New Releases for the Week of January 6, 2017


A Monster CallsA MONSTER CALLS

(Focus) Lewis MacDougall, Sigourney Weaver, Felicity Jones, Toby Kebbell, Ben Moor, Jennifer Lim, James Melville, Liam Neeson, Geraldine Chaplin. Directed by Juan Antoniio Bayona

A young British boy is having a very rough time of things. Not only is he being bullied at school, his mum – all he has in the world – is very sick. Overwhelmed by everything happening around him, he escapes into a world of fantasy where friendly monsters help him deal with his anger and his grief. It’s based on a best-selling book.

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

Release Formats: Standard, 3D
Genre: Family
Now Playing: Wide Release

Rating: PG-13 (for thematic content and some scary images)

The Bronx Bull

(Momentum) William Forsythe, Joe Mantegna, Tom Sizemore, Paul Sorvino. This is a new take on the story of Jake LaMotta, one of the most legendary figures in boxing. That life was already the subject of Martin Scorsese’s classic Oscar-winning opus Raging Bull.

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

Release Formats: Standard
Genre: Biographical Drama
Now Playing: AMC Loew’s Universal Cineplex

Rating: R (for brutal fights, pervasive language and some sexual content/nudity)

Hidden Figures

(20th Century Fox) Taraji P. Henson, Octavia Spencer, Kevin Costner, Janelle Monáe. This is the true and largely forgotten story of three brilliant African-American women who overcame the prejudices of their era to become vital to the space program and instrumental to doing what nobody had done before them – launching a human being into orbit.

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

Release Formats: Standard
Genre: True Life Drama
Now Playing: Wide Release

Rating: PG (for thematic elements and some language)

Underworld: Blood Wars

(Screen Gems) Kate Beckinsale, Theo James, Charles Dance, Tobias Menzies. Selene returns as the war between the vampires and the werewolves (a.k.a. the Lycans) heats up. An ambitious vampire and a formidable leader of the Lycans clash as Selene and her human ally David are once again caught in the middle.

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

Release Formats: Standard, 3D
Genre: Horror Action
Now Playing: Wide Release

Rating: R (for strong bloody violence, and some sexuality)

Rules Don’t Apply


Lily Collins celebrates being backlit.

Lily Collins celebrates being backlit.

(2016) Dramedy (20th Century Fox) Alden Ehrenreich, Lily Collins, Warren Beatty, Matthew Broderick, Martin Sheen, Paul Sorvino, Candice Bergen, Annette Bening, Hart Bochner, Haley Bennett, Paul Schneider, Ed Harris, Chace Crawford, Oliver Platt, Taissa Farmiga, Marshall Bell, Ron Perkins, Alec Baldwin, Dabney Coleman, Steve Coogan, Joshua Malina, Louise Linton. Directed by Warren Beatty

 

Most of us have to live within the rules. The rules after all are there for a reason. There are a fortunate few – or perhaps an unfortunate few – who for one reason or another are exceptions. The rules don’t really apply to them. It can be very liberating – and very lonely.

Marla Mabry (Collins) has come to Hollywood in sunny 1958 to make her fame and fortune as an actress. No less than Howard Hughes (Beatty) has put her under contract. She and her devout Baptist mother (Bening) are met at the airport by Frank Forbes (Ehrenreich), a driver with ambitions of his own.

She discovers that she is one of 26 girls under contract to Hughes, all of whom he is insanely jealous towards. In fact, “insane” is a word that fits his behavior which has grown increasingly erratic as paranoia and obsessive-compulsive disorder have begun to take hold of his life like a dog with a bone. Forbes’ boss Levar (Broderick) shows Frank the ropes, but even though it’s forbidden he begins to have romantic feelings for Marla, feelings which are returned. In the meantime, Hughes begins to fall for the pretty, talented singer-songwriter-actress, but he is under siege as there are those who wish to declare him incompetent and take his company away from him. Those closest to him – including Frank – are determined not to let that happen.

