Film Shorts

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Posted April 4, 2012 by KRISTIAN LIN in Film
American Reunion opens FridayAmerican Reunion opens Friday

OPENING:

American Reunion (R) Jon Hurwitz and Hayden Schlossberg (the Harold and Kumar movies) take over the series, as the whole gang from American Pie returns for their class reunion. Starring Jason Biggs, Seann William Scott, Alyson Hannigan, Eddie Kaye Thomas, Thomas Ian Nicholas, Tara Reid, Mena Suvari, Natasha Lyonne, Shannon Elizabeth, John Cho, Neil Patrick Harris, Jennifer Coolidge, and Eugene Levy. (Opens Friday)

Apart (NR) Josh Danziger and Olesya Rulin star in this drama as two lovers struggling to deal with their induced delusional disorder (folie à deux). Also with Bruce McGill, Joey Lauren Adams, Sue Rock, and Michael Bowen. (Opens Friday in Dallas)

Baseball, Dennis & The French (NR) Paul Croshaw’s documentary about his own conversion from political liberalism to conservatism. (Opens Friday at AMC Grapevine Mills)

Jiro Dreams of Sushi (PG) David Gelb’s documentary profile of Jiro Ono, an 85-year-old sushi chef whose restaurant in the basement of a Tokyo office building is considered to be the world’s finest sushi place. (Opens Friday in Dallas)

The Kid With a Bike (NR) The latest French-language film by Jean-Pierre and Luc Dardenne (Lorna’s Silence, Rosetta) is about an abandoned 11-year-old Belgian boy (Thomas Doret) who’s taken in by a local hairdresser (Cécile de France). Also with Jérémie Renier, Fabrizio Rongione, Egon Di Mateo, and Olivier Gourmet. (Opens Friday in Dallas)

Titanic (PG-13) James Cameron’s $200-million epic offers impressively lavish production values, a satisfying taste of period flavor, and — once the great ship starts taking on water — some genuinely awesome displays of terror, destruction, and special-effects wizardry. What the movie doesn’t offer, however, is a compelling story. Leonardo DiCaprio and Kate Winslet simply aren’t substantial enough as the romantic leads. And it doesn’t help at all that Cameron, who directed his own screenplay, gives his actors great wads of cliché-heavy dialogue that fall from their mouths and onto the floor with a singular lack of grace. — Joe Leydon (Opens Wednesday)

NOW PLAYING:

Act of Valor (R) The makers of a film about the Navy SEALs, starring Navy SEALs, have two things on their side: unparalleled realism and an audience curious about the elite force that took down Osama bin Laden last year. Directors Mike McCoy and Scott Waugh (both former stuntmen) do little, however, to elevate their work into meaningful art or even entertainment. The film follows the SEALs as they rescue an undercover CIA agent (Roselyn Sanchez) and thwart an international Chechen-jihadi terror plot that culminates in a battle south of the border with a Mexican drug cartel. (There are Filipinos and a self-interested Russian Jew for good measure.) However convoluted the network of villains, the thriller itself is rather simplistic and the acting stilted. Taking for granted the heroism of these men, the film is more an exercise in badass action sequences and military propaganda than in conveying any deeper political or emotional purpose. Also with Jason Cottle, Nestor Serrano, Alex Veadov, and Emilio Rivera. — Zack Shlacter

Casa de mi Padre (R) Will Ferrell enters the baroque phase of his career with this Spanish-language comedy. He plays the son of a Mexican cattle rancher (the late Pedro Armendáriz Jr.) who must take up arms to protect his family and his father’s house from a drug kingpin (Gael García Bernal). The movie parodies old-style Mexican films, with bargain-basement production values and deliberately bad Spanish dialogue. Some of the jokes hit home, and the musical interludes are tasty (check the ranchera song “Yo No Sé”), but the movie never finds a consistent groove, and some of the higher-profile cast members don’t look comfortable sending up the material. Ferrell is still casting about for fresh comic ideas, but this movie doesn’t have much to recommend it outside its novelty value. Also with Diego Luna, Genesis Rodriguez, Efren Ramirez, Adrian Martinez, Manuel Urrego, Nick Offerman, and Molly Shannon.

Chronicle (PG-13) Truly something we haven’t seen before: a vérité superhero flick. Josh Trank’s film stars Dane DeHaan as a high-school nerd who films his life to protect himself from his abusive dad but instead winds up documenting how he, his cousin (Alex Russell), and the BMOC (Michael B. Jordan) develop the power to move things with their minds. The cheap video look and the pricey special effects make this sci-fi story credible, give rise to some funny bits, and compensate for the last third of the film, when the movie’s storytelling turns too smooth. This may just be the same old superhero flick in a new wrapper, but the wrapper sure is eye-catching. Also with Michael Kelly, Ashley Hinshaw, Bo Petersen, and Anna Wood.

