New Releases for the Week of December 14, 2018


SPIDER-MAN: INTO THE SPIDERVERSE

(Columbia) Starring the voices of Shameik Moore, Jake Johnson, Hailee Steinfeld, Mahershala Ali, Lily Tomlin, Nicolas Cage, Zoë Kravitz, Liev Schreiber. Directed by Bob Perischetti, Peter Ramsey and Rodney Rothman

Brooklyn teen Miles Morales is the Spider-Man of his dimension. He’s new to the job but shows a lot of promise. However, a threat to all of reality brings different Spideys from a variety of dimensions to face down the threat in this first feature-length animated film from Marvel to hit theaters.

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

Release Formats: Standard, 3D, 4DX, DBOX, DBOX 3D, Dolby, IMAX, IMAX 3D, RPX, RPX 3D, XD, XD 3D
Genre: Animated Feature
Now Playing: Wide Release

Rating: PG (for frenetic sequences of animated action violence, thematic elements, and mild language)

Mortal Engines

(Universal) Hugo Weaving, Hera Hilmar, Robert Sheehan, Jihae. Based on a series of young adult books, this introductory film to what Universal hopes will be a major franchise for them picks up after a cataclysmic event has decimated the Earth. Cities have become mobile, scavenging for dwindling resources and London is the most predatory of all of them. A mysterious girl whose memory of her mother may unlock the key to her survival, joins forces with a dangerous outlaw, a defector from London and a brave young man to stop the ambitions of the mad Thaddeus Valentine.

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

Release Formats: Standard, 3D, Dolby, IMAX, IMAX 3D
Genre: Science Fiction
Now Playing: Wide Release

Rating: PG-13 (for sequences of futuristic violence and action)

The Mule

(Warner Brothers) Clint Eastwood, Laurence Fishburne, Michael Peña, Dianne Wiest. An old man, broke and alone and facing nearly insurmountable financial problems, takes a job driving a load of cargo. What he doesn’t know is that he’s inadvertently become a mule for a vicious Mexican cartel. He does so well that he gets more and bigger cargoes until he finds himself on the radar of the DEA.. He must also face the mistakes of his past before his present deeds catch up to him.

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

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

Rating: R (for language throughout and brief sexuality/nudity)

Once Upon a Deadpool

(20th Century Fox) Ryan Reynolds, Josh Brolin, Morena Baccarin, Fred Savage. Essentially, this is Deadpool 2 re-cut to a PG-13 version with all the naughty bits edited out and some new footage edited in.

See the trailer and stuff (mostly for Deadpool 2) here
For more on the movie this is the website

Release Formats: Standard
Genre: Superhero Comedy
Now Playing: Wide Release (Kinda)

Rating: PG-13 (for intense sequences of violence and action, crude sexual content, language, thematic elements and brief drug material)

Vox Lux

(NEON) Natalie Portman, Jude Law, Willem Dafoe (voice), Jennifer Ehle. America at the beginning of the 21st century is seen through the eyes of a jaded pop star. This festival favorite is just now making its way into local theaters – with a whole lot of buzz over Portman’s performance.

See the trailer and video featurettes here
For more on the movie this is the website

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

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

ALSO OPENING IN ORLANDO/DAYTONA:

Antidote
Backtrace
DriverX
ROMA

ALSO OPENING IN MIAMI/FT. LAUDERDALE:

Anna and the Apocalypse
Backtrace
Becoming Astrid
Natacha
Odiyan
ROMA
Shoplifters

ALSO OPENING IN TAMPA/ST. PETERSBURG:

Hushaaru
Odiyan

ALSO OPENING IN JACKSONVILLE/ST. AUGUSTINE:

Burning
Hushaaru
Odiyan
ROMA
Science Fair

SCHEDULED FOR REVIEW:

DriverX
Mortal Engine
The Mule
ROMA
Spider-Man: Into the Spiderverse
Vox Lux

Advertisements

Grandma


Something new and a couple of classics.

Something new and a couple of classics.

