New Releases for the Week of February 9, 2018


50 SHADES FREED

(Focus) Dakota Johnson, Jamie Dornan, Luke Grimes, Arielle Kebbel, Jennifer Ehle, Victor Rasuk, Max Martini, Marcia Gay Harden, Bruce Altman, Callum Keith Rennie. Directed by James Foley

This poorly-written BDSM bodice-ripper trilogy comes to a merciful end. There’s a story I think here somewhere but I’m not interested enough to figure it out.

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

Release Formats: Standard, Dolby Atmos, GDX, IMAX, RPX, XD
Genre: Romance (loosely)
Now Playing: Wide Release

Rating: R (for strong sexual content, nudity, and language)

The 15:17 to Paris

(Warner Brothers) Alex Skarlatos, Anthony Sadler, Spencer Stone, Jenna Fischer. Three young American military man are vacationing in Europe, taking a train to Paris when they uncover a terrorist plot. Their actions would make them heroes around the globe. Clint Eastwood directs this using the actual young men playing themselves.

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

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

Rating: PG-13 (for bloody images,, violence, some suggestive material, drug references and language)

Becks

(Blue Fox) Lena Hall, Christine Lahti, Dan Fogler, Mena Suvari. A Brooklyn musician, reeling from the break-up with her girlfriend, moves back in with her ultra-Catholic mom back in the Midwest. Struggling to re-connect with her past and move on in her present, she begins performing in a local tavern where she meets the wife of an old nemesis. This is loosely based on the life of singer Alyssa Robbins.

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

Release Formats: Standard
Genre: Drama
Now Playing: AMC Universal Cineplex

Rating: NR

The Insult

(Cohen Media Group) Adel Karam, Kamel El Basha, Camille Salameh, Diamand Bou Abboud.  This is the Oscar nominee for Best Foreign Film from Lebanon and one of the five finalists. In it, a Palestinian refugee and a Lebanese Christian end up in court over a verbal confrontation that gets blown terribly out of proportion. With the eyes of the entire country on the legal proceedings, the fragile balance between religions in Lebanon could be a victim of the court case if things continue to spiral out of control.

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

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

Rating: NR  

La Boda de Valentina

(Pantelion) Kate Vernon, Ryan Carnes, Omar Chaparro, Marimar Vega. Valentina is the daughter of a politically connected family in Mexico. She has moved to America to make her own way out of their shadow. When her American boyfriend proposes, she is thrown for a loop; her family isn’t the easiest to get along with and she’s uncertain what they will think about an American husband. Throw into the mix a handsome ex-boyfriend and you’ve got a recipe for disaster.

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

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

Rating: R (for language)

Pad Man

(Sony International) Akshay Kumar, Amitabh Bachchan, Radhika Apte, Sonam Kapoor. This is a fictional biography of the real life Padmashri Arunachalam Muruganatham, a man who was shocked that his wife used unsanitary cloth to clean herself during her period. He spearheaded a movement to create low-cost sanitary pads for women throughout rural India, even though the subject of menstruation is very much taboo in that country…and it isn’t exactly a topic of polite conversation here either.

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

Release Formats: Standard
Genre: Comedy
Now Playing: AMC West Oaks, Touchstar Southchase

Rating: NR

Peter Rabbit

(Columbia) James Corden (voice), Margot Robbie (voice), Domhnall Gleeson, Rose Byrne. The beloved tales of Beatrix Potter come to live action combined with CGI life. A rebellious rabbit leads his friends in an attempt to access a farmer’s vegetable garden but the farmer has other ideas.

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

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

Rating: PG (for some rude humor and action)

ALSO OPENING IN ORLANDO/DAYTONA:

Aadhi
Colao
Gayatri
In the Fade
Intelligent
Toliprema

ALSO OPENING IN MIAMI/FT. LAUDERDALE:

A Fantastic Woman
Basmati Blues
Colao
Demons 2
Film Stars Don’t Die in Liverpool
Gayatri
Intelligent
Toliprema

ALSO OPENING IN TAMPA/ST. PETERSBURG:

Aadhi
Colao
Gayatri
Humble Politician Nograj
Intelligent
Toliprema

ALSO OPENING IN JACKSONVILLE/ST. AUGUSTINE:

