Film Shorts

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Posted August 29, 2012 by KRISTIAN LIN in Film
Cosmopolis opens Friday.Cosmopolis opens Friday.

OPENING:

Cosmopolis (R) David Cronenberg’s adaptation of Don DeLillo’s novel stars Robert Pattinson as a young financier whose world comes apart as he rides in a stretch limo across Manhattan for a haircut. Also with Juliette Binoche, Sarah Gadon, Mathieu Amalric, Jay Baruchel, Samantha Morton, and Paul Giamatti. (Opens Friday)

Celeste and Jesse Forever (R) Not a great comedy but a great vehicle for Rashida Jones, who co-wrote the script. She plays a marketing firm co-founder who remains best friends with her husband (Andy Samberg) while they go through a divorce. When he decides to marry a former one-night stand who’s now pregnant with his child, she’s outraged that the guy she always viewed as a man-child is now moving on effortlessly. Jones is perfectly suited to playing a Type A person who’s coming unraveled and knows how to play it for laughs without stinting on her character’s inner anguish. If you’re a Rashida Jones fan, this is indispensable. If you’re not, this will make you into one. Also with Elijah Wood, Chris Messina, Ari Graynor, Eric Christian Olsen, Rebecca Dayan, Will McCormack, Emma Roberts, and Chris Pine. (Opens Friday)

The Oogieloves in the Big Balloon Adventure (G) This interactive animated kids’ movie is about three characters (voiced by Malerie Grady, Misty Miller, and Stephanie Renz) who try to find some new balloons in time for their friend’s surprise birthday party. Additional voices by Cary Elwes, Jaime Pressley, Christopher Lloyd, Chazz Palminteri, and Toni Braxton. (Opens Wednesday)

The Possession (PG-13) A Jewish exorcism movie! Jeffrey Dean Morgan and Kyra Sedgwick portray the parents of a young girl (Natasha Calis) who becomes possessed by a demon after buying a mysterious box at a yard sale. Also with Jay Brazeau, Madison Davenport, Grant Show, and Matisyahu. (Opens Friday)

Robot & Frank (PG-13) Frank Langella stars in this science-fiction film as an elderly former jewel thief who plots a heist with the robot (voiced by Peter Sarsgaard) purchased by his children to take care of him. Also with James Marsden, Liv Tyler, Jeremy Sisto, Ana Gasteyer, and Susan Sarandon. (Opens Friday in Dallas)

Sleepwalk With Me (NR) Mike Birbiglia co-directs and stars in this autobiographical film as a stand-up comedian who begins to sleepwalk while going through a personal crisis. Also with Lauren Ambrose, Carol Kane, Marc Maron, James Rebhorn, Kristen Schaal, Alex Karpovsky, David Wain, Ira Glass, and Loudon Wainwright III. (Opens Friday in Dallas)

The Tall Man (R) Jessica Biel stars in this thriller as a young mother who investigates a myth about an abductor of children after her own child is abducted. Also with Jodelle Ferland, Stephen McHattie, Samantha Ferris, and William B. Davis. (Opens Friday at AMC Grapevine Mills)

NOW PLAYING:

The Amazing Spider-Man (PG-13) The series goes back to its origins with this well-made blockbuster that’s neither transcendent nor in any way terrible. Andrew Garfield takes over the role of Peter Parker, whose search for the fate of his murdered parents intensifies when he’s bitten by that radioactive spider. The various plot strains are brought together gracefully by new director Marc Webb and his writers. The biggest difference between this movie and its predecessors is Garfield, who turns in a refreshingly uncomplicated performance as a scruffy kid bursting with emotions. This is a supremely competent and effective movie rather than a great one, and it makes an intriguing starting point for a new series. Also with Emma Stone, Rhys Ifans, Denis Leary, Sally Field, Martin Sheen, Irrfan Khan, C. Thomas Howell, Embeth Davidtz, and Campbell Scott.

