New Releases for the Week of August 19, 2016


Ben-HurBEN-HUR

(MGM/Paramount) Jack Huston, Morgan Freeman, Toby Kebbell, Rodrigo Santoro, Nazanin Boniadi, Ayelet Zurer, Pilou Asbæk, Sofia Black-D’Elia, Moises Arias. Directed by Timur Bekmambetov

Union general Lew Wallace is best known today for his epic novel Ben-Hur: A Tale of the Christ from which a silent film classic starring Ramon Navarro was adapted in 1925, and one of the most venerated films in history starring Charlton Heston was released in 1959. Now, 57 years later comes a new version of the story of Judah Ben-Hur, a noble among Jews at the time of Jesus Christ who is betrayed by his childhood friend Messala and falsely accused of attempting an assassination of the Roman governor. Sentenced to be a galley slave for what is expected to be a short life, he manages to escape and seeks revenge against his one-time friend, but an encounter with Jesus Christ changes all that.

See the trailer, interviews, featurettes, a clip and premiere footage here.
For more on the movie this is the website.

Release Formats: Standard
Genre: Swords and Sandals
Now Playing: Wide Release

Rating: PG-13 (for sequences of violence and disturbing images)

Breaking a Monster

(Abramorama) Malcolm Brickhouse, Jarad Dawkins, Alec Atkins, Alan Sacks. Three young African-American boys fall in love with heavy metal and put together a band. Calling themselves Unlocking the Truth, they dream of making it big as arena rockers. After practicing at home, they decide to venture out into Times Square and their impromptu concerts draw attention, but not as much as their YouTube videos. They become the subject of major label attention and a 70-year-old industry veteran signs on to manage their careers. However, boys will be boys and as these young guys try to navigate the treacherous waters of the music industry, it is uncertain whether they’ll just get their feet wet or drown in the sorrow of unfulfilled potential.

See the trailer here.
For more on the movie this is the website.

Release Formats: Standard (one performance only, Monday 8/22 at 9:30pm)
Genre: Musical Documentary
Now Playing: Enzian Theater

Rating: NR

Hell or High Water

(CBS) Ben Foster, Chris Pine, Jeff Bridges, Katy Mixon. Two West Texas brothers – one a divorced father trying to support his son as best he can, the other a violent ex-con – come together to rob branch after branch of a bank that is attempting to foreclose on their family land. Essentially fighting a battle to take down an amoral corporate financial institution, they are being chased by a surly Texas Ranger who is nipping at their heels. With one last job to pull before their plan is complete, the forces of law and justice will collide in the dry wasteland of high summer in the Lone Star state.

See the trailer, clips, interviews, premiere footage and B-roll video here.
For more on the movie this is the website.

Release Formats: Standard
Genre: Crime Drama
Now Playing: AMC Altamonte Mall, AMC Disney Springs, Cinemark Artegon Marketplace, Regal Waterford Lakes, Regal Winter Park Village

Rating: R (for some strong violence, language throughout and brief sexuality)

Imperium

(Lionsgate) Daniel Radcliffe, Toni Collette, Tracy Letts, Sam Trammell. An idealistic young analyst working for the FBI is given an assignment outside of his comfort zone – to infiltrate a violent neo-Nazi group that may have ideas of domestic terrorism on their minds. Protesting that he is woefully unprepared for this type of work, he nonetheless takes on the assignment and does his best to make headway in the dangerous underground white supremacist movement which will lead him to question everything he believes. This is inspired by an actual incident.

See the trailer and clips here.
For more on the movie this is the website.

Release Formats: Standard
Genre: Thriller
Now Playing: AMC Loews Universal Cineplex

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

Kubo and the Two Strings

(Focus/LAIKA) Starring the voices of Charlize Theron, Matthew McConaughey, Ralph Fiennes, Art Parkinson. A young boy, eking out a living telling stories in a seaside town in a mythological Japan, unintentionally summons a demonic force with an axe to grind on Earth. Fleeing for his life, he will have to save his family, solve the mystery of the fall of his father who happens to be the greatest samurai warrior the world has ever known with only a magical musical instrument to battle Gods, monsters and demons.

See the trailer, clips, interviews and B-roll video here.
For more on the movie this is the website.

Release Formats: Standard
Genre: Animated Feature
Now Playing: Wide Release

Rating: PG (for thematic elements, scary images, action and peril)

Our Little Sister

(Sony Classics) Haruka Ayase, Masami Nagasawa, Kaho, Suzu Hirose. Three beautiful sisters, living in a Japanese city, are called back to their rural home when their philandering father who abandoned them 15 years earlier passes away. There they meet Suzu, a half-sister they never knew they had. When they discover that her mother has also passed away, they invite her to live with him and begin a new life as a quartet of women in modern Japan.

See the trailer and clips here.
For more on the movie this is the website.

Release Formats: Standard
Genre: Dramedy
Now Playing: Regal Winter Park Village

Rating: PG (for thematic elements and brief language)

War Dogs

(Warner Brothers) Miles Teller, Jonah Hill, Bradley Cooper, Ana de Armas. Based on a true story, this film follows two twenty-something entrepreneurs who get in way over their heads when they exploit a little-known loophole involving small business for government contracts and land a 300 million dollar deal to arm the Afghan government. This allows them to make deals with people that the U.S. Government can’t negotiate with – which turns out to be an incredibly dangerous proposition.

See the trailer, clips, interviews and B-roll video here.
For more on the movie this is the website.

