July 10, 2013

Movie Dope

Short descriptions of movies playing in and around Athens...

42 (PG-13) Sports biopics are largely interchangeable. The sports and the players may change, but the obstacles to overcome are nearly identical. Heck, the same could be said of any biopic, musical, sport, etc. Still, something about the challenges faced by Jackie Robinson (gracefully inhabited by unknown Chadwick Boseman) as he broke the color barrier in professional baseball feels so much more singular than your average true tale of successfully bucking the odds. When signed to the Brooklyn Dodgers in 1947, Robinson faced derision by his teammates, opposing players and coaches (embodied by Alan Tudyk as Phillies manager Ben Chapman) and the fans. The role of Robinson requires a special actor giving a special performance. Boseman’s is not a skilled mimicry like so many other portrayals of famous persons; he imbues Robinson with such strength of character and composure. Equally important to this tale is Dodgers exec Branch Rickey, so gruffly played by Harrison Ford, who may finally be making the transition into grand old actor. Writer-director Brian Helgeland does nothing unique as he recounts this cinematic biography, but his film reads quickly, entertainingly and informatively. What more could you ask of a biopic?

AFTER EARTH (PG-13) "Excruciatingly boring" sums up After Earth. Did you watch Castaway and think the film would be better with Jaden Smith substituting for Tom Hanks and Jaden’s papa, Will, for Wilson? Then enjoy this bland hunk of science fiction, which is, thankfully, under two hours. After their spaceship crash lands, a father and son (the Smiths) are stranded on Earth, abandoned by humanity years earlier. Young Kitai must traverse this dangerous Eden if he is to save his father, a legendary soldier named Cypher Raige (ugh). Some critics have blamed Smith’s rumored Scientologist beliefs for this sluggish piece of anti-entertainment. Tom Cruise is a known Scientologist, and he still delivered a fantastic, if derivative, sci-fi spectacle in Oblivion. Blame M. Night Shyamalan all you want; he directs a Robinson Crusoe-type adventure film like a humorless thriller. This flick should have been The Smith Family Robinson; instead, it’s another shovelful of dirt in M. Night’s cinematic grave. A lot of blame rests on Smith for being the least Will Smith he can be. Confined to a chair, barking orders at his son, the mega-charming superstar is drained of charisma.

BEFORE MIDNIGHT (R) Jesse and Celine (Ethan Hawke and Julie Delpy) have come a long way from 1995’s Before Sunrise. The twentysomethings have become fortysomethings. Still not married but with a pair of towheaded twin girls, the couple have given up some dreams in favor of love and reality. Our third glimpse into Jesse and Celine’s lives paints a realistic landscape of adult relationships founded upon love. Jesse knows Celine better than anyone else in the world, and vice versa. They care deeply for each other, yet their closeness belies a growing distance. For an hour and forty-eight minutes, the duo laugh and spar, negotiating a couple’s treaty without the benefit of an arbiter. The film is funny and discomforting. Many viewing pairs will see themselves, arguing and rearguing their own alternatingly petty and weighty complaints. Hawke and Delpy, both credited as co-writers, have grown into and as Jesse and Celine. Several threads from their first conversation are picked back up, with the benefit (and detriment) of years and experience. Filmmaker Richard Linklater has grown with them. Who would have thought the Dazed and Confused auteur’s greatest achievement would be one couple’s hopefully far from ending conversational journey?

THE BIG WEDDING (R) The Big Wedding should be celebrated as a strong candidate for worst film of the year. The Bucket List scripter Justin Zackham has delivered an Americanization of France’s Mon frère se marie where Brit Ben Barnes is acceptably ethnic enough to play one of the film’s central Hispanic characters and the opening gag combines an ex-wife stumbling upon her former spouse and his girlfriend in the midst of sex. Oh the guffaws! They can only be matched by a grown daughter throwing up on her dad. Hilarious! Seriously, The Big Wedding, in which a long-divorced couple (Diane Keaton and Robert De Niro) must act married for their adopted son’s wedding because the grown man will not tell his devoutly Catholic birth mother (Patricia Rae) that they are divorced, is populated by offensive, meanly unfunny characters (a role in which Katherine Heigl does excel) differentiated by their virginity or lack thereof. The entire family acts like a hormonal, randy teen. The sinking ship of a movie has nary one likable, nuanced character to grab onto like a life raft. And I haven’t even mentioned that Robin Williams appears as a sober, mean-spirited priest. Avoid these nuptials at all costs.

