New Releases for the Week of October 26, 2018


MID90S

(A24) Sunny Suljic, Katherine Waterston, Lucas Hedges, Na-kel Smith, Olan Prenatt, Gio Galicia, Ryder McLaughlin, Alexa Demie, Fig Camila Abner. Directed by Jonah Hill

Stevie, a 13-year-old boy living in Southern California in the 1990s, develops a deep friendship with a group of skaters at the local skate shop. They help take his mind off of his troubled home life and teach him life lessons that will serve him well in the next Millennium. Not only is this actor Jonah Hill’s directing debut it is getting some legitimate Oscar buzz off of the film’s Toronto Film Festival appearance just last month.

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

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

Rating: R (for pervasive language, sexual content, drug and alcohol use, some violent behavior/disturbing images – all involving minors)

The Guilty

(Magnolia) Jakob Cedergren, Jessica Dinnage, Omar Shargawi, Johan Olsen. A Copenhagen police officer is put on desk duty at the local emergency call center after an incident in the field. On his last day before he is expected to be cleared for his actions, a call comes in from a terrified woman who has been kidnapped. As the drama unfolds we see this entirely from the point of view of the operator who it turns out has secrets of his own. This was my favorite movie from this year’s Florida Film Festival and if you missed it then, you owe it to yourself to see it now. Not convinced? Follow the link below to my review

See the trailer and a clip here
For more on the movie this is the website

Release Formats: Standard
Genre: Suspense
Now Playing: Enzian Theater

Rating: R (for language)

Hunter Killer

(Summit) Gerard Butler, Gary Oldman, Common, Linda Cardellini. An American captain is tasked with the mission of rescuing a kidnapped Russian president from a rogue General and in doing so averting World War III.

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

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

Rating: R (for violence and some language)

Indivisible

(Pure Flix) Justin Bruening, Sarah Drew, Jason George, Tia Mowry-Hardrict. An Army Chaplin serving in Iraq and his wife keeping the home fires burning at home face tribulations and heartache while separated. Neither dreamed that reuniting would be even more of an obstacle as they both wonder if they have the strength left to save their marriage.

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

Release Formats: Standard
Genre: Faith-Based Drama
Now Playing: Wide Release

Rating: PG-13 (for some thematic material and war violence)

Johnny English Strikes Again

(Focus) Rowan Atkinson, Olga Kurylenko, Emma Thompson, Michael Gambon. Britain’s greatest spy is called out of retirement when all of the current secret agents are outed by a cyber-spy. To find the mastermind behind the disaster, English must utilize all his experience and skills which is harder than it sounds being as he’s an analogue man in a digital world.

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

Release Formats: Standard
Genre: Spy Comedy
Now Playing: AMC Altamonte Mall, AMC Disney Springs, Cinemark Universal Citywalk, Regal Oviedo Marketplace, Regal Waterford Lakes, Regal Winter Park Village

Rating: PG (for some action violence, rude humor, language and brief nudity)

London Fields

(Paladin/Atlas) Billy Bob Thornton, Amber Heard, Theo James, Jim Sturgess. A terminally ill American writer in London searches for one last story to tell and finds one in Nicola Six, who knows when and how she will be murdered but not who – only that one of them is a man she’s having a relationship with. Based on a Martin Amis novel, this has already been reviewed by Cinema365. Follow the link to the review below

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

Release Formats: Standard
Genre: Mystery
Now Playing: AMC Disney Springs, Cinemark Universal Citywalk, Regal Oviedo Marketplace, Regal Pointe Orlando

Rating: R (for language including sexual references and brief nudity)

Silencio

(Tulip) John Noble, Rupert Graves, Melina Matthews, Michel Chauvet. In order to save her son’s life, a woman must find a stone with incredible powers in a remote and dangerous part of Mexico. However, there are others after the stone – who would be willing to kill to acquire it.

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

Release Formats: Standard
Genre: Adventure
Now Playing: AMC Altamonte Mall, AMC Disney Springs, Cobb Plaza Cinema Café, Regal Oviedo Marketplace, Regal Waterford Lakes, Regal Winter Park Village, Satellite Ocean Walk

Rating: R (for some violence)

Street Voices

(Duende) El Alfa, Melymel, Vicente Suriel, Shellow Shaq. A trio of talented but poor street kids who love rap decide to pool their talents to realize their musical dreams. Those dreams could come at a high price however.

