Burnt


A dish well-prepared is a dish well-enjoyed.

A dish well-prepared is a dish well-enjoyed.

(2015) Drama (Weinstein) Bradley Cooper, Sienna Miller, Daniel Brûhl, Emma Thompson, Riccardo Scamarcio, Omar Sy, Sam Keeley, Henry Goodman, Matthew Rhys, Stephen Campbell Moore, Uma Thurman, Lexi Benbow-Hart, Alicia Vikander, Lily James, Sarah Greene, Bo Bene, Elisa Lasowski, Julian Firth, Martin Trenaman, Esther Adams. Directed by John Wells

The pursuit of excellence often becomes an obsession with perfection. It can often be a journey that becomes a nightmare of excess, fueled by drugs, sex and ego and lead one down to oblivion. Coming back from that can be nearly impossible.

But that’s the task before Adam Jones (Cooper). Once a two-star Michelin chef in Paris, this American enfant terrible of the French culinary world was a bad boy living the fast life, driven to get that final third Michelin star but so lost in both his own ambition, a relationship with his mentor’s daughter (Vikander) and an escalating drug habit that a spectacular meltdown lost him everything.

Two years of sobriety later, having worked shucking a million oysters in New Orleans, he’s ready to resume his tilt and decides that opening up a restaurant at a prestigious London hotel would be the ticket. It so happens that Tony (Brûhl), the son of an old friend and perhaps the best maître’d in Europe has such a restaurant that could use an infusion of the buzz that comes from having a celebrity chef. Tony is reluctant, given Adam’s volatile temperament but eventually gives in.

Adam sets to putting together a “dream team” for this restaurant, bringing in a Michel (Sy), a sous chef he wronged in Paris but who has since forgiven him and Helene (Miller) who is a raw talent that Adam thinks can become great. She comes with a precocious daughter Lily (Benbow-Hart) who is as tough as any food critic when it comes to her meals.

Adam turns out to be a martinet in the kitchen, screaming in the faces of his staff and so obsessed with perfection that he forces Helene to apologize to a fish because of a minor mistake in cooking it. Eventually though he manages to get his act together and soon his kitchen is humming along like a well-oiled machine. However, there are complications; he owes a large debt to drug dealers that he won’t let Tony pay for him and they are getting increasingly insistent on getting their money. He also is falling in love with Helene, who is developing strong feelings for him as well.

But things come to a head when the Michelin inspectors come and Adam faces an unexpected turn of events, sending him spiraling back down a road that he has sworn he wouldn’t take again. Can even the great Adam Jones fix a meal gone this bad?

Cooper, who at one point in his life aspired to being a chef himself, makes an excellent Adam Jones. Cooper is one of Hollywood’s most likable actors but he has to play a very unlikable character in the uber-driven Adam. His kitchen tantrums and occasionally manipulative tactics can sometimes leave a sour taste in one’s mouth but Adam isn’t a bad person per se, and we do get to see the humanity of the man peeking through at unexpected moments.

The rest of the cast is solid as you’d expect of a cast with this kind of international caliber. Miller, who worked with Cooper on American Sniper, retains the chemistry the two enjoyed on that film here. Thompson, who has a small role as Adam’s therapist, shines as she always does and Rhys also has a meaty role as a rival chef. I particularly liked Sy, however; the big French actor has never turned in a subpar performance that I can recall and even though he seems to be on a supporting role treadmill at the moment, I foresee some big things in his future.

The problem I have with Burnt is that the predictability of the story. Other than one major twist, there’s pretty much a Screenwriting 101 feel to the plot. There’s even the precocious kid that exists for no other reason than because precocious kids always show up in movies like this. Not that Benbow-Hart isn’t anything but good in her role, it’s just that the character is extraneous. Does Helene really need to be a single mom? No, she just needs to be single. Her motherhood adds nothing to the emotional resonance of the film.

There’s plenty of food porn and I will say that if you’re hungry going in chances are you’re going to have a craving for some good food and it isn’t a stretch to say that you’ll probably leave the theater (or your couch if you are reading this after it makes it to home video) hungry and not for fast food either; for a sit down meal in a place that has tablecloths and waiters and most importantly, delicious food. We can all use a good meal from time to time. As a movie, I would place this more as casual dining more than fine dining, but it does strike a chord nonetheless.

REASONS TO GO: Cooper and Miller have real chemistry. Plenty of food porn. Nicely paced.
REASONS TO STAY: Predictable story. Too-cute kid syndrome. Too many unnecessary subplots.
FAMILY VALUES: A whole lot of foul language and some drug references.
TRIVIAL PURSUIT: Cooper patterned his in-kitchen demeanor on that of Gordon Ramsey.
CRITICAL MASS: As of 11/20/15: Rotten Tomatoes: 27% positive reviews. Metacritic: 42/100.
COMPARISON SHOPPING: Chef
FINAL RATING: 6/10
NEXT: Kingdom of Shadows

New Releases for the Week of October 30, 2015


Scout's Guide to the Zombie ApocalypseSCOUT’S GUIDE TO THE ZOMBIE APOCALYPSE

(Paramount) Tye Sheridan, Joey Morgan, Cloris Leachman, David Koechner, Logan Miller, Sarah Dumont, Halston Sage, Niki Koss. Directed by Christopher Landon

The motto of the Boy Scouts is to be prepared, but how does one prepare for the unpreparable? Why, there’s a handbook for it of course. And no doubt, merit badges.

See the trailer here.
For more on the movie this is the website.
Release Formats: Standard
Genre: Horror Comedy
Now Playing: AMC Altamonte Mall, AMC Disney Springs, AMC Loew’s Universal Cineplex, AMC West Oaks

Rating: R (for zombie violence and gore, sexual material, graphic nudity, and language throughout)

The Algerian

(Hannover House) Ben Youcef, Candice Coke, Harry Lennix, Tara Holt. An Algerian travels around the world as part of a sleeper cell, masquerading as a university student. He knows that his enemy is America, but as he begins to develop relationship and even love with various Americans, he becomes conflicted. What is his mission and what is his purpose? Whatever it might be, there will be a bloodbath by the time it ends.

