The Florida Project


Get ready for your close-up, Orlando.

(2017) Drama (A24) Willem Dafoe, Brooklynn Prince, Valeria Cotto, Bria Vinaite, Christopher Rivera, Caleb Landry Jones, Macon Blair, Karren Karagulian, Sandy Kane, Jim R. Coleman, Carl Bradfield, Mela Murder, Josie Olivo, Shalil Kamini Ramcharan, Kit Sullivan, Andrew Romano, Kelly Fitzgerald, Betty Jeune, Aiden Malik, Krystal Gordon, Cecilia Quinan. Directed by Sean Baker

 

It’s no secret that life isn’t easy. Making ends meet, particularly for young single mothers, is a constant struggle. Sometimes that struggle can take place in sight of the happiest places on earth, lending a particular poignancy to things.

6-year-old Moonie (Prince) and her mom Haley (Vinaite) live in the Magic Castle Motel, a budget motel on the 192 corridor near Disney World in a suburb of Orlando. The motel is managed by Bobby (Dafoe) whose rough edges sometimes mask the good heart he has underneath it all. Haley is unemployed, a former stripper who barely is able to make ends meet and the weekly rent for the hotel room is nearly always late. Mooney has a coterie of friends, most notably Jancey (Cotto) from the neighboring Tomorrowland Motel and Scooty (Rivera) whose mom Gloria (Kane) works at the nearby Waffle House, supplying Moonie and Haley with free food and also happens to be Haley’s best friend.

Moonie pretty much has free rein to do whatever she likes, be it throw water balloons at tourists, venture out to the nearby farmland for a “safari,” and hurl profane epithets at sunbathing elderly women. Sometimes, she and Scooty pick up extra cash by carrying the luggage of tourists to their rooms. The reality of her situation is probably lost on Moonie; for all she knows this is how everybody lives. Still, she has an active imagination and if she is a bit on the wild side, it can be forgiven.

That wild behavior can be explained by Haley who is herself amoral, crude and immature. Haley spends her days reselling perfume and expensive resorts (illegally) and when that scheme goes sideways, selling her body while Moonie takes a bath in the adjoining bathroom. She also robs some of her clients from time to time reselling their Magic Bands at discount ticket places.

Haley always seems to be just barely keeping their heads above water but the tide is definitely coming in and it is only a matter of time before disaster strikes. What will happen to Moonie if it does?

Those of my acquaintance who have seen the movie are sharply divided regarding their opinions of it. Nearly everyone agrees – including the critics who seem to be pretty much in unison with their praise for the film – that the first 45 minutes and the last 20 minutes are some of the best moments in filmmaking you’ll see this year. The final scene however is where that divide comes in. Some say that it comes out of left field and completely ruins the movie. Others say that it is tonally perfect and makes a great film into a potential classic.

Count me in the latter camp. That’s pretty much all I’ll say about the ending, other than that it is consistent with the tone of the movie and if you understand that this movie isn’t about Haley as much as it is about Moonie you might be able to make peace with that final scene.. I know that for a few minutes I had many of the same complaints about that ending until I thought about it for a few minutes and then realized that it fits perfectly with the movie’s theme which has a lot to do with deliberately shielding yourself from the harsh realities of life.

The performances here are simply amazing. Prince is a revelation; this is simply put one of the best juvenile performances caught on film ever. Some of the language that comes out of her mouth is salty but it feels natural considering how the adults around her speak and how the circumstances around her warrant it. Be that as it may, Moonie is full of herself, more than a little wild and absolutely fearless – until very near the end when she reveals that under all the bravado she is still a little girl and that comes through during a poignant scene as things start to fall apart. Although I suspect Prince will have her choice of little girl roles if she wants them, she might be better advised to retire now. It’s hard to imagine her ever equaling this performance.

Dafoe is a veteran who has some memorable performances of his own to his credit and this is one of the most sympathetic portrayals of his career. He often plays characters with fairly hard edges; here those edges are still there but we see a lot more of the soft interior than we normally do with Dafoe. He watches the train wreck that is Haley and Moonie with appropriately sad eyes.

The performance that not as many critics are talking about belongs to Vinaite. She is flat-out brilliant. Whenever Haley takes her daughter off motel property, you instinctively wonder what fresh nightmare is about to unfold. It is cinema of the rubberneck variety, the phenomenon of drivers craning their necks to get a better look at an accident as they drive past. One has to remember that Haley is little more than a child herself, the tattoos and drugs and men a testament to the bad choices she’s made over the years. Critically, one doesn’t see or hear referred to any immediate family for Haley; other than Moonie, she’s on her own. It’s no shock then that her values are the values of the street, of survival.

It’s early in the awards season and there are plenty of highly regarded projects that still have yet to make it into the theaters but this has to be strongly in the running for at least a Best Picture nomination and maybe more. This is definitely a must-see if it is playing in an art house near you and if not, make every effort to see it when it comes out on VOD or home video. This is certainly one of the best pictures of the year.

REASONS TO GO: The performances here are wonderful, particularly by Prince, Dafoe and Vinaite. The cinematography is colorful and magical. This is the story of people literally living on the ragged edge.
REASONS TO STAY: The ending is sharply divisive.
FAMILY VALUES: There is plenty of profanity, some sexual content, adult themes and drug material.
TRIVIAL PURSUIT: Although most of the film was shot on 35mm, the final scene was shot on an iPhone without the knowledge or consent of those in charge of the location where it takes place.
CRITICAL MASS: As of 10/24/17: Rotten Tomatoes: 97% positive reviews. Metacritic: 91//100.
COMPARISON SHOPPING: The Motel Life
FINAL RATING: 8.5/10
NEXT:
Novitiate

New Releases for the Week of October 13, 2017


THE FOREIGNER

(STX) Jackie Chan, Pierce Brosnan, Katie Leung, Rufus Jones, Charlie Murphy, Michael McElhatton, Lia Williams, Pippa Bennett-Warner, Stephen Hogan. Directed by Martin Campbell

A Chinese businessman living in London is horrified to see his daughter killed in a terrorist bomb blast. Grieving and obsessed with seeing justice for his daughter’s murder, he crosses swords with a government official with a past who may have clues as to the identity of the terrorist. What the official doesn’t realize that the businessman also has a past – one that may very well cause all sorts of mayhem before all is said and done.

