New Releases for the Week of January 9, 2015


Taken 3TAKEN 3

(20th Century Fox) Liam Neeson, Forest Whitaker, Famke Janssen, Dougray Scott, Maggie Grace, Leland Orser, Jon Gries, Al Sapienza, Judi Beecher. Directed by Olivier Megaton

Bryan Miller is a man with a particular set of skills. His work with the government had essentially put his marriage into Divorce-land and left him with an estranged wife and a daughter who adored him but for whatever reason was constantly getting into trouble. Sadly, Bryan’s reconciliation with his wife is cut tragically short by an old enemy. Framed for the crime and on the run, he is determined to protect the last person he has left while avoiding the cops, the FBI, the CIA – and the killers, who mean to kill his daughter before taking him out. Bryan Miller has other ideas, most of them involving killing them first.

See the trailer, clips, interviews and B-roll video here.
For more on the movie this is the website.
Release formats: Standard (opens Thursday)
Genre: Action
Now Playing: Wide Release
Rating: PG-13 (for intense sequences of violence and action, and for brief strong language)

Inherent Vice

(Warner Brothers) Joaquin Phoenix, Reese Witherspoon, Josh Brolin, Benicio del Toro. In L.A. at the tail end of the psychedelic era, a rumpled private investigator is visited by an ex-girlfriend who explained that her current beau, a billionaire, is being kidnapped and held in a loony bin by his wife and her boyfriend. It’s all a bit confusing but the private eye consents to take the case, and with a boatload of characters that could have only come from the mind of Thomas Pynchon, the game is afoot. Or a leg.

See the trailer, clips and interviews here.
For more on the movie this is the website.
Release formats: Standard
Genre: Crime
Now Playing: Wide Release
Rating: R (for drug use throughout, sexual content, graphic nudity, language and some violence)

Selma

(Paramount) David Oyelowo, Cuba Gooding Jr., Tim Roth, Tom Wilkinson. In 1965, voting rights in the South were essentially limited to whites and African-Americans were often violently discouraged from demanding the right to vote. Into this came Rev. Martin Luther King and his decision to stage a high profile march from Selma, Alabama to Montgomery, a march that would be met with violence that would shock a nation and lead to President Lyndon Johnson signing into law the Voting Rights Act which until the Supreme Court recently dismantled it, protected the rights of all voters to go to the polls.

See the trailer, interviews, clips and B-roll video here.
For more on the movie this is the website.
Release formats: Standard (opens Thursday)
Genre: True Life Drama
Now Playing: Wide Release
Rating: PG-13 (for disturbing thematic material including violence, a suggestive moment and brief strong language)

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Wild


Reese Witherspoon thinks she's found a place without paparazzi but she's keeping an eye out anyway.

Reese Witherspoon thinks she’s found a place without paparazzi but she’s keeping an eye out anyway.

(2014) Biographical Drama (Fox Searchlight) Reese Witherspoon, Laura Dern, Thomas Sadoski, W. Earl Brown, Kevin Rankin, Michiel Huisman, Gaby Hoffman, Keene McRae, Brian van Holt, Cliff De Young, Mo McRae, Will Cuddy, Leigh Parker, Nick Eversman, Ray Mist, Randy Schulman, Cathryn de Prume, Kurt Conroyd, Ted De Chatelet, Jeffee Newman, Art Alexakis, Beth Hall. Directed by Jean-Marc Vallee

Sometimes life throws things at us that we just can’t bear. We make bad choices because of it, go down paths we were never meant to explore and find ourselves lost. Few people can find their way back from these deviations from course.

Cheryl Strayed (Witherspoon) is a young 26-year-old woman starting an 1,100-mile hike on the rugged but beautiful Pacific Crest Trail which starts at the Mexican border and ends at the Canadian. She only plans on going from the southern terminus into Ashland, Oregon but it’s still a daunting prospect, considering she has virtually no experience whatsoever with long distance hiking.

Cheryl has had some tough times of late. Her mom (Dern) passed away suddenly of cancer. She descended into heroin addiction and unprotected sex with multiple partners. Her marriage to Paul (Sadoski) has ended in divorce. Her life was a mess and she knew it. She felt that she needed to clear all the toxins out of her system by “walking it out” as her mother would have put it. So she decided that, having seen a book on the trail in her local bookstore in Minnesota that this would be her best way to get herself out of the world for a little while, get herself right and move on with her life.

