Red State


What Pastor Abin Cooper REALLY wants to be is Vulcan.

What Pastor Abin Cooper REALLY wants to be is Vulcan.

(2011) Horror (SModcast) Melissa Leo, Kyle Gallner, Michael Angarano, Michael Parks, Ralph Garman, Kerry Bishe, Jennifer Schwalbach, Stephen Root, John Goodman, James Parks, Molly Livingston, Catherine McCord, Alexa Nikolas, Ronnie Connell, Haley Ramm, Nicholas Braun, Cooper Thornton, Kevin Pollak, John Lacy, Anna Gunn, Kaylee DeFer. Directed by Kevin Smith

Life is full of it’s real horrors. Both conservative and liberal alike are outraged and disgusted by the antics of Fred Phelps’ Westboro Baptist Church whose fundamentalist Christian zealotry borders on the batshit crazy. More accurately, is full on over the border and deep in crazy territory. You have to wonder what goes on in a congregation like that.

Travis (Angarano), Billy-Ray (Braun) and Jared (Gallner) are three horny high school buddies who answer a Craigslist ad from an older woman (Leo) who wants to have sex with three guys at once. They drive to her trailer where she serves them some beer before the festivities begin – except the festivities never begin since the beer is drugged and the boys pass out.

When they awaken they are in the church of Pastor Abin Cooper (M. Parks) who makes Fred Phelps look like a Girl Scout. They are treated to one of his fire-breathing sermons of hating sin and hating the sinners, ranting against the evils of homosexuality, adultery and premarital sex. Basically, against anything fun I suppose.

When a gay teen who was similarly entrapped is executed while immobilized and tied to a cross with saran wrap, the three boys realize they are in mortal danger. Travis is being bound to the cross when a deputy rolls up looking for the boys car which had sideswiped the Sheriff’s car while the Sheriff (Root) was parked on the side of the road having sex with his partner. Billy-Ray is able to free himself and manages to escape into the armory where he gets into a shoot-out with Caleb (Garman). This attracts attention of the deputy who calls in the shots fired to the Sheriff, who in turn calls in the ATF in the form of Agent Keenan (Goodman).

Soon the compound is surrounded and a standoff of Branch Davidian proportions; the well-armed zealots facing off against the might of a government which wants the situation ended without any surviving witnesses. Horny teenage boys, take note.

This is very much unlike any other Kevin Smith film; while there are humorous elements here it is most definitely not a comedy. This was also distributed in a unique way – for the most part, Smith took the film on tour with Q&A sessions following the screenings. There was also a one-day screening of the film just prior to its VOD and home video releases.

Smith is a well-known fan of genre films and while he doesn’t have the encyclopedic knowledge of B-movies like a Quentin Tarantino I do believe his affection for horror, action and comic book genres is just as passionate. He has tackled religious themes before in Dogma albeit in a much more satirical vein. He also is one of the finest writers in the business in my opinion with dialogue that is second to none in making onscreen characters talk like people you’d run into at the grocery store. Believe me, that’s a lot more difficult than it sounds.

The part of Pastor Abin Cooper was written specifically for Michael Parks and he delivers a blistering performance that will chill you to the bone and stay with you for a long while afterwards. His delivery is so smooth and so gentle that you are almost fooled into buying his message which you come to realize is absolutely whacko.

Goodman is solid as usual as the government stormtrooper who is tasked with bringing a situation that has spiraled wildly out of control back in control and who has no problems with carrying out orders that to you and me might seem immoral. In many ways, Cooper and Keenan are opposite ends of the same coin.

There is plenty of violence here and while I would hesitate to label it strictly as a horror film mainly because the gore and level of terror isn’t in line with, say, a Hostel movie. As thrillers go however, it is on the gruesome side. To my mind the movie winds up being somewhere in the middle – call it throrror. The overall tone is pretty bleak so be aware of that and the body count is high; if you like to play the game of “who’s still standing at the end credits” chances are you’re gonna be wrong. Some main characters barely make the second act and some surprising characters are still around when the dust settles.

There is a lot of things going on here of a topical nature, dealing with religious fanaticism, government overkill and homophobia which makes for entertaining viewing. However, the movie lacks a strong center – Gallner as Jared kind of assumes that role by default but is never really fleshed out enough to get the audience intrigued. Still, it IS Kevin Smith and the guy can write so there is entertainment value here. Hell, ALL of his movies have entertainment value (except for maybe Cop Out) of at least some degree. Still, one wonders what direction he is going to head in next – genial raconteur or all-out revenge film slasher found footage supernatural thriller.

