March 20, 2013

Movie Dope

Short Descriptions Of Movies Playing In And Around Athens...

21 AND OVER (R) One’s reaction to pejoratively describing 21 and Over as The Hangover Jr. should determine one’s level of interest in this flick. If a viewer disregarded The Hangover Part II for its lack of originality, then said viewer should stay away from 21 and Over. At least the second Hangover still had some jokes to tell. 21 and Over lacks any jokes, instead relying on an escalating series of scenarios scored to music one would hear while watching MTV’s current crop of programs. Two pals, played by the appealing duo of Miles Teller (Footloose) and Skylar Astin (Pitch Perfect), take a third friend, Jeff Chang (Justin Chon), out to celebrate his 21st birthday. But Jeff Chang cannot celebrate too hard, as he has an important med school meeting the next morning. So what does Jeff Chang do? Gets wasted. The rest of the movie involves Miller and Casey meeting hot chicks and d-bags while trying to get Jeff Chang home before his evil father (Francois Chau of “Lost”) finds them. 21 and Over mixes a plot left over from the transitional Weekend at Bernie’s period, with the raunchy, we can do anything gags of today. The resulting concoction doesn't go down well.

56UP (NR) Beginning in 1964 with Seven Up, director Michael Apted has revisited a group of British-born adults every seven years to examine the progression of their lives. 

ADMISSION (PG-13) The trailers for this Tina Fey/Paul Rudd comedy do not excite nearly as much as the potential of this comic duo should. A college admissions officer, Portia Nathan (Fey), might have found the son she gave up for adoption years ago at the alternative school run by cute single dad, John Pressman (Rudd). Was American Pie writer-director Paul Weitz’s last uncommonly good movie 2002’s About a Boy? With Michael Sheen (always a plus), Lily Tomlin and Wallace Shawn (another mark in the plus column).

THE ANATOMY OF HATE: A DIALOGUE TO HOPE (NR) Director Mike Ramsdell spent six years working with some of our most hateful ideological movements and violent conflicts: white supremacists, Christian fundamentalism’s anti-gay wing, Muslim extremists, the Palestinian Intifada, Israeli settlers/soldiers and U.S. soldiers stationed in Iraq. His film reveals the reasons why we hate and how to overcome that negative emotion. The film will be followed by a discussion with filmmaker Ramsdell. Winner of the Audience Choice Award at the Atlanta DocuFest and the Best Political Documentary at the Philadelphia Independent Film Festival.

ATHENS JEWISH FILM FESTIVAL The Athens Jewish Film Festival again brings quality Jewish films to Athens in its annual festival. Films scheduled for this year’s diverse lineup include something for everyone. Enjoy several documentaries (Circus Kids, a.k.a. Doc Pomus, In Heaven Underground, The Flat and Welcome to the Kutcher’s: The Last Catskills Resort), a comedy (Simon Konianski), several dramas (David: The Movie, Remembrance, My Australia and Free Men) and an animated feature (The Rabbi’s Cat). Each film will include an introduction, and you might enjoy a “nosh” to boot.

ATHENS REVISITED (NR) The film imagines an interview with Edward Ware and Edward Lyndon, residents at different times in history of what is now the Lyndon House Arts Center. It was the second public building in Athens, after the courthouse. Q&A with writer Terrell Austin to follow. (GMOA)

BAG IT (NR) Kids and parents will enjoy the EcoKids screening and activities featuring “Bag It.” The film is for ages 6 and up and will be followed by kid-oriented hands-on activities thanks to the Athens Montessori School. Earth Fare will be providing snacks as well.

BENVENUTI AL NORD (NR) 2012. The fifth annual Cinecitta series, sponsored by the Department of Romance Languages, continues with Luca Miniero’s sequel to his award winning comedy, Benvenuti al Sud (Welcome to the South), which played at last year’s Cinecitta 4. Now Italian postal worker Alberto (Claudio Bisio) heads to the Far North (Milan), where he is joined by Mattia (Alessandro Siani). Benvenuti al nord (Welcome to the North) did not meet with the same level of critical acclaim.

