New Releases for the Week of April 12, 2013


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(Warner Brothers) Chadwick Boseman, Harrison Ford, Nicole Beharie, Christopher Meloni, Andre Holland, Lucas Black, Hamish Linklater, T.R. Knight. Directed by Brian Helgeland

One of the greatest heroes of the 20th Century was Jackie Robinson, the legendary Brooklyn Dodgers second baseman who became the first African-American to play Major League Baseball. Most of us are aware of his role in integrating sports but few really understand directly the hardships he faced. Many whites thought he was despoiling the national pastime, some of his teammates included. Hopefully this movie will give us a greater appreciation of his heroism.

See the trailer here.

For more on the movie this is the website.

Release formats: Standard

Genre: Sports Biography

Rating: PG-13 (for thematic elements including language)

Ginger and Rosa

(A24) Elle Fanning, Alessandro Nivola, Christina Hendricks, Timothy Spall. Two teenage girls in the London of the swinging ’60s who are the fastest of friends must come to terms with the approach of adulthood, the potential for nuclear war and their own feelings for certain men and boys. When one succumbs to forbidden desires, the other believes that she can only save her friend through saving the world – and sets out to do just that.

See the trailer here.

For more on the movie this is the website.

Release formats: Standard

Genre: Coming of Age Drama

Rating: PG-13 (for mature disturbing thematic material involving teen choices – sexuality, drinking, smoking, and for language) 

No

(Sony Classics) Gael Garcia Bernal, Alfredo Castro, Antonia Zegers, Marcial Tagle. Based on actual events, this tells the story of how when Chilean dictator Agustin Pinochet, facing international pressure, called a referendum on his presidency (which was expected to be a whitewash), opposition leaders recruited an advertising executive to spearhead their campaign. Knowing that a misstep would bring one of the most brutal regimes in history down on their heads, they contrive a clever and imaginative campaign to convince the Chilean people to vote no…but will it work? And what will be accomplished if it does?

See the trailer here.

For more on the movie this is the website.

Release formats: Standard

Genre: Historical Drama

Rating: R (for language)

Not Today

(Ocean Avenue) Cody Longo, Walid Amini, John Schneider, Shari Wiedmann. A privileged young man, vacationing in India, refuses to help a starving man and his daughter. Racked by guilt, he determines to help those he turned his back on only to discover that the man was forced to sell his daughter to human traffickers. Guided by the faith of his family back home, he pledges to make a difference and reunite a family torn apart.

See the trailer here.

For more on the movie this is the website.

Release formats: Standard

Genre: Drama

Rating: PG-13 (for mature thematic material)

The Place Beyond the Pines

(Focus) Ryan Gosling, Bradley Cooper, Eva Mendes, Ray Liotta. A stunt motorcycle performer travelling town to town with a carnival discovers that he has fathered a child. Yearning to do right by his son, he settles down and gets a job but once his talents are discovered, he falls in with a jewel thief, sending him on a collision course with a cop in a corrupt police force. The two men’s lives will be permanently entwined as the sins of the fathers will be passed down to both of their sons.

See the trailer, a clip and a featurette here.

For more on the movie this is the website.

Release formats: Standard

Genre: Drama

Rating: R (for language throughout, some violence, teen drug and alcohol use, and a sexual reference)  

Scary Movie V

(Dimension) Erica Ash, Jerry O’Connell, Simon Rex, Ashley Tisdale. The newest installment in the horror spoof franchise that just refuses to die sends up, among others, Black Swan, Paranormal Activity, The Evil Dead, Sinister and Mama. If you can’t say anything nice…

See the trailer, a clip and a promo here.

For more on the movie this is the website.

Release formats: Standard

Genre: Horror Spoof

Rating: PG-13 (for crude and sexual content throughout, language, some drug material, partial nudity, comic violence and gore)

Trance

(Fox Searchlight) James McAvoy, Rosario Dawson, Vincent Cassel, Danny Sapani. An art auctioneer enters a deal with the devil (or in this case a gangland boss) to steal a priceless Goya. However, the auctioneer double crosses the boss, moving him to beat the auctioneer unconscious. When he regains consciousness, the auctioneer no longer remembers where he hid the painting. A hypnotist is engaged to see if she can find the trigger to fetch the location from the auctioneer’s damaged brain when reality and hypnosis begin to blend…

See the trailer, featurettes and a clip here.

