The Dressmaker (2015)


Here is a primer on sexual stereotypes.

Here is a primer on sexual stereotypes.

(2016) Drama (Broad Green/Amazon) Kate Winslet, Liam Hemsworth, Judy Davis, Hugo Weaving, Sarah Snook, Caroline Goodall, Kerry Fox, Rebecca Gibney, Hayley Magnus, James Mackay, Julia Blake, Shane Jacobson, Gyton Grantley, Alison Whyte, Barry Otto, Sacha Horler, Shane Bourne, Mark Leonard Winter, Olivia Sprague, Darcey Wilson, Rory Potter. Directed by Jocelyn Moorhouse

 

There is an old Chinese proverb that revenge is a dish best served cold. Personally, I like my revenge hot in a spicy oyster sauce, but that’s just me. In any case, the point is that vengeance is something best left to ferment awhile.

The tiny rural Australian town of Dungatar is the kind of place where not much ever goes on. It was doubly so in 1951. That is, until Tilly Dunnage (Winslet) stepped off the bus in the dusty streets of the town. She walked over to where the town’s team was playing in a rugby match. Wearing a stylish red dress, her lips slathered in cherry red lipstick, her eyes hidden behind sunglasses and a cigarette dangling from a holder at a rakish angle, she made for a sight that the town had only glimpsed in fashion magazines.

The more so because there were whispers that she had murdered a young boy named Stewart Pettyman (Potter) and while nothing was ever proven, had led to her being exiled from the town in disgrace. Her mother Molly (Davis) went quietly mad and became something of the town codger. Most of the town has turned its back on the both of them, particularly town counselor Evan Pettyman (Bourne), Stewart’s father. However, there’s no doubt that Tilly is a talented dressmaker and when Trudy Pratt (Snook) underwent a radical transformation from Plain Jane to va-va-va-voom thanks to a makeover and a Tilly original creation, soon the ladies of the town were flocking to Tilly to get their own haute couture from the former pariah.

Also lining up to see Tilly is rugby star and neighbor Teddy McSwiney (Hemsworth) who has his eyes on Tilly but must woo Molly first in order to get her blessing. However, Tilly believes she has a cursed cloud over her head and when a new tragedy befalls her, she threatens to fall apart but her mum, realizing there’s only one thing she can do for her daughter before her own time is up, comes up with a plan to get the most delicious revenge for her daughter – and perhaps redemption for herself.

Based on a book by Betty Ham, this Aussie flick was the second highest grosser of 2015 in its native land and the eleventh all-time as of this writing. It’s received little to no fanfare here in the States and in some ways that’s not so bad; it allows you to experience the twists and the turns of the plot without expectation. Unfortunately, it’s bad in that a lot of people haven’t really heard much about this movie and it’s a shame because it’s pretty dang good.

Winslet is one of those actresses who elevates bad movies into good movies and good movies into great movies. She is a force of nature here, dominating the screen almost effortlessly. Davis, one of the most underrated actresses of her generation, holds her own and even Hemsworth, who has always been something of a pretty boy, uses his easygoing charm to his advantage. Weaving, who I’ve always enjoyed as a terrific character actor, shines here as a cross-dressing cop.

The movie lampoons our obsession with fashion as well as small town insularity, both of which have been done elsewhere but here at least are done stylishly. The problem here is that there are too many styles going on; there’s a kind of American western tone (Moorhouse herself calls the film “Clint Eastwood’s Unforgiven with a sewing machine”) as well as a kind of noir mystery (particularly near the end of the film as we find out what really happened to Stewart Pettyman) as well as an Edward Scissorhands­-esque ode to non-conformity, romantic comedy in the developing relationship between Tilly and Teddy and even a little family drama as per the relationship between Tilly and Molly.

I found myself liking the vibe here. I’ve never been what you’d call exactly fashion-conscious so I found that aspect of the film amusing. I also liked the relationships between Tilly and Molly as well as between Tilly and Teddy. The denouement of the film when Tilly takes her revenge is absolutely classic and worth all the extraneous material. You may favor the noir as I did, or the rom-com, or the offbeat stuff or some other aspect but I’m reasonably sure you’ll find something about this film to like. I know I found quite a bit.

REASONS TO GO: The acting here is extremely good, particularly from Winslet and Davis. As dramas go, this one has some pretty funny moments.
REASONS TO STAY: There are way too many undercurrents here.
FAMILY VALUES:  There is some brief violence and a smattering of profanity.
TRIVIAL PURSUIT:  This is the first film Moorhouse has directed in eight years; she has two children with autism and spends most of her time off devoted to them.
CRITICAL MASS: As of 11/1/16: Rotten Tomatoes: 54% positive reviews. Metacritic: 47/100.
COMPARISON SHOPPING: Micmacs
FINAL RATING: 7.5/10
NEXT: Audrie & Daisy

The Gift (2015)


Rebecca Hall investigates.

Rebecca Hall investigates.

(2015) Thriller (STX) Jason Bateman, Rebecca Hall, Joel Edgerton, Allison Tolman, Tim Griffin, Busy Phillipps, Adam Lazarre-White, Beau Knapp, Wendell Pierce, Mirrah Foulkes, Nash Edgerton, David Denman, Kate Aselton, David Joseph Craig, Susan May Pratt, P.J. Byrne, Felicity Price, Melinda Allen, Jyothsna Venkatesh, Laura Drake Mancini, DaNae West, Stacey Bender, Beth Crudele. Directed by Joel Edgerton

The past has a way of rearing its head, ugly or not, when we least expect it. Sometimes it can be a song or a scent that brings it flooding back, or a chance meeting in a retail store. We are tied to our past as surely as we are tired to our choices.

Things are looking good for Simon (Bateman) and Robyn (Hall). They are happily married, Simon recently got a major promotion (and is closing in on another) and they’ve just purchased a beautiful home with amazing views from floor-to-ceiling glass windows. What those in thrillers fail to appreciate is that glass is two-way – you can look out of it sure, but so can others look in.

While shopping for furnishings the couple run into Gordo (Edgerton), a sad-sack sort that was a classmate of Simon’s in high school. Simon can barely remember him, and Robyn takes pity on him; he seems a nice enough guy if a bit socially awkward. She invites him to dinner.

