Mudbound


In Mississippi, things are always black and white.

(2017) Drama (Netflix) Carey Mulligan, Garrett Hedlund, Jason Mitchell, Mary J. Blige, Jason Clarke, Jonathan Banks, Lucy Faust, Dylan Arnold, Rob Morgan, Kerry Cahill, Kelvin Harrison Jr., Rebecca Chulew, David Jensen, Geraldine Singer, Floyd Anthony Johns Jr., Henry Frost, Peter Schueller, Roderick Hill, Cynthia LeBlanc, Samantha Hoefer. Directed by Dee Rees

 

The generation that fought the Second World War has been called the Greatest Generation and who am I to argue? The fact remains however that not everyone in that generation was treated greatly. The African-American soldiers who fought for freedom were ironically denied it when they returned home. It would be 20 years before the Civil Rights era would be able to effectively call attention to the plight of African-Americans in a meaningful way.

Jamie McAllan (Hedlund) returns home from fighter pilot duty to his brother Henry (Clarke), their dad Pappy (Bans) and Henry’s wife Laura (Mulligan) trying to make things work on a farm that is literally a muddy bog especially when it rains which it does frequently in Mississippi. Henry sees the land as a symbol of his failures. Constantly denigrated by his racist father Henry isn’t a bad man but he is a weak one living in the shadow of his popular younger brother. Jamie though is partially broken; suffering from PTSD after his war experiences,

Also coming home from war is Ronsel Jackson (Mitchell) but to far different circumstances. His father, preacher Hap Jackson (Morgan) is a sharecropper on Henry’s land – well, kinda Henry’s land – who is exploited terribly by Henry who uses Hap as labor regardless of whether Hap is needed on his own farm. When Hap’s mule dies, Henry lets Hap use his own mule – for a price, a hefty one that benefits Henry who is having financial problems of his own. However, it not only adds a burden to Hap’s debt it makes it harder for him to pay it off. On top of it all Ronsel is back to being treated like a second class citizen after getting a taste of freedom in Europe. It is somewhat ironic that he is treated better in the country he helped conquer than in the country he fought for.

Jamie strikes up a friendship with Ronsel; the two men have shared experiences that bond them together. However, a friendship between a white man and an African-American man is simply not done in that time and place. It threatens the social order, and there are horrific consequences  for that.

After making a big splash at the 2017 Sundance Film Festival, Netflix purchased the film which has been one of the most prestigious in its current library with no less than four Oscar nominations (Netflix gave it a brief theatrical fun to qualify it). Critics fell all over themselves praising the movie as you can see by their scores below and there is certainly much to celebrate in this film but to be honest, it is also flawed.

The movie is badly undercut by narration made by various characters in the movie. The narration is often florid and draws attention away from the movie, the worst kind of narration possible. I’ve always wondered why filmmakers don’t trust their audiences to understand the images and dialogue they see and hear. Narration isn’t necessary; it’s intrusive and redundant.

The flip side is that the movie is beautifully shot. It isn’t so much beautiful images – the poverty and the rain-soaked mud fields aren’t what you’ll see on the average screensaver – but Rachel Morrison, the Oscar-nominated cinematographer, gives the images a dignity that uplifts the movie overall. And then there are the performances – few films are as well-acted as this one. Blige as Florence, the wise and compassionate mother won most of the kudos (and the Oscar nomination) but for my money it was Mitchell who was actually the real deal. Fresh off his triumph in Straight Outta Comption Mitchell is the moral center of the film. He is a man of pride but he’s also a man of compassion and conscience. He is able to respect a white man despite the wrongs done to him by white men; he is able to feel sympathy for his friend and the demons that haunt him. He is haunted by many of them himself.

The narration is a major problem that prevents me from really loving this film. To the good, it is a timely reminder that we live in an era when America was great according to the slogan. It wasn’t terribly great for those who weren’t white though, and that is part of what those sloganeers are attracted to. The attitudes that shape the movie have never gone away completely; they only went underground until 2016 when our President emboldened those who identify with Pappy to express their racism openly.

There is much good here although as I said this is a very flawed film. Any Netflix subscriber, particularly those who like their movies to be thought-provoking, should have this on their short list of must-see films on Netflix. It’s one I think that bears repeated viewings. Rees is certainly an emerging talent who has plenty to say. Now if we can just get her to stop using voiceovers…

REASONS TO GO: The cast is uniformly wonderful. The cinematography is downright amazing.
REASONS TO STAY: The voiceover narration is a bit obnoxious.
FAMILY VALUES: There is violence of the war variety as well as a graphic depiction of racially-motivated violence, profanity including racial epithets as well as some brief nudity and sexuality.
TRIVIAL PURSUIT: Blige became the first person ever nominated for an acting Oscar and best song Oscar for the same film, and Rachel Morrison was the first woman nominated for a Best Cinematography Oscar.
BEYOND THE THEATERS: Netflix
CRITICAL MASS: As of 9/3/18: Rotten Tomatoes: 96% positive reviews. Metacritic: 85/100.
COMPARISON SHOPPING: Giant
FINAL RATING: 7.5/10
NEXT:
Silencer

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New Releases for the Week of November 6, 2015


SpectreSPECTRE

(MGM/Columbia) Daniel Craig, Christoph Waltz, Lea Seydoux, Ralph Fiennes, Monica Bellucci, Ben Whishaw, Naomie Harris, Dave Bautista. Directed by Sam Mendes

The greatest spy in cinematic history is back fresh off the biggest box office bonanza of the 50-year history and James Bond is ready to tackle his greatest foe. When a cryptic message from the past sends Bond on an unapproved mission to Mexico City, he runs smack dab into a criminal organization that threatens world stability – an organization known as SPECTRE.

See the trailer, clips, interviews, featurettes and B-Roll video here.
For more on the movie this is the website.
Release Formats: Standard, IMAX
Genre: Spy Action
Now Playing: Wide Release
Rating: PG-13 (for intense sequences of violence, some disturbing images, sensuality and language)

Labyrinth of Lies

(Sony Classics) Alexander Fehling, André Szymanski, Friederike Becht, Johannes Krisch. Twenty years after World War II, a prominent journalist identifies a teacher on the playground of the school in a small village as a former guard at Auschwitz, he runs into a brick wall of apathy. However, a young prosecutor takes on the case and despite official opposition persists in taking on Germany’s war guilt head-on.

