July 30, 2014

Movie Dope

Short Reviews


AND SO IT GOES (PG-13) This Frankensteinian mashup, a pseudo-sequel to Annie Hall and As Good as It Gets, might as well be titled Old People Movie. It ticks all the stereotypical checkboxes for its target demographic. Too bad it lacks the romantic humanity of James L. Brooks or the fashion sense of Nancy Meyers; director Rob Reiner has lost all touch with his sense of character or comic timing. If not for the average work done by the two graceful leads, Michael Douglas and Diane Keaton, this movie would be an utter disaster. As it stands, it’s merely a minor, forgettable one. Still, Douglas sometimes borders on bad showy as real estate meanie Oren Little, written by As Good as It Gets Oscar nominee Mark Andrus as a less sympathetic version of that film’s Melvin Udall. Keaton does what she can with chronic crier, Leah, a lounge singer who breaks into sob stories during every song that reminds her of her late husband. Enter Oren’s heretofore unknown granddaughter, Sarah (the cute, if amateurish Sterling Jerins). While acting as Sarah’s co-caretakers, the duo fall in love. And Oren sells his multimillion dollar home. And he learns to be a better man. Typical.

BEGIN AGAIN (R) Writer-director John Carney is best known for the luminescent Once, and that familial connection does Begin Again the most harm. Starring Mark Ruffalo as a down-and-out music executive and Keira Knightley as an aspiring singer-songwriter, Begin Again lacks the authenticity, sought by Knightley’s Greta, and attained by Carney’s Once. The movie does improve after its novelistic opening, during which Dan (Ruffalo) and Greta’s current situations are revealed. He is separated from his wife (Catherine Keener), daughter (Hailee Steinfeld) and job; she lost her boyfriend, Dave (Adam Levine of Maroon 5 and NBC’s “The Voice”), to fame. Together, they set out to recover their lives by recording an album on the streets of New York City. Not surprisingly, when the music starts flowing, Begin Again gets into a lovely groove. Dan also grows from an uninterestingly clichéd loser into a real character, which helps. It would be nice if this film could propel James Corden (a “Doctor Who” alum) into some larger roles. If one is interested in Once without the thrill of discovery, Begin Again is catchy and stays mostly on-key. (Ciné)

HERCULES (PG-13) Immediately forgettable, but not altogether unentertaining, this stripped down take on the Greek demigod—son of Zeus by a mortal—falls somewhere between television’s campy “Hercules” and Conan, which it more or less resembles. Explaining away the myth of Hercules (played far less charmingly by Dwayne “The Rock” Johnson than one would expect) as the trumped up work of a band of extremely talented mercenaries—each hailing from a different Greek city-state—the action movie focuses on a brief post-12-labor period in which the legendary warrior adventured into Thrace, seeking to save the kingdom of Lord Cotys (John Hurt), from the evil Rhesus (Tobias Santelmann). The less serious one takes this picture, the better it plays; try not to envision Eddie Murphy’s Mama Klump when repeated chants of “Hercules!” swell from the army’s ranks. Sit back and enjoy the ride. Director Brett Ratner ranks low on emotional quotient but high on action. Johnson gets enough support from Rufus Sewell and Ian McShane to make up for Herc’s lack of charisma. Thanks to Johnson and company (including the maligned Ratner), this Conan-like Hercules is the better barbarian.


AIRPLANE! (R) As part of its Summer Classic Movie Series, Ciné will show late-night screenings of this timeless comedy. Alcoholic pilot Ted Striker (Robert Hays), who has a fear of flying due to wartime trauma, boards a jumbo jet in an attempt to win back his stewardess girlfriend (Julie Hagerty). Ciné

AMERICA (PG-13) What starts as a weakly tolerable, disingenuously patriotic documentary eventually shows its true, intolerant colors when co-writer-co-director-star-felon Dinesh D’Souza renews his anti-Obama screed, last seen on screen in 2012’s 2016: Obama’s America. Attempting to debunk the liberal “American-shame” movement led by Noam Chomsky, Howard Zinn and Michael Moore, D’Souza espouses the greatness of George Washington, Abraham Lincoln, Madam C. J. Walker and more in poorly dramatized reenactments. Say what you will about Michael Moore, but the man can put together some convincingly artful propaganda. D’Souza, not so much.

