Film Shorts

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Posted February 26, 2014 by KRISTIAN LIN in Film
Non-Stop opens Friday.Non-Stop opens Friday.

OPENING:

Non-Stop (PG-13) Liam Neeson stars in this thriller as an air marshal who tries to figure out who’s killing off the passengers one by one on a transatlantic flight. Also with Julianne Moore, Scoot McNairy, Michelle Dockery, Nate Parker, Corey Stoll, Omar Metwally, Linus Roache, Shea Whigham, Anson Mount, and Lupita Nyong’o. (Opens Friday)

Anchorman 2: Supersize R-Rated Edition (R) Last Christmas’ comedy gets a new release with 95 percent of the original jokes replaced by new ones. (Opens Friday)

Omar (NR) Nominated for an Oscar for Best Foreign Film, Hany Abu-Assad’s thriller stars Adam Bakri as a Palestinian freedom fighter/terrorist who agrees to work as an informant for the Israelis. Also with Waleed Zuaiter, Eyad Hourani, Samer Bisharat, Essam Abu Abed, and Leem Lubany. (Opens Friday in Dallas)

Son of God (PG-13) A theatrical cut of a 10-hour TV miniseries, this biography of Jesus Christ stars Diogo Morgado. Also with Sebastian Knapp, David Rintoul, Gary Oliver, William Houston, Nonso Anozie, Langley Kirkwood, Darwin Shaw, and Amber Rose Revah. (Opens Friday)

Stalingrad (R) Supposedly the most expensive and most profitable Russian film ever made, Fedor Bondarchuk’s war film is about a group of soldiers in 1943 holding their building while the Nazis lay siege to their city. Starring Pyotr Fedorov, Sergei Bondarchuk, Dmitri Lysenkov, Andrei Smolyakov, Alexei Barabash, Maria Smolnikova, Yanina Studilina, and Thomas Kretschmann. (Opens Friday at AMC Parks at Arlington)

Tim’s Vermeer (PG-13) This documentary by Teller chronicles the efforts of San Antonio inventor Tim Jenison to reproduce his own version of a Vermeer painting with optical tools available to the 17th-century Dutch artist. Narrated by Penn Jillette. (Opens Friday in Dallas)

 

NOW PLAYING:

About Last Night (R) This remake of the similarly titled 1986 comedy rings surprisingly little improvement on the mediocre original. While one couple (Michael Ealy and Joy Bryant) recovering from painful previous relationships try to work out their newfound attraction to each other, their respective best friends (Kevin Hart and Regina Hall) engage in a weird, dysfunctional romance of their own. The lead couple is blandly written and played, and the entire movie would be downright dreary if it weren’t for Hart, who strikes all manner of comic sparks off both Ealy and Hall and once again squeezes laughs out of unpromising material. Somebody get Hart a vehicle worthy of his talents. Also with Christopher McDonald, Adam Rodriguez, Joe Lo Truglio, Bryan Callen, and Paula Patton.

American Hustle (R) David O. Russell’s chaotic, marvelously entertaining caper film lurches and veers out of control and features some of the best acting you’ll see all year. Christian Bale and Amy Adams portray 1970s con artists who are busted by a smarmy, fast-talking FBI agent (Bradley Cooper) and forced to help him catch other crooks. Cooper slips easily into his character’s growing megalomania, and Jennifer Lawrence is a comic whirlwind as Bale’s volatile, angry wife, but Adams comes off the best here, lighting up the movie with her sexuality. Russell captures the desperation of these people struggling to get ahead or get out of trouble, and underneath the luscious surfaces and ridiculously awesome costumes, he gives the movie an edge of fear and paranoia. Also with Jeremy Renner, Louis C.K., Jack Huston, Michael Peña, Shea Whigham, Alessandro Nivola, Elisabeth Röhm, Paul Herman, Saïd Taghmaoui, and an uncredited Robert De Niro.

