Baby Driver


Baby and Debora want their Big Mac meals right NOW!!!

(2017) Action Comedy (TriStar) Ansel Elgort, Jon Bernthal, Jon Hamm, Lily James, Elza Gonzalez, Micah Howard, Morgan Brown, Kevin Spacey, Jamie Foxx, Morse Diggs, Flea, CJ Jones, Paul Williams, Big Boi, Killer Mike, Lance Palmer, Sky Ferreira, Lanny Joon, Hudson Meek, Brogan Hall, Richard Marcos Taylor, Viviana Chavez, Hal Whiteside, Brigitte Kali. Directed by Edgar Wright

 

This has been a really good year for quirky action movies and this one is one of the best of the year. British director Wright (Shaun of the Dead, Hot Fuzz) channels Tarantino through a Guardians of the Galaxy soundtrack filter and turns in an absolute gem.

Baby (Elgort) is a getaway driver par excellence. Due to a childhood accident, he suffers from tinnitus – a ringing of the ear that can sometimes be distracting. To combat this, he wears an iPod and ear buds to drown out the white noise with classic rock and roll from such diverse groups as The Damned, Golden Earring, the Jon Spencer Blues Explosion and T-Rex.

He works for a criminal named Doc (Spacey) who robs banks, although he doesn’t actually do the robbing himself; he puts together the master pan and assembles the crews. The only common denominator is Baby who he considers his “good luck charm” and who besides owes Doc a debt which he pays for with each job. Baby has one more job to go before the debt is paid but Doc doesn’t really want to let him go.

The trouble is from Doc’s standpoint is that Baby has found himself a girlfriend, Debora (James) who waitresses at the diner he frequents. The two are eager to get the heck out of Dodge (or at least Atlanta) and drive west and never stop but Doc has Baby sucked in. Still, Baby has his own plans and he might just be able to outthink the brilliant Doc if he gets a few breaks going his way.

The action sequences which were done practically and without CGI are flat-out amazing. Some of the best car chase sequences since Bullitt populate this film. The backstory and mythology of the piece is riveting and Wright populates this world with a cast of characters that would do the aforementioned Tarantino proud. The dialogue as you would expect from an Edgar Wright film is smart and occasionally brilliant.

Elgort who has not impressed me particularly to this point does so here. He’s done a lot of teen heartthrob films and he is completely wasted in them; this is the kind of movie he was born to do and he makes the most of it. The rest of the cast is uniformly at the top of their games, with Hamm and Foxx particularly noteworthy.

Since allegations of sexual misconduct came out against Spacey a few weeks ago, there are likely many who will want to boycott the film because of his presence in it and yes, he plays a very critical role and takes up a good deal of screen time. I won’t begin to excuse his performance or advise for or against boycotting this film because of it but I will say that while he shows off the best of his abilities here, I can understand why people will want to give this film a miss because of his presence. Again, I won’t judge anyone’s moral compass other than to say that the rest of the cast and crew who made this one of the year’s best movies may deserve your support in this case but again, it is understandable if you choose to withhold it. Nevertheless this is one of the year’s best films.

REASONS TO GO: The action sequences are second to none. Elgort gives the best performance of his career to date and has real chemistry with James. The backstory is not only credible but entertaining. The soundtrack is spot on.
REASONS TO STAY: It’s quite possible that the film is too hip for its own good. The presence of the disgraced Spacey may make it a moral choice whether to support this film or not.
FAMILY VALUES: There is plenty of violence and profanity throughout the film.
TRIVIAL PURSUIT: CJ Jones, who plays Joseph (a deaf character) is himself deaf.
BEYOND THE THEATERS: Amazon, Fandango Now, Google Play, iTunes, Vudu, YouTube
CRITICAL MASS: As of 11/17/17: Rotten Tomatoes: 93% positive reviews. Metacritic: 86/100.
COMPARISON SHOPPING: Logan Lucky
FINAL RATING: 8.5/10
NEXT:
Mr. Roosevelt

Rebel in the Rye


Quiet please; author at work.

(2017) Biographical Drama (IFC) Nicholas Hoult, Kevin Spacey, Zoey Deutch, Victor Garber, Hope Davis, Sarah Paulson, Lucy Boynton, James Urbaniak, Amy Rutberg, Brian d’Arcy James, Eric Bogosian, Naian González Norvind, Evan Hall, Adam Busch, Celeste Arias, Bernard White, Kristine Froseth, David Berman, Will Rogers, Jefferson Mays, Caitlin Mehner. Directed by Danny Strong

 

Being an author is often a lonely pursuit. Writers live inside their heads more than most and for those who are true writers the act of writing is more of a compulsion than a calling. The talented ones often see that talent turn savagely on the wielder of that talent.