See the trailer here.
For more on the movie this is the website.
Release Formats: Standard
Genre: True Life Drama
Now Playing: Regal Winter Park Village
Rating: R (for a scene of sexuality)

Miss You Already

(Roadside Attractions) Drew Barrymore, Toni Collette, Dominick Cooper, Paddy Considine. They are the best of friends and have been since childhood; one a free spirit, the other more grounded. Even as their lives change in meaningful ways – one marries a band roadie, gets pregnant and eventually settles down when her husband develops a successful business, the other becomes an environmental activist and moves in with a colleague. When one develops breast cancer and the other becomes pregnant, their friendship is tested in fundamental ways. Watch for a review here in Cinema365 tomorrow.

See the trailer and clips here.
For more on the movie this is the website.
Release Formats: Standard
Genre: Dramedy
Now Playing: AMC Disney Springs, Regal Waterford Lakes, Regal Winter Park Village
Rating: PG-13 (for thematic content, sexual material and some language)

The Peanuts Movie

(20th Century Fox) Starring the voices of Noah Schnapp, Alexander Garfin, Kristin Chenoweth, Hadley Belle Miller. Good ol’ Charlie Brown begins a quest to meet the new girl who just moved into his neighborhood, while his beloved beagle Snoopy – the greatest flying ace of them all – takes on his nemesis the Red Baron. This will be the first Peanuts feature film to be filmed in computer animation, and the first feature to be released theatrically in 35 years starring the Charles Schultz creations.

See the trailer, interviews, clips, a featurette and B-Roll video here.
For more on the movie this is the website.
Release Formats: Standard
Genre: Animated Feature
Now Playing: Wide Release
Rating: G

Suffragette

(Focus) Carey Mulligan, Meryl Streep, Anne-Marie Duff, Helena Bonham Carter. In the Great Britain of the early 20th century, a courageous young woman – a working wife and mother – joins other women who believe as she does to stand up and fight for the right of women to vote. Reviled by the establishment and even by those who know her, she nonetheless soldiers on and obtains a place in history at great cost to her personal life.

See the trailer, clips, an interview, a featurette and B-roll video here.
For more on the movie this is the website.
Release Formats: Standard
Genre: Drama
Now Playing: Regal Winter Park Village
Rating: PG-13 (for some intense violence, thematic elements, brief strong language and partial nudity)

New Releases for the Week of May 15, 2015


Mad Max Fury RoadMAD MAX: FURY ROAD

(Warner Brothers) Tom Hardy, Charlize Theron, Nicholas Hoult, Hugh Keays-Byrne, Josh Helman, Nathan Jones, Zoe Kravitz, Rosie Huntington-Whiteley, Riley Keough. Directed by George Miller

George Miller’s iconic post-apocalyptic franchise returns after a nearly 30 year hiatus with a new Max (Tom Hardy) and an old villain (Keays-Byrne, who was Toecutter in the very first Mad Max). However, this one looks to be more visually stimulating with stunts that in the trailer looked completely insane and early reports is that this may be the best movie of the summer. In it, Max becomes reluctantly involved with a group of women fleeing across the desert from a cruel dictator who will stop at nothing to get his “property” back. Max, used to looking out only for himself and placing his own survival beyond everything else, finds a new reason to do more than just survive.

See the trailer and clips here.
For more on the movie this is the website .
Release Formats: Standard, 3D, IMAX 3D (opens Thursday)
Genre: Action
Now Playing: Wide Release
Rating: R (for intense sequences of violence throughout, and for disturbing images)

Echoes of War

(ARC Entertainment) James Badge Dale, Ethan Embry, William Forsythe, Maika Monroe. Two families, both marred by loss during the civil war, go nose-to-nose in post-War Texas when one accuses the other of stealing animals from their traps. Neither family is willing to back down, leading to further tragedy. Not every war is over a cause.

See the trailer here.
For more on the movie this is the website.
Release Formats: Standard
Genre: Western
Now Playing: AMC Downtown Disney
Rating: R (for violence, sexuality/nudity and language)

Far From the Madding Crowd

(Fox Searchlight) Carey Mulligan, Matthias Schoenaerts, Michael Sheen, Tom Sturridge. Thomas Hardy’s classic novel of rural Victorian England comes back to the big screen as Oscar-nominated director Thomas Vinterberg and Oscar nominated actress Mulligan bring one of literature’s most compelling heroines to life. Bathsheba Everdene inherits a farm in Dorset and determines to make it the finest in all of England. She’s on her way to doing it but finds herself confronted by three very different suitors; a solid and kind shepherd in her employ, a lonely middle-aged neighboring farmer and a dashing young soldier. Hearts will break, there can be no doubt about that. Cinema365 reviewed this earlier this month; you can read that review here.

See the trailer, clips and featurettes here.
For more on the movie this is the website.
Release Formats: Standard
Genre: Romance
Now Playing: Regal Winter Park Village, AMC Downtown Disney
Rating: PG-13 (for some sexuality and violence)

Lambert and Stamp

(Sony Classics) Kit Lambert, Chris Stamp, Roger Daltrey, Terence Stamp. A pair of aspiring filmmakers in London in the early 60s decide to choose a local band called the High Numbers as the subjects for their film. That band would impress them sufficiently that they would give up their film careers to manage and mentor the band. That band would go on to revolutionize rock and roll and be better known as The Who.

See the trailer and clips here.
For more on the movie this is the website.
Release Formats: Standard
Genre: Documentary
Now Playing: Regal Winter Park Village
Rating: R (for language, some drug content and brief nudity)

Pitch Perfect 2

(Universal) Anna Kendrick, Rebel Wilson, Hailee Steinfeld, Brittany Snow. In this sequel to the blatant Glee rip-off the girls take on the world.

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

Where Hope Grows

(Roadside Attractions) Kerr Smith, Brooke Burns, William Zabka, Danica McKellar. A baseball player whose career was wiped out due to panic attacks at the plate finds work at a grocery store where a developmentally challenged young man inspires him to look beyond himself and find something greater.

