New Releases for the Week of July 6, 2018


ANT-MAN AND THE WASP

(Disney/Marvel) Paul Rudd, Evangeline Lilly, Michael Douglas, Michelle Pfeiffer, Michael Peña, Walton Goggins, Bobby Cannavale, Judy Greer, Tip “T.I.” Harris, Hannah John-Kamen. Directed by Peyton Reed

Scott Lang deals with the consequences of his decisions made during Captain America: Civil War, trying to balance his responsibilities as a father and as a superhero. When Hank Pym and Hope Van Dyne come to him with an urgent mission with personal ramifications for them both, Scott wants to help but wonders how his choices will effect his relationship with his daughter.

See the trailer, interviews, video featurettes and a promo here.
For more on the movie this is the website.

Release Formats: Standard, 3D, D-BOX, D-BOX 3D, Dolby, IMAX, IMAX 3D, RPX, RPX 3D, XD, XD-3D
Genre: Superhero
Now Playing: Wide Release

Rating: PG-13 (for some sci-fi action violence)

Boundaries

(Sony Classics) Vera Farmiga, Christopher Plummer, Lewis MacDougall, Christopher Lloyd. A struggling single mom and her precocious son are forced to drive her freewheeling, pot-dealing devil-may-care father across the country after he is kicked out of the nursing home she put him in.

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

Release Formats: Standard
Genre: Dramedy
Now Playing: Old Mill Playhouse, Regal Winter Park Village

Rating: R (for drug material, language, some sexual references and nude sketches)

The First Purge

(Universal/Blumhouse) Y’lan Noel, Lex Scott Davis, Marisa Tomei, Joivan Wade. This is where it all began; the New Founding Fathers’ solution to crime – let everyone get it all out of their system in one night be it looting, assault or murder. It’s a lot different than the Purge we’ve come to know.

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

Release Formats: Standard
Genre: Thriller
Now Playing: Wide Release (opened Wednesday)

Rating: R (for strong disturbing violence throughout, pervasive language, some sexuality and drug use)

Na Band Na Baraati

(HUM) Komal Farooqi, Saram Jaffery, Ali Kazmi, Zuhair Jaffery. A Pakistani family living in Toronto has their hands full planning a wedding for both their sons. Traditions from their homeland collide with expectations in a new world that they don’t entirely understand; nor does it understand them.

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

Release Formats: Standard
Genre: Romantic Comedy
Now Playing: Touchstar Southchase

Rating: NR

No Postage Necessary

(Two Roads) George Blagden, Charleene Closshey, Robbie Kay, Raymond J. Barry. A convicted computer hacker, barred from using the Internet and not quite scraping by working minimum wage jobs, takes to stealing mail to make ends meet. He reads a letter a beautiful young woman wrote to her husband, a Marine killed in Afghanistan. Intrigued, he begins to fall in love with her. Hoping to be the man she deserves and the man he’s always thought he could be, he tries to turn his life around but the past has a way of catching up with you

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

Release Formats: Standard
Genre: Romantic Comedy
Now Playing: AMC Universal Cineplex

Rating: PG-13 (for some drug references and brief language)

Whitney

(Miramax/Roadside Attractions) Whitney Houston, Cissy Houston, Bobby Brown, Kevin Costner. She was one of the most distinctive voices of her generation and one of the greatest female vocalists ever. She had everything; a loving family, a skyrocketing career, fame and talent beyond measure. Her meteoric rise was matched by a startling fall ending in the tragedy of a life ended too soon. This is her story, buttressed by plenty of interview and performance footage.

See the trailer here.
For more on the movie this is the website
Release Formats: Standard
Genre: Music Documentary
Now Playing: AMC Altamonte Mall, AMC Disney Springs, AMC Universal Cineplex, AMC West Oaks, Old Mill Playhouse, Regal Ormond Beach, Regal Waterford Lakes, Regal Winter Park Village
Rating: PG-13 (for some thematic elements and language)

ALSO OPENING IN ORLANDO/DAYTONA:

Neither Wolf Nor Dog
Pantham

ALSO OPENING IN MIAMI/FT. LAUDERDALE:

Ava
En El Septimo Dia
Pantham
Tej I Love You
Under the Tree

ALSO OPENING IN TAMPA/ST. PETERSBURG:

Amma I Love You
Bleeding Steel
Tej I Love You

ALSO OPENING IN JACKSONVILLE/ST. AUGUSTINE:

Amma I Love You
Pantham
Tej I Love You

SCHEDULED FOR REVIEW:

Ant-Man and the Wasp
The First Purge
Whitney

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Tomb Raider


Lara Croft takes aim.

