Brian Banks


There is absolutely nothing like a mother’s love.

(2018) Sports Biography (Bleecker StreetAldis Hodge, Greg Kinnear, Sherri Shepherd, Morgan Freeman, Melanie Libaud, Dorian Missick, Tiffany Dupont, Matt Battaglia, Xosia Roquemore, Gina Vento, Mytie Smith, Rick Vyper, Edward Parker, Charles Alexandre, Dean Denton, Mary Faulkner, Jennifer Pierce Mathus, Kevin Yamada, Harrison Stone, Monique Grant, Elizabeth Donaldson. Directed by Tom Shadyac

 

There is little doubt that the American legal system is seriously broken. Justice seems to be the sole province of the wealthy and the white. Standards of proof seem to fluctuate depending on the color of one’s skin and the gender of the accuser.

Brian Banks (Hodge) is a 16-year-old kid with an incredible future before him. A star linebacker at Long Beach Poly high school, one of the premier high school football programs in the entire country, he has already been accepted to the University of Southern California and seems guaranteed to be on the fast track to NFL stardom.

That rosy future is interrupted by an accusation of kidnapping and rape by a fellow Poly student (Roquemore). Banks is arrested and indicted, then his ineffective lawyer convinces him to accept a plea agreement that turns out to be a raw deal for Banks, sending him to prison for five years which would be followed by probation for an additional five years – plus being labeled a sex offender for the rest of his life. Sounds pretty much like justice except for one thing; the rape never happened.

Banks struggles to prove his innocence, reaching out to Justin Barber (Kinnear), founder of the California Innocence Project who gently informs Banks that because he entered a no contest plea, the only way to get his conviction reversed is literally for his victim to recant her testimony.

Amazingly, Banks perseveres even though he is as much a prisoner on the outside as he was in prison. Nobody will hire a convicted sex offender and Banks isn’t allowed within a certain distance of public parks and schools. Every time it seems like Banks finds a ray of hope, some tough-on-crime politician rams through legislation that slams the door shut.

This is meant to be an uplifting, inspirational film about the power of perseverance and believing in one’s self and one’s dreams. Hodge delivers a star-making performance that carries the picture, holding his own nicely against stellar actors like Kinnear and Freeman (who plays a prison teacher whose platitudes help Banks find inner peace). While the true story is compelling enough, it is Hodge that most people will remember best after seeing this film.

Definitely the movie makes some commentary on the gulf in the justice system that exists between black and white. Had Banks been a white athlete, it’s likely that the accuser would not have been believed and even if the case went to trial, the perpetrator would have gotten a slap on the wrist if he did any time at all. Boys will be boys, but African-American boys will be criminals – at least that’s how our legal system apparently sees things.

In the #MeToo era there is a bit of tone deafness about this project. False rape accusations are relatively rare and more often than not, accusers are treated with disbelief and scorn, often being blamed for their own assault. Even though this is a true story, it’s not a typical one and the movie really doesn’t address that.

Still, Banks is an inspirational person and watching Hodge absolutely nail his performance is a treat. That the plot gets a bit maudlin especially in the last half of the film doesn’t help matters. The real Brian Banks couldn’t have asked for a better performance to capture his life; he certainly could have asked for a better movie to frame it.

REASONS TO SEE: Hodge delivers the performance of his career.
REASONS TO AVOID: The script gets a bit soapy in places.
FAMILY VALUES: There’s a certain amount of profanity, as well as some adult thematic content and accompanying images.
TRIVIAL PURSUIT: At least eight of Banks’ teammates on the Long Beach Poly team eventually played professional football either for the NFL or overseas.
CRITICAL MASS: As of 8/28/19: Rotten Tomatoes: 58% positive reviews: Metacritic: 58/100.
COMPARISON SHOPPING: A Time to Kill
FINAL RATING: 6/10
NEXT:
Seaside

New Releases for the Week of August 9, 2019


THE KITCHEN

(New Line) Melissa McCarthy, Tiffany Haddish, Elisabeth Moss, Domhnall Gleeson, James Badge dale, Brian d’Arcy James, Common, Margo Martindale. Directed by Andrea Berloff

In Hell’s Kitchen in 1978, the wives of three low-level hoods in the Irish Mafia find themselves in dire financial straits when their husbands are sent to jail. Despite assurances by the mob that they’ll be taken care of, it turns out that it’s all just lip service. Desperate, the ladies take matters into their own hands and start running their husband’s rackets on their own.

See the trailer, video featurettes, a clip and an interview here
For more on the movie this is the website
Genre: Crime Drama
Now Playing: Wide Release
Rating: R (for violence, language throughout and some sexual content)

The Art of Racing in the Rain

(20th Century Fox) Milo Ventimiglia, Amanda Seyfried, Kathy Baker, Kevin Costner (voice). A puppy, picked up by an aspiring Formula One race car driver, grows philosophical, realizing that the techniques that make one successful on the race course also apply to success in life.

