula of throwing a bunch of stars into a disaster situation and then have the audience watch to see who survives. Not only did it pair up Steve McQueen and Paul Newman for the first time, the stellar cast included William Holden, Fred Astaire, Jennifer Jones, Robert Wagner, Richard Chamberlain, Faye Dunaway, Robert Vaughn and OJ. Yes, that OJ. Clue (1985) was based on the popular board game and had the gimmick of shooting three different endings which varied depending on which theater you saw the movie in. The cast of characters included Madeline Kahn, Martin Mull, Tim Curry, Eileen Brennan, Christopher Lloyd, Michael McKean and Lesley Ann Warren. Finally, Mars Attacks! (1996) was director Tim Burton’s homage to a series of collectable cards issued in the 1950s that depicted all sorts of gruesome killings perpetrated by rampaging Martians. Here, he set up a spectacular cast only to kill them off in some horrible way, including Jack Nicholson, Pierce Brosnan, Michael J. Fox, Danny De Vito, Annette Bening, Rod Steiger, Jim Brown, Glenn Close, Sylvia Sidney, Pam Grier, Joe Don Baker, Paul Winfield and Martin Short. Also cast in early roles were Jack Black and Natalie Portman before they were famous. 

5. THE GREAT RACE (1965)

 The Great Race

This Blake Edwards-directed ode to the daredevil motorists of the early1900s relied heavily on silent cinema conventions and star power to motor it along. The race from New York to Paris featured Jack Lemmon as the Dastardly Professor Fate, whose car contained among other inventions, a smoke machine, a cannon and a scissor lift. Tony Randall  Curtis was the Great Leslie, whose eyes and teeth twinkled and gleamed like the Northern Star, sure to set all sorts of female hearts a-flutter at the time. Along for the ride was an impressive cast including Natalie Wood, Dorothy Provine, Ross Martin, Keenan Wynn, Peter Falk, Arthur O’Connell, Larry Storch, Vivian Vance and Denver Pyle. It can be seen regularly on broadcast television and is usually not that hard to find at your local video retailer.

4. THE LONGEST DAY (1962)

 The Longest Day

The story of D-Day is an epic canvas in and of itself, and Hollywood just about outdid itself when it rolled out the red carpet for the stars who played both front line soldiers and officers behind the scenes where the invasion of Normandy was planned. John Wayne headlined the she-bang, but among those who were also involved including (deep breath now) Henry Fonda, Sean Connery, Richard Burton, Red Buttons, Robert Mitchum, Roddy McDowell, Curt Jurgens, Robert Ryan, George Segal, Edmund O’Brien, Sal Mineo, Fabian, Mel Ferrer, Robert Wagner, Stuart Whitman, Rod Steiger, Eddie Albert and Gert Frobe. It may not have been the longest day but it might have been the longest cast. It periodically shows up on broadcast television or basic cable; it can be difficult to find at video retailers, but as a classic is most certainly worth seeking out.

3. OCEANS 11 (2001)

Oceans Eleven 

George Clooney got together with his buddy Steven Soderbergh and decided to remake the Rat Pack classic of the same name, albeit much modernized but with the same jazzy sense of style. The two of them called a bunch of A-list friends to make a new Rat Pack for the 21st century and an impressive list of talent it is; Julia Roberts, Brad Pitt, Matt Damon, Bernie Mac, Elliott Gould, Carl Reiner, Andy Garcia, Scott Caan and Casey Affleck. You got the feeling that robbing the casino was not so much the point as was having a three-month long party in Vegas. Fortunately, what happened in Vegas didn’t stay in Vegas – it was a smash hit and inspired two sequels and there might have been more but for the untimely passing of Bernie Mac. Currently, it plays cable TV regularly and occasionally shows up on TBS and it’s ilk. If you don’t want to wait for it to show up on TV, you can easily find it at most rental outlets or retail stores if you want to add it to your own library.

2. MURDER ON THE ORIENT EXPRESS (1974)

Murder on the Orient Express

A classic Agatha Christie mystery became a box office smash and Oscar winner in the capable hands of director Sidney Lumet. Albert Finney starred as the natty Belgian detective Hercule Poirot faced with a vicious murder on a train that as he investigates, he determines it has something to do with an infamous kidnapping that was obviously based on the Lindbergh baby kidnapping. In this gorgeous period piece, everyone’s a suspect and when you have a cast like Lauren Bacall, Anthony Perkins, Richard Widmark, Ingmar Bergman, Sean Connery, Michael York, John Gielgud, Martin Balsam, Wendy Hiller, Jacqueline Bisset, Vanessa Redgrave, Rachel Roberts and Jean-Pierre Cassel, it doesn’t really matter who done it. This is one train ride I don’t mind taking over and over again and you certainly can; it makes regular appearances both on premium cable and basic cable. It is also fairly easy to find at video rental places, although generally you’re much more apt to be able to buy it online than you are in brick and mortar retailers.

1. AROUND THE WORLD IN 80 DAYS (1956)

Around the World in 80 Days

Producer Michael Todd’s epic version of the Jules Verne novel was beyond scale or scope. One of the most honored films of all time with five Oscars (including Best Picture), the movie starred the urbane David Niven as Phineas Fogg, with the Mexican comedian Cantinflas as the loyal manservant Passepartout, the cast included most of the biggest stars of the day, with Shirley MacLaine as the lovely Princess Aouda, but also in varying roles from cameos to featured roles, Frank Sinatra, Robert Morley, Noel Coward, John Gielgud, Charles Boyer, Cesar Romero, Cedric Hardwicke, Ronald Coleman, Robert Newton, Peter Lorre, George Raft, Red Skelton, Marlene Dietrich, John Carradine, Buster Keaton, Joe E. Brown, Andy Devine, Hermione Gingold, Edward R. Murrow and Trevor Howard. This remains one of the most entertaining movies ever made. It used to be a broadcast staple, but rarely shows up on cable these days; you’re probably better off renting it or buying it from your favorite retailer.