For more on the movie this is the website.

Release formats: Standard

Genre: Thriller

Rating: R (for sexual content, graphic nudity, violence, some grisly images, and language)

Mission to Mars


Mission to Mars

A little romantic skydancing never hurts a relationship.

(2000) Science Fiction (Touchstone) Gary Sinese, Tim Robbins, Don Cheadle, Connie Nielsen, Jerry O’Connell, Peter Outerbridge Kavan Smith, Jill Teed, Elise Neal, Kim Delaney, Armin Mueller-Stahl, Robert Bailey Jr., Patricia Harras, Lynda Boyd, Jody Thompson, Lucia Walters Pamela Diaz. Directed by Brian De Palma

The human nature is to explore, to find out what lies beyond where we have already been; to ask questions and then find answers. We explore without; the world around us, and someday, the worlds beyond our own. We also explore within; who we are, where we come from and where we are going. Hey, it keeps us busy.

Mission to Mars looks at that aspect of ourselves. Set in 2020, it posits the first manned mission to the Red Planet. Tragedy dogs the mission even before it leaves; its commander, Jim McConnell (Sinese), withdraws following the death of his wife and co-commander of the mission.

At first, the mission seems fairly routine; to discover the feasibility of colonization. However, the new mission commander, Luke Graham (Cheadle) discovers an anomaly, one which quickly turns deadly. When it becomes clear to mission control that something has gone wrong at Mars Base, a rescue mission is mounted, led by Woody Blake (Robbins), his wife Terri (Nielsen) and mission specialist Phil Ohlmyer (O’Connell). Blake insists that McConnell accompany the team, as he is the one who wrote the mission plan for the original expedition, including a possible rescue situation, and knows more about Mars than any other astronaut. It takes some convincing of the still-grieving McConnell but he eventually realizes that he could save lives so he assents.

The rescue mission also meets with unexpected tragedy after a micrometeorite shower holes the ship. The rescue party has to use all their resourcefulness in order to make it to the planet. There, they find the object of their mission … and a puzzle for them to solve. It explains why the first mission had to die … and a whole lot more. Think of this as a junior 2001: A Space Odyssey with better special effects and a director who is more of a storyteller. That, perhaps, is the biggest problem with M2M; rather than leave the mystery pretty much unsolved, letting the audience come to its own conclusions as Stanley Kubrick did with his film, director Brian de Palma makes sure that everything is explained in nice, neat little packages. That takes away from the grandeur of the mystery, and leaves us feeling like Peggy Lee; is that all there is?

Visually, there are some stunning moments, particularly late in the movie during the Martian Head scene, and during a cataclysmic accident. Sinese and Robbins are solid actors who never disappoint; Sinese is particularly excellent, playing an astronaut for the first time since Apollo 13 and comporting himself as a complex man, switching between mourning his wife and achieving the dream they both shared. Cheadle is an actor whose stock in Hollywood was on the rise when this was made; for me it cemented his standing as an actor whose every role was worth seeking out, a place he occupies to this day.

It makes for an odd switch; I’m usually more forgiving of the excesses of sci-fi flicks than Da Queen, but she liked this movie better than I did. That it got a one-hanky recommendation from Da Queen is telling enough; that she found it thought-provoking should be recommendation enough for anyone. For my part, I give it a mild recommendation; certainly, it’s worth seeing for the scope of its vision as well as the performances of its solid cast. I also give the writers props for avoiding cliché characterization and action for its own sake.

Still, I’ve seen 2001, I’ve enjoyed 2001 (although I didn’t love 2001), but this ain’t 2001.

WHY RENT THIS: Some spectacular effects sequences. Solid performances from Sinese, Cheadle and Robbins.

WHY RENT SOMETHING ELSE: Explains too much – a little more mystery would have gone a long way. Could have used more depth in characterization.

FAMILY MATTERS: There is a bit of violence, some bad language and a few disturbing images.

