Film Shorts

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Posted July 21, 2010 by KRISTIAN LIN in Film

Hugo-Chavez-OliverOPENING:

South of the Border (NR) Oliver Stone’s documentary portrait of seven Latin American leaders, including Raúl Castro, Hugo Chávez, Cristina Fernández de Kirchner, Evo Morales, and Luiz Inácio Lula da Silva. (Opens Friday in Dallas)

Agora (NR) This historical epic by Alejandro Amenábar (The Others) stars Rachel Weisz as a philosopher in 4th-century Egypt whose country is violently taken over by Christians. Also with Max Minghella, Oscar Isaac, Ashraf Barhom, Michael Lonsdale, Rupert Evans, and Homayoun Ershadi. (Opens Friday in Dallas)

The Nature of Existence (NR) Roger Nygard’s documentary about comparative religion. (Opens Friday in Dallas)

Salt (PG-13) Angelina Jolie stars in this thriller directed by Phillip Noyce (Clear and Present Danger) as a CIA officer who must clear her name after being accused of treason by a Russian defector. Also with Chiwetel Ejiofor, Liev Schreiber, Daniel Olbrychski, August Diehl, Olek Krupa, and Andre Braugher. (Opens Friday)

NOW PLAYING:

The A-Team (PG-13) This stupid but occasionally enjoyable big-screen version of the 1980s TV show moves the setting to the present day and describes how Iraq war soldiers Hannibal (Liam Neeson), Face (Bradley Cooper), Murdock (Sharlto Copley) and B.A. (Quinton “Rampage” Jackson) become wrongly convicted fugitives on the lam. Director/co-writer Joe Carnahan stages some ambitious action scenes that don’t quite come off. What juice there is here comes from the cast, who seem to be genuinely having fun. District 9’s Copley isn’t convincing as an American redneck, but he steals all his scenes with his live-wire comic energy. Also with Jessica Biel, Patrick Wilson, Henry Czerny, Brian Bloom, Yul Vasquez, Gerald McRaney, Dirk Benedict, Dwight Schultz, and an uncredited Jon Hamm.

Cyrus (R) A comedy that takes the idea of men who can’t grow up to a logical and funny extreme. John C. Reilly stars as a loser whose romance with his gorgeous, sexy new girlfriend (Marisa Tomei) is imperiled by her clingy 21-year-old son Cyrus (Jonah Hill) who lives with her. Cyrus is a great character, a pre-sexual monster who feeds off his mother’s love, and the psychological warfare between him and Reilly’s character is compelling stuff as Cyrus vows to break up his mom’s relationship. Filmmakers Jay and Mark Duplass (Baghead, The Puffy Chair) let their actors ad lib at will, with good results, but resolve everything too easily, with bad results. Still, Hill gives his most impressive performance to date, and the vivid way the film brings Cyrus to life is its best accomplishment. Also with Catherine Keener, Matt Walsh, and Kathryn Aselton.

Despicable Me (PG) Slight but agreeable animated film features Steve Carell voicing a wannabe supervillain named Gru who adopts three unwanted girls from an orphanage (voiced by Miranda Cosgrove, Elsie Fisher, and Dana Gaier) to help him gain access to a rival villain and ultimately steal the moon from the sky. The girls help Gru get in touch with his feelings, and it’s thankfully not anywhere near as mushy as it could have been. Gru’s chattering yellow minions are a terrific comic creation, but there’s not enough good material to go around them and a great supporting voice cast. The closing credit sequence uses 3-D better than any other recent film. Additional voices by Jason Segel, Russell Brand, Kristen Wiig, Will Arnett, Danny McBride, Jack McBrayer, Mindy Kaling, and Julie Andrews.

Get Him to the Greek (R) Nicholas Stoller writes and directs this spinoff of his 2008 comedy Forgetting Sarah Marshall, with Russell Brand reprising his role as a bad-boy British rock star and Jonah Hill portraying a music-label flack who runs into myriad difficulties transporting him from London to L.A.’s Greek Theater for a concert. The pairing of Hill and Brand proves to be inspired, leading to all manner of comic situations and verbal riffs. The most miraculous thing is the way the movie squeezes laughs even out of the cameo appearances (by Lars Ulrich and Paul Krugman, among many others) and makes supporting actors with no track record in comedy look downright hilarious (especially Sean Combs as the record label’s president). This is the funniest comedy so far this year. Also with Elisabeth Moss, Rose Byrne, Colm Meaney, Aziz Ansari, Carla Gallo, Kali Hawk, and Kristen Bell.

