New Releases for the Week of July 18, 2014


The Purge: AnarchyTHE PURGE: ANARCHY

(Universal) Frank Grillo, Michael K. Williams, Carmen Ejogo, Zach Gilford, Kiele Sanchez, Keith Stanfield, Edwin Hodge. Directed by James DeMonaco

Has it been a year already? Oh, right, it’s time for the annual purge, a single night where the New Founding Fathers allow the people of the United States to run wild in the streets, where all crime is legal including murder and sensible people lock themselves in their fortress-like homes in order to survive the night. Not that it will help you if you aren’t wealthy enough to afford the very best protection, or if your car breaks down on the way home…or if you have some purging of your own to do. Happy purging, people.

 

See the trailer, clips, interviews, a featurette and B-roll video here.

For more on the movie this is the website.

Release formats: Standard (opens Thursday)

Genre: Horror

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

Aftermath

(Image) Edward Furlong, Monica Keena, William Baldwin, Andre Royo. Nine survivors of a nuclear holocaust as World War III rages gather at a farmhouse in rural Texas to await their fate. Radiation sickness, hunger, desperate refugees and their own bickering threaten to do them all in.

See the trailer here.

For more on the movie this is the website.

Release formats: Standard

Genre: Thriller

Rating: NR

Le Chef

(Cohen Media Group) Jean Reno, Michael Youn, Raphaelle Agogue, Julien Boisselier. A great French chef who has become a brand name in France has found inspiration lacking as of late. The capital partner who essentially owns his restaurants is threatening to install a new chef in his own restaurant. Salvation may come in the form of a mule-headed, opinionated young chef who is brilliant and creative but impossible to get along with. A favorite at this year’s Florida Film Festival, you can read my review of the movie here.

See the trailer here.

For more on the movie this is the website.

Release formats: Standard

Genre: Comedy

Rating: PG-13 (for brief strong language)

Planes: Fire and Rescue

(Disney) Starring the voices of Dane Cook, Julie Bowen, Ed Harris, Hal Holbrook. After a damaged engine puts Dusty Crophopper’s racing career in jeopardy, he decides to put his talents to good use. He joins the aerial firefighting unit guarding historic Piston Peak National Park. However, he soon finds that it isn’t all that he imagined it would be.

See the trailer, interviews, clips and B-roll video here.

For more on the movie this is the website.

Release formats: Standard, 3D (opens Thursday)

Genre: Animated Feature

Rating: PG (for action and some peril)

Sex Tape

(Columbia) Cameron Diaz, Jason Segel, Rob Corddry, Rob Lowe. A couple whose marriage has been in the doldrums for some time decide to liven things up by making a sex tape. It works and they find their relationship clicking on all cylinders for the first time in years. However, the video – which was supposed to have been erased – ends up on their cloud which is connected to a bunch of devices they’ve given out as presents. Getting those devices back will be the easy part – keeping their sanity and their marriage together will be harder.

See the trailer, interviews, clips, premiere footage and B-roll video here.

For more on the movie this is the website.

Release formats: Standard (opens Thursday)

Genre: Comedy

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

Wish I Was Here

(Focus) Zach Braff, Kate Hudson, Mandy Patinkin, Josh Gad. A 30-something husband and father comes to a point in his life where he realizes that he needs to get serious about his responsibilities and grow up but that’s not an easy proposition in his family.

See the trailer, interviews, a featurette, a clip and B-roll video here.

For more on the movie this is the website.

Release formats: Standard

Genre: Dramedy

Rating: R (for language and some sexual content)

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Promised Land


Matt Damon reflects on the changing landscape

Matt Damon reflects on the changing landscape

(2012) Drama (Focus) Matt Damon, John Krasinski, Frances McDormand, Rosemarie DeWitt, Hal Holbrook, Titus Welliver, Scoot McNairy, Lucas Black, Tim Guinee, Terry Kinney, Sara Lindsey, Ken Strunk, Gerri Bumbaugh, Frank Conforti, Joanne Jeffers. Directed by Gus Van Sant

Rural America is often depicted as an idyllic place. Small towns where everyone not only knows one another but cares for one another as well. A place populated by hard-working folk who have farms that go back generations in the same family, a place untroubled by the bustle and stress of city life.

