Victoria & Abdul


It’s good to be the Queen!

(2017) Biographical Drama (Focus) Judi Dench, Ali Fazal, Tim Pigott-Smith, Eddie Izzard, Adeel Akhtar, Michael Gambon, Paul Higgins, Olivia Williams, Fenella Woolgar, Julian Wadham, Rubin Soans, Ruth McCabe, Simon Callow, Sukh Ojia, Kemaal Deen-Ellis, Simon Paisley Day, Amani Zardoe, Sophie Trott, Penny Ryder. Directed by Stephen Frears

 

Queen Victoria is one of the more fascinating personages in British history. Most Americans only know caricatures of the monarch; “We are not amused.” Most Americans aren’t aware that she presided over what can be only termed as the golden age of the British empire and her iron will held that empire together until it began to crumble in the first half of the 20th century, long after she was dead.

As the Golden Jubilee of her reign is underway, the Indian subjects of Queen Victoria (Dench) mean to present her with a commemorative coin. Prison clerk Abdul Karim (Fazal) is sent to carry the coin to England, mainly because of his height. He is accompanied by Mohammed (Akhtar), an acid-tongued sort who finds England much too cold and the people much too uncivilized.

The head of the household (Pigott-Smith) gives the Indians detailed and voluminous instructions on how to behave in the Royal presence. Victoria herself is in the twilight of her life. Nearly every one of her contemporaries are gone and she lives isolated in a palace full of sharks, all jockeying for positions of favor. She feels utterly alone and has little to do but sleep and eat, plowing through her meals with gusto, so much so that her courtiers have difficulty keeping up before the course is taken away and a new one delivered.

Abdul seemingly can sense her loneliness and ignores the rules of protocol, looking the monarch in the eye and smiling, even kissing her royal feet upon their second meeting. Victoria, unused to be treated as a person rather than a symbol, is gratified and decides to keep Abdul on as a servant and eventually as an adviser and munshi, or teacher. He teaches her Urdu and waxes poetic about the land of his birth; the stories of the Taj Mahal in his native Agra and the amazing architecture of his people.

But the favor Abdul experiences with the legendary monarch disturbs and eventually angers the British court. Some of it is due to the incipient racism of the English upper classes of the time, and Abdul experiences plenty of that. However, much of it is due to the fact that they want to have the Queen’s ear the way Abdul does and soon plots to rid the court of Abdul begin to thicken, led by the Queen’s son Prince Bertie (Izzard) who would later become Edward VII. Further isolating the Queen would play into nearly everyone’s ambitions.

Dench is maybe the best British actress of the last 20 years with essentially only Helen Mirren to compete with her. Like the Victoria she portrays here, she is in the twilight of her career; at 82 and with her eyesight beginning to fail, she has talked seriously about retiring and in any case the on-screen performances left to her are dwindling; it behooves us to enjoy the ones she has left and this one is a mighty good one, already garnering a Golden Globe nomination for Best Actress in a Musical or Comedy.

The costumes are sumptuous as is the production design as you would imagine. They are good enough that they are very strong contenders for Oscar nominations, particularly the former. Frears knows how to make a dazzling environment for his actors to work in and this is no different. Frears is one of the best British directors of his generation; he’s 78 now and like Dench, is approaching the end of his career. It makes sense that he would choose this period of Victoria’s life to film. He has set the bar high for himself and sadly, this movie doesn’t quite meet it despite the best efforts of Dench.

You’ll notice that I haven’t really mentioned a lot about the second name in the title. It’s not that Fazal doesn’t do well in his role; he certainly is more than adequate. The problem is that we see Abdul mainly as the sweet-natured teacher, who accepts whatever petty insults come his way with a bowed head and a sad smile. At times you get a sense that Abdul may have ulterior motives but there really is no follow-up. He remains an enigma through most of the movie which is strange because the book this is based on relied extensively on his diary for the information.

I don’t suppose that people who aren’t into history (Great Britain in particular) or into England in general are going to want to see this and that’s a sad commentary into how we have become a culture of avoiding any sort of knowledge or understanding. Then again, the movie fails to provide any insight into Indian culture although we get a good look at what was going on in the British nobility in the latter years of the 19th century. Considering how Abdul is treated by the movie, they may as well have just called the movie Victoria and be done with it. Dench is by far the best reason to see this movie but even her stellar efforts can’t quite overcome the movie’s shortcomings.

REASONS TO GO: Judi Dench delivers a strong performance. There is likely going to be an Oscar nomination for Best Costumes.
REASONS TO STAY: Not one of Stephen Frears’ best efforts. Those who aren’t into British history will likely find nothing of value here.
FAMILY VALUES: There is some brief profanity and some adult thematic elements.
TRIVIAL PURSUIT: This is the second time Dench has portrayed Queen Victoria, Mrs. Brown (1997) being the first.
BEYOND THE THEATERS: Amazon, Fandango Now, Frontier, Google Play, iTunes, Movies Anywhere, Vudu, YouTube
CRITICAL MASS: As of 1/7/18: Rotten Tomatoes: 65% positive reviews. Metacritic: 57/100.
COMPARISON SHOPPING: The Young Victoria
FINAL RATING: 6/10
NEXT:
Geostorm

New Releases for the Week of November 20, 2015


The Hunger Games Mockingjay Part 2THE HUNGER GAMES: MOCKINGJAY – PART 2

(Lionsgate) Jennifer Lawrence, Liam Hemsworth, Josh Hutcherson, Woody Harrelson, Julianne Moore, Donald Sutherland, Philip Seymour Hoffman. Directed by Francis Lawrence

This is it, folks, the final showdown between President Snow and his goon squad of Capitol elitists and Katness Everdeen and her rebellion of the people. Panem is in full-blown civil war and President Snow is obsessed with destroying Katness. She sets out to assassinate him but will encounter a fiendish labyrinth of traps, moral dilemmas and physical punishment that rivals any she faced in her two Hunger Games. This one is for all the marbles.