(2018) Adventure (MGM/Warner Brothers) Alicia Vikander, Dominic West, Walton Goggins, Kristin Scott Thomas, Derek Jacobi, Daniel Wu, Alexandre Willaume, Tamer Burjaq, Adrian Collins, Keenan Arrison, Andrian Mazive, Milton Schorr, Hannah John-Kamen, Peter Waison, Samuel Mak, Sky Yang, Civic Chung, Josef Altin, Billy Postlethwaite, Roger John Nsengiyumva, Jaime Winstone. Directed by Roar Uthaug

 

The Tomb Raider videogame franchise remains a benchmark in the industry. One of the first to feature a female main character, it was (and is) a rollicking adventure in the vein of Indiana Jones that requires a quick wit as well as fast fingers. Of course, lead character Lara Croft’s notoriously buxom figure didn’t hurt sales either.

After a pair of successful but mediocre movies in the late 90s and early 2000s, the franchise is being rebooted with Swedish actress Alicia Vikander in the lead role. She lives in a beautiful and opulent estate but is a bike courier to pay the bills; that’s because her father (West), a billionaire, disappeared seven years previously and Lara doesn’t want to sign the papers that will give her the inheritance because doing so would be as much as admitting he’s dead, something she steadfastly refuses to believe.

Then she gets wind of a possible location where her father might be and off she goes to find him. It will involve finding the tomb of a cruel Japanese queen, avoiding a terrible curse as well as barbaric corporate sorts who seek to open the tomb and unleash hell on the world. Aided only by a drunken sailor, Lara goes off to save the day but she is not yet the confident adventuress that inhabits the video games. Yes, this is an origin story.

On the surface of it, casting Vikander as Croft is a slam dunk move. She’s truly a wonderful actress, has ballet training and moreover is a fan of the videogame. She bulked up on muscle and performed some of her own stunts for the film but oddly enough, her portrayal of Croft didn’t really connect with me. In fact, I found the whole tone of the film to be flat in an off-putting way. It probably didn’t help that the screening I attended was virtually deserted. There just didn’t seem to be as much chemistry or energy going on in the movie.

Some of the stunts and action set pieces are more than up to snuff. When the movie channels the old serials (which it does do from time to time), it seems to do better. The expository scenes are where the film shows the most problems. Also, some of the CGI is murky and hard to see; I didn’t view this in 3D so I can only imagine how bad it looked in that format.

There are enough thrills and fun for me to give it a mild recommendation but with the caveat that many of the reasons that videogames don’t translate well to movies are present here. Fans of the videogame series probably won’t like this much and fans of adventure films in general probably will agree with them. If you keep your expectations low, this can be a good time however.

REASONS TO GO: Some of the action sequences are quite exciting.
REASONS TO STAY: Vikander doesn’t seem a good fit for the role.
FAMILY VALUES: There is plenty of action and violence as well as some brief profanity.
TRIVIAL PURSUIT: The only two actresses to date to play Lara Croft in the film versions – Angelina Jolie and Vikander – are also both Oscar winners.
BEYOND THE THEATERS: Amazon, Fandango Now, Google Play, iTunes, Microsoft, Vudu, YouTube
CRITICAL MASS: As of 6/24/18: Rotten Tomatoes: 48% positive reviews: Metacritic: 48/100.
COMPARISON SHOPPING: King Solomon’s Mine
FINAL RATING: 6/10
NEXT:
Game Night

Maze Runner: The Death Cure


How can they be surprised at the bad reviews?

