New Releases for the Week of October 27, 2017


JIGSAW

(Lionsgate) Matt Passmore, Tobin Bell, Callum Keith Rennie, Hannah Emily Anderson, Clé Bennett, Laura Vandervoort, Paul Braunstein, Josiah Black. Directed by Michael Spierig and Peter Spierig

The police are baffled when a series of murders have all the earmarks of the Jigsaw Killer, who has been dead for almost a decade. As the cops chase a dead man, the corpses begin to pile up. Is this a copycat killer hell bent on continuing the mission of John Kramer, or does he have some darker agenda in mind?

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

Release Formats: Standard, IMAX, DBOX
Genre: Horror
Now Playing: Wide Release

Rating: R (for sequences of grisly bloody violence and torture, and for language)

A Silent Voice

(Eleven Arts) Starring the voices of Michael Sinterniklaas, Melissa Hope, Kira Buckland, Amber Lee Connors. After bullying a deaf girl so badly that she moves away, a young boy ends up being ostracized by his schoolmates. Years later, bothered by his own behavior and wanting to make amends, he sets out to find the girl hopefully to find a way to redeem himself for his cruel actions as a boy.

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

Release Formats: Standard
Genre: Animated Feature
Now Playing: AMC Universal Cineplex

Rating: NR

All I See is You

(Open Road) Blake Lively, Jason Clarke, Ahna O’Reilly, Yvonne Strahovski. A woman blinded since childhood after a horrific car crash relies on her husband to help her “see” the world through his descriptions. When a new type of surgery restores her sight, she finds that the world isn’t as she imagined it was – and neither was her husband.

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

Release Formats: Standard
Genre: Thriller
Now Playing: AMC Disney Springs, Cinemark Artegon Marketplace, Regal Oviedo Mall, Regal Pointe Orlando

Rating: R (for strong sexual content/nudity, and language)

Crash Pad

(Vertical) Nina Dobrev, Domhnall Gleeson, Christina Applegate, Thomas Haden Church. A young man whose hopeless romanticism has stopped previous relationships dead in their tracks thinks he’s finally found The One; a beautiful older woman. However, he learns that she’s married and is using their affair as a means of getting back at her neglectful husband.

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

Release Formats: Standard
Genre: Comedy
Now Playing: AMC Universal Cineplex

Rating: R (for strong crude sexual content, language. some nudity, drug use and alcohol abuse)

Goodbye Christopher Robin

(Fox Searchlight) Domhnall Gleeson, Margot Robbie, Will Tilston, Alex Lawther. Alan, a British author, learns to appreciate the imagination of his son Christopher and is inspired to write stories about his son and his beloved stuffed bear Pooh. This is the story of A.A. Milne and how he came to invent the 100 Acre Wood and Winnie the Pooh.

See the trailer and clips here
For more on the movie this is the website

Release Formats: Standard
Genre: Biographical Drama
Now Playing: AMC Disney Springs, AMC Universal Cineplex, Regal Winter Park Village, Rialto Spanish Springs

Rating: PG (for thematic elements, some bullying, war images and brief language)

Suburbicon

(Paramount) Matt Damon, Julianne Moore, Oscar Isaac, Jack Conley. A quiet suburb in the 1950s is shaken when a home is invaded and a housewife murdered. Shocking as that was, the more details about the crime that come out, the more twisted it becomes. From the warped minds of the Coen Brothers and director George Clooney comes this much-anticipated gem.

See the trailer and interviews here
For more on the movie this is the website

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

Rating: R (for violence, language and some sexuality)

Thank You for Your Service

(New Line) Miles Teller, Haley Bennett, Keisha Castle-Hughes, Kate Lyn Shell. Back from a tour in Iraq, a group of soldiers try to reintegrate themselves back into civilian life. For one heroic soldier, that task is much more difficult than going to war was.

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

Release Formats: Standard
Genre: War Drama
Now Playing: Wide Release

Rating: R (for strong violent content, language throughout, some sexuality, drug material and brief nudity)

ALSO OPENING IN ORLANDO/DAYTONA:

Let There Be Light
Lucky
Seven Sundays
Vunnadi Okate Zindaagi

ALSO OPENING IN MIAMI:

Aida’s Secrets
California Typewriter
Calle 54
Chavela
El Amparo
Let There Be Light
The Queen of Spain
Ramaleela
Seven Sundays
Take Every Wave: The Life of Laird Hamilton
Vunnadi Okate Zindaagi

ALSO OPENING IN TAMPA:

The Heyday of the Insensitive Bastards
Let There Be Light
Njandukalude Nattil Oridavela
Ramaleela
Vunnadi Okate Zindaagi

