Trouble With the Curve


Trouble With the Curve

Amy Adams discovers that Clint Eastwood is very sensitive about “empty chair” jokes.

(2012) Drama (Warner Brothers) Clint Eastwood, Amy Adams, Justin Timberlake, John Goodman, Robert Patrick, Matthew Lillard, Joe Massingill, Ed Lauter, Chelcie Ross, Raymond Anthony Thomas, George Wyner, Bob Gunton, Jack Gilpin, Clifton Guterman, Scott Eastwood, Jay Galloway. Directed by Robert Lorenz

 

Baseball is a game of timing. The batter has to time his swing just so to connect and hit it out of the park. The runner has to start his sprint and just the right time to successfully steal the base. The outfielder has to time his jump to put himself in a position to catch the ball. And the pitcher has to know when the right time to throw that nasty fastball down the middle is or else he’ll be watching the ball exit the playing field.

Life is all about timing too. Nobody know that better than Gus Lobel (Eastwood). A longtime scout for the Atlanta Braves, he was responsible for signing some of the most important players in the history of the franchise. He’s an anachronism though; whereas in the post-Moneyball era clubs have come to rely on computers and statistics, Gus is all about instincts and intangibles. He can tell more about a player from the sound of their bat connecting to the ball than most scouts can from an entire laptop full of statistics and computer analyses. The Braves have the number two pick in the upcoming draft and they’re interested in a player named Bo Gentry (Massingill). They send Gus to check him out.

But that timing is actually bad. Gus is developing macular degeneration and isn’t seeing as well. His friend (and chief of scouting) Pete Klein (Goodman) recognizes that something is wrong. Worried for his friend and knowing that Gus’ contract is up in three months which the general manager Vince (Patrick) hasn’t decided to re-sign him, and knowing that Philip Sanderson (Lillard), an ambitious and ruthless scout wants Gus gone, calls Gus’ daughter Mickey (Adams).

Mickey is also in the midst of some bad timing. She’s a lawyer whose relationship with her dad has been chilly for some time, which is more or less how Gus wants it. She’s also ambitious and driven, bucking to be the first female partner in the firm and the youngest partner ever. She’s working on an important case for the firm and winning it would be her key to having her name on the door.

Pete wants her to go down to North Carolina and keep an eye on the old man. She’s reluctant to do it – and her proud and cantankerous dad doesn’t want her to do it. In true Hollywood fashion, that’s exactly what she does.

At first the two are back in their usual patterns of behavior. Then into the mix comes Johnny Flanagan (Timberlake), a pitcher that Gus once signed who had a promising career until he blew his arm out. Now he’s scouting for the Red Sox, hoping to land a job in their broadcast booth next season. He too is there to see Gentry and determine whether he’s worthy of the first pick in the draft.

He gets googly eyed for Mickey pretty much from moment one but she’s just out of a relationship with a fellow lawyer (Guterman) that left her feeling as if she might be emotionally closed off after all. However it doesn’t take long for Flanagan’s charm to work on her and the two begin to get closer.

However, Gus has his doubts about the arrogant, self-absorbed Gentry who certainly can hit them out of the park. Nothing the stats and his direct observation tell him that there’s anything other than big time endorsement deals and multi-million dollar contracts in Gentry’s future – other than his gut. While Gus’ baseball instincts aren’t in question, he doesn’t seem to know how to relate to his daughter and she blames him for abandoning her twice.

This is not so much a movie about baseball except metaphorically and baseball has always worked superbly well as a metaphor. This is first and foremost a movie about relationships. It is also a movie about communication – and  movie about timing, yes.

Eastwood has made an art out of playing the cantankerous old man and he does a pretty solid job of it here. He came out of retirement (as an actor) to do this for a friend and colleague when some space opened up on his directing schedule when Beyonce Knowles’ pregnancy put the planned remake of A Star is Born into turnaround. Although Eastwood isn’t saying it this time, there’s a good chance this is his final film as an actor so that accounts for something.

Adams is one of the most likable actresses in Hollywood. She’s very much the girl next door type, although she can be smoldering and sex when she needs to be (as she is in a lake swimming scene). She has some good chemistry with both Timberlake and Eastwood. I have to admit that she’s been one of my favorites for several years now.

Goodman, Patrick and Lillard are solid character performances and Goodman, who once played Babe Ruth on the silver screen, makes a fine baseball man. Lillard is a fine actor as well – no reflection on him – but his character is kind of cliché in nearly every way. I don’t think the character needed to be drawn quite the same way; he could have been a passionate believer in computers as a tool for evaluating baseball talent without being quite such a d-bag. I think the movie would have worked better with a more sympathetic antagonist.

There are some real emotional scenes to deal with here, most of which having to do with the things that caused Gus to be so closed off and, well, scared to put it bluntly. That these things affected his relationship with his daughter is a pleasant surprise. These scenes and others that deal with the way they relate to each other are the best in the movie. The presence of Eastwood and Adams doesn’t hurt either, but while the writing is flawed, the basic premise is solid and the movie works overall. Definitely this is not one just for baseball fans or geriatrics.

REASONS TO GO: Eastwood is always engaging and Adams makes a nice foil for him. Baseball sequences are good. Some nice dialogue and character development.

REASONS TO STAY: Predictable. Would have been better without a generic antagonist.

FAMILY VALUES: The language can get salty; there are some sexual references and some of the themes are pretty heavy.

TRIVIAL PURSUIT: Eastwood, who had announced that the 2008 film Gran Torino would be his last on-camera appearance came out of acting retirement to star in long-time producing partner Lorenz’ first film as a director.

CRITICAL MASS: As of 10/2/12: Rotten Tomatoes: 54% positive reviews. Metacritic: 58/100. The reviews are mediocre.

COMPARISON SHOPPING: Bull Durham

ATLANTA BRAVES LOVERS: The team Gus works for is the Braves;  the walls of the Braves offices (and Gus’ home) are decorated with pictures of their greatest players going back to their days as the Milwaukee Braves.

FINAL RATING: 7/10

NEXT: Ong Bak 2

New Releases for the Week of September 21, 2012


September 21, 2012DREDD

(Lionsgate) Karl Urban, Olivia Thirlby, Lena Headey, Rakie Ayola, Wood Harris, Warrick Grier, Jason Cope, Joe Vaz, Scott Sparrow. Directed by Pete Travis

In the future, the world is divided into irradiated wastelands and vast cities overcrowded and crime-ridden. Justice is dispensed by Judges, a combination street cop, judge, jury and executioner. The most feared of these is Dredd, who with his rookie partner Anderson is tasked with riding the streets of Slo-Mo, a drug that allows users to experience reality at a fraction of its normal speed. However, the drug lord who controls most of it, an ex-prostitute named Ma-Ma doesn’t take too kindly to having her business interrupted and a war erupts that will push even Dredd beyond his limits. Based on the iconic British comic series.

