New Releases for the Week of August 16, 2019


THE ANGRY BIRDS MOVIE 2

(Columbia) Starring the voices of Jason Sudeikis, Josh Gad, Leslie Jones, Bill Hader, Rachel Bloom, Awkwafina, Eugenio Derbez, Tiffany Haddish. Directed by Thurop von Orman and John Rice

The Angry Birds and their formal rivals, the Green Piggies, must set aside their differences and work together when a new threat imperils both of their island homes.

See the trailer, video featurettes and an interview here
For more on the movie this is the website
Genre: Animated Feature
Now Playing: Wide Release
Rating: PG (for rude humor and action)

47 Meters Down: Uncaged

(Entertainment Studios) Sistine Rose Stallone, Corinne Fox, Brianne Tju, Sophie Nėlisse. A quartet of teenage girls are trapped in an underwater ruin of an ancient Mayan city. Their dwindling air supply is the least of their worries however; the city has become a hunting ground for Great White Sharks.

See the trailer and video featurettes here
For more on the movie this is the website  
Genre: Adventure
Now Playing: Wide Release
Rating: PG-13 (for creature-related violence and terror, some bloody images and brief rude gestures)

Blinded by the Light

(New Line) Viveik Kalra, Hayley Atwell, Rob Brydon, Nell Williams. A young immigrant to London in 1987 is torn between two worlds; the traditions and expectations of his strict Pakistani father and the exciting world of his adopted country in the midst of a music revolution. When he discovers the music of Bruce Springsteen, he finds a kindred soul who gives him hopes to find his own way through the darkness on the edge of town

See the trailer, clips and a video featurette here
For more on the movie this is the website  
Genre: Dramedy
Now Playing: Wide Release
Rating: PG-13 (for thematic content and language including some ethnic slurs)

David Crosby: Remember My Name

(Sony Classics) David Crosby, Cameron Crowe, Henry Diltz, Graham Nash. One of rock’s most influential voices from the Byrds to CSNY is battling age and poor health as he struggles to face the ups and downs of his past.

See the trailer and a clip here
For more on the movie this is the website  
Genre: Music Documentary
Now Playing: Regal Winter Park Village
Rating: R (for language, drug material and brief nudity)

Good Boys

(Universal) Jacob Tremblay, Will Forte, Lil Rel Howley, Keith L. Williams. A 12-year-old is invited to his first middle school party where there is sure to be kissing. Not knowing how to properly kiss a girl, he enlists his friends and his dad’s drone – which he is forbidden to touch – to see if he can figure out the right way to kiss a girl. Things go from bad to worse from there.

See the trailer and video featurettes here
For more on the movie this is the website  
Genre: Comedy
Now Playing: Wide Release
Rating: R (for strong crude sexual content, drug and alcohol material, and language throughout – all involving teens)

Honeyland

(NEON) Haditze Muratova, Nazife Muratova, Hussein Sam, Ljutvie Sam. The delicate natural balance of a remote village of the last female beekeeper in Europe is threatened by the arrival of itinerant beekeepers.

See the trailer here
For more on the movie this is the website  
Genre: Documentary
Now Playing: Regal Winter Park Village
Rating: NR

Mission Mangal

(FIP) Akshay Kumar, Vidya Balan, Taapsee Pannu, Sonakshi Sinha. The Indian Space Agency must overcome a spectacular history of failure and severe budgetary limitations to launch a cost-effective probe to the surface of Mars.

See the trailer and a video featurette here
For more on the movie this is the website  
Genre: True Life Drama
Now Playing: AMC West Oaks, Cinemark Artegon Marketplace
Rating: NR

Where’d You Go Bernadette?

(Annapurna/MGM) Cate Blanchett, Billy Crudup, Kristen Wiig, Judy Greer. A suburban supermom decides that she must reconnect with her own artistic impulses, taking her on a journey slash adventure that will jump start her life and lead her to an epic rediscovery of herself.

