New Releases for the Week of September 14, 2018


THE PREDATOR

(20th Century Fox) Boyd Holbrook, Trevante Rhodes, Jacob Tremblay, Keegan-Michael Key, Olivia Munn, Sterling K. Brown, Jake Busey, Thomas Jane, Yvonne Strahovsky. Directed by Shane Black

A young boy accidentally triggers the return to earth the greatest hunters the universe has ever seen – further evidence that kids suck. A disgruntled science teacher and a jaded crew of ex-soldiers can prevent the annihilation of the human race at the hands of the predators who  just to make matters a bit worse have given  themselves an upgrade.

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

Release Formats: Standard, D-BOX, Dolby, IMAX, RPX, XD
Genre: Science Fiction
Now Playing: Wide Release

Rating: R (for strong bloody violence, language throughout and crude sexual references)

A Boy. A Girl. A Dream.

(Goldwyn) Omari Hardwick, Meagan Good, Jay Ellis, Dijon Talton. On the night of the 2016 Presidential election when dreams were busy dying, a jaded L.A. club promoter meets a down-to-earth Midwestern girl. She helps him find the strength to chase his broken dreams, while he gives her the insight to discover her own.

See the trailer here
For more on the movie this is the website

Release Formats: Standard
Genre: Romance
Now Playing: Regal Pointe Orlando

Rating: R (for language)

A Simple Favor

(Lionsgate) Anna Kendrick, Blake Lively, Henry Golding, Rupert Friend. When her best friend suddenly and mysteriously disappears from their small town, a mommy vlogger takes it upon herself to investigate. What she finds is a web of deceit, secrets, betrayal and revenge.

See the trailer and video featurettes here
For more on the movie this is the website

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

Rating: R (for sexual content and language throughout, some graphic nude images, drug use and violence)

Unbroken: Path to Redemption

(Pure Flix) Samuel Hunt, Merritt Patterson, Gary Cole, Bob Gunton. The sequel to Unbroken, the 2014 biopic of Louis Zamperlini a former Olympic athlete turned prisoner of war in Japan during World War II, follows Zamperlini during the post-war years. He finds himself a wife but nightmares and other symptoms of PTSD plague him and threaten his marriage until Billy Graham helps him find a path to redemption.

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

Release Formats: Standard
Genre: Faith-Based Biographical Drama
Now Playing: Wide Release

Rating: PG-13 (for thematic content and related disturbing images)

Warning Shot

(Veritas) Tammi Blanchard, Bruce Dern, David Spade, Dwight Henry. A single mother living hand to mouth inherits her grandfather’s farmhouse whose lucrative water rights are coveted by her grandfather’s business rival. With his grandson eager to prove himself ready to take over the family business, goons are hired to intimidate the young mother. Things begin to escalate out of control as the grandson fails to take into account how far a mother will go to protect her own daughter.

See the trailer here
For more on the movie this is the website

Release Formats: Standard
Genre: Thriller
Now Playing: Picture Show Altamonte Springs

Rating: R (for violence, sexual menace and references, language and drug use)

Where Hands Touch

(Vertical) Amandla Sternberg, Abbie Cornish, Christopher Eccleston, George Mackay. The daughter of a German mother and an African father faces uncertainty during the Nazi rise to power. Finding a sympathetic friend in the Hitler Youth whose father is a high-ranking Nazi official, she is forced to find her own way as things get more and more dire and her future more and more precarious.

See the trailer here
For more on the movie this is the website
Release Formats: Standard
Genre: Drama
Now Playing: Regal Winter Park Village
Rating: PG-13 (for thematic elements, violence/disturbing images, sexuality and language)

White Boy Rick

(Columbia) Matthew McConaughey, Richie Merritt, Bel Powley, Jennifer Jason Leigh. The true story of a teenage boy from Detroit who became a drug kingpin and a police informant in the 1980s.

See the trailer, clips and video featurettes here
For more on the movie this is the website

Release Formats: Standard
Genre: Biographical Drama
Now Playing: Wide Release

Rating: R (for language throughout, drug content, violence, some sexual references and brief nudity)

ALSO OPENING IN ORLANDO/DAYTONA:

Another Time
Mandy
Manmarziyaan
Moses
Sailaja Reddy Alludu
Score: A Film Music Documentary
Seema Raja
U-Turn

ALSO OPENING IN MIAMI/FT. LAUDERDALE:

Armed
Danger One
Finding Home
God is Brazilian
Kusama: Infinity
Manmarziyaan
Moses
Sailaja Reddy Alludu
Seema Raja
U-Turn
Wanda
We the Animals
The Wild Boys

ALSO OPENING IN TAMPA/ST. PETERSBURG:

Final Score
Sailaja Reddy Alludu
Seema Raja
U-Turn

ALSO OPENING IN JACKSONVILLE/ST. AUGUSTINE:

Manmarziyaan
Moses
Sailaja Reddy Alludu
U-Turn

SCHEDULED FOR REVIEW:

A Simple Request
The Predator
White Boy Rick

Small Crimes


I was just starting to look up to Nicolaj Coster-Waldau.

(2017) Crime Drama (Netflix) Nikolaj Coster-Waldau, Robert Forster, Jacki Weaver, Molly Parker, Gary Cole, Macon Blair, Michael Kinney, Daniela Sandiford, Shawn Lawrence, Pat Healy, Eddie Holland, Jasson Finney, Anatoly Zinoviev, Glen Bowser, Larry Fessenden, Tara Yelland, Derek Barnes, Tyrone Benskin, Frank Schorpion, Alex Stines, Stéphane Julien, Julia Dawi. Directed by E.L. Katz

 

There are those who say they make their own luck and I suppose there is some truth to that. Some people absolutely refuse to let themselves get down; they do whatever it takes to succeed. Conversely there are also people who always seem to be on the losing end of life; they self-sabotage through bad decision making. They truly seem born to lose.