See the trailer, promos and featurettes here.

For more on the movie this is the website.

Release formats: Standard, 3D

Genre: Science Fiction

Rating: R (for strong bloody violence, language, drug use and some sexual content)

10 Years

(Anchor Bay) Channing Tatum, Rosario Dawson, Justin Long, Kate Mara. A group of friends reunite for their 10 year high school reunion. This ensemble piece follows them through the big night to see how they have – and haven’t – changed over the years as their tangled relationships begin to unravel before their very eyes.

See the trailer here.

For more on the movie this is the website.

Release formats: Standard

Genre: Drama

Rating: PG-13 (for language, alcohol abuse, some sexual material and drug use)

End of Watch

(Open Road) Jake Gyllenhaal, Michael Pena, Anna Kendrick, America Ferrera. Two cocky young police officers patrol the mean streets of south central Los Angeles, one of the most dangerous areas in the country. They wind up in the crosshairs of a Mexican drug cartel after a routine traffic stop leads them into places they never dreamed they’d be. Only their loyalty and support for one another and the love of their families stands between them and oblivion.

See the trailer and clips here.

For more on the movie this is the website.

Release formats: Standard

Genre: Crime Drama

Rating: R (for strong violence, some disturbing images, pervasive language including sexual references, and some drug use)

Heroine

(UTV) Kareena Kapoor, Arjun Rampal, Randeep Hooda, Shahana Goswami. A Bollywood actress, once the best in the business, sees her career go on the decline despite her best efforts to stay on top.

See the trailer here.

For more on the movie this is the website.

Release formats: Standard

Genre: Bollywood

Rating: NR

House at the End of the Street

(Relativity) Jennifer Lawrence, Elisabeth Shue, Max Theriot, Gil Bellows. A newly-divorced mom and her teenage daughter move into a new house hoping to make a fresh start. That is, until they discover that a neighboring home was the scene of a gruesome multiple murder. Things go downhill from there when the daughter develops a relationship with the only survivor of the massacre – and the person responsible for the crime may be back for seconds.

See the trailer, featurettes and a clip here.

For more on the movie this is the website.

Release formats: Standard

Genre: Horror

Rating: PG-13 (for intense sequences of violence and terror, thematic elements, language, some teen partying and drug material)

The Master

(Weinstein) Philip Seymour Hoffman, Joaquin Phoenix, Amy Adams, Rami Malek. Shortly after the Second World War a down-on-his-luck veteran is ensnared by a charismatic intellectual who has created a faith-based organization to which the vet becomes his right-hand man. However, the ex-soldier begins to see and hear things that cause him to question the faith he has embraced and the man who has become his mentor.

See the trailer and clips here.

For more on the movie this is the website.

Release formats: Standard

Genre: Drama

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

Trouble With the Curve

(Warner Brothers) Clint Eastwood, Amy Adams, Justin Timberlake, John Goodman. A baseball scout, one of the most respected in the game, is starting to show his age. His eyesight isn’t so good and he wants to go out on top, but his team is questioning his judgment. His only option is to ask his daughter, a bright young lawyer who has grown apart from him as of late, to help him. She puts her career on hold despite her misgivings and her father’s objections to spend some quality time with him and in the process, the two find out some long-held secrets about one another that might tear them apart permanently.

See the trailer here.

For more on the movie this is the website.

Release formats: Standard

Genre: Sports Drama

Rating: PG-13 (for language, sexual references, some thematic material and smoking)

Unconditional

(Harbinger Media Partners) Michael Ealy, Lynn Collins, Bruce McGill, Diego Klattenhoff. When a senseless act of violence takes the husband of a children’s author away from her, she loses her faith and her desire to live. However, an encounter with a couple of kid leads to a reunion with her oldest friend whose compassion and kindness towards the kids in an underprivileged neighborhood leads to new revelations about God’s role in her life.

See the trailer here.

For more on the movie this is the website.

Release formats: Standard

Genre: Christian Drama

Rating: PG-13 (for some violent content and mature thematic elements)

J. Edgar


J. Edgar

Armie Hammer and Leonardo di Caprio get a look at the critics who complained about their make-up.

(2011) Biographical Drama (Warner Brothers) Leonardo di Caprio, Armie Hammer, Naomi Watts, Judi Dench, Josh Lucas, Ken Howard, Geoff Pierson, Dermot Mulroney, Zach Grenier, Denis O’Hare, Damon Herriman, Stephen Root, Lea Thompson, Christopher Shyer. Directed by Clint Eastwood

Like the subject of yesterday’s documentary review, J. Edgar Hoover is a polarizing figure. There are those who believe he was the nation’s greatest lawman, a tremendous organizer and meticulous planner who built the Federal Bureau of Investigation from a powerless joke to perhaps the most elite law enforcement group in the world.

However, there are many who look at him as more of a cautionary tale, proof that absolute power corrupts absolutely. His confidential files on many prominent Americans destroyed lives and created a climate of fear that lasted for half a century. Eastwood, a prominent Libertarian, takes on a figure who remains enigmatic more than thirty years after his death, one whose private life was a source of great speculation but of which little is truly known.

Hoover (di Caprio) is embroiled in a feud with Martin Luther King, whom he considers to be a dangerous subversive. He also finds that his legacy is being tarnished and he feels that it is time to remind America just what an important part he played in keeping the country safe, deciding to dictate his memoirs to a parade of agents over the course of several years.

Starting with the Palmer Raids in 1919 when as a lawyer for the Department of Justice, he instituted a task force of Bureau of Investigation agents who would arrest anarchists after a series of bombs (including one at the home of then-Attorney General A. Mitchell Palmer (Pierson) who eventually appointed Hoover to his post).

Hoover’s bureau is at first toothless; not allowed by law to make arrests or carry firearms, they function mainly in an advisory capacity and aren’t taken too seriously in the law enforcement community. Hoover recruits men he feels will be above reproach both morally and professionally, including Clyde Tolson (Hammer), a young man that Hoover fancies. However, homosexuality is completely taboo back then and if Hoover has feelings for Tolson, he must hide them well.

Not only from the bureau but from his mother (Dench) who tells him she would rather have a dead son than a live daffodil, referring  to the nickname of a gay acquaintance of the family who killed himself after being outted. Hoover lives with his overbearing mother even though he is the chief of an important bureau in Washington.

