New Releases for the Week of October 25, 2019


BLACK AND BLUE

(Screen Gems) Naomie Harris, Tyrese Gibson, Frank Grillo, Reid Scott, Beau Knapp, Mike Colter, Nafessa Williams, Deneen Tyler. Directed by Deon Taylor

A group of corrupt cops are caught in the act of murder on the bodycam of a young rookie cop. With nowhere to turn – chased by the neighborhood gang members who are out for revenge and the cops who are desperate to recover the footage and silence her, she must turn to an unlikely ally.

See the trailer here
For more on the movie this is the website
Genre: Action
Now Playing: Wide Release
Rating: R (for violence and language)

Countdown

(STX) Elizabeth Lail, Peter Facinelli, Anne Winters, Jordan Calloway. A young nurse downloads an app that predicts when the user is going to die – which in her case, is just three days. When she looks into it, she is shocked to discover that the app is horribly accurate.

See the trailer here
For more on the movie this is the website  
Genre: Horror
Now Playing: Wide Release
Rating: R (for terror, violence, bloody images, suggestive material, language and thematic elements)

The Current War

(101 Studios) Benedict Cumberbatch, Nicholas Hoult, Katherine Waterston, Michael Shannon. American titans Thomas Edison, Nicola Tesla and George Westinghouse vie for their ideas to set the standard for American electricity. This film was set to come out a couple of years ago in time for Oscar consideration but the demise of Weinstein studios sent it to the shelf until now.

See the trailer here
For more on the movie this is the website  
Genre: Biographical Drama
Now Playing: Wide Release
Rating: PG-13 (for some violent content and thematic elements)

Housefull 4

(Eros International) Akshay Kumar, Riteish Deshmukh, Bobby Deol, Pooja Hegde. Three couples in ancient India are parted, only to be reincarnated in 2019 with a chance to set things right. Unfortunately, the men are all preparing to marry the wrong women.

See the trailer here
For more on the movie this is the website  
Genre: Comedy
Now Playing: AMC West Oaks, Touchstar Southchase, Universal Cinemark at Citywalk
Rating: NR

The Lighthouse

(A24) Robert Pattinson, Willem Dafoe, Valeria Karaman. Two lighthouse keepers on a remote New England island in the 1890s make an extraordinary discovery that is both beautiful and terrifying. From the director of the modern horror classic The Witch.

See the trailer here
For more on the movie this is the website  
Genre: Horror
Now Playing: AMC Altamonte Mall, AMC Disney Springs, Cinemark Orlando, Regal Waterford Lakes, Regal Winter Park Village
Rating: R (for sexual content, nudity, violence, disturbing images and some language)

Made in China

(Viva) Rajkummar Rao, Mouni Roy, Amyra Dastur, Roman Irani. Stung by a series of failures, a middle-class Indian businessman tries his luck in China and finds a second chance at life.

See the trailer here
For more on the movie this is the website  
Genre: Comedy
Now Playing: AMC West Oaks
Rating: NR

Pain and Glory

(Sony Classics) Antonio Banderas, Penelope Cruz, Asier Etxeandia, Julieta Serrano. The latest from legendary director Pedro Almodóvar follows an esteemed film director who is suffering through health issues. He encounters people from his past and present that remind him of past glories and present pains while rekindling his love for the eternal cinema.

See the trailer here
For more on the movie this is the website  
Genre: Drama
Now Playing: Regal Winter Park Village
Rating: R (for drug use, some graphic nudity and language)

Parasite

(NEON) Kang-ho Song, Yeo-jeong Jo, So-dam Park, Woo-sik Choi. This year’s Palme d’Or winner at the Cannes Film Festival follows the fortunes of the Kim family, perpetually unemployed who manage to weasel their way into the service of the wealthy Park family. Things look rosy for the Kim clan until they get caught in an unexpected incident.

