May 29, 2013

Movie Dope

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

AFTER EARTH (PG-13) With his father, Cypher Raige (Will Smith) injured, young Kitai Raige (Jaden Smith) must survive Earth, 1000 years after humanity was forced to escape the planet. Learning that After Earth was an M. Night Shyamalan film—his first time directing someone else’s screenplay (he received co-writer credit with original scripter Gary Whitta, who wrote The Book of Eli)—excited me more than star Smith, who conceived the story. With Isabelle Fuhrman (Orphan), Sophie Okonedo and Zoe Kravitz.

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; a pulpy genre thriller; and excels at its sole task of generating 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.

THE COMPANY YOU KEEP (R) You’ve seen a Robert Redford movie before, right? Then you know what to expect from The Company You Keep. A lawyer (Redford, as stalwart and slightly stiff as ever) goes on the run after a young reporter (Shia LaBeouf, who reminds us of his appeal) outs him as a member of the domestic terrorist organization, the Weather Underground. Redford has assembled a great cast of aging greats—Julie Christie, Nick Nolte, Richard Jenkins, Stanley Tucci, Brendan Gleeson, Sam Elliot and Chris Cooper. The Company You Keep isn’t hip (though one might wonder how Redford’s nearly 80-year-old fugitive doesn’t break one), but it’s a natural narrative extension of Redford’s career. (Ciné)

THE EAST (PG-13) The intriguing trailer for this mysterious dramatic thriller might be more confusing than the movie, which sounds a bit more straightforward. A PI (Brit Marling, the familiar face from Redford’s The Company You Keep who wrote Sound of My Voice and Another Earth) must infiltrate a group of freegan anarchists (including Alexander Skarsgard, Jason Ritter and Ellen Page) targeting major corporations. (Freeganism is an anti-consumerist ideology practiced by reclaiming and eating discarded food.) Director Zal Batmanglij also directed Marling’s Sound of My Voice.

EPIC (PG) A teenage girl (v. Amanda Seyfried) is transported to a shrunken down world where she assists a ragtag band of warriors known as the Leafmen against the Boggans and their evil leader Mandrake (v. Christoph Waltz). Longtime Ice Age co-director Chris Wedge adapts William Joyce’s The Leaf Men and the Brave Good Bugs. Featuring an all-star voice cast including Colin Farrell, Josh Hutcherson, Beyonce Knowles, Aziz Ansari, Pitbull (?!), Jason Sudeikis, Steven Tyler and Chris O’Dowd, this animated flick had best do better than last winter’s Joyce adaptation, Rise of the Guardians.

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.

FAST & FURIOUS 6 (PG-13) Dom Toretto (Vin Diesel) and Brian O’Conner (Paul Walker) reassemble the team (including Chris “Ludacris” Bridges, Tyrese Gibson, Sung Kang and Jordana Brewster) to help federal agent Luke Hobbs (Dwayne “The Rock” Johnson) take down a former Special Ops tough guy (Luke Evans), whose second-in-command is the love of Dom’s life, Letty (Michelle Rodriguez), believed to be dead since Fast 4. Justin Lin returns to direct his fourth F&F entry. With Gina Carano of Soderbergh’s underrated Haywire.

G.I. JOE: RETALIATION (PG-13) G.I. Joe: Retaliation is everything that G.I. Joe: The Rise of Cobra was not. The second Joe movie is also the movie for which my inner child has been waiting since 1987. Mostly ignoring Stephen Sommers’ 2009 misfire, this franchise reboot introduces three new lead Joes: Roadblock (Dwayne Johnson), Lady Jaye (Adrianne Palicki) and my childhood favorite, Flint (D.J. Cotrona); Duke (Channing Tatum) and Snake Eyes (Ray Park) are pretty much the only other Joes to reenlist for the sequel. Featured Cobra players—Zartan, who appears as the President (Jonathan Pryce) for almost the entire movie, Storm Shadow (Byung-hun Lee) and Firefly (Ray Stevenson)—plot to break Cobra Commander, much improved from the first movie, from a super-secret prison. (Sadly, no love is shown for Destro in this prison break.) But the plot is inconsequential. G.I. Joe blows stuff up real good. Director Jon M. Chu (Step Up 2 and 3) proves as proficient filming action stunts as kinetic choreography. The mountainside ninja battle is an exciting sequence that could’ve been ripped right from the popular 80s cartoon. G.I. Joe: Retaliation has just the right amount of stupid smarts (and Bruce Willis) to be a nostalgic blast of action.

