Movie DopeMovies

Movie Dope

A DANGEROUS METHOD (R) Young psychiatrists Carl Jung and Sigmund Freud (Michael Fassbender and Viggo Mortensen, respectively) are working together to create a theory for what will become modern psychoanalysis. A young patient (Keira Knightly) with a crippling mental disorder pulls Jung further from the influence of his mentor in this true, romantic thriller.

ALVIN AND THE CHIPMUNKS: CHIPWRECKED (G) Come on, Fox! If you’re going to keep releasing new Chipmunks entries each holiday season, the least you can do is make a Christmas-themed movie featuring the furry trio’s classic holiday tunes. Instead, Alvin, Simon, Theodore, the Chipettes and Dave (poor, paycheck-cashing Jason Lee) start out on a cruise ship and wind up on a deserted island. Judging by the boffo box office of the previous two features plus the young audience’s reaction to the new pic’s trailer, Chipwrecked should provide its studio with some holiday cheer.

THE ARTIST (PG-13) Films today do not come as precious or charming as Michel Hazanavicius’ silent, Golden Globe winning Oscar frontrunner. A silent film that is all about talking, The Artist of title refers to matinee idol George Valentin (Academy Award nominee Jean Dujardin, who absolutely must be a silent film star Hazanivicius recently thawed from ice), who finds it difficult to transition from silent films to talkies, unlike rising star Peppy Miller (Academy Award nominee Bérénice Bejo). But Miller has a crush on Valentin that predates her stardom and will do everything she can to help the despondent, one-time star. Like an unearthed gem, a long-lost silent relic, The Artist is at once wholly familiar yet completely foreign. Who knew a trifling eccentricity would wind up 2011’s most daring film?

BEAKS: THE MOVIE (NR) 1987. Birds go crazy in the latest Bad Movie Night screening. Originally intended as a sequel to Hitchcock’s The Birds, Beaks: The Movie instead features a lot of Spanish speakers running from our former feathered friends. Recognizable stars in a movie like this are rare, and Christopher Atkins, former Blue Lagoon resident with Brooke Shields, and Blame It on Rio’s Michelle Johnson are as good as Beaks could get. I grew up watching killer animal movies, good and bad; how did I miss this stinker?

BIG MIRACLE (PG-13) Do you like whales? What about Drew Barrymore? Are sitcoms right up your alley? If you answered yes to any one of these queries, Big Miracle is for you! Based on a true story, this lighthearted family film recounts the time humanity combined to free a family of three gray whales from their Arctic ice prison. Cute actors like Barrymore, “The Officeâ€â€™s John Krasinski and Kristen Bell keep Big Miracle appealing, as it goes through the inspirational paint-by-numbers plot. Successful TV director Ken Kwapis feels right at home, needlessly staging small screen theatrics on a big screen palette. Only one scene—the stunning shot of Drew Barrymore’s Greenpeace volunteer swimming with the whales—deserves a screen larger than a 40-inch flatscreen. I don’t mean this as an insult, but why isn’t Big Miracle a Hallmark production? No reason exists for this minor charmer to be a theatrical release.

CHRONICLE (PG-13) An out of nowhere genre success, Chronicle should find easy entry into the cult classic pantheon. Three high schoolers (Dane DeHaan, Alex Russell and “Friday Night Lightsâ€â€™ Michael B. Jordan) stumble upon a mysterious cave and wind up with telekinetic powers. But, as Spider-Man teaches, “with great power comes great responsibility,†and not everyone can handle it. As the teenagers’ powers grow, one becomes increasingly dangerous. What seems to be heading toward Carrie horror territory winds up being more of a supervillain origin story, and it’s brilliant. Chronicle watches like a fantastic comic book miniseries (think something from the Millarverse), telling a fresh origin story via intelligent filmmaking tricks. First time feature director Josh Trank does some fun cinematic tricks with the overdone found footage gambit, and Max “Son of John†Landis provides a crackerjack script that never gets too clever with its high concept. Genre surprises, especially ones released in the dead of winter, are getting rarer. I can’t wait to see what Trank and Landis do for a follow-up.

