Win Win


Win Win

This could be a poster for the generational gap

(2011) Dramedy (Fox Searchlight) Paul Giamatti, Amy Ryan, Melanie Lynskey, Bobby Cannavale, Jeffrey Tambor, Alex Shaffer, Burt Young, Margo Martindale, David Thompson, Mike Diliello, Nina Arianda, Marcia Haufrecht, Sharon Wilkins. Directed by Thomas McCarthy

 

We sometimes find ourselves at an ethical crossroads and find ourselves pushing the line out a little bit in order to make things work. Those kinds of boundary pushing have consequences, albeit sometimes unintended ones.

Mike Flaherty (Giamatti) is a genuinely good man who is enduring an especially rough patch. His elder law practice is crashing and burning and the financial fall-out from that is severe, leading to anxiety attacks while out jogging with his best friend Terry Delfino (Cannavale). Mike is the coach of the local high school wrestling team and a more woeful bunch of athletes you are unlikely to meet; their season is going down in flames and although Mike is a decent coach, the writing is most definitely on the wall. Of course, his assistants are Delfino and Stephen Vigman (Tambor) who is a CPA who shares the dilapidated office building with Mike which should tell you something about his good-guy-making-bad-decisions persona.

Mike is representing Leo Poplar (Young), who is in the early stages of Alzheimer’s. The state wants to put him in a care facility but Leo wants to stay home. Mike discovers that Leo’s living will allows for a guardian in the event that Leo becomes unable to make decisions on his own and that the guardianship will pay $1500 a month to cover expenses. Mike petitions the judge (Wilkins) to allow him to be Leo’s guardian since they’ve been unable to locate Leo’s daughter. The judge allows this and Mike then turns Leo over to the facility anyway so he can pocket the expense money which will keep him somewhat solvent.

Then Kyle (Shaffer) shows up. Kyle is Leo’s grandson and came to town hoping Leo could put him up. Mike, feeling a little guilty, takes Kyle in which Mike’s wife Jackie (Ryan) whole-heartedly supports. It turns out that Kyle’s mom, Leo’s daughter Cindy (Lynskey) is in rehab, a drug addict who has been an unreliable caregiver. This sets Jackie’s dander up, but what floats Mike’s boat is that Kyle is also an Ohio wrestling state champion. Mike arranges for Kyle to be enrolled in his high school and adds Kyle to his team, instantly turning the program around. Seems to be a win-win situation for everyone, right?

Wrong. Cindy shows up and she wants to take Kyle back to Ohio. Worse still, she wants guardianship of her father, not so much the responsibility (which she would be unlikely to be able to handle anyway) but the money that goes with it. Of course this turns everything upside-down; Kyle is happy being part of a stable family and he mistrusts and despises his mother but he also wants Leo out of the facility and back in his home where he belongs. Mike’s web is quickly unraveling.

McCarthy has previously directed The Station Agent and The Visitor which are both very fine films, and you can add this to his filmography of movies that will stay with you long after the final credits roll. The characters aren’t indie film archetypes who appear in movie after movie; they are people with their own unique set of characteristics and who behave realistically in realistic situations. Most of us will relate to Mike’s financial predicament because most of us have been there or are there now.

Giamatti is one of those actors who almost always gives a terrific performance and along with his work in Barney’s Version of late seems to be at the top of his game, impressive at every turn. He’s become one of my favorite actors, one who can get my butt into a theater seat just because he’s in the movie. He makes Mike not just an everyman, but a believable one; a basically decent man pushed to the wall to make decisions that aren’t necessarily good ones but expedient ones. I think we all have done that at least once in our lives.

Ryan is also wonderful, playing Jackie as equally good-hearted and supportive but strong – she takes no crap but at the same time her heart goes out to a boy who has had a rough go. She’s like a she-bear whose cubs are threatened when her family – which includes Kyle – is threatened and why Mike leaves her in the dark about what’s really going on is understandable in that he wants to spare her the anxiety he is feeling, but also not in that his wife would be a solid rock. Ryan makes you wish you had a wife like her if you don’t have one, and if you do have one, count your blessings.

Shaffer has been receiving a lot of attention with his performance and for good reason. He is a natural and has great screen presence. You’d never know this was his first feature film, so natural is he before the camera. Like any first-timer there are some rough patches but this kid has some amazing potential and if he chooses to go this road, he certainly is going to be someone to keep an eye on.

The ending was a bit sitcom-ish for my tastes but that’s really one of the few bumps in the road that this movie takes us on. There are some wonderful supporting performances, particularly from Tambor, Young and Cannavale as well as Lynskey who has a pretty thankless role but does it well.

McCarthy is developing an impressive library of movies with his name on them and is a director that is rapidly becoming one who I’ll go out of my way to see sight unseen. He certainly has made another film here that is one of those quiet gems that you don’t hear much about but turns out to be well worth checking out. This is one worth finding at your local video or streaming emporium.

WHY RENT THIS: Giamatti and Ryan are terrific with some good support performances. A sweet film that doesn’t sugarcoat the hard choices. 

WHY RENT SOMETHING ELSE: A bit formulaic in the ending.

FAMILY VALUES: The language gets pretty rough in places and there are some allusions to drug use.

TRIVIAL PURSUIT: This is Shaffer’s feature film debut; he was a New Jersey State wrestling champion in 2010 as a sophomore in high school but his wrestling career came to a close when he broke an L-5 vertebra.

NOTABLE DVD EXTRAS: The DVD edition has a music video from The National for their closing credits song “Think You Can Wait.” The Blu-Ray edition adds a Sundance tour by actor David Thompson and a brief interview of McCarthy and Giamatti, also from Sundance.

BOX OFFICE PERFORMANCE: $10.8M on an unreported production budget; it is likely that the movie made a good chunk of change relatively speaking.

