The Big Take


With Zoe Bell, axe and you will receive.

(2018) Crime Comedy (Archstone) Ebon Moss-Bachrach, James McCaffrey, Dan Hedaya, Oksana Lada, Bill Sage, Zoe Bell, Robert Forster, Slate Holmgren, Tara Westwood, John Enos III, Joslyn Jensen, Taylor Gildersleeve, Nick Daly, Matthew Kehoe, Sean David Morton, M.J. Rodriguez, Sandra Docherty, Sid O’Connell, Donna Mitchell. Directed by Justin Daly

 

It goes without saying that movies that go direct to video are generally of a lesser quality than those that do not. However there are exceptions and The Big Take, a crime comedy that is the first feature for writer-director Justin Daly, is one of those.

Faded movie star Douglas Brown (McCaffrey) is plotting his comeback, although a bitter divorce has led him to put all his assets into a bank in Panama to keep them from his vindictive ex. At an exclusive club in West Hollywood, he is accosted by barback Vic Venitos (Holmgren) who pushes a friend’s script called The Night of the Fire on the aging actor but Brown dismisses him in a manner that gives the impression that the movie star is quite the jerk.

Vic doctors one of Brown’s drinks and the actor is forced to make an exit but not before collapsing in a stairwell where an aggressive transgender (Rodriguez) apparently rapes him in a moment of transphobia that may cause those sensitive to such things to squirm (NB: although the incident is never shown, it is intimated that something sexual is happening and while it’s possible that the transgender in question was doing something else awful to Brown most audience members are going to think “rape”). Venitos then arranges to blackmail Brown into financing his film, but in typical neophyte fashion messes it up and writes the blackmail note on the back of the script which includes the writer’s name – Max O’Leary (Moss-Bachrach) – and address.

Brown’s hard-nosed agent Jack Girardi (Sage) puts ex-cop fixer Frank Manascalpo (Hedaya) on the case to retrieve the hard drive that Venitos stole from the club with the original security camera footage of Brown’s moment but the screenwriter’s Ukrainian wife Oksana (Lada) turns out to be pretty competent in hand-to-hand combat and gets the better of Manascalpo who then resorts to hiring nuclear deterrent Edie (Bell), who has a violent temper and a burning desire to be an astronaut and that’s when things get rapidly out of control.

I generally don’t have very high expectations for direct-to-video projects but the cast list should give you a clue as to the higher quality than normal of this one. I’m always happy to see Bell onscreen; not only is she a great action star, she also brings a certain sparkle to every role she inhabits. Forster is one of my favorite character actors as well and his world-weary cop here is a specialty of his. Hedaya is unfortunately far less visible than he was say 20 years ago but he still has the greasy screen presence he’s always had. Moss-Bachrach is essentially the star here; Max is blissfully ignorant of his producer’s machinations and doesn’t understand why his star is sending thugs to his house. Moss-Bachrach (who is credited here without the hyphen) has a bit of a nebbish quality to him but is likable enough to pull it off.

There is a bit of a noir-ish tone here but with a sly wink towards Robert Altman’s The Player and Elmore Leonard. In fact, I wouldn’t have been surprised to find out that this was based on a Leonard novel (it wasn’t) which is pretty high praise. One gets the sense that the same frustrations that Max and Vic feel are frustrations that Daly is no stranger to.

There are some missteps. The soundtrack is less than scintillating with an over-reliance on Trojan ska (Oksana’s character loves to gyrate to the island riddim) and worse industrial club fare which actually detracts from the film. It’s a given that a low-budget film isn’t going to be able to afford the best soundtrack but I’ve seen plenty of films of comparable budgets that have managed to fill their soundtrack with wonderful songs. It’s a shame they didn’t put more time and effort into finding some for this film. Also, these type of caper comedies need to move at a breakneck pace to be effective; this one is a bit too laid-back and as a result doesn’t have the energy it really needs to be truly memorable.

Nonetheless this is a reasonably entertaining crime comedy that doesn’t waste the viewer’s time and while there is some room for improvement, I was pleasantly surprised and can give this a solid recommendation. I could only find a couple of outlets where it’s currently available but Sony’s home video arm is behind it so I wouldn’t be surprised to find it all over the place in the near future. New York City readers can also catch it at the Cinema Village for a brief theatrical run as well but I would suggest you get out to see it quickly; it’s not likely to remain in theaters long.