First, this isn’t really a biography of the billionaire. Certainly some of the events depicted here actually happened, but Marla Mabry and Frank Forbes are entirely fictional; so is most of the rest of the cast in fact, although a few historical figures make appearances now and again. This is more of a fable of the Howard Hughes myth than anything else.

Beatty, who hasn’t appeared onscreen in 15 years or directed a film in 18, does a terrific job with Hughes keeping him from becoming a caricature of mental illness. Hughes feels like a living, breathing person here rather than an interpretation of an encyclopedia entry. Often when Hollywood brings real people to the screen, they feel more mythic than actual. I always appreciate films that utilize historical figures that feel like human beings rather than animatronic renditions of legends.

The cast is made up in equal parts of veteran actors, some of whom rarely appear onscreen these days (like Bergen and Coleman) and up-and-comers with huge potential (like Ehrenreich and Collins), with Beatty leaning towards the former in his casting decisions. It is certainly welcome watching some of these pros who are either semi-retired or fully retired plying their craft once more. Of particular note is Bergen as the matronly (and occasionally curmudgeonly) but ultimately kindly secretary/personal assistant to Hughes.

The issue here is that the movie is long and the plot bounces around from scene to scene with an almost manic quality, sometimes giving short shrift to subtlety and other times leading up blind alleys and locked doors. I get the sense that Beatty is trying to craft a parable about the nature of wealth and power and its corrupting influence. Hughes seems like a nice enough guy but his money and influence tends to corrupt everyone around him, including those who didn’t start off cynical. One of the characters gets out before any real harm is done to them; another gets sucked into the vortex.

While this is something of a passion project for Beatty (he’s been trying to get a film made about Hughes since the early 70s) it doesn’t feel like one. It’s a bit bloated and self-defeating, but there’s enough that is interesting going on to make it worth a look. It’s mostly out of the theaters by now – critical indifference and an audience that is attracted to movies about superheroes and aliens more than about those who shaped the world we live in (as Hughes surely did) have hurt the film’s box office receipts. What the movie lacks in spectacle though it makes up for in genuine affection for its subject and that’s something you can’t get with all the CGI in the world.

REASONS TO GO: It’s lovely to see some of these veteran actors in action here..
REASONS TO STAY: The plot is a bit scattershot.
FAMILY VALUES: Some adult thematic elements, some brief sexual material, occasional profanity and drug references.
TRIVIAL PURSUIT: Bo Goldman, who gets story credit on the film, also wrote Melvin and Howard about Hughes’ supposed encounter with Melvin Dummar.
CRITICAL MASS: As of 12/17/16: Rotten Tomatoes: 56% positive reviews. Metacritic: 59/100.
COMPARISON SHOPPING: Café Society
FINAL RATING: 6.5/10
NEXT: The Monster

Last I Heard


Michael Rappaport finally figures out that Mira Sorvino is Paul's daughter.

Michael Rappaport finally figures out that Mira Sorvino is Paul’s daughter.

(2013) Dramedy (Cine Relevante) Paul Sorvino, Michael Rappaport, Renee Props, Andrea Kelly, Lev Gorn, Steven Bauer, Chazz Palminteri, Paul Ben-Victor, Hassan Johnson, Johnny Williams, Andrea Navedo, Roberta Wallach, D. Kevin Kelly, William de Paolo, Michael Sorvino, Logan Crifasi-Zenie, John Damroth, Andrea Verdura, Mario Ruffo, Olivia Panepinto. Directed by David Rodriguez

Florida Film Festival 2014

There’s no doubt that the Mafia isn’t what it used to be. Once the most powerful criminal organization on earth, it has become a shadow of itself, most of its most feared figures in jail, dead or worse, grown old.

Joseph “Mr. Joe” Scoleri (Sorvino) is in that lamented latter category. Released after a 20 year stint in the pen, he has a bum ticker, no money and is forbidden contact with anyone involved with crime – in short, just about everyone he knows. He lives with his daughter Rita (Props) who scarcely knows her dad, given that he essentially spent nearly her entire life in prison.

