Hugh Jackman contemplates something truly awful.

Hugh Jackman contemplates something truly awful.

(2013) Thriller (Warner Brothers) Hugh Jackman, Jake Gyllenhaal, Viola Davis, Maria Bello, Terrence Howard, Melissa Leo, Paul Dano, Dylan Minnette, Zoe Soul, Erin Gerasimovich, Kyla Drew Simmons, Wayne Duvall, Len Cariou, David Dastmalchian, Brad James, Anthony Reynolds, Robert C. Treveiler, Sandra Ellis Lafferty, Todd Truley, Brian Daye, Jeff Pope, Victoria Staley, Alisa Harris. Directed by Denis Villeneuve

It is ingrained in us as men that our jobs are simple – to fix things that are broken, and to take care of our family. Our image of ourselves as men takes a hit when we fail at either one of those tasks. However, if someone in our family is taken, how far will we go to get them back?

Keller Dover (Jackman) is a blue collar man living in a Pennsylvania suburban neighborhood. Like most blue collar workers, money is tight but he takes comfort in that he can still afford to take his son Ralph (Minnette) hunting and take pride in his son’s first kill shot. When he gets home from the cold woods with his son, his lovely wife Grace (Bello) and cute-as-a-button young daughter Anna (Gerasimovich) are waiting.

He also has great friends – Franklin Birch (Howard) and his wife Nancy (Davis) who live just a few blocks away. Friends close enough to be virtually family, in fact – they spend Thanksgiving day together. Anna and the Birch’s youngest daughter Joy (Simmons) are thick as thieves and Ralph and the older Birch daughter Eliza (Soul) are pretty tight as well.

Joy and Anna go on a toy run to the Dover house but when they don’t return, concern sets in. When searches around the neighborhood yield no clue of their whereabouts, concern turns to fear. When it is discovered that the two girls were seen playing near a dilapidated RV in which someone was clearly inside, fear turns to panic.

Police Detective Loki (Gyllenhaal) is on the case and he has never not solved a case he’s been given. The RV is spotted near the a service station and Loki finds the driver, young Alex Jones (Dano). He turns out to be mentally challenged and when a search of the RV turns up no evidence that the girls were ever inside it, Alex is released.

But that’s not good enough for the enraged Keller. When he confronts Alex at the police station, he is certain that the young man muttered “They only cried when I left them.” He is certain that Alex knows where the girls are so when the opportunity arises, he kidnaps young Alex from his Aunt Holly’s (Leo) house and takes him to a run-down apartment complex that Keller is renovating and tries to beat the answers out of him.

Grace has essentially fallen apart and is in a drug-induced haze, pretty much unaware of anything but her missing daughter. Franklin and Nancy are fully aware of what Keller is up to but refuse to act; if this is what it takes to get their daughter back, so be it. They won’t stop Keller despite their misgivings about his actions but they won’t aid him either.

In the meantime Detective Loki is getting nowhere despite some promising leads – including a drunken priest (Cariou) with a surprising secret in the church basement and a hooded stalker (Dastmalchian) who may or may not be involved with the kidnapping. In the meantime time is ticking away on the fate of the girls.

Villeneuve has previously directed the excellent Incendies and shows a real flair for the thriller genre. He utilizes cinematographer Roger Deakins – one of the best in the world – to create a grey and colorless environment, growing increasingly more so the longer the girls are away. The children bring color and life; when they are gone there is a growing despair.

Jackman, who was Oscar-nominated for Les Miserables surpasses even that performance here. He is a loving father but one with hints of paranoia even before the kidnappings. He follows a philosophy of being prepared for the worst but nothing could have possibly prepared him for this. As his desperation grows, so does his veneer of civilization begin to crumble. He is so sure that Alex knows something that he is unwilling to even entertain the suggestion that he may be innocent; he knows in his gut that Alex knows where the girls are and he’ll get that information out of him no matter what it takes and folks, it isn’t pretty. Some of the torture scenes are decidedly uncomfortable.

Gyllenhaal has a bit of a cipher on his hands. His Detective Loki is aptly named; not necessarily for the Norse trickster God but for the sound – low key, and the Detective is decidedly that. His people skills aren’t all that well-developed; he answers questions from the distraught parents with the same word-for-word phrase “I hear what you’re saying. We haven’t ruled anything out yet. We’ll certainly look into it” but there is nothing genuine behind it. Loki bears some odd tattoos and is far from perfect; when shadowing Keller whose actions have become suspicious Loki is easily spotted, for example.

