Before I Disappear


When you're a junkie in New York, the surreality never ends.

When you’re a junkie in New York, the surreality never ends.

(2014) Drama (Fuzzy Logic) Shawn Christensen, Fatima Ptacek, Emmy Rossum, Paul Wesley, Ron Perlman, Richard Schiff, Joseph Perrino, Isabelle McNally, Joseph DeVito, Hani Avital, James Chen, Greg Connolly, Anthoula Katsimatides, Josh Mann, Sean Ringgold, James Andrew O’Connor, Patrick Miller, Jacqui Denski, Stephanie Kurtzuba, Roseanne Ludwigson. Directed by Shawn Christensen

Florida Film Festival 2014

Out of our life choices comes our life; those choices tend to define who we are and not only in the eyes of others. We are what we do. That doesn’t mean that our worst life choices can’t be redeemed but it’s never easy. Sometimes it takes a really bad night for us to find redemption, especially if we’re not particularly looking for it.

Richie (Christensen) is the very poster boy for “loser” – a New York City junkie. He makes what meager money he can by cleaning toilets in a hip club with underworld connections that don’t quite pay his debts and barely pay for his drugs. He lives in a POS apartment that even a cockroach might turn its nose up at – assuming cockroaches have noses which I don’t think they do. But I digress.

Late one night he makes a terrible discovery in one of the bathroom stalls, the kind of discovery that can shut a club down even if it’s connected. His hamfisted boss Bill (Perlman) encourages him not to speak of what he has seen and as a gift he gives him some heroin.

Richie may be a junkie but he understands the streets. He knows what’s what and he knows that his boss intends for him to take the heroin and die. Richie still has a little pride left however; he’s going to slit his own wrists. Ha ha on you, Bill.

As Richie soaks in the tub waiting for the end to come the phone rings. More as a Pavlovian reflex than anything else, he answers it – it’s his sister, Maggie (Rossum) whom he has been estranged from and hasn’t spoken to in years. She’s desperate – she’s been detained and has no one to pick up her daughter Sophie (Ptacek) from school. Maggie is shrill and nearly hysterical and so Richie rouses himself, bandages himself up with packing tape and plods off to save the day.

In the course of a day into the wee hours of the morning, Sophie will accompany Richie from the refined apartments and schools of the hoi polloi to the seediest underbelly of skid row. Sophie, smart and driven, is used to having her schedule planned to the tick. Richie is used to things going wrong. The two couldn’t be further apart on the evolutionary scale if Richie sprouted a tail and hung from trees by his toes. Yet somehow, they find that blood really is thicker than water and that not every winner has it all, nor every loser without redeeming qualities.

That sounds like typical Hollywood crap no doubt; two opposites coming together and making of each other something better than they were. Christensen does it so skillfully here however, so organically that you believe every sordid second of it. Part of the reason this works is that Christensen was wise enough to cast himself in the lead. Perhaps that sounds more like ego than wisdom but trust me, it’s not ego when you deliver. Christensen has that look of a puppy whose been kicked too many times by a cruel master. That cruel master in Richie’s case is life itself.

Throughout the movie, Richie is writing a suicide note to Vista (McNally), his girlfriend who he has been separated from. It’s never explicitly stated, but I get the sense that Vista has preceded Richie into the great beyond and that’s part of Richie’s motivation for wanting to slit his wrists. Still, his little niece gives him a reason to delay that trip at least for a little while.

The chemistry between Ptacek and Christensen is also genuine. Ptacek is a mature actress, much more so than you would think from someone of her tender years. Sophie has a great deal of strength on the surface, but beneath the veneer she’s a lonely little girl who wants to make her mommy proud. The part is equal parts sass and vulnerability and Ptacek pulls both off masterfully.

Schiff, Perlman and Rossum are all veterans who have a trio of fine resumes; other than Rossum, none of them are on screen much but they make the most of their time and give the film a little more cache than it might have otherwise.

Before I Disappear is essentially the extension of Christensen’s Oscar-winning live-action short Curfew which introduces the characters in a very similar situation. Ptacek and Christensen both appear in it, although there is a different actress playing Maggie. Still, when you can get someone like Emmy Rossum who to her credit is doing a much different role than we’re used to seeing from her.

This is a keeper, folks. It’s one of those movies that has just enough levity to keep from being dreary, but is serious enough to retain authenticity. It will put you through an emotional wringer and make you care about Richie and Sophie and even Maggie who can be quite bitchy. While some may not appreciate the sleazy element and the glimpse at a very sordid part of the world, one can’t help but think that this could be the kind of film that inspires an entire movement – call it modern noir if you like. Just be sure and give me the credit when you do.

REASONS TO GO: Gritty. Well-performed all around. Terrific story. Christensen amazing in lead.

REASONS TO STAY: Might be too rough for some.

FAMILY VALUES:  A whole lot of foul language, disturbing images, drug use, violence and brief sexuality.

TRIVIAL PURSUIT: Debuted at this year’s South by Southwest where it won the Audience Award.

CRITICAL MASS: As of 4/12/14: Rotten Tomatoes: no score yet. Metacritic: no score yet.

COMPARISON SHOPPING: L’Enfant

FINAL RATING: 8.5/10

NEXT: Le Chef

Percy Jackson: Sea of Monsters


Logan Lerman, wearing his hoodie, keeps a sharp eye out for George Zimmerman.

Logan Lerman, wearing his hoodie, keeps a sharp eye out for George Zimmerman.

