New Releases for the Week of December 17, 2021


SPIDER-MAN: NO WAY HOME

(Columbia) Tom Holland, Zendaya, Benedict Cumberbatch, Jacob Batalon, Jon Favreau, Jamie Foxx, Willem Dafoe, Alfred Molina, Benedict Wong, Marisa Tomei. Directed by Jon Watts

After Peter Parker’s secret identity has been outed, his life becomes a shambles. In desperation, he turns to Dr. Strange to cast a spell to make everyone forget that information, but Peter’s own insecurities cause the spell to go awry, opening the door for foes familiar (but not to Peter) and the meat of the Multiverse that is the MCU’s Phase IV.

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

Genre: Superhero
Now Playing: Wide
Rating: PG-13 (for sequences of action/violence, some language and brief suggestive content)

The Hand of God

(Netflix) Filippo Scotti, Toni Servillo, Teresa Saponangelo, Marion Joubert. Oscar-winning writer-director Paolo Sorrentino tells his most personal story yet, of growing up in Naples in the 1980s in the days of the coming of Maradona.

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

Genre: Drama
Now Playing: Fashion Square Premiere
Rating: R (for sexual content, some graphic nudity and brief drug use)

The Matrix Resurrections

(Warner Brothers) Keanu Reeves, Carrie-Anne Moss, Jada Pinkett Smith, Neil Patrick Harris. Plagued by strange memories – and unable to remember people important to him, Neo finds himself back in the Matrix, which has changed a great deal since we saw it last.

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

Genre: Science Fiction
Now Playing: Wide
(Also on HBO Max) (Starting Wednesday)
Rating: R (for violence and some language)

Nightmare Alley

(Searchlight) Bradley Cooper, Rooney Mara, Cate Blanchett, Ron Perlman. A down-on-his-luck grifter befriends a carnival clairvoyant and her husband, turning his newfound knowledge into a path to wealth. But when he chooses to take on a vindictive tycoon, he comes up against an opponent capable of ending his life as he knows it. This is the latest from acclaimed director Guillermo del Toro.

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

Genre: Thriller
Now Playing: Enzian, Wide
Rating: R (for strong/bloody violence, some sexual content, nudity and language)

Pushpa: The Rise – Part I

(Classics Entertainment) Joaquin Phoenix, Gaby Hoffman, Woody Norman, Scoot McNairy. A truck driver in the forest region of South India must cope with smugglers of red sandalwood.

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

Genre: Action
Now Playing: Cinemark Orlando, Regal Waterford Lakes
Rating: NR

Swan Song

(AppleTV) Mahershala Ali, Naomie Harris, Glenn Close, Awkwafina. In the near future, a dying man is given an opportunity to shield his family from the grief of his passing and in the process, learns more about life and love than he ever could have thought possible.

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

Genre: Science Fiction
Now Playing: Fashion Square Premiere
(also on AppleTV Plus)
Rating: NR

COMING TO VIRTUAL CINEMA/VOD:

A Forbidden Orange
A Walk in Her Shoes
Being the Ricardos
(Tuesday)
Dead Asleep (Thursday)
Deadly Girls Night Out
(Saturday)
Diego: The Last Goodbye
(Thursday)
Juice WRLD: Into the Abyss
(Thursday)
Miracles Across 125th Street
(Monday)
The Novice
Prince Phillip: The Royal Family Remembers
(Thursday)
Puff: Wonders of the Reef
(Thursday)
Reopening Night
(Monday)
Repossession
(Tuesday)
Rolling Like Thunder
Twisted Little Lies

SCHEDULED FOR REVIEW:

Being the Ricardos
Dead Asleep
The Hand of God
The Matrix: Resurrections
Nightmare Alley
The Novice
Prince Phillip: The Royal Family Remembers
Puff: Wonders of the Reef
Spider-Man: No Way Home
Swan Song

Shang-Chi and the Legend of the Ten Rings


A new hero rises.

(2021) Superhero (Disney) Simu Liu, Awkwafina, Tony Leung, Michelle Yeoh, Meng’er Zhang, Fala Chen, Florian Munteanu, Yuen Wah, Andy Le, Paul He, Jayden Zhang, Elodie Fong, Arnold Sun, Stephanie Hsu, Kunal Dudheker, Tsai Chin, Jodi Long, Dallas Liu, Ronny Chieng, Stella Ye, Ben Kingsley, Michael-Anthony Taylor, Zach Cherry, Raymond Ma, Benedict Wong, Harmonie He. Directed by Destin Daniel Cretton

 

There are a number of firsts going on in the latest entry into the MCU. The first Asian-American superhero. The first Marvel feature to introduce a new hero into the mix since Captain Marvel. The first MCU film with a director of Asian descent. The first villainous role for Chinese action legend Tony Leung (and also his first English-language film). The first to debut on Labor Day weekend. The first Disney film to resume production after the initial pandemic shutdown.

But is that all there is to a movie? Ground-breaking alone doesn’t make for a great, entertaining film. Thankfully, Shang-Chi and the Legend of the Ten Rings fits the bill and then some.

