The Prodigy (2019)


A little kid can be the death of you.

(2019) Horror (Orion) Taylor Schilling, Jackson Robert Scott, Peter Mooney Colm Feore, Paul Fauteux, Brittany Allen, Paula Boudreau, Elisa Moolecherry, Olunike Adeliyi, Janet Land, Martin Roach, Byron Abalos, Ashley Black, Tristan Vasquez, Nicholas McCarthy, Jim Annan, Milton Barnes, Grace Armas, Brock Johnson, Michael Dyson, Mark Sparks, Martha Girvin. Directed by Nicholas McCarthy

 

The creepy kid is a horror trope that goes back half a century. Kids are innocent, angelic; they are the future and we can’t see anything bad in them – after all, they’re just kids – but who says a kid can’t be a psychopathic monster? There is evidence that some kids have exactly that trait within them from birth.

But the film is quick to point out, in this case, that it isn’t really the poor little dear’s fault. Young Miles Blume (Scott) is born to his protective mom (Schilling) and disbelieving dad (Mooney) just as serial killer Edward Scarka (Fauteux) is killed during a police raid, the cops having been led to his in-the-middle-of-nowhere farmhouse by the sole survivor of his escapades (Allen), who had her hands chopped off for her trouble.

At first, the kid just seems precocious to the delight of mommy. But that soon gives way to genuine creepiness – the dead-eyed stares, the animal abuse, the accident befalling a babysitter (Black). The kid is speaking a rare dialect of Hungarian in his sleep, one spoken by Scarka. It appears the serial killer is not quite dead yet and he has an axe to grind with the woman who got away – and he doesn’t have a problem using young Miles to do it.

Although there are some nice twists and plot points here, this is pretty standard for the subgenre. The big reveal about what is wrong with Miles is answered way too early in the film and rather than giving us a parental “is my kid really a monster” conundrum to deal with, we just get one parent (the mom) denying reality, the other perhaps embracing reality too easily.

Schilling (Orange is the New Black) and Scott (the doomed younger brother in the IT movies) are actually pretty good, particularly Scott who is truly convincing; the movie doesn’t work with a lesser performance in place. But the movie relies too much on jump scares (the refuge of unimaginative directors) and hackneyed dark house stalker clichés to really be of more than passing interest.

REASONS TO SEE: Schilling and Scott give pretty decent performances.
REASONS TO AVOID: Very predictable, utilizing too many jump scares.
FAMILY VALUES: There are some disturbing images, violence, terror, profanity, a sexual reference and brief graphic nudity.
TRIVIAL PURSUIT: Scott sandwiched the filming of The Prodigy in between shoots for IT and IT Chapter 2, thus meaning he filmed three straight horror movies.
BEYOND THE THEATERS: Amazon, AppleTV, Epix, Fandango Now, Google Play, Hulu, Microsoft, Redbox, Vudu, YouTube
CRITICAL MASS: As of 7/6/20: Rotten Tomatoes: 42% positive reviews: Metacritic: 45/100.
COMPARISON SHOPPING: The Bad Seed
FINAL RATING: 6/10
NEXT:
The Outpost

New Releases for the Week of March 1, 2019


TYLER PERRY’S A MADEA FAMILY FUNERAL

(Lionsgate) Tyler Perry, Cassi Davis, Patrice Lovely, Mike Tyson, Ciera Payton, Kj Smith, Quin Walters, Aeriėl Miranda, Vermytta Erahn. Directed by Tyler Perry

When a family reunion in rural Georgia unexpectedly turns into a funeral, matriarch Madea discovers that sordid family secrets are beginning to bubble to the surface in this, the final installment of the blockbuster Madea franchise.

See the trailer and a video featurette here
For more on the movie this is the website

Genre: Comedy
Now Playing: Wide Release

Rating: PG=13 (for crude sexual content, language, and drug references throughout)

Apollo 11

(NEON) Neal Armstrong, Buzz Aldrin, Michael Collins. The 1969 voyage to the moon that resulted in the first man to walk on the surface of a body other than the Earth is brought to spectacular life in large format with never before seen footage. It is said to be an immersive experience.

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

Genre: Documentary
Now Playing: AMC Altamonte Mall, Regal Pointe Orlando

Rating: G

Everybody Knows

(Focus) Penelope Cruz, Javier Bardem, Ricardo Darin, Eduard Fernández. It is a joyful occasion when Laura returns to her small home town in Spain from Argentina where she lives with her two daughters whom she has brought along with her for her sister’s wedding. That joy turns to terror when Laura’s eldest daughter is abducted, bringing to the surface deep secrets from Laura’s past.

