Premium Rush


Premium Rush

Just because there’s a cab behind you doesn’t mean you’re on the right road.

(2012) Action (Columbia) Joseph Gordon-Levitt, Michael Shannon, Dania Ramirez, Jamie Chung, Sean Kennedy, Wole Parks, Aasif Mandvi, Kymberly Perfetto, Christopher Place, Brian Koppelman, Boyce Wong, Jimmy P. Wong, Darlene Violette. Directed by David Koepp

 

Some movies have a great deal of depth. They require thought, concentration and a bit of contemplation to truly appreciate properly. Then there are movies like this one; the cinematic equivalent of a double shot of espresso with a Red Bull chaser.

Wilee (Gordon-Levitt) – whose name is pronounced like the ACME-using coyote from the Looney Tunes cartoons – is a New York City bike courier who delivers packages all over Manhattan on a lightweight modified bike with no brakes. He’s cocky, fearless and lives for the adrenaline high that his job delivers. He’s smart too – he actually passed the bar exam but you won’t find him in a corporate cubicle. Oh no. Wilee is no mere office drone. He has a better life in mind for himself.

Which apparently includes a girlfriend named Vanessa (Ramirez) although she’s not so sure. In fact, Wilee’s rival courier Manny (Parks) thinks that she’d be better off with him. He apparently really has some sort of need to prove his superiority over Wilee, always up for a race with his rival. Wilee, being the free spirit that he is, has no time for this.

In fact, he’s too busy picking up a package from his alma mater from Nima (Chung) who also happens to be Vanessa’s roommate coincidentally – for a premium rush job, which the customer is paying extra dollars to get to its destination just a little bit quicker. However, there’s a creepy guy named Bobby Monday (Shannon) who wants the package and will do anything to get it. In fact, he needs to steal it in order to pay off a substantial gambling debt. The only reason Monday isn’t already dead is that he is a New York City cop. Monday takes off after Wilee in the streets of New York on a high-speed chase that both men are desperate to win.

And that’s all the plot you need to know. Anything else doesn’t really matter – in fact most of the plot I mentioned above doesn’t matter either, other than the last sentence starting with “Monday takes off.” This is all about adrenaline-fueled hard-charging bike stunts in the streets of New York. It’s like the X-Games urban war that you’ve always wanted to see. If they could have gotten Tony Hawk to do some tricks off of the parked cars they would have had it made.

The pacing is hyperkinetic with the story jumping back and forth through flashbacks. Graphics show the routes taken through the city by the couriers, and graphics and flash forwards show the choices available to Wilee at various intersections and the potentially lethal consequences of some of his options. Those are some of the most fun scenes in the movie.

Gordon-Levitt is an appealing actor who is moving up the ranks from indie darling into legitimate star. He has been busy in a wide variety of movies and looks to be making the movie into the top tier of Hollywood stardom. It doesn’t hurt that he’s pretty buff looking here which is sure to make him a few new fans among the ladies.

Shannon is a versatile character actor who often has a dark streak in his characters. Here he is darker than most of the roles I’ve seen him in, a quite impressive villain who is out of control, and believes his badge renders him invulnerable to justice. Monday is the worst kind of bad cop and Shannon keeps him from becoming too much of a cartoon.

This is almost all action and no exposition. New Yorkers will find this a little bit more fun because of the locations, and men are going to like the non-stop action. There isn’t a lot here for those looking for relationships, character development or romance. It’s mostly about bicyclists taking insane chances. The lead character is well-named – he’s fearless and maybe too clever for his own good. I might have rated this higher had an anvil been dropped on his head.

REASONS TO GO: Some nifty action sequences and a clever use of graphics. Gordon-Levitt is engaging and Shannon makes a fine villain.

REASONS TO STAY: Very New York-centric. A little too much testosterone.

FAMILY VALUES: There is a bit of violence and some disturbing imagery. There are plenty of foul words though.

TRIVIAL PURSUIT: Most of the scenes set at Columbia Law School were filmed at Lerner Hall, the student center for the University.

CRITICAL MASS: As of 9/18/12: Rotten Tomatoes: 76% positive reviews. Metacritic: 66/100. The movie got decent reviews.

COMPARISON SHOPPING: Next Day Air

FORREST J. ACKERMAN LOVERS: Detective Monday uses the name of the legendary science fiction fan/author/literary agent/historian as an alias.

FINAL RATING: 6/10

NEXT: Of Gods and Men

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The Amazing Spider-Man


 

The Amazing Spider-Man

There’s just no way to look dignified in this costume and in this pose.

