The Raven (2012)


The Raven

Edgar Allen Poe or John Wilkes Booth? You decide.

(2012) Thriller (Relativity) John Cusack, Luke Evans, Alice Eve, Brendan Gleeson, Kevin McNally, Oliver Jackson-Cohen, Jimmy Yuill, Michael Shannon, Sam Hazeldine, Pam Ferris, Brendan Coyle, Adrian Rawlins, Aidan Feore, Dave Legeno, John Warnaby. Directed by James McTeigue

 

It is no secret that Edgar Allen Poe was one of the greatest writers in the history of American literature. He was the Stephen King of his day, his interests tending towards the macabre but while King is a superior storyteller, Poe was the better writer (assessments I think both King – and Poe – would have agreed upon).

The death of Edgar Allen Poe is shrouded in mystery. He was discovered raving in the streets of Baltimore (on a park bench according to this film but history doesn’t give us that kind of detail) and died in a Baltimore hospital four days later. To this day the cause of death is unknown. This movie gives us one theory.

As the film opens Poe (Cusack), a raging alcoholic, is flat broke trying to get drink on credit in a bar. Few know who he is; fewer still his accomplishments. His critical essay on Wordsworth’s most recent book has been killed by Henry (McNally), the editor of the Baltimore Patriot. Poe is desperate for the funds; Henry wants something along the lines of “The Fall of the House of Usher.” Poe is well-aware that his best days as a writer are behind him and despite the encouragement of a sympathetic typesetter (Hazeldine), he is unsure he has another great story in him.

In the meantime, Det. Fields (Evans) of the Baltimore Police Department, has stumbled onto a grisly murder. In a locked room, a mother has been found with her throat slit and her daughter stuffed up the chimney having been strangled. There’s no way in or out and the officers entering the room distinctly heard the door lock before they broke in. How did the killer get away? The detective discovers an ingenious latching mechanism on  the window which had appeared to have been nailed shut. Fields recognizes the set-up of the murder, but from where?

After some research, he discovers that it is similar to a story written by one Edgar Allen Poe, from “The Murders in the Rue Morgue.” He calls Poe in for consultation, and when Poe’s literary nemesis, Rufus Griswold (Warnaby), turns up cut in two – by a blade hanging from a pendulum – he realizes that there is a killer on the loose bent on recreating murder scenes from Poe’s work.

Poe would rather concentrate on wooing Emily Hamilton (Eve), with whom he is deeply in love (and who loves him right back) but her father, the hot-headed Captain Hamilton (Gleeson) would much rather use Poe for target practice with his revolver. Nonetheless, Poe is ready to announce his engagement to his beloved when she is kidnapped by the dastardly fiend who makes his game with Poe far more personal. Poe will have to use clues discovered on the bodies of the victims to find his fiancee before time runs out – and the killer might be closer to him than he realizes.

Keep in mind when watching this that it is meant as pure entertainment. If you’re one of those looking for historical accuracy, you’re in the wrong theater. McTeigue, best-known for V for Vendetta, has concocted a nice little yarn that puts Poe in the position of being Sherlock Holmes but quite frankly, Poe is overshadowed in the detective department by Fields who is more Holmes-like.

It is also no secret that John Cusack is one of my favorite actors and he isn’t disappointing, although he seems a bit more prone to chewing scenery here than he is normally. He bellows like a rampaging bull from time to time and tends to overplay. Still, few actors grasp the nuances of their characters better than Cusack and his regret, frustration and general pessimism bring Poe to life. Cusack’s Poe is a weary man, resentful not that he finds himself unable to write but that he is largely responsible for the mess that he’s in with his drinking and debauchery. The death of his first wife weighs on him heavily and there is a sense that Emily might just be his only way to salvation.

There are some wonderful scenes here, like one where Poe is drinking with the killer and the movements of the two men are literally mirror images of one another. There is also a chase through a misty forest which has a surreal quality that Poe might have approved of. However, for all the good scenes there are a few that don’t work very well, such as the ball scene where Emily is kidnapped. It seemed a bit too formulaic.

Eve is a little bland as Emily; it’s hard to see how Poe would have fallen in love with her. Gleeson gleefully chews scenery and seems to be having a great time. Evans has a thankless job of being the stolid heroic Fields but his heroism must remain second fiddle to Poe’s. I wouldn’t mind seeing a film about Fields somewhere down the line although given the anemic box office of this film that is about as unlikely as finding out the real cause of Poe’s death is.

The movie carries a decent entertainment value which overshadows the unevenness of the structure and the sometimes egregious liberties with history and fact that the writers chose to take. Again, one must remember this wasn’t intended to be a documentary about Edgar Allen Poe but a fanciful tale of what might have been. It doesn’t always work but for those deciding what to see if The Avengers is sold out, this makes a pretty decent alternative.

REASONS TO GO: Keeps you interested from beginning to end. Cusack channels Nicolas Cage a bit here.

REASONS TO STAY: Uneven in quality. Too many anachronisms.

FAMILY VALUES: Some of the murders are pretty gruesome and there are some pretty disturbing images from time to time; definitely not for the squeamish.

