Film Shorts

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Posted May 27, 2009 by KRISTIAN LIN in Film

OPENING:anvil

Anvil! The Story of Anvil (NR) Sacha Gervasi’s documentary follows the 1980s Canadian heavy metal band in the present day as they return from a European tour and make one last attempt at a comeback. (Opens Friday in Dallas)

Drag Me to Hell (PG-13) Sam Raimi’s latest horror film stars Alison Lohman as a loan officer who’s placed under a deadly curse after she evicts an old woman (Lorna Raver) from her house. Also with Justin Long, David Paymer, Dileep Rao, and Adriana Barraza. (Opens Friday)

Lemon Tree (NR) Eran Riklis’ drama about a Palestinian widow (Hiam Abbass) who sues the Israeli defense minister (Doron Tavory) after he moves in next door to her and orders her to cut down her lemon orchard. Also with Ali Suliman, Rona Lipaz-Michael, Tarik Kopty, Amos Lavi, and Amnon Wolf. (Opens Friday in Dallas)

Treeless Mountain (NR) Kim So-yong’s film stars Kim Hee-yeon and Kim Song-hee as two small girls who are forced to look after themselves when their alcoholic mother leaves them with neglectful relatives. Also with Kim Mi-hyang. (Opens Friday in Dallas)

NOW PLAYING:

Angels & Demons (PG-13) Better than The Da Vinci Code, at least. Tom Hanks returns with a more sensible haircut for this sequel as a Harvard professor who’s called in by the Vatican to use the clues in a set of Bernini sculptures to solve the kidnappings of four cardinals on the eve of a new pope’s election. There’s still too much expositional dialogue, especially at the beginning. Once that’s out of the way, director Ron Howard turns this into a functional action thriller. The story’s religious trappings are so much nonsense, but this is acceptable, if slightly stale, popcorn fare. As a sympathetic priest, Ewan McGregor steals away the acting honors despite his unsteady Irish accent. Also with Ayelet Zurer, Stellan Skarsgård, Pierfrancesco Favino, Nikolaj Lie Kaas, Thure Lindhardt, and Armin Mueller-Stahl.

Dance Flick (PG-13) The Wayans collaborate on this spoof of dance movies. The plot, mimicking those of Save the Last Dance and You Got Served, revolves around white, upper-class Megan (Shoshana Bush), who moves to the ghetto and clicks with one of her neighbors, Thomas (Damon Wayans Jr.), who is preparing for a dance battle to pay off a loan shark. Jokes about dance movies and pop culture and gross-out gags fly at rapid pace but mostly miss — the ones that hit are at most a chuckle. Still, the amiable cast and desire to entertain make Dance Flick less painful than most other bad comedies. Also with Essence Atkins and Affion Crockett. — Cole Williams

Earth (G) Alastair Fothergill and Mike Linfield’s occasionally spectacular but mostly fuzzy documentary loosely follows some African elephants, humpback whales, and polar bears to tell the story of life on our planet in times of global warming. The film boasts a few intriguing facts and some awe-inspiring shots like the mass migrations of caribou and the group of demoiselle cranes buffeted by winds as they try to scale the Himalayas. There’s not much educational value here, though, and the cutesy narration spoken by James Earl Jones is almost enough to send you screaming from the theater. Let’s hope there’s a little more meat on the next Disney-funded nature doc.

Fast & Furious (PG-13) Really, are moviegoers this nostalgic for 2001? The four original lead actors return for this fourth film in the series, in which street racer Dom (Vin Diesel) and FBI agent Brian (Paul Walker) are forced to work together after the murder of Dom’s girlfriend, Letty (Michelle Rodriguez), which leads back to a shadowy Mexican drug smuggler who hires ace drivers to deliver his stuff across the border. The actors phone in their performances, perhaps knowing that they’re playing second fiddle to the cars. Director Justin Lin coordinates a nice opening sequence with Dom, Letty, and some cohorts stealing containers of gasoline off the back of a tanker truck. The rest of the car chases are incoherent, and the smuggling plot defies all logic. Also with Jordana Brewster, John Ortiz, Laz Alonso, Gal Gadot, Jack Conley, Liza Lapira, Shea Whigham, and Sung Kang.

