Wetlands (2017)


The secret to life is simply fishing.

(2017) Drama (Abramorama) Adewale Akinnuoye-Agbaje, Heather Graham, Reyna de Courcy, Christopher McDonald, Jennifer Ehle, Louis Mustillo, Barry Markowitz, Sean Ringgold, Rob Morgan, Lauren LaVera, Tyler Elliot Burke, Pamela Dunlap, Melissa Goodwin, Quinn Fucci, Celeste O’Connor, Lou Morey, Jim Fitzpatrick, Natalie Paige Bentley, Dana Kreitz, Donna DeGregorio. Directed by Emanuele Della Valle

 

There comes a time in some lives where we have to start from scratch. Circumstances, bad decisions, bad luck; whatever the case may be, a new beginning becomes necessary once we hit rock bottom. It doesn’t happen to everyone, but it does happen.

Babel “Babs” Johnson (Akinnuoye-Agbaje), the son of an alcoholic religious fanatic and an absent father, has returned to the Jersey shore town outside of Atlantic City where he grew up. It’s in a bleak area of dilapidated homes, empty storefronts and swampy shore known as the Wetlands. He was once a narcotics detective in Philadelphia but a crippling heroin addiction and a heinous act sent him to rehab. He left behind Savannah (Graham), his embittered wife once a trust fund baby but now taking up with Surfer Girl (de Courcy), a surfboard maker who dreams of moving to Hawaii and starting her own business, but has taken to being a drug courier for Jimmy Coconuts (Mustillo) and in a not-too-smart move, skimming some of the drugs and selling them herself.

Babs doesn’t care about any of that. What he’s worried about is his daughter Amy (O’Connor) who despises him for leaving her with her mother and her lover, both of whom are too wrapped up in their own problems to pay much attention to Amy. For now, he’s on the police force of a small town, partnered with Paddy Sheehan (McDonald), a garrulous hard-drinking roustabout who is in debt up to his eyeballs to the local drug lord known as Lollipop (Markowitz) due to his taste in confections and who also happens to be the boss of Jimmy Coconuts. Paddy is married to Kate (Ehle), a newscaster reporting on the pending arrival of a late season hurricane which threatens to cause all sorts of havoc.

If the plot sounds a little bit scattershot, that’s only because it is. Fashionista and first-time director Della Valle seems torn between doing a noir-laced crime thriller and a drama about a broken man trying to start over; either one would have been an interesting movie on its own and if Della Valle had managed to fuse the two together he could have had an indie classic on his hands. Sadly however the two tales don’t mesh very well and we’re left with a choppy, uneven movie that doesn’t have any sort of flow to it. There is a murder in the movie that seems to be the crux of matters but it doesn’t occur until only about 15 minutes are left in the film which gives that last bit an almost rushed feel.

Akinnuoye-Agbaje, who has had numerous supporting roles in a variety of films as well as memorable turns on TV’s Oz and Lost steps out into a much overdue lead role here and he does okay for himself, although he’s not given a very interesting character to work with. Sure, Babs has a lot of baggage and in the hands of a more capable writer could have been unforgettable but we are mainly left with a lot of clichés and backstory that is hinted at throughout the movie (told in black and white flashbacks) until near the end when the big reveal turns out to be not too difficult to predict.

The supporting cast isn’t too bad. McDonald takes the role and runs with it, giving a pretty slimy character a sheen of bonhomie. Ehle gets a role that gives her an opportunity to be sophisticated and sexy and she nails both of those aspects. Graham, who I’ve adored as an actress since her breakout role in Austin Powers: The Spy Who Shagged Me gets to do a role that might bring back memories of her performance in Boogie Nights although the movie isn’t up to the latter’s standard.

There are some really terrific images here, like a roller coaster post-hurricane standing in water but even the hurricane is somewhat anti-climactic. There are a lot of decent threads here but the overall whole is pretty disappointing; everything feels like it’s all build-up and no pay-off. In this town, that kind of thing can get you bumped off.

REASONS TO GO: There are some phenomenal images here.
REASONS TO STAY: The story is a little bit disjointed and the flow is uneven.
FAMILY VALUES: There is a goodly amount of profanity, drug content, sexuality, some nudity and violence.
TRIVIAL PURSUIT: Filming took place in Wildwood, Cape May and other towns along the Jersey coast.
CRITICAL MASS: As of 9/29/17: Rotten Tomatoes: 36% positive reviews. Metacritic: 37/100.
COMPARISON SHOPPING: Blue Ruin
FINAL RATING: 5.5/10
NEXT:
Rebel in the Rye

New Releases for the Week of January 15, 2016


Ride Along 2RIDE ALONG 2

(Universal) Kevin Hart, Ice Cube, Tika Sumpter, Benjamin Bratt, Olivia Munn, Ken Jeong, Bruce McGill, Michael Rose, Sherri Shepherd. Directed by Tim Story

The two polar opposite cops are back. One is preparing for his wedding – to his partner’s sister, which still makes him throw up in his mouth a little. However, the two are being sent from Atlanta to Miami to stop the flow of drugs into their city from South Florida. They take on as partners members of the Miami PD Narcotics squad, and it won’t be easy for the two of them to avoid getting shot by the drug gang – or the Miami cops.

