Pick of the Litter – September 2016


BLOCKBUSTER OF THE MONTH

The Magnificent Seven

The Magnificent Seven

(Columbia/MGM) Denzel Washington, Chris Pratt, Ethan Hawke, Vincent D’Onofrio. First, it was Akira Kurosawa. Next, it was John Sturges. Now, it’s Antoine Fuqua. All of them have directed a movie based on a story of seven lone warriors, fighting a hopeless battle to defend the defenseless against overwhelming odds. Seven Samurai (1954) was transplanted from feudal Japan to the American West and remade in 1960 as The Magnificent Seven. It now gets the remake treatment itself with an all-star cast (although not quite as all-star as the 1960 version) led by one of the most respected actors in Hollywood and one of the biggest up-and-coming franchise makers. It will be interesting to see if the new version can retain the timeless qualities of both of its predecessors. September 23

INDEPENDENT PICKS

Antibirth

Antibirth

(IFC Midnight) Natasha Lyonne, Chloë Sevigny, Meg Tilly, Mark Webber. As we wheel into the fall and the province of scary cinema, here is a horror movie in the tradition of Rosemary’s Baby and The Omen. A young party girl goes to a rave where she blacks out after some pretty intense celebrating. She doesn’t remember anything about what happened but shortly thereafter she discovers she’s pregnant. Electing to have the baby, soon it becomes obvious that this is no ordinary pregnancy – and she is carrying no ordinary baby. September 2

Max Rose

Max Rose

(Paladin) Jerry Lewis, Kerry Bishé, Dean Stockwell, Illeana Douglas. The legendary Lewis makes his first live action appearance on the silver screen in 21 years as a jazz pianist who discovers that his marriage of 65 years was a sham. Lost and alone, he decides to investigate and find out what went wrong and enters into a world of old friends, young children and a past that wasn’t what he thought it was.. September 2

Cameraperson

Cameraperson

(Janus) Kirsten Johnson, Catherine Johnson, Michael Moore. This isn’t so much a documentary as a diary, a look at the long and distinguished career of cinematographer Kirsten Johnson who has been behind the camera for some of the most compelling documentaries of the past 30 years, including Darfur Now, Citizenfour and A Place at the Table. It is not presented in a linear style but takes you to the places she’s been with a minimum of voice over or graphics. It is merely the images that have affected her over the years and through her, us. September 9

Other People

Other People

(Vertical) Jesse Plemons, Molly Shannon, Bradley Whitford, June Squibb. After leaving his home to become a comedy writer in New York, things don’t turn out as well as David had hoped; his career is going nowhere and to make matters worse, he’d just gone though a traumatic break-up with his girlfriend. Now his mother is terminally ill and with his New York life being at a standstill, he returns home to Sacramento to find that the worst year of his life might just possibly turn out to be his best after all. September 9

Is That a Gun in Your Pocket

Is That a Gun in Your Pocket?

(Area23a) Andrea Anders, Matt Passmore, Cloris Leachman, Katherine McNamara. In Texas, guns come right about even with religion to the point where the two are virtually indistinguishable. In small Texas towns, open carry laws are loose and it’s not uncommon for nearly the entire population of the town to be packing. In one small Texas town, a near-tragedy causes some of the ladies to take stock of the situation. In a modern twist on Lysistrata, the women of the town decide to withhold sex from their men until they agree to give up their guns. The question becomes, what will the virile men of the town choose – their firearms or the fairer sex? September 16

Mr. Church

Mr. Church

(Cinelou) Eddie Murphy, Britt Robertson, Natascha McElhone, Lucy Fry. Into the lives of a dying mother and her precocious daughter comes Mr. Church, who is hired to cook for the two of them by the woman’s ex-husband. What was supposed to be a six month gig turns into a lifetime as the cook becomes a lot more than just someone who prepares meals for the little girl who grows up into a beautiful, talented young woman; he becomes family. September 16

 

Audrie and Daisy

Audrie and Daisy

(Netflix) Daisy Coleman, Jim Fall, Delaney Henderson, Darren White. Two girls, two different towns, the same story, different endings. Two girls are sexually assaulted by boys they thought were their friends. When they stand up and demand justice, the small towns they live in close ranks. The girls undergo an immense amount of bullying in the social media, their lives and reputations dragged through the mud. This chilling documentary shows an all-too-common theme of how the sexes are perceived and how rape victims are often victimized a second time when they are shamed, called liars and sluts and otherwise ostracized by their communities. This will be playing a brief theatrical run in New York City and debuting on Netflix simultaneously. September 23