A prologue tells us of Wenwu (Leung), a villain who found (or stole) ten magic arm rings that rendered him invincible as well as virtually immortal. Over a thousand years, he conquered everything there was to conquer, but he wanted more. The “more” was a village called Ta Lo, a hidden village that sits in a neighboring dimension where dwell legendary magical creatures and contains magical power of immense proportions. Wenwu – who would later be used as the blueprint to create the fictional terrorist known as the Mandarin – already led a criminal enterprise and commanded an army of ninjas, including killers Death Dealer (Le) and Razor Fist (Munteanu), but comes by a map that helps him arrive at the village, although the bamboo forest it is located in seemed to be a living guardian of the peaceful village. There is also a human guardian – the beautiful Li (Chen) who bests Wenwu in a fight. The criminal overlord promptly falls in love and, improbably, ends up marrying her.

Because of Wenwu’s criminal past, the couple is denied residence in Ta Lo so Macau is where they end up living. Li gives birth to a son and daughter before she dies, and Wenwu, who had softened into a family man, hardens right back up, training his young son, Shang-Chi, to be a killer while mostly ignoring his daughter, Xiang.

Shang-Chi (Liu) eventually runs away from his father, choosing not to become like him, and ends up in San Francisco, using the name Shaun. He has a bestie named Katy (Awkwafina) who, like him, parks cars at a swanky SF hotel. While Katy’s mom (Long) and grandma (Chin) wonder when the two are going to get married, but they’re just friends (without benefits – this is a PG-13 film after all). However, on a bus ride to work, Shaun is attacked by a group of thugs including Razor Fist and turns out that he has extraordinary martial arts abilities, much to the shock of Katy who is unaware of his past. He manages to beat the thugs, but they steal a pendant that his mother had given him, but let slip that they are going after his sister next. So Shang-Chi boards a plane for Macau, having received a cryptic postcard from his sister which apparently reveals her address and Katy insists on going with.

There they find a bitter Xiang (Zhang) who had resented her brother for leaving her behind with their father. She, too, had eventually run away from home and began an empire of her own with a high-tech fight club on top of a skyscraper. That’s when the goons arrive and so does dear old dad. You see, it seems he needs the pendants to reveal a map that will navigate a safe passage through the bamboo forest to Ta Lo. Wenwu has been hearing his wife’s voice, begging him to set her free from imprisonment in her former home. But he also intends to destroy that home, much to Shang-Chi’s horror. They must find a way to get there first if they are going to stop their dad, who is unwittingly going to release a horrible, Apocalypse-bringing monster onto the earth if he succeeds.

First of all, the good news: this is one of the best Marvel movies yet, right up there with Black Panther and Guardians of the Galaxy. It is beautifully shot, the fight sequences are phenomenal (particularly the first one on the bus) and the CGI without peer. Simu Liu, who was previously best known for the Canadian TV series Kim’s Convenience, is going to be a huge star, following the example of Chris Hemsworth who was a little-known actor before being cast as Thor. Add to that the lustrous Michelle Yeoh as Auntie Nan, Leung who gets to show American filmgoers what Asian audiences have known for decades, and Awkwafina who continues to become a major A-list star with her performance here.

weaves all the elements together pretty well. I will admit that during the middle the movie becomes necessarily exposition-heavy and drags somewhat, but other than that, he shows a sure hand on the big stage even though he comes from an indie background (Short Term 12) and this is really his first big budget major tentpole release. Undoubtedly he’ll get a lot more like this, in all likelihood including Shang-Chi 2 which is almost a certainty to make it onto Marvel’s schedule eventually.

There are two post-credit sequences, incidentally, and the first one is maybe the best one in the franchise with a couple of cameos by Marvel superheroes and hints at what Shang-Chi’s place in the larger MCU is going to be. Given what I’ve seen here, he’s not going to fade into the woodwork any time soon. This is the must-see movie of the season and by all means go out and see it in a theater if you can.

REASONS TO SEE: Wonderfully weaves Chinese culture, myths and legends into the MCU. Simu Liu is going to be a star and Awkwafina further cements her own reputation. Incredible action sequences and effects. One of the best Marvel movies ever.
REASONS TO AVOID: A little bit long, dragging a bit in the middle third.
FAMILY VALUES: There is plenty of fantasy/superhero action and violence, as well as some profanity.
TRIVIAL PURSUIT: Stunt coordinator Bradley James Allen, who was the first (and only) non-Asian member of Jackie Chan’s stunt team, passed away on August 7 from an undisclosed illness. The film is dedicated to him.
CRITICAL MASS: As of 9/4/2021: Rotten Tomatoes: 92% positive reviews; Metacritic: 71/100.
COMPARISON SHOPPING: Hero
FINAL RATING: 9.5/10
NEXT:
Triaphilia

New Releases for the Week of August 5, 2021


THE SUICIDE SQUAD

(Warner Brothers) Margot Robbie, Viola Davis, Idris Elba, Jai Courtney, Joel Kinnaman, John Cena, Sylvester Stallone, Storm Reid, Peter Capaldi. Directed by James Gunn

A group of convicted supervillains are given a release from prison – closely supervised by Colonel Rick Flagg and the ruthless Amanda Waller – to take on a seemingly impossible mission: to stop a would be world conqueror who happens to be a giant starfish. Heads will roll and blood will spill in this Gunn-directed extraganza that may just be the DCEU movie we’ve been waiting for.

