The Rite

The Rite

Starring Anthony Hopkins, Colin O’Donoghue and Alice Braga
Directed by Mikael Hafstrom (1408)
Rated PG-13 for disturbing thematic material, violence, frightening images, and language including sexual references
Appropriate for ages 15+

    When a young priest (O’Donoghue) considers dropping from the priesthood, he is sent first to Rome to study exorcism in the hope of strengthening his belief.  When the professor senses his reluctance to believe in God or the devil, he sends him to work with an old priest and exorcism specialist (Hopkins).

    I’m not sure why exorcism films are still being green-lit, because after all, there have been a slew of them in the last couple of years and they’ve all bombed.  This film attempts to get more to the heart of The Exorcist, which is convincing a young priest that while he may not believe in the devil, the devil sure believes in him, but due to many misturns, fails to ever scare or deliver the goods.

    This film has a lot of potential.  After all, it’s hard to find a better thespian than Hopkins and the rest of the cast isn’t bad either.  Also, placing the film in Rome gives it some street cred.  There are even some nice creepy moments placed here and there.  But then the movie attempts to fool the viewer into thinking like the young priest and the confusion doesn’t help the movie in the least.  Also, the addition of the female journalist, played by Alice Braga, not only interferes with the plot, but distracts what could have been a very frightening moment.

    I think that in their goal of getting a PG-13 and hopefully widening their audience, they forgot that this genre has to be rated R to be truly effective.  The devil is not PG-13.  In fact, he would push the limits on an R rating.  This toning down of the violence, language, and scares only waters down the film to the point where it is just merely interesting and not goose pimple-inducing. 

    So while I really wanted to like this somewhat original take on the sub-genre, I found myself picking out too many of its overall problems.  C+

New in Home Entertainment – February 1, 2011

New in Home Entertainment

February 1, 2011

Let Me In
Rated R for strong bloody horror violence, language and a brief sexual situation
Available on DVD and Blu-ray

No matter how good a film is, trying to talk most Americans into watching a Swedish vampire film is like pulling teeth.  So I completely understand why they wanted to make an American version of Let the Right One In, placing the little vampire girl (Chloe Grace Moretz) and her new friend (Kodi Smit-McPhee) in Albuquerque rather than Scandinavia.  So although the original is vastly superior, this new version is still quite good.  The relationship is just as tender, maybe even a bit better acted.  The film is just as scary, just as beautiful and just as haunting.  But because the original is so shocking and sticks with you long after you’ve seen it, I still consider it to be the better of the two.  That being said, I will predict that if you haven’t seen Let the Right One In, Let Me In will be an equally powerful film for you and an experience you won’t easily forget.  A-

Enter the Void
Unrated, but worthy of NC-17 or worse
Available on DVD and Blu-ray

If you were gutsy enough to sit through writer/director Gaspar Noe’s 2002 shocker Irreversible, you will probably understand what you are in for in his new drug-induced drama Enter the Void.  The film shows the Point of View of a young white drug dealer in Tokyo who is killed by the police and spends the length of the film floating around time and space, seeing how his life and death has affected those around him.  To say that this is one of the most spectacularly photographed films you’ve ever seen is an understatement.  The visuals are breathtaking, but the subject matter is so intense and uncomfortable that the film becomes incredibly challenging to watch.  This is a film for daring cinephiles and certainly not for the average date movie.  A-

Never Let Me Go
Rated R for some sexuality and nudity
Available on DVD and Blu-ray

Children at an English boarding school come to grips with their relationships with one another as well as the fact that they are only alive in order to provide organs, leaving them with no prospects for the future.  While the theme is similar to the box-office dud The Island, it takes half of the film for you to realize that this is sci-fi, but without the special effects usually added to the genre.  The performances by Carey Mulligan, Andrew Garfield and Keira Knightly are extremely moving but the film is exhaustingly depressing.  The film survives on emotional response and deep thought, which will leave many audiences worn out.  Still, you have to appreciate what the filmmakers have accomplished in this alternate universe tear-jerker.  B

