New Releases for the Week of December 3, 2021


WOLF

(Focus) George MacKay, Lily-Rose Depp, Paddy Considine, Eileen Walsh, Senan Jennings, Darragh Shannon, Lola Petticrew. Directed by Jared Bush and Nathalie Biancheri

A man who believes he is a wolf trapped in a human body is eventually committed to a clinic that specializes in those types of disorder. He undergoes increasingly aggressive forms of therapy until he meets a woman who believes she’s a wildcat. As the two fall in love, he must choose between true love and his true self.

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

Genre: Mystery
Now Playing: AMC Altamonte Mall, AMC Disney Springs, Regal Waterford Lakes
Rating: R (for some abusive behavior, sexuality, nudity and language)

Akhanda

(Radha Krishna) Nandamuri Balakrishna, Pragya Jaiswal, Jagapathi Babu, Meka Srikanth. A fierce devotee of Lord Shiva must stand against the unrighteous.

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

Genre: Action
Now Playing: Cinemark Orlando, Regal Pavilion Port Orange, Regal Winter Park Village
Rating: NR

Bergman Island

(IFC) Mia Wasikowska, Tim Roth, Vicki Krieps, Anders Danielsen Lie. Two American filmmakers who also are a romantic couple, decide to summer on Farö Island (the place where legendary director Ingmar Bergman lived and shot many of his most celebrated films) in order to find inspiration for their own endeavors, but the magic of the island begins to drive a wedge between the two.

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

Genre: Drama
Now Playing: Cinematique Daytona
Rating: R (for some sexual content, nudity and language)

C’mon C’mon

(A24) Joaquin Phoenix, Gaby Hoffman, Woody Norman, Scoot McNairy. A radio journalist is thrown together unexpectedly with his young nephew during a cross-country road trip, creating a tenuous but transformational relationship between the two.

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

Genre: Drama
Now Playing: Cinemark Orlando, Enzian, Regal Waterford Lakes
Rating: R (for language)

Castle Falls

(Shout!) Dolph Lundgren, Scott Adkins, Kevin Wayne, Jim E. Chandler. A derelict hospital is about to be demolished but braving the dynamite are three desperate men – two rival gang leaders and a hospital janitor, looking for a cache of stolen money hidden in the walls. They have exactly 90 minutes to find the loot and get out – or be blown up with the rest of the building.

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

Genre: Action
Now Playing: Studio Movie Grille Sunset Walk
Rating: NR

Encounter

(Amazon) Riz Ahmed, Octavia Spencer, Janina Gavankar, Lucian-River Chauhan. A decorated Marine takes his two young sons on a journey to evade a mysterious threat. As the trip grows increasingly dangerous, the two boys will have to grow up much sooner than they might have otherwise.

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

Genre: Science Fiction
Now Playing: CMX Daytona
Rating: R (for language and some violence)

The End of Us

(Saban) Ben Coleman, Ali Vingiano, Derrick Joseph DeBrasis, Gadiel Del Orbe. A couple on the verge of breaking up is forced to continue living together during the COVID lockdown. Petty squabbles between the two – one career-driven, the other a slacker – lead to self-evaluations that may change them and doom their relationship.

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

Genre: Dramedy
Now Playing: Studio Movie Grille Sunset Walk
Rating: R (for language and sexual references)

Home

(Gravitas) Jake McLaughlin, Kathy Bates, Aisling Franciosi, Lil Rel Howery. A man returns to his small town after 20 years in prison to find that forgiveness is in short supply. He is, however, willing to accept the repercussions of his past deeds if it can lead to a better future.

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

Genre: Drama
Now Playing: CMX Grand
Rating: NR

Last Shoot Out

(Lionsgate) Cam Gigandet, Bruce Dern, Brock Harris, Skylar White. When a frontier wife flees her husband after discovering he had her father killed, she is rescued by a gunman who protects her from the wrath of her husband’s wealthy – and well-armed – family.

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

Genre: Western
Now Playing: CMX Grand
Rating: PG-13 (for violence and bloody images)

Marakkar: Lion of the Arabian Sea

(Phars) Mohanial, Sunil Shetty, Arjun Sarja, Manju Warrier. An Indian hero fights the invading Portuguese.

