Film Shorts

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Posted May 14, 2014 by KRISTIAN LIN in Film
Chef opens Friday in Dallas.Chef opens Friday in Dallas.

OPENING:

Chef (R) Jon Favreau stars in his own comedy as a Miami restaurant chef who tries to restart his career after feuding with his bosses and a well-known critic. Also with John Leguizamo, Bobby Cannavale, Emjay Anthony, Sofia Vergara, Oliver Platt, Amy Sedaris, Scarlett Johansson, Dustin Hoffman, and Robert Downey Jr. (Opens Friday in Dallas)

Fed Up (PG) Stephanie Soechtig’s documentary exposes the efforts of America’s food industry to defeat anti-obesity campaigns. (Opens Friday in Dallas)

For No Good Reason (R) Charlie Paul’s documentary profiles gonzo artist Ralph Steadman. Also with Johnny Depp, Terry Gilliam, Richard E. Grant, Jann Wenner, and Hunter S. Thompson. (Opens Friday in Dallas)

The German Doctor (PG-13) Lucía Puenzo directs this thriller about an Argentinian family in 1960 who takes in a mysterious German émigré (Álex Brendemühl), unaware that he is Dr. Josef Mengele. Also with Natalia Oreiro, Diego Peretti, Florencia Bado, Elena Roger, and Guillermo Pfening. (Opens Friday in Dallas)

Million Dollar Arm (PG) Jon Hamm stars in this comedy as a sports agent who travels to India to see if he can find baseball players amid the country’s cricketers. Also with Suraj Sharma, Aasif Mandvi, Madhur Mittal, Pitobash, Darshan Jariwala, Lake Bell, Bill Paxton, and Alan Arkin. (Opens Friday)

Particle Fever (NR) Mark Levinson’s documentary about the team of physicists who discovered the Higgs boson particle. (Opens Friday in Dallas)

Wolf Creek 2 (NR) I didn’t care for Greg Mclean’s 2006 cult slasher flick, and I care still less for this blood-soaked sequel in which John Jarratt reprises his role as a coarse-mannered, psychopathic, xenophobic, pig-sticking serial killer roaming the Australian outback, here counting a couple of backpacking German tourists (Philippe Klaus and Shannon Ashlyn) as his main targets. The violence is less gory and more cartoonish in this sequel, and the change is definitely not for the better. Maybe if I were Australian, I could better appreciate this film’s grotesque send-up of Australian manners. I doubt it, though. Also with Ryan Corr, Shane Connor, Ben Gerrard, and Chloé Boreham. (Opens Friday at AMC Grapevine Mills)

 

NOW PLAYING:

The Amazing Spider-Man 2 (PG-13) Better than the last movie, but everybody here could have been doing something more worthwhile. This overstuffed sequel features Peter Parker (Andrew Garfield) trying to deal with one too many bad guys in Electro (a too cartoonish Jamie Foxx) and the Green Goblin (Dane DeHaan, very well cast), but the real heart is his need to keep Gwen Stacy (Emma Stone) from being hurt by Spider-Man’s enemies. Director Marc Webb keeps aiming for wonder and terror in the big action set pieces and missing; he hits the right notes without understanding the music. He’s much better in the quieter scenes with Peter and Gwen, as Garfield and Stone make a loose and funny couple. This director and these stars should be making the next great heart-melting romantic comedy, not a Spider-Man movie. Maybe the success of this will let that happen. Also with Sally Field, Colm Feore, Campbell Scott, Embeth Davidtz, Felicity Jones, B.J. Novak, Paul Giamatti, and uncredited cameos by Denis Leary and Chris Cooper.

Bears (G) Shouldn’t a documentary about bears actually teach me something about bears? The latest Disneynature film by Alastair Fothergill follows the same cutesy-wootsy template of his previous movies: lots of animal hijinks and nothing that the little ones will find remotely upsetting. Footage of different bears has been spliced into one story about a mama brown bear leading her two cubs out of hibernation and through a season in the Alaskan wilderness. The movie and narrator John C. Reilly prod us at every turn to find the cubs adorable, and the studio’s old gender stereotypes rear up again in the way the male and female cubs are depicted. This is only good for keeping very small children entertained in front of the TV.