ALSO OPENING IN JACKSONVILLE:

Let There Be Light
Seven Sundays
Vunnadi Okate Zindaagi

SCHEDULED FOR REVIEW:

Goodbye Christopher Robin
Jigsaw
Lucky
Suburbicon
Thank You For Your Service

Advertisements

New Releases for the Week of April 21, 2017


UNFORGETTABLE

(Warner Brothers) Rosario Dawson, Katherine Heigl, Geoff Stults, Cheryl Ladd, Whitney Cummings, Jayson Blair, Robert Wisdom, Isabella Kai Rice. Directed by Denise Di Novi

Julia thinks she’s finally found the happiness that has eluded her when she gets engaged to David. She adores his daughter from his first marriage (he’s recently divorced) and this is the opportunity to put her own troubled past behind her. Unfortunately she didn’t plan on Tessa, the first wife, to be pathologically possessive and stop at nothing to get rid of Julia and resume her place as David’s wife and Lilly’s mother.

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

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

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

Born in China

(DisneyNature) John Krasinski (narrator). The latest in Disney’s series of nature documentaries takes us to China, one of the most beautiful and diverse landscapes on Earth. There we’ll follow a family of giant pandas, of golden snub-nosed monkeys and rare and elusive snow leopards. Some of the footage displays behaviors never before caught on film. As is customary, Disney will make a donation to a wildlife cause (in this case the World Wildlife Fund) for every ticket sold the first week of release.

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

Release Formats: Standard
Genre: Nature Documentary
Now Playing: Wide Release

Rating: G

Free Fire

(A24) Sharlto Copley, Brie Larson, Sam Riley, Cillian Murphy. An arms deal goes horribly wrong as a group of gun smugglers are selling a shipment to a gang when shots are fired. Complete pandemonium ensues as nobody seems to know who’s shooting at who and what the heck is actually going on. Surviving this night is going to be no easy task.

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

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

Rating: R (for strong violence, pervasive language, sexual references and drug use)

Grow House

(Rocky Mountain) Malcolm McDowell, Snoop Dogg, DeRay Davis, Lil Duval. A couple of stoners who are deeply in debt figure out that one way to get rich quick is to sell weed to legal dispensaries. Unfortunately for them, while they are awesome at smoking the stuff, it’s a whole other thing to grow it.

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

Release Formats: Standard
Genre: Stoner Comedy
Now Playing: AMC Loew’s Universal Cineplex, AMC West Oaks, Cobb Plaza Cinema Café, Fashion Square Premiere Cinema, Regal Oviedo Mall, Regal Pointe Orlando, Regal Waterford Lakes, UA Seminole Mall

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

The Lost City of Z

(Bleecker Street) Charlie Hunnam, Robert Pattinson, Sienna Miller, Tom Holland. Percy Fawcett was a British military man and cartographer near the turn of the 20th century who was sent to map the Amazon region to help settle a border dispute between Bolivia and Brazil. Instead he discovered evidence of a vast advanced civilization that once dwelled there and a legendary city he called Z. Ridiculed by the scientific community, he made attempt after attempt to find the lost city until he and his son disappeared on an expedition in 1925. The movie is based on a book written on the explorer and a review for it will appear on Cinema365 tomorrow.

See the trailer, clips and an interview here.
For more on the movie this is the website.

Release Formats: Standard
Genre: Adventure
Now Playing: AMC Altamonte Mall, AMC Disney Springs, Cinemark Artegon Marketplace, Regal Winter Park Village

Rating: PG-13 (for violence, disturbing images, brief strong language and some nudity)

Phoenix Forgotten

(Cinelou) Florence Hartigan, Luke Spencer Roberts, Chelsea Lopez, Justin Matthews. The incident known as the Phoenix Lights occurred on March 13, 1997 and was witnessed by thousands of residents and is often pointed to by UFO enthusiasts as proof positive of the existence of extraterrestrial life visiting this planet. This movie is based on those events.

See the trailer, featurettes and a clip here.
For more on the movie this is the website.

Release Formats: Standard
Genre: Found Footage Sci-Fi Horror
Now Playing: Wide Release

Rating: PG-13 (for terror, peril and some language)

The Promise

(Open Road) Oscar Isaac, Charlotte Le Bon, Christian Bale, Shohreh Aghdashloo. Against the backdrop of the fall of the Ottoman Empire and the Armenian genocide, an Armenian doctor falls in love with a woman of Armenian descent who already has a boyfriend – a famous American journalist out to expose the truth of the genocide to the world.

