New Releases for the Week of February 20, 2015


The DUFFTHE DUFF

(CBS) Mae Whitman, Robbie Amell, Bella Thorne, Bianca A. Santos, Skyler Samuels, Romany Malco, Nick Eversman, Ken Jeong, Allison Janney. Directed by Ari Sandel

A young high school senior who is pretty content about her position in the school’s social hierarchy is shocked to discover that she’s better known around campus as the DUFF – Designated Ugly Fat Friend. Working to rehabilitate her image with a slick but charming football player, she takes on the school’s official designator of labels (doesn’t every school have one?) to find that the only label that’s important is the one you give yourself. Or something along those lines.

See the trailer, clips, interviews and B-roll video here.
For more on the movie this is the website.
Release Formats: Standard (opens Thursday)
Genre: Teen Comedy
Now Playing: Wide Release
Rating: PG-13 (for crude and sexual material throughout, some language and teen partying)

Hot Tub Time Machine 2

(Paramount/MGM) Rob Corddry, Adam Scott, Chevy Chase, Craig Robinson. Having used the Hot Tub Time Machine to make their lives better, the three buddies find that using the time machine for their own purposes has a cost of its own.

See the trailer, clips, interviews, a promo and B-roll video here.
For more on the movie this is the website.
Release Formats: Standard
Genre: Sci-Fi Comedy
Now Playing: Wide Release
Rating: R (for crude sexual content and language throughout, graphic nudity, drug use and some violence)

McFarland USA

(Disney) Kevin Costner, Maria Bello, Morgan Saylor, Vincent Martella. In a Central California high school mostly made up of the children of Hispanic farm workers, school and work in the fields are all any of them have to look forward to. However, some of them are fast – that attracts the attention of new PE coach Jim White who proposes to establish a cross country team. The group’s devotion to family, incredible work ethic and belief in one another will take a little known farming community high school and transform it into a place of champions.

See the trailer, clips, interviews, a featurette and B-roll video here.
For more on the movie this is the website.
Release Formats: Standard
Genre: True Sports Drama
Now Playing: Wide Release
Rating: PG (for thematic material, some violence and language)

Black or White


Octavia Spencer and Kevin Costner discussing race relations would make for an interesting film.

Octavia Spencer and Kevin Costner discussing race relations would make for an interesting film.

(2014) Drama (Relativity) Kevin Costner, Octavia Spencer, Jillian Estell, Bill Burr, Anthony Mackie, Mpho Koaho, Andre Holland, Gillian Jacobs, Jennifer Ehle, Paula Newsome, Indigo, Bertha Bindewald, Joe Chrest, Ireyon Johnson, Janeline Hayes, Lloyd Dillon, Ernest Wells, Angela Jones, David Jensen, John McConnell, Robert Larriviere, Lindsey G. Smith. Directed by Mike Binder

In many ways, race is the central issue for America not only in the 20th century but sadly into the 21st as well. It informs many of the political struggles that have been going on. After all, do you think that there would be quite the push for the strengthening of gun owner rights if there wasn’t a white fear of young black men? While some things are better than they were 50 years ago when Dr. Martin Luther King led a march from Selma to Montgomery in an effort to assert voting rights for the African-American citizens of this country, for the most part things are sadly, drearily, depressingly the same.

Elliot Anderson (Costner) is barely coping with life. His wife (Ehle) has just passed away in an auto accident. He’s lost but he can’t afford to be; he has a granddaughter to raise. Eloise (Estell) entered the world under difficult circumstances; her mom, Elliot’s daughter, died in childbirth and her dad, Reggie Davis (Holland), a raging drug addict, wasn’t fit or interested to be a father. Elliot has a lot of issues with Reggie, blaming him for a lot of things some of them deserved, some not.

Rowena (Spencer) is Reggie’s mom and she’s very sympathetic to Elliot’s plight but in some ways not. She wants to be closer to her granddaughter, understandably and especially now but Elliot is struggling with this. He respects Rowena although he doesn’t really like her much, believing she has a blind spot when it comes to her son. Rowena, frustrated by Elliot’s intransigence, consults her brother Jeremiah Jeffers (Mackie), a high-powered lawyer who sues Elliot for custody of Eloise on Rowena’s behalf.

Eloise is confused by all of this; she loves her grandfather very much but she also loves her Gramma Wee-Wee, as she calls Rowena. However left to her own devices, the seven-year-old would want to stay with the man who’s been around her all her life. Not that anyone’s asking her, of course.

But Rowena has ulterior motives. She sees Eloise as an opportunity to save her son; surely once he is given the chance to be a dad, he’ll step up to the plate. Elliot will do anything to keep this from happening; however, the case is far from open and shut. You see, Elliot has another friend; it’s the bottle and he has climbed into it hard after his wife’s untimely passing.

So with Reggie sniffing around, Elliot getting paranoid and Rowena becoming increasingly unsure that she wants to use Jeremiah’s bulldog tactics which paint Elliot as a racist alcoholic, even if it is true – which it only is half-true. What is going on is a struggle between a man who has lost everything and a desperate mother with a little girl caught in the middle.

This is the type of movie that can be incredibly powerful in the right hands and veteran Mike Binder would appear to be those hands, but frankly he doesn’t pull it off. Instead of making this a powerfully emotional film that acts as a lens on modern race relations, Binder instead goes for the easy answers with an ending that absolutely wipes out any credibility the movie might have had.

