New Releases for the Week of June 16, 2017


CARS 3

(Disney*Pixar) Starring the voices of Owen Wilson, Kerry Washington, Larry the Cable Guy, Bonnie Hunt, Armie Hammer, Chris Cooper, Nathan Fillion. Directed by Brian Fee

After a dominating run in the world of motorsports, Lightning McQueen is suddenly put out to pasture after suffering a terrible crash at the hands of a cocky young racer named Jackson Storm. Unable to compete with a new generation of lightweight, technologically advanced racecars, Lightning goes back to Radiator Springs, unable to believe he has been forced out of the sport he loves. With the help of an ambitious young technician, Lightning may still get back into the game – with the help of a few oldtimers who know what racing is truly all about.

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

Release Formats: Standard, 3D, IMAX 3D
Genre: Animated Feature
Now Playing: Wide Release

Rating: G

47 Meters Down

(Dimension) Mandy Moore, Claire Holt, Matthew Modine, Yani Gellman. Two young women vacationing in Mexico decide to go diving in a shark cage in waters infested by Great Whites. When the cable connecting the cage to the boat snaps the girls plummet to the bottom of the seabed 47 meters down. With their oxygen supply running low and the waters filled with hungry sharks, the women will have to rely on their courage to survive their shark encounter.

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

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

Rating: PG-13 (for sequences of intense peril, bloody images, and brief strong language)

All Eyez on Me

(Codeblack/Summit) Demetrius Shipp Jr., Danai Gurira, Kat Graham, Lauren Cohan. The story of Tupac Shakur, one of the most distinct and revolutionary voices to come out of rap. Although he died far too young, his legacy remains one of the most honored and respected in music.

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

Release Formats: Standard
Genre: Musical Biography
Now Playing: Wide Release

Rating: R (for language and drug use throughout, violence, some nudity and sexuality)

The Book of Henry

(Focus) Naomi Watts, Jaeden Lieberher, Jacob Tremblay, Sarah Silverman. A precocious young boy takes care of his family including his mother, a hard-working waitress who lacks confidence. When a classmate who lives next door lets Henry in on a terrible secret, he resolves to help her. Utilizing his imagination and intellect, he concocts a plan that surprises his mom – who finds herself at the center of his machinations.

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

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

Rating: PG-13 (for thematic elements and brief strong language)

Chasing Trane: The John Coltrane Documentary

(Abramorama) Denzel Washington (voice), John Coltrane, Common, Carlos Santana. One of the most gifted, innovative and inspiring performers in the history of jazz was John Coltrane. This documentary about the man and his music is coming to the Enzian as part of their monthly Music Monday series; it was previously reviewed here on Cinema365 and that review can be found here.

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

Release Formats: Standard
Genre: Musical Documentary
Now Playing: Enzian Theater (Monday only)

Rating: NR

Dean

(CBS) Demetri Martin, Kevin Kline, Gillian Jacobs, Mary Steenburgen. A young cartoonist is working on his follow-up book but can’t seem to find inspiration. It doesn’t help that his mother, his biggest supporter, recently passed away and his dad and he are drifting further apart, particularly when the news comes that dad is selling their childhood home. Frustrated and needing a change of scenery, he takes off on a trip to California that might just give him a lot more than he bargained for. This was one of the Florida Film Festival’s standout spotlight films this past April.

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

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

Rating: PG-13 (for language and some suggestive material)

Kill Switch

(Saban/Lionsgate) Dan Stevens, Bérénice Marlohe, Mike Reus, Bas Keljzer. At first it was an experiment to create a limitless energy source, something our planet sorely needs. When things go horribly wrong, a pilot fights to save his family – and indeed, the whole planet – from the effects of the experiment gone awry.

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

Release Formats: Standard
Genre: Sci-Fi Action
Now Playing: AMC West Oaks

Rating: R (for language and some violence)

Rough Night

(Columbia) Scarlett Johansson, Jillian Bell, Zoë Kravitz, Kate McKinnon. Five best friends from college reunited for a weekend in Miami to celebrate one of their numbers impending nuptials. However, this badass bachelorette party turns a bit too wild and things get pretty real pretty fast. The girls elect to cover up the accident but that turns out to be a lot more difficult than they envisioned.