The denouement has some unexpected twists to it which is a good thing, although there are some huge holes in logic – for example (SPOILER AHEAD) DNA is not found in a place where it later turns out the girls HAD been; even had it been wiped clean (and it doesn’t appear to have been), there would have been traces. Also, apparently, police cars in Pennsylvania have no sirens or radios.

Still, this is a gripping thriller that will make any parent who sees it twist inwardly as they watch their worst nightmare unfold onscreen. The ensemble cast is uniformly superb and Dano, the lone non-Oscar nominee among them, may well earn one for his work here. While I thought the movie was a bit long at two and a half hours, it still doesn’t feel like any time was wasted. This is one of the better movies to come out in wide release in recent months and is worth seeing just for Jackman’s performance alone.

REASONS TO GO: Wrenching and emotionally draining. Solid, realistic performances throughout.

REASONS TO STAY: Almost too hard to watch in places. A few lapses in logic. Runs a bit long.

FAMILY VALUES:  There’s some extremely disturbing violence with depictions of torture and child endangerment, as well as foul language throughout.

TRIVIAL PURSUIT: The movie has been in development for nearly a decade, with Bryan Singer and Antoine Fuqua (among others) both attached at various times to direct and Mark Wahlberg and Leonardo di Caprio both attached at other times to star. Jackman was attached when Fuqua was set to direct but both dropped out; Jackman came back on board when Villeneuve was brought in to direct.

CRITICAL MASS: As of 9/28/13: Rotten Tomatoes: 79% positive reviews. Metacritic: 73/100.

COMPARISON SHOPPING: Silence of the Lambs


NEXT: Mr. Nice


New Releases for the Week of September 20, 2013



(Warner Brothers) Hugh Jackman, Jake Gyllenhaal, Maria Bello, Terrance Howard, Viola Davis, Melissa Leo, Paul Dano, Len Cariou. Directed by Denis Villeneuve

A desperate father races against time after his daughter and her young friend have disappeared. The only lead the police have is a dilapidated RV that was parked on the street at the time of the disappearances. The driver, a mentally challenged young man, has been released for lack of evidence. As time ticks away with each moment bringing a greater chance that the children will be dead, how far will he go to find his little girl – and what price will he pay?

See the trailer and a promo here.

For more on the movie this is the website.

Release formats: Standard

Genre: Drama

Rating: R (for disturbing violent content including torture, and language throughout)

Battle of the Year

(Screen Gems) Josh Holloway, Laz Alonso, Josh Peck, Caity Lotz.  A hip hop mogul, ticked off that the Hip Hop Dance World Championship has gone to countries other than the United State for 15 years, decides to assemble a dream team to bring the trophy back home – and a washed up former championship basketball coach to lead them there.

See the trailer and clips here.

For more on the movie this is the website.

Release formats: Standard, 3D

Genre: Urban Dance

Rating: PG-13 (for some suggestive content and innuendo)

Generation Iron

(American Media/Vladar) Arnold Schwarzenegger, Mickey Rourke (narrator), Lou Ferrigno, Michael Jai White. As the prestigious Mr. Olympia competition nears, renowned bodybuilders from around the world prepare for one of the most coveted titles in all of bodybuilding. As the film focuses on seven top up and coming young stars, legends and admirers of the sport weigh in.

See the trailer here.

For more on the movie this is the website.

Release formats: Standard

Genre: Documentary

Rating: PG-13 (for thematic material and brief strong language) 

Grand Masti

(Maruti International) Ritesh Deshmukh, Vivek Oberoi, Aftab Shivdasani, Maryam Zakaria . A sequel to the huge hit sex comedy Masti finds the three sex-crazed men of that film now married to beautiful sexy wives. Perfect life right? Wrong! Their wives are too busy with their other obligations to give the men the sex they crave. They’re going crazy – until the opportunity to attend a college class reunion gives them the chance to sow their wild oats with willing co-eds. No, this isn’t a 70s porn film.

See the trailer here.

For more on the movie this is the website.

Release formats: Standard

Genre: Bollywood

Rating: NR

Phata Poster Nikla Hero

(Tips) Shahid Kapoor, Ileana, Katrina Kaif, Zakir Hussein. The latest from director Rajkumar Santoshi is the usual meld of high energy, low comedy and spectacular musical numbers and dance.

See the trailer here.

