Mom and Dad


Nicolas Cage just wants to have a chat.

(2017) Horror Comedy (Momentum) Nicolas Cage, Selma Blair, Anne Winters, Zackary Arthur, Robert Cunningham, Olivia Crocicchia, Lance Henriksen, Marilyn Dodds Frank, Samantha Lemole, Joseph D. Reitman, Rachel Melvin, Bobby Richards, Sharon Gee, Edwin Lee Gibson, Brionne Davis, Mehmet Oz, Grant Morrison, Bokeem Woodbine, Adin Alexa Steckler, Lorena Diaz. Directed by Brian Taylor

 

Most parents, at one time or another, want to kill their children. Not literally of course; it’s just that sometimes the frustrations of parenting (particularly with teens) can give rise to a fantasy of genuine mayhem against our offspring. It isn’t something parents like to admit but it is perfectly normal for, once in awhile, for parents to absolutely hate their offspring.

From all outward appearances, the Ryan family seems to be perfectly harmonious. A poster family for suburban bliss, the family is anything but behind closed doors. Father Brent (Cage) is stressed at work and is mystified as to how to handle his two children; mother Kendall (Blair) feels underappreciated and her relationship with daughter Carly (Winters) has completely disintegrated. Carly steals money from her parents, lies to them consistently and is basically the kind of teen that whines consistently about her parents but acts like an absolute bitch to them at every turn. Finally youngest Josh (Arthur) acts out and at 10 seems to have the issues of someone much older. Oh joy, right?

Then something weird happens. All over town, parents get a sudden irresistible urge to kill their own children. Not their grandchildren, not their nieces and nephews, not the neighbor’s kids, just their own offspring. And they aren’t out to off them in humane ways; the more bloodshed and violence, the better.

Carly, knowing her young brother is in mortal danger, rushes home to keep him safe in a rare and unexpected case of actual feelings for someone other than herself, but both parents are home and the two kids have to barricade themselves in various rooms in order to survive. That’s when Brent’s parents (Henriksen, Frank) arrive for a previously planned dinner…

Nobody plays manic like Nicolas Cage plays manic. As such this is pretty much the perfect role for him; he goes from playing father of the month (definitely not of the year) to a crazed homicidal maniac often in mere seconds. Some folks give Cage a whole lot of grief about his career choices but this shouldn’t be an occasion for that. He’s clearly having fun onscreen – he has stated in interviews that this was the most fun he’s had making a movie in more than a decade – and that enjoyment shows through. This isn’t just the most fun he’s had in ten years but maybe his best performance in that time, although there are a couple that give him a run for his money such as his 2013 drama Joe.

Most of the rest of the cast can’t stand up to Hurricane Cage although Blair gives a magnificent effort. Winters plays Carly a bit too well – she’s such a nightmare at the start of the movie that one actively roots for some kind of strange virus that will compel her parents to kill her horribly…oh, good. That makes it harder to buy her abrupt personality change once the carnage begins.

However, the real star here is Taylor, who along with sometime partner Mark Neveldine delivered the Crank films. Like those action comedies, the pacing is breakneck – at least once the mayhem starts – and the mayhem is cleverly done. Some might find it a little bit gruesome and more than a few will be completely affronted by the subject matter.

If you take it in the spirit in which it’s meant, Mom and Dad is an exceptionally entertaining film despite its blackest of black humor. There are some issues with the writing – a lot of the scenes seem disconnected from one another rather than flowing harmoniously as a story. Taylor also uses a fade to black with such regularity that it becomes completely annoying. However, these are mainly minor little faults  in what is a thoroughly enjoyable parental fantasy that may allow parents having a difficult time with their progeny to blow off some much-needed steam.

REASONS TO GO: Cage is at his twitchy best. The gore and violence have a great sense of black comedy. There’s no rhyme or reason to this but there doesn’t need to be. The film starts a bit slowly but once it gets going the pacing is non-stop.
REASONS TO STAY: Carly is such a nightmare teen you hope she gets horribly murdered. The scenes seem to be disconnected from each other.
FAMILY VALUES: There is a ton of violence, some of it extreme; there’s also plenty of profanity, some sexuality and drug content involving teens.
TRIVIAL PURSUIT: The movie was filmed largely in Louisville, Kentucky.
BEYOND THE THEATER: Amazon, Fandango Now, Google Play, iTunes, Vudu, YouTube
CRITICAL MASS: As of 3/718: Rotten Tomatoes: 74% positive reviews. Metacritic: 58/100.
COMPARISON SHOPPING: The Crazies
FINAL RATING: 7.5/10
NEXT:
Get Me Roger Stone

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The Belko Experiment


Things are getting a little heated back at the office.

(2016) Horror (BH Tilt/High Top/Orion) John Gallagher Jr., Adria Arjona, Tony Goldwyn, John C. McGinley, Melonie Diaz, Owain Yeoman, Sean Gunn, Brent Sexton, Josh Brener, David Dastmalchian, David Del Rio, Gregg Henry, Michael Rooker, Rusty Schwimmer, Gail Bean, James Earl, Abraham Benrubi, Valentine Miele, Steven Blackehart, Benjamin Byron Davis, Silvia de Dios. Directed by Greg McLean

 

There’s no doubt that the corporate environment in 2017 is as cutthroat as it’s ever been. Ambitious office drones plot their way to promotions that bring them out of the environment of living paycheck to paycheck and into management where they can make some real money; others plot to preserve their place in the pecking order. Either way, the office is no place for the faint of heart.