See the trailer and video featurettes here
For more on the movie this is the website  
Genre: Family
Now Playing: Wide Release
Rating: PG (for thematic material)

Brian Banks

(Bleecker Street) Aldis Hodge, Greg Kinnear, Sherri Shepherd, Melanie Liburd. A young high school All-American football player is ready to take that first step towards turning pro when he enrolls at the University of Southern California but finds his plans derailed when he is accused, tried and convicted of a crime he didn’t commit. After years of trying to prove his innocence, he at last is successful and is determined to fulfill his interrupted dream of playing in the NFL.

See the trailer, video featurettes and clips here
For more on the movie this is the website  
Genre: Sports Biography
Now Playing: Wide Release
Rating: PG-13 (for thematic content and related images, and for language)

Dora and the Lost City of Gold

(Paramount) Isabella Moner, Eugenio Derbez, Michael Pena, Eva Longoria. The beloved Nickelodeon animated show Dora the Explorer gets a live action treatment as high schooler Dora along with her faithful monkey companion and some of her pals from school go on a wild adventure in the jungles of South America to save her parents and solve the mystery behind a legendary city of gold.

See the trailer, video featurettes and a clip here
For more on the movie this is the website  
Genre: Family Adventure
Now Playing: Wide Release
Rating: PG (for action and some impolite humor)

ECCO

(Citadel) Lathrop Walker, Tabitha Bastien, Helena Grace Donald, Michael Winters. A former assassin, living quietly with his family away from his former life, finds his cover blown by his former employers. Now he must rely on his skills to protect his loved ones and hunt down those who betrayed him and in whom all his sins reside.

See the trailer, interviews and video featurettes here
For more on the movie this is the website  
Genre: Suspense
Now Playing: Old Mill Playhouse, Regal Oviedo Marketplace, Regal Pointe Orlando, Regal Waterford Lakes, Regal Winter Park Village
Rating: R (for violence including bloody images, language, and some sexuality/nudity)

Rapid Eye Movement

(Vertical) Reiko Aylesworth, Francois Arnaud, Danny Ramirez, Rebecca Watson. A radio DJ, attempting to break the world record for staying awake, is beset by a troubled caller warning him to raise $5 million for charity or face disturbing consequences.

See the trailer here
For more on the movie this is the website  
Genre: Suspense
Now Playing: Touchstar Southchase
Rating: NR

Scary Stories to Tell in the Dark

(CBS/Lionsgate) Zoe Margaret Colletti, Dean Norris, Gil Bellows, Michael Garza. A group of teens find a book of terrifying tales written by a young girl named Sarah whose terrible images turn out to be all too real.

See the trailer, video featurettes, a clip and a promo here
For more on the movie this is the website  
Genre: Family Horror
Now Playing: Wide Release
Rating: PG-13 (for terror/violence, disturbing images, thematic elements, language including racial epithets, and brief sexual references)

Them That Follow

(1091) Olivia Colman, Kathryn Dever, Walton Goggins, Jim Gaffigan. In this 2019 Florida Film Festival favorite, a young girl raised in a church that practices serpent handling, the pastor prepares for his daughter’s wedding, which unwittingly unleashes a secret that may change the girl’s perception of her father forever.

See the trailer here
For more on the movie this is the website  
Genre: Drama
Now Playing: Barnstorm Theater, Regal Winter Park Village
Rating: PG (for ] language, thematic elements, some suggestive content and brief smoking images)
 

ALSO OPENING IN ORLANDO/DAYTONA:

Bring the Soul: The Musical
Hello, Love, Goodbye
Light of My Life
Manmadhudu 2
Nerkonda Paarvai
Parey Hut Love

ALSO OPENING IN MIAMI/FT. LAUDERDALE:

The Best Summer of My Life
The Bravest
Bring the Soul: The Musical
David Crosby: Remember My Name
Jabariya Jodi
Manmadhudu 2
Nekrotronic
Nerkonda Paarvai
The Quiet One

ALSO OPENING IN TAMPA/ST. PETERSBURG/SARASOTA:

The Bravest
Hamlet Pheroun
Hello, Love, Goodbye
Jabariya Jodi
Kobbari Matta
Nerkonda Paarvai

ALSO OPENING IN JACKSONVILLE/ST. AUGUSTINE:

Manmadhudu 2
Nerkonda Paarvai

SCHEDULED FOR REVIEW:

Brian Banks
The Kitchen
Scary Stories to Tell in the Dark
Them That Follow

FILM FESTIVALS TAKING PLACE IN FLORIDA:

Popcorn Frights Film Festival, Fort Lauderdale

Brigsby Bear


Luke Skywalker trains a young Jedi in the ways of children’s television programming.

