New Releases for the Week of September 11, 2015


The VisitTHE VISIT

(Universal) Olivia DeJonge, Ed Oxenbould, Deanna Dunagan, Peter McRobbie, Kathryn Hahn, Celia Keenan-Bolger, Patch Darragh. Directed by M. Night Shyamalan

A brother and sister go to rural Pennsylvania to visit their grandparents. At first things are pretty much as you might expect; and older couple happy to see their grandkids but the longer they stay, the stranger the behavior of the elderly people begins to seem. Soon they realize that something sinister is going on and their chances of getting home alive are worsening but they can’t get their mom to believe them.

See the trailer, clips, interviews, featurettes and B-roll video here.
For more on the movie this is the website.
Release Formats: Standard  (Opens Thursday)
Genre: Horror
Now Playing: Wide Release
Rating: PG-13 (for disturbing thematic material including terror, violence and some nudity and for brief language)

90 Minutes in Heaven

(Goldwyn) Kate Bosworth, Hayden Christensen, Dwight Yoakam, Rhoda Griffis. A man in a car accident is declared dead and left under a tarp before being transported to a hospital. He experiences heaven until a pastor’s prayers bring him back to the living. Now in excruciating pain, he fights to regain some kind of normalcy while pining for what waited for him in heaven. Eventually he wrote a book on his experiences which became a New York Times bestseller.

See the trailer, clips, interviews and a promo here.
For more on the movie this is the website.
Release Formats: Standard
Genre: Faith-Based Drama
Now Playing: Amstar Lake Mary, AMC Altamonte Mall, AMC Downtown Disney, AMC West Oaks, Cinemark Artegon Marketplace, Epic Theaters of Clermont, Regal Oviedo Marketplace, Regal The Loop, Regal Waterford Lakes, Regal Winter Park Village
Rating: PG-13  (for brief violence)

The Challenger

(Fox Searchlight) Michael Clarke Duncan, S. Epatha Merkerson, Kent Moran, Justin Hartley. An ex-boxer trying to make it as an auto mechanic is simply not making ends meet. When he and his adopted mother are evicted, he is forced back into the one thing that he’s been struggling against – boxing. With the help of a legendary trainer, he will do whatever it takes to keep he and his adopted mom off of the streets. This is the late Michael Clarke Duncan’s last film.

See the trailer here.
For more on the movie this is the website.
Release Formats: Standard
Genre: Sports Drama
Now Playing: Regal Waterford Lakes
Rating: PG-13 (for some sports violence)

Cop Car

(Focus World) Kevin Bacon, Camryn Manheim, Shea Whigham, Kyra Sedgwick. Two young boys discover what seems to be an abandoned police vehicle in a secluded glade and decide to take it for a joy ride. This incurs the wrath of a brutal county sheriff and leads to disastrous consequences.

See the trailer and clips here.
For more on the movie this is the website.
Release Formats: Standard
Genre: Thriller
Now Playing: Enzian Theater
Rating: R (for language, violence and brief drug use)

Learning to Drive

(Broad Green) Ben Kingsley, Patricia Clarkson, Grace Gummer, Jake Weber. A high-powered and self-obsessed New York book editor undergoing a divorce decides to become more self-sufficient. She signs up to take driving lessons so that she can visit her daughter in college in Vermont. Her instructor is Darwan, an extremely conscientious teacher and his patience inspires her to open up with him about her deeper problems. In turn, her volatile feelings about her disintegrating marriage bring out some feelings in him about his own impending nuptials.

See the trailer, clips, interviews, featurettes and B-roll video here.
For more on the movie this is the website.
Release Formats: Standard
Genre: Drama
Now Playing: Regal Winter Park Village
Rating: R (for language and sexual content)

Meru

(Music Box)  Conrad Anker, Jimmy Chin, Renan Ozturk, Jon Krakauer. Among mountain climbers, Conrad Anker is a legend. It is also considered that the Himalayan peak Meru is virtually unclimbable, towering 21,000 feet into the sky with the final portion being a unique shark’s fin formation that is nearly vertical and requires a different set of climbing skills than the first portion of the mountain, requiring an entirely different set of gear, all of which has to be lugged up the mountain. Anker and his team undergo the harshest conditions that mother nature has to offer, heartbreaking defeats and terrible tragedies just to make yet another assault on Meru. But can anyone climb the unclimbable mountain?