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

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

Rating: R (for violence, language, and some sexual material)

American Satan

(Miramax) Denise Richards, Booboo Stewart, Malcolm McDowell, Mark Boone Junior. In a moment of weakness, a young rock band makes a deal with the devil. Fame and fortune seem to be coming their way but they soon realize the cost is way too high. Can they figure out a way to get out of their deal before it’s too late?

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

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

Rating: R (for strong sexual content, nudity, drug use throughout, pervasive language and some violence)

The Florida Project

(A24) Brooklynn Prince, Willem Dafoe, Valeria Cotto, Caleb Landry Jones. In a decrepit hotel near Walt Disney World, a precocious and fearless 6-year-old girl gets into mischief with her friends while her rebellious mother barely scrapes together enough for the two of them to get by. Over the course of one magical summer, the young girl will take magic wherever she can find it under the watchful eye of the grumpy manager with a heart of gold. A festival favorite, this one has been getting Best Picture Oscar buzz and was shot right here in Orlando.

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

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

Rating: R (for language throughout, disturbing behavior, sexual references and some drug material)

Happy Death Day

(Blumhouse/Universal) Jessica Rothe, Israel Broussard, Ruby Modine, Rachel Matthews. In the grand tradition of Groundhog Day, a high school senior relives the same day over and over again. It’s her birthday, normally a good thing – but it’s also the day she is murdered. She must find out the identity of her killer and survive until the next day – or be doomed to be killed over and over and over and over and over…

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

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

Rating: PG-13 (for violence/terror, crude sexual content, language, some drug material and partial nudity)

Marshall

(Open Road) Chadwick Boseman, Josh Gad, Kate Hudson, Sterling K. Brown. A cocky young African-American lawyer takes on a controversial case that has wider ramifications in the fight for civil rights. The lawyer will have to battle the prejudices of an entire nation in order to triumph but triumph is what Thurgood Marshall’s whole career would be about – as the first African-American to be appointed to the Supreme Court.

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

Release Formats: Standard
Genre: Biographical Drama
Now Playing: Wide Release

Rating: PG-13 (for mature thematic content, sexuality, violence and some strong language)

Professor Marston and the Wonder Women

(Annapurna) Luke Evans, Rebecca Hall, Bella Heathcote, Connie Britton. Psychologist William Marston is best known today for creating the Wonder Woman comic in 1941. Incorporating the feminist ideals of his wife and their lover, the comic was controversial from the beginning but Marston stood up for his creation, making her the most popular female superhero in the world.

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

Release Formats: Standard
Genre: Biographical Drama
Now Playing: Wide Release

Rating: R (for strong sexual content including brief graphic images, and language)

The Secret Scripture

(Vertical) Rooney Mara, Vanessa Redgrave, Eric Bana, Theo James. A woman who has been placed in a psychiatric care facility begins to receive visits from a young psychologist. His interest in her diary begins to trigger flashbacks to her youth which was filled with romance, obsession, intrigue, turmoil and ultimately the mental breakdown that got her committed.

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

Release Formats: Standard
Genre: Thriller
Now Playing: AMC West Oaks

Rating: PG-13 (for disturbing thematic content, some sexuality and lanuage)

ALSO OPENING IN ORLANDO/DAYTONA:

Blood Money
Raju Gari Gadhi 2
RWBY Volume 5: Premiere

ALSO OPENING IN MIAMI:

Brawl in Cell Block 99
Mark Felt: The Man Who Brought Down the White House
The Meyerowitz Stories (New and Selected)
Raju Gari Gadhi 2
Rumble: The Indians Who Rocked the World

ALSO OPENING IN TAMPA:

6 Below: Miracle on the Mountain
Jane
Manolo: The Boy Who Made Shoes for Lizards
Marjorie Prime
MFA
Raju Gari Gadhi 2
Udaharanam Sujatha

ALSO OPENING IN JACKSONVILLE:

Lucky
Raju Gari Gadhi 2

SCHEDULED FOR REVIEW:

Brawl in Cell Block 99
The Florida Project
The Foreigner
Happy Death Day
Lucky
Marjorie Prime
Marshall
The Meyerowitz Stories (New and Selected)
Professor Marston and the Wonder Women
Rumble: The Indians Who Rocked the World

FILM FESTIVALS TAKING PLACE IN FLORIDA:

Miami Film Festival GEMS (Miami, October 12-15)

The Great Wall


Matt Damon steels himself.

(2017) Adventure (Universal/Legendary) Matt Damon, Tian Jing, Willem Dafoe, Andy Lau, Pedro Pascal, Hanyu Zhang, Lu Han, Kenny Lin, Eddie Peng, Xuan Huang, Ryan Zheng, Karry Wang, Cheney Chen, Pilou Asbæk, Numan Acar, Johnny Cicco, Yu Xiantian, Bing Liu. Directed by Zhang Yimou

 

The battles that shape the future of humanity don’t always take place in plain sight. Sometimes they remain hidden away whether to keep people from panicking or because it suits the leadership of those involved to have those battles take place behind great walls.

William (Damon) and Tovar (Pascal) are European mercenaries who are tasked with going to China to obtain gunpowder, a technology not yet available in the West. Along the way their party is attacked by a vicious iguana-like monster that William slays. As they venture further into China they are captured and taken before a general (Zhang). Most of the commanders including Lin Mae (Jing), the general’s right hand, believe these men to be thieves come to rob China of her secrets but the general is impressed enough with William’s feat of monster slaying that he refrains from executing them but the men are imprisoned as the army of the Nameless Order are on the eve of a desperate battle – one against an overwhelming army of those same creatures that William slew only in vast numbers.

The two Westerners are befriended by Ballard (Dafoe), a former Jesuit who has been retained by the general as a translator. The odds are against the army and if the monsters who are called Tei Tao break through the Great Wall, there is nothing between them and Beijing and from there they can go onto overrun the entire planet. William, recognizing that here is finally a war worth fighting, sways Lin Mae and soon the two are planning the final stand against the horde but William observes a means where the day might yet be saved.