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

Genre: Superhero
Now Playing: Wide
(also on HBO Max)
Rating: R (for drug use, brief graphic nudity, language throughout, some sexual references, and strong violence and gore)

6:45

(Storyboard) Michael Reed, Augie Duke, Thomas G. Waites, Armen Garo. A couple on a vacation on an idyllic and quiet island to try and rescue their rocky relationship find themselves battling for their lives in an endless time loop of murder and horror from which there is no escape.

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

Genre: Horror
Now Playing: Regal Waterford Lakes, Regal Winter Park Village
Rating: R (for strong violence and gore, language throughout, sexual content and nudity)

All the Streets are Silent

(Greenwich) Rosario Dawson, Fab 5 Freddie, Moby, Darryl McDaniels. In New York in the late Eighties, two disparate subcultures – hip hop and skateboarding – converged. This is the story of how it happened and the lasting cultural impact of that convergence.

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

Genre: Music Documentary
Now Playing: Enzian On-Demand
Rating: NR

Annette

(Amazon) Marion Cotillard, Adam Driver, Ron Mael, Russell Mael. A stand-up comedian and his opera singer wife have a 2-year-old daughter with an unusual gift. From the offbeat mind of French director Leos Carax.

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

Genre: Musical
Now Playing: Cinemark Orlando
Rating: R (for sexual content including some nudity, and for language)

Blackpink: The Movie

(Trafalgar) Jennie Kim, Jisoo Kim, Lalisa Manoban, Rosé. This concert film/documentary celebrates the fifth anniversary of the global sensation Blackpink. And they said they’d never last…

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

Genre: Music Documentary
Now Playing: AMC Disney Springs, Cinemark Universal Citywalk
Rating: NR

John and the Hole

(IFC) Charlie Shotwell, Michael C. Hall, Jennifer Ehle, Taissa Farmiga. A disquieting tale of a 13-year-old boy with issues who holds his family hostage in a hole in the ground.

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

Genre: Thriller
Now Playing: CMX Orlando Plaza
Rating: R (for language)

Mandibles

(Magnet) Grégoire Ludig, David Marsais, Adéle Exarchopoulos, India Hair. A pair of none-too-bright friends are given a task of delivering a briefcase. They steal a car, only to find a giant fly in the trunk. This gives them the idea to train the fly to rob banks. This played the most recent Florida Film Festival and is making it out into a theatrical release.

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

Genre: Fantasy
Now Playing: Enzian
Rating: NR

Nine Days

(Sony Classics) Winston Duke, Zazie Beetz, Benedict Wong, Bill Skarsgård. Five souls vying to be born on Earth are interviewed by a man to determine if they are worthy.

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

Genre: Fantasy
Now Playing: AMC Disney Springs, Regal Winter Park Village
Rating: R (for language)

Notorious Nick

(Lionsgate) Cody Christian, Elizabeth Röhm, Kevin Pollak, Barry Livingston. A MMA fighter born with a partial left arm nevertheless dreams of becoming the light heavyweight champion and works towards that goal.

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

Genre: Action
Now Playing: Picture Show at Altamonte
Rating: PG-13 (for sports violence/action, and language)

Playing God

(Vertical) Hannah Kasulka, Luke Benward, Michael McKean, Alan Tudyk. A brother-sister con artist team try to convince a grieving billionaire that he is getting a face-to-face interview with God, with their mentor playing the role of the almighty.
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See the trailer here
For more on the movie this is the website

Genre: Comedy
Now Playing: Studio Movie Grill Sunset Walk
Rating: NR

COMING TO VIRTUAL CINEMA/VOD:

The Bergeron Brothers: Wedding Videographers (Tuesday)
Bleed With Me
(Tuesday)
Dark Stories
(Tuesday)
Eye Without a Face
(Tuesday)
The Florist
(Tuesday)
Materna
(Tuesday)
Never Gonna Snow Again
Night Drive
Sabaya
Sheep Without a Shepherd
The Swarm
Val
Vivo
Whirlybird

SCHEDULED FOR REVIEW:

Annette
Mandibles
Never Gonna Snow Again
Nine Days
Suicide Squad
Val
Vivo
Whirlybird

New Releases for the Week of October 11, 2019


GEMINI MAN

(Paramount) Will Smith, Clive Owen, Mary Elizabeth Winstead, Benedict Wong, Ralph Brown, Douglas Hodge, Linda Emond. Directed by Ang Lee

An elite assassin finds himself targeted by a younger man who seems in all ways to be his equal. It turns out, there’s a very good reason for that.

See the trailer, clips, interviews, video featurettes and B-roll video here
For more on the movie this is the website
Genre: Science Fiction
Now Playing: Wide Release
Rating: PG-13 (for violence and action throughout, and brief strong language)

The Addams Family

(United Artists) Starring the voices of Oscar Isaac, Charlize Theron, Chloe Grace Moretz, Bette Midler. Although better known as an iconic television series, the Addams’ originally started off as a series of cartoons by illustrator Charles Addams. Now they come full circle in this animated feature about the creepy and kooky family.

See the trailer, clips, interviews and video featurettes here
For more on the movie this is the website  
Genre: Animated Feature
Now Playing: Wide Release
Rating: PG (for macabre and suggestive humor, and some action)

Fronteras

(Vertical) Steven Sean Garland, Wade Everett, Cortez Chappell, Larry Coulter. A Hispanic border patrol agent must confront his own sense of morality when a task force arrives to contain a deadly narcotic that is beginning to sweep through the Southwest.

