Mr. Holmes


Even the most beautiful garden path can be the road to Hell.

Even the most beautiful garden path can be the road to Hell.

(2015) Drama (Miramax/Roadside Attractions) Ian McKellen, Laura Linney, Milo Parker, Hiroyuki Sanada, Hattie Morahan, Patrick Kennedy, Roger Allam, Philip Davis, Frances de la Tour, Charles Maddox, Takako Akashi, Zak Shukor, John Sessions, Michael Culkin, David Foxxe, Oliver Devoti, Mike Burnside, Nicholas Rowe, Sam Coulson, Frances Barber. Directed by Bill Condon

The difference between reality and fiction can often be the mere stroke of a pen. Often we are presented with an image, one that in time becomes as reality. What happens to the real person then, when the fictional image becomes more powerful than the real person who inspired it?

In a sleepy seaside town on the east coast of England lives a cantankerous old man in an old cottage overlooking white chalk cliffs. He spends his days pottering around, caring for his bees and chatting with Roger (Parker), the son of his housekeeper Mrs. Munro (Linney). It is nigh on impossible to believe that once upon a time, this old man was the most famous and honored detective in Great Britain, for he is Sherlock Holmes (McKellen), now 93 years old and living in retirement in post-war England.

It is 1947 and he has just returned from Japan on a visit with Umezaki (Sanada), with whom he has been corresponding about the nature of prickly ash, which is said to have restorative powers for those afflicted by senility. Holmes witnesses first-hand the horrors of Hiroshima only two years after it was annihilated by the Americans and their atomic bomb; for a man who has lived through two world wars, this visual representation of man’s inhumanity to man is almost more than he can take.

Holmes’ great mental facilities and his memory has become suspect and the 93-year-old man is trapped by his fading intellect. He is trying to recall his last case, one which caused him to retire to the seaside, but he can’t remember it, or what about it caused him to put down his magnifying glass for good. He feels like he needs to recall this; everyone he knows is dead save for the two living with him now who didn’t know him when these events transpired. All he knows is the case involved a distraught husband (Kennedy), a mysterious wife (Morahan) and a music teacher (de la Tour) who was also something of a spiritualist. As the case unravels, so does Holmes. Can he remember the details of the case and find peace, or will he join his colleagues in the Choir Invisible first?

This is the Bill Condon of Gods and Monsters, not the one who directed the two installments of the Twilight saga. Other reviewers have described this movie as elegiac and that’s nearly the perfect description; there is an air of melancholy, of lost lives and overwhelming regret and loneliness. Much of the movie is told through flashbacks as the elderly Holmes recalls shards of memory and starts to assemble them into a cohesive whole. There is an amazing scene where a middle-aged Holmes speaks to one of the main players in the mystery he is revisiting in his old age and describes that he has consciously made the choice to be lonely, but somewhat ironically follows up that having the great intellect is reward enough. As he nears the end of his life, Holmes no longer has the comfort of that intellect, although germs of it remain.

&We forget that McKellan is one of the great actors of our time; we tend to associate him with Gandalf and Magneto and need to remember that this man has a Shakespearean background and has some of the most honored performances in the history of the English stage,. His gruff exterior hides inner pain, as he for perhaps for the first time in his life feels fear; fear that the thing most of value to him is being slowly stripped away from him. For someone like Sherlock Holmes, dementia and senility are the absolute worst calamities that might befall him. We see the uncertainty of a man used to relying on the powers of his mind suddenly unable to trust those powers any longer. It’s a bravura performance that not only humanizes the great detective who is often seen these days as something of a caricature but also makes him relatable. In the past, Holmes always seemed above the rest of us; we could admire his skills while finding him cold and unapproachable. Befriending Sherlock Holmes would be something like befriending an iPad; it can be done but it wouldn’t be very satisfying if you did.

I haven’t read the novel this is based on but I’m going to make a point of finding it. There is a marvelous backstory as we discover that for the sake of making the chronicles of Sherlock Holmes’ career more enticing to the reading public his dear friend Dr. Watson has taken a few liberties with the truth. For example, Holmes tells us in a somewhat bemused tone, that he never wore a deerstalker cap (which was actually an invention of illustrators Sidney Paget and Frederic Dorr Steele, who assumed the deerstalker was the chapeau of choice due to Arthur Conan Doyle’s descriptions of his headgear, although the author never expressly stated that Holmes wore a deerstalker) nor did he smoke a pipe – he tended to prefer cigars. We get the sense that Holmes is somewhat amused by Watson’s inventions regarding his life but is to a large extent also trapped by them.