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

Release Formats: Standard
Genre: Historical Drama
Now Playing: Wide Release

Rating: PG-13 (for thematic material including war atrocities, violence and disturbing images, and for some sexuality)

Their Finest

(STX) Gemma Arterton, Sam Claflin, Bill Nighy, Jack Huston. During the Second World War the British Ministry of Information is tasked with producing films designed to lift the spirits of that war-battered nation. With most of the available men in the armed forces, the desperate ministry brings aboard a woman to add her light touch into the scripts. She becomes enamored of a producer from an entirely different social strata and soon discovers that the camaraderie behind the camera is at least as intense as that in front of it.

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

Release Formats: Standard
Genre: Comedy
Now Playing: Regal Winter Park Village

Rating: R (for some language and a scene of sexuality)

X-Men: Apocalypse


Oscar Isaac strikes a dramatic pose.

Oscar Isaac strikes a dramatic pose.

(2016) Superhero (20th Century Fox) James McAvoy, Michael Fassbender, Jennifer Lawrence, Nicholas Hoult, Oscar Isaac, Rose Byrne, Evan Peters, Josh Helman, Sophie Turner, Tye Sheridan, Lucas Till, Kodi Smit-McPhee, Ben Hardy, Alexandra Shipp, Lana Condor, Olivia Munn, Warren Scherer, Hugh Jackman, Monique Ganderton, Rochelle Kooky, Ally Sheedy. Directed by Bryan Singer

 

Human history is full of the strong oppressing the weak. Sometimes the strong are that in name only; they have strength only in the will to seize power and wield it. Other times they have the strength of numbers. Power can come from many different sources.

In the world of X-Men: Apocalypse the oppressed are feared by the oppressors. Mutants are powerful but they are few in numbers; it is the non-mutants who fear what they can potentially do. Professor Charles Xavier (McAvoy), once the most powerful telepathic mind in the world, sees things differently. He sees a world in which mutants and normals live harmoniously, in which mutants use their powers to protect those who have none. He’s established a school to teach young mutants to fulfill exactly that purpose.

It is a different world than what Magneto (Fassbender) sees but with good reason. The Master of Magnetism is powerful, but was unable to prevent the deaths of his parents at Auschwitz, nor could he protect his wife and daughter while he lived in anonymous exile in Poland (methinks Magneto should stay away from Poland, where Auschwitz is also located, because horrible things seem to happen to him there). He is ripe for being swayed over to the dark side of things.

Enter Apocalypse (Isaac). He may or may not have been the first Mutant, but he is certainly among the most powerful. In his day, he had been worshipped as a God and in fact ruled Egypt as a living God, a despotic tyrant who was eventually ambushed by those who opposed his rule and buried under the rubble of a collapsed pyramid, knocked unconscious before he could change his psyche to the body of a younger man (which is how he remains immortal). His long slumber has been interrupted by misguided followers of his cult and now he’s back in the world, and he doesn’t like what he sees.

In his day, the mutants ruled the normals but that’s not what is happening in the 1980s. It is the height of the cold war and new wave, an era in which the mutants are regarded with suspicion after what happened in the events of X-Men: Days of Future Past. Apocalypse always has a personal guard of four powerful mutants whose powers are enhanced and in this case he chooses Storm (Shipp) with powers over the weather, Psylocke (Munn) who can hurl telepathic daggers and Angel (Hardy) with wings of steel that can hurl steel projectiles.

In the meantime, Mystique (Lawrence) has chosen to remain in her human form and is recruiting new mutants to the Xavier School, including the telepath Jean Grey (Turner) who has the potential to be even more powerful than Xavier himself, Nightcrawler (Smit-McPhee) who can teleport and Scott Summers (Sheridan) who can shoot incredibly strong force bolts from his eyes. Along with Hank McCoy (Hoult) – the ever-loving Beast and resident scientist for the group – and Havok (Till), Summers’ brother whose force beams come out of his chest, and Quicksilver (Peters), a super-speedster, the school is full of very powerful and dangerous kids which attracts the attention of Col. Stryker (Helman) who has a mutant experiment of his own going at Alkili Lake.

Now we’re setting up a potential battle – Apocalypse who wants to destroy the world and repopulate it with mutants who would be the only ones strong enough to withstand the destruction, and Xavier who wants to save the world. Each has their own team; Apocalypse with the Four Horsemen, Xavier with the X-Men and they will duke it out with the fate of the world hanging in the balance.

Of course, the plot is fairly endemic to most superhero movies especially this year when it is the third of three different movies from three different studios all with superheroes battling one another. While critics have been decrying the similarity of the plots, there are subtle differences in each that for my money make them all different takes on a similar but not identical theme.

