New Releases for the Week of January 29, 2015


Kung Fu Panda 3KUNG FU PANDA 3

(DreamWorks Animation) Starring the voices of Jack Black, Angelina Jolie, Dustin Hoffman, Jackie Chan, Seth Rogen, Lucy Liu, Bryan Cranston. Directed by Jennifer Yuh Nelson and Alessandro Carloni

Po is the most unlikely Kung Fu master in China, but he has built a great life. However, when his long-lost father appears, Po is whisked away to a hidden panda village, a paradise for the corpulent bears. However, there is trouble brewing; the demonic Kai has been resurrected and is sweeping across China, defeating all the Kung Fu masters in his wake. It will take an army to stop him – but all Po has is peace-loving dumpling-chomping pandas. Can he whip them into shape before Kai takes over all of China?

See the trailer, clips, interviews, promo video and premiere live stream footage here.
For more on the movie this is the website.

Release Formats: Standard, 3D, IMAX 3D
Genre: Animated Feature
Now Playing: Wide Release

Rating: PG (for martial arts action and some mild rude humor)

50 Shades of Black

(Open Road) Marlon Wayans, Kali Hawk, Fred Willard, Mike Epps. The 50 Shades of Grey franchise gets the parody treatment from master comedian Marlon Wayans.

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

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

Rating: R (for strong crude sexual content including some graphic nudity, and for language throughout)

The Finest Hours

(Disney) Chris Pine, Holliday Grainger, Casey Affleck, Eric Bana. On February 18, 1952, a massive nor’easter struck the American east coast, causing the oil tanker S.S. Pendleton to break and half, trapping 30 men in the sinking stern. The nearest Coast Guard station sends out a rescue mission in a wooden lifeboat with an ill-equipped engine and virtually no navigation equipment to face hurricane force winds, 60 foot waves and freezing temperatures to reach the ship before time runs out. And yes, this really happened.

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

Release Formats: Standard, 3D, IMAX 3D
Genre: True Life Drama
Now Playing: Wide Release

Rating: PG-13 (for intense sequences of peril)

Ip Man 3

(Well Go USA) Donnie Yen, Lynn Hung, Jin Zhang, Mike Tyson. A crooked developer aims to take over the city and martial arts master Ip Man feels compelled to take a stand and right the wrongs being perpetrated against his neighbors. While the story is fiction, Ip Man was a real man who was Bruce Lee’s martial arts teacher.

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

Release Formats: Standard
Genre: Martial Arts
Now Playing: AMC Disney Springs

Rating: PG-13 (for sequences of martial arts violence and brief strong language)

Jane Got a Gun

(Weinstein) Natalie Portman, Joel Edgerton, Ewan McGregor, Noah Emmerich. A woman trying to leave her past behind her finds it hot on her trail again in the form of the ultra-violent Bishop Boys gang. With her husband badly injured and her family in peril, she turns to an ex-lover – a gunslinger – to protect her home and her family from certain destruction.

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

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

Rating: R (for violence and some action)

Lazer Team

(Rooster Teeth) Colton Dunn, Alan Ritchson, Burnie Burns, Allie DeBerry. When four video game-playing losers discover a UFO crash site, they unwittingly genetically bond with advanced battle suits which they will then have to put to good use defending the Earth which is really gonna need it – oh dear God the Earth is in so much trouble!

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

Release Formats: Standard
Genre: Science Fiction
Now Playing: AMC Disney Springs

Rating: PG-13 (for sexual material including references, language, action violence, teen partying and smoking)

Black Mass


You don't want to get on Jimmy Bulger's bad side.

You don’t want to get on Jimmy Bulger’s bad side.

(2015) Biographical Drama (Warner Brothers) Johnny Depp, Joel Edgerton, Benedict Cumberbatch, Dakota Johnson, Kevin Bacon, Peter Sarsgaard, Jesse Plemons, Rory Cochrane, David Harbour, Adam Scott, Corey Stoll, Julianne Nicholson, W. Earl Brown, Bill Camp, Juno Temple, Mark Mahoney, Brad Carter, Scott Anderson, Lonnie Farmer, Mary Klug, Bill Haims, Erica McDermott. Directed by Scott Cooper

There are certain people that you meet who are corruptors. Any contact with them sends you spiraling down a rabbit hole of bad choices which once taken build upon each other until you are hopelessly lost in it. One day you wake up and realize that you are as corrupt as that which you associated with, without meaning to be.

In the 70s and 80s, James “Whitey” Bulger (Depp) – who incidentally hated that nickname and saying it to his face was a good way to get on his bad side, a place you surely didn’t want to be – was the kingpin of crime in Boston. Something of a folk hero in South Boston where he grew up and where most of the Winter Hill Gang, the crew which he ran, were from, he was known to be less flashy than other criminal bosses but no less vicious, although he could be kind and supportive to those in his neighborhood that he felt merited it, as well as faultlessly loyal to family and friends.

One of those friends was John Connolly (Edgerton) who went into the other side of the law as an FBI agent. A rising star in the Bureau, he was brought to Boston to take down Jerry Angiulo (Haims) and his organization which at the time was the undisputed criminal leaders of North Boston and who were making inroads into Southie which was Bulger territory. The two would form an alliance that in exchange for information about the Angiulo family, Connolly would essentially protect his childhood friend and allow him free reign in Boston, which would come back to haunt him.

In addition, Jimmy’s brother Billy (Cumberbatch) was a state senator and the most powerful politician in Boston at the time. While Jimmy took great care not to involve Billy in his affairs, Billy would later suffer by association to his notorious brother and be forced out of politics.

Jimmy would run roughshod over Boston for more than a decade until an incorruptible Federal Prosecutor, Jimmy’s own hubris and Connolly’s own lies and misinformation would lead to Jimmy going on the run for 16 years until he was eventually captured in 2011 (he has strongly denied that he was ever a government informant, incidentally).

Scott Cooper, most notable for his Oscar-winning film Crazy Heart, has elicited the most powerful performance Depp has given in years and one of his best ever. Barely recognizable in a protruding forehead prosthetic, receding white-blonde hairline and rotting teeth, Depp inhabits his role like it’s a comfortable apartment. Early in the film, he shows a compassionate Bulger – devoted son and father  and loyal friend – but as the film goes on, a vicious and paranoid streak begins to emerge as Bulger, prone to violence, begins to lose control. It’s a riveting performance, not unlike that of Al Pacino in the original Godfather although not quite to that level of accomplishment. Nonetheless, it’s wonderful to see an actor who has been on a bit of a cold streak of late return to form and deliver the kind of performance we know he’s capable of. Hopefully this will mean that Depp will have some really good roles in his near future.

