Prisoners


Hugh Jackman contemplates something truly awful.

Hugh Jackman contemplates something truly awful.

(2013) Thriller (Warner Brothers) Hugh Jackman, Jake Gyllenhaal, Viola Davis, Maria Bello, Terrence Howard, Melissa Leo, Paul Dano, Dylan Minnette, Zoe Soul, Erin Gerasimovich, Kyla Drew Simmons, Wayne Duvall, Len Cariou, David Dastmalchian, Brad James, Anthony Reynolds, Robert C. Treveiler, Sandra Ellis Lafferty, Todd Truley, Brian Daye, Jeff Pope, Victoria Staley, Alisa Harris. Directed by Denis Villeneuve

It is ingrained in us as men that our jobs are simple – to fix things that are broken, and to take care of our family. Our image of ourselves as men takes a hit when we fail at either one of those tasks. However, if someone in our family is taken, how far will we go to get them back?

Keller Dover (Jackman) is a blue collar man living in a Pennsylvania suburban neighborhood. Like most blue collar workers, money is tight but he takes comfort in that he can still afford to take his son Ralph (Minnette) hunting and take pride in his son’s first kill shot. When he gets home from the cold woods with his son, his lovely wife Grace (Bello) and cute-as-a-button young daughter Anna (Gerasimovich) are waiting.

He also has great friends – Franklin Birch (Howard) and his wife Nancy (Davis) who live just a few blocks away. Friends close enough to be virtually family, in fact – they spend Thanksgiving day together. Anna and the Birch’s youngest daughter Joy (Simmons) are thick as thieves and Ralph and the older Birch daughter Eliza (Soul) are pretty tight as well.

Joy and Anna go on a toy run to the Dover house but when they don’t return, concern sets in. When searches around the neighborhood yield no clue of their whereabouts, concern turns to fear. When it is discovered that the two girls were seen playing near a dilapidated RV in which someone was clearly inside, fear turns to panic.

Police Detective Loki (Gyllenhaal) is on the case and he has never not solved a case he’s been given. The RV is spotted near the a service station and Loki finds the driver, young Alex Jones (Dano). He turns out to be mentally challenged and when a search of the RV turns up no evidence that the girls were ever inside it, Alex is released.

But that’s not good enough for the enraged Keller. When he confronts Alex at the police station, he is certain that the young man muttered “They only cried when I left them.” He is certain that Alex knows where the girls are so when the opportunity arises, he kidnaps young Alex from his Aunt Holly’s (Leo) house and takes him to a run-down apartment complex that Keller is renovating and tries to beat the answers out of him.

Grace has essentially fallen apart and is in a drug-induced haze, pretty much unaware of anything but her missing daughter. Franklin and Nancy are fully aware of what Keller is up to but refuse to act; if this is what it takes to get their daughter back, so be it. They won’t stop Keller despite their misgivings about his actions but they won’t aid him either.

In the meantime Detective Loki is getting nowhere despite some promising leads – including a drunken priest (Cariou) with a surprising secret in the church basement and a hooded stalker (Dastmalchian) who may or may not be involved with the kidnapping. In the meantime time is ticking away on the fate of the girls.

Villeneuve has previously directed the excellent Incendies and shows a real flair for the thriller genre. He utilizes cinematographer Roger Deakins – one of the best in the world – to create a grey and colorless environment, growing increasingly more so the longer the girls are away. The children bring color and life; when they are gone there is a growing despair.

Jackman, who was Oscar-nominated for Les Miserables surpasses even that performance here. He is a loving father but one with hints of paranoia even before the kidnappings. He follows a philosophy of being prepared for the worst but nothing could have possibly prepared him for this. As his desperation grows, so does his veneer of civilization begin to crumble. He is so sure that Alex knows something that he is unwilling to even entertain the suggestion that he may be innocent; he knows in his gut that Alex knows where the girls are and he’ll get that information out of him no matter what it takes and folks, it isn’t pretty. Some of the torture scenes are decidedly uncomfortable.

Gyllenhaal has a bit of a cipher on his hands. His Detective Loki is aptly named; not necessarily for the Norse trickster God but for the sound – low key, and the Detective is decidedly that. His people skills aren’t all that well-developed; he answers questions from the distraught parents with the same word-for-word phrase “I hear what you’re saying. We haven’t ruled anything out yet. We’ll certainly look into it” but there is nothing genuine behind it. Loki bears some odd tattoos and is far from perfect; when shadowing Keller whose actions have become suspicious Loki is easily spotted, for example.

The denouement has some unexpected twists to it which is a good thing, although there are some huge holes in logic – for example (SPOILER AHEAD) DNA is not found in a place where it later turns out the girls HAD been; even had it been wiped clean (and it doesn’t appear to have been), there would have been traces. Also, apparently, police cars in Pennsylvania have no sirens or radios.

Still, this is a gripping thriller that will make any parent who sees it twist inwardly as they watch their worst nightmare unfold onscreen. The ensemble cast is uniformly superb and Dano, the lone non-Oscar nominee among them, may well earn one for his work here. While I thought the movie was a bit long at two and a half hours, it still doesn’t feel like any time was wasted. This is one of the better movies to come out in wide release in recent months and is worth seeing just for Jackman’s performance alone.

REASONS TO GO: Wrenching and emotionally draining. Solid, realistic performances throughout.

REASONS TO STAY: Almost too hard to watch in places. A few lapses in logic. Runs a bit long.

FAMILY VALUES:  There’s some extremely disturbing violence with depictions of torture and child endangerment, as well as foul language throughout.