THE BLING RING (R) Sofia Coppola’s fifth feature stylishly recounts the fascinating real-life story of a gang of privileged L.A. teens that used their Internet savvy to rob the vacant homes of celebrities such as Paris Hilton, Lindsay Lohan and Orlando Bloom. Rebecca (Katie Chang), Mark (Israel Broussard), Nicki (Emma Watson), Sam (Taissa Farmiga) and Chloe (Claire Julien) steal over $3 million in clothes, jewelry, watches and cash before being caught. The Bling Ring floats a bit in the middle; Coppola has always favored a dreamy bordering on soporific tone. Considering the film’s content, she could have made a stronger statement about our celebrity culture and the state of the modern teenager (and their parenting). Instead, Coppola seems content in merely portraying conspicuous consumption gone wild. Watson has firmly separated herself from her Harry Potter persona. As an actress, she’s come a long way from Sorcerer’s Stone, and unlike the similar turns by former child stars Vanessa Hudgens and Selena Gomez in Spring Breakers, Watson’s role in Bling Ring feels less like a stunt. She’s simply perfect in the role. This made-for-E!TV movie isn’t Coppola’s cinematic best, but the true life tale is crazy captivating. 

THE CROODS (PG) Despite its underwhelming trailers, The Croods stands out as one of the best non-Pixar animated family films released in the last few years. A family of cavemen—dad Grug (v. Nicolas Cage), mom Ugga (v. Catherine Keener), teen daughter Eep (v. Emma Stone), dumb son Thunk (v. Clarke Duke), feral baby Sandy and grandma (v. Cloris Leachman)—are forced on a cross-country road trip after their cave is destroyed by the impending “end of the world.” Fortunately, Eep meets Guy (v. Ryan Reynolds), whose developed brain filled with “ideas” might just help them all survive. Most cute family fun pics feel rehashed and overdone; The Croods does not. Its characters successfully, though unbelievably, combine the Flintstones with the Simpsons, and the voice acting, particularly by Cage, Stone and Reynolds sparkles. Cage was an inspired choice, for a role one would think is practically written for Kevin James. Most animated features, with their paint-by-numbers plot and rote, child-pleasing gags lose an adult’s attention within minutes. The Croods kept me rapt for its entire entertaining run time and left me considering potential plots for its inevitable, disappointing sequel.

• DESPICABLE ME 2 (PG) As far as animated sequels go, Despicable Me 2 has more creative life in it than might first be thought; it’s way better than Cars 2. Gru (v. Steve Carell) may no longer be a master criminal, utilizing his freeze rays and other diabolical inventions to raise his three adopted daughters—Margo (v. Miranda Cosgrove), Edith (v. Dana Geier) and Agnes (v. Elsie Fisher). When a new super villain steals a dangerous, experimental serum, the Anti Villain League – represented by sweet potential love interest Lucy (v. Kristen Wiig) enlist Gru’s assistance. Watching this enjoyable kiddie flick with a kid definitely increases the appeal of the little yellow Minions, whose roles have been enlarged with their own spinoff in the works for 2014. Carell’s Boris Badunov accent still entertains and warms the heart, as does little Agnes. A little long, even at 98 minutes (remember when Disney cartoons clocked in under 80?), Despicable Me 2 has no shot at surpassing expectations like its underdog predecessor, and its appeal to anyone over ten probably depends on one’s tolerance for the Minions. Still, it’s a funny movie for kids and parents. On a hot or rainy summer day, that’s more than good enough. 