See the trailer here.
For more on the movie this is the website.
Release Formats: Standard
Genre: Suspense
Now Playing: Regal Pointe Orlando

Rating: NR

The Armor of Light

(Fork) Lucy McBath, Rob Schenck. A conservative Evangelical minister meets the mother of Jordan Davis, a teenage shooting victim in Florida whose death focused attention on the controversial “Stand Your Ground” laws. Despite her pro-choice leanings, the two decide to work together to bring about real change in gun laws and more importantly, in attitudes towards guns. Incidentally, NRA members can get free tickets to this movie; go to the website to find out how.

See the trailer here.
For more on the movie this is the website.
Release Formats: Standard
Genre: Documentary
Now Playing: Regal Waterford Lakes

Rating: PG-13 (for thematic content and brief strong language)

Burnt

(Weinstein) Bradley Cooper, Sienna Miller, Emma Thompson, Uma Thurman. A once-promising chef who suffers a spectacular meltdown having fallen from grace due to his own excesses. Hungering for that elusive third Michelin star, he opens a new restaurant, knowing he’ll have to have the best of the best working for him which includes Helene, a comely sous chef who might bring him the redemption he is seeking – and also that of an unexpected kind.

See the trailer, interviews, clips and premiere footage here.
For more on the movie this is the website.
Release Formats: Standard
Genre: Dramedy
Now Playing: Wide Release

Rating: R (for language throughout)

Dancin’ It’s On

(Medallion) Gary Daniels, Witney Carson, Jordan Clark, Ava Fabian. A beautiful young girl travels from Beverly Hills to Panama Beach for the summer to work at her father’s hotel and falls in love with a handsome young dishwasher. The two have a mutual love for dance and decide to partner up for the Florida State Championships but will have to navigate long odds to achieve their dreams. Did anyone else just throw up a little in their mouths or was it just me?

See the trailer here.
For more on the movie this is the website.
Release Formats: Standard
Genre: Music/Dance
Now Playing: Regal Oviedo Marketplace, Regal Pointe Orlando, Regal Winter Park Village

Rating: PG (for some suggestive material)

Freaks of Nature

(Columbia) Mackenzie Davis, Nicholas Braun, Joan Cusack, Denis Leary. In one small town, vampires, zombies and humans have all managed to co-exist – until an alien invasion throws everything into chaos. Now it’s every being for themselves and all of them being chased by aliens. It will take three teens – one human, one zombie and one vampire – to convince the town to unite against the real threat: bad reviews.

See the trailer here.
For more on the movie this is the website.
Release Formats: Standard
Genre: Horror Comedy
Now Playing: AMC Disney Springs, Regal Waterford Lakes

Rating: R (for bloody violence and gore, pervasive language, sexual content and drug use – all involving teens)

Goodnight Mommy

(Radius) Susanne Wuest, Lukas Schwarz, Elias Schwarz, Hans Escher. After facial reconstructive surgery, the mother of a pair of precocious 10-year-old twins returns home, her face covered with bandages. Soon after, however, the twins begin to suspect that the woman under the bandages isn’t their mother; she acts very differently than the woman who raised them. So they decide to find out who the woman is but most importantly where their real mother is.

See the trailer here.
For more on the movie this is the website.
Release Formats: Standard
Genre: Horror
Now Playing: Regal Oviedo Marketplace

Rating: R (for disturbing violent content and some nudity)

Our Brand is Crisis

(Adopt) Sandra Bullock, Billy Bob Thornton, Anthony Mackie, Scoot McNairy. With Bolivia’s economy teetering on the edge of catastrophe, a presidential election between the incumbent president and an upstart rival, the incumbent trailing in the polls by 30 points (a nearly insurmountable margin) enlists a damaged but brilliant American political strategist to aid him. Unfortunately, the opposition has hired her nemesis whom she has never beaten. With the election taking on global proportions, the price of losing could be intolerable. Based on the real events chronicled in the documentary of the same name.

See the trailer, clips, interviews 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 language including some sexual references)

Room

(A24) Brie Larson, Jacob Tremblay, Joan Allen, William H. Macy. A woman and her young son escape from a shed where they’ve been held captive for the son’s entire life. The woman returns to a woman she doesn’t understand anymore and the son to a world he’s never known. Both damaged, they rely on each other as much or more outside the single room that was their entire world than they did in it.

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

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

Rating: R (for language)

Truth

(Sony Classics) Cate Blanchett, Robert Redford, Topher Grace, Elizabeth Moss. When respected CBS news anchor Dan Rather broadcast a story regarding then-President George W. Bush’s service in the National Guard during the Vietnam War, he was doing his job. Instead, it turns out that the story was factually inaccurate, putting one of the most prestigious news organization’s reputation in tatters and nearly bringing it down. The CBS network is refusing to air ads for this film, incidentally as you might expect.

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

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

Rating: R (for language and a brief nude photo)

New Releases for the Week of May 29, 2015


San AndreasSAN ANDREAS

(New Line) Dwayne Johnson, Carla Gugino, Alexandria Daddario, Ioan Gruffudd, Archie Panjabi, Paul Giamatti, Will Yun Lee, Kylie Minogue. Directed by Brad Peyton

All Californians know that the big one is inevitable and now it is upon them. As a 9.0 quake rocks Southern California, a daring rescue helicopter pilot and his estranged wife take a perilous journey north to find their daughter, off to college in San Francisco. However, as bad as things were, they may only be the beginning of worse things yet to come.

See the trailer, interviews, and a clip here.
For more on the movie this is the website.
Release Formats: Standard
Genre: Disaster
Now Playing: Wide Release (opens Thursday)
Rating: PG-13 (for intense disaster action and mayhem throughout, and brief strong language)

Aloha

(Columbia) Bradley Cooper, Emma Stone, Rachel McAdams, Bill Murray. A military contractor, once celebrated but now more of an industry joke because of a meltdown, returns to the scenes of his greatest triumphs – the U.S. Space program in Honolulu. He reconnects with an ex-girlfriend while falling unexpectedly for a fast-burning U.S. Air Force liaison. In between his romantic conundrum, he is working on an intricate satellite system for an enigmatic billionaire whose intentions aren’t entirely clear. Just another day at the office.