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

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

Rating: PG-13 (for sequences of violence, sexual content, language and some drug material)

13 Hours: The Secret Soldiers of Benghazi

(Paramount) John Krasinski, James Badge Dale, Pablo Schreiber, David Denman. Most of us are aware of the tragedy of the assault on the U.S. Embassy in Benghazi, Libya in which a U.S. Ambassador and several others lost their lives. However, most people aren’t aware the death toll might have been much higher if it wasn’t for the heroics of a group of security operatives. This is their story, based on their personal accounts of the events that took place that night and directed by Michael Bay.

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

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

Rating: R (for strong combat violence throughout, bloody images and language)

Band of Robbers

(Gravitas) Kyle Gallner, Adam Nee, Matthew Gray Gubler, Hannibal Buress. A modern retelling of the stories of Tom Sawyer and Huck Finn shows Huck newly released from prison and hoping to mend his ways. However, Tom (a corrupt cop here) has other plans, obsessing over a childhood fantasy of a lost treasure that he’s sure he and his criminal pal can still find.

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

Release Formats: Standard
Genre: Comedy
Now Playing: AMC Altamonte Mall

Rating: NR

Lamb

(The Orchard) Ross Partridge, Oona Lawrence, Jess Wexler, Scoot McNairy. When a man is hit by the end of his marriage and the death of his father within the space of a week, he tries to find some sort of meaning in his life. Encountering an unpopular and awkward 11-year-old girl, he sees something in her that might allow her to avoid his own fate of an empty, meaningless life. He decides to take her on a road trip from Chicago to the Rockies to show her how beautiful the world can be, but the trip doesn’t exactly go to expectations.

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

Release Formats: Standard
Genre: Drama
Now Playing: AMC Disney Springs, AMC West Oaks

Rating: NR

Mustang

(Cohen) Gűnes Sensoy, Doga Zeynep Doguslu, Elit Iscan, Tugba Sunguroglu. Five spirited sisters living in a remote Turkish village play an innocent game with a group of boys. When they are observed by a religiously conservative neighbor, the consequences change their lives radically as their strict grandmother and uncle begin to impose limitations on the girls. They also begin to arrange marriages for them, and slowly the young girls begin to break. Nominated for both a Golden Globe and Oscar for Best Foreign Language Film, a review for this film will appear in Cinema365 tomorrow.

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

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

Rating: PG-13 (for mature thematic material, sexual content and a rude gesture)

Norm of the North

(Lionsgate) Starring the voices of Rob Schneider, Heather Graham, Ken Jeong, Bill Nighy. A polar bear by the name of Norm is dismayed at the influx of tourists to his Arctic home. However, when a land developer threatens to build condos on his beloved land, enough is enough and he heads to New York City to have a word with the money-grubbing builder.

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

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

Rating: PG (for mild rude humor and action)New Releases

The Hangover Part III


The Fab Four consciously (perhaps not) try to ape another Fab Four.

The Fab Four consciously (perhaps not) try to ape another Fab Four.

(2013) Comedy (Warner Brothers) Bradley Cooper, Zach Galifianakis, Ed Helms, Ken Jeong, Justin Bartha, Heather Graham, John Goodman, Jeffrey Tambor, Melissa McCarthy, Mike Epps, Sasha Barrese, Jamie Chung, Sondra Currie, Gillian Vigman, Oliver Cooper, Mike Vallely, Grant Holmquist, Oscar Torre, Jonny Coyne, Silvia Curiel, Lela Loren, Jenny Ladner. Directed by Todd Phillips   

In the movie business, sometimes the third time is the charm. Very often in film trilogies, the first one is great, the second one is not quite as good and the third is better, sometimes even than the first film. Did that hold true with this trilogy?

The Wolfpack is in crisis. Alan (Galifianakis) is acting out something horrible; his beloved daddy (Tambor) has passed away suddenly and his behavior is becoming more and more bizarre since he stopped taking his medication (don’t ask what happens with the giraffe). Now it’s evident that the only people he’ll listen to are Phil (Cooper), Stu (Helms) and his brother-in-law Doug (Bartha). An intervention is in order and the idea is to get Alan to agree to go to a clinic where he can get the help he needs. Once Alan realizes that his Wolfpack are all in, he relents and allows them to drive him to Arizona.

Unfortunately, they are waylaid on the way there by a bunch of pig mask-wearing thugs led by Black Doug (Epps) and his boss, Marshall (Goodman) and yes you can bet it involves Chow (Jeong). It seems that Chow stole some $21M in gold bullion that Marshall had himself stolen and now he wants it back. Chow had just broken out of prison in Bangkok and Marshall believed that the Wolfpack were the way to find him. To ensure their cooperation, he’s holding on to Doug and if they don’t find him, the Wolfpack are going to be short a member.