BIDDER 70 (NR) EcoFocus continues with Bidder 70 and the short film, “Among Giants.” In Bidder 70, a University of Utah student protested the Bush Adminstration’s Bureau of Land Management oil and gas auction. In “Among Giants,” a man tree-sits in the California’s McKay Tract. A discussion will follow the films.

CAFETERIA MAN (NR) EcoFocus examines what our kids are eating at school in Cafeteria Man and its accompanying short films, Cafeteria Man: Memphis Schools Makeover and Gaia Soil. The film will be followed by a discussion.

• THE CALL (R) Until a final act that is so predictably out of character for Halle Berry’s heroine, The Call knows exactly what it is, pulpy genre thriller, and excels at its sole task, generate as much entertainment as possible via suspense. After feeling responsible for the death of a teenage girl, veteran 911 operator Jordan Turner (Berry) is reluctant to take another emergency call. But when another teenager, Casey Welson (Abigail Breslin), is kidnapped by the same nondescript white guy, Jordan makes it her mission to save this victim. Considering the leads interact via telephone for the majority of the movie, it was smart to cast a beautiful, if strangely bewigged, Academy Award winner and a cute, all grown up former child nominee. Couple those two talented actresses with the claustrophobia and helplessness of the central locations, and the audience is treated to a pretty gripping first two acts; the last act is not awful, just an uncreative, poor relation to its predecessors. Director Brad Anderson (Session 9, The Machinist, Transsiberian) gets as much tension as he can out of this script and should have his first bona fide hit to show for the effort. Answer this Call.

CAPE SPIN! AN AMERICAN POWER STRUGGLE (NR) EcoFocus offers a night about alternative energy and wind power with Cape Spin! An American Power Struggle and the short film, “The Man Who Lived on His Bike.” After the films, enjoy an after party at Little Kings.

CHASING ICE (NR) EcoFocus kicks off with an opening night reception featuring films about changes of climate, Chasing Ice, and culture, “The Last Ice Merchant.” The opening night reception features food by The National.

THE CROODS (PG) Like more realistic, but still cartoon, Flintstones, the Croods must navigate a prehistoric world after their cave is destroyed. Nicolas Cage voices papa, Grug; Catherine Keener is mama, Ugga. Ryan Reynolds woos Emma Stone as teenagers, Eep and Guy. Other voice actors includes Cloris Leachman and Clark Duke (“Greek” and “The Office”). Co-director Kirk DeMicco’s previous feature, Space Chimps, does not inspire a lot of hope; directing partner Chris Sanders’ filmography offers a bit more, How to Train a Dragon, about which to be excited.

DEAD MAN DOWN (R) Dead Man Down is a strange movie. Danish director Niels Arden Oplev’s English language debut (he’s best known for the original Swedish version of The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo) feels as if it should be set in a European metropolis instead of New York City. Vengeful Victor (Colin Farrell) seeks to make Alphonse Hoyt (Terrence Howard) pay for the death of Victor’s wife and daughter. While on his mission of revenge, Victor is blackmailed by sweet, scarred Beatrice (Noomi Rapace, Oplev’s Lisbeth Salander) to kill the man whose drunk driving led to her disfigurement. F. Murray Abraham, Armand Assante and Isabelle Huppert show up to make the movie feel even more foreign (an odd achievement considering Abraham and Assante are natural-born U.S. citizens). Dead Man Down offers little in the way of fun, but somehow, the dour, decidedly European crime melodrama succeeds against the odds thanks to the innocence of Rapace and the single-minded seriousness of Farrell, whose talent should never be written off. Were the film more American (i.e., filled with more explosions) and less European (i.e., more character-driven and more than moderately pensive) it would be much less memorable that it is.