(2015) Dramedy (Sony Classics) Lily Tomlin, Julia Garner, Judy Greer, Marcia Gay Harden, Sam Elliott, Laverne Cox, Elizabeth Peňa, Nat Wolff, Sarah Burns, John Cho, Colleen Camp, Lauren Tom, Don McManus, Missy Doty, Willem Miller, Meg Crosbie, Skya Chanadet, Frank Collison, Mo Aboul-Zelof, Carlos Miranda, Amir Talai, Marlene Martinez, Kelsey Scott. Directed by Paul Weitz

The thing about families is that there is often baggage. Even the most seemingly loving family has a few skeletons lurking in the most inaccessible of closets. When a family appears to be dysfunctional, it is often with good reason.

Elle Reid (Tomlin) is a once respected poet who has fallen into irrelevance. She has spent the morning breaking up with her much younger lover Olivia (Greer). On the surface, Elle seems to be hard-hearted, even cruel, dismissing Olivia with a “You’re a footnote,” referring to her own partnership of 38 years which ended a year and a half ago when her partner passed away.

It is an inopportune time for a visitor but one arrives; her granddaughter Sage (Garner) who is desperate and scared. You see, she’s pregnant, wants an abortion and her somewhat irresponsible boyfriend (Wolff), who was supposed to come up with half the money but failed. Now Olivia needs $600 and has just nine hours to get it.

So Elle pulls off the dust cover off of her 1955 Dodge Royale (which is actually Tomlin’s car by the way) and heads out to find the money for her granddaughter. You see, Elle is broke for the moment; she does have money coming in from a speaking engagement but it won’t arrive for a couple of weeks and the $40 that she has is not nearly enough so it’s off to see some of Elle’s friends, most of whom turn out to be as broke as she is or as unreliable.

As the money proves to be more elusive than Elle imagined, she is forced to turn to people in her life that she would rather not have to owe, like Carla (Peňa), the bookstore owner who once expressed interest in some of Elle’s first edition feminist literature, like Betty Friedan’s The Feminine Mystique. It goes from bad to worse, as she is forced to go hat in hand to her ex-husband (Elliott) whom she unceremoniously dumped when she came out as a lesbian but more terrifying still, the prospect of asking help of the one person she actually is intimidated by – her own daughter Judy (Harden), Sage’s mom who is not only a lawyer but a force of nature.

Elle is an acerbic curmudgeon who isn’t easy to get along with, but as we see the layers peeled away we see that like many of that nature there’s a good deal of vulnerability just below the surface. While I’m not sure if the role of Elle was specifically written for Tomlin it may as well have and she comes through, big time. This is a performance that is going to be remembered and I don’t just mean during awards season; she is almost assuredly going to get an Oscar nomination for this but even more importantly this is going to be one of the performances that defines her career (Nashville is the other and yes, this is at that level).

Although the focus is primarily on Tomlin as Elle, this is by no means a one woman show. Elliott turns in one of the finest performances of his distinguished career as the tough guy veneer he has worn like a comfortable old Stetson falls away and we see his pain in his one extended scene with Tomlin. Harden, one of the most reliable actresses in Hollywood and a former Oscar nominee herself, does some fine work as well.

Garner must have looked at this cast with wide eyes, but the young actress holds her own. In fact, she thrives. It really is nice to see three actresses of differing generations given such meaty parts to work with in the same film and to have all three hit it out of the park is icing on the cake. Anyone who likes to see terrific acting performances will no doubt be drawn to this movie. This is definitely a film aimed at women although it isn’t exclusively a woman’s film. It does present the point of view of a lifelong feminist however, and that’s a POV that is sadly lacking in Hollywood these days, comparatively speaking. It’s also good to see that in a modern movie as well.

Then there’s the abortion. It is treated very matter-of-factly without much fanfare. It is simply a part of what is happening. Certainly those who are strongly pro-life will likely take issue; as the movie gathers steam in the Oscar sweepstakes I wouldn’t be surprised to see some cries of outrage on the right about “Liberal Hollywood” (cue eye rolling here). I found the movie to be somewhat low-key in its treatment of the subject; the fact is that abortions are legal and young Sage is doing nothing illegal here. This isn’t a movie about abortion, but the subject plays an important role here, and not just Sage’s procedure. I’ll be counting the days until this becomes a cause célèbre but until the protesters show up at the theaters I would strongly urge you check this out, particularly for Tomlin’s performance which is one of the best you’ll see this year.