See the trailer, video featurettes and an interview here
For more on the movie this is the website  
Genre: Dramedy
Now Playing: Wide Release
Rating: PG-13 (for some strong language and drug material)

ALSO OPENING IN ORLANDO/DAYTONA:

Alien Invasion
Already Gone
Evaru
Jimi Hendrix: Electric Church
Light of My Life
Ode to Joy
Toni Morrison: The Pieces I Am

ALSO OPENING IN MIAMI/FT. LAUDERDALE:

After the Wedding</em
Already Gone
Awake
Batla House
Evaru
Good Time
Piranhas
Ranarangam
This Changes Everything

ALSO OPENING IN TAMPA/ST. PETERSBURG/SARASOTA:

Awake
Batla House
Comali
Evaru
Gwen
Mike Wallace is Here
Ranarangam
The Souvenir

ALSO OPENING IN JACKSONVILLE/ST. AUGUSTINE:

Batla House
Evaru
Ranarangam

SCHEDULED FOR REVIEW:

47 Meters Down: Uncaged
The Angry Birds Movie 2
Blinded By the Light
David Crosby: Remember My Name
Honeyland
Ode to Joy
Where’d You Go, Bernadette?

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New Releases for the Week of August 3, 2018


CHRISTOPHER ROBIN  

(Disney) Ewan McGregor, Hayley Atwell, Mark Gatiss, Jim Cummings (voice), Brad Garrett (voice), Peter Capaldi (voice), Sophie Okonedo (voice), Toby Jones (voice), Bronte Carmichael. Directed by Marc Forster

An adult Christopher Robin struggles to balance his career and his family having left his childhood imagination behind. When his family leaves for a weekend holiday without him when work requires him to stay, he encounters his childhood friend Winnie the Pooh who helps him reclaim the joy in life.

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

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

Rating: PG (for some action)

The Darkest Minds

(20th Century Fox) Bradley Whitford, Mandy Moore, Amandla Stenberg, Gwendoline Christie. In a dystopian future, young people begin to develop amazing powers before they turn eighteen. Adults, fearing their own children, seek to lock them in camps and keep them prisoner. A resistance group aims to allow teens to take charge of their own lives. In other words, every parent’s nightmare.

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

Release Formats: Standard
Genre: Science Fiction
Now Playing: Wide Release

Rating: PG-13 (for violence including disturbing images, and thematic elements)

Eighth Grade

(A24) Elsie Fischer, Josh Hamilton, Emily Robinson, Jake Ryan. The eighth grade is something of a transition between childhood and teenage years. An introverted young girl has felt every humiliation possible in her disastrous grade eight year. All she can do is hope to survive her last week of school before starting fresh in high school.

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

Release Formats: Standard
Genre: Drama
Now Playing: AMC Altamonte Mall, AMC Disney Springs, AMC Universal Cineplex, Cinemark Artegon Marketplace, Regal Pointe Orlando, Regal The Loop, Regal Waterford Lakes, Rialto Spanish Springs Square

Rating: R (for language and some sexual material)

Generation Wealth

(Amazon) Limo Bob, Florian Homm, Tiffany Masters, Jaqueline Siegel. The super-wealthy of the United States is the wealthiest and most privileged class to ever exist in the world. This documentary investigates the pathologies that created that class.

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: R (for strong sexual content, nudity, disturbing images, and drug material)

The Spy Who Dumped Me

(Lionsgate) Mila Kunis, Kate McKinnon, Justin Theroux, Gillian Anderson. After Audrey is dumped by her boyfriend, she finds support and solace in her best friend Morgan. However, it turns out that Audrey’s ex is a spy and the two women are drawn into his shadowy world with absolutely no skills and no experience. Apparently Melissa McCarthy was unavailable for this one.

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

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

Rating: R (for violence, language throughout, some crude sexual material and graphic nudity)

ALSO OPENING IN ORLANDO/DAYTONA:

Boundaries
Chi La Sow
Death of a Nation
Goodachari
Karwaan
Kusina Kings

ALSO OPENING IN MIAMI/FT. LAUDERDALE:

1945
Chi La Sow
Death of a Nation
Fanney Khan
Goodachari
Karwaan
Restless Creature: Wendy Whelan

ALSO OPENING IN TAMPA/ST. PETERSBURG:

Chi La Sow
Death of a Nation
Fanney Khan
Goodachari
Karwaan
Mulk
Urban Country

ALSO OPENING IN JACKSONVILLE/ST. AUGUSTINE:

Chi La Sow
Death of a Nation
Fanney Khan
Goodachari
Kusina Kings
Mulk

SCHEDULED FOR REVIEW:

Christopher Robin
The Darkest Minds
Eighth Grade
Restless Creature: Wendy Whelan
The Spy Who Dumped Me

Ant-Man


Ant-Man on the wrong side of the tracks.

Ant-Man on the wrong side of the tracks.