Gayatri
Intelligent
Toliprema

SCHEDULED FOR REVIEW:

The 15:17 to Paris
A Fantastic Woman
Film Stars Don’t Die in Liverpool
Peter Rabbit

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New Releases for the Week of February 10, 2017


The LEGO Batman MovieTHE LEGO BATMAN MOVIE

(Warner Brothers) Starring the voices of Will Arnett, Michael Cera, Rosario Dawson, Ralph Fiennes, Siri, Zach Galifianakis, Jenny Slate, Conan O’Brien, Doug Benson. Directed by Chris McKay

One of the big reasons that The LEGO Movie was such a big hit was Will Arnett’s uptight loner Batman. Now he gets his own movie and the Caped Crusader is beset on all sides. The Joker is taking over Gotham City and for once Batman is overwhelmed. He’ll need to enlist help to save the day – but that’s not something he’s entirely comfortable with.

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

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

Rating: PG (for rude humor and some action)

50 Shades Darker

(Universal) Jamie Dornan, Dakota Johnson, Bella Heathcote, Marcia Gay Harden. Following the events of 50 Shades of Grey Anastasia Steele and Christian Grey have separated but such is the attraction between them that they can’t remain apart for long. However, dark secrets in Christian’s past may threaten to tear the two lovers apart.

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

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

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

John Wick: Chapter Two

(Lionsgate) Keanu Reeves, Common, Laurence Fishburne, Ruby Rose. Wick is happy living in retirement, something of a rarity among assassins. However when someone he owes a blood oath to calls him in to help him take over a shadowy international assassin’s guild, Wick is forced to travel to Rome to take on some of the world’s deadliest killers.

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

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

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

Jolly LLB 2

(Fox Star) Akshay Kumar, Humar Qureshi, Sayani Gupta, Arshad Warsi. A somewhat clumsy and lawyer is given the case of a lifetime to try, but the Indian legal system proves to be much more challenging than he could have possibly imagined.

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

Release Formats: Standard
Genre: Courtroom Dramedy
Now Playing: AMC West Oaks, Touchstar Southchase

Rating: NR

Julieta

(Sony Classics) Emma Suárez, Adriana Ugarte, Daniel Grao, Imma Cuesta. From Spain’s master director Pedro Almodóvar comes this look at a brokenhearted woman whose estranged daughter has been she hasn’t seen in 12 years. When a former acquaintance lets it slip that the daughter is married with three kids and living in Switzerland, the mom abruptly turns her life upside down and moves back in to her old apartment in Madrid, hoping her daughter will communicate with her. While she waits, she decides to write her memoirs, describing the events that led up to her situation.

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

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

Rating: R (for some sexuality/nudity)

The Salesman

(Cohen Media Group/Amazon) Taraneh Alidoosti, Shahab Hosseini, Babak Karimi, Mina Sadati. A couple that is rehearsing for a stage version of Arthur Miller’s Death of a Salesman are forced to move out of their collapsing home. A fellow performer rents out an apartment to them. They are however unaware that the previous tenant was a prostitute and when a former client comes by one night when the woman is all alone, the repercussions of the encounter will be extraordinary. This is one of the finalists for Best Foreign Language Film at this year’s Academy Awards.

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

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

Rating: PG-13 (for mature thematic elements and a brief bloody image)

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 February 13, 2015


Fifty Shades of GreyFIFTY SHADES OF GREY

(Focus) Dakota Johnson, Jamie Dornan, Marcia Gay Harden, Luke Grimes, Callum Keith Rennie, Jennifer Ehle, Eloise Mumford, Victor Rasuk. Directed by Sam Taylor-Johnson

A journalist for a college newspaper interviews a 27-year-old billionaire who institutes a sexual relationship that defies convention. Based on the controversial best-selling novel that began life as fan fiction for the Twilight series.

See the trailer, clips, interviews, a promo and B-roll video here.
For more on the movie here is the website.
Release Formats: Standard (opens Thursday)
Genre: Softcore Erotic Drama
Now Playing: Wide Release
Rating: R (for strong sexual content including dialogue, some unusual behavior and graphic nudity, and for language)

Kingsman: The Secret Service

(20th Century Fox) Colin Firth, Samuel L. Jackson, Michael Caine, Taron Egerton. An English street kid of promising intellect but aimless direction is recruited by a super-secret spy agency that exists to wipe out global threats without anyone being the wiser. He joins at a most precipitous time; they are about to face the biggest threat in the organization’s history.

