Film Shorts

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Posted August 2, 2013 by KRISTIAN LIN in Film
The Smurfs 2

Opening:

The Act of Killing (NR) In Joshua Oppenheimer’s documentary, real-life members of Indonesian death squads re-enact their crimes against humanity as scenes from Hollywood-style Westerns, film noir thrillers, and musicals. (Opens Friday in Dallas)

Before Midnight (R) The movie that This Is 40 should have been. Ethan Hawke and Julie Delpy reunite for this sequel to Before Sunrise and Before Sunset as the now-married lovers who run into marital trouble while vacationing in the Greek isles with their twin daughters. She wants to take a more substantive French government job, while his concern for his son from a previous marriage pulls him back toward America, and when the vitriol between them starts flying, man, you had better duck. There’s a whole lot of bitterness and unattractive behavior on display, and director Richard Linklater and his collaborators resolve it a bit too easily. Still, the writing is sharp and occasionally spellbindingly poetic, the stars’ chemistry continues unabated, and the movie offers up some great wisdom. I’ll be interested to see where these characters are in 2022. Also with Seamus Davey-Fitzpatrick, Walter Lassally, Xenia Kalogeropoulou, Panos Koronis, Athina Rachel Tsangari, Yiannis Papadopoulos, and Ariane Labed. (Re-opens Friday at AMC Grapevine Mills)

Blackfish (PG-13) Gabriela Cowperthwaite’s documentary exposes inhumane practices by sea parks that keep killer whales. (Opens Friday in Dallas)

Crystal Fairy (NR) Michael Cera stars in this film by Sebastián Silva (The Maid) as a creepy, boorish American traveling through Chile looking for a legendary hallucinogenic cactus. Also with Gaby Hoffman, Juan Andrés Silva, José Miguel Silva, Agustín Silva, Daniel Riveros, Esteban Carreño, and Juan Carlos Lara II. (Opens Friday in Dallas)

Iron Man 3 (PG-13) An excellent finish to the series. Suffering crippling anxiety attacks, Tony Stark (Robert Downey Jr.) must deal with a terrorist bomber (Ben Kingsley) who leaves him without power for his suit. New director/co-writer Shane Black likes staging low-fi action sequences that force Tony to rely on his unaided wits and limbs. The banter between Tony and Rhodey (Don Cheadle) may be a bit worn, but robbing Tony of his armor re-establishes the character’s humanity in his love for his girlfriend (Gwyneth Paltrow) and his best friend (Jon Favreau). We wouldn’t mind seeing this Tony every couple of summers. Also with Guy Pearce, Rebecca Hall, Stephanie Szostak, James Badge Dale, Ty Simpkins, and an uncredited Mark Ruffalo. — Steve Steward (Re-opens Friday at AMC Grapevine Mills)

The Smurfs 2 (PG) The sequel to the crappy, inexplicably popular kids’ movie from 2011 offers more of the same. This one turns the blue creatures loose in Paris, where Gargamel (Hank Azaria) tries to woo Smurfette (voiced by Katy Perry) over to the dark side. The Paris Opera House looks good, but the hijinks, bad puns on the word “Smurf,” and worse special effects are intercut with so much weepy family melodrama among the Smurfs and the humans. Perry can’t act, and Neil Patrick Harris is turned into a bland new father with daddy issues. Using Harris in this way is the surest of many signs that these filmmakers don’t know what they’re doing. Also with Jayma Mays and Brendan Gleeson. Additional voices by Christina Ricci, Jonathan Winters, Anton Yelchin, George Lopez, John Oliver, Fred Armisen, Kenan Thompson, Paul Reubens, Shaquille O’Neal, Jeff Foxworthy, B.J. Novak, Jimmy Kimmel, and Alan Cumming. (Opens Wednesday)

Terms and Conditions May Apply (NR) Ooh, timely! Cullen Hoback’s documentary exposes how corporations such as Facebook and Google violate users’ online privacy. (Opens Friday in Dallas)

2 Guns (R) Denzel Washington and Mark Wahlberg star in this comic thriller as a DEA agent and a naval intelligence officer who must work together after a failed attempt to infiltrate a drug cartel. Also with Paula Patton, Bill Paxton, Fred Ward, James Marsden, Robert John Burke, and Edward James Olmos. (Opens Friday)

