Zootopia


Only someone crazy like a fox could smile at the DMV.

Only someone crazy like a fox could smile at the DMV.

(2016) Animated Feature (Disney) Starring the voices of Jason Bateman, Ginnifer Goodwin, Idris Elba, Jenny Slate, Nate Torrence, J.K. Simmons, Bonnie Hunt, Don Lake, Tommy Chong, Octavia Spencer, Alan Tudyk, Shakira, Raymond S. Persi, Della Saba, Maurice LaMarche, Phil Johnston, Tiny Lister, Fuschia!, John DiMaggio, Katie Lowes, Kath Soucie. Directed by Byron Howard, Rich Moore and Jared Bush

In the animal kingdom, there are different, distinct roles; some are predators, others are prey. The law of the jungle has existed for as long as there’s been in jungle. Predators and prey generally don’t become friends.

That’s not how it is in Zootopia, a metropolis in which anthropomorphic animals live in peace and harmony. “Anyone can become anything” is the motto, and for Judy Hoppe (Goodwin), a perky rabbit living on a carrot farm in the sticks (sorry, couldn’t resist) “anything” means a police officer, something no rabbit has ever achieved.

So despite the deep misgivings of her Mom (Hunt) and Dad (Lake), she heads for the big city and against all odds, graduates the academy and becomes part of a new initiative from Mayor Lionheart (Simmons) to integrate more mammals into the police force much to the disgust of Chief Bogo (Elba), she joins the central city force. Except that Bogo, having little regard for what skills she might possess, assigns her to meter maid duties.

With the encouragement of Assistant Mayor Bellwether (Slate), an overworked sheep, she perseveres and when an opportunity to take a missing persons…,er, animals case, she plunges in with both paws. With the only clue leading to smug con-fox Nick Wilde (Bateman), the two traditional enemies become partners, and eventually learn to respect and care for each other. However, their investigation turns up a massive plot whose origins lead deep into the corridors of power in Zootopia.

Disney has hit another one out of the ballpark from a box office standpoint and it’s easy to see why. For one thing, kids love their animals and what’s not to love about cuddly rabbits and smug foxes, even if the main fox here looks identical to the title character of Robin Hood – Ooo de lally. Not a problem for the younger set, but for veteran Disneyphiles, it can be distracting.

The movie tackles some pretty complex and timely subjects; the division of people into categories (left and right) is not dissimilar as to what you see in Zootopia. While the movie was written before the advent of Trump as a viable presidential candidate, much of the issues being brought up around that candidacy make up the subtext here. No doubt the bean counters at the Mouse House are quite thankful for The Donald’s controversial campaign right about now.

The voices are cast almost perfectly; Goodwin, who portrays a plucky warrior princess in the hit TV show Once Upon a Time transmits the inner core of that character to the animated feature without making the characters too similar. Bateman, a natural wiseass, also inhabits Nick to a “T” carrying the smug smooth-talking con artist off much as he did in Bad Words. The interaction between the two is genuine and warm, and makes it easy to root for the both of them.

There are a ton of in-jokes, from references to other Disney and Pixar movies (including a hell of a lot that are not but make sense in any case) and to gags based on the theme parks and Disney merch. It’s a little bit Shrek­-like in the rapid fire cultural touchstones but that doesn’t mean it won’t delight adults as well as kids. However, the storyline is a bit derivative even if the subject matter is pretty high on the food chain for a kid’s movie. I suspect there will be a little bit of discussion about this movie long after it’s passed from it’s theatrical run. It probably could have used some judicious trimming, about ten minutes worth I’d say.

Disney’s designers and animators also deserve kudos for the overall environment of Zootopia. Divided into a number of zones – rain forest, sub-Saharan desert, rural farmland, savanna, and even a miniature city for the mice and other smaller creatures, each one is imaginative and believable. Zootopia is a place you’d want to visit – even if you have just the two paws.

REASONS TO GO: Complex story concept. Nice interplay between Nick and Judy.
REASONS TO STAY: A little bit derivative. It’s also a little bit long.
FAMILY VALUES: A bit of rude humor, some mild thematic elements and animated action.
TRIVIAL PURSUIT: The original concept had the story revolving around Nick Wilde but when early test audiences didn’t identify strongly with the character, the decision was made to make Judy Hoppe the focus and the film was re-edited.
CRITICAL MASS: As of 3/16/16: Rotten Tomatoes: 99% positive reviews. Metacritic: 78/100.
COMPARISON SHOPPING: Monsters, Inc.
FINAL RATING: 7.5/10
NEXT: The Brainwashing of My Dad

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Bears


Here are the three bears - where's Goldilocks?!

Here are the three bears – where’s Goldilocks?!