Editor’s note: The style of music on the soundtrack was misidentified as reggae and has been corrected. Also, at the director’s request, it is pointed out that whatever violation of Douglas Brown occurs is not explicitly shown so that it is possible that the incident is something other than sexual assault.

REASONS TO GO: The movie is surprisingly entertaining. The cast does a strong job.
REASONS TO STAY: The soundtrack is more than a little weak. The energy is a little too low-key for the genre.
FAMILY VALUES: There is plenty of violence and profanity, some brief drug use and brief nudity.
TRIVIAL PURSUIT: Daly is the grandson of the legendary Ingrid Bergman and nephew of Isabella Rossellini.
BEYOND THE THEATERS: Amazon, Vudu
CRITICAL MASS: As of 9/9/18: Rotten Tomatoes: No score yet: Metacritic: No score yet.
COMPARISON SHOPPING: Get Shorty
FINAL RATING: 6.5/10
NEXT:
Rampage

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

New Releases for the Week of February 28, 2014


Non-StopNON-STOP

(Universal) Liam Neeson, Julianne Moore, Nate Parker, Scoot McNairy, Michelle Dockery, Lupita Nyong’o, Omar Metwally, Linus Roache, Shea Whigham, Anson Mount. Directed by Jaume Collet-Serra

A Federal Air Marshal on a transatlantic flight receives a message that someone on the plane will die every 20 minutes unless a ransom demand is met. When it turns out the message is deadly serious, he has to discover who’s sending those messages – only to find out that there is something far more devious going on than a mere hostage situation.

See the trailer, clips, an interview,  a promo and footage from the premiere here.

For more on the movie this is the website.

Release formats: Standard (opens Thursday)

Genre: Thriller

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

Odd Thomas

(RLJ/Image) Anton Yelchin, Willem Dafoe, Patton Oswalt, Addison Timlin. A nondescript fry cook in a nondescript small town has a special gift – he can see dead people. When a mysterious stranger brings in an entourage of truly nasty demonic sorts, Thomas realizes that a disaster of apocalyptic proportions is upon them. From writer Dean Koontz and director Stephen Sommers who has The Mummy on his resume.

See the trailer here.

For more on the movie this is the website.

Release formats: Standard

Genre: Horror

Rating: NR

Raze

(IFC Midnight) Zoe Bell, Doug Jones, Sherilyn Fenn, Tracie Thoms. After being abducted, a woman wakes up in a concrete bunker and is forced to fight in a tournament of 50 women. If she loses or refuses to fight, her loved ones will be murdered.

See the trailer here.

For more on the movie this is the website.

Release formats: Standard

Genre: Action Horror

Rating: NR

Repentance

(CODEBLACK) Forest Whitaker, Anthony Mackie, Mike Epps, Sanaa Lathan. A life coach with a dark past takes on a man fixated on his mother’s recent passing mainly to get some cash to bail out his brother who is deeply in debt to the wrong people. However, it turns out his new client is far more than he seems to be and his issues run far deeper.

See the trailer here.

For more on the movie this is the website.

Release formats: Standard

Genre: Thriller

Rating: R (for violence including torture and language)

Shaadi Ke Side Effects

(Bataji) Farhan Akhtar, Vidya Balan, Vir Das, Ram Kapoor. A young married couple who had a very difficult time getting their wedding pulled off finds that the most difficulty comes after the wedding.

See the trailer here.

For more on the movie this is the website.

Release formats: Standard

Genre: Bollywood

Rating: NR

Son of God

(20th Century Fox) Diogo Morgado, Roma Downey, Nonso Anozie, Amber Rose Revah. From the producers of the hit cable series The Bible comes this focus on Jesus of Nazareth.

See the trailer and clips here.

For more on the movie this is the website.

Release formats: Standard (opens Thursday)

Genre: Faith

Rating: PG-13 (for for intense and bloody depiction of The Crucifixion and for some sequences of violence)

Stalingrad

(Sony Classics) Thomas Kretschmann, Pyotr Fyodorov, Sergey Bondarchuk, Maria Smolnikova. An epic retelling of the crucial battle that broke the Nazi stranglehold on Europe and eventually turned the tide of the war. Shown from a post-Soviet Russian point of view.

See the trailer here.

For more on the movie this is the website.

