New Releases for the Week of November 23, 2018


RALPH BREAKS THE INTERNET

(Disney) Starring the voices of John C. Reilly, Sarah Silverman, Gal Gadot, Taraji P. Henson, Jack McBrayer, Jane Lynch, Alan Tudyk, Alfred Molina. Directed by Phil Johnston and Rich Moore

Ralph and his new friend Princess Vanellope discover a Wi-Fi router in the arcade which turns out to be a portal to a much larger world where, of course, they immediately get into trouble.

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

Release Formats: Standard, 3D, 4DX, DBOX, DBOX 3D, Dolby, RPX, XD
Genre: Animated Feature
Now Playing: Wide Release (opened Wednesday)

Rating: PG (for some action and rude humor)

Bodied

(NEON) Calum Worthy, Jackie Long, Rory Uphold, Jonathan “Dumboundead” Park. A Berkeley grad student writing his thesis on the use of a certain racial slut in battle rap becomes enmeshed in that underground world. This has already been reviewed by Cinema365 and a link to that review can be found below.

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

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

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

Creed II

(MGM/New Line) Michael B. Jordan, Sylvester Stallone, Tessa Thompson, Phylicia Rashad. Adonis Creed tries to balance his personal and family obligations with his preparations for the biggest fight of his career – against the son of the man who killed his father in the ring.

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

Release Formats: Standard, Dolby
Genre: Sports Drama
Now Playing: Wide Release (opened Wednesday)

Rating: PG-13 (for sports action violence, language and a scene of sensuality)

The Front Runner

(Columbia) Hugh Jackman, Vera Farmiga, J.K. Simmons, Molly Ephraim. Gary Hart was a Senator with a promising political career ahead of him launching his first Presidential campaign and is the odds-on favorite to grab the nomination and possibly even the presidency. His career though is derailed by a scandalous love affair.

See the trailer, clips and a video featurette 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)

Green Book

(DreamWorks) Viggo Mortensen, Mahershala Ali, Linda Cardellini, Sebastian Maniscalco. A working class Italian-American is hired to drive a concert pianist from New York for a concert tour in the Deep South of the 1960s. Because his passenger is an African-American, the Green Book for the Negro Motorist must be used to find places that he can go safely. The two end up forging an unlikely friendship.

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

Release Formats: Standard
Genre: True Life Drama
Now Playing: Wide Release (opened Wednesday)

Rating: PG-13 (for thematic content, language including racial epithets, smoking, some violence and suggestive material)

The House That Jack Built

(IFC) Matt Dillon, Bruno Ganz, Uma Thurman, Siobhan Fallon Hogan. The twelve year career of failed architect turned serial killer Jack, who looked as his murders as works of art – while a more dispassionate view turns the art into madness. This is the latest from director Lars von Trier which means you will love it or loathe it but you won’t forget it.

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

Release Formats: Standard
Genre: Horror
Now Playing: Enzian Theater (Wednesday 11/28 only)

Rating: R (for strong disturbing violence/sadistic behavior, grisly images, language, and nudity)

Robin Hood

(Summit) Taron Egerton, Jamie Foxx, Ben Mendelsohn, Eve Hewson. An English knight, hardened by battle, returns to England to find it in turmoil, with corrupt nobles exploiting the people in the absence of their King. Accompanied by his Moorish commander and aided by a group of rebels, he mounts a revolt against the would-be tyrants while romancing the stunning Maid Marian.

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

Release Formats: Standard
Genre: Action
Now Playing: Wide Release (opened Wednesday)

Rating: PG-13 (for extended sequences of violence and action, and for some suggestive references)

ALSO OPENING IN ORLANDO/DAYTONA:

Searching for Ingmar Bergman
Sinatra in Palm Springs

ALSO OPENING IN MIAMI/FT. LAUDERDALE:

Burning
Lila’s Book
Maria by Callas
Weightless

ALSO OPENING IN TAMPA/ST. PETERSBURG:

24 Kisses

ALSO OPENING IN JACKSONVILLE/ST. AUGUSTINE:

None

SCHEDULED FOR REVIEW:

Bodied
Creed II
The Front Runner
Green Book
Ralph Breaks the Internet
Robin Hood

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New Releases for the Week of March 9, 2018


A WRINKLE IN TIME

(Disney) Oprah Winfrey, Reese Witherspoon, Mindy Kaling, Storm Reid, Chris Pine, Gugu Mbatha-Raw, Zach Galifianakis, Michael Peña, David Oyelowo. Directed by Ava DuVernay

Meg Murry was devastated when her scientist father disappeared without a trace. Although others around her began to move on, Meg couldn’t. A brilliant girl herself, her studies began to suffer. Then, she is visited by three peculiar beings who inform her that her father is alive but in terrible danger – the whole universe is and only Meg can save the day. With her brother and a stalwart friend beside her, she goes on the adventure of a lifetime through space and time to find her father and save the universe. This is based on the beloved Madeline L’Engle young adult novel.

