March 5, 2014

Movie Dope

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


NON-STOP (PG-13) Maybe the Liam Neeson Action Star franchise isn’t dead yet. In his latest portrayal of the deadliest daddy ever, Neeson stars as Bill Marks, a U.S. Air Marshal receiving threatening texts “on a secure network” (oooh) demanding $150 million or someone will die every 20 minutes. Neeson is joined by a big name co-star, Julianne Moore, and several recognizable bit players like Academy Award nominee Lupita Nyong’o, Michelle “Lady Mary” Dockery and Scoot McNairy; however, the real co-star is the claustrophobic, transparent setting. Besides the lavatories and the cockpit, everything takes place in the various cabins of the transatlantic flight. (None of that cargo hold crap resorted to by other plane-trapped protagonists.) A more than serviceable whodunit, Non-Stop should please the millions of mystery fans as well as those moviegoers feeling there are more asses Neeson needs to kick. As usual, the reveal is never as clever as the setup, but the tense first two acts are filling if not fulfilling. Marks could be a more pleasant protag with whom to spend two hours. Fortunately, the movie rarely slows down enough for Marks’ authoritarian abuses to outrage. I wonder if this flick will get shown on many future flights.  

SON OF GOD (PG-13) At least The Passion of the Christ was a feature film and Mel Gibson a decorated (if now crazed) filmmaker. Son of God is cobbled together from the Jesus sequences (plus more!) from the History Channel miniseries, “The Bible,” and its collection of slightly ethnic unknown actors do not benefit from the big screen treatment. The only debatably recognizable face is that of producer Roma Downey (“Touched by an Angel”), who plays Mary, Mother of Jesus. Portuguese-born Diogo Morgado is a photogenic savior with a nice smile; he recedes into Christly caricature during the climactic imprisonment and crucifixion. An obvious cash grab by “Survivor” producer Mark Burnett (Downey’s husband), Son of God merely takes advantage of an audience hungry for faith-based films (see the success of the releases from Albany’s Sherwood Pictures) by repackaging previously seen material with a few new scenes, none of them worth the price of admission. Minus a whit of believer’s passion, this film simply retells the greatest story ever told like a Greatest Hits of Jesus compilation. Most viewers will have heard this tale told before and better.


ABOUT LAST NIGHT (R) This remake of the 1986 movie starring Demi Moore and Rob Lowe—itself based on David Mamet's play, “Sexual Perversity in Chicago”—finally makes the best use of the ubiquitous funnyman, Kevin Hart. Hart’s horndog, Bernie, woos, dumps and rewoos the not quite innocent Joan (Regina Hall), while his best friend, Danny (Michael Ealy), romances Joan’s BFF and roomie, Debbie (Joy Bryant from NBC’s excellent, underwatched “Parenthood”). The dialogue, adapted by Bachelorette’s Leslye Headland, flies funny and fast, especially when Hart and Hall get going. Nobody really expects much from Hot Tub Time Machine director Steve Pink, but he gets the comic, dramatic rhythms mostly right, especially during the quick switchbacks that open the film. Sadly, the dramromcom feels longer when the pretty, likable duo of Ealy and Bryant are onscreen without Hart and Hall. Their constantly devolving courtship may be realistically portrayed, but that detail fails to make it fun to watch. Hollywood has thrown up some truly bad romcoms (chick flicks, if you must), and it’s pleasant to admit About Last Night is not one of them. The odds were in Hart’s favor that he’d finally find a movie that deserved him.

AMERICAN HUSTLE (R) A fictional account of the real life ABSCAM investigation that sent several members of federal, state and local government to prison, American Hustle, nominated for ten Academy Awards, is a frontrunner for the top prize. Conman Irving Rosenfeld (Oscar nominee Christian Bale) and his not exactly British girlfriend, Sydney Prosser (Oscar nominee Amy Adams), are forced by an unstable FBI agent, Richie DiMaso (Oscar nominee Bradley Cooper), into conning the mayor of Camden, New Jersey (Jeremy Renner). Russell has proven an uncanny ability to take a great cast and make them greater. American Hustle is a film made for ensemble cast awards; picking one standout is nearly impossible. Go see it.