See the trailer, clips, interviews, featurettes, a promo and B-roll video here.
For more on the movie this is the website.
Release Formats: Standard
Genre: Dramedy
Now Playing: Wide Release (opens Thursday)
Rating: PG-13 (for some language including suggestive comments)

I’ll See You in My Dreams

(Bleecker Street) Blythe Danner, June Squibb, Malin Akerman, Sam Elliott.  A widow in her 70s finds her comfortable routine shaken up. This causes her to reassess her views on love, death and family and now in her golden years, she decides to start dating again and in doing so falls into relationships with two very different men, leaving her with quite the quandary.

See the trailer and clips 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 sexual material, drug use and brief strong language)

In the Name of My Daughter

(Cohen Media Group) Catherine Deneuve, Guillaume Canet, Adele Haenel, Judith Chemla. The brilliant French director André Téchiné brings us back to Nice in 1976 and one of the most notorious crimes in French history. When a casino heiress falls in love and marries a shady lawyer, her new husband manipulates her into voting against her mother and turning the casino over to the mob. Her subsequent disappearance and her husband’s hasty emigration to Panama lead her mother to believe that her daughter was murdered and her husband had a hand in it. She swears to see justice done, even though it takes decades.

See the trailer here.
For more on the movie this is the website.
Release Formats: Standard
Genre: True Life Drama
Now Playing: Regal Winter Park Village
Rating: PG-13 (for innuendo and language)

Tanu Weds Manu Returns

(Eros International) Kangana Ranaut, Madhavan, Jimmy Shergill, Eljaz Khan. The sequel to a hit Bollywood film, the marriage between Tanu and Manu collapses as many do. When lovely Manu meets a man who looks exactly like her ex-husband, what will she do when Tanu returns, seeking to patch things up?

See the trailer here.
For more on the movie this is the website.
Release Formats: Standard
Genre: Romantic Comedy
Now Playing: AMC West Oaks
Rating: NR

American Sniper


Taking aim on controversy.

Taking aim on controversy.

(2014) True Life Drama (Warner Brothers) Bradley Cooper, Sienna Miller, Kyle Gallner, Luke Grimes, Keir O’Donnell, Sammy Sheik, Leonard Roberts, Cory Hardrict, Eric Ladin, James Ryen, Jake McDorman, Eric Aude, Navid Nagahban, Mido Hamada, Kathe Mazur, Sam Jaeger, Chance Kelly, Elise Robertson, Ben Reed, Marnette Patterson. Directed by Clint Eastwood

As we deal with the aftermath of our country’s adventures in Afghanistan and Iraq as it seems we are preparing to do battle with ISIS, it behooves us to seek out the aftermath of those who fought those wars. War is never easy on those who fight it, regardless of the reasons they have for leaving their homes and their families and going off to some godforsaken place to kill other human beings. We often take that part of our armed forces for granted.

Chris Kyle (Cooper), a proud Texan and would-be cowboy, goes because he feels that after 9-11, it is his duty to protect a country that he loves. He leaves behind a wife Taya (Miller), a strong woman of no uncertain opinions who eventually falls for the burly Texan despite having exceedingly low expectations when first they met. He joins the Navy SEALs mainly because he believes them to be the toughest SOBs in the military.

Kyle proves to be a gifted sharpshooter who is perfect for sniper duty. His first action requires him to make an agonizing decision when it seems that a young boy is getting ready to hurl an explosive at an American convoy in full sight of his mother, who handed him the device. He waits until the last possible second, before it becomes apparent that his intentions are to blow up the convoy; then Kyle shoots him dead, and then his mother for good measure when it appears she’s going to finish the job her son was unable to. Far from being a moment of triumph, it deeply affects the young SEAL deeply. When he sees a terrorist (Hamada) put a drill through the head of a child while his parents watch, he decries the Iraqis as savages and it’s hard not to argue with him.

Kyle goes through four tours, and each time he returns home as Taya puts it, he’s not really there. He’s nervous, jumpy, living very much inside his head while Taya tries desperately to reach him, to get her husband back. By now Kyle is also a dad, and while he goes through the motions of being a father and assures VA psychotherapists as well as his immediate family that everything is fine, everything clearly is not. He only seems to be whole in country.

As he piles up the confirmed kills, he gets the nickname of Legend which at first makes him uncomfortable but eventually he grows to accept. It is a mark of the respect in which his peers hold him as he becomes the most lethal sniper in U.S. military history, for all the lives of American military men he saves with his unerring aim and precise shots. There is however a counterpart within the ranks of the enemy, one known as Mustafa (Sheik) who is in many ways a mirror image of Kyle – a family man, one obsessed by his work and absolutely deadly. Somehow Kyle needs to survive his tours and come back to his wife and family – a whole man.

Clint Eastwood has become over the years a great American film director and although he has had his share of missteps (cough Jersey Boys cough cough) his consistency has been as good as any. In a lot of ways this is going to be counted as one of his best works ever, although it is steeped in controversy more because of the subject matter than anything else.

There are those who have decried the film because in their minds it glorifies an individual who shouldn’t be glorified. Many have pointed out that the real Kyle, on whose autobiography this is based, consistently identified Muslims as savages (which he does in the film on one occasion) and has been labeled a racist because of it. He has also been taken to task for exaggerations or making up incidents out of whole cloth.

These are two separate issues and on the first, I can only say that it was common for veterans of war to dehumanize those they fought against. It is one way for the psyche to cope with having to kill other human beings. If they aren’t human, if they’re savages, it makes it easier to justify what you’re doing. Thinking that way may not necessarily be politically correct but it’s at least understandable.

The other can also be looked upon as something of a Texas thing. Now, making up a story in which former governor and ex-Navy SEAL himself Jesse Ventura was rude and insulting to fellow SEALs who were mourning a friend and getting clocked by Kyle is wrong and Ventura – who has been excoriated for doing so – has every right to defend his reputation, even if it means suing the widow of the man responsible because she is after all profiting from the story in a matter of speaking, since the story is a part of his best-selling book. While I give veterans a good deal of leeway in their behaviors, they are nonetheless responsible for their actions when they return home and are liable for the consequences of those actions.

That said, I don’t think this film glorifies war at all or this one in particular – at one point, at a soldier’s funeral, an unidentified woman who I assume is the soldier’s mother reads a handwritten eulogy condemning the war – but rather tries to give us insight into those who fought it. For me, the most compelling material is when Kyle is home, struggling to be home and be present with his family. It takes a good deal of time for him to finally want to be home, to finally let go of his feeling of duty and to get past his need to be a hero which the real Kyle was often accused of and Eastwood seems to agree was part of the man’s psychological make-up.

