Atomic Blonde


This is what a femme fatale looks like.

(2017) Action (Focus) Charlize Theron, James McAvoy, Eddie Marsan, John Goodman, Toby Jones, James Faulkner, Roland Møller, Sofia Boutella, Bill Skarsgård, Sam Hargrave, Jóhannes Haukur Jóhannesson, Til Schweiger, Barbara Sukowa, Attila Arpa, Martin Angerbauer, Lili Gessler, Declan Hannigan, Daniel Bernhardt, Sara Natasa Szonda. Directed by David Leitch

 

Hitchcock famously had a thing about icy blondes; along comes a film that may have the best one yet. For one thing, Charlize Theron isn’t just a master manipulator – she can kick quantum ass. Here, set to a pulsing and throbbing soundtrack and a cornucopia of mayhem she becomes the coolest and sexiest assassin of them all – drinking, smoking and seducing her way to Bond’s title.

Theron plays Lorraine Broughton, an MI-6 agent in Berlin days before the Wall fell in November 1989 to retrieve a list of double agents that, should the Soviets get their hands on it, would mean the end of a goodly number of high-value assets, to use spy film terminology. Broughton, who also has an agenda of her own, is assisted by the none-too-trustworthy station chief who in the dry words of her MI-6 handler (Jones) “has gone native.” Basically she goes looking for the list and every step of the way she gets attacked by goons and beats the snot out of them while getting her share of lumps as well.

There are some amazing action sequences here, particularly one set in an abandoned apartment building that is as brutal and as realistic a fight as you’re ever going to see. Lorraine dishes out the pain but gets her own share of it as well and even though this is set up in many ways as a distaff Bond film, this feels more in tune with the real world. The soundtrack of mainly Euro-New Wave (heavy on the Depeche Mode, Nena and Siouxsie and the Banshees) will bring a smile to the face of anyone who was young during that era i.e. people my age.

The film, based on the graphic novel The Coldest City gets more convoluted as the film wears on but the pace is always frenetic and you’re never more than two or three minutes away from another breathtaking action scene. 2017 has been the year of the renaissance of action movies (and of horror movies as well but that’s for another review) and this one is right up there among the best of a year that brought us Baby Driver, Logan Lucky and The Hitman’s Bodyguard among others. That’s some fine company to be included in.

REASONS TO GO: The action sequences are stunning. The 80s soundtrack is perfectly matched to the action. Theron takes an unforgettable character and runs with it. As spy films go, this one is much more realistic.
REASONS TO STAY: The plot gets a bit convoluted and the ending is not unexpected.
FAMILY VALUES: There is plenty of profanity and violence as well as some graphic sexuality and brief nudity.
TRIVIAL PURSUIT: Charlize Theron cracked two teeth during the course of filming the action sequences for this film.
BEYOND THE THEATERS: Amazon, Fandango Now, Frontier, Google Play, iTunes, Microsoft, Movies Anywhere, Verizon, Vudu, Xfinity, YouTube
CRITICAL MASS: As of 12/23/17: Rotten Tomatoes: 77% positive reviews. Metacritic: 63/100.
COMPARISON SHOPPING: Knight and Day
FINAL RATING: 8/10
NEXT:
The Shape of Water

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New Releases for the Week of July 28, 2017


ATOMIC BLONDE

(Focus) Charlize Theron, James McAvoy, Eddie Marsan, John Goodman, Toby Jones, Sofia Boutella, Til Schweiger, Barbara Sukowa, James Faulkner. Directed by David Leitch

The most lethal assassin in MI6 is sent on assignment to Berlin to smuggle a dossier out of the city which has been destabilized by opposing forces. In a simmering cauldron of betrayal and murder, she is allied with the embedded station chief to navigate the back alleys and halls of power to get what Her Majesty’s government requires of her. She soon realizes that she has been betrayed from within and you know what they say hell hath no fury like. This is based on the Oni Press graphic novel The Coldest City.

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

Release Formats: Standard
Genre: Action
Now Playing: Wide Release

Rating: R (for sequences of strong violence, language throughout and some sexuality/nudity)

A Ghost Story

(A24) Casey Affleck, Rooney Mara, Kesha Sebert, Will Oldham. Recently deceased, a ghost – complete with white sheet – haunts his beloved home while silently observing his grief-stricken wife. He is also able to see other inhabitants of the house both past and present. The latest film from director David Lowery has gotten much acclaim on the festival circuit.