See the trailer here
For more on the movie this is the website  
Genre: Dramedy
Now Playing: Enzian Theater
Rating: R (for language, some violence and sexual content)

ALSO OPENING IN ORLANDO/DAYTONA:

After Party
Bigil
Farming
The Gallows Act II
The Great Alaskan Race
Isa Pa With Feelings
Jesus is King
One Piece: Stampede
Saand Ki Aankh

ALSO OPENING IN MIAMI/FT. LAUDERDALE/KEY WEST:

Bigil
The Great Alaskan Race
Isa Pa With Feelings
Jesus is King
Kaithi
Khaidi
One Piece: Stampede
The Prize
Saand Ki Ankh
The Trouble with You

ALSO OPENING IN TAMPA/ST. PETERSBURG/SARASOTA:

Bigil
Full Count
The Great Alaskan Race
Immortal Hero
Jesus is King
Kaithi
Khaidi
One Piece: Stampede
Saand Ki Aankh

ALSO OPENING IN JACKSONVILLE/ST. AUGUSTINE:

Bigil
Give Me Liberty
The Great Alaskan Race
Isa Pa with Feelings
Jesus is King
Kaithi
Saand Ki Aankh

SCHEDULED FOR REVIEW:

Black and Blue
Countdown
The Current War
The Lighthouse
Parasite

Everybody Knows (Todos lo saben)


Mother comforts daughter.

(2018) Drama (Focus) Penelope Cruz, Javier Bardem, Ricardo Darin, Eduard Fernandez, Bárbara Lennie, Inma Cuesta, Elvira Minguez, Ramón Barea, Carla Campra, Sara Sálamo, Roger Casamajor, Josė Ángel Egido, Sergio Castellanos, Iván Chavero, Tomás del Estal, Imma Sancho, Paco Pastor Gómez, Jaime Lorente, Mari Carmen Sánchez, Carla Campra. Directed by Asghar Farhadi

 

When a family gets together for an occasion (a wedding, a christening, a holiday etc.) it’s usually a joyful occasion. Oh sure, there may be some relatives you’re not keen on seeing like alcoholic Uncle Al, creepy cousin Wendell or Grandpa the conservative political troll but by and large you’re happy to be around those who have blood ties. Then again, they all know where the bodies are buried – sometimes literally.

Laura (Cruz) lives in Argentina now but she returns to her rural Spanish village to attend her sister Ana’s (Cuesta) wedding to Joan (Casamajor). She has brought with her teen daughter Irene (Campra) who is just getting into that rebellious age, her younger son Diego (Chavero) but not her successful husband Alejandro (Darin) who has a successful business to attend to. Also in attendance are bitter patriarch Antonio (Barea) who gambled and drank away most of the land the family once owned, son of a former servant Paco (Bardem) who bought part of that land and turned it into a thriving vineyard, and Paco’s wife Bea (Lennie) whose childlessness is a source of much village speculation.

The night of the reception is greeted with a violent thunderstorm which knocks out the power. As the evening begins to wind down, Laura goes upstairs to check on her children – and finds Irene missing with newspaper clippings of a local kidnapping that ended up tragically scattered on the bed. This is followed up with a texted ransom demand for an exorbitant amount of cash that as it turns out, Laura and Alejandro do not have – her husband being not quite as successful as the family was led to believe.

The fact that Paco and Laura were once lovers until Laura dumped him was no secret – everybody knows this, but not everybody knows…well, the real reason Irene was kidnapped and we won’t get into that here. The kidnappers are very clear that the police should not be called if Irene is to return home alive but they do consult with a retired detective (Egido) who suspects an inside job and in effect tells them to “trust no-one.”

On the surface it sounds like a standard potboiler but when you have a cast like this one and an Oscar-winning director as Farhadi is you can depend on good things happening. Cruz and Bardem are two of the best in the business and Cruz delivers a powerful emotional performance, alternately anguished over her child’s kidnapping and forlorn over what might have been with Paco. Bardem has a bit of a hangdog look but his inner decency stands out from the venality of much of the rest of the family.

Beautifully photographed in idyllic sepia tones, the movie manages to move at the same pace as the rhythms of country life which is a bit odd for a movie with so many thriller elements but works nonetheless. Some American viewers might find this maddeningly slow-paced but most avid cinephiles won’t have a problem with it. Yes, there are twists and turns and none of them are particularly remarkable but the thriller side is pretty effective. The reveal of the identity of the kidnappers though is a bit of a disappointment and never really makes much sense. Me, I liked the view of rural Spanish life more but that’s just the kind of guy I am.

