Definitely, Maybe


Ryan Reynolds and Isla Fisher put in their bid to be the all-American couple.

Ryan Reynolds and Isla Fisher put in their bid to be the all-American couple.

(2008) Romantic Comedy (Universal) Ryan Reynolds, Abigail Breslin, Isla Fisher, Rachel Weisz, Kevin Kline, Elizabeth Banks, Derek Luke, Nestor Serrano, Kevin Corrigan, Liane Balaban, Robert Klein, Adam Ferrara, Annie Parisse, Daniel Eric Gold, Jaime Tirelli, Melissa McGregor, Alexi Gilmore, Marc Bonan, Dale Leigh, Orlagh Cassidy. Directed by Adam Brooks.

Love is complicated and sometimes will tear you to pieces no matter how well-intentioned. We can go in with full hearts and open to whatever love brings and still come out the other side desolated and destroyed. Still, we live in eternal hope that the next one will be the right one.

Will Hayes (Reynolds) should be at the top of the world. Successful, handsome, charming and articulate, he has a beautiful daughter whom he adores. He is also about to sign the papers that will make his divorce final. The day he is served with those papers, he goes to pick up his daughter Maya (Breslin) from school, only to find that today the class has been a course in sex education. He brings his daughter home to hear questions that can only be described as uncomfortable.

For her part, Maya is puzzled about this whole divorce thing. Did her dad ever love her mom and vice versa? How did they fall in love? Her dad has never been real forthcoming about his life before marriage and how he met her mom. Will can see that the information is obviously important to his daughter, so he relents and agrees to tell her about the three women he has been serious about in his life, but on his terms – the names and some of the facts will be changed to protect the innocent. Maya is delighted – she describes it as a love story mystery.

Flash back to 1992. Will is a young idealist from Wisconsin, freshly graduated from college and getting ready to travel to New York to work on the Clinton campaign. His sweetheart Emily (Banks) is not happy to see him going, but comforts herself in that he will be gone only for a few months before the two of them reunite. Before he leaves, she gives him a diary to give to her friend Summer (Weisz) who is a native New Yorker who was her roommate in college.

In the Big Apple, Will promptly discovers that many of his ideals are illusions and the harsh reality is that he is a very small fish in a very big pond. He is cheered up by his friends Russell (Luke), a fellow foot soldier and idealist, and April (Fisher) who is more of a mercenary. Things get exponentially worse when he finds out that Emily has cheated on him and wants to break things off.

Finally, he delivers the diary to Summer but not before reading some particularly steamy passages about a tryst between Emily and Summer. Summer is living with a cantankerous author, Hampton Roth (Kline) many years her senior but as she is an aspiring writer herself, it seems like a good career move. As Roth moves on to younger women, Summer and Will get together and begin to get serious, to the point that Will is ready to ask her to marry him…until she chooses her career over Will, costing him everything.

Broken and beaten down by life and love, Will rediscovers his old friend April whom he has always been attracted to, but as much as they obviously mean to each other, they can’t seem to get together. One of these failed relationships, however, has been given a second chance, only to end in further failure. Maya thinks she knows who her mother is of these three women. Did you figure it out too?

Up to that point I’d never been a particular fan of Ryan Reynolds, but I was actually impressed with his work here. He reminded me of another Ryan, Ryan O’Neal. He is sincere and captures the strengths and weaknesses of the character nicely, being at times charming and shallow, or sad and lonely. You wind up rooting for someone who has a lot of bad luck but makes some bad choices too. I liked Isla Fisher a lot as well – she reminded me quite a bit of Amy Adams and to a lesser extent, Zooey Deschanel. You immediately warmed to her the minute she shows up onscreen and quite frankly, she wipes the floor with Weisz and Banks both.

Derek Luke, so outstanding in Catch a Fire, is good enough in a small role but I think that he is destined for bigger things. I noticed him without him disrupting the flow of the movie, which is the sign of a good actor in a secondary role. And, of course, I am a huge Kevin Kline fan and I love seeing him even in the smallest supporting roles. Overall, the actors did a fine job.

Some great location work in New York makes the Big Apple a scene stealer as always. There are a number of terrific songs on the soundtrack. Most of the technical aspects are very solid, a good professional crew.

