New Releases for the Week of February 24, 2017


Get OutGET OUT

(Universal/Blumhouse) Daniel Kaluuya, Allison Williams, Keith Stanfield, Bradley Whitford, Catherine Keener, Caleb Landry Jones, Erika Alexander. Directed by Jordan Peele

A young African-American man has reached that dreaded milestone in his relationship with his girlfriend; it’s time to meet the parents. There’s extra pressure on the situation because his girlfriend is white. When the two of them are invited on a weekend retreat at the parents’ estate-like getaway home, it’s nervousness and awkwardness all around as you might expect. However, he learns to his shock that this is merely a cover for something far more sinister. This is a very different side of Peele, one-half the acclaimed comedy team of Key and Peele.

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

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

Rating: R (for violence, bloody images, and language including sexual references)

Bitter Harvest

(Roadside Attractions) Max Irons, Lucy Brown, Barry Pepper, Terence Stamp. In 1933, Stalin had seized control of the Soviet Union. His ambitions however ran to further expansion of the communist regime. In order to do that, he decided to enforce a program of mass starvation in the Ukraine. Millions would die while a young artist tried to keep his lover alive by any means necessary. If you’re wondering why the Ukrainian people are so vehemently opposed to a Russian tyrant, this is why.

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

Release Formats: Standard
Genre: Historical Drama
Now Playing: AMC Disney Springs, Regal Winter Park Village

Rating: R (for violence and disturbing images

Collide

(Open Road) Nicholas Hoult, Felicity Jones, Anthony Hopkins, Ben Kingsley. After a heist goes terribly wrong, a young criminal finds himself on the run from a ruthless drug lord. Enlisting the help of his former employer – an equally ruthless drug lord who is a rival to the one chasing him – he must somehow protect his girlfriend and not get caught between the two enemies. Considering the cast, this film has bounced around the release schedule for a few years and has now been released with almost zero promotion. That doesn’t bode well for the quality of the film.

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

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

Rating: PG-13 (for violence, frenetic action, some sexuality, language and drug material)

Journey to the West: The Demons Strike Back

(Magnolia) Likun Wang, Kris Wu, Kenny Lin, Yiwei Yang. A young monk who has made it his life’s calling to rid the world of demons (and there are MANY of them) has converted three of them to his cause through his love and self-sacrifice. Now this quartet undertakes a journey to the West that will be fraught with peril and test their bonds, but is necessary to save the people from a terrifying threat. This is a sequel (of sorts) to the 2013 film and represents a collaboration between two of the greatest names in Chinese cinema; writer Stephen Chow and director Tsui Hark.

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

Release Formats: Standard
Genre: Martial Arts Fantasy
Now Playing: Regal Waterford Lakes

Rating: PG-13 (for fantasy action violence, some suggestive content, rude humor and thematic elements)

Punching Henry

(Well Go USA) Henry Phillips, Tig Notaro, J.K. Simmons, Sarah Silverman. A struggling singer-songwriter (of satirical songs) thinks he’s finally gotten his big break when a high-powered TV producer summons him to Hollywood to pitch a reality TV show that is centered around him and his obstacle-laden career. What Henry doesn’t know however is that the actual intent of the producer is to create a show that is about the life of a loser.

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

Release Formats: Standard
Genre: Comedy
Now Playing: AMC Disney Springs

Rating: NR

Rock Dog

(Summit) Starring the voices of Luke Wilson, Eddie Izzard, Lewis Black, Sam Elliott. From time immemorial a clan of mastiffs has guarded the peaceful residents of Snow Mountain from a lunatic pack of wolves. However, when the son of the clan leader discovers a radio that plays that demon rock music, suddenly he wants a new path in life – that of a rock star. However, he’ll have to abandon his family and his home in order to do that. And, in true animated feature fashion, his music may end up saving Snow Mountain forever.