Here the theme has to do with the oppression of minorities and whether it is the responsibility of those with power to protect their own at the expense of everyone else, or to protect those who need it. The latter is a crucial question in the four color world of superheroes and one which does get repeated fairly regularly in the cinematic world of superheroes as well; as was said in a certain webslinger’s movie, with great power comes great responsibility.

As summer blockbusters go, it has plenty of spectacular action and amazing visuals which is what one looks for in a hot weather diversion. Unfortunately, the movie also has what has proven to be a superhero movie killer on many occasions recently; too many characters. I only touched on the main characters here and there were many others involved in the film, like Wolverine (Jackman) who shows up in a memorable cameo appearance in Jackman’s penultimate appearance as the character.

This is based on a classic comic story arc which is one I was actually familiar with as it was written while I was still collecting comics. The Apocalypse of the comic books was, in my opinion, much more of a villain than he is here and certainly much more dangerous, even though Isaac turns in a pretty strong performance despite the layers and layers of make-up. The Apocalypse of the comics was simply evil and didn’t really have an agenda beyond ruling the world; here, he has a philosophy which is supposed to give him motivation but ends up as unnecessary clutter. There’s a lot of that here, including the Wolverine appearance.

The producers of the X-Men franchise have said that this will conclude the trilogy started in X-Men: First Class in 2011. They have established several new young versions of some of the more beloved characters in the franchise. Where they will go with them is anybody’s guess but you can be sure there will be plenty more X-Men action coming in the future from Fox, for whom this franchise has been a gold mine.

This isn’t the weakest entry in the X-Men franchise but it’s certainly not the strongest. I think some judicious trimming of the number of characters as well as the plot itself (the movie clocks in at well over two hours) might have been beneficial to the final product. Singer has always had the best grip on the X-Men universe of any of the directors who have tackled it. Hopefully whomever inherits the reins will improve on this film which is merely decent.

REASONS TO GO: Some of the visuals are spectacular. It does give the First Class trilogy a nice definite conclusion.
REASONS TO STAY: Feels bloated and overpopulated with characters. Apocalypse felt far more dangerous in the comic book edition than he did here.
FAMILY VALUES: Plenty of superhero action and destruction, some brief strong language and a scene that is sexually suggestive.
TRIVIAL PURSUIT:  Oscar Isaac’s voice was recorded with three different types of microphones, and then melded together to create the voice of Apocalypse.
CRITICAL MASS: As of 7/10/16: Rotten Tomatoes: 48% positive reviews. Metacritic: 52/100.
COMPARISON SHOPPING: The Fantastic Four
FINAL RATING: 6/10
NEXT: Keeper of Darkness

Won’t Back Down


There's no cause so great that matching t-shirts won't solve.

There’s no cause so great that matching t-shirts won’t solve.

(2012) True Life Drama (20th Century Fox) Maggie Gyllenhaal, Viola Davis, Oscar Isaac, Holly Hunter, Rosie Perez, Emily Alyn Lind, Dante Brown, Lance Reddick, Ving Rhames, Bill Nunn, Ned Eisenberg, Marianne Jean-Baptiste, Lisa Colon-Zayas, Nancy Bach, Keith Flippen, Robert Haley, Lucia Forte, Sarab Kamoo, Teri Clark Linden, Joe Coyle, Jennifer Massey. Directed by Daniel Barnz

When it comes to our kids, we are all agreed on one thing; a good education is important. Sadly, not all kids receive one. Areas which are economically under-advantaged tend to receive shoddy educations in crumbling facilities from disinterested teachers.

But some parents won’t take that situation lying down. Jamie Fitzpatrick (Gyllenhaal) works at a car dealership and tends bar at night to make ends meet. Her daughter Malia (Lind) is dyslexic and gets bullied at her Pittsburgh school, all under the eyes of teachers who don’t care and a principal (Nunn) hamstrung by union regulations and a venal school board. Fed up, Jamie tries to get her daughter into a charter school, but her number isn’t picked in the lottery.

There’s another parent there that Jamie is surprised to see – Nona Alberts (Davis), a teacher at Jamie’s school. Why doesn’t Nona try to make things better at her own school for her own daughter? Of course she’s tried to, but has hit stone wall after stone wall from the Union and the Board and she’s tired of fighting.

&But there’s a ray of hope; there’s a law on the books that will allow parents to take over a school that is underachieving (as Malia’s school is) but parents so inclined have to jump through an awful lot of hoops in order to do it. That doesn’t dissuade Nona and Jamie as they take on the Union, who try to intimidate the teachers with potential job loss (which is a very real possibility) and the School Board, who don’t want to cede control of one of their schools to parents lest it spark a district-wide revolt.