The supporting cast is extremely accomplished. Best of the bunch is Edgerton who is blossoming into an extraordinary actor and building on his performance here and in The Gift is poised to ascend to Hollywood’s A-list. His John Connolly is a Southie street kid who has matured into a federal agent, but whose misguided loyalties and tragic misfire on crime fighting strategy brings the character to an inevitable fall. Cumberbatch, who has parlayed an ability to spot roles that grow his career into stardom, has little to do but when he gets the opportunity to shine makes the most of it. Plemons, Cochrane and Brown as Bulger associates Kevin Weeks, Steve Flemmi and John Martorano respectively are also outstanding as are Kevin Bacon, Corey Stoll and David Harbour as lawmen Charles McGuire, Fred Wyshak and John Morris respectively.

While the movie mainly takes place in the late 70s and early to mid 80s, Cooper doesn’t club you over the head with the era recreation. There is a timeless feel to Southie and it is in many ways much the same now as it was then. Cooper wisely chooses not to mess with that by throwing tons of bell-bottoms, mutton chops and floofy hair. Sure, there are period automobiles and signage as well as home furnishings but it is all rather low-key. Boston itself is given a kind of wintry patina that makes you feel a little bit on the cold side throughout, even when some of the action takes place on beautiful spring and summer days.

While I don’t think this is quite as good as some of the gangster epics of Scorsese and Coppola, it nevertheless merits consideration as a memorable addition to the elite films of the genre, which I think it will be considered as when years go by. Depp will have a good deal of stiff competition this year but his performance here will have to merit at least some Best Actor consideration for next year’s Oscars. It may lack quality women’s roles and might feel a little bit on the long side, but it is the best crime drama you’ll see this year.

REASONS TO GO: Depp’s best performance in years. Likely to become an essential gangster movie in years to come.
REASONS TO STAY: Maybe a bit too long and a little too masculine.
FAMILY VALUES: A fair amount of bloody violence, quite a bit of profanity, some sexual references and some drug use.
TRIVIAL PURSUIT: Many of the scenes depicting murders in the movie were filmed in the same locations where the actual murders took place.
CRITICAL MASS: As of 9/26/15: Rotten Tomatoes: 75% positive reviews. Metacritic: 68/100.
COMPARISON SHOPPING: :Goodfellas
FINAL RATING: 7.5/10
NEXT: Cold Nights, Hot Salsa

New Releases for the Week of September 18, 2015


Maze Runner The Scorch TrialsMAZE RUNNER: THE SCORCH TRIALS

(20th Century Fox) Dylan O’Brien, Ki Hong Lee, Kaya Scodelario, Thomas Brodie-Sangster, Patricia Clarkson, Jacob Lofland, Giancarlo Esposito, Aidan Gillen. Directed by Wes Ball

In the sequel to the 2014 hit adaptation of a young adult sci-fi novel, the sequel takes the survivors of the Glade into a new environment; an underground post-apocalyptic world in which humanity has left the surface of the Earth which has become too dangerous to support life. However, what they thought was safety proves to be far more sinister as the WCKD corporation seems to have plans for them – plans that might be hazardous to their health. Before long, they are fleeing to the outside world, the Scorch where they discover that the truth isn’t what they thought it was.

See the trailer, clips, interviews and B-roll video here.
For more on the movie this is the website.
Release Formats: Standard  (Opens Thursday)
Genre: Science Fiction
Now Playing: Wide Release
Rating: PG-13 (for extended sequences of violence and action, some thematic elements, substance use and language)

Black Mass

(Warner Brothers) Johnny Depp, Joel Edgerton, Benedict Cumberbatch, Dakota Johnson. Irish mobster James “Whitey” Bulger held Boston in an iron grip during the 70s and 80s. One of the great crime bosses of modern times, he played both sides against the middle, reputedly an informer for the FBI – certainly he manipulated the bureau to his own advantage, while running amuck on the streets. The Jack Nicholson character in The Departed is based on him.

See the trailer, clips, interviews, a featurette and B-roll video here.
For more on the movie this is the website.
Release Formats: Standard (Opens Thursday)
Genre: Biographical Drama
Now Playing: Wide Release
Rating: R  (for brutal violence, language throughout, some sexual references and brief drug use)

Captive

(Paramount) Kate Mara, Mimi Rogers, Michael K. Williams, David Oyelowo. A young mother struggling with drug addiction is taken hostage in her own apartment by a desperate escaped convict, who murdered the judge assigned to his case. Using an inspirational self-help book as a guide, she helps find purpose not only for her own life, but also a more peaceful resolution for the convict. Based on the true story of Ashley Smith and Brian Nichols.

See the trailer, interviews and B-roll video here.
For more on the movie this is the website.
Release Formats: Standard
Genre: Faith-Based True Life Drama
Now Playing: Wide Release
Rating: PG-13 (for mature thematic elements involving violence and substance abuse)

Everest

(Universal) Jake Gyllenhaal, Josh Brolin, Jason Clarke, Keira Knightley. Mt. Everest has become a commercial goldmine as companies have sprung up offering to shepherd climbers to the summit. It’s no laughing matter as it is a dangerous venture to say the least, and on one day in 1996 two expeditions taking their clients to the top are hit with a massive storm, resulting in one of the deadliest days in the mountain’s history. For those who don’t live near a large format screen (i.e. IMAX etc.), don’t fret; the movie will hit  general release next week in both 3D and standard formats.

See the trailer, interviews, clips and B-Roll video here.
For more on the movie this is the website.
Release Formats: Standard, 3D, IMAX 3D
Genre: True Life Thriller
Now Playing: Large Format Theaters
Rating: R (for language, violence and brief drug use)

Grandma

(Sony Classics) Lily Tomlin, Julia Garner, Marcia Gay Harden, Judy Greer. While recovering from the breakup with her girlfriend, Elle receives an unexpected visit from her granddaughter who needs $600 for an abortion. Unfortunately, Elle is temporarily broke so the two go to find the money among old friends, family and acquaintances, dislodging quite a few skeletons from quite a few closets in the process. Word is that Tomlin is an early favorite for this year’s Best Actress Oscar for this role.