DEAR GOVERNOR CUOMO (NR) EcoFocus features this concert protest film calling for a ban on “fracking,” technically known as hydraulic-fracturing. The film screens with “Living Tiny,” a short film about living with less.

ESCAPE FROM PLANET EARTH (PG) One can pretty much expect the small animation houses to release one of these harmless, uninspired kiddie flicks every month. Did your kid love Monster vs Aliens? Then they’re bound to momentarily enjoy Escape from Planet Earth while you catch a quick nap or check out the Oscar nominee playing next door. Nobody expects cartoons like Escape from Planet Earth to compete with Pixar’s animated features for awards; they’re made to replace babysitters and entertain kids for 90 minutes. A space adventurer, Scorch Supernova (v. Brendan Fraser), is captured on Earth by the villainous General Shanker (v. William Shatner, who provides some of the movie’s most entertaining voice work). Shanker is making a fortune off his alien captives’ technological innovations. His latest prisoner is Scorch’s brainy brother, Gary (v. Rob Corddry, an odd vocal choice considering his comic persona is certainly not built around his intelligence). Now the Supernova bros must work together to get back home. The animation is as shiny as the story is recycled. Other cartoons have hurt worse, but anything that wastes the genius of Ricky Gervais should be eyed with a bit of extra skepticism.

GIMME THE LOOT (NR) In this twist on the New York City crime drama, graffiti artists Malcolm (Ty Hickson) and Sofia (Tashiana Washington) scheme to bomb the ultimate prize, the New York Mets’ Home Run Apple. The intriguing feature debut from Adam Leon, a former production assistant for Woody Allen (Melinda and Melinda and Hollywood Ending), won SXSW’s Grand Jury prize winner for Best Narrative Feature and snagged Leon the Someone to Watch Award at the Independent Spirit Awards.

A GOOD DAY TO DIE HARD (R) Do audiences find Bruce Willis’ New York Detective John McClane running into trouble for a fifth time, in Russia, with his CIA operative son (Jack Reacher’s Jai Courtney), believable? Does it matter? Maybe. R-rated action is not doing so hot, with Arnold’s The Last Stand and Sly’s Bullet to the Head both underperforming their already low expectations. Respectable but unexciting action director John Moore (Behind Enemy Lines, Flight of the Phoenix, The Omen and Max Payne) should be better than Live and Let Die Hard’s Len Wiseman.

HANK AARON: CHASING THE DREAM (NR) 1995. The University of Georgia’s George Foster Peabody Awards and Peabody Awards Collection presents three Peabody Award winning baseball documentaries. This feature documentary follows Atlanta Brave great Hank Aaron as he slugged his way to the top of the record books by besting Babe Ruth’s all time home run record. The 1996 Peabody Award winner was also nominated for the Academy Award for Best Feature Documentary. Writer-director Michael Tollin went on to direct Radio, starring Cuba Gooding, Jr. (UGA Russell Library)

THE HUMAN SCALE (NR) As part of EcoFocus' closing night festivities, come discuss what’s in store for downtown Athens. The Human Scale puts people in charge of urban planning. It will be accompanied by another screening of the short film, “Living Tiny.”

IDENTITY THIEF (R) Unfortunately, stars Melissa McCarthy (an Oscar nominee for Bridesmaids) and Jason Bateman are better than this more-annoying-than-funny odd couple road comedy. With two kids and another on the way, Sandy Patterson (Bateman) is struggling to make ends meet. Having his identity stolen by friendless Diana (McCarthy) only further aggravates his financial distress. In desperation, Sandy travels to Florida to bring his tormentor to justice. Inexplicably and unnecessarily on their heels are a couple of drug enforcers (Genesis Rodriguez and Tip “T.I.” Harris) and a mean ass bounty hunter (a pretty much wasted Robert Patrick). Strangely, the gags work best when Bateman’s straight man and McCarthy’s manic criminal bond rather than fight. Too bad the mean-spirited comic scenarios cooked up by screenwriter Craig Mazin (Scary Movies 3 and 4 and The Hangover: Parts II and III) lack originality. The punch lines lack the subtlety that brings out Bateman’s greatness. Director Seth Gordon (The King of Kong and Horrible Bosses) and his hilarious stars have done and will do comedy better.

