Directed by: Pierre Morel Starring: Sean Penn, Jasmin Trinca, Javier Bardem, Mark Rylance, Peter Franzen, Idris Elba Rated: R for strong violence, language and some sexuality When most folks think of Sean Penn, they think of his social activism, particularly about Haiti. When most folks think about international espionage thrillers, they think of exotic locations, beautiful people, various forms of combat, and a hero fighting against a big system of some kind. Take these two and mash them together, and you have “The Gunman,” starring Sean Penn: an activist film (although it’s about Congo, not Haiti) which is also a pretty solid international espionage flick. The story follows Penn’s character, Jim Terrier, who is the titular gunman, a sniper and general contractor for a private military company doing work in the Congo. After he assassinates a government official, he has to leave the continent and essentially go into hiding, abandoning his girlfriend Annie (Jasmine
Directed by: John Madden Starring: Dev Patel, Tina Desai, Shazad Latif, Maggie Smith, Judi Dench, Bill Nighy, Celia Imrie, Ronald Pickup, Diana Hardcastle Rated: PG for some language and suggestive comments Back in 2011, moviegoers were introduced to Sonny (Dev Patel), the relentlessly optimistic Indian man with his heart set on making The Best Exotic Marigold Hotel the ultimate retirement community, and an unlikely group of British retirees who wind up as his customers. The obstacles were formidable, but of course Sonny and the retirees were able to make everything work, and the film ended with them happily settling into the city of Jaipur, India. Now we are presented with “The Second Best Exotic Marigold Hotel,” a sequel in which Sonny is determined to open a second hotel (since the first has only one remaining vacancy and is wildly successful). In many ways it’s more of the same, like any sequel, but it takes on
Directed by: Peter Jackson Starring: Ian McKellen, Martin Freeman, Richard Armitage, Ken Stott, Aidan Turner, Dean O’Gorman, Orlando Bloom, Evangeline Lilly, Lee Pace, Luke Evans Rated: PG-13 for extended sequences of intense fantasy action violence, and frightening images Peter Jackson appears to have finally run out of Hobbit. “The Battle of Five Armies” is the third and final film in his prequel trilogy, which uses J.R.R. Tolkiens’ book The Hobbit as a framework from which to hang a bunch of material from the appendices to The Lord of the Rings, along with a bunch of his own material. If you saw the previous films in the Hobbit trilogy, this one is essentially more of the same, just dialed up in intensity. There’s more fighting, more outside material, more fancy effects. If you like that sort of thing, it will deliver in spades. If Jackson’s style of adaptation makes you tear your hair, stay away. All
Directed by: Jean-Marc Vallée Starring: Reese Witherspoon, Laura Dern, Thomas Sadoski, Keen McRae Rated: R for sexual content, nudity, drug use, and language Cheryl Strayed is known on two axes: her popular advice column / essay column under the nom de plume “Sugar,” and her fiction writing under her own name. When her memoir “Wild” came out, she announced her identity to Sugar fans and put the column on hold to deal with the book. It’s understandable – “Wild” was a run-away success, with people like Oprah raving about it. Strayed knew it was a filmable book and sent a copy to Reese Witherspoon, who loved it and set about making the film happen. It’s a beautiful and moving film, full of lush wilderness and beautifully-shot but thoroughly un-beautiful itself squalor; of loving family interactions and screaming fights. The story is told through interwoven flashbacks as we follow Strayed on her 1,100 mile hike up
Directed by: Don Hall, Chris Williams Starring: Scott Adsit, Ryan Potter, Jamie Chung, Genesis Rodriguez, Damon Wayans Jr., T.J. Miller, Daniel Henney, Alan Tudyk, James Cromwell Rated: PG for action and peril, some rude humor, and thematic elements. There are a couple of primary themes in “Big Hero 6,” Disney’s latest CGI kids’ adventure movie, but it has a lot going on besides that. There’s action, adventure, a wonderfully diverse set of characters, and a handful of lessons kids and parents can take away with them to talk about later. Saying that a movie is for all ages is a little trite, but this one really is. Kids too young to deal with some cartoonish action and the idea of people dying are about the only ones who should sit this out. “Big Hero 6” focuses on young Hiro (Ryan Potter), a child prodigy with robotics who is failing to follow in his older brother
The first warning sign “John Wick” gives us is that there was very, very little publicity about it. Your humble reviewer sees several movies a month, plus previews, and saw nary a single preview for Keanu Reeves’ latest vehicle. The second, of course, is that Reeves is in it. He’s not untalented, but he definitely has trouble picking quality movies on anything resembling a regular basis.
The two together should have been enough to warn even a person who enjoys bad movies for how bad they are to stay away. Sadly, it was not.
Vampires are nothing new. Dracula in particular is nothing new. “Dracula Untold” gives us an entire film of what we saw only briefly in Francis Ford Coppala’s version of the famed vampire’s life: the (rather brief) mortal life of Prince Vlad III – the national hero who saved his people and became a monster. This is definitely not a film for scholars of the historical Vlad, but if you know a little and are interested in another take on the vampire flick, it will sate your appetite.
Directed by: Antoine Fuqua Starring: Denzel Washington, Marton Csokas, Johnnie Skourtis, Chloe Grace Moretz Rated: R for strong bloody violence and language throughout, including some sexual references The plotline featuring a retired/semi-retired man driven to take up his violent ways once more to save a woman is not new. In fact, there’s almost nothing new about “The Equalizer” except perhaps its quality performances and the villains being Russian gangsters in Boston. What the film does accomplish, however, is executing its tropes flawlessly. If you want a flick that will give you entertainment along with the comfort of familiarity, this is your cup of tea. Denzel Washington plays Robert, a mysterious older fellow who works at the local home improvement store, keeps his modest apartment rigorously organized, and follows his routines like clockwork. One of those routines includes late-night visits to a diner, where he brings a book to read and chats about it with young
Directed by: Michaël R. Roskam Rated: R for some strong violence and pervasive language Starring: Tom Hardy, Noomi Rapace, James Gandolfini, Matthias Schoenaerts, John Ortiz There’s a subgenre of crime films that linger over their characters, whose plots move slowly at first, but gradually become increasingly tense until the final confrontation is not only inevitable, but startlingly intense. “The Drop” is a shining example of this genre, and it seems a fitting final cinematic role for the late James Gandolfini, who gets to showcase both his sense of timing and his ability to layer complexity into seemingly simple characters. The film rotates around Bob Saginowski (Tom Hardy), a bartender who tries to hold himself aloof from the organized crime that surrounds him. Cousin Marv (Gandolfini) used to own the bar where Bob works, but now it’s owned by a Chechen crime family. The Chechens periodically use it as a “drop” – a place for their
Directed by: John Eric Dowdle Starring: Perdita Weeks, Ben Feldman, Edwin Hodge, François Civil, Marion Lambert, Ali Marhyar Rated: R for bloody violence/terror, and language throughout So many movies in the last few years have focused on using visceral horror and supremely disgusting special effects to be scary that it’s refreshing to find one that not only avoids those for the most part but also avoids the “creepy ghost moving suddenly” style of jump scare borrowed from Asian horror cinema. “As Above, So Below” aims to be more of a “Blair Witch Project” style scary movie: it avoids expensive gross makeup in favor of creeping paranoia and dread with a slowly increasing sense of doom. It’s not a terribly good film, but it goes through the familiar paces with determination. All of the shots are from cameras held by the characters: Benji (Edwin Hodge), the documentary cameraman; Scarlett (Perdita Weeks), the subject of his documentary;