But that life is largely dying. Family farms are becoming an endangered species as agribusiness crowds them out of the marketplace. Many family farms require subsidies to get by. People in desperate situations are often vulnerable to any suggestion that might well save them from financial catastrophe.

Steve Butler (Damon) works for Global, a natural gas company, and he’s very good at what he does. What he does is go into small towns where Global wants to drill and secures contract granting drilling rights to their land. He and his partner Sue Thomasson (McDormand) are successful more than their peers by triple digits in terms of percentages. He is up for an executive position and the company has sent him to a small Pennsylvania town which Global wants to be the beachhead for their penetration into the Keystone State.

Normally, Steve is in and out of a town like this in a matter of days. He grew up on a family farm in Eldridge, Iowa and speaks the language of these people. He knows what buttons to push. But there is a science teacher, a retired engineer by the name of Frank Yates (Holbrook) who raises some questions at the town hall meeting about the natural gas drilling. He brings up fracking, the technique of breaking up shale and releasing the gas by creating cracks in the rock with huge drills and by forcing water, sand and chemicals into the shale to speed up the process. He’s read some pretty disturbing stuff on the internet and Steve, who had tied one on the night before, wasn’t in any shape to deliver answers.

To make matters worse, an idealistic environmentalist named Dustin Noble (Krasinski) blows into town to ally himself with Frank. He disseminates all sorts of information on the effects of the chemicals seeping up into the groundwater, with graphic photos of dead cows, brown land, dreams of five generations of farmers withered up and dead in a matter of months.

Things turn into a war of wills between Dustin and Steve. Dustin seems to have the upper hand – including with a teacher named Alice (DeWitt) who Steve has become sweet on. But for the battle of the hearts and minds of the town, Steve and Sue are losing the battle until a turning point comes. However, that moment of victory turns to ashes when Steve comes to a terrible realization that turns his viewpoint on what he has worked so hard to accomplish on its ear.

There are some political ramifications to the film and we might as well get those out of the way first. Detractors have proclaimed this a hatchet job on the natural gas industry, using fear tactics to unfairly portray fracking as being far more dangerous than it is, and using sensationalism and exaggerated cases to make its point. They also point to the participation of ImageNation as a producer. ImageNation is a production company based in Abu Dhabi, part of the United Arab Emirates which is of course an oil-producing region who would have a vested interest in creating a hatchet job on the production of U.S.-based natural gas.

There’s no doubt that the filmmakers have taken a stance of being against fracking and have used twisted the facts somewhat. While it is true that fracking has been connected with groundwater pollution and the release of methane gas into the atmosphere, it must be said that the kind of destruction depicted by the Dustin Noble character has yet to be determined to be a product of fracking exclusively (ordinary drilling for ground water well can also lead to methane gas release) and while I think it’s safe to say that there is some room for discussion as to the long-term effects of fracking on the environment and human health, it certainly isn’t the problem it is made out to be here, at least not in a way that could be proven in a court of law – at least not yet.

So keep in mind that this is a work of fiction, not a documentary and as such there are some things to recommend it. Damon is so darn likable that you end up rooting for him even though you know the company he works for are a bunch of jerks. He believes in his company with almost child-like faith; they wouldn’t lie to him and they certainly wouldn’t do anything immoral or wrong.

Damon has a strong supporting cast behind him. McDormand plays Sue with laconic strength and a sense of big sisterness that creates an appealing chemistry between the two. Sue does most of her parenting via Skype and being a city girl, has less connection to the people she’s dealing with than Steve does which makes it easier for her to separate herself. Krasinski gets Dustin’s character down note-perfect while Holbrook could do the sage/oracle role in his sleep but nonetheless does it here like a pro. Welliver does some of the best work of the veteran character actor’s  career as the proprietor of a general store who becomes sweet on Sue.

