November 27, 2013

Movie Dope

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

ABOUT TIME (PG-13) I adore the work of Richard Curtis. From Four Weddings and a Funeral to Love Actually, his witty, Britty scripts have brought me much delight. In only his third directorial effort, Curtis tackles a romantic sci-fi tale about a young man named Tim (Domhnall Gleeson) who finds out from his father (Bill Nighy) than the men in their family can travel in time. A skeptical Tim discovers his father is not lying and begins to change the past. Unfortunately, complications ensue that lead Tim to lose the love of his life, Mary (Rachel McAdams). This film sits high upon my list of must sees.

ALIVE & WELL This documentary from Josh Taft chronicles the experiences of people living with the degenerative, neurological disorder known as Huntington’s Disease (HD). Far from depressing, Alive & Well reminds us how people persevere despite life’s most difficult challenges. The soundtrack features music by Pearl Jam, Radiohead, Sigur Rós, Fleet Foxes and Priestbird. This documentary screening is sponsored by Gathr Films, which means it will only happen if enough people sign up before the screening request expires. Fortunately, as of this preview, the reservation quota has been met. (Ciné)

ALL IS LOST (PG-13) The trailer for the latest film starring Robert Redford looks a lot better than its Life of Pi-ish description. A man (Redford) struggles to survive alone at sea after he loses his boat. Writer-director J.C. Chandor received an Oscar nomination for his Margin Call script, and his second feature could portend bigger, better things to come from the young filmmaker. The real question is whether or not Redford can carry this whole picture on his aged shoulders, Cast Away style.

BAD GRANDPA (R) Much funnier and more poignant than one would expect from a production company named Dickhouse, Bad Grandpa expounds upon the “Jackass” sketch featuring Johnny Knoxville’s elderly alter ego, Irving Zisman. Like Borat, Knoxville and company (including director-cowriter Jeff Tremaine and cowriter Spike Jonze) capture people’s real reactions to the interactions of a naughty, oversexed grandfather and his eight-year-old grandson, Billy (Jackson Nicoll). Knoxville tests just how much patience people have for old people in sketches narratively connected as grandpa Irving takes his grandson to live with his father. The credits offer a glimpse into the fascinating filming. (A behind the scenes doc about Bad Grandpa’s making would be worth a watch.) Sure, it’s raunchy, but Knoxville never breaks character, even when Zisman’s all alone. As a result, he gives a transformative, Sellers-like performance. Jackass has also been shockingly effective comedy, and if one can laugh at (or simply ignore) their new flick’s sophomoric hijinks, one will find the crew’s grown up…a little.

THE BEST MAN HOLIDAY (R) Taye Diggs, Morris Chestnut, Terrance Howard and Harold Perrineau return as the former college pals audiences first met in 1999’s The Best Man. Now all are married (besides Howard’s sex-obsessed Quentin) and facing numerous grown up problems ranging from money to kids to illness. A well-appointed holiday movie (every outfit and every room is catalog ready) clad in melodrama and mostly on target humor, The Best Man Holiday is the sort of film Tyler Perry has never quite made. Writer-director Malcolm D. Lee (Spike’s cousin) handles the tonal shifts from laughter to tears much more deftly, and his very pretty cast (rounded out by Sanaa Lathan, Nia Long, Monica Calhoun, Melissa De Sousa and Eddie Cibrian) is far from painful to watch. This sequel has a fairly focused appeal that should not disappoint moviegoers looking for some adult fare during this opening salvo of the holiday season.

BLACK NATIVITY (PG) Kasi Lemmons, whose debut feature Eve’s Bayou must be seen, bravely brings Langston Hughes’ musical version of the Nativity story to the big screen for a modern audience. A young mother (Academy Award winner Jennifer Hudson) sends her troubled teenage son (Jacob Latimore) to live with his estranged relatives (Academy Award winner Forest Whitaker and Angela Bassett). The musical’s cast is rounded out by Tyrese Gibson, Mary J. Blige and Nas (billed as Nasir Jones). I’m intrigued.

