New Releases for the Week of January 25, 2013


Hansel and Gretel: Witch Hunters

HANSEL AND GRETEL: WITCH HUNTERS

(Paramount/MGM) Jeremy Renner, Gemma Arterton, Famke Janssen, Peter Stormare, Derek Mears, Thomas Mann, Rainer Bock, Thomas Scharff, Zoe Bell. Directed by Tommy Wirkola

Fifteen years after nearly being cooked alive at the hands of a naughty witch, brother and sister Hansel and Gretel have taken up the mantle of witch hunters, using ingenious weapons to battle the evil creatures. However, their success has made them a target and their past is about to catch up with them in a malevolent way. This is most certainly not your mom and dad’s fairy tale.

See the trailer and promos here.

For more on the movie this is the website.

Release formats: Standard, 3D, IMAX 3D

Genre: Fantasy Horror

Rating: R (for strong fantasy violence and gore, brief sexuality/nudity and language)

Holy Motors

(Indomina) Denis Lavant, Edith Scob, Eva Green, Kylie Minogue. A man steps into a limousine and heads out into Paris for a series of appointments. The man changes with each appointment from a captain of industry to a gypsy crone, to an assassin to the melancholy father of a teenage daughter. The movie changes to from drama to action film to science fiction to melodrama. Experimental French cinema at its finest.

See the trailer here.

For more on the movie this is the website.

Release formats: Standard

Genre: Drama

Rating: NR

Movie 43

(Universal) Halle Berry, Gerard Butler, Richard Gere, Emma Stone. An ambitious ensemble piece from some of the most deliciously twisted minds in comedy, including the Farrelly Brothers, Steven Brill and…Brett Ratner. Okay, the last was sarcastic but there really are some talented guys here. Just ask them. But don’t ask them what happened to Movies 1 through 42, okay?

See the trailer and a promo here.

For more on the movie this is the website.

Release formats: Standard

Genre: Comedy

Rating: R (for strong pervasive crude and sexual content including dialogue, graphic nudity, language, some violence and drug use)

Parker

(FilmDistrict) Jason Statham, Jennifer Lopez, Michael Chiklis, Nick Nolte. Parker is one of the best thieves in the world. He can afford to live by a code of ethics that he sticks to no matter what. He’s not the sort of fellow you want to cross. So when a group of fellow thieves do just that, Parker aims to get his own sort of justice. Even if he has to use Jennifer Lopez to help him get it.

See the trailer here.

For more on the movie this is the website.

Release formats: Standard

Genre: Crime Action

Rating: R (for strong violence throughout)

Quartet

(Weinstein) Maggie Smith, Billy Connolly, Michael Gambon, Tom Courtenay. At a retirement home for opera singers, an annual concert commemorating Verdi’s birthday has been a major source for fundraising, which this year is particularly crucial because the home is in hot financial water. When a diva joins the home and refuses to sing in the concert even though her presence might mean the difference between the home surviving and all its residents being thrown out into the street, an uproar ensues. This is Dustin Hoffman’s directorial debut, by the way.

See the trailer and a featurette here.

For more on the movie this is the website.

Release formats: Standard

Genre: Comedy

Rating: PG-13 (for brief strong language and suggestive humor)

Race 2

(UTV) Saif Ali Khan, Anil Kapoor, John Abraham, Deepika Padukone. After his partner and lover dies in a car bomb explosion, Ranveer vows to bring her killer to justice. To do that he’ll have to navigate through the criminal underworld of India and through the corrupt corridors of power where betrayal is always an option.

See the trailer here.

For more on the movie this is the website.

Release formats: Standard

Genre: Bollywood

Rating: NR

Whip It


Whip It

Ellen Page flies around the track, hoping her Juno reputation isn't following her.

(Fox Searchlight) Ellen Page, Marcia Gay Harden, Kristen Wiig, Juliette Lewis, Drew Barrymore, Jimmy Fallon, Daniel Stern, Eve, Alia Shawkat, Zoe Bell. Directed by Drew Barrymore

The movies have had a love-hate relationship with the roller derby. A number of fine documentaries have been made on the subject of the skaters and their passion for this sport that many dismiss as pro wrestling on wheels (and those that do are ignorant of how physically taxing it is) dating back forty years, but few feature films have captured that world.