 

Now Playing

The Conjuring (PG-13) James Wan’s latest horror flick isn’t perfect, but it’ll turn your hair white. Patrick Wilson and Vera Farmiga star as a pair of real-life paranormal investigators who investigate a fictional New England haunted house. There’s nothing new here, and the movie gets less compelling as Wan starts to reveal its secrets. Yet he does know how to ratchet up tension, his long shots give the movie a dreamy quality, and there’s a hair-raising sequence with the family’s daughter (Joey King) peering under her bed. For sheer spooky value, this is tough to beat. Also with Lili Taylor, Ron Livingston, Shanley Caswell, Hayley McFarland, and Mackenzie Foy. — Steve Steward

Despicable Me 2 (PG) Like the original, this animated movie’s most creative touches can be found at its margins. The former supervillain Gru (voiced by Steve Carell) is sent undercover into the local shopping mall to foil the latest plot to take over the world. Directors Pierre Coffin and Chris Renaud have gotten very good at inventing and crafting gags, especially regarding Gru’s army of yellow minions, but they throw too many subplots into what should be a neat spy thriller for kids. If only these visually talented filmmakers could find a good story, they’d really be onto something. Additional voices by Kristen Wiig, Benjamin Bratt, Miranda Cosgrove, Elsie Fisher, Dana Gaier, Steve Coogan, Moises Arias, Nasim Pedrad, Kristen Schaal, Ken Jeong, and Russell Brand.

Fruitvale Station (R) A finely wrought piece of work that slowly gathers momentum until it achieves shattering force. Michael B. Jordan stars in this drama that reconstructs the last day in the life of Oscar Grant III, who was shot to death by police in 2009 while handcuffed and lying face-down on a train platform. First-time feature filmmaker Ryan Coogler takes a calm and measured tone, focusing on the mundane details of Oscar’s life and filming his story with a no-frills approach. Jordan gives a star-making performance as a man who’s weary of living like a thug and trying to make a better life for his family. He and Coogler make Oscar’s ordinariness deeply moving, and the film powerfully brings home the terrible waste of a young man’s life. Also with Octavia Spencer, Melonie Diaz, Kevin Durand, Ahna O’Reilly, Ariana Neal, and Chad Michael Murray.

Grown Ups 2 (PG-13) Slightly better organized than the original, but then that’s like saying that tornado wreckage is better organized than hurricane wreckage. Adam Sandler, Kevin James, Chris Rock, and David Spade return for this sequel — was Rob Schneider busy? — to trade more lame jokes about getting older, having kids, and keeping their marriages spicy. A whole lot of talented performers get dragged into this, but everyone involved is still half-assing it. Also with Salma Hayek, Maria Bello, Maya Rudolph, Nick Swardson, Steve Buscemi, Colin Quinn, Tim Meadows, Jon Lovitz, Shaquille O’Neal, Oliver Hudson, Allen Covert, Steve Austin, Milo Ventimiglia, Cheri Oteri, Ellen Cleghorne, Melanie Hutsell, Andy Samberg, Jorma Taccone, Akiva Shaffer, Taran Killam, Paul Brittain, and uncredited cameos by Will Forte and Taylor Lautner.

The Heat (R) The chemistry between Sandra Bullock and Melissa McCarthy sustains this action-comedy through its many wobbly bits. They play an uptight FBI agent and a foul-mouthed Boston cop, respectively, who have to team up to take down a drug lord. Director Paul Feig (Bridesmaids) has a lot of trouble switching between the comedy set pieces and the detective plot (which makes no sense anyway), but McCarthy’s toughness and brassy shtick has a salutary effect on Bullock, who responds in kind with a spunk we haven’t seen from her in a while. Get these two a sequel or at least a better vehicle. Also with Demián Bichir, Marlon Wayans, Michael Rapaport, Dan Bakkedahl, Tom Wilson, Taran Killam, Michael McDonald, Kaitlin Olson, Tony Hale, Joey McIntyre, Spoken Reasons, Nate Corddry, and Jane Curtin.

