New Releases for the Week of September 12, 2014


Dolphin Tale 2DOLPHIN TALE 2

(Warner Brothers) Harry Connick Jr., Morgan Freeman, Ashley Judd, Kris Kristofferson, Charles Martin Smith, Nathan Gamble, Cozi Zuehlsdorff, Bethany Hamilton. Directed by Charles Martin Smith

Winter the dolphin returns in this story about those wacky folks at the Clearwater Marine Aquarium (who aren’t all that wacky in real life) who discover that Winter is in need of a companion, preferably a female or she’ll be taken away from Clearwater for the good of the animal. Into the lives of the Floridian folks comes a new dolphin, Hope but will she be enough to save Winter – and herself?

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: Family

Rating: PG (for some mild thematic elements)

Atlas Shrugged III: Who is John Galt?

(Atlas) Kristoffer Polaha, Rob Morrow, Stephen Tobolowsky, Joaquim de Almeida. With the nation’s economy in shambles, a government seemingly hell-bent on ensuring that the economy is utterly destroyed and the most productive industrialists in the nation mysteriously disappearing, there seems to be no way out for the beleaguered citizens of the United States. Only one man can seemingly reverse the tide and save America but there is a woman equally determined to stop him. The conclusion of the trilogy based on Ayn Rand’s seminal novel.

 

See the trailer here.

For more on the movie this is the website.

Release formats: Standard

Genre: Drama

Rating: PG-13 (for some violence and a scene of sexuality)

The Drop

(Fox Searchlight) Tom Hardy, Noomi Rapace, James Gandolfini, Matthias Schoenaerts. A Brooklyn bartender works at a watering hole that also acts as a cash drop for the Brooklyn underworld. The bartender takes the cash, hides it in plain sight and then gives it to the mobsters when the time is right. However, a robbery gone sour turns everything upside down as the bartender fights to stay out of the violence that begins to gather in the neighborhood and threatens to turn a rough neighborhood into a war zone.

See the trailer, clips and a featurette here.

For more on the movie this is the website.

Release formats: Standard (opens Thursday)

Genre: Crime Drama

Rating: R (for some strong violence and pervasive language)

Finding Fanny

(Fox Star) Deepika Padukone, Arjun Kapoor, Naseeruddin Shah, Dimple Kapadia. A motley group of friends and family take a road trip to find the long lost love of an old postman. Nobody knows if she’s dead or alive or if she’s even real or just the figment of an old man’s lonely imagination. A mission that was supposed to take only 90 minutes is extended out over a matter of days as those involved in the search seek something sublime – and find it, although not what they expected.

See the trailer and a clip here.

For more on the movie this is the website.

Release formats: Standard

Genre: Romantic Comedy

Rating: NR

Love is Strange

(Sony Classics) John Lithgow, Alfred Molina, Marisa Tomei, Charlie Tahan. Two elderly gay lovers finally have it all. Once New York City makes gay marriages legal, they can finally be wed. However, their marriage gets noticed and one of them loses his job, meaning they can no longer afford to live in their tastefully decorated lower Manhattan apartment. Facing reality, they must live apart – temporarily, they say – until they can find a way to afford a place to live together but that’s easier said than done, particularly when one has moved in with his nephew, the other with a couple of NYPD cops. Not only are they missing each other, they find themselves being the glue holding all these disparate relationships together.

See the trailer and clips here.

For more on the movie this is the website.

Release formats: Standard

Genre: Romantic Comedy

Rating: R (for language)

Mood Indigo

(Drafthouse) Romain Duris, Audrey Tautou, Gad Elmaleh, Omar Sy. A wealthy Parisian inventor is lonely and longs for love. At last he finds it but his hopes may be bitterly dashed – the beautiful young object of his affections has a flower growing in her lungs. The only way to keep her alive is to keep a neverending supply of fresh flowers around her. This surreal and sweet film is the latest from inventive director Michel Gondry.

See the trailer and clips here.

For more on the movie this is the website.

Release formats: Standard

Genre: Romantic Fantasy

Rating: NR

No Good Deed

(Screen Gems) Idris Elba, Taraji P. Henson, Leslie Bibb, Kate del Castillo. On a stormy night with her husband away, a stranger turns up at her door needing to use her phone because he’s had car trouble. She takes pity on the charming man and allows him in, not realizing that the stranger is an escaped convict with an enormous sadistic streak and that he means to pick up where he left off before he went to prison.

See the trailer, clips, interviews, featurettes and B-roll video here.

For more on the movie this is the website.

Release formats: Standard (opens Thursday)

Genre: Thriller

Rating: PG-13 (for sequences of violence, menace, terror, and for language)

The Watcher


Keanu Reeves has a love affair with his gun.

Keanu Reeves has a love affair with his gun.

(2000) Thriller (Universal) James Spader, Marisa Tomei, Keanu Reeves, Ernie Hudson, Chris Ellis, Robert Cicchini, Yvonne Niami, Jennifer McShane, Gina Alexander, Rebekah Louise Smith, Joseph Sikora, Jillian Peterson, Michelle Dimaso, Andrew Rothenberg, David Pasquesi, Dana Kozlov, Butch Jerinic, Marilyn Dodds Frank, Rebekah Arthur. Directed by Joe Charbanic

Sometimes, in searching for deeper meanings in a motion picture, we lose sight of the fact that most movies are meant to be just plain fun, and have no ambitions further than that. Of course, there are also the movies that don’t even achieve those modest yet not inconsequential goals.