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

Release Formats: Standard
Genre: Fantasy
Now Playing: AMC Disney Springs, Cinemark Artegon Marketplace, Regal Winter Park Village

Rating: R (for brief language and a disturbing image)

The Emoji Movie

(Columbia) Starring the voices of T.J. Miller, James Corden, Anna Faris, Patrick Stewart. Deep in the heart of your smart phone lies a place called Textopolis where all your favorite emojis live. Each one of them has but one facial expression – except for poor Gene who has many. Wanting to be normal, he and his friends Hi-Five and Jailbreak search the phone and all its apps to find the code that will fix Gene. When unwittingly they discover a greater danger threatening the entire phone, the resourceful emojis will have to use all their skills to keep the emojis from being deleted for good.

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

Release Formats: Standard, 3D
Genre: Animated Feature
Now Playing: Wide Release

Rating: PG (for rude humor)

The Exception

(A24) Christopher Plummer, Jai Courtney, Lily James, Janet McTeer. As the Second World War looms, Kaiser Wilhelm II lives in exile in the Netherlands. A German soldier is assigned to determine whether the Dutch resistance has a spy or spies in the former ruler’s household. In the course of his investigation he falls for a Dutch Jewish girl who may or may not be the droid he’s looking for.

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

Release Formats: Standard
Genre: Historical Drama
Now Playing: Enzian Theater

Rating: R (for sexuality, graphic nudity, language and brief violence)

OPENING IN ORLANDO/DAYTONA:

Manifesto
Mubarakan
Vikram Vedha

ALSO OPENING IN MIAMI:

13 Minutes
A Family Man
Imperfections
Lady Macbeth
Landline
Mubarakan
My Father’s Land
My Journey Through French Cinema
Vikram Vedha
Wolf Warrior 2

ALSO OPENING IN TAMPA:

A Family Man
The Black Prince
Imperfections
The Last Face
Maurizio Cattelan: Be Right Back
Mubarakan

ALSO OPENING IN JACKSONVILLE:

I, Daniel Blake
Mubarakan
Vikram Vedha

SCHEDULED FOR REVIEW:

A Ghost Story
Atomic Blonde
The Emoji Movie
The Exception
Lady Macbeth
Landline

 

The Red Baron (Der rote Baron)


The bloody Red Baron on the prowl for Snoopy.

The bloody Red Baron on the prowl for Snoopy.

(2008) Biographical Drama (Monterey Media) Matthias Schweighofer, Til Schweiger, Lena Headey, Joseph Fiennes, Maxim Mehmet, Hanno Kofler, Volker Bruch, Richard Krajko, Steffan Schroeder, Lukas Prizkazky, Iveta Jirickova, Vlastina Svatkova, Axel Prahl, Gitta Schweighofer, Brano Holicek, Julie Engelbrecht, Jan Vlasak, Luise Bahr, Irena Machova. Directed by Nikolai Muellerschoen

During the First World War, it wasn’t just a collision of nations. It was the 19th century being pulled forward, violently, into the 20th. The concepts of nobility and civility were turned around by the nose by the realities of brutal, modern warfare.

Baron Manfred von Richtofen (Schweighofer) came from the German nobility, but nonetheless had a fascination with flying. While most of his class would be joining the cavalry – a gentleman’s pursuit – von Richtofen was firm that when World War I started, he would join the Imperial German Air Service, the predecessor of the Luftwaffe. That was where, he felt, he belonged and his success showed him to be correct. With his brother Lothar (Bruch) and friends Werner Voss (Schweiger) and Friedrich Sternberg (Mehmet) at his side, he had formed the Flying Circus, a brigade second to none in shooting down enemy planes during the war.

One such victim was Captain Roy Brown (Fiennes) of Canada. Von Richtofen pulled the wounded flyer from the wreckage of his plane and with the assistance of passing nurse Kate Otersdorf (Headey) helps apply a tourniquet to his leg before leaving the Canadian in the care of the nurse.

