Moonrise Kingdom


Moonrise Kingdom

Edward Norton and his band of brown-shirted scouts are out on serious business.

(2012) Comedy (Focus) Bruce Willis, Bill Murray, Edward Norton, Frances McDormand, Jason Schwartzmann, Tilda Swinton, Harvey Keitel, Bob Balaban, Kara Hayward, Jared Gilman, L.J. Foley, Jake Ryan, Charlie Kilgore, Seamus Davey-Fitzpatrick, Neal Huff, Lucas Hedges, Gabriel Rush, Tanner Flood. Directed by Wes Anderson

 

There is something about young love in the 1960s. There’s something innocent about it, more so than today where kids have access to so much information, both good and bad. Few 12-year-olds are completely innocent of sex in 2012; in 1965 that was not the case.

Sam (Gilman) is a bit of a misfit. He’s an orphan (although it isn’t on any of his registry forms) living with foster parents. He finds great delight in camping with the Khaki Scouts on nearby Prentice Island, of the coast of New England. The island has no paved roads and is mostly uninhabited, save for a family at Summer’s End living in the old lighthouse – the Bishops, whose daughter Suzy (Hayward) is beautiful beyond her 12 years.

Sam met her at a church play when, bored, he went backstage to talk to the girls whom Sam was just discovering. The two began corresponding and soon realized that there was more than just like going on; it was love. Sam is distinctly unpopular, socially awkward and always saying or doing the wrong thing. He likes to puff on a pipe, not so much to smoke but because he likes the gravitas it gives him.

Suzy is a free spirit, whose lawyer parents Walt (Murray) and Laura (McDormand) communicate by bullhorn and display little warmth. Her fellow siblings listen to Benjamin Britton’s symphony on a tiny battery-operated record player that her brother Murry (Flood) hoards jealously.

They decide to run away together, accomplishing the feat in a manner right out of The Great Escape. They hike to an isolated cove over an Indian trail, Sam lugging all the survival gear they could possibly need while Suzy brings a collection of stolen library books (all of which are about strong heroines in magic or interplanetary kingdoms), a collection of 45s, the record player, her cat and a supply of cat food.

When Scoutmaster Ward (Norton) discovers Sam’s absence. He immediately notifies Captain Sharp (Willis) of the island police force – okay, he is the island police force. A search party is mounted and when Sharp stops by the Bishops, it is discovered that Suzy is missing too. All of this goes on while a monster storm approaches the island.

Anderson has a tendency to polarize audiences. Either you get him or you don’t; either you like him or can’t stand him. His movies have a sense of surrealism; just off-kilter enough to leave you off-balance as you watch it. Some people don’t like their realities being messed with but Anderson seems to get his jollies out of tilting people’s perceptions enough for them to gather some unexpected perspective.

Murray is perhaps his favorite actor – he uses him in almost all of his films. He is more of a sidereal character here; the sideshow, not the main attraction. In fact, most of the name actors are. The movie, instead, belongs to Hayward and Gilman. They are not precious as some juvenile actors are, nor do you get a sense that they are play-acting, as most juvenile actors do. Instead, they fill their roles and are at times called upon to do some fairly adult things – kissing, for example, and cuddling. You get the sense of the mutual attraction and Hayward has the kind of ethereal beauty that if it translates into adulthood is going to make her one of the most beautiful actresses in Hollywood – or the most beautiful women in whatever field she chooses.

Anderson shot the movie in 16mm and overexposed the film a bit, giving it an almost watercolor look. It has a sense of nostalgia, like a movie made in 1965 and only recently discovered but also a washed out look that is warm and inviting. Anderson is a director known for choosing color carefully and the khakis of the scout uniforms, the mustard yellow of their handkerchiefs blend in perfectly with the fields of grass that are slowly browning as autumn approaches. It’s a beautiful movie to look at, even more so in memory.

Critics have been going out of their minds with praise for this one, with several proclaiming it the finest movie of the year thus far. I am not completely convinced of it; there are times that Anderson seems to be quirky for its own sake, plus some of the sets look a little overly much like sets. A more naturalistic environment might have really benefitted as a contrast with the surreal goings-on.

Still, this is a very good movie that is going to be getting a wide opening this weekend. It has already been out in limited release since the end of May and has been doing good business indeed. This might turn out to be the sleeper hit of the summer, much like Midnight in Paris was last year. The Oscars might be remembering it in February much the same as it did the Woody Allen hit as well.

REASONS TO GO: Fine performances, surprisingly so from the juveniles. Laugh out loud funny in places, sweet in others.

REASONS TO STAY: May be a little too quirky for some – a definitely acquired taste.

FAMILY VALUES: There’s some sexual content and a good deal of smoking. Also a bit of drinking as well.

TRIVIAL PURSUIT: The movie was shot with 16mm cameras to give it a look like it was made in the 60s.

CRITICAL MASS: As of 6/25/12: Rotten Tomatoes: 94% positive reviews. Metacritic: 84/100. The critics are falling all over themselves with praise.

COMPARISON SHOPPING: Flipped

CAMPING LOVERS: The woodcraft that Sam espouses to Suzy is actually quite valid and is taught by the Boy Scouts today.

