Movie Review: Dakota Fanning, miscast again in “The Last of Robin Hood”

dakotarA Kevin Kline performance in a role he was born to play is pretty much wasted
in “The Last of Robin Hood,” a tepidly sordid account of screen swashbuckler
Errol Flynn’s last love affair with an underage girl, and his final days.
Co-written and directed by the “Quinceanera” team, and produced by famed
indie producer Christine Vachon (“Boys Don’t Cry”, “I’m Not There”), you’d
expect more from this tale of a transgressive romance, and its fallout, than
“Robin Hood” delivers.
What it becomes is yet another awkward, clumsily sexual Dakota Fanning
vehicle.
The film opens with the scandal at Flynn’s death, a humiliated girl (Fanning)
hounded by the tabloids, with a mother (Susan Sarandon) all too eager to tell
all.
He was “her first love,” Mom coos, “and his last.” Their affair was
“predestined.”
Beverly Aadland (Fanning) was a veteran child actress and aspiring chorine
when the 50ish Flynn eyed her on a studio lot in the late 1950s. He was smitten,
and she was hopeful he could help her career.
Not nearly as hopeful, it turns out, as her stage mother, Florence. When
Flynn wants to “rehearse” with Beverly, try her out for a play he’s to be in,
mom is all too eager to send her older-than-she-looks little girl “up to the
lodge.” That’s where the aging star of “The Adventures of Robin Hood,” “Captain
Blood” and a run of other action hits of a generation before gets the girl drunk
and seduces her.
Flynn plays up his plummy and posh screen accent to this “exquisite
creature,” all oily charm as he nicknames Beverly “Woodsie,” because she is like
a woodland nymph.
Beverly hides the statutory rape from her mother, and never looks more
girlish than when she strains to act older even as she weeps in humiliation.
Mother Flo has issues galore, which is used to explain the blind eye she
turns to what is happening to her only child. She “chaperones” dates and trips
to New York with Flynn and his “protegee.”
But Beverly falls for Flynn’s charm, his turtlenecks and ascots, the
post-coital quoting of Shakespeare.
“The desire is boundless, and the act a slave to limit!”
There’s a little spark to Kline’s performance, though one can feel judgement
sneaking in, here and there. His Flynn is all surface charm and studied excess.
He knows what it means to be “In Like Flynn,” and is never creepier than when
he’s fretting about keeping up appearances.
“I don’t want our lives turned from an A-picture into a B-movie.”
But that’s exactly what his life and career were in the later ’50s –
supporting parts, a dalliance with Castro in Cuba where he directed “Cuban Rebel
Girls” (starring Beverly Aadland). The one big revelation here has to do with a
film Flynn wanted to do with Stanley Kubrick (Max Casella, perfectly cast), a
huge break, had it happened.
Fanning’s Beverly seems like another over-reach in her efforts to transition
from child star to adulthood. She’s a dull performer. The camera never captures
any inner life.
The script makes the mistake of being desultory from the beginning, giving us
no highs followed by lows. Even Sarandon’s villainous mother is more glum than
hate-able.
The entire affair feels malnourished, under-rehearsed and starved of energy.
The couple was together on the set of John Huston’s “Roots of Heaven” in Africa,
but that all takes place off camera.
If co-writers/directors Richard Glatzer and Wash Westmoreland filmed scenes
set there, how weak must they have been to warrant leaving them out, judging
from the listless footage that actually made the final cut of “The Last of Robin
Hood”?

1half-star
MPAA Rating: R for some sexuality and language
Cast: Kevin Kline, Dakota Fanning, Susan Sarandon
Credits: Written and directed by Richard Glatzer and Wash Westmoreland. A
Samuel Goldwyn release.
Running time: 1:30

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Book Review: The “Real” Judy Greer speaks up in “I Don’t Know What You Know Me From”

greer1Judy Greer was born Judith Therese Evans in Detroit in 1975, and is quick to point out how long the Internet Movie Database (IMDb.com) had her middle name incorrect in its extensive listing of her career and credits.