The way isn’t without challenges. Her first day only nets her five miles in a harsh desert climate – at that rate it would take her 220 days to finish her hike – or about 130 more than she thought. She has difficulty setting up her tent – it takes her hours. Then she figures out that she has purchased the wrong fuel for her cookstove, meaning that she’ll have to eat her dehydrated meals as a cold mush. Not particularly appealing. She’s also managed to get boots that are too tight and are causing some major issues.

There are other pitfalls as well, many of them human – men who want to get into her pants, by flattery or by force. She feels incredibly lonely and there is little to do but think about what got her there in the first place. With a bulldog-like persistence and a toughness that would surprise anyone who thought this petite blonde had any in her, she adapts and overcomes, winning over admirers on the trail – but the question is will this be enough to change her life?

Vallee, whose last film (Dallas Buyers Club) won Oscars for Matthew McConaughey and Jared Leto, might just repeat that feat here. Witherspoon with already one statuette to her credit for Walk the Line is absolutely wonderful here, eschewing Hollywood glamour for the realism of trail life and the tawdry existence that preceded it. She is in nearly every scene, often alone, This is her film to carry and carry it she does, imbuing Cheryl with vulnerability which eventually becomes an inner toughness.

Dern also turns in an award-worthy performance as the optimistic mom who has enough inner strength to raise two children alone after leaving an abusive alcoholic husband. She is reinventing herself when her life takes a tragic turn but for the most part she remains a breath of fresh air throughout, trying to soldier on despite having almost no money. She is representative of a million single moms out there, although I would have to say that I don’t think many would have the sort of life philosophy that Bobbi (Cheryl’s mom) had.

Vallee tells the story mainly through a sequence of flashbacks which take many different forms. Some are mere flashes, only lasting a second or two while others are fully formed scenes that play in Cheryl’s mind. Others are things her mind is on concurrent to the events of her hike, happening silently. Cheryl narrates from her journal and leaves messages at way stations, quoting diverse authors and poets. She becomes something of a celebrity on the trail, being one of the few women hiking alone and certainly the only one hiking alone on as much of it as she is.

The cinematography by Yves Belanger is breathtaking, but then again he has quite the canvas to work with. The music is simple and non-treacly, often using popular songs by artists like Paul Simon and the Hollies to pull the story along. Nick Hornsby’s script is smart and well-reasoned for the most part but one of the main objections I have to the movie is the lack of connection from A to B to C. We know that Cheryl sinks into a morass of alcohol, heroin and unprotected sex after her mom passes away but we don’t see how that happens; one moment she’s caring for her mom, the next she’s finding out she passed away, the next she’s sitting in a bar trolling for men and the next she’s shooting up. We see the descent in bits and pieces, like a book with pages missing. The ascent is much more drawn out.

While this isn’t the best film to come out in 2014, it has some of the best performances in it. Witherspoon alone is reason enough to catch this movie in theaters while it’s still out there – the scenery is also best seen on a big screen. Definitely one that should be on your must-see list this season.

REASONS TO GO: A searing performance by Witherspoon, nearly certain to get an Oscar nomination if not the win and Dern may well join her. Gorgeous cinematography. Incredible story.
REASONS TO STAY: Never really get a sense of why Cheryl moves from one mindset to another.
FAMILY VALUES: There’s a good deal of sexual content, a fair amount of nudity, some drug use and a good deal of foul language.
TRIVIAL PURSUIT: The real Cheryl Strayed appears in the film as the woman driving the truck who drops off Reese Witherspoon at the beginning of the film. Also, the daughter of Cheryl Strayed plays Cheryl as a little girl in the film.
CRITICAL MASS: As of 1/3/15: Rotten Tomatoes: 91% positive reviews. Metacritic: 76/100.
COMPARISON SHOPPING: Tracks
FINAL RATING: 8.5/10
NEXT: The Hobbit: The Battle of the Five Armies

New Releases for the Week of December 19, 2014


The Hobbit The Battle of the Five ArmiesTHE HOBBIT: THE BATTLE OF THE FIVE ARMIES

(New Line/MGM) Martin Freeman, Ian McKellen, Cate Blanchett, Richard Armitage, Luke Evans, Evangeline Lilly, Orlando Bloom, Jed Brophy, Stephen Fry, Ian Holm. Directed by Peter Jackson

The journey of Bilbo Baggins comes to an end as the greed of Thorin Oakenshield puts the fragile peace of Middle Earth at risk whilst in Mordor a shadow stirs, awaiting the presence of the One Ring. In the meantime, with Smaug wreaking havoc on Middle Earth, armies of orcs, elves and humans converge upon the Lonely Mountain. Can the three races unite to defeat the forces of darkness,?

