The Hunger Games: Mockingjay – Part 2


Katniss Everdeen has a thing about Snow.

Katniss Everdeen has a thing about Snow.

(2015) Science Fiction (Lionsgate) Jennifer Lawrence, Liam Hemsworth, Josh Hutcherson, Woody Harrelson, Donald Sutherland, Philip Seymour Hoffman, Julianne Moore, Willow Shields, Sam Claflin, Elizabeth Banks, Mahershala Ali, Jena Malone, Jeffrey Wright, Paula Malcomson, Stanley Tucci, Natalie Dormer, Evan Ross, Elden Henson, Wes Chatham, Eugenia Bondurant. Directed by Francis Lawrence

When a franchise comes to an end, the hope is that it goes out with a bang. Everyone wants a Return of the Jedi but there’s always a danger of a The Twilight Saga: Breaking Dawn – Part II. On which side will this girl power young adult franchise lean?

Katniss Everdeen (Lawrence) is distressed that her erstwhile boyfriend Peta (Hutcherson) has been brainwashed by the evil minions of President Snow (Sutherland) to hate her to the point that he goes berserk at the sight of her. Although the rebel medical team is trying to break his conditioning, he remains a danger to Katniss and even a visit by baby sister Primrose (Shields) leads to another foaming at the mouth segment.

The timing of that is not so good, as the rebels are preparing to make their final assault on the Capital. Rebel President Coin (Moore) and her adviser Plutarch (Hoffman) are wary of allowing Katniss, who was brutally injured at the hands of Peta in Part 1 of the concluding volume of the franchise and then again during a raid on the District 2 armory, anywhere near the front although she continues to be valuable as a propaganda tool.

Nonetheless, Katniss heads to the Capital against direct orders and accompanied by her Hunger Game friend Finn (Claflin), her former boyfriend Gale (Hemsworth) and Boggs (Ali), a veteran warrior. She is ordered to steer well clear of the battlefront and to stay far behind the lines and make propaganda videos. President Snow has peppered the Capital with lethal traps designed by the Hunger Games designers. Some turn out to be more lethal than others.

As Katniss gets closer and closer to the Presidential palace and the confrontation between the two looks to be inevitable, she will discover the price for revenge may end up being incredibly high and that there are people close to her who have motives of their own that may well not include Katniss’ survival as part of the plan.

The production design for the movie is superb – it looks sleek and wow-inducing. The special effects are solid and the action sequences are thrilling. For many viewers, that’s all the movie really needs. For me, though, while there are a few scenes that contain emotional payoffs (none of which I’ll use here to illustrate as I don’t want to reveal any spoilers, although fans of the book will know what they are), the movie didn’t have an emotional resonance with me that the conclusion of an epic series should.

I could say part of the problem is that there are too many characters, many of whom I couldn’t keep straight, but that was true of the Harry Potter series as well and I had no trouble figuring out who was who. I could also say that the movie relied overly much on action rather than character, but that was true of the first Star Wars trilogy and that movie resonated with emotion at the end.

I think the problem is a blend of both issues; too many characters, many of whom had little development. To author Suzanne Collins’ credit, she didn’t rely on the love triangle that many young adult franchises with female heroines tend to utilize. However, there are too many extraneous pieces in the puzzle and the movie would have been better off leaving them out entirely, which might have been bad news for fans of Claflin and Hemsworth but good news for Lawrence’s fans, because I think the primary problem here is that Lawrence really gets short shrift here.

I sometimes wonder if Katniss Everdeen is really a good role model for young women; there’s a fine line between being headstrong and being mulish. There is also a fine line between being spontaneous and being foolish, as she takes a lot of chances that put lots of other people at risk, some of whom pay the ultimate price for it. Yes, that weighs heavily on Katniss’ soul but I guess our heroes these days have to be a little self-centered to be relatable.

The worst part is that there seemed to be no momentum, no fire. Certain cast members, particularly the late Philip Seymour Hoffman, Jena Malone and Donald Sutherland, did their level best but for the most part this felt very emotionally flat to me. Judging from the box office for the movie which has been okay but not what was expected, some of their fans haven’t had that connection either. I’ll admit that maybe I woke up on the wrong side of the bed the day I saw this, but for whatever reason the movie didn’t connect with me and I really wanted it to – I’ve generally liked the series but it felt like it ran out of steam here rather than finishing with a flourish.

REASONS TO GO: Plenty of eye candy. Some emotional payoffs.
REASONS TO STAY: A little too long. No momentum.
FAMILY VALUES: A fair amount of violence as well as some adult themes.
TRIVIAL PURSUIT: The scene near the end when Haymitch reads a letter from Plutarch to Katniss was supposed to be dialogue from Plutarch, but actor Philip Seymour Hoffman who played the role, passed away before the scene could be filmed.
CRITICAL MASS: As of 12/6/15: Rotten Tomatoes: 70% positive reviews. Metacritic: 65/100.
COMPARISON SHOPPING: The Divergent Series: Insurgent
FINAL RATING: 5.5/10
NEXT: The Peanuts Movie

New Releases for the Week of November 20, 2015


The Hunger Games Mockingjay Part 2THE HUNGER GAMES: MOCKINGJAY – PART 2

(Lionsgate) Jennifer Lawrence, Liam Hemsworth, Josh Hutcherson, Woody Harrelson, Julianne Moore, Donald Sutherland, Philip Seymour Hoffman. Directed by Francis Lawrence

This is it, folks, the final showdown between President Snow and his goon squad of Capitol elitists and Katness Everdeen and her rebellion of the people. Panem is in full-blown civil war and President Snow is obsessed with destroying Katness. She sets out to assassinate him but will encounter a fiendish labyrinth of traps, moral dilemmas and physical punishment that rivals any she faced in her two Hunger Games. This one is for all the marbles.