The Attorney (NR) Kind of like a Korean Erin Brockovich. Song Kang-ho stars in this courtroom drama about a real life tax lawyer who stumbles onto evidence of corruption, police brutality, and torture by South Korea’s military dictatorship in the early 1980s. Yang Woo-seok’s movie has its fair share of bald-faced manipulations, like a good many Korean films, but the great Song carries this vehicle as a money-grubbing attorney who becomes a vocal crusader for justice. His authoritative performance is worth the price of admission here. Also with Kim Young-ae, Oh Dal-su, Kwak Do-won, Yim Si-wan, Lee Hang-na, Jo Min-ki, Sim Hee-seop, and Song Young-chang.

August: Osage County (R) A slapdash but effective showpiece for its actors, this adaptation of Tracy Letts’ much-acclaimed stage play stars Meryl Streep as a dying Oklahoma matriarch who gathers her family together after her husband (Sam Shepard) disappears, though she’s more interested in verbally abusing everyone who comes within reach. Hailing from a TV background, director John Wells fulfills the stereotype of a visually unimaginative TV director, doing reasonably well with individual scenes but failing to string them together. The best performances come from the supporting players as they orient themselves around a Streep in full dragon-lady mode. Julia Roberts smartly underplays as the eldest daughter, while Chris Cooper, Margo Martindale, and Julianne Nicholson all distinguish themselves. Also with Ewan McGregor, Juliette Lewis, Misty Upham, Abigail Breslin, Dermot Mulroney, and Benedict Cumberbatch.

Endless Love (PG-13) Almost none of the principal actors are Americans in this American-set romance, a fact which is far more interesting than anything that happens in this soft-boiled and soft-headed remake of the 1981 movie. Alex Pettyfer plays a boy from the wrong side of the tracks who falls for a sheltered rich girl (Gabriella Wilde) with an overprotective dad (Bruce Greenwood). The largely British cast isn’t nearly incisive enough to cut through the soppy script by director Shana Feste (Country Strong), which ticks off a string of romantic clichés without doing anything inventive with them. At least this remake has better music on the soundtrack. Also with Joely Richardson, Rhys Wakefield, Emma Rigby, Anna Enger, Dayo Okeniyi, and Robert Patrick.

Frozen (PG) The best Disney musical in quite some time. Kristen Bell provides the voice of Anna, the orphaned younger daughter of the rulers of a fictitious Nordic kingdom who goes into the wilderness to persuade her older sister (voiced by Idina Menzel) to save their land from a curse of eternal winter. The songwriting team of Kristen Anderson-Lopez and Robert Lopez bring freshness and wit to the songs, and Bell not only finds the comedy in the socially awkward heroine but also unleashes her glorious soprano on “The First Time in Forever.” The animators put the Ice Age movies to shame by doing endlessly inventive things with the ice and snow in the setting, and the script manages to create a heroine who’s interested in more than just finding a handsome prince. Additional voices by Jonathan Groff, Josh Gad, Santino Fontana, Livvy Stubenrauch, Alan Tudyk, and Ciarán Hinds.

Gravity (PG-13) The greatest 3D movie ever made. Alfonso Cuarón’s unremittingly intense space thriller stars Sandra Bullock as a novice astronaut who is caught outside the shuttle in a high-velocity storm of space debris and stranded in the blackness of space. The film is essentially a series of long takes, and Cuarón’s shooting of them in a simulated zero-gravity environment is an astounding technical feat. Yet the long takes also give us no chance to catch our breath; they turn this brief 90-minute film into a singularly harrowing experience, with our heroine narrowly escaping death from completely unforeseen yet logical dangers. Bullock rides over the script’s infelicities and gives this film a human center, helping to turn this movie into an exhilarating and emotionally draining ride. Also with George Clooney.

