Wiener-Dog


Music to tame the savage beast.

Music to tame the savage beast.

(2016) Black Comedy (IFC/Amazon) Greta Gerwig, Kieran Culkin, Danny DeVito, Ellen Burstyn, Julie Delpy, Keaton Nigel Cooke, Tracy Letts, Charlie Tahan, Ari Graynor, Zosia Mamet, Michael Shaw, Marcella Lowery, Connor Long, Tyler Maynard, Devin Druid, Sharon Washington, Rigoberto Garcia, Haraldo Alvarez, Dain Victorianio, Andrew Pang, Trey Silver, Molly Gay, Bridget Brown. Directed by Todd Solondz

 

Indie auteur Todd Solondz is one of those directors that either you love or you hate. There is rarely anyone who takes the middle ground with his films, which tend to be somewhat misanthropic. His view of the human condition, particularly as it applies to American suburban life, is pretty bleak. Would that change given in his newest film?

No it wouldn’t. This has been touted as something of a follow-up to his seminal 1995 film Welcome to the Dollhouse but only in the sense that it has a couple of characters in common with that film albeit portrayed with all-new actors. This is a series of four vignettes linked together with the presence of a sad-eyed dachshund who endures four different owners of various degrees of likability.

He is brought from the pound initially by Danny (Letts) and Dina (Delpy), parents of Remi (Cooke), a young boy who survived what appears to be some form of cancer. He’s lonely and depressed and the Wiener-Dog, as he names him, seems just the tonic. However, Danny and Dina have their own things going on; Dina isn’t above manipulating her son, explaining that the reason that they have to have Wiener-Dog spayed is so that she doesn’t get pregnant from being raped by a local dog. Charming.

But Remi frankly isn’t mature enough to handle the dog so she is returned to the local shelter to be put down. However, veterinary assistant Dawn Wiener (Gerwig) rather than putting a healthy dog to death steals Wiener-Dog away and keeps her for herself. In many ways Dawn is as lonely as Remi was, and now that she has a Wiener-Dog of her own, she renames him Doody after Howdy-Doody, not necessarily getting the other connotation of that name.

A chance meeting with an ex-high school classmate named Brandon (Culkin) whom she continues to crush on despite the fact that he was unrelentingly cruel to her in high school leads to a road trip to Ohio, ostensibly to get drugs but also for Brandon to meet up with his brother Tommy (Long) and his wife April (Brown), both of whom are afflicted with Down’s syndrome. They will galvanize Dawn into doing the most selfless thing she’s ever done.

After a hilarious “intermission” starring Wiener-Dog herself, we go to the next vignette. Doody is now owned by Dave Schmerz (DeVito), a screenwriting teacher at a New York-area university (and not one of the better ones) who is juggling teaching students who don’t think they have anything to learn with trying to sell a screenplay that his condescending agent has been dangling in front of him like the proverbial carrot. He doesn’t realize that he’s a laughingstock, his refrain of “What if…now what?” having become something of an iconic mock. This leads him to do something quite drastic.

Finally, we meet Nana (Burstyn), a bitter, crotchety elderly woman who lives with an apathetic housekeeper (Lowery). Nana is visited by her granddaughter Zoe (Mamet) who never visits unless she needs money. Zoe has a new boyfriend, the artist Fantasy (Shaw) who doesn’t have a terribly high opinion of anyone not named Fantasy. Nana and Zoe end up having a bit of a heart-to-heart but as it turns out, something nasty is just around the corner for Nana.

Solondz is, as I mentioned earlier, not really everyone’s cup of tea. Those who enjoy his particularly type of brew will find this film extremely palatable, although some may grouse that his movies all carry similarities that are beginning to get a bit repetitive. He likes to employ the anthology format and has done so on more than one occasion.

When Solondz is at his best, he can be wickedly funny. He blows past boundaries without a second thought and treats sacred cows like they’re so much hamburger meat. However, his point of view about humanity is not very compatible with those raised on Disney thinking that everyone is basically a prince or princess at heart. Mostly, he sees humans as selfish, self-centered, cruel, vain and morally weak. He doesn’t paint flattering pictures of the species and quite frankly he isn’t required to.

He sure does coax out some great performances from his actors though. DeVito turns in a marvelous performance that is easily the best thing he’s done in years or even decades. His sad sack screenwriter is a figure of pity even though he is a bit of jerk at times. Still, DeVito does a lot of work with his eyes getting his emotions across here and it works. You can feel the beat down dog elements of the character and you can also feel the pressure beginning to escape as he reaches the boiling point.