Van Sant enlists cinematographer Linus Sandgren to deliver some really pretty shots of the rural countryside. There’s often a misty quality adding to the allure. It’s all calculated to deliver to audiences the most nostalgic of visuals. In a sense, it becomes a special effect.

I will say that in an effort to show how dastardly and ruthless that corporate America will go the filmmakers go to absurd lengths. I think keeping things in the realm of reality would have been far more effective. Big corporations have been guilty of plenty of abuses to make them look villainous without having them resort to what they do here.

This is a decent enough movie as long as you go in realizing that they adhere to a specific point of view. Liberals may well embrace the doctrine here while conservatives may decry it. I’m on the fence about fracking; I certainly think there’s enough evidence warranting further study into the practice and maybe looking into ways to making it more safe. While I realize that in most instances fracking has caused zero environmental damage, there have been instances where it has not.

This is one of those movies where your political leanings may well determine how much you appreciate the movie. In all honesty the movie isn’t really stirring – at least not in the way that a great film is – nor is it so well-made that you can overlook the manipulative nature of the script. However the performances are such that you’ll forgive a lot of sins assuming you can get past your views on the environment.

REASONS TO GO: Bucolic cinematography. Damon plays his natural likability to a “T.” Welliver, McDormand, DeWitt, Holbrook and Krasinski deliver solid performances.

REASONS TO STAY: Stretches believability. Takes a controversial subject and turns it banal.

FAMILY VALUES:  There was enough foul language to net this an R rating.

TRIVIAL PURSUIT: Damon was originally slated to direct the movie but had to pull out because of time constraints and creative differences. He did remain aboard as an actor.

CRITICAL MASS: As of 1/14/13: Rotten Tomatoes: 50% positive reviews. Metacritic: 55/100. The reviews are pretty darn mixed.

COMPARISON SHOPPING: Up in the Air

MINIATURE HORSE LOVERS: Hal Holbrook’s Frank Yates character raises them and they make several appearance, often puzzling Steve and Sue as they see them in the field.

FINAL RATING: 6/10

NEXT: The Perfect Game

New Releases for the Week of January 4, 2013


Texas Chainsaw 3D

TEXAS CHAINSAW 3D

(Lionsgate) Alexandra Daddario, Dan Yeager, Tremaine “Trey Songz” Neverson, Scott Eastwood, Tania Raymonde, Thom Barry, Paul Rae, Bill Moseley, Gunnar Hansen, Richard Riehle, Marilyn Burns. Directed by John Luessenhop

A young woman discovers she has inherited a crumbling old estate in Texas from a grandmother she never knew she was related to. She takes her friends along to help her discover these hidden roots and revel in her newfound wealth, only to discover that the lavish Victorian mansion hides a secret connected to murders 30 years past.

See the trailer and a clip here.

For more on the movie this is the website.

Release formats: Standard, 3D

Genre: Horror

Rating: R (for strong grisly violence and language throughout)

The Impossible

(Summit) Naomi Watts, Ewen McGregor, Tom Holland, Samuel Joslin. A family vacationing in Thailand during the Christmas holidays in 2004 are separated by the tsunami that ravages their coastal resort. In the chaos that follows, they will experience the very highs and lows of human compassion and courage as they desperately try to find one another in a landscape they don’t recognize where they don’t speak the language.

See the trailer, clips and a featurette here.

For more on the movie this is the website.

Release formats: Standard

Genre: True Life Drama

Rating: PG-13 (for intense realistic disaster sequences including disturbing injury sequences and brief nudity)

Not Fade Away

(Paramount Vantage) James Gandolfini, Brad Garrett, Christopher McDonald, Bella Heathcote. A trio of young friends from Jersey in the mid-60s see the Rolling Stones on the Ed Sullivan Show and are inspired to form a band of their own.

