Film Shorts

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Posted May 2, 2012 by KRISTIAN LIN in Film
Monsieur Lazhar now playing exclusively in Dallas.Monsieur Lazhar now playing exclusively in Dallas.

OPENING:

Bernie (PG-13) Based on a real-life murder case, Richard Linklater’s film stars Jack Black as a small-town Texas mortician who kills a wealthy widow (Shirley MacLaine) for her money and then tries to keep up the pretense that she’s still alive. Also with Matthew McConaughey, Tommy G. Kendrick, Rick Dial, Richard Robichaux, and Amparo García. (Opens Friday in Dallas)

The Ballad of Genesis and Lady Jaye (NR) Marie Losier’s documentary about a husband-and-wife team of performance artists who get themselves surgically enhanced to look as much like each other as possible. (Opens Friday in Dallas)

A Beautiful Soul (R) Deitrick Haddon stars in this drama as an R&B music star who re-evaluates his life while trapped in a spiritual limbo state after he and his entourage are attacked. Also with Lesley-Ann Brandt, Harry Lennix, Robert Ri’chard, Barry Floyd, Trevor Jackson, Golden Brooks, and Vanessa Bell Calloway. (Opens Friday at AMC Grapevine Mills)

The Best Exotic Marigold Hotel (PG-13) Based on Deborah Moggach’s novel, this film directed by John Madden (Shakespeare in Love) is about a group of British seniors who decide to retire to a restored hotel in India. Starring Judi Dench, Maggie Smith, Tom Wilkinson, Bill Nighy, Celia Imrie, Ronald Pickup, Penelope Wilton, and Dev Patel. (Opens Friday in Dallas)

Headhunters (R) Based on a mystery novel by Jo Nesbø, this Norwegian thriller stars Aksel Hennie as a corporate headhunter who gets into lethal trouble pursuing his sidelight in burgling the homes of his wealthy clients. Also with Nikolaj Coster-Waldau, Synnøve Macody Lund, Julie Ølgaard, Kyrre Haugen Sydness, and Reidar Sørensen. (Opens Friday in Dallas)

A Little Bit of Heaven (PG-13) Kate Hudson stars in this dramedy as a woman who falls in love with her doctor (Gael García Bernal) while being treated for terminal cancer. Also with Kathy Bates, Peter Dinklage, Rosemarie DeWitt, Lucy Punch, Romany Malco, Treat Williams, Steven Weber, and Whoopi Goldberg. (Opens Friday in Dallas)

Sound of My Voice (R) Brit Marling co-writes and stars in Zat Batmanglij’s thriller as a religious cult leader who places an investigative journalist (Christopher Denham) and his girlfriend (Nicole Vicius) under her spell. Also with Davenia McFadden, Kandice Stroh, Richard Wharton, Christy Meyers, and James Urbaniak. (Opens Friday in Dallas)

NOW PLAYING:

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.

Bully (PG-13) Lee Hirsch’s documentary is admirable in its attempt to change the culture. Too bad it’s not that good. The film follows three kids in various parts of rural America who are being bullied at school, plus two sets of parents whose young sons killed themselves because of bullying. The movie shows us a string of school officials who seem to go out of their way to look weak and ineffectual, but it misses the complexities of bullying, leaves nagging questions, and is often just sloppy. By neatly dividing the world into bullies and victims, the movie glosses over how easily victims can become perpetrators, and vice versa. The movie wants to be weigh in on an issue of the moment, but a great number of recent fiction films have addressed the subject in fuller and richer terms.

The Cabin in the Woods (R) The funniest slasher movie ever. Five heavily stereotyped college kids (Kristen Connolly, Chris Hemsworth, Anna Hutchinson, Fran Kranz, and Jesse Williams) spend a weekend at a cabin, not knowing that they’re being remotely observed by three scientists (Richard Jenkins, Bradley Whitford, and Amy Acker) in a military-style bunker, manipulating events at the cabin to make sure the characters are killed. Drew Goddard and Joss Whedon’s snappy script will leave you helpless with laughter, but they’ve got more on the agenda than just gags or sending up slasher-movie conventions. The twisty plot conceals existential and theological implications that are downright Pirandellian. It’s about nine different kinds of awesome. Also with Brian White, Tom Lenk, Jodelle Ferland, and Sigourney Weaver.