THE DESCENDANTS (R) Is The Descendants the best film of last year? If not, the bittersweet dramedy starring Academy Award nominee George Clooney is among the top two or three. Filmmaker Alexander Payne sure took his time following up his 2004 Oscar winning smash, but the delay was worth it. After a tragic accident leaves his wife in a coma, lawyer and owner of the last parcel of virgin land in Hawaii Matt King (Clooney) struggles to raise his two daughters, come to peace with revelations about his dying wife and decide what to do with his important land. Clooney is this generation’s Paul Newman, a cool cat who can pull off anything he’s asked to do on screen. Here, in his tucked-in Hawaiian shirts, he epitomizes the suburban dad; still, he drops comic gems, often punctuated by his terrific reaction shots, and dramatic bombs with ease. Payne again proves himself a master of tone, perfectly balancing the humor of an incredibly bleak, emotionally complex situation.


This adaptation of the Jonathan Safran Foer novel could have devolved into Stage 4 Pay It Forward-level emotional manipulation. Instead, the 9/11 tearjerker, directed by three-time Academy Award nominee Stephen Daldry (Billy Elliot, The Hours and The Reader), only reaches Stage 2. Young Oskar Schell (“Jeopardyâ€â€™s Kids Week Champion Thomas Horn, making a striking acting debut) tries to make sense of his father’s death on 9/11. His dad, Thomas (Tom Hanks, in quite possibly his most saintly role to date), used to send Oskar on city-wide expeditions to help the boy conquer his social inhibitions. The final quest requires Oskar to traipse around NYC in search of a lock to fit a mysterious key. Of course, the journey to solving this mystery is more important than the solution itself. Impressive performances from the young Horn and the older Max von Sydow keep the film from drowning in its own sorrows. Appearances from Viola Davis, John Goodman and Jeffrey Wright are welcome, but Sandra Bullock merely gets her tears on as Oskar’s grief-ridden mom. Everything should be fine so long as audiences simply expect the good movie Extremely Loud is, as opposed to the awards bait it fails to be.

FORKS OVER KNIVES (PG) Is a diet free from animals and processed foods the key to halting and, in many cases, reversing the degenerative diseases that plague us? Forks Over Knives, part of the seventh annual Animal Voices Festival sponsored by Speak Out for Species, thinks so. The screening will include a discussion led by Neal Priest, MD, a board-certified Emergency Medicine physician and Chief of Staff at St. Mary’s Hospital in Athens, who also co-hosts the news/talk radio show, “True South.â€

GHOST RIDER: SPIRIT OF VENGEANCE (PG-13) During my comic collecting heyday, Ghost Rider was reanimated by Marvel. Unfortunately, his movie adaptation, starring Nicolas Cage and helmed by the constantly disappointing Mark Steven Johnson, sucked. The sequel tasks Cage’s Johnny Blaze with beating the Devil (Ciaran Hinds) as he tries to take human form. I like the decision to go with the Crank duo, Neveldine/Taylor, behind the camera, and the presences of Idris Elba, Anthony Head and MF-in Christopher Lambert have me tentatively excited.

THE GREY (R) January is ending; it must be time for another Liam Neeson actioner. The formerly acclaimed actor has almost completed his transformation into an English Denzel Washington, whose filmography is filling up with inconsequential paychecks jobs. At least Joe Carnahan (Narc, The A-Team) is writing and directing this tale of an Alaskan drilling team struggling to defeat a pack of wolves hunting them after their plane crashes in the wilderness. With Dermot Mulroney and James Badge Dale (“The Pacificâ€).

THE HELP (PG-13) The whitewashed world of this Best Picture nominee lacks the proper depth to feel real, but it will make you feel good. Every black servant is a saint; every white employer a demon. Thankfully, college-educated Eugenia “Skeeter†Phelan (the extremely likable Emma Stone, who grows into her accent) comes home to Jackson to save its minority population through bestselling pop fiction. She collects the stories of long-serving maids Aibileen (Academy Award nominee Viola Davis), Minny (Academy Award nominee Octavia Spencer) and more into an illegal tome that scandalizes the gentry represented by Hilly Holbrook (Bryce Dallas Howard). A well-meaning movie, The Help serves up two-plus hours of laughter and tears with a pinch of moral outrage, mostly thanks to the top-notch source material and performances.