For more on the movie this is the website.

Release formats: Standard

Genre: Bollywood

Rating: NR

Thanks for Sharing

(Roadside Attractions) Mark Ruffalo, Tim Robbins, Gwyneth Paltrow, Joely Richardson. Three people afflicted with sex addiction struggle to face life together after rehabilitation. Romantic involvements and interpersonal relationships become battlegrounds as the human need for companionship and love is at war with their obsessive need for sexual gratification.

See the trailer here.

For more on the movie this is the website.

Release formats: Standard

Genre: Romantic Comedy

Rating: R (for language and some strong sexual content)

The Wizard of Oz IMAX 3D

(MGM) Judy Garland, Ray Bolger, Jack Haley, Bert Lahr. We all know the story. We’ve all seen the movie. Now you can see it like it’s never been shown before – in full-on IMAX 3D. I’m usually not too encouraging of my readers to spend their hard-earned dollars on blatant cash grabs, but this one might be the rare exception. Who doesn’t want to see a Flying Monkey in 3D on the IMAX screen?

See the trailer, promos, clips and stream the full movie at here.

For more on the movie this is the website.

Release formats: IMAX 3D

Genre: Fantasy

Rating: PG (for some scary moments)

Four-Warned: September 2013


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 comment

Keep in mind that release dates are extremely subject to change, even at this late date.

1. RIDDICK (1.1)
2. PRISONERS (1.6)
3. RUSH (1.7)

1. SALINGER (1.0)
4. GOOD OL’ FREDA (1.4)

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


LA MAISON DE LA RADIO (Kino Lorber) Genre: Documentary. A look inside the inner workings of Radio France, the national radio of that country. Release Strategy: Limited. RATING: 3.1 Looks pretty quirky as you would expect for a movie like this.