(2015) Superhero (Disney/Marvel) Paul Rudd, Michael Douglas, Evangeline Lilly, Corey Stoll, Michael Pena, Anthony Mackie, Judy Greer, Bobby Cannavale, Abby Ryder Fortson, David Dastmaichian, T.I, Hayley Atwell, Wood Harris, John Slattery, Martin Donovan, Garrett Morris, Gregg Turkington, Rod Hallett, Joe Chrest, Hayley Lovitt. Directed by Peyton Reed

Good things come in small packages. It’s a truism that was likely created by short people. Still, it can be true even for superheroes.

Scott Lang (Rudd) is not a thief. He’s a burglar. But not your ordinary burglar. He’s a man with a Masters in Electrical Engineering and plenty of skills with a computer. He saw that a software company had been ripping off its customers, so he decided just to return the funds they had been overcharging to their customers. Kind of a modern day Robin Hood.

But even though his good buddy Luis (Pena) puts him up, Scott is finding it hard to make it in the outside world. Even a job at Baskin-Robbins doesn’t pan out when they find out he’s an ex-con. Baskin-Robbins always finds out. Anyway, his ex-wife (Greer) doesn’t want him anywhere near their cute daughter Cassie (Fortson) and her new husband Paxton (Cannavale), a cop, is going to make sure he stays away.

Hank Pym (Douglas) is a brilliant inventor who came up with a particle that compresses molecules, enabling the wearer of the suit he invented to utilize them to shrink to the size of an insect. He left SHIELD after a disagreement with Howard Stark (Slattery) and more to the point, Mitchell Carson (Donovan) led him to resign.

He entered the private sector and took on a protégé named Darren Cross (Stoll). After the death of his wife, Janet van Dyne (Lovitt) led to an estrangement with his daughter Hope (Lilly) to the point where she now uses her mother’s maiden name as her own, he had largely left the company. He only came back in because Cross was on the verge of discovering the secret to his particles – and planned to use a weaponized version of the suit to sell to the highest bidder. He needs someone to steal the suit and erase all the data from the system pertaining to it. But who could pull it off?

Of course it’s Scott Lang. And he and Hope (who, finding out about Cross’ plans has teamed up with her father) have a very short time to train Scott in using the suit properly, to fight effectively in it and use all the properties (like controlling ants) to become a hero in his own right. But will it be enough to beat the villainous Yellowjacket – the alter ego of Cross?

One of the things I have admired most about the Marvel Cinematic Universe is that the movies are not interchangeable. Each of them has their own style and Ant-Man continues that tradition. This is much more light in tone than the previous entries in the Marvel Universe, more like Guardians of the Galaxy than Avengers: Age of Ultron, the latter of which immediately preceded it in the Marvel timeline.

And maybe the MCU needed it; I think that other than the staunchest of Marvel fans were feeling a touch of burn-out after Age of Ultron. For whatever reason the powers-that-be at Disney decided that this would come out a mere two and a half months after the preceding movie which is a poor tactical decision and will likely cost this movie millions of box office dollars. Perhaps they just wanted a longer gap between the movie that ends Marvel’s Phase II (which this one does) and the one that begins Phase III (which Captain America: Civil War will on May 6, 2016). Still, with the Avengers still in a lot of theaters, it doesn’t make sense to release this one. I guess they’re getting ready to ratcheting up the film production to three a year rather than two which Marvel is planning on doing in 2017.

In any case, I suspect that the relatively low box office numbers (which would still be the envy of plenty of summer films) is largely due to the short turnaround. It may also be due to fan dissatisfaction over the change in director (see below) as fan favorite Edgar Wright left (or was forced out as many conspiracy-minded fanboys have opined) and Peyton Reed came aboard. I can’t say that Reed was a crackerjack replacement, but he does tend to keep things very simple in terms of framing shots and blocking action, but he also realizes this is necessarily effects-driven and allows the digital wizards to do their thing and do it they do.

The effects are for the most part well-executed, although the 2001-style sequence near the end of the movie as Scott enters the Microverse is a bit psychedelic, some might even say Dali-esque. The movie works best when they are in the world with ants as big as SUVs and where Thomas the Tank Engine becomes a runaway locomotive.

Rudd has always been a personable actor with a flair for the sarcastic and his winning personality is at full throttle here. He has bulked up his musculature to superheroic proportions and despite the fact that he is playing a convict (albeit a philanthropic one) the audience roots for him from beginning to end. There were those who might have rolled their eyes when he was cast but again, it turns out to be perfect casting as Marvel seems extremely adept at matching their superheroes with the right actors to play them.