(2018) Science Fiction (20th Century Fox) Dylan O’Brien, Thomas Brodie Sangster, Ki Hong Lee, Kaya Scodelario, Dexter Darden, Will Poulter, Jacob Lofland, Rosa Salazar, Giancarlo Esposito, Aidan Gillen, Patricia Clarkson, Barry Pepper, Nathalie Emmanuel, Katherine McNamara, Walton Goggins, Dylan Smith,  Jake Curran, Greg Kriek, Liza Scholtz. Directed by Wes Ball

 

There have been a number of dystopian sci-fi trilogies in the young adult book market as of late, several of which have been converted to the silver screen. Divergent, The Hunger Games and Maze Runner all feature young heroes who shoulder the responsibility of changing their society for the better. It makes me wonder if that hasn’t rubbed off on the current generation who recently took to the streets to protest a lack of movement on gun control.

However, while one applauds the passion of the Parkland pack, it’s hard to appreciate the cinematic skills displayed on this, the finale of the Maze Runner series. It’s stupefying in its length – two hours and twenty odd minutes – and seems to be repetitive in its action. We learn the horrifying truth about WCKD – that in a latch-ditch effort to find a cure for the disease that has overtaken 80% of he population they have taken to experimenting on young people who have shown immunity to the disease which turns people into ravening homicidal maniacs – zombiesque you might say – that has essentially wiped out civilization in all but the Last City.

The original group of maze runners has shown up on a variety of sides; Teresa (Scodelario) is a researcher for WCKD and her mother (Clarkson) is the head scientist for them. Minho (Lee) has been taken by WCKD and its head security guy Janson (Gillen); Newt (Sangster) has finally come down with the disease while Thomas (O’Brien) is leading the rescue efforts to pick up Minho before they sail to a deserted island to live away from the madness in peace and tranquility.

The trend of dividing the trilogy finale into two separate movies was not adopted here, likely because the filmmakers did enough padding (for example, the opening train sequence doesn’t appear in the book) and still couldn’t fill up two movies. As usual with young adult adventure stories, kids are heroic (mostly) and adults are evil (mostly) and the adults underestimate the kids and don’t understand them – yes, it’s a bit pedantic but I suppose you have to appeal to the sensitivities of the market you’re after.

Sangster is one of my favorite young actors out there but he doesn’t get much to do here until the end. O’Brien shows tremendous potential but he hasn’t really won me over yet – the character of Thomas is just too cliché which is hardly his fault and yes, he imbues the character with nobility but Thomas is so one-note it’s difficult to assess whether O’Brien can pull off a multi-layered performance yet so the jury’s still out in my case.

There are plenty of pyrotechnics and oceans of CGI images and for the most part it’s executed well and why wouldn’t it be? With production delays incurred due to an on-set accident which put out the lead performer for almost a year, the effects houses were given plenty of time to work on the images. Still the story is so weak, the characters so been there done that and the movie way overlong that recommending this film is simply not in the cards. I am not convinced that this is the death cure but it sure is a cure for insomnia.

REASONS TO GO: The pyrotechnics and special effects were nifty in places.
REASONS TO STAY: The film is interminably long, dumb and predictable.
FAMILY VALUES: There is action and violence, some thematic concerns as well as a smattering of mild profanity.
TRIVIAL PURSUIT: O’Brien was seriously injured during the opening train scene when he fell off the top of the train; it took nearly a year for him to recover from his injuries, delaying the release of the film from 2017 to January 2018..
CRITICAL MASS: As of 3/26/18: Rotten Tomatoes: 43% positive reviews. Metacritic: 51/100.
COMPARISON SHOPPING: The Divergent Series: Insurgent
FINAL RATING: 5/10
NEXT:
The Family

New Releases for the Week of March 16, 2018


TOMB RAIDER

(MGM/Warner Brothers) Alicia Vikander, Dominic West, Walton Goggins, Daniel Wu, Kristin Scott Thomas, Derek Jacobi, Hannah John-Kamen. Directed by Roar Uthaug

The headstrong daughter of a wealthy entrepreneur and adventurer mourns the disappearance of her father. Honing her skills, she receives a mysterious message that brings her to the very island where her father was last seen – and smack dab into a conspiracy and mystery that may find the same fate awaiting her. This is the reboot of the popular videogame movie franchise.