WHY RENT THIS: Terrifying portrayal of religious fanaticism. Very topical.

WHY RENT SOMETHING ELSE: Too tame to be good horror, too bloody to be a thriller.

FAMILY VALUES: The content here is awfully disturbing and violent with plenty of foul language and sexuality. There’s also a bit of nudity.

TRIVIAL PURSUIT: The character of Abin Cooper was named after Abin Sur from the Green Lantern comic book series.

NOTABLE HOME VIDEO EXTRAS: There’s an informative interview with Michael Parks, a Q&A session with Smith from Sundance and a making-of feature which includes the Westboro Baptist Church’s reaction to the film and finally a series of Smith podcasts recorded while the film was shot, in post-production and finally in theaters.

BOX OFFICE PERFORMANCE: $1.1M on a $4M production budget.

COMPARISON SHOPPING: Children of the Corn

FINAL RATING: 6/10

NEXT: Blackfish

Straw Dogs (2011)


 

Straw Dogs

Kate Bosworth wants better roles and she’ll do what she has to to get them!

(2011) Thriller (Screen Gems) James Marsden, Kate Bosworth, Alexander Skarsgard, James Woods, Dominic Purcell, Laz Alonso, Willa Holland, Rhys Coiro, Billy Lush, Walton Goggins, Anson Mount, Drew Powell, Kristen Shaw, Megan Adelle, Jessica Cook. Directed by Rod Lurie

 

There is no doubt that violence pervades American culture. We glorify it through our love of football; we aggressively defend it through our love of guns. We like to think of ourselves as civilized, sure but how civilized are we really? If violence were to come to our homes, would we know when to stop? Is there a point where we cross the line even in defense of those we love?

David Sumner (Marsden) is a Hollywood screenwriter and a Harvard graduate, a combination that you don’t see very often. His wife Amy (Bosworth) is a marginally successful actress who worked on a short-lived TV show that Sumner wrote for. After her father passed away, she is returning home to Blackwater, Mississippi where she grew up to repair and renovate his home with an eye for a possible sale in the future.

Sumner, an intellectual with a friendly but slightly condescending attitude, fits in to the good ol’ boys in Blackwater like a rhino in a flock of sheep. There’s the alcoholic ex-football coach, Tom Heddon (Woods) who fancies himself a latter-day Bear Bryant (down to the houndstooth cap) who has a somewhat slutty 15-year-old daughter Janice (Holland) who has eyes for Jeremy (Purcell), a mentally challenged young man who has had past incidents with young women.

Worse yet is Charlie (Skarsgard), a handsome handyman who once was Amy’s beau. She was a cheerleader at the time, he a football hero who still hangs out with the same bunch he did in high school. The pack of them have seen their lives go downhill since high school, a bitter pill for anyone to swallow but they dull the ache with beer and hunting trips. Charlie gets the friendly David to hire him and his crew to repair the hurricane-damaged barn on the property.

Charlie, you see, still has a bit of a torch for Amy. He also has a bit of a passive-aggressive mean streak with a hate on for David that starts to manifest itself in subtle ways, like showing up for work early enough to wake David, or helping himself to beer uninvited from David’s fridge. As David retaliates in equally passive-aggressive ways, the violence escalates.

It boils to a head when Jeremy precipitates a tragedy and through an unlikely turn of events ends up in David’s home. A maddened crowd gathers with the intent of storming David’s castle. This he cannot allow and the passive aggressive turns to outright aggressive. As the villagers take to assaulting the walls of the fortress, David turns from civilized to savage in the blink of an eye. What will this cost him?

This is a remake of a 1971 Sam Peckinpah film which at the time polarized audiences and critics alike. Starring Dustin Hoffman and Susan George as the couple, the action was in that film located in rural England with Hoffman playing an out-of-shape mathematician. The hunky Marsden is a far different physical type.

That film was notorious for the shocking brutality of its violence which at the time caused critics to wonder if Peckinpah, whose The Wild Bunch two years earlier had made violence into an art form, had gone too far. Today there are those who consider it one of the most brilliant films to come out of the 70s, pushing the anti-hero so prevalent in the era to its limits.

In some ways Peckinpah’s film was ahead of its time. While there is violence here, it isn’t as in your face as it was in the 1971 version. One of the crucial scenes in that film was a rape of the wife by the handyman. During the course of the assault, the Susan George character seems to give up fighting, and may be even enjoying it. This was considered to be misogynistic, even though there are accounts of women reacting in a similar manner in real life. That element is missing here; Amy struggles mightily throughout and in doing so removes a plot point that is crucial to the first film and makes it less ambiguous than the first movie, robbing it of some of its power. I don’t know that Lurie makes a mistake in that regard but it is a major change from the original and I can see fans of that film being outraged.