And there are a lot of those — credits, I mean. She’s played “the best friend” (“13 Going on 30,” “27 Dresses”) or the “wife of a cheater or wife who might cheat” (“The Descendents”, “Jeff, Who Lives At Home”) in dozens of films. She’s had recurring, quirky-funny roles on “Mad Love” and “Two and a Half Men,” “Arrested Development” and her own series, “Miss Guided.”

She’s almost famous, so the joke goes. You recognize her. Which is why she titled her adorable semi-autobiography “I Don’t Know Where You Know Me From — Judy Greer: Confessions of a Co-Star.”

That’s actually a long title, longer than some of her roles. But she never, ever fails to make an impression, in “Love & Other Drugs” or “Elizabethtown,” “The TV Set” or a one-off sex crazed scientist in “The Big Bang Theory.”

I interviewed her when she came to the Florida Film Festival to be honored and to promote “The TV Set,” and the person you see on the screen is the voice you get when you stumble into her at Starbucks. Offbeat, funny, girl next door insecure capable of potty-mouthed tirades, played for shock value. Nice. Sweet.

And that’s the voice that comes through in the book, dishing about her form of celebrity, sort of down-market — Kathy Griffin territory (somebody she says she’s mistaken for, even though she’s much prettier). She recounts the one time she attended the Oscars, stag, her dress started to disintegrate and she had to peel it off when she went to the bathroom. Yes, she took a selfie — of the dress, hanging in the toilet — to mark the occasion.

Speaking of toilets, she finds delight in the famous players she’s “peed next to” on sets from Louisiana to Wisconsin and all points in between. No DEEP dish, just sweet nothings about Liv Tyler, Katie Holmes, et al. Matthew McConaughey loaned her cash to bail her car out of valet parking when she auditioned for “The Wedding Planner.” Ashton Kutcher produced her short-lived sitcom, “Miss Guided,” and gave her dad a Harley when the show was picked up for broadcast.

Greer gets seriously sentimental when talking about her ever-supportive dad, the one who bought her a fucsia (OK, pink) Ford Escort for graduation, and custom painted a “*2 Be” license plate, which she kept on the car as long as she owned it.

She advises us on the horrors of “Spanx,” the most tactful ways to approach somebody you recognize from film and TV but cannot place, the rude questions she fields from reporters and other strangers, she gives tourist suggestions for how to handle Los Angeles (Don’t rent a convertible, only “tourists” are dumb enough to do that). She talks about her big breaks and her niche, quite candidly. As character players go, she’s one of the best, a delightful presence. But she’s right to be a little afraid about her shelf life. How long can you play the “best friend” when the leading ladies keep getting younger and you’re headed for 40 next year?

A quick check of her coming credits, from the “Jurassic Park” reboot (she was in “Dawn of the Planet of the Apes”), “Tomorrowland” and “Ant-Man,” removes any doubt that the work will keep coming. Even if the star doesn’t need a best friend.

greer2

 

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Movie Review: Aniston tries her hand in Elmore Leonard Land in “Life of Crime”

aniston

When it comes to gritty crime comedies, there’s no such thing as a bad Elmore
Leonard adaptation. Not every film based on one of his books is a “Get Shorty,”
but even lesser Leonard has fascinating characters, hard-boiled dialogue and
criminal plans that never quite go the way we, or the crooks, expect them.

“Life of Crime” is lesser-Leonard, an all-star kidnapping comedy that manages
to “Be Cool” even if the filmmaker never quite finds the grim faced grins that
the best Elmore noirs boast.

Ordell (Mos Def) and Louis (John Hawkes) are two career crooks who learn of a
rich guy who is hiding his riches from the state, the Feds, his wife and
everybody else. It’s 1978, and Frank (Tim Robbins) does what people did back
then — he plays golf, pushes his son into tennis “at the club” and stashes his
cash in the Bahamas.

Ordell is the smart alecky brains of the outfit. Louis is game for any caper,
including one that has them kidnapping the rich guy’s wife, Mickey.

But Mickey is played by Jennifer Aniston, so we see one problem right there.
She’s stuck in a bad marriage to a bullying drunk whom their son hates as much
as she does. She’s gorgeous and she has a hint of cunning vulnerability about
her. Louis is smitten before they even stuff her in the truck.