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

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

Rating: R (for crude sexual content, language throughout, drug use and brief bloody images)

ALSO OPENING IN ORLANDO/DAYTONA

Slack Bay

ALSO OPENING IN MIAMI:

Beatriz at Dinner
The Happiest Day in the Life of Olli Maki
Past Life
The Recall
You’re Killing Me Susanna

ALSO OPENING IN TAMPA:

Ami Tumi
Jeremiah Tower: The Last Magnificent
Once Upon a Time in Venice
The Recall

ALSO OPENING IN JACKSONVILLE:

Kedi
The Lure
Tomorrow Ever After

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Live By Night


Ben  Affleck is all business.

Ben Affleck is all business.

(2016) Crime Drama (Warner Brothers) Ben Affleck, Zoe Saldana, Chris Cooper, Chris Messina, Brendan Gleeson, Elle Fanning, Robert Glenister, Matthew Maher, Remo Girone, Sienna Miller, Miguel J. Pimentel, Titus Welliver, Max Casella, JD Evermore, Clark Gregg, Anthony Michael Hall, Derek Mears, Christian Clemenson, Chris Sullivan, Veronica Alcino. Directed by Ben Affleck

 

What makes a good man do bad things? Sometimes it’s circumstance, sometimes desperation, sometimes it’s because they believe that they are doing it for a greater good. Once they a good man goes down that path however, how long before it changes him from a good man to a bad one?

Joe Coughlin (Affleck) went to the First World War as a good man. The son of a police captain (Gleeson), he returns home to Boston disillusioned and bitter, vowing not to follow orders ever again. He becomes a petty thief with a small gang but Coughlin is bold and smart and soon comes to the attention of Irish mob boss Albert White (Glenister). Coughlin wants no part of a gang but it’s one of those situations where he doesn’t have any attractive alternatives.

Unfortunately, soon White’s mistress Emma Gould (Miller) comes to Joe’s attention and the two start carrying on a rather dangerous clandestine relationship. Of course, it inevitably leads to tragedy and Joe goes to jail. When he gets out, Boston is essentially closed to him and he goes south to Tampa along with his right hand man Dion Bartolo (Messina) where they will oversee the rum running operation of Italian mob boss Maso Pescatore (Girone). There he meets two pivotal people – police chief Figgis (Cooper) and Graciela (Saldana); the former he forges a business relationship with and the latter a romantic one.

Joe’s interracial romance soon garners the attention of the Ku Klux Klan who makes life a mess for Joe. Joe appeals to Chief Figgis for help but the Klan’s most visible guy (Maher) happens to be the Chief’s brother-in-law. Although he admires and respects the Chief a great deal Joe uses blackmail photos of the Chief’s daughter Loretta (Fanning) to force the Chief to betray his brother-in-law.

Some time after that, Joe hits upon the idea of building casinos in Florida and begins construction on a magnificent one. Pescatore is happy because Joe is making him cartfuls of money and plenty of important people want to see the casino built. However, Joe is opposed by an evangelist – Loretta Figgis – who helps turn public and political opinion against him. Now Joe is in a great deal of hot water and finds himself once again between the two Boston mob bosses except that this time they are BOTH against him. Surviving this battle may not be possible.

Let’s cut to the chase; this is the weakest entry in Affleck’s otherwise stellar directing filmography. That doesn’t mean this is a terrible film, it’s just the most convoluted and least interesting of Affleck’s films to date. Don’t get me wrong; he’s a truly talented director and some of the scenes he has shot here are simply magic, but there aren’t enough of them to make a cohesive whole. Some of the blame lies at the feet of Dennis Lehane whose book this is based upon; the book itself was somewhat plot-heavy and it doesn’t translate to the silver screen as well as other books that the author wrote like Mystic River for example.

There are a ton of characters in here and a pretty high-end cast; that leads to a logjam of performances, some of which get short shrift and others seem to simply disappear in the bedlam. Standing out are Cooper as the bereaved and aggrieved chief of police, Saldana as the patient girlfriend and Messina as the loyal right hand man. All three get substantial screen time; not so much for fine actors like Miller, Gleeson and Greenwood among others.

