12 Years a Slave


Could this be the next Best Picture Oscar winner?

Could this be the next Best Picture Oscar winner?

(2013) Historical Biography (Fox Searchlight) Chiwetel Ejiofor, Michael Fassbender, Paul Dano, Adepero Oduye, Benedict Cumberbatch, Paul Giamatti, Sarah Paulson, Lupito Nyong’o, Alfre Woodard, Brad Pitt, Garret Dillahunt, Isiah Jackson, Dwight Henry, Kelsey Scott, Quvenzhane Wallis, Devyn A. Tyler, Willo Jean-Baptiste, Scoot McNairy, Taran Killam, Ashley Dyke. Directed by Steve McQueen

The question we sometimes have to ask about a movie depicting a horrible epoch in human history is why. Why should it be made? After all, it’s not exactly a secret that slavery was a terrible, shameful practice. But do we need to be reminded of that?

I believe that we do. In the same way movies like Schindler’s List reminds us of the holocaust, or Hotel Rwanda reminds us of the horrors of genocide, we need to remind ourselves periodically of the depths of inhumanity that man practices upon other men. We need to be reminded as Nicol Williamson once accurately (albeit bombastically) said in Excalibur that it is the doom of men that they forget.

Solomon Northup (Ejiofor) is a prosperous man in Saratoga, New York in 1841. While he is a black man, he is nonetheless freed and is well-known as a magnificent violinist but also a hard-working carpenter. His wife Anne (Scott) is highly respected as a great cook. They have beautiful children and as African-Americans in the mid-19th century go, a pretty wonderful life.

Then, he is approached by a couple of men calling themselves Hamilton (Killam) and Brown (McNairy) who represent themselves as entertainers in need of an accompanying musician. They are going as far south as Washington, DC. The money is good and the company congenial so Northup agrees to lend his services.

He awakens in chains in a slave market. Gone are his clothes, his papers identifying him as a free man and even his name – he is to be called Platt now. He is sold by the dealer (Giamatti) to Ford (Cumberbatch) who runs a sugar cane plantation near New Orleans. There he goes with the disconsolate Eliza (Oduye) who has been separated from her children. However, Northup gets into a fight with the cruel and barbarous carpenter Tibeats (Dano) who for some reason has it out for Solomon (possibly because Northup was a better carpenter) and for the safety of his slave and of his plantation, the kindly Ford is forced to sell Platt to the cruel Edwin Epps (Fassbender) who runs a cotton plantation.

Epps expects 200 pounds of cotton to be picked by each one; those who fail are lashed cruelly. The best cotton picker is Patsy (Nyong’o) who does three times what the burly men of the plantation can do. Epps has taken an unhealthy sexual interest in her which infuriates his wife (Paulson) who visits cruelties and mutilations upon Patsy. Solomon for his part is keeping his head down low, making sure nobody knows that he can read and write. When Solomon meets an itinerant Canadian carpenter (Pitt), he knows his last chance to get word to those in the North of his whereabouts may be staring him in the face.

Based on the memoirs of the real Solomon Northup, I’m told the film follows the book pretty closely – McQueen insisted on it. While I can’t personally vouch for that, I can say that this is an incredible story told with as much authenticity as the filmmakers can muster. That this is a British production is somewhat ironic that it takes a foreign eye to shed light on an American disgrace.

There is a good deal of brutality. When slaves get whipped, pieces of flesh fly from their back and the resulting cuts are hideous to behold. It’s not easy to watch but this was the reality of what happened. Too often Hollywood portrays a whipping as a grunting actor, jaw heroically clenched against the pain as lines of red appear on his back. In reality, whippings were horrid affairs with a good deal of screaming and bloodshed. To his credit, McQueen doesn’t turn the eyes of the camera away and we see the brutality in unflinching detail.

Ejiofor has long been one of those actors who has been patiently waiting the right role. He’s finally found his. One of the best actors you’ve never heard of out there, he plays Solomon with dignity, with fear and with humanity. Solomon is a smart guy and occasionally able to manipulate Epps but his own inner fire gets him into trouble sometimes. He is a shoo-in for an Oscar nomination come January and is an early favorite to win it.