INTO THE ABYSS (PG-13) In the legendary Werner Herzog’s newest film, his 25th documentary, the German filmmaker interviews death row inmate Michael Perry to understand why people and the government choose to kill. Convicted of triple homicide, Perry was executed eight days after Herzog conducted his interviews; his accomplice, Jason Burkett, who was treated to the lesser sentence of life in prison, is also interviewed. A festival hit, Into the Abyss won awards from the British Film Institute and the National Society of Film Critics.

THE IRON LADY (PG-13) As a fan of all things British, The Iron Lady should have been more appealing to me, but the clumsy construction by director Phyllida Lloyd (Mamma Mia!) and writer Abi Morgan sink it. Meryl Streep may not be a revelation (she cannot be; the highest level of acting is expected of her), but her Golden Globe winning and sure to be Oscar nominated portrayal of Margaret Thatcher goes beyond mere impression. Too bad the film wastes far too much of its sub-two-hour running time on the later years framework. Any time Streep’s ancient Maggie (the makeup is good) appeared to harangue a hallucination of her late husband, Denis (Jim Broadbent, classy as ever), was a time to check out. And these flash-forwards happen a lot, sometimes for mere seconds, ripping us from the more interesting tale of Thatcher becoming the first female Prime Minister in the history of the United Kingdom. The Iron Lady’s BAFTA nomination for Best Original Screenplay is utterly baffling. As a BBC television production, The Iron Lady might satisfy, but as big screen, awards bait biopic, it falls woefully short. Maggie would certainly not have approved.

JACK AND JILL (PG) Adam Sandler must have thought the fake movies from Funny People had real potential to have signed on for this pitiful comedy where he plays both Jack Sadelstein and his twin sister, Jill. They key to the entire one-joke movie is that Sandler makes an ugly woman. Jill’s homeliness and her lack of self-awareness propel one lame gag after another. Sandler’s usual pals (Allen Covert, Nick Swardson) and celebrity cameos pepper the cast. Al Pacino’s appearance is the least likely and most unfortunate as he plays himself as a desperate man smitten with Jill. Regrettably, the flick also features more than a handful of casually stereotypical racial humor, though everything, even the lazy plotting and joke writing, is executed with the amiability that typifies its star. However, geniality is no excuse for Sandler fans to continue his string of unsubtle, unoriginal comedy hits.

• JOURNEY 2: THE MYSTERIOUS ISLAND (PG) Journey 2: The Mysterious Island’s biggest problem might be time. Many of the young people who enjoyed its 2008 forebear, Journey to the Center of the Earth, might have outgrown the Brendan Fraser/Dwayne “The Rock†Johnson brand of family adventure movie. Sean (Josh Hutcherson, soon to be Peeta in The Hunger Games) and his future stepdad, Hank (the always appealing Johnson), travel to the mysterious island to find Sean’s granddad (Michael Caine). Along for the ride are a goofy helicopter pilot (Luis Guzman, being as Guzman-y as ever) and his gorgeous daughter (Vanessa Hudgens). The island’s giant, 3D-tastic flora and fauna make for a movie that’s fun to look at, especially on the big screen, for an hour and a half, but does not create the sort of lasting impression needed to survive in today’s oversaturated entertainment market.

MAN ON A LEDGE (PG-13) Don’t confuse this crime thriller with the tremendous documentary Man on Wire. Sam Worthington stars as Nick Cassidy, a suicidal ex-con needing to be talked down by police psychologist Lydia Mercer (Elizabeth Banks). Oh, by the way, the biggest diamond heist, like, ever is going on at the same time. Coincidence? This flick, whose trailers are woefully underwhelming, is director Asger Leth’s first fiction feature. The cast (Worthington, Banks, Jamie Bell, Edward Burns, Kyra Sedgwick, Anthony Mackie, William Sadler and Ed Harris) is good, though.