See the trailer and clips here.
For more on the movie this is the website.
Release Formats: Standard
Genre: Dramedy
Now Playing: AMC Altamonte Mall, AMC Downtown Disney, Amstar Lake Mary, Enzian Theater, Epic Theaters of Clermont, Regal Oviedo Marketplace, Regal Pointe Orlando
Rating: R (for language and some drug use)

Katti Batti

(UTV) Imran Khan, Kangana Ranaut. One is an architect, who is stable and secure. The other, a free spirit who lives life to its fullest. Each one loves the other for those very same qualities. This Bollywood film follows their five year live-in relationship which isn’t all dancing and rose petals.

See the trailer here.
For more on the movie this is the website.
Release Formats: Standard
Genre: Bollywood
Now Playing: AMC West Oaks, Touchstar Southchase
Rating: NR

The Gift (2015)


Rebecca Hall investigates.

Rebecca Hall investigates.

(2015) Thriller (STX) Jason Bateman, Rebecca Hall, Joel Edgerton, Allison Tolman, Tim Griffin, Busy Phillipps, Adam Lazarre-White, Beau Knapp, Wendell Pierce, Mirrah Foulkes, Nash Edgerton, David Denman, Kate Aselton, David Joseph Craig, Susan May Pratt, P.J. Byrne, Felicity Price, Melinda Allen, Jyothsna Venkatesh, Laura Drake Mancini, DaNae West, Stacey Bender, Beth Crudele. Directed by Joel Edgerton

The past has a way of rearing its head, ugly or not, when we least expect it. Sometimes it can be a song or a scent that brings it flooding back, or a chance meeting in a retail store. We are tied to our past as surely as we are tired to our choices.

Things are looking good for Simon (Bateman) and Robyn (Hall). They are happily married, Simon recently got a major promotion (and is closing in on another) and they’ve just purchased a beautiful home with amazing views from floor-to-ceiling glass windows. What those in thrillers fail to appreciate is that glass is two-way – you can look out of it sure, but so can others look in.

While shopping for furnishings the couple run into Gordo (Edgerton), a sad-sack sort that was a classmate of Simon’s in high school. Simon can barely remember him, and Robyn takes pity on him; he seems a nice enough guy if a bit socially awkward. She invites him to dinner.

When Gordo starts leaving little gifts; a bottle of wine, glass cleaner, Koi carp for their pond, at first it seems like a nice gesture but it begins to get a little creepy. Then there are intimations of some sort of incident in the past between Gordo and Simon that was less than savory. Robyn also has her own skeletons; a miscarriage sent her spiraling into depression and drug abuse. She has gotten better lately but Simon still worries about it.

Then again, Simon seems to have issues of his own. The more we get to know these people, the less we actually do, all of which descends to an inevitable confrontation which leads to a shocking revelation.

This is Edgerton’s first feature as a director and if this is any indication, he has a bright future ahead of him in that regard. The pacing here is damn near perfect, neither too hurried but definitely moves along at a good clip. The result is we’re constantly on the edge of our seats without feeling like we’re missing anything.

Edgerton as a writer is also amazing; all of the main characters are nicely developed and are allowed to be imperfect. The twist at the end is brilliant and shocking, a rare thing these days when we think we just can’t be shocked. This is proof that not only can we be, but we can be surprised as well. A good movie buff appreciates that more than you can imagine.

Bateman gets a rare serious role and plays it very nicely, never overplaying the dramatic aspects (which some comic actors tend to do) but not underplaying it either. He uses his nice guy persona as a bit of a tool, allowing us to settle in to a particular viewpoint of who the character is, then slowly tears down that viewpoint as the character turns out to be something different. It shows Bateman to be an actor of enormous range; I wouldn’t be surprised to see higher-profile dramatic roles coming his way because of his performance here.

Edgerton has long been someone that “everyone” knows can act, but hasn’t really ascended into the Hollywood elite yet. There’s a good chance he will now, showing himself to be a massive talent behind the camera, but a great one in front of the camera as well. Like Bateman, he uses his edgy persona to his advantage to create certain expectations for the audience and then slowly strips them away. I’ve always liked Edgerton as an actor; now I like him even more.

Hall’s character is more brittle and fragile, and in some ways more colorless. She is just beginning to get it together after essentially a breakdown but the goings on here put her back teetering on the edge. Hall doesn’t really hit it out of the park like her colleagues do, but she turns in a solid performance that is bound to get her some notice from casting agents.

The creepy factor is extra high here as we watch the events unfold. Certainly the tension through the last third of the movie is high, but this isn’t a roller coaster ride so much as a dark ride in a boat through some really terrible scenes. This movie has been pretty much universally praised and for good reason; don’t read that as being excessive however – this isn’t an essential movie, just a really well-crafted thriller that is well worth your while. And that is essential enough.

REASONS TO GO: Effectively creepy. Nice twist. Good casting.
REASONS TO STAY: The camera is a bit static. Hall’s character is a bit bland.
FAMILY VALUES: There’s a fair amount of foul language and some adult themes.
TRIVIAL PURSUIT: Because he wanted to focus on directing, Edgerton filmed all of his own scenes two weeks into shooting and had them completed in seven days.
CRITICAL MASS: As of 8/28/15: Rotten Tomatoes: 92% positive reviews. Metacritic: 77/100.
COMPARISON SHOPPING: Oldboy
FINAL RATING: 7/10
NEXT: Ricki and the Flash

New Releases for the Week of August 7, 2015


Fantastic Four

FANTASTIC FOUR

(20th Century Fox) Miles Teller, Kate Mara, Michael B. Jordan, Jamie Bell, Toby Kebbell, Reg E. Cathey, Tim Blake Nelson, Dan Castallaneta. Directed by Josh Trank

Four young researchers who are experimenting with a transporter device end up in an alternate dimension where things go very badly for them. They do return home, but they’ve been  changed fundamentally – all four of them have amazing powers. While sinister government forces plot to use these youngsters for their own ends, the fantastic four intend to use their powers their own way and on their own terms – to fight a super-powered villain more powerful than they are individually but only together will they beat Dr. Doom. This more serious-minded reboot by the director of Chronicle has gotten really horrible early reviews, although it should be said that most reviewers are less than enthusiastic about the superhero genre in general.