Joe Denton (Coster-Waldau) is one such sort. Recently released from prison after a six year stint, he was once a police officer in a rural Midwestern town who was convicted of conspiracy of trying to murder the district attorney Phil Coakley (Kinney). Corrupt and a raging alcoholic as a law enforcement officer, he has found sobriety in the joint and emerges hoping to turn his life around.

He moves back in with his parents Joe Sr. (Forster) and Irma (Weaver). Ma Denton in particular is suspicious of her son; she doesn’t really believe he’s truly capable of change. Joe is looking to reconnect with his ex-wife and resume being a father again but a single telephone call is sufficient for Joe to back off after a half-hearted attempt.

His ex-partner Lt. Pleasant (Cole) has some worries of his own; not so much about Joe who kept quiet about his involvement even in the face of a prison sentence, but against local crime boss Manny Vassey (Lawrence) who is dying of cancer and has found Jesus; Pleasant is concerned that Vassey might decide to unburden his soul before departing this green earth and in the process incriminate Pleasant.

Joe makes a bee line for the nearest bar and before you know it has fallen off the wagon. He begins to sink into old habits, alarming his mother and a botched attempt to kill Manny brings Joe under the watchful psychotic eye of the mobster’s son Junior (Healy). The lone bright spot in Joe’s life is his budding romance with hospice nurse Charlotte Boyd (Parker) who has baggage of her own, but even this potential game-changer may not be what it appears to be; Charlotte’s only client is Manny Vassey. And so things are beginning to spiral down towards a confrontation as Joe struggles to figure out how to get out of this rapidly deteriorating situation. Knowing Joe, things won’t end well for anybody.

This film had a solid debut at South by Southwest last year followed up with a fairly inconspicuous release on Netflix. The streaming giant has been a big player on the film festival circuit, snagging some prestige properties for their service while showing off some of their own original content. This one, while purchased at SXSW falls more in the mold of filler.

Coster-Waldau is best known as Jamie Lannister on the HBO hit series Game of Thrones and has enormous upside. He plays both hero and villain well which makes sense as Jamie is a little bit of both. He’s had a few high-profile roles but none have really put him over that cinematic hump yet. Here the best moments belong to Forster who is absolutely marvelous. Joe Sr. hopes against hope that his son will turn the corner but the guarded look in his eyes tells us that he doesn’t really expect him to.

I was heartened to find out this was written by Macon Blair, who directed the marvelous Blue Ruin and has written a number of highly regarded gritty indie films. Based on a David Zeltserman novel of the same name, the movie is unrelentingly downbeat. Blair has almost no exposition in the movie whatsoever other than some desultory pillow talk late in the movie; mysterious events are referred to and characters pop in and out of the movie that Joe apparently has some sort of previous relationship with but we are never informed about the nature of those events or the relationships with these people.

Blair is outstanding when it comes to writing male-oriented tough guy material but there is a little too much testosterone flowing for my own personal tastes, a little bit too much macho preening. At the end of the day this is a fairly typical “ex-con struggles to get his life back together despite enormous obstacles and a past that won’t let him go” type of film and although there are a few interesting twists and turns here, eventually when all is said and done Small Crimes adds nothing to the genre. The characters across the board are all unlikable and despite Coster-Waldau’s native charm, he isn’t able to make the character rise above his own flaws and be relatable. By the end of the movie most viewers will pretty much have written off Joe much as his parents have, much as everyone else around him has. Some people, this movie seems to opine, are genetically pre-disposed to fail and that’s such a bleak outlook on people that I find it hard to support a movie that believes that.

REASONS TO GO: Coster-Waldau is always engaging and the rest of the cast does exemplary work. The filmmakers pull no punches.
REASONS TO STAY: There’s a little too much testosterone flowing for my own taste. The film is very much a downer.
FAMILY VALUES: There is plenty of profanity, violence, drug use and some sexuality.
TRIVIAL PURSUIT: In the novel that the film is based on, Phil Coakley and his daughter are both white; in the film, they’re African-Americans.
BEYOND THE THEATER: Netflix
CRITICAL MASS: As of 1/17/18: Rotten Tomatoes: 62% positive reviews. Metacritic: 60/100.
COMPARISON SHOPPING: I Don’t Feel at Home in This World Anymore
FINAL RATING: 5.5/10
NEXT:
The Justice League

New Releases for the Week of March 18, 2016


The Divergent Series: AllegiantTHE DIVERGENT SERIES: ALLEGIANT

(Summit) Shailene Woodley, Theo James, Naomi Watts, Octavia Spencer, Jeff Daniels, Zoë Kravitz, Ansel Elgort, Miles Teller, Daniel Dae Kim. Directed by Robert Schwentke

With Chicago embroiled in chaos following the events of the previous film, Tris, Four and the others decide to leave the city and pass beyond the wall for the first time. What they find out there is shocking; the wasteland has a habitation far advanced of their own and the world they thought they knew is suddenly turned upside down forever. They’d hoped to find a peaceful solution but now they realize that their city and everyone they know and love is in mortal danger. They must quickly discover who they can trust and fight the most overwhelming odds they have ever faced if they are to survive. This is the penultimate chapter in the successful young adult film franchise.