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

Genre: Action
Now Playing: Amstar Lake Mary, Cinemark Orlando
Rating: NR

Silent Night

(RJLE) Keira Knightley, Matthew Goode, Annabelle Wallis, Lucy Punch. A couple and their son entertain family and friends for an wonderful Christmas dinner in an idyllic country cottage in England. The only thing that keeps it from being perfect: the world is about to end.

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

Genre: Dramedy
Now Playing: Fashion Square Premiere
Rating: R (for language and violence)

The Souvenir: Part II

(A24) Honor Swinton Byrne, Jaygann Ayeh, Tilda Swinton, Richard Ayoade. A young film student who has escaped from an abusive relationship with an older man, tries to untangle her feelings by throwing herself into her graduate project, but soon finds trouble separating reality from fiction.

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

Genre: Drama
Now Playing: Cinematique Daytona
Rating: R (for some strong sexuality, and language)

Sword Art Online: Progressive – Aria of a Starless Night

(Aniplex USA) Starring the voices of Yoshitsugu Matsuoka, Inori Minase, Bryce Papenbrook, Haruka Tomatsu. A newbie gamer enters the deadly world of Aincrad discovers that she must beat all 100 levels of the game in order to escape back to reality, but dying in the game also means dying in the real world.

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

Genre: Animé
Now Playing: AMC Altamonte Mall, AMC Avenue 16, AMC Disney Springs, Amstar Lake Mary, Cinemark Lakeland Square, Cinemark Orlando, CMX Daytona, Regal Eagle Ridge Mall, Regal Waterford Lakes, Regal Winter Park Village
Rating: R (for language and violence)

True to the Game 3

(Faith Media) Erica Peeples, Columbus Short, Starletta DuPois, Omar Gooding. A woman is given 72 hours to return home to let her friends know her plans, before she starts a new life with the handsome, mysterious outlaw that she loves.

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

Genre: Romance
Now Playing: AMC Altamonte Mall, AMC Disney Springs, Cinemark Orlando, CMX Merritt Square, Fashion Square Premiere
Rating: R (for violence and pervasive language)

Twas the Night

(Vertical) Nicole Pringle, David Steven Perez, Paul Van Scott, Lisa Panagopoulos. An engaged couple are hosting their future in-laws for the holidays, and they want everything to be just right. That’s even harder to do, when you’re trying to hide a body at the same time.

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

Genre: Holiday Comedy
Now Playing: Studio Movie Grille Sunset Walk
Rating: NR

COMING TO VIRTUAL CINEMA/VOD:

A Clusterfunke Christmas (Saturday)
Benedetta
Cobalt Blue
Deadlock
Diary of a Wimpy Kid
Fatal Distraction
(Tuesday)
The Forever Prisoner
(Monday)
The Great Balloon Bomb Invasion
(Thursday)
Listening to Kenny G
(Thursday)
Love and Fury
Missing and Alone
Mixtape
Red Stone
The Reenactment
(Tuesday)
Single All the Way
(Thursday)
The Slow Hustle
(Tuesday)
This Game’s Called Murder
The Wishing Tree
(Tuesday)

SCHEDULED FOR REVIEW:

Encounter
The Great Balloon Bomb Invasion
Mixtape
The Wishing Tree
Wolf

One Shot (2021)


Scott Adkins practices his Eastwood sneer.

(2021) Action (Screen Media) Scott Adkins, Ashley Greene, Ryan Phillippe, Emmanuel Imani, Dino Kelly, Jack Parr, Waleed Elgadi, Terence Maynard, Jess Liaudin, Lee Charles, Andrei Maniata, Jamie B. Chambers, Dan Styles, Justin Sysum, James Unsworth, Dimitris Kafataris, Duncan Casey (voice), Anthony Abiola, Ronin Traynor, Dita Tantang. Directed by James Nunn

When Alfred Hitchcock filmed Rope back in 1948, the movie was set up to appear as a single shot. Back then, it was not technically possible for a complete feature film to be shot all in one take; cameras back then didn’t hold enough film to manage it. So Hitchcock improvised, moving in on stationary objects where he would reload the film and begin shooting again. It proved an effective exercise, although, truth be told, not one of his better films.