When Gordo starts leaving little gifts; a bottle of wine, glass cleaner, Koi carp for their pond, at first it seems like a nice gesture but it begins to get a little creepy. Then there are intimations of some sort of incident in the past between Gordo and Simon that was less than savory. Robyn also has her own skeletons; a miscarriage sent her spiraling into depression and drug abuse. She has gotten better lately but Simon still worries about it.

Then again, Simon seems to have issues of his own. The more we get to know these people, the less we actually do, all of which descends to an inevitable confrontation which leads to a shocking revelation.

This is Edgerton’s first feature as a director and if this is any indication, he has a bright future ahead of him in that regard. The pacing here is damn near perfect, neither too hurried but definitely moves along at a good clip. The result is we’re constantly on the edge of our seats without feeling like we’re missing anything.

Edgerton as a writer is also amazing; all of the main characters are nicely developed and are allowed to be imperfect. The twist at the end is brilliant and shocking, a rare thing these days when we think we just can’t be shocked. This is proof that not only can we be, but we can be surprised as well. A good movie buff appreciates that more than you can imagine.

Bateman gets a rare serious role and plays it very nicely, never overplaying the dramatic aspects (which some comic actors tend to do) but not underplaying it either. He uses his nice guy persona as a bit of a tool, allowing us to settle in to a particular viewpoint of who the character is, then slowly tears down that viewpoint as the character turns out to be something different. It shows Bateman to be an actor of enormous range; I wouldn’t be surprised to see higher-profile dramatic roles coming his way because of his performance here.

Edgerton has long been someone that “everyone” knows can act, but hasn’t really ascended into the Hollywood elite yet. There’s a good chance he will now, showing himself to be a massive talent behind the camera, but a great one in front of the camera as well. Like Bateman, he uses his edgy persona to his advantage to create certain expectations for the audience and then slowly strips them away. I’ve always liked Edgerton as an actor; now I like him even more.

Hall’s character is more brittle and fragile, and in some ways more colorless. She is just beginning to get it together after essentially a breakdown but the goings on here put her back teetering on the edge. Hall doesn’t really hit it out of the park like her colleagues do, but she turns in a solid performance that is bound to get her some notice from casting agents.

The creepy factor is extra high here as we watch the events unfold. Certainly the tension through the last third of the movie is high, but this isn’t a roller coaster ride so much as a dark ride in a boat through some really terrible scenes. This movie has been pretty much universally praised and for good reason; don’t read that as being excessive however – this isn’t an essential movie, just a really well-crafted thriller that is well worth your while. And that is essential enough.

REASONS TO GO: Effectively creepy. Nice twist. Good casting.
REASONS TO STAY: The camera is a bit static. Hall’s character is a bit bland.
FAMILY VALUES: There’s a fair amount of foul language and some adult themes.
TRIVIAL PURSUIT: Because he wanted to focus on directing, Edgerton filmed all of his own scenes two weeks into shooting and had them completed in seven days.
CRITICAL MASS: As of 8/28/15: Rotten Tomatoes: 92% positive reviews. Metacritic: 77/100.
COMPARISON SHOPPING: Oldboy
FINAL RATING: 7/10
NEXT: Ricki and the Flash

Druid Peak


This is the West.

This is the West.

(2014) Drama (One Small Thing) Spencer Treat Clark, Andrew Wilson, Rachel Korine, Damian Young, Nathaniel Brown, Armand Schultz, Lanna Joffrey, George Joe Smith, Bernadette Cuvalo, Ian Jan Campbell, Rebecca L. Baldwin.. Directed by Mami Zelnick

Florida Film Festival 2014

Nature versus nurture is an ongoing debate to explain why some kids turn out to be okay and others turn out to be monsters. Is it an environmental thing that turns kids into bullies, or is it some DNA misfire inside them that makes them predisposed to that sort of behavior?

Whatever the answer is, Owen (Clark) is a bully. He seems angry at everyone and everything. He’s intimidating to his fellow students and is known to get physical. He lives in the coal country of West Virginia in a town which doesn’t have a whole lot going on. When his actions lead to a tragic incident, his fed-up mother and stepfather put him on a plane to Wyoming where he will stay with his taciturn father Everett (Wilson), who monitors the wolf population in Yellowstone National Park.

At first this seems like a match made in Hell. Owen is angry and surly – one of his first actions when he arrives in Wyoming is to steal some of his dad’s money – and his dad doesn’t seem too interested in being the nurturing sort. With there being even less to do around his dad’s isolated cabin than in West Virginia, Owen decides to go for a walk.

There he encounters a wolf – and by encounters I mean up close and by a wolf I mean not a Doberman. The encounter piques Owen’s curiosity and he begins to seek out the wolves in the wild. Before long he has become adept at tracking them – “thinking like a wolf,” as his father puts it. The curiosity grows into a genuine affinity.

Before long, Owen begins to exhibit some real changes. He has found something to care about and a purpose to his life. However, the world of wolves isn’t all running in the woods and howling at the moon. Local ranchers, embodied by McGill (Young), have some real concerns about wolves from the park raiding their livestock for a free meal. Owen also develops a bit of a crush on Zoe (Korine), McGill’s daughter. When the wolves are removed from the endangered species list, freeing local hunters the opportunity to go after them, things may never be the same for Owen or his father.

Zelnick, who has been producing and writing films for several years, makes her debut as a director here although you’d never know it. Her work on Druid Peak is as assured and efficient as if directed by someone with decades of experience. Every shot here matters and while there are the occasional beauty shots of the landscape, even those help set the tone for the film.

She wrangles a terrific performance from Treat, who has been a child actor for some time (and in a number of excellent films) and most recently appeared in Joss Whedon’s Much Ado About Nothing. He makes a good impression here starting Owen off as surly, bad-tempered and outright mean. The bully though morphs into an advocate for the defenseless and while the change might seem extreme taking place as it does over a single summer, both Zelnick and Clark make it organic and believable.