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

Release Formats: Standard
Genre: Animated Feature
Now Playing: Wide Release

Rating: PG (for action and language)

Toni Erdmann

(Sony Classics) Sandra Hüller, Peter Simionischek, Michael Wittenborn, Thomas Loibl. A hard working German woman has a very strained relationship with her eccentric, practical joking father. In order to get her attention, he invents the character of Toni Erdmann, a life coach who challenges her to change her corporate lifestyle. At first she resists and the contest between them escalates until she eventually realizes that she needs her father more than she thought. This is an Oscar nominee for Best Foreign Language film.

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

Release Formats: Standard
Genre: Comedy
Now Playing: Enzian Theater

Rating: R (for some sexuality/nudity)

Voodoo

(Freestyle) Samantha Stewart, Ruth Reynolds, Dominic Matteucci, Ron Jeremy. When a straight-laced Southern girl takes a vacation to Los Angeles to escape her increasingly complicated life, she comes face to face with an ancient voodoo priestess who curses her to relive all the horrible deeds she’s done – in this life and in previous ones.

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

Release Formats: Standard
Genre: Horror
Now Playing: AMC Loew’s Universal Cineplex

Rating: NR

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Hatchet II


Hatchet II

Danielle Harris gets a Hatchet facial

(2010) Horror (Dark Sky) Danielle Harris, Tony Todd, Kane Hodder, A.J. Bowen, Tom Holland, R.A. Mihailoff, Alexis Peters, Parry Shen, Kathryn Fiore, Ed Ackerman, David Foy, Colton Dunn, Rick McCallum, John Carl Buechler, Erika Hamilton. Directed by Adam Green

One of the things I liked about slasher films from the 70s and 80s is that they had everything in them an adolescent boy could ask for – sex, chainsaws, pretty girls, disfigured killers and no plot whatsoever. Just a string of murders that were hopefully somewhat imaginative.

The first Hatchet was a tribute to those films and in its own way was fairly clever and inventive. It didn’t possess a particularly original premise but for those who hadn’t seen many of the films of the slasher variety this was all new and wonderful. It had a pretty decent cast as well.

The sequel picks up at the precise moment the last film left off. Marybeth (Harris, but who was portrayed by Tamara Feldman in the first movie) has escaped from the clutches of Victor Crowley (Hodder), the deformed serial killer on the bayou who massacred Marybeth’s entire family. 

She makes her way to the cabin of Jack Cracker (Buechler) who at first takes the hysterical girl in, but once he finds out her last name he sends her packing, telling her to see Brother Voodoo….er, Reverend Zombie (Todd) if she wants help. Victor Crowley arrives just after Marybeth departs and sends ol’ Jack Cracker to join the Choir Invisible in a rather inventive and nasty way.

After Marybeth makes it back to civilization, she confronts Reverend Zombie who tells her that Victor Crowley’s father Thomas (also Hodder) had an affair with Lena (Hamilton), the nurse of Thomas’ wife who was dying of cancer. She finds out about the affair and on her deathbed curses the child. The child is born deformed and Lena dies in childbirth.

Young Victor is the object of fear and ridicule and eventually a trio of schoolkids, including Marybeth’s father and her Uncle Bob (Holland) set a fire in which Victor is killed. A disconsolate Thomas becomes a recluse, confronting the parents of the teens who deny their involvement. He dies some years later, bitter and alone.

Marybeth isn’t content to let things lay the way they are, so she determines to have Zombie take her back into the swamp with a heavily armed escort to retrieve the remains of her family. What Marybeth doesn’t know is that Zombie has an agenda of his own, and her well-being isn’t necessarily a part of the plan.

Whereas the first movie was nonstop action and horror, this one had frequent lulls and breaks in the action which derailed the mood entirely. Green, who directed both the first film and the sequel, was also making Frozen at the time and I get the sense that his full attention wasn’t on this film.

Looking up at the cast of this film, there are a surprising number of familiar names, from Buechler (who directed a number of low-budget horror films in the 80s) to Hodder (a former Jason Voorhees) to Todd (the Candyman himself) and Holland (who directed the original Fright Night). Most of them aren’t known for their acting, although Todd has had a number of fine performances over the years. He’s really the best performer here.