Her (R) Spike Jonze’s greatest film yet stars Joaquin Phoenix as a near-future divorced guy who falls in love with his smartphone’s operating system (voiced by Scarlett Johansson), who’s equipped with an artificial intelligence personality that evolves from her experiences. What could have been a glib satire on our dependence on technology instead becomes a surpassingly beautiful and serious-minded (though still quite funny) disquisition on the transformative powers of love and how people change during the course of a relationship. It’s anchored by tremendous performances by Phoenix, bringing sweetness and humor that we haven’t seen from him, and Johansson, who makes the OS’s insecurities palpable despite not appearing on the screen. The movie’s DIY feel gives this vision of the near future great texture, and its loneliness make it haunting. Also with Amy Adams, Rooney Mara, Olivia Wilde, Chris Pratt, Portia Doubleday, and Matt Letscher. Additional voices by Spike Jonze, Brian Cox, Bill Hader, and Kristen Wiig.

The Hobbit: The Desolation of Smaug (PG-13) A distinct improvement on the first Hobbit movie though not enough to actually make it good. Martin Freeman returns as the plucky Bilbo as the hobbit and his band of dwarves make their way toward the final showdown. Peter Jackson engineers a couple of fantastic action set pieces, Richard Armitage continues to make an inspiring dwarf leader, and Evangeline Lilly is a nice addition as an elven warrior. Yet the plot goes off in several different directions in the last hour, and Jackson mishandles this pretty disastrously. This will be worth renting on DVD, where you can fast-forward to the good parts. Also with Ian McKellen, Orlando Bloom, Benedict Cumberbatch, Luke Evans, Lee Pace, Ken Stott, Aidan Turner, Mikael Persbrandt, Stephen Fry, and Cate Blanchett.

The Hunger Games: Catching Fire (PG-13) Everything that was ragged about the first movie has been smoothed over in this sequel containing the future adventures of Katniss (Jennifer Lawrence) as she has to fight to survive a special edition of the Hunger Games. Director Francis Lawrence (no relation to the lead actress) takes over the series and devotes time to the action before the Games and does a better job of integrating the special effects into the story, while the writers include more layers for the supporting characters and more material from Suzanne Collins’ novel. The movie is missing a spark of greatness from the filmmakers, but Jennifer Lawrence picks up the slack, playing the shell-shocked heroine like her life depended on it. If the series can gather strength the way she’s doing, it’ll be formidable indeed. Also with Josh Hutcherson, Liam Hemsworth, Woody Harrelson, Elizabeth Banks, Lenny Kravitz, Stanley Tucci, Toby Jones, Donald Sutherland, Sam Claflin, Jena Malone, Jeffrey Wright, Lynn Cohen, Willow Shields, Paula Malcomson, and Philip Seymour Hoffman.

In Secret (R) In this adaptation of Émile Zola’s Thérèse Raquin, Elizabeth Olsen acts up a storm as a sexually frustrated 19th-century Frenchwoman who seeks to murder her way out of her loveless arranged marriage to her sickly cousin (Tom Felton) with the help of her lover (Oscar Isaac). The two men are also excellent, but they pale next to Olsen, who seems painfully attuned to every nuance in this character: Thérèse’s awakening lust, her desperation to escape her marriage, the guilt and fear that tear at her. This is her best performance to date, and it’s worth the price of admission. Also with Jessica Lange, John Kavanagh, Mackenzie Crook, Matt Lucas, and Shirley Henderson.

Jack Ryan: Shadow Recruit (PG-13) Chris Pine may not be a Jack Ryan for the long term, but he’s perfectly good for right now in this film telling the origins of the Tom Clancy-created superspy. Kenneth Branagh is OK portraying the Russian baddie, but he’s much more impressive as the director here, filming the action sequences with a mostly sure hand. Pine’s transparency isn’t a desirable quality in a spy, but he fits the green Ryan who finds himself thrust into the role of operative, and Keira Knightley (with a spiffy American accent) partners him well as Jack’s fiancée, who finds out what he does for a living. It all makes for a nice bit of popcorn entertainment. Also with Kevin Costner, Gemma Chan, Lenn Kudrjawizki, Nonso Anozie, Alec Utgoff, Peter Andersson, Colm Feore, and David Paymer.