Once prohibition begins, the age of the gangster commences. Hoover turns his attention from anarchists and communists to gangsters who are not only running around lawless (and escaping justice by crossing state lines) but have captured the popular imagination. Hoover demands and gets legislation that allows his FBI officers broader powers, including the power to make arrests and carry firearms. When Hoover is criticized for not having personally arrested anyone, he stages arrests to make it look like he was the agent in charge when in reality he was just showing up for the press cameras after the dangerous work was done.

The kidnapping of the son of Charles Lindbergh (Lucas) becomes a game changer. Hoover endures the ridicule of supercilious cops (Mulroney) and watches them bungle the investigation, refusing to use the modern investigative techniques that Hoover (to his credit) was instituting at the FBI. Of course, history records the fate of the Lindbergh baby but it was the FBI who arrested Bruno Hauptmann (Herriman) for the crime.

Eastwood makes clear that Hoover used the tragedy to further his own agenda, which in particular allowed the FBI to be in charge of a central repository of fingerprints . He also used it as publicity to establish the FBI as an organization to be admired; a series of comic books came out portraying Hoover as an action hero, taking down criminals himself (when in fact he did not).

It was about this time that Hoover began keeping private files on public figures, including Eleanor Roosevelt, which he used as potential sources of blackmail to get what he wanted but also to keep an eye on people he considered subversive. Those files would cover figures from politicians to Presidents, actors to musicians, writers to journalists and go well into the 1970s.

The movie deals with Hoover’s private life gingerly, including the rumors of cross-dressing and homosexuality, both of which are disputed to this day. Eastwood intimates that both were in the background but never really acted upon.

The movie is long (but then again it deals with a 50 year career in the public eye) and it drags a bit towards the end. Some critics have complained that Eastwood doesn’t give Hoover an excoriation for his abuses of power (which I think was unnecessary – there have been plenty of calling to accounts for Hoover to render another one unnecessary) and that the old age make-up used by Hammer and di Caprio were distracting (which I found untrue).

After a subpar effort with Hereafter Eastwood returns to form with a potential Oscar contender. Di Caprio delivers a powerful performance that has to be considered an early entry into the Best Actor race. He makes Hoover relatable and human in some ways, while enigmatic and unapproachable in others. He never demystifies Hoover but never makes him a demagogue either. He is a man with an agenda, one which mostly involved cementing his own power, authority and position. He was also a man who yearned for acceptance and admiration.

Hammer, who played the Winklevoss twins in The Social Network, is the glue that holds the movie together. He is the conscience of the king in many ways, and his Clyde witnesses some egregious violations of civil liberties and common decency but he is above all else loyal both to the bureau but more to the man.  It is at times heartbreaking to watch.

Less has been said about Naomi Watts as Helen Gandy, the woman who served as Hoover’s executive assistant and in most ways the keeper of his secrets. She was a formidable woman in her own right and according to the movie anyway, rejected a proposal of marriage from Hoover. Watts gives her that inner strength as well as making her easy on the eyes. It’s a very strong performance that may well get some Oscar consideration of its own, although I’m less sure of that it will personally.

Is this the definitive film biography of the former FBI director? It certainly is for now but I’m not 100% sure that there isn’t a better movie on his life out there to be made. For my money, this is a very good movie that works not only as a biography but a look at the trappings of power and how seductive they can be. It truly is a cautionary tale and one which I sadly suspect we haven’t learned from as a species yet.

REASONS TO GO: Oscar-caliber performances from di Caprio and Hammer. A return to form for Eastwood.

REASONS TO STAY: The bouncing around of timelines sometimes gets confusing.

FAMILY VALUES: There is some foul language here and there and some sexual themes.

TRIVIAL PURSUIT: Armie Hammer’s great-grandfather was oil tycoon Armand Hammer who was suspected by Hoover of having communist ties; Hoover was said to have had a confidential file on him.

HOME OR THEATER: This would probably look just as good at home as it would in the multiplex.

FINAL RATING: 7/10

TOMORROW: Creation (2009)

New Releases for the Week of November 11, 2011


November 11, 2011

J. EDGAR

(Warner Brothers) Leonardo di Caprio, Naomi Watts, Judi Dench, Armie Hammer, Josh Lucas, Ken Howard, Ryan McPartlin, Dermot Mulroney, Denis O’Hare, Stephen Root, Lea Thompson. Directed by Clint Eastwood

One of America’s icons takes on another icon. Clint Eastwood undertakes to tell the story of J. Edgar Hoover, the longtime head of the FBI. Long one of the most enigmatic figures of the 20th Century, the legends and myths around America’s top cop have grown regarding his personality, his sexuality and of course his paranoia. He kept files on all sorts of Americans, ranging from Eleanor Roosevelt to John Lennon. Who was the man behind the myth? Eastwood aims to expose the man J. Edgar Hoover was.

See the trailer and promos here.

For more on the movie this is the website.

Release formats: Standard

Genre: Biographical Drama

Rating: R (for brief strong language)

Immortals

(Relativity)Henry Cavill, Stephen Dorff, Freida Pinto, Mickey Rourke. Director Tarsem Singh, with such visual treats as The Cell and The Fall to his credit, takes on Greek mythology. Specifically in this case, the story of Theseus, a young stonemason out to avenge the death of his mother at the hands of a power-mad King bent on not only conquering all of Greece but destroying the Gods as well.

See the trailer, a promo, a featurette and web-only content here.

For more on the movie this is the website

Release formats: Standard, 3D

Genre: Fantasy

Rating: R (for sequences of strong bloody violence and a scene of sexuality)

Jack and Jill

(Columbia) Adam Sandler, Katy Holmes, Al Pacino, David Spade. An advertising executive in Los Angeles trying to get Al Pacino to do a Dunkin Donuts commercial finds the hook when Pacino falls for his identical twin sister who is visiting from New York. Adam Sandler in two obnoxious roles? Oy vey!

See the trailer and clips here.

For more on the movie this is the website.

Release formats: Standard

Genre: Comedy

Rating: R (for some language)

Martha Marcy May Marlene

(Fox Searchlight) Elizabeth Olsen, Christopher Abbott, John Hawkes, Sarah Paulson. A woman who has escaped from a violent cult seeks refuge at the home of her older sister. She is reticent to talk about her experiences until her memories begin to surface, leading to increasing paranoia that she is being stalked by the cult who wish to reclaim their lost member. As this occurs, the line between reality and delusion begins to blur.

See the trailer, a clip, a featurette and web-only content here.

For more on the movie this is the website.