Jerome David Salinger (Hoult) was a teen who was bright but had difficulty dealing with authority. A caustic, sarcastic soul, he didn’t win points with school administrators by often ridiculing his professors in class. As 1939 is in full swing, he decides to attend Columbia University in New York City and study creative writing, much to the frustration of his staid stodgy father (Garber) but supported by his ever-patient mother (Davis).

At Columbia he comes under the wing of Whit Burnett (Spacey) who is a published author and a passionate teacher. Burnett, who also edits Story magazine on the side, has no time for fools or dilettantes but finds the kernel of something worthwhile in the young, insufferably arrogant student. In the meantime Jerry, as his friends and family call him, is busy wooing Oona O’Neil (Deutch) who happens to be the daughter of playwright Eugene O’Neil.  Talk about a long day’s journey into night.

His pursuit of being a published author is interrupted by World War II and Salinger, who was part of the Normandy invasion as well as the Battle of the Bulge, was profoundly affected by his wartime service. He was present at the liberation of concentration camps and watched his friends die before his very eyes. He came home a changed man and although one of his psychiatrists called his PTSD “a phase,” it would as his literary agent Dorothy Olding (Paulson) said, “mess him up” for the rest of his life.

One of his constant companions during the war was Holden Caulfield, a character Salinger had invented for a short story he had submitted to The New Yorker before the war. Burnett had been particularly enamored of the character and had urged his young student to write a novel about him; Salinger had been reluctant to since he had primarily written short stories to that point but throughout the war Salinger continued to write about the character; much of what he came up with appeared in the seminal novel The Catcher in the Rye, which became a publishing phenomenon and catapulted Salinger to international fame.

However with that fame came stalkers, young people so inspired by the novel that they approached the author wearing the red hunting caps that were the preferred chapeau of Caulfield in the novel. Salinger, already a private person, felt constrained to leave New York City for rural New Hampshire where he built walls of privacy around himself and his second wife Claire Douglas (Boynton) who eventually found her husband, who wrote constantly, to be more and more distant. As time went by, she confessed to her husband that she was lonely. That didn’t seem to matter much to him.

Much of this material appears in the Kenneth Slawenski-penned biography J.D. Salinger: A Life on which this is mainly based and it certainly gets the facts about Salinger’s life right. However, we don’t really get the essence of Salinger here and maybe it isn’t possible to do so; the reclusive nature of the author makes it difficult to really get to know him now even more so than it was when he was alive (he died in 2010 at age 91).

Hoult does a credible job playing the author during the 15 year period that the story takes place. It was one of the heydays of literature in New York City but we don’t really get a sense of the vitality that suffused the literary scene that saw magazines like The New Yorker publishing some of the best work of American authors ever. The movie is in some ways lacking in that rhythm that made the Big Apple the most vital city on Earth at the time. Nevertheless, Hoult is a marvelous actor and while this isn’t the role that is going to get him to the next level, he at least does a good enough job here to continue his forward momentum.

Hoult though in many ways is overshadowed by Spacey as the charismatic Burnett. We see Burnett as a mentor, and then in later years as a man with little money who sees his magazine and publishing house slowly languishing into obscurity even as Salinger is becoming one of the most popular authors in the world. The two would have a falling out and we see that Burnett is stricken by it, while Salinger is remarkably cold. Spacey makes Burnett more memorable than Salinger himself and who knows, given his performance here and in Baby Driver we might see his name bandied about for a Best Supporting Actor Oscar during awards season.

I was never convinced of the time and place as I said earlier; the characters look and act like 21st century people rather than mid-20th century, other than the smoking. The dialogue is full of platitudes and doesn’t sound the way people of any era talk. This I found doubly surprising since Strong wrote two of HBO’s best films including Recount, one of my all-time favorite made-for-cable films.

This isn’t going to give any insight into Salinger or his work; in fact other than a few snippets, very little of the words that the author penned have made their way into the film. The best that one could hope for is that younger people, seeing this movie, might be moved to see what the fuss was about and read Catcher in the Rye for themselves. I suspect that will give frustrated viewers of this film much more insight into the mind of the author than any docudrama ever could.

