Movie DopeMovies

Movie Dope

AMERICAN REUNION (R) Sometimes reuniting with old friends isn’t all that bad, and American Reunion is much more entertaining than the last two times we hung out with Jim (Jason Biggs), Kevin (Thomas Ian Nicholas), Oz (Chris Klein), Finch (Eddie Kaye Thomas) and Stifler (Seann William Scott). At their 13-year reunion, the old gang—plus Michelle (Alison Hannigan), Vicky (Tara Reid), Heather (Mena Suvari), Jim’s Dad (Eugene Levy), Stifler’s Mom (Jennifer Coolidge), Nadia (a brief, unnecessary appearance from Shannon Elizabeth) and the rest (Natasha Lyonne, John Cho)—get up to their old antics. Once they were randy teens trying to get laid; now they’re randy adults with the same objective. Still, the scenarios (the hot girl Jim used to babysit, Oz’s celebrity dance show appearance, etc.) are funny, and the characters have aged well (some better than their actors). Biggs and Hannigan deserve a sitcom-y showcase, and Levy enjoys his dive into the raunchy end of the pool more than some of his paycheck-seeking costars. Yet Scott’s Stifler, forever stuck in his high school glory days, supplies the movie with its bounce and biggest laughs. Without the Stifmeister, the gang, including the audience, would have had a pretty boring reunion. 

THE AVENGERS (PG-13) The various Avengers—Robert Downey, Jr.’s Iron Man, Chris Evans’ Captain America, Chris Hemsworth’s Thor, another new Hulk (this time Mark Ruffalo gets to unleash the beast) and the rest—have assembled, and together they are a blast. But before they can battle Thor’s mischievous brother, Loki (Tom Hiddleston), who is intent on enslaving the world with his other-dimensional army, Earth’s mightiest heroes have to sort out a few things among themselves. Joss Whedon and Zak Penn capture the bickering essence of a super-group. Every single one of these heroes benefits from Whedon’s trademark snappy banter and his way with ensembles. These characters thrive by not having to carry the movie on their own (the Hulk especially benefits from sharing the spotlight). Whedon has always loved the lady leads, and he gets more out of Scarlett Johansson’s Black Widow than anyone else would have. Critical grumbling about The Avengers is minimal thanks to Whedon’s meticulously crafted screenplay and directorial vision (he heads his own verse for a reason) and the engaging ensemble. Once the paperwork is finalized so the team can go into action for the bang-up finale, The Avengers lives up to all the hype and expectation.

BATTLESHIP (PG-13) An adaptation of my favorite childhood board game (I still claim to be undefeated at Electronic Talking Battleship) comes complete with mysterious ships shooting peg-like missiles! Admiral Liam Neeson and John Carter of Mars’ Taylor Kitsch lead a fleet of ships against an armada of unknown origins. Why is Peter Berg directing this very odd, summer action movie? The screenwriting Hoeber brothers previously wrote Whiteout and Red. This flick is already an international blockbuster.

• BULLY (PG-13) Filmmaker Lee Hirsch (Amandla!) forces viewers to confront the stark realities of bullying on five families, including two reeling from the suicides of their bullied sons, in this harrowing first-hand account of the daily victimization of millions of kids. Amazingly and horrifyingly, Hirsch captures footage of other children victimizing the film’s central figure, 12-year-old Alex, which begs the question: Have children become so desensitized to cameras that they will break rules and laws even when they know they are being watched? This moving film begs only a couple of critiques. All of the kids profiled are from either rural or Southern towns. Obviously, Hirsch does not mean to imply big city folk and northerners/west coasters are immune to bullying, but the movie could have used more geographical diversity. Also, a better understanding of these kids before bullying and the circumstances surrounding their bullying would have provided a greater insight into them, their reactions—one girl is in juvie awaiting trial; two other boys are dead—and what drove them to such extremes. A tough, probing look at a serious problem, Bully is a rewarding, if uneasy, watch that does not pose any easy answers.

THE CABIN IN THE WOODS (R) Horror movies do not come much more perfect than The Cabin in the Woods, written by geek god Joss Whedon and one of his strongest protégés, Drew Goddard. A sublime tweaking of the entire slasher genre, Cabin’s deconstruction may be less meta than Scream, but its elaborate mythology—a staple of the Whedonverse—is transferable and adds a brand new reading to nearly every modern horror film. Five college friends (the most familiar face is the beardless one of Chris “Thor†Hemsworth, who can be seen in Whedon’s The Avengers) take a weekend trip to the woods that ends in a bloodbath.