See the trailer, clips, interviews, footage from the world premiere and B-roll video here.
For more on the movie this is the website.
Release formats: Standard, 3D, IMAX 3D (opened Wednesday)
Genre: Fantasy
Now Playing: Wide Release

Rating: PG-13 (for extended sequences of intense fantasy action violence and frightening images)

Annie

(Columbia) Quvenzhane Wallis, Jamie Foxx, Cameron Diaz, Rose Byrne. A painfully cheerful and terminally optimistic orphan literally runs into a cynical New York City billionaire who is also running for mayor in a hotly contested race. Realizing that his association with the plucky little girl is helping his cause, he decides to spend more time with her. But gradually she wears him down and pulls from inside him the best part of who he can be. Based on the 1982 movie which in itself was based on the hit Broadway musical.

See the trailer, clips and a music video here.
For more on the movie this is the website.
Release formats: Standard (opens Thursday)
Genre: Musical
Now Playing: Wide Release
Rating: PG (for some mild language and rude humor)

Night at the Museum: Curse of the Tomb

(20th Century Fox) Ben Stiller, Robin Williams, Ben Kingsley, Rebel Wilson. The wax figures that come to life after the New York Museum of Natural History closes are in big trouble; the magic that animates them is beginning to fade. Desperate to save his friends, Larry the security guard races around the globe to find out what’s happening and reverse it before the magic is gone forever.

See the trailer, clips, interviews, a featurette and B-roll video here.
For more on the movie this is the website.
Release formats: Standard (opens Thursday)
Genre: Comedy Fantasy
Now Playing: Wide Release
Rating: PG (for mild action, some rude humor and brief language)

PK

(UTV) Aamir Khan, Sanjay Dutt, Anushka Sharma, Boman Irani. A mysterious stranger comes into the city, asking questions nobody usually bothers to act. He has a strange, child-like quality that is endearing to some and troubling to others. His journey will take him into a world of love, laughter and letting go.

See the trailer here.
For more on the movie this is the website.
Release formats: Standard
Genre: Dramedy
Now Playing: Touchstar Southchase

Rating: NR

Point and Shoot

(The Orchard) Matthew Vandyke. An American who suffers from Obsessive Compulsive Disorder, eager to find what adventure is left in the world gets on his motorcycle and takes off to North Africa. His road trip takes him to places and situations he could never have prepared himself for, including fighting in the Libyan Revolution – and being captured and held prisoner for six months.

See the trailer here.
For more on the movie this is the website.
Release formats: Standard
Genre: Documentary
Now Playing: AMC Loew’s Universal Cineplex, AMC West Oaks

Rating: NR

Wild

(Fox Searchlight) Reese Witherspoon, Laura Dern, Thomas Sadoski, Michiel Huisman. Based on the true story of Cheryl Strayed, a woman whose heroin addiction, reckless behavior and sexual promiscuity led to the destruction of her marriage. Having hit rock bottom in every sense of the word, she impulsively decides to hike the thousand mile Pacific Crest Trail despite having no experience in it and being woefully unprepared. Channeling the memory of her mother, she sets out with only the force of her will to see her through. Witherspoon is considered a lock to garner a Best Actress nomination for her performance here.

See the trailer, interviews and clips here.
For more on the movie this is the website.
Release formats: Standard
Genre: Drama
Now Playing: AMC Altamonte Mall, AMC Downtown Disney, Cinemark Artegon Marketplace, Regal Winter Park Village, Regal Oviedo Mall and other local theaters
Rating: R (for sexual content, nudity, drug use and language)

The Good Lie


The importance of family is universal.

The importance of family is universal.