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

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

Rating: PG-13 (for intense sequences of violence and action, and for some thematic material)

By the Sea

(Universal) Brat Pitt, Angelina Jolie Pitt, Melanie Laurent, Niels Arestrup. An American writer and his wife come to a tranquil French seaside resort in the 1970s and are joined there by a young newlywed couple as well as a pair of locals. The troubled marriage of the Americans soon begins to rear its ugly head and while they try to resolve their differences, their problems soon reveal issues with the others as well.

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

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

Rating: R (for strong sexuality, nudity and language)

Man Up

(Saban) Simon Pegg, Olivia Williams, Lake Bell, Rory Kinnear. An American woman at Waterloo Station in London is mistaken for a British man’s blind date. Rather than explain that she is not, she impulsively decides to go for it. What begins as a lark turns into the most uncommon first date ever.

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

Release Formats: Standard
Genre: Romantic Comedy
Now Playing: AMC Disney Springs

Rating: R (for language and sexual references)

The Night Before

(Columbia) Joseph Gordon-Levitt, Seth Rogen, Anthony Mackie, Lizzie Caplan. Every Christmas Eve, three boyhood friends get together to celebrate with one of their number, whose parents died on that day years and years ago. Now however, one of their number has become too famous to be involved while another is getting ready to have kids of his own. So the three decide that this will be their last night of Christmas Eve debauchery, and they will celebrate it by going out in style – at the most debauched, depraved and notorious Christmas Eve party in New York. Assuming they can find it of course.

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

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

Rating: R (for drug use and language throughout, some strong sexual content and graphic nudity)

Secret In Their Eyes

(STX Entertainment) Julia Roberts, Chiwetel Ejiofor, Nicole Kidman, Alfred Molina. A tight knit investigative team are rocked to the core when the daughter of one of their number is discovered brutally and inexplicably murdered. More than a decade later, after painstakingly searching for the killer, finally one of them gets the break he needs to resolve the case and bring the killer to justice. But even he is not prepared for the secret that one of them carries, and brings him to a crossroad where he must choose between justice and vengeance which in this case may not necessarily be the same thing.

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

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

Rating: PG=13 (for thematic material involving disturbing violent content, language and some sexual references)

Spotlight

(Open Road) Mark Ruffalo, Michael Keaton, Rachel McAdams, Liev Schreiber. In the mid-90s the investigative journalism team of the Boston Globe came across a story about a pedophile priest who had been shuttled from one parish to another by the Catholic Church without any warning to those in the new parish of the priest’s tendencies to abuse altar boys. As they dig deeper, they discover the scandal goes a lot deeper, covers many, many more diocese and goes to the very top of the Catholic Church. This scandal nearly took down the Roman Catholic church and would pave the way for the reformative-minded Pope Francis to take over the Vatican.

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

Release Formats: Standard
Genre: True Life Drama
Now Playing: AMC Altamonte Mall, AMC Downtown Disney, Regal Winter Park Village

Rating: R (for some language including sexual references)

The Hunger Games: Mockingjay – Part 1


Liam Hemsworth and Jennifer Lawrence get serious.

Liam Hemsworth and Jennifer Lawrence get serious.

(2014) Science Fiction (Lionsgate) Jennifer Lawrence, Liam Hemsworth, Josh Hutcherson, Philip Seymour Hoffman, Donald Sutherland, Julianne Moore, Jeffrey Wright, Woody Harrelson, Jena Malone, Elizabeth Banks, Stanley Tucci, Sam Claflin, Willow Shields, Mahershala Ali, Paula Malcomson, Natalie Dormer, Evan Ross, Stef Dawson, Sarita Choudhury. Directed by Francis Lawrence

It has become something of a habit now for Hollywood to take the final book in a young adult franchise based on a book and split it in two; this has been done for the Harry Potter series, Twilight and now The Hunger Games with the same fate planned for the Divergent series. This is a blatant cash grab that cynical studios use to squeeze every last penny that they can out of a successful franchise. As for the Potter series, the first part was the weakest movie of the eight-film franchise (although the second part turned out to be one of the strongest). In the Twilight series Lionsgate both movies were poor and the final entry the worst of the entire series.

In this penultimate film, the events of Catching Fire have led to the complete carpet bombing and destruction of District 12, home of Katniss Everdeen (Lawrence) who has been taken to the previously-thought abandoned District 13. However her love Peeta Mellark (Hutcherson) had been left behind and was captured by the men of President Snow (Sutherland) and brought back to the Capital. There he is used as a pawn, with interviews conducted by the smarmy Caesar Flickerman (Tucci) which essentially are propaganda pieces.

District 13 president Alma Coin (Moore) is wary of using Katniss for the same purpose; clearly Katniss is shell-shocked and not in an emotional state where she is able to be a spokesman for the revolution that is sweeping Panem. However uber-patient ex-boyfriend Gale Hawthorne (Hemsworth) is on hand to help Katniss make it through; old friends Haymitch (Harrelson), Effie Trinket (Banks) and Finnick (Claflin) are there to support Katniss. Rescued from the rubble of District 12 are Kat’s sister Primrose (Shields) and mom (Malcomson).

Pulling the strings in District 13 is Plutarch (Hoffman) a cynical but brilliant marketing man who is selling the revolution to the people of Panem whereas President Snow is selling safety and security while providing neither. A villain of the first order, he callously orders the bombing of a hospital in order to set an example of what happens to people when they allow a visit from the Girl on Fire who is now referred to as the Mockingjay. This pisses Katniss off enough to pull out of her funk temporarily – until the callow Peeta makes another plea for peace. Who knew the face of revolution would be so emotional?

And so after that atrocity the rebels are finally moved to push into an offensive against the Capital, giving them the opportunity to rescue Peeta and the other Victors held captive by the President, including Finnick’s girlfriend Anna (Dawson). However, they don’t begin to see the depth of the game being played by President Snow – and how far he is willing to go to win it.

As any fan of the series will tell you, it’s all about Katniss and thus it’s all about Jennifer Lawrence. Normally I’d say that’s a pretty safe bet; after all, she has become one of the hottest actresses in the world, with Oscar wins as well as starring in one of the biggest franchises in Hollywood today. However, I can’t say as I like what is happening to her character here.

