August 6, 2014

Movie Dope

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


GET ON UP (PG-13) James Brown might have had more energy than any of his entertainer peers. Perhaps that’s why his biopic, directed by The Help’s Tate Taylor from a script by Jez and John-Henry Butterworth (the summer’s most underrated movie, Edge of Tomorrow), has a little more pop than recent, popular, award-winning biopics Ray and Walk the Line. Disjointedly constructed out of chronological order, the life of James Brown (Chadwick Boseman) unfolds from his poor childhood through his (glossed over) jail time. And in the middle are all the hits that made the Georgia native the Godfather of Soul. After receiving high marks for his Jackie Robinson in 42, Boseman tackles a tougher icon in Brown, whose appearance and voice many filmgoers still recall. Again, Boseman nails his subject. He simply is James Brown. Nelsan Ellis, longtime “True Blood” fave, is long overdue for his high profile role as Brown’s longtime friend, Bobby Byrd. Nonetheless, this musical biopic falters in its third act just like its aforementioned peers. It’s hard to keep the drama compelling when the end is so well known, and ultimately, Get On Up’s James Brown lacks the real man’s complexity. But it sure is entertaining and informative.

GUARDIANS OF THE GALAXY (PG-13) Marvel has been on a role, but who would have thought a practically unknown comic adapted by a cult favorite would be their best flick since Avengers and vie for top dog status? This version of the spacefaring team of superheroes brought to the big screen by Slither filmmaker James Gunn first appeared in 2008. Star-Lord née Peter Quill (the always amiable Chris Pratt) was kidnapped from Earth. His latest heist lands him in jail with one of Thanos’ daughters, Gamora (Zoe Saldana); a genetically engineered raccoon named Rocket (v. Bradley Cooper, who has more zingers than the other actors combined); a talking tree that only repeats, “I am Groot,” in the voice of Vin Diesel; and a vengeful fellow who goes by Drax the Destroyer (the film’s pleasant surprise, WWE’s Dave Bautista). The Guardians must break out and defeat the evil Kree, Ronan (Lee Pace). Don’t shy away from Guardians because you don’t know the characters or because it looks dumb. It’s funnier than The Avengers, and it's a stellar sci-fi adventure flick. Comparisons to top action-comedies like Raiders of the Lost Ark and Big Trouble in Little China aren’t mere hyperbole.


ABOUT ALEX (R) A millennial Big Chill, About Alex stars Aubrey Plaza (“Parks and Recreation”), Jane Levy (Evil Dead and “Suburgatory”), Jason “son of John” Ritter (“Parenthood”), Maggie Grace (“Lost”), Max Greenfield (“New Girl”’s scene stealing Schmidt), Max Minghella (son of late Oscar winner Anthony) and Nate Parker (The Great Debaters and Red Tails) as college friends who reunite after one of their own attempts suicide. Writer-director Jesse Zwick (one episode of NBC’s underrated “Parenthood”) makes his feature debut.

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. 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. If one is interested in Once without the thrill of discovery, Begin Again is catchy and stays mostly on-key. (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. 

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. 

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. 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.

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. 

THE HUNDRED-FOOT JOURNEY (PG) From the trailer, I should have guessed this literary adaptation (Richard C. Morais wrote the novel) was directed by Lasse Hallstrom; I would not have guessed Steven Knight (an Academy Award nominee for Dirty Pretty Things) wrote it. An Indian family (led by Om Puri) clashes with Madame Mallory (Helen Mirren), who owns a nearby traditional French restaurant, until the family’s talented young chef, Hassan (Manish Dayal), falls in love with Madame’s cuisine and her sous chef.  

INTO THE STORM (PG-13) I thought it was too early for a Twister remake, but this found footage thriller about a town threatened by multiple tornadoes is strongly reminiscent of that 1996 Bill Paxton/Helen Hunt hit. Richard Armitage (The Hobbit’s Thorin), Sarah Wayne Callies (“Prison Break” and “The Walking Dead”) and Matt Walsh (very funny on HBO’s “Veep”) are the familiar, adult faces of this disaster flick, whose focus will be on a group of high schoolers, from director Steven Quale (Final Destination 5).