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

Release Formats: Standard, 3D, DBOX, DBOX 3D, Dolby Atmos, IMAX, RPX, RPX 3D, XD, XD-3D
Genre: Young Adult Fantasy
Now Playing: Wide Release

Rating: PG (for thematic elements and some peril)

Before We Vanish

(Neon/Super Ltd) Masami Nagasawa, Ryûhei Matsuda, Hiroki Hasegawa, Kazuya Kojima. Three alien beings, acting as reconnaissance for an upcoming mass invasion of Earth, take over the bodies of three Japanese young people. From them they take every bit of their humanity – their emotions, their passions, everything that makes them human, leaving only hollow shells that are virtually unrecognizable to family and friends. This is a rare sci-fi film that has all the action you can imagine but at the same time is extremely profound, examining what the human spirit means – and how it is in the end our most devastating weapon.

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

Release Formats: Standard
Genre: Science Fiction
Now Playing: Regal Winter Park Village

Rating: NR

Gringo

(STX/Amazon) Joel Edgerton, Charlize Theron, David Oyelowo, Thandie Newton. An American businessman heads into cartel-infested Mexico to pick up the formula for pill-form marijuana to bring back to his pharmaceutical company. However, double-crosses, betrayals and backstabbing turn his simple business trip into chaos. Can he survive the trip when there’s nobody he can trust?

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

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

Rating: R (for language throughout, violence and sexual content)

The Hurricane Heist

(Entertainment Studios) Toby Kebbell, Maggie Grace, Ryan Kwanten, Ralph Ineson. A group of bank robbers sense opportunity when a hurricane closes in on a US Mint facility. Even when the storm turns into a Category 5 – the worst of the worst – they still make their play. $600 million can buy a whole lot of band-aids after all. However they discover the code they need to get into the vault is known by only one Treasury Agent who has acquired an unlikely ally; the meteorologist brother of one of their hostages. His knowledge of how hurricanes work sets apart this adrenaline-fueled thrill ride.

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

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

Rating: PG-13 (for sequences of gun violence, action, destruction, language and some suggestive material)

The Party

(Roadside Attractions) Timothy Spall, Kristin Scott Thomas, Patricia Clarkson, Bruno Ganz. A woman hosts a celebration at her London home after her political ascension. As the guests arrive, some with news of their own, the dynamic slowly changes and when her husband drops a bombshell of his own, the party becomes less of a celebration and more of a psychological experiment.

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

Release Formats: Standard
Genre: Comedy
Now Playing: Regal Winter Park Village

Rating: R (for language and drug use)

The Strangers: Prey at Night

(Aviron) Christina Hendricks, Bailee Madison, Martin Henderson, Emma Bellomy. A family on a road trip pulls into a mobile home park to visit relatives but find the park oddly deserted. Three masked psychopaths soon begin stalking them, terrorizing them and forcing them to go beyond their limits in order to survive.

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

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

Rating: R (for horror violence and terror throughout, and for language)

Submission

(Great Point) Stanley Tucci, Addison Timlin, Kyra Sedgwick, Janeane Garofalo. A former bestselling author now toils in a boring job as a creative writing professor at a small Vermont college. When he discovers a student with real talent, he takes notice. When her erotically-charged writing seems to be about her having a crush on him, he is aroused. But when she begins to manipulate him into foolish acts, he risks his career and family. This was reviewed last weekend by Cinema365; to read it, follow the link below under Scheduled For Review.

