Sollers Point


McCaul Lombardi looks like he just walked in on something.

(2017) Drama (Oscilloscope) McCaul Lombardi, Jim Belushi, Tom Guiry, Zazie Beetz, Everleigh Brenner, Imani Hakim, Wass Stevens, Alyssa Bresnahan, Ashley Shelton, Lynn Cohen, Greg Crowe, Liam Hughes, Pete Papageorge, Michael Rogers, Kazy Tauginas, Grace Doughty, Brieyon Bell-El, Vincent De Paul, Maya Martinez, Hilary Kacser, Marin Ireland. Directed by Matthew Porterfield

Redemption isn’t easily obtained. It requires a genuine determination to change and to make amends which requires hard work on the part of the seeker. Sometimes – often, in fact – even the best of intentions just aren’t enough.

Keith (Lombardi) has just been released from prison and has transitioned from incarceration to house arrest. He has moved in with his father (Belushi) who is wary of his son who had made a lot of mistakes and had hung out with the wrong crowd. A low-level drug dealer for local Baltimore gangs, Keith wants to put that life behind him and make something of himself.

He is not on good terms with his ex-girlfriend Courtney (Beetz) who also has his dog, or at least that’s how Keith sees it (she sees it as she’s got their dog which is at least equally hers). Some of the gang bangers from his past have come back, intimating that he owes fealty to them but Keith turns down the offer to rejoin, angering Aaron (Guiry) who harasses Keith in an escalating series of confrontations.

Keith’s biggest obstacle, however, is Keith himself. He wants to learn a trade that his father would find honorable like air conditioning repair but Keith misses the first class and is late for the second which gets him thrown out of class. He does some odd jobs here and there but he finds that in order to make real money he has to skirt closer and closer to his old life. Lonely, he initiates hook-ups with strippers that he knows which leads to a further falling from grace. And as Keith’s temper begins to get the best of him, he finally crosses the line and may bring his freedom to a crashing halt

This is Porterfield’s fourth film, all of which are set in his hometown of Baltimore. While there’s clear affection for the city coming from the director, it is not unconditional love – he sees its issues clearly and without sentiment. There is crime, racial division and an erosion of the ability of the working class to find jobs and dignity. Most cities have the same types of problems, particularly those that relied heavily on industrial economies in decades past.

Lombardi is a find; he’s had supporting roles in high-profile indies up to now but this is his first lead and he hits a home run. Facially a cross between John Cena and Mark Wahlberg, he carries the latter’s charisma and the former’s physicality. It makes for a very promising performance; keep his name in mind as I suspect we’re going to be hearing a lot more from him.

Beetz, who has a high-profile role in the upcoming Deadpool 2 comes off less impressively. Perhaps her character was written with less to work with than Lombardi’s but she came off flat and without energy for most of the film; I couldn’t for the life of me see what Keith saw in Courtney at all. The chemistry was much stronger between Lombardi and Belushi although to be fair they had a lot more screen time together. While I was disappointed in her performance here – she’s done some compelling work in Atlanta – I’m hoping she does better the next time out.

Jim Belushi has come a long way from The World According to Jim and he shows some pretty serious dramatic chops here. There’s a scene with him and Beetz in which he pleads with her for the sake of his son, made all the more poignant for what Keith is doing at that moment. That scene alone is worth seeing the movie for.

This isn’t the first film to explore the reintegration of ex-cons into society and the hurdles facing them. In many ways, this is a well-trodden path. Keith though is his own worst enemy; he loses his temper when he should keep it, he is passive when he needs to stand up for himself and he does the wrong things for the right reasons – and sometimes, the wrong reasons. He isn’t a guy I’d probably want to hang out with for very long. It is a testament to Lombardi’s charm that the audience still ends up rooting for him. While I wouldn’t say this is Porterfield’s best film yet, it is nonetheless a solid one that is elevated by the strong performances from Lombardi and Belushi.