The Lego Movie (PG) The funniest movie so far this year is this animated spectacular about a Lego construction worker (voiced by Chris Pratt) who becomes the only figure capable of stopping a tyrant (voiced by Will Ferrell) from supergluing the universe into place. The movie isn’t short of action sequences, but filmmakers Phil Lord and Christopher Miller (21 Jump Street) prefer to generate their frenetic pace with the sheer number of exquisitely timed gags that they throw at us. With its subversive wit taking shots at consumer culture, this movie is almost avant-garde. The climactic live-action sequence goes on too long, but the enviable voice cast more than makes up for it. Listen for Tegan & Sara’s earworm of a techno jam “Everything Is Awesome.” Additional voices by Elizabeth Banks, Morgan Freeman, Liam Neeson, Will Arnett, Alison Brie, Charlie Day, Nick Offerman, Jake Johnson, Will Forte, Dave Franco, Billy Dee Williams, Cobie Smulders, Shaquille O’Neal, Channing Tatum, and Jonah Hill.

Lone Survivor (R) This movie tries to celebrate the heroism of Navy SEALs but winds up as a glorified recruitment commercial instead. This film is based on the real-life story of Marcus Luttrell (played by Mark Wahlberg), who was on a reconaissance mission in Afghanistan in 2005 with a small team of other SEALs when it went bad. Writer-director Peter Berg (Friday Night Lights, but then again, Battleship) does well by the sweaty dread as the SEALs wait to engage the Taliban and by the bone-crunching impact when the soldiers hurl themselves down the mountainside to escape death. Yet Berg doesn’t apply much critical thinking to the material, and we get little sense of the soldiers as people. The patriotic sentiments in his movies have gotten so woolly that Berg has turned into a more respectable version of Michael Bay. Also with Ben Foster, Emile Hirsch, Taylor Kitsch, Ali Suliman, Rohan Chand, Yousuf Azmi, Alexander Ludwig, Jerry Ferrara, and Eric Bana.

Miss Granny (NR) Not for Western audiences. This bizarre Korean comedy stars Nah Moon-hee as a grandmother who’s magically transformed into her 20-year-old self (Sim Eun-kyeong) just as her family is considering putting her in a nursing home. Most of the plot concerns the main character reconnecting with her family, who think that Grandma has just run off, while most of the humor comes from Sim talking like a coarse, plain-spoken elderly woman. It will all be lost on you unless you speak Korean. Also with Park In-hwan, Seong Dong-il, Lee Jin-wook, Kim Hyeon-seok, Hwang Jeong-min, Kim Seul-gi, and Jin Young.

The Monuments Men (PG-13) A well-intentioned exercise in overreach. George Clooney stars in his own war film as the leader of a real-life group of artists, historians, and curators who went into a combat zone to preserve masterpieces of Western art during World War II. At 118 minutes, the movie feels inexpertly hacked down from something longer — we’re not properly introduced to the characters before they’re split up and flung to corners of the western front. Clooney’s trying to make a larky war movie with undercurrents of seriousness and danger, but the comic moments aren’t funny despite the ample talent in the cast, and the reverent speeches about the importance of art come off as sanctimonious. It’s frustrating, because you can easily imagine the better film Clooney was trying to make. Also with Matt Damon, Cate Blanchett, John Goodman, Jean Dujardin, Bob Balaban, Hugh Bonneville, Dimitri Leonidas, and Bill Murray.

The Nut Job (PG) For an animated movie released in January, I guess it isn’t too bad. Will Arnett provides the voice of a selfish New York-accented squirrel who plots to steal nuts from a nut store, planning to stuff himself while the other animals in his city park are in danger of starving to death. The way he gradually comes to an accommodation with the other animals should have been story enough, but the movie throws in a useless plotline about the people in the nut store who are planning to rob a bank. Not much memorable here, but the thing is short and fast-moving enough to keep the little kids entertained for a bit. Additional voices by Katherine Heigl, Brendan Fraser, Maya Rudolph, Stephen Lang, Jeff Dunham, James Rankin, Scott Yaphe, Sarah Gadon, and Liam Neeson.