Belko Corporation is described as a non-profit that helps large companies recruit American workers to South American locations. They have a large tower located outside of Bogota, Colombia – well outside of Bogota. Mike Milch (Gallagher) is a fairly humdrum middle management type who is involved in a clandestine romance with co-worker Leandra Florez (Arjona) as that sort of thing is discouraged by Belko, who somewhat appropriately incorporate the figure of an eye into their corporate logo. It is not stretching things to say that most of the people who work in the building have no clue what they do for the company.

One unremarkable morning Mike drives into work to discover an increased security presence and that all the local Colombian workers are being turned away from work. He thinks nothing of it – until a disembodied voice comes on the PA system to announce that the 80 or so workers remaining in the building must select two among their number to murder – or else double that number would be selected at random. Everyone thinks it’s a practical joke in poor taste – until the heads of four people suddenly explode.

At first believing the carnage to be the work of a random sniper, there is panic as people try to get under cover. That’s when large blowtorch-proof metal doors and shutters encase the building in a steel cocoon. There is no leaving and as the voice informs them that they’ll need to find 20 workers to dispatch to the choir invisible or once again double that number would be random victims.

Quickly the social order begins to devolve. The company’s COO Barry Norris (Goldwyn) tries to preach calm and order until he becomes convinced that the only way to buy time is to do what the voice commands, especially when it becomes apparent that every move they make is being observed (remember the eye?) by the disembodied voice. Joining him are a number of management types who want to maintain control of the situation, including Wendell Dukes (McGinley), the kind of manager nobody ever wants to work under. Mike is trying to keep from having anyone die but his voice is not getting heard in the increasing panic. Before too long things fall completely apart and everyone starts looking out for their own ass if they are to survive the worst workday ever.

The movie was penned by current fan favorite James Gunn (Guardians of the Galaxy Vol. 2) as a bit of a passion project but it has languished on the shelf while Gunn has been shepherding the two Marvel space operas to money-printing status. He left the property however in the capable hands of Aussie director McLean (Wolf Creek) who does a yeoman job bringing the script to life.

Most of the actors are better known by face than by name and while there is a black comedy element to the proceedings it never gets to the point of silliness which often happens with horror comedies. Of course, this is as allegorical as it gets to what corporate culture has become in terms of treating employees as disposable resources in which salary and benefits are necessary evils and when the need for those workers dissipates, so do the workers.

Rooker, who has become one of Gunn’s go-to guys, excels as a building engineer as does Goldwyn as a boss who is friendly and supportive on the outside but loses any semblance of concern for his employees when the rubber hits the road. Gallagher and Arjona are okay in the lead roles but aren’t particularly memorable. James’ brother Sean is memorable as a stoner and Schwimmer as the office mother hen is strong.

There are a lot of heads exploding here (having to do with a tracking chip that American workers receive in countries where kidnappings are common) and many gruesome deaths by axe to the face or stapler to the skull. I might have wished for a little more variety to the murders – I would imagine in an office environment there would be plenty of supplies that could do some real damage. A little more imagination in this department would have been welcome. It also should be said that those sensitive to gore and carnage will likely have a rough time with The Belko Experiment.

The movie loses momentum in the second half which is basically a survivalist epic and the denouement is a bit disappointing although there are some pop culture references of the blink and you’ll miss them variety that add some richness to the last moments of the movie. I was hoping for a little bit more from the film but to be honest it is solidly entertaining and horror fans looking for something a little bit different could do a lot worse than to look in this direction.

REASONS TO GO: The film is clever, particularly in the first half. Some fine actors turn in strong performances.
REASONS TO STAY: The gore might be a little bit too extreme for some. The film loses steam in the second half.
FAMILY VALUES: Oh my, there’s plenty of gore and violence, profanity, some drug use and brief sensuality.
TRIVIAL PURSUIT: James Gunn was originally set to direct this from his own screenplay but felt that the violence was not what he needed in his life as he was going through a painful divorce, plus he was also hard at work on Guardians of the Galaxy Vol. 2.
CRITICAL MASS: As of 5/9/17: Rotten Tomatoes: 49% positive reviews. Metacritic: 44/100.
COMPARISON SHOPPING: Battle Royale
FINAL RATING: 6.5/10
NEXT: New Chefs on the Block

Underworld: Blood Wars


Never tell Selene that her catsuit makes her look fat.

Never tell Selene that her catsuit makes her look fat.

(2016) Action Horror (Screen Gems) Kate Beckinsale, Theo James, Tobias Menzies, Lara Pulver, Charles Dance, James Faulkner, Peter Andersson, Clementine Nicholson, Bradley James, Daisy Head, Oliver Stark, Zuzana Stivinova, Brian Caspe, Jan Nemejovsky, Sveta Driga, Dan Bradford, David Bowles, Rostislav Novak, Tomas Fisher, Eva Lavoire. Directed by Anna Foerster

 

Sometimes audiences don’t need a whole lot to be happy. They don’t need a coherent plot or character development. They just want to sit back, relax and shut their brains off for a couple of hours. It’s not much to ask. In other words, sometimes a concept is enough to satisfy an audience. This explains why the Underworld franchise has confounded critics by surviving 13 years and five movies without any letup in popularity.