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

Release Formats: Standard
Genre: Drama
Now Playing: Regal Winter Park Village

Rating: R (for language and some sexual references)

Thoroughbreds

(Focus) Olivia Cooke, Anna Taylor-Joy, Anton Yelchin, Kaili Vernoff. Two high school graduates, reuniting after some time apart, are bonding over their differences and their mutual contempt for the overbearing stepfather of one of them. As the summer goes on, they goad each other onto a dark path that leads them to plan the removal of the stepfather. They contact a young hustler who claims he can help them with their problem, but if they are to straighten out their lives they will need to take matters into their own hands.

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

Release Formats: Standard
Genre: Dramedy
Now Playing: AMC Altamonte Mall, AMC Disney Springs, Cinemark Artegon Marketplace, Regal Waterford Lakes, Regal Winter Park Village

Rating: R (for disturbing behavior, bloody images, language, sexual references, and some drug content)

ALSO OPENING IN ORLANDO/DAYTONA:

In Between

ALSO OPENING IN MIAMI/FT. LAUDERDALE:

The Leisure Seeker
Let Yourself Go
Loveless
Oh Lucy!
Sheep and Wolves
Ye Mantram Vesave

ALSO OPENING IN TAMPA/ST. PETERSBURG:

Bent
Happy End
Ye Mantram Vesave

ALSO OPENING IN JACKSONVILLE/ST. AUGUSTINE:

Ye Mantram Vesave

SCHEDULED FOR REVIEW:

A Wrinkle in Time
Gringo
The Hurricane Heist
The Leisure Seeker
Oh Lucy!
Submission

FILM FESTIVALS TAKING PLACE IN FLORIDA:

Miami Film Festival

Amnesia


Sitting out in the warm sun can be a kind of amnesia.

(2015) Drama (Film Movement) Marthe Keller, Max Riemell, Bruno Ganz, Corinna Kirchhoff, Fermi Reixach, Marie Leuenberger, Félix Pons, Florentin Groll, Eva Barceló, Lluis Altés, Rick Zingale, Kate Ashcroft, Joel Rice, Alfie Davies Man, Fabian Krüger, Joel Basman. Directed by Barbet Schroeder

 

It is said that the sea has no memory; if that is true, an island is the perfect place to forget.

Marthe (Keller) lives a kind of idyllic life in Ibiza. It is 1990 and the Berlin Wall has just fallen. Her house is absolutely charming with a breathtaking view. There is no electricity but she is absolutely fine with that. She grows many of her own vegetables and goes fishing when she is hungry. That which she can’t get from the sea or grow herself she picks up at the local market. One of her cousins is visiting and urging her to return to Germany to dispose of a property for which her presence is required. She politely declines.

Shortly thereafter, a new neighbor moves in to the house just above hers on the hillside. He is Jo (Riemell), a German musician/composer who has been drawn by Ibiza’s burgeoning Electronic Dance Music (EDM) scene. His stage name is DJ Gello and he is angling for a gig at Amnesia, the 800 pound gorilla of EDM clubs on Ibiza (and yes, this is a real club which is still open today). Jo is a pleasant sort who shows up at her door requesting first aid after badly burning his hand accidentally. She gives him an herbal cream rather than a bag of ice and the two strike up a friendship.

Marthe is in her 70s and Jo in his 20s but the two hit it off. They become fast friends, Marthe introducing Jo to the laid-back Ibiza life, Jo introducing Marthe to the hypnotic sway of EDM which Marthe actually finds compelling. There are a lot of things Marthe isn’t talking about; the cello that she never plays, the reason she won’t drink German wine or ride in Jo’s Volkswagen. He also is upset when he discovers that Marthe, who claimed to be unable to speak German, turns out to be fluent in that language.

In fact, it turns out that Marthe is in fact German. She left Germany shortly before World War II broke out and fled to Switzerland with her love, a Jewish cellist. Disgusted by what her country did and became, she has renounced all things German, affecting a sort of amnesia by choice of her native country, her native language and everything relating to it.

When Jo’s parents visit, his doctor mother (Leuenberger) and his beloved grandfather (Ganz) are trying very hard to convince Jo to return and take part in the historic reunification between East and West Germany. As the two enjoy a paella on Marthe’s patio on a sunlit afternoon, the grandfather’s harmless stories – which had evolved over the years – under Marthe’s persistent questioning begins to crumble until a stark truth remains. Grandpa Bruno’s own stories had formed a kind of amnesia for events too terrible to contemplate.