Equally marvelous is Burstyn, who wears this bizarre oversize eye wear that are like a cross between aviator sunglasses and World War I flying ace goggles. She orders people around like a martinet but that doesn’t disguise the terrible vulnerability inside her. She knows her granddaughter is taking advantage of her, and she knows her granddaughter is making terrible life choices, but nonetheless she helps her out. Burstyn imbues the role with gravitas and dignity, solidifying herself as the grand dame of American cinema.

Da Queen was very vocal about her feelings for the film, stating that she dug it right up until the last five minutes and I have to concur. Anyone who knows me knows that I’m a huge dog person; I have been known to wear a t-shirt that states “I don’t care who dies in a movie as long as the dog lives.” Animal lovers in general and dog lovers in particular will have a hard time with the ending. I get why Solondz went this particular route and to a certain extent I can admire it, but those who find violence to animals unpalatable had best check out before the movie ends.

There are moments here that are as good as anything I’ve seen from Solondz but the ending was really a deal killer for me. Maybe it’s a bit illogical for me to be fine watching humans being chopped up like celery but not able to watch even a hair on poor Fido’s head harmed but that’s how I’m wired, so take this with a grain of salt. This isn’t filmmaking for everyone, but then again it’s not meant to be. I can admire a movie like this without liking it and the shame of it was that I liked most of it but the parts I didn’t like I loathed. Maybe that’s what Solondz had in mind all along.

REASONS TO GO: There are some really funny moments here. DeVito and Burstyn come through with some tremendous performances.
REASONS TO STAY: The ending is extremely disturbing and most definitely not for dog lovers. A little bit too much like all of the director’s other films.
FAMILY VALUES: There is some pretty disturbing content (particularly if you’re an animal lover) as well as some animal excretions, as well as quite a bit of profanity.
TRIVIAL PURSUIT: The part of Dawn Wiener from Welcome to the Dollhouse was originally played by Heather Matarazzo who turned down the opportunity to reprise the role. Greta Gerwig was cast instead.
BEYOND THE THEATER: Amazon
CRITICAL MASS: As of 8/24/16: Rotten Tomatoes: 76% positive reviews. Metacritic: 66/100.
COMPARISON SHOPPING: Welcome to the Dollhouse
FINAL RATING: 6/10
NEXT: Breaking a Monster

Advertisements

New Releases for the Week of August 19, 2016


Ben-HurBEN-HUR

(MGM/Paramount) Jack Huston, Morgan Freeman, Toby Kebbell, Rodrigo Santoro, Nazanin Boniadi, Ayelet Zurer, Pilou Asbæk, Sofia Black-D’Elia, Moises Arias. Directed by Timur Bekmambetov

Union general Lew Wallace is best known today for his epic novel Ben-Hur: A Tale of the Christ from which a silent film classic starring Ramon Navarro was adapted in 1925, and one of the most venerated films in history starring Charlton Heston was released in 1959. Now, 57 years later comes a new version of the story of Judah Ben-Hur, a noble among Jews at the time of Jesus Christ who is betrayed by his childhood friend Messala and falsely accused of attempting an assassination of the Roman governor. Sentenced to be a galley slave for what is expected to be a short life, he manages to escape and seeks revenge against his one-time friend, but an encounter with Jesus Christ changes all that.

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

Release Formats: Standard
Genre: Swords and Sandals
Now Playing: Wide Release

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

Breaking a Monster

(Abramorama) Malcolm Brickhouse, Jarad Dawkins, Alec Atkins, Alan Sacks. Three young African-American boys fall in love with heavy metal and put together a band. Calling themselves Unlocking the Truth, they dream of making it big as arena rockers. After practicing at home, they decide to venture out into Times Square and their impromptu concerts draw attention, but not as much as their YouTube videos. They become the subject of major label attention and a 70-year-old industry veteran signs on to manage their careers. However, boys will be boys and as these young guys try to navigate the treacherous waters of the music industry, it is uncertain whether they’ll just get their feet wet or drown in the sorrow of unfulfilled potential.