Release Formats: Standard
Genre: True Life Dramedy
Now Playing: Wide Release

Rating: R (for language throughout, drug use and some sexual references)

Wiener-Dog

(IFC/Amazon) Greta Gerwig, Kieran Culkin, Danny DeVito, Julie Delpy. A single dog touches many lives in this comedy by indie icon Todd Solondz. The dog goes on a bit of a road trip, garnering multiple masters all in need of something that perhaps may be too much for one soulful dog to supply. This dark comedy is an honest look at the longings and experiences of America circa 2016 with an all-star cast to bring it all into focus.

See the trailer, a clip and a link to viewing the full movie on Amazon here.
For more on the movie this is the website.

Release Formats: Standard
Genre: Comedy
Now Playing: Enzian Theater

Rating: R (for language and some disturbing content)

Jane Got a Gun


Jane takes aim at the industry suits who kept this film on the shelf for three years.

Jane takes aim at the industry suits who kept this film on the shelf for three years.

(2016) Western (Weinstein) Natalie Portman, Joel Edgerton, Noah Emmerich, Ewan McGregor, Rodrigo Santoro, Boyd Holbrook, Alex Manette, Todd Stashwick, James Burnett, Sam Quinn, Chad Brummett, Boots Southerland, Nash Edgerton, Robb Janov, James Blackburn, Nicoletta Chapman, Ricky Lee, Darlene Kellum, Lauren Poole, Kristin Hansen. Directed by Gavin O’Connor

When you are threatened, I think that most of us can pretty much take it. You can do what you want to us, but leave our families alone, right? When home and hearth are threatened, well, one has to make a line in the sand someplace.

For Jane Hammond (Portman), that line has been drawn. When her husband Bill (Emmerich) shows back home with bullets in his back, he tells her that he had a run-in with the Bishop Boys, a gang he once rode with and who Jane herself has a past with. Now they are coming. Jane could easily take her daughter and run, but she’s done that her entire life. She loves her home and will fight to defend it.

But she can’t do it by herself and Bill’s wounds are simply too severe for him to be much use in a gunfight, so she swallows her pride and enlists Dan Frost (Edgerton), the gunslinger who was once her fiance. While he was away fighting the Civil War, she had become disillusioned, believing that he had been killed in action. While on a wagon train headed West led by John Bishop (McGregor), she was saved from the proverbial fate worse than death by Bill, along with a daughter fathered by Frost that he never knew he had.

Now the past has caught up with her and Bill and only Dan can save them. Dan has issues of his own, many of them stemming with his treatment at Jane’s hands so he’s ambivalent about helping her out, but he can’t leave the woman he once loved in the lurch, even if he has to save the man she’s with now. So he calmly goes about the business of fortifying her home, knowing that the force that is coming at them may be greater than even he can save her from.

This is very much in the vein of typical “against the odds” Westerns along the lines of a High Noon in which a heroic figure is preparing for the arrival of an overwhelming force that is likely to kill them. Natalie Portman is no Gary Cooper, but she does topline the film nicely. When I heard she was doing this film, I wondered about the wisdom of casting her in this kind of role; after all, she’s one of the most beautiful women in the world and has the grace of a ballerina. Could she play a dirt farmer’s wife in the Old West? Turns out, she can.

O’Connor wants to make a traditional Western with a bit of a twist, putting Portman in kind of a heroic role. While Edgerton – who co-wrote the film – is ostensibly the hero, Portman steals the show but not to the same extent that McGregor does. With his shoe polish black moustache and coif, he looks the part of a Western villain, maybe to the point of self-parody. But he is certainly venal enough and his smooth words disguise lethal venom. It’s a terrific villainous role for an actor who tends to assay heroic roles more often.

The dusty New Mexico landscape is dry as a bone and makes for an appropriately desolate setting. I have to admit that while the movie is decently paced and doesn’t seem to have any extraneous material, the flashbacks are a bit awkward and the whole balloon ride thing was more or less unconvincing – you half expected to see them sailing for Oz.

The movie has largely been left to fend for itself, which is a crying shame. It deserved a better fate than it got from Weinstein and various distributors, directors and producers. Despite its checkered past in getting from script to multiplex, this isn’t a bad movie and while it isn’t the best Western out there, it is a solid entry into the genre which has received a welcome resurgence over the past several months. Movies like this are likely to entice even more viewers into the genre.

REASONS TO GO: Nicely paced. Acting performances are all solid.
REASONS TO STAY: Nothing here is particularly different and exciting. Derivative.
FAMILY VALUES: There are violence and language issues.
TRIVIAL PURSUIT: Originally filmed in 2013, the movie sat on the shelf for nearly three years due to several release date changes, the bankruptcy of Relativity Studios (who were originally to release it) and reported clashes between the distributors and producers.
CRITICAL MASS: As of 2/10/16: Rotten Tomatoes: 33% positive reviews. Metacritic: 50/100.
COMPARISON SHOPPING: Hannie Caulder
FINAL RATING: 6.5/10
NEXT: Cinema of the Heart begins!

The 33


Chippendale's goes underground.

Chippendale’s goes underground.

(2015) True Life Drama (Warner Brothers/Alcon) Antonio Banderas, Rodrigo Santoro, Juliette Binoche, James Brolin, Lou Diamond Phillips, Mario Casas, Jacob Vargas, Juan Pablo Raba, Oscar Nuňez, Tenoch Huerta, Marco Treviňo, Adriana Barraza, Kate del Castillo, Cote de Pablo, Elizabeth De Razzo, Naomi Scott, Gustavo Agarita, Bob Gunton, Gabriel Byrne, Paulina Garcia. Directed by Patricia Riggen

One of the problems with bringing a real life event to the big screen, such as the sinking of the Titanic or the destruction of the Hindenburg is that everyone knows what’s about to transpire pretty much. For the mine collapse of the San Jose copper mine in Chile’s Atacama Desert on August 5, 2010 that trapped 33 miners miles below the surface for 69 days, most people are aware of how that turned out.