• THE INCREDIBLE BURT WONDERSTONE (PG-13) The Incredible Burt Wonderstone may not have the comedy magic of previous Steve Carell and Jim Carrey vehicles, but the silly movie is a lot funnier than one might expect. Aging Las Vegas stage magician Burt Wonderstone (Carell) was once a bullied youth, until he found magic, thanks to Rance Holloway (Alan Arkin), and friendship, via longtime partner, Anton Marvelton (Steve Buscemi). When Burt refuses to change their act in the face of a fast-rising street performer, Steve Gray (a too old Carrey), the pompous illusionist loses more than just his act. Until he gains everything back plus a hot new girlfriend (Olivia Wilde). Wonderstone overcomes a been there, seen that plot (Talladega Nights, anyone?) thanks to the likability of its characters. No one, not even Burt at his most arrogantly sexist, is that big a jerk. Carrey’s Gray comes close, but it’s still the former Ace Ventura. Were the characters less appealing or the gags raunchier (Wonderstone is refreshingly un-dirty), the over-familiar situations would be impossible to forgive. Ultimately, this amusing comedy’s decidedly old-fashioned views on stage magic and warming nostalgia for magicians like the Harry Blackstones (Rance Holloway more than passably resembles Senior) may be its best feature.

JACK THE GIANT SLAYER (PG-13) Another reteaming of director Bryan Singer with his Public Access/Usual Suspects/Apt Pupil/Valkryie scripter, Academy Award winner Christopher McQuarrie, should be more exciting, intriguing and lasting than Jack the Giant Slayer. While far from a bad fantasy film, this retooled telling of the classic children’s stories, Jack the Giant Killer and Jack and the Beanstalk, does little to fire the imagination once the credits roll. We all know the story: young Jack (Marcus Hoult, whose romzom Warm Bodies showed loads more creativity) gets some magic beans, from which a giant beanstalk grows. At the top of the leafy, green ladder is a land full of giants who have a taste for human flesh. Of course, this new telling has to involve a love interest, headstrong Princess Isabelle (Eleanor Tomlinson), who Jack sets out to rescue. The mostly British cast is top-notch—Ian McShane as the king, Ewan McGregor as the king’s number one guardsman, Bill Nighy as the voice of the lead giant—and Stanley Tucci’s always a swell villain. Jack the Giant Slayer will kill an afternoon pleasantly enough (and better than last summer’s fairy re-tale Snow White and the Huntsman), but the special effects-acle lacks any lasting magic.

LAST CALL AT THE OASIS (NR) Come meet the filmmakers and judges involved in the first annual Ripple Effect Film Project. After the Ripple Effect Finalist Showcase, enjoy the feature, Last Call at the Oasis about the global water crisis. This screening is sponsored by the Athens-Clarke Country Water Conservation Office and the Broad Street Coffee Vegan Restaurant.

THE LAST EXORCISM PART II (PG-13) Found footage flicks like The Last Exorcism and sub-genre granddaddy of them all, The Blair Witch Project, are hard and mostly unnecessary to sequelize. Yet here is the rather dumbly titled, The Last Exorcism Part II. (Should the first one be retitled, Not Quite the Last Exorcism?) Poor Nell Sweeter (Ashley Bell) escapes the unexplained cult in the woods and begins a new life in a New Orleans home for wayward girls. She gets a job as a motel maid; she meets a boy (Spencer Treat Clark, the little kid from Unbreakable). She’s also still possessed or being pursued by the demon, Abalam. The movie never seems quite sure which it is. Anything interesting about the mysterious narrative of the first film is long gone. The sequel complicates the mythology more than it explains anything, and the movie does so boringly, lacking almost any scares, after a strong opening sequence. Shameless self-promoter Eli Roth, who serves as a producer, described the movie as really scary on a recent talk show appearance. If he finds this really scary, maybe it’s a good thing he hasn’t directed a horror movie since 2007.