Chimpanzee (G) Alastair Fothergill and Mark Linfield’s kid-friendly documentary tries to humanize its simian subjects when it would have been better off treating them as chimps. The story hinges on a three-year-old orphaned chimp who’s adopted by an alpha male. The movie is beautifully shot, but the baby is bad at everything (which makes him hard to sympathize with), and the pack of rival chimps are cast uncomfortably as the villains. A less cutesy approach would have done a world of good. Narrated by Tim Allen. — Steve Steward

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.

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-E director Andrew Stanton. A Civil War veteran (Taylor Kitsch) gets 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, the game cast, passionate direction, and exciting action scenes create the kind of 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

Bernie opens Friday in Dallas.

Lockout (PG-13) Guy Pearce’s slouchy, disinterested attitude is the only point of interest in this otherwise rote sci-fi thriller. Playing every scene like he’s just been rudely awakened from a nap, Pearce portrays a wrongly convicted spy in 2079 who’s offered his freedom in exchange for freeing the president’s daughter (Maggie Grace), who’s trapped on a maximum-security prison in outer space that has been taken over by its violent inmates. Pearce spends the movie wisecracking and acting like he couldn’t care less about his mission’s success. Is his performance appallingly unprofessional or a brilliant distraction from the crappy special effects and writing? I can’t decide. Also with Peter Stormare, Vincent Regan, Joseph Gilgun, Lennie James, and Jacky Ido.

The Lucky One (PG-13) Just like all the other Nicholas Sparks adaptations, only worse. Zac Efron portrays a psychologically traumatized Marine veteran who seeks out a woman in a photograph that he credits with saving his life and finds her a divorced mom (Taylor Schilling) in Louisiana living in fear of her drunken abusive ex-husband (Jay R. Ferguson). Efron is tragically miscast as a damaged case, but his charisma still outshines almost everyone else in this personality-free cast. Scott Hicks contributes torpid direction, and all the complicated issues in the story are reduced to pablum, with a heavy infusion of syrup. This isn’t to be confused with The Lucky Ones, a 2008 comedy that’s also about war veterans on leave, which happens to be a much better movie. Also with Riley Thomas Stewart, Adam LeFevre, and Blythe Danner.

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.

The Pirates! Band of Misfits (G) Aardman Animation’s big-screen version of Gideon Defoe’s novels is a total smash. Hugh Grant provides the voice of a 19th-century pirate captain looking to win a pirate of the year award while Charles Darwin (voiced by David Tennant) tries to get the captain’s parrot, who is actually the world’s last remaining dodo. The action moves at a brisk clip, and Aardman’s soft and fuzzy treatment fits the material exceptionally well. The wry wit and smart silliness on display helps it all go down smoothly. Additional voices by Salma Hayek, Jeremy Piven, Martin Freeman, Imelda Staunton, Brendan Gleeson, Lenny Henry, Brian Blessed, and Anton Yelchin. — Anthony Mariani

The Raven (R) This thriller posits what would happen if Edgar Allan Poe himself (John Cusack) had to play detective to stop a serial killer inspired by the writer’s own macabre stories. However, like a bad copycat, the movie can’t compare to Poe’s original works. From the first murder on, the movie fails to thrill or scare and feels like any generic serial killer flick with a half-assed dash of Poe painted on. The handsome and charismatic Cusack is a poor fit for the infamously tortured Poe, and Alice Eve feels unnecessarily shoehorned in as Poe’s fictionalized and endangered fiancée. Luke Evans, as the police officer in charge of the investigation, is the one engaging presence in the movie, which considering its subject matter is a damning sign. You’re better off staying at home and cracking open a good book instead. Also with Brendan Gleeson, Kevin McNally, Oliver Jackson-Cohen, Jimmy Yuill, Pam Ferris, and Michael Kelly. — C.W.

Safe (R) Jason Statham stars in this thriller as a former cop who must save a little girl (Catherine Chan) whose knowledge of a code makes her a target of organized criminals and crooked cops. Also with Robert John Burke, James Hong, Anson Mount, Sándor Técsy, Joseph Sikora, and Chris Sarandon.

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.

