New Releases for the Week of December 5, 2014


The PyramidTHE PYRAMID

(20th Century Fox) Denis O’Hare, Ashley Hinshaw, James Buckley, Christa-Marie Nicola, Amir K., Faycal Attougui, Philip Shelley. Directed by Gregory Levasseur

When an archaeology team discovers a previously lost pyramid in the Egyptian desert, there is much excitement and jubilation. When they explore the interior of the structure and discover it is unlike any pyramid previously known, they are puzzled. When members of their team begin to die horribly, they are terrified.

See the trailer, a clips and a featurette here.
For more on the movie this is the website.
Release formats: Standard
Genre: Horror
Now Playing: Wide release
Rating: R (for some horror violence and bloody images

By the Gun

(Millennium) Ben Barnes, Harvey Keitel, Leighton Meester, Toby Jones. A smooth-talking, fast-moving small-time criminal from the streets of Boston yearns to move up in the underworld and to walk in the circles of the criminals he has idolized since he was a young boy. Once he finally gets inside, he discovers it’s not what he thought it would be and when he gets into a conflict with a Mafiosi, survival might not be an option for him.

See the trailer here.
For more on the movie this is the website.
Release formats: Standard
Genre: Crime Thriller
Now Playing: AMC Downtown Disney
Rating: R (for strong violence, sexual content, nudity, language throughout and some drug use)

The Homesman

(Roadside Attractions) Tommy Lee Jones, Meryl Streep, Miranda Otto, Hilary Swank. When three pioneer women on the prairies of the American West lose their minds due to the harshness of their lives, it falls upon a pious and independently-minded woman to somehow transport the women to the home of a minister and his wife who have agreed to take the three women in. Getting them there, however is no easy task and she employs a drifter with a faulty moral compass to help make the journey.

See the trailer and clips here.
For more on the movie this is the website.
Release formats: Standard
Genre: Drama
Now Playing: Regal Winter Park Village
Rating: R (for violence, sexual content, some disturbing behavior and nudity)

Velimoonga

(Bhavana) Nikki Galrani, Biju Menon, Siddique, Aju Varghese. A politician, content with his life and with an happy-go-lucky attitude, stumbles onto a girl half his age and ends up completely smitten. Knowing he doesn’t have a reasonable chance in the world at winning her affections, he decides to try anyway.

See the trailer here.
For more on the movie this is the website.
Release formats: Standard
Genre: Bollywood
Now Playing: Cinemark Artegon Marketplace
Rating: NR

The Judge


The awkward moment when Vincent D'Onofrio asks Robert Downey Jr. for an autograph.

The awkward moment when Vincent D’Onofrio asks Robert Downey Jr. for an autograph.

(2014) Drama (Warner Brothers) Robert Downey Jr., Robert Duvall, Vera Farmiga, Vincent D’Onofrio, Billy Bob Thornton, Jeremy Strong, Dax Shepard, Leighton Meester, Ken Howard, Emma Tremblay, Balthazar Getty, David Krumholtz, Grace Zabriskie, Denis O’Hare, Sarah Lancaster, Lonnie Farmer, Matt Riedy, Mark Kiely, Jeremy Holm, Catherine Cummings, Tamara Hickey. Directed by David Dobkin

The relationship between a father and a son is often a difficult thing. Men have a tendency towards competitiveness. Fathers love their sons fiercely and want them to be successful which is, after all, a reflection on them as dads. However, there is a part of every dad who is terrified that the day will come when his son surpasses him as a man. That’s where the difficulty comes in.

Hank Palmer (Downey) is a high-powered defense attorney in Chicago. When asked how he is able to defend the guilty, he quips “the innocent can’t afford me.” If Tony Stark were a defense attorney, he’d be Hank Palmer.