TRIVIAL PURSUITS: There is a “hidden Mickey,” seen here when the Mars Explorer lines up with Mars, the rotating circular hub of the spacecraft and antenna dish form the iconic image of Mickey Mouse. Of course, Touchstone is a division of Disney, and “hidden Mickeys” are notoriously placed throughout all of the Disney theme parks as easter eggs for their guests.

NOTABLE HOME VIDEO FEATURES: There is an animatics to finished scene comparison that is fairly interesting. The making of featurette also shows the input of NASA into the finished film making it a little more interesting than most.

BOX OFICE PERFORMANCE: $111.0M on a $100M production budget; the movie’s ambitious budget outpaced it’s decent box office and so it was unprofitable during its theatrical release.

COMPARISON SHOPPING: 2001: A Space Odyssey (in case I didn’t make it clear in the review)

FINAL RATING: 5.5/10

NEXT: Skyfall

Piranha 3D


Piranha 3D

Jerry O'Connell gets a little skinnier during his dip.

(2010) Horror (Dimension) Jerry O’Connell, Elizabeth Shue, Christopher Lloyd, Steven R. McQueen. Richard Dreyfuss, Ving Rhames, Jessica Szohr, Kelly Brook, Riley Steele, Adam Scott, Ricardo Chavira, Dina Meyer, Paul Scheer. Directed by Alexandre Aja

Some movies get remade so that their story can be reinterpreted. Others, as a means of homage to the original filmmakers. Still others are plain and simple a cash grab.

This one is one of the latter. French director Alexandre Aja directed the impressive High Tension in 2003, but has been exiled to remake land since coming to Hollywood. He already has remakes of The Hills Have Eyes and Mirrors to his credit and now he takes on Joe Dante’s 1978 schlock exploitation classic of the same name, only throwing in some after-the-fact 3D conversion to pull in the crowds.

The movie is only loosely based on the 1978 original, maintaining only the broad concept of prehistoric carnivorous fish attacking a beach resort. In a kind of tribute to the era (although not necessarily the original film which I admit I haven’t seen in about 20 years and remember very little of) Aja has amped up the blood and boob quotient, throwing in lots of bare-breasted and bikini clad babes to get their bare flesh consumed in a kind of orgy of adolescent boy fantasy frenzy.

Yes, there’s a plot but does it really matter? Jerry O’Connell is a sleazebag who shoots light porn vignettes a la “Girls Gone Wild” (whose Joe Francis has taken legal action against O’Connell and the producers for what he considers slanderous depictions of him as a drug-using, exploitative meathead for which I can only say if the shoe fits). He is visiting the spring break resort at Lake Victoria just as Spring Break festivities are getting underway.

There is a plucky sheriff (Shue), a crazed marine biologist (Lloyd) and of course the heroic sheriff’s son who disobeys not only her instructions but simple common sense as well. Dreyfuss is stunt cast as a fisherman who is the first victim (he gets about three minutes of screen time) whose name alludes to his character in Jaws. Most of the target audience however not only won’t get the reference, they won’t care much.

The camp factor is off the scale; definitely you have to watch this understanding that there is a tongue planted firmly in cheek, although you’re not necessarily sure whose tongue and whose cheek. Now, don’t get me wrong. I love naked breasts and gory fish food as much as the next guy (which is a lot) but I need more. Maybe not every adolescent boy who dreams of beautiful girls in bikinis needs a plot or characters who aren’t caricatures but while I can enjoy this on a visceral level (and I do), I simply can’t recommend it for discerning audiences.

WHY RENT THIS: Revels in its B movie-ness. Plenty of gore and boobs in a throwback to films of the era when the original was made.

WHY RENT SOMETHING ELSE: A little too over-the-top with the camp. The acting varies from atrocious to forgettable.

FAMILY VALUES: A surfeit of fish violence, blood and gore as well as lots of bare breasts and sexuality. The language is a bit rough too and there’s a scene of drug use.

TRIVIAL PURSUIT: Although set on Texas’ Lake Victoria, the movie was actually filmed at Arizona’s Lake Havasu. The tequila brand used on the boat is Havasu as a kind of sly tribute to the filming location.

NOTABLE DVD EXTRAS: None listed.