Von Richtofen is appalled when his Lothar strafes and kills an enemy pilot who had already been forced down. Later he gets into a dogfight with Brown who had escaped the German POW camp that he’d been taken to after being nursed to health by Kate. Once again von Richtofen shoots down the Canadian and lands to see if he’s all right, damaging his own plane in the process. In No-Man’s land, the two share a friendly drink at which time the Red Baron, as he has come to be called by the Allies, discovers that the nurse who’d tended to Brown was in love with the dashing German air fighter

Upon his return, von Richtofen receives the news that his friend Sternberg has been shot down and killed, which sends the Baron into an emotional tailspin, much to Lothar’s disgust. During an ensuing dogfight, von Richtofen is wounded in the skull and sent to be cared for – but you can guess who now can’t you?

As Kate and Manfred begin to grow closer, Kate is disturbed by von Richtofen’s cavalier attitude towards the war. She takes him on a tour of the hospital and gives him a tongue lashing for treating the war like a game. As his friends and protégés continue to be shot down like flies, the Red Baron discovers that he is being used by the German high command to sell a war they can’t win. When he speaks out to his commanding officers about it, he is sent back to active combat after having been offered a position in the Rear Echelon. So back to the skies he takes for a final date with destiny.

This is a gorgeously shot film that makes the most of its aerial footage. Some of those sequences are really well-shot (the ones with practical aircraft), although the CGI dogfights are unconvincing for the most part. This was one of the most expensive movies made in Germany to this date (and also one of the biggest flops) but it doesn’t appear much of the budget went to computer effects.

The dialogue is also cringe-inducing and florid. For example, at one point a melancholy Manfred tells Kate “You are my greatest triumph” as he prepares to march off to his doom. Cue weepy violins. Of course, it might have been more meaningful had there been an actual romance between the two. All that is really known is that there was a nurse named Kate Otersdorf and von Richtofen knew her. How romantic the relationship was is subject to conjecture; there are no records and no correspondence confirming it. Certainly there could have been but the very class-conscious von Richtofen might not have been amenable to a relationship with someone of a lower social class.

And about the real von Richtofen. Yes, there’s no doubt that he was a gentleman of his time but the chivalry that he espoused was a lot different than what we think of the term today. Not only did he not get angry about strafing enemy pilots, he encouraged it. He often targeted pilots once the gunner had been taken out; that was a way of ensuring that the pilot wouldn’t live to fight another day. While he felt camaraderie with enemy pilots and often saluted them as antagonists, he had a war to win and knew that in order to win it Germany must have control of the skies.

Still, it is pleasant to see combatants portrayed in such a manner and there is no doubt that enemies treated each other with greater respect back then than they do now. In some ways, The Red Baron is a bit of an anachronism in its own way as having Captain Brown exclaim to Manfred “She has the hots for you!” The filmmakers try hard to make an inspiring, thrilling war epic but sadly end up making the movie look like just another bloated, failed war picture that has enough going for it to be worth a look but not enough to look all that hard for it.

WHY RENT THIS: Some nice aerial footage. Heroic portrayal of a bygone age.
WHY RENT SOMETHING ELSE: Stilted dialogue. A few too many historical liberties.
FAMILY VALUES: Plenty of wartime violence and some sensuality.
TRIVIAL PURSUIT: Although the movie was a German production shot in Eastern Europe, the dialogue was shot in English in hopes of attracting an international audience.
NOTABLE HOME VIDEO EXTRAS: There’s a featurette on the real Red Baron.
BOX OFFICE PERFORMANCE: $40,239 on a $22.4M production budget.
SITES TO SEE: Netflix (Rent DVD/Rent Blu-Ray/Stream), Amazon (not available), Vudu (rent/buy),  iTunes (rent/buy), Flixster (not available), Target Ticket (not available)
COMPARISON SHOPPING: The Blue Max
FINAL RATING: 6/10
NEXT: Interstellar

Lara Croft Tomb Raider: The Cradle of Life


Lara Croft Tomb Raider: The Cradle of Life

Get your motor running?

(2003) Action (Paramount) Angelina Jolie, Gerard Butler, Ciaran Hinds, Til Schweiger, Djimon Hounsou, Noah Taylor, Christopher Barrie, Simon Yam, Terence Yin, Daniel Caltagirone, Fabiano Martell, Jonathan Coyne. Directed by Jan de Bont

 

Video games have had a terrible time translating into movies. Maybe because they lack that interactive factor that hooks gamers so thoroughly, or maybe it is because Hollywood doesn’t understand the gamer market. I think the most important factor is that most of the movies based on video games have been pretty bad.

