Film Shorts

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Posted September 8, 2010 by KRISTIAN LIN in Film

bran-nue-daeOPENING:

Bran Nue Dae (PG-13) Rocky McKenzie stars in this Australian musical as a young Aborigine who runs away from religious school in 1967 to find himself. Also with Jessica Mauboy, Ernie Dingo, Tom Budge, Ningali Lawford, Magda Szubanski, and Geoffrey Rush. (Opens Friday in Dallas)

Flipped (PG) Rob Reiner adapts Wendelin van Draanen’s novel, giving alternating viewpoints on the story of a boy and girl (Callan McAuliffe and Madeline Carroll) who fall in love in the 1950s. Also with Anthony Edwards, Penelope Ann Miller, John Mahoney, Rebecca De Mornay, and Aidan Quinn. (Opens Friday in Dallas)

I’m Still Here (R) Casey Affleck’s documentary about actor Joaquin Phoenix’s possible elaborate practical joke of an attempt to become a rapper. (Opens Friday in Dallas)

Lebanon (R) Samuel Maoz’ thriller takes place entirely inside an Israeli tank during the first 24 hours of the 1982 war with Lebanon. Starring Yoav Donat, Itay Taran, Oshri Cohen, Michael Monoshov, Zohar Strauss, and Ashraf Barhom. (Opens Friday in Dallas)

Legendary (PG-13) Devon Graye plays a 16-year-old nerd who seeks help from his much older brother (John Cena) in joining his high-school wrestling team. Also with Patricia Clarkson, Madeleine Martin, Lara Grice, and Danny Glover. (Opens Friday)

Resident Evil: Afterlife (R) Director Paul W.S. Anderson re-teams with Milla Jovovich and Ali Larter for this fourth zombie film. Also with Kim Coates, Shawn Roberts, Sergio Peris-Mencheta, Spencer Locke, Sienna Guillory, Boris Kodjoe, and Wentworth Miller. (Opens Friday)

The Virginity Hit (R) Huck Botko and Andrew Gurland, the screenwriters of The Last Exorcism, write and direct this documentary-style comedy about a teenager (Matt Bennett) whose friends try to get him his first sexual experience. Also with Zack Pearlman, Jacob Davich, Justin Kline, Krysta Rodriguez, Nicole Weaver, and Harry Zittel. (Opens Friday)

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The American (R) George Clooney scowls with all his might in this dry-as-dust thriller about a cautious and ruthlessly craftsmanlike gunsmith who subcontracts for contract killers, lying low in Italy while working on a job that may be his last. Director Anton Corbijn displays a jeweler’s eye for detail, but his austere direction squeezes out any thrills and fails to paper over the cheap dramatic ironies and stock characters. The movie is so spartan and perfectionist that it could have been directed by its main character, a brooding bore. Also with Violante Placido, Thekla Reuten, Paolo Bonacelli, Johan Leysen, and Filippo Timi.

Avatar (PG-13) James Cameron’s first film in 12 years displays all his strengths and his flaws. Set in the 22nd century on a distant planet, the film stars Sam Worthington as a paraplegic Marine who hooks up his brain to the engineered body of a native in order to infiltrate the locals and learn about their culture. The first hour or so is dazzling stuff indeed, with the alien planet presented as a fully imagined world with gloriously realized flora and fauna — this movie is a cryptozoologist’s dream come true. Yet the romance is bland and riddled with bad dialogue, and both the Earthling villains and the nature-worshipping natives are simplistic caricatures. The film uses the latest in special-effects technology, but the stale story makes it feel like a relic of a bygone era. Also with Zoe Saldana, Stephen Lang, Giovanni Ribisi, Michelle Rodriguez, Joel David Moore, CCH Pounder, Wes Studi, Laz Alonso, Dileep Rao, and Sigourney Weaver.

Cats & Dogs: The Revenge of Kitty Galore (PG) Sequel to the 2001 kids’ flick finds feline and canine spy agencies cooperating to stop a vengeance-obsessed cat (voiced by Bette Midler) who plans to drive every dog in the world insane. Like a James Bond movie for kids, it’s surprisingly tolerable, with decent action scenes and a story that zips along. Most importantly for parents, it doesn’t make you want to end your life. The CGI talking-animal effects are far from perfect, though, and my 10-year-old cousin only liked it but didn’t go crazy for it. Considering the cost of taking the family to the movies, this is probably best saved as a rental, but it’s far from a bad one. Additional voices by Sean Hayes, Neil Patrick Harris, Christina Applegate, James Marsden, Katt Williams, J.K. Simmons, Wallace Shawn, Joe Pantoliano, Michael Clarke Duncan, Roger Moore, and Nick Nolte. Also with Chris O’Donnell and Jack McBrayer. — Cole Williams

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.

