Film Shorts

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Posted May 23, 2012 by KRISTIAN LIN in Film

Dark Shadows (PG-13) Tim Burton tries to turn the oddball 1960s soap opera into a vehicle for his macabre sense of humor, a great idea that should have resulted in a funnier movie. Johnny Depp plays an 18th-century man turned into a vampire by a curse and awakened in 1972, when he must save his descendants. The production design is glorious, screenwriter Seth Grahame-Smith comes up with some funny one-liners, and Depp plays the vampire’s misery straight while remembering to make him into a figure of fun. Still, the panoply of supporting characters proves too much for Burton, and the pacing is so slack that even though the story is stuffed with developments, it still moves glacially. This film has too much on its plate. Also with Michelle Pfeiffer, Eva Green, Helena Bonham Carter, Jackie Earle Haley, Bella Heathcote, Jonny Lee Miller, Chloë Grace Moretz, Gulliver McGrath, Christopher Lee, and Alice Cooper.

Elles now playing exclusively in Dallas.

The Dictator (R) Sacha Baron Cohen is a bad fit headlining this conventional scripted comedy as a supreme leader of a fictitious North African petroleum state who’s deposed and cast adrift in New York City. Reunited with his Borat and Brüno director, Larry Charles, Baron Cohen seems hamstrung by the traditional format and doesn’t have enough charisma to paper over the project’s shortcomings. He misjudges what’s funny about dictators (resulting in a lot of rape and pedophilia jokes that land with a thud), and his political gibes aim for the softest and easiest targets. Baron Cohen’s still a funny guy whose skills ensure that he won’t disappear. The same can’t be said for this movie. Also with Anna Faris, Jason Mantzoukas, Ben Kingsley, Bobby Lee, Kathryn Hahn, Fred Armisen, Megan Fox, and uncredited cameos by Edward Norton and John C. Reilly.

The Five-Year Engagement (R) This fairly by-the-numbers Judd Apatow-produced comedy turns out to be good for some laughs. Jason Segel and Emily Blunt play a normal couple whose planned marriage keeps being put off thanks to accidents and diverging career paths. A supporting cast full of newcomers to Apatow’s stable gives this a jolt, and the script (by Segel and director/co-writer Nicholas Stoller) is pretty good at treating the strains of a long-term relationship. Also with Chris Pratt, Alison Brie, Jacki Weaver, David Paymer, Mimi Kennedy, Chris Parnell, Rhys Ifans, Kevin Hart, and Mindy Kaling. — Zack Shlacter

Girl in Progress (PG-13) Patricia Riggen’s comedy stars newcomer Cierra Ramirez as a 16-year-old girl who tries to grow up although it’s her 33-year-old mother (Eva Mendes) who is more in need of maturity. Riggen gets off to a brisk start detailing the unsettled lives of this pair, but the movie puts too much weight on the girl’s plan to leave her childhood behind, and the melodrama piles up in an unfortunate way late in the film. Ramirez is an interesting screen presence, and the movie has a mother-daughter story that most other films don’t bother with, but it’s still easily disposable. Also with Matthew Modine, Raini Rodriguez, Landon Liboiron, Eugenio Derbez, Russell Peters, and Patricia Arquette.

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.

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

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.

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.

What to Expect When You’re Expecting (PG-13) Heidi Murkoff’s pregnancy guide becomes this omnibus comedy about a bunch of expectant couples in Atlanta. Director Kirk Jones stocks the roster here with comics and lets them ad-lib at will, with some funny results from Rebel Wilson as a baby-store employee, a pack of swaggering married dads, and one couple (Ben Falcone and Elizabeth Banks) suffering from inferiority complexes. The rest of the movie is perfectly predictable, and you can time down to the second when the celebrity fitness guru (Cameron Diaz) is going to suffer her first bout of morning sickness. The movie’s share of nifty wisecracks can’t disguise the rampant mediocrity on display. Also with Jennifer Lopez, Anna Kendrick, Chris Rock, Rodrigo Santoro, Matthew Morrison, Thomas Lennon, Wendi McLendon-Covey, Chace Crawford, Rob Huebel, Amir Talai, and Joe Manganiello.

DALLAS EXCLUSIVES:

Darling Companion (PG-13) The latest film by Lawrence Kasdan (Body Heat, The Big Chill) stars Diane Keaton as a woman who overreacts after her husband (Kevin Kline) loses their dog. Also with Richard Jenkins, Dianne Wiest, Elisabeth Moss, Ayelet Zurer, Mark Duplass, Lindsay Sloane, and Sam Shepard.

Elles (NC-17) Juliette Binoche stars in Malgorzata Szumowska’s drama as a French journalist who becomes ensnared while reporting on a prostitution ring run by university students. Also with Anaïs Demoustier, Joanna Kulig, Louis-Do de Lencquesaing, Ali Marhyar, François Civil, Pablo Beugnet, Krystyna Janda, and Jean-Marie Binoche.

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.

Mansome (NR) The latest documentary by Morgan Spurlock (Super Size Me) explores the industry of beauty products and cosmetic services for men.

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.

My Way (R) This epic by Kang Je-gyu is about a Korean farmer (Jang Dong-gun) and a Japanese landlord (Jô Odagiri) whose lives become entangled while they fight in World War II. Also with Fan Bingbing, Kim In-kwon, Do Ji-han, Han Seung-hyun, Kim Hee-won, and Michael Arnold.

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.


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