Rated R for language and some violent images
Available on DVD and Blu-ray

When a man (Sam Rockwell) is wrongly convicted of first degree murder, his sister (Hilary Swank) puts her life on hold and goes to college and law school in the hope of someday getting him out of prison.  From the first time I saw the trailer for this film, I pictured it as a kind of movie-of-the-week.  Boy was I wrong.  This is a very strong film filled with memorable performances and a great story.  Perhaps the reason it didn’t get much attention in theaters was because this is a very typical role for Swank, who badly needs out of these types of true stories.  But on the other hand, she is so good at them that I can’t fault her for still making them.  Rockwell turns in perhaps his best work yet, making this film that much more sobering.  A-

Walt Disney’s Alice in Wonderland
Available on Blu-ray

Disney can be so aggravatingly greedy sometimes that I feel it needs mentioning.  Most films are released on Blu-ray and DVD these days, and when a DVD-only release hits the shelf, its usually because the producers don’t expect the profits to be as strong if they do multiple platforms.  But not Disney.  In order to try to capitalize on the release of the Tim Burton Alice in Wonderland release last March, Disney re-released the original animated Alice on DVD only.  Now, less than a year later, they are releasing the Blu-ray, hoping you’ll buy it again.  Will you?  Probably.  But that doesn’t change the fact that Disney is pretty disgusting for doing this.  The new blu-ray exclusive features are nice, but feeling hoodwinked by the Mouse House isn’t.  Alice Blu-ray A; Disney F

The Company Men

The Company Men

Starring Ben Affleck, Tommy Lee Jones, Chris Cooper and Kevin Costner
Directed by John Wells
Rated R for language and brief nudity
Appropriate for ages 17+

    On the surface, The Company Men revolves around the lives of three men (Affleck, Jones and Cooper) that are part of a corporate downsizing and the effect it has on their lives, their families and their communities.  On a deeper level, the film focuses on the death of the American Dream and the impact it has on Americans.

    George Clooney’s film Up in the Air touched on these issues, but followed the folks doing the layoffs rather than the people whose lives were so deeply affected.  Just like the climate in today’s job market, the film is pretty devastating.  It’s a reality check that will crush many of its viewers.  After all, the film leaves three options for those who lose their cushy corporate jobs: retire, take a lower-paying job, or commit suicide.  Is this overly dramatic?  Sure.  But it’s not off base completely.  With the middle class growing weaker and the upper class growing stronger, the discrepancy of incomes is liable to cause our economic strains to become more pronounced rather than diminished.  The thought of spending less and saving more is just that – a thought.  That might work if incomes were increasing with inflation, but as health care premiums climb through the roof and the price of goods and services grow to simply put more money in the pockets of the wealthy, we are likely to see these scenarios played out again and again, and even worsen in the near future.  So as far as story goes, it’s not a fun one to watch, but it is a reality that we all wish wasn’t real. 

    As for the performances, this huge ensemble of award winning actors all try their hardest to give their best in these roles.  The characters are a bit over-the-top, as are the situations they are put in, but overall, it’s a well-acted piece.

    Where I fault the film is something I touched on before: the movie is damned depressing.  If you have ever lost your job in order to help a company’s stock performance, you will feel miserable watching this.  And if you expect it to be the movie to lift your spirits on a feel-good note – you won’t get that here.  Once again, this film is a reality check about our lost American dream and not about hope.  Should the film have been about hope?  Maybe that would be more helpful in today’s climate, but just like the filmmakers, I don’t think that would come off as authentic.  My wish is that we can all watch this film in 20 years and remember what America was like back then and be thankful that it’s not that way anymore.  Unfortunately, unless something very drastic occurs in the very near future to correct our path, this film may be remembered as a feel-good movie after all.  B

New in Home Entertainment – January 25, 2011

New in Home Entertainment

January 25, 2011

Rated PG for brief mild language
Available on DVD and Blu-ray

The horse race movie has been done, over and over and over again.  So trying not to kick a dead horse (sorry for that) is a difficult task.  But feeling the need for a good, wholesome family movie, Disney made this pic about the legendary Triple Crown winner Secretariat.  The cast is as solid as you can get with Diane Lane and John Malkovich leading the way, but in the end, its still another predictable horse race movie.  Sure it makes you feel good and might even bring a little tear to your eye, so if that’s what you are looking for you are sure to find it.  Personally, I found it to be
nothing more than a nice history lesson and a short diversion.  C+