REASONS TO GO: Lombardi has some potential. There are some sweet and satisfying moments.
REASONS TO STAY: Beetz didn’t impress me at all. The character of Keith doesn’t have a whole lot going for him.
FAMILY VALUES: There is plenty of profanity including some sexual references.
TRIVIAL PURSUIT: Porterfield and Lombardi visited a state prison to get ideas on how Keith would behave in certain situations.
CRITICAL MASS: As of 3/18/18: Rotten Tomatoes: No score yet. Metacritic: No score yet.
COMPARISON SHOPPING: Small Crimes
FINAL RATING: 6.5/10
NEXT:
In the Fade

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New Releases for the Week of February 17, 2017


The Great WallTHE GREAT WALL

(Universal/Legendary) Matt Damon, Tian Jing, Willem Dafoe, Andy Lau, Pedro Pascal, Hamyu Zhang, Lu Han, Kenny Lin, Eddie Peng. Directed by Zhang Yimou

A European mercenary travels to China as an emissary. There, he discovers an incredible battle taking place on the Great Wall of China with an elite fighting force defending all of humanity against an implacable, impossible foe. Realizing that here at last was a war he could believe in, the European warrior is eager to take part in this last stand but must overcome the suspicion of the Chinese as well as the creatures they fight. The English language debut of one of China’s most honored directors is bound to be a visual feast as most of his films are.

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

Release Formats: Standard, 3D, IMAX 3D
Genre: Fantasy/Action
Now Playing: Wide Release

Rating: PG-13 (for scenes of fantasy action violence)

A Cure for Wellness

(20th Century Fox) Dane DeHaan, Jason Isaacs, Mia Goth, Celia Imrie. From visionary director Gore Verbinski comes this chilling tale of a multinational corporation’s CEO who goes to a mysterious clinic in the Swiss Alps for treatment of a strange disease. As his communications become more erratic and puzzling, an ambitious young executive is sent to the clinic to fetch the CEO and bring him home. Instead, the young man discovers a chilling secret that all may not be as it seems at the clinic and that in some cases, the cure is very much worse than the disease.

See the trailer, clips, interviews and promos here.
For more on the movie this is the website.

Release Formats: Standard
Genre: Thriller
Now Playing: Wide Release

Rating: R (for disturbing violent content and images, sexual content including an assault, graphic nudity and language)

Everybody Loves Somebody

(Pantelion) Karla Souza, Ben O’Toole, Stefanie Estes, José Maria Yazpik. Clara is a successful OB-GYN in Los Angeles who seems to have everything going for her but her love life has been a mess for years. Getting ready to attend a family wedding in Mexico, her family puts a ton of pressure on her to bring a boyfriend. A little desperate, she pleads with a colleague to pose as her boyfriend – only to find herself developing feelings for him as the festivities begin. Complicating matters is that her ex-boyfriend – the one who left her suddenly and made her gunshy about love to begin with – returns just as suddenly, igniting old buried feelings.

See the trailer and interviews here.
For more on the movie this is the website.

Release Formats: Standard
Genre: Romantic Comedy
Now Playing: AMC Disney Springs, Regal The Loop

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

Fist Fight

(New Line) Charlie Day, Ice Cube, Tracy Morgan, Jillian Bell. A mild-mannered teacher, beset by senior pranks, an administration that can best be described as dysfunctional and terrified by impending job losses due to budget cuts is having a really bad day. It’s about to get worse when he accidentally crosses the only teacher in school feared by the students who challenges the milquetoast to a fist fight after school. Word travels like a computer virus and soon the event is taking a life of it’s own – which might be just what everybody concerned needs.

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

Release Formats: Standard
Genre: Comedy
Now Playing: Wide Release

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

The Red Turtle

(Sony Classics) Michael Dudok de Wit. The survivor of a shipwreck washes ashore on an island populated only by crabs, birds and turtles. Surviving by himself, he is befriended by an enormous red turtle who may or may not be real – and begins to see his family (who may or may not be real) on the island, driving him further into madness. This acclaimed animated film is the first non-Japanese film to be made by Studio Ghibli ever

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

Release Formats: Standard
Genre: Animated Feature
Now Playing: Regal Winter Park Village

Rating: PG (for some thematic elements and peril)

Maggie (2015)


Arnold Schwarzenegger revisits his political career.

Arnold Schwarzenegger revisits his political career.