I’ve always been a big Michael Douglas fan and for me, he is the best reason to go see this. Hank Pym is undeniably the best character he’s gotten in ages and this is his best performance in years. This is the Michael Douglas we remember from such films as Romancing the Stone, Wall Street and Fatal Attraction. He owns the screen every time he’s on it.

In the supporting realm, Evangeline Lilly is somewhat enigmatic in her pageboy haircut that reminded me of silent movie star Louise Brooks; ever since her breakout performance in Lost she hasn’t really gotten a part that takes advantage of her skills until now. Hopefully she’ll get plenty of good parts off of her performance here. Also Pena shows remarkable comic ability here; he has tended to play second banana roles for the most part – lots of cops on his filmography – but he steals the show here.

The light-hearted tone may be disappointing to fans who prefer their superheroes dark and undoubtedly we’ll get plenty of that in the next several Marvel films starting with Fantastic Four next month. Still, this is fine summer entertainment, better than the majority of the blockbusters that have appeared this summer to date and that’s saying something. This won’t stand up with the best of the Marvel Cinematic Universe but it won’t disappoint either. Marvel keeps on rolling and I for one continue to look forward to each new Marvel movie with anticipation.

REASONS TO GO: A little more light-hearted than most superhero films. Douglas gives his best performance in years.
REASONS TO STAY: May be too light for hardcore fans.
FAMILY VALUES: Superhero-style violence.
TRIVIAL PURSUIT: The film was originally developed by Edgar Wright who had brought the film to casting; however he dropped out at the 11th hour due to creative differences with Disney who had bought Marvel Studios in the intervening years; Reed stepped in, retaining the cast Wright had chosen.
CRITICAL MASS: As of 7/26/15: Rotten Tomatoes: 79% positive reviews. Metacritic: 64/100.
COMPARISON SHOPPING: The Incredible Shrinking Man
FINAL RATING: 7/10
NEXT: Shaun the Sheep Movie

Avengers: Age of Ultron


Hawkeye takes the heat.

Hawkeye takes the heat.

(2015) Superhero (Disney/Marvel) Robert Downey Jr., Chris Evans, Chris Hemsworth, Mark Ruffalo, Scarlett Johansson, Jeremy Renner, James Spader, Elizabeth Olsen, Aaron Taylor-Johnson, Samuel L. Jackson, Don Cheadle, Anthony Mackie, Andy Serkis, Paul Bettany, Cobie Smulders, Hayley Atwell, Idris Elba, Linda Cardellini, Stellan Skarsgard, Claudia Kim, Thomas Kretschmann, Julie Delpy. Directed by Joss Whedon

As Uncle Ben from the Spider-Man series was wont to say, with great power comes great responsibility. It also makes sense that with great power comes great ego. When you have god-like powers (or are an actual god), the tendency would be to think that your powers make you right. When you get a roomful of such beings who may disagree on certain things, how possible is it for them to work together?

Avengers: Age of Ultron picks up from the pieces of HYDRA’s infiltration of SHIELD as shown in Captain America: The Winter Soldier and continued in the television show Marvel’s Agents of SHIELD as the Avengers are mopping up certain HYDRA bases trying to find Loki’s scepter which Thor (Hemsworth) is eager to restore back to its place in Asgard.

Despite heavy resistance from HYDRA and their leader Baron von Strucker (Kretschmann), Captain America/Steve Rogers (Evans) leads the Avengers to their goal and retrieves the scepter as well as capturing von Strucker. Von Strucker has been using the scepter to experiment on humans, bestowing on twins Quicksilver/Pietro Maximoff (Taylor-Johnson) and the Scarlet Witch/Wanda Maximoff (Olsen) superpowers; in Quicksilver’s case super speed, in the Witch’s case the ability to enter minds and to shoot red hex blasts from her hands. She implants a suggestion in Iron Man/Tony Stark (Downey) to sow discord among the Avengers, somewhat successfully. After all, the conflict was essentially already there.

Stark uses the scepter to kick start an artificial intelligence he calls Ultron which is meant to be a program that protects the planet from alien invaders, an event from Marvel’s The Avengers that so traumatized Stark that it has literally become his greatest fear that the next time invaders come he won’t be able to stop them. However, Ultron (Spader) decides to make himself a body and after quick consideration comes to the conclusion that the best way to protect planet Earth is to remove the human beings from it and to start anew, preferably with metal constructs as the dominant species. That Stark doesn’t tell his fellow Avengers what he’s up to (although The Hulk/Bruce Banner (Ruffalo) assists him reluctantly) further stirs the pot.

