New Releases for the Week of June 15, 2018


THE INCREDIBLES 2

(Disney*Pixar) Starring the voices of Holly Hunter, Craig T. Nelson, Samuel L. Jackson, Sophia Bush, Catherine Keener, Sarah Vowell, Bob Odenkirk, Huck Milner. Directed by Brad Bird

After having had to hide their powers for years, the world is ready for superheroes  to return. But it is Elasti-girl who will be saving the day, not her powerful husband Mr. Incredible. He’ll be home taking care of baby Jack-Jack who may turn out to be more powerful than anyone in the family. However, a new and greater threat has risen and it may take the entire family – including Jack-Jack – and the help of a few friends to save the world yet again.

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

Release Formats :Standard, 3D, D-BOX, D-BOX 3D, Dolby, IMAX, RPX, RPX 3D, XD
Genre: Animated Feature
Now Playing: Wide Release

Rating: PG (for action sequences and some brief mild language)

Gotti

(Vertical) John Travolta, Kelly Preston, Stacy Keach, Pruitt Taylor Vince. The story of notorious mobster “Gentleman” John Gotti, his rise to power and his fall from grace as seen through the eyes of his son. This has found a new distributor after a previous distributor dropped the film literally within weeks of its original scheduled release date.

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

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

Rating: R (for strong violence and pervasive language)

Race 3

(Yash Raj) Anil Kapoor, Salman Khan, Jacqueline Fernandez, Bobby Deol. The third installment of the popular Indian franchise that follows a crime family whose brutality, vindictiveness and ruthlessness make them a force to be reckoned with.

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

Release Formats: Standard
Genre: Action
Now Playing: AMC Loew’s Universal Cineplex, Touchstar Southchase

Rating: NR

Superfly

(Columbia) Trevor Jackson, Jason Mitchell, Michael Kenneth Williams, Jennifer Morrison. A remake of the 1973 Blaxploitation classic that follows a successful young drug dealer who wants to finish off one last deal so he can retire a wealthy man. Remakes are cool and all but no way will they be able to outdo Curtis Mayfield on the titular theme song.

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

Release Formats: Standard
Genre: Action
Now Playing: Wide Release (opened Wednesday)

Rating: R (for violence and language throughout, strong sexuality, nudity and drug content)

Tag

(New Line) Jeremy Renner, Ed Helms, Jon Hamm, Isla Fisher. A group of men who have been friends since childhood organize an annual game of tag, some of whom have to travel across the country to get there. This year they are out to get the one member of the group who has never – ever – been tagged.

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

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

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

Won’t You Be My Neighbor?

(Focus) Fred Rogers, Joanne Rogers, Robert F. Kennedy, Yo-Yo Ma. Generations of kids have grown up with Mister Fred Rogers, in whose neighborhood we learned to be neighbors and to love each other. While some look at his teachings to be pure schmaltz, they are lessons nonetheless we need more than ever today.

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

Release Formats: Standard
Genre: Biographical Documentary
Now Playing: Enzian Theater

Rating: PG-13 (for some thematic elements and language)

ALSO OPENING IN ORLANDO/DAYTONA:

A Kid Like Jake
Naa Nuvve
Sammohanam
The Year of Spectacular Men
The Yellow Birds

ALSO OPENING IN MIAMI/FT. LAUDERDALE:

49 Pulses
The Doctor from India
The Guardians
Hearts Beat Loud
The Misandrists
Naa Nuvve
Sammohanam
Summer 1993
The Yellow Birds

ALSO OPENING IN TAMPA/ST. PETERSBURG:

Affairs of State
Naa Nuvve
Sammohanam

ALSO OPENING IN JACKSONVILLE/ST. AUGUSTINE:

Naa Nuvve
Sammohanam

SCHEDULED FOR REVIEW:

Hearts Beat Loud
The Incredibles 2
Superfly
Tag
Would You Like to Be My Neighbor?

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Pulp Fiction


Someone is going to get a cap in their ass.

Someone is going to get a cap in their ass.

(1994) B-Movie Noir (Miramax) John Travolta, Bruce Willis, Samuel L. Jackson, Uma Thurman, Ving Rhames, Tim Roth, Eric Stoltz, Amanda Plummer, Harvey Keitel, Christopher Walken, Steve Buscemi, Quentin Tarantino, Julia Sweeney, Phil LaMarr, Frank Whaley, Burr Steers, Rosanna Arquette, Bronagh Gallagher, Duane Whitaker, Peter Greene, Stephen Hibbert, Kathy Griffin, Maria de Madeiros. Directed by Quentin Tarantino

Some movies become classics because they define an entire genre; others because they define a region. Many become classics because they define the person who made it – and Pulp Fiction does. But what sets it apart from other movies is that Pulp Fiction has come to define cool.

Pulp Fiction is ranked high on a lot of people’s lists of all-time favorite or significant (or both) films, critics and film buffs alike. Tarantino had already been receiving notice for his previous films True Romance and Reservoir Dogs but to most people, this is his artistic nadir. It would provide a serious career renaissance for Travolta and a boost for Willis, while Jackson would really hit the public radar with his incendiary performance here.

