April 30, 2014

Movie Dope

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


BRICK MANSIONS (PG-13) This remake of District B13 will always be Paul Walker’s penultimate movie. It’s also a rather silly, thoroughly entertaining action flick featuring (not nearly enough) Parkour. David Belle, one of the eight founders of Parkour, reprises his role as the ex-con, here called Lino, who runs, jumps and kicks his way through a walled-off ghetto to rescue his girlfriend and help an undercover cop recover a neutron bomb. Walker provides a solid presence a la the Fast and Furious franchise; the action world is going to miss him. Brick Mansions, like its predecessor is Belle’s movie, and he’s a blast to watch. First-time feature director Camille Delamarre (an editor who fell from Luc Besson’s rather fruitful filmmaking tree) captures the Parkour-dominated action with kinetic stylishness. But it’s the verging on camp script by Besson and Bibi Naceri that provides the movie with its distinctive voice. A character named Tom Berringer in a movie where RZA’s gangster quotes Wu-Tang (C.R.E.A.M.) that ends (almost) on a freeze frame? It’s as if Brick Mansions was made for future Bad Movie Nights, except it’s not a completely inept piece of movie garbage. Movies like this remind audiences why Besson is an international action hero.

THE OTHER WOMAN (PG-13) It takes way too long for Kate Upton to pop up in this intermittently funny and shrill female buddy comedy. Powerful professional woman, Carly Whitten (Cameron Diaz), finds out her wonderful new boyfriend, Mark (Nicolaj Coster-Waldau, “Game of Thrones”), is married. Carly and the wronged wife, Kate (Leslie Mann), team up for revenge with Mark’s other other woman, Amber (Upton). Diaz and Mann are showcased, and the results are mixed. As many laughs as Mann generates, she spends equally as much time crying and whining. Diaz continues to age gracefully, though one of the movie’s best gags might be the comedienne’s reaction to being upstaged by Upton, whose initial bikini-clad appearance doesn’t occur until an hour into the movie. The Other Woman is neither a total disaster nor a riotous female comedy. We’re not achieving Bridesmaids heights here. The comedy does begin to answer the question, how much is too much Leslie Mann? I’m sad and a little disappointed by The Other Woman’s response.

THE QUIET ONES (PG-13) The return of Hammer Films continues on a positive trajectory with this nicely restrained chiller. In glorious 1974 fashion, an Oxford professor, Joseph Coupland (the severely underappreciated Jared Harris), and his band of pretty little Brits (The Hunger Games’ Sam Claflin, Erin Richards and Rory Fleck-Byrne) attempt an unorthodox cure of troubled young Jane Harper (Olivia Cooke, “Bates Motel”). After the requisite spooky paranormal phenomena, things get dangerous, and the young assistants begin to doubt Joseph’s diagnosis. Maybe Jane really is possessed by a demonic spirit. The movie, directed by John Pogue (his flawed Quarantine sequel could have been much worse), turns into an Exorcist with science rather than religion attempting the cleansing. Pogue rather skillfully blends found 16mm footage and traditional filmmaking. Still, the movie doesn’t capture any Blair Witch tension in what should be its found footage highlight, the pre-climactic attic sequence. The cast, especially Harris and Cooke, being quite convincing, increase the movie’s effectiveness, and Pogue shoots everything in the old country house with a horrifying pall. The Quiet Ones mixes newfangled horror gimmicks with a more old-fashioned aesthetic. The above average result is enough to spook anyone (un)lucky enough to watch it in an empty theater (i.e. me).


A HAUNTED HOUSE 2 (R) A Haunted House 2 is a lot more things than its predecessor. It’s a lot more misogynistic, racist and sexualized; too bad it’s also less funny. Hard to believe, I know. Co-writer and star Marlon Wayans and his pals resort to some of their laziest parodies yet as Malcolm continues to be terrorized by evil spirits in the new home he shares with his girlfriend (Jaime Pressly) and her two kids (why, Ashley Rickards of MTV’s “Awkward,” why?). Have you seen the superior horror films The Conjuring and Sinister? Did you think all they were missing were doll sex gags and what barely passes for off-color humor? Wayans even has the audacity to imply that the Scary Movies only suck now that his family isn’t involved. Not quite a newsflash: The Scary Movie franchise was the poorest parody series even before it spawned the demonically unfunny duo of Jason Friedberg and Aaron Seltzer. Writers for both franchises merely recreate scenes from better films; their sole addition is some uncreative gag. Where, oh where have ZAZ gems like Airplane! and The Naked Gun gone? Expect the addition of a third story as the box office is sure to surpass the budget.