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

Release Formats: Standard
Genre: Urban Musical
Now Playing: Regal The Loop, Regal Waterford Lakes

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

ALSO OPENING IN ORLANDO/DAYTONA:

Don’t Go
First Love
Kaashamora
Namaste England
Trabajo Sucio
Veera Bhoga Vasantha Rayalu

ALSO OPENING IN MIAMI/FT. LAUDERDALE:

Beautiful Boy
El Pacto
First Love
Glass Jaw
The Happy Prince
Havana Habibi
I Am Not a Witch
Kayamkulam Kochunni
Parkland Inside Building 12
Suspiria (2018)
Trabajo Sucio
Veera Bhoga Vasantha Rayalu

ALSO OPENING IN TAMPA/ST. PETERSBURG:

Air Strike
The School
Trabajo Sucio
Veera Bhoga Vasantha Rayalu

ALSO OPENING IN JACKSONVILLE/ST. AUGUSTINE:

The Perfect Wave

SCHEDULED FOR REVIEW:

Don’t Go
The Guilty
Hunter Killer
London Fields
Mid90s

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London Fields


There is nothing like a dame – take it from me!

(2018) Mystery (Paladin/Atlas) Billy Bob Thornton, Amber Heard, Theo James, Jim Sturgess, Cara Delevingne, Gemma Chan, Jamie Alexander, Jason Isaacs, Lily Cole, Henry Garrett, Jennifer Missoni, Alexandra Evans, Michael Shaeffer, Belle Williams, Emily Kincaid, Triana Terry, Hon Ping Tang, Chris Wilson, Chris Ryman, Rita McDonald Damper. Directed by Matthew Cullen

 

For my money, Martin Amis is one of the most gifted and interesting novelists in the world today. He has a way with words and imagery that few authors can match. He has a very cinematic style but oddly, the movies made based on his works have not exactly lit the world on fire.

This one won’t either. Nicola Six (Heard) is a woman with the kind of gift that you just wish you could take back; she knows when she’s going to die. She knows how she’s going to die (she’ll be murdered). She even knows where she’s going to die (in a London alleyway inside a car). She just doesn’t know who. Terminally ill writer Samson Young (Thornton) has done a home exchange with bestselling author Mark Asprey (Isaacs) who wants to get the flavor of Hell’s Kitchen from Samson’s grungy apartment. In the meantime Samson is hoping that his years-long writer’s block can be broken by a change of scenery and when he hears Nicola’s story, he knows he’s the man to write it.

Nicola has narrowed the “who” part of the equation to two men who both have romantic inclinations towards her; the coarse and amoral South End darts champion Keith Talent (Sturgess) who sees Nicola as a trollop and a sex toy that is his rightful due, and Guy Clinch (James), a posh and married industrialist who has money and the world’s most nightmarish kid. One of them is going to kill Nicola. Who will it be? And will they do it in time for Samson to get the whole thing down on paper before he cashes in himself?

The movie has all the elements of a great Amis novel – the whiz-bang satire, the noir overtones, the almost cartoonish characters with outlandish names – but it doesn’t have the energy nor does it have the inspiration. First-time feature director Cullen (known for having done Katy Perry videos, among others) inserts bizarre juxtaposing images throughout the movie which rather than enhance the flow of the story or set the viewer to thinking simply just takes them out of the movie and irritates them. I can’t tell you how many times I started reaching for the “off” switch before deciding to give the movie a second chance. To be fair to Cullen however it is likely that most of those images were inserted by the producers after the fact and against his wishes. Either way, they are deal killers.

That’s a shame because I was excited that this kind of cast (which includes Johnny Depp in an uncredited role as a gangster and rival darts champion for Gary) would be working on an adaptation of an Amis novel. While Thornton is always an interesting performer, the others either feel zombie-like (Heard) or over-the-top to the point where it approaches self-parody (Sturgess). The narration, which is meant to give the film a noir-like tone clashes with the British gangster movie that Cullen appears to be attempting to make. I think that the director had an idea in mind but I’m just not sure he executed it very well.

This was filmed more than three years ago and has been beset by legal issues and an ability to secure distribution until recently. There are some things worth checking out but really the only thing one could hope for from this disappointment of a movie is that it might motivate those inclined to be readers to maybe pick up the source material by Amis and give it a read. That would be a far more fulfilling use of their time.