(2012) Superhero (Columbia) Andrew Garfield, Rhys Ifans, Emma Stone, Denis Leary, Sally Field, Martin Sheen, Campbell Scott, Irrfan Khan, Embeth Davidtz, Chris Zylka, C. Thomas Howell, Jake  Ryan Keiffer, Kari Coleman, Stan Lee, Tom Waite. Directed by Marc Webb

 

Most of us have something missing in our lives. Whether it be something emotional – a feeling of being loved or needed – or something physical, like one’s parents or a new Ferrari, we all have something we lack and would do quite literally anything to get back.

Peter Parker (Garfield) is by all accounts a fairly normal kid, but a little on the dark side; his parents left him with his Uncle Ben (Sheen) and Aunt May (Fields) one rainy night after their house was broken into. They were later killed in a plane crash according to newspaper accounts. He misses them and yearns to know why they left but they are shadows and smoke to him. Peter is a science nerd with a good deal of brilliance inherited from his geneticist father (Scott). He has goo-goo eyes for Gwen Stacy (Stone), the beautiful blonde daughter of Capt. George Stacy (Leary) of the NYPD. However, she seems to have the attention of Flash Thompson (Zylka), a jock who loves to pick on Peter.

When Peter finds an old briefcase that belonged to his father, he discovers some papers in a hidden compartment containing something called a decay rate algorithm. He also discovers that his father worked at Oscorp, a large biogen firm in Midtown Manhattan, along with Dr. Curt Connors (Ifans), a one-armed scientist who is trying research combining animal DNA with human to transfer the traits of that animal (in Connors’ case, the regenerative power of reptiles) to the human. While nosing about the lab on his own, Peter finds a room where mutant spiders spin a biocable of incredible tensile strength and adhesive qualities. While in there, he picks up a hitchhiker who bites him and burrows into his skin. He also discovers that Gwen is Dr. Connors’ intern.

Within hours Peter develops these odd powers – the ability to stick to smooth surfaces, extreme strength and the ability to sense danger moments before it occurs. He finally meets Dr. Connors, introducing himself as the son of his former colleague. He also draws up the algorithm, having committed it to memory. The two begin working together to figure out the right formula to create a regenerative solution.

In the meantime Peter uses his new powers to humiliate Flash, who had beaten the snot out of him earlier. Ben is forced to switch shifts in order to deal with his nephew, admonishing him to pick up his aunt at work since he now had to work a later shift. Unfortunately, Peter is late coming home, having forgotten his responsibilities while working with Dr. Connors. He and Ben get into an argument with Peter storming out into the night. Ben goes out after him but this ends up in tragedy.

Peter decides to go looking for the author of his pain and winds up donning a luchador-like mask and spandex suit to conceal his identity, leaving those criminals tied up in a web of the biocable which he has developed a shooter for. He also begins to develop a romantic relationship with Gwen.

Unfortunately, under pressure from the powers that be at Oscorp to begin human testing on the formula, Dr. Connors injects himself with the formula. It works all too well, not only regenerating his arm but turning him into a 9-foot tall lizard, with tail and scales and murderous rage, yet combined with the good Doctor’s intelligence and cunning. Peter finds himself needing to stop the Lizard, whom he partially created but the cops are after him, the Lizard has a sinister agenda and is out to keep Peter Parker from stopping him and trying to hide his identity from his girlfriend’s dad who wants to put him in jail. And I thought chem finals were bad.

Webb, who previously directed the incredible (500) Days of Summer, is saddled with a kind of a double whammy. Not only does he have to measure up against Sam Raimi’s filmed trilogy whose numbers helped usher in the Marvel film renaissance but also against the comic books that Raimi did so well in translating to the screen.

For some odd reason the studio decided to reboot the series with another origin tale – because it’s been ten years since the first one so I’m sure nobody remembers it by now. *snerkle* That’s sarcasm, in case you were wondering.

Garfield is a find. Most will remember him from The Social Network but he has established himself here as a leading man for the next 20 years. He is charismatic, brooding, likable and able to do serious and funny, a rare trait. It is not often when opportunities to take the next step in your career evolution come along and Garfield makes the most of his. This is in every sense a star-making performance.

Stone has been on a winning streak of late but she is curiously flat here. Her Gwen Stacy lacks the spunk and fire of her previous performances and while far from a typical damsel in distress role, she doesn’t show much of the personality I know she has. I think a little less courtesy and a lot more personality would have only benefitted the film.

Sheen is so reliable; every role he takes is full of compassion and gravitas. He resonates with both as Uncle Ben, although Ben has a bit of a temper on him that was absent from Cliff Robertson’s version from the Raimi films. Fields plays May a little younger than previous editions, but with all of the maternal love and wisdom that she is known for – well, both Fields and Aunt May in this case.