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 directed Marling’s Sound of My Voice. (Ciné)

FRANCES HA (R) Could this be Greta Gerwig’s big, Lena Dunham-ish break? She co-wrote this comedy with director Noah Baumbach (The Squid & the Whale), and judging from the trailer, it could be an indie smash. Think “Girls” on the big screen (but no Dunham). Frances (Gerwig) works for a dance troupe, though she’s not a dancer, and goes all in for her dreams. With Mickey Sumner, Adam Driver (“Girls”) and another daughter of Meryl Streep, Grace Gummer. (Ciné)

FRUITVALE STATION (R) Fruitvale Station enters theaters having established quite a pedigree, picking up Sundance’s prestigious Grand Jury Prize (and Audience Award) plus the Best First Film Award at the Cannes Film Festival. Writer-director Ryan Coogler based his feature debut on the real life events that occurred to Oscar Grant, played by “Friday Night Lights”’ Michael B. Jordan, on the last day of 2008. With Chad Michael Murray, Kevin Durand, Melonie Diaz and Academy Award winner Octavia Spencer.

GROWN UPS 2 (PG-13) Adam Sandler gets the old gang—Kevin James, Chris Rock and David Spade—back together for a sequel to his second biggest hit ever. Sandler’s Lenny Feder moves his family (Salma Hayek returns as his wife) back to his hometown, where things are just as crazy as in the big city. The cast has gotten bigger, literally, adding Shaquille O’Neal. Team Jacob-ites can gawk at what is sure to be a shirtless Taylor Lautner. With Maya Rudolph, Maria Bello, Nick Swardson, Steve Buscemi, Colin Quinn, Tim Meadows and Jon Lovitz.

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.

THE HEAT (R) After taking far too long to warm up, this buddy cop comedy starring Sandra Bullock and Melissa McCarthy hits its stride when it counts. Uptight FBI agent Sarah Ashburn (Bullock) needs the help of foulmouthed, unpopular Boston cop Shannon Mullins (McCarthy) to take down a dangerous drug lord. Bullock and McCarthy don’t have Fey/Pohler chemistry. The just under two hour comedy needs about 45 minutes for its actors/characters to lose enough of their flaws for the jokes to stick. McCarthy flails too wildly early, while Bullock’s too tightly wound for comedy. Nevertheless, enough cannot be said about how refreshing it is to watch a buddy cop comedy starring two women; “Cagney & Lacey” has been off the damn air since 1988, for crying out loud, and still no campy remake? Unlike a sillier, lesser comedy, writer Katie Dippold and Bridesmaids director Paul Feig never explain away Ashburn and Mullins’ tough, brash exteriors as shields needed to survive their male dominated profession. Ashburn’s just weird and Mullins grew up with four brothers (Michael Rapaport, Bill Burr, Nate Corddry and, yes, that is Joey McIntyre). The Heat may not be smoking, but after a barren first act, it’s pretty darn funny.

THE HUNT (R) Television’s Hannibal Lecter, Mads Mikkelsen, won the Best Actor prize at Cannes for his supposedly powerful portrayal of a small town teacher falsely accused of abuse by his best friend’s daughter. Needless to say, his small town neighbors do not react well to this allegation. Director Thomas Vinterberg cofounded the Dogme movement with Lars von Trier; his The Celebration is considered the first film created using the Dogme 95 rules. The trailer shows a strongly enticing film that rises above its made-for-TV plot.

THE INTERNSHIP (PG-13) As a follow-up to stars Vince Vaughn and Owen Wilson’s Wedding Crashers, this movie would have killed in 2007. Of course, the economy hadn’t quite tanked at that point, so the tale of two down-on-their-luck salesmen forced to tackle a Google internship wouldn’t quite have had much relevance—not that a buddy comedy from Vaughn/Wilson has much relevance in 2013. The movie made me feel as if I’d stumbled upon a big budget training video for new Google employees. Sadly, most training videos are unintentionally funnier (just check out any edition of the Found Footage Festival for proof). Due to its still likable (if not bankable) stars and a laudably creative end credits sequence, The Internship leaves one feeling better about the movie than it deserves, being that it's a two hour chore through which to sit. Were the movie the least bit funny—rather than a mere vehicle for Vaughn and Wilson to mug at the camera—and thirty minutes shorter, it might garner a mild recommendation for a lazy cable viewing. In its current state, do with this movie what the movie folks at Google should have done: say no.

