New Releases for the Week of October 23, 2015


Steve JobsSTEVE JOBS

(Universal) Michael Fassbender, Kate Winslet, Seth Rogen, Jeff Daniels, Michael Stuhlbarg, Katherine Waterston, Sarah Snook, Adam Shapiro. Directed by Danny Boyle

One of the brilliant visionaries of our time, Steve Jobs became the guru of technology although he was never an engineer so much as a marketing genius. Under his leadership, Apple became a juggernaut of a company, spearheading the personal computer revolution as well as creating markets for the iPhone, iPad and iPod. His personal life was more tumultuous as he was as a boss a demanding taskmaster and sundered personal relationships in his quest to change the world and gain market share. This driven man has already gotten a biopic and now a second, more prestigious one is coming along that has already garnered rave reviews and Oscar buzz for Fassbender in the title role.

See the trailer, clips, interviews and B-roll video here.
For more on the movie this is the website.
Release Formats: Standard
Genre: Biographical Drama
Now Playing: Wide Release
Rating: R (for language)

A Brilliant Young Mind

(Goldwyn) Asa Butterfield, Rafe Spall, Sally Hawkins, Eddie Marsan. A brilliant British math prodigy who is unable to navigate social behavior due to his autism finds comfort in numbers. Taken under the wing by an unconventional math teacher, he earns a spot on the British Math Team. There, while training in Taipei with the Chinese team, he meets a young Chinese girl and begins to develop unexpected feelings for her. The director based this fictional film on his own documentary about the training of the British math team.

See the trailer and a clip here.
For more on the movie this is the website.
Release Formats: Standard
Genre: Drama
Now Playing: Enzian Theater
Rating: NR

Drunk Stoned Brilliant Dead: The Story of the National Lampoon

(Magnolia) Henry Beard, Matty Simmons, Bruce McCall, P.J. O’Rourke. If you look at modern American comedy both on television and in the movies, the roots go back to National Lampoon magazine. Founded by a couple of Harvard grads who had worked at the venerable Harvard Lampoon, the magazine became a breeding ground for some of the most brilliant comedians and writers of our time. A favorite from this year’s Florida Film Festival, the film has since received distribution through major indie Magnolia and makes it to the Enzian for a brief run; read my Festival review of the film here.

See the trailer here.
For more on the movie this is the website.
Release Formats: Standard
Genre: Documentary
Now Playing: Enzian Theater
Rating: NR

Jem and the Holograms

(Universal) Juliette Lewis, Molly Ringwald, Aubrey Peeples, Stefanie Scott. A young woman becomes an internet sensation when her sisters leak a video of her playing an original song onto a website. She soon becomes a global superstar and is made to jettison her band, which is made up of her other three sisters. Needing to make things right, she and her sisters soon go off on an adventure that she never expected to find. Based on the 80s Saturday morning cartoon.

See the trailer, interviews, clips, a featurette, a music video and B-roll video here.
For more on the movie this is the website.
Release Formats: Standard
Genre: Musical
Now Playing: Wide Release
Rating: PG (for thematic material including reckless behavior, brief suggestive content and some language)

The Last Witch Hunter

(Summit) Vin Diesel, Elijah Wood, Rose Leslie, Michael Caine. For centuries, the evil creatures of the night – source of our most horrific legends – were battled by valiant witch hunters. When the Witch Queen is slain by Kaulder, the best of the witch hunters, she curses him with immortality, separating him from his beloved wife and daughter in the Afterlife. Now, hundreds of years later, he continues battling what few rogue witches are left, the last of his kind. When the Witch Queen is resurrected, an epic battle will ensue on which rests the future of the human race.

See the trailer, clips, interviews, a music video and B-roll video here.
For more on the movie this is the website.
Release Formats: Standard
Genre: Horror Fantasy Action
Now Playing: Wide Release
Rating: PG (for scary and intense creature action and images, and for some rude humor)

Paranormal Activity: The Ghost Dimension

(Paramount) Chris J. Murray, Brit Shaw, Ivy George, Dan Gill. The most successful found footage franchise in history comes to an end as a pair of brothers find a box of videocassettes in their new house, as well as a camera that allows them to see the spirit world. When a daughter of one of the brothers opens a portal to the ghost dimension, all hell will literally break loose as all the loose threads from the previous films in the series will be tied up at last.