The Apparition (PG-13) The feature-length debut of writer-director Todd Lincoln is about as frightful as a sixth-grade Halloween dance. Apparitions have been summoned from the other side by experimenting psychologist and techies, and like hibernating bears rudely awakened, the ghost-thingies aren’t particularly bright-eyed and bushy-tailed. The creatures prey on woefully stupid victims, including cohabitating Kelly (Ashley Greene) and Ben (Sebastian Stan), who, at one point, refuse to flee their ghost-infested house for fear of losing their security deposit. Indeed, there’s a small chance that The Apparition is a critique of the America inherited by “The Cheapest Generation”: The suburban setting is full of empty houses (and a Costco), and the villain takes the form of black mold. But the filmmaker doesn’t make any statement, including, “Boo!” Also with Tom Felton, Julianna Guill, Luke Pasqualino, and Rick “Endless Mike” Gomez. — Zack Shlachter

The Bourne Legacy (PG-13) New director Tony Gilroy and star Jeremy Renner take over the series and turn this installment into a deeply average spy thriller. Renner portrays another agent from the same program as Bourne who teams up with a virologist (Rachel Weisz) so he can get more of the magic pills that make him a superspy. Seriously, that’s the plot. The climactic foot and motorcycle chase through the streets of Manila is well-managed, but elsewhere Gilroy mangles the spy jargon and action sequences into incoherence. Renner is too expressive for what he’s given to do here; surely he has enough money by now to take a break from doing franchise pictures. Also with Edward Norton, Scott Glenn, Stacy Keach, Donna Murphy, Oscar Isaac, Corey Stoll, Zeljko Ivanek, David Strathairn, Joan Allen, and Albert Finney.

The Campaign (R) Will Ferrell stars in this comedy as an unprincipled, skirt-chasing Democratic Congressman from North Carolina who’s challenged for re-election by an effeminate, pea-brained Republican (Zach Galifianakis) at the behest of two sinister billionaire brothers (Dan Aykroyd and John Lithgow) looking to line their pockets. The movie’s jabs at focus groups, negative ads, and politicians who wrap themselves in Jesus and the flag don’t land accurately. Still, Galifianakis is more than a capable match for Ferrell and takes his wholesome character to a nicely weird place. We get memorable set pieces, too, like a congressional chief of staff (Jason Sudeikis) acting out the Lord’s Prayer in charades. The political satire doesn’t cut, but the movie is funny. Also with Dylan McDermott, Sarah Baker, Katherine LaNasa, Karen Maruyama, Jack McBrayer, and Brian Cox.

The Dark Knight Rises (PG-13) A clever tying up of loose ends. Christopher Nolan’s last Batman film finds Bruce Wayne (Christian Bale) coming out of retirement to battle an uprising led by a populist demagogue (Tom Hardy) with concealed motives. The steady, low drumbeat of suspense is familiar from other Nolan films but not so much is the note of delicacy and grace provided by Anne Hathaway as a cat burglar, nor the emotional beats that come as Bruce, his butler Alfred (Michael Caine), and Commissioner Gordon (Gary Oldman) are all forced to confront the lies they’ve told and the compromises they’ve made. The movie resolves plotlines that go all the way back to Batman Begins. If that’s not enough, Nolan’s action sequences are improved here, with greater clarity. It’s a hell of a way for the trilogy to go out. Also with Joseph Gordon-Levitt, Marion Cotillard, Morgan Freeman, Matthew Modine, Ben Mendelsohn, Burn Gorman, Cillian Murphy, and Liam Neeson.

Diary of a Wimpy Kid: Dog Days (PG) Not as good as Moonrise Kingdom but more likely to appeal to the little ones. The third film in the series is an episodic account of summer vacation as experienced by Greg Heffley (Zachary Gordon), whose chief goals are to stay on his father’s good side, play video games, and win the heart of classmate Holly Hills (Peyton List). Needless to say, hijinks ensue, but things eventually work out, if not quite as Greg had imagined (and minus the video games). Steve Zahn turns in a decent but understated performance as the dad, while Rachael Harris goes under-utilized as the mother. The film won’t be especially enjoyable for adults, but it’s not terribly grating either, except for its random stereotype of a South Asian student, whose accent serves as an awkward punchline. Also with Robert Capron, Devon Bostick, Grayson Russell, Laine McNeil, and Karan Brar. — Zack Shlachter

The Expendables 2 (R) Even more aged action movie stars join Sylvester Stallone in this marginally better sequel to his 2010 hit. This time, Stallone takes his crew to Eastern Europe to thwart a warlord (Jean-Claude Van Damme) who has enslaved the locals so he can steal Soviet plutonium reserves. The script is too heavy on in-jokes, the action sequences are routine, and the picture looks crappy. On the other hand, there are some funny bits about Dolph Lundgren’s real-life background as a chemist, a well-managed cameo by Chuck Norris, and the sight of Arnold Schwarzenegger and Bruce Willis riding to the rescue in a SmartCar. Just like the original, this is pretty much what it appears to be. Also with Jason Statham, Yu Nan, Terry Crews, Randy Couture, Liam Hemsworth, Charisma Carpenter, and Jet Li.