ANCHORMAN 2: THE LEGEND CONTINUES (PG-13) Much has changed since last we heard from San Diego’s top newsman, Ron Burgundy (Will Ferrell). He married co-anchor, Veronica Corningstone (Christina Applegate), and moved to New York City. But professional disappointment relegates Ron back to San Diego until he is offered the chance to front a 24-hour news network, the first of its kind. Ron returns to the Big Apple with his old news team behind him: features-stud Brian Fantana (Paul Rudd), sports-guy Champ Kind (David Koechner) and weatherman Brick Tamland (Steve Carell). But they face new challenges from rival anchor Jack Lime (James Marsden) and Veronica’s new lover Gary (Greg Kinnear). The jokes might not fly as fast or as quotable as those of the original, but the narrative and characters are better. Carell’s newfound stardom after the first movie means more Brick, and surprisingly, that’s a good thing. A late detour into staged melodrama falls a bit flat, adding unnecessary length, and the expected climactic battle gets too cameo-heavy with little comic payoff. Happily, the legend of Ron Burgundy is not tarnished by his return; only time will tell whether the sequel retains (or surpasses?) its predecessor’s rewatchability.

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.

DR. STRANGELOVE 1964. Stanley Kubrick’s iconic Dr. Strangelove or: How I Learned to Stop Worrying and Love the Bomb is the perfect film to screen in conjunction with “Alert Today, Alive Tomorrow: Living with the Atomic Bomb, 1945-1965.” Mere three-time Academy Award nominee Peter Sellers stars in three roles in this sublime comedy about a mad general (Sterling Hayden) starting the road to nuclear Armageddon, while a war room filled with political and military bigwigs (including George C. Scott) attempt to stop it. The film will be introduced by Dr. Christopher Sieving (UGA Department of Theatre and Film Studies). (Richard B. Russell Library)

ENDLESS LOVE (PG-13)While no one was looking, the 1981 wild teenage romance starring Brooke Shields that introduced audiences to Tom Cruise and the Diana Ross-Lionel Richie duet was remade into a rather bland new tale of teenage love. The summer after Jade Butterfield (Gabriella Wilde) graduates from high school, she meets and falls in love with David Elliot (Alex Pettyfer, whose offscreen ugliness fails to mar his onscreen charisma). Her doctor father (Bruce Greenwood, in standout villainous daddy mode) foresees the derailment of Jade’s future over this boy, so he schemes to break them up. Any audience member, be they familiar or not with Franco Zeffirelli’s original film or novelist Scott Spencer’s source material, will keep waiting for the big dramatic turn to come. And they will keep waiting, as this Endless Love is way more neutered than either of its predecessors. The filmmakers fail to even hide the Ross-Richie prom theme as an Easter Egg. Endless Love misses out on some prime opportunities for camp. As usual, stick with the original. Or better yet, read the book. 

FROZEN (PG) Disney returns with a newfangled computer animated feature that feels very old school. A young princess, Anna (v. Kristen Bell), must venture into the frozen wilds to save her sister, recently crowned Queen Elsa (v. Idina Menzel), who has lost control over her icy powers. Anna is assisted in her search by ice salesman Kristoff (v. Jonathan Groff, “Glee”), his reindeer, Sven, and a goofy, talking snowman named Olaf (v. Josh Gad). The narrative, adapted from Hans Christian Anderson’s “The Snow Queen” by Wreck-It Ralph scripter Jennifer Lee (who co-directed), is as Disney formulaic as they come, and the animation shines without standing out. Nonetheless, the characters, especially Gad’s silly snowman, are winning. The songs are catchy, as is their diegetic musical inclusion. Little kids will love Frozen, and parents who grew up on Disney classics will not feel left out in the cold.

