August 13, 2014

Movie Dope

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


INTO THE STORM (PG-13) Watching a disposable disaster flick like Into the Storm (could the title be any more generic?) on the big screen feels odd. Since the advent of Direct to Video and the Syfy Channel, movies like this forgettable, competent special effects-acle do not typically get projected. Of course, in 1996, a flick like Into the Storm was a summer blockbuster titled Twister. The main thrust of Into the Storm is a super cell of tornadoes that touch down in a small Oklahoma town on graduation day. The heroic yet high vice principal (Richard Armitage, best unknown as The Hobbit’s Thorin) must team with a pretty storm chaser (Sarah Wayne Callies, “The Walking Dead”) to save his son. A couple of Jackasses (the familiar faced Kyle Davis and Jon Reep) provide some mild comic relief. That’s the gist of Into the Storm, which mostly amounts to a bunch of well-constructed CGI of funnel clouds and flying cars. (Yes, the movie does contain a flying cow a la Twister.) No one who wants to see Into the Storm should leave disappointed; I cannot imagine anyone expects it to be more than it is, a competent step above a TV movie. 

TEENAGE MUTANT NINJA TURTLES (PG-13) One is certainly welcome to expect more from a fourth live action version of Eastman and Laird’s Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles, but one should also keep in mind that this is a movie about turtles who are concurrently teenaged, mutant and ninjas. If one expects Fellini or Bergman, one best venture elsewhere. That doesn’t mean someone talented couldn’t do a gritty version of TMNT; the current movie just isn’t it. In the hands of producer Michael Bay and director Jonathan Liebesman, TMNT excels and suffers similarly to the Bay-directed Transformers movies. Why does Bay task his writers with scripting so much human action? Turtles wastes too much time on justifying April O’Neil’s presence, and unfortunately, Megan Fox is at her most vapid as the yellow-jacketed reporter. Luckily, the last two acts of the movie are dominated by the fun and exciting computer-generated antics of Leonardo (v. Johnny Knoxville), Donatello, Raphael and Michelangelo. As a set piece, the 18-wheeler down a snowy mountain chase rivals those from Bay’s own mega blockbusters. The best, if not most astute, critique I can make about TMNT is that it’s more entertaining than any Transformers or G.I. Joe movie. 


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. 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 (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.

BOYHOOD (R) Richard Linklater may have created his own (Insert Number) Up. In his latest, extremely unique film, Linklater captures the same boy as he grows up over a 12-year period. Ellar Coltrane stars as Mason, who ages from six to 18 over the course of the film. Ethan Hawke (natch) and Patricia Arquette star as Mason’s divorced parents. For his work, Linklater won the Silver Bear for Best Director at the Berlin International Film Festival. This film sounds intriguing. (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. 

THE EXPENDABLES 3 (PG-13) The mercenary team known as the Expendables, led by Barney Ross (Sylvester Stallone), returns to battle their co-founder, Conrad Stonebanks (Mel Gibson). No one sees an Expendables for its plot. It’s the teaming of action icons. This third mission boasts the biggest cast yet. Stallone and Gibson are joined by Jason Statham, Antonio Banderas, Jet Li, Wesley Snipes, Dolph Lundgren, Kelsey Grammer, Randy Couture, Terry Crews, Kellan Lutz, Ronda Rousey, Glen Powell, Victor Oritz, Robert Davi, Harrison Ford and Arnold Schwarzenegger. 

FRANK (R) This is a truly absurd film about an eccentric pop band called Soronprfbs led by the mysterious Frank (Michael Fassbender), who wears a papier-mâché head. Young Jon (Domhnal Gleeson, About Time) joins the band just as they move to Ireland and prepare for South by Southwest. Maggie Gyllenhaal stars as Frank’s sidekick Clara. The trailer promises a fresh, surreal film. Hopefully, director Lenny Abrahamson, who won Cannes’s C.I.C.A.E. Award for 2007’s Garage, can oblige. With Scott McNairy.

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. Again, Boseman nails his subject. 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.

