Opening Friday, Jan. 30, is the French film Taken, featuring Liam Neeson as a retired secret agent who returns to action when his teen daughter (Maggie Grace) is kidnapped by sex traffickers. Rated PG-13 for intense sequences of violence, disturbing thematic material, sexual content, some drug references and language. 94m. At the Broadway, Fortuna and Mill Creek.
The Uninvited is a remake of the 2003 Korean horror film A Tale of Two Sisters. Anna (Emily Browning) becomes upset when her father (David Strathairn) becomes engaged to her recently dead mother's nurse (Elizabeth Banks) and joins forces with her sister (Arielle Kebbel) against the possibly evil fiancée. Rated PG-13 for violent and disturbing images, thematic material, sexual content, language and teen drinking. 87m. At the Broadway and Mill Creek.
New in Town features Renée Zellweger as upscale Miami businesswoman Lucy Hill who is sent to backwater Minnesota to supervise the restructuring of a plant. In a typical romantic comedy development, she falls for local worker and union rep Ted, played by Harry Connick Jr. Rated PG-13 for brief strong language. 96m. At the Broadway.
THE WRESTLER: As readers may know, I tend to privilege acting over other film elements. In that regard, this has been a very good weekend even leaving aside Milk and Slumdog Millionaire, which I had seen out of town.
Certainly acting is the chief virtue of the very good (if a little sentimental) The Wrestler. In the title role of Randy "The Ram" Robinson, Mickey Rourke found the perfect pathway back to film prominence and, unlike Stallone in the most recent Rocky film, Rourke uses his somewhat worn body to perfect effect and he can act.
The plot is simple on the surface: Randy was a pro wrestling star in the 1980s but is just hanging on now, both personally and professionally, when a chance to relive his glory days with a rematch against The Ayatollah (pro wrestler Ernest Miller) arises. At the same time, Randy is pursuing a relationship with single mom stripper Cassidy (Marisa Tomei) as well as attempting to reconnect with his estranged daughter Stephanie (Evan Rachel Wood).
But director Darren Aronofsky (Pi; The Fountain) and screenwriter Robert D. Siegel skillfully exploit the metaphor inherent in pro wrestling: it's all acting on the surface but the deeper meaning often escapes easy delineation, much like Randy's life.
This is Rourke's film, and he rises to the occasion with a beautiful performance, but the under-utilized Tomei is every bit as good in her supporting role. Neither Cassidy nor Randy quite know how to connect and neither really understands the other's inner life. In a line with multiple meanings, Rourke says at one point, "I'll tell you something, I hate the ’90s." Welcome to the new century. Rated R for violence, sexuality/nudity, language and some drug use. 115m. At the Broadway.
REVOLUTIONARY ROAD: Revolutionary Road is based on the acclaimed 1962 novel by Richard Yates. The novel was a finalist for the National book Award and in 2005 made Time's 100 best English language novels since 1923. A friend who greatly admires the book told me the novel was unfilmable. Happily then, I suppose, I come to the film not having read the novel (although I intend to rectify that oversight).
In a 1972 issue of Ploughshares, Yates said this: "I meant the title to suggest that a revolutionary road of 1776 had come to something very much like a dead end in the [Eisenhower] Fifties." A dead end in the Connecticut suburbs is certainly where Frank (Leonardo DiCaprio) and April Wheeler (Kate Winslet) find themselves, although it takes them longer to realize that fact than it does viewers.
When the two met, April was an aspiring stage actor and Frank a disaffected worker at Knox Business Machines. But it turns out that April is an uninspired actor and Frank's disaffection is skin-deep. As they sink into ’50s suburban torpor, April suggests a move to Paris as a way to recapture their original special quality. But as portrayed in the film, neither seemed ever to possess anything special; the belief that they did was a crutch to glaze over their actual circumstances.
In this regard, Revolutionary Road is just another suburban angst film. But for me, the acting raises the film above the ordinary. Kate Winslet is note-perfect, as always, in depicting the simultaneously complicated and naïve April, and DiCaprio is very good as a man who's deceiving himself. Recommended. Rated R for language and some sexual content/nudity. 119m. At the Broadway.
FROST/NIXON: The fine acting continues in Frost/Nixon, a film adaptation of the play by Peter Morgan (who also wrote the screenplay) about the televised interviews in 1977 of Richard Nixon by British talk-show host Robert Frost, and the surrounding events leading to the interviews including the Watergate break-in and Nixon's subsequent resignation.
Directed by Ron Howard, the film stars Frank Langella as Nixon and Michael Sheen as Frost, both reprising their roles from the West End and Broadway productions. Langella has the weightier role but Sheen is also excellent in capturing the seemingly lightweight but very ambitious Frost.