(2013) Fantasy (20th Century Fox) Logan Lerman, Alexandra Daddario, Brandon T. Jackson, Douglas Smith, Mary Birdsong, Yvette Nicole Brown, Stanley Tucci, Nathan Fillion, Anthony Head, Leven Rambin, Jake Abel, Missi Pyle, Connor Dunn, Paloma Kwiatkowski, Ron Perlman (voice), Octavia Spencer (voice), Shohreh Aghdashloo (voice). Directed by Thor Freudenthal

When you’re a demigod (the offspring of one mortal parent and one Greek God or Goddess), life pretty much sucks. You can save the world and still end up feeling like a loser.

At least, that’s the way it is for Percy Jackson (Lerman). The son of Poseidon who saved the world from a plot to use the world’s most dangerous weapon to kickstart a war between the Gods that would have devastated the planet is kind of moping around a year later, wondering if he was indeed a one-quest wonder. Upstaged in nearly everything by Charisse (Rambin), daughter of the God of War, his friends Grover (Jackson) the satyr and Annabeth (Daddario) the daughter of the Goddess of Wisdom have his back but the headmaster at Camp Half-Blood, Dionysus (Tucci) can’t even remember Percy’s name let alone his fame.

When the camp’s defensive barrier is attacked (a magic tree), it appears that the only way to sustain it is to retrieve the legendary Golden Fleece of Jason and the Argonauts. However, that rests on an island in the Sea of Monsters (what we humans call the Bermuda Triangle) and the way there and back is perilous indeed. He will have to deal with traitorous demigods, crazed cabbies, monsters of all size and shapes and a dorky half-brother (Smith) who happens to be a Cyclops. With his friends at his side, how can he be beaten? Well, quite often actually…

The second movie in the series based on Rick Riordan’s wildly popular young adult books, like the first film, uses Greek mythology as a jumping off point. However, that film was kind of poorly written with plot points that lacked coherent explanation and suffered a bit from too close to Harry Potter for comfort. Those sins are still very much in evidence here and while the special effects are more spectacular in the sequel, the thrill factor is much less in the second film than it was in the first.

Lerman has blown hot and cold as a young leading man. His sad sack Percy doesn’t have the heroic qualities of a Harry Potter although he does find his inner hero by film’s end (that’s not much of a spoiler). Here, he doesn’t hold up well to Rambin, who is sexy and charismatic and whose character exceeds Percy in nearly every category as Rambin does Lerman here. Lerman is beginning to remind me of Shia LaBeouf in a negative way.

A movie like this needs to be exciting and thrilling and the issue is that I never felt those things even once during the movie. It’s just kind of there – I don’t really care much about the characters, the visuals can be nice but ultimately they are like seeing a single red rose in a snowy garden; the color is beautiful but it doesn’t change that the rest of the setting is bland and colorless. The series, beloved by many, deserves better movies to be made from it.

REASONS TO GO: Some spectacular effects sequences. Fillion and Tucci are fun.

REASONS TO STAY: Way too Harry Potter-esque. Lacks chemistry. Percy not nearly as heroic as Harry.

FAMILY VALUES:  Here there be monsters; also some mild foul language, fantasy action sequences and a few semi-scary images.

TRIVIAL PURSUIT: Rambin, a natural blonde, wore a wig for her role as Charisse; Daddario, a natural brunette, dyed her hair blonde to play Annabeth.

CRITICAL MASS: As of 8/22/13: Rotten Tomatoes: 38% positive reviews. Metacritic: 39/100.

COMPARISON SHOPPING: Harry Potter and the Sorcerer’s Stone

FINAL RATING: 5/10

NEXT: The Story of Us

Pacific Rim


Why does this giant robot have a trash bucket on its head?

Why does this giant robot have a trash bucket on its head?

(2013) Science Fiction (Warner Brothers) Charlie Hunnam, Rinko Kikuchi, Idris Elba, Charlie Day, Ron Perlman, Robert Kazinski, Burn Gorman, Max Martini, Clifton Collins Jr., Diego Klattenhoff, Brad William Henke, Larry Joe Campbell, Mana Ashida, Santiago Segura, Joe Pingue, Milton Barnes, Ellen McLain (voice), Robert Maillet, Heather Doerksen. Directed by Guillermo del Toro

When I was a boy, I used to love Japanese monster movies – men in rubber lizard suits smashing Tokyo to smithereens. My Dad and I loved the kind of cheesy earnestness of the movies and while we both moved on to other genres, we did share that one thing.

For my own son, it was giant robots. Transformers, dude. Things that turned into other things that grew huge and took on other huge things. That was what kids a generation removed from myself cut their teeth on. Now what about combining the two together?

That’s just what Guillermo del Toro, visionary director of Pan’s Labyrinth did. In the near future, Earth has been invaded by gigantic beasts that came out of the ocean – or more accurately through a dimensional portal that manifested at the bottom of the Pacific. These creatures wreaked havoc on the coastal cities of Asia and Australia as well as the West Coast of the United States. Conventional warfare doesn’t work on these Kaiju which is Japanese for “strange creature” but over time has come to assume gigantic size as well. In order to fight these creatures, giant robotic creatures – called Jaegers which is German for “hunters” – have been created. These machines are piloted by humans and are so intricate and complex that it requires to human brains, which are psychically linked by a “drift” which allows both pilots to share memories while operating both sides of the robotic brain. At first, these robots are successful.

However as time goes on, more and more creatures pour out of the portal growing larger and more deadly as they do. Raleigh Becket (Hunnam) is a pilot along with his brother Yancy (Klattenhoff) but in a battle with a Kaiju Yancy is killed while connected to Raleigh who experiences his brother’s death. Raleigh leaves the program and becomes a construction worker on a gigantic wall protecting the coastline which the government feels will adequately protect the people and cities of the coast.