In the midst of this, single Jamie finds a boyfriend in math teacher Michael Perry (Isaac) who gets a bit miffed whenever Jamie expresses her frustration with the Union but he ends up being a staunch ally and Jamie and Nona slowly begin to win the parents to their side, giving them all matching T-shirts for a rally (was there ever a cause that didn’t benefit from matching t-shirts?) that will take on those who stand against their kids having a fighting chance at a future.

If this sounds a bit strident and political, it’s because it is. I won’t say that the film is outright anti-Union, but it does paint the Union as villainous, more concerned about protecting bad teachers than about educating the children of their communities. The School Board doesn’t come off much better, painted as a group that plays politics when it comes to funding and personnel. I suppose your reaction to the film is going to depend on your point of view; those who are very much pro-Union are going to have issues with it, those who think that privatizing education is the way to go will love it.

That set aside let’s look at the filmmaking itself. Technically, the film is decent – nothing to write home about on the one hand but on the other competently done. It’s hard to make the less prosperous end of Pittsburgh look glamorous but Barnz at least makes it look like a nice community to live in for the most part.

The cast is terrific, with five Oscar nominees (past and future) and/or winners (Hunter, who plays the smug Union head here, won for The Piano in 1987). Gyllenhaal is marvelous and for Davis who was just beginning to cement her reputation as a talented actress when this was made also is memorable as the teacher who goes from zombie to ace during the course of the movie. Isaac, essentially an unknown when he made this, also is fine as the love interest.

While I don’t necessary agree with the filmmakers’ point of view – the Teachers Union isn’t the sole reason for problems with American education; one has to also look at the decline of parental involvement, poverty, the rise of distractions like videogames and the Internet and also the high cost of higher education for the reason why education has fallen so drastically. Adding new charter schools, vouchers and other solutions advanced from the right aren’t necessarily the only things needed but don’t address other conditions that are obstacles to every child receiving a proper education.

This is a complicated issue and while I think that the hearts of the cast and crew are in the right place, the execution takes a kind of Hollywood “happy ending in 90 minutes guaranteed” point of view. Nevertheless I don’t necessarily think that it’s a bad thing to call attention to issues that affect all of us – and the education of our children certainly does. Innovation has to come from somewhere and if our population is lagging behind the rest of the world in know-how and let’s face it, desire to innovate, we could find ourselves a third world nation sooner than we think.

WHY RENT THIS: Attempts to tackle real issues facing modern education. Fine performances by Gyllenhaal and Davis.
WHY RENT SOMETHING ELSE: A little smug and simplistic. Pro-union viewers will be outraged.
FAMILY VALUES: Some mild profanity and thematic elements.
TRIVIAL PURSUIT: Loosely based (very loosely based) on actual events in Sunland-Tujunga, California in 2010.
NOTABLE HOME VIDEO EXTRAS: There are a couple of featurettes here, The Importance of Education and the somewhat disingenuous Tribute to Teachers considering how much teacher-bashing the film does.
BOX OFFICE PERFORMANCE: $5.3M on a $19M production budget.
SITES TO SEE: Netflix (DVD/Blu-Ray Rental only), Amazon, iTunes, Vudu, Google Play, M-Go
COMPARISON SHOPPING: Waiting for “Superman”
FINAL RATING: 6/10
NEXT: The Time That Remains

Star Wars: The Force Awakens


Home at last!

Home at last!

(2015) Science Fiction (Disney) Harrison Ford, Daisy Ridley, John Boyega, Oscar Isaac, Carrie Fisher, Adam Driver, Lupita Nyong’o, Andy Serkis, Mark Hamill, Domhnall Gleeson, Anthony Daniels, Max von Sydow, Peter Mayhew, Gwendoline Christie, Simon Pegg, Pip Torrens, Greg Grunberg, Kiran Shah, Andrew Jack, Warwick Davis, Sasha Frost. Directed by JJ Abrams

So, no joke, this is the cinematic event of the year – and one of the biggest event movies ever. Certainly it’s box office explosion, mowing down box office records like so many innocent civilians at the hands of Stormtroopers, gives credence to that. People weren’t just excited to see it – they were absolutely insane to see it. Many have gone back and seen it three or four or more times since it opened. But is it worth all the hype?

As the iconic opening crawl informs us, thirty years has passed since the Empire has fallen and the Republic was re-established. From the ashes of the Empire has risen the First Order, run by the shadowy Supreme Leader Snoke (Serkis) who appears via hologram as kind of a gigantic mummified cross between Abe Lincoln and C3PO (Daniels). Who appears later on in the film. C3PO, not Abe Lincoln.