Dr. Seuss’ The Lorax (PG) This travesty of the much-loved book turns a crepuscular, unsettling cautionary tale into a cheerful, upbeat kiddie flick that loses its message. Like other big-screen Dr. Seuss adaptations, this one is padded out with extra story about a boy (voiced by Zac Efron) and the girl he has a crush on (voiced by Taylor Swift) trying to reverse the environmental damage done by the Once-ler (voiced by Ed Helms). The violent slapstick gags in the background are the best thing here, but the movie is all over the place, lurching from social satire to action picture to musical (with some unmemorable, tacked-on numbers) without ever settling into a groove. This is nowhere near as painful to sit through as The Cat in the Hat, but you’ll find much better family entertainment in a lot of other places. Additional voices by Danny DeVito, Rob Riggle, Nasim Pedrad, Jenny Slate, and Betty White.

Good Deeds (PG-13) Multi-hyphenated artist/hack Tyler Perry returns with a drama about a successful yet unfulfilled businessman finally pushed to follow his heart. As his father’s successor in a job he doesn’t particularly like, and as a crutch to his unstable brother, Wesley Deeds (Perry) is so accustomed to doing what’s expected of him that even his fiancée (Gabrielle Union) finds him boringly predictable. Unfortunately, Deeds’ mission to make his life more unpredictable — falling in love with his office’s night janitor (Thandie Newton), a straight-talking single mother on the verge of losing everything — is about as formulaic as it gets. And just in case you miss the characters’ emotional subtext, the dialogue gets awkwardly literal in places. While the film thankfully isn’t manipulative with this material, Perry’s latest effort suffers a trite plot and one-dimensional protagonists that pander to, instead of resonating with, the audience. Also with Eddie Cibrian, Brian J. White, Phylicia Rashad, Beverly Johnson, Jamie Kennedy, and Rebecca Romijn. — Z.S.

The Hunger Games (PG-13) Gary Ross’ adaptation doesn’t accomplish nearly all the things that Suzanne Collins’ brilliant novels do, but it is a pretty good sci-fi action thriller. Jennifer Lawrence plays the teenage heroine in a future dystopian society who reluctantly volunteers to take part in a televised fight to the death with 23 other teens. The ruling city’s gaudy luxury in the middle section doesn’t come off, and the script loses many of the novel’s richer aspects, especially the commentary on reality TV. Yet the sun-dappled, indie-film look of the outer sections gives the movie a distinctive feel, and Ross turns the screws of suspense expertly. Lawrence’s dexterous and deeply felt performance keeps the movie on track. It’s not the most imaginative version, but it’s smart and reasonably well-made. Also with Josh Hutcherson, Woody Harrelson, Elizabeth Banks, Lenny Kravitz, Stanley Tucci, Wes Bentley, Toby Jones, Liam Hemsworth, Amandla Stenberg, Alexander Ludwig, Isabelle Fuhrman, Willow Shields, and Donald Sutherland.

Jeff, Who Lives at Home (R) This quietly miraculous comedy stars Jason Segel as a jobless slacker who spends a life-changing afternoon with his marginally more functional older brother (Ed Helms), who suspects that his wife (Judy Greer) is cheating on him. Writer-directors Jay and Mark Duplass (Cyrus, The Puffy Chair) know their way around guys flailing helplessly for direction, and Segel does a memorable job as a pothead who thinks he can divine a mysterious cosmic order. There’s also a piquant subplot with the brothers’ widowed mom (Susan Sarandon) receiving IMs at work from a secret admirer. The ending that brings all the characters together may strike some as too neat, but the way Jeff finds a direction in life is near-mystical in its power. Also with Rae Dawn Chong, Steve Zissis, Evan Ross, Matt Malloy, and Katie Aselton.

John Carter (PG-13) The 100-year-old novel that influenced everything from Star Wars to Avatar finally comes to the big screen from WALL-Edirector Andrew Stanton. A Civil War veteran (Taylor Kitsch) finds himself transported to Mars, falls in love with a princess (Lynn Collins), befriends a four-armed green Martian (a Gollum-style motion-captured Willem Dafoe), and fights a dictator (Dominic West). Despite a slow middle and a too-long run time, a game cast, passionate direction, and exciting action scenes help create the kind of pure concentrated fun that makes a trip to the theater worthwhile. Also with Samantha Morton, Thomas Haden Church, Mark Strong, Ciarán Hinds, James Purefoy, Polly Walker, Daryl Sabara, and Bryan Cranston. — Cole Williams

Journey 2: The Mysterious Island (PG) When it comes to the 3D effects, this is miles better than the 2008 original. As far as the story goes, it’s still crap. The only holdover left from the original, Josh Hutcherson, stars as a teenager who receives a radio transmission from a lost island and goes off with his stepdad (Dwayne Johnson) to find the place. This chintzy amusement park ride of a film is so obsessed with special effects that the characters make no sense. No wonder the actors all look lost. The lack of magic here is depressing. Also with Vanessa Hudgens, Luis Guzmán, and Michael Caine.