99% – THE OCCUPY WALL STREET COLLABORATIVE FILM (Participant) Genre: Documentary. The story of the left-leaning activists who captured the attention of the public in 2011 and what’s next for their movement. Release Strategy: Limited. RATING: 2.4 Could be an uplifting film that inspires activism or propaganda that turns people off.
A TEACHER (Oscilloscope Laboratories) Genre: Drama. A Texas high school teacher embarks on an affair with one of her students, heedless to the cost to her career and her lover. Release Strategy: Limited. RATING: 1.8 Despite the prurient elements is one of those movies that you absolutely can’t look away from for even a second.
ADORE (Exclusive Media) Genre: Drama. Two lifelong friends explore the limits of sensuality and love – with each other’s adult sons. Release Strategy: Limited. RATING: 2.9 Scandalous and perhaps a little bit wrong but with actresses like Robin Wright and Naomi Watts in the lead roles it’s oh so right.
BOUNTY KILLER (ARC Entertainment) Genre: Action. Assassins target greedy corporate types who have laid waste to the Earth. Release Strategy: Limited. RATING: 2.6 Elements of comedy, sci-fi, social commentary and ’70s B-Movie/’80s Direct-to-Video action classics.
THE BUTCHER BOYS (Phase 4) Genre: Horror. A birthday celebration at an upscale restaurant leads to a shocking revelation to a group of friends of the existence of cannibals in the inner city. Release Strategy: Limited. RATING: 3.3 Meh. Touts that it’s from the creator of Texas Chainsaw Massacre but seems to be a direct rip-off of it.
GOOD OL’ FREDA (Magnolia) Genre: Documentary. The story of the Beatles is told through the eyes of their long-time secretary. Release Strategy: New York City (opens in Los Angeles September 13). RATING: 1.4 Looks completely charming and a must-see for any Beatles fan.
HELL BABY (Millennium) Genre: Horror Comedy. An expectant couple that move into a New Orleans fixer-upper require the Vatican’s elite exorcism team to fix up a possession of their unborn child. Release Strategy: Limited. RATING: 3.3 Looks a little better than most horror spoofs but that isn’t saying much.
I AM BREATHING (Self-Distributed) Genre: Documentary. Stricken with ALS (Lou Gehrig’s Disease), a young British father determines to chronicle his illness and decline for his infant son. Release Strategy: New York City only. RATING: 1.3 Awesome, affecting, funny – this should be on everyone’s must-see list.
MY FATHER AND THE MAN IN BLACK (New Chapter) Genre: Documentary. Correspondence between Johnny Cash and his long-time manager Saul Holiff reveals insights into the country legend’s life. Release Strategy: New York City/Los Angeles. RATING: 2.8 Holiff’s son is the filmmaker and as a son he is looking for answers about his father; not bad premise for a film.
OUT OF THE CLEAR BLUE SKY (AREA23A) Genre: Documentary. Cantor Fitzgerald had the largest single loss of life of any entity during 9-11; how their survivors coped from that terrible loss is chronicled here. Release Strategy: Limited. RATING: 2.7 Not sure about this one; probably very emotional but wondering if there’s more to it than that.
POPULAIRE (Weinstein) Genre: Comedy. A housewife fleeing a life of drudgery in 1958 finds she has a special talent – she can type really fast! Release Strategy: Limited. RATING: 2.1 Being a French film there’s also romance involved.
RED OBSESSION (Film Buff) Genre: Documentary. China’s affluent consumer base has developed an obsession for French Bordeaux wines, fueling wide-ranging consequences for the French wine-producing region. Release Strategy: Limited. RATING: 2.2 A fascinating look at the realities of how global marketplaces can have devastating effects on local communities.
RIDDICK (Universal) Genre: Science Fiction. Betrayed and left for dead on a planet with dangerous creatures, Riddick’s only hope for escape lies in the bounty hunters coming to kill him. Release Strategy: Wide (Standard, IMAX). RATING: 1.1 Even the bloated Chronicles of Riddick was entertaining.
SALINGER (Weinstein) Genre: Documentary. The life of reclusive author J.D. Salinger and the effect of hi novel The Catcher in the Rye on society is told through interviews and rare footage. Release Strategy: Limited. RATING: 1.0 I’m calling it right now – this is your winner for Best Documentary at the next Oscars.
SHUDDH DESI ROMANCE (Yash Raj) Genre: Bollywood. An exploration of what comes between physical attraction and permanent commitment. Release Strategy: Limited. RATING: 2.4 One of the only trailers I’ve ever seen that shows an image of a condom.
THINGS NEVER SAID (Ohio Street) Genre: Urban Romance. A woman with a poet’s soul yearns to escape her abusive marriage and perform her works onstage in New York. Release Strategy: Limited. RATING: 3.4 The trouble with doing these sorts of stories is that the poetry can come off as pretentious if it isn’t read from the heart.
TOUCHY FEELY (Magnolia) Genre: Comedy. A massage therapist develops a phobic aversion to contact while her brother develops a healing touch. Release Strategy: Limited. RATING: 2.2 Director Lynn Shelton is quickly becoming one of my favorites; her work is high quality every time out.
THE ULTIMATE LIFE (High Top) Genre: Drama. A wealthy man whose life is unraveling finds meaning in the journal of his grandfather. Release Strategy: Limited. RATING: 3.8 The sequel to the faith-based film The Ultimate Gift.
WINNIE MANDELA (RLJ/Image) Genre: Biographical Drama. The story of the former First Lady of South Africa whose courage and strength continues to be an inspiration. Release Strategy: Limited. RATING: 1.9 Jennifer Hudson knocks this one out of the park.

SEPTEMBER 11, 2013

MADEMOISELLE C (Cohen Media Group) Genre: Documentary. Carine Roitfeld, the longtime editor of the French Vogue magazine, oversees the start of her own magazine. Release Strategy: Limited. RATING: 3.9 It’s about fashion? Never mind.

