New Releases for the Week of February 14, 2020


SONIC THE HEDGEHOG

(Paramount) James Marsden, Ben Schwartz, Jim Carrey, Tika Sumpter, Natascha Rothwell, Neal McDonough, Adam Pally. Directed by Jeff Fowler

The classic SEGA videogame comes to the big screen as a strange visitor from another dimension, possessed of unbelievable speed, whose power is sought afte by the nefarious Dr. Robotnik. It will take all of the brash, blue hedgehog’s power to stay out of the scientist’s clutches, but he has help – a new friend he made on Earth.

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Genre: Family
Now Playing: Wide Release
Rating: PG (for action, some violence, rude humor and brief mild language)

After Midnight

(Cranked Up) Jeremy Gardner, Brea Grant, Henry Zebrowski, Justin Benson. A bartender is dumped by his girlfriend after he stubbornly refuses to consider marriage. After that, he is stalked every night at closing time by a hideous creature. Let that be your Valentine’s Day lesson, boys.

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Genre: Horror
Now Playing: Barnstorm Theater
Rating: NR

Come As You Are

(Goldwyn) Grant Rosenmeyer, Hayden Szeto, Ravi Patel, Gabourey Sidibe. Three young men with disabilities flee their overprotective parents on a road trip to Montreal to a brothel that specializes in special needs clients. They are aided by a traveling nurse in their quest to lose their virginity.

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Genre: Comedy
Now Playing: Old Mill Playhouse
Rating: NR

Camp Cold Brook

(SHOUT!) Chad Michael Murray, Danielle Harris, Michael Eric Reid, Courtney Gains The producer of a paranormal investigative show, desperate to stave off cancellation and financial ruin, decides ti film at the notorious Camp Cold Brook where years earlier a tragedy led to the drowning of several campers. When they arrive at the deserted camp, however, the production team gets much more than it bargained for.

See the trailer here
For more on the movie this is the website  
Genre: Horror
Now Playing: Barnstorm Theater
Rating: NR

Downhill

(Searchlight) Julia Louis-Dreyfus, Will Ferrell, Miranda Otto, Zach Woods. A family ski trip turns into disaster when the father apparently deserts his family when threatened by an avalanche. This leads to the crack in their marriage to be forced much wider. This is an English-language remake of the 2014 Swedish film Force Majeure.

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

Fantasy Island

(Columbia) Michael Peña, Lucy Hale, Maggie Q, Portia Doubleday. This isn’t your mommy and daddy’s Fantasy Island, the 70s television show with Ricardo Montalban and Herve Villechaize. Here, a much darker Mr. Roark turns vacationer’s fantasies into living nightmares.

See the trailer here
For more on the movie this is the website  
Genre: Horror
Now Playing: Wide Release
Rating: PG-13 (for some violence, terror, drug content, suggestive material and brief strong language)

First Lady

(ArtAffects) Burgess Jenkins, Corbin Bernsen, Jenn Gordon Chandler, Nancy Stafford. When a President dies in office, his widow agrees to help the bachelor Vice-President run for the Presidency by agreeing to be his First Lady in order to keep the ditzy wife of his opponent from ruining the dignity of the office. However, when a better offer comes along, can she walk away from the White House?

See the trailer here
For more on the movie this is the website  
Genre: Romantic Comedy
Now Playing: AMC Altamonte Mall, AMC Disney Springs, Epic Theaters of Clermont, Epic Theaters of West Volusia, Old Mill Playhouse, Regal The Loop, Regal Waterford Lakes
Rating: PG (for some thematic elements)

The Kindness of Strangers

(Vertical) Zoe Kazan, Andrea Riseborough, Caleb Landry Jones, Bill Nighy. Six ordinary people in New York City in search of hope and maybe even love find their lives intersecting and that their dreams could lie in one another’s hands.

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Genre: Drama
Now Playing: Studio Movie Grill Sunset Walk
Rating: NR

Les Misérables

(Amazon) Damien Bonnard, Alexis Manenti, Djebril Zonga, Issa Perica. A trio of police officers in a rough part of Paris find themselves overrun by an angry mob during the course of an arrest. As events unfold, a drone captures their every move on camera. This was a finalist for the Best Foreign Language Film at last weekend’s Oscars.