Fassbender has been busy of late and might get a Best Supporting Actor nomination for his layered and nuanced performance as Epps. Certainly Epps is a cruel and vicious master, but he is also henpecked by his wife to a certain degree and a slave to his own lust for Patsy. Epps could have easily been portrayed as a caricature of a plantation owner; yes, there is evil here but it isn’t cartoon evil but the evil that slavery creates in the slaveowners.

Nyong’o is a newcomer but her performance as Patsy may bring her the kind of notice new actresses dream of. Patsy is the face of despair in the film and Nyong’o handles it with a certain dignity that at once is moving and disturbing. When the despair overwhelms her and she begs Platt to end her misery, one wonders how many slaves took that road off the plantations. Probably many more than we realize – when hope is dead, the will to live generally dies with it.

This is a movie that is certain to be considered for Oscar gold this year and is going to make a lot of year-end top ten lists. While it may be considered an education about slavery, I see it more as a metaphor for the continued inhumanity that we enforce on others. The message here isn’t that slavery is  bad; I’m pretty sure we all get that. It’s how we treat each other today and how our ability to enslave others has informed that treatment that makes this movie so important. While I would hesitate to bring small children to see this, I think parents should bring their teens. Opening the eyes of a younger generation isn’t necessarily a bad thing.

REASONS TO GO: Impeccably acted by Ejiofor and Fassbender. A living breathing testament to the horrors of slavery.

REASONS TO STAY: The violence and brutality can be overwhelming at times.

FAMILY VALUES:  There is plenty of violence and scenes of torture and cruelty. There is also some nudity and sexuality, as well as a few graphic images that may be too intense for the sensitive.

TRIVIAL PURSUIT: Henry and Wallis both co-starred previously in Beasts of the Southern Wild, also distributed by Fox Searchlight.

CRITICAL MASS: As of 11/6/13: Rotten Tomatoes: 96% positive reviews. Metacritic: 97/100.

COMPARISON SHOPPING: Amistad

FINAL RATING: 10/10

NEXT: Italian for Beginners

New Releases for the Week of November 1, 2013


Enders Game

ENDER’S GAME

(Summit) Asa Butterfield, Ben Kingsley, Harrison Ford, Viola Davis, Hailee Steinfeld, Abigail Breslin, Nonso Anozie, Brandon Soo Hoo, Moises Arias. Directed by Gavin Hood

After barely surviving a vicious alien invasion, humanity’s future rests on the shoulders of a little boy named Ender. Alone out of all the candidates for Battle School, he shows the most potential to lead humanity to victory against the Formic. However, the aliens are returning and time is running out. Ready or not, Ender must lead the forces of humanity against a formidable foe and impossible odds. Is he up to the challenge?

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

For more on the movie this is the website.

Release formats: Standard, IMAX (opens Thursday night)

Genre: Science Fiction

Rating: PG-13 (for some violence, sci-fi action and thematic material)

12 Years a Slave

(Fox Searchlight) Chiwetel Ejiofor, Michael Fassbender, Benedict Cumberbatch, Brad Pitt. This is the true story of an African-American born a free man in New York City. In 1841, Solomon Northup was a respected violinist who traveled around North America performing recitals, but one night he is betrayed, drugged and transported to New Orleans where he is sold as a slave. His struggle to escape and return home to his wife and children became the stuff of legend.

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

For more on the movie this is the website.

Release formats: Standard

Genre: Historical True Life Drama

Rating: R (for violence/cruelty, some nudity and brief sexuality)

About Time

(Universal) Domhnall Gleeson, Rachel McAdams, Bill Nighy, Lindsay Duncan. At first skeptical, a young man discovers that he has indeed inherited the family gift to be able to travel back to any moment in his life and relive it. He uses his gift to woo a comely young woman and to make his life better but eventually learns that time travel cannot cure everything and that there is a price to pay for every gift. This is opening at the Regal Winter Park Village only at present in the Orlando area but will expand to most theaters on November 8.

See the trailer and clips here.

For more on the movie this is the website.