(2014) Nature Documentary (DisneyNature) John C. Reilly (narrator). Directed by Alastair Fothergill, Keith Scholey and Adam Chapman

We humans have an affinity for bears. Teddy Bears, the Berenstein Bears, Yogi Bear, Goldilocks and the Three Bears, Paddington Bear, Winnie the Pooh and of course Smokey the Bear. Cute and cuddly as they may be (and they are most certainly the former although I would think long and hard before cuddling with a bear), they nevertheless have a rough life up there in the Alaska wilderness.

Sky, a mama bear, has two cubs – Amber and Scout. Where is papa bear, asked some critics – far, far away so that he doesn’t try to kill them and/or eat them. I told you they have a rough life. Anyway, their long winter nap is over. While the mountain peaks they made their den in is still covered deep with snow (so much so that avalanches are a problem – more of that rough life stuff), spring is coming to the valleys below.

They haven’t eaten all winter and they are near to starving, but the first order of business isn’t finding food once they get out of the mountains. No sir; that business is keeping the cubs away from predators, like Magnus and Chinook – fellow bears who are so hungry they could eat…another bear. There’s also Tikaani, a wolf who is as sly and persistent as they come. There’s that rough life thing again.

What bears really crave is salmon – loaded in protein and abundant as they swim up river to spawn, bears have to become adept fisherman which is a lot easier than it sounds – they’re slippery little buggers. But getting there is no easy task and until then, they load up on muscles, eels and whatever they can find to put at least something in their bellies to keep the engines going. However, that won’t be enough to build up enough fat to last the winter. Not only do the adult bears live off their own fat, metabolizing it into sugars and proteins, the energy also keeps mama bear’s milk supply flowing. Without enough fat stored, the mama bear might survive the winter but the cubs won’t.

And the odds aren’t in the cubs favor anyway – 50% of all bear cubs born in the wilderness don’t make it to their first birthday, mostly due to predators although disease, starvation and a shrinking habitat all have something to do with it. Did I mention they have a tough life?

DisneyNature has made a niche for itself by delivering nature documentaries with absolutely breathtaking images, following in the tradition of Walt’s True Life Adventures  There are plenty of gorgeous images of the Alaskan landscape, mostly taken in Katmai National Park (the same place where Grizzly Man Timothy Treadwell lived for 13 summers with the bears and eventually was killed and partially eaten by one). It is easy to see from the footage why those who live in Alaska love it so deeply. It is truly the last frontier.

One of my ongoing irritations with the DisneyNature series is their repeated need to give human characteristics, motivations and names to these animals. I would maintain that they are incredible creatures on their own without making them more “like us” in an effort to appeal to kids. Not only does this do a disservice to kids by giving them the impression that wild animals have the same motivations as we do (which in some cases they do but not all).

There is at least one glaring factual error in the narration which any naturalist worth their salt would have caught. Bears don’t actually hibernate; they nap. They don’t sleep throughout the winter; they simply stay in their dens, sleeping most of the time but not all. True hibernation is non-stop slumber. If you’re going to be a nature documentary, the least you can do is get your facts straight. I would have liked to have hears some fairly obvious explanations, like the whereabouts of papa bear and why mama bear was looking after the kids alone.

Lest I forget, John C. Reilly’s narration is da bomb. It has the right amount of humor to keep things interested, entertaining and lively but not so much that it overshadows the information and message that the filmmakers are trying to get across. I understand that Reilly had some input into the dialogue, which is even more aces in my estimation.

Still, this is some terrific footage, often so close-up that you can see individual follicles of fur easily. It is oddly intimate and makes you wonder how close the camera crew got (as the end credits show, pretty damn close although perhaps not as close as you’d expect). Bears are insanely cute and make excellent subjects for the camera. Amber and Scout are primarily used as comedy relief although there is some legitimate peril to the cubs; one nearly drowns at one point, and one disappears while Tikaani is stalking them.

This isn’t the best of the DisneyNature films, but it is solid and as beautiful as anything you’ll see on Discovery or Animal Planet – or the BBC for that matter. Your kids will be entranced and maybe motivated to look up more information about bears, their habitat and their behaviors. Worthwhile stuff for kids to be interested in, if you ask me (not that you are). And if the movie motivates some kid to go that route, then it’s a worthwhile endeavor indeed.

One last thing; Disney had pledged to donate a portion of ticket sales during the first week of release (which has now passed) to the National Parks Foundation in order to help protect our National Parks which sorely need it. Some cynical sorts have been sneering that the amount was infinitesimal. According to Disney’s website, they are donating twenty cents from each ticket sold with a minimum of $100,000 going to the Foundation. That’s a fairly substantial amount for which I know the National Parks Foundation is appreciative.

REASONS TO GO: Beautiful photography with some amazing close-up shots. Cute and cuddly critters.