See the trailer, clips, featurettes and a promo here.
For more on the movie this is the website.
Release Formats: Standard
Genre: Horror
Now Playing: AMC Altamonte Mall, AMC Disney Springs, AMC Loew’s Universal Cityplex, AMC West Oaks
Rating: R (for language and horror violence)

Rock the Kasbah

(Open Road) Bill Murray, Bruce Willis, Kate Hudson, Zooey Deschanel. A washed up manager of rock performers is abandoned in Afghanistan by his last remaining client, then in a cave outside Kabul discovers the most amazing voice ever. Determined to help the beautiful woman who possesses that voice reach her dreams of winning Afghan Star (the local version of American Idol), he enlists a motley crew of allies to help him overcome cultural prejudices and take his new client all the way to the top. Incredibly, this is based on actual events and is directed by Oscar winner Barry Levinson.

See the trailer, clips and a featurette here.
For more on the movie this is the website.
Release Formats: Standard
Genre: Dramedy
Now Playing: Wide Release
Rating: R (for language including sexual references, some drug use and brief violence)

Victoria

(Adopt) Laia Costa, Frederick Lau, Franz Rogowski, Burak Ligit. The winner of the prestigious Silver Bear award at the Berlin Film Festival, this ambitious film was shot in a single night all in one take. It concerns a party girl who meets three guys and a night of wild fun turns into a bank robbery. Sebastian Schipper directs.

See the trailer, interviews and clips here.
For more on the movie this is the website.
Release Formats: Standard
Genre: Crime Thriller
Now Playing: Regal Winter Park Village
Rating: NR

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Kingsman: The Secret Service


Accessories are important for the true gentleman.

Accessories are important for the true gentleman.

(2015) Spy Action (20th Century Fox) Colin Firth, Samuel L. Jackson, Michael Caine, Taron Egerton, Mark Strong, Sophie Cookson, Sofia Boutella, Mark Hamill, Jack Davenport, Geoff Bell, Samantha Womack, Jordan Long, Tobi Bakare, Nicholas Banks, Edward Holcroft, Morgan Watkins, Jack Cutmore-Scott, Hanna Alstrom, Fiona Hampton, Lily Travers. Directed by Matthew Vaughn

The spy movies of the late 60s and onward have a certain place in the cultural psyche. They represent a particular era, sure, but they also represent the fight between good and evil, our fascination with technology and a certain sense of humor about life in the modern age. Our attitudes towards women, patriotism, freedom and what constitutes a gentleman have been largely shaped by these films.

Gary “Eggsy” Unwin (Egerton) is growing up aimlessly in a working class London neighborhood. His dad died when he was a baby and his mom (Womack) has taken up with a local thug (Bell) named Dean. Dean abuses his mom but Gary isn’t strong enough to stand up for her or for himself. Dean despises him and ridicules him for it.

But Eggsy has a good heart to go along with his Cockney accent and when he gets arrested for stealing the car of one of Dean’s underlings and leading the police on a merry chase, he knows he can’t call home. Therefore, he calls the number on the back of an amulet once given to his mother by a gentlemen who came to inform her of the death of Eggsy’s father, remembering that if he called that number and read a certain phrase, help of whatever nature was needed would be forthcoming.

It comes in the form of Harry Hart (Firth), a debonair and well-dressed gentleman who tells Eggsy that in fact, his father once saved Harry’s life and that Harry wanted to repay that debt by offering his son the opportunity to try out for a position in the same super secret organization that his father served in and that Harry in fact serves in now – the Kingsmen. No, not the “Louie, Louie” bunch.

