Film Shorts

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Posted June 6, 2012 by Kristian Lin in Film
75th-anniversary re-mastered print of Jean Renoir’s Grand Illusion opens Friday in Dallas.75th-anniversary re-mastered print of Jean Renoir’s Grand Illusion opens Friday in Dallas.

OPENING:

Grand Illusion (NR) A 75th-anniversary re-mastered print of Jean Renoir’s film about two French prisoners (Jean Gabin and Marcel Dalio) during World War I who plot to escape from their German camp. Also with Pierre Fresnay, Dita Parlo, Werner Florian, Julien Carette, and Erich von Stroheim. (Opens Friday in Dallas)

Madagascar 3: Europe’s Most Wanted (PG) This noisy and inconsequential third installment has our animal heroes (voiced by Ben Stiller, Chris Rock, Jada Pinkett Smith, and David Schwimmer) becoming stranded in Europe, pursued by a fanatical Monaco animal control officer (voiced by Frances McDormand), and forced to take refuge amid a multinational troupe of circus animals. The movie doesn’t have any dead spots, and the plot isn’t as scattered as Madagascar: Escape 2 Africa’s, but the jokes are largely forgettable and the new characters don’t add much, aside from McDormand singing a credible “Non, je ne regrette rien.” It’s all professionally made, but it’s empty. Additional voices by Sacha Baron Cohen, Cedric the Entertainer, Andy Richter, Bryan Cranston, Martin Short, Paz Vega, and Jessica Chastain. (Opens Friday)

Peace, Love, & Misunderstanding (R) Jane Fonda stars in this comedy as an unreconstructed hippie farmer who’s visited by her uptight daughter (Catherine Keener) and teenage grandchildren (Elizabeth Olsen and Nat Wolff). Also with Chace Crawford, Kyle MacLachlan, Rosanna Arquette, and Katharine McPhee. (Opens Friday in Dallas)

Steve Jobs: The Lost Interview (NR) Paul Sen’s documentary features footage from a 1996 interview with the technology guru after Jobs had left Apple. (Opens Friday in Dallas)

Where Do We Go Now? (PG-13) Nadine Labaki (Caramel) directs and co-stars in this drama about a group of Lebanese women trying to defuse tensions between Christians and Muslims in their village. Also with Claude Baz Moussawba, Layla Hakim, Yvonne Maalouf, Antoinette Noufaily, Julien Farhat, Ali Haidar, Kevin Abboud, and Petra Saghbini. (Opens Friday in Dallas)

NOW PLAYING:

The Avengers (PG-13) A payoff worth waiting four years and sitting through five movies for. Marvel Comics superheroes Iron Man, The Hulk, Captain America, and Thor (Robert Downey Jr., Mark Ruffalo, Chris Evans, and Chris Hemsworth) team up with two new assassins (Scarlett Johansson and Jeremy Renner) to battle a fallen Norse god (Tom Hiddleston) with plans to invade the Earth. Writer-director Joss Whedon manages to give everyone enough to do, fill in intriguing character details, and pull off a couple of mind-bogglingly complex action sequences without any strain and without making the movie feel overstuffed. A few bobbles along the way notwithstanding, this surpasses all the other Marvel films while somehow making them all seem worthier in retrospect. Also with Samuel L. Jackson, Clark Gregg, Cobie Smulders, Stellan Skarsgård, Alexis Denisof, Jerzy Skolimowski, Powers Boothe, Jenny Agutter, Harry Dean Stanton, and Gwyneth Paltrow.