TRIVIAL PURSUIT: The first trailer for the film was released online on the anniversary of Poe’s death (October 7, 1849).

CRITICAL MASS: As of 5/8/12: Rotten Tomatoes: 21% positive reviews. Metacritic: 44/100. The reviews are trending towards the negative side.

COMPARISON SHOPPING: From Hell

EDGAR ALLE POE LOVERS: The character who was murdered via “The Pit and the Pendulum,” Rufus Griswold, was an actual person who actually survived Poe. Griswold had a vendetta against Poe and was inexplicably named as his literary executor, using his position to assassinate the character of Poe after his death, portraying him as a drug-addled, depraved madman, using “letters” purported to have been written by Poe but later proven to have been forgeries as proof.  His murder was more wishful thinking than fact-based in this context.

FINAL RATING: 6/10

NEXT: FriendsWith Benefits

New Releases for the Week of April 27, 2012


April 27, 2012

THE PIRATES! BAND OF MISFITS

(Columbia) Starring the voices of Hugh Grant, Salma Hayek, Imelda Staunton, Martin Freeman, Jeremy Piven, David Tennant, Brian Blessed, Anton Yelchin, Brendan Gleeson. Directed by Peter Lord

The twisted minds at Aardman Animation, purveyors of the Wallace and Gromit cartoons as well as such features as Arthur Christmas, Chicken Run and Flushed Away take to the high seas for their latest feature. Here, a somewhat inept but enthusiastic Pirate Captain yearns the one prize that has eluded him over his career – the Pirate of the Year award. He must battle fierce rivals such as Black Bellamy and Cutlass Liz but also Queen Victoria who wants to eradicate all pirates – forever! What’s a scurvy dog to do?

See the trailer, a featurette and a promo here.

For more on the movie this is the website.

Release formats: Standard, 3D

Genre: Animated Feature

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

The Five-Year Engagement

(Universal) Jason Segel, Emily Blunt, Alison Brie, Rhys Ifans. When a young couple gets engaged, the plans for their wedding take up all of their attention. So when she gets a job out of town, they decide to postpone, setting off a chain of events that keep their wedding being put off and put off until their relationship is threatened.

See the trailer and clips here.

For more on the movie this is the website.

Release formats: Standard

Genre: Romantic Comedy

Rating: R (for sexual content and language throughout)  

Footnote

(Sony Classics) Shlomo Bar Aba, Lior Ashkenazi, Alisa Rosen, Alma Zak. A respected Talmudic scholar whose father is bitter at being cast in his son’s shadow and for having his own research passed over for years finally wins the Israel Award, one of the highest honors in the Israeli academic world. However the son discovers that the award was meant for him and not for his father but can’t bring himself to correct the mistake. So he plays along, discovering things about both his father and himself he’d never have guessed at.

See the trailer and clips here.

For more on the movie this is the website

Release formats: Standard

Genre: Comedy

Rating: PG (for thematic elements, brief nudity, language and smoking)  

The Raven

(Relativity) John Cusack, Luke Evans, Alice Eve, Brendan Gleeson.  A literate young Baltimore detective discovers that a series of murders seem to have been inspired by the works of an up-and-coming young author – Edgar Allan Poe. The detective enlists the writer to try and get inside the mind of the killer but this only escalates the stakes as Poe’s love is deemed to be the killer’s next target.

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

For more on the movie this is the website.

Release formats: Standard

Genre: Thriller

Rating: R (for bloody violence and grisly images)

Safe

(Lionsgate) Jason Statham, Anson Mount, Chris Sarandon, Catherine Chan. A disgraced detective whose meddling into the affairs of the Russian mob got his family killed and a stigma placed on him – that anyone he knows will be murdered by the mob – spies a young Asian girl being threatened by the mob and is moved to intervene. He discovers that the girl has a talent for memorizing long numbers and holds in her mind a number that not only the Russian mob but also the Chinese mob and the police want very badly. It will be up to protect her from the multitude of crooks and crooked cops out to get the two of them and achieve some kind of redemption.

See the trailer and a promo here.

For more on the movie this is the website.

Release formats: Standard

Genre: Action

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

Tezz

(Eros Entertainment) Anil Kapoor, Ajay Devgn, Borman Irani, Phillip Martin Brown. A counter-terrorism expert and a desperate man are pitted against each other on a high speed train rocketing from Glasgow to London. Only one will succeed in their objectives and hundreds of lives hang in the balance.

See the trailer here.

For more on the movie this is the website.

Release formats: Standard

Genre: Thriller

Rating: NR  

Safe House


Safe House

Denzel Washington is having a Morgan Freeman moment.

(2012) Action (Universal) Denzel Washington, Ryan Reynolds, Vera Farmiga, Brendan Gleeson, Sam Shepard, Robert Patrick, Fares Fares, Liam Cunningham, Nora Arnezeder, Joel Kinnaman, Ruben Blades, Jenna Dover, Stephen Rider, Tracie Thoms, Sara Arrington. Directed by Daniel Espinosa

 

Some people are just naturally badasses. Take Chuck Norris for example. He’d kick you in the tush just as soon as look at you. Or how about Jet Li. Not only can he out-fight you, he can out-think you as well.

