July 22, 2013

Summer flicks feature action and comedy

Posted in Between Us column, Entertainment, Movies at 8:44 pm by dinaheng

Moviegoers will enjoy both huge popcorn blockbusters and smaller, more sophisticated fare this summer.  Whether it’s sci-fi adventure laden with special effects, or the escapades of adorable animated characters, there’s something for every age group on the big screen.

One of the best action comedies out is Summit Entertainment’s  “RED2,” a sequel to the 2010 surprise hit, “RED,” which told the tale of several retired spies who proved they still had what it takes to kick butt and save the day. In “RED2,” retired black-ops CIA agent Frank Moses (played by Bruce Willis) is trying to enjoy life in suburbia with girlfriend Sarah Ross (Mary-Louise Parker), who longs for danger and adventure.Dinah Eng

When Frank’s best friend and former partner Marvin Boggs (Frank Malkovitch) informs them that a dangerous Cold War weapon called Nightshade has resurfaced, the three must run for their lives and recover the goods before it falls into terrorist hands. Helping them are Victoria (Helen Mirren), a British assassin without equal; Katja (Catherine Zeta-Jones), a Russian femme fatale from Frank’s past, and Han Cho Bai (Byung Hun Lee), a reluctant contract killer who has a score to settle with Frank.

Edward Bailey (Anthony Hopkins), the inventor of Nightshade, leads the intrepid ex-spies on a merry chase through Europe, giving audiences a vicarious taste of Paris, where several days of shooting took place. While the film is aimed at Boomers, anyone with a brain and appreciation of witty dialogue will enjoy the action and antics of some distinguished actors who prove more than capable of saving the day.

Fans of the old Japanese monster movies (think “Godzilla”) will enjoy Warner Bros.’ “Pacific Rim,” a sci-fi adventure about human pilots who synch their minds through a neural bridge in order to operate huge robots that combat giant alien creatures known as Kaiju.

Charlie Hunnam and Rinko Kikuchi star in "Pacific Rim." Photo courtesy of Warner Bros.

Charlie Hunnam and Rinko Kikuchi star in “Pacific Rim.” Photo courtesy of Warner Bros. Pictures.

Directed by Oscar nominee Guillermo del Toro, this is a film where special effects rule in battle scenes that will particularly appeal to 12-year-old boys. The story, though, is a mish-mash of movie themes reminiscent of everything from “Star Wars” to “Transformers,” with nary an original thought in sight.

The international cast, clearly designed to appeal to an international audience, includes Charlie Hunnam (known for his role in TV’s “Sons of Anarchy”), Idris Elba (“Thor”), RInko Kikuchi (“Babel”), Ron Perlman (the “Hellboy” films) and others. For mindless entertainment and booming battles, this film is it.

When it comes to new takes on the Western hero, Disney’s action-comedy “The Lone Ranger” has failed to gain traction at the box office. But if you’re a fan of Johnny Depp’s loopy Captain Jack Sparrow character in the “Pirates of the Caribbean” franchise, you’ll enjoy his rendition of Tonto in this tale of how the masked ex-Texas Ranger (played by Armie Hammer) changed from John Reid, a strict man of the law, to an unlikely justice fighter in the Old West.

Told through the eyes of the Native American warrior, we learn that Tonto was not The Lone Ranger’s sidekick, but very much his equal. With looks both dour and sly, Tonto coaches the Lone Ranger on how to go after outlaw Butch Cavendish (William Fichtner) and save his widowed sister-in-law Rebecca Reid (Ruth Wilson) from the clutches of railroad baron Latham Cole (Tom WIlkinson).

While the men ride tall in the saddle, it’s the woman with brains and a scrimshaw peg leg who stands out in this tale. Red Harrington, played by two-time Academy Award nominee Helena Bonham Carter, is the Southern madam whose business caters to  railroad workers. Shrewd and powerful, she knows how to attract men and save the day in her own way. It’s a shame the film wasn’t about her.