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

Release Formats: Standard, 3D, DBOX, DBOX 3D, Dolby Atmos, IMAX, IMAX 3D, RPX, RPX 3D, XD, XD-3D
Genre: Fantasy Adventure
Now Playing: Wide Release

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

7 Days in Entebbe

(Focus) Rosamund Pike, Daniel Brühl, Eddie Marsan, Nonso Anozie. In 1976, an Air France flight from Tel Aviv to Paris was hijacked by Palestinian terrorists to call attention to the plight of their people. The flight was made to land in Uganda whose dictator Idi Amin used the hijacking as a means to call international attention for himself as a world leader. When things looked bleak, the Israeli army staged a daring raid that still resonates today as one of the gutsiest rescue operations in history.

See the trailer, interviews, a clip and a video featurette here.
For more on the movie this is the website

Release Formats: Standard
Genre: True Life Drama
Now Playing: Wide Release

Rating: PG-13 (for violence, some thematic material, drug use, smoking and brief strong language)

Concert for George

(Abramorama) Eric Clapton, Paul McCartney, Ringo Starr, Dhani Harrison. On the first anniversary of the untimely death of George Harrison, a group of his family and close friends put on a concert in the Royal Albert Hall in London to celebrate the life and music of the ex-Beatle. Although the line-up was stellar, the concert film went directly to video and has been hard to find ever since. On the occasion commemorating what would have been Harrison’s 75th birthday, a limited theatrical release has finally been arranged. It is playing at the Enzian as part of their Music Mondays series. You can read the Cinema365 review of the doc by clicking on the link in the Scheduled for Review section below.

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

Release Formats: Standard
Genre: Concert Film
Now Playing: Enzian Theater (Monday only)

Rating: NR

The Cured

(IFC) Ellen Page, Sam Keeley, Tom Vaughan-Lawlor, Stuart Graham. After a mysterious disease turns people into mindless zombies, a cure is eventually found but the world is badly shell-shocked. Those that have reverted back to humanity find themselves discriminated against by their neighbors and sometimes their own families. When the military tries to intervene, things take a turn for the worse.

See the trailer, video featurettes and an interview here.
For more on the movie this is the website

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

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

Dear Dictator

(Cinedigm) Michael Caine, Odeya Rush, Katie Holmes, Seth Green. A teenage girl doing a school project on personal heroes chooses a British-Caribbean dictator who surprisingly begins corresponding with her. When he is overthrown by freedom fighters, he hides out at her home and gives her advice on how to handle the mean girls at her school.

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

Release Formats: Standard
Genre: Comedy
Now Playing: AMC Universal Cineplex

Rating: NR

I Can Only Imagine

(Roadside Attractions) J. Michael Finley, Brody Rose, Dennis Quaid, Cloris Leachman. This is the true story behind the hit MercyMe song “I Can Only Imagine” and the forgiveness and healing between an abusive father and his musician son.

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

Release Formats: Standard
Genre: True Life Faith Drama
Now Playing: Wide Release

Rating: PG (for thematic elements including some violence)

In the Fade

(Magnolia) Diane Kruger, Denis Moschitto, Numan Acar, Ulrich Tukur. When a wife and mother’s family is killed in a terrorist bombing, she is distressed when those who perpetrated the attack are seemingly going to get away with it. This leads her to take her own revenge which in this case she equates with justice for her loved ones.

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

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

Rating: R (for some disturbing images, drug use and language including sexual references)

Josie

(Screen Media) Sophie Turner, Dylan McDermott, Daeg Faerch, Lombardo Boyar. A beautiful but mysterious young woman appears in a small Texas town and strikes up romantic friendships with a punk outcast and a lonely neighbor. As the gossip grapevine goes into overdrive, soon there are signs that she may have a sinister agenda of her own once certain facts about her past come to light.

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

Release Formats: Standard
Genre: Suspense
Now Playing: AMC Universal Cineplex

Rating: NR

The Leisure Seeker

(Sony Classics) Helen Mirren, Donald Sutherland, Janel Moloney, Christian McKay. An elderly couple goes on a last hurrah road trip in their faithful but falling apart RV they call the Leisure Seeker.