REASONS TO GO: Spacey delivers a strong performance. Renewed interest in Salinger might be generated.
REASONS TO STAY: The dialogue is littered with platitudes and the characters don’t act like people of that era.
FAMILY VALUES: There is a bit of profanity, some violence, a few sexual references and some disturbing wartime images.
TRIVIAL PURSUIT: Filming took place in Wildwood, Cape May and other towns along the Jersey coast.
CRITICAL MASS: As of 9/30/17: Rotten Tomatoes: 36% positive reviews. Metacritic: 37/100.
COMPARISON SHOPPING: Salinger
FINAL RATING: 7/10
NEXT:
Abundant Acreage Available

New Releases for the Week of June 30, 2017


DESPICABLE ME 3

(Universal/Illumination) Starring the voices of Steve Carell, Kristen Wiig, Trey Parker, Miranda Cosgrove, Steve Coogan, Julie Andrews, Jenny Slate. Directed by Kyle Balda, Pierre Coffin and Eric Guillon

Supervillain Gru is on the straight and narrow now that he has a family to take care of. He’s even working on the other side – law enforcement – but when tasked with taking down up and coming supervillain Balthazar Bratt he fails and loses his job. Adrift, he is reunited with the twin brother he never knew he had and who has been continuing the family legacy of villainy. It doesn’t take much cajoling to get Gru on board for a twin brother villain team but how will his girlfriend Lucy react to his return to criminal behavior?

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

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

Rating: PG (for action and rude humor)

Baby Driver

(Tri-Star) Ansel Elgort, Lily James, Kevin Spacey, Jamie Foxx. Fan favorite director Edgar Wright has come up with another winner in this much-anticipated crime epic. Baby is a gifted getaway driver with a few quirks, not the least of which is putting on his own personal playlist to drown out the white noise when he’s working. After he falls hard for a waitress, he realizes he wants a different life but getting out of the life he’s in is not easy at all.

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

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

Rating: R (for violence and language throughout)

The Beguiled

(Focus) Colin Farrell, Nicole Kidman, Kirsten Dunst, Elle Fanning. Who would have ever thought that “Sofia Coppola remakes Clint Eastwood” would ever become a sentence? In the waning days of the Civil War a wounded Union soldier is taken in by the headmistress of a girl’s school in the rural South. As he is nursed back to health, some of the girls in the school begin to fall for his charm. The headmistress realizes that he is far more dangerous to the school than she first thought and takes steps to protect her charges.

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

Release Formats: Standard
Genre: Thriller
Now Playing: AMC Altamonte Mall, AMC Disney Springs, Cinemark Artegon Marketplace, Regal Winter Park Village

Rating: R (for some sexuality)

The Hero

(The Orchard) Sam Elliott, Laura Prepon, Nick Offerman, Krysten Ritter. An aging actor who was once a respected Western actor spends most of his time smoking dope and hanging out with a fellow actor. When he meets a much younger woman who falls head over heels for him, he begins to turn things around, even reaching out to bridge the rift between himself and his estranged daughter. Can he resurrect his career and heal old wounds? The Hero was not only a big hit at the Sundance Film Festival earlier this year, it was also the opening night film at the Florida Film Festival as well.

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

Release Formats: Standard
Genre: Dramedy
Now Playing: AMC New Smyrna, Enzian Theater, Regal Pavilion Port Orange, Rialto Spanish Springs Town Square

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

The House

(New Line) Will Ferrell, Amy Poehler, Jason Mantzoukas, Nick Kroll. When a doting pair of parents loses their daughter’s college fund, they start scrambling to find a way to make sure she can afford the high-end college she has not only gotten into but has always dreamed of attending. They come up with the somewhat desperate plan of turning their home into a Las Vegas-style casino. As you might expect, things go crazily out of control quickly.

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

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

Rating: R (for language throughout, sexual references, drug use, some violence and brief nudity)

Past Life

(Goldwyn) Nelly Tagar, Joy Rieger, Dovon Tavory, Evgenia Dodina. While touring West Germany in the late 70s, a soloist is accosted by an elderly German woman who claims she’s the daughter of a murderer. Understandably shaken, she and her sister – a caustic woman who has a chilly relationship with her father – begin to investigate what he did during the war and discover some family secrets are best left buried.