Dinner for Schmucks (PG-13) The remake of Francis Veber’s 1999 French farce The Dinner Game stars Paul Rudd as a financial analyst who tries to win a promotion by bringing an eccentric IRS worker (Steve Carell) to a business dinner so that his firm’s executives can make fun of him. The American version makes the main character much less of a bastard, which does Rudd no favors, and puts us in the weird position of laughing at the idiots while condemning the businessmen in the movie for doing the same thing. The trump card is Carell, who wreaks havoc with wide-eyed wonder, spews malapropisms, and gets into a slapstick contretemps with a demented stalker (Lucy Punch). His inspired idiocy rescues the film. Also with Stephanie Szostak, Zach Galifianakis, Jemaine Clement, Bruce Greenwood, David Walliams, Ron Livingston, Kristen Schaal, Chris O’Dowd, Octavia Spencer, and Jeff Dunham.

Eat Pray Love (PG-13) A beautifully photographed travelogue and very little else. Julia Roberts stars in this adaptation of Elizabeth Gilbert’s memoir about a New York writer fleeing broken relationships by traveling to Italy, India, and Indonesia to find inner peace. Cinematographer Robert Richardson films it all lusciously, and the climactic scene on a beach is phenomenally acted by Roberts and Javier Bardem. The rest of it is crap, because director/co-writer Ryan Murphy (Running With Scissors) captures Gilbert’s blinkered self-absorption without her self-deprecating sense of humor. You’re better off watching the Food Channel for a couple of hours. Also with James Franco, Viola Davis, Hadi Subiyanto, Luca Argentero, Tuva Novotny, Rushita Singh, Christine Hakim, Mike O’Malley, Billy Crudup, and Richard Jenkins.


The Expendables
(R) Delivers exactly what you expect: terrible dialogue, macho posturing, shootouts and explosions, and enough testosterone flying around on screen to spatter audience members in the first few rows. Sylvester Stallone directs, co-writes, and stars in this throwback thriller as the leader of a multinational team of soldiers for hire sent to overthrow the dictator of a Latin American banana republic. The director does better with explosions than hand-to-hand combat, but the audience for this film is in it for the nostalgia and the ass-kicking by its older stars with a minimum of fuss. Also with Jason Statham, Giselle Itié, Jet Li, Mickey Rourke, Dolph Lundgren, Terry Crews, Randy Couture, Steve Austin, Charisma Carpenter, Eric Roberts, David Zayas, Gary Daniels, Bruce Willis, and Arnold Schwarzenegger.

get-low-movie-1009-lgGet Low (PG-13) A useful reminder of what a magnificent actor Robert Duvall is. Here he portrays an old hermit in the Tennessee backwoods in the 1930s who enlists the help of a funeral home director (Bill Murray) to throw a funeral party for himself while he’s still alive. There really isn’t enough material to fill the movie’s 100-minute running time, and you can pretty much tell how everything will go: sepia tones on the screen, fiddle and banjo music on the soundtrack, a long-buried secret in the main character’s past. Yet the film is exquisitely photographed by David Boyd, and Duvall’s delivery of the climactic monologue is a marvel. He’s worth seeing all on his own. Also with Sissy Spacek, Lucas Black, Scott Cooper, Bill Cobbs, and Gerald McRaney.

Going the Distance (R) Drew Barrymore and Justin Long star in this comedy as a New York couple who hook up with each other six weeks before she moves permanently to San Francisco to finish grad school. The script is surprisingly serious in its treatment of the challenges of maintaining a long-distance relationship, but it doesn’t come up with anything particularly insightful. The leads — despite being a real-life couple — can’t make us care about their predicament. The bursts of raunchy humor and Christina Applegate’s expert performance as Barrymore’s protective older sister don’t make this movie worth seeking out, but they save it from being completely forgettable. Also with Charlie Day, Jason Sudeikis, Ron Livingston, Jim Gaffigan, Kelli Garner, Rob Riggle, Sarah Burns, and Leighton Meester.