Another possible wrinkle is their other accomplice. Richard, played by Mark
Boone Jr., sells guns out of a house decorated with swastikas and stuffed with
Nazi memorabilia.

“Your dad was in the war, right?”

“Yeah. Tank gunner.”

“You, but which SIDE was he on?”

Richard is an anti-Semite, a loner whose wife just left him and the guy who
boards up the windows in his house so they can stash the victim until they talk
Frank out of the money. Bad idea.

Another complication crops up the day Frank leaves town for “a meeting.” He’s
actually jetting over to the Bahamas, meeting his mistress, Melanie (Isla
Fisher). Maybe he doesn’t WANT the wife.

And then there’s the guy who does want Mickey. Marshall interrupts the
kidnapping, thinking he can con Mickey into an assignation. He’s played by Will
Forte, so naturally the kidnappers gamble that this wuss won’t call the cops,
even if he sees what they’re up to before they knock him in the head.

The tale has a few nice twists and turns, allegiances shift and scheming
ensues. Aniston nicely suggests the sort of victim who might, after the shock
wears off, assert herself with the one kidnapper under her spell.

Mainly, though, “Life of Crime” is a blown opportunity. The double-crosses
rarely reach the level of delight, and Robbins and Mos Def play their guys a
little too close to the vest. Ordell’s quiet cunning hides a wicked sense of
humor. He messes with racist Richard’s head, but it’s the only time he’s ever an
amusing hoodlum.

Nobody here is drawn or played as broadly as Leonard makes his most
unforgettable characters, and that robs the comedy of its kick. Those laughs are
necessary, because the tale threatens to turn ultra dark.

“Life of Crime” was never going to be another “Get Shorty,” but it might have
managed a “Rum Punch.” In the hands of green director Daniel Schecter, the
promising early scenes lead us straight down the road to a mere misdemeanor.

 

 

MPAA Rating: R for language, some sexual content and violence

Cast: Jennifer Aniston, Tim Robbins, Mos Def, John Hawkes, Isla Fisher

Credits: Written and directed by Daniel Schecter, based on an Elmore Leonard
novel. A Roadside Attractions release.

Running time: 1:40

2

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Movie Review: “The November Man”

novPierce Brosnan’s perfect hair barely budges in the breeze, he fixes his eyes in that narrowed, steely stare and you remember yes, he was a pretty good James Bond.
But he’s not Bond, not at 61. He’s this fellow named Devereaux, and back in the day, when he showed up for an assignment it was like winter had hit. Everything was dead. That’s why they called Devereaux “The November Man.”
Here’s a humorless, muddled, bloody and generally unpleasant thriller about an ex-agent sucked back into The Business because somebody needs his help. Or somebody knows something. Or some protege has gone stone-cold-killer.
That’s one of the problems with this Roger “No Way Out” Donaldson film. It leaves us with no clear sense of who to root for, or what. Is the CIA out to get Devereaux and his lady friend? The Russians? Some rogue amalgam of the two?
About all we’re sure of is that the body count, built on bullets and sharp, bloody blades, piles up — first scene to last.
Devereaux trained Mason, played by Luke Bracey of the last “G.I. Joe” movie. They were fellow agents, experts on “threat analysis,” and how to put a bullet in that threat. Years later, a retired Devereaux is summoned by the old boss (Bill Smitrovich) to fetch a woman out of Russia, an agent who has “a name.” That name could be the downfall of Russia’s next leader.
Things go haywire in fetching the woman and in the movie, as triggers are pulled too quickly and Devereaux shoots all manner of folks, with and without Slavic accents. Mason is after him. Spirited chases through Moscow, guns blazing and tires screeching, give one a whole new appreciation for the place.
Eventually, teacher and pupil and quarry (Olga Kurylenko) and CIA hunters (Will Patton, Caterina Scorsone) and a Russian pony tailed ballerina-turned-assassin (Amila Terzimehic) all wind up in Belgrade, which apparently is where the money men and women decided was cheapest place to film “The November Man.”
This late August cast-off is what one can easily spy as a “producers-on-the-make” movie. It has the obligatory strip-club scene, with lithe and willing nude dancers. It has a spirited, nude sex scene. And in every shot, indoors or out, we see the best looking extras this side of “America’s Next Top Model.” Skinny anonymous women sashay into the frame, making you wonder what promise was made when “I will put you in the movie” crossed someone’s lips.
Those elements don’t do anything for the plot, the action or anything else. But they have a leering “value” to some in the audience and, more likely in the production office.
Through it all, in between Kurylenko’s sexy costume changes and the sometimes visits of Alexa, the unusually flexible killer (Terzimehic) and flat afterthought of a performance by Bracey, Brosnan keeps his cool and delivers his lines as an older if not over the hill James Bond “type.”
“You feel the need for a relationship,” he growls, “get a dog.”
But a few pithy lines, seriously stunt-doubled fights and the odd blast of blood don’t give the story clarity or the characters a compelling reason for us to engage in their dilemma. That makes “November Man” another sad refugee of August, the dumping ground of movies that don’t quite move anybody.
1half-star
MPAA Rating: R for strong violence including a sexual assault, language, sexuality/nudity and brief drug use
Cast: Pierce Brosnan, Olga Kurylenko, Luke Bracey, Bill Smitrovich, Will Patton, Caterina Scorsone
Credits: Directed by Roger Donaldson, screenplay by Michael Finch and Karl Gajdusek based on a novel by Bill Granger.
Running time: 1:48