Brick Mansions (PG-13) The 2006 French martial-arts film District B13 had some problematic but still ahead-of-the-curve social commentary about French society at the time. This American remake tries to do the same, but it comes out as just so much gobbledygook. The late Paul Walker stars as a Detroit cop who teams with a good-hearted convict (David Belle) to infiltrate a housing project so crime-ridden that it’s walled off from the rest of the city. Their purpose is to disarm a nuclear bomb in the possession of a kingpin (RZA). Belle, who played the same role in the French original, still has some impressive parkour moves. Without its context, though, this is just another crappy Hollywood thriller. Also with Gouchy Boy, Catalina Denis, Ayisha Issa, Carlo Rota, Robert Maillet, and Bruce Ramsey.

Captain America: The Winter Soldier (PG-13) Definitely better than Captain America’s first outing. Chris Evans returns as the superhero trying to deal with a coup inside SHIELD. The movie’s critique of the contemporary surveillance state doesn’t quite hold together, nor does the flirtatious turn in the character of Black Widow (Scarlett Johansson) make much sense. Yet directors Anthony and Joe Russo do lots of things well, including an assassination attempt on the road against Nick Fury (Samuel L. Jackson) and the chilling casting of Robert Redford as a SHIELD executive with his own agenda. Captain America is still more interesting as a foil to the other Avengers than on his own, but this is a worthy excursion. Also with Anthony Mackie, Cobie Smulders, Sebastian Stan, Emily VanCamp, Dominic Cooper, Toby Jones, Frank Grillo, and Hayley Atwell.

Divergent (PG-13) Ideal viewing if you’re a teenager. For everyone else, not so much. Shailene Woodley stars in this science-fiction adventure as a girl making her way through a dystopian future society divided into factions. This is based on Veronica Roth’s best-selling novel, which makes a neat little metaphor about how teenagers choose cliques to sort themselves out. Too bad neither the book nor the film makes more of it. Director Neil Burger and his writers make hash out of introducing this future world and show little humor or phantasmagoric power. Woodley makes alert little choices, but the whole thing lacks rhythm, and the action sequences aren’t nearly good enough to make up for the flat tone. Also with Theo James, Miles Teller, Jai Courtney, Zoë Kravitz, Ansel Elgort, Ray Stevenson, Maggie Q, Mekhi Phifer, Christian Madsen, Tony Goldwyn, Ashley Judd, and Kate Winslet.

Draft Day (PG-13) Better than Moneyball. Kevin Costner stars in this throwback movie as an embattled Cleveland Browns GM who makes a flurry of trades to get the player he wants during the NFL draft. The NFL trappings make a nice backdrop for a huge cast of sharply written characters who are well-played by both the famous and unknown actors, even if the GM’s personal life is noticeably weaker than the rest of the movie. The film is much better at depicting the behind-the-scenes dealings, and though Costner misses the desperation of a man who knows his dream job is on the line, his underlying coolness helps with a character who keeps his head amid the pressure. His struggle to get the best out of a losing situation is what makes this movie’s end so exhilarating. Also with Jennifer Garner, Denis Leary, Chadwick Boseman, Josh Pence, Frank Langella, Griffin Newman, Brad Henke, W. Earl Brown, Arian Foster, Terry Crews, Tom Welling, Sam Elliott, Sean Combs, Rosanna Arquette, and Ellen Burstyn.

Fading Gigolo (R) John Turturro plays a middle-aged Brooklyn florist who agrees to become a prostitute to help his unemployed bookseller friend (Woody Allen) out of financial difficulties. Turturro writes and directs the script, and though his writing has improved, it’s still too soft-boiled and romantic — the guy’s adventures in the sex trade could be set to a lite jazz soundtrack. He isn’t funny enough, either. The movie gets what entertainment value it has out of Allen’s comic ad-libbing and the sheer novelty of an R-rated sex farce taking place in an Orthodox Jewish neighborhood. Also with Vanessa Paradis, Sharon Stone, Sofia Vergara, Liev Schreiber, Aida Turturro, and Bob Balaban.