TRIVIAL PURSUIT: The movie has been in development for nearly a decade, with Bryan Singer and Antoine Fuqua (among others) both attached at various times to direct and Mark Wahlberg and Leonardo di Caprio both attached at other times to star. Jackman was attached when Fuqua was set to direct but both dropped out; Jackman came back on board when Villeneuve was brought in to direct.

CRITICAL MASS: As of 9/28/13: Rotten Tomatoes: 79% positive reviews. Metacritic: 73/100.

COMPARISON SHOPPING: Silence of the Lambs

FINAL RATING: 7.5/10

NEXT: Mr. Nice

New Releases for the Week of September 20, 2013


Prisoners

PRISONERS

(Warner Brothers) Hugh Jackman, Jake Gyllenhaal, Maria Bello, Terrance Howard, Viola Davis, Melissa Leo, Paul Dano, Len Cariou. Directed by Denis Villeneuve

A desperate father races against time after his daughter and her young friend have disappeared. The only lead the police have is a dilapidated RV that was parked on the street at the time of the disappearances. The driver, a mentally challenged young man, has been released for lack of evidence. As time ticks away with each moment bringing a greater chance that the children will be dead, how far will he go to find his little girl – and what price will he pay?

See the trailer and a promo here.

For more on the movie this is the website.

Release formats: Standard

Genre: Drama

Rating: R (for disturbing violent content including torture, and language throughout)

Battle of the Year

(Screen Gems) Josh Holloway, Laz Alonso, Josh Peck, Caity Lotz.  A hip hop mogul, ticked off that the Hip Hop Dance World Championship has gone to countries other than the United State for 15 years, decides to assemble a dream team to bring the trophy back home – and a washed up former championship basketball coach to lead them there.

See the trailer and clips here.

For more on the movie this is the website.

Release formats: Standard, 3D

Genre: Urban Dance

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

Generation Iron

(American Media/Vladar) Arnold Schwarzenegger, Mickey Rourke (narrator), Lou Ferrigno, Michael Jai White. As the prestigious Mr. Olympia competition nears, renowned bodybuilders from around the world prepare for one of the most coveted titles in all of bodybuilding. As the film focuses on seven top up and coming young stars, legends and admirers of the sport weigh in.

See the trailer here.

For more on the movie this is the website.

Release formats: Standard

Genre: Documentary

Rating: PG-13 (for thematic material and brief strong language) 

Grand Masti

(Maruti International) Ritesh Deshmukh, Vivek Oberoi, Aftab Shivdasani, Maryam Zakaria . A sequel to the huge hit sex comedy Masti finds the three sex-crazed men of that film now married to beautiful sexy wives. Perfect life right? Wrong! Their wives are too busy with their other obligations to give the men the sex they crave. They’re going crazy – until the opportunity to attend a college class reunion gives them the chance to sow their wild oats with willing co-eds. No, this isn’t a 70s porn film.

See the trailer here.

For more on the movie this is the website.

Release formats: Standard

Genre: Bollywood

Rating: NR

Phata Poster Nikla Hero

(Tips) Shahid Kapoor, Ileana, Katrina Kaif, Zakir Hussein. The latest from director Rajkumar Santoshi is the usual meld of high energy, low comedy and spectacular musical numbers and dance.

See the trailer here.

For more on the movie this is the website.

Release formats: Standard

Genre: Bollywood

Rating: NR

Thanks for Sharing

(Roadside Attractions) Mark Ruffalo, Tim Robbins, Gwyneth Paltrow, Joely Richardson. Three people afflicted with sex addiction struggle to face life together after rehabilitation. Romantic involvements and interpersonal relationships become battlegrounds as the human need for companionship and love is at war with their obsessive need for sexual gratification.

See the trailer here.

For more on the movie this is the website.

Release formats: Standard

Genre: Romantic Comedy

Rating: R (for language and some strong sexual content)

The Wizard of Oz IMAX 3D

(MGM) Judy Garland, Ray Bolger, Jack Haley, Bert Lahr. We all know the story. We’ve all seen the movie. Now you can see it like it’s never been shown before – in full-on IMAX 3D. I’m usually not too encouraging of my readers to spend their hard-earned dollars on blatant cash grabs, but this one might be the rare exception. Who doesn’t want to see a Flying Monkey in 3D on the IMAX screen?

See the trailer, promos, clips and stream the full movie at Amazon.com here.

For more on the movie this is the website.

Release formats: IMAX 3D

Genre: Fantasy

Rating: PG (for some scary moments)

Grown Ups 2


Adam Sandler tries to convince a mob of angry critics not to throw him and his friends over the cliff.

Adam Sandler tries to convince a mob of angry critics not to throw him and his friends over the cliff.

(2013) Alleged Comedy (Columbia) Adam Sandler, Kevin James, Chris Rock, David Spade, Salma Hayek, Maria Bello, Maya Rudolph, Nick Swardson, Steve Buscemi, Colin Quinn, Tim Meadows, Jon Lovitz, Taylor Lautner, Shaquille O’Neal, Alexander Ludwig, Georgia Engel, Peter Dante, Oliver Hudson, Allen Covert, Steve Austin, April Rose. Directed by Dennis Dugan

Growing older is not merely learning to cope with the aches, pains and infirmities that are visited upon our bodies; it is also learning to deal with our own increasing irrelevance as those who are younger are catered to and worshiped while those who were once sitting pretty in the sun are shuffled aside into the shadows. Growing old sucks.