Release formats: Standard

Genre: Romantic Fantasy

Rating: R (for language and some sexual content)

Free Birds

(Relativity) Starring the voices of Owen Wilson, Woody Harrelson, Amy Poehler, George Takei. A somewhat delusional militant turkey recruits the very unwilling Thanksgiving turkey presidential pardon for a mission back in time. Their destination: the very first Thanksgiving. Their mission: to substitute some other meat for turkey. Good luck with that.

See the trailer, clips and a promo here.

For more on the movie this is the website.

Release formats: Standard, 3D

Genre: Animated Feature

Rating: PG (for some action/peril and rude humor)

Krrish 3

(Filmkraft) Hrithik Roshan, Priyanka Chopra, Vivek Oberoi, Kangna Ranaut. An Indian superhero must battle an evil scientist and the mutant creatures he has created to save the world from a hostile takeover.

See the trailer here.

For more on the movie this is the website.

Release formats: Standard

Genre: Bollywood

Rating: NR

Last Vegas

(CBS) Michael Douglas, Robert De Niro, Morgan Freeman, Kevin Kline. Four childhood friends, now edging somewhat reluctantly from middle age to old age, decide to head to Sin City to celebrate the impending wedding of the last hold-out to bachelorhood among them. While they’ve changed, so has Vegas baby and once these four hit the Strip, neither will be the same.

See the trailer and a clip here.

For more on the movie this is the website.

Release formats: Standard

Genre: Comedy

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

Man of Tai Chi

(Radius) Keanu Reeves, Tiger Hu Chen, Karen Mok, Iko Uwais. A young martial artist studies Tai Chi to improve his spiritual self but an unscrupulous promoter on the underground fight circuit in Hong Kong ropes him into that lucrative field. As the matches grow more intense, the young fighter turns his back on the precepts he once held dear and his will to live must carry him through this crisis.

See the trailer and a link to stream the full movie here.

For more on the movie this is the website.

Release formats: Standard

Genre: Martial Arts

Rating: R (for violence) 

Skinwalker Ranch

(Deep Studios) Jon Gries, Kyle Davis, Erin Cahill, Devin McGinn. Strange goings-on at an isolated ranch and the literal disappearance of the ranchers 8-year-old son garner media attention. A year afterwards, a security firm sends an investigative team to look into what really happened. What they discover is much more than anyone could have imagined.

See the trailer and a clip here.

For more on the movie this is the website.

Release formats: Standard

Genre: Sci-Fi Horror

Rating: R (for language and some violence)

Underdogs

(Media Services) D.B. Sweeney, William Mapother, Melora Walters, Natalie Imbruglia. A perennially underachieving Ohio high school football team gets a new coach, a new attitude and a new lease on life. However, they still have to play their crosstown rival, a traditional powerhouse, in order to make that move to the next level.

See the trailer here.

For more on the movie this is the website.

Release formats: Standard

Genre: True Sports Drama

Rating: PG (for some language) 

Love Actually


Love Actually

Is it love actually or lust actually?

(2003) Romantic Comedy (Universal) Hugh Grant, Bill Nighy, Alan Rickman, Colin Firth, Emma Thompson, Liam Neeson, Laura Linney, Keira Knightley, Martine McCutcheon, Chiwetel Ejiofor, Kris Marshall, Martin Freeman, Joanna Page, Rodrigo Santoro, Gregor Fisher, Thomas Sangster, Lucia Moniz, Andrew Lincoln. Directed by Richard Curtis

Our world can be a hard, cruel place. We are buffeted on all sides by cruelty and meanness. Sometimes the only thing that keeps us sane in this world is the love of another, but that seems to be in short supply in these hard times. However, if you look carefully enough, you may find that love, actually, is all around us.

Billy Mack (Nighy), a fading rock and roll legend, tries to kickstart a comeback with a Christmas version of one of his hits as shepherded by his long-suffering manager Joe (Fisher). The new Prime Minister (Grant) falls for Natalie (McCutcheon), a plucky member of his staff. Jamie Bennett (Firth), a writer, mends his broken heart in France while cared for by a Portugese housekeeper named Aurelia (Moniz); the two begin to develop a deep fondness for one another despite the language barrier.

Daniel (Neeson) grieves for his late wife while his son Sam (Sangster) pines for a schoolmate. His friend Karen (Thompson) – who is also the Prime Minister’s sister – prepares for a school Christmas pageant. Her husband Henry (Rickman) runs a graphic design business, where Sarah (Linney), an American employee, yearns for Karl (Santoro), an enigmatic designer while Henry struggles with infidelity with an aggressive receptionist.