Grown Ups (PG-13) Yet another dreary, sloppily made Adam Sandler comedy, this one stars him as one of a bunch of middle-school buddies (along with Chris Rock, Kevin James, Rob Schneider, and David Spade) who reunite for the funeral of a beloved basketball coach. They wind up spending an entire weekend making limp wisecracks about how young they used to be while you spend the entire movie waiting for anything to happen. If you’re similar in age to Sandler and his pals, there’s a small chance you’ll find this wildly funny. Everybody else can just make like Sandler’s fictional kids, staying inside and playing video games. Also with Salma Hayek, Maria Bello, Maya Rudolph, Joyce Van Patten, Colin Quinn, Tim Meadows, Norm Macdonald, and Steve Buscemi.

Inception (PG-13) One of the trippiest summer blockbusters in recent memory, this big brain-teaser stars Leonardo DiCaprio as the leader of a team of corporate spies who have to plant a self-destructive idea in the head of an heir (Cillian Murphy) by breaking into his dreams. Writer-director Christopher Nolan (The Dark Knight) enhances the movie’s dreamscapes by twisting real locations into M.C. Escher-like tableaux, while cinematographer Wally Pfister and production designer Guy Hendrix Dyas make it all look elegant and beautiful. Nolan may have outsmarted himself here — the hero’s struggles to let go of his dead wife (Marion Cotillard) don’t pull the emotional weight that they should. Nevertheless, the movie sends you tumbling down a fascinating rabbit hole. Also with Ellen Page, Joseph Gordon-Levitt, Tom Hardy, Ken Watanabe, Dileep Rao, Tom Berenger, Lukas Haas, Pete Postlethwaite, and Michael Caine.

The Karate Kid (PG) Why isn’t this movie called The Kung Fu Kid? This remake of the 1984 hit stars Jaden Smith as a 12-year-old who’s relocated from Detroit to Beijing, where he’s bullied by the locals until he meets a maintenance man (Jackie Chan) who teaches him kung fu. Director Harald Zwart does well with the Chinese setting, but the real attraction is Chan, who knows how to play this laconic character for laughs and does just as well with the character’s private grief. (If you’ve only watched his Hollywood stuff, you may be surprised to see that Chan can act.) The movie manages to capture the electric charge of the famous “wax on, wax off” scene, and enough of the original’s inspirational punch to make it a worthy successor. Also with Taraji P. Henson, Han Wenwen, Wang Chenwei, and Yu Rongguang.


Knight and Day
(PG-13) The terrible pun in the title isn’t explained until late in this piffling comedy-thriller, and it’s not much of a payoff. Tom Cruise stars as a CIA hit man wrongly being hunted down by his fellow agents, and Cameron Diaz is the garage owner who gets dragged into the plot. Cruise plays the role with a flippancy that’s funny and mildly disturbing in context, as if his character from Risky Business had grown up to be a government assassin. Yet the script is lame, there’s no chemistry between the leads, and Diaz’ character spends most of the film as a shrieking liability. With exotic locations ranging from Salzburg to Seville, this plush film isn’t bad, necessarily. It’s just that … wait, what was it about again? Also with Peter Sarsgaard, Viola Davis, Paul Dano, Jordi Mollà, Marc Blucas, Celia Weston, and Maggie Grace.

the-last-airbender-movie-picThe Last Airbender (PG) In theory, this is a great idea. In practice, it doesn’t go well at all. M. Night Shyamalan tries to escape his creative rut with this fantasy-adventure about an enchanted boy (Noah Ringer) who must use his mystical powers over the four elements to prevent the warlike Fire Nation from conquering the other three. Based on an animated cable TV show, this movie mangles the story into an indecipherable mess of political alliances, tribes, and personality-free leaders. The romantic subplot is sodden, the pace is lumbering, the actors are off, and even Shyamalan’s visual flair is nowhere in evidence except for some well-executed martial-arts sequences. Less philosophy and more ass-kicking would have been the way to go here. Also with Jackson Rathbone, Nicola Peltz, Dev Patel, Cliff Curtis, Seychelle Gabriel, Shaun Toub, Aasif Mandvi, and Randall Duk Kim.