The Kingsmen are a secret, non-government affiliated group of highly trained, highly skilled gentlemen. They aren’t spies particularly; what they do is prevent bad things from happening. They have a seemingly unlimited budget and there are only a set number of them; when one dies they are replaced. This is the group that Eggsy is about to join – if he can survive the process of selecting the winning applicant, that is and it is a brutal one, focusing on teamwork, thinking on one’s feet and assessing dangerous situations. Most of the applicants are upper class snobs, although Eggsy befriends Roxy (Cookson), a female applicant (who gets her share of grief from the snobs, as does Eggsy) and Merlin (Strong), the tech wizard of the Kingsmen and the right hand of Arthur (Caine), head of the organization.

In the meantime, a tech billionaire named Valentine has big, bad plans. See, he’s a little bit concerned about climate change. Okay, he’s a lot concerned about climate change. He’s given up on the government doing anything about it and has decided that to make humankind’s carbon footprint smaller he needs to make the population smaller. His plan is to use a special cell phone signal through special SIM cards in free cell phones he’s given away to nearly everyone trigger a violent, murderous rage in those who hear it. Only those wealthy, beautiful few who he’s personally approached and implanted a microchip that cancels out the signal in their heads will be immune to the carnage, especially after they all are safely ensconced in bunkers around the world.

It’s a mad plan, certainly but Valentine is deadly serious about it. He’s even hired himself a mercenary army and constructed a lair within a mountain. You know he’s got to be a villain with a mountain lair. In any case, with Valentine’s powerful connections, getting to him won’t be easy and preventing an anarchic Armageddon even less so but that’s what the Kingsmen are there for, after all – to save the day.

Vaughn has made films based on Mark Millar comic series before (as this film is) and the collaborations between the two have been fruitful, producing the fine superhero film Kick-Ass for example. Vaughn has become one of my favorite directors of late with some excellent genre films to his credit. He knows how to make a film visually spectacular and hit all the right buttons in the fanboy psyche while not taking the movies so seriously that they become ponderous. His movies are almost always deeply entertaining.

And this one is no exception. Colin Firth as an action hero seems like a pretty unlikely casting, but it works here. Firth actually performed a surprising amount of his own stunts, but handles the role well, keeping a Bond-like facade of cool while kicking the butts of a group of Dean’s thugs, or some of Valentine’s flunkies, or a church full of homicidal fundamentalists.

Samuel L. Jackson makes a fine villain. Given several personality quirks (he gets violently ill at the sight of blood for example) by the writers, Jackson gives the character a lisp that makes him all the more memorable which is in the grand tradition of Bond villains. While the lisp does occasionally fall off, Jackson gives the character the right amount of menace to make for a formidable foe but enough goofiness to give the film a lighter tone. He also gets a nifty assassin in Gazelle (Boutella), who has no legs but on her Pistorius-like artificial limbs is fast, graceful and deadly as she is able to unfold sword blades from those artificial legs while in mid-air. Tres cool.

There are a lot of asides to the spy movies and television series of history; a reference to the Get Smart! shoe phone for example, or the glasses worn by super-spy Harry Palmer in films like The Billion Dollar Baby and The Ipcress Files. Clearly there are several Bond references although many are turned on their ear; Valentine at one point has a speech in which he says “This is the part where I reveal to you all my plans, and then come up with a slow and convoluted way for you to die, and you come up with a convoluted way to escape and stop me. Except this isn’t that kind of movie” at which point he shoots his nemesis in the head, much like Indiana Jones once shot a swordsman making fancy moves before he could attack.

Egerton shows a lot of potential, although I can’t say he’s a slam-dunk future star. He’s got charisma but he wasn’t really asked to carry this movie (as well he shouldn’t have been) and so I’m not certain he can rise above the gimmicks and gadgets, of which there are plenty here. The jury is out on him for me, although I can see him eventually ascending to a leading man status.

The humor here is mostly dry although there are some broad physical jokes here from time to time. Those who find the English wit not to their liking may consider this not their cup of tea, although I enjoyed this a great deal. In fact, this is the most entertaining movie I’ve seen thus far this year (which isn’t saying much) and one of the most entertaining I’ve seen in the first quarter of any year (which is saying a lot) ever. For those looking for a fun time at the movies, this is your best bet at least until some of the more anticipated movies of the spring start appearing next month. I certainly wouldn’t complain if this became the start of a new Fox franchise.