REASONS TO GO: Billy Bob Thornton is a national treasure.
REASONS TO STAY: There is a whole lot of unnecessary surrealism.
FAMILY VALUES: There is some nudity, a little violence and drug use, and a whole lot of profanity and smoking.
TRIVIAL PURSUIT: The director sued the producers and the production company after alterations were made to the film that he hadn’t authorized.
CRITICAL MASS: As of 10/22/18: Rotten Tomatoes: 0% positive reviews. Metacritic: 26/100.
COMPARISON SHOPPING: Trouble is My Business
FINAL RATING: 5/10
NEXT:
Don’t Go

Geostorm


Gerard Butler saves the day but not his career.

(2017) Science Fiction (Warner Brothers) Gerard Butler, Jim Sturgess, Ed Harris, Abbie Cornish, Alexandra Maria Lara, Daniel Wu, Eugenio Derbez, Amr Waked, Adepero Oduye, Andy Garcia, Robert Sheehan, Richard Schiff, Mare Winningham, Zazie Beetz, Talitha Bateman, Daniella Garcia, Ritchie Montgomery, David S. Lee, Billy Slaughter, Catherine Ashton. Directed by Dean Devlin

 

It was inevitable that the climate change crisis that we are currently facing would eventually lead to some big budget disaster movies. After all, climate scientists have been predicting super storms, increased wildfire activity and rising oceans for years. Hollywood was bound to make a special effects extravaganza about such events.

Geostorm is part cautionary tale in which the technology that has been used to control global warming has been turned around and utilized as a weapon against us. The only ones who can save us all are a hard-drinking, big mouthed astronaut-engineer (Butler) with perpetual six o’clock shadow, his younger brother (Sturgess) who’s a Washington bureaucrat, his brother’s Secret Service girlfriend (Cornish), a brilliant Asian computer expert (Wu), a by-the-book Eastern European International Space Station commander (Lara), a precocious daughter (Bateman), a tough-minded President (A. Garcia) and an even tougher Chief of Staff (Harris). It’s pretty much a parade of cliché characters from start to finish.

I’d go into further detail about the plot but it’s so preposterous that the less you know in advance the better off you’ll be. For one thing, reading the story details on paper might just scare you off – not in the fearful sense but in the “Why would I want to waste my time with that crap” sense. It’s generally not a good sign when a movie opening is delayed several times until it comes out almost 18 months after the original release date – and has changed distributors in the interim as well.

Granted, there are a few things that the film has to recommend it. The special effects for the most part are decent with some even a cut above, but the effects are basically done by a mish-mash of effects houses with varying degrees of success. 80s icon Mare Winningham also makes a brief appearance but is limited to a single scene. She was smart enough to keep her participation to just that.

Butler is generally reliably likable but here it feels like he could care less about the movie, even though he’s one of the producers. Sturgess fares only a little bit better but most of the other actors take their paychecks and move on. So should you.

REASONS TO GO: Some of the special effects are pretty nifty.
REASONS TO STAY: The story is riddled with clichés and ends up being entirely predictable. The usually reliable Butler phones this one in.
FAMILY VALUES: There is all sorts of violence, massive destruction and sci-fi action.
TRIVIAL PURSUIT: Although Devlin has been a producer for more than 30 years primarily with Roland Emmerich, this is his directing debut.
BEYOND THE THEATERS: Amazon, Google Play, iTunes, Movies Anywhere, Vudu
CRITICAL MASS: As of 1/8/18: Rotten Tomatoes: 13% Positive Reviews. Metacritic: 81/100.
COMPARISON SHOPPING: 2012
FINAL RATING: 4/10
NEXT:
Warning: This Drug May Kill You

New Releases for the Week of October 20, 2017


GEOSTORM

(Warner Brothers) Gerard Butler, Jim Sturgess, Abbie Cornish, Alexandra Maria Lara, Daniel Wu, Eugenio Derbez, Amr Waked, Andy Garcia, Ed Harris. Directed by Dean Devlin

In a future where we have the ability to control the weather, the satellites that do the controlling suddenly and inexplicably start to turn on the Earth, creating massive and deadly weather events. As the weather worsens, a massive worldwide Geostorm that could potentially wipe out all life on earth is forming and it’s a race against time to find out who is behind it and stop them before our home is turned into a lifeless wasteland.