CALVARY (R) A priest (Brendan Gleeson) is threatened in the confessional by a man who was sexually abused by a priest when he was seven years old. Now Father James Lavelle has a plethora of people—including Chris O’Dowd, Aiden “Littlefinger” Gillen, Dylan Moran (Shaun of the Dead), Isaach De Bankole (“24”), and the great M. Emmett Walsh—to suspect in his small town. Kelly Reilly costars as Father Lavelle’s daughter. Writer-director John Michael McDonagh’s feature debut was 2011’s critically acclaimed The Guard.

CHARLIE CHAPLIN CENTENNIAL SHORTS As part of the Summer Classic Movie Series, Ciné will screen an assortment of Chaplin’s earliest Keystone shorts, including The Kid Auto Races at Venice, Musical Tramps, The New Janitor, Dough & Dynamite and The Rink. (Ciné)

DAWN OF THE PLANET OF THE APES (PG-13) In the eighth installment of the venerable franchise, apes have yet to completely take over the planet. A band of humans survived the Simian Flu and struggle to rebuild in San Francisco. Meanwhile, Caesar (Andy Serkis) has created a community in the forests outside the city. Soon man and beast will clash, thanks to the machinations of evil ape Koba (Toby Kebbell). I never thought I’d fully back a PotA flick without humans shuffling around behind stuffy masks, but with the digital FX in Dawn I don’t miss them at all. The work done on the apes is truly wondrous to watch. 

DELIVER US FROM EVIL (R) Based on… excuse me… inspired by the true accounts of New York police sergeant Ralph Sarchie (Eric Bana), the film struggles to decide if it is a demonic possession flick, a cop thriller with delusions of Se7en or a haunted house chiller. Ultimately, it decides to be The Exorcist, climaxing with Sarchie and his partner priest, Mendoza (Edgar Ramirez), performing an exorcism right there in the police station. Scott Derrickson’s latest is less a bad horror movie so much than an unfocused generic one from a filmmaker who could deliver better.

EARTH TO ECHO (PG) Found footage is not the cinematic dead end many believe it to be, but the gambit needs a narrative purpose to be used. The trailers for Earth to Echo, an E.T.-looking wannabe that brings to mind 1988’s Mac and Me, betray no such narrative need for the found footage frame. A group of kids could help this alien named Echo return home without filming every second of it. The family-friendly sci-fi flick is the first feature from director Dave Green. 

EDGE OF TOMORROW (PG-13) Exo-suited Tom Cruise continuously kills the same generic aliens over and over in this charmingly funny, engagingly smart, sci-fi take on Groundhog Day. The untrained Cage dies but somehow wakes up to repeat the day. Fortunately, war hero Rita Vrataski (Emily Blunt) knows what’s going on and gives Cage some pointers on effective soldiering. 

THE FLUFFY MOVIE (PG-13) Gabriel “Fluffy” Iglesias brings his stand-up comedy to the big screen in this concert film. If you saw A Haunted House 2, you’re familiar with Iglesias, who starred as Marlon Wayans’s neighbor; he also played a strip club DJ and drug dealer in Magic Mike (you’re forgiven for not remembering). For what it's worth, director Manny Rodriguez won a Latin Grammy Award for Ricky Martin’s MTV Unplugged special. With Jeremy Ray Valdez and Juliocesar Chavez.

GET ON UP (PG-13) Here comes another music biopic, this one about the Hardest Working Man in Show Business, James Brown (Chadwick Boseman, who was really good in 42). Get On Up follows Brown from poverty in rural Georgia to the top. Will the drugs, women and prison be included? Director Tate Taylor debuted with a huge Southern-set hit, The Help. With Nelsan Ellis (HBO’s “True Blood”), Dan Aykroyd, Viola Davis, Lennie James, Craig Robinson and Octavia Spencer.