Costner was particularly motivated, financing the production himself for the most part. This is a much more layered role for him; he tends to play fairly easy-going guys who have a penchant for doing the right things although often his characters have a checkered past. His immense likability helps make this movie charming, despite the fact that his character isn’t doing a lot of charming things, showing up so blotto that he can barely stand at times and using the N-word when confronting Reggie. He also has a speech during the courtroom proceedings which while I think it gets to the heart of what the movie is trying to get across, damages Elliot’s case significantly.

Elliot sees his wife in (often) alcohol-induced flashbacks and certainly they make it clear that she was his rock, leaving him floundering in her absence. It is telling that we only get to see his wife in flashback; his daughter, with whom he was estranged and seems to be much angrier about, never appears in any sort of flashback. Clearly Elliot hasn’t forgiven her yet.

Fortunately Costner isn’t alone. Spencer has blossomed into one of the most dependable actresses in Hollywood; ever since making her splash in The Help she hasn’t delivered one performance that has been anything less than fantastic. Mackie is also a terrific actor who is terrific here as well. There are a couple of relative newcomers here however who deliver fine performances; comedian Bill Burr who as Elliot’s partner gets a couple of dramatic sequences, and young Jillian Estell who carries herself extremely well for an actress this young. Something has to be done about that hand grenade hair though; it’s distracting.

With an opportunity to make a really important film on race relations, the writers and filmmakers instead go the safe route, substituting cliche for insight. That makes this relatively easy to digest and certainly free of controversy. In this way it doesn’t offend anyone, but the movies that invite the most discussion and in some cases actually make the most difference socially speaking are the ones that are offensive to at least someone. If you’re going to have Kevin Costner utter the “N word” at a young African-American man, you might as well not squander the opportunity by being timid in all other aspects but unfortunately that’s exactly what this movie does.

REASONS TO GO: Costner at his likable best in a more layered role than he usually gets. Spencer, Mackie, Burr and (surprisingly) Estell are all strong support.
REASONS TO STAY: Predictable throughout. The ending is a whopper that really derails the movie.
FAMILY VALUES: There are depictions of drunkenness, intimations of drug use, a fight and some occasional strong language as well as some adult thematic material.
TRIVIAL PURSUIT: The movie is dedicated to the memory of J.J. Harris, who was Costner’s personal friend and his first manager. Harris passed away in 2013.
CRITICAL MASS: As of 2/9/15: Rotten Tomatoes: 37% positive reviews. Metacritic: 45/100.
COMPARISON SHOPPING: Kramer vs. Kramer
FINAL RATING: 5.5/10
NEXT: Strange Magic

New Releases for the Week of January 30, 2015


Project AlmanacPROJECT ALMANAC

(Paramount) Jonny Weston, Ginny Gardner, Sam Lerner, Allen Evangelista, Sofia Black-D’Elia, Gary Weeks, Macsen Lintz, Gary Grubbs, Agnes Mayasari. Directed by Dean Israelite

A brilliant young high school student watches a video of his 7th birthday party and is flabbergasted to see himself at the age he is now in it. Not long afterwards, he stumbles upon a mysterious device in the basement his late scientist father had been working on and realizes that it’s a time machine and the opportunity to make right in his life all that is wrong is too much of a temptation to resist. Little does he know that such accidents have consequences and those consequences might mean the end of existence, or at least of his existence.

See the trailer, clips, interviews and interviews here.
For more on the movie this is the website.
Release formats: Standard (opens Thursday)
Genre: Teen Sci-Fi Thriller
Now Playing: Wide Release
Rating: PG-13 (for some language and sexual content)

Black or White

(Relativity) Kevin Costner, Octavia Spencer, Jillian Estell, Bill Burr. A mixed race child lives with her white maternal grandparents after her mother passes away and her father is unable to care for her due to his drug and alcohol problems. When her grandmother also passes away, the African-American paternal grandmother files for joint custody, something the white grandfather – having only his granddaughter left – can’t bear. As many things do in America, it becomes a racial issue as well as a guardianship issue.

See the trailer, clips, interviews and B-roll video here.
For more on the movie this is the website.
Release formats: Standard (opens Thursday)
Genre: Drama
Now Playing: Wide Release
Rating: PG-13 (for brief strong language, thematic material involving drug use and drinking, and for a fight)

Black Sea

(Focus) Jude Law, Scoot McNairy, Ben Mendelsohn, Jodie Whittaker. A disgraced submarine captain discovers the location of a Nazi sub at the bottom of the Black Sea filled with gold; it’s only a matter of getting to it and taking the gold. He’ll need some highly specialized men but once they find their prize, greed and paranoia stalk the claustrophobic sub as the men realize that the fewer that make it back home, the more gold for each of them.

See the trailer, clips, interviews and B-roll video here.
For more on the movie this is the website.
Release formats: Standard (opens Thursday)
Genre: Thriller
Now Playing: AMC Altamonte Mall, AMC Downtown Disney, Regal Winter Park Village, Regal Waterford Lakes
Rating: R (for language throughout, some graphic images and violence)

The Loft

(Open Road) Karl Urban, James Marsden, Rachael Taylor, Rhona Mitra. Five married men, in the prime of their lives and successful in their careers, conspire to rent a midtown loft for use in extramarital activities. When they discover the body of a beautiful but unknown woman in the loft, they realize that one of them must be the killer. Paranoia and fear build, marriages crumble, secrets are revealed and friendships and loyalties tested and discarded as the hunt to find the killer before he strikes closer to home drives them.