A lot of the reason behind that is Kate Beckinsale. She plays Selene, a former member of the Death Dealers, an elite squad of vampires who exterminate their mortal enemies the Lycans (a.k.a. werewolves). These days, Selene is a renegade, on the run from both Lycans and vampires alike. She is aided only by David (T. James), son of Thomas (Dance) who at one time was Selene’s enemy but is now her only ally on the Eastern coven council.

The war isn’t going well for the vampires and in their dogged pursuit of Selene has led them to fighting a war on two fronts. Their Death Dealers have been depleted and while they are training new ones, the coven is vulnerable. Council member Semira (Pulver) realizes this and entreats Thomas to convince council leader Cassius (Faulkner) to revoke the exile of Selene and bring her back to train the Death Dealers.

Meanwhile, the Lycans have grown more powerful led by Marius (Menzies), their leader who has united the Lycan clans like nobody else ever has. They want Selene’s daughter Eve whose blood contains both Lycan and vampire elements along with human – she is the key to victory for both sides. Selene however doesn’t know where Eve is which is the way she wants it to protect her daughter. That doesn’t stop the machinations of various parties within both the Lycan and vampire communities who will betray anyone and stop and nothing to find Eve – and to do so they all believe they must control Selene. But can Selene be controlled?

As I said earlier, the plot is convoluted and often senseless but that’s unimportant; what matters is vampires vs. werewolves and there is plenty of that, plenty of carnage (including spines being ripped out and bodies being cleaved in half) and of course plenty of Beckinsale in skintight leather. Say what you want to about the franchise but there is no doubt that Beckinsale has made Selene one of the more formidable female action heroes of the 21st century. Critics however lament that the extremely talented actress who showed her abilities in Love and Friendship last year has been slumming by appearing in these films. Paychecks like the ones she gets from the Underworld series are what allow her to appear in less lucrative but more substantial roles like the one mentioned.

Beckinsale is as always the best reason to see these movies and while she seems a little more restrained here than in previous incarnations of the franchise, she has a presence nonetheless that keeps the focus on her every time she’s on the screen. There are those who grouse that the catsuit she wears is demeaning to women but I hear nobody complain that the ripped shirts (and occasionally shirtless look) that male action stars often wear are demeaning to them. Sex appeal remains a big selling point for action movies.

Like most of the Underworld films the lighting is dim which looks cool enough but makes some of the action sequences hard to follow which becomes a particular problem given the accelerated reflexes of the two warring factions. Again, the vampires are portrayed as indolent Eurotrash while the Lycans come off as kind of grunge chic. Also as usual, other than Selene and maybe David there is little in the way of character development, leading to all the various supporting roles to kind of blend together.

Then again, that scarcely matters. What the audience for these films are looking for are right here in great quantities. First-time feature film director Foerster (who cut her teeth on the Starz Outlander series) clearly demonstrates an understanding of the wants and needs of the audience and if she doesn’t apply much of a stamp of her own to the franchise is more likely due to the producers wanting to keep thematic and tonal continuity between the various films more than anything. I’m actually interested in seeing how Foerster does with other action, adventure and genre films in the future; I suspect she would supply a much-needed female voice to what is largely a male-dominated profession. After all, women like a good brainless action and/or genre film just as much as the next guy.

REASONS TO GO: It’s really more of the same, so if you like the same…
REASONS TO STAY: …and if you don’t…
FAMILY VALUES: There’s a ton of violence, quite a bit of blood and some sexuality.
TRIVIAL PURSUIT: Although this was initially believed to be the final film in the series, producer Len Wiseman has confirmed that a sequel is in the planning stages with Beckinsale returning as Selene.
CRITICAL MASS: As of 2/2/17: Rotten Tomatoes: 17% positive reviews. Metacritic: 22/100.
COMPARISON SHOPPING: The Lost Boys
FINAL RATING: 5/10
NEXT: Elle

Carnage (2011)


The definition of awkward civility.

The definition of awkward civility.

(2011) Dramedy (Sony Classics) Jodie Foster, Kate Winslet, Christoph Waltz, John C. Reilly, Elvis Polanski, Eliot Berger, Joe Rezwin (voice), Nathan Rippy (voice), Tanya Lopert (voice), Julie Adams (voice), Lexie Kendrick (voice). Directed by Roman Polanski

For a very long time, philosophers and psychologists have examined the thin veneer of civilization that masks humankind; the term used for it is “the ape in the velvet cloak.” It is uncomfortably easy to strip that cloak off to reveal the gorilla within it, and it happens all too often.

Two children have had a violent encounter in the park. Little Zachary Cowan (E. Polanski) has smacked little Ethan Longstreet (Berger) in the face with a stick, knocking out some teeth in the process. Now their parents are getting together to resolve the matter.

In the Brooklyn apartment of Michael (Reilly) and Penelope (Foster) Longstreet are Alan (Waltz) and Nancy (Winslet) Cowan. These are all four successful people, who are confident that they can resolve this incident in a civilized manner. They are constantly being interrupted however by business calls to Alan, who is a lawyer for a less-than-above-board pharmaceutical firm. Michael’s ill mother (Lopert) is also calling him, and as it turns out she’s using the prescription drug that is at the center of controversy for Alan’s client.

As the afternoon wears on and a convivial drink turns to several, the conversation becomes less civil and long-submerged grievances come to the surface. When they do, the behavior turns childish and petty, the marriages turn out to be less stable than they first appeared to be. Alliances between couples, between social classes dissolve and reform only to dissolve again. A conversation that appeared to have been resolved in the first 20 minutes has continued for an hour and a half and threatens to change the dynamic in the relationships and self-worth of all four “adults” involved.