See the trailer here
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Genre: Dramedy
Now Playing: Cinematique Daytona Beach
Rating: R (for language throughout, some disturbing/violent content, and sexual references)

Love Aaj Kal

(Reliance) Kartik Aaryan, Sara Ali Khan, Randeep Hooda, Arushi Sharma. Two souls journey through life and love during various reincarnations.

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Genre: Romance
Now Playing: AMC West Oaks, Cinemark Universal Citywalk, Touchstar Southchase
Rating: NR

The Photograph

(Universal) Issa Rae, LaKeith Stanfield, Lil Rel Howley, Courtney B. Vance. The death of her renowned photographer mother leaves a young African-American with mixed feelings, but a photograph found hidden in a safe deposit box sends the estranged daughter on a journey through her mother’s early years, where she finds an unexpected romance with a young journalist.

See the trailer here
For more on the movie this is the website  
Genre: Romance
Now Playing: Wide Release
Rating: PG-13 (for sexuality and brief strong language)

Spy Intervention

(Cinedigm) Drew van Acker, Poppy Delevingne, Blake Anderson, Brittany Furlan. When the world’s greatest spy finds the woman of his dreams, he elects to retire from international espionage and settle down for a suburban life. When the world comes under threat, however, his colleagues stage an intervention to get him back into the game – which, it turns out, he’s all too eager to do.

See the trailer here
For more on the movie this is the website  
Genre: Spy Comedy
Now Playing: Studio Movie Grill Sunset Walk
Rating: NR

VHYes

(Oscilloscope) Kerri Kenney, Thomas Lennon, Charlyne Yi, Tim Robbins. Shot entirely on VHS cameras, this retro comedy shows what happens when a precocious 12-year-old records over important family memories with a collection of his favorite late night shows and homemade videos.

See the trailer here
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Genre: Comedy
Now Playing: Enzian Theater
Rating: NR

ALSO OPENING IN ORLANDO/DAYTONA:

Varane Aavashyamandu
World Famous Lover

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

Citizen K
The House on Wannsee Street
Jose
Julieta
The Last Thing He Wanted
Varane Aavashyamandu
World Famous Lover

ALSO OPENING IN TAMPA/ST. PETERSBURG/SARASOTA:

India vs. England
Varane Aavashyamandu
World Famous Lover

ALSO OPENING IN JACKSONVILLE/ST. AUGUSTINE:

Varane Aavashyamandu
World Famous Lover

SCHEDULED FOR REVIEW:

Camp Cold Brook
Downhill
Fantasy Island
Sonic the Hedgehog

FILM FESTIVALS TAKING PLACE IN FLORIDA:

Cinema Verde International Environmental Film Festival, Gainesville FL
Love Your Shorts Festival, Sanford FL
Miami International Science Fiction Film Festival, Palmetto Bay FL

Her


A selfie of a happy schlub.

A selfie of a happy schlub.

(2013) Science Fiction Romance (Warner Brothers) Joaquin Phoenix, Amy Adams, Scarlett Johansson (voice), Olivia Wilde, Chris Pratt, Rooney Mara, Kristen Wiig (voice), Bill Hader (voice), Matt Letscher, David Azar, Portia Doubleday, Brian Cox (voice), Laura Kai Chen, Gracie Prewitt, Robert Benard, Lisa Cohen, Claudia Choi. Directed by Spike Jonze

There has been a revolution in personal communication. We now have more ways than ever to communicate with one another. Why then are we becoming less connected?

In the near future, a man named Theodore Twombly (Phoenix) – a name a screenwriter might have given a comic character in, say, 1926 – lives in a downtown high-rise. He once wrote for the L.A. Weekly but now works for a dot-com that offers the service of writing handwritten letters for those who don’t have the time or the gift to do it themselves. Theo’s letters are beautiful and emotionally expressive but for some reason he has trouble expressing his own emotions to those around him. His wife Catherine (Mara) has finally given up on Theo, and the two are divorcing for the most part acrimoniously although clearly Theo is still hung up on Catherine.