(2017) Dramedy (Sony Classics) Kyle Mooney, Mark Hamill, Jane Adams, Greg Kinnear, Matt Walsh, Michaela Watkins, Ryan Simpkins, Christopher Sullivan, Alexa Demie, Jorge Lendeborg Jr., Chris Provost, Claire Danes, Chance Crimin, Beck Bennett, Andy Samberg, Kate Lyn Shell, Kiera Milan Hendricks, Ellery Davidson, Ashlyn Brooke Anderson, Marilee Crockett. Directed by Dave McCary

 

We are a product of our upbringing and so much of what we experience as children makes us into the adults we become. Those of us who grew up with certain children’s television shows bear the marks of the lessons they taught us, even if we only got them subconsciously.

James (Mooney) has grown up in an unusual situation. He has been isolated by loving parents (Hamill, Adams) who have encouraged him to watch Brigsby Bear, a sci-fi television show in which the titular character fights alongside the Smiley Sisters against the nefarious Sunstealer. While the lessons are a little unorthodox, James is completely enchanted by the world of Brigsby Bear and has every episode on tape. That is, until his world comes crashing down on him.

He finds himself in a different situation with the knowledge that the world he previously inhabited was not what he was led to believe it was. Even his beloved Brigsby Bear was fake – the show didn’t exist. Alone, rudderless, without any sort of anchor, James remains obsessed with Brigsby Bear. He decides that he alone can finish the show properly and he endeavors to do just that.

There is a lot going on in this movie. Part of it is a commentary on the obsessive fandom that dominates our pop culture at present. Some of it is about the power of imagination to change one’s circumstances. Some of it is a pure nostalgia rush. All of it works.

Mooney, a current cast member on SNL, has an off-beat charm that allows the character of James to be childlike without descending into mawkishness. Mooney manages to surround himself with a terrific cast; Hamill is at his very best in a brief but important role and then there’s Kinnear who plays a sympathetic policeman. Kinnear is one of the very best actors working today especially when it comes to being likable onscreen. I think Hollywood takes him a bit for granted; he hasn’t gotten the role yet that will take him to the next level but he has the capability of getting there.

The bargain basement SFX may look a bit primitive to most viewers but they work in the context of the story. Some critics found that the movie descended into sweetness but I have to disagree; it needed that sweetness, otherwise it becomes just another cynical stab at fandom. I suspect that most critics don’t understand the whole concept behind fandom simply because critics are supposed to be objective. Fans are most assuredly not. Yes, there can be a negative side to obsessive fanboy-ism but there is also a positive side as well. There is nothing wrong with believing in something when there is so little to believe in these days.

This is one of my favorite films of the year. Not everyone will agree with me – it may be a little too out there for some. Others, like the critics I referred to, think it might be a little too light and sweet for their tastes. Me though, this works to perfection. It hits every emotional note dead on. This is one of three films that I think is the best of 2017. Whether it will finish first, second or third will likely depend on my mood when I go to assemble my list. If I’m thinking about this movie however, you can bet my mood will be getting better by the moment.

REASONS TO GO: This is one of those rare movies that hit all the right notes. Those who grew up with 80s children shows will certainly get the warm fuzzies. Mooney has a real offbeat charm. Kinnear is one of the most underrated actors working today.
REASONS TO STAY: Some may find it a little too obscure.
FAMILY VALUES: There is some drug usage and teen partying, brief sexuality and some fairly adult themes.
TRIVIAL PURSUIT: McCary is a writer on Saturday Night Live who is making his feature directing debut.
BEYOND THE THEATERS: Amazon, Fandango Now, Google Play, iTunes, Vudu, YouTube
CRITICAL MASS: As of 12/28/17: Rotten Tomatoes: 80% positive reviews. Metacritic: 68/100.
COMPARISON SHOPPING: Death to Smoochy
FINAL RATING: 10/10
NEXT:
An Inconvenient Sequel: Truth to Power

New Releases for the Week of October 20, 2017


GEOSTORM

(Warner Brothers) Gerard Butler, Jim Sturgess, Abbie Cornish, Alexandra Maria Lara, Daniel Wu, Eugenio Derbez, Amr Waked, Andy Garcia, Ed Harris. Directed by Dean Devlin

In a future where we have the ability to control the weather, the satellites that do the controlling suddenly and inexplicably start to turn on the Earth, creating massive and deadly weather events. As the weather worsens, a massive worldwide Geostorm that could potentially wipe out all life on earth is forming and it’s a race against time to find out who is behind it and stop them before our home is turned into a lifeless wasteland.