Marsden has to fill the shoes of Dustin Hoffman, one of the most brilliant actors of all time and fares surprisingly well. He doesn’t even attempt to be the same character; he is far too hunky to be convincing as a meek nebbish as Hoffman’s character was, but he does manage to imbue the character with a kind of intellectual superiority which he can’t help but flaunt.

That leads to a kind of political subtext for the movie, which then becomes a Red State versus Blue State confrontation – the Left Coast liberal who is an *shudder* atheist and an intellectual, whose presence is slightly insulting to the god-fearing, gun-toting football fans whose traditional moral values get a might twisted in an Old Testament style reckoning. Woods, who actually is kind of a Left Coast liberal, plays Heddon as a hotheaded bigot with a short fuse. He’s usually a reliable performer but here he sails way over the top and turns the coach into a character.

I don’t know that this stands up to the original, which was about the savage lurking in all of us, even the most civilized of people. Here this turns into a bit of a revenge fantasy which when you get down to it are kind of a dime a dozen. There are enough elements from Peckinpah’s original to make this worth looking out for in the rental queue but even though the relocation in my mind is perfect location casting, not enough of the changes work out well enough to make this something you’ll want to see more than once.

The sad thing is that the point is lost on a lot of audiences, who critics reported were cheering and clapping at the end. Peckinpah might have been right about the savage in all of us after all.

WHY RENT THIS: Relocation to the American South makes much sense. Marsden does surprisingly well stepping into Hoffman’s shoes. Skarsgard shows some big screen charisma.

WHY RENT SOMETHING ELSE: Far too watered down, removing the shock value. Woods too over the top.

FAMILY VALUES:  The violence can be pretty brutal. There’s a sexual assault, a ton of bad language and some consensual sexuality as well.

TRIVIAL PURSUIT: Lurie is the Israel-born son of internationally syndicated cartoonist Ranan Lurie.

NOTABLE HOME VIDEO EXTRAS: There is a featurette comparing and contrasting this with the 1971 original which in a way attempts to justify the existence of the remake, but Lurie’s commentary also does plenty of that.

BOX OFFICE PERFORMANCE: $10.3M on a $25M production budget; the movie fell short at the box office.

COMPARISON SHOPPING: The Shuttered Room

FINAL RATING: 6/10

NEXT: The Iron Lady

New Releases for the Week of September 23, 2011


Dolphin Tale

DOLPHIN TALE

(Warner Brothers) Harry Connick Jr., Ashley Judd, Kris Kristofferson, Nathan Gamble, Morgan Freeman, Austin Stowell, Cozi Zuehlsdoff. Directed by Charles Martin Smith

The incredible true story of Winter, a dolphin who as a juvenile had her tail caught in a crab trap, forcing it to be amputated. Brought to a Florida aquarium, things looked bleak for the young cetacean until a brilliant orthopedist came up with an idea for a prosthetic tail. While the story here is highly fictionalized, it still stars the real Winter as herself.

See the trailer and featurettes here.

For more on the movie this is the website.

Release formats: Standard, 3D

Genre: True Life Drama Family

Rating: PG (for some mild thematic elements)

Abduction

(Lionsgate) Taylor Lautner, Sigourney Weaver, Alfred Molina, Jason Isaacs. A young man discovers that his parents aren’t really his parents and that government agencies are after him. He will have to discover who he is and why the government wants him before they catch up to him. To do so he will have to decide who he can trust – and who he can’t.

See the trailer, clips, an interview and a promo here.

For more on the movie this is the website.

Release formats: Standard

Genre: Action

Rating: R (for sequences of intense violence and action, brief language, some sexual content and teen partying)

Killer Elite

(Open Road) Jason Statham, Clive Owens, Robert De Niro, Dominic Purcell. A former elite operative comes out of retirement to rescue his mentor, who has been captured by a ruthless gang of assassins. In order to succeed, the operative is going to go up against some of the most vicious killers in the world. This is supposedly based on a true story.

See the trailer, clips and interviews here.

For more on the movie this is the website.

Release formats: Standard

Genre: Action Thriller

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

Life, Above All

(Sony Classics) Khomotso Manyaka, Keaobaka Makanyane, Harriet Lenabe, Audrey Poolo. A young girl in a sleepy South African village comes under the suspicion of her neighbors when in rapid succession her baby sister dies tragically and her mother becomes gravely ill. Despite the attempts of her Auntie to shield her from the town’s mistrust, she soon becomes embroiled in a rapidly escalating situation. Her bright future is rapidly disintegrating and she will have to use every ounce of her strong will to survive.