Ifans is a fine actor in his own right but as the villain here he has a tough time. Part of the problem is that he isn’t strictly speaking a villain; he is overzealous, yes, and has a mistake born of hubris that nearly proves fatal, but for the meddling of Spider-Man! That doesn’t really make him a bad bad guy, just a vulnerable one. In fact there really isn’t anything evil here and that might be what stops me from really getting into this version; none of even the most villainous characters is without redeeming qualities. That may work for Jack Kirby, Steve Ditko and other artists and writers, but it simply doesn’t work here. Basically Spider-Man is fighting a less powerful Hulk (i.e. Mr. Hyde) whom he doesn’t have the heart to take out.

Still, this is entertaining enough although I still wonder why another origin was necessary. If you want to reboot with a young high school-age Peter Parker, that’s fine (although why cast a 28-year-old man to play a 16-year-old boy?) but why not simply assume we all know that the guy was bitten by a radioactive (or in this case genetically enhanced) spider and move on from there? I understand that Columbia is planning at least three Amazing Spider-Man movies, all of which deal with the missing parents in some fashion as Parker tries to unravel the tangled threads of his past. That’s all good. Rehashing a story unnecessarily costs the movie points and that blame goes directly to the studio heads who thought it was necessary. Otherwise, Webb shows that he can direct a blockbuster as well as a small-budget indie romance and do both with charm, inventiveness and deftness.

REASONS TO GO: Garfield is a terrific Peter Parker. Follows comic book mythology a little more closely.

REASONS TO STAY: Action sequences were moving too fast to follow easily at times. Not quite up to the best moments of the first trilogy.

FAMILY VALUES: Plenty of comic book violence and action.

TRIVIAL PURSUIT: Anne Hathaway was originally cast as Felicia Hardy – a.k.a. the Black Cat –  but her character was eventually written out and she went on to do the similarly natured Catwoman in The Dark Knight Rises.

CRITICAL MASS: As of 7/17/12: Rotten Tomatoes: 74% positive reviews. Metacritic: 66/100. The reviews are definitely good.

COMPARISON SHOPPING: Spider-Man

STAN LEE LOVERS: Plays an oblivious librarian listening to classical music on the headphones while the Lizard and Spider-Man engage in a raging battle behind him

FINAL RATING: 6.5/10

NEXT: The High Cost of Living

Safe


Safe

Jason Statham intimidates Catherine Chan into liking his Facebook page.

(2012) Action (Lionsgate) Jason Statham, Robert John Burke, Chris Sarandon, Catherine Chan, Anson Mount, James Hong, Sandor Tecsy, Joseph Sikora, Igor Jijikine, Reggie Lee, James Colby, Matt O’Toole, Barry Bradford, Jay Giannone. Directed by Boaz Yakin

 

Redemption isn’t easy. It usually requires sacrifice and great risk. You aren’t just handed it; it has to be earned and the greater the transgression, generally the more difficult the redemption.

Luke Wright (Statham) has had what might generously be described as a checkered past. A special forces black ops guy with a set of skills that would make Rambo look like a Disney princess, he had been recruited by the New York City Police Department after 9/11 to help ferret out further terrorist attacks on the Big Apple and eliminate the threats. Permanently.

However he gradually became aware that great corruption had set in his team, led by Captain Wolf (Burke) and Luke blew the whistle. It really didn’t accomplish much other than to get him drummed out of the Force and business as usual resumed. Luke went on to fight in underground MMA fights; however when Luke was enjoined by the Russian mob to take a dive in his fight, the incompetent opponent got himself knocked out before Luke was supposed to take his fall and as a result, the mob murdered his wife and warned him that anyone he befriended would be killed. For several years, Luke lived on the streets alone and anyone who showed him kindness or even attention usually got themselves whacked.

He’d had enough and went to the subway meaning to throw himself in front of a train and finish the job the mob started. However, before he can end it all he sees a little Asian girl being stalked on the platform by the same mobsters who murdered his wife. Unable to stand idly by, he rescues the girl and puts a whole lot of Russian thugs in the morgue.

He discovers the girl’s name is Mei (Chan) and that she’s an orphan gifted with the ability to remember really anything she is told, including really long strings of numbers. She was taken from her home in China by triad boss Han Jiao (Wong) who has set Quan Chang (Lee) to babysit her. Han had recently returned to New York City to give Mei a very long string of numbers to memorize with the instructions that she would soon meet someone who would give her a second very long string of numbers to memorize.

It turns out that one set opens a safe holding $35 million. The other opens a safe that holds a disc containing information of all the Triad’s operations in New York. The Russians will give the contents of one for the contents of the other. The cops want all of it. Everyone’s gunning for this kid and Luke has put himself square in the middle of it.