FINAL RATING: 7.5/10

NEXT: Rock of Ages

New Releases for the Week of June 22, 2012


June 22, 2012

BRAVE

(Disney*Pixar) Starring the voices of Kelly Macdonald, Emma Thompson, Billy Connolly, Julie Walters, Kevin McKidd, Craig Ferguson, Robbie Coltrane, John Ratzenberger, Patrick Doyle. Directed by Mark Andrews and Brenda Chapman

An Scottish princess yearns to prove her mettle but her mom the Queen wishes her to be more lady-like. When her actions cause chaos in the hitherto peaceful kingdom, she turns to a wise wisdom and inadvertently unleashes a curse that may cause even more damage to life and limb. It is one thing to play brave but quite another to be brave and that is precisely what she must do if she is to reverse the curse and bring peace back to Scotland.

See the trailer, promos, featurettes and a clip here.

For more on the movie this is the website.

Release formats: Standard, 3D

Genre: Animated Feature

Rating: PG (for some scary action and rude humor)

Abraham Lincoln: Vampire Hunter

(20th Century Fox) Benjamin Walker, Dominic Cooper, Mary Elizabeth Winstead, Rufus Sewell. Our beloved 16th president led a secret life before he became the Great Emancipator. Lincoln in addition to debating politics and practicing law was a killer of vampires, the scourge of the Earth who had murdered his own mother. Soon he is taking on a vampire curse that is intent on forming their own nation – the Confederate States of America.

See the trailer and a clip here.

For more on the movie this is the website.

Release formats: Standard

Genre: Supernatural Thriller

Rating: R (for violence throughout and brief sexuality) 

Lola Versus

(Fox Searchlight) Greta Gerwig, Joel Kinnaman, Bill Pullman, Debra Winger. After being dumped by her fiancee just a few weeks before the wedding,  Lola, accompanied by her sympathetic friends, goes on a journey to discover her place in the world and what it means to be a single woman approaching 30. Which isn’t what it used to be.

See the trailer here.

For more on the movie this is the website.

Release formats: Standard

Genre: Romance

Rating: R (for language, sexuality and drug use) 

Moonrise Kingdom

(Focus) Bruce Willis, Bill Murray, Edward Norton, Frances McDormand. A pair of 12-year-olds living on an island off the coast of New England in 1965 decide to run away together into the wilderness. As the community turns the island upside-down trying to find them, a brewing storm off the coast puts more urgency into the search. From eclectic director Wes Anderson.

See the trailer, featurettes and clips here.

For more on the movie this is the website.

Release formats: Standard

Genre: Comedy

Rating: PG-13 (for sexual content and smoking)

Seeking a Friend For the End of the World

(Focus) Steve Carell, Keira Knightley, Patton Oswalt, Melanie Lynskey. As the world winds down awaiting the final, fatal collision with an asteroid, a man and his comely neighbor take a journey for him to find his lost love and for her to be reunited with her family one last time before the end arrives. Along the way they find that the things they really need may not be that far away at all.

See the trailer and featurette here.

For more on the movie this is the website.

Release formats: Standard

Genre: Comedy

Rating: R (for language including sexual references, some drug use and brief violence)

Teri Meri Kahaani

(Eros International) Priyanka Chopra, Shahid Kapoor, Omar Khan, Greg Heffernan. Three different love stories. Three different couples (played by the same actors). All linked together, by history and by love. With settings in 1912, 1962 and 2012, the music of each story is of the period the story is set in. Sounds pretty interesting to me.

See the trailer here.

For more on the movie this is the website.

Release formats: Standard

Genre: Bollywood

Rating: NR 

The Italian Job (2003)


The Italian Job

That Mini-Cooper could probably fit inside that helicopter with room to spare.

(2003) Action (Paramount) Mark Wahlberg, Charlize Theron, Edward Norton, Jason Statham, Mos Def, Seth Green, Donald Sutherland, Boris Lee Krutonog, Julie Costello, Gawtti, Franky G, Aaron Speiser, Olek Krupa, Thomas Alexander. Directed by F. Gary Gray

 

It started out as a perfect heist. The brazen pilfering of Venetian gold, misdirection to lead pursuit away, and the recovery of the ill-gotten gains. Better still, this wasn’t the work of mastermind John Bridger (Sutherland), who is looking to get out of the game for good, but of his protégé, Charlie Croker (Wahlberg), who is taking over the crew.

Unexpectedly, they are betrayed by Steve (Norton) one of their own, who wants all the gold for himself. Knowing that Bridger has an aversion to carrying guns, Steve brings a few of his own and uses them. Most of the crew gets away, but John Bridger does not.

Fast forward a few years. The crew has managed to track down the elusive Steve back to Los Angeles, and are just itching for a little payback – not to mention the gold they stole. Left Ear (Mos Def), computer expert Napster (Green) and driver Handsome Rob (Statham) have reunited with Charlie, but they need an expert safecracker to take John’s old role. It so happens that John’s daughter Stella (Theron) has become an excellent safecracker, after a fashion; she is a security consultant who tests the vulnerability of safes for large corporations. She’s not really interested in ill-gotten gains, but it turns out she is very interested in getting revenge on the man who killed her father.

As with most caper movies, there are twists, turns and suspense a-plenty. Some wonderful car chases, some terrific action sequences and a nice bit of poetic justice near the end, although I couldn’t really call it an unexpected twist. Director F. Gary Gray is a bit too heavy-handed for that. He also has too many extraneous characters in the movie. I’m not sure if he’s trying to do some misdirection of his own, but it doesn’t work.