SEPTEMBER 13, 2013

AND WHILE WE WERE HERE (Well Go USA) Genre: Romance. A woman accompanying her husband on a business trip to Amalfi loses herself in her grandmother’s diary…and an affair with a younger man. Release Strategy: Limited. RATING: 2.8 Nice setting but the trailer didn’t reveal any kind of spark…I could be wrong though.
BLUE CAPRICE (Sundance Selects) Genre: Thriller. A fictionalized account of the Beltway Sniper. Release Strategy: Limited. RATING: 2.2 Looks genuinely creepy; hard to believe from the trailer that this isn’t from a veteran director.
THE FAMILY (Relativity) Genre: Comedy. An ex-mobster who testified against his own has a hard time adjusting to life in Witness Protection – as does his family. Release Strategy: Wide. RATING: 2.3 Great cast – Michelle Pfeiffer, Tommy Lee Jones, De Niro – and set in France, too.
GMO OMG (Submarine Deluxe) Genre: Documentary. The controversial subject of lab-assisted genetic modification of food is examined. Release Strategy: Limited. RATING: 1.6 I’m guessing Monsanto isn’t going to look too good in this one.
HARRY DEAN STANTON: PARTLY FICTION (Adopt) Genre: Documentary. A portrait of the actor through interviews, images and his own renditions of American folk songs. Release Strategy: Limited. RATING: 2.4 He seems to be a very interesting guy; I’m curious to see how this turns out.
HERB & DOROTHY 50X50 (Fine Line) Genre: Documentary. The last chapter in the story of Herb and Dorothy Vogel and their remarkable art collection. Release Strategy: Limited. RATING: 2.8 Those who love art and its preservation will be interested in this.
INFORMANT (Music Box) Genre: Documentary. Brandon Darby, once a darling of the left, gave information to the FBI that convicted some of his comrades and became a hero of the Tea Party.. Release Strategy: Limited. RATING: 2.4 An intriguing documentary from this year’s Florida Film Festival; read my review here.
INSIDIOUS CHAPTER 2 (FilmDistrict) Genre: Supernatural Horror. After events of the first chapter, the Lambert family find that the sinister supernatural forces that plagued them aren’t quite done with them yet. Release Strategy: Wide. RATING: 1.7 The first Insidious was a well-crafted horror film that was good enough to make me want more.
JAYNE MANSFIELD’S CAR (Anchor Bay) Genre: Comedy. Three generations of fathers and sons in the Deep South deal with secrets, changes, love, life and the Vietnam War in their own unique ways. Release Strategy: Limited. RATING: 2.2 Amazing cast, directed by, written by and starring Billy Bob Thornton – as close to a must-see as you’re going to get.
MOTHER OF GEORGE (Oscilloscope Laboratories) Genre: Drama. The inability of a Brooklyn couple of Nigerian descent to conceive a child leads to a desperate decision that may tear them apart. Release Strategy: Limited. RATING: 1.2 A heart-wrenching look at African culture trying to adjust to American culture.
SAMPLE THIS (GoDigital) Genre: Documentary. The story of the Incredible Bongo Band who in the 1970s had a career that went nowhere – until a DJ used their percussion beats, playing them back to back and laying the groundwork for modern hip-hop. Release Strategy: Limited. RATING: 4.0 Not a musical style I’m into so I doubt I’ll be seeing this one.
WADJDA (Sony Classics) Genre: Drama. A lion-hearted Saudi girl challenges social conventions by attempting to buy a bicycle of her own. Release Strategy: New York City/Los Angeles. RATING: 1.4 Looks like a really special film.

SEPTEMBER 18, 2013

NEWLYWEEDS (Phase 4) Genre: Dramedy. A hip young Bed-Stuy couple share a voracious appetite for weed. Release Strategy: Limited. RATING: 3.9 Nothing really struck me here as particularly insightful.