The results are pretty much carnage; gunfights, martial arts beatdowns, car chases and lots of screaming in Russian, Mandarin and English (well, with a thick New York accent anyway). It’s all good, particularly if you love to see things blow up, things get shot and Jason Statham glowering.

Director Yakin isn’t noted for his action chops but he does a pretty good job here. Action movies need to be kinetic in every sense; the plot has to move along with the action and all things considered, this has a pretty good one. It isn’t anything you haven’t already seen before on either side of the equation – there are no stunts here that take your breath away nor is the plot or story much more than several action classics cobbled together.

Most of those action classics are from the ’70s when the movies tended to be anti-government. Safe harkens back to a day when The Man was literally out to get you and had his goon squads coming down on the innocent, laughing maniacally as they machine gunned innocent civilians. This is little different and only misses big afros, eight track tapes and headbands from those pictures. And maybe Curtis Mayfield on the soundtrack.

Still, Statham is as good at asskicking as any of the 70s heroes (Billy Jack, Shaft, Superfly and so on) and has the Clint Eastwood growl down to boot. The technical end is better as well – this is a pretty good looking film, with plenty of neon, glass breaking and blood spray. Action fans will get their money’s worth and for those who aren’t into action movies? Well, this is as good an introduction to the genre as any but if those sorts of movies aren’t your cup of tea, there isn’t enough else here to really make this worth your while.

REASONS TO GO: Jason Statham kicks ass (as usual). A nice throwback to 70s urban paranoia action flicks.

REASONS TO STAY: Nothing here that you haven’t seen before.

FAMILY VALUES: There is a whole lot of violence, particularly of the gunshot variety and a fair amount of cursing.

TRIVIAL PURSUIT: This is the first movie in a three-film distribution deal between Lionsgate and IM Global, an international productions company that specializes in action films. Dredd and Protection being the other two films in the deal.

CRITICAL MASS: As of 5/14/12: Rotten Tomatoes: 54% positive reviews. Metacritic: 55/100. It’s safe to say the reviews have been pretty mixed.

COMPARISON SHOPPING: Witness

CAR CHASE LOVERS: There are three distinct car chase scenes during the film.

FINAL RATING: 5/10

NEXT: The Best Exotic Marigold Hotel

Man on a Ledge


Man on a Ledge

Sam Worthington hopes that Elizabeth Banks isn't watching his career plummet over the precipice.

(2012) Thriller (Summit) Sam Worthington, Elizabeth Banks, Jamie Bell, Ed Harris, Anthony Mackie, Edward Burns, Titus Welliver, Genesis Rodriguez, Kyra Sedgwick, Felix Solis, Bill Sadler, Robert Clohessy, Afton Williamson, Pooja Kumar, Frank Pando. Directed by Asger Leth

 

There are a lot of reasons why people climb out on the ledge of a tall building. It could be financial ruin, or a failed love affair. It could be a result of clinical depression, or drug use. Sometimes, the reasons aren’t all that obvious.

Nick Cassidy (Worthington) is standing out on the ledge of the Roosevelt Hotel in Manhattan. Traffic has been diverted and the cops are everywhere. A police negotiator named Jack Dougherty (Burns) is assigned the case but Nick wants a woman – Lydia Mercer (Banks) to be exact. She’s been under a cloud recently ever since she lost a jumper on the Brooklyn Bridge who happened to be a cop.

He’s not just any guy; he’s an ex-cop who escaped from prison only a week prior. He had been accused of stealing (and selling) a $40 million diamond belonging to David Englander (Harris), a cutthroat Wall Street sort who has all sorts of people on his payroll. Nick is being aided by his brother Joey (Bell) and Joey’s girlfriend Angie (Rodriguez) in proving that Nick is innocent and that David still has the diamond – by stealing it.

The plot is pretty simple and straightforward, and Leth tries to keep it that way. While there are several feints and twists as befits any heist movie (and the heist is a central part of the film) for the most part it doesn’t veer too much from the main concept and that’s a plus that many more veteran filmmakers sometimes miss.

Worthington has had great success in the fantasy and science fiction action realms, although he hasn’t quite achieved the stardom you’d expect with movies like Avatar and Clash of the Titans under his belt. He won’t move much farther in that direction with his performance here; he’s a bit wooden and the charisma he showed in those two movies isn’t as much in evidence although to be fair he spends most of the movie standing on a ledge talking to Elizabeth Banks. Nothing wrong with that mind you – just not a lot to work with there.