This is a very well-written, smart movie. The characters are believable and their dialogue sounds true. The main characters are flawed, but not so much that you don’t wind up rooting for them. As stated above, the acting performances are more than satisfactory. While this is definitely a chick flick, I found myself moved by it, particularly by Will’s own loneliness and sadness. Still, even though he isn’t happy, he’s a good enough soul to realize that he really does have it all, wrapped up in a neat 10-year-old package. Few of the characters turn out to be clichés, although one, sadly, does.

The ending unfortunately is very Hollywood and cliché. Part of me wanted a happy ending for the Will character, but it did make the movie less satisfying. Secondly, the character of Maya is another one of those precocious children smarter and wiser than their parents. Her role in the ending is what makes it extremely unsatisfactory; there is not a kid on the planet who would not only want their dad to fall in love with a woman other than their mother, but would actively assist in making it happen.

I was pretty impressed by it. It’s a lot smarter and a lot less cliché than your average romantic comedy. Ryan Reynolds does a particularly good job, as does Isla Fisher. Even Abigail Breslin, in a role that I found horribly cliché, delivers a nice performance. Perfect date movie fare for Valentine’s Day, or any romantic occasion.

WHY RENT THIS: Reynolds is pleasant and charming. Good chemistry with his various and sundry loves.
WHY RENT SOMETHING ELSE: The character of Maya is cliche precocious kid. Nonsensical ending.
FAMILY MATTERS: Some sexual content as well as frank and suggestive dialogue.
TRIVIAL PURSUITS: Director Adam Brooks can be seen as one of the bookstore owners.
NOTABLE HOME VIDEO FEATURES: There’s a featurette on maintaining the various time periods in the film.
BOX OFFICE PERFORMANCE: $55.5M on a $7M production budget.
SITES TO SEE: Netflix (DVD Rental only), Amazon (Rent/Buy), iTunes (Rent/Buy), Vudu (Rent/Buy), Flixster (Rent/Buy), Target Ticket (Rent/Buy)
COMPARISON SHOPPING: How I Met Your Mother
FINAL RATING: 7/10
NEXT: The Good Lie

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New Releases for the Week of September 27, 2013


Cloudy with a Chance of Meatballs 2

CLOUDY WITH A CHANCE OF MEATBALLS 2

(Columbia) Starring the voices of Bill Hader, Anna Faris, James Caan, Will Forte, Andy Samberg, Benjamin Bratt, Terry Crews, Neil Patrick Harris. Directed by Cody Cameron and Chris Pearn

Flint Lockwood returns to Swallow Falls to find that his machine which converted rain into food has begun to evolve. Now the food is alive and in short order will be breaking out and making its way to the mainland. Flint and his crew of intrepid explorers must shut down the machine for good or the world will face an apopcornlypse of epic proporridgetions.

See the trailer, clips and a featurette here.

For more on the movie this is the website.

Release formats: Standard, 3D

Genre: Animated Feature

Rating: PG (for mild rude humor)

Baggage Claim

(Fox Searchlight) Paula Patton, Derek Luke, Taye Diggs, Boris Kodjoe.  A beautiful flight attendant is less than thrilled at the prospect of her younger sister’s wedding. Competitive to a fault, she determines that she is going to be engaged by the wedding date 30 days away and she’ll use all her connections to land Mr. Right.

See the trailer, clips and a featurette here.

For more on the movie this is the website.

Release formats: Standard (opens Thursday)

Genre: Romantic Comedy

Rating: PG-13 (for sexual content and some language)

Don Jon

(Relativity) Joseph Gordon-Levitt, Scarlett Johansson, Julianne Moore, Tony Danza. Jon has the good life Southie style; he’s got a great ride, a wicked cool pad, all the women he can handle, a family that would die for him and buddies that would kill for him. He’s also got a computer where he can watch porn night and day. Who could want anything more? Then when he meets the right girl, he discovers that there’s one part of his equation that she can’t tolerate.

See the trailer, clips and a featurette here.

For more on the movie this is the website.

