Film Shorts

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Posted April 11, 2012 by KRISTIAN LIN in Film
Bully opens Friday.Bully opens Friday.

OPENING:

Bully (PG-13) Re-rated after an exhaustive saga with the MPAA, Lee Hirsch’s documentary examines bullying in schools across America. (Opens Friday)

Keyhole (R) The latest film by Canadian avant-garde filmmaker Guy Maddin (The Saddest Music in the World) stars Jason Patric as a gangster who’s haunted by his memories as he hides out in his childhood home. Also with Isabella Rossellini, Brooke Palsson, David Wontner, Louis Negin, Kevin McDonald, and Udo Kier. (Opens Friday in Dallas)

Lockout (PG-13) Guy Pearce stars in this science-fiction thriller as a convict on the run who’s offered a pardon in exchange for rescuing the American president’s daughter (Maggie Grace) from a prison in outer space that has been taken over by the inmates. Also with Peter Stormare, Vincent Regan, Joseph Gilgun, Lennie James, and Jacky Ido. (Opens Friday)

The Raid: Redemption (R) The baddest Indonesian thriller you’ll see all spring. Iko Uwais stars as a highly trained Jakarta police officer who tries to escape from the high-rise apartment that serves as a crime lord’s headquarters after a raid goes wrong. The actors perform the Indonesian fighting technique of pencak silat with dizzying speed, and expatriate Welsh director Gareth Evans makes sure we feel every bone-crunching hit. Uwais makes a chiseled hero, but the show is stolen by Yayan Ruhian’s small-statured, dead-eyed henchman who dispatches much larger men. The fight sequences are carried off with a brio that recalls Hong Kong’s thrillers from the 1990s, and the fact that this represents a country making its first inroads into world cinema gives the thrills an extra charge. Also with Joe Taslim, Doni Alamsyah, Ray Sahetapy, Tegar Satrya, and Pierre Gruno. (Opens Friday)

The Three Stooges (PG) The Farrelly Brothers try to revive the old comedy act in the present day, with Chris Diamantopoulos, Sean Hayes, and Will Sasso as Moe, Larry, and Curly. Also with Jennifer Hudson, Jane Lynch, Sofía Vergara, Craig Bierko, Stephen Collins, Kate Upton, and Larry David. (Opens Friday)

Touchback (PG-13) This sententious football drama stars Brian Presley as a game-legged, financially struggling farmer who’s magically given the chance to go back to his high-school days, shortly before a catastrophic injury derailed his athletic career. Writer-director Don Handfield plays it all wearyingly straight, and Kurt Russell’s turn as a football coach is the only thing that gives this even a lick of flavor. We’re supposed to believe that the injury is the only way the hero can get the wallflower girl who’s now his wife (Melanie Lynskey), but there’s not nearly enough chemistry between the actors to put that over. If we want to see a bunch of 30-year-old actors impersonating high-schoolers, we can just watch 21 Jump Street. Also with Marc Blucas, Sarah Wright, Drew Powell, Kevin Covais, and Christine Lahti. (Opens Friday at AMC Grapevine Mills)

Woman Thou Art Loosed: On the 7th Day (PG-13) The sequel to the 2004 film stars Blair Underwood and Sharon Leal as a couple whose buried secrets are revealed in the days following their daughter’s kidnapping. Also with Nicole Beharie, Pam Grier, Clyde Jones, Jaqueline Fleming, Zoe Carter, and T.D. Jakes. (Opens Friday)

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

American Reunion (R) There are just enough sparks in this American Pie get-together to propel it over the finish line. The entire gang from the 1999 film returns for their reunion, and some of the actors look more comfortable back in these roles than they have ever looked anywhere else (Jason Biggs, Chris Klein, Tara Reid, Mena Suvari). Writer-directors Jon Hurwitz and Hayden Schlossberg (from the Harold and Kumar movies) drown the story in too many boring thirtysomething issues, but they scatter funny bits here and there, including Jim’s dad (Eugene Levy) hooking up with Stifler’s mom (Jennifer Coolidge) and Stifler (Seann William Scott) finally getting payback on Finch (Eddie Kaye Thomas) for the events of 13 years ago. It’s an agreeable trifle, but it should have been more. Also with Alyson Hannigan, Thomas Ian Nicholas, Natasha Lyonne, Dania Ramirez, Katrina Bowden, Ali Cobrin, Jay Harrington, Chuck Hittinger, Neil Patrick Harris, Shannon Elizabeth, and John Cho.

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

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.

Friends With Kids (R) Though half the cast of Bridesmaids is in this comedy, it has a sharp, intellectual New York sensibility of its own, and it’s almost as good. Adam Scott and Jennifer Westfeldt play single platonic friends who observe their college pals’ curdled marriages and decide to have a child together without getting romantically involved. Westfeldt also makes her directing debut here, and she is a filmmaker to be reckoned with, leavening her urbane wit with a few scatological jokes, polishing her narrative to a high finish, and directing a superb, finely tuned ensemble of actors. (Scott is particularly good in the male lead.) It’s disappointing that she can’t think of a creative resolution to the complex issues in this unorthodox setup. Instead of a subversive comic masterpiece, this is just a funny, well-made movie. Also with Jon Hamm, Kristen Wiig, Maya Rudolph, Chris O’Dowd, Lee Bryant, Brian D’Arcy James, Edward Burns, and Megan Fox.

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.

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.

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.

Mirror Mirror (PG) This comic take on the Snow White fable stars Lily Collins as the princess who’s exiled to a forest by a wicked queen (Julia Roberts). The script is deliberately silly without being funny, and the only thing that saves the early going from banality is director Tarsem Singh (Immortals, The Cell) and his flamboyant visual style. His approach doesn’t fit the jokey material, but his sets and costumes are a joy to look at. Collins only looks authoritative at the end, when she leads a Bollywood dance number, a bit of foolery that comes off well and helps make this into a pleasant minor diversion. Also with Armie Hammer, Nathan Lane, Jordan Prentice, Mark Povinelli, Danny Woodburn, Martin Klebba, Joe Gnoffo, Sebastian Saraceno, Ronald Lee Clark, Michael Lerner, Mare Winningham, and Sean Bean.

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.

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

This Means War (PG-13) There are no grown-ups in this wet firecracker of a comic thriller that stars Tom Hardy and Chris Pine as CIA agents and best buds who discover that they’re dating the same woman (Reese Witherspoon) and try to sabotage each other’s dates with her without telling her that they know each other. The immature behavior would be tolerable if the actors were fun to be around, but only the loose-limbed Pine delivers on that score. Witherspoon, meanwhile, is reduced to playing a collection of neurotic single-gal clichés. McG directs it all like a birthday party clown trying to amp up some bored kids by asking them, “Isn’t this fun?” The filmmakers should have gone Spy Kids on us and cast 13-year-olds in these roles. Then these characters’ antics would make sense. Also with Til Schweiger, Chelsea Handler, Rosemary Harris, Natassia Malthe, Laura Vandervoort, and Angela Bassett.

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

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:

Detachment (NR) The first fiction film in 14 years by Tony Kaye (American History X) stars Adrien Brody as a public school substitute teacher forced to come to terms with his transient life during a three-week assignment. Also with Christina Hendricks, Lucy Liu, Marcia Gay Harden, Tim Blake Nelson, William Peterson, Sami Gayle, Betty Kaye, Isiah Whitlock Jr., Blythe Danner, Bryan Cranston, and James Caan.

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.

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.

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.

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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