New Releases for the Week of September 20, 2019


AD ASTRA

(20th Century Fox) Brad Pitt, Tommy Lee Jones, Ruth Negga, Liv Tyler, Donald Sutherland, Loren Dean, LisaGay Hamilton. Directed by James Gray

An astronaut whose father disappeared on a mission thirty years before must travel to the edges of the solar system to confront the mystery of that disappearance and take on an event that threatens all life on our planet but may fundamentally change our understanding of our place in the scheme of things.

See the trailer, clips and a video featurette here
For more on the movie this is the website
Genre: Science Fiction
Now Playing: Wide Release
Rating: PG-13 (for some violence and bloody images, and for brief strong language)

Downton Abbey

(Focus) Hugh Bonneville, Matthew Goode, Maggie Smith, Tuppence Middleton. This Crawleys and their intrepid staff face a royal visit that will uncover scandal and intrigue in this motion picture continuation of the beloved PBS/BBC series.

See the trailer, clips and a video featurette here
For more on the movie this is the website  
Genre: Historical Drama
Now Playing: Wide Release
Rating: PG (for thematic elements, some suggestive material, and language)

Prassthanam

(Pack Your Bag) Sanjay Dutt, Manisha Koirala, Jackie Shroff, Chunky Pandey.. A Shakespearean tale of a politically connected family whose patriarch favors his stepson over his birth son which leads to a bitter rivalry between the two.

See the trailer here
For more on the movie this is the website  
Genre: Suspense
Now Playing: Touchstar Southchase
Rating: NR

Rambo: Last Blood

(Lionsgate) Sylvester Stallone, Paz Vega, Adrianna Barraza, Sergio Peris Mencheta. John Rambo must unearth his rusty combat skills and undertake one final mission in the last chapter of this action franchise.

See the trailer, interviews, clips and a video featurette here
For more on the movie this is the website  
Genre: Action
Now Playing: Wide Release
Rating: R (for strong graphic violence, grisly images, drug use and language)

Villains

(Gunpowder & Sky) Bill Skarsgǻrd, Maika Monroe, Jeffrey Donovan, Kyra Sedgewick. A pair of amateur criminals attempt to rob a suburban home, only to discover that the house holds a much darker secret that the homeowners would do anything to keep that way.

See the trailer and a video featurette here
For more on the movie this is the website  
Genre: Dramedy
Now Playing: Regal Pointe Orlando, Regal The Loop, Regal Waterford Lakes, Regal Winter Park Village
Rating: R (for language throughout, some violence, drug use and sexual content)

The Wedding Year

(Entertainment Studios) Sarah Hyland, Tyler James Williams, Jenna Dewan, Anna Camp.  Mara and Jake have just started dating, but they seem to be behind the curve when it comes to their friends who are getting married left and right. All these weddings begin to put a strain on the nascent relationship.

See the trailer and clips here
For more on the movie this is the website  
Genre: Romantic Comedy
Now Playing: Touchstar Southchase
Rating: R (for language, some sexual content and drug/alcohol use)

ALSO OPENING IN ORLANDO/DAYTONA:

Bandobast
El Equipito
Kaapaan
Love, Action, Drama
Miles Davis: Birth of the Cool
Promare
Running With the Devil
Trauma is a Time Machine
Valmiki

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

Bandobast
Bloodline
El Equipito
Kaapaan
Love, Action, Drama
Talk to Her
Under the Same Roof
Valmiki
The Zoya Factor

ALSO OPENING IN TAMPA/ST. PETERSBURG/SARASOTA:

Ambition
Love, Action, Drama
Pal Pal Dil Ke Paas
Promare
Running With the Devil’
Valmiki

ALSO OPENING IN JACKSONVILLE/ST. AUGUSTINE:

Bandobast
Kaapaan
Sword of Trust
Valmiki
The Zoya Factor

SCHEDULED FOR REVIEW:

Ad Astra
Downton Abbey
Miles Davis: The Birth of Cool
Rambo: Last Blood

Pick of the Litter – September 2019


BLOCKBUSTER OF THE MONTH

IT Chapter 2

(New Line) James McAvoy, Jessica Chastain, Bill Skarsgǻrd, Bill Hader. The meeting of the Losers Club is now in session. The final chapter of the epic battle between the kids (now adults) of Derry, Maine versus the evil Pennywise the Clown is here as the grown-up versions of the kids from the 2017 hit It return to Derry to finish what they started. September 6

INDEPENDENT PICKS

Blink of an Eye

(1091) Michael Waltrip, Dale Earnhardt Jr., Richard Petty, Daryl Waltrip. The friendship between Michael Waltrip and Dale Earnhardt was an odd one, considering their status in NASCAR; Dale was one of the greatest drivers ever and Waltrip had gone 462 races without a single win. Then, one magical Daytona 500 saw Waltrip break that streak – only moments later to see his friend die. September 6

Rapid Response

(Atlas) Stephen Olvey, Bobby Unser, Mario Andretti, Rick Mears. In 1966 when medical student and auto racing fan Steven Olvey was hired by the Indianapolis Motor Speedway to assist on their medical team, one out of every seven drivers died each year. This is a look at how his protocols not only made auto racing safer but also made the cars we all drive safer as well. September 6

Linda Ronstadt: The Sound of My Voice

(Greenwich) Linda Ronstadt, Dolly Parton, Bonnie Raitt, Emmylou Harris. In the 70s there was no bigger female rock and roller than Linda Ronstadt. The first woman to snag five number one albums in a row, she became known as an uncompromising perfectionist. Her effect on women in rock and roll was incalculable but she is rarely given the status she deserves. September 6

Monos

(Neon) Sofia Buenaventura, Julian Giraldo, Karen Quintero, Laura Castrillon. On a remoter South American mountaintop, eight kids with guns watch over a hostage. This was one of the more acclaimed films to come out of this year’s Sundance Film Festival with no less than Guillermo del Toro voicing his approval for the film and its director.. September 13

Neither Wolf Nor Dog

(Inyo) Dave Bald Eagle, Christopher Sweeney, Richard Ray Whitman, Roseanne Supernault. A Lakota elder, nearing the end of his life, engages a white writer to write a book about his life and wisdom. Both the writer and the relatives of the elder aren’t 100% sure that he picked the right man for the honor. September 13

Midnight Traveler

(Oscilloscope) Hasan Fazil, Nargis Fazil, Zahra Fazil, Fatima Hossaini. When Afghan film director Hasan Fazil makes a documentary critical of the Taliban, a price is put on his head. He and his family are forced to flee their home for an uncertain future. Their remarkable journey is documented on three cell phones and illustrates the obstacles facing refugees. September 18

Loro

(IFC) Toni Servillo, Elena Sofia Ricci, Riccardo Scarmarcio, Kasia Smutniak. Silvio Berlusconi was not only one of the wealthiest men in Europe but also Prime Minister of Italy. Known for his lavish parties and outrageous personality, this film covers the period of time when his second marriage was falling apart and tries to imagine what went on behind closed doors.. September 20

Villains

(Gunpowder & Sky) Bill Skarsgǻrd, Maika Monroe, Jeffrey Donovan, Kyra Sedgewick. A pair of young lovers on the run from the law are on their way to Florida when their car breaks down. They break into a remote house hoping to find some new wheels to take them the rest of the way. Instead, they find a secret more twisted and terrifying than they could have imagined. September 20

First Love

(Well Go USA) Masataka Kubota, Nao Omori, Shota Sometani, Sakurako Konishi. Anarchic director Takashi Miike returns yet again with yet another film from the heart of Japanese darkness. A young boxer and a call girl fall in love but are caught in the crossfire when they are innocently caught up in a yakuza drug smuggling scheme. September 27

Suicide Squad


Wanna come out and play?

Wanna come out and play?