THE GRAND BUDAPEST HOTEL (R) Wes Anderson’s latest stars Ralph Fiennes as Gustave H, a legendary concierge at the famous hotel, who memorably mentors lobby boy Zero Moustafa (Tony Revolori, The Perfect Game). The cast is huge—F. Murray Abraham, Mathieu Amalic, Adrien Brody, Willem Dafoe, Jeff Goldblum, Jude Law, Harvey Keitel, Bill Murray, Edward Norton, Saoirse Ronan, Jason Schwartzman, Tilda Swinton, Tom Wilkinson and Owen Wilson—and the trailer is Andersonly entertaining. Hopes are up for this film after Moonrise Kingdom. (Ciné) 

HER (R) Best Picture nominee Her stars a really nice, mildmannered Joaquin Phoenix as Theodore Twombly. Ted writes personal letters for strangers and is struggling through a divorce. Then he meets his new Operating System and falls in love…with the OS. Samantha is voiced by Scarlett Johannson, so the concept isn’t THAT outlandish. The film is mostly Phoenix interacting with Johannson’s voice. Sometimes an unmade Amy Adams pops by to again verify her brilliance. While Phoenix and ScarJo incredibly do their thing, Jonze and his behind the scenes folk drip visual magic into audience eyes with their retro-future design. This film is unreservedly wonderful. (Ciné)

THE LEGO MOVIE (PG) The LEGO Movie is most certainly the young year’s best new, wide release. The intricate, interconnected universes built by writing-directing duo Phil Lord and Christopher Miller (Cloudy with a Chance of Meatballs and 21 Jump Street) has an age-defying Muppets-like appeal. When generic construction mini-figure Emmet (v. Chris Pratt, who is so devilishly appealing) gets up in the morning, he follows the day’s instructions as handed down by president/overlord Business (v. Will Ferrell). Soon, Emmet gets involved with a Matrix-ian rebel group led by Vitruvius (v. Morgan Freeman), a pretty mini-fig who goes by Wildstyle (v. Elizabeth Banks) and her BF, Batman (v. Will Arnett). The LEGO Movie uses its licenses (D.C., Star Wars, The Lord of the Rings) smartly as it argues for the salvation of creativity. A movie made from the toy that frees the childhood (and adult) imagination has to stay on its toes in order to not diminish the property. This film, which should battle for the year’s best animated film come the next awards cycle, reconstructs the greatest childhood movie memories from the building blocks that best defined the young and not-yet-so-old generation.

LONE SURVIVOR (R) The spoiler-ishly titled Lone Survivor does not hide from what it is, which amounts to injury porn in the second act (the characters’ two falls are brutal). While on Operation Red Wings, four Navy SEALs—team leader Mike Murphy (Taylor Kitsch), Axe (Ben Foster), Danny (Emile Hirsch, who more and more resembles a tiny version of Jack Black) and Marcus Luttrell (Mark Wahlberg), upon whose book this film is based—battle an army of Taliban fighters. The cinematic account of this true story is written and directed by Peter Berg, whose The Kingdom was severely underrated (and superior to his latest), like Friday Night Lights with soldiers. Even the incredible Explosions in the Sky provides the score. Nothing about Lone Survivor is particularly unsuccessful, though which member of the bearded quartet is which can be hard to distinguish during the hectic firefight. Berg shoots action with a visceral viciousness, taking some visual cues from first person shooters like Call of Duty (a videogame movie Berg will probably one day helm). Lone Survivor will please the action-heads out there, but it takes the home movies before the end credits to remind audiences these soldiers were actual husbands and fathers.

THE MONUMENTS MEN (PG-13) The Monuments Men is a rousing World War II yarn about an unlikely platoon assigned the mission of protecting humanity’s art from history’s greatest douchebags, the Nazis. Seriously, already history’s top seed in any Tournament of Big Bads, the Nazis were also giant d-bags who burned great works of art because they couldn’t have it. Fortunately, George Clooney, Matt Damon, Bill Murray, John Goodman, Jean Dujardin, Bob Balaban and Hugh Bonneville scoured the war-torn continent and nabbed the best stuff from those firebug Nazis and art-thieving Soviets. The true story recounted by writer-director George Clooney is a fascinating historical footnote that makes for great cinema. It’s just that this level of filmmaker and cast promises grander, award-winning cinema. The Monuments Men is seeking that level of acclaim, and the entertaining war drama delivers a mature, art-filled reboot of “Hogan’s Heroes.” (Hollywood, take this cast, toss in Christoph Waltz, and let the Cloon jam on a big screen “Hogan’s.” I dare you.) The Monuments Men has too many appealing personalities; the audience never gets to adequately spend enough time with Murray/Balaban, Goodman/Dujardin, Damon/Cate Blanchett or Clooney. But the time we get is well-spent.

