New Releases for the Week of January 30, 2015


Project AlmanacPROJECT ALMANAC

(Paramount) Jonny Weston, Ginny Gardner, Sam Lerner, Allen Evangelista, Sofia Black-D’Elia, Gary Weeks, Macsen Lintz, Gary Grubbs, Agnes Mayasari. Directed by Dean Israelite

A brilliant young high school student watches a video of his 7th birthday party and is flabbergasted to see himself at the age he is now in it. Not long afterwards, he stumbles upon a mysterious device in the basement his late scientist father had been working on and realizes that it’s a time machine and the opportunity to make right in his life all that is wrong is too much of a temptation to resist. Little does he know that such accidents have consequences and those consequences might mean the end of existence, or at least of his existence.

See the trailer, clips, interviews and interviews here.
For more on the movie this is the website.
Release formats: Standard (opens Thursday)
Genre: Teen Sci-Fi Thriller
Now Playing: Wide Release
Rating: PG-13 (for some language and sexual content)

Black or White

(Relativity) Kevin Costner, Octavia Spencer, Jillian Estell, Bill Burr. A mixed race child lives with her white maternal grandparents after her mother passes away and her father is unable to care for her due to his drug and alcohol problems. When her grandmother also passes away, the African-American paternal grandmother files for joint custody, something the white grandfather – having only his granddaughter left – can’t bear. As many things do in America, it becomes a racial issue as well as a guardianship issue.

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: Drama
Now Playing: Wide Release
Rating: PG-13 (for brief strong language, thematic material involving drug use and drinking, and for a fight)

Black Sea

(Focus) Jude Law, Scoot McNairy, Ben Mendelsohn, Jodie Whittaker. A disgraced submarine captain discovers the location of a Nazi sub at the bottom of the Black Sea filled with gold; it’s only a matter of getting to it and taking the gold. He’ll need some highly specialized men but once they find their prize, greed and paranoia stalk the claustrophobic sub as the men realize that the fewer that make it back home, the more gold for each of them.

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: Thriller
Now Playing: AMC Altamonte Mall, AMC Downtown Disney, Regal Winter Park Village, Regal Waterford Lakes
Rating: R (for language throughout, some graphic images and violence)

The Loft

(Open Road) Karl Urban, James Marsden, Rachael Taylor, Rhona Mitra. Five married men, in the prime of their lives and successful in their careers, conspire to rent a midtown loft for use in extramarital activities. When they discover the body of a beautiful but unknown woman in the loft, they realize that one of them must be the killer. Paranoia and fear build, marriages crumble, secrets are revealed and friendships and loyalties tested and discarded as the hunt to find the killer before he strikes closer to home drives them.

See the trailer and a promo here.
For more on the movie this is the website.
Release formats: Standard (opens Thursday)
Genre: Thriller
Now Playing: Wide Release
Rating: R (for sexual content, nudity, bloody violence, language and some drug use)

Two Days, One Night

(Sundance Select) Marion Cotillard, Fabrizio Rongione, Catherine Salee, Baptiste Sornin. When a woman returns to work after a severe bout of depression, she learns that her co-workers will be voting as to whether to allow her to keep her job. She goes from person to person trying to convince them to allow her to work which would mean smaller bonuses for all of them. Cotillard received an Oscar nomination for her performance here.

See the trailer here.
For more on the movie this is the website.
Release formats: Standard
Genre: Drama
Now Playing: Regal Winter Park Village
Rating: PG-13 (for some mature thematic elements)

Wild Card

(Lionsgate) Jason Statham, Stanley Tucci, Michael Angarano, Sofia Vergara. A bodyguard in Las Vegas with a gambling problem – which is a terrible place to have a gambling problem – comes to the rescue of a friend who’s being beaten up by a sadistic thug, who in turn gets a beating from the bodyguard. Unfortunately, said sadistic thug is the son of a mob boss. Suddenly gambling is the least of the bodyguard’s problems.

See the trailer and interviews here.
For more on the movie this is the website.
Release formats: Standard
Genre: Action
Now Playing: AMC Loew’s Universal Cineplex
Rating: PG (for some action and scary images)

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Stolen (2009)


Stolen

Josh Lucas can't get a break - a decent performance in a film that was ignored.

(2009) Mystery (IFC) Jon Hamm, Josh Lucas, James Van Der Beek, Jimmy Bennett, Jessica Chastain, Rhona Mitra, Joanna Cassidy, Morena Baccarin, Michael Cudlitz, Andy Milder, Holt McCallany, Jude Ciccolella.  Directed by Anders Anderson

For many of us, our children are our lives. When our children are taken away or disappear, our lives are not just disrupted. They are destroyed.