But it doesn’t necessarily have to for Lenny Feder (Sandler). A successful career as a Hollywood agent has allowed him to move his family back to Amoskeag Lake where he grew up and where his friends Eric Lamonsoff (James) – a world class mama’s boy – Kurt McKenzie (Rock), a sharp-witted man and lady’s man gone to seed Marcus Higgins (Spade). All are family men who are feeling a little bit of middle age envy as their responsibilities as husband and parents have forced them to put aside the fun and games of their younger days.

Lenny’s restlessness increases as the last day of school coincides with the anniversary of Kurt and Deanne (Rudolph) which Kurt wants to celebrate with a big party at Lenny’s house, much to the surprise of Lenny’s wife Roxanne (Hayek) who although not consulted is all for an 80s-themed shindig.

But there’s a hell of a lot going on. When Lenny and his bro’s head on over to the quarry that they swam in as young men, they find it infested with the college kids who are none too happy to find mere townies invading what is their space. Particularly put out is Andy (an uncredited Lautner), leader of a bunch of preppy frat rats who bump chests, give weird intricate handshakes and spout off things like “Yeah, that just happened” and “Boo-yah!” ESPN couldn’t pay enough for the free advertising.

Now the Hideous Preppy Frat Villains are out looking to crash Lenny’s party and put a beat-down on him and his 2OldCrew. Lenny’s high school nemesis, Tommy Cavanaugh (Austin) who terrorized him back in the day, is the boyfriend of Lenny’s daughter ‘s hot dance teacher (Rose) and continues to frighten Lenny even now, a trait which he’s passed on to his son.

All of the buddies are basically dealing with mid-life issues from Marcus’ attempts to bond with  switchblade-wielding son he never knew he had to Lenny’s feeling that he’s missing out on things because he spends so much time doing the “right” things. Can they resolve them, show the frat kids who’s boss and throw one hell of a party?

I have to admit that I didn’t mind the first Grown Ups so much. It had some laughs and some real moments in which the talented comics (which also included Rob Schneider who wasn’t able to fit this movie into his schedule – and when Rob Schneider can’t find time to do your movie, you know there’s a problem) bonded and showed some genuine warmth. It looked like a lot of fun to make which made a second film inevitable (as did the massive box office the first film did). Sadly, I’m not looking forward to a third film, not even a little bit.

This is as bad a movie as I’ve seen this year. There’s nothing remotely funny going on here, at least other than in the trailer in which you can see all of the movie’s best moments. And as for plot, what you have here is a series gags strung together without rhyme or reason. It’s very much throwing whatever you can find against the wall and hoping it sticks and ladies and gents, moose piss sticks to any wall just fine.

This is a real waste of talent and time. I wish it were different but I had more fun glancing at Da Queen and shaking my head than I did watching the goings on onscreen. I can’t put it any more plainly – this is the very worst movie you’ll see this year.

REASONS TO GO: Because you missed the movie’s trailer where all the best moments can be found.

REASONS TO STAY: It’s. Not. Funny.

FAMILY VALUES:  Quite a bit of crude and sexually suggestive language and some male butt shots.

TRIVIAL PURSUIT: This is Adam Sandler’s first sequel.

CRITICAL MASS: As of 7/23/13: Rotten Tomatoes: 7% positive reviews. Metacritic: 19/100; critics hated this and for once I can scarcely blame them.

COMPARISON SHOPPING: I Love You, Beth Cooper

FINAL RATING: 2/10

NEXT: Pacific Rim

New Releases for the Week of July 12, 2013


Grown Ups 2

GROWN UPS 2

(Columbia) Adam Sandler, Chris Rock, Kevin James, David Spade, Salma Hayek, Maya Rudolph, Taylor Lautner, Steve Buscemi, Maria Bello. Directed by Dennis Dugan.

Most of the all-star cast from the first movie is back and now the high-priced Hollywood agent has relocated to the small town he grew up in. It isn’t always idyllic but he is certain that it was the right move, and his family seems to agree. Now, joined by his friends, they are getting ready for the last day of school  for their kids – and find out that the grown ups still have an awful lot to learn.

See the trailer here.

For more on the movie this is the website.

Release formats: Standard (Opens Today)

Genre: Comedy

Rating: PG-13 (for crude and suggestive content, language and some male rear nudity)

Bhaag Milkha Bhaag

(Reliance) Farhan Akhtar, Sonam Kapoor, Dalip Tahil, Prakesh Raj. Milka Singh was once known as “the Flying Sikh” and was one of the most dominant sprinters of his day. However in the 1960 Rome Olympics, he lost a race he was heavily favored to win and found himself disgraced. His return and redemption was the stuff legends are made of.

See the trailer here.

For more on the movie this is the website.

Release formats: Standard (opens today)

Genre: Biographical Drama

Rating: NR

Lootera

(Ramesh Sippy) Ranveer Singh, Sonakshi Sinha, Adil Hussain, Vikrant Massey. An archaeologist in the 1950s impresses the local magistrate and more so the magistrate’s feisty and independent daughter. However the archaeologist has some skeletons in his closet and rather than let them rattle around free decides to leave. However, you know he won’t stay left forever…

See the trailer here.

For more on the movie this is the website.

Release formats: Standard

Genre: Bollywood

Rating: NR

Pacific Rim

(Warner Brothers) Charlie Hunnam, Idris Elba, Rinko Kikuchi, Ron Perlman. Humanity is at war with invaders from beneath our own oceans – a vicious, gigantic alien race called the Kaiju. To fight these nearly unstoppable creatures we develop gigantic robots we call Jaegers, machines powered by two linked, synchronous human minds. However we are still losing the war and humanity’s last chance boils down to an obsolete Jaeger run by two mismatched pilots – one an untested rookie, the other a burned-out pilot who has lost his edge. While this sounds like the plot for an anime, this is in reality a live action feature from director Guillermo del Toro.