(2014) Drama (Warner Brothers) Reese Witherspoon, Corey Stoll, Arnold Oceng, Ger Duany, Emmanuel Jal, Kuoth Wiel, Femi Oguns, Sarah Baker, Lindsey Garrett, Peterdeng Mongok, Okwar Jale, Thon Kueth, Deng Ajuet, Keji Jale, David Madingi, Kon Akuoe Auok, Sibusisi Moyo, Elikana Jale, Afemo Omilami, Michael Cole, Brian Kurlander. Directed by Philippe Falardeau

From 1983 to 2005, the Second Sudanese Civil War was one of the longest wars of its kind on record, and one of the most lethal wars in modern history. Nearly two million people died as a direct result of the war or from the famine and disease that followed it. Four million people were displaced, many more than once. Atrocities were committed by both sides, the government forces and the rebels alike. Many children were forced to serve as soldiers.

During the fighting, entire villages were wiped out and that’s what happened to Mamere (Mongok), Theo (O. Jale), Abital (K. Jale) and their brothers. They tried to make it out to Ethiopia on foot but the fighting was so intense they were forced to find a refugee camp in Kenya, a trip of nearly one thousand miles. Not all of the kids would make it to the Kakuma Refugee Camp. Theo, in fact, would sacrifice himself when soldiers see Mamere. They take Theo, allowing the other kids who now included Jeremiah (Kueth) to escape and make it to Kakuma.

There they waited for thirteen years, hoping and praying to be allowed to emigrate to the United States. Now grown, Mamere (Oceng) has become an assistant to Dr. Monyang (Omilami) and dreams of going to medical school. Jeremiah (Duany), a devout Christian, leads religious services in the camp. Paul (Jal) who they also picked up along the way, is thoroughly traumatized but all three of them fiercely protect their sister Abital (Wiel).

Then, the good news comes and they are allowed to fly to the States but once there they are in for a shock. For one thing, a bureaucratic INS regulation forces the family to be separated with Abital going to Boston with a foster family there and the boys sent to Kansas City to find work. They are met at the airport by Carrie Davis (Witherspoon), a spirited woman whose life is a bit of a mess, who is supposed to assist them with finding jobs – the charity worker Pamela (Baker) having been unable to pick them up.

It becomes clear that neither the agency nor the charity are prepared for these lost boys who have lived in a village their entire lives and do not know what a telephone is as Carrie discovers when she tries to call them. They have no concept of privacy or understanding of technology. The culture shock is overwhelming, but what is beating them down most is the separation from their sister. Although Carrie’s boss Jack (Stoll) warns her not to get involved, she can’t help but want to help them and so begins an odyssey to reunite a shattered family.

While the story itself is fiction, it is nonetheless based on actual events. The actors playing the refugees are Sudanese Lost Boys themselves, which adds a certain level of poignancy to the film; just try to make it through the end credits with a dry eye. A couple of them were child soldiers as well. With the exception of Duany who previously appeared in I Heart Huckabees they aren’t professional actors. You’d never know it from watching this.

Some might get the impression that this is a starring vehicle for Witherspoon but that would be incorrect. She has an important supporting role but it is the Sudanese actors who are the leads here. This is their story; Carrie just plays a part in it. Witherspoon, a fine actress, does a great job in a most decidedly un-glamorous role but she doesn’t appear in the film until nearly half an hour in. If you’re planning on seeing the film just to see her, you are in for a disappointment.

In many ways while we were heaping mea culpas on ourselves for ignoring the Rwandan genocide we were ignoring the carnage going on in the Sudan at the same time. Many people are unaware of the Sudanese Lost Boys or how they have integrated into our society. Some have returned to the South Sudan to help rebuild it now that the war has ended and some have even become part of the government of that new nation (following the Civil War the Sudan split into South Sudan and Sudan, with the latter  retaining its Muslim culture and the former its East African identity. This movie at least serves to illustrate their plight making it important for that reason alone.

Fortunately, it also happens to be a really good movie. Sure, it does drag a little bit in the middle as they first come to the United States and Falardeau inserts maybe more humor in their fish out of water situation than was necessary; we get the point that there was a culture shock. Nonetheless, this is a moving experience that will leave you feeling empathy for these kids who saw things children should never see and made choices nobody should have to make.