SEPTEMBER 20, 2013

A SINGLE SHOT (Tribeca) Genre: Drama. When a hunter accidentally shoots a woman and finds a stash of cash near her body, he quickly becomes the hunted when he discovers that the money belonged to a vicious criminal. Release Strategy: Limited. RATING: 2.1 Looks taut and engaging and with Sam Rockwell in the lead role, color me intrigued.
AFTER TILLER (Oscilloscope Laboratories) Genre: Documentary. After the murder of Dr. George Tiller, only four doctors in America now openly perform third trimester abortions; this is the story of four doctors living with a target on their backs. Release Strategy: Limited. RATING: 1.8 It’s a highly volatile, emotional subject but one which deserves proper examination – not just sloganeering and blind justification.
BATTLE OF THE YEAR 3D (Screen Gems) Genre: Urban Dance. A group of determined young people attempt to take the International Hip Hop Dancing crown back to the United States. Release Strategy: Wide (3D). RATING: 4.0 I couldn’t be any less interested.
C.O.G. (Screen Media) Genre: Dramedy. A cocky young Ivy Leaguer goes to Oregon to pick apples and find himself. Release Strategy: Limited. RATING: 2.4 Based on a short story by David Sedaris, one of the best writers I know of.
THE COLONY (RLJ) Genre: Science Fiction. After Earth is swallowed up by a new ice age, Colony Seven battles plagues, shortages and internal conflict but when they lose contact with the only other remaining human settlement they will battle something else entirely Release Strategy: Limited. RATING: 2.1 Reminds me a little bit of Alien.
ENOUGH SAID (Fox Searchlight) Genre: Comedy. A woman’s developing relationship with a new beau is threatened by the constant bad-mouthing by her best friend of her ex-husband. Release Strategy: Limited. RATING: 1.9 From director Nicole Holofcener (one of my faves) and features one of James Gandolfini’s last performances.
THE FACE OF LOVE (IFC) Genre: Romance. Mourning the love of her life five years later, a woman falls in love with her dead lover’s exact double. Release Strategy: New York City/Los Angeles. RATING: 2.5 Sounds intriguing but couldn’t locate a trailer for it.
GENERATION IRON (Vladar) Genre: Documentary. A new generation of bodybuilders compete for the prestigious Mr. Olympia title. Release Strategy: Limited. RATING: 3.9 Narrated by Mickey Rourke with interviews with (among others) Arnold Schwarzenegger and Lou Ferrigno.
HAUTE CUISINE (Weinstein) Genre Biographical Drama. When a renowned chef is named the personal chef of the French President, she discovers that politics can create minefields everywhere – even in the kitchen. Release Strategy: Limited. RATING: 1.8 Seeing the trailer made me suddenly hungry for a nice French meal.
IP MAN: THE FINAL FIGHT (Well Go USA) Genre: Martial Arts. The legendary martial artist comes out of retirement to fight one last time against the Triads in post-war Hong Kong. Release Strategy: Los Angeles only. RATING: 2.1 This is the fourth film about Ip Man to receive US release in the last three years.
JERUSALEM (National Geographic) Genre: Documentary. A city that is sacred to three major world religions and has seen more than its share of bloodshed. Release Strategy: Wide (IMAX). RATING: 1.9 One of the most fascinating places on Earth, can’t wait to see this on the giant screen.
MY LUCKY STAR (China Lion) Genre: Romantic Comedy. Jet-setting Sophie embarks on a romantic adventure of intrigue and mistaken identity. Release Strategy: Limited. RATING: 2.6 Looks a little bit silly but that’s not necessarily a bad thing.
PARKLAND (Exclusive) Genre: True Life Drama. An ordinary day at Parkland Hospital on November 22, 1963 becomes anything but. Release Strategy: Limited. RATING: 1.9 A different perspective on the JFK assassination.
PLUS ONE (IFC Midnight) Genre: Supernatural Thriller. Three friends at a club looking for love/sex encounter an unexplainable phenomenon. Release Strategy: Limited. RATING: 2.2 Looks very odd and very unique – I’m intrigued about this one.
PRISONERS (Warner Brothers) Genre: Thriller. The fathers of two missing children resort to extreme lengths to get their girls back. Release Strategy: Wide. RATING: 1.6 Up-and-coming director Denis Villeneuve and Hugh Jackman, Viola Davis, Jake Gyllenhaal and Terrence Howard make this a movie I can’t wait to see.
RUSH (Universal) Genre: Biographical Drama. The rivalry between Formula One racers James Hunt and Niki Lauda captivates the racing world. Release Strategy: New York City/Los Angeles (opening wide September 27). RATING: 1.7 Director Ron Howard looks like he’s come up with another winner.
THE SHORT GAME (Phase 4/Goldwyn) Genre: Documentary. The best 7-year-old golfers in the world gather at the Pinehurst Country Club in North Carolina to see who the next superstars in golf are going to be. Release Strategy: Limited. RATING: 4.0 Golf does nothing for me and 7-year-old golfers does even less.
THANKS FOR SHARING (Roadside Attractions) Genre: Dramedy. A group of friends in recovery for sex addiction learn to cope with life together. Release Strategy: Limited. RATING: 1.6 A very nice cast (Mark Ruffalo, Gwynneth Paltrow, Tim Robbins, Josh Gad) and looks like it has a whole lot of heart.
THE WIZARD OF OZ IMAX 3D (MGM) Genre: Family. The family classic gets the upcharge treatment. Release Strategy: Wide (IMAX 3D). RATING: 3.5 I’m sure it looks amazing – but is it really worth the upcharge to see it when it is so readily available without a charge?