Of course, that doesn’t work and the general of the Jaeger program, Stacker Pentecost (Elba) finds himself in need of pilots as the Kaiju have begun a counter-offensive that has pushed humanity to the brink of extinction. Stacker knows the only way for humanity to survive is to find a way to close that portal; he has scientists Newton Geiszler (Day) and Helmut Gottleib (Gorman) trying to find ways to do just that. But they’ll need pilots too, even burned out ones and Raleigh is recruited. Japanese scientist Mako Mori (Kikuchi) is his handler; her family died in a Kaiju attack and she yearns to pilot a Jaeger and get some payback. Raleigh might be her best bet for it – but both will have to get over their issues from the past and face gigantic odds because the creatures coming at them from the portal are like nothing they’ve ever seen before.

This might well be the most visually amazing movie of the summer – the battle sequences are worth their weight in gold all by themselves. This is high-tech stuff, even more so than the anime you might remember that featured the giant robots. Del Toro does himself the favor of creating characters with some meat to them, giving the audience a rooting interest which is more than a lot of summer films have been able to accomplish this year.

Hunnam, known to most audiences from his work on Sons of Anarchy is turning out to be quite a promising leading man. Here he has some pretty good cast members to work with, particularly Elba who is one of the best in the business. So too is Perlman (playing a black market Kaiju organ seller) but he has no scenes with Hunnam. Kikuchi is riveting when she’s onscreen; at a very young age she’s become one of the best actresses in the world.

Following a trend that has puzzled me all summer long, the film is a good 20-40 minutes too long; quite frankly the entire subplot with Perlman could have been eliminated or at least saved for a Premium Home Video release. At least however even if the movie drags near the end the eye candy you’re given makes it worthwhile and for geeks of all ages this is manna from heaven, ready to be gorged.

REASONS TO GO: Amazing visuals. Elba and Perlman always interesting; Hunnam is getting to be quite a leading man.

REASONS TO STAY: Way too long. Too much chest-busting.

FAMILY VALUES:  Plenty of action, plenty of violence and  a bit of bad language.

TRIVIAL PURSUIT: Tom Cruise was originally considered for the role in which Idris Elba was eventually cast in.

CRITICAL MASS: As of 7/24/13: Rotten Tomatoes: 72% positive reviews. Metacritic: 64/100; the critics are pretty solidly behind this one.

COMPARISON SHOPPING: Space Battleship Yamato

FINAL RATING: 6.5/10

NEXT: I Melt With You

New Releases for the Week of July 12, 2013


Grown Ups 2

GROWN UPS 2

(Columbia) Adam Sandler, Chris Rock, Kevin James, David Spade, Salma Hayek, Maya Rudolph, Taylor Lautner, Steve Buscemi, Maria Bello. Directed by Dennis Dugan.

Most of the all-star cast from the first movie is back and now the high-priced Hollywood agent has relocated to the small town he grew up in. It isn’t always idyllic but he is certain that it was the right move, and his family seems to agree. Now, joined by his friends, they are getting ready for the last day of school  for their kids – and find out that the grown ups still have an awful lot to learn.

See the trailer here.

For more on the movie this is the website.

Release formats: Standard (Opens Today)

Genre: Comedy

Rating: PG-13 (for crude and suggestive content, language and some male rear nudity)

Bhaag Milkha Bhaag

(Reliance) Farhan Akhtar, Sonam Kapoor, Dalip Tahil, Prakesh Raj. Milka Singh was once known as “the Flying Sikh” and was one of the most dominant sprinters of his day. However in the 1960 Rome Olympics, he lost a race he was heavily favored to win and found himself disgraced. His return and redemption was the stuff legends are made of.

See the trailer here.

For more on the movie this is the website.

Release formats: Standard (opens today)

Genre: Biographical Drama

Rating: NR

Lootera

(Ramesh Sippy) Ranveer Singh, Sonakshi Sinha, Adil Hussain, Vikrant Massey. An archaeologist in the 1950s impresses the local magistrate and more so the magistrate’s feisty and independent daughter. However the archaeologist has some skeletons in his closet and rather than let them rattle around free decides to leave. However, you know he won’t stay left forever…

See the trailer here.

For more on the movie this is the website.

Release formats: Standard

Genre: Bollywood

Rating: NR

Pacific Rim

(Warner Brothers) Charlie Hunnam, Idris Elba, Rinko Kikuchi, Ron Perlman. Humanity is at war with invaders from beneath our own oceans – a vicious, gigantic alien race called the Kaiju. To fight these nearly unstoppable creatures we develop gigantic robots we call Jaegers, machines powered by two linked, synchronous human minds. However we are still losing the war and humanity’s last chance boils down to an obsolete Jaeger run by two mismatched pilots – one an untested rookie, the other a burned-out pilot who has lost his edge. While this sounds like the plot for an anime, this is in reality a live action feature from director Guillermo del Toro.

See the trailer, clips, featurettes and a promo here.

For more on the movie this is the website.

Release formats: Standard (Opens Today)

Genre: Sci-Fi Action

Rating: PG-13 (for sequences of intense sci-fi action and violence throughout, and brief language)

The Pawn Shop Chronicles

(Anchor Bay) Paul Walker, Norman Reedus, Elijah Wood, Brendan Fraser. A Southern pawn shop sees a clientele of the weird, the wacky and the warped as three tales of sordid and strange goings on are wrapped around items being pawned. Among the customers are a man searching for his wife who’s been kidnapped, a pair of white-supremacist meth-addled crackers and a beaten-down Elvis impersonator. All wind up pawning items that cost more than they think.

See the trailer here.

For more on the movie this is the website.

Release formats: Standard

Genre: Comedy

Rating: R (for violence, sexual material, graphic nudity, pervasive language and some drug use)

Drive


Drive

Ryan Gosling doesn't handle any movie role with kid gloves.