For most of the miners of the San Jose copper mine, August 5, 2010 was just another working day. After a retirement party for Mario Gomez (Agarita) who has just a few days to retire, Mario Sepulveda (Banderas), engineer Luis “Don Lucho” Urzua (Phillips), Elvis impersonator Edison Pena (Vargas), Dario Segovia (Raba), a homeless alcoholic and the devout Jose Henriquez (Treviňo) are among those who go down to earn their living, even though there are signs that something catastrophic was about to occur (and in real life, several miners had died and the mine owners repeatedly fined for poor safety conditions in the century-old mine).

Then a rock twice the size of the Empire State Building shifts and falls, burying the miners miles below the surface. When the 33 miners in the bowels of the earth reach their refuge, they discover that the medical supply cabinet is empty, the emergency food rations nearly so, and the telephone to the surface unconnected. The ladders in the ventilation shaft are also discovered to have never been completed. At first the miners take out their frustrations on foreman Urzua but Sepulveda’s level head prevails. They go about rationing the little food and water they have access to.

On the surface, the families of the miners, led by Maria Segovia (Binoche), the estranged sister of Dario, demand to be informed as to what is being done. The mining company, without the wherewithal to mount an expensive rescue operation, has decided to assume the men are dead and are making only token attempts to see if the miners are alive. The arrival of Chile’s Minister of Mines Laurence Golborne (Santoro) changes that; as he quickly discovers the lack of interest on the mining company’s part of getting their employees home alive, he takes charge of the rescue operation, with the blessing of Chilean President Piňera (Gunton) and with the assistance of mining engineer Andre Sougarret (Byrne).

In the meantime, things are looking dire in the mines as the first boreholes sent to the shelter miss their targets. However, once the miners are discovered alive and well, the gaze of the world turns to this compelling story in a small Chilean town.

Part of the problem with The 33 lies in its own title; there are 33 miners trapped underground and the movie can’t really spend a whole lot of time developing any of their characters. Throw in the families, political and media figures, the rescue teams including the one led by American Jeff Hart (Brolin) and it’s nearly impossible for director Riggen to give us a figure for the audience to latch onto, with the exception of the larger-than-life “Super Mario” who became a media darling in Chile during the actual event.

So a solid cast led by Banderas and Binoche, one of the most gifted actresses in the world, is left with frustratingly little to do other than occasionally mouthing a cliche meant to project their character’s role in the movie as comic relief, antagonist, love interest and so forth. Riggen has been criticized for this somewhat but to be fair I don’t think any director could have wrangled all of these characters and made them three dimensional unless she had a mini-series to do it with. Going back to Super Mario, during the movie there’s an incident when the miners turn on him because of his perceived favored status. One wonders if the actors in the film felt the same about Banderas who is really the only one of them who gets to make any sort of impression.

The rugged Chilean desert nicely contrasts with the mine scenes which were filmed in working mines in Columbia. They do capture nicely the flavor of being deep underground, although the sense of just how deep they were gets a little lost – in reality it would take the miners about an hour to reach the level they were trapped on from the surface, and of course an hour to return.

The movie glosses over some of the more disturbing aspects of the story, such as the mining company’s negligence or the absolutely disgraceful dismissal of their lawsuit three years after the disaster, or of the Chilean government’s opportunistic use of the miners to prop up their own sagging popularity. However, to be fair, the movie makes it clear that this was a defining moment in the history of Chile and that cannot be overlooked.

All in all, it’s an uplifting story that is a tribute to human endurance, the unmistakable power of hope, and the undeniable lure of bare masculine chests. I don’t know that the movie captured the true nature of what the miners endured – the second half of the movie there is almost zero tension because by that time supplies were making regular appearances down a tube from the surface, they had video communication with the surface and they made it seem less of a life-threatening situation than an endurance race. In the actual situation, there were serious doubts that the miners would survive – the unstable geological situation and the unknown performance of the rescue capsule were certainly question marks. Unfortunately, Riggen doesn’t really capture that adequately and maybe no director could have. After all, it’s no secret (and therefore not a spoiler) that all of the miners were rescued. That’s certainly the outcome we all wanted, but as dramatic cinema goes it doesn’t really stack up well.

REASONS TO GO: Inspiring. Plenty of beefcake.
REASONS TO STAY: Lacks character development. Little tension since we know how it ended.
FAMILY VALUES: There’s some minor profanity and a disaster sequence that might be a bit scary for young ones.
TRIVIAL PURSUIT: The final film to be scored by the late James Horner, who died in a plane crash two months before the movie’s release.
CRITICAL MASS: As of 11/29/15: Rotten Tomatoes: 42% positive reviews. Metacritic: 55/100.
COMPARISON SHOPPING: October Sky
FINAL RATING: 6/10
NEXT: Spotlight

New Releases for the Week of November 13, 2015


The 33THE 33

(Warner Brothers) Antonio Banderas, Rodrigo Santoro, Juliette Binoche, James Brolin, Lou Diamond Phillips, Bob Gunton, Gabriel Byrne. Directed by Patricia Riggen

In 2010, the eyes of the world were on Chile when 33 miners were trapped in a copper mine by a catastrophic explosion and collapse of the mine. For 69 days, an international team of mine experts frantically tried to rescue the men who survived underground. With barely enough food and water, with air running out and oppressive heat wearing them down, the race against time to bring the miners home became a desperate one. While we all know how the story ended, we don’t know the real story. This is apparently it.

See the trailer, clips and a featurette here.
For more on the movie this is the website.