THE AMAZING SPIDER-MAN 2 (PG-13) Marc Webb’s mostly successful reboot of Spider-Man gets a sequel. Hopefully, this franchise has learned a thing or two since juggling three villains in the less successful Spider-Man 3. Spidey (again played by Andrew Garfield) must battle Electro aka Max Dillon (Jamie Foxx), the Green Goblin aka Harry Osborn (Dane DeHaan, Chronicle) and Rhino. Emma Stone and Sally Field return as Gwen Stacy and Aunt May, respectively. Alex Kurtzman and Roberto Orci collaborated on the screenplay with Jeff Pinkner.

BEARS (G) For Earth Day 2014, Disneynature releases another nature documentary from two-time Emmy winner Alastair Fothergill (Chimpanzee, African Cats and Earth), again working with his African Cats co-director Keith Scholey. This year, Fothergill and Scholey follow a family of Alaskan bears. John C. Reilly narrates the lessons being taught to the family’s two young cubs. Disneynature’s Earth Day track record is pretty strong, and the trailer for this family-friendly movie promises another appealing, heartwarming tale.

BELLE (PG) In this historical drama, Dido Elizabeth Belle (Gugu Mbatha-Raw) the illegitimate mixed race daughter of a Royal Navy officer, is raised by her great-uncle, William Murray (Tom Wilkinson), 1st Earl of Masfield and Lord Chief Justice. Director Amma Asante, who previously helmed A Way of Life, won the SIGNIS Award from the Miami Film Festival and the Directors to Watch Award from the Palm Springs International Film Festival. With Miranda Richardson, Matthew Goode and Emily Watson.

CAPTAIN AMERICA: THE WINTER SOLDIER (PG-13) Cap (Chris Evans) returns in his second solo outing, and it’s a slight improvement over the first, a definitively middle-of-the-pack Marvel movie. As an agent of SHIELD, Captain America, aka Steve Rogers, must adjust to his new reality and save the world, regularly. When seeds of distrust are sewn amongst members of SHIELD, Cap has to figure out if he can trust anyone, including Black Widow (Scarlett Johansson), Nick Fury (Samuel L. Jackson) or new pal Sam Wilson (Anthony Mackie). Cap’s transition to the modern world gets even more complicated once a new enemy, the Winter Soldier (Sebastian Stan), turns out to be an old acquaintance. Captain America: The Winter Soldier redefines the Marvel Universe more than any of the previous features. Its effects will be felt from Avengers: Age of Ultron to ABC’s “Agents of Shield.” Credit new directors Anthony and Joe Russo (“Community”) with a lighter, more action-oriented Cap, but this series will always lack the vivacious spark Robert Downey Jr. brings to Iron Man. Kicking off the summer season earlier than ever, a big, more-fun-than-not comic book movie is what we’ve been waiting all winter for, right?

DIVERGENT (PG-13) Hunger Games comparisons are inevitable. While Veronica Roth’s book loses the head-to-head against Suzanne Collins’ bestseller, Neil Burger’s filmed adaptation might best Gary Ross’ original Games. In a dystopian future Chicago, humanity is divided into five factions. Right before Beatrice Prior (Shailene Woodley) is to choose the faction in which she’ll spend the rest of her life, the teenager learns she is Divergent, whatever that means. Tris, as she chooses to be called, selects Dauntless, the faction most appealing to teens as they spend most of their time yelling and jumping from trains. Oh yeah, they’re civilization’s soldiers too. After a grueling initiation during which she makes a love connection with the studly instructor, Four (Theo James), Tris learns her perfect society and all Divergents are under attack. The movie distills 500 pages of plot into a pretty decent two-plus-hour flick as scripters Evan Daugherty and Vanessa Taylor smartly eschew Tris’ inner monologues, save for her opening and closing thoughts. Burger excels at sci-fi (see Limitless) and the casting is spot on. Woodley’s the most believably unsure YA heroine seen on the big screen, and James increases Four’s appeal from the page. Bring on Insurgent.

DRAFT DAY (PG-13) Are you missing football? Kevin Costner has just the movie for you. KCost stars as Sonny Weaver Jr., the general manager of the NFL’s downtrodden Cleveland Browns. On the morning of draft day, he receives the chance to select first, an opportunity that brings with it a season’s worth of controversy and drama. Should he draft the surefire quarterback (Josh Pence) from Wisconsin, the swell linebacker (Chadwick Boseman) from Ohio State or the Florida State running back (Houston Texans player Arian Foster) who recently had a run-in with the law? Everyone from his head coach (Denis Leary) to his team owner (Frank Langella) to his mom (Ellen Burstyn) knows what Sonny should do. To top it all off, the pretty young coworker (Jennifer Garner) he’s dating is pregnant. In a movie where most of the interactions take place via phone, Ghostbusters director Ivan Reitman is forced to get creative and winds up with his most enjoyable movie since, very arguably, 2001’s Evolution. The actors interact more like they’re on stage than on screen, and the football acumen of a few is questionable. Nevertheless, it’s hard to lose with Costner on your sports movie team. 