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

Release Formats: Standard, 3D, DBOX, IMAX, IMAX 3D
Genre: Sci-Fi Action
Now Playing: Wide Release

Rating: PG-13 (for destruction, action and violence)

Breathe

(Bleecker Street) Andrew Garfield, Claire Foy, Ed Speleers, Tom Hollander. Legendary motion capture king Andy Serkis makes his directorial debut with this inspiring true story of Robin Cavendish, a young man whose life is full of adventure, promise and love but is cruelly paralyzed by polio from the neck down, leaving a grim prognosis. Refusing to live out his days in a hospital, against all odds he returns home and slowly but surely with the help of mechanically-inclined friends he works on ways to make his life – and the lives of others in his predicament – better.

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

Release Formats: Standard
Genre: Biographical Drama
Now Playing: AMC Disney Springs, Regal Ormond Beach, Regal Oviedo Marketplace, Regal Pointe Orlando, Rialto Spanish Springs

Rating: PG-13 (for mature thematic material including some bloody medical images)

Faces, Places

(Cohen Media Group) Jean-Luc Godard, Agnés Varda, JR, Laurent Levesque. Legendary French new wave director Varda and acclaimed muralist JR strike up an unlikely friendship and decide to make a film together. Travelling France to photograph new faces, art is created in the most unlikely and occasionally delightful of places.

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

Release Formats: Standard
Genre: Documentary
Now Playing: Regal Winter Park Village

Rating: PG (for brief nude images and thematic elements)

Killing Gunther

(Saban/Lionsgate) Arnold Schwarzenegger, Cobie Smulders, Bobby Moynihan, Allison Tolman. Gunther is the world’s most successful assassin. So much so that the world’s other assassins are getting together and plotting to take him down. The trouble is, their plans don’t always work the way they are intended to.

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

Release Formats: Standard
Genre: Action Comedy
Now Playing: AMC West Oaks

Rating: R (for violence, language and some sexual material)

Mark Felt: The Man Who Brought Down the White House

(Sony Classics) Liam Neeson, Diane Lane, Marton Csokas, Tony Goldwyn. The story of Felt, who for years hid his identity as the mystery man who helped take down the Nixon White House. Felt, a respected agent in the intelligence community discovered the wrongdoings of Watergate and became the most famous whistleblower in history – known to most as Deep Throat.

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

Release Formats: Standard
Genre: Biographical Drama
Now Playing: AMC Disney Springs, AMC Universal Cineplex, Regal Winter Park Village, Rialto Spanish Springs

Rating: PG-13 (for some language)

Only the Brave

(Columbia) Josh Brolin, Jeff Bridges, Miles Teller, Jennifer Connelly. This is based on the Granite Mountain Hotshots, a volunteer firefighting brigade that took a heroic stand trying to defend their town from a historic wildfire. In the context of what has been happening in California, the Pacific Northwest and Big Sky country, this movie couldn’t be any more timely.

See the trailer, clips, interviews and Premiere footage here
For more on the movie this is the website

Release Formats: Standard
Genre: True Life Drama
Now Playing: Wide Release

Rating: PG-13 (for thematic content, some sexual references, language and drug material)

Same Kind of Different as Me

(Paramount/Pure Flix) Renee Zellweger, Jon Voight, Djimon Hounsou, Greg Kinnear. A successful art dealer whose marriage is on the rocks befriends a dangerously volatile homeless man as a means of reconnecting with his wife. Her dreams will send the three of them on a journey none of them could have ever anticipated.

See the trailer, clips, interviews and a featurette here
For more on the movie this is the website

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

Rating: PG=13 (for thematic elements including some violence and language)

The Snowman

(Universal) Michael Fassbender, Rebecca Ferguson, Charlotte Gainsbourg, Val Kilmer. Detective Harry Hole investigates the disappearance of a woman whose only clue is her pink scarf wrapped around the throat of an ominous looking snowman. Hole fears that this case may be linked to some bizarre murders that took place years earlier.

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

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

Rating: R (for grisly images, violence, some language, sexuality and brief nudity)

Tyler Perry’s Boo 2! A Madea Halloween

(Lionsgate) Tyler Perry, Patrice Lovely, Brock O’Hurn, Lexy Panterra. America’s favorite grandmother returns as she and her family visit a haunted campground on Halloween and unwittingly unleash a wave of monsters, goblins, ghouls and boogeymen. Run for your lives, America!

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

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

Rating: PG-13 (for sexual references, drug content, language and some horror images)

ALSO OPENING IN ORLANDO/DAYTONA:

Golmaal Again
Mersal
Raja the Great
Secret Superstar
Tokyo Ghoul
The Unknown Girl

ALSO OPENING IN MIAMI:

4 Days in France
A Silent Voice
Golmaal Again
Inseparables
Jungle
Mersal
Raja the Great
Secret Superstar
Tokyo Ghoul
Walking Out
Where’s the Money
The Woman Who Left

ALSO OPENING IN TAMPA:

Demons
Golmaal Again
Leatherface
Let Her Out
Mersal
Never Here
Raja the Great
Secret Superstar
So B. It