October Baby (PG-13) What should be the stuff of painful drama instead becomes painfully boring to sit through. Newcomer Rachel Hendrix (pretty but not wildly talented) plays a college freshman who discovers all at once that she’s adopted and that her current health problems are related to her birth mother having tried to abort her. Director/co-writers Andrew and Jon Erwin try to dig into their main character’s feelings of betrayal, but their messages about forgiveness only manage to reduce this dramatically loaded situation to so much uninspiring inspirational porridge. Also with Jason Burkey, Jennifer Price, Carl Maguire, John Schneider, and Jasmine Guy.

Project X (R) Exactly two things distinguish this “wild teenage party” movie from all the others. One: Director Nima Nourizadeh films this in a vérité style, which doesn’t accomplish anything that a conventional treatment wouldn’t have. The other is more significant: The sheer scale of destruction in the last 15 minutes or so indeed dwarfs anything in any similar film. That’s notable, but the overall effect of this movie is wearying rather than liberating or frightening. It certainly isn’t funny. A movie about an out-of-control party should be more fun than this. Starring Thomas Mann, Oliver Cooper, Jonathan Daniel Brown, Dax Flame, Kirby Bliss Blanton, Brady Hender, Nick Nervies, Alexis Knapp, and Miles Teller.

Safe House (R) This effective anti-recruitment video for the CIA would have you believe that a) the agency’s bosses are willing to kill their underlings and colleagues and sell out their country to protect themselves and b) in South Africa, you can shoot up public places and kill civilians and cops without any consequences. Ryan Reynolds plays an agent in charge of a safe house in Cape Town who’s called upon to protect a notorious traitor (Denzel Washington) after the house is attacked. Daniel Espinosa’s direction is appropriately grimy, but he worsens the ham-handed and predictable turns in the script. The result is really loud and dull. Also with Vera Farmiga, Brendan Gleeson, Rubén Blades, Robert Patrick, Nora Arnezeder, Fares Fares, Liam Cunningham, Joel Kinnaman, and Sam Shepard.

Salmon Fishing in the Yemen (PG-13) This comedy gets off to a nice start before wearing out its welcome. Based on Paul Torday’s novel, this is about a Yemeni potentate (Amr Waked) who tries to bring the sport of salmon fishing to his homeland’s wadis with the help of a British investment broker (Emily Blunt) and a buttoned-up Scottish fisheries scientist (Ewan McGregor). The movie offers up some savory comic business in the early going, and Blunt is at her most appealing here: crisp, regal, with a fine sense of the absurd. Yet the fizz goes out of this movie amid some soggy romance and a move to the Arab desert that extinguishes the workplace humor. The ending is botched badly too. The movie turns from a zippy trifle into a starry-eyed bore. Also with Rachael Stirling, Tom Mison, Conleth Hill, and Kristin Scott Thomas.

Silent House (R) A long, dark hallway to a dead end. This horror flick is a remake of an Uruguayan film called La Casa Muda, and it goes well for the first half or so before it runs out of shifting lights and sudden weird sound effects. Elizabeth Olsen plays a young woman helping her dad (Adam Trese) clean up a lakeside family vacation home. Olsen is great at calibrating her character’s increasing sense of terror, but the directing team of Chris Kentis and Laura Lau (Open Water) can’t transcend their self-imposed technical limitations, and the big twist is arbitrary and exploitative. Even fans of subtle, arty horror are likely to hit a wall with this. Also with Eric Sheffer Stevens and Julia Taylor Ross. — Jimmy Fowler

Star Wars: Episode I – The Phantom Menace (PG) The first in a planned series of three Star Wars prequels is abundantly stuffed with visual splendors, exciting action sequences, and state-of-the-art special effects. Obviously, George Lucas has tried to give his loyal audience maximum bang for their box-office bucks. As a storyteller, however, he has grown rusty. During long stretches of The Phantom Menace, he permits the pace to slacken while key scenes dawdle aimlessly, then end abruptly. The continuity is spotty, the acting is wildly uneven, and integration of live actors with computer-generated co-stars isn’t always totally convincing. By turns simplistic and confusing, the movie trips over itself while trying to cover too many bases and plays too obviously like an opening chapter rather than a self-contained narrative. — Joe Leydon

A Thousand Words now playing.

