New Releases for the Week of September 14, 2018


THE PREDATOR

(20th Century Fox) Boyd Holbrook, Trevante Rhodes, Jacob Tremblay, Keegan-Michael Key, Olivia Munn, Sterling K. Brown, Jake Busey, Thomas Jane, Yvonne Strahovsky. Directed by Shane Black

A young boy accidentally triggers the return to earth the greatest hunters the universe has ever seen – further evidence that kids suck. A disgruntled science teacher and a jaded crew of ex-soldiers can prevent the annihilation of the human race at the hands of the predators who  just to make matters a bit worse have given  themselves an upgrade.

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

Release Formats: Standard, D-BOX, Dolby, IMAX, RPX, XD
Genre: Science Fiction
Now Playing: Wide Release

Rating: R (for strong bloody violence, language throughout and crude sexual references)

A Boy. A Girl. A Dream.

(Goldwyn) Omari Hardwick, Meagan Good, Jay Ellis, Dijon Talton. On the night of the 2016 Presidential election when dreams were busy dying, a jaded L.A. club promoter meets a down-to-earth Midwestern girl. She helps him find the strength to chase his broken dreams, while he gives her the insight to discover her own.

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

Release Formats: Standard
Genre: Romance
Now Playing: Regal Pointe Orlando

Rating: R (for language)

A Simple Favor

(Lionsgate) Anna Kendrick, Blake Lively, Henry Golding, Rupert Friend. When her best friend suddenly and mysteriously disappears from their small town, a mommy vlogger takes it upon herself to investigate. What she finds is a web of deceit, secrets, betrayal and revenge.

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

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

Rating: R (for sexual content and language throughout, some graphic nude images, drug use and violence)

Unbroken: Path to Redemption

(Pure Flix) Samuel Hunt, Merritt Patterson, Gary Cole, Bob Gunton. The sequel to Unbroken, the 2014 biopic of Louis Zamperlini a former Olympic athlete turned prisoner of war in Japan during World War II, follows Zamperlini during the post-war years. He finds himself a wife but nightmares and other symptoms of PTSD plague him and threaten his marriage until Billy Graham helps him find a path to redemption.

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

Release Formats: Standard
Genre: Faith-Based Biographical Drama
Now Playing: Wide Release

Rating: PG-13 (for thematic content and related disturbing images)

Warning Shot

(Veritas) Tammi Blanchard, Bruce Dern, David Spade, Dwight Henry. A single mother living hand to mouth inherits her grandfather’s farmhouse whose lucrative water rights are coveted by her grandfather’s business rival. With his grandson eager to prove himself ready to take over the family business, goons are hired to intimidate the young mother. Things begin to escalate out of control as the grandson fails to take into account how far a mother will go to protect her own daughter.

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

Release Formats: Standard
Genre: Thriller
Now Playing: Picture Show Altamonte Springs

Rating: R (for violence, sexual menace and references, language and drug use)

Where Hands Touch

(Vertical) Amandla Sternberg, Abbie Cornish, Christopher Eccleston, George Mackay. The daughter of a German mother and an African father faces uncertainty during the Nazi rise to power. Finding a sympathetic friend in the Hitler Youth whose father is a high-ranking Nazi official, she is forced to find her own way as things get more and more dire and her future more and more precarious.

See the trailer here
For more on the movie this is the website
Release Formats: Standard
Genre: Drama
Now Playing: Regal Winter Park Village
Rating: PG-13 (for thematic elements, violence/disturbing images, sexuality and language)

White Boy Rick

(Columbia) Matthew McConaughey, Richie Merritt, Bel Powley, Jennifer Jason Leigh. The true story of a teenage boy from Detroit who became a drug kingpin and a police informant in the 1980s.

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

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

Rating: R (for language throughout, drug content, violence, some sexual references and brief nudity)

ALSO OPENING IN ORLANDO/DAYTONA:

Another Time
Mandy
Manmarziyaan
Moses
Sailaja Reddy Alludu
Score: A Film Music Documentary
Seema Raja
U-Turn

ALSO OPENING IN MIAMI/FT. LAUDERDALE:

Armed
Danger One
Finding Home
God is Brazilian
Kusama: Infinity
Manmarziyaan
Moses
Sailaja Reddy Alludu
Seema Raja
U-Turn
Wanda
We the Animals
The Wild Boys

ALSO OPENING IN TAMPA/ST. PETERSBURG:

Final Score
Sailaja Reddy Alludu
Seema Raja
U-Turn

ALSO OPENING IN JACKSONVILLE/ST. AUGUSTINE:

Manmarziyaan
Moses
Sailaja Reddy Alludu
U-Turn

SCHEDULED FOR REVIEW:

A Simple Request
The Predator
White Boy Rick

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The 33


Chippendale's goes underground.