In court one afternoon he gets the devastating news that his mother has passed away suddenly. Not really looking forward to it, he returns to his small town Indiana home for the funeral. There he meets up with his two siblings; older brother Glen (D’Onofrio), once a promising baseball phenom, and younger brother Dale (Strong) who has emotional challenges and usually can be found using a Super 8 camera to record snippets of his life which he edits into films that have no context for anyone other than Dale.

And then there’s Hank’s dad (Duvall), whom Hank refers to as “The Judge” – not Dad, not Pop, not Father but the title. It’s not just Hank defining his father by his chosen career as a dispenser of justice, but also coloring the relationship he has with him. Talk about daddy issues.

The two get along like Mitch McConnell and Harry Reid jostling for space in front of the news camera and Hank is only too happy to return home despite reconnecting with Samantha Powell (Farmiga), an old flame. Hank is in the market at the moment as his marriage to his wife Lisa (Lancaster) has collapsed after her infidelity. His precocious daughter Lauren (Tremblay) is torn between her two parents when it comes to who she wants to live with.

Hank is sitting down in his seat on board the plane when he gets an urgent call from Glen – the Judge has been arrested for a hit and run accident. The victim was Mark Blackwell (Kiely), a man the Judge had put away in prison but had recently been released. The two have an unpleasant history.

With a suave district attorney (Thornton) looking to put the Judge away for good, it will take all of Hank’s skill as a defense lawyer to keep his dad out of jail. But said father isn’t necessarily being the most cooperative defendant ever and there are things that Hank discovers when he begins digging that turn his perception of the case – and his father – on its ear.

Dobkin, whose career thus far has been fairly uneven, has a solid winner here and it starts with the casting. Duvall is one of the world’s best living actors and at 83 he still can deliver a powerful performance. He lends gravitas to the movie as well as a kind of moral certainty. Downey who at one time was on the road to being one of America’s most promising serious actors until his career was briefly derailed, moves back into proving that his Oscar nominations for Chaplin and Tropic Thunder were no flukes. This may be his best performance ever, showing a deeply conflicted man wrestling with the demons of his past and the guilt that accompanies the decisions he’s made. D’Onofrio is the rock of the family in many ways now that his mom is gone and his performance is also very compelling. Farmiga as the girlfriend who got away continues to amass an impressive resume of performances.

Some of the plot points seem to come right out of the TV lawyer handbook and that can be distracting. Not that this is a police procedural in any sense of the concept, but it is definitely something of a legal procedural, although the movie tends to spend less time with the nuts and bolts of preparing a case and more with what happens during a trial. In its favor, the movie’s ending isn’t neat and tidy by any stretch of the imagination. Like most human endeavors, court case rarely end with satisfaction over the outcome by everyone involved.

Dobkin cast this movie extremely well and has given us a very strong courtroom drama that is also portrays a dysfunctional family dynamic which sets this apart from other courtroom dramas. Downey references Atticus Finch and to be sure this is no To Kill a Mockingbird but the performances here make this something worth seeking out for anyone who appreciates strong acting.

REASONS TO GO: Duvall brings gravitas. Downey, D’Onofrio, Farmiga and Thornton all give strong performances.
REASONS TO STAY: Has kind of a TV drama quality to it.
FAMILY VALUES: Foul language with some sexual references.
TRIVIAL PURSUIT: This is the first feature release from Team Downey, the production company that Downey and his wife started.
CRITICAL MASS: As of 11/4/14: Rotten Tomatoes: 47% positive reviews. Metacritic: 48/100.
COMPARISON SHOPPING: August: Osage County
FINAL RATING: 7/10
NEXT: Book of Life

New Releases for the Week of June 15, 2012


June 15, 2012

ROCK OF AGES

(New Line) Tom Cruise, Catherine Zeta-Jones, Julianne Hough, Alec Baldwin, Malin Akerman, Paul Giamatti, Russell Brand, Mary J. Blige, Diego Boneta. Directed by Adam Shankman

A small town girl and a big city boy meet and fall in love to the soundtrack of classic rock at a Sunset Strip club that is in crisis. The club is in financial difficulties and is relying on the concert by superstar Stacy Jaxx to help them out of it, but they are beset by blue-nosed housewives protesting the debauchery of rock and roll in general and the club in particular. Just another Saturday night on the Strip, don’t you know.

