New Releases for the Week of September 3, 2021


(Disney) Simu Liu, Tony Leung, Awkafina, Michelle Yeoh, Meng’er Zhang, Fala Chen, Yuen Wah, Florian Munteanu, Andy Le. Directed by Destin Daniel Crettin

Shang-Chi is the son of a criminal mastermind, leader of the Ten Rings organization. His father trains him to be a lethal weapon, but Shang-Chi rejects his father’s ways and flees to America. However, you can’t run from your past any more than you can run from who you are and he will have to find it within him to stand against his own father to become the hero within him.

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

Genre: Superhero
Now Playing: Wide
Rating: PG-13 (for sequences of violence and action, and language)


(Amazon/Columbia) Camilo Cebello, Idina Menzel, Pierce Brosnan, Minnie Driver. The familiar fairy tale is given a modern update with a pop soundtrack. Hopefully, Pierce Brosnan isn’t singing in this one.

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

Genre: Musical
Now Playing: Cinemark Universal Citywalk (also on Amazon Prime)
Rating: PG (for suggestive material and language)

The Gateway

(Lionsgate) Shea Whigham, Olivia Munn, Frank Grillo, Keith David. A social worker winds up in a situation out of control when he tries to protect one of his clients from her violent drug-dealing husband, recently paroled from jail. He and his crew will do anything to find their stash of drugs – and kill anyone who stands in their way.

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

Genre: Crime Thriller
Now Playing: Studio Movie Grille Sunset Walk
Rating: R (for strong violence, pervasive language, drug use, some sexual content and nudity)

The Lost Leonardo

(Sony Classics) Jerry Saltz, Martin Kemp, Doug Patteson, Robert K. Wittman. The story of the most expensive painting ever sold, which purports to be a lost masterpiece by Leonardo Da Vinci. But is it, or is it a game piece in an elaborate charade?

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

Genre: Documentary
Now Playing: Enzian
Rating: PG-13 (for nude art images)

Wild Indian

(Vertical) Michael Greyeyes, Kate Bosworth, Jesse Eisenberg, Chaske Spencer. A native American man has left his violent past – and murderous secret – on the reservation. Now the new life he has made for himself is threatened by a ghost from that past.

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

Genre: Thriller
Now Playing: Studio Movie Grill Sunset Walk
Rating: NR

Yakuza Princess

(Magnet) Masumi, Jonathan Rhys-Meyers, Tsuyoshi Ihara, Eijiro Ozaki. An orphan discovers that she is heir to half of the Yakuza criminal empire. Joining with an amnesiac stranger who believes that both of their destinies are tied up in an ancient sword, she must fight against the heir to the other half of the Yakuza fortune who wants to kill her for complete control.

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

Genre: Crime
Now Playing: Fashion Square Premiere
Rating: R (for strong bloody violence, some language and graphic nudity)


Afterlife of the Party (Thursday)
Attention Attention
Hands Up
The J Team
The Madness Inside Me
Memory House
Samantha Rose
Saving Paradise
Ted Bundy: American Boogeyman
We Need to Do Something


The Lost Leonardo
Shang-Chi and the Legend of the Ten Rings


Love, Weddings and Other Disasters

Jeremy Irons counts the number of blind jokes in the scene.

(2020) Romantic Comedy (Saban) Maggie Grace, Jeremy Irons, Diane Keaton, Andrew Bachelor, Diego Boneta, Jesse McCartney, Dennis Dugan, Todd Stashwick, Chandra West, Elle King, Melinda Hill, Andy Goldenberg, Caroline Portu, Richard Kline, Veronica Ferres, Levon Panek, William Xifaras, Ava Gaudet, Dennis Staroselsky, Rob Norton, Rachel Wirtz. Directed by Dennis Dugan


Romantic comedies seem to lend themselves to ensemble pieces, in which several different stories about a variety of couples finding love getting tied up with a nice, neat bow at the very end – which usually results in an ending. Far be it for the filmmakers behind Love, Weddings and Other Disasters to mess with the formula.

Jesse (Grace) is a pretty florist who has a type A personality, but became a reluctant viral video sensation when her fiancée dumped her in the middle of a skydive, causing her to dump him into a lake and sending her sailing into a wedding party on the adjoining dock. She became known around her native Boston as “The Wedding Trasher.”

Still, after stepping in to help plan a friend’s wedding, she is recommended to the fiancée of a Boston mayoral candidate (Staroselsky) to plan a big to-do for the candidate that will also score big political points. She takes on the job, much to the chagrin of Lawrence (Irons), the supercilious perfectionist of a caterer who is much in demand for the hoi polloi of Beantown. To make his day even worse, Laurence is set up on a blind date with Sara (Keaton), a photographer who is visually impaired and whose guide dog seems to have an unerring knack for launching her into things, such as the table with the meticulously set up champagne glass tower, sending it crashing to the floor. Even so, Laurence and Sara hit it off and after an actual date, he ends up spending the night at her place. While she’s asleep, he rearranges her furniture and then leaves her a love note. Laurence is a bit of a sadist, I think.

In the meantime, Jesse (remember her?) is trying hard to hire a rock band to play at the reception (the groom is a little bit classical, the bride is a little bit rock and roll – one is also tastes great, the other less filling) and she catches a band and is eager to hire them to do the wedding for which the guitarist (Boneta) is eager, but the front man not so much, leading to a rift in the band – and in the meantime, the guitar player falls in love with Jesse.

=And while all this is going on, a duck boat tour guide/captain (Bachelor) falls in love at first sight with a passenger with a glass slipper tattooed on her neck (Wirtz) and searches Boston for his Cinderella, becoming a cause celebre in the process, and the mayoral candidate’s goofy brother (Goldenberg) is appearing on the worst dating game show ever as contestants who are diametric opposites are chained together with the couple who lasts the longest winning a million dollars. Except instead of being a Harvard-trained lawyer that she claims to be, Svetlana (Hill) turns out to be a stripper with a mobster boss who wants to take a percentage of their winnings. And the hits keep right on coming.