That has since been repeated in movies like Birdman and 1917 which were able to film longer sequences without stopping to linger on someone’s back or a table or a sofa thanks to digital cameras. Now, the idea has made it to action B-movies.

CIA junior analyst Zoe Anderson (Greene) is being escorted by a group of Navy SEALS led by taciturn Jake Harris (Adkins) to a Gitmo-like black ops base on an island in Eastern Europe. She is there to retrieve a prisoner (Elgadi) who may have information about an imminent terrorist attack in Washington DC. When they get there, the guy in charge, Jack Yorke (Phillippe) in no uncertain and LOUD terms finds the whole thing highly irregular and wants to verify Ms. Anderson’s orders. But before that can happen, the base is attacked by a gaggle of terrorists who pour out of a truck that may or may not have clowns in it as well, and all of a sudden the SEALs are in a fight for their lives.

When you realize how much effort had to go into choreographing the movie’s action sequences precisely so that explosions and bullet thwips went off precisely, you have to admire Nunn and DP Jonathan Iles for their preparation. Because the camera is handheld and uses fluid motion to take us through the action as if we were there, the whole exercise resembles a first-person shooter more than anything (the influence of which Nunn freely admits).

But it feels gimmicky. You get the sense that the only reason that Nunn shot the movie this way was to show that he could. It doesn’t really enhance the storytelling all that much – in fact, the story is particularly cliché and unimpressive. Worse still, the martial arts skills of Adkins – which are considerable – are not utilized until nearly halfway through the movie and while he indeed shows why he is one of the best B movie action heroes with his slick martial arts moves, by the time they show up you are already checking your email and maybe seeing what you’re going to order on Uber Eats for dinner.

With little to no character development and a pedestrian story, only the one shot gimmick gives the movie any interest whatsoever – and it will feel gimmicky after a while, make no mistake. If as much care and attention had gone into the script as had gone into the choreography, this could have been something truly special, rather than one of many forgettable action movies littering up the VOD services.

REASONS TO SEE: One has to admire the preparation and craft that went into choreographing this thing.
REASONS TO AVOID: The single shot thing comes off as gimmicky.
FAMILY VALUES: There is all sorts of violence and mayhem, profanity and some scenes of torture.
TRIVIAL PURSUIT: The movie was shot in 20 days.
BEYOND THE THEATERS: Amazon, AppleTV, Google Play, Redbox, Spectrum, Vudu, YouTube
CRITICAL MASS: As of 11/9/21: Rotten Tomatoes: 58% positive reviews; Metacritic: No score yet.
COMPARISON SHOPPING: The Outpost
FINAL RATING: 5/10
NEXT:
Anonymous Animals

Max Cloud


A Max Cloud family Christmas portrait.

(2020) Science Fiction (Well Go USAIsabelle Allen, Scott Adkins, John Hannah, Lashana Lynch, Eliot James Langridge, Franz Drameh, Sally Collett, Jason Maza, Tommy Flanagan, Sam Hazeldine, Andi Osho, Shirin Daryale, Martyn Ford, Finley Pearson, Geraldine Sharrock, Craig Lambert, Nigel Black, Ruth Horrocks, Lois-Amber Toole.  Directed by Martin Owen

 

There is something innocent about old-time 16-bit videogames. Maybe because we were so much younger when we played them; or perhaps it was because the games themselves were simple, good versus evil types of things, uncomplicated and perfect escape from whatever was troubling us, be it school, parents, girlfriends, jobs, or lack thereof.

Sarah (Allen) is an obsessive gamer. Her favorite game du jour is The Intergalactic Adventures of Max Cloud, featuring the titular character (Adkins), a cocky lantern-jawed space hero saving the galaxy from nefarious master criminals with his trusty sidekick Jake (Langridge), the ship’s cook. However, Sarah’s dad (Hazeldine) thinks Sarah shouldn’t be playing videogames quite so much and it is a source of conflict between them.