(2011) Action Thriller (FilmDistrict) Ryan Gosling, Carey Mulligan, Albert Brooks, Ron Perlman, Bryan Cranston, Oscar Isaac, Christina Hendricks, Kaden Leos, Jeff Wolf, James Biberi, Russ Tamblyn, Joey Bucaro, Tiara Parker. Directed by Nicholas Winding Refn

Some people use their cars to get from one place to another. Others use them as a status symbol. Still others use them as a means of self-expression and self-identification. Then, there are the very few who just…drive.

The Driver (Gosling) – who is never given a name throughout the movie – does just that. He acts as a getaway car driver for criminals by night, and as a part-time Hollywood stunt driver by day. His agent is Shannon (Cranston) who did what the Driver did once until his knees were shattered. Shannon owns a garage that the Driver works as a mechanic for when he’s not driving. He’s quite good with repair, but he seems like a fish out of water when he’s not behind the wheel.

His neighbor Irene (Mulligan) is raising a small boy (Leos) by herself – her husband Standard (Isaac) is in prison but wants to go straight. The Driver takes a liking to Irene and Benicio (the boy). He is not an emotional sort but something about the boy’s unconditional acceptance and the woman’s quiet sweetness touches him. He begins to spend more time with them.

Shannon has a dream of owning a stock car racing team. He needs some cash to do it, so he visits mobster Bernie Rose (Brooks) who watches Driver behind the wheel and knows that this kid can be a racing superstar. Bernie’s partner Nino (Perlman) is skeptical; he’s a brutal and nasty customer who is as greedy and savage as Bernie is clever and murderous. Still, it looks like a pretty straight deal.

However, Standard gets out of jail and returns home. He wants to go clean but he owes some protection money from jail. He needs money fast – and Cook (Biberi), the man he owes money to, is willing to wipe the slate clean in exchange for Standard robbing a pawn shop. Standard really doesn’t want to do it but he’s backed into a corner and agrees to do it. Driver, smelling a rat, insists on being Standard’s driver. Cook wants his girlfriend Blanche (Hendricks) along for the ride.

When things go south – waaaaay south – Irene and Benicio are placed in harm’s way and it looks like the only one who can get them out of there is the Driver. However, with all the forces arrayed against him, even someone as skilled as he might not be able to drive them out of the way fast enough.

While there are those who might mistake this for an action picture, it isn’t – although there’s plenty of action. There are those who might mistake this for a thriller but it’s not – although there are plenty of thrills. Then again there are those who might mistake this for a drama but they’d be wrong – although there is plenty of that too. It’s something of a hybrid of the three.

Refn is a talented Dutch director who was hand-picked for this movie by star Gosling. He’s done things like Valhalla Rises, the Pusher trilogy and Bronson. This is his American movie debut and he acquits himself well. This is very much like Bullitt if it had been directed by Michael Mann in 1986. There’s definitely an ’80s noir look to it, with lots of neon and an 80s-esque soundtrack. This could well have been the lost episode of “Miami Vice.”

Gosling has been compared to Steve McQueen and in many ways that’s a very apt comparison. Gosling is very much the strong silent type, and this role fits him like a glove. In some ways it reminds me of Eastwood’s Man With No Name – a man who follows his own moral compass without minding much that it isn’t necessarily what society believes in. Gosling’s Driver views the world much as an alien does – without complete understanding or buy-in. He cocks his head oddly, as if viewing the world  like someone observing it for the first time.

Brooks is a revelation. Known more for his comedic work, he is surprisingly menacing and dangerous as the mobster. He is disarming and charming, sure but at the core this is a ruthless, amoral killer who would as soon knife you as he would shake your hand and he’s not above doing the dirty work himself.

Perlman is one of my favorite actors and here we see him in a role we don’t see him in often – the psychotic villain. He snarls and is kind of a Jewish goombah. Sort of like Tony Soprano with a yarmulke. Perlman actually sustained some serious injuries, shattering a knee during his final scenes in the movie. That’s dedication.

Mulligan, so good in An Education, plays against type here as the mousy wife. There is definitely an undercurrent of smolder between Irene and Driver, but never anything more than that. Mulligan doesn’t pull off the young wife as well as she pulled off the teenager; that doesn’t mean she doesn’t do a good job, it’s just a good job though.

The action sequences are well done. As you’d expect in a movie like this, the car chases are nicely done. The first one is a bit of a change of pace – it’s less muscle cars roaring through the streets a la The Fast and the Furious so much as a very smart man playing cat and mouse with the cops. It’s more hide and seek than grand prix.

This is definitely more of  a thinking person’s movie rather than the visceral action movie junkie’s film. There’s plenty of gore – Refn is known for his intense bloody style – so those who have issues with it to give this movie a miss in the theater. However, it is so intelligent that you might go ahead and see it anyway. It’s a different kind of movie and with Gosling leading the way, it’s good entertainment as well. If I were you, I’d drive right down and see it straightaway.

REASONS TO GO: Gosling pulls off another terrific performance. Great action sequences. Brooks is a surprisingly adept mobster.

REASONS TO STAY: Not enough action sequences; could have used one more car chase. Gore might be off-putting to some.

FAMILY VALUES: There is a good deal of violence and blood. There are also some breasts here and there.

TRIVIAL PURSUIT: The part of Irene was originally meant to be Hispanic but when the producers were able to cast Carey Mulligan in the role, some minor changes were made to make her Caucasian.

HOME OR THEATER: There is some sense in seeing this in the theater, particularly for the driving sequences.

FINAL RATING: 7.5/10

TOMORROW: Moneyball

Tangled


Tangled

Yet another magical Disney moment.