LIFE OF PI (PG) Having last thought of Yann Martel’s novel when I read it nearly 10 years ago, the ineffective trailers for Ang Lee’s adaptation failed to remind me of how wonderful and energetic Pi Patel’s life had been. I recalled a shipwreck, a lifeboat and a Bengal tiger named Richard Parker. The imaginatively conceived and beautifully told work of art created by Brokeback Mountain Oscar winner Lee, who certainly deserves the  noms he received for Best Picture and Best Director, reminded me of the many, small joys that add up to make the life of Pi. Do not let the underwhelming previews deprive you of one of the year’s most moving, most artistic films of the year. The opening anecdote relating the origin of Pi’s name conjures up the modern fairy tale magic of past crowd-pleasers Amelie and Hugo. Newcomer Suraj Sharma, stranded for lengthy sequences with nothing but a tiger for a costar, and the ever-excellent Irrfan Khan (most recently seen in The Amazing Spider-Man) deliver delicate performances.

LINCOLN (PG-13) Historical biopics do not come much more perfect than Steven Spielberg’s take on our 16th president’s struggle to end slavery by way of the Thirteenth Amendment. Rather than tell Abraham Lincoln’s life story, Academy Award nominated screenwriter Tony Kushner chose the ideal, earth-shattering month upon which to focus. He populates Spielberg’s 19th-century hallways with living, breathing figures of American history like Thaddeus Stevens (Academy Award nominee Tommy Lee Jones), but the film will be remembered and lauded as another platform from which Academy Award frontrunner Daniel Day-Lewis can solidify his claim to the title of greatest living actor. He uncannily becomes Lincoln with such ease; he also humanizes a larger-than-life figure we tend to treat far too reverently. Awards are sure to come. His authentic performance keep Spielberg’s best film since 1998’s Saving Private Ryan from falling into the hagiographical trap.

THE LOST BIRD PROJECT (NR) Part of an EcoFocus double feature, The Lost Bird Project, about several extinct North American birds, screens with The Tsunami and the Cherry Blossom and the short film, ”Quagga.” A discussion will follow the film.

LOVE AND HONOR (PG-13) Warning: This romantic war drama is not based on a Nicholas Sparks’ novel. You could have fooled me from the plot synopsis. A young soldier (Liam Hemsworth, The Hunger Games’ Gale) goes AWOL after his girlfriend, Jane (Aimee Teegarden, Julie Taylor from “Friday Night Lights”) dumps him. The soldier, Mickey, and his best pal, Dalton (Austin Stowell), head back to the States to get her back. When they get home, they discover Jane and her BFF, Candace (Teresa Palmer), are deep in the anti-war movement. 

OLYMPUS HAS FALLEN (R) Like 1998’s asteroid double-bill of Armageddon and Deep Impact, Olympus Has Fallen is the first of 2013’s two terrorists invade the White House. (The second, White House Down, starring Channing Tatum and Jamie Foxx, comes from disaster dean, Roland Emmerich.) A disgraced presidential guard, Mike Banning (Gerard Butler) is America’s only hope for saving President Benjamin Asher (Aaron Eckhart, getting a pretty big public service bump from Gotham’s D.A.) from terrorists. With Dylan McDermott, Angela Bassett, Melissa Leo and Morgan Freeman as the Speaker of the House. Directed by Antoine Fuqua.