The second installment of the video game franchise turned movie adaptation is pretty basic. An earthquake on Santorini, the remains of the legendary Thera volcano in Greece, unearths a temple that brings all sorts of treasure hunters eager to check it out, including Lara Croft (Jolie). After Lara discovers a mysterious golden orb in the ruin, it is immediately stolen by Chen Lo (Yam), a high-ranking Chinese triad leader who is working for bioterror merchant Jonathan Reiss (Hinds) who believes it to be a map to the location of the legendary Pandora’s Box.

Except that the Pandora’s Box is actually a terrible weapon, one capable of destroying all life on earth, yadda yadda yadda. Lara is approached by MI-6 to enlist her aid in getting back the trinket, and to do so, she needs the help of someone who has worked for the bad guy. Conveniently, Terry Sheridan (Butler), a former lover of hers who is rotting in a jail in Kazakhstan fits the bill. The two travel to Asia to retrieve the orb, which Croft cronies Bryce (Taylor) and Hillary (Barrie) discover is activated by musical notes.

Lara and Terry must infiltrate the rural hideout of Chen Lo and retrieve the Orb – but when they do, they discover it’s not there. They then have to head to Shanghai where they are too late to interrupt the exchange between Chen Lo’s flunkies and Reiss. Lara must steal it from the heart of the dragon, so to speak and this leads her to a break-up with Terry, whom she doesn’t fully trust. It also leads her to Africa, where her friend Kosa (Hounsou) will lead her to an ancient tribe of guardians. They warn of shadow guardians, creatures who live in the darkness that will pluck out of existence the unwary and those who would enter the Cradle of Life, where the Box rests. Unfortunately, it is there that Reiss will catch up with her and the fight for the future of the world will truly begin.

To this point, Angelina Jolie had always left me flat. While I would come to appreciate her in later films, when I saw this I not a member of her fan club. Re-watching the movie recently didn’t change my opinion – you don’t get a sense that she really cared much about this film or this character. I felt this was more of a paycheck than a performance and maybe it’s a good thing that the film franchise died here, although a reboot of it is currently in the works.

Of course there are the special effects, which are considerable. The Shadow Guardians scene is particularly well-executed, and the Cradle of Life environment is vertigo-inducing in a good way. And, the rest of the cast is pretty nifty. Hinds makes an outstanding bad guy, and Butler is a riveting romantic lead, a bad guy with a heart of slightly tarnished gold. Hounsou is fine as an African guide, and holdovers  Barrie and Taylor from the first film are woefully under-utilized as Lara’s violent butler and resident computer genius.

I want to like this movie more than I do. When I watched it I was suitably entertained, and will probably wind up purchasing it. There are flaws, but director Jan De Bont overcomes a lot of them by keeping the action non-stop, something the man who gave us Speed understands very well. Although I find Jolie not my personal cup of tea, I have to admit she looks the part and she handles her stunts rather well. However, there’s a difference between expressing self-confidence and smirking and the latter is very unattractive.

WHY RENT THIS: Nifty special effects and action sequences. Butler, in his first major role, is roguishly charming.

WHY RENT SOMETHING ELSE: Jolie may look the part but lacks heart. The plot is a bit banal.

FAMILY MATTERS: There is a goodly amount of violence, a few mildly bad words here and there and some fairly intense making out.

TRIVIAL PURSUITS: Jolie is the only actor in the film who was American-born.

NOTABLE HOME VIDEO FEATURES: There are a couple of music videos and Gerard Butler’s screen test.

BOX OFFICE PERFORMANCE: $156.5M on a $95 production budget; the film lost money during its theatrical run.

COMPARISON SHOPPING:King Solomon’s Mines

FINAL RATING: 6/10

NEXT: Brave

This Means War


This Means War

Tom Hardy and Chris Pine mistakenly believe they're trying out for the next Men in Black movie.