Release formats: Standard

Genre: Romantic Comedy

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

Enough Said

(Fox Searchlight) Julia Louis-Dreyfus, James Gandolfini, Catherine Keener, Toni Collette. Dreading her daughter’s impending departure for college, a single mom develops a romance with a sweet and charming single dad likewise facing an empty nest. At the same time, a friendship with one of her clients grows and as it does, her friend constantly rags about her ex-husband to the point where it begins to affect her new romantic relationship until she discovers the truth about her friend’s ex.

See the trailer, clips and a featurette here.

For more on the movie this is the website.

Release formats: Standard

Genre: Comedy

Rating: PG-13 (for crude and sexual content, comic violence, language and partial nudity)

In a World

(Roadside Attractions) Lake Bell, Rob Corddry, Fred Melamed, Geena Davis. A young woman working as a vocal coach secretly yearns to follow in her father’s footstep and become the best voice-over actor in Hollywood. When a huge break comes her way unexpectedly, she runs smack into a wall of sexism, egotism, pride and dysfunction.

See the trailer and clips here.

For more on the movie this is the website.

Release formats: Standard

Genre: Comedy

Rating: R (for language including some sexual references)

Metallica: Through the Never

(Picturehouse) Dane DeHaan, James Hetfield, Lars Ulrich, Kirk Hammett. As Metallica, perhaps the most respected and beloved metal band on Earth are performing one of their epic concerts, a roadie is sent on a quest to retrieve an object that the band desperately needs for their show. As he makes his way through the city, he discovers that the landscape has become a surreal reflection of the band’s music.

See the trailer and a clip here.

For more on the movie this is the website.

Release formats: IMAX 3D (opening in Standard format October 4)

Genre: Concert Film/Fantasy

Rating: R (for some violent content and language)

Rush

(Universal) Chris Hemsworth, Daniel Bruhl, Olivia Wilde, Alexandra Maria Lara. The rivalry between Formula One racers James Hunt and Niki Lauda in the 1970s was legendary, one which is still talked about by racing fans even today. But beyond the public perception was a private story that few other than those who knew the two men ever knew – until now. Oscar-winning director Ron Howard is at the helm for this high octane drama.

See the trailer, clips and a featurette here.

For more on the movie this is the website.

Release formats: Standard (opens Thursday)

Genre: Biographical Sports Drama

Rating: R (for sexual content, nudity, language, some disturbing images and brief drug use)

New Releases for the Week of August 17, 2012


August 17, 2012

THE EXPENDABLES 2

(Lionsgate) Sylvester Stallone, Jason Statham, Jet Li, Dolph Lundgren, Bruce Willis, Arnold Schwarzenegger, Chuck Norris, Liam Hemsworth, Jean-Claude van Damme. Directed by Simon West

After one of their own is killed, the team of badass mercenaries known as The Expendables set out to kick ass, take names and sip chamomile tea, and they’re all out of tea. So, they decide to rid the world of a whacko who wants to shift the balance of power by stealing weapons grade plutonium. No, not the president of Iran – some other nut job.

See the trailer, clips, a promo and a featurette here.

For more on the movie this is the website.

Release formats: Standard

Genre: Action

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

2016: Obama’s America

(Rocky Mountain) Dinesh D’souza, Shelby Steele, Paul Vitz, Alice Dewey. From the conservative author of the book The Roots of Obama’s Rage and the producer of the intelligent design promoting Expelled: No Intelligence Allowed comes this anti-Obama documentary which is, essentially, a series of Fox News talking heads explaining why the president sucks, how his policies will turn America into a barren wasteland and why the people who voted for him did so to prove that they aren’t racist. Michael Moore, you may respond.

See the trailer, promos and clips here.

For more on the movie this is the website.

Release formats: Standard

Genre: Documentary

Rating: R (for thematic elements, brief language and smoking images)

The Odd Life of Timothy Green

(Disney) Joel Edgerton, Jennifer Garner, CJ Adams, Rosemarie DeWitt. A childless couple desperate to have a family but unable to, dream up the perfect child and put all their wishes into a box that they bury in the backyard. When a magical storm takes their powerful wish and deposits a child onto their doorstep, their lives – and the lives of those who live in their hometown – are transformed.

See the trailer and a promo here.

For more on the movie this is the website.