Release Formats: Standard
Genre: True Life Drama
Now Playing: Wide Release
Rating: PG-13 (for a disaster sequence and some language)

Love the Coopers

(CBS) Diane Keaton, John Goodman, Ed Helms, Marisa Tomei. The Cooper family has made an annual tradition of gathering at Christmas. Four generations of Coopers have grown up with this tradition. This year however, their celebration will be thrown askew by unexpected visitors, unlikely events and a renewal of family bonds that withstand the test of just about any calamity.

See the trailer and clips here.
For more on the movie this is the website.

Release Formats: Standard
Genre: Holiday Comedy
Now Playing: Wide Release
Rating: PG-13 (for thematic elements, language and some sexuality)

My All-American

(Clarius) Aaron Eckhart, Finn Wittrock, Sarah Bolger, Robin Tunney. Freddie Steinmark has been an underdog all his life. Considered too small to play football, he perseveres and becomes a champion in high school. His fight and determination attracts the attention of legendary University of Texas coach Darryl Royal who awards Freddie a scholarship. His determination and leadership turn around a losing team, but it was only after a devastating injury leads to a shocking discovery that the heart of a champion truly surfaces.

See the trailer, clips, interviews and B-roll video here.
For more on the movie this is the website.

Release Formats: Standard
Genre: True Sports Drama
Now Playing: Wide Release
Rating: PG (for thematic elements, language and brief partial nudity)

Focus


Will Smith and Margot Robbie make an arresting couple.

Will Smith and Margot Robbie make an arresting couple.

(2015) Crime Drama (Warner Brothers) Will Smith, Margo Robbie, Adrian Martinez, Gerald McRaney, Rodrigo Santoro, BD Wong, Brennan Brown, Robert Taylor, Dotan Bonen, Griff Furst, Stephanie Honore, David Stanford, Dominic Fumusa, Steve Kim, Don Yesso, Juan Minujin, Jano Seitun, Melania Lenoir, Pietro Gian, Justina Bustos, Paola Brasca, Kate Adair . Directed by Glenn Ficarra and John Requa

Con artist movies are not the easiest things in the world to undertake. For one thing, we’ve all seen at least a few, from The Sting on down. It’s hard to fool veteran moviegoers and keeping the audience misdirected is the key to a successful con movie, or else the audience leaves the theater feeling as if it was they who had been conned.

Nicky (Smith) is a con artist and one of the best. He finds big sporting events – the Super Bowl, Championship Boxing matches, All-Star games – and basically invades those towns with a crew of pickpockets and thieves, using plants to distract and confuse while his light-fingered operatives steal wallets, jewelry, electronics – whatever items of value they can get their hands on. There are also the grifters who pose as aggrieved husbands and cheating wives in one of the oldest tricks in the book. Nicky and his crew can make a fortune.

Nicky has taken under his wing the lovely Jess (Robbie), an aspiring con artist who has natural talent at it but lacks the experience and some of the skills. Nicky teaches her that all of this is a matter of focus, keeping track of the lie and sticking with it. Die with the lie, he tells her when they meet when she tries unsuccessfully to swindle him. You can’t con a con man, after all.

However, when Nicky grows too fond of her, he abruptly pulls away. You can’t get too close to people in this game after all. You always have to keep your focus.

Three years later, Nicky is in the midst of working a con involving an experimental Grand Prix auto engine from a smarmy Brazilian billionaire (Santoro) with a curmudgeonly but deadly bodyguard (McRaney) when who walks into the picture? Jess, of course. Is she playing an angle or has she, as she claims, left the life and become the girlfriend of the billionaire? And what is Nicky’s angle? Who’s conning who?

Directors Ficarra and Requa also co-wrote the movie and while they have given us a slickly filmed opus with some nice visuals, there’s a good deal here that is lacking, particularly in the writing. Smith is in dire need of a hit and this isn’t likely to be it; despite the fact that he still has the charm and manner that made him one of the biggest stars in Hollywood, audiences aren’t responding to it as much as they once did and this is the kind of script that really Smith should have passed on. He’s too good for this material.

Robbie is a star in the making. After garnering attention for her role as the trophy wife in The Wolf of Wall Street she shows that she has natural screen presence that holds up nicely to one of the most charismatic stars in the world which bodes well for her career. She and Smith in fact have a good chemistry, the sort that money can’t buy and their complex onscreen relationship works because of it. As I intimated, you’re never quite sure who’s conning who.

The supporting performances are strong here too, particularly from Wong who plays an Asian businessman with a penchant for gambling who gets into a battle of wills with Nicky, Martinez as the socially awkward best friend and obligatory computer genius, Brown as the captain of Nicky’s crew and McRaney at his gruff best. The acting isn’t the problem here.

The sequences of pickpockets working the Super Bowl crowd in New Orleans are artfully choreographed and fun to watch. The cinematography is nicely done as well, delivering a world that exists in the underbelly of night and on the fringes of the good life. It’s a believable looking film.

Where it goes off the rails is in the writing. For one thing, most veteran moviegoers should be able to predict what’s going to happen next without missing the mark which is a cardinal no-no in a movie like this. There are few really genuine left turns here and the movie suffers for it. There are also plenty of plot holes; the con of the Asian businessman is supposed to rely on subliminal persuasion but the explanation of them is unconvincing at best. The character development is sloppy and fairly stock for movies of this nature; one gets the sense that this is more of a compilation of con man films more than an original take on the subject, and characters often act out of character – Nicky at times for a hardened con man with a supposed heart of stone is awfully sentimental.

The movie works okay as strictly entertainment but it is eminently forgettable and won’t do much for the careers of Smith and Robbie, although they’re both pretty good here. It is typical of the kind of movies that are released in February; a cut above those that come out the month previous but in general flawed, sometimes deeply. This one is of the latter persuasion.