REASONS TO GO: Lily Effin’ Tomlin. Great cast. Short but bittersweet. Realistic relationships and characters.
REASONS TO STAY: Occasionally quirky for quirk’s sake. Pro-life sorts may find this offensive.
FAMILY VALUES: A fair amount of cussing and a bit of drug use.
TRIVIAL PURSUIT: This is the late Elizabeth Peňa’s final film appearance.
CRITICAL MASS: As of 9/21/15: Rotten Tomatoes: 92% positive reviews. Metacritic: 78/100.
COMPARISON SHOPPING: The Thing About My Folks
FINAL RATING: 8.5/10
NEXT: The Transporter Refueled

New Releases for the Week of September 18, 2015


Maze Runner The Scorch TrialsMAZE RUNNER: THE SCORCH TRIALS

(20th Century Fox) Dylan O’Brien, Ki Hong Lee, Kaya Scodelario, Thomas Brodie-Sangster, Patricia Clarkson, Jacob Lofland, Giancarlo Esposito, Aidan Gillen. Directed by Wes Ball

In the sequel to the 2014 hit adaptation of a young adult sci-fi novel, the sequel takes the survivors of the Glade into a new environment; an underground post-apocalyptic world in which humanity has left the surface of the Earth which has become too dangerous to support life. However, what they thought was safety proves to be far more sinister as the WCKD corporation seems to have plans for them – plans that might be hazardous to their health. Before long, they are fleeing to the outside world, the Scorch where they discover that the truth isn’t what they thought it was.

See the trailer, clips, interviews and B-roll video here.
For more on the movie this is the website.
Release Formats: Standard  (Opens Thursday)
Genre: Science Fiction
Now Playing: Wide Release
Rating: PG-13 (for extended sequences of violence and action, some thematic elements, substance use and language)

Black Mass

(Warner Brothers) Johnny Depp, Joel Edgerton, Benedict Cumberbatch, Dakota Johnson. Irish mobster James “Whitey” Bulger held Boston in an iron grip during the 70s and 80s. One of the great crime bosses of modern times, he played both sides against the middle, reputedly an informer for the FBI – certainly he manipulated the bureau to his own advantage, while running amuck on the streets. The Jack Nicholson character in The Departed is based on him.

See the trailer, clips, interviews, a featurette and B-roll video here.
For more on the movie this is the website.
Release Formats: Standard (Opens Thursday)
Genre: Biographical Drama
Now Playing: Wide Release
Rating: R  (for brutal violence, language throughout, some sexual references and brief drug use)

Captive

(Paramount) Kate Mara, Mimi Rogers, Michael K. Williams, David Oyelowo. A young mother struggling with drug addiction is taken hostage in her own apartment by a desperate escaped convict, who murdered the judge assigned to his case. Using an inspirational self-help book as a guide, she helps find purpose not only for her own life, but also a more peaceful resolution for the convict. Based on the true story of Ashley Smith and Brian Nichols.

See the trailer, interviews and B-roll video here.
For more on the movie this is the website.
Release Formats: Standard
Genre: Faith-Based True Life Drama
Now Playing: Wide Release
Rating: PG-13 (for mature thematic elements involving violence and substance abuse)

Everest

(Universal) Jake Gyllenhaal, Josh Brolin, Jason Clarke, Keira Knightley. Mt. Everest has become a commercial goldmine as companies have sprung up offering to shepherd climbers to the summit. It’s no laughing matter as it is a dangerous venture to say the least, and on one day in 1996 two expeditions taking their clients to the top are hit with a massive storm, resulting in one of the deadliest days in the mountain’s history. For those who don’t live near a large format screen (i.e. IMAX etc.), don’t fret; the movie will hit  general release next week in both 3D and standard formats.

See the trailer, interviews, clips and B-Roll video here.
For more on the movie this is the website.
Release Formats: Standard, 3D, IMAX 3D
Genre: True Life Thriller
Now Playing: Large Format Theaters
Rating: R (for language, violence and brief drug use)

Grandma

(Sony Classics) Lily Tomlin, Julia Garner, Marcia Gay Harden, Judy Greer. While recovering from the breakup with her girlfriend, Elle receives an unexpected visit from her granddaughter who needs $600 for an abortion. Unfortunately, Elle is temporarily broke so the two go to find the money among old friends, family and acquaintances, dislodging quite a few skeletons from quite a few closets in the process. Word is that Tomlin is an early favorite for this year’s Best Actress Oscar for this role.