Tarantino skillfully weaves three stories – one of two career killers, Vincent Vega (Travolta) and Jules Winnfield (Jackson) having a particularly bad day, a second about a prize fighter named Butch Coolidge (Willis) who fails to throw a prize fight and runs afoul of gangster Marcellus Wallace (Rhames) who also happens to be the employer of Messrs. Vega and Winnfield. Finally a third story involves Vincent’s ill-advised assignment to take out Marcellus’ wife Mia (Thurman) out for dinner and dancing. He takes her out to Jack Rabbit Slim’s, a restaurant that never existed but OMG it should have. There, waiters dressed like Hollywood stars of the 50s and 60s serve burgers, shakes and steaks to customers seated in classic cars. Slot car racers ring the room and periodic twist contests and other entertainment keep the joint hopping.

My personal favorite sequence is when Vincent and Jules head to a suburban home of mutual friend Jimmie Dimmick (Tarantino) after one of the messiest accidents you’ll ever see on film. They are forced to call The Wolf (Keitel), a fixer who specializes in clean-ups. There is a whole lot of dark humor in the scene and I always look forward to it whenever I view the movie which is pretty regularly.

Tarantino has always been a skillful writer of dialogue and he writes some of the best I’ve ever heard here. Much of it has become classic; Vincent’s laconic assertion that in France, a Quarter Pounder with cheese is called a Royale with cheese, or Jules’ Biblical oration when he’s about to shoot someone in the face and who can forget Marcellus Wallace promising that he is “going to get medieval on yo ass” to a  It is also the kind of film where bad things happen to just about everyone.

The movie combines all sorts of different genres, from black comedies to thrillers, from mob movies to fight flicks. Pulp Fiction is B-Movie noir, a tribute to the movies that weren’t so respectable but are the movies that we tend to remember even more than the high-falluting Oscar winners. These are the movies that we are raised on, the movies that make us feel just a little bit like badasses. These are the movies that appeal to the devils of our better nature, and Pulp Fiction is everything about these movies that makes them great.

WHY RENT THIS: A true classic with some of the best dialogue ever written. Terrific performances by Travolta, Jackson, Thurman and Keitel.  Awesome soundtrack.

WHY RENT SOMETHING ELSE: May be filled with a few too many pop culture references.

FAMILY VALUES:  All sorts of violence and drug use as well as a ton of foul language.

TRIVIAL PURSUIT: Travolta and Thurman copied their twist sequence at Jack Rabbit Slim’s virtually move for move from a similar dance sequence in Fellini’s 8 1/2 by Barbara Steele and Mario Pisu.

NOTABLE HOME VIDEO EXTRAS: The Collector’s Edition DVD includes a feature from Siskel & Ebert At the Movies on Tarantino and his generation of filmmakers, Tarantino’s acceptance speech when the film won the Palm d’Or at the Cannes Film Festival, an interview of Tarantino by Charlie Rose and a menu from Jack Rabbit Slim’s. The Blu-Ray has all of these other than the menu.

BOX OFFICE PERFORMANCE: $213.9M on an $8M production budget.

COMPARISON SHOPPING: Reservoir Dogs

FINAL RATING: 10/10

NEXT: The World is Not Enough

Savages


 

Savages

Blake Lively is jealous that Salma Hayek gets a meal and she gets a salad.

(2012) Drama (Universal) Taylor Kitsch, Aaron Johnson, Blake Lively, Benicio del Toro, Salma Hayek, John Travolta, Emile Hirsch, Demian Bechir, Amber Dixon, Joel David Moore, Diego Catano, Shea Whigham, Joaquin Cosio, Antonio Jaramillo. Directed by Oliver Stone

 

When pushed to the wall, we all do what we have to in order to survive. We may be the most peaceable souls normally but that all changes in certain situations. Sometimes, we must become savages in order to make it through.

Chon (Kitsch) and Ben (Johnson) have a business together. Their business happens to be growing marijuana. Ben is a botanist and a businessman from Berkeley. He has managed to breed the most amazing weed on the planet and has put together a network of distributors that keeps costs down and quality high.

Chon is the big stick in the equation. Ben’s business model doesn’t call for violence often but when it’s needed Chon supplies it. He’s a vet fresh off of tour in Afghanistan who has a cynical outlook on life. He’s the yin to Ben’s yang….er, or vice versa.

What they have in common is O. Which stands for orgasm. Which stands for Ophelia (Lively). She is Ben’s girlfriend. She’s also Chon’s girlfriend. Sometimes all at the same time. She has orgasms. Ben has orgasms. Chon has wargasms. It all works out nicely for everyone. Life is kind of a stoner paradise from their beach house in the OC.

Then it becomes clear that the Baja cartels want to invade. Alex (Bechir), a slimy lawyer, puts what sounds like a reasonable proposition out to Chon and Ben. Chon is suspicious and Ben is more interested in getting out of the business entirely. However when they turn down the offer, Elena (Hayek), the head of the cartel, sics her vicious enforcer Lado (del Toro) on the boys. He discovers their weakness is O (not orgasms, Ophelia who provides them – she likes to be called O because she hates her name by the way) and kidnaps their weakness.