See the trailer, clips, featurettes and a promo here.

For more on the movie this is the website.

Release formats: Standard (Opens Today)

Genre: Sci-Fi Action

Rating: PG-13 (for sequences of intense sci-fi action and violence throughout, and brief language)

The Pawn Shop Chronicles

(Anchor Bay) Paul Walker, Norman Reedus, Elijah Wood, Brendan Fraser. A Southern pawn shop sees a clientele of the weird, the wacky and the warped as three tales of sordid and strange goings on are wrapped around items being pawned. Among the customers are a man searching for his wife who’s been kidnapped, a pair of white-supremacist meth-addled crackers and a beaten-down Elvis impersonator. All wind up pawning items that cost more than they think.

See the trailer here.

For more on the movie this is the website.

Release formats: Standard

Genre: Comedy

Rating: R (for violence, sexual material, graphic nudity, pervasive language and some drug use)

The Mummy: Tomb of the Dragon Emperor


The Mummy: Tomb of the Dragon Emperor

Michelle Yeoh finds that checking out books at the Ancient China branch of the library can be problematical at best.

(2008) Action Adventure Horror (Universal) Brenan Fraser, Jet Li, Maria Bello, Michelle Yeoh, Luke Ford, John Hannah, Isabella Leong, Chau Sang Anthony Wong, Russell Wong, Liam Cunningham, David Calder, Jessey Meng, Tian Liang.  Directed by Rob Cohen

Movie monsters may come and movie monsters may go, but you can’t keep them down for too long. That, at least in my estimation, is the lesson generated by the first two movies of the Universal Mummy reboot.

The third installment of the series starts off very promising. Evil Chinese emperor (Li) plans to take over the world, but falls in love with sorceress Zi Yuan (Yeoh) who only has eyes for the emperor’s right hand General Ming (R. Wong), which cheeses off the emperor enough to kill his best field general. The emperor apparently never learned not to piss off a sorceress, so on the pretense of making the emperor immortal she instead curses him and his soldiers to turn into clay, and as such they are entombed for four thousand years.

That is, until Alex O’Connell (Ford) comes along. A young, promising archaeologist excavating in China stumbles upon the tomb, one of the most important finds of the 20th century, but in doing so accidentally awakens the emperor who has plans to resume his world domination scheme after a slight delay. Those darn Chinese emperors!

Alex’s parents, Rick (Fraser) and Evelyn (Bello, replacing Rachel Weisz who chose not to return to the role) have been living in wedded bliss for more than a decade since the events of The Mummy Returns. However, they are both unspeakably bored and who wouldn’t be? Anything after a life of danger, adventure, exotic places and of course the undead would seem a bit dull by comparison.

Given the opportunity to return a rare gem to the Chinese people as a gift from the British government, the O’Connell’s head to China to reunite with their son, choosing a bar in Shanghai owned by Evelyn’s ne’er-do-well brother Jonathan (Hannah), which is a mistake in itself. There they are attacked and helped out by Lin (Leong), who turns out to be the daughter of the sorceress and General Ming who inherited her mom’s immortality. Thanks mom!

After witnessing the truly evil nature of the mummy and his human henchman General Yang (C.S.A. Wong), the O’Connell’s realize that they are the only people equipped to deal with yet another outbreak of mummy-ism. They are in turn aided by the sorceress and her yeti pals. This all leads to a big battle by the Great Wall in which the emperor’s soldiers are opposed by the slaves they murdered to build the wall (brought back to life conveniently by the sorceress) and the emperor, who morphs himself into a formidable fire-breathing three-headed dragon. The odds are against the O’Connells and their allies but if you know mummies like they know mummies, you won’t be worried about the whole day-saving thing.

Cohen takes over from Stephen Sommers who helmed the first two movies and does adequately. Cohen is no stranger to big movies, having directed xXx and the original The Fast and the Furious among other things but he doesn’t get to use Vin Diesel here.

Instead, he gets Brendan Fraser and the actor utilizes his considerable charm to make Rick likable despite being a bit of a whiner here. The chemistry between Fraser and Weisz is sorely missed and although Bello is a terrific actress in her own right, she really isn’t right for the role. Quite frankly, her English accent is a bit too upper class for Evelyn, and she comes off as a bit phony. She does look good in the fight scenes at least.

Alex O’Connell has gone from an annoying child in The Mummy Returns to an annoying adult here, so the less said the better. Hannah provides comic relief nicely, but for me the real attraction here is Li and Yeoh. Li is one of the greatest martial artists ever in movies and while he doesn’t get as much time demonstrating his prowess (he’s much too busy being a CGI mummy or dragon), he shines when he does. Yeoh is in my opinion an incredibly gifted actress who is shamefully underrated here in the States. She is, as always, one of the best reasons to see this movie.

There is plenty of eye candy to go around and the action sequences make the movie at least palatable. However, a lot of the sparkle and gee-whiz fun is missing from this movie where it was present in the first two. You get the impression this was just a paycheck for most of the people involved, who are sufficiently talented enough to make this entertaining, but without the spark that would have made this amazing. It’s one of those things where you have good talent, a great concept and skilled filmmakers but it doesn’t add up to the great movie it should have been. Instead, it’s merely adequate.