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

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

Rating: NR

OPENING IN ORLANDO/DAYTONA

None

ALSO OPENING IN MIAMI:

David Lynch: The Art Life
Inconceivable
Manifesto
Queen of Thursdays
Sex Doll
The Student
The Wedding Plan

ALSO OPENING IN TAMPA:

A Stork’s Journey

ALSO OPENING IN JACKSONVILLE:

The Wedding Plan

New Releases for the Week of August 5, 2016


Suicide SquadSUICIDE SQUAD

(Warner Brothers) Will Smith, Margot Robbie, Jared Leto, Joel Kinnaman, Ben Affleck, Viola Davis, Jai Courtney, Adewale Akinnuoye-Agbaje, Cara Delevingne. Directed by David Ayer

There are some jobs that a superhero just can’t do. They are far too valuable to risk. That’s when you send in the other guys, or in this case, a government-selected group of super-villains who have nothing to lose and are completely expendable. Given no option but to succeed or die, will they take on an impossible task and perhaps save the world, or bicker among themselves and go down in flames along with the rest of us?

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

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

Rating: PG-13 (for sequences of violence and action throughout, disturbing behavior, suggestive content and language)

Bazodee

(Serafini) Staz Nair, Kabir Bedi, Natalie Perera, Valmike Rampersad. The daughter of an Indian businessman agrees to marry a wealthy man in order to get her father out of the crushing debt he’s under. However, at her engagement party she meets an intriguing reggae musician with whom she develops a complicated friendship…which leads to forbidden feelings that catch the eye of the protective brother of her fiance who sets out to ruin everything and everyone involved.

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

Release Formats: Standard
Genre: Romance
Now Playing: AMC West Oaks

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

Nine Lives

(EuropaCorp/Relativity) Kevin Spacey, Jennifer Garner, Robbie Amell, Christopher Walken. A workaholic Dad on the eve of his biggest career triumph ever is on the way home to his daughter’s 11th birthday with the gift she’s always wanted – a cat. He hates cats, but had to scramble to find a gift and this is what he came up with. After a terrible car accident, he awakens with his consciousness inside the cat. He begins to get an entirely new outlook about his family through the eyes of the cat and begins to understand what he could potentially lose. It will take an extreme effort on his part to earn back his humanity and rejoin the family he’d taken for granted for so long.

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

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

Rating: PG (for thematic elements, language and some rude humor)

New Releases for the Week of April 22, 2016


The Huntsman Winter's WarTHE HUNTSMAN: WINTER’S WAR

(Universal) Charlize Theron, Chris Hemsworth, Emily Blunt, Jessica Chastain, Nick Frost, Rob Brydon, Sam Claflin, Sophie Cookson, Sheridan Smith. Directed by Cedric Nicolas-Troyan

This prequel to Snow White and the Huntsman pits Queen Ravenna and her sister the Ice Queen Freya, at odds over the magic mirror. Following a tragic heartbreak, Freya retreats to a remote ice castle where she works on training an army of huntsmen with one rule; harden your hearts against love. When her two best break that law, they are banished but when Freya is betrayed by her sister, only the banished Huntsmen can save her.

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

Release Formats: Standard
Genre: Fantasy Adventure
Now Playing: Wide Release

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

A Hologram for the King

(Saban) Tom Hanks, Ben Whishaw, Tom Skerritt, Sarita Choudhury. A businessman, down on his luck and desperate, goes to Saudi Arabia to close the deal that could save him. However the inevitable culture clashes stymie his attempts to make the deal happen. He is forced to rely on a wise-cracking taxi driver and an alluring Saudi doctor to help him win through.

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

Release Formats: Standard
Genre: Dramedy
Now Playing: AMC Altamonte Mall, Regal Waterford Lakes, Regal Winter Park Village

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

 Compadres

(Pantelion) Eric Roberts, Kevin Pollak, Omar Chaparro, Joey Morgan. A Mexican cop, framed for a crime he didn’t commit, is released from prison and sets his sights on Santos, who is the one who framed him. However, Santos has kidnapped the cop’s girlfriend and taken her across the border to San Diego. The cop’s one chance at getting his girlfriend alive is to work with an unlikely ally – a teenage American hacker who stole $10 million from the crime boss. But it will take all their disparate skills to stay one step ahead of Santos who wants the both of them dead.

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

Release Formats: Standard
Genre: Comedy
Now Playing: AMC Disney Springs, Regal The Loop

Rating: NR

Elvis & Nixon

(Bleecker Street) Michael Shannon, Kevin Spacey, Alex Pettyfer, Johnny Knoxville. It’s a legendary photo; rock legend Elvis Presley and President Richard M. Nixon shaking hands at the White House. But what were the circumstances for this historic meeting? This film is a fanciful and funny supposition as to what really happened.