• THE LONE RANGER (PG-13) Is the Lone Ranger that hard to get right? This second failed attempt to bring the masked man back to the big screen (do you recall 1981’s Legend of the Lone Ranger?) reunites Johnny Depp with his Pirates of the Caribbean director Gore Verbinski for another bloated blockbuster that misses the mark. Depp’s Indian savant Tonto is one of the oater’s strengths; the star swaggers and mugs like a silent film star. Otherwise, this over-plotted, overlong origin story establishes the wrong tone for its masked hero. With Tonto providing the comic relief, John Reid should have been a one-track-minded vigilante of justice—the Lone Ranger as a cowboy Batman. As John Reid, Armie Hammer stammers and stumbles along like Clark Kent or Jack Burton. He’s not a natural Wild West lawman; he leaves a lot of the heavy lifting to Tonto. Verbinski and his team of scripters play everything for slapstick laughs, despite slaughtering hundreds, including an entire Native American tribe. The final action spectacle aboard two moving trains, scored to the "William Tell Overture," ends the movie properly, but it’s not enough to right the wrongs done to this classic character.

MAN OF STEEL (PG-13) Superman returns (again) with Christopher Nolan tasked to give Supes his Dark(ened) Knight treatment. Then Nolan, writer David S. Goyer and director Zack Snyder realized Superman is an alien and nearly impossible to ground in the real world. Their solution: Treat the material like serious science fiction. The extended time spent with Superman's birth parents (Russell Crowe rules as father Jor-El) on dying Krypton is the film's strongest, most original segment. The middle chunk, retelling Kal-El's transformation from a hunky Clark Kent (Henry Cavill) into Superman, intriguingly tweaks a well-known origin with the benefit of fatherly wisdom from Kevin Costner's Jonathan Kent. Despite some well-executed set pieces pitting Superman against fellow Kryptonian General Zod (cast standout Michael Shannon) and his alien army, the final act never fully takes flight. Instead, the blockbuster soars in fits and starts, seeming most confident in its final frames than the previous hour and a half of repetitive conflict. The entertaining if (mostly) humorless and heartless Man of Steel proves it’s harder to make a great Superman movie than a bad one. However, if one hero stands for hope, it's Superman. Here's hoping Man of Steel's sequel will be this generation's Superman II.

MONSTERS UNIVERSITY (G) So let’s call it a slump. Cars 2 was a clunker; Brave was good verging on really good but not close to great; and Monsters University lacks the Pixar pop of their undeniably great features (Up, Wall-E, Toy Story 3). In this prequel to Monsters, Inc., we learn how Mike (v. Billy Crystal) and Sully (v. John Goodman) met. Apparently, the two scarers didn’t start as best buds. First, they were scaring rivals at Monsters University. This Revenge of the Monster Nerds doesn’t creatively bend college life for monsters as one would expect from Pixar. The life lesson is trite—don’t let others define your limits or some similar sentiment—and is taught as cleverly as an inferior animation studio’s Monsters, Inc. knockoff. Fortunately, the animation, especially the creature design, is as lush and lifelike as ever, and the voicework from Pixar newcomers like Nathan Fillion and Charlie Day saves the comic day. Kids will love the silly, low scare fun, and parents will be happy it’s not Cars 3. (Just wait, that’s coming in August in the form of Planes.)

MUCH ADO ABOUT NOTHING (PG-13) Joss Whedon can do no wrong in my eyes, so the idea of the creator of “Buffy the Vampire Slayer” and the writer-director of a tiny film called The Avengers doing Shakespeare warms my film-loving heart. The wonderful wordsmith that is Whedon adapting the Bard seems a match made in heaven; just watch the trailer if you doubt me. The cast is filled with familiar faces from the Whedonverse, including (but not limited to) Amy Acker, Alexis Denisof, Reed Diamond, Fran Kranz, Tom Lenk, Sean Maher and Nathan Fillion. Whedon also composed the music! (Ciné)

MUD (PG-13) Boasting a star-studded cast including Matthew McConaughey, Reese Witherspoon and Michael Shannon, 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). Mud watches like a work of modern literature, capturing the last gasps of a dying culture as one boy becomes a man. (Ciné)