See the trailer and clips here.

For more on the movie this is the website.

Release formats: Standard

Genre: Drama

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

Moneyball

(Columbia) Brad Pitt, Jonah Hill, Philip Seymour Hoffman, Robin Wright. The true story of Billy Beane, the General Manager of the Oakland As. His revolutionary ideas of evaluating baseball players changed the game forever. Sounds boring, but it’s actually a pretty amazing story of a ballclub that couldn’t afford to compete with teams in larger markets that suddenly became a contender.

See the trailer and clips here.

For more on the movie this is the website.

Release formats: Standard

Genre: True Life Sports

Rating: PG-13 (for some strong language)

Red State

(Smodcast) Michel Angarano, Kyle Gallner, John Goodman, Melissa Leo. Three teenage boys are lured into a small town with the promise of a party. What they find instead of fun is a fundamentalist compound, whose preacher-leader wants to punish them for their sins big time. To make matters worse, they’re about to get caught in the crossfire of an FBI raid. This is the latest – and possibly last – from cult director Kevin Smith.

See the trailer here.

For more on the movie this is the website.

Release formats: Standard

Genre: Thriller

Rating: R (for strong violence/disturbing content, some sexual content including brief nudity, and pervasive language)

Senna

(Producers Distribution Agency) Ayrton Senna, Alain Prost, Jackie Stewart, Frank Williams. Charismatic Formula 1 racer Ayrton Senna was a rock star in his own time. His meteoric rise through the ranks of drivers made him one of the greatest ever. His attempts to make the sport safer made him a visionary. His untimely death made him a legend. While Americans are more partial to NASCAR than they are to Grand Prix, his story makes for compelling viewing.

See the trailer and clips here.

For more on the movie this is the website.

Release formats: Standard

Genre: Documentary

Rating: PG-13 (for some strong language and disturbing images)

Four-Warned: September 2011


September 2011Every 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.

FOUR TO SEE
1. CONTAGION (1.3)
2. APOLLO 18 (1.4)
3. DRIVE (1.5)
4. 50/50 (2.0)
TIE. KILLER ELITE (2.0)

FOUR TO SEEK OUT (FILMS NOT IN WIDE RELEASE)
1. TUCKER AND DALE VS. EVIL (1.2)
2. SILENT SOULS (1.5)
3. MAIN STREET (1.6)
4. RED STATE (1.7)

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

SEPTEMBER 1, 2011

LOVE EXPOSURE (Olive) Genre: Unclassifiable. A Tokyo teen gets involved in upskirt photography and religious cults. Release Strategy: New York City only. RATING: 2.8 Sounds about as weird as it gets…and Japanese films can get pretty weird.

SEPTEMBER 2, 2011

A GOOD OLD-FASHIONED ORGY (Goldwyn) Genre: Comedy. A 30-something who lives the life of Riley in the Hamptons throws one last blow-out bash when he discovers his dad is selling the old homestead – and decides to make it an orgy. Release Strategy: Limited. RATING: 3.2 Pretty decent cast including Jason Sudeikis but concept and execution look pretty juvenile.
APOLLO 18 (Weinstein) Genre: Sci-Fi Horror. Footage from a secret mission to the moon reveals why we stopped going there. Release Strategy: Wide. RATING: 1.4 Great concept; hopefully the execution will hold up.
DETECTIVE DEE AND THE MYSTERY OF THE PHANTOM FLAME (Indomina) Genre: Martial Arts. An ancient Chinese ruler is haunted by mysterious murders and enlists the help of China’s greatest detective to solve the crimes. Release Strategy: Limited. RATING: 1.8 The newest from the legendary Chinese director Tsui Hark.
I’M GLAD MY MOTHER IS ALIVE (Strand) Genre: Drama. A young man, adopted as a baby, seeks out his birth mother and when he finds her, develops an unhealthy obsession. Release Strategy: New York City only. RATING: 2.7 A trailer as creepy as any I’ve ever seen.
INSIGHT (Check Entertainment) Genre: Horror. A nurse who is trying to revive a dying stabbing victim with a defibrillator is accidentally shocked and as a result is able to see what the victim saw. Release Strategy: Limited. RATING: 2.6 Could be a real good thriller but the trailer left me ambivalent.
LOVE CRIME (Sundance Selects) Genre: Thriller. A high-powered female executive and her naive assistant engage in a game of high stakes cat and mouse. Release Strategy: Limited. RATING: 1.9 The trailer looked sexy and edge-of-the-seat thrilling; not surprising since the French in addition to doing romance right, make some pretty awesome thrillers too.
RESURRECT DEAD: THE MYSTERY OF THE TOYNBEE TILES (Argot) Genre: Documentary. A filmmaker researches mysterious tiles with strange messages that have been appearing all over North and South America for over 30 years. Release Strategy: New York City only. RATING: 2.6 In case you ever wanted proof that truth is stranger than fiction.
SAVING PRIVATE PEREZ (Pantelion) Genre: Action Comedy. A Mexican crime boss goes to Iraq to rescue his soldier brother. Release Strategy: Limited. RATING: 3.1 The comedy looked a bit broad in the trailer for my tastes.
SEVEN DAYS IN UTOPIA (Utopia) Genre: Sports Drama. A golfer who is trying to live down a highly publicized meltdown winds up stranded in a small Texas town where he learns the truth about the game. Release Strategy: Limited. RATING: 2.1 Any movie with the great Robert Duvall in it has my interest piqued from the get-go.
SHARK NIGHT 3D (Relativity) Genre: Horror. A group of teens celebrating a vacation on a remote island in a freshwater lake are stalked by man-eating sharks. Release Strategy: Wide. RATING: 2.5 Lake Jaws…sounds a bit like a train wreck.