Release formats: IMAX 3D

Genre: Historical War Drama

Rating: PG-13 (for mature thematic material and brief strong language)

The Wind Rises

(Touchstone/Studio Ghibli) Starring the voices of Joseph Gordon-Levitt, Emily Blunt, John Krasinski, Martin Short. A young Japanese dreamer sees the breathtaking work of early aviation pioneer Caproni and dreams of flying aircraft. His extreme nearsightedness prevents him from becoming a pilot but he determines to design the planes that will bring Japan into the air age. Acclaimed director Hayao Miyazaki says this will be his final film and it may well be one of his best; it has been nominated for a Best Animated Feature Oscar for this Sunday’s ceremony.

See the trailer, a video and interviews here.

For more on the movie this is the website.

Release formats: Standard

Genre: Anime

Rating: NR

Oblivion


 

Morgan Freeman doesn't want Tom Cruise jumping on the couch.

Morgan Freeman doesn’t want Tom Cruise jumping on the couch.

(2013) Science Fiction (Universal) Tom Cruise, Morgan Freeman, Olga Kurylenko, Andrea Riseborough, Nikolaj Coster-Waldau, Melissa Leo, Zoe Bell, Abigail Lowe, Isabelle Lowe, David Madison, Fileena Bahris, Lindsay Clift, Joanne Bahris, Booch O’Connell, Julie Hardin, Jaylen Moore, Jeremy Sande, Jay Oliver. Directed by Joseph Kosinski   

One wonders why professional critics, who seem to be fairly intelligent and knowledgeable about movies, suddenly seem compelled to spend entire reviews of a movie bashing Tom Cruise and lamenting about his age, his off-screen drama, his acting ability or all of the above.

This movie isn’t about Tom Cruise, it merely stars him. He plays Jack Harper, a glorified repair technician. It’s 2077 and the Earth is essentially a dead planet. Aliens, called Scavs, had invaded the planet some decades earlier and while we won the war we lost the planet. The Scavs blew up the moon, causing massive tidal waves and earthquakes which essentially wiped out a huge chunk of the human race. We in turn launched our nuclear arsenal, destroying the majority of the Scav invading force but rendering most of the planet uninhabitable.

Now the surviving humans live on Titan, with a few still remaining on Earth repairing drones that monitor the planet for the remaining Scavs. Huge intake tanks are pulling up seawater necessary for fusion reactors that mean our survival on Titan. Some live on the Tet (short for Tetrahedron, which is its shape) but others. like Jack, live in cantilevered homes above the clouds; they travel on bubble ships which resemble dragonflies or old-style Bell Helicopters.

Jack and his navigator (who remains in their home and monitors him on a computer console from there) Victoria (Riseborough) have only two weeks left in their tour of duty. Victoria can’t wait to head to Titan but Jack…Jack has misgivings. Jack has doubts. Jack has strange memories of the observation deck at the Empire State Building that he can’t explain, particularly since the Empire State was, like all of New York, wiped out well before Jack was born.

Jack also shouldn’t have memories – his memory, like Victoria’s, was wiped five years ago before his mission started so that important information couldn’t get into the hands of the Scavs. He’s fine with that – duty and honor are big with Jack – but he has nagging questions that he can’t really answer and Sally (Leo) his mission control supervisor in the Tet, isn’t prone to answering them. Jack has found an isolated little valley where there is still water and grass and trees, and a cabin he built there with what trinkets and artifacts he can scavenge which he will miss on Titan most of all. But nothing can prepare Jack for the immense lie he has come to believe and what the truth of what is really out there is. Now Jack is fighting for his planet, along with a mysterious woman (Kurylenko) with connections to his past and a wise leader (Freeman) of a group of survivors who have already figured out the truth – and must convince Jack of that truth or else humanity will fade into the mists of time.

Kosinski’s follow-up to TRON: Legacy is another sci-fi epic. Universal hedged its bets a bit, placing this in an April slot that would shield it from competition with the big summer sci-fi epics which I think was a smart move. There’s plenty of eye candy here from the bubble ships which are hella cool, to the landscapes of ruined Earth which is a clever mixture of desolate Icelandic landscapes and familiar cityscapes from the big Apple.

Cruise does what he needs to do here, and that’s mainly act puzzled. Harper is one of those sorts who was born and bred to be heroic; like the original Mercury 7 or the guys in The Right Stuff his instincts are to do the right thing. That’s right in the wheelhouse of Tom Cruise; few guys can be as charismatic and heroic as he can as he’s proven in films like Jerry Maguire, The Firm and Legend. He has to carry this movie pretty much as he is in virtually every scene so as goes Tom Cruise so goes Oblivion.