Now I’ll admit that it should be taken into account that I’m not a teenage girl nor have I ever been one – nor am I likely to ever be one. I may be getting this all wrong but I feel cheated a little bit by what Katniss has become in this movie. I had always viewed her as a good role model for young girls; strong, independent, able to defend herself and those around her and with a strong moral compass. I’m not sure what the author’s intentions were  but I saw the same thing happen to Bella Swan in Twilight as well. Both series were written by women but I’m not sure if they were saying it’s okay to be ruled by your emotions to the point where you become virtually immobilized by them, or if they’re saying that’s part of being female.

I don’t know about that part. How is it role model material for your strong, independent heroine to be literally whining “It’s not fair!” while pining away for her boyfriend to the point that she’s willing to let all sorts of people – including her sister and mom – be killed because she’s too emotional to act to prevent it. That kind of self-centeredness may be part of modern culture but it seems out of place for a movie heroine. Of course, my perceptions of what a role model should be may be hopelessly outdated but I do like to think that there are some things that are fairly basic and timeless.

Lawrence is a terrific actress but she seems curiously lifeless here. Even so, she still manages to dominate the screen and while this isn’t her best work, it certainly is enough to carry the movie. She gets some able support, particularly from the late Hoffman whom the film is dedicated to. Mostly though this is a lot of people going through the motions for a paycheck and Moore, also a fine actress, looks distinctly uncomfortable in an unfortunate wig.

There’s just not a lot of energy and life to this movie even though the visuals are well shot and there are some pleasant moments in idyllic forests. Most of the movie takes place in District 13’s underground bunker and is perpetually underlit. Even without 3D this movie is dark and dingy-looking most of the time. You have to admit though it does set a certain kind of bleak mood.

There is subtext here about image-making and its use in manipulating opinion, and while that is a fascinating subject, the filmmakers tend to thunk us over the head with a shillelagh rather than skewer us with a rapier which would be much more preferable. There isn’t a lot of subtlety here but then again, I get the sense that the filmmakers don’t respect their target audience a whole lot. Certainly the kind of girls that identify with Katniss are capable of understanding subtlety.

This is a big disappointment for me. Thus far I’ve actually enjoyed the series and was looking forward to seeing this one. Although it is reasonably entertaining to earn a feeble recommendation, I was hoping for so much more. With any luck,  the finale next Thanksgiving will pull out all the stops and let the series end on a high note rather than a whimper or a whine which is where it seems to be going. Prove me wrong. Please.

REASONS TO GO: Some pleasing eye-candy. Lawrence is terrific even when she’s subpar.
REASONS TO STAY: Turgid and boring. Lacks any kind of spark. Katniss, a strong and courageous soul, is reduced to a weepy teen pining for her boyfriend and feeling sorry for herself.
FAMILY VALUES: There is some intense violence and disturbing images.
TRIVIAL PURSUIT: Hoffman passed away a week before filming concluded; rather than recasting the part, the filmmakers did some rewrites so that the portions Hoffman didn’t film could be incorporated in different ways.
CRITICAL MASS: As of 12/2/14: Rotten Tomatoes: 66% positive reviews. Metacritic: 64/100.
COMPARISON SHOPPING: Divergent
FINAL RATING: 5/10
NEXT: Daybreakers

New Releases for the Week of November 21, 2014


The Hunger Games  Mockingjay - Part ITHE HUNGER GAMES: MOCKINGJAY – PART I

(Summit) Jennifer Lawrence, Josh Hutcherson, Liam Hemsworth, Woody Harrelson, Donald Sutherland, Philip Seymour Hoffman, Julianne Moore. Directed by Francis Lawrence

Katness Everdeen has become a force to be reckoned with and Panem is in full revolt. Treacherous President Snow isn’t going to stand by and lose his control and he fights back, hard and soon the rebellion is in full flight. Katness is needed to be a symbol of courage and hope, but she herself is not sure she can do it. With Peta under control of the President and her friends and family in danger, she must find a way to summon up that strength or risk seeing everyone and everything she loves perish..

See the trailer, clips, interviews, promos and B-roll video here.
For more on the movie this is the website.
Release formats: Standard (opens Thursday)
Genre: Science Fiction
Now Playing: Wide release
Rating: PG-13 (for intense sequences of violence and action, some disturbing images and thematic material)

Food Chains

(Screen Media) Eva Longoria, Forest Whitaker, Eve Ensler, Barry Estabrook. The plight of courageous tomato pickers in Florida and elsewhere is examined here. The workers are asking for a penny per pound increase in their payment. Courageously standing up for themselves against corporate growers, the mainly Latino workforce started the Fair Food Program and themselves approached such buyers as Wal*Mart and McDonald’s. The bigger picture becomes the living conditions of the workers vs. the profits of corporate growers.

See the trailer here.
For more on the movie this is the website.
Release formats: Standard
Genre: Documentary
Now Playing: AMC Altamonte Mall
Rating: NR

The Theory of Everything

(Focus) Eddie Redmayne, David Thewlis, Emily Watson, Felicity Jones. Stephen Hawking is a promising student at Cambridge when he is stricken with a devastating disease. Given two years to live, he defies the odds and continues his education, marries the love of his life and makes discoveries that have changed the way we look at the universe.

See the trailer, clips, featurettes, B-roll video and a greeting from the film’s stars here.
For more on the movie this is the website.
Release formats: Standard
Genre: Biographical Drama
Now Playing: Regal Winter Park Village
Rating: PG-13 (for some thematic elements and suggestive material)

A Most Wanted Man


R.I.P. Philip Seymour Hoffman.

R.I.P. Philip Seymour Hoffman.