To preface the rest of the review, I am fully aware of the name on the director’s chair and of the crime that he committed that forced him to flee this country and never return. There are those who will see that name and choose not to see this movie or even read further this review. Fair enough. I understand the sentiment and only wish you to know that by publishing this review I am neither condoning his actions of thirty years ago nor supporting him as a person. I am merely reviewing this movie and you can make of that what you will.

Polanski is incomparable at setting a mood and he manages to ratchet up the tension here to nearly unbearable levels. The anger is palpable, almost a fifth presence in the cramped apartment and the four walls that make up the setting of the movie (except for a brief prologue and epilogue) close in not only on the participants but on the audience as well.

The movie starts with pleasantness between the two couples, morphing into awkward civility before blowing up into downright hostility and the descent is a quick but logical one. It helps that you have four Oscar caliber actors – three winners and the fourth a nominee – who by themselves can carry a movie. Having four of them together makes this an experience no fan of great acting performances will want to miss.

Where the movie falls short actually is a fault of the original play that this is based on. The business at hand is actually concluded early on; there is no logical reason for the Nancy and Michael to remain in the Longstreets apartment and yet they do and it is quite frankly a bit of a contrivance. There’s also a subplot involving a hamster that in all honesty seems to be there to pad the film’s running time. The ending lacks punch and gives the effect of a movie that just fizzles out like a dud firecracker, not the way you want your audience to leave the auditorium.

There is definitely a stage-y quality to the movie that I believe that Polanski meant to do on purpose, to give the film audience the effect of being in a small locked room with the characters which further heightens the discomfort and awkwardness. I don’t think anyone wants to be in a room with a bunch of people acting childishly and maliciously, doing venal things to score psychological points and you may not choose to want to spend the full hour and a half with these people either, although quite frankly with a better ending it might have been worth the wait. Despite the great performances which I do recommend, there isn’t much of a reason to subject yourself to this at all.

WHY RENT THIS: Terrific actors giving strong performances.
WHY RENT SOMETHING ELSE: Claustrophobic. Pointless.
FAMILY VALUES: There is enough profanity to warrant an R rating.
TRIVIAL PURSUIT: The movie was shot in real time without breaks and, with the exception of the scenes in the park, in a single location.
NOTABLE DVD EXTRAS: There’s a Q&A with Waltz and Reilly, as well as footage from the film’s gala premiere.
BOX OFFICE PERFORMANCE: $27.6M on a $25M production budget.
SITES TO SEE: Netflix (DVD/Blu-Ray rental only), Amazon, iTunes, Vudu, Flixster
COMPARISON SHOPPING: Who’s Afraid of Virginia Woolf?
FINAL RATING: 5/10
NEXT: Entourage

New Releases for the Week of January 13, 2012


January 13, 2012

CONTRABAND

(Universal) Mark Wahlberg, Kate Beckinsale, Ben Foster, Giovanni Ribisi, Caleb Landry Jones, Lukas Haas, Diego Luna, J.K. Simmons, William Lucking. Directed by Baltasar Komakur

A former smuggler who had managed to escape the life of crime and go straight is drawn back in when his foolish brother-in-law screws up a drug deal and has to get rid of his cargo. Trying to make up for his brother-in-law’s foul-up not only brings him back into the life, but also puts his wife and sons into the crosshairs of the druglords and crooked cops who have a vested interest in his new cargo – counterfeit bills being smuggled in from Panama to New Orleans. He will have to rely on some very rusty skills if he is to see this thing through.

See the trailer, clips, promos, an interview and web-only content here.

For more on the movie this is the website.

Release formats: Standard

Genre: Action

Rating: R (for violence, pervasive language and brief drug use)

Beauty and the Beast 3D

(Disney) Paige O’Hara, Robby Benson, Angela Lansbury, Jerry Orbach. After a successful re-release of The Lion King last year, Disney once again moves to add a third dimension to another classic movie. While some (myself included) have bitched about the Mouse House squeezing every last dime from their classic films, it might be well to remember that they have had a history in the pre-home video days of periodically re-releasing their classics for those who haven’t seen it in a theater. Of course, they didn’t up-charge for those re-releases either…

See the trailer, clips, featurettes, music videos and a link to buy the movie at Amazon.com here.

For more on the movie this is the website

Release formats: Standard

Genre: Animated Feature

Rating: G

Carnage

(Sony Classics) Jodie Foster, Kate Winslet, Christoph Waltz, John C. Reilly.  The latest from director Roman Polanski is based on an acclaimed stage play. When a child injures another child in a Brooklyn park, the parents get together to discuss the situation in a civilized and adult manner. However as the evening wears on, the veneer of civilization begins to dissolve and the “adults” prove to be worse than children.

See the trailer and clips here.

For more on the movie this is the website.

Release formats: Standard

Genre: Drama

Rating: R (for language)

The Iron Lady

(Weinstein) Meryl Streep, Jim Broadbent, Roger Allam, Anthony Head. The story of Margaret Thatcher, one of the most powerful women of the 20th century and an icon of the conservative movement. Her era as Prime Minister is roughly concurrent to the Reagan years here and was very similar in many ways – neither Reagan nor Thatcher would have been considered leadership material and yet through savvy politicking and an understanding of what their electorates needed, both became influential in the world of the 1980s and their leadership, for good or not, still has ramifications in the world today.

See the trailer, a promo, a featurette and a clip here.