Purists of the Holmes canon will probably have a bit of a meltdown regarding some of this, but I personally think (not being a Sherlock Holmes expert in any sense) that the author and filmmakers do honor the spirit of the character here. We get a sense of what a real human being would be like if possessed of the same mental acuity as Sherlock Holmes. It would be a marvelous life indeed – and a lonely one as well.

In some ways this is likely to get lost amid the bombast of the summer’s louder and more well-heeled blockbusters, but this is as entertaining as any of them – and more than most of them, for that matter. I thoroughly enjoyed this visit to the great detective’s final years and found it believable and enjoyable, and that is all you can really ask of a summer movie indeed.

REASONS TO GO: Tremendous performance by McKellan. Terrific backstory.
REASONS TO STAY: Not for purists.
FAMILY VALUES: Some of the concepts here are pretty adult; there are a couple of images that are disturbing as well.
TRIVIAL PURSUIT: The actor playing Holmes in the movie that the “real” Holmes goes to see is played by Nicholas Rowe, who starred in the title role of Young Sherlock Holmes.
CRITICAL MASS: As of 7/28/15: Rotten Tomatoes: 87% positive reviews. Metacritic: 67/100.
COMPARISON SHOPPING: The Seven Per-Cent Solution
FINAL RATING: 7.5/10
NEXT: The Little Death

Cold Weather


Cold Weather(2010) Mystery (IFC) Chris Lankenau, Trieste Kelly Dunn, Raul Castillo, Robyn Rikoon, Jeb Pearson, Brendan McFadden, Ben Stambler, Katy Rothert, Paul Rothert, Jerry Moyer, Virgil L. Howell, Barry Seltzer, Orianna Herrmann, Elliott Glick, Joshua Locy. Directed by Aaron Katz

In Portland (the one in Oregon) it rains a lot. The weather is often a misty rain-soaked grey that carries a chilly hint of the northwest.  A lot of hipsters live in Portland; a lot of young people who work menial or arts-oriented jobs trying to get a handle on who they are as they transition from being teens to being adults. There’s a lot of energy there when the rain and the grey don’t weigh it down and waterlog it.

Doug (Lankenau) has just moved to Portland from Chicago. He is living there with his sister Gail (Dunn) in a small apartment. He works at an ice plant moving bags of ice all day with his friend Carlos (Castillo). Doug is a Sherlock Holmes fan, so much so that he has taken to smoking a pipe and had plans to be a detective at one time, going to college to study Forensics but eventually dropping out for reasons undisclosed.

Doug’s former girlfriend Rachel (Rikoon) comes to town and spends time with Doug, Carlos and Gail. Carlos becomes sweet on her. Asks her out on a date. Gets stood up. Looks for Rachel to get an explanation. Rachel is nowhere to be found. Carlos freaks out. Asks Doug, the forensics expert of the group, to investigate.

And that’s it in a nutshell. Katz is using kind of a mumblecore style here; the movie is not so much about the investigation into Rachel’s disappearance but more about how it affects the lives of the three left behind. The first third of the movie is more of a slacker diary, looking at the lives of these four people who have very little inertia in them. The dialogue is realistic for the people and place but at the end of the day they really do or say little of interest during that time.

When Rachel disappears the film picks up a little and not a moment too soon because quite frankly I was beginning to nod off. I’m all for slice of life films but those slices need to have some sort of meaning, some kind of insight for me. Something more than young people stuck in the current of life and not particularly interested or motivated to get out of the stream.

The performers are all unknowns and quite frankly don’t take the material and run with it. While I will grant you that the movie looks beautiful (particularly the scene at the waterfall, depicted above) and that the images of Portland rainfall are clever and artistic, I needed a bit more from the movie. Of course, I did see it late at night and I might have been too tired to really appreciate it so take all of this with a grain of salt – but I didn’t connect with the characters and I wasn’t captured by the story. Those are troubling results for a movie.

WHY RENT THIS: Hits the right notes on realism. Beautiful cinematography.

WHY RENT SOMETHING ELSE: The performances are uninspiring. So low-key and dry that boredom could set in.

FAMILY VALUES: There is a bit of language and some smoking.

TRIVIAL PURSUIT: Aaron Katz’ first film as a director was Dance Party USA.

NOTABLE HOME VIDEO EXTRAS: None listed.

BOX OFFICE PERFORMANCE: $141,358 on an unreported production budget; while it’s possible that it was profitable, it’s more likely that it broke even at best or lost money at worst..

COMPARISON SHOPPING: Brick

FINAL RATING: 5/10

NEXT: Memento

New Releases for the Week of December 25, 2009


New Releases for the Week of December 25, 2009

Sherlock Holmes engages in a little breaing and entering.