God’s Not Dead (PG) But if He’s watching this movie, He’s surely weeping. Shane Harper stars in this Christian drama as a college student who’s challenged to prove the existence of God by a big, bad atheist professor (Kevin Sorbo). If this is how these filmmakers imagine that reputable universities operate, they really need to get out more. Besides the main story, this movie is also filled with subplots that give kickings to liberal journalists, Muslims, and the Chinese government. (Actually, I don’t care so much about that last one.) It also holds up Duck Dynasty’s Willie Robertson as a beacon of Christian wisdom. I feel unclean discussing this movie. Let’s move on. Also with David A.R. White, Lisa Arnold, Jim Gleason, Trisha LaFache, Benjamin Ochieng, Hadeel Sittu, and Dean Cain.

The Grand Budapest Hotel (R) Wes Anderson’s strikes new depths in his latest film that stars Tony Revolori as an orphaned war refugee working as a “lobby boy” in a ritzy Alpine resort hotel for a legendary concierge (Ralph Fiennes). Anderson’s familiar cinematic vocabulary is here, but the current of pathos is brought unusually close to the surface by the pre-World War II setting, which we know will sweep away the hotel and the country that it’s in. The pathos is cut with Anderson’s bathetic and sometimes outrageous humor, and Fiennes gives the finest performance of his career as he plays this Old World romantic with a hard-headed practical streak. Also with Saoirse Ronan, Willem Dafoe, Edward Norton, Tilda Swinton, Tom Wilkinson, Harvey Keitel, Jeff Goldblum, Adrien Brody, Mathieu Amalric, F. Murray Abraham, Léa Seydoux, Bob Balaban, Fisher Stevens, Bill Murray, Jason Schwartzman, Owen Wilson, and Jude Law.

A Haunted House 2 (R) “There’s something wrong with my house,” Marlon Wayans’ character says. Yeah, you’re making a movie in it. Having barely survived the events of the last movie, Wayans marries a new woman (Jaime Pressly) and moves into her house with her kids. The problem? It’s haunted by unfunny parodies of recent horror films. There are maybe three chuckle-worthy jokes in an hour and a half of unfunny, unyielding torture. Wayans murders every laugh by pathetically mugging and screaming. The gags go on and on, as funny as a slowly dying hospice patient. There’s a five-minute scene of Wayans having sex with the doll from The Conjuring. The “found footage” conceit isn’t even consistently employed. Gabriel Iglesias is wasted. It’s just plain awful. For the love of God, watch something else. Also with Essence Atkins, Missi Pyle, Ashley Rickards, Affion Crockett, and Cedric the Entertainer. — Cole Williams

Heaven Is for Real (PG) In this adaptation of Todd Burpo’s memoir, Greg Kinnear portrays a Nebraska pastor and volunteer fireman whose 4-year-old son (Connor Corum) has a near-death experience and comes back talking about seeing heaven. Two things are wrong here: First, Corum is a standard-issue cute Hollywood kid without the weird edge that would have made his revelation as unsettling as it should be. Second, director Randall Wallace (We Were Soldiers) brings zero inventiveness or sense of wonder to the boy’s vision of heaven. The resulting movie works fairly well as an account of the day-to-day life of a small-town pastor, but it comes up fatally short as a vision of the afterlife. Also with Kelly Reilly, Thomas Haden Church, Lane Styles, Jacob Vargas, and Margo Martindale.

Legends of Oz: Dorothy’s Return (PG) Yet another failed attempt at building on L. Frank Baum’s Oz saga, this animated musical stars Lea Michele as Dorothy, who’s whisked back to the land of Oz the day after she gets back to Kansas (though it’s many years later in Oz), where the Wicked Witch of the West’s downtrodden brother (voiced by Martin Short) is causing havoc. The animation has some creative visual touches like a courthouse made of candy (with a waffle ceiling and a floor made of graham crackers), but they can’t make up for the lame script or the eminently forgettable songs. What’s the point of casting Bernadette Peters as Glinda if she’s not going to sing? Additional voices by Dan Aykroyd, Jim Belushi, Kelsey Grammer, Hugh Dancy, Megan Hilty, and Oliver Platt.