FINAL RATING: 8/10

TOMORROW: Client 9: The Rise and Fall of Elliot Spitzer

Tangled


Tangled

Yet another magical Disney moment.

(2010) Animated Feature (Disney) Starring the voices of Mandy Moore, Zachary Levi, Donna Murphy, Ron Perlman, M.C. Gainey, Jeffrey Tambor, Brad Garrett, Paul F. Tompkins, Richard Kiel, Anne Lockhart, Laraine Newman.  Directed by Byron Howard and Nathan Greno

Shutting your kids away from the world is a double edged sword. Sure you might be protecting your kids from the awful things that the world can be, but you also create an overwhelming curiosity that will inevitably send your kids into that world you’re so terrified of. Of course, if your motives are more selfish than for the benefit of your child, that can really come back to bite you in the tush.

Rapunzel (Moore) is locked up in a tower in the remote corner of the kingdom. She has the most amazing hair – it is incredibly long, incredibly pliable, almost alive – and when Rapunzel sings a particular song, it has the power to revive the elderly and make them young again.

Rapunzel is actually the daughter of the Kingdom’s King and Queen, stolen from them by the nasty Mother Gothel (Murphy) who wants the magic all for herself. Thus, the lonely tower, the refusal to let her out even though now she’s a curious teen who wants to see all the wonders of the bright, beautiful world outside her window, especially the bright glowing stars that move and dance in her window on her birthday. What she doesn’t know is that these are lanterns, released into the sky to help the missing princess find her way home.

Enter Flynn Rider (Levi) a somewhat dashing, not altogether unlovable criminal sort who has stolen the Princess’ tiara from the castle and who is being chased by the King’s Guards, most especially the horse Maximus who is certainly one of Disney’s most persistent characters ever. Flynn is also being chased by his compatriots, the Stabbington Brothers (Perlman) who he double-crossed.

Rapunzel sees Flynn as her ticket to see the world and manages to knock him senseless with a frying pan, his knapsack (containing the tiara) hidden as collateral for Flynn’s co-operation. Flynn takes his new role as tour guide only reluctantly but as he spends more time with Rapunzel begins to realize that he is as trapped in his own way as Rapunzel was in hers.

This is one of the most beautiful-looking Disney films in decades, going for an old-school painted look that reminds me of Disney classics like Snow White and the Seven Dwarves and Cinderella. While the movie is computer animated, it looks 2D in a lot of ways and has moments that are truly magical, such as the one where Flynn and Rapunzel are on a lake filled with floating lanterns (see photo).

There is also real chemistry between Moore and Levi; they make an appealing couple. Murphy does the Disney villainess to a “T,” making Mother Gothel malevolent but showing that delicious evil side that makes a good Disney villain so enjoyable, much like James Woods’ Hades in Hercules.

In fact, Murphy is so good, I wish the filmmakers had spent more time with her instead of the minor villains the Stabbington Brothers and the Captain of the Guard (Gainey). It tends to dilute the menace of Gothel who I’m not saying should be scaring little kids into nightmares, but should at least be a bit more formidable. I’m just saying.

The music is by long-time Disney songster Alan Mencken, who has written some of the most memorable songs in the Disney songbook. However I don’t see any of the songs here making that grade; I honestly couldn’t remember any of the tunes half an hour after the movie was over which isn’t necessarily a good thing.

Some of this smacks of a studio listening more to focus groups than to artistic muses but there is enough of the latter to make the former more bearable. There is enough princess-y stuff to make the little girl in your life go gaga, while the swashbuckling Flynn will delight the little boy in your party. Tangled is actually one of the better non-Pixar Disney movies of the last decade. It certainly is one of the best-looking and for those who have to go see a kids movie with their hyperactive spawn will appreciate the pretty pictures.

WHY RENT THIS: That Disney magic. Levi and Moore make an appealing team. Gorgeous looking movie that is very reminiscent of the 2D Disney princess classics.

WHY RENT SOMETHING ELSE: The musical numbers lack a truly memorable song. Too many villains; more time should be spent with Mother Gothel.

FAMILY VALUES: There’s a little bit of really mild cartoon violence; otherwise suitable for everyone.

TRIVIAL PURSUIT: The character of Rapunzel is constantly barefoot in the movie, a nod to voice star Mandy Moore who loves to perform sans shoes.

NOTABLE DVD EXTRAS: Surprisingly, a little sparse considering Disney’s usual kid-friendly DVD/Blu-Ray fare. There’s only a featurette called “50th Animated Feature Countdown” which is kind of a guessing game for Disneyphiles.

BOX OFFICE PERFORMANCE: $590.7M on a $260M production budget; the movie made a little bit of money in its theatrical release (but I’m sure with merchandising and home video sales made a ton).

FINAL RATING: 7/10

TOMORROW: Tabloid

Operation: Endgame


Operation: Endgame

Zach Galifianakis supplements his income with a part-time job at Target.

(2010) Spy Comedy (Anchor Bay) Joe Anderson, Ellen Barkin, Rob Corddry, Odette Yustman, Zach Galifianakis, Jeffrey Tambor, Ving Rhames, Emilie de Ravin, Maggie Q, Brandon T. Jackson, Beth Grant, Bob Odenkirk, Michael Hitchcock. Directed by Fouad Mikati

When you are a highly-trained assassin, paranoia is part of your daily routine. Of course, if you’re locked in a bunker with a group of other highly-trained assassins all of whom seem hell-bent on killing you, that paranoia might seem downright reasonable.

It is the day of new President Obama’s inauguration. In Los Angeles, an underground bunker is the headquarters for a group called the Factory, two teams of highly skilled killers (Team Alpha and Team Omega) are welcoming a new recruit to their ranks. He is codename Fool (Anderson) and no, that’s not a knock against his intelligence; all of the operatives have codenames based on the tarot deck.