I digress. Everyone is looking for Luke Skywalker (Hamill), the last Jedi Knight who has disappeared after some sort of catastrophe involving training new Jedi Knights that went horribly wrong. The First Order wants to stop him from doing what the Resistance (tacitly supported by the Republic) want him to do – to lead them to victory against the First Order. To that end, they have sent cocky pilot Poe Dameron (Isaac) to the desert world Jakku to retrieve a map which leads to Skywalker. However, the First Order led by their Sith-like leader Kylo Ren (Driver) show up and Dameron is forced to give the chip containing the map to his trusty droid BB8 (kind of like a Beach Ball with the top of a droid on it – perhaps that’s what BB stands for) and sends him rolling off to the nearest settlement. He’s captured and interrogated but eventually rescued by Fin (Boyega), a Stormtrooper who develops a conscience.

BB8 discovers Rey (Ridley), a metal scavenger who has been on her own since her parents left her on Jakku to fend for herself. In the meantime, Fin and Dameron get separated and Fin finds Rey and BB8 but with the Emp…er, First Order hot on their heels, they escape in what turns out to be a familiar spaceship.

Once away they run into familiar faces and new ones, and discover that an all-new and improved solar-powered Death Star is getting ready to do its worst. The new Resistance heroes must go to this new weapon and destroy it, but that is no easy task, even with the old Rebellion heroes on their side.

After the prequel trilogy left the Star Wars fandom and moviegoers in general underwhelmed, I can safely say that this had a pretty high bar to meet, but it has done so in spades. Frankly put, this is one of the best movies of the year and I never thought I’d say that about a Star Wars film. As you’d expect, the special effects are marvelous and mostly achieved through practical means. However, there’s more to the film than that.

Let’s talk about the story a little bit. Some have complained that there are too many similar elements to the very first film, which is now titled Episode IV: A New Hope in canon. That’s a pretty fair complaint and it is occasionally distracting, but the storylines aren’t terribly identical. I do wish they’d used something other than a desert planet to open the movie with although I suspect that the universe has more desert planets than those with greenery. But one can have a fairly barren terrain without having the same sand dunes that characterized Tatooine. However, the important thing is that the story has retained that epic quality that characterized the first trilogy (not the prequels so much).

That said, the acting here is marvelous. Ford in particular brings Han Solo back to life, giving him the same gruff, roguish qualities in the first trilogy but tempering it with melancholy – there have been events in his life since the fall of the Empire that have been bitter and some even tragic. Not all of those are gone into with much detail, but let’s just say that as a father and a husband he makes a good smuggler.

Ridley and Boyega, who share the heroic role, both show a good deal of screen charisma and promise as the new kids on the block. They both realize they don’t have to carry the film, but something tells me either one or both could if they had to. Boyega, particularly, has an incredible amount of potential, not just here but in all of the films he’s been in. His character is the most interesting one of the new ones, although Kylo Ren has some definite Daddy issues that no doubt are going to develop into something else.

The movie moves along at breakneck speed; even the pauses are well-placed and well-paced. It’s not a short movie but it never feels long. Considering all the expectations that were heaped on this property that Disney paid $4 billion for, it’s good to see that for once not only were those expectations met but exceeded. Looks like Disney has gotten an excellent return on their investment.

REASONS TO GO: Spectacular! Recaptures everything about the first trilogy that made it great. Will appeal to kids and adults as well. Surprisingly good performances.
REASONS TO STAY: Story a little too much like the very first movie.
FAMILY VALUES: Some sci-fi violence.
TRIVIAL PURSUIT: Abrams preferred to use actual locations and practical effects over green screen and CGI in order to be more aesthetically similar to the first trilogy.
CRITICAL MASS: As of 12/28/15: Rotten Tomatoes: 94% positive reviews. Metacritic: 81/100.
COMPARISON SHOPPING: Star Wars Episode IV: A New Hope
FINAL RATING: 9.5/10
NEXT: Hitchcock/Truffaut

New Releases for the Week of December 18, 2015


Star Wars Episode VII The Force AwakensSTAR WARS: THE FORCE AWAKENS

(Disney) Daisy Ridley, Mark Hamill, Carrie Fisher, Harrison Ford, Oscar Isaac, Adam Driver, Max von Sydow, John Boyega, Simon Pegg, Lupita Nyong’o. Directed by J.J. Abrams

The wait is finally over as the most eagerly anticipated movie in maybe a decade finally debuts in theaters and everyone is going gaga over it. I’d give a plot summary here but does it really matter? The reviews have been strong, word of mouth is as usual critical from the fanboys and aging fans are reliving their youth all over the globe, and that can’t be a bad thing. Merry Christmas, Disney accountants!