ALSO OPENING IN JACKSONVILLE:

Golmaal Again
Mersal
Raja the Great
Secret Superstar
Tokyo Ghoul

SCHEDULED FOR REVIEW:

Breathe
Geostorm
Only the Brave
The Snowman
Walking Out

New Releases for the Week of August 18, 2017


THE HITMAN’S BODYGUARD

(Summit) Ryan Reynolds, Samuel L. Jackson, Gary Oldman, Salma Hayek, Elodie Yung, Richard E. Grant, Joaquim de Almeida, Sam Hazeldine. Directed by Patrick Hughes

A vicious dictator is going on trial in front of the international court and only one man can put him away – one of the world’s most successful assassins. However, the ex-fearless leader has put out a hit on the hitman and things don’t look good for him to make it to the trial. A bodyguard is assigned to the killer and it has to be said the two don’t exactly hit it off but if they are going to survive they’ll have to put aside their differences or die in a really spectacular fashion.

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

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

Rating: R (for strong violence and language throughout)

Brigsby Bear

(Sony Classics) Kyle Mooney, Mark Hamill, Jane Adams, Greg Kinnear. The children’s television show Brigsby Bear Adventures has been playing for an audience of one – James. When the show abruptly ends, James is motivated to finish the story himself taking him into a land of imagination he never knew he had within him.

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

Release Formats: Standard
Genre: Comedy
Now Playing: AMC Altamonte Mall, AMC Disney Springs, Barnstorm Theater, Regal Winter Park Village

Rating: PG-13 (for thematic elements, brief sexuality, drug material and teen partying)

Dawson City: Frozen Time

(Kino Lorber) Bill Morrison, Chris “Mad Dog” Russo, Kathy Jones-Gates, Michael Gates. In 1978, a bulldozer working its way through a parking lot in Dawson City, a former gold rush town in the Yukon and discovered a cache of over 500 films that had been buried there since the silent film era. Many of the films had been thought to be lost forever. After an extensive restoration process, the newsreels and films are ready to be shown to the public, depicting an era in history and in Dawson City itself that is long gone. This film has been described as being like stepping into a time capsule.

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

Release Formats: Standard
Genre: Documentary
Now Playing: Enzian Theater

Rating: NR

Leap!

(Weinstein) Starring the voices of Elle Fanning, Dane DeHaan, Carly Rae Jepsen, Maddie Ziegler. An orphan girl who dreams of being a prima ballerina travels from Brittany to Paris to follow her dream. A case of mistaken identity leads her to become a pupil at the Grand Opera House in a Paris that is full of enchantment, music and magic.

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

Release Formats: Standard
Genre: Animated Feature
Now Playing: Wide Release

Rating: PG (for some impolite humor and action)

Logan Lucky

(Bleecker Street) Channing Tatum, Adam Driver, Daniel Craig, Katie Holmes. Two brothers, cursed by bad luck all their lives, attempt to steal a windfall of cash from the Charlotte Motor Speedway. Enlisting the aid of Joe Bang, one of the great demolition experts of all time, they merely have to break him out of prison where he is in-car-cer-rated and then get him back inside without anyone noticing. Piece of cake. Incidentally, this is Steven Soderburgh’s return to the big screen in like four years. Think of this as the unholy love child of The Dukes of Hazzard, <em and Oceans 11.

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

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

Rating: PG-13 (for language and some crude comments)

Lost in Paris

(Oscilloscope Laboratories) Fiona Gordon, Dominique Abel, Emmanuelle Riva, Pierre Richard. Fiona visits Paris for the first time in her life to assist her Aunt Martha. Fiona has always repressed her feelings but when she meets Dom, a homeless man who is absolutely unafraid of expressing his feelings or his thoughts. The City of Lights will never be the same.

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

Release Formats: Standard
Genre: Dramedy
Now Playing: Regal Winter Park Village

Rating: NR

Step

(Fox Searchlight) Paula Dofat, Blessin Giraldo, Cori Grainger, Tayla Solomon. This documentary follows a step dancing team from inner city Baltimore as they embark on competitions throughout the city and navigate their senior year in high school.

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

Release Formats: Standard
Genre: Documentary
Now Playing: AMC Disney Springs, Cinemark Artegon Marketplace, Regal Winter Park Village

Rating: PG (for thematic elements and some language)

Turn it Around: The Story of East Bay Punk

(Abramorama) Billy Joe Armstrong, Iggy Pop, Jello Biafra, Laurence Livermore. San Francisco has always been the center of the Bay Area music scene. For a brief shining moment, a group of committed men and women ran a punk co-op out of a former warehouse in Berkeley that became a creative cauldron that changed the face of punk music – and pop culture – forever and put the East Bay in the forefront of the Bay Area musical firmament.