See the trailer, clips and a featurette here.
For more on the movie this is the website.
Release Formats: Standard
Genre: Faith-Based Drama
Now Playing: AMC Altamonte Mall, AMC West Oaks, Regal Waterford Lakes
Rating: PG-13 (for thematic issues involving drinking and teen sexuality, and for brief language and an accident scene)

Far from the Madding Crowd (2015)


Matthias Schoenaerts and Carey Mulligan nuzzle in the Dorset countryside.

Matthias Schoenaerts and Carey Mulligan nuzzle in the Dorset countryside.

(2015) Drama (Fox Searchlight) Carey Mulligan, Matthias Schoenaerts, Michael Sheen, Tom Sturridge, Tilly Vosburgh, Juno Temple, Jessica Barden, Bradley Hall, Hilton McRae, Sam Phillips, Victor McGuire, Jody Haise, Pauline Whitaker, Belinda Low, Leonard Szepietowski, Harry Peacock, Mark Wingett, Dorian Lough, Jon Gunn, Richard Dixon, John Neville, Lillian Price. Directed by Thomas Vinterberg

In Victorian England, women didn’t generally have very many choices and those that did usually got them because they were stronger and more aggressive than most. Perhaps that’s why most Victorian heroines remain role models for women even today.

Bathsheba Everdene (Mulligan) is an educated, forthright young lady who loves the rural Dorset that she grew up in. She also loves horseback riding and it is during one of her rides that she encounters neighboring shepherd Gabriel Oak (Schoenaerts), a quiet man of good character. He falls hard for the impetuous young Bathsheba (who hates her given name by the way) and impulsively asks her to marry him, promising to buy her a piano if she does. She declines, telling him that she would want a man who could tame her and the quiet Gabriel never could. Shortly after that Gabriel loses his flock in a particularly devastating way and must sell his land in order to pay his debts. He sets out to find employment. In his travels he comes upon a barn fire and with the farm manager and owner both missing, takes charge and puts the fire out. When the owner returns and thanks him, he asks for a job. The owner turns out to be…Bathsheba.

In the meantime she had suffered a reversal of fortune of her own; no longer poor, she had inherited her uncle’s farm and was determined to make it successful. After firing her corrupt and useless manager (McGuire) she sets about managing her farm with the aid of Liddy (Barden), her assistant and Gabriel’s able stewardship it begins to turn a profit.

She also gets the notice of William Boldwood (Sheen), a neighboring farmer and the wealthiest man in the district. Lonely and socially awkward, he had been engaged once only to be jilted. Now mistakenly thinking that Ms. Everdene is interested in him romantically, he pursues her doggedly with his own offer of marriage and as a wedding gift, a piano. By this time however, she has a piano of her own and declines, valuing her independence too much.

But not for long. Into her life comes soldier Frank Troy (Sturridge), a dashing young man who dazzles her with his swordplay and ardor. Completely head over heels, she marries the military man even though Gabriel counsels her not to and loses his job because of it, only returning to work because the sheep are dying from a disease that only he knows how to cure.

It soon becomes evident that Troy has no interest in farming and less in Bathsheba. He prefers to gamble their profits away, and his ardor is reserved for Fanny Robbin (Temple) whom he had once intended to marry and had been left standing at the altar when she went to the wrong church. She is now pregnant with his child. All of these events are priming the players for tragedy and for Bathsheba Everdene, a choice – which man truly is the one for her?

This is the fourth filmed version of Thomas Hardy’s classic novel (the first released exactly 100 years ago in a silent version). In many ways, it captures the rural life that Hardy so loved (and through him, his characters) better than any of them. Certainly cinematographer Charlotte Bruus Christensen captures the loveliness of the Dorset countryside in vista after vista; silky mist-shrouded mornings, blazing colorful sunsets, bucolic woods and fields.

Vinterberg (The Hunt) is best known as a co-founder of the influential but spare Dogme 95 movement in filmmaking and he would seem an odd choice for a lush classic of such epic sweep as Hardy but he keeps much of the movie simple. The country life that he depicts here seems almost heavenly; one could long for a lifestyle of washing sheep and harvesting grain, walking the country at dusk and singing with the farmhands at supper by candlelight. It is definitely enticing to those of us beset by the fast pace and cold technology of modern life.

Mulligan, Oscar nominated ] for An Education, has done the most brilliant work of her career thus far here. She captures the spirited nature of Bathsheba Everdene but also her vulnerabilities without making her seem too modern, although in many ways Bathsheba belongs more to the 21st century than the 19th, even back when Hardy wrote her – so much so that Suzanne Collins filched her surname for her spunky lead character in The Hunger Games. That Bathsheba chooses the dashing soldier over the security of William Boldwood and the bedrock but unspectacular love of Gabriel Oak is a lament that many guys, unable to compete with the cute and the popular in high school, can understand.

Schoenaerts is a Belgian hunk who has all kinds of upside. He reminds me a bit of Viggo Mortensen and has that charisma necessary to be the leading man in a big budget movie and it wouldn’t surprise me at all to find him on the Hollywood A-list before too long. Sheen has continued his exemplary work of recent years and makes the haunted farmer Boldwood flesh and blood, as opposed to the kind of creepy pervert that Peter Finch portrayed him as in the 1967 version.

While it’s possible this could be contending for awards come Oscar time, it’s unlikely given the early summer release date. It’s quite possible that an autumn re-release might put Mulligan, Christensen and even Vinterberg up for Oscar consideration but even if not, this is a film worthy of attention even beyond the film buff and older audiences. I have to admit that it is a smart move to use this as refreshing counterprogramming to the big blockbusters that will be filling up the multiplex screens this time of year. Those who prefer their movies less loud and teen-centric should keep their radar out for this one.

REASONS TO GO: Really gives a sense of the beauty of rustic life. Mulligan is a strong lead. Classic story.
REASONS TO STAY: Adds little to previous film versions of the novel.
FAMILY VALUES: There’s a little bit of violence and some sexuality.
TRIVIAL PURSUIT: Mulligan suffered a concussion when she was thrown from a horse. Nobody realized she was injured until she fell to her knees during the next scene to be filmed. Schoenaerts thought she was acting and continued his lines; it was only when she slumped over that anyone realized that there was something wrong.
CRITICAL MASS: As of 5/8/15: Rotten Tomatoes: 82% positive reviews. Metacritic: 71/100.
COMPARISON SHOPPING: Wuthering Heights
FINAL RATING: 7.5/10
NEXT: Child 44

Inside Llewyn Davis


The Greenwich Village People.

