New Releases for the Week of February 28, 2014


Non-StopNON-STOP

(Universal) Liam Neeson, Julianne Moore, Nate Parker, Scoot McNairy, Michelle Dockery, Lupita Nyong’o, Omar Metwally, Linus Roache, Shea Whigham, Anson Mount. Directed by Jaume Collet-Serra

A Federal Air Marshal on a transatlantic flight receives a message that someone on the plane will die every 20 minutes unless a ransom demand is met. When it turns out the message is deadly serious, he has to discover who’s sending those messages – only to find out that there is something far more devious going on than a mere hostage situation.

See the trailer, clips, an interview,  a promo and footage from the premiere here.

For more on the movie this is the website.

Release formats: Standard (opens Thursday)

Genre: Thriller

Rating: PG-13 (for intense sequences of action and violence, some language, sensuality and drug references)

Odd Thomas

(RLJ/Image) Anton Yelchin, Willem Dafoe, Patton Oswalt, Addison Timlin. A nondescript fry cook in a nondescript small town has a special gift – he can see dead people. When a mysterious stranger brings in an entourage of truly nasty demonic sorts, Thomas realizes that a disaster of apocalyptic proportions is upon them. From writer Dean Koontz and director Stephen Sommers who has The Mummy on his resume.

See the trailer here.

For more on the movie this is the website.

Release formats: Standard

Genre: Horror

Rating: NR

Raze

(IFC Midnight) Zoe Bell, Doug Jones, Sherilyn Fenn, Tracie Thoms. After being abducted, a woman wakes up in a concrete bunker and is forced to fight in a tournament of 50 women. If she loses or refuses to fight, her loved ones will be murdered.

See the trailer here.

For more on the movie this is the website.

Release formats: Standard

Genre: Action Horror

Rating: NR

Repentance

(CODEBLACK) Forest Whitaker, Anthony Mackie, Mike Epps, Sanaa Lathan. A life coach with a dark past takes on a man fixated on his mother’s recent passing mainly to get some cash to bail out his brother who is deeply in debt to the wrong people. However, it turns out his new client is far more than he seems to be and his issues run far deeper.

See the trailer here.

For more on the movie this is the website.

Release formats: Standard

Genre: Thriller

Rating: R (for violence including torture and language)

Shaadi Ke Side Effects

(Bataji) Farhan Akhtar, Vidya Balan, Vir Das, Ram Kapoor. A young married couple who had a very difficult time getting their wedding pulled off finds that the most difficulty comes after the wedding.

See the trailer here.

For more on the movie this is the website.

Release formats: Standard

Genre: Bollywood

Rating: NR

Son of God

(20th Century Fox) Diogo Morgado, Roma Downey, Nonso Anozie, Amber Rose Revah. From the producers of the hit cable series The Bible comes this focus on Jesus of Nazareth.

See the trailer and clips here.

For more on the movie this is the website.

Release formats: Standard (opens Thursday)

Genre: Faith

Rating: PG-13 (for for intense and bloody depiction of The Crucifixion and for some sequences of violence)

Stalingrad

(Sony Classics) Thomas Kretschmann, Pyotr Fyodorov, Sergey Bondarchuk, Maria Smolnikova. An epic retelling of the crucial battle that broke the Nazi stranglehold on Europe and eventually turned the tide of the war. Shown from a post-Soviet Russian point of view.

See the trailer here.

For more on the movie this is the website.

Release formats: IMAX 3D

Genre: Historical War Drama

Rating: PG-13 (for mature thematic material and brief strong language)

The Wind Rises

(Touchstone/Studio Ghibli) Starring the voices of Joseph Gordon-Levitt, Emily Blunt, John Krasinski, Martin Short. A young Japanese dreamer sees the breathtaking work of early aviation pioneer Caproni and dreams of flying aircraft. His extreme nearsightedness prevents him from becoming a pilot but he determines to design the planes that will bring Japan into the air age. Acclaimed director Hayao Miyazaki says this will be his final film and it may well be one of his best; it has been nominated for a Best Animated Feature Oscar for this Sunday’s ceremony.

See the trailer, a video and interviews here.

For more on the movie this is the website.

Release formats: Standard

Genre: Anime

Rating: NR

The Mummy (1999)


Brendan Fraser and Rachel Weisz in a sticky situation.

Brendan Fraser and Rachel Weisz in a sticky situation.

(1999) Adventure (Universal) Brendan Fraser, Rachel Weisz, Arnold Vosloo, John Hannah, Kevin J. O’Connor, Oded Fehr, Jonathan Hyde, Erick Avari, Bernard Fox, Stephen Dunham, Corey Johnson, Tuc Watkins, Omid Djalili, Aharon Ipale, Patricia Velasquez. Directed by Stephen Sommers

 

Note to Hollywood filmmakers: now this is how to do monster movies in the 21st century. Something old (the setting), something new (the effects), something borrowed (the premise), something blue (a couple of racy outfits). Even 13 years later this still remains a standard.