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

Release Formats: Standard, Large-Screen
Genre: Science Fiction
Now Playing: Wide Release

Rating: PG-13 (for intense violence and action, thematic elements, and some partial nudity)

The Bronze

(Sony Classics) Melissa Rauch, Gary Cole, Thomas Middleditch, Sebastian Stan. Once upon a time, a gymnast from a small Ohio town captured America’s heart with a gutsy performance on a ruptured Achilles tendon that netted her a bronze medal at the Olympics. Since then, she really hasn’t moved on, her gymnastics career ended prematurely. Living in her dad’s basement, she exists on the memories of a faded past and the well-wishes of a town that still continue to treat her like America’s sweetheart. However, there is a new presence – a gymnast with the sort of talent that might exceed her own accomplishments. And that doesn’t sit well with her at all.

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

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

Rating: R (for strong sexual content, graphic nudity, language throughout and some drug use)

Hello, My Name is Doris

(Roadside Attractions) Sally Field, Max Greenfield, Beth Behrs, Tyne Daly. Doris, whose life has for too long revolved around her ailing mother, finds herself adrift when her mother finally passes. She falls for an attractive younger man at her job and urged on by her same-aged friend and her friend’s 13-year-old granddaughter, Doris determines to put some life back into her life. These changes might end up alienating the friends she has as she takes a long look at who she’s become. Cinema365 will be publishing a review of this tomorrow, Friday March 18.

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

Release Formats: Standard
Genre: Romantic Comedy
Now Playing: Regal Winter Park Village

Rating: R (for language)

The Last Rites of Joe May


Dennis Farina, the prototypical tough guy.

Dennis Farina, the prototypical tough guy.

(2011) Drama (Tribeca) Dennis Farina, Jamie Anne Altman, Gary Cole, Meredith Droeger, Ian Barford, Matt DeCaro, Mike Barcella, Chelcie Ross, Rich Komenich, Brian Boland, Kyle Gibson, Peter Defaria, Billy Dec, Jack Bronis, Nydia Rodriguez, Phil Ridarelli, Dennis Sepanik, Ernest Perry Jr., Craig Bailey, Hans Fleischmann, Maureen Steindler, Andrzej Krukowski, Marla Seidell. Directed by Joe Maggio

There are people who hang out on the fringes of society, people who never get a break in life but live as if they make their own breaks. They are the kings of their own domain, so wrapped up in their own fantasies of greatness that they never truly realize how pitiful they are. Joe May is a lot like that.

Joe May (Farina) has just checked out of a Chicago hospital after a bout of pneumonia. He takes a city bus to a local bar where the bartender exclaims “I thought you was dead!” in a tone that suggests he doesn’t really care if he was or wasn’t as long as his tab gets paid. After having a few drinks, Joe heads back to his apartment.

Only it’s not his apartment anymore. The landlord, falsely believing Joe had passed away, had rented it out to a single mom named Jenny (Altman) and her daughter Angelina (Droeger). Joe’s not particularly fond of kids but after sleeping out in the cold streets of Chicago on one winter night is enough to convince him he needs a place to crash in a hurry. Jenny, needing help making ends meet, gives him the spare room in exchange for help with the rent. Bad idea.

There’s nothing sexual about their relationship but Joe slowly becomes involved with the lives of Jenny and Angelina, striking an unexpected bond with the little girl who is street tough beyond her years. Joe is getting dregs jobs from his old boss (Cole), schlepping a side of lamb around to restaurants trying to get them to buy the meat at a cut rate price. Yeah, I wouldn’t bite either if I owned a restaurant.

To make matters worse, Jenny’s boyfriend (Barford) is a cop who once in a while likes to give his girlfriend a beating. For an old school man like Joe, this simply cannot stand. With all the burdens finding their way to his shoulders, Joe decides to take one last shot at redemption.

The late Dennis Farina was one of the great tough guys in cinema for the last 30 years. This was one of his finest roles – many have thought it was THE finest performance of his career. I’m one of those; Farina was never really a leading man during his distinguished career, but he showed here that he could carry a movie on his own. Joe May is a bit self-deluded and more than a bit cynical, but he wasn’t a bad guy really. He just has the kind of fashion sensibilities that Popeye Doyle would have admired, and maybe he was stuck in the 70s a little bit. But beneath the swagger, there was a man who was world-weary and maybe the nagging doubts that he was in fact a loser were beginning to ring that doorbell to his psyche a lot more insistently.

Filmed mostly on the West Side of Chicago, this is the less glamorous side of the Windy City. There are no skyscrapers, no great museum and little of the awe-inspiring architecture of the Loop and the downtown area, nor does it have the unique charm of the South Side. This is a working class neighborhood with squat buildings low against the freezing cold. This is a place you survive, not live in.

The script is pretty well-written with believable dialogue and the supporting cast, while not well-known for the most part, does a surprisingly strong job. If the action is a little bit predictable (hey, the title gives the denouement away) it is still intriguing and having Farina at his best certainly elevates what might have been a pedestrian tale of an old villain looking to redeem himself before he dies. His performance is certainly worth its weight in gold here and even if the movie isn’t anything you haven’t seen before, you’ll rarely see it better.