See the trailer and a promo here.
For more on the movie this is the website.
Release formats: Standard (opens Thursday)
Genre: Thriller
Now Playing: Wide Release
Rating: R (for sexual content, nudity, bloody violence, language and some drug use)

Two Days, One Night

(Sundance Select) Marion Cotillard, Fabrizio Rongione, Catherine Salee, Baptiste Sornin. When a woman returns to work after a severe bout of depression, she learns that her co-workers will be voting as to whether to allow her to keep her job. She goes from person to person trying to convince them to allow her to work which would mean smaller bonuses for all of them. Cotillard received an Oscar nomination for her performance here.

See the trailer here.
For more on the movie this is the website.
Release formats: Standard
Genre: Drama
Now Playing: Regal Winter Park Village
Rating: PG-13 (for some mature thematic elements)

Wild Card

(Lionsgate) Jason Statham, Stanley Tucci, Michael Angarano, Sofia Vergara. A bodyguard in Las Vegas with a gambling problem – which is a terrible place to have a gambling problem – comes to the rescue of a friend who’s being beaten up by a sadistic thug, who in turn gets a beating from the bodyguard. Unfortunately, said sadistic thug is the son of a mob boss. Suddenly gambling is the least of the bodyguard’s problems.

See the trailer and interviews here.
For more on the movie this is the website.
Release formats: Standard
Genre: Action
Now Playing: AMC Loew’s Universal Cineplex
Rating: PG (for some action and scary images)

Draft Day


Jennifer Garner looks on as Kevin Costner practices his bemused expression.

Jennifer Garner looks on as Kevin Costner practices his bemused expression.

(2014) Sports Drama (Summit) Kevin Costner, Jennifer Garner, Frank Langella, Denis Leary, Chadwick Boseman, Sean Combs, Ellen Burstyn, Terry Crews, Arian Foster, Chi McBride, Griffin Newman, Josh Pence, Tom Welling, Sam Elliott, Wallace Langham, Kevin Dunn, Rosanna Arquette, Jim Brown, Patrick St. Esprit, Margot Danis, Jennifer McMahan. Directed by Ivan Reitman

Football isn’t just a sport in the United States; it’s virtually a religion. Fans hang on every little bit of minutiae, from coaching strategies to fantasy leagues to postgame analysis. The NFL Draft has become something of a spectacle in its own right.

Sonny Weaver Jr. (Costner), the general manager of the Cleveland Browns who are coming off a disappointing season with a suspect quarterback (Welling) and a new Coach (Leary) hired away from the Dallas Cowboys, has a lot on his mind on the new Draft day. His boss, Browns owner Anthony Molina (Langella), is disturbed by the diminishing returns of his football club and needs Weaver to make a splash at this year’s draft – or else. His girlfriend Ali (Garner) who also happens to be his salary cap specialist, announces that she’s pregnant. His dad, a former Browns coach who Sonny himself had to fire, passed away a week earlier.

He’s been vacillating between two choices in the number seven position; linebacker Vontae Mack (Boseman) from Ohio State who really wants to be a Brown and has the advantage of being a star on the local college team, and running back Ray Jennings (Foster) who is the son of Earl Jennings (Crews), a Cleveland Browns legend. Jennings the younger has the disadvantage of having a recent arrest on his resume.

Then the Seattle Seahawks come calling and they’re interested in dealing. They have the number one pick in the draft overall and there is a can’t-miss quarterback, Bo Callahan (Pence) from the University of Wisconsin up for grabs. If the Browns are willing to give them their next three first round picks, they can get themselves a quarterback being touted as a legitimate franchise player. Knowing that this is the kind of move that can save his job, Weaver pulls the trigger. This pleases his boss but not his coach who has an innate suspicion of rookie quarterbacks, nor his current quarterback who has worked hard since his injury to get into the best shape of his life.

Something about the deal doesn’t feel quite right to Sonny. Why would Seattle want to pass on a sure thing? Unless there’s something that gave them cold feet…and nobody has found anything about Callahan that doesn’t look like he’s going to be a future Hall of Famer. Sonny needs to find out what’s what and maybe do some wheeling and dealing and in the meantime the clock is ticking as the Draft approaches.

The movie was made with the blessing and full co-operation of the NFL with commissioner Roger Goodell making a cameo as himself and the real team names and logos used, not to mention cameos by ESPN analysts and sportscasters. That’s meant to give the film a sheen of legitimacy and it’s quite effective.

Costner’s career resurrection continues as he utilizes his laidback personality and bemused smile to good effect. He’s perfect for this kind of role; canny, a little bit flustered, good-hearted and trying to do the right thing. In years past Costner would have played the athlete so this is a very natural move for him.

Leary, a stand-up comic who has done a lot of dramatic roles on the small screen, does really well here as the arrogant ex-Cowboys coach, constantly flashing his championship ring to remind people that he’s a winner. His back and forth with Costner is among the movie’s high points.