REASONS TO STAY: Once again over-anthropomorphizes.   

FAMILY VALUES:  Some bear battling and other bear stuff might frighten the wee ones.

TRIVIAL PURSUIT: The first four DisneyNature films are among the top five highest grossing nature documentaries of all-time.

CRITICAL MASS: As of 5/1/14: Rotten Tomatoes: 90% positive reviews. Metacritic: 68/100.

COMPARISON SHOPPING: Grizzly Man

FINAL RATING: 6.5/10

NEXT: The Zero Theorem

Winged Migration (Le peuple migrateur)


In the pink.

In the pink.

(2001) Documentary (Sony Classics) Pierre Labro (voice) and a whole buncha birds. Directed by Jacques Perrin, Jacques Cluzaud and Michel Debats

There is something about a bird in flight. Given wing, it captures our imagination, symbolizing our ability to break free the bonds of Earth and achieve more than we thought we could. Flight is freedom in our imagination and yet birds are trapped by it. They migrate, sometimes thousands of miles. They can’t help it. They don’t have a choice in the matter. Their genetic disposition is such that their instincts override reason. When the time comes, they head South…or North depending on the time of year and the species of bird.

This particular documentary was nominated for an Oscar (losing to Michael Moore’s Bowling for Columbine which some critics thought an injustice but I can kind of see) and deservedly so. The French documentarians who had previously taken us into the world of insects in Microcosmos had to innovate on the fly (no pun intended) as they figured out ingenious ways to get cameras close enough to migrating birds, using lightweight camera-mounted drones and other sorts of aircraft that would allow them to follow the flocks without disrupting them.

The results are spectacular. We are in the midst of thousands of migrating birds all over the world, from the deserts to the mountains, the shoreline to the city. We see birds of every variety – grouses, puffins, swallows, geese and so on. We see them in their elements, the formations that they adopt in flight and the sometimes stupendous odds they face in getting from point A to point B.

They are attacked by predators both natural (i.e. birds of prey, a broken-winged young tern facing off against scary crabs) and manmade (duck hunters blasting away at birds in flight). They must sometimes fly for days without rest, food or water across the ocean or mountain or desolate desert. We are literally given a birds-eye view of their travel, an annual event for them but still amazing for us to watch them make it unerringly to places you and I couldn’t find without a GPS.

The narration by Pierre Labro (although Perrin does it on the American version I believe) is low-key and occasionally explains what you can see for yourself. I much prefer narration that gives perspective, some kind of background that gives the viewing an understanding of what they’re seeing rather than a description. I can see that the birds are flying in formation. Why do they fly that way? How do they learn that skill?

But this isn’t a nature documentary in the traditional sense. I don’t think the filmmakers intended to educate their audience on ornithology. No, I think the point of this movie was to send the viewer in flight right along with the birds, to create an experience that will allow them to soar spiritually and forget for a short while the troubles of us earthbound mortals.

I sometimes grouse about the IMAX and 3D versions of classic films that make the occasional rounds in the multiplexes. I would much rather see an IMAX version of this someday – now that would really be spectacular! Da Queen and I were fortunate enough to see it on its theatrical run and we have seen it since on DVD. There really is no comparison although there are compensations to seeing it at home – my late dog Peanut was fascinated by the bird cries and watched the screen with an interest and cocked head he rarely took at the television screen. Perhaps that’s part of why I am so fond of this film – it is one of my fondest memories with my dog – but having seen it again recently I can say that this is also a wonderful, beautifully shot film that will fill you up with wonder from the time the show starts until the final credits. If you need to let off some steam and forget about the world for awhile, this is a good place to go.

WHY RENT THIS: Comes as close to giving the audience a sense of flight as any film is likely to. Fascinating and beautiful.

WHY RENT SOMETHING ELSE: The narration is sometimes obvious and unnecessary; would have liked to have gotten more information about why birds do what they do.

FAMILY VALUES:  While generally safe for all audiences, there is one scene that the very sensitive might have a hard time with.

TRIVIAL PURSUIT: The filmmakers attempted to film emperor penguins but weather conditions prohibited it. The next year, a different crew would capture the elusive emperors on March of the Penguins.

NOTABLE HOME VIDEO EXTRAS: While making-of featurettes are generally pretty standard on most home video releases, the one here is noteworthy because it explores in-depth the challenges both technical and human in capturing these images of birds in flight.

BOX OFFICE PERFORMANCE: $32.3M on an unknown production budget.

COMPARISON SHOPPING: Earth

FINAL RATING: 9/10

NEXT: 12 Years a Slave

The Croods


Eep reaches for her dreams.

Eep reaches for her dreams.

