Film Shorts

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Posted September 5, 2012 by KRISTIAN LIN in Film
Frank Langella, James Marsden, Liv Tyler, Jeremy Sisto, and Susan Sarandon star in Robot & Frank now playing in Dallas.Frank Langella, James Marsden, Liv Tyler, Jeremy Sisto, and Susan Sarandon star in Robot & Frank now playing in Dallas.

OPENING:

The Cold Light of Day (PG-13) Henry Cavill stars in this thriller as a young Wall Street trader who must save his family in Madrid after they’re kidnapped over information wanted by the CIA. Also with Bruce Willis, Verónica Echegui, Caroline Goodall, Rafi Gavron, Emma Hamilton, Joseph Mawle, Roschdy Zem, and Sigourney Weaver. (Opens Friday)

Chicken With Plums (PG-13) The second film by Marjane Satrapi and Vincent Paronnaud (Persepolis) stars Mathieu Amalric as an Iranian violinist who loses his will to live after the destruction of his violin. Also with Maria de Medeiros, Edouard Baer, Golshifteh Farahani, Jamel Debbouze, Chiara Mastroianni, and Isabella Rossellini. (Opens Friday in Dallas)

Dark Horse (NR) The latest film by Todd Solondz (Welcome to the Dollhouse) stars Jordan Gelber as an emotionally stunted toy collector who comes to grief when love inspires him to move out of his parents’ house. Also with Selma Blair, Justin Bartha, Zachary Booth, Aasif Mandvi, Donna Murphy, Mia Farrow, and Christopher Walken. (Opens Friday in Dallas)

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 awoken, 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.

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.

Cosmopolis (R) Maybe the strangest experiment of David Cronenberg’s career is this hushed, angular, impenetrable, incredibly frustrating adaptation of Don DeLillo’s novel about a young billionaire (Robert Pattinson) who insists on crossing Manhattan in his soundproofed stretch limo to get a haircut, having business meetings, sexual encounters, and conversations with his wife (Sarah Gadon) en route as his car crawls through traffic. DeLillo’s portents of doom and philosophical discourse about capitalism and technology get reduced to so much gobbledygook in this movie, which has a great deal on its mind and little idea how to express it. Also with Juliette Binoche, Mathieu Amalric, Jay Baruchel, Samantha Morton, and Paul Giamatti.

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.

Lawless (R) Based on Matt Bondurant’s novel The Wettest County in the World, this Prohibition-era thriller stars Shia LaBeouf, Tom Hardy, and Jason Clarke as three brothers in backwoods Virginia who go to war with a crooked Chicago deputy (Guy Pearce) who wants to take over their moonshine business. Director John Hillcoat and writer Nick Cave do justice to the extreme levels of violence here and prevent the momentum from flagging, but they mishandle some dull romantic subplots and stack the deck against a cardboard bad guy. Better stuff comes from the actors, especially Hardy, playing a laconic guy whose grunts express a whole rainbow of emotions. Also with Mia Wasikowska, Jessica Chastain, Dane DeHaan, Bill Camp, Noah Taylor, and Gary Oldman.

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.


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