LUCY (R) Scarlett Johansson stars as Lucy, a drug mule who has the secrets of her brain unlocked by a mysterious drug that has leaked into her system. As she reaches 100% consciousness, she becomes superhuman, learning Chinese in minutes and to move objects with her mind. Morgan Freeman shows up to explain everything. One can hope for a new Besson heroine to join The Fifth Element’s Leeloo and La Femme Nikita.

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. 

MARY POPPINS (G) 1964. Ciné’s Summer Classic Movie Series continues with this supercalifragilisticexpialidocious family matinee. (I have always wanted to type that and only barely misspelled it the first time, misplacing a mere two letters.) Julie Andrews and Dick Van Dyke star in the timeless Disney film about the magical nanny for which Andrews won a Best Actress Oscar. Van Dyke also tapped his way to Oscar gold with “Chim Chim Cher-ee.” Sure, this classic is one my mom loves, but the truth is so do I. (Ciné)

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. (Ciné)

ONLY LOVERS LEFT ALIVE (R) See Movie Pick. (Ciné)

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.

THE SEVEN YEAR ITCH  1955. Ciné’s Summer Classic Movie Series continues with a film best known for the iconic image of Marilyn Monroe in a white dress atop a windy subway grate (you know the one I mean). That the film is written and directed by Hollywood legend Billy Wilder is just icing on the cake. The slim plot concerns a faithful husband (Tom Ewell) who is tempted by a sexpot neighbor (Monroe) while his family is away for the summer. (Ciné)

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. 

STEP UP ALL IN (PG-13) Time to put your dancing shoes back on for the fifth installment in the biannual Step Up franchise. Can you believe we have had a new Step Up every other year since 2006? Essentially, every year a congressional election is held, we get a new Step Up. This time, the all-stars from previous movies—Ryan Guzman, Briana Evigan, Adam Sevani, Misha Gabriel, Twitch and more—battle for dance dominance in Las Vegas. Director Trish Sie makes her feature debut.

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.

TEENAGE MUTANT NINJA TURTLES (PG-13) Eastman and Laird’s Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles return for their first live action movie since their 1993 adventure in ancient Japan; a decent animated update was released in 2007. Produced by Michael Bay and directed by Jonathan Liebesman (Wrath of the Titans and Battle Los Angeles), TMNT’s newest adventure stars Megan Fox as intrepid reporter April O’Neil, who stumbles upon the unlikely outcasts, righting the Foot Clan from their sewer hideout. Inexplicably, Johnny Knoxville voices Leonardo.

THIS IS SPINAL TAP (R) 1984. Ciné’s Summer Classic Movie Series winds down with its final late show, one of the finest works of comedy the cinema has known since Caddyshack. David St. Hubbins (Michael McKean), Nigel Tufnel (Christopher Guest) and Derek Smalls (Harry Shearer) comprise Tap, a brainless metal band whose flameout of a new album and American tour are captured by documentarian Marty DiBergi (director Rob Reiner). This Is Spinal Tap goes all the way to 11 and beyond. (Ciné)

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. With Megan Park (“The Secret Life of the American Teenager”) and Mackenzie Davis (AMC’s “Halt and Catch Fire”).

WISH I WAS HERE (R) Zach Braff hit a goldmine with his decade old writing-directing debut, Garden State (whose soundtrack was a juggernaut too). His long-awaited follow up starts behind the 8 ball after the “Scrubs” star questionably funded the film via high profile crowdsourcing. In Wish I Was Here, Braff stars as 35-year-old Aidan Bloom, who faces a(nother) pre-midlife crisis. I guess they occur every ten years for Braff.With Josh Gad, Ashley Greene, Kate Hudson, Joey King, Mandy Patinkin and, thankfully, Donald Faison.