Release formats: Standard

Genre: Family

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

ParaNorman

(Focus) Starring the voices of Casey Affleck, John Goodman, Christopher Mintz-Plasse, Kodi Smit-McPhee. A boy who can see ghosts is the laughing stock of his town. But when a witch’s curse raises the dead, his gift may be the only thing separating his town from utter calamity. This from the people who brought you Coraline.  

See the trailer, clips, promos and a featurette here.

For more on the movie this is the website.

Release formats: Standard

Genre: Animated Feature

Rating: PG (for scary action and images, thematic elements, some rude humor and language)

The Queen of Versailles

(Magnolia) Virginia Nebab, David Siegal, Jackie Siegal. Timeshare billionaires decide to build themselves a mansion which turns out to be the largest house in the United States. Their plans are threatened by the economic crash of 2008. The 1% begin to discover life on the other side.

See the trailer here.

For more on the movie this is the website.

Release formats: Standard

Genre: Documentary

Rating: PG (for thematic elements and language)

Sparkle

(Tri-Star) Jordin Sparks, Whitney Houston, Derek Luke, Mike Epps. The youngest of three sisters has big musical dreams and the talent to back it up. Not only that, she happens to be in one of the musical meccas of all time – Detroit in the 1960s. Struggling to become a star is hard enough but there are issues besetting her family that threaten to tear it apart.

See the trailer and clips here.

For more on the movie this is the website.

Release formats: Standard

Genre: Musical

Rating: PG-13 (for mature thematic content involving domestic abuse and drug material, and for some violence, language and smoking)

Seeking a Friend for the End of the World


Seeking a Friend for the End of the World

Keira Knightley and Steve Carell are not impressed with the dailies.

(2012) Dark Comedy (Focus) Steve Carell, Keira Knightley, Melanie Lynskey, William Petersen, Connie Britton, Adam Brody, Derek Luke, Gillian Jacobs, T.J. Miller, Patton Oswalt, Rob Corddry, Mark Moses, Bob Stephenson, Martin Sheen, Melinda Dillon, Tonita Castro, Jim O’Heir. Directed by Lorene Scafaria

 

What would you do if you knew that you were going to die? Not just you, but everyone and everything? All that we have made, all that we have done – all gone. What would you do? Where would you go? Who would you want to be with when the end comes?

That’s the question that confronts Dodge Peterson (Carell). Actually, it confronts everybody. An asteroid named Mathilda (and how sad that the instrument of our destruction is called Mathilda) is on its way on a collision course with Earth. Attempts to divert the 80-mile wide rock have failed miserably and in 21 days, it will crash into our world, killing all living things and, in all likelihood, a few dead things as well.

His wife, upon hearing the news, makes a run for it with someone she actually loves as opposed to her husband whom she has been cheating on for quite awhile anyway. Dodge, an insurance salesman, makes a few desultory attempts to go to work but as it becomes clear that society will be soon breaking down completely, he gives up on that.

His maid (Castro) comes in as always, preferring to keep herself occupied and gently reminds Dodge to pick up some window cleaner. Returning home from the store through the park, he notices some young people embracing. Despondent, he ingests the entire bottle of cleaning product and lies down.

He wakes up the next morning, feeling a bit ill but having the cleanest esophagus in town. He also has a dog whose leash is tied up to his ankle with a note reading only “Sorry” on Dodge’s chest. He takes the dog home. He also runs into Penny (Knightley), a neighbor who has lived in the same complex for three months but whom he hasn’t gotten to know although she is well aware of his wife’s indiscretions – and those of her boyfriend as well which is how Dodge comes to learn of his wife’s infidelity.

Angry, he throws out all of her stuff and in the process finds a box of his mementos including some pictures. As he takes a trip down memory lane while taking sips from a bottle of prescription cough syrup that his wife left behind, he notices Penny sitting on his balcony, crying. He invites her in after agreeing not to rape her; in exchange, she promises not to steal anything. She is distraught not just because the world is ending but because she broke up with the loser boyfriend (Brody) that she left England for and now will never see her family again because all air travel has stopped (and cell phones and land lines are useless since nobody is sticking around to keep those systems running).

It also turns out that Penny has been getting some of his mail mistakenly and has just now remembered to give it to him. Among the letters is one from his first love Olivia, who he’d broken up with long ago and who had gone on to marry someone else. But, the letter says, she’s divorced now and is looking to reconnect with the true love of her life – Dodge.