BLUE IS THE WARMEST COLOR (NC-17) This controversial award winner made history when, for the first time ever, Cannes awarded the Palme d’Or not only to the filmmaker, Abdellatif Kechiche, but to the lead actors, Adèle Exarchopoulos and Léa Seydoux, as well.  Passionate young Adele (Exarchopoulos in a star-making turn) meets blue-haired Emma (Seydoux, Midnight in Paris) and falls in love. The film follows their relationship from first kiss to heartbreak. If the buzz is right, Blue Is the Warmest Color is a stunner. (Ciné)

CAPTAIN PHILLIPS (PG-13) Paul Greengrass is Hollywood’s most effective director of tense docudramas. (Apologies to Kathryn Bigelow, but it is true.) Recounting the real life story of Captain Richard Phillips, who was kidnapped by Somali pirates and held hostage in a claustrophobic lifeboat for several days, Greengrass crafts his best film since United 93. Tom Hanks stars as Captain Phillips, and he loses his typical Hanks-ness in the dramatized reality realized by Greengrass. The lack of almost any other recognizable supporting actors (that guy, Chris Mulkey, is as familiar as it gets) helps Hanks slide deeper into a role than he has since Road to Perdition. Barkhad Abdi, who plays lead Somali pirate Muse could be one of those fun Oscar dark horses. The taut effectiveness of Billy Ray’s script certainly should not be undervalued but will be due to the incredible work done by Greengrass, whose greatest films seem like reality unfolding before our eyes. Captain Phillips should nab the British filmmaker another Oscar nod. As a word of advice, one may wish to watch Captain Phillips and Gravity on different weekends; otherwise, we are talking about the most intense double feature ever.

CLOUDY WITH A CHANCE OF MEATBALLS 2 (PG) The animated family comedy, Cloudy with a Chance of Meatballs, wasn’t quite one for which a sequel seemed necessary. Inventor Flint Lockwood (v. Bill Hader) is working for The Live Corp Company when he must leave his job to investigate claims that his machine is creating food-animal hybrids. Joining Hader for voicework are Anna Faris, James Caan, Will Forte, Andy Samberg, Benjamin Bratt, Neil Patrick Harris and Terry Crews. This flick sounds like it barely escaped a direct to DVD launch.

THE CHRISTMAS CANDLE (PG) In a small English village, legend has it that an angel visits every 25 years to bless a single candle. When lit, the candle delivers a special Christmas miracle. 

THE COUNSELOR (R) Is it fair to go ahead and call The Counselor the year’s most disappointing film? Ridley Scott directs a screenplay by Cormac McCarthy (his first!) with a cast that includes Michael Fassbender, Penelope Cruz, Cameron Diaz, Javier Bardem and Brad Pitt. All that and filmgoers are definitely left wanting by this tale of a young lawyer (Fassbender) getting involved in some shady drug trafficking. At least that’s what I think happened. McCarthy has a way with words; his dialogue shines brightly. It’s his narrative that’s far too murky. The movie simply does not tell its story clearly enough to be an entertaining film nor does it provide the pieces to be a challenging work to reconstruct post-viewing. Paced like a snail (it’s only two hours long but it feels like three), The Counselor fails on so many levels, but it’s still worth watching for the McCarthy connection. One wonders if his screenplay reads better than it watches. Bardem, with his spiky Brian Grazer hair, gives the film’s sole standout performance. Fassbender is too coolly detached, and Pitt’s Westray would be better suited for Matthew McConaughey. Ultimately a failure, The Counselor begs to be watched.

DALLAS BUYERS CLUB (R) This biographical drama is based on the true-life story of Ron Woodroof, a homophobic drug addict who is diagnosed with AIDS and given 30 days to live, and how he started the Dallas Buyers Club, an outlet for other AIDS patients to receive alternative medications without hospitals or doctors. (Ciné)

• DELIVERY MAN (PG-13) In Ken Scott’s remake of his own Canadian hit, Vince Vaughn stars as Dave Wozniak, a guy who, 20 years earlier, donated nearly 700 samples to a sperm bank. Now, the 500 plus kids that resulted from his sperm want to know who their daddy is via a class action lawsuit. Dave’s girlfriend (“How I Met Your Mother”’s Cobie Smulders, who is pretty much wasted) is pregnant with the first of his kids that he’ll get to raise. Vaughn gets to show a touch more vulnerability as Dave, who’s more of a woebegone charmer than his typical fast talkers. The true standout of the movie is Chris Pratt, who’s hopefully set to blow up after muscleing up for James Gunn’s Guardians of the Galaxy. Pratt already steals the show on “Parks and Recreation;” now he steals the feature from star Vaughn. Polish actor Andrzej Blumenfeld also owns his few scenes as Dave’s sweet father. Still, Pratt and Vaughn are not enough to make this likable, comedic slacker worth a theatrical viewing. This cute, intriguing story, which already played better in a smaller movie, might be better off on a smaller screen.