Chippendale’s goes underground.

(2015) True Life Drama (Warner Brothers/Alcon) Antonio Banderas, Rodrigo Santoro, Juliette Binoche, James Brolin, Lou Diamond Phillips, Mario Casas, Jacob Vargas, Juan Pablo Raba, Oscar Nuňez, Tenoch Huerta, Marco Treviňo, Adriana Barraza, Kate del Castillo, Cote de Pablo, Elizabeth De Razzo, Naomi Scott, Gustavo Agarita, Bob Gunton, Gabriel Byrne, Paulina Garcia. Directed by Patricia Riggen

One of the problems with bringing a real life event to the big screen, such as the sinking of the Titanic or the destruction of the Hindenburg is that everyone knows what’s about to transpire pretty much. For the mine collapse of the San Jose copper mine in Chile’s Atacama Desert on August 5, 2010 that trapped 33 miners miles below the surface for 69 days, most people are aware of how that turned out.

For most of the miners of the San Jose copper mine, August 5, 2010 was just another working day. After a retirement party for Mario Gomez (Agarita) who has just a few days to retire, Mario Sepulveda (Banderas), engineer Luis “Don Lucho” Urzua (Phillips), Elvis impersonator Edison Pena (Vargas), Dario Segovia (Raba), a homeless alcoholic and the devout Jose Henriquez (Treviňo) are among those who go down to earn their living, even though there are signs that something catastrophic was about to occur (and in real life, several miners had died and the mine owners repeatedly fined for poor safety conditions in the century-old mine).

Then a rock twice the size of the Empire State Building shifts and falls, burying the miners miles below the surface. When the 33 miners in the bowels of the earth reach their refuge, they discover that the medical supply cabinet is empty, the emergency food rations nearly so, and the telephone to the surface unconnected. The ladders in the ventilation shaft are also discovered to have never been completed. At first the miners take out their frustrations on foreman Urzua but Sepulveda’s level head prevails. They go about rationing the little food and water they have access to.

On the surface, the families of the miners, led by Maria Segovia (Binoche), the estranged sister of Dario, demand to be informed as to what is being done. The mining company, without the wherewithal to mount an expensive rescue operation, has decided to assume the men are dead and are making only token attempts to see if the miners are alive. The arrival of Chile’s Minister of Mines Laurence Golborne (Santoro) changes that; as he quickly discovers the lack of interest on the mining company’s part of getting their employees home alive, he takes charge of the rescue operation, with the blessing of Chilean President Piňera (Gunton) and with the assistance of mining engineer Andre Sougarret (Byrne).

In the meantime, things are looking dire in the mines as the first boreholes sent to the shelter miss their targets. However, once the miners are discovered alive and well, the gaze of the world turns to this compelling story in a small Chilean town.

Part of the problem with The 33 lies in its own title; there are 33 miners trapped underground and the movie can’t really spend a whole lot of time developing any of their characters. Throw in the families, political and media figures, the rescue teams including the one led by American Jeff Hart (Brolin) and it’s nearly impossible for director Riggen to give us a figure for the audience to latch onto, with the exception of the larger-than-life “Super Mario” who became a media darling in Chile during the actual event.

So a solid cast led by Banderas and Binoche, one of the most gifted actresses in the world, is left with frustratingly little to do other than occasionally mouthing a cliche meant to project their character’s role in the movie as comic relief, antagonist, love interest and so forth. Riggen has been criticized for this somewhat but to be fair I don’t think any director could have wrangled all of these characters and made them three dimensional unless she had a mini-series to do it with. Going back to Super Mario, during the movie there’s an incident when the miners turn on him because of his perceived favored status. One wonders if the actors in the film felt the same about Banderas who is really the only one of them who gets to make any sort of impression.