ERNEST & CELESTINE (PG) 2012. Dr. Richard Neupert, a UGA Film Studies professor and Ciné board member, presents a French Cinema Series celebrating both modern and classic French films. Naturally, Dr. Neupert has selected at least one animated feature. Based on the book by Gabrielle Vincent, Ernest & Celestine tells of an improbable friendship between a bear named Ernest and a mouse named Celestine. Nominated for the Academy Award for Best Animated Feature Film. (Ciné)

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.

GOD’S NOT DEAD (PG) In this Christian feature, a college student, Josh Wheaton (Shane Harper, “Good Luck Charlie”), has his faith challenged by a philosophy professor (Kevin Sorbo, best known as TV’s Hercules) who does not believe in the existence of God. TV’s Superman, Dean Cain, costars, while Christian popsters Newsboys and two of “Duck Dynasty”’s Robertsons, Willie and Korie, provide cameos. Director Harold Cronk’s three previous features (Ever heard of The Adventures of Mickey Matson and the Copperhead Treasure? Me neither.) sound pretty small screen.

THE GRAND BUDAPEST HOTEL (R) Wes Anderson’s latest stars Ralph Fiennes as Gustave H., legendary concierge at the famous hotel, who memorably mentors lobby boy, Zero Moustafa (Tony Revolori, The Perfect Game). The cast is huge with 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. Hopes are up for this film after Moonrise Kingdom

GRAVITY (PG-13) 2013. Academy Award nominee Alfonse Cuaron’s latest film is as great as you have heard. An astronaut (George Clooney) and a doctor (Academy Award nominee 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. You feel like you are in space, which is simultaneously awe-inspiringly beautiful and coldly dangerous. Though a science fiction film, this Best Picture nominee is the most harrowing cinematic experience I can remember. It’s often more terrifying than any recent horror film. Gravity is heavyweight genre filmmaking that never lets up.

HEAVEN IS FOR REAL (PG) Good for you, Hollywood. You’re as capable of pandering to faith-based audiences as to any other. Money’s money, am I right? Based on the bestselling account written by Reverend Todd Burpo about his four-year-old son’s trip to heaven, the movie feels as real as any paranormal movie purported to be based on a true story. Todd (Greg Kinnear) works several jobs to keep his family afloat but almost loses everything, including his faith, after news of his son’s experience gets out. Sweet little Colton (cute Connor Corum) tells his dad about singing angels, Jesus and his technicolor horse, and the sister that was never born. The movie gets by as far and as long as it can on its talented cast, including Kinnear, Kelly Reilly (Flight), Thomas Haden Church and Margo Martindale; the acting is far above any of Sherwood Pictures’ releases. Writer-director Randall Wallace (an Oscar nominee for Braveheart) can’t help the treacly material, almost entirely dependent upon a very young child actor, with which he’s saddled. It’s hard to imagine Heaven will resonate with crossover audiences, even with its actual Hollywood stars (if that’s what Kinnear can be called).  

JULES ET JIM  1962. Dr. Richard Neupert, a UGA Film Studies professor and Ciné board member, presents a French Cinema Series celebrating both modern and classic French films. The series concludes with Francois Truffaut’s classic period romantic drama about two friends, Jules (Oscar Werner) and Jim (Henri Serre), who are in love with the same woman, Catherine (Jeanne Moreau). Jules et Jim is an excellent entry to French cinema. Come enjoy it on the big screen. (Ciné)

LE WEEK-END (R) Dr. Richard Neupert, a UGA Film Studies professor and Ciné board member, presents a French Cinema Series celebrating both modern and classic French films. The first selection, Le Week-End, stars Jim Broadbent and Lindsay Duncan as a long-married couple returning to Paris, the scene of their honeymoon, in order to rekindle the flames of love. Director Roger Michell is still best known for 1999’s Notting Hill. With Jeff Goldblum. (Ciné)

MR. PEABODY & SHERMAN (PG) Mr. Peabody and Sherman get much better feature film treatment than their cartoon pals Rocky and Bullwinkle. The super smart canine, Mr. Peabody (v. Ty Burrell, "Modern Family"), and his adopted son, Sherman (v. Max Charles, young Peter Parker in The Amazing Spider-Man), travel back in time via Peabody's WABAC machine. The duo meet Marie Antoinette, King Tut, Leonardo da Vinci (v. Stanley Tucci), Mona Lisa (v. Lake Bell) and other historical luminaries as they try to right the wrongs  perpetrated against the space-time continuum. Burrell keeps Peabody as punny as ever, and kids will relate to Sherman's childish, lesson-teaching mistakes. The historical gags are a hit, though the dramatic narrative is structured too familiarly. And who is the target demo, kids who have never heard of these classic cartoons or the adults bound to be at least a little disappointed by the newfangled incarnations of their childhood faves? Trying to please both might not fully please either. Nonetheless, 2014 will see worse kids movies than Mr. Peabody & Sherman.