THE MUPPETS (PG) Cowriter-star Jason Segel’s reboot of Jim Henson’s lovable puppets is built with his obvious love and understanding of what made their 1979 film debut so special. Gary (Segel), his puppet brother Walter, and Gary’s longtime girlfriend, Mary (Amy Adams), travel to L.A., where they discover a plot to destroy the Muppet Theater by oil tycoon Tex Richman (Chris Cooper). Together, they help Kermit reunite the old gang—Fozzie, Miss Piggy, Gonzo, et al.—to put on a telethon in order to raise the money needed to buy back the property. Self-referential with a joke ratio that favors adults two-to-one (a Muppet staple), some terrific songs by one-half of Flight of the Conchords, and a bevy of celebrity cameos, this film revives the Muppets as you remember them.

ONE FOR THE MONEY (PG-13) Janet Evanovich’s popular Stephanie Plum comes to the big screen. Newly divorced and unemployed, Plum (Katherine Heigl) takes a gig at her cousin’s bail bond business. Her first assignment just happens to be a local cop and former flame (Jason O’Mara of “Terra Novaâ€). Will it be the start of a franchise for star Heigl, or more proof the public is over “Grey’s Anatomyâ€â€™s former It Girl? Director Julie Anne Robinson and most of the cast are prime-time players at best.

OSCAR-NOMINATED SHORT FILMS (NR) All 15 of the short films nominated for 2012 Oscars can be seen in one sitting at Cine, featuring selections of animated, live action and documentary films.

PUSS IN BOOTS (PG) Shrek’s fairy tale may have moved on to happily ever after, but Puss in Boots (v. Antonio Banderas) is still itching for a fight. His spinoff reveals the swordfighting antics that led up to Puss meeting up with Shrek and company. Naturally, this flick was once slated for a direct-to-DVD release; will the cat be able to match the ogre’s blockbuster results? Director Chris Miller previously helmed Shrek the Third. Featuring the voices of Salma Hayek, Zach Galifianakis and more.

RED TAILS (PG-13) Red Tails, a pet project of Star Wars creator George Lucas, succeeds everywhere it should and fails nowhere that should surprise anyone. The valor of the Tuskegee Airmen is every bit as worthy of patriotic, big screen fanfare as the flyers of Pearl Harbor and the WWI-era Lafayette Escadrille in Flyboys, and their movie is every bit the equal of dramatic lightweight and action heavyweight. These three aviation-centered war movies are near interchangeable, besides their single major hooks (Pearl Harbor, World War I and African-American pilots). A crew of attractive young black men (including Nate Parker, David Oleyowo, Tristan Wilds and Ne-Yo) are led into combat by stalwart veterans Cuba Gooding Jr. and Terrence Howard and must battle racism on the ground and in the air. (The Luftwaffe knew they were dogfighting with black men.) The dialogue is tin-eared as previous Lucas films (the prequels come to mind) and does not benefit the actors at all. Still, exciting, jingoistic fervor can sometimes wear down any foe, even an enemy script. By Red Tails end, it’s near impossible to root against these great American underdogs.

THE ROOM (R) 1993. A cult classic returns for more unintentional hilarity.

• SAFE HOUSE (R) For Safe House’s target fans of Denzel Washington, whizzing bullets and car chases, the action flick is critically bulletproof; for me, it was competently boring. Former CIA operative turned rogue asset, Tobin Frost (Washington), goes on the run with green agent Matt Weston (Ryan Reynolds, in the thankless role anyone could have filled) hot on his heels. Washington remains the laziest talent in Hollywood. What draws him to waste his chops on these action-filled scripts with such obvious plot trajectories? You can tell which CIA bigwig (the suspects being Sam Shepard, Vera Farmiga and Brendan Gleeson) Weston shouldn’t trust from the trailers, and try as they might to imply otherwise, one can easily presume Washington’s Frost hasn’t gone rogue for sheer psychopathic thrills or mere greed. The predictable action is delivered with the workmanlike craftsmanship (quick edits, handheld camerawork, etc.) one expects from a production that is clearly influenced by Washington’s work with Tony Scott, but lacks his more artful eye. Safe House should make enough money to keep Washington’s rep as a box office draw undiminished, but won’t make much of an impression in his increasingly inconsequential filmography.