Release formats: Standard

Genre: Thriller

Rating: R (for disturbing violent and sexual content, nudity and language)

Hereafter


Hereafter

Despite how it looks, Matt Damon is NOT sleepwalking his way through this movie.

(2010) Drama (Warner Brothers) Matt Damon, Cecile de France, Frankie McLaren, George McLaren, Bryce Dallas Howard, Jay Mohr, Richard Kind, Thierry Neuvic, Lyndsey Marshal, Derek Jacobi, Steve Schirripa, Rebekah Staton, Declan Conlan. Directed by Clint Eastwood

There are three things we all have in common; we were all born, we all are living our lives and all of us will eventually die. The last is perhaps the most terrifying thing in our reality; when we die our existence is over…isn’t it?

Marie LeLay (de France) is a popular French television journalist who is on assignment (or is it vacation? The movie isn’t too clear about that) in an unnamed South Pacific/Indian Ocean coastal city. She is there with her producer Didier (Neuvic) whom she is also romantically involved with. He’s a bit of a lazy slob; it’s their last day in paradise and he hasn’t gotten gifts for his children. Good-naturedly (and perhaps wanting one last crack at the marketplace) Marie goes downstairs to the town to shop.

As she is shopping, she is startled to see a wall of water coming at her – the town is being hit by a tsunami. She tries to run, but there’s no outrunning a wave like this. She is sucked under and dragged out towards the sea. She fights with all her strength to try and get a handhold anywhere, but she is struck in the head by debris and sinks to the bottom. Game over, no?

No. A pair of men pull her out of the water and try to revive her. She eventually comes to but only after having an experience she can’t explain, one with white light illuminating darkness, strangely familiar figures in the light and a sensation of peace.

The experience shakes her up. After reuniting with Didier (who was on a high enough floor in the hotel to not even get his feet wet), she goes back to Paris to resume her duties and finds herself distracted. Didier urges her to take some time off and write the book on Francois Mitterrand that she always wanted to write. Realizing she isn’t at the top of her game, she reluctantly agrees.

In London, a pair of twin brothers Marcus and Jason (the McLaren brothers, who alternated in the two roles) are desperately trying to keep social workers from discovering that their mother Jackie (Marshal) is messed up on drugs and alcohol again, knowing that if the authorities discover the truth they’ll be taken away from their mother for sure. With a bit of luck they are able to fool the social workers. Relieved, Jackie sends Jason, the more outgoing of the two, to the chemist’s to pick up a prescription, one that will finally begin the rehab process for her. Jason and Marcus are absolutely overjoyed.

That joy is short-lived. A group of young street thugs spy Jason talking on a cell phone and they want it, as well as the drugs he’s carrying. They chase him down the street, and Jason runs into traffic to escape, directly into the path of a lorry. He’s killed instantly despite Marcus’s pleas to come back (Marcus heard the whole thing over the phone and went running out to save his brother, fruitlessly as it turned out).

In San Francisco, George Lonegan (Damon) is annoyed at his brother Billy (Mohr). Billy has brought over a client named Christos (Kind) for a reading. Not the book kind of reading; you see, George is a kind of a psychic. His readings involve communicating with the dead, and Christos wants to talk to his late wife in the worst way.

The trouble is, George has given the life of a psychic up. He was once fairly well-known – a book was even written about his gifts – and he had a thriving business with a website and everything. However, the cost to George’s soul was too great, and he yearned for a normal life. He is setting out to provide himself with just that, taking a job in a sugar factory and taking Italian cooking lessons from a chef (Schirripa) in a local learning annex, meeting a sweet and somewhat chatty girl named Melanie (Howard) in the process. He is just beginning to really fall for her when she discovers the nature of his talents, which leads to him discovering something about her that she had wanted to keep buried.

All three of these people, touched in one way or another by death are on paths that are getting ready to intersect. What will happen when they do is anybody’s guess.

I had very high hopes for this movie. After all, Eastwood has become the most consistently high-quality director in Hollywood, and writer Peter Morgan has such acclaimed works as The Queen to his credit. The subject matter is also intriguing, to say the least.

Unfortunately, I was left feeling kind of flat by the whole thing. There doesn’t seem to be much insight going on, other than to say that most people who spend too much time thinking about death are forgetting that they have a life. While Damon and de France are solid in their parts (particularly Damon who turns into one of the most compelling performances in his career), the McLaren brothers – who are amateur actors – seem a bit overwhelmed by what they’re doing. Unfortunately (and I hate to criticize child actors), they were terribly inconsistent in their performance. At times there seemed to be some talent there; at others, they seemed completely lost. Eastwood deliberately cast non-professionals in the role because he didn’t want veterans of “Child Acting 101” to deliver an unbelievable performance. While I agree with the sentiment, unfortunately he needed someone along the lines of a young Haley Joel Osment or even an Abigail Breslin to really make that part of the movie work.

The opening tsunami sequence is absolutely astonishing, giving viewers a you-are-there feel and is some of Eastwood’s best filmmaking work to date. Not known for big special effects shots and computer imaging, I thought this scene had enormous power and really set the movie up quite nicely.

Unfortunately, the movie doesn’t really go anywhere and the ending kind of peters out. Eastwood has said in several interviews that he didn’t want to create an afterlife movie, but rather begin a conversation about the afterlife and whether or not it exists. The movie seems to opine that some sort of consciousness remains when the body dies but whether or not this is Heaven, Valhalla or just the brain shutting down is left up to the discretion of the viewer and in that sense, the movie works marvelously. Still, I felt a bit let down at the end and while perhaps I just wasn’t on the same page as Eastwood for this one, I think it fair enough that my reaction be part of the review. Eastwood is a master craftsman and this movie certainly reflects that craft, but it left me feeling…well, nothing.

REASONS TO GO: The opening scene is nothing short of jaw-dropping, and Damon puts on one of the performances he’ll be remembered for.

REASONS TO STAY: The ending is a bit vague, and leaves one wondering what the purpose of the movie is.

FAMILY VALUES: There are some disturbing images regarding death and the afterlife, and a few bad words here and there but for the most part, suitable for older teens.

TRIVIAL PURSUIT: The scenes depicting the tsunami were filmed in Lahaina, Hawaii.

HOME OR THEATER: The opening scene should be seen on the big screen.

FINAL RATING: 6/10

TOMORROW: MegaMind

New Releases for the Week of October 22, 2010


Hereafter
Matt Damon peers out the window, afraid he is still being stalked by Ben Affleck.