Of course, they think they don’t have any idea where Chow could be until Alan figures out that the e-mail he has been receiving from “Chow” are from him. Oops. Now they must head back to the place where it all started – Las Vegas – for a final showdown to get back Doug which Chow may not necessarily survive. There will indeed be bloodshed.

My criticism of The Hangover Part II was that the plot was too much like the first film, only set in Bangkok. The plot deviates here somewhat – there are no blackouts, no alcohol and no partying except in a single scene and that party doesn’t involve the Wolfpack (at least as participants). In a sense the title is a bit of a misnomer; it’s more of a treasure hunt than a puzzle. The charm of the first movie which makes it the best of the bunch is that the group’s friendship is what keeps them looking for Doug. Here you don’t get a sense of that bonding; it’s more like guys going through the motions.

There are some good laughs here, like the whole giraffe sequence which you can pretty much figure out from the trailer but true to the franchise’s tradition is shown in fairly graphic detail. Galifianakis has been kind of the comedic center of the first two movies but Jeong is more of a presence here. However, some of the best scenes in the movie are between Alan and Cassie (McCarthy), a tattooed pawn shop owner that Alan takes a shine to. Their relationship takes the series full sequel, although it must be warned that it also leads to a final cut scene in mid-closing credits that you will NOT be able to un-see once you’ve seen it. If you intend to watch it, bring plenty of brain bleach.

Cooper has become the big star that he has shown that he could be since the first film debuted in 2009 and has said this will be his last time playing the maturity-challenged Phil. There’s little of the edge that marked him in the first two films which does detract some from the overall feeling of the film. Helms, whose hysterics were some of the funniest moments of the first movie is strangely calmer here; I don’t know if that’s because those scenes weren’t written or if Helms decided that Stu needed to be more centered. Regardless, the movie could have used a few more freak-outs on the part of Stu.

Graham’s winning smile and good looks are a welcome return to the third movie but you never get a sense of Jade’s character. She’s remarried to a surgeon so that sense of unattainable hopes and dreams that made her character so appealing in the first film is gone. Still, it’s kind of nice to know that she made it okay. Goodman as Marshall is all bluster and occasionally he shoots people but he’s not nearly as menacing as Paul Giamatti’s character was in the second film. Personally I think Goodman is more suited to nice guy characters not unlike his role in Roseanne and as Sully in Monsters, Inc. and it’s upcoming sequel.

All in all, this isn’t the roadkill that critics are painting this to be, but by the same token it isn’t a home run either. There is certainly room for improvement. The opening weekend box office numbers have been disappointing (although the competition has been stiffer than the first two films had to face) and I can’t help but think that the series should really be put to rest after this one, although who knows what the studio will do if the numbers warrant it (and thus far they don’t). I think that fans of the first movie will want to see this regardless and by all means do. However, I don’t think you’ll want to see it more than once.

REASONS TO GO: Varies the formula from the first two movies nicely while sticking to the things that made the first movie great. More Jeong is never a bad thing.

REASONS TO STAY: Scattershot much more than the first two films.

FAMILY VALUES:  What family values? There’s a good deal of foul language, some violence, a bit of drug use, plenty of sexual references and some graphic nudity.

TRIVIAL PURSUIT: Near the end of the movie as the Wolfpack returns to the minivan a billboard featuring Eddie, the man who ran the wedding chapel from the first movie, can be seen.

CRITICAL MASS: As of 5/20/13: Rotten Tomatoes: 20% positive reviews. Metacritic: 31/100; critics pretty much universally hated this one.

COMPARISON SHOPPING: Superbad

FINAL RATING: 6/10

NEXT: Limelight

New Releases for the Week of May 24, 2013


Fast and Furious 6

FAST & FURIOUS 6

(Paramount) Vin Diesel, Dwayne Johnson, Paul Walker, Luke Evans, Michelle Rodriguez, Gina Carano, Jordana Brewster, Tyrese Gibson, Ludacris, Sung Kang. Directed by Justin Lin

Dom, Brian and their crew have all scattered around the world living the good life after the last film but they feel incomplete, never being able to go home again. However, the rise of a new villain sends Hobbs to seek Dom out because he will need his special skills. At stake is full pardons for all of them but something even more personal for Dom – the reappearance of someone he thought was dead.

See the trailer, clips, promos and featurettes here.

For more on the movie this is the website.

Release formats: Standard

Genre: Action

Rating: PG-13 (for intense sequences of violence and action and mayhem throughout, some sexuality and language)

At Any Price

(Sony Classics) Dennis Quaid, Zac Efron, Heather Graham, Kim Dickens. A farmer who has spent his entire lifetime expanding and improving his farm is eager to see his son follow in his footsteps. The impetuous youth however wants nothing to do with farming – he wants to race cars. However as the farmer’s less than ethical methods prompt an investigation, the two men will be pushed into an unexpected situation that will threaten everything they’ve built and dreamed of becoming.

See the trailer and a clip here.

For more on the movie this is the website.