Fighting (PG-13) The least original movie title of 2009 belongs to this unoriginal piece about a combative New York street kid (Channing Tatum) who’s recruited by a two-bit agent (Terrence Howard) to engage in organized underground fights for money. Director/co-writer Dito Montiel layers enough grit to make this look like a New York movie from the 1970s, but his approach is betrayed by the Hollywood formulas in his script. Two decent fight scenes and Howard’s entertaining hustler’s patter can’t make up for Tatum’s nonacting and the deeply uninteresting romantic plot between his character and a cocktail waitress (Zulay Henao). Also with Luis Guzmán, Michael Rivera, Flaco Navaja, Peter Tambakis, Roger Guenveur Smith, Anthony DeSando, Altagracia Guzmán, and Brian White.

Ghosts of Girlfriends Past (PG-13) Matthew McConaughey stars in this pretty bad comedy as a skirt-chaser who’s visited by three ghosts to show him the error of his ways on the eve of his brother’s wedding. The movie’s inspired by A Christmas Carol, though Charles Dickens never pandered to his female readers by pretending that Ebenezer Scrooge could transform into the man of their dreams. The filmmakers pull no punches setting up the main character as a real bastard, but McConaughey’s performance is too similar to what he does in other movies. Worse, the film tells you that inside even the most cynical player, there’s a bruised romantic who needs to be told that it’s OK to feel. Selling a fantasy like that takes more finesse than this movie has. Also with Jennifer Garner, Breckin Meyer, Lacey Chabert, Robert Forster, Anne Archer, Daniel Sunjata, Emma Stone, Noureen DeWulf, and Michael Douglas.

Hannah Montana: The Movie (G) A dark and twisted journey into the soul of evil … wait, no, it’s the big-screen version of the TV show starring Miley Cyrus as a pop star living a double life as a “normal” teen, only to find her fame eclipsing everything else. The whole conception of Hannah Montana was always a bit bizarre, and it isn’t cleared up here despite the movie’s hand-wringing over whether “Miley” should keep up the “Hannah” façade. The slapstick is fairly uninspired. So are the songs, with the exception of the half-memorable climactic number, “Butterfly Fly Away,” and the gruesome “Hoedown Throwdown.” The movie’s still terrific if you’re lucky enough to be an 11-year-old girl or unlucky enough to have the mind of one. Also with Billy Ray Cyrus, Emily Osment, Vanessa Williams, Lucas Till, Margo Martindale, Jason Earles, Mitchel Musso, Moises Arias, Melora Hardin, Barry Bostwick, and Taylor Swift.

I Love You, Man (R) This thoroughly charming knockoff of a Judd Apatow comedy is a more persuasive movie about male friendship than Superbad. Paul Rudd plays a real estate salesman who has no close male friends until he meets a fun-loving private investor (Jason Segel) who teaches him to cut loose. The characters are a bit thin, but the two leads have effortless chemistry together, with Segel in surprisingly self-assured form and Rudd pulling off the difficult task of being funny while portraying a character who’s not funny. (His attempt at a cool catchphrase: “Totes magotes.”) Watch for Jon Favreau and Jaime Pressly, who steal some laughs as a married couple who are continually resolving their fights through sexual bartering. Also with Rashida Jones, Andy Samberg, Sarah Burns, Mather Zickel, Thomas Lennon, Joe Lo Truglio, Jay Chandrasekhar, Carla Gallo, Liz Cackowski, J.K. Simmons, and Jane Curtin.

