Synopsis: London 1818: a secret love affair begins between 23 year old English poet, John Keats, and the girl next door, Fanny Brawne, an outspoken student of fashion. This unlikely pair started at odds; he thinking her a stylish minx, she unimpressed by literature in general.
It was the illness of Keats’s younger brother that drew them together. Keats was touched by Fanny’s efforts to help and agreed to teach her poetry.
By the time Fanny’s alarmed mother and Keats’s best friend Brown realised their attachment, the relationship had an unstoppable momentum. Intensely and helplessly absorbed in each other, the young lovers were swept into powerful new sensations, “I have the feeling as if I were dissolving”, Keats wrote to her. Together they rode a wave of romantic obsession that deepened as their troubles mounted. Only Keats’s illness proved insurmountable.
Consensus: Jane Campion’s direction is as refined as her screenplay, and she gets the most out of her cast — especially Abbie Cornish — in this understated period drama.
Cast: Ben Whishaw, Abbie Cornish, Thomas Sangster, Paul Schneider, Kerry Fox, Samuel Roukin, Samuel Barnett; Directed by: Jane Campion
Michael Jackson’s This is It
Synopsis: Michael Jackson’s THIS IS IT will offer Jackson fans and music lovers worldwide a rare, behind-the-scenes look at the performer as he developed, created and rehearsed for his sold-out concerts that would have taken place beginning this summer in London’s O2 Arena. Chronicling the months from April through June, 2009, the film is produced with the full support of the Estate of Michael Jackson and drawn from more than one hundred hours of behind-the-scenes footage, featuring Jackson rehearsing a number of his songs for the show. Audiences will be given a privileged and private look at Jackson as he has never been seen before. In raw and candid detail, Michael Jackson’s THIS IS IT captures the singer, dancer, filmmaker, architect, creative genius and great artist at work as he creates and perfects his final show. Kenny Ortega, who was both Michael Jackson’s creative partner and the director of the stage show is also directing the film, which is being produced by Randy Phillips, Kenny Ortega and Paul Gongaware. Executive producers are John Branca and John McClain. The film will be distributed worldwide by Sony Pictures Releasing. Tickets for the limited two-week engagement of the film go on sale beginning September 27.
Consensus: While it may not be the definitive concert film (or the insightful backstage look) some will hope for, Michael Jackson’s This Is It packs more than enough entertainment value to live up to its ambitious title.
Cast: Michael Jackson; Director: Kenny Ortega
Synopsis: The makers of the Saw films continue to make Rube Goldberg roll over in his grave with this sixth film in the series. SAW VI finds Detective Hoffman (Costas Mandylor) the target of a FBI investigation, but that won’t stop him from continuing the murderous mayhem started by Jigsaw.
Consensus: It won’t earn the franchise many new fans, but Saw VI is a surprising step up for what has become an intricately grisly annual tradition.
Cast: Costas Mandylor, Mark Rolston, Betsy Russell, Tobin Bell, Shawnee Smith, Peter Outerbridge, Shauna MacDonald, Darius McCrary; Director: Kevin Greutert
Synopsis: FBI agents (BRUCE WILLIS and RADHA MITCHELL) investigate the mysterious murder of a college student linked to the man who helped create a high-tech surrogate phenomenon that allows people to purchase unflawed robotic versions of themselves – fit, good looking remotely controlled machines that ultimately assume their life roles – enabling people to experience life vicariously from the comfort and safety of their own homes. The murder spawns a quest for answers: in a world of masks, who’s real and who can you trust?
Cast: Bruce Willis, Radha Mitchell, Rosamund Pike, Boris Kodjoe, James Cromwell, Ving Rhames, James Francis Ginty; Director: Jonathan Mostow
Synopsis: Drew Barrymore makes her directorial debut with this feisty, female-friendly action-comedy. JUNO’s Ellen Page stars as Bliss Cavendar, a young woman who longs to break free of her small-town bonds by joining the rough-and-tumble sport of roller derby in nearby Austin, Texas.
Consensus: While made from overly familiar ingredients, Drew Barrymore’s directorial debut has enough charm, energy, and good-natured humor to transcend its many cliches.