Release formats: Standard

Genre: Drama

Rating: R (for sexual content including a strong graphic image, and for language)  

Epic

(20th Century Fox) Starring the voices of Amanda Seyfried, Colin Farrell, Christoph Waltz, Josh Hutcherson. A young girl whose father believes that there are tiny beings living in the forest is shrunk down to their size, discovering her dad was right in the process. However now she’s caught in a war between good and evil with both worlds hanging in the balance.

See the trailer, promos, featurettes and a clip here.

For more on the movie this is the website.

Release formats: Standard

Genre: Animated Feature

Rating: PG (for mild action, some scary images and brief rude language)

The Hangover Part III

(Warner Brothers) Bradley Cooper, Ed Helms, Zach Galifianakis, Ken Jeong. The Wolfpack take one last trip to Vegas, brought together not by a wedding this time but because Chow owes some heavy hitters a lot of money and in order to get Doug back (he’s been kidnapped for real this time) they will have to find Chow which is never a laughing matter.

See the trailer and clips here.

For more on the movie this is the website.

Release formats: Standard (Opening on Thursday May 23)

Genre: Comedy

Rating: R (for pervasive language including sexual references, some violence and drug content, and brief graphic nudity) 

5 Days of War


5 Days of War

Another New York City marathon gets underway!

(2011) War (Anchor Bay) Rupert Friend, Emmanuelle Chriqui, Heather Graham, Jonathan Schaech, Andy Garcia, Val Kilmer, Richard Coyle, Rade Serbedzija, Dean Cain, Ken Cranham, Mikko Nousiainen, Mikheil Gomiashvili, Antje Traue. Directed by Renny Harlin

 

There is nothing good or noble about war. Men have waxed poetic about war and its virtues, but the truth of war is that it is savage and horrible, appealing only to the base instincts of men in reality – the need to take by force that which isn’t given freely. There is nothing noble about war.

War correspondent Thomas Anders (Friend) knows that better than most. The girl he loved (Graham) was caught in the crossfire during one of his assignments and left him alone and bitter. Then, a colleague, a cheerfully debauched Dutchman (Kilmer) points Anders in the direction of Georgia – not the state, the Russian republic – which was on the brink of war with Russia. The Georgian president, Mikheil Saakshvili (Garcia) frets and wonders why the West isn’t helping his tiny Republic take on the Russian juggernaut but the West is mostly focusing on the Beijing Olympics. Priorities.

Anders brings along his trusty cameraman Sebastian Ganz (Coyle) and manage to get in the thick of a wedding that winds up being scattered to the four winds when shelling interrupts the ceremony. They wind up hooking up with Tattia (Chriqui) whose sister’s wedding it was. She agrees to serve as their interpreter in exchange for them helping her locate and reunite with her family.

They witness the Russian army committing some atrocities and get it on film. The Russian commander Aleksandr Demidov (Serbedzija) gets wind of this and sends his brutal mercenary commando Danlil (Nousiainen) after them. Anders and Ganz get their footage onto a flash drive and try to escape to a place of safety where they can get their footage to the authorities. The trouble is, the authorities are corrupt and the major networks disinterested. Somehow Anders is going to have to find a way to make the world listen.

Harlin has directed some pretty nifty action films in his day including Speed but has hit a dry patch of late. This isn’t going to help him get back into the game to be honest. I understand that the film was at least partially financed by Georgia and the country allowed some of their military equipment to be used in the film and quite frankly part of the film’s highlights are the very realistically staged battle sequences.

However in a very real way that’s a deal with the devil; the film is certainly from the Georgian point of view with the Russians being loathsome monsters and the Georgians martyrs. The real war – and it was a real war – wasn’t like that. Like most conflicts, there wasn’t one villain and one hero although as with most conflicts both sides saw it that way.

Anyone who’s seen films like The Year of Living Dangerously will recognize most of the clichés about war correspondents in war situations. Whether or not they’re true (and for the most part they’re based in truth but like most Hollywood clichés made extreme) they still ring hollow here; it feels like a movie we’ve seen before only not as well made. Sure it’s not completely without value but it just feels more like propaganda.

When a film quotes “The first casualty in war is the truth” and then goes on to show only an aspect of it, two things happen – first, we are reminded that truth is often a matter of perspective. What one side considers unshakable fact the other usually considers to be an outright lie. Second, the filmmakers lose their credibility amid the further hypocrisy of trotting out Georgian survivors of war atrocities to tell their stories. At no point is any Russian allowed to refute any of this.

I’m not saying that the Russians didn’t do some of the things you see here – I have no doubt that they did. I’m certainly not excusing the behavior; it’s just that I don’t believe one side was made up of saints and the others sinners. The Georgians have their own culpability to bear here and we don’t get to see it, leaving the proceedings uncomfortably one-sided. A little more honesty would have made for a better movie.

WHY RENT THIS: Realistic war action.

WHY RENT SOMETHING ELSE: One-sided to the point of ridiculousness. Overwrought and cliché.