At first Chon and particularly Ben are so concerned with O’s safety that they’ll do literally anything to ensure it. But as they get their composure back it becomes clear that once the cartel gets what they want (their superb weed and their business model) all three of them will be disposed of so it’s all-out war – reluctantly on Ben’s side. And in any war, there are casualties.

Say what you want about Oliver Stone’s politics, his point of view, the man can direct – JFK is one of my all-time favorite movies. It’s just that sometimes he has a habit of inserting himself into a movie – the good ol’ “Look Ma I’m Directing” syndrome, or LMIDS.

Much of the problem is in the narration. Blake Lively is a fine actress but there is just far too much narration and what that is generally is the filmmaker inserting themselves into the story. Trust the story to tell itself – and trust the actors to convey what’s in their heads. If you have to narrate every scene, you’re selling your story and your cast short.

And part of the problem is also in the story itself. The main characters are a little narcissistic, a bit naive, and they do a lot of drugs. I mean Ben, O and Chon smoke a lot of their own product. That may make it seem like they’re just kids in paradise but in reality they’re criminals, selling illegal narcotics. They do some pretty bad things along the way which might be part of Stone’s message, but I’ve never been a fan of 70s movies that require you to root for the bad guy who’s less bad.

And there are some pretty impressive performances here, particularly from del Toro who’s as magnificent a villain as we’ve seen since Javier Bardem in No Country for Old Men and Christoph Waltz in Inglourious Basterds. He delights in inflicting pain and torment but he’s all business as well. He’s as frightening an enforcer as you’re ever likely to meet. Not that you meet a lot of enforcers.

For all intents and purposes this is a kind of Jules et Jim for stoners but done as a crime drama with a side of brutality. Does that really sound like an interesting film to you? Maybe it is and I’m just missing it but quite frankly I never connected to the movie and I usually do with Stone’s works. I haven’t even mentioned the ending which is really jump-the-shark bad. It’s definitely a LMIDS move that adds an additional unnecessary fifteen minutes onto the film and for no other reason than for the filmmakers to pull a fast one on their audience.

I’m not one for recommending this but this is the kind of movie that probably should best be experienced while bombed out of your gourd. It will help with the somewhat unlikely plot and the somewhat unlikable characters. But mostly, it will help with the directorial parlor tricks that serve to take you out of the film and remind you that this is an Oliver Stone Production. We only need the opening credits to remind us of that; anything else is just an overactive ego.

REASONS TO GO: Del Toro may well be the best screen baddie in the business at the moment.

REASONS TO STAY: Overly narrated and too many cutesie directorial moves. Very difficult to get invested in the main characters. The ending is really godawful.

FAMILY VALUES: There is a whole lot of drug use – and I mean a lot. If that kind of thing makes you uncomfortable, this isn’t the movie for you. There’s also a lot of violence, a bit of torture, plenty of sex, some gruesome images, nudity and pretty much constant cursing. This is what they call a “Hard R.”

TRIVIAL PURSUIT: Uma Thurman was cast to play Ophelia’s mother but her part was cut from the film.

CRITICAL MASS: As of 7/24/12: Rotten Tomatoes: 54% positive reviews. Metacritic: 61/100. The reviews are fairly mixed, trending towards the positive.

COMPARISON SHOPPING: Traffic

HACIENDA LOVERS: Elena lives in two homes; one in Mexico and one in California – both are hacienda-style villas that are excellent examples of the form of architecture so prevalent in the American Southwest and Mexico.

FINAL RATING: 5/10

NEXT: Father of Invention

New Releases for the Week of July 6, 2012


July 6, 2012

THE AMAZING SPIDER-MAN

(Columbia) Andrew Garfield, Emma Stone, Rhys Ifans, Denis Leary, Campbell Scott, Irrfan Khan, Martin Sheen, Sally Field, Embeth Davidtz, C. Thomas Howell. Directed by Marc Webb

Peter Parker, a brilliant but somewhat outcast high school student, was abandoned by his parents as a child, leaving him to be raised by his Uncle Ben and Aunt May. When he finds a mysterious briefcase that his father left behind, he’s sent on a journey to Oscorp, the somewhat unbalanced one-armed scientist Curt Connors and a rendezvous with a radioactive spider.

See the trailer, interviews and clips here.

For more on the movie this is the website.

Release formats: Standard, 3D, IMAX 3D

Genre: Superhero

Rating: PG-13 (for sequences of action and violence)

Bol Bachchan

(Fox Star) Ajay Devgn, Abhishek Bachchan, Asin Thottumkal, Prachi Desai. A Muslim breaks the lock on a Hindu temple to save a trapped child but through a series of misunderstandings is believed to be a Hindu. In order to preserve the lie, he is forced to tell more and more outrageous tales until he is trapped by his own falsehoods.

See the trailer  here.

For more on the movie this is the website.