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

Release Formats: Standard, 3D, DBOX, IMAX, IMAX 3D
Genre: Sci-Fi Action
Now Playing: Wide Release

Rating: PG-13 (for destruction, action and violence)

Breathe

(Bleecker Street) Andrew Garfield, Claire Foy, Ed Speleers, Tom Hollander. Legendary motion capture king Andy Serkis makes his directorial debut with this inspiring true story of Robin Cavendish, a young man whose life is full of adventure, promise and love but is cruelly paralyzed by polio from the neck down, leaving a grim prognosis. Refusing to live out his days in a hospital, against all odds he returns home and slowly but surely with the help of mechanically-inclined friends he works on ways to make his life – and the lives of others in his predicament – better.

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

Release Formats: Standard
Genre: Biographical Drama
Now Playing: AMC Disney Springs, Regal Ormond Beach, Regal Oviedo Marketplace, Regal Pointe Orlando, Rialto Spanish Springs

Rating: PG-13 (for mature thematic material including some bloody medical images)

Faces, Places

(Cohen Media Group) Jean-Luc Godard, Agnés Varda, JR, Laurent Levesque. Legendary French new wave director Varda and acclaimed muralist JR strike up an unlikely friendship and decide to make a film together. Travelling France to photograph new faces, art is created in the most unlikely and occasionally delightful of places.

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

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

Rating: PG (for brief nude images and thematic elements)

Killing Gunther

(Saban/Lionsgate) Arnold Schwarzenegger, Cobie Smulders, Bobby Moynihan, Allison Tolman. Gunther is the world’s most successful assassin. So much so that the world’s other assassins are getting together and plotting to take him down. The trouble is, their plans don’t always work the way they are intended to.

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

Release Formats: Standard
Genre: Action Comedy
Now Playing: AMC West Oaks

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

Mark Felt: The Man Who Brought Down the White House

(Sony Classics) Liam Neeson, Diane Lane, Marton Csokas, Tony Goldwyn. The story of Felt, who for years hid his identity as the mystery man who helped take down the Nixon White House. Felt, a respected agent in the intelligence community discovered the wrongdoings of Watergate and became the most famous whistleblower in history – known to most as Deep Throat.

See the trailer and clips here
For more on the movie this is the website

Release Formats: Standard
Genre: Biographical Drama
Now Playing: AMC Disney Springs, AMC Universal Cineplex, Regal Winter Park Village, Rialto Spanish Springs

Rating: PG-13 (for some language)

Only the Brave

(Columbia) Josh Brolin, Jeff Bridges, Miles Teller, Jennifer Connelly. This is based on the Granite Mountain Hotshots, a volunteer firefighting brigade that took a heroic stand trying to defend their town from a historic wildfire. In the context of what has been happening in California, the Pacific Northwest and Big Sky country, this movie couldn’t be any more timely.

See the trailer, clips, interviews and Premiere footage here
For more on the movie this is the website

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

Rating: PG-13 (for thematic content, some sexual references, language and drug material)

Same Kind of Different as Me

(Paramount/Pure Flix) Renee Zellweger, Jon Voight, Djimon Hounsou, Greg Kinnear. A successful art dealer whose marriage is on the rocks befriends a dangerously volatile homeless man as a means of reconnecting with his wife. Her dreams will send the three of them on a journey none of them could have ever anticipated.

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

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

Rating: PG=13 (for thematic elements including some violence and language)

The Snowman

(Universal) Michael Fassbender, Rebecca Ferguson, Charlotte Gainsbourg, Val Kilmer. Detective Harry Hole investigates the disappearance of a woman whose only clue is her pink scarf wrapped around the throat of an ominous looking snowman. Hole fears that this case may be linked to some bizarre murders that took place years earlier.

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

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

Rating: R (for grisly images, violence, some language, sexuality and brief nudity)

Tyler Perry’s Boo 2! A Madea Halloween

(Lionsgate) Tyler Perry, Patrice Lovely, Brock O’Hurn, Lexy Panterra. America’s favorite grandmother returns as she and her family visit a haunted campground on Halloween and unwittingly unleash a wave of monsters, goblins, ghouls and boogeymen. Run for your lives, America!