Kevin Hart: Let Me Explain (R) In his latest concert film, the diminutive stand-up comic cracks up a crowd at Madison Square Garden by taking the usual comedy tropes down absurdist routes — one joke about excuses for being late to work winds up with a baby-sized man riding a made-up animal called a deerbra. The opening scripted sketch is weak, and some of Hart’s routines about bro codes and psychotic women go stale despite the comic’s physicality onstage. Yet the theme of “how big is Kevin Hart?” and the precision of his delivery are enough to carry his flatter material into the stuff that really kicks. He seems grateful for his success, so it’s gratifying that his routine is really funny, too. — Steve Steward

The Lone Ranger (PG-13) The summer’s most fascinating bad movie revives the characters as an unbalanced Comanche warrior (Johnny Depp) and a lawyer-turned-masked lawman (Armie Hammer) who team up to bring down an outlaw (William Fichtner) in post-Civil War Texas. The movie wants to be a rip-snorting Western adventure yarn while also acknowledging the genocide of Native Americans upon which our nation’s prosperity was founded. Unfortunately, director Gore Verbinski isn’t nearly up to the task. He gets the tone all wrong, with the serious material jarring with the director’s penchant for silly gags and acid-trippy interludes. Despite some Buster Keaton-like hijinks in the finale, the movie spills its ideas willy-nilly. Also with Tom Wilkinson, Helena Bonham Carter, Ruth Wilson, James Badge Dale, Bryant Prince, Saginaw Grant, Stephen Root, and Barry Pepper.

Man of Steel (PG-13) Zack Snyder doesn’t succeed in making Superman interesting, but he does succeed in making this familiar story feel rough, strange, and new. Henry Cavill plays the refugee from the planet Krypton who gradually discovers his superpowers while hiding them from the world. Snyder’s nonsequential storytelling invigorates this movie for the first hour or so, but he does a poor job of introducing the characters. The destruction visited on Metropolis is cohesively managed, but because he hasn’t set up what the city is like, the climax has no resonance. The movie opens some promising avenues for the future (and it’s way better than Superman Returns), but it still leaves lots of room for improvement. Also with Amy Adams, Michael Shannon, Russell Crowe, Kevin Costner, Diane Lane, Ayelet Zurer, Antje Traue, Harry Lennix, Richard Schiff, Christopher Meloni, and Laurence Fishburne.

Monsters University (PG) The best Pixar movie since Toy Story 3 and one of the better movies about college ever made. Billy Crystal and John Goodman reunite for this prequel that follows Mike and Sulley through their freshman year at college, as they take an instant dislike to each other, run afoul of a hardass dean (voiced by Helen Mirren), and have to win a school-wide scaring challenge to get back in their major program. The comedy is gratifyingly back on point here, especially when Mike and Sulley are forced to join a rinky-dink frat full of outcasts. However, the story also takes some surprising twists that give further layers to these familiar characters. It’s so good to have the Pixar of old back. Additional voices by Steve Buscemi, Peter Sohn, Joel Murray, Sean Hayes, Dave Foley, Charlie Day, Alfred Molina, Nathan Fillion, Tyler Labine, Aubrey Plaza, Bobby Moynihan, Julia Sweeney, Bonnie Hunt, John Krasinski, Bill Hader, Beth Behrs, and John Ratzenberger.

Pacific Rim (PG-13) In which Guillermo del Toro tries to rewrite the Robotech saga, with mild results. Charlie Hunnam stars as a pilot of giant robots who defends the human race against an invasion of Godzilla-sized space aliens from underneath the sea. Because this is a del Toro film, there are nifty visual touches and funny gags (as well as Ron Perlman) amid all the giant monsters, but the movie notably falls down when trying to establish the relationships between the humans. The movie is watchable, but it’s still well short of the Hellboy movies when it comes to del Toro’s popcorn pictures. Also with Rinko Kikuchi, Idris Elba, Charlie Day, Burn Gorman, Max Martini, Robert Kazinsky, Diego Klattenhoff, and Clifton Collins Jr.

Red 2 (PG-13) Bruce Willis, Mary-Louise Parker, and most of the rest of the gang reunite for this much sillier and more scattered sequel to the 2011 hit. The spy plot emerges as completely incomprehensible, but Parker is a more active participant in the action, which almost makes up for her character turning into a jealous bitch queen in the presence of her boyfriend’s ex (an orange-looking Catherine Zeta-Jones). Elsewhere, we get Lee Byung-hun as a Korean hit man fighting off a roomful of Russian cops while handcuffed to a refrigerator and a brief scene between Brian Cox and Anthony Hopkins that’ll be catnip for Hannibal Lecter fans. Yet these and the movie’s other best stretches are just isolated bits in search of a story. Also with John Malkovich, Helen Mirren, Neal McDonough, David Thewlis, and an uncredited Titus Welliver.