(2013) Animated Feature (DreamWorks Animation) Starring the voices of Nicolas Cage, Emma Stone, Ryan Reynolds, Catherine Keener, Clark Duke, Cloris Leachman, Chris Sanders, Randy Thom. Directed by Chris Sanders and Kirk DeMicco

At the dawn of time, everything was new. Even change was new. Survival was the only motivator for anything and those who were able to change, survived.

Eep (Stone) is a young cave girl whose father Grug (Cage) has lived life by a strict rule; fear everything. Grug has depended on brute strength and caution to keep his family alive, including his wife Ugga (Keener), son Thunk (Duke), feral baby Sandy (Thom) and his mother-in-law Gran (Leachman), the latter of which he wouldn’t mind seeing violate a few of his rules. Eep chafes at the restrictions placed upon her, longing to see the world outside the cave but there are too many dangers in the prehistoric world for her to do that on her own.

Then one night she sees a light outside the cave. What was the sun doing out at this hour? But it wasn’t daylight. She must investigate! She follows the light and runs into Guy (Reynolds), a step up on the evolutionary ladder. He has invented fire and is running around the countryside with it. After some time, she gets that he has a lot of interesting ideas and might be a valuable addition to the family (most of their neighbors have fallen to pestilence and predators). He also has a cute little mammal named Belt (Sanders) who provides quite a few functions, not the least of which is providing appropriately dramatic musical accompaniment.

However, Guy has a warning; the world is changing and tearing itself apart. They’ll need to get to high ground in order to survive. Grug pooh-poohs the idea; they can ride anything out in the safety and security of their cave. However, when the cave is destroyed, Grug has to rethink his position (and believe me, that’s quite an accomplishment for Grug). The family will have to make its way through an increasingly hostile landscape facing all sorts of bizarre and fearsome threats before they reach safety.

I have to admit, my expectations weren’t very high for this one. It seems that of late there’s been a surfeit of mediocre animated features (some very successful I might add) that really seem to be little more than an attempt to create characters that can be marketed as toys, happy meals, TV shows and whatever money-generating idea the studios can think of. And I don’t doubt that there is some of that involved here too

But still this one has plenty of heart. Yes, the message seems to be “try bold new things” which is something most kids have trouble doing. However, the filmmakers borrow liberally from such things as the old Looney Toons Roadrunner cartoons. Some critics have complained about it; either because it’s ripping off a classic or because the classic is so violent and outrageous to begin with. However, as one who grew up on them, I can say that you couldn’t pick a better source to rip off from. And homage is the sincerest form of flattery is it not?

The voice cast is pretty small for one of these things which works out nicely. Cage, normally an actor who can lose it in an instant, plays the dad with comparative restraint. He actually has some very nice scenes with the spunky Stone as their fractured parental bond is repaired in the crisis. Da Queen shed more than a few tears and I have to admit to being misty eyed myself. That was completely unexpected.

It was also nice to hear Leachman, who last year attended the Florida Film Festival and then tended bar at the Eden into the wee hours of the morning, doing her thing. She announces with that tone that tells you she knows how irritated Grug is with the fact that she’s still alive that she is indeed, still alive. It’s Cage however who gets the best line of the film: “Release the baby!!” You had to be there I guess.

Funny and endearing, this is the kind of animated feature that the kids will love and their parents won’t mind. In fact their parents might end up liking it more than the kids, which doesn’t happen often. The Croods relies on slapstick humor, a bit of pathos and a can-do attitude to be successful, tuning out the cheap potty humor which seems to be creeping into kid flicks more and more these days (and how did I start sounding like my Dad?) which is appreciated. The first major animated feature of the year (not counting Escape From Planet Earth which I haven’t seen yet but admittedly it comes fro a mid-major) may turn out to be the most surprising – and one of the best. Who’da Thunk?

REASONS TO GO: Surprisingly moving and well-animated. Fun for the whole family. Road Runner-esque.

REASONS TO STAY: Nothing particularly new or daring.

FAMILY VALUES:  Some of the scenes in the film depict some peril that might be a bit too scary for the really young.

TRIVIAL PURSUIT: After a long run with Paramount, this is the first DreamWorks Animation film to be distributed by 20th Century Fox.

CRITICAL MASS: As of 3/28/13: Rotten Tomatoes: 67% positive reviews. Metacritic: 55/100; the reviews were pretty mediocre trending towards the negative.

COMPARISON SHOPPING: The Incredibles

FINAL RATING: 7.5/10

NEXT: Red Planet

Predators


Predators

Adrien Brody, Alice Braga and cohorts are definitely NOT in Kansas anymore.