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

Release Formats: Standard
Genre: Dramedy
Now Playing: Regal Winter Park Village

Rating: R (for some sexual material)

Love, Simon

(20th Century Fox) Nick Robinson, Jennifer Garner, Josh Duhamel, Katherine Langford. A high school boy has been hiding a secret from family and friends – he’s gay. When his secret is threatened, he must find a way to break the news to those he cares about and along the way discover who he truly is. This is the first major studio film to deal with a gay teen romance.

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

Release Formats: Standard
Genre: Teen Romance
Now Playing: Wide Release

Rating: PG-13 (for thematic elements, sexual references, language and teen partying)

Loveless

(Sony Classics) Maryana Spivak, Aleksey Rozin, Matvey Novikov, Marina Vasileva. A Russian couple undergoing a bitter divorce must put their differences aside when their young boy disappears. This was a finalist for the 2018 Academy Awards for Best Foreign Film.

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

Release Formats: Standard
Genre: Drama
Now Playing: Regal Winter Park Village

Rating: R (for strong sexuality, graphic nudity, language and a brief disturbing image)

ALSO OPENING IN ORLANDO/DAYTONA:

Kirrak Party
Please Stand By
Raid

ALSO OPENING IN MIAMI/FT. LAUDERDALE:

Cuba’s Forgotten Jewels: A Haven in Havana
Kirrak Party
Mind Game
Mufti
Raid

ALSO OPENING IN TAMPA/ST. PETERSBURG:

Demon House
Raid

ALSO OPENING IN JACKSONVILLE/ST. AUGUSTINE:

In Bed With Victoria
Kirrak Party

SCHEDULED FOR REVIEW:

7 Days in Entebbe
Concert for George
In the Fade
The Leisure Seeker
Love, Simon
Tomb Raider

Diablo


Scott Eastwood is smoking hot.

Scott Eastwood is smoking hot.

(2015) Western (Orion/Momentum) Scott Eastwood, Walton Goggins, Camilla Belle, Samuel Marty, Danny Glover, Adam Beach, Roberto Franco, Diego Diablo Del Mar, Nesta Cooper, William Belleau, Morris Birdyellowhead, Tzi Ma, Greg Lawson, Yaniv Bercowitz, Rohan Campbell, Joaquim De Almeida, José Zuñiga. Directed by Lawrence Roeck

There isn’t anything a man won’t do when one of his loved ones are threatened. He’ll find them if he has to go to the ends of the earth to do it. He’ll take on any odds; do whatever it takes to bring them home safe and sound, even if it means doing things that may damn his soul.

Jackson (Eastwood) emerges from a burning home and barn to discover that his wife Alexsandra (Belle) has been taken by a group of desperadoes who speak Spanish. Once he rescues his horse from the barn, he takes off through the wilderness to find her. While in the mountains he meets up with Ezra (Goggins), an outlaw who takes great pleasure in killing indiscriminately. He also has an encounter with Ishani, a young Native (Marty) who fires a couple of arrows at him, but when Jackson realizes he’s just a boy spares his life.

The trail is hard and with the relentless Ezra stalking him, Jackson eventually ends up injured and cared for by Ishani’s tribe particularly his father Nakoma (Beach). However, not everyone in the tribe thinks that Jackson is necessarily the good man he seems to be and it is urged that he be given peyote and put into the sweat lodge. There, Jackson has a vision of his younger brother with whom he went to the Civil War to seven years earlier and it certainly seems that Jackson may have a few skeletons in his closet after all.

There are elements of classic Westerns in this movie, particularly in the first two thirds of it although there are elements of the Westerns of Peckinpah and Leone as well. I think the movie is going for an overall gritty feel, which isn’t a bad thing but it feels like Roeck is forcing it a little bit. There is lots of violence (some of it gruesome) and some pretty rough customers here traveling the byways of the West (mostly filmed in beautiful Alberta). Veteran cinematographer Dean Cundey outdoes himself here, giving us beautiful Rocky Mountain vistas that are absolutely dazzling, truly one of the highlights of the movie.