The world has changed a great deal since Joe went away and not just in the size of cell phones. The neighborhood has changed as well. There was respect there once but now Joe is just another old man tottering along the sidewalk to wherever it is that old men go.

But for his next door neighbor Bobby DiBianco (Rappaport), Joe is still an object of hero worship. Guys like him kept the neighborhood safe enough so a woman could walk untroubled to the corner store for a carton of milk in the middle of the night. Guys like him kept drugs and gangs out. Guys like him took care of guys like Bobby.

Now, Bobby is going to take care of Joe as best he can – run errands for him, take him to the doctor, that kind of thing. That kind of closeness attracts attention – from Dominic Salerno Jr. (Gorn), the last guy standing with any connection to the Mob and who sees Joe as someone who can legitimize him, and from the FBI who wonder if Joe is using Bobby as some kind of front. Bobby explains to them that in THIS neighborhood in Staten Island, people take care of each other. That’s the way it’s always been and as long as he’s around, that’s the way it will always be.

The truth is that Bobby is just a deli owner who’s never gotten into trouble and when Joe asks him to get in touch with one of Joe’s old mob friends, he balks. Joe sees this as disloyalty and a rift is driven between the two of them. Joe’s old school ways also create an issue with his daughter who is as 21st century as they get. Considering how bad Joe’s heart is, his time is running out – can he square things with those he cares about most before his ticker stops ticking?

Most mob pictures fall into two categories – the heavy dramas a la Scorsese and Coppola, and the lighter comedies like Analyze That and Mickey Blue Eyes.  This one falls somewhere in between. Director Rodriguez has described it as a “post-Mafia picture” – which can be interpreted as what happens when one retires from the Mafia or what happens after the Mafia becomes less relevant. Both apply here.

There are some issues here. The dialogue is really repetitive and points are hammered home over and over again until you want to go medieval on the screenwriters and scream as you beat them into a bloody mess “We get it, we get it!!!!” Just a cursory editing of the script might have lopped a good 20-30 minutes off the running time. That’s time that could have been used in further developing the Rita character who could have used a little more screen time.

Sorvino though gives a powerful enough performance that at least in my case I was willing to overlook the script flaws. Rodriguez wisely allows Sorvino’s craggy features to tell much of the unsaid story and the character’s confusion and frustration come through loud and clear without him having to yell – although he occasionally does that too.

Rappaport excels at playing the nice guy next door so this is right in his wheelhouse. Rappaport’s genuine likability plays off nicely of Sorvino’s curmudgeon. Many of the best scenes in the movie involve the interaction between the two.

The way the movie ends is not entirely unexpected given what comes before, but what comes before is largely fresh and new. This is a viewpoint we haven’ t seen previously; the closest that we’ve come is The Sopranos. While this isn’t the slam dunk it might have been had the writing been a little more precise, it still is worth checking out just for the premise and Sorvino alone.

REASONS TO GO: Terrific performances and chemistry from Sorvino and Rappaport. Different take on the Mafiosi than we normally see in the movies.

REASONS TO STAY: Often repetitive. Dialogue is stilted. The ending is kind of predictable.

FAMILY VALUES: Some foul language and some disturbing violence.

TRIVIAL PURSUIT: Although both are veterans of many Mafia-themed films, this marks the first on-screen appearance together for Sorvino and Palminteri.

CRITICAL MASS: As of 4/13/14: Rotten Tomatoes: no score yet. Metacritic: no score yet.

COMPARISON SHOPPING: Analyze This

FINAL RATING: 7/10

NEXT: Captain America: The Winter Soldier

Florida Film Festival 2014


Florida Film Festival 2014Last night, the Florida Film Festival announced their line-up for 2014 and it is another impressive one. The Festival will run from April 4 through April 13 this year and 170 feature films and shorts are on this year’s menu. While we won’t be previewing all of them, this is just a taste of some of the films you can expect to see.