REASONS TO GO: Good chemistry between Robbie and Smith who make engaging leads. Some nice supporting performances as well, particularly from Wong, Martinez, McRaney and Brown. Nice choreography on pickpocket scenes.
REASONS TO STAY: Nothing really surprising here. Plenty of plot holes and “huh?” moments. Characters don’t really behave like how you would expect those sorts of people to behave.
FAMILY VALUES: Plenty of bad language, brief violence and some sexuality.
TRIVIAL PURSUIT: Robbie and Smith will be co-starring again in next year’s Suicide Squad.
CRITICAL MASS: As of 3/10/15: Rotten Tomatoes: 56% positive reviews. Metacritic: 56/100.
COMPARISON SHOPPING: The Grifters
FINAL RATING: 5.5/10
NEXT: What We Do in the Shadows

300: Rise of an Empire


Eva Green sends a message to those critics who didn't like her latest movie.

Eva Green sends a message to those critics who didn’t like her latest movie.

(2014) Swords and Sandals (Warner Brothers) Sullivan Stapleton, Eva Green, Lena Headey, Hans Matheson, Callan Mulvey, David Wenham, Rodrigo Santoro, Jack O’Connell, Andrew Tiernan, Igal Naor, Andrew Pleavin, Ben Turner, Ashraf Barhom, Christopher Sciueref, Steven Cree, Caitlin Carmichael, Jade Cynoweth, Kevin Fry, Nancy McCrumb. Directed by Noam Munro

The original 300 depicted the historic Battle of Thermopylae (albeit taking some fairly liberal factual liberties) and in doing so, made a huge star out of Gerard Butler and director Zack Snyder, helped resurrect the Swords and Sandals genre (along with the Oscar-winning Gladiator) and showed how a movie made nearly entirely of CGI could be not only technologically possible but economically viable as well.

While Snyder is around for this sequel as a producer and writer only, this tells more or less a parallel story of the Athenian general Themistocles who was victorious at the Battle of Marathon at which the Persian emperor Darius (Naor) was killed by an arrow fired by Themistocles himself. His son and heir, Xerxes (Santoro) was manipulated by his most talented and vicious general Artemesia (Green) – who is of herself Greek descent – into ascending into a role as God-Emperor, which apparently makes you ten feet tall in the process.

While Xerxes is attacking King Leonidas (Butler, in flashback) at Thermopylae, Artemesia has engaged a small and ragtag Greek fleet made up mainly of fast, maneuverable Athenian ships along with a few motley vessels supplied by the other city-states of Greece who despite the peril represented by the vast army of the Persian empire are suspicious and quarrelsome among themselves. While Themistocles has some success at sea, the wily Artemesia lures his fleet into a trap and decimates it, leaving it with a handful of ships. As Xerxes gloats over his defeat of Leonidas and his burning of Athens, Artemesia brings her fleet in to finish off the Greeks once and for all – and after failing to move the grieving Queen Gorgo (Headey) of Sparta to help her fellow Greeks, Themistocles knows that Artemesia might well do just that.

This is made in the same style as the original 300 with lots of green screen, lots of digital effects, plenty of CGI blood splatters, bare-chested Spartans with six-pack abs and enough testosterone flowing to drown Australia. It’s the kind of movie that is meant to make it’s young male gamer/fanboy target audience beat their chests and grunt, a knuckle-dragging epic in which the only major female character has a bare-breasted wild sex scene with her supposed enemy that was more violent than sexy but less violent than it was improbable (yes Lena Headey is also in the movie but only for a few scenes).

What differentiates this from 300 is that for all its macho posturing, the original film had at least some semblance of humanity, actual characters who the audience could latch onto and even care about. Here, mostly the players are cannon fodder, hurled into a meat grinder of sharp blades, battle axes, spears, flaming arrows and sinking ships, gobbets of flesh dripping gore arcing in a graceful parabola through the air after being carved from shrieking soldiers. I can’t deny that there is a certain gratification in it, a primitive caveman reaction that is both visceral and appalling, but it must be dutifully cataloged if one is to be honest.

While the dialogue tends more towards jingoism, I also will be the first to admit that the visuals are impressive. You’d swear that you were watching titanic battles being fought in rolling storm-driven seas but the reality was that the actors had not a drop of real water on them – the ocean and the ships are all CGI. About the only thing that wasn’t CGI in the movie was Eva Green’s breasts and I have my doubts about those too.

Green does acquit herself the best and that is the only kindness I can spare the acting which is for the most part over-the-top and melodramatic. Green seems to be having a good time as a badass and it shows. She utters the most cringe-worthy dialogue with a straight face and her smiles drip venom as you would expect from an excellent villain. Stapleton doesn’t have the charisma that Butler has, at least not yet. His Themistocles did a lot of shouting but didn’t really inspire me to want to follow him into battle so his abilities as a leader of men were sharply called into question at least from my vantage point.

I have to mark this down as one of the year’s first disappointments – every year provides several such in the movie calendar. Unfortunately, Snyder was a bit too busy resurrecting the Superman franchise to put in the time and effort to direct this and while his hand is evident in the production end, certainly this didn’t have the wow factor that would make me want to see the third movie in the franchise (one is reportedly in the pipeline should the box office warrant it). In the end, this is a feast for the eyes but does little for the soul beyond providing some instantly forgettable entertainment.

REASONS TO GO: Impressive CGI.

REASONS TO STAY: Lacks a Gerard Butler to keep the audience’s attention. A little too mannered and over-the-top. Hardly any human element to the story.

FAMILY VALUES:  If the fake blood hadn’t been CGI there would have been enough to fill one of the Great Lakes with it. There’s also a ton of hack/slash violence, a good bit of nudity and sexuality, and a bit of foul language.

TRIVIAL PURSUIT: While the titles say that the film is based on Frank Miller’s graphic novel series Xerxes, the screenplay was written concurrently with the graphic novel which has yet to be published and has said to have changed massively since the film was made.