ENDER’S GAME (PG-13) The filmed adaptation of Ender’s Game, written and directed by X-Men Origins: Wolverine’s Gavin Hood, is not an adequate replacement for reading Orson Scott Card’s modern science fiction classic. (I would feel remiss if I completely ignored Card’s intolerance. While I don’t condone it and wholly disagree with it, I enjoyed his work of fiction and highly recommend it.) Young Ender Wiggin (Asa Butterfield, Hugo) is handpicked by Colonel Graff (Harrison Ford) to be the potential savior of humanity, which is being threatened by an alien race, and must complete against a school of young starship troopers (including True Grit’s Hailee Steinfeld) on a simulated battlefield in order to fulfill Graff’s prophetic belief. The look of Ender’s Game is strong, as are the bulk of the performances (Ford remains a commanding sci-fi presence). Hood struggles to adapt Card’s more complex ideas, but he wisely chooses to jettison his brother’s Earthbound shenanigans. He also fails to adequately portray Ender’s grueling exhaustion in the Command School finale, which seems much more like a middle school graduation play than a warm-up for the potential end of humanity. Maybe that’s the movie’s biggest problem; it fails to realize that it’s more than a game.

THE FAMILY (R) The untimely, much too soon death of James Gandolfini ensured that fine actor will never have to mock his greatest role in a lukewarm (or worse) mob comedy as Robert De Niro has. As Fred Blake nee Giovanni Manzoni, De Niro continues his slide into irrelevance. Fred and his family—wife Maggie (Michelle Pfeiffer), daughter Belle (Diana Agron of “Glee”) and son Warren (John D’Leo)—are in international witness protection under the gruff, watchful eye of Tommy Lee Jones’ FBI agent, but the real people who need protecting are the Blake/Manzoni’s neighbors. The Blake/Manzoni family are all sociopathic gangsters. Talk about ugly Americans. Gallic filmmaker Luc Besson has spent recent years focusing on writing and producing such hits as The Transporters and the Takens and less time directing the action movies upon which he built his name (standouts being La Femme Nikita, The Professional and The Fifth Element). Despite its game cast and R-rated violence, The Family will not be remembered as one of Besson’s stronger efforts. Great mob movies are a treasure; mob comedies, as a genre, need to be buried.

FREE BIRDS (PG) More an oddity than a cute family movie, Free Birds features the voices of Woody Harrelson and Owen Wilson as two turkeys, Jake and Reggie, that travel back in time to stop turkey from making the Thanksgiving Day menu. Released a few weeks too early, this kiddie cartoon seemed to get more laughs from the adults in the audience. Harrelson’s militaristic idiot is much more entertaining than Wilson’s too talky turkey. Wilson is not only outdone by this co-lead, supporting voices Amy Poehler, George Takei, Keith David and Dan Fogler are all more entertaining. The strange Free Birds will not become a new holiday viewing tradition, but it’s pleasant enough to be watched once, if one has no other choice.

FROZEN (PG) Disney brings Hans Christian Anderson’s The Snow Queen to the big screen in their latest animated adventure. Optimistic Anna (v. Kristen Bell) and rugged Kristoff (v. Jonathan Groff) encounter snowy conditions and a hilarious snowman named Olaf (v. Josh Gad) while searching for Anna’s sister, Elsa (v. Idina Menzel), whose power to create ice and snow has frozen the kingdom. Co-director Jennifer Lee got the nod for writing Wreck-It Ralph; she’s joined by Chris Buck of Tarzan and Surf’s Up.