See the trailer and clips here.
For more on the movie this is the website.
Release Formats: Standard
Genre: Dramedy
Now Playing: AMC Altamonte Mall, AMC Downtown Disney, Amstar Lake Mary, Enzian Theater, Epic Theaters of Clermont, Regal Oviedo Marketplace, Regal Pointe Orlando
Rating: R (for language and some drug use)

Katti Batti

(UTV) Imran Khan, Kangana Ranaut. One is an architect, who is stable and secure. The other, a free spirit who lives life to its fullest. Each one loves the other for those very same qualities. This Bollywood film follows their five year live-in relationship which isn’t all dancing and rose petals.

See the trailer here.
For more on the movie this is the website.
Release Formats: Standard
Genre: Bollywood
Now Playing: AMC West Oaks, Touchstar Southchase
Rating: NR

Admission


Two people who know just how cute they are.

Two people who know just how cute they are.

(2013) Romantic Comedy (Focus) Tina Fey, Paul Rudd, Lily Tomlin, Nat Wolff, Michael Sheen, Gloria Reuben, Wallace Shawn, Michael Genadry, Christopher Evan Welch, Sarita Choudhury, Rob Campbell, Sonya Walger, Olek Krupa, Travaris Spears, Camille Branton. Directed by Paul Weitz

Getting into a good school can make all the difference in life. Princeton University, as one of the best schools in the nation, has to rigorously check potential students, culling out the wheat to get to the chaff. Looking for the best and the brightest isn’t always easy.

Portia Nathan (Fey), as one of Princeton’s top admissions officers, has that unenviable task. The simple math is that there are far more applicants than there are open spots so much of what she does is telling young students that their application has been declined.

This year it’s particularly vital because the director of admissions (Shawn) is stepping down at the end of the year and he doesn’t want to go out as number two, which Princeton has fallen to for the first time in years. His position will go to either Portia or Corinne (Reuben), her supercilious rival. Portia, whose territory is the northeast, is given the directive to find some new blood from schools not normally associated with Princeton.

Then she gets a call from John Pressman (Rudd), a former classmate at Dartmouth with Portia who knew her roommate well. He’s got a progressive school called Quest Academy in New Hampshire and has a student he’s particularly high on that might make a nice addition to Princeton’s student body. He invites her to talk to the student body about the advantages of going to Princeton. Oh and by the way, the student in question – Jeremiah (Wolff) – may possibly be the child she gave up for adoption just after she graduated from college. Whoops.

Of course now this puts her maternal instincts on overdrive and her impartiality on vacation. In the meantime her personal life is in chaos as her longtime boyfriend (Sheen) has dumped her for a bitchy English professor (Walger) and her relationship with her goofy feminist mom (Tomlin) is pinballing around her life like a pachinko machine gone berserk. On top of that John is looking kinda cute and sexy, even though she tells herself she wants no part of him. Which of course means she does.

 

Weitz, who’s made some pretty nifty pictures in his time (including About a Boy and American Dreamz) doesn’t quite have that kind of material here. This is, to be honest, a pretty pedestrian story, full of your basic romantic comedy clichés. Fortunately, that’s not all it is – there’s a bit of satire on the higher education system and how cutthroat it has become. There’s also something about embracing the differences, and understanding that people are more than the sum of their parts.

Fey and Rudd make appealing leads and that should come to nobody’s surprise – they are two of the most likable actors in Hollywood. They are not only an attractive couple, they play off of each other well. Both of them are pretty low-key however; there is nothing frenetic here and so the movie has a curiously muted feel. I suspect Weitz didn’t want to play this strictly for comedy (despite casting comedic actors in nearly every role) and wanted a dramatic edge to it but it winds up really settling into a middle ground that is neither funny nor dramatic.

Tomlin makes the movie worth seeing alone. One of the greatest comedians of all time (male or female), she infuses Susannah with just enough grouchiness to be funny, but just enough tenderness to give her the potential for redemption. Tomlin is definitely the comedic highlight here, which I’m sure that Fey as a longtime admirer doesn’t mind.