See the trailer, clips, interviews and a promo here.
For more on the movie this is the website.
Release Formats: Standard (opens Thursday)
Genre: Superhero
Now Playing: Wide Release
Rating: PG-13 (for sci-fi action violence and language)

Bangistan

(A A Films) Jacqueline Fernandez, Rajesh Sharma, Ritesh Deshmukh, Pulkit Samrat. The fictional country of Bangistan is a nation divided; the Muslims on one side, the Hindus on the other but there is hope; a Karma conference which is being attended by the spiritual leaders of both sides may bring the nation together but there are those who would rather see it torn apart. Each side, unbeknownst to the other, sends a human bomber to put an end to peace. Fortunately, each of the bombers is a complete nincompoop and neither is too anxious at the prospect of blowing themselves up in the name of ideology.

See the trailer here.
For more on the movie this is the website.
Release Formats: Standard
Genre: Comedy
Now Playing: AMC West Oaks
Rating: NR

Dragon Ball Z: Resurrection “F”

(FUNimation) Kyle Hebert, Chris Ayres, Sean Schemmel, Monica Rial. The 20th feature film in the Japanese anime franchise brings back one of the most notorious villains in the franchise. After being resurrected following his death, Frieza plots his revenge against the Z Fighters with the eventual plan to take over the planet, but Goku, Vegeta and the rest of the Fighters aren’t about to go down without a fight.

See the trailer and clips here.
For more on the movie this is the website.
Release Formats: Standard (special engagement; opened on Tuesday)
Genre: Anime
Now Playing: AMC Downtown Disney, Cinemark Artegon Marketplace, Cobb Plaza Cinema Cafe, Regal Pointe Orlando, Regal Waterford Lakes, Regal Winter Park Village
Rating: NR

The Gift

(STX Entertainment) Jason Bateman, Joel Edgerton, Rebecca Hall, Busy Phillipps. The lives of a married couple are thrown into turmoil when a chance encounter with an acquaintance from the husband’s high school days turns into something more terrifying. The husband, you see, is harboring a horrifying secret and the acquaintance, through a serious of mysterious gifts, is going to make sure that secret comes back to haunt him. This is not only Edgerton’s directorial debut but also the first release from new mid-size distributor STX.

See the trailer and clips here.
For more on the movie this is the website.
Release Formats: Standard (opens Thursday)
Genre: Thriller
Now Playing: Wide Release
Rating: R (for language)

Irrational Man

(Sony Classics) Joaquin Phoenix, Emma Stone, Jamie Blackley, Parker Posey. The latest film from Woody Allen is about a distraught philosophy professor who falls for two very different women. Feeling that nothing he has accomplished in his life has made a difference, he takes no joy out of life but when he overhears a stranger’s conversation, it leads him to make a momentous choice that will affect all three of them profoundly.

See the trailer and clips here.
For more on the movie this is the website.
Release Formats: Standard
Genre: Dramedy
Now Playing: AMC Downtown Disney, Amstar Lake Mary, Cinemark Artegon Marketplace, Epic Theaters of Clermont, Regal Oviedo Marketplace, Regal Pointe Orlando, Regal Waterford Lakes, Regal Winter Park Village
Rating: R (for some language and sexual content)

Ricki and the Flash

(TriStar) Meryl Streep, Kevin Kline, Mamie Gummer, Rick Springfield. Ricki had a husband and children but she also had a dream of rock and roll stardom. She has chased it all her life and it has cost her everything and like most rock and roll dreams, has not returned the stardom she envisioned. Making a living as the guitarist and singer for a bar band, Ricki returns home when she finds out her daughter is undergoing a crisis. Determined to be the mom she never was, she attempts to build bridges with all of her children but that’s far easier said than done. The latest from director Jonathan Demme was written by Diablo Cody and features Streep’s real-life daughter as her onscreen daughter.

See the trailer, clips, interviews and a featurette here.
For more on the movie this is the website.
Release Formats: Standard (opens Thursday)
Genre: Comedy
Now Playing: Wide Release
Rating: PG-13 (for thematic material, brief drug content, sexuality and language)

Shaun the Sheep Movie

(Lionsgate/Aardman) Starring the noises of Justin Fletcher, John Sparkes, Omid Djalili, Richard Webber. The newest feature from Britain’s stop-motion experts Aardman Studios features their beloved character Shaun the Sheep, who lives in the English countryside with the Farmer. The Farmer is all about getting the work done; Shaun wants nothing more than a day off. When his plot to put the Farmer to sleep goes awry, the Farmer ends up in the big city without any memory. It will be up to Shaun, his flock and the ever-vigilant dog Bitzer. Cinema365 was treated to an advance screening and you can read my review here.

See the trailer, a clip and a featurette here.
For more on the movie this is the website.
Release Formats: Standard (opened Wednesday)
Genre: Animated Feature
Now Playing: Wide Release
Rating: PG (for rude humor)

Srimanthudu

(Eros International) Mahesh Babu, Shruti Haasan, Rajendra Prasad, Jagapati Babu. A wealthy man has everything – but his soul feels empty. When he comes upon a small village by chance, he realizes that he can affect profound change on the lives of the villagers. However, there are those who would not see him spend his millions in that way.

See the trailer here.
For more on the movie this is the website.
Release Formats: Standard
Genre: Action
Now Playing: Touchstar Southchase
Rating: NR

The Wolfpack

(Magnolia) Bhagavan Angulo, Govinda Angulo, Narayana Angulo, Mukunda Angulo. Seven brothers are confined to their Lower East Side Manhattan apartment, home schooled and having rare contact with the world outside the walls of their apartment. Their isolation and loneliness is eased by elaborate re-enactments of their favorite movies using props from around the house. When one of the brothers manages to escape this existence, the dynamics in the household are changed.

See the trailer and stream the full movie from Amazon here.
For more on the movie this is the website.
Release Formats: Standard
Genre: Documentary
Now Playing: Enzian Theater
Rating: R (for language)

Exodus: Gods and Kings


Christian Bale takes aim at a critic who gave his latest film a harsh review.

Christian Bale takes aim at a critic who gave his latest film a harsh review.