MR. PEABODY AND SHERMAN (PG) Mr. Peabody and Sherman, beloved characters seen on “The Rocky and Bullwinkle Show,” venture onto the big screen as the duo who must use the WABAC machine to undo the damage done to the space-time continuum. Fans of the original are holding their breath. Feature updates of older characters are more miss than hit. “Modern Family”’s Ty Burrell was an inspired choice to voice Mr. Peabody, and director Rob Minkoff co-directed The Lion King. Expect lots of familiar celebrity voices.

THE OSCAR NOMINATED SHORT FILMS 2014 (NR) This year’s animated nominees are Feral, Get a Horse!, Mr. Hublot, Possessions and Room on the Broom. The Live-Action Short Film nominees are That Wasn’t Me, Just Before Losing Everything, Helium, Do I Have to Take Care of Everything and The Voorman Problem. The Documentary Short Film nominees are Cavedigger, Facing Fear, The Lady in Number 6, Karama Has No Walls and Prison Terminal. (Ciné)

OUT OF THE FURNACE (R) Like an episode of “Justified” minus the deft, light touch of Elmore Leonard, Out of the Furnace focuses on working class heroes and backwoods baddies. After a tragic accident, steel mill worker Russell Baze (Christian Bale) faces more bad news as his soldier brother, Rodney (Casey Affleck), runs afoul of a meth-ed up MF-er named Harlan DeGroat (a natural role for Woody Harrelson). Despite warnings from the local policeman (Forest Whitaker), who just so happens to be dating Russell’s ex-girlfriend (Zoe Saldana), Russell tackles Harlan head-on. Crazy Heart filmmaker Scott Cooper follows up his Academy Award-winning debut, mostly renowned for its performances, with another heavy drama whose best feature is its actors. Bale and Harrelson are standouts, though Harrelson nearly succumbs to hamminess with his lollipop routine. Clumsy plot devices and characters (cough, Rodney, cough) that almost erase all of their sympathy recur, but the tension of Russell’s sad world will suck you in. Plus, the soundtrack features Pearl Jam; it’s hard to say no to Pearl Jam.

PHILOMENA (PG-13)  Two of my favorite British Stephens—Coogan and Frears—team up for what sounds pretty unintriguing from its based on a true story logline. A shamed journalist, Martin Sixsmith (Steve Coogan), helps an old Irish woman, Philomena Lee (Academy Award nominee Judi Dench), find the child she lost to adoption 50 years earlier. Coogan, who co-wrote the Oscar-nominated script with Jeff Pope, hones his sharp wit and creates some moments of genuine emotion as his cynical journo interacts with sweet old Philomena, who is unsurprisingly embodied perfectly by Dench. The writers also sharpen their knives to carve up the Catholic Church, here represented by a few evil nuns. The script, acting and two-time Oscar nominee Stephen Frears (The Grifters and The Queen) take this TV movie scenario and turn it into a unexpectedly strong Best Picture nominee. (It wouldn’t make a shortlist of five, but it’s not the last of the nine.) Shades of Coogan’s wonderful road trip comedy The Trip color Martin and Philomena’s trek to Ireland and finally America as they unravel the film’s central mystery. Let the awards mystique, not the pedestrian synopsis, draw you into Philomena. Her film is as extraordinary as her story.