Goat

Goat

(Paramount) Nick Jonas, Ben Schnetzer, Gus Halper, James Franco. It is autumn and at colleges and universities across the land, a familiar ritual is underway: fraternity pledging. In recent years, the hazing rituals that mark the rite of passage between boys and men have become more brutal, more terrifying and fraternities themselves have become breeding grounds for alcoholism and rape. Some of the reasons that fraternities are turning out these kinds of guys have to do with what it takes to get in. Goat, although distributed by a major studio, is going more of an indie distribution route, opening in Los Angeles and New York theatrically and going on VOD simultaneously.. September 23

Milton's Secret

Milton’s Secret

(Momentum) Donald Sutherland, Michelle Rodriguez, Mia Kirshner, William Ainscough. A young boy is mercilessly bullied in school, and lives with parents who are stressed that they might lose their home despite the fact they are both working good jobs. Into the mix comes the boy’s grandfather and a caring teacher, both of whom find ways to unlock the potential within him. September 30

Our Family Wedding


Our Family Wedding

Forest Whitaker and Carlos Mencia wonder if a remake of "The Odd Couple" is next.

(2010) Romantic Comedy (Fox Searchlight) Forest Whitaker, Carlos Mencia, America Ferrera, Regina King, Lance Gross, Diana Maria Riva, Lupe Ontiveros, Anjelah Johnson, Charlie Murphy, Vivek Shah, Shannyn Sossamon, Warren Sapp, James Lesure. Directed by Rick Famuyiwa

One of the challenges of a marriage is uniting disparate families or at least getting them to co-exist. When you add the elements of different cultures and religions, things can get awfully dicey.

Lucia Ramirez (Ferrera) and Markus Boyd (Gross) have been living together for some time and are deeply in love. She is a Columbia Law School drop-out, teaching underprivileged kids in New York. He is a Columbia Medical School grad, about to join up with Doctors Without Borders in Laos. The two want to get married, but the issue is breaking it to their folks – because they want to get married before they both leave for Laos.

Fortunately, their folks all live in Los Angeles so it’s a train ride back to the City of Angels to inform their parents. Markus’ parents were divorced early on but he was raised by Brad (Whitaker), his dad – a popular all-night DJ. Lucia’s parents – dad Miguel (Mencia) and mom Sonia (Riva) are middle class Mexican-Americans, with dad owning a tow service. Lucia has neglected to tell them that she’s dropped out of Law School and that she’s dating, let alone dating an African American guy. Now, she’s come to tell them she’s marrying him. Probably not the wisest course of action.

The dads instantly butt heads, having met previously in an unpleasant situation (Miguel towed Brad’s Jag) and they continue to constantly one-up each other. They recognize that the wedding is inevitable so each tries to impose his stamp on the ceremony, from the music to the cake to the seating arrangements. Pretty soon the pressures being placed on the kids threaten not only their relationship but those of their parents as well.

This could have been a decent enough movie – the premise is sound – but, unfortunately, it’s wildly inconsistent. For every moment that is amusing (Lucia’s serenade to Markus causing dogs to howl) there’s at least one more that makes you squirm (a wayward goat eating Viagra and then attempting to hump Brad’s leg). The hit-and-miss nature of the movie makes watching it jarring upon occasion.

Ferrera is an enormously appealing actress; her work on “Ugly Betty” as well as her breakout role in Real Women Have Curves shows this to be true. She’s also appealing here but she’s largely used in a reactive role and for a law student who supposedly has a great relationship with her dad, she makes some remarkably foolish decisions. Mencia is actually quite good as well, although he sometimes descends into shtick – but that may well be the fault of the writers more than him.

It is Whitaker who is most surprising of all. He seems uncomfortable and confused here, not nearly to the standards of an Oscar nominee who is one of the better actors working today. His comic timing seems a bit off in places and the confirmed bachelor bit wears thin quickly. I have to wonder if he saw the goat humping his leg in the script and deciding to phone it in from there.

Riva and Johnson contribute nicely as Lucia’s mother and sister respectively. However, by and large, most of the cast seems to be written to confirm racial stereotypes. It can be off-putting especially when you get the Hispanic grandmother (Ontiveros) fainting at the sight of a black man who’s dating her granddaughter. Oh, the horror.

Clearly, this country has continuing problems with race relations and I have no objection to exploring that situation, but I would rather it was not done in quite so dumb a manner. While the movie has some nice moments and occasionally a salient point to make, it torpedoes its own best intentions with infantile humor and poorly executed bits. The subject deserved better treatment – and a better script with better directorial decisions. Sadly, it got none of these.

WHY RENT THIS: Some of the moments are delightful and funny. Mencia and Ferrera do a good job.

WHY RENT SOMETHING ELSE: Sometimes the movie tries too hard to be funny and falls flat. Whitaker, a terrific actor, seems lost in his role. Offensive racial stereotypes are reinforced.

FAMILY VALUES: There are some sexual situations and some crude language briefly.