However, there is much more going on than meets the eye. There is a traitor in their ranks and when Devil (Tambor) turns up deceased, the facility is accidentally put on lockdown with 90 minutes to evacuate before going ka-boom. With the identity of Devil’s murderer in question, suspicions run rampant and it becomes crystal clear that the orders have come down from on high that the two teams have been ordered to eliminate each other. Who, if anyone, will be left standing at the end is pretty much anybody’s guess.

 The concept is pretty nifty and the cast even more so, so that should make for a terrific movie right? As we all know, that isn’t always the case. The movie is sabotaged by sub-par production values and awkward moments that bring proceedings to a screeching halt every so often, and that’s not what you want to do in a thriller, an action movie, a spy movie or a comedy, all of which this movie has elements of. Maybe that’s part of the problem – too many genres in this soup.

Anderson is a bland lead, although Yustman as the romantic interest (who has a history with Fool) is pretty solid. Galifianakis, who was on the cusp of hitting it big when this was filmed, has little more than an extended cameo as a brilliant but deranged individual haunting the corridors of the bunker. Barkin is wonderful as usual as a cruel chain-smoking bitch who heads one of the teams; I’ve always thought of her as the thinking person’s Cameron Diaz. Corddry also gets kudos for an acerbic foul-mouthed mentor for Fool.

I like that the bunker is more or less a bunch of offices, and the assassins dispatch each other with a variety of office supplies. Some of these murders are rather clever and more than a few are pretty gruesome. The somewhat banal environment accentuates the horror of the bloodshed nicely. These sequences tend to work better than most of the others in the movie. While the cast is impressive, for the most part the characters are kind of one-note and exist to have a cool Tarot-related name and eventually get bumped off.

All of this could have been forgiven if the movie had a little bit more fun in it but the fun felt forced. I would have wished for something with a little more energy; at times, it felt like a direct-to-cable release that in a lot of ways it was. Operation: Endgame got a very brief theatrical release before going to home video which is where you’re going to find it now, assuming you still want to look for it. There are some moments that are genuinely entertaining, but not enough to keep my interest throughout.

WHY RENT THIS: Fun concept and when the movie hits its high notes, it is quite entertaining.

WHY RENT SOMETHING ELSE: Not enough high notes. Feels more like a made-for-cable movie.

FAMILY VALUES: The violence is pretty much off-the-chart, there are a few sexual references and a good deal of swearing permeates the soundtrack.

TRIVIAL PURSUIT: The movie was originally titled “Rogue’s Gallery.”

NOTABLE DVD EXTRAS: None listed.

BOX OFFICE PERFORMANCE: Not available.

FINAL RATING: 5/10

TOMORROW: The Change-Up

Hellboy II: The Golden Army


Hellboy II: The Golden Army

How about a little eye candy little girl?

(2008) Action (Universal) Ron Perlman, Selma Blair, Doug Jones, Luke Goss, Seth McFarlane, Anna Wilson, Brian Steele, Roy Dotrice, John Hurt, Jeffrey Tambor, Jimmy Kimmel, James Dodd, Andrew Hefler, Ivan Kamaras, Mike Kelly.  Directed by Guillermo del Toro

We’ve seen in movies like An Inconvenient Truth and Wall-E cautionary tales of what happens if we continue to abuse our environment. The end of mankind on Earth may come in an unending pile of garbage in the latter, or in the inability of our planet to sustain us in the former. Of course, what nobody realizes is that our ecological irresponsibility is pissing off the faeries.

That’s right, the races of myth and legend – the trolls, faeries and so on – have been living underground as the result of a treaty imposed on them by humankind  for eons and they are heartbroken at what we’ve done to their planet. One of them – Prince Nuada (Goss) is a little bit more than heartbroken. He’s cheesed off and has decided to resurrect an indestructible Golden Army that will eradicate humans from the Earth if he’s successful.

Of course Hellboy (Perlman) and his cohorts Abe Sapien (Jones), a half-fish half-man telepath, Liz (Blair), a pyromancer, and Johann Krauss (Dodd, voiced by McFarlane) who is more or less a ghost inhabiting a mechanical body, object to this in the strongest possible terms. They do so with the assistance of Princess Nuala (Wilson), Nuada’s twin sister whom Abe has fallen for like a salmon in spawning season.

The group will battle lethal tooth fairies, gigantic squid-like demons, a very dangerous Troll Market and finally the Golden Army itself to save mankind from the mad Prince. There are times that Hellboy has to wonder if we’re really worth saving.

Del Toro, who did this movie immediately after the Oscar nominated Pan’s Labyrinth, is one of the most visually striking directors on Planet Earth. He has an imagination and a vision that is extraordinary and singular; the result is that Hellboy II: The Golden Army is one of the most visually intriguing movies of the past five years. Not only is Mike Mignola’s comic book brought to life, it’s actually fleshed out into a world even Mignola couldn’t adequately create. The movie has an epic quality to it as a result.

Perlman has made Hellboy a relatable character, one who has been forced into isolation for his demonic background and whose many idiosyncrasies rather than make him a caricature serve to make him more human than his visage would allow. While he is less a center of focus than he was in the first film, he is nonetheless a major reason why this movie works so well.

The supporting cast fares pretty well. Tambor, as the bureaucrat who runs Hellboy’s BPRD, is solid and witty, while there is a melancholy element in Goss’s villain performance which makes him stand out among a galaxy of comic book villain who really are more or less all the same. Jones as the lovelorn Sapien gets to voice a character he only played physically in the first movie (David Hyde Pierce gave the original Abe Sapien voice) and does it well. Blair’s character is a little less interesting here than in the first one but she fills it out nicely.