He realizes that he needs to go find her because this might – okay, will be – his last chance at true love. However, there is rioting going on, increasing in violence and as it becomes apparent the apartment complex will be overrun, Dodge finds Penny and begs her to drive him to his home town where he can find Olivia (his own car got taken out by a suicide jumper). He promises in return that he knows a guy with a plane who can fly her to England.

On that note, they set off. On the way they run into a variety of people, including a trucker (Petersen) who doesn’t want to wait for the asteroid to incinerate him and an ex of Penny’s named Speck (Luke) who is planning on riding out the asteroid in an underground bunker with a six month supply of potato chips and who is eager to have Penny stay as breeding stock. What Penny and Dodge find on their journey to be with the ones they love is not what they expect.

From the initial sound of it you might think this is a movie about death but it’s not. It’s a movie about life. It’s a movie about how precious life is and a reminder that we are all under a death sentence – we just don’t have the date marked down on our calendars just yet.

Carell plays the subdued, somewhat wallflower-ish guy better than anybody; he’s done it well in such movies as Crazy, Stupid, Love and Dan in Real Life. This is his best performance to date. Dodge is a man who hasn’t lived life; life has just happened to him, and he feels a certain sense that he’s missing something. He comes to live for the first time in those final days, and not just because he shows up at parties that become orgies, or stopping in restaurants where everybody is determined to party the rest of their lives away. For the first time, he is doing something instead of being done to and it empowers him in ways you might not imagine.

Knightley is an Oscar nominee who has proved in other movies that she’s not just a pretty face. She is continuing to grow as an actress. Penny is a free-spirited sort who has made a mess of her romantic life, putting her in a position that she is far from the places and people she loves when it is too late to get back to them. Penny is a bit kooky, but Knightley subdues that aspect of her personality, making her more of a person who marches to her own beat rather than someone who has to wear her quirkiness on her sleeve, which is a refreshing change given how many offbeat indie heroines I’ve seen lately.

The underlying theme here is that life is meant to be lived and none of us know how much time we really have. There’s no sense in living a life of regret because there will come a time when it is time to pay the piper and when we justify our lives to whatever higher power you believe in, it is the regret we must justify with the least amount of ammunition to do it with. I found this movie uplifting, despite the subject matter. When we left our screening, Da Queen and I overheard a teenage girl complaining to her boyfriend that the movie was too depressing. Perhaps she lacks the life experience to see past the end of the world aspect – it is in the title after all, so it shouldn’t be a surprise – but there is a rich subtext going on here that is very much worth exploring. The worst aspect of this movie is that I think the studio made a mistake in when they released this. Despite the apocalyptic element of the movie, it really doesn’t fit in as a summer film. It might have been better served as a fall or holiday release. I think people are more in tune with this kind of movie at that time of year.

REASONS TO GO: Gives much pause for thought. Strangely uplifting even though the subject is a bit depressing.
REASONS TO STAY: Inconsistent. Lacks a sense of social anarchy that would surely occur.
FAMILY VALUES: There is a little bit of drug use, a little bit of violence and quite a bit of foul language, some of it sexual.
TRIVIAL PURSUIT: The wife of Dodge Peterson is played by Steve Carell’s real-life wife, Nancy. Presumably, she isn’t cheating on him in real life either.
CRITICAL MASS: As of 6/30/12: Rotten Tomatoes: 51% positive reviews. Metacritic: 59/100. The reviews are pretty polarized.
COMPARISON SHOPPING: Miracle Mile
VINYL LOVERS: Penny has an extensive collection of vinyl records from the 60s, 70s and 80s as well as a pretty sweet audio set-up.
FINAL RATING: 7/10
NEXT: Abraham Lincoln: Vampire Hunter

Captain America: The First Avenger


Captain America: The First Avenger

Chris Evans isn’t sure the new uniform for FTD delivery guys is appropriate for a soldier’s uniform.