See the trailer here.

For more on the movie this is the website.

Release formats: Standard, IMAX

Genre: Musical

Rating: PG-13 (for sexual content, suggestive dancing, some heavy drinking, and language)

Hysteria

(Sony Classics) Maggie Gyllenhaal, Hugh Dancy, Jonathan Pryce, Rupert Everett. Back in the 19th century, women were often diagnosed with something called female hysteria, which had to do with basically being horny without being able to do anything about it. This would lead to the invention of the mechanical vibrator, the godsend of lonely housewives everywhere. This isn’t a true story – but there are some elements of the truth in it.

See the trailer and clips here.

For more on the movie this is the website.

Release formats: Standard

Genre: Romantic Comedy

Rating: R (for sexual content) 

Something From Nothing: The Art of Rap

(Indomina) Ice-T, Kanye West, Chuck D, Eminem. Actor-rapper Ice-T takes us on a personal journey into the roots of rap, the newest musical art form, and dissects the roots, speaking with a variety of artists about their creative process. Along the way he displays the cultural influences of rap music not only on the lives of the African-American community from where it originated, but on America as a whole.

See the trailer and clips here.

For more on the movie this is the website.

Release formats: Standard

Genre: Documentary

Rating: R (for pervasive language including sexual reference, and some drug content)

That’s My Boy

(Columbia) Adam Sandler, Andy Samberg, Leighton Meester, James Caan. A 12-year-old boy has an affair with his teacher and gets her pregnant. She goes to jail, his parents disown him and he’s stuck raising a kid while being a kid himself. Years later, he’s never really grown up and is in trouble with the IRS for never having paid his income tax. He needs $40,000 or he’s going to jail himself. His now-grown kid is a wealthy man now and might be able to bail him out. His son is getting married and didn’t invite him – they’ve been estranged for years – so he’s going to have to do some relationship building in order to pull this off. Maybe along the way he’ll find some responsibility – and his uptight son might loosen up just a little bit.

See the trailer here.

For more on the movie this is the website.

Release formats: Standard

Genre: Comedy

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

The Roommate


 

The Roommate

The backwards on the floor no-look door opening technique rarely works.

(2011) Thriller (Screen Gems) Leighton Meester, Minka Kelly, Cam Gigandet, Aly Michalka, Danneel Harris, Frances Fisher, Billy Zane, Tomas Arana, Chris Bylsma, Nina Dobrev, Matt Lanter, Katerina Graham, Ryan Doom, Carrie Finklea. Directed by Christian E. Christiansen

 

Ah, sweet college days. The parties, the friendships, the dorms. Who can forget that sort of half-baked roommate, the one who drove you crazy? Of course, there are always the crazy roommates who were really crazy…

Sara (Kelly) is a fresh-faced young fashion student mending from a broken heart and attending a school in sunny Southern California which must look pretty cosmopolitan to a girl off the farm in Iowa. She winds up with Rebecca (Meester) as a roommate. Rebecca comes from good money but she has a lot of problems. She’s an art student with a taste for let’s just say the darker side of art. She also is a bit obsessive when it comes to Sara. She wants Sara to like her. Her and nobody else, to be exact.

This becomes somewhat inconvenient for the other people in Sara’s life, such as the hunky frat boy Stephen (Gigandet) that she’s dating, or the ditzy party girl Tracy (Michalka) she’s friends with. Rebecca goes further and further off the deep end and we know what murky waters that can lead to.

Christiansen has an Oscar nomination to his credit (for a live action short) so we know he has at least some talent and imagination. At times he sets up some fairly innovative camera shots but that really doesn’t help this mess out much. The problems here are myriad and mostly have to do with the writing and the acting.