Cooper, who added 40 pounds for the role, really inhabits the role of Kyle, who actually resembled the late wrestler Chris Benoit in reality. It’s a mesmerizing performance certainly worthy of the Oscar nomination he received. Cooper’s Kyle moves from a fairly normal aw-shucks cowboy to a heroic sniper in the field to a terse, uncommunicative stone wall of a man at home. It’s a brilliant performance that shouldn’t be missed.

Sienna Cooper’s performance as Taya is also flawless. It’s so good I wish the script and Eastwood would have devoted more time to her; at times she almost becomes one-dimensional because she’s trying to convince her husband to leave the war behind and be home. How she kept her family together, how she weathered those times when he was home and not with her (it must have been heartbreaking) would have added more nuance to the film overall. I’d have gladly sacrificed some of the battle sequences of Kyle in country for that.

About those battle sequences; they can be pretty intense and for those who might be sensitive to such things, you should be forewarned that there are scenes that are quite disturbing. However, the rest of us will find them, as I did, absolutely mesmerizing and keep you on the edge of your seat, as I was.

I don’t know why we need our heroes to be absolutely perfect. Nobody is, and Chris Kyle certainly wasn’t. I don’t know that I agree with all of his views or approve of some of the things he said. That doesn’t mean he wasn’t a great soldier, an expert marksman or a hero for saving the lives of hundreds and perhaps thousands of American troops. I do believe that for most people, how you feel about the war will color your perceptions of this film. The conservative right are hailing the movie as a masterpiece (which it isn’t – Unforgiven was far better) while the progressive left are decrying it as propaganda which it also isn’t. What it is when you get right down to it is a terrific movie about war itself, about surviving it not only physically but emotionally and mentally as well, and how hard it can be to come home when the tour of duty ends.

REASONS TO GO: Cooper is brilliant. Realistic and often heart-stopping battle sequences. Admirably allows viewers to make their own minds up.
REASONS TO STAY: Occasionally too intense for the sensitive. I would have liked to have gotten a little deeper into the mind of Taya.
FAMILY VALUES: Much gunfire and war violence, some of it quite disturbing. There’s also plenty of colorful language with some sexual references involved.
TRIVIAL PURSUIT: The real Chris Kyle and the real Marcus Luttrell of Lone Survivor fame actually met in SEAL school and became close friends which they remained for the rest of Kyle’s life.
CRITICAL MASS: As of 2/2/15: Rotten Tomatoes: 73% positive reviews. Metacritic: 72/100.
COMPARISON SHOPPING: Stop-Loss
FINAL RATING: 8/10
NEXT: A Most Violent Year

New Releases for the Week of January 16, 2015


The Wedding RingerTHE WEDDING RINGER

(Screen Gems) Kevin Hart, Josh Gad, Jenifer Lewis, Olivia Thirlby, Kaley Cuoco-Sweeting, Cloris Leachman, Mimi Rogers, Ken Howard. Directed by Jeremy Garelick

When a socially awkward young man finds the girl of his dreams and she agrees to marry him, it’s a time for the support of his friends in getting him to and through the big day. However, this particular socially awkward young man doesn’t have any friends. With his bride-to-be expecting seven groomsmen and a best man, he needs to do the impossible but fortunately there’s help – Best Man, Incorporated whose charismatic CEO is willing to be a best man for hire. The groomsmen may be not all what they could be, but the socially awkward young man is gearing up for the time of his life.

See the trailer, clips, interviews, a featurette, premiere footage and B-roll video here.
For more on the movie this is the website.
Release formats: Standard (opens Thursday)
Genre: Comedy
Now Playing: Wide Release
Rating: R (for crude and sexual content, language throughout, some drug use and brief graphic nudity)

American Sniper

(Warner Brothers) Bradley Cooper, Kyle Gallner, Sienna Miller, Luke Grimes. Chris Kyle went to Iraq as a Navy SEAL and a sharpshooter and became the most lethal sniper in U.S. history. This is the story behind the numbers, told as only Clint Eastwood can tell it.

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: War
Now Playing: Wide Release
Rating: R (for strong and disturbing war violence, and language throughout including some sexual references)

blackhat

(Universal/Legendary) Chris Hemsworth, Viola Davis, Wei Tang, William Mapother. Ruthless cyberterrorists are proving more elusive and deadly than conventional authorities can handle. Using the adage that it takes a thief to catch a thief, law enforcement turns to a convicted hacker who may be the only one who can stop the hackers from plunging the world into literal chaos.

See the trailer, interviews, clips, a featurette and B-roll video here.
For more on the movie this is the website.
Release formats: Standard (opens Thursday)
Genre: Action Thriller
Now Playing: Wide Release
Rating: PG-13 (for violence and some language)

I

(Aascar) Chiyaan Vikram, Amy Jackson, Suresh Gopi, Upen Patel. A deformed hunchback, an internationally recognized male model and a champion bodybuilder – all played by the same actor – whose interactions with a beautiful supermodel form the basis of events here which are told in a non-linear fashion.

See the trailer here.
For more on the movie this is the website.
Release formats: Standard (opened Wednesday)
Genre: Adventure
Now Playing: AMC West Oaks, Cinemark Artegon Marketplace & Regal Oviedo Marketplace
Rating: NR

Listen Up, Philip

(Tribeca) Jason Schwartzman, Jonathan Pryce, Elisabeth Moss, Krysten Ritter. An arrogant writer feeling alienated as his second book is about to be published sees his relationships disintegrating. When his literary idol offers his summer retreat as a refuge, he takes it so that he can focus on himself – his favorite subject. Instead, though, he begins to feel the absence of his connection with the city and those he spent time with in it.

See the trailer and clips here.
For more on the movie this is the website.
Release formats: Standard
Genre: Comedy
Now Playing: Enzian Theater
Rating: NR

Paddington

(Dimension) Jim Broadbent, Nicole Kidman, Ben Whishaw, Sally Hawkins. A family returning home one evening discover a talking bear from Peru alone in a railway station with a tag around his neck “Please look after this bear.” Naming the creature Paddington, they bring him home out of the kindness of their hearts and get thrown into all manner of mischief and chaos but their resolve will be tested when a museum taxidermist takes a particular interest in the talking bear.

