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)

The Eagle


The Eagle

Tahar Rahim checks to make sure Channing Tatum isn't carved of wood as Jamie Bell looks on indistinctly.

(2011) Swords and Sandals (Focus) Channing Tatum, Jamie Bell, Donald Sutherland, Mark Strong, Denis O’Hare, Lukacs Bicskey, Dakin Matthews, Tahar Rahim, Pip Carter, Simon Paisley Day, Aladar Lakloth, Thomas Henry, Ned Dennehy. Directed by Kevin Macdonald

It is said that in 117 A.D., the Ninth Legion of Rome marched into the wilds of Caledonia on a mission to expand the Empire. They were never seen again, nor was their standard, a golden Eagle that represents Imperial Rome.

It is 20 years later and the son of the commander of that ill-fated expedition, Marcus Flavius Aquila (Tatum) has requesting a posting for his first command in Briton. His identity doesn’t sit well with the men but they follow him resolutely like good Romans, particularly his second-in-command Lutorius (O’Hare). When Marcus seemingly uses psychic powers to detect a raid on the outpost and saves the men from annihilation, he gets the admiration of his men. When he is severely injured in the melee, he is given a commendation. He is also discharged from the army.

He recovers at the villa of his Uncle Aquila (Sutherland), who regales him with stories of his father. While recuperating, he attends some gladiatorial games and witnesses the bravery of a slave sent out to fight a gladiator. When the slave Esca (Bell) refuses to fight, Marcus is impressed and urges the mob to spare him which they do. As a reward, Aquila buys the slave for Marcus. 

When word reaches them that the Eagle of the Ninth has been sighted in Caledonia (modern day Scotland), Marcus decides to go – not with an army behind him, but just him and the slave who has said that he hates all Romans, including Marcus. There they will go where no Roman dares go – master and slave, neither one trusting the other. Together they will find the truth of the fate of the Ninth – and restore the family name of Aquila, or die in the attempt. 

Kevin Macdonald has directed Oscar nominees (The Last King of Scotland) and Oscar winners (One Day in September). This will be neither. What it turns out to be is an old-fashioned action adventure film with a nice historical perspective – it is rumored that the Ninth Legion disappeared around that time, although there are some facts that dispute it.  There is a minimum of CGI and no cast of thousands here. Most of the battle scenes take place amidst a very few soldiers, and we get no sense of vast numbers here. All this makes for a fairly intimate setting as epics go.

Tatum is not known to be among Hollywood’s most revered actors, although he has shown some promise in films like Stop/Loss. Too often he gets cast as the hunky action hero and that appears to be more or less his speed, at least as far as Hollywood’s concerned; something tells me he has a lot more to offer, given the right role. Here he does the strong silent type, although he seems to be trying to affect an English accent which slips in and out somewhat unfortunately. It’s distracting and I would have preferred he retain his American accent had I been directing.  

The master-slave relationship is at the crux of the movie, and fortunately Bell and Tatum make a good team. Bell is another young British actor who I foresee good things happening from in the near future; while this movie isn’t likely to catapult his career forward, at least it isn’t setting it back either. His performance is strong and competent.

Also of note is Rahim as the leader of the Seal People, a tribe of Celts in northern Caledonia. Some might remember him from A Prophet as the young Franco-Arab sent to prison but here he is the nominal villain, and yet he engenders such sympathy that you almost wind up rooting for him in spite of yourself. That’s the definition of a great movie villain in my book. 

If you are looking for the fairer sex here, look elsewhere. There are few women seen in anything other than as extras, mostly looking at Tatum and Bell lustfully. This is most certainly a man’s world and we are just passing through. I’m not sure that it helped the movie any – I for one like having both sexes present in a movie – but I suppose it made a sort of sense that the women took a backseat in this film.

That’s kind of odd too, because the novel the movie was based on, “The Eagle of the Ninth,” was written by Rosemary Sutcliff back in 1954 and she by all accounts was all woman. While some more ignorant critics have labeled the source material a children’s book (and Sutcliff wrote a great many of those), it was in fact not specifically aimed at children and is a good read for young and old alike.

The movie differs from the book in a number of very basic and fundamental ways so purists beware. One of the more basic tangents is the relationship of Esca and Marcus which is less a factor in the book than it is in the movie. I like the movie’s interpretation of it, although the thought of a patrician Roman and a lowly British slave becoming friends…not likely.  

Still it’s that chemistry that drives the movie and while it reeks of old-fashioned Hollywood smarm, it’s still effective in an era that tends to choose flash and glitter over story. The Eagle doesn’t necessarily blow one away visually, but the story and the underlying adventure are a bit of a breath of fresh air. For those who are fond of saying they don’t make ‘em like that anymore, here’s living proof that they can and they do.