The Greenwich Village People.

(2013) Drama (CBS) Oscar Isaac, Carey Mulligan, John Goodman, Justin Timberlake, Garrett Hedlund, F. Murray Abraham, Ethan Phillips, Robin Bartlett, Max Casella, Jerry Grayson, Jeanine Serralles, Adam Driver, Stark Sands, Alex Karpovsky, Helen Hong, Bradley Mott, Michael Rosner, Bonnie Rose, Sylvia Cauders, Amelia McClain. Directed by Joel and Ethan Coen

Some places and times held a sort of magic that created oodles of great music that has stood the test of time – places like Athens, Georgia in the mid-80s, San Francisco in the late 60s, Manchester, England in the 90s and Greenwich Village in the late 50s, early 60s. In the last of these, beatniks and folk musicians were thrown together to begin a phase of rock and roll exemplified by Bob Dylan and Dave van Ronk, among others.

In this milieu toils Llewyn Davis (Isaac), once a member of the duo Timlin and Davis – until his partner threw himself off the George Washington Bridge in a fit of melancholy that was as counterculture as a suicide can get (“You’re supposed to throw yourself off the Brooklyn Bridge,” grouses one character. “The George Washington Bridge? Who does that?!?”) and now Davis is trying to go it alone. It is winter in the Village and he has no money, existing from gig to gig and without a winter coat. He relies on the generosity of his friends to give him a couch to sleep on during the night and maybe a cup of coffee or some food.

When he accidentally lets out the cat of his Upper West Side buddies the Gorfeins (Phillips, Bartlett) who essentially show off Llewyn as their bohemian folk singer friend, he embarks on an odyssey of his own that takes him into the life of Jean (Mulligan), a fellow folk singer and a member of the duo Jim (Timberlake) and Jean who has gotten pregnant. Who is the father? Could be Jim, whom she is married to and wants to have a baby with…or it might be Llewyn whom she slept with in an inadvisable night of drunken regret. She doesn’t want to have the baby if it’s at all possible that the baby could be his. Fortunately for her, he has an abortionist on call for what seems to be a string of brief flings.

He ends up on a road trip to Chicago with a taciturn driver (Hedlund) and a garrulous jazz musician (Goodman) who when he’s not sleeping is regaling Llewyn with highly mannered stories about jazz hipsters he has known. He goes to meet an impresario (Abraham) his agent (Grayson) was supposed to have sent a copy of his album to…but didn’t. In tow is this cat who is the albatross around the neck of the Ancient Mariner.

The Coens specialize in taking ancient stories and modernizing them and there are elements of this here, not just in the Rime of the Ancient Mariner but also in their old standard Odyssey as well as maybe a few newer tales. While there is a good deal of humor here, it is less in the dry, deadpan style they’re known for and a bit more subtle and a lot darker.

Oscar Isaac kills here. Not only does he sing and play guitar, he also acts. Llewyn Davis is a bit of a prick; he uses his friends and when they’re usefulness has been exhausted, he moves on. He is frustrated and is known to lash out without provocation and he is a bit on the arrogant side, Starving Artist division. Yet even despite Llewyn Davis’ many faults, Isaac imbues him with a kind of empathy that allows him to see through the pain. While he doesn’t necessarily like people all that much, he relates to them real well. Isaac, who has been one great role away from stardom, has found that role. Expect him to be an A-lister from here on in.

There are some fine supporting performances here as well, from the shrewish folk singer by Mulligan to the mannered jazz musician by Goodman which is a good deal out of both their comfort zones I think. Timberlake also does some good work that is a bit out of his own comfort zone, playing the terminally nice and terminally clueless Jim.

The music here is absolutely amazing. My mom used to love Peter, Paul and Mary and had an album of Vanguard folk singers that included the Weavers, Odetta and Cisco Houston and I listened to that album often. While the folk singers on that album weren’t the well-scrubbed WASPs that several of the singers are here (and which the dark-haired Llewyn is not), the vibe is at least approachable. Most of the music was recorded live and the actors mainly sang and played their instruments for real.

What happened though was that I felt disconnected from the movie to a large extent. I normally love what the Coen Brothers do and even their less successful movies (Burn After Reading) have at least something of interest about them. Frankly I admired the craft of the movie in re-creating the era; as I said, I loved the music and the performances as well. The movie just didn’t resonate with me. Maybe I was just in a bad mood but I left the movie feeling a little disappointed. Maybe it is the circular nature of the story which begins and ends with essentially the same incident although you’re never sure when the flashback actually begins.

Still, the Coens’ worst is better than the best of most directors. They take chances and at the end of the day, their movies aren’t made to please anybody but themselves which is the proper way to go about making movies. Try to please too many people and you end up pleasing nobody.

REASONS TO GO: Gorgeous music. Isaac is a star.

REASONS TO STAY: Much more mainstream than we’re used to from the Coens.

FAMILY VALUES:  Some fairly rough language including some sexual references as well as some brief violence.

TRIVIAL PURSUIT: The photograph of Chris Eldridge, guitarist for the Punch Brothers (a real folk band who contributed heavily to the music) is seen on the Timlin and Davis album cover; Eldridge is identified as Mike Timlin, the partner who threw himself off the George Washington Bridge.

CRITICAL MASS: As of 1/12/14: Rotten Tomatoes: 94% positive reviews. Metacritic: 92/100.

COMPARISON SHOPPING: A Mighty Wind

FINAL RATING: 6.5/10

NEXT: The Secret Life of Walter Mitty (2013)

New Releases for the Week of January 10, 2014


Inside Llewyn Davis

INSIDE LLEWYN DAVIS 

(CBS) Oscar Isaac, Carey Mulligan, John Goodman, Garrett Hedlund, Justin Timberlake, F. Murray Abraham, Ethan Phillips, Max Casella. Directed by Joel and Ethan Coen

A young folk singer trying to make it in the Greenwich Village scene in 1961 finds himself homeless with a cat that isn’t his in tow in a brutal New York City winter. The only ray of hope is an audition for a music mogul who could kickstart his career or once again shatter his dreams into a million pieces. This has been getting some pretty strong Oscar buzz.

See the trailer, a clip and a featurette here.

For more on the movie this is the website.