Frankly, I’m astonished that it hasn’t gotten any sort of push from the studio – it certainly will contend for top ten movies of the year with me but most folks, even some movie buffs, haven’t heard of this movie which received a pretty cursory release. Not that Warners should feel like they had to give it a wider release because of the subject matter but I think had this made more screens more moviegoers might have found this film, which deserves a much larger audience than it has gotten so far. I hope at least a few of you are motivated to go check this extraordinary film out. It deserves your support.

REASONS TO GO: Important subject matter. Affecting performances by the largely Sudanese cast. Witherspoon and Stoll are both impressive.
REASONS TO STAY: Overdoes the fish out of water element. Lags a bit in the middle third.
FAMILY VALUES: At times the themes can be rather intense. There’s some violence (although little blood) and occasional rough language. There is also a scene or two of drug use..
TRIVIAL PURSUIT: Falardeau came to prominence with an Oscar nomination for Monsieur Lazhar in 2012.
CRITICAL MASS: As of 10/12/14: Rotten Tomatoes: 85% positive reviews. Metacritic: 65/100.
COMPARISON SHOPPING: Hotel Rwanda
FINAL RATING: 8.5/10
NEXT: Hank and Asha

New Releases for the Week of October 3, 2014


Gone GirlGONE GIRL

(20th Century Fox) Ben Affleck, Rosamund Pike, Neil Patrick Harris, Tyler Perry, Kim Dickens, Patrick Fugit, Missi Pyle, Sela Ward, Boyd Holbrook. Directed by David Fincher

Nick and Amy have the perfect marriage. They love each other madly, support each other completely and are in the initial stages of building a long and fruitful life together. Or so it seems. On the evening of their fifth wedding anniversary Amy turns up missing. As the facade of the perfect marriage begins to crumble, the spotlight turns on Nick who it seems is far from the perfect husband. Did Nick murder his wife? Or is something far more different going on?

See the trailer, clips and a promo here.

For more on the movie this is the website.

Release formats: Standard (opens Thursday)

Genre: Thriller

Rating: R (for a scene of bloody violence, some strong sexual content/nudity, and language)

Annabelle

(New Line) Annabelle Wallis, Ward Horton, Alfre Woodard, Tony Amendola. From last year’s hit The Conjuring comes this spin-off, set before the events of that film. Here we find out how the doll Annabelle became so deadly as a cult of vicious Satanists who attack a pregnant wife and her husband. Although they manage to survive the tack, the cultists do not but their blood and horrible memories are not all they leave behind; they had conjured up a demonic entity that has attached itself to the doll, a gift from the husband to his wife. That gift is going to be the kind that keeps on giving, you can be sure of that!

See the trailer here.

For more on the movie this is the website.

Release formats: Standard (opens Thursday)

Genre: Supernatural Horror

Rating: R (for intense sequences of disturbing violence and terror)

Bang Bang

(Fox Star) Katrina Kaif, Hrithik Roshan, Jimmy Shergill, Preity Uupala. A mousy bank employee falls into international intrigue when a mysterious stranger comes into his life, claiming to be a spy on a secret mission to save the world. Can she trust the word of this charming stranger? Is he what he says he is? Or is he delusional and leading her into the kind of trouble that she can’t dig her way out of? A remake of the recent Tom Cruise/Cameron Diaz vehicle Knight and Day.

See the trailer here.

For more on the movie this is the website.

Release formats: Standard (opens Thursday)

Genre: Bollywood Action

Rating: NR

The Good Lie

(Warner Brothers) Reese Witherspoon, Corey Stoll, Arnold Oceng, Ger Duany. Sudanese refugees travel 1500 miles on foot to reach a refugee camp where they have a shot at getting the golden ticket to America where they can star their lives over in freedom. Four young brothers have been through incredible trauma making it to America but their sister is left behind for a later flight. However when 9-11 halts refugee activity, a social worker is moved to help these boys reunite their family even though the odds are stacked against them.

See the trailer and premiere footage here.

For more on the movie this is the website.