See the trailer here.
For more on the movie this is the website.
Release Formats: Standard
Genre: Documentary
Now Playing: Enzian Theater
Rating: R (for language)

The Perfect Guy

(Screen Gems) Michael Ealy, Sanaa Lathan, Morris Chestnut, Charles S. Dutton. After a painful breakup with her boyfriend, a beautiful young professional woman meets a handsome and charming stranger. At first he seems like a gift from heaven, but when her ex-boyfriend re-enters the picture and tries to win her back, the perfect guy suddenly changes into someone she doesn’t know – and someone completely terrifying.

See the trailer, clips, interviews, featurettes, a promo and B-roll video here.
For more on the movie this is the website.
Release Formats: Standard (opens Thursday)
Genre: Thriller
Now Playing: Wide Release
Rating: PG-13 (for violence, menace, sexuality and brief strong language)

Advertisements

Meskada


It's the sweet tender moments that make life bearable.

It’s the sweet tender moments that make life bearable.

(2010) Mystery (Red Flag) Nick Stahl, Rachel Nichols, Kellan Lutz, Norman Reedus, Jonathan Tucker, Grace Gummer, Laura Benanti, James McCaffrey, Michael Cerveris, David Aaron Baker, Michael Sirow, Kerry Bishe, Rebecca Henderson, Kathy Searle, Charlie Tahan, Max Antisell, J.D. Rosen, Johnny Hopkins, Rachel Heller. Directed by Josh Sternfeld

In 21st century America, the difference between haves and have-nots is like night and day. In rural Meskada county in the Appalachians, the difference is even greater.

Noah Cordin (Stahl) is a cop in upscale Hilliard. The people who live there are the well-to-do of the county. Noah himself hails from Caswell, the proverbial other side of the tracks. Blue collar and proud of it, Caswell has been hard hit by the recession; work is hard to come by although trouble is not.

During a home burglary in Hilliard, a young boy is killed. The boy’s mother, Alison Connor (Benanti), sits on the county planning commission and she is putting a whole load of pressure on Noah and his partner Leslie Spencer (Nichols) to crack the case quickly and bring her son’s killer to justice. The school of thought is that the killer must hail from Caswell and signs are definitely pointing in that direction.

In truth, the killer does hail from Caswell – a couple of low-life losers named Eddie (Lutz) and Shane (Tucker) did the robbery. They didn’t intend to kill the boy, it was just a wrong-place-wrong-time kind of thing. The case soon pits town against town and Noah is forced to call into question his own loyalties – to the place he came from, or the place he’s making a life in.

This is a movie that had enormous potential – a nice socio-economic premise wrapped in a murder mystery (although it’s not much of a mystery – for whatever reason the filmmakers decided to let us in on the identity of the killers from the get-go so any tension was blown right out of the water). Given the current political climate that has our country increasingly turning into class warfare, there is a certain amount of resonance in the idea.

Unfortunately it isn’t executed as well as it might be. Sternfeld has assembled a pretty impressive cast, many of them unknowns or barely-knowns when it was filmed but were shortly to gain prominence in their craft. Stahl is probably the best-known in the cast at the time of filming although Reedus, who played Noah’s roommate who briefly comes under suspicion for the crime and knows a lot more than he lets on, has probably surpassed him due to his involvement in Walking Dead – and not undeservedly so as Reedus is a big reason for that show’s popularity.

The cast does a fine job but the framework they’re in is almost damaged. The editing is almost choppy, as if someone had gouged out great hunks of celluloid with an Exacto knife. It feels like there are some important expository scenes missing and some of that exposition is done rather clumsily with one character basically saying “tell me about so and so” and another dutifully doing so. There is a certain artlessness here that can be charming in certain films but here it feels like I’m watching a rough cut rather than a finished product.