Release formats: Standard

Genre: Bollywood

Rating: PG (for sequences of action violence, thematic elements and brief mild language)

Katy Perry: Part of Me

(Paramount/InSurge) Katy Perry, Glen Ballard, Shannon Woodward, Rachael Markarian. A chronicle of Perry’s California Dreams Tour of 2011, during which her marriage with Russell Brand came to an end. How she coped with that loss, her relationship with her fans and the story of her perseverance in becoming a pop diva is told through interviews and archival footage. There is also, as you can imagine, plenty of concert footage from the Staples Center in Los Angeles.

See the trailer and clips here.

For more on the movie this is the website.

Release formats: Standard, 3D

Genre: Musical Documentary

Rating: PG (for some suggestive content, language, thematic elements and brief smoking)

Savages

(Universal) Taylor Kitsch, John Travolta, Blair Lively, Salma Hayek. Two Southern California friends share a thriving Marijuana business and a girlfriend. When a particularly vicious Mexican drug cartel moves into their territory and demands that they work with them, the two friends decline, leading to a cycle of escalating violence and high stakes. Oliver Stone directs.

See the trailer and promo here.

For more on the movie this is the website.

Release formats: Standard

Genre: Thriller

Rating: R (for strong brutal and grisly violence, some graphic sexuality, nudity, drug use and language throughout)

To Rome With Love

(Sony Classics) Alec Baldwin, Roberto Benigni, Penelope Cruz, Jesse Eisenberg. Woody Allen’s latest takes him to the Eternal City for the first time, following a group of people – some local, others that are visitors – who fall in love, or fall out of love…or get into some pretty odd predicaments because of love.

See the trailer here.

For more on the movie this is the website.

Release formats: Standard

Genre: Comedy

Rating: PG-13 (for some crude sexual remarks and brief drug references)

The General’s Daughter


The General's Daughter

Madeline Stowe is tired of being taken to John Travolta's favorite cheap bar whenever they go out on a date.

(1999) Mystery (Paramount) John Travolta, Madeline Stowe, James Woods, James Cromwell, Timothy Hutton, Clarence Williams III, Leslie Stefanson, Daniel van Bargen, Peter Weireter, Mark Boone Junior, John Beasley, John Frankenheimer. Directed by Simon West

 

The United States Army is, in many ways, a cult in the eyes of us civilians. Think about it: People dress the same, address civilians with courtesy and respect (for the most part), engage in a life governed by a rigid code of morality and when threatened, protect their own. At least they don’t hand out flowers in airports.

The General’s Daughter looks at that code in a critical manner. Paul Brenner (John Travolta) is a member of the elite Criminal Investigation Division, a branch of the Army that investigates crimes committed on military property and/or by military personnel. He is brought into an investigation when a beautiful female officer (Stefanson) is raped and murdered in a particularly brutal fashion. Another investigator, Sara Sunhill (Stowe) who, as it so happens, used to be intimate with Brenner, is brought in to be a partner with her somewhat reluctant ex.

Also, as it turns out, the beautiful officer is the daughter of the base commander, Gen. Joseph Campbell (Cromwell). Campbell is getting ready to retire from the military, with an eye toward a political career. So the intrigue is sky-high, with a smarmy MP (Hutton), an edgy psych officer (the always-excellent Woods), and a guilty-looking assistant (Williams) lurking about the edges.

At the risk of giving away too much, two elements of the military are under the microscope here: the Army’s attitude towards women and the Army’s attitude towards cover-ups. I can kind of understand the latter; in order to be effective, an armed force must have the respect of not only those who potentially might oppose it but also of those it defends as well. The U.S. Army doesn’t like to appear vulnerable or mistaken. It takes steps to protect its reputation almost as vigorously as it takes steps to protect this nation.

Of course that can lead to several gray areas, morally-speaking. While instances as far out into the gray as The General’s Daughter are extremely rare (although the Navy’s Tailhook scandal comes to mind), the fact is that the potential for these kinds of shenanigans exist. Perhaps that’s why this movie is so effective.

It’s easy to forget sometimes that Travolta is actually a fine actor although he makes a pretty damn fine movie star as well. Here he plays a man walking through a moral minefield and is being forced to choose between what he knows is right and the good of the Army. It’s not an easy choice by any means and through Travolta we can see the character wrestling with his moral dilemma.

He has a spectacular supporting cast; Woods and Cromwell shine, and Stowe, Hutton and Williams are all excellent as well. All of them are among some of the finest actors in the business, now and almost 15 years ago when this was made. Still, this is definitely Travolta’s show and he’s at the top of his game here.

“The General’s Daughter” is not always an easy movie to watch, although as thrillers go, it’s top-notch. The solution is not what I expected, and it made me think long after the lights had come up in the theater. That’s a lot more than you can ask out of most thrillers – heck, most movies.

WHY RENT THIS: An entertaining thriller with unexpected twists. Travolta is in his best form here; he’s surrounded by a strong supporting cast.

WHY RENT SOMETHING ELSE: Portrays the Army in a somewhat negative light. The murder/rape scene may be too disturbing for some.