(2014) Biblical Epic (20th Century Fox) Christian Bale, Joel Edgerton, Aaron Paul, Ben Kingsley, Sigourney Weaver, John Turturro, Ben Mendelsohn, Maria Valverde, Hiam Abbass, Isaac Andrews, Ewen Bremner, Indira Varma, Golshifteh Farahani, Ghassan Massoud, Tara Fitzgerald, Dar Salim, Andrew Tarbet, Ken Bones, Giannina Facio. Directed by Ridley Scott

Most of us are aware of the story of Moses, either through religious education or through repeated viewings of The Ten Commandments. Moses the Lawgiver remains one of the most iconic figures of the Old Testament, who along with Abraham is one of the foundations of the Judeo-Christian faith.

Moses (Bale) was born to Jewish slaves and when the newborn sons of Israel were slaughtered to prevent a prophecy that the deliverer had been born, his desperate mother floated him in a cradle of reeds down the Nile where he was picked up by the barren sister of Pharaoh Seti (Turturro) and raised in the royal household as a brother to Ramses (Edgerton). Ramses and Moses were as close as brothers and Seti felt that Moses would make a more effective ruler than his more impetuous biological son.

However despite the fact that Moses saved his life and has no ambition to rule Ramses has a healthy distrust of his childhood friend. When Moses discovers his true past from Nun (Kingsley), a Hebrew slave, his world is turned upside down. When Hegep (Mendelsohn), an Egyptian viceroy who has run afoul of Moses and seeks to curry favor with the new Pharaoh discovers the truth, Ramses is reluctant to kill his erstwhile kin. Instead, he exiles him to the desert, figuring that the Gods can deal with Moses.

The Gods deal with Moses by allowing him to traverse the desert to an oasis where he discovers the comely young shepherdess Zipporah (Valverde) who captivates the exiled Moses. The two marry and have a son. In the meantime, Moses is visited by God in the form of a young child who instructs Moses to raise an army and prepare to lead the Israelites out of Egypt. However, the Egyptians aren’t about to let the Israelites go so first there’s a matter of a few plagues – ten to be exact – before Moses is finally allowed to lead the slaves from bondage. However, they won’t get to the promised land without crossing the Red Sea and with a fired up army led by an enraged Ramses right on their tails.

Any cinematic version of the story of Exodus is going to inevitably have to deal with Cecil B. DeMille and his classic The Ten Commandments and anyone playing Moses is going to have to deal with Charlton Heston. For T10C the effects were impressive for their time, and the effects here are impressive for this time, bringing the plagues of frogs, flies, crocodiles and so on to vivid life. We can see the Egyptians trying to explain the plagues in anything but supernatural terms, much as we would do. But of course, they were also playing a game of “My Gods are better than Your God” with the Hebrews as well.

Heston was imperious, the very picture of an Old Testament prophet, intoning in a voice booming like thunder “Behold the Hand of the Lord” as he parts the Red Sea. Bale’s Moses is nothing like Heston; he bickers with the manifestation of God, feeling that he is a bit bloodthirsty for his taste and that his heavy-handed methods will be less likely to move Pharaoh’s heart. God essentially tells Moses he can do what he want because he’s God mofo! There has been a lot of controversy about this version of God who is not only a child but a petulant one.

Bale is a fine actor but this seems a bit out of his depth. In all fairness, there aren’t really any actors out there who can go all Old Testament on an audience; I honestly can’t think of any who would make a great Moses. That’s no knock on Bale; he can be as heroic as anyone but there is always an edge to him and there is one here as well. Moses here isn’t a Hebrew except by birth; he’s all about raising an army and taking on the Egyptian army – after all, with God’s help what army could stand against them, but God seems to prefer the art of gentle persuasion – by using a hammer on innocents. Moses has a problem with that and frankly, so do I and I appreciate Scott bringing it up because it is a question worth asking.

Some have complained that Scott, an agnostic, has diverged a fair amount from the source material but I think that as Scott himself has stated, his lack of Judeo-Christian faith gives him a certain amount of perspective that directors like DeMille who was known for being devout lack. However, Scott has justifiably been raked over the coals for casting white actors in parts that are essentially Middle Eastern, mostly casting what Middle Eastern actors he does have as slaves and soldiers. Scott raises the point that no studio is going to finance a $200 million film without name actors in the lead roles and that’s true enough. Which of course makes me wonder if that’s a statement on the racial bias of the movie-going public as much as it is the studios. Fill in your own answers here.

I liked Edgerton’s performance as Ramses although he has been getting a bit of flack for his work for the most part. Yes, he uses a bit too much eyeliner and he looks like some sort of giant Gerber’s baby with his head shaved but he captures Ramses as a man raised to believe he was a living God but full of insecurities, particularly because his brother was so much better than him in just about everything.

So this is one of those event movies that really relies on spectacle and there’s just enough here to make it worth seeing on the big screen if you can, but this isn’t great moviemaking or a great movie. Scott has done far better work, some of it recently. That doesn’t mean this doesn’t have merit and in this case, just enough for a guarded recommendation.

REASONS TO GO: Edgerton makes a decent Ramses. The effects are spectacular.
REASONS TO STAY: Bloated and strays far from the Biblical source material. Insensitive to the religious in places.
FAMILY VALUES: There is some violence, particularly on the battlefield. There are also some disturbing images.
TRIVIAL PURSUIT: Ben Mendelsohn previously worked with Christian Bale in The Dark Knight Rises and Joel Edgerton in Animal Kingdom.
CRITICAL MASS: As of 1/12/15: Rotten Tomatoes: 28% positive reviews. Metacritic: 52/100.
COMPARISON SHOPPING: Noah
FINAL RATING: 6/10
NEXT: Foxcatcher

New Releases for the Week of December 11, 2014


Exodus Gods and KingsEXODUS: GODS AND KINGS

(20th Century Fox) Christian Bale, Joel Edgerton, Sigourney Weaver, John Turturro, Aaron Paul, Ben Mendelsohn, Ben Kingsley, Maria Valverde, Hiam Abbass. Directed by Ridley Scott

The story of Moses, who led the Hebrews out of Egyptian bondage (sounds kinkier than it is) and into the promised land of Israel is taken from the realm of The Ten Commandments and into the 21st century under the sure hand of Oscar-winning director Ridley Scott.

