Transcendence


Johnny Depp's salary for the film is displayed behind him.

Johnny Depp’s salary for the film is displayed behind him.

(2014) Science Fiction (Warner Brothers) Johnny Depp, Rebecca Hall, Paul Bettany, Kate Mara, Morgan Freeman, Cillian Murphy, Cole Hauser, Clifton Collins Jr., Cory Hardrict, Falk Hentschel, Josh Stewart, Luce Rains, Fernando Chien, Steven Liu, Xander Berkeley, Lukas Haas, Wallace Langham, James Burnett, Sam Quinn, Olivia Dudley. Directed by Wally Pfister

Our attitudes towards technology tend to be split down the middle. On the one hand, we appreciate the wonders of it and become addicted to our laptops, our cell phones, our microwaves and our GPS devices. We eagerly speculate as to what amazing discoveries will be a part of our daily lives ten or twenty years down the line,

On the other hand, technology terrifies us. We tremble at the thought of atomic bombs, killer drones and artificial intelligence deciding that humanity is superfluous and wiping us all out like Skynet and Judgment Day. It isn’t hard to imagine our own hubris creating the seeds of our extinction.

Will Caster (Depp) is one of the planet’s most brilliant minds, particularly in the field of artificial intelligence. He and his wife and lab partner Evelyn (Hall) are on the verge of a major breakthrough, creating a machine that  will not only think analytically but feel emotions, thus having more brainpower than the combined intelligence of every human that ever lived. Scary stuff.

A little too scary for some. A group of what I guess you’d call technoterrorists – a group of angry young people out to stop technology from taking over our lives at all costs – launch a coordinated attack on artificial intelligence labs all over the country. Decades of research is wiped out in the space of hours and the possibility that the scientists will never reach their goal looms large. Worse still, Will was shot – well, grazed – but the bullet that grazed him was coated with a radioactive isotope that will kill him in a matter of weeks. You can’t say these terrorists didn’t learn well from the KGB.

Evelyn kind of loses it. She wants to save her husband but knows his body is doomed. After reading some research from a scientist who was killed in the attack, she realizes that consciousness can be uploaded into a computer – he had done it with a rhesus monkey. With no other option, she determines to follow this course. She needs help and recruits Max (Bettany), a fellow scientist and close friend to both Will and herself.

Because this untested research would never be sanctioned in any reputable lab, particularly with FBI Agent Buchanan (Murphy) keeping a close eye on things. Their mentor, Dr. Tagger (Freeman) is unlikely to be supportive either. As Will’s body deteriorates, the attempt is made. Eventually, Will’s body dies. Did his soul?

At first, it seems the effort went to naught but a single line of text – Is Anybody There? – tells them that their experiment was a success. In fact, better than; Evelyn is convinced that everything that was the essence of what Will Caster was lives on in this machine. In a sense, she has become a modern Frankenstein.

But is this really Will? When circumstances force her to upload Will to the Internet, things begin to take a sideways step. Will manipulates bank accounts and stock, allowing Evelyn to create a kind of data fortress in the middle of nowhere, New Mexico. Will has started making breakthroughs in cell regeneration, allowing those who are infirm to be healed. However, the down side is that Will’s source code is also uploaded into these recipients of his generosity, making them in essence worker bees with greatly enhanced strength and speed.

Evelyn watches this with horror despite the apparently benign intentions of the new Will machine. However, if he is making fundamental changes to the DNA of the people of this town, will he use this ability to control them? And if so, will there be any true humans left?

Depp has had a string of missteps on the big screen lately and this one, according to the box office figures, isn’t going to break that string although in terms of quality it is certainly an improvement over his last couple of films. This is intelligent sci-fi, raising questions about our increasing reliance on technology as well as how much we’re willing to give up for comfort and safety. These aren’t easy questions to answer nor do the filmmakers make much of an attempt to give you any.

This is one of Depp’s most low-key performances in ages. Caster talks in a kind of monotone, probably because he’s so busy thinking. We rarely see any emotion out of Depp and therein lies the problem; Caster is already robotic by the time he becomes a machine. The change isn’t terribly noticeable. Hall, with a Cambridge education, seems overly hysterical here in playing a rational scientist although if I’d seen the love of my life waste away after being shot by terrorists, I might be a bit hysterical too.

Only Bettany acquits himself nicely here, although Murphy and Freeman are solid in small roles. The acting here doesn’t really stand out but the special effects and set design do. There is a sleek futuristic look to the Caster compound and the digital effects, while not breakthroughs, are at least wow-inducing for the most part.

I do like the concept although the film isn’t always true to its inner logic and at the end of the day, falls just shy of being a much better film than just merely entertaining. There is a lot to digest here and while it’s no 2001: A Space Odyssey it is at least better than some of the more visceral sci-fi entries of recent years.

REASONS TO GO: Great effects. Nice concept. Keeps you guessing.

REASONS TO STAY: Misses the mark. Occasional overuse of technobabble.

FAMILY VALUES: There is some action and violence (some of it bloody), a bit of sensuality and occasional foul language.

TRIVIAL PURSUIT: This is Pfister’s debut as a director. Previously he has been a renowned cinematographer working for such directors as Christopher Nolan and Kevin MacDonald.

CRITICAL MASS: As of 5/4/14: Rotten Tomatoes: 20% positive reviews. Metacritic: 42/100.

COMPARISON SHOPPING: The Lawnmower Man

FINAL RATING: 6.5/10

NEXT: Heaven is For Real

New Releases for the Week of April 18, 2014


Transcendence

TRANSCENDENCE

(Warner Brothers) Johnny Depp, Paul Bettany, Rebecca Hall, Kate Mara, Morgan Freeman, Cillian Murphy, Cole Hauser, Clifton Collins Jr., Lukas Haas. Directed by Wally Pfister

A brilliant A.I. engineer is on the verge of a game-changing breakthrough when he is shot with a radioactive bullet by members of an anti-technology group. His wife and best friend know his only chance for survival is to finish his experiment – to download his intelligence and essence into a computer. Unsure about the ethics of such an endeavor, they nonetheless proceed – and soon discover their worst fears being realized.