As Sarah plays the game, she finds a hidden character, the Space Witch (Maza) – who is more accurately a space wizard, but to each his own – who somehow zaps Sarah from the real world into the game – into the body of Jake. Sarah’s best friend Cowboy (Drameh) – who is most assuredly not a competent gamer – stumbles onto the girl-within-a-game scenario and the two of them figure that the way to get Sarah back into reality is to win the game. That’s not as easy as it sounds, since Cowboy pretty much sucks at gaming and has to take frequent pee breaks. Coming after Max and Jake/Sarah is the Revenger (Hannah), a ruthless villain trying to escape from the prison world that Max crash landed on, and his right-hand flunky Shee (Lynch) who has plans of her own. Together, the two of them could end Sarah’s game permanently if she’s not careful – and if Cowboy doesn’t come through.

\There is just enough chutzpah here to carry the movie through, for the most part. Adkins has been a talented, underrated action star for the latter half of the last decade, and he proves to have some pretty solid comedy chops. Overall, with it’s primary color palette and sly shout-outs to the games of our misspent youths (or those of our parents), the movie retains a kind of goofy charm that is truly insidious. You might find yourself liking the movie in spite of its flaws.

The production values aren’t too bad when you consider that they are deliberately going for a certain retro-videogame look. The cast is strong and I’m not just talking about Adkins; Drameh and Hannah both have solid genre pedigrees and many of the rest of the cast cut their teeth on some impressive projects. There is a good deal of scenery chewing going on here, but the situation kind of calls for it, you know?

And there are flaws galore. The movie is overburdened with subplots, and underutilizes Adkins who has a physical presence that the movie could have used. There are also a few too many cliches and the cheese factor here is off-the-scale. Still in all, the movie is mindless, harmless good fun, just like the video games of yore – you Millennial whippersnappers have no idea what you missed.

REASONS TO SEE: Possessed of its own offbeat charm.
REASONS TO AVOID: You may end up overdosing on the cheese.
TRIVIAL PURSUIT: Ike White’s father played keyboards for Ella Fitzgerald.
BEYOND THE THEATERS: Amazon, AppleTV, DirecTV, Fandango Now, Google Play, Microsoft, Redbox, Vudu, YouTube
FAMILY VALUES: There is some profanity and sci-fi video game violence.
CRITICAL MASS: As of 12/23/20: Rotten Tomatoes: 64% positive reviews, Metacritic: No score yet.
COMPARISON SHOPPING: Jumanji: Welcome to the Jungle
FINAL RATING: 5.5/10
NEXT:
Girl Lost: A Hollywood Story

New Releases for the Week of January 3, 2020


THE GRUDGE

(Screen Gems) Andrea Riseborough, Demian Bichir, John Cho, Betty Gilpin, William Sadler, Frankie Faison, Lin Shaye, Jacki Weaver. Directed by Nicolas Pesce

A detective, investigating the brutal murder by a young mother of her entire family, discovers that the house was cursed by a vengeful spirit. Now that spirit is after her and she will do what she must to protect herself and her family.

See the trailer here
For more on the movie this is the website
Genre: Horror
Now Playing: Wide Release
Rating: R (for disturbing violence and bloody images, terror and some language)

Ip Man 4: The Finale

(Well Go USA) Donnie Yen, Wu Yue, Vanness Wu, Scott Adkins. His wife now deceased, the legendary martial arts teacher heads to San Francisco to make a better life for his son, and also to ease tensions between the martial arts masters of the City by the Bay and his star pupil – Bruce Lee.

See the trailer here
For more on the movie this is the website  
Genre: Martial Arts
Now Playing: Cinemark Universal Citywalk
Rating: NR

ALSO OPENING IN ORLANDO/DAYTONA:

Mission Unstapabol: The Don Identity

ALSO OPENING IN MIAMI/FT. LAUDERDALE/KEY WEST:

Adoring
Avane Srimannarayana
Mission Unstapabol: The Don Identity

ALSO OPENING IN TAMPA/ST. PETERSBURG/SARASOTA:

Inmate Zero

ALSO OPENING IN JACKSONVILLE/ST. AUGUSTINE:

Avane Srimannarayana

SCHEDULED FOR REVIEW:

The Grudge

Doctor Strange


He's a magic man, he's got the magic hands.

He’s a magic man, he’s got the magic hands.