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

Release Formats: Standard
Genre: Historical Comedy
Now Playing: AMC Altamonte Mall, AMC Disney Springs, Regal Winter Park Village

Rating: R (for some language)

Everybody Wants Some!!

(Paramount) Blake Jenner, Juston Street, Ryan Guzman, Tyler Hoechlin. Doing for the 80s what Dazed and Confused did for the 70s, director Richard Linklater goes to college in that decade, following a bunch of freshmen trying to navigate the social minefield that is higher education while trying to make the baseball team. As is usual for a Linklater film, expect an awesome soundtrack.

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

Release Formats: Standard
Genre: Period Dramedy
Now Playing: AMC Altamonte Mall, Regal Waterford Lakes, Regal Winter Park Village

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

Louder Than Bombs

(Paladin) Jesse Eisenberg, Gabriel Byrne, Amy Ryan, David Strathairn. When a famous war photographer passes away, her sons and their father drift apart. When they reunite for a celebration of her life several years later, the fractured family is forced to confront their feelings about the woman who spent so much time away from them, and each other. This played the Florida Film Festival last week.

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

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

Rating: PG (for language, some sexual content, nudity and violent images)

Miles Ahead

(Sony Classics) Don Cheadle, Ewan McGregor, Michael Stuhlbarg, Emayatzy Corinealdi. After a period of inactivity jazz legend Miles Davis is returning to the limelight with an album that would eventually take its place among the greatest ever recorded. He spends a few lost days with a writer from Rolling Stone conspiring to recover stolen master tapes and reminiscing about his romance with Frances Taylor.

See the trailer and clips here.
For more on the movie this is the website
.
Release Formats: Standard
Genre: Biographical Drama
Now Playing: AMC Altamonte Mall, AMC Disney Springs, Regal Winter Park Village

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

Horrible Bosses 2


The cast of Horrible Bosses 2, sneakin' around,

The cast of Horrible Bosses 2, sneakin’ around,

(2014) Comedy (New Line) Jason Bateman, Jason Sudeikis, Charlie Day, Chris Pine, Jennifer Aniston, Jamie Foxx, Kevin Spacey, Christoph Waltz, Jonathan Banks, Lindsay Sloane, Keegan-Michael Key, Kelly Stables, Jerry Lambert, Sam Richardson, Brianne Howey, Lidia Porto, Jaye Razor, Lennon Parham, Alyssa Preston, Suzy Nakamura, Keeley Hazell. Directed by Sean Anders

I have to admit that I have a fondness for movies set in the workplace. We can all relate to those – the tedious drudgery, the office politics and of course the horrible bosses.

The makers of this film brought that to sharp focus with Horrible Bosses, a 2011 movie that I found seriously funny as three Joe Schmoes with psychotic employers plot to get out of the situation the only way they know how – by killing their bosses. Of course, they know nothing about how to do this so they ask an expert.

Two years later they are going into business for themselves. Nick (Bateman), Kurt (Sudeikis) and Dale (Day) have come up with a new product that is sure to be a big hit – the Shower Buddy, a kind of car wash for people that automatically sprays shampoo and conditioner into your hair and then rinses. I know there are people out there thinking right now “Say, that’s a good idea…” It plays to the laziness of the American consumer which is never a bad idea.

They bring it to Rex Hanson (Pine), the son of billionaire marketer Bert Hanson (Waltz). What they don’t realize that they are a trio of guppies swimming among sharks. It doesn’t take them long to take their best-laid plans and see them ground into the dust. With bankruptcy and scandal looming, they come up with another loony tunes idea – to kidnap Rex and use the ransom to save their company. Their old buddy Mofo Jones (Foxx) thinks it’s a sweet deal.

That’s all well and good but they haven’t taken a few things into account; one, Rex is basically psychotic. Second, they’re still swimming around in a pool full of sharks. Lastly, they’re essentially morons. Predictably they end up going from the frying pan into the proverbial fire.

And predictable is the word of the moment here. Many of the jokes are rehashes of things that went on in the first movie. That’s never a good sign, especially when the first movie was more successful when it was edgy while this one seems more geared to play it safe. I’ve read elsewhere that the original intent for the sequel was to have Nick, Kurt and Dale finally move into managerial positions and all three of them have employees who get fed up with their antics and plot to off them. The studio chickened out on that concept but I think it would have made for a much better movie.