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

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

Rating: PG-13 (for sexual references, drug content, language and some horror images)

ALSO OPENING IN ORLANDO/DAYTONA:

Golmaal Again
Mersal
Raja the Great
Secret Superstar
Tokyo Ghoul
The Unknown Girl

ALSO OPENING IN MIAMI:

4 Days in France
A Silent Voice
Golmaal Again
Inseparables
Jungle
Mersal
Raja the Great
Secret Superstar
Tokyo Ghoul
Walking Out
Where’s the Money
The Woman Who Left

ALSO OPENING IN TAMPA:

Demons
Golmaal Again
Leatherface
Let Her Out
Mersal
Never Here
Raja the Great
Secret Superstar
So B. It

ALSO OPENING IN JACKSONVILLE:

Golmaal Again
Mersal
Raja the Great
Secret Superstar
Tokyo Ghoul

SCHEDULED FOR REVIEW:

Breathe
Geostorm
Only the Brave
The Snowman
Walking Out

Upside Down


Beyond topsy turvy.

Beyond topsy turvy.

(2012) Science Fiction (Millennium) Jim Sturgess, Kirsten Dunst, Timothy Spall, Blu Mankuma, Nicholas Rose, James Kidnie, Vlasta Vrana, Kate Trotter, Holly O’Brien, Elliott Larson, Maurane Arcand, Janine Theriault, Vincent Messina, Cole K. Mickenzie, Paul Ahmarani, Carolyn Guillet, Pablo Veron, Don Jordan, Edward Langham, Holden Wong, Jayne Heitmeier. Directed by Juan Solanas

Sci-Fi Spectacle

Most science fiction stories begin with the idea of “what if?” while the best ones end with the viewer shrugging their shoulders and accepting “why not?!”

For example, consider this; two planets that orbit one another and have dual gravity; on one world, gravity works normally but on the other it repels rather than attracts. The two worlds nearly touch on their highest mountain peaks and one corporation, Transworld, has built a skyscraper that connects the two planets permanently.

Both worlds are inhabited and are essentially products of their gravities. Those who live on one world will be untethered to the ground on the other and vice versa. On the middle floor of the skyscraper, there is one group of cubicles on the floor and another on the ceiling. There are a few other buildings with similar situations.

Adam lives on the lower world which some call Down Below. This is a world that has been ruthlessly exploited by the people of Up Above, who live in luxury and comfort. Down Below seems to exist in perpetual rainfall and gloom and its inhabitants eke out meager existences on the scraps of what they can acquire from up above.

As a child (Larson), Adam had met Eden (Arcand), a young girl from Up Above. The two click immediately but police from Up Above are not allowing any sort of interplanetary romance. In trying to return Eden to her home world, Adam watches in horror as she falls, apparently to her death.

Years later, Adam sees an adult woman (Dunst) from Up Above on TV and realizes that it’s Eden and she’s still alive. His love for her hasn’t undimmed over the years so he figures out a plan to use a beauty cream he’s invented to get him into Transworld, then pursue her and make her his. The problem is that Eden has a rather inconvenient amnesia and can’t remember anything before the fall. Secondly, in order to stay “grounded” as it were on Up Above Adam has to use a rare metal that tends to burst into flame after an hour’s use. Thirdly the authorities on both worlds are none too keen about having the interplanetary romance referred to earlier. It seems that Adam’s love is destined to be on another planet.

The concept here is truly interesting which is one of the movie’s grand advantages. It also is one of its biggest obstacles; the concept itself tends to paint the filmmaker into a corner. Solanas, an Argentinean filmmaker currently living and working in France, sets up the movie in an extended voice-over at the beginning of the film but I think he essentially tries to explain too much rather than just letting the audience go with it. That sets up the expectation that the movie is going to have a kind of rulebook that it will follow.

In fact, there are lots of holes in the theoretical aspects; for example, why don’t the people themselves combust when on opposing planets instead of just the metal? Wouldn’t the upward falls kill you just as dead as a regular downward fall? How can there be a sunrise or sunset when the two planets are both perpetually in each other’s shadow?

Truthfully, I’d be fine not requiring an explanation for any of those things but Solanas himself creates the expectation you’re going to receive one with the over-technical voice-over. A simple line could have done it – “I don’t know all the physics. It just works.” End of explanation and the show can go on, plot holes and all. Michel Gondry never bothers to explain himself; neither should Solanas.

