These are the movies being released this Friday: Where the Wild Things Are, The Stepfather, and Law Abiding Citizens.
Where the Wild Things Are
Synopsis: Misunderstood at home and at school, mischievous Max (Max Records) escapes to a land populated by majestic, and sometimes fierce, creatures known as the Wild Things. The Wild Things allow Max to become their leader, and he promises to create a kingdom where everyone will be happy. However, Max soon finds that being the king is not easy, and that his relationships with the Wild Things are much more complicated than he originally thought.
Cast: Catherine Keener, Max Records, Mark Ruffalo, Lauren Ambrose, James Gandolfini, Catherine O’Hara, Forest Whitaker, Michelle Williams, Michael Berry, Jr., Paul Dano, Tom Noonan; Direct by: Spike Jonze
Synopsis: When a teenage boy (Penn Badgley) begins to suspect that his new stepfather (Dylan Walsh) is a notorious serial killer who preys on broken families, he races to gather the evidence that will back up his radical claim before it’s too late. The 1987 thriller that shot Lost star Terry O’Quinn to cult stardom serves as inspiration for this remake penned by J.S. Cardone and directed by Nelson McCormick.
Cast: Dylan Walsh, Sela Ward, Penn Badgley, Sherry Stringfield, Jon Tenney, Paige Turco, Amber Heard; Directed By: Nelson McCormick
Law Abiding Citizen
Synopsis: Clyde Shelton (Gerard Butler) is an upstanding family man whose wife and daughter are brutally murdered during a home invasion. When the killers are caught, Nick Rice (Jamie Foxx), a hotshot young Philadelphia prosecutor, is assigned to the case. Over his objections, Nick is forced by his boss to offer one of the suspects a light sentence in exchange for testifying against his accomplice.
Fast forward ten years. The man who got away with murder is found dead and Clyde Shelton coolly admits his guilt. Then he issues a warning to Nick: Either fix the flawed justice system that failed his family, or key players in the trial will die.
Soon Shelton follows through on his threats, orchestrating from his jail cell a string of spectacularly diabolical assassinations that can be neither predicted nor prevented. Philadelphia is gripped with fear as Shelton’s high-profile targets are slain one after another and the authorities are powerless to halt his reign of terror. Only Nick can stop the killing, and to do so he must outwit this brilliant sociopath in a harrowing contest of wills in which even the smallest misstep means death. With his own family now in Shelton’s crosshairs, Nick finds himself in a desperate race against time facing a deadly adversary who seems always to be one step ahead.
Cast: Gerard Butler, Jamie Foxx, Viola Davis, Michael Gambon, Leslie Bibb, Theresa Randle, Colm Meaney; Directed by: F. Gary Gray
Release date: Friday December 4, 2009 Genre: Drama Director: Jason Reitman Studio: Paramount Pictures Screenplay: Jason Reitman Producer(s): Jeff Clifford, Ivan Reitman, Daniel Dubiecki, Jason Reitman Cast: George Clooney, Vera Farmiga, Jason Bateman, Tamala Jones, Anna Kendrick Official Site:theupintheairmovie.com Rating:R for language and some sexual content Available film art: Up In the Air movie posters
Synopsis Juno’s Jason Reitman heads into corporate America territory once again with this adaptation of Walter Kirn’s novel Up in the Air for Montecito Pictures. The plot surrounds a human resource administrator (George Clooney) whose life up in the friendly skies becomes his only world as he works to reach his one-millionth frequent flyer mile. Jason Bateman and Vera Farmiga co-star in the Paramount Pictures production.