SEPTEMBER 9, 2011

THE AUTOBIOGRAPHY OF NICOLAE CEAUCESCU (The Film Desk) Genre: Documentary. The story of the Romanian dictator is told through propaganda films and home movies. Release Strategy: New York City only. RATING: 2.3 Fascinating and horrifying all at once.
BEWARE THE GONZO (Tribeca) Genre: Teen Comedy. When a popular but cruel high school paper editor fires an outsider, said rebel decides to start his own newspaper. Release Strategy: Limited. RATING: 3.4 Do high schools even have newspapers anymore?
BUCKY LARSON: BORN TO BE A STAR (Columbia) Genre: Comedy. A Midwestern boy finds out that his parents were porn stars in the 70s, and heads to Hollywood to make his own mark. Release Strategy: Wide. RATING: 3.6 The trailer looked truly bad.
BURKE & HARE (IFC) Genre: Horror Comedy. The notorious 19th century grave robbers’ story is told in a somewhat unusual fashion. Release Strategy: Limited. RATING: 2.2 Simon Pegg and Andy Serkis in the same movie? I’m all in.
CONTAGION (Warner Brothers) Genre: Thriller. A lethal airborne virus baffles medical science and threatens the human race. Release Strategy: Wide (Standard, IMAX). RATING: 1.3 A great cast assembled by director Steven Soderbergh spells must-see.
CREATURE (The Bubble Factory) Genre: Horror. A group of young people look for a legendary creature in the Bayou and discover it’s not just a legend. Release Strategy: Wide. RATING: 2.0 Looks like a cross between Hatchet and Rogue.
INSIDE OUT (Goldwyn) Genre: Action. An ex-con trying to go straight is forced to defend the wife and daughter of his best friend from mobsters and cops alike. Release Strategy: Limited. RATING: 2.9 The WWE films haven’t yet hit the quality level of their wrestling product but I have to admit the trailer didn’t look half bad.
LAUGH AT MY PAIN (CODEBLACK) Genre: Comedy Documentary. The Kevin Hart comedy tour, one of the most successful in recent history, is chronicled. Release Strategy: Limited. RATING: 3.3 Comedy tour movies are notoriously hit or miss.
LOVE IN SPACE (Fox/China Lion) Genre: Romantic Comedy. A mother and her daughters try to juggle their messy romantic lives in modern-day China. Release Strategy: Limited. RATING: 2.4 The first release in a joint venture between 20th Century Fox and a Chinese studio.
MAIN STREET (Magnolia) Genre: Drama. A southern town on the brink of bankruptcy gets a visit from a stranger who may be the answer to their prayers – or their worst nightmare. Release Strategy: Limited. RATING: 1.6 Oscar winning screenwriter Horton Foote wrote this and the ensemble cast includes Oscar winners Colin Firth and Ellen Burstyn.
MERE BROTHER KI DULHAN (Yash Raj) Genre: Musical. An upper class man tries to find the ideal bride for his brother, Bollywood-style. Release Strategy: Limited. RATING: 2.0 Silly, surreal and 100% fun – exactly what the Doctor ordered.
ONE FALL (Paladin) Genre: Drama. A man survives a 200-foot fall only to develop an incredible power. Release Strategy: Limited. RATING: 2.9 The trailer seemed okay but I had a nagging feeling of disquiet that there might be some preaching to be done here with it which brought my rating down lower.
SHAOLIN (Go Well/Variance) Genre: Martial Arts. A Shaolin temple becomes a battleground when a warlord takes refuge there, pursued by his enemy. Release Strategy: Limited. RATING: 1.9 Looks spectacular, with Chinese greats Jackie Chan, Andy Lau and Nicholas Tse in the cast.
TANNER HALL (Anchor Bay) Genre: Drama. Four friends in an exclusive New England girl’s school deal with the consequences of love, sex and betrayal. Release Strategy: Limited. RATING: 2.8 The trailer looks very sexy.
WARRIOR (Lionsgate) Genre: Sports Drama. Two brothers compete in a Mixed Martial Arts tournament for differing reasons. Release Strategy: Wide. RATING: 3.5 Not a big MMA fan and on top of it, the trailer looks kind of cliché.
WE WERE HERE (Red Flag) Genre: Documentary. A look at the effect of the AIDS epidemic on San Francisco in particular, but on the American gay community as a whole. Release Strategy: New York City (Opens in Los Angeles September 16). RATING: 2.6 Will be a tough sell in a country as homophobic as this one.
WHERE SOLDIERS COME FROM (International Film Circuit) Genre: Documentary. The film follows four childhood friends from northern Michigan as they go to war and return home. Release Strategy: Limited. RATING: 2.9 Could be very powerful but the trailer was awfully talky.