Still even given that this is one of the most jaw-dropping imaginative visual stories you’re likely to find. The visuals of one group of Up Abovers dancing the graceful tango in a ballroom while on the ground Down Belowers dance in a seedy nightclub is striking, and much of the visual look recalls the Dutch artist M.C. Escher.

Certainly the have and have-not societies seem to be a nod towards the original Metropolis, one of the greatest science fiction films of all time, but Solanas doesn’t really pursue that aspect of the story. Instead, he’s looking to make a love story and this is indeed more of a romance than it is a science fiction film although the visuals are probably what you’re going to remember.

I don’t know if I would have used an idea for this kind of society to illustrate a kind of West Side Story thing; it’s a story that’s been done a lot of different times in a lot of different ways. Why create this amazing environment and then tell a story you could tell anywhere? However, that environment makes this movie worth seeking out. With attractive actors like Sturgess and Dunst delivering decent performances (and Spall in a supporting role actually standing out) this makes for a really good movie. I think it could have been a great one though.

WHY RENT THIS: Nifty concept. Nice performances by the leads.
WHY RENT SOMETHING ELSE: More of a romance with sci-fi overtones. Too many plot holes. Somewhat oversaturated cinematography.
FAMILY VALUES: There’s some violence but not enough to be troublesome.
TRIVIAL PURSUIT: The Floor Zero scenes were two sets constructed side-by-side as if the screen had been sliced down the middle and folded open. When characters interact from both worlds, the scenes were shot on both sides of the set simultaneously and then inserted into the frame digitally.
NOTABLE HOME VIDEO EXTRAS: There is a surfeit of storyboards and how-they-did-it featurettes.
BOX OFFICE PERFORMANCE: $8.1M on a $50M production budget.
SITES TO SEE: Netflix (Stream/DVD), Amazon (rent/buy/DVD), iTunes (rent/buy), Vudu (rent/buy)
COMPARISON SHOPPING: The Imaginarium of Doctor Parnassus
FINAL RATING: 6.5/10
NEXT: Sci-Fi Spectacle continues!

21


When Jim Sturgess says "Hit me," some might misinterpret the request.

When Jim Sturgess says “Hit me,” some might misinterpret the request.

(2008) Drama (Columbia) Jim Sturgess, Kevin Spacey, Kate Bosworth, Laurence Fishburne, Aaron Yoo, Liza Lapira, Jacob Pitts, Jack McGee, Josh Gad, Sam Golzari, Helen Carey, Jack Gilpin, Jeffrey Ma, Christopher Holley, Scott Beringer, Teresa Livingstone, Jeff Dashnaw, Frank Patton, Colin Angle, Bradley Thoennes, Spencer Garrett, Sally Livingstone. Directed by Robert Luketic

Desperate times call for desperate measures. Getting an education is expensive but it is necessary these days if you want an express pass to success. Students go into outrageous amounts of debt just to make it through four years of college, let alone graduate school. Some students have had to think outside of the box in order to pay off what they owe.

Ben Campbell (Sturgess) has a brilliant mind, but that and a dollar will buy you a cup of coffee, and not even a very good one. He has achieved a great deal – he’s got nearly a perfect academic record at MIT and with his MCAT scores near the top of the scale, has been eagerly accepted into Harvard Medical School. The trouble is, he can’t afford the more than $300K that a Harvard Medical School will cost him and apparently he’s already maxed out on student loans. He takes solace in his misery with fellow nerds Miles (Gad) and Cam (Golzari), his two best friends.

One day, he catches the eye of Mickey Rosa (Spacey), one of his professors, for his ability to think calmly and rationally under pressure. When Rosa investigates further, he finds that Campbell has a keen mind for numbers a talent which is clearly being wasted as the assistant manager for a men’s clothing store.  Rosa decides to invite Ben to join a project he has underway, which involves having his genius students count cards at blackjack in Las Vegas casinos. While perfectly legal, it is frowned upon by the casinos because it is a way of beating the odds, which casinos are not known for tolerating.