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

For more on the movie this is the website.

Release formats: Standard, IMAX (opens Thursday)

Genre: Science Fiction

Rating: PG-13 (for sci-fi action and violence, some bloody images, brief strong language and sensuality)

2 States

(UTV) Arjun Kapoor, Alia Bhatt, Amrita Singh, Revathy. A Punjabi boy and a Tamil girl face overwhelming obstacles in trying to get their parents to allow a marriage between the two of them. This is based on the semi-autobiographical novel by Chetan Bhagat.

See the trailer here.

For more on the movie this is the website.

Release formats: Standard

Genre: Bollywood

Rating: NR

Bears

(DisneyNature) John C. Reilly (voice). Follows two new mama bears in the rugged, majestic and often dangerous terrain of Alaska as they try to teach their cubs everything they need to know to survive – while protecting them from the many dangers of the Alaskan wilderness.

See the trailer and clips here.

For more on the movie this is the website.

Release formats: Standard (opens Thursday)

Genre: Nature Documentary

Rating: G

A Haunted House 2

(Open Road) Marlon Wayans, Gabriel Iglesias, Jaime Pressly, Essence Atkins. After exorcising the demons from his last girlfriend, a man starts fresh with his new girlfriend and her two children in a new house. Unfortunately, supernatural trouble follows him as he starts to realize that it may not be the house that’s haunted – maybe it IS him!

See the trailer, interviews, clips and B-Roll video here.

For more on the movie this is the website.

Release formats: Standard (opens Thursday)

Genre: Horror Spoof

Rating: R (for crude and sexual content, nudity, pervasive language, drug use and some violent images)

Heaven is For Real

(Tri-Star) Greg Kinnear, Kelly Reilly, Margo Martindale, Thomas Haden Church. Based on actual events, this details the story of a young boy who lies near death’s door and makes a miraculous recovery. When he comes to, he claims he has been to heaven and while there are those who are skeptical, his pastor father is disturbed that his son knows things that happened before he was born – things he couldn’t possibly know, providing a challenge to his faith and his beliefs.

See the trailer, clips, featurettes, interviews and B-Roll video here.

For more on the movie this is the website.

Release formats: Standard (opened Wednesday)

Genre: Faith-Based Drama

Rating: PG (for thematic material including some medical situations)

Le Week-End

(Music Box) Jim Broadbent, Lindsay Duncan, Jeff Goldblum, Judith Davis. A British company, married for umpteen years, returns to the scene of the crime – their honeymoon in Paris. Trying to rekindle the romance that has been missing from their relationship, they succeed and then some as the romance of the City of Lights takes hold.

See the trailer here.

For more on the movie this is the website.

Release formats: Standard

Genre: Drama

Rating: R (for language and some sexual content)

Lotoman 003

(Panamericana) Dalisa Alegria, Fernando Carrillo, Julian Gil, Fausto Mata. This hit comedy franchise from the Dominican Republic makes it’s American debut in select theaters in the U.S.

See the trailer here.

For more on the movie this is the website.

Release formats: Standard

Genre: Comedy

Rating: NR

The Lunchbox

(Sony Classics) Irrfan Khan, Nimrat Kaur, Nakul Vaid, Lillette Dubey.A frustrated housewife cooks lunch for her increasingly distant husband. When her lunchbox is inadvertently sent to the wrong recipient, a correspondence ensues between two lonely souls.

See the trailer and clips here.

For more on the movie this is the website.

Release formats: Standard

Genre: Romance

Rating: PG-13 (for thematic material and smoking)

Make Your Move

(High Top) Derek Hough, BoA, Wesley Jonathan, Will Yun Lee.Two young people from completely different worlds meet in one of New York’s hottest underground clubs and discover that they have common ground in dance.

See the trailer here.

For more on the movie this is the website.

Release formats: Standard

Genre: Urban Dance

Rating: PG-13 (for language including sexual references, and brief violence)

Race Gurram

(Ficus) Shruti K. Haasan, Ravi Kishan, Prikash Raj, Allu Arjun. Two brothers who are polar opposites and constantly squabble and play increasingly spiteful pranks on one another are forced to unite when a corrupt politician wants revenge against the one brother who contested his election.

See the trailer here.

For more on the movie this is the website.

Release formats: Standard

Genre: Bollywood

Rating: NR

Under the Skin

(A24) Scarlett Johansson, Jeremy McWilliams, Lynsey Taylor Mackay, Dougie McConnell.  An alien masquerades as a human woman, using her amazing sexuality to snare human prey. As she spends more time on Earth however, she begins to change as she finds the complexity and joy of human life irresistible, putting her on a collision course with her own kind.

See the trailer, featurettes and a clip here.

For more on the movie this is the website.

Release formats: Standard

Genre: Sci-Fi Thriller

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

Peep World


Peep World

Sarah Silverman puts up her dukes.

(2010) Comedy (IFC) Michael C. Hall, Sarah Silverman, Rainn Wilson, Judy Greer, Taraji P. Henson, Ron Rifkin, Leslie Warren, Alicia Witt, Lewis Black (narrator), Stephen Tobolowski, Nicholas Hormann, Kate Mara, Ben Schwartz, Octavia Spencer, Geoffrey Arend. Directed by Barry Blaustein

 

Families are our bedrock but they can also drive us crazy. Sometimes we love ’em to death but other times they can make us so mad we can’t see straight. You love your family more than anyone but the flipside is that you can hate your family more than anyone too.