See the trailer, promos, interviews and featurettes here.
For more on the movie this is the website.

Release Formats: Standard, 3D, IMAX 3D
Genre: Science Fiction
Now Playing: Wide Release

Rating: PG-13 (for sci-fi action violence)

Alvin and the Chipmunks: Road Chip

(20th Century Fox) Jason Lee, Justin Long (voice), Kimberly Williams-Paisley, Matthew Gray Gubler (voice). The chipmunks and Dave take their act on the road. Just as long as it takes them away from wherever I am.

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

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

Rating: PG-13 (for some thematic elements and brief suggestive material)

The Assassin

(Well Go USA) Qi Shu, Chen Chang, Satoshi Tsumabuki, Dahong Ni. A young woman, abducted as a child from her home by a general of the army, trained into adulthood to be an assassin, is ordered to kill the man she is betrothed to. She must discover why she was chosen for this job and in doing so confront her past before she makes the choice to leave the only life she’s ever known or murder the only man she’s ever loved.

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

Release Formats: Standard
Genre: Martial Arts
Now Playing: Enzian Theater

Rating: NR

Bajirao Mastani

(Eros International) Priyanka Chopra, Deepika Padukone, Ranveer Singh, Mahesh Manjrekar. In ancient India, a cunning general and his second wife are fated to be caught in events that are sweeping through the sub-continent. This true story has the production values of an epic and may be one of the most sumptuously filmed movies to ever come out of that country.

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

Release Formats: Standard
Genre: Romance Adventure
Now Playing: AMC Loew’s Universal Citiplex, Touchstar Southchase

Rating: NR

Dilwale

(Red Chillies) Shah Rukh Khan, Kajol, Kriri Sanon, Varun Dhawan. A little bit like Romeo and Juliet, two families that compete in business, in politics and in just about everything else are separated when one family moves away. Fifteen years afterwards, the children meet again and sparks fly – as well as romantic ones.

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

Release Formats: Standard
Genre: Romance
Now Playing: Touchstar Southchase

Rating: NR

Hitchcock/Truffaut

(Cohen) Alfred Hitchcock, Francois Truffaut, Matthieu Amalric (voice), Martin Scorsese. One of the most influential books in the history of filmmaking is the interview between French New Wave director Truffaut and the Master of Suspense Hitchcock. Two of the all-time best in the business (many say Hitchcock was the best) talk about directing with a candidness that they might never have given during a mainstream interview. The book made from the interview has influenced many of the greatest directors of this generation; excerpts from the original interviews and commentary on what the book meant to their careers are included.

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

Release Formats: Standard
Genre: Documentary
Now Playing: Enzian Theater

Rating: PG-13 (for suggestive material and violent images)

Sisters

(Universal) Tina Fey, Amy Poehler, John Cena, Maya Rudolph. Two very different sisters – one a divorced mouse, the other a single party animal, come home to discover their parents are putting their childhood home up for sale. Distraught, they decide to relive their glory years one last time with a blow-out party that will perhaps provide the catharsis they need and the laughs that we need.

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

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

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

Ex-Machina


Domhnall Gleeson holds open a door but Oscar Isaac one-ups him by holding up a wall.

Domhnall Gleeson holds open a door but Oscar Isaac one-ups him by holding up a wall.

(2015) Science Fiction (A24) Oscar Isaac, Domhnall Gleeson, Alice Vikander, Sonoya Mizuno, Corey Johnson, Claire Selby, Symara A. Templeman, Gana Bayarsaikhan, Tiffany Pisani, Elina Alminas, Chelsea Li, Ramzan Miah, Caitlin Morton, Deborah Rosan, Johanna Thea, Evie Wray. Directed by Alex Garland

What differentiates man from machine? One creates the other, true, but as machines grow more intelligent, able to make decisions without intervention, the difference becomes more and more narrow. We are moving clumsily but ever steadily in the direction of artificial intelligence – machines that can actually think, rationalize and eventually, feel. What will the difference be then?

Caleb (Gleeson) is a code warrior in a cubicle at Blue Book, the world’s most popular search engine who has an extraordinarily mundane life but all that changes when he wins a contest at work to spend a week in the mountain retreat of the reclusive CEO, Nathan (Isaac). The man is something of a personal hero to Caleb; Nathan had, after all, written the essential software that powers his profit-generating search engine when he was but 13 years old. Caleb in that sense is more of a late bloomer.