However, it must be said that the rough cut I watched was better than a lot of finished products. Stahl is one of those actors who seems to never fail to give an outstanding performance but never seems to get a role that will really get him the notice he deserves. Noah’s anguish is palpable as he knows what desperation can drive people to but observes the ugly side of privilege as well. Along with Stahl and Reedus, Gummer as Eddie’s barmaid/girlfriend, Nichols and Kerry Bishe as Noah’s wife all do some fine work.

I’m not sure what happened here. It’s possible the filmmakers wanted deliberately to create a movie in which the audience was put off-balance but it’s also possible that budget constraints reared their ugly head. Sternfeld’s only other directing job thus far was Winter Solstice, a very strong and moving film.  He can and has done better than this.

I’m all for leaving an audience to fill in the blanks off a basic framework, but that framework needs to at least support some meat on its bones. I shouldn’t leave a movie wondering what I missed, at least in terms of the information I’m being given to reach whatever conclusions that might be had. I liked some of the things that Meskada did and I liked a lot of the things that it attempted to do – I just wish I’d liked the movie overall just a bit more.

WHY RENT THIS: Pretty good cast, many of whom were largely unknown at the time of filming.

WHY RENT SOMETHING ELSE: Confusing and choppy, as if large scenes were cut or went unfilmed.

FAMILY VALUES: Bad language and violence and plenty of both, with a scene of sexuality thrown in for good measure.

TRIVIAL PURSUIT: Sternfeld teaches filmmaking at the NYU Film School and Tisch School of the Arts.

NOTABLE HOME VIDEO EXTRAS: None listed.

BOX OFFICE PERFORMANCE: Not available.

COMPARISON SHOPPING: Lantana

FINAL RATING: 6/10

NEXT: Much Ado About Nothing

Frances Ha


Pretentions, anyone?

Pretentions, anyone?

(2013) Comedy (IFC) Greta Gerwig, Mickey Sumner, Michael Esper, Adam Driver, Michael Zegen, Charlotte d’Amboise, Grace Gummer, Daiva Deupree, Justine Lupe, Lindsay Burdge, Patrick Heusinger, Marina Squerciati, Britta Phillips, Juliet Rylance, Josh Hamilton, Dean Wareham, Maya Kazan, Ryann Shane. Directed by Noah Baumbach  

Since the advent of motion pictures, there has been a hidden conspiracy that is rarely spoken of out loud but exists nonetheless – the attempt to portray being in your mid-to-late twenties in New York as the best existence possible. Of late, that has been a banner eagerly taken up by indie filmmakers.

Frances (Gerwig) is an understudy for a modern dance troupe. She has vague ambitions for something more – mainly to make it on to the touring company, despite being much less talented than other dancers in the fold. The company’s director (d’Amboise) tries to break it to her gently that while she likes Frances personally that she simply doesn’t have a prayer of being anything but an understudy for the company, offering her an office job while she looks for options but that really doesn’t fit into Frances’ plans, what there are of them.

Frances’ roommate is her bestie Sophie (Sumner). The two went to college together, hang out together, play fight in the park, hang out and bitch about boys and boyfriends and smoke on their balcony. Sophie works for Random House and appears to be the breadwinner of the family. Her boyfriend Patch (Heusinger) works in the financial industry, is hopelessly preppie and converses with a kind of fake “Yo, bro!” bonhomie that is at once jarring and irritating to hipster sorts which Frances clearly is. Sophie alternates being smitten with Patch who can provide a stable future and abhorring the compromise in her soul that she has to make to keep him happy. Eventually stability wins and Sophie moves out to Manhattan, leaving Sophie in Brooklyn with no income and no apartment.