See the trailer and a clip here.

For more on the movie this is the website.

Release formats: Standard

Genre: Musical

Rating: R (for pervasive language, some drug use and sexual content)

Promised Land

(Focus) Matt Damon, John Krasinski, Frances McDormand, Hal Holbrook. When a couple of representatives from a natural gas company approach the residents of a small town hit by hard economic times for drilling rights, they encounter unexpected resistance. Eventually they begin to get doubts about what they have considered to be good and wonder if they haven’t been doing what’s right.

See the trailer and a featurette here.

For more on the movie this is the website.

Release formats: Standard

Genre: Drama

Rating: R (for language)

Lincoln


Lincoln

The pressures of being President encapsulated.

(2012) Biographical Drama (DreamWorks) Daniel Day-Lewis, Sally Field, Tommy Lee Jones, David Strathairn, Joseph Gordon-Levitt, James Spader, Hal Holbrook, John Hawkes, Jackie Earle Haley, Bruce McGill, Tim Blake Nelson, Jared Harris, Lee Pace, Peter McRobbie, Gloria Reuben. Directed by Steven Spielberg

 

Abraham Lincoln, our 16th president, author of the Gettysburg Address and for all intents and purposes, Savior of a Nation, is revered beyond any President this nation has ever known. He is considered by many to be the greatest President in the history of our nation; his face is one of four that adorns Mt. Rushmore and along with Washington is a literal icon of American history.

But with all the praise heaped upon him, the hero worship accorded him, the legendary status given him, we sometimes forget – in fact more than sometimes – that he was a man. In this latest film from Steven Spielberg nearly a dozen years in the making, we are presented with not only President Lincoln but with Abraham Lincoln – father, husband, raconteur, wily politician, lawyer and human being.

We pick up the story as Lincoln (Day-Lewis) is trying to get the13th Amendment passed. This constitutional amendment would ban slavery. The war is in its waning days and he is concerned that his Emancipation Proclamation wouldn’t stand legal challenge which would surely come with the South rejoining the union which is what is expected will happen. He is concerned that will put the country back into the same position twenty years hence and a second civil war would surely destroy the Union utterly forever.

His Secretary of State William Seward (Strathairn) is in agreement and knows that once the South sues for peace which could happen at any time, the Amendment will never pass the fractious House of Representatives (the Amendment had already passed the Senate) and is 20 votes shy of the two thirds majority that is required. The time to get those votes is now; the House is in a lame duck situation with plenty of Democrats being shown the door in recent elections; not having to worry about re-election they could vote their conscience or on a baser level, these men would soon be needing jobs and could be persuaded to see reason with the right offer.

To that end Seward has employed William Bilbo (Spader), a lobbyist from New York whose chicanery is legendary. In the meantime, Lincoln is preparing for his inauguration and welcoming his son Robert (Gordon-Levitt) home from college. Robert is keen on joining the military and doing his duty to his country which Lincoln’s wife Mary (Field) is utterly against; she has already lost one son (in childhood to typhus) and will not lose another. Losing the first one drove her to the point of madness.

Opposing the bill are crafty politician George Pendleton (McRobbie) and firebrand orator Fernando Wood (Pace) from the Democratic side. Thaddeus Stevens (Jones) of Pennsylvania supports it, and is the target of the Democrats who wish the bill to fail. In the meantime, Francis Preston Blair (Holbrook) who founded the Republican party and whose influence can insure all the Republican representatives toe the line, is eager to go down to Richmond and negotiate a peace. Lincoln gives him permission to do so in return for his support.

Blair is in fact successful, getting the Confederacy to send a trio of peace negotiators led by Confederate Vice-President Alexander Stephens (Haley) but Lincoln orders them kept out of Washington in order to allow the Amendment to pass which it would not if the Congressmen knew that peace negotiations were underway. The clock is ticking and nothing less than the future of the Union is at stake. What will Lincoln do to ensure that future is slavery free?