See the trailer and a clip here
For more on the movie this is the website

Genre: Crime Drama
Now Playing: Enzian Theater

Rating: R (for some language)

Greta

(Focus) Isabelle Huppert, Chloë Grace Moretz, Maika Monroe, Colm Feore. A young woman whose mother recently passed away finds a handbag on the New York subway and returns it to the owner, Greta, a lonely French piano teacher. The two strike up a friendship but things turn dark when the young woman discovers that her older friend is not what she seems.

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

Genre: Suspense
Now Playing: Wide Release

Rating: R (for some violence and disturbing images)

The Samuel Project

(In8 Releasing) Hal Linden, Ryan Ochoa, Michael B. Silver, Maleo Arias. A high school boy with dreams of becoming an artist is doing a school project on his grandfather, an irascible man that the boy has never been close to. However as the project progresses, the two form a bond and the young high schooler discovers his grandfather was saved from a concentration camp by a young German woman. This was previously reviewed for the Heartland Film Festival last fall; a link to the review can be found below.

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

Genre: Dramedy
Now Playing: Regal Pointe Orlando, Regal Port Orange Pavilion, Regal Waterford Lakes

Rating: PG-13 (for thematic elements, some suggestive comments, and brief language)

ALSO OPENING IN ORLANDO/DAYTONA:

Beers of Joy
Koddathi Samaksham Balan Vakeel
The Last Resort
Luka Chuppi
Prosecuting Evil: The Extraordinary World of Ben Ferencz
Sonchiriya

ALSO OPENING IN MIAMI/FT. LAUDERDALE:

Bell Bottom
He Matado a Mi Marido
Koddathi Samaksham Balan Vakeel
Luka Chuppi
Prosecuting Evil: The Extraordinary World of Ben Ferencz
Sonchiriya

ALSO OPENING IN TAMPA/ST. PETERSBURG:

Beers of Joy
The Hole in the Ground
Luka Chuppi
Prosecuting Evil: The Extraordinary World of Ben Ferencz
Saint Judy
Sonchiriya

ALSO OPENING IN JACKSONVILLE/ST. AUGUSTINE:

Luka Chuppi

SCHEDULED FOR REVIEW:

Everybody Knows
Greta
The Last Resort
The Samuel Project

FILM FESTIVALS TAKING PLACE IN FLORIDA:

Miami International Film Festival, Miami

New Releases for the Week of February 8, 2019


THE LEGO MOVIE 2: THE SECOND PART

(Warner Brothers) Starring the voices of Chris Pratt, Elizabeth Banks, Will Arnett, Tiffany Haddish, Alison Brie, Nick Offerman, Charlie Day, Maya Rudolph, Will Ferrell. Directed by Mike Mitchell

The citizens of Bricksburg are once again facing a deadly threat, this time in the form of LEGO Duplo characters from outer space. Their quest will take them to strange unexplored worlds including a galaxy where everything is a musical. Batman sings?

See the trailer, video featurettes, a clip, an interview and a short film here
For more on the movie this is the website

Genre: Animated Feature
Now Playing: Wide Release

Rating: PG (for mild action and rude humor)

Capernaum

(Sony Classics) Zain Al Rafeea, Yordanos Shiferaw, Boluwatife Treasure Bankole, Kawthar Al Haddad. A street kid who flees his negligent parents survives by his wits on the streets of Lebanon. When he sees justice meted out in a Lebanese court, he decides to sue his parents for the act of giving him life and then leaving him to rot. The actors are all non-professionals who are given the situations that the screenplay dictated and asked to speak and gesture as if the events were happening to them. Where things deviated from the script the director rewrote to adjust to her actors. This won the Grand Prize at last year’s Cannes Film Festival.

See the trailer and video featurettes here
For more on the movie this is the website

Genre: Drama
Now Playing: Regal Winter Park Village

Rating: R (for language and some drug material)

Cold Pursuit

(Summit) Liam Neeson, Laura Dern, Emmy Rossum, Tom Bateman. An upstanding citizen, the snowplow driver for a small Northern town, is shattered when his son dies mysteriously. Connecting the death to a local drug lord, he goes on a quest to get justice which turns into a quest to exact vengeance as those sorts of quests often do.

See the trailer and video featurettes here
For more on the movie this is the website

Genre: Action
Now Playing: Wide Release

Rating: R (for strong violence, drug material, and some language including sexual references)

Piercing

(Greenwich) Christopher Abbott, Mia Wasikowska, Marin Ireland, Wendell Pierce. An upstanding husband goes on a business trip where he aims to murder an innocent. The call girl he invites to his room however has an agenda of her own.

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

Genre: Thriller
Now Playing: Enzian Theater

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

The Prodigy

(Orion) Taylor Schilling, Jackson Robert Scott, Peter Mooney, Colm Feore. A young mother discovers that her beautiful little boy has been possessed by an evil entity. She is torn between her maternal instinct to protect her son and a need to discover what is wrong with him – a journey that will blur the lines of reality.