There is nearly twice as much blood here than in the first movie (literally; they measured it) and a lot of icky, gruesome demises. There isn’t much sex (although there is a couple who get busy during the course of the movie under circumstances that could charitably be called “poor decisions”) which the movie could have used more of. Also, Harris was somewhat uninspiring as the lead, which isn’t entirely her fault; the character doesn’t have a whole lot of sense or strength. Most of the time she seems to be looking to others to protect her or guide her. I prefer my scream queens to do more than just scream.

That’s not to say this is a terrible film – it’s not. Despite the lapses in pacing, the movie works well when it does work. Some of the murders are nice and excessive (the first one of Jack Cracker is particularly gruesome, a real Grand Guignol masterpiece) but Victor Crowley, other than the John Merrick look-alike make-up doesn’t really distinguish himself from other supernaturally-based serial killers here. We’ve seen this kind of thing before; and quite frankly, I think it could use a little more spice to liven it up now.

WHY RENT THIS: If you like the slasher film genre of the 70s and 80s, this is for you. Plenty of ghoulish deaths and lots of blood and gore for the aficionados.

WHY RENT SOMETHING ELSE: Not enough sex. Lots of down time between murders. The plot meanders a little bit.

FAMILY VALUES: Well obviously there’s a whole lot of violence and gore; there’s also some nudity and sexuality, as well as a fair amount of cursing.

TRIVIAL PURSUIT: When the MPAA insisted on giving the movie an NC-17 rating, the filmmakers and distributor decided to release it unrated. Executives at AMC Theaters managed to view a screening copy and loved the film, deciding to allow the movie to be shown as is in their theaters. However, they pulled it from their theaters after just a few days without any explanation.

NOTABLE DVD EXTRAS: None listed.

BOX OFFICE PERFORMANCE: $52,604 on an unreported production budget; I can’t imagine that it did anything but lose money.

FINAL RATING: 5/10

TOMORROW: Puss in Boots

The Princess and the Frog


The Princess and the Frog

For every princess, there must be a prince, frog or not.

(2009) Animated Feature (Disney) Starring the voices of Anika Noni Rose, Terrance Howard, Oprah Winfrey, John Goodman, Keith David, Jenifer Lewis, Jim Cummings, Bruno Campos, Randy Newman, Emeril Lagasse, Jennifer Cody, Peter Bartlett, Michael-Leon Wooley. Directed by Ron Clements and John Musker

Once upon a time, all animation was hand drawn in a painstaking process that took years for each feature to be completed. However, computers not only made the process faster, allowing for more animated features to be created every year, those who were more programmers than artists created an onslaught of computer animation that had little soul and nothing much to recommend them while still doing great box office. The days of hand-drawn animation seemingly at an end, Disney shut down its pen and ink division and decided to go full time to computer animation. When their own in-house efforts yielded less-than-stellar results, Disney wound up buying Pixar (whose films they had distributed from the get-go) and installing their chief, John Lassiter, in charge of Disney’s entire animated division, including Pixar.

But Lassiter did a funny thing for a computer guy; he re-instated the traditional animation department, hiring back many of the animators who had been let go. Their first effort is this take on “The Frog Prince” only with a distaff sensibility.

Tiana (Rose) is a young waitress in jazz-age New Orleans with a dream. She wants to open up her own restaurant where she can serve up her daddy’s gumbo recipe, with just a dash of hot sauce. Her daddy (Howard) died in the Great War, leaving her and her momma (Winfrey) to care for each other. Tiana’s ditzy best friend, Charlotte LaBouff (Cody) and her doting dad (Goodman) are out to get Charlotte a prince, and when one drops in her lap, she’s ecstatic.