REASONS TO GO: Highly entertaining. Great action sequences. Strong performances throughout.
REASONS TO STAY: Relies a bit on gimmickry and gadgetry. May be too droll for some.
FAMILY VALUES: Plenty of violence and mayhem, some pretty crude language and some sexuality and brief nudity.
TRIVIAL PURSUIT: The menswear shop on Savile Row which is the entrance to the Kingsman headquarters is based on Huntsman, a real store in the area. Because shooting in the actual shop would have been impractical, a set was built copying many of the characteristics of the original although production designer Paul Kirby added his own touches to give the set its own personality.
CRITICAL MASS: As of 2/22/15: Rotten Tomatoes: 73% positive reviews. Metacritic: 59/100.
COMPARISON SHOPPING: This Means War
FINAL RATING: 7/10
NEXT: Hot Tub Time Machine 2

New Releases for the Week of February 13, 2015


Fifty Shades of GreyFIFTY SHADES OF GREY

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

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

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

Kingsman: The Secret Service

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

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

Mr. Turner

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

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

Interstellar


To infinity and beyond.

To infinity and beyond.

(2014) Science Fiction (Paramount) Matthew McConaughey, Anne Hathaway, Jessica Chastain, Michael Caine, Mackenzie Foy, John Lithgow, Casey Affleck, Wes Bentley, Bill Irwin (voice), Ellen Burstyn, Timothee Chalamet, David Oyelowo, Collette Wolf, William Devane, David Gyasi, Topher Grace, Josh Stewart (voice), Matt Damon, Leah Cairns. Directed by Christopher Nolan

Physics is a fascinating and maddening field of study. The wonder of the universe is written in the language of physics but so too are its rules and regulations. There are those that see the handwriting of God in physics but there are also those who see it as a frustratingly difficult to coalesce glimpse of the infinite simply because we are still learning to understand the language. In that sense, we are as children trying to speak in a language we only know a few words of.

Reality is a bit less hard to fathom. The Earth is dying. Something called the blight has killed most of the crops and, it seems, the animal life on Earth other than the human species. Only corn remains and when that goes, humanity starves. America has become a gigantic dust bowl straight out of the Depression, covering everything in dust and despair.

Cooper (McConaughey) is a farmer who once had higher aspirations. A test pilot and engineer who’d worked for NASA until a crash had taken him out of the ballgame, he grouses to father-in-law Donald (Lithgow) that whereas once mankind looked up at the stars and wondered at our place in the universe, these days mankind looks down at the ground and wonders at our place in the dirt. As with most intelligent people, he can read the writing on the wall but still he labors to try and get his crop in as best he can while raising his 15-year-old son Tom (Chalamet) and his 10-year-old daughter Murph (Foy) in a world of frequent dust storms and a malaise where technology is no longer worshiped or seen as the answer to our problems (where in fact technology is largely seen as the source of our problems) and nations no longer bother to field armies because, well, why bother?

Murph and Cooper have a special relationship. Whereas Tom seeks only to follow in his father’s boots as a farmer, Murph is smart, inquisitive and a bit of a firecracker. When she says she’s haunted by a ghost, Cooper gently tells her that ghosts aren’t real from a scientific standpoint, and yet books get knocked off of her bookcase without explanation, and dust that blows into her room settles into a strange patter which turns out to be a binary code of co-ordinates.

Intrigued, Coop drives to the location of the co-ordinates and finds a secret base where NASA still functions. Led by his old mentor Professor Brand (Caine), the facility is constructing one final rocket. It turns out that a wormhole has opened up near the rings of Saturn and have made accessible a dozen planets that are potentially capable of supporting human life. Probes have been sent as well as brave human astronauts. One last mission is planned; to choose between three of the most promising locations and either set up a human colony there or if Professor Brand is able to solve an equation that will allow him to do it, to relocate the remainder of the human race from dying Earth to a new home. However, human astronauts would be needed to make decisions a computer or robot cannot and the journey would be a long one – two years just to make it to Saturn. Coop, being a test pilot and an engineer would be the perfect choice to lead the mission, particularly since he was apparently led to NASA by divine providence – or an alien fifth-dimensional beings who might have a benevolent interest in the human race.