He has a pretty decent support cast. Riseborough is a beautiful and talented actress who doesn’t get enough credit from mainstream Hollywood just yet. Freeman and Leo are both proven stars, both Oscar-winning performers who can be counted on to deliver sterling work.

There are a couple of major plot twists here but frankly, you are going to see both of them coming a mile away. The movie really needed a slam-bang ending  but doesn’t get one; it’s more of a fizzle and that’s one of Hollywood’s most grievous sins of late – the inability to write a good ending to a movie.

The gee-whiz factor is up there and with Cruise onscreen most of the time, they get the benefit of having one of Hollywood’s most charismatic stars keeping the audience’s attention riveted where the filmmakers want it. This is a solid movie that will keep your eye candy craving satisfied at least until the summer begins.

REASONS TO GO: Cruise is, whatever else he might be, a compelling star. Pretty cool gadgets and visual effects.

REASONS TO STAY: The twists aren’t particularly hard to figure out. Sputters towards the end.

FAMILY VALUES:  There is some violence, a bit of nudity and sexuality and some harsh language.

TRIVIAL PURSUIT: The painting used in the film is “Christina’s World” by Andrew Wyeth.

CRITICAL MASS: As of 5/4/13: Rotten Tomatoes: 56% positive reviews. Metacritic: 54/100; about as mixed a reception as you can get.

COMPARISON SHOPPING: Star Trek: The Motion Picture

FINAL RATING: 6/10

NEXT: The Company We Keep

New Releases for the Week of April 19, 2013


Oblivion

OBLIVION

(Universal) Tom Cruise, Morgan Freeman, Olga Kurylenko, Andrea Riseborough, Nikolaj Coster-Waldau, Melissa Leo, Zoe Bell. Directed by Joseph Kosinski

Earth is recovering from an alien invasion and no, I’m not talking about migrant lettuce pickers. I’m talking about the bug-eyed outer space rectal probing sorts and these specific aliens have been driven off but at a steep cost – the planet is essentially uninhabitable now. Drones are mining the last of the planet’s resources so humanity can make a new beginning. One of the last drone repairmen is doing some routine maintenance when he stumbles onto a secret that will force him to re-evaluate everything he knows and put the fate of humanity squarely in his hands. From the director of TRON: Legacy.

See the trailer, clips, featurettes and a promo here.

For more on the movie this is the website.

Release formats: Standard, IMAX

Genre: Science Fiction

Rating: PG-13 (for sci-fi action violence, brief strong language and some sensuality/nudity)

The ABCs of Death

(Magnet) Ingrid Bolso Berdal, Fraser Corbett, Hiroko Yashiki, Dallas Malloy. 26 of horror’s top young directors have directed segments involving horrific ways to die, one for each letter of the alphabet. The directors hail from all around the world and a wide variety of styles; there’s something to satisfy every one’s taste in horror. However be warned that while this is unrated, judging from what I’ve heard about the film it would have been slapped with an NC-17 had it been submitted to the ratings board.

See the trailer and a promo here.

For more on the movie this is the website.

Release formats: Standard

Genre: Horror

Rating: NR  

Ek Thi Dayaan

(ALT Entertainment) Emraan Hashmi, Konkona Sen Sharma, Huma Qureshi, Kalki Koechlin. A popular stage magician is haunted by an Indian witch.

See the trailer here.

For more on the movie this is the website.

Release formats: Standard

Genre: Bollywood Horror

Rating: NR  

Home Run

(Goldwyn/Provident) Scott Elrod, Dorian Brown, Vivica A. Fox, Nicole Leigh. After a DUI conviction temporarily derails a major league baseball player’s career, he is sent home to coach a youth baseball team and enter a recovery program. While there he tries to woo the girl he left behind and rediscovers not only his love for baseball but his faith in God as well.

See the trailer here.

For more on the movie this is the website.

Release formats: Standard

Genre: Faith-Based Sports Drama

Rating: PG-13 (for some mature thematic material)

Lords of Salem

(Anchor Bay) Sherri Moon Zombie, Bruce Davidson, Meg Foster, Dee Wallace. A DJ living in Salem, Massachusetts – site of the infamous witch trials – gets a record in a mysterious wooden box. When she listens to the disc, she has flashbacks to the town’s violent past. She begins to doubt her own sanity, but if she isn’t insane, could there be powers acting to exact revenge on Salem from beyond the grave?

