August 20, 2014

Movie Dope

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

Drew's Reviews

THE EXPENDABLES 3 (PG-13) One plus of The Expendables franchise has been its ability to improve on its formula; keep hiring bigger stars and more of them. The third movie introduces not only Mel Gibson but Harrison Ford and uses them in interesting ways (see Kelsey Grammer’s brief appearance as a “talent” scout). However, it is Antonio Banderas, as overeager Galgo, that is the most energetic addition. After discovering his old pal, Conrad Stonebanks (Gibson), is alive and evil, Barney Ross (Sylvester Stallone), cans his old team (Jason Statham, Wesley Snipes, Dolph Lundgren, Randy Couture and Terry Crews) in favor of a younger, dumber model (newcomers Glen Powell, Victor Ortiz, Ronda Rousey and Kellan Lutz). Naturally, trouble brings together Expendables young and old, plus Ford (replacing Bruce Willis as Barney’s CIA contact), Arnold Schwarzenegger and Jet Li. The movie’s no more idiotic than the ‘80s blockbusters that made several of these guys multimillionaire icons. Some of the dialogue borders on stupid brilliance. New director Patrick Hughes proves he might not be a bad choice for that unnecessary remake of The Raid. Keep making them, Sly; maybe next time, let the girls play too.

LET’S BE COPS (R) Unfortunately for Let’s Be Cops, 22 Jump Street was very funny and relatively recent, and 21 Jump Street is constantly on television. The latest copmedy, starring Jake Johnson and Damon Wayans Jr. (both from Fox’s “New Girl”), is neither as funny nor as satirically inspired. Two pals, Ryan and Justin, seem to have hit a dead end in L.A. until they put on cop uniforms and have their lives magically, immediately improved. Johnson’s Ryan has somewhere to focus his energy, and Wayans’ Justin has a new girlfriend (Nina Dobrev). Too bad they run afoul of a Russian mobster (James D’Arcy). The laughs are sparse, and the action is unbelievable. I would rather see a spinoff focused on the underrated Rob Riggle’s patrolman. Johnson’s loser shtick was originally charming on “New Girl,” but it has quickly worn thin. Wayans has a charming ease about him; he just needs better material. The vague smell of a new Police Academy, which might be a good fit for Johnson, wafts from this weakly humorous movie. At least in that movie, a gigantic, potential felony is not driving the entire plot. Still, the movie’s biggest crime is its lack of laughs.

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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.

ARE YOU HERE (R) Matthew Weiner, the creator of the acclaimed “Mad Men,” steps behind the camera for his feature directing debut, though he was previously behind the camera for a handful of episodes of AMC’s hit drama. Zach Galifianakis plays yet another Zach Galifianakis character, Ben Baker, who inherits a large sum of money from his deceased father. Owen Wilson stars as Steve Dallas, Ben’s childhood friend. With Paul Schulze (“Nurse Jackie”), Amy Poehler, Edward Herrmann and Peter Bogdanovich.

BOYHOOD (R) See Movie Pick. (Ciné)

CRUEL JAWS 1995. Bad Movie Night is back to celebrate the worst movies you could ever dream of seeing. The latest craptastic flick is Cruel Jaws, a sort of Jaws’ Worst Hits. On the eve of the big windsurfing regatta, a tiger shark—bred to kill!—attacks the town of Hampton Bay. Enter the mafia, sleazy real estate dudes, a Sea World-ish owner named Dag and dolphins! Not content merely to steal plot points, this Italian-American coproduction even brazenly “borrows” footage from the Jaws franchise and sounds like terrible fun. (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. 

EDGE OF TOMORROW (PG-13) Tom Cruise’s new sci-fi action tentpole would be better titled Live. Die. Repeat. (That phrase serves as the oft-repeated tagline.) That title’s way more evocative than the generic Edge of Tomorrow. Cruise stars as a future soldier who keeps dying and waking up with more skills. Emily Blunt is somehow, prettily connected. Doug Liman is trying to remind audiences he directed The Bourne Identity and Mr. & Mrs. Smith, not Jumper, the flick that seemed to stall his upward trajectory.

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, 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.

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.

GUARDIANS OF THE GALAXY (PG-13) Marvel has been on a roll, 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, and after 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 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.

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. 

HOW TO TRAIN YOUR DRAGON 2 (PG) With Pixar sitting out summer 2014 and Disney only delivering a Planes sequel, How to Train Your Dragon 2 has a great shot at being summer’s biggest family hit. Hiccup (v. Jay Baruchel) and Toothless meet Hiccup’s mom (v. Cate Blanchett) and must battle the dragon hunter, Drago Bludvist (v. Djimon Hounsou). Returning voice actors Gerard Butler, Craig Ferguson, America Ferrera, Jonah Hill, Christopher Mintz-Plasse, T.J. Miller and Kristen Wiig are joined by Kit Harington of “Game of Thrones.”

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.  

IF I STAY (PG-13) Another popular, sad YA novel comes to the big screen. After a car accident leaves Mia Hall (Chloe Grace Moretz) in a coma, she must decide whether to wake up to a changed life or let go. Director R.J. Cutler received a lot of acclaim for his documentary, The September Issue; If I Stay is his first dramatic feature. Screenwriter Shauna Cross (Whip It and What to Expect When You’re Expecting) is batting 1-for-2. With Mireille Enos and Joshua Leonard (remember him from The Blair Witch Project?).

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 that anyone expects it to be more than it is, a competent step above a TV movie. 

LOVE IS STRANGE (R) Ben and George (John Lithgow and Alfred Molina) are finally getting married. Unfortunately, this happy occasion causes George to lose his job at a Catholic school. The couple must now live uncomfortably apart with friends (Cheyenne Jackson from “30 Rock”) and family (Marisa Tomei) while looking for cheaper accommodations. Director Ira Sachs’ last film was the Sundance Film Festival Grand Jury Prize nominee, Keep the Lights On. At least two “Northern Exposure” alums, Darren E. Burrows and John Cullum pop up.

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.

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.

A MOST WANTED MAN (R) It’s always nice, if not quite successful, when someone attempts to adapt John le Carré 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 an American intelligence agent in Hamburg, competing with the Germans over what to do with an illegal Chechen Muslim immigrant. With Rachel McAdams, Willem Dafoe, Robin Wright and Daniel Bruhl. (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.   

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.

SIN CITY: A DAME TO KILL FOR Once upon a time (the mid-2000s), I was pretty excited for Robert Rodriguez’s long-promised Sin City sequel. The trailer looks sharp, but my interest in the further adventures of Marv (Mickey Rourke), Nancy (Jessica Alba), Dwight (now played by Josh Brolin) and more has waned. I still want to see it; I just no longer have to see it. I do love a cast that includes Joseph Gordon-Levitt, Eva Green, Powers Boothe, Ray Liotta, Christopher Meloni and Christopher Lloyd.

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.

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. 

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.

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”).

WHEN THE GAME STANDS TALL (PG) In this film based on the book by the same title, Jim “Jesus” Caviezel stars as the head coach of the real-life De La Salle High School Spartans who went on an unprecedented 151 game winning streak (the NFL record is 21; the best college streak is 47). Director Thomas Carter knows sports movies; he previously helmed Coach Carter. The cast includes Alexander Ludwig (The Seeker: The Dark Is Rising), Michael Chiklis, Laura Dern, Clancy Brown and Matthew Daddario (only important for being the gorgeous Alexandra Daddario’s brother).