New Releases for the Week of September 3, 2010


September 3, 2010

Drew Barrymore doesn’t think it’s so funny when Justin Long brings up the David Letterman thing.

GOING THE DISTANCE

(New Line) Drew Barrymore, Justin Long, Charlie Day, Jason Sudeikis, Jim Gaffigan, Kelli Garner, Rob Riggle, Christina Applegate, Ron Livingston. Directed by Nanette Burstein

A young couple gets into a summer fling they both expect will end once the girl returns home across the country to San Francisco. When something meaningful unexpectedly develops, they decide to give a long distance relationship a go. When long hours on the cell phones, an abundance of text messages and vague plans to meet again aren’t enough, things begin to heat up, alarming the friends and relatives of the couple who appear both are on an express train to yet another doomed relationship for the both of them. Can anyone really make a long distance relationship work?

See the trailer, clips and interviews here.

For more on the movie this is the website.

Release formats: Standard

Genre: Romantic Comedy

Rating: R (for sexual content including dialogue, language throughout, some drug use and brief nudity)

The American

(Focus) George Clooney, Violante Placido, Thekla Reuten, Paolo Bonacelli. An American assassin, weary of death, holes up in a bucolic Italian village. He receives an assignment to assemble a weapon for a contact there, but a friendship with a local priest and a torrid affair with a beautiful woman put him in more danger than he can imagine. It is never a good idea for an assassin to have any sort of relationship with anyone – they can be deadly to everyone involved.

See the trailer, interviews and clips here.

For more on the movie this is the website.

Release formats: Standard

Genre: Suspense

Rating: R (for violence, sexual content and nudity)

Machete

(20th Century Fox) Danny Trejo, Jessica Alba, Robert De Niro, Michelle Rodriguez. Based on the faux trailer that appeared before the B-Movie homage Grindhouse, an ex-Mexican federale roams the streets of Texas after being double crossed. That’s a bad idea when it comes to a fellow named Machete, particularly when the name is well-earned. Plenty of carnage, plenty of babes, plenty of Latin spice and a heaping helping of B-Movie oeuvre will  be sure to delight fans of action movies from the ‘70s which ultimately inspired this.

See the trailer, interviews and clips here.

For more on the movie this is the website.

Release formats: Standard

Genre: Action

Rating: R (for strong bloody violence throughout, language, some sexual content and nudity)

Micmacs

(Sony Classics) Dany Boon, Andre Dussollier, Nicolas Marie, Jean-Pierre Marielle. A man whose father was killed by a roadside bomb is struck by a stray bullet in a freak accident. When he emerges from the hospital, he takes in with an ex-con who lives in a dump and has assembled an eclectic group of friends to make up an odd family. When they find out about his plight, they plot to take revenge against those responsible. This, the most recent film by visionary director Jean-Pierre Jeunet (who also directed City of Lost Children), opened up in limited release on May 28.

See the trailer, clips, and a featurette here.

For more on the movie this is the website.

Release formats: Standard

Genre: French Crime Comedy

Rating: R (for some sexuality and brief violence)

We Are Family

(UTV) Kajol, Kareena Kapur, Arjun Rampal, Nominath Ginsberg. A divorced Indian woman living in Australia with her family seems to have everything under control. However, when her ex-husband brings in his new girlfriend, a career-oriented woman, into the picture, things get complicated, turning even worse when they are all forced to live under the same roof. This is loosely based on the American tear-jerker The Stepmom.

See the trailer here.

For more on the movie this is the website.

Release formats: Standard

Genre: Indian Drama

Rating: NR

Awake


Awake

Hayden Christensen gets wheeled in for a charisma transplant.

(MGM/Weinstein) Hayden Christenson, Jessica Alba, Terrence Howard, Lena Olin, Fisher Stevens, Georgina Chapman, Sam Robards, Arliss Howard, Christopher McDonald. Directed by Joby Harold

Consciousness can be a funny thing. We can sleepwalk through life, unaware of the things going on right in front of our faces. Conversely, sometimes we are never more aware of what is going on around us than when we are asleep.

Clay Beresford (Christenson) has everything to live for. He’s a billionaire, having inherited his father’s business and making his own mark upon it. He has a beautiful girlfriend named Samantha Lockwood (Alba) and he hangs out with his friend and physician Dr. Jack Harper (Terrence Howard).

But all isn’t 100% rosy for Clay as indeed it is not for anyone. Clay has a congenital heart defect that has led to a massive heart attack; as a matter of fact, the only reason he is still slapping shoe leather upon this Earth is the intervention of Dr. Harper, who saved his life on the operating table – a pretty compelling basis for a close friendship, wouldn’t you say?