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

Release Formats: Standard (one performance only, Monday 8/22 at 9:30pm)
Genre: Musical Documentary
Now Playing: Enzian Theater

Rating: NR

Hell or High Water

(CBS) Ben Foster, Chris Pine, Jeff Bridges, Katy Mixon. Two West Texas brothers – one a divorced father trying to support his son as best he can, the other a violent ex-con – come together to rob branch after branch of a bank that is attempting to foreclose on their family land. Essentially fighting a battle to take down an amoral corporate financial institution, they are being chased by a surly Texas Ranger who is nipping at their heels. With one last job to pull before their plan is complete, the forces of law and justice will collide in the dry wasteland of high summer in the Lone Star state.

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

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

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

Imperium

(Lionsgate) Daniel Radcliffe, Toni Collette, Tracy Letts, Sam Trammell. An idealistic young analyst working for the FBI is given an assignment outside of his comfort zone – to infiltrate a violent neo-Nazi group that may have ideas of domestic terrorism on their minds. Protesting that he is woefully unprepared for this type of work, he nonetheless takes on the assignment and does his best to make headway in the dangerous underground white supremacist movement which will lead him to question everything he believes. This is inspired by an actual incident.

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

Release Formats: Standard
Genre: Thriller
Now Playing: AMC Loews Universal Cineplex

Rating: R (for language, some sexual references and brief nudity)

Kubo and the Two Strings

(Focus/LAIKA) Starring the voices of Charlize Theron, Matthew McConaughey, Ralph Fiennes, Art Parkinson. A young boy, eking out a living telling stories in a seaside town in a mythological Japan, unintentionally summons a demonic force with an axe to grind on Earth. Fleeing for his life, he will have to save his family, solve the mystery of the fall of his father who happens to be the greatest samurai warrior the world has ever known with only a magical musical instrument to battle Gods, monsters and demons.

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

Release Formats: Standard
Genre: Animated Feature
Now Playing: Wide Release

Rating: PG (for thematic elements, scary images, action and peril)

Our Little Sister

(Sony Classics) Haruka Ayase, Masami Nagasawa, Kaho, Suzu Hirose. Three beautiful sisters, living in a Japanese city, are called back to their rural home when their philandering father who abandoned them 15 years earlier passes away. There they meet Suzu, a half-sister they never knew they had. When they discover that her mother has also passed away, they invite her to live with him and begin a new life as a quartet of women in modern Japan.

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

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

Rating: PG (for thematic elements and brief language)

War Dogs

(Warner Brothers) Miles Teller, Jonah Hill, Bradley Cooper, Ana de Armas. Based on a true story, this film follows two twenty-something entrepreneurs who get in way over their heads when they exploit a little-known loophole involving small business for government contracts and land a 300 million dollar deal to arm the Afghan government. This allows them to make deals with people that the U.S. Government can’t negotiate with – which turns out to be an incredibly dangerous proposition.

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

Release Formats: Standard
Genre: True Life Dramedy
Now Playing: Wide Release

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

Wiener-Dog

(IFC/Amazon) Greta Gerwig, Kieran Culkin, Danny DeVito, Julie Delpy. A single dog touches many lives in this comedy by indie icon Todd Solondz. The dog goes on a bit of a road trip, garnering multiple masters all in need of something that perhaps may be too much for one soulful dog to supply. This dark comedy is an honest look at the longings and experiences of America circa 2016 with an all-star cast to bring it all into focus.

See the trailer, a clip and a link to viewing the full movie on Amazon here.
For more on the movie this is the website.

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

Rating: R (for language and some disturbing content)

Paper Man


Paper Man

Jeff Daniels is tired of seeing Ryan Reynolds demonstrate his superpower – imitating a bunny.

(2009) Comedy (MPI Media) Jeff Daniels, Emma Stone, Ryan Reynolds, Lisa Kudrow, Kieran Culkin, Hunter Parrish, Chris Parnell, Arabella Field, Brian Finney, Eric Gilliland, Violet O’Neill, Jill Shackner, Brian Russell, Conrad Wolfe, Louis Rosario. Directed by Kieran and Michelle Maloney

 

Writing can be a tricky road to navigate. Sometimes, the words are a flood and you can barely get them out on paper (or laptop) fast enough, the torrent is so overwhelming. Other times it’s a trickle and it seems like every word is a struggle.

Richard Dunn (Daniels) knows that better than most. It’s hard to call him a successful novelist – he has at least published something – but not many people have bought it. He’s having trouble getting his second novel out. Fortunately for him, his wife Claire (Kudrow) is a successful vascular surgeon in New York which means he really doesn’t have the pressure of making a living, but that doesn’t help the creative juices to flow in this case. He is getting on and childless and knows that there won’t be any kids. He is the last of his line and wants to leave something behind that people will remember him for.