And with all this, sometimes it feels like you’re riding a lazy Southern river that seems to be all bend and no destination. There are at least three false endings and when the final credits role there is a feeling of relief. The movie could have very easily ended at a much earlier point (I won’t say where but if Ben Affleck wants to e-mail me, I’d be glad to discuss it with him) and have been much more satisfying than the place it finally did end.

I’m hoping this was just a fluke and that on his next film Affleck returns to form. He has shown in his career that he’s a bit streaky, both to the positive and to the negative. He is capable of greatness and he is also capable of movies that are utterly forgettable. This falls in the latter category – it’s not horrible, not really cringe-worthy; just inconsequential. That’s not an adjective you want used in connection with your film and I’m sure Affleck doesn’t want to make films that even potentially could have that adjective used to describe them. I sure don’t like feeling that the adjective is apt.

This is a nice looking movie that captures the era convincingly to my mind. Affleck looks pretty chic in the tailored suits of the era and the ladies have that elegance that the 30s were known for. There is a fair amount of violence – some of it bloody – but you would expect that in a film about gangsters. There is also a moral ambiguity that might be troubling for some. When watching the Corleone family, you got a sense that they knew what they were doing was wrong but this was what they knew how to do. Coughlin seems to have more options and a moral compass but he still chooses to do things that are expedient rather than right. I suppose that’s true for a lot of us.

REASONS TO GO: Affleck remains a gifted director even on his less successful films.
REASONS TO STAY: A meandering plot sabotages the film.
FAMILY VALUES: There is some fairly graphic violence, lots of profanity and a little sexuality
TRIVIAL PURSUIT: This is the second movie based on a Dennis Lehane novel that Affleck has directed (the first was Gone Baby Gone back in 2007).
CRITICAL MASS: As of 2/24/17: Rotten Tomatoes: 34% positive reviews. Metacritic: 49/100.
COMPARISON SHOPPING: The Untouchables
FINAL RATING: 6/10
NEXT: Marathon: The Patriot’s Day Bombing

New Releases for the Week of April 8, 2016


The BossTHE BOSS

(Universal) Melissa McCarthy, Kristen Bell, Peter Dinklage, Ella Anderson, Taylor Labine, Kathy Bates, Kristen Schaal, Margo Martindale. Directed by Ben Falcone

The world’s richest woman has been brought down a peg or two. A financial scandal however, brings her empire crashing down around her and sends her to the slammer to pay her debt to society. Once she comes out, she has nothing and is forced to stay with her put-upon one-time assistant. Depressed, she hits upon a brilliant scheme to take her back to the top – a scheme that involves young girls selling cookies. But she stepped on a lot of people on her way to the top and not all of them are willing to see her rise again.

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

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

Rating: R (for sexual content, language and brief drug use)

Demolition

(Fox Searchlight) Jake Gyllenhaal, Chris Cooper, Naomi Watts, Judah Lewis. An investment banker struggles against despair after losing his wife in a car accident. An increasingly confessional set of letters to a vending machine company catches the attention of a customer service representative who forms an unlikely bond with him. This inspires him to take a sledge hammer to his former life – literally – so that he can begin a new one.

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

Release Formats: Standard
Genre: Drama
Now Playing: AMC Altamonte Mall, AMC Disney Springs, Amstar Lake Mary, Cinemark Artegon Marketplace, Regal Oviedo Mall, Regal Waterford Lakes, Regal Winter Park Village

Rating: R (for language, some sexual references, drug use and disturbing behavior)

Hardcore Henry

(STX) Sharlto Copley, Danila Kozlovsky, Haley Bennett, Tim Roth. Henry’s having a bad day. He just woke up from being dead with no memory by a doctor who claims to be his wife, who is promptly kidnapped by a bloodthirsty warlord with plans for world domination. Although he can’t remember her, he figures he should get her back – she may be the key to remembering his past. The trouble is that there is an army of mercenaries and Henry doesn’t know whom to trust. This innovative Russian film was shot entirely from Henry’s perspective, making it not unlike a first person shooter game.