Broadcast News: The Criterion Collection
Rated R
Available on DVD and Blu-ray

Widely considered to be not only one of the best films about the broadcasting industry, but an insightful comedy as well, Broadcast News is getting the Criterion treatment with this new release.  The film has been restored in high def and given a new audio commentary by director James L. Brooks and editor Richard marks.  In addition, there is a great new doc on Brooks and his career in television and film as well as an alternate ending, deleted scenes and loads of other featurettes.  While its one of the most mainstream films you’ll ever find being released by Criterion, it is still very worthy and this new edition is a true collector’s item.  A

Rated PG-13 for intense sequences of action violence and brief strong language
Available on DVD and Blu-ray

Bruce Willis, Morgan Freeman and John Malkovich are among a CIA group known simply as RED – Retired Extremely Dangerous.  When the government makes the decision to try to snuff them all out, Willis pulls the team together in order to try reverse the tide.  This is a pretty darn fun, creative action thriller that uses well its mature cast.  The standout here though is the young agent on the hunt to take them out, played by Star Trek’s Karl Urban.  B+

Zorro: The Complete Series
Available on DVD

For four seasons during the 90’s, the masked swashbuckler, Zorro, appeared on The Family Channel and then disappeared.  So two decades later, the show is hitting DVD in this huge set featuring 15 discs, all four seasons, and tons of special features including The Mask of Zorro – the original Douglas Fairbanks silent film that started it all.  B

Like Dandelion Dust
Rated PG-13 for mature thematic material including domestic violence and alcohol abuse
Available on DVD

Lately, it seems that adoption films have all included a scary child that ends up killing everyone around him or her.  So I have to admit that it is refreshing to find a nice family drama in Dandelion Dust.  The story revolves around a troubled couple (exceptionally played by Mira Sorvino and Barry Pepper) who attempt to get their son back from his adopted parents (Cole Hauser and Kate Levering) when the husband gets out of prison and discovers that his wife gave up the child without his knowledge.  It’s a tough film to swallow, but the acting is very strong and the story is quite compelling.  A-  

Santa Sangre
Not Rated
Available on DVD and Blu-ray

There are some that consider this horror film by Alejandro Jodorowsky to be a masterpiece of the genre.  Personally, I found this film to be a little too much.  Too violent, too strange, and far too disturbing.  You can tell that there is genius at work, but sometimes the arthouse-ness of the film takes over the story, and you find yourself neck-deep in a narrative that is not only confusing, but overly artistic.  This gave me the feeling I get when going to a Modern Art Museum: I can appreciate the work, but it doesn’t mean I like it, or find any enjoyment from it whatsoever.  C-

Glee: Season 2 – Volume 1
Available on DVD

The first season of Glee was original, fun, and extremely entertaining.  That being said, the second season came in just delivering the same thing again and I gave up half-way through the season.  Revisiting this season again, I feel I made the right choice.  Don’t get me wrong, the music is still pretty terrific and I’ve bought a few of the songs on iTunes, but it seems to me that the plot is always the same.  The members of the Glee club are outcasts in their school, in spite of their enormous talent, and cheerleader coach Sue Sylvester (played by the funny Jane Lynch) tries with all her might to shut them down.  Sure there are some variations, but it has become more annoying than entertaining at this point.  Unless they do something drastic with the writing, the show will have a short half-life.  One question I also have: what’s with the cheerleaders wearing their costumes every day?  Are their closets that limited?  C+

The Dilemma

The Dilemma

Starring Vince Vaughn, Kevin James, Jennifer Connelly, and Winona Ryder
Directed by Ron Howard
Rated PG-13 for mature thematic elements involving sexual content
Appropriate for ages 15+

    Ronny and Nick (Vaughn and James) have been best friends since college and business partners after that.  But just days before the biggest presentation of their lives, Ronny discovers that Nick’s wife (Ryder) is cheating on him, giving him the dilemma of telling Nick and ruining any chance of going into the presentation prepared or waiting until afterward knowing that his best friend might hate him for it.