SEPTEMBER 14, 2011

GRANITO: HOW TO NAIL A DICTATOR (Skylight) Genre: Documentary. A filmmaker who documented genocide in Guatemala produces evidence at the trial of those who perpetrated it. Release Strategy: New York City only. RATING: 3.5 Sounds intriguing, although why it took twenty years for the footage to surface is my question.
THE MILL AND THE CROSS (Kino Lorber) Genre: Drama. The Pieter Brugel masterpiece The Way to Calvary is brought to life. Release Strategy: New York City only. RATING: 1.8 Using sophisticated computer imagery the film looks like the painting come to life – very impressive.

SEPTEMBER 16, 2011

3 (DREI) (Strand) Genre: Romantic Comedy. A couple, approaching their 20th wedding anniversary, both fall in love with the same man. Release Strategy: New York City/Los Angeles. RATING: 2.2 A romantic comedy directed by German wunderkind Tom Tykwer? Intriguing…
DRIVE (FilmDistrict) Genre: Action. A Hollywood stunt driver by day moonlights as a getaway car driver by night. Release Strategy: Wide. RATING: 1.5 Big buzz on this one, and I must say the trailer looks very promising.
HAPPY, HAPPY (Magnolia) Genre: Comedy. The arrival of the perfect couple next door signals changes in the air for the perpetually optimistic Kaja. Release Strategy: New York City/Los Angeles. RATING: 2.8 The trailer for this Norwegian film looks charming.
I DON’T KNOW HOW SHE DOES IT (Weinstein) Genre: Comedy. A New York mom struggles to keep career and family going. Release Strategy: Wide. RATING: 2.2 Sarah Jessica Parker as a married working mom? Her Sex in the City fans might revolt!
JANE’S JOURNEY (First Run) Genre: Documentary. This is the story of Jane Goodall whose heroic efforts to save the wild chimps of Tanzania are recounted through rare interviews and home movies. Release Strategy: Limited. RATING: 2.8 Between Rise of the Planet of the Apes and Project Nim this is the year of the chimp!
THE LION KING 3D (Disney) Genre: Animated Feature. The Disney animated classic is presented theatrically in 3D for the first time. Release Strategy: Wide (3D). RATING: 4.0 I’m not convinced this movie will be made any better with 3D; why spend that kind of money at the multiplex for it?
MY AFTERNOONS WITH MARGUERITTE (Cohen) Genre: Comedy. An illiterate handyman is taught how to read by a little old lady, opening his mind to the possibility that he might be an intellectual after all. Release Strategy: Limited. RATING: 2.1 Gerard Depardieu is one of the most charming actors in history.
PRINCE OF SWINE (Self-Released) Genre: Sex Comedy. An idealistic attorney defending a woman fired from a T&A show after being groped by her boss has to decide how far she herself is willing to go to win. Release Strategy: New York City Only. RATING: 3.9 Sounds raunchy and utterly without redeeming social content – which I normally encourage – but also looks poorly executed too.
RESTLESS (Sony Classics) Genre: Drama. Two outsiders, misunderstood by society in general, find each other and fall in love. Release Strategy: New York City/Los Angeles. RATING: 2.9 The plot description could cover about 75% of all indie films, but this one is directed by Gus Van Sant.
SILENT SOULS (Shadow Distribution) Genre: Drama. A journey by a couple of Russian men to say goodbye ritually to one’s recently deceased wife takes on new meaning when it becomes clear that both of the men loved her. Release Strategy: New York City (opening in Los Angeles September 30). RATING: 1.5 The trailer looks absolutely gorgeous.
STAY COOL (Initiate) Genre: Comedy. A successful author returns to his Sacramento high school to deliver a commencement speech and winds up reliving his dreams and disappointments from his youth. Release Strategy: Limited. RATING: 3.2 The trailer didn’t look terribly funny.
STRAW DOGS (Screen Gems) Genre: Thriller. A trip home for a young couple turns into a deadly game of cat and mouse when the wife’s ex-boyfriend comes back into her life. Release Strategy: Wide. RATING: 2.4 A remake of a controversial Sam Peckinpah classic doesn’t look like it will pack the punch the original did.
THE WEIRD WORLD OF BLOWFLY (Variance) Genre: Documentary. Soul legend Clarence Reid aka Blowfly looks back at his life and career. Release Strategy: Limited. RATING: 3.8 I never really connected with his music but there’s no denying his place in music history.
THE WHALE (Paladin) Genre: Documentary. A young orca gets separated from his pod and winds up becoming connected to a small British Columbia town. Release Strategy: Limited. RATING: 2.1 The trailer looks wonderfully heart-warming.