WHY RENT THIS: Farina delivers one of the finest performances of his career. Shot with an uncompromising eye.
WHY RENT SOMETHING ELSE: A little bit predictable.
FAMILY VALUES: Adult situations, foul language and some violence.
TRIVIAL PURSUIT: Farina was a Chicago cop for 18 years.
NOTABLE HOME VIDEO EXTRAS: An interview with director Maggio and an outtakes reel.
BOX OFFICE PERFORMANCE: Information not available.
SITES TO SEE: Netflix (DVD Rental only), Amazon, iTunes, Vudu, Google Play
COMPARISON SHOPPING: Sling Blade
FINAL RATING: 7/10
NEXT: Jack of the Red Hearts

Tammy


Susan Sarandon tries to give Melissa McCarthy some career advice.

Susan Sarandon tries to give Melissa McCarthy some career advice.

(2014) Comedy (New Line) Melissa McCarthy, Susan Sarandon, Kathy Bates, Mark Duplass, Gary Cole, Allison Janney, Toni Collette, Nat Faxon, Dan Aykroyd, Sandra Oh, Ben Falcone, Sarah Baker, Rich Williams, Steve Little, Dakota Lee, Mark L. Young, Mia Rose Frampton, Steve Mallory, Keith Welborn, Oscar Gale, Justin Smith, Barbara Weetman. Directed by Ben Falcone

Sometimes we manage to become people we never intended ourselves to be. Through circumstances that are sometimes entirely out of our control – but not always – we find ourselves being the very people we swore we’d never be. Generally that revelation is accompanied by bitterness and self-loathing.

Tammy (McCarthy) has it in her to be happy but it doesn’t look like she is. She does seem self-possessed on the exterior – belting out renditions of the Outfield’s “Your Love” in her car. Not a cappella and not on the car stereo but from an ancient boombox which may or may not be older than the Toyota Corolla she’s driving. After an unsettling encounter with a deer, her car which was already only a hair or two away from breathing its last gives up the ghost.

Not only that but the deer encounter makes her late for work, which her prissy boss Keith (Falcone) uses as an excuse to fire her. Tammy’s reaction to the news is how you might expect – she’s not the sort to take that kind of thing lying down. Having to walk home essentially she returns home early to find out that her lackadaisical husband Greg (Faxon) is having an affair with a comely neighbor (Collette).

Convinced that she needs to get out of town or go crazy, Tammy heads over to her mom’s (Janney) house. However, her mom won’t lend Tammy her car, nor front her some cash so she can go walkabout. However, her grandmother Pearl (Sarandon) has a Caddy and seven grand that says road trip to Niagara Falls  which Pearl has always wanted to visit.

 

On the surface, this seems like a very bad idea. Tammy is mulish and a wreck – it’s not hard to figure out why her husband would cheat as she has taken zero care of herself and can’t be easy to live with. Worse yet, it turns out grandma is an alcoholic and a bit of a nymphomaniac, getting it on with a Louisville rancher (Cole) while Tammy is forced to sleep outside the hotel room. Only Bobby (Duplass), the sweet son of the rancher who treats Tammy decently – the first man to do so in ages – makes it anything more than excruciating.

The two women’s shenanigans cause them to blow through their cash faster than expected forcing Tammy to take some desperate measures that lead the two of them to go on the lam over at the beautiful home of Tammy’s cousin Lenore (Bates). Lenore, a lesbian who owns a chain of pet food stores and whose partner (Oh) is as sweet as pie, is a no-nonsense sort who sees what’s really going on. When Pearl and Tammy’s problems lead to a painful moment at a Fourth of July party at Lenore’s place, it becomes obvious that Tammy needs to make some changes if she’s ever going to be truly happy. The question is, is it obvious to Tammy?

McCarthy has become a star comedic actress with not only her TV success on Mike & Molly but also a string of hit movies to her credit. She co-wrote this with her husband Falcone who also directed the movie; you’d think it would be an absolute slam dunk.

Sadly, it’s not and it isn’t due to McCarthy the actress who actually does a pretty fine job in a role that is pretty similar to the ones she’s played in the past three movies; foul-mouthed, gross, obnoxious and highly sexual. The trouble is that the role isn’t given depth so much as it’s given mannerisms and the blame lies with McCarthy the writer.

McCarthy the actress isn’t alone in this issue either. None of the characters here are particularly well drawn out,  mostly given a trait and essentially left to flounder with a script conspicuously short on jokes. I get the sense the writers weren’t sure if they wanted a comedy or a heartwarming buddy movie and ended up with neither.

Reading that back, it sounds a little bit harsh and if I’m gonna be honest, there are some laughs here (some of which may be found in the trailer) and if I had to recommend the movie, I could do so grudgingly; McCarthy is an engaging enough actress that she can provide life to any movie no matter how terrible. This isn’t the funniest summer comedy ever but at least it’s better than last year’s truly awful Grown-Ups 2 – now there’s a franchise which could use McCarthy’s talents. In any case, fans of the actress probably will end up liking the movie anyway; she basically has this kind of role down pat enough that she could do it in her sleep. Those who want better from her however will have to wait for the next one.

REASONS TO GO: McCarthy and Sarandon battle gamely through subpar material. Bates does her usual impressive job in support.

REASONS TO STAY: Lacks real humor. Could have used some depth in the characters who mainly end up as caricatures.

FAMILY VALUES:  A ton of foul language.

TRIVIAL PURSUIT: Sarandon is only 24 years older than McCarthy, who plays her granddaughter. In addition, Janney – who plays Tammy’s mother and Pearl’s daughter – is 13 years younger than Sarandon and 11 years older than McCarthy.

CRITICAL MASS: As of 7/22/14: Rotten Tomatoes: 23% positive reviews. Metacritic: 39/100.