The thing that he might be remembered for is that he has an invisible friend and has had one since he was a boy. His invisible friend is a superhero named Captain Excellent (Reynolds) who follows him around and urges him to get off of his ass. Claire is fully aware of the Captain’s existence and while she tolerates it – in fact, there is much about her marriage that she can merely tolerate – she doesn’t like it much.

Richard needs a change of venue and Claire frankly needs some time away from her husband – call it a trial separation and Claire might wince but she won’t disagree. She packs him off to their summer cottage in Montauk on Long Island where perhaps, in the off-season when it is less crowded, he might be motivated to put pen to paper or in his case, fingers to typewriter keys.

Richard, while riding to town on a young girl’s bike (the only vehicle he owns) spies Abby (Stone), a young girl somewhat lackadaisically committing arson. Fascinated by her boredom, he hires her to babysit, the fact that he is childless notwithstanding. When Abby finds out about this little deception, rather than run away she merely shrugs and accepts. At least it’s something to do.

The two form a friendship that is somewhere between that and a surrogate father-daughter relationship. Things get a little dicey when Abby mistakes that friendship for lust, or when Abby’s thuggish boyfriend (Parrish) objects – nobody gets to abuse Abby but him – and finally when Claire finds Abby and Richard asleep on the sofa after Richard throws a kegger for her friends. Richard has reached a crossroads; his marriage is in jeopardy, his career as a writer is in the toilet and his friendship with Abby is perhaps not the healthiest thing. Can even Captain Excellent save him from himself?

This is the kind of movie that is full of indie angst. Co-directors (and co-writers) Kieran and Michelle Mulroney (the brother and sister-in-law respectively of actor Dermot Mulroney) have concocted a tale that takes a quirky character, sticks him in a kind of a quirky place (off-season Long Island) and throws a few quirky incidents into the mix.

The result is a bit on the precious side. There are times you want to throttle Richard, he’s simply so without direction and without clue. Daniels can do these kinds of characters very well; in fact, he’s noted for them (check out Dumb and Dumber and The Squid and the Whale for further evidence).

Fortunately, he’s paired with Emma Stone whose career was just starting to take off as this was made (The Help hadn’t been released when this was filmed). This might well wind up being most remembered for affording the opportunity to see a huge star in the process of becoming one. She takes a role that could easily have been overbearing and made her relatable and more than that, sympathetic. While the focus is ostensibly on Richard, I found myself wanting to spend more time with Abby and it isn’t because Stone is stealing the movie; our focus just naturally gravitates to her. That’s the mark of a great actress.

While I’m okay with the Captain Excellent conceit (and the bleach-blonde Reynolds is now as adept at playing superheroes as anyone), it was just one of the many quirks in this movie that has too many of them, from Christopher (Culkin), the suicide-obsessed friend of Abby to the incessant talk of soup, there comes a point where it simply overdoes the indie charm. I personally wish more indie movies would rely more on story and less on eccentricity. I get that quirky people are interesting but in the long run people who are relatable to thee and me are of more lasting value – and keep my attention. There was a better film to be had here but that doesn’t mean that it should be avoided – Stone’s performance alone is certainly compelling enough to be worth the rental.

WHY RENT THIS: Well-acted (particularly by Stone) and clever.

WHY RENT SOMETHING ELSE: Lays on the indie quirkiness on a bit thick.

FAMILY VALUES: Mostly a lot of bad language but there’s a bit of sexuality as well.

TRIVIAL PURSUIT: The movie received its world premiere at the 2009 Los Angeles Film Festival.

NOTABLE DVD EXTRAS: None listed.

BOX OFFICE PERFORMANCE: $13,514 on an unreported production budget; it is extremely unlikely that the movie made any money whatsoever.

COMPARISON SHOPPING: Play It Again, Sam

FINAL RATING: 6/10

NEXT: Safe

Scott Pilgrim vs. the World


Michael Cera

Game on, Michael Cera!

(Universal) Michael Cera, Mary Elizabeth Winstead, Kieran Culkin, Alison Pill, Ellen Wong, Mark Webber, Johnny Simmons, Anna Kendrick, Jason Schwartzman, Brandon Routh, Aubrey Plaza, Chris Evans, Brie Larson, Mae Whitman, Bill Hader (voice). Directed by Edgar Wright

There’s something about videogames that appeals to most of us; the clear delineation between good and evil, the use of skill and deduction to be successful, the ability to explore amazing places and live vicariously through the characters in the game. We can become anyone, defeat anything, but we can’t escape love.