For any screen romance to resonate with audiences, they have to invest in the couple and want them to get together. With all the different storylines going on, it’s nearly impossible to do that; all the characters and situations are woefully undeveloped and the plot, despite every attempt to make it edgy, is as predictable as the Kansas University basketball team having a winning season.

I don’t think this is the fault of the actors. Keaton is as wonderful as ever, and Irons is a pro as always, while Grace and Bachelor pour on the charm, but the writing is so tone-deaf, you end up looking up at the screen with jaw dropped and maybe even saying out loud “are you kidding me?” as the blind jokes are among the least offensive things going on in the humor department.

Still, those who love rom-coms will probably enjoy this because they are a particularly forgiving audience, and any chance to see actors like Keaton and Irons in action should be taken, even when the movies they are in aren’t so good. Just be warned, they are the bright spots in a movie that has few of them.

REASONS TO SEE: Irons and, particularly, Keaton are delightful.
REASONS TO AVOID: Standard, predictable rom-com anthology.
FAMILY VALUES: There is some profanity and sexual innuendo.
TRIVIAL PURSUIT: Dugan’s onscreen appearance as a game show host is his first screen appearance in seven years.
BEYOND THE THEATERS: Amazon, AppleTV, Fandango Now, Google Play, Vudu, YouTube
CRITICAL MASS: As of 12/8/20: Rotten Tomatoes: 5% positive reviews, Metacritic: 10/100
Doin’ My Drugs

Cinderella (2015)

Cinderella in pumpkin coach with fairy godmother.

Cinderella in pumpkin coach with fairy godmother.

(2015) Fantasy (Disney) Cate Blanchett, Lily James, Richard Madden, Helena Bonham Carter, Nonso Anozie, Stellan Skarsgard, Sophie McShera, Holliday Grainger, Derek Jacobi, Ben Chaplin, Hayley Atwell, Rob Brydon, Jana Perez, Alex Macqueen, Tom Edden, Gareth Mason, Paul Hunter, Eloise Webb, Joshua McGuire, Matthew Steer, Mimi Ndiweni, Laura Elsworthy, Ella Smith. Directed by Kenneth Branagh

We all grow up with fairy tales. We’re familiar with all the ones in which courageous and kind young women overcome poverty and the machinations of villains to triumph over adversity and win the love of handsome young princes who whisk them away to a happy ending of wealth and privilege. Most little girls grow up wondering what type of prince is going to sweep them off their feet.

Like most fairy tale heroines, Ella (Webb) wasn’t really thinking in those terms, at least not right away. She was too busy living an idyllic childhood on a country estate with a loving mother (Atwell) and a doting father (Chaplin) who’s often away on business. She doesn’t have many human friends but she has companions in a trio of mice that she feeds and also the farm’s goose. It’s a lovely, sun-dappled existence.

But all good things must come to an end and Ella’s golden childhood does when her mother takes ill and dies, lingering long enough to make her daughter promise to have courage and be kind in life. She takes comfort in that she still has her father but life isn’t quite as golden, not nearly as idyllic. Thinking that Ella needs a mother around her, her father decides to remarry, bringing into the household Lady Tremaine (Blanchett), the widow of an old friend of his, and her two spoiled, cruel and stupid daughters Drisella (McShera) and Anastasia (Grainger). None of the three are very pleasant but Ella treats them with kindness.

Then on a business trip her father also takes ill and dies, leaving Ella alone with these three monstrous females. Reduced to being essentially a servant in her own home, the newly rechristened Cinderella (James) – so named because of the embers staining her cheeks – tries to cope with being an orphan and being so cruelly used.

After a chance meeting with young Kip (Madden), who claims to be an apprentice in the castle of the King, in a forest during a hunt, Cinderella has hope that things might get better for her. What she doesn’t know is that Kip is actually the Prince who is apprentice to be the next King and with his father (Jacobi) in poor health, the pressure for him to marry is becoming intense. Traditionally, the royal family throws a ball at the castle in which all the eligible princesses from around the world are invited so that the prince of the castle might choose from one a bride to become the future Queen, but he has fallen deeply in love with Cinderella, although he doesn’t know her identity or her station in life. Desperate to see her again, he manages to convince his father to allow all the women of the kingdom to come to the ball as well, while the Grand Duke (Skarsgard) manipulates behind the scenes a match with the lovely Princess Chelina of Zaragosa (Perez).

Of course, everyone in the land is all aflutter over the prospects of attending a royal ball and Lady Tremaine knows that to get out of the financial bind she is now in due to her husband’s death that marrying off one of her daughters to the Prince would solve everything. Cinderella in the meantime longs to attend the ball so that she might see Kip again, whom she is quite taken by. She even finds an old dress that was once worn by her mother to wear, but the spiteful stepmother tears the dress and forbids her from attending, fearing the competition to her daughters.

Distraught, Cinderella sobs in the garden, realizing that her life will never change but her breakdown is interrupted by the appearance of an old crone begging for something to eat and drink which the compassionate Cinderella gives her. Turns out the old crone is her Fairy Godmother (Carter) who says “Hell YES you’re going to the ball,” or words to that effect. She conjures up a fabulous coach out of a pumpkin, footmen out of a pair of lizards and a driver from the goose. She also transforms her mother’s now ripped and ragged old dress into a beautiful gown and a pair of glass slippers – which are surprisingly comfortable – for her to wear. All the better to win the heart of a prince, although she has until midnight before the enchantments wear off.

For hordes of little girls, the princess fantasy is one that is central to their lives, the belief that a better life and a handsome princess who will adore them and see to their every happiness is just around the corner. How healthy this fantasy is can be debated as to whether it raises unrealistic expectations – not every handsome man is a prince, after all, and maybe the expectation that their own personal happiness is wrapped up in finding one. But that’s a debate for another time or place.