For more on the movie this is the website.

Release formats: Standard

Genre: Biographical Drama

Rating: PG-13 (for some violent images and brief nudity)

Joyful Noise

(Warner Brothers) Queen Latifah, Dolly Parton, Keke Palmer, Courtney B. Vance. Two feuding divas in a church choir find their tiff growing when one’s grandson falls for the other’s daughter. On top of it all, their choir is competing in the National Joyful Noise Competition and their community is counting on them to bring home the gold, which is hard to do when their best can’t agree on anything.

See the trailer and a clip here.

For more on the movie this is the website

Release formats: Standard

Genre: Musical

Rating: PG-13 (for some language including a sexual reference)

Four-Warned: December 2011


December 2011Every month I’m going to look at every movie on the release schedule and try to assign them a numerical value corresponding to how anxious I am to see it. The lower the number, the more I want to see it. A one means I would walk through hell and high water to see it; a four means there’s no interest whatsoever. The numbers are not arrived at scientifically but they aren’t arbitrary either.
The numbers aren’t a reflection of the artistic merit of any of these films, but merely a reflection of my willingness to go to a movie theater and see it. The top four scores will be gathered as a means of reflecting the movies I’m anticipating the most; you may use that as a guide or not.

Each entry is broken down as follows:

NAME OF FILM (Studio) Genre A brief description of the plot. Release plans: Wide = Everywhere, Limited = In selected markets. RATING A brief comment

Keep in mind that release dates are extremely subject to change, even at this late date.

FOUR TO SEE

1. EXTREMELY LOUD AND INCREDIBLY CLOSE (1.0)
2. SHERLOCK HOLMES: A GAME OF SHADOWS (1.3)
3. THE ADVENTURES OF TINTIN (1.5)
4. THE GIRL WITH THE DRAGON TATTOO (1.6)

FOUR TO SEEK OUT (FILMS NOT IN WIDE RELEASE)

1. THE LADY (1.3)
2. THE BIG FIX(1.4)
TIE. CARNAGE (1.4)
4. WE NEED TO TALK ABOUT KEVIN (1.8)

RATING SYSTEM: 1) Must-see, 2) Should-see, 3) Perhaps-see, 4) Don’t-see

DECEMBER 2, 2011

A WARRIOR’S HEART (Xerxes) Genre: Sports Drama. A young man grieving over his father’s death in Iraq finds solace in a lacrosse camp run by a Native American soldier who served with his dad. Release Strategy: Limited. RATING: 3.7 Was the world really waiting for a lacrosse movie?
ANSWERS TO NOTHING (Roadside Attractions) Genre: Drama. A missing child investigation has different effects on several Los Angelenos hiding their own secrets. Release Strategy: Limited. RATING: 2.4 Stellar cast led by Dane Cook in an unusually dramatic role.
THE BIG FIX (Green Planet) Genre: Documentary. Exposes the myth that the BP Oil Spill in the Gulf of Mexico has been cleaned up, and shows the troubling control that Big Oil has on our political system. Release Strategy: New York City only. RATING: 1.4 Could wind up being one of the most important documentaries of the year.
CORIOLANUS (Weinstein) Genre: Documentary. A Roman general, expelled from his city, allies himself with his mortal enemy to take revenge. Release Strategy: New York City/Los Angeles (opening in limited release January 20). RATING: 2.0 Ralph Fiennes directs and stars in this adaptation of one of Shakespeare’s lesser-known plays.
I AM SINGH (Reliance Big Pictures) Genre: Thriller. In the wake of 9-11, Sikhs are discriminated against and beaten by Americans thinking they are terrorists. Release Strategy: Limited. RATING: 2.8 A fascinating idea for a movie but the trailer looks a bit overwrought.
LADS & JOCKEYS (Music Box) Genre: Documentary. The lives of three inhabitants of a school for horse racing jockeys in Chantilly, France is profiled. Release Strategy: New York City only. RATING: 3.2 Will definitely appeal to those who love horses and horse racing, not so much to everyone else.
THE LADY (Cohen Media Group) Genre: True Life Drama. Aung San Suu Kyi fights for democracy and peace in Burma against the despotic regime there at the cost of her family. Release Strategy: Limited. RATING: 1.3 One of the most compelling stories of our time with one of the most compelling actresses (Michelle Yeoh) of our time starring in it.
OUTRAGE (Magnet) Genre: Crime Thriller. Rival clans vie for position in the Japanese yakuza. Release Strategy: Limited. RATING: 1.9 An ultra-violent Japanese mobster flick looks to be one of the best of its genre in a very long time.
SHAME (Fox Searchlight) Genre: Drama. A man with a sex addiction has his life thrown completely out of kilter when his wayward younger sister moves into his apartment, sparking painful memories of the past. Release Strategy: Limited. RATING: 2.0 Michael Fassbender reunites with Hunger director Steve McQueen in a very sexually explicit drama.
SLEEPING BEAUTY (IFC) Genre: Drama. A reckless university student takes a job as a sex worker, allowing old men to have erotic experiences with her as she sleeps; her work eventually commences to bleed into her waking life. Release Strategy: Limited. RATING: 2.6 A very sensuous, intriguing trailer.