This doesn’t sit too well with Murph who is furious that her father is abandoning her but Coop knows that if he doesn’t go his children will be the last generation of humanity left. Along with Professor Brand’s super-smart daughter (Hathaway), astronauts Doyle (Bentley) and Romilly (Gyasi) as well as a couple of military robots named TARS (Irwin) and CASE (Stewart). In a ring-shaped ship the astronauts enter the wormhole for a system dominated by a giant black hole to find a new home for humanity but the mission becomes even more critical as the relative aging of the crew is drastically affected by the proximity of the black hole. Hours spent exploring a planet will pass in decades on Earth. This means that even if the spaceship is able to return home, Coop will be the same age as Tom (Affleck) and Murph (Chastain) when he returns. While Murph has grown up to assist Professor Brand at NASA, Tom – who thinks all of this is foolishness – continues to farm despite the mounting odds against human survival.

This is as epic a movie as you could hope to make about human survival. It is not an action-packed apocalypse with roaming outlaws and thunderdomes, but one of resignation and despair. It depicts a human race going out essentially with a whimper largely, although there are those fighting to try and make it a bang. Seems reasonably accurate to me.

In fact, the accuracy of the science is one of the film’s selling points. Physicist Kip Thorne, one of the most honored in the field, is a producer and has vetted the science. While some of what is onscreen is conjecture, it is based on real scientific theorem about the nature of wormholes, black holes and relativity. This is science fact, not science fantasy.

McConaughey continues his career renaissance with not only a high profile role but a fine performance in it. His Cooper is extremely conflicted, motivated not so much to save the world but his two children which really is what heroism boils down to – saving those closest to us. It isn’t the kind of stunning Oscar-worthy work that was Dallas Buyers Club but it is memorable nonetheless. Also worthy of mention is Chastain’s performance as the adult Murph. She’s angry but also open-minded and eventually comes to believe in the mission and her dad. Lithgow also is impressive in a brief role as the curmudgeonly father-in-law who is absolutely devoted to his grandkids.

The visuals here are breathtaking, from the majestic black hole to the rings of Saturn to the psychedelic wormhole. As with Gravity before it, you get a real impression of space flight and while no human being has witnessed a lot of the wonders depicted here, again the science is carefully sound so that even physicists have written papers based on the science and images of the film. I don’t think you can get a better testimonial when it comes to authenticity than that.

The one sour note in the symphony are the last 20 minutes. I won’t discuss specifics other than to say that of all the potential doors that the writers could have chosen to go through to end the movie, it felt like they chose the closest one. I won’t say easiest because it requires a bit of explanation but it felt like they painted themselves into a corner and then bent space and time to extricate themselves. Most people who dislike the movie do so because of this sequence.

However, I won’t discount the two and a half hours of magnificent filmmaking that preceded it because of essentially a poor choice of finishes. Perhaps that makes the movie all the more worthwhile to remind us that even Christopher Nolan is human, and even smart humans can make questionable calls.

This is the kind of movie that can be discussed endlessly. Like Stanley Kubrick’s iconic opus which in many ways influences Nolan here, there is plenty of room to figure out What It All Means. This is a movie which rather than staring at the ground and wondering about our place in the dirt looks up at the sky and wonders at our place in the universe. While the filmmaking here does have a major flaw which keeps it from a higher score, it nonetheless is worthwhile filmmaking that deserves your attention and can be recommended wholeheartedly not only to film lovers but to science geeks as well.