See the trailer here
For more on the movie this is the website  
Genre: Action
Now Playing: Touchstar Southchase
Rating: NR

Jexi

(CBS) Adam DeVine, Alexandra Shipp, Michael Peña. Rose Byrne. A millennial addicted to his phone and with no appreciable life gets an upgrade which includes Jexi, a kind of cyber-life coach and cheerleader who helps him develop a better life. Unfortunately the A.I. begins to get jealous of her human’s new-found friends and wants to keep him all to itself.

See the trailer, clips and interviews here
For more on the movie this is the website  
Genre: Comedy
Now Playing: Wide Release
Rating: R (for strong/crude sexual content and language throughout, some drug use and graphic nudity)

Miles Davis: Birth of the Cool

(Abramorama) Miles Davis, Carl Lumbly, Quincy Jones, Herbie Hancock. Davis was one of the greatest innovators in the history of jazz. This is his story.

See the trailer here
For more on the movie this is the website  
Genre: Music Documentary
Now Playing: Enzian Theater
Rating: NR

Polaroid

(Vertical) Kathryn Prescott, Mitch Pileggi, Grace Zabriskie, Tyler Young. A high school student discovers a vintage Polaroid camera and begins to take photos of her friends until she discovers the horrifying truth; that those whose pictures are taken by the camera meet grisly ends.

See the trailer here
For more on the movie this is the website  
Genre: Horror
Now Playing: Touchstar Southchase
Rating: PG-13 (for violence/terror, thematic elements, brief strong language, some teen drinking and drug material)

The Sky is Pink

(Gravitas) Priyanka Chopra, Farhan Akhtar, Zaira Wasim, Ronit Saraf.  The relationship of an Indian couple is seen through the eyes of their teenage daughter who is battling a lethal disease.

See the trailer, clips and a video featurette here
For more on the movie this is the website  
Genre: Family Drama
Now Playing: AMC West Oaks
Rating: NR

ALSO OPENING IN ORLANDO/DAYTONA:

Adhya Rathiri
Cuck
Dilili in Paris
Family History
Indian Horse
Lucky Day
The Parts You Lose
Semper Fi

ALSO OPENING IN MIAMI/FT. LAUDERDALE/KEY WEST:

Adhya Rathiri
The Dead Center
Durj
El Camino: A Breaking Bad Movie
First Love
High Strung Free Dance
Lucy in the Sky
Where’s My Roy Cohn?

ALSO OPENING IN TAMPA/ST. PETERSBURG/SARASOTA:

El Camino: A Breaking Bad Movie
Family History
Raise Hell: The Life and Times of Molly Ivins

ALSO OPENING IN JACKSONVILLE/ST. AUGUSTINE:

Adhya Rathiri
El Camino: A Breaking Bad Movie

SCHEDULED FOR REVIEW:

El Camino: A Breaking Bad Movie
Gemini Man

FILM FESTIVALS TAKING PLACE IN FLORIDA:

South Asian Film Festival, Maitland
Tampa Bay International Gay & Lesbian Film Festival, Tampa

Avengers: Infinity War


The latest Avengers movie, starring…everyone. Heck, you’re probably in it too!

(2018) Superhero (Disney/Marvel) Robert Downey Jr., Chris Pratt, Chris Evans, Chris Hemsworth, Zoe Saldana, Chadwick Boseman, Scarlett Johansson, Mark Ruffalo, Josh Brolin, Karen Gillan, Tom Hiddleston, Tom Holland, Don Cheadle, Benedict Cumberbatch, Paul Bettany, Elizabeth Olsen, Idris Elba, Danai Gurira, Anthony Mackie, Sebastian Stan, Peter Dinklage, Benedict Wong, Pom Klementieff and a cast of thousands. Directed by Anthony and Joe Russo

 

This is to date the biggest and most epic Marvel movie ever – until the next untitled Avengers movie, filmed concurrently with this one and scheduled for release in May 2019.

The mad Titan Thanos, seeing that the Universe is dreadfully out of balance, believes that he has a solution that will restore balance: to kill half of the entire population of the universe at random. There’s no practical way to do that so he has to do something that has never been done – he must retrieve all six of the Infinity Stones, gems created by the Big Bang and each with control of a different aspect of the universe – space, time, the mind, the soul, and so on.

Of course, the superheroes all oppose this plan and they come from all over – nearly every Marvel movie preceding this one is represented here from the spacefaring Guardians of the Galaxy to the high tech Black Panther and of course the various and sundry Avengers films. It’s a colossal undertaking and quite frankly I didn’t expect them to pull it off. There are an awful lot of characters here and a lot of them really don’t get much screen time.

Thanos (Brolin) gets a ton of screen time and it’s no joke the best portrayal of a comic book villain since Heath Ledger won an Oscar for playing one. Thanos is truly the Big Bad of the Marvel Universe and while the heroes valiantly take him on, things don’t look too good. It’s an epic tale that is taking two movies to tell.

The action is as you’d expect spectacular and the effects seamless. There are even some poignant moments, most of them occurring in the last twenty minutes of the film. Who knew that Marvel knows pathos? In any case, this is an emotional rollercoaster that every Marvel fan is going to be overjoyed to take – even the usually hard-to-impress fanboys have been singing the praises of this one.