See the trailer and clips here.

For more on the movie this is the website.

Release formats: Standard

Genre: Drama

Rating: R (for disturbing violent and sexual content, graphic nudity, language and some drug use) 

Lore

(Music Box) Saskia Rosendahl, Kai Malina, Nele Trebs, Ursina Lardi. At the end of World War II, the staunch Nazi parents of five children are taken into custody. The kids, led by the eldest sister at 14 years old, must undertake a perilous journey across a war-ravaged Germany to reach their grandmother in the North. This movie played the Florida Film Festival last week.

See the trailer here.

For more on the movie this is the website.

Release formats: Standard

Genre: Period War Drama

Rating: NR  

Starbuck

(EntertainmentOne) Patrick Huard, Julie LeBreton, Antoine Bertrand, Dominic Philie. A slacker trying to prove to his girlfriend that he’s worthy of being a good dad to the baby she’s pregnant with discovers that due to a clerical error, the sperm he donated for money back in the day has been used to create over 500 babies. This movie also played the Florida Film Festival last week; you can read my review of it here.

See the trailer here.

For more on the movie this is the website.

Release formats: Standard

Genre: Comedy

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

Florida Film Festival 2013


Florida Film Festival 2013

The Florida Film Festival will be returning from April 5 through April 14. As in years past, Cinema365 is proud to cover our local film festival and this year will be bigger and better than any year before, with 173 features and short films taking up screen time. Voted one of the 50 best film festivals in the world, it’s different than the industry shmoozefests that are Sundance, Tribeca and TIFF. Those are places where filmmakers go to make a deal. FFF is where they go to mingle with the audience. There is an intimate feel that is missing from some film festivals where there is so much going on that you’re exhausted from day one. There is a more leisurely pace here but even so by the 14th you may well be reaching your limit.

The guest of honor this year is legendary Hollywood actress Tippi Hedren who will be honored with a screening of her classic film The Birds. She’ll be on hand to answer qustions, some of which hopefully will be about her new film Free Samples which will also be playing at the festival. These events always sell out so you won’t want to wait too long before getting your ticket. Also attending the festival will be renowned stuntwoman/actress Zoe Bell who will be on hand for a screening of Deathproof, the Quentin Tarantino-directed half of Grindhouse.  She’s done some of the most amazing stunts of the past decade so you won’t want to miss that either. Finally for those of a more romantic bent, the Festival will have Sunday brunch on the 14th with a screening of one of my all-time favorites The Princess Bride with star Cary Elwes in attendence. This promises to be an unforgettable event and, like the other celebrity appearances, is likely to sell out early.

But a film festival is all about, well, films and as usual there are a plethora of exciting entries at this year’s festival. While I’m not going to preview them all here, I will give you some films that I think are worth looking out for. The opening night slot is always a big deal at any film festival and the FFF is no different. This year the honor goes to Twenty Feet from Stardom, an acclaimed documentary that drew raves at Sundance earlier this year. For those who love classic rock and roll, the film focuses on the backup singers who share the stage and recording studio with some of the biggest stars and on the biggest hits of all time. It’s an amazing get up and dance kind of movie that is bound to have opening nighters boogaloo-ing in the aisles. Opening night is another event that sells out early so you’ll want to order your ticets as soon as you can.

Unfinished Song stars Terrence Stamp and Vanessa Redgrave in a film that reminds me a little bit of Young @ Heart, about a grumpy senior whose life is transformed by singing in a chorus. Lore takes place at the end of World War II in occupied Germany when a group of children whose parents were arrested as Nazis try to make their way across the country to their grandmother’s. Renoir is the story of the love triangle between the great Impressionist, his son and his model slash muse. It looks achingly beautiful. Mud stars Matthew McConaughey , Reese Witherspoon and Sam Shepard in a thriller about a couple of kids who befriend a man on the run from the law, who is haunted by the woman who may have inspired him to do wrong.

V/H/S 2 is the sequel to the hit indie horror anthology and should be packing them in at midnight showings. So too should Cockneys vs. Zombies, a East End-set zombie flick that looks to be a worthy successor to Shaun of the Dead with a wicked sense of humor that had preview audiences laughing til they screamed. Starbuck is a French-Canadian film about a man who is ready to be a father of his girlfriend’s child although she is none too certain about his paternal skills. Matters aren’t helped when it is discovered that as a repeated sperm donor back in the day he had wound up fathering over 500 children. I’m sure his tie collection will be legendary.