FAMILY MATTERS: There is a very graphic and disturbing rape and murder scene, some perverse sexuality (as the MPAA so delicately puts it), plenty of strong language and violence.

TRIVIAL PURSUITS: The Fort MacCallum scenes were filmed at Savannah State University in Georgia and at Van Nuys Airport in Los Angeles.

NOTABLE DVD FEATURES: None listed.

BOX OFFICE PERFORMANCE: $149.7M on an estimated $95M production budget; the movie didn’t quite make enough to be profitable during it’s theatrical run.

FINAL RATING: 7/10

TOMORROW: The Promotion

 

From Paris With Love


From Paris With Love

Mr. Clean gets just a little bit tougher on dirt.

(Lionsgate) John Travolta, Jonathan Rhys Meyers, Kasia Smutniak, Richard Durden, Yin Bing, Amber Rose Revah, Eric Gordon, Francois Bredon, Chems Eddine Dahmani, Alexandra Boyd, Sami Darr, Michael Vander-Meiren. Directed by Pierre Morel

While the cold war came to an end, espionage didn’t. Spies are alive and well and some of them are living in Paris.

James Reese (Rhys Meyers) is a personal aide to the United States ambassador to France (Durden). He is smart, efficient, ambitious and charming. He’s the point man on nearly all of the ambassador’s projects, from a meeting with the French Defense Minister (Gordon) to an upcoming trade summit with African nations. Reese has a beautiful French girlfriend named Caroline (Smutniak) who loves him so much that she proposed to him. Bold, them French girls are.

James also works for a government espionage agency as a low-level functionary. Most of the tasks he’s been giving are fairly routine, like changing license plates on getaway vehicles and placing electronic monitoring devices in the French Defense Minister’s office. He yearns to be a field operative – a spy – doing his part to save the world but up to now he hasn’t gotten the chance. Still, in these tasks he shows efficiency and ingenuity; so much so that he is given a new task – to partner up with a veteran field operative, Charlie Wax (Travolta).

Wax is foul-mouthed, foul-tempered and operates by his own set of rules. He shoots first, asks questions later then shoots again. He doesn’t mind leaving a trail of damage in his wake the size of an F5 tornado swath. With his shaven head and goatee, he resembles a cross between Satan, Mr. Clean and ex-wrestlers Goldberg and Stone Cold Steve Austin and in temperament…well, whichever one of those has the foulest, vilest most evil temper.

He is there investigating a drug ring run by Palestinians. He tells James to take him to a Chinese restaurant, a dodgy one in a seedy part of Paris. He’s heard the egg foo yung (not even a true Chinese dish, as James is only too happy to inform Wax; it’s an entirely American invention) is superior here, but he’s heard wrong. The service isn’t bad though – in fact, it’s killer.

After letting one of the waiters live through the inevitable barrage of bullets, Charlie and James follow the surviving waiter through the back streets of urban Paris to a…an….well, it’s sort of a cross between a mannequin warehouse and a Chinese theater. At least, as far as I could tell; Might have been a skating rink there too for all I know.

He gets the address of someone farther up the food chain and the two, Wax and James – who is beginning to wonder if he’s really cut out for working with a cowboy like Wax – move their way up the ladder, leaving a pile of bodies as they go. However, Wax has told James a liiiiiiiittle white lie; it’s not drug dealers he’s after, but terrorists. And James, as it turns out, is unknowingly involved, right up to his pretentious moustache.

Director Morel last brought us Taken, a surprisingly effective taut thriller. He showed himself to be an effective action director there, and he is here as well. The car chases are well-staged and the fights for the most part, well-choreographed. There is enough of an adrenaline rush here to keep you going for the whole movie.

What doesn’t work quite as well is the story. A good spy story should have things coming at you from every direction, but there isn’t much of that here. There is a big twist to the plot but it isn’t anything you haven’t seen and can’t predict. Simple can be better in most cases, but in others simple doesn’t work quite as well.

What does work well is Travolta. Completely unrecognizable as Charlie Wax, Travolta takes the opportunity to go completely over-the-top. Alone of anyone in this movie he seems to be having a good time and he takes us along for the ride. If there’s a reason for a sequel to this movie, it’s to see what Charlie does next.

Rhys Meyers, of Showtime’s “The Tudors” has a role that isn’t nearly as fun and doesn’t have the potential, but he makes the humorless James at least palatable. Smutniak also does really well as Caroline; of all the characters she might have had the most depth, but unfortunately the writers chose not to really explore it so she winds up symbolizing the film as something of a wasted opportunity.

Still, as mindless entertainment goes this is top-notch. Travolta is at the top of his game and that alone is worth the price of admission. There are several sly references to Pulp Fiction which may not be the best idea – who wants to remind themselves of a better movie than the one they’re watching – but for my part I found those references to be a nice homage. The movie, in any case, is the cinematic equivalent of a Royale with Cheese; tasty but ultimately filled with empty calories.

REASONS TO GO: Travolta is obviously having a good time with his larger-than-life role and it elevates the movie. Morel is a strong action director.