(20th Century Fox) Adrien Brody, Alice Braga, Topher Grace, Laurence Fishburne, Walton Goggins, Danny Trejo, Oleg Taktarov, Mahershalahashbaz Ali, Louiz Ozawa, Changchien, Carey Jones, Brian Steele, Derek Mears. Directed by Nimrod Antal

A very simplistic world-view of life is that we are either predators or we are prey. It’s simply a matter of where we want to be on the food chain, and what we’re willing to do to get there.

Royce (Brody) awakens in a very confused state. One moment he was with his unit, the next there was a bright light and now he is in free fall. That’s not a good place to be when you’re just waking up.

He manages to deploy a parachute and ends up landing safely, if a little bit roughly, in the jungle. One by one, a number of other parachutes deploy and soon there’s a group of people, all with roughly the same story, including Isabelle (Braga) an Israeli sharp-shooter, Stans (Goggins) a convicted killer two days from lethal injection, Nikolai (Taktarov), a Russian trooper keeping the peace in Chechnya, Hanzo (Changchien) a Japanese yakuza, Cuchillo (Trejo) a Mexican druglord, Mombassa (Ali) an African militia man and Edwin (Grace), a doctor.

Royce, for his part, is a black ops mercenary with not much in the way of a moral compass beyond getting the job done and surviving it. What they are all doing there is a bit of a mystery, as is where “there” is – Isabelle, who claims she’s been in most jungles of the world, doesn’t recognize this one. Amazon, maybe?

All that goes out the window when Royce notices that the sun remains stationary in the sky. It further takes a turn for the Twilight Zone when they emerge into a clearing to see a whole arsenal of moons floating serenely in the sky. They are most certainly not in Kansas anymore, or anywhere else on earth for that matter.

The appearance of strange bad-tempered warthog-like creatures with an array of bony spikes protruding from just about everywhere on their bodies doesn’t bode well. However, soon enough Royce figures things out – they are on a game preserve and they are being hunted. Sure enough, a Predator soon makes an appearance, with just enough technology for Isabelle – who was apparently privy to a lot of sensitive information – to recognize them from a report about a strange encounter with an American military team in South America in which only one survivor emerged. Will this team, stranded in an alien planet with no food or water, have even that many survivors?

This is billed as a sequel to the original Predator (1987) and there are plenty of references to the original from the obvious (Isabelle’s report) to the subtle (the playing of “Long Tall Sally” over the end credits, a song that was also played at the beginning of Predator). Obviously, the filmmakers had a great deal of respect and reverence for the original.

They may have been a bit too reverential, however. The storyline is essentially identical to the first Predator with a group of well-armed military people being picked off in a jungle one by one by predators, although in the original it was just one. While the original Predator saw an established and cohesive American military team being attacked, here it is a bunch of people from a variety of different disciplines and nations all brought together for the first time, and they bicker a good deal, although when the rubber hits the road they are terrifyingly good at what they do.

The cast is surprisingly good, especially Brody who isn’t known for action movies. He does a credible job here as the brutal and taciturn mercenary. Brody has obviously bulked up for the role, although he isn’t as muscular as, say, Stallone or Schwarzenegger, he has that wiry muscular toughness which is more in line with what you see in the modern military. Fishburne has what amounts to an extended cameo as the only survivor of a previous group brought to the planet to be hunted – he is there essentially to supply a bit of comic relief (only a bit) as well as a sense of perspective about how long this has been going on.

The action sequences hit all the right buttons, from the “predator vision” which is meant to resemble infrared, to things going boom. There are a number of nausea-inducing killings, which are very high on the cool meter, as well as a really nice sequence when Hanzo goes mano a mano with a Predator.

One of the little things I liked was that the Predators have different looks to them – I’m not talking subtle differences, but major ones, the way you would find in different ethnic groups. One of the problems with science fiction movies is that you rarely get a sense that alien races have the diversity of the human race; they have a tendency to be generically the same.

There are a few little quibbles with science in the science fiction here. A planet or moon that keeps one face turned towards the sun with planetoids or moons orbiting nearby would be torn apart by the gravitational forces; at the very least it wouldn’t have much of an atmosphere. Since some of the scenes take place at night (which I’m assuming occurs when one of the planetoids or moons gets between the game preserve planet and the sun) the screenwriters could have avoided this merely by giving the planet a rotation. Other than the scenes with the spiny warthogs and the view of the multiple moons, there’s no sense that you’re on a distant planet; all of the fauna are earth-bound varieties which would be extremely unlikely, unless the Predators terraformed the planet and seeded it with plants from our own world, which would seem to be a very expensive and labor-intensive job just to create a game preserve.

But these are quibbles and most viewers aren’t going to care about such things. This is about action and there is plenty of it. The action and character development is good enough to make this an enjoyable two hours. In a summer full of disappointments in terms of quality movies and box office, Predators stands out as one of the better popcorn movies in an off year for them.

