Saturday, June 27, 2009

Summer 2009 Movie Preview (July)

With the heat of the summer starting to really crank up in July, so too will the competition at the box office, as a lot of films look to pull audiences into air-conditioned theaters while providing their own form of fireworks. Here’s a brief look at some of the notables for the month. August releases will follow soon.

“Ice Age: Dawn of the Dinosaurs ”
Starring the voices of Ray Romano, John Leguizamo, Denis Leary, Queen Latifah
Directed by Carlos Saldanha and Mike Thurmeier

With the first two “Ice Age” films having been big hits at the box office, there’s no reason to think equal success can’t greet this offering, as no other family-oriented pictures are scheduled near this one. It’s pre-Fourth of July spot is also ideal. (July 1)
Official Web site

“Public Enemies”
Starring Johnny Depp, Christian Bale, Marion Cotillard, Billy Crudup, Stephen Dorff, Stephen Lang
Directed by Michael Mann

Although they have precious little screen time in the film, this crime drama does feature the great pairing of Depp as notorious bank robber John Dillinger and Bale as the FBI agent tasked to take the criminal and his gang down. Director Mann has a strong track record with crime-oriented films (“Heat” and “Collateral”). (July 1)
Official Web site

Starring Sacha Baron Cohen
Directed by Larry Charles

Those who cringed at the antics of “Borat” should take cover, as Sacha Baron Cohen’s latest big screen foray will feature more of that confrontational style of comedy. “Borat” was a bit of a surprise hit, but “Brüno” likely won’t sneak up on audiences. Still, it should generate plenty of laughs, if its ad campaign is any indicator. (July 10)
Official Web site

“Harry Potter and the Half-Blood Prince”
Starring Daniel Radcliffe, Emma Watson, Rupert Grint, Michael Gambon, Alan Rickman, Helena Bonham Carter
Directed by David Yates

Pushed back from its original late 2008 release date, the sixth film in the hugely popular series finally hits theaters. While positioned as a darker entry in the franchise, it sets the stage for the ambitious plan to break the next “Harry Potter” film into two parts. Big business at the box office is a given, with the film likely to compete for the top moneymaker of the year. (July 15)
Official Web site

“(500) Days of Summer”
Starring Joseph Gordon-Levitt, Zooey Deschanel
Directed by Marc Webb

Having garnered strong notices from its debut at the Sundance Film Festival earlier this year, this unorthodox movie looks at the relationship between a greeting card writer (Gordon-Levitt) and a new employee (Deschanel), who have quite different views on love. It’s hard to imagine a trailer doing a better job at selling a movie than this one does. (July 17, limited)
Official Web site

Starring the voices of Sam Rockwell, Tracy Morgan, Penelope Cruz, Nicolas Cage
Directed by Hoyt Yeatman

If you’d been wondering when there would ever be a CG/live-action combination featuring a group of crime-fighting guinea pigs, then you’re in luck here. This is a film that would seem to be primarily aimed at children, but hopefully will not be a painful cinematic experience for adults. (July 24)
Official Web site

“The Ugly Truth”
Starring Katherine Heigl, Gerard Butler, Eric Winter, John Michael Higgins, Nick Searcy, Kevin Connolly and Cheryl Hines
Directed by Robert Luketic

It just wouldn’t be summer without the dependable romantic comedy genre in the mix, and with her success in “27 Dresses,” Heigl is a hot commodity in it. Here, she plays a TV morning show producer who has to deal with an egotistical new reporter (Butler) who takes on the task of finding a guy for her. This one looks to have cute and predictable written all over it, but maybe also has the ability to surprise. (July 24)
Official Web site

“Funny People”
Starring Adam Sandler, Seth Rogen, Leslie Mann, Eric Bana, Jonah Hill, Jason Schwartzman
Directed by Judd Apatow

Although he has produced what seems like hundreds of films in recent years, this comedy marks only the third directing venture for Apatow. Sandler, a newcomer to the Apatow stable, stars as a stand-up comedian dealing with a terminal illness, who decides to take an up-and-coming comedian (Rogen) under his wing. The premise certainly has the potential to venture into sentimentality, but the cast would seem to be good enough to avoid that pitfall. (July 31)
Official Web site

Wednesday, June 03, 2009

Movie Review: "The Wrestler"

Starring Mickey Rourke, Marisa Tomei, Evan Rachel Wood, Mark Margolis, Todd Barry, Wass Stevens
Directed by Darren Aronofsky

Official Web site

Mickey Rourke has had an interesting career in Hollywood, to say the least. After making a splash with memorable performances in films such as “Diner” and “The Pope of Greenwich Village,” he would proceed to make a bunch of generally crummy choices in movies over much of the next two decades. That’s not even mentioning the even worse decision to become a professional boxer – a choice that damaged his face and acting career.

But after some stints doing supporting work in films such as “Sin City,” Rourke was given the opportunity of a lifetime to tackle the lead in “The Wrestler,” director Darren Aronofsky’s vision of a broken down man grappling with demons while trying to recapture a little of his past glory. It’s a task that the actor proves to be up to, both physically and emotionally.

Randy “The Ram” Robinson was once a great professional wrestler, coming up on 20 years since his most memorable match at the peak of his popularity. But, the time since hasn’t been too kind to Randy, who still toils away in the ring. The crowds are significantly smaller, as are the venues, with old assembly halls and American Legion posts serving as the location of the matches. Still, the fans that do show up still have an adoration for Randy, and he for them. He takes a physical pounding during the fights – a scripted one, to be sure – but his body could hardly tell the difference. In the ring, he feels powerful and in control, which is in stark contrast to his life outside of it.

He struggles to pay his bills and keep his rough-looking trailer home, while maintaining an unsatisfying job at a local grocery store. He makes the occasional visit to a strip club, where one of his few friends, Cassidy (Marisa Tomei), works as a dancer.

The tenuous control Randy feels he has in his life takes a blow when he suffers a heart attack following a particularly brutal match. Heavy prescription drug usage over the years has certainly done nothing to help his heart, and with his doctor urging him to stop wrestling, retirement would seem to be his only option.

That decision leads him to more closely examine his mess of a personal life, particularly his non-existent relationship with daughter Stephanie (Evan Rachel Wood). His attempts to ingratiate himself back into her life are met with heavy skepticism by Stephanie, who was essentially abandoned by her father at a young age. There’s both a genuine sweetness and awkwardness in watching Randy try to reconnect with someone he knows next to nothing about. He’s helped a little in his effort by Cassidy, who is a parent herself. She and Randy have an attraction to one another, but Cassidy (who goes by Pam, her real name, outside of work) is very hesitant to become involved with Randy, who she refers to as one of her customers. It’s simply forbidden in her line of work, she explains, but really comes across to Randy as an easy excuse to avoid the possibility of getting hurt.

The scenes involving the three leads have a genuine emotional rawness to them, with Rourke and Tomei giving exceptional performances. There’s a physical and emotional demand involved for both of them, with each realizing that anything less than a total commitment to the roles would ring false with audiences.

With a script by Robert Siegel, the story throws in a bit too many cliches along the way to be completely effective. And the film’s concluding scenes have a compressed feel to them, as if there was a need to rush to the end credits.

Still, “The Wrestler” does a good job of showing the impact that leading a life such as Randy’s can have on a body as well as a soul. And try as he might, not every wound can be healed.

Grade: B
(Rated R for violence, sexuality/nudity, language and some drug use.)