I actually liked the movie overall – but I didn’t love it (obviously). I wish it had been written a little bit better – perhaps Fey, one of the better writers working today, should have had a hand in it. Having not read the novel that is the source material, I can’t say for certain whether the fault lies in the source material or the adaptation but either way the plot is far too predictable – one of the main twists was predicted by Da Queen early in the movie and not to say that Da Queen isn’t a savvy moviegoer (she is) but it shouldn’t have been that easy for anyone to get it. With the summer blockbusters just a month away from the theaters, this is probably easy to overlook and is just as viable a choice for home viewing as anything else out there.

REASONS TO GO: Nice chemistry between Fey and Rudd. Pleasant and charming in places.

REASONS TO STAY: Formulaic. Lacks big laughs. Is curiously lacking in energy.

FAMILY VALUES:  There’s a bit of language and some sexuality but not a lot.

TRIVIAL PURSUIT: While some of the scenes were shot on the campus of Princeton, more of it was shot at Manhattanville College in Purchase, NY.

CRITICAL MASS: As of 4/2/13: Rotten Tomatoes: 42% positive reviews. Metacritic: 49/100; the reviews are mixed, trending a teensy bit to the negative.

COMPARISON SHOPPING: Wanderlust

FINAL RATING: 6/10

NEXT: The Burning Plain

New Releases for the Week of March 22, 2013


The Croods

THE CROODS

(DreamWorks) Starring the voices of Nicolas Cage, Ryan Reynolds, Emma Stone, Catherine Keener, Clark Duke, Cloris Leachman, Chris Sanders. Directed by Chris Sanders and Kirk DeMarco

A family of cavemen have their safety ripped away from them when the cave they’ve lived in all their lives is wiped out. They are forced to explore the prehistoric world around them which can be pretty beautiful but pretty dangerous as well. They will come to rely on one another and learn that different isn’t such a bad thing after all.

See the trailer and a music video here.

For more on the movie this is the website.

Release formats: Standard, 3D

Genre: Animated Feature

Rating: PG (for some scary action)

Admission

(Focus) Tina Fey, Paul Rudd, Lily Tomlin, Michael Sheen. A prissy admissions officer for an Ivy League school visits the alternative school run by an old college friend who drops the bombshell that the student she’s recruiting might be the son she gave up for adoption back in the day. Now she finds herself bending her own rules for the young man who may well be the cause of her losing everything she’s worked so hard to build or finding the thing she truly wants – or both.

See the trailer here.

For more on the movie this is the website.

Release formats: Standard

Genre: Comedy

Rating: PG-13  (for language and some sexual material)

InAPPropriate Comedy

(Freestyle Releasing) Adrien Brody, Rob Schneider, Michelle Rodriguez, Lindsay Lohan. A sketch comedy that explores all facets of crude and inappropriate behavior, from the Amazing Racist to a metrosexual cop, from a curmudgeonly porn critic to Lohan’s ultimate revenge on the paparazzi who stalk her. Don’t say you weren’t warned.

See the trailer here.

For more on the movie this is the website.

Release formats: Standard

Genre: Comedy

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

John Dies in the End

(Magnet) Chase Williamson, Rob Mayes, Paul Giamatti, Clancy Brown. The new designer drug du jour promises an out-of-body like no other but users are coming back…different. It seems that the drug takes them on a trans-dimensional drift and what returns isn’t human. A massive alien invasion is underway and there’s not a ship in the sky. It remains for two college dropout slackers to save the world. The world is pretty much screwed my friends – but whatever you do, don’t give away the ending….oh crap.

See the trailer here.

For more on the movie this is the website.

Release formats: Standard

Genre: Sci-Fi Horror

Rating: R (for bloody violence and gore, nudity, language and drug content) 

Murph: The Protector

(Mactavish) Michael Murphy, John McElhone, Daniel Murphy, Kristin Bishop. Lt. Michael Murphy was a U.S. Navy SEAL who gave up his life for his men during an operation in Afghanistan in 2005. He was posthumously awarded the Congressional Medal of Honor two years later. This is his story.

See the trailer here.

For more on the movie this is the website.