Hermano (NR) Just about every cliché of sports movies, gangster films, and Latin domestic dramas gets trotted out in this soppy Venezuelan film about two brothers (Eliú Armas and Fernando Moreno) living in the barrio in Caracas who have to choose between a future as professional soccer players and revenge for their mother’s accidental murder in a gangland shooting. Not a single plot development is at all surprising, and the hackneyed material wastes some fine efforts by the actors here. Also with Beto Benites, Gonzalo Cubero, Marcela Girón, and Alí Rondon.

Hit & Run (PG-13) Dax Shepard bids to prove that he’s more than just the poor man’s Seann William Scott in this caper comedy about a guy living under federal witness protection who risks everything to drive his girlfriend (Kristen Bell) to L.A. to interview for her dream job. The movie tries to be a thriller with lots of chase sequences, a comedy with the two meeting various comic types, and a romance in which the woman knows very little about her boyfriend’s background. The romance works best, oddly enough, thanks to the assured banter between real-life spouses Shepard and Bell and some thoughtfully conceived characters. The movie’s not terrible at anything, and Shepard might just break out of his box with some better collaborators. Also with Bradley Cooper, Tom Arnold, Joy Bryant, David Koechner, Ryan Hansen, Jess Rowland, Carly Hatter, Michael Rosenbaum, Kristin Chenoweth, and Beau Bridges.

Hope Springs (PG-13) Too few movies address intimacy issues among longtime married couples; I’m glad this one does. Meryl Streep plays an Omaha housewife who tries to rejuvenate her sexless, emotionally barren marriage by dragging her husband of 31 years (Tommy Lee Jones) to Maine for a week of intensive couples therapy with a marriage counselor and self-help author (Steve Carell). The scenes with the therapist are the weak point; Carell’s Carell-ness is tamped down, and Streep and Jones are uncharacteristically flat. The leads are much better by themselves, excelling in two realistically awkward sex scenes and capturing the vibe of a couple who have run out of things to talk about. Hollywood — or, really, anybody else — should try this subject matter more often. Also with Jean Smart, Brett Rice, Mimi Rogers, and Elisabeth Shue.

Ice Age: Continental Drift (PG) The well is long dry for this fourth installment, as Manny the mammoth (voiced by Ray Romano) gets separated from his family and once again relies on the help of his buddies (voiced by John Leguizamo and Denis Leary) to reunite with them. The domestic drama fails to generate any emotional heat or make us invest in the main characters, and the addition of a villainous orangutan pirate (voiced by Peter Dinklage) and some hefty vocal talent in the cast accomplishes nothing. The wordless four-minute Simpsons short that accompanies the feature is a better piece of filmmaking than this. Additional voices by Jennifer Lopez, Queen Latifah, Keke Palmer, Wanda Sykes, Seann William Scott, Josh Peck, Josh Gad, Aziz Ansari, Nick Frost, Rebel Wilson, Alan Tudyk, Joy Behar, Patrick Stewart, Heather Morris, Nicki Minaj, and Drake.

Killer Joe (NC-17) Matthew McConaughey gives one of the year’s scariest performances as a gentlemanly, sociopathic, sexually violent Dallas cop who moonlights as a killer for hire in William Friedkin’s adaptation of Tracy Letts’ play. Emile Hirsch stars as a small-time drug dealer who hires Joe to murder his mom for her insurance money and pimps out his willing sister (Juno Temple) in exchange for advance payment. Friedkin and Letts make hash out of the murder plot, but Temple’s angelic-demonic baby doll and McConaughey’s orderly, well-spoken, depraved killer will burn themselves into your memory. All those bland romantic comedies that McConaughey starred in in the past look different now. Also with Gina Gershon, Marc Macaulay, and Thomas Haden Church.