Release date: October 30th, 2009 Genre: Comedy Director: Jared Hess Studio: Fox Searchlight Pictures Screenplay: Jared Hess, Jerusha Hess Producer(s): Sean Furst, Chris Brown, Bryan Furst Cast: Ethan Hawke, Willem Dafoe, Michael Dorman, Claudia Karvan, Sam Neill, Isabel Lucas, Vince Colosimo, Paul Sonkkila Official Site:foxsearchlight.com/gentlemenbroncos Rating:PG-13 for some crude humor Available film art: Gentlemen Broncos movie posters
Synopsis Benjamin (Michael Angarano), home-schooled by his eccentric mother (Jennifer Coolidge), is a loveable loner whose passion for writing leads him on an offbeat and hilarious journey as his story first gets ripped off by the legendary fantasy novelist, Ronald Chevalier (Jemaine Clement) and then is adapted into a disastrous movie by the small town’s most prolific homespun filmmaker.
In so many ways, Max is a modern child. His father is gone. His older sister has outgrown him. His mother, who works late to support the household, is dating a stranger. His teachers are slowly introducing him to the realities of an adult life, offering lessons on tsunamis and supernovas. He has no friends with whom to share his frustrations or figure out his feelings, some combination of betrayal or anger or loneliness. Yet his imagination is strong and provides him with a shelter from the storms of his everyday existence. But when, one evening, his emotions boil over and he runs from his home in a rage, he crosses some imaginary boarder into the realm of the Wild Things.
With that in mind, Where the Wild Things Are isn’t so much a movie for children as it is a movie about children, awash in a complicated sea of emotions that one can only associate with childhood long after becoming an adult. Director Spike Jonze and writer Dave Eggers have crafted an incredibly sophisticated, multi-layered and strangely subversive adaptation of Maurice Sendak’s novel by replicating all the wonder and imagination, all the volatile sadness and emotional uncertainty, of being an innocent kid in a grown-up’s world. The pair seems to grasp that in lacking the vocabulary to fully explain or understand their most complex feelings, children turn inward, drifting into imaginary worlds to make sense of the inexplicable. But all too often, their imaginings are subject to the limits of their own experience, and all the painted vistas and pretended friendships are just as broken and unknowable as the lives they were trying to escape.
When Max crosses an ocean and ends up in the midst of the Wild Things, he quickly proclaims himself the king of this odd assortment of gentle-hearted behemoths. Immediately, Max forms a bond with Carol (voiced by James Gandolfini with both a quiet tenderness and boiling anger). He’s trying to figure out his feelings for K.W. (voiced by Lauren Ambrose), an approximation of Max’s sister in her desire to break away from the pack, away from the people who love and need her the most. Carol’s emotions are unsteady to say the least, prone to abrupt, violent outbursts, but much like Max himself, there’s a great melancholy about the character – the very same melancholy that hangs above almost every sequence of the film. They are characters confused, wanting to love and be loved, but incapable of adapting to life’s inevitable changes.
The other Wild Things are all individually representative of Max’s feelings or emotions. Judith (Catherine O’Hara), the moodiest of the Wild Things, holds a mirror up to Max’s own indignation, saying in one pivotal sequence, “You don’t get to yell at me when I get mad! It’s your job to understand, to make us feel better,” a universal frustration that we’ve all shared as children. Douglas (Chris Cooper) represents Max’s limited sense of reason while Alexander (Paul Dano) echoes his sense of invisibility. Ira (Forest Whitaker) highlights Max’s desire to make peace, to buffer the conflicts between others and within himself.
But what makes the film work – either because or in spite of its artful, indie spirit – is that each of the creatures feel like actual characters and not simply some collection of walking, talking metaphors. They have their own personalities and arcs, and while the group’s conflicts revolve around the construction of a massive, imaginary fort – as opposed to some epic, Disney-esque adventure – they each get their moment to shine. This is in no small part due to the jaw-dropping effects work required to bring them to life, from the full-scale, beautifully-designed suits to the CG used to animate their facial expressions. WTWTA may mark the most aesthetically dynamic integration of practical and digital effects we’ve seen in quite some time, and if you feel yourself wanting to reach out and give Carol a hug, you’d hardly be alone.