(2012) Spy Comedy (20th Century Fox) Reese Witherspoon, Chris Pine, Tom Hardy, Chelsea Handler, Til Schweiger, Abigail Leigh Spencer, John Paul Ruttan, Angela Bassett, Rosemary Harris, George Touliatos, Clint Carleton, Warren Christie, Leela Savasta. Directed by McG

 

When guys bond, it’s a beautiful thing. Guys will take a bullet for each other; guys will give you the shirts off their back. When a woman comes between two best friends, all bets can rapidly become off.

That’s especially true for Franklyn “FDR” Foster (Pine) and John “Tuck” Harrison (Hardy). Both of them are elite field agents for the CIA and their partnership in the field has led to the kind of friendship that is as close as family (in fact FDR regularly brings Tuck to the home of his Nana (Harris) for family functions). They are working a case in which two German weapons dealers (and actual brothers) are in the midst of pulling off a scam in Hong Kong. The operation goes south and one of the brothers winds up taking a doozy of a last step. Naturally Heinrich (Schweiger), the terse surviving brother, vows revenge.

The debacle lands the two field agents in desk jockey-land. Bored out of their skulls, they begin to talk about their love lives (and if you know how bored guys have to be to discuss their love lives with one another…) leading Tuck, recently divorced and missing his son Joe (Ruttan) to sign up with one of those online dating services.

Lauren (Witherspoon) is a product tester and she loves her job. She had moved to Los Angeles to be with her boyfriend who wound up cheating on her, sending her into a romantic tailspin from which she’s not yet recovered. Her best friend Trish (Handler) signs her up for a dating site and she promptly lays her peepers on Tuck’s profile and is very interested.

So is Tuck but FDR knows that he’s rusty at the whole dating thing, so he arranges to hang out at a neighboring video store just in case he’s needed to rescue his friend. Tuck and Lauren hit it off right away so Tuck sends the “all clear” signal to FDR. FDR, a big-time movie buff, decides to find something to rent for the night. Of course he stays long enough to bump into Lauren after her date with Tuck. Not knowing who she is, he flirts with her and long story short, manages to connive her into a date.

The two men find out that they are both dating the same girl and as it turns out, both have strong feelings for them. At first they set up ground rules of a “may the best man win” sort but soon enough the “all’s fair in love and war” corollary sets in and they are both using all the high-tech means at their disposal to keep an eye on each other as they put the moves on poor Lauren. Will she choose either one of them, or will the evil Heinrich show up and spoil the party?

McG has made a reputation that isn’t necessarily the greatest among critics. In all fairness, he doesn’t seem to be aiming to create films that are as memorable so much as they are entertaining. There’s a lot of bright colors, lots of things that go boom and lots of eye candy for both sexes, all of which are elements regularly seen in McG movies.

That this movie has gotten critically spanked is no surprise – that this is much better than what the critics are letting on isn’t either. What is a surprise is that the audience, generally better arbiters of this kind of film than the critics, haven’t picked up on it yet.

There is good chemistry between Pine and Hardy, essential to make this movie work. These are two up-and-coming stars, both who show signs of being destined for bigger and better things. Their byplay is natural and realistic; they act like a couple of guys who have been friends for awhile. The chemistry with Witherspoon is a little bit more forced. Mind you, Reece Witherspoon is one of the most beautiful women in the world, but she seems uncomfortable with the slight sluttiness her character displays.

This isn’t smart entertainment by any means. It’s a big dumb dog lying in front of a fire on a rainy afternoon; familiar and easy to deal with, making you feel all warm and fuzzy inside. This breaks little or no new ground and doesn’t really want to. The whole aim here is to entertain and if that’s all the filmmakers are after, mission accomplished – and not in the George W. sense either. I can be picky and take issue with the somewhat choppy pacing which is less than seamless going from comedy to romance to action sequences but while it’s a little annoying it isn’t a dealbreaker.

There’s far worse out there at the moment and there will be far worse available when it comes out on home video/streaming. If you’re looking for something mindless and fun, this could be your huckleberry. If you’re looking for something that isn’t just empty calories, well, you might want to check your art house listings.

REASONS TO GO: Good ol’ empty-headed entertainment. Some nice action sequences and good chemistry between Pine and Hardy. Witherspoon is awesome to look at.

REASONS TO STAY: The pacing is a bit choppy; feels like you’re driving a car with a bad transmission.