OZ THE GREAT AND POWERFUL (PG) First and foremost, Sam Raimi’s The Wizard of Oz prequel is no Wizard; it’s not even Return to Oz, the very dark, very underrated 1985 sequel. Disney’s latest family blockbuster reveals the wizard’s own cyclonic entry to Oz. Carnival magician and con man Oscar Diggs (James Franco, whose performance is nothing if not inconsistent) meets three witches—Theodora (Mila Kunis), Evanora (Rachel Weisz) and Glinda (Michelle Williams)—who believe him to be the great wizard whose appearance in Oz was prophesied. In the void left by the recently deceased king, Oscar must determine which witches are wicked and which are good. Raimi trots out his usual visual wizardry, and Oz is as successful as his first Spider-Man entry once it gets going. The middle act gets a bit logy as the good people of Oz prepare for battle via sewing montages. The climax is filled with whiz-band special effects, used effectively, and ties in well with the classic film being emulated. I just wish Raimi had chosen to make his Wicked Witch via makeup, like the original’s Margaret Hamilton, as opposed to CGI. Oz won’t make anyone forget the original, but it doesn’t shame its memory either.

QUARTET (PG-13) In his directorial debut, Dustin Hoffman fashions a delightful trifle filled with deliciously British performances from Maggie Smith (who was nominated for a Golden Globe), Tom Courtenay, Billy Connolly, Pauline Collins, Michael Gambon and more. At Beecham House, a home for retired musicians, plans are afoot for a gala to celebrate Verdi’s birthday. Drama arrives in the form of aging diva, Jean Horton, who is also the ex-wife of another resident (Courtenay). Smith is her usual grand self (as her actual age, not older, for once!). It’s wonderful to see Courtenay (twice an Academy Award nominee for 1982’s The Dresser and 1965’s Doctor Zhivago) and Collins (herself an Oscar nominee for 1989’s Shirley Valentine) as featured players. Renowned scene stealer Connolly is up to his old tricks as aged horndog, Wilf. Hoffman unfussily directs Oscar winner Ronald Harwood’s play with an actor’s generosity for his actors. The characters and performances drive this entertaining little film, with a complimentary emphasis on little. Anyone who enjoyed their stay at The Best Exotic Marigold Hotel should also enjoy the performances of Quartet.

RACE TO EXECUTION (NR) 2006. Neither promoting nor renouncing the death penalty, director Rachel Lyons (Mr. Dreyfuss Goes to Washington) looks at the race of the jury as well as the victim and accused. Spurred by the Supreme Court’s overturning death sentences in Texas and California due to racial discrimination in the jury selection, Race to Execution “traces the fate of two death row inmates: Robert Tarver in Russell County, AL and Madison Hobley in Chicago, IL.” Part of Volunteer UGA’s three-day film festival.

RACE TO NOWHERE (PG-13) Director Vicki Abeles documents the pressures placed on teachers and schoolchildren to perform in America’s achievement culture. Featured in the film are Dr. Madeline Levine (Clinical Psychologist and author of the best-seller, The Price of Privilege), Dr. Wendy Mogel (Clinical Psychologist and author of The Blessing of a Skinned Knee), Dr. Kenneth Ginsburg (Adolescent Medicine Specialist at The Children’s Hospital of Philadelphia), Dr. Deborah Stipek (Dean of the School of Education at Stanford University), Dr. Denise Pope (Challenge Success cofounder), and Sara Bennett (Stop Homework founder). Part of Volunteer UGA’s Film Festival, the screening will be followed by a discussion. (UGA MLC, Room 267)

RED MOON (NR) For Women’s History Month, the University of Georgia’s Institute for Women’s Studies is sponsoring several screenings of films concerning modern issues facing women across the world. The documentary, Red Moon, tackles the absurdly, sometimes dangerously stigmatized topic of women’s menstruation. Like a feminist Mythbuster, filmmaker Diana Fabianova candidly and humorously educates and frees society of its superstitions and misconceptions of this often taboo subject. Red Moon was an official selection of film festivals in Montreal, Chicago, Mumbai, Bratislava and Locarno.