Last year’s opening night film, 20 Feet From Stardom, went on to win an Oscar for Best Documentary Feature and opening night guests were wowed by one of the film’s stars, Merry Clayton (the female voice on the Rolling Stones’ “Gimme Shelter”) crooning a sensual and amazing version of Leon Russell’s “A Song for You.” While that set an awfully high bar, this year’s opening film has plenty of quality of its own. A Trip to Italy is the sequel to 2010’s The Trip and returns stars Steve Coogan and Rob Brydon as well as director Michael Winterbottom. Once again Coogan and Brydon play versions of themselves, sent to write restaurant reviews but this time not in the North of England but in Italy. They kept audiences in stitches with their impressions and comedic routines but deep down there was a story that kept the interest of the readers. I can’t wait to see what they do in the sequel.

Ernest and Celestine netted an Oscar nomination of its own for Best Animated Feature at the recent Academy Awards and while it lost to Frozen this story about the unlikely friendship between a bear and a mouse is sure to delight children of every age. The British crime comedy Dom Hemingway stars Jude Law as a safe cracker newly released from prison who wants to reconnect with his daughter and settle his debts but that proves to be a proposition far less easy than it sounds. For No Good Reason documents artist Ralph Steadman’s remarkable career, his collaborations with writers Hunter S. Thompson and William Burroughs and of course his unsettling and iconic drawings. Johnny Depp hosts this passion project. 

Joe is the latest from director David Gordon Green and stars Nicolas Cage as a rough and tumble ex-con with a hair-trigger temper who falls in with a young boy whose life has been at least as hard luck as his own. The ex-con takes a liking to the boy who finds in Joe a father figure which doesn’t sit too well with the boy’s actual father. This is said to be one of Cage’s best performances in years and might just elevate him out of the poor reputation he’s had in recent years. The Double is a stylish modernization of the Dostoevsky novella in which a shy and abused young worker, played by Jesse Eisenberg, has his life taken over by a brash and manipulative doppelganger, also played by Eisenberg. 

Gabrielle is a French-Canadian romance about a developmentally challenged woman’s quest to assert her independence. Obvious Child tackles the controversial subject of abortion as a young stand-up comedian finds her life turned upside down by an unexpected pregnancy. Before I Disappear chronicles a despondent young man’s attempts to commit suicide marred by his responsibility to babysit his niece. In Words and Pictures stars Clive Owens and Juliette Binoche play teachers of English and Art who in an effort to inspire students who couldn’t care less declare a war between words and images. Cheatin’ is the newest animated feature by Oscar winning animator Bill Plympton – ’nuff said. 

Crimes Against Humanity pairs a woman whose pet rabbit has died and who has been hospitalized with frequent nosebleeds with a pompous boyfriend whose investigation of sexual escapades at the university he works at becomes an obsession. In I Believe in Unicorns a woman with a vivid imagination falls for a skateboarding punk and chooses to run away with him, leaving her disabled mother behind. Doomsdays covers two slackers who convinced the apocalypse is just around the corner take to squatting in vacant Catskills vacations homes until the food runs out or they are chased off. The addition of two other would-be squatters changes the dynamic irrevocably. This year’s Audience Award winner at Slamdance was Copenhagen, a voyage of discovery of a young man who journeys to the Danish capital to discover his last living relative and finds love instead. Last I Heard stars Paul Sorvino as a mob boss who returns from prison to find that his gang has become inconsequential and the world a far different place than he left it. 

No No: A Dockumentary follows the fabled career of Pittsburgh Pirate pitcher Dock Ellis who famously pitched a no-hitter while tripping on LSD in 1970. How he overcame his addictions and reached out to help others in similar straits is one of baseball’s great untold stories. Levitated Mass is a fascinating look at artist Michael Heizer’s monumental task of transporting a 340 ton boulder from a Southern California quarry to the L.A. County Museum of Art and creating a media and social sensation in the process. American Jesus examines the pervasive Christianity in all it’s different forms and effects on American culture as seen through the eyes of a Spaniard. 