He’s also feeling a bit awkward when the helicopter taking him to the mansion lets him off a mile or so away; Nathan doesn’t like to be disturbed by the noises of civilization. But Nathan tries to dispel that awkwardness between boss and employee by explaining how hung over he was that morning. Looks like the two are well on the way to a bromance.

But Nathan has ulterior motives and Caleb didn’t just win a random drawing; he was chosen, selected even. You see, Nathan’s home is also something of a research facility with Nathan the sole researcher and what he’s doing is a bit of a doozy – he’s developed the world’s first artificial intelligence, giving it a female form and calling it Ava (Vikander).

And more to the point, Nathan wants Caleb to test Ava to determine if she has a true A.I., one which would revolutionize science as we know it. And Ava seems to be passing with flying colors, able to draw expressively as well as discuss intelligently nearly any subject on earth, and the one subject she wants to study most of all is Caleb who is the only other human she’s seen besides Nathan.

For the most part, Caleb is amazed but he begins to get suspicious. Nathan seems to be drunk nearly all the time and the only other person in the house is the servant girl Kyoko (Mizuno) who speaks no English and is badly treated by Nathan. During one of the frequent power outages, Ava warns Caleb that Nathan is not being straight with him and that he is lying about virtually everything.

Caleb is in a quandary.. On the one hand, he is at ground zero of one of the greatest scientific discoveries of all time, but he is not at all convinced that Nathan is completely stable – and there is the possibility that he’s being manipulated. But by whom and to what end?

Intelligent science fiction is a bit of an oxymoron in Hollywood; mostly, the studios keep their sci-fi to action packed space opera adventures, or dark dystopian nightmares that are usually – you guessed it – action packed. When one comes along like this film that gets the grey matter some exercise, it’s a pretty good day right there. That it is entertaining as all get out is an extra added bonus.

Isaac has in a very short time become an actor whose presence in a film is sufficient reason for me to go see it. He has enormous presence and here he plays a charismatic tech billionaire but one with an agenda that he keeps well-hidden, although there are plenty of red flags – the rooms that Caleb isn’t allowed to access, the non-disclosure agreement that Caleb is required to sign right off the bat, the flashes of temperament. Nathan is ostensibly the villain here but he’s no standard mad scientist – although he is the definition of one when all is said and done – but more a misunderstood genius who has become too used to getting whatever whim he has seen to immediately.

Gleeson is not yet to the level of Isaac but he is heading down that road. He was really, really good in About Time and he has that Joe Ordinary quality that makes him instantly identifiable. Sweet-natured and a bit naive, Caleb is puppy-eager to please early on but quickly establishes that he is his own man and he has a genuine moral qualm with keeping Ava locked up with the certain knowledge that his report will lead to Ava being “upgraded” which will essentially wipe clean her memory. The body will live but the soul will be gone.

The special effects are eye-popping. Considering the modest budget that the film had, it’s quite frankly amazing how they pulled off some of the effects shots that they did. Looking at Ava for example, whose mid-section, arms and legs are clear where the servo mechanisms are clearly seen as well as whatever is behind Ava at the time. I spent a lot of the movie trying to figure out how they did it and I imagine it was some sort of motion capture, but that’s generally crazy expensive so I’m probably wrong on that score. The mountain forest backgrounds are pretty spectacular as well.

Garland has pulled off an impressive directing debut (he has been a novelist and a screenwriter for some time, with Danny Boyle’s 28 Days Later among his impressive credits) in slick fashion and seems poised to become a mover and shaker in the business. His next stint in the director’s chair is rumored to be Annihilation, also a science fiction film this time for Paramount and you can bet that there are a whole lot of studios headed his way with projects ear-marked for him – I wouldn’t be surprised if Marvel and DC will be among them.

So he has a bright future, but the present is what we’re about here. This is one incredible, impressive movie, one you’ll be talking about for weeks and months to come. If you’re a film lover who shies away from sci-fi, trust me this is going to be remembered right up there with 2001: A Space Odyssey and Blade Runner when it comes to not just great science fiction films but great films in general.

REASONS TO GO: Intelligent throughout. Leads all do stellar work. Impressive special effects.
REASONS TO STAY: Some may find the ending a bit of a letdown.
FAMILY VALUES: A pretty good amount of foul language, plenty of graphic nudity, a little bit of violence and some sexual references.
TRIVIAL PURSUIT: Both Isaac and Gleeson are featured in the upcoming movie Star Wars: The Force Awakens.
CRITICAL MASS: As of 4/30/15: Rotten Tomatoes: 90% positive reviews. Metacritic: 78/100.
COMPARISON SHOPPING: A.I.
FINAL RATING: 10/10
NEXT: Monsters: Dark Continent