Tobin Frost (Washington) is a lot like that. He’s a legend in the CIA – a master manipulator, a world-class assassin and one of the guys you’re thankful is on our side. Except he isn’t on our side anymore. He left the Company and has spent the past 15 years selling our secrets to anyone who’ll buy them.

Matt Weston (Reynolds) wants to go places in the CIA but he’s stuck staring at four walls all day as the housekeeper for a CIA safe house in Cape Town. He spends most of his days making love to his girlfriend (Arnezeder) and lying to her about what he really does for a living, and nagging his handler David Barlow (Gleeson) about getting a field position which is what he really wants to do.

So when a team led by the gravelly Daniel Kiefer (Patrick) comes in bearing Frost, one of the most wanted men in the world, Weston is understandably surprised. He is even more surprised when a well-armed hit team led by the ruthless Vargas (Fares) blows in their doors and proceeds to execute everyone in the House – with the exception of Weston and Frost who have fled.

On the run with nowhere safe to go, Weston calls his superiors back at the CIA. Barlow knows that Weston is above reproach but Analyst Catherine Linklater (Farmiga) has her suspicions. Deputy Chief Harlan Whitford (Shepard) isn’t sure who to trust but seems to be giving Weston the benefit of the doubt.

Alone with one of the most dangerous men on Earth, chased by unknown assassins who want him dead and unable to trust the CIA since there had to be a leak that gave the Safe House away, Weston must figure out what’s going on, what secrets Frost is carrying with him that so many people want him dead and how to get out of this cluster fu…um, mess alive.

Frost is a part tailor-made for Denzel. He’s smart, he’s super-cool as well as super-bad, and enigmatic. He’s not the most likable guy you’ll ever meet but he is also disillusioned by some of the horrible things he has to do. To my mind, this is his best work since American Gangster – and not coincidentally, the most fleshed-out part he’s had since then.

Reynolds, known for being a touch on the light side, actually holds his own here which is a bit of surprise. This is really his first all-dramatic role (even his action hero roles have a comedic element to them) and he holds his own with one of the best actors of his generation. That’s a pretty impressive feat and watching this movie I really am re-assessing my opinion of Reynolds’ range and consequently the potential longevity of his career. This is not a star-making role for him so much as a star-potential declaration role. He is one role away from becoming one of Hollywood’s biggest stars.

Espinosa, despite his Latin name, is actually Swedish and he has been one of those directors that is much better-known by studio people than by the American moviegoing public (although he is well-acclaimed in Sweden where he has a couple of highly regarded action films under his belt). He pulls off the action sequences very nicely, particularly a thrilling car chase through Cape Town and a rooftop chase through one of the ghettos of Cape Town.

With all this going for it, this should have been a big summer blockbuster but the reason that it’s sitting here in February is simply because the story isn’t anything to write home about. It’s all about deception and lies in the CIA with double and triple-crosses galore, every one of them telegraphed a mile off. It doesn’t keep you on your toes with its twists and turns so much as keep you on a familiar mountain road.

This isn’t a bad movie, don’t get me wrong – it’s just fairly predictable. It does what it does nicely without really taxing too much of your grey matter and there are some visceral thrills not to mention the opportunity to see one of the very best doing what he does best. For the record, I think this is an enjoyable way to kill a couple of hours at the movies – which may sound damned by faint praise but to my mind is a pretty decent compliment.

REASONS TO GO: Washington is at the top of his game and Reynolds surprisingly keeps up. Some nicely done action sequences.

REASONS TO STAY: The script is pretty rote and doesn’t really offer anything new to the genre.

FAMILY VALUES: There is a whole lot of violence and a whole lot of bad language.

TRIVIAL PURSUIT: The script was originally set in Rio de Janeiro but was switched to South Africa for security concerns.

CRITICAL MASS: As of 2/23/12: Rotten Tomatoes: 54% positive reviews. Metacritic: 52/100. The reviews are as bad as they get.

COMPARISON SHOPPING: The Bourne Identity

CHAMELEON DENZEL LOVERS: The actor adopts a Spike Lee look for some of the film and a clean-shaven look harkening back to “St. Elsewhere” for other parts of the movie, and even a bit of American Gangster thrown in.

FINAL RATING: 6/10

TOMORROW: The Green Mile

New Releases for the Week of February 10, 2012


February 10, 2012

SAFE HOUSE

(Universal) Denzel Washington, Ryan Reynolds, Brendan Gleeson, Vera Farmiga, Sam Shepard, Fares Fares, Robert Patrick, Liam Cunningham, Ruben Blades. Directed by Daniel Espinosa

One of the most decorated agents in the history of the CIA is Tobin Frost. He is also one of the most reviled, having turned traitor and is now selling his services to the highest bidder. He has cost untold millions of dollars and dozens of lives, directly and otherwise. Then one day he walks into a U.S. consulate. He is taken from there to a CIA Safe House where the House sitter is to take charge of him until he is picked up – and that’s when all hell breaks loose.

See the trailer and clips here.

For more on the movie this is the website.