DECEMBER 9, 2011

CATCH .44 (Anchor Bay) Genre: Action. A seemingly straightforward assignment to pick up a drug shipment at an isolated diner turns into a free-for-all orgy of violence and betrayal. Release Strategy: New York City/Charlotte. RATING: 2.9 A great cast including Bruce Willis and Forest Whitaker but a kind of weak trailer.
I MELT WITH YOU (Magnolia) Genre: Drama. Four college buddies go off for an annual weekend in Big Sur but the debauchery leads to some revelations about their dissatisfaction with their lives. Release Strategy: Limited. RATING: 2.5 Cast includes Rob Lowe, Jeremy Piven and Thomas Jane, three actors who are always worth seeking out.
IN DARKNESS (Sony Classics) Genre: Biographical Drama. Leopold Socha, a sewer worker and petty thief whose only loyalty is to money, hides Jews in his sewer in World War II Poland. Release Strategy: New York City/Los Angeles one week qualifying run (Opening in limited release January 27). RATING: 2.0 A compelling story from an amazing director.
KNUCKLE (ARC Entertainment) Genre: Documentary. A pair of feuding families in the Irish Traveler bare knuckle fighting underground society are portrayed. Release Strategy: Limited. RATING: 3.1 Kind of looks fascinating but kind of doesn’t; I’m not quite sure which.
LADIES VS. RICKY BAHL (Yash Raj) Genre: Bollywood. A slick con artist who uses his good looks to charm women out of their money gets his comeuppance when his victims unite to take him. Release Strategy: Limited. RATING: 2.3 Lighthearted, effervescent and disposable, this is what Bollywood is all about.
MY PIECE OF THE PIE (Sundance Selects) Genre: Drama. An out of work single mom takes a job as a housekeeper for a ruthless financial magnate in Paris. Release Strategy: New York City only. RATING: 2.6 Cedric Klapisch is one of the best filmmakers you’ve never heard of.
NEW YEAR’S EVE (New Line) Genre: Romantic Comedy. A group of people in varying romantic situations converge on New York City for New Year’s Eve in Times Square. Release Strategy: Wide. RATING: 2.4 Along the same lines as 2010’s Valentine’s Day.
THE SITTER (20th Century Fox) Genre: Comedy. A slacker college student living with his mom is forced to babysit three precocious kids, bringing on the chaos in triplicate. Release Strategy: Wide. RATING: 2.9 It’s Adventures in Babysitting with Jonah Hill and if that sounds appealing to you by all means have at it.
TINKER, TAILOR, SOLDIER, SPY (Focus) Genre: Spy Thriller. A British spy comes out of retirement to smoke out a double agent in the ranks of the British Secret Intelligence Agency. Release Strategy: New York City/Los Angeles (Opening in limited release December 16). RATING: 2.3 One of the greatest novels from one of the greatest espionage thriller writers ever (John Le Carre) finally makes it to the big screen.
W.E. (Columbia) Genre: Romance. A modern romantic looks into the lives of King Edward VIII and Wallis Simpson, whom he gave up his throne for and discovers their relationship wasn’t as perfect as she thought. Release Strategy: New York City/Los Angeles (one week Oscar qualifying run; opening in limited release February 3). RATING: 2.9 Madonna’s the director; don’t judge.
WE NEED TO TALK ABOUT KEVIN (Oscilloscope Laboratories) Genre: Psychological Thriller. When her son turns out to be sociopathic, a mother’s culpability comes under scrutiny. Release Strategy: New York City/Los Angeles 1 week Oscar qualifying run (Opening in limited release January 27). RATING: 1.8 One of the creepiest and most disturbing trailers I’ve seen in a long while.
YOUNG ADULT (Paramount) Genre: Black Comedy. An amoral writer of children’s books returns home for a high school reunion with one eye turned towards the prospect of stealing her high school crush from his wife. Release Strategy: Limited (opens wide December 16). RATING: 2.1 Looks like one of those comedies where you laugh hard and then feel ashamed, but in a good way.

DECEMBER 12, 2011

DAGUERREOTYPES (Cinema Guild) Genre: Documentary. The shops and shopkeepers on the Rue Daguerre in Paris are profiled. Release Strategy: New York City only. RATING: 2.4 Acclaimed documentarian Agnes Varda takes a loving look at the street on which she has lived for fifty years.

DECEMBER 16, 2011

ALVIN AND THE CHIPMUNKS – CHIPWRECKED (20th Century Fox) Genre: Family. While on a cruise, Alvin and the gang are shipwrecked on an island that isn’t as deserted as they thought. Release Strategy: Wide. RATING: 3.7 I still can’t figure out how they took a one-joke movie and turned it into a franchise – or why.
CARNAGE (Sony Classics) Genre: Drama. Two New York white collar couples gather to discuss a playground incident in which one child was injured by another, when things break down. Release Strategy: Limited. RATING: 1.4 The latest from Roman Polanski boasts an outstanding cast and a wonderfully tense trailer.
CORMAN’S WORLD: EXPLOITS OF A HOLLYWOOD REBEL (Anchor Bay) Genre: Documentary. One of the greatest producers of “B” movies in history is paid tribute as filmmakers and stars try to recount his rightful place in movie history. Release Strategy: Limited. RATING: 2.5 Corman is one of my heroes but the trailer looked a bit like a hodgepodge.
MISSION: IMPOSSIBLE – GHOST PROTOCOL (Paramount) Genre: Spy Action. After the IMF is shut down after being implicated in a global terrorist bombing plot, it is up to Ethan Hunt and his team to ferret out the truth or die trying! Release Strategy: Opening wide in IMAX only (opening in Wide Standard on December 21). RATING: 1.8 This is supposed to be the passing of the torch for the franchise from Tom Cruise to Jeremy Renner.
SHERLOCK HOLMES: A GAME OF SHADOWS (Warner Brothers) Genre: Action Suspense. Holmes and Watson are back and this time they’re up against the evil Professor Moriarty in a plot to throw Europe into chaos. Release Strategy: Wide. RATING: 1.3 The first film might have irritated Holmes purists but I found it extremely entertaining and satisfying.