SEPTEMBER 27, 2013

AS I LAY DYING (Millennium) Genre: Action. Transporting the body of their mother to her home town to burial proves to be much more challenging as the elements conspire against them . Release Strategy: Limited. RATING: 2.4 Directed by and starring James Franco this looks pretty interesting.
BAGGAGE CLAIM (20th Century Fox) Genre: Romantic Comedy. A flight attendant uses her connections to try and get engaged before her younger sister’s wedding 30 days away. Release Strategy: Wide. RATING: 2.9 Been done elsewhere (i.e. What’s Your Number) and it wasn’t much good then.
CLOUDY WITH A CHANCE OF MEATBALLS 2 (Columbia) Genre: Animated Feature. Flint Lockwood must return to Swallow Falls to contain the out of control invention that has evolved food into living – and dangerous – creatures. Release Strategy: Wide (Standard, 3D). RATING: 2.9 The first Cloudy wasn’t too bad but I’m not so sure about this one.
DON JON (Relativity) Genre: Romance. A working class ladies man becomes smitten with a woman obsessed with Hollywood romances – but his porn addiction might just put a kibosh on the relationship before it starts. Release Strategy: Wide. RATING: 1.8 Joseph Gordon-Levitt’s directing debut and a pretty keen starring role for him.
METALLICA THROUGH THE NEVER (Picturehouse) Genre: Concert Film/Fantasy. A roadie is sent on a mission by Metal Gods Metallica to rescue a concert performance which turns out to be more fantastic than he anticipated. Release Strategy: Wide (IMAX 3D; opening in Standard/3D on October 4). RATING: 3.0 An intriguing genre mash-up but will it appeal beyond Metallica’s fan base?
MORNING (Anchor Bay) Genre: Drama. The tragic death of their son puts a married couple into a maelstrom of grief which threatens to destroy them as a couple and as individuals. Release Strategy: Limited. RATING: 1.7 Looks awfully powerful; veteran character actor Leland Orser directs and stars.
MUSCLE SHOALS (Magnolia) Genre: Musical Documentary. The FAME and Muscle Shoals studios, both on the banks of the Tennessee River in Alabama, defied the odds to become major influences on popular music. Release Strategy: New York City/Los Angeles. RATING: 3.7 The trailer really didn’t particularly move me to want to see this.
THE SECRET LIVES OF DORKS (Gravitas Ventures) Genre: Comedy. A popular cheerleader, hoping to deflect the attention of a lovesick socially awkward comic book geek, tries to hook him up with a female dork – leading to complete catastrophe. Release Strategy: Limited. RATING: 2.9 Revenge of the Nerds for the 21st century only not as funny.
THERESE (LD Entertainment) Genre: Period Romance. In mid-19th Century France, a sexually repressed wife embarks on an extramarital affair which leads to tragic consequences. Release Strategy: Limited. RATING: 2.5 No trailer available for this one, the second version of the Emile Zola novel Therese Raquin this year – this one is an American version starring Elizabeth Olsen (not to be confused with the French film starring Audrey Tatou).

Riddick, The Family, Prisoners, Rush, Cloudy With a Chance of Meatballs 2, Don Jon

Alice in Wonderland (2010)

Alice in Wonderland (2010)

Let it be said that too much time in Hollywood can give you a big head.

(Disney) Johnny Depp, Mia Wasikowska, Helena Bonham Carter, Crispin Glover, Anne Hathaway, Matt Lucas, Alan Rickman (voice), Stephen Fry (voice), Timothy Spall (voice), Michael Gough (voice), Michael Sheen (voice), Christopher Lee (voice). Directed by Tim Burton

The world as we know it is a crazy place. Sometimes we do things for reasons even we can’t fathom. There are times that the craziest people of all are truly the sanest.

Alice Kingsleigh (Wasikowska) is the daughter of a visionary. Her father Charles (Marton Csokas) founded a successful import company on the premise of pushing beyond the boundaries of what is considered reasonable. “I often do six impossible things before breakfast” he tells his adoring daughter, soothing her whenever she has one of her frequent nightmares.

But it’s always the same nightmare, falling down an endless hole into an impossible place with strange creatures. That nightmare continues to occur even when she is a young lady, her father prematurely dead and now her mother determined to see her wed to the impossibly haughty Lord Hamish (Leo Bill). This doesn’t sit well with the plucky and intelligent Alice who can’t see being married to an absolute twit, but at the same time the marriage may be necessary to the survival of her family.

She follows a rabbit racing through the underbrush at the Ascot Manor until she finds a convenient hole to fall in. There she reaches a strange place, a kind of underbrush below the world, where potions can shrink her and little tea cakes can make her grow to gigantic dimensions.