Think Like a Man (PG-13) The overqualified actors are the best reason to see this ensemble comedy based on Steve Harvey’s dating advice book, in which various characters follow Harvey’s advice. The advice isn’t original, and everything gets squashed into the mold of a conventional romantic comedy, but it’s worth it to see the cast. The diminutive Kevin Hart reliably scores laughs in even the most unpromising circumstances, while Romany Malco brings fascinating stuff to the cliché role of a player trying to settle down. Michael Ealy and Taraji P. Henson strike all manner of sparks off each other. Seeing these good-looking, wildly talented, suavely charming actors at work, you wish they had better material to work with. Also with Meagan Good, Jerry Ferrara, Regina Hall, Gabrielle Union, Terrence J, Gary Owen, Jenifer Lewis, Gary Owen, La La Anthony, Wendy Williams, Sherri Shepherd, Chris Brown, and Steve Harvey.

The Three Stooges (PG) This bizarre exercise tries to copy the Stooges’ old movies in every respect, with Chris Diamantopoulos, Sean Hayes, and Will Sasso giving dutiful impressions of Moe Howard, Larry Fine, and Curly Howard, respectively. Director/co-writers the Farrelly brothers have the Stooges trying to save the orphanage where they grew up and getting sucked into a murder-for-hire plot. The slapstick is uninspired, and the overqualified supporting cast doesn’t add much, except for the brilliant stroke of Larry David as a crabby nun. The movie gains points for being precisely what it appears to be, but it doesn’t amount to all that much in the end. Also with Jennifer Hudson, Jane Lynch, Sofía Vergara, Craig Bierko, Stephen Collins, Kirby Hayborne, Brian Doyle-Murray, and Kate Upton.

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.

Woman Thou Art Loosed: On the 7th Day (PG-13) I wish T.D. Jakes would go back to producing comedies. Blair Underwood and Sharon Leal play a New Orleans married couple whose daughter is kidnapped, and all manner of buried secrets (infidelity, drug use, prostitution, rape, and incest) come slithering out. The case winds up being investigated by some of the most incompetent FBI agents ever, who take an eternity to catch a child molester (Patrick Weathers) who might as well have “I am a child molester” tattooed on his face. The overheated drama would be hilarious if the incessant messages about God didn’t make this depressing and sordid. Also with Nicole Beharie, Clyde Jones, Jaqueline Fleming, Zoe Carter, and Pam Grier.

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.

Zombie Dawn (NR) This Chilean horror flick’s original Spanish-language title translates as Blind Death, and, well, that’s not actually much of an improvement. The movie’s set in an unnamed Latin country years after a zombie apocalypse. An evil corporation sends a scientist (Pamela Rojas) and some rankly sexist mercenaries to retrieve a mysterious package from the infected zone. Cristián Toledo and Lucio Rojas’ direction is technically accomplished, and some of the shots of the soldiers wandering in a deserted landscape have the stark poetry of a Tarkovsky film. Yet the movie isn’t scary, and it fails at both psychological realism and social commentary when the mercs start turning on each other. From a promising beginning, the movie peters out. Also with Cristián Ramos, Guillermo Alfaro, Pablo Tournelle, Christopher Offermann, and Felipe Lobos.

DALLAS EXCLUSIVES:

Damsels in Distress (PG-13) The first new film in 14 years by Whit Stillman (Metropolitan, The Last Days of Disco) stars Greta Gerwig, Megalyn Echikunwoke, and Carrie MacLemore as three college girls who seek to change the culture of their previously all-male school through a program of good hygiene and tap dancing. Also with Adam Brody, Analeigh Tipton, Ryan Metcalf, Jermaine Crawford, Taylor Nichols, Carolyn Farina, Alia Shawkat, and Aubrey Plaza.

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.

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.

Marley (PG-13) Not a sequel to Marley & Me, this documentary by Kevin Macdonald (Touching the Void) profiles the life and music of Bob Marley.

Monsieur Lazhar (PG-13) Philippe Falardeau’s Oscar-nominated dramedy stars Mohamed Fellag as an Algerian immigrant who’s hired to replace a popular Montreal schoolteacher who killed himself in his classroom. Also with Sophie Nélisse, Émilien Néron, Marie-Ève Beauregard, Vincent Millard, Seddik Benslimane, and Danielle Proulx.


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