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

Release Formats: Standard
Genre: Musical Documentary
Now Playing: Enzian Theater

Rating: NR

Wind River

(Weinstein) Jeremy Renner, Graham Greene, Tantoo Cardinal, Elizabeth Olsen. A grisly murder scene is discovered on a Native American tribal reservation. An FBI agent is called in to investigate and he ends up teaming with a veteran game tracker to run the killer to ground.

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

Release Formats: Standard
Genre: Thriller
Now Playing: AMC Altamonte Mall, AMC Disney Springs, Amstar Lake Mary, Cinemark Artegon Marketplace, Regal Waterford Lakes, Regal Winter Park Village, Rialto Spanish Springs

Rating: R (for strong violence, a rape, disturbing images, and language)

ALSO OPENING IN ORLANDO/DAYTONA:

Bareilly Ki Barfi
Fairy Tale: Dragon Cry
From the Land of the Moon
Imperfections
Shot Caller

ALSO OPENING IN MIAMI:

Anando Brahma
Fairy Tale: Dragon Cry
Menashe
Once Upon a Time 3D
The Only Living Boy in New York
The Untamed
Whose Streets?

ALSO OPENING IN TAMPA:

6 Days
Anando Brahma
The Ancient Magus Bride
Bareilly Ki Barfi
Fairy Tale: Dragon City
The Midwife
Shot Caller

ALSO OPENING IN JACKSONVILLE:

68 Kill
Anando Brahma
The Ancient Magus Bride

SCHEDULED FOR REVIEW:

68 Kill
Brigsby Bear
Dawson City: Frozen in Time
The Hitman’s Bodyguard
Logan Lucky
Menashe
The Only Living Boy in New York
Turn It Around: The Story of East Bay Punk
Whose Streets?
Wind River

Baby Mama


Tina Fey is just miffed that Amy Poehler won't share the Pringles.

Tina Fey is just miffed that Amy Poehler won’t share the Pringles.

(2008) Comedy (Universal) Tina Fey, Amy Poehler, Greg Kinnear, Steve Martin, Dax Shepard, Sigourney Weaver, Maura Tierney, Holland Taylor, James Rebhorn, Will Forte, Fred Armisen, Romany Malco, Denis O’Hare, Stephen Mailer, Siobhan Fallon Hogan, Kevin Collins, John Hodgman, Thomas McCarthy, Jason Mantzoukas, Dave Finkel, Felicity Stiverson.  Directed by Michael McCullers

Starting up a family is always something of an overwhelming proposition, never more so for a single parent who intends to stay a single parent. It is darn near impossible for an infertile single parent.

Kate Holbrook (Fey) is a capable, ambitious woman and that has played out into an executive position for a health food store chain, a beautiful apartment in Manhattan that is absolutely empty when she comes home. Not that she’s complaining, mind you – she owns her choices, after all. However, she is feeling her biological clock ticking down. She wants a baby in the worst way, and in her own organized fashion is doing what it takes. She’s tried adoption, and has been turned down. She’s tried artificial insemination, but her doctor (O’Hare) informs her that her uterus is not really suitable for impregnation and that an actual pregnancy would be a one in a million shot.

Desperate, she decides surrogacy might be the answer. She goes to the Chaffee Bicknell agency, whose titular head (Weaver) is despicably fertile, but promises to get a surrogate mother for Kate’s baby that passes the most rigid scrutiny. Chaffee sends Kate to Angie Ostrowski (Poehler), who couldn’t be any more different from the prim, cultured Kate. While Kate frets over every detail, Angie tends to be less detail-oriented than, say, a ten-year-old. While Kate keeps her apartment neat and clean, Angie prefers a more let-it-all-hang-out attitude. Kate dresses in smart business suits; Angie’s style can only be described as rural whore. In fact, if there were trailer parks in New York, Angie and her conniving boyfriend Carl (Shepard) would probably be living in one. If Kate is Masterpiece Theater, Angie and Carl are The Dukes of Hazzard.

Despite this, the two women find themselves bonding against all odds and decide to go through with the pregnancy. Not long after, Angie and Carl have a big fight and Angie shows up on Kate’s door, having nowhere else to go. Now, instead of preparing for a new baby in the home, Kate is having to live with a woman whose maturity level isn’t far above the baby she’s carrying.

The stresses begin to pile up. Kate is given a huge project at work by her new age boss (Martin) that may make unwelcome changes to a neighborhood, whose residents are not happy about the prospect, led by the handsome smoothie store owner Rob (Kinnear) who Kate is beginning to develop feelings for. On top of that, Angie is driving Kate crazy, and doesn’t appear to be all that concerned with the health and well-being of the baby – and Angie’s sins are rapidly catching up with her. Kate’s dream of being a mom is beginning to look like a longshot at best.