BOX OFFICE PERFORMANCE: $83.2M on a $24M production budget; the movie was a hit.

FINAL RATING: 4/10

TOMORROW: Immortals

Obsessed


Obsessed

Sex in a men's room? How very '80s!

(2009) Thriller (Screen Gems) Idris Elba, Beyonce Knowles, Ali Larter, Jerry O’Connell, Bonnie Perlman, Christine Lahti, Matthew Humphreys, Scout Taylor-Compton, Richard Ruccolo, Bryan Ross, Bruce McGill, Meredith Roberts. Directed by Steve Shill

Forbidden fruit can be intoxicating. We all have had the urge to sample it at least once in our lives – we wouldn’t be human otherwise. Still, fruit can be forbidden for a very good reason.

Derek Charles (Elba) is a successful man by any barometer. One of the best at what he does, he is married to Sharon (Knowles), his former assistant. The couple has a baby and live in a gorgeous home. He is on the upwardly mobile track for a bright future.

Into this comes a new office temp, Lisa (Larter). Bright, beautiful, sexy and competent, she is covering as Derek’s office assistant while his regular assistant is unavailable. At first she’s a godsend, making his life so much easier but it soon becomes so very apparent that she’s got much more on her agenda than just getting his coffee. She wants Derek – period – and will do anything to get him. And trust me – this is a vicious, smart, clever woman with absolutely no conscience. “Anything” doesn’t even begin to cover it.

At first there’s just some attempts at flirtation that are only a little bit inappropriate for office behavior, but soon things escalate (as such things will tend to do). Before long, Lisa and Sharon are matched up head to head with Derek as the prize…and only one woman will walk out of it still standing.

If this all sounds familiar, that’s probably because it is. Like Fatal Attraction and others of its ilk, the predatory female stalker is depicted as sexy, demented and single-minded. There’s a prurient interest in the role reversal – after all, statistically it is men who are more likely to stalk female co-workers and violence resulting from such stalkings are far more likely to happen with men than women. Still, there is an almost cynical kind of Hollywood studio exec chic in appealing to the lowest common denominator which is certainly where this is aiming for – straight for the crotch.

Now, I like Ali Larter and thought she was terrific in “Heroes,” and she’s plenty sexy enough to carry this role off, but when Lisa finally goes off the deep end, the character gets less and less believable and that’s simply fatal to a movie like this. O’Connell makes a brief appearance as Derek’s buddy…nothing to write home about there, but to be fair the part wasn’t written so he could deliver something to write home about.

Beyonce gets the thankless role of Derek’s wife, given virtually nothing to do until the final reel when she goes mano-a-mano with Larter and that’s pretty hot stuff, but still it smacks of misogynistic Hollywood marketing. “Yeah…a catfight at the end – the boys will love it! Cha-ching!” It’s repulsive and fascinating at the same time, the mind of a studio exec.

Idris Elba is an actor who has always impressed me with his ability to command the screen. He so rarely gets the opportunity to do so on his own, but he does here and he doesn’t waste his opportunity. He very well could be the next Denzel – that’s the kind of potential he has. He has yet to achieve that breakout role that lofts him into the next level; this isn’t it obviously and unfortunately.

The movie suffers from cliché-itis and a disease I like to call “RPDATW Syndrome.” That stands for Real People Don’t Act This Way and that’s precisely what the characters here do. I don’t mind suspending disbelief and giving the screenwriters some leeway, but when you make a sharp left turn to Bananaland, you’re definitely in trouble as a filmmaker.

Love comes in all shapes and sizes, some inspiring, some unhealthy. I think the move here would have been to show the contrast between a healthy love affair and obsession; that might have made for a more interesting film. I think that was the way the filmmakers wanted to go but they didn’t have the execution for it. That’s enough to knock what could have been a decent film several pegs down.

WHY RENT THIS: The climactic fight between Larter and Knowles is spectacular. Elba is always interesting as an actor.

WHY RENT SOMETHING ELSE: It’s been done before, and better. This falls under the “Real People Don’t Act This Way” bailiwick.

FAMILY VALUES: There is a good deal of sexuality which given the subject matter is unsurprising; there’s plenty of dialogue that is suggestive. There’s a bit of violence, some disturbing imagery and yes, bad language.