As you might guess, this doesn’t sit too well with the Avengers who go out to stop Ultron, who has recruited the twins to his side. They get wind that Ultron is visiting Ulysses Klaw (Serkis), an arms dealer in the African nation of Wakanda to retrieve as much vibranium as he can get his metal hands on and each are given a kind of dream courtesy of the Scarlet Witch that stops them in their tracks and further makes the team wonder if they can function properly. Afterwards, with their gaudy New York headquarters compromised, they retreat to a farm owned by Hawkeye/Clint Barton (Renner) and his wife (Cardellini) to lick their wounds. Thor heads off to find out the meaning of his dream, enlisting old friend Erik Selvig (Skarsgard) to help him.

In the meantime romance begins to blossom between Banner and the Black Widow/Natasha Romanoff (Johansson), and Nick Fury (Jackson) arrives to give the team a pep talk. Thus they head out to stop Ultron, even though it might cost them their lives. And Ultron plans an extinction level event to take out the entire planet. Can the Avengers stop a being that may be smarter and stronger than they are collectively?

Believe it or not, that’s just the bare bones outline of what’s going on in this movie; there are tons of subplots going on as well. Along the way we get more insight into the characters of Hawkeye and the Black Widow (which are welcome) and extended battle sequences which after awhile, truthfully, begins to feel repetitive.

Whedon was able to weave all the different characters together in the first Avengers movie in a way that brought disparate elements into a congenial whole. He is less successful at it this time, which I think has more to do with an attempt to tell a story with so many moving parts, meant to not only influence events in Phase II of the Marvel Cinematic Universe but also lead directly into the next Phase. In many ways, this is the worst review I’ve ever written; there’s so much Marvel-centric jargon here that it’s nearly impossible to really sum up the movie without going into detailed background, so much so that to really do it justice the review would end up being novel-length. Therein lies the rub for the movie; whereas Marvel’s The Avengers didn’t require a lot of explanation, this one does.

Still, the battle sequences are plenty amazing and while there are so much of them that after awhile there may be some overload particularly among audiences who aren’t young and male, they are all impressive enough to make for wonderful summer entertainment. I’m also liking Whedon’s attempts to illustrate the team’s dysfunction, their self-doubts and the realization that even if they succeed the collateral damage may be unfathomable. Whedon goes well out of his way to depict these warriors as human beings chock full of frailty; it doesn’t always work but at least it makes the movie more interesting than just a mere smashfest.

This sounds very much like a negative review and maybe it is; after all, Marvel has been setting the bar high with their cinematic universe and the last two films in the series have been absolutely outstanding, year-end top 10-worthy features. This doesn’t quite reach that bar but maybe it doesn’t have to. For those looking for ideal summer blockbuster entertainment, this more than fits the bill. It’s the kind of movie made for hot days, cool theaters and freshly popped popcorn. It’s the kind of movie that you’ll want to see with friends and go out for pizza afterwards. And yeah, it may not be the best Marvel film ever but it isn’t the worst either and it more than gets the job done.

REASONS TO GO: Plenty of superhero goodness. Looks at the inherent dysfunction of a team of powerful beings.
REASONS TO STAY: Feels less focused than the previous Avengers.
FAMILY VALUES: All sorts of comic book violence and mayhem, and a couple of suggestive comments.
TRIVIAL PURSUIT: Juggling all the characters in this film was so grueling and exhausting that Whedon elected not to direct the next Avengers movie, scheduled for 2018. Instead, Captain America: The Winter Soldier‘s The Russo Brothers will take on the next two-part Avengers: Infinity Wars.
CRITICAL MASS: As of 5/16/15: Rotten Tomatoes: 74% positive reviews. Metacritic: 66/100.
COMPARISON SHOPPING: Spider-Man 3
FINAL RATING: 7/10
NEXT: My Life in China

Cinderella (2015)


Cinderella in pumpkin coach with fairy godmother.

Cinderella in pumpkin coach with fairy godmother.

(2015) Fantasy (Disney) Cate Blanchett, Lily James, Richard Madden, Helena Bonham Carter, Nonso Anozie, Stellan Skarsgard, Sophie McShera, Holliday Grainger, Derek Jacobi, Ben Chaplin, Hayley Atwell, Rob Brydon, Jana Perez, Alex Macqueen, Tom Edden, Gareth Mason, Paul Hunter, Eloise Webb, Joshua McGuire, Matthew Steer, Mimi Ndiweni, Laura Elsworthy, Ella Smith. Directed by Kenneth Branagh

We all grow up with fairy tales. We’re familiar with all the ones in which courageous and kind young women overcome poverty and the machinations of villains to triumph over adversity and win the love of handsome young princes who whisk them away to a happy ending of wealth and privilege. Most little girls grow up wondering what type of prince is going to sweep them off their feet.