Management (PG-13) This looks like a cookie-cutter Jennifer Aniston romantic comedy, and for long stretches that’s exactly what it is. In the last half-hour or so, however, it turns into something more. Aniston plays a business executive whose one-time sex in a motel with the owner’s son (Steve Zahn) becomes a full-fledged romantic relationship. The actress’ offscreen life resembles her character’s to an uncomfortable degree, which serves to distract us from the essential thinness of the story and the staginess of the early scenes. However, she invests her part with real despair that makes this considerably more interesting than Marley & Me or He’s Just Not That Into You. Also with Margo Martindale, Fred Ward, Woody Harrelson, James Hiroyuki Liao, Tzi Ma, Kevin Heffernan, Mark Boone Junior, and an uncredited Josh Lucas.

Monsters vs. Aliens (PG) An animated movie with about as much depth as a Saturday morning cartoon, though it does look quite a bit better. The heroine of the piece is Susan (voiced by Reese Witherspoon), a woman who’s turned into a 50-foot giantess after being hit by a meteor and who teams up with the U.S. government’s captive “monsters” to defend the Earth against an alien overlord (voiced by Rainn Wilson) who tries to take over the planet. Most of the movie evaporates as soon as the closing credits roll, but it is enjoyable while it’s unspooling, and Seth Rogen steals the biggest laughs as a clueless, all-devouring gelatinous blob named Bob. All in all, this is more fun than Knowing. Additional voices by Will Arnett, Hugh Laurie, Kiefer Sutherland, Stephen Colbert, Paul Rudd, Jeffrey Tambor, Julie White, Amy Poehler, John Krasinski, and Renée Zellweger.

Next Day Air (R) This satisfying little black comedy (no pun intended) stars Donald Faison as a lazy, weed-smoking package deliveryman who sets off a chain of events when he accidentally delivers a box containing ten bricks of cocaine to the wrong apartment in Philadelphia. The movie isn’t as funny as it could be, and it looks like crap, but first-time filmmaker Benny Boom (who cut his teeth making hip-hop music videos) keeps things spinning up to the blood-soaked conclusion. Might be worth seeing what he can do with a bigger budget. Also with Mike Epps, Mos Def, Wood Harris, Yasmin Deliz, Omari Hardwick, Cisco Reyes, Lauren London, Darius McCrary, and Debbie Allen.

Obsessed (PG-13) A movie designed to pander both to African-American men’s fears of being entrapped by sexually predatory white women and to African-American women’s fears of losing their men to same. If only the rest of the movie had been designed as carefully, it might have been interesting. Idris Elba stars as a prosperous, happily married fund manager whose domestic life and career are wrecked when his firm’s new office temp (Ali Larter) starts stalking him. Purely as a thriller, this leaden film fails to generate enough pace or energy to engage our attention. Its retrograde sexual politics make it akin to gender-war artifacts like Fatal Attraction or Disclosure, but with a racial twist. I don’t think this is progress. Also with Beyoncé Knowles, Jerry O’Connell, Bonnie Perlman, Bruce McGill, Scout Taylor-Compton, and Christine Lahti.

Rudo y Cursi (R) Carlos Cuarón reunites Y Tu Mamá Tambien‘s stars Gael García Bernal and Diego Luna for this Mexican soccer movie that avoids the conventional traps but falls into some other traps of its own. García Bernal and Luna play half-brothers who become successful soccer players before falling victim to the excesses of fame and money. The film casts a cold glance at the corruption of Mexican sports, and some humorous moments leaven the action. (Check out García Bernal singing “I Want You to Want Me” in a Spanish-language music video.) Still, the movie is filled with too much voiceover narration comparing soccer to life, and none of the plot developments are surprising. This is as formulaic as the Goal! movies, and we don’t even get much soccer action. Also with Guillermo Francella, Dolores Heredia, Jessica Mas, Adriana Paz, and Joaquín Cosio.