The story here is simple enough on the surface, but there are a lot of complications and it gets a little muddled, particularly near the end. That’s all right; every frame of this movie is an absolute gem, something that you’re going to ooh and ahh at for generations to come. The movie pulled disappointing numbers, to my mind mainly because it was exiled to an August release date in a year where blockbusters limited the landscape and wound up getting trumped by the better-promoted Journey to the Center of the Earth. It’s a shame audiences didn’t get to discover it on the big screen – it was as amazing a theatrical experience as I had that year, and to my way of thinking the kind of movie that should be seen in a movie theater and not streamed to a laptop. Some movies just need to overwhelm you, and this one is definitely one of those.

WHY RENT THIS: Serious eye candy. Del Toro is one of the most visually imaginative directors working today.

WHY RENT SOMETHING ELSE: The story is a bit muddled.

FAMILY VALUES: There is a little bit of foul language but mostly there’s a lot of violence and fantasy/sci-fi action.

TRIVIAL PURSUIT: Thomas Kretschmann was originally cast to voice Johann Kraus but when del Toro found his work dissatisfactory he brought in “Family Guy” creator Seth McFarlane to do the voice making this McFarlane’s feature motion picture debut.

NOTABLE DVD EXTRAS: The 3-Disc DVD includes a featurette on the Troll Market and one of the most informative and detailed making-of documentaries ever. An animated comic serves as an epilogue on the movie that fills in some blanks you didn’t even know were there. The Blu-Ray features a BD-Live chat with del Toro that is quite enlightening on projects he was working on (and is no longer) and the future of the Hellboy franchise. There’s also an interactive feature that allows you to pull still pictures from the movie and create a comic book, complete with word balloons which is a very little fun feature to play with.

BOX OFFICE PERFORMANCE: $160.4M on an $85M production budget; the movie lost a little money.

FINAL RATING: 8.5/10

TOMORROW: City Island

The Hangover Part II


The Hangover Part II

One night in Bangkok makes a hard man humble.

(2011) Comedy (Warner Brothers) Bradley Cooper, Ed Helms, Zach Galifianakis, Justin Bartha, Ken Jeong, Paul Giamatti, Jeffrey Tambor, Mike Tyson, Mason Lee, Jamie Chung, Sasha Barrese, Gillian Vigman, Nick Casavetes, Yasmin Lee, Sondra Currie, Nirut Sirichanya. Directed by Todd Phillips

Nothing exceeds like excess, and what happens in Bangkok, stays in Bangkok. I imagine if you look hard enough, you can find a cliché to fit any situation – and if you can’t find one that works, just make one up.

Stu (Helms) is getting married to a beautiful Thai girl (Chung) whose father (Sirichanya) doesn’t really approve of Stu or of his dental profession. It is determined that the wedding will take place in Thailand at a lovely island resort. Of course, Stu’s buddies Doug (Bartha) and Phil (Cooper) are going to go, although Phil is grousing about the lack of a bachelor party. Considering what happened in Vegas for Doug’s celebration, it’s understandable why Stu is a bit leery.

However, Doug’s brother-in-law Alan (Galifianakis) has been putting intense pressure to be invited to the wedding, their exploits in Vegas being the highlight of his life. To keep the peace, the three of them venture into Alan’s room (“I’m a live-in son,” he tells them) at his parents’ house which is a shrine to forbidden Vegas memories where Stu reluctantly invites him and thus the Wolfpack is reunited.

Added to the mix is Stu’s soon-to-be brother-in-law Teddy (Lee), a prodigal 16-year-old about to graduate at Stanford in pre-med with an eye to becoming a surgeon, as well as a classically trained cellist. Alan takes an immediate dislike to the boy, considering him an interloper on Alan’s turf. Stu, still sulking over the lack of a bachelor party, proposes that the guys all head out to the beach for a single beer and a bonfire. There they all go, ready to cast one final toast to Stu’s freedom.

They wake up in a seedy hotel with no idea where they are, how they got there and what they did the night before. Alan’s head is shaved. Stu has a Mike Tyson tattoo on his face. All of them have raging headaches. And all that’s left of Teddy is a severed finger with his Stanford ring floating in a bowl of cold water. There is also a Capuchin monkey and Mr. Chow (Jeong), the neurotic Chinese gangster from the original The Hangover.

They have to find Teddy before the wedding – there’s no way that the doting father-in-law will ever allow the marriage to take place without the apple of his eye, Teddy. To go there, the Wolfpack must brave the seedy bars and strip joints of Bangkok, the palaces of power and a singing performance by Mike Tyson. That’s right, I said singing.

If the plot sounds familiar, it’s because it is. The sequel is essentially the first movie transplanted to Bangkok in the sweltering tropics. There are some different running jokes (we don’t see Jeong’s bare tush but we see full nudity of a bunch of Thai transvestites) but the song remains the same.

The main leads here – Cooper, Helms, Galifianakis and Jeong – are all pretty amiable and Cooper looks like a romantic lead in the making. Galifianakis looks like he has the most potential in the group. His timing is impeccable and he makes Alan into a somewhat disturbed individual but anything but a caricature. Helms, from “The Office,” also has his moments and the frenetic Jeong has some as well.

The problem here is that the producers took the safe route. There is little variation in the routine that made the first movie so enjoyable. The good news is that the original routine worked pretty damn well, and we haven’t had time to get tired of it yet. There are a lot of great set pieces and really funny jokes, mostly uttered by Galifianakis. In many ways it’s his movie and the others are just reacting to him.

There is some waste here too – Giamatti as a criminal boss lacks the bite of his work in Shoot ‘em Up and Tambor basically appears in only one scene. And this movie is crude. I’m talking crude enough to make the Farrelly Brothers wince and Judd Apatow murmur “Too far man, too far…” Certain mainstream critics have been criticizing the movie for it but c’mon, if you saw the first movie you have to know what was coming. Don’t write your review for the Tea Party bluenoses.

So does it deserve the huge box office numbers it’s been getting? Yes and no. Obviously, people are looking for the familiar in their multiplexes and certainly this will give the people what they want in that regard. I have no objection to the concept of a The Hangover Part III but I sure hope they put some kind of variation in the formula when they make that one.