Rick O’Connell (Fraser) is an adventurer in the tradition of Indiana Jones. He’s smart, strong, a crack shot and as it happens, one of two survivors of an ill-fated expedition to Hamunaptra, the legendary (some would say mythical) Egyptian city of the dead. It’s reputed to be the resting place of the treasure of the Egyptian pharaohs.

It’s also the resting place of Im-Ho-Tep, the high priest of the dead and murderer of Pharaoh Seti II. Even back then they frowned on regicide a little; ol’ Im-Ho-Tep got the nastiest Egyptian punishment there is which is to be slowly devoured by flesh-eating scarab beetles after being entombed while still alive. That definitely leaves a mark (those Egyptians could be pretty nasty when they wanted to be).

Cut to the 1920’s. After Evy Carnahan (Weisz), a sweet-natured librarian discovers a map to the legendary lost city, she enlists O’Connell, Jonathan (Hannah) her ne’er-do-well brother and a corrupt Warden (Djalili) – read designated victim – to help find the site, where the Book of Amon Ra, which contains the secrets of Egyptian magic, is also said to reside.

What they do find when they finally get there is the Book of the Dead. This awakens Im-Ho-Tep, who is mighty steamed – as you would be if you had been buried alive with flesh-eating beetles. He brings with him the ten plagues of Egypt (the ones in Exodus – check out The Ten Commandments if you aren’t up on them) and the ability to control the elements.

He wants to re-animate his dead lover (after 2,000 years, a fella’s got needs) and kidnaps the librarian to do so. From here on in, it’s a roller-coaster ride of dazzling special effects, spine-tingling thrills and daring escapes.

This is one of the best movies — in terms of sheer entertainment — that’s come down the pike since, say, Aliens or at maybe even the aforementioned Raiders of the Lost Ark. It moves at breakneck speed and visually is superb eye candy. Director Stephen Sommers took a fairly hackneyed monster movie and turned it into a franchise for Universal, which sorely needed one.

And Brendan Fraser as an action hero? Who’da thunk it, but it works. Fraser is very likable, in the tradition of Jimmy Stewart. Weisz, then at the beginning of a career that has brought her an Oscar to this point, did a good job as the plucky heroine and Hannah set the bar for the comic relief. Fehr, playing a kind of Guardian of Hamunaptra, shows some Arabic hotness for the ladies and makes a credible action hero in his own right but you’re not watching the movie for the acting. It’s all about More and Bigger and Louder, and The Mummy delivers.

While some of the scenes are a bit too intense for younger children in general, this is one fine family entertainment that you’ll want to add to your video library. particularly if you have teenagers in the house.

WHY RENT THIS: Fun and entertaining. Re-invents the classic movie monster film. Great CGI effects for their time. Weisz and Fraser make an attractive heroic couple.

WHY RENT SOMETHING ELSE: Some of the scenes are a bit grisly and may be too scary for smaller kids.

FAMILY MATTERS: Plenty of violence and a bit of nudity as well.

TRIVIAL PURSUITS: Ardith Bay, the character Fehr plays, is an anagram of Death By Ra. It is also the name of the character played by Boris Karloff in the original 1932 version.

NOTABLE HOME VIDEO FEATURES: In the original DVD release there was a  text Egyptology feature that is actually quite informative. The 2001 Ultimate Edition includes a timeline of the reiging Pharaohs of Egypt. The 2008 Deluxe Edition included a storyboard to film feature. All of these are available on the DVD version as well.

BOX OFFICE PERFORMANCE: $415.9M on an $80M production budget; the movie was a blockbuster, spawning two sequels and a spin-off franchise.

FINAL RATING: 10/10

NEXT: Outsourced

 

G.I. Joe: Rise of Cobra


Sienna Miller has a helicopter to catch.

Sienna Miller has a helicopter to catch.

(Paramount) Channing Tatum, Dennis Quaid, Marlon Wayans, Sienna Miller, Joseph Gordon-Levitt, Christopher Eccleston, Arnold Vosloo, Ray Park, Adewale Akinnuoye-Agbaje, Byung Hun Lee, Rachel Nichols, Said Taghmaoui, Gregory Fitoussi, Jonathan Pryce. Directed by Stephen Sommers

For the major studios, it’s no longer enough merely to make a movie. There must be merchandise, stuff that will help the bottom line when all is said and done. This is particularly critical for an expensive, big-budget film that the studio is hoping to spin off into a lucrative franchise. It helps when the franchise and merchandise is already built-in.

In the near future, James McCullen (Eccleston), CEO of MARS Industries, an international weapons supplier, has created a brand-new weapon – a missile filled with micro-organisms called nanomites. These little critters consume anything made of metal, and they multiply at an astonishing rate. A single missile can potentially take out an entire city. He has sold four such warheads to NATO, which sends a team led by American warriors Duke (Tatum) and Ripcord (Wayans) to guard the shipment.