THE GIVER (PG-13) Lois Lowry’s classic teen dystopian novel gets the big screen treatment so the unfamiliar can call it a Divergent ripoff (even though it’s the other way around). In what looks like a perfect community, young Jonas (Brenton Thwaites, Oculus) is chosen to train with The Giver (Jeff Bridges), who teaches him the truth about the world. Phillip Noyce is an intriguing choice to direct, but can this late arrival to the cinematic YA party overcome its tardiness? With Meryl Streep and Taylor Swift.

GO PUBLIC On May 8, 2012, 50 directors followed 50 people who attend, work for or support the Pasadena Unified School District. If you do not know what happens during a typical school day, this movie seems like a great way to find out. (Naturally, you could also visit a local school.) All proceeds for this screening will benefit local education charities like Athens Land Trust, Athens Peer Court, Athens Tutorial Program, Boys and Girls Club and many more. The screening will be held Tuesday, Aug. 19 at 5 p.m. and 7:15 p.m. (Ciné)

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); 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. 

A HARD DAY’S NIGHT 1964. Ciné concludes its Summer Classic Movie Series with the comedy classic starring that famed foursome from Liverpool. It is easy to forget just how funny John, Paul, George and Ringo were; thanks to A Hard Day’s Night and director Richard Lester, the Beatles’ comic skills will live on as long as their musical genius. The opening night on Thursday, Aug. 14 at 8 p.m. features live music by Michael Guthrie before the screening and performances by Jay Gonzalez, Kevin Lane and Matt Lane after. (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. 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, 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). 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. 

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.  

LET’S BE COPS (R) In an extension of their “New Girl” friendship, Jake Johnson and Damon Wayans Jr. play pals who successfully dress as police officers for a party and decide to keep playing cops even when the trouble gets real. Director Luke Greenfield also helmed the underrated The Girl Next Door that was not the Jack Ketchum adaptation. Too bad the trailer shows so few laughs. With Rob Riggle, Nina Dobrev, James D’Arcy, Keegan-Michael Key and Andy Garcia.

LIFE AFTER BETH (R) Another week, another Aubrey Plaza movie that very few filmgoers will be able to see in theaters. Zach Orfman (Dane DeHaan) is having trouble dealing with the death of his girlfriend, Beth Slocum (Plaza). Fortunately for him, she is resurrected from the dead. Unfortunately, she eventually goes full zombie. Writer-director Jeff Baena wrote David O. Russell’s weakest film, I Heart Huckabees; Life After Beth is his directorial debut. With John C. Reilly, Molly Shannon, Cheryl Hines, Paul Reiser, Matthew Gray Gubler and Anna Kendrick.

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.

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) See Movie Pick. (Ciné)

THE ONE I LOVE (R) A trailer promises a lot when it namedrops Charlie Kaufman, Spike Jonze, Safety Not Guaranteed, Jeff, Who Lives at Home and Cyrus. A struggling couple, Ethan and Sophie (Mark Duplass and Elisabeth Moss, who won the Newport Beach Film Festival’s Honor for Outstanding Achievement in Acting), are sent on a retreat by their therapist (Ted Danson). What happens there is so mysterious, the trailer will not even tell us what happens. I am intrigued by Charlie McDowell’s directorial debut, scripted by first-time feature writer Justin Lader.

ONLY LOVERS LEFT ALIVE (R) Jim Jarmusch returns for his first film since 2009’s The Limits of Control. His latest, an offbeat romantic horror movie, stars Academy Award winner Tilda Swinton and The Avengers Tom Hiddleston as two vampires that have been in love for centuries. The impressive cast also includes Anton Yelchin, Mia Wasikowska, John Hurt and Jeffrey Wright. Broken Flowers did not signal Jarmusch’s ascent into the mainstream as some assumed. Can Hiddleston do what Bill Murray could not? (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.

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.

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)

THE TRIP TO ITALY A sequel to The Trip? I am so in. Steve Coogan and Rob Brydon reprise their contemptuous friendship for six more delicious meals in Liguria, Tuscany, Rome, Amalfi and Capri. I cannot wait for more impression-offs between these two brilliant comics. The trailer alone is funnier than most films released this year. Acclaimed director Michael Winterbottom may finally have found his crowd-pleasing franchise; now the crowds just need to be able find this film.