The problem here is that there is too much going on. I could have done with less soap opera and more expose of how things really work in an NFL club’s front office. I suspect a lot of football fans will agree with me on that point. While the plot ends up fairly predictable, I did appreciate the idea of the wheeling and dealing that goes on behind the screens. Also a note to Reitman – overuse of graphics and fancy camera dissolves can get pretty distracting. Otherwise this is solid and entertaining spring fare guaranteed to make football fans long for the fall.

REASONS TO GO: Costner is solid as ever and has some terrific scenes with Leary.

REASONS TO STAY: Predictable. Graphics get to be somewhat intrusive.

FAMILY VALUES: There’s some foul language and sexual references.

TRIVIAL PURSUIT: Sunny Weaver Jr. was originally meant to be the GM of the Buffalo Bills but the team was changed when the producers found that it would be much cheaper to film in Ohio.

CRITICAL MASS: As of 4/21/14: Rotten Tomatoes: 61% positive reviews. Metacritic: 54/100.

COMPARISON SHOPPING: Major League

FINAL RATING: 6/10

NEXT: Joe

New Releases for the Week of April 11, 2013


Rio 2RIO 2

(20th Century Fox/Blue Sky) Starring the voices of Anne Hathaway, Jesse Eisenberg, Andy Garcia, Jamie Foxx, will.i.am, Leslie Mann, George Lopez, Tracy Morgan. Directed by Carlos Saldanha

Blu and Jewel have begun a family, but they are keenly aware that they are the last of their kind. Now word comes that some of their species have been spotted in the wilds of the Amazon – and they know that they have to make that journey to find what family they may have left. When the rumors turn out to be true, Blu will come face to face with the two most fearsome adversaries a bird could possibly face; Nigel the macaw-napping villain from the first film, and even more terrifying – his father-in-law.

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

For more on the movie this is the website.

Release formats: Standard, 3D (opens Thursday)

Genre: Animated Feature

Rating: G

Draft Day

(Summit) Kevin Costner, Jennifer Garner, Frank Langella, Denis Leary. The embattled general manager of the woeful Cleveland Browns has the golden ticket – the first choice in the upcoming NFL draft. For the owner, it’s an opportunity to make a splash that will get fans into the seats. For the head coach, it’s a means of putting together the team he wants to coach. For the general manager, it’s one last shot at redemption.

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

For more on the movie this is the website.

Release formats: Standard (opens Thursday)

Genre: Sports Comedy

Rating: PG-13 (for brief strong language and sexual references)

Jesus People

(Freestyle Releasing) Mindy Sterling, Octavia Spencer, Joel McCray, Wendy McLendon-Covey.A pastor believing he doesn’t have much time to live forms a Christian rock band in order to spread his gospel more thoroughly. But when the talent-challenged band finds themselves with a hit single, their already fragile unity begins to dissolve.

See the trailer and a clip here.

For more on the movie this is the website.

Release formats: Standard

Genre: Comedy

Rating: PG-13 (for some intense sequences of violence and terror)

Oculus

(Relativity) Karen Gillan, Katee Sackhoff, Rory Cochrane, Brenton Thwaites. A young boy and girl’s parents are brutally murdered and the boy is charged and convicted with the crime. Ten years later, he is released from prison and just wants to put the whole thing behind him. His sister however is bound and determined to prove that what was really responsible was a malevolent haunted mirror that can make you see things that aren’t there – and be blind to those things that are.

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

For more on the movie this is the website.

Release formats: Standard (opens Thursday)

Genre: Horror

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

The Raid 2

(Sony Classics) Iko Uwais, Julie Estelle, Yayan Ruhian, Arifin Putra. After Rama, the survivor of the pitched battle inside the stronghold of a drug gang in Jakarta, returns home, he finds that his ordeal is far from over. Higher-ups in the criminal food chain want to see him and his family made an example of. In order to protect them, he must go deep undercover in the most dangerous criminal gang in the world. The first raid will be child’s play compared to this.

See the trailer, clips and a promo here.

For more on the movie this is the website.

Release formats: Standard

Genre: Action

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

3 Days to Kill


Kevin Costner isn't going to let anyone stop his career re-invention.

Kevin Costner isn’t going to let anyone stop his career re-invention.

(2014) Thriller (Relativity) Kevin Costner, Amber Heard, Hailee Steinfeld, Connie Nielsen, Tomas Lemarquis, Richard Sammel, Marc Andreoni, Bruno Ricci, Jonas Bloquet, Eriq Ebouaney, Joakhim Sigue, Alison Valence, Big John, Michael Vander-Meiren, Paolo Calia, Eric Naggar, Alexis Jacquin, Frederick Malahieude, Patty Hannock, Marie Guillard, Mai Anh Le. Directed by McG

The ties that bind are often stretched, if not severed, by the needs of our careers. Success requires a certain amount of attention that is usually stolen from that which we turn on our homes and families. It is from there that we rob Peter to pay Paul.

Ethan Renner (Costner) has been living that life longer than he can count. It has cost him his wife Christine (Nielsen) and his daughter Zoe (Steinfeld) who live in Paris and rarely speak to him and find no real reason to seek that kind of thing out. Of course, Ethan has a somewhat unusual career – he’s an assassin for the United States government.

He has been sent to take out the Albino (Lemarquis), the right hand of a German arms dealer nicknamed the Wolf (Sammel). However, the meticulously set up hit goes sideway when the Albino recognizes one of the agents (Le), dispatching her in a particularly gruesome fashion. Ethan himself gives chase and has the Albino in his sights but collapses, nose bleeding and barely able to breathe. He manages to put a bullet in the leg of the Albino before passing out.