(2015) Horror (Roadside Attractions) Arnold Schwarzenegger, Abigail Breslin, Joely Richardson, Douglas M. Griffin, J.D. Evermore, Rachel Whitman Groves, Jodie Moore, Bryce Romero, Raeden Greer, Aiden Flowers, Carsen Flowers, Walter von Huene, Dana Gourrier, Amy Brassette, David Anthony Cole, Mattie Liptak, Liann Pattison, Maris Black, Jessy Hughes. Directed by Henry Hobson

sixdays2016-2

I have not been fortunate enough to raise a daughter. There is something very special about that father-daughter bond from what I’ve seen. While there are some dads who aren’t worth a counterfeit penny, most are quite willing to lay down their lives for their little girls if need be.

Maggie Vogel (Breslin) has a dad like that – Wade (Schwarzenegger) who owns a small farm in the Midwest. Disease has broken out – a pandemic that turns those that contract it into flesh-eating cannibals. They become mindless zombies, if you will. Maggie has been bitten by a zombie and now she has the disease. There is no cure. She will slowly die over a period of several months; the end is inexorable. She’s run away from home, to find herself in a hospital. That’s where Wade finds her.

There aren’t many options and none of them are real hopeful. She can be left in the hospital where she’ll be sent to quarantine, eventually to be given a very painful death. She can go home and stay there until she turns, in which case she’ll get a very painful death. Or she can go home and her father can end her existence in a more humane way. Wade chooses the last option.

Things are breaking down back at home. Wade’s second wife Caroline (Richardson) – Maggie’s mom passed when she was a little girl – and her two kids with Wade Bobby (A. Flowers) and Molly (C. Flowers) don’t really understand what’s going on, although Bobby sort of does. Eventually Caroline packs up the kids and sends them to live with an aunt, joining them herself. While she does understand what’s going on, she doesn’t get why Wade would put their two healthy children in harm’s way for the sake of a daughter who is dying. Wade doesn’t really have an answer for her that she understands.

Maggie hooks up with an old flame back at home, Trent (Romero) who also has the disease. He doesn’t want to go to quarantine – he’s heard that the conditions there are terrifying. He locks himself in his room and only Maggie can talk him out but the local sheriff (Griffin) and his mean-hearted deputy (Evermore) drag him away to quarantine anyway. Maggie knows that she doesn’t want a similar fate for herself.

But the signs are getting more unavoidable. She finds live maggots in her arm. When she cuts open a finger, she feels no pain – and oozes viscous black liquid instead of blood. She regularly vomits up horrifying liquids. She can feel her humanity slipping away. The question is, does Ray have the strength to let go of his daughter and spare her things even worse?

=Zombies are a hot commodity in terms of film and television, with The Walking Dead being the number one show on TV as this is written. However, Maggie really isn’t about zombies; they are barely part of the landscape here. We see little violence involving zombies, although on the few occasions where there is some it is sudden and horrifying. No, Maggie is about death and dying – and given the subject, yes the tone is bleak and grim.

Schwarzenegger is of course first and foremost an action hero but the man is not far from his 70th birthday and action roles don’t really suit him anymore. Given a chance to show his dramatic chops, Schwarzenegger actually shines and comes out with the best performance of his storied career. His Wade is gentle, honest and loyal but he is also very conflicted. He knows what’s best for his daughter, but finds it hard to even consider letting her go, even to the point of possibly letting her suffer. It makes the movie’s denouement even more poignant. I truly hope that Schwarzenegger gets more roles like this in the coming years; he can certainly handle them.

Breslin is already a known quality. She started out as a child actress and became one of the best juvenile actresses in history. As a young woman, she shows she can handle much more layered, complex roles. She has all the skills to be one of her generation’s most successful performers, with the kind of talent that wins Oscars and carries lead roles in important franchise films.

There are plenty of pastoral images that indicate a lifestyle that’s both rural and satisfying. Perhaps there are a few too many of those; at times the filmmaker seems a bit more in love with the style over the substance which is a bit of a shame because the substance here is pretty outstanding. Hobson has a background in making titles and graphic design and certainly his expertise shows here which isn’t necessarily a bad thing but hopefully for future films he’ll give a bit more emphasis to the story.