Colin (Marshall), an upbeat courier, gives up on finding the right woman in the UK and prepares to immigrate to the United States. Newlyweds Peter (Ejiofor) and Juliet (Knightley) have their lives complicated somewhat by Peter’s best friend John (Lincoln) who has a deep crush on Juliet, one that he would never act on. All of these stories intertwine an  intersect in London at Christmastime, perhaps one of the most magical places on Earth.

First of all, let me get this out of the way – this is one of my all-time favorite movies. It’s an astonishing piece of work, considering this is Richard Curtis’ first feature as a director (he had previously written a number of terrific movies, including Four Weddings and a Funeral). Here, he skillfully interweaves the stories among one another, linking some together directly and others indirectly, creating a viable whole giving none of them short shrift; it’s quite the tightrope walking act, and it is so rarely done well that when it is it must be applauded just on that basis alone.

I wrestled with using this as part of my Holly and the Quill series of Christmas movies, but eventually decided this isn’t a Christmas movie so much as a movie set at Christmastime. It is about love and could easily be set any time of the year. However I admit the Christmas setting adds to the overall warmth of the film.

One of the things I love about this movie is that not all of the relationships work out in the end. Like love itself, things can be pretty tangled and end up unfinished. Of course, some of the relationships also pan out. Will those relationships succeed? Who knows! All that I know is that love is wonderful while you’re in it, especially when you’re in it with the right person long term. All of these relationships – showing love at various stages of the relationship – have a sense of realism to them. The movie is well cast and all the couples have legitimate chemistry and an organic feel to their relationships.

This is a movie I watch often, usually with Da Queen and we always enjoy it, even after many viewings. We own the soundtrack, which is one of the better ones in any movie in the last ten years. In fact, this is one of my favorite movies of all time – but I’ve said that already. If you’re looking for a movie to snuggle up with your honey to this Valentine’s Day, this should be at the top of your list.

WHY RENT THIS: All of the vignettes work; there aren’t any weak moments or characters. The movie is sexy and funny and nearly everyone gets enough screen time to sufficiently develop their characters.

WHY RENT SOMETHING ELSE: Maybe it’s too English for you or you just don’t like romantic comedies.

FAMILY VALUES: There are some sexuality, a little bit of nudity and a fair amount of bad language.

TRIVIAL PURSUIT: The parts of the dads were initially offered to – and rejected by – Samuel L. Jackson and George Lopez who discussed the matter on Lopez’ talk show. 

NOTABLE DVD EXTRAS: There are a couple of music videos here, as well as a featurette in which Curtis discusses the movie’s music.

BOX OFFICE PERFORMANCE: $246.9M on a $40M production budget; the movie was a blockbuster.

FINAL RATING: 10/10

TOMORROW: Sanctum

Salt


Salt

Do you get the feeling Angelina Jolie is watching an entirely different movie?

(Columbia) Angelina Jolie, Liev Schreiber, Chiwetel Ejiofor, Daniel Olbrychski, August Diehl, Andre Braugher, Hunt Block, Olek Krupa, Daniel Pearce, Cassidy Hinkle, Yara Shahidi, Jordan Lage, Vladislav Koulikov, Olya Zueva. Directed by Phillip Noyce

It is somewhat emblematic of the flaccid crop of movies this summer that this movie is one of the best reviewed of the season, with some critics heaping critical praises on it that it scarcely deserves. Let’s get to the salient facts.

Evelyn Salt (Jolie) is a spy; let’s get that straight first off. It’s not much of a spoiler, since the trailer tells you she is. She is evidently not a very good spy, because when we first meet her she’s been captured and is being tortured by the North Koreans.

She is eventually released and returns back to the CIA – or at least the petrochemical company that fronts for the CIA – and is preparing for an anniversary dinner for her arachnologist husband (Diehl), complete with intricately folded napkins. Nothing says romance more than linen folded into origami after all. However, dinner is going to have to wait; a Russian defector has walked into the CIA front building – apparently the CIA isn’t very good at hiding in plain sight either – and it is up to Evelyn to interrogate the guy since, well, nobody else in the CIA can do it, right?