Release formats: Standard

Genre: Drama

Rating: R (for language including some sexual references)

August: Osage County

(Weinstein) Meryl Streep, Julia Roberts, Ewan McGregor, Chris Cooper. A trio of strong-willed women who don’t particularly get along all that well are drawn back home to the somewhat eccentric woman who raised them for a family crisis. With spouses, children and exes in tow it doesn’t take long for chaos and heartbreak – not to mention the occasional possibility for redemption – to ensue.

See the trailer, featurettes and a clip here.

For more on the movie this is the website.

Release formats: Standard

Genre: Dramedy

Rating: R (for language including sexual references, and for drug material)

Dumbbells

(GoDigital) Brian Drolet, Hoyt Richards, Jay Mohr, Carl Reiner. A former star college athlete finds himself working as a trainer in a rundown gym. When the new owner of the gym hits upon the idea of setting a reality TV show in the gym, it is met with much resistance from the complacent staff. However, the athlete and the owner form an unlikely alliance to save the gym, change attitudes and generally kick butt.

See the trailer here.

For more on the movie this is the website.

Release formats: Standard

Genre: Comedy

Rating: NR

Her

(Warner Brothers) Joaquin Phoenix, Scarlett Johansson (voice), Amy Adams, Rooney Mara. A hopeless romantic man, heartbroken after the demise of a long-term relationship, flounders in social awkwardness. Then he gets a new personalized operating system for his computer devices and everything changes – he falls in love with the voice and personality of his new operating system.

See the trailer here.

For more on the movie this is the website.

Release formats: Standard

Genre: Romance

Rating: R (for language, sexual content and brief graphic nudity)

Hercules: The Legend Begins

(Summit) Kellan Lutz, Scott Adkins, Roxanne McKee, Johnathon Schaech. The legendary demigod, son of Zeus and a mortal woman, is betrayed by his stepfather – an evil, ambitious king – and exiled. Resolved to address this injustice, the extraordinarily strong warrior resolves to overthrow the king and takes the first steps on his road to immortality.

See the trailer and clips here.

For more on the movie this is the website.

Release formats: Standard (opens Thursday)

Genre: Swords and Sandals

Rating: PG=13 (for sequences of intense combat action and violence, and for some sensuality)

Lone Survivor

(Universal) Mark Wahlberg, Taylor Kitsch, Emile Hirsch, Eric Bana. The true story of four Navy SEALs sent out into the mountains of Afghanistan to neutralize an Al Qaeda leader only to find themselves confronted with a much larger force than their intelligence told them. Faced with an impossible moral decision, they will put their lives on the line for each other and reflect in doing so the very highest ideals of the U.S. military.

See the trailer, clips and featurettes here.

For more on the movie this is the website.

Release formats: Standard (opens Thursday)

Genre: True Life War Drama

Rating: R (for sequences of strong sexual content, graphic nudity, drug use and language throughout, and for some violence)  

The Great Gatsby (2013)


It's my party and I'll smirk if I want to.

It’s my party and I’ll smirk if I want to.

(2013) Drama (Warner Brothers) Leonardo di Caprio, Tobey Maguire, Carey Mulligan, Joel Edgerton, Isla Fisher, Jason Clarke, Elizabeth Debicki, Adelaide Clemens, Jack Thompson, Amitabh Bachchan, Gus Murray, Kate Mulvany, Barry Otto, Daniel Gill, Iota, Eden Falk, Steve Bisley, Vince Colosimo, Max Cullen, Gemma Ward, Olga Miller. Directed by Baz Luhrmann   

The Jazz Age of the Roaring ’20s was known for conspicuous wealth and the wealthy who partied capriciously even as a stock market crash loomed ever closer. It was an age of the flapper, of gangsters and bootleggers, of old money sneering at the nouveau riche with all the venom of an aging viper whose territory is being taken over by a younger and deadlier snake.

F. Scott Fitzgerald wrote what is arguably his masterpiece in 1925 to tepid sales and lackluster reviews. When he passed away in 1940, he believed himself to be a failure although ironically his work would receive the acclaim and sales only a few years later. ‘Tis the melancholy truth about artists – most have to die in order for their work to matter.

So what’s so great about Gatsby? Well, a lot of things – it’s depiction of the lavish excesses and the empty morality of the very rich, but also the language. Few understood the American idiom quite as well as Fitzgerald and the words truly flow beautifully off the page. Read it aloud and you might think you’re delivering the words of an American Shakespeare into the ether. That is, perhaps, overpraising the work but many consider it to be the Great American Novel and if not that, at least the Great American Tragedy.

Given the lavish excess of the book, Australian director Baz Luhrmann might well be the perfect choice to make the film version. Three others have preceded it – a 1926 silent version which sadly has been lost to the mists of time as no prints are known to exist, although a trailer for it does and if you look it up on YouTube, you can see it. Another version was filmed in 1949 starring Alan Ladd and Betty Field but has been held up for 60 years over mysterious copyright litigation which someone needs to sort out. The most famous version is the 1974 Robert Redford/Mia Farrow version which famously flopped and has been disowned by nearly everyone involved (there was also a made for television version in 2000).

However, this one is the only one that I am aware of that is available in grand and glorious 3D. Why is it available in such a format, you might ask? So that the glitter and confetti from the various parties might seem to pop out of the screen at you. Otherwise there really is no particular necessity for it.

The film follows the book pretty faithfully – surprisingly so. Midwesterner Nick Carroway (Maguire) moves into a carriage house in the fictional Long Island community of West Egg on the grounds of the fabulous mansion of Jay Gatsby (di Caprio), a reclusive sort who throws lavish parties for which everyone who is anyone shows up at uninvited and about whom all sorts of rumors are floating about.

Nick’s cousin Daisy Buchanan (Mulligan) lives across the bay – in fact directly across from Gatsby’s mansion – with her philandering husband Tom (Edgerton), an old money sort who is a racist jerk who makes Daisy’s life miserable. Tom inexplicably bonds with Nick and takes him to visit his mistress Myrtle Wilson (Fisher), a clingy shrewish sort who is married to George (Clarke), an auto mechanic who is somewhat slavishly devoted to Myrtle and treats Tom, whose cars he repairs, as something like a potentate.