SHERLOCK HOLMES

(20th Century Fox) Robert Downey Jr., Jude Law, Rachel McAdams, Mark Strong, Eddie Marsan, Kelly Reilly, James Fox, Geraldine James, Robert Maillet. Directed by Guy Ritchie

This is the latest re-imagining of the Arthur Conan Doyle character. Here, director Ritchie (Lock, Stock and Two Smoking Barrels) gives Holmes a more action-adventure bent as the legendary detective and his faithful companion Dr. Watson take on an evil noble with the fate of the very British Empire at stake!

See the trailer here.

For more on the movie this is the website.

Rating: PG-13 (for intense sequences of violence and action, some startling images and a scene of suggestive material)

It’s Complicated

(Universal) Meryl Streep, Alec Baldwin, Steve Martin, John Krasinski. A woman who’s husband left her for a younger woman (which he later married) finds herself in the odd position of having an affair with her ex-husband. That’s right, now she’s the other woman…only she was there first. It’s all so…so…complicated. Say, wait a minute…(please note that the studio has appealed the MPAA’s “R” rating and is looking to get a more reasonable PG-13).

See the trailer here.

For more on the movie this is the website.

Rating: R (for some drug content and sexuality. PENDING APPEAL)

Nine

(Weinstein) Daniel Day-Lewis, Marion Cotillard, Sophia Loren, Penelope Cruz. Director Rob Marshall, an Oscar winner for Chicago, revisits the Broadway musical with this big screen version of a 1982 Tony winner based on Federico Fellini’s notorious film 8 ½. The story revolves around a famous film director reaching a personal crisis of epic proportions while balancing the women in his life.

See the trailer here.

For more on the movie this is the website.

Rating: PG-13 (for sexual content and smoking)

The Young Victoria

(Apparition) Emily Blunt, Rupert Friend, Miranda Richardson, Paul Bettany. A chronicle of the turbulent early years of the legendary English queen’s reign, and of her romance with Prince Albert of Prussia. This features an all-star cast of respected British thespians, too many to list in this preview.

See the trailer here.

For more on the movie this is the website.

Rating: PG (for some mild sensuality, a scene of violence, and brief incidental language and smoking)

Fall/Holiday Preview


Fall PreviewFall means back to school, the start of football season and new television programs on the networks. For the movie industry, it means the end of the summer blockbuster season and the beginning of releases seriously vying for Oscar gold. That doesn’t mean there won’t be its share of blockbusters; after all, James Cameron’s first movie since Titanic is bound to sell a whole lot of tickets, particularly when it’s as hyped as Avatar is. There is also a re-imagining of Sherlock Holmes and a new Disney full-length animated feature to keep the cash registers ringing.

September tends to be a dumping ground for movies that don’t quite fit into the Summer or Fall movie seasons, and with the exception of 9 and The Informant! probably don’t merit consideration in this feature; since we’re already into September we’re just going to skip the month altogether for the purposes of this preview and start with October (you can see previews for each week in September however on the blog and in the newsletter) and run through December.

There are always a few movies that open in Los Angeles and New York City for Oscar consideration but don’t get a general release until January or sometimes even February; those will be covered in our 2010 preview, scheduled for the end of December. As per our usual modus operandi, we will stick to wide-release movies scheduled to open in Orlando, along with a few high-profile limited release films that have a decent chance to show up either the Enzian or the Regal Winter Park. As always, these dates are very subject to change, and some may turn from general releases to limited markets. Things are very fluid when it comes to studio release schedules. In any case, check out what’s going to be on your list of must-sees this fall!

OCTOBER

Amelia_3

TOUCHDOWN

AMELIA

RELEASE DATE: October 23, 2009

STUDIO: Fox Searchlight

STARRING: Hilary Swank, Richard Gere, Ewan MacGregor, Mia Wasikowska, Christopher Eccleston, Joe Anderson

STORY: She was a small-town girl who just wanted to fly to exotic places around the world. She became the heroine of a nation for being the first woman to fly across the Atlantic by herself. She became the darling of society for her breezy, natural charm. She became a legend for her mysterious, tragic final flight. She is Amelia Earhart and this is her story.

PROSPECTS: In a very weak month of releases, this has the best chance of Oscar buzz and with the right kind of push might hit box office gold as well.

OBSTACLES: Going up against the popular Saw franchise is going to be a tough sell to general audiences, particularly younger audiences who may have less interest in the Amelia Earhart story than older viewers.

FACTOID: While director Mira Nair was born in India, she has spent most of her career making movies in the United States.