It’s not good form to compare a movie to the one that you think should have been made, but the movie disappointed me so here you have it. It’s certainly worth a look if you haven’t already seen it, but don’t expect to have your socks blown off. Your footwear is quite safe this time.

WHY RENT THIS: Spectacular effects and some amazing fight scenes. Any chance to see Li and Yeoh is worth taking. Fraser is as charming as ever.

WHY RENT SOMETHING ELSE: Bello is miscast somewhat. The story is a bit weak compared to the first two movies.

FAMILY VALUES: There is some action movie-type violence and a few disturbing monster images that might be a bit much for the younger set.

TRIVIAL PURSUIT: The tomb and the terra cotta warriors are based on the actual tomb of the first emperor of the Qin dynasty in Xi’an, China. The excavations have been going slowly for decades, partially because of traps left by the builders of the tomb, some similar to the ones depicted in the movie.

NOTABLE DVD EXTRAS: There is a featurette on the actual terra cotta warriors, as well as a trivia track and a U-Control feature called “Know Your Mummy” that compares this movie with the previous two Mummy flicks, the latter two being only on the Blu-Ray edition.

BOX OFFICE PERFORMANCE: $401.1M on a $145M production budget; the movie made money.

FINAL RATING: 5/10

TOMORROW: Beginners

A History of Violence


A History of Violence

Viggo Mortensen is so hot that Ed Harris has to wear shades just to look at him.

(2005) Thriller (New Line) Viggo Mortensen, Maria Bello, Ed Harris, William Hurt, Ashton Holmes, Peter MacNeill, Stephen McHattie, Greg Bryk, Kyle Schmid, Sumela Kay, Gerry Quigley, Deborah Drakeford, Heidi Hayes, Aidan Devine, Michelle McCree. Directed by David Cronenberg

Funny thing about the past; it has a tendency to catch up with you. Especially when you least expect it to – and where you least expect it to.

Tom Stall (Mortensen) lives a quiet life in a small Indiana town. He owns a popular diner, is married to a beautiful native named Edie (Bello) and has two kids including a teenager named Jack (Holmes) who has taken his mild-mannered father’s lessons to heart and has as a result been picked on by bullies who are frustrated by Jack’s refusal to fight.

One night, all that is shattered when a couple of small-time hoods (McHattie, Bryk) come into his diner. They terrorize his patrons and despite Tom’s pleas for them to leave peaceably, it appears they are going to kill a waitress when Tom suddenly reacts with decisive action, killing both of the crooks.

Unfortunately, Tom’s actions get noticed by the media and he is painted as a hero. This is, in turn, noticed by a very bad man named Carl Fogarty (Harris) who seems to think that Tom is someone named Joey Cusack. Tom doesn’t appear to know Fogarty, but doubts are cast in the mind of his wife and the town sheriff (MacNeill). The question becomes who is Tom Stall and why is he so good at killing people?

By far, this is Cronenberg’s most mainstream movie. Known for cult films (Naked Lunch, Videodrome) and horror classics (The Brood, Scanners), he has a gift for taking a normal, safe environment and turning it upon itself until it is virtually unrecognizable. Here, he does that in a literal way; the man we think we know (and the man Edie Stall thought she married) turns out to be someone so different as to be almost a different species. This is not an easy adjustment to make and some may find it too much for them.

On the other hand, the adjustment is made easier by bravura performances by Mortensen, Bello, Harris and Holmes. Also worth noting is Hurt’s role as a man pivotal to Tom’s past. It is interesting that Hurt appears in only one scene, but his performance is so dynamic that he wound up being nominated for an Oscar for that one scene.

Violence is often used as the last refuge for survival, and Cronenberg seems to say it is justified in that case. However, is there a Joey Cusack lurking in every Tom Stall? Given the right circumstances, I think – and I have a feeling that Cronenberg agrees – there is.

WHY RENT THIS: Cronenberg’s most mainstream film. Terrific performances by Mortensen, Harris, Bello and Holmes – and an Oscar-nominated one by Hurt.

WHY RENT SOMETHING ELSE: The ending isn’t what you might like it to be.

FAMILY MATTERS: There’s some brutal violence, a good deal of sexuality (as well as some nudity), a bit of drug use and foul language to boot.

TRIVIAL PURSUIT: This was the last major Hollywood film to be released in the VHS format.

NOTABLE DVD FEATURES: There’s a featurette on Scene 44, a dream sequence that was cut from the movie but was polished and added here as a special feature.

BOX OFFICE PERFORMANCE: $60.7M on a $32M production budget; the movie broke even.

FINAL RATING: 8/10

TOMORROW: The Runaways

The Company Men


The Company Men

The future of our prosperity looks grim and grey when you're laid off.

(2010) Drama (Weinstein) Ben Affleck, Tommy Lee Jones, Chris Cooper, Kevin Costner, Rosemarie DeWitt, Maria Bello, Craig T. Nelson, Patricia Kalember, Eamonn Walker, Anthony O’Leary, Angela Rezza. Directed by John Wells

Nowhere else like America do people identify themselves so closely by their careers. In many ways, our jobs are an extremely important element of our self-identity. When that part of ourselves is assaulted by a layoff, it weighs heavily on our psyche, sometimes threatening to destroy the essence of who we are.

GTX is a Boston-based company that started out as shipbuilders before diversifying into other transportation-based industries and at last into non-related industries like health care. However, given the recent economic meltdown and the accompanying downturn in jobs, things are changing for the company’s bottom line and in order to avoid a hostile takeover, the executives of the company – led by CEO James Salinger (Nelson) decide on massive layoffs to try and bring the stock price up.