Her boss Ted Winter (Schreiber) is eager to catch a plane, she wants to get to her anniversary dinner and the by-the-book agent Peabody (Ejiofor) just wants to take over because he apparently is the special agent in charge of Russian defections. Unfortunately, their plans are all thrown for a loop when Orlov (Olbrychski), the defector in question, informs them that a sleeper agent is planning to murder the Russian president on U.S. soil at the funeral of the Vice President the very next day. The name of the sleeper agent? Evelyn Salt.

All Jason Bourne breaks out right about then. Salt, knowing that her husband is going to be targeted – apparently this has happened before – decides she doesn’t have time to wait around to be interrogated and escapes. Orlov, channeling Rosa Klebb of From Russia with Love, boots himself out of an elevator. This would be the perfect time for a car chase, don’t you think?

There is certainly plenty of action here, some of it pretty nifty. Noyce, who directed the two Harrison Ford Jack Ryan movies, has a steady hand when it comes to action sequences, and while he doesn’t reinvent the wheel here, the action comes at you thick and fast, with Jolie leaping out of moving vehicles, out of helicopters and onto moving trucks and vans. She beats up everybody she can get her hands on, and a few that she can’t.

My problem with the movie isn’t so much the action but what lies between. I was never able to connect to Salt and there’s a reason for it. The whole is-she-or-isn’t-she theme of the movie only works if you aren’t sure if she is or she isn’t, and so she has to be enigmatic by definition, which makes it difficult for us to relate to her. Quite frankly, it should be fairly obvious early on whether she is or isn’t, and those who aren’t sure, look to the extraneous characters to help you figure it out. You know the ones; they only exist for a specific plot point that will become critical later in the film. These are the kinds of characters that are usually found in bad movies.

I know I’m being a bit harsh on Salt and I should temper it by saying that there are a lot of things in the positive column. Jolie, for one thing, is a terrific action hero, maybe the best female action hero not named Sigourney Weaver. Reportedly, she did a lot of her own stunts, which would make her one kickass broad, based on what I saw here. Certainly some of her parkour-like fighting moves were spectacular.

I never really was able to fall in love with the movie, and I was kind of hoping to. I am fond of action movies in general, but I felt like this was Jason Bourne with boobs channeling James Bond, only without being able to capture my rooting interest. It’s really not an awful movie, but it isn’t a great one either.

Sometimes, you can distill your feelings for a movie down to a single word. Concerning my feelings for Salt, that word would be meh.

REASONS TO GO: Some of the action sequences are breathtaking.

REASONS TO STAY: You never get a reason to care about any of this; they’re so busy making Salt a cipher that she never connects with the audience.

FAMILY VALUES: There’s plenty of violence, a smattering of bad language and some implied sexuality, but nothing the average videogame wouldn’t pack in.

TRIVIAL PURSUIT: The lead role was originally written for a male; when Tom Cruise was attached to the movie, it was titled The Mystery of Edwin Salt but when Cruised bowed out to do Knight and Day, Jolie stepped in and the part was substantially rewritten.

HOME OR THEATER: I will have to admit some of the action sequences would be enhanced by the theatrical experience.

FINAL RATING: 5/10

TOMORROW: The Kids Are All Right

Kinky Boots


Kinky Boots

Whatever Lola wants, Lola gets.

(Miramax) Joel Edgerton, Chiwetel Ejiofor, Sarah-Jane Potts, Nick Frost, Linda Bassett, Jemima Rooper, Robert Pugh, Ewan Hooper, Stephen Marcus, Mona Hammond, Kellie Bright, Joanna Scanlon, Geoffrey Streatfield, Leo Bill. Directed by Julian Jarrold

Sometimes our biggest problem is not knowing where we fit in the grand scheme of things. We flail around, trying to find answers but really, the answers are in ourselves for the most part. However, it is also true that life can simply be a process of finding one’s own niche and dwelling within it comfortably.