Detective Tom Adkins (Hamm) is a smart cop with a broken heart. Eight years prior, his son Tommy Jr. disappeared while in his care and hasn’t been seen since. The relationship between Tom and his wife (Mitra) is strained to say the least. Tom has never given up on his son, even though an arrest has been made for his disappearance – a body has never been found.

When a boy’s body is found in a box, at first the fear is that it is Tommy Jr., but forensics reveals that the body has been in that box for over 50 years. It turns out that the boy is John Wakefield (Bennett), the developmentally challenged son of Matthew (Lucas). If it weren’t for bad luck, Matthew Wakefield would have no luck at all.

He’s been out of work for quite awhile and unable to secure a new job. The pressure gets to his wife who kills herself, leaving Matthew with three children to raise. His sister agrees to take two of the children in while Matthew goes off in search of work, but her husband refuses to take in John who can be a handful.

Matthew finally finds work in the construction trade and makes friends with an educated sort, who is nicknamed Diploma (Van Der Beek), but Matthew is regarded with suspicion by the townsfolk and he is just one misstep away from being thrown out of town. When John disappears, he gets virtually no help in finding his boy; instead, he searches for him on his own and with Diploma, along with a friendly barmaid (Baccarin). However, it will be all for naught for his son will wind up being found in his lonely, forgotten grave 50 years after the fact.

50 years later, the discovery of John Wakefield has refueled the obsession of Tom, who believes that the two cases may against all odds be related. The man he suspected in the case, Roggiani, may provide the answers for both cases – but is Tommy Adkins alive or, like John Wakefield, patiently waiting for his remains to be discovered in a box of his own?

There are elements of the standard whodunit here, which hold the movie back from being what it ultimately could be. I like the idea of the two parallel stories; the elements in common hold the film together and help elevate the tension level.

Hamm has been getting a great deal of notice for his work in “Mad Men” and this movie was made just at the cusp of his career surge. He has upcoming roles in such high-profile films as Sucker Punch and Bridesmaids; here he has to combine the intensity of the grieving father with the calm, cool logic of the police detective. He isn’t always successful in merging the two sides of Adkins’ personality, but he does a good enough job that you can see the potential shining through. Hamm has a formidable talent and may well be a major Hollywood star in the very near future.

Lucas, on the other hand, has mostly performed on the big screen (most of the rest of the main cast is known more for their TV work) and carries himself with confidence as well as hot. In many ways, Matthew Wakefield is the emotional center of the movie more than Tom Adkins is and you feel real sympathy for a good man who has, through no fault of his own, fallen upon hard times. You feel for Matthew, who has been beat down his entire life and doesn’t deserve the fate that is thrust upon him.

Van Der Beek has come a long way since “Dawson’s Creek,” but I think the subtleties of the role he needed to play here were a bit too much of a stretch for him at this point in his career. Mitra alone of all the characters here has something more three dimensional to work with and she’s one of those actresses who simply perform admirably every time out without attracting the notice she deserves. This is one of those occasions.

The problem here is that there is little or no excitement. Part of what makes the story so compelling – the parallel story lines of the missing boys fifty years apart – is also the issue here. We know what fate awaits John Wakefield and, to a certain extent, Matthew Wakefield as well. That the story makes Tom and Tommy Adkins’ fates just as predictable detracts from the potential of the film. For me, that’s the real crime because this had plenty of potential.

WHY RENT THIS: Some fine performances from Hamm and Lucas, as well as a compelling story.

WHY RENT SOMETHING ELSE: Film seems oddly lifeless and flat when it should be suspenseful and exciting.

FAMILY VALUES: There’s a very sexy scene and some implied violence.

TRIVIAL PURSUIT: Jon Hamm’s Tom Adkins character was named for Jess Thomas Adkins, the actor who played Carl the Trashman on “Sesame Street” who was the acting teacher for writer Glenn Taranto.

NOTABLE DVD EXTRAS: None listed.

BOX OFFICE PERFORMANCE: $7,943 on an unreported production budget; the film was a flop.

FINAL RATING: 7/10

TOMORROW: Drive Angry 3D

Underworld: Rise of the Lycans


Bill Nighy doesn't drink...wine.

Bill Nighy doesn't drink...wine.

(Screen Gems) Michael Sheen, Rhona Mitra, Bill Nighy, Steven Mackintosh, Kevin Grevioux, David Aston. Directed by Patrick Tatopoulos

Every story has a beginning. For the ongoing war between the Vampires and Lycans (werewolves), we have seen only the middle. This is where it began.