The rugged Chilean desert nicely contrasts with the mine scenes which were filmed in working mines in Columbia. They do capture nicely the flavor of being deep underground, although the sense of just how deep they were gets a little lost – in reality it would take the miners about an hour to reach the level they were trapped on from the surface, and of course an hour to return.

The movie glosses over some of the more disturbing aspects of the story, such as the mining company’s negligence or the absolutely disgraceful dismissal of their lawsuit three years after the disaster, or of the Chilean government’s opportunistic use of the miners to prop up their own sagging popularity. However, to be fair, the movie makes it clear that this was a defining moment in the history of Chile and that cannot be overlooked.

All in all, it’s an uplifting story that is a tribute to human endurance, the unmistakable power of hope, and the undeniable lure of bare masculine chests. I don’t know that the movie captured the true nature of what the miners endured – the second half of the movie there is almost zero tension because by that time supplies were making regular appearances down a tube from the surface, they had video communication with the surface and they made it seem less of a life-threatening situation than an endurance race. In the actual situation, there were serious doubts that the miners would survive – the unstable geological situation and the unknown performance of the rescue capsule were certainly question marks. Unfortunately, Riggen doesn’t really capture that adequately and maybe no director could have. After all, it’s no secret (and therefore not a spoiler) that all of the miners were rescued. That’s certainly the outcome we all wanted, but as dramatic cinema goes it doesn’t really stack up well.

REASONS TO GO: Inspiring. Plenty of beefcake.
REASONS TO STAY: Lacks character development. Little tension since we know how it ended.
FAMILY VALUES: There’s some minor profanity and a disaster sequence that might be a bit scary for young ones.
TRIVIAL PURSUIT: The final film to be scored by the late James Horner, who died in a plane crash two months before the movie’s release.
CRITICAL MASS: As of 11/29/15: Rotten Tomatoes: 42% positive reviews. Metacritic: 55/100.
COMPARISON SHOPPING: October Sky
FINAL RATING: 6/10
NEXT: Spotlight

New Releases for the Week of November 13, 2015


The 33THE 33

(Warner Brothers) Antonio Banderas, Rodrigo Santoro, Juliette Binoche, James Brolin, Lou Diamond Phillips, Bob Gunton, Gabriel Byrne. Directed by Patricia Riggen

In 2010, the eyes of the world were on Chile when 33 miners were trapped in a copper mine by a catastrophic explosion and collapse of the mine. For 69 days, an international team of mine experts frantically tried to rescue the men who survived underground. With barely enough food and water, with air running out and oppressive heat wearing them down, the race against time to bring the miners home became a desperate one. While we all know how the story ended, we don’t know the real story. This is apparently it.

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

Release Formats: Standard
Genre: True Life Drama
Now Playing: Wide Release
Rating: PG-13 (for a disaster sequence and some language)

Love the Coopers

(CBS) Diane Keaton, John Goodman, Ed Helms, Marisa Tomei. The Cooper family has made an annual tradition of gathering at Christmas. Four generations of Coopers have grown up with this tradition. This year however, their celebration will be thrown askew by unexpected visitors, unlikely events and a renewal of family bonds that withstand the test of just about any calamity.

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

Release Formats: Standard
Genre: Holiday Comedy
Now Playing: Wide Release
Rating: PG-13 (for thematic elements, language and some sexuality)

My All-American

(Clarius) Aaron Eckhart, Finn Wittrock, Sarah Bolger, Robin Tunney. Freddie Steinmark has been an underdog all his life. Considered too small to play football, he perseveres and becomes a champion in high school. His fight and determination attracts the attention of legendary University of Texas coach Darryl Royal who awards Freddie a scholarship. His determination and leadership turn around a losing team, but it was only after a devastating injury leads to a shocking discovery that the heart of a champion truly surfaces.

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

Release Formats: Standard
Genre: True Sports Drama
Now Playing: Wide Release
Rating: PG (for thematic elements, language and brief partial nudity)

Dead Silence


She's bummed because she's out of both Clearasil and Coppertone.

She’s bummed because she’s out of both Clearasil and Coppertone.