(2014) Spy Thriller (Roadside Attractions) Philip Seymour Hoffman, Rachel McAdams, Willem Dafoe, Robin Wright, Daniel Bruhl, Grigoriy Dobrygin, Homayoun Ershadi, Mehdi Dehbi, Nina Hoss, Neil Malik Abdullah, Vicky Krieps, Kostja Ullmann, Franz Hartwig, Martin Wuttke, Rainer Bock, Derya Alabora, Tamer Yigit, Herbert Gronemeyer, Ursina Lardi Directed by Anton Corbijn

 

It is a tricky world out there, complicated and dangerous. These days, being a spy is a lot more than playing baccarat and sipping a superbly made martini and spies aren’t urbane, elegant men in formal wear. They’re more often than not rumpled, middle aged bureaucrat sorts who wouldn’t make an impression on anyone at first glance.

 

Gunther Bachmann (Hoffman) is such a spy. He chain smokes, drinks too much and has a pot belly not well-disguised by his ill-fitting suit. He looks like middle management for some automobile manufacturer – in fact, he is middle management but in a far different vocation. He is part of an anti-terrorist group, a small but dedicated group who monitor potential terrorist activities in Hamburg, a port city in Germany from which Mohammed Atta once organized the events of 9-11.

 

Since then, German intelligence has kept a close eye on what’s going on in the city as have their counterparts in the CIA. While Gunther’s group operates in a quasi-legal state, able to break German law with a certain amount of impunity, Dieter Mohr (Bock), the local station chief, is more of a by-the-book sort who has a bureaucrat’s soul and  the keen political sense of a born game player. Naturally he and Gunther clash repeatedly, Dieter disdaining the cowboy tactics of Gunther and Gunther less than forgiving of Dieter’s lack of field experience and political gamesmanship.

 

Into this highly volatile environment comes Issa Karpov (Dobrygin), a half-Russian half-Chechen man who has escaped Russian prison and entered Germany illegally. The Russians have branded him a terrorist, but Gunther sees him as a means to an end. He could be just what the Russians say he is, or the innocent victim of overzealous Russian hatred for Chechens in general. Gunther really doesn’t care which. He sees him as an opportunity to get to bigger fish in the pond, particularly Dr. Abdullah (Ershadi), a spokesman for Arabic charities who may actually be raising money for terrorist organizations while decrying terrorist activities publicly.

 

Karpov contacts Annabel Richter (McAdams), a lawyer who specializes in immigration issues. He needs to get in touch with banker Tommy Brue (Dafoe) for reasons that are his own. Gunther, a manipulative and sometimes cruel man, knows that he needs to make Annabel and Tommy his operatives and he will stop at nothing to do it, be it blackmail, kidnapping and intimidation, or even death threats. Whatever it takes.

But there are games within games, with a U.S. Embassy official (Wright) who may or may not be a CIA operative and who may or may not be Gunther’s ally. Gunther and his team are walking a fine line and with Mohr breathing down his neck he may not make it out of this one unscathed.

 

This is based on a recent John Le Carre novel (the acclaimed author is also a producer on the project) and like most Le Carre works, this is more of a gritty look at the world of espionage rather than the gloss and glamour of the James Bond series. Anton Corbijn, whose last film was The American which is similarly themed, is the perfect choice to sit in the director’s chair. Like the work of Le Carre, that film is complex and tense with characters whose motivations are maddeningly unclear. In other words, probably a more realistic look at the intelligence business.

This is the last leading role that Hoffman would complete before his untimely passing earlier this year and thankfully, it’s a good one. Gunther is world-weary, tired of the constant betrayal and backstabbing which on occasion has cost him the lives of his colleagues. The only people he truly trusts are on his team and one suspects, he isn’t 100% certain about them either. He is a master manipulator but he can also have his own buttons pushed. Near the end, you hear Hoffman wheezing as he breathes – whether that was an indication of the actor’s ill health or if he was capturing the out of shape frustration and passion of Gunther as things come to a head we’ll probably ever know.

McAdams is a good actress in her own right, but she is hidden behind a German accent whose authenticity varies. Dafoe and Bruhl are also fine actors but neither has a whole lot to do. Wright makes a fine foil for Hoffman, cool and terribly overbearing who clearly has little respect for Gunther and European intelligence in general.

 

In fact, this has a much more European outlook on modern espionage and intelligence. Le Carre generally had a fairly cynical outlook towards the benevolence of the CIA and often made them either incompetent or villainous in his books. There is often a moral complexity to his work which requires a lot more patience than American audiences tend to be comfortable with.

And therein lies the rub. American audiences are not tailor made for the kind of pacing and complexity that comes with the best of Le Carre’s work. There is no easy way to put it – we Americans tend to have a very finite attention span and we require stimulation nearly non-stop. That’s what years of video games will do to you.

Cinematographer Benoit Delhomme does a great job of making Hamburg a character in the movie. She’s dingy, gritty and a little bit disreputable here – we see the seedy underbelly of a town that already has a rough reputation to begin with. We get that palpable sense of danger and dissatisfaction.

I found this movie to work on a lot of levels, particularly in regards to Hoffman’s performance which has an outside shot of netting him a posthumous Oscar. Roadside Attractions, the art house arm of Lionsgate, has a few Oscar nominations to its credit so it isn’t out of the realm of possibility. I found the middle of the movie to be a bit tough sledding, but nevertheless this is a fitting send off to one of the best actors of his generation who left us too soon.

REASONS TO GO: Stand-out performance  by Hoffman. Nice tension. Hamburg used as a character in the film.

REASONS TO STAY: Le Carre likes a lot of twists and turns which some moviegoers may not appreciate. Stately pacing.

FAMILY VALUES:  A good deal of harsh language.

TRIVIAL PURSUIT: This would be the last completed film of Philip Seymour Hoffman (he also appears in The Hunger Games: Mockingjay parts one and two but his filming hadn’t been completed when he passed away).

CRITICAL MASS: As of 8/5/14: Rotten Tomatoes: 90% positive reviews. Metacritic: 74/100.