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

Release Formats: Standard, IMAX
Genre: Science Fiction
Now Playing: Wide Release

Rating: PG-13 (for intense sequences of violence and action, and for some thematic material)

By the Sea

(Universal) Brat Pitt, Angelina Jolie Pitt, Melanie Laurent, Niels Arestrup. An American writer and his wife come to a tranquil French seaside resort in the 1970s and are joined there by a young newlywed couple as well as a pair of locals. The troubled marriage of the Americans soon begins to rear its ugly head and while they try to resolve their differences, their problems soon reveal issues with the others as well.

See the trailer, a featurette and B-roll video 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 sexuality, nudity and language)

Man Up

(Saban) Simon Pegg, Olivia Williams, Lake Bell, Rory Kinnear. An American woman at Waterloo Station in London is mistaken for a British man’s blind date. Rather than explain that she is not, she impulsively decides to go for it. What begins as a lark turns into the most uncommon first date ever.

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

Release Formats: Standard
Genre: Romantic Comedy
Now Playing: AMC Disney Springs

Rating: R (for language and sexual references)

The Night Before

(Columbia) Joseph Gordon-Levitt, Seth Rogen, Anthony Mackie, Lizzie Caplan. Every Christmas Eve, three boyhood friends get together to celebrate with one of their number, whose parents died on that day years and years ago. Now however, one of their number has become too famous to be involved while another is getting ready to have kids of his own. So the three decide that this will be their last night of Christmas Eve debauchery, and they will celebrate it by going out in style – at the most debauched, depraved and notorious Christmas Eve party in New York. Assuming they can find it of course.

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

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

Rating: R (for drug use and language throughout, some strong sexual content and graphic nudity)

Secret In Their Eyes

(STX Entertainment) Julia Roberts, Chiwetel Ejiofor, Nicole Kidman, Alfred Molina. A tight knit investigative team are rocked to the core when the daughter of one of their number is discovered brutally and inexplicably murdered. More than a decade later, after painstakingly searching for the killer, finally one of them gets the break he needs to resolve the case and bring the killer to justice. But even he is not prepared for the secret that one of them carries, and brings him to a crossroad where he must choose between justice and vengeance which in this case may not necessarily be the same thing.

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

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

Rating: PG=13 (for thematic material involving disturbing violent content, language and some sexual references)

Spotlight

(Open Road) Mark Ruffalo, Michael Keaton, Rachel McAdams, Liev Schreiber. In the mid-90s the investigative journalism team of the Boston Globe came across a story about a pedophile priest who had been shuttled from one parish to another by the Catholic Church without any warning to those in the new parish of the priest’s tendencies to abuse altar boys. As they dig deeper, they discover the scandal goes a lot deeper, covers many, many more diocese and goes to the very top of the Catholic Church. This scandal nearly took down the Roman Catholic church and would pave the way for the reformative-minded Pope Francis to take over the Vatican.

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

Release Formats: Standard
Genre: True Life Drama
Now Playing: AMC Altamonte Mall, AMC Downtown Disney, Regal Winter Park Village

Rating: R (for some language including sexual references)

Maps to the Stars


Mia Wasikowska communes with the grime.

Mia Wasikowska communes with the grime.

(2015) Thriller (Focus) Julianne Moore, Mia Wasikowska, John Cusack, Robert Pattinson, Evan Bird, Olivia Williams, Sarah Gadon, Klara Glasco, Dawn Greenhaigh, Jonathan Watton, Jennifer Gibson, Gord Rand, Justin Kelly, Niamh Wilson, Clara Pasieka, Emilia McCarthy, Allegra Fulton, Dominic Ricci, Jayne Heitmeier, Carrie Fisher, Amanda Brugel. Directed by David Cronenberg

Hollywood is a seductive cocktail. You can hear it whispering “Drink me” in a throaty voice, promising fame, wealth, glamour and the opportunity to be beloved by minions. What you don’t hear it whisper is that it rarely bestows those things on anyone and when it does, the cost is unbearably high.

On a bus to Hollywood there is a young woman named Agatha (Wasikowska). She is, we find out later, hideously burned, wearing gloves and a body stocking to hide them, as well as long bangs to hide those on her face. She is coming at the behest of Carrie Fisher (whom she met on Twitter), she says (and it turns out to be true) to help her co-author a novel or maybe a project for HBO. She also has a bit of an obsession for the actress Clarice Taggart (Gadon), a beautiful and troubled soul who died tragically young in a house fire.

As it turns out, Clarice was the mother of Havana Segrand (Moore) who has had a lengthy career as an actress. Unfortunately, she didn’t have the good fortune to die young and beautiful in a fire and as she is getting older she is getting more and more invisible to casting agents. She is desperate to get a role in the remake of her mother’s most famous movie, Strange Waters  – and not just any role but the role her mother played. Alas, it seems destined for a younger actress named Azita Wachtel (Heitmeier). Nevertheless, Havana needs a new assistant and her close friend Carrie Fisher is happy to recommend the newcomer Agatha for the job.

Havana sees pop culture psychotherapist and self-help guru Dr. Stanford Weiss (Cusack) to help her deal with her mommy issues, which are severe. Havana has claimed to have been abused physically and sexually by her mom, a charge her mom vehemently denies – or rather the ghost of her mom who haunts Havana.

Dr. Weiss has issues of his own. His young son Benjie (Bird) is a child star whose career took a tumble when he went to rehab. Now clean and sober, he’s making a sequel to his best-known role, Bad News Babysitter with another young actor who seems to be stealing all the scenes, which irritates Benjie no end. Of course, everything irritates Benjie no end and he is bringing cruelty and all-around dickishness to a new art form. His mother Christina (Williams) is wrapped around his little finger but she’s been through a lot; a fire caused by Benjie’s sister took the life of a younger brother and caused the sister to be locked away in a mental institution.

As events begin to shift and roil, with Agatha striking up a relationship with a limo driver (Pattinson) who yearns to be an actor/writer and tragic circumstances awarding the coveted role to Havana, the tenuous connections between all these characters become much clearer and darker as things begin to move towards a horrifying conclusion. But then again, this is Hollywood, baby.

Cronenberg has had a career that is iconoclastic. While his output has been uneven, his films are generally interesting even if they haven’t always succeeded in resonating with audiences. This particular movie is as dark as they come with a cast of characters that is unlikable from top to bottom; from the self-centered therapist to the narcissistic child actor to the troubled assistant to the egotistic actress, this is the nightmare Hollywood in which self-serving lies are a kind of currency and kindness a mark of weakness – unless done very visibly in order to garner favorable publicity.