(2016) Superhero (Disney/Marvel) Benedict Cumberbatch, Chiwetel Ejiofor, Rachel McAdams, Tilda Swinton, Mads Mikkelsen, Benedict Wong, Michael Stuhlbarg, Benjamin Bratt, Scott Adkins, Zara Phythian, Alaa Safi, Katrina Durden, Topo Wresniwiro, Umit Ulgen, Linda Louise Duan, Mark Anthony Brighton, Meera Syal, Amy Landecker. Directed by Scott Derrickson

 

It was Arthur C. Clarke, author of 2001: A Space Odyssey who once said “Any sufficiently advanced technology is indistinguishable from magic.” Of course, that’s assuming that there is no magic but then again if there was such a thing it would likely end up being explainable by scientific theory once we understood it. Then again, there’s always the possibility that magic is real.

Dr. Stephen Strange (Cumberbatch) is one of the top neurosurgeons in the world. He has saved literally thousands of lives and lives in a Greenwich Village apartment that is more palace than apartment although it is somewhat sterile in many ways. Dr. Strange is a bit of an egotist, something that has made his relationship with Dr. Christine Palmer (McAdams) fall apart, although they are still fond of each other – it’s just that Strange is just a little bit fonder of himself.

A terrible car accident puts paid to all of that however. His hands – those marvelous, life-giving hands – hae been badly injured. He can barely hold a scalpel anymore and has zero control over his nerves. His hands shake like an epileptic at a disco revival. He has tried every surgical option and drug known to man but nevertheless his situation remains unchanged.

Desperate, he discovers the case of a man named Jonathan Pangborn (Bratt) who was told he’d never walk again by plenty of doctors, including Strange himself. Amazingly he was not only walking but playing basketball. When asked what his secret was, Pangborn sends Strange to Kathmandu to find a particular order of monks. While searching the streets of Kathmandu for it, he runs into Mordo (Ejiofor), a disciple of the person Strange is looking for. Mordo takes Strange to The Ancient One (Swinton), an ancient Celt who reigns as Sorcerer Supreme, a title of respect and the latest addition to the McDonald’s Value Meal menu.

Despite being unable to accept on faith the powers of the Ancient One being a man of science, Strange nevertheless manages to convince her to train him in the mystical arts, although she’s reluctant at first. She thinks he’s an arrogant close-minded twit and she’s essentially right but arrogant close-minded twits are people too, no?

And she’s in need of all the help she can get. One of her former disciples, Kaecilius (Mikkelsen), has essentially gone mad. He wants to create a world without death and in order to do that, he has to summon Dormammu – an ancient creature from another dimension that predates the Gods and who wants to wipe out all life in our universe. So a world without death is a world without life, right? Those tricky old god bastards!

Kaecilius is a powerful sorcerer and Strange is just learning his way around. As Kaecilius races to destroy all the wards that protect our dimension from beings like Dormammu, Strange discovers that he has been chosen by a pair of powerful artifacts – and that the way to beat a god is to think like one.

After a couple of subpar Marvel offerings, it’s nice to see that they’re back on track with a movie that sums up everything right about the Marvel films. Firstly, this is a movie about characters and not superpowers. Steven Strange is an interesting human being full of human frailty despite having the power to warp reality itself. Cumberbatch does a marvelous job of capturing the good doctor that I remember from the comic books, although I have to admit that he sounds a little bit strange with an American accent. Ouch.

The special effects here are pretty impressive, although they do borrow heavily from other sources. Certainly the reality warping takes a page right out of Christopher Nolan’s Inception and some may find that to be a bit of a cop-out, but at least it’s utilized in a more physical way than Nolan did. The spells look almost scientific in nature just as you’d expect a man of science to relate to casting magic spells. All in all, some of the best effects we’ve seen yet in a Marvel film and that’s saying something.

The relationship between Strange and Palmer doesn’t generate a lot of heat; there’s more of a bromance between Mordo and Strange. Ejiofor is a reliable performer who always seems to get the most out of every role he tackles. Swinton is simply put one of the strongest actresses working today; the role of the Ancient One, who in the comics was an elderly Asian gentleman, was rewritten extensively to suit Swinton who is none of those things (elderly, Asian or a gentleman).