FIELD GOALS

SAW VI

RELEASE DATE: October 23, 2009

STUDIO: Lionsgate

STARRING: Costas Mandylor, Mark Ralston, Betsy Russell, Tobin Bell, Shawnee Smith, Peter Outerbridge, Larissa Gomes

STORY: The studio has kept details of the movie close to the vest, but apparently the grand design behind Jigsaw’s handiwork is going to be revealed in this entry of the highly successful horror franchise.

PROSPECTS: The Saw franchise has been among the most successful in horror film history.  Despite the onscreen death of the main villain of the first movies, the franchise has shown no signs of slowing down and has become a fixture in the October line-up.

OBSTACLES: This is the sixth installment in the franchise and horror fans are notoriously fickle. It’s quite possible they will have grown tired of it.

FACTOID: Tanedra Howard won her role in the film on the “Scream Queens” reality series.

WHERE THE WILD THINGS ARE

RELEASE DATE: October 16, 2009

STUDIO: Warner Brothers

STARRING: Catherine Keener, Mark Ruffalo, Max Records, Lauren Ambrose, James Gandolfini, Chris Cooper, Catherine O’Hara, Forrest Whitaker

STORY: The beloved book by Maurice Sendak is brought to life by director Spike Jonze. A young boy, misunderstood at home, finds a strange island populated by the Wild Things, a race of unpredictable creatures longing for a ruler. When they elect the young boy as their king, he finds that being a ruler is not all it’s cracked up to be.

PROSPECTS: Sendak’s book has delighted generations of kids, and given that the highly inventive Jonze is directing, this may have broad appeal with families as well as adult moviegoers.

OBSTACLES: Jonze can be a bit avant garde at times; general audiences may not warm to that.

FACTOID: The Wild Thing costumes were designed by the Jim Henson Company.

EXTRA POINT

A SERIOUS MAN

RELEASE DATE: October 2, 2009

STUDIO: Focus Films

STARRING: Michael Stuhlbarg, Fred Melamed, Richard Kind, Aaron Wolf, Sari Wagner, Jessica McManus, Adam Arkin

STORY: A Jewish physics professor is having a tough time in 1967. His wife is leaving him for a pompous colleague, his son is a discipline problem, his career is being threatened by an anonymous letter-writer, his daughter is filching money from his wallet to save for a nose job, and his attractive next-door neighbor sunbathes in the nude. He turns to three different rabbis to help him be a mensch – a serious man.

PROSPECTS: This is the latest from the Coen brothers, who have Fargo and No Country for Old Men on their resume.

OBSTACLES: The subject matter may not appeal widely to a non-Jewish audience. The trailer is, shall we say, a tad unconventional.

FACTOID: This is Stuhlbarg’s first lead role as a professional actor.

HAIL MARYS

October 2, 2009

THE INVENTION OF LYING (Warner Brothers) finds comedian Ricky Gervais writing, directing and starring in this comedy set in a world where people only tell the truth. Gervais’ character tells the first lie – and discovers that he can manipulate his alternate reality to his own reality. However, things quickly get out of hand as things will whenever you lie, kids. WHIP IT (Fox Searchlight) is also the directorial debut of someone better known in front of the camera, in this case actress Drew Barrymore. It’s a coming-of-age movie set in the world of the roller derby. ZOMBIELAND (Columbia) is a comedy in a George A. Romero world; one taken over by flesh-eating zombies, where hapless losers like Woody Harrelson and Jesse Eisenberg become the hope of humanity. Disney is also re-releasing TOY STORY/TOY STORY 2 (Disney/Pixar) in Disney 3-D for the first time, in anticipation of the May release of the long-awaited Toy Story 3.

October 9, 2009

COUPLES RETREAT (Universal) is a Vince Vaughn comedy about four Midwestern couples who go to a luxurious Tropical resort ostensibly for a vacation. When it turns out to be a couple’s therapy resort, all four are forced to face the problems in their relationship, whether they admit to it or not. MORE THAN A GAME (Lionsgate) follows five talented young basketball players from the Akron, Ohio area – including the great LeBron James – as their friendship is tested by the pressures brought on by a looming state high school championship game and the exploding popularity and notoriety of James. AN EDUCATION (Sony Classics) comes from writer/director Nick Hornby concerning the coming-of-age of a young girl in 1961 Britain. She is forced to choose between her long-held dream of going to Oxford or a glittering, sensual jet-set life with her thirtysomething boyfriend.