The Odd Life of Timothy Green (PG) When two parents who can’t have children (Jennifer Garner and Joel Edgerton) deal with their heartache by describing the child they want on paper and burying the paper in the backyard, a little boy (CJ Adams) springs fully formed from the ground. Timothy is supposed to be a catalyst for all sorts of good things, but writer-director Peter Hedges doesn’t handle the boy’s existence with much imagination. The movie takes flight only near the end, as it conveys its theme about the miraculous nature of every human soul. Its excellence is fleeting, but that seems in keeping with the theme that life itself is fleeting. On balance, this is no better than an average film, but it reaches exalted territory in a few patches. Also with Odeya Rush, Dianne Wiest, Rosemarie DeWitt, M. Emmet Walsh, David Morse, Ron Livingston, James Rebhorn, Common, and Shohreh Aghdashloo.

ParaNorman (PG) This is how I like my kids’ movies — intelligent, funny, and disturbing enough to keep you up at night. The animation studio behind Coraline brings us this stop-motion film about a bullied morbid 11-year-old New England boy (voiced by Kodi Smit-McPhee) who can talk to ghosts and must use his power to prevent a witch’s curse from destroying his town. The movie strikes a fine balance between comedy and horror, and the voice actors are cast against type in a movie where none of the characters is who he or she appears to be. The movie comes to grips with the complexities of bullying, and when the witch (voiced by Jodelle Ferland) finally appears to Norman, she takes a form far more terrifying than an old woman with a pointy hat could ever be. This virtuoso piece of work is the best animated movie so far this year. Stay after the end credits for a speeded-up montage of the Norman figurine being assembled. Additional voices by Tucker Albrizzi, Anna Kendrick, Casey Affleck, Christopher Mintz-Plasse, Jeff Garlin, Leslie Mann, Elaine Stritch, Bernard Hill, and John Goodman.

Premium Rush (PG-13) Because we haven’t had a movie with a good bicycle chase in a while. An overqualified Joseph Gordon-Levitt stars as a New York City bike messenger who must ride for his life when a crooked cop (Michael Shannon) with a gambling habit tries to hijack a package that he’s delivering that’s worth $50,000. Director/co-writer David Koepp does a fair job with this thriller until the end, when the proceedings get too waterlogged with melodrama. Before that, he executes some crisp chases, with the messenger picking his way through Manhattan’s crowded streets and sidewalks. Also with Dania Ramirez, Jamie Chung, Wolé Parks, Henry O, Christopher Place, and Aasif Mandvi.

Sparkle (PG-13) This big, messy, ambitious remake of the 1976 film musical stars Jordin Sparks as a songwriter and backup singer who becomes a Motown music star with her two sisters (Carmen Ejogo and Tika Sumpter) before  success tears the group apart. The original film’s songs by Curtis Mayfield are as strong as ever, and some of the domestic scenes are exceptionally well-written. However, American Idol winner Sparks’ acting is too weak to hold the movie together, and she looks like a star only during the last two numbers, which include the R. Kelly-penned “One Wing.” Director Salim Akil (Jumping the Broom) leads this epic up lots of blind alleys, some of them more interesting than others. Also with Derek Luke, Mike Epps, Omari Hardwick, Curtis Armstrong, Michael Beach, Cee-Lo Green, and the late Whitney Houston.

Step Up Revolution (PG-13) Terrible, but the dance numbers are cooler than ever in this fourth film in the series. Lead actors Ryan Guzman and Kathryn McCormick are painfully bad, and the plot is something out of a 1980s breakdancing movie. None of that matters, though, when there’s a flash mob performance on Ocean Drive that features low-rider cars and ballerinas in glowing tutus under a blacklight. McCormick comes alive in the dance portions, especially in a number staged in the dining room of a fancy restaurant. From a pure dance perspective, this is the strongest in the series. Also with Peter Gallagher, Misha Gabriel, Cleopatra Coleman, Stephen Boss, Michael Langebeck, Mia Michaels, Mari Koda, and Adam Sevani.