Yimou is one of China’s most revered directors, best known in the West for his amazing opening ceremonies at the Beijing Olympics but among film buffs he has a resume that includes some of the most visually impressive films of the last 20 years. Given an astronomical budget by Chinese standards, one of the biggest stars in Hollywood and the backing of a major studio it is not surprising that this was a movie I’ve been anticipating for the past few years. Unfortunately, despite all the elements in its favor the movie proves to be a disappointment.

The CGI creatures are unconvincing and look like CGI creatures. There’s nothing organic about them. We see entire hordes of them swarming like ants and the bird’s eye view of the swarm should be terrifying or at least intimidating but it comes off looking phony. If you’re going to fight monsters, they should at least look like they are actually alive and dangerous.

The chemistry between Damon and Pascal is nearly non-existent; the banter between the two sounds forced and unconvincing. Damon affects a bizarre accent that sounds like an Irishman who’d lived half his life in Nebraska. His Boston Irish accent in Good Will Hunting was far more authentic. I get a sense that Pascal is frustrated that his character has little or no depth to it and ends up being a generic second banana. They could have gotten a banana to play the role for all the personality the writers gave the part.

The color-coded armies that make up the Nameless Order are far more impressive and when Yimou is directing major battle sequences with soldiers bungee jumping upside down into the very mouths of the creatures the movie is far more thrilling. While he set design is largely muted, Yimou gets to go extravagant on his Forbidden City sets and he seems more comfortable with those.

This is a movie that fails to showcase Yimou’s visual sense to its fullest and inserts a badly miscast Damon in a role that seems to exist mainly to placate studio bosses unsure of making a movie made in China with a mainly Chinese cast as a tentpole; in fact, the release date was eventually moved to February after it appeared this was going to be a summer or Holiday release. That proved to be a wise move. Maybe someday a studio with a little bit more sense will let Yimou make an epic movie with a Chinese cast without having to insert a Western actor into the mix. I don’t know that American audiences are ready for that but they seemed to be all right with Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon. A great movie will find its audience.

REASONS TO GO: Yimou has one of the most cinematic eyes in the history of movies.
REASONS TO STAY: The movie overall is kind of a hot mess.
FAMILY VALUES: There is plenty of violence of a fantasy/war nature.
TRIVIAL PURSUIT: Lau and Damon played the same role in Infernal Affairs and the Martin Scorsese remake The Departed respectively.
CRITICAL MASS: As of 4/6/17: Rotten Tomatoes: 35% positive reviews. Metacritic: 42/100.
COMPARISON SHOPPING: Hero
FINAL RATING: 5/10
NEXT: Mine

New Releases for the Week of February 17, 2017


The Great WallTHE GREAT WALL

(Universal/Legendary) Matt Damon, Tian Jing, Willem Dafoe, Andy Lau, Pedro Pascal, Hamyu Zhang, Lu Han, Kenny Lin, Eddie Peng. Directed by Zhang Yimou

A European mercenary travels to China as an emissary. There, he discovers an incredible battle taking place on the Great Wall of China with an elite fighting force defending all of humanity against an implacable, impossible foe. Realizing that here at last was a war he could believe in, the European warrior is eager to take part in this last stand but must overcome the suspicion of the Chinese as well as the creatures they fight. The English language debut of one of China’s most honored directors is bound to be a visual feast as most of his films are.

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

Release Formats: Standard, 3D, IMAX 3D
Genre: Fantasy/Action
Now Playing: Wide Release

Rating: PG-13 (for scenes of fantasy action violence)

A Cure for Wellness

(20th Century Fox) Dane DeHaan, Jason Isaacs, Mia Goth, Celia Imrie. From visionary director Gore Verbinski comes this chilling tale of a multinational corporation’s CEO who goes to a mysterious clinic in the Swiss Alps for treatment of a strange disease. As his communications become more erratic and puzzling, an ambitious young executive is sent to the clinic to fetch the CEO and bring him home. Instead, the young man discovers a chilling secret that all may not be as it seems at the clinic and that in some cases, the cure is very much worse than the disease.

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

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

Rating: R (for disturbing violent content and images, sexual content including an assault, graphic nudity and language)

Everybody Loves Somebody

(Pantelion) Karla Souza, Ben O’Toole, Stefanie Estes, José Maria Yazpik. Clara is a successful OB-GYN in Los Angeles who seems to have everything going for her but her love life has been a mess for years. Getting ready to attend a family wedding in Mexico, her family puts a ton of pressure on her to bring a boyfriend. A little desperate, she pleads with a colleague to pose as her boyfriend – only to find herself developing feelings for him as the festivities begin. Complicating matters is that her ex-boyfriend – the one who left her suddenly and made her gunshy about love to begin with – returns just as suddenly, igniting old buried feelings.

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

Release Formats: Standard
Genre: Romantic Comedy
Now Playing: AMC Disney Springs, Regal The Loop

Rating: PG-13 (for some sexual content and language)

Fist Fight

(New Line) Charlie Day, Ice Cube, Tracy Morgan, Jillian Bell. A mild-mannered teacher, beset by senior pranks, an administration that can best be described as dysfunctional and terrified by impending job losses due to budget cuts is having a really bad day. It’s about to get worse when he accidentally crosses the only teacher in school feared by the students who challenges the milquetoast to a fist fight after school. Word travels like a computer virus and soon the event is taking a life of it’s own – which might be just what everybody concerned needs.

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

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

Rating: R (for language throughout, sexual content/nudity and drug material)

The Red Turtle

(Sony Classics) Michael Dudok de Wit. The survivor of a shipwreck washes ashore on an island populated only by crabs, birds and turtles. Surviving by himself, he is befriended by an enormous red turtle who may or may not be real – and begins to see his family (who may or may not be real) on the island, driving him further into madness. This acclaimed animated film is the first non-Japanese film to be made by Studio Ghibli ever

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

Release Formats: Standard
Genre: Animated Feature
Now Playing: Regal Winter Park Village

Rating: PG (for some thematic elements and peril)

New Releases for the Week of November 11, 2016


MoonlightMOONLIGHT

(A24) Mahershala Ali, Naomie Harris, André Holland, Trevante Rhodes, Jharrel Jerome, Edson Jean, Janelle Monáe, Ashton Sanders, Jaden PinerDirected by Barry Jenkins

This highly acclaimed film focuses on a young African-American man at three different points in his life, his experiences with love and connection and how he handles his oncoming sexuality. The movie won a huge buzz at this year’s Toronto Film Festival and has been getting some legitimate Oscar buzz.