October 16, 2009

THE STEPFATHER (Screen Gems) is a remake of a 1987 thriller that featured “Lost” star Terry O’Quinn. Dylan Walsh takes his role as a new suitor for a widow whose teenaged son begins to suspect that his prospective stepfather has a far more sinister agenda. LAW ABIDING CITIZEN (Overture) stars Gerard Butler as an upstanding family man whose wife and daughter are brutally murdered. He goes on a rampage against the city fathers and legal system that let one of the murderers get off with a light sentence. It’s up to the prosecutor who initially worked his case and is now in the crosshairs of the grieving man. BLACK DYNAMITE (Apparition) is a spoof of blaxploitation crime dramas from the ‘70s. It was one of the big hits of the Sundance Film festival. It’s getting a limited release but may expand if the numbers warrant it.

October 23, 2009

ASTRO BOY (Summit) is a feature-length animated film starring the venerable Japanese robotic superhero who has been thrilling audiences all over the world for almost 50 years. Based on the popular young adult series of novels, CIRQUE DU FREAK: THE VAMPIRE’S ASSISTANT (Universal) is about a normal, bored teenager who is sucked into the world of freaks and monsters after being turned to a vampire by a traveling sideshow, promptly getting embroiled in a war between rival vampire clans. Sounds familiar, no? ANTICHRIST (IFC), opening in limited release, is the latest from maverick Danish director Lars van Trier, concerning a couple whose marriage has been brought to the brink by tragedy going to an isolated cabin in the woods to try and save it, but find something far more sinister instead. Finally, ONG BAK II: THE BEGINNING (Magnet) is the prequel to the astonishing Thai martial arts hit starring Tony Jaa, this time as a warrior fighting for justice in ancient Thailand.

October 28, 2009

MICHAEL JACKSON: THIS IS IT (Columbia) features rehearsal footage taken from April 2009 until the King of Pop’s untimely death this summer as he prepared for a series of concerts in London. This gives his fans a unique look at the creative process of the pop superstar as he perfects the music, dancing and spectacle that may well have heralded his return to the spotlight after years of legal issues. This documentary will only be out for a two-week limited run, so if you haven’t seen enough of Michael Jackson on “Entertainment Tonight,” Access: Hollywood” or the E! Network, here’s your chance.

October 30, 2009

YOUTH IN REVOLT (Dimension) stars Michael Cera in dual roles as a somewhat spineless twerp and as the confident ladies man he wants to become in a filmed version of a cult novel. THE BOONDOCK SAINTS II: ALL SAINTS DAY (Apparition) is the sequel to Troy Duffy’s cult hit with Duffy and much of the original cast returning in this limited release. The brothers MacManus return to Boston from Ireland after a priest is murdered to administer a little justice, Saint-style.

NOVEMBER

The_Twilight_Saga__New_Moon_3

TOUCHDOWN

THE TWILIGHT SAGA: NEW MOON

RELEASE DATE: November 20, 2009

STUDIO: Summit Entertainment

STARRING: Kristen Stewart, Robert Pattinson, Taylor Lautner, Dakota Fanning, Michael Sheen, Ashley Greene, Rachelle Lafevre, Billy Burke.

STORY: When Edward Cullen and his family leave Forks, Washington to protect Bella Swan from the dangers of their supernatural world, Bella is heartbroken, but finds solace in a budding new romance with childhood friend Jakob Black. She soon discovers that Jakob has secrets of his own, and Edward’s departure may not have been all that it seemed.

PROSPECTS: The first was a major box office smash last year, prompting mini-major Summit to immediately greenlight the next two installments in the series of young adult novels for release now and in the summer. Tweener girl hearts are already a-flutter over the prospects of the new movie, which promises more romance, more danger and more….just more.

OBSTACLES: A new director (Chris Weitz) is helming the sequel, and there may be some backlash to the highly successful franchise. Chances are, however, not enough to keep the freight train that is the Twilight Saga from roaring all the way to the bank.

FACTOID: Director Chris Weitz’ brother Paul is directing Cirque du Freak: The Vampire’s Assistant (see above), also based on a best-selling young adult novel involving vampires.

FIELD GOALS

DISNEY’S A CHRISTMAS CAROL

RELEASE DATE: November 6, 2009

STUDIO: Disney (duh)

STARRING: Jim Carrey, Gary Oldman, Colin Firth, Bob Hoskins, Robin Wright Penn, Cary Elwes, Michael J. Fox (voice).

STORY: Yes, it’s that Christmas Carol. The one in which a crabby old miser is visited by three ghosts on Christmas Eve and is transformed. God bless us, every one.

PROSPECTS: Given Carrey’s track record with holiday movies and Disney’s mighty promotional machine, this has a good chance at box office gold, if not holiday classic-ness.

