New Releases for the Week of September 9, 2011


CONTAGION

(Warner Brothers) Matt Damon, Marion Cotillard, Kate Winslet, Jude Law, Laurence Fishburne, Gwyneth Paltrow, Bryan Cranston, Jennifer Ehle, Sanaa Lathan, John Hawkes, Elliott Gould. Directed by Steven Soderbergh

An innocent cough turns into a global pandemic as the U.S. Center for Disease Control and Prevention tries to get a handle on a rapidly mutating virus that seems to anticipate their every attempt to come up with a cure. In the meantime, fear and paranoia turn out to be nearly as deadly as the virus itself.

See the trailer, clips and interviews here.

For more on the movie this is the website.

Release formats: Standard, IMAX

Genre: Medical Thriller

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

Bucky Larson: Born to Be a Star

(Columbia) Nick Swardson, Christina Ricci, Don Johnson, Stephen Dorff. A somewhat dorky slacker in the heart of the Midwest discovers to his shock that his conservative parents used to be porn stars back in the 70s. Believing this to be his genetically-imposed destiny, he heads to Hollywood to follow in their footsteps despite lacking certain…equipment. Adam Sandler produced this so send your cards and letters to him.

See the trailer here.

For more on the movie this is the website.

Release formats: Standard

Genre: Sex Comedy

Rating: R (for pervasive crude sexual content, language and some nudity)

Creature

(The Bubble Factory) Mehcad Brooks, Serinda Swan, Amanda Fuller, Sid Haig. A group of young people on a road trip to New Orleans stop at a roadside convenience store for supplies and learn about the legend of a creature that is half man, half alligator. They decide to check it out for themselves, only to discover that the legend is real – and the creature is not even the worst aspect of it.

See the trailer, promos and clips here.

For more on the movie this is the website.

Release formats: Standard

Genre: Horror

Rating: R (for bloody violence, grisly images, some sexual content, graphic nudity, language and drug use)

Higher Ground

(Sony Classics) Vera Farmiga, Joshua Leonard, Bill Irwin, Donna Murphy. A woman finds herself coming to terms with her love relationships in the 1960s as part of a spiritual community and trying to balance that against her own burgeoning feminism. This is also the directing debut of Farmiga.

See the trailer and clips here.

For more on the movie this is the website.

Release formats: Standard

Genre: Drama

Rating: R (for some language and sexual content)

Kevin Hart: Laugh at My Pain

(CODEBLACK) Kevin Hart, Na’im Lynn. Comedian Kevin Hart’s recent comedy tour smashed box office records for African-American comedians held for more than twenty years by Eddie Murphy. There are those who say that he is the funniest stand-up comedian working in the field today and this movie aims to present evidence to that effect.

See the trailer here.

For more on the movie this is the website.

Release formats: Standard

Genre: Comedy Documentary

Rating: NR

Terri

(ATO) John C. Reilly, Jacob Wysocki, Creed Bratton, Olivia Crocicchia. Yet another Florida Film Festival entry that Da Queen and I were unable to fit into our schedule, this moving and yet funny indie film follows a plus-sized teen who forges a relationship with a well-meaning yet often inept vice-principal. As things progress, he begins to find a little bit of the inner man he is to become even as he sheds his own self-image.

See the trailer and clips here.

For more on the movie this is the website.

Release formats: Standard

Genre: Dramedy

Rating: R (for sexual content, language and some drug and alcohol use, all involving teens)

Warrior

(Lionsgate) Joel Edgerton, Tom Hardy, Nick Nolte, Jennifer Morrison. Two brothers, driven apart years earlier, find themselves on a collision course in the biggest winner-take-all event in Mixed Martial Arts history. Each is doing it for different reasons – one for redemption, the other to save his family from financial ruin. Neither is expected to get there – and they must both confront their own demons if they are to win and become the warrior they have within them.

See the trailer, a clip and a music video here.

For more on the movie this is the website.

Release formats: Standard

Genre: Sports Drama

Rating: PG-13 (for sequences of intense mixed martial arts fighting, some language and thematic material)

When in Rome


When in Rome

Josh Duhamel and Kirsten Bell hope they are eaten by wild animals before doing When in Rome 2.

(2010) Romantic Comedy (Touchstone) Kristen Bell, Josh Duhamel, Will Arnett, Dax Shepard, Jon Heder, Danny DeVito, Anjelica Huston, Alexis Dziena, Kate Micucci, Bobby Moynihan, Lee Pace, Don Johnson. Directed by Mark Steven Johnson

Love is so mysterious to most of us that it borders on magic. It appears in its own mercurial time, it disappears without warning, it transfers from one person to another and when it hits us head-on, our lives are never the same.

Beth (Bell) is a workaholic sort who has blazed her way into becoming the youngest ever curator at the Guggenheim in New York City. Nick (Duhamel) is an easy-going sportswriter. They meet at the whirlwind wedding of Beth’s sister Joan (Dziena). Beth, stressed over a big exhibition that she is curating that no work is getting done on while she is foolishly enjoying her family’s life event in the company of chip-off-the-old-block pa (Johnson).