See the trailer, clips, interviews, promos, a featurette and B-roll video here.
For more on the movie this is the website.
Release Formats: Standard (opens Thursday)
Genre: Spy Action
Now Playing: Wide Release
Rating: R  (for sequences of strong violence, language and some sexual content)

Mr. Turner

(Sony Classics) Timothy Spall, Paul Jesson, Dorothy Atkinson, Lesley Manville. One of the most fascinating and unusual figures in the history of England’s arts is painter J.M.W. Turner. Deeply affected by the death of his father, he changes his style radically and grows to be one of the most admired – and most reviled – artists of his day.This beautiful film won much acclaim for Spall in the title role and is the latest triumph from director Mike Leigh whom noted film critic Richard von Busack suggests deserves a Best Director nomination more than Selma director Ava DuVernay whose snub ignited much controversy.

See the trailer and clips here.
For more on the movie this is the website.
Release Formats: Standard
Genre: Biographical Drama
Now Playing: Enzian Theater
Rating: R (for some sexual content)

Detachment


Just holding up the wall.

Just holding up the wall.

(2011) Drama (Tribeca) Adrien Brody, Marcia Gay Harden, James Caan, Christina Hendricks, Lucy Liu, Blythe Danner, Tim Blake Nelson, William Petersen, Bryan Cranston, Sami Gayle, Betty Kaye, Louis Zorich, Isiah Whitlock Jr., Chris Papavasiliou, Kwoade Cross, David Hausen, Roslyn Ruff, Jerry Walsh, John Cenatiempo, Brenda Pressley, Tiffani Holland. Directed by Tony Kaye

We are challenged in the classroom like never before. Teachers must compete with all sorts of distractions – texts, phone calls, games, the kind of thing that other generations can’t even begin to understand. With shorter attention spans, kids don’t seem inclined to put any effort in to learning which puts other nations – China and India at the forefront – of educating their young people and putting themselves in a position to be the global power in this millennium.

Henry Barthes (Brody) is a teacher, or more to the point, a substitute teacher. He’s been sent to a month long stint in an inner city school where apathy is the word of the day. His predecessor essentially had a nervous breakdown and several other teachers seem to be on the verge of one of their own. Henry strikes up friendships with the acerbic Chuck Seaboldt (Caan) and the pretty but standoffish Sarah Madison (Hendricks).

In the meantime he is trying to inspire gifted artist Meredith (B. Kaye) as well as take teenage prostitute Erica (Gayle) under his wing. These are things that are meant well but still don’t look too good and Henry ends up facing the music for acts of kindness when all he wanted to do was inspire a few kids to achieve, to make something of themselves and to live a life that could have some meaning. Not too much to ask, eh?

Considering the caliber of the cast, the script had to be something spectacular because many of these fine actors get little more than a line or two and yet they are here because they believed in the project, which speaks highly of the original material. Certainly it seems to be an indictment of the public education system, a place in which the problem children are all dumped into the same building and educators are little more than glorified babysitters. Parents who can’t be bothered to show up on parents night are perfectly happy to march into the administrators office and tell the principal (Hardin) – who has already been told to seek employment elsewhere at the end of the year – that the parent is going to have her gang raped. Nice, right?

I’m not sure principals and teachers deal with parents threatening with sexual assault very often in reality, but the apathy of parents and students towards education today is a very real issue that very real teachers deal with on a daily basis. Unlike the movies – including this movie – it takes a lot more than one inspiring teacher to reverse the tide for an entire classroom. Students are people and like most people they react to the same things in different ways. In other words, what’s inspiring for one may come off as cheesy for someone else.

Brody works very hard here and why not? This is the kind of role that’s tailor-made for his talents. It doesn’t hurt that he has Oscar nominees and Emmy winners to work with. He gets plenty of support but make no mistake, this is Brody’s show and he runs with it.