See the trailer and video featurettes here
For more on the movie this is the website

Genre: Horror
Now Playing: Wide Release

Rating: R (for violence, disturbing and bloody images, a sexual reference and brief graphic nudity)

What Men Want

(Paramount) Taraji P. Henson, Aldis Hodge, Tracy Morgan, Richard Roundtree. A career driven sports agent has run up against the glass season at the agency where she works. When she obtains the power to hear men’s thoughts, she uses her new-found gift to help her advance her career.

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

Genre: Comedy
Now Playing: Wide Release

Rating: R (for language and sexual content throughout, and some drug material)

ALSO OPENING IN ORLANDO/DAYTONA:

The Aspern Papers
Berlin, I Love You
The Final Wish
The Man Who Killed Hitler and Then the Bigfoot
Mary, Marry Me
Peppa Pig Celebrates Chinese New Year
The Second Time Around
Yatra

ALSO OPENING IN MIAMI/FT. LAUDERDALE:

Anina
Heading Home: The Tale of Team Israel
Integrity
The Invisibles
Natasaarvabhowma
Pegasus
Peppa Pig Celebrates Chinese New Year
Untogether
The Wandering Earth
Yatra

ALSO OPENING IN TAMPA/ST. PETERSBURG:

A Violent Man
The Amityville Murders
Beneath the Leaves
Berlin, I Love You
Darkness Visible
The Man Who Killed Hitler and Then the Bigfoot
Peppa Pig Celebrates Chinese New Year
Vijay Superum Pournamiyum
Yatra

ALSO OPENING IN JACKSONVILLE/ST. AUGUSTINE:

Mary, Marry Me
Natasaarvabhowma
Yatra

SCHEDULED FOR REVIEW:

Cold Pursuit
The Final Wish
Heading Home: The Tale of Team Israel
The Lego Movie 2: The Second Part
What Men Want

Reversion (2015)


A lift is still a lift.

A lift is still a lift.

(2015) Science Fiction (Fluency) Aja Naomi King, Colm Feore, Gary Dourdan, Jeanette Samano, Lela Rochon, Amanda Plummer, David Clennon, Sachin Joab, Scott Bailey, Matthew Bellows, Chris Spinelli. Directed by Jose Nestor Marquez

Memory is a very subjective thing. It is shaded by our experiences and often by the need of our psyche for self-protection. It can be unreliable but it can also color our entire lives; what are we but the sum total of our memories?

Sophie Clé (King) is the head of the marketing team on the eve of the release of a revolutionary new device in the near future. Called the Oubli, it recalls and enhances our best memories so we can relive them over and over again, whenever we like. The device’s inventor is her father Jack (Feore), the CEO of the medical device company that is marketing the device. Sophie has been an early test subject, using the device to relive memories of her mother (Rochon) who has been dead for some time, having taken her own life when Sophie was a teen.

However, Sophie is kidnapped by Isa (Samano), who cuts an incision in her neck and informs Sophie that she has an implant in her brain. Isa has one of her own but the implant is degrading and when it finally shuts down, so will Isa; she desperately needs the codes to help stave off her own mortality. Sophie manages to escape but she’s shaken by the experience; her bodyguard/driver/confidante Ayden (Dourdan) becomes much more vigilant about her activities.

It turns out that Isa had reprogrammed Sophie’s implants so that the Oubli no longer works for her; instead, she finds unpleasant memories that she had forgotten beginning to bubble to the surface, Memories that make her suspect that her father may be up to something along with Dr. Ciespy (Clennon), the family physician. Isa may have some of the answers but even Ayden knows more than he’s telling her and the key to everything may reside in the hands of a bitter retired scientist (Plummer) who hides a monstrous secret.

This is kind of continuation and less of a sequel to a SyFy TV movie that aired last year called Isa (it’s available on most streaming services if you want to see it) that was also written and directed by Marquez – Samano, who starred in that film, returns to this one in a much reduced role. Like that film, Reversion has a compelling subject in terms of memory, its role in our lives and its ultimate unreliability. We remember what we choose to, after all.

Feore is a veteran character actor who often plays the role of sinister corporate types and essentially that’s what he is here, although his character seems more low-key than what we’re used to from movie villains. It is a credit to Feore that when he is showing fatherly concern for his daughter, he still manages to project an air that something’s not quite right which goes a long way in making the ending work.

King, best known for her work on the Shonda Rhimes TV potboiler How to Get Away With Murder has a very difficult task here and unfortunately she doesn’t pull it off. Sophie is a basically unlikable character, something of a spoiled princess and she throws a few tantrums here and there, and spends a lot of time whining. I am not sure whether it is just the way the character is written or King’s interpretation of it but I found it very hard to empathize with her throughout the movie and that’s crucial to making the movie work. I’m just not sold on her performance here to be blunt.