The Meyerwitz family is gathering at a swanky L.A. restaurant to celebrate the 70th birthday of patriarch Henry (Rifkin). The family, dysfunctional and argumentative at the best of times, is living under a veil of tension more than usual. That’s because Nathan (Schwartz), the baby of the family, has written a best-selling novel that is a thinly veiled account of his family, with all their dirty secrets intact and there for the world to see.

Daughter Cheri (Silverman), a failed actress is actually suing her brother. Eldest brother Jack (Hall), who before Nathan’s success was the most successful Meyerwitz, is seeing his architecture business crumble and to relieve the stress, regularly goes to peep shows to take out his frustrations. His wife Laura (Greer) is pregnant to compound matters.

Joel (Wilson), the ne’er-do-well of the family, is on the run from loan sharks and is desperately trying to guilt money out of his brother Jack who doesn’t have the money to give any longer. He tries to keep the knowledge of the unsavory things he’s done from his girlfriend Mary (Henson) who only sees the good in him.

And Nathan himself isn’t without his own demons. Condescending and cruel to those around him, he takes an erectile dysfunction pill while getting ready for a date and winds up with a monster boner that won’t quit. And even Henry has a few secrets of his own – and you can bet they’re all going to come out at this dinner from hell.

The movie has a terrific ensemble cast, led by Hall who is in my opinion one of those actors who always elevates the material he has. I’ve never been a huge fan of Silverman but she turns in what might just be her best performance yet as the neurotic Cheri. This is a bit of a stretch for the usually caustic Silverman (and there are elements of her usual persona here albeit much toned down) and she nails it nicely.

Wilson is kind of the comic foil here but while he’s usually pretty good this is not one of his better performances. Greer however is golden here – she has become one of my favorite comic actresses in just the last couple of years. She and Henson make up the heart of the movie.

The issue here is that most of the characters are pretty one-dimensional and cliché. The actors cope to varying degrees but it becomes noticeable often. The story isn’t that much better – there are no real surprises and nothing that you haven’t seen before and done better. Even Lewis Black’s narration is by the numbers and a waste of this inventive comedian’s talent.

This is a movie that wasted its potential. The premise is a sound one albeit one that has been done before (the dysfunctional family gathering) and the cast is superb. With better writing this could have been an indie classic. Still, the talent holds it up just enough to make it worth seeing.

WHY RENT THIS: A nice ensemble cast who try real hard. Some funny moments.

WHY RENT SOMETHING ELSE: One-dimensional characters.

FAMILY VALUES: There’s a whole lot of bad language and a fair amount of sexual themes.

TRIVIAL PURSUIT: The hand with the different color painted nails in the salon that Jack enters is the same hand of the “Ice Cream Killer” that is on the trophy shelf of “Dexter,” the Showtime series that Hall also stars in.

NOTABLE HOME VIDEO EXTRAS: None listed.

BOX OFFICE PERFORMANCE: $14,351 on an unreported production budget; this was a big box office flop.

COMPARISON SHOPPING: The Royal Tenenbaums

FINAL RATING: 6/10

NEXT: Hotel Transylvania

New Releases for the Week of September 21, 2012


September 21, 2012DREDD

(Lionsgate) Karl Urban, Olivia Thirlby, Lena Headey, Rakie Ayola, Wood Harris, Warrick Grier, Jason Cope, Joe Vaz, Scott Sparrow. Directed by Pete Travis

In the future, the world is divided into irradiated wastelands and vast cities overcrowded and crime-ridden. Justice is dispensed by Judges, a combination street cop, judge, jury and executioner. The most feared of these is Dredd, who with his rookie partner Anderson is tasked with riding the streets of Slo-Mo, a drug that allows users to experience reality at a fraction of its normal speed. However, the drug lord who controls most of it, an ex-prostitute named Ma-Ma doesn’t take too kindly to having her business interrupted and a war erupts that will push even Dredd beyond his limits. Based on the iconic British comic series.

See the trailer, promos and featurettes here.

For more on the movie this is the website.

Release formats: Standard, 3D

Genre: Science Fiction

Rating: R (for strong bloody violence, language, drug use and some sexual content)

10 Years

(Anchor Bay) Channing Tatum, Rosario Dawson, Justin Long, Kate Mara. A group of friends reunite for their 10 year high school reunion. This ensemble piece follows them through the big night to see how they have – and haven’t – changed over the years as their tangled relationships begin to unravel before their very eyes.

See the trailer here.

For more on the movie this is the website.

Release formats: Standard

Genre: Drama

Rating: PG-13 (for language, alcohol abuse, some sexual material and drug use)

End of Watch

(Open Road) Jake Gyllenhaal, Michael Pena, Anna Kendrick, America Ferrera. Two cocky young police officers patrol the mean streets of south central Los Angeles, one of the most dangerous areas in the country. They wind up in the crosshairs of a Mexican drug cartel after a routine traffic stop leads them into places they never dreamed they’d be. Only their loyalty and support for one another and the love of their families stands between them and oblivion.

See the trailer and clips here.

For more on the movie this is the website.

Release formats: Standard

Genre: Crime Drama

Rating: R (for strong violence, some disturbing images, pervasive language including sexual references, and some drug use)

Heroine

(UTV) Kareena Kapoor, Arjun Rampal, Randeep Hooda, Shahana Goswami. A Bollywood actress, once the best in the business, sees her career go on the decline despite her best efforts to stay on top.

See the trailer here.

For more on the movie this is the website.