Predators (R) A motley crew of badasses (led by merc Adrian Brody) are taken to a “game preserve” planet and stalked by three of the interplanetary hunters. The first hour builds spectacularly, making the Predators threatening again, introducing new twists to the mythos. The shiny, likable cast fits together well, but the slower second half doesn’t deliver on the first, the cast and plot twists aren’t fully utilized, and 23 years of SFX evolution can’t top the original Stan Winston-designed Predator. Still, a mostly successful return to form after the fumbled Aliens vs. Predator films. Also with Alice Braga, Topher Grace, Walton Goggins, Oleg Taktarov, Danny Trejo, Mahershalalhashbaz Ali, and Laurence Fishburne. — Cole Williams

The Servant (NR) Kim Dae-woo makes a worthy piece of historical drama out of his revisionist take on the Korean folk tale of Chunhyang (Jo Yeo-jeong). In this version, the geisha’s daughter isn’t a chaste martyr who falls for a noble lord but rather a confused, sexually avid girl who’s pursued by an ugly, untalented letch (Ryu Seung-beom). The story is told through the eyes of the lord’s handsome servant (Kim Ju-hyuk), who has an affair with Chunhyang. The pacing flags on occasion, especially in the second half, but the comic interludes are funny and the story is effectively re-jiggered so that even viewers not familiar with the original story can still appreciate this. Also with Song Sae-byeok, Ryu Hyeon-kyeong, Jeong Yang, Kim Sung-ryeong, and Oh Dal-su.

Sex and the City 2 (R) Carrie Bradshaw and her gal pals (Sarah Jessica Parker, Kim Cattrall, Kristin Davis, and Cynthia Nixon) go to Abu Dhabi to deal with their issues and dress fabulously. The movie stays true to the show’s focus on friendship, but the movie runs about 700 years and features tons of bad writing and self-congratulation about its feminist accomplishments, which aren’t as significant as the movie seems to think. Even the acting is off. This is for Carrie completists only. Also with Chris Noth, David Eigenberg, Evan Handler, Mario Cantone, Willie Garson, Jason Lewis, John Corbett, Kelli O’Hara, Alice Eve, Lynn Cohen, Ron White, Omid Djalili, and Penélope Cruz. — Cole Williams

The Sorcerer’s Apprentice (PG) Nicolas Cage re-teams with Jon Turteltaub, who directed him in those dopey National Treasure movies, to make this ultra-lite fantasy-adventure. Cage plays a centuries-old disciple of Merlin who discovers that a geeky NYU physics grad student (Jay Baruchel) is the chosen one whose untapped magical powers can prevent a similarly aged evil wizard (Alfred Molina) from raising the dead and taking over the world. The special effects look really good here, but the writing is lame, and Baruchel — who can be a terrific supporting actor, especially in comedies — doesn’t have the charisma to carry a movie. Despite an homage to Fantasia, this movie feels distinctly un-magical. Also with Teresa Palmer, Toby Kebbell, Omar Benson Miller, Jake Cherry, Alice Krige, and Monica Bellucci.

Toy Story 3 (G) Yet another fantastic piece of work from Pixar. When their now-grown owner heads off to college, Woody and Buzz (voiced by Tom Hanks and Tim Allen) and the other toys are accidentally shipped off to a local day care center, where the toys are run by a strawberry-scented teddy bear (voiced by Ned Beatty) who acts like a cruel warden. The filmmakers turn this into a prison-break movie but cut the action with just the right amount of cutesy humor. Esoteric references abound, and the script includes a deliriously funny encounter between Barbie (voiced by Jodi Benson) and a morally shady clotheshorse Ken (voiced by Michael Keaton) among its wealth of rich comic material. Additional voices by Joan Cusack, Don Rickles, Wallace Shawn, John Ratzenberger, Estelle Harris, John Morris, Blake Clark, Teddy Newton, Bud Luckey, Javier Fernández Peña, Kristen Schaal, Jeff Garlin, Bonnie Hunt, Timothy Dalton, Whoopi Goldberg, and R. Lee Ermey.