Mail order brides is the subject of Love Me as the documentary filmmaker follows several relationships that were established in that manner and discovers that they aren’t all you might think. Mission Congo details the abuses of an American televangelist in the Congo following the Rwandan genocide under the guise of humanitarian aid. The Sacrament is the latest from horror auteur Ti West and covers a filmmaking crew’s descent into the hellish secret of a Utopian religious cult during a documentary shoot. The Babadook was one of the films at this year’s Sundance that got a great deal of attention; in it a single mom reads to her son from a mysterious storybook which prompts strange and frightening occurrences in their home.

Chu and Blossom stars Ryan O’Nan, Mercedes Ruehl and Melanie Lynskey in a story about  a unique Korean exchange student adjusting to life in the United States. After Winter, Spring is a loving tribute to a way of life that is rapidly disappearing – the French family farm. Led Zeppelin Played Here looks into a mythic concert that may or may not have taken place. 

In addition to new movies, there are some classics that will be available at the Festival this year including the Oscar-winning murder mystery Murder on the Orient Express with an all-star cast, The Big Lebowski which is one of the Coen Brothers’ classics, the Italian thriller Investigation of a Citizen Above Suspicion and the James Bond classic Goldfinger

There are usually celebrities involved at Film Festivals and the FFF has had their share. Not all of the celebrity attendees have been confirmed at press time but two who are on the list for 2014 include Paul Sorvino who will be in attendance on Friday April 11 for the screening of his new film Last I Heard and Giancarlo Esposito for a screening of Spike Lee’s Do the Right Thing in celebration of the film’s 25th anniversary.

That’s just a rundown of some of the films that will be on the docket for this year’s Festival. There are also panel discussions and of course the legendary parties that the Festival throws every year.Ticket packages and passes are on sale now at the website (just click on the logo above to go directly there) and individual film tickets will be on sale Saturday, March 15th. 

This promises to be another memorable Festival and if you’ve never been, you owe it to yourself to go and experience it firsthand. Words can’t describe the experience but it is fun, engaging and unforgettable. Filmmakers and celebrities rub elbows with film fans at the Festival and you never know who you will run into while grabbing a drink at the Eden Bar at the Enzian. It might even be me.

As always, movies from the festival will have the Festival logo above attached to the review to mark it as a proud participant in the 2014 Festival. Cinema365 will cover the Festival from beginning to end and beyond – last year we posted over 50 reviews of Festival films and related events and we should be in the same neighborhood this year. This is one event that I look forward to all year long and as we get closer to opening night, the excitement is building exponentially. This truly is one of the great Film Festivals in the country – it has been ranked as one of the 50 best in the entire world by IndieWire and the top 25 coolest in the country by MovieMaker magazine. That isn’t by accident; while I do tend to gush about the Festival it is really a unique event. If you love movies – and even if you don’t love ’em but just love to socialize – this is your event. Get your tickets now – you’ll thank me for it later.

Kill the Irishman


 

Kill the Irishman

Don’t get Ray Stevenson angry – he can fart flames!

(2008) Biodrama (Anchor Bay) Ray Stevenson, Christopher Walken, Vincent D’Onofrio, Val Kilmer, Vinnie Jones, Paul Sorvino, Fionnula Flanagan, Laura Ramsey, Steve Schirripa, Linda Cardellini, Bob Gunton, Jason Butler Harner, Robert Davi. Directed by Jonathan Hensleigh

 

Here, at last, is a movie for which the Irish lament “Danny Boy” is quite literally appropriate for – and the filmmakers showing restraint unheard-of in Hollywood actually don’t use it. That’s at least worth some respect.

Danny Greene (Stevenson) was an enforcer for the Cleveland Irish mob. In his heyday in the 70s, he and his partner John Nardi (D’Onofrio) fought a war against the Italian mob that was epic in its viciousness. In 1976 alone, 36 bombs exploded in the city as a direct result of the mob war.