REASONS TO GO: Epic sci-fi filmmaking on a grand scale. A rare scientifically accurate sci-fi movie.
REASONS TO STAY: Last 20 minutes are disappointing.
FAMILY VALUES: There is a little bit of rough language and some fairly intense sci-fi peril.
TRIVIAL PURSUIT: In the original screenplay for the movie, Murph is a male.
CRITICAL MASS: As of 11/30/14: Rotten Tomatoes: 73% positive reviews. Metacritic: 74/100.
COMPARISON SHOPPING: 2001: A Space Odyssey
FINAL RATING: 8/10
NEXT: The Hunger Games: Mockingjay – Part I

New Releases for the Week of November 7, 2014


InterstellarINTERSTELLAR

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

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

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

Big Hero 6

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

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

 

Birdman

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

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

The Blue Room

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

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

Elsa and Fred

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

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

Laggies

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

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

 

Mr. Pip

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

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

On Any Sunday, The Next Chapter

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

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

Whiplash

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

See the trailer and clips here.
For more on the movie this is the website.
Release formats: Standard
Genre: Drama
Now Playing: Regal Winter Park Village
Rating: R (for strong language including some sexual references)

Now You See Me


 

Isla Fisher knows how to make a splash.

Isla Fisher knows how to make a splash.

(2013) Action Crime Thriller (Summit) Jesse Eisenberg, Isla Fisher, Woody Harrelson, Mark Ruffalo, Morgan Freeman, Dave Franco, Michael Caine, Common, Melanie Laurent, Michael J. Kelly, David Warshofsky, Jose Garcia, Jessica Lindsey, Caitriona Balfe, Stephanie Honore, Stanley Wong, Laura Cayouette, Adam Shapiro, Justine Wachsberger, Conan O’Brien. Directed by Louis Leterrier

Magic is the art of misdirection and trickery. You fool the other person into thinking that you’re doing something impossible when all you’re really doing is managing the environment. Of course the bigger the trick, the more completely you must manage the environment.

The Four Horsemen are a magic act that is the toast of Vegas, playing sold out shows at the Vdara Hotel and Casino. Only a year prior however Daniel Atlas (Eisenberg) was an arrogant street magician with ambition (although he’s kept the arrogance), Merritt McKinney (Harrelson) was a mentalist who’d fallen from grace who has had to stoop to using his powers of observation for shaking down rubes, Henley Reeves (Fisher) was an underground magic act who had broken away from being Atlas’ assistant but found that the male-dominated magic world was no less easy on her own, and Jack Wilder (Franco) spent as much time picking pockets as he did doing sleight of hand. All four of them had received mysterious invitations via Tarot card – but sent by whom?

That didn’t matter much. Backed by insurance magnate Arthur Tressler (Caine), they’ve hit the big time but for their new show, they have a hell of a finale; they send an audience member (Garcia) seemingly by teleportation to the vault of his Paris bank; once there he turns on a switch that sends a skid full of Euros through a vent shaft to rain down on the audience at the Vdara.

Except that the bank was actually robbed and this seemingly was no trick. This puts grouch FBI agent Dylan Rhodes (Ruffalo) on their trail. He doesn’t really want any help but he gets some anyway – from comely Interpol agent Alma Dray (Laurent) and professional debunker Thaddeus Bradley (Freeman) who was once a magician himself but has found it more lucrative to debunk the illusions of his former colleagues on DVDs.

While the Horsemen are questioned, there really isn’t any way to pin anything on them. After all, they have a theater full of witnesses that they were in Las Vegas and only the insistence of the audience member that he was there at all – and the evidence of the audience member’s signed ticket stub in the empty vault. But it’s not possible that he could travel to Paris instantaneously, is it?

Dylan doesn’t think so. With the Horsemen advertising an even bigger trick in New Orleans, the FBI set to tailing them, but how do you keep your eyes on people trained to misdirect and trick you into think you’re seeing something that you’re actually not? And who is it that called the group together? And most importantly, what is the end game?

Leterrier established his career with the Jason Statham-led Transporter movies which were slick action-packed thrillers of an automotive nature (I thought at the time that they were even better than the Fast and Furious movies although the last two have since changed my mind). Here, he goes back to his roots following a couple of big effects-laden Hollywood movies (although this is still a Hollywood movie with effects), taking on a simpler storyline which is at the same time more complex.