See the trailer and clips here.
For more on the movie this is the website.
Release formats: Standard (opens Thursday)
Genre: Family
Now Playing: Wide release
Rating: PG (for mild action and rude humor)

Spare Parts

(Lionsgate/Pantelion) George Lopez, Marisa Tomei, Esai Morales, Jamie Lee Curtis. Four Hispanic students in an economically challenged high school form a robotics club under the leadership of a charismatic science teacher. With $800, some used car parts and zero experience, they enter a national competition where they will face teams that have enormous budgets, state-of-the-art facilities and loads of experience, led by national champion MIT. These odds don’t deter them; they go in with the expectation that they will make something more of what they have.

See the trailer and clips here.
For more on the movie this is the website.
Release formats: Standard
Genre: True Life Drama
Now Playing: AMC Altamonte Mall, AMC Downtown Disney, Regal The Loop
Rating: PG-13 (for some language and violence)

Case 39


Bradley Cooper bids Renee Zellweger a fond adieu.

Bradley Cooper bids Renee Zellweger a fond adieu.

(2009) Horror (Paramount Vantage) Renee Zellweger, Jodelle Ferland, Ian McShane, Bradley Cooper, Callum Keith Rennie, Adrian Lester, Kerry O’Malley, Cynthia Stevenson, Alexander Conti, Philip Cabrita, Vanessa Tomasino, Mary Black, Domenico D’Ambrosio, Benita Ha, John Carroll, Michael Bean, Lesley Ewen, David Patrick Green, Alisen Down, Jane Braithwaite. Directed by Christian Alvart

We are brought up to protect our children. They are precious and obviously important to our future as a species. There aren’t many parents who aren’t willing to give up their own lives for their children. What if, however, those children are evil?

Vancouver social worker Emily Jenkins (Zellweger) is given a heart-wrenching case of Lilith (Ferland), a little girl whose parents have been abusing her. The worst case scenario occurs when her parents attempt to murder the little girl. She is saved by Emily and Detective Mike Barron (McShane) who arrive just in the nick of time. Lilith is originally going to be placed in a group home but she begs Emily to look after her and with the blessing of the board Emily is allowed to take the traumatized child home temporarily until suitable foster parents can be found.

Heart-wrenching turns to heart-warming and then to heart-chilling as another child whose case Emily is working murders his parent. Barron tells her that the child had received a phone call from Emily’s home number the night prior to the crime. With Lilith suspected to be involved, an investigation is underway run by Emily’s friend and colleague Doug (Cooper). It doesn’t end well.

Although Barron is at first skeptical (and thinks Emily is in need of psychiatric help herself) but eventually comes on board, but by that time it’s too late. Lilith is revealed to be something terrifyingly evil in a child’s body. Emily is terrified but knows that if she doesn’t kill the entity, Emily will end up dead – and the carnage will start all over again with a different set of foster parents.

This is one of those movies that looked promising on paper, then generated some buzz with the casting of Zellweger and McShane (Cooper was cast pre-Hangover), then disappeared on the studio shelf where it languished for three years and several postponed release dates. Very generally movies that go through that kind of cycle tend to come to bad ends. Either a surfeit of studio interference turned a promising film into a miasma of differing visions and overly-thought out changes, or the movie was just plain awful to begin with.

I was therefore pleasantly surprised with this one which while not the kind of movie that makes year-end lists, was at least entertaining and even a little thought-provoking. Sure, the movie borrows liberally from other better films but let’s face it, most horror movies are guilty of that particular sin these days.

Children are often a taboo subject when it comes to American filmmakers – although we are dealing with a European filmmaker here. Sure, there are exceptions – but putting them either in anything more than minor peril or worse, portraying them as the cause of peril is generally considered off limits. For the most part, kids are portrayed as precocious little angels who get into trouble quite by accident. Rarely are they portrayed as malicious or evil other than to other children – and even then they’re mostly victims of circumstance. Case 39 takes a demonic child and makes her gleeful at the carnage she causes. This plays on something of a hidden fear for many – a perversion of innocence. That’s a powerful, powerful image.

However, the movie isn’t entirely successful. Zellweger’s performance isn’t among her best; in fact, she seems curiously lacking in energy. Some have characterized it as just going through the motions and while I can’t begin to pretend I know what her state of mind was filming this, it’s certainly a subpar performance for her. One can’t blame all of the movie’s shortcomings on her however – the movie often makes its points with a sledgehammer instead of a rapier, and sometimes the story is a bit confusing, giving me the impression that some important plot points were left on the editing room floor.

This isn’t as bad as I thought it would be nor as bad as the criticism of the film made it out to be. I suspect that some critics were reviewing the delay in release as much as the actual film itself, having made up their minds that a movie shelved the way this one was couldn’t possibly be any good. It’s not great by any stretch of the imagination but it deserved better, both from the critics and the studio.

WHY RENT THIS: A nice exploration at our deeper feelings towards children,
WHY RENT SOMETHING ELSE: Heavy-handed and confused. Zellweger seems oddly listless.
FAMILY VALUES: There are disturbing images, particularly concerning violence by and against a child as well as supernatural terror.
TRIVIAL PURSUIT: While filming a fire scene on a studio set, the flames got out of control and burned not only the set down but the studio stage as well. While nobody was hurt and production resumed the next day, equipment was flown in from all over the world to replace that which was lost in the fire.
NOTABLE DVD EXTRAS: There’s a featurette on the arduous process of special effects make-up for a burn victim, as well as showing the digital effects creating a swarm of hornets as well as one on the pyrotechnics team.
BOX OFFICE PERFORMANCE: $28.2M on a $26M production budget.
SITES TO SEE: Netflix (DVD/Blu-Ray rental only), Amazon (rent/buy), Vudu (rent/buy),  iTunes (rent/buy), Flixster (purchase only), Target Ticket (purchase only)
COMPARISON SHOPPING: The Omen
FINAL RATING: 6/10
NEXT: Nightcrawler

Guardians of the Galaxy


Just don't call him Rocky...it pisses him off.

Just don’t call him Rocky…it pisses him off.