It turns out that Ethan isn’t well at all. He has a brain tumor that has spread into his lungs because, you know, the brain and the lungs are connected. He doesn’t have much time left to him; a few months at most. Faced with his own mortality, Ethan decides that killing for his country doesn’t have the same appeal and decides to spend what time he has left reconnecting with his wife and daughter.

While he tells his wife about his condition, he keeps that information from his daughter. Zoe is a typical teenage girl; sneaks out to go party with friends, check. Underage drinking, check. Argues with her mom like cats and dogs, check. Dresses inappropriately, check. Subject to wild mood swings that defy logic and reason, check. Yup, typical teenager girl.

Ethan is doing his best but it’s not a smooth integration into their lives. However, when Vivi Delay (Heard), a fellow assassin, shows up with an offer of an experimental drug that might give him a significantly longer life span in exchange for finishing his job and taking out the Wolf and the Albino, he leaps at the chance. He goes after the Albino’s driver Mitat (Andreoni) and finds him to be a family man who commiserates with Ethan’s dilemma with Zoe.  Through the hapless Mitat Ethan looks to work his way up the chain until he gets his man.

Unfortunately, the miracle cure has a few side effects that always seem to rear their ugly heads at the most inopportune moments. Ethan, who’d distanced himself from his own family so that the ugliness of his job doesn’t touch them, finds that they are being drawn in anyway. The whole point of taking this cure was so that he could have more time with Christine and Zoe but it only takes one well-placed bullet from one of the Wolf’s men. A bullet through the brain still has no cure.

This is fairly pedestrian espionage stuff. We’ve seen similar things with Jackie Chan, Vin Diesel and the Rock in the lead and with similarly mixed results. Costner isn’t really known for being an action star, although he has done a few films in his career that have required that element and to be honest, he can be quite good in that kind of role.

In fact, Costner is really the best thing this movie has going for it. He’s likable and down to earth, so we get a spy/killer who isn’t suave, who isn’t refined but is kind of rough around the edges. He’s had to reinvent his career to a certain extent, becoming more of a character actor as of late rather than a leading man but make no mistake, he’s still one of the most likable leading men in Hollywood history and he remains so here. His relationship with Steinfeld as Zoe is one of the movie’s high points – it’s genuine and most parents of once and present teenagers will tell you holds some of the same ups and downs that real life parents of teens are all-too-familiar with.

Heard is a terrific actress who is thrown into a part that is just misconceived from the get-go. She appears periodically in different wigs and looking like she just got off the runway at Milan, chain-smoking with a sardonic grin and far too young to be a master spy yet here she is. In fact, she oozes competence so much that one wonders that with her skills why does she need Ethan at all (the answer is that Ethan is the only one who’s actually seen the Wolf and might recognize him). Still, while I get the sense she had fun with the role, it’s just so badly laid out that it becomes distracting for all the wrong reasons.

The hallmark of a Luc Besson movie is well-done action sequences and there are several here that will keep action fans if not happy, at least not walking out of the theater. There’s nothing here that’s overly imaginative or challenging but it at least is professionally done so there is entertainment value throughout. The Wolf and the Albino, while having nifty monikers, lack any sort of menace. They both scowl a lot and other than the one scene where the Albino executes a female agent, you don’t get a sense that they pose any threat to Ethan or anyone else in the movie. They’re more or less just goals for Ethan to achieve and it’s more of a game of hide and seek rather than spy versus spy.

REASONS TO GO: Costner and Steinfeld are solid. Some decent action sequences.

REASONS TO STAY: Heard fares poorly. Villains not menacing enough.

FAMILY VALUES:  Plenty of action, a bit of sexuality and a fair amount of foul language.

TRIVIAL PURSUIT: While filming in Belgrade, Costner was given an audience with Serbian Prime Minister Ivica Dacic.

CRITICAL MASS: As of 3/10/14: Rotten Tomatoes: 33% positive reviews. Metacritic: 40/100.

COMPARISON SHOPPING: From Paris With Love

FINAL RATING: 5/10

NEXT: Non-Stop

New Releases for the Week of February 21, 2014


PompeiiPOMPEII

(TriStar) Kit Harrington, Carrie-Anne Moss, Emily Browning, Kiefer Sutherland, Adewale Akinnuoye-Agbaje, Paz Vega, Jessica Lucas, Jared Harris. Directed by Paul W.S. Anderson

A gladiator falls in love with the daughter of a patrician merchant who instead goes ahead to betroth her to a corrupt Roman senator. All this becomes less of an issue when Mt. Vesuvius blows it’s top and the residents of Pompeii must race against time to avoid becoming charcoal briquettes.

See the trailer, clips and a promo here.

For more on the movie this is the website.

Release formats: Standard, 3D (opened Thursday)

Genre: Swords and Sandals

Rating: PG-13 (for intense battle sequences, disaster-related action and brief sexual content)

3 Days to Kill

(Relativity) Kevin Costner, Amber Heard, Hailee Steinfeld, Connie Nielsen. One of the agency’s top field agents is anxious to leave his profession behind to spend more time with his estranged wife and daughter whom he’d kept at arm’s length so that he could keep them out of danger. However when he contracts a virulent fatal disease, he is forced to undertake one more mission so that he might get an experimental cure.