Schroeder has made some wonderful films in his storied career (his first effort in the director’s chair came back in 1969) as well as a few turkeys but this one tends towards the former more than the latter. A lot of his films feature people dealing with an unsavory past and this one does so indirectly (and directly in the case of Grandpa Bruno). Marthe, as Jo’s mom points out near the end of the film, is dealing with her issues with her homeland by running away from her feelings. It’s hard not to blame her; in an era when Americans are increasingly disillusioned with the direction that their country is taking. While we don’t have evil on the scale of the Nazis running the United States, there are certainly a lot of reasons not to like the way our country is shaping up. I’m not sure I’m quite ready to move to Ibiza and never speak English again – well, maybe I’m ready to move to Ibiza.

The cinematography here might just make you want to move to Ibiza. There are some beautiful vistas of gorgeous sunsets, stunning views and charming marketplaces. While this is mainly the Ibiza of 20 years ago (other than two framing scenes at the beginning and end), my understanding is that it hasn’t changed all that much.

The writing here is very simple in terms of storyline and although the plot takes awhile to get moving it does eventually do so. Yes, some of the dialogue is a little clunky (as when Jo explains to Marthe what looping is) but by and large this feels a lot like real people conversing with one another albeit people conversing in a language not native to them.

Marthe Keller was a big European star in the 70s along the lines of Charlotte Rampling who has had a bit of a late career renaissance. A performance like this could get Keller a resurgence of her own; the septuagenarian is charming and natural, never rushing her delivery. She’s not so much grandmotherly as she is a bit of a recluse; her origins are kept secret early on giving her an air of mystery but gradually as her story is unveiled we get to understand her better. The relationship between Marthe and Jo is platonic although Jo hints that his feelings run deeper, and the chemistry between the two is at the heart of the film. Both of these people are somewhat wounded and need each other and in the end we see that they are good for each other in ways movies don’t often explore.

This isn’t slated to get a very wide release although if it does well in the cities it is playing in we might see it get more screens, so it behooves you to make plans to see it if it does show up in your neck of the woods. It’s also already on Google Play and should be out on other streaming services before too long. In any case, this is a worthwhile effort from a director who has helped shape the course of film over the past 50 years – that in itself should be incentive enough.

REASONS TO GO: The vistas of Ibiza are enchanting. The story is simple but effective.
REASONS TO STAY: The story takes a little bit of time to get moving.
FAMILY VALUES: There are some adult themes as well as a smattering of profanity.
TRIVIAL PURSUIT: The house that Marthe lives in here was also used by Schroeder in More (1969) and is owned by the Schroeder family (his mother bought it in 1951).
BEYOND THE THEATERS: Google Play
CRITICAL MASS: As of 7/23/17: Rotten Tomatoes: 80% positive reviews. Metacritic: 60/100.
COMPARISON SHOPPING: The Reader
FINAL RATING: 7.5/10
NEXT: Born in China

The Counselor


Michael Fassbender doesn't know what to say when Javier Bardem insists on toasting their barbers.

Michael Fassbender doesn’t know what to say when Javier Bardem insists on toasting their barbers.

(2013) Thriller (20th Century Fox) Michael Fassbender, Javier Bardem, Cameron Diaz, Penelope Cruz, Brad Pitt, Rosie Perez, Ruben Blades, Bruno Ganz, Toby Kebbell, Emma Rigby, Edgar Ramirez, Dean Norris, Natalie Dormer, Goran Visnjic, John Leguizamo, Fernando Cayo, Paris Jefferson, Andrea Deck, Giannina Facio. Directed by Ridley Scott

When we choose to abandon the straight and narrow, we do so most often because of greed. We want more than we would otherwise be entitled to by the dint of our hard work and effort, so we take the shortcut. Sometimes we escape with a tidy sum to put by for a rainy day but more often than not, we reap the consequences of what we have sewn.

The counselor (Fassbender) – he is never given a name in the film – is a sharp lawyer who must have been absent the day they were handing out a conscience. He’s all about the Benjamins, although he is madly in love with Laura (Cruz) whom he has proposed to. While his practice is making him a decent amount of money, he is raking in the cash like he’s printing it thanks to his relationship with Reiner (Bardem) who is part of the Mexican cartel, and middleman Westray (Pitt) who brokers the deals.

Reiner is arranging for the shipment of some drugs from Mexico to Chicago in a septic truck. Being the paranoid sorts that they are, the truck is only going to go as far as Arizona before finishing it’s journey. The Mexican nationals driving the truck get it to its destination, then a courier is supposed to take a kill switch needed to start the truck to the next driver who will finish the job.