(2014) Science Fiction (Disney/Marvel) Chris Pratt, Zoe Saldana, Bradley Cooper (voice), Vin Diesel (voice), Dave Bautista, Lee Pace, Michael Rooker, Karen Gillan, Djimon Hounsou, John C. Reilly, Glenn Close, Benicio del Toro, Laura Haddock, Peter Serafinowicz, Christopher Fairbank, Gregg Henry, Josh Brolin, Alexis Denisof, Tomas Arana, Lindsay Morton. Directed by James Gunn

So what makes for a great summer movie? Is it spectacle? Over-the-top action? Bigger than life characters? A mix of comedy, pathos, drama and action? A movie that puts you in a place where you can relax and forget all your cares?

Marvel Studios, the cinematic arm of Marvel comics, has been dominating the summer market ever since they broke out with Iron Man back in 2008. Since then, it has been one blockbuster after another as they have successfully created a shared cinematic universe in a similar fashion to the one they developed for their four color division, keeping audiences invested in the goings on and eagerly anticipating the next film in the franchise. This year has been particularly successful for the Marvel brand, not merely in box office (although that is the bottom line for most studio sorts) but also by delivering what are arguably the two best films in the brand both in 2014.

After Captain America: The Winter Soldier utilized a ’70s-style political thriller as a kind of framework for a superhero movie that had repercussions across the Marvel cinematic universe (and greatly affecting the TV series Marvel Agents of SHIELD) the House of Ideas has taken a bold move; to center on a little-known group of heroes in a space opera setting that is the final stand-alone installment in Marvel’s Phase 2 before next year’s Avengers: Age of Ultron.

 

Peter Quill (Pratt) is an adventurer and thief who used to live on Earth before being abducted by a group of outlaws named The Ravagers on the night his mother (Haddock) passed away from cancer. Did I mention that the Ravagers are a group of aliens led by Yondu Udonta (Rooker)? Quill has more or less broken away from the gang and is on the deserted, lifeless and ruined planet Morag. As he jauntily dances his way through the ruins he eventually finds a nondescript orb, using high tech to capture the artifact in a nod to the Indiana Jones movies.

Turns out he’s not the only one who wants the Orb. A renegade Kree named Ronan the Accuser (Pace) needs the Orb which hides a devastating secret. He’ll stop at nothing to get it and sends Gamora (Saldana), an adopted daughter of Thanos (Brolin), a malevolent figure who has designs on ruling the galaxy. Ronan is merely insane, akin to a religious terrorist who means to impose his version of morality on the Galaxy which begins with exterminating the planet Xandar, home of the Nova Corps who have signed a treaty with the Kree’s ancient enemies the Skrull as well as with the Kree themselves. Ronan will not tolerate this and needs the Orb to exact his version of justice.

Yondu also wants the Orb to get the massive pay day that’s being offered for it but Peter is making his own deals these days, so Yondu sets a bounty on Peter’s head. A pair of disreputable bounty hunters, a genetically modified raccoon named Rocket (Cooper) and a humanoid tree named Groot (Diesel) who only speaks three words and in the same order every time – “I Am Groot,” want Peter and the Orb so that they can get paid.

 

Then there’s Drax the Destroyer (Bautista) who doesn’t want the Orb or Peter – he wants vengeance on Ronan who murdered his entire family. When he espies Gamora battling Peter for the Orb, he figures he can start moving his way up the ladder by sending Gamora to the sweet Hereafter. However, since all of this is transpiring on Xandar, the Nova Corps arrest the whole lot of them and send them off to prison.

Gamora reveals that she intends to betray Ronan and keep the Orb from him permanent-like as the Orb conceals one of the Infinity Gems, an artifact of immeasurable power that can level planets and wipe out civilizations. Quill, normally the most mercenary of men, grows a conscience but figures that the five of them can escape from this inescapable prison, avoid Ronan and is henchmen Nebula (Gillan) who is also one of Thanos’ adopted “daughters,” and Korath (Hounsou) a fearsome fighter. If they can keep from killing each other while they’re doing it, so much the better.

James Gunn is an inspired choice to helm this film; as previous movies on his resume like Slither and Super showed, he has a quirky sense of humor and a stylish visual sense. One of the things he utilizes to full effect is a group of songs from the 60s and 70s that Peter has collected on the Awesome Mixtape Vol. 1 which his mother gave him prior to her death and is his sole link with his life on Earth. The tape (which is available for download or on CD) has some amazing songs that have a certain cheese factor but are actually all pretty damn catchy, ranging from “Hooked on a Feeling” by Blue Swede and  “Come and Get Your Love” by Redbone to “Ain’t No Mountain High Enough” by Marvin Gaye and “Spirit in the Sky” by Norman Greenbaum (the latter two both classics for different reasons). It’s one of the most engaging soundtracks in recent years.

This is a galaxy that may be far, far away but there’s an awful lot that’s familiar about it too. Part of the reason for that is that Gunn takes the time to develop all of his characters. It isn’t just Quill and Gamora, the two leads, who are given personalities, but all five of the Guardians and to a certain extent, some of the villains as well – Yondu, Ronan and The Collector (del Toro) all become defined, fleshed-out characters that everyone in the audience will root for – or against as the case may be.

 

Pratt, who has mostly been known for supporting roles but made some career headway in Parks and Recreation, establishes himself as a lead movie star here. He’s funny, but also handles his action sequences with aplomb and when the time comes for him to be heroic, handles that aspect nicely. He has a great deal of screen presence and seems comfortable being the film’s center. While Saldana’s chemistry with Pratt isn’t as incendiary as I would have liked, the rest of the crew all come off pretty well.

The characters of Rocket and Groot are just as real as the flesh and blood actors is; there is a moment near the very end of the film when Rocket lets down his guard and we see his pain in a very real way. It is one of the most moving moments of the film alongside of young Peter mourning his mother. I think it isn’t unfair to say that the two CGI characters very nearly steal the film. One of the moments I loved most in the movie is Groot getting absolutely medieval on a bunch of Ronan’s thugs, beating the holy crap out of them to the point of overkill, then turning to Peter – a.k.a. Star-Lord by the way – and giving him a sheepish grin that had the whole theater in stitches.