NOW YOU SEE ME (PG-13) A magical heist flick, you say? I’m skeptical, I say. Four street magicians (Jesse Eisenberg, Woody Harrelson, Isla Fisher and Dave Franco) are enlisted in a mysterious, magical plan to do something, but nobody is really sure what until the last reel. Hot on their heels is a dogged FBI Agent, Dylan Rhodes (Mark Ruffalo), and a debunker of magicians (Morgan Freeman). Now You See Me is as entertaining as it is eye-rollingly contrived. However, this smug band of protagonists is hard to pull for despite game attempts by Harrelson and Fisher; Darth Eisenberg finally crossed over to the Smug Side. Fortunately, Ruffalo, the lovely Melanie Laurent and underused sidekick Michael Kelly (check out Netflix’s “House of Cards” for his best work) are present to pick up the slack. Clash of the Titans’ Louis Leterrier (to be fair, he should probably be remembered for the first two Transporters and Unleashed) keeps the illusions moving along too fast for anyone to see through the script’s tricks until the woeful reveal. Now You See Me has the slick, breezy air of a ‘70s TV show, an okay trait for forgettable summer fun.

OBLIVION (PG-13) The newest Tom Cruise action, sci-fi spectacle is a doozy of a looker. Everything from the set design to the vehicle design to the music (scored by M83) is stylishly crafted and a visual/aural knockout. After fighting off an alien invasion via nuclear destruction, humanity has moved off-planet to Titan, a moon of Saturn. Two people, tech Jack Harper (Tom Cruise, who is arguably the best preserved man on the planet) and his communications liaison Victoria (Andrea Riseborough), have been left behind, tasked to protect the giant hydroreactors that power Titan using remnants of the alien invaders. But Jack's world is turned upside down by the arrival of a NASA scientist (Olga Kurylenko) of whom Jack has been dreaming, and by the discovery of human survivors, led by Malcolm Beech (Morgan Freeman). Tron: Legacy director Joseph Kosinski co-scripted Oblivion from his own graphic novel, and despite its derivative pieces, the whole narrative coheres rather well. It's the rare video game-inspired movie that I enjoyed watching alone; I never once thought I'd rather be playing Oblivion.

PACIFIC RIM (PG-13) Guillermo del Toro’s first directorial credit since 2008’s Hellboy 2 (he’s been busy writing novels, producing pics and prepping movies he doesn’t end up directing) looks like a doozy. Under attack from giant monsters called kaiju, humanity fights back with giant robots piloted by Idris Elba and Charlie Hunnam from FX’s “Sons of Anarchy.” Though not an established property, del Toro’s big budget sci-fi spectacle has the potential to be the summer’s most exciting movie. With Ron Perlman and Charlie Day.

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) In the future, America is a paradise of low unemployment and low crime, all thanks to the Purge instituted by the New Founding Fathers. One night every year, all laws are suspended for twelve hours. During this Purge, any citizen may empty themselves of all the pent-up rage and frustration by doing whatever violence they want. Mostly, the Purge affects the poor. Wealthy families like the Sandins (Ethan Hawke, Lena Headey, Max Buckholder and Adelaide Kane) lock themselves behind fancy security systems. But this Purge is different, as the Sandins’ young son lets in a bloody stranger, who is being hunted by a creepy pack of rich kids that want their prey returned to them. What looks like another version of Bryan Bertino’s excellent The Strangers is really more like another movie written by The Purge’s writer-director James DeMonaco, the remake of Assault on Precinct 13. It also feels a little bit like the last act of Straw Dogs. Despite the slight bait-and-switch, this flick is a fine example of how to do an exploitation-thriller right—emphasis on tension, intimidation and bloody violence. Audiences expecting more thrills and fewer scares should enjoy this summer changeup.

SINGIN' IN THE RAIN (NR) 1952. Gene Kelly and Debbie Reynolds star in this musical comedy about a major Hollywood movie studio's troubles with transitioning from silent films to talkies. Part of the Summer Classic Movie Series. (Ciné)