FAMILY VALUES: Lots of war violence and bad language but there are also some scenes of war atrocities that might be a bit too intense for younger and more sensitive viewers.

TRIVIAL PURSUIT: Early on President Saakshvili can be seen chewing on his tie; this was based on an actual incident in which the real President Saakshvili was accidentally caught on-camera when he didn’t think that it was filming munching on his tie. The footage can still be found on the Internet if you Google it.

NOTABLE HOME VIDEO EXTRAS: None listed.

BOX OFFICE PERFORMANCE: $17,479 on a $12M production budget; even those without math skills know this was a box office dud.

COMPARISON SHOPPING: The Bang Bang Club

FINAL RATING: 5/10

NEXT: Meet the Parents

Father of Invention


 

Father of Invention

Kevin Spacey, a victim of the economic downturn.

(2010) Comedy (Anchor Bay) Kevin Spacey, Heather Graham, Camilla Belle, Virginia Madsen, Craig Robinson, Johnny Knoxville, John Stamos, Anna Anissimova, Red West, Michael Rosenbaum, Danny Comden, Jack McGee, Karen Livers. Directed by Trent Cooper

We all make mistakes in life, some more serious than others. When we foul up, it is on us to pick ourselves up, dust ourselves off and make life work again. In order to do that, sometimes we must re-invent ourselves. That’s an opportunity to rectify past mistakes but only if we learned from them.

Robert Axle (Spacey) is an infomercial billionaire. Or, rather, he was. One of his inventions had a design flaw, causing the user to be maimed. One prison center and several class action suits later, Axle is released from prison. His billions are gone; what was left after the settlement of the suits was spent by his now ex-wife Lorraine (Madsen) on philanthropy and a frivolous career move as a singer. Her new boyfriend Jerry King (Robinson) eagerly aided and abetted the dissolution of his nest egg.

Without any place to go, he is forced to move in with his estranged daughter Claire (Belle) and take a job at a Wal*Mart-like entity where his boss Troy Colangelo (Knoxville) offers endless platitudes which are ultimately meaningless. To make matters worse, Claire’s roommate Phoebe (Graham), a lesbian and a hater of men who initially thinks Robert  is the epitome of the male species – i.e. absolutely despicable – but falls for him anyway.

Robert knows just one good idea could conceivably take him back to the top and soon enough he has it. He takes it to his old company but they pooh-pooh it – and then steal it as their own. Robert has had his share of sins in his life, but the punishment seems to be well beyond what he deserves. Still, he plugs along, getting Troy to invest in his new product and enlisting the help of long time ally Sam Bergman (West) to help design and build the new product, it looks like his way to the top is assured. That’s generally when the floor drops out from under you.

This is one of those movies that shows up that gets a “cup of coffee” release on a few screens here and there (generally in New York and maybe Los Angeles) and then goes straight on to home video. With home video, streaming, and various other ways of watching movies than going to theaters or watching them on television networks, the demand for films has increased while the quality has remained flat.

That has led to a cornucopia of mediocre movies out there that you’ve never heard of but are easily available through Netflix, on cable or through YouTube in some cases. The issue with that is that some pretty decent movies wind up falling through the cracks and getting lumped with the chaff.

This is one of those movies. Spacey has been a performer who rarely disappoints over the past 20 years; even though not all of his movies have been financial or even critical successes, you can never accuse him of phoning one in and he doesn’t here. He takes Robert Axle from broken and defeated to arrogant and driven, ending up as humble and loving. In other words, he takes us on Robert’s journey and allows us to understand the road that got him there. And he makes it look effortless in doing so.

Graham is one of my favorite actresses. Not only is she shagadelically beautiful but she also has plenty of skill. Her angry lesbian is written kind of one-dimensionally but Graham gives her some depth, mostly from the way she interacts not only with Robert but with Claire as well. I truly wish she would get some better parts to work with.

The story is pretty predictable and it is mainly Spacey’s performance that gives it any particular nuance. You know pretty much how it’s going to end up and what steps are going to happen before it gets there. Normally that would be reason enough to not even bother writing a review – but Spacey gives this movie a reason to be seen.

WHY RENT THIS: Even in bad films Spacey is always entertaining.

WHY RENT SOMETHING ELSE: The plot is kind of predictable and occasionally nonsensical. Characters are mostly clichés.

FAMILY VALUES: There’s a fair amount of bad language as well as some sexuality.

TRIVIAL PURSUIT: Spacey shot this while concurrently working as artistic director of the Old Vic in London, one of the most prestigious positions in the legitimate theater.:

NOTABLE HOME VIDEO EXTRAS: None listed.

BOX OFFICE PERFORMANCE: Not available.

COMPARISON SHOPPING: Shrink

FINAL RATING: 6/10

NEXT: Centurion

Boogie Woogie


Boogie Woogie
But is it Art?