In this film, Joel Campbell (Spader) is a burned out FBI agent suffering from horrible migraines and worse nightmares. He was chasing a serial killer in Los Angeles, two years prior to when the main plot of this movie commences, getting very close. But as a result of his single-minded pursuit, a woman was burned to death. Haunted by those memories, he is gradually shutting himself away from the world, taking refuge in a squalid apartment in a new city (Chicago), existing on pills and bad Vietnamese food.

But his old pal from Los Angeles (]Reeves) has tracked him down and is up to his old tricks, namely murdering young women. Just to entice Campbell back into the game, he is sending the ex-agent photographs of his potential victims and giving him 24 hours to keep the murder from occurring. A rather predictable cat and mouse game ensues.

Spader was in the midst of taking an abrupt u-turn in his career, going from roles that are rather callow and awkward (Sex, Lies and Videotape) to becoming a surly action hero, in movies like this one and Supernova. Quite frankly, the roles don’t suit him. The soft-spoken Spader comes off nearly as messed up as the killer he’s chasing. Instead of being hard-bitten, he seems merely neurotic. Since then he’s found himself a niche playing the delightfully arch criminal mastermind Red Reddington on the new TV show The Blacklist. Villainy seems to be more his thing.

Then there’s Keanu. A scene early on (which is repeated near the movie’s conclusion) shows oh-so-cool Keanu dancing, gun in hand, to a throbbing industrial beat. It’s quite a pose, and really sums up everything I don’t like about the guy. Not only is his range limited, but he comes off as shallow and self-serving, which roles like this only amplify. Sadly, his limitations haven’t improved much over the years.

Going for The Watcher are some genuinely tense moments when Keanu’s prey is being stalked (and Keanu, mercifully, is off-screen) as time runs out. Also the presence of two of my favorite actors: Marisa Tomei (My Cousin Vinnie) and Ernie Hudson (Ghostbusters) help matters though neither one is given nearly enough to do. Fortunately, both of them make regular appearances both on the big and small screens and in much better productions.

The Watcher has moments, but not many. Stylish rather than substantive, the film settles for trying to look hip and appealing to a less-than-discerning audience. If you have higher standards than the average slack-jawed hipster, you should have the sense to skip this one as most did. If you run into it in your Netflix queue, just keep on running.

WHY RENT THIS: You don’t have anything better to do and you’re really, really high.

WHY RENT SOMETHING ELSE: Keanu. Reeves.

FAMILY MATTERS: Violence, some of it grisly, and a fair amount of cussing.

TRIVIAL PURSUITS: Initially the movie was titled Driven but the studio changed it after Sylvester Stallone announced he was making an auto racing movie of the same name.

NOTABLE HOME VIDEO FEATURES: None listed.

BOX OFFICE PERFORMANCE: $47.3M on a $30M production budget.

COMPARISON SHOPPING: Manhunter

FINAL RATING: 4/10

NEXT: Little Accidents

Parental Guidance


No matter how much they stretch, they can't make the kid any taller.

No matter how much they stretch, they can’t make the kid any taller.

(2012) Comedy (20th Century Fox) Billy Crystal, Bette Midler, Marisa Tomei, Tom Everett Scott, Bailee Madison, Joshua Rush, Kyle Harrison Breitkopf, Gedde Watanabe, Jennifer Crystal Foley, Rhoda Griffis, Tony Hawk, Steve Levy, Christine Lakin. Directed by Andy Fickman

Spare the rod and spoil the child is how the saying went. Parenting has changed a lot since then. These days, we’re about making sure our little tykes have enough self-esteem to carry them through the painful years of growing up. Self-discipline? Courtesy for others? Those are concepts as outdated as powdered wigs.

Artie Decker (Crystal) has a good life. He’s the voice of the Fresno Grizzlies, is married to Diane (Midler) who has supported him throughout his career. Their only daughter, Alice (Tomei) lives in Atlanta with her husband Phil (Scott), a programmer who’s created software that essentially controls the home with voice commands, and their three children. Artie and Diane rarely get to see their grandkids and Artie sorta likes it that way.

However, things turn upside down in a hurray as they tend to do. Artie is fired by the Grizzlies who are looking for a less “old school” announcer. Then Phil, whose product is up for an award, wants to take Alice with him for a little vacation in Hilton Head. The other grandparents who usually babysit aren’t available. Desperate for the first vacation they’ve had in five years, Alice asks her parents to come by and take care of the kids. Diane is ecstatic. Phil, not so much.

From here it gets pretty predictable; you’ve got blossoming Harper (Madison) who is practicing the violin for a future spot in her favorite philharmonic – but first she’s got to get a spot in the Atlanta Youth Symphony which is far from a sure thing and she’s stressing about it like a Republican at a Greenpeace convention. Turner (Rush) has a stammer and this gets him picked on like nobody’s business in middle school. Finally there’s little Barker (Breitkopf) who is a five-year-old terror who doesn’t like being told what to do but can be bribed into doing it.