Still, he is hampered by the cliches that show up in so many schoolroom dramas and that kind of offsets his performance. While the heart is in the right place here, there are very few movies that really give us a fly on the wall view in the modern classroom and this isn’t one of them, sadly. While worth checking out particularly if you’re into Adrien Brody, this doesn’t set any new standards in educating the masses about the state of education.

WHY RENT THIS: A uniformly excellent cast. This is right in Brody’s wheelhouse.
WHY RENT SOMETHING ELSE: A little bit cliche in places.
TRIVIAL PURSUIT: Betty Kaye, who plays Meredith in the film, is the director’s real-life daughter.
NOTABLE DVD EXTRAS: There is premiere footage from the Tribeca Film Festival as well as studio interviews with Brody and Tony Kaye.
BOX OFFICE PERFORMANCE: $1.5M on an unknown production budget.
SITES TO SEE: Netflix (DVD rental/Stream), Amazon (rent/buy), Vudu (rent/buy), iTunes (rent/buy), Flixster (unavailable), Target Ticket (unavailable)
COMPARISON SHOPPING: Dangerous Minds
FINAL RATING: 7/10
NEXT: Taken 3

New Releases for the Week of November 7, 2014


InterstellarINTERSTELLAR

(Paramount) Matthew McConaughey, Anne Hathaway, Jessica Chastain, Michael Caine, Ellen Burstyn, John Lithgow, Casey Affleck. Directed by Christopher Nolan

The Earth is dying. It will soon be unable to support life as all our ecological chickens are coming home to roost. Desperate to preserve our species, an expedition is sent through a newly-discovered wormhole to find habitable planets that one day may be our new homes, but the trip will be full of perilous unknowns and those who are sent to the stars will be separated from everyone and everything they love.

See the trailer, interviews, a featurette and a promo here.
For more on the movie this is the website.
Release formats: Standard, IMAX (opened Tuesday)
Genre: Science Fiction
Now Playing: Wide Release
Rating: PG-13 (for some intense perilous action and brief strong language)

Big Hero 6

(Disney/Marvel) Starring the voices of Ryan Potter, Scott Adsit, T.J. Miller, Jamie Chung. In a future megalopolis, a young boy stung by a family tragedy gets involved with his brother’s inflatable robot Baymax who was programmed to heal the sick. However, the boy, his robot and his friends get caught up in the machinations of an evil villain who was at the core of the boy’s pain. The boy will transform himself, his robot and friends into high tech heroes to fight the madman who threatens to destroy everything – and everyone – he loves. Sound familiar?

See the trailer, clips, interviews and B-roll video here.
For more on the movie this is the website.
Release formats: Standard, 3D
Genre: Animated Feature
Now Playing: Wide Release
Rating: PG (for action and peril, some rude humor, and thematic elements)

 

Birdman

(Fox Searchlight) Michael Keaton, Zach Galifianakis, Edward Norton, Emma Stone. An actor best known for playing a costumed superhero decades before is making one last comeback on Broadway in the hopes of reviving a moribund career as well as to reconnect with a family that has given up on him. Getting in the way is his own ego and an encroachment of his fantasy life into his reality.

See the trailer, a clip and B-roll video here.
For more on the movie this is the website.
Release formats: Standard
Genre: Dark Comedy/Fantasy
Now Playing: Enzian Theater
Rating: R (for language throughout, some sexual content and brief violence)

The Blue Room

(IFC/Sundance Selects) Matthieu Amalric, Lea Drucker, Stephanie Cleau, Laurent Poitrenaux. A torrid extramarital affair between a successful family man and a beautiful woman ends with the man being question by the police. What happened to their relationship? And what is the man accused of doing? This stylish and sexy thriller was directed by Amalric, one of France’s most accomplished actors.

See the trailer here.
For more on the movie this is the website.
Release formats: Standard
Genre: Thriller
Now Playing: Regal Winter Park Village
Rating: R (for sexual content including graphic nudity) 

Elsa and Fred

(Millennium) Shirley MacLaine, Christopher Plummer, Marcia Gay Harden, Scott Bakula. A curmudgeonly man who wants only to live out his remaining years with as little human contact as possible moves into a seniors apartment complex in New Orleans. However, a gregarious neighbor absolutely refuses to let him give up on life and the two strike up a friendship that deepens unexpectedly. Now treading in an emotional minefield, the two struggle to make it through without everything blowing up in their faces.