Jonze’s direction is appropriately matter-of-fact, never romanticizing the world of the Wild Things. In fact, by virtue of setting most of the film in a dense forest, the monsters are generally the only visual element of the film that feels particularly fantastic. Yes, there’s a desert landscape and the fort itself is impressively grand in its design, but everything here feels like an extension of the natural world. No CG kingdoms anywhere in sight. And Jonze’s decision to film the world with a minimized sense of wonder, focusing instead on the size of things relative to Max – the monsters pose a constant threat of accidental harm – ultimately keeps the focus on Max and his relationships.
Overall, Where the Wild Things Are is a tremendously moving and intelligent film, so much so that it risks alienating audiences who are expecting a more typical adventure. There is humor here, and joy, and amazement, but for every beat of whimsy, there’s one of sadness or confusion. So it’ll be up to the age and maturity of the kids in the audience whether they’ll ultimately “get” all of what the film is aiming at. That said, if you take the film for what it is, you’ll discover a complex and extraordinary accomplishment, as moving as it is odd. A true Wild Thing in itself.
AFI FEST 2009 is making an unprecedented gift to moviegoers: FREE tickets to all festival movies, including red carpet galas. Get your tickets starting October 16 at AFI.com or 866-AFI-FEST. You can also obtain tickets by going to the Festival Box Office/Will Call desk located at the Mann Chinese 6 main lobby starting on October 26. Seats to same-day screenings will also be available via Rush Lines one hour before the screening.
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AFI FEST 2009 presented by Audi takes place October 30 – November 5 in the heart of historic downtown Hollywood at Grauman’s Chinese Theatre, the neighboring Mann 6 Theater (in the Hollywood & Highland Center) and the Roosevelt Hotel, then moves to Santa Monica for two days of screenings at AFM, the American Film Market (the largest film market in the North America, where independent movies are bought and sold).
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Release date: Friday January 8, 2010 Genre: Horror Director: Michael Spierig, Peter Spierig Studio: Maple Pictures, Lionsgate Screenplay: Peter Spierig, Michael Spierig Producer(s): Sean Furst, Chris Brown, Bryan Furst Cast: Ethan Hawke, Willem Dafoe, Michael Dorman, Claudia Karvan, Sam Neill, Isabel Lucas, Vince Colosimo, Paul Sonkkila Official Site:daybreakersmovie.com Rating:Not Yet Rated Available film art: Daybreakers movie posters
Synopsis Fresh off the success of their inventive take on the zombie genre, Undead masterminds Michael and Peter Spierig direct Ethan Hawke in an ambitious tale of a futuristic Earth populated entirely by vampires, and the efforts made by the creatures to ensure that their food supply doesn’t run out as humankind is faced with extinction. The year is 2017, and a vampire plague has turned most of the planet’s human population into bloodsucking ghouls. As the population of mortals fast begins to dwindle, a resourceful team of vampires sets out to capture and farm every remaining human while simultaneously researching a consumable blood substitute. Just when all hope seems lost, a secret is discovered that may provide the key o saving the human race.
These are some of the movies opening in limited and wide release this Friday: Couples Retreat (Wide 3,000 theaters), From Mexico with Love (Limited to 279 theaters), and Good Hair (Limited to 185 theaters).
Synopsis: Vince Vaughn, Jason Bateman, Jon Favreau, Malin Akerman, Kristin Davis, Kristen Bell and Faizon Love star in Universal Pictures’ upcoming comedy “Couples Retreat.” Based on an original idea of Vaughn’s, the comedy follows four Midwestern couples who embark on a journey to a tropical island resort. While one of the couples is there to work on their marriage, the other three set out to jet ski, spa and enjoy some fun in the sun. They soon discover that participation in the resort’s couples therapy is not optional. Suddenly, their group-rate vacation comes at a price. What follows is a hilarious look at real world problems faced by all couples. The film also stars Kali Hawk and Jean Reno.