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

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

Rating: R (for non-stop brutal bloody violence and mayhem, language throughout, sexual content/nudity and drug use)

High Strung

(Paladin) Keenan Kampa, Nicholas Galitzine, Jane Seymour, Sonoya Mizuno. A British violinist who has a yen for playing hip-hop and an aspiring Ballet dancer from the Midwest attending one of the most prestigious arts schools in New York City meet and find that while their viewpoints clash, their hearts most certainly do not. As the two lovers face the possibilities of losing their dreams, they prepare to perform in a contest that will utilize both their skills and allow them to continue pursuing those ambitions should they win it – or separate them forever should they lose.

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

Release Formats: Standard
Genre: Urban Musical
Now Playing: AMC Altamonte Mall, AMC Disney Springs, AMC Loew’s Universal CIneplex

Rating: PG (for some thematic elements and mild language)

Midnight Special

(Warner Brothers) Michael Shannon, Joel Edgerton, Kirsten Dunst, Adam Driver. A father and his 8-year-old son have as close a bond as any father and son ever. But when the boy develops inexplicable powers, there are forces – not all of them looking out for the welfare of the boy – who want to exploit that power for themselves. The two go on the run, chased by mysterious forces with only the boy’s extraordinary powers and his father’s love and courage to protect them.

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

Release Formats: Standard
Genre: Science Fiction
Now Playing: AMC Disney Springs, Regal Waterford Lakes, Regal Winter Park Village

Rating: PG-13 (for some violence and action)

The Amazing Spider-Man 2


Spider-Man goes electric.

Spider-Man goes electric.

(2014) Superhero (Columbia) Andrew Garfield, Emma Stone, Dane DeHaan, Sally Field, Jamie Foxx, Colm Feore, Paul Giamatti, Chris Cooper, Denis Leary, Campbell Scott, Embeth Davidtz, Marton Csokas, B.J. Novak, Michael Massee, Louis Cancelmi, Felicity Jones, Max Charles, Sarah Gordon, Jorge Vega, Bill Heck, Helen Stern, Kari Coleman. Directed by Marc Webb

It is inevitable that when a superhero shows up, eventually a super-villain will as well. With great power comes great responsibility but also comes great angst and great greed as well.

Despite Peter Parker’s (Garfield) a.k.a. Spider-Man promise to stay away from Gwen Stacy (Stone), daughter of the police captain (Leary) who died in the first ASM film, the feelings between the two are so strong that they can’t stay away from each other, at least until Peter starts seeing disapproving visions of her dear old dad and the guilt forces him to break up with her. Or she gets tired of all the on-again, off-again stuff and tells him to take a hike.

Peter is also haunted by the death of his parents, dad Richard (Scott) who once worked for the evil Oscorp empire, and mom (Davidtz) whom Peter remembers only fragments of. He finally confronts his Aunt May (Field) about them. May, who sometimes comes off as too saintly in both the comic and the first film trilogy, actually acts with a completely understandable anger – wasn’t she there for him? Wasn’t her love enough?

He’s also busy taking care of things in New York City, including taking down a crazed Russian mobster who will eventually come to be known as the Rhino (Giamatti). His best friend Harry Osborne (DeHaan) returns to town as his diseased and despotic father Norman (Cooper) lays dying, leaving Harry to pick up the pieces, take over Oscorp and fend off the scheming Donald Menken (Feore) who has an agenda of his own. Harry also discovers that he may soon share his father’s fate and only the blood of a certain Spider-Man might contain the clue that can cure him.

On top of that there’s a new super-villain in town. Mild mannered Max Dillon (Foxx) who develops a man-crush on Spidey after he saves him from being hit by a bus has a terrifying accident as he is shocked by high power lines and falls into a tank full of genetically altered electric eels which leave him badly burned but with the ability to shoot electric charges from his hands and eventually turn into living electric current.

Max, now going by the name Electro, has felt ignored and marginalized all his life. He is tired of being invisible (which ironically becomes one of his superpowers) and now that he can cause so much carnage feels vindicated that people can “see” him now and his freakish appearance is a small price to pay. He also feels betrayed by Spider-Man, his buddy who forgot his name.