(2007) Horror (Universal) Ryan Kwanten, Amber Valletta, Donnie Wahlberg, Bob Gunton, Michael Fairman, Joan Heney, Laura Regan, Dmitry Chepovetsky, Judith Roberts, Keir Gilchrist, Steven Taylor, David Talbot, Steve Adams, Shelley Peterson, Enn Reitel (voice), Fred Tatasciore (voice), Austin Majors (voice), Julian Richings. Directed by James Wan.

The thing with urban legends is that they tend to be more folklore than folk. Legends like Bloody Mary and Spring-Heeled Jack, both of whom are likely to have at least some basis in fact, have evolved into creatures who haunt our nightmares but can do little more than that.

Jamie Ashen (Kwanten) and his wife Lisa (Regan) are young and have their whole lives ahead of them. They don’t have much, but they do have a ventriloquist dummy that arrived mysteriously on their doorstep. So what does one do when one receives a ventriloquist dummy from an unknown source? If you’re Jamie Ashen, you go out for Chinese.

Naturally while he’s out picking up his Mu Shu Pork, his wife is being brutally murdered and yes, the dummy figures into it. Detective Lipton (Wahlberg), being no dummy himself, figures that the husband is suspect number one because he was the last person to see his wife alive, and this whole dummy story is completely preposterous, right? Not as preposterous as the cops letting him head back to his home town of Raven’s Falls to bury his wife, nor as much as later leaving the dummy at Jamie’s apartment despite it being an important bit of evidence. We’ll get to that later.

Jamie meets up with his Dad (Gunton) with whom his relationship has been strained to say the least but latest stepmom Ella (Valletta) seems to have mellowed him. Unfortunately, Dad’s new attitude doesn’t make much headway with his son, whose bridges have apparently been bombed and burned. However, Jamie meets up with the local undertaker (Fairman) and his addled sister (Heney) who inform him about the town’s dirty little secret; a ventriloquist named Mary Shaw (Roberts) once was accused of kidnapping and murdering a local child and was herself murdered by the irate townsfolk, who didn’t cotton much to that kind of thing. Mary was buried with her collection of more than 100 dummies, and has had her cadaver deformed to resemble a doll herself.

Of course, being murdered by irate townspeople will give a spirit one gnarly mad-on, so her spirit is rumored to have come back and picked off those responsible for her untimely demise one by one. The rumor goes that if her victim screams, Mary yanks out their tongue as well as a good deal of their soul/life force/whatever. It makes for an unpleasant nursery rhyme, but is the vengeful ghost of Mary Shaw real, and if she is, how do you fight something that has been dead for thirty years?

A fairly likable young cast performs as well as can be expected, with the character actors thrown in for good measure delivering. Kwanten is pleasant-looking enough, but struck me as more whiny than heroic. Valletta is awfully nice to look at but had sadly little to do. Gunton is one of my favorite character actors, but again is given a thankless role that gets very little screen time and makes little impact. Wahlberg is solid playing a role he has already done in the Saw movies, which Wan and writer Leigh Whannell created. He does it well enough, I suppose.

Director Wan works the tension up nicely although the pace drags occasionally. There aren’t a lot of special effects to deal with other than the articulated dolls but the dolls are first-rate when they do appear. The cinematography was adequately dark and murky to suit the mood although the set of the old theater where the climax takes place was unconvincing to my eyes.

A neat little twist at the end is the icing on a well-written cake. Although the “urban legend supernatural villains” has been done before, it hasn’t been done much better than this. Wan and Whannell go for a more atmospheric and less visceral movie than Saw and excel at it.

Unfortunately, Kwanten is uninspiring as the lead, and Wahlberg walks through his part as if he’s done it all before – which he has. There are a few too many preposterous plot points that were completely unnecessary such as the police leaving the ventriloquist dummy in the crime scene apartment. In real life something like that would be bagged for evidence along with the package it arrived in if for no other reason to rule out that the dummy’s appearance wasn’t tied to the murder. Something tells me that even I, not a professional detective, would find it a bit unusual that a murder victim received a ventriloquist dummy on their doorstep minutes before their demise and being the unprofessional that I am would be inclined to investigate it.

There are some pretty nifty scares here and some genuine creep-out moments. Horror film buffs, of which I am one, will find it a fairly fresh take on a genre that has been somewhat weak historically – the supernatural urban legend. Fans of Saw might be disappointed at the lack of gore but this is a pretty decent spookfest for those who love their horror atmospheric more than visceral.