    I had very preconceived notions going into this film.  After watching the trailer, this appeared to be nothing more than Vaughn doing his fast-talking obnoxious persona with James’s cartoon like physical antics.  And to be honest, the film starts out like that.  But then the script by Allan Loeb and the directing by Ron Howard kick in, taking the movie away from Vaughn and James and giving something more respectable back to the audience.  This very well could have been a stupid broad comedy, but the laughs end fairly early, making the picture more of a thought-provoking experience. 

    After all, cheating is not really funny.  Especially when the elements of cheating dealt with are deceit and hurt.  Don’t misunderstand me, there is an underlying comedy here, but it serves more as a form of tension relief than the purpose of the film.  That being said, Vaughn was very well cast here and James gives the best performance of his career and proves that he can take on the drama.  In fact, he’s better at drama than comedy, but with his looks and physicality, comedy will most like remain his bread and butter, no matter how irritating he is with it (okay – I get it – he likes to goofy dance).  Ryder, who is seeing quite a resurgence thanks to this and Black Swan, plays the dishonest but victimized wife well.  Perhaps the scene stealer is Channing Tatum whose other guy role is quite the despicable character.  I was a bit turned off by Queen Latifah’s character due to its lack of believability and her choice to take it over the top when it just wasn’t necessary.

    Now the audience dilemma: who is the audience?  This is a movie about cheating, so it makes for a pretty lousy date movie.  Maybe it’s a dude flick, but it certainly lacks the action and violence needed there.  It’s not really a comedy, so you can forget the folks who just want to laugh.  It’s certainly not a chick flick.  This leaves a sort of gap.  Sure there are those that love Ron Howard, Vince Vaughn or Kevin James, but they will typically only go see the kinds of films those folks are known for.  So while it’s a decent pic, I’m not sure if it will get seen much in theaters and has the chance to disappoint many of the people who do show up.  B+ 

New in Home Entertainment – January 18, 2011

New in Home Entertainment

January 18, 2011

Animal Kingdom
Rated R for violence, drug content and pervasive language
Available on DVD and Blu-ray

What I consider to be the most underrated film of the year is this Australian crime drama filled with powerhouse performances and a breathtaking script from writer/director David Michod.  The story takes place when a young man’s mother dies and he is taken in by his bank robbing family, led by his wickedly sweet grandmother (played by Jackie Weaver who very much deserves the Best Supporting Actress Oscar for her role).  Thrust into a situation that can’t possibly have a good outcome, the young man must decide between right and wrong, which also happens to be the decision between life and death.  I am convinced that the only reason this film isn’t gaining more attention during awards season is because the voters aren’t taking the time to watch it.  A+

Rated R for strong sexuality and violence, and pervasive language
Available on DVD and Blu-ray

In this chess match between prisoner and lawman, Ed Norton plays a convicted arsonist that tries to secure his parole by using his wife (Mila Jovovich) to seduce his parole officer, played by Robert De Niro.  There was a lot of hope for this film before its release, but while the performances are all very good, the story is not as compelling as you would hope, which leaves the viewer with more of an air of disgust than a feeling of being entertained.  Perhaps its the fact that all three of the actors are despicable, which leaves you no one to cheer for.  So while the cast does the part exceptionally well, you find yourself not caring who wins.  C

Paper Man
Rated R for language and a scene of sensuality
Available on DVD and Blu-ray

When a writer (Jeff Daniels) moves into his cabin to get away from his normal life, he befriends a young girl from the town (Emma Stone) without the knowledge of his wife (Lisa Kudrow).  And to make matters a little strange, both Bridges and Stone have imaginary friends that guide them through life (Ryan Reynolds and Kieran Culkin respectively).  This is definitely a case of great cast, good script, but too far out there for mainstream release.  Still, the movie tells a nice little story that is fairly entertaining and even funny at times.  B-

Season of the Witch

Season of the Witch

Starring Nicholas Cage, Ron Perlman and Claire Foy
Directed by Dominic Sena (Whiteout)
Rated PG-13 for thematic elements, violence and disturbing content
Appropriate for ages 15+

    When two 14th-century knights (Cage and Perlman) find themselves in a town hit by a horrible plague, they are charged with transporting a supposed witch (Foy) to stand trial at a nearby monastery in the hopes that the plague will end with her death sentence.