But Daisy has a secret of her own; prior to meeting Tom she was courted by Jay Gatsby, then an officer in the Army preparing to be deployed into the Great War. By the time he returned, she was married to Tom. Gatsby then set to amassing a fortune by as it turned out fairly nefarious means, utilizing underworld businessman Meyer Wolfsheim (Bachchan)  as a go-between.

Gatsby wants Nick to invite Daisy over for tea which he does; Nick genuinely likes Gatsby whose optimism appeals to Nick’s sensibilities. Once Daisy and Gatsby are together it’s like a flickering torch reignited. The two realize they are meant for each other. Gatsby urges Daisy to tell Tom that she doesn’t love him. Daisy is extremely reluctant, although it’s true. This will lead to a confrontation in the Plaza Hotel in New York that will have deadly consequences.

Luhrmann is known for visual spectacle and for thinking outside the box. He frames the story with Nick in his later years committed to a sanitarium for alcoholism, writing down the events of his youth as a means of therapy ordered by his doctor (Thompson). Fitzgerald’s words literally flow into the film as 3D graphics. It’s a nice conceit.

Luhrmann is also known for willful anachronisms – filming period films with a modern soundtrack (which includes songs by Lana del Rey, Jay Z – who supervised the soundtrack – and Andre 3000, among others) which as a personal note drives me entirely crazy. Why go to the trouble of meticulously re-creating an era which Luhrmann does and then immediately take his audience right out of it by having a jazz orchestra rapping? Methinks that Luhrmann doesn’t care if his audience is immersed in the film or not as long as they know who directed it.

Gatsby is one of the most enigmatic literary characters of the 20th century and is a notorious part to get down properly. He is a driven soul, passionate in his feelings for Daisy but absolutely amoral when it comes to money. He is a self-made man, largely willing his own image of himself into reality only to  come to understand too late that these things are illusions that are ultimately empty reflections in a mirror that we can’t see. Di Caprio once again reminds us that he is a powerful actor capable of mesmerizing performances at any given time. This is certainly one of his better works, capturing that enigma that is Gatsby and giving it flesh and soul.

Nick is our surrogate, floating in a world of wealth and privilege with eyes wide open. He joins in on the debauchery and recoils in horror as it turns savagely on itself. He watches the events unfold towards their inevitable conclusion and manages to retain his own humanity. He is a decent sort who is thoroughly capable of being corrupted – and to an extent he is – but in the end it’s his own decency that saves him. Maguire is particularly adept at radiating decency and does so here. He’s not particularly memorable – he was never going to be in this kind of role and opposite di Caprio – but he does everything you could ask of him here.

Mulligan, who burst onto the scene not long ago with an amazing performance in An Education has continued to blossom as an actress since then. This is not really a role she’s well-suited for; Daisy is a self-centered and vacuous soul who doesn’t have the courage of her own convictions. Mulligan is far too intelligent an actress to play vacuous and thus she isn’t terribly convincing in the role. Nicole Kidman might have been a better choice and she’s closer to di Caprio’s age range to boot.

There is a lot of spectacle here but sadly it is sabotaged by Luhrmann’s own imagination, which is kind of ironic. Spectacle for spectacle’s sake, as Jay Gatsby would surely have known, is an ultimately empty gesture. There is plenty here to like but one gets too distracted by the fluff. Brevity is the soul of wit and Fitzgerald was fully aware of how to use language economically. So too, simplicity is the soul of film and that is a lesson Luhrmann has yet to learn.

REASONS TO GO: Di Caprio delivers another bravura performance. Captures the era in many ways. Follows Fitzgerald’s story surprisingly closely.

REASONS TO STAY: Far too many instances of “Look, Ma, I’m Directing.” Afflicted with the Curse of the Deliberate Anachronism.

FAMILY VALUES:  There are some violent images (although none especially shocking), some sensuality, partying and smoking within a historical context and a bit of foul language.

TRIVIAL PURSUIT: Duesenbergs are the automobile of choice for Jay Gatsby but the real things are far too rare and valuable to be used as movie props. The one you see in the film is one of two replicas, each painted yellow and modified to match each other for filming.

CRITICAL MASS: As of 5/20/13: Rotten Tomatoes: 49% positive reviews. Metacritic: 54/100; critics were pretty much split right down the middle on this one.

COMPARISON SHOPPING: Moulin Rouge

FINAL RATING: 6.5/10

NEXT: The Iceman

New Releases for the Week of May 10, 2013


The Great Gatsby

THE GREAT GATSBY

(Warner Brothers) Leonardo di Caprio, Tobey Maguire, Carey Mulligan, Joel Edgerton, Isla Fisher, Jason Clarke, Amitabh Bachchan, Jack Thompson. Directed by Baz Luhrmann

A would-be writer comes to New York City from the Midwest in the Roaring ’20s to become neighbors with the notorious party boy from high society, Jay Gatsby and Gatsby’s cousin Daisy and her brutal husband Tom. As the writer is drawn into the world of the upper crust with all their deadly illusions and secrets he writes a story that reflects the world he has come to inhabit.

See the trailer, clips, promos and a featurette here.

For more on the movie this is the website.

Release formats: Standard, 3D

Genre: Drama

Rating: PG-13 (for some violent images, sexual content, smoking, partying and brief language)

From Up on Poppy Hill

(GKIDS) Starring the voices of Anton Yelchin, Gillian Anderson, Beau Bridges, Sarah Bolger. As Japan prepares to host the 1964 Olympics in Tokyo and show the world that they have returned to being a major power and fully recovered from the war, two young people join forces to save their high school’s ramshackle clubhouse from being torn down. While a budding romance develops between the two of them, they are forced to confront the changing times and attitudes that are warring with traditional values in Japan.

See the trailer here.

For more on the movie this is the website.

Release formats: Standard

Genre: Anime

Rating: PG (for mild thematic elements, and some incidental smoking images)

Go Goa Gone

(Eros International) Saif Ali Khan, Kunal Khemu, Vir Das, Puja Gupta. A group of guys, tired of being smacked around by life, decide to take a vacation on a beautiful island off the coast of Goa. Unfortunately their revelry is cut short by an invasion of zombies.

See the trailer here.

For more on the movie this is the website.