PROTECTOR 2 (R) Tony Jaa reunites with his Ong-Bak and The Protector director, Prachya Pinkaew, for a sequel to the 2005 hit. Afraid his elephant, Khon, will end up in the hands of gangster LC (RZA), Kham (Jaa) refuses to sell Khon. Soon Kham is framed for murder and on the run from the martial artist nieces, Ping Ping (Jija Yanin) and Sue Sue (Theerada Kittisiriprasert), of the deceased elephant trader. You already know whether or not you want to watch this Thai import.

MUPPETS MOST WANTED (PG) Somewhere between the plots of The Great Muppet Caper and The Muppets Take Manhattan lies Muppets Most Wanted. After the success of their reunion, the Muppets embark on a world tour on the advice of their new manager, Dominic Badguy (Ricky Gervais, as impish as ever). But when the World’s Most Dangerous Frog, Constantine, replaces Kermit, the world tour becomes a globe-hopping heist to steal the crown jewels. It being a Muppets movie, expect oddball movie callbacks and celebrities to pop up in the most random of cameos. The three human leads—Gervais, Tina Fey and Ty Burrell—are great foils for the Muppets; Burrell’s Inspector Clouseau impersonation is funnier than Steve Martin’s, were anyone planning on rebooting The Pink Panther again. Bret McKenzie, one half of Flight of the Conchords, supplies a couple of show-stopping numbers (particularly, Fey’s showcase, “The Big House”), but just a few years later, I cannot remember anything he wrote for 2011’s The Muppets. Come to think of it, as immediately engaging as the family friendly movie is, it mostly pointed out just how unmemorable its 2011 predecessor ultimately was. The Muppets always entertain, but this adventure isn’t timeless. 

NOAH (PG-13) Noah may be the strangest blockbuster since Ang Lee’s Hulk. Fortunately, the new biblical epic is more successful. It also isn’t your Chuck Heston biblical epic. Russell Crowe (no actor is more comfortable in the past than this guy) effectively grimaces and growls as the man chosen by the Creator to save the animal kingdom from a world-cleansing flood in Darren Aronofsky’s foreboding take on this beloved children’s bible story. Opening with a summary emphasizing the mythic, Noah establishes a harsh, sci-fi pre-apocalypse for Noah and his family—wife Naameh (Jennifer Connelly) and sons, Shem, Ham and Japheth. After a visit with his ancient grandfather, Methuselah (Anthony Hopkins giving good Yoda), Noah begins a decade-long task of building his ark, while giant stone creatures (one recognizably voiced by Nick Nolte) protect his family from the evil men led by Tubal-cain (Ray Winstone). When the flood epically arrives amidst a massive Lord of the Rings battle, an hour remains to reveal what happens when one family’s cruise goes way too long. As expected, Aronofsky visually stuns, but his film’s most insidious brilliance might be how fantastically fanciful it makes this ancient tale.

THE NUT JOB (PG) The latest animated feature (it seems as if there are so many nowadays) pits a curmudgeonly squirrel named (a bit on the nose) Surly (v. Will Arnett) against the city. When he finds Maury’s Nut Store, he may just have found the way to alleviate his and the rest of his park community’s winter worries. Brendan Fraser, Liam Neeson and Katherine Heigl are the next three biggest names in the voice cast. Will this movie capture its family audience without a big name like Disney or DreamWorks behind it?

OCULUS (R) Filmmaker Mike Flanagan’s follow-up to his effective little horror film, Absentia, feels like the next step in his career maturation. Bigger genre names (Doctor Who companion Karen Gillan and Katee “Starbuck” Sackhoff), more ambition and more chills all handled with more skill. (If you like Oculus, check out Absentia on Netflix.) When her brother, Thomas (Brenton Thwaites), is released from a mental hospital, Kaylie Russell (Gillan) plans to prove that what destroyed her family was neither her father, Alan (Rory Cochrane, Argo), nor her brother but a supernatural force living in an antique mirror. Mix John Carpenter’s underrated Prince of Darkness and The Amityville Horror with a touch of Jack Ketchum splatterpunk and some mouth-horror that would impress body-horror impresario David Cronenberg. The result is this unsettlingly satisfying horror flick. Oculus stands apart from its recent paranormal peers thanks to a smarter than average script by Flanagan and Jeff Howard, working from Flanagan and Jeff Seidman’s shorter screenplay. Oculus builds its terror on tension, atmosphere and small, effective doses of gore rather than the buckets of blood and/or jump scares preferred to prop up underwritten scary stories. Flanagan could do big things in this genre.