THE RUSSIAN NINJA (R) (NR) 1989. Bad Movie Night is back and so are those ever-present baddies of the 1980s, the Russians. Scandinavia presents this bad action-filled P.O.S. about a wealthy man whose daughter’s boyfriend is in trouble. Meanwhile, the KGB’s best ninja has been tasked with recovering a very important sheet of paper. I like the movie’s other title, Russian Terminator, even better, especially considering its lack of anything—plot point, characters, etc.—remotely similar to The Terminator. It doesn’t sound like it gets much better, I mean, worse than The Russian Ninja, and that’s a good, I mean, bad thing, right?

SAFE HAVEN (PG-13) One thing I enjoy about reviewing movies is having a readymade excuse for watching sappy romances like Safe Haven. I’ve been curious as to what the big mystery is since the first trailer; plus, Julianne Hough is really attractive. Unfortunately, the latest Nicholas Sparks adaptation, set in another North Carolina paradise, is one solved mystery away from just being one couple’s two hour how we met story. Pretty, young Katie is on the run from a constantly drunk, really sweaty cop (“Revolution” star David Lyons). Lucky for her, a hot widower, Alex (Josh Duhamel), with two cute kids is ready to love again. Wondering how this romance is ultimately different from Sleeping with the Enemy? Then prepare for the laughable, Shyamalan-esque, climactic twist. Still, Safe Haven is competently, if unexcitingly, made by Academy Award nominee Lasse Hallstrom, but The Notebook need not worry. Its legacy as the gold standard for this sort of Sparks-ian cinematic page turner is under no threat.

THE SAPPHIRES (PG-13) In the late '60s, an Australian Aboriginal girl group entertains the boys in Vietnam. Naturally, the sweet, inspirational movie, director Wayne Blair’s feature debut, is based on a true story (and garnering a few comparisons to Muriel’s Wedding). The only familiar face is Chris O’Dowd, so likable on “The I.T. Crowd” and Bridesmaids and one of the more likable characters from season two of “Girls.” I really feel like I’ve seen his movie before, yet part of me is still a little jazzed for it.

SIDE EFFECTS (R) Side Effects, Steven Soderbergh’s potential final feature film, is hard to talk about without spoiling any of the many entertaining twists. Here’s the most spoiler-free plot synopsis I could devise. Emily Taylor’s (Rooney Mara, Lisbeth Salander in the English-language The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo) struggles with depression after her financier husband, Martin (Channing Tatum), is released from prison lead her into the care of Dr. Jonathan Banks (Jude Law). But the drug prescribed by Dr. Banks has deadly side effects for Emily. Soderbergh precisely dissects this medical mystery, in which everyone’s motives are suspect. A lot of the film’s suspenseful fun comes from unraveling the mystery. While not Soderbergh’s best, Side Effects heats up a cold theater better than winter’s mostly frozen flick.

SILVER LININGS PLAYBOOK (R) David O. Russell’s dram-rom-com and multiple Academy Award nominee does everything but disappoint. Pat (Academy Award nominee Bradley Cooper) has just been released from a state mental hospital after a violent incident involving his estranged wife and another man. Maybe too soon after coming home, Pat meets Tiffany (Academy Award and Golden Globe winner Jennifer Lawrence), who lost it after the death of her husband. Instead of exacerbating each other’s unhealthy flaws, the relationship between these two cracked souls heals both, much to the surprise of everyone, including Pat’s parents (dual Oscar nominees Robert De Niro and Animal Kingdom’s Jacki Weaver). Besides I Heart Huckabees (which deserves reevaluation) and Russell’s infamous tirade, The Fighter, the filmmaker has one of the strongest filmographies of any of the acclaimed auteurs first discovered in the 1990s. Silver Linings Playbook has an awkward edge—you keep waiting for Pat and Tiffany’s house of cards to collapse—that makes even the smallest successes so much sweeter. Russell’s fiery demeanor and beautiful writing certainly ignites his actors; Cooper and Lawrence give two of the year’s most generous and honest performances. Silver Linings Playbook should not be missed.