REASONS TO GO: Good buddy dynamic between Tatum and Bell. Some nice adventure action and an authentic looking Roman setting.

REASONS TO STAY: A bit on the pedestrian side and the lack of women in the film is a bit off-putting but not as much as Tatum’s attempt at an accent.

FAMILY VALUES: There are some battle violence and a few images that might be disturbing to the very young.

TRIVIAL PURSUIT: The family name of the main character is Aquila, which is Latin for “eagle.”

HOME OR THEATER: There are some battle scenes and wilderness shots that certainly will look nifty on the big screen.

FINAL RATING: 6.5/10

TOMORROW: Just Go With It

Edge of Darkness


Edge of Darkness

Mel Gibson doesn't react too well to getting a speeding ticket from Officer Goldberg.

(2010) Suspense Thriller (Warner Brothers) Mel Gibson, Ray Winstone, Danny Huston, Shawn Roberts, Bojana Novakovic, Frank Grillo, Jay O. Sanders, Denis O’Hare, David Aaron Baker, Damian Young, Caterina Scorsone. Directed by Martin Campbell

The somewhat bizarre story of Mel Gibson of late has been public knowledge almost to the point of overkill. I’m not going to comment one way or another oh the things he’s done or said – that is for others to do. I will say I have always admired him as an actor.

It’s been eight years since Gibson last assayed a leading role in a film. In this one, he plays Boston Police Detective Craven, who doesn’t have a whole lot in this life, but he does have a daughter, Emma (Novakovic) who is his whole existence. She works for a big corporation called Northmoor that is one of those companies that nobody seems to know what they do, only that they have big government contracts. Emma seems a bit unwell, with frequent nosebleeds and overall fatigue.

However, her condition gets a whole lot worse when a masked figure shouts “Craven” as the two of them are walking out of his house, then lets loose with a shotgun blast that kills her right in front of his eyes. With her death his life is completely shattered in an instant.

It is assumed that the shooter had meant to target the police detective instead of the girl, but it becomes evident that there is more going on than meets the eye and the detective in Craven knows something smells rotten. He decides to ask a few questions, shake a few trees, see what falls out. He starts with her boyfriend (Roberts) who seems terrified but points Craven in the direction of Northmoor. The detective talks with the unctuous corporate president Jack Bennett (Huston) and while that sets his cop instincts into overdrive, he’s still flailing around in the dark. That is, until he gets a visit from Jedburgh (Winstone), a mysterious sort who is one of those clandestine guys who knows more than anybody else.

Soon Craven is knee deep on eco-terrorists, government hitmen, corrupt politicians and attempts on his life. There is no subtlety going on here; he is a man with nothing to lose because he’s already lost everything. There is indeed no more dangerous a man than that.

This is a more than competent thriller. Director Martin Campbell has done Bond movies (the very respectable Casino Royale) as well as high-profile franchise pics (the upcoming Green Lantern) and has shown that he knows what he’s doing. He handles action scenes deftly, and spends enough time on character development without slowing the pacing down for it. That’s a pretty difficult balance to achieve, and Campbell makes it look effortless.

His star has a whole lot of baggage and I don’t just mean onscreen. Gibson’s popularity isn’t what it once was when he was the World’s Sexiest Man, whose smile made him a “right here, right now” choice for many a woman. His anti-Semitic and misogynistic tirades have landed him on tabloid news shows and brought him unwanted publicity. His career has suffered as a result – this high-profile film was far from a hit.

That’s a shame because it isn’t half-bad. It’s based on a BBC mini-series of the same name. While this one has been transplanted to American shores, it retains much of the suspense of the original. Helping out is a stellar support cast. Winstone is one of the best in the business, and he sinks his teeth into this role. His scenes with Gibson are some of the film’s best moments.

Huston plays the smooth Bennett like a cobra, mesmerizing us before he strikes to inject a lethal dose of venom. Huston excels at these sorts of roles and he could have easily phoned this one in, but he doesn’t. He makes Bennett more than the standard corporate cliché, and that helps elevate the movie somewhat.

Don’t get me wrong – there are plenty of clichés here and the movie gets bogged down in its own plot intricacies from time to time. Be that as it may, this is a good thriller that has enough entertainment value that if you can look beyond Gibson’s off-screen troubles, you’ll be pleasantly surprised.

WHY RENT THIS: Gibson is still very much a star, although a tarnished one. A very respectable cast; scenes between Winstone and Gibson are top-notch.

WHY RENT SOMETHING ELSE: The concept has been done to death and the movie doesn’t particularly bring anything new to the table. While there are a few good scares, mostly it’s just gruesome.

FAMILY VALUES: A good deal of violence, some of it gruesome. There’s also plenty of good Irish Catholic Boston cop-style foul language.

TRIVIAL PURSUIT: Martin Campbell also directed the mini-series on which this is based.