All this leads to a pair of climactic battles as betrayals lead to rage which leads to a tragic confrontation that will alter Spider-Man’s life forever. Which is essentially how the second installment in any superhero franchise tends to go.

The second film in the Sam Raimi Spider-trilogy turned out to be one of the best superhero movies ever. This one, sadly, falls more into the category of the third Raimi movie which was sunk by too many supervillains and not enough memorable characters mainly because the film doesn’t get to develop them too much other than Foxx’s Electro and even he doesn’t get a whole lot of background.

What does get some background is the romance between Gwen and Peter which is a double-edged sword. Some of the most natural sequences in the movie involve those two and the banter between the two of them reflects the real-life romance that has developed between Stone and Garfield, eerily reflecting the real-life romance between Tobey Maguire and Kirsten Dunst that developed in the first Spider-trilogy. However, spending as much time on the romance as Webb does tends to mess with the momentum of the film, creating awkward breaks between action sequences and a sense that Webb is trying to make a movie that is all things to all audiences. Columbia execs have a history of becoming too involved in the Spider-Man films and I get a sense that studio interference may have occurred here as well.

Webb shows some deft touch with the action sequences and his vision of Electro is nothing short of amazing, worthy of a high-profile superhero franchise such as this one. One sequence in which Electro disappears into an ordinary electric outlet to go and wreak havoc is so well done that it looks as if it could have actually happened. That’s excellent effects in my book.

The character of Gwen Stacy doesn’t work as well for me. Stone described her as the “brains” of the operation which is a bit of a departure from the comic book in which the nerdy Peter, one of the first true science geeks, was capable of being the strategist but it is Gwen who comes to his rescue time after time by figuring out solutions to problems Spider-Man is having and incredibly, as an intern at Oscorp in biochemistry for whatever reason has learned how to work the electric grid of New York City which Oscorp runs. That part doesn’t ring true at all and took me right out of the film. I don’t mind smart women in movies but make her realistically clever please.

Garfield however continues to impress as both Parker and Spider-Man. In the latter role he has the fluid movements that make him look just non-human enough to be different. In the former role, he isn’t quite as brooding as he was in the first film (until near the end) but he certainly shows the inner conflicts that come from wanting to do the right thing but knowing that doing so could potentially put those he loves in danger. Some critics have groused about the smartaleck wisecracking that Spider-Man does, but that is part of the comic book personality of the character and is Parker’s way of coping with his own self-doubt.

This isn’t the sequel I was hoping for. I’m a big fan of Webb and I like the way Garfield plays both Peter and Spider-Man. I was hoping after the unnecessary second origin movie in ten years for the character that they might take Garfield’s strong performance in the title role and build on it. To some extent they do but their ambitions exceed the realistic here and they wind up making a movie that is a bit of a mess. It’s still plenty entertaining and has all the thrills, action and emotions that you need to make a great summer blockbuster, but they also failed to learn from Raimi’s mistakes. It’s worth seeing for the action, for Garfield and for some of the emotional sequences but the movie is nonetheless very flawed.

REASONS TO GO: The Electro sequences are amazing. Some emotional high points.

REASONS TO STAY: Too many characters and subplots. The flow of the film doesn’t quite work. Logical issues.

FAMILY VALUES:  A good deal of superhero violence and peril, plus a brief scene that may be disturbing for the very young.

TRIVIAL PURSUIT: This was the first Spider-Man movie to film in New York City where the series is set – it is also the largest production to date to film in the state of New York.

CRITICAL MASS: As of 5/17/14: Rotten Tomatoes: 53% positive reviews. Metacritic: 53/100.

COMPARISON SHOPPING: Spider-Man 3

FINAL RATING: 6/10

NEXT: Words and Pictures

New Releases for the Week of May 2, 2014


The Amazing Spider-Man 2THE AMAZING SPIDER-MAN 2

(Columbia) Andrew Garfield, Emma Stone, Dane DeHaan, Jamie Foxx, Sally Field, Campbell Scott, Colm Feore, Embeth Davidtz, Paul Giamatti, Chris Cooper. Directed by Marc Webb

It’s tough to be a bug, particularly when you’ve got superpowered villains on your eight-legged tail. But that’s what the situation is for Peter Parker a.k.a. the Amazing Spider-Man as he battles Electro, the rampaging Rhino, and what will turn out to be his ultimate nemesis, the Green Goblin. That and dealing with the surveillance by Oscorp, the mystery left behind by his late father regarding Oscorp and breaking his vow to stay away from Gwen Stacy whom he still carries a torch for. Now that’s what I call kicking off the summer blockbuster season with a bang!