    If you follow Hollywood news at all, you are probably well aware that Nicolas Cage is in extreme dire straights with his finances.  And thus he picks up as many films as he can in order to meet his obligations.  Every once in a while we end up with a jackpot like Kick-Ass, but most of the time the films find themselves in Witch territory.  This is the kind of movie that realistically has zero chance of either succeeding or entertaining. 

    I would guess that this was supposed to be a horror film.  I’m not really sure since it is not in the least bit scary or suspenseful.  It tries to be tongue-in-cheek funny at times, but only achieves mild humor.  It might also be considered fantasy, but it lacks the imagination needed for that genre. 

    So what went wrong here?  I’m not sure if anything ever went right.  The script is lame at best and atrocious at worst.  There is not enough violence or danger to bring the chills and thrills which is why it doesn’t work in the whichever genre it is aiming for.  As for the utilization of an Oscar-winning actor, what you get here is a phoned-in role for Cage and the rest of the cast looks equally apathetic. 

    Slightly interesting is the special effects show at the end of the film, but they merely serve as an example of too little, too late. 

    The only time I was even modestly entertained was when the 10-year-old boy sitting behind me (obviously taken out of school to see the film by his model parents) started belching unrelentingly at the screen.  Normally I would consider this behavior reprehensible, but this particular time I felt fortunate for the distraction.  F

New in Home Entertainment – January 11, 2011

New in Home Entertainment

January 11, 2011

Dances with Wolves: 20th Anniversary Edition
Rated PG-13
Available on DVD and Blu-ray

When Dances with Wolves was released twenty years ago it took the world by storm and pretty much swept the Oscars, beating out some major films such as Goodfellas and Godfather 3.  If you are like me, you have been chomping at the bit to see this beautiful western in your stunning hi def home theater.  I’m happy to say that you won’t be disappointed by this long-awaited release.  The picture and sound are simply amazing, as is expected, fully showcasing the work of Oscar-winning director Kevin Costner, cinematographer Dean Semler and Composer John Barry.  Disc two contains some of the original special features, but I highly recommend checking out the new retrospective as well as the featurette “A Day in the Life on the Western Frontier.”  One thing that might throw off some fans and new viewers is that this is the Extended Edition with almost an hour extra running time.  In my mind it is a superior version of an already perfect film, but for some the four-hour length might be too much to handle.  A+

Big Love: Season Four
Available on DVD

Still going strong is this HBO drama about a polygamist family in Utah.  This season threw all kinds of irons in the fire as Bill, along with his three wives and now nine children, attempt to stay anonymous in spite of pressures from his drama-inducing outer family.  But regardless of the pressures coming from the compound, he not only opens a new Mormon-friendly casino, but makes a run for the Utah State Senate as well.  While it’s certainly not HBO’s most popular show, it is definitely one of their brightest stars with excellent writing, superb acting, and boundary-pushing storytelling.  This was a season that held surprises and shocks in each episode and has me impatiently waiting for season five to start up on January 16.  A-

The Hessen Conspiracy
Not Rated
Available on DVD

It appears that the producers had more in store for this straight-to-DVD release than the end result.  After all, a $20 million dollar budget usually gets you a lot more than this low-budget-looking crapfest.  Supposedly based on a true story, The Hessen Conspiracy, originally titled The Hessen Affair, follows a small group of American officers after the end of WWII that discover the German crown jewels and attempt to take them back to the states.  Poorly acted, terribly written, and horrendously directed, this movie fails at almost every turn.  The only saving grace is look of the film, which I can only assume was where the money was spent.  The sets, costumes, and photography provide a nice view of this film noir gone wrong.  D

Made in Dagenham

Made in Dagenham

Starring Sally Hawkins, Bob Hoskins and Miranda Richardson
Directed by Nigel Cole (Calendar Girls)
Rated R for language and brief sexuality
Appropriate for ages 17+

    Based on a true story, Made in Dagenham follows a group of women led by a spirited worker (Hawkins) that fight for equal pay during the 1968 strike at the Ford car plant in Dagenham, Egland.  When the top brass at Ford claim that equal pay would sink the corporation, the infamous Secretary of State for Employment and Productivity Barbary Castle (Richardson) steps in to assist.