Wilson is a presence as Everett and while he has a kind of hippie eco-fanatic vibe to him, there is a practical core underneath. While I do wonder not so much why Everett and Owen’s mom split up but how they got together in the first place (which is explained neatly in the film by the way), I can see how Everett ended up in Wyoming. My own Wyoming experience is in the Eastern portion of the state where it is miles and miles of miles and miles, but my Colorado-bred wife assures me that the area in the Tetons, where this was filmed (near Jackson Hole but not in Yellowstone itself) is just as breathtaking as any in the good ol’ U.S. of A.

While the story takes a little while to get going – mostly as it is established what a rotten egg Owen is, the scenes of which might be a bit traumatic for those who have been bullied before – once the plane touches down in Wyoming the magic really begins. This is a very solid first feature and one which bodes well for some really great filmmaking down the line.

REASONS TO GO: Gorgeous cinematography. Nice performance by Clark.

REASONS TO STAY: Takes awhile to get going. Bullying scenes may be disturbing to watch for those with similar life experiences.

FAMILY VALUES:  Some foul language and some acts of violence.

TRIVIAL PURSUIT: Andrew Wilson is the older brother of Luke and Owen Wilson.

CRITICAL MASS: As of 4/8/14: Rotten Tomatoes: no score yet. Metacritic: no score yet.

COMPARISON SHOPPING: Flicka

FINAL RATING: 6.5/10

NEXT: Forev

Homefront (2013)


When they told Jason Statham he was getting a Mustang for this movie, this wasn't what he was expecting.

When they told Jason Statham he was getting a Mustang for this movie, this wasn’t what he was expecting.

(2013) Action (Open Road) Jason Statham, James Franco, Kate Bosworth, Winona Ryder, Frank Grillo, Izabela Vidovic, Clancy Brown, Marcus Hester, Omar Benson Miller, Rachelle Lefevre, Chuck Zito, Pruitt Taylor Vince, Linda Edwards, Austin Craig, Owen Harn, Stuart Greer, Joe Chrest, Christa Campbell, Billy Slaughter, Nicole Andrews. Directed by Gary Fleder

Small towns have a habit of being different things to different people. For some, they are an escape from city life. For others they are cherished reminders of how life used to be. For still others, they are a place where they can conduct their affairs in relative anonymity.

Phil Broker (Statham) used to be a DEA agent. He specialized in undercover operations and in his last one which was counted successful by the agency, he took down a powerful biker gang leader named Danny T (Zito) but in the process the biker’s psychotic son went down in a hail of bullets. Phil walked away from the Agency and not long afterwards, his wife passed away from an undisclosed illness. He took his precocious daughter Maddy (Vidovic) to Rayville, a small town in the Louisiana bayous not far from where Phil’s wife grew up.

At first things couldn’t be going better. Phil has found a beautiful property on the river and while the house itself is a bit of a fixer upper, there’s enough land to own horses and it’s far enough off the beaten path that he can live his life in relative peace.

Then a bully (Craig) in Maddy’s school picks a fight with her and true to her dad’s training she stands up for herself, bloodying the bully’s nose. This doesn’t sit well with the bully’s mom, the excitable meth-head Cassie (Bosworth) and she screeches at her husband Jimmy (Hester) to do something about it, so he picks a fight with Phil. Bad idea. Phil kicks Jimmy’s butt in front of Cassie and his son, putting the already irritable Cassie in a rage. Seeking revenge, she goes to her brother Gator (Franco).

Gator is the local meth dealer who has a mean streak a country mile wide. He wants to throw a scare into Phil but the plan goes awry once he breaks into Phil’s house and finds, in a kind of basement, boxes and boxes of case files from Phil’s DEA days. Now that just don’t sit right with good ol’ Gator who doesn’t want a retired DEA agent in his neighborhood – why, that will just screw up the property values something wicked but it might put a bit of a kink in his illegal drug manufacturing gig.

However, Gator discovers a way out of the situation that could wind up being enormously lucrative as well. He sees that Phil was the undercover agent on the Danny T case and lo and behold, his girlfriend Sheryl (Ryder) happens to know Danny’s lawyer. Sheryl, herself a drug addict, a prostitute and a cocktail waitress (in this economy one has to have multiple jobs) sets up a meeting with Cyrus (Grillo), Danny’s psychotic right-hand man. You just know things are going to get ugly from that point forward.

Written by Sylvester Stallone and based on a novel by Chuck Logan, Statham’s new action film follows a tried and true formula that fans of the genre will find comforting and familiar. The problem is that there isn’t much here that pushes the boundaries any from the lone highly-trained specialist trying to protect his family to the evil drug-dealing biker gang. For the record most biker gangs don’t engage in any criminal activity although if you watched Hollywood’s versions of them you probably feel uncomfortable every time you see one on the highway next to you.

Statham may well be the most consistent action star in the world. It is truly rare for him to turn in a poor performance. This is essentially his show and his fans won’t be disappointed by this effort and he may add a few more to the growing list. While there is a romantic subplot (with the comely Rachelle Lefevre), very little screen time is devoted to it and you get the sense that Statham’s Phil Broker is pretty awkward with the ladies. It also makes sense that a recent widower may not necessarily be looking for someone to fill his late wife’s pumps. In any case, Statham does well with the child actress who plays his daughter which is not always as easy as it sounds.

Franco is an Oscar nominated actor whom you might think is slumming in a role like this, a Southern-fried drug dealer with a gator tattooed on his arm but like any good actor playing a villain you get a sense he’s having a real good time with it. He also adds several layers to the role; at one point in the final reel in a conversation with Cyrus when he’s told that Cyrus must do something particularly despicable while Ryder’s Sheryl looks shocked and disgusted, Franco affects a blank expression with very haunted eyes – he knows the act is necessary but he doesn’t particularly like doing it. It’s just a little detail that takes about three seconds of screen time but it’s the kind of thing a great actor does to add depth to a part. Franco is becoming just that – a great actor.

Ryder and Bosworth are both playing drug addicted women and in their own ways add some flavors to roles that are badly under-written. Bosworth’s Cassie has to make an about-face from screeching harpy to concerned parent in a way that doesn’t make sense but whatever – she does the best she can with it. Ryder, normally a beautiful woman, allows herself to be skanky in a role that most actresses of her caliber turn their noses up at. It’s interesting to see what she does with it.