Release formats: Standard

Genre: Bollywood

Rating: NR

House at the End of the Street

(Relativity) Jennifer Lawrence, Elisabeth Shue, Max Theriot, Gil Bellows. A newly-divorced mom and her teenage daughter move into a new house hoping to make a fresh start. That is, until they discover that a neighboring home was the scene of a gruesome multiple murder. Things go downhill from there when the daughter develops a relationship with the only survivor of the massacre – and the person responsible for the crime may be back for seconds.

See the trailer, featurettes and a clip here.

For more on the movie this is the website.

Release formats: Standard

Genre: Horror

Rating: PG-13 (for intense sequences of violence and terror, thematic elements, language, some teen partying and drug material)

The Master

(Weinstein) Philip Seymour Hoffman, Joaquin Phoenix, Amy Adams, Rami Malek. Shortly after the Second World War a down-on-his-luck veteran is ensnared by a charismatic intellectual who has created a faith-based organization to which the vet becomes his right-hand man. However, the ex-soldier begins to see and hear things that cause him to question the faith he has embraced and the man who has become his mentor.

See the trailer and clips here.

For more on the movie this is the website.

Release formats: Standard

Genre: Drama

Rating: R (for sexual content, graphic nudity and language)

Trouble With the Curve

(Warner Brothers) Clint Eastwood, Amy Adams, Justin Timberlake, John Goodman. A baseball scout, one of the most respected in the game, is starting to show his age. His eyesight isn’t so good and he wants to go out on top, but his team is questioning his judgment. His only option is to ask his daughter, a bright young lawyer who has grown apart from him as of late, to help him. She puts her career on hold despite her misgivings and her father’s objections to spend some quality time with him and in the process, the two find out some long-held secrets about one another that might tear them apart permanently.

See the trailer here.

For more on the movie this is the website.

Release formats: Standard

Genre: Sports Drama

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

Unconditional

(Harbinger Media Partners) Michael Ealy, Lynn Collins, Bruce McGill, Diego Klattenhoff. When a senseless act of violence takes the husband of a children’s author away from her, she loses her faith and her desire to live. However, an encounter with a couple of kid leads to a reunion with her oldest friend whose compassion and kindness towards the kids in an underprivileged neighborhood leads to new revelations about God’s role in her life.

See the trailer here.

For more on the movie this is the website.

Release formats: Standard

Genre: Christian Drama

Rating: PG-13 (for some violent content and mature thematic elements)

HappyThankYouMorePlease


HappyThankYouMorePlease

Malin Akerman demonstrates the proper “crazy eyes” technique.

(2010) Romantic Comedy (Anchor Bay) Josh Radnor, Malin Akerman, Kate Mara, Richard Jenkins, Zoe Kazan, Tony Hale, Pablo Schreiber, Michael Algieri, Bram Barouh, Mary Elena Ramirez, Peter Scanavino, Fay Wolf, Dana Barron, Sunah Bilsted. Directed by Josh Radnor

 

There comes a point in all of our lives when we turn from twenty-somethings to thirty-somethings. It’s a bit of a milestone and in many ways it’s not that easy. For most of us, it’s a milestone from which we graduate from being “young people” to being “adults.”

For Sam (Radnor) and his friends, that change isn’t coming easily. Most of Sam’s circle are aspiring artists; none have really accomplished much in the arts to be honest. Sam has written a novel but not gotten it published although, with a title like The Other Great Thing About Vinyl there’s perhaps a clue why not. Sam is in fact on his way to see a publisher when he spies a kid hanging around the subway.

Sam senses there’s something wrong and tries to help. It turns out the kid, Rasheen (Algieri) was left there. Sam tries to deliver him to the authorities but when that doesn’t work out, he decides that Rasheen can stay with him until Sam can figure something out. Sam is apparently not the sharpest blade in the shed.

He has plenty of competition for that though. Mary Catherine (Kazan), who is Sam’s cousin,  is also a painter in the village – no, she doesn’t paint houses – who loves New York, even though for what she makes she can barely afford it. In fact, she probably wouldn’t be able to were it not for her filmmaker boyfriend Charlie (Schreiber) who has at least been working regularly; now he has received a job offer in Los Angeles, a lucrative one. He wants to go; she wants to stay, showing the kind of L.A. Hate-on only a New Yorker could generate, as well as that insular feeling that the Apple is the only city in the world that those Manhattan dwellers sometimes get. Their relationship has reached a crossroads and could go down either road – separately or together.

Annie (Akerman) has Alopecia, a disease that causes hair loss – in Annie’s case, complete hair loss. She wears an African head scarf to disguise this. She wonders if she can ever be truly loved – but then her taste in men is disastrous. Most of the men she chooses are borderline abusive and are only interested in one part of her body (and it isn’t her hair or lack thereof). A lawyer in her office whom she refers to as Sam #2 (Hale) is sweet on her, but his attempts at courtship are awkward and occasionally creepy. Still, he seems to be a nice enough guy but he’s simply not cool enough for her.

In the meantime, Sam #1 has become fixated on a waitress/barmaid named Mississippi (Mara) who is also a singer and is working hard to break into the music business but until then is waiting tables. She brings much stability into his life, although when she finds out the truth about Rasheen (whom she assumed was Sam’s biological progeny) becomes rightfully concerned as to whether Sam is the right guy for her.

Radnor also wrote and directed this, his first feature film. He is best known for playing Ted on the CBS sitcom “How I Met Your Mother.” In some ways, the characters here are sitcom-like, more caricature than character. Think of it as a hipster sitcom.

Although this is essentially an ensemble film, these are not interweaving stories but part of the same one. Akerman is a fine actress who sometimes gets parts that showcase her abilities; this isn’t one of them. Nevertheless, she elevates it, turning the role of Annie who has elements of self-pity woven into her personality into less of a whiner and more into a compelling character you want to know better. That’s a testament to her talents, and her performance is far and away the best thing going for the film.