While not credited anywhere, this seems disturbingly similar to the Jennifer Jason Leigh/Bridget Fonda film Single White Female which is a far better movie than this one. It contains a lot of similar elements to The Roommate but is executed much better. Single White Female at least has the courage of its convictions whereas The Roommate is something of a tease, wanting to titillate with the promise of homoerotic encounters as well as straight-out gore and really, delivering neither.

The cast is attractive enough, although they tend to lean heavily towards CW alumni. Unfortunately, most of the characters they play lean towards the single dimension and other than Rebecca we really don’t get much background whatsoever. In short, we aren’t given a reason to care about any of them. That’s not always a problem with the script; some of the acting seems to be a bit forced while in other cases the performances seem obligatory, as if the actor just wanted to collect the paycheck and move on.

For me there is a point where reboot ends and rip-off begins and that’s pretty much the way the filmmakers went at it here. There’s little or no originality and some of the creepier elements that made Single White Female work so well are absent here. The filmmakers, rather than going for suspense and tension go instead for cheap thrills. Unfortunately, there are far too many movies out there where you can get those. I think the film would have been better served to go for an R rating instead of a PG-13; more gore, more sex might have given the film an edge it doesn’t possess.

WHY RENT THIS: Some very good-looking actors and actresses at work here.

WHY RENT SOMETHING ELSE: A poorly executed rip-off of Single White Female. Could have used some more edge.

FAMILY VALUES:  There’s a lot of violence and menace, some sexuality, teen partying and a few choice bad words.

TRIVIAL PURSUIT: The movie was filmed at the University of Southern California in Los Angeles. However, the poster depicts the Christy Administration building from Southwestern College in Winfield, Kansas. While the photo of the building was legally leased from a stock photo service, the school was concerned that their image might be tarnished by the depiction of their school in the poster of the film.

NOTABLE DVD EXTRAS: The Blu-Ray edition contains a nice feature on the wardrobe department for the film, something that doesn’t get coverage often on home video.

BOX OFFICE PERFORMANCE: $40.5M on a $16M production budget; the film made back its production costs and a bit more than that during its theatrical run.

FINAL RATING: 4/10

TOMORROW: Lebanon

New Releases for the Week of July 1, 2011


TRANSFORMERS: DARK OF THE MOON

(DreamWorks) Shia LaBeouf, Rose Huntington-Whiteley, Josh Duhamel, Tyrese Gibson, Kevin Dunn, Julie White, Frances McDormand, John Malkovich, John Turturro, Ken Jeong, Patrick Dempsey, Leonard Nimoy, Alan Tudyk. Directed by Michael Bay

Transformers liaison and now college student Sam Witwicky discovers a terrifying secret, one involving the Space Race and how much the government really knows about the Transformers and the Decepticons. All this leads to a final invasion of Earth by the Decepticons, one which even the Transformers can’t save us from.

See the trailer, clips, interviews, featurettes, promos and web-only content here.

For more on the movie this is the website.

Release formats: Standard, 3D, IMAX 3D

Genre: Science Fiction

Rating: PG-13 (for intense prolonged sequences of sci-fi action, violence, mayhem and destruction, and for language, some sexuality and innuendo)

Beginners

(Focus) Ewan McGregor, Christopher Plummer, Melanie Laurent, Goran Visnjic. A young man who has never had much ability to commit to a relationship must cope with the grief of his father’s recent passing. When he meets a girl who might be the key to his future, he flashes back to the last months of his father’s life to find the means to connect with another in his own life.

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

For more on the movie this is the website.

Release formats: Standard

Genre: Dramedy

Rating: R (for language and some sexual content)

Delhi Belly

(UTV) Imran Khan, Kunaal Roy Kapur, Vir Das, Shenaz Treasurywala. A trio of flatmates in New Delhi all have their problems, from overbearing bosses to fiancées who may or may not be the one they want. They all have one problem in common however; a crime lord who has put them on his hit list, and we’re not talking Casey Kasem here.

