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Posts Tagged ‘Michael Pena’

Will Smith, Helen Mirren

Will Smith, Helen Mirren

“COLLATERAL BEAUTY” My rating: C-

97 minutes | MPAA rating: PG-13

“Collateral Beauty” starts out as an imaginative riff on that old chestnut “A Christmas Carol.”

Alas, it ends by leaving the audience feeling used and abused.

The latest from director David Frankel (“The Devil Wears Prada,” “Marley and Me,” “Hope Springs”) stars Will Smith as Howard, the poet/guru of a boutique advertising agency who, in the aftermath of his child’s death, has become a vacant-eyed wraith.

Howard still comes to the office, but he no longer services clients or gives New Age-y pep talks to the staff. Now he devotes his energy to building elaborate domino constructions which he then destroys in gravity-fueled chain reactions.

His partners in the firm — Whit (Edward Norton), Claire (Kate Winslet) and Simon (Michael Pena) — are frantic. With Howard in a funk their business is circling the drain…it’s looking like all they’ll be getting for Christmas are unemployment checks.

So they come up with a desperate — and, BTW, wildly unethical — plan.  Learning that Howard has been mailing agonizing letters to Death, Love and Time (you’ve got to wonder what the Post Office does with them), they hire three struggling actors to portray those very concepts.

The idea  is to have these “spirits” pop in unexpectedly on Howard. Hopefully these confrontations with the Great Unknown will push him out of his shell of grief and misery.

Hmmm. What possibly could go wrong with an elaborate metaphysical ruse thrust upon a severely depressed individual?

The  actors (they’re members of the Hegel Theater Company, which suggests they have struggles of their own) take the job because they need the cash — they’re about to lose the lease on their theater.

The leader and mother hen of the bunch is Brigitte (Helen Mirren), who will embody Death.  Amy (Keira Knightley) will approach Howard as Love.  Raffi (Jacob Latimore) will perform the role of Time.

Brigitte, played by Mirren as amusing font of actorish ego and process, thinks this could be the performance of her lifetime:  “He’s reaching out to the cosmos for answers. We get to be that cosmos.”

Brigitte is such an old ham than when her colleagues question the morality of the gig, she eagerly volunteers to play all three roles.

(more…)

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martianMV5BMTUxODUzMDY0NF5BMl5BanBnXkFtZTgwMDE0MDE5NTE@._V1__SX1377_SY911_“THE MARTIAN” My rating: A

141 minutes | MPAA rating: PG-13

With “The Martian” director Ridley Scott and star Matt Damon deliver an almost perfect piece of popular filmmaking, an intimate sci-fi epic that is smart, spectacular and stirring.

This big screen adaptation (by screenwriter Drew Goddard) of Andy Weir’s best-seller about an astronaut stranded on Mars has just about everything — laughs, thrills, visual splendor and a rousing endorsement of the brotherhood of man.

It’s the least pretentious and most wholly enjoyable film of Scott’s extensive career (which includes  “Alien,” “Blade Runner,” “Thelma & Louise” and “Gladiator”) and pushes Damon’s acting talents to the max.

The premise melds elements of 1964’s “Robinson Crusoe on Mars” and “Apollo 13” (earthbound scientists and engineers invent ways to help their desperate colleague).

Matt Damon

Matt Damon

And nestled inside this riveting adventure is a sly commentary on bureaucracy.

Set in a near future in which the American space program is thriving (the film’s most patently fantastic assertion), “The Martian” opens on Mars, where a team led by Melissa Lewis (Jessica Chastain) is wrapping up a month-long scientific mission. A fierce sandstorm catches the astronauts out in the open, and they barely make it to the Martian lander that will return them to the orbiting mother ship.

But one of them, botanist Mark Watney (Damon), is literally blown away by the raging wind. Believing him dead, Lewis has no choice but to take off without him before the storm makes liftoff impossible.

But Mark isn’t dead. He awakens to a beeping alarm in his helmet telling him he’s almost out of air, struggles out of the sand in which he is half buried and discovers that he’s been skewered by a shard of wind-blown metal.

He barely makes it into the now unoccupied housing module where he performs a bit of surgery on himself and takes stock of his situation. (more…)

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Ed Harris

Ed Harris

“FRONTERA” My rating: B- (Opening Sept. 26 at the Screenland Crown Center)

103 minutes | MPAA rating: PG-13

As first features go, “Frontera” is hugely ambitious.  Too ambitious.

Writer/director Michael Berry seems to want to do for illegal immigration what “Traffick” did for drug smuggling.  But he’s trying to touch so many sailiant features of the issue that his film feels frustratingly busy, as if it has been shoehorned into its 90-minut running time.

There’s no time for the film to breath, to take stock. If only “Frontera” had been produced as a three-night cable miniseries…it would have been a whole different — and much more satisfying — experience.

As it is it features some good acting, terrific cinematography of the rugged American Southwest, and a slowly tightening aura of suspense. It’s okay…it could have been so much better.

It starts south of the border with Miguel (Michael Pena), his pregnant wife Paulina (Eva Longoria in decidedly non-glam mode) and their young daughter traveling north.  They spend a night at the home of Paulina’s parents just a few miles south of the Arizona border. And then Miguel strikes out for the long walk into the U.S.A. The plan is for him to find work, send the dollars back to Paulina, and hopefully bring his family across the border.

On an Arizona ranch abutting Mexico, former lawman Roy (Ed Harris) and his wife Olivia (Amy Madigan) are having a happy retirement. Illegal immigrants regularly cross their land, but Olivia has come to an accomodation with the visitors, riding out with her horse to pass out bottled water and blankets to the trekkers in search of a better future.

Cut to a trio of bored teens who take their rifles out to the brush with the intention of taking potshots at any Mexicans they spot. Their prank goes bad, a death results, and the innocent Miguel finds himself facing a murder charge.

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