We could have done without the Russian mobsters and the informant, Skinny Pete (Gawtti). Frankly, some of the gang could have used a little more screen time. Gray, however, cast this movie to near-perfection. Green is fast becoming the Steve Buscemi for a new generation; he is nervous, quirky and always entertaining when he is riffing on his own. Statham is perfectly cast as Handsome Rob, the driver. He is absolutely riveting when he is on screen, and while he hasn’t gotten the huge screen star career I thought he was going to when I first saw this, he has managed to carve out a pretty satisfying niche in the action genre and has made some fairly nice films, although there is a lot of b-movie drekk in there as well. Wahlberg is settling into an action-hero niche nicely, although I’ve found him to be one-dimensional at times here but he nicely fills the role of the resourceful mastermind for the purposes of this film.

It is Theron who really caught my notice. Up until this point I’d never been very fond of her – she’sd always seemed kind of prissy in most of the movies I’ve seen her in up until this film, but she really held her own, and quite frankly, she looks better than she ever has at least until Snow White and the Huntsman (I know, I know, I’m a shallow, shallow man). Edward Norton gets to be a smarmy bad guy, a role in which he excels and pretty much perfects here.

The psychology of the movie is a little predictable; father-figure gets gunned down in front of the impressionable eyes of the hero, who seeks justice and gets it without getting his hands dirty. You know that the trigger-happy Norton is going to get his at the end of the movie, but you can’t have the hero getting blood on his hands; Hollywood might be going retro, but the anti-hero is a bit too retro for the tastes of most studios. I think it’s a bit hypocritical to line up Wahlberg as a criminal, but then he’s not a murderer, so he’s not too bad a guy. Of course, I could just be getting too grumpy in my old age.

Some movies should never be remade. Others can benefit from an updating. The 1969 Michael Caine caper movie on which this one is based is not what you would call a classic, but it is a movie of its time. That said, The Italian Job does what another remake, 2001`s Oceans 11 set out to do; take a movie of its time and make it timeless. Oceans 11 succeeded in its attempt, which isn’t as easy as it sounds. The Italian Job doesn’t quite become timeless, but it is an entertaining movie, and as the years have passed it has remained that way. I guess it is timeless after all.

WHY RENT THIS: Great action sequences. Theron emerges as a major star. Fun summer entertainment. Great ensemble.

WHY RENT SOMETHING ELSE: Wahlberg lacks the charisma I would have liked to have seen here. A little bit predictable.

FAMILY VALUES: There’s a bit of violence and a lot of action.

TRIVIAL PURSUITS: Lyle’s girlfriend at the end of the film is played by Kelly Brook, who was Jason Statham’s actual girlfriend at the time.

NOTABLE HOME VIDEO FEATURES: There is a featurette on Mini-Coopers (which are used extensively in the chase sequence) and on the actors two weeks in drivers school (they did a lot of their own driving stunts).

BOX OFFICE PERFORMANCE: $176.1M on a $60M production budget; the film was a hit.

COMPARISON SHOPPING: Oceans 11

FINAL RATING: 7.5/10

NEXT: A Beautiful Life

Incredible Hulk


Edward Norton

Ol' green eyes is back!

(2008) Superhero (Universal) Edward Norton, Liv Tyler, Tim Roth, William Hurt, Tim Blake Nelson, Ty Burrell, Christina Cabot, Peter Mensah, Lou Ferrigno, Greg Bryk, Paul Soles, Debora Nascimento, Robert Downey Jr., Bill Bixby, Brandon Cruz. Directed by Louis Letterier

 

All of us have some sort of demon inside of us. They are of varying size and ferocity, with varying holds on us but we all have one. Some, however, have demons that are far more evident than others.

Dr. Bruce Banner (Norton) is living as inconspicuously as possible in a suburb of Rio de Janiero, working in a soft drink factory. When he is at home, he is doing complex research trying to reverse his condition – when his heart rate goes over 200, his physiology changes, turning him into a green behemoth of enormous strength and agility. Banner had accidentally irradiated himself with gamma radiation in an effort to find ways to regenerate cells but which now the U.S. Army in the person of General “Thunderbolt” Ross (Hurt) wants to create an army of behemoths. Complicating matters is that Banner’s girl is Betty Ross (Tyler), the general’s daughter. Yikes.

Banner runs afoul of some toughs working in the factory and when they attack him and set his heart rate above 200, Banner hulks out just as the army arrives to capture him. Let’s just say it doesn’t go well for the army.

Banner returns to Culver University in Virginia where Betty now works and where she is dating psychologist Dr. Leonard Samson (Burrell). Betty is reluctant to reunite although she clearly still has feelings for Bruce but the suspicious Dr. Samson turns Bruce in and he is captured. But Emil Blonsky (Roth), a British Special Forces agent charged by General Ross to capture Bruce, has taken a super soldier formula and forces Dr. Samuel Sterns (Nelson), a genetecist who has been secretly working with Banner, to inject Banner’s blood into his veins, turning him into an abomination. Only Banner as the Hulk can save the city now.

This movie is inevitably going to be compared to Ang Lee’s 2003 Hulk starring Eric Bana in the Banner role; the earlier version is a much more cerebral turn which was excoriated by fans and critics alike, but which I found to be much better than it was given credit for. This new Letterier-directed version is much more action packed, which is what fans wanted. Consequently it got better marks from fans although that didn’t translate into astounding box office.

Norton makes a terrific Banner; thoughtful, haunted and a little bit short on the fuse, temper-wise. There was a fall out between Norton and Marvel over the editing of the movie, causing the actor to distance himself from the film and Marvel to hire Mark Ruffalo for the upcoming The Avengers movie in the Bruce Banner role. One can only wonder what Eric Bana thinks of all this.