(2010) Animated Feature (Disney) Starring the voices of Mandy Moore, Zachary Levi, Donna Murphy, Ron Perlman, M.C. Gainey, Jeffrey Tambor, Brad Garrett, Paul F. Tompkins, Richard Kiel, Anne Lockhart, Laraine Newman.  Directed by Byron Howard and Nathan Greno

Shutting your kids away from the world is a double edged sword. Sure you might be protecting your kids from the awful things that the world can be, but you also create an overwhelming curiosity that will inevitably send your kids into that world you’re so terrified of. Of course, if your motives are more selfish than for the benefit of your child, that can really come back to bite you in the tush.

Rapunzel (Moore) is locked up in a tower in the remote corner of the kingdom. She has the most amazing hair – it is incredibly long, incredibly pliable, almost alive – and when Rapunzel sings a particular song, it has the power to revive the elderly and make them young again.

Rapunzel is actually the daughter of the Kingdom’s King and Queen, stolen from them by the nasty Mother Gothel (Murphy) who wants the magic all for herself. Thus, the lonely tower, the refusal to let her out even though now she’s a curious teen who wants to see all the wonders of the bright, beautiful world outside her window, especially the bright glowing stars that move and dance in her window on her birthday. What she doesn’t know is that these are lanterns, released into the sky to help the missing princess find her way home.

Enter Flynn Rider (Levi) a somewhat dashing, not altogether unlovable criminal sort who has stolen the Princess’ tiara from the castle and who is being chased by the King’s Guards, most especially the horse Maximus who is certainly one of Disney’s most persistent characters ever. Flynn is also being chased by his compatriots, the Stabbington Brothers (Perlman) who he double-crossed.

Rapunzel sees Flynn as her ticket to see the world and manages to knock him senseless with a frying pan, his knapsack (containing the tiara) hidden as collateral for Flynn’s co-operation. Flynn takes his new role as tour guide only reluctantly but as he spends more time with Rapunzel begins to realize that he is as trapped in his own way as Rapunzel was in hers.

This is one of the most beautiful-looking Disney films in decades, going for an old-school painted look that reminds me of Disney classics like Snow White and the Seven Dwarves and Cinderella. While the movie is computer animated, it looks 2D in a lot of ways and has moments that are truly magical, such as the one where Flynn and Rapunzel are on a lake filled with floating lanterns (see photo).

There is also real chemistry between Moore and Levi; they make an appealing couple. Murphy does the Disney villainess to a “T,” making Mother Gothel malevolent but showing that delicious evil side that makes a good Disney villain so enjoyable, much like James Woods’ Hades in Hercules.

In fact, Murphy is so good, I wish the filmmakers had spent more time with her instead of the minor villains the Stabbington Brothers and the Captain of the Guard (Gainey). It tends to dilute the menace of Gothel who I’m not saying should be scaring little kids into nightmares, but should at least be a bit more formidable. I’m just saying.

The music is by long-time Disney songster Alan Mencken, who has written some of the most memorable songs in the Disney songbook. However I don’t see any of the songs here making that grade; I honestly couldn’t remember any of the tunes half an hour after the movie was over which isn’t necessarily a good thing.

Some of this smacks of a studio listening more to focus groups than to artistic muses but there is enough of the latter to make the former more bearable. There is enough princess-y stuff to make the little girl in your life go gaga, while the swashbuckling Flynn will delight the little boy in your party. Tangled is actually one of the better non-Pixar Disney movies of the last decade. It certainly is one of the best-looking and for those who have to go see a kids movie with their hyperactive spawn will appreciate the pretty pictures.

WHY RENT THIS: That Disney magic. Levi and Moore make an appealing team. Gorgeous looking movie that is very reminiscent of the 2D Disney princess classics.

WHY RENT SOMETHING ELSE: The musical numbers lack a truly memorable song. Too many villains; more time should be spent with Mother Gothel.

FAMILY VALUES: There’s a little bit of really mild cartoon violence; otherwise suitable for everyone.

TRIVIAL PURSUIT: The character of Rapunzel is constantly barefoot in the movie, a nod to voice star Mandy Moore who loves to perform sans shoes.

NOTABLE DVD EXTRAS: Surprisingly, a little sparse considering Disney’s usual kid-friendly DVD/Blu-Ray fare. There’s only a featurette called “50th Animated Feature Countdown” which is kind of a guessing game for Disneyphiles.

BOX OFFICE PERFORMANCE: $590.7M on a $260M production budget; the movie made a little bit of money in its theatrical release (but I’m sure with merchandising and home video sales made a ton).

FINAL RATING: 7/10

TOMORROW: Tabloid

New Releases for the Week of September 16, 2011


STRAW DOGS

(Screen Gems) James Marsden, Kate Bosworth, Alexander Skarsgard, Dominic Purcell, Laz Alonso, James Woods, Rhys Coiro, Walton Goggins. Directed by Rod Lurie

A Hollywood couple – a screenwriter and his actress wife – go to the Deep South to prepare the family home for sale after her father passes away. What appears to be idyllic and down home on the surface bubbles over into a cauldron of emotion and sexuality when her ex-boyfriend decides to give their relationship one last chance, leading to a violent conflict. Based on the controversial Sam Peckinpah 1971 thriller of the same name.

See the trailer, clips, interviews and a promo here.

For more on the movie this is the website.

Release formats: Standard

Genre: Thriller

Rating: R (for strong brutal violence including a sexual attack, menace, some sexual content and pervasive language)

Drive

(FilmDistrict) Ryan Gosling, Carey Mulligan, Bryan Cranston, Ron Perlman. A seemingly mild-mannered Hollywood stunt driver moonlights in a far more dangerous profession – getaway driver for whoever is willing to pay him. He drives, no questions asked, through nearly impossible odds. When he agrees to take on a job for a friend, he finds himself being chased by some of the most dangerous men in the criminal underworld and it’s going to take all his skills if he’s to get away clean.

See the trailer, clips and promos here.