POMPEII (PG-13) Surprisingly, Paul W.S. Anderson’s romantic period disaster flick is a rather entertaining plebeian Gladiator rather than another comic stylish 300 wannabe. Milo (Kit Harington, Jon Snow from HBO’s excellent “Game of Thrones”), the survivor of a Celtic tribe slain by Roman General Corvus (Kiefer Sutherland, enjoying some campy villain screen time), is now a gladiator in Pompeii. Now a Senator, Corvus arrives in Pompeii to extend the reach of Emperor Titus and stalk pretty young Cassia (Emily Browning), daughter of the town chief (Jared Harris), who prefers the pretty, muscular slave. Then Mount Vesuvius erupts, and all cinematic hell breaks loose. The effects are estimable, though the picture gets a little obscure during the ashy, 3D finale. That tsunami’s pretty tough. The script is negligible but not detrimental. The acting serves its purpose. “Lost”’s Adewale Akinnuoye-Agbaje makes more of an impression as the local gladiatorial champion. A more dashing, old-fashioned sword and sandal pic than viewers are used to, Pompeii may please more if expectations are lowered, but with a dearth of new entertainment options at the multiplex, this flick isn’t a complete disaster.

RIDE ALONG (PG-13) Judging from the trailers, Kevin Hart and Ice Cube’s team up for an action comedy set in Atlanta could be worse. Hart stars as a security guard who goes on patrol with his girlfriend’s tough cop brother, played by Cube, in order to earn his blessing. Tika Sumpter (Tyler Perry’s A Madea Christmas) stars as the girlfriend/sister. It’s co-written by the super-funny Jason Mantzoukas (The League’s Rafi); granted, he’s one of four credited scripters. Tim Story (Barbershop, Fantastic Four) directs.

ROBOCOP (PG-13) So the new Robocop kind of misses the maliciously satirical point of the original. No one will be clamoring for a remake of this technically shiny action flick in 27 years. Outside of the interstitial moments with Samuel L. Jackson’s Bill O’Reilly-ish Pat Novak, the new movie, from Elite Squad director Jose Padilha and first-time feature writer Joshua Zetumer, misses out on some prime opportunities to deride modern America. Robocop, formerly Detective Alex Murphy (Joel Kinnaman from AMC’s “The Killing”), does not do much Robocopping. He does solve his own murder, which is a little self-involved. The new filmmakers bog the first act down in comic book origin BS (the boardroom shenanigans of the original are much more interesting), before blazing through the second act where Robo (barely) hits the streets, to get to the procedural third act. The best Robocop remake came out in 2012 and was called Dredd; that flick had loads more of the ultraviolent, futuristic misanthropy that made Paul Verhoeven’s Robocop stand out. The newest version of Robocop is watchable with some excellent FX and design ideas (many borrowed from the original); what it definitely is not is re-watchable.

THE SECRET LIFE OF WALTER MITTY (PG) Director-star Ben Stiller’s adaptation of James Thurber’s classic short story is an odd duck. Take Thurber’s simple literary seed and fertilize it with writer Steve Conrad’s brand of The Weather Man/The Pursuit of Happyness pablum. The resulting film pleases on its own and disappoints as a version of Thurber. Daydreamer Walter Mitty (Stiller) works at “Life” Magazine, which is about to go completely digital, and he has lost the negative of the final cover photo, provided by a legendary photog (Sean Penn). Having never done anything, Walter goes on an impromptu adventure to Greenland, Iceland and Afghanistan, mostly to get the attention of a comely coworker (a cute, pleasantly normal Kristen Wiig). Stiller’s humor never quite gels with Conrad’s insipid sincerity. Stiller’s direction shines, though he seems to be channeling a sterile, mass market Wes Anderson. Still, it’s laudable and creative; everything that the script is not. Unnecessarily overplotted and overly coincidental, it glosses over the complexities of Walter’s adventure. It should never have been called The Secret Life of Walter Mitty, but I still felt overtly amiable towards the film when it was over. Though what’s the deal with Adam Scott’s beard?