The Twilight Saga: Eclipse
(PG-13) The best one so far, for what that’s worth. Bella Swan (Kristen Stewart) is targeted by a vengeful vampire (Bryce Dallas Howard) with an army of new vampires, so her two boyfriends (Robert Pattinson and Taylor Lautner) have to team up to save her. There’s less static here than in the previous Twilight films, but there’s still too much, and the romance stubbornly refuses to spark. Still, the script has its moments of insight and wit, and the movie is blessedly unafraid to lighten up every once in a while. The series still needs improvement, but it’s headed in an encouraging direction. Also with Xavier Samuel, Billy Burke, Jackson Rathbone, Ashley Greene, Nikki Reed, Kellan Lutz, Elizabeth Reaser, Peter Facinelli, Julia Jones, Gil Birmingham, Jodelle Ferland, Cameron Bright, Dakota Fanning, and Anna Kendrick.

Winters_Bone_movie_image_2Winter’s Bone (R) This frigid, flavorful thriller set in the Ozarks stars Jennifer Lawrence as a 17-year-old girl named Ree who’s forced to track down her long-gone meth-manufacturing dad to keep their house from being foreclosed on. Non-actors from the area fill out the supporting cast and augment Lawrence’s fine performance as the flinty, determined Ree. Director Debra Granik treats the material (based on Daniel Woodrell’s novel) with a stark, naturalistic feel and slowly tightens the suspense plot around your neck as Ree’s search for the truth turns up increasingly twisted specimens of humanity. With many scenes feeling straight out of a horror flick, this is a draining, enlightening piece of storytelling. Also with John Hawkes, Kevin Breznahan, Dale Dickey, Garrett Dillahunt, Tate Taylor, Valerie Richards, and Sheryl Lee.

DALLAS EXCLUSIVES:

Coco Chanel & Igor Stravinsky (R) Adapted from Christopher Greenhalgh’s novel, this film imagines a love affair between the French fashion designer (Anna Mouglalis) and the Russian composer (Mads Mikkelsen). Also with Yelena Morozova, Natasha Lindinger, Grigori Manukov, Radivoje Bukvic, and Anatole Taubman.

The Girl Who Played With Fire (R) The sequel to The Girl With the Dragon Tattoo stars Michael Nyqvist as a Swedish journalist who finds his investigative partner (Noomi Rapace) the accused party in a high-profile murder case. Also with Lena Endre, Sofia Ledarp, Peter Andersson, Georgi Staykov, Yasmine Garbi, Mikael Spreitz, Tehilla Blad, and Michalis Koutsogiannakis.

I Am Love (R) Luca Guadagnino’s romance stars Tilda Swinton as a Russian emigré in turn-of-the-century Italy who embarks on a tragic adulterous love affair. Also with Flavio Parenti, Edoardo Gabriellini, Alba Rohrwacher, Pippo Delbonno, Waris Ahluwalia, and Marisa Berenson.

The Kids Are All Right (R) Annette Bening and Julianne Moore star in Lisa Cholodenko’s comedy as a lesbian couple whose lives are upended when their teenage children (Mia Wasikowska and Josh Hutcherson) track down their biological father (Mark Ruffalo). Also with Yaya DaCosta, Kunal Sharma, Eddie Hassell, Zosia Mamet, and Joaquín Garrido.

The Killer Inside Me (R) Michael Winterbottom’s adaptation of Jim Thompson’s novel stars Casey Affleck as a sheriff’s deputy who is revealed to be behind a string of psychopathic murders in West Texas in the 1950s. Also with Kate Hudson, Jessica Alba, Ned Beatty, Elias Koteas, Tom Bower, Bill Pullman, Brent Briscoe, and Simon Baker.

Restrepo (R) Tim Hetherington and Sebastian Junger’s documentary spends one year with a platoon of U.S. Army soldiers trying to establish an outpost in a heavily contested valley in Afghanistan.


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