SNITCH (PG-13) The new actioner from The Rock, né Dwayne Johnson, is a lot more serious than you’d expect a movie from a former stuntman, director Ric Roman Waugh. (Knowing cowriter Justin Haythe wrote Revolutionary Road should mitigate some of the surprise at Snitch’s serious side.) Construction bigwig John Matthews (Johnson) will do anything to lessen his son Jason’s jail time after a drug arrest. Matthews convinces one of his ex-con employees, Daniel (Jon Bernthal, late of “The Walking Dead”), to introduce him to a drug dealer, Malik (Michael K. Williams, aka Omar Little aka Chalky White), in order to cut a deal with federal prosecutor Joanne Keeghan (Susan Sarandon), who could use a big bust to boost her congressional campaign. Refreshingly, Johnson spends most of the movie in desperate dad mode as opposed to real life action figure. Appearances be damned, Snitch is no '80s action rehash; the movie’s got too much gravitas for Ah-nuld, even in his prime. All these kind assessments get smashed by the ridiculous 18-wheeler chase with the drug cartel that concludes the picture. Oh, well. The first hour and a half’s better than expected. 

STARBUCK (R) If like me, you watched Ron Moore’s incredible “Battlestar Galactica” reboot, the title of this flick excited the fanboy within. Sadly, Starbuck is not a feature focused on Katee Sackhoff’s hotshot pilot. Instead, it’s an award winning, Canadian comedy about artificial insemination. A man in his forties is sued by 142 people, who he biologically fathered, just as his girlfriend announces she’s pregnant. Winner of the People’s Choice Award at the Calgary International Film Festival and Most Popular Canadian Film at the Vancouver International Film Festival.

STOKER (R) After India's (Mia Waskiowska's) father dies in an auto accident, her Uncle Charlie (Matthew Goode), who she never knew existed, comes to live with her and her emotionally unstable mother Evelyn (Nicole Kidman). Soon after his arrival, she suspects he may have ulterior motives, but instead of feeling outrage, she becomes increasingly infatuated with him. 

SWITCH (NR) The fifth annual EcoFocus Film Festival brings Harry Lynch’s inspiring film about energy to Athens. The film will be accompanied by two shorts, “The Artificial Leaf” and “The Man Who Lived on His Bike.” Join in a discussion of on-campus energy conservation activities after the film. This free screening includes snacks, drinks and door prizes.

TRASH DANCE (NR) The Athens-Clarke County Recycling Division sponsors a free screening for the fifth year with Trash Dance about a choreographer and sanitation workers collaborating on a dance routine. The film will be accompanied by the short, “Irish Folk Furniture.” Free popcorn will be provided.

THE TSUNAMI AND THE CHERRY BLOSSOM (NR) Part of an EcoFocus double feaure, The Tsunami and the Cherry Blossom , about the 2011 earthquake and tsunami that devastated Japan, screens with The Lost Bird Project and the short film, “Quagga.”

ZERO DARK THIRTY (R) 2012 Academy Award winner Kathryn Bigelow (recently snubbed for a second Best Director nomination) and her Oscar winning collaborator, screenwriter Mark Boal (he did receive his second nomination this year) follow up The Hurt Locker with this controversial, excellently crafted military thriller documenting the decade-long search for Osama bin Laden. Despite everyone (I hope) in the audience knowing how the story ends, Bigelow and Boal ratchet up the tension, as near misses and further attacks make the search, conducted by the ferociously single-minded screen proxy Maya (Best Actress nominee Jessica Chastain), that much more desperate. The controversial torture scenes, mostly contained in the first act, are tough to watch but factually necessary. The film ends with its well-earned climax, Seal Team Six’s daring nighttime raid, a rare action sequence that thrills and also chills with verisimilitude. Zero Dark Thirty is an intriguing, darkly patriotic counterpoint to the year’s other major American historical drama about a president willing to push the office’s constitutional limits for the sake of protecting the nation.