Scott Pilgrim (Cera) is a 22-year-old slacker who has broken up with his girlfriend Envy Adams (Larson) for some time and hasn’t really gotten over her. He’s dating a 17-year-old high school Asian chick named Knives Chau (Wong) who worships the ground the Scott walks on. He’s also playing bass in a trio known as Sex Bob-omb along with fellow slackers Steven Stills (Webber), drummer Kim Pine (Pill) who Scott once dated and Young Neil (Simmons), who subs for Scott on bass when he isn’t in the mood to play. Knives also worships the ground they rock on.

Then, into Scott’s life comes Ramona Flowers (Winstead), a lively red/blue/green-headed hipster who recently moved to Toronto from New York City. Scott falls immediately and implacably in love with her, much to the disgust of his sister Stacey (Kendrick) and gay roommate Wallace Wells (Culkin). At first, things are a little rough between Scott and Ramona; she’s getting over some fairly rough times and is inclined not to trust anyone. Gradually, Scott’s charm wins her over.

That’s when Scott’s problems really begin. It turns out that Ramona has seven evil exes, people she dated with super powers and evil intentions. Scott will need not only to fight all seven of them, he’ll have to defeat them in order to win the hand of the woman he loves.

It’s a simple enough concept, but under the guidance of director Edgar Wright (Hot Fuzz, Shaun of the Dead) the execution is imaginative and clever. You know from the 8-bit version of the iconic opening of Universal Studios that you’re in for something special. Videogame conceits order the action, from the onscreen graphics to the extra lives to even the look of the movie.

There are a lot of homages to various classic and current videogames, from Pac-Man to Dance Dance Revolution to Mortal Kombat to Sonic the Hedgehog. There are also lots of pop culture references, from the graphic novel culture from where this project originated, but also the indie music and movie scene as well. However it is videogames that are the primary inspiration for this movie and those who aren’t at least aware of some of the conventions of videogames aren’t going to be able to follow the movie very well, or at least get some of the humor.

Much of the movie rests on the skinny shoulders of Everytwerp Michael Cera. I have never been a huge fan of his mainly because of what I perceive as a sameness of the characters he plays in movies like Nick and Norah’s Infinite Playlist, Juno and Superbad not to mention his role in the cable series “Arrested Development.” Cera tends to speak in the same annoying, mousy tones and plays guys who get women way out of their leagues. Here, he has a bit more of a crafty undertone to him; we find out during the course of the movie that he’s a little bit of a player when it comes to women.

Most of the critical brickbats have focused in on Winstead’s Ramona Flowers and I can understand some of the criticism. She’s a bit aloof emotionally (as is Cera’s Scott to a very large extent) and that creates a bit of a gulf between the audience and the action. It’s hard to want a relationship to succeed if you aren’t feeling that the love is genuine; Cera and Winstead never convince that there’s a real deep emotional bond between Scott and Ramona.

That’s what keeps me from giving the movie a higher score, but the clever visuals and the frenetic pacing are what elevate the movie to something better than standard summer action fare. The fight sequences are some of the best I’ve seen in a movie that didn’t come from Asia, and the humor throughout appeals not just to the videogame crowd but for general audiences as well. This is one of those movies that seem much shorter than it is; you’re enjoying yourself so much you don’t notice how time is passing by.

My son Jacob has been looking forward to the movie for eons. He is a big fan of the original graphic novel which I haven’t read yet; he is also a nutcase about videogames. This is HIS movie, and these are HIS people. The movie speaks to him and his friends in ways I can’t; it relates to him in ways I won’t either. It speaks his language and knows his shorthand. I suspect this will be a cultural touchstone for him and his generation for years to come.

REASONS TO GO: A pop culture icon for the digital generation. Cleverly designed and executed, the movie moves along at a frenetic pace.

REASONS TO STAY: There are times when the characters get a little hipper-than-thou, and Cera is playing yet another Michael Cera role, so if you don’t like Michael Cera you won’t like him any better here.

FAMILY VALUES: There is some stylized videogame-like violence and a few bad words here and there. There are also some sexuality and drug references. Pretty much okay for everyone, although parents may want to decide if it’s suitable for their younger children.