HEREAFTER

(Warner Brothers) Matt Damon, Cecilie de France, Frankie McLaren, George McLaren, Jay Mohr, Bryce Dallas Howard, Richard Kind, Steven R. Schirripa. Directed by Clint Eastwood

The lives of three people in three different places on Earth are touched by death in different ways; a blue collar American is able to communicate with the dead but finds this less a gift and more of a curse. A French journalist has a near-death experience in a tsunami, shaking her to the very core of her being. Finally a young London boy loses his twin brother and searches for answers. Their lives will eventually intersect as they embark on a path to search for the truth of what they believe awaits in the hereafter.

See the trailer, interviews and clips here.

For more on the movie this is the website.

Release formats: Standard

Genre: Supernatural Drama

Rating: PG-13 (for mature thematic elements including disturbing disaster and accident images, and for brief strong language)

Anton Chekhov’s The Duel

(Highline) Andrew Scott, Fiona Glascott, Tobias Menzies, Nicholas Rowe. A ne’er do well in a Russian village begins an illicit affair with a married woman, but when they plan for her to leave her husband for her paramour, his true nature begins to emerge in this well-reviewed version of a classic tale by the Russian author.

The trailer for this movie is unavailable.

For more on the movie this is the website.

Release formats: Standard

Genre: Drama

Rating: NR

I’m Still Here

(Magnolia) Joaquin Phoenix, Sean Combs. Actor Joaquin Phoenix shocked Hollywood in the fall of 2008 by announcing that he was retiring from his acting career and instead, becoming a hip-hop artist. Oscar-nominated actor Casey Affleck was behind the camera documenting this “career reinvention” that would later turn out to be a hoax. Still, the film that came out of it has gotten a good deal of buzz as a look at life in the public eye and the odd worship of celebrity that creates an environment that allows celebrities to do whatever they please.

See the trailer and clips here.

For more on the movie this is the website.

Release formats: Standard

Genre: Mockumentary

Rating: R (for graphic nudity, sexual material, pervasive language, some drug use and crude content)

Lebanon

(Sony Classics) Yoav Donat, Michael Moshonov, Zohar Shtrauss, Dudu Tassa. During the First Lebanon War of 1982, a lone Israeli tank and a platoon of paratroopers are sent to a hostile town for a simple mission that turns into a nightmare of survival as the soldiers, motivated by fear and instinct, try not to lose the best part of themselves in a situation that demands their worst.

See the trailer here.

For more on the movie this is the website.

Release formats: Standard

Genre: War Drama

Rating: R (for disturbing bloody war violence, language including sexual references and some nudity)

Paranormal Activity 2

(Paramount) Katie Featherston, Gabriel Johnson. Further supernatural goings-on are captured in a house via security cameras, this time affecting a different family in the sequel to the smash hit horror movie that was made for only $15,000 – I’m assuming the sequel cost them a bit more to make.

See the trailer and a clip here.

For more on the movie this is the website.

Release formats: Standard, IMAX

Genre: Supernatural Thriller

Rating: R (for some language and brief violent material)

Stone

(Overture) Robert De Niro, Edward Norton, Milla Jovovich, Frances Conroy. A man imprisoned for covering up the murder of his grandparents with a fire is up for early parole, and that decision rests in the hands of a parole officer approaching retirement age. In order to up his odds, the prisoner sends his sexy, amoral wife to help convince the parole officer to set him free.

See the trailer, clips and interviews here.

For more on the movie this is the website.

Release formats: Standard

Genre: Thriller

Rating: R (for strong sexuality and violence, and pervasive language)

The Tillman Story

(Weinstein) Pat Tillman, Dannie Tillman, Richard Tillman. When pro football star Pat Tillman gave up his lucrative career to fight for his country in Afghanistan, that was big news. When he gave his life for his country, that was even bigger news. The real story is his family’s fight to find out the truth behind his death, and the government’s equal determination to cover up that truth.

See the trailer here.

For more on the movie this is the website.

Release formats: Standard

Genre: Documentary

Rating: R (for language)

Waiting for “Superman”

(Paramount Vantage) George Reeves, Geoffrey Canada, Michelle Rhee, Randi Weingarten. Oscar-winning documentarian Davis Guggenheim (An Inconvenient Truth) focuses his lens on the American public education system. Once the best in the world, it has become a morass of drop-out factories and bureaucratic bungling that inhibits rather than promotes academic excellence. However, there is still some hope as good teachers and innovative administrators are creating a new educational system with programs in charter schools and other enlightened academic institutions that may eventually deliver on the promise of leaving no child behind.

See the trailer, clips and an interview here.

For more on the movie this is the website.

Release formats: Standard

Genre: Documentary

Rating: PG (for some thematic material, mild language and incidental smoking)

Gran Torino


Gran Torino

"Get off my lawn!"

(Warner Brothers) Clint Eastwood, Christopher Carley, Bee Vang, Ahney Her, John Carroll Lynch, Brian Haley, Geraldine Hughes, Dreama Walker, Brooke Chia Thao, Chee Thao. Directed by Clint Eastwood

Change is a difficult proposition even for the most flexible of souls. As we get older, that flexibility declines and we eventually become stiffer, harder to move. Change for the old is a rare event indeed.

Walt Kowalski (Eastwood) is burying his wife. The church in suburban Detroit is filled with mourners, including Walt’s son Mitch (Haley) and his wife Karen (Hughes), who arrive fashionably late, which gets a grimace from the old man, and with children casually attired, which gets a growl. The fact that the priest, Father Janovich (Carley) is barely out of the seminary and is so wet behind the ears he constantly drips on the carpet adds to Walt’s barely disguised disgust.

Kowalski has lived long enough to see his neighborhood change out from under him. Gone are the working class folks who mainly toiled as Walt did at the Ford plant or some other automaker around the Detroit area, and in their place are Asians, mostly of the Hmong people, a hill people from Cambodia and Laos. Walt doesn’t understand who they are or why they’re there; he figures southern, warmer climates would be more their style than the cold, brutal Michigan winters.

Next door as the funeral reception concludes is a ceremony that is meant to banish the evil spirits from a newborn baby, not unlike a christening. Among the extended family living there are Thao (Vang), a shiftless young teenager who has learned to keep his head down and seems fairly bullied by the women in his family, and Sue (Her), his big sister, chief bullier and the most Americanized of the family.

Walt, who served in Korea, commonly refers to the Hmongs as gooks; while he never uses the “N” word (making him, I suppose, a nice racist), he throws out quite a few slurs in that direction as well. It is only when he sees Sue getting harassed by a trio of African-Americans that he feels moved to take action. We realize that Walt is a tough old cookie who has a healthy heaping of crazy in his recipe too.