Cast: Vince Vaughn, Jason Bateman, Jon Favreau, Faizon Love, Kristin Davis, Malin Akerman, Kristen Bell, Kali Hawk, Jean Reno; Directed by: Peter Billingsley
From Mexico With Love
Synopsis: Jimmy Nickerson, fight coordinator on such films as Raging Bull and Rocky, takes the directorial reins for this tale of a self-destructive amateur boxer seeking to follow in his father’s footsteps by making a name for himself in the ring. Hector Villa (Kuno Becker) may have the spirit of a winner, but his better judgment is consistently clouded by his anger. Though Hector picks fruit on the Texas ranch of Big Al Stevens during the daylight hours, nightfall finds the migrant laborer earning more than a day’s pay by fighting for cash in local bars and converted barns. When Hector’s mother, Rosa, falls ill, her loyal son takes as many fights as possible in order to pay for her expensive heart medication. But Big Al’s son Robert is the undefeated champ of the local boxing scene, and when Big Al learns that Hector may be capable of delivering the blow that could dethrone his son, he has his henchmen beat Hector and leave him for dead in the Mexican desert. Now homeless and penniless on the desolate streets of Mexico, Hector is forced to literally fight for his life. When Hector learns that his mother has died, he seeks out local fighting legend Billy Jenkins in hopes that the grizzled former boxer and trainer will help him develop the skills needed to settle the score with Big Al and Robert. The man who once served as Robert’s coach before learning that the unscrupulous young fighter was “on the juice,” Billy knows that there is no way Hector could beat an opponent with such an unfair advantage. Upon learning that Big Al has accepted Hector’s challenge to take on his son Robert thanks to the persuasive efforts of the migrant community, Hector and Billy begin training for the fight that could make or break Hector’s future career in the ring.
Cast: Steven Bauer, Kuno Becker, Bruce McGill, Alex Nesic, Danay Garcia; Directed by: Jimmy Nickerson
Synopsis: In the movie School Daze, Spike Lee staged a dance number in which two bands of African-American college students debated the merits of “Straight and Nappy” hair in song, and now comedian Chris Rock and filmmaker Jeff Stilson have extended the conversation to a full-length film in this witty documentary with serious undertones. Rock says he was inspired to make the film when his young daughter asked him, “Daddy, how come I don’t have good hair?” and he and Stilson examine Black America’s obsession with their hair as they visit the Bronner Brothers International Hair Show, an annual trade show for the African-American hair care industry which includes fierce competitions among stylists from around the country and demonstrations of new hair products and techniques. Along the way, Rock also talks to a number of African-American luminaries about their hair issues (including Maya Angelou, The Rev. Al Sharpton, Nia Long, Raven Symone, Ice-T and Paul Mooney), researches the dangers of many common hair straightening treatments, reveals the surprising expense of regular hair “relaxing” and weaves, and ponders what the pursuit of straight hair says about African-American cultural identity. Good Hair received its world premiere at the 2009 Sundance Film Festival.