CRITICAL MASS: As of 3/19/14: Rotten Tomatoes: 33% positive reviews. Metacritic: 40/100.

COMPARISON SHOPPING: Pompeii

FINAL RATING: 5/10

NEXT: The Bridge to Terabithia

New Releases for the Week of March 7, 2014


300:  Rise of an Empire

300: RISE OF AN EMPIRE

(Warner Brothers) Sullivan Stapleton, Eva Green, Lena Headey, Hans Matheson, David Wenham, Rodrigo Santoro, Jack O’Connell. Directed by Noam Murro

Following the defeat of the 300 Spartans by the Persian army at Thermopylae, the massive invasion force has Athens in its sights and will attack by land and by sea. The Greek general Themistokles will face the same long odds as Leonidas but losing to Xerxes and his vengeful general Artemesia will mean losing all of Greece to the Persian scourge.

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

For more on the movie this is the website.

Release formats: Standard, 3D, IMAX (opens Thursday)

Genre: Swords and Sandals

Rating: R (for strong sustained sequences of stylized bloody violence throughout, a sex scene, nudity and some language)

The Great Beauty

(Janus) Toni Servillo, Carlo Verdone, Sabrina Ferilli, Carlo Buccirosso. A wealthy novelist in Rome contemplates the missed opportunities of his past, the empty existence of his present and the squalor, corruption and beauty that is the Eternal City. Some have called this Fellini-esque but one thing is for certain – this won the Best Foreign Film Golden Globe and Oscar.

See the trailer and a clip here.

For more on the movie this is the website.

Release formats: Standard

Genre: Dramedy

Rating: NR

Mr. Peabody and Sherman

(DreamWorks) Starring the voices of Ty Burrell, Allison Janney, Patrick Warburton, Stephen Colbert. The world’s smartest dog lives with his talking boy. However when Sherman (said talking boy) in an attempt to impress his friend Penny takes Mr. Peabody’s time machine out for a spin, he creates an instability in the space-time continuum that will take all of Mr. Peabody’s intellect and courage to fix – not to mention some parenting skills. It must be said however that if my boy created an instability in the space-time continuum, he’d be in time-out until he was forty.

See the trailer, a clip and a promo here.

For more on the movie this is the website.

Release formats: Standard

Genre: Animated Feature

Rating: PG (for some mild action and brief rude humor)

Total Siyapaa

(Reliance) Ali Zafar, Yami Gautam, Anupam Kher, Kiron Kher. A young man has fallen in love with an Indian girl living in London. He goes to her parents home for a weekend with the intention of asking for their blessing of the union. They seem to be taking well to him until they find out his dirty little secret – he’s Pakistani. Total chaos ensues as he tries to overcome their prejudices – and his own – in winning back the love of his life.

See the trailer here.

For more on the movie this is the website.

Release formats: Standard

Genre: Bollywood

Rating: NR

War of the Worlds: Goliath

(Anderson Digital) Starring the voices of Adrian Paul, Adam Baldwin, Peter Wingfield, Mark Sheppard. Following the unsuccessful Martian invasion of the Victorian era, the human race has attempted to rebuild their shattered world using the captured technology of the defeated Martians. As is the nature of the human nature, a return to “civilization” has meant that we are all at each other’s throats and a war on a global scale – the war to end all wars – is about to erupt after the assassination of Archduke Franz Ferdinand. All that must be put aside when the Martians return with even more advanced technology and inoculation against the bacteria that killed them the first time. Can we survive another invasion – and more importantly, can we survive ourselves?

See the trailer here.

For more on the movie this is the website.

Release formats: Standard

Genre: Animated Feature

Rating: PG-13 (for fantasy war violence including some disturbing images)

New Releases for the Week of January 18, 2013


The Last Stand

THE LAST STAND

(Lionsgate) Arnold Schwarzenegger, Forest Whitaker, Johnny Knoxville, Rodrigo Santoro, Luis Guzman, Jaimie Alexander, Eduardo Noriega, Peter Stormare, Genesis Rodriguez. Directed by Kim Jee-Woon

The Governator’s first starring role in a decade puts him as a disgraced L.A. cop who now lives a much more peaceful life as sheriff in a small, quiet border town. When a vicious drug cartel kingpin escapes from a convoy taking him to jail, a small army of mercenaries and thugs are insuring that he gets back to Mexico. Unfortunately, their route will take him right through Arnold’s town. Big mistake.

See the trailer, a clip and a promo here.

For more on the movie this is the website.

Release formats: Standard

Genre: Action

Rating: R (for strong bloody violence throughout, and language)

Broken City

(20th Century Fox) Russell Crowe, Mark Wahlberg, Catherine Zeta-Jones, Barry Pepper. A former NYPD cop, stripped of his badge because of a shooting scandal, is hired as a private eye by the popular mayor of Noo Yawk to investigate his wife. However, much more is going on than meets the eye and he finds himself in a fight to bring the truth to light and to keep himself from going to jail.

See the trailer, a clip and a promo here.

For more on the movie this is the website.

Release formats: Standard

Genre: Thriller

Rating: R (for pervasive language, some sexual content and violence)

Mama

(Universal) Jessica Chastain, Nikolaj Coster-Waldau, Megan Charpentier, Isabelle Nellise. Two young girls who’d disappeared five years earlier when their mother died are discovered living in the woods, having survived on their own against all odds. They are brought to live with their only surviving relative – their uncle – and his girlfriend. Soon it becomes apparent that they might not have been quite so alone as everybody thought – and that they brought their companion/protector into their uncle’s home. Not so good for Uncle.

See the trailer and clips here.

For more on the movie this is the website.