GRAVITY (PG-13) Yes. Children of Men filmmaker Alfonse Cuaron’s latest film is as great as you have heard. An astronaut (George Clooney) and a doctor (Sandra Bullock) must work together to survive an accident in the cold, silent confines of space. Gravity is an acting tour de force by Bullock (this  movie is essentially her Cast Away) and the most incredible special effects driven film I have ever seen. See it in 3D/IMAX if you can, as the film reminded me of Six Flags’ Chevy Show. You feel like you are in space, which is simultaneously awe-inspiringly beautiful and coldly dangerous. Though a science fiction film, Gravity is the most harrowing cinematic experience I can remember. It’s often more terrifying than any recent horror film. Cuaron has cured me of any lingering desires to travel into space. He has also proven himself to be the single most intriguing major filmmaker working today. Taking two mega-stars and placing them in a straight up disaster movie that is heavily reliant on special effects takes so much vision and control to keep the spectacle from overwhelming the humanity. Gravity is heavyweight genre filmmaking that never lets up. It is intense, but you cannot miss it.

HOMEFRONT (R) Jason Statham tackles his most terrifying foe, James Franco as a meth lord, in this pulpy actioner scripted by Sylvester Stallone. That logline sounds terrific. In Sly’s adaptation of the Chuck Logan novel, Statham stars as Phil Broker, a former DEA agent turned family man, whose move to a quiet town explodes once he runs afoul of Franco’s local drug lord, Gator. Now Broker must rescue his daughter from Gator’s evil clutches. With Winona Ryder, Rachelle Lefevre, Kate Bosworth and Clancy “The Kurgan” Brown.

• THE HUNGER GAMES: CATCHING FIRE (PG-13) The Hunger Games returns, and its sequel, while more a formality setting up the series’ final, revolutionary entry, improves upon an original that was more of a visual book report than an exciting cinematic adaptation. (Original director Gary Ross’ absence was addition by subtraction.) After surviving the 74th Hunger Games, Katniss Everdeen (Jennifer Lawrence) and Peeta Mellark (Josh Hutcherson) are the Capitol’s newest celebrities. But all is not well in the Districts, and creepy President Snow (Donald Sutherland, who I’ve only just noticed resembles Sid Haig) lets Katniss know it by putting her back in the next year’s Games. New director Francis Lawrence (I Am Legend) paces the film better once we escape District 12 (every scene in it is so drab and boring), and the Quarter Quell is excitingly envisioned with deadly fog, killer monkeys and fun new faces like Finnick (a key new role well played by Sam Claflin) and Johanna (Jena Malone). Largely dismissed as repetitive upon the novel’s release, the underrated Catching Fire successfully adds more wrinkles to the Suzanne Collins’ formula than its more straightforward predecessor. However, it’s about time Katniss take more charge of her situation, a flaw hopefully remedied by the franchise finale, Mockingjay.

INSIDIOUS: CHAPTER 2 (PG-13) As a horror filmmaker, James Wan, who made his debut with the low budget smash Saw, has grown as a stylist. See The Conjuring or this sequel to his 2009 hit, Insidious. Insidious: Chapter 2 continues the Lambert family’s ghost story. When Josh (Patrick Wilson) returned from the spirit world at the conclusion of the first movie, he didn’t return alone, and his family—wife Renai (Rose Byrne) and sons Dalton (Ty Simpkins) and Foster (Andrew Astor)—is in danger. Fortunately, his mom, Lorraine (Barbara Hershey), and a team of bumbling Scoobies (including screenwriter Leigh Whannel) are on the job, searching for the supernatural solution via some poor comic relief. Chapter 2 is like a reverse Insidious. Chapter 1 had its chilling, mysterious first two acts bogged down by Josh’s blah final stroll through the spirit world. The sequel painfully explicates a dumb story for two acts, relying on trite haunted house tropes like slamming doors and flying household objects, before a strong final act that finally brings the scary and some nifty callbacks to the first movie. Insidious: Chapter 2 is no The Conjuring, where Wan proved he’s got the goods. Now he needs to show some consistency.

IT’S NOT YOU, IT’S ME  In its Indie Film Spotlight, Ciné is screening It’s Not You, It’s Me, the directorial debut of Nathan Ives. A commitment phobic dude named Dave (Ross McCall, USA’s “White Collar”) regrets breaking up with his near perfect ex-girlfriend (Joelle Carter, who is great on “Justified”). The cast could be worse—Vivica A. Fox, Erick Avari (you’ll recognize him), Beth Littleford, Maggie “Janice from ‘Friends’” Wheeler—but the trailer does little to compel a viewing.