Although reluctant to join at first, Campbell is finally persuaded to join by Jill Taylor (Bosworth), a girl he has had a crush on for some time. Spacey introduces him to fellow card counters Choi (Yoo), Kianna (Lapira) and the current big dog in the yard, Fisher (Pitts). Rosa trains Campbell in the nearly foolproof system which is designed to fly under the radar. After a training session, Rosa flies the team to Vegas to give Campbell his trial by fire. At first nervous and unsure, Campbell is able to focus on the task at hand while playing and becomes the team’s best card counter. This gives Rosa the warm fuzzies for his new prodigy, even as it brings envy and anger from Fisher and a certain amount of chemistry with Jill.

As the team grows more and more successful, they begin to attract the notice of security consultant Cole Williams (Fishburne), whose livelihood is being threatened by security software. Ever the old dog sniffing out wrongdoing (at least as far as the casinos are concerned), he begins to keep a wary eye out on the young man who seems to be winning an unusually high percentage of the time.

In the meantime, the thrill of the game and the fruits of success begin to take their toll on Ben. Initially in only until he earned his tuition for medical school, greed and arrogance are getting the better of him as he begins to alienate those who are closest to him, while initiating a growing conflict with Mickey, who has hidden depths of vindictiveness. Will Ben be able to win back what he’s lost while staying out of the clutches of the stone-fisted enforcers of Vegas?

Sturgess who turned some heads in Across the Universe is a charming lead. It’s a shame he hasn’t yet gotten the script to put him over the top, although this movie was successful enough that it looked like it just might but as of yet it hasn’t happened. Spacey is absolutely delicious as the villainous Mickey Rosa, smooth as a snake and twice as lethal. Fishburne is one of those actors that I wish would be cast in films more often; he is always interesting. I take some solace in that he has been very present on television recently with lead roles in CSI and Hannibal.  Most of the rest of the young cast manages to look good but for the most part, their characters aren’t particularly well-drawn.

The visual effects can be a bit much, but at least they manage to capture the excitement of big-time gambling, Vegas style. The interminable chip effects that often scream “I’m a pretentious film school graduate directing this movie – watch how clever I am!” appear so often they finally induce vertigo more than move the story along. A truly nifty soundtrack and some flashy camera work make this clearly a work of the MTV generation (the preceding statement should at least give readers a clue to my age).

Sturgess and Spacey do some very nice work, particularly Spacey. The young cast is attractive. Of course, any movie that spends as much time on the Vegas strip as this one does is near and dear to Da Queen’s heart. The blackjack sequences, which could have conceivably been unutterably boring, have some snap and pop to them which will allow even non-gamblers to get into the movie.

Unnecessary (and unforgivable) geography errors take you out of the movie in a jarring kind of way. Also, the shots of the ultracool and hip card counters walking in slow mo were cliché when it was made; it is twice that now.

There’s far more style than substance here if you ask me. The fact that this is based on actual events (the real person that the Ben Campbell character was based on makes a cameo as a dealer) makes you wonder whether the truth might not have made a better movie than the fiction based on it. While it can be visually stunning at times, there are too many clichés spoiling this pot. Not bad, but not great either.

WHY RENT THIS: Fascinating subject matter and nifty presentation. Blackjack sequences well-staged. Some good work by Sturgess and particularly, Spacey.

WHY RENT SOMETHING ELSE: Unnecessary and foolish errors in geography and logic. Overuse of “chip effects” and “badass slo-mo.” More style than substance.

FAMILY MATTERS: The language is salty throughout. There’s some sensuality and violence as well as some brief nudity.

TRIVIAL PURSUITS: The real Ben Campbell makes a cameo appearance as a blackjack dealer at the Hard Rock.

NOTABLE HOME VIDEO FEATURES: There’s a featurette on the history and game play of Blackjack. There’s also an interview with one of the actual MIT students involved in the incident. The Blu-Ray adds a video blackjack game through the BD-Live option.

BOX OFFICE PERFORMANCE: $157.9M on a $35M production budget.

COMPARISON SHOPPING: Clockers

FINAL RATING: 6/10

NEXT; Levitated Mass

New Releases for the Week of October 26, 2012


October 26, 2012

CLOUD ATLAS

(Warner Brothers) Tom Hanks, Halle Berry, Jim Broadbent, Hugo Weaving, Jim Sturgess, Doona Bae, Ben Whishaw, Xun Zhou, James D’Arcy, Keith David, Susan Sarandon, Hugh Grant. Directed by Tom Tykwer, Andy Wachowski and Lana Wachowski

Based on the bestselling novel by David Mitchell, six stories through various eras from the 19th century to the distant future. Events in all eras ripple through time in ways both directly and subtly to effect characters who have much more to do with one another than a startling resemblance to one another.