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 some sexuality, drug use, brief violence and language throughout)

Almost Christmas

(Universal) Danny Glover, Gabrielle Union, Omar Epps, Mo’nique. The patriarch of an extended family is about to gather his family together for their first holiday season without their mother. His family is on the dysfunctional side and all he wants for Christmas is for them all to just get along for once. However if this family can pull itself together without tearing itself apart it would be a kind of Christmas miracle.

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

Release Formats: Standard
Genre: Holiday Comedy
Now Playing: Wide Release

Rating: PG-13 (for suggestive material, drug content and language)

Arrival

(Paramount) Amy Adams, Jeremy Renner, Forest Whitaker, Michael Stuhlbarg. When ginormous spacecraft land on sites throughout the globe, a team of world-class scientists – including an expert linguist – are assembled to make contact with the aliens inside the craft. However, with the world teetering on the brink of global war, the linguist will take a chance to find the answers that might just keep humanity from destroying itself.

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

Release Formats: Standard
Genre: Science Fiction
Now Playing: Wide Release

Rating: PG-13 (for brief strong language)

Come and Find Me

(Saban/Lionsgate) Aaron Paul, Annabelle Wallis, Garret Dillahunt, Zachary Knighton. An idyllic romance comes to a baffling halt when David’s girlfriend disappears without a trace. Frantic, he goes out searching for her, finding her trail to be increasingly perilous. Realizing that he didn’t know his girlfriend at all, he reaches a point where if he’s going to see her alive again, he’s going to have to take an enormous risk…but is she worth it?

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

Release Formats: Standard
Genre: Thriller
Now Playing: AMC West Oaks

Rating: R (for language and some violence)

Dog Eat Dog

(RLJ Entertainment) Nicolas Cage, Willem Dafoe, Christopher Matthew Cook, Louisa Krause. Based on the book by Eddie Bunker and directed by Paul Schrader, this movie follows a trio of ex-cons trying to eke out an existence in the underbelly of Los Angeles. They are hired by a Cleveland mobster to kidnap the baby of a rival. When they botch the kidnapping, they find themselves on the run from both the mobsters and the cops, vowing at every turn that they aren’t going back to jail.

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

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

Rating: NR

Don’t Look Down

(Gravitas) Richard Branson, Eve Branson, Per Lindstrand, Mike Kendrick. Richard Branson is best-known as a billionaire who founded Virgin Records and later, Virgin Airlines. He is also a long-time hot air balloon enthusiast who has made his life goal to break world records on that front. This documentary follows his attempts to do just that.

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

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

Rating: NR

Shut In

(EuropaCorp/Relativity) Naomi Watts, Oliver Platt, Charlie Heaton, Jacob Tremblay. A widowed child psychologist cares for her comatose son and a troubled young boy. When the patient turns up missing, the psychologist blames herself for his disappearance but soon begins to believe that his ghost is haunting her and her son. When a vicious storm traps her in her house, she must find a way to defend herself and her defenseless son from something she can’t explain.

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

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

Rating: PG-13 (for terror and some violence/bloody images, nudity, thematic elements and brief strong language)

Daybreakers


Ethan Hawke tends bar.

Ethan Hawke tends bar.

(2009) Horror (Lionsgate) Ethan Hawke, Willem Dafoe, Sam Neill, Vince Colosimo, Michael Dorman, Isabel Lucas, Claudia Karvan, Paul Sonkkila, Mungo McKay, Emma Randall, Charlotte Wilson, Christopher Kirby, John Gibson, Carl Rush, Tiffany Lamb, Robyn Moore, Michelle Atkinson, Glen Martin, Damien Garvey, Jay Laga’aia, Chris Brown, Kirsten Cameron, Candice Storey. Directed by Michael and Peter Speirig

Don’t we all just love those movie trailers that begin with the immortal words “In a world…”? This should have had a trailer like that (and maybe it did) but it might begin “In a world where 95% of the population are vampires.” Now wouldn’t that grab your attention?

Edward Dalton (Hawke) is a hematologist. No big deal to thee and me but in a world (there’s that phrase again) full of vampires it’s an important position, particularly in a world (and yet again) where humans are dying off, meaning the planet’s food supply is hitting critical mass, it’s an important job. Dalton has been tasked by the vampire equivalent of Big Pharma, a company called Bromley Marks, to develop a human blood substitute that vampires can subsist on. Easier said than done since vampires by their nature have rather delicate constitution; a test sample literally causes the subject’s head to explode. Yikes!

This does not make chairman Charles Bromley (Neill) a happy man needless to say and Edward’s day only gets worse on the drive home when he gets into a car accident. Worse still, the car is full of renegade humans. Edward, more of a reluctant vampire who has an aversion to human blood, protects them when the police arrive.

More bad news when he gets home. Edward’s brother Frankie (Dorman) pays him a surprise visit. The brothers have been estranged for some time; Frankie works as a soldier in the human-hunting vampire army and the two have shall we say severe philosophical differences. The two are attacked by a subsider, a bestial vampire who haven’t fed for some time who have lost their memories and identity and exist solely as a slave to their hunger for blood, doesn’t matter whose. The entire vampire race is in danger of becoming these subsiders if a new blood source isn’t found soon. In fact, Bromley candidly admits that Bromley Marks only has about a month’s supply left.

Audrey (Karvan), the leader of the humans that Edward had encountered the previous night, sends him a note to meet her in a desolate spot. There she introduces him to Elvis (Dafoe), a former vampire who has returned to human form again. Edward is excited at the prospect of regaining his humanity and once more venturing out into the sunlight, something vampires are unable to do. He agrees to help Elvis discover how to safely administer the cure.