Marquez has a bit of the artiste in him and there are some sequences that are fairly esoteric, especially early on, that don’t seem terribly germane but I will give him credit where credit is due – the ending of the film is absolutely the right one and endings as most veteran moviegoers will tell you are the hardest thing to nail. This one gets it right.

I think this is a very well-intentioned movie and as I said, there are some powerful concepts to explore here but the movie instead falls into the doldrums of following poor little rich girl Sophie through her travails and quite frankly I think that the movie bogs down because of it. I think that Marquez was torn between writing a thriller and a thought-provoking science fiction film, decided to do both and ended up doing a fair to middling job on both aspects. Something tells me that Marquez has much better films in him that we’ll hopefully see in the future. As for this one, it’s an okay film that could have been much more.

REASONS TO GO: Compelling concept. The right ending.
REASONS TO STAY: Sophie is too much of a princess to be sympathetic. A little bit too esoteric at times.
FAMILY VALUES: Some violence and a few disturbing images. Adult themes and a few adult words.
TRIVIAL PURSUIT: The word “Oubli” is based on the French word for forget.
CRITICAL MASS: As of 10/10/15: Rotten Tomatoes: 33% positive reviews. Metacritic: 40/100.
COMPARISON SHOPPING: :Oldboy
FINAL RATING: 6/10
NEXT: Everest

The Amazing Spider-Man 2


Spider-Man goes electric.

Spider-Man goes electric.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

COMPARISON SHOPPING: Spider-Man 3

FINAL RATING: 6/10

NEXT: Words and Pictures

New Releases for the Week of May 2, 2014


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

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

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

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

For more on the movie this is the website.

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

Genre: Superhero

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

Jodorowsky’s Dune

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

See the trailer and a clip here.

For more on the movie this is the website.

Release formats: Standard

Genre: Documentary

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

Walk of Shame

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

See the trailer here.

For more on the movie this is the website.

Release formats: Standard

Genre: Romantic Comedy

Rating: R (for language and some sexual content)

Jack Ryan: Shadow Recruit


Chris Pine realizes there's No Way Out.

Chris Pine realizes there’s No Way Out.

(2014) Spy Thriller (Paramount) Chris Pine, Kevin Costner, Keira Knightley, Kenneth Branagh, Peter Andersson, Colm Feore, Lenn Kudrjawizki, Alec Utgoff, Elena Velikanova, Nonso Anozie, Seth Ayott, Gemma Chan, David Paymer, Bogdan Kominowski, Maggie Daniels, Matt Rippy, Hannah Taylor Gordon, David Hayman, Isobel Pravda, Annika Pergament. Directed by Kenneth Branagh

In many ways war has become obsolete. A world war seems pretty unthinkable when so many nations have nuclear capability. In the 21st century rather than waging war on a battlefield, it seems far more effective to wage economic war electronically.

Jack Ryan (Pine) is studying for his doctorate in economics when the World Trade Center comes down. He is moved to join the Marine Corps and is advancing in rank when his helicopter is shot down. He is badly injured and must learn how to walk again. He catches the eye of a pretty physical therapist named Cathy (Knightley) who is preparing to be an eye surgeon and doing a student rotation in PT at Walter Reed. He also catches the eye of Thomas Harper (Costner), head of a CIA team whose mission is to prevent terrorist attacks. Harper recruits Ryan to keep an eye on terrorist money laundering on Wall Street, helping him complete his doctorate and placing him at a high-profile Wall Street firm.

That proves dividends when Jack notices certain accounts at a Russian firm have been hidden from his company. That seems extremely suspicious to Jack so he goes to Moscow to run an audit where he meets billionaire Viktor Cherevin (Branagh) who sets off all of Jack’s up-to-something sensors. Things are further complicated when comely Cathy, now Jack’s girlfriend and completely unaware of his double life as a CIA analyst, impulsively travels to Moscow and becomes caught in the middle of what could be a crippling economic blow to the United States.

As the first Ryan film not to be directly sourced from an existing Tom Clancy novel, the movie rewrites the origins of the bestselling character and updates it somewhat (the first Ryan film appeared in 1990, eleven years before 9-11). Pine becomes the fourth actor to portray Ryan in five films which is perhaps one of the reasons this franchise, while profitable, has never really taken off like Bond for example, which seems to survive the changing of actors much better than Jack Ryan does. Also, the Bond films have surmounted the end of the Cold War much more effectively than the Jack Ryan movies which really need a Soviet presence to work properly.