Clay is on the waiting list for a heart transplant, and while he waits he ponders. His girlfriend is the personal assistant of his mother (Olin), and the relationship between them has been kept carefully hidden from la madre who has Clay firmly under her thumb; in fact, he still lives at home. Clay also has definite daddy issues, having to do with his father’s untimely death but also from Clay’s latent self-doubts that as a man he will never measure up to dear old dad.

Mom, for her part, wants the family physician (Arliss Howard), a brilliant cardiovascular surgeon who is on the short list for the next surgeon general’s opening, to perform the procedure but Clay is adamant and loyal to his friend.

At Dr. Harper’s urging and Samantha’s own nudging, Clay decides to marry her impulsively and soon after the ceremony, a heart becomes available. Straight from the ceremony, Clay and Dr. Harper (his best man) run to the hospital. Clay is prepped and made ready for the surgery which is a risky one, so after a touching “see you later” to his new wife, Clay is wheeled into the surgery where they find out that the anesthesiologist originally assigned to the team isn’t available; there is a spare one (McDonald) around however and so the surgery is set to take place as Clay is put under.

Or is he? Clay realizes soon enough that he is wide-awake and paralyzed; he can see, hear and feel every single thing happening to him. This phenomenon apparently does happen in real life, albeit rarely. As Clay suffers through the life-saving surgery, he becomes aware that his awareness isn’t the only thing that is going wrong with the surgery.

This movie got a very cursory release and was pretty much ignored during the slew of holiday releases in 2008. It also got appalling reviews, and quite frankly the marketing of the movie was utterly mismanaged.

That’s a shame because this is quite a good little film. The surgery sequence begins about halfway through the movie and takes place in real time thereafter. Director Harold deftly handles the suspenseful elements and wisely chooses not to make this a horror movie but a suspense thriller instead; on that level it succeeds solidly.

Christensen has yet to prove himself as a leading man in my eyes but his work here is a slight improvement. Unfortunately, I don’t think that he works as the benevolent corporate moneylender; he’s a little on the young side for a role like this. Of course, then the “young romance” that with Samantha doesn’t work if the character is older. It’s a bit of a catch-22.

Alba is a beautiful enough actress and she has shown that she is a capable actress in certain roles, but from time to time she also performs unevenly and this unfortunately is one of the latter occasions. The character needs to have a lot of depth to it but there’s no connection, no organic flow so she comes off as schizophrenic. That makes it tough to have a whole lot of empathy for her.

Lena Olin has always been an actress that I’ve felt hasn’t received the props she has deserved in a career that is now twenty years-plus. She gives a very nuanced performance here as the mom and in many ways I think she might have been better in the role of the wife.

This is a taut, professionally made movie that comes at you unexpectedly. I found I liked it better 20 minutes after I finished watching it.  While some of the operating room theatrics were a bit unbelievable, the movie still works on many levels and is an unexpected pleasure. If you’re in the mood for a little suspense, you could certainly do much worse than this underappreciated film.

WHY RENT THIS: A squirm-inducing premise that happens in real life more often than you’d think. Howard is a consistently good performer who doesn’t disappoint here and Olin is a much underrated talent.

WHY RENT SOMETHING ELSE: Christenson and Alba aren’t as convincing in their roles as I might have liked. Some of the plot points are a little too unrealistic.

FAMILY VALUES: Some of the surgical scenes may be a bit too graphic for the tastes of the sensitive; there are some minor language, drug and sexuality concerns as well.

TRIVIAL PURSUIT: The role of Clay Beresford was originally cast for Jared Leto..

NOTABLE DVD EXTRAS: None listed.

FINAL RATING: 6/10

TOMORROW: Last House on the Left (2009)

Valentine’s Day


Valentine's Day

Jennifer Garner finds out what Demi Moore already knows - Ashton Kutcher delivers.

(New Line) Julia Roberts, Ashton Kutcher, Jamie Foxx, Jennifer Garner, Shirley MacLaine, Jessica Alba, Queen Latifah, Emma Roberts, Jessica Biel, Hector Elizondo, Topher Grace, George Lopez, Eric Dane, Taylor Lautner, Patrick Dempsey, Anne Hathaway, Taylor Swift, Bradley Cooper, Kathy Bates, Bryce Robinson, Larry Miller. Directed by Garry Marshall

There are many who consider Valentine’s Day to be a “Hallmark holiday,” an artificial occasion that prompts the sale of chocolate, jewelry and flowers, as well as dinner reservations. It is a day for those who are single and not seeing anyone to be reminded painfully of that fact, and for the unromantic to give their best shot at actual wooing.