Bobby Walker (Affleck) is one of the better salesmen for the company but as the shipbuilding division is being gutted he is one of the first to go. At first, he’s pretty breezy about it. Even though he’s driving a Porsche and has a huge mortgage on a house that’s way too big without his salary coming in, he figures it’ll only be a few days and he’ll be working again. He acts as if there is nothing wrong and in fact tells nobody but his wife about his situation, figuring that by the time they suspect anything has changed he’ll have a new business card in his pocket.

His wife Maggie (DeWitt) isn’t so sure. She sees the bills, she knows the score and begs Bobby to economize but he refuses at every turn. His pride won’t allow him to admit that they’re in financial trouble. As days become months, the word gets out that Bobby was laid off (GTX’s layoffs were big news in Boston and most people are aware that the company Bobby worked for had undergone massive cutbacks). When his pragmatic brother-in-law Jack (Costner) offers him work in his home refurbishing business, Bobby turns it down scornfully, which prompts Jack to label him a…well, a part of the male reproductive system.

Phil Woodward (Cooper) is in a whole different predicament. He’s pushing 60 and has worked at GTX essentially his entire life. Now he’s close to retirement and nobody will hire him. He has no future and only an alcoholic wife for comfort. He faces an uncertain future; not able to retire comfortably and no way to resume the high salary he had been pulling, competing with much younger men willing to work for less for the jobs that are available.

Gene McClary (Jones) helped build GTX along with Salinger, his best friend. He has been content to be in charge of the shipping division while Salinger ran the whole she-bang. However, Gene is becoming more and more distressed with what he perceives to be a focus on profit over people. He’s more or less old school, all about building things that are tangible and standing behind the people who build them. He is horrified that the layoffs have nothing to do with production or performance but profit.

This doesn’t prevent him from having an affair with Sally Wilcox (Bello), the human resources executive who has been tasked with giving the bad news to the affected employees. Gene’s wife (Kalember) is distant and all about the perks, like having a company jet fly her out to a spa vacation.

That disappears, particularly when Gene gets the axe himself after failing to support Salinger in the board room. The lives of all these men suddenly need re-evaluation and all of them go at it in different ways; some constructive, others less so. One thing’s for sure – when one is faced with the loss of a significant amount of their identity, it changes the game entirely.

Wells has crafted a simple but timely story that focuses mostly on Affleck’s Bobby Walker character but also gives a goodly amount of time to Cooper and Jones. It’s an impressive cast; even those in smaller roles pull off some pretty impressive work.

In particular I was impressed with Chris Cooper’s performance. If the movie had been released last year when it was originally scheduled to be, he might have merited serious consideration for a Best Supporting Actor nomination. Unfortunately, the suits at Weinstein inexplicably decided to push the movie into a kiss-of-death January release, insuring that this would get no Oscar consideration whatsoever next year or any other year for that matter. That’s a shame, because the movie could have used some given the dearth of publicity the movie got.

Cinematographer Roger Deakins helps the picture in a big way, making the corporate offices look faceless and sterile, while taking wide vistas of grey, cold shipyards and blue, sunny suburbs; his work is subtle but goes a long way to setting the emotional tone of the movie throughout.

This isn’t what you’d call the feel-good movie of the year, nor is it the feel-bad movie of the year either – it is simply a rational and sensitive treatment of our own tendencies to be a job-driven society, and how the effects of corporate profiteering further erode American confidence. Perhaps that’s why the executives at Weinstein chose to bounce it around the schedule for over a year before finally giving it a limited release in one of the worst movie-going periods of the year – they may have thought the film hits too close to home for most. 

It’s easy to pat yourself on the back when there are plenty of jobs and lots of opportunities, but as companies streamline and downsize, America doesn’t look quite so number one anymore. While I found the ending to be a bit pat and Hollywood-esque, I don’t mind the concept of the real toll of the economic downturn, the one that they don’t talk about on Fox News. The human cost is what I’m talking about, and that’s a payment that while it can’t be measured quantitatively, will nonetheless be the measure of our nations’ worth when all is said and done.

REASONS TO GO: Very timely subject matter that explores the topic in a sensitive and intelligent way. Terrific acting, particularly from Jones and Cooper.

REASONS TO STAY: Somewhat too close to home for a lot of people. Ending not terribly realistic.  

FAMILY VALUES: The language can be rough and there’s a scene of brief nudity.  

TRIVIAL PURSUIT: This is director John Wells’ first feature film. Previously he is best known for his work as in television as a writer/director and creator of shows like “E.R.,” “China Beach” and “The West Wing.”

HOME OR THEATER: Although I think it deserves to be seen, it works just as well on home video as it does in a big theater.

FINAL RATING: 8.5/10

TOMORROW: The Eagle

The Private Lives of Pippa Lee


Keanu Reeves pretends to listen to what Robin Wright Penn is saying.

(2009) Dramedy (Screen Media) Robin Wright Penn, Keanu Reeves, Alan Arkin, Blake Lively, Maria Bello, Monica Bellucci, Julianne Moore, Winona Ryder, Shirley Knight, Mike Binder, Zoe Kazan, Ryan McDonald. Directed by Rebecca Miller

What lies beneath the veneer of a pleasant suburban life isn’t always what you think it might be. A Martha Stewart-perfect housewife may have a sordid past; indeed, so may we all.