COMPARISON SHOPPING: Thelma and Louise

FINAL RATING: 5.5/10

NEXT: Begin Again

The Joneses


The Joneses

David Duchovney is justs a material girl trying to live in a material world.

(2009) Dramedy (Roadside Attractions) David Duchovney, Demi Moore, Amber Heard, Ben Hollingsworth, Gary Cole, Chris Williams, Lauren Hutton, Glenne Headly, Christine Evangelista, Rob Pralgo, Tiffany Morgan, Joe Narciso. Directed by Derrick Borte

Our society has devolved into one in which the old truism “whoever dies with the most toys wins” has taken on a new meaning. The crucial signposts of life have become the things we acquire – the shiny new sports car, the state of the art electronics, the high end golf clubs, the designer clothes. Our pursuit of the trappings of success has overcome our pursuit of excellence, making keeping up with the Joneses more than just a spectator sport.

Into a wealthy suburban enclave move in Steve Jones (Duchovney), his impossibly gorgeous wife Kate (Moore), his gorgeous daughter Jenn (Heard) and his handsome son Mick (Hollingsworth). They don’t just have the outer trappings of success – they embody it.

However, what you see on the surface – behind the beautiful home, the flashy car, the nice clothes – is something completely different than what is underneath. There are problems in the perfect family. In fact, they aren’t really a family of all.

What they are is revealed in the trailer, which is another case (see Dream House) of a marketing department robbing a film of its maximum impact. For that reason, I’m leaving the plot description a little thin, other than to say that what the movie is really about is America’s obsession with consumerism and how it robs us of our soul.

Duchovney is perfect for the role of Steve. He has a dry delivery that just hints of the smarmy while remaining acerbic and eventually, empathetic. For a role that could easily descend into self-parody and completely turn off audiences, the very likable Duchovney turns it into a role that audiences will identify with as his character is forced to confront the fall-out of his actions and put his familial loyalty to the test.

Moore has never been one of my favorite actresses, but it has to be said that she can play the driven executive-sort better than nearly anybody and that’s the place she goes for this part. She makes a good foil for Duchovney and I must say the 40-something Moore looks amazing.

That’s neither here nor there though. What I liked is that first-time writer/director Borte takes a terrific concept and uses it to look at an issue that is subtle and seldom explored onscreen, with surprising insight and humor. There is an element of parody to it, but it also hits somewhat uncomfortably close to home.

When it comes right down to it, we tend to be sheep moving from one trend to the other, fickle consumers with an eye to what’s the latest and greatest, not realizing that these things are going to be obsolete in less time than it takes to bring it home from the store. Still, keeping up with the Joneses is as American as apple pie. We just should take a good look at the Joneses and ask why we should aspire to keep up with them.

WHY RENT THIS: A witty, smart commentary on materialism. Duchovney’s dry delivery serves him well here. 

WHY RENT SOMETHING ELSE: The movie’s plot twist is given away in the trailer. The final reel is a bit predictable.

FAMILY VALUES: There is some drinking and teenage drug use, a bit of sexuality and a fair amount of foul language.

TRIVIAL PURSUIT: Borte is the brother of professional surfer Jason Borte; both were born in Germany but raised in Virginia.

NOTABLE DVD EXTRAS: None listed.

BOX OFFICE PERFORMANCE: $7M on a $10M production budget; the movie was unprofitable.

FINAL RATING: 7/10

TOMORROW: The Three Musketeers (2011)

Hop


Hop

When Willy Wonka sees this, he's going to be contacting his attorneys.

(2011) Fantasy (Universal) James Marsden, Russell Brand (voice), Kaley Cuoco, Hugh Laurie (voice), Hank Azaria (voice), Gary Cole, Elizabeth Perkins, David Hasselhoff, Tiffany Espensen, Chelsea Handler, Hugh Hefner (voice), Coleton Ray. Directed by Tim Hill

While Hollywood has produced its share of Christmas movies, Easter movies have not been quite so plentiful. Perhaps because Christmas is all about birth and Easter is all about death; opposite ends of the life cycle. Indeed, Easter time seems to be a time where movies like The Ten Commandments have held sway.

However, here’s one about the Easter Bunny which fills in some of the mythology. The Easter Bunny (Laurie) is the latest of a 4,000 year line (I know, I know – the screenwriters are a little deficient on math) and is eager to pass on his Eternal Egg – a kind of scepter that I the key to the Easter Bunny’s magic – on to his son, E.B. (Brand).

The problem is, E.B. has dreams of his own – he wants to be a rock and roll star, a drummer to be exact (and we all know that nobody thumps like a rabbit). Of course Dad finds this out and gets into a row with his son, forcing E.B to travel by convenient interdimensional transportation tube from Easter Island to Hollywood.

There he runs into (literally) Fred O’Hare (Marsden), the ne’er do well 30ish son of Henry (Cole) and Bonnie (Perkins). Henry is very hard on his son, and the parent in me says with good reason as Fred is directionless, living at home and turning down job after job a “bad fits.” In the meantime his over-achieving sisters, Sam (Cuoco) – the older sister, and Alex (Espensen), the younger – have become the apple of their parent’s eyes, while their son is in danger of becoming a disappointment.

While Fred continues to find himself, E.B. manages to get himself an audition on a talent show hosted by the venerable David Hasselhoff (playing himself) and is finally on the road to fulfilling his dream. Unfortunately, Pink Ninjas – the personal guard of the Easter Bunny (why he would need one is anyone’s guess) – are after E.B. to haul him back home in time for the ceremony in which the mantle is passed from father to son and Fred continues to create a further rift in his family dynamic. In the meantime Carlos (Azaria), an oversized chick and the Easter Bunny’s #2 is plotting a coup. Fred and E.B. ultimately discover that they are good for one another and that destiny can sometimes be a good thing.