Moore, who recently was awarded the Oscar for her work in Still Alice is definitely on a role; she could easily have been nominated for this performance as well and may well have had the studio elected to release this last year. It may well be too early in the year for Academy voters to remember her work come the fall when ballots are mailed out but she deserves to have her name written down on at least a few of them.

Most of the rest of the cast does solid work as well, although special note should be made of Bird who is not well-known yet but may well be after his performance here. He makes Draco Malfoy look like a sweetheart, and made the character’s nastiness so palpable that Da Queen wanted to kick him in the genitals several times. My lovely wife doesn’t like spoiled brats overly much, particularly of the Hollywood sort.

There are a good number of insider references and those who are fascinated by that kind of thing will be in hog heaven here. However, this isn’t a movie that is going to have mass appeal; things get more and more twisted and perverse as the movie goes on with a dog getting shot (usually a deal killer for me) and even worse as things spiral towards their conclusion.

Cronenberg has always worked outside the Hollywood system which is a little bit easier when you’re Canadian (this movie marks the first time he’s even shot in the United States in a career approaching 50 years and that only for essentially a week) and this isn’t likely to get him any new invitations to parties, not that he would accept any. I will say that as bleak a characterization of Hollywood life as this is (and there is some truth to it), the reality is not quite so extreme as reality often is. There are plenty of people in Hollywood who are genuine and kind but that kind of thing is less interesting; we’d rather see the rich and famous be absolute bastards because it makes us feel better about ourselves, as in “they got rich and famous but they had to sell their souls to get it which I’m not willing to do, hence the reason I’m not rich and famous.”

This isn’t for everyone, nor should it be. There are plenty who will be put off by the pervasive self-worship and the skewed outlook on life by those who live the Hollywood dream. There’s nothing wholesome about it. However, I will point out that the trailers imply that this is something of a horror movie; yes there are apparitions and horrible things happen but this isn’t a horror movie per se, so be aware of that going in.

This isn’t Cronenberg’s best film, nor is it his most typical but this is a very good piece of filmmaking indeed. I was really drawn in, wondering what was going to happen next and that’s all you can ask of any movie. It may not have been a pleasant experience (and those looking for one can always go see McFarland) but it was an edifying one and that gets points in my book.

REASONS TO GO: Searing performances by Moore and Bird. Lots of Hollywood insider goodness. Some moments of genuine pathos and genuine hilarity.
REASONS TO STAY: Dark, dark, dark. Intrinsically shallow with characters you’re not going to like very much.
FAMILY VALUES: There is some unsettling violence and bloody images, graphic nudity, sexuality, foul language and some drug use.
TRIVIAL PURSUIT: Moore and Wasikowska previously appeared together in The Kids Are All Right in which they played mother-daughter.
CRITICAL MASS: As of 3/5/15: Rotten Tomatoes: 63% positive reviews. Metacritic: 67/100.
COMPARISON SHOPPING: The Day of the Locust
FINAL RATING: 8/10
NEXT: Leviathan

Seventh Son


"No more cracks about Jedi Knights, okay?"

“No more cracks about Jedi Knights, okay?”

(2014) Fantasy (Universal/Legendary) Jeff Bridges, Julianne Moore, Ben Barnes, Olivia Williams, Djimon Hounsou, Antje Traue, Alicia Vikander, Kit Harrington, John DeSantis, Gerard Plunkett, Jason Scott Lee, Kandyse McClure, Luc Roderique, Zahf Paroo, Timothy Webber, Lilah Fitzgerald, Marcel Bridges, Libby Osler, Primo Allon, Taya Clyne. Directed by Sergei Bodrov

In Hollywood’s seemingly unceasing attempt to grab the newest Harry Potter, Bella Swan or Katniss Everdeen from a Young Adult novel series, they have moved on to their latest attempt with a cemetery full of potential candidates who didn’t make any sort of box office impact behind them. So will this enter that final resting place of dismal cinematic failures or will it be the next license for the studio to print money?

Master Gregory (Bridges) is the last of a once-vaunted but now nearly extinct order of Knights, the Knights of the Falcon – more popularly known as Spooks. That’s because this particular order hunted the supernatural, witches and dragons and such. In order to be effective in such a venture, they are all made up of the seventh sons of seventh sons, which makes them stronger than ordinary humans as well as more sensitive to magic and wizardry.

With his most recent apprentice (Harrington) indisposed, Master Gregory needs to find one in a hurry. That’s because one of his most powerful foes, Mother Malkin (Moore), a particularly powerful and malevolent witch, has escaped her entombment in a mountain and becomes more powerful by the moment with the approach of a once-in-a-century Blood Moon. She has the means to perform a ritual that will allow her to be all-powerful and to strike down Gregory which will allow the witches of the land to rule with impunity.

Gregory seeks Tom Ward (Barnes), an honest hard-working sort whose mother (Williams) seems to know more about what he’s in for than she’s saying. Gregory doesn’t have time to train Tom properly but he’ll just have to learn on the job; Malkin is gathering her forces including her right-hand witch Lizzie (Traue), master assassin Radu (Hounsou) and were-cheetah Sarikin (McClure). There’s also young Alice (Vikander) who Tom becomes sweet on but she’s actually Lizzie’s daughter, which complicates things.

All will come to a head in the witch’s castle high in a forbidden and desolate mountain range where a sacrifice needs to be made for the witch to become all-powerful. With the world at stake, can Gregory the aged knight triumph with an untested apprentice at his side?

Like many of the Young Adult fantasies to come our way in recent years, there is a heavy reliance on CG creatures which here have a kind of Ray Harryhausen-like aesthetic, only without the jerky movement of stop motion. One definitely has to give Bodrov, who wowed Russian and American audiences with the epic sweeping Mongol back in 2007, props for the respect.

Unfortunately, he has a very weak script to work with, one that was evidently written by Captain BeenThereDoneThat. We get an untested young protagonist who seems destined to fail, despite trying his hardest time after time but when a significant event occurs, he finds the power within himself and turns out to be even more powerful than anyone ever imagined. Most of those who litter the Cemetery of Young Adult Fantasy Would-Be Franchises That Failed have very similar storylines.