Branagh has always been a terrific director but as of late he has moved from Shakespeare and art house films to big budget event movies and this one continues in the series of live action reimaginings of classic Disney animated features. Inevitably, Cinderella will be compared to its 1950 predecessor but surprisingly it doesn’t fall as short as you think it might have.

The costumes and set design are lush and detailed, from the gilt on the pumpkin coach to the sumptuous ball gowns to the rustic charms of Cinderella’s home. This really looks like you’ve always imagined the fairy tale to be and I wouldn’t be surprised if down the road it got Oscar consideration for costume design and/or production design.

The acting is another matter. James is certainly as beautiful as a fairy tale princess, but her smile seems forced at times and her acting seems a tad stilted. Julia Roberts was a more believable fairy tale princess in Pretty Woman, that most modern of fairy tales, and more relatable. Not that Cinderella has to be a hooker mind you, but there was more genuineness coming from Roberts, although to compare James whose career is fairly nascent with one of the most glittering stars in the Hollywood firmament may be a trifle unfair.

One of the main attractions of the movie is that it is a retro fairy tale, which in this case is a good thing. This isn’t a re-working or a re-imagining; this is Cinderella exactly the way you remember it and the way your little girls envisioned it. This is the kind of movie that puts to the lie the old adage that “they don’t make ’em like this anymore,” because clearly they can and occasionally they do.

REASONS TO GO: Lush costumes and sets. Beautifully shot. Retro in a good way.
REASONS TO STAY: James’ performance a bit forced. Princess porn.
FAMILY VALUES: Suitable for most audiences except the very wee and impressionable.
TRIVIAL PURSUIT: James and McShera both appear in the hit PBS series Downton Abbey although their roles are reversed; in the show, James plays an aristocrat and McShera a servant.
CRITICAL MASS: As of 3/29/15: Rotten Tomatoes: 85% positive reviews. Metacritic: 67/100.
NEXT: The Divergent Series: Insurgent

New Releases for the Week of March 13, 2015


(Disney) Lily James, Cate Blanchett, Helena Bonham Carter, Richard Madden, Stellan Skarsgard, Nonso Anozie, Holliday Grainger, Derek Jacobi, Rob Brydon. Directed by Kenneth Branagh

An orphaned girl, cruelly abused at the hands of her stepmother and her two vicious daughters, dreams of meeting a kindred soul and seems to have found one in the form of Kit, an apprentice at the palace. But secrets abound; Kit is really the Prince, he is head over heels for the girl and the Grand Duke plots with the evil stepmother to keep the two apart. Fortunately, the courageous and kind young girl has a fairy godmother on her side and with pumpkin and mice transforms the girl into a beautiful young woman.

See the trailer, clips, a featurette and B-roll video here.
For more on the movie this is the website.
Release Formats: Standard, IMAX (opens Thursday)
Genre: Fantasy
Now Playing: Wide Release
Rating: PG (for mild thematic elements)

The Life and Mind of Mark DeFriest

(Naked Edge/City Drive) Scoot McNairy, Shea Whigham. Sentenced to four years for a petty crime, DeFriest finds his sentence being extended after escape attempts and generally bad behavior. But now his four year stretch has become twenty and as he comes up for yet another parole hearing, hard questions about our penal system begin to surface.

See the trailer here.
For more on the movie this is the website.
Release Formats: Standard
Genre: Documentary
Now Playing: Enzian Theater
Rating: NR

Red Army

(Sony Classics) Scotty Bowman, Vlacheslav Fetisov, Vladislav Tretiak, Ken Kurtis (voice). In the 1970s and 1980s, hockey wasn’t just the national sport in the Soviet Union, it was an obsession. The best team in the world was the Red Army team and it formed the basis for the formidable Soviet National team. The captain of that team took exception to the brutal training methods and often heartless treatment of its players and stood up to the system, going from national hero to political enemy in the process but paving the way for a revolution that would transform a nation and change the whole world.

See the trailer and clips here.
For more on the movie this is the website.
Release Formats: Standard
Genre: Documentary
Now Playing: Regal Winter Park Village
Rating: PG (for thematic material and language)

Run All Night

(Warner Brothers) Liam Neeson, Ed Harris, Joel Kinnaman, Vincent D’Onofrio. A prolific hit man for the mob knows he is at the tail end of his career, and as the sins of his past begin to catch up to him, he takes solace in the bottom of a bottle. He remains more or less protected by his boss who is his closest friend. However, when his boss’s son attempts to kill his own estranged son, he is forced to make a choice between his biological family and the Family. On the run with his boy, he has a single night to keep them both alive and to somehow make things right.

See the trailer, clips, interviews and B-roll video here.
For more on the movie this is the website.
Release Formats: Standard (opens Thursday)
Genre: Action
Now Playing: Wide Release
Rating: R (for strong violence, language including sexual references, and some drug use)

Four-Warned: March 2015

The Second Best Exotic Marigold HotelEvery 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.

Most of the movies will never play theatrically where you live (unless you live in either New York or Los Angeles) but many of those that won’t will be available through Video-on-Demand; check with your local cable or satellite providers to find out if any specific movie is available through that medium.

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.

1. CHAPPIE (1.3)
3. RUN ALL NIGHT (1.5)

2. MAN FROM RENO (1.4)

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

MARCH 4, 2015

THE LESSON (Film Movement) Genre: Drama. A teacher whose drunken lout of a husband has mortgaged their house to repair his junkyard car and is unable to find a legitimate means of paying off the debt must seek out a loan shark whose terms may be more than she can afford to pay. Release Strategy: Limited. RATING: 1.9 A morality play about modern economic desperation that may hit too close to home for some.