This is a mix of live action and CG animation, and of late that has been a very, very bad thing indeed (think Yogi Bear, Alvin and the Chipmunks and Garfield). For whatever reason, studios seem to think that these sorts of movies should be completely dumbed down for kids. Personally, I don’t get it – we give children these sophisticated and clever fully animated movies that both kids and their parents can enjoy but when it comes to live action it becomes an endless, tedious Nickelodeon original episode.

Marsden is horribly miscast here. Not only is he much too old for the role, you get the feeling that he’s taken Botox in order to keep the smile frozen on his face because, left to its own devices, that face would be left in a frown of disdainful disgust. From being Cyclops in the X-Men franchise to this? A very sad fate indeed.

The animated portion, provided by the same people who did Despicable Me is the movie’s highlight. Their Easter Island settings are magical in the same way Willie Wonka and the Chocolate Factory was decades ago. I could have spent a good long time exploring the candy factory of the Easter Bunny and do some taste testing of my own.

Unfortunately, that’s about it as far as reasons to see this go. The script is most decidedly unfunny, falling flat in nearly every attempt at humor and the story lacks tension. It just seems to meander a bit until coming to a painfully obvious conclusion.

There should be magic in a holiday movie and there just isn’t enough of it here. I think of something along the lines of The Polar Express when it comes to digitally enhanced holiday movies and Hop just doesn’t compare. You may wind up being dragged to a matinee for this movie this weekend. For once it will be the parents kicking and screaming when they are taken someplace they definitely don’t want to be.

REASONS TO GO: Some of the Easter Island backdrops are very nice.

REASONS TO STAY: Desperately unfunny, panders to the lowest common denominator, treats audiences like idiots – need I go on?

FAMILY VALUES: A bit of poo-poo humor here but nothing to get concerned over.

TRIVIAL PURSUIT: Emily Browning doesn’t have a line of dialogue (despite being the lead character) until nearly twenty minutes into the film.

HOME OR THEATER: Some of the digital imagery should be seen on a big screen and if you have little ones, you’re going to be dragged into the theater to see this anyway so might as well enjoy it.

FINAL RATING: 3/10

TOMORROW: Fanny, Annie and Danny

New Releases for the Week of April 1, 2011


 

 

April 1, 2011

Yes, this rabbit plays drums. No, it isn't Thumper!

HOP

(Universal) James Marsden, Russell Brand (voice), Kaley Cuoco, Hank Azaria, Gary Cole, Elizabeth Perkins, David Hasselhoff, Chelsea Handler, Hugh Laurie. Directed by Tim Hill

The teenage son of the Easter Bunny decides to take a powder for Hollywood rather than inherit the family business, as it were. While he wants nothing more than to be a drummer in a rock and roll band (which is proof of idiocy – who in their right minds wants to be the drummer?!?), he hooks up with a fellow slacker who accidentally hit him with his car. While his dad is out to retrieve his son and save Easter, teenager E.B. is “impressing” his new housemate by pooping jelly beans. You heard me right. The future of our species is now officially doomed.

See the trailer, interviews, featurettes, clips and promos here.

For more on the movie this is the website.

Release formats: Standard, IMAX

Genre: Animated/Live Action Family Film

Rating: PG (for some mild rude humor)

Insidious

(FilmDistrict) Patrick Wilson, Rose Byrne, Lin Shaye, Barbara Hershey. When a family moves into a new home, their young son falls into a coma shortly thereafter and the house is found to be possessed by evil spirits. After they do some digging, they come to the horrific realization that it wasn’t their house that is haunted. From the filmmakers responsible for the Saw series as well as Paranormal Activity, this is the first release for this new distribution company.

See the trailer and clips here.

For more on the movie this is the website.

Release formats: Standard

Genre: Horror

Rating: PG-13 (for thematic material, violence, terror and frightening images, and brief strong language)

Jane Eyre

(Focus) Mia Wasikowska, Michael Fassbender, Jamie Bell, Judi Dench. Once more Charlotte Bronte’s plucky heroine takes to the screen in search of the mysteries of Rochester, her employer and would-be love until the secrets of her past – and his present – collide in the kind of tragedy that makes bosoms swell and hearts weep.

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

For more on the movie this is the website.

Release formats: Standard

Genre: Romantic Drama

Rating: R (for some thematic elements including a nude image and brief violent content)

The Last Lions

(National Geographic) Jeremy Irons. A lioness and her two cubs struggle to survive in Botswana’s Okavango Delta, one of the last remaining homes of lions in the wild. The struggle of these individual lions is used as a metaphor for the struggle of all lions who are in danger of disappearing completely from the wild, causing a massive ecological catastrophe that we may never be able to recover from.

See the trailer, clips and interviews here.

For more on the movie this is the website.

Release formats: Standard

Genre: Nature Documentary

Rating: PG (for some violent images involving animal life)

The Source Code

(Summit) Jake Gyllenhaal, Michelle Monaghan, Vera Farmiga, Jeffrey Wright. A decorated soldier is transported into the body of a man during the last eight minutes of his life in order to discover who was responsible for planting the bomb that killed him and many others in order to stop him from planting the next one. However, nobody counted on the soldier falling in love with a woman who died in the explosion.

See the trailer, interviews, featurettes, promos and clips here.

For more on the movie this is the website.