He started off as a longshoreman rising up in the union. He eventually took over the leadership of the union (Merke) and would later be convicted of skimming funds from the membership. Once out of jail, he turned to crime as a full-time operation, working with Shondor Birns (Walken) but things go south. Greene requests a $75,000 loan to build a semi-legal drinking establishment; Birns entrusts the money to a runner who then proceeds to buy drugs with it, and is promptly caught by the police. Because Greene never received the cash, he refused to pay back the loan which had been paid for by the Gambino family, putting immense pressure on Birns.

Greene breaks away from the Italian mafia forming his own group mainly comprised of young guys of Irish descent, with Nardi as (kind of) their legitimizer. Greene is bombarded with several attempts on his life, including one where his home was hit by a bomb while he and his girlfriend were asleep. The house collapsed but Greene and his girlfriend survived, shielded by rubble.

Greene would attain legendary status in Cleveland. He often took care of those in need of cash in Cleveland’s Irish community and came out of every assassination attempt more or less unscathed. He became a darling in the Cleveland media and the bane of the Cleveland mafia’s existence. He also became an informant to the FBI.

This is based on a non-fiction book – loosely based I might add – that was written by a Cleveland police officer familiar with the case and with Greene (the fictionalized character based on the author is played by Val Kilmer in the film). That book was also turned into a documentary I haven’t seen yet, but the filmmakers here do a pretty credible job with it.

The cast is pretty spectacular for an indie, including Walken – curiously restrained as the racketeer who first came into conflict with Greene, and veterans Schirripa and Sorvino who have made careers out of playing Mafiosi doing stand-up jobs.

Stevenson, best known for his work on the HBO series “Rome” and for playing The Punisher in Punisher: War Zone (and doing both well) proves once again he is much more than an impressive physique. He catches both the larger than life aspect of Greene as well as his clever and sinister side. Greene was a complicated man as you can probably tell from the synopsis; he was equal parts folk hero, bullshit artist, criminal and killer. The movie tends to gloss over the killer part to focus on his folk hero standing; he is portrayed as a basically decent guy who just happened to kill people for a living.

This is an excellent cast top to bottom. Cardellini plays Greene’s wife and the mother of his kids in a role that could easily have been thankless but is given some sparkle by her performance, while Flanagan plays an old Irish woman who reminds Greene of his roots and isn’t afraid to stand up to the tough guy, to his amusement.

This takes a larger than life character and tries to compress him down into a two hour time frame which has its pros and cons. One of the cons is definitely that we really don’t see why Greene, who was so obviously bright and charismatic, went down the road of organized crime. It just kind of happens in the film and without any explanation. One scene depicting how he fell into it – or a montage if necessary – could have made for a bit more continuity.

Still, this is well worth watching. America has a fascination with criminals, from Jesse James to John Dillinger and Danny Greene could well end up having the same kind of cultural impact over time. He had a lot of blarney and a dark side as well, a combination that’s like catnip to our violence-obsessed culture. Although Greene considered himself as Irish first and foremost, he may well have been the perfect American anti-hero – living life on his own terms and by his own rules and the devil take the cost.

WHY RENT THIS: Surprisingly stellar cast.

WHY RENT SOMETHING ELSE: Glosses over some of the motivations as to why Greene got into crime.

FAMILY VALUES: Lots of violence, quite a bit of bad language and a helping heaping of nudity and sex.

TRIVIAL PURSUIT: The production shot at Tiger Stadium (Navin Field) in Detroit shortly before it was demolished.

NOTABLE DVD EXTRAS: There is an hour-long documentary on the real Danny Greene.

BOX OFFICE PERFORMANCE: $1.2M on an unreported production budget. The movie probably finished just a bit below breaking even.

COMPARISON SHOPPING: Wiseguys

FINAL RATING: 7/10

NEXT: Savages