Release formats: Standard

Genre: Supernatural Horror

Rating: PG-13 (for violence and terror, some disturbing images and thematic elements)

A Royal Affair

(Magnolia) Mads Mikkelsen, Alicia Vikander, Mikkel Boe Folsgaard, Trine Dyrholm.  In the 18th century, King Christian VII was absolute ruler of Denmark and rumor has it, was quite deranged. His Queen embarked on a passionate affair with a German physician, putting the both of them in extreme danger.

See the trailer here.

For more on the movie this is the website.

Release formats: Standard

Genre: Historical Drama

Rating: R (for sexual content and some violent images)

Rust and Bone

(Sony Classics) Marion Cotillard, Matthias Schoenarts, Bouli Lanners, Celine Sallette. A homeless, friendless and penniless man takes refuge in his sister’s home in the South of France with his five-year-old son who barely knows him. After he gets a job as a nightclub bouncer, he encounters a beautiful whale trainer at the local marine park. When a tragic accident leaves her disabled, the unlikely couple learn to heal each other. Cotillard has received an Oscar nomination for Best Actress for her work here.

See the trailer and an interview here.

For more on the movie this is the website.

Release formats: Standard

Genre: Drama

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

What to Expect When You’re Expecting


What to Expect When You're Expecting

Elizabeth Banks and Brooklyn Decker do the Baby Belly Bump.

(2012) Romantic Comedy (Lionsgate) Cameron Diaz, Jennifer Lopez, Elizabeth Banks, Anna Kendrick, Dennis Quaid, Chace Crawford, Chris Rock, Matthew Morrison, Rodrigo Santoro, Ben Falcone, Thomas Lennon, Joe Manganiello, Rob Huebel, Amir Talai, Rebel Wilson, Wendi McLendon-Covey. Directed by Kirk Jones

 

Childbirth is one of life’s miracles; where a new person is created from sperm and egg. Any mother will tell you that pregnancy is no picnic; there can be serious medical ramifications to the mother and while medical technology has improved, babies – and mothers – still die in the process. Giving birth then is a calculated risk.

On a “Dancing With the Stars”-like show, contestant Jules (Diaz), a Jillian Michaels-like trainer on a “Biggest Loser”-like show, captures the gold along with her dance partner Evan (Morrison). While the tabloids are speculating, the fact is that Alex is more than just a dance partner and it turns out that Jules is pregnant, which will force her to juggle her career as America’s favorite trainer with her pregnancy needs.

Watching the show where Jules triumphs is Rosie (Kendrick) and her roommates. Rosie works on a food truck that shows up in Atlanta parks and at events around town. Working for a rival truck is Marco (Crawford), an old high school classmate of hers. The two aren’t particularly friendly but they make a bet over whose specialty will sell more, they get to talking afterwards, one thing leads to another and she’s pregnant, without even having gone on a single date with him.

Also watching the show is Wendy (Banks), a children’s book author and an advocate for breast feeding. She and her husband Gary (Falcone) have been trying to get pregnant for months without any success. She desperately wants to experience all the things about pregnancy that she’s been writing about but hasn’t had the opportunity to feel for herself. So after a spontaneous tryst during an outdoor movie screening of Dirty Dancing, Wendy comes up pregnant. Gary can’t wait to share the news with his dad.

Her father in law is Ramsey (Quaid), a retired race car driver who is ultracompetitive as a father. He has remarried a trophy wife, Skyler (Decker) and makes no bones over his success as a driver and the money he has. Gary’s joy at announcing his wife’s delicate condition however is tempered when Skyler responds that she, too is pregnant and having twins – Gary is about to have siblings as well as a new child.

Finally, there’s Holly (Lopez), a photographer who loves kids but just can’t have any of her own. She and her husband Alex (Santoro) have decided to adopt an Ethiopian baby mainly because the wait times are shorter. Alex, however, is freaking out about the impending fatherhood thing so on the recommendation of Holly’s friend Kara (McLendon-Covey), Holly sends Alex to join the Dudes group, consisting of fellow dads Gabe (Huebel), Patel (Talai), Kara’s husband Craig (Lennon) and the leader Vic (Rock). To be honest, I’m not sure how helpful Alex found their advice but the camaraderie seems to be what he needs more.

Of course as the weeks and months go by and the due dates loom closer, there will be some issues. Some will find pregnancy nearly unbearable; others will breeze through it. Some will have issues with their partners, others with their own fitness as potential moms. One of them won’t make it to the delivery room. One may not make it out. All of them will find expecting not at all what they expected.

This is based on the best-selling pregnancy guide by Heidi Murkoff and Sharon Mazel, which has been described as the “Bible of American pregnancy” which is a term I find amusing, as if there is a difference between American and Canadian pregnancies. USA Today named it one of the top 25 most influential books of the past 25 years.

Not having read the book, I can’t say for certain whether the movie has captured the spirit of the book. I can only judge it on its effectiveness as a movie. First of all, there are too many plot threads. Now I’m not against showing different aspects of pregnancy – as they do here, but what wound up happening is that we wound up not getting enough time with the characters to develop a whole lot of attachment to them.

It also doesn’t leave the actors a whole lot of time to make much of an impression. Diaz’ character comes off as pretty abrasive, while Banks gets to be something of a caricature. Decker actually seems to make the most headway as a genuinely sweet girl who understands a whole lot more about what’s going on around her than she lets on.

There are some genuine moments of pathos – one in which one of the prospective fathers is terrified that he might lose his wife, and breaks down, unable to even accept the awkward comfort of a fellow dad – and the movie abruptly switches to a scene of Lopez and Santoro in Ethiopia preparing to adopt a baby. It kills the momentum of the film and takes me right out of the emotional power of it, and I was unable to reconnect afterwards.