Moms’ Night Out (PG) The white people’s version of The Single Moms’ Club. That’s not a compliment, if you’re wondering. Sarah Drew, Patricia Heaton, and Logan White star in this strenuously unfunny comedy about three suburban mothers who leave the children at home with their husbands for a night on the town. Andrew and Jon Erwin’s script is nowhere near as offensive as the one for their anti-abortion drama October Baby, but the material just isn’t here, and the actors either sleepwalk or over-emote to try to make something funny happen. It doesn’t. Also with Sean Astin, Harry Shum Jr., Robert Amaya, Kevin Downes, Alex Kendrick, Lou Ferrigno, and Trace Adkins.

Muppets Most Wanted (PG) The plucky troupe is flailing for direction after their triumphant return to the big screen three years ago. The plot revolves around Kermit the Frog’s resemblance to a criminal mastermind who busts out of prison, has Kermit tossed in there in his place, and takes over the Muppets. Jason Segel is not involved here, and he’s sorely missed as an actor and writer. The new material (by director James Bobin and Nicholas Stoller) isn’t up to scratch, and the human talent falls down. This sequel features more songs than the original, and while some of them score (like the evil frog’s disco number wooing Miss Piggy), others fall flat (like Miss Piggy’s duet with Céline Dion). The troupe either needs new blood or Segel to return. Also with Tina Fey, Ricky Gervais, Ty Burrell, Christoph Waltz, Salma Hayek, Lady Gaga, Sean Combs, Tom Hiddlestone, Ray Liotta, Danny Trejo, Frank Langella, Toby Jones, Ross Lynch, Saoirse Ronan, Chloë Grace Moretz, James McAvoy, Usher, Miranda Richardson, Stanley Tucci, and Zach Galifianakis.

Neighbors (R) Possibly the greatest fraternity comedy ever. Seth Rogen and Rose Byrne play the proud parents of an adorable baby girl who are horrified to find a fraternity moving into the house next door and throwing wild parties. The movie makes hay out of making the parents into young people not far removed from their hard-partying pasts who care about seeming cool to the college boys. The setup fits Rogen nicely, but it’s Byrne who gets the best showcase of her career, and Zac Efron slides so easily into the raunchfest that you’ll forget he ever starred in High School Musical. Comic highlights abound, but watch for the “bros before ho’s” verbal riff, the breast-feeding sequence, and the climactic fistfight between Rogen and Efron, a great piece of physical comedy. Also with Dave Franco, Christopher Mintz-Plasse, Ike Barinholtz, Carla Gallo, Jerrod Carmichael, Craig Roberts, Liz Cackowski, Hannibal Buress, Jake Johnson, Andy Samberg, Akiva Schaffer, Jorma Taccone, Adam Devine, and Lisa Kudrow.

Noah (PG-13) Darren Aronofsky’s Lord of the Rings movie. The Black Swan director’s reimagining of the biblical story stars Russell Crowe as an oddly unlikable Noah, who builds an ark to protect against a flood that will wash away the murderous descendants of Cain. This Noah becomes willing to kill members of his own family to carry out God’s will, which is weirdly at odds with the character as presented at the movie’s beginning. Even so, the movie has a lot to enjoy, such as the imaginative look (no robes!) that Aronofsky gives this story and the battle between the wicked king’s army and fallen angels made of stone. Literalists may take issue with this, but hey, it’s not as if they were there when the Flood happened. Also with Jennifer Connelly, Emma Watson, Logan Lerman, Ray Winstone, Douglas Booth, Mark Margolis, Kevin Durand, Nick Nolte, and Anthony Hopkins. — Steve Steward

The Other Woman (PG-13) Cameron Diaz and Leslie Mann enact the cheating husband’s worst nightmare as a mistress and a wife who discover each other’s existence at the same time and conspire to punish the husband (Nikolaj Coster-Waldau) who’s cheating on both of them. Diaz is miscast as the buttoned-up, cynical, high-powered businesswoman half of this pair, but she does well with the physical comedy that results from the setup, and Mann gives a compelling performance as a wife who comes unhinged when she finds out what her husband has been up to. The movie crashes and burns in the last 30 minutes or so, but up until that point it’s an agreeable comedy. Also with Kate Upton, Don Johnson, Taylor Kinney, David Thornton, and Nicki Minaj.