WHY RENT THIS: Nice atmospheric thrills. Some scary moments liable to give you the creepy-crawlies.
WHY RENT SOMETHING ELSE: Kwanten is not convincing as the lead. Lapses in logic throughout,
FAMILY MATTERS: Although the gore is cut down significantly from the Saw movies, the atmosphere is far too spooky for the impressionable.
TRIVIAL PURSUITS: Among the dolls seen in the climax are replicas of Edgar Bergen’s doll Charlie McCarthy, Jimmy Nelson’s doll Danny O’Day and Jigsaw’s doll from Saw.
NOTABLE HOME VIDEO EXTRAS: There’s a music video for Aiden’s “We Sleep Forever” as well as a featurette on the making of the film’s villain.
BOX OFFICE PERFORMANCE: $22.2M on a $20M production budget.
SITES TO SEE: Netflix (DVD Rental/Stream), Amazon (Rent/Buy), iTunes (Purchase only), Vudu (Rent/Buy), Flixster (Rent/Buy), Target Ticket (Purchase Only)
COMPARISON SHOPPING: Darkness Falls
FINAL RATING: 6/10
NEXT: My Old Lady

The Perfect Storm


Cowabunga!

Cowabunga!

(2000) True Life Drama (Warner Brothers) George Clooney, Mark Wahlberg, John C. Reilly, Diane Lane, Michael Ironside, William Fichtner, John Hawkes, Mary Elizabeth Mastrontonio, Bob Gunton, Karen Allen, Allen Payne, Cherry Jones, Rusty Schwimmer, Janet Wright, Christopher McDonald, Dash Mihok, Josh Hopkins, Todd Kimsey, Chris Palermo, Wiley Pickett, Hayden Tank, Merle Kennedy, Jennifer Sommerfield. Directed by Wolfgang Petersen

There is a certain romance that we landlubbers assign to the life of a fisherman. It is not an easy life, one of hard labor, patience and more often than not, frustration. Men leave their families and the comforts of home for days and weeks at a time, hoping to make a big catch that will keep them and their families heads above water when storm season makes deep sea fishing too dangerous.

The romance comes from the uncertainty of the ocean. She may be calm and give freely of her riches on one trip; the next she may give nothing but death. For the fishermen of Gloucester, Massachusetts, it’s the life they’ve known and loved since 1623. In that time, more than 10,000 men and women of Gloucester have lost their lives in the great, unmarked grave of the North Atlantic.

The skipper of the F.V. Andrea Gail, Billy Tyne (Clooney) knows the ocean and her fickle nature. One of the most respected captains in the Gloucester fishing fleet, he is in the middle of a horrible run of luck that has begun to get his crew doubting his abilities. Bob Brown (Ironside), the boat’s owner, is a bottom-line kind of guy who is thinking of replacing Tyne if he can’t get the boat to pay. Under this kind of pressure, Tyne decides to take the Andrea Gail for one last run on the Grand Banks even though it is October, and the Banks are no joke in October.

His crew, including the young, starry-eyed-in-love Bobby Shatford (Wahlberg) and the teddy bear-ish divorcee Murph (Reilly) know the risks, but are willing to follow the captain if it will mean a fat paycheck. However, as the voyage continues and the scarcity of a catch has begun to weigh heavily on their minds, Tyne decides to push for the Flemish Cap, east of the Banks and on the edge of the Andrea Gail’s range. There, they finally begin to have the kind of trip they’ve been dreaming of.

What they don’t know is that three weather fronts — a cold front from Canada, an embryonic Atlantic storm just waiting for enough energy to turn it into a monster, and Hurricane Grace, a category five storm moving north from Bermuda — are about to collide and turn the North Atlantic into a buzzsaw. And, because their radio antenna was destroyed (one of a series of mishaps that have plagued the trip), they don’t know they are headed straight into the maw of the mother of all storms.

Of course, this is the kind of script that even Hollywood screenwriters couldn’t dream up without a little help. The events of The Perfect Storm actually happened, with waves verified at over 100 feet (think of a wall of water the size of a seven-story building coming your way and you’ll get the idea).