REASONS TO GO: Solid summer action film fare. Brody is impressive as the mercenary.

REASONS TO STAY: This is essentially the first Predator relocated, with a team that isn’t as cohesive as the first one. You rarely get a sense that you’re on an alien planet.

FAMILY VALUES: There’s a good deal of gore and violence, as well as some nightmare-inducing Predators running around. Given the pervasive foul language as well, I’d restrict this to older teens for the most part.

TRIVIAL PURSUIT: Rodriguez conceived the idea for the movie back in 1994 and wrote a script that was submitted to Fox, who rejected it for being too expensive to produce. 15 years later, they changed their mind and Rodriguez wrote a modified version of the script that would be less expensive to produce, and delivered – the movie cost $40 million to make, relatively inexpensive for a high-profile summer sci-fi action movie.

HOME OR THEATER: In all honesty, the jungle location is more claustrophobic than grand in scale; it will easily fit in your home theater system. Those with smaller televisions might want to take this in on the big screen, however.

FINAL RATING: 7/10

TOMORROW: Inception

New Releases for the Week of July 9, 2010


July 9, 2010

The more minions, the merrier!

DESPICABLE ME

(Universal) Starring the voices of Steve Carell, Jason Segel, Russell Brand, Will Arnett, Kristen Wiig, Danny McBride, Julie Andrews, Miranda Cosgrove. Directed by Chris Renaud and Pierre Coffin

Deep beneath a quiet suburban neighborhood lies the unexpected – the vast underground lair of the world’s greatest supervillain, Gru. He and his vast army of minions plot dastardly deeds, some of which they actually pull off. His latest scheme – to steal the moon. However, before he can do that, he must ward off his chief rival for supervillainy, Vector and something even more insidious; three heart-stealing little girls. With vocal talents from members of Judd Apatow’s crew and SNL, this looks to be a big hit.

See the trailer, clips, featurettes and interviews here.

For more on the movie this is the website.

Release formats: Standard

Rating: PG (for rude humor and mild action)

Cyrus

(Fox Searchlight) John C. Reilly, Jonah Hill, Marisa Tomei, Catherine Keener. John has given up on romance after the dissolution of his marriage; that is, until he meets Molly. The chemistry is obvious and immediate between them, but for some reason she’s reluctant to bring him to her own home. One day he follows her home and meets the other man in her life – her son Cyrus, a 21-year-old musician who has no desire whatsoever to share her with anyone, particularly a boyfriend. Even more particularly, he doesn’t want to share her with John and thus a war of wits is undertaken that will leave only one man standing alongside Molly. Oh yes, it’s a comedy.

See the trailer, clips, featurettes and interviews here.

For more on the movie this is the website.

Release formats: Standard

Rating: R (for language and some sexual material)

I Am Love

(Magnolia) Tilda Swinton, Flavio Parenti, Gabrielle Ferzetti, Pippo Delbono. The Recchi family of Milan has long been masters of an industrial empire. The patriarch is married to Emma, a Russian émigré. Cracks in the façade of the family’s domination are beginning to show, however; Edo, the grandson, has no desire to inherit the family legacy and instead opens a restaurant with his friend Antonio. Further complicating matters is that Antonio and Emma fall in love and begin a torrid affair that threatens to bring the powerful family to its knees.

See the trailer here.

For more on the movie this is the website.

Release formats: Standard

Rating: R (for sexuality and nudity)

Predators

(20th Century Fox) Adrian Brody, Alice Braga, Topher Grace, Laurence Fishburne. Producer Robert Rodriguez takes this sci-fi franchise to a whole new level as he takes some of the most vicious killers on Planet Earth and deposits them on an alien game preserve, there to be hunted down by the most vicious hunter in the universe – the predators. How will they survive and even if they do, how will they get back home?

See the trailer, featurettes and clips here.

For more on the movie this is the website.

Release formats: Standard

Rating: R (for strong creature violence and gore, and pervasive language)

Four-Warned: July 2010


July 2010

Every month I’m going to look at every movie on the release schedule and try to assign them a numerical value corresponding to how anxious I am to see it. The lower the number, the more I want to see it. A one means I would walk through hell and high water to see it; a four means there’s no interest whatsoever. The numbers are not arrived at scientifically but they aren’t arbitrary either.
The numbers aren’t a reflection of the artistic merit of any of these films, but merely a reflection of my willingness to go to a movie theater and see it. The top four scores will be gathered as a means of reflecting the movies I’m anticipating the most; you may use that as a guide or not.
Each entry is broken down as follows:

NAME OF FILM (Studio) Genre A brief description of the plot. Release plans: Wide = Everywhere, Limited = In selected markets. RATING A brief explanation
Keep in mind that release dates are extremely subject to change, even at this late date.