The chemistry between Sudeikis, Bateman and Day isn’t marvelous but it’s workable. While a lot of critics are enamored of Day and his style, I find his voice to be whiny and irritating. Sometimes people just get on your nerves for no particular reason. Looking as objectively as I can, I can’t fault his performance and I wouldn’t be surprised if he pushed through to bigger and better things. Bateman, the master of comic exasperation, plays to his strengths and Sudeikis, who co-starred with Aniston last year in We’re the Millers, continues to build up to being one of the leading comic actors in Hollywood.

The support crew is pretty good, and Pine comes in like a bull in a china shop which in this case is a good thing. Pine, who has primarily done more action-oriented roles, has decent comic timing and I think that roles like this will mark him as a more versatile actor, opening up more doors for him than were previously available. Sadly, Waltz – one of my favorite actors over the past five years or so – is completely wasted in a part that he really looks uncomfortable in. Pity, that.

The movie isn’t nearly as manic or as well-paced as its predecessor. It just feels more leaden, less like the actors are having a good time and more that they’re punching a clock. It’s not that Horrible Bosses 2 is that bad – it really isn’t – it’s just that it’s not that good either. I don’t really advise you to go see it. If you do, chances are it will be forgotten ten minutes after you leave the theater and if that’s what you’re going for, then get yourself a ticket. If you want something a little more memorable, move along.

REASONS TO GO: Some decent individual performances. A few really funny bits.
REASONS TO STAY:
Lacks the energy of the first film. Recycles too many jokes from Horrible Bosses.
FAMILY VALUES: Lots of overt and suggestive sexual material, a whole lot of profanity and a couple of scenes of violence.
TRIVIAL PURSUIT: In a scene in the Nick & Kurt & Dale office, one can see a schematic of the Shower Buddy which is shaped like the U.S.S. Enterprise; that was done to honor Chris Pine who plays Captain Kirk in the reboot of Star Trek.
CRITICAL MASS: As of 12/16/14: Rotten Tomatoes: 34% positive reviews. Metacritic: 40/100.
COMPARISON SHOPPING: Bad Teacher
FINAL RATING: 5/10
NEXT: The Babadook

Shakespeare High


The play's the thing.

The play’s the thing.

(2011) Documentary (Cinema Guild) Richard Dreyfuss, Val Kilmer, Kevin Spacey, Mare Winningham, Julian G. Simmons, Luis Cardenas, Sue Freitag, Marisa Gold, Michelle Sui, Melvin Emesibe, Galvin Emesibe. Directed by Alex Rotaru

The English language is an amazing thing. It can communicate so much, so eloquently. It is distressing that of late we have chosen to dumb it down and simplify it to a series of catch phrases and abbreviations so that the things we express can fit in a Twitter feed.

Respecting Shakespeare, perhaps the most accomplished practitioner of the English language there ever was, is not something that comes naturally to most high school students. Acting out Shakespeare’s timeless plays can be daunting as well.

The Drama Teachers Association of Southern California has put on a Shakespeare competition for more than 90 years now. Each year it chooses three different plays from the Bard; schools from the region then are invited to either condense the play into an eight minute scene, or perform a five-minute scene from the play. They can use no props other than four folding chairs. They are welcome to interpret the dialogue and action however they wish so long as it conforms to the basic meaning of the play, or simply perform it as is.

Fifty schools participated in this particular year, from schools for the wealthy and privileged to schools for the disadvantaged and poor. Among them is the Los Angeles High School for the Performing Arts whose students and teachers tend to prefer traditional presentations of Shakespeare. They tend to be dismissive of the other schools which is ironic because some of the other students seemed to have a deeper understanding of what Shakespeare was trying to get across than the snobs. I found that comforting, somehow.

Some of the stories of the kids who are involved here are downright heartbreaking. There are kids involved with gangs, kids dealing with personal tragedies, kids with hopes of becoming professional actors and kids who are just having a bit of a lark.

The documentary captures adequately how Shakespeare can change the lives of those exposed to him for the first time. What it doesn’t capture is what these kids thought of the plays they were performing. So involved do the filmmakers get in the competitive aspect of the competition that they forget the reason for it at times. I would have liked to have seen more details and fewer student portraits. It’s not that all of them didn’t deserve their 15 minutes, it’s just when a documentary tries to be all things to all people, it becomes so much more difficult to edit it down. I get the sense that Rotaru connected with the students so much that he lost some of his objectivity in terms of actually making the film.

This isn’t one of those life-changing documentaries that makes you aware of some aspect of life that you don’t focus on enough although I do think most of us could only benefit from a little bit more Shakespeare in our lives. It is however, interesting if not compelling in places and if you run across it in your browsing of things to watch and you happen to like documentaries, this isn’t a bad option.