The action sequences are spectacular as you might expect although the CGI Hulk is still not quite as effective as he might be. There is more a connection to the Marvel universe here, with Doc Samson and the Abomination both in the mix and Hurt makes am mighty nice villain. This isn’t the perfect Hulk movie, but it’s a very good one and with homages to previous Hulk incarnations (including the Ang Lee version) in various ways, this is a fanboy dream.

WHY RENT THIS: Action-packed and a compelling story to underline it. Norton does a good job with the Banner side.

WHY RENT SOMETHING ELSE: Some of the CGI doesn’t quite work.

FAMILY VALUES: There is a good deal of sci-fi/comic book violence and a few frightening images.

TRIVIAL PURSUITS: Paul Soles, who played Stanley the pizza parlor owner, provided the voice of Dr. Bruce Banner in the animated “Hulk” TV series in the 60s.

NOTABLE DVD FEATURES: In the Blu-Ray edition, there’s an animated comic book feature that is also a part of the U-Control feature that allows viewers to access behind-the-scenes content while watching the film.

BOX OFFICE PERFORMANCE: $263.4M on a $150M production budget; the movie was just shy of being profitable.

FINAL RATING: 7/10

TOMORROW: Please Give

Stone


Stone

Milla Jovovich gets steamy with Robert De Niro in hopes it might win her an Oscar.

(2010) Thriller (Overture) Robert De Niro, Edward Norton, Milla Jovovich, Frances Conroy, Rachel Loiselle, Peter Lewis, Sandra Love Aldridge, Enver Gjokaj, Pepper Binkley, Sarab Kamoo, Dave Hendricks, Rory Mallon. Directed by John Curran

Some of us go through life as blunt objects. We’re cudgels, beating people over the head until they realize what we’re trying to get across. Others of us are sharp objects. We’re scalpels, sliding in unnoticed and making changes in the minds of others sometimes without them even knowing it.

Jack Mabrey (De Niro) is a cudgel. He is a parole officer at a Michigan prison, close to retirement and welcoming not having to deal with the lowlifes and scumbags that he is forced to release back into society. Then again, Jack is no saint either; when his wife threatened to leave him some years back, he counter-threatened her by dangling their baby out the window and promising to drop it three stories onto the pavement. Mrs. Mabrey (Conroy) decided to stay, finding solace in religion which Jack seems to accept; he listens to religious programming on the radio.

His last case is to be Gerald Creeson (Norton) who goes by the nickname of Stone. All corn rows and badass talk, Stone wants to be paroled in the worst way. He’s quite a manipulator, not above using his very hot and sexy schoolteacher wife Lucetta (Jovovich) to seduce Jack. And Jack, for all his Christian values and professional ethics, isn’t above being seduced.

The questions become who is playing who in this scenario. How far is Lucetta willing to go to get her husband out of prison? Is Stone aware of what she’s doing or she the one pulling the strings? Is Jack more aware of what’s happening than he lets on?

This is not your typical drama – it’s not a procedural on the parole system, for one. It’s almost Southern gothic despite its Michigan setting and it’s a script that doesn’t assume the people who are watching the movie are drooling idiots. No wonder it bombed at the box office.

In fact, sometimes the movie is a bit too smart for its own good; you’re constantly left wondering who’s doing what to who and what’s really going on and at some point after all that build-up you want an answer to those questions that will be impressive – and when you don’t get one, you kind of feel let down.

You won’t be let down by the acting here. De Niro is a powerful presence and while this isn’t Jake La Motta or Vito Corleone, he imbues Mabry with a kind of brutal gravitas. It’s the kind of work only De Niro can do, and when he is on his game as he is here, you can see why he’s one of the best that ever was.

Norton is also one of the best actors out there and he has an entirely different role, one which shows his versatility. He is white ghetto trash; a rap-listening corn-rowed trickster who gets off on making people dance to his tune. It’s a powerful performance, as different as night and day as De Niro’s but equally as impressive.

What is surprising is Jovovich who isn’t ordinarily thought of as the same caliber of actress as the two male leads but she holds her own. Her character is vivacious, charming, calculating, cunning, sweet, sexy and devious all at once. It’s a marvelous character which makes you look at your local schoolmarm with different eyes.

Where the film falls down is surprisingly on one of its strengths; it’s intelligence. You are given so many scenarios and so many questions that your head can’t really wrap around them all. While repeated viewings might solve this problem, this really isn’t a movie I’d want to see repeatedly. Also, I had trouble with the relationship between Stone and Lucetta; it needed to be spelled out a bit better.

Usually I don’t have an issue with smart films, but you can’t be smart for no other reason than to be smart. There has to be some rhyme and reason and if it isn’t there, you’re going to give your audience a headache. You don’t want your viewers first impulse to be to grab the Excedrin; that’s a bad thing. Still, there are some elements that are gripping and seeing De Niro and Norton at their best is surely worth considering.

WHY RENT THIS: De Niro, Norton and Jovovich all contribute strong performances.

WHY RENT SOMETHING ELSE: Cerebral plot overthinks things. Some of the characterizations don’t ring true.

FAMILY VALUES: There’s quite a bit of sexuality, a little violence and a whole lot of cussing.

TRIVIAL PURSUIT: The filming location for the prison scenes, the Prison of Southern Michigan, was once the largest walled prison in the world.

NOTABLE DVD EXTRAS: None listed.

BOX OFFICE PERFORMANCE: $9.5M on a $22M production budget; the movie was a financial failure.

FINAL RATING: 5/10

TOMORROW: The Cell

The Illusionist (2006)


The Illusionist

We're both adults here; we'll flip for it. Winner gets top billing, loser gets this cherry tomato.