There are more than a few plot holes and contrivances here, the worst being that Gator discovers Phil’s DEA identity through finding boxes and boxes of case files  in the cellar of his home. First of all, case files for any law enforcement agency never leave the offices of said agencies and certainly not in the possession of a retired agent. He would have no reason for having them – except to reveal his identity to a drug dealer who will then in turn inform those whom he sent to jail and would like to see him and his daughter dead, preferably with brutal painful torture in the mix. That’s just lazy writing, Sly.

Still, if you can put up with a precocious kid and plot holes, this is a pretty decent action movie and Statham elevates it as he does with most of his action films. This may not be the kind of thing you want to go and see when all these blockbusters and Oscar contenders are in the theaters but if you prefer action to drama and long lines, this isn’t a bad alternative.

REASONS TO GO: Statham is solid and Ryder and Bosworth do some fine supporting work. Some nice action sequences.

REASONS TO STAY: Far too predictable. Too much precocious kid-ism. Lapses in simple logic.

FAMILY VALUES:  There’s a lot of violence, some drug use, sensuality and plenty of bad language.

TRIVIAL PURSUIT: Although based on an unrelated novel, Stallone originally envisioned this as the final Rambo movie and wrote it with John Rambo as the retired dad. However he couldn’t get the movie made and eventually it was rewritten to be closer to the original story and with Statham in mind for the lead role.

CRITICAL MASS: As of 12/14/13: Rotten Tomatoes: 39% positive reviews. Metacritic: 39/100.

COMPARISON SHOPPING: The Mechanic

FINAL RATING: 5/10

NEXT: Delivery Man

Top 10 of 2012


2012 Top 10

It is almost a given that any film critic worth their salt is going to do a year-end list of the best films of the year. It’s de rigueur; it’s expected; it’s standard; you don’t get to wear the film critics t-shirt unless you do one. As I’m particularly fond of mine, I guess I’d better go ahead and give it a shot.

Some critics have a kind of scientific method that they use to determine their list. Me, I’m much less formal. I look back over my ratings and choose the movies I gave 10s to at the top, ranking them basically by how I’m feeling about them now. Next comes the 9s, then the 8s if it comes to that (and this year it didn’t). I ignore the half points, so you might see a 9 ranked above a 9.5. I don’t stand on ceremony as you can see.

The story of 2012 is that there were three movies that were at the top of my charts basically the entire second half of the year – nothing that came out in the fall really challenged the top three. The thing is, none of the three really stood out head and shoulders among the others; you could say it’s a three way tie for first. I have ranked them from one to three for the purposes of this list but throughout the year I’ve generally waffled as to what order that I’ve placed them in. I’ve shuffled, re-shuffled and changed my mind a million times. Each one of them has been my favorite movie of the year at various times throughout the year.

In fact, the list (as most lists do) has a highly fluid quality to it. For the most part, I’m pretty satisfied with the ten movies on the list and I don’t think I’d change any of the movies on it, but you never know. For now, these are the top ten movies of 2012, although ask me again tomorrow and the order might change completely but I think you’d find all ten of these movies on the list.

Some of these movies remain in general release even as we speak; you can head right out to a theater and see them the way they were meant to be seen. Some are already out on DVD/Blu-Ray and you can enjoy them in the comfort of your own home – or they soon will be. Lag time between theatrical release and home video release has been shrinking of late plus many films are being released on VOD concurrently to their limited theatrical release, although none of those are on the top ten at the moment. For those whose interests are piqued about the movies from the snippets I publish here, click on the movie’s title to see my original review and if you’d like to find out more, click on the picture above the review to be taken to the film’s official website when available.

As with any list, I guarantee mine will differ with yours significantly. Although I don’t think anyone has ever taken issue (at least publically) with my list, feel free to leave a comment as to why I know nothing about movies and which movies should have been on it, or not on it. Why make a list after all if you’re not going to disagree with it?

HONORABLE MENTION

There are a number of movies that didn’t quite make the cut of the top ten. I thought I’d add them here so you can get an idea of which ones came close, were considered and ultimately not chosen. Again, I will stress that all of these are quality films worth seeking out if you’re looking for entertainment, enlightenment or insight. I didn’t include links here but if you want to read my reviews of any of these, simply type in the title into the search field and have at it. So,  in no particular order;

Craigslist Joe, Renee, Arbitrage, Argo, Headhunters, Turn Me On Dammit, Hara-Kiri: Death of a Samurai, Bully, Thin Ice, God Bless America, Brave, Safety Not Guaranteed, Frankenweenie, The Salt of Life, Skyfall, Dr. Seuss’ The Lorax, Bernie, The Secret World of Arrietty, The Avengers, Girl Model, Moonrise Kingdom, ParaNorman, A Late Quartet, Sleepwalk With Me, Goon, Life of Pi, The Sessions, A Bag of Hammers, Paul Williams: Still Alive, Chely Wright: Wish Me Away, Seven Psychopaths, Ted, Salmon Fishing in the Yemen

The Hobbit An Unexpected Journey10. THE HOBBIT: AN UNEXPECTED JOURNEY

(New Line) Ian McKellen, Martin Freeman, Richard Armitage, Ian Holm, Elijah Wood, Cate Blanchett, Hugo Weaving, Christopher Lee and a cast of thousands. Directed by Peter Jackson

Released December 16, 2012 After years of being held up by MGM’s financial issues, the classic novel by J.R.R. Tolkien finally made it to the screen and in typical Hollywood fashion, the shortest of his novels will now be three films by itself. Still, the Lord of the Rings trilogy was a license to print money for WB so you know it was inevitable that they’d milk it for all it’s worth. We’ll be seeing another Hobbit movie every year through 2015. After that, Silmarillion anyone?
WHY IT IS HERE: An epic adventure on a grand scale. Jackson has made Middle Earth come to life, living and breathing and he does so once again here. Using high frame rate technology, the Shire never looked so beautiful or Rivendell so serene. While it didn’t impress me at the level of the first trilogy, this is still a very good movie.
HIGHLIGHT SCENE: At Rivendell, Gandalf and Galadriel communicate telepathically, both revealing hidden secrets as they discuss the dwarf mission to Erebor and the presence of the Hobbit. Two great actors do almost the entire scene with just their eyes and body language while the dialogue is read voice over. Magnificent.
BOX OFFICE RESULTS: $267.9 million domestic (as of 1/11/13), $830.7 million total.
BUDGET: Not available.
STATUS: Still in wide release.