Smart phones have gotten smarter in the future and do more for us. Now there’s a new Operating System for our computers – one which is a true artificial intelligence, learning and growing as it becomes used to you and your needs. The voice of Theo’s calls herself Samantha (Johansson). At first, she’s a super-efficient personal assistant, making sure he makes his meetings and appointments, checking his e-mail and text messages for him and so forth. However, she has a curiosity about things and Theo is more than happy to help her out. Soon he feels a kind of connection to this disembodied voice and why shouldn’t he? She’s programmed to serve his needs.

However that connection grows and deepens as she becomes the perfect woman for him. They even engage in a kind of cybersex that is at once erotic and disturbing. He’s fallen in love and that’s not even considered weird – his good friend Amy (Adams) who is undergoing the break-up of her own marriage of eight years has also developed a deep friendship with her own personalized operating system.

But there are drawbacks to this new kind of love. There’s no physical body, no physical connection. Sure there’s cybersex but no touching. Surrogates (Doubleday) are tried but for Theo it doesn’t really work well. The relationship is largely inside his head and the physical presence is almost an intrusion. When he goes on a blind date with a particularly needy girl (Wilde) that doesn’t work either.

What kind of future do these relationships have, particularly when one party is growing – or perhaps more accurately evolving – at a significantly faster rate than the other? For the moment Theo doesn’t care – he is just learning to enjoy the moment thanks to Samantha.

The movie asks some really deep questions – what is love, and what does it mean to be human? Both of them are intrinsically tied up with one another. For those who might think it far-fetched to fall in love with a voice, consider this; many people have fallen in love with people they’ve only texted and chatted with on the Internet. Are their feelings any less valid because they haven’t had physical intimacy? Of course, the difference is that there’s a potential for physical intimacy whereas in Theo’s case there simply isn’t.

Phoenix is given maybe the toughest job an actor can get – take what is essentially an uninteresting guy and make him relatable to the audience. In that sense, his performance may not be getting any Oscar buzz but it may be as great a performance as those that are receiving it. Theo is the kind of guy we’d never spare a second glance at with his throwback mustache and excuse-me air.

Adams shows more vulnerability than I can recall in any of her performances. It’s a far cry from her role in American Hustle where she is outwardly tough and smart but inwardly has issues. Here her character has been sapped of strength and vitality by life; she is working on a documentary film that will serve as her dissertation but there’s no life to the project; it’s inert and boring and she knows it. She hasn’t given up exactly – she’s still a good friend to Theo – but this Amy has lost her way.

Jonze who has mostly made quirky pictures from the scripts of other people wrote this one himself and he throws all sorts of fine little details – for example, the future fashion isn’t having your pants down around your ass but instead up high and there are a lot of earth tones. There are no flying cars but there are high speed trains that take you just about anywhere. Even L.A.’s skyline resembles that of Shanghai (which is a bit of an inside joke since the Shanghai skyline was used in place of L.A.’s).

The question is here not just what humans are but what we are becoming. There is a bit of parable to the proceedings here. We have become obsessed with being connected but make no connections. How many times have you gone to a restaurant and seen everyone at the table texting away on their smart phones? Even when we’re together we aren’t present. Is that unhealthy or is it simply adapting to our new technology? I suspect that it’s a little bit of both.

Some movies tells us their views on the human condition and that alone gives us something to think about. Her is more about pointing out the direction we’re heading in and allowing you to draw your own conclusions. This is the kind of movie you’ll be turning over in your head and discussing with your friends for weeks after you leave the theater. I can’t think of higher praise than that.

REASONS TO GO: Examines what it is to be human. Thought-provoking. Believable future.

REASONS TO STAY: The emotional resonance may be too much for some.

FAMILY VALUES:  There are a few instances of rough language, some sexuality and brief graphic nudity.

TRIVIAL PURSUIT: Following the filming of some of the rougher emotional scenes, Amy Adams would sing songs from Broadway musicals to cheer herself back up. Phoenix soon began joining her but both stopped when they noticed Jonze filming their impromptu duets.