Release formats: Standard

Genre: Action

Rating: R (for strong violence throughout and some language)

Journey 2: Mysterious Island

(New Line) Dwayne Johnson, Michael Caine, Josh Hutcherson, Vanessa Hudgens. In this sequel to Journey to the Center of the Earth, .the annoying nephew now has a new stepdad who reluctantly accompanies him to an island where there shouldn’t be one to find the annoying nephew’s explorer grandfather who had been presumed lost. Yes that’s right – another lost relative in the family. Someone should get this family a cell phone plan.

See the trailer and a featurette here.

For more on the movie this is the website

Release formats: Standard, 3D and IMAX

Genre: Family Adventure/Fantasy

Rating: PG (for some adventure action and brief mild language)

Star Wars Episode 1: The Phantom Menace 3D

(20th Century Fox) Liam Neeson, Ewan McGregor, Natalie Portman, Ray Park.  Because George Lucas needs the cash since he’s retiring.

See the trailer and clips here.

For more on the movie this is the website.

Release formats: 3D

Genre: Science Fiction

Rating: PG-13 (for thematic material and violence/disturbing images)

The Vow

(Screen Gems) Rachel McAdams, Channing Tatum, Sam Neill, Scott Speedman. A newlywed couple seem to have everything going for them, a perfect life together and a bright future but it all comes to a screeching halt on a rainy night when the car they are in is plowed into by a truck. At least they both survive but the groom discovers that his new wife has lost all of her memory of the past five years – including every memory of him. She believes she is still engaged to the man she was seeing before he came along. Determined to win her back, he pulls out all the stops to get her to fall in love with her all over again. Sound too good to be true? It really happened.

See the trailer and an interview here.

For more on the movie this is the website.

Release formats: Standard

Genre: Romance

Rating: PG-13 (for an accident scene, sexual content, partial nudity and some language)

Gangs of New York


Gangs of New York

A more dapper group of gents you will never meet.

(2002) Historical Drama (Miramax) Leonardo DiCaprio, Daniel Day-Lewis, Cameron Diaz, Jim Broadbent, John C. Reilly, Henry Thomas, Liam Neeson, Brendan Gleeson, Gary Lewis, Stephen Graham, Eddie Marsan, David Hemmings, Cara Seymour. Directed by Martin Scorsese

 

It’s a myth that immigrants have always been welcomed to America with open arms. Immigrants have all too often been sneered at, spat upon and been the victims of violence. Still, nobody can argue that immigrants were the bricks that built America. Every European-descended American citizen has an immigrant somewhere in their family tree. Gangs of New York is a story of some of those who built modern America, and it isn’t pretty.

In the mid-1800s, Priest Vallon (Neeson) wants his Irish comrades in the Five Points section of New York to be left alone. He wants freedom from the harassment of the Nativists, led by “Butcher” Bill Cutting (Day-Lewis). The two warring factions decide to settle their differences the old-fashioned way — on the field of battle.

Vallon is backed by his lieutenant, Happy Jack (Reilly) and the mercenary Monk McGinn (Gleeson) who fight passionately but to no avail – the Nativists carry the day after Cutting cuts down the Priest. Vallon’s son is taken away to Hellgate to be raised as an orphan.

Forward to 1862. The Civil War is in full fury, and the word of the day is conscription. Irish immigrants continue to pour into New York, at a rate of 15,000 a week; ongoing for the 15 years since the potato famine of Black ’47. The son of Vallon, Amsterdam (DiCaprio) has grown to manhood and intends to infiltrate Butcher Bill’s gang, and then strike at his father’s killer when the time is right. Amsterdam meets a thief and cutpurse, Jenny Everdeane (Diaz) from whom he initially recoils, but the two fall deeply in love true to Hollywood form.

Cutting has made an alliance with Boss Tweed (Broadbent) of Tammany Hall to deliver crucial votes in the upcoming election in exchange for political protection. However, the coming conscription is making everyone uneasy. Many don’t want to fight for the rights of blacks, who are despised nearly as much as the Irish.

Still, Amsterdam quickly becomes one of Butcher Bill’s best men, and the gang leader takes a liking to the young man, in almost a father-son relationship. Eventually, he discovers the true identity of Amsterdam and all hell breaks loose, leading to a confrontation. Unfortunately, the two leaders pick a bad day for a fight – a riot has broken over the conscription act, and federal troops move in. A fight for survival becomes even more harrowing.

Director Martin Scorsese does an incredible job of evoking 1862 New York City. He establishes a realistic depiction, down to the language and idioms of the dialogue. The costumes, the sets, all reek of authenticity. Of course, there is a great deal of violence, which is to be expected. There is also a surprising amount of nudity, particularly in the bordellos where some of the movie is takes place.

The cast is marvelous. Daniel Day-Lewis gives his most electrifying performance since The Last of the Mohicans and one of his finest ever, pointing out what a shame it is he doesn’t do more movies. DiCaprio doesn’t have to carry this movie due to Day-Lewis’ presence and as a result delivers a more relaxed performance, paving the way for a long association between him and Scorsese. Reilly, Broadbent, Gleeson and Henry Thomas (as a friend of Amsterdam’s) all do solid work.