See the trailer, promos, clips, interviews and B-Roll video here.

For more on the movie this is the website.

Release formats: Standard, 3D, IMAX 3D (opens Thursday)

Genre: Superhero

Rating: PG-13 (for sequences of sci-fi action/violence)

Jodorowsky’s Dune

(Sony Classics) Alejandro Jodorowsky, Michel Seydoux, H.R. Giger, Chris Foss. Most remember the epic cult classic that was Dune by filmmaker David Lynch back in the ’80s but all but the most intense film buffs and fans of the Frank Herbert novel are probably unaware that more than a decade earlier avant garde filmmaker Alejandro Jodorowsky (El Topo) had attempted to make the film. Despite an unusual cast that included Salvador Dali and Mick Jagger and some of the greatest artists of the time lending their visions, the project never actually got made and remains one of the great lost films of all time. Interviews with those involved and production art give us a glimpse into a vision too grand for its time.

See the trailer and a clip here.

For more on the movie this is the website.

Release formats: Standard

Genre: Documentary

Rating: PG-13 (for some violent and sexual images and drug references)

Walk of Shame

(Focus World) Elizabeth Banks, James Marsden, Kevin Nealon, Tig Notaro. An ambitious young TV news reporter is about to have the most important interview of her career. The night before, she has a one night stand with a handsome stranger, then accidentally locks herself out of his apartment with her purse inside. Without keys, money or ID, she’ll have to make it across town to make it to the interview on time. Not as easy as it sounds.

See the trailer here.

For more on the movie this is the website.

Release formats: Standard

Genre: Romantic Comedy

Rating: R (for language and some sexual content)

August: Osage County


The calm before the storm.

The calm before the storm.

(2013) Drama (Weinstein) Meryl Streep, Julia Roberts, Ewan McGregor, Chris Cooper, Margo Martindale, Sam Shepard, Julianne Nicholson, Benedict Cumberbatch, Dermot Mulroney, Juliette Lewis, Abigail Breslin, Misty Upham, Will Coffey, Newell Alexander, Jerry Stahl, Dale Dye, Ivan Allen, Arlin Miller, J. Alan Davidson, Maria Swindell Gus. Directed by John Wells

In the dusty heat of Oklahoma in the dog days of August, tempers can flare and people can be driven to the despair of unrelenting heat and no air-conditioning. Then again, a family can duplicate those same conditions – unrelenting heat and no saving grace of air-conditioning.

Violet Weston (Streep) has cancer of the mouth that causes her intense burning pain. She pops pills like others pop Tic Tacs. She is a feisty curmudgeon who speaks her mind, even if what she has to say is unpleasant – which it often is. There are hints of racism in her and enough self-righteous judgmental pronouncements to fill up several evangelical Christian sermons.

When her husband Beverly (Shepard) disappears, her kids come running home which in at least two cases, is a place they really don’t want to come back to. Karen (Lewis) has flitted from man to man and seems to have found one that she can stick with, slick Steve Huberbrecht (Mulroney) who is going to marry her in a few months and take her on the honeymoon she always wanted – Belize. Barbara (Roberts) is shrill, angry and frustrated; her husband Bill (McGregor) is separated and carrying on with a younger woman and her 14-year-old daughter Jean (Breslin) is withdrawing into a world of pain, pissed off at both her parents but particularly her mom.

Only Ivy (Nicholson) stayed near home and she is worn to the bone, ready to take off with her secret fella to New York City and away from Violet’s grasp. Also coming to the house are Violet’s sister Mattie Fae (Martindale) and Mattie Fae’s husband Charlie (Cooper). Mattie Fae is on the surface the adoring aunt but she treats her own son, Little Charles (Cumberbatch) like an absolute nincompoop which he just might be; he certainly is a jumpy sort. Taking care of Violet is Johnna (Upham), a Native American who watches the chaos around her without comment.