CRITICAL MASS: As of 1/14/14: Rotten Tomatoes: 93% positive reviews. Metacritic: 91/100.

COMPARISON SHOPPING: Wall-E

FINAL RATING: 10/10

NEXT: Answers to Nothing

Youth in Revolt


Youth in Revolt

Even shades and a moustache can't make Michael Cera look dangerous.

(2009) Comedy (Dimension) Michael Cera, Portia Doubleday, Steve Buscemi, Ray Liotta, Justin Long, Jean Smart, Ari Graynor, Fred Willard, Zach Galifianakis, Mary Kay Place, Rooney Mara, Adhir Kalyan, M. Emmet Walsh.  Directed by Miguel Arteta

Growing up is hard enough when you are marching in lock-step with the crowd. If you are marching to your very own drumbeat, chances are it’s damn near impossible.

Nick Twisp (Cera) is a teenager in Oakland with the kind of family situation that makes you want to pull every sensory organ out of your head and stomp on them. His parents are divorced; Mom (Smart) has taken up with an unpredictable druggie (Galifianakis) who has run afoul of a group of sailors whom he sold a car to. He has run so afoul that he has thought the better part of valor was packing up his girlfriend and Nick and moving them to a trailer park in the middle of nowhere, California. Here he meets Sheeni (Doubleday), a young girl as quirky as he, someone who knows who Jean-Paul Belmondo is, and knows what it means to be hip in a conformist world.

His dad (Buscemi) is compensating with a much younger girlfriend (Graynor) and Nick prevails upon him to move into Sheeni’s complex, getting himself thrown out of his mom’s household for good measure. However, Sheeni doesn’t think Nick is dangerous enough. Nick invents an alter-ego (also Cera) with a wispy moustache, a smoking habit and who tends to give really bad advice that soon has Nick in trouble with the law, with his family and with Sheeni.

This is one of those coming of age stories (based on a novel, of course) that seems to have the idea that the more twisted and mixed up you are, the more interesting you become. The movie sat on the shelf for more than three years as Cera’s star grew brighter before it finally got a release. Even so, it milks the kind of character Cera has made a career out of playing; young, fey, sensitive, good-hearted and somewhat spineless. He has an easy manner of quipping and yet never seems to turn that intelligence into making his world a better place.

Doubleday makes a pretty nice romantic lead, except she doesn’t really pull off the quirkier aspects of her character well. She comes off therefore as a girl pretending to be hip rather than being actually hip, which matches up poorly with Cera’s character, who has the outer appearance of being hip without the inner self-confidence to pull it off.

Still, the movie is funny where it needs to be and quite frankly this is one of my favorite performances by Cera. It doesn’t hurt that he has a wealth of comic actors to work off of – from the established (Willard, Buscemi, Place) to the up-and-coming (Galifianakis, Graynor, Long – as Sheeni’s brother – and Kalyan, as Nick’s ethnic friend who may be even more of a dork than he is). The cast for the most part perform admirably, although some of the storyline just goes into ridiculous mode from the second half of the movie onwards.

It’s not a bad movie at all, and despite my low regard for hip indie coming of age movies about quirky teens who are hipper than thou, managed to reel me in thanks to some nice supporting performances (particularly from Buscemi, Willard and Galifianakis) and some good, solid laughs. What more can you ask from a comedy?

WHY RENT THIS: Well-written dialogue and some funny situations. A very strong supporting cast comes up aces.

WHY RENT SOMETHING ELSE: Michael Cera is far too one-note an actor to be playing two characters.

FAMILY VALUES: There’s plenty of foul language, quite a bit of sexual content and some drug use.

TRIVIAL PURSUIT: The man who sells Jerry the camper is none other than Michael Collins, the Apollo 11 astronaut who was in the command module while Armstrong and Aldrin got all the glory.

NOTABLE DVD EXTRAS: None listed.

BOX OFFICE PERFORMANCE: $19.7M on an $18M production budget; the movie was a flop.

FINAL RATING: 6/10

TOMORROW: The Ghost Writer