Phil and Alice have raised these kids in a touchy feely new age kind of parenting style in which “use your words” has replaced time outs, t-ball games have replaced outs and scores with eventual hits and ties and self-esteem has replaced responsibility and consequences. You can tell the writers tend to place more faith in old school methods.

The outcome is pretty much pre-determined; Grandma and Grandpa are going to mess up (particularly Grandpa who is pretty much an oaf) but eventually, they are going to get these poor messed-up kids from being neurotic and borderline head cases into healthy and well-adjusted in the space of a weekend. It’s wonderful how a game of kick-the-can in the rain can wash away all of a kid’s issues.

Not wanting to get involved overly much in the political correctness of it, you really aren’t going to remember what parenting lessons, if any, are passed down here. Mostly you’re going to remember Billy Crystal and you’re going to remember just how good he was at shtick. It’s been ten years since he’s done a lead role in a live-action movie (I looked it up on iMDB – his last significant role in a movie that wasn’t an animated feature was 2002’s Analyze That. To me, that’s a waste of an amazing talent; when he’s on, Crystal is one of the funniest men alive – still. He’s pushing 60 and playing a grandparent but the man still can string together a gaggle of zingers to keep audiences of any age in stitches. He doesn’t do it often enough here though.

The divine miss M is given the indignity of dancing on a stripper pole (relax, she’s teaching a class) that harkens back to her days as one of the bawdiest performers in show business, and one of the most fun. She mostly kvetches here – see how all the Yiddishisms are creeping into my review which should give you an idea of how the rhythms of this movie go – but she does get to sing a couple of songs including a duet with Crystal on the 50s standard “Book of Love” which is charming.

Tomei is one of those actresses who can be memorable at any given moment but she seems a little lost here, although she gets a father-daughter scene with Crystal which works nicely. I think the material is a little bit beneath her but hey, it’s a paycheck.

The acting here is pretty much at ham level. SO much is overplayed that you find yourself rolling your eyes in a lot of places. Also, the humor is pretty low-brow; crotch shots for Crystal who responds by vomiting on a kid, urinating at the X-Games and plenty of caca to go around. If your aiming at an audience of 5-year-olds, this is the way to go.

I wish I could have loved this movie and despite an overabundance of sentiment, I might still have loved it if it simply didn’t appeal to the lowest common denominator. There are plenty of wonderful statements to make about the joys and pitfalls of parenting – and grandparenting – but the filmmakers chose to make none of them. Instead what we have is kind of an embarrassing mess that is saved only by Crystal’s riffing and if you don’t find that palatable, you are really going to hate this movie.

REASONS TO GO: Billy Crystal does a bang-up job.

REASONS TO STAY: Schmaltzy. Relies on toilet humor far too much. Lots and lots of overacting.

FAMILY VALUES:  There’s some mildly rude humor.

TRIVIAL PURSUIT: Crystal has hosted the Oscars nine times, second only to Bob Hope who hosted the ceremony 18 times.

CRITICAL MASS: As of 1/3/13: Rotten Tomatoes: 18% positive reviews. Metacritic: 36/100. The reviews have been pretty bad.

COMPARISON SHOPPING: The Spy Next Door

MINOR LEAGUE BASEBALL LOVERS: Artie is the radio announcer for the Fresno Grizzlies baseball team, the San Francisco Giants AAA affiliate in the Pacific Coast League. Artie broadcasts a game from Chukchansi Park, the actual stadium the Grizzlies play in – although he talks about the Rancho Cucamonga Quakes as a potential opponent when in fact the Quakes play in the California League, not the PCL.

FINAL RATING: 5/10

NEXT: Mystic River

New Releases for the Week of December 28, 2012


Les Miserables

LES MISERABLES

(Universal) Hugh Jackman, Russell Crowe, Anne Hathaway, Amanda Seyfried, Eddie Redmayne, Helena Bonham Carter, Sacha Baron Cohen, Samantha Barks. Directed by Tom Hooper

Based on the hit Broadway musical which in turn was based on the Victor Hugo classic, it follows the epic tale of Jean Valjean, a man sent to prison for stealing bread to feed his family. When he breaks parole, he is chased by the obsessive and relentless Javert who hounds the basically decent Valjean over a time of great upheaval and change in France.

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

For more on the movie this is the website.

Release formats: Standard, IMAX

Genre: Musical

Rating: PG-13 (for suggestive and sexual material, violence and thematic material)

Django Unchained

(Weinstein) Jamie Foxx, Leonardo di Caprio, Christoph Waltz, Samuel L. Jackson. A bounty hunter frees a slave to help him track down a pair of murderers whose identity only the slave – Django – knows. From there they become a formidable pair in the pre-Civil War South but Django has his own agenda; to rescue his wife from brutal plantation owner Calvin Candie but this rescue will have a much higher price than anyone could have imagined

See the trailer and a clip here.

For more on the movie this is the website.