 

 

 

 

(2009) Drama (IFC) Gillian Anderson, Alan Cumming, Heather Graham, Danny Huston, Jack Huston, Christopher Lee, Joanna Lumley, Simon McBurney, Meredith Ostrom, Charlotte Rampling, Amanda Seyfried, Stellan Skarsgard, Jaime Winstone. Directed by Duncan Ward

Art for art’s sake was the motto at the old MGM studio, and that might well be the battle cry for all artists. There is always a sense that art elevates the soul, but too many take that to mean that it elevates themselves as well.

 

Art Spindle (D. Huston) is a London art dealer with a distinct lack of scruples. He is charming to the max, but lethal if you get in between him and what he wants. What he wants at the moment is the Piet Mondrian painting “Boogie Woogie,” which is owned by an elderly gentleman named Alfred Rhinegold (Lee) who is reluctant to part with it, despite the urgings of his wife (Lumley) who knows that they are in dire financial straits.

 

Art’s assistants Beth Freemantle (Graham) and Paige Oppenheimer (Seyfried) are ambitious and have their own agendas. One of them is to service Bob Macclestone (Skarsgard), a wealthy client who has a roving eye not just for art but for the ladies as well (and in particular for Beth), much to the despair of his wife Jean (Anderson).

 

Meanwhile, up and coming performance artist Elaine (Winstone) has been making a name for herself with her tapes of her lesbian sexual encounters, much to the chagrin of Dewey (Cumming), her manager who has a huge crush on Elaine. For Elaine, Dewey is a means to an end and nothing more. Her cold-heartedness leads to tragedy which sends repercussions throughout the London art scene.

 

This is an ensemble piece along the lines of Robert Altman, albeit set in contemporary London. This is also based on a stage play which was set in 1990s New York. The subject for both is the hypocrisy and snobbishness of the art world. That is much like writing a movie about the corruption of politics. It’s not any great revelation after all.

 

Huston does a serviceable job in the type of role he typically excels at – the smarmy snake oil salesman type. He has as foils Graham and Seyfried, two of the most beautiful women in the world. Lumley, who made her career in “Absolutely Fabulous,” has a bittersweet role here, while veterans Rampling and Lee hold their own.

 

Unfortunately, the cast is given mostly one-dimensional portraits of people who are absolutely rotten to the core, so much so that you may smell decay in your soul for weeks afterwards just for having watched them. They’re the kind of people who operate from the same moral compass as Rupert Murdoch does.

 

The movie bounces from vignette to vignette without any discernable rhyme or reason. The flow of the movie is therefore choppy and at times it feels like you’re watching two or three movies spliced together with duct tape. The pace could have used some tweaking too – they could have easily cut 10-15 minutes out of the script and gotten away with it.

This is as talented a cast as you’re likely to assemble. It is also the biggest waste of talent you’re likely to see. It’s unfortunate too; an ensemble like this deserves better material. Sadly, this is a case of a script that doesn’t have too much to say about a subject that doesn’t require much.

 

WHY RENT THIS: There’s a lot of talent here.

WHY RENT SOMETHING ELSE: A waste of talent. The movie feels like a collection of scenes strung together at random at times. Pacing could have used some tightening up.

FAMILY VALUES: There is a very sexual element here; lots of innuendo, graphic nudity and frank sexual discussions. There’s also foul language throughout as well as a smattering of drug use.

TRIVIAL PURSUIT: Graham and Lee voiced the characters of opposing leaders in the videogame “Everquest 2.” Skarsgard and Seyfried also worked together in Mamma Mia!

NOTABLE DVD EXTRAS: None listed.

BOX OFFICE PERFORMANCE: $47,527 on an unreported production budget; this didn’t even come close to making its money back.

FINAL RATING: 4/10

TOMORROW: My Blueberry Nights

New Releases for the Week of June 10, 2011


June 10, 2011

SUPER 8

(Paramount) Kyle Chandler, Elle Fanning, Joel Courtney, Gabriel Basso, Noah Emmerich, Ron Eldard, Riley Griffiths, Bruce Greenwood, Glynn Turman, Greg Grunberg. Directed by J.J. Abrams

A group of kids making a monster movie on their Super 8 camera in 1979 witness a spectacular train derailment. It turns out that the train was carrying living cargo, cargo that was never supposed to get out but it does and now a small town is fighting for survival against an alien invader. From producer Steven Spielberg and director J.J. Abrams, this looks like a cross between E.T. and Cloverfield.

See the trailer, clips, interviews and a promo here.

For more on the movie this is the website.

Release formats: Standard, IMAX

Genre: Adventure

Rating: PG-13(for intense sequences of sci-fi action and violence, language and some nudity)

The Double Hour

(Goldwyn) Ksenia Rappoport, Filippo Timi, Antonia Truppo, Gaetano Bruno. An innocuous speed date leads to a romance between an Italian ex-cop and a Slovakian immigrant. A weekend in the country takes a dark turn when things from the Slovakian’s past begin to surface as a variety of twists and turns take the ex-cop on a whirlwind ride in which even what he takes for granted as real may not be.

See the trailer and clips here.

For more on the movie this is the website.