Rodriguez who plays the sassy girlfriend of his brother adds much needed sparkle, not only visually (she’s quite gorgeous) but also in providing an emotional boost. She provides comic relief but seems to be having the most fun of anyone here and she lights up the screen whenever she’s on it. She has stardom written all over her.

The problem here is that there are a lot of logical missteps. For example one of the stunts has someone leaping off of a 21-story-building and landing safely on one of those air-inflatable stunt mattresses which in real life would have a person-sized hole in it if someone were to do that. Also the brother is supposed to be working class but he has all these sophisticated devices to help him get into the vault. Doesn’t make sense.

Also the film misses out on capitalizing on its location. New York is one of the world’s most recognizable and photogenic cities but the movie could just as well be taking place in Pittsburgh or Toledo, anywhere where there’s a suitable high rise. You never get a sense that they’re in New York – and they freaking’ filmed there! That’s a big no-no in my book.

The movie isn’t all that bad but it isn’t particularly good either. You get a sense that you’ve seen it before and done better throughout. It makes for a decent enough diversion but if you’re going to spend your hard-earned dollars at the box office there are plenty of much better films in theaters right now than this, even at this time of the year.

REASONS TO GO: Solid jobs by most of the cast. Rodriguez is nice eye candy.

REASONS TO STAY: Premise is a bit “been there done that” and there are some logical holes that subvert the plot here and there. Misses on capturing the essence of New York.

FAMILY VALUES: There is a bit of violence and a few choice words.

TRIVIAL PURSUIT: Director Asger Leth is best known for Ghosts of Cite Soleil.

CRITICAL MASS: As of 2/16/12: Rotten Tomatoes: 32% positive reviews. Metacritic: 40/100. The reviews are on the low side of mixed.

COMPARISON SHOPPING: Phone Booth

HEIST LOVERS: The heist sequences are pretty well thought-out and while not super-original, were enjoyable to watch.

FINAL RATING: 5/10

TOMORROW: Gothika

Arbitrage


Arbitrage

"Richard Gere is a handsome man but he ain't no Tim Robbins"

(2012) Drama (Roadside Attractions) Richard Gere, Susan Sarandon, Tim Roth, Brit Marling, Nate Parker, Laetitia Casta, Josh Pais, Monica Raymond, Stuart Margolin, William Friedkin, Bruce Altman, Evelina Oboza, Larry Pine, Curtiss Cook. Directed by Nicholas Jarecki

 

All of us have some sort of moral code, ethics which guide us in our decision making process. Now those ethics might completely revolve around self-interest, or perhaps have some inkling of the greater good somewhere deep down. It is truly disturbing how easily our moral compasses can slowly shift from true north into a different direction.

Robert Miller (Gere) is a Wall Street icon. He’s built one of the most profitable and respected firms in the world, is a billionaire many times over. Now as his career is winding down, he has much to be grateful for. He is in the midst of selling his company, after which he’ll semi-retire to spend more time with his family. His daughter Brooke (Marling) is the CFO of his company and has proven to be as brilliant as he, a worthy successor to his mantle if that’s what she chooses.

But life isn’t always what it seems. Miller has had enormous losses from a failed copper mine in Russia, losses he’s covered with capital from his own company, an SEC no-no. In order to cover those losses, he’s had to borrow money to make the books look rock solid so that the merger can go through. Miller has also been cheating on his wife Ellen (Sarandon) who is busy running their charitable foundation with Julie Cote (Victoria’s Secret model Casta).

It all begins to spiral out of control when a tragedy forces Miller to lie to his wife and the police about his whereabouts. The son of his deceased chauffeur, Jimmy Grant (Parker) comes to his rescue and finds himself in the crosshairs of eager detective Michael Bryer (Roth) who smells the lies several miles away and is making it his mission to nail Miller, willing to do anything – including ruin Grant’s life – to get what he wants. In the meantime, the clock is ticking on that multi-billion dollar merger.

Jarecki has an understanding of the financial industry and the titans who run it (his father was one) and brings it to life here. Often these days Wall Street corporate sorts are made the villain and the scapegoat in movies like this; certainly on paper it sounds like Robert Miller is a monster, given his attitude towards others and himself. Miller does some things that are awfully callous and yet you still like the guy and root for him to come out ahead – which is odd, because considering what guys like this did to the country you might want Miller to pay for his crimes tenfold. Chalk it up to Gere’s natural charisma.

Richard Gere is definitely the main reason to see this; he has delivered his best performance in 20 years, maybe ever. Gere is one of the few actors in Hollywood who is able to do thoroughly despicable things onscreen and yet become the rooting interest. That he does so here considering the economic climate is a tribute to his talents. Only Richard Gere could make us root for a philandering, cheating, lying, deceitful scumbag of a Wall Street CEO.