The problem here is the love story. It’s extraneous, and detracts from the movie overall. The Jenny Everdeane character exists only to be DiCaprio’s love interest, and doesn’t contribute much to the story. It’s billed as a love triangle, but the movie would have worked just as well, if not better, without it. Some of the 2-hour, 46-minute run time could easily have been excised.

Martin Scorsese is considered by some to be the greatest American film director of all time, and Gangs of New York does nothing to diminish that claim; in fact, over the years it’s become a movie that many consider to be one of his finest – certainly it stands up well with some of his better-known movies like Taxi Driver and The Departed. It’s an amazing epic that never averts its eyes from the seamier sides of the story, but refuses to wallow in them either.

WHY RENT THIS: Amazing performance by Day-Lewis. Perfect capture of an era long gone. One of Scorsese’s finest and that’s saying quite a lot.

WHY RENT SOMETHING ELSE: A superfluous love triangle. Runs a little bit too long.

FAMILY MATTERS: There’s a whole lot of violence, some of it quite graphic. There’s also some sexuality and a surfeit of nudity, along with a few curse words.

TRIVIAL PURSUITS: The sets of old New York were actually built on the lot at Cinecitta studios in Rome. George Lucas visited the set during filming and reportedly said to Scorsese “You know, sets like that can be done with computers now.”

NOTABLE DVD FEATURES: There’s a 30-minute Discovery Channel documentary on the real gangs of New York, a U2 music video, a featurette on the Five Points area where the filmwas set, and a featurette on the immense sets at Cinecitta with Scorsese conducting a personal tour of the sets and relating stories from the production.

BOX OFFICE PERFORMANCE: $193.8M on a $100M production budget; the film was just shy of breaking even during it’s theatrical run, although it almost certainly turned a profit on it’s home video release.

FINAL RATING: 8.5/10

TOMORROW: Arbitrage

New Releases for the Week of January 27, 2012


January 27, 2012

THE GREY

(Open Road) Liam Neeson, Dermot Mulroney, Frank Grillo, Dallas Roberts, Joe Anderson, James Badge Dale, Nonso Anozie, Ben Bray, Anne Openshaw. Directed by Joe Carnahan

A group of oil roustabouts, cocksure and rowdy, are getting ready to go home. Flying back on a chartered plane from their remote Alaskan oil field, their plans of spending their hard-earned money back home comes to a grinding halt when their plane crashes. At first the survivors thank their lucky stars that they survived the crash. Then, they begin to face the daunting prospect of carting the injured and themselves through miles of desolate and rough Alaskan wilderness to make it to civilization. Their task gets exponentially more difficult when a pack of rogue wolves, desperate to survive the winter themselves, begins to stalk this new source of fresh meat.

See the trailer and a clip here.

For more on the movie this is the website.

Release formats: Standard

Genre: Thriller/Action/Adventure

Rating: R (for violence/disturbing content including bloody images, and for pervasive language)

Albert Nobbs

(Roadside Attractions) Glenn Close, Mia Wasikowska, Aaron Johnson, Brendan Gleeson. In 19th century Ireland, it is most certainly a man’s world. For a woman to make it in that world she must be exactly like a man to survive. In the case of Albert Nobbs, a woman becomes a man, wearing the guise for 30 years, hoping to eventually buy her own shop but she finds that in expanding her opportunities, she has created a prison of her own device. Close in the title role has received an Oscar nomination for Best Actress.

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 some sexuality, brief nudity and language) 

A Dangerous Method

(Sony Classics) Viggo Mortensen, Michael Fassbender, Keira Knightley, Vincent Cassel.  Director David Cronenberg takes us to turn-of-the-century Vienna where two giants of psychotherapy, Sigmund Freud and Carl Jung, find their professional and personal relationship tested by the appearance of a troubled but beautiful woman who becomes patient to one and lover to both. Into this highly volatile mix comes a second patient, a hedonist who yearns to push the boundaries further. The results of this fact-based affair will shape the modern science of psychiatry as well as 20th century philosophy.

See the trailer and clips here.

For more on the movie this is the website.

Release formats: Standard

Genre: Drama

Rating: R (for sexual content and brief language)

Man on a Ledge

(Summit) Sam Worthington, Elizabeth Banks, Ed Harris, Jamie Bell. A man steps out onto the ledge of a high rise. Suddenly an ordinary afternoon is transformed into a media event. But this isn’t an ordinary suicide attempt nor is this some loner who has come to the end of his rope. No, this is merely window dressing meant to obscure the man’s real agenda – to prove his innocence and to expose the machinations of a man who stole everything from him. A city stands captivated while the drama is played out on a stage 27 stories up.

See the trailer and clips here.

For more on the movie this is the website.

Release formats: Standard

Genre: Crime Thriller

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

One for the Money

(Lionsgate) Katherine Heigl, Jason O’Mara, John Leguizamo, Debbie Reynolds. Desperate for work after six months unemployed, former lingerie salesperson Stephanie Plum takes a job working for her cousin’s bail bonding agency. Her first job is to pick up the biggest bail jumper on her cousin’s roster; a former ex who broke her heart and dumped her in high school who is on trial for murder. It turns out that this case is going to be much more complex and personal than Stephanie thought. From the best-selling series of novels by Janet Evanovich.