CHIMPANZEE (G) Disneynature releases their most stunning Earth Day documentary yet. Too bad they did not include an alternate narration to substitute for Tim Allen’s; the sitcom giant is no Morgan Freeman. Nevertheless, the Bambi-like story of chimpanzee Oscar unfolds with some of the most unbelievable footage ever witnessed in a nature doc.

DAMSELS IN DISTRESS (PG-13) Whit Stillman has not been heard from since 1998’s The Last Days of Disco, but his comeback pic supposedly shows the filmmaker picking up where he left off. Three coeds (Greta Gerwig, Megalyn Echikunwoke and Carrie MacLemore) attempt to help their peers at Seven Oaks College get out of their funk via good hygiene and musical numbers. Then some boys (including Adam Brody) get in the way. I enjoyed Stillman’s trio of ’90s efforts (the Oscar-nominated Metropolitan, Barcelona and the aforementioned Last Days of Disco) and am rather looking forward to catching his latest.

• DARK SHADOWS (PG-13) Having tried but never quite sunk my teeth into both previous versions of Dan Curtis’ gothic soap opera, I had few preconceptions going into Tim Burton/Johnny Depp’s high-concept reimagining. Sadly, the duo merely delivered a pretty-looking, rather dull oddity. (Burton’s output has become increasingly miss-and-hit.) Tossing much of the soap’s suds and upping the camp, the big screen Dark Shadows still involves many of the series’ major players: vampire Barnabas Collins (Depp), Elizabeth Collins Stoddard (Michelle Pfeiffer), Dr. Hoffman (Helena Bonham Carter), Angelique (Eva Green), Willie Loomis (Jackie Earle Haley), Victoria Winters (Bella Heathcote) and Carolyn Stoddard (Chloe Grace Moretz). That list of names will mean little to the scores of uninitiated young Burton/Depp fans looking for another Alice in Wonderland, which this horror comedy most certainly is not. That movie’s billion-dollar success has fortunately allowed Burton to indulge his quirkier side at Collinswood. Still, his latest movie becomes shockingly boring after the extremely amusing early scenes of 200-plus-year-old Barnabas adapting to the 1970s. Depp produces another entertaining character, a la Jack Sparrow, but as the movie approaches the two hour mark, he grows as tedious as the blockbuster he solely supports.

THE DICTATOR (R) A heroic dictator (Sacha Baron Cohen) seeks to save his oppressed peoples from the evils of democracy. Director Larry Charles helmed both of Cohen’s previous shock comedies, Borat and Bruno. The funny cast includes Anna Faris, John C. Reilly, Ben Kingsley, Megan Fox, J.B. Smoove and more. I’m more excited for this political satire than I was for Bruno (which I liked). The trailers are proving my early faith might be rewarded. General Aladeen’s beardless adventures in America look pretty funny.

DR. SEUSS’ THE LORAX (PG) Released on Dr. Seuss’ 108th birthday, this pleasant animated adaptation of the beloved children’s author’s environmental fable fails to utterly charm like the filmmakers’ previous animated smash, Despicable Me. The Lorax may visually stun you, and Danny DeVito’s brief time as voice of the Lorax could stand as his greatest role, one that will go unrecognized by any professional awards outside of the Annies.

THE FIVE-YEAR ENGAGEMENT (R) As written by Jason Segel and Nicholas Stoller, the acting-writing-directing duo behind Forgetting Sarah Marshall, The Five-Year Engagement almost sells its initial gag too well. Nearly the entire first act plays out like the airheaded romantic comedy in which the smart comedy writers plan to poke holes. Then the change comes and The Five-Year Engagement begins its lengthy, though not overlong, slide into relationship complications (more real than scripted) and comic gags (some sold with more skill and less obviousness than others). Tom and Violet (Segel and Emily Blunt) get engaged on their one-year anniversary and then struggle to pull the trigger, as life sends the soulmates obstacle after obstacle.