See the trailer, clips, interviews, featurettes and B-roll video here.
For more on the movie this is the website.
Release formats: Standard
Genre: Biblical Epic
Now Playing: Wide Release
Rating: PG-13 (for violence including battle sequences and intense images)

The Babadook

(IFC Midnight) Essie Davis, Noah Wiseman, Daniel Henshall, Tim Purcell. A young widow struggles to raise her out-of-control son, finding it harder and harder to bond with him. He becomes convinced that there is a creature, conjured up by an innocent pop-up storybook, coming to kill them both. His mother of course doesn’t believe him but when she starts to get glimpses of the creature, she realizes that it is not his imagination; the threat is very real. This Australian gem played at the Florida Film Festival earlier this year and has been met with near-universal praise from critics and audiences alike as it has emerged from the festival circuit for a limited release.

See the trailer here.
For more on the movie this is the website.
Release formats: Standard
Genre: Horror Thriller
Now Playing: Enzian
Rating: NR

Top 5

(Paramount) Chris Rock, Rosario Dawson, Cedric the Entertainer, Kevin Hart. One of the world’s most acclaimed stand-up comedians has transitioned into serious acting. He is getting set to marry a beautiful reality TV star. However, while being interviewed by a hold-nothing-back reporter, he begins to suspect he’s not as happy in his accomplishments as he would like and in fact part of him longs for a return to things as they once were.

See the trailer, interviews and clips here.
For more on the movie this is the website.
Release formats: Standard
Genre: Comedy
Now Playing: Wide Release
Rating: R (for strong sexual content, nudity, crude humor, language throughout and some drug use)

The Great Gatsby (2013)


It's my party and I'll smirk if I want to.

It’s my party and I’ll smirk if I want to.

(2013) Drama (Warner Brothers) Leonardo di Caprio, Tobey Maguire, Carey Mulligan, Joel Edgerton, Isla Fisher, Jason Clarke, Elizabeth Debicki, Adelaide Clemens, Jack Thompson, Amitabh Bachchan, Gus Murray, Kate Mulvany, Barry Otto, Daniel Gill, Iota, Eden Falk, Steve Bisley, Vince Colosimo, Max Cullen, Gemma Ward, Olga Miller. Directed by Baz Luhrmann   

The Jazz Age of the Roaring ’20s was known for conspicuous wealth and the wealthy who partied capriciously even as a stock market crash loomed ever closer. It was an age of the flapper, of gangsters and bootleggers, of old money sneering at the nouveau riche with all the venom of an aging viper whose territory is being taken over by a younger and deadlier snake.

F. Scott Fitzgerald wrote what is arguably his masterpiece in 1925 to tepid sales and lackluster reviews. When he passed away in 1940, he believed himself to be a failure although ironically his work would receive the acclaim and sales only a few years later. ‘Tis the melancholy truth about artists – most have to die in order for their work to matter.

So what’s so great about Gatsby? Well, a lot of things – it’s depiction of the lavish excesses and the empty morality of the very rich, but also the language. Few understood the American idiom quite as well as Fitzgerald and the words truly flow beautifully off the page. Read it aloud and you might think you’re delivering the words of an American Shakespeare into the ether. That is, perhaps, overpraising the work but many consider it to be the Great American Novel and if not that, at least the Great American Tragedy.

Given the lavish excess of the book, Australian director Baz Luhrmann might well be the perfect choice to make the film version. Three others have preceded it – a 1926 silent version which sadly has been lost to the mists of time as no prints are known to exist, although a trailer for it does and if you look it up on YouTube, you can see it. Another version was filmed in 1949 starring Alan Ladd and Betty Field but has been held up for 60 years over mysterious copyright litigation which someone needs to sort out. The most famous version is the 1974 Robert Redford/Mia Farrow version which famously flopped and has been disowned by nearly everyone involved (there was also a made for television version in 2000).

However, this one is the only one that I am aware of that is available in grand and glorious 3D. Why is it available in such a format, you might ask? So that the glitter and confetti from the various parties might seem to pop out of the screen at you. Otherwise there really is no particular necessity for it.

The film follows the book pretty faithfully – surprisingly so. Midwesterner Nick Carroway (Maguire) moves into a carriage house in the fictional Long Island community of West Egg on the grounds of the fabulous mansion of Jay Gatsby (di Caprio), a reclusive sort who throws lavish parties for which everyone who is anyone shows up at uninvited and about whom all sorts of rumors are floating about.

Nick’s cousin Daisy Buchanan (Mulligan) lives across the bay – in fact directly across from Gatsby’s mansion – with her philandering husband Tom (Edgerton), an old money sort who is a racist jerk who makes Daisy’s life miserable. Tom inexplicably bonds with Nick and takes him to visit his mistress Myrtle Wilson (Fisher), a clingy shrewish sort who is married to George (Clarke), an auto mechanic who is somewhat slavishly devoted to Myrtle and treats Tom, whose cars he repairs, as something like a potentate.

But Daisy has a secret of her own; prior to meeting Tom she was courted by Jay Gatsby, then an officer in the Army preparing to be deployed into the Great War. By the time he returned, she was married to Tom. Gatsby then set to amassing a fortune by as it turned out fairly nefarious means, utilizing underworld businessman Meyer Wolfsheim (Bachchan)  as a go-between.

Gatsby wants Nick to invite Daisy over for tea which he does; Nick genuinely likes Gatsby whose optimism appeals to Nick’s sensibilities. Once Daisy and Gatsby are together it’s like a flickering torch reignited. The two realize they are meant for each other. Gatsby urges Daisy to tell Tom that she doesn’t love him. Daisy is extremely reluctant, although it’s true. This will lead to a confrontation in the Plaza Hotel in New York that will have deadly consequences.

Luhrmann is known for visual spectacle and for thinking outside the box. He frames the story with Nick in his later years committed to a sanitarium for alcoholism, writing down the events of his youth as a means of therapy ordered by his doctor (Thompson). Fitzgerald’s words literally flow into the film as 3D graphics. It’s a nice conceit.