Release formats: Standard

Genre: Thriller

Rating: NR

Judy Moody and the Not Bummer Summer

(Relativity) Jordana Beatty, Heather Graham, Kristoffer Winters, Parris Mosteller. A young girl bored out of her mind and facing a summer of the same determines to make this the best summer of her young life. With the aid of her eccentric Aunt Opal and her annoying kid brother, she goes about finding every thrill possible in an idyllic summer free of parental supervision.

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

For more on the movie this is the website.

Release formats: Standard

Genre: Family

Rating: PG (for some mild rude humor and language)

The Oh in Ohio


The Oh in Ohio

Danny deVito and Parker Posey have just found out they're supposed to make out in their next scene.

(Cyan) Parker Posey, Paul Rudd, Mischa Barton, Danny deVito, Heather Graham, Liza Minnelli, Keith David, Tim Russ, Ed Brigadier, Miranda Bailey. Directed by Billy Kent

We have a thing about sex. It fascinates us, intrigues us, titillates us but ultimately makes us uncomfortable when we try to discuss it with one another. Even the thought of talking about our orgasms and our masturbatory habits can bring a blush to our faces that would put Rudolph the Red-Nosed Reindeer to shame.

Priscilla (Posey) is an uptight executive who has been married, comfortably by all accounts, to Jack (Rudd) for ten years. He’s a teacher in a local high school whereas Priscilla works as a shill trying to lure business ventures to relocate to Cleveland.

To say the spark has gone out of their marriage is like saying Hurricane Katrina brought a little dampness to the Gulf Coast. Priscilla you see has never experienced an orgasm, even though she and Jack have tried valiantly – 1428 times, not including this morning by Priscilla’s own count. This woman is completely anal in a different context than you’re probably thinking about right now.

This has put a strain on the marriage and not to put too fine a point on it, on Jack’s feelings of masculinity. He’s literally tried everything to stimulate his wife and has essentially given up on trying. While the two are polite and civil to one another, there is a kind of awkwardness between them, like a couple of blind people trying to talk about the elephant in the room with no real context to work from.

Priscilla’s co-worker Sherri (Bailey) recommends New Age sexuality guru Alyssa Donahue (Minnelli) who does things like having the ladies in her class draw pictures of their vaginas, and then examine the real thing in a pocket mirror for comparison. Donahue recommends masturbation and plenty of it, leading Priscilla to a sex toy store where a helpful clerk (an uncredited Graham) dissuades her from purchasing a vibrator the size of Pike’s Peak and instead steers her towards something a bit more realistic.

Priscilla’s self-stimulation leads to – wonder of wonders – her first oh Oh OH OHMYGODOHMYGODOHMYGODYESYESYESSSSSSS which, predictably changes the dynamic in her marriage. She becomes almost obsessively addicted to her vibrator, using it at every turn possible.

That essentially marks the death knell of her marriage, driving Jack to an apartment (in the lovely Manly Arms, an apartment complex for single men – oh Cleveland I never knew you were so cosmopolitan!) and into the arms of a sexually aggressive student (Barton) which is illegal even in Ohio, but seems to make sense here; after all, if I was a teacher with a student that looked like Mischa Barton, I might consider throwing my moral compass overboard, at least for a while anyway.

Priscilla soon begins to feel lonelier than ever and finds she needs more than self-stimulation. She begins an unlikely friendship with Wayne the Pool Guy (deVito) who at first is only after putting a pool in her yard so that he can make an advertisement that he put a pool in every single home in the neighborhood, but eventually reveals a deeper side to him that you wouldn’t think was there…yes, I know a deep end for the pool guy, how droll.

This got widely panned by the critics when it was released in 2006 and I can see why that is; the humor is a bit forced and juvenile at times, but there is also Posey’s stellar work as Priscilla, playing off her reputation for playing ice queen-type characters and turning Priscilla into a sympathetic figure instead. Her relationship with Wayne the Pool Guy is one of the movie’s high points, even if on the surface the romantic relationship seems unlikely as all get-out.

The insights here into human sexuality mock its importance in relationships even as it does seem to infer that it is an important component indeed. It seems that Priscilla isn’t in a complete and healthy relationship until she begins to pleasure herself, which leads to actual sex, which she finds she likes even better – despite having had it 1,428 times previously without the desired results.

This isn’t going to change your life in any particular way, but it does make for a nice way to pass the time, even if some of the laughs are more like uncomfortable giggles. Although on the surface it seems to be an unsuccessful sex farce, I found it works better if you look at it more as a study on the place of the physical element in romantic relationships. American Pie this ain’t.

WHY RENT THIS: Some nice insight into human sexuality. The deVito-Posey romance is surprisingly believable and sweet.

WHY RENT SOMETHING ELSE: The humor is sometimes too quirky for its own good and occasionally the filmmakers try to force laughs that aren’t there.

FAMILY VALUES: There is a good deal of sexuality, a bit of drug use and a moderate amount of foul language. In other words, fine for most adults but a trifle much for immature teens.

TRIVIAL PURSUIT: The Cleveland setting is well-earned, as most of the filming took place there.