REASONS TO STAY: The story isn’t particularly innovative and the big twist isn’t much of a surprise (ask Da Queen – I called it early on). The villains aren’t particularly intimidating.

FAMILY VALUES: The violence can be bloody and occasionally gruesome. The language is pretty rough and there is also some drug use depicted. Teens and older only.

TRIVIAL PURSUIT: The 1955 film To Paris With Love is said to have been the inspiration for the Ian Fleming James Bond novel To Russia With Love which was made into a film in 1963. None of the three films are related.

HOME OR THEATER: Ahhhh I gotta go big screen on this one. Not that it’s got grand vistas or big effects; it just feels like a popcorn movie to me.

FINAL RATING: 6/10

TOMORROW: The Wolfman

New Releases for the Week of February 5, 2010


February 5, 2010

"I've shaved my head. I've grown this goatee. I'm even wearing this crappy t-shirt, but I draw the line at wearing wrestling tights!"

FROM PARIS WITH LOVE

(Lionsgate) John Travolta, Jonathan Rhys Meyers, Kasia Smutniak, Richard Durden, Yin Bing, Amber Rose Revah, Eric Gordon, Francois Bredon. Directed by Pierre Morel

James Reese, a personal aide to the U.S. Ambassador to France has it pretty cushy. A great apartment in Paris, a beautiful French girlfriend, but what he really wants to be – is a spy. A low-level operative for the CIA, he yearns for the day when he can be a proper agent. Finally, it looks like he’s getting a real assignment, until he meets his partner; Charlie Wax. Wax is a shoot first, ask questions later then shoot again kind of guy, the sort of agent that gives new meaning to “loose cannon.” When Reese finds out that the same terrorist ring that they’re investigating has targeted him, his only hope is Charlie Wax.

See the trailer and clips here.

For more on the movie this is the website.

Rating: R (for strong bloody violence throughout, drug content, pervasive language and brief sexuality)

Dear John

(Screen Gems) Channing Tatum, Amanda Seyfried, Henry Thomas, Richard Jenkins. A spring break on the beaches of South Carolina brings together a pretty college student and a young soldier home on leave. They fall madly in love but as soldiers must do, he goes to war and over the next seven years, they are separated by his increasingly more dangerous deployments, keeping touch with a series of heartfelt love letters, letters which will have serious consequences. From the revered Swedish director Lasse Hallstrom and author Nicholas Sparks, a machine at turning out Palmetto State-set tragic romances.

See the trailer here.

For more on the movie this is the website.

Rating: PG-13 (for some sensuality and violence)

New Releases for the Week of November 27, 2009


New Release Preview 11/27/09

It's hard to believe these guys are old dogs now.

OLD DOGS

(Disney) John Travolta, Robin Williams, Kelly Preston, Seth Green, Ella Bleu Travolta, Conner Rayburn, Lori Loughlin, Matt Dillon, Bernie Mac. Directed by Walt Becker

From the director of Wild Hogs comes this new comedy that similarly involves older men in a younger man situation. In this case, two successful businessmen on the verge of closing the biggest deal of their careers are derailed by the revelation that one of them is in fact a father and at one of the most critical junctures in their negotiations, will be babysitting his newfound brood. As will happen around kids, chaos ensues.

See the trailer here.

For more on the movie this is the website.

Rating: PG (for some mild rude humor)

Boondock Saints II: All Saints Day

(Apparition) Norman Reedus, Sean Patrick Flannery, Clifton Collins, Julie Benz. This is the sequel to the cult classic penned by Troy Duffy (the making of which was the subject of the acclaimed documentary Overnight). The brothers MacManus who have been taking it easy in Ireland since the events of the first film find themselves compelled to return to the mean streets of Boston when a priest is brutally gunned down.

See the trailer here.

For more on the movie this is the website.

Rating: R (for bloody violence, language and some nudity)

Fantastic Mr. Fox

(Fox Searchlight) Featuring the voices of George Clooney, Meryl Streep, Jason Schwartzmann, Bill Murray. From the minds of the late novelist Roald Dahl and director Wes Anderson (Rushmore) comes this animated feature that pits a clever, tricky fox against three brutal but not-so-bright farmers.

See the trailer here.

For more on the movie this is the website.

Rating: PG (for action, smoking and slang humor)

Ninja Assassin

(Warner Brothers) Rain, Naomie Harris, Sho Kosugi, Rick Yune. Taken from the streets as a child by the legendary but lethal Ozunu Clan and trained as an assassin, Raizo becomes one of the deadliest killers on the planet. However he butts heads with the clan and is forced to vanish. Now, he finds an Interpol agent who has stumbled upon one of the secrets of the Ozunu Clan and is marked for death. He must protect her – and himself – from the world’s most skilled assassins and try to find a way to bring the clan down for good. This stylized anime/video game hybrid is from V for Vendetta director James McTeigue.

See the trailer here.

For more on the movie this is the website.