GINGER & ROSA (PG-13) Two teenage girls grow up in 1960s London as inseparable friends, but as the Cuban Missile Crisis and nuclear annihilation loom, Ginger (Elle Fanning) and Rosa (Alice Englert, Beautiful Creatures) clash over love. Writer-director Sally Potter has not done much high profile work since 1992’s Orlando with Tilda Swinton. The film has picked up a few awards including a couple of awards for Fanning’s work, the Santa Barbara International Film Festival’s Virtuoso Award and the Valladolid International Film Festival’s Best Actress prize. With Christina Hendricks, Timothy Spall, Annette Bening, Oliver Platt and Alessandro Nivola. (Ciné)

THE GREAT GATSBY (PG-13) Like all Baz Luhrmann’s films save Moulin Rouge!, The Great Gatsby left me highly conflicted. A creative, stylistic tour de force, the film starts off kinetic to the point of claustrophobia. The constant moving and zooming camera and non-stop edits choke the air out of the first act; the film just needs to stop and catch its breath for a moment. The film doesn’t stop its constant Charlestoning until Nick Carroway (Tobey Maguire) meets reclusive millionaire Jay Gatsby (Leonardo DiCaprio) at one of the latter’s renowned parties. Finally, the film takes a hiccupping breath. Luhrmann’s always favored style over substance (it’s why his Romeo + Juliet is so appealingly frustrating), and the Roaring '20s are a great place to indulge his whims. However, his hyperactive visualization fill his adaptation of Fitzgerald’s classic novel with the air of parody. The film often feels like a musical with the song-and-dance numbers cut out. Still, its liveliness bests Jack Clayton’s dull 1974 adaptation starring an especially wooden Robert Redford. DiCaprio better imbues Gatsby with the decade’s decadent hopefulness. Gatsby is also one of the few films I think I would have preferred viewing in 3D.

• THE HANGOVER PART III (R) If one’s main complaint about the second Hangover was that it was a mere narrative retread of the original with a geographical transplant, then The Hangover Part III has addressed your concern. Gone are the weddings, the hangovers and the amnesia. The Wolfpack—Phil (Bradley Cooper), Stu (Ed Helms) and Alan (Zach Galifianakis)—now find themselves thrust directly into a Charlie Huston crime novel. Leslie Chow (Ken Jeong) has escaped a Thai prison, and the Wolfpack are charged with finding him by crime lord Marshall (John Goodman). Laughs are not as plentiful as in either of the first two movies, but the biggest problem with Part III is its lack of character. The script feels as if it were revamped for the Wolfpack, not written for them. Phil is far too laidback; did Cooper film the entire film while on Xanax? Writer-director Todd Phillips and collaborator Craig Mazin smartly allow Galifianakis to carry the largest load. However, the film could have used less Jeong and more Goodman. Give Phillips and crew credit for the old college try, but recapturing the comic freshness of the first Hangover once, much less twice, has proven too Herculean a humorous task.

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.

IRON MAN 3 (PG-13) Happily, Shane Black has taken over the Iron Man franchise from Jon Favreau (Black also co-wrote the script), and it’s mostly a blast right out of 1987. I dig Black’s vision of Iron Man 3 as a buddy movie; I just wish his Stark had suited up more. Tony Stark (Robert Downey Jr.) may be the rare superhero alter ego that is more interesting out of costume, but watching him investigate a mystery in Small Town, Tennessee (child sidekick in tow) felt more like episodic television than the initial, post-Avengers solo adventure. The climactic showdown where a hoodied-and-Polo’ed Tony and Rhodey (Don Cheadle) run around a cargo ship with guns drawn was way more Lethal Weapon 2 than Iron Man 2. Armor them up, and you have yourself a cool twist on the 80s' buddy concept Black helped pioneer. The Iron Man franchise goes 0 for 3 on villains; none are in Iron Man’s league. The potential of The Mandarin (Ben Kingsley) is wasted with a twist that, while amusingly executed, leaves the film villainously bereft. Such minor quibbles don’t devalue Iron Man 3’s entertainment worth; it’s one high quality blockbuster (terrifically pulpy, worth watching credits included).

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.