This is perhaps the least visually impressive of the Ryan movies but yet still packs a decent visual punch. We don’t really get to see the high-tech CIA headquarters much (read: at all) and most of the really impressive visual stuff takes place at the headquarters of the Russian financial corporation that Ryan is auditing.

The cast is fairly impressive, with veteran Costner coming off with the win as the laconic CIA officer who, when asked by Jack if he and Cathy can have a moment to discuss their relationship situation after she discovers his double life, says flatly “No. This is geopolitics, not couples therapy.” It’s a highlight in a movie that lacks light moments.

Pine plays Ryan as a literal analyst; he always seems to be thinking ten steps ahead of things. Often this leaves him feeling cold and unapproachable to the audience. I would have liked to have seen more humanity from Ryan, who as portrayed by Harrison Ford, Alec Baldwin and Ben Affleck, always seemed to manage some humanity while still coming off as the smartest guy in the room. Pine gets the second part right.

Branagh, once the heir to Sir Laurence Olivier’s mantle in terms of being the finest actor and director of Shakespeare onscreen, has of late been trying his hand at action movies, having previously directed Thor before taking this one on. He has a fine visual sense as a director and uses that to his advantage here. As for action sequences, there aren’t really a lot of them here – a motorcycle chase near the end of the film, a fight with an assassin in a hotel room and a very suspenseful sequence in which Jack is trying to retrieve data from the computer of Cherevin before getting caught. That contributed I think to what I felt as an overall lack of energy in the movie; it didn’t seem to flow the way I would like an action movie to flow.

As the bad guy, Branagh is very understated (as opposed to the villain he played in The Wild, Wild West in which much scenery was chewed) and makes a nice foil for Ryan, full of quiet menace but with real rage boiling underneath the surface. If the movie were a tiny bit better, he’d have been a classic espionage villain but even as it is he is still a superior villain. I wonder what Harrison Ford’s Jack Ryan (still the best of the bunch) would have done with Branagh’s Cherevin.

REASONS TO GO: Terrific cast. Believable plot. Nifty production values.

REASONS TO STAY: The movie has a curious lack of energy.

FAMILY VALUES:  Yeah, there’s violence and some intense action; there’s also some brief strong language.

TRIVIAL PURSUIT: Costner was originally cast as Jack Ryan in the very first movie in the franchise, The Hunt for Red October but wound up turning it down to make Dances With Wolves instead.

CRITICAL MASS: As of 2/3/14: Rotten Tomatoes: 57% positive reviews. Metacritic: 57/100.

COMPARISON SHOPPING: The Sum of All Fears

FINAL RATING: 6/10

NEXT: I, Frankenstein

New Releases for the Week of January 17, 2014


Jack Ryan: Shadow Recruit

JACK RYAN: SHADOW RECRUIT

(Paramount) Chris Pine, Kevin Costner, Keira Knightley, Kenneth Branagh, David Paymer, Colm Feore, Peter Andersson, Nonso Anozie, Gemma Chan. Directed by Kenneth Branagh

A young CIA analyst uncovers a terrorist plot on US soil to throw the American financial market into chaos. His mentor lures him deeper into the shadow world of international espionage, putting a strain on his marriage as he faces off with a Russian master spy.

See the trailer, clips and a featurette here.

For more on the movie this is the website.

Release formats: Standard, IMAX (opens Thursday)

Genre: Spy Thriller

Rating: PG-13 (for sequences of violence and intense action, and for brief strong language)

Back in the Day

(Screen Media) Morena Baccarin, Michael Rosenbaum, Nick Swardson, Harland Williams. Making a surprise visit to his high school reunion, a still-single ladies man from back in the day manages to convince his now-married friends to go out on one final fling, leading to some issues with their wives and friends.

See the trailer here.

For more on the movie this is the website.

Release formats: Standard

Genre: Comedy

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

Devil’s Due

(20th Century Fox) Allison Miller, Zach Gilford, Sam Anderson, Catherine Kresge. A newlywed couple discovers that they are pregnant a bit earlier than anticipated. Still, it is welcome news but as time passes and the due date becomes closer, the wife’s personality begins to change and strange unexplainable things begin to occur around them. Soon the husband must face the unthinkable if he is to save his wife – and himself.

See the trailer and clips here.

For more on the movie this is the website.

Release formats: Standard (opens Thursday)

Genre: Horror

Rating: R (for language and some bloody images)

Life of a King

(Millennium) Cuba Gooding Jr., LisaGay Hamilton, Dennis Haysbert, Rachel Thomas. While doing an 18-year prison stint for bank robbery, a young con learns the game of chess. Hoping to help his neighborhood turn things around and to prevent others from going down the same tragic path he did, he founds a chess club which despite the skepticism of others both inside the neighborhood and out, does exactly what he hopes it will do.