See the trailer, a promo and a clip here.

For more on the movie this is the website.

Release formats: Standard

Genre: Action

Rating: PG-13 (for intense sequences of violence and action, some sensuality and language)

Highway

(UTV) Alia Bhatt, Randeep Hooda, Durgesh Kumar, Pradeep Nagar. A vivacious young woman, on her way to being married, is kidnapped by a group of brutal men for ransom. At first she is terrified. Her father due to his position is unwilling to pay the ransom. The leader of the gang who kidnapped her refuses to let her go. As the stalemate progresses the victim begins to develop feelings for her captor.

See the trailer here.

For more on the movie this is the website.

Release formats: Standard

Genre: Drama

Rating: NR

In Secret

(Roadside Attractions/LD) Elizabeth Olsen, Tom Felton, Jessica Lange, Oscar Isaac. In glittering Paris of the 1860s, a beautiful young woman – sexually repressed and trapped in a loveless marriage overseen by her domineering aunt – embarks on an affair with an exciting young man. The ramifications of her actions will lead to tragic consequences. This is the most recent remake of the classic Emile Zola novel Therese Raquin.

See the trailer and clips here.

For more on the movie this is the website.

Release formats: Standard

Genre: Bollywood

Rating: R (for sexual content and brief violent images)

The Past

(Sony Classics) Berenice Bejo, Tahar Rahim, Ali Mosaffa, Pauline Burlet. Returning from Tehran to Paris after a four year separation, an Iranian husband arrives to finalize the divorce from his Parisian wife. However, once there he discovers a tense situation with her teenage daughter and her impending marriage to her new boyfriend bothers him more than he thought it might. On top of all of it, a secret from their past might just tear their fragile world apart.

See the trailer here.

For more on the movie this is the website.

Release formats: Standard

Genre: Drama

Rating: PG-13 (for mature thematic material and brief strong language)

Starting Over Again

(Star Cinema) Toni Gonzaga, Piolo Pascual. Iza Calzado. Four years after their breakup, a couple are brought back together when her architectural firm is selected to restore an old Manila mansion to be repurposed as a restaurant and he turns out to be the new eatery’s co-owner. However her feelings that this chance encounter is fate’s way of telling her she needs to seize her second chance and run with it may be derailed when she discovers that he intends to use the restaurant as a means of proposing to his American girlfriend.

See the trailer here.

For more on the movie this is the website.

Release formats: Standard

Genre: Drama

Rating: NR

Jack Ryan: Shadow Recruit


Chris Pine realizes there's No Way Out.

Chris Pine realizes there’s No Way Out.

(2014) Spy Thriller (Paramount) Chris Pine, Kevin Costner, Keira Knightley, Kenneth Branagh, Peter Andersson, Colm Feore, Lenn Kudrjawizki, Alec Utgoff, Elena Velikanova, Nonso Anozie, Seth Ayott, Gemma Chan, David Paymer, Bogdan Kominowski, Maggie Daniels, Matt Rippy, Hannah Taylor Gordon, David Hayman, Isobel Pravda, Annika Pergament. Directed by Kenneth Branagh

In many ways war has become obsolete. A world war seems pretty unthinkable when so many nations have nuclear capability. In the 21st century rather than waging war on a battlefield, it seems far more effective to wage economic war electronically.

Jack Ryan (Pine) is studying for his doctorate in economics when the World Trade Center comes down. He is moved to join the Marine Corps and is advancing in rank when his helicopter is shot down. He is badly injured and must learn how to walk again. He catches the eye of a pretty physical therapist named Cathy (Knightley) who is preparing to be an eye surgeon and doing a student rotation in PT at Walter Reed. He also catches the eye of Thomas Harper (Costner), head of a CIA team whose mission is to prevent terrorist attacks. Harper recruits Ryan to keep an eye on terrorist money laundering on Wall Street, helping him complete his doctorate and placing him at a high-profile Wall Street firm.

That proves dividends when Jack notices certain accounts at a Russian firm have been hidden from his company. That seems extremely suspicious to Jack so he goes to Moscow to run an audit where he meets billionaire Viktor Cherevin (Branagh) who sets off all of Jack’s up-to-something sensors. Things are further complicated when comely Cathy, now Jack’s girlfriend and completely unaware of his double life as a CIA analyst, impulsively travels to Moscow and becomes caught in the middle of what could be a crippling economic blow to the United States.

As the first Ryan film not to be directly sourced from an existing Tom Clancy novel, the movie rewrites the origins of the bestselling character and updates it somewhat (the first Ryan film appeared in 1990, eleven years before 9-11). Pine becomes the fourth actor to portray Ryan in five films which is perhaps one of the reasons this franchise, while profitable, has never really taken off like Bond for example, which seems to survive the changing of actors much better than Jack Ryan does. Also, the Bond films have surmounted the end of the Cold War much more effectively than the Jack Ryan movies which really need a Soviet presence to work properly.

This is perhaps the least visually impressive of the Ryan movies but yet still packs a decent visual punch. We don’t really get to see the high-tech CIA headquarters much (read: at all) and most of the really impressive visual stuff takes place at the headquarters of the Russian financial corporation that Ryan is auditing.