LAST VEGAS (PG-13) What can one say about Last Vegas? The comedy is funnier than expected, and the drama is worse than one can imagine. Four old friends—Paddy (Robert De Niro), Billy (Michael Douglas), Archie (Morgan Freeman) and Sam (Kevin Kline)—head to Vegas for Billy’s bachelor party. Hilarity ensues as horndog Sam hits on all the ladies, Paddy gripes and grimaces, Archie drinks and gambles, and engaged Billy romances an older woman, lounge singer Diana (Mary Steenburgen). Astonishingly, the gags that ensue from the aforementioned clichés are funny. The forced melodrama between Billy and Paddy, who have been fighting over girls since they were little boys, drags the entire movie down, as does the unenlightened view of old people and young people, wholly represented by hot young women and “Entourage”’s Turtle (Jerry Ferrara). Director Jon Turteltaub smartly lets his four strong leads do their thing, and they are an appealing quartet. They work well together, no matter how unimaginative the script. However, the comedy will naturally play better to older audiences; cinematically uneducated youngsters will just be left wondering who all these old fogies are.

MANDELA: LONG WALK TO FREEDOM (PG-13) You had me at Idris Elba as Nelson Mandela. Based on Mandela’s autobiography, this biopic from director Justin Chadwick (The Other Boleyn Girl) recounts Mandela’s rural childhood and revolutionary youth through his imprisonment and eventual inauguration as the first democratically elected president of South Africa. Naomie Harris stars as Winnie Mandela. An Oscar nomination and win for Elba, one of the most deserving actors around, are not out of the realm of possibility. Two-time Oscar nominee William Nicholson (Gladiator and Shadowlands) contributed the script.

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. 

OLDBOY (R) Oh boy, does Spike Lee’s Oldboy have some big shoes to fill! The second installment of Park Chan-Wook’s Vengeance Trilogy is ten years old and still sears the imagination of those who have seen it. Violently vengeful Joe Doucett (Josh Brolin) seeks answers for his seemingly random 20-year captivity. Lee’s gathered a sharp cast—Samuel L. Jackson, Elizabeth Olsen, Sharlto Copley, Michael Imperioli, Lance Reddick and more—and scripter Mark Protosevich retains some genre buzz (despite the Poseidon remake).

PLANES (PG) What with its Cars pedigree and Dane Cook voicework, Planes could have been a lot worse. It’s no more disagreeable than Turbo, a kiddie flick with which it shares some central DNA. A cropduster named Dusty Crophopper (v. Cook) longs to race across the skies. Unfortunately, he’s afraid of heights. With the help of his friends—including a Mater stand-in named Chug (v. Brad Garrett)—and mentor, Skipper (v. Stacy Keach), Dusty conquers his fears and the skies. It’s cute, sweet, and maybe a smidge direct-to-DVD; the voice cast—Teri Hatcher, Julia Louis-Dreyfuss, John Cleese, Cedric the Entertainer, Anthony Edwards, Val Kilmer and Sinbad (?!)—is a step below the usual Pixar crop (though John Ratzenberger does pop by for his obligatory vocal cameo). Kids that love Cars will not care and will most likely fall for Planes. What’s next? Ships?

PRISONERS (R) Don’t head into Prisoners if you’re in the mood for some lighthearted escapism. On a rainy Thanksgiving, two young girls go missing. The parents, Keller and Grace Dover (Hugh Jackman and Maria Bello) and Franklin and Nancy Birch (Terrence Howard and Viola Davis, look everywhere but eventually turn to the police, represented by Detective Loki (Jake Gyllenhaal). An obvious prime suspect, the mentally challenged Alex Jones (Paul Dano), appears, but no further clues can be found. A dark morality play from Contraband scripter Aaron Guzikowski, the two and a half hour Prisoners lasts a while. Jackman will probably land on the Academy’s shortlist for his turn as survivalist Dover, who won’t give up on his daughter; he also goes further to find her than the law allows. As Jackman’s co-lead, Gyllenhaal furthers separates himself from his pretty peers, though Guzikowski could have opened up Loki a bit more for the audience. He remains more a determined cipher than a complete character as his dogged drive is never examined. No one in the well-known cast underperforms in Denis Villeneuve’s follow-up to his Academy Award nominated Incendies. Villeneuve’s Prisoners feels like home-grown Haneke; it’s a tough, mature box office hit.