FAMILY VALUES: You’ll find plenty of bad language, some action-style violence and a lot of sexual innuendo. .

TRIVIAL PURSUIT: At one point in the film, FDR is waiting for Tuck to show up at his home to join him in a “CHiPs” marathon. Actor Chris Pine’s father Robert Pine was a regular on that show.

CRITICAL MASS: As of 3/12/12: Rotten Tomatoes: 26% positive reviews. Metacritic: 31/100. The reviews are poor.

COMPARISON SHOPPING: True Lies

STAR TREK LOVERS: Both Pine and Hardy have appeared in Star Trek films – Hardy as Shinzon, the clone of Capt. Picard in Star Trek: Nemesis and Pine as Capt. Kirk in Star Trek. In fact the reference to Pine being a cruise ship captain throughout the film is in reference to this.

FINAL RATING: 6/10

TOMORROW: Kung Fu Panda

New Year’s Eve


New Year's Eve

Josh Duhamel prepares to raise a toast to handsome men

(2011) Romantic Comedy (New Line) Hilary Swank, Robert De Niro, Josh Duhamel, Michelle Pfeiffer, Sarah Jessica Parker, Katherine Heigl, Zac Efron, Jon Bon Jovi, Sofia Vergara, Abigail Breslin, Jessica Biel, Ashton Kutcher, Halle Berry, Cary Elwes, Seth Meyers, Til Schweiger, Carla Gugino, Sarah Paulson, Lea Michelle, Common, Chris “Ludacris” Bridges, Larry Miller, Penny Marshall, Matthew Broderick, Alyssa Milano, Hector Elizondo, Jack McGee, Yeardley Smith, James Belushi, Ryan Seacrest, John Lithgow. Directed by Garry Marshall

 

Garry Marshall is perhaps the pre-eminent director of romantic comedies working today with such classics as Pretty Woman to his credit. Recently he directed the holiday-themed ensemble piece Valentine’s Day which had considerable box office success. Could he match that with a second holiday?

Ingrid (Pfeiffer) is an assistant working for a completely oblivious executive (Lithgow) at a major record label in New York. She is sad, depressed and lonely and tired of being taken for granted, quits her job, taking with her four tickets to the company’s coveted New Year’s Eve bash at a local art gallery. She has a whole list of unfulfilled new year’s resolutions from the previous year. She enlists Paul (Efron), a courier, to help her fulfill them before midnight. If he does, the tickets to the party are his.

That party is being catered by Laura (Heigl), who until a year ago was the girlfriend of rock superstar Jensen (Bon Jovi, cast against type). It was on New Year’s Eve last year that Jensen bolted on Laura after proposing to her. He’s regretting his decision and wants to get back with her but she’s having none of it. Waiting in the wings is Ava (Vergara), Laura’s hot-blooded sexy Latin sous chef.

Sam (Duhamel) is attending a wedding in Connecticut but on the way back to New York to give a speech at a New Year’s party his car skids into a tree. He hitches a ride back to town with the parson who officiated the wedding, his wife (Smith) and grandfather (McGee). As they crawl through traffic back to the city, he recounts how he met a fascinating woman at the same party last year and is hoping he’ll run into her again.

Randy (Kutcher) is a bit of a cynic who hates New Year’s eve. He gets stuck in an elevator with his comely neighbor Elise (Michelle) who hopes her gig as a back-up singer for Jensen at his Times Square appearance might lead to a big break for her. The two are however stuck and it appears that it is going to be a pretty sad last day of 2011 for the both of them.

Kim (Parker) is a single mom who wants nothing more than to spend New Year’s eve with her daughter Hailey (Breslin). Hailey however wants to head to Times Square where a boy is waiting to bestow her first kiss on her. Kim doesn’t want her to go so in time-honored tradition Hailey runs off anyway and Kim frantically looks for her.

Expectant couples the Schwabs (Schweiger, Paulson) and the Byrnes (Biel, Meyers) bid to be the couple with the first baby of the New Year, which carries with it a $25,000 prize. It’s on as the highly competitive fathers look to figure out ways to hurry along their wives’ delivery, much to the disgust of the Byrnes’ New Age doctor (Gugino).