Rating: R (for strong bloody stylized violence throughout, and language)

The Road

(Weinstein) Viggo Mortensen, Robert Duvall, Kody Smit-McPhee, Charlize Theron. After a global catastrophe kills nearly all life on earth and ends civilization as we know it, a father and his son make their way across a barren, dangerous landscape trying to avoid predators of the natural and unnatural kind in an effort to make it to the coast and survival. Based on the Pulitzer Prize winning novel by Cormac McCarthy, this post-Apocalyptic thriller boasts an all-star cast.

See the trailer here.

For more on the movie this is the website.

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

Bolt


It's doggie deja vu.

It's doggie deja vu.

(Disney) Starring the voices of John Travolta, Miley Cyrus, Susie Essman, Mark Walton, Diedrich Bader, Malcolm McDowell, James Lipton. Directed by Chris Williams and Byron Howard

Sometimes the world we live in isn’t what we think it is. That can be because we tend to believe what we want to believe, and other times it’s because we see what others want us to see. There are only two things that we can really rely on. The first thing is ourselves; the second thing is love.

Penny (Cyrus) is the daughter of a noted scientist who has been kidnapped by the nefarious Dr. Calico (McDowell), the Man with the Green Eye (just one). In order to get the scientist to give up information about the classified project he is working on, the evil Dr. Calico (BWAHAHAHA!) has decided to kidnap Penny to use as leverage. Thankfully, she isn’t alone. Before he was kidnapped, the scientist enhanced the family dog Bolt (Travolta) with super strength, super speed, heat vision and above all, a super bark. Despite all the black-suited minions on motorcycles, the high-tech weapons, the attack helicopters and fiendish traps set by the sinister Dr. Calico (BWAHAHAHA!) the duo of Penny and Bolt foil his evil plans every time, getting closer to finding where Penny’s dad is being held and once and for all foiling the plans of the criminal genius Dr. Calico (BWAHAHAHA!).

At least, that’s what Bolt thinks. The reality is that all of that is a highly rated television show. In order to get a more natural performance out of the canine star, the Director (Lipton) has gone to great lengths to make the dog believe that the jeopardy is real and that his super powers are genuine. Every night at the end of shooting, Penny escorts Bolt to his trailer where he rests, occasionally getting tormented by a pair of cat actors who play the pets of the cat-aleptic Dr. Calico (BWAHAHAHA!). Penny is not thrilled about this; she would rather spend time with her dog, but her smarmy agent (Greg Germann) convinces her that this is best for her career. However, the network is becoming restless; the ratings are slipping and people are getting tired of the same old formula; girl gets in trouble, Bolt saves the day.

The Director comes up with an episode which ends with the maniacal Dr. Calico (BWAHAHAHA!) successfully kidnapping Penny. Instead of Penny accompanying Bolt to his trailer, it’s a trainer in heavy padding looking not unlike one of the tyrannical Dr. Calico’s (BWAHAHAHA!) henchmen. In a moment of opportunistic synchronicity, Bolt escapes only to accidentally knock himself out and fall into a package filled with Styrofoam packing for a cross-country journey to New York.

Once in the Big Apple, he tries to find Penny but nobody seems to know who he is (New Yorkers are apparently too busy watching “Inside the Actors Studio”). A trio of clueless pigeons sends Bolt to Mittens (Essman), a feline con artist who has the pigeons giving her a cut of their food in exchange for not being clawed to pieces. Bolt, thinking that Mittens is an operative of the fiendish Dr. Calico (BWAHAHAHA!) drags Mittens along for the ride back to California after a desperate Mittens, seeing “Hollywood, California” on Bolt’s dog tag (it’s a good thing cats can read) steers the heroic canine in that direction.

The two embark on a journey across country joined by an astonishingly obese hamster named Rhino (Walton) who does know who Bolt is but like Bolt believes that the television show is real. Bolt’s powers are mysteriously not working; Bolt blames it on the Styrofoam which he has reasoned has some sort of dampening power, obviously a product of the dangerous Dr. Calico (BWAHAHAHA!). The dashing dog must learn to be a hero as an ordinary dog.

This is the first Disney feature to be filmed in 3D and they use the technology wisely, making the 3D a more naturalistic part of the film rather than as a gimmick. Occasionally things come at you in flinch-inducing 3D glory but for the most part it simply adds some depth to the screen.

The voice actors are mostly unknown; only Cyrus and Travolta have any notoriety. Strangely, Travolta is a bit flat as Bolt. Bolt is determined to find Penny, but Travolta reads his lines almost in a monotone. Much better are Essman, who gives the abandoned and wounded Mittens street smarts and a curious dignity. Some of the most emotionally effective scenes are hers; even the climax doesn’t resonate as well as Essman’s work.

Now that Disney and Pixar have joined forces we might see the features from both animation studios start to look a bit alike, and there is definitely a Pixar stamp on this. It isn’t up to the quality of Pixar’s best work, not by a long shot. Still, it’s pleasant enough entertainment, sure to keep the kids happy and satisfied and while the adults might find themselves shifting in their chairs once in awhile, there’s enough here to make it worth their while as well.

WHY RENT THIS: The story never drags and carries a clear emotional center. Susie Essman is super as Mittens. The relationship between Penny and Bolt is heartwarming, charming and authentic. The Bond-like TV show sequences almost make you wish that such a show actually existed.