TRIVIAL PURSUIT: Whitman, who plays one of the evil exes here, previously played the girlfriend of Michael Cera’s character in “Arrested Development.”

HOME OR THEATER: This should be seen in a theater with a bunch of cheering fans, but if you can’t get there, a roomful of videogame addicts at home will do just as well.

FINAL RATING: 8/10

TOMORROW: Drillbit Taylor

New Releases for the Week of August 13, 2010


August 13, 2010

One of the evil ex-Boyfriends eats some Kroww.

SCOTT PILGRIM VS THE WORLD

(Universal) Michael Cera, Mary Elizabeth Winstead, Kieran Culkin, Chris Evans, Anna Kendrick, Brandon Routh, Jason Schwartzman, Alison Pill. Directed by Edgar Wright

When a slacker falls in love with a girl he should rightly have no chance with, to his delight it turns out she has feelings for him as well. Unfortunately, she has seven evil ex-Boyfriends who don’t take kindly to a bass-playing interloper, so Scott Pilgrim is going to need to nut up and take on the world…or at least, seven evil ex-Boyfriends. Fortunately, he has genius director Edgar Wright (Hot Fuzz, Shaun of the Dead) guiding his way.

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

For more on the movie this is the website.

Release formats: Standard

Rating: PG-13 (for stylized violence, sexual content, language and drug references)

Countdown to Zero

(Magnolia) Jimmy Carter, James Baker III, Tony Blair, Valerie Plame Wilson. Most people believe that when the Cold War ended, so did the threat of nuclear annihilation. After all, both superpowers have embarked on a mutual disarmament program. However, the fact of the matter is that more nations have nuclear weapons than ever before and many more have the technical capabilities of manufacturing their own. Terrorist groups are actively seeking fissionable material to construct their own Weapons of Mass Destruction and the possibility of a dreadful accident caused by human error grows every day. This documentary serves to educate people on the remaining nuclear threat – and to urge the world to demand zero nuclear weapons on the planet.

See the trailer here.

For more on the movie this is the website.

Release formats: Standard

Rating: PG (for thematic material, images of destruction and incidental smoking)

Eat Pray Love

(Columbia) Julia Roberts, Javier Bardem, James Franco, Viola Davis. A woman trapped in an unfulfilling marriage – heck, an unfulfilling life – decides to chuck everything in an attempt to go find herself. Apparently herself is hiding in India, Italy or Indonesia. It’s always in the last place you look, I say. In any case, it’s based on the bestselling book of the same name.

See the trailer and clips here.

For more on the movie this is the website.

Release formats: Standard

Rating: PG-13 (for brief strong language, some sexual references and male rear nudity)

The Expendables

(Lionsgate) Sylvester Stallone, Jason Statham, Jet Li, Bruce Willis. A highly skilled mercenary team goes on what seems to be a routine mission; to overthrow the bloodthirsty dictator of a small South American island nation. Betrayed by a rogue CIA agent, the team is forced to leave behind an innocent woman who will surely die for helping them. They must either walk away or turn around and finish what they started. In addition to the guys listed above, the cast reads like a who’s who of action movie stars, including the Governator himself – Arnold Schwarzenegger – in a cameo role.

See the trailer, clips and interviews here.

For more on the movie this is the website.

Release formats: Standard

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

Nora’s Will

(Menemsha) Fernando Lujan, Veronica Langer, Silvia Mariscal, Juan Pablo Medina. A man finds out that his wife of 30 years whom he lost contact with after an acrimonious divorce has committed suicide and left him executor of her estate. Due to religious obligations, the burial must take place immediately or else wait five days before she can be laid to rest. Preparing for the funeral, the man finds a mysterious photograph that will take him on an unexpected journey.

See the trailer here.

For more on the movie this is the website.

Release formats: Standard

Rating: NR

Lymelife


Rory Culkin and Emma Roberts discuss the pitfalls of having relatives more famous than themselves.

Rory Culkin and Emma Roberts discuss the pitfalls of having relatives more famous than themselves.

(Screen Media) Alec Baldwin, Timothy Hutton, Rory Culkin, Emma Roberts, Jill Hennessy, Cynthia Nixon, Kieran Culkin, Adam Scarimbolo, Logan Huffman, Brandon Thane Wilson, Phillip Pennestri, Isabella David. Directed by Derick Martini.