DECEMBER 21, 2011

THE ADVENTURES OF TINTIN (Paramount) Genre: Adventure. An intrepid boy reporter searches for the wreck of a sailing vessel that might have contained a device of unimaginable power. Release Strategy: Wide (Standard, 3D, IMAX 3D). RATING: 1.5 Already a huge hit overseas, this is motion capture which hasn’t done well here – except it’s never been done by Steven Spielberg and Peter Jackson before either.
ALBERT NOBBS (Roadside Attractions) Genre: Period Drama. A woman posing as a man in 19th Century Ireland is trapped by her own charade. Release Strategy: Limited. RATING: 2.0 Starring and written by Glenn Close, looks awfully intriguing.
THE GIRL WITH THE DRAGON TATTOO (Columbia) Genre: Thriller. A disgraced journalist joins forces with a gifted but troubled hacker to solve a 40-year-old murder. Release Strategy: Wide. RATING: 1.6 An Americanization of an extremely well-made Swedish moviemight ordinarily not be welcome but it is David Fincher directing.
PINA (IFC) Genre: Documentary. Choreographer Pina Bausch revolutionized 20th century dance. Release Strategy: New York City only (Standard, 3D). RATING: 3.6 Wim Wenders directs Germany’s official entry for the Oscar for Best Foreign Language Film.

DECEMBER 23, 2011

DON 2 (Reliance Big Picture) Genre: Crime Thriller. The overlord of Asian crime bosses has his sights set on the European market. Release Strategy: Limited. RATING: 2.8 Perhaps an allegory for modern economics.
IN THE LAND OF BLOOD AND HONEY (FilmDistrict) Genre: War Drama. A Serbian man and a Bosnian woman find each other on opposite sides of the civil war, even though they once were lovers. Release Strategy: Limited. RATING: 1.9 A gut-wrenching trailer bodes well for the directorial debut of Angelina Jolie.
WE BOUGHT A ZOO (20th Century Fox) Genre: True Life Drama. A single dad buys a zoo and moves his family there in an effort to bring them closer together. Release Strategy: Wide. RATING: 2.3 From the look of the trailer, Matt Damon is well-cast here.

DECEMBER 25, 2011

THE DARKEST HOUR (Summit) Genre: Science Fiction. An American tourist in Moscow is stranded when the city is attacked by aliens. Release Strategy: Wide (Standard, 3D). RATING: 1.7 The trailer looks intriguing although hopefully there will be some better eye candy than what we saw.
EXTREMELY LOUD AND INCREDIBLY CLOSE (Warner Brothers) Genre: Drama. A young boy who lost his dad in 9-11 is convinced that his father left him a final message hidden somewhere in the city. Release Strategy: Limited (Opens Wide January 20). RATING: 1.0 One of the most emotionally affecting trailers I’ve ever seen; they had me at Tom Hanks and Sandra Bullock.
WAR HORSE (DreamWorks) Genre: War Drama. Steven Spielberg directs the journey of a horse from its bucolic English farm through the trenches of World War I in France. Release Strategy: Wide. RATING: 2.1 Could be wonderful, but the trailer looked a bit treacly.

DECEMBER 26, 2011

NEWLYWEDS (Tribeca) Genre: Comedy. A newly married couple have to put up with the interference and antics of their somewhat deranged siblings. Release Strategy: Limited. RATING: 2.4 The newest from actor/director Edward Burns, and it looks like one of his best ones yet.

DECEMBER 28, 2011

EL SICARIO: ROOM 164 (Icarus) Genre: Documentary. A hitman for a Mexican drug cartel is interviewed in a hotel room, revealing disturbing details about the drug trade and its political ramifications. Release Strategy: New York City only. RATING: 2.8 A compelling subject which may not translate into a visually compelling film.
PARIAH (Focus) Genre: Urban Drama. An inner city African-American teen slowly begins to embrace her sexuality as a lesbian. Release Strategy: Limited. RATING: 2.9 A big hit at Sundance, now finally hitting theaters in time for Oscar consideration.

DECEMBER 30, 2011

A SEPARATION (Sony Classics) Genre: Drama. An Iranian man whose wife is divorcing him because he won’t leave his Alzheimer’s-ridden father is accused of a heinous crime by the maid his daughter hires. Release Strategy: Limited. RATING: 2.1 Looks interesting.
ANGEL’S CREST (Magnolia) Genre: Drama. A young father’s moment of thoughtlessness results in tragedy; when the local prosecutor decides to zealously pursue the matter, the small town is torn apart. Release Strategy: Limited. RATING: 2.2 The trailer looked plenty harrowing.
THE IRON LADY (Weinstein) Genre: Biographical Drama. The story of Margaret Thatcher, the former Prime Minister of England during the Reagan era. Release Strategy: Limited (Expands January 13). RATING: 3.1 Meryl Streep might be looking at another Oscar nomination.

