February 1, 2013
“Koch” is a documentary about the controversial three-term New York City Mayor Ed Koch who is now 87. First-time filmmaker Neil Barsky created a fascinating portrait of this man who has fiercely protected his privacy and loves the city he served. Koch took office when NYC was on the brink of bankruptcy. It was a frightening time when crime was soaring and tourism was way down. The mood in the Big Apple was heavy and hopeless. Koch, known for mouthing off to critics and asking his fans, “How am I doing?” charged in and fought to save our city. The film examines homelessness, AIDS, race relations and gay rights. You won’t be bored. Not rated. 95 minutes.
“The Gatekeepers” is a documentary made up of interviews and directed by Dror Moreh. For the first time, six former heads of the Shin Bet, Israel’s secret service, speak openly about their successes and failures at their jobs to keep Israel safe. Avi Dichter, Yaakov Peri, Ami Ayalon, Yuval Diskin, Carmi Gillon and Avraham Shalom, charged with overseeing Israel’s never-ending war on terror, discuss the decisions they made and actions they took. This film is disturbing and riveting. Rated PG-13. 97 minutes.
“Stand Up Guys” stars Academy Award winners Al Pacino, 72; Alan Arkin, 78; and Christopher Walken, 69. Val (Pacino) is released from prison after a 28-year bid for refusing to rat on his fellow criminals. His best friend Doc (Walken) arrives to pick him up. Soon after, they hook up with their old chum Hirsch (Arkin). The men are still close and reminisce about the good old days, but one of them is hiding a dangerous secret. The plot is secondary; the fun with this flick is that these three top-tier actors clearly had a helluva good time making this film. Hoo-ha! Comedy. Rated R. 94 minutes.
February 8, 2013
“Identity Thief” stars the comedy team of Horrible Bosses’ Jason Bateman and Bridesmaids’ Melissa McCarthy. The setup is businessman Sandy (Bateman) becomes the victim of deceptively harmless-looking Diana (McCarthy) who stole his identity and ruined his credit. With only one week to hunt down the con artist before his world implodes, Sandy heads to Miami to confront the woman who is preying on his finances. He tries to bribe her. It’s as silly and mindless as it sounds but, if you’re a fan of Bateman’s deadpan and McCarthy’s over-the-top shenanigans, you may enjoy it. It was originally slated for 2012 release and had a few rewrites—never good signs. Comedy. Unrated.
“Side Effects” is a psychological thriller with a powerful cast including Rooney Mara, Channing Tatum, Jude Law and Catherine Zeta-Jones. It is directed by Steven Soderbergh (“Traffic”) and is rumored to be his last film before retirement. The setup is a young woman named Emily (Mara) turns to her trusted psychiatrist (Law) to deal with high anxiety over the release of her jailbird husband (Tatum). The shrink prescribes an experimental drug with — you guessed it — side effects. “Traffic” was about drug trafficking, but this film focuses on the pharmaceutical industry. There are high hopes for it. Crime drama thriller. Rated R.
“The Playroom,” an official selection at the Tribeca Film Festival, stars Martin Cantwell (John Hawkes) Donna Cantwell (Molly Parker), Maggie Cantwell (Olivia Harris) and Ryan (Cody Linley). Set in The suburbs of Texas in the Seventies, four children are suffering due to the drunken dysfunction of their parents. The kids gather in their attic and make up imaginative stories as a defense against their bleak reality. Julia Dyer directs this moving tale written by her sister Gretchen Dyer. Reminiscent of 1997’s chilling and brilliant “The Ice Storm,” this disturbing drama earned high praise from numerous critics. Rated R. 83 minutes.
February 15, 2013
“No” stars Gael García Bernal (“The Motorcycle Diaries”) as an advertising executive hired to create a campaign to defeat military dictator Augusto Pinoche. In 1988, Chile’s Pinoche had sat as dictator for 15 long oppressive years. Interestingly, the film features archival footage of Jane Fonda, Richard Dreyfuss and Christopher Reeve as themselves. “No” earned a rousing standing ovation when it debuted at the 2012 Cannes Film Festival and it is the Chilean foreign film entry for this year’s Academy Awards. It is a docu-fiction, i.e. a fictionalized version of a true story.With very few resources, the ad campaign motivates the people of Chile and is responsible for the 57% of the “No” votes. Director Pablo Larraín took a chance on his audiences by lowering the visual quality of the film to match the poor quality of the old TV footage that’s interspersed. It will take a moment to get used to the poor quality but the story pulls you in and the stylistic choices pay off. Drama. Rated R. 118 minutes.
“The Seventh Son” is an 18th century dark adventure story about magic and evil spirits. The players are the all-powerful malevolent witch, Mother Malkin (Julianne Moore); a young farmer’s son, Tom Ward (Ben Barnes); and the aging knight Master Gregory (Jeff Bridges). Based on a series called “The Wardstone Chronicles” written by British author Joseph Delaney, this first tale is about John Gregory in search of an apprentice to carry on fighting the good fight against witches and ghouls in order to protect the country. He finds Tom Ward, the seventh son of the seventh son who was born with supernatural powers. Just an aside: this is the first time Moore and Bridges play opposite each other since 1997’s “The Big Lebowski” by the Coen brothers. Family fantasy adventure. IMAX 3D. Not rated.
February 22, 2013
“Snitch” is based on a true story featured in a PBS Frontline documentary. It follows a father (Dwayne Johnson) who goes undercover for the DEA to protect his teenage son (James Allen McCune) from a 30-year prison sentence after being set up in a drug deal. Ric Roman Waugh directed and re-wrote the script by Justin Haythe (“Revolutionary Road”). The cast includes Academy Award winner Susan Sarandon who plays an ambitious U.S. attorney (a part that was originally for a man). The movie also stars Jon Bernthal, Barry Pepper and Benjamin Bratt. Action drama thriller. Rated PG-13.
“Dark Skies” A couple, Lacey Barret (Keri Russell) and Daniel Barret (Josh Hamilton), live with their son Jesse (Dakota Goyo) and daughter Shelley (Annie Thurman) in a peaceful suburb. Their lives turn into what nightmares are made of when an evil and alien force relentlessly descends upon them. Written and directed by Scott Charles Stewart and produced by Blumhouse Productions (“Paranormal Activity”), it also stars J.K. Simmons. Sci-Fi horror thriller. Not rated.