Cast: Chris Rock, Raven Symone, Kerry Washington, Meagan Good, Ice-T , Nia Long
Release date: Friday October 16, 2009 Genre: Comedy Running time: 1 hour 45 minutes Director: Ethan Coen, Joel Coen Studio: Alliance Films, Focus Features Screenplay: Joel Coen, Ethan Coen Producer(s): Joel Coen, Ethan Coen Cast: Michael Stuhlbarg, Adam Arkin, Sari Lennick, Richard Kind, Aaron Wolff, Jessica McManus Official Site:www.filminfocus.com/focusfeatures/film/a_serious_man Rating:R for language, some sexuality/nudity and brief violence Available film art: A Serious Man movie posters
Synopsis Filmmaking duo Joel and Ethan Coen write, produce, and direct this period black comedy set in 1967 concerning a Midwestern physics professor whose staid and stable life slowly begins to unravel after his wife announces that she’s leaving him. As if the failure of his longtime marriage wasn’t enough for Larry Gopnik (Tony-nominated Michael Stuhlbarg) to contend with, now his socially inept brother refuses to move out of the house as well. Larry is a modest man of science. Up to this point, his life has been uneventful at best, but things are about to get interesting. When his wife, Judith announces that she is leaving him to move in with his smug colleague Sy Ableman, Larry does his best to contend with his failed marriage while barely tolerating his unemployable brother, Arthur, who appears to have grown roots on Larry’s couch. Meanwhile, Larry’s son, Danny, is getting into trouble at Hebrew school, and his daughter, Sarah, is stealthily snatching money from his wallet so she can afford a nose job. As Judith and Sy merrily begin making plans for their new life of domestic bliss together, Larry begins receiving a series of anonymous letters from someone who seems intent on sabotaging his chance for tenure at the university. To further complicate matters, a graduate student with failing grades is attempting to bribe the professor while simultaneously threatening him with a defamation lawsuit. Larry is in some serious need of equilibrium, though it’s hard to focus on getting your life in order when your beautiful neighbor insists on sunbathing in the nude just outside your window. Perhaps by seeking the advice of three trusted rabbis, Larry can finally learn to cope with his afflictions and become a genuine mensch. A Serious Man is the second in a two-picture deal that the siblings made with Focus Features and Working Title. The first film in the deal, entitled Burn After Reading and starring Brad Pitt, George Clooney, and Frances McDormand, was released nationwide in September 2008.
Release date: Friday November 6, 2009 Genre: Adventure, Family, Fantasy Director: Robert Zemeckis Studio: Walt Disney Pictures Screenplay: Robert Zemeckis Producer(s): Jack Rapke, Steve Starkey, Robert Zemeckis Cast: Jim Carrey, Gary Oldman, Colin Firth, Bob Hoskins, Cary Elwes, Robin Wright Penn, Daryl Sabara Official Site:disney.go.com/disneypictures/achristmascarol Rating:PG scary sequences and images Available film art: A Christmas Carol (2009) movie posters
Synopsis DISNEY’S A CHRISTMAS CAROL, a multi-sensory thrill ride re-envisioned by Academy Award®-winning filmmaker Robert Zemeckis, captures the fantastical essence of the classic Dickens tale in a groundbreaking motion picture event.
Ebenezer Scrooge (Jim Carrey) begins the Christmas holiday with his usual miserly contempt, barking at his faithful clerk (Gary Oldman) and his cheery nephew (Colin Firth). But when the ghosts of Christmas Past, Present and Yet to Come take him on an eye-opening journey revealing truths Old Scrooge is reluctant to face, he must open his heart to undo years of ill will before it’s too late.
Drew Barrymore makes an impressive directorial debut in Whip It!.
Based on the novel Derby Girl by Shauna Cross (who also scripted), Whip It marks the feature film directorial debut of Drew Barrymore. The dramedy follows teenager Bliss Cavendar (Ellen Page) who is looking for a way out of her dead-end hometown of Bodeen, Texas. Bliss’ well-meaning but domineering mother Brooke (Marcia Gay Harden) is convinced that her daughter’s only ticket out is to win the local Miss Blue Bonnet Pageant, but Bliss yearns for something other than her mom’s debutante dreams or working as a waitress at the Oink Joint.
Bliss discovers an alternate route to liberation and happiness when she and her best friend Pash (Alia Shawkat) sneak off to Austin. There they attend a women’s roller derby where the teams — such as the Hurl Scouts and their arch-enemies, the Holy Rollers — inspire Bliss with their punkish attitudes and raucous, brutal antics. Convinced that she’s found her true calling in this bloodsport, Bliss lies to her parents about where she’s going and lies to the Hurl Scouts about her age so that she can attend tryouts.