(2011) Superhero (Paramount/Marvel) Chris Evans, Hugo Weaving, Hayley Atwell, Tommy Lee Jones, Toby Jones, Sebastian Stan, Dominic Cooper, Neal McDonough, Derek Luke, Stanley Tucci, Richard Armitage, Kenneth Choi, JJ Feild,  Michael Brandon, Amanda Righetti, Samuel L. Jackson. Directed by Joe Johnston

Part of the American character is to root for the underdog. There is something about someone beating the odds that capture the imagination of American audiences, particularly when it is someone less physically gifted that surpasses those with more natural talent.

It is World War II and Steve Rogers (Evans) wants nothing more than to enlist but his scrawny asthmatic physique gets rejected every time. His best buddy, James “Bucky” Barnes (Stan) is about to be shipped over and as he and Steve and a couple of dames visit the New York Fair of Tomorrow (think of the Stark fair from Iron Man 2) to celebrate Bucky’s last night before shipping out, Steve spies a recruiting station. He and Bucky have an impassioned discussion which catches the ear of Dr. Abraham Erskine (Tucci). Finally Steve leaves his friend to make one more fruitless attempt to enlist.

At least, Bucky thinks it’s going to be fruitless – heck, even Rogers thinks it’s going to be fruitless – but Erskine walks in and makes Steve an offer. At last, Steve Rogers is going to do his part. He is sent to boot camp, run by the crusty Colonel Phillips (T.L. Jones) and overseen by the lovely British agent Peggy Carter (Atwell). While there are better physical specimens there (which the Colonel appreciates), Erskine and Carter are drawn to less obvious characteristics that Steve possesses, much to Phillips’ chagrin.

Steve is eventually chosen to be the guinea pig in a “super soldier” program to be injected with a serum that will make him stronger, faster and a better fighter. Erskine will be assisted by Howard Stark (Cooper), a wealthy aviator who is one of America’s most brilliant weapon designers. The operation is a success but agents of the Nazi science group Hydra wreck any further thought of creating an army of super soldiers.

Hydra is led by Johann Schmidt (Weaving), better known to comic book fans as the Red Skull who was injected with a earlier version of the formula causing the visage that gave him his nickname, although it is never uttered at any time during the movie. He has stolen a power source once protected by Odin of the Norse Gods (see Thor) and is using it to power weapons designed by the brilliant Dr. Armin Zola (T. Jones) that will turn the tide of the war.

Of course, nobody on the Allied side knows that yet. Steve, whose exploits in corralling the Nazi agent that threw the monkey wrench into the super soldier works were done very publically, has become a war bonds spokesman as Captain America, a persona the shy and unassuming Steve is uncomfortable with but like a good soldier, he does what he’s told, even if the orders are odious to him. When he learns that his pal Bucky has been captured by Hydra (along with most of his battalion), Steve does something most un-Steve Rogers like – he defies orders and goes in to rescue his friend.

Captain America is in many ways the Superman of the Marvel Universe – the iconic hero tied to the American way. He is almost too good to be true, but in this movie he is good enough to be true. Evans plays him in the digitally enhanced 98-pound-weakling the same way he plays him cut and muscular – with a hint of humility and plenty of fight in the dog, although there are touches of doubt and disappointment.

Johnston, who has previously directed The Rocketeer, another period comic book-based movie (which gave us Jennifer Connolly, among other things) does a wonderful job of recreating the World War II era, from the art deco lines to the make-up of Peggy Carter. The war bonds shows that Cap undertakes complete with singers, dancers and a sneaky little Hitler are spot-on.

This is a superhero movie with character, literally. Johnston takes the time to bring Steve Rogers to life just as equally as Captain America. Like Sam Raimi before him, Johnston clearly understands that the alter ego is equally as important as the superhero. Humanizing the paragon of virtue makes him more accessible; giving him challenges that we can relate to brings us closer to him.

Still, he also gives several nods to the fanboy base, throwing in enough references to the comics and the Marvel universe circa WWII in particular to keep that segment of the audience picking through the DVD/Blu-Ray long into the night. Personally, I think that’s a good thing.

Of the main superhero movies that have been released this summer (and this was supposed to be the big triumphant superhero movie summer), this is the best and unexpectedly so. I wouldn’t have called that back in April when writing the Summer Preview. At that point, I would have given the nod to Green Lantern and Thor first but nonetheless I liked Captain America: The First Avenger more.