As it turns out, a whole lot. I have to admit that I was impressed with Lincoln’s political acumen which I didn’t know much about. He was often underestimated by his contemporaries who thought him an uneducated rube from the sticks but in fact even if he was self-educated he was shrewd and had the foresight to understand that a slave economy was a limited economy and that the U.S. would never be able to grow as a nation with one in place. Of course, he also recognized the immorality of it.

But what the movie achieves which to me is even greater is that it brings Lincoln into focus as a man. Not only does Spielberg accomplish this by creating an authentic atmosphere for the tale to be told within, but to allow Day-Lewis – one of the greatest actors of our time – to inhabit the role. I was surprised at the high-pitched voice Day-Lewis uses for Lincoln but contemporary accounts confirm that the Great Emanciptor’s voice was in fact not the sonorous baritone we have come to associate with it. It was more of a tenor.

You get the compassion of the man, but also the frustrations he suffered as both a man – the loss of his son was a blow he never really recovered from – and as a politician. He felt every one of the hundreds of thousands of deaths that occurred during the war keenly and bore their weight on his shoulders. Lincoln has been characterized as an awkward gangly man and Day-Lewis gets the posture exactly. The performance is so massive, so overpowering that you can’t help but feel that this is going to be accorded an Oscar nomination as Denzel Washington’s performance in Flight will be as well. Both performances could easily win it, with the slight nod going to Day-Lewis.

Field also gives a performance that will be given consideration come Oscar time. Mary Todd Lincoln is often characterized as someone whose sanity was on the brink (she would eventually be committed to the sanitarium years after her husband’s assassination) but here she is strong and determined, giving Thaddeus Stevens an earful at a White House function. She is a First Lady without a doubt, one who not only saved the White House from dilapidation but defended her husband like  lioness.

There are some great supporting performances here as well, including Jones, Strathairn, Gordon-Levitt and Holbrook at the fore. While I learned a great deal about Lincoln the man, Lincoln the film never fails to be entertaining. It is a bit long and in places long-winded but you wind up feeling like you know the 16th President a little bit better and admiring him a little bit more. This country could use another President like him and sadly, it will be a long time if ever that we get one.

REASONS TO GO: Humanizes an icon. Another Oscar-caliber performance by Day-Lewis (and Field as well). Informative and entertaining.

REASONS TO STAY: You know how the story ends.

FAMILY VALUES:  There are images of the carnage of war and the brutality of slavery. There’s also some brief strong language.

TRIVIAL PURSUIT: Spielberg spent twelve years (off and on) researching the movie. He recreated Lincoln’s executive mansion office precisely down to the wallpaper and books. The ticking of the pocket watch is Lincoln’s actual watch taken from the Lincoln Historical society – it was the watch he had with him the night of his assassination.

CRITICAL MASS: As of 11/27/12: Rotten Tomatoes: 91% positive reviews. Metacritic: 86/100. The reviews are extremely positive.

COMPARISON SHOPPING: 12 Days

CIVIL WAR LOVERS: .A nice re-creation of the bombardment of Wilmington and the battle thereafter. Also a look at the waning days of the war which are rarely captured in Hollywood.

FINAL RATING: 9.5/10

NEXT: The Fifth Quarter

New Releases for the Week of November 16, 2012


THE TWILIGHT SAGA: BREAKING DAWN PART 2

(Summit) Kristen Stewart, Robert Pattinson, Taylor Lautner, Peter Facinelli, Ashley Greene, Kellan Lutz, Jackson Rathbone, Elizabeth Reaser, Maggie Grace, Dakota Fanning.  Directed by Bill Condon

This is it – the final battle between the Cullens and the Morituri with Edward, Bella and their daughter caught squarely in the crosshairs. Who will survive? Well, many of those who will be going to see this right away will know from having read the books but that’s of course only if the filmmakers stick to the script. This one brings the series to a close, although considering the billions of dollars it has generated to this point I wouldn’t be surprised to see further trips back to this world.