Elsewhere, the performances range from marginally okay to satisfactory. Nobody disgraces themselves here but other than Akerman nobody else rises above either. For the most part this is pleasant but unmemorable. The title refers to something an Indian cabbie tells Annie – I’m paraphrasing, but essentially that it is necessary to go about life being grateful for the things that make you happy, and to ask the universe for more of those things. It gives the film a kind of optimism that is not that unusual in indie films these days (you want pessimism, see a 70s film).

However, also the norm in indie films is a focus on a hip New York lifestyle that as depicted the people involved couldn’t possibly afford to live. Sam, for example, has no apparent income and yet lives in a nice apartment in the Village. While not science fiction per se, it does enter that fantasyland of indie films that we have just learned to accept as part of the reality of movies – like the characters always get a parking spot in front of the place they want to go, for example. Just accept and move on.

The movie is charming enough to be palatable while you’re watching it, but won’t stick around in your memory much more than it takes to find something else to do. The film’s message on finding the things that truly make you happy isn’t a particularly revolutionary one nor is it told in a particularly revolutionary manner. It’s just a decent first feature for someone who shows enough promise that I look forward to seeing where he goes from here as a filmmaker and actor.

WHY RENT THIS: Akerman elevates her material. Some moments of insight here and there.

WHY RENT SOMETHING ELSE: A little heavy on the indie cliché. A bit unfocused in places.

FAMILY VALUES: There is a good deal of bad language here.

TRIVIAL PURSUIT: Radnor wrote the film while working on the first and second seasons of “How I Met Your Mother.” He then spent the next two years acquiring financing, writing revisions and casting actors in their roles before shooting in July 2009, just three months (including six weeks of pre-production) after getting the financial backing.

NOTABLE HOME VIDEO EXTRAS: There’s a featurette on music composer Jaymay.

BOX OFFICE PERFORMANCE: $216,110 on an unreported production budget; the film broke even at best (but probably didn’t).

COMPARISON SHOPPING: Garden State

FINAL RATING: 4/10

NEXT: Men in Black III

New Releases for the Week of March 25, 2011


March 25, 2011

Beautiful girls at war - Zach Snyder knows what makes teenage boys drool.

SUCKER PUNCH

(Warner Brothers) Emily Browning, Vanessa Hudgens, Abbie Cornish, Jamie Chung, Jena Malone, Carla Gugino, Scott Glenn, Jon Hamm, Oscar Isaac. Directed by Zach Snyder

A young girl is sent to an asylum against her will and discovers that in a few short days she will be lobotomized. She and a group of her friends mean to escape, but there seems to be no way. They enter a dream world where the keys to their salvation may lie.

See the trailer, interviews, a featurette and an animated short here.

For more on the movie this is the website.

Release formats: Standard, IMAX

Genre: Fantasy

Rating: PG-13 (for thematic material involving sexuality, violence and combat sequences, and for language)

Diary of a Wimpy Kid: Rodrick Rules

(20th Century Fox) Steve Zahn, Rachael Harris, Devon Bostick, Zachary Gordon. As Greg enters the 7th grade, he and his nemesis (his brother Rodrick) are thrust together by their parents in a misguided attempt to force the brothers to bond. Superglue couldn’t bond these guys together.

See the trailer, interviews and clips here.

For more on the movie this is the website.

Release formats: Standard

Genre: Family Comedy

Rating: PG (for some mild rude humor and mischief)

The Fifth Quarter

(Rocky Mountain) Ryan Merriman, Aidan Quinn, Andie MacDowell, Andrea Powell. Star Wake Forest football player Jon Abbate dedicates his season to his younger brother, who passed away tragically in a car crash. The rest of the team is inspired by Jon’s dedication and devotion and the team makes one of the most memorable turnarounds in college football history.

See the trailer, clips and interviews here.

For more on the movie this is the website.

Release formats: Standard

Genre: True Sports Drama

Rating: PG-13 (for some thematic elements)

Happythankyoumoreplease

(Anchor Bay) Josh Radnor, Malin Ackerman, Kate Mara, Zoe Kazan. When an aspiring writer finds an orphaned boy on a subway platform and agrees to care for him for a couple of days, his life is turned upside-down as is that of his friends.  This friendship with a young boy however may bring to him a new level of maturity as he begins to see life with a different perspective.

See the trailer and a clip here.

For more on the movie this is the website.

Release formats: Standard

Genre: Romantic Comedy

Rating: R (for language)

127 Hours


127 Hours

James Franco might just be looking at Oscar gold.

(2010) True Life Drama (Fox Searchlight) James Franco, Amber Tamblyn, Kate Mara, Clemence Posey, Kate Burton, Treat Williams, Sean Bott, John Lawrence, Rebecca Olson, Lizzy Caplan, Pieter Jan Brugge, Jeffrey Wood. Directed by Danny Boyle

Being capable can sometimes be confused with being arrogant. However, being capable can sometimes cause one to become arrogant. Arrogance can then lead to hubris and that can lead to the kind of disaster that can change a life completely.

Aron Ralston (Franco) is the prototypical Type A personality. He never met a physical activity he didn’t like, a challenge he couldn’t face. He’s at his happiest when he’s alone in the canyons of Utah’s Canyonland National Park, even though it’s a bit of a hike from his Colorado home. Sure, he has friends like Brian (Lawrence) whom he works with and even Rana (Olson), an ex-girlfriend who sees through the cocky bravado and pronounces that he will end up alone.

Still, Aron is naturally charming as he proves when he meets a couple of pretty young women (Mara, Tamblyn) out hiking. They’re lost, he knows his way around and soon they’re frolicking around in an underground pond. When they separate, one leans into the other and says “You know, I don’t think we even figured into his day.” And they’re right, although he will eventually look back on their encounter with some regret.