(2016) Superhero (Warner Brothers) Will Smith, Margot Robbie, Jared Leto, Viola Davis, Joel Kinnaman, Cara Delevingne, Jay Hernandez, Jai Courtney, Ben Affleck, Ezra Miller, Ike Barinholtz, Scott Eastwood, Karen Fukuhara, Adam Beach, Kenneth Choi, Alain Chanoine, Adewale Akinnuoye-Agbaje, Common, Jim Parrack, David Harbour, Shailyn Pierre-Dixon. Directed by David Ayer

 

There are those who maintain that a hero is nothing without a memorable villain to oppose him. That’s largely true; what would James Bond be without Blofeld, Holmes without Moriarty or Luke Skywalker without Darth Vader? We usually see things from the hero’s point of view but rarely do we get a glimpse into the world of the super villain.

Following the events of Batman v. Superman: Dawn of Justice, the American government is extremely nervous. What would happen, posits Amanda Waller (Davis) who works for a shadowy intelligence agency, if Superman had instead of saving the world decided to destroy it? Who would stop him? Waller has an idea, one that is magnificent in its simplicity and alarming at its utter amorality.

She “recruits” (i.e. forces) several super villains locked up in the Belle Reve black ops prison in the swamps of Louisiana to form up a team to take on certain situations which are essentially hopeless. Situations in which the superheroes that are out in public (which are essentially Batman (Affleck) and the Flash (Miller) at this point) shouldn’t be risked as they aren’t exactly expendable. These guys are exactly that. Waller knows that and at the same time, she knows they have nothing to lose by running. She has a solution that recalls The Running Man to a certain extent but absolutely doesn’t say anything particularly nice about the woman.

And who are these guys? For one, there’s Deadshot (Smith), an assassin for hire who never misses with any firearm you give him. Then there’s Harley Quinn (Robbie), the deranged ex-psychiatrist who is now the Joker’s (Leto) girlfriend but who is a formidable opponent of her own. Then there’s Diablo (Hernandez), a gang banger who can shoot flames in any direction but when his powers caused the death of his wife and son, is attempting to reform and has vowed to never use his powers again.

=Add to that list Killer Croc (Akinnuoye-Agbaje), a horribly mutated man who is half man, half crocodile and eats people when he gets the chance. Then there’s Enchantress, a demonic spirit that has possessed archaeologist June Moon (Delevingne) and possesses incredible magic powers, Captain Boomerang (Courtney), an Aussie thief whose weapon of choice is a boomerang that he is absolutely deadly accurate with. Finally there’s Slipknot (Beach), whose ability to climb any surface makes him a useful scout.

Overseeing these representatives of the lunatic fringe is Captain Rick Flagg (Kinnaman), a Navy SEAL who just happens to be Professor Moon’s boyfriend – and who is himself tough as nails. Having his back is Katana (Fukuhara), a Japanese martial artist with an enchanted sword that captures the souls of its victims – which include her husband among their number. Katana is able to communicate with the spirits in the blade, including her late hubby.

They are battling a mystical opponent who wants to essentially open a rift in the dimension that will end civilization as we know it. The problem is that the Suicide Squad as they have come to be known as don’t really give a rat’s tush about civilization. If they can stop fighting amongst themselves, though, they might just come through of it alive. The odds are not good for either however.

Let’s be blunt to start out; the DC Extended Universe (what they call their cinematic division) has not had the kind of success that Marvel has and the critics have absolutely excoriated this movie. Now, I will be the first to say that DC’s cinematic path hasn’t caught on for a reason; in trying to duplicate the tone of the very successful Dark Knight trilogy of Christopher Nolan. You’ll notice that the Marvel cinematic universe is anything but.

But is this movie really that bad? I don’t think so…for one thing it’s entertaining as all get out. Ayers is a director who has a very fine eye and a well-developed story-telling sense. He also knows how important it is for there to be fun in the equation, and there’s lots of great by-play between the characters and a lot of humor injected into the script.

He also has a helluva cast. Smith, one of the biggest stars in the world, has rarely been better than he is here. Yes, his Deadshot is one of the more developed characters in the film, but Smith gets to play a villain who has some human qualities as well (he’s absolutely devoted to his daughter, played by Pierre-Dixon for one). He also shows the kind of leadership skills shown by Chris Evans’ Steve Rogers in the Marvel Universe. The DC Universe sorely needs that.