REACHING FOR THE MOON Award-winning filmmaker Bruno Barreto (the tense historical thriller Four Days in September) has been receiving lots of love from various queer film festivals for his account of the love affair between American poet Elizabeth Bishop (Miranda Otto) and Brazilian architect Lota de Macedo Soares (Gloria Pires). Looking deeper into Barreto and his scripter’s filmographies reveals some reasons to be reticent about this film. Barreto was responsible for the Gwyneth Paltrow stewardess romcom, View from the Top, and co-writer Matthew Chapman wrote the sexy Bruce Willis bomb, Color of Night.

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)

THOR: THE DARK WORLD (PG-13) Marvel’s sequel to the surprisingly entertaining 2011 hit should have built on its predecessor’s success. Instead, the movie’s generic plot—an evil villain seeks to destroy the universe—and its science fiction aesthetic resemble an even-numbered Star Trek movie (Malekith even looks like a Romulan) more than a Marvel superhero feature. With frequent “Game of Thrones” director Alan Taylor at the helm, the movie’s Asgard could have benefitted from a grittier, Westeros look; instead, Asgard could be any Naboo-like world from the Star Wars prequel. Chris Hemsworth’s Thor remains as easily charming, and one wonders if the series should have allowed him to be single for a bit. Imagine Thor as an unbound lothario. Oddly enough, what seemed like a weakness of the first film—Thor’s unpowered banishment to Earth—is exactly what’s missing from its sequel. How can you tell? When Thor finally arrives on Earth, the quips fly faster and the gags land more soundly. Thor: The Dark World simply becomes more entertaining when the action leaves Asgard. Apparently, nothing about Thor should ever be serious. After all, he’s a god with flowing blond locks and a giant hammer. Oh, and more Loki please.

TO KILL A MOCKINGBIRD 1962. Ciné continues its celebration of Southern Culture on the Screen with the Academy Award winning adaptation of Harper Lee’s To Kill A Mockingbird, which remains one of the greatest Hollywood films of all time. Gregory Peck justly won Best Actor for his portrayal of the stalwart Atticus Finch, who defends a black man wrongly accused of the rape of a young white woman. Look for Robert Duvall in his brief feature film debut as Boo Radley. (Ciné)

12 YEARS A SLAVE (R) Will art house sensation Steve McQueen (the filmmaker behind Hunger and Shame, not the quintessentially cool actor) succeed on a larger scale? Chiwetel Ejiofor stars as Solomon Northup, a free black man who is kidnapped and sold into slavery. Screenwriter John Ridley has a spotty filmography (U Turn, Three Kings and Undercover Brother). As glad as I am to see Ejiofor in a starring role, I’m equally jazzed about Quvenzhané Wallis, Michael K. Williams (aka Omar Little), Scoot McNairy, Paul Giamatti, Benedict Cumberbatch, Paul Dano, Michael Fassbender and Brad Pitt.

WE’RE THE MILLERS (R) We’re the Millers doesn’t break any laugh records, but after a few laughless weeks at the cinema, it more than accomplishes its goal. Its silliest problem is its star, the hilarious Jason Sudeikis, who comes off far too smug far too easily. (One wonders how this movie would have played with a more sympathetic David Clark, played by Jason Bateman or Jason Segel, etc.) After running afoul of his drug kingpin pal (Ed Helms), Dave (Sudeikis) must smuggle a smidge that turns out to be a lot more than a smidge of marijuana across the border. Dave hatches a brilliant plan to fake a family with stripper Rose (Jennifer Aniston, who is getting hotter with age), runaway teen Casey (Emma Roberts) and virginal Kenny (Will Poulter, Son of Rambow). Everything works out great until he runs into a swell DEA agent and his wife (Nick Offerman and Kathryn Hahn) and the big-time Mexican drug lord to whom the weed really belongs to catches up with them. We’re the Millers will probably gain popularity once it starts airing non-stop on FX. Still, it’s a funny afternoon diversion, thanks mostly to its clever cast, not its familiarly sitcom-ish script.