COMPARISON SHOPPING: Tinker, Tailor, Soldier, Spy

FINAL RATING: 6/10

NEXT: Boyhood

New Releases for the Week of July 25, 2014


HerculesHERCULES

(MGM/Paramount) Dwayne Johnson, Ian McShane, John Hurt, Rufus Sewell, Ingrid Bolso Berdal, Joseph Fiennes, Peter Mullan, Rebecca Ferguson. Directed by Brett Ratner

Hercules the legend is also Hercules the man and the man and the legend don’t always coexist well. Haunted by the sins of his past, Hercules the man has turned his back on Hercules the legend and become a mercenary, using his reputation to intimidate those who oppose those who hire him. When the good King of Thrace and his daughter beg for help against an implacable warlord, Hercules finds that in order for justice to triumph he must once more shoulder the mantle of hero and let him embrace his legend – and perhaps at last put to bed the ghosts that haunt him. Assuming he survives, of course. Based on the revisionist take on the Hercules myth Radical Studios graphic novel.

See the trailer, clips, interviews and B-roll video here.

For more on the movie this is the website.

Release formats: Standard, 3D, IMAX 3D (opens Thursday)

Genre: Swords and Sandals

Rating: PG-13 (for epic battle sequences, violence, suggestive comments, brief strong language and partial nudity)

A Most Wanted Man

(Roadside Attractions) Philip Seymour Hoffman, Robin Wright, Willem Dafoe, Rachel McAdams. The arrival of a half-dead Chechen man on the run from mysterious forces brings the attention of the German secret service. They enlist an idealistic lawyer and a banker to discover what’s going on, with a top-ranked spy willing to go to any lengths to discover the truth, even if it means innocent lives. Based on a novel by master spy novelist John Le Carré.

See the trailer and clips here.

For more on the movie this is the website.

Release formats: Standard

Genre: Spy Thriller

Rating: R (for language)

And So It Goes

(Clarius) Michael Douglas, Diane Keaton, Frankie Valli, Frances Sternhagen. Oren Little has everything all mapped out. He’s going to sell one last house, retire from real estate and live a quiet life undisturbed by people. When his son drops off a nine-year-old granddaughter he never knew he had, his plans are thrown into chaos. Completely unprepared and ill-qualified to be a caregiver to a child, he at first foists the girl off on his extremely tolerant and patient neighbor but gradually he learns that being an obnoxious, curmudgeonly loner isn’t all it’s cracked up to be.

See the trailer, clips, interviews and B-roll video here.

For more on the movie this is the website.

Release formats: Standard

Genre: Romance

Rating: PG-13 (for some sexual references and drug elements)

The Fluffy Movie

(Open Road) Gabriel Iglesias, Jacqueline Obradors, Ron White, Tommy Chong. Iglesias went from a contestant on Last Comic Standing to being kicked out of that competition for violating the competition’s rules for calling home and going on to become a cultural phenomenon. The performance footage here is taken from his Unity Through Laughter tour which spanned 23 countries and sold out nearly everywhere.

 

See the trailer, clips and B-roll video here.

For more on the movie this is the website.

Release formats: Standard

Genre: Stand-Up Comedy Concert

Rating: PG-13 (for suggestive material and sexual references)

Kick

(UTV) Salman Khan, Jacqueline Fernandez, Nawazuddin Siddiqui, Randeep Hooda. When a young woman finally figures out that her fiancée who lives for thrills is just not responsible enough for marriage, she calls things off. She tells the story of her previous engagement to a new prospective suitor who happens to be a police inspector. He also happens to be chasing her ex who has become a notorious thief who is giving all his ill-gotten gains away to charities for children. Seems like kind of an extreme way to win your lover back.

See the trailer here.

For more on the movie this is the website.

Release formats: Standard

Genre: Bollywood Action

Rating: NR

Lucy

(Universal) Scarlett Johansson, Morgan Freeman, Min-sik Choi, Analeigh Tipton. A young woman is caught up in forces beyond her control as ruthless drug smugglers put a bag of a revolutionary new drug in her tummy in order to smuggle it to the United States. The bag starts to leak and the drug enhances her brain to allow her to use 100% of it. She begins to change into something more than human, which not only makes her a danger to the drug smugglers but potentially to the whole human race as well.

See the trailer, interviews, featurettes, clips and B-roll video here.

For more on the movie this is the website.

Release formats: Standard (opens Thursday)

Genre: Sci-Fi Thriller

Rating: R (for strong violence, disturbing images, and sexuality)

She’s Dating the Gangster

(Star Cinema) Kathryn Bernardo, Daniel Padilla, Sofia Andres, Khalil Ramos. A Filipino teen and a rebellious friend start up a false romance in order to spite his ex-girlfriend. However, their feelings begin to get deeper and the relationship shows signs of growing into something greater, but the boy may be a part of a vicious Manila gang.

See the trailer here.

For more on the movie this is the website.

Release formats: Standard

Genre: Romantic Comedy

Rating: NR

Willow Creek

(IFC) Alexie Gilmore, Bryce Johnson, Peter Jason, Tom Yamarone. A Bigfoot enthusiast drags his long-suffering girlfriend to the place where the iconic Patterson-Gimlin film was shot years before to try and catch footage of his own. He gets a lot more than he bargained for and the couple discover the meaning to their horror of the term “forest bride.” A send-up of found footage horror films by comedian and director Bobcat Goldthwaite.

See the trailer here.

For more on the movie this is the website.

Release formats: Standard

Genre: Horror Comedy

Rating: NR

A Late Quartet


Practice makes perfect.

Practice makes perfect.

(2012) Drama (EntertainmentOne) Philip Seymour Hoffman, Catherine Keener, Christopher Walken, Mark Ivanir, Imogen Poots, Wallace Shawn, Liraz Charhi, Madhur Jaffrey, Nina Lee, Megan McQuillan, Anne Sofie van Otter, Jasmine Hope Bloch. Directed by Yaron Zilberman

 

A string quartet is more than the sum of its parts. The members must learn to play not only with great discipline and technical expertise but must learn to anticipate the play of the other members. Only when they are thinking about one another can they truly harmonize beautifully.