The action is pretty much non-stop once it gets going, although it takes a little while to. In essence, once again Marvel has done it – created an entirely different superhero movie that retains the feel of the comic book, the consistency of a shared cinematic universe but able to retain individual identities for each film. Any franchise filmmaker will tell you how extraordinarily difficult that is. In any case, it’s a fitting lead off to the holiday blockbuster season. I can’t think of a single reason why anyone who likes entertaining movies shouldn’t see it.

REASONS TO GO: The special effects are mind-blowing. The story and characters are as good as any in any Marvel movie. One of the best supporting casts of any Marvel movie.
REASONS TO STAY: The film seems to exist on its own plane outside the rest of the Marvel movies.
FAMILY VALUES:  You’ll find plenty of violence and carnage, some mind-bending changes of perspective and a car crash sequence that’s rather intense.
TRIVIAL PURSUIT:  The appearance of the comic book character was based on actor Vincent Price and even had the middle name of “Vincent.” In recent years the character’s look has been modernized, with a goatee replacing the pencil mustache he’d had since his inception.
CRITICAL MASS: As of 11/21/16: Rotten Tomatoes: 90% positive reviews. Metacritic: 72/100.
COMPARISON SHOPPING: The Shadow
FINAL RATING: 8/10
NEXT: Amanda Knox

The Legend of Hercules


If only Kellan Lutz was this electric onscreen...

If only Kellan Lutz was this electric onscreen…

(2014) Swords and Sandals (Summit) Kellan Lutz, Gaia Weiss, Scott Adkins, Roxanne McKee, Liam Garrigan, Liam McIntyre, Rade Serbedzija, Jonathan Schaech, Luke Newberry, Kenneth Cranham, Mariah Gale, Sarai Givaty, Dimiter Dochinov, Nikolai Sotirov, Radoslav Parvanov, Spencer Wilding, Bashar Rahal, Vladimir Mihailov. Directed by Renny Harlin

I don’t know what it is about movies about the Greek demigod Hercules that they are almost uniformly awful, going back to the Steve Reeves epics of the 60s (which were actually the best of them and could only be classified as mediocre) to the godawful Schwarzenegger version Hercules in New York to even the Disney animated feature which remains one of their weakest ever. However, just when you thought they couldn’t get any lower…

When Queen Alcimene (McKee) of Greece realizes her tyrant of a husband, King Amphitryon (Adkins) wages war not for gain but out of sheer bloodlust, she knows he must be stopped. She prays to the goddess Hera for deliverance and the goddess appears, promising a son who would be the downfall of the father. She allows her husband, the God Zeus to lie with her and father her bouncing new baby boy whom will be named Heracles…er, Hercules which translates to Gift of Hera although the boy will be called Alcides as her hubby ain’t too keen on being reminded of the boy’s divine parentage. Instead, he showers favors on his mean-spirited elder son Iphicles (Garrigan).

Hercules (Lutz) grows to manhood and falls for the Cretan princess Hebe (Weiss) whose last name I’m certain is Jebe. She’s a comely girl but she is promised to Iphicles who is heir to the throne. She of course would rather have the buff Hercules and conspires to run off with him. Unfortunately they are caught and Hercules is banished to Egypt to take on a rebellious city-state on an expedition led by Sotiris (McIntyre) who knows they are in for a rough ride when the number of soldiers assigned to him is cut in half. The whole thing is a set-up of course and Sotiris and Hercules are the sole survivors and are sold into slavery to be gladiators in a mud pit – think of it as a combination of MMA and female mud wrestling. Can Hercules win his freedom and get back home in time to prevent his true love’s marriage to his brother?

There are just so many problems with this movie I don’t know where to begin. The script might be a good spot – the dialogue is so cringeworthy that you spend the entire 99 minutes (which seemed like 199) in a permanent twitch rendering the audience in a kind of perpetual seizure throughout the film.

I haven’t seen so many slo-mo action shots in which regular speed stunt sequences are slowed down and then returned to normal speed. It happens so often that it becomes tedious and actually caused me to twitch further. In fact something tells me that it may well have been more entertaining to watch surveillance camera footage of the audience than to watch the actual film. Where is Mystery Science Theater 3000 when you need them?