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Box Office: It’s “Guardians,” “Turtles” then “If I Stay” in a tight race, “Sin City” sinks

“Sin City: A Dame to Kill For,” came nine years too late to cash in on the heat of “Sin City,” was basically the same movie and thus, managed only half of the low end of predictions for what it was supposed to do at the box office. Not even $7 million. A $70 million movie that will turn out to be one of the biggest busts of the summer, if not the year. Ouch.

“Guardians of the Galaxy” has been making more money during the week than the more recent “Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles,” only to surrender that advantage to the newer, inferior comic book effects blockbuster on the weekends. Kids, you know. This weekend, it moved back on top, over $17 million.

“Turtles” did nearly $17, and the teen weeper “If I Stay” opened just behind it, $300-400,000 difference.

“Sin City” opened behind the feeble faith-based football drama “When the Game Stands Tall,” which opened at its predicted $9 million mark, and could stick around, depending on how that audience props it up.

As with all of August, the box office take was higher this weekend than last year, eating deeply into the summer season’s huge fall off in May, June and July.

“Boyhood” started to fade, as it loses theaters, it’ll hit $20, when all is said and done. “Magic in the Moonlight,” which never caught fire in the first place. Woody’s looking at his last hit in the distant rear view mirror. “Magic” won’t even reach $10.

 

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Today’s screenings: “The Drop” and “The Longest Week”

The Drop” has to be James Gandolfini’s last screen appearance. He’s a supporting player in this heist drama starring Tom Hardy and Noomi Rapace, set in Brooklyn. Looks intriguing, and check out Hardy’s latest accent. And Rapace’s.

And “The Longest Week” is a limited release rom-com starring Jason Bateman, Olivia Wilde, Billy Crudup and Jenny Slate, with Batemen a freshly-disinherited hotelier forced to find it all on his own, now that he has no money. Both films open in limited release in the first two weeks of Sept.

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Fall Films worth waiting for

At long last, what seemed like an Endless Summer is over — at the movies,
anyway.

It’s time to put aside all that comic book reading that we call “research,”
sweep the word “sequel” aside and get serious about movies, because “serious
movie season” is here.

Serious comedies, serious dramas, serious thrillers, serious “true story”
adaptations, these are the movies that will swell the ranks of Oscar contenders
between now and Thanksgiving.

That’s when the holiday season of films rolls out, packed with sequels –
another “Night at the Museum,” another “Hunger Games,” another “Hot Tub Time
Machine” — popcorn pictures, action pics. So we’ll leave “Exodus” and “Into the
Woods” and such for the holidays.