The Fugue Quartet began life as a pioneering group of young musicians looking to push the boundaries of classical music and have largely done that. They approach their 25th anniversary with plans for another major tour spotlighting Beethoven’s Opus 131, one of the most difficult pieces for quartets due to the pacing and the length (seven movements instead of four). In fact, the instruments often start to go slightly out of tune by the seventh movement, forcing the musicians to compensate for each other.

But the well-oiled machine that is the Fugue is about to face their biggest crisis. Cellist Peter Mitchell (Walken), the heart and soul of the group, has been diagnosed with Parkinson’s and won’t be able to play for much longer. He determines the first concert of the 25th season will be his farewell.

The news hits the other member of the quartet hard, particularly Juliette Gelbart (Keener), the viola player who was literally raised by Peter and Miriam (van Otter), the opera-singing wife of Peter who had passed away the year previously. The news also sets in motion a number of events, starting with Juliette’s husband Robert (Hoffman), the quartet’s second violin who has chafed under the autocratic rule of first violinist Daniel Lerner (Ivanir), the technically perfect first violin who likes things the way they are – and is even trying to convince Peter to stay.

Peter’s mind is made up though and he has thoughts of his replacement (Lee) although he’ll have to pry her away from the leader of her trio (Shawn) who isn’t inclined to let her go. In the meantime Robert has announced that he no longer wants to play second violin exclusively; he wants to alternate in the first chair. Daniel is having none of it and to Robert’s dismay and frustration, Juliette supports Daniel and not him.

This leads to a particularly dumb move on Robert’s part which sets in motion events that will pull Robert and Juliette’s daughter Alexandra (Poots) who is also a musician, and threaten to tear apart the quartet before they make it to the farewell concert.

First-time filmmaker Zilberman gets to work with an extraordinary cast and he makes the most of it; this might well be the most well-acted movie over all I’ve seen this year. Walken is on a role of really good performances and he continues it here. But it’s Hoffman who really impresses. This is one of his best roles in the past five years. At first you think Robert is being petulant and childish but as the movie progresses you realize that this is a man who has been second fiddle in every aspect of his life, not just in the quartet. It’s heartbreaking to watch him self-destruct.

Poots is a revelation. I’d thought her just a pretty face more or less but she has a scene with Keener in which long-percolating resentments between mother and daughter finally see the light of day and as such resentments often are it’s ugly and captivating.

The movie isn’t what you’d call fast paced; although the Beethoven piece is rousing and lively, the music that moves through the movie is the current of these musician’s lives. They live quiet, comfortable lives that are filled with the most beautiful music on earth. Heck, they’re responsible for making a lot of it so why not?

This is a movie about rhythms interrupted and so it might at times not sit well with those who like their movies to be more tranquil. It is also quite predictable (does anybody not see what Danny’s character does coming from nearly the beginning of the film?) and at times has that snooty pretentiousness that you only find in the fine arts.

I really liked this movie. It takes a look at the discipline that goes in to being a world class musician, and at how being part of a group – not just in rock and roll or even just in classical music but ANY group – requires the egos be put aside, that the focus is and always must be the good of the whole over the needs of the individual. It is not natural for human beings to think that way which makes it a minor miracle when they do.

REASONS TO GO: Plenty of good performances both musically and from the actors.

REASONS TO STAY: Predictable in places and pretentious in others.

FAMILY VALUES:  There are some bad words scattered here and there and a few scenes of sexuality.

TRIVIAL PURSUIT: At one time Ethan Hawke was cast in the film but had to withdraw due to scheduling conflicts.

CRITICAL MASS: As of 12/6/12: Rotten Tomatoes: 72% positive reviews. Metacritic: 67/100. The reviews are respectable.

COMPARISON SHOPPING: Footnote

STRING QUARTET LOVERS: The actors received rigorous training in how to properly play their instruments but the music you actually hear is from the world-renowned Brentano Quartet.

FINAL RATING: 7/10

NEXT: The Mummy (1999)

New Releases for the Week of November 30, 2012


November 30, 2012

KILLING THEM SOFTLY

(Weinstein) Brad Pitt, Ray Liotta, James Gandolfini, Sam Rockwell, Richard Jenkins, Bella Heathcoate, Scoot McNairy, Ben Mendelsohn.  Directed by Andrew Dominik

Three not-terribly-smart guys rob a mob-protected poker game. This, as you might imagine, doesn’t sit too well with the mob and they hire a hitman to track down the perpetrators and restore order to the local criminal underworld. However as it often happens with the very foolish, not everything goes according to plan.

See the trailer, clips and a promo here.

For more on the movie this is the website.

Release formats: Standard

Genre: Crime Comedy

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

Anna Karenina

(Focus) Keira Knightley, Jude Law, Aaron Taylor-Johnson, Kelly Macdonald. Based on the epic Leo Tolstoy novel, a woman lives a life that most women in that time and that place would envy. But as she questions her heart, she begins to question her marriage and as her world is engulfed in tumult, so too the world around her changes forever in spasms of awful violence.

See the trailer, featurettes, promos and clips here.

For more on the movie this is the website.

Release formats: Standard

Genre: Drama

Rating: R (for some sexuality and violence)

The Collection

(LD Entertainment) Josh Stewart, Emma Fitzpatrick, Christopher McDonald, Navi Rawat. When the daughter of a rich man is captured by a sadistic serial killer, he hires a group of mercenaries who in turn coerce the only man who escaped from the killer’s maze alive to return and lead them to the captured girl. This proves to be much easier said than done.

See the trailer and a clip here.

For more on the movie this is the website.

Release formats: Standard

Genre: Horror

Rating: R (for strong bloody violence, grisly images, language and brief nudity)

Dragon

(Radius) Donnie Yen, Takeshi Kaneshiro, Tang Wei, Jimmy Wang Yu. A shy, retiring craftsman in a turn of the century Chinese village is forced to defend a shopkeeper from two violent gamblers. The police detective investigating the incident believes the craftsman is much more than he lets on. However, his investigation begins to draw the attention of the criminal underworld to the craftsman and his village.