It is a sunny day in Los Angeles on February 14, which means that the florists of the Southland are going to be hella busy. For Reed Bennett (Kutcher) who inherited his flower shop from his grandparents, it’s going to be a little different; this morning he has proposed to his girlfriend Morley (Alba) and she’s said yes. His best friend Alphonso (Lopez) is happy but seems surprised she accepted his proposal.

Schoolteacher Julia Fitzpatrick (Garner) is awakened by her boyfriend, handsome cardiologist Dr. Harrison Copeland (Dempsey) who is unfortunately flying up to San Francisco to perform surgery there and will have to miss his Valentine’s Day rendezvous with his deliriously happy girlfriend. Still, he leaves her with a cute little memento.

Liz (Hathaway) and Alex (Grace) have had a night of incredible sex; they’ve only been going together for a couple of weeks but things look very promising. He is a bit of a nebbish from Indiana and she is a sophisticated L.A. woman who has kept from him that in order to help pay off her student loans, she is also working as a phone sex operator while she works as an assistant to bitchy high-powered sports agent Paula Thomas (Latifah) whose star client, quarterback Sean Jackson (Dane) has just been let go by his ballclub. Sean’s publicist Kara Monahan (Biel) is working on spin control at the same time she is planning her annual “I Hate Valentine’s Day” party. Terminally single, she commiserates with buddy Kelvin Moore (Foxx), the second sportscaster at a local television station whose station manager (Bates) is relaying instructions from on high that more fluff pieces are wanted and Moore, who doesn’t believe in romance, finds himself doing a piece on romance in L.A.

For romance, he could have looked no farther than one of Julia’s students, Edison (Robinson) who has a big crush on someone at his school and hires Reed to send some flowers there. He is staying with his grandparents (MacLaine, Elizondo) because his mother is away. The grandmother has just revealed something to the grandfather that is a game-changer in their relationship. Edison’s babysitter (Emma Roberts) is contemplating having sex with her boyfriend and her best friend (Swift) is head over heels over track star Willy (Lautner). In the meantime, a businessman (Cooper) and an army captain (Roberts) are sitting next to each other on a flight home.

Just another day in L.A., no? No. It’s a day on which romance will bloom for some, wither for others and make unexpected turns for all of them. Some of these relationships will not survive the stress and pressure of Valentine’s Day.

Marshall and writer Katherine Fugate have crafted a sort of American version of Love, Actually and quite frankly, it doesn’t measure up. For one thing, there are far too many threads going on here and quite frankly about half of them are unnecessary. That forces many of these relationships to be given short shrift in terms of screen time so we don’t get the opportunity to become invested in them. We didn’t really need two high school romances, nor did we need multiple anti-Valentines Day cynics in the mix. One gets the feeling that there were stars who called Marshall and said “I want in” and Marshall had his writer add another vignette to accommodate them.

Surprisingly, Kutcher proves to be the most winning actor on this fairly distinguished list. He is at heart a really nice guy, and he is the real glue that holds this entire handmade Valentine together. His relationships with Garner, Lopez, Robinson and Alba are all well-thought through and work nicely. Lopez is also impressive as the somewhat clumsy but lovable sidekick. Julia Roberts, one of the biggest stars in the world, shows why as the captain coming home to the love of her life. She is alternately warm and sweet as well as cold and sandpapery. Not Oscar-winning material mind you but compelling nonetheless.

I’m a sucker for a good romantic movie, as Da Queen can attest – Love, Actually and About a Boy are two of my favorites, and I watch them regularly on DVD. Although this movie has it’s share of sweetness, it won’t bear the same repeated viewings on home video for me. There’s just too much going on and despite the talented actors who do their best in roles that are just not that well-developed, not a lot here to love.

REASONS TO GO: A star-studded cast and a lot of awww moments. Kutcher does a nice job of being the glue that holds this movie together.

REASONS TO STAY: While some of the pairings work from a chemistry standpoint, not all of them do. It seemed to me there are too many vignettes going on for the movie’s own good.

FAMILY VALUES: There are some scenes of sexuality, as well as some partial nudity but nothing very naughty. Indeed, this movie is suitable for most audiences.

TRIVIAL PURSUITS: Julia Roberts’ last name in the movie, Hazeltine, is a combination of her daughter’s names; Hazel and Valentine. Also, on Alex’s phone the date “Monday, February 14” is plainly seen. Since Valentine’s Day fell on a Sunday this year, we have to assume that the movie takes place in 2011, the next year that Valentine’s Day falls on a Monday.