SCHEDULED TO BE REVIEWED HERE AS NEW RELEASES
New Year’s Eve, The Sitter, Tinker Tailor Soldier Spy, Mission: Impossible – Ghost Protocol, Sherlock Holmes: A Game of Shadows, The Adventures of Tintin, The Girl With the Dragon Tattoo, In the Land of Blood and Honey, We Bought a Zoo, The Darkest Hour, Extremely Loud and Incredibly Close, War Horse, The Iron Lady

Miracle at St. Anna


Miracle at St. Anna

If you mess with these guys, they'll sic the kid on ya!

(Touchstone) Derek Luke, Michael Ealy, Laz Alonso, Omar Benson Miller, Pierfrancesco Favino, Valentina Cervi, Matteo Sciabordi, Walton Goggins. Directed by Spike Lee

It all begins with a post office and an old man trying to buy some stamps. This leads to a senseless murder, a nearly-retired postal worker pulling a gun on the old man and shooting him dead in cold blood. Further investigation turns up something startling; hidden in the apartment of the postal worker is the head of an ancient Italian statue, worth a ridiculous amount of money. What was it doing in the home of a postal worker and why did he kill that old man apparently at random?

See, it all really begins with World War II, and the 92nd Infantry Buffalo Soldiers during the invasion of Italy. Four servicemen – straight-arrow SSgt. Stamps (Luke), huge child-like PFC Train (Miller), steady Cpl. Negron (Alonso) and skirt-chasing asshole Sgt. Cummings (Ealy) – survive the brutal crossfire of a Nazi ambush coupled with the artillery barrage from their own commanders who didn’t believe black soldiers could have advanced that far that quickly. They flee across a river to relative safety where Train befriends an injured Italian orphan boy (Sciabordi) who refers to the lumbering Train as his “chocolate giant.”  

Train carries around the head of a statue he picked up in Florence, which he believes makes him invisible or invulnerable when he rubs it (Run, Forrest, RUN) which fascinates the boy. The four soldiers and the boy make their way to a small Italian village which has suffered cruelly under the yoke of the Nazis and the Fascists. They welcome the soldiers in, and nurse the injured boy back to health.

The soldiers feel at ease here, as Stamps comments “I feel freer here than I do at home.” The bond between the soldiers is tested when both Stamps and Miller chase after the same white Italian woman, while an Italian partisan shows up trying to find out why a small Italian town nearby was massacred by the Nazis. The interlude allows the men to talk about why they’re fighting. However, it becomes clear that it isn’t a matter of if the Germans are going to come back to town but when, and getting the four soldiers back to their unit is going to take a miracle.

I’m deliberately withholding a good deal of plot points here, mainly so that they don’t get spoiled, although to be honest it makes the plot sound like a bit of a mess. It all winds up making sense, even though it takes nearly two and a half hours to get there. Lee hasn’t directed a war movie before, but he does a credible job. Some of the battle scenes are brutal indeed, with limbs flying everywhere and blood spattering everywhere else. It might even be argued that the battle scenes are too brutal, although I found them to be no less visceral than Saving Private Ryan, I can see where sensitive sorts might feel a little queasy.

The problem here is that the movie tells a story that is about an hour and a half long in two and a half hours. The bookending sequence of the post office murder and its aftermath seems a bit unnecessary and there are places where the plot gets bogged down. I think it might have been a mistake to let novelist James McBride adapt his own novel; it is difficult for writers to edit their own work and the script could have benefitted from someone less emotionally invested in it cutting some of the fat.

The battle sequences, while gory, are really well done, particularly the final Nazi assault on the town. There is a bit of a mystical background that I won’t get into that plays a role nicely here; the movie could have easily ended at this point, although it goes on for some time after that.

This is an ensemble piece in the truest sense of the word, with none of the actors really standing out, but here that’s actually a compliment. Luke, Ealy, Miller and Alonso work off of each other to make a good movie rather than a star turn; it shows professionalism and sacrifice on the part of each man and they should be applauded for that if nothing else. However, you can also applaud them for bringing some humanity to their roles which could have easily descended into one-note caricatures.

I have always blown hot and cold about Spike Lee. When he is at his best, as in Malcolm X and She’s Gotta Have It, he is one of the best directors of this generation. When he’s at his worst, as in She Hate Me and School Daze, his work can be mind-numbing. Miracle at St. Anna falls somewhere in between; while it raises the conversational bar about racism in the military and the motivations of African-American fighting for freedoms that they didn’t enjoy at home, it fills so much space with soap opera and extraneous material that the film’s message gets lost in the noise. Still, when you have a director as technically proficient as Lee is, even the noise is entertaining.  

WHY RENT THIS: A sometimes brutal look at World War II from a different angle than the more mainstream films we’ve seen lately like Saving Private Ryan and A Flag for Our Fathers.  

WHY RENT SOMETHING ELSE: The movie runs overly long and some of the combat sequences seem to be carnage for their own sake.

FAMILY VALUES: As this is a war movie, there is some battle carnage, also a good deal of salty language. There’s also some nudity and sexual situations; rent this for viewing after the kids are in bed.

TRIVIAL PURSUIT: Wesley Snipes was originally cast in the film, but had to drop out due to his tax evasion trial.

NOTABLE DVD EXTRAS: Exclusively on the Blu-Ray edition there is a roundtable discussion between Lee, McBride and veterans of the Buffalo Soldiers and the Tuskegee Airmen regarding racial prejudice in the armed forces, and a featurette on the history of the Buffalo Soldiers.  

FINAL RATING: 6/10

TOMORROW: Yes Man