Release formats: Standard

Genre: True Life Drama

Rating: PG-13 (for thematic elements, some violence, brief strong language and drug use)

Govindudu Andarivadele

(Parameswara Arts) Ram Charan, Srikanth, Kajal Aggarwal, Kamalinee Mukherjee. A young agriculture student visits his grandfather’s house in an effort to reconcile the old man with his father. As he does so he discovers the story behind their estrangement and his grandfather learns why the student has come to mend fences at that specific time.

See the trailer here.

For more on the movie this is the website.

Release formats: Standard

Genre: Bollywood Family

Rating: NR

Haider

(UTV) Shahid Kapoor, Tabu, Narendra Jha, Irrfan Khan. A modern version of Shakespeare’s Hamlet set in India, this is the third in a Shakespearean trilogy by director Vishal Bhardwaj.

See the trailer here.

For more on the movie this is the website.

Release formats: Standard

Genre: Bollywood Drama

Rating: NR

Hector and the Search for Happiness

(Relativity) Simon Pegg, Christopher Plummer, Rosamund Pike, Stellan Skarsgard. A psychiatrist who has fallen into a rut, decides he is no longer qualified to advise his patients on how to have a better, more fulfilling life if he hasn’t lived one himself yet. He goes out therefore on an adventure throughout the world trying to find what happiness is.

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

For more on the movie this is the website.

Release formats: Standard

Genre: Dramedy

Rating: R  (for language and some brief nudity)

Left Behind

(Stoney Lake) Nicolas Cage, Chad Michael Murray, Lea Thompson, Cassi Thomson. When the Rapture takes place and the righteous ascend to heaven, those that remain on Earth discover that there’s a reason why going to heaven was a much better idea.

See the trailer here.

For more on the movie this is the website.

Release formats: Standard (opens Thursday)

Genre: Faith-Based Adventure

Rating: PG-13 (for some thematic elements, violence/peril and brief drug content)

The Liberator

(Cohen Media Group) Edgar Ramirez, Danny Huston, Maria Valverde, Gary Lewis. The story of Simon Bolivar, who led a revolt of the South American indigenous peoples against the colonial might of the Spanish and Portuguese empires. He was instrumental in freeing millions of people to self-govern and is regarded as one of the most beloved heroes in the region.

See the trailer here.

For more on the movie this is the website.

Release formats: Standard

Genre: Biographical Drama

Rating: NR

Devil’s Knot


Colin Firth looks to untie the devil's knot.

Colin Firth looks to untie the devil’s knot.

(2013) True Life Drama (RLJ/Image/TWC) Colin Firth, Reese Witherspoon, Alessandro Nivola, Mireille Enos, Kevin Durand, Amy Ryan, Bruce Greenwood, Dane DeHaan, Elias Koteas, Rex Linn, James Hamrick, Seth Meriwether, Kristopher Higgins, Stephen Moyer, Robert Baker, Kollette Wolfe, Jack Coghlan, Jet Jurgensmeyer, Matt Letscher, Lori Beth Edgeman. Directed by Atom Egoyan

The case of the West Memphis Three has gotten about as much notoriety as any criminal case since the OJ Simpson trial and with good reason – it is considered one of the most egregious cases of wrongful conviction in the history of our judicial system.

Stevie Branch (Jurgensmeyer) pedaled off from his house after school one beautiful spring day, admonished by his hard-working mom Pam Dobbs (Witherspoon) to be home by 4:30pm or face being grounded. When he didn’t show by the time he was given, his mom got angry. When he wasn’t home by the time she came home from work, she was worried. When he still wasn’t home the next morning, she was terrified.

Her worst fears would be confirmed. Detectives of the West Memphis, Arkansas Police Department discovered a shoe floating in a nearby drainage ditch in the Robin Hood woods where Stevie and two of his friends had last been seen riding their bikes. It didn’t take long before the nude bodies of the boys, hogtied with their own shoelaces, were found – in Stevie’s case, horribly mutilated.

The attention of the police turned to Damian Echols (Hamrick), an 18-year-old misfit who loved heavy metal, had at least a passing interest in the occult and was thought to be a Satanist. His friends Jason Baldwin (Meriwether) and Jessie Misskelley (Higgins) also fall under scrutiny. Misskelley is interrogated by the cops for 12 hours and eventually admits to being present at the crime. Misskelley is also severely challenged intellectually, only a few IQ points above the level generally assigned to mental retardation.