THE SECRET WORLD OF ARRIETTY (G) Studio Ghibli, home to Hayao Miyazaki’s masterpieces, and Disney present an enchanting tale of a family of four-inch tall people named the Clocks, who piece out an existence by borrowing everyday items from the home in which they reside. However, their peaceful world is rocked when their daughter, Arrietty, is discovered. From the plot description, no one should be surprised that the legendary, 70-year-old Miyazaki, who cowrote the screenplay but did not direct, adapted this animated feature from Mary Norton’s novel, The Borrowers.

SHAME (NC-17) 2011. Michael Fassbender’s career ignited with Inglorious Basterds and X-Men: First Class. Now he shows some love for filmmaker Steve McQueen, who gave Fassbender a leading role in his award winning 2008 film, Hunger. In Shame, Fassbender plays a sex addict, whose carefully planned life is disrupted by a visit from his sister (Carey Mulligan). The film’s already won several awards (though Fassbender was snubbed by the Oscars), but most of the buzz is about how much screen time is given to Fassbender’s manhood.

• STAR WARS: EPISODE I—THE PHANTOM MENACE 3D (PG) At nearly 13 years old, George Lucas’ return to that galaxy far, far away has not gotten better with age. Adding more dimensions has not helped either. The bad far outweighs the good as the prequels begin amid a trade dispute between the greedy Trade Federation and the tiny planet of Naboo. I dozed off just typing that synopsis. Enter Jedi Knight Qui-Gon Jinn (Liam Neeson) and his padawan, Obi-Wan Kenobi (Ewan McGregor). The film starts slowly, introducing new characters like the hated Jar Jar Binks and the misguided Padme (Natalie Portman). The only new creation to spark any interest, the horned, red-faced Darth Maul, is wasted. The sharp instincts that helped Lucas create this fantastical universe have grown fat and lazy from disuse (Episode I is his first feature directing credit since the 1977 original) and hero worship. The 3D post-conversion is barely noticeable. Skip Episodes I and II, and wait two to three years for the good films in the series to be released. It’s time fanboys stopped playing apologists. Outside of visual effects (which already look dated) and sound (at which the Star Wars films always excel), The Phantom Menace just is not a very good movie.

THIS MEANS WAR (PG-13) Charlie’s Angels director McG’s latest pits Chris Pine against Tom Hardy for the affections of Reese Witherspoon. Pine and Hardy are two of the world’s best CIA operatives, and their talents are pushed to the limit as they battle one another for Witherspoon’s Lauren. I don’t know why the guys aren’t fighting over supporting player Chelsea Handler. This flick’s success might hang on screenwriter Simon Kinberg, whose Mr. & Mrs. Smith was as entertaining as his Jumper was not.

TINKER TAILOR SOLDIER SPY (R) The machinations Tinker Tailor Soldier Spy, the new film from Let the Right One In’s Tomas Alfredson, may be a little too murky for its own good. The filmmakers leave the viewer to believe there’s more to be worked out as a result of retired British spy George Smiley’s (an excellently restrained first-time Academy Award nominee Gary Oldman) return to semi-active duty to uncover the identity of a mole amongst the highest echelons of MI6. The performances from an absolutely dynamite cast of Britons (Oldman, reigning Best Actor Colin Firth, John Hurt, Toby Jones, Ciaran Hinds, “Sherlockâ€â€™s Benedict Cumberbatch, Mark Strong, Stephen Graham and upcoming Batman villain Tom Hardy) keep one engaged even as the pregnant pauses and furtive glances overly cloud the already opaque espionage waters of literary spymaster John Le Carré.

THE TWILIGHT SAGA: BREAKING DAWN – PART 1 (PG-13) Stephenie Meyer’s extremely popular teen-vamp-romance took a surreal turn in the fourth book. Bella (Kristen Stewart) and Edward (Robert Pattinson) finally marry. On the honeymoon, Bella becomes pregnant with a thing that should not be. Now the Cullens are caught between the Quileute wolves and the ancient Volturi, both of whom are threatened by this unknown new adversary. I’ll be interested to see how director Bill Condon (Gods and Monsters, Dreamgirls) handles the book’s R-rated events (specifically, the baby’s bloody birth) in a PG-13 manner.