Grateful for the assistance, she sees Walt out on his porch drinking beer alone on his birthday and he’s all out of beer. She insists that he come over to their home for barbecue and beer. Walt is on his best behavior, so he isn’t growling much (although the grandmother (Chee Thao) doesn’t trust him as far as she can spit him) but he still is like a fish out of water. He calls Sue “Dragon Lady,” mostly out of affection and notices the dejected Thao sitting on the washing machine in the basement rec room. Thao has his eye on a pretty Hmong girl but, as Walt is only too happy to point out (he calls Thao “Toad” which seems to amuse him) the girl actually is interested in him, God knows why.

Thao has been getting hassled by the local Hmong gang-bangers to join their crew and when he more or less accepts, his initiation is to steal a car and not just any car – Walt’s pride and joy, a 1972 Gran Torino that Walt himself helped build on the assembly line back in the day. Of course, the inexperienced Thao bungles it and gets caught by Walt.

Sue and her family are mortified and by way of apology they order Thao to assist Walt with any odd jobs he so desires for a week. Walt is reluctant at first but as the week goes by he learns to respect the boy’s work ethic and his eagerness to learn new skills. A genuine bond develops between them, and Walt arranges for Thao to get work at a construction site, loaning him tools and helping him buy the necessaries for construction work. He also takes him to his barber (Lynch) to learn how to speak like an American man, which only serves to confuse the boy further.

The gang, however, hasn’t gone far away and they’re none too pleased that Thao is not joining. Things begin to escalate into downright ugliness that is going to lead to a confrontation that is sure to involve bloodshed.

Eastwood has stated that this will be his last appearance onscreen as an actor, and as he nears 80, it’s understandable that he would go that route. If this is to be his final onscreen performance, it isn’t a bad one. It’s inevitable that Walt will be compared to Eastwood’s best-known role as Dirty Harry but that really is an injustice. The part here is multi-layered and Walt is basically a man who wants to be left alone to sip Pabst Blue Ribbon on his porch with his faithful dog Daisy at his side, but events conspire against him. Still, he allows himself a Dirty Harry-esque line in “Get off of my lawn,” growled early on in the picture.

Other than Lynch who is best known as Drew Carey’s brother on his television show but has blossomed into a marvelous character actor, the actors here are mainly unknown. Many are from the Hmong community in the Midwest and had little or no prior acting experience. Reportedly Eastwood encouraged them to ad-lib their lines, and that was a wise choice; most of the Hmong characters seem very authentic and unforced as opposed to other non-professional actors I’ve seen in other films. Her as Sue is the best of the bunch, brash and bold but soft and feminine at the same time. When her vulnerability is exposed, it’s a powerful, powerful scene.

I also want to make note of the theme song, which is sung once by Eastwood himself (and was co-composed by his son Kyle) and once by Jamie Cullum, who sounds uncannily like Billy Joel. The song is wistful and earthy and sounds like the kind of tune you’d hear in a corner beer joint jukebox near closing time. I thought it fit the tone of the film perfectly.

I’m not too familiar with the Hmong culture, but the movie gives you glimpses into it, which I found fascinating. Given the amount of Hmong participation in the film, I’d hope that it’s portrayed fairly accurately. I also liked the usage of the suburban Detroit locations. You get a real sense of the rundown, Midwestern neighborhood and that infuses the movie throughout.

This won’t rank as one of Eastwood’s best, either as an actor or as a director, but it’s a strong film nonetheless. I was genuinely affected in places, and I found myself liking Walt Kowalski despite all his failings which means that Eastwood the actor did his job well. It’s the kind of bittersweet movie that bears late-night viewing perfectly; it’s also the kind of movie that stays with you long after the closing credits have finished rolling.

WHY RENT THIS: Clint Eastwood is a living legend and this may well be his last movie. The theme song is amazing, even with Eastwood singing it in a gravelly voice over the end credits. Great sense of location, interesting insights into the Hmong community and some genuinely affecting moments.

WHY RENT SOMETHING ELSE: Some may find Walt’s general attitude and language offensive. Not as emotionally powerful as Eastwood’s best work.

FAMILY VALUES: There is a little bit of violence but a whole lot of cussin’, and quite a lot of racial slurs. Recommended for mature teens and older.

TRIVIAL PURSUIT: Writers Nick Schenck and Dave Johannson wrote the script while working in a steel mill; they’d jot down ideas on scraps of paper during lunch breaks. They were inspired by members of the Hmong community who worked nearby.

NOTABLE DVD EXTRAS: There are a couple of featurettes on the relationship between men and their cars, and on the Blu-Ray there’s a 20 minute featurette on the directing career of Clint Eastwood.

FINAL RATING: 8/10

TOMORROW: Street Fighter: The Legend of Chun Li

Flags of Our Fathers


Flags of Our Fathers

An iconic photo that has left an indelible impression on the American psyche.

(DreamWorks) Ryan Phillippe, Adam Beach, Jesse Bradford, Paul Walker, Robert Patrick, Neal McDonough, John Benjamin Hickey, John Slattery, Barry Pepper, Jamie Bell, Joseph Cross, George Grizzard, Harve Presnell, Len Cariou, Judith Ivey, Jon Polito, Tom McCarthy, Benjamin Walker.  Directed by Clint Eastwood

World War II was a turning point for our country, one in which we made the transition to greatness. One of the defining moments in that conflict was the Battle of Iwo Jima. Who can forget the iconic photograph of the marines raising the flag on Mt. Suribachi, or of John Wayne dying on its sands. Still, the battle has been given short shrift by Hollywood over the years. Director Clint Eastwood looks to rectify it with not just one, but two movies on the subject. The second, told from the Japanese point of view, is called Letters From Iwo Jima. This is the first, based on the book of the same name by James Bradley.

The movie opens with John “Doc” Bradley (Phillippe) in mid-battle, leaving his buddy Ralph “Iggy” Ignatowsky (Bell) in a neighboring foxhole to attempt to save a fallen marine; he is forced to kill a charging Japanese soldier who appears out of the night like a wraith. When he returns to his foxhole, a different man is there. Alarmed, Bradley calls for his friend, earning a sharp rebuke from the man in the foxhole (“What are you doing? You want to give them something to shoot at?”).

Then we discover this is a dream of a much older man (Grizzard) who is remembering a battle long since fought. Now in the twilight of his life, the elder Doc lives with his son James (McCarthy) who discovers his father fallen on the floor, confused and calling out for someone who he can’t seem to find.