See the trailer here.

For more on the movie this is the website.

Release formats: Standard

Genre: Action Comedy

Rating: R (for language)

New Releases for the Week of August 26, 2011


August 26, 2011

COLOMBIANA

(TriStar) Zoe Saldana, Michael Vartan, Cliff Curtis, Callum Blue, Jordi Molla, Max Martini, Lennie James, Graham McTavish. Directed by Olivier Megaton

A young woman who witnesses the assassination of her parents is trained to become an assassin herself by her uncle. She continues to work for her uncle as a killer, all the while searching for the identity of those responsible for the deaths of her parents. Her pursuit will lead her to some dark, dangerous places..

See the trailer here.

For more on the movie this is the website.

Release formats: Standard

Genre: Action

Rating: PG-13 (for violence, disturbing images, intense sequences of action, sexuality and brief strong language)

Don’t Be Afraid of the Dark

(FilmDistrict) Katie Holmes, Guy Pearce, Bailee Madison, Jack Thompson. A young family moves into a spooky old house where the little girl is menaced by dark forces. Based on the 1973 made-for-television movie that some believe is one of the best horror movies ever made for any medium.

See the trailer, promos, interviews and clips here.

For more on the movie this is the website.

Release formats: Standard

Genre: Horror

Rating: R (for violence and terror)

The Guard

(Sony Classics) Brendan Gleeson, Don Cheadle, Mark Strong, Liam Cunningham. An Irish cop who is dealing with a local drug smuggling ring joins forces with a straight-laced FBI agent who gets involved when those smugglers turn out to be part of a larger operation.

See the trailer and clips here.

For more on the movie this is the website.

Release formats: Standard

Genre: Crime Comedy

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

Our Idiot Brother

(Weinstein) Paul Rudd, Elizabeth Banks, Zooey Deschanel, Emily Mortimer. The perennially cheerful but completely lacking in sense or smarts is forced to live with each of his uptight sisters who are disgusted with his upbeat attitude. However the longer he spends time with them the more they realize that he may be  a lot smarter than they gave him credit for.

See the trailer, interviews, promos and clips here.

For more on the movie this is the website.

Release formats: Standard

Genre: Comedy

Rating: PG (for mild action and rude humor)

Sarah’s Key

(Weinstein) Kristin Scott Thomas, Melusine Mayance, Aidan Quinn, Niels Arestrup. The life of a modern-day American journalist is entwined with that of a 10-year-old French girl in Nazi-occupied France. The little girl hides her little brother in a closet with a promise to come back for him shortly, a promise that echoes into modern day France as the journalist uncovers disturbing information regarding the French round up of Jews.

See the trailer, clips, featurettes and interviews here.

For more on the movie this is the website.

Release formats: Standard

Genre: Drama

Rating: PG-13 (for thematic material including disturbing situations involving the Holocaust)

Perrier’s Bounty


Perrier's Bounty

Murphy, Whittaker and Broadbent stroll away from yet another catastrophe.

(2009) Gangster Comedy (IFC) Cillian Murphy, Jim Broadbent, Brendan Gleeson, Jodie Whittaker, Gabriel Byrne (voice), Liam Cunningham, Michael McElhatton, Domhnall Gleeson, Ned Dennehy, Patrick McCabe, Glenn Speers, Natalie Britton. Directed by Ian Fitzgibbon

Sometimes, you’re left in an impossible situation; one in which, either through your own ineptitude or through no fault of your own there is no good outcome. There are times when the lesser of two evils is to go medieval on somebody’s ass.

Michael McCrae (Murphy) is a small-time hood in Dublin who owes a thousand Euros to Darren Perrier (Brendan Gleeson), a big-time hood. He has sent a couple of thugs to inform young McCrae that they will return in four hours to collect – and if he doesn’t have the cash, they will break a leg. Four hours later they’ll break another leg. And so on and so forth until every limb is broken and all that’s left is to shoot him dead. Perrier doesn’t mess around, obviously.

At first McCrae seeks to get the amount from another loan shark known only as The Mull (Cunningham) but when that falls through, McCrae is left to the mercy of the thugs. He is saved when his neighbor Brenda (Whittaker) whom McCrae has had a crush on for ages, accidentally shoots one of the thugs.

This pisses Perrier off no end; he regards it as nothing less than a challenge to his authority. He authorizes a bounty on the head of the two of ten thousand Euros. Now McCrae are on the run along with McCrae’s dad Jim (Broadbent) who has had a premonition that he’s going to die the next time he falls asleep. With every hood in Dublin gunning for them, fleeing town seems to be the only option but that won’t be easy either.

For more than a decade gangster movies have made a resurgence in the UK and really for my money they are the best in the world at making them (although the Chinese have made some pretty intense gangster movies as well). This is not one that’s going to be at the top of the list, but neither is it going to be at the bottom either.

Murphy is a likable enough sort and he has the acting chops to go a lot farther in Hollywood than he has to date. He lacks that one vehicle to lift him over the top and make him a viable property over here; even appearances in the Christopher Nolan Batman movies haven’t done it for him yet.