Marling does very well as Gere’s brilliant daughter. She is less vulnerable here than she was in Another Earth which might have been a better acting performance on the surface, but she’s holding her own with some acting heavyweights and makes her character the moral center of the piece and carries it off well. She’s a talent worth keeping your eye on – I think she’s got a brilliant future ahead of her.

Tim Roth plays a character not unlike the one he doses in “Lie to Me” although Det. Bryer is a little bit more edgy, a little more high-strung. His scenes with Nate Parker are some of the best in the movie. Parker is another talent with sky-high potential; he infuses Jimmy Grant with dignity as a former con trying to get his life back together again.

Jarecki has written an interesting script that keeps you on the edge of your seat at times. Absolute power corrupts absolutely and in Miller’s case, that old adage is certainly true. He may be a wealthy man but he is not rich. This is more than a fall of the rich and powerful parable, or a commentary on the callousness of the bussiness-ocracy that is running our country de facto these days.  It is also a morality tale on how the corruption of an individual can come in a subtle and seemingly harmless way – and then before they know it wreak complete and irrevocable change on that person’s soul.

NOTE: This movie was premiered at Sundance earlier this week and was screened at the Enzian Theater in Maitland, Florida as part of the Sundance Festival USA program in which films from the Festival were brought to nine theaters around the country. While at Sundance, the film was picked up for distribution by Lionsgate/Roadhouse Attractions and will be released sometime later this year, in all likelihood on a limited basis.

REASONS TO GO: A gripping story of moral compromise. Outstanding performances by Gere, Parker, Roth and Marling. Looks like a movie that cost much more to make than it did.

REASONS TO STAY: You might find yourself hating yourself for rooting for such a rotten guy as Robert Miller.

FAMILY VALUES: There is some sexuality and plenty of bad language. There is a disturbing image involving a car accident as well as some drinking and drug use.

TRIVIAL PURSUIT: Nicholas Jarecki’s dad Henry has been a commodities trader, psychiatrist, entrepreneur and was the co-founder of Moviefone; two of his siblings (Andrew and Eugene) are also film directors and Eugene is likewise debuting a film at Sundance this year (The House I Live In).

CRITICAL MASS: As of 1/28/12: Rotten Tomatoes: 100% positive reviews. Metacritic: N/A. Too soon to tell as the movie has yet to be released and has only played thus far at Sundance.

COMPARISON SHOPPING: Margin Call

WEALTH LOVERS: The scenes in the townhouse where Robert Miller lives were filmed in the home of director Jarecki’s father which has been called the most expensive home in New York remaining in private hands.

FINAL RATING: 8/10

TOMORROW: Red Tails

New Year’s Eve


New Year's Eve

Josh Duhamel prepares to raise a toast to handsome men

(2011) Romantic Comedy (New Line) Hilary Swank, Robert De Niro, Josh Duhamel, Michelle Pfeiffer, Sarah Jessica Parker, Katherine Heigl, Zac Efron, Jon Bon Jovi, Sofia Vergara, Abigail Breslin, Jessica Biel, Ashton Kutcher, Halle Berry, Cary Elwes, Seth Meyers, Til Schweiger, Carla Gugino, Sarah Paulson, Lea Michelle, Common, Chris “Ludacris” Bridges, Larry Miller, Penny Marshall, Matthew Broderick, Alyssa Milano, Hector Elizondo, Jack McGee, Yeardley Smith, James Belushi, Ryan Seacrest, John Lithgow. Directed by Garry Marshall

 

Garry Marshall is perhaps the pre-eminent director of romantic comedies working today with such classics as Pretty Woman to his credit. Recently he directed the holiday-themed ensemble piece Valentine’s Day which had considerable box office success. Could he match that with a second holiday?

Ingrid (Pfeiffer) is an assistant working for a completely oblivious executive (Lithgow) at a major record label in New York. She is sad, depressed and lonely and tired of being taken for granted, quits her job, taking with her four tickets to the company’s coveted New Year’s Eve bash at a local art gallery. She has a whole list of unfulfilled new year’s resolutions from the previous year. She enlists Paul (Efron), a courier, to help her fulfill them before midnight. If he does, the tickets to the party are his.

That party is being catered by Laura (Heigl), who until a year ago was the girlfriend of rock superstar Jensen (Bon Jovi, cast against type). It was on New Year’s Eve last year that Jensen bolted on Laura after proposing to her. He’s regretting his decision and wants to get back with her but she’s having none of it. Waiting in the wings is Ava (Vergara), Laura’s hot-blooded sexy Latin sous chef.