Most fairy tales begin with “Once Upon a Time.” So, once upon a time the vampires were in charge of everything. Human lords paid them tribute and vampires kept Lycan slaves to do the heavy lifting and also to protect them during the daylight hours when they must sleep.

Victor (Nighy) is ruler of the Vampire coven. His daughter Sonja (Mitra) is like him haughty and a member of the ruling council, although she doesn’t seem to take her responsibilities seriously. It’s a serious time for the Vampires; the original pure-blooded Lycans who are more beast than human are on a rampage, and they have far greater numbers.

One of the pureblood Lycans has had a baby who has retained its humanity. While Victor executes the mother, he spares the baby who grows up to be Lucian (Sheen), who was part of the central action in the first Underworld. From his blood Victor creates a number of – clones? – Well, a lot of bare-chested guys that get hairy when the moon is full. Victor controls them by means of silver bondage collars that kind of fit in with the whole S&M motif – the vampires are awfully fond of leather corsets, bustieres and trenchcoats. 

Lucian has also fallen in love with Sonja and the two are carrying on a torrid, illicit affair that is forbidden by Vampire law (which sounds like a title for a new series on the CW). When Sonja impulsively goes out to save a group of human nobles who were attacked by the bestial Lycans on the way to a meeting with the Vampire council, Lucian rides out to save her and is forced to remove his collar to fight his cousins. Although he saves Sonja, he is punished for breaking the law of never removing his collar.

Lucian is befriended by a human slave named Raze (Grevioux, who also appeared as this character in the first Underworld) who is turned to werewolf by Victor, who has Raze bitten by a pureblood. Seeing that his people are being brutalized by the Vampires Lucian undergoes a change of heart. He decides, Spartacus-like, to lead his people – and incidentally the humans too – to freedom. Sonja helps him escape but in the process their love for each other is exposed – and Victor is forced to do something so horrible it will set events in motion that will reverberate around the world for a thousand years.

This is the kind of movie that needs to be a wild ride, and for some of the movie it accomplishes that. There are plenty of nifty action scenes, vampire and werewolf chow downs and transformations galore. There’s also a great deal of blood as you might expect.

You don’t see this kind of movie for the acting, but there are actually some fine actors involved. Nighy is having a grand old time going over the top like he’s summiting Everest. It’s actually fun to watch him wrap himself around dialogue that would do a Roman epic proud. He can make even the tritest lines sound positively Shakespearean and he doesn’t disappoint here.

Sheen has been coming on lately to deliver some awesome work of late in movies like The Queen and Frost/Nixon. He is reprising a role from earlier in his career; it isn’t the most glamorous of his career but he nonetheless gives it his all and makes Lucian heroic, if a bit bland. He certainly looks far more hunky than in his turns as Tony Blair and David Frost.

Because this is all about vampires, most of the movie takes place at night and inside a creepy, dark castle. Dark is the operative word here; dark as in underlit. Between the dark sets, the black wardrobe and the pale skin, sometimes it feels like you’re watching the film through black gauze.

There’s not a lot of emotional resonance here which is a bit odd since at the center of the movie is a forbidden love story, but in the long run that’s okay. After all, we’re talking vampires and werewolves here, right? That’s just a recipe for awesomeness that shouldn’t disappoint and Underworld: Rise of the Lycans doesn’t. There’s enough fun that the movie fulfills its purpose and leaves me wanting another go.

WHY RENT THIS: Bill Nighy chows down on the scenery like he hasn’t eaten in days, and he seems to be having a great time doing it too. Sheen has been doing the best work of his career lately; he puts a brave face on and does exceptionally well in a part that doesn’t necessarily deserve it.

WHY RENT SOMETHING ELSE: This is a very, very dark movie. No, not the tone; the lighting. It’s downright hard to see sometimes. Some of the CGI is a little weak, and the dialogue is a bit pretentious.  

FAMILY VALUES: Gore, gore and more gore. And then, a little more gore. Oh, and some violence. And then gore. Did I mention there is a lot of gore?

TRIVIAL PURSUIT: Michael Sheen was asked to re-record some dialogue for Frost/Nixon during shooting and did so, covered in fake blood after a days shooting for Underworld: Rise of the Lycans. A framed picture of the event sits in Ron Howard’s office.

NOTABLE DVD EXTRAS: The Blu-Ray edition has an interactive map feature called “Lycanthropes Around the World” that traces reputed werewolf sightings from around the globe.

FINAL RATING: 6/10

TOMORROW: Six Days of Darkness Day Two