17 Again (PG-13) Unexpectedly funny genre picture stars Matthew Perry as a self-loathing 37-year-old named Mike who relives his high-school years after being magically transformed into his 17-year-old self (Zac Efron). A bit fuzzy on Mike’s mid-life crisis, the film nevertheless has a number of terrific lines, Leslie Mann investing all sorts of conviction in the role of Mike’s wife, and a scene-stealing turn by Thomas Lennon as Mike’s tech-geek best friend who poses as his dad and flirts awkwardly with the hot high-school principal (Melora Hardin). Efron’s pretty funny, too – his early career is starting to look like John Travolta’s in his 1970s glory. Watch for the early scene in which Efron and Lennon duel with lightsabers. Also with Michelle Trachtenberg, Allison Miller, Sterling Knight, Brian Doyle-Murray, Jim Gaffigan, Collette Wolfe, and Hunter Parrish.

Sin Nombre (R) This story about illegal Central American immigrants making the train ride through Mexico to the United States is an ethnographic treasure trove; too bad it’s so inert as a piece of drama. Paulina Gaitán plays a 14-year-old Honduran girl who crosses paths with a Mexican gangster (Edgar Flores) who’s on the run from his own gang while on the train ride through Chiapas. The stop-and-start rhythms of life on the rails are keenly observed, and writer-director Cary Joji Fukunaga stumbles into some powerful moments. He doesn’t seem to realize, though, what a hackneyed and formulaic story he’s constructed here. The film tries to make a social statement, but it only collapses under the weight of its research. Also with Kristyan Ferrer, Gerardo Taracena, Guillermo Villegas, Tenoch Huerta, and Diana García.

The Soloist (PG-13) Based on Steven Lopez’ best-selling memoir, this drama stars Robert Downey Jr. as a Los Angeles Times columnist who befriends a mentally ill classical cellist (Jamie Foxx) reduced to living on the street. Director Joe Wright (Atonement) does a nice job with the atmosphere of L.A., and the two leads are excellent, especially Downey. However, Wright’s direction too often veers into sentimental excess, and he fails utterly when he tries to capture the homeless man’s madness through experimental cinema techniques. It all adds up to a wildly uneven movie whose bad patches and flights of soaring inspiration come equally thick and fast. Also with Catherine Keener, Nelsan Ellis, Tom Hollander, Stephen Root, Rachael Harris, Jena Malone, and Lisa Gay Hamilton.

Star Trek (PG-13) The funniest sci-fi blockbuster in recent memory, this relaunch of the fabled franchise tells the backstory of Kirk (Chris Pine) and Spock (Zachary Quinto) as they make their way through Starfleet Academy and earn their stripes fighting a rogue Romulan warrior (Eric Bana). The antic, high-energy Pine and the deadpan Quinto make an effective hot-and-cold comedy team, and the supporting cast contributes mightily to the laughs, especially Simon Pegg as Scotty. The film includes tons of in-jokes for the fanbase, but non-fans will find plenty to enjoy as well, not least the extended action sequence when Kirk and Sulu (John Cho) parachute onto a Romulan drilling platform and tangle with the guards. For a big-ticket event movie, this film’s lightness is refreshing. Also with Zoë Saldana, Karl Urban, Anton Yelchin, Bruce Greenwood, Clifton Collins Jr., Ben Cross, Chris Hemsworth, Jennifer Morrison, Rachel Nichols, Tyler Perry, Winona Ryder, and Leonard Nimoy.

State of Play (PG-13) Flawed but savvy thriller stars Russell Crowe as a schlubby newspaper reporter who’s forced to investigate a congressman and longtime friend (Ben Affleck) after the murder of a Capitol Hill staffer leads to a Blackwater-like private security contractor. This two-hour film is based on a six-hour BBC TV miniseries, and the compression shortchanges characters like the congressman’s wife (Robin Wright Penn) and a blogger (Rachel McAdams) who helps report the story. Still, the film boasts some wondrous individual performances (including Helen Mirren as the paper’s editor and Jason Bateman as a two-bit publicist), includes some tart asides on the decline of the newspaper industry, covers a great deal of ground efficiently, and delivers enough thrills to make it go down smoothly. Also with Jeff Daniels, Harry Lennix, David Harbour, Michael Berresse, Maria Thayer, Wendy Makkena, Katy Mixon, and Viola Davis.