Robbie has almost as much time in the movie as Smith and her Harley Quinn took a different path to the silver screen; Harley Quinn didn’t initially come from the comic books but from the television animated shows. She went from there to the comic books which she became something of an icon, particularly to female comic book fangirls. Robbie fills the role well; while some have groused that the character has been overly sexualized here (including Robbie herself), she turns in an intense performance, particularly since she has to go up against Oscar winner Jared Leto as her boyfriend/abuser the Joker.

Leto has been very vocal in his disappointment about what the role turned out to be, and in all fairness the Joker was never supposed to be a central character here. However, it stands to reason that you can’t really have Harley Quinn with Mr. J; it doesn’t work. His take on the Joker is a lot different than that of Jack Nicholson, Mark Hamill, Heath Ledger or even Cesar Romero. Not better, not worse, just different. I liked Leto’s Joker just fine; he’s supposed to be unpredictable and Leto certainly makes him that. He isn’t nearly as menacing as Ledger’s Joker, nor as twisted as Nicholson’s. However, this Joker is wilder, more untamed than either. It is a good interpretation.

There are a lot of special effects, particularly involving the mystical vortex thingy that the Big Bads are creating. There are an awful lot of trans-dimensional vortices in superhero movies as of late and as those sorts of things go, this one is no worse nor any better than most. It just isn’t all that impressive; neither are most of the practical effects. Also, there are moments when the plot gets a little bit, ahh, thick. I found it a touch confusing at times and perhaps more casual comic book fans might feel the same.

Otherwise, I enjoyed the heck out of the movie. These really aren’t the A-list of DC villains (although the Joker is present) but some of the mid-level guys. Quinn and Deadshot both look like slam-dunks coming back for more cinematic superhero goodness. And all things considered, this didn’t do the DC Extended Universe better; it might well be the best of the three that have appeared so far, at least in my book. However, it still isn’t slam dunk enough to really elevate the franchise into a place where I’m actually excited about it. Maybe Wonder Woman will bring that to the game.

REASONS TO GO: There is excellent interaction between an excellent cast. Smith is at his very best here. Brings some of DC’s lesser villains to light.
REASONS TO STAY: The special effects are unimpressive. The story is occasionally confusing.
FAMILY VALUES: As you’d expect, plenty of violence and superhero action, some sexually suggestive material and a bit of profanity.
TRIVIAL PURSUIT: Harley Quinn’s baseball bat was given to Kevin Smith to thank him for hosting the TV special Dawn of the Justice League shortly before this film came out.
CRITICAL MASS: As of 8/29/16: Rotten Tomatoes: 26% positive reviews. Metacritic: 40/100.
COMPARISON SHOPPING: Deadpool
FINAL RATING: 7/10
NEXT: Gleason

Minions


Scarlet Overkill attempts to kill the Minions with kindness.

Scarlet Overkill attempts to kill the Minions with kindness.

(2015) Animated Feature (Universal) Starring the voices of Sandra Bullock, Jon Hamm, Michael Keaton, Allison Janney, Steve Coogan, Jennifer Saunders, Geoffrey Rush, Steve Carell, Pierre Coffin, Katy Mixon, Michael Beattie, Hiroyuki Sanada, Dave Rosenbaum, Alex Dowding, Paul Thornley, Ava Acres, Carlos Alazraqui, Lori Alan, Laraine Newman, Mindy Sterling. Directed by Kyle Balda and Pierre Coffin

We know the villains. They are often flamboyant, deliciously evil and unforgettable. But what of their henchmen? What of the cannon fodder they send to take on the hero, or to do whatever nefarious deed needs doing. What of them?

Master criminal Gru (Carell) has long been supported by his yellow pill-like Minions (all voiced by Coffin), odd creatures in denim overalls, usually with two eyes (occasionally with just one) who speak an odd high-pitched patois of every language on Earth as well as some gibberish that sounds like a 33 1/3 vinyl album played at 45 RPM (ask your parents or grandparents; they’ll understand the reference). But where do these non-human creatures come from?