Unfortunately, the courier is ambushed and killed on his way to the next driver and that courier happened to be the son of Ruth (Perez), a high-up member of a cartel family that the counselor is defending on a murder charge. To make matters worse, the counselor had sprung the courier from jail after a reckless driving and speeding arrest, which led the cartel to believe that the counselor had something to do with it.

Reiner, Westray and the lawyer are all at risk as are their immediate loved ones which in Reiner’s case is the ice-cold financier Malkina (Diaz) and in Westray’s case is nobody. Malkina, who has a soft spot for watching jaguars take down jackrabbits in the desert and knows more about what’s going on than Reiner or the counselor suspect, promises Reiner that she is going to leave at the first sign of trouble but in point of fact she’s long gone well before that.

As you would expect from a screenplay written by Cormac McCarthy, the plot is very complex and requires a good deal of attention on the audience’s part, particularly during the first few scenes of the movie where those paying close attention can pretty much garner everything they need to figure things out.

The cast is impressive as you might expect with all the A-list power behind the camera. Fassbender is a busy man these days but makes time for a role which is as much of a cipher as any he has played to date. Not only is his character given no name, he isn’t given much of a soul either. That seems to reside all in Cruz who is unaware of the depths of the double dealing her groom-to-be is sinking to.

Bardem, as always, is interesting whether he is shamelessly hamming it up (as he is here) or underplaying discretely (as he does in Skyfall). As you can see in the photo above, there is nothing subtle about Reiner and for that kind of role, Bardem is a good first choice (or fallback as the case may be). Pitt is serviceable as the wise and worldly Westray who understands exactly what sort of people they are up against.

I’ve never been particularly a Cameron Diaz fan but this might be my favorite performance of hers to date. Malkina is a manipulative predator, weaving a web of lust and betrayal and then striking as true and as deadly as a cobra. It is one of the best female villain roles since Cruella de Ville – while Charlize Theron as Aileen Wuornos in Monster did show someone who was evil, you can’t really call truly call the role that of a villain.

The movie is pretty convoluted in places and there are a lot of characters who show up, say a few lines and then disappear for good. Perhaps the audience might have appreciated combining some of these roles or at least having other characters mouth the platitudes. The bean-counters would have appreciated it as well.

McCarthy is never a particularly easy read and this screenplay, an original story by the Pulitzer Prize-winning author, isn’t always easy to watch. The sex is in your face (quite literally at times) and those who are uncomfortable with sexuality will certainly be disturbed by what they see here. There are some pretty violent moments as well with at least one beheading and a lot of bodies being shot to pieces. Those sensitive to those sorts of things should take note too.

Still, this is a solid thriller that is a little smarter than most and a bit better-written as well. It is a grim movie that just gets bleaker as the film goes on and as the Counselor and his allies realize that they are trapped in a situation that there is no escaping, try as they might. This may not end up in anyone’s top 5 Ridley Scott movie lists but it should certainly make his top ten.

REASONS TO GO: Generally smart and well-written. Fassbender, Bardem and Pitt are terrific and Diaz makes a surprisingly vicious femme fatale.

REASONS TO STAY: Convoluted and hard to follow in places. Unrelentingly grim.

FAMILY VALUES:  There is some fairly graphic violence and language, along with a few morbid images and a fairly extensive and graphic amount of sex and conversations about the same.

TRIVIAL PURSUIT: Production shut down for a week in August 2012 after the suicide of director Ridley Scott’s brother Tony, who was also a co-founder of their production company Scott Free. The movie is dedicated to him.

CRITICAL MASS: As of 11/4/13: Rotten Tomatoes: 37% positive reviews. Metacritic: 49/100.

COMPARISON SHOPPING: Scarface (1983)

FINAL RATING: 6/10

NEXT: Winged Migration

Unknown


Unknown

Diane Krueger has the unpleasant task of informing Liam Neeson that the grunge look is dead.

(2011) Suspense (Warner Brothers) Liam Neeson, Diane Krueger, January Jones, Aidan Quinn, Bruno Ganz, Frank Langella, Sebastian Koch, Olivier Schneider, Stipe Erceg, Mido Hamada, Clint Dyer, Karl Markovics, Eva Lobau, Rainer Bock. Directed by Jaume Collet-Serra

Who are we really? Are we who we are because we say who we are? And what if we are told that is not who we are, that someone else is who we thought we were? Would the sales of Excedrin go through the roof if that were true?