Release formats: Standard

Genre: Documentary

Rating: PG (for thematic material and some language)

Olympus Has Fallen

(FilmDistrict) Gerard Butler, Aaron Eckhart, Morgan Freeman, Ashley Judd. When the White House falls, only a disgraced Secret Service agent stands between the terrorists and their agenda. However, soon he discovers that there is a much more monstrous fate in store if he can’t rescue the President and retake the White House.

See the trailer and featurettes here.

For more on the movie this is the website.

Release formats: Standard

Genre: Action

Rating: R (for strong violence and language throughout) 

Spring Breakers

(A24) James Franco, Selena Gomez, Vanessa Hudgens, Ashley Benson. A group of college girls, broke and bored during spring break, decide to rob a fast food joint to finance their trip to sun and fun. However once there, the fun goes a little bit too far and the girls wind up being arrested. Bailed out by an infamous local criminal, they go on a Spring Break trip that is one for the books. However, just how far is too far?

See the trailer here.

For more on the movie this is the website.

Release formats: Standard

Genre: Crime Drama

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

Upside Down

(Millennium) Jim Sturgess, Kirsten Dunst, Timothy Spall, Holly O’Brien. A man and a woman meet and fall in love. They’re from different social strata which makes it difficult. They also live on twinned planets whose gravitational pulls go in opposite directions which makes it nearly impossible. The despotic society that runs things doesn’t want to see these two together and takes great steps to keep them separate. But love is stronger than gravity…isn’t it?

See the trailer and a featurette here.

For more on the movie this is the website.

Release formats: Standard

Genre: Science Fiction

Rating: PG-13 (for some violence)

Carol Channing: Larger Than Life


Life is a musical number when you're Carol Channing

Life is a musical number when you’re Carol Channing

(2012) Documentary (EntertainmentOne) Carol Channing, Harry Kullijian, Lily Tomlin, Chita Rivera, Barbara Walters, Tyne Daly, Debbie Reynolds, Phyllis Diller, Loni Anderson, Bruce Vilanch, JoAnne Worley, Rich Little, Angela Lansbury, Bob Mackie, Tommy Tune, Tippi Hedren. Directed by Dori Berenstein

There are names and then there are Names. A lot of younger people aren’t that familiar with the name of Carol Channing but to those of my generation and before, she is virtually synonymous with Broadway. She originated the roles of Lorelei Lee in “Gentlemen Prefer Blondes” and more notably, Dolly Levi in “Hello, Devi.” In both cases her signature roles were handed off to other actresses for the film versions, Marilyn Monroe for the former, Barbra Streisand for the latter.

These days she is pretty much retired from the stage although she does make appearances from time to time; for example she does a show number at the Kennedy Center Honors with Chita Rivera and Angela Lansbury (which begs the question why hasn’t she gotten one yet) and a number from “Gentlemen Prefer Blondes” for a benefit.

Still, she’s recognized as the Ambassador of the Great White Way; while she’s taking a stroll pointing out the various theaters she’s been onstage in, she is seen by members of the chorus line of “Next to Normal” out taking a break between performances and is shown the reverence and love that those who love Broadway understand that she deserves.

Channing (who was 90 when this was filmed – she’s 91 now) is an ebullient force of nature, one who tells stories with genuine wit and warmth and has lots of stories to tell (such as of her first screen kiss from none other than Clint Eastwood). She’s one of those people you can’t help but like after spending just five minutes with her, and that personality shows through here.

There was a lot about her I didn’t know – about her support for gay rights causes and for other liberal touchstone causes. She has been a tireless worker in helping young actors survive the often brutal financial realities of life as a struggling actor, and for the furtherance of theatrical preservation. The more you see here, the more you like and respect her.

She hasn’t always had it easy. Not much is said about her marriage to her third husband of 42 years other than that the marriage ended abruptly and but before the divorce could become final her ex passed away. There have been allegations that it was a loveless marriage in other sources, but none of that is discussed here. Instead, the focus is on her fourth marriage to Kullijian, whom she met at Aptos Middle School in the San Francisco Bay Area and who turned out to be the love of her life, although sadly he passed away one day shy of his 92nd birthday in December 2011. However it’s obvious that they have an easy familiarity that comes from time and simpatico.