Sadly, this doesn’t have a Jennifer Lawrence or a Daniel Radcliffe either. Ben Barnes is an attractive young actor and he’s certainly got the looks that you need to pull in the hormonal teen girl crowd, but he’s got about as much charisma as his character name implies. Not to knock Barnes who shows moments of talent, but this kind of part requires charisma of a once-in-a-blue-moon sort. Barnes does his best and makes a likable lead, but not a messianic one.

Bridges and Moore, both familiar with Oscar (and in Moore’s case, likely to become even more familiar shortly) get to chew the scenery and they have at it with abandon. In Moore’s case, she becomes a sexy femme fatale who has been wronged and who has seen her people persecuted. If only the writers had chosen to explore that aspect of it more and make Mother Malkin less of a black hat and more of a tragic villain, this might have been a far different – and far better – movie.

Bridges mumbles and slurs his speech like a drunkard (which, to be fair, Master Gregory is) which wouldn’t be a problem except that he’s donned a similar affectation in his last four films. His Van Dyke beard looks a bit anachronistic considering this is supposed to be set during a medieval period but I can overlook that. There’s just little chemistry between him and Barnes so there’s a distance between the two characters that belies the fatherly affection that Gregory displays later in the film.

Part of the problem is that for a Young Adult series to succeed cinematically, it has to appeal to an audience beyond the target. In other words, Old Adults have to find something to latch onto as well, thus the casting of Bridges and Moore. However, the lead character needs to be charismatic and memorable and Barnes simply has not shown that he has that kind of screen presence, not as Prince Caspian and not as Tom Ward. Not yet anyway.

The attempts at humor mostly revolve around Gregory’s drunkenness leading me to think that this is a movie that takes itself way too seriously. While the supporting crew – in particular Hounsou, Williams and Vikander – are satisfactory, Moore and Bridges are both fine actors having a fine time with Barnes trying to and falling a little short. This isn’t a bad film, you understand – there have been far worse in this genre – but it’s just fairly ordinary entertainment, making this a likely candidate for a headstone in the Cemetery of Young Adult Fantasy Would-Be Franchises That Failed.

REASONS TO GO: Some nice monster effects. Julianne Moore and Jeff Bridges. Some decent support.
REASONS TO STAY: Humorless. Clunky. Predictable.
FAMILY VALUES: Plenty of swords and sorcery violence, some frightening images of monsters and mayhem and some brief foul language.
TRIVIAL PURSUIT: Originally to have been released in early 2014 by Warner Brothers, when Legendary’s distribution contract with that studio expired and a new one signed with Universal, this was one of the movies whose release date was delayed as Universal took over distribution.
CRITICAL MASS: As of 2/19/15: Rotten Tomatoes: 10% positive reviews. Metacritic: 31/100.
COMPARISON SHOPPING: The Seeker: The Dark is Rising
FINAL RATING: 5/10
NEXT: Harvey

New Releases for the Week of February 6, 2015


Jupiter AscendingJUPITER ASCENDING

(Warner Brothers) Mila Kunis, Channing Tatum, Sean Bean, Eddie Redmayne, James D’Arcy, Tuppence Middleton, Doona Bae, Tim Piggott-Smith. Directed by Andy and Lana Wachowski

A pretty young housecleaner who has grand dreams but has been hit with a series of tough breaks wonders where life is going to take her. As it turns out, it’s the cosmos – her genetic make-up marks her as royalty which puts her smack into a cosmic game the steaks of which are unfathomably high for the human race.

See the trailer, clips, interviews, a promo and a featurette here.
For more on the movie this is the website.
Release Formats: Standard, 3D, IMAX 3D (opens Thursday)
Genre: Science Fiction
Now Playing: Wide Release
Rating: PG-13 (for some violence, sequences of sci-fi action, some suggestive content and partial nudity)

Love, Rosie

(The Film Arcade) Lily Collins, Sam Claflin, Tamsin Egerton, Suki Waterhouse. Having been best friends since the age of 5, Rosie and Alex can’t imagine not having the other in their lives. However, as far as love is concerned, there might be something there – but it always seems to appear at inconvenient times. Are they really the best friends they think they are, or is there something more deep down?

See the trailer here.
For more on the movie this is the website.
Release Formats: Standard
Genre: Romantic Comedy
Now Playing: AMC Loew’s Universal Cineplex
Rating: R (for language and for some sexual content)

Old Fashioned

(Freestyle) Rik Schwartzwelder, Elizabeth Ann Roberts, LeJon Woods, Tyler Hollinger. An antique store owner with a checkered past and somewhat lofty and overblown theories of love and romance finds his life and his philosophy on l’amour thrown into a tizzy when a free-spirited young woman moves into the apartment above his shop.

See the trailer here.
For more on the movie this is the website.
Release Formats: Standard
Genre: Romance
Now Playing: AMC Altamonte Mall
Rating: PG-13 (for some thematic material)

Seventh Son

(Universal/Legendary) Jeff Bridges, Ben Barnes, Julianne Moore, Olivia Williams. When an evil witch holds a medieval kingdom in thrall, the last knight of a mystical order goes in search of the last Seventh Son of a Seventh Son, who prophecy claims has enormous potential to battle evil. Finding his would-be hero on a farm, the knight must train him quickly in order to survive the coming battle.

See the trailer, interviews, a clip, a featurette and B-roll video here.
For more on the movie this is the website.
Release Formats: Standard, 3D, IMAX (opens Thursday)
Genre: Fantasy
Now Playing: Wide Release
Rating: PG-13 (for intense fantasy violence and action throughout, frightening images and brief strong language)

Shamitabh

(Eros International) Amitabh Bachchan, Dhanush, Akshara, Rekha. Two men with dreams of becoming Bollywood superstars – one a deaf-mute with matinee idol looks, the other an aging alcoholic with an amazing voice – join forces to create one complete personality. However, the two have a very hard time getting along.