OBSTACLES: This is a bit of a leap of faith. While director Robert Zemeckis hit a home run using the motion capture system on The Polar Express, it didn’t do the box office it deserved. Its follow-up, Beowulf was less well-received either by critics or audiences. I’m not 100% convinced that audiences have warmed up completely to motion capture yet.

FACTOID: This is the first Disney film that Jim Carrey has been involved with.

NINE

RELEASE DATE: November 25, 2009

STUDIO: Weinstein

STARRING: Daniel Day-Lewis, Marion Cotillard, Penelope Cruz, Nicole Kidman, Dame Judy Dench, Kate Hudson, Stacey Ferguson, Sophia Loren.

STORY: Not the animated feature that opened on September 9 but rather the big screen version of the Tony-winning Broadway musical based on Federico Fellini’s masterpiece 8 ½. The story concerns a world-famous director and his relationships with his wife, his mother, the movie star that is his muse, his confidant/costume designer, a fashion journalist and a prostitute he knew in his youth.

PROSPECTS: Director Rob Marshall brought another Tony-award winning Broadway musical to the screen. You might have heard of it; Chicago. Given the success of Mamma Mia last summer, Broadway musicals are definitely in.

OBSTACLES: This is less obviously a slam-dunk than Mamma Mia was, but perhaps more so than Chicago so who knows? Day-Lewis is not known for his singing voice, and a movie based on a stage production that was itself based on a Fellini movie might be a bit of a hard sell for mainstream audiences.

FACTOID: Javier Bardem was originally cast in the role eventually played by Day-Lewis; both men won Oscars in 2007. Catherine Zeta-Jones was initially set to play the role that Kidman wound up playing; they both won Oscars in 2002.

EXTRA POINT

THE ROAD

RELEASE DATE: November 25, 2009

STUDIO: Weinstein

STARRING: Viggo Mortensen, Robert Duvall, Charlize Theron, Guy Pearce, Kodi Smit-McPhee, Garret Dillahunt.

STORY: Based on the best-selling Pulitzer Prize-winning novel, a man and his son embark on a journey through a dangerous, post-Apocalyptic world trying to survive by any means necessary.

PROSPECTS: Mortensen is an actor who has mass appeal as well as indie cred, so he walks easily in both worlds. Australian director John Hillcoat last did the critically acclaimed The Proposition, so he knows a thing or two about desolate landscapes.  

OBSTACLES: This movie has been delayed for more than a year, rarely a good sign. The dense narrative was considered unfilmable by some. Post-apocalyptic road movies haven’t traditionally fared well, box office-wise (remember The Postman?), although if it’s a good one, people might buy tickets.

FACTOID: In order to simulate a post-apocalyptic world, filming was done in Hurricane Katrina-ravaged sections of New Orleans, an abandoned stretch of the Pennsylvania Turnpike and in empty buildings in Pittsburgh.

HAIL MARYS

November 6, 2009

THE BOX (Warner Brothers) features Cameron Diaz and James Marsden as a couple in serious financial difficulties who are approached by a disfigured man who hands them a wooden box who will give them (insert Dr. Evil impression here) one MEEEELLION dollars if they press the red button within. The caveat is that if they do, a total stranger will die. THE FOURTH KIND (Universal) stars Milla Jovovich as a psychotherapist in Nome, Alaska interviewing several patients who have disturbingly similar experiences revolving around alien abduction. Based on actual events, with archival video footage integrated into the overall movie, my son pronounced the trailer as the most disturbing he’s ever seen. THE MEN WHO STARE AT GOATS (Overture) stars George Clooney as a man who claims to be part of an elite but shadowy military unit that possesses psychic powers, including the ability to pass through solid walls, read the thoughts of the enemy and kill goats with the power of their mind. Inspired by a non-fiction article on U.S. military attempts to harness psychic abilities, the movie takes a reporter through a war between rival psychic units – and yes, it’s a dark comedy.

November 13, 2009

2012 (Columbia) is how director Roland Emmerich tops The Day After Tomorrow. Here, the auteur of Independence Day and 10,000 B.C. John Cusack stars in this examination of the end of the world as predicted by the Mayan calendar and several prominent scientists – including Albert Einstein. If you like special effects-stuffed disaster epics, your ship has definitely come in. PIRATE RADIO (Focus) takes place in an era when the BBC played only two hours of rock and roll per week and British pop music was exploding in the wake of the Beatles. Most Brits got their rock fix from pirate radio stations, broadcasting from international waters off the coast of the UK. An outstanding ensemble cast takes on the man, man. WOMEN IN TROUBLE (Screen Media) is an ensemble drama about ten disparate women all dealing with various crises in their lives. While this is listed as a general release, chances are this won’t be getting the number of screens that 2012 will. THE YOUNG VICTORIA (Apparition) is the story of the romance between the young queen of England and Prince Albert (who is not in a can, as it turns out) in this limited release.