THIS IS THE END (R) This pot-fueled “apoc-comedic” nightmare from Seth Rogen and Evan Goldberg is far funnier than most meta-comedies starring comic actors as themselves. The “real” personas concocted by Rogen, James Franco, Jonah Hill, Jay Baruchel (you remember him from “Undeclared,” right?), Craig Robinson and Danny McBride fuel this raunchy end of the world get-together. On the night of James Franco’s housewarming party, the Rapture seems to occur, leaving behind this band of famous faces to survive on a Milky Way and little more. Turning to and on one another, Judgment Day brings out the best, worst and funniest in writers Rogen/Goldberg and their cast. The party allows additional famous faces (including Mindy Kaling, Jason Segel, Kevin Hart, Aziz Ansari, Emma Watson and Michael Cera) to tweak their images. The only questionable characterization is Hill’s super nice, effeminate guise; everyone else, especially Michael Cera’s douchebag, are hilarious “Curb Your Enthusiasm” versions of their screen selves. In their directorial debut, Rogen/Goldberg might have kept in a few gags that would have been better saved for the unrated DVD; the comedy does push two hours. Still, it rarely lets up, not even when it enters pseudo-religious territory. These guys make the day of reckoning a fun one.

• V/H/S/2 (R) Leaner than its nearly two hour predecessor, V/H/S/2 also skimps a bit on the first film’s scares. Using the frame (directed by Simon Barrett) of a private investigator searching for a missing college student, V/H/S/2 includes four short films from Adam Wingard, Blair Witch co-director Eduardo Sanchez, Gareth Huw Edwards (The Raid: Redemption) and Jason Eisener (Hobo with a Shotgun). Unlike the first anthology, V/H/S/2 doesn’t frontload its best work, though Wingard’s opener, “Phase I Clinical Trials,” is a nifty piece of body horror, imaginatively shot as if the camera is the character’s eye, that morphs into a ghost story. The weakest short, Sanchez and Gregg Hale’s “A Ride in the Park,” abandons its cool central conceit—a POV zombie attack—and questionably edits in other footage. Edwards and co-director Timo Tjahjanto turn in the sequel’s highlight, “Safe Haven.” After going on for in a seemingly too long, poorly establishing exposition, this Indonesian Rosemary’s Baby goes crazy in its ballsy climax. Eisener’s entry, “Alien Abduction Slumber Party,” is the film’s scary heart, as a parentless day for some siblings ends with a violent alien abduction. While V/H/S may be scarier, its shorter successor is a more enjoyable, easier watch.  

WHITE HOUSE DOWN (PG-13) Much like the summer of 1998 when discussions of July’s Armageddon required mentioned of May’s Deep Impact, a critique of White House Down cannot take place without comparisons to March’s Olympus Has Fallen. Unlike Armageddon and Deep Impact, two distinctly different movies about an asteroid on its way to Earth, White House and Olympus are nearly interchangeable. In White House, Channing Tatum stars as D.C. cop John Cale, who must protect the President (Jamie Foxx) and rescue his precocious daughter (Joey King) after terrorists take over the White House. Disaster master Roland Emmerich stages the destruction with his usual crowd-pleasing clarity (how many times can he blow up the White House?), and the movie, written by The Amazing Spider-Man’s James Vanderbilt, has a sense of humor about it (though nothing as entertaining as Melissa Leo’s “Star-Spangled Banner” in Olympus occurs). At 131 minutes, WHD drags a bit in its final act, but C-Tates and Foxx are the appealing duo I prefer to be thrust into the most Die Hard of Die Hard rip-offs. It is kind of hard to hate a summer blockbuster concerned with a constitutional crisis, even if its POTUS fires a rocket launcher.

WORLD WAR Z (PG-13) The biggest zombie (and arguably horror) movie EVER MADE is better than expected, judging from its PG-13 rating and tortured production history. Former U.N. employee Gerry Lane (Brad Pitt) is sent around the globe to discover the source of the zombie pandemic threatening to wipe out humanity. Also, if he doesn’t go, the U.S. military is going to kick his wife (Mirielle Enos of “The Killing,” another TV show you should be watching) and two daughters off their aircraft carrier. One-time Bond director Marc Forster (he of the uber-versatile filmography) and his stable of writers (the screenplay’s credited to three writers including The Cabin in the Woods’ Drew Goddard and “Lost”’s Damon Lindelof) turn Max “Son of Mel” Brooks’ oral history of the zombie conflict into a more focused, traditional “one hero must race time to save the world,” and it works. Minor quibbles range from a lack of blood (blame the need for a PG-13 rating to recoup the massive budget) and way too fast, superstrong zombies; still, it’s way more exciting than the second season of “The Walking Dead.” With its focus on action over scares, WWZ is the Resident Evil 5 of zombie movies.