New Releases for the Week of July 22, 2011


July 22, 2011

CAPTAIN AMERICA: THE FIRST AVENGER

(Paramount/Marvel) Chris Evans, Tommy Lee Jones, Hugo Weaving, Hayley Atwell, Sebastian Stan, Dominic Cooper, Toby Jones, Neal McDonough, Derek Luke, Stanley Tucci, Richard Armitage, Samuel L. Jackson. Directed by Joe Johnston

The early days of the Marvel Universe are explored as Steve Rogers, the prototypical 97 pound weakling, wants so badly to do his part in World War II that he takes part in an experiment in which he is injected with a serum that will turn him from zero to hero. Joining up with his partner Bucky Barnes and the sassy scientist Peggy Carter, he will take on the hordes of Hydra (a Nazi group that utilizes almost mystical science) and their leader, the villainous Red Skull.

See the trailer, promos, featurettes and clips here.

For more on the movie this is the website.

Release formats: Standard, 3D

Genre: Superhero

Rating: PG-13 (for intense sequences of sci-fi violence and action)

Friends With Benefits

(Screen Gems) Justin Timberlake, Mila Kunis, Patricia Clarkson, Jenna Elfman. A pair of friends, disenchanted with love, still craves sex. They decide to become friends with benefits – a non-romantic relationship in which the participants both get to have sex with each other. While the two think they’ve got the best of all worlds, instead they find that sex very often brings its own set of complications – both emotional and otherwise.

See the trailers, interviews, promos and clips here.

For more on the movie this is the website.

Release formats: Standard

Genre: Romantic Comedy

Rating: R (for sexual content and language)

Submarine

(Weinstein) Noah Taylor, Paddy Considine, Sally Hawkins, Yasmin Paige. A 16-year-old English schoolboy worries that his parents’ marriage is crumbling to pieces. He has also fallen for a young classmate who is brash and intimidating, but may be his route to growing up. This was a big hit at Sundance earlier this year.

See the trailer, interviews and clips here.

For more on the movie this is the website.

Release formats: Standard

Genre: Dramedy

Rating: R (for language and some sexual content)

The Bourne Ultimatum


The Bourne Ultimatum

Matt Damon ponders how much cooler he would have looked if the production had sprung for a Harley.

(Universal) Matt Damon, Joan Allen, David Strathairn, Julia Stiles, Scott Glenn, Albert Finney, Paddy Considine, Edgar Ramirez, Trevor St John, Daniel Bruhl, Joey Anash, Tom Gallop, Corey Johnson, Colin Stinton . Directed by Paul Greengrass

The most recent installment of the hit film series based on the John Le Carre spy novels, The Bourne Ultimatum picks up pretty much where the last film, The Bourne Supremacy left off, in Moscow. We pick up with memory-challenged superspy Jason Bourne (Matt Damon) being chased by the Moscow police through the back alleys of Moscow. An injured Bourne finally makes his way into a closed for the night medical clinic where he tries to effect crude repairs, but he is interrupted by a pair of clever cops. They aren’t quite clever enough and he escapes once again, disappearing from the CIA grid.

Back in the States, CIA director Ezra Kramer (Glenn) is very eager for Bourne to be caught. Deputy Director Noah Vosen (Strathairn) believes Bourne is a major threat to the agency, whereas Deputy Director Pamela Landy (Allen) thinks Bourne is not necessarily out to take down the agency, but instead to get answers. Landy is put in charge of the hunt for Jason Bourne.

In Turin, a newspaper columnist (Considine) meets with a CIA section chief (Stinton) who gives the columnist information about Blackbriar, the successor to the Treadstone program that created Bourne (and that Bourne essentially destroyed). The CIA, apparently monitoring every cell phone call on the planet, picks up a call from the columnist to his editor that contains the word “Blackbriar” and immediately he is put under surveillance. Bourne by chance reads the man’s column (apparently he’s a big fan of the Guardian newspaper, since he reads it in another country) and realizes that the columnist may have information that Bourne needs. Of course, this sets off all sorts of mayhem, including a chance meeting between Bourne and Nikki Parsons (Stiles), the Treadstone agent who helped Bourne previously. Chased by the CIA, Interpol and quite probably some irate Girl Scouts, Bourne makes his way to New York City with the intention of discovering the truth about himself and possibly bringing an end to the game he no longer wants to play.