In the meantime desperation has led to chaos in the vampire community and Edward becomes cognizant of the fact that those who stand to benefit from a blood shortage are the ones who would also benefit from a cure never reaching the vampire community. Games of politics and power are afoot and both the human and vampire species hang in the balance. Can Edward and his human allies get the cure out to the vampires before both species go extinct?

The brothers Speirig got this gig on the strength of Undead, their clever and innovative 2003 zombie movie. This isn’t quite up to those standards, although I will admit their vision of a vampire society ruling the globe is intelligently thought out. The vampire society is believable as an extension of our own, with similar values albeit a more cavalier attitude towards morality. Although not by much.

For those of us who love B-movies, there is plenty here to love – nasty creatures, plenty of gore and violence, a bit of sexiness and some over-the-top visuals. Everything to pander to the baser instinct of the moviegoer which is not in and of itself a bad thing. Sometimes we need the schlock entertainment of a good grindhouse movie. Quentin Tarantino recognizes that and more and more filmmakers have come to understand just how informed our society is by these movies.

The sense of humor here is quirky and a bit on the sick side, so if you like your jokes punctuated by exploding body parts, this will no doubt appeal to you. Most of the action sequences with a couple of exceptions are well-staged and exciting, although not what you would call game-changing. Nothing new here, but what is here is well-executed.

I wish I could say the same about the cinematography and visual effects. Due to their aversion to UV light, the vampires live their lives essentially indoors and in bunker-like conditions. This makes for murky atmospherics made worse when there seems to be a constant out-of-focus element to the photography. Now perhaps I got a poorly processed disc for home viewing but everything looked like it was filmed with bad fluorescent lighting, making everything look dreary. The CGI are likewise slapdash and could have used a bit of refinement.

Other than that this is solidly entertaining and Hawke, while not one of his better roles, at least makes a game effort for a genre he has admitted he’s not terribly fond of. Dafoe is, well, Dafoe and that should tell you all you need to know about his performance. Most of the rest of the cast are fairly unknown here in the States (this is an Australian production; the German-born brothers Speirig have lived there since boyhood) but are pretty competent. While this is more of an action film, I did miss the sensuality that most vampire films tend to have; it could have used a little more of it.

Still in an era where vampire movies have essentially lost their luster due to the Twilight/Vampire Chronicles generation, this is one of those rarities – a vampire movie that actually appeals to more than the preteen female audience. It is appealing in an ironic sort of way that the vampire protagonist here shares a first name with the romantic focus of Twilight. I for one am happy to champion these sorts of films if it means that we can get the nastier monsters of old that we used to love to fear.

WHY RENT THIS: B-Movie goodness. A sick sense of humor while not for everybody, was good for some intentional laughs.
WHY RENT SOMETHING ELSE: Dark and murky cinematography. Cringe-worthy CGI.
FAMILY VALUES: Some fairly strong bloody violence, brief nudity and a fair amount of cursing.
TRIVIAL PURSUIT: After being filmed in 2007, the movie sat on the studio shelf for more than a year before being released overseas. It’s American release was on January 8, 2010 – nearly three years after filming had been completed.
NOTABLE DVD EXTRAS: There’s a short film the Speirig brothers directed from 2000 that gives a good sense of their visual style, as well as a gallery showing the various lobby posters and marketing for the film.
BOX OFFICE PERFORMANCE: $51.4M on a $20M production budget.
SITES TO SEE: Netflix (DVD rental only), Amazon (rent/buy), Vudu (rent/buy),  iTunes (rent/buy), Flixster (rent/buy), Target Ticket (rent/buy)
COMPARISON SHOPPING: Stake Land
FINAL RATING: 6/10
NEXT: Case 39

John Wick


Sometimes, Keanu Reeves wonders if he shouldn't have taken the other pill.

Sometimes, Keanu Reeves wonders if he shouldn’t have taken the other pill.

(2014) Action (Lionsgate) Keanu Reeves, Michael Nyqvist, Alfie Allen, Willem Dafoe, Dean Winters, Adrianne Palicki, Omer Barnea, Toby Leonard Moore, Daniel Bernhardt, Bridget Moynahan, John Leguizamo, Ian McShane, Bridget Regan, Lance Reddick, Keith Jardine, Tait Fletcher, Kazy Tauginas, Alexander Frekey, Thomas Sadoski, Randall Duk Kim, Kevin Nash, Clarke Peters, Gameela Wright. Directed by Chad Stahelski

If action movies teach us anything, it’s that you don’t mess with a man’s family. You DEFINITELY don’t mess with his car. But if you steal his car and kill his dog? Not a good idea, even if you’re the son of a Russian mobster.

But that’s just what Iosef Tarasov (Allen) does. But it’s not the act itself that pisses off his father Viggo (Nyqvist). It’s who he did it to. Check out this conversation the Russian mobster had with Aurelio (Leguizamo), the owner of a chop shop;
VIGGO: I understand that you struck my son.
AURELIO: He stole John Wick’s car and killed his dog.
*pause*
VIGGO: Oh.
*click*

There are some things you just do not do. You don’t walk on Superman’s cape. You don’t spit into the wind. And you do not steal the car and kill the dog of John Wick (Reeves), particularly when the dog was the last gift from his recently deceased wife (Moynahan). Who is John Wick may you ask? He’s a retired contract killer. He’s the sort who can walk into a room and kill three guys with a pencil. That’s right, a pencil. If you want someone who is untouchable dead and in the ground, you’d call John Wick. There wasn’t anyone he couldn’t kill. Even other contract killers were terrified of him; that’s why they call him The Boogey Man. And not the one that KC and the Sunshine Band sang about either.

Viggo knows that John Wick won’t stop at his son; he’ll go after his entire organization, everyone who ever knew his son and a lot of people who didn’t. John Wick is like the ice age; where he comes through nobody lives. The only people who like John Wick are funeral directors. You get the general idea.

And that’s all you need to know about the plot. Mainly the movie goes from one action sequence to another. Director Chad Stahelski comes from a stuntman background (he was in fact Reeves’ stunt double in The Matrix) and his experience shows. The fight sequences are mind-blowing, perfectly choreographed and exciting as hell. They are most definitely the highlight of the film, kinetic whirling dervishes of leaping assassins and flying bullets.