The Dark Knight Rises9. THE DARK KNIGHT RISES

(Warner Brothers) Christian Bale, Anne Hathaway, Tom Hardy, Michael Caine, Gary Oldman, Marion Cotillard, Joseph Gordon-Levitt, Morgan Freeman. Directed by Christopher Nolan

Released July 20, 2012 We knew in advance this would be Christopher Nolan’s last foray into Gotham and probably Christian Bale’s as well. After the major success that was The Dark Knight there was a great deal of anticipation although the inevitable backlash that comes after that kind of success was certainly lurking. The box office surely didn’t disappoint although one wonders if the competition from The Avengers didn’t keep this one from going a bit higher.
WHY IT IS HERE: A fitting end to the Dark Knight trilogy, Nolan pulls out all the stops with multiple villains, new gadgets and potential nuclear holocaust. The action was as good if not better than The Avengers and we get to see Batman at his most heroic.
HIGHLIGHT SCENE: Joseph Gordon-Levitt faces down a group of cops on a bridge with the lives of a bus load of kids hanging in the balance.
BOX OFFICE RESULTS: $448.1 million domestic (as of 1/11/13), $1.1 billion total.
BUDGET: $250 million.
STATUS: Currently available on home video. Download from iTunes/Amazon/Blockbuster. Rent DVD/Blu-Ray from Netflix/Blockbuster. Stream from Amazon/Blockbuster.

The Intouchables8. THE INTOUCHABLES

(Weinstein) Omar Sy, Francois Cluzet, Anne Le Ny, Audrey Fleurot, Clotilde Mollet, Alba Gaia Bellugi, Cyril Mendy, Christian Ameri, Gregoire Oestermann, Josephine de Meaux, Dominique Daguier, Francois Caron, Thomas Soliveres. Directed by Olivier Nakache and Eric Toledano

Released May 25, 2012 This was a box office record setter in France, capturing the imagination of French audiences as well as critical acclaim and major awards (including a Cleo for Sy as best actor). While overly sensitive politically correct American critics took pot shots at the relationship between Driss and Phillippe (white paraplegic employer, black attendant) it was based on an inspirational true story.
WHY IT IS HERE: I dare anyone to watch this all the way through and not feel better about life and the universe we live in. Da Queen will tell you I was in a terrible mood when I went to see this; when we left the theater I was a decent human being again. This should be mandatory viewing for depressives.
HIGHLIGHT SCENE: When Driss gets to drive Philippe’s Mazerati for the first time. Priceless.
BOX OFFICE RESULTS: $10.2 million domestic (as of 1/17/13), $420.8M total.
BUDGET: Not available.
STATUS: Scheduled for home video release on March 5.

Monsieur Lazhar7. MONSIEUR LAZHAR

(Music Box) Mohamed Fellag, Sophie Nelisse, Emilien Neron, Danielle Proulx, Brigitte Poupart, Jules Philip, Daniel Gadouas, Seddik Benslimane, Marie-Eve Beauregard, Louis Champagne, Andre Robitaille, Francine Ruel, Helena Laliberte. Directed by Philippe Falardeau

Released April 13, 2012 As with the last feature on the top ten list, this was presented here in Orlando at the Florida Film Festival. It was, like the previous film, Oscar-nominated for Best Foreign Language film. The similarity stops there however; this is a much darker and dramatic film than the uplifting Intouchables.
WHY IT IS HERE: This deals with grief in several different ways, from the grief of children to the grief of adults. The snowy white Montreal backdrop gives the film a sense of insulation that is both warm and cold at once; it is no accident that the action begins in the winter and concludes in the spring. Fellag gives the kind of performance which would have attracted much more notice had he been working for a major distributor or for an American-made film. It’s a hard, hard film to watch at times but by the time it’s over chances are you’ll have learned something about yourself.
HIGHLIGHT SCENE: The courtroom scene in which Lazhar relives the tragic incident that drove him to Canada.
BOX OFFICE RESULTS: $2 million domestic (as of 1/17/13), $6.6M total..
BUDGET: Not available.
STATUS: Currently available on home video. Download from iTunes/Amazon. Rent DVD/Blu-Ray from Netflix/Blockbuster. Stream from Amazon/Netflix/iTunes.

Cloud Atlas6. CLOUD ATLAS

(Warner Brothers) Tom Hanks, Halle Berry, Jim Broadbent, Hugo Weaving, Susan Sarandon, Hugh Grant, Jim Sturgess, Doona Bae, Ben Whishaw, James D’Arcy, Keith David, Xun Zhou, David Gyasi, Brody Nicholas Lee, Raevan Lee Hanan, Alistair Petrie. Directed by Tom Tykwer, Andy Wachowski and Lana Wachowski

Released October 26, 2012 This is based on the David Mitchell novel that was widely thought to be unfilmable. The Wachowskis engaged their close friend Tykwer with each directing half of the sequences. Despite the all-star cast, marketing this epic work turned out to be nearly impossible and the movie made almost no box office impact whatsoever here in the States.
WHY IT IS HERE: This is a movie that talks about repression and personal responsibility in ways that we’re often not used to it. It shows that the ability of one human to force another to end to their will is timeless; so is the ability of one human to stand up and say no. There is an epic scope in each of the different segments – each set in a different era in history, three in the past, one in the present and two in the future. Cerebral science fiction, when done well can be as stimulating as any genre of movie extant but sadly, it isn’t generally cost-effective. This was overlooked by a lot of critics and granted, there were some flaws but such was its ambition that one can overlook them when admiring the whole.
HIGHLIGHT SCENE: Timothy Cavendish’ s break-out from the nuthatch in the 2012 sequence.
BOX OFFICE RESULTS: $27.1 million domestic (as of 1/19/13), $71.2 million total.
BUDGET: $102 million
STATUS: Scheduled for home video release in May 2013. It may still be seen in second-run theaters.