FOUR TO SEE


1. INCEPTION (1.0)
2. SALT (1.9)
3. DESPICABLE ME (2.1)
4. PREDATORS (2.2)

FOUR TO SEEK OUT (FILMS NOT IN WIDE RELEASE)


1. WINNEBAGO MAN (2.1)
2. THE WILD HUNT (2.4)
3. THE GIRL WHO PLAYED WITH FIRE (2.5)
TIE. THE KIDS ARE ALL RIGHT (2.5)

RATING SYSTEM: 1) Must-see, 2) Should-see, 3) Perhaps-see, 4) Don’t-see

JULY 2, 2010

THE GIRL WHO PLAYED WITH FIRE (Music Box) Genre: Swedish Thriller. A magazine publisher finds himself in a dangerous investigation of sex trafficking and abuse. Release Strategy: New York only. RATING: 2.5 The sequel to the highly regarded The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo.
GREAT DIRECTORS (Paladin) Genre: Documentary. Conversations with ten acclaimed and highly individualistic film directors from around the world. Release Strategy: New York (Opening in Los Angeles July 9). RATING: 3.5 Nice idea, but I’m not sure all of the directors on the list could be called “great”.
THE LAST AIRBENDER
(Paramount) Genre: Fantasy. A young boy with the ability to control the four elements must defend his people against an aggressive invasion by the Fire Nation. Release Strategy: Wide (Standard, 3D). RATING: 2.6 Director M. Night Shyamalan has been on a cold streak lately and I’m not sure this live action version of a Nickelodeon cartoon is the way to break it.

JULY 8, 2010

GREASE SING-A-LONG (Paramount) Genre: Musical. A classic musical gets re-released with restored prints and song lyrics. Release Strategy: Limited. RATING: 4.0 The only thing worse than Karaoke or American Idol would be going to a theater full of people singing along to Grease…pass.

JULY 9, 2010

DESPICABLE ME (Universal) Genre: Animated Feature. The world’s greatest criminal mastermind meets his match in three little girls who think he’s their dad. Release Strategy: Wide. RATING: 2.1 Universal is pushing this one hard, and given Steve Carell is voicing the mastermind and the trailers look good, this could be a massive hit.
THE KIDS ARE ALL RIGHT
 (Focus) Genre: Comedy. The two teenaged kids of lesbian parents are determined to find their biological dad, who becomes a part of the family much to the horror of the moms. Release Strategy: Limited. RATING: 2.5 A terrific cast, and a nifty premise redefining what a family is in the 21st century.
PREDATORS
(20th Century Fox) Genre: Sci-Fi Action. A group of human predators are transported to an alien planet to be used as prey for the greatest predators in the universe. Release Strategy: Wide. RATING: 2.2 Does this franchise really need to be rebooted? Since its Robert (Sin City) Rodriguez, I’m willing to give it the benefit of the doubt.
[REC] 2
(Magnet) Genre: Horror. An apartment building where a disease has rendered its residents into unthinking bestial cannibals, a government team investigates to find out a terrifying secret. Release Strategy: Limited. RATING: 2.8 The first one was the basis of the American horror film Quarantine; this one sounds even better.
WINNEBAGO MAN
(Kino International) Genre: Documentary. The story of a Winnebago salesman, whose commercial outtakes became an Internet sensation. Release Strategy: Limited. RATING: 2.1 Jack Rebney is one of those people who is interesting enough to deserve his own documentary.

JULY 14, 2010

THE SORCERER’S APPRENTICE (Disney) Genre: Fantasy. A sorcerer and his new apprentice are swept into an ancient war between good and evil. Release Strategy: Wide. RATING: 2.4 The jury’s still out on whether this is going to have blockbuster appeal.

JULY 16, 2010

INCEPTION (Warner Brothers) Genre: Science Fiction. A man who specializes in stealing secrets from the dreams of others looks to get out of the racket after one last big score. Release Strategy: Wide (Standard, IMAX). RATING: 1.0 Christopher Nolan directing Leo di Caprio? I’d be in even if it was a remake of High School Musical!
KISSES
(Oscilloscope) Genre: Family Drama. A couple of runaways try to survive on the streets of Dublin. Release Strategy: Limited. RATING: 3.5 The trailer looks gritty and unsentimental; could be a big winner.
THE WILD HUNT
(Hannover House) Genre: Indie Drama. A young man follows his girlfriend into a medieval re-enactment game that quickly gets out of hand. Release Strategy: Limited. RATING: 2.4 Although the geek quotient is surprisingly low considering the subject, the trailer looked pretty intriguing.