Sometimes a movie can be forgiven its flaws because of the reputation of those behind the camera and the performances of those in front of it. This is such an occasion. Farhadi, who has some amazing films to his credit (including A Separation and The Salesman) didn’t deliver one of his best works here – and keep in mind this is his first Spanish-language film, a language he does not speak. This isn’t for everybody and that and it’s somewhat anti-climactic ending kept it from a perfect score but it’s still a worthwhile viewing for cinema lovers and casual movie fans alike.

REASONS TO SEE: Bardem and Cruz deliver outstanding performances. The film gives a nice glimpse at Spanish rural life. While the twists and turns don’t rewrite the book, they are nonetheless effective
REASONS TO AVOID: The movie drags a little bit in places.
FAMILY VALUES: There is a bit of profanity.
TRIVIAL PURSUIT: Bardem and Cruz, who play former lovers here, are actually married in real life.
CRITICAL MASS: As of 3/18/19: Rotten Tomatoes: 77% positive reviews: Metacritic: 68/100.
COMPARISON SHOPPING: Ransom
FINAL RATING: 9/10
NEXT:
Los Reyes

New Releases for the Week of March 1, 2019


TYLER PERRY’S A MADEA FAMILY FUNERAL

(Lionsgate) Tyler Perry, Cassi Davis, Patrice Lovely, Mike Tyson, Ciera Payton, Kj Smith, Quin Walters, Aeriėl Miranda, Vermytta Erahn. Directed by Tyler Perry

When a family reunion in rural Georgia unexpectedly turns into a funeral, matriarch Madea discovers that sordid family secrets are beginning to bubble to the surface in this, the final installment of the blockbuster Madea franchise.

See the trailer and a video featurette here
For more on the movie this is the website

Genre: Comedy
Now Playing: Wide Release

Rating: PG=13 (for crude sexual content, language, and drug references throughout)

Apollo 11

(NEON) Neal Armstrong, Buzz Aldrin, Michael Collins. The 1969 voyage to the moon that resulted in the first man to walk on the surface of a body other than the Earth is brought to spectacular life in large format with never before seen footage. It is said to be an immersive experience.

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

Genre: Documentary
Now Playing: AMC Altamonte Mall, Regal Pointe Orlando

Rating: G

Everybody Knows

(Focus) Penelope Cruz, Javier Bardem, Ricardo Darin, Eduard Fernández. It is a joyful occasion when Laura returns to her small home town in Spain from Argentina where she lives with her two daughters whom she has brought along with her for her sister’s wedding. That joy turns to terror when Laura’s eldest daughter is abducted, bringing to the surface deep secrets from Laura’s past.

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

Genre: Crime Drama
Now Playing: Enzian Theater

Rating: R (for some language)

Greta

(Focus) Isabelle Huppert, Chloë Grace Moretz, Maika Monroe, Colm Feore. A young woman whose mother recently passed away finds a handbag on the New York subway and returns it to the owner, Greta, a lonely French piano teacher. The two strike up a friendship but things turn dark when the young woman discovers that her older friend is not what she seems.

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

Genre: Suspense
Now Playing: Wide Release

Rating: R (for some violence and disturbing images)

The Samuel Project

(In8 Releasing) Hal Linden, Ryan Ochoa, Michael B. Silver, Maleo Arias. A high school boy with dreams of becoming an artist is doing a school project on his grandfather, an irascible man that the boy has never been close to. However as the project progresses, the two form a bond and the young high schooler discovers his grandfather was saved from a concentration camp by a young German woman. This was previously reviewed for the Heartland Film Festival last fall; a link to the review can be found below.

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

Genre: Dramedy
Now Playing: Regal Pointe Orlando, Regal Port Orange Pavilion, Regal Waterford Lakes

Rating: PG-13 (for thematic elements, some suggestive comments, and brief language)

ALSO OPENING IN ORLANDO/DAYTONA:

Beers of Joy
Koddathi Samaksham Balan Vakeel
The Last Resort
Luka Chuppi
Prosecuting Evil: The Extraordinary World of Ben Ferencz
Sonchiriya

ALSO OPENING IN MIAMI/FT. LAUDERDALE:

Bell Bottom
He Matado a Mi Marido
Koddathi Samaksham Balan Vakeel
Luka Chuppi
Prosecuting Evil: The Extraordinary World of Ben Ferencz
Sonchiriya

ALSO OPENING IN TAMPA/ST. PETERSBURG:

Beers of Joy
The Hole in the Ground
Luka Chuppi
Prosecuting Evil: The Extraordinary World of Ben Ferencz
Saint Judy
Sonchiriya

ALSO OPENING IN JACKSONVILLE/ST. AUGUSTINE:

Luka Chuppi

SCHEDULED FOR REVIEW:

Everybody Knows
Greta
The Last Resort
The Samuel Project

FILM FESTIVALS TAKING PLACE IN FLORIDA:

Miami International Film Festival, Miami

Murder on the Orient Express (2017)


Hercule Poirot is on the job!