He’s going to have the opportunity to dwell on that, and other aspects of his life. While crossing a cut canyon, he steps on a boulder he thought was stable and goes plummeting, downwards-like. When he lands, he discovers the rather inconvenient fact that his arm is pinned to the canyon wall by a boulder the size of a home AC unit. He tries to move the boulder, but no good. He tries pounding the boulder, unsuccessfully. He takes a deep breath, lays out all the contents of his backpack and tries to think. The sinking realization is that nobody knows where he is. Nobody can hear his cries for help. His water supply is limited as is his food. He has no real tools that can extricate him from the situation apart from a multi-purpose tool with a dull knife blade.

After freaking out a little bit, Aron realizes the grim situation he is in. He has only enough water to last him a few days. Nothing short of a jackhammer is going to get that rock off of him. He is going to die. 

Dying is a funny thing, particularly when you have time to wait for it. You are given a chance to reflect back on your life, see the road not traveled and figure out who you are and what didn’t work. And, as his water begins to run out, the lack of sleep and the exposure to the elements begins to play with his mind. And as his time runs out, he is faced with a devastating choice between the will to survive and a horror that thee and me could never contemplate.

Most of you know by now that Aron Ralston is an actual person who went through this, and that devastating choice was whether to saw off his own arm with the dull knife or else wait to die. Obviously he chose the former, and stumbled out of that canyon to be rescued by a pair of hikers who alerted authorities.

You wonder how a film set in a cramped space for 127 hours – a little over five days – can be a riveting experience but Oscar-winning director Boyle makes it so. Even though for the most part you know what everything is leading to, you get to see inside the person that Ralston is. During his ordeal, he made several entries on a digital video camera that essentially detailed what he was going through but also served as a goodbye and apology to his family for the times he put his own needs ahead of theirs. In the end, he realizes that he had insulated himself from the things in life that were most important.

Franco is an expressive and often physical actor who is perfectly cast here. This might be the defining performance of his career; it is as sure a bet to be nominated for the Best Actor Oscar in a few months as any performance this year is. He is onscreen for the entire movie and spends much of it alone. He has to capture the attention and imagination of the audience without interacting with anybody other than himself, and he does it in a way that is both natural and unforced.

The amputation scene is not as graphic as you might think, although there are reports of people fainting during it. It certainly is disturbing and I would think long and hard if I were the sensitive sort about putting myself through it. If you have someone who is affected by such, you might want to take it under advisement that they might not do well at this movie although the scene isn’t gratuitous in the least.

The cinematography here is breathtaking, utilizing the majestic desolation of the Utah landscape as a character in the movie. It is this that Aron disrespects and winds up paying a heavy price.

REASONS TO GO: A career-making performance by Franco and another great movie by Boyle. This is the kind of movie that stays with you long after its over.

REASONS TO STAY: Sensitive sorts will be disturbed by the amputation scene, and claustrophobics might be made uncomfortable with the surroundings in the film.

FAMILY VALUES: There is a lot of bad language (hey, you’d curse if you had a boulder on your arm) and some pretty disturbing scenes of self-amputation that are definitely not for the squeamish.

TRIVIAL PURSUIT: The camcorder that James Franco uses in the film is the same one used by Ralston on his ill-fated trek. The video he shot had only previously been shown to family and close friends, but Boyle and Franco were allowed to watch it for accuracy sake. The video is kept in a vault for safekeeping.

HOME OR THEATER: Much of the film takes place in a cut canyon, a very narrow environment, but some of the shots of Canyonlands National Park are just breathtaking and should be seen on the big screen.

FINAL RATING: 8/10

TOMORROW: Police, Adjective

New Releases for the Week of November 26, 2010


November 26, 2010

Rider is having a bad hair day.

 

TANGLED

(Disney) Starring the voices of Zachary Levi, Mandy Moore, Donna Murphy, Ron Perlman, Jeffrey Tambor, M.C. Gainey, Brad Garrett, Paul F. Tompkins. Directed by Byron Howard and Nathan Greno

Rapunzel gets the Disney feature treatment in this updated and somewhat irreverent version of the Fairy Tale. Flynn Rider is a cocksure but capable thief who has gone a little bit too far and has the entire kingdom looking for him – half to imprison him, the other half to kill him. He decides to hole up in an isolated tower in the middle of nowhere until the heat blows over, never realizing that the girl who lives in the tower is far more dangerous than all the king’s men put together.

See the trailer, featurettes, clips and interviews here.

For more on the movie this is the website.

Release formats: Standard, 3D

Genre: Animated Fantasy

Rating: PG (for brief mild violence)

127 Hours

(Fox Searchlight) James Franco, Amber Tamblyn, Kate Mara, Kate Burton. The Oscar-winning director of Slumdog Millionaire returns with this astonishing true story of Aron Ralston, a type-A personality who gets trapped by a boulder pinning his arm to a mountain while climbing and has to go to astonishing lengths in order to survive and escape. Franco is considered a lock for an Oscar nomination and the movie may well be one of the big contenders for a number of different Oscars in February, including Best Picture.

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

For more on the movie this is the website.

Release formats: Standard

Genre: Drama

Rating: R (for language and some disturbing violent content/bloody images)

Break Ke Baad

(Reliance Big Pictures) Deepika Padukone, Imran Khan, Sharmila Tagore, Navin Nischol. Two childhood friends are drawn together by their passions which also threaten to separate them forever – her dreams of becoming an actress and his love for her. Polar opposites in their lives, they will either find the strength to carry on together, or be without each other forever.

See the trailer here.

For more on the movie this is the website.