Goggins, who has been getting more high profile roles lately, does sterling work as the amoral Ezra. The costume helps a lot as he looks a bit like an undertaker but there is a cheerful malevolence to him that is scarier than a Snidely Whiplash type of villain. He is becoming quite a capable character actor; while the jury is out on whether he has lead role screen presence, I think it’s quite likely we’ll be seeing a lot more of him in the near future. Eastwood’s career is also picking up; he has some high profile features on the horizon, but here although his physical resemblance to his father is significant, his screen presence isn’t as developed as his old man’s.

The movie has a serious drawback and it involves the plot twist. It’s not a bad one – don’t get me wrong on that point – but they reveal it way too early and it changes the entire nature of the movie. I can kind of see why they did it that way, but frankly it doesn’t work. It’s the kind of thing that would have best been revealed during the climactic scene.

Westerns have been making something of a comeback lately; there have been some very high quality ones that have been released in the last few months, but this isn’t one of them. That’s too bad because it has some very good individual elements, but it doesn’t add up to a cohesive whole. There’s enough here to make it worth a look, particularly for those who love Westerns and those who love Clint Eastwood in particular, but even those worthies may be well-advised to play one of Clint’s classic on the home video player instead.

REASONS TO GO: Gorgeous cinematography. Goggins makes a malevolent villain.
REASONS TO STAY: The twist is revealed too early. Tries too hard to be gritty.
FAMILY VALUES: Plenty of violence, most of it in the style of the Old West, and some brief profanity.
TRIVIAL PURSUIT: Eastwood has purposely avoided Westerns to avoid comparisons to his father even though he receives by his count more than 50 scripts every month; this is the first one he has actually agreed to do.
BEYOND THE THEATER: iTunes, Amazon, Vudu, M-Go
CRITICAL MASS: As of 2/2/16: Rotten Tomatoes: 18% positive reviews. Metacritic: 35/100.
COMPARISON SHOPPING: Pale Rider
FINAL RATING: 5.5/10
NEXT: The 5th Wave

The Hateful Eight


A blizzard can be hateful.

A blizzard can be hateful.

(2015) Western (Weinstein) Kurt Russell, Samuel L. Jackson, Jennifer Jason Leigh, Tim Roth, Michael Madsen, Walton Goggins, Bruce Dern, Demián Bichir, James Parks, Dana Gourrier, Lee Horsley, Gene Jones, Quentin Tarantino (voice), Channing Tatum, Keith Jefferson, Craig Stark, Belinda Owina, Zoë Bell. Directed by Quentin Tarantino

 

Quentin Tarantino is one of the greatest filmmakers of our generation. Quentin Tarantino is a no-talent hack. Quentin Tarantino is the arbiter of style and cool. Quentin Tarantino is a racist and misogynist asshole. Whatever you believe Quentin Tarantino is, chances are it isn’t somewhere in the middle. Most people tend to have extreme view of his work.

His eighth film has gotten polarizing responses from critics and fans alike, not just for the occasionally brutal violence (which to be fair should be pretty much expected in a Tarantino film) to the gratuitous use of the “N” word and the occasionally over-the-top violence against a particular female character. I’ll be honest with you; I wasn’t particularly offended by any of it, but I’m neither African-American nor a woman so my perspective might be different if I were. However, I think your sensitivity to such things should determine whether you go out and see this film, or even read on in this review.

That said, I’m going to keep the story description to a bare minimum because much of what works about the movie is that you don’t see what’s coming all the time. Essentially, in post-Civil War Wyoming, a stagecoach carrying bounty hunter John “The Hangman” Ruth (Russell) and his bounty, accused killer Daisy Domergue (Leigh) and their driver O.B. Jackson (Parks) are trying to outrun an approaching blizzard to safety in a mountaintop stage stop known as Minnie’s Haberdashery. However, along the way they pick up two additional passengers; fellow bounty hunter and former Northern colored regiment commander Maj. Marquis Warren (Jackson) and former irregular Chris Mannix (Goggins) who claims to be the new sheriff in Red Rock, the town that Ruth is taking Daisy to hang in.