There is a nice twist at the end which most won’t see coming but the movie is overall kind of uneven. The magic trick sequences are stunning and are some of the best moments in the movie. Ruffalo who is moving up the Hollywood ladder just about takes this movie over. My interest became more piqued every time he was onscreen. Not that the Horsemen are slouches (I did appreciate the banter between them) but I found myself drawn to him and his character. Freeman and Caine are two of my favorite actors but Caine is on so briefly that if you blink you’ll miss him (wasting an opportunity in my opinion) and Freeman kind of phones it in.

The actors perform some nifty tricks but their big elaborate ones are mainly established with CGI which is kind of disappointing; like the magic-themed The Incredible Burt Wonderstone, there are some pretty neat illusions but that movie performed them with practical effects rather than visual and the movie is better for it.

This is the kind of movie Da Queen adores, one with a puzzle set before an audience that isn’t easily solved. That it involves magicians is an extra added attraction for her (she loves magic), so she found this more to her liking than I did (she’d have probably given it a 7.5/10 which is higher than the rating I eventually gave it). I can see her point; the movie is clearly entertaining and accomplishes what it set out to do. I could have used with less car chases and less police procedural and a little more emphasis on the characters of the magicians themselves – they are so aloof for most of the movie that they become as well-rounded as mannequins. It would have been a much better trick to turn them into interesting characters instead.

REASONS TO GO: Ruffalo is marvelous. Magic tricks are nifty. Fairly clever twist.

REASONS TO STAY: Relies too much on CGI.

FAMILY VALUES:  There are a few action sequences that might be a bit too intense for the very young, as well as a few bad words here and there and a bit of sensuality.

TRIVIAL PURSUIT: During shooting, Caine fell asleep in his dressing room and didn’t hear the director call a wrap for the day. He awoke in pitch black and remained until his cries for help were heard the next morning.

CRITICAL MASS: As of 6/8/13: Rotten Tomatoes: 46% positive reviews. Metacritic: 50/100; pretty mediocre numbers.

COMPARISON SHOPPING: The Prestige

FINAL RATING: 6/10

NEXT: After Earth

The Dark Knight Rises


 

The Dark Knight Rises

Bane and Batman work on their ballroom dancing skills.

(2012) Superhero (Warner Brothers) Christian Bale, Anne Hathaway, Tom Hardy, Gary Oldman, Michael Caine, Marion Cotillard, Joseph Gordon-Levitt, Morgan Freeman, Matthew Modine, Cillian Murphy, Alon Moni Aboutboul, Burn Gorman, Ben Mendelsohn, Nestor Carbonell, Chris Ellis, Reggie Lee. Directed by Christopher Nolan

 

The world needs heroes. We latch onto them whether or not they deserve our admiration or not – and some of them do. However, heroes are often shaped by the perception given us by the media and by the powers that be. One man’s hero, in other words, is another man’s villain – and vice versa.

Eight years after the events of The Dark Knight, Bruce Wayne (Bale) a.k.a. Batman sits in isolation in Wayne Manor. Injured in his final fight with the Joker and with Harvey Dent, the Batman has been branded an outlaw for his role in the events of that film. Wayne is in a deep depression and despite the efforts of his faithful butler Alfred (Caine) remains so. There is no need for Batman, as legislation enacted in the aftermath of those events has helped the new police commissioner Jim Gordon (Oldman) clean  the city up. Gordon is assisted by Detective John Blake (Gordon-Levitt), a cop who believes in Batman and thinks that something stinks about his current outlaw status. Gotham is at peace and looking to the future at last.

However for figures like the Batman, the world has a way of preventing them from remaining on the sidelines for too long. A sexy catburglar named Selena Kyle (Hathaway) – who goes by the name of Catwoman – has robbed Wayne Manor of the string of pearls Bruce’s mother was wearing the night she was murdered, along with something more subtle – and dangerous to Bruce and those around him. Arriving in Gotham as well is Bane (Hardy), a masked terrorist of terrifying strength and an agenda that makes it sound like the French Revolution is coming to Gotham.