REASONS TO GO: The movie is funny more often than it is not, which is an accomplishment these days. Helms, Cooper, Galifianakis and Jeong rock.

REASONS TO STAY: Pretty much the first movie done in Bangkok instead of Vegas,

FAMILY VALUES: Oh, the language. It could have been the sexual situations and nudity. Maybe it’s the violence, or the drug use. In any case, this got an R rating for a reason.

TRIVIAL PURSUIT: Former President Bill Clinton visited the set in Bangkok, leading to rumors that he was performing a cameo in the movie but this proved to be erroneous. Bradley Cooper stated on several talk shows that he actually expressed interest in doing a sequel to The A-Team if one was ever made.

HOME OR THEATER: It is not mandatory to see this in a theater, but you may want to so that you can understand the water cooler references afterwards.

FINAL RATING: 7/10

TOMORROW: Cave of Forgotten Dreams

New Releases for the Week of April 8, 2011


April 8, 2011
Russell Brand is looking for his Ginger Rogers.

 

ARTHUR

(Warner Brothers) Russell Brand, Helen Mirren, Jennifer Garner, Greta Gerwig, Luis Guzman, Nick Nolte, Geraldine James, Evander Holyfield, Christina Calph. Directed by Jason Winer

The heir to a billion dollar fortune has lived a charmed life, having every need met instantly, cared for by a tough, sensible but ultimately caring nanny. When his mother determines that he must marry in order to increase the family fortune, he is at first reluctant; he has always wanted to marry for love but hasn’t found the right girl yet. So when the right girl shows up and turns out to be a poor tour guide, he is caught in between the age-old struggle between love and money.

See the trailer, interviews and clips here.

For more on the movie this is the website.

Release formats: Standard

Genre: Comedy

Rating: PG-13 (for alcohol use throughout, sexual content, language and some drug references)

Born To Be Wild 3D

(Warner Brothers) Morgan Freeman (narration), Dr. Barute Galdikas, Dame Daphne Sheldrick. As the interrelationship between humanity and nature becomes closer as we learn more about how our planet works, the urgency of protecting wildlife and the environment becomes greater. This movie examines several extraordinary people who take wild animals that have been orphaned and train them to survive in the wild.

See the trailer and featurettes here.

For more on the movie this is the website.

Release formats: IMAX 3D

Genre: Nature Documentary

Rating: G

Hanna

(Focus) Saoirse Ronan, Cate Blanchett, Eric Bana, Jason Flemyng. A young girl, raised to be the perfect assassin by her rogue operative CIA father goes on a mission that will take her across Europe. It will also bring her face to face with her past, most of which is unknown to her and force her to re-examine her future – all the while pursued by a ruthless agency operative who has her own agenda and her own hidden secrets.

See the trailer, featurettes, interviews and clips here.

For more on the movie this is the website.

Release formats: Standard

Genre: Thriller

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

Miral

(Weinstein) Freida Pinto, Hiam Abbass, Willem Dafoe, Vanessa Redgrave. A Palestinian orphan in a refugee orphanage at the emergence of the state of Israel becomes involved in the Palestinian underground resistance. Eventually she is sent to teach at another orphanage where she becomes romantically involved with a political activist.

See the trailer, clips and interviews here.

For more on the movie this is the website.

Release formats: Standard

Genre: Romantic Drama

Rating: PG-13 (for thematic appeal and some violent content including a sexual assault)

Of Gods and Men

(Sony Classics) Lambert Wilson, Michael Lonsdale, Olivier Rabourdin, Philippe Lauderbach. A monastery in North Africa in the 1990s has never had any problems with their Muslim neighbors. After an Islamic fundamentalist group massacres a crew of foreign workers, tensions begin to escalate. When they are ordered to leave by their church for their own safety, they make the decision to stay despite terrible risks.

See the trailer and clips here.

For more on the movie this is the website.

Release formats: Standard

Genre: Drama Based on a True Story

Rating: PG-13 (for a momentary scene of startling wartime violence, some disturbing images and brief language)

Soul Surfer

(TriStar/FilmDistrict) Dennis Quaid, Helen Hunt, AnnaSophia Robb, Carrie Underwood. A young girl with dreams of surfing superstardom has her dreams cut short by a horrific accident. Driven by her own ambitions, her fierce will to overcome any obstacle, she beats the odds by getting back in the water, recovering from her terrible injuries and proving an inspiration to others not only as a surfer but in her devotion to helping others in the aftermath of the 2004 Christmas Eve tsunami.

See the trailer, interviews and clips here.

For more on the movie this is the website.

Release formats: Standard

Genre: True Sports Drama

Rating: PG (for an intense accident sequence and some thematic material) 

Win Win

(Fox Searchlight) Paul Giamatti, Amy Ryan, Melanie Lynskey, Jeffrey Tambor. A struggling lawyer takes on legal guardianship of an elderly client to help keep his practice from going under. The lawyer also coaches the local high school wrestling team in order to bring in some extra cash, although the team is woeful at best. When the client’s troubled grandson comes to live with him and turns out to be a stellar wrestler, it appears to be a no-lose situation for the lawyer, but as such things usually do, things quickly begin to unravel.

See the trailer, clips and interviews here.

For more on the movie this is the website.

Release formats: Standard

Genre: Drama

Rating: R (for language)

Your Highness

(Universal) Danny McBride, James Franco, Natalie Portman, Zooey Deschanel. When the fiancée of the heir apparent of the realm is kidnapped by an evil wizard, he must go and rescue her like any prince worth his salt. However, it’s more than he can handle alone – so he must take his good-for-nothing younger brother who has absolutely no wish to go on a quest. The two are aided by a fierce amazon who has her own reasons for going after the wizard.