From there, we are taken to the beach of Iwo Jima, one of the bloodiest battles to be fought in the Second World War. Executive producer Steven Spielberg, who had his own war epic in Saving Private Ryan, may have helped Eastwood stage the amphibious invasion of the tiny island. It is an awe-inspiring sight and must have looked terrifying to the 22,000 Japanese soldiers stationed on the island.

At first, the Marines advance on the beach with no resistance, but when the fight comes, it is terrible in its ferocity and carnage. Eastwood pulls no punches in showing just how terrible conditions were during the battle and just how high a price the victors paid for that victory.

Early on, the United States captures Mt. Suribachi, the highest point on the island. A group of six marines is sent up to hoist the American flag on a pole at the top of the mountain. The sight of Old Glory waving in the breeze gives quite a lift to the men below on the beach. This isn’t lost on a politician who has arrived on the island, and who determines that he wants that flag in his office.

Angered at the gall of the civilian, the company commander sends a much bigger flag up the hill with a group of Marines who had been assigned to string telephone wire to the top of the hill. Led by Sgt. Mike Strank (Pepper), corpsman Bradley (the only non-Marine on the mountain that day), Ira Hayes (Beach), Rene Gagnon (Bradford), Franklin Sousley (Cross) and Harland Block (Benjamin Walker) the men take down the smaller flag and raise the larger one. Civilian photographer Joe Rosenthal (Ned Eisenberg) happens to be there to capture the moment. Nobody thinks anything of it at the time; Rosenthal himself thinks that the picture isn’t all that good, since the faces of the men aren’t easily made out.

That moment, however, would provide a turning point. The war-weary American public aren’t aware that the country is nearly broke and in a month or two, will no longer be able to continue the fight. Bonds must be raised, and that picture has captivated the imagination of the American people. The Pentagon, realizing the worth of these Marines would be incalculable back home, pull them from the fight still raging on Iwo Jima and send them back to raise cash. By the time the summons comes through, three of them are already dead.

Although the movie is ostensibly about the battle (and it is shown in flashbacks regularly), it is actually about the men. Moreover, it is about how heroism is really the manufacture of the perceptions of the public. The Marines are puzzled that they are receiving the adoration that they do; to their viewpoint, their heroism involved sticking a flag on a pole and setting it into the earth. In point of fact, Gagnon had been employed as a runner during the battle and saw little or no actual fighting. This leads to some friction between him and Hayes, who feels a tremendous guilt over those left behind, particularly Strank who was a mentor to him and something of a role model.

They are accompanied on a war bonds fundraising tour by Bud Gerber (Slattery), a military publicist and a liaison (Hickey) whose job is to make sure the men make it from one appearance to the next. This takes its toll on the heroes, particularly Hayes who as an American Indian sees considerable prejudice leveled against him and begins to lean heavily on the crutch of alcohol, and on Gagnon who hopes to turn his notoriety to his advantage.

Yes, there are some tremendous battle scenes, some of the most graphic and disturbing I’ve seen, but Eastwood wisely concentrates his efforts on the story of the flag raisers, the effect that this unwanted fame had on them and on the brotherhood forged in the fires of war. He has a very solid cast of terrific character actors, particularly Pepper and McDonough who play commanding officers with the kind of charisma you’d expect from a combat marine in command.

Cinematographer Tom Stern keeps the focus a little bit on the soft side, which further identifies this as a period piece. Eastwood, who composed the score, uses period music and subdued guitars to enhance the mood nicely as well as set the time and place.

As a sidebar, we were fortunate enough to catch the showing we went to in the company of someone who actually survived the battle; when asked if what was onscreen was accurate, he smiled, said “Pretty much,” and walked off, no doubt lost in his own memories.

Those looking for a more detailed account on the battle should be directed to the documentary To the Shores of Iwo Jima which was produced by the War Department shortly after the battle was won, and contains contemporary footage of the actual surviving flag raisers. Those who want more of a depiction of the tremendous guilt that comes with surviving a terrible battle should see this. What I found most interesting about Flags of Our Fathers is the governmental hero manufacture that goes on even today.

WHY RENT THIS: Terrifying battle footage is offset nicely by the story of the toll that is taken on the heroic Marines. Beach gives a career-making performance as an alcoholic Native American.

WHY RENT SOMETHING ELSE: Battle footage may be too intense for some.

FAMILY VALUES: Graphic battle scenes as well as some wrenching emotional scenes mark this as one best left for mommy and daddy.

TRIVIAL PURSUITS: The scenes on Iwo Jima were actually filmed in Iceland; Iwo Jima is considered sacred to the Japanese people and permission to film all but some establishing shots at the memorial on the Island were denied by the Japanese government.

NOTABLE DVD FEATURES: There are several on the 2-Disc Special Edition DVD. “Six Brave Men” chronicles the lives of the six real-life soldiers who raised the flag. “Looking Into the Past” uses color newsreel footage of the battle, the flag-raising and the bond drive depicted in the movie. “Words On the Page” details the writing of the original novel and translating it into a screenplay.

FINAL RATING: 9/10

TOMORROW: Choke

Invictus


Invictus

Matt Damon doesn't want anyone to know he's really checking out that All-Black player's ass.

(Warner Brothers) Morgan Freeman, Matt Damon, Tony Kgoroge, Patrick Mofokeng, Matt Stern, Julian Lewis Jones, Adjoa Andoh, Marguerite Wheatley, Leleti Khumalo, Patrick Lyster, Penny Downie, McNiel Hendricks, Louis Minaar, Zak Feaunati. Directed by Clint Eastwood

History has a habit of landing turning points in the most unlikely of moments. Years of apartheid in South Africa led to a mistrust and even hatred between the white Afrikaners and native Africans of South Africa once apartheid was dismantled in 1990. Uniting the two separate nations into one would be the task of newly-elected President Nelson Mandela and it wouldn’t be an easy one. Still, who knew that it would all hinge on the outcome of a rugby match?

One of the symbols of apartheid had been the national rugby team, also known as the Springboks. Their symbol of a leaping Springbok (a kind of horned gazelle) and their colors of green and gold were anathema to many South African blacks. Nelson Mandela (Freeman) himself proclaimed that while incarcerated that he and his fellow prisoners would root for “anybody who played against the Springboks” as they were so cherished by the Afrikaners and it would upset his jailers. His fellow oppressed Africans felt much the same.

Times had changed significantly however; apartheid was a thing of the past and Mandela was the newly-elected president of South Africa. Rugby, considered a sport of the whites, is now overseen by the South African Sport Council which is ready to retire the Springbok and change the symbol and colors of the team to the Protean, a South African flower. The new president is against this change, much to the chagrin of his loyal chief of staff Brenda (Andoh). He intuitively – and correctly – understands that abolishing the Springboks would be the kind of thing that would feed the fear of the white Afrikaners who felt their nation was being taken away from them. If there was any hope of reconciliation and unification between both sides, the Springboks would have to be a part of it.