Director Wolfgang Petersen (Das Boot, Air Force One) captures the harshness of a fisherman’s life, as well as the courage that all fishermen must possess to brave the sometimes deadly seas. He also captures the agony of those who love them and must wait for their safe return. The people here are not wealthy or famous; they are ordinary, blue-collar folks who work hard to make ends meet (barely). They are heroic in the ways that we are heroic, struggling to make something better for our families.

The cast, which includes a nearly-skeletal Mastrantonio (how did she get so gaunt?), a too-rarely-seen Allen, Gunton and the lustrous Lane (one of my very favorite leading ladies), all give solid performances as people whose lives are changed forever because of the storm. The effects by Industrial Light and Magic are terrifying to watch as the sea’s fury grows and multiplies.

The real star of the movie is the Atlantic herself. Changeable in mood, eternal in her allure, she beckons the folk of Gloucester with a saucy wink and gentle, caressing whispers of wealth and wonder. And, like a woman, for all her beauty and charm, sooner or later she shows her volatile side. Still, I believe that not one of the 10,000 souls who went to their rest at the bottom of the sea would have traded their lives, even knowing their end, for any other. Perhaps that is the greatest mystery of all.

Da Queen lost count of her hankies for this one, so you can draw your own conclusions. The movie drags a bit during the fishing portion of the movie (think of “The Deadliest Catch” and you’ll get the drift) while the storm develops, but once it gets rolling, the tension doesn’t let up a bit. The Perfect Storm falls just short of being the perfect movie, but only JUST short.

WHY RENT THIS: Awe-inspiring effects. Gripping story. Terrific performances by Clooney and Wahlberg but in support by Lane, Reilly, Fichtner and Hawkes.

WHY RENT SOMETHING ELSE: If you’re terrified of storms this will put you into the nut house for sure.

FAMILY MATTERS: Plenty of salty language (they’re sailors after all) and some disturbing scenes of peril.

NOTABLE HOME VIDEO FEATURES: The DVD and Blu-Ray have an HBO special on the making of the film as well as interviews with actual survivors of the storm, and a very moving photo montage. as well as a brief featurette on Horner’s scoring on the film.  There are also collectors editions and signature editions which include lobby cards and other non-disc extras.

BOX OFFICE PERFORMANCE: $328.7M on a $140M production budget; the movie was profitable.

COMPARISON SHOPPING: The Day After Tomorrow

FINAL RATING: 9.5/10

NEXT: Mama

Argo


Argo

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

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

 

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

COMPARISON SHOPPING: Syriana

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

FINAL RATING: 8/10

NEXT: The Imposter

Trouble With the Curve


Trouble With the Curve

Amy Adams discovers that Clint Eastwood is very sensitive about “empty chair” jokes.

(2012) Drama (Warner Brothers) Clint Eastwood, Amy Adams, Justin Timberlake, John Goodman, Robert Patrick, Matthew Lillard, Joe Massingill, Ed Lauter, Chelcie Ross, Raymond Anthony Thomas, George Wyner, Bob Gunton, Jack Gilpin, Clifton Guterman, Scott Eastwood, Jay Galloway. Directed by Robert Lorenz

 

Baseball is a game of timing. The batter has to time his swing just so to connect and hit it out of the park. The runner has to start his sprint and just the right time to successfully steal the base. The outfielder has to time his jump to put himself in a position to catch the ball. And the pitcher has to know when the right time to throw that nasty fastball down the middle is or else he’ll be watching the ball exit the playing field.

Life is all about timing too. Nobody know that better than Gus Lobel (Eastwood). A longtime scout for the Atlanta Braves, he was responsible for signing some of the most important players in the history of the franchise. He’s an anachronism though; whereas in the post-Moneyball era clubs have come to rely on computers and statistics, Gus is all about instincts and intangibles. He can tell more about a player from the sound of their bat connecting to the ball than most scouts can from an entire laptop full of statistics and computer analyses. The Braves have the number two pick in the upcoming draft and they’re interested in a player named Bo Gentry (Massingill). They send Gus to check him out.

But that timing is actually bad. Gus is developing macular degeneration and isn’t seeing as well. His friend (and chief of scouting) Pete Klein (Goodman) recognizes that something is wrong. Worried for his friend and knowing that Gus’ contract is up in three months which the general manager Vince (Patrick) hasn’t decided to re-sign him, and knowing that Philip Sanderson (Lillard), an ambitious and ruthless scout wants Gus gone, calls Gus’ daughter Mickey (Adams).