Yes, I realize you’ve probably already seen it and if you haven’t you likely aren’t going to and frankly you’re probably not reading this review in that case. So you’ve seen it. Maybe you’ve already purchased a digital copy (the Blu-Ray and DVD editions were just released) and likely you’ll be getting one of those. This isn’t the best Marvel movie yet but it’s damn close.

REASONS TO GO: Brolin gives a game-changing performance as Thanos. The action is non-stop and without peer. There are some very poignant moments.
REASONS TO STAY: There are too many characters to keep track of.
FAMILY VALUES: There is nearly non-stop sci-fi/superhero action and violence, some crude references and some scenes with disturbing content.
TRIVIAL PURSUIT: At the beginning of the film, the distress call from the Asgardian ship is the voice of Kenneth Branagh, the director of the first Thor film.
BEYOND THE THEATERS: Amazon, Fandango Now, Google Play, iTunes, Microsoft, Movies Anywhere, Vudu, YouTube
CRITICAL MASS: As of 8/15/18: Rotten Tomatoes: 83% positive reviews. Metacritic: 68/100.
COMPARISON SHOPPING: Captain America: Civil War
FINAL RATING: 8.5/10
NEXT:
Songwriter

Annihilation


A team of women enter a brave new world.

(2018) Science Fiction (Paramount) Natalie Portman, Jennifer Jason Leigh, Tuva Novotny, Gina Rodriguez, Tessa Thompson, Oscar Isaac, Benedict Wong, Sonoya Mizuno, Sammy Hayman, Josh Danford, Kristen McGarrity, Bern Collaco, Kumud Pant, Richard Clark, Hiten Patel, Bobby Mahmi, Helena Holmes, Mairead Armstrong, Crystal Clarke, Odette Mitchell, Honey Holmes. Directed by Alex Garland

 

Sometimes we wonder what other worlds look like; are they beautiful like ours or barren and dismal? It stands to reason that worlds that are like ours will have some differences of flora and fauna. But if the intelligent species of those worlds decided to invade ours, wouldn’t they have to remake it in our image?

That seems to be the case. In a zone called The Shimmer, a state park has been surrounded by a force field that people can pass through. Those who have passed through however, have never returned. That includes Kane (Isaac), the husband of Lena (Portman) who is a medical doctor, a biology professor who like her husband has a military background. A year has passed by since his disappearance. Then, something happens that throws her life into disarray.

Now she needs to know what happened to Kane in the Shimmer. She meets with Dr. Ventress (Leigh), the project leader in trying to find out what the Shimmer is and what it means for humanity. Is it the beginning of the end? Is it a natural phenomenon? An invasion? A portal into another dimension? Inquiring minds need to know.

So a team of women are sent into see if they can find the answers, led by Ventress but including Anya (Rodriguez), Cass (Novotny) and Josie (Thompson). What they will find inside the Shimmer is not what they were expecting, but it is nonetheless a dangerous place that they can’t let their guard down not even for a moment. Not against the environment – and not against each other. After all, what would a sci-fi film be without at least some of the characters bearing deep dark hidden secrets?

This could easily have been a run of the mill creature feature (and there are several creatures to be found in this film, some damn frightening) but that’s just not the way Garland operates. This is a thinking person’s sci-fi, based on a novel by Jeff VanderMeer. It is the first book in a trilogy, which is probably what attracted Paramount in the first place – the potential for a franchise. That’s not exactly what they got, which is probably why the studio’s financial department demanded changes in the film (particularly the ending) because it was “too cerebral.” Producer Scott Rudin, who had the final cut negotiated in his contract, refused and the movie went out as Garland wanted it.

There is certainly some allegory here, both in the sense of how our own planet’s environment is changing and the lethal consequences that will arise as part of that. There are a few logical holes that I really can’t go into without spoiling the plot so I won’t and the movie runs just shy of two hours which is about a half hour too long. I like the intelligence of the script but I could have done with a little less travelogue.

The visuals are absolutely breathtaking and highly imaginative; there are images here that are going to stick with you for a long time to come, the stuff of both dreams and nightmares. The performances are a little hit and miss; at times Portman doesn’t seem to be in sync with what’s going on although it is true that her character does have a lot on her mind. However, Leigh gives a stellar performance that reminds us that she is an Oscar-nominated performer who is one of the most underrated actresses in Hollywood.

Whether you like this or not is going to depend heavily on whether you prefer to use science fiction as an escape or as illumination. Those who prefer the latter will find rich material to mine here; those who prefer the former are going to end up with a headache. I’m sort of in the middle on this one; it’s certainly flawed but that doesn’t mean that there isn’t enough here to check out, particularly if you like your movies to challenge you. This one does that for certain.

REASONS TO GO: The visuals are spectacular. Leigh gives a stellar performance.
REASONS TO STAY: The story is a little bit disjointed. The film runs way too long, maybe a good 40 minutes.
FAMILY VALUES: There is lots of violence and some bloody images, plenty of profanity and some sexuality.
TRIVIAL PURSUIT: Both Isaac and Mizuno worked with Garland on his previous film Ex-Machina.
BEYOND THE THEATERS: Amazon, Fandango Now, Google Play, iTunes, Microsoft, Paramount Movies, Vudu, YouTube
CRITICAL MASS: As of 6/12/18: Rotten Tomatoes: 87% positive reviews. Metacritic: 79/100.
COMPARISON SHOPPING: Avatar
FINAL RATING: 6.5/10
NEXT:
Izzy Gets the F*ck Across Town

New Releases for the Week of February 23, 2018


ANNIHILATION

(Paramount) Natalie Portman, Oscar Isaac, Jennifer Jason Leigh, Gina Rodriguez, Tessa Thompson, Tuva Novotny, Benedict Wong, David Gyasi. Directed by Alex Garland

A biologist with military experience is decimated when her husband disappears in an ecological disaster zone. However when he mysteriously returns in a coma, she volunteers to go into the zone, known as The Shimmer, to discover what is going on there. She and her team will come face to face with something she doesn’t expect and could never have prepared for. This is the latest from Alex Garland, director of the acclaimed Ex-Machina.

