New Releases for the Week of April 29, 2011


April 29, 2011
You can bet that car-surfing will be the next big craze.

FAST FIVE

(Universal) Vin Diesel, Dwayne Johnson, Paul Walker, Jordana Brewster, Chris “Ludacris” Bridges, Tyrese Gibson, Sung Kang, Joaquin de Almeida, Gal Gadot, Don Omar. Directed by Justin Lin

Dominic Toretto and Brian O’Conner find themselves cornered in Rio de Janeiro, hunted by a corrupt businessman and a relentless federal agent. With imprisonment on one side and death on the other, the boys call on some of the best drivers in the world to pull off one last job, one which will allow them to escape both pursuers – but with the stakes this high, you know the job is not going to be an easy one.

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

For more on the movie this is the website.

Release formats: Standard. IMAX

Genre: Action

Rating: PG-13 (for intense sequences of violence and action, sexual content and language)

Dylan Dog: Dead of Night

(Omni/FSR) Brandon Routh, Sam Huntington, Peter Stormare, Taye Diggs. A human private eye who specializes in cases involving supernatural beings must find a way to prevent a war between vampires, werewolves and zombies in New Orleans. This is based on one of the most popular comic books in the world (and no, it doesn’t come from Marvel or DC).

See the trailer, clips, promos and a featurette here.

For more on the movie this is the website.

Release formats: Standard

Genre: Supernatural Horror Comedy

Rating: PG-13 (for sequences of creature violence and action, language including some sexual references, and some drug material)

Hoodwinked Too! Hood vs. Evil

(Weinstein) Starring the voices of Hayden Panettiere, Patrick Warburton, Glenn Close, Amy Poehler.  Red gets an urgent call from the Happily Ever After agency to rescue two innocent children from an evil witch. How can she say no, but she’ll have to put up with the Big Bad Wolf – possibly the dumbest operative ever and Twitchy the Squirrel if she’s going to be successful.

See the trailer, clips and a music video here.

For more on the movie this is the website.

Release formats: Standard, 3D

Genre: Animated Feature

Rating: PG (for some mild rude humor, language and action)

Prom

(Disney) Aimee Teegarden, Thomas McDonell, Danielle Campbell, Yin Chang. The stories of a group of teens intersect as they prepare for the biggest night of their high school lives – the senior Prom. What could provide more drama than a group of high schoolers?

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

For more on the movie this is the website.

Release formats: Standard

Genre: Coming of Age Drama

Rating: PG (for mild language and a brief fight)

Winter in Wartime

(Sony Classics) Martijn Lakemeier, Yorick van Wageningen, Jamie Campbell Bower, Raymond Thiry. A young boy becomes involved with the Dutch resistance during World War II after aiding a British soldier. As he grows older and the war comes to an end, he comes to realize that there is a vast difference between the heroic adventures of his fantasies and the ugly reality of war.

See the trailer, clips and interviews here.

For more on the movie this is the website.

Release formats: Standard

Genre: War

Rating: R (for some language)

New Releases for the Week of August 27, 2010


Previews for the Week of August 27, 2010

Cotton Marcus informs the young lady she doesn't need an exorcist, she needs a fashion consultant. Tim Gunn, to the rescue!

THE LAST EXORCISM

(Lionsgate) Patrick Fabian, Ashley Bell, Louis Herthum, Iris Bahr, Caleb Landry Jones, Tony Bentley, John Wright Jr., Shanna Forrestall, Justin Shafer. Directed by Daniel Stamm

The Reverend Cotton Marcus, a charlatan who performs fake exorcisms, has grown weary of separating the faithful from their wallets, so he intends his last exorcism to be a confessional video. What he doesn’t bargain for is that the young girl who will be his final subject is genuinely possessed of an evil beyond anything he has ever imagined or prepared for, and it will be up to him and his crew to somehow rid this young girl of the vengeful demon possessing her before unimaginable tragedy results.

See the trailer, clips and promos here.

For more on the movie this is the website.

Release formats: Standard

Rating: PG-13 (for disturbing violent content and terror, some sexual references and thematic material)

Mao’s Last Dancer

(Goldwyn) Wen Bin Huang, Bruce Greenwood, Kyle MacLachlen, Joan Chen. This is the true story of Chinese ballet master Li Cunxin and his rise to fame despite obstacles from his totalitarian Maoist government. Directed by Oscar-winning director Bruce Beresford (Driving Miss Daisy, Tender Mercies), the film covers the triumphs of a supremely talented dancer, as well as the loneliness and despair of an exile.