As a species, we tend to show a different face to the public than we wear in private. Beneath the façade of even the most tranquil and affluent lives there is often a turbulent miasma of a different life, one not easy to spot from the surface. Sometimes that other life can rear its ugly head and take over every facet of our lives.

Long Island in 1979 was an idyllic place to grow up, especially if your father is a successful developer. For Scott Bartlett (Rory Culkin), his father Mickey (Baldwin) is just that. Scott idolizes his dad, but has little more than contempt for his mom (Hennessy), whom he considers a whining lunatic who doesn’t appreciate the things she has, constantly obsesses over their former life in Queens where she was happier. They are pleasantly surprised when his hotheaded older brother Jimmy (Kieran Culkin) arrives home a week early on leave from the army reserves, awaiting deployment to the Falkland Islands or some other hot spot. Jimmy is closer to his mother, and has some serious issues with his dad.

In school, Scott is picked on by the school bully (Scarimbolo) but has eyes for his childhood friend Adrianna (Roberts) whom he’s had a crush on since he was eight years only. Her family is close to his, but they’re nearly as dysfunctional as the Bartletts. Her dad Charlie (Hutton) has contracted Lyme’s Disease on a deer hunting trip with Mickey and Scott. Her mom Melissa (Nixon) has by necessity become the breadwinner, working for Mickey as a sales associate.

Conditions become more volatile as Scott and Adrianna begin to get closer, but secrets that the adults are hiding soon begin to bubble to the surface, and threaten the world they’ve carefully built for themselves and their children.

Director Martini co-wrote the script with his brother Steven, basing it on their own experiences growing up on El Lie. This is definitely a slice of life motion picture, and it’s an honest one. That slice tastes great at times and tastes funky at others, but it always is an honest taste, for better or for worse. Martini re-creates the world of the ‘70s adequately; he depicts the drug use and sexual promiscuity that was part and parcel of that era. He nicely utilizes news footage of the day. In all honesty, I have to say that I didn’t feel immersed in the period, but that’s okay because this is a movie more about the story than the setting.

Part of what makes this movie work, besides the authentic-feeling writing, is the performances of the leads. Hutton and Baldwin are two pros who are as dependable as they come. They ring true every moment they are onscreen. Both characters are highly flawed individuals but Hutton and Baldwin make them both sympathetic. Same goes for Hennessy and Nixon, who have roles that are mostly thankless but are believable nonetheless.

The real revelation here from a performance standpoint is the Culkin brothers. Honestly, I expected them to be mediocre at best, but in point of fact they do outstanding jobs here. Rory’s interaction with Roberts leads to one of the most awkward sex scenes ever. It’s also one of the most realistic depictions of first time sex I’ve ever seen. However, given the use of drugs and sex by the character, one must wonder what her famous Auntie Julia thinks of it all. It is certainly the most adult role the teenaged Roberts, a Disney Channel mainstay, has ever tackled.

This is an intelligently written film that profiles troubled marriages, troubled teens and troubled times. There is an authenticity here that can only come from personal experience. It feels less like a movie and more like a voyeur looking in on actual lives, observing close at hand what goes on behind closed doors. The warts-and-all performances overcome the movie’s not-quite-successful evocation of era.

I’ve always been exceptionally fond of movies that give you a sense of looking in on lives as opposed to watching performances that approximate reality. That helps give you insight on your own life in my opinion. Granted, most lives aren’t as convoluted and chaotic as the lives of the Bartletts and the Braggs, but by following their example – or rather, learning from their mistakes – perhaps we won’t have to.

WHY RENT THIS: Written with the kind of authenticity that comes from personal experience. Extremely competent performances, particularly from the Culkin brothers, Baldwin and Hutton, give a sense of real people with plenty of flaws living real lives.

WHY RENT SOMETHING ELSE: The era of 1970’s Long Island isn’t as immersive as it could be, although the superior writing overcomes this.

FAMILY VALUES: Very adult storyline, with much drug use and two semi-explicit sex scenes, including one between teens. While these are consistent with the era, they may not be appropriate for younger viewers.

TRIVIAL PURSUITS: Kirean Culkin was initially cast in the role of Scott, but by the time financing was secured to make the film, he had grown too old for the role and was instead cast as older brother Jimmy with his brother Rory getting the role of Scott.

NOTABLE DVD FEATURES: An alternate ending and several revealing extra scenes are included.

 FINAL RATING: 8/10

TOMORROW: Battle for Terra