(2017) Mystery (20th Century Fox) Kenneth Branagh, Michelle Pfeiffer, Johnny Depp, Daisy Ridley, Josh Gad, Penélope Cruz, Derek Jacobi, Leslie Odom Jr., Sergei Polunin, Lucy Boynton, Marwan Kenzan, Judi Dench, Olivia Colman, Willem Dafoe, Phil Dunster, Miranda Raison, Rami Nasr, Hayat Kamille, Michael Rouse, Hadley Fraser, Kathryn Wilder. Directed by Kenneth Branagh

 

Train travel has a certain romance to it. Strangers trapped in a metal tube, rumbling across the countryside. Anything can happen; anything at all.

Many might be familiar with the classic Agatha Christie novel, one of the most famous mysteries ever written. Some might be familiar with the even more classic 1974 movie based on it which starred such legends as Lauren Bacall, Ingrid Bergman, John Gielgud, Sean Connery, Anthony Perkins and Richard Widmark. This new remake stars Kenneth Branagh (who also directed) as the famous Belgian detective Hercule Poirot (played by Albert Finney in the original) who is returning to England following a grueling series of cases leading to a successful resolution in Istanbul – not Constantinople.

Taking the Orient Express back home, he is approached by Ratchett (Depp) who is looking for protection after receiving some threatening letters. Poirot, exhausted, turns down the case. The next morning, Ratchett turns up dead. The train is stuck after an avalanche buries the tracks. As crews arrive to dig the tracks out so the train might continue, Poirot must solve the case quickly but there are a number of suspects – everyone in the Calais coach had opportunity and some even had motive. Soon it becomes apparent that the murder has links to a famous unsolved crime of years past.

The Sidney Lumet-directed 1974 version to which this will inevitably be compared was a light-hearted romp with a Poirot who was quirky but undoubtedly a genius. This Poirot is more tortured than quirky, a man who realizes his own obsession with perfection will leave him perpetually disappointed in life and of course he is. This is a different Poirot than any we’ve ever seen onscreen, whether David Suchet of the excellent BBC series or Peter Ustinov of several all-star Christie cinematic adaptations which followed the success of Murder on the Orient Express. The tone here is certainly darker than we’re used to seeing from a Christie adaptation.

Michelle Pfeiffer turns in an extraordinary performance as the predatory divorcee Mrs. Hubbard, portrayed by Bacall back in 1974. While Bacall was loud-mouthed and brassy, Pfeiffer is intense and smart. Once again the characters are very different although there are some recognizable similarities. Pfeiffer twenty years ago was one of the most beautiful women in Hollywood which she remains; that beauty often overshadowed her acting talent which is considerable. Although not in the league of Meryl Streep (who is in a league of her own), she is one of the four or five best American actresses working in film today.

Most of the rest of the cast do at least adequate jobs. Depp is as restrained as he’s been in a decade, playing Ratchett as a thug more so than Widmark did in the same role. Dame Judi Dench is, well, Judi Dench. She brings dignity and a regal air to the role of Princess Dragomiroff. Penélope Cruz has a thanklessly un-glamorous role that she makes her own.

I should mention the cinematography. The 1974 film primarily took place aboard the train. Certainly the Orient Express is the star and cinematographer Haris Zambarloukos takes great pains to present her from every angle conceivable. Occasionally he goes a bit overboard – an overhead shot in one of the train’s cars gives us an uncomfortably long view of the tops of the actors heads – but he also manages to make the snowy Yugoslavian countryside look positively idyllic.

Let me be plain; this film is not as good as the 1974 version and I don’t think Branagh had any illusions that it ever could be. However, it is different than that 1974 version and one that is just as valid. You may not love this film in the same way that you loved the original but there is a good chance you’ll at least respect it. You may even want to see it more than once.