Like most fairy tale heroines, Ella (Webb) wasn’t really thinking in those terms, at least not right away. She was too busy living an idyllic childhood on a country estate with a loving mother (Atwell) and a doting father (Chaplin) who’s often away on business. She doesn’t have many human friends but she has companions in a trio of mice that she feeds and also the farm’s goose. It’s a lovely, sun-dappled existence.

But all good things must come to an end and Ella’s golden childhood does when her mother takes ill and dies, lingering long enough to make her daughter promise to have courage and be kind in life. She takes comfort in that she still has her father but life isn’t quite as golden, not nearly as idyllic. Thinking that Ella needs a mother around her, her father decides to remarry, bringing into the household Lady Tremaine (Blanchett), the widow of an old friend of his, and her two spoiled, cruel and stupid daughters Drisella (McShera) and Anastasia (Grainger). None of the three are very pleasant but Ella treats them with kindness.

Then on a business trip her father also takes ill and dies, leaving Ella alone with these three monstrous females. Reduced to being essentially a servant in her own home, the newly rechristened Cinderella (James) – so named because of the embers staining her cheeks – tries to cope with being an orphan and being so cruelly used.

After a chance meeting with young Kip (Madden), who claims to be an apprentice in the castle of the King, in a forest during a hunt, Cinderella has hope that things might get better for her. What she doesn’t know is that Kip is actually the Prince who is apprentice to be the next King and with his father (Jacobi) in poor health, the pressure for him to marry is becoming intense. Traditionally, the royal family throws a ball at the castle in which all the eligible princesses from around the world are invited so that the prince of the castle might choose from one a bride to become the future Queen, but he has fallen deeply in love with Cinderella, although he doesn’t know her identity or her station in life. Desperate to see her again, he manages to convince his father to allow all the women of the kingdom to come to the ball as well, while the Grand Duke (Skarsgard) manipulates behind the scenes a match with the lovely Princess Chelina of Zaragosa (Perez).

Of course, everyone in the land is all aflutter over the prospects of attending a royal ball and Lady Tremaine knows that to get out of the financial bind she is now in due to her husband’s death that marrying off one of her daughters to the Prince would solve everything. Cinderella in the meantime longs to attend the ball so that she might see Kip again, whom she is quite taken by. She even finds an old dress that was once worn by her mother to wear, but the spiteful stepmother tears the dress and forbids her from attending, fearing the competition to her daughters.

Distraught, Cinderella sobs in the garden, realizing that her life will never change but her breakdown is interrupted by the appearance of an old crone begging for something to eat and drink which the compassionate Cinderella gives her. Turns out the old crone is her Fairy Godmother (Carter) who says “Hell YES you’re going to the ball,” or words to that effect. She conjures up a fabulous coach out of a pumpkin, footmen out of a pair of lizards and a driver from the goose. She also transforms her mother’s now ripped and ragged old dress into a beautiful gown and a pair of glass slippers – which are surprisingly comfortable – for her to wear. All the better to win the heart of a prince, although she has until midnight before the enchantments wear off.

For hordes of little girls, the princess fantasy is one that is central to their lives, the belief that a better life and a handsome princess who will adore them and see to their every happiness is just around the corner. How healthy this fantasy is can be debated as to whether it raises unrealistic expectations – not every handsome man is a prince, after all, and maybe the expectation that their own personal happiness is wrapped up in finding one. But that’s a debate for another time or place.

Branagh has always been a terrific director but as of late he has moved from Shakespeare and art house films to big budget event movies and this one continues in the series of live action reimaginings of classic Disney animated features. Inevitably, Cinderella will be compared to its 1950 predecessor but surprisingly it doesn’t fall as short as you think it might have.

The costumes and set design are lush and detailed, from the gilt on the pumpkin coach to the sumptuous ball gowns to the rustic charms of Cinderella’s home. This really looks like you’ve always imagined the fairy tale to be and I wouldn’t be surprised if down the road it got Oscar consideration for costume design and/or production design.