MARCH 6, 2015

A YEAR IN CHAMPAGNE (Goldwyn/IDP) Genre: Documentary. Six Champagne houses in France from major players like Bollinger to boutique labels are examined in this look at how the magic sparkling wine is made and marketed. Release Strategy: Limited. RATING: 2.4 Looks fascinating at the tribulations of making a wine in a region which is just on the edge of where winemaking is possible, to how it has become connected with celebrations large and small.
BAD ASSES ON THE BAYOU (Goldwyn) Genre: Action. The third installment of the franchise finds senior ass-kickers Frank Vega and Bernie Pope headed to a wedding of a friend in Louisiana, only to find that chaos can happen even in Cajun Country. Release Strategy: Limited. RATING: 2.9 Danny Trejo is always a hoot but this franchise may have already worn out its welcome.
BUZZARD (Oscilloscope) Genre: Dramedy. Forced to flee his home town for the urban danger zone of Detroit, a paranoid small time con man is forced to rely on his wits to survive. Release Strategy: Limited. RATING: 3.2 Kind of an indie punk rock heavy metal caper film revolution which is fine if you’re into that kind of thing.
CHAPPIE (Columbia) Genre: Science Fiction. The development of a self-aware robot brings corporate and governmental powers that be down on the developer and the being itself. Release Strategy: Wide (Standard, IMAX). RATING: 1.3 From the creator of District 9 comes his take on Isaac Asimov’s favorite subject.
FAULTS (Screen Media) Genre: Thriller. The parents of a young woman who has been brainwashed by a cult consult with one of the world’s foremost experts on mind control, who finds the situation isn’t anything like what he thought it would be. Release Strategy: Limited. RATING: 2.2 The trailer has a quirky sheen not unlike the Coen Brothers.
HAYRIDE 2 (Freestyle) Genre: Horror. When the serial killer Pitchfork escapes from custody, a manhunt ensues with the killer taking refuge in a hospital. Release Strategy: Limited. RATING: 2.8 Doesn’t look to have added much to the traditional unkillable slasher genre.
KIDNAPPING MR. HEINEKEN (Alchemy) Genre: Crime Thriller. The true story of the kidnapping of a beer magnate whose captors would receive the highest ransom ever paid for an individual. Release Strategy: Wide. RATING: 2.0 Anything with the great Anthony Hopkins in it is going to be worth the effort to go see it.
THE LIFE AND MIND OF MARK DEFRIEST (City Drive) Genre: Documentary. When a legendary escape artist comes up for parole after 30 years behind bars, the shock becomes palpable when his original four year sentence for a minor offense is considered. Release Strategy: Limited. RATING: 1.8 Has anyone mentioned that our justice system is completely broken?
LIKE SUNDAY, LIKE RAIN (Monterey) Genre: Drama. A 12-year-old musical prodigy of wealthy parents but a cold existence is cared for by a 23-year-old au pair who is a sometimes musician and a full-time rebel estranged from her own family. Release Strategy: Limited. RATING: 2.4 Played the Orlando Film Festival last year.
MERCHANTS OF DOUBT (Sony Classics) Genre: Documentary. Spin merchants with no qualifications whatsoever pass themselves off as scientific experts to debunk climate change, the effects of toxic chemicals and overuse of pharmaceuticals. Release Strategy: New York City only. RATING: 1.4 And here I thought this was going to be a comedy.
OCTOBER GALE (IFC) Genre: Thriller. In an isolated cabin on the Canadian coast, a recently widowed doctor finds a man suffering from gunshot wounds hiding out from two men intent on killing him. Release Strategy: Limited. RATING: 2.0 A different kind of role for Patricia Clarkson; color me intrigued.
ROAD HARD (FilmBuff) Genre: Comedy. With his career in a shambles, a former movie/sitcom superstar is forced to return to a standup career on the road, which is not his cup of tea at all. Release Strategy: Limited. RATING: 2.9 Wasn’t impressed with the trailer; this sounds like a great idea for a movie too.
THE SECOND BEST EXOTIC MARIGOLD HOTEL (Fox Searchlight) Genre: Comedy. The plucky AARP warriors are back along with their ambitious young Indian hotel manager as the success of the retirement resort necessitates the creation of a second. Release Strategy: Limited. RATING: 1.0 The first movie was one of my favorites of 2011.
STRAIGHT OUTTA TOMPKINS (Indican) Genre: Drama. A Noo Yawk street kid tries to survive in the brutal urban jungle of junkies, cops and pushers. Release Strategy: Limited. RATING: 2.8 Based on the young director’s own experiences which at least make it an interest just for authenticity.
THESE FINAL HOURS (Amplify/Well Go) Genre: Thriller. With the world ending in just a few hours, a pair of young people fight through a city gone mad to unite with loved ones before it all goes to hell. Release Strategy: Limited. RATING: 2.1 Really nice idea but the trailer for this Aussie apocalyptic thriller didn’t look particularly scintillating.
TWO MEN IN TOWN (Cohen Media Group) Genre: Drama. Released from prison, a troubled man uses his newfound Islamic faith to curb his violent impulses; the sheriff of the New Mexico town he lives in however thinks he won’t win that fight and goes on a campaign to get him jailed again – this time forever. Release Strategy: Limited. RATING: 2.6 Forest Whitaker vs. Harvey Keitel? Sounds like a winner to me!
UNFINISHED BUSINESS (20th Century Fox) Genre: Comedy. After starting up a new company, a hot shot salesman finds that he’s competing with the ruthless corporation he left for an account that his new firm needs to survive. Release Strategy: Wide. RATING: 1.9 For whatever reason I’ve always found Vince Vaughn to make pretty decent movies; even when they’re bad, he’s decent.
X/Y (eOne) Genre: Drama. Caught in the cracks between Generations X and Y, a group of friends try to establish relationships in an era of technology and social media Release Strategy: Limited. RATING: 2.2 Has a lot of potential but needs to be light on the soap opera and heavy on the social commentary.