THE KINGS OF SUMMER (R) This sweetly sour indie comedy, a nominee for Sundance’s Grand Jury Prize, hopes to be the biggest little hit of summertime. A comedy friendly cast—including Alison Brie and husband and wife team Nick Offerman and Megan Mullally—cannot hurt, but how much will it help? Frustrated with life and their parents, three teenage boys (Nick Robinson, Gabriel Basso and possible breakout Moises Arias) head into the woods to build a house and live off the land. The trailers show a lot of laughs and heart; I’m looking forward to this one.

MUD (PG-13) Boasting a star-studded cast of Matthew McConaughey, Reese Witherspoon, Sam Shepard, Ray McKinnon, Michael Shannon, Sarah Paulson and Joe Don Baker, Jeff Nichols’ third feature offers this promising rising filmmaker with his best chance of widespread success. A coming of age tale set in the disappearing wilds of the small town south, Mud aims high, as Nichols attempts to channel Mark Twain, and hits the target square in the bull’s eye. Two teens—Ellis (Tye Sheridan, Tree of Life) and Neckbone (newcomer Jacob Lofland)—discover a boat in a tree. They also discover McConaughey’s Mud, a fugitive living in the boat in the tree, while he waits to escape with the love of his life, Juniper (Witherspoon). Ellis also feels the sting of family troubles and first love/first heartbreak. Mud watches like a work of modern literature, capturing the last gasps of a dying culture as one boy becomes a man. As one of 2013’s more challenging films, Mud dethrones its closest competitor, The Place Beyond the Pines, as it reminds me of early David Gordon Green, before all his releases blended into the same, artless marijuana-addled haze.

NOW YOU SEE ME (PG-13) Something tells me this magic bank heist flick would have made a killing in the winter. As a summer release, this movie has a tough go battling the big boys, even with star power including Morgan Freeman, Woody Harrelson, Jesse Eisenberg, Isla Fisher, Mark Ruffalo and Michael Caine. The plot involves a group of magicians, the Four Horsemen, being investigated for the bank robberies that occur during their performances. These magical Robin Hoods then reward their audiences with their ill-gotten loot. Directed by Louis Leterrier (Clash of the Titans).

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.

PAIN & GAIN (R) Sure, bagging on Michael Bay is a fun pastime of cinematic snobs. I’ve taken my share of digs at his more galling efforts (the technically marvelous, emotionally destitute Pearl Harbor and the offensively assaultive Transformers 2/3). Add Pain & Gain to the list of Bay films I’ll defend (Armageddon, The Rock, Bad Boys). With the subtlety of an 18 wheeler, Pain & Gain chronicles the true story (of which we are constantly reminded) of three bodybuilders—Daniel Lugo (Mark Wahlberg), Paul Doyle (Dwayne Johnson) and Adrian Doorbal (Anthony Mackie)—who turn to crime in order to achieve the American Dream. If you were hoping Bay had a quirky indie crime caper in him, he doesn’t. P&G detractors will find many of the (whether you like him or not) auteur’s flaws on display. The film is too long, sledgehammeringly artless and mindnumbingly dumb. It’s a film created in the image of its characters and equally as appealing as those amateur criminals thanks to Wahlberg, Johnson and Mackie. Would I have preferred a shorter, pulpier, Elmore Leonard/Carl Hiaasen version of this tale (or better yet, an award winning documentary)? Yes. Will I accept this musclebound, meathead movie? Certainly, but only once.

THE PURGE (R) Horror fans have a number of flicks to look forward to this summer. The Purge, starring Ethan Hawke (who’s becoming a bit of a genre fixture), kicks the scary festivities off with a Strangers-esque home invasion flick. In the future (2022, to be exact), unemployment and crime are down in America thanks to a new yearly tradition, The Purge. One night a year, emergency services and law enforcement are halted so everyone can get their violent jollies on. When the Sandins let a stranger into their fortress, a group of mask-wearing thugs attempt to break in and retrieve their chosen victim. This flick, from writer-director James DeMonaco, has excited the horror freak inside me.