Release formats: Standard

Genre: Bollywood/Horror Comedy

Rating: R (for disturbing violent and sexual content, graphic nudity, language and some drug use) 

No One Lives

(Anchor Bay) Luke Evans, Adelaide Clemens, Lee Tergesen, Laura Ramsey. When a ruthless criminal gang takes a young couple hostage, things get bad. When they kill the girl, things get worse. There is a killer amongst them, one determined to make sure that nobody survives the night.

See the trailer here.

For more on the movie this is the website.

Release formats: Standard

Genre: Thriller

Rating: R (for strong bloody violence, disturbing images, pervasive language and some sexuality/nudity) 

Peeples

(Lionsgate) Craig Robinson, Kerry Washington, David Alan Grier, S. Epatha Merkerson. A working class guy who has fallen in love and been in a longstanding relationship with a girl from an upper class background decides to crash her family reunion so that he can ask her father for his daughter’s hand in marriage. As you can guess, things don’t go exactly as planned.

See the trailer, clips, featurettes and a promo here.

For more on the movie this is the website.

Release formats: Standard

Genre: Urban Comedy

Rating: PG-13 (for sexual content, drug material and language)  

Never Let Me Go


Never Let Me Go

Carey Mulligan, Keira Knightley and Andrew Garfield await word of who won the contest of being the most beautiful.

(2010) Science Fiction (Fox Searchlight) Keira Knightley, Carey Mulligan, Andrew Garfield, Charlotte Rampling, Sally Hawkins, Nathalie Richard, Andrea Riseborough, Isobel Meikle-Small, Charlie Rowe, Ella Purnell, Domhnall Gleeson, Kate Bowes Renna, David Sterne. Directed by Mark Romanek

 

Kazuo Ishiguro is a Japanese writer of extraordinary delicacy. Best known for Remains of the Day, he creates landscapes of melancholy and fleeting joy that remain with the reader not so much in the mind but as an ache in the heart. The novel on which this film is based was called by Time Magazine the novel of the Decade for the decade just past; it may be his best work to date.

But it is also fiendishly difficult to sum up the plot without giving too much away about the nature of the story and the ending, both of which are to the benefit of the viewer if left unsaid. There are elements of alternate world science fiction that make it even more relatable to our world, so it gets the sci-fi classification but trust me there are no bug-eyed aliens here. This is an all-too-human story that begins with a what-if postulation and ends with an examination of destiny and mortality. It is a stunning work that doesn’t always translate well to the screen, although it does have some moments of grace and heartbreak.

Kathy (Meikle-Small), Ruth (Purnell) and Tommy (Rowe) are students at the Hailsham Boarding School in an era that is both by-gone and modern. Rather than being taught history, English and mathematics, they are taught instead courtesy, duty and warned never to leave the beautifully bucolic but ultimately restrictive confines of the school. Being children, they are curious about what lies beyond the gates although such curiosity is discouraged by the school’s ramrod-stiff headmistress (Rampling).

The artistic Tommy’s paintings are collected by the mysterious Madame (Richard) for apparent exhibition elsewhere. Tommy is the object of delicious affection by Kathy who yearns for him in a way that is as sweet and pure as only an adolescent girl can yearn. However, Ruth horns her way in and winds up becoming a couple with Tommy which wounds Kathy deeply but she is the sort who simply turns her cheek and gets on with things. However, it creates a wedge between the three friends.

As an adult, Kathy (Mulligan) has taken a caretaker role in her life. Ruth (Knightley), realizing that she has come between a genuine love between her friends, is anxious to make amends while Tommy (Garfield) looks for a way out of a desperate situation.

Once again, I’m being deliberately vague so as not to spoil the movie although Romanek manages to do that himself – the tragedy hanging over the novel and the film is revealed far too early on (the novel waits until about halfway through before it is revealed; the movie, like a child unable to keep a secret, waits all of ten minutes). Still, he does one thing that is noteworthy; he manages to create screen images as beautiful as Ishiguri’s words.

Knightley, Mulligan and Garfield are three of the best young actors in movies today with Oscar nominations and acclaimed performances between them that would create an impressive enough list for any threesome. Garfield, whose lopsided grin is appealing to those who find young men’s lopsided grins attractive, hides so much pain and suffering behind that grin that it may make you weep, shows enough of that background pain in his eyes. Mulligan’s kindness is heroic in the face of her own pain, both within her life situation but at the betrayal of her love by Ruth and Tommy, although her capacity to forgive is spectacular to say the least.

It should also be noted that the juvenile actors who play Kathy, Ruth and Tommy as young boarding school students give heroically advanced performances for actors of their tender years. Particularly Meikle-Small, who holds up impressively well with her adult counterpart Mulligan who is no slouch. There is one scene in which Meikle-Small listens to a romantic pop song alone in her bedroom and shows that sweet adolescent yearning for love and romance that young girls wish for, to be swept up off their feet by dashing young princes who are cute and oh so amazing! and often never live up to those sweet expectations. It is a marvelous moment that I do believe every woman who has ever been there can relate to.

Those of you who have read the novel will know that it may not be possible for a movie to live up to the original source material and that’s okay. This movie does a pretty fine job of bringing what may well turn out to be Ishiguro’s masterwork to the screen, which is really all you can ask. If only Romanek had resisted the temptation to tip the novel’s hand too early.

WHY RENT THIS: Bittersweet and beautiful. Strong performances from its young and juvenile casts.

WHY RENT SOMETHING ELSE: May be too bleak for some. Film’s twist and ending spoiled too early on.

FAMILY VALUES: There’s a bit of sexuality and some nudity.

TRIVIAL PURSUIT: Mulligan had to learn how to drive for the film. She took a two-week crash course and failed the driving test. Her driving scenes were therefore filmed on private roads, the only places she was allowed to drive.

NOTABLE HOME VIDEO EXTRAS: There are collections of Romanek’s on-set photography, Tommy’s artwork and the graphics extolling Hailsham and the program it represents.

BOX OFFICE PERFORMANCE: $9.5M on a $15M production budget; didn’t earn back it’s production costs during its theatrical run..

COMPARISON SHOPPING: The Island

FINAL RATING: 7.5/10

NEXT: Sleepwalk With Me

Brothers (2009)


Brothers

Tobey Maguire reactsas Natalie Portman gives him the news that she likes Thor far more than Spider-Man.