R.I.P.D. (PG-13) If it walks like a Men in Black rip-off and quacks like a Men in Black rip-off, well …. Ryan Reynolds stars in this crappy-looking science-fiction comedy as a murdered Boston cop who winds up in purgatory serving in a supernatural police force protecting the living from the undead. The whole conceit is handled without a trace of wit or imagination, director Robert Schwentke (Red) seems to have given up halfway through, and Jeff Bridges (as a 19th-century Western sheriff who becomes the cop’s partner) seems to have cobbled his performance together from True Grit outtakes. Move along, there’s nothing to see here. Also with Mary-Louise Parker, Stephanie Szostak, James Hong, Marisa Miller, Mike O’Malley, and Kevin Bacon.

Secretly and Greatly (NR) Kim Soo-hyun gives a terrific performance in this strange bird of an action comedy as a North Korean sleeper agent who disguises himself as a mentally challenged handyman in a South Korean backwater town while awaiting his orders. Kim turns out to be as adept at physical comedy as he is at martial arts, but the Thelma and Louise ending of Jang Chul-soo’s movie doesn’t fit with the jocular tone of what has come before. Perhaps this works for Korean audiences, but to Western eyes, this movie’s attempts at tragedy are just wrongheaded. Also with Park Ki-woong, Lee Hyun-woo, Son Hyun-joo, Park Hye-sook, Hong Kyoung-in, Ko Chang-seok, and Park Eun-bin.

This Is the End (R) Uproarious. Seth Rogen, James Franco, Jonah Hill, Jay Baruchel, Craig Robinson, and Danny McBride all portray themselves as self-absorbed weenies who hole up in Franco’s Hollywood mansion when the apocalypse as described in the Book of Revelation starts to happen. While trying to survive, the boys rag on one another’s career missteps and film a no-budget sequel to Pineapple Express, but they’re all strongly characterized enough that you’ll laugh a lot even if you don’t know who the stars are. Co-directors Rogen and Evan Goldberg toggle nicely between the indoor hijinks and the effects-heavy depiction of the end of days. Also parodying themselves are Emma Watson as a crazed, ax-swinging survivalist and Michael Cera as a disgusting sexist cokehead who meets a satisfyingly hideous death. It’s a bracing return to form for Rogen and company. Also with Mindy Kaling, David Krumholtz, Christopher Mintz-Plasse, Rihanna, Martin Starr, Paul Rudd, Aziz Ansari, Kevin Hart, Channing Tatum, and an uncredited Jason Segel.

The To Do List (R) Aubrey Plaza reveals an unsuspected flair for physical comedy in this raucous sex romp about a virginal high-school valedictorian who sets out to engage in as many different sexual activities as possible before she goes to college. Maggie Carey isn’t the smoothest director and doesn’t make all the story beats ring true, but she comes up with a wealth of comic material from a string of awkward sex scenes. This is the first movie that actually notices how attractive Plaza is, and she owns the show whether she’s trying to masturbate (and doing it all wrong) or trying to catch a hot guy’s attention by wearing an ill-fitting bikini. The female point of view on an unapologetic sex farce is refreshing, but the movie is funny enough to merit seeing regardless. Also with Johnny Simmons, Bill Hader, Alia Shawkat, Sarah Steele, Rachel Bilson, Scott Porter, Donald Glover, Clark Gregg, Connie Britton, Christopher Mintz-Plasse, Jack McBrayer, and Andy Samberg.

Turbo (PG) The pieces of this animated comedy don’t fit together. Ryan Reynolds voices the character of a garden snail who dreams of becoming a race car driver and, through a series of random occurrences, develops the ability to move at 220 mph and gets a chance to compete in the Indy 500. Somewhere in the middle of that he gets looked after by a couple of taco stand-running brothers (Michael Peña and Luis Guzmán), and while they don’t belong in the movie, they’re still the most thoughtfully conceived characters here. Additional voices by Paul Giamatti, Bill Hader, Richard Jenkins, Ken Jeong, Michelle Rodriguez, Maya Rudolph, Kurtwood Smith, Ben Schwartz, Snoop Dogg, and Samuel L. Jackson.