Battlefield America (PG-13) Narcissistic Los Angeles marketing bigwig Sean Lewis (Marques Houston) finds himself volunteering at a community center thanks to a judge’s leniency following a DUI conviction. Sean agrees to coach a gaggle of wisecracking inner-city tweens who intend to compete at Battlefield America, a dance competition in which teams of urban dancers go head-to-head for street cred. (Do kids really do this? Is this a thing?) Co-writers Houston and Chris Stokes (also the film’s director) manage to pack just about every teen sports-movie cliché into this 106-minute eye-roller. Prepare for painfully bad acting and frenetic editing that prevents any decent shots of the actual dance moves. Also with Lynn Whitfield, Kyle Brooks, Kida Burns, Tristen M. Carter, Alyssa Chang, Zach Belandres, and Valarie Pettiford. –– Matthew McGowan

Battleship (PG-13) Are you kidding me with this crap? Taylor Kitsch stars in this cold, inhuman, pleasure-free thriller as a Navy officer who’s forced to take charge when alien spaceships land in the ocean off Hawaii and prepare to launch an invasion. Though the movie has little to do with the board game on which it’s supposedly based, it pays tribute to its source by having each of its characters show as much personality as a Battleship peg. The script’s handling of the alien invasion is stupid, and the action sequences are bereft of any invention. Director Peter Berg has turned into Michael Bay. That’s really bad news. Also with Alexander Skarsgård, Rihanna, Tadanobu Asano, Brooklyn Decker, Hamish Linklater, John Tui, Jesse Plemons, Gregory D. Gadson, Peter MacNicol, and Liam Neeson.

Bernie (PG-13) Jack Black’s quietly mesmerizing performance as a gentle, gay, God-fearing, emotionally needy East Texas man anchors this drama based on a real-life murder case. He portrays a mortician involved with a wealthy old widow (Shirley MacLaine) who becomes so mean and possessive of him that he snaps. So great is Black, you wish director/co-writer Richard Linklater would stop distracting you with fake interview footage of townspeople (portrayed by actors) testifying to Bernie’s character. Still, the movie draws an absorbing portrait of a man whose niceness and burning desire for friends proves to be both his downfall and his salvation. Watch for the diner customer giving a hilarious explanation of Texas’ cultural geography. Also with Matthew McConaughey, Brady Coleman, Richard Robichaux, Merrilee McCommas, Brandon Smith, Matthew Greer, and the late Rick Dial.

The Best Exotic Marigold Hotel (PG-13) A gasp-inducing lineup of veteran British actors makes some watchable moments but doesn’t elevate this slight comedy to anything more. Based on Deborah Moggach’s novel, the movie concerns seven British seniors who retire to the city of Jaipur, India, to a faded old hotel repurposed as an old-age home for British seniors by a young entrepreneur (Dev Patel). Judi Dench underplays nicely as a widow on her own for the first time in her life, while Tom Wilkinson demonstrates similarly easy mastery as a man harboring a long-held shameful secret. Yet director John Madden doesn’t go much deeper into the Indian setting than a travelogue, and the plotlines’ resolutions pile up near the end. For all its talent, this movie comes out like bland, over-processed curry. Also with Maggie Smith, Bill Nighy, Penelope Wilton, Ronald Pickup, Celia Imrie, Tena Desae, Lillete Dubey, Seema Azmi, Vishnu Sharma, and Diana Hardcastle.

Chernobyl Diaries (R) On paper, this has all the makings of a great horror movie, but on screen it turns into an uninspired muck of clichés, inconsistencies, and aimlessness. Jesse McCartney plays one of six idiot tourists who follow a guide (Dmitri Diatchenko) into the ruins of the Ukrainian city of Pripyat, abandoned after the nuclear reactor’s meltdown. The set (actually filmed in Serbia and Hungary) is a great spooky backdrop, but it can only carry things so far. Once the action starts up, this thing turns into an average pick-’em-off slasher flick that goes nowhere in a hurry. Also with Ingrid Bolsø Berdal, Olivia Dudley, Devin Kelley, Nathan Phillips, and Jonathan Sadowski. –– M.M.

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.