Release formats: Standard

Genre: Western

Rating: R (for strong graphic violence throughout, a vicious fight, language and some nudity)

Parental Guidance

(20th Century Fox) Billy Crystal, Bette Midler, Marisa Tomei, Tom Everett Scott. A pair of old-fashioned grandparents are enlisted to watch their grandchildren while the parents are forced to go away for work. 20th century old school meets 21st century new school in a cage match with the winner getting a shot at the main event at Parentmania. Let the parental smackdown begin!

See the trailer here.

For more on the movie this is the website.

Release formats: Standard

Genre: Comedy

Rating: PG (for some rude humor)

The Ides of March


The Ides of March

Ryan Gosling tries to remember his line.

(2011) Political Drama (Columbia) Ryan Gosling, George Clooney, Philip Seymour Hoffman, Paul Giamatti, Jeffrey Wright, Marisa Tomei, Max Minghella, Evan Rachel Wood, Jennifer Ehle, Gregory Itzin, Michael Mantell, Charlie Rose. Directed by George Clooney

Politics make strange bedfellows for just about anything. Few human endeavors employ more of the worst elements of human nature while trying to appeal to the best. It is a machine that chews up and spits out those who don’t have the stomach for being an absolute prick.

Stephen Meyers (Gosling) hasn’t been chewed up or spit out – and he’s as good a media relations specialist as there is in the business. He’s been on plenty of campaigns in his time but none have captured him like the Presidential campaign of Democratic hopeful Mike Morris (Clooney), governor of the great state of Pennsylvania.

They are in the midst of the Ohio primaries and coming down to the wire. The Democratic nomination hangs in the balance and so far, Morris is leading Senator Pullman (Mantell) by a slight margin. Morris’ campaign manager Paul Zara (Hoffman) is romancing Senator Thompson (Wright) who has over three hundred delegates that will all but assure the nomination. Reporter Ida Horowicz (Tomei) is leaning on Stephen for a story but he doesn’t have one to give her – yet.

Then Stephen gets a phone call from Tom Duffy (Giamatti), the campaign manager for Pullman. Duffy wants Stephen to jump ship and even lets him know that Pullman has Thompson in his camp after promising Thompson the secretary of state position in the new administration. Furthermore, Duffy is trying to get Republicans and Independents to vote for Pullman in the open primary election since the general political trend is that the Republicans have a better chance against Pullman than they do against Morris.

Stephen is distraught but he chooses not to tell Paul at first. When he does, the crap hits the fan. Suddenly the campaign is in the middle of a dogfight and they might not necessarily be the stronger dog in the fight. An attractive young campaign worker, Molly Stearns (Wood) who is also the daughter of the bulldog-like Democratic National Committee chairman (Itzin) may prove to be the key that will either save Morris’ presidential chances – or destroy them.

Clooney, who has several really fine directing jobs under his belt, adds another one here. Based on the stage play “Farragut North” by Beau Wilimon (which in itself was loosely based on the author’s experiences in the 2004 campaign of Howard Dean), the movie has a sense of realism. All the dirty tricks, all the behind-the-scenes maneuvering, that fits in with the perception of most people as to what really goes on in a major campaign.

Gosling has had quite a year with appearances in Drive and Crazy, Stupid, Love and giving fine performances in both. He is to my mind a star who has shown potential for years (he already has one Oscar nomination under his belt) and has finally arrived as a legitimate star. He hasn’t shown any desire to headline a big franchise-type film, preferring lesser-budgeted dramas and comedies to ply his trade in, but I don’t doubt he could do that and just as well as anybody.

Hoffman and Giamatti are two of the best actors in the business and they play disparate sides of the same coin; one a shark, willing to do anything to win and the other valuing loyalty above all else maybe to his own detriment. Clooney has a supporting role here (as he did in Good Night and Good Luck) but it’s a memorable one. Like Martin Sheen’s Josiah Bartlett, one wishes there was a candidate out there like Mike Morris. Clooney brings him to life and, surprisingly, gives him a bit of a dark side.

While I found the character a bit more naive than you’d think a media relations manager in a major presidential campaign would be, my main beef with the film is the pacing seems a bit lax. The movie unfolds in an almost nonchalant manner which can be frustrating at times.

There are those who are going to have problems with The Ides of March because those who might have conservative political beliefs may find the depiction of the Democrats as disturbing, even though they are shown to be corrupt in the end. There are others who are going to be a bit put off as well because this is a pretty smart motion picture which requires at least a little bit of intellectual commitment. Those looking to lose themselves in a mindless haze are probably better served to look elsewhere.

REASONS TO GO: Nice thinking person’s political drama with a good sense of realism as to how the political process works. Terrific performances by the ensemble.

REASONS TO STAY: Unfolds at a rather slow pace. Might require too much thought for some. Although it does portray the liberal Democrats as corrupt, Conservatives might not like this either.

FAMILY VALUES: There’s a bit of violence, some terror, a little sensuality and briefly some bad language.

TRIVIAL PURSUIT: In the campaign office are posters of Governor Morris that are much like the iconic Hope posters for the Obama campaign created by street artist Shepard Fairey. In fact, the original photo that the Obama posters were based on were of Obama listening to George Clooney speak at a 2006 press conference.

HOME OR THEATER: You won’t lose anything by waiting for it to come out on home video.