Oddly, the zombies here are some of the least effective ever seen onscreen. Even during the few attack scenes, they are never as menacing as they are in other presentations. The process of becoming a zombie is given more attention, which is proper and it IS fascinating, but we never get a sense of what the end result is. Becoming a zombie is bad here because it is in other movies for all we know. I would have preferred to see some graphic displays of why becoming a zombie is such a horrible fate. There is a whole lot of weeping over it though.

Also, for a zombie apocalypse, life is going on pretty well as it had before. We don’t get a sense of civilization breaking down whatsoever. But then again, why does it have to? An outbreak of zombie disease doesn’t have to signify an apocalypse, although the zombie inconvenience doesn’t sound nearly as interesting.

There is a lot to recommend this movie, particularly the acting (who’da thought) and the concept, but I think the movie could have been an absolute classic with surer hands at the helm. A little less rumination and a little more action would have benefitted the movie overall.

WHY RENT THIS: This is one of Schwarzenegger’s best performances of his career if not THE best and Breslin is nearly as good.
WHY RENT SOMETHING ELSE: The zombies aren’t used effectively and the film gets way too schmaltzy.
FAMILY VALUES: There is a bit of gore and some disturbing zombie-related images as well as a little bit of profanity.
TRIVIAL PURSUIT: Schwarzenegger, who really loved the script, did the movie without taking any sort of payment. The film crew also used the same home and surrounding property of the house in Looper.
NOTABLE DVD EXTRAS: There are some surprisingly lengthy interviews with members of the cast and crew, as well as an Ultraviolet digital copy of the film on the Blu-Ray edition.
SITES TO SEE: Netflix (DVD/Blu-Ray rental only), Amazon Prime, iTunes, Fandango Now, Google Play, Vudu, YouTube
BOX OFFICE PERFORMANCE: $1.4 million on a $4.5M production budget.
COMPARISON SHOPPING: Life After Beth
FINAL RATING: 6/10
NEXT: Day 3 of Six Days of Darkness!

White Irish Drinkers


White Irish Drinkers

Nick Thurston is oblivious to Leslie Murphy’s skepticism over the idea that a cemetery is an acceptable location for a first date.

(2010) Drama (Screen Media) Nick Thurston, Geoff Wigdor, Leslie Murphy, Stephen Lang, Karen Allen, Peter Riegert, Zachary Booth, Robbie Collier Sublett, Michael Drayer, Henry Zebrowski, Ken Jennings, Regan Mizrahi, Anthony Anorim, Jackie Martling, Patricia Hodges. Directed by John Gray

 

We can choose our friends, so the saying goes, but we can’t choose our families. We’re stuck with them to a certain extent. We are also stuck with the place we are raised, and the time we are raised in. These are the things that make us who we are later in life and yet we have little or no control over them. I suppose in that sense we are destined to become who we are.

Brian Leary (Thurston) is a young man living with his parents in Brooklyn in the 1970s. His dad (Lang) is an Irish longshoreman who drinks night after night and often comes home drunk and belligerent. His ma (Allen) has the patience of a saint, can’t cook worth a damn and is a bit of a dim bulb but loves her son with the fierce passion that Irish moms are known for.

His brother Danny (Wigdor) is a petty thief constantly getting into trouble and often incurring the wrath of dear old Dad, who beats him like a drum. Brian is a sensitive soul who has a basement studio that he keeps locked away from his family. There he paints watercolors and has some real talent.

He works for a theater run by Whitey (Riegert) who is almost as decrepit as his rundown building which is slowly going bankrupt but salvation is in sight – Whitey has called in a whole bunch of favors and has gotten the Rolling Stones to play an afterparty concert there. Of course, life being what it is in that time and that place, Danny finds out about the show and decides to rob the theater of the proceeds and is eager to use Brian as an accomplice.

Brian is hesitant; this would break Whitey and might ruin the nascent romance he is kindling with Shauna Friel (Murphy), a young free-spirited Brooklynite who has plans to escape and make something of herself, although those plans are pretty vague. And at the behest of one of his friends, Brian has applied to Carnegie Mellon University to see if he can escape the vortex that is Irish Brooklyn, where his buddies aspire to careers as garbage men and cops.

Gray, who also wrote the movie, obviously has a great affection and understanding of Brooklyn in the time of Disco. I can’t say as I have any connection to the time or place by anything other than having seen it in movies of the time, but from what I understand this movie depicts it pretty accurately. Certainly you get a feel for time and place here which is essential for making the story work.