See the trailer, featurettes and a promo here.

For more on the movie this is the website.

Release formats: Standard, IMAX

Genre: Science Fiction/Fantasy/Drama

Rating: R (for violence, language, sexuality/nudity and some drug use)

Ajab Gazabb Love

(Puja) Arjun Rampal, Jakky Bhagnani, Nidhi Subbiah, Arshad Warsi. The heir to a worldwide automobile empire falls in love with a girl who’s only interested in social justice and could never have anything to do with a rich guy. The young man convinces his family to play “poor” so that the girl of his dreams will accept him. This is a remake of the Telugu film Seema Tapakai.

See the trailer here.

For more on the movie this is the website.

Release formats: Standard

Genre: Bollywood

Rating: NR

Chakravyuh

(Eros International) Arjun Rampal, Abhay Deol, Manoj Bajpai, Om Puri. The very real Naxalite rebellion in India is examined as young activists battle extreme poverty and social injustice. Pushed into a corner, it seems that a violent uprising may be the only way to achieve justice for the poor and defenseless.

See the trailer here.

For more on the movie this is the website.

Release formats: Standard

Genre: Bollywood

Rating: NR

Chasing Mavericks

(20th Century Fox) Gerard Butler, Elisabeth Shue, Abigail Spencer, Jonny Weston. A young man yearns to surf the most dangerous waves in the world.  A local legend takes him under his wing and that young man would become Jay Moriarty, one of the most beloved of the big wave surfers.

See the trailer here.

For more on the movie this is the website.

Release formats: Standard

Genre: Sports Biography

Rating: PG (for thematic elements and some perilous action)

Dhenikaina Ready

(24 Frames) Vishnu Manchu, Hansika Motwani, Brahmanandam, Kota Srinivasa Rao. When a couple from Hindi and Muslim families elope, the two families enter open hostilities. When a court case ends the dispute, the couple tries to mend fences between the two families.

See the trailer here.

For more on the movie this is the website.

Release formats: Standard

Genre: Bollywood

Rating: NR

Fun Size

(Paramount) Victoria Justice, Thomas Mann, Chelsea Handler, Jane Levy. A pretty high school senior with attitude to spare gets invited to the biggest, most important Halloween party…like, ever in the history of the universe. But there’s just one thing – her skanky mom is going to her own dress-like-a-slut Halloween party leaving the senior to babysit his little brother. And when her little brother gets lost she’ll have to rely on, like, geeks to save her night and set her on the path to awesomeness.

See the trailer here.

For more on the movie this is the website.

Release formats: Standard

Genre: Comedy

Rating: PG-13 (for crude and suggestive material, partying and language)

Silent Hill: Revelation

(Open Road) Adelaide Clemens, Sean Bean, Radha Mitchell, Carrie-Anne Moss.  A father and his daughter are on the run from powerful supernatural forces. As she approaches her 18th birthday, disturbing nightmares plague her and when her father disappears she will have to go to Silent Hill to rescue him and come face to face with the truth of who she really is.

See the trailer and clips here.

For more on the movie this is the website.

Release formats: Standard

Genre: Supernatural Horror

Rating: R (for violence and disturbing images, some language and brief nudity)

Sleepwalk With Me

(IFC) Mike Birbiglia, Lauren Ambrose, James Rebhorn, Carol Kane. A stand-up comedian deals with a stalled career, disapproving parents, a deteriorating relationship and a sleepwalking habit increasing in length and severity. Did we mention this is a comedy?

See the trailer here.

For more on the movie this is the website.

Release formats: Standard

Genre: Comedy

Rating: PG-13 (for some sexual content and brief language)

V/H/S

(Magnet) Joe Swanberg, Adam Wingard, Sophia Takal, Calvin Reeder. A group of thieves hired to find a specific VHS tape in an abandoned house finds a whole stack of them, each one more morbid and horrifying than the last. As they continue to watch it soon becomes terrifyingly apparent that these tapes are much more than they seem to be.

See the trailer or stream the full movie from Amazon here.

For more on the movie this is the website.

Release formats: Standard

Genre: Horror Anthology

Rating: R (for blood violence, strong sexuality, graphic nudity, pervasive language and some drug use)