Sam (Duhamel) is attending a wedding in Connecticut but on the way back to New York to give a speech at a New Year’s party his car skids into a tree. He hitches a ride back to town with the parson who officiated the wedding, his wife (Smith) and grandfather (McGee). As they crawl through traffic back to the city, he recounts how he met a fascinating woman at the same party last year and is hoping he’ll run into her again.

Randy (Kutcher) is a bit of a cynic who hates New Year’s eve. He gets stuck in an elevator with his comely neighbor Elise (Michelle) who hopes her gig as a back-up singer for Jensen at his Times Square appearance might lead to a big break for her. The two are however stuck and it appears that it is going to be a pretty sad last day of 2011 for the both of them.

Kim (Parker) is a single mom who wants nothing more than to spend New Year’s eve with her daughter Hailey (Breslin). Hailey however wants to head to Times Square where a boy is waiting to bestow her first kiss on her. Kim doesn’t want her to go so in time-honored tradition Hailey runs off anyway and Kim frantically looks for her.

Expectant couples the Schwabs (Schweiger, Paulson) and the Byrnes (Biel, Meyers) bid to be the couple with the first baby of the New Year, which carries with it a $25,000 prize. It’s on as the highly competitive fathers look to figure out ways to hurry along their wives’ delivery, much to the disgust of the Byrnes’ New Age doctor (Gugino).

In the same hospital, Stan (De Niro) waits quietly to die, having refused treatment. The end is near and while the doctor (Elwes) can only make him comfortable, Stan is hoping to see the ball drop in Times Square from the rooftop, which the doctor says is against hospital policy. Nurse Aimee (Berry) stays by his side, not wanting the old man to die alone as he fights to make it to midnight.

However, the ball is in danger of not dropping. Claire (Swank) is in charge and feels the entire weight of the world on her shoulders. An electronic snafu has the ball stuck halfway up the pole. With her police officer friend Brendan (Ludacris) calming her down, she sends for super electrician Kominsky (Elizondo) to save the day and indeed, New Year’s Eve. Can there be a new year if the ball doesn’t drop?

As you can tell, there are a whole lot of plot threads to keep track of here. Marshall however keeps them all relatively easy to follow. This is very much an “old fashioned’ kind of romantic comedy and that’s meant in a good way; it doesn’t necessarily follow the same tired formula nearly every romantic comedy employs these days. There are big points for this.

Those who like star watching will be in hog heaven here. There are tons of cameos (as you can tell from the impressive list above), several of whom have no more than one or two lines of dialogue. Some of it is stunt casting but for the most part, all of the performers are pros and go about their business competently. There are even some Oscar winners who get a chance to slum a little bit.

As in any ensemble piece, there are some bits that work and others not so much. De Niro does some good work (as you knew he would) and paired up with Berry the two make a winning combination. Pfeiffer and Efron are surprisingly pleasant together, and Duhamel is as appealing a romantic lead as there is in Hollywood at the moment. There are plenty of moments that stretch disbelief to its limits (as when Breslin bares her bra in a crowded subway station, exclaiming “This isn’t a training bra” at which Parker rushes to cover her daughter up, squealing “This isn’t Girls Gone Wild” in a smarmy sit com-y voice. Does anybody do that?), in fact too many.

However, that’s really moot, honestly. This is meant to be fluff entertainment, cotton candy for the soul. It has no aspirations other than to entertain and even that it does gently. Not every movie, as I’ve often said, has to be a transformative experience. Sometimes it’s enough merely to sit back and forget your troubles for an hour and a half or two. That’s ambition enough for me.

REASONS TO GO: Star watching always fun. Some of the stories are heart-warming and tender.

REASONS TO STAY: Vignettes vary in originality and quality.

FAMILY VALUES: There are a few bad words and some sexual references.

TRIVIAL PURSUIT: Hector Elizondo has appeared in every movie Garry Marshall has ever made.

HOME OR THEATER: This many stars should be seen in a theater.

FINAL RATING: 6/10

TOMORROW: Young Goethe in Love

Limitless


Limitless

Abbie Cornish monitors Bradley Cooper's hand positioning very carefully.

(2011) Science Fiction (Rogue/Relativity) Bradley Cooper, Abbie Cornish, Robert De Niro, Anna Friel, Tomas Arana, Andrew Howard, Johnny Whitworth, Robert John Burke, Darren Goldstein, Ned Eisenberg, T.V. Carpio, Richard Bekins. Directed by Neil Burger

We all are victims of our own limitations. We forget things, often almost as soon as we learn them. Still, that knowledge is there, locked in the recesses of our own minds, waiting for us to access it and use it. What do you think would happen if we did?