Charlie Price (Edgerton) doesn’t want his own niche. His father Harold (Pugh) is the owner of Prince and Sons, a Northamptonshire shoe factory that has been in the family for generations, and expects Charlie to pick up on his passion for quality men’s footwear. Charlie, however, would much rather move to London with his sophisticated fiancée Nicola (Rooper) – in fact, the two of them are moving into a gorgeous flat that’s not too expensive, but not too far from it either. Life is going exactly the way Charlie wants it to.

Then his father dies and Charlie must return to Northampton and take over the factory. The workers, who have known Charlie ever since childhood, are leery. After all, he has essentially rejected a way of life that they have known all their lives and takes over the business without knowing all that much about it. The bullheaded, opinionated Don (Frost) expresses what the workers are feeling.

As the days go by, Charlie finds to his horror that the business that he thought was strong and stable was anything but. People don’t look for quality shoes that last a lifetime; retailers want shoes that will force customers to come back over and over again to replace them, and the population is buying things from Nike and Reebok in any case. When he is unable to get a big sale from one of their biggest clients, Charlie is forced to lay off some of his workers, including the loud and brash Lauren (Potts), who chides him for not doing anything to save her job or even finding a new niche for the company.

Depressed and not supported by his fiancée in any way whatsoever, Charlie goes to a bar to get drunk. Staggering home, he witnesses what appear to be several rough men molesting a beautiful black woman in a back alley. Charlie’s attempts at intervening, however, are ill-advised at best and he winds up unconscious and the thugs flee thinking they might have killed him. The woman, however, turns out to be a man dressed as a woman, a highly-regarded female impersonator known as Lola (Ejiofor) who has a show in London. When she remarks after breaking a heel that it’s a shame that there aren’t any sexy boots of women’s style created for a man’s weight, Charlie is struck by brilliant inspiration; there are an awful lot of transgenders, cross-dressers and drag queens out there and they are a market not being served by anyone. Price and Sons could create their own market – a new niche. He recruits Lauren for the scheme and together they pitch Lola to be their designer. After some reluctance, Lola agrees.

However, there are some obstacles. First of all, the working class of Northampton isn’t quite ready for the flamboyant Lola, who tones down her act at Charlie’s urging, but even then, she is not taken to by the workers, especially Don. The financial situation for Price and Sons is dire, and Charlie needs to have samples ready for the Milan Shoe Fair, where prospective buyers would be gathering, in just a matter of weeks. On top of that, Nicola is getting antsy and wants Charlie to walk away from what she senses is impending disaster. Charlie is getting pressured from all sides, and he begins to take it out on those around him. Can he beat the odds?

This is, incredibly enough, loosely based on actual events. The very real Kinky Boots Company served as inspiration for the movie, and quite frankly, I didn’t expect it to be as charming and as heart-warming as it was. Director Jarrold and his cinematographer Eigil Bryld have a nice eye for the dreary industrial landscapes of Northampton, the sophisticated swinging hangouts of London and the classical fashion capital of Milan.

He also cast Lola brilliantly. Ejiofor delivers the kind of performance that I would consider Oscar-worthy if it only had occurred in a movie being released in the latter part of the year. He is brassy, ballsy and charming, with just enough self-doubt to make him human. He also has a surprisingly good singing voice, which he uses to good effect during the musical numbers.

There is a clear message for tolerance, but the filmmakers aren’t preachy about it. They prefer to force the audience to come up with their own ideas of what being a man is all about, and in fact, they seem to say, there is certainly room for more than one picture of what real manhood is. You may not come out of the movie ready to march in the next Gay Pride parade, but you will come out of the movie entertained.

WHY RENT THIS: Ejiofor’s performance is brilliant. The movie is charming and unexpectedly heart-warming. Well-photographed with an eye for the dreary industrial landscapes of Northampton and the glitz and glamour of London and Milan.

WHY RENT SOMETHING ELSE: Edgerton, a fine actor, is overwhelmed by the flamboyant Ejiofor.

FAMILY VALUES: The thematic material might be a little difficult for some, and there is plenty of salty language to go around.

TRIVIAL PURSUIT: Director Jarrold is descended from the founders of England’s Jarrold’s Department store, which was founded in 1770.

NOTABLE DVD EXTRAS: There’s a look at the actual factory that inspired the movie, and a short but fascinating look at all the steps that go into the making of a single shoe.