WHY RENT THIS: Reminds us of how transformative Shakespeare can be. Some of the stories are compelling.

WHY RENT SOMETHING ELSE: Too many stories. Could have used some judicious editing and more detail as to what the students thought and how they processed Shakespeare.

FAMILY VALUES: There is some foul language.

TRIVIAL PURSUIT: Dreyfuss, Kilmer, Winningham and Spacey all appeared in previous competitions and Spacey executive produced this film. All four appear in the movie.

NOTABLE HOME VIDEO EXTRAS: Two schools that were cut from the finished film are shown here, as is a student from one of the schools that were included but whose story also didn’t make the final film. There are also three complete festival performances including one from the winning school.

BOX OFFICE PERFORMANCE: Not available.

SITES TO SEE: Netflix DVD, Amazon (rent/buy), iTunes

COMPARISON SHOPPING: Caesar Must Die

FINAL RATING: 6/10

NEXT: Sin City: A Dame to Kill For

21


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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

COMPARISON SHOPPING: Clockers

FINAL RATING: 6/10

NEXT; Levitated Mass

Shrink


The party's over...

The party’s over…

(2009) Dramedy (Roadside Attractions) Kevin Spacey, Saffron Burrows, Jack Huston, Griffin Dunne, Robin Williams, Pell James, Robert Loggia, Keke Palmer, Gore Vidal, Dallas Roberts, Mark Webber, Jesse Plemmons, Laura Ramsey, Ashley Greene, Joel Gretsch, Mina Olivera. Directed by Jonas Pate

We look to our mental health professionals to help us see us through our problems, help us overcome our addictions and in general feel better about ourselves and our lives. Like any physician, they are also human beings, subject to issues and pain of their own.

Dr. Henry Carter (Spacey) is a bestselling author and psychiatrist to the stars. He has a gorgeous home in the hills, a clientele that reads like the “A” list and the respect of his peers. But that home is an empty one – his wife committed suicide in it. He can’t bring himself to go in his bedroom any more. He numbs himself out on alcohol and pot. In fact it can be said that Dr. Henry Carter is a stoner of epic proportions.

That’s not to say he isn’t functioning. He still manages to see patients and doles out advice that at least sounds good. His patients include a hard-charging talent manager (Roberts) who gives no quarter in business and has no regard for anyone, a fading comic actor (Williams) who is a raging alcoholic but refuses to acknowledge his problem – he attends his sessions to be treated for a sex addiction that he does acknowledge. There’s also an actress (Burrows) whose career is handled by the talent manager that is slowly spinning into oblivion as he believes her age is an obstacle. She is married to a philandering rock star (Gretsch).

Into this mix comes Jemma (Palmer), a teen whose mother recently committed suicide. She is seemingly losing interest in everything except the movies; Dr. Carter’s father (Loggia) – also a well-respected shrink – urged him to take her on as a pro bono case. At the same time, Dr. Carter’s “step-godbrother” Jeremy (Webber), a struggling screenwriter, becomes friendly with Jemma and realizes her story is the one he was born to tell.

Yes, this is one of those ensemble pieces where all the stories of all these different people are entwined. It’s just not done as well as those other movies like Babel or Crash. The writers rely far too much on coincidence. It’s lazy storytelling and it happens way often here.

Fortunately the movie has some strong performances to fall back on. Nobody in the business does cynical as well as Spacey does and he delivers once again here, despite material that really could have easily been rendered into a 2D caricature. To the actor’s credit, he gives the character nuances and layers that give him a fully realized personality that allows us to really get involved in his story.

He is well-supported, particularly by the manic Williams who has had problems with alcohol in his career and clearly channels those awful years in is performance; Palmer is sweet and cute and adorable and is a breath of fresh air in the movie and James who plays Roberts’ personal assistant who is the love interest for Jeremy.

The opening shot, a panoramic take of the City of Angels from behind the Hollywood sign, shows a great deal of promise but then it falls into cliché-ridden seen-it-all-before-ness that not only doesn’t add any real insight to addiction or life in L.A. but doesn’t really add anything to the genre either. The only thing it really has going for it is Spacey and you can certainly see him in plenty of much better films.

WHY RENT THIS: Spacey is always interesting. Supporting cast is first-rate.

WHY RENT SOMETHING ELSE: A little bit formulaic. Some lazy writing – too many coincidences.

FAMILY VALUES: There is a good deal of alcohol and drug abuse in the film, and a whole lot of bad language. There’s some sexual content as well.