But fall films? They’re a most intriguing lot this year, and here are a few
titles worth anticipating.

stellarNow that Matthew McConaughey’s got his Oscar, it’s time for this ol’boy to
save the world in “Interstellar” (Nov. 7). It’s a Christopher Nolan sci-fi
adventure about explorers sent to find a place humanity can flee to, now that
we’ve ruined the Earth. This has to be more cerebral than the trailers, which
are a tad on the glum side.

“This is Where I leave You” (Sept. 19) brings Tina Fey, Jason Bateman, Adam
Driver, Rose Byrne, Abigail Spencer, Dax Shepard and others together under
matriarch Jane Fonda’s roof after the family patriarch dies. The most promising
Shawn “Night at the Museum” Levy comedy ever.

foxcatcherFoxcatcher” (Nov. 14) is director Bennett Miller’s version of the true story
of an Olympic wrestler allowed to train in a DuPont heir’s house, and the
tragedy that ensued. Channing Tatum wrestles, Steve Carell takes a SERIOUS turn
to the dark side as John DuPont, with Mark Ruffalo, Vanessa Redgrave and Sienna
Miller also in the cast.

“Laggies” (Oct. 24) is worth looking forward to simply because it has Sam
Rockwell as the responsible “adult” forced to deal with his daughter (Chloe
Grace Moretz), who has befriended a commitment-phobic loser (Keira Knightley)
and allowed her to move in.

The trailers to “The Theory of Everything” (Nov. 7) suggest a sugar-coated
take on the great Stephen Hawking’s triumphant/tragic life. But surely the dark
stuff made it into this bio-drama, which stars Eddie Redmayne and Felicity
Jones.

“The Maze Runner” (Sept. 19 ) reminds us that, yeah, there’s another “Hunger
Games” coming. Because there’s always another “Hunger Games” (“Mockingjay, Part
1″, Nov. 21) coming. But this film of the James Dashner novel promises to be a
new variation on the kids fighting for the sci-fi future formula. This time,
they’re dropped into this mysterious game zone, and forced to try and escape…a
Maze!”

The whole “Year of Michael Keaton” thing kind of fizzled when “Need for
Speed” went nowhere. But Alejandro Gonzalez Inaritu’s “Birdman” (Oct. 17) has
him playing a has-been star of superhero films who struggles to revive his
career with a Broadway play. Naomi Watts, Edward Norton and Zach Galifianakis
co-star. It’ll be dark, but will it be funny?

book“Book of Life” (Oct. 17), produced by Guillermo del Toro, is a Latin-infused
pre-Halloween “Day of the Dead” romp done in a stop-motion (CGI) style, and is
the best looking and most promising animated film of the fall. But “The
Boxtrolls” (Sept. 26), a tale of a boy raised by trash-collection trolls, is
from producers of “ParaNorman,” so fingers crossed. Disney’s “Big Hero 6″ (Nov.
7) is a CGI proximation of anime, a more fanboy-oriented action pic, based on a
comic book.

“Gone Girl” (Oct. 3) is David “Zodiac” Fincher’s new thriller, about a man
(Ben Affleck) whose wife (Rosamund Pike) has been kidnapped, and the media
firestorm that starts to point the finger at him as possibly the perpetrator.

“Fury” (Oct. 17), from David “Training Day” Ayer, is his WWII combat picture
with Brad Pitt playing a grizzled sergeant named Wardaddy leading his tank crew
behind enemy lines. Shia LaBeouf and Logan Lerman compete for Wardaddy’s
attention.

“A Most Violent Year” (Nov. 17) is a period piece from J.C. Chandor (“Margin
Call,” “All is Lost”), a thriller set in hyper-violent “American Hustle” era New
York, with Jessica Chastain, Oscar Isaac and an immigrant (David Oyelowo).

For a complete list of EVERYTHING opening between now and Thanksgiving, go to Comingsoon.net, which has the most thorough release slate on the Web. It’s where I go.

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Indie films in China? Not this year

 

chinaChina’s most publicized, and maybe only Indie Film Festival, now in its 11th year, has been shuttered by the authorities. “Independent” is a word that frightens totalitarians, and according to the AP, this is not the first time they’ve gone after this festival. They’ve zeroed in on the organizers and they’re plainly at risk of arrest if they defy the State and try to show films that aren’t Communist Party approved.