MARCH 10, 2015

BITE SIZE (Bond/360) Genre: Documentary. Childhood obesity is at epidemic levels; four kids from diverse backgrounds wage their own battle of the bulge in an attempt to beat the scale. Release Strategy: Limited. RATING: 3.1 We are a society obsessed with weight and image; kids these days are caught in between a rock (bullying) and a hard place (eating compulsions).

MARCH 13, 2015

3 HEARTS (Cohen Media Group) Genre: Drama. After missing a train home to Paris, two Parisians make a connection in a provincial town but end up going their separate ways but when one unknowingly marries the other’s sister, sparks end up flying. Release Strategy: Limited. RATING: 2.2 Nobody knows the ways of the heart like the French and given this is a master filmmaker with a strong cast, well, you do the math.
ALONGSIDE THE ROADWAY (Indican) Genre: Comedy. Two young people from two different cultures take a road trip together to the largest music festival in California. Release Strategy: Limited. RATING: 2.8 Has that indie vibe that can be a little bit overly precious.
ANARCHY (Lionsgate) Genre: Crime Drama. Crooked cops and an outlaw biker gang collide in all-out war over drug trade supremacy. Release Strategy: Limited. RATING: 2.6 Based on Shakespeare’s play Cymbaline.
CHAMPS (Amplify/Starz Digital Media) Genre: Sports Documentary. Follows the careers of Mike Tyson, Evander Holyfield and Bernard Hopkins, how all three took differing roads from some of the most horrifying circumstances imaginable to become world boxing champions. Release Strategy: Limited. RATING: 2.9 Not just a look at triumph vs. adversity but also at one of the most corrupt and vicious businesses in sport.
CINDERELLA (Disney) Genre: Fantasy. The live action version of the timeless fairy tale in which a scullery maid, horribly abused by her wicked stepmother, is transformed by a fairy godmother into a mysterious beauty who catches the eye of the Prince. Release Strategy: Wide (Standard, IMAX). RATING: 1.7 Lushly filmed by Kenneth Branagh but the trailer didn’t really wow me.
THE COBBLER (Image) Genre: Fantasy. Working in the same shoe repair shop that has been in his family for generations, a man discovers a magical heirloom that allows him to step into the lives of his customers. Release Strategy: Limited. RATING: 2.1 An Adam Sandler fantasy that is coming out via the indie route; an interesting concept.
EVA (Weinstein) Genre: Science Fiction. A cybernetic engineer tasked with creating a realistic robot child develops a special bond with his niece. Release Strategy: Limited. RATING: 2.5 Sounds fascinating and I really like Daniel Bruhl but couldn’t find a trailer.
HOME SWEET HELL (Vertical) Genre: Dramedy. When a man living the perfect life embarks on an extramarital affair, he has no idea what lengths his image-obsessed wife will go to in order to maintain the facade of the perfect marriage. Release Strategy: Limited. RATING: 2.2 Patrick Wilson and Katherine Heigl are appealing leads.
IT FOLLOWS (Radius) Genre: Horror. Following an odd sexual encounter, a teenage girl has the inescapable feeling that something is following her and that something terrifying is closing in on her; and as it turns out, she’s right. Release Strategy: Limited. RATING: 1.7 Turns the urban legend horror convention on its ear.
THE LOVERS (IFC) Genre: Adventure. In a coma following a diving accident while trying to save his wife, a young archaeologist finds himself in 18th century India where he is an English sea captain involved in a steamy romance with an Indian warrior. Release Strategy: Limited. RATING: 2.0 A love story transcending time from acclaimed director Roland Joffe.
MUCK (Anchor Bay) Genre: Horror. Teenagers fleeing an ancient evil in a burial ground find refuge in a house, only to discover something even more evil lurks there. Release Strategy: Limited. RATING: 2.4 One of those horror movies that you can tell will either be great or just awful.
RUN ALL NIGHT (Warner Brothers) Genre: Action. When an assassin saves his estranged son from being shot by the son of a mob boss – who happens to be his closest friend – he must take his none-too-happy boy under his wing for the night to avoid teams of thugs and crooked cops out to kill them both. Release Strategy: Wide. RATING: 1.5 Liam Neeson is the current king of the action stars.
SEYMOUR: AN INTRODUCTION (Sundance Selects) Genre: Documentary. Piano prodigy Seymour Bernstein, who retired from performing to concentrate on teaching, is profiled by actor Ethan Hawke who met Bernstein while dealing with his own stage fright issues. Release Strategy: Limited. RATING: 2.2 While ostensibly about the artistic impulse, it is also about life; very inspiring.
TREADING WATER (The Orchard) Genre: Romantic Comedy. Going through life with a rare condition that leaves him smelling like a fish, a young man tries to cope with an eccentric family, loneliness and a childhood crush that might be his saving grace. Release Strategy: Limited. RATING: 2.8 Yet another indie film that looks like it takes its own quirkiness too seriously.
WALTER (eOne) Genre: Comedy. The son of God may be a movie ticket taker who has the ultimate responsibility to judge all who come into his theater which is fine until he meets a ghost stuck in Purgatory who wants a decision – Heaven or Hell – and he wants it now! Release Strategy: New York City/Los Angeles. RATING: 1.7 A pretty stellar cast and I have to admit the trailer is a lot better than I thought it’d be.
THE WRECKING CREW (Magnolia) Genre: Musical Documentary. One studio band played behind the Beach Boys, Frank and Nancy Sinatra, the Monkees and Sonny and Cher; they became legends in the industry and helped create rock and roll as we know it. Release Strategy: Limited. RATING: 2.3 Another “unsung heroes” musical documentary but all of them have been very good to outstanding in quality.