Dr. Martin Harris (Neeson) is a mild-mannered botanist speaking at a biotechnology conference in Berlin, accompanied by his beautiful, icy blonde wife Liz (Jones). It is snowing and the weather is awful when they arrive. In the haste to get into a warm cab, Martin leaves his briefcase behind at the airport. This briefcase contains his passport and all his other important documents, so he turns around at the posh Hotel Adlon and boards another cab to get back to the airport to retrieve it.

Unfortunately, as they say, the best-laid plans of mice and men…a dreadful accident sends the taxi plunging off a bridge and into the icy waters of the river. Gina (Krueger), the plucky driver, rescues an unconscious Martin (who had hit his head against the window) from the sinking car and while the paramedics work on the stricken man, slips quietly away.

Four days later, Martin wakes up in the hospital with fractured memories of not only what happened to him but his entire wife. The sympathetic doctor (Markovics) tells him he has a head injury which can be tricky when it comes to memory, but the more Martin remembers the more frantic he gets regarding his wife, who has no idea what happened to him and must be going out of her mind by now. However, when he finally checks himself out of the hospital (against doctor’s orders) and heads back to the Adlon, Liz doesn’t remember him. Not only that, she is with another man (Quinn) whom she calls her husband and who seems to be…him.

This is awfully distressing to Martin. He is desperate to prove that he is him, but has no documentation, and very little cash. He visits a colleague, Dr. Bressler (Koch) who invited him to the conference only to find the other Dr. Harris there, who not only has proper documents but also family photographs. This so disturbs Martin that he faints.

The next thing he knows he is getting an MRI but when he comes out of it, an assassin (Schneider) has murdered his doctor and an even more sympathetic nurse (Lobau) and to Martin, that means that maybe he isn’t crazy. He goes to see Jurgen (Ganz), an ex-Stasi agent who the lately murdered nurse had recommended he sees. This sets into a chain of events involving the reluctantly recruited Gina, a Saudi prince (Hamada) and a covert team of murderers for hire.

Collet-Serra is better known for horror films and indeed, the movie is produced by Dark Castle, which specializes in horror but this is more Hitchcock than horror. It has a lot of the elements of a Hitchcock film – an ordinary man drawn into international intrigue that he doesn’t understand; a beautiful, icy-cold blonde, and an unlikely ally – also blonde.

Neeson has assumed the mantle, in his mid-50s, of an everyman action hero, one which Harrison Ford wore in the late 80s and 90s. Neeson’s perpetually gentle puppy dog aura can change into a ferocious fighter at a moment’s notice, and does so upon occasion here. He is so likable that he immediately resonates with the audience, and that’s half the battle in a movie like this.

Jones, who made her reputation in “Mad Men,” is given little more to do than look beautiful and, occasionally, sexy. Having seen her in a number of different roles, I believe she is one good part from being a major leading lady in Hollywood, but that hasn’t happened yet and this film doesn’t really provide her one. Still, she is very good at what she does.

Part of the problem here is that the movie relies on implausibility – considering the importance of what was in the original briefcase (which is more than the passports and is a critical plot point that I won’t reveal here) it’s hard to believe that Martin would leave it on the curb in a luggage cart, no matter how bad the weather. From the way his character is developed in flashback, it seems unlikely that he would let that particular bag leave his grasp but its disappearance is the fulcrum around which the plot is driven.

While based on a novel written by a French writer named Didier Van Caulweleart in 2003, there is a Cold War feel to the movie that would have been better served to be set in the same city but in 1963, with the Wall up and tensions high. As thrillers go, it’s a little bit on the old-fashioned side and some of the twists and turns are a bit predictable.

Still, there is a marvelous car chase, even though it seems a bit ludicrous that a botanist can drive a car like Remy Julienne, the famous French stunt driver although that is explained more or less by proxy by the film’s denouement. There are also some marvelous German actors in the film, not the least of which is Krueger (Inglourious Basterds) and Ganz (one of Rainier Werner Fassbinder’s mainstays and best known here for his work in Wings of Desire, as well as Bock, an unctuous security chief here but better as the schoolteacher in The White Ribbon.