In a terse spy thriller like this one, you have to take a few things on faith, and suspend disbelief to a certain extent. It’s hard to believe that an agency with the technical ability to pick out a single word in a phone conversation involving two men not under suspicion for anything are unable to suss out a man entering their country undisguised under a passport they themselves issued. I mean, don’t they have computers at the airport?

Plot holes aside, you come to a Bourne movie for the action sequences, and here the movie doesn’t disappoint. Chased by assassins (and chasing them), evading detection by legions of agents and police, director Greengrass sets up a massive body count (not to mention an auto body count, as the film might just be worse for automobiles than for stuntmen) and extended action sequences which, while breaking no new ground, do cover old ground expertly. He keeps the suspense ratcheted up to 11 throughout most of the movie, with very little breathing room and manages to move the plot along with expository sequences without breaking momentum created by the action scenes – the one in Tangiers, by the way, might be one of the best you’ll ever see. However, be warned many sequences appear to be filmed by hand-held cameras. While this delivers a kind of you-are-there feel to these sequences, in my opinion it’s used a little overly much and gives the movie a kind of jerky quality that I found jarring.

Damon continues to do the part of Jason Bourne with extraordinary aplomb, rarely displaying much emotion but allowing the feelings bubbling below the surface to see the light of day from time to time. Strathairn plays a worthy adversary who picks up after Chris Cooper and Brian Cox from the first two movies and acquits himself nicely. Stiles does some of her best work in the Bourne movies and as the only other actor besides Damon to appear in all three movies, providing some nice continuity.

The movie takes place in several European cities, including Moscow, Turin, Madrid and in Tangiers, Morocco as well as New York City. The movie uses actual locations to add a further air of realism, a nice touch (which created some difficulties for the filmmakers – if you look closely during the train station scene, there are people who notice the cameras and point to them). While many of the secrets of Jason Bourne are explained (including his actual identity), there is certainly enough room left at the end for a sequel if the filmmakers and actors choose to go there which for awhile, it appeared they did until Greengrass recently withdrew from the proposed fourth Bourne film, leaving the status of the movie very much up in the air – Damon’s participation without Greengrass is certainly less likely.

Like most of the third movies, this one is pretty flawed but you can take some solace in the fact that while it doesn’t arise above its own ambitions, the movie nevertheless fulfills those ambitions nicely. In other words, you get exactly what you came to see.

WHY RENT THIS: Awesome action sequences as have become synonymous with this franchise. Exotic locations that bring to mind the cold war spy thrillers that the source material was contemporaneous with. The tension is unrelenting.

WHY RENT SOMETHING ELSE: The plot holes are hard to ignore. Too much hand-held camerawork which was cliche even before this was made.

FAMILY VALUES: While the action sequences are terrific, they may be a bit overwhelming for some, as the sudden and sometimes realistic violence will be.

TRIVIAL PURSUITS: Among the pictures of terminated agents that Landy faxes near the film’s conclusion are producer Frank Marshall and actor Richard Chamberlin, who portrayed Bourne in a 1988 TV mini-series.

NOTABLE DVD FEATURES: Nothing listed.

FINAL RATING: 7/10

TOMORROW: Harry Potter and the Half-Blood Prince

Stoned


A Rolling Stone may gather no moss, but sure attracts an entourage

A Rolling Stone may gather no moss, but sure attracts an entourage

(Screen Media) Leo Gregory, Paddy Considine, Ben Whishaw, Monet Mazur, Tuva Novotny, David Morrissey, Amelia Warner, Luke de Woolfson. Directed by Stephen Woolley

Brian Jones (Gregory) was the driving factor in the formation of the Rolling Stones. Flamboyant and excessive, he symbolized the band in the eyes of many but as his drug use escalated and his creative contributions decreased, he also came to symbolize the pitfalls of fame and drug abuse.

The movie begins Sunset Boulevard-like with Jones’ body at the bottom of his pool. The rest of the film is told in flashback fashion, chronicling Jones’ early resistance to authority and his love for the blues, leading him to form a band along with Mick Jagger (de Woolfson) and Keith Richards (Whishaw).