Reeves, never the most charismatic of actors under the best of circumstances, has a role that really plays to his strengths here. John Wick rarely shows any emotion, although he has one speech to Viggo late in the movie where all his rage seethes out of him like a terrible demonic presence and Reeves actually does an outstanding job with it. He is also a fairly graceful action hero, and is said to have performed about 90% of the stunts himself.

The supporting cast is very able, with Palicki showing her fangs as a gleeful assassin, Nyqvist showing his villain chops and Dafoe has a role as a kind of Zen Yoda-like assassin/mentor for John Wick. McShane, Leguizamo and Reddick are reliable and Alfie Allen, Theon Greyjoy on Game of Thrones, may be setting himself up for a career portraying men the audience would like to see die painfully.

If you go looking for something that breaks the action film mold, well, you’ll be hard-pressed to find any of that here – or anywhere else given the state of action movies in 2014. There isn’t much of a plot (the revenge thing has been done to death) but the action is so outstanding that you don’t much care. There is a place in this world for mindless entertainment and as that kind of movie goes John Wick is better than most.

REASONS TO GO: Amazing action sequences. Right in Reeves’ wheelhouse.
REASONS TO STAY: Kind of a series of action sequences in search of a plot.
FAMILY VALUES: A ton of violence, some of it bloody. Loads of foul language. Some drug use as well. Dog cruelty may be upsetting to some.
TRIVIAL PURSUIT: This is the fifth time Reeves has played a character named John in the movies.
CRITICAL MASS: As of 11/12/14: Rotten Tomatoes: 84% positive reviews. Metacritic: 67/100.
COMPARISON SHOPPING: The Mechanic (2011)
FINAL RATING: 6.5/10
NEXT: Small Town Murder Songs

New Releases for the Week of October 24, 2014


John WickJOHN WICK

(Lionsgate) Keanu Reeves, Michael Nyqvist, Alfie Allen, Willem Dafoe, Ian McShane, Adrianne Palicki, John Leguizamo, Bridget Moynahan. Directed by David Leitch and Chad Stahelski

Sometimes movies come out of nowhere to just blow audiences away. John Wick is one of those. Although the story of an ex-hitman being forced out of retirement after having everything he loves taken away from him isn’t anything novel, the action sequences here have generated some of the most buzz of any films this year. Everyone who’s seen it has raved; I tend to listen to recommendations like that.

See the trailer, clips, interviews and B-roll video here.

For more on the movie this is the website.

Release formats: Standard, IMAX (opens Thursday)

Genre: Action

Rating: R (for strong and blood violence throughout, language and brief drug use)

16 Stones

(Candlelight) Shona Kay, Brad Johnson, Mason D. Davis, Allan Groves. After witnessing the persecution of Mormons in 19th century Missouri, a young man is moved to prove the truth of the Book of Mormon by finding one of the stones touched by the finger of God part of the books of Mormon. Yes, it’s a faith based fiction, Mormon-style.

See the trailer here.

For more on the movie this is the website.

Release formats: Standard

Genre: Faith-Based Adventure

Rating: PG (for some violence and thematic elements)

23 Blast

(Ocean Avenue) Mark Hapka, Stephen Lang, Alexa PenaVega, Dylan Baker. The true story of Travis Freeman, a Kentucky teenager who was blinded by an optic nerve infection. Refusing to give up, he continues to play football for his high school team and serves as an inspiration to his teammates and his town.

See the trailer here.

For more on the movie this is the website.

Release formats: Standard

Genre: True Sports Drama

Rating: PG (for mild action, rude humor, some thematic elements and brief scary images)

Dear White People

(Roadside Attractions) Tyler James Williams, Tessa Thompson, Kyle Gallner, Dennis Haysbert. At an Ivy League school, an African-American themed party which has been popular through the years throws the campus into a turmoil when some of the African-American students object. The students and faculty are forced to confront their own attitudes in regards to race as battle lines are drawn – and crossed.

See the trailer and clips here.

For more on the movie this is the website.

Release formats: Standard

Genre: Comedy

Rating: R (for language, sexual content and drug use)

Exists

(Lionsgate) Dora Madison Burge, Samuel Davis, Roger Edwards, Chris Osborn. After an accident in Texas’ Big Thicket woods, five campers discover they’ve awoken something evil and not quite human. Surviving the night is going to be a lot more difficult than it sounds. From the twisted mind of The Blair Witch Project director Eduardo Sanchez.

See the trailer and a clip here.

For more on the movie this is the website.

Release formats: Standard

Genre: Horror

Rating: R  (for language throughout, some violence, sexual content and drug use)

Happy New Year

(Yash Raj) Shah Rukh Khan, Deepika Padukone, Abhishek Bachchan, Boman Irani. An international dance competition has teams from around the world competing for national pride and glory. Not Team India though. They have something different on their mind – and something far more dangerous.

See the trailer here.

For more on the movie this is the website.

Release formats: Standard (opens Thursday)

Genre: Bollywood

Rating: NR

Ouija

(Universal) Olivia Cooke, Ana Coto, Darren Kagasoff, Lin Shaye. When her sister dies in a disturbing accident, a young woman yearns to contact her on the other side one last time. Finding a Ouija board, she and her friends try to make that connection. What they connect with is the malevolent force that her dead sister had awakened – and now wants to claim them all.

See the trailer, clips, interviews and B-roll video here.

For more on the movie this is the website.

Release formats: Standard (opens Thursday)

Genre: Supernatural Horror

Rating: PG (for some thematic elements)

St. Vincent

(Weinstein) Bill Murray, Melissa McCarthy, Chris O’Dowd, Naomi Watts. A single mom forced to work long hours to make ends meet is left with no choice but to have her next door neighbor watch her son. An unlikable smoker, drinker and gambler, he drags the boy off on the stops that make his day – the race track, the strip club and a local dive bar. Soon though the boy and the man find themselves making a difference in each other’s lives.

See the trailer, clips, interviews, featurettes, a promo, premiere footage and B-roll video here.

For more on the movie this is the website.