To that end Mandela decided to meet with Springbok captain Francois Pienaar (Damon) over tea. While it is explicitly unsaid, the meaning is clear enough; winning the Rugby World Cup, to be hosted by South Africa in 1995, would go a long way towards unifying all South Africans together as one nation.

Pienaar buys in. His parents (Minaar and Downie) are somewhat skeptical, as his girlfriend Nerine (Wheatley) is. So are Mandela’s bodyguards – particularly the stern, by-the-book Jason (Kgoroge) who balks at having former secret policemen like Etienne Feyder (Jones) in his detail. These were, he reasoned quite correctly, the sort of men who dragged his countrymen out of their beds in the middle of the night to take them to jail – or to improvised executions, their bodies to be left for the various fauna of the land to dispose of for them.

The task of winning the World Cup is not an easy one. South Africa had been persona non grata in the sporting world during the era of apartheid and was only just recently becoming integrated back into the world sports arena. The Springboks, once a dominant side, had struggled as they returned to international play. Most pundits picked them to finish near the bottom of the tournement. Pienaar and his mates knew however that they were fighting for more than a cup. They were fighting to keep their nation intact. Even should they prevail against all odds and reach the final, they would be facing a New Zealand All-Blacks club led by Jonah Lomu (Feaunati), the best player in the world.

Eastwood and writer Anthony Peckham (himself a South African who knows the era well) wisely shift the focus from the rugby squad itself to Mandela, allowing Freeman – a personal friend of the South African leader and the only choice to play him, as Freeman has been attempting to get a biography made for decades – to shine. This is one of the best performances for the actor in a distinguished career and has already been nominated for a Golden Globe. He richly deserves an Oscar nomination and should be one of the leading candidates for one when they are announced early next year.

Damon is solid (having also garnered a Golden Globe nomination for best supporting actor) in a role that requires him to essentially be noble and heroic. The denouement of the movie depicts an event that is widely believed to be a turning point towards the reconciliation of the South African nation.

There are many emotional moments in the movie, from the Springboks going to a black township to teach the children rugby and interacting with the children (after initial resistance on many of the team’s part) to a moment when Pienaar and the rest of his teammates visit the Robben Island penitentiary where Mandela was jailed for 30 years (they use the actual location, including Mandela’s actual cell) in what is called a game-changer.

This is an inspiring movie on every count. Yes, rugby lies at the center of the movie but it is only as a metaphor; knowing or not knowing the rules will make little difference to your enjoyment of the movie (and enough of the game is explained during the teaching sequences that you have at least a light grasp of the sport). Leaving the theater, you feel a sense that anything is possible, and that’s a great feeling to have leaving anything.

Clint Eastwood has hit another home run with this movie and while it isn’t finding extreme box office success, chances are it will be around long enough to gather in enough box office cash to be profitable. In any case, this is definitely one movie likely to be on my year-end list of ten best movies – see it if you possibly can.

REASONS TO GO: Freeman’s Oscar-worthy performance puts a human face on one of the 20th Century’s most iconic figures. Even if you don’t know much about rugby you can still love this movie. A very inspiring two hours.

REASONS TO STAY: The movie gets a bit preachy at times.

FAMILY VALUES: Very suitable for all ages.

TRIVIAL PURSUIT: The word “invictus” is Latin for unconquerable and is the root of the word “invincible.” It is the title of a poem written in 1875 by William Ernest Henry, a British poet who was stricken with tuberculosis of the bone at the time and was in the hospital to have his foot amputated due to the disease. Mandela had the poem written on a scrap of paper that he would refer to from time to time during his incarceration for comfort. Although Mandela is portrayed as giving the poem to Pienaar prior to the World Cup finals, it was actually a speech by Theodore Roosevelt that was sent.

HOME OR THEATER: The rugby sequences are definitely better on the big screen to get a sense of proportion for the stadiums the games were played in – otherwise most of the film would fit nicely on the small screen.

FINAL RATING: 9/10

TOMORROW: The Holly and the Quill Begins

NOTE: Check back later today as we will have the 2010 Preview up for your enjoyment.

New Releases for the Week of December 11, 2009


Invictus

Morgan Freeman and Matt Damon hope they'll be hoisting Oscars come February.

INVICTUS

(Warner Brothers) Matt Damon, Morgan Freeman, Tony Kgoroge, Patrick Mofokeng, Matt Stern, Julian Lewis Jones, Adjoa Andoh, Marguerite Wheatley. Directed by Clint Eastwood

After the election of Nelson Mandela, the newly elected President of South Africa faced a Herculean task of reuniting a country divided upon racial lines for so long. He recognized the bonding power and sport and picked the national rugby team as a means of bringing both black and white together. This true story is the latest Oscar contender for director Clint Eastwood.

See the trailer here.

For more on the movie this is the website.

Rating: PG (for brief strong language)

The Princess and the Frog

(Disney) Featuring the voices of Anika Noni Rose, Terrence Howard, John Goodman, Oprah Winfrey. The latest animated film from Disney is a reworking of the fairy tale that has a frog that is a prince. Set in turn of the century New Orleans, this is the first Disney film to feature an African-American princess and features music from Oscar-winning composer Randy Newman.

See the trailer here.

For more on the movie this is the website.

Rating: G

Red Cliff

(Magnet) Tony Leung, Takeshi Kaneshiro, Chang Chen, Zhao Wei. Acclaimed action John Woo returns to his homeland for his first film there in more than a decade, taking on an epic historic battle nearly two thousand years ago that shaped the history of China and would mark the end of the Han Dynasty. More than a million soldiers took part in the battle and Woo’s recreation of it would be the most expensive film ever made in Asia – and also the most popular.

See the trailer here.

For more on the movie this is the website.

Rating: R (for sequences of epic warfare)

Up in the Air

(Paramount) George Clooney, Vera Farmiga, Jason Bateman, Anna Kendrick. In this new film by the director of Juno and Thank You for Smoking, Clooney portrays a corporate hatchet man, a consultant hired by big companies to inform employees they’ve been let go. He loves his life on the road and detests being home but changes and cutbacks at his firm may force him to return to home permanently just as he is approaching a frequent flyer milestone. This will be opening wide on Christmas Day but is opening on a limited basis in select theaters this week.

See the trailer here.

For more on the movie this is the website.

Rating: R (for language and some sexual content)