Pippa Lee (Wright Penn) appears to be that perfect wife and mother. She is an impressive cook, has raised two adult children and keeps her home immaculate. She is married to Herb (Arkin), a semi-retired publishing magnate who lives life with perhaps more gusto than he should; after all, he’s pushing 80. The two have moved to an upscale Connecticut retirement home even though Pippa is far from retirement age.

While friend Sam Shapiro (Binder) toasts her as an enigma in a complimentary way, Pippa doesn’t find it to be  a compliment. She’d rather be known, as she says on the voiceover. An enigma can be relegated, set aside, ignored, taken for granted. In many ways, Pippa is all of those things. In many ways, she chose those as a refuge from a life that was a little bit more wild once upon a time.

Her life has never been an easy one. She grew up (portrayed by Lively as the young Pippa) in a home dominated by her drug-addicted mom Suky (Bello) and eventually escaped her psychotic mom’s embraces to go live with her kind-hearted lesbian aunt – at least until her aunt’s girlfriend (Moore), a photographer who specializes in lesbian sadomasochistic pornography, decides to have Pippa pose for a few shots.

Pippa goes on to live on the fringes of society in the places where young women indulge in drug use and random sex. She would seem to be headed on the same self-destructive path of her mother had it not been for a chance encounter with Herb at a party, even though Herb is married to a frightfully high-strung European named Gigi (Belluci). Herb and Pippa begin an affair that leads Herb to ask for a divorce, which leads to a rather shocking denouement.

In the present, she is placed in a position that gives her far too much free time to consider what she’s given up for this comfortable life. She confides in a neighbor (Ryder) who goes on strange but amusing crying jags and begins a romantic flirtation with Chris (Reeves), the honest-to-a-fault son of another neighbor (Knight) who is going through a shiftless phase at the moment (Chris, not his mom). That seems to be just what the doctor ordered for Pippa – until her entire world is shattered.

Miller directed this from a novel that she herself wrote. She has shown in some of her previous films (Angela, The Ballad of Jack and Rose) a keen eye for the female viewpoint and for women’s issues in general. Not that this is an issue film as such – while Pippa does have issues, they aren’t any that would get a charity fund. It’s more of a character study.

Wright Penn, who after the filming of this movie divorced Sean Penn and dropped the Penn from her name, gives one of her more compelling performances, which is saying something considering some of the roles she’s assayed over the past 20 years. I believe her to be the best actress working who’s never been nominated for an Oscar; I suspect had this movie gotten distribution from a bigger studio, she might just have given up that dubious distinction.

When you consider the impressive cast behind her (who all do a terrific job by the way) it’s a wonder that a major (or at least a midsize studio) didn’t pick this up, but perhaps they might have had some of the same qualms about the movie I did. I found that the flashbacks were a bit jarring in places, giving the movie a kind of choppy feel. The flow between Pippa’s previous lives and her present one never feels organic, making the movie feel oddly unsatisfying.

I will give Miller props for not taking the easy path with this and degenerating into schmaltz and treacle. This isn’t soap opera fare to say the least; while you may feel sorry for Pippa, you never for a moment get the impression she feels sorry for herself. I believe this is meant to be a look at the complexities of a specific woman and point out that even the most accomplished and apparently successful people didn’t get there without cost. Sometimes they pay a heavy price for the lives they lead; Miller, who is the daughter of playwright Arthur Miller, undoubtedly knows that better than most.

WHY RENT THIS: Wright gives a splendid performance and gets some real support from a fine cast. 

WHY RENT SOMETHING ELSE: The movie is disjointed at times and the flow can be a bit rough. Some of the movie’s raw emotional scenes left me unmoved.

FAMILY VALUES: The movie has a decent amount of sexual situations including some brief nudity. There’s also a scene of drug use and some coarse language throughout.

TRIVIAL PURSUIT: Julianne Moore spent only two days filming her part.

NOTABLE DVD EXTRAS: Entertainment journalists lob up some softball questions in what appears to be footage from a press junket.

BOX OFFICE PERFORMANCE: $2.7M on an unreported production budget; the film probably lost money.

FINAL RATING: 5.5/10

TOMORROW: TRON: Legacy

Grown Ups


Grown Ups

Kevin James hangs on for dear life.

(Columbia) Adam Sandler, Kevin James, Chris Rock, David Spade, Rob Schneider, Salma Hayek Pinault, Maria Bello, Maya Rudolph, Joyce van Patten, Ebony Jo-Ann, Di Quon, Colin Quinn, Steve Buscemi, Tim Meadows. Directed by Dennis Dugan

The problem with life is that we grow up, we move on. We never have the kind of friends we had as children (I learned that as a child, but was reminded of it some years ago when I first saw Stand By Me) and even when we reconnect, we find that our childhood friends aren’t the same people they were when we were young.

The coach of a championship middles school basketball team has died. A gruff, genial sort, he had a major effect on the lives of the starting five, who gather for his funeral; Eric Lamonsoff (James), a beefy guy who is married to Sally (Bello) who still breastfeeds their four-year-old; Kurt McKenzie (Rock) who is now a somewhat whipped househusband with a dismissive wife Deanne (Rudolph) and the mother-in-law from Hell, Madea…I mean, Mama Ronzoni (Jo-Ann); Rob Hilliard (Schneider) who is on his third marriage, this time to Gloria (van Patten), a woman 30 years his senior and who along with him have embraced a New Age vegan lifestyle; Marcus Higgins (Spade), a womanizer whose women are getting younger as he gets older and finally Lenny Feder (Sandler), the star of the team who has gone on to be a super-rich Hollywood agent married to a hot (in every sense of the word) fashion designer Roxanne (Hayek Pinault).