The acting here isn’t spectacular – you aren’t immediately overwhelmed – but it’s serviceable. Thurston and Wigdor are at the crux of the film and while they don’t amaze, they do everything right. There is a good chemistry between them and their relationship as brothers onscreen is believable. So too Murphy is also solid and her relationship with Thurston is similarly organic.

Riegert and Allen had a pretty sweet onscreen romance in National Lampoon’s Animal House but they don’t share any screen time here but both veterans are solid here, as is Lang who has by now become one of Hollywood’s most reliable screen villains. Here he is more of a presence but in the one scene where he has any sort of dialogue he delivers big time.

This doesn’t possess the kind of nostalgic glow that would make it a “Happy Days” for the 70s, but there is certainly some affection that the filmmakers clearly possess. White Irish Drinkers isn’t always pleasant but it has a goodly amount of heart and a goodly amount of grit in pretty equal amounts, making this a movie that resonates much more clearly than most films of this type do. Sure, the story isn’t going to set the world on fire but sometimes a familiar story told well can be as much if not more satisfying than a story that is innovative.

WHY RENT THIS: Evocative of era and place. Gritty where it needs to be.

WHY RENT SOMETHING ELSE: Might not resonate as much with younger audiences.

FAMILY VALUES: Basically this is non-stop bad language. There’s also a bit of sexuality and some violence.

TRIVIAL PURSUIT: Gray previously directed the 2001 remake of Brian’s Song for “The Wonderful World of Disney” and created the hit TV series “The Ghost Whisperer.”

NOTABLE DVD EXTRAS: None listed.

BOX OFFICE PERFORMANCE: $31,056 on an unreported production budget; it’s unlikely that the movie turned a box office profit.

COMPARISON SHOPPING: A Bronx Tale

FINAL RATING: 7/10

NEXT: Liberal Arts

Raiders of the Lost Ark


Raiders of the Lost Ark

Harrison Ford is having a ball.

(1981) Adventure (Paramount) Harrison Ford, Karen Allen, John Rhys-Davies, Denholm Elliott, Paul Freeman, Ronald Lacey, Wolf Kahler, Alfred Molina, Vic Tablian, Don Fellows, William Hootkins, Fred Sorenson, Anthony Chinn. Directed by Steven Spielberg

When news came that Spielberg and George Lucas were joining forces back in 1980, movie fans couldn’t help but rub their hands together in anticipation. After all, these guys were two of the brightest flames in Hollywood; Lucas with two Star Wars movies (to that point), Spielberg with Jaws and Close Encounters of the Third Kind.

What nobody anticipated was that these two men, along with star Harrison Ford, would rewrite the book on adventure movies. An homage to the great serial movies of the ’30s and ’40s, Indiana Jones, trusty whip on the hip and battered fedora on his head, took the world by storm. The first Indiana Jones movie was the box office champ of 1981 and spawned numerous imitators, clones and wanna-bes which persist to this day (Tomb Raider for instance).

But nobody has even come close to the entertainment delivered by the Indiana Jones series. The first movie of the series, set in the 1930s, introduces Indiana Jones, professor of archaeology and “how should I put it? — obtainer of rare antiquities.” An expedition to South America to retrieve a golden idol puts the tattered archaeologist through fiendish traps and less-than-loyal associates (Molina, in one of his first movie roles, meets a particularly gruesome end) to emerge from the cursed temple, idol in hand – only to have it snatched away by his nemesis, Rene Belloq (Freeman), a French archaeologist with fewer scruples than Indy.

Jones returns home to find Army intelligence waiting for him; they’ve intercepted a Nazi communiqué that is puzzling to them, but makes sense to Jones and his sponsor, museum curator Marcus Brody (Elliot); they realize that Hitler’s minions may be close to finding the resting place of the Lost Ark of the Covenant, which held the actual Ten Commandments Moses brought down from Mount Sinai. Realizing that this was something they had to prevent Hitler from obtaining, the Army sends Jones to go retrieve it.

In order to find the actual location of the Ark itself, Jones needs a staff headpiece that former flame Marion Ravenswood (Allen) has. After going to her bar in Tibet to try to retrieve it, he foils a Nazi attempt to take it by force.