See the trailer and clips here.

For more on the movie this is the website.

Release formats: Standard

Rating: PG (for a brief violent image, some sensuality, language and incidental smoking)

The Secret of Kells

(GKIDS) Starring the voices of Brendan Gleeson, Evan McGuire, Christen Mooney, Mick Lally. A beautifully animated (it was also an Oscar Nominee for Best Animated Feature) movie about a young boy at an Irish abbey who comes face to face with Celtic mysticism, Viking invaders and the beauty of a well-illuminated volume. Previously reviewed during the Florida Film Festival, you can read my full review here.

See the trailer and clips here.

For more on the movie this is the website.

Release formats: Standard

Rating: NR (but would probably get a PG rating for some scenes with disturbing images and violence)

Takers

(Screen Gems) Matt Dillon, Paul Walker, Idris Elba, Jay Hernandez. A group of notorious criminals are getting ready to pull off their last heist, their most daring, complex and high-risk job yet – and also their most lucrative. They are used to pulling off meticulously planned jobs executed like clockwork, but this one might be beyond the capabilities of anybody – and to top it all off, a case-hardened detective is right on their tails, nipping at their heels. One false move and the whole gang might wind up caught, a fate worse than death for a taker.

See the trailer, clips, promos, interviews and a music video here.

For more on the movie this is the website.

Release formats: Standard

Rating: PG-13 (for intense sequences of violence and action, a sexual situation/partial nudity and some language)

Flags of Our Fathers


Flags of Our Fathers

An iconic photo that has left an indelible impression on the American psyche.

(DreamWorks) Ryan Phillippe, Adam Beach, Jesse Bradford, Paul Walker, Robert Patrick, Neal McDonough, John Benjamin Hickey, John Slattery, Barry Pepper, Jamie Bell, Joseph Cross, George Grizzard, Harve Presnell, Len Cariou, Judith Ivey, Jon Polito, Tom McCarthy, Benjamin Walker.  Directed by Clint Eastwood

World War II was a turning point for our country, one in which we made the transition to greatness. One of the defining moments in that conflict was the Battle of Iwo Jima. Who can forget the iconic photograph of the marines raising the flag on Mt. Suribachi, or of John Wayne dying on its sands. Still, the battle has been given short shrift by Hollywood over the years. Director Clint Eastwood looks to rectify it with not just one, but two movies on the subject. The second, told from the Japanese point of view, is called Letters From Iwo Jima. This is the first, based on the book of the same name by James Bradley.

The movie opens with John “Doc” Bradley (Phillippe) in mid-battle, leaving his buddy Ralph “Iggy” Ignatowsky (Bell) in a neighboring foxhole to attempt to save a fallen marine; he is forced to kill a charging Japanese soldier who appears out of the night like a wraith. When he returns to his foxhole, a different man is there. Alarmed, Bradley calls for his friend, earning a sharp rebuke from the man in the foxhole (“What are you doing? You want to give them something to shoot at?”).

Then we discover this is a dream of a much older man (Grizzard) who is remembering a battle long since fought. Now in the twilight of his life, the elder Doc lives with his son James (McCarthy) who discovers his father fallen on the floor, confused and calling out for someone who he can’t seem to find.

From there, we are taken to the beach of Iwo Jima, one of the bloodiest battles to be fought in the Second World War. Executive producer Steven Spielberg, who had his own war epic in Saving Private Ryan, may have helped Eastwood stage the amphibious invasion of the tiny island. It is an awe-inspiring sight and must have looked terrifying to the 22,000 Japanese soldiers stationed on the island.

At first, the Marines advance on the beach with no resistance, but when the fight comes, it is terrible in its ferocity and carnage. Eastwood pulls no punches in showing just how terrible conditions were during the battle and just how high a price the victors paid for that victory.

Early on, the United States captures Mt. Suribachi, the highest point on the island. A group of six marines is sent up to hoist the American flag on a pole at the top of the mountain. The sight of Old Glory waving in the breeze gives quite a lift to the men below on the beach. This isn’t lost on a politician who has arrived on the island, and who determines that he wants that flag in his office.