Kellan Lutz. Ah, Kellan Lutz. He is a good looking lad with an easy-going demeanor and an engaging grin but at least at this point he doesn’t have the charisma needed to carry a movie like this. In fact, the best performances here were Adkins as the frothing-at-the-mouth King and distinguished character actor Serbedzija as Herc’s tutor. The rest of the cast…aieee!

Even the CGI isn’t up-to-snuff – an early sequence in which Hercules battles the Nemean Lion is so bad that the audience is yanked right out of the movie, which might not be a bad thing. This isn’t a movie you should get lost in.

It gives me no joy to write a review like this. Director Renny Harlin has some pretty good flicks to his credit although admittedly it’s been awhile since I can remember one of his movies fondly. Lutz seems to be a nice enough guy but this is a really, really bad film and I’d be doing my readers a disservice by sugarcoating it. There are really very few redeeming factors other than the very buff Lutz is shirtless for virtually the entire movie which may be appealing to those who find that sort of thing appealing. Otherwise, just keep in mind that this may well be the leading contender for worst movie of the year.

REASONS TO GO: Bored out of your skull.

REASONS TO STAY: Self-respect.

FAMILY VALUES:  There is a great deal of combat action and violence and a couple of scenes of sensuality.

TRIVIAL PURSUIT: To maintain his physique, Lutz did more than a thousand push-ups and abdominal crunches every day on set.

CRITICAL MASS: As of 1/25/14: Rotten Tomatoes: 3% positive reviews. Metacritic: 22/100.

COMPARISON SHOPPING: Percy Jackson: Sea of Monsters

FINAL RATING: 2/10

NEXT: August: Osage County

Zero Dark Thirty


The halo around her head presages Jessica Chastain making box office history.

The halo around her head presages Jessica Chastain making box office history.

(2012) True Life Drama (Columbia) Jessica Chastain, Jason Clarke, Joel Edgerton, Jennifer Ehle, Mark Strong, Edgar Ramirez, Kyle Chandler, Harold Perrineau, James Gandolfini, Jonathan Olley, Jeremy Strong, Reda Kateb, John Barrowman, Chris Pratt, Frank Grillo, Scott Adkins, J.J. Kandel, Fares Fares, Mark Duplass, Tushaar Mehra, Stephen Dillane, Lauren Shaw. Directed by Kathryn Bigelow

Zero Dark Thirty may well be the most critically acclaimed film to come out last year and also the most controversial. The left claims that it glorifies and justifies torture, while the right claims that the filmmakers used classified material to make their film, which was also intended to help boost Obama’s electoral chances. Sony promptly defused this by scheduling it after the election.

Two years after 9-11, the CIA is no closer to finding and capturing Osama bin Laden than they were the day the Towers fell. New agent Maya (Chastain) is sent to Pakistan to work with Daniel (Clarke), one of the Agency’s top interrogators (read: torturer). In their hands is Ammar (Kateb), who helped supply money to the 9-11operatives who’d crashed the planes. Daniel water boards his prisoner and subjects him to pain and humiliation in every way imaginable.

After awhile, Maya suggests fooling him into thinking he’d already given up information that had led to Al Quaeda plans being thwarted. He gives them a name – Abu Achmed (Mehra), who is seemingly an important courier who may well have ties directly to Bin Laden. Maya seizes on this as a potential clue to his whereabouts; her station chief Joseph Bradley (Chandler) isn’t sure at all. Daniel is on the fence; he is weary of torture and wants to return home and cleanse his soul again.

Maya relentlessly chases her lead over the course of years, even after they get intelligence that Abu Achmed has been dead for years. She bonds with fellow female intelligence agent Jessica (Ehle) who looks to have a lead on a double agent who has ties to the inner circle. She goes to Camp Chapman in Afghanistan to pursue that lead…which ends in tragedy.

An attempt on Maya’s life convinces her that she’s getting close but it is no longer safe for her to stay in Pakistan so she returns to Washington to become a gadfly in the Agency as her persistence begins to pay off when information she receives leads her to find that Abu Achmed is very much alive – and living in a fortress-like complex in which someone is taking great pains to keep anyone from knowing what’s going on inside. Could this be where Bin Laden has been hiding all this time?