Chasing Ice5. CHASING ICE

(Submarine Deluxe) James Balog, Svavar Jonatansson, Louie Psihoyos, Adam LeWinter, Kitty Boone, Jeff Orlowski, Tad Pfeffer, Suzanne Balog, Dennis Dimick, Emily Balog, Simone Balog, Sylvia Earle, Jason Box, Synte Peacock. Directed by Jeff Orlowski

Released November 16, 2012 The growing climate change has become an issue everywhere else in the world, but here in the United States there is oddly no dialogue, unless it is to ridicule Al Gore for his attempts to bring it to the attention of Americans. This movie was an attempt by one of the world’s most passionate and respected nature photographers to document the erosion of the world’s glaciers. It received an Oscar nomination for Best Song but oddly, not for Best Documentary Feature.
WHY IT IS HERE: This documentary shows graphically the importance of glaciers to the global eco-system, the potentially catastrophic consequences of their continued erosion and shows measurably that it is happening right now. The movie is eerily beautiful as it terrifies.
HIGHLIGHT SCENE: The scenes near the end of the film where the erosion of the glaciers is graphically shown. It’s beautiful and terrifying.
BOX OFFICE RESULTS: $970,721 domestic (as of 1/19/13), $970,721 worldwide.
BUDGET: Not available
STATUS: Scheduled for home video release in April 2013.

Lincoln4. LINCOLN

(DreamWorks) Daniel Day-Lewis, Sally Field, Tommy Lee Jones, David Strathairn, Joseph Gordon-Levitt, James Spader, Hal Holbrook, John Hawkes, Jackie Earle Haley, Bruce McGill, Tim Blake Nelson, Jared Harris, Lee Pace, Peter McRobbie, Gloria Reuben. Directed by Steven Spielberg

Released November 9, 2012 This biography of America’s 16th (and perhaps best) president had long been in gestation as Spielberg meticulously researched his life and times, recreating his office down to the wallpaper. It has been something of a surprise hit, with Day-Lewis up to his usual standards of performance, garnering an Oscar nomination and a Golden Globe win to add to his trophy collection.
WHY IT IS HERE: This really gives you a sense of the man behind the majesty, a man who has carried the weight of a bloody civil war on his broad shoulders and is beginning to buckle. This Honest Abe is not above political chicanery and is not above shouting at his subordinates to get this vote done. And the great Mr. Lincoln drove the people around him crazy with his stories, like the long-winded uncle everyone avoids at family reunions. Not that I have a long-winded uncle.
HIGHLIGHT SCENE: The vote on the floor of the House of Representatives is gripping even though most Americans who know their history know how it turns out.
BOX OFFICE RESULTS: $156.6 million domestic (as of 1/18/13), $156.6 million total.
BUDGET: $65 million.
STATUS: Still in wide release.

Cabin in the Woods3. THE CABIN IN THE WOODS

(Lionsgate) Chris Hemsworth, Kristen Connolly, Anna Hutchison, Fran Kranz, Jesse Williams, Bradley Whitford, Richard Jenkins, Sigourney Weaver, Brian White, Amy Acker, Tim De Zarn, Tom Lenk, Dan Payne, Jodelle Ferland, Dan Shea, Maya Massar, Matt Drake. Directed by Drew Goddard

Released April 13, 2012 This was a pretty good year for Joss Whedon who not only directed the biggest blockbuster of the year but produced this film as well. The movie actually had been languishing in the vaults of MGM during its bankruptcy woes and was picked up by Lionsgate who were sadly never really able to get across to the public what a great ride this movie is.
WHY IT IS HERE: Those who love Sam Raimi’s Evil Dead (which itself is being remade later this year) are going to love this. Part horror spoof, part action flick, part Lovecraftian gorefest, part conspiracy flick and all of it fun, we get a solid cast, put them in a playground and watch them get mind raped. It has been a rare thing that I’ve had this much fun at a movie and although it starts off a bit slow, when it gets going it REALLY takes off! Just keep asking yourself this: Am I on speaker phone?
HIGHLIGHT SCENE: The elevator ride down into the bowels of the complex.
BOX OFFICE RESULTS: $42.1 million domestic (as of 1/20/13), $66.5 million total.
BUDGET: $30 million.
STATUS: Currently available on home video. Download from iTunes/Amazon. Rent DVD/Blu-Ray from Netflix/Blockbuster. Stream from Amazon/iTunes/Blockbuster.

The Lady2. THE LADY

(Cohen Media Group) Michelle Yeoh, David Thewlis, Jonathan Raggett, Jonathan Woodhouse, Susan Wooldridge, Benedict Wong, Flint Bangkok, William Hope, Victoria Sanvalli, Danny Toeng, Nay Myo Thant. Directed by Luc Besson

Released April 11, 2012 This biopic of Burmese freedom fighter Aung San Suu Kyi was my favorite film from last year’s Florida Film Festival and a very real contender for my favorite of the year period. Oddly, it got extremely disappointing reviews which I found incomprehensible – but the box office figures were far more disappointing than the reviews.
WHY IT IS HERE: This is a movie that shows how resilient the human spirit is. Suu Kyi is one of the most courageous people of our time and yet her story is largely unknown in the West. Michelle Yeoh gives a performance that in a just world would have been considered for an Oscar – it’s at least on par with favorite Jessica Chastain’s. However because of the almost non-existent theatrical release and the critical shellacking it received, most people will never get a chance to see it.
HIGHLIGHT SCENE: The scene in which Aung proudly listens to her son Alexander give the acceptance speech for her Nobel Peace Prize, the ceremony for which she was unable to attend.
BOX OFFICE RESULTS: Domestic box office figures unavailable (as of 1/23/12), $3.4 million total.
BUDGET: $29.4 million.
STATUS: Currently available on home video. Download from iTunes/Amazon. Rent DVD/Blu-Ray from Netflix/Blockbuster. Stream from Amazon/iTunes/Blockbuster.