See the trailer here.

For more on the movie this is the website.

Release formats: Standard

Genre: Crime Comedy

Rating: NR

Larry Crowne

(Universal) Tom Hanks, Julia Roberts, Bryan Cranston, Taraji P. Henson. Larry Crowne’s world has just come tumbling about his ears. Fired from his job at a big box retail outlet for not having a college education, he enrolls at a community college. Not only does he find his mind expanding, his life begins to expand as he comes out of his shell and falls for a beautiful teacher.

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

For more on the movie this is the website.

Release formats: Standard

Genre: Romantic Comedy

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

Monte Carlo

(20th Century Fox) Selena Gomez, Leighton Meester, Katie Cassidy, Andie McDowell. A case of mistaken identity lands three high school graduates the vacation of a lifetime. Of course, they’re not about to tell anyone they’re not who everyone thinks they are…which leads to some uncomfortable situations and, hopefully, hilarity. Although I wouldn’t expect too much.

See the trailer, interviews and clips here.

For more on the movie this is the website.

Release formats: Standard

Genre: Tween Romantic Comedy

Rating: PG (for brief mild language)

New Releases for the Week of February 4, 2011


February 4, 2011
Caves are cool.

SANCTUM

(Universal) Richard Roxburgh, Rhys Wakefield, Ioan Gruffudd, Alice Parkinson, Dan Wyllie, Christopher Baker, Nicole Downs, Allison Cratchley. Directed by Alister Grierson

A group of cave explorers find themselves in a desperate situation when the unexplored cave they are working in is flooded during a cyclone, trapping them in the cave. They must face rising waters, torrential flooding and their own panic as they fight for survival and try to find a way out. Producer James Cameron gave the filmmakers his 3D camera system that was used in the making of Avatar.

See the trailer, interviews and clips here.

For more on the movie this is the website.

Release formats: Standard, 3D and IMAX 3D

Genre: Action Adventure

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

The Roommate

(Screen Gems) Leighton Meester, Minka Kelly, Cam Gigandet, Billy Zane. A college freshman develops an unhealthy obsession with her roommate. As she becomes more frantic in her need for acceptance by the object of her attention, those who she perceives as threats begin to meet with untimely ends.

See the trailer here.

For more on the movie this is the website.

Release formats: Standard

Genre: Thriller

Rating: PG-13 (for violence and menace, sexual content, some language and teen partying)

Country Strong


Country Strong

This is...American Idol!

(2010) Musical Drama (Screen Gems) Gwyneth Paltrow, Tim McGraw, Garrett Hedlund, Leighton Meester, Marshall Chapman, Jeremy Childs, Gabe Sipos, Lisa Stewart Seals, Jackie Welch, Meagan Henderson, Katie Cook. Directed by Shana Feste

There is an itch in most of us to be famous, but in some it’s more like a rash. Those in that sad condition can’t ignore it, can’t cure it, can only go about pursuing their obsession in a single-minded manner. Fame, however, shines a spotlight on us that few can bear for very long and when we fall apart, the whole world watches.

That’s what happened to Kelly Canter (Paltrow), a country superstar whose bouts with the bottle led to a drunken incident during a Dallas concert which led to a miscarriage. Now in rehab, her husband and manager James (McGraw) is pulling her out a full month early in order for her to embark on a tour to rehab her image. Beau (Hedlund), who is an orderly at her treatment facility and an aspiring singer/songwriter himself (and a good one), is aghast but at Kelly’s insistence he accompanies her on the tour as an opening act and to a certain extent, as a watchdog to make sure she doesn’t drink. He’s more successful at the former than the latter.

Also on the tour is Chiles Stanton (Meester), a former Miss Dallas who has gone from beauty pageants to honky tonks in a single minded pursuit of Nashville glory. Kelly suspects that James is sleeping with Chiles, which is a little bit hypocritical since she has been sleeping with Beau since rehab. And Chiles is sweet on Beau, despite Beau’s disinterest. Yes, everyone sleeps with everyone else except I suspect Beau and James. They probably don’t sleep together. And Chiles and Kelly? In your dreams, pervert.