One of the summer’s most delightful films — for children and adults alike — is Universal’s animated “Despicable Me 2,” the sequel to the 2010 hit that introduced us to soft-hearted villain Gru (voiced by Steve Carell), whose claim to fame included stealing the Moon out of Earth’s orbit. Now that Gru has adopted three sweet orphans, he must face the fears of his own past, and the terror of dating in middle age.

Along the way, there’s the chaos, the criminal tricks, and the chortles that come when Gru and his mini Minions team up with Anti-Villain League agent Lucy Wilde (Kristen Wiig) to sniff out the bad guy who’s stolen something being developed in a super-secret research lab on a polar ice cap.

When it comes to family action comedy, this film is more than worth seeing. It’ll make you want to rent the DVD and watch “Despicable Me” all over again.

July 11, 2013

Women will cheer for these ‘Hot Flashes’

Posted in Between Us column, Entertainment, Movies, Women at 10:55 pm by dinaheng

It isn’t often that women take center stage in the movies — at any age — so it’s great to see several stars “of a certain age” featured in the new comedy, “The Hot Flashes.”

The movie, out in theaters this weekend, shares what happens when a group of middle-aged Texas women join together to become a basketball team and challenge the current high school girls state championship team in a charity match for breast cancer prevention.Dinah Eng

When Beth (played by Brooke Shields), an overlooked, bored housewife, learns that the local mammogram mobile is going bankrupt, she decides to push, pull and badger classmates who once ruled the court in 1978 to work together again to save the mammogram mobile.

The unlikely team includes five-time divorcee Clementine (Virginia Madsen), biker chick Roxie (Camryn Manheim), “closeted” lesbian Ginger (Daryl Hannah) and Florine (Wanda Sykes), the dignified African-American mayor of the mostly white small town. Coaching the team that hasn’t played ball together in 30 years is Paul (Mark Povinelli), the local veterinarian and a dwarf with a shady past.

"The Hot Flashes" team and Coach Paul await the game's start. Photo courtesy of Vertical Entertainment.

“The Hot Flashes” team and Coach Paul await the game’s start. Photo courtesy of Vertical Entertainment.

While most of the town, including Beth’s husband Laurence (Eric Roberts), scoffs at the women’s efforts, others begin to take notice of the middle-aged players, including Robin Roberts of ABC’s “Good Morning America,” who makes a cameo appearance.

Before the final buzzer rings, The Hot Flashes go on a journey that teaches each woman that she’s “still got it” — on and off the court.

“I like working with female ensemble casts, and there aren’t many movies with good parts for females over a certain age,” says Susan Seidelman, director-producer of “The Hot Flashes.” “The script came to me about five years ago from Brad Hennig, a writer who grew up in a small town in Texas. He played basketball, and his mom died of breast cancer.

“We started going to the studios, but they’re all making movies for the young boy audience. We were determined to get it done, so went the independent movie route. I believe there’s an underserved audience of men and women over the age of 40.”

The film was made with equity financing, receiving support from individuals who liked the movie’s theme, that women over the age of 40 can still be active and make a difference, as well as its advocacy for early breast cancer detection.

Breast cancer survivor Sheryl Crow contributed an original theme song that closes the film, and marketing partners include the American Cancer Society, the WNBA, Vera Bradley, and others.

“Our actresses are all terrific,” says Seidelman, whose directing credits  include “Desperately Seeking Susan” and “Making Mr. Right.” “Women 40 and older don’t get to play leading ladies anymore. They get to play the leading lady’s mother. But not all movies need to be ‘Ironman 3.’

“One of the things that was cool about the film was doing some basketball training in advance. It was like summer camp, and the actresses all bonded well. They didn’t want stunt doubles. There’s a tendency for women to become invisible after age 45. I hope this film inspires others to have fun, challenge themselves, and do physical activities, no matter what age they are.”

“The Hot Flashes” is in theaters July 12. For more information, check out http://www.hotflashesthemovie.com/.