I don’t often give perfect scores to summer movies but this is one that is getting one. This is as entertaining a movie as I’ve seen in years. I’m not big on going to see a movie more than once in theaters – there are only a very few that I’ve done that with – but as I write this, I’m getting ready to head down to the IMAX 3D theater at Pointe Orlando to see it a second time, this time in 3D IMAX. So you still want to know what makes a great summer movie? Just watch this.

REASONS TO GO: Great balance between humor and action. Spectacular visuals. Career-making performance by Pratt. Rocket and Groot work so much better than I expected.

REASONS TO STAY: You don’t like sci-fi, you don’t like superheroes, you don’t like Marvel or you don’t like movies in general.

FAMILY VALUES:  Sci-fi action and violence and a little bit of harsh language.

TRIVIAL PURSUIT: Diesel recorded all of his dialogue in a number of languages including Spanish, Mandarin and French so that the same voice can be heard in every version.

CRITICAL MASS: As of 8/10/14: Rotten Tomatoes: 92% positive reviews. Metacritic: 76/100.

COMPARISON SHOPPING: Serenity

FINAL RATING: 10/10

NEXT: Sex Tape

New Releases for the Week of August 1, 2014


Guardians of the GalaxyGUARDIANS OF THE GALAXY

(Disney/Marvel) Chris Pratt, Zoe Saldana, Vin Diesel (voice), Bradley Cooper (voice), Dave Bautista, Lee Pace, Michael Rooker, John C. Reilly, Glenn Close, Benicio del Toro. Directed by James Gunn

Peter Quill, a human adventurer in the far reaches of the galaxy – okay, maybe thief is a better word – acquires a strange and mysterious orb. What he doesn’t know is that the persistent and enigmatic Ronan the Accuser covets that item. What he also doesn’t know is that the orb possesses terrifying power. When the chickens come to roost – not that there are chickens in the far reaches of the galaxy – it will be up to Quill and a ragtag group of bickering teammates to keep that orb out of the hands of Ronan if the galaxy is to remain safe.

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

For more on the movie this is the website.

Release formats: Standard, 3D, IMAX 3D (opens Thursday)

Genre: Science Fiction

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

Boyhood

(IFC) Patricia Arquette, Ellar Coltrane, Lorelei Linklater, Ethan Hawke. Richard Linklater’s acclaimed new film is already on track to appear on an awful lot of top ten lists at the end of the year. Linklater filmed the same actors portraying a family, particularly through the point of view of the son, over a twelve year period. The rocks and shoals of growing up are told with a soundtrack that keeps pace with the boy’s tastes in music year after year.

See the trailer, clips and a featurette here.

For more on the movie this is the website.

Release formats: Standard

Genre: Drama

Rating: R (for language including sexual references, and for teen drug and alcohol use)

Get On Up

(Universal) Chadwick Boseman, Viola Davis, Octavia Spencer, Dan Aykroyd. The story of James Brown, who rose from impoverished conditions, abandoned by his own mother to become the Godfather of Soul. Brown is one of the most influential figures in the history of music but is often relegated to a less important status behind white artists, many of who themselves were influenced by Brown. In other words, it’s about damn time.

 

See the trailer, clips, interviews, premiere footage, a promo and B-roll video here.

For more on the movie this is the website.

Release formats: Standard (opens Thursday)

Genre: Musical Biography

Rating: PG-13 (for sexual content, drug use, some strong language and violent situations)

Living is Easy With Eyes Closed

(Outsider) Javier Camara, Natalia de Molina, Francesc Colomer, Ramon Fontsere. Based on actual events, an English teacher in Spain who is obsessed with his hero, John Lennon, decides to take a road trip to Almeria in hopes of meeting his idol who is making a film there. Along the way, he picks up a couple of runaways and together the three will find a deeper meaning in their journey than they were expecting.

See clips here.

For more on the movie this is the website.

Release formats: Standard

Genre: Drama

Rating: NR

American Hustle


The 70s - the sexy decade.

The 70s – the sexy decade.

(2013) Drama (Columbia) Christian Bale, Amy Adams, Bradley Cooper, Jennifer Lawrence, Jeremy Renner, Louis C.K., Jack Huston, Michael Pena, Shea Whigham, Alessandro Nivola, Elizabeth Rohm, Robert De Niro, Paul Herman, Said Taghmaoui, Adrian Martinez, Anthony Zerbe, Colleen Camp, Steve Gagliastro, Christy Scott Cashman, Becki Dennis. Directed by David O. Russell

Ah, the 70s. The Disco decade; home to the bellbottoms generation in which fashion and hair were so hideous that even the 80s looks more reasonable. The era in which the music scene was so stodgy that punk had to be invented to kick start rock and roll from a moribund existence (although to be honest I’ve always thought the accusation a bit unfair). In movies it was the time of the anti-hero when Travis Bickle, Dirty Harry and Billy Jack roamed the silver screen. Rodney Dangerfield might have said that the 70s don’t get no respect.

It was also the time of ABSCAM, an FBI sting operation that netted corrupt politicians amid accusations of entrapment. The latest from Oscar-nominated director David O. Russell is loosely based on that affair. Here, manic FBI agent Richie DiMaso (Cooper) has small time con man and dry cleaner Irving Rosenfeld (Bale) by the shorties. Irv has been selling fake loans to desperate businessmen and pocketing the fees. He is aided by his sexy girlfriend Sydney Prosser (Adams) who affects an English accent although she’s from Albuquerque.

DiMaso has Atlantic City mayor Carmine Polito (Renner) in his crosshairs and thinks that Irv and Sydney can sweet talk the mayor into accepting money from an Arab sheikh to help rebuild Atlantic City and erect the casinos that he knows can turn the city around. While the FBI doesn’t have any sheikhs sitting around headquarters with nothing to do, Irv knows where to get one and it looks like he might just get out of this thing okay.

But things quickly start spiraling out of control. Irv’s wife – yes he has a wife too – Rosalyn (Lawrence) gets wind of what’s going on and knows enough to really throw a monkey wrench in the works. Carmine also brings in a mobster (De Niro) from Miami who is no fool and doesn’t play nice if he thinks that things are snarky and brother, nothing is more snarky than what’s going down in this hustle. To make matters worse, Carmine turns out to be a pretty decent guy who only wants to help the people of Atlantic City; he’s just willing to take an inadvisable shortcut to do it and Irv starts to get second thoughts about nailing him.