HOME OR THEATER: This is a movie to be seen cuddling on the couch with someone you love.

FINAL RATING: 6/10

TOMORROW: Starting Out in the Evening

The Eye


The_Eye_Jessica_Alba_with_ghost_

Don't...look...behind...you...

(Lionsgate) Jessica Alba, Parker Posey, Alessandro Nivola, Rade Serbezija, Fernanda Romero, Rachel Ticotin, Obba Babatunde, Danny Mora, Chloe Moretz, Tamlyn Tomita. Directed by David Moreau and Xavier Pulud

If seeing is believing, are the blind bereft of belief? If all we have to count on is the evidence of our senses, what happens when we can no longer trust them? What happens if we see that which we can’t believe?

Sydney Wells (Alba) is a concert violinist who has been blind since a firecracker accident at age five took her sight away. She is pretty much content with her lot in life; her memory of sight is not terribly vivid and she doesn’t really miss it. She lives in a nice apartment in Los Angeles and has plenty of people who care for her, including the gifted conductor (Serbezija) of the orchestra she performs in.

Her sister Helen (Posey) feels differently. She carries a load of guilt for her sister’s disability and has continued searching for a way to restore her sight – a corneal transplant at age 12 didn’t take. Finally, after stem cell research found some answers, Helen convinced Sydney to give it another go. Sydney is understandably nervous but after some sage advice from her doorman (Mora), she is ready to undergo the procedure.

After Dr. Haskins (Babatunde) unwraps the bandages, Sydney is surprised that her vision is extremely blurred. That’s normal, explains Dr. Haskins, as is the burning sensation she feels. He recommends Dr. Paul Faulkner (Nivola) to help her adjust to getting her sight back.

All Sydney wants is a normal life, but she doesn’t get that. She begins to see shadows that aren’t really there, people who appear and disappear and horrifying dreams of fire, death and pain. At first she thinks this is a side effect of the transplant surgery but begins to suspect that something is terribly wrong when the visions become more and more solid, more real. She begins to realize that she can see into the thin veil between life and death.

The visions are growing worse and Sydney knows she must do something to stop them or else risk losing her sanity. She determines to find out who the donor for her eyes was, but the quest will lead her and Dr. Faulkner to find answers that they may not necessarily like – and will put them both into horrible jeopardy.

Following a recent Hollywood trend, this is based on an Asian horror film (in this case a Pang Brothers movie from Hong Kong) that is far superior to the remake. While French directors Moreau and Pulud are talented in their own right (they directed Them, criminally unreleased here in the States), their work here is curiously flat and if you’ll excuse the pun, lifeless.

Part of the problem is Alba. In the television series “Dark Angel” I thought she was scintillating, and looked forward to future performances but sadly, she hasn’t often matched her work in the show. She has almost no spark; her character is sweet, sure but I find myself not connecting to her and my rooting interest in the character is therefore diminished. There isn’t much chemistry with any other character in the movie, which is deadlier still.

Also, for a horror film, it’s pretty lean on scares. While there are some genuinely frightening imagery (and the shadowmen figures created for the movie are pretty decent), there’s nothing over the top here, and nothing that really leaps out at you – literally. The filmmakers were going, I suspect, for mood over viscera and it doesn’t really work.

That’s too bad, because it’s a decently written horror movie. It might have done well with a little less restraint and a lot less cliché – many of the scares were accomplished via the shrieking strings that are endemic to most horror movies that are our aural cues to jump and, like Pavlov’s dogs, we do. It’s a cheap enough scare and the movie – and its audience – deserves better.

Still, when the movie is working it works well. There are moments that will satisfy even jaded horror fanboys, and enough of them that I can give the movie a mild recommendation. Not sure? Give it a rent. After all, seeing is believing…or is it? Oooooooooo…..

WHY RENT THIS: There are some genuinely scary visuals – the directors have a nice eye for it. The source material from the Pang Brothers movie, while not terribly original, is at least interesting.

WHY RENT SOMETHING ELSE: Alba is a bit flat in her role. As horror movies go, this is a bit less scary than I’d like although the scares that are in this are pretty good. I would have just like to have seen more of them.

FAMILY VALUES: Heightened tension and some scary visuals, although not a lot of visceral gore. No sex or nudity, but creepy enough to watch after the kids go to bed.

TRIVIAL PURSUIT: Alba learned Braille and took six months of violin lessons to prepare for the film.

NOTABLE DVD EXTRAS: A feature on the theme of cornea transplant patients seeing memories of the donors – apparently it actually does happen from time to time in real life.

FINAL RATING: 6/10

TOMORROW: Day Five of the Six Days of Darkness.