Bruce is struggling to keep his company out of the hands of the rapacious venture capitalist Daggett (Mendelsohn) who is after some technology developed by Lucius Fox (Freeman) that might prove devastating in the wrong hands. On his side is Miranda Tate (Cotillard), a European CEO who is on the same page as Bruce and Lucius. However, the attacks on Gotham and Wayne Enterprises are linked with each other and both have their roots sunk deeply into Bruce Wayne’s past. Bane is much more malevolent than even this and what he has in store for Gotham is nothing less than a full measure of reckoning.  Could this be the end of Batman?

Well, it certainly is the end of this phase of Batman. Nolan has made it clear that this will be the last Batman movie under his stewardship and there’s no doubt that Warner Brothers and DC aren’t thrilled about his departure. Nolan revived the character as a viable franchise

Of course, that isn’t all Nolan’s doing. Bale will go down in history as the definitive Batman much as Sean Connery is the definitive Bond. Bale captures the brooding nature of the character (which none of the other screen versions had fully been able to portray) while reminding us of his brilliance at figuring things out. Batman is the ultimate superhero strategist and we see that side of him here.

Some have criticized Bane as being too one-dimensional but I disagree. Bane is a very complicated character not unlike a jigsaw puzzle whose pieces you don’t have until the very end. It takes a bit of patience but once you kind of get him you realize Hardy is doing a tremendous job with him, considering he is mostly acting with his eyes as his face is masked and his voice distorted. Those who can’t see anything deeper aren’t looking hard enough.

There are those who will look at this as a social commentary of some sort and to be honest, Nolan’s movies often are. Bane might be thought of as the sort of epitome of the Occupy movement, blaring one solipsism  after another proclaiming the rights of the people over the evil powers that be. However, that would be a simplistic interpretation. Quite frankly, the movie is our worst nightmares about the economy come to pass; a morality play about how easily economic chaos can lead to physical chaos. It’s certainly a cautionary tale.

For me, the heart and soul of this particular movie isn’t so much Batman as it is Alfred. I was a little surprised Caine took the part initially and this movie might well be one of the crowning achievements of his distinguished career; it’s not a large part but it’s the soul of the film and Caine delivers one of the most emotional performances I can ever remember. I just hope the Academy remembers him when the nominations start to come out next year.

If the question is whether or not this measures up to The Dark Knight, then the answer is a resounding yes. If the question is whether the movie is as good or an improvement on The Dark Knight, then I’d say that it is close but not quite as good. Hardy is terrific as Bane and Hathaway makes a sexy but savvy Catwoman but neither of them delivers the good quite as well as the late Heath Ledger did as The Joker. Batman needs an opponent at least as clever as he is and Bane isn’t quite to that level.

This is as good a summer movie as you’re likely to find out there, one which takes the gauntlet thrown down by The Avengers and answers the call. We are quite fortunate to have a summer in which the superhero movies have been as uniformly excellent as this year has been; hopefully that will set the bar for summers to come.

REASONS TO GO: A fitting end to a great movie trilogy that sets the bar high for future superhero movies. Well-orchestrated plot. Hardy and Hathaway make terrific villains; Bale is the definitive Batman and Caine gives an Oscar-worthy performance.

REASONS TO STAY: Very dark in nature, maybe the darkest superhero film ever which might be too much for younger audiences.

FAMILY VALUES: There is plenty of comic book violence, some of it a little bit more realistic. There is a bit of simulated and implied sex, and a few bad words.

TRIVIAL PURSUIT: Christian Bale becomes the first actor to play Batman in three live action films (Kevin Conroy has played the role seven times but all in animated features).

CRITICAL MASS: As of 7/28/12: Rotten Tomatoes: 87% positive reviews. Metacritic: 78/100. The reviews are strongly positive.

COMPARISON SHOPPING: Spider-Man 2

FOOTBALL LOVERS: The football sequence was filmed at Heinz Field in Pittsburgh. The kick returner was played by real life NFL star Hines Ward, who in the movie plays for the Gotham Rogues.

FINAL RATING: 9/10

NEXT: An Unreasonable Man