The cast is fairly impressive, with veteran Costner coming off with the win as the laconic CIA officer who, when asked by Jack if he and Cathy can have a moment to discuss their relationship situation after she discovers his double life, says flatly “No. This is geopolitics, not couples therapy.” It’s a highlight in a movie that lacks light moments.

Pine plays Ryan as a literal analyst; he always seems to be thinking ten steps ahead of things. Often this leaves him feeling cold and unapproachable to the audience. I would have liked to have seen more humanity from Ryan, who as portrayed by Harrison Ford, Alec Baldwin and Ben Affleck, always seemed to manage some humanity while still coming off as the smartest guy in the room. Pine gets the second part right.

Branagh, once the heir to Sir Laurence Olivier’s mantle in terms of being the finest actor and director of Shakespeare onscreen, has of late been trying his hand at action movies, having previously directed Thor before taking this one on. He has a fine visual sense as a director and uses that to his advantage here. As for action sequences, there aren’t really a lot of them here – a motorcycle chase near the end of the film, a fight with an assassin in a hotel room and a very suspenseful sequence in which Jack is trying to retrieve data from the computer of Cherevin before getting caught. That contributed I think to what I felt as an overall lack of energy in the movie; it didn’t seem to flow the way I would like an action movie to flow.

As the bad guy, Branagh is very understated (as opposed to the villain he played in The Wild, Wild West in which much scenery was chewed) and makes a nice foil for Ryan, full of quiet menace but with real rage boiling underneath the surface. If the movie were a tiny bit better, he’d have been a classic espionage villain but even as it is he is still a superior villain. I wonder what Harrison Ford’s Jack Ryan (still the best of the bunch) would have done with Branagh’s Cherevin.

REASONS TO GO: Terrific cast. Believable plot. Nifty production values.

REASONS TO STAY: The movie has a curious lack of energy.

FAMILY VALUES:  Yeah, there’s violence and some intense action; there’s also some brief strong language.

TRIVIAL PURSUIT: Costner was originally cast as Jack Ryan in the very first movie in the franchise, The Hunt for Red October but wound up turning it down to make Dances With Wolves instead.

CRITICAL MASS: As of 2/3/14: Rotten Tomatoes: 57% positive reviews. Metacritic: 57/100.

COMPARISON SHOPPING: The Sum of All Fears

FINAL RATING: 6/10

NEXT: I, Frankenstein

Frances


Crazy is in the eye of the beholder.

Crazy is in the eye of the beholder.

(1982) Biographical Drama (Universal) Jessica Lange, Kim Stanley, Sam Shepard, Bart Burns, Jonathan Banks, Jeffrey DeMunn, Zelda Rubinstein, Anjelica Huston, Pamela Gordon, Kevin Costner, Bonnie Bartlett, James Brodhead, Daniel Chodos, Nancy Foy, Gerald S. O’Loughlin, James Karen, Biff Yeager, Allan Rich, M.C. Gainey. Directed by Graeme Clifford

Waiting for Oscar

1983 OSCAR NOMINATIONS
Best Actress – Jessica Lange
Best Supporting Actress – Kim Stanley
WINS: 0

Times change. So much meaning can be packed into two little words. It can hide all manner of sins, convey all sorts of poignant meanings. It can refer to an individual, or to society. However it is meant, it is true for all of us.

Frances Farmer (Lange) was just a high school girl in Seattle when she won an essay contest the subject of which was that God was dead. She courted further controversy when she accepted an all-expenses paid trip to Moscow to observe the Moscow Art Theater. Returning home, she had been bitten by the acting bug but hard. It is also here she met Harry York (Shepard), a budding writer who liked her very much but her mind was on other things.

She tries out Hollywood for size and immediately makes a big splash. She refuses to do publicity stunts, won’t wear make-up on camera and essentially opts out of the Hollywood game, even though she’d by this time rung up a couple of legitimate hits. Clifford Odets (DeMunn), the noted playwright, convinced her that she would be better served on Broadway and the two began an affair, one which ended badly for her as Odets was already married.

Frances had her demons however and the break-up of her relationship brought them howling to the surface. She began to rely more and more on alcohol and pills and her combative nature came more and more to the fore. She was arrested for driving in a black-out zone with her headlights on during wartime and was sued by a hairdresser (Bartlett) for breaking her jaw during a studio on-set tiff. Her mother (Stanley) came down from Seattle to help but that was more or less like throwing gasoline on a fire.

Farmer would be institutionalized twice; after the first her constant battles with her mother led the elder Farmer to commit her daughter to Western States Hospital where Farmer underwent shock and insulin therapy, was repeatedly abused and raped by the male staff (who would give her to soldiers to use sexually) and finally was lobotomized. When she was released she was perhaps a more pleasant person but the fire inside her was gone forever.

One thing to remember about this movie is that it is far from a definitive biography; director Clifford says during the DVD commentary that he “didn’t want to nickel and dime the audience with facts” and obliges by sparing us many. For example, York is made up out of whole cloth, the lobotomy sequence never happened (there is no evidence that it occurred) and Farmer was married three times, making her far from the lonely woman who had no romantic relationships other than with the married Odets that the movie portrays her as.

This is Jessica Lange’s movie and in many ways it is the role that this talented actress is most remembered for. It shows a woman in a time when women were expected to be submissive and meek but was instead demanding, loud and full of fire. Watching Lange’s performance you can’t help but think that if this was anything close to how the real Frances Farmer was, there’s no doubt in that case that she had two strikes against her from the outset – the men of that era would certainly not have tolerated the kind of strident independence that Lange portrays Farmer possessing. She may well have been institutionalized for that alone.