Well, you know what the answer to that question is unless you’ve been living under a rock. The last 25 minutes of the movie is really the payoff everyone is going to the theater to see – the raid on Bin Laden’s compound, ending up with the death of the notorious terrorist leader and the end of a decade-long nightmare. This is edge of the seat stuff, even if it is mostly seen in night vision and is often confusing and terrifying – as it must have been for the SEALs on the mission – and it at times seems like not very much is going according to plan.

I do have to say before we go into the film itself that I think that most of the complaints about the film are political posturing. This is far from an endorsement of torture for one thing – if anything, it’s an indictment against it. None of the information that they get through torture is usable – none of it. The only useful information they get is through fooling the detainee into thinking that he’d already given the information and even then it’s just a name – and not even the right one.

As for being a left-wing Obama lovefest, it’s far from that either. While I can’t speak to the filmmakers being given access to classified documents (a claim denied both by the filmmakers and the CIA, as well as with analysts familiar with the Bin Laden manhunt), I can say that they take great pains to make this as apolitical as possible. Clearly, the film is about those who undertook the greatest manhunt in history, those people in the clandestine services. No, it isn’t about suave secret agents in fast cars with nifty gadgets, although there are a few of the latter. Mostly it’s about people chasing down leads in places I wouldn’t want to spend a minute in, much less months at a time. Obama barely rates a mention or two here.

The one who rates more than a mention is Jessica Chastain. She comes into her own here and even though she’s already in a very brief time turned in some amazing performances, this tops it and puts her squarely at the top of the favorites for the Best Actress Oscar (she’s already won a Golden Globe as of this writing). She’s also made box office history, becoming the first woman ever to star in the number one and number two movies in the box office race in the same week at the same time. She joins a very elite company of men who have accomplished the same difficult feat.

Her Maya is driven, relentless as a terrier and having all the social graces of a charging bull. She is fearless, standing up to her often timid bosses who are far more afraid of being wrong than they are of not finding Bin Laden. She’s a cruise missile on a factory floor and heaven help anyone who gets in the way of her goal. Chastain is wise enough to make her vulnerabilities show up from time to time – being alone against the world can wear a person down. It’s also a very lonely place to be. Incidentally, it is reported that Maya is based on a real CIA operative, although there are those who insist that the real Maya is a man.

The movie runs about two and a half hours and that might be a little long for some, although I didn’t particularly notice the length. It does have a tendency to telegraph some of the action; when you see a date you know something tragic is about to happen.

Bigelow and her production designer Jeremy Hindle do a realistic job of setting up the look and feel of the film. Hindle built a re-creation of Bin Laden’s compound in the Jordanian desert in only a couple of months. Now, I’m not the sort who can look at the film and say “oh yes, that’s exactly the way the compound looked” but others who can do it have done so.

This is a brilliant movie that carries a little baggage with it that might affect the way you view it. I urge you not to bring small children to the movie as some idiot of a parent did to our screening; this is a movie with some pretty graphic images that the squeamish are going to have a real hard time with. For the rest of us, this is a movie that has been justifiably lauded; it’s not a perfect movie but it is certainly one that is worth your time and effort to see.

REASONS TO GO: A brilliant performance by Chastain, justifiably Oscar-nominated. Realistic almost to a fault.

REASONS TO STAY: The torture scenes are very hard to take. Telegraphs some of its moves in advance.

FAMILY VALUES:  There are some graphic depictions of torture that are by no means meant for children, nor are the pictures of those killed in the various bombings and raids. DO NOT BRING YOUR PRE-TEENS TO THIS MOVIE!!!!!!

TRIVIAL PURSUIT: The movie was already in pre-production and was to be about the unsuccessful hunt for Osama Bin Laden when the news broke that Bin Laden was dead. Immediately the screenplay was re-written to turn the movie into the story of the successful hunt for Bin Laden.

CRITICAL MASS: As of 1/22/13: Rotten Tomatoes: 93% positive reviews. Metacritic: 95/100; this movie is as well-reviewed as it’s possible to get.

COMPARISON SHOPPING: The Hurt Locker

FINAL RATING: 8.5/10

NEXT: Hesher