TRIVIAL PURSUIT: Sets were recycled from other films including Quarantine and Stepfather.

NOTABLE DVD EXTRAS: None listed.

BOX OFFICE PERFORMANCE: $73.8M on a $20M production budget; the movie was a hit.

FINAL RATING: 4/10

TOMORROW: Dark Matter

New Releases for the Week of August 20, 2010


August 20, 2010

Emma Thompson has a message for the critics.

NANNY MCPHEE RETURNS

(Universal) Emma Thompson, Maggie Gyllenhaal, Rhys Ifans, Maggie Smith, Ewan McGregor, Ralph Fiennes, Asa Butterfield, Lil Woods, Oscar Steer, Eros Vlahos. Directed by Susanna White

The sequel to the surprisingly charming Nanny McPhee returns Oscar-winning actress to the role of the magical nanny who appears when she is needed most and wanted the least, this time with an entirely new family in an entirely different era. She must help a rural family and their posh city cousins get along, and along the way help them learn to work together to save the family farm. As there has been only Ramona and Beezus and Cats & Dogs: The Revenge of Kitty Galore to fill the family film market void since Despicable Me, this should do very well even if it’s only halfway decent.

See the trailer, clips and a featurette here.

For more on the movie this is the website.

Release formats: Standard

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

Get Low

(Sony Classics) Robert Duvall, Bill Murray, Sissy Spacek, Lucas Black. A curmudgeonly hermit in a small Appalachian town during the Great Depression decides that he doesn’t want to miss his own funeral – who knows what is going to be said about him when he’s not around to defend himself – so he arranges with an unscrupulous funeral home director to throw a funeral for himself while he’s still alive. At the funeral, he determines to reveal a secret that will change the lives of those who live in that town for good.

See the trailer and clips here.

For more on the movie this is the website.

Release formats: Standard

Rating: PG-13 (for some thematic material and brief violent content)

Lottery Ticket

(Warner Brothers) Bow Wow, Ice Cube, Loretta Devine, Bill Bellamy. A neighborhood in the projects is turned upside down when a young man buys a winning lottery ticket worth $370 million. He will have to find away to keep it from larcenous and sometimes underhanded  and even threatening neighbors over the course of a three-day holiday weekend in order to claim his winnings.

See the trailer and featurettes here.

For more on the movie this is the website.

Release formats: Standard

Rating: PG-13 (for sexual content, language including a drug reference, some violence and brief underage drinking)

Piranha 3D

(Dimension) Jessica Szohr, Richard Dreyfuss, Elisabeth Shue, Jerry O’Connell. The residents and visitors of a small town of Lake Victoria that is also a spring break magnet must find a way not to become chum when a tremor unleashes some prehistoric piranha. Here’s some advice; if you don’t want to get eaten, don’t go swimming!!!!

See the trailer here.

For more on the movie this is the website.

Release formats: 3D

Rating: R (for sequences of strong bloody horror violence and gore, graphic nudity, sexual content, language and some drug use)

The Switch

(Miramax) Jennifer Anniston, Jason Bateman, Patrick Wilson, Jeff Goldblum. When Kassie, a hip New York single woman, hears her biological clock ticking down, she decides to have a baby anyway despite the objections of her neurotic best friend. While at a party to celebrate Kassie’s impending motherhood, the sperm donor’s contribution is accidentally lost, forcing the best friend to substitute his own, something he keeps hidden from Kassie for seven years when the progeny of the insemination begins to show character traits disturbingly similar to the neurotic best friend.

See the trailer and clips here.

For more on the movie this is the website.

Release formats: Standard

Rating: PG-13 (for mature thematic content, sexual material including dialogue, some nudity, drug use and language)

Vampires Suck

(20th Century Fox) Matt Lanter, Emily Brobst, Ken Jeong, Jenn Proske. A young woman must decide between two boys – one of whom is a vampire, the other a werewolf – and looking incredibly stupid. She picks option “C.”

See the trailer and clips here.

For more on the movie this is the website.

Release formats: Standard

Rating: PG-13 (for crude sexual content, comic violence, language and teen partying)