See the trailer, featurettes, interviews and promos here.

For more on the movie this is the website.

Release formats: Standard

Genre: Romantic Fantasy

Rating: PG-13 (for sequences of violence including disturbing images, some sensuality and partial nudity)

Jab Tak Hai Jaan

(Yash Raj) Shah Rukh Khan, Katrina Kaif, Anushka Sharma, Rishi Kapoor. A veteran of the army, living in London, chooses to lead a double life. It all comes crashing down around him however when he is forced to choose between his wife and his muse.

See the trailer here.

For more on the movie this is the website.

Release formats: Standard

Genre: Bollywood

Rating: NR

Lincoln

(DreamWorks) Daniel Day-Lewis, Tommy Lee Jones, Sally Field, Hal Holbrook. The 16th President of the United States must cope with a bloody civil war, the prejudices of his political opponents and his own conscience in order to see America through. That he did so marks him as perhaps the greatest president our country has ever had and a hero for the ages.

See the trailer, clips and a promo here.

For more on the movie this is the website.

Release formats: Standard

Genre: Biographical Drama

Rating: PG-13 (for an intense scene of war violence, some images of carnage and brief strong language)

The Sessions

(Fox Searchlight) John Hawkes, Helen Hunt, William H. Macy, Moon Bloodgood. A polio victim confined to an iron lung determines to lose his virginity at age 38. With the help of his therapists and a somewhat unorthodox priest, he sets out to make his dream come true. Based on a true story.

See the trailer here.

For more on the movie this is the website.

Release formats: Standard

Genre: Dramedy

Rating: R (for strong sexuality including graphic nudity and frank dialogue)

Smashed

(Sony Classics) Aaron Paul, Mary Elizabeth Winstead, Nick Offerman, Octavia Spencer. A couple who love to party begin to find that the alcohol, drugs and sex are beginning to impact their careers and their lives. When the wife begins to spiral out of control, her very relationship with her husband comes into question as to whether or not he is a good thing for her.

See the trailer and clips here.

For more on the movie this is the website.

Release formats: Standard

Genre: Drama

Rating: R (for alcohol abuse, language, some sexual content and brief drug use)

Son of Sardaar

(Viacom18) Ajay Devgn, Sanjay Dutt, Sonakshi Sinha, Juhi Chawla. A man who returns home to the village where he grew up becomes a pawn in a long-standing family feud.

See the trailer here.

For more on the movie this is the website.

Release formats: Standard

Genre: Bollywood

Rating: NR

That Evening Sun


That Evening Sun

Despite first impressions this is NOT an outtake from Lolita

(2009) Drama (Freestyle) Hal Holbrook, Ray McKinnon, Walton Goggins, Mia Wasikowska, Carrie Preston, Barry Corbin, Dixie Carter, Barlow Jacobs, Anthony Reynolds, Brian Keith, Bruce McKinnon, William J. Mode, Jacob Parkhurst. Directed by Scott Teems

There isn’t always a reason why we hate other people. Developing a strong dislike might come out of having been wronged, or perceiving that we’ve been wronged. Sometimes it’s just instinctive, bad chemistry if you will. Other times, it’s because we see the worst aspects of ourselves, the ones we don’t like to face, in that other person.

Abner  Meecham (Holbrook) is a crusty 80-something old cuss who decides to check himself out of the retirement home his feckless lawyer son Paul (Goggins) has placed him in and sets off back home to his farm in rural Tennessee.

Except it isn’t his anymore. His son has rented out the farmhouse to the Choat family, whose patriarch Lonzo (R, McKinnon) is not exactly on Abner’s Christmas list. In fact, the two men have an apparent history of intense dislike. Abner isn’t about to go crawling back to the home on hands and knees and decides to occupy an old tenant farmer shack on the property.