See the trailer here.
For more on the movie this is the website.
Release Formats: Standard
Genre: Bollywood
Now Playing: AMC West Oaks
Rating: NR

The Spongebob Movie: A Sponge Out of Water

(Paramount/Nickelodeon) Antonio Banderas, Tom Kenny (voice), Clancy Brown (voice), Slash. When the super-secret, double hidden, cross your heart and hope to die, promise not to tell recipe for Crabby Patties is stolen, Spongebob and his band of merry misfits must come to our world and get it back. Who lives in a pineapple under the sea? Paramount is hoping a ton of cash.

See the trailer, interviews, clips, premiere footage and B-roll video here.
For more on the movie this is the website.
Release Formats: Standard (opens Thursday)
Genre: Family (Live Action/CGI)
Now Playing: Wide Release
Rating: PG (for mild action and rude humor)

Still Alice

(Sony Classics) Julianne Moore, Alec Baldwin, Kristen Stewart, Kate Bosworth. A brilliant linguist who is at the top of her profession begins to display a worrying habit of forgetting words and having difficulty remembering things. When she is diagnosed with Early Onset Alzheimer’s Disease, she and her family find that the binds that connect them come under a great deal of pressure. As she struggles to remain connected to who she is – which is rapidly becoming who she used to be – she begins to learn what is really important and what is worth fighting for.

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: PG-13 (for mature thematic material, and brief language including a sexual reference)

New Releases for the Week of March 28, 2014


NoahNOAH

(Paramount) Russell Crowe, Jennifer Connelly, Ray Winstone, Emma Watson, Anthony Hopkins, Logan Lerman, Nick Nolte, Marton Csokas. Directed by Darren Aronofsky

The world has grown wicked and cruel and God is displeased. He has decided to wipe out the world and everything in it and start over again but determines to spare one of the few good men in the world, Noah. He commands Noah to build a gigantic ship which will ride out the coming flood along with two of each species of animal, one male and one female, in order to repopulate the world. Not everyone is happy with this plan however and Noah will have to overcome ridicule and eventually desperation to see God’s plan through.

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

For more on the movie this is the website.

Release formats: Standard (opens Thursday)

Genre: Biblical Epic

Rating: PG-13 (for violence, disturbing images and brief suggestive content)

Boys of Abu Ghraib

(Vertical) Luke Moran, John Heard, Sara Paxton, Sean Astin. An American soldier from a small town in middle America is assigned as a guard to Abu Ghraib prison in Iraq. Tasked to guard some of the highest priority prisoners in the war on terror, he is pressured by his superiors to use harsh techniques on a seemingly innocent prisoner. Retaining his own humanity will be at the crux of a moral dilemma of following immoral orders or violating his oath. Based on actual events.

See the trailer here.

For more on the movie this is the website.

Release formats: Standard

Genre: War Drama

Rating: R (for disturbing situations involving torture and violence, language throughout and some sexual content)

Cesar Chavez

(Pantelion) Michael Pena, Rosario Dawson, America Ferrera, John Malkovich.Migrant farm workers have had little or no representation and fewer rights until the advent of the United Farm Workers and activist Cesar Chavez. Torn between his commitment to securing living wages and better working conditions and his need to support his family, Chavez would become a legend in California and a hero to the labor movement.

See the trailer and clips here.

For more on the movie this is the website.

Release formats: Standard (opens Thursday)

Genre: Biographical Drama

Rating: PG-13 (for some violence and language)

If You Build It

(Long Shot Factory) Erick Bowen, Steve Mizelle, Emily Pilloton, Dr. Chip Zullinger. A pair of designers living on grant money and their own savings go to the poorest school district in North Carolina to take on a radical education project; substituting for a shop class, they have students design and build a farmer’s market for their community. Fought by a change-resistant school board as well as the apathy of the students themselves, they soon find the students and the community transformed by a project that teaches all of them that what’s possible is limited only by the imagination and the will to make it happen.

See the trailer and clips here.

For more on the movie this is the website.

Release formats: Standard (Special Engagement Saturday March 29)

Genre: Documentary

Rating: NR

Road to the Open

(Zoeco) Eric Roberts, John Schneider, Troy McKay, Phillip DeVona.  Grieving for his recently departed wife, a single parent and former tennis prodigy is pressured by his best friend – desperately in need of anger management skills – to enter a club tennis tournament. The winner of this will get a shot at an at-large berth in a national tournament. Standing in their way are the Gollant brothers – who haven’t lost a club tournament in more than a decade.

See the trailer here.

For more on the movie this is the website.

Release formats: Standard

Genre: Comedy

Rating: PG (for mild thematic elements and language)

Sabotage

(Open Road) Arnold Schwarzenegger, Olivia Williams, Sam Worthington, Josh Holloway.After an elite DEA team takes down a high ranking member of a Mexican drug cartel, members of the team start getting picked off one by one. It’s not just revenge – ten million dollars are missing from their take. The team leader with the help of an internal affairs officer must find out who stole the money and save the rest of the team.

See the trailer and clips here.

For more on the movie this is the website.

Release formats: Standard (opens Thursday)

Genre: Action

Rating: R (for strong bloody violence, pervasive language, some sexuality/nudity and drug use)

Anna Karenina (2012)


Alone in a crowd,

Alone in a crowd,

(2012) Drama (Focus) Keira Knightley, Jude Law, Aaron Taylor-Johnson, Kelly Macdonald, Matthew Macfadyen, Domhnall Gleeson, Ruth Wilson, Alicia Vikander, Olivia Williams, Emily Watson, David Wilmot, Shirley Henderson, Holiday Grainger, Pip Torrens, Susanne Lothar, Alexandra Roach, Luke Newberry, Aruthan Galieva, Tannishtha Chatterjee. Directed by Joe Wright

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Everyone knows the old saw that love is blind. We mostly come to think that it means that looks and faults don’t matter when you’re in love, but I don’t think that’s really the case. What I think that the statement means is that we are blind to the consequences of falling in love, so emotionally inundated we are by love.

The Leo Tolstoy classic has been made into big screen extravaganzas several times, most notably with the legendary Greta Garbo in the title role (twice). Here we get Keira Knightley who has shown that she has plenty of talent although perhaps not quite a match to her luminous beauty which is considerable; the girl might just be the prettiest face in all the world.