She finds a couple of rich hipsters, Lev (Driver) who is kind of magic as she puts it, and Benji (Zegen) who fits her personality like a glove, teasing her as “undateable” and leaping on her bed without warning like a five year old on a Sunday morning. After a trip home to Sacramento for the holidays, she returns having left Lev and Benji and staying temporarily with another friend, only to discover that Sophie and Patch are moving to Japan after Patch is transferred there. Frances is desperately lonely and floundering, caught in the rapids of life and not really knowing where they will deposit her. Even an impulsive trip to Paris (paid for with a new credit card, although she can only afford a weekend there and only the because some friends of the friends she’s staying with offer her the use of their apartment there) turns disastrous and fails to cheer her up. She is forced to find work as a summer Resident Advisor at the college she went to only a few years ago. How humiliating is that?

The admirable thing about Frances is that she doesn’t let life keep her down. She can be flaky sure, and her maturity level is roughly the same as an 8th grader in many way but there is a kind of innate optimism in the woman that is endearing. Frances and her friends are pretentious with the sort of pretention that is native to a twenty-something who has left the cocoon of college and has discovered that the reality of life isn’t what it was living with their parents. Like most of that age group, they discover that the dreams of childhood and high school are not handed over on a plate and aren’t received in a matter of months. There’s that suspicious knot in their bellies that their dreams may not be attainable at all and that the only thing that makes it bearable is liberal use of alcohol, intellectual discussions about authors and books that have the proper amount of obscurity to them and indie music as a kind of soundtrack.

Gerwig is an appealing actress who has become something of the 21st century incarnation of Goldie Hawn – she can play flighty but there is some grey matter there even if the character she’s playing has none. Gerwig co-wrote the movie and one suspects that there is more than a little bit of Greta Gerwig in Frances. While the movie is solidly written, like many indie movies over the last 15 years it sadly mistakes quirkiness for personality.

Baumbach (who in real life is involved with Gerwig as of this writer) is a director with amazing potential; movies like The Squid and the Whale as well as Greenberg show how able he is behind the camera. He chose to film this in black and white, leading to obvious comparisons with Woody Allen’s classic Manhattan (as well as a few with Annie Hall in tone if not in palate) and I’ll admit that the Big Apple has always had a particular appeal in the softness of black and white photography, although there is a curious darkness and harshness to the shades of grey here.

The appeal here is going to be to those in that 20-something age group, particularly those in urban areas who hang out in bars and coffee houses, clubs and cafes, art houses and bistros. There is a certain magic that age engenders and there’s nothing wrong with celebrating it. If older audiences such as myself are put off by it, there is partially a wistful jealousy behind it – my 20-somethings are well in my rear view and that decade is never coming back. The wisdom of my age group (that generally eludes those who are younger) is that every decade of life has something sweet to offer and that each can be as rewarding as any other – the 20s don’t have to be the beginning and ending of life. However when we are in the throes of the passions that 20-something creates, it’s hard to see what lies beyond the intersection.

If hipsters were vampires, they’d never be able to book this as a matinee. That is really who the target audience is here. I’ll admit there has been a hipster backlash of late, largely due to movies like this which can be infuriating (Da Queen, frustrated by flighty Frances, often glared at me throughout the movie and mouthed the words “I’ll kill you” for taking her to see this, a movie she knew from the trailer wasn’t going to appeal to her). However, those who are in that target audience are going to fall in love with Frances and her lifestyle. For the rest of us however, there’s a maddening condescending tone that prevents full acceptance and for that the rating is much lower than it needed to be, plus Frances is a bit too neurotic for my taste. That said, if you can overlook the film’s pretentions and faults, you might just find this to be worth seeking out.

REASONS TO GO: Captures 20-something angst nicely. Gerwig is sweetly effervescent.

REASONS TO STAY: Way too hip for its own good. Largely limits its own appeal to the age group that inhabits its frames.

FAMILY VALUES:  There is some drug usage and a good deal of frank sexual conversation as well as some sexuality.

TRIVIAL PURSUIT: The actors playing Frances’ parents are actually actress Greta Gerwig’s parents.

CRITICAL MASS: As of 6/5/13: Rotten Tomatoes: 90% positive reviews. Metacritic: 82/100; critics love this one.

COMPARISON SHOPPING: Hannah Takes the Stairs

FINAL RATING: 5.5/10

NEXT: Malice in Wonderland