When Aaron Hutcheson (Coghlan), a classmate of the dead boys, comes forward with a harrowing story of the ritual murder of the three youngsters and implicates all three of he accused, it looks fairly open and shut. Ron Lax (Firth), a private investigator, isn’t so sure though and with moral objections to the death penalty (which was being sought), he decides to offer his services pro bono to the harried defense attorneys who gratefully accept.

It doesn’t take long for Lax to find inconsistencies and disturbing trends in the police reports and evidence. The cops never were disposed to look at any other suspects besides the three young men, despite a lack of physical evidence that connects any of them to the crime scene. Nichols’ interest in Satanic rituals was enough to convict him in the eyes of this deeply religious community. The stakes are very high – can Lax get justice for the West Memphis Three – and in so doing, bring justice at long last for Stevie and his friends?

The first question one has to ask themselves about this movie is whether or not it is needed. After all, there are two documentaries that have been made on the case – the multi-part Paradise Lost that first aired on HBO and brought the case to the attention of a national audience, and the more recent West Memphis Three. Will a dramatized account bring anything else to the discussion?

Well, no, not really. The filmmakers painstakingly researched the case and wherever possible, used dialogue directly from court transcripts as well as from interviews by the police and media. That gives the film a certain amount of credibility. However, that turns out to be a double-edged sword in that much of this material has already been made available in the documentaries.

It should be noted that in a kind of strange twist, the dramatized version seems more balanced than the documentaries, both of which seemed to indicate that the documentarians believed that Terry Hobbs (Nivola), Stevie’s stepdad and Pam’s husband at the time of the murders (they have since divorced), was the real culprit. Certainly a case is presented for him, but also for Christopher Morgan (DeHaan), another teen whose behavior was certainly peculiar and who also confessed to the crime. There’s also the blood and mud-caked African-American man who came into a local Bojangles chicken restaurant the night of the murder and whose bizarre actions certainly warranted investigation – but the blood samples taken by police were never analyzed and were eventually lost.

What you watch this movie for then is the performances and with Firth and Witherspoon, both Oscar winners, leading the way, those performances are powerful indeed. Witherspoon in particular delivers some of the best work of her career which is saying something. She has to play a gamut of emotions from incomprehensible grief to doubt to fear to determination and strength. Witherspoon is gifted enough to let all of Pam Dobbs’ personality shine through no matter which emotion is dominant at the time. Firth similarly plays Lax with bulldog-like determination as he becomes enmeshed in the horrible injustice being perpetrated in plain sight.

Some reviewers have criticized this movie for being manipulative. Holy God, if your emotions aren’t being manipulated by the brutal murders of three children and the anguish of the community that followed, I’m not quite sure what else is going to do it. The subject matter itself is manipulative. Yes you’re going to have an emotional reaction to what happens in the film. That’s not a bad thing.

The murders of Stevie Branch, Mike Morris and Christopher Byers remain unsolved. The three accused who would be convicted on the crime, would eventually be released after serving 18 years of prison time, although the State of Arkansas still lists them as convicted felons despite the DNA evidence that has exonerated them. At this point it seems extremely unlikely that the murders will ever be solved, even though the real life Lax, Pam Hobbs and in a bit of irony, Damian Echols, remain focused on finding out the truth behind this terrible crime.

It is quite discouraging that it seems that the three teenage boys who were convicted of these crimes were railroaded essentially because they were outsiders, square pegs in the very round hole of West Memphis.  The movie captures with at least a relative amount of objectivity the events of this case which have been so divisive in so many ways. While I can’t really recommend these over the documentaries (particularly the three-part HBO set), I can recommend the performances here as worth the trouble to go and find this movie on VOD or in local theaters.

REASONS TO GO: Terrific performances by Firth, Witherspoon and much of the supporting cast.

REASONS TO STAY: Non-illuminating. If you are familiar with the case or have seen one of the documentaries about it, you won’t learn anything new.

FAMILY VALUES: There is a whole lot of profanity and some extremely disturbing images.

TRIVIAL PURSUIT: Filmed primarily in Georgia, and made its world premiere at the 2013 Toronto International Film Festival.

CRITICAL MASS: As of 5/14/14: Rotten Tomatoes: 23% positive reviews. Metacritic: 42/100.