Bliss Cavendar (Page) lives in a tiny Texas town outside of the state capital of Austin and like many trapped in tiny Texas towns knows that there are two things expected of those being raised there; that the boys will love football and try out for the team, and the girls will love cheerleading and enter into beauty pageants, which is what Bliss’ hyperthyroid mom (Harden) is pushing her into. Bliss despises it and despises what she is expected to conform into being. She and her friend Pash (Shawkat) are octagonal pegs in rhomboidal holes.

Then, while on a trip to Austin, Bliss spies a flyer for a female roller derby event, and thinking it might be fun, convinces Pash to attend with her. Bliss realizes that this is something that speaks to her, watching girls beat the crap out of one another while whirling around a banked track. Bliss apparently has some sadomasochistic tendencies deep in her teenaged DNA.

She wrangles a try-out with one of the league’s sad sack teams, the Hurl Scouts (so named because they dress like girl scouts…all the teams have gimmicks like that) and to her surprise, she makes the team. She adopts the skater persona of Babe Ruthless (and yes, these are the kinds of names the real skaters take) and quickly becomes a break-out star in the league. She also finds kindred spirits in fellow skaters Smashley Simpson (Barrymore) and Maggie Mayhem (Wiig), as well as a surly rival in Iron Maven (Lewis) who skates for another team, the high and mighty High Rollers.

Of course, the manure hits the fan when mommy finds out and while her henpecked dad (Stern) is all for it, her mom forbids her lil’ angel from competing in a sport where she actually might get…bruised. You see, she neglected to tell her team she’s underaged, a major no-no. With a big match coming up and the clutches of conformity reaching out to grab her, Bliss has to make up her mind to decide to be what others expect of her or to find her own way.

Barrymore makes her directorial debut and quite frankly it’s a pretty good one. Like Barrymore herself, the movie has charm, wit and heart, and an excellent indie rock soundtrack. While Barrymore seems to be at home acting in romantic comedies these days, she actually pulls together this coming of age dramedy quite nicely.

It helps that she has a nifty cast to help pull it off. Harden is making a nice niche for herself as the overbearing mom, and she pulls it off without a hitch. Stern, who was a presence in the 80s and 90s and has gone largely MIA of late, is also satisfying as the dad.

The roller derby sequences weren’t a disgrace either; most of the actresses did their own skating and a number of actual skaters play minor roles in the film. You get a sense of the physicality of the sport and the conditioning needed to be any good at it, which sets it above a lot of sports movies these days which rely overly much on treacle to sell their storyline.

There are a few lapses in logic however. For example, the movie is set in Texas but nobody other than Harden seems to have the twang. I guarantee you if you got this many people together in Austin more than one of them would have the distinctive Texas twang. Also, I find it hard to believe that a mom like Harden would have missed the bumps, bruises and cuts that her daughter surely would have after a full-contact sport like roller derby. It doesn’t seem likely to me that Bliss would escape each of the matches without a scratch.

The movie has a fine empowerment message and looks at the sport and those who participate in it with some fondness and even reverence, which is a change from the low regard it is often held in. For my money, this is some superior entertainment that establishes Barrymore as a director with a future, and adds a little depth to Page’s resume as well.

WHY RENT THIS: The girl empowerment theme is done nicely. Page and her skating cohorts are believable in the derby sequences.

WHY RENT SOMETHING ELSE: Not enough Texas twang here, as well as other lapses in logic.

FAMILY VALUES: Some of the language is on the crude side there are certainly some sexual situations and drug usage but mild enough that most teens should be okay to see this, although the more impressionable sorts should get a long look before putting this in the DVD/Blu-Ray player.

TRIVIAL PURSUIT: Writer Shauna Cross was once a real-life skater in the Los Angeles Derby Dolls and took several of the character names, team names and backstage plot lines were taken from her experiences there.

NOTABLE DVD EXTRAS: Perhaps owing to the movie’s disappointing box office receipts, there is a dearth of interesting features here; however, a Fox Movie Channel “Writer’s Draft” series on screenwriter Shauna Cross is a welcome addition.

BOX OFFICE PERFORMANCE: $16.6M on a $15M production budget; the movie was a flop.

FINAL RATING: 6/10

TOMORROW: Legend of the Guardians: The Owls of Ga’Hoole

For those interested in the real thing, the TXRD website (the league depicted in the film) is here.

Gamer


No matter how mad Terry Crews gets, Gerard Butler won't share his candy.

No matter how mad Terry Crews gets, Gerard Butler just won't share his candy.