See the trailer, clips, interviews and promos here.

For more on the movie this is the website.

Release formats: Standard

Genre: Comic Fantasy

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

Paul


Paul

Paul still hasn't gotten the concept of the Finger perfected just yet.

(2011) Sci-Fi Comedy (Universal) Simon Pegg, Nick Frost, Seth Rogen (voice), Kirsten Wiig, Jason Bateman, Sigourney Weaver, Jeffrey Tambor, John Carroll Lynch, Jane Lynch, Bill Hader, Joe Lo Truglio, Blythe Danner, David Koechner, Jesse Plemons. Directed by Greg Mottola

There is a truism about being careful what you wish for. This is particularly true if you’re a science fiction geek on a road trip to America and are driving past Area 51.

That’s what British sci-fi geeks Graeme Willie (Pegg) and Clive Gollings (Frost) are doing. They start off at San Diego’s legendary Comic Con (and for those who haven’t been there, it is heaven on earth for the fanboy contingent, a bucket list kind of event) where they meet noted sci-fi author and cult figure Adam Shadowchild (Tambor) who pooh-poohs Clive’s aspirations of being a writer and Graeme’s abilities as an artist. Then it’s into a rented RV and off to see America!

A not-particularly-comfortable encounter with a couple of rednecks (Koechner, Plemons) and a kindly diner waitress (J. Lynch) sends the Brits at warp speed down the Alien Highway where they are overtaken by a sedan which crashes in front of their eyes. When they investigate the wreck to make sure the driver’s okay, they discover to their shock that the driver is an illegal alien – and I’m not talking the sort that George Lopez jokes about. No, this is a little green man, who goes by the name of Paul (Rogen), named after the dog who he landed on with his spacecraft in the opening of the film. Clive promptly faints.

Paul begs Graeme for help, knowing he is being chased by one of those mysterious government agents – Agent Zoil (Bateman) to be exact. Paul needs to get to a particular location so that he can meet up with a rescue ship that will take him home. Graeme being a kindly sort agrees.

What ensues is a road trip odyssey that takes the boys to an American backwater of UFO myth and legend, running into ambitious but ignorant agents (Hader, Lo Truglio), a shoot first, ask questions later Bible-carryin’ shotgun-totin’ Fundamentalist (J.C. Lynch) and his naïve but misguided daughter (Wiig) whose belief system is thrown into disarray by the presence of Paul. When she realizes that all her previously held notions is wrong, she starts cursing up a storm and gets right to drinking, drugging and fornicating. My kind of girl.

Mottola has previously directed comedy gems Superbad and Adventureland. This continues his winning streak, giving us a comedy that is solidly funny throughout, dropping in-jokes about science fiction films and fandom in general like mustard on a hot dog. While some of those insider asides are subtle enough to keep fanboys smug and arrogant, the majority are obvious enough that any moviegoer who has seen at least a few sci-fi movies will get the majority of them.

Pegg and Frost, who established their reputation in such films as Hot Fuzz and Shaun of the Dead, are perhaps the best comic duo working today. Their easy rapport helps give Paul its heart and charm, making the two sci-fi geekoids believable without poking fun at the species with undue cruelty which fanboy films often do.

There are loads of cameos and terrific supporting actors here, including Bergen as the grown up version of a girl whose life is forever altered by the crash landing of a space vehicle, and Weaver as the brass-balled head of a mysterious covert government agency. Both Lynches  – Jane and John Carroll – inhabit their roles nicely, with Jane moving a little outside her normal persona as a heart of gold diner waitress with a soft spot for geeks, and John Carroll, nearly unrecognizable as the hellbent pursuer of the geeks who kidnapped his daughter.

As said daughter, Wiig has a role that could easily have been played over-the-top and for parody (and in the hands of a lesser actress – and director – probably would have) but instead, she delivers a subtle and nuanced performance as a woman whose universe is completely shaken up; if she’s a little batty at first it’s completely understandable and so she becomes a sympathetic figure rather than a ridiculous one.

Rogen has gotten some heat from critics for his performance as Paul, which is essentially a motion capture alien who sounds like Seth Rogen. Rogen’s shtick is a little jarring at times, but in defense of the guy you have to remember that Paul has been stuck on this planet for more than 40 years, plenty of time to acclimatize. I thought Rogen gave the movie plenty of character and while whether he has been over-exposed is a matter of opinion, I think he does a fine job here.

Fanboys are going to love the movie a lot more than the average moviegoer and quite frankly, Pegg and Frost have yet to produce much more than a cult following here in the States, nor is Paul likely to generate one. Still, there’s enough here to make it worth your while to check out, particularly if you have a great deal of love for science fiction and its mad, devoted followers. Sci-fi geeks, this is your movie and these are your people!

REASONS TO GO: Laugh-out-loud funny throughout. Lots of sci-fi nerd in-jokes. Pegg and Frost one of the premiere comedy teams working today.

REASONS TO STAY: Hit and miss on some of the humor. May be too fanboy-centric to appeal to a wider audience.

FAMILY VALUES: The language is plenty foul, particularly in Ruth’s case. There is also some drug use and some sexual references.

TRIVIAL PURSUIT: John Carroll Lynch who plays Moses Buggs is only ten years older than Kirsten Wiig, who plays his daughter.

HOME OR THEATER: I think the movie theater experience is indicated here.

FINAL RATING: 6.5/10

TOMORROW: Babel

New Releases for the Week of March 18, 2011


Paul

What's wrong with this picture? That's right - nerds with beautiful girls.