Things go inevitably wrong complete with a vase that refuses to break, electrical mishaps and the kind of shenanigans that usually go on at movie weddings. Pay no attention to these. Instead, note that Beth is getting hammered, and as hammered women often do she goes wading into the Fountain of Love (the city fathers of Rome wisely prevented the Trevi Fountain from being associated with this in any way shape or form) and pulls five coins out of the fountain.

This is when the magic happens…so to speak. Each of the men who threw the coins in the fountain – an annoying street magician (Heder), an annoying painter (Arnett), a really annoying model/narcissist (Shepard) and a slightly less annoying sausage king (DeVito) – all fall hopelessly and unrealistically in love with Beth and follow her back to New York where they make attempts to woo her that are about as well-worn as the word “woo.”

In the meantime there is that fifth coin. Was it thrown in by Nick? And if so, does that mean the blossoming romance between Nick and Beth is all a lie, forced by the magic of a fountain which has apparently confused stalking for love. Then again, what would you expect from a hunk of concrete.

There are some elements here that would have made for an interesting movie – unlike a lot of critics, I have no beef with the concept, only the execution. Rather than trying for genuine laughs, the writers opted for weak slapstick routines and cliché comedy bits (if I hear that freaking record scratch again I swear I’ll lose it – and you hear it not once but twice in the first five minutes).

It’s a real shame because Duhamel and Bell are genuinely appealing and make a nice couple. Duhamel, in particular, shows himself to be a real pro, offering a good performance despite the obvious knowledge that he’s in a movie that has some real problems.

I have no issues with Shepard, Arnett, DeVito and Heder individually but I’ve never really connected with them consistently as actors (with the exception of DeVito, who showed in such films as The Oh in Ohio that when given a decently written role he can make something wonderful out of it) and here they seem to be allowed to mug all over the place. I get the impression occasionally that there are four of them because they could get four name actors for the roles; had one of them passed, there would have been three of them – if one more name actor had agreed to do it, five. I found it amusing that all four of the coins belonged to men- statistically, far more women throw coins into the Trevi than men – and thought the movie might have worked better if at least one of the coins belonged to a woman (I could see someone like Amy Poehler as an aggressive romantic stalker).

But then that wouldn’t have played in middle America and one gets the sense that this was a movie assembled to target a particular demographic rather than because the writers had something important to say about love and life. I know that the first instinct of a studio executive is to go with the safe and the familiar, but I think box office figures demonstrate clearly that a well-written movie with an interesting story, memorable characters and something to say about the nature of life will more often than not bring in the box office gold that Hollywood studio executives know more about chasing than they do about chasing love.

WHY RENT THIS: Duhamel is one of the most underappreciated stars in Hollywood and he has nice chemistry with Bell.  

WHY RENT SOMETHING ELSE: The romance is cliché, the comedy is cliché, the script is cliché, the romance is cliché, the comedy is cliché, the script is cliché – say, do you get the strange feeling you’ve seen it all before?

FAMILY VALUES: There is some suggestion of sexuality but nothing really overt.

TRIVIAL PURSUIT: In the scene where Beth first stands in the Fountain of Love and surveys the coins, they are all in U.S. currency even though the fountain is supposedly in Rome.

NOTABLE DVD EXTRAS: There are a couple of music videos and a blooper reel here.

BOX OFFICE PERFORMANCE: $43M on an unreported production budget; the movie most likely underperformed or broke even.

FINAL RATING: 5/10

TOMORROW: Invincible

Machete


Machete

Is this the face only a mother could love?

(20th Century Fox) Danny Trejo, Jessica Biel, Michelle Rodriguez, Jeff Fahey, Robert de Niro, Cheech Marin, Lindsay Lohan, Don Johnson, Steven Seagal, Tom Savini, Daryl Sabara, Alicia Marek, Gilbert Trejo, Cheryl Chin, Shea Whigham.  Directed by Robert Rodriguez and Ethan Maniquis

Injustice requires a hero, someone to stand up and defy those who perpetrate it. However, some injustice is so grave, so reprehensible it requires more than a hero: it requires a legend.

Machete (Trejo) is a Mexican federale who is a bit of a maverick and a lone wolf. While his partner pleads with him to back off of a kidnapping case, Machete refuses. He only knows one direction – forward – and one way – the hard one. Unfortunately, this turns out to be a trap set by a drug lord named Torrez (Seagal) who butchers Machete’s family. Since Machete’s boss is in Torrez’ pocket, his career as a federale is over.