MARCH 18, 2015

AMOUR FOU (Film Movement) Genre: Drama. During the German Romantic era, a poet sorely wants to link love and death in a suicide pact but his lover, a married woman, will have no part of it – until she discovers she’s contracted a terminal illness. Release Strategy: New York City. RATING: 3.1 Seems a little morbid and more than a little pretentious.
KUMIKO: THE TREASURE HUNTER (Amplify) Genre: Drama. A Japanese office worker, condemned to a humdrum life, sees a fictional movie and becomes convinced that it is a documentary and that there is treasure buried in North Dakota and journeys to America to find it. Release Strategy: New York City (opens in Los Angeles March 20). RATING: 1.5 Beautifully shot, this has the quirky quality of a Coen Brothers film, appropriately enough.

MARCH 20, 2015

BACKCOUNTRY (IFC Midnight) Genre: Thriller. After agreeing to go with her outdoorsy boyfriend on a camping trip, a city girl sees everything that can go wrong go wrong – a creepy stalker guy who has eyes for her, then her boyfriend gets hopelessly lost, then they wander into a bear’s territory. Release Strategy: Limited. RATING: 2.9 …and then a dinosaur leaps out of a trans-dimensional portal…just seems a little bit too much to me.
CAN’T STAND LOSING YOU: SURVIVING THE POLICE (Cinema Libre) Genre: Musical Documentary. The rise, fall and reunion tour of one of the seminal New Wave bands of the 1980s.. Release Strategy: Limited. RATING: 2.0 One of my favorite bands from that era, always good to see footage you haven’t seen of a band you love.
CUPCAKES (Strand) Genre: Musical Comedy. Accidentally entered into the Universong competition as the representatives for Israel, a group of misfits set out to take the competition by storm – in their own unique style. Release Strategy: New York City. RATING: 2.4 There’s a disco-era kind of vibe that I found oddly charming in the trailer.
DANNY COLLINS (Bleecker Street) Genre: Dramedy. An aging singer-songwriter who hasn’t written a song in decades tries to resume writing music and reconnect with his estranged son after finding a long-lost letter written to him by John Lennon in the 1970s. Release Strategy: Limited. RATING: 1.7 A pretty impressive cast here with Al Pacino, Annette Benning, Bobby Cannavale, Jennifer Garner and Christopher Plummer.
THE DIVERGENT SERIES: INSURGENT (Summit) Genre: Science Fiction. The power-hungry Erudite group go to war with the rebels led by Tris and Four to rule over what’s left of Chicago. Release Strategy: Wide. RATING: 1.4 I have to admit I liked the first movie but the trailers I’ve seen for this one are troubling.
DO YOU BELIEVE (Pure Flix) Genre: Faith Drama. Encountering an old time street corner preacher, a suburban pastor is shaken to the core by his visible faith; twelve people whose lives have taken different courses are about to intersect at the crossroads of the titular question. Release Strategy: Limited. RATING: 4.0 Something to get the church crowd excited.
GROWING UP AND OTHER LIES (eOne) Genre: Comedy. On his last day in New York City, an artist and three of his buddies decide to recreate their moment of glory – a walk down the length of Manhattan but of course things don’t go quite as planned. Release Strategy: Limited. RATING: 2.8 Kind of your typical indie 30-something deal with growing up ensemble thing.
THE GUNMAN (Open Road) Genre: Action. Betrayed by the international intelligence organization he worked for, an operative must survive in a hunt across Europe to clear his name and find out who is responsible. Release Strategy: Wide. RATING: 2.1 Sounds like a pretty typical spy film – only this one’s with Sean Penn.
HUNTING ELEPHANTS (XLRator) Genre: Comedy. Two Israeli rest home residents, a penniless English lord and a precocious 12-year-old plan to rob a bank. Release Strategy: Limited. RATING: 2.6 Quirky Israeli comedy with, of all people, Sir Patrick Stewart in a supporting role.
JAUJA (Cinema Guild) Genre: Drama. In 19th century Argentina a Danish engineer arrives with his daughter to work for the Argentine army which is in the midst of a genocidal action in Patagonia; when she runs away with a soldier, he goes after her despite the hostile atmosphere. Release Strategy: Limited. RATING: 1.9 Beautifully shot and interesting concept; all this and Viggo Mortensen too.
LA SAPIENZA (Kino-Lorber) Genre: Drama. Trying to generate some passion, a middle aged architect and his bored wife travel to Italy. Release Strategy: Limited. RATING: 2.8 Looks very pretty from the trailer but get the sense this is very slow-paced.
THE LETTERS (Freestyle Releasing) Genre: Drama. The correspondence between Mother Teresa and her spiritual adviser Father Celeste van Exern over a 50 year period gives us insight into the woman behind the saint. Release Strategy: Limited. RATING: 1.7 The trailer hints at a very powerful spiritual experience.
LILY AND KAT (Mance) Genre: Dramedy. The friendship of two young women in New York is tested when one of them falls in love with an artist. Release Strategy: Limited. RATING: 3.1 Looks a little bit vacuous and the characters more than a little shallow.
LOST AND LOVE (China Lion) Genre: Drama. 15 years after his two-year-old daughter was kidnapped, a dogged Chinese father continues the search for her. Release Strategy: Limited. RATING: 2.7 The more I see of Andy Lau the more I want to see.
SECRET OF WATER (Paladin) Genre: Documentary. Water makes up most of the planet and most of our bodies but we seem to as a species take it for granted; this documentary points out why that’s not a smart move. Release Strategy: Limited. RATING: 2.5 Worthy subject for a documentary but no trailer anywhere.
SHE’S LOST CONTROL (Monument) Genre: Thriller. A sexual surrogate takes on a new client and finds her line between professional and personal beginning to blur. Release Strategy: Limited. RATING: 2.4 Illustrates the vulnerability of a surrogate; looks to be quite gripping.
SPRING (Drafthouse) Genre: Horror. While in Italy fleeing his past, an American gets involved with an Italian girl, unaware that her own past harbors a dangerous secret. Release Strategy: Limited. RATING: 2.1 One of those heady films that throws knockout punches when you least expect them.
TRACERS (Lionsgate) Genre: Action. Deeply in debt to a violent gang, a parkour expert joins a crew that uses the discipline to pull of increasingly daring heists that throw him from the frying pan into the fire. Release Strategy: Limited. RATING: 2.6 Very kinetic action sequences but looks pretty generic and with Taylor Lautner starring I’m definitely hesitant on this one.
THE WALKING DECEASED (ARC) Genre: Horror Spoof. The recent craze in zombie movies get their turn to be skewered by a spoof. Release Strategy: Limited. RATING: 3.4 I have to admit I’ve never seen a horror spoof I’ve liked but hope springs eternal.
ZOMBEAVERS (Freestyle Releasing) Genre: Horror. Groupies on the prowl for a good time get lost in a swamp infested with undead beavers.. Release Strategy: Limited. RATING: 2.3 I’m beginning to think that we’re running out of ideas.