FINAL RATING: 7/10

TOMORROW: The Messenger

New Releases for the Week of July 23, 2010


Salt

Evelyn Salt looks guilty even when she's trying to look nonchalant.

SALT

(Columbia) Angelina Jolie, Liev Schreiber, Chiwetel Ejiofor, Andre Braugher, Daniel Obrychski, Daniel Pearce, Hunt Block, August Diehl. Directed by Phillip Noyce

It starts off as routine, with decorated CIA agent Evelyn Salt interrogating a Russian intelligence agent who wants to defect to the United States. Then, he drops a bombshell; there is a Russian spy hidden in the very fabric of the U.S. security whose mission is to assassinate the President. That spy is named Evelyn Salt. From there a tense chase begins, with Salt’s husband the unwitting pawn and every law enforcement agency in the country after a lone woman. Is she being set up? Is she what the Russian says she is? There’s only one way to find out the truth…see the movie!

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

For more on the movie this is the website.

Release formats: Standard

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

Khatta Meetha

(Baba Films) Akshay Kumar, Trisha Krishnan, Makrand Deshpande, Kainaat Arora. A struggling contractor tries to navigate the corrupt and often confusing bureaucratic system in India to try and snag some lucrative government contracts and keep his business afloat. He has no money for kickbacks or bribes, so he has to use some unconventional means to get what he wants.

See the trailer here.

For more on the movie this is the website.

Release formats: Standard

Rating: NR

The Kids Are All Right

(Focus) Annette Benning, Julianne Moore, Mark Ruffalo, Mia Wasikowska. The two teenage children of a lesbian couple decide to seek out their biological father and introduce him into the family equation that their two mothers built for them. This simple act creates absolute chaos as boundaries are stretched, lines are crossed and nothing remains the same – except that there is nothing more important than family.

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

For more on the movie this is the website.

Release formats: Standard

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

Ramona and Beezus

(20th Century Fox) Selena Gomez, Joey King, Josh Duhamel, Bridget Moynahan. Based on the beloved series of children’s books by Beverly Cleary, the movie follows the adventures of young Ramona Quimby and her big sister Beezus as the effervescent Ramona tries to save the family home, using her boundless energy and wild imagination.

See the trailer and clips here.

For more on the movie this is the website.

Release formats: Standard

Rating: G

2012


2012

Here's the real star of 2012.

(Columbia) John Cusack, Chiwetel Ejiofor, Amanda Peet, Oliver Platt, Woody Harrelson, Thandie Newton, Danny Glover, Thomas McCarthy, Liam James, Morgan Lily, Zlatko Buric, Beatrice Rosen, Johann Urb, John Billingsley, Jimi Mistry. Directed by Roland Emmerich

Nearly every culture has an end-of-the-world scenario, as does almost every religion. What would happen if one of them actually came to pass?

Dr. Adrian Helmsley (Ejiofor) is a junior geologist working for the U.S. Government. When he gets a call from colleague and old friend Dr. Tsurutani (Mistry) summoning him to India, he is happy to go but a bit mystified by the urgency. When his friend shows him figures regarding the temperature at the earth’s core, Helmsley immediately gets on a plane and crashes a fundraiser where presidential advisor Carl Anheuser (Platt) is holding forth. When Helmsley shows Anheuser the report, Anheuser leaves the fundraiser and informs Helmsley that he now works for Anheuser.

Flash forward several years later. Unsuccessful science fiction writer Jackson Curtis (Cusack) is resorting to driving a limo for an overbearing Russian billionaire (Buric). He gets a weekend off to take his kids – angry Noah (James) and incontinent Lilly (Lily) – camping at Yellowstone, where he and estranged wife Kate (Peet) once canoodled.

He meets a whacko end-of-the-world nutjob named Charlie Frost (Harrelson) who tells him why he and Kate’s favorite lake has dried up, and in the best conspiracy theory fashion, that the government not only knows about it but has been feverishly building spaceships to save the human race, the locations of which he conveniently has a map to.

Initially Curtis dismisses Charlie’s ravings but when they start to come true, he hightails it back to L.A. in his stretch limo and races against the earthquakes that will soon render the City of Angels a disaster zone, which might bring the property values down somewhat. From then on, Curtis and his family along with Kate’s nebbish plastic surgeon boyfriend (McCarthy) try to stay one step ahead of Armageddon.