That Prince is Naveen (Campos) from the impoverished country of Moldonia. He needs to wed a rich lady to help restore the empty coffers of the Moldonian treasury but quite frankly, Naveen is more interested in playing music and letting Le Bon Tomps Roullez in the French Quarter. He also attracts the attention of the evil and nefarious Dr. Facillier (David) a.k.a. the Shadow Man, who casts a voodoo spell on the Prince, turning him into a frog while his soul is transferred into the body of Naveen’s manservant/butler/attaché Lawrence (Bartlett) who would then hand over control of the money and Moldonia to the evil Doc.

In desperation, Naveen tries to find a princess to kiss him and restore him to his former shape, but mistakes Tiana, dressed up for the engagement party of her friend Charlotte, for a princess and the kiss only turns Tiana into a fellow amphibian. Chased by Dr. Facillier who needs the frog prince to refill his magical potion that keeps Lawrence in the form of Naveen, Tiana and Naveen head to the swamp where they meet up with allies of their own; the practical firefly Ray (Cummings), the trumpet-playing crocodile Louis (Wooley) and his buddies (Lagasse, Newman) as well as Mama Odie (Lewis), a voodoo priestess who perhaps alone can reverse the curse of Dr. Facillier.

Is this a return to the form that saw Disney create classic after classic in the 90s? Yes and no. While this doesn’t quite measure up to Beauty and the Beast or The Lion King, it’s much better than recent attempts such as Home on the Range or Brother Bear. As a matter of fact, while it doesn’t hit the high notes that Pixar’s movies tend to, it’s still a pretty solid effort.

Rose makes for a feisty princess, the kind that Disney can easily market not only to young African American girls but to the legions of princess-happy tots whose parents deposit hundreds of millions of dollars into Disney’s coffers. The cast has a great deal of energy, particularly Cummings, Cody and Wooley, and the movie barrels along at a jolly pace.

The New Orleans locale is inspired, albeit this is something of a fantasy Big Easy, but it’s recognizable nonetheless. New Orleans is the kind of city that has enough mystery and romance that other cities can only hope for; only New York and San Francisco among American cities have the kind of cachet that the Crescent City possesses, and the jazz age New Orleans is something special again.

There are some passable musical numbers but oddly enough, many of them bring the movie to a grinding halt as the characters go into a song and dance routine that temporarily halts the story’s progression. Personally, I might have cut two or three of the numbers, but I might be in the minority on this one; certainly kids will love the brassy, jazzy music that has a touch of modern hip-hop, gospel and even rock and roll on the edge. This isn’t your mommy and daddy’s Disney.

And yet, in a very real way, it is. This is very much the kind of movie that Disney was making ten years ago to great success and had it been released then, it might well be considered a classic on the level of, say, The Little Mermaid. Even so, it is better than most of the Disney releases before and after that incredible run in the last decade, and marks a welcome return of an art form that was certainly on the endangered list. For that accomplishment alone, regardless of the social implications of an African-American princess (which are certainly important in their own right), this movie deserves a respectful audience, who will be rewarded with a rollicking good time.

WHY RENT THIS: The first hand-drawn Disney animation in six years is worth celebrating; it is also a return to form for an artform that has widely lost its luster with the explosion of computer animation which Pixar helped usher in.

WHY RENT SOMETHING ELSE: Two many musical numbers stops the films momentum dead in its tracks from time to time.

FAMILY VALUES: Suitable for all audiences – c’mon, it’s DISNEY, you know.

TRIVIAL PURSUIT: Not only is this the first Disney film to feature an African-American princess, it is the first to feature a left-handed princess (Rose is also left-handed and she requested that the animators make her character the same).

NOTABLE DVD EXTRAS: The Blu-Ray includes featurettes on the history of Disney Princesses and how the newest one fits in. There is also an interactive game for the kids, as well as a music video of Ne-Yo’s “Never Knew I Needed You.” All in all, chock full of goodies as is the way Disney normally does things.

BOX OFFICE PERFORMANCE: $267M on a production budget of $105M; the movie was profitable.

FINAL RATING: 7/10

TOMORROW: Morning Glory