REASONS TO GO: Fans of the 1974 version will find the approach here very different. Branagh and Pfeiffer are outstanding. The cinematography is gorgeous.
REASONS TO STAY: The tone here is much darker than the 1974 version. This isn’t nearly as good as the original which it will inevitably be compared to. You don’t get as good a sense of the era it is supposed to be set in.
FAMILY VALUES: There is some violence as well as violent thematic elements.
TRIVIAL PURSUIT: The song played over the closing credits was sung by Michelle Pfeiffer and the lyrics written by Branagh.
CRITICAL MASS: As of 1/20/18: Rotten Tomatoes: 57% positive reviews. Metacritic: 52/100
COMPARISON SHOPPING: Death on the Nile
FINAL RATING: 6/10
NEXT:
Wonder

New Releases for the Week of November 10, 2017


MURDER ON THE ORIENT EXPRESS

(20th Century Fox) Kenneth Branagh, Johnny Depp, Michelle Pfeiffer, Judi Dench, Josh Gad, Daisy Ridley, Willem Dafoe, Penelope Cruz, Derek Jacobi. Directed by Kenneth Branagh

On board a luxury train traveling from Istanbul to Calais a passenger is mysteriously murdered. The cabin door has been locked from the inside. Who done it? Fortunately, the world’s greatest detective – Hercule Poirot – is on board the train and if anyone can make sense of the bewildering maze of clues, it’s the Belgian with the grand moustache. Based on the book authored by Agatha Christie, this is one of the greatest mystery novels ever written.

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

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

Rating: PG-13 (for violence and thematic elements)

Daddy’s Home 2

(Paramount) Will Ferrell, Mark Wahlberg, Mel Gibson, John Lithgow. Christmas time is here and there’s nothing like the holidays to bring a family together. For Brad and Dusty, the two co-dads are happily contemplating a blended Christmas with all their family under one roof. Then, both of their dads decide to visit for the Yuletide and all of a sudden things are getting way more complicated.

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

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

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

The Killing of a Sacred Deer

(A24) Nicole Kidman, Alicia Silverstone, Colin Farrell, Barry Keoghan. A brilliant cardiovascular surgeon takes a young man under his wing when his father, a patient of his, passes away. When the boy’s behavior turns sinister, the surgeon notices that his family is getting seriously ill. He will be forced to make an unthinkable sacrifice in this new film from the director of The Lobster.

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

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

Rating: R (for disturbing violent and sexual content, some graphic nudity and language)

Wonderstruck

(Amazon/Roadside Attractions) Oakes Fegley, Julianne Moore, Michelle Williams, Millicent Simmonds. Two young children – one a boy in the Midwest in the 1970s, another a deaf girl in New York City of the 1920s – search for answers about who they are, unaware of the connection that binds them together. Brian Selznick, who wrote the novel this is based upon, also wrote the screenplay. Look for the review tomorrow.

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

Release Formats: Standard
Genre: Family Drama
Now Playing: Regal Winter Park Village, Rialto Spanish Springs

Rating: PG (for thematic elements and smoking)

ALSO OPENING IN ORLANDO/DAYTONA:

Hello Again
Pottersville
Qarib Qarib Singlle
Walking Out

ALSO OPENING IN MIAMI:

BPM
C/O Surya
Hello Again
My Friend Dahmer
Paradise
Pottersville
Qarib Qarib Singlle
The Square
Tom of Finland

ALSO OPENING IN TAMPA:

Amanda and Jack Go Glamping
Hello Again
Qarib Qarib Singlle

ALSO OPENING IN JACKSONVILLE:

C/O Surya
Hello Again
Jane
Loving Vincent
No Greater Love

SCHEDULED FOR REVIEW:

Daddy’s Home 2
Jane
The Killing of a Sacred Deer
Loving Vincent
Murder on the Orient Express
Walking Out
Wonderstruck

New Releases for the Week of February 12, 2016


DeadpoolDEADPOOL

(20th Century Fox) Ryan Reynolds, Morena Baccarin, T.J. Miller, Gina Carano, Ed Skrein, Lesley Uggams, Greg LaSalle, Taylor Hickson. Directed by Tim Miller

This is not your daddy’s superhero movie – although it might just end up being your daddy. Wade Wilson is a mercenary with a particular set of skills…oh, not that tired old movie again. But Wade has a big problem – it’s cancer and it’s everywhere in his body. Things don’t look good for our good ol’ buddy Wade – until a mysterious man recruiting for a mysterious agency makes a proposal that Wade might not be able to turn down. One of the hotly anticipated movies of the year.