Angered at the gall of the civilian, the company commander sends a much bigger flag up the hill with a group of Marines who had been assigned to string telephone wire to the top of the hill. Led by Sgt. Mike Strank (Pepper), corpsman Bradley (the only non-Marine on the mountain that day), Ira Hayes (Beach), Rene Gagnon (Bradford), Franklin Sousley (Cross) and Harland Block (Benjamin Walker) the men take down the smaller flag and raise the larger one. Civilian photographer Joe Rosenthal (Ned Eisenberg) happens to be there to capture the moment. Nobody thinks anything of it at the time; Rosenthal himself thinks that the picture isn’t all that good, since the faces of the men aren’t easily made out.

That moment, however, would provide a turning point. The war-weary American public aren’t aware that the country is nearly broke and in a month or two, will no longer be able to continue the fight. Bonds must be raised, and that picture has captivated the imagination of the American people. The Pentagon, realizing the worth of these Marines would be incalculable back home, pull them from the fight still raging on Iwo Jima and send them back to raise cash. By the time the summons comes through, three of them are already dead.

Although the movie is ostensibly about the battle (and it is shown in flashbacks regularly), it is actually about the men. Moreover, it is about how heroism is really the manufacture of the perceptions of the public. The Marines are puzzled that they are receiving the adoration that they do; to their viewpoint, their heroism involved sticking a flag on a pole and setting it into the earth. In point of fact, Gagnon had been employed as a runner during the battle and saw little or no actual fighting. This leads to some friction between him and Hayes, who feels a tremendous guilt over those left behind, particularly Strank who was a mentor to him and something of a role model.

They are accompanied on a war bonds fundraising tour by Bud Gerber (Slattery), a military publicist and a liaison (Hickey) whose job is to make sure the men make it from one appearance to the next. This takes its toll on the heroes, particularly Hayes who as an American Indian sees considerable prejudice leveled against him and begins to lean heavily on the crutch of alcohol, and on Gagnon who hopes to turn his notoriety to his advantage.

Yes, there are some tremendous battle scenes, some of the most graphic and disturbing I’ve seen, but Eastwood wisely concentrates his efforts on the story of the flag raisers, the effect that this unwanted fame had on them and on the brotherhood forged in the fires of war. He has a very solid cast of terrific character actors, particularly Pepper and McDonough who play commanding officers with the kind of charisma you’d expect from a combat marine in command.

Cinematographer Tom Stern keeps the focus a little bit on the soft side, which further identifies this as a period piece. Eastwood, who composed the score, uses period music and subdued guitars to enhance the mood nicely as well as set the time and place.

As a sidebar, we were fortunate enough to catch the showing we went to in the company of someone who actually survived the battle; when asked if what was onscreen was accurate, he smiled, said “Pretty much,” and walked off, no doubt lost in his own memories.

Those looking for a more detailed account on the battle should be directed to the documentary To the Shores of Iwo Jima which was produced by the War Department shortly after the battle was won, and contains contemporary footage of the actual surviving flag raisers. Those who want more of a depiction of the tremendous guilt that comes with surviving a terrible battle should see this. What I found most interesting about Flags of Our Fathers is the governmental hero manufacture that goes on even today.

WHY RENT THIS: Terrifying battle footage is offset nicely by the story of the toll that is taken on the heroic Marines. Beach gives a career-making performance as an alcoholic Native American.

WHY RENT SOMETHING ELSE: Battle footage may be too intense for some.

FAMILY VALUES: Graphic battle scenes as well as some wrenching emotional scenes mark this as one best left for mommy and daddy.

TRIVIAL PURSUITS: The scenes on Iwo Jima were actually filmed in Iceland; Iwo Jima is considered sacred to the Japanese people and permission to film all but some establishing shots at the memorial on the Island were denied by the Japanese government.

NOTABLE DVD FEATURES: There are several on the 2-Disc Special Edition DVD. “Six Brave Men” chronicles the lives of the six real-life soldiers who raised the flag. “Looking Into the Past” uses color newsreel footage of the battle, the flag-raising and the bond drive depicted in the movie. “Words On the Page” details the writing of the original novel and translating it into a screenplay.

FINAL RATING: 9/10

TOMORROW: Choke