Cast: Ellen Page, Marcia Gay Harden, Kristen Wiig, Drew Barrymore, Juliette Lewis, Jimmy Fallon, Daniel Stern, Alia Shawkat, Eve; Director: Drew Barrymore
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.
These are the movie new releases for this Friday: The Invention Lying, Toy Story 2 in 3-D, Zombieland and Whip It.
The Invention Lying
Synopsis: From Ricky Gervais, the award-winning creator and star of the original BBC series “The Office” and HBO’s “Extras,” comes the new romantic comedy “The Invention of Lying,” which takes place in an alternate reality where lying–even the concept of a lie–does not exist. Everyone–from politicians to advertisers to the man and woman on the street–speaks the truth and nothing but the truth with no thought of the consequences. But when a down-on-his-luck loser named Mark suddenly develops the ability to lie, he finds that dishonesty has its rewards. In a world where every word is assumed to be the absolute truth, Mark easily lies his way to fame and fortune. But lies have a way of spreading, and Mark begins to realize that things are getting a little out of control when some of his tallest tales are being taken as, well, gospel. With the entire world now hanging on his every word, there is only one thing Mark has not been able to lie his way into: the heart of the woman he loves.
Cast: Ricky Gervais, Jennifer Garner, Rob Lowe, Jonah Hill, Jonah Hill, Louis C.K., Tina Fey, Jason Bateman, Jeffrey Tambor; Directed by: Ricky Gervais, Matt Robinson
Toy Story 2 in 3-D
Synopsis: Originally released in 1999, “Toy Story 2″ went on to become one of the most popular animated features of all time. The film picks up as Andy is heading off to Cowboy Camp and the toys are left to their own devices. When an obsessive toy collector named Al McWhiggin (owner of Al’s Toy Barn) kidnaps Woody, and Woody learns that he’s a highly valued collectable from a 1950s TV show called “Woody’s Roundup,” the stage is set for a daring rescue attempt by the gang from Andy’s room. The film introduced such other memorable characters from “Woody’s Roundup” as Jessie the cowgirl, Bullseye the horse, and the Prospector.
Cast: Don Rickles, Tom Hanks, John Ratzenberger, Joan Cusack, Wayne Knight, Kelsey Grammer, Jim Varney, Tim Allen, Carly Schroeder; Directed by: John Lasseter
Synopsis: Columbus (Jesse Eisenberg) has made a habit of running from what scares him. Tallahassee (Woody Harrelson) doesn’t have fears. If he did, he’d kick their ever-living ass. In a world overrun by zombies, these two are perfectly evolved survivors. But now, they’re about to stare down the most terrifying prospect of all: each other.
Synopsis: The directorial debut of Drew Barrymore, stars Ellen Page as Bliss, a rebellious Texas teen who throws in her small town beauty pageant crown for the rowdy world of roller derby. Marcia Gay Harden plays Bliss’ disapproving mother, while Kristen Wiig and Juliette Lewis play roller-derby stars.
Cast: Ellen Page, Marcia Gay Harden, Kristen Wiig, Drew Barrymore, Juliette Lewis, Jimmy Fallon, Daniel Stern; Directed by: Drew Barrymore
Release date: Friday October 2, 2009 Genre: Action, Comedy, Drama Director: Drew Barrymore Studio: Fox Searchlight Pictures Screenplay: Shauna Cross Producer(s): Barry Mendel, Drew Barrymore Cast: Ellen Page, Marcia Gay Harden, Kristen Wiig, Drew Barrymore, Juliette Lewis, Jimmy Fallon, Daniel Stern Official Site:foxsearchlight.com/whipit Rating:PG-13 for sexual content including crude dialogue, language and drug material Available film art: Whip It! movie posters
Synopsis Harden plays an overbearing ex-beauty queen who would rather see her daughter, Bliss (Page), in pageants than skates. Wiig (“Saturday Night Live”) plays Bliss’ rowdy mentor, Malice in Wonderland. Lewis is Dinah Might, the star of Austin’s top team. Bell plays a medical technician moonlighting as derby star Bloody Holly.