The Best Exotic Marigold Hotel1. THE BEST EXOTIC MARIGOLD HOTEL

(Fox Searchlight) Judi Dench, Bill Nighy, Tom Wilkinson, Maggie Smith, Penelope Wilton, Celia Imrie, Ronald Pickup, Dev Patel, Tena Desae, Lillette Dubey, Sid Makkar, Seema Azmi, Diana Hardcastle, Lucy Robinson, Paul Bhattacharjee. Directed by John Madden

Released May 4, 2012 General movie audiences notoriously find movies about the elderly to be anathema. It’s not hard to figure out why – moviegoers are mostly teens and young adults; that demographic doesn’t really care about the elderly and their issues because they simply aren’t there yet. This one, however, struck a chord with audiences of all age groups.
WHY IT IS HERE: I have to admit I wasn’t particularly interested in visiting India for most of my life. I’d heard about the noise, the smell, the crowded conditions and the heat – it didn’t sound like my particular cup of tea. That all changed after I saw this movie and saw India from a completely different viewpoint. Besides that, this is a movie about aging and living as an “old person.” You might look at aging differently when you see this.
HIGHLIGHT SCENE: Tom Wilkinson’s strolls through town were always full of joy.
BOX OFFICE RESULTS: $46.4 million domestic (as of 1/23/12), $134.4 million total.
BUDGET: $10 million.
STATUS: Currently available on home video. Download from iTunes/Amazon. Rent DVD/Blu-Ray from Netflix/Blockbuster. Stream from Amazon/iTunes.

Bully


Bully

Being a victim of bullying is a lonely occupation, as Alex Libby knows.

(2012) Documentary (Weinstein) Kirk Smalley, David Long, Tina Long, Alex Libby, Ja’Meya Jackson, Kelby Johnson, Bob Johnson, Phillip Libby, Maya Libby, Devon Matthews, Barbara Primer, Laura Smalley, Trey Wallace, Kim Lockwood, Londa Johnson, Teryn Long, Troy Long. Directed by Lee Hirsch

 

There is no doubt that bullying is an epidemic problem around the United States; it has replaced parental abuse as the most common source of violence most kids will experience.

This documentary looks into the effects of bullying on five different families. Alex Libby is a sweet natured 12-year-old kid who enters East Middle School in Sioux City, Iowa with a mixture of fear and resignation. He has difficulty making friends and is tormented with verbal and physical abuse from bullies who take delight in disparaging his looks, calling him rude names.

Kelby Johnson is a 16-year-old in Tuttle, Oklahoma who was a star athlete and whose parents were active in their local church. When Kelby comes out as a lesbian, she is ostracized, tormented and run over with a mini-van. Her parents find that their conservative Christian friends will no longer speak to them. Her dad offers to move to a larger city to escape the abuse but Kelby, showing great resolve, refuses. She has a support system of a loving family and loyal friends to back her up.

Ja’Meya Jackson has some of that as well but it’s difficult to get a lot of support in the juvenile lock-up facility in Yazoo County, Mississippi. The 14-year-old had been bullied so thoroughly and was so angry and afraid that she took her mother’s handgun on board the school bus in a misguided effort to get the bullies to stop.

David and Tina Long are loving parents. Their sons Teryn and Troy are pretty well adjusted but there is a great deal of sadness in their household. Their eldest son, Tyler Long committed suicide at the age of 17 years old, found by his father hanging in his closet after years of unrelenting bullying in their Murray County, Georgia community and little to no help from school officials after numerous complaints. The Longs are determined to make Tyler’s action count for something.

Kirk and Laura Smalley feel the same way. They have just buried their son Ty who at age 11 killed himself after non-stop bullying. Kirk, outwardly a simple man in a rural community, Perkins Oklahoma, is determined to help other kids who went through the pain his son did and put a stop to bullying. He founds an organization, Stand for the Silent, dedicated to providing a voice for children who are being bullied.

All of these stories (and many others like them) are heartbreaking and inspire feelings of compassion. Watching Alex stoically endure the abuse certainly makes the heart ache for him, not to mention bring forth feelings of admiration for a young man who has an enormous reserve of strength (he also has a great smile that lights up a room). His mother is torn apart by feelings of inadequacy, thinking that she is failing as a mother because she’s not protecting her son.

The truth is that the failure isn’t hers. School districts have long treated bullying as a natural product of growing up. “Boys will be boys,” seems to be the most common response, delivered with a shrug and a pair of “what can you do?” outstretched arms.

There are no easy answers and the film provides none. However there doesn’t seem to be much of a message here beyond “bullying is bad” which is a bit of a no-brainer. There’s no attempt at trying to understand what causes kids to bully. I would be willing to bet that there is something going on in their homes that creates such fear that causes the need to take it out on other kids, because bullying is and always has been an outgrowth of fear. Whether it is fear of something different or fear of being bullied themselves, most bullies are reacting to something. Of course, there is always the occasional sociopath who gets their jollies from inflicting pain but by and large bullying is learned behavior. It doesn’t occur without a cause.

I would have also appreciated more diversity in the stories here. Not that Ja’Meya (whose mother shows great compassion and tenacity) and Kelby (who I also admired for her courage in refusing to run from the bullying) didn’t deserve to have their stories told. However, judging from the film bullying is a small town problem, mostly confined to the Bible Belt and more rural communities.

Bullying is in fact a universal epidemic. It exists nearly everywhere that there are kids, from exclusive prep schools in the Northeast to urban schools in big cities to enlightened communities in California. Hirsch should know that; he was a victim of bullying in his youth in Long Island (as I was in mine in the suburbs of the San Fernando Valley in Los Angeles). You don’t get that sense here and I think it does a disservice to its own message because of it.

However despite these flaws the message here is still a powerful one, so much so that I’m willing to ignore some of the film’s missed opportunities in order to call attention to it. This is a movie that should be seen by every student in America, and by most of their parents. This should be a topic of conversation at the dinner table. Bullying can be stopped; it takes the unity of students, parents, teachers and administrators in order to do it. Standing up together makes us stronger; it also protects us from bullies who tend to prey on the weak and the defenseless.