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 Last Exorcism (PG-13) The most terrifying movie in a while. Patrick Fabian plays a former charlatan who makes a living debunking exorcisms until he runs across a Louisiana family whose teenage daughter (Ashley Bell) has a real demon inside her. Director Daniel Stamm makes good use of the cinema-vérité approach, building slowly and taking time introducing us to the characters. The performances are terrific, but the most impressive thing is how scary this movie is while earning only a PG-13 rating. Also with Louis Herthum, Iris Bahr, and Caleb Landry Jones. — Cole Williams

Lottery Ticket (PG-13) Rap star Bow Wow stars in this comedy as a young man from the projects who draws a lottery ticket worth $370 million and then has to spend three days fending off neighbors and thugs before he claims the money. There’s not much memorable here, just some preachiness about how the main character should be doing something worthy with the money that moderately harshes the comedy buzz, and one well-played blow-up with his best friend (Brandon T. Jackson) over the stress. All in all, the entertainment here offers slightly better value than scratch-off tickets. Also with Loretta Devine, Naturi Naughton, Keith David, Terry Crews, Charlie Murphy, Mike Epps, Bill Bellamy, Gbenga Akinnagbe, Ice Cube, and an uncredited T-Pain.

Machete (R) A Latino version of the blaxploitation films of the 1970s, Robert Rodriguez’ latest stars Danny Trejo as an honest Mexican federale who becomes caught up in a vast conspiracy involving an anti-immigrant state senator (Robert De Niro), a militia group, and a drug lord (Steven Seagal!). The movie dances all over the line between straight-up exploitation and genre parody, and Rodriguez (we’re getting the Rodriguez of Desperado and Once Upon a Time in Mexico) doesn’t always do it deftly. The movie’s best at playing illegal immigration and Latin ambience for laughs. While it has some flashes of good satire, it mainly just detonates a canister of laughing gas. Also with Jessica Alba, Michelle Rodriguez, Jeff Fahey, Don Johnson, Cheech Marin, Shea Whigham, Daryl Sabara, and Lindsay Lohan.

Moss (NR) Park Hae-il stars in this overlong, overstuffed, sloppily made crime epic as a young man who travels from Seoul to a small Korean village to attend his father’s funeral, only to stumble on an empire of corruption and gangsterism fronted by his well-intentioned father and created by the evil village chief (Jeong Jae-yeong). Kang Woo-suk adapts this from an online graphic novel and does a stilted job, telling each supporting character’s backstory in laborious flashbacks and making hash out of the climax. The overacting among some of the supporting cast gets pretty bad too. At 150 minutes, this doesn’t repay your time adequately. Also with Yu Jun-sang, Yu Seon, Yu Hae-jin, Kim Jun-bae, Heo Jun-ho, and Kim Sang-ho.

Nanny McPhee Returns (PG) And her sequel is about a thousand times worse than the original. Emma Thompson reprises her role as the magically empowered British nanny, who pops up to help an overwhelmed young mother (Maggie Gyllenhaal) keep her farm while the husband is off fighting in World War II, leaving her to raise her three kids plus a city-bred nephew and niece. The overacting is pretty ferocious here, with the adult performers worse offenders than the kids. The scenes take place in no particular order, switching haphazardly between grim pathos involving the war and cutesy comedy like a synchronized swimming scene with pigs. It’s all horribly offensive. Also with Oscar Steer, Asa Butterfield, Lil Woods, Eros Vlahos, Rosie Taylor-Ritson, Rhys Ifans, Maggie Smith, Ralph Fiennes, and Ewan McGregor.