November 20, 2009

PRECIOUS: BASED ON THE NOVEL PUSH BY SAPPHIRE (Lionsgate) may well have the worst title of any movie this year, but was the talk of Sundance this year, nominated for awards in every major category. This is the story of an African-American girl named Precious, who has had two children by her own father and although possesses a great intelligence and serenity, has fallen through the cracks of the system. It’s a harrowing look at a life in the pits of despair but it’s a movie that has hope and self-betterment at its core. Arriving in limited release, THE MESSENGER (Oscilloscope) stars Ben Foster as a soldier who is given the worst assignment in the Army with a partner he can’t stand. Complications arise when he falls in love with the widow of a soldier. THE BLIND SIDE (Warner Brothers) is the amazing true story of football star Michael Oher, who was a homeless young African-American boy taken in by a well-to-do white family in Texas and blossoms into an All-American. Directed by John Lee Hancock, who first dipped his toe in the true sports underdog waters with The Rookie. PLANET 51 (Tri-Star) is a science fiction animated feature about the invasion of a strange, malevolent creature on a peaceful but xenophobic planet. That strange, malevolent creature happens to be a human – there goes the neighborhood. Seeing limited release is RED CLIFF (Magnet), John Woo’s first Chinese movie since 1982. The acclaimed action director depicts the epic Battle of Red Cliff, in which a force of 50,000 triumphed over an army one million soldiers strong. The battle determined the course of ancient China nearly two thousand years ago.

November 25, 2009

UP IN THE AIR (Paramount) is the latest from director Jason Reitman (Juno, Thank You for Smoking) and stars George Clooney as a corporate consultant who specializes in firing people in a humane manner. He literally lives in airports, hotels, and planes but is faced with the horrifying process of living (gulp!) at home just as he approaches a major frequent flier milestone. THE FANTASTIC MR. FOX (Fox Searchlight) is an animated feature starring the voice of…George Clooney (sheez, the guy gets around) and is the brainchild of the late author Roald Dahl (Charlie and the Chocolate Factory) and quirkmeister director Wes (The Life Aquatic with Steve Zissou). In it, a clever fox tries to outwit three dim-bulb farmers out to do away with Mr. Fox and his family. NINJA ASSASSIN (Warner Brothers) is about an assassin trained by the nearly mythic Ozunu clan who has trained assassins for generations. When one of their number leaves the clan after the brutal execution of his friend, he is tracked down by merciless and relentless killers throughout the streets of Europe and must use all of his skills to stay alive. OLD DOGS (Disney) stars John Travolta and Robin Williams as a pair of old friends whose lives are turned upside down when one of them discovers that he is the father of twins and is forced to care for them on the eve of the biggest business deal of their lives.

November 27, 2009

BROOKLYN’S FINEST (Overture) opens in limited release the day after Thanksgiving and is three interweaving stories, each involving a police officer in Brooklyn.

DECEMBER

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TOUCHDOWN

AVATAR

RELEASE DATE: December 18, 2009

STUDIO: 20th Century Fox

STARRING: Sam Worthington, Zoe Saldana, Sigourney Weaver, Michelle Rodriguez, Giovanni Ribisi, CCH Pounder, Wes Studi, Stephen Lang.

STORY: A former Marine finds himself in the middle of hostilities between humans and alien races on a planet full of exotic life forms. He takes the role of an Avatar, a human mind in an alien body. However, as he learns more about the alien race he is observing, he begins to see his loyalties towards his own species waver.

PROSPECTS: This is James Cameron’s first non-documentary movie since 1997 when he did a little movie called Titanic. The CGI and 3D technology are said to be game-changers in the movie industry, completely revolutionizing the way big special effects movies will be done. There has been serious buzz about this movie for almost a decade and fanboys the world over have been salivating for it for some time.

OBSTACLES: The first trailer for the movie was less than overwhelming, although given the expectations surrounding the movie, it might be very difficult to live up to them. Cameron has also been busy with his oceanographic pursuits rather than filmmaking – even given that his last movie was the largest-grossing movie of all time, a decade is a long time to be out of the game by Hollywood standards.

FACTOID: Cameron originally slated this to be his follow-up to Titanic back in 1999, but special effects technology at the time drove the budget up to prohibitive levels. It was only after seeing Gollum in Lord of the Rings: The Two Towers that Cameron felt technology had progressed to the point that made making the film feasible.