Seeing this makes me regret that in my own school days I didn’t stand up for those who were isolated and alone. I wish in my own school days I had befriended those who needed it. It also bears repeating that bullying isn’t always done just with fists or physicality; it’s also done with words. Joking about sexual orientation, physical appearance or socially awkward behavior might be good for a few cheap laughs but you never know how devastating those words can be in someone’s life. Whether in your workplace, your church, your neighborhood or your school, there are usually people who don’t fit in and who whether consciously or unconsciously get excluded. Adult or child, taking the time to reach out to those who don’t fit in seems to me to be the right thing to do and if this movie gets across that message, then it is as important a film as any you’ll ever see.

REASONS TO GO: Excellently captures the effects of bulling on kids and their families. Heartbreaking at times but a message that needs to be seen by kids and their parents everywhere.

REASONS TO STAY: No interviews with bullies or their families to get any sort of insight as to why kids bully. Fails to get across that this is a universal problem that is prevalent in all social stratums and all over the country.

FAMILY VALUES: There is some rough language, depictions of kid-on-kid violence and some fairly adult conversations about teen suicide.

TRIVIAL PURSUIT: The movie was originally slapped with an “R” rating by the Motion Picture Association of America for bad language which was appealed by the distributor, arguing that would exclude the audience the movie was intended for. When that appeal was denied the rating was surrendered and initially the plan was to release the movie unrated. However after a large outcry the MPAA relented and the filmmakers edited some instances of bad language (although a crucial scene in which a child is bullied on a school bus was left intact) and the film finally received a “PG-13” rating.

CRITICAL MASS: As of 4/21/12: Rotten Tomatoes: 88% positive reviews. Metacritic: 74/100. The movie can be considered to be critically acclaimed.

COMPARISON SHOPPING: Laramie Inside Out

ELLEN DEGENERES LOVERS: The movie has been championed by the talk show host and was at least partially inspired by an appearance on her show by the mom of Carl Walker Hoover, a young man who endured anti-gay bullying until he was driven to commit suicide at the age of 11 in 2009.

FINAL RATING: 8/10

NEXT: The Lady

New Releases for the Week of April 13, 2012


April 13, 2012

THE CABIN IN THE WOODS

(Lionsgate) Kristen Connolly, Chris Hemsworth, Anna Hutchison, Fran Kranz, Richard Jenkins, Jesse Williams, Bradley Whitford, Sigourney Weaver, Jodelle Ferland, Amy Acker, Tom Lenk. Directed by Drew Goddard

A group of young people, friends all, head into the mountains to a remote cabin in the woods for a weekend of partying. There’s something strange about the cabin however and soon it becomes obvious that the cabin is not what it appears to be and neither is this movie. Produced and co-written by fan favorite Joss Whedon (“Buffy the Vampire Slayer,” the upcoming Avengers movie) and Goddard, who hit it big a few years back with Cloverfield.

See the trailer, clips and a promo here.

For more on the movie this is the website.

Release formats: Standard

Genre: Horror

Rating: R (for strong bloody horror violence and gore, language, drug use and some sexuality/nudity)

Blue Like Jazz

(Roadside Attractions) Marshall Allman, Claire Holt, Tania Raymonde, Jason Marsden  A young Texas sophomore at a junior college with a restrictive religious background decides to forego further piety and enrolls in one of the most progressive institutions of higher learning in the Pacific Northwest Reed College of Portland, Oregon. He finds himself among free thinkers and eccentrics, putting challenge to all of his beliefs.

See the trailer here.

For more on the movie this is the website.

Release formats: Standard

Genre: Drama

Rating: PG-13 (for mature thematic material, sexuality, drug and alcohol content and some language)

Bully

(Weinstein) David Long, Tina Long, Kirk Smalley, Ja’Maya. Emmy-award winning documentary director Lee Hirsch examines the epidemic of bullying in this country and the collateral effects of it on the families of both the bullies and the bullied.  The film was initially rated R by the MPAA which would prevent the audience that really needs to see it – school kids – from seeing the movie but after a national outcry the MPAA finally relented. If you have kids in middle or high school you should take them to see this movie as soon as possible.

See the trailer here.

For more on the movie this is the website

Release formats: Standard

Genre: Documentary

Rating: PG-13 (for language and subject matter)

Lockout

(FilmDistrict) Guy Pearce, Maggie Grace, Peter Stormare, Lennie James.  It is the near-future in America and the President’s daughter is trapped on an orbiting maximum security penitentiary with the worst scum on the planet doing time in suspended animation. The inmates have taken over the asylum and a desperate father sends the only man who can get in there and extract his daughter alive – Snake Plissken. Wait – he’s not available? It’ll have to be the other guy then.

See the trailer and clips here.

For more on the movie this is the website.

Release formats: Standard

Genre: Science Fiction

Rating: PG-13 (for intense sequences of violence and action, and language including some sexual references)

The Raid: Redemption

(Sony Classics) Iko Uwais, Doni Alamsyah, Joe Taslim, Yayan Ruhian. An elite police tactical unit infiltrates a dilapidated apartment building being used by a crime lord as a fortress is spotted and must fight their way from floor to floor to get out. This movie made a huge splash at film festivals and has gotten rave reviews to the point where a Hollywood remake has already been fast-tracked.

See the trailer, clips and a featurette here.

For more on the movie this is the website

Release formats: Standard

Genre: Action

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

The Three Stooges

(20th Century Fox) Chris Diamantopoulos, Will Sasso, Sean Hayes, Jane Lynch. A trio of dim-witted but ultimately good-hearted orphans are released into the wild….err, civilization. There they will have to find a way to save the orphanage where they were raised from greedy developers. This one’s a definite sign of the impending apocalypse.

See the trailer here.

For more on the movie this is the website.

Release formats: Standard

Genre: Comedy

Rating: PG (for some slapstick action violence, some rude and suggestive humor including language)

Woman, Thou Art Loosed: On the Seventh Day

(Codeblack) Blair Underwood, Sharon Leal, Pam Grier, Nicole Beharie.  When their child is kidnapped, a successful African-American couple suddenly find themselves under a media microscope. And as the clock ticks, old secrets that may have some bearing on their kidnapping begin to come out, threatening to tear the couple apart.

See the trailer here.

For more on the movie this is the website.

Release formats: Standard

Genre: Thriller

Rating: PG-13 (for sexuality, drug and alcohol content, mature thematic material, language and violence)