For much of the film, the contest takes the shape most predicted back then: Frost seems more interested in rescuing his TV career than scoring serious points against a disgraced president who wants to be rehabilitated. Indeed, the first three interviews make the viewer want to shake Frost as we see Nixon easily steamroller over him.
It's in the fourth interview, of course, dealing with Watergate, that Frost finally scores telling points, aided here by unflattering extreme close-ups, unavailable on stage, of Langella/Nixon. But the film also lets Nixon off the hook a bit, aided in part by those very same close-ups.
In the film, James Reston Jr. (Sam Rockwell) talks about the "reductive power of the close-up," but this peculiarly film/TV choice is no more reductive than any other device, including language. What is reductive is Nixon's comment "When the president does it, that means that it is not illegal." It's a belief that our recent unlamented reductive president held dear. Rated R for some language. 122m. At the Minor.
UNDERWORLD: RISE OF THE LYCANS: As for the acting in the third Underworld film, a prequel to the first two in the series: not so good. On the other hand, compared to the terrible script, the acting is prize-worthy.
I've always thought that the complicated mythology underlying the Underworld world was a lot more interesting than any iteration of it in the films. Such is the case here. The opening monologue by Sonja (Rhona Mitra, taking over from Kate Beckinsale as the main female character) gives the viewer a brief recap of Vampire/Lycan history. The main plot here, though, deals with the attraction between the second generation Lycan Lucian (Michael Sheen taking a break from real roles) and the vampire Sonja, daughter of head vampire Viktor (Bill Nighy), and the rebellion by the enslaved Lycans.
Much of the film's acting looks hopelessly amateurish in the worst sense, although the three mentioned above are all right. Even with Mitra's lovely presence, my reaction is a spiritless ho-hum. Rated R for bloody violence and some sexuality. 93m. At the Broadway, Fortuna and Mill Creek.
BEDTIME STORIES. Stories told by hotel handyman to his young relatives mysteriously start to come true. Rated PG. 99m. At The Movies.
BOLT. Canine TV star depends on his delusions of grandeur to make unexpected journey cross-country. Rated PG. 96m. At The Movies.
BRIDE WARS. Best friends and brides-to-be find themselves at war when their wedding plans go awry. Rated PG. 94m. At Mill Creek and The Movies.
THE CURIOUS CASE OF BENJAMIN BUTTON. Brad Pitt ages backward, Cate Blanchett ages forward, they enjoy blissful moments in the middle and confusion at either end. Rated PG-13. 166 m. At the Broadway and Mill Creek.
DEFIANCE. Jewish brothers escaping Nazi reign of terror try to keep faith alive while hiding in the woods they've known since childhood. Rated R. 137m. At the Broadway.
GRAN TORINO. Veteran/racist/retired autoworker versus the local Asian gang-bangers. Rated R. 116m. At the Broadway, Mill Creek, the Minor and Fortuna.
HOTEL FOR DOGS. Kids faced with "no pets" rule in their new foster home convert abandoned hotel into foster home for doggies. Rated PG. 100m. At the Broadway, Mill Creek and Fortuna.
INKHEART. Beware the power of reading aloud: you may get sucked into the book's pages while a character gets released into the real world. Rated PG. 106m. At the Broadway, Mill Creek and Fortuna.
MARLEY AND ME. Neurotic dog teaches family in the making about what really matters in life. Rated PG. 123m. At The Movies.
MILK. Chronicle of the political life and 1977 assassination of Harvey Milk, America's first openly gay public office-holder. Rated R. 128m. At the Minor.
MY BLOODY VALENTINE. Revenge for coal mining accident leads to bloody Valentine's Day massacre leads to bro coming back from the dead for more revenge. Rated R. 91m. At The Movies and in 3D at Fortuna.
PAUL BLART: MALL COP. Mall cop must man up to save the day when Santa's helpers at the mall stage a coup. Rated PG. 91m. At the Broadway, Fortuna and Mill Creek.
SLUMDOG MILLIONAIRE. Orphan from slums of Bombay who rocks India's Who Wants to be a Millionaire must clear his name of cheating before claiming his prize. Rated R. 121m. At the Broadway.
THE READER. Sexy prewar affair between Kate Winslet and Ralph Fiennes gets a bit awkward when the Nuremberg trials roll around. Rated R. 123m. At the Minor.
TWILIGHT. Teen girl gets swept up in unorthodox romance with vampire. Rated PG-13. 122m. At The Movies.
VALKYRIE. Colonel uses Hitler's own emergency plan in attempt to overthrow Nazi government from the inside. Rated PG-13. 120m. At The Movies.