UNDEFEATED (NR) After years of struggling, the underfunded, underprivileged Manassas High School Tigers find success under Coach Bill Courtney, a former college football player who started out as a volunteer coach after purchasing property near the high school. Watch as three star players—Chavis, Montrail “Money†and O.C.—strive to succeed on the field while off the field issues look to knock them off course. Undefeated might fill the hole left by the end of “Friday Night Lights.†Nominated for the Academy Award for Best Documentary Feature.

UNDERWORLD: AWAKENING (R) I’ve never understood why the Underworld movies are so underwhelming. Vampires versus werewolves, Kate Beckinsale in skin-tight black leather, Bill Nighy and Michael Sheen all should add up to a crazy awesome movie. Instead, the three previous Underworlds make great cures for insomnia. They’re some of the most soporific action movies I’ve ever seen. Underworld: Awakening boasts a new directing team, a third dimension and the return of Beckinsale. It’s also the most fun I’ve had watching one of these flicks, though nothing about Awakening elevates it much past the Resident Evil/Paul W.S. Anderson plane. Still, fans of the franchise should enjoy another round of blue-lit ultraviolence. Nighy and Sheen are duly missed as well; Stephen Rea alone is not just compensation for their absence. The best critique I can level at Underworld: Awakening: at least I didn’t fall asleep this time. That’s a step forward, right?

• THE VOW (PG-13) Nicholas Sparks has to be kicking himself for not coming up with this plot first. A young couple, Paige and Leo Collins (Rachel McAdams and Channing Tatum), struggle to fall in love again after a car accident erases all of Paige’s memories of Leo and their marriage. As these plots are wont to do, Paige’s rich parents (Sam Neill and Jessica Lange) and her ex-lover (Scott Speedman) use her tabula rasa to rewrite their past wrongs, while Leo must cope with the realization that his wife might never remember him. The Vow climbs out of the romantic drama pits mostly due to its two charming leads, McAdams and Tatum, who must overcome some spotty dialogue, obvious plot developments and weak supporting players (not a lot of recognizable faces outside of those five already mentioned). Director Michael Sucsy, who won an Emmy and a Golden Globe for Grey Gardens, transitions to the big screen with surprising success considering the tear-soaked tissue of a true story with which he had to work. The Vow won’t make romance fans forget The Notebook, but it is better than most of the fake (and genuine) Sparks Hollywood’s been peddling.

WE BOUGHT A ZOO (PG) This movie just generates some odd feelings. A movie directed by Cameron Crowe and starring Matt Damon, Scarlett Johansson and Thomas Haden Church sounds like a serious winner, but then there’s the title. A dad (Damon) moves his family to Southern California to renovate a struggling zoo. The Devil Wears Prada scripter Aline Brosh McKenna and Crowe relocate Benjamin Mee’s memoir from England to SoCal. Some say a similar move didn’t affect High Fidelity; I’m not one of those folks.

THE WOMAN IN BLACK (PG-13) Harry Potter himself, Daniel Radcliffe, returns to the big screen for his first role since the epic story of the famed Boy Who Lived ended. Sporting tremendously manicured sideburns (the tiny fellow resembles a young Wolverine), Radcliffe stars as lawyer Arthur Kipps, a widower struggling to raise his young son. To save his job, Kipps must travel to a small, isolated village and tidy up the affairs at an abandoned old house. Like something out of Lovecraft, the locals aren’t very welcoming to this strange newcomer. Director James Watkins chills his old-fashioned ‘aunted ‘ouse with creepy dolls, dead children and the titular black-clad woman. February horror films typically don’t have as many successful scares as this film contains in its nearly dialogue-free middle act. Due to smart hiring (Watkins, whose Eden Lake deserves a wider audience) and casting (Radcliffe works hard to prove he can be more than just Harry; Ciaran Hinds is always welcome), England’s hallowed Hammer Films proves they’ve still got it after all these years.