Brendan Gleeson is as rough and tumble as they come and he’s done several turns as a bad guy, particularly in In Bruges (although audiences may know him best as Mad-Eye Moody in the Harry Potter films). He’s one of the best character actors in the business and lends a certain amount of cachet to any film he participates in. His Darren Perrier is quite an S.O.B. but Gleeson keeps him from becoming a standard paint-by-numbers villain by making him interesting and quirky.

Most of the rest of the mostly Irish cast (with the exception of Broadbent who is English and also one of the finest character actors in the world) aren’t well known in the States, although Whittaker, who plays Brenda with some spunk and verve should be and could be eventually (although she’s English too – hmmm). Still, there are solid performances all around and the movie is the better for it.

The main problem is that there isn’t anything that particularly stands out from other gangster movies. The idiom requires a hook of some kind; a lead character without a name, a shootout in a medieval town, a language spoken only by a few in the UK, a missing parcel. Something that is more than just trying to get away from the bad guys – although the movie isn’t boring by a long shot either.

The script is well-written and the dialogue is clever, so the movie is smart in its own right. It just doesn’t take any chances, which is a shame because it could have used a few risks. Still, it has a great cast and any movie with Murphy, Broadbent and Gleeson in it is worth watching.

WHY RENT THIS: Gleeson, Broadbent and Murphy are always wonderful and Whittaker does a terrific job as well.

WHY RENT SOMETHING ELSE: Not really very groundbreaking when it comes to gangster flicks.

FAMILY VALUES: There is an awful lot of violence (which you’d expect in an Irish gangster flick), a whole lot of swearing (which you’d also expect in an Irish gangster flick) and a smattering of drug use.

TRIVIAL PURSUIT: Fitzgibbon is currently completing his next film, based on the novel Death of a Superhero.

NOTABLE DVD EXTRAS: None listed.

BOX OFFICE PERFORMANCE: $167,938 on an unreported production budget; I’m thinking this probably lost a few bucks.

FINAL RATING: 6/10

TOMORROW: Rio

Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows Part One


Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows Part One

Harry and Hermione share a rare tender moment in a dark and dismal place.

(2010) Fantasy (Warner Brothers) Daniel Radcliffe, Emma Watson, Rupert Grint, Ralph Fiennes, Robbie Coltrane, Tom Felton, Jason Isaacs, Helena Bonham Carter, Bill Nighy, Rhys Ifans, David Thewlis, Brendan Gleeson, Michael Gambon, Imelda Staunton, Alan Rickman . Directed by David Yates

As someone who’s been with the Harry Potter series from the beginning, I had always thought it a young adult fantasy series but I was wrong. This has always been a series for adults; we just didn’t know it at the time.

After the events of Harry Potter and the Half-Blood Prince, Harry (Radcliffe), Hermione (Watson) and Ron (Grint) are on the run. No longer is Hogwarts a safe place – in fact, it only puts in a cursory appearance in the movie. Instead, the three are on the run, chased by Deatheaters who are looking for Harry specifically.

Lord Voldemort (Fiennes) and his cohorts, including Lucius Malfoy (Isaacs), his son Draco (Felton) and cousin Bellatrix Lestrange (Carter) have taken over the Ministry of Magic as well as Hogwarts itself and have launched a campaign to stamp out Muggles, using propaganda and fear. The overall impression is of a totalitarian Nazi-like state with Voldemort a Hitler-like figure at the top.

Harry is seeking the horcruxes, special items in which Voldemort has placed parts of his soul. Harry has found several of them but there still remain several to go. The stress and weariness are getting to Ron, who notices that Harry and Hermione are getting close. Into this mix comes the Deathly Hallows, but what exactly are they and how are they the key to victory over Voldemort?

This is movie is dark, dark, dark. If Half-Blood Prince was dark, this is pitch-black. This is serial killer-dark. This is your mom is dead-dark. You get the picture. In fact, the mood is so unrelenting in its grimness that you actually feel it weighing on your soul as you exit the theater.

I have tried to avoid reading the books before I see the movies so I can’t really say how closely this follows the book, which the studio has ultimately decided to split into two movies ostensibly at author J.K. Rowling’s request but, I suspect, also as a way of wringing out twice the revenue from the same book which will be the final installment in the series. Along the way it has become the most successful film series of all time on a per-film basis (the Bond series has brought more money in overall but has had 22 films to do it in) and more or less a license for Warner Brothers to print money. It’s not hard to see why they’re disappointed that the cash cow is coming to a close.

Part of my issue with the movie is that there is just so much information being crammed into it, and so many characters – nearly everyone from the first six books who haven’t died either in the series or in real life is here. It’s very difficult to keep everybody straight and by the time the two and a half hour movie comes to a close, you feel a very real sense of overload.

And yet there is much going for the movie. Radcliffe, Watson and Grint have become fine actors and have essentially grown up with their roles. Harry is showing the heroism that his character has always threatened to be, while Hermione is not only a charming and beautiful young woman but brilliant and resourceful as well, every bit Harry’s equal. Ron is the most human of the three, filled with doubts and flaws, but yet in his own way more courageous than either of them. The three make a formidable team, three terrific friends who are stronger together than they are separately.