This is less of a documentary than a tribute; Berenstein really doesn’t linger too much on the unpleasant aspects of Channing’s life and rarely asks insightful questions. Not that a Mike Wallace-like approach would have been preferable but a look at the person behind the persona would have been welcome.

I still liked the movie a great deal however and wound up really falling in love with the subject a little. She may not be your cup of tea in terms of her life on Broadway, but nonetheless she’s great fun to spend an hour or so with. “Always leave ’em wanting more” is an old show business saying and it’s very true here – I wanted to spend more time with Carol Channing after the movie was done. I just wanted to get to know her better than the filmmakers allowed me to.

WHY RENT THIS: Gives you a glimpse into an amazing woman who’s had an incredible career.

WHY RENT SOMETHING ELSE: Focuses overly much on “Hello, Dolly” and not enough on maybe her thoughts about certain aspects of her life.

FAMILY VALUES: Nothing here your kids haven’t heard or seen before. There is some smoking and a few mildly bad words here and there.

TRIVIAL PURSUIT: Channing appeared on Nixon’s enemies list, which she later claimed as “the highest honor of her career.”

NOTABLE HOME VIDEO EXTRAS: The DVD is packed with ’em, including a Barbara Walters interview, a look at the opening night of “Hello Dolly” and much more.

BOX OFFICE PERFORMANCE: $22,740 on an unknown production budget; probably lost money.

COMPARISON SHOPPING: Ahead of Time

FINAL RATING: 7/10

NEXT: Desert Flower

Ponyo (Gake no ue no Ponyo)


Ponyo

Escaping a tsunami in a small car is never a good idea.

(2008) Animated Fantasy (Disney) Starring the voices of Cate Blanchett, Noah Cyrus, Matt Damon, Tina Fey, Liam Neeson, Frankie Jonas, Lily Tomlin, Betty White, Cloris Leachman. Directed by Hayao Miyazaki

Perhaps the most honored and beloved director of Japanese anime is Hayao Miyazaki. An Oscar winner for Spirited Away, he’s also directed some of the most enchanting and beloved anime films ever, including Nausicaa of the Valley of the Wind, My Neighbor Tortoro, Howl’s Moving Castle, Kiki’s Delivery Service and my personal favorite, Princess Mononoke among others. He remains one of the few feature animation directors working exclusively in the hand-drawn animated style that established Disney (who distributes the output of his Studio Ghibli here in the U.S.) and is as imaginative a director working anywhere in any medium today.

His latest may well be one of the most beautiful animated features in recent memory. It begins with a 5-year-old named Sosuke (Jonas) finding a goldfish trapped in a jar on the seashore which he names Ponyo (Cyrus) – the fish, not the seashore.

But Ponyo is no ordinary fish. She is the daughter of Fujimoto (Neeson), a sea wizard with incredible powers who has renounced his humanity to rule under the sea. When Sosuke takes her from her natural environment, it causes the balance between the sea and the land to be sundered and soon tsunamis are buffeting the small port town where Sosuke lives.

He brings the fish to his mother (Fey) who is having issues with her husband Koichi (Damon), a merchant sailor who is away more than he is at home. When he visits the retirement home his mom works at, a trio of the residents (Tomlin, White and Leachman) there realize immediately that Ponyo is no ordinary fish.

Sosuke has a paper cut and when Ponyo licks the cut and magically heals it, the taste of human blood allows Ponyo to take on the attributes of a human and she magically grows arms and legs. This causes further imbalance which even Fujimoto is powerless to prevent.

When Sosuke and her mom get separated by the tsunamis, Ponyo transforms a toy boat into a large sailing vessel to go searching for her in the now flooded town. However, the cost of all this magic is taking its toll on Ponyo and the continued imbalance between sea and land threatens to completely undo the world – unless Sosuke and Ponyo can intervene.

The tale told is a simple one, and it is meant to be appealing not just to the adults who make up the core of Miyazaki’s audience to date, but also to small children, a market he hasn’t really gone after up to now. Quite frankly, he’s successful at capturing both with this film which is destined to be considered among his very best.