It turns out from right here. An amusing opening sequence (much of which is seen in the trailer) shows them evolving from single-celled organisms who are determine that the best way for them to survive in a hostile world is to find the biggest, baddest villain they can, serve him and by doing so, come under his protection.

This goes badly for the Minions. It isn’t so much that their masters turn on them, as you might expect that evil villains might. It’s just that the Minions, in trying to serve, have an unnerving knack of killing their masters by accident. This causes the Minions to sink into a deep depression.

One of their number by the name of Kevin won’t sit idly by for this. He determines to leave their ice cave lair and find a new boss to serve. To accompany him will be Stuart, a would-be rock and roller, and Bob, the most adorable Minion and perhaps the most enthusiastic.

As the Minions have been in hiding for a number of years, the world has changed somewhat since last they had been seen. It is 1968 and it is New York City. You’d think that Minions would find plenty of villains there but they discover that, rather, Orlando is the place to be. That’s because a convention of evildoers is about to convene in The City Beautiful in the years Before Disney.

They hitch a ride with Walter (Keaton) and Madge Nelson (Janney) who are driving down to Orlando with their kids. It turns out that they are villains as well, expert bank robbers. And there are a number of Villains who might be worthy of the Minions, like Professor Flux (Coogan) or Sumo (Sanada). However, the biggest baddest villain of them all is Scarlet Overkill (Bullock) who it so happens is hiring.

Kevin, Bob and Stuart get the gig and go to London in Scarlet’s private jet (apparently crime does pay after all) where they meet her mechanical genius of a husband Herb (Hamm). Scarlet’s already got a job in mind for the adorable yellow Minions; to steal the crown of Queen Elizabeth (Saunders). Easy peasy, right? Of course, the Minions make a hash of it and things go rapidly downhill from there.

There has been a tendency in the world of animated features of late to populate them with adorable supporting creatures, from the slugs of Flushed Away to the penguins of Madagascar. Sometimes these creatures are more interesting than the main characters (see Skrat, Ice Age). The Minions may be the best of these, entirely incompetent but always worth a giggle. They often upstage Gru in his own movies.

They actually do an adequate job of carrying their own movie as well, although not a spectacular one. While their Minion language gets a bit old in its indecipherable glory, it still gets the message across. Their simplicity appeals to children who tend to like their characters to be uncomplicated and the Minions are definitely that.

The entertainment factor is solid. There are plenty of sight gags that are clever although truth be told they occasionally are too clever for their own good (like the Minions emerging from a sewer on Abbey Road only to be stepped on by Four sets of Fabulous feet at the crosswalk. It’s a famous album cover – ask your parents or your grandparents, they’ll understand the reference.

But the problem here is that there really is no there there, as Gertrude Stein might say. It’s entertaining, but only that; the content is so light and airy that the slightest of breezes will blow the whole thing away like a dandelion in spring. The story, while disposable, grinds to a halt in a few places and unnecessarily so. There were some scenes the movie could well have done without.

I would have thought that the Minions could have survived on their own but it turns out that they need Gru more than he needs them, which comes as a bit of a shock. At the end of the day, they are supporting characters and because they are meant to be in the background, they don’t really make an impression in the foreground for the hour and a half running time. This really feels like a Saturday morning cartoon stretched out to feature length, and while that may be a bit harsh and perhaps unjustified, nonetheless that’s the impression I walked out with. It’s entertaining enough that if you take your kids to see it you won’t be unbelievably bored (as with several animated features from last year) but at the very least this movie will make you appreciate Gru all the more.

REASONS TO GO: Reasonably entertaining for both parents and children. Minions are adorable.
REASONS TO STAY: Disposable fluff.  Drags in places.
FAMILY VALUES: A little bit of slightly rude humor and animated action.
TRIVIAL PURSUIT: While Kevin, Bob and Stuart are watching Scarlet Overkill’s presentation at Villain-Con, Gargamel from the Smurfs can be seen sitting directly in front of them.
CRITICAL MASS: As of 7/25/15: Rotten Tomatoes: 54% positive reviews. Metacritic: 56/100.
COMPARISON SHOPPING: Flushed Away
FINAL RATING: 6/10
NEXT: Ant-Man