(Lionsgate) Gerard Butler, Amber Valetta, Michael C. Hall, Logan Lerman, Alison Lohman, Kyra Sedgwick, Ludacris, John Leguizamo, Zoe Bell, Terry Crews, Ramsey Moore, Aaron Yoo, Jonathan Chase, Brighid Fleming. Directed by Mark Neveldine and Brian Taylor

Almost since the advent of Pong, certain parental groups have decried the violence in videogames. Once you’ve fragged enough aliens, monsters or opposing soldiers, what’s left to do?

In the near future, gaming has evolved to the next level. Instead of controlling pixels on a television or computer screen, technology developed by techno-genius Ken Castle (Hall) enables gamers to control actual human beings. At first, it’s fairly benign in the social networking game “Society,” in which paid actors act out the fantasy of their controllers, thanks to a nanochip embedded in the brains of the actors that allow the gamers to broadcast instructions directly into the brains of the actors, who then perform any action the gamers wish like a marionette on a string. Apparently what most gamers wish in this dystopian future is softcore porn and raves.

The next step in this process is Slayers, a game featuring death row convicts who battle it out in a gritty urban arena with automatic weapons and grenades. Should the convict survive 30 battles, they are given their release, inspiring a wealth of potential slayers.

The best slayer is Kable (Butler), who has come as close as anyone to achieving freedom. However, he knows a little bit too much about the nanotech developed by Castle, so the multi-billionaire has set Kable up to fall, using a very angry avatar named Hackman (Crews) who has no player, which allows Hackman to act independently without any lag time, a huge advantage over the other slayers who have a several second lag between gamer command and slayer action. Fortunately, Kable’s gamer Simon (Lerman) is very, very good at what he does.

Not everyone thinks this is a perfect world. A group of techno-terrorists who call themselves Humanz are led by Brother (Ludacris), who hack into the game feed, much to the annoyance of Castle and cause all sorts of havoc. A popular interviewer/journalist named Gina Parker Smith (Sedgwick) is also suspicious of what Castle is doing and wants to know more about the Humanz.

Kable doesn’t care about any of this. He’s more concerned about getting back to his wife Angie (Valletta) and daughter (Fleming). Angie is working as one of the actresses in the Society milieu, controlled by an astoundingly obese gamer named Gorge (Moore). Kable soon begins to understand that there is no winning the game, only escaping – and once he escapes, can he save his family from the slavery that Castle intends to unleash upon the world?

Neveldine and Taylor are best known for their movie Crank which was like a videogame on steroids, and was one of the most entertaining action movies of the past few years. They do have the action thing in the bag, as the Slayer action sequences are plenty cool. What happens in between is a little bit less copacetic. I can see where they’re going with this – a commentary on the desensitizing of society and the gaming culture in general. Still, it’s hard to believe that anyone would ever allow another human being complete control of their body, no matter how desperate they were.

Butler is becoming one of my favorite actors working, but this won’t be remembered as a role he nailed. Kable has pretty much no personality whatsoever and while you’re ostensibly rooting for him, the fact of the matter is that you don’t really have much reason to care for him. Hall is actually kind of entertaining as the nerdy but arrogant tech whiz who performs a lip-synch dance to the Sammy Davis Jr. chestnut “I’ve Got You Under My Skin” with his lackeys (every good villain’s gotta have lackeys) doing a dance number along with him. That’s one of the better moments in the movie and shows the kind of flair, humor and imagination that the Neveldine/Taylor duo has at their best.

Unfortunately, this isn’t their best. A good videogame has a storyline that you want to follow through to its conclusion; at the very least, you can’t wait to experience what comes next. In this case, what comes next is predictable to the point where you’re checking your watch to see if its time to go yet. It isn’t the worst movie that will be released this year, but there aren’t many compelling reasons to go out of your way to see it.

REASONS TO GO: Some decent action sequences, and that’s about it.

REASONS TO STAY: Butler sleepwalks through his poorly written part. Neveldine/Taylor make movies for adrenaline junkies and this won’t sate even the most hardcore of fans.

FAMILY VALUES: Violence, a whole bunch of it and nudity, as well as sexual situations plus lots of bad language; not for the kiddies.

TRIVIAL PURSUIT: Rather than using graphics that say “The End” at the conclusion of a film, directors Neveldine and Taylor use “GAME OVER INSERT COIN,” bringing to mind videogames from the ‘80s.

HOME OR THEATER: Skip it altogether, but if you must see it, you can wait for the home video release.

FINAL RATING: 4/10

TOMORROW: The Hunting Party