NOTABLE DVD EXTRAS: None listed.

FINAL RATING: 5/10

TOMORROW: Of Time and the City

The Hangover


The Hangover

Zach Galafianakis, Bradley Cooper and Ed Helms suffer the effects of The Hangover.

(Warner Brothers) Bradley Cooper, Zach Galifianakis, Ed Helms, Heather Graham, Justin Bartha, Sasha Barese, Jeffrey Tambor, Ken Jeong, Rachel Harris, Mike Tyson, Mike Epps, Jernard Brooks, Rob Riggle. Directed by Todd Phillips.

The bachelor party is an ages-old tradition, a rite of passage in which single men transition from being men to being grooms. It’s the last hurrah for close friends as they lose one of their own to marriage, bidding goodbye forever to his independence and his cojones.

Such is the situation for Doug Billings (Bartha), whose groomsmen plan on taking him to Vegas for a night to remember. Phil Wenneck (Cooper) is the irresponsible one, married and missing the life of a single alpha male. He hopes to reclaim that, at least for one night. Stu Price (Helms) is a henpecked dentist, mortally afraid of his girlfriend (Harris) who is a world-class bitch, but he’s determined to propose to her at the wedding anyway – with his grandmother’s engagement ring, no less. Along for the ride is Alan (Galifianakis), the obese brother of the bride who has a thing about recreational drug use and gambling.

The quartet raise a glass of Jagermeister on the roof of Caesar’s Palace, then head out for a night of debauchery. When they wake up in their hotel room the next morning, they find it completely trashed. They have absolutely no memory of what occurred the night before. Stu is missing a tooth and wearing a wedding ring. The groom-to-be is nowhere in sight, and there’s a tiger in their bathroom. And where did that baby come from?

The boys have a limited amount of time to piece together what happened during their lost night and find the missing groom so they can get him to the wedding on time. Along the way they have to dodge a diminutive Chinese gangster (Jeong) with a real rude streak, two dim-witted but sadistic cops and Mike Tyson, owner of the tiger in question. Time and the odds are against them, but this is Vegas and anything can happen.

Director Phillips (Old School) and writers Jon Lucas and Scott Moore (Ghosts of Girlfriends Past) have hit a home run. This is one of the best-written comedies in years. Nearly every situation is funny as is most of the dialogue. Phillips has cast an excellent ensemble, mostly from television, and is rewarded with some career-making performances, starting with Galifianakis, who resembled John Belushi physically, but has a personality all his own. He will be catapulted into a stratum with guys like Seth Rogen, Jonah Hill and Jason Segel – and who knows, maybe alongside guys like Steve Carrell and Jim Carrey.

This is also a career-making turn for Cooper, who shows potential as a leading man, and has since his turn in the TV series “Alias.” Here he finally fulfills that potential and makes good use of his considerable charm. The character of Phil could very easily descend into obnoxious cliché, but Cooper makes him believable. Helms rises above his work on “The Office” and shows that he has far more depth and range than most give him credit for.

I have always liked Heather Graham as a comedic actress since her appearance in the Austin Powers series, and she also shows remarkable range as well. The stripper with a heart of gold is a hoary cliché in the film industry, and Graham pulls it off without sinking to formula. Her Jade is a woman with dreams and hopes who has no reasonable chance to climb beyond where she is right now, and yet she still believes. There’s a little bit of poignancy to the role that the likable Graham is perfect for.

This is a movie that has flown beneath the radar, overshadowed by much higher-profile releases, and proves to be a pleasant surprise. The critical praise for the movie has been loud and well-deserved. To be fair, there are a few false steps that the movie takes, primarily in the character of the bitchy girlfriend who might have fit the film’s ethos a bit better if she had some redeeming quality. She’s there mainly to serve as a comic foil for Helms, who doesn’t actually need one here. And, quite frankly, this is a guy’s movie. A lot of women may not necessarily find this as funny or as clever as men do.

Still, any criticisms you might level at the movie have to be minor. I’m all for pleasant surprises and The Hangover is just that, a movie with a premise that in less capable hands could be just crudeness for the sake of being crude. Instead, we get a marvelous comedy that makes you laugh without asking you to leave your brain behind. Color me impressed.

REASONS TO GO: Breakout performances by Cooper, Helms and especially Galifianakis. A smartly-written comedy that relies on believable characters and outrageous situations for its humor.

REASONS TO STAY: Definitely a movie intended for men; some women may find it offensive and not funny.

FAMILY VALUES: There is nothing remotely suitable for family audiences.  

TRIVIAL PURSUITS: The characters stay in room 2452, which adds up to 13, which is meant to be a theme for the bad luck the characters experience throughout the movie.

NOTABLE DVD FEATURES: On the 2-disc deluxe edition, there is an interactive Map of Destruction which details where the movie was filmed. There are also pictures taken by the missing camera (which has been heavily promoted in the advertising of the DVD). There is also a feature on actor Ken Jeong and how he developed his character.

FINAL RATING: 8/10

TOMORROW: Tsotsi