What a terrific array of options we have opening in theaters this weekend!
From cerebral to soulful, from wars of cold machination to heated battle amid traitors and loyal brothers and sisters in arms ("siblings in arms"?), from explorations of the cosmos and creator and nature of existence to the secret yearnings of the human heart and its search for meaning, there's something this weekend for everyone. Brains, brawn, heart, and spirit.
We'll start with two mindbenders that give us a dazzling inquiry into what we might really be, move into national conflicts and power politics, and wrap it up with gentle cockle-warmers about love and family. (The sixth one actually opened last weekend, but it fits so well, I wanted to be sure to bring it to your attention here.)
Whatever your taste, you'll find something - and someone - to love this weekend. Mix and match for several excellent double features - feel free to request a suggestion via the comments below!
Check IMDb.com or your local listings for ticket information - and if you must pick only one, make sure it's "I Origins".
Lucy: Do you really want to know?
This actually isn't a revenge tale as billed, though those who done Lucy wrong do sustain consequences. Sporting simply gorgeous direction, it's packed with plenty of action (after all, Besson did direct "The Professional"). I have a whole new respect for Johansson as she merges Mary Boleyn with Black Widow, and it's a provocative (even challenging) exploration of the missing link and the nature of the gap between the capacity we use and the capacity we have. Perfect trifecta with "The Matrix" and "Inception" (even making an affectionate nod to each - see if you can spot them!).
Directed by Luc Besson (who also wrote). Starring Scarlett Johansson, Morgan Freeman, Min-sik Choi, Amr Waked.
Story: A woman forced into service as a mule for a designer drug sustains an attack that breaks the package in her belly, releasing a substance that begins escalating her brain's capacity toward its full 100%. (Action/Adventure, Sci-fi)
5/5 Stars | Themes: Awe, Social Concern and Change, Spirituality
Screened Jul 22nd at the Edwards Grand Palace theater in Houston TX
I Origins: Seeing the world through old eyes
I'll pass 3,000 titles this calendar year, and writer/director Mike Cahill's "Another Earth" ranks easily in my top fifty. "I Origins" joins it there. Cahill has an inimitable ability to give us the cosmos in a blade of grass; to take on the enormity of humankind's most profound questions within a personal story of such acuity as to make the heart ache; to engage sacred inquiries within scientific, mind-expanding conversations remaining immediately applicable - and deeply beneficial - to our mundane lives as soon as credits roll. His work is uniquely moving and marvelous. Buttressed here by regular [and equally excellent] collaborator Brit Marling, "I Origins" stars Michael Pitt, who's recently caught my attention. He's historically fallen for me toward the vacuous slacker end of the professional actor's continuum, but with his chillingly effective performance on "Hannibal" and here as well, he's taken a turn. I don't know if I haven't seen enough of his work (in which case I'll rectify that) or if he simply hit a new level of maturity, but whatever it is, it's working, and working well. "I Origins" will reach your mind, your heart, your spirit, and forever quashes any inane argument that spirituality cannot be found either in science or in a mainstream, multiplex theater. Do not miss this one.
Directed by Mike Cahill (who also wrote). Starring Michael Pitt, Brit Marling, Astrid Bergès-Frisbey, Steven Yeun, Archie Panjabi, Cara Seymour, William Mapother, Kashish.
Story: A molecular biologist and his lab partner embark on an ambitious quest to replicate an evolutionary process, and in so doing uncover one that will change humanity’s understanding of itself. (Sci-Fi, Drama, Romance)
5/5 Stars | Themes: Awe, Curiosity, Death and Dying, Journeys and Quests, Loss, Love and Attachment, Perspective, Social Concern and Change, Spirituality, Time
Rated R | 113 min. | Official Site | Do NOT view trailer - too many spoilers!
Screened Jul 17th at the Edwards Grand Palace theater in Houston TX
A Most Wanted Man: Of boundaries and betrayal
Bittersweet in bringing us its beloved star, here cerebral exploration turns to mindgame. And what a game it is, bringing forth not the potential of the human mind and soul, but rather the harsh utilitarian ends-justify-the-means chess game of international espionage. At what point does one trust? Is there a point at which there is a diminishing return on the risk and not doing so the better option, or can the work not even be done, be worth undertaking at all, unless trust is given with fingers white-knuckled crossed? Can there truly be honor among thieves - and spies? Or is it purely a matter of outsmarting one's adversary, in that coolest, most calculating reality? Philip Seymour Hoffman's character has been burned, and knows who's to blame when burned twice... but that cannot mean never again lighting the flame... can it? Superbly acted, "A Most Wanted Man" engages the balance and judgment call as only novelist John Le Carré can. Intelligent and thoughtful, as his stories always are; passionate and haunting, as they can so often be.