Release formats: Standard

Genre: Comedy

Rating: PG-13 (for mature thematic material including sexual content, alcohol and tobacco use, and for language)

The Trial

(Star Cinema) John Lloyd Cruz, Jessy Mendiola, Gretchen Barretto, Richard Gomez.. The Philippines is rocked by the allegations that a mentally challenged young man assaulted and raped his teacher. Now his friends and a crusading lawyer join forces to prove to the court – and the world – that he didn’t do it.

See the trailer here.

For more on the movie this is the website.

Release formats: Standard

Genre: Crime Drama

Rating: NR

A Most Wanted Man


R.I.P. Philip Seymour Hoffman.

R.I.P. Philip Seymour Hoffman.

(2014) Spy Thriller (Roadside Attractions) Philip Seymour Hoffman, Rachel McAdams, Willem Dafoe, Robin Wright, Daniel Bruhl, Grigoriy Dobrygin, Homayoun Ershadi, Mehdi Dehbi, Nina Hoss, Neil Malik Abdullah, Vicky Krieps, Kostja Ullmann, Franz Hartwig, Martin Wuttke, Rainer Bock, Derya Alabora, Tamer Yigit, Herbert Gronemeyer, Ursina Lardi Directed by Anton Corbijn

 

It is a tricky world out there, complicated and dangerous. These days, being a spy is a lot more than playing baccarat and sipping a superbly made martini and spies aren’t urbane, elegant men in formal wear. They’re more often than not rumpled, middle aged bureaucrat sorts who wouldn’t make an impression on anyone at first glance.

 

Gunther Bachmann (Hoffman) is such a spy. He chain smokes, drinks too much and has a pot belly not well-disguised by his ill-fitting suit. He looks like middle management for some automobile manufacturer – in fact, he is middle management but in a far different vocation. He is part of an anti-terrorist group, a small but dedicated group who monitor potential terrorist activities in Hamburg, a port city in Germany from which Mohammed Atta once organized the events of 9-11.

 

Since then, German intelligence has kept a close eye on what’s going on in the city as have their counterparts in the CIA. While Gunther’s group operates in a quasi-legal state, able to break German law with a certain amount of impunity, Dieter Mohr (Bock), the local station chief, is more of a by-the-book sort who has a bureaucrat’s soul and  the keen political sense of a born game player. Naturally he and Gunther clash repeatedly, Dieter disdaining the cowboy tactics of Gunther and Gunther less than forgiving of Dieter’s lack of field experience and political gamesmanship.

 

Into this highly volatile environment comes Issa Karpov (Dobrygin), a half-Russian half-Chechen man who has escaped Russian prison and entered Germany illegally. The Russians have branded him a terrorist, but Gunther sees him as a means to an end. He could be just what the Russians say he is, or the innocent victim of overzealous Russian hatred for Chechens in general. Gunther really doesn’t care which. He sees him as an opportunity to get to bigger fish in the pond, particularly Dr. Abdullah (Ershadi), a spokesman for Arabic charities who may actually be raising money for terrorist organizations while decrying terrorist activities publicly.

 

Karpov contacts Annabel Richter (McAdams), a lawyer who specializes in immigration issues. He needs to get in touch with banker Tommy Brue (Dafoe) for reasons that are his own. Gunther, a manipulative and sometimes cruel man, knows that he needs to make Annabel and Tommy his operatives and he will stop at nothing to do it, be it blackmail, kidnapping and intimidation, or even death threats. Whatever it takes.

But there are games within games, with a U.S. Embassy official (Wright) who may or may not be a CIA operative and who may or may not be Gunther’s ally. Gunther and his team are walking a fine line and with Mohr breathing down his neck he may not make it out of this one unscathed.

 

This is based on a recent John Le Carre novel (the acclaimed author is also a producer on the project) and like most Le Carre works, this is more of a gritty look at the world of espionage rather than the gloss and glamour of the James Bond series. Anton Corbijn, whose last film was The American which is similarly themed, is the perfect choice to sit in the director’s chair. Like the work of Le Carre, that film is complex and tense with characters whose motivations are maddeningly unclear. In other words, probably a more realistic look at the intelligence business.

This is the last leading role that Hoffman would complete before his untimely passing earlier this year and thankfully, it’s a good one. Gunther is world-weary, tired of the constant betrayal and backstabbing which on occasion has cost him the lives of his colleagues. The only people he truly trusts are on his team and one suspects, he isn’t 100% certain about them either. He is a master manipulator but he can also have his own buttons pushed. Near the end, you hear Hoffman wheezing as he breathes – whether that was an indication of the actor’s ill health or if he was capturing the out of shape frustration and passion of Gunther as things come to a head we’ll probably ever know.

McAdams is a good actress in her own right, but she is hidden behind a German accent whose authenticity varies. Dafoe and Bruhl are also fine actors but neither has a whole lot to do. Wright makes a fine foil for Hoffman, cool and terribly overbearing who clearly has little respect for Gunther and European intelligence in general.

 

In fact, this has a much more European outlook on modern espionage and intelligence. Le Carre generally had a fairly cynical outlook towards the benevolence of the CIA and often made them either incompetent or villainous in his books. There is often a moral complexity to his work which requires a lot more patience than American audiences tend to be comfortable with.

And therein lies the rub. American audiences are not tailor made for the kind of pacing and complexity that comes with the best of Le Carre’s work. There is no easy way to put it – we Americans tend to have a very finite attention span and we require stimulation nearly non-stop. That’s what years of video games will do to you.

Cinematographer Benoit Delhomme does a great job of making Hamburg a character in the movie. She’s dingy, gritty and a little bit disreputable here – we see the seedy underbelly of a town that already has a rough reputation to begin with. We get that palpable sense of danger and dissatisfaction.

I found this movie to work on a lot of levels, particularly in regards to Hoffman’s performance which has an outside shot of netting him a posthumous Oscar. Roadside Attractions, the art house arm of Lionsgate, has a few Oscar nominations to its credit so it isn’t out of the realm of possibility. I found the middle of the movie to be a bit tough sledding, but nevertheless this is a fitting send off to one of the best actors of his generation who left us too soon.