(2006) Thriller (Yari Film Releasing) Edward Norton, Paul Giamatti, Jessica Biel, Rufus Sewell, Eddie Marsan, Jake Wood, Tom Fisher, Karl Johnson, Aaron Johnson, Eleanor Tomlinson, Vincent Franklin, Nicholas Blane . Directed by Neil Burger.

Reality is, in reality, made up entirely of our own perceptions. Look at a picture of a clown and you might see an object of gaiety, or for some, a terrifying figure with homicidal tendencies. The picture hasn’t changed any between one viewing and the next, but the way we perceive it always does. In some rare cases, perception can actually change reality to a degree.

That is what illusionists count on. During the 19th century, performers of magic were referred to as “illusionists” rather than magicians since those rationally-minded people of that era knew that these performers were not creating magic but rather, illusions of magic. In turn-of-the-century Vienna, one of the best and most popular illusionists is the great Eisenheim (Norton), a man of humble birth who had as a young boy (Aaron Johnson) fallen in love with a young Countessa, Sophia (Tomlinson). However, class distinctions being what they are, the two were separated and Eisenheim went on to Asia to study under the masters of illusion.

His shows get the attention of Chief Inspector Uhl (Giamatti) of the Vienna Police, who has the ear of the Crown Prince Leopold (Sewell). Uhl, an amateur magician himself, is thoroughly entranced by the illusions perpetrated by Eisenheim, particularly that of an orange tree that apparently grows miraculously from a seed to a fruit-bearing tree in a matter of moments. The Crown Prince decides to attend a show himself, bringing with him his retinue, which now includes a grown-up Sophia (Biel). When Leopold sends up Sophia to participate in an elaborate illusion, the two childhood friends reconnect.

Leopold, on the other hand, is a man who prides himself on his intellect and is frustrated that he cannot debunk Eisenheim’s illusions out of hand, so he invites him for a private performance at his hunting lodge. Eisenheim, who has never learned how to be circumspect around those with power, humiliates Leopold which gets his show shut down.

There are forces at work however, that even the great illusionist can’t control. Leopold is set on marrying Sophia, which will bring Hungary solidly behind him in a forthcoming coup against his own father, the reigning emperor. Eisenheim and Sophia find themselves as pawns in a very deadly game, and as smart pawns are wont to do, they decide to take their pieces off the board and get the heck out of Dodge. However, the crazed Prince whom, it is rumored, once pushed a woman out of a balcony to hide the bruises he gave her during a sexual encounter, isn’t the sort to let them go easily. When things go terribly wrong, Eisenheim has no choice but to turn to darker powers to bring down the corrupt prince.

This is a solidly made movie, based on a short story by Steven Millhauser. Filmed in Prague, Burger evokes pre-World War I Vienna beautifully, filming mostly in shades of sepia and black and white. This gives the whole movie a kind of washed-out quality, not unlike looking at antique photographs.

Norton and Giamatti are two actors who can always be depended upon to give a terrific performance. Both do fine jobs in their roles, with Giamatti getting a little more to work with than Norton. Jessica Biel, who hitherto has been essentially a pretty face/nice body sort, does a surprisingly good turn as the strong-willed but trapped countess, caught in an untenable situation.

If there is a problem with this movie, it is that the filmmakers tend to telegraph the twists and turns a little too much. I found myself guessing well ahead of time what was about to transpire and I know Da Queen was doing the same. I would consider us fairly well-educated filmgoers, but not particularly brilliant. I think I would have appreciated a bit more misdirection in the script. Also, the accents affected in the movie could be better. A note to filmmakers – if the film is set in a German-speaking country, we all figure the characters are speaking in German without having to have all the actors sound like Colonel Klink. Unless the actors are actually speaking German in the movie and periodically speak English, there’s no need to have them speaking in heavy accents. After all, shouldn’t they theoretically be speaking in their native tongue?

Be that as it may, this is a nice atmospheric period piece that has some elements of genuine creepiness and a nice surprise or two. The effects are not really groundbreaking, but are well-executed and serve to enhance the story, rather than the other way around. I was a little disappointed but still, I didn’t think they did too badly.

WHY RENT THIS: Terrific perforances by Giamatti, Norton and (shocker) Beal. Great cinematography and location really evokes the era and the place.

WHY RENT SOMETHING ELSE: A little too predictable, particularly when it came to the twists and turns.

FAMILY MATTERS: There’s a little bit of sexuality and a little bit of violence.

TRIVIAL PURSUITS: While the movie is entirely fictional, it is loosely based on the Mayerling incident, in which Austrian crown prince Rudolph and his mistress were found dead at his hunting lodge on January 30, 1889.

NOTABLE DVD FEATURES: None listed.

BOX OFFICE PERFORMANCE: $87.9M on a $16.5M production budget; the movie was a blockbuster.

FINAL RATING: 7/10

TOMORROW: Take Me Home Tonight

The Painted Veil


The Painted Veil

An idyllic moment amidst disease, chaos, mistrust, infidelity and death - just another day at the office.

(2006) Period Drama Based on Literature (Warner Independent) Edward Norton, Naomi Watts, Liev Schreiber, Diana Rigg, Toby Jones, Catherine An, Anthony Wong, Bin Li, Marie-Laure Descoureaux, Juliet Howland, Sally Hawkins, Maggie Steed. Directed by John Curran

Based on the Somerset Maugham novel, this is a story about betrayal and redemption set against the magnificent backdrop of a China in flux. It is also a pretty damn good movie.