With Hollywood tacking towards the Pacific Rim as its next growth market, pandering to China in the occasional big action picture (“Transformers 4″, for instance), ridding itself of overtly Chinese villains in all films, another move like this would give, you’d figure, the industry pause. If it was concerned about anything other than the bottom line, they’d realize how much aiding and abetting a Police State will make the cinema look, in the long haul.

Instead, another generation of Russian villains, oligarchs and megalomaniacs, as well as the usual Jihadists and the like which don’t reflect the True Evil Empire du jour.

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Box Office: “If I Stay” battles “Guardians” for #1, “When the Game Stands Tall” bests “Sin City 2″

boxThe professional box office prognosticators figured the girl-friendly YA novel adaptation “If I Stay” would open well, north of $20 million at least. And that “Sin City: A Dame to Kill For” was too far removed from the original film would be lucky to clear $15.

I figured, based on the web traffic to my reviews, that “Sin City” had higher interest than that. Of course, the fact that my review, like most, was lukewarm, may have impacted a weak weaker weakest Friday for the new Robert Rodriguez film. It may not reach $10 million.

That puts it behind an under-performing “If I Stay,” ($18/19 or so) a fading “Ninja Turtles,” and…”Guardians of the Galaxy,” finally back in first after trailing those mutant teen ninjas for a few weeks. “If I Stay,” according to fan tracking, is doing a better job of pleasing its faithful. Not a bad movie, nothing epic either. Maybe $19?

Perhaps it will rally, but “Sin City” looks to lose to the middling faith-based football drama “When the Game Stands Tall,” which has that church-based marketing thing going for it and should sell $10 million worth of tickets. It’s the only new release to actually meet expectations this weekend.

 

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Movie Review: “Louder than Words”

loood“This is not a sad story,” the little girl narrates at the opening of “Louder Than Words.”
The little girl lies.
“Louder Than Words” is a tepid melodrama about the healing power that a death in the family can force upon the survivors.
It’s giving nothing away saying that Maria (Olivia Steel-Falconer), a plucky and wise 13 year-old, dies early in this tale. She had a role in her family — “the glue.” She kept communication channels open between “the triplets” (, Adelaide Kane, Ben Rosenfield, Morgan Griffin) and their mom (Hope Davis). And the adored youngest daughter regularly did maintenance on a quiet, strained marriage between her developer dad (David Duchovny) and mom.
Maria keeps a journal, and that provides some of the narration, even after she gets sick and leaves her family bereft. She’s an observer, and her big observation is about her father.
“Dad doesn’t say the wrong thing. He just doesn’t say anything.”
But he does, to her. That’s a fundamental flaw of the script, describing someone as quiet and taciturn, only to give him lots and lots of lines of dialogue. He clicks with his step-kids, up to a point.
“Looking for something?”
“My long, lost innocence.”
“Ask your mother.”
And he positively dotes on his daughter, Maria.
Benjamin Chapin’s screenplay is about how the family starts to spin apart after Maria’s sudden death. The parents retreat into silent grief, one daughter flees college and heads west, the son hides behind his headphones and his college classmate, the other sister, can’t cope with him and her own grief as well.
The coping mechanisms are familiar — dad hunting for a way to give Maria’s death meaning by planning a children’s hospital, mom running off to college to hang with her surviving children, Christmas in a Chinese restaurant, as if Chinese Americans don’t celebrate the holiday, which reminds the family of their loss.
And the explosions — venting, breaking down, building back up — offer no surprises either.
None of which would be that much of a problem if this had more than the barest whiff of emotion to it. “Sad story” or not, things presented here should inspire tears.
But it’s hard to get too worked up over tragedy and loss when you’ve been lied to, right from the movie’s opening line.
 1half-star
MPAA Rating: PG-13 for brief strong language, some thematic material and smoking
Cast: Olivia Steele-Falconer, David Duchovny, Hope Davis, Timothy Hutton, Adelaide Kane
Credits: Directed by Anthony Fabian, written by Benjamin Chapin. An Arc Entertainment release.
Running time: 1:33

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