SEPTEMBER 20, 2011

PEARL JAM TWENTY (Vinyl Films) Genre: Music Documentary. The 20-year-career of the seminal Seattle grunge band gets a retrospective. Release Strategy: Limited. RATING: 2.5 This band was once the most acclaimed in the land and still makes relevant music.

SEPTEMBER 23, 2011

A BIRD OF THE AIR (Paladin) Genre: Romance. A parrot and a vivacious young woman fly into the life of a lonely man. Release Strategy: Limited. RATING: 2.7 The trailer had enough charm to be intriguing.
ABDUCTION (Lionsgate) Genre: Thriller. A young man discovers his image on a missing person website, opening the door to a dangerous conspiracy revolving around his true identity. Release Strategy: Wide. RATING: 2.7 I’m not convinced that Taylor Lautner is able to carry a movie on his own.
DOLPHIN TALE 3D (Warner Brothers) Genre: Family. The true story of a dolphin who’s tale is amputated following an encounter with a crab trap and the heroic efforts to build her a prosthetic. Release Strategy: Wide (Standard, 3D). RATING: 2.9 A decent cast but the trailer made it look more like “Flipper” than anything else.
THE DOUBLE (Image) Genre: Spy Thriller. The murder of a U.S. Senator appears to be the work of a Soviet assassin, bringing a CIA operative who knew him best out of retirement to track him down. Release Strategy: Limited. RATING: 2.5 Sounds intriguing but with no trailer available as of this writing, can’t really get too excited yet.
KILLER ELITE (Open Road) Genre: Action. A former special ops agent comes out of retirement to rescue his mentor and friend from the clutches of a team of vicious assassins. Release Strategy: Wide. RATING: 2.0 Jason Statham and Clive Owen in the same action movie equals must-see entertainment to me.
LIMELIGHT (Magnolia) Genre: Documentary. This is the story of Peter Gatien, the flamboyant and charismatic King of Nightlife in New York City during the 1980s. Release Strategy: Limited. RATING: 2.4 A look at an era that was maybe the golden age of the club scene.
MACHINE GUN PREACHER (Relativity) Genre: Action. The true story of Sam Childers who went from drug dealer to born-again Christian to courageous aid worker in East Africa. Release Strategy: New York City/Los Angeles. RATING: 1.8 I’m a huge fan of Gerard Butler and this looks like it might be some of his best work yet.
MONEYBALL (Columbia) Genre: True Sports Drama. Billy Beane, the general manager of the Oakland A’s, revolutionizes the game of baseball. Release Strategy: Wide. RATING: 2.1 The trailer looks like money as well, although one wonders how a movie about the business of sports will grab audiences.
PUNCTURE (Millennium) Genre: Legal Drama. A functioning drug addict and lawyer take on the case of an ER nurse who is pricked by a contaminated needle on the job. Release Strategy: New York City/Los Angeles/Houston. RATING: 2.9 Legal dramas always seem to grab my attention; I’m hoping this one does too.
RED STATE (Smodcast/Lionsgate) Genre: Action. A trio of boys looking to party run into a heavily armed fundamentalist group ready to take on the ATF in a gun battle. Release Strategy: Limited. RATING: 1.7 Director Kevin Smith makes a movie Quentin Tarantino would have if he’d thought about it.
THUNDER SOUL (Roadside Attraction) Genre: Musical Documentary. Alumni of the acclaimed Kashmere High Stage Band return home to pay tribute to their 92-year-old barrier-smashing director, “Prof”. Release Strategy: Limited. RATING: 3.7 Interesting trailer but the subject didn’t appeal to me much.
TOAST (W2) Genre: Biography. The true story of British food writer Nigel Slater’s childhood and his struggle to gain his father’s respect. Release Strategy: New York City (Opens in Los Angeles October 7). RATING: 3.1 Not sure how many Americans would be interested in a bio of Slater.
WEEKEND (Sundance Selects) Genre: Drama. Two Londoners meet in a club on a Friday night and have a weekend full of sex, conversation and drugs, growing to the realization that they are going to resonate in one another’s lives forever. Release Strategy: New York City only. RATING: 2.9 As frank a movie about gay sexuality as you’re likely to see.