For more on the movie this is the website.

Release formats: Standard

Genre: Action

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

I Don’t Know How She Does It

(Weinstein) Sarah Jessica Parker, Greg Kinnear, Pierce Brosnan, Kelsey Grammer. A Boston mother of two tries to juggle family, marriage, school and career while maintaining her sanity. When she bags a new account for the firm she works for, necessitating frequent trips to New York, things get further complicated when the charming business associate she’s working with proves to be more tempting than she realized.

See the trailer, clips and a promo here.

For more on the movie this is the website.

Release formats: Standard

Genre: Comedy

Rating: PG-13 (for sexual references throughout)

The Lion King 3D

(Disney) Starring the voices of Matthew Broderick, James Earl Jones, Nathan Lane, Jeremy Irons. Disney’s accountants are hoping they’ll be singing “Hakuna Matata” if the brief 3D version of their classic animated hit does well. Shortly afterward, the movie will be making its debut on 3D Blu-Ray so Disneyphiles prepare to unlimber your wallets.

See the trailer, featurettes and clips here.

For more on the movie this is the website.

Release formats: Standard, 3D

Genre: Animated Feature

Rating: G

Tabloid

(Sundance Selects) Joyce McKinney, Kent Gavin, Peter Tory, Troy Williams. Acclaimed documentarian Errol Morris takes on a 1977 tabloid scandal, the lurid “Case of the Manacled Mormon” in which a former Miss Wyoming flew to England to, depending on whose account you believe, abduct an upstanding Mormon missionary into sexual slavery or liberate him from a cult. Something this unbelievable could only be a true story.

See the trailer here.

For more on the movie this is the website.

Release formats: Standard

Genre: Documentary

Rating: R (for sexual content and nudity)

Conan the Barbarian (2011)


Conan the Barbarian (2011)

Film reviewers piss Conan off....

(2011) Fantasy (Lionsgate) Jason Momoa, Rachel Nichols, Stephen Lang, Rose McGowan, Said Taghmaoui, Ron Perlman, Leo Howard, Steve O’Donnell, Raad Rawi, Nonso Anozie, Bob Sapp, Milton Welsh, Laila Rouass, Nathan Jones, Morgan Freeman (voice). Directed by Marcus Nispel

There’s something about a barbarian in a loincloth that fires up the imagination. It brings to mind swords dripping with blood and gore, scantily clad damsels in distress, terrifying monsters guarding hordes of fabulous treasure and ancient cities surrounding a wizard’s citadel. Ah, fantasy…

The swords and sorcery genre was more or less created (or at least popularized) by Robert E. Howard back in the 1920s and 1930s with his character Conan the Barbarian (in the same way J.R.R. Tolkein essentially created or at least popularized the high fantasy genre). In 1982, the John Milius movie based on the Howard character launched Arnold Schwarzenegger into stardom. Will this 2011 version do the same for Jason Momoa?

Conan is born on a battlefield, literally ripped from the womb of his dying mother by his father Corin (Perlman) who cuts open the belly of his wife, yanks out the squalling baby and holds it before the eyes of mommy, who hangs around long enough to name him before expiring. Corin raises his son to the heavens with a roar which might be the only time Conan is ever going to be associated with a Disney animated classic (see The Lion King for reference).

Years pass and Conan grows into a young boy (Howard) who is taught by his blacksmith father how to fight. When the youths of the village are able to run a course in the countryside with a birds egg in their mouth without breaking it, they are considered worthy of becoming warriors for the clan. On such a day, they are attacked by a group of other Barbarians (these who are apparently mute and make a hideous animal roar) but young Conan takes out four of them without scarcely breaking a sweat let alone an egg. For this his father forges him a magnificent sword.

Unfortunately, Conan never gets a chance to use it. The tribe is attacked again, this time by the army of King Khalar Zym (Lang) who is after the shard of a magical mask that gives the wearer unspecified but unlimited power. With the help of his sadistic sorceress daughter Marique (McGowan), the shard is found and Khalar decides that Corin needs a molten iron facial. His son tries to save him but winds up failing.

Flash forward a decade or so and Conan has grown up into a big strapping man (Momoa). He roams Hyboria thieving and wenching with Artus (Anozie), an irascible pirate who is something of a mentor to Conan. When the bar Conan and Artus are drinking in are raided by the local constabulary, Conan notices that the man leading it was one of the soldiers who destroyed his village and helped murder his father. After Conan gets the information he wants, he rescues a thief named Ela-Shan (Taghmaoui)  and heads out to a monastery where Khalar is apparently looking for a virgin of the True Blood (i.e. descended from ancient sorcerers) to sacrifice in order to activate the mask.

Said virgin is Tamara (Nichols) who the abbot Fassir (Rawi) sends away in a desperate attempt to save her, even though the monks and monk-ettes are massacred. Khalar’s baddies are about to capture Tamara but Conan saves the day. The two take an instant dislike to one another which in Hollywood-speak means that they’re going to be madly in love by the end of the picture.

Still, Khalar will stop at nothing to get his hands on the girl. Conan will have to battle through every manner of deadly creature, both man and beast, in order to save the girl and finally get his revenge.

Conan is one of the most enduring characters in pulp literature. Howard’s stories and novels have been in print nearly continuously for over 80 years, and his mythos has been added to and expanded upon by nearly every medium imaginable, from graphic novels to videogames to movies. He represents the primal male attributes, as he shrugs “I live. I love. I slay. I am content” at one point in the movie.

Momoa is going to inevitably be compared with Schwarzenegger and he acquits himself surprisingly well. Those who saw him as the brutal, brooding Khal Drogo in HBO’s “Game of Thrones” might be surprised at his range. His Conan here is a little bit more easygoing than Drogo; to be honest I’ve always pictured Conan as more like Drogo; dark, quiet, likely to let his actions speak louder than his words. This Conan is engaging and funny. Momoa doesn’t quite have Arnold’s natural charisma, but he certainly has potential to be a big star.