This isn’t the Wonderland that Lewis Carroll told us about. The Red Queen (Carter) has taken over, ruling the land by intimidation. Her Knave (Glover) leads a pack of mechanical-looking soldiers throughout Wonderland to intimidate and wipe out any resistance. Her iron will is enforced by the Jabberwocky (Lee) which is far too powerful for anyone in Wonderland to overcome and the only weapon that is capable of slaying it, the Vorpal Sword, is in the hands of the Red Queen.

Alice believes this is all a dream and despite her many attempts to awaken, remains dreaming. She is taken to the caterpillar Absalom (Rickman) who proclaims that she’s “not hardly” the right Alice that the denizens of Wonderland are awaiting to slay the Jabberwocky. When the Knave attacks along with the terrifying Bandersnatch, she finds her way to the Mad Hatter (Depp), once the haberdasher to the White Queen (Hathaway) but now completely insane and harmless, although he harbors much ill will towards the Red Queen. His little group of followers includes the Cheshire Cat (Fry) – an expert in evaporation, the plucky Dormouse (Barbara Windsor), the nearly-as-mad March Hare (Paul Whitehouse) and the loyal bloodhound Bayard (Spall).

Forces are gathering with the fate of Wonderland itself in the balance as the Frabjuous Day approaches, the day that Alice is fated to slay the Jabberwocky. Is she the right Alice? Or is she merely a plucky girl lost in a strange dream?

Tim Burton has always been one of the most imaginative directors in Hollywood from a visual standpoint with only Terry Gilliam to rival him. With movies like Edward Scissorhands, Beetlejuice and Ed Wood to his credit, he has long been a director whose work is so interesting that he has become a brand name unto himself. Quite frankly, his version of a children’s story that he never particularly connected to as a child will end up ranking as one of the very best works of his illustrious career.

This Wonderland is amazing to look at, with creatures that are both strange and terrifying wandering around the landscape. The characters are mostly grotesques, with the bulbous-headed Red Queen leading the pack looking not unlike a forced perspective illusion.

This is a fabulous cast, and Depp is terrific as the Hatter, lending the character depth that it was never accorded either in the Lewis Carroll book or in the many film and animation versions that follow. His madness isn’t just a joke; it is hard-won by devastating events in his life. As good as Depp is, he doesn’t overwhelm the movie and is content to be a cog in the wheel rather than the straw that stirs the drink. Carter is also clearly having a great time as the Red Queen and screams “Off with their heads!!!” with great gusto.

The story isn’t taken straight from the Alice books that Lewis Carroll wrote but is rather inspired by them. Burton chooses to take a route that ages Alice into young womanhood and while he keeps the Victorian era (which in many ways seems as strange to us as Wonderland itself does) he gives the story a logical flow that makes sense within the confines of the universe created by Carroll, and still works for modern audiences. The writing is absolutely audacious and brilliant.

Some critics have groused about the action sequences in the final act but I find that a bit prissy. Certainly Burton could have come up with something a little more talky or prosaic but I found the action curiously satisfying. It helps wrap things up from a Wonderland standpoint, and gives Alice the necessary courage to finally embrace her own strengths.

Not everyone is going to love this movie as much as I did. Certainly purists are going to grumble at the liberties taken with Carroll’s story and those expecting a live action version of Disney’s animated feature of Alice are going to be extremely disappointed. There are those who won’t like Burton’s vision and may find it too esoteric and too fantastic.

Never mind them. I admire imagination in all its forms and even when I don’t get it, I at least try to give props for the attempt. Here I clearly connected with what Burton was trying to do and I wasn’t the only one. This is a marvelous movie that has only a few minor flaws that keep it from my highest rating possible. I can recommend it without reservation to anyone except those who like their fantasies safe and spoon-fed. Those sorts probably shouldn’t be reading my blog anyway.

REASONS TO GO: Completely imaginative, this is a movie that actually improves on a classic. Great acting, a believable story and impressive visuals make this one of the year’s top movies early on.  

REASONS TO STAY: Wasikowska is at times a little bland as Alice. Purists will shudder at the liberties taken with Carroll’s work.

FAMILY VALUES: There are some mildly disturbing images and the wee small tykes may be a bit frightened by some of the fiercer creatures, but otherwise suitable for everyone.

TRIVIAL PURSUIT: If you look carefully at images of the Mad Hatter, one of his pupils is dilated and the other is not, which implies a serious brain injury.

HOME OR THEATER: This is best served on a big screen in 3D; even better in IMAX if that’s available near you.


TOMORROW: Body of Lies