    While this is not at all a bad film, it doesn’t exactly stand as a strong example of entertainment.  The acting is good, as you would expect from a cast that includes Hawkins, Hoskins, Richardson and a host of other talented players.  The pacing is a little slow, but that doesn’t work against the film.  Even the production values for the period piece are well put together.  I’ll admit that the men in the film are largely treated like dolts, but I don’t doubt that many of them were at that time. 

    Perhaps it’s the fact that the equality for women film has been done before, and much better than this.  Perhaps it’s because the film doesn’t seem relevant.  Whatever the case might be, it’s not the kind of feel-good movie that makes you want to run out and see it on opening day. 

    But then again, I think its a film that you’ll be glad you saw.  While nothing in it will blow you away, it makes for a nice history lesson, even if it is glamorized a bit.  There is no doubt that the events of the film are important for many reasons, not the least of which is that it led the way for equal rights movements in many developed countries throughout the world.  So for that reason, I am glad I saw it for the mere reason that it led to me reading more about and gaining knowledge of an important historical event that I didn’t know anything about before.  B-

New in Home Entertainment – January 4, 2011

New in Home Entertainment

January 4, 2011

Dinner for Schmucks
Rated PG-13 for sequences of crude and sexual content, some partial nudity and language

Available on DVD and Blu-ray

Based on the original French film, Le Diner de Cons, Schmucks follows a group of smug businessmen that throw an annual dinner that showcases the biggest idiots they can find.  When Paul Rudd badly wants a promotion that is within his grasp, he discovers Steve Carell, a lonely IRS agent that spends all of his time building extravagant miniature sets using dead mice as models.  What he thinks is good luck in finding such a catch turns his world into chaos when Carell quickly ruins his life.  Schmucks is a grand improvement upon the original for several reasons, among them being that the original is so cold and heartless and the original also doesn’t actually have a dinner.  Paul Rudd attracts empathy for the plain fact that he understands fully that the dinner compromises his ethics and morals but is a necessary evil.  Carell, on the other hand, is an uncomfortable nightmare who brings the big laughs with what we can only assume is his natural self.  The two have great chemistry together, and when you throw in the other “winners” at the dinner, the frantic fun begins a laugh riot.  The only problem with the film is the constant question you have in your head : “who would actually do that?”  Then again, you have to assume that Carell actually would.  B+

Case 39
Rated R for violence and terror including disturbing images
Available on DVD and Blu-ray

Attempting to horn in on the creepy kid movie genre, Renee Zellweger and Bradley Cooper star, respectively, as a social case worker and a shrink who take an interest in the life of a little girl whose parents try to murder her.  In a bad move, Zellweger adopts the little girl without the knowledge that she is really a demon responsible for the deaths of many people around her.  If you wonder how you missed this one in theaters, the answer is easy – it was in and out of the local multiplex in a big hurry.  Not only does the film provide nothing in the way of originality, but it lacks any real scares to boot.  And to make matters worse, the actors look about as apathetic as the audience.  D+

Rated PG-13 for some sexual references
Available on DVD and Blu-ray

Sold as a documentary, Catfish follows the life of the filmmaker’s brother as he sets off across the country to meet a family he has befriended on the internet in the hopes of starting a relationship with the oldest daughter.  Things quickly go south as he discovers that the family hasn’t been honest with him on their correspondences.  While I have a feeling that the movie is about as much of documentary as The Blair Witch Project, the film still makes for an interesting and even thought-provoking experience.  If they were actors portraying themselves, then they did an exceptional job.  If this was truly a documentary, though, then it serves as a very creepy reminder of the fact that you don’t really know what’s going on on the other end of the conversation, especially through instant messaging and sites like Facebook.  B+