THE HUNGER GAMES (PG-13) While a successful adaptation of a difficult book that near everyone has read, The Hunger Games has little cinematic spark. It’s a visual book report that merely summarizes the plot. It’s a well-written book report, but it’s still a book report. Seabiscuit director Gary Ross was not the most obvious choice to direct this dystopian adventure in which 24 teenagers are randomly selected for a contest in which only one will survive.

HYSTERIA (R) Maggie Gyllenhaal stars in this period sex comedy about the invention of the vibrator by Dr. Mortimer Granville (Hugh Dancy, last seen in Our Idiot Brother and Martha Marcy May Marlene). Joining Maggie G and Dancy are Jonathan Pryce, Felicity Jones (Like Crazy), Rupert Everett and Ashley Jensen. Hysteria may be the third movie from director Tanya Wexler (Ball in the House and Finding North), but it’s the first one to get a wide release.

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.

THE LUCKY ONE (PG-13) The Notebook it is not, but The Lucky One will not disappoint Nicholas Sparks’ fans looking for some sappy romance and a shirtless Zac Efron. A Marine named Logan (Efron) survives several incidents after finding a picture of a woman. When he returns to the states, he seeks out this woman, whom he learns is named Beth (Taylor Schilling, still recovering from Atlas Shrugged: Part I) to thank her for saving his life. But things get complicated when he falls for her and her young son, Ben (Riley Thomas Stewart), and runs afoul of her ex/Ben’s dad (Jay R. Ferguson, who excels at clueless d-bags), a deputy sheriff and son of big-time local judge/prospective mayor. The war scenes are thankfully short, making me wonder how much worse they could have been on the page, and director Scott Hicks (some fine films like Shine and Snow Falling on Cedars) illustrates this romance with some gorgeous, magazine spread cinematography (word to Alar Kivilo, whose work to date has never betrayed this artistic an eye). Will love conquer all or is this another one of Sparks’ tearjerkers? Only 141 minutes of your life stand between you and the answer.

MARGARET (R) After a loooooong time on the shelf (Margaret was filmed in 2005), two-time Oscar nominee Kenneth Lonergan’s follow-up to the fabulous You Can Count on Me is finally seeing the dark of a theater. Before she was sexing it up on HBO’s “True Blood,†Academy Award winner Anna Paquin was tackling Lonergan’s anti-commercial character study of a young girl trying to make amends for the fatal accident for which she feels responsible. With Jean Reno, Alison Janney, Matthew Broderick, Mark Ruffalo and Matt Damon.

MONSIEUR LAZHAR (PG-13) 2011. An Algerian immigrant man is quickly hired as the substitute when a beloved teacher at a Montreal elementary school takes her own life. The cultural gap between teacher and students along with the children’s grief and the revelation of the teacher’s past tragedies create a raw space begging to be healed. Directed by Canadian Philippe Falardeau and Oscar-nominated for Best Foreign Language Film in 2011.

THE PIRATES! BAND OF MISFITS (PG) You could do a lot worse than The Pirates! Band of Misfits when choosing animated flicks to see with your kids. Aardman Animations, the British folks that brought you Wallace & Gromit and Chicken Run, hit the high seas with the Pirate Captain (v. Hugh Grant) and his oddball crew. While seeking the coveted Pirate of the Year Award, the Pirate Captain runs into Charles Darwin (v. David Tennant, the tenth, and my personal favorite, Doctor), who wants the scurvy rascal’s feathered mascot, a thought-to-be-extinct dodo. The jokes are funny and often smart, and the stop-motion clay animation refreshingly different. The voice cast could have traded up (Jeremy Piven? No Ian McShane? Mostly, Jeremy Piven?!). Still, The Pirates! is cute, humorous and well-animated. Kiddie flicks come with a lot less booty than this buccaneer.

THE RAVEN (R) Too bad The Raven wasn’t made by an Italian. As a giallo flick, this fictionalized account of the unknown events surrounding the last week of Edgar Allan Poe’s life could have been a better match for John Cusack’s laudable characterization of the American literary giant. Instead, V for Vendetta/Ninja Assassin director James McTeigue chose an ill-fitting Saw Meets Se7en vibe. When several bodies turn up murdered in a manner inspired by the works of Poe, America’s premier writer of the fantastic and grotesque may be the key to the police investigation, led by Inspector Fields (Luke Evans, The Three Musketeers’s Aramis). After Poe’s beloved, Emily Hamilton (Alice Eve, She’s Out of My League), is kidnapped, the author’s urgency manifestly increases. The inventive story by writers Ben Livingston and Hannah Shakespeare is charged with potential that their screenplay, McTeigue’s direction and subpar supporting players quickly strangle. Dialogue is weak, at best, and Cusack is propping up everyone but Brendan Gleeson (though the near cameo from “Downton Abbeyâ€â€™s Brendan Coyle pleases). Those weaknesses could be overcome with a sense of giallo style; imagine the mad field day even aged Argento could have had with this tale.