Release formats: Standard

Genre: Romantic Drama

Rating: NR

Burlesque

 (Screen Gems) Cher, Christina Aguilera, Stanley Tucci, Eric Dane. A starry-eyed young girl from a small town goes to L.A. to become a star. She goes to one of the last burlesque-style nightclubs in the city, only to be told she doesn’t have what it takes. She believes in herself and her talent and eventually gets the opportunity, and uses it to become a star. Stardom, sadly, isn’t everything she thought it would be…say, didn’t Judy Garland make a movie like this a few years back?

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

For more on the movie this is the website.

Release formats: Standard

Genre: Musical Drama

Rating: PG-13 (for sexual content including several suggestive dance routines, partial nudity, language and some thematic material)

Faster

 (CBS) Dwayne Johnson, Billy Bob Thornton, Carla Gugino, Maggie Grace. After ten years in prison, Driver looks to avenge the death of his brother, which came during a botched heist that led to him getting pinched in the first place. Now, with a dogged cop on his tail and a demented hit man not far behind, Driver’s to-do list is getting shorter by the day, but it might just get him killed.

See the trailer, clips and a featurette here.

For more on the movie this is the website.

Release formats: Standard

Genre: Action Thriller

Rating: R (for strong violence, some drug use and language)

Love and Other Drugs

 (20th Century Fox) Jake Gyllenhaal, Anne Hathaway, Oliver Platt, Hank Azaria. A young pharmaceutical salesman has everything going for him – women, career success, and great friends. When he hooks up with the one woman he can’t have, he becomes enmeshed in the folds of heartbreak just as his greatest opportunity for wealth materializes – a new wonder drug called Viagra.

See the trailer, interviews and clips here.

For more on the movie this is the website.

Release formats: Standard

Genre: Drama

Rating: R (for strong sexual content, nudity, pervasive language and some drug material)

Zoom: Academy for Superheroes


Zoom

Tim Allen is pleased to find out that he isn't responsible for the problems of Zoom.

(Columbia) Tim Allen, Courtney Cox, Rip Torn, Chevy Chase, Spencer Breslin, Ryan Newman, Kate Mara, Michael Cassidy, Kevin Zegers, Thomas F. Wilson. Directed by Pete Hewitt.

I’m all for superheroes. I love ’em. Really, I do. Give me a movie about a superhero and I’ll almost certainly be there, unless it’s Catwoman. I will admit to missing that one, and after I saw it on DVD, I realized I’d made the right decision. I’ve even enjoyed the faux heroes of Sky High and The Specials.

Being a long time fan of the genre, I will admit that much of what goes on is intended for younger audiences. After all, comic books are part of the American landscape for most kids. That’s why it didn’t faze me – at least at first – that a superhero movie was coming out aimed directly for small fries. I enjoy Tim Allen, at least most of the time, so I had hopes that this would be along the lines of a GalaxyQuest for the spandex set.

Hope may spring eternal for a blogger, but not so much for Jack Shepard (Allen). He runs an auto shop that prides itself on taking the time to fix cars right. What his customers don’t know is that Jack was once better known by another name – Zoom, team leader of the Zenith Project, kids with special powers who had been trained by the government to be a genuine superhero team. They had been the pride of America, protecting us from threats foreign and domestic until an ambitious general named Larraby (Torn) irradiated them with gamma radiation (doesn’t Bruce Banner have a patent on that?) causing one of them, Concussion, to go berserk and attack his own team, killing all of them except for Zoom who is forced to run faster than he ever has before, creating a vortex into which his brother is sucked, never to be seen again. This leaves Jack without any speed powers (except in one finger) and retired, more or less happily, for 30 years.

However, there is a threat on the horizon. Nebbish scientist Dr. Grant (Chase) has determined that a transdimensional portal is about to manifest in our world, and when it does Concussion will be loosed on our world again. He and General Larraby decide to revive Project Zenith and use the powerless Zoom as a trainer for a new generation of heroes. Comely (but clumsy) psychologist Marsha Holloway (Cox) is sent to fetch Jack, promising him that the kids won’t be irradiated, but “natural ” methods will be used. A half million dollar paycheck doesn’t hurt either.

The kids – superstrong six-year-old Cindy Collins a.k.a. Princess (Newman), chunky twelve-year-old Tucker Williams a.k.a. Megaboy (Breslin) who is able to inflate various parts of his body, sixteen-year-old telekinetic Summer Jones a.k.a. Wonder (Mara) and seventeen-year-old Dylan West a.k.a. Houdini (Cassidy) who is able to turn invisible at will – are skeptical. The world has changed in thirty years and the idea of becoming a superhero, while cool, is a little passé. Zoom, for his part, is just going through the motions. He hasn’t been told what the kids are being trained for, so he thinks it’s just a government lark. He’s there strictly for the paycheck.

As time grows short, the pressure begins to mount on Jack to train the kids – or else. Gradually, he begins to grudgingly learn to like the kids and begins to actually prepare them for the life of a superhero, until he finds out the truth. Can he prepare the kids in time so that they don’t meet the same end as his previous team?

The movie is loosely – verrrrrry loosely – based on an illustrated book by Jason Lethcoe. However, the similarities between his book and Sky High were too noticeable and so the decision was made to alter the storyline. What results is a pastiche from various movies, some good, some bad but none working cohesively. Allen and Cox do their work gamely and manage not to disgrace themselves. Neither does the young cast, although Newman’s Princess was so annoying that by the end of the movie I was hoping that a meteor might hit her, or at least some calamity would befall her that might cause her to miss the rest of the movie.

Because the movie is aimed squarely at a younger set, the action is dumbed down. The fact that Jack’s team (which included his fiancee, by the way) had been killed by his own brother could have been explored in greater depth, but it was glossed over, the filmmakers not wanting anything unpleasant for the tykes in the audience to dwell on. Mostly everyone acts like buffoons, and the comedy, such as it is, is of the pee-pee doo-doo ca-ca variety, as one of my writing teachers used to identify the style.