TRIVIAL PURSUIT: The parts of the dads were initially offered to – and rejected by – Samuel L. Jackson and George Lopez who discussed the matter on Lopez’ talk show.  

NOTABLE DVD EXTRAS: There’s a gag reel here but otherwise unremarkable.

BOX OFFICE PERFORMANCE: $21.4M on an unreported production budget; the movie probably broke even.

FINAL RATING: 5/10

TOMORROW: Final Day of Cinema365: From the Heart

A Perfect Getaway


A Perfect getaway

Steve Zahn wonders who put the "Kick Me" sign on his backpack.

(Rogue) Timothy Olyphant, Milla Jovovich, Steve Zahn, Kiele Sanchez, Chris Hemsworth, Marley Shelton, Anthony Ruivivar, Dale Dickey, Peter Navy Tuiasosopo. Directed by David Twohy

The trouble with people is that you can never be sure that they are who they seem to be. They may be volunteers for a charitable foundation that help starving children in Africa; they may also be a vicious serial killer.

Cliff Anderson (Zahn) is paid to come up with ideas like that. He’s a Hollywood screenwriter who is apparently successful; after all, he’s getting work. He is also getting married, to lovely Cydney (Jovovich). They decide to honeymoon, as many newly married couples do, in Hawaii. They also decide to go hiking down a mountain trail in Kauai that leads to a secluded beach to which no roads go. The only way to get there is to hoof it.

On the way to the trail they run into another couple, Cleo (Shelton) and Kale (Hemsworth), who apparently has some anger management issues. They briefly get into a tiff, but then Cliff drives off. Smart man.

While hiking down the trail, they run into yet another couple; ex-special forces operative Nick (Olyphant) and his Georgia peach of a girlfriend Gina (Sanchez). Cliff isn’t much of an outdoorsman and Nick seems to be a handy guy to have around in the jungle. Moreover, when he finds out that Cliff is a screenwriter, he gets a little starry-eyed, having some awesome ideas for a movie, not to mention that most of them are taken from his own experiences in Iraq. He even got the back of his skull blown off, to which Gina proudly drawls “Muh bay-abee is hahd ta key-ill.”

Of course, even in paradise there are cloudy days and the two couples are about to have one. They discover there was a vicious murder of a couple back in Honolulu, where both couples were just days before. Could Cleo and Kale, who have followed Cliff and Cydney onto the trail, be murderers? Or is one of the other couples the killers? Or maybe is someone unknown to them stalking them? And when will I stop asking rhetorical questions?

Director David Twohy has written and/or directed some pretty impressive films, including Pitch Black, Below and The Fugitive but he’s also had his share of missteps, such as The Chronicles of Riddick. This one falls in between.

The movie is well-cast. Zahn, who is usually cast in comedic second banana roles, plays this one straight and is much more effective. Jovovich, a veteran of genre movies, is not only easy on the eyes, she gets one of the better non-verbal moments in the movie when she has to make a life-or-death decision near the end of the movie. Her eyes are very expressive in the moment.

Olyphant is a much-underrated performer who has done some impressive work and he is again, perfectly cast here as a bit of a blowhard who, when the rubber hits the road, can definitely walk the walk. Olyphant makes the character not only believable but sympathetic.

There is a twist in this movie; some critics have praised it, others derided it. I’m in the latter group; I honestly believe that most veteran viewers, particularly those who like thrillers and suspense movies, should be able to guess it by the time the movie hits the halfway point. Also, the pacing is a bit on the slow side for the first two-thirds of the movie; once the reveal of the twist is made, it picks up steam considerably.

This is a throwback to the B-Movie thriller of the 80s and 90s, and that is not meant as an insult. It’s the kind of movie that keeps you on the edge of your seat, has just enough sex and gore to titillate and has an attractive cast that performs solidly enough that you care about their characters. This is solidly entertaining and makes for great dark night video viewing. Me, when I visit Hawaii (astonishingly enough, I’ve never been) I think I’ll pass on the isolated trail hiking and just take the tour bus instead.

WHY RENT THIS: The suspense is handled very nicely and the leads are awfully attractive.

WHY RENT SOMETHING ELSE: The “twist” is not as leftfield as the filmmakers thought; most savvy viewers will figure it out well before it’s revealed.

FAMILY VALUES: As you might expect, there is a good deal of violence and some sexuality, although nothing overt. There is one scene in which drug use is depicted also; I would expect mature older teens would do fine with this, but I’d hesitate for anyone younger.

TRIVIAL PURSUIT: Both Olyphant (Hitman) and Jovovich (the Resident Evil series) have both appeared in videogame adaptations.

NOTABLE DVD EXTRAS: None listed.

FINAL RATING: 6/10

TOMORROW: Machete