NOTABLE DVD EXTRAS: There’s a featurette on the British mini-series giving viewers a good frame of reference.

BOX OFFICE PERFORMANCE: $81.1M on a $80M production budget; the movie was a flop.

FINAL RATING: 6/10

TOMORROW: Obsessed

Brief Interviews with Hideous Men


Brief Interviews with Hideous Men

Julianne Nicholson discovers that if you get a few glasses of wine in him, Timothy Hutton will begin to loosen up with the Ordinary People stories.

(2009) Comedy (IFC) Julianne Nicholson, Will Forte, Timothy Hutton, Dominic Cooper, Bobby Cannavale, John Krasinski, Christopher Meloni, Denis O’Hare, Max Minghella, Lou Taylor Pucci, Josh Charles, Frankie Faison. Directed by John Krasinski

What do men really want? Why, any woman knows the answer to that – it’s sex and lots of it, in some cases the kind most humiliating and degrading to the woman possible. But how accurate is that portrayal?

Apparently right down to the bone, according to this adaptation of a collection of short stories by the late David Foster Wallace of the same name. In those stories, the questions are asked by an anonymous interviewer just denoted by a Q and a colon. Here, a character is created to be the interviewer; Sara Quinn (Nicholson), a low-key cropped-haired gamine who sits down a group of men in front of a pitcher of water and a tape recorder and asks them a variety of questions. These interviewees are rarely given names, only numbers. They rarely have anything nice to say. She does all this for a post-graduate thesis for pompous Professor Adams (Hutton).

Not everything here is a formal interview. Some of the vignettes are snippets of overheard conversations, or Adams pontificating on whatever. The last is Sara’s ex-boyfriend Ryan (Krasinski) who had dumped her without explanation, leading her to this graduate project. When she at last gets to question him as to why he would hurt her in that way, the answers are far less than forthcoming and far more than humiliating.

Krasinski, better known as Jim in “The Office,” chose a very difficult first project for himself and to his credit doesn’t become lost in it, although the movie does meander a little bit in the final third. Still, he has an excellent sense for casting as the impressive cast often delivers spot-on performances. Along with Hutton, Faison plays the son of a washroom attendant who worked a demeaning job for decades in a hotel he wouldn’t be allowed o stay in. He narrates his story with a mixture of disappointment, shame, and respect. Meloni (from “Law and Order: SVU”) and O’Hare discuss a rather tragic event while waiting in a train station and both are as good as anyone else in the movie, particularly Meloni who is both caustic and sympathetic at once.

The movie has been criticized for lack of a unifying thread but I disagree with that assessment. I do think all the stories are related in more than just a general way; they have to do with the self-image of men and their insecurities that lead them to treat women so poorly. While at times this seems to be a rant against the male species in general, I chose to take it as simply the viewpoint of those who are mystified by the cruelty and arrogance of men and who have yet to find men with better qualities, at least in men that are available to them.

My problem with the movie is that while Nicholson is usually a fine actress, here she is emotionally cut off, so wounded is she from being dumped by a boyfriend that she is frankly well rid of. She kind of floats in and out of the movie, carrying absolutely no inertia which in turn gives the movie a strangely languid quality that I found somewhat unpleasant.

However, Krasinski chose to retain much of Wallace’s terrific dialogue in the movie, utilizing the novelist’s style as much as possible when he couldn’t quote directly. It is one of the movie’s best qualities, and given the fine actors who he recruited to recite that dialogue, makes for a movie that stimulates the mind as much as the libido.

I’m not sure you’ll get any further insight into men by watching this, but you might get a few explanations about our behavior here and there. It is an oversimplification to say that men are all about sex; that aspect is more of a symptom than the disease. However, that men are capable of wanton cruelty is certainly not a surprise. What is surprising is that neither Wallace nor Krasinski could find anything or anyone redeeming in the gender to act as a counterbalance.

WHY RENT THIS: Some of the vignettes particularly that between Meloni and O’Hare and a late monologue by Faison are brilliant. The dialogue is well-written and the impressive cast delivers in most cases.

WHY RENT SOMETHING ELSE: Sometimes the movie feels a little aimless. Nicholson is bland and too expressionless.

FAMILY VALUES: There’s a surfeit of sexual innuendo and conversation as well as some foul language of the non-sexual sort. The overall theme and situations are not for children in the least.

TRIVIAL PURSUIT: In Professor Adams’s office there is a pile of books, the top one of which is David Foster Wallace’s “Infinite Jest.” Wallace also wrote the book this is based on.

NOTABLE DVD EXTRAS: None listed.

BOX OFFICE PERFORMANCE: $33,745 on an unreported budget; the theatrical release lost money.

FINAL RATING: 6/10

TOMORROW: Bonneville