Philomena (PG-13) Based on a real-life story, this dramedy stars Judi Dench with an unsteady Irish accent as a woman who teams up with a down-on-his-luck English journalist (Steve Coogan) to travel to America to find the son she was forced to give up for adoption decades ago. Coogan’s a well-known comedian in the U.K. who does well acting in a more serious piece. He also wrote the script, and while he and director Stephen Frears make an effort to balance the humor with the more serious parts, it doesn’t always come off. Still, the thing opens a window onto an ugly part of Irish history, and does it with skill and a minimum amount of weepiness. Also with Sophie Kennedy Clark, Mare Winningham, Barbara Jefford, Anna Maxwell Martin, and Michelle Fairley.

Pompeii (PG-13) Kit Harington and Emily Browning star in this story of forbidden love set against the impending eruption of Mt. Vesuvius in 79 A.D. Also with Kiefer Sutherland, Carrie-Anne Moss, Jessica Lucas, Adewale Akinnuoye-Agbaje, and Jared Harris.

Ride Along (PG-13) Kevin Hart is the only sign of life in this listless comic thriller as an Atlanta police academy trainee who tries to impress his fiancée’s cop brother (Ice Cube) by spending a day on the job with him. The comic chemistry between the two leads is nonexistent, and the detective story that they get plunged into is uninteresting in the extreme. Hart always works hard to squeeze laughs out of his material no matter how bad it is, but here he’s fighting a losing battle. Also with Tika Sumpter, John Leguizamo, Bryan Callen, Bruce McGill, Dragos Bucur, Jay Pharoah, and Laurence Fishburne.

RoboCop (PG-13) It doesn’t suck. This remake of the 1987 thriller stars Joel Kinnaman as the future Detroit cop who’s turned into a crime-fighting cyborg after an attempt on his life leaves him crippled. The parts involving the cop’s home life and his attempts to unravel a criminal conspiracy are riddled with cliches, but director José Padilha (Elite Squad: The Enemy Within) does well with the future tech and the action sequences, and Kinnaman does terrific work as a man struggling to piece himself back together. Watch the satirical original, and it seems to foretell this remake coming to pass. Also with Gary Oldman, Michael Keaton, Abbie Cornish, Jay Baruchel, Jackie Earle Haley, Michael K. Williams, Jennifer Ehle, Marianne Jean-Baptiste, Aimee Garcia, Douglas Urbanski, John Paul Ruttan,a nd Samuel L. Jackson. — Cole Williams

That Awkward Moment (R) That awful movie. Zac Efron, Michael B. Jordan, and Miles Teller star in this fatally sensitive and unfunny romantic comedy as three pals who find themselves at a crossroads with their relationships with women. The cast is stellar. I thought Efron would be outclassed by the other two actors, but he’s actually rather good. Their efforts, though, are all for naught. The filmmaker throws in a few sequences built around nudity and penises to convince us that this is a raunchy comedy. That doesn’t work either. Also with Imogen Poots, Mackenzie Davis, Jessica Lucas, Addison Timlin, and Josh Pais.

3 Days to Kill (PG-13) This misconceived thriller stars Kevin Costner as a dying CIA agent who’s offered a life-saving drug in exchange for performing a hit in Paris on a shadowy international terrorist. Working with a relatively subdued color palette, director McG loses control of the tone of this piece as he tries to balance the thrills with soapy comedy about the agent trying to reconnect with his estranged, troubled daughter (Hailee Steinfeld, giving the movie’s only semi-palatable performance). The result is disjointed in the extreme and more than a bit of a snooze. Also with Amber Heard, Tómas Lemarquis, Marc Andréoni, Richard Sammel, Jonas Bloquet, Bruno Ricci, and Connie Nielsen.