Dr. Walter Fane (Norton) is a bacteriologist who finds working with microbes far easier than dealing with human beings. He is closed-off, a little bit cold and awkward. That doesn’t mean, however, that he isn’t passionate. The first time he sees Kitty (Watts), he falls head over heels.

Unfortunately, Kitty doesn’t feel the same way. Still, she’s feeling increasingly trapped in her jazz-age London home, with stifling parents, particularly an overbearing mother (Steed) who has absolutely no confidence in her. Once the impulsive Fane proposes, Kitty is inclined to say no but an overheard conversation prompts Kitty to change her mind, if no other reason than to escape her mother.

Fane can offer that to her. After all, he works for the British government at their laboratory in Shanghai. It is an exotic posting, one with a good deal to distinguish it. Kitty doesn’t see it that way, however. For her, it’s merely trading one hell for another. Walter tries to indulge her in her gossip and games, but he clearly isn’t interested. Kitty quickly becomes bored and lonely.

She meets vice-consul Charlie Townsend (Schreiber), a passionate man who is everything Walter is not – impulsive, sexy, outgoing and charming. The two quickly become involved in a torrid affair. However, Walter finds out about it. While he doesn’t go berserk, he is infuriated and humiliated. Determined to inflict his own pain on his wife, he gives her an ultimatum. She may either accept a divorce, or accompany her husband to a small village in China’s interior that has been stricken by a cholera epidemic, which Walter has volunteered to go in and assist. He does give her a way out – if Charlie agrees to divorce his wife and marry Kitty, Walter will accept a quiet divorce to allow the lovers to be together. However, Walter knows – and Kitty ultimately has her naiveté shattered – that Charlie will do no such thing.

It takes nearly two weeks for the Fanes to arrive in the village, and the situation there is grim. The populace is dropping like flies, the French Catholic orphanage is filled with orphaned children – as well as children dying from the same disease – and already distrustful of foreigners, the people of the village are a powderkeg ready to blow. They are met by a somewhat rumpled civil servant named Waddington (Jones) who proves to be a sympathetic ear for Kitty, while the orphanage’s Mother Superior (Rigg) is something of a mother figure for her. Soon, she begins to see her husband in a whole new light, provoking changes in herself. Will Walter be able to forgive her and see how she has changed, or will the disease or the angry Nationalists cut them down before there’s time?

This is a beautifully shot movie, utilizing gorgeous Chinese backdrops nicely. You really get a terrific sense of the British foreign service in the 1920s, with all the arrogance and tunnel-vision that was present in the day. Director Curran makes what is a fairly dry and dusty novel live and breathe on the screen – Ron Nyswaner’s screenplay also helps see to that.

Norton, who hasn’t had a sub-par performance in a very long time, delivers another noteworthy job as Walter. He is stiff and reserved, his body language reflecting it every step of the way. While his British accent is a little dicey, he nonetheless inhabits the role well, making Walter a bit more sympathetic than he was in the novel, where he came off much more viciously.

Watts was a little overwhelmed by the part, I think. She’s not a bad actress, but I was less entranced with her Kitty. Kitty needs to be a very spoiled, extremely immature young girl who behaves impulsively and rashly, the very antithesis of Walter. Norton and Watts also deliver very little chemistry, which is perhaps the most glaring negative in the movie. They are supposed to come together by the end of the movie, but I don’t get that sense. They seem to merely accept each other more than embrace each other. That makes the final scenes a bit less powerful than they might have been otherwise.

Still, there is a magnificent epic quality to the film that makes me wish I’d seen it on the big screen, but it frankly didn’t get a lot of buzz when it came out and it got lost amongst all the holiday movies and Oscar contenders that were released at around the same time. Still, this is definitely worth seeing. Norton is wonderful, the script and cinematography are breathtaking and the movie captures the period well. If you use movies to transport you to another place and time, one you could not ordinarily be able to get to on your own, then your magic carpet awaits you.

REASONS TO RENT: Another fine Edward Norton performance. Gorgeous cinematography. An intelligent script based on a classic Somerset Maugham novel.

REASONS TO RENT SOMETHING ELSE: Naomi Watts doesn’t quite nail her role. Chemistry between leads is lacking.

FAMILY VALUES: There are some disturbing images of a village ravaged by disease and civil war, as well as partial nudity and depictions of drug use. Parents might want to think twice about letting their younger children see this, although for older teens it might make a fine introduction to the works of Maugham as well as to colonial-era China.

TRIVIAL PURSUITS: During filming, Norton injured his back when his horse threw him onto some rocks. He didn’t seek proper medical treatment until shooting concluded and he returned to Hong Kong. It turned out that he had fracutred three vertebrae in his back.

NOTABLE DVD EXTRAS: None listed.

BOX OFFICE PERFORMANCE: $26.5M on an unreported production budget. Since the filmmakers received financial assistance from a Chinese production company, it is likely that the studio made money on this venture.

FINAL RATING: 7/10

TOMORROW: Love and Other Drugs

New Releases for the Week of October 22, 2010


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

HEREAFTER

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

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

See the trailer, interviews and clips here.

For more on the movie this is the website.

Release formats: Standard

Genre: Supernatural Drama

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

Anton Chekhov’s The Duel

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

The trailer for this movie is unavailable.

For more on the movie this is the website.

Release formats: Standard

Genre: Drama

Rating: NR

I’m Still Here

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

See the trailer and clips here.

For more on the movie this is the website.

Release formats: Standard

Genre: Mockumentary

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

Lebanon

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

See the trailer here.

For more on the movie this is the website.

Release formats: Standard

Genre: War Drama

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

Paranormal Activity 2

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

See the trailer and a clip here.