Lenny decides to rent the same lake house the five were taken to by the coach to celebrate their championship back in 1978. All of them are bringing a good deal of baggage with them, much of it residing in their relationships with their wives and children. Maybe all it takes is a weekend recapturing the magic of youth when a summer day seemed endless, the Fourth of July was a reason to celebrate and the possibilities were unlimited.

That’s basically all you need to know about the plot. The good news is that this is a pleasant movie that really isn’t offensive, despite some of its attempts to be as in Sally’s milk-spray into Deanne’s face, or Marcus taking a header into a pile of dog poo. The bad news is that the movie tends to settle into a rut of pleasantness, taking the bite out of comics who ten years ago would have made fun of efforts like this.

The movie is somewhat uneven; there were places where I was laughing out loud and others where I was rolling my eyes. The comics seem to be going for a juvenile kind of humor where calling each other fat in some imaginative way is the height of wit. Not that I have anything against that sort of thing – that’s what guys do after all – but it runs through the whole movie.

Nearly all of the movie’s best moments come at the hands of the five leads, which makes a bit of sense – after all, that’s who people are paying to see. Unfortunately, that leaves a lot of lesser characters vying for screen time and making the movie feel a little bit crowded. One of the better moments was a speech that perennial TV guest star Joyce van Patten makes near the end of the movie during the obligatory confessional revelatory scene; it might well be the best moment in her distinguished career. Unfortunately, it feels like it should be in another movie.

If you like all these guys individually or collectively, you’re going to see this regardless of what I say. Fortunately, you won’t be disappointed. It’s not the best work of any one of them by any means, but it certainly won’t leave you feeling like you didn’t get your money’s worth. I saw this over the Fourth of July weekend which is the ideal time to see this; what can be more American than a bunch of friends getting together in a bucolic location to relive the glory days and fix what is broken in their lives?

 REASONS TO GO: Five of the best comedians of the 90s all together in the same film. Hayek and Bello are a couple of hotties. There are some pretty funny moments here.

REASONS TO STAY: The movie is wildly uneven and relies a little bit overly much on juvenile humor and pratfalls.

FAMILY VALUES: Some scatological and sexual humor as well as a few male rear ends on display; while nothing I wouldn’t flinch at, you might want to think twice about letting the younger kids see it.

TRIVIAL PURSUIT: Dugan has a cameo as the referee in the opening basketball sequence; Sandler’s real-life wife and daughters also make an appearance as the wife and daughters of Tardio, the cannoli guy. “Amoskeag Lake” doesn’t exist, incidentally; the movie was filmed at Chebacco Lake in Massachusetts; Amoskeag refers to a dam on the Merrimack River in New Hampshire near where Adam Sandler grew up; a number of businesses in Manchester were named after it.

HOME OR THEATER: This will work just as well at home as it will in a big theater; however, this is the type of comedy meant to be enjoyed with a crowd so keep that in mind.

FINAL RATING: 6/10

TOMORROW: Igor

New Releases for the Week of June 25, 2010


June 25, 2010

There is no "I" in team, but there are two of them in "idiot."

GROWN UPS

(Columbia) Adam Sandler, Chris Rock, Kevin James, David Spade, Rob Schneider, Maria Bello, Salma Hayek, Maya Rudolph. Directed by Dennis Dugan

Five childhood friends, all members of a championship youth basketball team, gather some years later to honor the passing of their former coach. Now married and with kids of their own, they get together at the same lake house on the Fourth of July weekend where they celebrated their championship win years earlier. However, getting older doesn’t necessarily mean growing up and the bickering and childishness that plagued them years earlier begins to resurface.

See the trailer, clips and interviews here.

For more on the movie this is the website.

Release formats: Standard

Rating: PG-13 (for crude material including suggestive references, language and some male rear nudity)

Knight and Day

(20th Century Fox) Tom Cruise, Cameron Diaz, Peter Sarsgaard, Viola Davis. It’s hard enough to nurture a romance in this modern world of social networking, dating websites and instant gratification. It’s doubly tough when you’re being chased around the world by professional assassins, attempting to uncover a deadly secret and you’re not sure if the man accompanying you is a heroic spy, a traitor to his country or just plain whacko.

See the trailer, clips, interviews and promos here.

For more on the movie this is the website.

Release formats: Standard

Rating: PG-13 (for sequences of action violence throughout, and brief strong language)

Mother and Child

(Sony Classics) Naomi Watts, Annette Bening, Kerry Washington, Samuel L. Jackson. Three intertwining tales involve three women whose lives have all been touched in one way or another by adoption; one woman who gave her child up for adoption year earlier, another who was herself adopted and a third looking to adopt a child for herself. This first opened in New York and Los Angeles on May 7.

See the trailer, featurettes and clips here.

For more on the movie this is the website.

Release formats: Standard

Rating: R (for sexuality, brief nudity and language)

Solitary Man

(Anchor Bay) Michael Douglas, Susan Sarandon, Danny DeVito, Mary-Louise Parker. A New Yorker who once owned a successful car dealership is on the verge of a comeback. His out-of-control libido and bad personal choices helped derail his career and end his marriage. While he still hangs out with his daughter and grandson, the latter who adores him without question, she break off the relationship when she discovers dear old dad is seeing one of her friends romantically. Can a solitary man pull off the comeback of the century, or will the demons that caused his downfall in the first place rear their ugly heads? This first opened in New York and Los Angeles on May 21.

See the trailer and clips here.

For more on the movie this is the website.

Release formats: Standard

Rating: R (for language and some sexual content)