A brief plot synopsis for those not familiar with the Tolstoy work; Anna is the wife of Karenin (Law), a well-respected Russian government official in Tsarist Russia but one can scarcely characterize the marriage as a happy one. Karenin is emotionally distant, occasionally affectionate but generally not present. Many women over the years have identified with Anna, alone in a marriage to a man who barely realizes she’s there at all.

When she takes the train to Moscow on behalf of her brother, Count Oblonsky (Macfadyen) who has cheated on his wife and who has sent him to plead with said wife Dolly (Macdonald) to take him back, she meets Vronsky (Taylor-Johnson), a dashing young soldier who is the object of unrequited love for Kitty (Vikander) who is anxious to marry the young man. Kitty, in the meantime, is the object of affection for Levin (Gleeson) who is thinking of freeing his serfs and is being urged by Oblonsky to take one of them for his wife. However, everything is thrown in disarray by Anna who falls in love with Vronsky. Hard.

The two begin seeing each other and are none too discreet about their feelings. This is a big no-no in St. Petersburg society at the time which tolerated affairs but only as long as they were kept in the shadows where they belong. It was a kind of hypocrisy that in a large way still informs our somewhat hypocritical  views towards the sexes. Even if you’re not a Russian literature enthusiast or familiar with the novel, it doesn’t take much of a genius to figure out that this all leads to tragedy – and it does.

Wright has taken the conceit of staging the movie as if it were a play in a dilapidated theater (and in fact, they filmed in one just outside of London which was essentially the main filming location). There are backdrops that are very theatrical and occasionally we see audience members in box seats observing the drama. Players in the play sometimes step onto the front of the stage and address the audience directly. It’s certainly a bold move, the kind of thing someone like Baz Luhrmann might do.

But I have to admit it all feels kind of gimmicky and there’s no doubt that the stage-centric production design sometimes gets distracting. The costumes are lush enough (costume designer Jacqueline Durran won an Oscar for it) and the movie looks amazing, thanks in large part to cinematographer Seamus McGarvey.

The acting though is kind of spotty, surprisingly. Law fares the best, making Karenin who often comes off as uncaring and downright mean in other filmed versions of the novel almost sympathetic here. Macfadyen, as the lusty Oblonsky, also performs well as a character that is a bit of a cad. Knightley, however, is oddly subdued here. There are almost no sparks between her and Taylor-Johnson which is critical – you have to be able to see why Anna would risk so much and get the depth of the emotion she feels for Vronsky. It is not helped by Taylor-Johnson who makes Vronsky something of a caricature. The miscasting for the role is obvious – and crucial.

The British film industry has always been reliable about producing costume epics as well as anyone, particularly those based on classics and Wright, with Sense and Sensibility and Atonement both to his credit, is as adept as anyone working now at the genre. However, the overwrought concept soon overwhelms the story and becomes more the focus than Tolstoy’s classic tale does. My recommendation is either read the novel or if you prefer seeing it onscreen is to find the 1935 version with Garbo which really is a classic. This is more of a noble failure.

WHY RENT THIS: Sumptuous production design and costumes. Decent performances by Law and Macfadyen.

WHY RENT SOMETHING ELSE: Overwrought. Conceit of giving the film the look of a theatrical performance becomes distracting.

FAMILY VALUES:  There is some sexuality and violence.

TRIVIAL PURSUIT: Cinematographer Philippe Rousselot had to leave the film during pre-production due to painful sciatica which eventually required back surgery. He was replaced by Wright’s regular collaborator Seamus McGarvey.

NOTABLE HOME VIDEO EXTRAS: There is a nifty time lapse photograph of the main set’s construction as well as interviews with the cast members.

BOX OFFICE PERFORMANCE: $68.9M on a $51.6M production budget.

COMPARISON SHOPPING: In Secret

FINAL RATING: 5/10

NEXT: Mr. Peabody and Sherman

The Sixth Sense


This is what people look like when they see dead people.

This is what people look like when they see dead people.

(1999) Supernatural Drama (Hollywood) Bruce Willis, Toni Collette, Haley Joel Osment, Olivia Williams, Trevor Morgan, Donnie Wahlberg, Peter Tambakis, Jeffrey Zubernis, Bruce Norris, Glenn Fitzgerald, Mischa Barton, Angelica Torn, Lisa Summerour, Firdous Bamji, Samia Shoaib, Hayden Saunier, Janis Dardaris, Sarah Ripard. Directed by M. Night Shyamalan

People who see a lot of movies, like I do, are like chocoholics in a candy store – after a while, it all tastes the same. Then again, once in a while something comes along that surprises you, makes you remember what it is you love about chocolate – or movies – in the first place.

The Sixth Sense is such a movie. The marketing campaign was ingenious. It was really meant to set your expectations to a certain level and it did so very effectively. Ho hum, another fright flick in a summer that saw Deep Blue Sea and The Haunting ad inconsistium. Stars Bruce Willis, you say? The Man With the Iron Smirk never seemed to get tired of playing the Bruno character he invented in Moonlighting and hadn’t varied the character much up to the time this came out.

He plays Dr. Malcolm Crowe, a psychiatrist (haven’t we seen this one before?) for children who as the movie starts is celebrating a mayoral award for his sterling service to the community. Unfortunately, his celebration is ruined by a former patient (Wahlberg) with a chip on his shoulder and, more importantly, a gun in his hand. Faster than you can say “plot complication” Willis is lying on his back, wondering what hit him. It turns out it was a bullet, which can really ruin a nice evening.

Time passes as it often does in grade-B thrillers and eventually Dr. Crowe is back at work, trying to reach a child who is taunted by his classmates, who suffers from extreme panic attacks and Hides A Deep Dark Secret and yes, there always is one in grade-B thrillers.

At first reluctant to share it with the kindly doctor after a particularly hideous episode at a party (and a few very spooky encounters beforehand), he finally confesses what’s on his mind: little Cole Sear (Osment) can see dead people, and not just ANY dead people – he sees really grisly ghosts who’d met gruesome fates. As the encounters become more and more chilling, the at-first skeptical psychiatrist comes to believe that there may be more than just your garden variety psychosis at work here.