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

For Greater Glory (R) Dean Wright’s ambitious directorial debut depicts the oft-overlooked Cristeros War, a bloody chapter in Mexican history that pitted the nation’s devout Catholics against an oppressive secular government in the mid-1920s. The whole narrative fizzles under its own emotional weight, further burdened by a TV-miniseries treatment that piles on too many characters and subplots. The film’s earnestness also flirts with self-righteousness. Writer Michael Love’s one-dimensional approach almost turns this into a Catholic propaganda piece. The film’s acting stands out here, though, as lead man Andy Garcia nails the role of a conflicted agnostic rebel leader. Oscar Isaac’s depiction of the hotheaded Victoriano Ramirez also lends much-needed gravitas to this otherwise sappy flick, and an early appearance by Peter O’Toole as a martyred priest is a pleasant touch. Also with Eva Longoria, Bruce Greenwood, Bruce McGill, Nestor Carbonell, Catalina Sandino Moreno, Santiago Cabrera, Eduardo Verástegui, and Rubén Blades. — M.M.

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.

Men in Black III (PG-13) The fizz that made the 1997 original so much fun is completely gone in this third installment, which has Agent J (Will Smith) trying to save Agent K (Tommy Lee Jones) by traveling back in time to the 1960s to prevent an evil alien (Jemaine Clement) from assassinating the young K (Josh Brolin). A few scattered jokes hit, and there’s a nice supporting performance by Michael Stuhlbarg as a sweet-natured alien who sees all possible versions of the future at once. Yet director Barry Sonnenfeld’s slime-joke aesthetic is long stale, and Smith can’t duplicate the comic chemistry with Brolin (doing a pretty good Jones impression). The tired hijinks here make 1997 seem like a very long time ago. Also with Emma Thompson, Mike Colter, Alice Eve, David Rasche, and Bill Hader.

Piranha 3DD (R) The cinematic equivalent of bad sushi: Unpleasant as it is going down, you’ll feel even worse afterward. Danielle Panabaker stars in this sequel in which hot, naked women run around while prehistoric flesh-eating fish continue to terrorize idiots without enough sense to get out of the water. Director John Gulager (Feast) takes over the sequel and films it without the energy or the baseline competence of the 2010 original. The bad acting here will leave you wanting to chew your own face off without waiting for the piranhas. Also with Matt Bush, David Koechner, Jean-Luc Bilodeau, Chris Zylka, Katrina Bowden, Christopher Lloyd, Gary Busey, and David Hasselhoff.

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

Snow White and the Huntsman (PG-13) First-time director Rupert Sanders turns the old fable into a big, dull swords-and-shields epic livened by some really cool visual touches. Charlize Theron (overacting with all her might) is the evil queen, Kristen Stewart is the imprisoned princess who escapes her clutches into an enchanted forest, and Chris Hemsworth is the hunter who’s sent into the forest to bring her back. Sanders gives us an anthropomorphic mirror, warriors who turn themselves into flying shards of black glass, some beautifully rendered fairies, and a breathtaking interlude with the spirit of the forest. Yet the dialogue is witless and the momentum dies way too often. Good-looking though this is, it goes in the loss column. Also with Ian McShane, Bob Hoskins, Ray Winstone, Sam Claflin, Eddie Marsan, Nick Frost, and Toby Jones.

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.

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:

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.

Hysteria (R) Tanya Wexler’s comedy stars Hugh Dancy and Maggie Gyllenhaal as a 19th-century British doctor and a female suffragette who invent the vibrator. Also with Jonathan Pryce, Felicity Jones, Ashley Jensen, Gemma Jones, Kim Criswell, Anna Chancellor, Tobias Menzies, and Rupert Everett.

The Intouchables (R) This award-winning French dramedy stars François Cluzet as a quadriplegic French billionaire who hires an ex-convict (Omar Sy) as his live-in nurse. Also with Anne Le Ny, Audrey Fleurot, Clotilde Mollet, Cyril Mendy, Christian Ameri, and Alba Gaïa Bellugi.


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