This week's new releases: 'African Cats,' 'Elephants,' 'Stake Land,' and Yen
So far this week, I've published reviews for "African Cats" and "Water For Elephants," two of the bigger releases, but I've also previously published reviews for some of this week's other releases, and because of things like festival schedules, I figured we should run links to some of those earlier pieces, plus offer up a few quick reactions to things I never quite got around to reviewing.
It's been fun watching people react to "Pom Wonderful Presents The Greatest Movie Ever Sold," and I salute Morgan Spurlock for making the publicity for the film entertaining instead of self-serving. Spurlock is part of that new breed of documentarians who put themselves front and center in their films, and that can get really obnoxious. Spurlock manages to use his big broad ideas to examine things without preaching, and in this new film, I think he's done a particularly good job of looking at the way product placement works in our new media landscape. He's not a scold, and he's not a clown, and the way he's managed to sell this movie by extending the message of the film into every single action he's taken since Sundance is fairly ingenious.
Also this week, you can catch up with "Legend of the Fist," one of the 10,000 films that Donnie Yen starred in last year. I would recommend this film if only for the oh-my-god opening sequence in which Yen appears to win WWII single-handed. Yen's really hit his stride as a performer over the last few years, and I think he might be the most exciting martial artist working anywhere in the world right now.
Another Fantastic Fest/Toronto title that I never quite got around to reviewing was Jim Mickle's "Stake Land," which opens today in limited release, and part of the reason for that is because I had a very mixed reaction to it, and I found myself struggling to articulate my issues with the film. It's handsomely made, and it's sort of like a serious vampire-based riff on "Zombieland," with a young man named Martin (Connor Paolo) traveling through a crumbling America with Mister (Nick Damici), a hardened survivor. The first problem I had with the film is how clearly we can see its influences, and while I admire the serious, even somber mood of the movie, it's hard to pull off this sort of grim successfully. The bigger problem, and one I just can't make peace with, is that co-writer Damici simply doesn't have the screen presence to pull off the role he wrote himself. It's the same problem I have with the Spierig Brothers movie "Undead," where their lead actor is meant to be a sort of big burly ass-kicker with the occasional Ash-style one-liner, and the guy's just a stiff onscreen. Damici doesn't work for me, and so it undermines the film as a whole. It's tough because Damici's script is fine, and if he'd been able to step back and let someone else play the role he wrote, the film might work better. As it is, I'd recommend it for genre fans, but I'd also warn that it feels like a well-intentioned near-miss instead of a completely successful film. I'm curious to see what else Mickle does after this, though.
Finally, "Hobo With A Shotgun" continues its run on VOD right now, and it's getting ready for its theatrical release on May 5. It's worth one more link to the review.
And speaking of reviews, I'm going to be playing catch-up this weekend on a number of titles that deserve reviews, but that I never quite seem to find the time to get to. I've been remiss, and there are filmmakers whose work deserves to be spotlighted, so I'm going to try to make it an epic catch-up marathon. And since I'm floored up with another wicked cold (having kids is awesome), it should be easy enough to stay chained to the computer all weekend.
Besides… I don't want to leave for Cannes in a month with old reviews still outstanding. Just doesn't seem right.
2013 | Drama | RSummary: Leonardo DiCaprio and Jonah Hill have boundless energy in the story of a real-life commodities crook who earned millions through scummy small-time stock trades.Director: Martin Scorsese
Cast: Leonardo DiCaprio, Jonah Hill, Margot Robbie
2007 | Comedy | PGSummary: Newlyweds Nick (Ice Cube) and Suzanne (Long) decide to move to the suburbs to provide a better life for their two kids. But their idea of a dream home is disturbed by a contractor (McGinley) with a bizarre approach to business.Director: Steve Carr
Cast: John C. McGinley, Ice Cube, Nia Long, Aleisha Allen
2013 | Thriller | RSummary: Based on the true story of Daniel Lugo (Mark Wahlberg) a Miami bodybuilder who wants to live the American dream. He would like to have the money that other people have. So he enlists the help of fellow bodybuilder Adrian Doorbal (Anthony Mackie) and ex-convict, Christian bodybuilder Paul Doyle (D...Director: Michael Bay
Cast: Mark Wahlberg, Dwayne Johnson, Anthony Mackie, Tony Shalhoub
1995 | Mystery | NRSummary: Denzel Washington plays an out of work WWII vet who takes the wrong job and is soon neck-deep in a mess of politics, murder, and jazz in '40s Los Angeles.Director: Carl Franklin
Cast: Denzel Washington, Tom Sizemore, Jennifer Beals
1997 | Crime | RSummary: Quentin Tarantino adaptats an Elmore Leonard novel into this story of a few increasingly desperate people scraping to get by. It has deep soul, a wicked sense of humor, and Samuel L. Jackson, Robert De Niro, Pam Grier, and Robert Forster.Director: Quentin Tarantino
Cast: Pam Grier, Samuel L. Jackson, Robert Forster
1996 | Crime | RSummary: Jerry, a small-town Minnesota car salesman is bursting at the seams with debt... but he's got a plan. He's going to hire two thugs to kidnap his wife in a scheme to collect a hefty ransom from his wealthy father-in-law. It's going to be a snap and nobody's going to get hurt... until people start ...Director: Joel Coen, Ethan Coen
Cast: William H. Macy, Frances McDormand, Steve Buscemi, Peter Stormare
1993 | Sports | PGSummary: Emotionally powerful sports classic featuring Sean Astin as a skinny high school kid with big football dreams and the determination to make his way towards his dream team at Notre Dame.Director: David Anspaugh
Cast: Sean Astin, Jon Favreau, Ned Beatty
2013 | Comedy | NRSummary: Insanely funny comedy show created by Amy Schumer, who stars in brilliantly funny sketches about sex, city living, dating, and friendship.Director: Daniel Powell, Amy Schumer (creators)
Cast: Amy Schumer, Kevin Kane, Mike Houston
2008 | Science Fiction | PGSummary: Animated series continues the story of Obi-Wan Kenobi and Anakin Skywalker as they battle the Emperor Palpatine, Count Dooku and General Grievous, but also takes time to explore other smaller characters in the Star Wars universe.Director: George Lucas (creator)
Cast: Tom Kane, Dee Bradley Baker, Matt Lanter
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