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

Release Formats: Standard
Genre: Sci-Fi Horror
Now Playing: Wide Release

Rating: R (for violence, bloody images, language and some sexuality)

Every Day

(Orion) Angourie Rice, Maria Bello, Debby Ryan, Jacob Batalon. A shy teenage girl is smitten by a young man who clearly has a crush on her. Then she discovers that the young man has been inhabited by a spirit that switches bodies, a different one each day. That can prove to be quite an obstacle but true love will find a way.

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

Release Formats: Standard
Genre: Romantic Fantasy
Now Playing: Wide Release

Rating: PG-13 (for thematic content, language, teen drinking and suggestive material)

Game Night

(New Line) Jason Bateman, Rachel McAdams, Kyle Chandler, Danny Huston. A group of friends who get together for a regular game night discover that the murder mystery that’s supposed to be a game is a mystery that they are going to need to solve if they are to make it through the night.

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

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

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

ALSO OPENING IN ORLANDO/DAYTONA:

Basmati Blues
The Female Brain
Humor Me
Sonu Ke Titu Ki Sweety

ALSO OPENING IN MIAMI/FT. LAUDERDALE:

Loveless
Operation Red Sea
The Peanut Butter Solution
Sonu Ke Titu Ki Sweety
Welcome to New York

ALSO OPENING IN TAMPA/ST. PETERSBURG:

Beast of Burden
The Chamber
Sonu Ke Titu Ki Sweety
Welcome to New York

ALSO OPENING IN JACKSONVILLE/ST. AUGUSTINE:

Beast of Burden
Sin Island
Welcome to New York

SCHEDULED FOR REVIEW:

Annihilation
The Chamber
Game Night

FILM FESTIVALS TAKING PLACE IN FLORIDA:

Dan Savage’s Hump Film Festival Miami

Doctor Strange


He's a magic man, he's got the magic hands.

He’s a magic man, he’s got the magic hands.

(2016) Superhero (Disney/Marvel) Benedict Cumberbatch, Chiwetel Ejiofor, Rachel McAdams, Tilda Swinton, Mads Mikkelsen, Benedict Wong, Michael Stuhlbarg, Benjamin Bratt, Scott Adkins, Zara Phythian, Alaa Safi, Katrina Durden, Topo Wresniwiro, Umit Ulgen, Linda Louise Duan, Mark Anthony Brighton, Meera Syal, Amy Landecker. Directed by Scott Derrickson

 

It was Arthur C. Clarke, author of 2001: A Space Odyssey who once said “Any sufficiently advanced technology is indistinguishable from magic.” Of course, that’s assuming that there is no magic but then again if there was such a thing it would likely end up being explainable by scientific theory once we understood it. Then again, there’s always the possibility that magic is real.

Dr. Stephen Strange (Cumberbatch) is one of the top neurosurgeons in the world. He has saved literally thousands of lives and lives in a Greenwich Village apartment that is more palace than apartment although it is somewhat sterile in many ways. Dr. Strange is a bit of an egotist, something that has made his relationship with Dr. Christine Palmer (McAdams) fall apart, although they are still fond of each other – it’s just that Strange is just a little bit fonder of himself.

A terrible car accident puts paid to all of that however. His hands – those marvelous, life-giving hands – hae been badly injured. He can barely hold a scalpel anymore and has zero control over his nerves. His hands shake like an epileptic at a disco revival. He has tried every surgical option and drug known to man but nevertheless his situation remains unchanged.

Desperate, he discovers the case of a man named Jonathan Pangborn (Bratt) who was told he’d never walk again by plenty of doctors, including Strange himself. Amazingly he was not only walking but playing basketball. When asked what his secret was, Pangborn sends Strange to Kathmandu to find a particular order of monks. While searching the streets of Kathmandu for it, he runs into Mordo (Ejiofor), a disciple of the person Strange is looking for. Mordo takes Strange to The Ancient One (Swinton), an ancient Celt who reigns as Sorcerer Supreme, a title of respect and the latest addition to the McDonald’s Value Meal menu.

Despite being unable to accept on faith the powers of the Ancient One being a man of science, Strange nevertheless manages to convince her to train him in the mystical arts, although she’s reluctant at first. She thinks he’s an arrogant close-minded twit and she’s essentially right but arrogant close-minded twits are people too, no?

And she’s in need of all the help she can get. One of her former disciples, Kaecilius (Mikkelsen), has essentially gone mad. He wants to create a world without death and in order to do that, he has to summon Dormammu – an ancient creature from another dimension that predates the Gods and who wants to wipe out all life in our universe. So a world without death is a world without life, right? Those tricky old god bastards!