Bliss joins the Hurl Scouts, adopting the moniker of “Babe Ruthless.” Her tough teammates include Maggie Mayhem (Kristen Wiig), Smashley Simpson (Barrymore), Rosa Sparks (Eve), Bloody Holly (Death Proof’s Zoe Bell), and Eva Destruction (Ari Graynor). Their beleaguered coach Razor (Andrew Wilson) vainly tries to teach them the value of following his game plan so that maybe they could actually win once in awhile. The seemingly indomitable Holy Rollers are led by Iron Maven (Juliette Lewis), who seems to have finally met her match in Babe Ruthless. By following Razor’s playbook, Babe helps lead the Hurl Scouts to a string of underdog victories. (Jimmy Fallon appears as the roller derby’s ringside announcer.) Meanwhile, Bliss also falls for Oliver (Landon Pigg), a local singer a few years her senior. But how long can Bliss continue with her dual identity and deceptions before they threaten to destroy her relationships and tenuous hold on her future?
Drew Barrymore makes an impressive directing debut with Whip It, delivering a familiar but audience-friendly tale with enough sincerity, warmth and skill to make even the most hard-bitten cynic overlook the movie’s litany of cliches and get a kick (literally, for many of the characters) out of seeing a young girl’s coming-of-age story married with a rough and tumble sports flick. With over 25 years experience as an actor, Barrymore knows how to draw finely tuned performances out of her stellar cast, and that more than anything else is what makes her film work so well. As for Page, following her acclaimed performances as shrewd youths in Hard Candy and Juno, it was refreshing to see her portray a teenager who isn’t quite so overbearingly precocious.
Page plays Bliss as a real teenage girl, quick-witted but also vulnerable and fallible. Bliss largely treats those in her life well, but she is, as so many teens are, self-centered. And why not? Her domineering mother only wants her to relive her youthful dreams … or does she? Harden, thanks to the script, doesn’t demonize Brooke; she is, like Page’s Bliss, a real person, a stern but sympathetic parent who isn’t as wrong as her daughter would like to believe. There are several moving scenes between them, with Bliss’ coming home/kitchen scene being particularly nuanced and touching. That scene will likely be the “Oscar clip” should either Page or Harden snag a nomination.
Wiig and Lewis are also standouts, with the former showing a dramatic prowess here that suggests a range lacking in many other SNLers, past and present. It’s a performance that bodes well for her future on the big screen. As for Lewis, it doesn’t seem all that long ago when she was the young Oscar nominee playing the precocious teen; her scenes with Ellen Page have an edgy undercurrent to them, as if we’re witnessing the passing of a torch, with the elder recognizing themselves in their young counterpart even as they demand their respect. Meanwhile, Daniel Stern — where the hell has he been for the last decade? — makes a minor comeback as Bliss’ beer-chuggin’ dad. His presence calls to mind his past coming-of-age projects The Wonder Years and Breaking Away.
Just as Yoda revealed that there was another Skywalker, Drew Barrymore likewise announces the existence of another Wilson brother. Andrew Wilson is an eerie amalgam of both of his more famous brothers, mixing Owen’s stoner affability with Luke’s sensitivity and intelligence. Less effective is Landon Pigg as Bliss’ first love. While Barrymore and Cross craft the relationship with tenderness, there is a discernible lack of chemistry between Page and Pigg that renders this subplot only intermittently effective. It’s the only relationship in the movie that feels phony, but at least the final scene between them delivers. Bliss’ relationship with Pash fares better, and rings truer than most teenage friendships do in movies.
Barrymore also acquits herself well in the roller derby scenes, making them visceral and exhilarating even though they are all largely staged the same way each time. She makes you feel every elbow and punch thrown, every body check and nasty spill. These scenes put a fresh spin on the over-used (and now commercially co-opted) term “girl power.” If you can imagine Slap Shot with chicks then you get an idea of what Whip It is going for in its raucous roller derby sequences. That there is a sweet story and genuine characters one can care about when the skating stops makes Whip It one of the year’s most pleasant surprises at the movies.