Kelly, with pressure mounting on her for a comeback, is patently unready for the Texas tour that is going to take her back to Dallas at its conclusion. She worries that she has become too old for her stardom and certainly for her husband who is no longer interested in her romantically but remains her manager nonetheless, shamelessly manipulating his wife. The miscarriage sits between them like the Great Wall of China. She begins to drink again, with devastating consequences.

All of this leads to some pretty public meltdowns that all the spin in the world is going to fail to erase. Can Kelly get her act together and show the world what country strong is all about? Will Chiles get the stardom she so desperately seeks? And will Beau, with his distaste for money, find an audience of his own? Tune in.

Roger Ebert likened this to movies of the ‘40s and ‘50s and I can agree with him there – the elements of A Star is Born are too many to count. Feste doesn’t appear to be out to give us an insider’s view of the country music world; instead, this is a look at the downside of fame, the dark side of ambition and the redemptive power of a really good song.

The three singers all contribute their own vocals, lending more authenticity to the proceedings. Paltrow again delivers, not only vocally but as the fragile singer. Kelly is a woman who was strong once upon a time, but the constant pressure and rootless lifestyle have taken their toll. Now she’s a woman trapped in a marriage that’s unfulfilling, lost in a sea of booze and bad breaks. She latches onto Beau as a life preserver and he’s only too happy to fill that bill.

Hedlund, recently seen in TRON: Legacy, plays the aw-shucks cowboy with a heart on his sleeve nicely. His vocals have a nice timbre, not unlike Joaquin Phoenix assaying Johnny Cash (as a matter of fact, Trace Adkins covers one of Beau’s songs on the end credits). His chemistry with Meester is undeniable (there were rumors that the two had an off-screen romance as a result of the movie that have been denied by both camps) and he makes a good foil for McGraw.

Tim McGraw made his bones as a country singer but he has acting chops as well. He tends to do well with roles that give him more of a strong center to work from, and James Canter has that. He is manipulative yes, but he’s also dedicated and honestly believes that he’s doing the right thing for his wife. There’s a scene late in the movie that has Kelly doing a Make-a-Wish visit to a child’s schoolroom where the two begin to dance together in the classroom, then abruptly James pulls away. It’s one of the best single scenes of his career and shows that if he wanted to carry a movie on his own (which he’s never done), he certainly has the charisma and chops to do it.

The movie stumbles in the very last scene which is a shame because the shameless Hollywood ending counteracts the effectiveness of the movie’s twists and turns in the last reel. Without that one scene, or rather, the appearance of one person at its conclusion, this would have gotten a higher rating from me than it did. That’s how critical a single scene can be to the perception of an entire movie, something aspiring filmmakers would do well to remember.

Country Strong is surprising in that it’s a much better movie than I anticipated it would be, expecting more of a generic country-infused music biz soap opera. While there is some of that in here (particularly in the complex romantic relationships), it is more of a look at the effects of fame on a treasured artist, and the human toll that fame takes. That wasn’t the movie I expected, but I for one am glad it’s the movie I got.

REASONS TO GO: There are a few unforeseen twists in the movie that make it worth viewing. McGraw and Paltrow give fine performances.

REASONS TO STAY: Characters of Beau and Chiles a bit cliche. Very last scene blows off goodwill from the movie’s final direction.

FAMILY VALUES: Much of the plot involves the results of alcohol and drug abuse; there is also some fairly sexual content.

TRIVIAL PURSUIT: Tim McGraw, a real-life country star, is the only one of the four leads who doesn’t sing onscreen (he does contribute a duet with Paltrow over the closing credits).  

HOME OR THEATER: The concert sequences work best in a big theater with a big sound system.

FINAL RATING: 7/10

TOMORROW: The Dilemma