Eddie Morra (Cooper) is a writer. Excuse me, a wannabe writer. He’s been given a book contract for which the deadline is fast approaching and he hasn’t written one word. He lives in the ugliest, most slovenly bachelor pad in New York. And his girlfriend Lindy (Cornish) has just given him the boot.

It’s been a bad day for Eddie. However, somewhat serendipitously he runs into his ex brother-in-law Vernon (Whitworth) on the street. Eddie was married to Vernon’s sister Melissa (Friel) right out of college and though the marriage didn’t last, Vernon remains something of a douchebag. He was a drug dealer when Eddie knew him but he’s graduated to a much different kind of drug.

It’s called NZT and it allows you to access 100% of your brain capacity at once, instead of the 20% we normally use. Eddie is skeptical but when he takes one, he suddenly remembers things half-glimpsed and is able to fend off a nagging landlord’s wife (Carpio) and not only help her write her dissertation, but ends up bedding her as well.

He also winds up cleaning his apartment, then sits down and bangs out 40 pages of the book he has been unable to write due to an advanced case of writer’s block or, more likely, a terminal case of nothing in particular to say.

However the pill wears off and he goes to Vernon’s apartment to get one and instead winds up with a stash. Now he finds himself learning new languages, and finishing his book in four days. He has become irresistible to women and sleeps with a bevy of super-attractive Manhattan partiers.

He also has become bored. He wants to make money faster, so he learns the art of day trading and quickly turns a paltry stake into millions in just ten days. This gets him noticed by Carl Van Lune (De Niro), a ruthless energy tycoon who is in the midst of brokering the biggest merger in American history with the company owned by Hank Atwood (Bekins), whose meteoric rise to the top has puzzled a lot of pundits.

Even as Lindy comes back to Eddie, there are cracks appearing in the façade of Eddie’s perfect existence. A Russian mobster (Howard) who accidentally took one of Eddie’s pills has decided he needs Eddie’s stash. Worse yet, the pill is showing signs of having major side effects which unchecked can be deadly. Is Eddie smart enough to think is way out of this one?

In a very real way this is the legitimate heir to Charly (which was, like this, based on a work of literature, in that case Daniel Keyes’ “Flowers for Algernon” and here Alan Glynn’s “The Dark Fields”). Unlike the other which was more of a drama this is more of an action film slash thriller. The ramifications of a drug like this on humanity are only hinted at in the broadest terms and the story often leaves that conversation behind for the murky and sometimes meandering plotlines with the Russian mobster and the Machiavellian industrialist.

That’s too bad, because this could have been so much more compelling. Cooper is a charismatic lead, coming into his own a couple of years after his breakthrough role in The Hangover. He is easygoing and charming, for the most part but the role deceptively calls for more. Cooper makes both the slacker Eddie of the first reel and the brilliant Eddie of the rest of the film mesh together, clearly the same man at heart but wildly different in personalities. This is Cooper’s first real leading role; given the success of the movie so far, I can’t imagine there won’t be more in his very near future.

De Niro is, well, De Niro. Of late he seems to be coasting more and more in parts that are truly beneath him. While Van Lune has the potential of being worthy of a De Niro performance, at the end of the day he’s just another corporate villain, offering no real insight into what drives him or people like him and reminding me – not in a good way – of De Niro’s role as the Senator in Machete and when did you think that De Niro wouldn’t be the strongest acting performance of all the cast in a movie?

Burger uses a lot of interesting tunnel vision-like effects that can be dizzying. The first time he does it, the effect looks cool. By the fourth or fifth time it kind of loses its magic. There are an array of digital effects that represent Eddie’s growing intellect that are well played in the movie however.

The premise is clever; it’s a bit of a disappointment that they didn’t do more with it. Still, as I write this I realize I’m coming off as harsher on the movie than it really deserves and quite frankly, I enjoyed it. The movie hums along at a brisk pace and the story is compelling enough that given the fine work by Cooper in the lead role you have enough for a recommendation from me. However, I kinda wish these pills really existed. Maybe I could take some and start writing great screenplays right?

REASONS TO GO: Cooper is an engaging lead. The cinematography is stylish and the movie is surprisingly clever.

REASONS TO STAY: Too many “Look ma I’m directing” shots.

FAMILY VALUES: There is extensive drug usage (it is a film about a miracle drug after all), violence, some disturbing images and finally, a bit of sex.

TRIVIAL PURSUIT: Became the first film from new distributor Relativity Media to be #1 at the box office for the weekend.

HOME OR THEATER: Although some of the digital effects are kinda cool, for the most part this works equally as effectively at home.

FINAL RATING: 6/10

TOMORROW: Casino Royale