Release formats: Standard

Genre: Science Fiction

Rating: PG-13 (for some violence including disturbing images and for language)

Mozart and the Whale


Mozart and the Whale

Josh Hartnett and Radha Mitchell are taken for a ride.

(Millennium) Josh Hartnett, Radha Mitchell, Gary Cole, John Carroll Lynch, Rusty Schwimmer, Erica Leerhsen, Nate Mooney, Sheila Kelly, Robert Wisdom. Directed by Petter Naess

Asperger’s Syndrome is a form of autism in which the patients are high-functioning, with a difficulty in socializing but an amazing ability to lock in on something that fascinates them, whether it is mathematics, trivia or molecular structure. They are often misunderstood as social misfits when in reality they just don’t have the mechanism to cope with social situations that the rest of us take for granted.

Jerry (Hartnett) is a New York cab driver who is afflicted with Asperger’s. He can add numbers in his head like a human calculator, but he has trouble carrying on a conversation without turning it into a non-stop soliloquy filled with random facts. He loves birds to the extent that many fly free in his terminally cluttered apartment, and he often takes one with him to work driving his cab (which begs the question; wouldn’t it fly out the door whenever someone got in or out?) much to the discomfort of his passengers.

Like many Asperger’s patients, he needs routine and structure and when things break out of the routine, he has difficulty coping. When he accidentally runs into a parked car, he gathers his things and walks away, leaving a group of angry people.

He belongs to a group of fellow Asperger’s patients, and he takes comfort in the presence of people he can relate to, even though some of them like Gregory (Lynch) can be a bit on the curmudgeonly side.

Into this group comes Isabelle (Mitchell) who has been referred to it by her therapist. She is the diametric opposite of Donald; where he is introverted and shy, she is straightforward and without fear. She is direct where he is not. She comes into his life much like a cannonball would come into a group of Civil War-era infantrymen and she has much the same effect. She invites him to a Halloween party and dresses up like Mozart; he puts on a rather disheveled whale costume and almost doesn’t show up because he is so obsessive about time.

Despite all the obstacles, the two form a romantic partnership that brings a brand new dimension into their lives. When Isabelle cleans up Donald’s apartment, he freaks out but eventually he begins to learn how to accept her presence into his life. When he realizes that they can’t afford the house she wants and the lifestyle they both want, he takes a job at a university in statistics where he excels. When he invites his boss over for dinner, it turns into a disaster largely in part to Isabelle’s inability to cope with the situation.

There is obviously a deep emotional connection between the two, but it becomes just as clear that their Asperger’s is getting in the way of their relationship. Will they be able to overcome something so deeply ingrained in them?

This is based loosely on real life couple Jerry and Mary Newport. Norwegian director Naess, whose resume includes the Oscar-nominated Elling, does a magnificent job in portraying the disease, so much so that the movie is often screened at legitimate autism conferences as an illustration of the social consequences of the disease.

Hartnett, who was reportedly unhappy with the final version of the film and consequently did little or no promotion of the movie, does some of the best work of his career here. He gives Donald depth that one wouldn’t expect, making him seem real and authentic. Much of this is due to Ronald Bass’ script but Hartnett pulls out some nuances that I didn’t think he had in him based on previous performances. This is the kind of movie that could get him more challenging roles if he wants to pursue that kind of work.

Mitchell, who has become a steady leading actress since first attracting notice in Pitch Black, also does a great job, making Isabelle entirely non-stereotypical and giving her the kind of spunk and fullness of life that make her in many ways the most memorable aspect of the movie. While Hartnett’s performance is more subtle, Mitchell gets to go over the top here and she does it nicely without descending into parody. Her and Hartnett make an attractive couple and while the chemistry is non-traditional, it works all the same.

The supporting cast of veteran character actors does well in their roles, particularly Lynch and Schwimmer. At no time do you get the feeling that anyone is looking down on their characters; these are all real people with real problems and while they may have different challenges than we do, that makes them no less fascinating.

This is director Naess’ first American film, and he does pretty well although the pacing gets a little choppy. Then again, that may be due to the nature of the characters that can lose interest in something and simply stop. That makes it occasionally difficult on the viewer who feels like the movie is veering off unexpectedly. It’s a kind of cinematic vertigo. While he never descends into movie of the week treacle, there are a few moments that are overly sentimental to me but thankfully they are few and far between.

While most look at Rain Man as their view into autism, in many ways this is a much more authentic look (although some groups have criticized the movie for playing into the perception that all autism patients have savant-like skills, which is actually much more rare than Hollywood would lead you to believe) at the disease. As a society, we tend to marginalize these people or worse, ignore them altogether. Hopefully, a viewing of Mozart and the Whale will give you a fresh perspective on a disease that affects real people and is in nearly every community in one form or another.

WHY RENT THIS: A very authentic-feeling look at the lives of those with Asperger’s Syndrome. Hartnett and Mitchell have some quirky chemistry.

WHY RENT SOMETHING ELSE: The movie’s pacing can be a bit abrupt. There are moments that are a bit mawkish.

FAMILY VALUES: There are some allusions to sexual subjects and a little bit of foul language but otherwise nothing too disturbing. However, the subject matter may be a bit much for smaller children.

TRIVIAL PURSUIT: The screenplay was written by Ronald Bass who also wrote Rain Man, another movie about autism. He was inspired in this case by a 1995 article on Jerry and Mary Newport.

NOTABLE DVD EXTRAS: None listed.