PAUL

(Universal) Simon Pegg, Nick Frost, Seth Rogen (voice), Kirsten Wiig, Jason Bateman, Bill Hader, Sigourney Weaver, Jeffrey Tambor, John Carroll Lynch, Jane Lynch, David Koechner, Steven Spielberg, Joe Lo Truglio, Blythe Danner. Directed by Greg Mottola 

A couple of sci-fi nerds from England decide to take a road trip in the United States to visit all the UFO hot spots. While outside of Area 51, they pick up an unexpected hitchhiker – a genuine alien. However, he is nothing like you would expect an alien to be and as it turns out, the movies got them all wrong! Damn that Steven Spielberg!!! In any case, a shadowy government agency is after them because they want the alien back. They’ll want to keep him as far from Arizona as they can.

See the trailer, promos, interviews, clips and featurettes here.

For more on the movie this is the website.

Release formats: Standard

Genre: Science Fiction Comedy

Rating: R (for language including sexual references and some drug use)

I Saw the Devil

(Magnet) Byung-hun Lee, Min-sik Choi, San-ha Oh, Yoon-seo Kim. After the pregnant wife of a police inspector is brutally murdered by a serial killer, the inspector crosses the line of justice and vengeance. In so doing, he becomes worse than the monster he’s chasing. Is there a way back into the light once you’ve embraced the darkness?

See the trailer and a clip here.

For more on the movie this is the website.

Release formats: Standard

Genre: Drama

Rating: NR

Limitless

(Relativity/Rogue) Bradley Cooper, Robert De Niro, Abbie Cornish, Anna Friel. A failing writer discovers a drug that allows you to access all of your brain instead of the 20% or so we mostly use now. His new-found mental capacity at first gives him success, wealth and confidence but it also attracts attention from the unscrupulous who want to exploit him. And let’s talk about side effects shall we? 

See the trailer, clips and interviews here.

For more on the movie this is the website.

Release formats: Standard

Genre: Science Fiction Thriller

Rating: PG-13 (for thematic material involving a drug, violence including disturbing images, sexuality and language)

The Lincoln Lawyer

(Lionsgate) Matthew McConaughey, Ryan Philippe, Marisa Tomei, Josh Lucas. A sleazy criminal defense lawyer who operates from the back of a Lincoln sedan stumbles into a high profile case that could well be his ticket to the big time. However, complications arise (as they inevitably do) and the lawyer winds up facing a crisis of conscience that may well destroy everything he has.

See the trailer, news stories, interviews and clips here.

For more on the movie this is the website.

Release formats: Standard

Genre: Thriller

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

Lord of the Dance in 3D

(SuperVision Media) Michael Flatley, Bernadette Flynn, Tom Cunningham, Clara Sexton. The worldwide stage hit that popularized Celtic dance comes to the big screen in a lavish 3D environment that brings audiences right on the stage with the dancers. For all you who loved the stage show, this is your chance to become part of the show in this limited engagement performance.

See the trailer here.

For more on the movie this is the website.

Release formats: Special Engagement, 3D

Genre: Musical

Rating: NR

Tiny Furniture

(IFC) Lena Dunham, Laurie Simmons, Grace Dunham, Alex Karpovsky. A young woman moves back in with her mom after her boyfriend leaves her and she graduates college with a degree that’s more or less useless. Competing with an overachieving younger sister, she drinks, has meaningless, passionless sex and takes a dead-end job that she hates. She knows what her potential is; she’s just needing someone to tell her who she is.

See the trailer here.

For more on the movie this is the website.

Release formats: Standard

Genre: Comedy

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

 

How the Grinch Stole Christmas


How the Grinch Stole Christmas
Jim Carrey makes a point about Taylor Momsen’s hairstyle; it’s a bit too drab.

(2000) Holiday Fantasy (Universal) Jim Carrey, Taylor Momsen, Jeffrey Tambor, Christine Baranski, Bill Irwin, Molly Shannon, Clint Howard, Mindy Sterling, Anthony Hopkins (voice). Directed by Ron Howard

Family movies, particularly those concerning the holidays, have become increasingly marketing-oriented, substituting toys and corporate tie-ins for good storytelling and meaningful lessons. It’s ironic that this live-action remake of a beloved animated classic that espouses the feeling behind Christmas over the commercialism that Christmas has become should be marketed so aggressively – with toys and corporate tie-ins.

Irony aside, most of us who aren’t named Ebeneezer Scrooge know the story of “How the Grinch Stole Christmas.” A mean-spirited, cold-hearted (that heart being two sizes too small) creature known as the Grinch (Carrey) sits in his mountain lair, dreading the coming of Christmas, a holiday loathed by the green-furred curmudgeon. Taking solace by playing mean-spirited pranks on his Christmas-obsessed neighbors down in Whoville (known as Whos, creatures with off-the-wall haircuts and upwardly mobile noses), the Grinch is eventually goaded into a dastardly scheme. He means to eradicate every vestige of Christmas from Whoville while the unsuspecting Whos slumber amid the splendors of pine and light.

With the reluctant help of his adorable mutt Max, the Grinch devises a Santa suit and a rather unlikely-looking sleigh to carry out his nefarious deed. Of course, we all know how it ends – so there’s no need to discuss that here.

Director Ron Howard goes deeper into the background story of the Grinch, exploring the reasons behind his hate affair with the Yuletide, and adds numerous subplots, turning tiny Cindy Lou Who (Momsen) into a central character, whose non-judgmental belief in the goodness of the Grinch proves to be the linchpin the story revolves around. Writer Jeffrey Price adds a love interest (Baranski), a pompous mayor (Tambor) and Cindy Lou’s simple but eventually steadfast dad (Irwin).

The onscreen Whoville appears just as the late Theodore Geisel drew it, only in greater detail. Methinks the film’s designers spent a lot of time examining Seuss Landing at Universal’s Islands of Adventure; the set bears a striking resemblance to the theme park. Much like Never-Never Land in “Hook,” Whoville and the Mount Crumpit Grinch Cave become pivotal to the movie’s success, becoming places that are real and that we want to visit. Whoville may not be the star of the show, but it’s certainly an important cast member.