Flash forward three years. Machete is working as a day laborer in Texas, where corrupt State Senator McLaughlin (De Niro) holds sway on a fire-eating anti-immigration platform. However, the good Senator’s re-election campaign isn’t going particularly well. It seems that he’s made some powerful enemies, including a snake oil businessman named Booth (Fahey) who hires Machete to execute the Senator with a high-powered rifle from the state capitol in Austin. However, the whole thing turns out to be yet another set-up.

It seems that Booth is actually McLaughlin’s aide. It turns out both of ‘em are also in Torrez’ pocket. It also turns out that a paramilitary vigilante border patrol, led by Lt. Von Stillman (Johnson) are in McLaughlin’s pocket; as a matter of fact, McLaughlin went on a little ride-along with the boys and shot him some Mescans, including a pregnant woman right in the belly.

However, they’ve messed with the wrong Mescan, as Machete slices and dices his way through every slick-haired, black-suited henchman this quartet of baddies can throw at him. He has allies of his own, however, to aid him in the slicing and dicing; Luz (Rodriguez), a revolutionary whose Underground Railroad-like organization for illegals operates out of her taco truck; Sartana (Alba), an ambitious immigration officer who falls for Machete; Padre (Marin), a priest who packs a little bit of lead along with his crucifix and Julio (Sabara), a vato with a heart bigger than all of Mexico.  

Along the way they’ll run into April (Lohan), a drugged-out wannabe-model whose father wants to make her daddy’s girl, Osiris Ampanpour (Savini), an Assyrian assassin with a sadistic streak and Sniper (Whigham), Booth’s right hand man. The odds are stacked against Machete, but Machete doesn’t care about odds, not as long as he has a razor sharp blade at his disposal.

This has all the elements of 70s blacksploitation (i.e. movies like Superfly and Shaft), Asian chop sockey (the films of the Shaw brothers and some of Bruce Lee’s early stuff), spaghetti westerns and even the slasher flicks of the 80s. All of this has been filtered through Robert Rodriguez’ Cuisinart of influences to create something unique and refreshing, even as it is also at once familiar.

It’s no secret that this was born from a faux trailer that appeared as part of the 2007 B-movie homage Grindhouse that Rodriguez did with fellow trash movie aficionado Quentin Tarantino (it is said that another fake trailer from that movie, Thanksgiving is on the fast track for development as well). However, the real genesis for this character and this project took place back in 1994 when Rodriguez was finishing El Mariachi when Rodriguez began writing a script about a disgraced ex-federale with a penchant for blades.

This is so over-the-top that NASA has it studying planets. Every swing of Machete’s weapon generates a fountain of blood and a limb, head or other body part parting rather gruesomely from the original owners. Machete also gets to use his other weapon plenty of times as nearly every woman in the movie gets a sex scene with him, all to the beat of ‘70s porn movie. Wackada wacka wacka boom chicka boom, baby! Of course, it’s a little difficult to picture Danny Trejo, who’s pushing 70 but still in awesome shape, as anything of a sex symbol. To each their own.

Still, this is the role Trejo was born to play. With his hard scowl, stringy hair, Fu Manchu moustache, angry demeanor and a slathering of tattoos, he has played murderers, rapists and thieves in countless movies over the years. Here, he is the kind of anti-hero that the audiences of the ‘70s embraced. There’s something vicariously thrilling about sticking it to the man, y’know.

De Niro is clearly having a great time here. His character is a combination of Byron de la Beckwith, Arizona state senator Russell Pearce and Foghorn Leghorn and De Niro hams it up like he’s working a middle school talent show. In fact, one gets the impression that Rodriguez told all his actors to “let her rip!” and the only instructions they received from him thereafter were “More!”

Certainly modern audiences aren’t used to this much gratuitous sex and overt, bloody violence but that’s okay; those of us who remember Times Square before the chain restaurants, Starbucks and tourist-friendly shopping when just walking into the area made you want to shower and then dry off with sandpaper will embrace Machete with both arms. Okay, not literally; giving Machete a hug will probably lose you the use of both your arms unless you’re a naked chick with big bazoombas. And that’s the way it should be.

REASONS TO GO: It’s social commentary disguised as a cheesy 70s action flick wrapped in satire. The movie is so preposterous you have to love it.

REASONS TO STAY: Those who are faint of heart when it comes to sex and violence should steer clear.

FAMILY VALUES: Lots of gratuitous sex and lots of gratuitous violence to go with lots of gratuitous language. Who says they don’t make ‘em like this anymore?

TRIVIAL PURSUIT: After Rodriguez told Trejo about the role of Machete and the film he intended to make, Trejo called Rodriguez regularly at varying times of the day to pitch himself for the role. Finally, when an exasperated Rodriguez asked Trejo why he didn’t just text him, Trejo replied “Machete don’t text” and Rodriguez liked the line so much he used it in the movie.

HOME OR THEATER: Oh, home viewing for this one, definitely. Preferably with a six pack of cheap beer, a bagful of pork rinds and a taco or two.

FINAL RATING: 6/10

TOMORROW: Fifty Dead Men Walking