A Thousand Words (PG-13) Eddie Murphy stars as a compulsive liar of a literary agent who falls under a curse that leaves him with 1,000 words left to speak before he dies. Also with Kerry Washington, Cliff Curtis, Clark Duke, Allison Janney, Jack McBrayer, and Ruby Dee.

21 Jump Street (R) They finally found something Channing Tatum is good at: silly slapstick comedy. He and Jonah Hill make a well-matched comedy team in this big-screen present-day update of the 1980s TV show as two rookie cops who go undercover as high-school students to break up a drug ring. The indifferent characterizations give the film a slightly impersonal feel, but writer-directors Phil Lord and Chris Miller (Cloudy With a Chance of Meatballs) deliver enough funny gags to offset that. If you’re looking for a movie that blends laughs with action and thrills, this is your best bet right now. Also with Brie Larson, Dave Franco, Rob Riggle, Ice Cube, DeRay Davis, Chris Parnell, Ellie Kemper, Nick Offerman, Caroline Aaron, Joe Chrest, Dakota Johnson, Jake M. Johnson, Holly Robinson Peete, and an uncredited Johnny Depp.

Wrath of the Titans (PG-13) This sequel to the 2010 hit Clash of the Titans is just as joyless, charmless, and flavorless as the original. Sam Worthington reprises his role as Perseus, who’s forced to journey to the underworld to rescue his father Zeus (Liam Neeson) from the clutches of Hades (Ralph Fiennes), Ares (Édgar Ramírez), and Cronos (a big CGI volcanic cloud). There’s an all-too-brief cameo by the always-entertaining Bill Nighy as a half-mad Hephaestus, but the rest of this movie is a long, hard slog of unfunny jokes, unthrilling action sequences, and special effects that aren’t special. Also with Rosamund Pike, Toby Kebbell, Sinéad Cusack, John Bell, and Danny Huston.

DALLAS EXCLUSIVES:

Delicacy (NR) Audrey Tautou stars in this drama as a French widow hesitating about the romantic interest of a Swedish co-worker (François Damiens). Also with Bruno Todeschini, Mélanie Bernier, Joséphine de Meaux, Pio Marmaï, and Monique Chamette.

Footnote (PG) Joseph Cedar’s film stars Shlomo Bar-Aba and Lior Ashkenazi as father and son Talmudic professors at a Jerusalem university whose difficult relationship comes to a head when the father is awarded the Israel Prize for his work. Also with Alma Zack, Yuval Scharf, Edna Blilious, Aliza Rosen, and Micah Lewensohn.

In Darkness (R) Nominated for the Oscar for Best Foreign Film, this drama by Agnieszka Holland (Europa Europa) stars Robert Wieckiewicz as a real-life Polish career criminal who hid 14 Jews from the Nazis in the city of Lvov during World War II. Also with Benno Fürmann, Agnieszka Grochowska, Herbert Knaup, Marcin Bosak, and Maria Schrader.

Intruders (R) Juan Carlos Fresnadillo (28 Weeks Later) directs this horror film about an English girl (Ella Purnell) and a Spanish boy (Izán Corchero) who are separately terrorized by visions of a soul-stealing faceless man. Also with Clive Owen, Pilar López de Ayala, Carice van Houten, Daniel Brühl, Héctor Alterio, and Kerry Fox.

Le Havre (NR) The latest comedy by Aki Kaurismäki (Leningrad Cowboys Go America) stars André Wilms as an aged French shoeshine man who takes in an illegal immigrant Gabonese boy (Blondin Miguel) trying to reunite with his mother. Also with Kati Outinen, Jean-Pierre Darroussin, Elina Salo, Evelyne Didi, Quoc Dung Nguyen, Roberto “Little Bob” Piazza, and Jean-Pierre Léaud.

A Separation (PG-13) An Oscar nominee for both Best Foreign Film and Best Original Screenplay, Asghar Farhadi’s drama stars Peyman Moadi and Leila Hatami as an Iranian married couple whose attempts to resolve their differences result in tragedy. Also with Sareh Bayat, Shahab Hosseini, Sarina Farhadi, Kimia Hosseini, and Babak Karimi.

We Need to Talk About Kevin (R) Lynne Ramsay (Morvern Callar) adapts Lionel Shriver’s novel about a New York mother (Tilda Swinton) coping with the aftermath of her son (Ezra Miller) committing a mass murder at his school. Also with John C. Reilly, Ashley Gerasimovich, and Siobhan Fallon Hogan.


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