In the same hospital, Stan (De Niro) waits quietly to die, having refused treatment. The end is near and while the doctor (Elwes) can only make him comfortable, Stan is hoping to see the ball drop in Times Square from the rooftop, which the doctor says is against hospital policy. Nurse Aimee (Berry) stays by his side, not wanting the old man to die alone as he fights to make it to midnight.

However, the ball is in danger of not dropping. Claire (Swank) is in charge and feels the entire weight of the world on her shoulders. An electronic snafu has the ball stuck halfway up the pole. With her police officer friend Brendan (Ludacris) calming her down, she sends for super electrician Kominsky (Elizondo) to save the day and indeed, New Year’s Eve. Can there be a new year if the ball doesn’t drop?

As you can tell, there are a whole lot of plot threads to keep track of here. Marshall however keeps them all relatively easy to follow. This is very much an “old fashioned’ kind of romantic comedy and that’s meant in a good way; it doesn’t necessarily follow the same tired formula nearly every romantic comedy employs these days. There are big points for this.

Those who like star watching will be in hog heaven here. There are tons of cameos (as you can tell from the impressive list above), several of whom have no more than one or two lines of dialogue. Some of it is stunt casting but for the most part, all of the performers are pros and go about their business competently. There are even some Oscar winners who get a chance to slum a little bit.

As in any ensemble piece, there are some bits that work and others not so much. De Niro does some good work (as you knew he would) and paired up with Berry the two make a winning combination. Pfeiffer and Efron are surprisingly pleasant together, and Duhamel is as appealing a romantic lead as there is in Hollywood at the moment. There are plenty of moments that stretch disbelief to its limits (as when Breslin bares her bra in a crowded subway station, exclaiming “This isn’t a training bra” at which Parker rushes to cover her daughter up, squealing “This isn’t Girls Gone Wild” in a smarmy sit com-y voice. Does anybody do that?), in fact too many.

However, that’s really moot, honestly. This is meant to be fluff entertainment, cotton candy for the soul. It has no aspirations other than to entertain and even that it does gently. Not every movie, as I’ve often said, has to be a transformative experience. Sometimes it’s enough merely to sit back and forget your troubles for an hour and a half or two. That’s ambition enough for me.

REASONS TO GO: Star watching always fun. Some of the stories are heart-warming and tender.

REASONS TO STAY: Vignettes vary in originality and quality.

FAMILY VALUES: There are a few bad words and some sexual references.

TRIVIAL PURSUIT: Hector Elizondo has appeared in every movie Garry Marshall has ever made.

HOME OR THEATER: This many stars should be seen in a theater.

FINAL RATING: 6/10

TOMORROW: Young Goethe in Love

The Three Musketeers (2011)


The Three Musketeers

Resident Evil goes to 17th Century France

(2011) Adventure (Summit) Logan Lerman, Milla Jovovich, Matthew Macfadyen, Ray Stevenson, Luke Evans, Mads Mikkelsen, Christoph Waltz, Orlando Bloom, Juno Temple, Gabriella Wilde, Freddie Fox, James Corden, Til Schweiger, Helen George. Directed by Paul W.S. Anderson

Sometimes, when all else fails, you can rely on the classics. Even if all else around you is crap, the classics can always be relied upon to be entertaining. At least that’s the common perception.

It is the 17th century and France is in turmoil. The teenage Louis XIII (Fox) is controlled essentially by the manipulative Cardinal Richelieu (Waltz) and the King’s own Musketeers have been rendered less potent. The three greatest Musketeers – Athos (Macfadyen), Porthos (Stevenson) and Aramis (Evans) are bored and frustrated at sitting on the sideline. Athos is in a particular funk after being betrayed by his lover Milady de Winter (Jovovich) when they had stolen the plans for an airship from Leonardo Da Vinci’s vault in Venice. After retrieving the plans, she’d drugged their wine and handed the plans over to Lord Buckingham (Bloom) of England.

A year has passed since then and a young Gascoigne named D’Artagnan (Lerman), the son of a former Musketeer, has journeyed to Paris to become a Musketeer himself. Along the way he fell afoul of Rochefort (Mikkelsen), captain of the Cardinal’s guard and supposedly the best swordsman in Europe who rather than duel the hot headed youngster just shoots him. His life is spared by Milady, who is also journeying to Paris.