The plot description hardly does the flick justice. It reads like a Direct-to-Home Video turkey just waiting to be plucked. But an astonishingly good performance by Willis (who carries his wounds not so much in the body but in his eyes) and the once-in-a-decade plot twist that will leave you literally gasping in your seat, wondering why the heck you didn’t spot it coming. You will want to see the movie AGAIN so that you can see it from a fresh perspective. Well, that makes it first-rate in my book. And lest we forget, Osment turned in one of the best performances ever by a juvenile actor. Although his juvenile career was brief, Osment is still one of the standards we judge preteen actors by.

Writer/Director M. Night Shyamalan proved himself an exciting new talent, able to tell a story simply without resorting to cheap clichés or lavish effects, creating a wonderfully tense environment that sucks the viewer in without asking him to leave their brain in the popcorn bucket. Although there are some genuinely gruesome moments, and more than a few leap-out-of-your-seat-and-scream-out-loud shocks, The Sixth Sense never sinks to excess, becoming in effect a poster child for less-is-more. Unfortunately, he didn’t take the lessons to heart; his movies since then have become exercises in excess. His star has fallen so completely that his most recent movie, After Earthhis name wasn’t use in the promotion of the film at all for fear it would keep audiences away.

In an era of much-ballyhooed, effects-laden disappointments, it’s comforting to know that the two best movies of that summer, The Blair Witch Project and The Sixth Sense met with a great deal of commercial success as well. They remain even now, nearly 15 years after their theatrical release beacons of hope that a new breed of horror movies that are intellectual instead of (or at least as well as) visceral may be on the way to multiplexes that are still cluttered with too many movies about teens making bad choices.

WHY RENT THIS: Amazing twist that sets the standard for plot twists. Terrific performances from Willis and Osment. Subtly creepy without resorting to over-the-top effects.

WHY RENT SOMETHING ELSE: The twist is so good that most people will assume you’ve seen it and tell you what it is.

FAMILY MATTERS: A fair amount of violence and gore. Some very disturbing images and situations.

TRIVIAL PURSUITS: The movie opened on director M. Night Shyamalan’s birthday.

NOTABLE HOME VIDEO FEATURES: On the original DVD release, there was a short super-8 horror movie Shyamalan made as a teen (which sadly wasn’t included on the Blu-Ray or Vista edition DVD), plus interviews with audience members who’d just seen the movie, as well as a featurette on the rules and clues that signified the supernatural elements. A Vista edition DVD also added a featurette on paranormal investigations as well as a look at the storyboard process. All of the above (other than the super-8 footage) are also available on the Blu-Ray release.

BOX OFFICE PERFORMANCE: $672M on a $40M budget; this was a massive blockbuster by any standards.

COMPARISON SHOPPING: Poltergeist

FINAL RATING: 9.5/10

NEXT: The Big Bang

Hyde Park on Hudson


Few actors can out-jaunty Bill Murray.

Few actors can out-jaunty Bill Murray.

(2012) Historical Drama (Focus) Bill Murray, Laura Linney, Olivia Colman, Samuel West, Elizabeth Marvel, Elizabeth Wilson, Eleanor Bron, Olivia Williams, Martin McDougall, Andrew Havill, Nancy Baldwin, Samantha Dakin, Jonathan Brewer, Kumiko Konishi. Directed by Roger Michell

Earlier this year, Steven Spielberg’s long-gestating project, Lincoln finally came to fruition. It was a superb film that really humanized the iconic President and made him, if anything, even more worthy of admiration. Franklin Delano Roosevelt is another President who is much loved (well in Liberal circles anyway) and a similar treatment of him would surely have been welcome.

It is 1939 and the world is on the brink of war. King George VI (West), the recently crowned and woefully unprepared monarch of England (after the abdication of his brother) is coming to the United States – the first reigning King of England to ever do so – not just to make political hay in his own country but also for a desperately important task; to gauge whether the Americans would assist them when war inevitably broke out (as it would do a scant three months after their visit).

Springwood, the President’s estate in Hyde Park, New York in the Hudson Valley is in an uproar. To be hosting the King and Queen (Colman) of England is important enough but the whole affair has turned into a battle of wills between the President’s mother (Wilson) and wife Eleanor (Williams). Mommy, ever mindful of FDR’s political image, wants nothing done to tarnish his image as a world leader while Eleanor seems hell-bent on tweaking the monarchs somewhat.

Franklin (Murray) needs some respite from the bickering and stress. After a number of relatives are called without success, a distant cousin named Daisy (Linney) at last answers the call and is driven to Springwood to help “take the President’s mind off of things.” It’s awkward at first; while related, they barely know each other and Daisy isn’t really sure what she’s doing there. Franklin pulls out his stamps. They seem to hit it off however once that initial discomfort wears off. Soon they are going for rides in the countryside in a specially fitted car that the President, stricken by polio and nearly unable to use his legs, can drive only with his hands. Soon those drives are leading to stops and at those stops there is some intimacy.

Meanwhile the war continues with FDR’s secretary Missy LaHand (Marvel) trying to mediate but there are absolutes going on – Eleanor wants the Royals to attend a picnic in which hot dogs are served which is mortifying enough but that she wants to serve cocktails ­– that’s more than the teetotaling mother of the President can bear. Daisy tries to hover near the edges so that none can figure out the nature of the relationship she’s building with Franklin, but even she doesn’t quite understand what’s really going on.

The relationship between Daisy and FDR would remain a secret until shortly after she died just shy of her 100th birthday. Some letters and diaries were found in which she discussed her intimacies with the former President. I’m not sure how much the writers relied on those writings for the story – whether they were faithful to Daisy’s words or if they used them as a rough outline – but it could have been a nice jumping off point.

My problem with it is that Daisy really isn’t all that interesting a character. She’s a middle aged woman (she was 48 when these events took place) who hasn’t had a lot of experience with men and develops almost a high school crush on FDR. She is in her own way as lonely as the man at the top, her life mainly revolving around her aunt (Bron) whom she acts as a caretaker to.

She seems like a nice enough albeit naive woman but I’m not sure that she’s got the personality to base an entire movie around – and that isn’t a knock against Linney. She fares much better than Murray however, who doesn’t resemble FDR in the slightest and whose attempt to mimic the distinctive style of speech and accent of the President is simply ghastly. A very big issue – and this isn’t Murray’s fault in the slightest – is that we never get much of a three dimensional portrait of FDR. We see him as a letch and as somewhat disingenuous but we never get a hint of the political savvy or of his inner strength in pulling the country out of a depression and overcoming polio. Instead he sems mostly to hold to the parody image of Bill Clinton as an insatiable womanizer.