The Air I Breathe


The Air I Breathe

Forest Whitaker ponders how much simpler his life would be if he were a butterfly.

(THINKfilm) Brendan Fraser, Andy Garcia, Sarah Michelle Gellar, Forest Whitaker, Kevin Bacon, Emile Hirsch, Julie Delpy, Clark Gregg, Kelly Hu. Directed by Jieho Lee

An ancient Chinese proverb breaks life down to four core emotions – Happiness, Sorrow, Pleasure and Love. These are as essential to life as the air we breathe (clever, no?) and without a balance of these things, we are unable to live our lives properly.

Each of the four vignettes in this film is centered around one of these emotions, or at least so we’re told. The first, “Happiness,” presents Whitaker as a timid banker who overhears a conversation at work in which a snide young man with “connections” tells some friends that they need to bet heavily on a race in which the outcome has been fixed. Whitaker goes to the same underground and illegal betting parlor and puts everything on his credit cards on the horse, going so far as to take a $50K line of credit out from the house. This is an extraordinarily unwise thing to do when you don’t have the ability to pay that kind of money back, especially from this kind of house.

The horse that was supposed to win stumbles and falls and the banker is on the hook for fifty grand to the notorious Fingers (Garcia), who came by his nickname honestly albeit gruesomely. At first, the banker resolves to skip town but a visit from Fingers’ menacing right-hand man (Fraser) dissuades the banker, who in a knuckleheaded move then decides to rob a bank to get the cash. For a vignette that is supposed to be about happiness, things sure don’t end happily.

The second vignette, “Pleasure,” is about Fingers’ man Friday, who has a special gift – he is able to foresee the future, only not his own. Fingers orders him to take his nephew Tony (Hirsch) on his rounds and show him what’s what. As the clairvoyant flunky complies, he discovers that he has lost his gift – which has been both a blessing and a curse. It certainly hasn’t been much of a pleasure.

The third vignette, “Sorrow,” concerns Trysta (Gellar), a pop singer who is on the verge of breaking out. Her manager gives Fingers her contract to pay off a gambling debt, which makes Trysta uneasy. The direction she wants her career to go isn’t necessarily the one that Fingers wants her to go to; when she attempts to flee, Fingers sends his clairvoyant assassin after her. This was the first segment that is aptly named.

Finally, there’s love in which an MD (Bacon) who is in love with his best friend’s wife (Delpy) is horrified to discover that she requires a transfusion in order to survive a bite from a rare snake (don’t ask) and her blood type is impossibly rare – unless you write for the movies, in which case it so happens that a certain pop star serendipitously has the same blood type.

Lee is a first-time director, so it is impressive that he put together a cast the caliber of this one together, which includes the Oscar-winning Whitaker and A-listers like Fraser and Bacon, as well as the up and coming Hirsch who may yet turn out to be the next Leonardo di Caprio.

In terms of performance, he gets what he pays for here as nearly the entire cast delivers, with outstanding grades to Fraser in particular, who plays the grim and rough clairvoyant with enough heart to make him sympathetic, but with a reptilian cold shell. Garcia plays Fingers with the same oily menace that made his performance as Terry Benedict in the Oceans movies so delicious.

What submarines this movie is the same thing that torpedoes most independent anthology movies; the unevenness of the vignettes. While the Fraser bit is the best of the bunch, the tone and flow are jarring when put next to the Bacon bit (I always wanted to say that – groan if you must) so in other words, the ride gets bumpy.

Also, the thematic conceit of linking each vignette to one of the Chinese core emotions doesn’t work for me as well; perhaps the point is to illustrate the lack of those emotions in order to play up their importance. If so, then the filmmakers are being unnecessarily indirect and sly; if not, then they probably could have used a steadier hand on the rewrites.

The main problem is you wind up wondering if you haven’t seen this all before and better, and the truth is that you have. With the success of Crash and Babel, indie filmmakers were anxious to channel their inner Robert Altmans and there consequently has been a rash of these sorts of movies that were released with varying degrees of success – including another one in which Whitaker stars that was previously reviewed here entitled Powder Blue.

I like a movie that takes chances and this one takes a few, but if you’re going to take chances you need to have your act together first and this movie isn’t quite there. It has enough moments that make it worthy of a mild recommendation, but understand that this isn’t a movie that’s going to give you a case of the “oh wows” by any stretch of the imagination.

WHY RENT THIS: There are some interesting moments and performances, particularly from Fraser, Whitaker, Garcia and Hirsch.

WHY RENT SOMETHING ELSE: Overall pretty disjointed and as most independent anthology movies are, uneven in terms of quality.

FAMILY VALUES: There is plenty of violence and foul language and a fair share of sexuality and a smidgen of nudity; add it all together and it spells out “mature.”

TRIVIAL PURSUIT: The pop songs supposedly sung by Gellar’s character Trysta are in reality sung by Kim Wayman.

NOTABLE DVD EXTRAS: None listed.

FINAL RATING: 4/10

TOMORROW: Summer Hours