COMPARISON SHOPPING: A Time to Kill

FINAL RATING: 8/10

NEXT: Cheatin’

New Releases for the Week of May 9, 2014


NeighborsNEIGHBORS

(Universal) Seth Rogen, Zac Efron, Rose Byrne, Dave Franco, Christopher Mintz-Plasse, Jerrod Carmichael, Lisa Kudrow, Craig Roberts. Directed by Nicholas Stoller

A young couple think they have the ideal life; good jobs, a new baby, a nice house in a quiet neighborhood. When they get new neighbors, it’s just another blessing. Unfortunately, when your new neighbor is a frat house, the neighborhood will be anything but quiet. Get ready to have some stereotypes about fraternities reinforced.

See the trailer, clips, interviews, premiere footage, a featurette and a promo here.

For more on the movie this is the website.

Release formats: Standard (opens Thursday)

Genre: Comedy

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

Devil’s Knot

(RLJ/Image) Reese Witherspoon, Colin Firth, Dane DeHaan, Mireille Enos.The small Arkansas town of West Memphis was rocked to its core when three eight year old boys turned up brutally murdered. When three teenage boys, outsiders and misfits all, were charged and eventually convicted for the crime which the authorities maintained had Satanic overtones, the community was deeply split. It would eventually become a cause célèbrearound the country when the investigation by the West Memphis police and the conduct of the prosecution were called into question. This is a semi-fictionalized version of the case from renowned Canadian director Atom Egoyan.

See the trailer here.

For more on the movie this is the website.

Release formats: Standard

Genre: True Life Drama

Rating: NR

Fading Gigolo

(Millennium) John Turturro, Woody Allen, Liev Schreiber, Sofia Vergara. When his good friend Murray’s money problems turn dire, Fiorvante determines to help his friend as best he can but with no real cash reserves of his own, he’ll have to think of something outside the box. When Murray figures out that Fiorvante has the magic touch when it comes to the ladies, he hits upon an unlikely plan.

See the trailer, clips and interviews here.

For more on the movie this is the website.

Release formats: Standard

Genre: Comedy

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

The Final Member

(Drafthouse) Sigrour Hjartason, Pall Arason, Tom Mitchell, Hannes Blondal.In a tiny village in Iceland there is a museum dedicated to the penis. In it are preserved specimens of nearly every animal that has one save one – humans. Two men – one an Icelandic adventurer and the other an eccentric American, race to be the donors of the human member to the collection. A recent favorite at the Florida Film Festival.

See the trailer here.

For more on the movie this is the website.

Release formats: Standard

Genre: Documentary

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

Kochadaiiyaan

(Eros International) Starring the voices of Rajnikant, Deepika Padukone, Sarath Kumar, Jackie Shroff.Two brothers face each other in a battle of good and evil on an epic canvas of magic and India’s colorful history. The first Indian film to utilize photorealistic animation based on motion capture technology.

See the trailer here.

For more on the movie this is the website.

Release formats: Standard

Genre: Animated Feature

Rating: NR

Legends of Oz: Dorothy’s Return

(Clarius) Starring the voices of Lea Michele, Dan Aykroyd, Martin Short, James Belushi. After waking up in Kansas, Dorothy Gale is whisked back to Oz where she discovers that her old friends the Scarecrow, the Tin Man, the Cowardly Lion and Glinda the Good Witch of the North have been kidnapped and are being held prisoner by the nefarious Jester. With new friends to help her, Dorothy sets out to free her friends and set things right in Oz.

See the trailer here.

For more on the movie this is the website.

Release formats: Standard (opens Thursday)

Genre: Animated Feature

Rating: PG (for some scary images and mild peril)

Moms’ Night Out

(TriStar) Sarah Drew, Sean Astin, Patricia Heaton, Trace Adkins. Three moms, in desperate need of a break from taking care of the kids, put the dads in charge, get dressed up to the nines and set out to have a nice, quiet dinner, some adult conversation and maybe a little bit of fun. Of course, things go south in a hurry, both at home with the dads and with the moms. Who knew that going out for a bite to eat would cause so much chaos?

See the trailer and a clip here.

For more on the movie this is the website.

Release formats: Standard (opens Thursday)

Genre: Comedy

Rating: PG (for mild thematic elements and some action)