Admittedly this is going to appeal more to moms and mothers-to-be than those of us who don’t have the correct plumbing. That’s not to say that there isn’t going to be anything to appeal to those of us without wombs; Rock gets to deliver some of his best work in quite a few years and the whole Dude Group thing seems to have been inserted there to give boyfriends and husbands dragged along something to hang onto, although more likely to give their girlfriends and wives something to snigger at.

It’s not that I object to the movie on general principles – pregnancy is a part of life and there has yet to really be a movie that truly captures the pain, the joy, the fear – all of the emotions that go with it. There were moments that this movie did, particularly in the Rosie-Marco story. Unfortunately, too much fluff and padding smothered what could have been a really good movie and turned it into a mediocre one.

REASONS TO GO: At times captures the difficulties of pregnancy.

REASONS TO STAY: Too many storylines. Relies too much on cheap laughs.

FAMILY VALUES: While yes this is more about pregnancy than sex, there is some content that is a bit on the crude side. There is also some bad language which you would expect from someone who is in labor.

TRIVIAL PURSUIT: Most of the extras who appear to be pregnant (both in Atlanta and Ethiopia) actually were at the time of filming.

CRITICAL MASS: As of 5/24/12: Rotten Tomatoes: 25% positive reviews. Metacritic: 42/100. The reviews are mostly negative..

COMPARISON SHOPPING: Knocked Up

FOOD TRUCK LOVERS: Several of the food trucks seen in the movie are actual working food trucks around the Atlanta area.

FINAL RATING: 5/10

NEXT: The Intouchables

Rio


Rio

Linda (foreground, in the blue) gets her inner samba on.

(2011) Animated Feature (20th Century Fox) Starring the voices of Anne Hathaway, Jesse Eisenberg, George Lopez, Leslie Mann, Rodrigo Santoro, will.i.am, Jamie Foxx, Tracy Morgan, Jermaine Clement, Carlos Ponce, Jane Lynch, Wanda Sykes, Thomas F. Wilson. Directed by Carlos Saldanha

The benchmarks for animated features have been Disney for traditional animations and Pixar for computer animations. While some recent entries into the field have shown some promise, for the most part the best animated features to come from places other than the Mouse have largely been those with their own style and subject matter.

Fox has had success with their Ice Age trilogy (a fourth entry makes its way into theaters next year) and the makers of those films have turned their eyes to more sultry climes, the Brazilian paradise of Rio de Janeiro. However, things start off initially in the Arctic-like environment of Moose Lake, Minnesota where lives Linda (Mann), who found a blue macaw that had been stolen from the rain forests of Brazil and sent to the United States for purchase (except it had fallen off the truck). Blu (Eisenberg) lives a very pampered life, warm and secure in Linda’s bookstore, wanting for nothing and being provided with every little need by the doting Linda. They have a wonderful life together.

Into their life walks Tulio (Santoro), a Brazilian ornithologist who informs Linda that Blu is one of only two blue macaws left in the world and that it is imperative that he be mated with the last female, who is in Rio. Because they have a controlled environment available in his bird research center, it is decided that it would be easier to bring Blu to the mountain rather than the mountain to Blu. Reluctantly, Linda agrees to it although she’s not too enthusiastic about leaving home – she has no desire to see the world, somewhat refreshing amongst spunky animated movie heroines.

Blu is flown down and shoved into a lovely environment with Jewel (Hathaway) who wants nothing more than to escape captivity. She is not really interested in mating, particularly with a pampered pet that can’t even fly. The two don’t get along at all which means of course they are going to get along GREAT by the end of the movie.

An amoral poacher named Marcel (Ponce) sends a couple of thugs and a nasty cockatoo named Nigel (Clements) to kidnap the two blues, knowing that as the last of their species they’ll fetch a hefty price. Together Blu and Jewel manage to escape and flee to the rain forest where they are aided by a crafty toucan named Rafael (Lopez), a couple of disreputable looking birds named Nico (Foxx) and Pedro (will.i.am) and a drooling doggie named Luis (Morgan). With Nigel and a barrelful of monkeys looking for them, Blu unable to fly and Linda and Tulio desperately searching for them, it will be a long walk back home. Oh, and did I mention it’s Carnival time in Rio?

In many ways this is the most Disney-like of all the Blue Sky/Fox films. From the score to the musical numbers, this looks and sounds very much like a traditional animated Disney film, from the bright colors to the cute, cuddly anthropomorphized parrots. This is going to appeal to the very young and the merchandising that’s sure to go on is going to drive the kiddies absolutely bonkers and their parents to the poorhouse.

The problem here is that all the color is on the screen – none of it went into the characters, who are all as bland as can be and could have been culled from dozens of animated movies and television shows. And for a movie set in Brazil there’s little to no spice and this movie could have used some. Brazil has some beautiful, exotic locations but one gets the feeling that the farthest the animators went to research their drawings was the Jungle River Cruise and Enchanted Tiki Room at Disneyland.

Sure, it’s a great looking movie but I for one am getting tired of animated features that extol kids to believe in themselves. Judging from surveys, self-belief and self-confidence isn’t something our children are lacking. Rio looks good but in the end it’s like cotton candy – colorful but lacking any substance.

REASONS TO GO: Lush and colorful, with some beautifully drawn images.

REASONS TO STAY: Stock characters and story; trying too hard to be Disney-esque and wind up without much of an identity.

FAMILY VALUES: This is absolutely fine for any family – nothing for parents to be concerned about for any ages.

TRIVIAL PURSUIT: The makers of the wildly popular Angry Birds game created a version of the game set in Rio as a tie-in with the movie.

HOME OR THEATER: It’s beautiful and the kids are gonna insist.

FINAL RATING: 5/10

TOMORROW: Hanna