Kaecilius is a powerful sorcerer and Strange is just learning his way around. As Kaecilius races to destroy all the wards that protect our dimension from beings like Dormammu, Strange discovers that he has been chosen by a pair of powerful artifacts – and that the way to beat a god is to think like one.

After a couple of subpar Marvel offerings, it’s nice to see that they’re back on track with a movie that sums up everything right about the Marvel films. Firstly, this is a movie about characters and not superpowers. Steven Strange is an interesting human being full of human frailty despite having the power to warp reality itself. Cumberbatch does a marvelous job of capturing the good doctor that I remember from the comic books, although I have to admit that he sounds a little bit strange with an American accent. Ouch.

The special effects here are pretty impressive, although they do borrow heavily from other sources. Certainly the reality warping takes a page right out of Christopher Nolan’s Inception and some may find that to be a bit of a cop-out, but at least it’s utilized in a more physical way than Nolan did. The spells look almost scientific in nature just as you’d expect a man of science to relate to casting magic spells. All in all, some of the best effects we’ve seen yet in a Marvel film and that’s saying something.

The relationship between Strange and Palmer doesn’t generate a lot of heat; there’s more of a bromance between Mordo and Strange. Ejiofor is a reliable performer who always seems to get the most out of every role he tackles. Swinton is simply put one of the strongest actresses working today; the role of the Ancient One, who in the comics was an elderly Asian gentleman, was rewritten extensively to suit Swinton who is none of those things (elderly, Asian or a gentleman).

The action is pretty much non-stop once it gets going, although it takes a little while to. In essence, once again Marvel has done it – created an entirely different superhero movie that retains the feel of the comic book, the consistency of a shared cinematic universe but able to retain individual identities for each film. Any franchise filmmaker will tell you how extraordinarily difficult that is. In any case, it’s a fitting lead off to the holiday blockbuster season. I can’t think of a single reason why anyone who likes entertaining movies shouldn’t see it.

REASONS TO GO: The special effects are mind-blowing. The story and characters are as good as any in any Marvel movie. One of the best supporting casts of any Marvel movie.
REASONS TO STAY: The film seems to exist on its own plane outside the rest of the Marvel movies.
FAMILY VALUES:  You’ll find plenty of violence and carnage, some mind-bending changes of perspective and a car crash sequence that’s rather intense.
TRIVIAL PURSUIT:  The appearance of the comic book character was based on actor Vincent Price and even had the middle name of “Vincent.” In recent years the character’s look has been modernized, with a goatee replacing the pencil mustache he’d had since his inception.
CRITICAL MASS: As of 11/21/16: Rotten Tomatoes: 90% positive reviews. Metacritic: 72/100.
COMPARISON SHOPPING: The Shadow
FINAL RATING: 8/10
NEXT: Amanda Knox

New Releases for the Week of November 4, 2016


Doctor StrangeDOCTOR STRANGE

(Disney/Marvel) Benedict Cumberbatch, Chiwetel Ejiofor, Rachel McAdams, Tilda Swinton, Mads Mikkelsen, Benedict Wong, Michael Stuhlbarg. Directed by Scott Derrickson

Renowned neurosurgeon Stephen Strange has everything going for him; a thriving practice in Manhattan, a beautiful girlfriend, wealth and privilege. All of that vanishes in an instant when a tragic car accident severely injures his hands and ends his career as a surgeon. Bitter and directionless, he discovers a larger world, one of mystic powers and strange artifacts. That world is under siege by a remorseless villain; Strange, a novice at the mystic arts, must put aside his ego and take up the mantle of Sorcerer Supreme if he is to save the world.

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

Release Formats: Standard, 3D, IMAX 3D
Genre: Superhero
Now Playing: Wide Release

Rating: PG-13 (for sci-fi violence and action throughout, and an intense crash sequence)

Hacksaw Ridge

(Summit) Andrew Garfield, Sam Worthington, Teresa Palmer, Hugo Weaving. This is the incredible but true story of Private Desmond Doss, an army medic during World War II who believed that while the war was a just one, killing was nonetheless wrong. He refused to abandon his principles and while he enlisted to do his bit while his beliefs got him labeled a coward by his fellow soldiers. Nonetheless he went into battle without a weapon and pulled the wounded from behind enemy lines despite extreme danger to himself. He remains the only conscientious objector to win the Congressional Medal of Honor.

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

Release Formats: Standard
Genre: Biographical War Drama
Now Playing: Wide Release

Rating: R (for intense prolonged realistically graphic sequences of war violence including grisly bloody images)

The Handmaiden

(Magnolia/Amazon) Min-hee Kim, Tae-ri Kim, Jung-woo Ha, Jin-woong Jo. This twisted romance from acclaimed South Korean director Chan-wook Park is set in the 1930s and is about a handmaiden who is employed by a beautiful Japanese lady. What the lady doesn’t know is that her handmaiden is secretly involved in a plot to defraud her.

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

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

Rating: NR

Stagecoach: The Texas Jack Story

(Cinedigm) Trace Adkins, Michelle Harrison, Kim Coates, Judd Nelson. A former stagecoach robber, reformed and trying to live a quiet, peaceful life, is pursued by a vengeful U.S. Marshall who was maimed during a gunfight with the ex-criminal.