RIO 2 (G) Blu (v. Jesse Eisenberg), Jewel (v. Anne Hathaway) and the three kids leave the wilds of Rio de Janeiro for the real wilds of the Amazon, where Blu must battle his father-in-law (v. Andy Garcia). I don’t recall caring that much for the first trip to Rio, though it could have been worse. The voices of, Jamie Foxx, George Lopez, Tracy Morgan, Jemaine Clement, Leslie Mann, Rodrigo Santoro and Jake T. Austin return, while Garcia and Bruno Mars headline the newcomers.

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 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.

300: RISE OF AN EMPIRE (R) More of a companion film than a sequel or prequel, 300: Rise of an Empire is better than the rest of the post-300 wannabes (The Immortals, Clash/Wrath of the Titans). Happening concurrently with the beautiful death of the abs of Sparta's King Leonidas, 300:RoaE finds a new, Athenian hero in Themistocles (Sullivan Stapleton). He must battle with god-king Xerxes (Rodrigo Santoro) and his gorgeous naval commander, Artemesia (Eva Green, Casino Royale), if Greek society is to survive. Though Zack Snyder isn't around to direct, the script he cowrote allows new helmer Noam Murro (Smart People) to craft a stylistically similar movie. In other words, the entire movie looks like an extended video game cutscene. Outside of its gorgeous, violent visuals, 300 Again makes less of an impression, and its predecessor hasn't exactly mirrored Greece for cultural legacy. Stapleton is no Gerard Butler, and none of the supporters are going to be the next Michael Fassbender. No one will remember the events of More 300 hundreds of minutes later, but it's digital bloody fun for two hours.

TRANSCENDENCE (PG-13) A mature science fiction film about the dangers of technology from Dark Knight filmmaker Christopher Nolan’s personal cinematographer with a cast that includes Johnny Depp and Morgan Freeman isn’t a surefire blockbuster. Depp stars as Dr. Will Caster, an expert in artificial intelligence, whose mind is uploaded into cyberspace after his death at the hands of anti-technology terrorists. Unfettered by the shackles of humanity, Caster is able to solve pretty much all of mankind’s problems in a couple of days/weeks/months/years; Transcendence has the same problems with time that plagued The Dark Knight Rises. In his directorial debut, Wally Pfister has shot a film every bit as beautiful as those he shot for Nolan. However, his film is hampered by a terminally slow first act that builds into a tremendously intriguing second act before climaxing in rather generic explosiveness. To be fair, were Transcendence a heady sci-fi novel, it would have read exactly the same: slow, sort of intellectually satisfying and useful for separating the cool geeks from the chaff. Mainstream audiences will find the film distant and coldly uncommunicative, exactly what will make it a future fave of neo-cyberpunks.

UNDER THE SKIN (R) An intriguing guerrilla, science fiction feature from filmmaker Jonathan Glazer (Sexy Beast and Birth), Under the Skin stars Scarlett Johansson as an alien preying on Scottish hitchhikers. Allegedly, ScarJo actually picked up and filmed several real hitchers with hidden cameras. First-time screenwriter Walter Campbell adapted the novel by Michel Faber, best known for The Crimson Petal and the White. Nominated for the Golden Lion at the Venice Film Festival as well the Best Film prize at the London Film Festival. (Ciné)

WALK OF SHAME (R) Elizabeth Banks stars as Meghan, a television reporter who dreams of being a news anchor. The night before the biggest show of Meghan’s life, she engages in a one night stand (with James Marsden) that leaves her stranded, sans phone, car, ID or money, in downtown LA. Banks and Marsden are joined by James Marsden, “Community”’s Gillian Jacobs, Sarah Wright Olsen, and Bill Burr. Steven Brill (Little Nicky and Mr. Deeds) wrote and directed. We know Banks is funny; is the movie?

WALKING WITH THE ENEMY (R) During the final month of World War II, Elek Cohen (played by Jonas Armstrong) poses as a Nazi officer to find his separated family. This film of love, courage and sacrifice is based upon a the true story of Pinchas Tibor Rosebaum.