Directed by: Anton Corbijn. Starring Philip Seymour Hoffman, Grigoriy Dobrygin, Rachel McAdams, Nina Hoss, Daniel Brühl, Robin Wright, Willem Dafoe, Homayoun Mehdi, Dehbi Ershadi
Story: When a formerly imprisoned Chechin Muslim arrives illegally in Hamburg, a team of the German equivalent of the CIA goes on high alert to determine his whereabouts and intentions, with the unwilling cooperation of the human rights attorney assisting him. (Suspense/Thriller)
4/5 Stars | Themes: 4 Stars (Great), Betrayal, Ethics, Justice, Perspective, Social Concern and Change, Teamwork, Trust
Screened June 25th at the Edwards Grand Palace theater in Houston TX
Hercules: A modern twist on an ancient tale
Mind games there may be, but now the gloves are off, the cudgels are swinging, and the arrows are flying. I was expecting more of Hercules' mythical beast encounters and did not get them, but that ended up being fine; "Hercules" is a lot of fun. Dwayne Johnson does perfectly, as did Ah-hold with Conan before him (though Hercules has much more to say, given that he speaks English... well, here anyway). The supporting cast shows up beautifully, particularly Sewell and McShane (Hennie's also fun, contrasted to the excellent "Headhunters"). My only gripe was that the costumes, while designed beautifully, came across as, well, costumes; it gave the entire production a juvenile feel that diminished the film most undeservedly. Upon reviewing trailers and photos this morning, however, I'm thinking that it was the super-acuity of the [scrumptious and virtually obligatory HD 3D/Imax] effects that dealt the blow, ironically enough. If that's the case, then all is forgiven. "Hercules" offers a new, forward-looking, 21st-century spin on an old tale, and Johnson leads a rollicking adventure in the doing.
Directed by Brett Ratner. Starring Dwayne Johnson, Ian McShane, Rufus Sewell, Aksel Hennie, Ingrid Bolsø Berdal, Reece Ritchie, John Hurt, Rebecca Ferguson, Joseph Fiennes, Tobias Santelmann, Peter Mullan.
Story: The legendary demigod Hercules is summoned to rescue the city-state of Thrace from a rogue contingent of its army bent on overthrow. (Action/Adventure)
3/5 Stars | Themes: Betrayal, Competence, Teamwork
And So It Goes: Life's losses don't get to win
Hercules isn't the one who's lost loved ones, and life hits everyone hard, even in comparatively low-key Connecticut. This actually could easily have been a 4-star film (possibly even 5 but for one contrived and ridiculous sequence toward the end), but casting Keaton was a mistake of the first order. She did well at what she always does, but what she does was not what was needed in this character; vulnerability came across as school-girlish immaturity, turning the character into a caricature of Keaton herself. Would that it had been Cher or Patti Lupone! >sigh< That said, it's a nice option for those seeking gentle story and reflective yet light slice of life. If the trailer hits you square on the funny bone, you'll be in great shape.
Directed by Rob Reiner. Starring Michael Douglas, Diane Keaton, Frances Sternhagen, Andy Karl, Sterling Jerins, Austin Lysy, Maurice Jones, Yaya DaCosta, Annie Parisse, Rob Reiner.
Story: A misanthropic realtor depends on his gentle-hearted neighbor for her reluctant assistance after he comes into the sudden custody of the granddaughter he has never met. (Comedy, Romance)
2.5/5 Stars | Themes: Addiction and Recovery, Generosity, Loss, Time, Youth and Age, Zest
Screened Jul 14th at the Edwards Grand Palace theater in Houston TX
Wish I Was Here: Zach Braff takes on Peter Pan
Finally, Michael Douglas may be scaling down and simplifying his life, but Zach Braff is right in the middle of the fray... and the fray seems to have the upper hand. Whimsical and winning, the picture perfect capture of life just before it either blossoms into new season or careens into midlife crisis; Braff continues to make wonderful use of his waiting room motif on several occasions. Kids Joey King and Pierce Gagnon have really proven themselves as youngsters to watch (though it's been made known to me that Gagnon cannot watch with his brown eyes, given that Braff and Hudson both have the blues). Glorious soundtrack, with particularly hilarious application of Paul Simon's "Obvious Child".
Directed by Zach Braff. Starring Zach Braff, Kate Hudson, Mandy Patinkin, Joey King, Pierce Gagnon, Josh Gad, Alexander Chaplin, Jim Parsons, Ashley Greene, Donald Faison.
Story: When life converges into a crossroads for a family man barreling toward forty (as it wont to do around that time), he must make some frank decisions about where he goes next. (Drama, Comedy)
3.5/5 Stars | Themes: Death and Dying, Drama, Duty (Piety), Love and Attachment, Maturity, Rites of Passage, Spirituality, Youth and Age, Zest
Screened Jul 17th at the Edwards Grand Palace theater in Houston TX