His supporting cast blows hot and cold.  Lang gives an over the top performance that borderlines on the ludicrous, while Perlman, who is forced to wear the most ludicrous beard in cinematic history, does a fine job as Corin. Young Leo Howard does a nice job as young Conan and is literally spectacular in his own fight scenes. In some ways he outdoes Momoa.

Nichols is uncommonly pretty, although she looks a little more modern in some ways. I think she was just a little bit miscast here, but she makes a good effort. McGowan is terrifying as the witch which is what she’s meant to be but sometimes she seems almost TOO crazy.

Most of the problems I have with the movie is that they don’t really capture the spirit of the Conan stories. Howard’s stories are generally dark and dank, with monsters that are beyond imagining. Here the monsters are rather pedestrian; there are sand warriors that reminded me of similar creatures in The Mummy Returns and an octopus like creature that is all tentacle and CGI mayhem. Nice enough but not particularly groundbreaking.

This is entertaining enough, but it isn’t the movie it could have been. I would love to see more direct translations of Howard’s work to the screen but it hasn’t happened yet. As to those critics who wonder if the world needs an another Conan movie, the answer is far more than we need another quirky indie romance. Don’t get me wrong – I have nothing against indie films of any sort. It’s just we have had plenty of great indie films and no great Conan movies yet.

And there’s a need for them. Good entertainment is hard to find, for one thing. The swords and sorcery genre has yet to live up to its potential, but there is a lot to explore there. This movie tells me we’re not ready to yet, or at least Hollywood isn’t. I guess I’ll just have to wait awhile longer for my Fafhrd and the Grey Mouser movie.

REASONS TO GO: Momoa is actually awfully likable and charismatic. Early fight scenes are well-staged.

REASONS TO STAY: Movie loses momentum in last third. Doesn’t capture feel of Howard’s stories.

FAMILY VALUES: As you might expect there is a whole lot of violence, blood and gore; there is also a fair amount of nudity and sexuality as well, and some disturbing monsters.

TRIVIAL PURSUIT: Ron Perlman, who plays Conan’s father, voiced Conan in a videogame and also the unreleased animated feature Conan: Red Nails.

HOME OR THEATER: Some of the vistas should be seen on the big screen.

FINAL RATING: 6/10

TOMORROW: Fright Night (2011)

Hellboy II: The Golden Army


Hellboy II: The Golden Army

How about a little eye candy little girl?

(2008) Action (Universal) Ron Perlman, Selma Blair, Doug Jones, Luke Goss, Seth McFarlane, Anna Wilson, Brian Steele, Roy Dotrice, John Hurt, Jeffrey Tambor, Jimmy Kimmel, James Dodd, Andrew Hefler, Ivan Kamaras, Mike Kelly.  Directed by Guillermo del Toro

We’ve seen in movies like An Inconvenient Truth and Wall-E cautionary tales of what happens if we continue to abuse our environment. The end of mankind on Earth may come in an unending pile of garbage in the latter, or in the inability of our planet to sustain us in the former. Of course, what nobody realizes is that our ecological irresponsibility is pissing off the faeries.

That’s right, the races of myth and legend – the trolls, faeries and so on – have been living underground as the result of a treaty imposed on them by humankind  for eons and they are heartbroken at what we’ve done to their planet. One of them – Prince Nuada (Goss) is a little bit more than heartbroken. He’s cheesed off and has decided to resurrect an indestructible Golden Army that will eradicate humans from the Earth if he’s successful.

Of course Hellboy (Perlman) and his cohorts Abe Sapien (Jones), a half-fish half-man telepath, Liz (Blair), a pyromancer, and Johann Krauss (Dodd, voiced by McFarlane) who is more or less a ghost inhabiting a mechanical body, object to this in the strongest possible terms. They do so with the assistance of Princess Nuala (Wilson), Nuada’s twin sister whom Abe has fallen for like a salmon in spawning season.

The group will battle lethal tooth fairies, gigantic squid-like demons, a very dangerous Troll Market and finally the Golden Army itself to save mankind from the mad Prince. There are times that Hellboy has to wonder if we’re really worth saving.

Del Toro, who did this movie immediately after the Oscar nominated Pan’s Labyrinth, is one of the most visually striking directors on Planet Earth. He has an imagination and a vision that is extraordinary and singular; the result is that Hellboy II: The Golden Army is one of the most visually intriguing movies of the past five years. Not only is Mike Mignola’s comic book brought to life, it’s actually fleshed out into a world even Mignola couldn’t adequately create. The movie has an epic quality to it as a result.

Perlman has made Hellboy a relatable character, one who has been forced into isolation for his demonic background and whose many idiosyncrasies rather than make him a caricature serve to make him more human than his visage would allow. While he is less a center of focus than he was in the first film, he is nonetheless a major reason why this movie works so well.

The supporting cast fares pretty well. Tambor, as the bureaucrat who runs Hellboy’s BPRD, is solid and witty, while there is a melancholy element in Goss’s villain performance which makes him stand out among a galaxy of comic book villain who really are more or less all the same. Jones as the lovelorn Sapien gets to voice a character he only played physically in the first movie (David Hyde Pierce gave the original Abe Sapien voice) and does it well. Blair’s character is a little less interesting here than in the first one but she fills it out nicely.