FINAL RATING: 6.5/10

TOMORROW: Saw VI

New Releases for the Week of October 7, 2011


REAL STEEL

(DreamWorks) Hugh Jackman, Evangeline Lilly, Dakota Goyo, Anthony Mackie, Kevin Durand, Hope Davis, James Rebhorn, Marco Ruggeri, Karl Yune, Olga Fonda. Directed by Shawn Levy

In the near future, boxing has been replaced by robot boxing, in which eight foot tall behemoths battle it out in the ring. For former World Title contender Charlie Kenton, this is very bad news indeed. Reduced to promoting robots cribbed together from scrap metal in seedy venues, he barely ekes out a living. When things become really bad, Charlie teams up with his estranged son Max to train a robot underdog who will, against all odds, give the pair a chance at a second chance.

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

For more on the movie this is the website.

Release formats: Standard, IMAX

Genre: Sci-Fi Action

Rating: PG-13 (for some violence, intense action and brief language)

The Ides of March

(Columbia) Ryan Gosling, George Clooney, Philip Seymour Hoffman, Marisa Tomei. A press secretary for a high-profile presidential candidate on the eve of the primaries becomes embroiled in a scandal that could upset the hopes of the candidate he’s working for. This is Clooney’s fourth feature film as a director; his last was Leatherheads in 2008.

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

For more on the movie this is the website

Release formats: Standard

Genre: Political Thriller

Rating: R (for pervasive language)

The Names of Love

(Music Box) Jacques Gamblin, Sara Forestier, Zinadine Soualem, Carole Franck. A young liberal French girl decides to convert middle aged conservative men to her line of political thinking by sleeping with them. That is, until she impossibly falls in love with one of them.

See the trailer and a clip here.

For more on the movie this is the website.

Release formats: Standard

Genre: Romantic Comedy

Rating: PG-13 (for some violence and drug content)

Restless

(Sony Classics) Mia Wasikowska, Henry Hopper, Ryo Kase, Schuyler Fisk. A pair of young social misfits are drawn to each other and before long a deep bond is formed, leading to love and complications. Based on the stage play Of Winter and Water Birds by Jason Lew (who wrote the screen adaptation), this is the newest film by acclaimed indie icon Gus van Sant.

See the trailer here.

For more on the movie this is the website.

Release formats: Standard

Genre: Drama

Rating: PG-13 (for thematic elements and brief sensuality)

Crazy, Stupid, Love


Crazy, Stupid, Love

Steve Carell and Julianne Moore are schooled.

(2011) Romantic Comedy (Warner Brothers) Steve Carell, Ryan Gosling, Julianne Moore, Emma Stone, Marisa Tomei, Kevin Bacon, John Carroll Lynch, Jonah Bobo, Analeigh Tipton, Josh Groban, Joey King, Liza Lapira, Beth Littleford. Directed by Glen Ficarra and John Requa

Love has a way of pulling a fast one on us. We go along thinking things are fine and suddenly BLAMO they’re not. At other times we are looking for anything other than love and suddenly we discover that it has moved in for a long stay.

Cal Weaver (Carell) is a middle aged man enjoying the fruits of his life. He has children who love him, a steady job that pays the bills and a wife who adores him. Okay, two out of three.

One night at dinner, his wife Emily (Moore) blurts out that she wants a divorce. Not only that, but she’s been sleeping with David Lindhagen (Bacon), a nebbish accountant who works with Emily. Cal is stunned into silence, an awkward vacuum that is filled with even more awkward conversation by Emily until Cal is so unnerved he throws himself out of a moving car.

Somewhat passively, Cal moves out into a bare, sparsely furnished apartment. He takes to hanging out at a local bar where he notices Jacob (Gosling), a handsome younger man who seems to have uncanny success with women in the bar. Jacob in turn notices the sad sack Cal who doesn’t mind acting the pathetic loser, telling all and sundry that he’s been cuckolded by his wife and her lover. Jacob decides to take pity on Cal and help get him back in touch with his manhood.

This of course requires a complete wardrobe change and new haircut, as well as lessons watching Jacob pick up women with lines I could never have pulled off with a straight face in a singles bar, although to be fair if I looked like Ryan Gosling I could spout off excerpts of “Pilgrim’s Progress” and still get lucky.

After some false starts, Cal begins to get successful at picking up women, using a certain amount of honesty on schoolteacher Kate (Tomei) to get her in his clutches.

In the meantime, Cal’s son Robbie (Bobo) has developed quite the crush on his babysitter Jessica (Tipton) who in turn has developed a very unhealthy fixation on Cal, who is close friends with her dad (Lynch) who has spinelessly sided with his bitchy wife (Littleford) in giving Cal the cold shoulder and supporting Emily, who needs it of course after having thrown her husband out because she cheated on him. What an animal he is!

Anyway Jacob finds himself falling for Hannah (Stone) who has just passed the bar, and I don’t mean the one Jacob hangs out in because she walked right into it and…well, if you like comedy in which everybody misinterprets what everyone else says at every possible turn, you don’t need any more cajoling from me.