SOMM is a food documentary chronicling the difficult process of becoming certified as a master sommelier. In the music realm Big Star: Nothing Can Hurt Me and AKA Doc Pomus look back at legendary figures in classic rock and roll while Bad Brains: A Band in DC looks at one of the most influential punk bands of all time.

The narrative competition films have some real promising entries this year, with The Forgotten Kingdom following a young man’s journey to reconnect with his family in Leostho, Putzel which is a different kind of romantic comedy (I know a lot of rom-coms claim that but this one really looks like the real deal), The History of Future Folk which has the daft premise of an alien invasion which goes awry when the aliens decide to become folksingers, All the Light in the Sky in the meantime follows an aging actress who is watching her indie career dwindle as younger actresses nab the roles that once went to her. Nancy, Please is a terrifying thriller about the roommate from Hell who goes to extreme lengths to reclaim the book she left behind and Be Good which observes new parents adopting to their changing roles.

The documentary competition is equally impressive with Year of the Living Dead which looks back on the lasting impact of George A. Romero’s legendary Night of the Living Dead while Magical Universe explores the bizaare world of artist Al Carbee’s Barbie-centric art. Shepard and Dark explores the unique and moving friendship (mostly expressed through correspondence) between actor/playwright Sam Shepard and Johnny Dark who was at one time married to the mother of Shepard’s wife. Informant traces the path of Brandon Darby from respected activist to FBI informant while Far Out Isn’t Far Enough: The Tomi Ungerer Story traces the career of revolutionary children’s book illustrator Tomi Ungerer.

And that’s just scratching the surface. Films like 8 1/2, Sleeper, The Sting and Pulp Fiction will also be screened as well as a plethora of foreign films, short films, documentaries, narrative features, family films and animated shorts. Individual tickets will go on sale on March 17th (this Sunday) although you can still buy passes and packages of five, ten and twenty vouchers which can be redeemed for individual films right now. For more details on the festival, ticket purchase information and directions to the festival venues, click on the logo above which will take you right to the Festival website. That same logo will appear on all festival film reviews even after the festival is over.

It should be noted that nearly every year since I started attending this event my number one movie on the year-end countdown has played at the Festival. Some of the films that have played here have gone on to commercial success (The Blair Witch Project) or Oscar nominations (Winter’s Bone). While there are no guarantees, I can tell you that this is one of the best-curated festivals that I’m aware of and the overall quality of the films that play it are nothing short of spectacular.

Enzian president Henry Maldonado liked the Festival to a gathering of friends, not unlike a reunion and he’s right. The atmosphere at the Festival is like none other I’ve experienced. Part of that is due to the bucolic scenery at the Enzian itself (although the atmosphere at the neighboring Regal multiplex in Winter Park Village where many of the screenings take place is no less idyllic) but most of the credit goes to the staff, volunteers and the attendees themselves. This is the kind of thing that loses something in the translation but once experienced for yourself will hook you for life. Even if I were to move out of the Orlando area, I’d come back every year for the FFF. I hope I’ll see some of my Orlando-area readers at the Festival; those who can travel to come see it should make the effort to do so. This is no theme park but if you’re a movie buff, this is so much better.

Hansel and Gretel: Witch Hunters


This isn't your grandparents' Hansel and Gretel.

This isn’t your grandparents’ Hansel and Gretel.

(2013) Fantasy Action (MGM/Paramount) Jeremy Renner, Gemma Arterton, Famke Janssen, Peter Stormare, Thomas Mann, Pihla Viltala, Derek Mears, Robin Atkin Downes (voice), Ingrid Bolso Berdal, Joanna Kulig, Rainer Bock, Bjorn Sundquist, Zoe Bell, Kathrin Kuhnel. Directed by Tommy Wirkola

Even after I outgrew them, I always loved fairy tales. You know, the sort in which brave heroes outwit fiendish foes, beautiful princesses await rescuing and fantastic creatures exist in a kind of idealized Renaissance Faire-like environment which is free of disease, the commoners were well-treated by their land-owning nobles and nobody starves, living a simple life in which everyone is basically good. You know, Fantasyland.