GUARDIANS OF THE GALAXY (PG-13) James Gunn’s Marvel movie has been garnering gushing tweets and early buzz from everyone who has seen it. You may not know who the Guardians of the Galaxy are right now, but you will. Chris Pratt stars as Starlord, who creates a team out of Gamora (Zoe Saldana), Drax (Dave Bautista), Groot (v. Vin Diesel) and Rocket Raccoon (v. Bradley Cooper) to fight Ronan the Accuser (Lee Pace). Hopefully, Gunn can use this movie to jump from cult fave (Slither and Super) to big name, a la Joss Whedon.

HOW TO TRAIN YOUR DRAGON 2 (PG) How to Train Your Dragon 2 aspires to make a wonderful family film and turn it into an epic. Hiccup (v. Jay Baruchel) and his dragon, Toothless, spend their days flying across the world, discovering new locations and hopefully new dragons. Writer-director Dean DeBlois fantastically ups the ante from the first film. 

JERSEY BOYS (R) Naturally, Jersey Boys is about the music. When four young men, including angel-voiced Frankie Valli (Tony winner John Lloyd Young) from the wrong side of the Jersey turnpike come together, the result is the melodic harmonies of the Four Seasons. The struggles that precede and are caused by the fame come with the musical biopic territory. 

LUCY (R) See Movie Pick. 

MAGIC IN THE MOONLIGHT (PG-13) Woody Allen returns with another light romantic comedy set in Europe. This time, the backdrop is the 1920s French Riviera, where Allen’s latest muse, Emma Stone, stars as a medium whose veracity is challenged and whose skill challenges British magician Stanley (Colin Firth), known on stage as Wei Ling Soo. The cast, including Academy Award winner Marcia Gay Harden, Jacki Weaver, Hamish Linklater (HBO’s “The Newsroom”), Simon McBurney (Tinker Tailor Soldier Spy) and Eileen Atkins, is not as impressive as usual. (Ciné) 

MALEFICENT (PG) Maleficent is clearly birthed from the Alice in Wonderland strain of family fantasy, and despite being more successful than either of 2012’s dueling Snow White retellings, overdoses on style while lacking the original cartoon’s charm. No one benefits from this ultimately unrewarding retconning of Disney’s classic Sleeping Beauty, least of all the titular evil fairy (Angelina Jolie). Here, the powerfully wicked Maleficent is relegated to a petty trickster in snakeskin head wraps. 

A MOST WANTED MAN (R) It’s always nice, if not quite successful, when someone attempts to adapt John le Carre to the big screen. In A Most Wanted Man, director Anton Corbijn (The American, which was not as good as his debut, Control) and screenwriter Andrew Bovell (Mel Gibson’s Edge of Darkness) are in charge of one of Philip Seymour Hoffman’s final performances, as he plays a German intelligence agent planning what to do with an illegal Chechen Muslim immigrant. With Rachel McAdams, Willem Dafoe, Robin Wright and Daniel Bruhl.

THE PALM BEACH STORY Writer-director Preston Sturges’ zany romantic comedy was one of the last classic screwballs of the era. The witty, nonsensical film follows a pretty, but penniless, fortune-hunting wife (Claudette Colbert), who is at odds with her husband (Joel McCrea). She uses her beauty and charm to travel to Florida, get a divorce and seek monetary support from a multi-millionaire (Rudy Vallee). Part of Ciné’s Summer Classic Movie Series. (Ciné)

PERSECUTED (PG-13) Are you sure this isn’t a TV movie? Evangelist John Luther (James Remar) finds himself framed for murder and having to go all “Fugitive” after failing to back a devious senator’s (played by the typecast Bruce Davison) religious reform bill. This film’s anti-Christian conspiracy nonsense will more than likely find its audience in congregation halls rather than theaters. Persecuted has rather backwardly been adapted into a novel.

PLANES: FIRE & RESCUE (PG) Dusty Crophopper (v. Dane Cook), now a world-renowned racer, experiences an engine injury and changes his focus to aerial firefighting. Dusty joins the Smokejumpers, a team of all-terrain vehicles led by the veteran chopper, Blade Ranger (v. Ed Harris). Remember this is just Disney, not Pixar.