THAT AWKWARD MOMENT (R) 2014’s first truly terrible movie goes to That Awkward Moment. Congratulations for barely edging out I, Frankenstein! That is quite an accomplishment for first-time writer-director Tom Gormican, and is almost as impressive as sucking the majority of the charisma out of Miles Teller and Michael B. Jordan. Fortunately, Teller overcomes the script’s woeful inadequacies and outright thefts from (not even that much) better romcoms. Out of friendship, three male besties—Jason (a drowsy Zac Efron), Mikey (Jordan) and Daniel (Teller)—swear off relationships before meeting the women of their dreams. Now comes the awkward part where they do dumb things because that’s what guys do, according to movies like this one. Jordan escapes with most of his dignity as the straight man, a cuckolded doctor, and Teller charms viewers’ pants off with the crustiest of romcom dialogue. As the pretty but romantically deficient friend, Efron lacks his cast mates’ magnetism and talent. Imagine a movie that would have starred Kate Hudson, Katherine Heigl and the late Brittany Murphy ten years ago; now give their characters penises. Otherwise, it’s the exact same movie Hollywood’s released every Super Bowl weekend or Valentine’s Day for the past decade.

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.

3 DAYS TO KILL (PG-13) Gallic super-producer Luc Besson again attempts to breathe action life into an aging Hollywood actor; this time, the reclamation project is Kevin Costner. While 3 Days to Kill doesn’t try to be a new Taken. Think of Costner’s weary spy as an extension of his weary athlete persona. Gruff but charming, Costner more than makes up for the nearly disastrous direction of McG (talk about a career that’s fallen off a cliff). Costner’s Ethan Renner is dying and wishes to spend his remaining time with his estranged wife (Connie Nielsen) and teenage daughter (True Grit Oscar nominee Hailee Steinfeld). But when mysterious beauty, Vivi (Amber Heard), offers an experimental cure in exchange for one last job (is there any other kind?), Ethan must juggle parenting with his dangerous professional obligations. The movie is a lot more fun than its generic plot or trailer let on, thanks mainly to Costner, who shines with Besson and Adi Hasak’s script, which favors a comedic tone over a grim Taken one. Everyone would have been better off had Besson directed this rather than last year’s The Family and kept McG far, far away.

300: RISE OF AN EMPIRE (R) Did 300, released way back in 2006, really need a sequel? Its ending was pretty definitive. Greek general Themistocles (Sullivan Stapleton) must turn back the Persian Army led by King Xerxes (still Rodrigo Santoro) and his ally, Artemesia (Eva Green, Casino Royale), Queen of Caria. 300 filmmaker Zack Snyder helped write the sequel’s screenplay and produced, while Noam Murro (Smart People) takes over directing duties. Lena Headey reprises her role as Queen Gorgo of Sparta.

TYLER PERRY’S A MADEA CHRISTMAS (PG-13) The biggest Madea misfire since Meet the Browns, A Madea Christmas gives off the whiff of expired made-for-TV eggnog. Perry’s merrily mischievous matron travels to Alabama with the worst character Perry has yet created, Eileen (Anna Maria Horsford of “Amen”). Eileen’s daughter, Lacey (Tika Sumpter), is hiding her new marriage to Conner (Eric Lively), who is white, and her mother’s interactions with his likable redneck parents, Buddy and Kim (Larry the Cable Guy and Kathy Najimy), are offensively rude. A Madea Christmas is simply an ugly movie that would look weak even against The Hallmark Channel original holiday fare. Perry’s second worst character also resides in this small town, Chad Michael Murray’s Tanner. Unprofessional acting (check out the horrendous accents) and weak writing marked by outdated jokes about the small town South offend and disappoint. Perry has shown to be better than this gag gift of a holiday movie. So few Madea moments land that Larry the Cable Guy is the funniest fellow in the picture. Boy, that’s not a good thing. Have you ever seen a bad, local church’s Christmas play or that awful War on Christmas movie, Last Ounce of Courage? Then you’ve seen A Madea Christmas.

THE WIND RISES (PG) Hayao Miyazaki has threatened that this will be his final film. We will see. Fortunately, we will also see The Wind Rises, a fictionalized biopic of Jiro Hirokoshi, who designed the aircraft blown by the Empire of Japan in World War II. The English voice cast is as good as usual. Joseph Gordon-Levitt voices Jiro and is joined by Emily Blunt, John Krasinski, Martin Short, Werner Herzog, William H. Macy, Mandy Patinkin and Stanley Tucci.