Fey has proven herself one of the funniest women working today, and those who loved her on 30 Rock are going to love her here. Poehler, so good in Blades of Glory and on SNL, does some of the best work of her career here. Martin, who has been mostly sticking to family comedies, returns to the silliness that characterized him in the ‘70s. Kinnear has carved out a niche as the nice, solid guy and makes a fine foil for Fey – hey, alliteration! ER’s Tierney plays Fey’s married mom of a sister and performs capably. Worth mentioning is Holland Taylor as Kate’s overbearing mom – she’s one of those dependable character actresses who almost always improves every movie she’s in. Shepard does the sleazy manipulator as well as anyone – if you saw him in Let’s Go to Prison, you pretty much know what to expect here.

Fey and Poehler work exceedingly well together, so much so that it leaves you hoping that they will continue to make movies together although as of yet they haven’t. The laughs come crisply but not at the expense of the characters and story.

This is definitely aimed at a female audience, and I found Da Queen laughing much more at things that only puzzled my poor, underdeveloped male brain. Not relating with the messy details of pregnancy and birthing, I found myself having a hard time relating to characters going through it and wanting to go through it.  .

Think of this as a chick comedy. If you’ve had a baby, or are pregnant, you are going to find this much more funny than the rest of us. That doesn’t mean that it’s completely without redemption, however. Fey and Poehler are a very good team, and their scenes together are the highlights of the movie. Bottom line, this is pretty well-written and plotted, although it isn’t difficult to discern where this is heading.

WHY RENT THIS: Great comedic chemistry between Fey and Poehler. Women tend to find this funnier than men do so if you’re of the fairer sex, this works nicely. Great support cast.

WHY RENT SOMETHING ELSE: Women tend to find this funnier than men do so if you’re of the male sex, this might be too much for you. Predictable in places.

FAMILY MATTERS: Plenty of jokes about female plumbing. There’s also some foul language and a drug reference.

TRIVIAL PURSUITS: The Boo Boo Busters company that professionally childproofs Kate’s home is based on a real company by the same name in California. They supplied many of the child safety devices seen in the film, including the infamous toilet seat lock that “doesn’t work.”  Poehler eventually used that company to childproof her own home when she had children.

NOTABLE HOME VIDEO FEATURES: There is a featurette on Saturday Night Live and its influence on the movies.

BOX OFFICE PERFORMANCE: $64.2M on a $30M production budget.

COMPARISON SHOPPING: Knocked Up

FINAL RATING: 6.5/10

NEXT: The Housemaid

Heaven is For Real


A little father and son talk.

A little father and son talk.

(2014) Faith (TriStar) Greg Kinnear, Kelly Reilly, Connor Corum, Marge Martindale, Thomas Haden Church, Lane Styles, Jacob Vargas, Thanya Romero, Danso Gordon, Rob Moran, Nancy Sorel, Darcy Fehr, Vivian Winther, Pete Hudson, Ursula Clark, Mike Mohrhardt, Bryan Clark, Randy Apostle, Julia Arkos, Candace Smith, Cruise Brown, Amber Lynn Partridge. Directed by Randall Wallace

Disclaimer: I’m not a big fan of organized religion or of faith-based movies. I have an aversion to being preached to. Not that I have an issue with people having faith or even religion – there are a lot of good things that organized religions do, but there are also some questionable things and I’m talking about all faiths here, not just one in particular. When someone tells me that there is only one way to get to heaven, I smell flim-flammery.

However, faith and religion are different things entirely. While religion tends to codify our faith, faith can exist without religion (but not vice versa). Religion helps those with faith understand just what it is they have faith in. However, when that faith is confronted with something that we can’t really explain, that faith is shaken to the core, severely tested. It all comes down to belief.

Todd Burpo (Kinnear) is a Wesleyan pastor in the small farming community of Imperial, Nebraska. Besides that, he repairs garage door openers, coaches wrestling and the local high school and is a volunteer fireman. If that wasn’t enough to fill up his day, he dotes on his four-year-old son Colton (Corum), his older sister Cassie (Styles) and his wife Sonja (Reilly) who also directs the music group at the church. If there ever was a Norman Rockwell life, Pastor Burpo was living it.

During a softball game, the pastor slides hard into third base and suffers a severe spiral fracture in his right leg, forcing him to the sidelines on all his endeavors for a few weeks. No sooner has he come back to work when he collapses on the altar during his sermon, felled by kidney stones. The medical bills begin to pile up and there isn’t enough money.

Things go from bad to worse. After a family trip to Denver, both Cassie and Colton come down with the flu. Cassie recovers but Colton doesn’t. He starts to get worse. His parents rush him to the hospital (which is a bit of a hike from Imperial) and once there, it is determined that Colton’s appendix had burst. He is rushed into surgery, but the outlook isn’t hopeful.