Mickey is also in the midst of some bad timing. She’s a lawyer whose relationship with her dad has been chilly for some time, which is more or less how Gus wants it. She’s also ambitious and driven, bucking to be the first female partner in the firm and the youngest partner ever. She’s working on an important case for the firm and winning it would be her key to having her name on the door.

Pete wants her to go down to North Carolina and keep an eye on the old man. She’s reluctant to do it – and her proud and cantankerous dad doesn’t want her to do it. In true Hollywood fashion, that’s exactly what she does.

At first the two are back in their usual patterns of behavior. Then into the mix comes Johnny Flanagan (Timberlake), a pitcher that Gus once signed who had a promising career until he blew his arm out. Now he’s scouting for the Red Sox, hoping to land a job in their broadcast booth next season. He too is there to see Gentry and determine whether he’s worthy of the first pick in the draft.

He gets googly eyed for Mickey pretty much from moment one but she’s just out of a relationship with a fellow lawyer (Guterman) that left her feeling as if she might be emotionally closed off after all. However it doesn’t take long for Flanagan’s charm to work on her and the two begin to get closer.

However, Gus has his doubts about the arrogant, self-absorbed Gentry who certainly can hit them out of the park. Nothing the stats and his direct observation tell him that there’s anything other than big time endorsement deals and multi-million dollar contracts in Gentry’s future – other than his gut. While Gus’ baseball instincts aren’t in question, he doesn’t seem to know how to relate to his daughter and she blames him for abandoning her twice.

This is not so much a movie about baseball except metaphorically and baseball has always worked superbly well as a metaphor. This is first and foremost a movie about relationships. It is also a movie about communication – and  movie about timing, yes.

Eastwood has made an art out of playing the cantankerous old man and he does a pretty solid job of it here. He came out of retirement (as an actor) to do this for a friend and colleague when some space opened up on his directing schedule when Beyonce Knowles’ pregnancy put the planned remake of A Star is Born into turnaround. Although Eastwood isn’t saying it this time, there’s a good chance this is his final film as an actor so that accounts for something.

Adams is one of the most likable actresses in Hollywood. She’s very much the girl next door type, although she can be smoldering and sex when she needs to be (as she is in a lake swimming scene). She has some good chemistry with both Timberlake and Eastwood. I have to admit that she’s been one of my favorites for several years now.

Goodman, Patrick and Lillard are solid character performances and Goodman, who once played Babe Ruth on the silver screen, makes a fine baseball man. Lillard is a fine actor as well – no reflection on him – but his character is kind of cliché in nearly every way. I don’t think the character needed to be drawn quite the same way; he could have been a passionate believer in computers as a tool for evaluating baseball talent without being quite such a d-bag. I think the movie would have worked better with a more sympathetic antagonist.

There are some real emotional scenes to deal with here, most of which having to do with the things that caused Gus to be so closed off and, well, scared to put it bluntly. That these things affected his relationship with his daughter is a pleasant surprise. These scenes and others that deal with the way they relate to each other are the best in the movie. The presence of Eastwood and Adams doesn’t hurt either, but while the writing is flawed, the basic premise is solid and the movie works overall. Definitely this is not one just for baseball fans or geriatrics.

REASONS TO GO: Eastwood is always engaging and Adams makes a nice foil for him. Baseball sequences are good. Some nice dialogue and character development.

REASONS TO STAY: Predictable. Would have been better without a generic antagonist.

FAMILY VALUES: The language can get salty; there are some sexual references and some of the themes are pretty heavy.

TRIVIAL PURSUIT: Eastwood, who had announced that the 2008 film Gran Torino would be his last on-camera appearance came out of acting retirement to star in long-time producing partner Lorenz’ first film as a director.

CRITICAL MASS: As of 10/2/12: Rotten Tomatoes: 54% positive reviews. Metacritic: 58/100. The reviews are mediocre.

COMPARISON SHOPPING: Bull Durham

ATLANTA BRAVES LOVERS: The team Gus works for is the Braves;  the walls of the Braves offices (and Gus’ home) are decorated with pictures of their greatest players going back to their days as the Milwaukee Braves.

FINAL RATING: 7/10

NEXT: Ong Bak 2