The co-directors co-wrote the cult classic Bad Santa and this movie has a few of the subversive elements from that film. Unfortunately, those elements don’t really suit this film or this cast. Carell is best when cast as an everyman sort who has a bit of a heart of gold and means well but, well, things happen to him. While he made his bones in “The Office” as the clueless manager, he got some critical flack for this character not being more like Michael Scott which I find incomprehensible. That character would have been patently wrong for this role; part of what the movie is about is taking a mild-mannered, happily married man and attempt to turn him into something he isn’t.

Moore, one of the most respected actresses going today, gets to play a rather unsympathetic role and manages to make her sympathetic. She rises to the occasion and resists the temptation to make Emily bitchy so much as she is confused and desperate. She hooks up with David not so much out of lust or spite but because the safe harbor of her marriage has faded into the mists and she doesn’t know which way to turn to find that security.

Gosling doesn’t do a lot of comedies and this isn’t quite what we’ve come to expect from him at all – for one thing, he seems more comfortable in indie dramas than in big studio rom-coms but he seems to be all right with this one. It isn’t up to his usual standards but the performance is solid enough and if his comic timing isn’t up to the level of Carell’s, perhaps with some practice he’s a good enough actor to pull off comedy as well.

The thing that makes this movie seem a little bit on the unrealistic side is that there is almost no fighting, and no screaming whatsoever between Emily and Cal. This is the most civilized, low-key divorce EVER. Also the singles bar, which is apparently a local lounge is full of more gorgeous women than any other singles bar I’ve ever seen.

There is also a heck of a lot of raunchiness for a movie in which young teens and kids play such a pivotal role. Robbie is caught masturbating in the opening moments of the movie and Jessica takes some provocative picture for the man of her dreams. While there isn’t anything in here that would get the cops called, those who have zero tolerance for anything having to do with statutory rape might want to give this a wide berth.

Love never acts the way you want it to or even the way you predict it will. It’s never easy, never smooth and rarely responds the same way twice, even in the same relationship. There is some sweetness and charm here with an equally large dose of uncomfortable silences. It’s a solid enough comedy that is better than a lot of romantic comedies these days but even so it’s merely good, not great.

REASONS TO GO: Nice ensemble and Carell continues to impress as a leading man. Sweet nature

REASONS TO STAY: Doesn’t seem to know whether it wants to be raunchy or family-oriented.

FAMILY VALUES: Some of the jokes are a little bit crude, there’s some sexuality and more than it’s fair share of foul language.

TRIVIAL PURSUIT: This is singer Josh Groban’s film debut.

HOME OR THEATER: It makes a nice alternative if the big movies are crowded, but also it will work fine at home.

FINAL RATING: 6/10

TOMORROW: Solitary Man

The Lincoln Lawyer


The Lincoln Lawyer

Life is pretty darn good when you're as good-looking as these two are.

(2011) Mystery (Lionsgate) Matthew McConaughey, Marisa Tomei, Ryan Phillippe, Josh Lucas, William H. Macy, John Leguizamo, Bob Gunton, Frances Fisher, Bryan Cranston, Michael Pena, Laurence Mason, Trace Adkins, Margarita Levieva. Directed by Brad Furman

Justice is often depicted as being blind. The reason for that is that things are not always what they appear to be, and people RARELY are who they appear to be. Justice needs to be blind in order to sort through all the deceptions.

Mick Haller (McConaughey) is a defense lawyer who generally represents the guilty; sleazebags and criminals alike. Rather than working out of an office, he operates out of the back of his Lincoln Town Car, chauffeured by Earl (Mason), a former client paying off his legal bill. It seems that Mick had been driving himself but after a DUI had gotten his license suspended, a driver was needed.

Mick has lots of friends in low places including Eddie Vogel (Adkins), the leader of a bike gang, and bail bondsman Val Valenzuela (Leguizamo), who often throws a case Mick’s way. He’s got one for him now – a big one that might pay a whole lot of bills. Louis Roulet (Phillippe) has been accused of beating the crap out of a prostitute.

Roulet has deep pockets; a wealthy real estate tycoon mom (Fisher) and a high-powered lawyer (Gunton) who hires Mick for the job after an initial interview. Mick puts his investigator Frank Levin (Macy) on the case.

At first it looks like Mick’s ex-wife Maggie McPherson (Tomei), who works in the prosecutor’s office, is going to be assigned the case but when Mick turns up as lawyer, she has to recuse herself and a new prosecutor, Ted Minton (Lucas), is brought aboard.

The deeper Mick digs into the case, the more it appears to have bearing on an earlier case of his, in which he had urged a young man, Jesus Martinez (Pena), to accept a plea bargain to keep him out of the death penalty. And the more he looks, the more he discovers that he may have sent an innocent man into jail.

In the meantime, his current case is turning ugly and now it appears Mick himself is being set up for a murder charge of his own. It will take all of Mick’s cunning and street smarts to get him out of hot water on this one.

I was pleasantly surprised with this movie. McConaughey has been on a bit of a rut lately, with romantic comedies that really didn’t push him much. It’s been awhile since we’ve seen a movie in which McConaughey has really shown what he can do – We Are Marshall to be exact. However, this one harkens back to an earlier McConaughey movie, A Time to Kill. In that one, McConaughey played a clever lawyer as well.