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

Release Formats: Standard (3D, IMAX 3D)
Genre: Superhero
Now Playing: Wide Release

Rating: R (for strong violence and language throughout, sexual content and graphic nudity)

Fitoor

(UTV) Katrina Kaif, Tabu, Aditya Roy Kapoor, Aditi Rao Hydari. A Bollywood take on the Charles Dickens classic Great Expectations. A young street boy in Kashmir falls in love with an upper class girl but the girl’s mother conspires to keep the young lovebirds apart.

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

Release Formats: Standard
Genre: Romance
Now Playing: AMC Loew’s Universal Cineplex, AMC West Oaks, Touchstar Southchase

Rating: PG-13 (for sexual content and some thematic issues)

How to Be Single

(New Line/MGM) Dakota Johnson, Rebel Wilson, Damon Wayans Jr., Leslie Mann. A group of young unmarrieds in the Big Apple cope with the vagaries of the dating scene in a digital world as well as the sometimes confusing rules of behavior between the sexes.

See the trailer, clips, interviews 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 sexual content and strong language throughout)

The Lady in the Van

(TriStar) Maggie Smith, Alex Jennings, Jim Broadbent, Roger Allam. Playwright and television presenter Alan Bennett is annoyed to discover an elderly woman living in her van in his driveway. Grudgingly, he allows her to stay, a decision that will change both their lives.

See the trailer and clips here.
For more on the movie this is the website.
Release Formats: Standard, 3D, IMAX 3D
Genre: True Life Drama
Now Playing: Regal Winter Park Village
Rating: PG-13 (for a brief unsettling image)

Tumbledown

(Starz Digital Media) Jason Sudeikis, Rebecca Hall, Dianna Agron, Blythe Danner. The widow of an iconic folksinger finds it hard to move on and retreats to the woods of Maine. When a brash New York writer approaches her with the proposal of writing his biography, she is at first cool to the idea but the more she allows him to write his story, the more she heals.

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

Release Formats: Standard
Genre: Romantic Comedy
Now Playing: AMC Loew’s Universal Cineplex

Rating: R (for a sex scene)

Where to Invade Next

(Drafthouse) Michael Moore, Tim Walker, Kirsta Kiuru. Professional gadfly and documentarian Moore turns his eye to the American dream and how it seems to be alive and well – and living in other places around the globe. He comes up with ways that dream is being pursued, and how the ideas that other countries have used can work here.

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

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

Rating: R (for language, some violent images, drug use and brief graphic nudity)

Zoolander 2

(Paramount) Ben Stiller, Owen Wilson, Penelope Cruz, Will Ferrell. Down on his heels and irrelevant, supermodel Derek Zoolander gets back in the game in more way than one when a mysterious Interpol agent discloses that the world’s most beautiful celebrities are turning up dead – with Zoolander’s famous “blue steel” look on their faces. Lucky bastards

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

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

Rating: PG-13 (for crude and sexual content, a scene of exaggerated violence, and brief strong language)

The Counselor


Michael Fassbender doesn't know what to say when Javier Bardem insists on toasting their barbers.

Michael Fassbender doesn’t know what to say when Javier Bardem insists on toasting their barbers.

(2013) Thriller (20th Century Fox) Michael Fassbender, Javier Bardem, Cameron Diaz, Penelope Cruz, Brad Pitt, Rosie Perez, Ruben Blades, Bruno Ganz, Toby Kebbell, Emma Rigby, Edgar Ramirez, Dean Norris, Natalie Dormer, Goran Visnjic, John Leguizamo, Fernando Cayo, Paris Jefferson, Andrea Deck, Giannina Facio. Directed by Ridley Scott

When we choose to abandon the straight and narrow, we do so most often because of greed. We want more than we would otherwise be entitled to by the dint of our hard work and effort, so we take the shortcut. Sometimes we escape with a tidy sum to put by for a rainy day but more often than not, we reap the consequences of what we have sewn.