Miyazaki’s imagination seems boundless, and his underwater scenes are filled with strange beauty, the kind heretofore found in nature films but given a touch of wonder that is entirely man-made. Miyazaki is telling on one hand a cautionary tale; the sea bottom is badly polluted with trash and sludge, while above the waves the adults are blissfully (and perhaps criminally) unaware of the damage their society is inflicting on the sea, which doesn’t endear them to the powerful creatures – including Ponyo’s mother, Gran Mamare (Blanchett) who is literally a goddess.

There are other lessons as well, with the familiar “we all must be who we are, not who others want us to be” which is a staple in children’s films, but certainly the ecological issue seems to be the one most pointedly presented.

Miyazaki isn’t all about the fantastic, however; the human characters have a great deal of depth to them. Sosuke’s parents aren’t the perfect couple; they squabble and bicker, and neither one is wrong and neither one is right. Lisa is frustrated with having to raise her child essentially alone, and Koichi certainly isn’t doing what he does by choice; the family needs the income he brings in to survive, and when additional work is available, he has no choice but to take it. It’s a problem that isn’t an unfamiliar one in tough economic times.

Even peripheral characters like the three elderly women from the retirement home have distinct personalities and play crucial roles in the story. The mark of a great storyteller is not that he creates characters that move the story along (how often do we see characters in movies both live action and animated that exist only to perform a singular function in the film) but that he utilizes the characters he has to make the story flow; in other words, the characters belong in the story and they drive what happens in it, rather than exist as a reaction or an action within that story. It’s all a bit complicated, I know, but trust me – I can recognize great writing when I see it.

Japanese culture has a thing about cute; you can see it in everything from Hello Kitty to Sailor Moon. At times, that cuteness goes over the top and makes you feel like you just drank a gallon of Kool-Aid with twice the sugar added; you just want to gag. Miyazaki is not known for embracing that cultural element, but it does appear from time to time in this movie, and while I can understand that it helps to make the movie relatable to small fries, I have to admit as a curmudgeonly middle aged man it was annoying to me.

Be that as it may (and it is an admittedly personal bias) I can still give this movie a very strong recommendation. For those who might be skeptical about Japanese anime, be assured that there are no subtitles here; the story is recorded completely in English with an all-star cast as you can see in the credit list at the top of the review. Disney has made a great effort to make this very special movie work in an American market, hiring Melissa Matheson, screenwriter of E.T. the Extra-Terrestrial to pen the Japanese translation, and the opening and closing sequences were redone to be more appealing to American audiences (on the Blu-Ray if you choose the Japanese language version you will see the Japanese openings; if you choose the English language you’ll see the American version).

This is a marvelous movie whether an animated feature or not; you will probably not see a movie so beautifully drawn as this for a very long time. Those who are admirers of Miyazaki have probably already seen it, and will no doubt look to purchase the Blu-Ray version which is packed with features enough to keep you occupied for awhile. Those unfamiliar with his work can do worse than to start here. It’s well worth your effort to do so.

WHY RENT THIS: Miyazaki creates an imaginative world that you want to explore. This is one of the most beautiful animated films of the past decade. The characters are strongly written and are more than one-dimensional cardboard cutouts to advance the plot along.

WHY RENT SOMETHING ELSE: The plot is a bit simplistic, aimed squarely for younger children. The Japanese penchant for the overly cute rears its head here.

FAMILY VALUES: Although there are some scenes of jeopardy for Sosuke and Ponyo, the movie is certainly meant for small children and can be recommended for all audiences on that basis.

TRIVIAL PURSUIT: The character of Sosuke is based on Miyazaki’s son Goro when he was five years old.

NOTABLE DVD EXTRAS: Not surprisingly, the Blu-Ray version of the movie is chock full of interesting features, including a visit to the Studio Ghibli compound, with one specific feature showing how the establishment of a day-care center led directly to the creation of Ponyo and very nearly became a setting for the movie. We also visit the village on the Seto Inland Sea that became a model for the one in the film, and examine the father-daughter relationship at the center of the film, and how it relates to Japanese culture. There is also a marvelous interactive guide to the World of Ghibli, which depicts the various films released by the studio as locations on an island, several of which you can visit (and is tied in to the video release of three other Ghibli films for the first time in the U.S.).

BOX OFFICE PERFORMANCE: $201.7M on an unreported production budget; the movie was a major hit.

FINAL RATING: 7.5/10

TOMORROW: Montana Amazon