FINAL RATING: 6/10

TOMORROW: Tony Manero

Talladega Nights: The Ballad of Ricky Bobby


Talladega Nights: The Ballad of Ricky Bobby

For Ricky Bobby, winning isn't just the only thing, it's something else entirely.

(Columbia) Will Ferrell, John C. Reilly, Sacha Baron Cohen, Leslie Bibb, Michael Clarke Duncan, Gary Cole, Amy Adams, Jane Lynch, David Koechner, Greg Germann, Molly Shannon, Andy Richter, Houston Tumlin, Grayson Russell, Pat Hingle, Ted Manson. Directed by Adam McKay

I will admit to not being much of a NASCAR fan. The thrill of auto racing is something that has never really wrapped itself around my spine. I do get why people go gaga over it but it’s just not my thing so when I heard that Will Ferrell was making a NASCAR-themed movie, it wasn’t something I was particularly excited about.

Ricky Bobby (Ferrell), however, would undoubtedly be absolutely smitten with a movie about going fast. He was born in the back of a car doing 100 MPH with his ne’er-do-well drug dealing dad (Cole) at the wheel. The one bit of paternal advice he would give his son before disappearing out of his life entirely is this – if you don’t finish first, you’re last. They would be words that would drive Ricky Bobby his entire life.

It’s no surprise, then, when he becomes part of a pit crew for a sad-sack NASCAR racing team that has become the laughing stock of the circuit, with a driver who stops mid-race at the concession stand to enjoy a chicken sandwich. When opportunity knocks, Ricky Bobby leaps into the drivers seat and his innate ability to go real fast – and drive without fear – makes him the hottest thing in NASCAR, with the help of his best friend Cal (Reilly) who is content to play second fiddle to Ricky Bobby’s diva.

He marries a hot-looking NASCAR groupie named Carley (Bibb) who gets his attention with a timely boob flash, and the two create a family with two demonic kids named Walker (Tumlin) and Texas Ranger (Russell) who torment Carley’s dad (Manson) and everyone else. He wins race after race, but irritates the head of the race team (Germann) because he never wins the points championship because he gets penalized for unsportsmanlike-like conduct so often, but that’s just Ricky’s obsession with winning – anything else just doesn’t occur to him.

Bobby’s on top of the world, but it begins to unravel with the arrival of French Formula One driver Jean Girard (Cohen), who wants to prove himself better than his cocky American rival. Girard turns out to be even more ruthless on the track than Ricky Bobby, and the inevitable happens – Ricky Bobby gets into a crash. He walks away from it, convinced at first that he is on fire but later on, convinced that he is paralyzed. Neither is true, of course, as Cal and Ricky’s harried crew chief (Duncan) try to convince him. The truth is, Ricky Bobby has lost his nerve.

He winds up losing a lot more than that, as his sponsors drop him, the race team fires him and his wife leaves him for his best friend. Ricky Bobby is reduced to moving in with his mom and delivering pizzas on a bicycle. Fast is a distant memory.

That’s when Ricky’s dad re-enters the picture, and if ever he needed a father figure it’s now. Of course, Ricky’s dad is something of a whacko, so battling the fear that still lives inside him is no easy task. Everyone he’s ever counted on has left him – can he ever count on himself?

I have to admire the instincts of Ferrell and McKay, who also co-wrote the movie. This movie plays to Ferrell’s strengths without getting so over-the-top that the audience gets lost. Ricky Bobby is not unlike Ron Burgundy had Ron been born in an Alabama double-wide.

Also wisely, the movie never makes fun of racing itself, only some of the things that go on within it – the bitter rivalries, the pressure brought on by corporate sponsorships and the sometimes eccentric personalities of the drivers, crew and fans. NASCAR fans will probably not take too much offense, although there might be a few who find the movie crude.

This is as good a cast as you’re going to find in a comedy, with Oscar-nominated actor Reilly once again playing second banana, but doing it as well as anybody. Baron hams it up as the nearly indecipherable Frenchman and Cole shows a surprising comic talent in his part as well. Blink and you’ll almost miss Amy Adams’ turn as a loyal assistant, although she figures much more in things near the end of the movie – and she does a great job in a role which others might have phoned in.

The laughs are plentiful – if I’m laughing out loud during a movie when I’m supposed to, I figure the filmmakers are doing their job. While you don’t need to be a big NASCAR fan to enjoy the movie, a lot of in-jokes undoubtedly went whizzing by me. I liked this movie a bit more than I thought I was going to – which is turning out to be a theme in this week’s newsletter and that is the kind of theme I can get into.

WHY RENT THIS: It’s laugh-out-loud funny, certainly one of Ferrell’s better efforts to date. Some of the most iconic comedy sequences of the decade can be found here.

WHY RENT SOMETHING ELSE: Like most comedies, it can be pretty scattershot. Those who really cannot stand NASCAR or auto racing in general may not find much in the movie to grab onto.

FAMILY VALUES: Some of the jokes are a bit on the crude side and the language occasionally drifts into the foul lane but by and large reasonably acceptable for younger crowds.

TRIVIAL PURSUITS: Blu-Ray Discs of the movie were included with the first 400,000 PlayStation 3 units sold.

NOTABLE DVD EXTRAS: As you might expect, there are a plethora of them including a gaggle of fake interviews with the cast members in character, the now-standard Line-o-Rama feature that is included with most Judd Apatow-produced DVDs as well as a commentary track that is a spoof of DVD commentary tracks with the director acting pretentious and giving out facts that are patently untrue.

FINAL RATING: 7/10

TOMORROW: Fantastic Mr. Fox