The acting is another matter. James is certainly as beautiful as a fairy tale princess, but her smile seems forced at times and her acting seems a tad stilted. Julia Roberts was a more believable fairy tale princess in Pretty Woman, that most modern of fairy tales, and more relatable. Not that Cinderella has to be a hooker mind you, but there was more genuineness coming from Roberts, although to compare James whose career is fairly nascent with one of the most glittering stars in the Hollywood firmament may be a trifle unfair.

One of the main attractions of the movie is that it is a retro fairy tale, which in this case is a good thing. This isn’t a re-working or a re-imagining; this is Cinderella exactly the way you remember it and the way your little girls envisioned it. This is the kind of movie that puts to the lie the old adage that “they don’t make ’em like this anymore,” because clearly they can and occasionally they do.

REASONS TO GO: Lush costumes and sets. Beautifully shot. Retro in a good way.
REASONS TO STAY: James’ performance a bit forced. Princess porn.
FAMILY VALUES: Suitable for most audiences except the very wee and impressionable.
TRIVIAL PURSUIT: James and McShera both appear in the hit PBS series Downton Abbey although their roles are reversed; in the show, James plays an aristocrat and McShera a servant.
CRITICAL MASS: As of 3/29/15: Rotten Tomatoes: 85% positive reviews. Metacritic: 67/100.
COMPARISON SHOPPING: Maleficent
FINAL RATING: 7/10
NEXT: The Divergent Series: Insurgent

Captain America: The Winter Soldier


Captain American Express Shield: Don't leave home without it!

Captain American Express Shield: Don’t leave home without it!

(2014) Superhero (Disney/Marvel) Chris Evans, Scarlett Johansson, Samuel L. Jackson, Robert Redford, Sebastian Stan, Anthony Mackie, Cobie Smulders, Frank Grillo, Gregory St-Pierre, Hayley Atwell, Toby Jones, Emily VanCamp, Maximilliano Hernandez, Jenny Agutter, Garry Shandling, Bernard White, Callan Mulvey, Branka Katic. Directed by Anthony and Joe Russo

The buzz on the latest installment in the Marvel Cinematic Universe has been intense with fanboys eating their own livers in anticipation of its release. Well, now that it’s finally out, does it live up to the hype?

Yup. Steve Rogers (Evans) a.k.a. Captain America a.k.a. Cap is still trying to adjust to life in the 21st century after having been frozen solid since the Second World War. He keeps a to-do list (which varies depending on which country you’re seeing the film in) that includes cultural touchstones, historic events that took place during his hibernation and things to try that just weren’t available back in 1944. He checks stuff off the list – in between missions for SHIELD to save the world or at least keep it safer.

While rescuing a ship hijacked by pirates Steve and his partner Natasha Romanoff (Johansson) a.k.a. The Black Widow discover some data being uploaded to a satellite array that is heavily encrypted. When he delivers it to Nick Fury (Jackson), the head of SHIELD, all Hades breaks loose. It soon becomes clear that SHIELD has been infiltrated and Steve isn’t sure who to trust – Fury, who has lied to him constantly? The Black Widow whose past is shrouded in mystery? Alexander Pearce (Redford), the security council member whom Fury reports to? And what of the Winter Soldier, an equally mysterious assassin who seems to have all of Cap’s strength and agility?

I’m being deliberately vague on the plot simply because I don’t want to spoil the twists and turns that decorate this film, although to be honest if you really want to know more detail you can find it elsewhere on the Net. The movie has been described as a superhero movie with a secret identity as a ’70s Cold War espionage thriller. What that doesn’t tell you is that it takes the best elements from both genres and does them up perfectly.

The Russo brothers ratchet up the paranoia and suspense and keep it in the red zone throughout.  Astonishing action sequences are interspersed with expository sequences that will keep you guessing as to who can be trusted – and who can’t. Some of the turncoats in the film will shock longtime followers of the Marvel Cinematic Universe although some will make sense upon reflection.

There are still plenty of fans who are uneasy with Evans as the iconic Captain, but he does his best work here, capturing Cap’s uneasiness with the grey areas that SHIELD is dwelling in and having a hard time reconciling his 1944 morality with the moral morass that is 2014. He’s got the build and the athleticism to pull off the fight sequences but he doesn’t pull off the charisma and leadership that I always imagined someone like Steve Rogers would possess. Then again, it’s doubtful that any actor could.

We get to see even more of Jackson as Fury and he shines as you would expect. Johansson also has an expanded role but we really don’t find out a ton about her character which is as you might expect; I get the sense that they are planning a Black Widow feature down the line and will probably explore the character in greater depth then.