Already at the Haberdashery are Bob (Bichir), a Mexican who is taking care of the horses; Oswaldo Mobray (Roth), an English dandy who is the local hangman; Joe Gage (Madsen) a taciturn cowboy writing a journal and General Sanford “Sandy” Smithers, a Confederate general (in uniform) who doesn’t seem much disposed to talk about anything to anybody, despite Mannix’ hero-worship.

In a sense, this is a typical Tarantino set-up; a lot of bad men put in a situation where they are enclosed and sort of trapped – a lot like his early film Reservoir Dogs although very different in execution. Bad men trapped in a confining space with each other is a formula for bad things happening, and they do in rather graphic fashion.

Russell, who was magnificent in Bone Tomahawk continues to personally revitalize the Western genre all by himself with another excellent performance here. John Ruth isn’t above giving a woman an elbow in the face to shut her up; he’s known for bringing his bounties in alive to be hung which isn’t what anyone would call merciful. He’s paranoid, testy and a bit of a loudmouth.

Jackson, a veteran of six of Tarantino’s eight films (including this one) is all Samuel L. Jackson here and all that it entails. He has a particularly nasty scene involving the relative of one of those in the Haberdashery that may or may not be true (everything all of the characters say should be taken with a grain of salt) that might be the most over-the-top thing he’s ever done cinematically and that’s saying something.

Goggins has been a supporting character actor for some time, and he steps up to the plate and delivers here. I’ve always liked him as an actor but he serves notice he’s ready for meatier roles and this one might just get him some. Dern, Madsen and Roth all give performances commensurate with their skills. Channing Tatum also shows up in a small but pivotal role.

Regular Tarantino DP Robert Richardson, already a multiple Oscar winner, outdoes himself here with the snow-covered Wyoming landscapes and the dark Haberdashery. Richardson may well be the greatest cinematographer working today but he rarely gets the respect he deserves other than from his peers. A lot of film buffs don’t know his name, but they should.

The legendary Ennio Morricone supplies the score, his first for a Western in 40 years (he is best known for his work for Sergio Leone and the Italian spaghetti western genre, among others) and it is a terrific score indeed. This is in every way a well crafted motion picture in every aspect.

Not everyone is going to love this. Some folks are going to focus on the racial slurs, the violence against Daisy and the sequence with Major Warren I referred to earlier and call this movie disgraceful, mean-spirited and racist, sexist, whatever else you can imagine. I will confess to being a huge fan of QT’s movies and so I might not be as objective here as perhaps I should, but I do think that this is one of the greatest cinematic achievements of his career and that’s saying something.

For the moment, the movie is available in a 70mm format at selected theaters around the country on a special roadshow edition. This is the first movie in 50 years to be filmed in 70mm Ultra Panavision, so it is highly recommended that if you can get to a theater presenting it this way that you take advantage of it. Otherwise it is just starting to hit regular 35mm theaters starting today. The roadshow will be available only until January 7, 2016 (unless extended) so don’t wait too long to go see it that way, the way it should be seen.

REASONS TO GO: Tremendous story. Well-acted and well-executed throughout. Gorgeous cinematography and soundtrack. The characters are well-developed for the most part.
REASONS TO STAY: The violence and racism may be too much for the sensitive.
FAMILY VALUES: A lot of graphic violence, some strong sexual content, graphic nudity and plenty of foul language.
TRIVIAL PURSUIT: The movie was nearly never made when the script was leaked online during pre-production and Tarantino elected to shelve it and rewrite it as a novel; however after Jackson advocated that the film be made anyway, Tarantino eventually relented.
CRITICAL MASS: As of 1/1/16: Rotten Tomatoes: 76% positive reviews. Metacritic: 69/100.
COMPARISON SHOPPING: The Wild Bunch
FINAL RATING: 9/10
NEXT: Concussion

G.I. Joe: Retaliation


OK, Snake Eyes looks really cool, I'll give you that.

OK, Snake Eyes looks really cool, I’ll give you that.