The story here is simple enough on the surface, but there are a lot of complications and it gets a little muddled, particularly near the end. That’s all right; every frame of this movie is an absolute gem, something that you’re going to ooh and ahh at for generations to come. The movie pulled disappointing numbers, to my mind mainly because it was exiled to an August release date in a year where blockbusters limited the landscape and wound up getting trumped by the better-promoted Journey to the Center of the Earth. It’s a shame audiences didn’t get to discover it on the big screen – it was as amazing a theatrical experience as I had that year, and to my way of thinking the kind of movie that should be seen in a movie theater and not streamed to a laptop. Some movies just need to overwhelm you, and this one is definitely one of those.

WHY RENT THIS: Serious eye candy. Del Toro is one of the most visually imaginative directors working today.

WHY RENT SOMETHING ELSE: The story is a bit muddled.

FAMILY VALUES: There is a little bit of foul language but mostly there’s a lot of violence and fantasy/sci-fi action.

TRIVIAL PURSUIT: Thomas Kretschmann was originally cast to voice Johann Kraus but when del Toro found his work dissatisfactory he brought in “Family Guy” creator Seth McFarlane to do the voice making this McFarlane’s feature motion picture debut.

NOTABLE DVD EXTRAS: The 3-Disc DVD includes a featurette on the Troll Market and one of the most informative and detailed making-of documentaries ever. An animated comic serves as an epilogue on the movie that fills in some blanks you didn’t even know were there. The Blu-Ray features a BD-Live chat with del Toro that is quite enlightening on projects he was working on (and is no longer) and the future of the Hellboy franchise. There’s also an interactive feature that allows you to pull still pictures from the movie and create a comic book, complete with word balloons which is a very little fun feature to play with.

BOX OFFICE PERFORMANCE: $160.4M on an $85M production budget; the movie lost a little money.

FINAL RATING: 8.5/10

TOMORROW: City Island

Outlander


Outlander

Where's the spam? Bloody Vikings!

(2008) Science Fiction (Third Rail) Jim Caviezel, John Hurt, Ron Perlman, Sophia Myles, Jack Huston, Cliff Saunders, Patrick Stevenson, Aidan Devine, Bailey Maughan, John E. Nelles, James Rogers, Scott Owen, Petra Prazak. Directed by Howard McCain

Here, there be dragons and they often show up in the most unlikely of places. Dragons can be creatures of great power but they can also be the demons that gnaw at us from the inside, piece by piece.

Kainan (Caviezel) is a humanoid who has crash-landed his space vehicle on Earth – eighth century Norway to be exact. He is escaping a massacre at his space colony by a species called Moorwen. One of them stowed away aboard his spacecraft, causing it to crash on what is called by the ship computer “an abandoned seed colony.”  This implies that our planet was originally colonized by out-of-towners. Darwin might be amused.

Anyway, the Moorwen has crashed the ship and killed Kainan’s co-pilot.  The Moorwen is loose on a planet woefully unequipped to deal with him. Kainan goes on the hunt but gets captured by Vikings. This particular group is ruled by King Hrothgar (Hurt), an aging but wise king whose feisty daughter Freya (Myles) is promised to Wulfric (Huston), a hot-headed warrior who’s poised to take over leadership of the clan once Hrothgar makes his inevitably unscheduled trip to Valhalla.

Hrothgar has other fish to fry other than this Outlander. His men are disappearing in the woods, which at first is blamed on the Outlander but then on a rival clan led by King Gunnar (Perlman). Soon, Kainan convinces them that what is after them is a monster unlike any they’ve ever encountered and killing it will be no easy feat. But kill it they must, or it will kill them all and eventually, wiping out the human race.

This is a bit of an amalgam of the Viking epic and sci-fi horror. It is one of those movies that suffers from having a budget smaller than its ambitions. Filmed in Canada, the cinematography is gorgeous. Where the movie lets us down a bit is in the special effects. While the spaceship is at least satisfactory, the creature – the Moorwen – is poorly lit, despite its bioluminescence. It has a Giger-esque quality to it, but it remains frustratingly elusive. I just wish we could have seen it better.

Caviezel, whose career stalled after his appearance as the Messiah in The Passion of the Christ, does little to revive it here. He’s humorless and his face shows little emotion. With a little more animation and emotion, this could have been a memorable role. Unfortunately by the time the film ends, Kainan is largely forgotten.

Perlman has some fun with a sadly brief appearance and Hurt lends the movie some much-needed gravitas. Myles shines here as the daughter who serves as the love interest, creating a triangle between Wulfric and Kainan. She’s both feisty and capable, the femme fatale and the damsel in distress. She can hold her own with the boys but is still easy on the eyes. Good work. Huston, from one of the movies’ most revered families, has the thankless role as the suspicious warrior who ends up being Kainan’s friend. It’s a cliche part but at least Huston performs it well.

Movies like this can be massively entertaining. While this falls short of the massive adjective, it certainly is entertaining enough. Unfortunately, it got almost no distribution in the US at all, another case of a studio picking up a property they didn’t really know what to do with and then giving it a nominal release with almost zero publicity support. While this was never going to be a blockbuster, it deserved a little more push than it got. Still, it’s worth looking out for on the action-adventure shelf if you’re looking for something a little new and a little different.

WHY RENT THIS: Caviezel is a capable action hero. Movie is beautifully photographed for the most part. 

WHY RENT SOMETHING ELSE: CGI Moorwen isn’t up to snuff.

FAMILY VALUES: There is considerable violence and some disturbing creature images.

TRIVIAL PURSUIT: This is the first film in history in which Old Norse, an ancestor language of Icelandic and several other Scandinavian languages, is spoken onscreen.

NOTABLE DVD EXTRAS: While there is nothing unusual here in terms of features, the deleted scenes add up to nearly 40 minutes of additional footage, unusually high for a movie like this.

BOX OFFICE PERFORMANCE: $7M on a $50M production budget; the movie was a flop.

FINAL RATING: 6/10

TOMORROW: The Double Hour (La doppia ora)