The Other Guys
(PG-13) On a scale of Will Ferrell-Adam McKay comedies, this isn’t as good as Talladega Nights, but it’s way better than Step Brothers. Ferrell plays a forensic accountant who teams up with a disgraced NYPD detective (Mark Wahlberg) to solve a series of murders connected with financial fraud. The laughs fall off considerably in the second half, but neither Wahlberg nor Eva Mendes (as the accountant’s improbably hot wife) have ever been funnier onscreen, and there are some great set pieces like a brawl conducted in whispers and an exchange about the winner of a hypothetical lion vs. tuna fight. Stay for the closing credits, which feature animated graphics explaining the 2008 financial crisis. Also with Samuel L. Jackson, Dwayne Johnson, Steve Coogan, Damon Wayans Jr., Rob Riggle, Bobby Cannavale, Lindsay Sloane, Ray Stevenson, Michael Keaton, and an uncredited Anne Heche.

piranha-3dPiranha 3D (R) A monstrous species of piranha runs rampant in Lake Victoria during spring break in this remake of the ’70s-era Joe Dante-directed Jaws ripoff. It starts well, with fun kills, campy humor, and plenty of gratuitous nudity. Then the pacing slows everything to a standstill, cutting between a carnage free-for-all that throws a lot at the audience but just doesn’t excite and a laborious rescue scene aboard a sinking ship. Though there is some inventive 3D gore and a Kelly Brook/Riley Steele nude underwater scene, the movie captures only the content of the best B-movies but not the spirit. Also with Elisabeth Shue, Jerry O’Connell, Ving Rhames, Jessica Szohr, Steven R. McQueen, Adam Scott, Dina Meyer, Ricardo Chavira, Eli Roth, Christopher Lloyd, and Richard Dreyfuss. — Cole Williams

Ramona and Beezus (G) Beverly Cleary’s beloved series of kids’ books finally comes to the big screen, in a movie that’s somewhat more interesting than most others of its type. Joey King plays the famously imaginative troublemaker, who faces some serious economic hardship after her dad (a marvelously light John Corbett) loses his job. Director Elizabeth Allen ventures into some regrettably amateurish fantasy sequences to depict Ramona’s imagination, but the writing is reasonably sharp and there’s even a well-played romantic subplot between Aunt Bea (Ginnifer Goodwin) and Howie Kemp’s Uncle Hobart (Josh Duhamel). A sequel wouldn’t be the worst thing. Also with Selena Gomez, Bridget Moynahan, Jason Spevack, Hutch Dano, and Sandra Oh.

Salt (PG-13) This implausible but stylish and highly enjoyable potboiler gets Angelina Jolie back to doing what she was made for: kicking large amounts of ass. She plays a CIA officer who’s fingered by a Russian defector (Daniel Olbrychski) as a Soviet double agent who will assassinate the Russian prime minister on U.S. soil. She then spends the rest of the movie running from her colleagues, while the script’s many plot twists leave us in suspense as to whether she’s actually who she claims to be. The story doesn’t hold up, but who cares when Jolie is taking down rooms full of armed guys and building a rocket launcher out of an office chair and cleaning supplies? Director Phillip Noyce makes it all into good old-fashioned spy fun. Also with Chiwetel Ejiofor, Liev Schreiber, August Diehl, Olek Krupa, Hunt Block, and Andre Braugher.

Scott Pilgrim vs. the World (PG-13) Edgar Wright’s brilliant, exhausting adaptation of Bryan Lee O’Malley’s graphic novels stars Michael Cera as a Toronto bass player who finds that to win his new girlfriend (Mary Elizabeth Winstead), he must defeat her seven evil exes in combat, all of whom have superpowers. Wright loses the comic books’ easygoing rhythm, botches the ending, and flattens out many of the supporting characters. Yet the fight sequences are spectacular (featuring actors not known for martial arts), Wright’s flair for action and comedy are everywhere in evidence, and the ridiculously cool cast overacts to great comic effect. Bonus points for original songs by Beck and for the dance-off with flying demon hipster chicks. Also with Ellen Wong, Mark Webber, Alison Pill, Kieran Culkin, Chris Evans, Brandon Routh, Aubrey Plaza, Johnny Simmons, Brie Larson, Mae Whitman, Satya Bhabha, Jason Schwartzman, Anna Kendrick, and uncredited cameos by Thomas Jane and Clifton Collins Jr.

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.

Step Up 3D (PG-13) The idea of a dance movie in 3-D is fantastic, yet this movie makes underwhelming use of the technology. Adam G. Sevani reprises his role from the second film as an NYU freshman who falls in with a dance group that needs to win a hip-hop dance contest to save their rehearsal space. The movie does have a cotillion dance sequence set to “Bust Your Windows” and a charming duet for Sevani and Alyson Stoner. But the dancers are indistinguishable from one another in the contest sequences, and the team of five choreographers fails to come up with anything memorable. Also with Rick Malambri, Sharni Vinson, Keith Stallworth, Kendra Andrews, Stephen Boss, Facundo and Martín Lombard, Mari Koda, and Joe Slaughter.