Into this volatile environment comes the revelations of family secrets that will either draw this dysfunctional group closer together or break them apart forever. The specter of abuse will rear its ugly head and the skeletons in the closet will do their ugly heads before it’s all over.

Based on the Pulitzer Prize-winning play by Tracy Letts (who has written Killer Joe among others), the movie gets the big screen treatment by director John Wells (known primarily for his small screen work on series like E.R. and The West Wing). Wells does an excellent job of setting the time and place – the acrid, soul-burning prairie heat of Oklahoma, the beautiful but run-down Victorian home of Beverly and Violet and the sunset vistas. He also manages to capture the claustrophobia that can happen at an awkward family dinner.

There are some tremendous performances going on here, by Roberts and Streep in particular (both of which garnered Oscar nominations) although some may find them over-the-top. These are two women, mother and daughter, who are more alike than either would care to admit and both are at the end of their ropes. The disappearance of Beverly has left them with no buffer and with neither Ivy nor Karen willing to get in between them their confrontation becomes inevitable. Both characters aren’t very likable – probably Chris Cooper’s Charlie is the only one who is – and neither one is likely to inspire you to share a meal with them, especially if fish is on the menu.

They both have a great deal repressed inside them and it boils over, leading to a family crisis of dramatic proportions. Drug abuse is part of the issue but there is also a good deal of “truth telling” which is often the refuge of those who wish to be cruel and get away with it which is pretty much where both Barbara and Violet are at. The interesting thing is that this movie really isn’t about Violet so much although Streep’s performance puts her front and center, but the movie is about Barbara – that’s one of the reasons that the controversial closing scene focuses on Barbara. Da Queen, for her part, thought that last scene unnecessary. I for one thought it brought better closure than the original ending which features Johnna consoling Violet on a staircase.

Those aren’t the only fine performances. Cooper gets some wonderful scenes in, as well as Nicholson whose drawn and beaten down demeanor belies the inner strength she possesses. Martindale’s performance is just the opposite; this wonderful character actress plays a woman who is tough and loving on the outside but wounded terribly on the inside. I also thought Cumberbatch was extraordinary as the wimpy, indecisive and overly sensitive son of Charlie and Mattie Fae. The rest of the performances were pretty much adequate.

Some of the scenes are uncomfortable, particularly as family secrets from way back begin to emerge from necessity. Violet, sometimes as malevolent as a cobra but often as vulnerable as a prairie dog caught in the gaze of a predator, rules the roost with an eye that misses nothing.

I know that not everyone shares my regard for the movie. It has often been criticized for having over-the-top performances and for violating the spirit of the original play which was a dark comedy. There are still elements of that here but this is definitely a drama. As for the performances, I think they are also by necessity over-the-top – the people being portrayed here are in the middle of a stressful family crisis who are dealing with repressed emotions that boil over. Of course they’re going to get loud. People get loud when they melt down.

At the end of the day this is the kind of movie that can be hard to watch, particularly if your own family has issues. For me the dynamics of the Weston clan are certainly far from normal but at the same time there was a certain amount of resonance. There is love but this is a family disintegrating and one wonders just how much it was the alcoholic Beverly that held them together. This is at turns fascinating and repulsive, like watching a snake swallow its prey. You learn something of nature in watching it but in doing so you learn something of yourself.

REASONS TO GO: Scintillating performances. Exceedingly well-written.

REASONS TO STAY: About as dysfunctional a family as you’re ever likely to meet. Occasionally uncomfortable.

FAMILY VALUES:  A ton of swearing including sexual references, some mature situations and drug use.

TRIVIAL PURSUIT: Abigail Breslin had a temperature of 103 degrees when she auditioned for the role of Jean Fordham.

CRITICAL MASS: As of 1/26/14: Rotten Tomatoes: 65% positive reviews. Metacritic: 58/100.

COMPARISON SHOPPING: Ordinary People

FINAL RATING: 7/10

NEXT: Lone Survivor

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)