The other Choats, long-suffering wife Ludie (Preston) and friendly daughter Pamela (Wasikowska) are welcoming but Lonzo and Abner are pretty much like oil and gasoline. When Pamela mentions that Lonzo hates barking dogs, Abner persuades neighbor and friend Thurl Chessor (Corbin) to part with his loudest and most howl-prone dog that he owns. Abner takes great satisfaction in watching the noise driving Lonzo crazy.

It doesn’t take much to set them off and when Pamela returns from a date with a boy Lonzo doesn’t approve of, he beats her with a garden hose, turning on Ludie when she attempts to defend her daughter. Abner stops the abuse by shooting his pistol off. He calls the police on Lonzo and Ludie is furious that she has to bail her husband out of jail when they clearly not afford it.

When Lonzo returns home, things take a turn for the ugly. Stubborn old man takes on stubborn young man and the stakes grow progressively higher. Where will this escalating feud end?

Some will be reminded of the works of William Faulkner and Tennessee Williams. Certainly there are elements of Southern gothic here, although writer/director Teems doesn’t have the flair for dialogue that either of those great Southern writers possessed – of course, very few writers do.

The name of Hal Holbrook might not mean much to younger readers (although he did garner an Oscar nomination a few years back for Into the Wild) but older readers will know him for being one of America’s most authentic actors over the past 50 years. Now well over 80 himself, this is a role he is well-suited for. It isn’t his best performance ever (he is best known for his stage work in one-man shows about Mark Twain and Abraham Lincoln) but it’s right up there.

Like many plays and stories set in the Deep South, there is a certain languor that comes from the sound of cicadas and hot breezes that permeates the film. That pace might be intolerable for those used to having their film action served up at warp speed. Things unfold here rather than occur; the feeling winds up being more organic than forced, but it takes a bit of patience to get from start to finish.

Sometimes I’m in a mood to let a story just wash over me, and this one certainly does the trick. Having the great Hal Holbrook in the cast is a gigantic plus and although most of the rest of the cast (including the very talented Mia Wasikowska in a Lolita-esque role) doesn’t stand up to Holbrook’s performance, nobody disgraces themselves either. I would have preferred to see a bit more on the backstory of Lonzo and a bit more of Abner’s relationship with his wife (Carter) but even so there is plenty here to interest even the casual moviegoer.

WHY RENT THIS: Holbrook is one of America’s greatest actors and any chance to see him is worth taking.  Fans of William Faulkner and Tennessee Williams might get a kick out of this.

WHY RENT SOMETHING ELSE: Slow moving and a bit on the Southern gothic side.

FAMILY VALUES: There is a bit of bad language, a little bit of sexuality, a little bit of violence and some mature thematic elements.

TRIVIAL PURSUIT: This was Dixie Carter’s final film appearance. Ironically she plays Holbrook’s deceased wife here; in real life, she was married to Holbrook.

NOTABLE DVD EXTRAS: None listed.

BOX OFFICE PERFORMANCE: $281,350 on an unreported production budget; my guess is that the movie lost money.

FINAL RATING: 6/10

TOMORROW: Killer Elite

Water for Elephants


Water for Elephants

Pattinson and Witherspoon may come with their own baggage but the elephant brings her own trunk.

(2010) Drama (20th Century Fox) Reese Witherspoon, Robert Pattinson, Christoph Waltz, Hal Holbrook, Paul Schneider, Jim Norton, Ken Foree, Mark Povinelli, Richard Brake, Scott McDonald, James Frain, John Aylward, Sam Anderson. Directed by Francis Lawrence

Be careful what you wish for, or so the old saying goes. Sometimes the things we wish for are the things we can’t have…or perhaps shouldn’t have.