SEPTEMBER 28, 2011

YOU DON’T LIKE THE TRUTH: 4 DAYS INSIDE GUANTANAMO (Films Transit) Genre: Documentary. The son of a Canadian Muslim is sent to work for the Taliban building mines, but is captured by the Americans and captured at Gitmo. Release Strategy: New York City only. RATING: 2.6 The footage is said to be incredibly disturbing.

SEPTEMBER 30, 2011

50/50 (Summit) Genre: Dramedy. A young man battling pancreatic cancer decides with the help of his friend to fight with humor. Release Strategy: Wide. RATING: 2.0 Joseph Gordon-Levitt and Seth Rogen look like a pretty smart team in the trailer.
BUNRAKU (ARC Entertainment) Genre: Martial Arts Fantasy. A mysterious drifter and a would-be samurai enter a small town and determine to rid it of the corrupt and tyrannical ruler that plagues it. Release Strategy: Limited. RATING: 2.9 Definitely a mash-up of classic Japanese morality plays, American westerns and martial arts.
COURAGEOUS (TriStar) Genre: Christian Drama. Four police officers must cope with a tragedy close to home that sparks a crisis of faith. Release Strategy: Wide. RATING: 4.0 If I wanted a sermon, I’d go to church.
DREAM HOUSE (Universal) Genre: Suspense. A man moves his family from New York to a bucolic small town only to discover that the house was the scene of a grisly murder – and that the killer may be after his family now. Release Strategy: Wide. RATING: 2.4 The trailer might have divulged a crucial plot point; watch it at your risk.
MARGARET (Fox Searchlight) Genre: Drama. A high school girl, believing she inadvertently caused a fatal accident, tries to make amends but is stymied at every turn. Release Strategy: Limited. RATING: 2.9 Looks like a very intense, raw emotional film – maybe too raw.
MUNGER ROAD (Freestyle) Genre: Horror. As two cops search for a returning serial killer on the eve of the annual Scarecrow Festival, four teenagers go missing. Release Strategy: Limited. RATING: 2.6 Looks like standard supernatural killer fare.
MY JOY (Kino-Lorber) Genre: Drama. A Ukrainian truck driver descends into madness and murder. Release Strategy: New York City only. RATING: 3.2 Haven’t seen a trailer for this yet but it sounds intriguing.
TAKE SHELTER (Sony Classics) Genre: Drama. A man has terrifying visions of an impending cataclysm and decides to refurbish his storm cellar in preparation. Release Strategy: New York City/Los Angeles (Opening wider in October). RATING: 2.3 Michael Shannon’s a terrific actor and this looks like a very good film.
TUCKER & DALE VS. EVIL (Magnet) Genre: Horror Comedy. A group of teens lost in the woods run into a couple of bumpkins and mistake them for serial killers. Release Strategy: Limited. RATING: 1.2 This is one of the funniest and fun trailers I’ve seen in ages.
WHAT’S YOUR NUMBER? (20th Century Fox) Genre: Sex Comedy. A young woman determines to re-check all of her ex-boyfriends to make sure she hasn’t passed over “Mr. Right.”. Release Strategy: Wide. RATING: 2.9 Anna Faris just hasn’t connected with me as an actress yet.

SCHEDULED TO BE REVIEWED HERE AS NEW RELEASES
Apollo 18, Contagion, Drive, I Don’t Know How She Does It, Straw Dogs, Abduction, Dolphin Tale 3D, Killer Elite, Moneyball, 50/50, What’s Your Number?