TRIVIAL PURSUIT: Michael Caine’s grandfather had a similar job to Hobbs.

NOTABLE DVD EXTRAS: There’s a music video for the Jackson Browne song “Here” from the film’s soundtrack.

BOX OFFICE PERFORMANCE: $303,431 on an unreported production budget; chances are this wasn’t profitable during its theatrical run.

COMPARISON SHOPPING: Crash

FINAL RATING: 5/10

NEXT: Gangster Squad

Father of Invention


 

Father of Invention

Kevin Spacey, a victim of the economic downturn.

(2010) Comedy (Anchor Bay) Kevin Spacey, Heather Graham, Camilla Belle, Virginia Madsen, Craig Robinson, Johnny Knoxville, John Stamos, Anna Anissimova, Red West, Michael Rosenbaum, Danny Comden, Jack McGee, Karen Livers. Directed by Trent Cooper

We all make mistakes in life, some more serious than others. When we foul up, it is on us to pick ourselves up, dust ourselves off and make life work again. In order to do that, sometimes we must re-invent ourselves. That’s an opportunity to rectify past mistakes but only if we learned from them.

Robert Axle (Spacey) is an infomercial billionaire. Or, rather, he was. One of his inventions had a design flaw, causing the user to be maimed. One prison center and several class action suits later, Axle is released from prison. His billions are gone; what was left after the settlement of the suits was spent by his now ex-wife Lorraine (Madsen) on philanthropy and a frivolous career move as a singer. Her new boyfriend Jerry King (Robinson) eagerly aided and abetted the dissolution of his nest egg.

Without any place to go, he is forced to move in with his estranged daughter Claire (Belle) and take a job at a Wal*Mart-like entity where his boss Troy Colangelo (Knoxville) offers endless platitudes which are ultimately meaningless. To make matters worse, Claire’s roommate Phoebe (Graham), a lesbian and a hater of men who initially thinks Robert  is the epitome of the male species – i.e. absolutely despicable – but falls for him anyway.

Robert knows just one good idea could conceivably take him back to the top and soon enough he has it. He takes it to his old company but they pooh-pooh it – and then steal it as their own. Robert has had his share of sins in his life, but the punishment seems to be well beyond what he deserves. Still, he plugs along, getting Troy to invest in his new product and enlisting the help of long time ally Sam Bergman (West) to help design and build the new product, it looks like his way to the top is assured. That’s generally when the floor drops out from under you.

This is one of those movies that shows up that gets a “cup of coffee” release on a few screens here and there (generally in New York and maybe Los Angeles) and then goes straight on to home video. With home video, streaming, and various other ways of watching movies than going to theaters or watching them on television networks, the demand for films has increased while the quality has remained flat.

That has led to a cornucopia of mediocre movies out there that you’ve never heard of but are easily available through Netflix, on cable or through YouTube in some cases. The issue with that is that some pretty decent movies wind up falling through the cracks and getting lumped with the chaff.

This is one of those movies. Spacey has been a performer who rarely disappoints over the past 20 years; even though not all of his movies have been financial or even critical successes, you can never accuse him of phoning one in and he doesn’t here. He takes Robert Axle from broken and defeated to arrogant and driven, ending up as humble and loving. In other words, he takes us on Robert’s journey and allows us to understand the road that got him there. And he makes it look effortless in doing so.

Graham is one of my favorite actresses. Not only is she shagadelically beautiful but she also has plenty of skill. Her angry lesbian is written kind of one-dimensionally but Graham gives her some depth, mostly from the way she interacts not only with Robert but with Claire as well. I truly wish she would get some better parts to work with.

The story is pretty predictable and it is mainly Spacey’s performance that gives it any particular nuance. You know pretty much how it’s going to end up and what steps are going to happen before it gets there. Normally that would be reason enough to not even bother writing a review – but Spacey gives this movie a reason to be seen.

WHY RENT THIS: Even in bad films Spacey is always entertaining.

WHY RENT SOMETHING ELSE: The plot is kind of predictable and occasionally nonsensical. Characters are mostly clichés.

FAMILY VALUES: There’s a fair amount of bad language as well as some sexuality.

TRIVIAL PURSUIT: Spacey shot this while concurrently working as artistic director of the Old Vic in London, one of the most prestigious positions in the legitimate theater.:

NOTABLE HOME VIDEO EXTRAS: None listed.

BOX OFFICE PERFORMANCE: Not available.

COMPARISON SHOPPING: Shrink

FINAL RATING: 6/10

NEXT: Centurion