See the trailer here.

For more on the movie this is the website.

Release formats: Standard

Genre: Biographical Drama

Rating: PG-13 (for thematic elements, some drug content and brief violent images – all involving teens)

The Nut Job

(Open Road) Starring the voices of Will Arnett, Brendan Fraser, Liam Neeson, Katherine Heigl . After accidentally destroying the park’s winter stores, a brash and independent squirrel discovers squirrel nirvana – a nearby nut store. But to get at the goodies he’s going to have to make a brilliant plan and that’s not something he or his friends are particularly good at.

See the trailer here.

For more on the movie this is the website.

Release formats: Standard, 3D

Genre: Animated Feature

Rating: PG (for mild action and rude humor)

Ride Along

(Universal) Kevin Hart, Ice Cube, John Leguizamo, Tika Sumpter. Ben, a security officer at an Atlanta high school, longs for two things in life; to become a police officer and to marry his girl. When he is accepted to the police academy, he’s well on his way to achieving the first but the second is a little more problematic. Standing in the way is his girlfriend’s cop brother who doesn’t like Ben at all. Ben must prove himself worthy and what better way to do that than to take him on a ride-along into the worst part of the city?

See the trailer and clips here.

For more on the movie this is the website.

Release formats: Standard (opens Thursday)

Genre: Crime Comedy

Rating: PG-13 (for sequences of strong violence, sexual content and brief strong language)  

Pearl Harbor


It's a bomb!!!!

It’s a bomb!!!!

(2001) War Drama (Touchstone) Ben Affleck, Josh Hartnett, Kate Beckinsale, Alec Baldwin, Jon Voight, Jaime King, William Lee Scott, Greg Zola, Ewen Bremner, Catherine Kellner, Jennifer Garner, Cuba Gooding Jr., Michael Shannon, Tom Sizemore, Mako, John Fujioka, Cary-Hiroyuki Tagawa, Colm Feore, Dan Aykroyd, William Fichtner, Beth Grant. Directed by Michael Bay

Nicol Williamson as Merlin in the John Boorman film Excalibur once said “It is the doom (of men) that they forget.” It has only been in the last few years of the 20th century (thanks in no small part to the efforts of men like Messrs. Hanks, Spielberg and Brokaw) that Americans have begun to wake up to the sacrifices of the Americans who comprised what Brokaw eloquently called “The Greatest Generation.”

The attack at Pearl Harbor of December 7, 1941, in many ways remains America’s defining moment. It is a moment of ashes and pain, of blood and despair, written in the bullets and bombs of the Japanese and signed by our own arrogance to think it couldn’t happen to us. From that moment of despair was wakened a world power, one which has dominated the politics of this planet for the half-century since.

Given the success of Saving Private Ryan, it was inevitable that someone would make an epic movie about the date that will live in infamy. Tora, Tora, Tora has been the watershed Pearl Harbor movie up till now, but was only a marginal success when it was released. America is ready for a blockbuster.

Enter Michael Bay, the director behind Armageddon. In some ways, he was the ideal choice to make a movie about the attack. He knows spectacle and can handle immense scale. I’ve always thought him a little rough around the edges when it came to handling characterization and dealing with emotions, but he can be counted on to show the scope of the devastation, to blow our minds with explosions, twisted metal and bodies shredded before our eyes.

Of course he can. However, Bay had his own agenda. Not only did he want to tell the story of the battle, but he wanted to simultaneously elevate himself to the status currently enjoyed by James Cameron. In other words, he wanted this to be his Titanic, and therefore he inserted a love triangle that frames the drama of the tragedy of the attack.

Rafe McCawley (Affleck) is a pilot “born to fly.” He is everything heroic and noble about the American prewar spirit, the quintessence of the “boy next door.” His best friend Danny Walker(Hartnett) is also a pilot, and has always been on the edges of Rafe’s shadow, a good man in his own right but a reflection of Rafe’s glory. Rafe meets and falls in love with Evelyn Stewart (Beckinsale), a beautiful nurse. McCawley is itching for action and requests a transfer to the Eagle Squadron, a squad of American pilots assisting in the Battle of Britain. Rafe and Evelyn continue their love affair by letter, but when Rafe is shot down over the English Channel and is presumed dead, Evelyn is inconsolable.

As time goes by, both Evelyn and Danny get over the grief and find solace in each other. They are transferred to the plum naval assignment – Pearl Harbor – and spend most of their days in bars, cafes and at the movies, or just mooning over each other. However, a monkey wrench is thrown into their idyllic situation; Rafe returns from Europe, having been hiding in occupied France for nearly a year. He arrives at Pearl to find his best friend and the love of his life together, and it tears him apart. Of course, Rafe arrives on December 6, 1941. The next morning, all heck breaks loose.