REASONS TO GO: Stand-out performance  by Hoffman. Nice tension. Hamburg used as a character in the film.

REASONS TO STAY: Le Carre likes a lot of twists and turns which some moviegoers may not appreciate. Stately pacing.

FAMILY VALUES:  A good deal of harsh language.

TRIVIAL PURSUIT: This would be the last completed film of Philip Seymour Hoffman (he also appears in The Hunger Games: Mockingjay parts one and two but his filming hadn’t been completed when he passed away).

CRITICAL MASS: As of 8/5/14: Rotten Tomatoes: 90% positive reviews. Metacritic: 74/100.

COMPARISON SHOPPING: Tinker, Tailor, Soldier, Spy

FINAL RATING: 6/10

NEXT: Boyhood

New Releases for the Week of July 25, 2014


HerculesHERCULES

(MGM/Paramount) Dwayne Johnson, Ian McShane, John Hurt, Rufus Sewell, Ingrid Bolso Berdal, Joseph Fiennes, Peter Mullan, Rebecca Ferguson. Directed by Brett Ratner

Hercules the legend is also Hercules the man and the man and the legend don’t always coexist well. Haunted by the sins of his past, Hercules the man has turned his back on Hercules the legend and become a mercenary, using his reputation to intimidate those who oppose those who hire him. When the good King of Thrace and his daughter beg for help against an implacable warlord, Hercules finds that in order for justice to triumph he must once more shoulder the mantle of hero and let him embrace his legend – and perhaps at last put to bed the ghosts that haunt him. Assuming he survives, of course. Based on the revisionist take on the Hercules myth Radical Studios graphic novel.

See the trailer, clips, interviews and B-roll video here.

For more on the movie this is the website.

Release formats: Standard, 3D, IMAX 3D (opens Thursday)

Genre: Swords and Sandals

Rating: PG-13 (for epic battle sequences, violence, suggestive comments, brief strong language and partial nudity)

A Most Wanted Man

(Roadside Attractions) Philip Seymour Hoffman, Robin Wright, Willem Dafoe, Rachel McAdams. The arrival of a half-dead Chechen man on the run from mysterious forces brings the attention of the German secret service. They enlist an idealistic lawyer and a banker to discover what’s going on, with a top-ranked spy willing to go to any lengths to discover the truth, even if it means innocent lives. Based on a novel by master spy novelist John Le Carré.

See the trailer and clips here.

For more on the movie this is the website.

Release formats: Standard

Genre: Spy Thriller

Rating: R (for language)

And So It Goes

(Clarius) Michael Douglas, Diane Keaton, Frankie Valli, Frances Sternhagen. Oren Little has everything all mapped out. He’s going to sell one last house, retire from real estate and live a quiet life undisturbed by people. When his son drops off a nine-year-old granddaughter he never knew he had, his plans are thrown into chaos. Completely unprepared and ill-qualified to be a caregiver to a child, he at first foists the girl off on his extremely tolerant and patient neighbor but gradually he learns that being an obnoxious, curmudgeonly loner isn’t all it’s cracked up to be.

See the trailer, clips, interviews and B-roll video here.

For more on the movie this is the website.

Release formats: Standard

Genre: Romance

Rating: PG-13 (for some sexual references and drug elements)

The Fluffy Movie

(Open Road) Gabriel Iglesias, Jacqueline Obradors, Ron White, Tommy Chong. Iglesias went from a contestant on Last Comic Standing to being kicked out of that competition for violating the competition’s rules for calling home and going on to become a cultural phenomenon. The performance footage here is taken from his Unity Through Laughter tour which spanned 23 countries and sold out nearly everywhere.

 

See the trailer, clips and B-roll video here.

For more on the movie this is the website.

Release formats: Standard

Genre: Stand-Up Comedy Concert

Rating: PG-13 (for suggestive material and sexual references)

Kick

(UTV) Salman Khan, Jacqueline Fernandez, Nawazuddin Siddiqui, Randeep Hooda. When a young woman finally figures out that her fiancée who lives for thrills is just not responsible enough for marriage, she calls things off. She tells the story of her previous engagement to a new prospective suitor who happens to be a police inspector. He also happens to be chasing her ex who has become a notorious thief who is giving all his ill-gotten gains away to charities for children. Seems like kind of an extreme way to win your lover back.

See the trailer here.

For more on the movie this is the website.

Release formats: Standard

Genre: Bollywood Action

Rating: NR

Lucy

(Universal) Scarlett Johansson, Morgan Freeman, Min-sik Choi, Analeigh Tipton. A young woman is caught up in forces beyond her control as ruthless drug smugglers put a bag of a revolutionary new drug in her tummy in order to smuggle it to the United States. The bag starts to leak and the drug enhances her brain to allow her to use 100% of it. She begins to change into something more than human, which not only makes her a danger to the drug smugglers but potentially to the whole human race as well.

See the trailer, interviews, featurettes, clips and B-roll video here.

For more on the movie this is the website.

Release formats: Standard (opens Thursday)

Genre: Sci-Fi Thriller

Rating: R (for strong violence, disturbing images, and sexuality)

She’s Dating the Gangster

(Star Cinema) Kathryn Bernardo, Daniel Padilla, Sofia Andres, Khalil Ramos. A Filipino teen and a rebellious friend start up a false romance in order to spite his ex-girlfriend. However, their feelings begin to get deeper and the relationship shows signs of growing into something greater, but the boy may be a part of a vicious Manila gang.

See the trailer here.

For more on the movie this is the website.

Release formats: Standard

Genre: Romantic Comedy

Rating: NR

Willow Creek

(IFC) Alexie Gilmore, Bryce Johnson, Peter Jason, Tom Yamarone. A Bigfoot enthusiast drags his long-suffering girlfriend to the place where the iconic Patterson-Gimlin film was shot years before to try and catch footage of his own. He gets a lot more than he bargained for and the couple discover the meaning to their horror of the term “forest bride.” A send-up of found footage horror films by comedian and director Bobcat Goldthwaite.

See the trailer here.

For more on the movie this is the website.

Release formats: Standard

Genre: Horror Comedy

Rating: NR