See the trailer here.
For more on the movie this is the website.
Release formats: Standard
Genre: Romantic Comedy
Now Playing: AMC Downtown Disney
Rating: PG-13 (for brief strong language)

Laggies

(A24) Keira Knightley, Chloe Grace Moretz, Sam Rockwell, Jeff Garlin. 26 and not ready for adulthood quite yet, a young woman panics when her boyfriend proposes and goes to live with her new 16-year-old friend and her friend’s damaged dad. Dragging herself kicking and screaming into adulthood is one thing but arriving there wiser than when you left childhood is a whole other thing.

See the trailer, clips and a featurette here.
For more on the movie this is the website.
Release formats: Standard
Genre: Dramedy
Now Playing: Select Theaters
Rating: R (for language, some sexual material and teen partying)

 

Mr. Pip

(Freestyle Releasing) Hugh Laurie, Kerry Fox, Eka Darville, Xzannjah Matsi. During the brutal civil war in Bougainville in the 1990s, an English teacher – the last Englishman in the village – makes a connection with his students through the reading of Dickens’ Great Expectations. A wildly imaginative young girl begins to believe that Pip, whom the young girl calls “Mr. Pip” is her friend and he takes her into the fantastic world of Dickens’ London. However her belief in her friend Mr. Pip inadvertently puts the entire village in mortal peril.

See the trailer and clips here.
For more on the movie this is the website.
Release formats: Standard
Genre: Drama
Now Playing: Touchstar Southchase
Rating: PG-13 (for disturbing situations involving violence and threat, and for some mature thematic material and brief language)

On Any Sunday, The Next Chapter

(Rd Bull Media House) Travis Pastrana, Marc Marquez, Dani Pedrosa, Doug Henry. The 1971 documentary film On Any Sunday helped popularize motorcycle racing in the United States. More than four decades later, the oldest son of the original film’s director revisits the sport, showing its acceptance as an Extreme Sport and becoming more popular than ever.

See the trailer here.
For more on the movie this is the website.
Release formats: Standard
Genre: Documentary
Now Playing: Select Theaters
Rating: PG-13 (for disturbing situations involving violence and threat, and for some mature thematic material and brief language)

Whiplash

(Sony Classics) Miles Teller, J.K. Simmons, Paul Reiser, Melissa Benoist. An ambitious jazz drummer, wanting to become elite at his chosen profession, is tutored by an autocratic teacher who continues to push him to the breaking point. Either the student will crack like a walnut and lose everything or he’ll reach his potential and become one of the best drummers in the world.

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 strong language including some sexual references)

Magic in the Moonlight


Emma Stone is shocked to discover she's co-starring with an Oscar winner.

Emma Stone is shocked to discover she’s co-starring with an Oscar winner.

(2014) Romantic Comedy (Sony Classics) Colin Firth, Emma Stone, Simon McBurney, Hamish Linklater, Eileen Atkins, Marcia Gay Harden, Jacki Weaver, George Shamos, Erica Leerhsen, Catherine McCormack, Ute Lemper, Didier Muller, Peter Wollasch, Antonia Clarke, Natasha Andrews, Valerie Beaulieu, Lionel Abelanski. Directed by Woody Allen

The world is fairly evenly divided between the romantic and the pragmatic. Pragmatists believe that everything is explainable and that there is little to no mystery left in the world. Romantics believe that there is much more to life than what the senses perceive and that there are things in the world that can only be described as magic.

Stanley (Firth) certainly counts himself among the pragmatic although, perhaps oddly, he makes his living as a magician, masquerading as a Chinese illusionist named Wei Ling Soo. While he would say that he does so to maintain his privacy as well as the illusion of mystery, it seems somewhat hypocritical at the very least and cynical for certain. In 1928, however, this isn’t really an issue.

Stanley is the sort that can alienate the nicest of people in a matter of seconds. Pompous, arrogant and smug, he is completely certain that he is right in all things and the smartest person in the room. The trouble is, he usually is. He is engaged to Olivia (McCormack), a fellow intellectual pragmatic and a fine looking woman as well. They are very well-matched on the surface and Stanley feels a good deal of affection towards his bride-to-be. At the end of his world tour, he intends to vacation in the Galapagos with her.