See the trailer and a link to streaming the full movie here.

For more on the movie this is the website.

Release formats: Standard

Genre: Martial Arts

Rating: R (for violence)

A Late Quartet

(EntertainmentOne) Philip Seymour Hoffman, Catherine Keener, Christopher Walken, Jeremy Northam. When a beloved member of a world-renowned string quartet gets a medical diagnosis which means his career must come to an end, the long-suppressed squabbles of ego, competitive bickering, unrequited passions and hurt feelings comes out and threatens to destroy what a quarter century of friendship, hard work and harmony has established.

See the trailer here.

For more on the movie this is the website.

Release formats: Standard

Genre: Drama

Rating: R (for language and some sexuality)

The Other Son

(Cohen Media Group) Emmanuelle Devos, Pascal Elbe, Jules Sitruk, Mehdi Dehbi. Two young men – one Israeli, one Palestinian – discover that they were accidentally switched at birth. The revelation has unforeseen repercussions on not only the lives of the men but on their families as well.

See the trailer here.

For more on the movie this is the website.

Release formats: Standard

Genre: Drama

Rating: PG-13 (For a scene of violence, brief language and drug use)

Silent Night

(Anchor Bay) Malcolm McDowell, Jaime King, Donal Logue, Lisa Marie. A sheriff and his deputy chase a maniac dressed as Santa Claus who is murdering those he judges to be naughty. That list includes everything from porn and adultery to green…to lesser offenses. Loosely based on the Christmas horror classic Silent Night, Deadly Night.

See the trailer and clips here.

For more on the movie this is the website.

Release formats: Standard

Genre: Horror

Rating: R (for bloody violence, some sexuality/nudity, language and brief drug use)

Talaash: The Answer Lies Within

(Reliance Big Pictures) Aamir Khan, Rani Mukherji, Kareena Kapoor, Nawazuddin Siddiqui. When a popular movie star dies when his car plunges into murky waters, a detective investigating the case is charged with discovering whether it was an accident or murder. The closer he gets to the truth however the closer he gets to his own past which he will be forced to confront if he is to find out what really happened.

See the trailer here.

For more on the movie this is the website.

Release formats: Standard

Genre: Bollywood

Rating: NR

New Releases for the Week of September 21, 2012


September 21, 2012DREDD

(Lionsgate) Karl Urban, Olivia Thirlby, Lena Headey, Rakie Ayola, Wood Harris, Warrick Grier, Jason Cope, Joe Vaz, Scott Sparrow. Directed by Pete Travis

In the future, the world is divided into irradiated wastelands and vast cities overcrowded and crime-ridden. Justice is dispensed by Judges, a combination street cop, judge, jury and executioner. The most feared of these is Dredd, who with his rookie partner Anderson is tasked with riding the streets of Slo-Mo, a drug that allows users to experience reality at a fraction of its normal speed. However, the drug lord who controls most of it, an ex-prostitute named Ma-Ma doesn’t take too kindly to having her business interrupted and a war erupts that will push even Dredd beyond his limits. Based on the iconic British comic series.

See the trailer, promos and featurettes here.

For more on the movie this is the website.

Release formats: Standard, 3D

Genre: Science Fiction

Rating: R (for strong bloody violence, language, drug use and some sexual content)

10 Years

(Anchor Bay) Channing Tatum, Rosario Dawson, Justin Long, Kate Mara. A group of friends reunite for their 10 year high school reunion. This ensemble piece follows them through the big night to see how they have – and haven’t – changed over the years as their tangled relationships begin to unravel before their very eyes.

See the trailer here.

For more on the movie this is the website.

Release formats: Standard

Genre: Drama

Rating: PG-13 (for language, alcohol abuse, some sexual material and drug use)

End of Watch

(Open Road) Jake Gyllenhaal, Michael Pena, Anna Kendrick, America Ferrera. Two cocky young police officers patrol the mean streets of south central Los Angeles, one of the most dangerous areas in the country. They wind up in the crosshairs of a Mexican drug cartel after a routine traffic stop leads them into places they never dreamed they’d be. Only their loyalty and support for one another and the love of their families stands between them and oblivion.

See the trailer and clips here.

For more on the movie this is the website.

Release formats: Standard

Genre: Crime Drama

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

Heroine

(UTV) Kareena Kapoor, Arjun Rampal, Randeep Hooda, Shahana Goswami. A Bollywood actress, once the best in the business, sees her career go on the decline despite her best efforts to stay on top.

See the trailer here.

For more on the movie this is the website.

Release formats: Standard

Genre: Bollywood

Rating: NR

House at the End of the Street

(Relativity) Jennifer Lawrence, Elisabeth Shue, Max Theriot, Gil Bellows. A newly-divorced mom and her teenage daughter move into a new house hoping to make a fresh start. That is, until they discover that a neighboring home was the scene of a gruesome multiple murder. Things go downhill from there when the daughter develops a relationship with the only survivor of the massacre – and the person responsible for the crime may be back for seconds.

See the trailer, featurettes and a clip here.

For more on the movie this is the website.

Release formats: Standard

Genre: Horror

Rating: PG-13 (for intense sequences of violence and terror, thematic elements, language, some teen partying and drug material)

The Master

(Weinstein) Philip Seymour Hoffman, Joaquin Phoenix, Amy Adams, Rami Malek. Shortly after the Second World War a down-on-his-luck veteran is ensnared by a charismatic intellectual who has created a faith-based organization to which the vet becomes his right-hand man. However, the ex-soldier begins to see and hear things that cause him to question the faith he has embraced and the man who has become his mentor.

See the trailer and clips here.

For more on the movie this is the website.