Terminator Salvation (PG-13) After 25 years, we finally find out what John Connor does in the future war against the machines that’s so great. Meh. Christian Bale portrays the grown Connor, while Sam Worthington plays a convicted killer who mysteriously comes back to life and helps Connor’s war effort in unexpected ways. Director McG (the Charlie’s Angels movies) cloaks the visuals in shades of brown and gray, and executes a few lengthy tracking shots that’ll delight any film-school formalist. Too bad he can’t begin to handle the emotional content of this movie, such as it is, and never generates any sense of fear and awe of the killer robots. What should be a dark and terrifying film comes out grim and soulless. Also with Anton Yelchin, Moon Bloodgood, Bryce Dallas Howard, Jadagrace, Common, Michael Ironside, Jane Alexander, and Helena Bonham Carter.

X-Men Origins: Wolverine (PG-13) What happens when you take the most badass mutant superhero out of the X-Men soap opera and give him his own feature? A rather tepid movie, unfortunately. The film follows Logan (Hugh Jackman) from sickly boy in the Canadian north in the early 1800s until the 1980s, when he joins a mutant special forces team headed by Col. Stryker (Danny Huston), accompanied by his increasingly vicious half-brother, Victor Creed, a.k.a. Sabretooth (Liev Schreiber). The two leads are perfect for their roles, but neither actor really gets the chance to cut loose. Despite a few decent action scenes, the story plods along without a sense of urgency. Focusing on Logan’s work with Stryker instead of his enmity with Sabretooth turns out to be a big mistake. Beloved characters like Gambit (Taylor Kitsch) and Deadpool (Ryan Reynolds) are trotted out and then not given the treatment they deserve. Too many extraneous characters and shoddy special effects don’t help either. An unfortunate misfire. Also with Lynn Collins, will.i.am, Kevin Durand, and Dominic Monaghan. – Cole Williams

DALLAS EXCLUSIVES:

The Brothers Bloom (PG-13) The second film by writer-director Rian Johnson (Brick) stars Adrien Brody and Mark Ruffalo as adopted brothers and con artists who aim to swindle an eccentric heiress (Rachel Weisz) out of her millions. Also with Rinko Kikuchi, Robbie Coltrane, Maximilian Schell, and Nora Zehetner. Narrated by Ricky Jay.

Every Little Step (PG-13) Adam Del Deo and James D. Stern’s documentary profiles the dancers trying out for the Broadway revival of A Chorus Line. Also with Marvin Hamlisch, Charlotte D’Amboise, Jacques D’Amboise, and Donna McKechnie.

The Girlfriend Experience (R) Steven Soderbergh’s latest film is about a high-priced Manhattan prostitute (Sasha Grey) who seeks emotional fulfillment for herself while providing it to her clients. Also with Chris Santos, Glenn Kenny, and Tim Davis.

Goodbye Solo (NR) The latest film by Ramin Bahrani (Chop Shop, Man Push Cart) stars Souleymane Sy Savane as a Senegalese cab driver who picks up an eccentric fare (Red West) while on duty in Winston-Salem, N.C. Also with Diana Franco Galindo, Lane “Roc” Williams, Mamadou Lam, and Carmen Leyva.

Summer Hours (NR) The latest film by Olivier Assayas (Irma Vep, Clean) stars Juliette Binoche, Charles Berling, and Jérémie Renier as siblings who deal with their family issues as they dispense with their late mother’s estate. Also with Edith Scob, Dominique Reymond, Valérie Bonneton, Isabelle Sadoyan, and Kyle Eastwood.

Tyson (R) James Toback’s documentary portrait of disgraced former boxing champion Mike Tyson.

Valentino: The Last Emperor (NR) Not to be confused with Bernardo Bertolucci’s The Last Emperor, this is Matt Tyrnauer’s documentary portrait of the Italian fashion designer. Also with Giorgio Armani, Donatella Versace, Diane von Fürstenburg, Anna Wintour, Tom Ford, Karl Lagerfeld, André Leon Talley, Claudia Schiffer, and Gwyneth Paltrow.


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