RENOIR (R) 2012. On the French Riviera in 1915, future filmmaker Jean Renoir (Vincent Rottiers) returns home to convalesce from an injury suffered in World War I. While there, he meets Andree Heuschling (Christa Theret), the last model for Jean’s father, the Impressionist master Pierre-Auguste (Michel Bouquet). Fascinatingly, director Gilles Bourdos used the skills of convicted art forger Guy Ribes to recreate Renoir’s paintings on screen. The film competed in the Un Certain Regard at the Cannes Film Festival. (Ciné)

THE ROOM (R) The Room, from baffling “auteur” Tommy Wiseau, might be the Mona Lisa of bad movies; its greatness lies in its mysterious smile, which a laughing Wiseau trots out at the oddest moments. Johnny (writer-producer-director-star-charlatan Wiseau) is engaged to “beautiful” blonde Lisa (Juliette Danielle), who embarks on an affair with Johnny’s “best friend,” Mark (Greg Sestero), for no apparent reason, which may be why she constantly reminds him (and us) that she loves him. The Room will leave you with so many questions that don’t need answering. Did Johnny and Lisa get married? (The infamous tuxedo scene says yes but is contradicted by later dialogue.) What about Claudette’s cancer? Who uses a fake pregnancy bomb to spice up an uninteresting relationship? Why do they want to throw the football so much? Why must everyone keep repeating Mark’s status as Johnny’s “best friend?” Why am I in a theater at one in the morning watching this strange, hysterical man vomit drama on the big screen? (Ciné)

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 garners 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. (Ciné)

STAR TREK INTO DARKNESS (PG-13) Star Trek Into Darkness, the second film in J.J. Abrams’ revamped Trek-verse, is the best Star Wars movie since 1983. Don’t think I typed that wrong. The second new Star Trek is the giant, sci-fi, matinee serial that the Star Wars prequels never were. My only concern with J.J. Abrams’ revitalization of George Lucas’ neck of the galaxy is the negative effects it will have on the burgeoning new Star Trek. The new Trek improves upon its already superb predecessor in every way. Captain Kirk (Chris Pine) leads the crew of the Starship Enterprise—Spock (Zachary Quinto), Bones (Karl Urban), Uhura (Zoe Saldana), Sulu (John Cho), Chekhov (Anton Yelchin) and Scotty (Simon Pegg)—after a rogue Federation operative (Benedict Cumberbatch) turns terrorist. Knock Abrams all you want for his love of lens flare, but the bridge of the Enterprise looks fantastic. The space battles trump anything outside of the Star Wars universe. Trek has never looked better, been more thrilling or more humanly humorous, and those praises come from a lifelong Trek fan (I eschew the Trekkie/Trekker nomenclature). Star Trek 2 seems like the luckiest of numbers; this sequel achieves Khan-like greatness. Knowledgeable fans will enjoy the abundant surprises.

STOLEN 2006. As part of the Art and Intrigue Film Series, the Georgia Museum of Art presents a screening of Stolen. In March 1990, the Isabella Stewart Gardner Museum in Boston was robbed by two men dressed as police officers. Thirteen works of art were stolen, including one of only 35 remaining works by Vermeer (The Concert) and Rembrandt’s Storm on the Sea of Galilee, recently featured in Danny Boyle’s Trance. None of the paintings have been recovered. Winner of the Audience Award for Best Documentary Feature at the Sarasota Film Festival. (Georgia Museum of Art)

TYLER PERRY’S TEMPTATION (PG-13) Is it possible for a filmmaker to “jump the shark?” If so, Tyler Perry’s Temptation might be that point for Atlanta’s multi-hyphenate filmmaker. He cast Kim Kardashian, for goodness’ sake. And wait for Brandy’s climactic reveal. It’s the sort of melodramatic gem that could turn this dreck into popular camp were it less dull. A marriage counselor, Judith (Jurnee Smollett-Bell), who feels neglected by her nice guy, pharmacist husband, Brice (Lance Gross), waltzes off with a handsome, ripped billionaire, Harley (Robbie Jones), after he offers her the good life of shopping, drugs, sex, etc. By the time Judith’s religious mother (Ella Joyce) wanders in to preach at her daughter (and the audience), it’s too late. Old Judith done let the devil in. Remember that post-Basic Instinct period of the early-to-mid '90s when a new erotic thriller was coming out each week? Well, imagine one of those Basic rip-offs minus all the risqué, headline-making sexuality; substitute a sermon instead, and you’ve got Temptation. Unfortunately, Perry seems too caught up in making easy box office cash to worry that much about reinforcing stereotypes. He’s probably got another hit, but at what cost? Not enough to outweigh his millions upon millions of benefits.