Redford is magnificent as Pearce. We don’t get to see a lot of villain roles for Redford but he inhabits this one. Wisely, as most great movie villains do, he doesn’t see himself as a villain but as a hero, saving the world from itself. If you remember his movie Sneakers think of the role as a cross between his role and the villain role played by Ben Kingsley.

I would be remiss if I failed to mention Anthony Mackie. He plays Sam Wilson, a decorated paratrooper who is befriended by Rogers and becomes his ally known as the Falcon using a flying suit. His camaraderie with Evans is genuine and the two make a formidable onscreen team. Who knows, maybe a feature starring the Falcon is in the cards down the line.

The Russos chose to use practical effects whenever possible, meaning there isn’t a whole lot of CGI but when they do use it, it’s magnificent. The massive helicarriers look absolutely real as does the Triskelion building that serves as SHIELD’s Washington DC headquarters.

The question is usually with films like this do you need to be fans of the comic books in order to make sense of the goings on? The answer is no, although it would be extremely helpful if you’d seen the preceding Marvel movies, particularly Captain America: The First Avenger and The Avengers. Those who are completely unfamiliar with the comics and the previous movies and wish to view this as a stand alone movie, you should be good following most of the action although there will be references whizzing overhead that you just won’t get. Don’t fret; they aren’t there for you. Still, even if you aren’t a comic book geek or a superhero junkie, you’ll find plenty to like here. Definitely one of the best superhero movies ever – and likely to be one of the best movies you’ll see this year.

REASONS TO GO: Amazing action and suspense – the perfect blending of both. Keeps you on the edge of your seat for the entire movie.

REASONS TO STAY: Loses steam during some of the expository sequences.

FAMILY VALUES:  Plenty of action which means plenty of violence.

TRIVIAL PURSUIT: The voice narrating the Smithsonian exhibit for Captain America is Gary Sinese.

CRITICAL MASS: As of 4/14/14: Rotten Tomatoes: 89% positive reviews. Metacritic: 70/100.

COMPARISON SHOPPING: Mission: Impossible

FINAL RATING: 9/10

NEXT: The Front Man

New Releases for the Week of April 4, 2014


Captain America: The Winter Soldier

CAPTAIN AMERICA: THE WINTER SOLDIER

(Disney/Marvel) Chris Evans, Scarlett Johansson, Samuel L. Jackson, Robert Redford, Sebastian Stan, Anthony Mackie, Cobie Smulders, Hayley Atwell, Toby Jones.. Directed by Anthony and Joe Russo

Trying to adjust to the modern world, Cap soon finds himself embroiled in a global conspiracy that reaches into the very deepest levels of government – and SHIELD – itself. Allied with the Black Widow and his new friend the Falcon, Cap will face a formidable and lethal foe in a man both familiar and mysterious – the Winter Soldier.

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

For more on the movie this is the website.

Release formats: Standard, 3D (opens Thursday)

Genre: Superhero

Rating: PG-13 (for intense sequences of violence, gunplay and action throughout)

Frankie and Alice

(CODEBLACK) Halle Berry, Stellan Skarsgard, Phylicia Rashad, Matt Frewer. In Los Angeles in the 1970s, an African-American go-go dancer named Frankie struggles with multiple personalities, including a seven-year-old child and a white racist named Alice. Seeking help from a psychotherapist, she learns to master and control her personalities and eventually discover the demons that brought them out in the first place. Based on a true story.

See the trailer, clips and an interview here.

For more on the movie this is the website.

Release formats: Standard

Genre: Psychological Drama

Rating: R (for language and some violence)

Jinn

(Freestyle Releasing) Dominic Rains, Serinda Swan, Ray Park, William Atherton.In the beginning there were three races in creation – men made of clay, angels made of light and Jinn made of fire. Over the centuries, the Jinn have all but disappeared from memory, relegated to myth and fairy tale. Now they are back – and they want the world.

See the trailer here.

For more on the movie this is the website.

Release formats: Standard

Genre: Supernatural Horror

Rating: PG-13 (for some intense sequences of violence and terror)

Main Tera Hero

(Balaji) Varun Dhawan, Nargis Fakhri, Ileana D’Cruz, Evelyn Sharma. On an Indian college campus, a young ladies man falls hard for a beautiful young coed. When he discovers that a relationship isn’t possible, it only makes him more determined.

See the trailer here.

For more on the movie this is the website.

Release formats: Standard

Genre: Bollywood

Rating: NR