MARCH 25, 2015

THE KIDNAPPING OF MICHEL HOULLEBECQ (Roadside Attractions) Genre: Dramedy. Accidentally abandoned by his squad in Belfast in 1971, a British soldier struggles to make it back to his barracks over the course of a deadly night. Release Strategy: Limited. RATING: 1.8 A soldier caught behind enemy lines always makes for compelling drama.

MARCH 27, 2015

A GIRL LIKE HER (Parkside) Genre: Drama. The victim of a school bully secretly takes video footage of her bullying which threatens to tear their community apart. Release Strategy: Limited. RATING: 2.1 Bullying has been a serious subject as of late in movies and on television; this is a different look at it.
THE BARBER (ARC Entertainment) Genre: Horror. A man on the hunt for a serial killer – not to capture but to become his protégé – finds one in a mild-mannered barber. Release Strategy: Limited. RATING: 2.8 I’ve always had a soft spot for Scott Glenn.
GET HARD (Warner Brothers) Genre: Comedy. Convicted of a white collar crime, a man who has lived a pampered and sheltered existence and has 30 days to get his affairs in order turns to the only black man he knows to get him ready for prison – despite the fact his friend is as upstanding a citizen as there is. Release Strategy: Wide. RATING: 1.8 Will Ferrell and Kevin Hart is a partnership I can get behind.
HOME (DreamWorks) Genre: Animated Feature. A well-meaning but kind of klutzy alien is hunted by his own people to the place where he has taken refuge – Earth. Release Strategy: Wide (Standard, 3D, IMAX 3D). RATING: 2.0 Seems an awful lot like Lilo and Stitch to me with only some minor character differences.
MAN FROM RENO (Gravitas) Genre: Mystery. Two people – one a small town sheriff, one a best-selling mystery writer taking a breather from a brutal book tour, both encounter a mysterious Japanese man who disappears without a trace. Release Strategy: New York City/Los Angeles. RATING: 1.4 I think I could get into the noir element that this movie seems to embrace.
NIGHTLIGHT (Lionsgate) Genre: Horror. Five teens camping in the woods for a night of flashlight games and ghost stories awaken a slumbering evil that will have them fighting for their lives. Release Strategy: Limited. RATING: 3.2 Judging from the trailer this is another found footage horror movie; hope the movie is better than the trailer.
THE RIOT CLUB (IFC) Genre: Drama. Students at Oxford are recruited for an underground society which promises wealth and luxury but descends into an orgy of violence. Release Strategy: Limited. RATING: 1.6 Based on an actual club at Oxford that counts current Prime Minister David Cameron among its alumni.
SALT OF THE EARTH (Sony Classics) Genre: Documentary. Photographer Sebastiao Salgado has turned the focus of his lens from great events in human history to chronicling pristine places on Earth to pay tribute to the planet’s beauty – while these places still exist. Release Strategy: Limited. RATING: 1.8 The Oscar-nominated doc from acclaimed filmmaker Wim Wenders.
SERENA (Magnolia) Genre: Drama. In the 1920s, a North Carolina timber baron’s marriage is threatened when his wife learns about secrets from his past. Release Strategy: Limited. RATING: 2.2 Reunites Bradley Cooper and Jennifer Lawrence from American Hustle.
WELCOME TO NEW YORK (IFC) Genre: Drama. The business trip of a French banker to New York descends into debauchery, ending in a shocking event. Release Strategy: Limited. RATING: 2.6 Based on an actual incident that grabbed headlines all around the world not that long ago.
WHILE WE’RE YOUNG (A24) Genre: Drama. A middle-aged couple seems to have things figured out until they are befriended by a younger couple. Release Strategy: New York City/Los Angeles (expanding in April). RATING: 2.1 Noah Baumbach is a director to be reckoned with, particularly when he has a cast that includes Ben Stiller, Naomi Watts, Amanda Seyfried and Adam Driver.
WHITE GOD (Magnolia) Genre: Drama. When the State turns against dogs, dogs turn back against the State. Release Strategy: Limited. RATING: 1.5 Looks like a great movie, but as a soft-hearted dog lover I don’t know how well I’ll be able to handle it.
A WOLF AT THE DOOR (Outside) Genre: Thriller. The ultimate parental nightmare happens to a Brazilian couple; their daughter has been picked up by a strange woman from school and has disappeared but what makes things even worse is that it is discovered that the husband has been having an extramarital affair and his paramour may be involved. Release Strategy: Limited. RATING: 2.7 Sounds like a compelling drama but the trailer is oddly unexciting.

MARCH 31, 2015

TO WRITE LOVE ON HER ARMS (Sony Classics) Genre: True Life Drama. Hooked on drugs, a young Orlando teen makes a heroic effort to kick her habit and inspires others to create a foundation to help kids just like her. Release Strategy: Limited. RATING: 2.0 Was the 2012 Florida Film Festival opening night film, finally getting a theatrical and VOD release; you can read my review of the movie, which was then entitled Renee here.