The Way, Way Back (PG-13) This agreeable comedy is the directing debut of writers Nat Faxon and Jim Rash (The Descendants), who also appear on screen. Liam James plays a 14-year-old boy who spends a hellish summer with his mom’s awful new boyfriend (Steve Carell) and gets away by hanging out at the water park with the slacker manager (Sam Rockwell). The eternally underappreciated Rockwell gives his role gentle resilience, while AnnaSophia Robb provides the movie with a welcome shot of acid that distracts us from the weak supporting characters and the protagonist coming off like a stick in the mud for too much of the movie. It’s flawed, but it’s charming and funny, rarer qualities at the multiplex than they should be. Also with Toni Collette, Amanda Peet, Allison Janney, Rob Corddry, Robert Capron, Zoe Levin, River Alexander, and Maya Rudolph.

World War Z (PG-13) Given this movie’s troubled production history, it’s somewhat miraculous that it comes out as well as it does. Brad Pitt stars in this extremely loose adaptation of Max Brooks’ novel as a U.N. investigator who has to fly all over the globe to figure out how to stop a worldwide zombie pandemic. Director Marc Forster (Quantum of Solace) and the writers imagine the plague as a fast-acting bug that takes 12 seconds to turn people into a seething wave of ex-humanity that swarms like insects. The small-scale ending doesn’t jive with everything else, but it’s remarkable in its own way. Like its zombie threat, this movie is stupid, but it moves quickly. Also with Mireille Enos, Daniella Kertesz, James Badge Dale, Fana Mokoena, Ludi Boeken, David Morse, Peter Capaldi, Pierfrancesco Favino, Moritz Bleibtreu, and Matthew Fox.

Dallas Exclusives:

I’m So Excited! (R) And I just can’t hide it! Pedro Almodóvar’s latest film stars Carlos Areces, Raúl Arévalo, and Javier Cámara as three gay flight attendants who try to keep passengers entertained when their plane encounters serious mechanical trouble in mid-flight. Also with Lola Dueñas, Hugo Silva, Antonio de la Torre, Cecilia Roth, José María Yazpik, Blanca Suárez, Paz Vega, Penélope Cruz, and Antonio Banderas.

Much Ado About Nothing (PG-13) Joss Whedon (The Avengers) directs this low-budget, modern-dress, black-and-white adaptation of Shakespeare’s comedy about two ex-lovers (Alexis Denisof and Amy Acker) who engage in a war of wits while falling back in love. Also with Clark Gregg, Reed Diamond, Fran Kranz, Jillian Morgese, Sean Maher, Spencer Treat Clark, Riki Lindhome, Ashley Johnson, Tom Lenk, and Nathan Fillion.

Only God Forgives (R) Ryan Gosling re-teams with director Nicolas Winding Refn (Drive) as a drug smuggler in Thailand who searches for his brother’s killer. Also with Kristin Scott Thomas, Yayaying Rhatha Phongam, Vithaya Pansringarm, Sahajak Boonthanakit, Tom Burke, and Byron Gibson.

Still Mine (PG-13) James Cromwell and Geneviève Bujold star in this drama as an elderly Canadian couple who fight local authorities for the right to build their last home in rural New Brunswick. Also with Campbell Scott, Rick Roberts, Julie Stewart, Jonathan Potts, George R. Robertson, Barbara Gordon, and Zachary Bennett.

20 Feet From Stardom (PG-13) Morgan Neville’s documentary profiles five women (Merry Clayton, Judith Hill, Claudia Lennear, Lisa Fischer, and Tatá Vega) who have spent their careers as backup singers in the music industry. Also with Chris Botti, Sheryl Crow, Mick Jagger, Gloria Jones, Darlene Love, Bette Midler, Bruce Springsteen, Sting, and Stevie Wonder.

Ways to Live Forever (PG-13) Robbie Kay stars in this British drama as a 12-year-old boy with leukemia who seeks to learn as much as he can. Also with Ben Chaplin, Emilia Fox, Alex Etel, Natalia Tena, and Phyllida Law.


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