Certainly it never existed in real life. Still, we all know the story of Hansel and Gretel, a brother and sister who wandered into the woods to find a cottage made of candy – what child wouldn’t investigate that. But then they meet the owner of the cottage – a witch who uses the candy to attract children whom she imprisons, fattens up and then cooks. Sort of like Gordon Ramsay on estrogen. Of course the kids trick the witch and shove her into her own oven. And there the tale ends.

But in a marvelous idea of what-if, a 15-years older and wiser Hansel and Gretel are posited. They have evolved into professional witch hunters, travelling from village to village to rid them of the witch menace while collecting the bounties offered. Hansel (Renner) ate too much candy at the witch’s cottage and now must inject himself periodically or die. Think of it as fairy tale diabetes. Gretel (Arterton) is a kick-ass ninja who while beautiful and desirable doesn’t seem to have any takers. Hansel, on the other hand has attracted the comely Mina (Viltala) whom he rescued from being burned by the overzealous Sheriff (Stormare) who resents the bounty hunters incursion into his territory. It seems that children have been disappearing in great numbers in the village as of late.

Notwithstanding, the Mayor (Bock) insists so the pair go after the kids and find the witch responsible. Which happens to be Muriel (Janssen), who has it in her head to perform a ritual in a few days during the blood moon that will let her create a potion that will permanently make witches immune to fire. Muriel also has a connection to their late mother (Kuhnel) and Gretel herself has in turn a connection to this ritual.

So they need to stop this thing from happening but they will have to get past an angry sheriff (whose had his nose broken by the no-nonsense Gretel), a monstrous troll (Mears, voiced by Downes) and a coven of very nasty witches who have a broomstick up their butts about the whole thing.

Wirkola, best known for Dead Snow, the zombie Nazi ski resort horror film of a few years back, has a great concept to work with. Unfortunately, his writers (of which he is one) do nothing creative with it. This is a generic fantasy action film with nothing unusual to recommend it.

Oh, Renner is good. Renner is, in fact great. He has a kind of sardonic grin throughout as if he is saying to the audience “Yeah, I know it’s crap but it’s a paycheck and I’m gonna have a great time making it.” He’s a terrific action hero as he showed last summer with The Avengers and The Bourne Legacy. He’s a star and time will tell how big he’ll be. This movie unfortunately won’t help.

It might help Arterton though. She’s had some pretty good performances in films that ranged from good (Tamara Drewe) to not-so-good (Prince of Persia) and here she continues that streak. She’s due a movie that is worthy of her talents and one in which she’ll get enough fans where she can be a star herself. She’s not quite there yet though.

As you might guess, there are a lot of effects here much of which have to do with witches getting eviscerated by Hansel and Gretel (a sentence which sounds kind of crazy on its own merits). There is the troll who is well realized with some very evocative facial expressions; there are also tons of fire effects some of which looks none too realistic. It’s pretty much hit and miss. The 3D incidentally is pretty miserable; there really isn’t much reason to have made this movie in 3D other than as a cash grab; that they pushed back the movie nearly a full year in order to retro-convert it is even worse.

This is a major disappointment. They had a great idea but could think of nothing good to do with it. There are some humorous bits – drawings of the missing children on the milk bottles for example but not enough of them. The anachronisms – the swearing, the machine guns, the magic bullets – simply don’t work. They remind you that you’re watching a movie instead of being part of a mysterious. The reason that a movie like this works is that you feel a part of the experience. The reason that it doesn’t is that you’re constantly reminded that you aren’t.

REASONS TO GO: Renner and Arterton are pretty damn good. Janssen makes an effective baddie. Edward the Troll is nicely realized.

REASONS TO STAY: A great concept poorly executed. Too many anachronisms.

FAMILY VALUES:  There is a good deal of violence albeit mostly of the fairy tale variety although there is a goodly amount of gore i.e. heads exploding, heads being hacked off, heads being stepped on etc. – this isn’t a good movie to be a head. There is also some brief nudity, a bit of sexuality and a lot of bad language – who knew there were so many f bombs in medieval Germany!

TRIVIAL PURSUIT: The movie was already in pre-production and was to be about the unsuccessful hunt for Osama Bin Laden when the news broke that Bin Laden was dead. Immediately the screenplay was re-written to turn the movie into the story of the successful hunt for Bin Laden.

CRITICAL MASS: As of 1/30/13: Rotten Tomatoes: 17% positive reviews. Metacritic: 22/100; the reviews are miserable.

COMPARISON SHOPPING: Van Helsing

FINAL RATING: 4/10

NEXT: Pearl Harbor