The surrounding cast is pretty good, particularly West and Colman as the somewhat befuddled royals who are on the one hand afraid and self-conscious but on the other hand not really sure what to do. We met West’s Bertie in The King’s Speech played with a little more charisma by Colin Firth but West carries the weak chin and frustration of a lifelong stutterer very well. Colman gets the haughty attitude of a Royal who is quite unsure if she’s being made sport of.

Williams also captures the forthright shoot-from-the-hip attitude I always imagined Eleanor Roosevelt to have, although like Murray her accent is distracting. The movie has a bit of a sense of whimsy in the humor (the looks on the faces of the Royals as King George VI is served a hot dog is priceless) but where it lacks is in heart. I was left unmoved for the most part and would have wished that the legacy of President Roosevelt didn’t get trashed by making him out to be the sort of man who thought first with his genitals. I believe him to be a much more complex character than that and that’s precisely what we didn’t get and despite delivering a beautifully shot, meticulously detailed film, we don’t get a movie that is anything more than an ABC Family movie for the middle aged.

REASONS TO GO: Captures some of the cult of personality around FDR and of the era he lived in. Reduces a crucial point in history into a soap opera.

REASONS TO STAY: We really don’t get a sense of FDR the man other than as a complete jerkwad and Murray seems content to caricature him rather than explore him.

FAMILY VALUES:  There is a bit of sexuality and some fairly adult situations.

TRIVIAL PURSUIT: Daisy’s real name was Margaret Suckley and she was one of four women at the Little White House in Warm Springs, Georgia when Roosevelt passed away.

CRITICAL MASS: As of 12/26/12: Rotten Tomatoes: 38% positive reviews. Metacritic: 56/100. The reviews are trending towards the negative.

COMPARISON SHOPPING: Broken Flowers

UPSTATE NEW YORK LOVERS: I’m not 100% sure if they filmed the exteriors in the Hudson Valley near where these events actually took place but it does look as if they did and those exteriors are just breathtaking.

FINAL RATING: 6/10

NEXT: Jack Reacher

New Releases for the Week of December 21, 2012


This Is 40

THIS IS 40

(Universal) Paul Rudd, Leslie Mann, Jason Segel, Megan Fox, John Lithgow, Albert Brooks, Melissa McCarthy, Charlyne Yi, Graham Parker, Maude Apatow, Iris Apatow. Directed by Judd Apatow

In a sort-of sequel to Knocked Up, Judd Apatow revisits the lives of big sister Debbie and her husband Pete as Debbie gets set to hit the big four-oh. They realize that they are in danger of letting life pass them by and try to figure out the important things before they are too old to appreciate them.

See the trailer, clips and featurettes here.

For more on the movie this is the website.

Release formats: Standard

Genre: Comedy

Rating: R (for sexual content, crude humor, pervasive language and some drug material)

Cirque du Soleil: Worlds Away 3D

(Paramount) Erica Linz, Dallas Barnett, Lutz Halbhubner, John Clarke. A young woman finds that a strange and exciting circus is actually a portal to amazing worlds. Featuring the acrobats of various Cirque du Soleil shows from across the country, the film was directed by Andrew Adamson of the Narnia series and produced by James Cameron, who is testing out new 3D technology for his upcoming Avatar sequels.

See the trailer here.

For more on the movie this is the website.

Release formats: Standard, 3D

Genre: Fantasy

Rating: PG (for dramatic images and some sensuality)

Dabangg 2

(Arbaaz Khan) Salman Khan, Kareena Kapoor, Sonakshi Sinha, Malaika Arora. A police officer battles a corrupt politician while attempting to romance his wife, shore up his ties with his brother and father who are still mourning the murder of his mother in the first film and occasionally break into song without warning.

See the trailer here.

For more on the movie this is the website.

Release formats: Standard

Genre: Bollywood

Rating: NR

The Guilt Trip

(Paramount) Barbra Streisand, Seth Rogen, Kathy Najimy, Adam Scott. An inventor, about to embark on a road trip to sell the most important product of his life, becomes concerned with his mom’s chronic loneliness and impulsively invites her along. A road trip with Mom…what could go wrong?

See the trailer and clips here.

For more on the movie this is the website.

Release formats: Standard

Genre: Comedy

Rating: PG-13 (for language and some risque material)

Hyde Park on Hudson

(Focus) Bill Murray, Laura Linney, Olivia Williams, Eleanor Bron. In 1939 the King and Queen of England became the first reigning monarchs of that country to visit the United States. Their mission was to plead for American assistance in the coming war, a war that President Franklin Delano Roosevelt wasn’t eager to join. Visiting at Roosevelt’s upstate New York retreat Hyde Park, the fate of the world hung in the balance and the whole thing was witnessed by Roosevelt’s cousin Daisy.

See the trailer and featurette here.

For more on the movie this is the website.

Release formats: Standard

Genre: Historical Drama

Rating: R (for brief sexuality)

Jack Reacher

(Paramount) Tom Cruise, Rosamund Pike, Richard Jenkins, Robert Duvall. A former military cop now wandering the country without possessions or roots, content to explore with complete freedom. He will have to put his skills of his former profession back to work when a former Army sniper is accused of a heinous crime that Reacher doesn’t think he committed, plunging him into a maelstrom of secrets that men would kill to keep that way. From the bestselling book series by Lee Child.

See the trailer, clips and featurettes here.

For more on the movie this is the website.

Release formats: Standard

Genre: Action

Rating: PG-13 (for violence, language and some drug material)

Monsters, Inc. 3D

(Disney*Pixar) Starring the voices of Billy Crystal, John Goodman, Steve Buscemi, James Coburn. The mouse mavens pull out yet another Pixar classic to be dusted off and given the 3D conversion treatment. Very nice. Unnecessary.

See the trailer, featurettes and clips here.

For more on the movie this is the website.

Release formats: Standard

Genre: Animated Feature

Rating: G