The two head down to Egypt, where they are aided by Indy’s close friend Sallah (Rhys-Davies), who helps Indy divine the correct location. However, Belloq (who is working with the Nazis), manages to steal the Ark that Indy found and takes it and the girl to a remote island, with Indy close behind. There he will learn the secret of the Lost Ark, one that is beautiful and terrifying at once.

Raiders sets the tone as a virtual roller-coaster ride, putting Indy in one perilous situation after another, with little let-up. Spielberg proves himself to be an absolute master of pacing — editors Michael Kahn and George Lucas deserve a lot of credit here as well — knowing when to ratchet up the thrills and knowing when to give the audience a chance to catch its breath. Using devices common to serials and adventure movies from the ’30s and ’40s, Spielberg creates a wonderful sense of the era without forgetting the modern sensibilities of his audience.

The result is a movie that can legitimately be called a classic, one that has lost none of its luster in the 30 years since its release. While Star Wars made a star out of Ford, Raiders cemented him as one of Hollywood’s biggest stars. His screen charisma is never put to as good use as it is here; Jones is both a traditional adventure hero but also a fallible one – he hates snakes and he has a penchant for getting beaten up. Unlike the heroes of past serials, Indy rarely fights fair – the scene of him shooting an expert swordsman who tries to intimidate him with a series of elaborate moves was both improvised and classic. The ability of the film and its actors to poke fun at traditional adventure movie clichés is part of what makes the movie great.

Personally, I was never a big fan of Karen Allen’s performance although I understand why people adore her. She was supposed to be a strong, bold woman of her era, able to drink big ol’ Nepalese under the table and a woman willing to stand up to the Nazis but at the end of the day she was just a heroine in jeopardy, waiting to be rescued by the hero while whining “Indyyyyyyyyyyyyyyyyyyyyyyy” as she does. The part was a little too schizophrenic for my liking, although it did set the tone for heroines for the rest of the series, for good or for ill.

Freeman made Belloq smooth, suave and pretty much forgettable. He was the more “reasonable” of the heroes, the dark side of Indiana Jones who allowed his own greed to become his driving force. It was the money that motivated Belloq, not the actual artifacts that he was after. Jones wanted the items that he found to be displayed in museums for everyone to enjoy; Belloq only wanted the payday. He makes an interesting contrast to Jones, but Freeman doesn’t have the charisma to really compete against Ford.

It is Lacey who is the villain most everyone remembers. As the eager Gestapo agent, he is both dangerous and disarming. He can torture a young woman with a red-hot poker, or lead a group of thugs to beat up a single aging archaeologist.

This remains to this day one of my favorite movies and I’m not alone in that regard – Raiders has everything that makes going to the movies fun. Even 30 years after the fact, it remains as fresh and fun as it did the day it came out. It is currently only available as part of a four-disc DVD set of the original trilogy which is kind of a shame because this deserves to be part of everyone’s home video collection and the prohibitive price of the multi-movie set may be out of reach for some. I don’t think Indiana Jones would approve of that kind of thinking, although Belloq might.

WHY RENT THIS: The perfect adventure movie. Harrison Ford shows why he’s one of the world’s biggest stars. A roller coaster ride from beginning to end, brilliantly paced.

WHY RENT SOMETHING ELSE: Karen Allen’s Marion Ravenswood is a bit whiney.

FAMILY MATTERS: There are some fairly scary images and a bit of violence.

TRIVIAL PURSUITS: The name of the lead character was originally Indiana Smith, which was an homage to the Steve McQueen character Nevada Smith. The surname was changed to Jones on the first day of production.

NOTABLE DVD FEATURES: All of the special features on the DVD are on the fourth disc of the four-disc collection and include a massive Making of the Trilogy featurette that is more than two hours long and includes much behind the scenes footage. There are also featurettes on the stunt work, the music, the special effects and Ben Burtt’s amazing sound work. There is also a promo for the new (at the time) Indiana Jones video game.

BOX OFFICE PERFORMANCE: $384M on an $18M production budget; the movie was a massive global blockbuster.

FINAL RATING: 10/10

NEXT: Footnote