The group eventually gains enormous success which leads to excess. Experimentation with psychedelic drugs, some with girlfriend Anita Pallenberg (Mazur) and sexual encounters with both men and women begin to dominate Jones’ life. Bouts of occasional cruelty (he is depicted beating up Pallenberg in a scene where Richards comes to her rescue) lead the band to abandon him in Morocco. The rift between the rest of the Stones grows wider although Jones at times tries to make amends.

He buys a rambling country estate once owned by author A.A. Milne of the Winnie the Pooh series. His manager Tom Keylock (Morrissey) links him up with Frank Thorogood (Considine), a morose World War II veteran, to help renovate the property. As it turns out, Thorogood isn’t much of a contractor, but his true role is to act as a babysitter for Jones, whose increasing unreliability has put a strain on the band. Eventually, Thorogood begins to do drugs with Jones, leading him to become something of a pet for Jones who treats him with casual cruelty, but Thorogood – now addicted to the lifestyle – accepts this behavior with minimal resentment.

Soon, Brian’s antics become too much for the band and they fire their founding father. It’s also suggested that his flamboyant lifestyle was bleeding money from the band – Jones was virtually broke when he died. Jones is also growing tired of Thorogood and gives him the sack as well, leading to a final confrontation at the swimming pool.

This is a fictional account of the life and death of Jones, although there are many incidents based on fact depicted here. The depiction of Jones as a somewhat schizophrenic character who could be kind and gentle one moment, cruel and narcissistic the next jives with contemporary accounts of the guitarist.

British character actor Gregory takes on the role of Jones and does as good a job with it as can be expected. The real-life Jones is a deeply polarizing character to the rock and roll community in general and the Rolling Stones camp in particular. He remains enigmatic even to those who knew him well; capturing someone like that on film is nearly impossible but Gregory takes a noble crack at it. He certainly has the look down pat.

Considine is also good as Thorogood. His performance is more understated than Gregory’s, so when Thorogood snaps it is jarring and surprising, a nice bit of work that adds some spice to the film.

There is a great deal of sex and drugs here but somewhat incongruously very little rock and roll. Although it’s never stated, it seems logical that the surviving Rolling Stones divorced themselves completely from this project and lent little or no co-operation to it. Although the band is central to the film’s story, none of their music is used in the movie and it is a cover band called the Counterfeit Stones that supplies music credited to the band, although it is not music written by the band but blues songs that they covered early in their career.

The filmmakers do a nice job of capturing the mid-60s with the glory of Carnaby Street and the underlying seediness of drug and alcohol abuse. Deliberately under-lighting some of the scenes gives an air of watching period Super-8 footage instead of a modern feature film.

The film asserts that Thorogood on his deathbed in 1994 confessed to murdering Jones, although this has never been confirmed. However, there is enough evidence that has come to light that in August 2009 the police have re-opened the investigation into Jones’ death, which is still as of this writing officially a “death by misadventure.”

The tragedy of Brian Jones demise would be the first of many rock and roll casualties. The characterization of Jones as a deeply troubled young man who had squandered his talent resonates with modern audiences nicely. It is unlikely that the Stones would ever co-operate with a film on the life of Brian Jones, so we’ll probably never get a definitive biography of the man. This is a shame because the glimpses we get into his psyche are tantalizing.

WHY RENT THIS: Brian Jones is a fascinating figure and while it is unlikely we’ll ever get a definitive biography of him this will do. Nice performances by Gregory and Considine; the movie carries an extreme amount of sex appeal. The 60s are captured nicely both in look and feel.

WHY RENT SOMETHING ELSE: The music of the Rolling Stones is sadly missing here, so we don’t get much of a context as to Jones’ contributions to the band. The movie dwells a bit too much on some of Jones’ addictions.

FAMILY VALUES: Lots of nudity both male and female, much sexuality and a copious amount of drug use.

TRIVIAL PURSUIT: This is the first directorial effort for Woolley, a writer-producer who also worked on the 1994 film Backbeat which chronicled the fifth Beatle, Stu Sutcliffe who passed away shortly after being fired from his band.

NOTABLE DVD EXTRAS: None listed.

FINAL RATING: 6/10

TOMORROW: Knowing