The NATO team is attacked by a well-trained, well-armed outfit led by the Baroness (Miller), who apparently once had a romantic relationship with Duke but the two had a falling out after her brother Rex (Gordon-Levitt) – a scientist attached to Duke’s unit – was killed after Duke had sworn to protect him. So here they are, together again in a way, with her soldiers pointing high-tech guns at Duke and Ripcord, the only survivors of the attack. They are rescued, however, by a third team armed with high-tech weapons of their own.

It turns out that this team is a secret military organization comprised of the best of the best, a multi-national force that exists to tackle jobs no one national military can handle. The team is commanded by General Hawk (Quaid) who had asked Duke to join the team four years earlier, but Duke turned it down – no doubt because he was in a funk after Rex’s untimely passing. Duke and Ripcord, impressed by what they have seen, want in but the other Joes, as they’re called, are skeptical. This is the most elite military fighting force on Earth, after all. However, during their training camp they are both so impressive that Hawk feels compelled to bring them aboard.

A good thing too, because the Baroness means to get those warheads for her employer. She and her employer’s personal ninja Shadowstorm (Lee) lead a team of specially enhanced soldiers – they’ve been injected with the nanomites, rendering them completely obedient, impervious to pain and utterly without fear – into the Joe’s Egyptian base, more casually known as The Pit. The raid is successful despite the best efforts of Joes Heavy Duty (Akinnuoye-Agbaje), Scarlett (Nichols), Breaker (Taghmaoui) and Snake Eyes (Park), a mute ninja who turns out to be Shadowstorm’s brother. The new recruits acquit themselves nicely as well. However, the warheads are taken and General Hawk is seriously injured. The Baroness’ team is greatly assisted by Zartan (Vosloo), a sociopathic master of disguise.

The Joes trace the Warheads to Paris, where the Baroness have taken them to her husband, a civilian nuclear physicist (Fitoussi). She forces him to weaponize the warheads and then callously has Shadowstorm kill him. She is definitely not getting a puppy for Christmas!

In any case, the Joes catch up to her and Shadowstorm and chase them through the streets of Paris, but despite their best efforts, they are unable to prevent the Baroness from firing one of the warheads at a national icon of France, which could spread throughout Paris like a terrible virus. The Joes keep this from happening, but they have to find the remaining three warheads and neutralize them before something horrible happens.

Sommers is a talented director, whose Mummy pictures rebooted Universal’s classic horror icon and made for some of the more entertaining movies of the past decade. He has a deft hand at action sequences and it is no surprise therefore that the action here is first-rate. There are also some nifty special effects (the destruction of the Eiffel Tower sequence is one of the most memorable of the entire summer). It’s a fun movie to watch.

The main issue I have with the movie is in the writing. I suspect that the writers felt that the target audience would be young, male and not too picky when it comes to plot, dialogue or characterization. The box office numbers may bear out that decision; certainly my 20-year-old son was enthusiastic about the movie, lamenting that only a P.S.A. at the end of the movie (the animated series was notorious for their weekly Public Service Announcements that were punctuated with the line “Knowing is half the battle” – the line is used here by General Hawk) would have made this a perfect cinematic experience.

As I often do, I must humbly disagree with my son. I think that this could have been a much better movie. The actors are given lines that I don’t think I could possibly say with a straight face, so I do give the acting crew credit. Their characters are pretty two-dimensional for the most part; the only intriguing one was Ray Park’s Snake Eyes, who was, appropriately, mute. Tatum was also disappointing. He seems to me to have a great deal of potential, but I have yet to see him live up to it. He seems more content with wooden performances a la Paul Walker, my least favorite action star. I do have to say that he isn’t given a lot to work with here.

Cliché after chest-beating cliché is spouted by the actors until I felt a need to turn some of those high-tech weapons on the cast. The studio didn’t screen the movie for critics, which is usually a sign that they don’t have a lot of confidence that the critics are going to write positive reviews for the movie and on that point the studio was pretty accurate. I will say that the movie is big dumb fun. Yes, it’s dumb and it could have been a whole lot better, which is frustrating to watch. However, there is enough fun to give it a mild recommendation, but given some of the competition in the theaters right now, it would be completely understandable if you spent your money on a different movie.

REASONS TO GO: Some terrific action sequences are enhanced by spectacular special effects. The futuristic weapons in the movie have a sky-high cool factor. There will be a good deal of nostalgia for those who loved the animated television series, even though the movie is ostensibly based on the comic book series more than the cartoon.

REASONS TO STAY: Absolutely ludicrous dialogue is rendered meaningless by a plot that a second-grader could have come up with. Channing Tatum gives a performance that makes Al Gore look positively charismatic.

FAMILY VALUES: Lots of cartoon violence – if you feel comfortable with your child watching the cartoon series, they should be okay seeing this as well.

TRIVIAL PURSUIT: Brendan Fraser makes a cameo as a training Sergeant who is, according to Fraser, a descendent of his character Rick O’Connell from The Mummy, also directed by Sommers.

HOME OR THEATER: I would recommend the big screen for the action and special effects, but keep in mind that this isn’t the best-written movie you’ll see this summer.

FINAL RATING: 4/10

TOMORROW: Transsiberian