JULY 23, 2010

THE CONCERT (Weinstein) Genre: Foreign Comedy. A disgraced ex-orchestra conductor intercepts an invitation meant for his old orchestra and sets out to make a triumphant return to the music scene with an orchestra of his own. Release Strategy: New York/Los Angeles (expanding August 6). RATING: 2.9 A good but underrated cast might make this a sleeper on the indie scene.
COUNTDOWN TO ZERO (Magnolia) Genre: Documentary. With the fall of the Soviet Union, it seemed as if the nuclear threat had passed; this film indicates it hasn’t. Release Strategy: Limited. RATING: 2.7 A chilling look at nuclear weapons in the 21st century.
FAREWELL
(NeoClassics) Genre: Drama. A KGB agent in the 1980s passes secrets to the French ambassador that may well topple the Soviet Empire. Release Strategy: Limited. RATING: 3.1 I don’t know a whole lot about this movie but it sounds interesting.
LIFE DURING WARTIME
(IFC) Genre: Indie Ensemble Dramedy. The specter of war affects a family in unexpected ways. Release Strategy: Limited. RATING: 3.8 I’ve never been able to connect with director Todd Solondz but he is an indie icon.
RAMONA AND BEEZUS
(20th Century Fox) Genre: Family. An irrepressible moppet irritates her older sister, but they both must unite to save their family home. Release Strategy: Wide. RATING: 3.9 Based on a popular series of children’s books.
SALT
(Columbia) Genre: Action Thriller. A CIA agent is figured as a double agent by a Russian defector and now must discover who’s setting her up. Release Strategy: Wide. RATING: 1.9 This could be Angelina Jolie’s best action film since Mr. and Mrs. Smith.
VALHALLA RISING (IFC) Genre: Adventure. A mute warrior escapes captivity and joins a Viking crew who then gets massacred by a mysterious force. Release Strategy: Limited. RATING: 2.7 The trailer makes this look intensely gory and extremely exciting.

JULY 25, 2010

O APOSTOLO 3D (Artefacto) Genre: Animated Feature. A Spanish village labors under a 600-year-old curse. Release Strategy: Limited (3D). RATING: 3.3 iMDB says next to nothing about this, and their American distributor is unknown but Coming Soon lists it so here it is.

JULY 30, 2010


CATS AND DOGS: THE REVENGE OF KITTY GALORE (Warner Brothers) Genre: Family. Age-old enemies must learn to work together against a common enemy to save their humans. Release Strategy: Wide (Standard, 3D). RATING: 3.5 The first movie was cute but was anybody really waiting to see the sequel after nine years?
CHARLIE ST. CLOUD (Universal) Genre: Drama. A young man with a bright future must re-adjust after a tragic accident changes everything. Release Strategy: Wide. RATING: 3.2 Even though Da Queen is not especially fond of Zac Efron, she loves tearjerkers so we’ll probably see it.
DINNER FOR SCHMUCKS (Paramount) Genre: Comedy. An ambitious man’s career hinges on finding the biggest loser to his boss’s dinner party. Release Strategy: Wide. RATING: 3.1 Having seen the trailer, the jury’s still out on this one.
THE DRY LAND (Freestyle Releasing) Genre: Indie Drama. A veteran of the Iraqi conflict returns home to West Texas and tries to adjust to civilian life. Release Strategy: Limited. RATING: 2.9 Could well be the Best Years of Our Lives of our generation.
THE EXTRA MAN (Magnolia) Genre: Romantic Comedy. A young man leaves a rarefied prep school environment for the eccentricities of the Big Apple. Release Strategy: Limited. RATING: 2.7 Kevin Kline automatically elevates any movie he’s in by a lot.
GET LOW (Sony Classics) Genre: Dark Comedy. A reclusive hermit plans his own funeral, which he plans to celebrate while he’s still alive – an occasion he plans to reveal a long kept secret. Release Strategy: Limited. RATING: 2.9 The trailer looked amazing; cast includes Robert Duvall and Sissy Spacek.
HUGH HEFNER: PLAYBOY, ACTIVIST AND REBEL (Phase 4) Genre: Documentary. The life and times of a man who didn’t just start the sexual revolution; he also tirelessly advocated for racial equality, social justice and human rights. Release Strategy: Limited. RATING: 3.3 Hef is one of my heroes and it’s about time he got recognized for his other contributions to American culture.
TWELVE (Hannover House) Genre: Gritty Urban Drama. A drug dealer on the decadent Upper East Side sees his life turned upside down when his cousin is arrested for murder. Release Strategy: Limited. RATING: 3.7 An impressive cast but the trailer held no magic for me.

SCHEDULED TO BE REVIEWED HERE AS NEW RELEASES
The Last Airbender, Despicable Me, Predators, Inception, The Sorcerer’s Apprentice, Salt, Charlie St. Cloud