This very much has the look and feel of a Saturday morning made-for-TV movie, something that might have aired on the Disney channel or Nickelodeon (and it probably will anyway). Young kids who are not so discerning (and I’m talking of the four to six-year-old variety) will probably get a kick out of it, while their parents will spend their time eagerly anticipating the end credits. That’s a shame, because there are some nice elements here, enough so that they could have made a decent movie of it in better hands. Director Pete Hewitt (whose previous movie was Garfield which should tell you all you need to know) needs to go back to the drawing board and rethink this one. Incidentally, the movie was released theatrically as Zoom but was retitled for the DVD release on perhaps the hopelessly insane chance that the audience might not recognize it.

WHY RENT THIS: Allen and Cox are at least pleasant. Some of the special effects are tolerable.

WHY RENT SOMETHING ELSE: Dumbed down for kids, the movie misses some real opportunities to explore complex themes. Newman is way annoying.

FAMILY VALUES: Some of the rumor is a little rude and of the toilet variety but otherwise okay for most kids.

TRIVIAL PURSUIT: A photo of the old Zenith team not only includes Allen and Zegers but also Alexis Bledel, Wilmer Valderrama and Devon Aoki.

NOTABLE DVD EXTRAS: There are a collection of four public service-type shorts aimed squarely at teaching youngsters good values.

BOX OFFICE PERFORMANCE: $12.5M on an unreported production budget (but one I would guess would be north of $50M); the movie was a major flop.

FINAL RATING: 4/10

TOMORROW: The Town

The Open Road


The Open Road

Jeff Bridges wondering when his flight leaves.

(Anchor Bay) Jeff Bridges, Justin Timberlake, Kate Mara, Mary Steenburgen, Harry Dean Stanton, Lyle Lovett, Ted Danson, Bret Saberhagen. Directed by Michael Meredith

The gulf between fathers and sons can be wider than the Gulf of Mexico and many times deeper. We can reach out to one another but in the end, sometimes there are no bridging gaps when all you have to work with is smoke and mirrors.

Carlton Garrett (Timberlake) is a minor league baseball player for the Corpus Christi Hooks. He’s fairly talented but of late he has been in a tremendous slump and his hopes for a major league career are fading by the minute.

Carlton has a lot more on his shoulders than the average minor league ballplayer though. His father is the great Kyle Garrett (Bridges), Hall of Famer for the Houston Astros, who not so coincidentally own Carlton’s contract. However, Carlton hasn’t spoken to his father in eons. Dad loves to tell stories of the good old days, especially when he’s drinking which is most of the time. While Kyle was hitting homers and getting plastered in anonymous bars all over the National League, Carlton was learning what it was like to grow up without a dad.

Carlton’s mom Katherine (Steenburgen) is also very sick and her condition is getting worse. She desperately needs surgery to fix her heart, but she is hedging a little bit. The surgery is extremely dangerous and she doesn’t want to go under the knife without seeing Carlton’s dad. Carlton is extremely reluctant to do it but he knows his mom might die if he doesn’t. He enlists the support of on-again off-again girlfriend Lucy (Mara) to come with him.

So Carlton tracks down his father at a baseball memorabilia show in Cincinnati and at first jovial dad is all for flying down to Houston, but the flight winds up being canceled and so determined to get his reluctant dad down to Houston as soon as humanly possible, Carlton rents a red SUV and proceeds to drive down there.

Along the way many unresolved grievances will be aired, not just between Carlton and Kyle but also between Carlton and Lucy. However, Carlton’s frustration is going as Kyle does everything he can – in a sort of passive-aggressive manner – to sabotage Carlton’s efforts to get him to Cincinnati. Kyle, you see, has issues of his own.

This is a movie that takes it’s time getting to where it’s going. One wag said after seeing it that he could have driven to Houston from there in the time the movie took to get to Memphis. It’s a bit of an exaggeration but I can understand the sentiment. In that sense, it’s almost a European film only in an all-American framework. The issues, however, are universal – America doesn’t own a monopoly on dysfunctional father-son relationships.

Meredith put together a pretty terrific cast which largely doesn’t have a whole lot to do. Bridges, who filmed this before his Oscar win for Crazy Heart, is terrific as he usually is in the role of the charming but ultimately shallow Kyle. This is the kind of role he could easily do in his sleep but he chooses not to, giving the role his full attention and that just about single-handedly elevates the movie above mediocre.

That’s not to say he doesn’t have any support. Steenburgen is endearing as always and Danson, Stanton and Lovett have too-brief cameos. Timberlake isn’t a bad actor, but he is nowhere near the level of Bridges and it shows. Mara is a gamer in her own right, but once again she is overwhelmed by Bridges’ performance.

This isn’t a rotten movie by any stretch of the imagination, but it takes a good deal of focus to stay with. Once the actual road trip begins things pick up a little bit but ultimately this is a movie about three people in a car for whom awkward silences are a bit of a blessing.

WHY RENT THIS: Bridges is delightful as always. Supporting cast does solid work, although frankly not up to the level of their best performances.

WHY RENT SOMETHING ELSE: So low-key that it’s almost sleepwalking.

FAMILY VALUES: There’s a little bit of bad language but probably no worse than you’ll hear in the average high school lunchroom…or even middle school gymnasium.

TRIVIAL PURSUIT: Director Michael Meredith, the son of former Dallas Cowboys great and Monday Night Football color commentator Dandy Don Meredith, is a frequent collaborator of the German director Wim Wenders.

NOTABLE DVD EXTRAS: None listed.

FINAL RATING: 6/10

TOMORROW: The U.S. vs. John Lennon