The special effects are jaw-dropping at times, particularly an early broomstick and motorcycle sidecar battle, as well as a wonderful animation that introduces the Deathly Hallows into the film (the animator Ben Hibon has recently been rewarded with a feature film of his own). While a dark and terrifying place, the wizarding world is no less dazzling than it has been all along.

One gets the impression that the second film of the two Deathly Hallows movies will be much better in the sense that the resolution that is approaching like a bullet train is going to be something special. Much of that has to do with Rowling, who may sometimes not get her due simply because the books appeal to children. She is simply put one of the best writers of our age, regardless of genre or audience.

This is still a movie worth seeing – it is in many ways the weakest movie in the series simply because it feels so incomplete and yet it is the equal of all of them, but that is a function of the split. It is a movie of putting aside childish things and stepping into a frightening world. It is a movie of accepting responsibility and standing up for what is good and what is right. It is a movie that while on the surface may seem to be about running away and hiding is in reality about acting in the face of overwhelming odds and terrible penalties. Bad things happen to good people in this series – not everyone comes out of the movie alive and many come out badly injured at least. It is a movie about conquering fear, and what better lesson can we give to young people than that?

REASONS TO GO: Simply put, this is marvelous to look at and all the threads of the first six movies are beginning to draw together into a recognizable tapestry.

REASONS TO STAY: Dark, dark, dark – this is not your older brother’s Harry Potter. There is a good deal of information crammed into this movie which will probably all be necessary for the second but it sure does slow the pacing down quite a bit.

FAMILY VALUES: This is dark, dark, dark – the wee ones are going to be plenty scared by the violence, both on-screen and implied. The evil of Voldemort and his Deatheaters becomes much more realized and I would have a serious talk with any younger kid before seeing it to make sure they understand it’s just a movie. If they are prone to nightmares or particularly sensitive, I’d really think twice about taking my kids to see it.

TRIVIAL PURSUIT: After escaping the attack at the wedding, Harry, Hermione and Ron end up in a London diner, where one of the posters on the wall is for the West End production of “Equus” which star Daniel Radcliffe starred in.

HOME OR THEATER: You will see this on the big screen, if you haven’t already.

FINAL RATING: 6.5/10

TOMORROW: The Last Legion

New Releases for the Week of August 27, 2010


Previews for the Week of August 27, 2010

Cotton Marcus informs the young lady she doesn't need an exorcist, she needs a fashion consultant. Tim Gunn, to the rescue!

THE LAST EXORCISM

(Lionsgate) Patrick Fabian, Ashley Bell, Louis Herthum, Iris Bahr, Caleb Landry Jones, Tony Bentley, John Wright Jr., Shanna Forrestall, Justin Shafer. Directed by Daniel Stamm

The Reverend Cotton Marcus, a charlatan who performs fake exorcisms, has grown weary of separating the faithful from their wallets, so he intends his last exorcism to be a confessional video. What he doesn’t bargain for is that the young girl who will be his final subject is genuinely possessed of an evil beyond anything he has ever imagined or prepared for, and it will be up to him and his crew to somehow rid this young girl of the vengeful demon possessing her before unimaginable tragedy results.

See the trailer, clips and promos here.

For more on the movie this is the website.

Release formats: Standard

Rating: PG-13 (for disturbing violent content and terror, some sexual references and thematic material)

Mao’s Last Dancer

(Goldwyn) Wen Bin Huang, Bruce Greenwood, Kyle MacLachlen, Joan Chen. This is the true story of Chinese ballet master Li Cunxin and his rise to fame despite obstacles from his totalitarian Maoist government. Directed by Oscar-winning director Bruce Beresford (Driving Miss Daisy, Tender Mercies), the film covers the triumphs of a supremely talented dancer, as well as the loneliness and despair of an exile.

See the trailer and clips here.

For more on the movie this is the website.

Release formats: Standard

Rating: PG (for a brief violent image, some sensuality, language and incidental smoking)

The Secret of Kells

(GKIDS) Starring the voices of Brendan Gleeson, Evan McGuire, Christen Mooney, Mick Lally. A beautifully animated (it was also an Oscar Nominee for Best Animated Feature) movie about a young boy at an Irish abbey who comes face to face with Celtic mysticism, Viking invaders and the beauty of a well-illuminated volume. Previously reviewed during the Florida Film Festival, you can read my full review here.

See the trailer and clips here.

For more on the movie this is the website.

Release formats: Standard

Rating: NR (but would probably get a PG rating for some scenes with disturbing images and violence)

Takers

(Screen Gems) Matt Dillon, Paul Walker, Idris Elba, Jay Hernandez. A group of notorious criminals are getting ready to pull off their last heist, their most daring, complex and high-risk job yet – and also their most lucrative. They are used to pulling off meticulously planned jobs executed like clockwork, but this one might be beyond the capabilities of anybody – and to top it all off, a case-hardened detective is right on their tails, nipping at their heels. One false move and the whole gang might wind up caught, a fate worse than death for a taker.

See the trailer, clips, promos, interviews and a music video here.

For more on the movie this is the website.

Release formats: Standard

Rating: PG-13 (for intense sequences of violence and action, a sexual situation/partial nudity and some language)