MOVIE CLIPS: Previews of upcoming releases and special screenings

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For Digital First Media 

The D Train

Do you still define yourself in terms of the person you were back in your high school days? Do you continue to relish memories of your days of being in with the in crowd? In the alternative, are you still haunted by jaundiced recollections of being ostracized? “The D Train” revolves around two classmates, who epitomize extreme versions of these two social paradigms.

Back in his high school days in Pittsburgh, Dan Landsman (Jack Black) was a rotund social pariah. Years have passed. Dan has a job, a house, and a wife (Kathryn Hahn). Nevertheless, he still feels stigmatized by the fact that he was an outsider during his high school years.

What does Dan decide is the solution to his woes? He volunteers to become the chairperson of his high school’s reunion committee.  In this role, Dan concocts a hare-brained scheme to lure Oliver Lawless (James Marsden) from Los Angeles back to the high school reunion in Pittsburgh. You see, back in high school, Oliver was the popular, handsome guy, who was at the apex of the social hierarchy.

Now, Oliver is about to become the face of a national Banana Boat advertising campaign. Dan posits if he can get Oliver to attend the high school reunion, Oliver’s popularity will somehow transfer to him.

To offset Oliver’s disinclination to return to Pittsburgh, Dan weaves a web of lies. Dan convinces Oliver to return to Pittsburgh and attend the high school reunion. Beware of what you wish for. Once Oliver shows up in Pittsburgh, he wrecks havoc with Dan’s life.

I used to shudder at the prospect of any film in which  Jack Black had a substantive role.  I had cringed at his hamming it up in a litany of films, including “Shallow Hal” and “Nacho Libre.” He seemed to unable to modulate his over the top jocular excess. Then, Black starred in “Bernie.” The film, co-written and directed by Richard Linklater, was based on a true story. Playing a beloved, small-time mortician, Black delivered a performance that was not only restrained, but embodied an undeniable poignancy.

This film is co-written and co-directed by Andrew Mogel and Jarrad Paul. Collectively, they have a single credit as screenwriters for the Jim Carey flick, “Yes Man.” “D Train” represents their debut as directors.  Forgive me if I lack confidence in their ability to control Black from going into overdrive.

Opens at multiplexes on Friday, May 8.   R (for strong sexual material, nudity, language and drug use) 97 minutes. IFC

Far from the Madding Crowd

Thomas Vinterberg, the director of “Far From the Madding Crowd,” has promised that his adaptation of, “Far From the Madding Crowd,” will be, “raw and revolutionary.” The claim suggests a certain hyperbolic braggadocio, especially for a filmmaker with such an uneven body of work.

Two of Vinterberg’s prior films, “The Celebration” and “The Hunt,” were both highly lauded. The former won the Jury Prize at the 1998 Cannes Film Festival. The latter competed for the Palme d’Or at the 2012 Cannes Film Festival and was nominated for the Best Foreign Language Film at the 86th Academy Awards.

However, Vinterberg is also culpable for helming some infamous stink bombs. Notably, it included “Dear Wendy.” The film flopped, even in Vinterberg’s native Denmark, where it sold a scant 14,251 tickets.

The source novel, “Far From the Madding Crowd.” represented a turning point in the career of its author, Thomas Hardy. On the advice of his friend, the fellow writer, George Elliot, Hardy did not even publish his first novel. His next two books were published anonymously. His fourth novel, “A Pair of Blue Eyes,” was serialized in “Tinsley’s Magazine.” It is believed that the term, “cliffhanger,” was first used in conjunction with the work. One of its installments ends with a character literally dangling off the edge of a precipice. It was not until his fifth novel, “Far From the Madding Crowd,” that Hardy achieved sufficient commercial success to leave his job with an architectural firm and devote himself to writing.

This most recent adaptation of the novel boasts a strong cast. Bathsheba Everdene (Carey Mulligan) is a well-educated and headstrong young woman. She delights in her defiance of the prevailing gender stereotypes of Victorian England. She attracts a trio of aspiring paramours. A neighbor, Gabriel Oak (Matthias Schoenaerts), is a fine figure of a man, who has owns a herd of sheep, in a plot of land adjacent to Bathshehba’s. Another neighbor, the aristocratic William Boldwood (Michael Sheehan), is far wealthier and more sophisticated. However, he is already a middle-aged man. Then, behind door number 3, there is Frank Troy (Tom Sturridge) a cavalry officer in the Queen’s army. He is quite dashing, but can he really be trusted? How will Bathsheba decide between her suitors?

Opens on Friday, May 8 at the Ritz 5 and the Bryn Mawr Film Institute. PG-13 (for some sexuality and violence)118 minutes. Fox Searchlight

Hot Pursuit

Do you recall “48 Hrs.”? The comedy and its inevitable sequel paired Eddie Murphy as a wise cracking African-American criminal with Nick Nolte as a hard-nosed, white L.A. police detective. The former is temporarily paroled from prison in order to help investigate a murder case. Guess who wasn’t thrilled with the prospect of having a felon as a partner?

The comedy, “Hot Pursuit,” invokes the premise of temperamentally and physically opposite characters, who are thrown into an unwelcome arrangement. This time around, it involves Officer Cooper (Reese Witherspoon), a petite, straight-laced albeit incompetent cop, a petite, straight-laced albeit incompetent cop, and Daniela (Sofia Vergara) an extroverted, statuesque widow of a drug dealer. Officer Cooper is charged with protecting Daniela, who has now turned state’s witness. They are pursued by both criminals and crooked cops eager to eliminate Daniela before she can testify in Court.

The two female leads are credited with developing the film and bringing it to fruition. “Hot Pursuit” is helmed by a woman, Anne Fletcher, who is a rarity as the female director of a studio comedy.

It will be interesting to see how the traditional, testosterone driven buddy film fares with a gender twist.

Opens Thursday, May 7 at multiplex theaters.  PG-13 (for sexual content, violence, language and some drug material) 98 minutes. Warner Brothers/New Line

Nathan Lerner sees over 200 feature films a year. He welcomes feedback at lernerprose@gmail.com.


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