As for criticism that this is essentially a two hour trailer for the forthcoming Avengers movie, well I for one like that Marvel Studios is taking the model that works for their comic book universe and applying it to their motion picture division. I like the idea of event movies that will bring together the heroes from other franchises into a single film. To that end, certainly this movie is pointing to the next one but it stands on its own as well. That kind of criticism is, to my mind, ignorant of the medium and of the audience that follows it.

Be that as it may, this ranks right up there with the summer’s best films. It’s got great action sequences, terrific characters, wonderful special effects and a great heart at its center. This reminds me not only of the way movies used to be, but of the best movies being made now. There is certainly a place for that in summer blockbuster films.

REASONS TO GO: Captures the era perfectly, giving it a bit of a revisionist spin to fit the Marvel comics universe. Evans carries the movie nicely and gets support in every quarter.

REASONS TO STAY: Cap might be too goodie two-shoes for modern audiences.

FAMILY VALUES: There is a smattering of wartime violence and a few disturbing images.

TRIVIAL PURSUIT: This is the seventh film based on a comic book that Evans has done.

HOME OR THEATER: Certainly the action sequences deserve a big canvas and huge sound system.

FINAL RATING: 8.5/10

TOMORROW: The Dark Knight

New Releases for the Week of July 22, 2011


July 22, 2011

CAPTAIN AMERICA: THE FIRST AVENGER

(Paramount/Marvel) Chris Evans, Tommy Lee Jones, Hugo Weaving, Hayley Atwell, Sebastian Stan, Dominic Cooper, Toby Jones, Neal McDonough, Derek Luke, Stanley Tucci, Richard Armitage, Samuel L. Jackson. Directed by Joe Johnston

The early days of the Marvel Universe are explored as Steve Rogers, the prototypical 97 pound weakling, wants so badly to do his part in World War II that he takes part in an experiment in which he is injected with a serum that will turn him from zero to hero. Joining up with his partner Bucky Barnes and the sassy scientist Peggy Carter, he will take on the hordes of Hydra (a Nazi group that utilizes almost mystical science) and their leader, the villainous Red Skull.

See the trailer, promos, featurettes and clips here.

For more on the movie this is the website.

Release formats: Standard, 3D

Genre: Superhero

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

Friends With Benefits

(Screen Gems) Justin Timberlake, Mila Kunis, Patricia Clarkson, Jenna Elfman. A pair of friends, disenchanted with love, still craves sex. They decide to become friends with benefits – a non-romantic relationship in which the participants both get to have sex with each other. While the two think they’ve got the best of all worlds, instead they find that sex very often brings its own set of complications – both emotional and otherwise.

See the trailers, interviews, promos and clips here.

For more on the movie this is the website.

Release formats: Standard

Genre: Romantic Comedy

Rating: R (for sexual content and language)

Submarine

(Weinstein) Noah Taylor, Paddy Considine, Sally Hawkins, Yasmin Paige. A 16-year-old English schoolboy worries that his parents’ marriage is crumbling to pieces. He has also fallen for a young classmate who is brash and intimidating, but may be his route to growing up. This was a big hit at Sundance earlier this year.

See the trailer, interviews and clips here.

For more on the movie this is the website.

Release formats: Standard

Genre: Dramedy

Rating: R (for language and some sexual content)

Miracle at St. Anna


Miracle at St. Anna

If you mess with these guys, they'll sic the kid on ya!

(Touchstone) Derek Luke, Michael Ealy, Laz Alonso, Omar Benson Miller, Pierfrancesco Favino, Valentina Cervi, Matteo Sciabordi, Walton Goggins. Directed by Spike Lee

It all begins with a post office and an old man trying to buy some stamps. This leads to a senseless murder, a nearly-retired postal worker pulling a gun on the old man and shooting him dead in cold blood. Further investigation turns up something startling; hidden in the apartment of the postal worker is the head of an ancient Italian statue, worth a ridiculous amount of money. What was it doing in the home of a postal worker and why did he kill that old man apparently at random?