Those special effects are absolutely worth the price of admission. Realistic and spectacular at the same time, we watch things in the words of the immortal Farm Film Report “blow up real good” and then blow up real good some more. Fleets of helicopters fill the skies as do flocks of hysterical birds escaping their impending doom. Waves crash over the Himalayas like they were pebbles on a beach, and we lap up every mind-blowing second of it knowing that it’s a little ghoulish but nevertheless we love it.

Cusack makes for an attractive lead. He’s not really suited for the action hero genre being much more of a hip indie sort but he soldiers on like the trooper he is. Ejiofor is one of those actors who I tend not to think about as a really compelling performer but every time I see him I notice how good he is – I think he’ll be on my list of must-see actors soon. Glover makes for a dignified president but compared to the Morgan Freeman presidency we got in Deep Impact doesn’t hold up quite as well, but still it’s nice to see him. Peet and Platt are two outstanding actors who take what they can out of a script that really doesn’t deserve them.

The big problem here is that the script is so predictable and cliché that after awhile you just long for a twist or a turn that you aren’t expecting. Also the movie at nearly two and a half hours is about 20-30 minutes too long. Still, these are things that get swept aside when you are in your special effects happy place.

Emmerich in that respect has become the Irwin Allen of his generation, and 2012 might just be his masterwork in that regard. He takes some pretty good actors who know well enough to just go with the preposterous dialogue and lets loose his digital effects subcontractors. The results are great entertainment and if that’s what you’re after then you’re in the right theater.

REASONS TO GO: Spectacular apocalyptic special effects overwhelm the many script deficiencies. John Cusack even in his weaker performances is worth seeing.

REASONS TO STAY: The script is predictable and riddled with clichés. Character development is nearly non-existent.

FAMILY VALUES: A good deal of disaster violence and some occasional salty language.

TRIVIAL PURSUIT: The character name of Jackson Curtis is the real name of rapper 50 Cent backwards (Curtis Jackson).

HOME OR THEATER: The eye-popping disaster scenes must be seen on the big screen to get the full experience.

FINAL RATING: 6/10

TOMORROW: Superbad

New Releases for the Week of November 13, 2009


2012

 

Northwestern Airlines REALLY needs to do something about their pilots flying to the right destination.

2012

(Columbia) John Cusack, Woody Harrelson, Chiwetel Ejiofor, Amanda Peet, Oliver Platt, Danny Glover, Thandie Newton. Directed by Roland Emmerich

From the director of The Day After Tomorrow comes another end-of-the-world epic, making Roland Emmerich the modern-day Irwin Allen (younger folk not familiar with the name can google him). The Mayan calendar warns that the world will end in December, 2012 and there are several scientists – some fairly notable – who took that seriously. Not seriously enough however, as global cataclysmic mayhem ensues on a blockbuster scale.

 

See the trailer here.

For more on the movie this is the website.

Rating: PG-13 (for intense disaster sequences and some language)

The Damned United

(Sony Classics) Michael Sheen, Timothy Spall, Colm Meaney, Jim Broadbent. In the late 1960s, the most powerful football club – soccer to us Yanks – in the UK was Leeds United. They were a formidable dynasty with some of the top players in the sport and managed by Don Revie, one of the most revered coaches in the game. When Revie’s greatest rival Brian Clough was tapped to take over the United coaching reign, it would usher in one of the most notorious coaching situations in the history of the game.

See the trailer here.

For more on the movie this is the website.

Rating: R (for language)

Pirate Radio

(Focus) Philip Seymour Hoffman, Bill Nighy, Kenneth Branagh, January Jones. In the swinging 60s, British rock and roll bands were changing the face of music and culture forever, yet the English people were only permitted to hear two hours a week of rock music. A group of enterprising and passionate DJs took to the high seas to launch their own pirate radio stations, free of government restrictions and rules. The British government didn’t take kindly to the open defiance of their authority and did everything in their power to shut them down. I’m told this is loosely based on actual events of the time but regardless the soundtrack to this movie is killer!

See the trailer here.

For more on the movie this is the website.

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