For more on the movie this is the website.

Release formats: Standard, IMAX

Genre: Supernatural Thriller

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

Stone

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

See the trailer, clips and interviews here.

For more on the movie this is the website.

Release formats: Standard

Genre: Thriller

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

The Tillman Story

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

See the trailer here.

For more on the movie this is the website.

Release formats: Standard

Genre: Documentary

Rating: R (for language)

Waiting for “Superman”

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

See the trailer, clips and an interview here.

For more on the movie this is the website.

Release formats: Standard

Genre: Documentary

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

Leaves of Grass


Leaves of Grass

Two Edward Nortons for the price of one!

(Millennium) Edward Norton, Keri Russell, Tim Blake Nelson, Susan Sarandon, Richard Dreyfus, Melanie Lynskey, Lucy deVito, Josh Pais, Steve Earle, Ken Cheeseman, Maggie Siff, Amelia Campbell, Leo Fabian, Randal Reeder, Lee Wikoff, Ty Burrell. Directed by Tim Blake Nelson

Family dynamics can be unpredictable. Two siblings in the same family can take wildly divergent life paths, even if they’re identical twins.

Bill Kincaid (Norton) is one of the most brilliant minds in the country. He is a professor of classical philosophy at Brown University, handsome, erudite and brilliant. He is a sought-after commodity, both by administrators at Harvard (Wikoff) who are so eager to have him on staff that they’re creating a position specifically for him, and co-eds (deVito) who write him erotic love sonnets in Latin and tear their clothes off in his office, much to the chagrin of his administrative assistance Maggie (Campbell).

Brady Kincaid (Norton, in a dual role) is one of the cleverest pot growers in Oklahoma. He and his partner Bolger (Nelson) have built, as Bolger puts it, the Taj Mahal of grow houses, a state of the art hydroponics facility in which Brady has crossbred many strains of wacky weed to make the most turbocharged product in all of Southeastern Oklahoma. His girlfriend Colleen (Lynskey) is pregnant and his mom (Sarandon) has checked into a rest home despite being 15 years younger than everyone else there because she likes being able to do whatever the hell she wants, as she describes it.

However, things aren’t all rosy in Brady’s life. The big drug distributor in Oklahoma, Pug Rothbaum (Dreyfus) from whom Brady borrowed most of the cash to set up his operation, is demanding either his money back or for Brady to expand his operation into harder drugs, something Brady is philisophically opposed to. Rothbaum is demanding an answer and Brady and Bolger are pretty sure that he won’t like the one they have for him.

Shortly thereafter, Bill gets a call that his twin brother has been murdered. Even though he’s been estranged from his family for more than a decade, he decides to fly back to Tulsa. On the plane he is seated next to a pushy orthodontist named Ken Feinman (Pais) who is relocating his practice from New York to Tulsa where insurance rates and general costs are much lower. Drowning in debt and desperate to establish a new practice, he hands the disinterested Bill his business card.

Bill is picked up at the airport by Bolger who makes a stop at a mini-market in Broken Bow to pick up some supplies. While there, Bill is mistaken for Brady by a couple of redneck business rivals who beat the living crap out of him before Bolger intercedes, but not before he is knocked out cold by a kick to his head.

When he wakes up, who should be the first face he sees but Brady. It turns out that his brother faked his death in order to get Bill to Oklahoma, which Bill admits he likely wouldn’t have done if asked like a normal person. Brady needs Bill’s help – he needs Bill to impersonate him and be seen by the local sheriff (who hangs out with the receptionist at the nursing home with whom he is smitten) while Brady attends a meeting with Rothbaum in Tulsa. Bill is at first adamant against doing anything to help his brother, but a few hits from the wonderpot persuade him to stay the weekend, and the introduction of Janet (Russell) the comely English teacher with a penchant for quoting Walt Whitman and with whom Bill takes a shine to immediately seals the deal. Unfortunately, when Brady is involved with something, the unforeseen usually occurs.

Tim Blake Nelson, best-known as an actor in films like O Brother, Where Art Thou has directed a handful of films since the late 90s, but this is by far the best work he’s done to date. He captures the rural atmosphere of Southeast Oklahoma perfectly, from the local twang to the fishing hole chic. The movie motors along at a brisk pace that keeps you involved in every little twist and turn that occurs.

Norton’s twin performances as Blake and Bill are also worth seeking this out for by themselves. The two characters couldn’t be more different but there are some core similarities that a pair of identical twins would have to have, from idiosyncratic mannerisms to the strong bond that exists between them, whether Bill wants to admit it’s there or not.

He has a great supporting cast. Russell is one of the most charming of actresses out there, and ever since her work in “Felicity” and particularly the indie comedy Waitress is rapidly becoming one of the most reliable actresses in the business. The rest of the supporting cast, from Nelson as the ultra-loyal Bolger to Dreyfus as the rabid dog of a crime boss, is very strong. Pais is particularly noteworthy as the neurotic orthodontist and Siff as a rabbi has a very moving speech near the end of the movie.

I also wanted to mention Sarandon’s role as the ex-hippie mom. She’s so perfect for this role that you end up wishing she was in the movie more (she only appears in four scenes); if there’s any footage of her on the cutting room floor, I surely hope it ends up on the DVD. I think its safe to say that all the characters in the movie are nicely fleshed out, the mark of a well-written script.

The thing I love most about the movie is that about two thirds of the way though it takes a wild left turn that comes completely by surprise, so much so that at the Florida Film Festival screening at which I caught the film the audience let out an audible and collective gasp. The movie switches gears from that point and goes into overdrive. It’s a bravura bit of screenwriting as well as a tribute to Nelson’s talents as a director.