See, it all really begins with World War II, and the 92nd Infantry Buffalo Soldiers during the invasion of Italy. Four servicemen – straight-arrow SSgt. Stamps (Luke), huge child-like PFC Train (Miller), steady Cpl. Negron (Alonso) and skirt-chasing asshole Sgt. Cummings (Ealy) – survive the brutal crossfire of a Nazi ambush coupled with the artillery barrage from their own commanders who didn’t believe black soldiers could have advanced that far that quickly. They flee across a river to relative safety where Train befriends an injured Italian orphan boy (Sciabordi) who refers to the lumbering Train as his “chocolate giant.”  

Train carries around the head of a statue he picked up in Florence, which he believes makes him invisible or invulnerable when he rubs it (Run, Forrest, RUN) which fascinates the boy. The four soldiers and the boy make their way to a small Italian village which has suffered cruelly under the yoke of the Nazis and the Fascists. They welcome the soldiers in, and nurse the injured boy back to health.

The soldiers feel at ease here, as Stamps comments “I feel freer here than I do at home.” The bond between the soldiers is tested when both Stamps and Miller chase after the same white Italian woman, while an Italian partisan shows up trying to find out why a small Italian town nearby was massacred by the Nazis. The interlude allows the men to talk about why they’re fighting. However, it becomes clear that it isn’t a matter of if the Germans are going to come back to town but when, and getting the four soldiers back to their unit is going to take a miracle.

I’m deliberately withholding a good deal of plot points here, mainly so that they don’t get spoiled, although to be honest it makes the plot sound like a bit of a mess. It all winds up making sense, even though it takes nearly two and a half hours to get there. Lee hasn’t directed a war movie before, but he does a credible job. Some of the battle scenes are brutal indeed, with limbs flying everywhere and blood spattering everywhere else. It might even be argued that the battle scenes are too brutal, although I found them to be no less visceral than Saving Private Ryan, I can see where sensitive sorts might feel a little queasy.

The problem here is that the movie tells a story that is about an hour and a half long in two and a half hours. The bookending sequence of the post office murder and its aftermath seems a bit unnecessary and there are places where the plot gets bogged down. I think it might have been a mistake to let novelist James McBride adapt his own novel; it is difficult for writers to edit their own work and the script could have benefitted from someone less emotionally invested in it cutting some of the fat.

The battle sequences, while gory, are really well done, particularly the final Nazi assault on the town. There is a bit of a mystical background that I won’t get into that plays a role nicely here; the movie could have easily ended at this point, although it goes on for some time after that.

This is an ensemble piece in the truest sense of the word, with none of the actors really standing out, but here that’s actually a compliment. Luke, Ealy, Miller and Alonso work off of each other to make a good movie rather than a star turn; it shows professionalism and sacrifice on the part of each man and they should be applauded for that if nothing else. However, you can also applaud them for bringing some humanity to their roles which could have easily descended into one-note caricatures.

I have always blown hot and cold about Spike Lee. When he is at his best, as in Malcolm X and She’s Gotta Have It, he is one of the best directors of this generation. When he’s at his worst, as in She Hate Me and School Daze, his work can be mind-numbing. Miracle at St. Anna falls somewhere in between; while it raises the conversational bar about racism in the military and the motivations of African-American fighting for freedoms that they didn’t enjoy at home, it fills so much space with soap opera and extraneous material that the film’s message gets lost in the noise. Still, when you have a director as technically proficient as Lee is, even the noise is entertaining.  

WHY RENT THIS: A sometimes brutal look at World War II from a different angle than the more mainstream films we’ve seen lately like Saving Private Ryan and A Flag for Our Fathers.  

WHY RENT SOMETHING ELSE: The movie runs overly long and some of the combat sequences seem to be carnage for their own sake.

FAMILY VALUES: As this is a war movie, there is some battle carnage, also a good deal of salty language. There’s also some nudity and sexual situations; rent this for viewing after the kids are in bed.

TRIVIAL PURSUIT: Wesley Snipes was originally cast in the film, but had to drop out due to his tax evasion trial.

NOTABLE DVD EXTRAS: Exclusively on the Blu-Ray edition there is a roundtable discussion between Lee, McBride and veterans of the Buffalo Soldiers and the Tuskegee Airmen regarding racial prejudice in the armed forces, and a featurette on the history of the Buffalo Soldiers.  

FINAL RATING: 6/10

TOMORROW: Yes Man