Chappie, The Second Best Exotic Marigold Hotel, Unfinished Business, Cinderella, Run All Night, The Wrecking Crew, Danny Collins, The Divergent Series: Insurgent, The Gunman, Get Hard, Home

Into the Woods

Emily Blunt and James Corden are uncertain how critics are going to take their new movie.

Emily Blunt and James Corden are uncertain how critics are going to take their new movie.

(2014) Musical (Disney) Meryl Streep, James Corden, Emily Blunt, Anna Kendrick, Chris Pine, Daniel Huttlestone, Christine Baranski, Tammy Blanchard, Lucy Punch, Lilla Crawford, Tracy Ullman, Johnny Depp, Mackenzie Mauzy, Billy Magnussen, Annette Crosby, Frances de la Tour, Simon Russell Beale, Joanna Riding, Richard Glover, Pamela Betsy Cooper. Directed by Rob Marshall

We all of us grow up with fairy tales. The works of the Brothers Grimm and Hans Christian Anderson are known to us if for no other reason than the Disney animations based on them.

In 1986 legendary Broadway composer Stephen Sondheim took the characters from a number of different fairy tales by the Brothers Grimm and turned it into a Broadway musical. The thing got rave reviews, a legion of fans and a boatload of Tony Awards. It is revived regularly to this day. Now Disney is taking it to the big screen and has enlisted Rob Marshall who was successful doing the same for Chicago.

\In a small village on the edge of a dark and deep forest lies a village in which lies a Baker (Corden) and his wife (Blunt). They are basically good and decent people who yearn to have a child of their own but they can’t seem to make it work. Little Red Riding Hood (Crawford) stops by their shop and begs for bread to give to her ailing grandmother (Crosby). The good-hearted couple and Red takes a lot more than they bargained for.

They are then accosted by the Witch (Streep) who lives next door who informs them that their line is cursed because the Baker’s father (Beale) stole some magic beans from the Witch’s garden. Dear old dad fled and left the Baker on his own to run the business. However there’s a way out – if the Baker can gather a cow as white as snow, cloth as red as blood, hair as yellow as corn and a slipper as pure as gold, she can create a spell that will lift the curse and allow them to have children. There is a deadline however for the spell to work.

Elsewhere Cinderella (Kendrick) lives with her Stepmother (Baranski) and that lady’s two daughters – Florinda (Blanchard) and Lucinda (Punch) from a previous marriage – and is being generally ridiculed and abused by the three women. She longs to go to the King’s Ball but that isn’t going to happen; the girl is basically dressed in rags but a gown is required. She is met in the forest by Prince Charming (Pine) who notices the girl’s plucky courage at walking in the woods by herself.

Young Jack (Huttlestone) is somewhat dense and something of a dreamer. His mom (Ullman) is exasperated with the boy; they are very poor and the harvest was bad, their milk cow Milky White wasn’t giving milk and there simply won’t be enough food to last them through the winter. She tells him that he must sell the cow at the market in the village and sadly, he leads his only friend away to market.

Jack and the Baker meet up in the woods and the latter convinces the former to exchange the cow for some beans he had in his pocket which the Baker convinces Jack are magic beans. Jack takes the beans, the Baker takes the cow and when Jack’s mother finds out she furiously chucks the beans away. Turns out that those beans that were the magic beans the Baker’s father stole and had left in his hunting jacket that he’d left behind and which the Baker now wore into the woods. A giant beanstalk grows and you know what happens after that.

Actually, you know most of what happens up until about the middle of the story. Then things start going sideways. Happily ever afters are relatively rare in this or any other world and there are consequences for the things that we do and they aren’t always pleasant ones.

Marshall knows how to bring big production values to his stage adaptations and he utilizes them here. While the movie was mostly filmed on sets, the woods actually look like woods (the set was so realistic that Pine and Blunt got lost in the woods and had to be rescued by a production assistant). The singing which was mostly pre-recorded is also quite adequate, particularly by Streep who has an excellent set of pipes as we learned from Mamma Mia. In fact her performance as the witch is one of the standouts here; she gives a character who is ostensibly wicked depth and feeling, making her a more sympathetic creature than perhaps she has any right to be. Blunt, as the Baker’s wife, is flawed and makes mistakes but she has a wonderful heart and really tugs at the heartstrings late in the film. She also has some pretty fine chemistry with Corden.

Pine and Magnussen both provide comedy relief in the form of a song called “Agony” which involves much posing by a waterfall. We are reminded once again that fairy tales – and Disney for that matter – are all about the princess for a reason. In fact, most of the musical numbers are staged well, although the general complaint that I have with Sondheim is that he tends to overwork his musical themes to death and that is certainly the case here.

The juvenile actors are a little bit less satisfactory. While Crawford is adequate, Huttlestone overacts and sings like he’s in a junior high school play. I normally don’t like taking shots at young actors but it really was distracting from the overall film and lessened my enjoyment of it.

If you come into the theater expecting Once Upon a Time or Galavant from ABC (a subsidiary of Disney) you’re going to be shocked. The tone here is dark, very dark – particularly in the second act. There is some violence, people do get killed (sometimes onscreen as we watch) and people deal with grief, cheating spouses and imminent peril from a very pissed-off giant.

Nonetheless this is still more entertaining than I expected it to be, given that Marshall’s track record since Chicago has been pretty uneven. It also doesn’t have the magic I hoped it would have, given the love that the musical has enjoyed for decades. It’s good enough to recommend, but not good enough to rave over.

REASONS TO GO: Decent performances and some unexpected twists and turns. Fairly strong representation of the Broadway show.
REASONS TO STAY: Drags in places.
FAMILY VALUES: A few disturbing images, a suggestive scene involving adultery and some adult thematic material as well as fantasy action and peril.
TRIVIAL PURSUIT: Ironically, Emily Blunt who plays a woman unable to have a baby was pregnant during the shoot.
CRITICAL MASS: As of 1/6/15: Rotten Tomatoes: 70% positive reviews. Metacritic: 69/100.
NEXT: The Two Faces of January