FIELD GOALS

SHERLOCK HOLMES

RELEASE DATE: December 25, 2009

STUDIO: Warner Brothers

STARRING: Robert Downey Jr., Jude Law, Rachel McAdams, Mark Strong, Eddie Marsan, Kelly Reilly, James Fox, Hans Matheson

STORY: The Arthur Conan Doyle character receives a new makeover as he takes on a new nemesis threatening England with utter ruin.

PROSPECTS: Downey has been on a critical and commercial hot streak with Iron Man and Tropic Thunder under his belt. The trailers have received a lot of positive buzz.

OBSTACLES: Sherlock Holmes as an action hero? Purists might cringe but modern audiences may be more accepting of a makeover than in years past. Also Downey’s last film, The Soloist, performed below expectations.

FACTOID: The set for Sherlock Holmes’ residence was also used in Harry Potter and the Order of the Phoenix as the home of Sirius Black.

INVICTUS

RELEASE DATE: December 11, 2009

STUDIO: Warner Brothers

STARRING: Morgan Freeman, Matt Damon, Scott Eastwood, Langley Kirkwood, Robert Hobbs, Bonnie Henna, Grant Roberts

STORY: Based on a true story about the early days of Nelson Mandela’s presidency, when he struggled at healing the racial divides of apartheid and used the national rugby team’s unlikely run for the world championship as a means of uniting his country.

PROSPECTS: Clint Eastwood directed this so it is guaranteed Oscar scrutiny based on that alone. Damon is extremely marketable and Freeman one of the most respected actors of his generation.

OBSTACLES: There has been almost zero publicity on this movie; it may wind up flying too far below the radar. Also the cast is largely unknown besides the two leads and movies about apartheid haven’t fared well in recent times.

FACTOID: It’s based on the John Carlin-penned book “Playing the Enemy: Nelson Mandela and the Game that Made a Nation.”

EXTRA POINT

THE IMAGINARIUM OF DOCTOR PARNASSUS

RELEASE DATE: December 25, 2009

STUDIO: Sony Classics

STARRING: Heath Ledger, Christopher Plummer, Tom Waits, Lily Cole, Vern Troyer, Johnny Depp, Colin Ferrell, Jude Law

STORY: Dr. Parnassus makes a bet with the devil for immortality, and then gives it up for true love. Now, fighting to save the soul of his daughter, he offers her hand in marriage for anyone who can help him defeat the devil.

PROSPECTS: This has been getting quite a bit of buzz on the internet. It reunites director Terry Gilliam with his Brazil and The Adventures of Baron Munchausen screenwriter Charles McKeown.

OBSTACLES: Gilliam has always been a bit of an acquired taste and while his movies are exceedingly imaginative, he hasn’t achieved commercial success since 1981’s Time Bandits.

FACTOID: This is Heath Ledger’s final performance, completed shortly before his death.

HAIL MARYS

December 4, 2009

ARMORED (Screen Gems) is about a seemingly foolproof plan by armored car guards to rob their own company going awry, causing the loyalties of the men involved to be severely tested. BROTHERS (Lionsgate), from director Jim Sheridan, has the ne’er-do-well brother of a decorated Marine moving in to assume his role in the family when he is listed as killed in action. But when those reports turn out erroneous, the return of the hero leads to tension, suspicion and confrontation. EVERYBODY’S FINE (Miramax) stars Robert DeNiro as a widower who discovers that his relationship with his adult children had been through his late wife, and decides to visit his children during the holidays to establish the bond he had been missing. This is currently scheduled for a limited run.

December 18, 2009

DID YOU HEAR ABOUT THE MORGANS? (Columbia) stars Hugh Grant and Sarah Jessica Parker as a bickering couple on the verge of divorce. They witness a mob killing and are forced to go into the FBI Witness Relocation Program together when they can’t stand each other. To make matters worse, the certified city-dwellers are sent to a small town in the Rockies and put a new spin on the term “fish out of water.” 

December 25, 2009

ALVIN AND THE CHIPMUNKS: THE SQUEAKUEL (20th Century Fox) returns Jason Lee as David along with his lovable CGI rodent friends, who now take on a female trio of Chipmunks, the Chipettes. Those of you with small children will probably be forced to see this one. Our condolences. IT’S COMPLICATED (Universal) is the latest comedy from director Nancy Meyers. This time, a divorced Alec Baldwin tries to woo a new sweetheart – his ex-wife Meryl Streep, who may not be completely against the idea.  

That’s it. It’s a pretty lean season, due mostly to the writer’s strike of a couple of years ago forcing a drastic rearrangement of the movie schedule. However, we can look forward to a lot of promising new arrivals in 2010.