12 Years a Slave (R) Even more significant than Schindler’s List. Steve McQueen’s epic tells the story of Solomon Northup, a real-life free black New Yorker who was abducted in 1841 and forced to work as a slave on a Louisiana plantation. McQueen directs this with his typical austerity and rigor and pulls off an extraordinarily powerful long take in which Solomon (Chiwetel Ejiofor) is strung up from a tree branch and suspended on his tiptoes while the other slaves go about their work, afraid to offer help. Screenwriter John Ridley draws a vivid, panoramic view of all the twisted human specimens that the slave economy produces, and McQueen and his actors flesh them out beautifully, with a terrifying Michael Fassbender as a sadistic slavemaster and Ejiofor giving the performance of his career. This wrenching film is crucial to understanding America’s heritage. Also with Sarah Paulson, Lupita Nyong’o, Paul Dano, Benedict Cumberbatch, Paul Giamatti, Michael K. Williams, Scoot McNairy, Taran Killam, Adepero Oduye, Garret Dillahunt, Alfre Woodard, Brad Pitt, and Quvenzhané Wallis.

Vampire Academy (PG-13) No Buffy the Vampire Slayer, though there are still a few interesting odd corners in this adaptation of Richelle Mead’s novel. Zoey Deutch plays a student at a high school for vampires trying to protect her best friend (Lucy Fry) from both killers and gossip-spreading fellow students. Director Mark Waters (Mean Girls) knows the milieu of malicious teenagers, but he makes hash out of Mead’s universe of three types of vampires, and doesn’t do anything with the homoeroticism in Mead’s novel. The main bright spot is Deutch, who’s as comfortable delivering a snappy comeback as she is delivering a roundhouse kick. Her sarcasm braces an otherwise droopy affair. Also with Gabriel Byrne, Danila Kozlovsky, Dominic Sherwood, Sarah Hyland, Sami Gayle, Cameron Monaghan, Olga Kurylenko, and Joely Richardson.

Winter’s Tale (PG-13) Wow, this is really bad. Mark Helprin’s beloved novel becomes this terminally silly movie about an Irish burglar (Colin Farrell) in 1916 New York who is determined to save the woman he loves (Jessica Brown Findlay) through his powers of time travel. Writer-director Akiva Goldsman fumbles simple tasks like introducing characters, and the tone of magical realism eludes him completely. Between the flying horse, Russell Crowe’s Irish accent as the gangster villain, and Will Smith portraying Satan, you’ll check out of this movie long before it’s over. Also with Jennifer Connelly, William Hurt, Kevin Corrigan, Kevin Durand, Graham Greene, Matt Bomer, Lucy Griffiths, and Eva Marie Saint.

The Wolf of Wall Street (R) Not Martin Scorsese’s best film, but definitely his funniest. Leonardo DiCaprio stars as Jordan Belfort, the real-life fraudster whose firm made more than $1 billion in the 1990s manipulating penny stocks. The movie is structured too much like Goodfellas, with its high-living band of outlaws wielding phones instead of guns. Still, after playing a string of intense, tormented heroes, DiCaprio is revelatory in his first out-and-out comic performance, blending well with a cast full of experienced comedians (including Jonah Hill as his nebbishy right-hand man) and executing a great piece of slapstick involving Quaaludes and a car. Scorsese may be repeating himself, but his story hasn’t lost much in the re-telling. Also with Margot Robbie, Kyle Chandler, Rob Reiner, Jon Bernthal, Jon Favreau, Joanna Lumley, Cristin Milioti, Shea Whigham, Katarina Cas, P.J. Byrne, Kenneth Choi, Brian Sacca, Henry Zebrowski, Ethan Suplee, Jean Dujardin, Matthew McConaughey, and an uncredited Spike Jonze.


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