The counselor (Fassbender) – he is never given a name in the film – is a sharp lawyer who must have been absent the day they were handing out a conscience. He’s all about the Benjamins, although he is madly in love with Laura (Cruz) whom he has proposed to. While his practice is making him a decent amount of money, he is raking in the cash like he’s printing it thanks to his relationship with Reiner (Bardem) who is part of the Mexican cartel, and middleman Westray (Pitt) who brokers the deals.

Reiner is arranging for the shipment of some drugs from Mexico to Chicago in a septic truck. Being the paranoid sorts that they are, the truck is only going to go as far as Arizona before finishing it’s journey. The Mexican nationals driving the truck get it to its destination, then a courier is supposed to take a kill switch needed to start the truck to the next driver who will finish the job.

Unfortunately, the courier is ambushed and killed on his way to the next driver and that courier happened to be the son of Ruth (Perez), a high-up member of a cartel family that the counselor is defending on a murder charge. To make matters worse, the counselor had sprung the courier from jail after a reckless driving and speeding arrest, which led the cartel to believe that the counselor had something to do with it.

Reiner, Westray and the lawyer are all at risk as are their immediate loved ones which in Reiner’s case is the ice-cold financier Malkina (Diaz) and in Westray’s case is nobody. Malkina, who has a soft spot for watching jaguars take down jackrabbits in the desert and knows more about what’s going on than Reiner or the counselor suspect, promises Reiner that she is going to leave at the first sign of trouble but in point of fact she’s long gone well before that.

As you would expect from a screenplay written by Cormac McCarthy, the plot is very complex and requires a good deal of attention on the audience’s part, particularly during the first few scenes of the movie where those paying close attention can pretty much garner everything they need to figure things out.

The cast is impressive as you might expect with all the A-list power behind the camera. Fassbender is a busy man these days but makes time for a role which is as much of a cipher as any he has played to date. Not only is his character given no name, he isn’t given much of a soul either. That seems to reside all in Cruz who is unaware of the depths of the double dealing her groom-to-be is sinking to.

Bardem, as always, is interesting whether he is shamelessly hamming it up (as he is here) or underplaying discretely (as he does in Skyfall). As you can see in the photo above, there is nothing subtle about Reiner and for that kind of role, Bardem is a good first choice (or fallback as the case may be). Pitt is serviceable as the wise and worldly Westray who understands exactly what sort of people they are up against.

I’ve never been particularly a Cameron Diaz fan but this might be my favorite performance of hers to date. Malkina is a manipulative predator, weaving a web of lust and betrayal and then striking as true and as deadly as a cobra. It is one of the best female villain roles since Cruella de Ville – while Charlize Theron as Aileen Wuornos in Monster did show someone who was evil, you can’t really call truly call the role that of a villain.

The movie is pretty convoluted in places and there are a lot of characters who show up, say a few lines and then disappear for good. Perhaps the audience might have appreciated combining some of these roles or at least having other characters mouth the platitudes. The bean-counters would have appreciated it as well.

McCarthy is never a particularly easy read and this screenplay, an original story by the Pulitzer Prize-winning author, isn’t always easy to watch. The sex is in your face (quite literally at times) and those who are uncomfortable with sexuality will certainly be disturbed by what they see here. There are some pretty violent moments as well with at least one beheading and a lot of bodies being shot to pieces. Those sensitive to those sorts of things should take note too.

Still, this is a solid thriller that is a little smarter than most and a bit better-written as well. It is a grim movie that just gets bleaker as the film goes on and as the Counselor and his allies realize that they are trapped in a situation that there is no escaping, try as they might. This may not end up in anyone’s top 5 Ridley Scott movie lists but it should certainly make his top ten.

REASONS TO GO: Generally smart and well-written. Fassbender, Bardem and Pitt are terrific and Diaz makes a surprisingly vicious femme fatale.

REASONS TO STAY: Convoluted and hard to follow in places. Unrelentingly grim.

FAMILY VALUES:  There is some fairly graphic violence and language, along with a few morbid images and a fairly extensive and graphic amount of sex and conversations about the same.

TRIVIAL PURSUIT: Production shut down for a week in August 2012 after the suicide of director Ridley Scott’s brother Tony, who was also a co-founder of their production company Scott Free. The movie is dedicated to him.

CRITICAL MASS: As of 11/4/13: Rotten Tomatoes: 37% positive reviews. Metacritic: 49/100.

COMPARISON SHOPPING: Scarface (1983)

FINAL RATING: 6/10

NEXT: Winged Migration