The story is more parable than plot having to do with control and power and how it corrupts, but that’s really not what the movie’s about. What the movie is really about is the characters and Russell may well be the best ensemble director in Hollywood right now. He has collected an impressive group of actors, some of the best working today.

Nobody throws themselves into  a role as physically as Bale. He gained some 50 pounds for this role and affected a slouch (which led to him being treated for two herniated discs) as well as a hideous combover which all became affectations of the character which helped sum up Irv in just a glance. Irv is wary about the world and doesn’t trust anyone and with good cause. He’s smart, smart enough to know that while he’s smarter than most people he’s not as smart as everyone and that the best strategy for any good con is to have a way out. Bale makes this character who might easily have become just another lowlife loser in lesser hands into a sympathetic almost-a-hero.

In fact, all of the characters wind up gaining a certain amount of sympathy from the audience which is quite a feat, even the somewhat loathsome DiMaso. Cooper understands that Richie is desperate to become somebody and lives in fear that he will be forever a non-entity. That fear drives him, makes him take unrealistic chances and to leap when he should look. It also creates a rage within him, a rage that he takes out on his hapless boss (C.K.).

Lawrence has become one of the most capable actresses in Hollywood over the last few years and while her role here is clearly a supporting one, she has one scene that is absolutely breathtaking. Just listen for the strains of Paul McCartney’s “Live and Let Die” and you’ll understand. Rosalyn is a Jersey princess who comes off as plenty dumb but is a lot smarter in the end than anyone might think. She also rocks the lame dress you see in the poster.

Me though I thought the performance of the film belonged to Amy Adams. Dressed in sultry low-cut dresses she’s always threatening to fall out of, this is a strong brassy character but inside she is a frightened little girl holding off the cruelty of life with an English accent. When that vulnerability shows through as it does on a few occasions, Adams just rips it up. I don’t know that she’ll get an Oscar nomination for this one but she not only richly deserves one, I think she might just have put together a performance that beats out Sandra Bullock’s in Gravity. It’s neck and neck in my book for best actress of the year.

With all that going for it, you’d think I’d have loved the movie but curiously I didn’t love it. I liked it a lot, respected it a great deal but I just didn’t fall in love with the movie. It didn’t connect with me somehow; maybe it’s the length which seems to drag on a bit. Maybe it’s just that I wasn’t in the right frame of mind for it – there are elements of black comedy here as well as a scam movie. I admire that Russell stayed true not only to the setting but the way movies were made in that era. From a strictly craft point of view this is excellent filmmaking.

So take my lack of enthusiasm for what it’s worth. Sometimes you see a movie you admire but you just don’t connect with it for whatever reason. It happens. I get the sense my wife loved the movie more than I did but I don’t think she was all that enthusiastic in her love either. In any case from my point of view this is a movie that inspires respect and admiration more than devotion. Take from that what you will.

REASONS TO GO: High level performances all around.

REASONS TO STAY: Too long. For whatever reason I couldn’t connect with it.

FAMILY VALUES:  There is a ton of swearing, some brief violence and some sex.

TRIVIAL PURSUIT: Filming in Boston was delayed because of the Boston Marathon bombing; afterwards Adams, Cooper, Bale and Renner all visited victims of the attack in area hospitals.

CRITICAL MASS: As of 1/8/14: Rotten Tomatoes: 93% positive reviews. Metacritic: 90/100.

COMPARISON SHOPPING: The Iceman

FINAL RATING: 7/10

NEXT: Apocalypto

New Releases for the Week of December 20, 2013


Anchorman 2: The Legend Continues

ANCHORMAN 2: THE LEGEND CONTINUES

(Paramount) Will Ferrell, Steve Carell, Christina Applegate, Paul Rudd, David Koechner, Kristen Wiig, Harrison Ford, James Marsden, Greg Kinnear, Meagan Good. Directed by Adam McKay

It is the 1980s and legendary San Diego newsman Ron Burgundy and his news team have settled into gentle obscurity. A revolution in news is brewing however and the advent of 24-hour cable news networks beckon with a siren’s call to Burgundy and his team. Can they return from the shadows into the lights they were meant to shine in, or will those forces aligned against Ron and his team triumph and in so doing plunge the world into a nightmare of despair? Well, no…

See the trailer, a clip and a promo here.

For more on the movie this is the website.

Release formats: Standard (opened Wednesday)

Genre: Comedy

Rating: PG-13 (for crude and sexual content, drug use, language and comic violence)

American Hustle

(Columbia) Christian Bale, Amy Adams, Bradley Cooper, Jennifer Lawrence. In the heyday of the ABSCAM scandal of the 70s, an out-of-control FBI agent recruits a con man and his British accomplice to take down a New Jersey power broker. The whole scheme however is threatened by the con man’s unpredictable and vindictive estranged wife.

See the trailer, clips, an interview and a featurette here.

For more on the movie this is the website.

Release formats: Standard (opens Thursday)

Genre: Drama

Rating: R (for pervasive language, some sexual content and brief violence)

Dhoom 3

(Yash Raj) Aamir Khan, Katrina Kaif, Tabrett Bethell, Kim DeJesus. A young man joins a circus along with a comely gymnast but his motives are different; he intends to rob the owners whom he holds responsible for the murder of his father.

See the trailer here.

For more on the movie this is the website.

Release formats: Standard

Genre: Bollywood

Rating: NR 

Saving Mr. Banks

(Disney) Tom Hanks, Emma Thompson, Colin Farrell, Paul Giamatti. Walt Disney wants to make a movie based on the beloved children’s book Mary Poppins. The trouble is, the book’s prickly author P.L. Travers has no desire to see her work bastardized by Hollywood. Disney, who promised his children he’d make this movie, must find a way to convince her that not only her words will be respected, so too will the spirit of the book.

See the trailer and featurettes here.

For more on the movie this is the website.

Release formats: Standard (opens Thursday)

Genre: Biographical Drama

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

Walking with Dinosaurs

(20th Century Fox) Starring the voices of Justin Long, John Leguizamo, Karl Urban, Charlie Rowe. A tribe of dinosaurs battles for survival in a changing prehistoric world.

See the trailer and featurettes here.

For more on the movie this is the website.

Release formats: Standard, 3D (opens Thursday)

Genre: Adventure

Rating: PG (for creature action and peril, and mild rude humor)