The battle scenes themselves are very well done. Wave after wave of Japanese planes attack the fleet in battleship row, and as bomb after bomb and torpedo after torpedo finds its mark, the proud U.S. Pacific Fleet begins to sink. Some of the sailors react with panic and horror, and freeze in the face of this unthinkable attack. Others, such as real-life hero Dorie Miller (Gooding) find their destiny of glory at hand.

For Stewart, she finds chaos and overwhelming horror as the wounded and the dead begin to find their way to the hospital. She and the nurses must make heroic measures to save some of the more gravely wounded, as overtaxed doctors become nearly superhuman in their efforts. The hospital sequences are among the best in the movie and received some of the least attention.

The movie should have ended there, but goes on for nearly an hour afterwards, ending up with the bombing raid on Tokyo led by the charismatic Jimmy Doolittle (Baldwin). If you’re planning to see this movie, prepare to knock about three hours out of your day and be sure you use the restroom before the movie starts or at least be prepared to use the pause button pretty regularly.

The critics have blasted this movie, and in all frankness, I get the feeling that many of them are reviewing the movie’s extreme budget (budgeted somewhere around $140 million, it is the highest film budget ever approved by a studio to that time) and that there is a great deal of anti-Bay sentiment. Michael Bay isn’t particularly my favorite director, but he does an excellent job on the battle sequence. The biggest problem with Pearl Harbor is that it’s probably about half an hour too long at the very least. The love triangle is a bit predictable, as are the fates of many of the supporting characters (see if you can pick out the doomed players from the crowd).

Pearl Harbor got compared with Titanic, perhaps unfairly, mainly because both movies take a well-known tragedy and frame it with a love triangle. However, whereas the love story enhances the tragedy in Cameron’s movie, it slows down Pearl Harbor. Also, Bay is not known for subtlety and occasionally goes too far; one rousing speech in which FDR (Voight) rises to his feet, polio-stricken as he was, staggers the imagination and immediately yanks your suspension of disbelief to overload.

Affleck, who took a few hits in the reviews for his performance, is actually quite good as McCawley. Affleck is given really a very minimally realized character whose basic purpose is to be heroic, and carries it off impressively well or at least as well as he could given the limitations of Rafe’s personality. Both Hartnett and Beckinsale were beginning their careers at this point; both have continued to improve upon their performances here, particularly Beckinsale who has gained fame for her work in the popular Underworld movies. As for the supporting cast, Baldwin and Sizemore (as the proverbial crusty Sergeant from the Bronx) are memorable, but Voight chews the scenery like the catering truck had gone on strike. Gooding is, as usual, excellent, but he has little more than a cameo.

There is a definitive movie on Pearl Harbor waiting to be made, and unfortunately, this one isn’t it. Still, for all the negativity, here are the positive things: It’s epic size and scope are truly awe-inspiring. It manages, at many points, to raise patriotic fervor to a fever pitch. Thirdly, it poignantly reminds those of us who are too young to remember just what a price was paid for victory, and how badly we were beaten at Pearl Harbor.

Finally, this was a movie that needed to be made when it did, while many of the veterans of that war are still alive. Those I saw of that generation in the movie theater where I first saw the film were visibly affected by the movie, and that has to go to the good on Bay’s ledger.

Da Queen, who in a bit of uncalculated irony dined on sushi before seeing this movie, was a tear-streaked pile of mush for much of the proceedings, and recommends that those sensitive souls who cry at movies bring plenty of tissues, or at least to make sure that their husbands are wearing moisture-absorbent shirts.

For my part, I’m going to say that this is a very flawed movie that nonetheless should be a must-see for all of us. I’ve never had the opportunity to visit the U.S.S. Arizona Memorial in Hawaii, but until we finally head out that way, this is going to serve as the next-best experience. Perhaps some bright director someday will make a movie about the Arizona, which I would see in a heartbeat. Until then, Pearl Harbor, for all its faults, will have to do as the movie of record for one of America’s defining moments.

WHY RENT THIS: Dazzling battle scenes. Ben Affleck isn’t half-bad (damned by faint praise, I know). Exceedingly patriotic.

WHY RENT SOMETHING ELSE: Unnecessary love triangle detracts from the drama. A good 45-60 minutes too long. Stretches disbelief a bit too far.

FAMILY MATTERS: War violence, some disturbing images of the wounded, a fair bit of foul language and an even smaller bit of sexuality.

TRIVIAL PURSUITS: Rafe is based loosely on actual fighter pilot Joe Foss whom Bay interviewed prior to shooting the film. Rafe’s speech about the plane being an extension of his body was taken nearly verbatim from that interview.