There’s no doubt McConaughey oozes charm and while he is more well-known these days for going shirtless (and displaying his admittedly impressive six-pack) than he is for his thespian abilities, that doesn’t mean he isn’t capable of a good performance and he delivers one here. Those folks who are fans are going to be in seventh heaven, even though his shirt remains on for the most part.

He also has a pretty impressive cast backing him up. Macy doesn’t have a lot of screen time but makes good use of what he does have. Phillippe is a very solid actor who sinks his teeth into a role that requires him to be unsympathetic, the poor rich kid. Tomei, an actress who always impresses me, does a solid job here. It isn’t one of her career-defining moments but she gets the job done and is as gorgeous as ever doing it. Even country star Trace Adkins delivers in a role which is totally unlike his nice-guy persona developed on “The Celebrity Apprentice.”

This is based on a novel by Michael Connelly, and has all the makings of a franchise in terms of quality; unfortunately, the box office has been lukewarm for it although it appears that the movie will recoup its production budget. While at times it reminded me of an episode of “Law and Order,” it is at least competently done in terms of a legal drama, and while breaking no new ground is at least entertaining and diverting. I didn’t have real high hopes for it based on the trailer, but I thought this was a better-than-average film and of most of the stuff that’s out there in the spring, might well be the best quality movie in theaters at present.

REASONS TO GO: Really good cast and McConaughey is at his charming best.

REASONS TO STAY: Not especially groundbreaking; typical legal drama that at times reminds one of “Law & Order” and not in a good way.

FAMILY VALUES: There is a bit of violence, a little bit of sex and a smidgeon of bad language.

TRIVIAL PURSUIT: The character of Frank Levin’s first name in the book was Raul.

HOME OR THEATER: Nothing here screams “theater!” You can see it at home just as nicely.

FINAL RATING: 7/10

TOMORROW: Greenberg

New Releases for the Week of March 18, 2011


Paul

What's wrong with this picture? That's right - nerds with beautiful girls.

PAUL

(Universal) Simon Pegg, Nick Frost, Seth Rogen (voice), Kirsten Wiig, Jason Bateman, Bill Hader, Sigourney Weaver, Jeffrey Tambor, John Carroll Lynch, Jane Lynch, David Koechner, Steven Spielberg, Joe Lo Truglio, Blythe Danner. Directed by Greg Mottola 

A couple of sci-fi nerds from England decide to take a road trip in the United States to visit all the UFO hot spots. While outside of Area 51, they pick up an unexpected hitchhiker – a genuine alien. However, he is nothing like you would expect an alien to be and as it turns out, the movies got them all wrong! Damn that Steven Spielberg!!! In any case, a shadowy government agency is after them because they want the alien back. They’ll want to keep him as far from Arizona as they can.

See the trailer, promos, interviews, clips and featurettes here.

For more on the movie this is the website.

Release formats: Standard

Genre: Science Fiction Comedy

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

I Saw the Devil

(Magnet) Byung-hun Lee, Min-sik Choi, San-ha Oh, Yoon-seo Kim. After the pregnant wife of a police inspector is brutally murdered by a serial killer, the inspector crosses the line of justice and vengeance. In so doing, he becomes worse than the monster he’s chasing. Is there a way back into the light once you’ve embraced the darkness?

See the trailer and a clip here.

For more on the movie this is the website.

Release formats: Standard

Genre: Drama

Rating: NR

Limitless

(Relativity/Rogue) Bradley Cooper, Robert De Niro, Abbie Cornish, Anna Friel. A failing writer discovers a drug that allows you to access all of your brain instead of the 20% or so we mostly use now. His new-found mental capacity at first gives him success, wealth and confidence but it also attracts attention from the unscrupulous who want to exploit him. And let’s talk about side effects shall we? 

See the trailer, clips and interviews here.

For more on the movie this is the website.

Release formats: Standard

Genre: Science Fiction Thriller

Rating: PG-13 (for thematic material involving a drug, violence including disturbing images, sexuality and language)

The Lincoln Lawyer

(Lionsgate) Matthew McConaughey, Ryan Philippe, Marisa Tomei, Josh Lucas. A sleazy criminal defense lawyer who operates from the back of a Lincoln sedan stumbles into a high profile case that could well be his ticket to the big time. However, complications arise (as they inevitably do) and the lawyer winds up facing a crisis of conscience that may well destroy everything he has.

See the trailer, news stories, interviews and clips here.

For more on the movie this is the website.

Release formats: Standard

Genre: Thriller

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

Lord of the Dance in 3D

(SuperVision Media) Michael Flatley, Bernadette Flynn, Tom Cunningham, Clara Sexton. The worldwide stage hit that popularized Celtic dance comes to the big screen in a lavish 3D environment that brings audiences right on the stage with the dancers. For all you who loved the stage show, this is your chance to become part of the show in this limited engagement performance.

See the trailer here.

For more on the movie this is the website.