What we have here is a moderately serviceable thriller that owes much of its appeal to its rather heavy-handed nods to the master, Alfred Hitchcock and much of the rest of it to its star, Liam Neeson. This isn’t going to re-write the book on the genre by any stretch of the imagination, but if you liked Neeson in Taken and loved basically anything the Master of Suspense directed with Jimmy Stewart in it, you’re going to enjoy Unknown very much.

REASONS TO GO: Neeson elevates the material. The car chase scene is nifty and the tension is elevated nicely throughout.

REASONS TO STAY: Much of the plot relies on implausibility and one gets the feel that this film would have been better served being set in the Cold War era.

FAMILY VALUES: As you probably figured out from the trailer, there is plenty of violence here but there’s also a little bit of sex as well.

TRIVIAL PURSUIT: The Bridge that the taxi takes its plunge from is the Oberbaumbrucke in Berlin.  

HOME OR THEATER: Not a lot of really big screen-type of cinematography here; it will work just as well on your own home screen.

FINAL RATING: 6/10

TOMORROW: Stolen

New Releases For the Week of February 18, 2011


February 18, 2011

Tell 'em Liam Neeson's coming...and a Cold Day in Hell's coming with him!

UNKNOWN

(Warner Brothers) Liam Neeson, Diane Kruger, January Jones, Aidan Quinn, Frank Langella, Bruno Ganz, Sebastian Koch, Olivier Schneider. Directed by Jaume Collet-Serra

A trip to a conference in Berlin for a doctor and his wife turns into something far more sinister when the two are involved in a car accident. When the doctor wakes from a four-day coma, his wife doesn’t recognize him and there appears to be a different person in his identity. Is he suffering from brain damage and doesn’t realize his true identity, which is what the authorities believe? Or is there something different going on, something with terrible ramifications?

See the trailer and a clip here.

For more on the movie this is the website.

Release formats: Standard

Genre: Action Thriller

Rating: PG-13 (for some intense sequences of violence and action, and brief sexual content)

Barney’s Version 

(Sony Classics) Paul Giamatti, Dustin Hoffman, Rosamund Pike, Minnie Driver. A seemingly ordinary man writes a book about his life, which is far from ordinary. His story spans three decades, three wives, two continents, one wacky dad and a bizarre best friend. This is based on a novel by Mordecai Richler, best known for his novel The Apprenticeship of Duddy Kravitz. Yeah, I know – that’s like counting the rings on trees to determine how old they are.

See the trailer, featurettes, clips and an online review here.

For more on the movie this is the website.

Release formats: Standard

Genre: Drama

Rating: R (for language and some sexual content)

Big Mommas: Like Father, Like Son

(20th Century Fox) Martin Lawrence, Brandon T. Jackson, Jessica Lucas, Faizon Love. FBI Agent Malcolm Turner returns as his undercover alter ego, this time as a house mother in an all-girls school – where he is taking his son with him to learn the family business. Oy vey.

See the trailer, clips and interviews here.

For more on the movie this is the website.

Release formats: Standard

Genre: Urban Crime Comedy

Rating: PG-13 (for some sexual humor and brief violence)

I Am Number Four

(DreamWorks) Alex Pettyfer, Timothy Olyphant, Teresa Palmer, Dianna Agron. A young teenager in a typical small American town is anything but typical. In reality, he’s one of the last survivors of an alien race who is being hunted into extinction by powerful alien assassins, who are trying to wipe him out before his powers begin to manifest. That can make finding a date for prom problematic.

See the trailer, clips, interviews and featurettes here.

For more on the movie this is the website.

Release formats: Standard, IMAX

Genre: Science Fiction

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

The Baader Meinhof Complex


The Baader Meinhof Complex

The German police have a little heart-to-heart with a Left Wing protester.

(Vitagraph) Martina Gedeck, Moritz Bleibtreu, Johanna Wokalek, Nadja Uhl, Stipe Erceg, Niels Bruno Schmidt, Vinzenz Kiefer, Bruno Ganz. Directed by Uli Edel

There is a fine line between commitment to a cause and absolute obsession over it. The committed work hard within the realm of the law; the obsessed seek any means necessary to get their agenda across.

There is a great deal of dissatisfaction among the youth of West Germany in 1967. American imperialism as expressed by its war in Vietnam, German corruption, police brutality – what’s a German Marxist to do (other than move to the other side of the Wall)? The German left wing begins to shift its focus when a peaceful protest is turned into a riot when the police exercise a beat down on the protesters; not long afterwards one of the leaders of the Left Wing is shot and nearly killed by a right winger.