NOTABLE HOME VIDEO FEATURES: The 60th Anniversary edition (of the attack not the film) as well as the Blu-Ray edition includes a History Channel documentary on the attack and a music video by Faith Hill. The four-disc Vista edition includes these, another History Channel documentary on the Doolittle raid, footage of a boot camp the actors all undertook, an interactive version of the attack sequence from several different angles and a choice of different audio tracks, a hidden gag reel as well as a collector’s booklet and poster art cards.

BOX OFFICE PERFORMANCE: $449.2M on a $140M production budget; against all odds the movie was a hit.

COMPARISON SHOPPING: Titanic

FINAL RATING: 5/10

NEXT: Somewhere

The Insider


The Insider

The young tiger and the old lion.

(1999) True Life Drama (Touchstone) Russell Crowe, Al Pacino, Christopher Plummer, Diana Venora, Philip Baker Hall, Lindsay Crouse, Debi Mazar, Stephen Tobolowski, Colm Feore, Bruce McGill, Gina Gershon, Michael Gambon, Rip Torn, Lynne Thigpen. Directed by Michael Mann

 

On one level, this movie could be taken as the story of Dr. Jeffrey Wigand, the corporate whistleblower who braved much external pressure, death threats, the dissolution of his family and the pangs of his own conscience to step forward and point the finger at Big Tobacco, making several lawsuits against them possible.

On another level, this movie could be taken as the story of Lowell Bergman, the courageous producer who brought Wigand’s story to “60 Minutes,” and how he fought to air the story. However, what The Insider is really about is how big corporations whether Big Tobacco or Big Media run our lives in an insidious fashion. They determine what we see on the news, decide what we are allowed to say or not say. It illustrates, in a very subtle manner, how Orwellian our country really has become, and right under our very noses.

Russell Crowe stars in an Oscar-nominated performance as Wigand, a high-ranking scientist and corporate executive at a major tobacco company whose conscience and temper have recently gotten him fired. He has a daughter with a severe asthmatic condition, so medical benefits are paramount to him. His former employer is willing to keep those benefits in place as long as Wigand signs a confidentiality agreement, which Wigand does on two separate occasions (they choose to broaden the scope of the agreement early on in the film).

Bergman (Pacino) is referred to Wigand by a colleague to help him understand some scientific data. Eventually, it becomes clear that Wigand wants to talk and Bergman, realizing the enormity of what he has to say and the evidence in his possession, coaxes him along. Eventually, Wigand testifies in court and does an interview with Mike Wallace (Plummer) on the venerable primetime news program.

Except that CBS corporate doesn’t want to air the story. Nervous about possible litigation running into the billions of dollars at a time when the network is on the auction block, they effectively kill the story with the blessings of 60 Minutes producer Don Hewett (Hall) and Wallace.

It is watching the machinations behind the scenes that is almost as fascinating as Wigand’s own story, which could have made a movie riveting by itself. The tension that Wigand lives through here is palpable, and when you try to put yourself in his shoes, you only marvel at the man’s tenacity. Together, the two stories make for an extremely watchable movie. 

There is some acting here, from Crowe who began a run of incredible performances which would net him an Oscar (although not for this movie) to Pacino who was at his best here. Plummer channeled the late Mike Wallace nicely, even if it wasn’t a very flattering portrait always. Mann doesn’t always get enough credit for it but he seems to have a knack for pulling out superior performances from his actors in nearly all of his movies, going back to his days on the “Miami Vice” television show.

Well after this movie came out we saw just how devastating the lack of corporate conscience is to the economic health of this country, so in many ways this movie was prescient. When short-term greed for bottom line profits overrides common sense and dignity, the results are very much in evidence. Corporate greed is not the sole province of the financial industry; obviously it is prevalent throughout big business, and this was a movie that not only saw that but blew the whistle on it earlier than most. In that sense, it is a chilling precursor to what was to come and a grim warning to what can still occur if we don’t act. The Insider is a jolting reminder that all of us are touched in some way by the corporate culture of profit obsession that has lingered from the days of the robber barons and still is the defining aspect of American big business.

WHY RENT THIS: Tremendous, Oscar-caliber performances. Subject that is as relevant now as it was then.

WHY RENT SOMETHING ELSE: Slow in places.

FAMILY MATTERS: The language can get a bit harsh in places.

NOTABLE HOME VIDEO FEATURES: There’s a feature called “Inside a Scene” which allows the viewer to read the director’s notes and script for a scene before viewing how the scene played out. It’s a fascinating concept but isn’t available for a lot of scenes here.

BOX OFFICE PERFORMANCE: $60.3M on a $90M production budget; the movie lost money in its theatrical run.

COMPARISON SHOPPING: The Whistleblower

FINAL RATING: 8/10

NEXT: Battleship