Release formats: Special Engagement, 3D

Genre: Musical

Rating: NR

Tiny Furniture

(IFC) Lena Dunham, Laurie Simmons, Grace Dunham, Alex Karpovsky. A young woman moves back in with her mom after her boyfriend leaves her and she graduates college with a degree that’s more or less useless. Competing with an overachieving younger sister, she drinks, has meaningless, passionless sex and takes a dead-end job that she hates. She knows what her potential is; she’s just needing someone to tell her who she is.

See the trailer here.

For more on the movie this is the website.

Release formats: Standard

Genre: Comedy

Rating: R (for language, sexual content and drug use)

 

Cyrus


Cyrus

Even Marisa Tomei finds the concept of falling for John C. Reilly amusing.

(Fox Searchlight) John C. Reilly, Marisa Tomei, Jonah Hill, Catherine Keener, Matt Walsh, Katie Aselton, Tim Guinee, Steve Zissis, Jamie Donnelly, Diane Mizota, Kathy Ann Wittes, Charlie Brewer. Directed by the Duplass Brothers

In a simpler age, it was said a boy’s best friend was his mother. These days, that statement has creepy connotations, which is no doubt what inspired the making of this movie.

John (Reilly) is not a very happy guy. It’s been seven years since his wife divorced him (not his idea, as he very firmly points out) and ever since, he’s been in a shell. He rarely goes out, has few friends and as for a romantic life? Obviously not. Mostly, his only social contact is his ex-wife for whom he still carries a torch. She walks in on him masturbating to tell him the news that she’s getting re-married, which gives you an idea of what kind of movie this is going to be.

She badgers him to go to a party she’s throwing and at first, John isn’t keen on going. She has invited a lot of beautiful single girls and insists he goes so he can get on with his life (and by inference get out of hers). Finally he gives in and shows up, and it’s clear that he has no game whatsoever. As the night goes on, he continues to drink vodka and Red Bulls, getting progressively more sloshed and makes horrible attempts at small talk with disinterested, even to the point where he opens up to a woman (Wittes) about how desperate and lonely he is, sending her fleeing as far away from him as she can get.

He is overheard by Molly (Tomei), who can relate being also desperate and lonely. The two meet each other while John is urinating in the bushes (oh, the romance!) and she deflects the awkwardness of the situation by saying the only thing a woman can say that won’t cause the man to wish he were a thousand miles away – “Nice penis.”

From such things great romances are born, and Molly and John spend the night together. Soon, they are seeing each other seriously despite John’s misgivings about his looks (“I’m, like, Shrek!”) but John is a little concerned that she always leaves his bed in the middle of the night. One night, he follows her and finds out where she lives. He discovers she has a grown son named Cyrus (Hill) who lives at home and is working on a New Age music career.

Cyrus is welcoming enough at first but it becomes clear that he has another agenda in mind. For one thing, Cyrus is extremely possessive of his mom and doesn’t want to compete for her affection. In fact, the two are so close it’s kind of creepy; apparently Cyrus was still being breastfed when he was about, I think, eight. Years, that is – not months.

The Duplass Brothers are noted as leading artists in the “mumblecore” filmmaking movement, which is more evident in their previous features Puffy Chair and Baghead. This movie isn’t mumblecore per se, but it has some of the elements of it – like the jerky camera movements and the sudden zoom ins and zoom outs that become really annoying after awhile. It’s all part of the “Look, Ma, I’m Directing” syndrome that often affects filmmakers who have been too much on the indie circuit.

This has romantic comedy elements too, and unfortunately they are the same ones that have made American romantic comedies mostly forgettable and lame. The movie’s ending is very predictable, to the point of making me want to pound my head against the wall.

What saves the movie is the premise and the execution, as well as the acting of the three leads. Reilly and Tomei are two very likable actors and even though they’re playing very flawed characters here, they make you root for them despite those flaws. Reilly is so rumpled and beaten down you wonder what a hottie like Tomei would see in him until you find out how beaten down she is. They’re kindred spirits, which makes the romance all the more acceptable.

Jonah Hill has played some oddball characters in his time, and this is one of the oddest. Cyrus is at once pathetic and shrewd, able to play his mother like a Stradivarius. In many ways their relationship symbolizes a lot of the problems with modern parenting, the permissiveness and clinginess that many parents feel towards their children. If that was the intent of the Duplass brothers, then a big ol’ Bravo to them.

The movie is definitely creepy in places and awkward in others. Watching it is not unlike walking in on a married couple having a big fight; the longer you stay, the more awkward it feels. In some ways, I like being thrown off-balance that way – it makes for a more memorable cinematic experience. However, those who feel uncomfortable at the expression of raw emotions should stand warned that they might find it too awkward.

REASONS TO GO: Some really funny moments. The three key leads all turn in solid work.

REASONS TO STAY: Self-consciously indie combined with rom-com clichés make it an uphill climb at times to like this movie. The forced focus and montage sequences became tiresome.

FAMILY VALUES: There’s a fair amount of bad language and a little bit of sexuality. Some of the situations are decidedly uncomfortable concerning the mother-son relationship.

TRIVIAL PURSUIT: Filmmakers Ridley and Tony Scott served as producers on the movie, through their production company Scott Free.

HOME OR THEATER: While worth seeing in the theater, this certainly will work at home if you’d so prefer.

FINAL RATING: 7/10

TOMORROW: G-Force