(2013) Action (Paramount) Dwayne Johnson, Jonathan Pryce, Byung-hun Lee, Elodie Yung, Ray Stevenson, D.J. Cotrona, Adrianne Palicki, Channing Tatum, Ray Park, Luke Bracey, Walton Goggins, Arnold Vosloo, Joseph Mazzello, RZA, James Carville, Bruce Willis, Joe Chrest, Tiffany Lonsdale. Directed by Jon M. Chu

When you make a movie about an action figure, the basic problem is that action figures are made of plastic and have no real personality. Movies that stick too close to the canon can sometimes run the risk of following suit.

The Joes – America’s elite fighting force, commanded by Duke (Tatum) and his sidekick Roadblock (Johnson) have infiltrated North Korea and are now heading for sunny Pakistan to secure their nuclear arsenal after their President was assassinated. Unfortunately, the person they should have been worrying about was our President (Pryce) who has been kidnapped and replaced by Zartan (Vosloo), one of Cobra Commander’s (Bracey) top henchmen. He has framed the Joes for the deed.

Now reduced to Roadblock, Lady Jaye (Palicki) and Flint (Cotrona), the remaining Joes soon become aware that Cobra Commander – who has been broken out of maximum security prison by rent-a-ninja Storm Shadow (Lee) and the half-crazy Firefly (Stevenson) who likes to use tiny little explosive firefly robots to do his dirty work. Now the United States is the de facto territory of Cobra and he has a nifty little weapon called Zeus – with all the firepower of a nuclear weapon and none of the fallout. Sort of like the “tastes great, less filling” of modern weapons of mass destruction.

They need to figure out a way to foil the nefarious plan of world domination. They’ll need all hands on deck to do it – including the enigmatic Snake Eyes (Park), trainee Jinx (Yung) and the guy who started it all, General Joe Colton (Willis), the original G.I. Joe.

The first movie in the series, G.I. Joe: Rise of Cobra was considered a misfire. Chu and the studio wanted to take the franchise in another decision – one not so much more gritty than more realistic. The performance-enhancing suits of the first movie are gone and while there are a few gadgets here and there, for the most part this is more stunt-oriented and battle oriented using weapons that are more or less familiar. Sure there are still comic book elements to the movie but then you don’t see an action movie for realistic behavior. There’s a superhuman element to the action hero that is just a teensy bit shy of spandex and a cape.

So is this version better than what they came up with for the first movie? Yes and no. Most of the cast from the first is gone with only Snake Eyes, Duke, Storm Shadow, Zartan and the President returning to the sequel. Adding Johnson is usually a big plus but for once his larger-than-life charisma is pretty much absent which is surprising and disappointing. I don’t know if he was just going through the motions on purpose but it sure seemed to me like he was. In either case this was one of the least successful performances of his career which is bad news since he’s expected to carry the film on his broad shoulders. In his defense, he isn’t given a whole lot to work with.

Also in his defense, the rest of the cast isn’t much better with the exception of Willis, who is nicely understated as Joe and Park, who is completely mute as Snake Eyes. Most of the rest is chest-thumping posturing with a loud rock soundtrack which really was already dated in the 80s when the heyday for chest-thumping action films was.

Even in that situation a movie like this can be saved with eye-popping special effects and/or jaw-dropping stunts. While the effects and stunts are more than adequate, they aren’t quite spectacular enough to overcome the film’s deficiencies.

REASONS TO GO: The Rock is charming as always. Some great martial arts scenes.

REASONS TO STAY: No character development AT ALL. Uninspiring.

FAMILY VALUES:  There’s all sorts of violence from martial arts one on ones to battle sequences to gun fights – and a bit of sensuality and mildly bad language too.

TRIVIAL PURSUIT: The movie was originally scheduled for release on June 29, 2012 but Paramount delayed the film for a year to what they claimed initially was to add 3D effects but later the real reason turned out that they wanted to add more scenes with Tatum in the film as he had become a big star in the meantime and getting him to do reshoots required a long wait.

CRITICAL MASS: As of 4/4/13: Rotten Tomatoes: 29% positive reviews. Metacritic: 41/100; the critics have, as expected, not warmed to the movie.

COMPARISON SHOPPING: Battleship

FINAL RATING: 4/10

NEXT: Your Sister’s Sister and the beginning of the 2013 Florida Film Festival!