Even though there are plenty of people who do Frances Farmer wrong in this movie, there is no single villain. Certainly Odets, the lobotomy doctor (O’Loughlin) and Farmer’s mother come off poorly but then there were other factors leading to the actress’ spectacular fall which makes the story all the more poignant. While I can wish that the filmmakers hadn’t been such bastards in reality (reneging on an agreement with a writer and in general treating people badly) and that they had stuck to the facts of Farmer’s real life which were compelling in themselves, I can only go by the finished product, not by what I wish it might have been. This is a tremendous performance by Lange, one which is worth seeing all by itself.

WHY RENT THIS: Outstanding performances by Lange and Stanley. Real chemistry between Lang and Shepard.

WHY RENT SOMETHING ELSE: Jumps from time frame to time frame. Never really explains Frances’  breakdown.

FAMILY VALUES:  Some fairly disturbing scenes and mature content as well as its share of foul language.

TRIVIAL PURSUIT: The movie was originally based on a fictionalized biography of Farmer by author William Arnold called Shadowland but in order to make the movie seem like original material, the screenwriters created the fictional character of Harry York in order to give Frances a love interest. However, things like the lobotomy which never happened in reality, came straight from Mr. Arnold’s book. He would eventually lose a lawsuit years after the film was released.

NOTABLE HOME VIDEO EXTRAS: A 30 minute featurette on the real Frances Farmer.

BOX OFFICE PERFORMANCE: $5M on an $8M production budget.

COMPARISON SHOPPING: One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest

FINAL RATING: 8/10

NEXT: Waiting for Oscar continues!

New Releases for the Week of January 17, 2014


Jack Ryan: Shadow Recruit

JACK RYAN: SHADOW RECRUIT

(Paramount) Chris Pine, Kevin Costner, Keira Knightley, Kenneth Branagh, David Paymer, Colm Feore, Peter Andersson, Nonso Anozie, Gemma Chan. Directed by Kenneth Branagh

A young CIA analyst uncovers a terrorist plot on US soil to throw the American financial market into chaos. His mentor lures him deeper into the shadow world of international espionage, putting a strain on his marriage as he faces off with a Russian master spy.

See the trailer, clips and a featurette here.

For more on the movie this is the website.

Release formats: Standard, IMAX (opens Thursday)

Genre: Spy Thriller

Rating: PG-13 (for sequences of violence and intense action, and for brief strong language)

Back in the Day

(Screen Media) Morena Baccarin, Michael Rosenbaum, Nick Swardson, Harland Williams. Making a surprise visit to his high school reunion, a still-single ladies man from back in the day manages to convince his now-married friends to go out on one final fling, leading to some issues with their wives and friends.

See the trailer here.

For more on the movie this is the website.

Release formats: Standard

Genre: Comedy

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

Devil’s Due

(20th Century Fox) Allison Miller, Zach Gilford, Sam Anderson, Catherine Kresge. A newlywed couple discovers that they are pregnant a bit earlier than anticipated. Still, it is welcome news but as time passes and the due date becomes closer, the wife’s personality begins to change and strange unexplainable things begin to occur around them. Soon the husband must face the unthinkable if he is to save his wife – and himself.

See the trailer and clips here.

For more on the movie this is the website.

Release formats: Standard (opens Thursday)

Genre: Horror

Rating: R (for language and some bloody images)

Life of a King

(Millennium) Cuba Gooding Jr., LisaGay Hamilton, Dennis Haysbert, Rachel Thomas. While doing an 18-year prison stint for bank robbery, a young con learns the game of chess. Hoping to help his neighborhood turn things around and to prevent others from going down the same tragic path he did, he founds a chess club which despite the skepticism of others both inside the neighborhood and out, does exactly what he hopes it will do.

See the trailer here.

For more on the movie this is the website.

Release formats: Standard

Genre: Biographical Drama

Rating: PG-13 (for thematic elements, some drug content and brief violent images – all involving teens)

The Nut Job

(Open Road) Starring the voices of Will Arnett, Brendan Fraser, Liam Neeson, Katherine Heigl . After accidentally destroying the park’s winter stores, a brash and independent squirrel discovers squirrel nirvana – a nearby nut store. But to get at the goodies he’s going to have to make a brilliant plan and that’s not something he or his friends are particularly good at.

See the trailer here.

For more on the movie this is the website.

Release formats: Standard, 3D

Genre: Animated Feature

Rating: PG (for mild action and rude humor)

Ride Along

(Universal) Kevin Hart, Ice Cube, John Leguizamo, Tika Sumpter. Ben, a security officer at an Atlanta high school, longs for two things in life; to become a police officer and to marry his girl. When he is accepted to the police academy, he’s well on his way to achieving the first but the second is a little more problematic. Standing in the way is his girlfriend’s cop brother who doesn’t like Ben at all. Ben must prove himself worthy and what better way to do that than to take him on a ride-along into the worst part of the city?

See the trailer and clips here.

For more on the movie this is the website.

Release formats: Standard (opens Thursday)

Genre: Crime Comedy

Rating: PG-13 (for sequences of strong violence, sexual content and brief strong language)