THE PURGE: ANARCHY (R) The second Purge steps out from the luxury security system of the original and goes into the dangerous streets on the one night when laws are encouraged to be broken and help is not on the way. Our group of protagonists—separating couple (Zach Gilford of “Friday Night Lights” and Kiele Sanchez), mom and daughter (Carmen Ejogo and Zoe Soul), and vengeful dad (Frank Grillo)—wind up on the streets for different reasons but must come together to survive. What amounts to Manhunt: The Movie is alarmingly pessimistic about humanity and cynical about the government.

SEX TAPE (R) While trying to reignite their sex life, a married couple, Jay and Annie (Jason Segel and Cameron Diaz), make a sex tape that inadvertently gets synced to the multitude of old iPads Jay had repurposed as gifts. Even the mailman got one, so they repeatedly tell us. It’s a pretty contrived setup, even for today’s high-concept comedy. While the movie is not obnoxious, it is virtually laughless. 

SNOWPIERCER (R) If you’ve seen any of Bong Joon Ho’s excellent features, you should not be surprised at the raves his latest—a sci-fi epic, no less—has been getting. A botched attempt to stop global warming kills off all life on Earth except for the last remnants of humanity aboard a globetrotting super train. But people are people, so they remain stratified by class, leading to a revolution led by gruff Curtis (Chris Evans), his second, Edgar (Jamie Bell), and his mentor, Gilliam (John Hurt). Seeking to reach the eternal engine, manned by the legendary Wilford (Ed Harris), Chris and his army journey through the increasingly lively, inventive cars, battling Wilford’s emissary, Mason (Tilda Swinton, a caricaturish standout in bad teeth and glasses), and soldiers. (Ciné)

TAMMY (R) Melissa McCarthy headlines her hubby Ben Falcone’s directorial debut; the duo collaborated on the script. McCarthy’s Tammy hits the road with her grandmother, Pearl (Susan Sarandon), after losing her job and discovering that her husband, Greg (Nat Faxon), is a cheater. Tammy’s trailer looks more like Identity Theft 2; its description sounds much more charming. The cast includes fan favorites like Kathy Bates, Allison Janney, Dan Aykroyd, Mark Duplass, Gary Cole, Toni Collette and Sandra Oh.

THINK LIKE A MAN TOO (PG-13) Everyone returns to mine more gold from the sequel to the hit romantic comedy based on Steve Harvey’s bestseller, Act Like a Lady, Think Like a Man. The gang reconvenes in Las Vegas for the wedding of Candace and Michael (Regina Hall and Terence Jenkins). What happens in Vegas shakes up everyone’s lives. With director Tim Story, original writers David A. Newman and Keith Merryman, and original cast members Michael Ealy, Jerry Ferrara, Meagan Good, Taraji P. Henson, Romany Malco, Gary Owen, Gabrielle Union and Kevin Hart all back, can this second marriage be as successful?

TRANSFORMERS: AGE OF EXTINCTION (PG-13) Michael Bay’s fourth Transformers movie is too long, but it's less abrasive and offensive than its two immediate predecessors. A more appealing band of humans, led by Mark Wahlberg, certainly helps, as do the Dinobots that finally appear in the last 30 of the movie’s 165 minutes. Evil government, represented by Kelsey Grammer, and evil corporations, represented by Stanley Tucci, are working together with a bad Transformer named Lockdown to hunt down the remaining Autobots. 

22 JUMP STREET (R) Writing and directing duo Phil Lord and Christopher Miller constantly and self-referentially acknowledge that Schmidt (Jonah Hill) and Jenko (Channing Tatum) just need to do the exact same thing again. Moving from high school to college, the undercover team must find the supplier of a dangerous new drug called WHYPHY. Stick around; the end credits contain the movie’s funniest gag.

WHAT IF (PG-13) Nice guy Wallace (Daniel Radcliffe) meets charming Chantry (Zoe Kazan) and feels an instant connection. To his disappointment, Chantry lives with her boyfriend, Ben (Rafe Spall). Can a guy and a girl just be friends? Has this question not been answered already? This romcom appears cute in its trailer, which does overshare a bit about the movie. Adam Driver from HBO’s “Girls” appears as Wallace’s best bud.