 

However at the close of his Berlin show he is met by his old friend and fellow illusionist Howard Burkan (McBurney) who comes to him with a challenge. A woman by the name of Sophie Baker (Stone) purporting to be a psychic has attached herself to the Catledge family of Pittsburgh who happen to be friends of his. Their callow son Brice (Linklater) has become smitten with the girl, having already proposed marriage. Mother Grace (Weaver) is obsessed with making contact with her lately departed industrialist husband.

Stanley, a notable debunker of charlatans, leaps at the chance. Burkan drives him to their home in the South of France with a brief stop to lunch with Stanley’s dear Aunt Vanessa (Atkins) who practically raised him and instilled in him the practicality that makes up his personality, although she despairs at his prickliness that makes him something of a social hand grenade.

Nobody knows who Stanley is once they arrive at the Catledge villa; he introduces himself as an importer of Brazilian coffee beans. He meets Sophie and her suspicious mother (Harden) and proceeds to let slip his disbelief in the occult. However at a séance, he is unable to detect how she makes a candle levitate nor does she seem to be the source of the rapping noises that are overheard. The great debunker has to admit he’s perplexed.

 

He grows further so when she seems to know things she couldn’t possibly know – even Aunt Vanessa is taken with the charming young lass. The more he begins to doubt his own convictions, the more alive Stanley feels – and the more he begins to fall for the beautiful young girl. However, he can’t keep that nagging feeling out of his head that there is no such thing as magic. It’s a war in his soul for which it seems there can be no compromise.

Allen has been in a bit of a career renaissance in his 70s with nine films released including two of his most acclaimed and commercially successful – Blue Jasmine and Midnight in Paris. I will admit that I had fallen out of love with Allen not long after Broadway Danny Rose and The Purple Rose of Cairo – it seemed to me that most of his movies between then and now were passionless and seemed to be the work of someone who was working to stay busy. However Midnight in Paris did change my mind and I have again begun to look forward to his new movies – not that all of them have been great. Still I had high hopes for this one.

It is charming to be sure, a throwback to an early era – not just the era of the flapper when this is set, but also to the comedies of the ’70s which this is more akin to which were in turn inspired by comedies of the 30s and 40s. Call this a throwback of a throwback if you will.

 

Firth proves himself a phenomenal performer, once again showing that he may be the best male actor of this decade. His Stanley takes the guise of an inscrutable Oriental because Stanley himself is inscrutable; for all his bluster and bravado he is unable to express his emotions any better than those he despises can express their intellect. Stanley is clearly not a likable fellow yet Firth makes us like him in spite of his faults and by the time the movie ends, Stanley has made an organic and believable change. It’s not just good writing that accomplishes this – Firth makes it real.

Most of the rest of the cast does the kind of solid work you’d expect from a cast with this kind of pedigree – not to mention from a Woody Allen movie. Allen has always been able to get good performances from his actors.

I’ll have to admit that the second act seems a bit rushed and that the movie ends up a little bit more neatly tied up in a bow than I might have expected. I supposed when you’re 79 years old and you’re still churning out a movie every year (and sometimes more) without fail, you can be forgiven for taking a few short cuts.

 

Nonetheless this is solidly entertaining and charming. I have to admit that I do love movies set in this era and I love those kind of 70s-era all-star events that made the Agatha Christie movies so entertaining. While not a murder mystery per se, it has some elements you’d find in a movie by the mistress of the murder mystery. If Allen continues to make movies of this quality, I for one won’t be disappointed.

REASONS TO GO: Colin Firth is really, really good. Overall charming and recalls not only the Roaring ’20s but also the ’70s as well.

REASONS TO STAY: Ending is rushed a little bit. A few shortcuts are taken.

FAMILY VALUES:  There’s some innuendo and period smoking (which is apparently a big no-no for the MPAA these days).

TRIVIAL PURSUIT: This is the ninth movie made while Woody Allen was in his 70s. Should he release a movie next year, it will be his tenth.

CRITICAL MASS: As of 8/27/14: Rotten Tomatoes: 48% positive reviews. Metacritic: 54/100.

COMPARISON SHOPPING: The Great Gatsby

FINAL RATING: 7/10

NEXT: The Giver