When the going gets tough, the tough get violent. At least, that’s the theory according to Andreas Baader (Bleibtreu) and his girlfriend Gudrun Ensslin (Wokalek). The two lead a radical group called the Red Army Faction who are putting their signboards away and picking up guns and bombs. When a well-known journalist named Ulrike Meinhof (Gedeck) interviews the rock star/political activists, she finds a strange fascination with their cause. After Baader is arrested, she volunteers to help him escape and leaves behind her husband, children and suburban lifestyle.

The film follows the group from its roots, through its notorious early 70s run of terrorist activities and through the capture of the principles and their subsequent trial. Students of the history of that era will know their fate, which wasn’t pretty; suffice to say that the band wasn’t the same without them.

This is a two and a half hour movie that has the you-are-there feel of a documentary tempered with the breathless feel of a thriller. While the moviemakers have prided themselves on their historical accuracy, the story is nonetheless fictionalized in some places for dramatic and time compression purposes.

The main cast of actors for the most part well-known in Germany but not so much here; they do superb jobs. Gedeck in particular has a schizophrenic role to play; in the beginning she is a wife and mom with a fairly bourgeois mindset albeit more left-leaning than her peers; as the movie progresses she becomes more cold-blooded than you might ever imagine.

The movie does little to explain the motivations behind the people. You get the feeling that Baader wanted to be something of a rock star; he is petulant and childish which underscores a thuggish mentality. Wokalek plays Ensslin as a hard-as-nails cast-iron bitch who doesn’t really care about the lives of the innocent; in her somewhat paranoid mindset, everyone who isn’t for the revolution is automatically allied with the government. For someone who is supposedly doing what she does for the good of the people, she sure doesn’t mind killing off her beloved “common people” for the sake of making a point.

Ganz, one of the best actors to emerge from Germany in the last 30 years, plays Horst Herald, the director of the Federal Police Office, is the conscience of the movie. He desperately tries to understand the minds of the leaders of the RAF in order to better capture them, but they wind up as great an enigma to him as they do to us.

The movie is a bit slow in the middle third, but kicks it into overdrive during the final third of the film. As the RAF disintegrates and the leaders are put on trial, we at last see some of the emotion missing from much of the movie. Those who give up on the movie near the middle might miss out on the best parts of it.

The movie suffers from trying to tell too much story. There are so many characters, all of whom are identified once and then left for us to figure out who they are and what their significance is to the story that after awhile we have no idea of who is doing what to whom. I would have much preferred it if the filmmakers had concentrated more on the three charismatic leaders of the group and left their vicious deeds offscreen; I would have been more interested to know why they did what they did rather than just what they did.

To be fair, it is more likely that the filmmakers themselves didn’t know because quite frankly, the world doesn’t know. Why smart, rational people would turn to such violence and brutality to get their point across is beyond me. We live in a world in which terrorism remains a constant threat; any one of us, at any time could be in the wrong place at the wrong time and pay the price for it, so the movie will still strike a chord with modern audiences.

The scenes of the terrorist acts can be sudden and brutal, and those with sensitive souls are well advised to stay clear, as some of these acts are quite disturbing, even by today’s standards. While most Americans remain basically ignorant of the real Baader Meinhof Complex, those who lived in Europe during the 70s will be very familiar with their actions and their consequences. It is well for us to remember that before there was an Al Qaida, there were the Weather Underground, the IRA and Baader Meinhof. Terror does not have a racial profile.

WHY RENT THIS: A terrific recreation of the era and the situation. Some of the scenes of violence are marvelously choreographed.

WHY RENT SOMETHING ELSE: We never get any real insight as to why these people did the things they did.

FAMILY VALUES: This is a disturbing film on many levels, with graphic nudity and sex, extreme violence and carnage and a foul word or two. This is definitely meant for mature audiences.

TRIVIAL PURSUIT: Susanne Albrecht, who is portrayed by Hannah Herzsprung in the movie, was roommates with Herzsprung’s mother Barbara in boarding school.

NOTABLE DVD EXTRAS: The special edition 2-disc DVD set includes features on the historical authenticity of the film.

FINAL RATING: 7/10

TOMORROW: The A-Team