Luhrmann is also known for willful anachronisms – filming period films with a modern soundtrack (which includes songs by Lana del Rey, Jay Z – who supervised the soundtrack – and Andre 3000, among others) which as a personal note drives me entirely crazy. Why go to the trouble of meticulously re-creating an era which Luhrmann does and then immediately take his audience right out of it by having a jazz orchestra rapping? Methinks that Luhrmann doesn’t care if his audience is immersed in the film or not as long as they know who directed it.

Gatsby is one of the most enigmatic literary characters of the 20th century and is a notorious part to get down properly. He is a driven soul, passionate in his feelings for Daisy but absolutely amoral when it comes to money. He is a self-made man, largely willing his own image of himself into reality only to  come to understand too late that these things are illusions that are ultimately empty reflections in a mirror that we can’t see. Di Caprio once again reminds us that he is a powerful actor capable of mesmerizing performances at any given time. This is certainly one of his better works, capturing that enigma that is Gatsby and giving it flesh and soul.

Nick is our surrogate, floating in a world of wealth and privilege with eyes wide open. He joins in on the debauchery and recoils in horror as it turns savagely on itself. He watches the events unfold towards their inevitable conclusion and manages to retain his own humanity. He is a decent sort who is thoroughly capable of being corrupted – and to an extent he is – but in the end it’s his own decency that saves him. Maguire is particularly adept at radiating decency and does so here. He’s not particularly memorable – he was never going to be in this kind of role and opposite di Caprio – but he does everything you could ask of him here.

Mulligan, who burst onto the scene not long ago with an amazing performance in An Education has continued to blossom as an actress since then. This is not really a role she’s well-suited for; Daisy is a self-centered and vacuous soul who doesn’t have the courage of her own convictions. Mulligan is far too intelligent an actress to play vacuous and thus she isn’t terribly convincing in the role. Nicole Kidman might have been a better choice and she’s closer to di Caprio’s age range to boot.

There is a lot of spectacle here but sadly it is sabotaged by Luhrmann’s own imagination, which is kind of ironic. Spectacle for spectacle’s sake, as Jay Gatsby would surely have known, is an ultimately empty gesture. There is plenty here to like but one gets too distracted by the fluff. Brevity is the soul of wit and Fitzgerald was fully aware of how to use language economically. So too, simplicity is the soul of film and that is a lesson Luhrmann has yet to learn.

REASONS TO GO: Di Caprio delivers another bravura performance. Captures the era in many ways. Follows Fitzgerald’s story surprisingly closely.

REASONS TO STAY: Far too many instances of “Look, Ma, I’m Directing.” Afflicted with the Curse of the Deliberate Anachronism.

FAMILY VALUES:  There are some violent images (although none especially shocking), some sensuality, partying and smoking within a historical context and a bit of foul language.

TRIVIAL PURSUIT: Duesenbergs are the automobile of choice for Jay Gatsby but the real things are far too rare and valuable to be used as movie props. The one you see in the film is one of two replicas, each painted yellow and modified to match each other for filming.

CRITICAL MASS: As of 5/20/13: Rotten Tomatoes: 49% positive reviews. Metacritic: 54/100; critics were pretty much split right down the middle on this one.

COMPARISON SHOPPING: Moulin Rouge

FINAL RATING: 6.5/10

NEXT: The Iceman

New Releases for the Week of May 10, 2013


The Great Gatsby

THE GREAT GATSBY

(Warner Brothers) Leonardo di Caprio, Tobey Maguire, Carey Mulligan, Joel Edgerton, Isla Fisher, Jason Clarke, Amitabh Bachchan, Jack Thompson. Directed by Baz Luhrmann

A would-be writer comes to New York City from the Midwest in the Roaring ’20s to become neighbors with the notorious party boy from high society, Jay Gatsby and Gatsby’s cousin Daisy and her brutal husband Tom. As the writer is drawn into the world of the upper crust with all their deadly illusions and secrets he writes a story that reflects the world he has come to inhabit.

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

For more on the movie this is the website.

Release formats: Standard, 3D

Genre: Drama

Rating: PG-13 (for some violent images, sexual content, smoking, partying and brief language)

From Up on Poppy Hill

(GKIDS) Starring the voices of Anton Yelchin, Gillian Anderson, Beau Bridges, Sarah Bolger. As Japan prepares to host the 1964 Olympics in Tokyo and show the world that they have returned to being a major power and fully recovered from the war, two young people join forces to save their high school’s ramshackle clubhouse from being torn down. While a budding romance develops between the two of them, they are forced to confront the changing times and attitudes that are warring with traditional values in Japan.

See the trailer here.

For more on the movie this is the website.

Release formats: Standard

Genre: Anime

Rating: PG (for mild thematic elements, and some incidental smoking images)

Go Goa Gone

(Eros International) Saif Ali Khan, Kunal Khemu, Vir Das, Puja Gupta. A group of guys, tired of being smacked around by life, decide to take a vacation on a beautiful island off the coast of Goa. Unfortunately their revelry is cut short by an invasion of zombies.

See the trailer here.

For more on the movie this is the website.

Release formats: Standard

Genre: Bollywood/Horror Comedy

Rating: R (for disturbing violent and sexual content, graphic nudity, language and some drug use) 

No One Lives

(Anchor Bay) Luke Evans, Adelaide Clemens, Lee Tergesen, Laura Ramsey. When a ruthless criminal gang takes a young couple hostage, things get bad. When they kill the girl, things get worse. There is a killer amongst them, one determined to make sure that nobody survives the night.

See the trailer here.

For more on the movie this is the website.

Release formats: Standard

Genre: Thriller

Rating: R (for strong bloody violence, disturbing images, pervasive language and some sexuality/nudity) 

Peeples

(Lionsgate) Craig Robinson, Kerry Washington, David Alan Grier, S. Epatha Merkerson. A working class guy who has fallen in love and been in a longstanding relationship with a girl from an upper class background decides to crash her family reunion so that he can ask her father for his daughter’s hand in marriage. As you can guess, things don’t go exactly as planned.

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

For more on the movie this is the website.

Release formats: Standard

Genre: Urban Comedy

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

Zero Dark Thirty


The halo around her head presages Jessica Chastain making box office history.

The halo around her head presages Jessica Chastain making box office history.