Release formats: Standard

Genre: Drama

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

Trouble With the Curve

(Warner Brothers) Clint Eastwood, Amy Adams, Justin Timberlake, John Goodman. A baseball scout, one of the most respected in the game, is starting to show his age. His eyesight isn’t so good and he wants to go out on top, but his team is questioning his judgment. His only option is to ask his daughter, a bright young lawyer who has grown apart from him as of late, to help him. She puts her career on hold despite her misgivings and her father’s objections to spend some quality time with him and in the process, the two find out some long-held secrets about one another that might tear them apart permanently.

See the trailer here.

For more on the movie this is the website.

Release formats: Standard

Genre: Sports Drama

Rating: PG-13 (for language, sexual references, some thematic material and smoking)

Unconditional

(Harbinger Media Partners) Michael Ealy, Lynn Collins, Bruce McGill, Diego Klattenhoff. When a senseless act of violence takes the husband of a children’s author away from her, she loses her faith and her desire to live. However, an encounter with a couple of kid leads to a reunion with her oldest friend whose compassion and kindness towards the kids in an underprivileged neighborhood leads to new revelations about God’s role in her life.

See the trailer here.

For more on the movie this is the website.

Release formats: Standard

Genre: Christian Drama

Rating: PG-13 (for some violent content and mature thematic elements)

The Ides of March


The Ides of March

Ryan Gosling tries to remember his line.

(2011) Political Drama (Columbia) Ryan Gosling, George Clooney, Philip Seymour Hoffman, Paul Giamatti, Jeffrey Wright, Marisa Tomei, Max Minghella, Evan Rachel Wood, Jennifer Ehle, Gregory Itzin, Michael Mantell, Charlie Rose. Directed by George Clooney

Politics make strange bedfellows for just about anything. Few human endeavors employ more of the worst elements of human nature while trying to appeal to the best. It is a machine that chews up and spits out those who don’t have the stomach for being an absolute prick.

Stephen Meyers (Gosling) hasn’t been chewed up or spit out – and he’s as good a media relations specialist as there is in the business. He’s been on plenty of campaigns in his time but none have captured him like the Presidential campaign of Democratic hopeful Mike Morris (Clooney), governor of the great state of Pennsylvania.

They are in the midst of the Ohio primaries and coming down to the wire. The Democratic nomination hangs in the balance and so far, Morris is leading Senator Pullman (Mantell) by a slight margin. Morris’ campaign manager Paul Zara (Hoffman) is romancing Senator Thompson (Wright) who has over three hundred delegates that will all but assure the nomination. Reporter Ida Horowicz (Tomei) is leaning on Stephen for a story but he doesn’t have one to give her – yet.

Then Stephen gets a phone call from Tom Duffy (Giamatti), the campaign manager for Pullman. Duffy wants Stephen to jump ship and even lets him know that Pullman has Thompson in his camp after promising Thompson the secretary of state position in the new administration. Furthermore, Duffy is trying to get Republicans and Independents to vote for Pullman in the open primary election since the general political trend is that the Republicans have a better chance against Pullman than they do against Morris.

Stephen is distraught but he chooses not to tell Paul at first. When he does, the crap hits the fan. Suddenly the campaign is in the middle of a dogfight and they might not necessarily be the stronger dog in the fight. An attractive young campaign worker, Molly Stearns (Wood) who is also the daughter of the bulldog-like Democratic National Committee chairman (Itzin) may prove to be the key that will either save Morris’ presidential chances – or destroy them.

Clooney, who has several really fine directing jobs under his belt, adds another one here. Based on the stage play “Farragut North” by Beau Wilimon (which in itself was loosely based on the author’s experiences in the 2004 campaign of Howard Dean), the movie has a sense of realism. All the dirty tricks, all the behind-the-scenes maneuvering, that fits in with the perception of most people as to what really goes on in a major campaign.

Gosling has had quite a year with appearances in Drive and Crazy, Stupid, Love and giving fine performances in both. He is to my mind a star who has shown potential for years (he already has one Oscar nomination under his belt) and has finally arrived as a legitimate star. He hasn’t shown any desire to headline a big franchise-type film, preferring lesser-budgeted dramas and comedies to ply his trade in, but I don’t doubt he could do that and just as well as anybody.

Hoffman and Giamatti are two of the best actors in the business and they play disparate sides of the same coin; one a shark, willing to do anything to win and the other valuing loyalty above all else maybe to his own detriment. Clooney has a supporting role here (as he did in Good Night and Good Luck) but it’s a memorable one. Like Martin Sheen’s Josiah Bartlett, one wishes there was a candidate out there like Mike Morris. Clooney brings him to life and, surprisingly, gives him a bit of a dark side.

While I found the character a bit more naive than you’d think a media relations manager in a major presidential campaign would be, my main beef with the film is the pacing seems a bit lax. The movie unfolds in an almost nonchalant manner which can be frustrating at times.

There are those who are going to have problems with The Ides of March because those who might have conservative political beliefs may find the depiction of the Democrats as disturbing, even though they are shown to be corrupt in the end. There are others who are going to be a bit put off as well because this is a pretty smart motion picture which requires at least a little bit of intellectual commitment. Those looking to lose themselves in a mindless haze are probably better served to look elsewhere.

REASONS TO GO: Nice thinking person’s political drama with a good sense of realism as to how the political process works. Terrific performances by the ensemble.

REASONS TO STAY: Unfolds at a rather slow pace. Might require too much thought for some. Although it does portray the liberal Democrats as corrupt, Conservatives might not like this either.

FAMILY VALUES: There’s a bit of violence, some terror, a little sensuality and briefly some bad language.

TRIVIAL PURSUIT: In the campaign office are posters of Governor Morris that are much like the iconic Hope posters for the Obama campaign created by street artist Shepard Fairey. In fact, the original photo that the Obama posters were based on were of Obama listening to George Clooney speak at a 2006 press conference.

HOME OR THEATER: You won’t lose anything by waiting for it to come out on home video.

FINAL RATING: 6.5/10

TOMORROW: Saw VI