WHY RENT SOMETHING ELSE: Assuming your kids will let you pass on this, it doesn’t really stand out in a crowded field of animated features. Its pleasant entertainment, mainly aimed at kids but with little appeal to more sophisticated tastes.

FAMILY VALUES: Absolutely perfect for all audiences.

TRIVIAL PURSUIT: The number on Bolt’s dog tag is actually the street address of Disney’s Burbank animation studios.

NOTABLE DVD EXTRAS: A 4-minute animated short starring the lovable hamster that must save the kidnapped Bolt and Penny in “Super Rhino.”

FINAL RATING: 7/10

TOMORROW: I Served the King of England

The Taking of Pelham 123 (2009)


The Taking of Pelham 123

Even in a crowd, John Travolta stands out.

(Columbia) Denzel Washington, John Travolta, James Gandolfini, Luis Guzman, John Turturro, Michael Rispoli, Victor Gojcaj, Ramon Rodriguez, Aunjanue Ellis, Gary Basaraba, John Benjamin Hickey, Alex Kaluzhasky. Directed by Tony Scott.

We never know what awaits us when we walk out our front door every morning. Maybe it will be a good day, maybe a bad one. Maybe it will be an extraordinary day.

New York subway dispatcher Walter Garber (Washington) is having a bad day. He’s been demoted from a management position for the New York Transit Authority to dispatching trains because of the suspicion that he took bribes. He has to put up with the abuse from a nasty mid-level manager (Rispoli) and the stress of the upcoming trial hangs over him like a cloud.

A strange voice comes over the microphone for the train Pelham 123 where his buddy, Jerry Pollard (Basaraba) should be. It’s a man calling himself Ryder (Travolta) informing him that he and a group of armed men have taken the train and are demand a $10 million ransom to be delivered in an hour. After that, one passenger will be executed for every minute the ransom is overdue.

The mayor (Gandolfini), a lame duck going through a marital scandal of his own, turns out to be remarkably helpful and tolerant, not at all the way New York mayors have been portrayed onscreen these days. A patient hostage negotiator (Turturro) tries to help, but Ryder and Garber have formed a strange connection. As time ticks down and the city races against the clock to save the hostages, a relationship forms between Ryder and Garber, which will inevitably lead to a showdown that only one will walk away from.

Based on a 1974 movie starring Walter Matthau (as Garber) and Robert Shaw (as Ryder) – itself based on a John Godey novel – Pelham reunites director Scott and Washington, who have also done Crimson Tide, Man on Fire and Déjà vu to name a few. Whereas Matthau was rumpled, cynical and tough, Washington is basically a good-hearted heroic sort who made a mistake and is paying for it. While Shaw was icy and cool, Travolta is loud, angry and not very different from his character in Broken Arrow.

Perhaps it was a mistake, but I watched the 1974 original the night before I saw the remake. Whereas the original was gritty and realistic, the new one is sleek and modern. The 1974 edition had a loud, abrasive jazz score; the 2009 version is more traditionally scored. The first Pelham was low-tech and relied on characterization and tension for its thrills; the second uses digital effects and bigger car crashes to set the tone (although the 1974 version’s iconic car crash was quite elegant).

So is the first version better than this one? I think so, but that doesn’t mean it isn’t worth seeing. They are definitely different movies meant to appeal to different audiences. Some of the twists in the first Pelham were telegraphed whereas I have to admit that wasn’t the case in the new one. Director Scott is a veteran action director and while this isn’t going to be regarded as one of his best, it’s still solid and extremely watchable. The problem I have here is that he often uses stylized camera tricks such as slow-mo helicopter travelling shots, or cameras that spiral around their subjects. It’s annoying and unnecessary. Washington and Travolta are both dependable performers and while you don’t get the sense of their character’s soul as much as you might like, I’d rather see these two in mediocre performances than a lot of other actors at their best.

This is definitely a Hollywood action film, with all that is good and bad about the genre. If you like that sort of thing (and I do), I guarantee you’ll go away entertained. If you prefer thrillers to action movies, you might do better to rent the original than see this. This movie won’t blow you out of the water, but it will accomplish what a lot of movies fail to do – it won’t make you regret plopping down the ten bucks to see it.

WHY RENT THIS: A slick Hollywood action movies with some very nice scenes. Washington and Travolta aren’t at the top of their game, but their game is such that even a sub-par performance by either is worth checking out. Gandolfini makes a great mayor.

WHY RENT SOMETHING ELSE: No new ground is broken in the action movie genre. There is more brawn than brain to this movie. Scott succumbs to “look-ma-I’m-directing” disease.

FAMILY VALUES: Some blue language, a couple of cold-blooded killings but otherwise suitable for older kids..  

TRIVIAL PURSUIT: The first name of Denzel Washington’s character was changed from Zachary to Walter in honor of Walter Matthau, who played the role in the original film.

NOTABLE DVD FEATURES: None listed.

FINAL RATING: 6/10

TOMORROW: Bolt