Thunderstruck (PG) Basketball’s long-awaited adaptation of Freaky Friday. Starring real-life Oklahoma City Thunder baller Kevin Durant, Thunderstruck is no Space Jam. In fact, it’s not even Kazaam. This ad for NBA-approved Thunder gear follows a high-school dweeb, towel-boy Brian (Taylor Gray), who magically becomes endowed with Durant’s hardwood powers, reducing the star to a shooter of airballs and bricks who can no longer even dunk. Brian is well on the road to impressing hot new-girl Isabel (Tristin Mays) –– but then his ego inflates and messes things up. Meanwhile, Durant’s assistant (Brandon T. Jackson) has been scrambling to reclaim his boss’ talent in time to qualify for the playoffs, which are right before Brian’s team, dependent on his stolen abilities, plays in the state championship. Will the switch be made in time? More importantly, will anyone give a crap? Also with Jim Belushi, Laramie Doc Shaw, Robert Belushi, Spencer Daniels, and William Ragsdale. — Z.S.

Total Recall (PG-13) The remake of the 1990 thriller is turned into a space thriller that’s so generic and anonymous that you wonder why the filmmakers even bothered. Colin Farrell portrays a factory worker on a dystopian future Earth who learns that he was once a leader of the resistance against the evil dictator (Bryan Cranston) who rules the world. Director Len Wiseman gives us the same vision of the future that we saw in Blade Runner and a thousand bad knock-offs since. His real-life wife Kate Beckinsale plays the villain well enough, but the movie is so soulless that its only clear reason for existing is to cash in on our attachment to the original. You’ll leave here wanting to implant a better memory in your head. Also with Jessica Biel, Bokeem Woodbine, John Cho, Will Yun Lee, and Bill Nighy.

2016: Obama’s America (NR) This lumbering documentary is based on Dinesh D’Souza’s book The Roots of Obama’s Rage, in which the right-wing pundit argues that our current president is motivated by resentment at the white establishment that comes from his background growing up in colonial countries. The film’s cool, scholarly tone may win it a few converts, but it can’t cover up the gaping hole in D’Souza’s theory: If our president were secretly an Angry Black Man, wouldn’t we have seen him lose his temper by now? Every president is subjected to armchair psychoanalysis these days, but this movie’s diagnosis is too easily picked apart. The sprinkling of factual errors doesn’t help D’Souza’s argument, either.

The Watch (R) Um, yeah, so this exists. This comedy is about three frustrated white dudes (Ben Stiller, Vince Vaughn, and Jonah Hill) and one mysterious Indian-British guy (Richard Ayoade) who confront an alien invasion centered around the small Ohio town where they live. This shaggy affair has one badly thought out plot twist and a few small chuckles, most of them emanating from British TV star Ayoade. Still, given how much comic talent goes into this thing (the script is co-authored by Evan Ross and Seth Rogen), this should have been more than just mildly funny. Also with Rosemarie DeWitt, Will Forte, Erin Moriarty, Doug Jones, R. Lee Ermey, Nicholas Braun, Jorma Taccone, and Andy Samberg.

DALLAS EXCLUSIVES:

Farewell, My Queen (R) Benoît Jacquot (The School of Flesh) adapts Chantal Thomas’ novel about a girl (Léa Seydoux) who’s brought in to read to Queen Marie Antoinette (Diane Kruger) in the days shortly before the French Revolution. Also with Virginie Ledoyen, Xavier Beauvois, Noémie Lvovsky, Michel Robin, and Julie-Marie Parmentier.

The Imposter (R) Bart Layton’s documentary about a 16-year-old French boy who convinced a grieving family in Texas that he was their son who had been missing for three years.

The Last Ride (PG-13) Henry Thomas stars in this drama as country music legend Hank Williams, who in 1952 hires a local teenager (Jesse James) to drive him to his last concerts. Also with Fred Dalton Thompson, Kaley Cuoco, Stephen Tobolowsky, Ray McKinnon, and the late Rick Dial.

Queen of Versailles (PG) Lauren Greenfield’s documentary follows Florida real estate mogul David Siegel and his wife Jackie as they prepare to build the largest mansion in America, only to see David’s fortune greatly reduced during the 2008 financial meltdown.

Searching for Sugar Man (PG-13) Malik Bendjelloul’s documentary about two South Africans and their present-day search for a mysterious 1970s American anti-apartheid rock singer known only as Rodriguez.

2 Days in New York (R) Julie Delpy’s follow-up to her film 2 Days in Paris stars her and Chris Rock as a married couple whose lives are unsettled by a visit from her French relatives. Also with Albert Delpy, Alexia Landeau, Daniel Brühl, Kate Burton, Dylan Baker, and an uncredited Vincent Gallo.


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