However, the little boy manages to pull through. Cue big sigh of relief from everyone involved. But then little Colton starts telling his Dad about his experience; how he found himself floating above the operating table and watching the doctors work on him. How he could see his mother calling friends on the phone and asking them to pray for him. How he saw his Dad in the chapel, yelling at God and venting. Todd is at first bemused by this; these types of experiences are not unheard of after all.

But then he tells his father that he actually visited heaven, and goes on to describe it. While he was there, he heard choirs of angels singing to him, giggling when young Colton asked if they could sing “We Will Rock You” by Queen (a Burpo family sing-along favorite). He also sees Jesus, riding on a horse that is all the colors of the rainbow. He sits in Jesus’ lap, and describes him as having blue/green eyes.

Todd passes this off as his son’s vivid imagination coupled with being surrounded with religious imagery all his life. Then Colton starts giving some details about people he meets in Heaven including a sister whom his mother had miscarried; neither Todd nor Sonja had told him anything about that incident. Todd’s faith is shaken to the core. How can he continue to be the effective pastor he has always been when he isn’t sure that his son has really had this experience he is so sure he’s had?

Wallace, who wrote Braveheart and directed such fine movies as The Man in the Iron Mask and Secretariat  makes some smart choices here. He allows viewers to make their own decisions as to whether Colton’s experience was legitimate and if he’d actually been to Heaven. His father believes it, that is for certain. Clearly, it’s not something that can be proven but it must be taken on faith.

That can be difficult. Church and Martindale play friends of the Burpos as well as members of the board of the church who have a difficult time in accepting Colton’s story (and both do bang-up jobs for the record), and worry about the effect that the growing media circus will have on their small town and their church. I found myself wondering why devout Christians would be anything but thrilled at “proof” that heaven is for real. I guess it’s as hard to see your beliefs proven to be true as it is to see them proven to be false.

Kinnear is the glue that holds the film together. He is rock solid, charismatic and crazy likable. We are reminded once again that he is one of those actors who should be an A-lister but for whatever reason has never gotten the role that pushes him over the top. Given the box office success of this film, we may finally get to see that happen.

As for the actor that played young Colton, I have to be honest although it doesn’t make me happy to do so – he is stiff and unnatural. I try to give leeway to young actors because it’s not fair to hold them to standards that you would hold an adult to. However, in this case because he’s so integral to the story and to the film, I would be amiss in not at least mentioning that you need to expect that his line readings can sometimes remind you that he is a kid reading words rather than a character saying them. There is a huge difference and it did for me at least take me out of the movie at times.

The movie and the book that it came from has sparked a certain amount of controversy. Some Christian publications have condemned the book for not having a Biblical version of Heaven – some film critics have panned the film for its depiction of billowing clouds, WASP-ish Jesus (although the painting of him that Colton identified as the Jesus he saw in heaven that was painted by a Serbian girl who had a similar experience looked distinctly Semitic to my eyes) and  angelic chorales was too over-the-top. I never realized that Heaven was such a controversial subject.

And of course, atheists and non-believers have been smug and snarky in their contempt for the film. It’s this kind of treatment that adds fuel for the Fox News assertion that there is a war on Christianity, albeit that on Fox News there’s always a war on something. People have the right to believe as they choose; just because you believe in one thing doesn’t make you automatically better than people who believe in another. Belief is not about being superior to everyone else; it’s about how you choose to live your life and what you choose to embrace as fact even if you cannot prove it as such.

Living in the Bible Belt gives me a certain perspective. Certainly most of the audience that is seeing this movie is Christian or leans that way. During many points in the film, there was audible sniffling and I’ll admit to getting misty-eyed myself. I suspect few atheists will go to see this and I can’t see a lot of non-Christians making the effort either. This is certainly aimed at one segment of the movie-going audience but it serves them well, yet for those who are less religious at least it treats the subject with respect and as I said earlier, allows us to reach our own conclusions.

I have my own conclusions and my own beliefs as to what happens after we die. The fact of the matter is, as Kinnear’s character says during the film quoting his grandfather, is that by the time we know for sure what does happen to us it’s too late to tell anybody about it. Maybe Colton actually did visit heaven; maybe it’s something that his mind did to help him cope with a crisis he couldn’t understand. We will never know for certain either way. Whichever explanation you choose to believe you have to take on faith. And that my friends is the crux of that human ability to accept things we cannot prove.

REASONS TO GO: Kinnear is solid. Raises some real questions about faith.

REASONS TO STAY: Gets preachy in places. Corum not the most natural of actors.

FAMILY VALUES: There are some medical situations involving a child as well as some thematic elements which small children may not understand or be disturbed about.

TRIVIAL PURSUIT: The movie was filmed mostly around Winnipeg, Manitoba in Canada.

CRITICAL MASS: As of 5/5/14: Rotten Tomatoes: 49% positive reviews. Metacritic: 47/100.

COMPARISON SHOPPING: The Five People You Meet in Heaven

FINAL RATING: 6/10

NEXT: Love Me