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

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

Rating: NR

Trolls

(DreamWorks Animation) Starring the voices of Justin Timberlake, Anna Kendrick, Zooey Deschanel, Russell Brand. In the colorful world of trolls, happiness and optimism reign until the troll village is invaded by hungry Bergens who carry off all the villagers save two – Poppy and Branch, the former the most upbeat troll who ever lived, the latter a curmudgeon who prefers to be left alone. The two mismatched trolls must learn to work together in order to save Poppy’s friends.

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

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

Rating: PG (for some mild rude humor)

 

Redemption (Hummingbird)


Don't keep Jason Statham waiting for his drink.

Don’t keep Jason Statham waiting for his drink.

(2013) Action (Roadside Attractions) Jason Statham, Agata Buzek, Vicki McClure, Benedict Wong, Ger Ryan, Youssef Kerkour, Anthony Morris, Victoria Bewick, Christian Brassington, Danny Webb, Sang Lui, Bruce Want, Dai Bradley, Siobhan Hewlett, Steven Beard, Ian Pirie, Lillie Buttery, Macey Chipping, Emily Lue Fong, Michelle Lee. Directed by Steven Knight

We all do things we’re not proud of. It’s just a part of living and learning. Sometimes we do and say things we wish we could take back. Sometimes we make decisions that upon reflection were unwise or thoughtless. Other times we do things out of self-interest that end up having unintended consequences. Still other times we do things we know are wrong but we do them anyway. The ramifications of the latter can be devastating.

Joseph Smith (Statham) – not the Mormon leader – is a British soldier in Afghanistan. He has deserted from the army and lives on the streets of London, a homeless alcoholic. He’s also suffering from major PTSD, often seeing hallucinations of hummingbirds. He shares a cardboard box with Isabel (Bewick), a drug-addicted prostitute who’s also homeless. The two are set upon one night by thugs who snatch Isabel and chase Joseph off. He finds his way into a very snazzy flat – one in which the wealthy owner will be leaving conveniently vacant for 8 months, returning on October 1st as Joseph discovers on the answering machine.

Rather than wallow in the new found luxury, Joseph decides to change his life around. He shaves, puts on a new suit and with the help of a conveniently left credit card reinvents his image. He becomes Joseph Jones and even gets a job washing dishes in the kitchen of a Chinese restaurant. When some rowdy customers need to be evicted, Joseph evicts them none too gently, catching the eye of his employer Choy (Wong) who is impressed and makes Joseph his driver/enforcer. Now known as Crazy Joey, Joseph spends a lot of his new salary on feeding the homeless, and thanking the comely Sister Cristina (Buzek) who runs the soup kitchen that fed him while he was on the streets. The two strike up one of those more-than-friendship things. He even has enough to help out the wife (McClure) and kids he left behind.

Then he finds out that Isabel was beaten to death and dumped in the Thames. Once he gets over his grief, he knows that his time in the flat is running out and Sister Cristina is off to do missionary work in Sierra Leone – coincidentally, on the same day. He has one more job to do before he returns to his homeless, drunk existence – revenge before redemption.

This is the directorial debut of Knight, best known for writing the gritty David Cronenberg film Eastern Promises and there’s a similar vibe here. The seedy side of London is filmed unapologetically and without accusation – this is just the way things are, that’s all. No pointing fingers, no sermonizing. Everyone has their story and Joseph has his (and yes, we do find out what happened in Afghanistan to drive him AWOL and to the streets of London).

Statham is the premiere action star going, even more so than Liam Neeson in that Statham is more bred for the type of role than Neeson who had a thriving dramatic career and an Oscar to his credit before changing paths into the ass-kicking one. But, like Neeson, Statham has some acting chops – perhaps not quite to the degree of Neeson – but there nonetheless. The main complaint about Statham is that he doesn’t seem to portray a lot of emotions other than anger, bonhomie and cheerfulness. It’s a fair enough criticism, but it can’t be made here as we see Statham at his most emotionally vulnerable maybe ever. He also kicks plenty of butt however, so no worries on that score.

Knight, who co-wrote the movie, gets the benefit of cinematographer Chris Menges who gives us plenty of neon-lit images, some of which are pretty scintillating. However, the thing that kind of puzzles me is that Knight, who is quite a good writer judging on his resume, put so many frankly unbelievable coincidences in the script. For example, who would leave an expensive flat vacant for eight months without someone checking on it at least periodically, or without a security system installed?

Statham’s performance thankfully elevates the movie beyond its writing flaws. This isn’t going to be the movie that elevates him beyond the typical action roles he gets, but it’s certainly another brick in that particular wall. In the meantime, we can enjoy him at his butt-kicking best.

WHY RENT THIS: Statham is always entertaining. Some pretty nifty fight scenes.
WHY RENT SOMETHING ELSE: Requires too much stretching of the imagination. Been there done that plot.
FAMILY VALUES: Brutal violence, graphic nudity and lots of foul language.
TRIVIAL PURSUIT: The movie was filmed almost entirely at night in environs in London where homeless people hang out; several also served as extras in the film.
NOTABLE DVD EXTRAS: None listed.
BOX OFFICE PERFORMANCE: $12.7M on a $20M production budget.
SITES TO SEE: Netflix (DVD rental/Streaming), Amazon (rent/buy), Vudu (rent/buy),  iTunes (rent/buy), Flixster (rent/buy), Target Ticket (rent/buy)
COMPARISON SHOPPING: Safe
FINAL RATING: 6/10
NEXT: The Search for General Tso