A confused old man (Holbrook) is late coming to the Circus on a rainy night. He is escorted to the office by a sympathetic manager (Schneider) who is amazed to discover that the man worked at the Benzini Brothers Circus in 1931, when one of the worst disasters in circus history occurred. The old man agrees to set a spell and spin the story.

Jacob Jankowski (Pattinson) is studying veterinary medicine at Cornell, about to take his final exams. He is called out of his exam to receive some terrible news; both his parents are dead. To make matters worse, his father had gone deeply in debt to pay for his education; in a split second Jacob has lost everything.

He decides to walk to Albany to seek work but soon tires of walking. When he sees a train coming, he decides to hitch a ride. It turns out to be a circus train and a kindly roustabout named Camel (Norton) takes Jacob under his wing and finds him work. When the head animal trainer and ringmaster, August (Waltz) discovers Jacob’s veterinary experience, he brings him aboard as the circus veterinarian.

His particular charge is Rosie, a 54 year old elephant who is meant to be the star attraction. Jacob also casts his eye towards the beautiful trainer Marlena (Witherspoon) who happens to be married to August. Moreover, August turns out to be a somewhat sadistic and ruthless man who can be charming one moment, psychotic the next, often taking out his rages on the elephant and upon occasion upon Jacob.

Eventually it becomes apparent that Marlena has fallen for the callow young veterinarian and August’s rage defies all bounds. Jacob must find a way to get Marlena away from the clutches of her cruel husband if they are to find happiness – but what he doesn’t know is that the Circus and the people in it are headed for a date with tragedy.

The movie is based on the award-winning novel by Sara Gruen. Director Lawrence (who’s done I Am Legend and Constantine as well as a buttload of music videos) does a real nice job of creating the era and making it look lived-in. This is a terrific looking film, from the gorgeous outdoor shots of the train traveling in moonlit skies, to the seedy looking hotel rooms and flophouses of the towns.

Christoph Waltz made his bones as the villain in Inglourious Basterds and hasn’t looked back since. He is able to project charm and evil in equal amounts, making you at turns sympathetic and repulsed. He won an Oscar as the deranged Nazi in Tarantino’s film and he is nearly as good here, although sadly I somehow doubt he’ll get much Academy consideration.

Witherspoon has also won an Oscar (for Walk the Line) and she does good work here, playing a woman who is a star in her own limited firmament but knows that if she goes elsewhere her star won’t shine quite as brightly. She is in an abusive relationship, walking on eggshells all the time but lacks the self-confidence to believe she deserves better. It’s a marvelous role for Witherspoon and she hasn’t gotten nearly enough kudos for it.

Of the leads Pattinson fares the worst but in a very real way he isn’t in the league of Waltz and Witherspoon just yet. He plays his character as a little bit distant and unreadable. It’s hard to really get behind someone you don’t really relate to, and in many ways Pattinson is so distant that he becomes unrelatable. Doubtlessly legions of his fans from the Twilight series will disagree, but keep in mind he’s very new to the business and as he gets more experience he will be more expressive but here the chemistry with Witherspoon suffers because of it.

There are a few minor blips here and there. The climactic tragedy is a little bit disappointing; it hangs over the movie like the Sword of Damocles and when it finally arrives you hardly realize it’s there. Still, this is a quite good movie, one that at least met my expectations which were reasonably high. It won’t make me want to run right out and join the circus, but it did give me a greater appreciation for elephants.

REASONS TO GO: Waltz is terrific as is Witherspoon. Fascinating story and a nice look at circus life in the Depression.

REASONS TO STAY: Lots of cruelty to animals and humans alike.

FAMILY VALUES: There are some moments of extreme violence as well as some sexual content.

TRIVIAL PURSUIT: Sean Penn was originally cast in the part of August but dropped out to be replaced by Waltz.

HOME OR THEATER: Some of the scenes look very nice on the big screen but for the most part this is well-suited for the home.

FINAL RATING: 7.5/10

TOMORROW: Super