SAFE (R) Fans who order the usual from the successful House of Statham franchise will be pleased by Safe, in which the charismatic proto-man plays Luke Wright, a former cop-turned-cage fighter viciously protecting a little Chinese girl (Catherine Chan) from the cops, the mayor, the Russian thugs who killed his family and the Triad. An appearance by James “Lo Pan†Hong is always worth a few extra points, but Safe is about as grimly typical as a Statham flick can be. I prefer mine balls-out crazy like the two Neveldine/Taylor-helmed Crank hits. Having seen enough of Statham’s action movies to know action means important, dialogue not so much, Safe provided some key moments for me to continue crafting my never-to-be-written essay on Jason Statham. Today’s query: Is Statham better off having missed the ’80s/’90s action heyday, when he would have been competing with Arnold, Sly and Bruno at the top of their game? Would he have joined the aforementioned big three or been relegated to the lower tier with Steven Seagal and Jean-Claude Van Damme? You should have time to develop your response during Safe or any of the other three to four movies the Brit action hero appears in this year.

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.

SULLIVAN’S TRAVELS (NR) 1941. Ciné concludes its Fifth Anniversary Series: For the Love of Cinema with Preston Sturges’ screwball classic. Hollywood big shot John L. Sullivan (Joel McCrea) decides he wants to make a serious statement movie so he hits the road to meet some real Americans. But Sullivan gets more than he bargained for when he is believed to be killed and mistakenly put to work on a Southern chain gang. This classic ranks up there with the all time comic masterpieces.

THINK LIKE A MAN (PG-13) Anything I wanted to like about Think Like a Man is tainted by the casual homophobia, sexism and racism the movie attempts to pass off as comedy, and that’s a shame for the hilarious Kevin Hart, who is finally, smartly given a showcase role. Based on Steve Harvey’s romantic self-help tome, Act Like a Lady, Think Like a Man, the movie, written by the scripters of Friends with Benefits, sometimes feels like a late night infomercial for Harvey’s patented way to win a man. We have six unbelievably mismatched buddies—Hart’s divorced dude, Romany Malco’s “playa,†Michael Ealy’s “dreamer,†Jerry “Turtle†Ferrara’s noncommittal white dude, Terrence J’s “mama’s boy†and some other white married guy—and the women (Gabrielle Union, Taraji P. Henson, Meagan Good and Regina Hall) who want them to settle down. Begin the chapter scenarios. Woody Allen attempted something like this to funnier results when he adapted Everything You Ever Wanted to Know About Sex; a more relevant and even less successful adaptation would be 2009’s He’s Just Not That Into You. If you really want to take romantic advice from Steve Harvey, filtered through Turtle, it’s your love life.

WHAT TO EXPECT WHEN YOU’RE EXPECTING (PG-13) The experiences of five expecting couples are collected in this romantic comedy starring a huge, Valentine’s Day-ish cast that includes Elizabeth Banks, Anna Kendrick, Cameron Diaz, Jennifer Lopez, Dennis Quaid, Brooklyn Decker (Just Go with It), Chace Crawford (“Gossip Girlâ€), Chris Rock, Megan Mullally, Thomas Lennon, Matthew Morrison (“Gleeâ€) and more. Director Kirk Jones last helmed Everybody’s Fine, but his best feature is Waking Ned Devine. Writer Shauna Cross previously gave us the extremely underrated Whip It.

WORLD’S SMALLEST AIRPORT (NR) From Watkinsville’s own Surprisingly Professional Productions comes this documentary of the Thrasher Brothers Aerial Circus. From the end of World War II in 1945 to 1950, three Georgia brothers performed astonishing feats via aircraft that have yet to be exceeded. The film’s Athens premiere occurred at Ciné in January.