In one of his most physically demanding roles, Carrey brings the Grinch to life and though he can’t resist the over-the-top mugging that keeps me from being a big fan of his work, I am nonetheless impressed with his commitment to the character. Young Momsen makes a charming Cindy Lou Who, and though it probably wasn’t a wise idea to let her sing, she at least is off-key with heart. Boris Karloff is no longer with us to narrate, but Hopkins is the best person for filling those shoes that we have today, Christopher Lee notwithstanding.

This is a family movie that is actually for the whole family. Young ‘uns will appreciate the simple story, the physical comedy and the wonderful eye candy. Adults (most of us who grew up with Dr. Seuss or reading it to someone who did) will find comfort in the nostalgia that is evoked, and delight in seeing Whoville brought to life.

Add “How the Grinch Stole Christmas” to the list of timeless holiday classics that we’ll want to revisit again and again through the years. It’s a marvelous treat for the entire family or share with a date, or even just experience by yourself. Da Queen gave this one sentimental hankie, and for once, I think she underrated it.

WHY RENT THIS: The dazzling Whoville set brings Dr. Seuss to life. Certainly there are moments in the movie when the Christmas spirit really shows through.

WHY RENT SOMETHING ELSE: Carrey has a tendency to overdo it at times.

FAMILY VALUES: Some of the humor is a little crude but otherwise this is a holiday classic fit for the entire family.

TRIVIAL PURSUIT: The Whoville set was built behind the Psycho house on the Universal lot in California. Sometimes during breaks in filming, Carrey would run out of the house while wearing a dress and brandishing a knife, startling the tourists taking the Backlot Tram Tour but nobody ever recognized him.

NOTABLE DVD EXTRAS: There’s a music video of Faith Hill’s performance of “Where Are You Christmas” (the song Momsen sings, sorta, in the film) and some interesting featurettes on translating Dr. Seuss’ world to the screen as well as the instructions that went to the extras on how to be Whos.

BOX OFFICE PERFORMANCE: $345.1M on a $123M production budget; the movie was a hit.

FINAL RATING: 8/10

TOMORROW: The Holly and The Quill concludes with the review of a Holiday Classic and a special Christmas story.

New Releases for the Week of November 26, 2010


November 26, 2010

Rider is having a bad hair day.

 

TANGLED

(Disney) Starring the voices of Zachary Levi, Mandy Moore, Donna Murphy, Ron Perlman, Jeffrey Tambor, M.C. Gainey, Brad Garrett, Paul F. Tompkins. Directed by Byron Howard and Nathan Greno

Rapunzel gets the Disney feature treatment in this updated and somewhat irreverent version of the Fairy Tale. Flynn Rider is a cocksure but capable thief who has gone a little bit too far and has the entire kingdom looking for him – half to imprison him, the other half to kill him. He decides to hole up in an isolated tower in the middle of nowhere until the heat blows over, never realizing that the girl who lives in the tower is far more dangerous than all the king’s men put together.

See the trailer, featurettes, clips and interviews here.

For more on the movie this is the website.

Release formats: Standard, 3D

Genre: Animated Fantasy

Rating: PG (for brief mild violence)

127 Hours

(Fox Searchlight) James Franco, Amber Tamblyn, Kate Mara, Kate Burton. The Oscar-winning director of Slumdog Millionaire returns with this astonishing true story of Aron Ralston, a type-A personality who gets trapped by a boulder pinning his arm to a mountain while climbing and has to go to astonishing lengths in order to survive and escape. Franco is considered a lock for an Oscar nomination and the movie may well be one of the big contenders for a number of different Oscars in February, including Best Picture.

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

For more on the movie this is the website.

Release formats: Standard

Genre: Drama

Rating: R (for language and some disturbing violent content/bloody images)

Break Ke Baad

(Reliance Big Pictures) Deepika Padukone, Imran Khan, Sharmila Tagore, Navin Nischol. Two childhood friends are drawn together by their passions which also threaten to separate them forever – her dreams of becoming an actress and his love for her. Polar opposites in their lives, they will either find the strength to carry on together, or be without each other forever.

See the trailer here.

For more on the movie this is the website.

Release formats: Standard

Genre: Romantic Drama

Rating: NR

Burlesque

 (Screen Gems) Cher, Christina Aguilera, Stanley Tucci, Eric Dane. A starry-eyed young girl from a small town goes to L.A. to become a star. She goes to one of the last burlesque-style nightclubs in the city, only to be told she doesn’t have what it takes. She believes in herself and her talent and eventually gets the opportunity, and uses it to become a star. Stardom, sadly, isn’t everything she thought it would be…say, didn’t Judy Garland make a movie like this a few years back?

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

For more on the movie this is the website.

Release formats: Standard

Genre: Musical Drama

Rating: PG-13 (for sexual content including several suggestive dance routines, partial nudity, language and some thematic material)

Faster

 (CBS) Dwayne Johnson, Billy Bob Thornton, Carla Gugino, Maggie Grace. After ten years in prison, Driver looks to avenge the death of his brother, which came during a botched heist that led to him getting pinched in the first place. Now, with a dogged cop on his tail and a demented hit man not far behind, Driver’s to-do list is getting shorter by the day, but it might just get him killed.

See the trailer, clips and a featurette here.

For more on the movie this is the website.

Release formats: Standard

Genre: Action Thriller

Rating: R (for strong violence, some drug use and language)

Love and Other Drugs

 (20th Century Fox) Jake Gyllenhaal, Anne Hathaway, Oliver Platt, Hank Azaria. A young pharmaceutical salesman has everything going for him – women, career success, and great friends. When he hooks up with the one woman he can’t have, he becomes enmeshed in the folds of heartbreak just as his greatest opportunity for wealth materializes – a new wonder drug called Viagra.

See the trailer, interviews and clips here.

For more on the movie this is the website.

Release formats: Standard

Genre: Drama

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