In Paris D’Artagnan affronts all three of the Musketeers, challenging to duels at different times which all three of them unknowingly accept. However, his first duel is interrupted by the arrival of the Cardinal’s guard who wish to arrest the four of them for dueling in the streets. However the four fight alongside, winning the day despite a vast numerical disadvantage. This is witnessed by Constance (Wilde), handmaiden to the Queen (Temple). Despite D’Artagnan’s best efforts at flirting with Constance, he is rebuffed.

The three realize that D’Artagnan is an able ally and meant to be one of them, so they bring him to their home where their manservant Planchet  (Corden) waits on them cheerfully despite the constant complaining. They wind up being summoned to the palace where the King and Queen, impressed by their victory, reward them which infuriates the Cardinal who wanted them punished.

In the meantime, the nefarious Richelieu has hatched a scheme in which love letters in Buckingham’s own hand are planted in the Queen’s boudoir. Milady also steels a diamond necklace given to her as a gift by the King. Richelieu prevails upon the King to throw a ball after the King discovers the letters, and ask the Queen to wear the gift for him. If she doesn’t have them, it will mean the Queen’s having an affair and she would have to be executed and England declared war upon.

It is up to the Musketeers to retrieve the necklace from Buckingham’s own vault and to bring the culprits to justice, but it’s a nearly impossible task. Can the Musketeers avert a catastrophic war that would drag nearly the entire continent into it?

This isn’t your mom and dad’s version of The Three Musketeers (and there have been more than forty of them). For one thing, while it’s been a long time since I read the Alexandre Dumas classic, I’m pretty sure I don’t remember airships in it. Or Gatling guns. Or Matrix-style bullet dodging.

There is much more CGI than this kind of movie really needs to have. I can understand CG attempts to make the sets look more opulent, or more like 17th century France, but Da Vinci-esque airships, hidden vaults and storage rooms? It seems kind of unnecessary to me.

Unnecessary in that this is one of the best adventure tales ever written and despite all the different versions of it, it still stands up today. The best version is the 1948 film with Gene Kelly (of all people!) as D’Artagnan, but my all-time fave is the 1973 version with Michael York as D’Artagnan. It was produced by the Salkinds who would go on to make Superman: The Movie and other classics of 70s cinema.

One of the requirements for a good Three Musketeers movie is not chocolate nougat, but a good D’Artagnan. The successful ones do; even the unsuccessful ones have at least a passable D’Artagnan. This one has the latter. Lerman, who is best known here for Percy Jackson and the Olympians: The Lightning Thief (in which I described him as bland) is a bit better here, but he still lacks the charisma D’Artagnan needs. Lerman has got the looks though and the long hair…ladies will and do swoon.

I was particularly impressed by Macfadyen who has been a career supporting actor, but he really shows some impressive screen presence here and with the right role could do some real damage as a lead actor on a franchise film. Let’s hope he gets the chance.

The movie has some nice casting touches (Waltz is terrific as Richelieu although we don’t get to see enough of him – when we do we get a good idea of his devious nature) and a few huh moments (Milla Jovovich seems to be channeling her inner Alice from the Resident Evil franchise which wouldn’t be a bad thing but it is distracting when she’s wearing petticoats). All in all the acting is solid and the CGI is seamless. I’m told the 3D effects are nice in places as well, although of late I’ve become as anti-3D as Roger Ebert.

This is a movie that I really wanted to see succeed. Anderson has proven a fine action director on the Resident Evil films and while I agree that there are always new ways to come at the Dumas source material, this way was too full of anachronisms and logical gaps to really fully capture my heart. However, it is entertaining even if it’s attempts at being grand fall a bit short.

REASONS TO GO: Nice special effects and some fine swordplay. Macfadyen makes a fine Athos.

REASONS TO STAY: Takes a lot of liberties with the story. Doesn’t have the wit of the 1973/1974 versions.

FAMILY VALUES: There is quite a bit of swordplay, a few things blowing up real good and some musket shooting. All in a day’s work for a musketeer.

TRIVIAL PURSUIT: Waltz has the same birthday (October 4) as Charlton Heston, who also played Cardinal Richelieu in the 1973/1974 versions of the Dumas classic.

HOME OR THEATER: Very much a big screen epic extravaganza.

FINAL RATING: 6/10

TOMORROW: Conviction