The Switch (PG-13) Actually worse than you’d think. Jason Bateman plays a neurotic bachelor who drunkenly ruins the sperm sample that his best friend (Jennifer Aniston) wanted to use to get pregnant, secretly substitutes his own sperm for the sample, and then forgets about it until seven years later, when she drops back into his life with their son (Thomas Robinson), who now exhibits all of his dad’s neuroses. The two leads play the material flawlessly, which only points out the weakness of the material and the myriad implications in the premise that haven’t been thought through. Hard to believe this is based on a short story by Jeffrey Eugenides. Also with Patrick Wilson, Jeff Goldblum, Todd Louiso, and Juliette Lewis.

Takers (PG-13) Hey, look! This heist movie features a couple of real-life criminals in the cast! Idris Elba plays the ringleader of a group of bank and armored car robbers who are roped into doing a huge job for a former colleague (T.I.) who just got out of prison. There’s too much attention paid to the personal lives of the criminals and the pursuing cops, but the action sequences are pretty slick, including a foot chase with Chris Brown doing some parkour leaps and a shootout in adjoining hotel rooms. They make this into a serviceable genre picture. Also with Paul Walker, Matt Dillon, Hayden Christensen, Michael Ealy, Jay Hernandez, Johnathon Schaech, Marianne Jean-Baptiste, Nick Turturro, Steve Harris, and Zoe Saldana.

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.

Vampires Suck (PG-13) From the writers/directors of Meet the Spartans and Disaster Movie. What, you need more reasons not to see it? OK then. This parody of the Twilight flicks follows awkward new girl Becca (Jenn Proske) falling for vampire Edward Sullen (Matt Lanter). Yes, the joke is that his name is “Sullen” instead of “Cullen.” The rest of the movie is about as funny, with maybe five good laughs. The best thing I can say is that despite 99 percent of the jokes failing, at least they weren’t so awful that I wanted to hurt myself. Or someone else. Also with Chris Riggi, Anneliese van der Pol, Crista Flanagan, Kelsey Ford, and Ken Jeong. — Cole Williams

DALLAS EXCLUSIVES:

Animal Kingdom (R) David Michôd’s crime thriller stars James Frecheville as a 17-year-old Australian boy trying to go straight while his entire family steers him toward a life of violent crime. Also with Ben Mendelsohn, Joel Edgerton, Jacki Weaver, Luke Ford, Sullivan Stapleton, and Guy Pearce.

Cairo Time (PG) Patricia Clarkson stars as a magazine editor who falls in love with a retired cop (Alexander Siddig) while waiting for her husband to show up in Egypt. Also with Elena Anaya, Tom McCamus, and Amina Annabi.

Centurion (R) The latest film by Neil Marshall (The Descent) stars Michael Fassbender as an ancient Roman soldier who finds himself trapped behind enemy lines in a war with a Celtic tribe. Also with Dominic West, Olga Kurylenko, David Morrissey, Ulrich Thomsen, JJ Feild, and Imogen Poots.

Mao’s Last Dancer (PG) Bruce Beresford’s adaptation of Li Cunxin’s autobiography tells the story of the poor Chinese villager-turned-ballet star (Cao Chi) who defected to the United States in the 1970s after falling in love with an American woman. Also with Bruce Greenwood, Kyle MacLachlan, Amanda Schull, Guo Chengwu, Huang Wen Bin, and Joan Chen.

Mesrine: Killer Instinct (R) The first part of a two-film crime saga, this biography stars Vincent Cassel as Jacques Mesrine, the middle-class Frenchman who embarked on a spree of kidnapping, robbery, and murder in the 1960s. Also with Cécile de France, Gilles Lellouche, Roy Dupuis, Elena Anaya, Ludivine Sagnier, Michel Duchaussoy, and Gérard Depardieu.

Mesrine: Public Enemy #1 (R) The second part of the two-film crime saga stars Vincent Cassell as Jacques Mesrine as his spree comes to a violent end. Also with Ludivine Sagnier, Mathieu Amalric, Samuel Le Bihan, Gérard Lanvin, Olivier Gourmet, and Anne Consigny.


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