A word of warning; this is most definitely a movie about the drug culture, and those who are uncomfortable with depictions of pot smoking and other accoutrements of growing weed will probably have problems with Leaves of Grass. However, it must be said that the sweet smoke is no more pervasive than it is in the Showtime series “Weeds” so if you’re not bothered by that show you’ll be okay here.

This is the kind of movie that grows on you, no pun intended. I suspect that if you ask me again in a week’s time I will give this a higher rating than I have to this point. At the end of the day this is a very well-crafted movie that’s worth seeking out at your local art house or on DVD if it doesn’t find its way near you.

REASONS TO GO: The movie takes an unexpected 90 degree turn about two thirds of the way through the movie that’s unexpected. Norton fills both of the roles admirably. Russell is charming as always.

REASONS TO STAY: The stoner tone might be a bit overly much for those who are uncomfortable with the culture.

FAMILY VALUES: Those who are uncomfortable with depictions of drug use (particularly the smoking of weed) will be put off by this. There is also some scenes of violence and quite a lot of usage of foul language.

TRIVIAL PURSUIT: Norton was so eager to do this role that he accepted a pay cut of half his normal fee.

NOTABLE DVD FEATURES: None listed.

BOX OFFICE PERFORMANCE: $68,000 on a $9M production budget; the movie was a flop.

FINAL RATING: 7.5/10

TOMORROW: The Social Network

Note: I first saw this movie at the Florida Film Festival and published a mini-review at the time as the film hadn’t been released into theaters yet. Unfortunately, the planned release was scrapped and eventually the movie got almost no release whatsoever, which is a crying shame. Do rent this if you can find it.

Pride and Glory


Pride and Glory

Colin Farrell and Edward Norton have a contest for the best intense look.

(New Line) Edward Norton, Colin Farrell, Jon Voight, Noah Emmerich, Jennifer Ehle, Frank Grillo, Lake Bell, Ramon Rodriguez, Shea Wigham. Directed by Gavin O’Connor

The men and women of the New York Police Department have a particularly dangerous job to do. It’s a job that requires them to be exposed to the worst of human nature. Some rise above it and become something special. Others are infected by it and join in to that side of the coin. After all, these are human beings who have attributes both good and bad, just like the rest of us.

The Tierney clan – Frank Sr. (Voight), Frank “Frannie” Jr. (Emmerich), Ray (Norton) and in-law Jimmy Egan (Farrell) are all New York cops whose lives are irrevocably changed when four of their brother officers are gunned down in what appears to be an execution-style ambush.

At his father’s insistence, Ray is brought in to head the investigation. Once a promising detective, he has been in self-imposed exile after a Very Bad Incident, brooding on his father’s houseboat and separated from his wife. All four of the dead cops were under Frannie’s command and served with Jimmy.

As Ray digs deeper, he discovers that a notorious drug dealer named Angel Tezo (Rodriguez) is at the heart of the murders and that Jimmy is deeply involved. Frannie should well have been aware, but he is immersed in the impending death of his wife (Ehle) from cancer.

What we have here is an excellent cast elevating a mediocre movie. If you follow the plot line, there isn’t anything here that hasn’t been in a dozen movies just like it, from the Irish cop family to the corrupt Hispanic drug dealers. You can count on several angry confrontations, much soul-searching and a denouement in which there is at least a measure of redemption.

Norton, Voight and Farrell are all fine actors. Voight does a magnificent job as a father whose old school ideas of what a cop should be are rapidly fading into the past. He is sinking into a stupor of alcohol and moral high ground; a scene at the Thanksgiving table where he drunkenly addresses his children might very well be the best one in the film.

Norton plays the heavily conflicted Ray who knows that the further he digs the worse it’s going to be for his family. He has to weigh his family against justice, and his conscience is getting a workout that would do Bob and Jillian proud. Frannie is a man who realizes too late what is going on under his nose, but is a decent guy at heart.

Films like this have a tendency to over-romanticize the police force as war films tend to over-romanticize the military. The thing to remember about the police is that while yes there is some corruption and yes there are some boy scouts, most cops fall right in the middle. Most are just doing a job and the kind of grand concepts of pride and honor are really meaningless. Mostly, it’s just about coming home at the end of the day.

Still, I liked this movie mainly because of the performances. Farrell does his usual rough and tumble work while Norton is steady and layered. They are as opposite as you can get as actors and that juxtaposition really works, making their scenes together all the more magnetic.

This movie tries really hard to be gritty which isn’t a bad thing in my book. Movies about the mean streets of New York should be gritty. While it may not necessarily work as a police procedural, it sure does work as a character study. That’s enough for me.

WHY RENT THIS: A raw and gritty look at the NYPD, the stress of the job and the ease that corruption can set in to good men.

WHY RENT SOMETHING ELSE: Romanticizes the Force to almost mythic proportions and the fawning gets a little too close to kissing ass for comfort. And yes, as a matter of fact, we have seen it all before.

FAMILY VALUES: Some pretty rough violence, even rougher language and a little bit of drug use add up to one for mature audiences only.

TRIVIAL PURSUIT: Nick Nolte was originally cast as Frank Tierney Sr., but an old knee injury flared up at the last minute and Nolte had to go in for surgery. Voight was cast as a replacement at the last minute.

NOTABLE DVD EXTRAS: None listed.

FINAL RATING: 7/10

TOMORROW: Flame and Citron