(2009) Drama (Lionsgate) Jake Gyllenhaal, Natalie Portman, Tobey Maguire, Bailee Madison, Taylor Geare, Sam Shepard, Mare Winningham, Patrick Flueger, Clifton Collins Jr., Josh Berry, Carey Mulligan, Ethan Suplee, Omid Abtahi. Directed by Jim Sheridan

 

The thing about brothers is that even though they come from the same genetics, sometimes they are nothing alike on the surface. Often though, they are more alike than you might think even though they don’t appear to be at first glance.

Sam Cahill (Maguire) is a family man and a respected marine. His men adore him, his family worships him and his father Hank (Shepard), ex-military himself, respects him. Sam’s wife Grace (Portman) loves him without reservation and has given him two sweet young daughters – precocious Isabelle (Madison) and adorable Maggie (Geare).

Sam’s brother Tommy (Gyllenhaal) is a different matter. He’s just out of prison where he served time for armed robbery. His father is ashamed by him, his sister-in-law barely tolerates him and only his brother and nieces seem to think that he has any value to him at all. Tommy is determined to make a fresh start and stay clean, but he’s said that before and unfortunately Sam is about to be deployed to Afghanistan. He’s made it through three tours though and while Grace is worried she knows that he’ll move heaven and earth to make it back safely.

But this time, he doesn’t. Word comes in that the helicopter that Sam was in went down and all aboard were lost. Because it went down in the water, there isn’t even a body to ship home for them to bury. They’re all devastated, Tommy and Grace most of all. Hidden resentments between Tommy and Hank come out at the funeral despite the efforts of Elsie (Winningham) – Tommy and Sam’s mom, Hank’s wife – to keep the peace. Hank’s alcohol problem becomes a bit more noticeable now.

Tommy is racked with guilt – guilt over things unsaid, things undone. There are some repairs to the kitchen that Sam had always been meaning to get to but never had. Tommy makes that his personal mission now. He recruits some locals to help build Grace a new kitchen. He becomes closer to Sam’s kids, almost a big brother instead of a screw-up uncle. He and Grace begin to not only develop a closer relationship, but one which might go further than either one ever imagined.

Except that the reports of Sam’s demise turned out to be somewhat exaggerated. It turns out that Sam and fellow New Mexican Joe Willis (Flueger) were captured by the Taliban. Both were held by them for over a year, under constant torture and in cruel and inhuman conditions. In order to survive, Sam is forced to do heinous deeds – things that haunt him long after he’s rescued and brought home.

Once home, things don’t get any better for Sam. He’s paranoid and haunted by his terrible wartime secrets. He’s also convinced that Tommy and Grace had been sleeping with each other. The trouble with that is that even though nothing has happened between Tommy and Grace other than a somewhat passionate kiss after an evening of drinking, it wasn’t that the thought hadn’t crossed their minds to take it farther. And despite their protestations to the contrary, Sam can’t get past his fears, leading to an inevitable confrontation that may lead to tragedy.

This is based on the Danish film Brodre by Suzanne Bier which was a much more spare, Spartan film which was largely improvised. This here is far more scripted and features three actors at the top of their games – Portman (who would go on to win an Oscar just a year later), Gyllenhaal (who’d already been nominated for one) and Maguire, best known for his portrayal of Peter Parker in the Spider-Man franchise.

In many ways Maguire has the most opportunity here and he seizes it. Generally he hasn’t had to access the darker aspects of his nature, but here he certainly must; it is the kind of performance that opens your eyes to new possibilities for an actor. Quite honestly, I’d always thought Maguire made a fine Peter Parker – a bit of a nerd with a few action chops and a pretty decent sense of comic timing. However, here he shows he’s capable of considerably darker roles and hopefully he’ll get considered for a few.

Gyllenhaal has a less meaty role as the brother finding redemption as he tries to pick up the pieces after a tragedy. The thing to remember here is that Gyllenhaal had a tragedy of his own to deal with – it was while he was filming this movie that his close friend Heath Ledger passed away, a passing that affected him deeply. Much of the middle third of the movie has Tommy dealing with the grief of the mistaken news of Sam’s passing; I don’t know how much of that portion of the movie was filmed before the news broke about Ledger but Tommy’s grief was a caged tiger throughout the movie, kept carefully inside his enclosure but the claws come out unexpectedly. It’s an understated performance that may not be flashy but compliments his other two leads nicely.

Portman is really in many ways the center of the movie, although ostensibly this is about the relationship between Sam and Tommy. She’s the lynchpin, the crux which the story revolves around. She’s not merely a plot device; she has real emotions, turning her grief into a renewed closeness to her daughters. Like Gyllenhaal, the performance is restrained and subtle; as a mom, she has to keep a lot of her anguish inside for the sake of her kids who need to lean on her as their rock (as does Tommy, to be honest). She’s very much a salt of the earth sort, one who does her duty without fanfare or need for applause – every inch the military wife. It wouldn’t surprise me if Portman spent some time with military wives to gain insight.

For the most part, the plot moves at a crisp and even pace. That is, until the third act when things break down a little bit. Part of it is due to story construction – we know what Sam is hiding, and a good deal of time has been spent showing us what he went through. It might have been far more effective to leave that offscreen (or told in flashback form) so that we are on the same level playing field with Sam’s family leaving us off-balance when Sam starts to change. At that point, the movie goes in a fairly predictable direction.

Still, with performances such as the ones in the lead roles you really can’t lose. While I wish that we were left to wonder, as Grace was, why her husband was acting the way he was, I can’t quarrel with the strength of the underlying material nor with its timeliness. This is one of those movies that might have escaped your notice both at the box office and as a rental that you might want to give a second look to.

WHY RENT THIS: The performances of the three leads are riveting. Tautly directed and well-paced.

WHY RENT SOMETHING ELSE: Loses steam in the third act. Too many subplots.

FAMILY VALUES:  There is bad language and violence; some of the latter is pretty disturbing.

TRIVIAL PURSUIT: When a back injury threatened to derail Maguire’s participation in Spider-Man 2, Gyllenhaal would have been the first choice to replace him. 

NOTABLE DVD EXTRAS: There is a featurette on how the picture developed from the Danish original and how the two films compare.

BOX OFFICE PERFORMANCE: $43.3M on a $26M production budget; the movie fell just shy of breaking even at the box office.

COMPARISON SHOPPING: The Hurt Locker

FINAL RATING: 6.5/10

NEXT: Scream 4