The Quiet Ones (PG-13) Long on atmosphere and short on story logic, this period horror film stars Jared Harris as a 1970s psychology professor who tries radical methods to cure a girl (Olivia Cooke from TV’s Bates Motel) of her mental illness at a secluded estate in the English countryside. The story is told through the eyes of the cameraman (Sam Claflin) who’s documenting the work, but the combination of found-footage technique and homage to 1970s horror movies doesn’t come off. Neither do most of the scares; the only fright value here comes from Cooke’s performance as a girl who might be manipulating everyone or genuinely demonically possessed. Also with Erin Richards, Rory Fleck-Byrne, Laurie Calvert, and Aldo Maland.

Rio 2 (G) I watched this whole thing without once being clear on exactly what was going on or why it needed to go on. Jesse Eisenberg and Anne Hathaway reprise their roles as rare blue macaws who discover the existence of a flock of more of their species living deep in the Brazilian jungle. The parrots’ old nemeses (voiced by Jemaine Clement and Kristin Chenoweth), three parrot chicks, and a bunch of ranchers bent on deforestation all pop up here, as do even more musical numbers. The sloppiness of this loud, overstuffed sequel only underscores the cynicism of this movie designed to cash in on parents whose kids liked the original. Additional voices by Jamie Foxx, Andy Garcia, Leslie Mann, Rodrigo Santoro, Miguel Ferrer, Tracy Morgan, will.i.am, Amandla Stenberg, Bebel Gilberto, Sergio Mendes, Janelle Monáe, Bruno Mars, and Rita Moreno.

Transcendence (PG-13) Great news if you were looking for an extended, unfunny parody of Christopher Nolan’s films. Johnny Depp plays a crunchy, nature-loving tech mogul whose attempts to build a sentient, superintelligent computer get him mortally wounded by an assassin’s bullet, which makes his desperate wife (Rebecca Hall) upload his mind to a software system. First-time director Wally Pfister (who is Nolan’s longtime cinematographer) and screenwriter Jack Paglen underthink the implications in their script, which is fatal to their aim of making a grand statement about technology. Pfister does try to cut the philosophy with action sequences, but he’s got no flair for them, and his actors look lost. This movie talks at tedious length without saying anything. Also with Paul Bettany, Cillian Murphy, Kate Mara, Cole Hauser, Clifton Collins Jr., and Morgan Freeman.

 

DALLAS EXCLUSIVES:

Blue Ruin (R) Jeremy Saulnier’s thriller stars Macon Blair as a would-be killer whose attempt at revenge goes wrong. Also with Devin Ratray, Amy Hargreaves, Kevin Kolack, Brent Werzner, Stacy Rock, and Eve Plumb.

Devil’s Knot (NR) Colin Firth and Reese Witherspoon star in Atom Egoyan’s drama about a trial of three teenagers accused of murdering children. Also with Dane DeHaan, Mireille Enos, Kevin Durand, Elias Koteas, Stephen Moyer, Martin Henderson, Alessandro Nivola, Colette Wolfe, Bruce Greenwood, and Amy Ryan.

Godzilla (NR) The original Japanese-language version of Ishirô Honda’s 1954 film about the radioactive beast. Starring Takashi Shimura, Akihiko Harata, Akira Takarada, Momoko Kôchi, and Sachio Sakai.

The Hornet’s Nest (R) David Salzberg and Christian Tureaud’s documentary about photojournalist Mike Boettcher and his son Carlos, who try to reconnect while working in the war zone in Afghanistan.

The Railway Man (R) Colin Firth stars in this drama based on Eric Lowe’s novel about a former British World War II POW who vows to hunt down the Japanese officer (Hiroyuki Sanada) who tortured him in prison. Also with Nicole Kidman, Stellan Skarsgård, Jeremy Irvine, Tanroh Ishida, Michael McKenzie, and Sam Reid.


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