(2012) True Life Drama (Columbia) Jessica Chastain, Jason Clarke, Joel Edgerton, Jennifer Ehle, Mark Strong, Edgar Ramirez, Kyle Chandler, Harold Perrineau, James Gandolfini, Jonathan Olley, Jeremy Strong, Reda Kateb, John Barrowman, Chris Pratt, Frank Grillo, Scott Adkins, J.J. Kandel, Fares Fares, Mark Duplass, Tushaar Mehra, Stephen Dillane, Lauren Shaw. Directed by Kathryn Bigelow

Zero Dark Thirty may well be the most critically acclaimed film to come out last year and also the most controversial. The left claims that it glorifies and justifies torture, while the right claims that the filmmakers used classified material to make their film, which was also intended to help boost Obama’s electoral chances. Sony promptly defused this by scheduling it after the election.

Two years after 9-11, the CIA is no closer to finding and capturing Osama bin Laden than they were the day the Towers fell. New agent Maya (Chastain) is sent to Pakistan to work with Daniel (Clarke), one of the Agency’s top interrogators (read: torturer). In their hands is Ammar (Kateb), who helped supply money to the 9-11operatives who’d crashed the planes. Daniel water boards his prisoner and subjects him to pain and humiliation in every way imaginable.

After awhile, Maya suggests fooling him into thinking he’d already given up information that had led to Al Quaeda plans being thwarted. He gives them a name – Abu Achmed (Mehra), who is seemingly an important courier who may well have ties directly to Bin Laden. Maya seizes on this as a potential clue to his whereabouts; her station chief Joseph Bradley (Chandler) isn’t sure at all. Daniel is on the fence; he is weary of torture and wants to return home and cleanse his soul again.

Maya relentlessly chases her lead over the course of years, even after they get intelligence that Abu Achmed has been dead for years. She bonds with fellow female intelligence agent Jessica (Ehle) who looks to have a lead on a double agent who has ties to the inner circle. She goes to Camp Chapman in Afghanistan to pursue that lead…which ends in tragedy.

An attempt on Maya’s life convinces her that she’s getting close but it is no longer safe for her to stay in Pakistan so she returns to Washington to become a gadfly in the Agency as her persistence begins to pay off when information she receives leads her to find that Abu Achmed is very much alive – and living in a fortress-like complex in which someone is taking great pains to keep anyone from knowing what’s going on inside. Could this be where Bin Laden has been hiding all this time?

Well, you know what the answer to that question is unless you’ve been living under a rock. The last 25 minutes of the movie is really the payoff everyone is going to the theater to see – the raid on Bin Laden’s compound, ending up with the death of the notorious terrorist leader and the end of a decade-long nightmare. This is edge of the seat stuff, even if it is mostly seen in night vision and is often confusing and terrifying – as it must have been for the SEALs on the mission – and it at times seems like not very much is going according to plan.

I do have to say before we go into the film itself that I think that most of the complaints about the film are political posturing. This is far from an endorsement of torture for one thing – if anything, it’s an indictment against it. None of the information that they get through torture is usable – none of it. The only useful information they get is through fooling the detainee into thinking that he’d already given the information and even then it’s just a name – and not even the right one.

As for being a left-wing Obama lovefest, it’s far from that either. While I can’t speak to the filmmakers being given access to classified documents (a claim denied both by the filmmakers and the CIA, as well as with analysts familiar with the Bin Laden manhunt), I can say that they take great pains to make this as apolitical as possible. Clearly, the film is about those who undertook the greatest manhunt in history, those people in the clandestine services. No, it isn’t about suave secret agents in fast cars with nifty gadgets, although there are a few of the latter. Mostly it’s about people chasing down leads in places I wouldn’t want to spend a minute in, much less months at a time. Obama barely rates a mention or two here.

The one who rates more than a mention is Jessica Chastain. She comes into her own here and even though she’s already in a very brief time turned in some amazing performances, this tops it and puts her squarely at the top of the favorites for the Best Actress Oscar (she’s already won a Golden Globe as of this writing). She’s also made box office history, becoming the first woman ever to star in the number one and number two movies in the box office race in the same week at the same time. She joins a very elite company of men who have accomplished the same difficult feat.

Her Maya is driven, relentless as a terrier and having all the social graces of a charging bull. She is fearless, standing up to her often timid bosses who are far more afraid of being wrong than they are of not finding Bin Laden. She’s a cruise missile on a factory floor and heaven help anyone who gets in the way of her goal. Chastain is wise enough to make her vulnerabilities show up from time to time – being alone against the world can wear a person down. It’s also a very lonely place to be. Incidentally, it is reported that Maya is based on a real CIA operative, although there are those who insist that the real Maya is a man.

The movie runs about two and a half hours and that might be a little long for some, although I didn’t particularly notice the length. It does have a tendency to telegraph some of the action; when you see a date you know something tragic is about to happen.

Bigelow and her production designer Jeremy Hindle do a realistic job of setting up the look and feel of the film. Hindle built a re-creation of Bin Laden’s compound in the Jordanian desert in only a couple of months. Now, I’m not the sort who can look at the film and say “oh yes, that’s exactly the way the compound looked” but others who can do it have done so.

This is a brilliant movie that carries a little baggage with it that might affect the way you view it. I urge you not to bring small children to the movie as some idiot of a parent did to our screening; this is a movie with some pretty graphic images that the squeamish are going to have a real hard time with. For the rest of us, this is a movie that has been justifiably lauded; it’s not a perfect movie but it is certainly one that is worth your time and effort to see.

REASONS TO GO: A brilliant performance by Chastain, justifiably Oscar-nominated. Realistic almost to a fault.

REASONS TO STAY: The torture scenes are very hard to take. Telegraphs some of its moves in advance.

FAMILY VALUES:  There are some graphic depictions of torture that are by no means meant for children, nor are the pictures of those killed in the various bombings and raids. DO NOT BRING YOUR PRE-TEENS TO THIS MOVIE!!!!!!

TRIVIAL PURSUIT: The movie was already in pre-production and was to be about the unsuccessful hunt for Osama Bin Laden when the news broke that Bin Laden was dead. Immediately the screenplay was re-written to turn the movie into the story of the successful hunt for Bin Laden.

CRITICAL MASS: As of 1/22/13: Rotten Tomatoes: 93% positive reviews. Metacritic: 95/100; this movie is as well-reviewed as it’s possible to get.

COMPARISON SHOPPING: The Hurt Locker

FINAL RATING: 8.5/10

NEXT: Hesher