Film Shorts

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Posted July 16, 2014 by KRISTIAN LIN in Film
Boyhood opens Friday.Boyhood opens Friday.

OPENING:

Boyhood (R) Filmed over the course of 12 years, Richard Linklater’s drama stars Ellar Coltrane as a boy who experiences life between the ages of 5 and 17. Also with Ethan Hawke, Patricia Arquette, Elijah Smith, Lorelai Linklater, and Steven Prince. (Opens Friday in Dallas)

Code Black (NR) Ryan McGarry’s documentary follows the doctors and medical workers in Los Angeles County Hospital’s trauma bay. (Opens Friday in Dallas)

The Internet’s Own Boy: The Story of Aaron Swartz (NR) Brian Knappenberger’s documentary examines the Reddit co-founder and information activist who committed suicide while being prosecuted for wire fraud. (Opens Friday in Dallas)

Persecuted (PG-13) James Remar stars in this thriller as a famous evangelist who’s framed for murder after stumbling on a government conspiracy to marginalize Christianity. Also with Bruce Davison, Dean Stockwell, Raoul Trujillo, Sage Bell, and Fred Dalton Thompson. (Opens Friday)

Planes: Fire & Rescue (PG) Dane Cook reprises his role in this animated movie as a crop-dusting plane who decides to join a rescue brigade. Additional voices by Ed Harris, Julie Bowen, Teri Hatcher, Curtis Armstrong, John Michael Higgins, Wes Studi, Brad Garrett, Barry Corbin, Regina King, Cedric the Entertainer, and Hal Holbrook. (Opens Friday)

The Purge: Anarchy (R) James DeMonaco directs this sequel to his horror hit about five strangers who are stranded outdoors in an alternative America during the one night a year when murder is legal. Starring Frank Grillo, Carmen Ejogo, Zach Gilford, Kiele Sanchez, Zoë Soul, Justina Machado, and Michael K. Williams. (Opens Friday)

Whitey: United States of America vs. James J. Bulger (R) Joe Berlinger (Paradise Lost) directs this documentary exploring whether the FBI and Boston police looked the other way rather than investigating the famous mobster’s crimes. (Opens Friday in Dallas)

Wish I Was Here (R) Zach Braff directs and stars in his own dramedy as a struggling actor who decides to home-school his children (Joey King and Pierce Gagnon). Also with Kate Hudson, Josh Gad, Jim Parsons, Donald Faison, Ashley Greene, and Mandy Patinkin. (Opens Friday in Dallas)

 

NOW PLAYING:

America (PG-13) Just before making this movie, Dinesh D’Souza was convicted of felony campaign finance violations. Judging by his latest documentary, the experience seems to have made him even more paranoid, if you can imagine that. The conservative would-be thinker caricatures liberals as malcontents who want to destroy America and then dismisses them with specious arguments, waving away African-American slavery and the genocide of Native Americans as things that were bad, but don’t really affect us today. That’s just prelude to his real agenda of bashing President Obama as an ineffectual bumbler who’s also somehow a ruthless dictator. D’Souza knows how to cloak his opinions in pseudo-scholarly jargon and cherry-picked research, but he’s just a ranting intellectual poseur.

Begin Again (R) Like his previous movie Once, John Carney’s new film is pulsating with music and unrequited love, and it’s awfully hard to resist. Keira Knightley plays a British musician recently dumped by her rock-star boyfriend (Adam Levine) whose songs inspire a burned-out record producer (Mark Ruffalo) to produce her first album. The larger scale of the story doesn’t suit Carney, and the songs (most of them by Gregg Alexander) include too much filler. Still, the filmmaker has a finely honed sense of comedy, and the actors are pleasingly uncorked here. Knightley has never been more charming or relatable as she sings “Lost Stars,” a ballad that also gets a more anguished and piercingly beautiful take by Levine. Unabashedly romantic and full of belief in the power of music, this is a great summer treat. Also with Hailee Steinfeld, Catherine Keener, James Corden, CeeLo Green, and Mos Def a.k.a. Yasiin Bey.

Chef (R) Jon Favreau stars in a not-so-veiled comment on his own filmmaking career as a star chef who restarts his career with a food truck after being fired from a job at an upscale L.A. restaurant. The filmmaker takes way too long to tell his story and doesn’t do well by the women, but he does capture the chaos and sweat and adrenaline of a high-end restaurant kitchen, and the subplot with him finally connecting with his young son (Emjay Anthony) is nicely done. The movie also boasts scrumptious food photography (the dishes were created by Roy Choi), and Favreau obviously has great respect for the care and attention to detail that chefs give to their work. It’s how the movie’s hero finds himself again, and possibly the filmmaker too. Also with John Leguizamo, Bobby Cannavale, Sofia Vergara, Oliver Platt, Amy Sedaris, Scarlett Johansson, Dustin Hoffman, and Robert Downey Jr.

Deliver Us From Evil (R) This horror film gets off to a promising start before collapsing into yet another bad genre exercise. Eric Bana plays an NYPD cop with a load of personal issues and an overly broad Noo Yawk accent who starts to see supernatural overtones in a string of cases and teams up with a chain-smoking priest (Édgar Ramírez) to exorcise the evil spirits. Director Scott Derrickson (Sinister, The Exorcism of Emily Rose) fails to do anything with the intriguing setup of armed, trained men dealing with the horror instead of the usual teenagers. The only surprise here is Joel McHale’s against-type turn as a thrill-seeking fellow cop. It could have easily featured in a different, much better movie. Also with Olivia Munn, Chris Coy, Dorian Missick, Sean Harris, and Lulu Wilson.

Earth to Echo (PG) This kid-friendly mashup of E.T., District 9, Chronicle, Super 8, and a few dozen other films wastes its chance. Brian “Astro” Bradley stars in this science-fiction adventure as a kid who recruits his friends (Teo Halm and Reese Hartwig) to investigate a series of mysterious signals in the Nevada desert the night before they move away. They find a crash-landed space alien who needs help getting back home. Director Dave Green adopts a found-footage technique for the film, but he needed somewhat less polish and a lot less cutesiness to tell this story. His mishandling of the tone and the poorly developed characters point up how derivative this thing is. Also with Ella Wahlestedt.

Edge of Tomorrow (PG-13) There’s a bit less to this than meets the eye, but it’s still terribly clever. In a post-apocalyptic world in which Europe has been overrun by future-foreseeing aliens, Tom Cruise plays a U.S. soldier who acquires the video game hero-like ability to go back in time whenever he’s killed and learn from his mistakes. Emily Blunt walks off with the picture with her unlikely performance as a battle-hardened veteran who understands what’s happening to him and trains him to fight. The movie never adds up to a statement about war or technology, but director Doug Liman (who was put on earth to make popcorn Hollywood thrillers) plays the time-looping effect for some solid comedy and brings great ingenuity to this disposable thriller. Also with Brendan Gleeson, Jonas Armstrong, Kick Gurry, Franz Drameh, Charlotte Riley, Noah Taylor, and Bill Paxton.

The Fault in Our Stars (PG-13) Two superb lead performances anchor this above-average weeper based on John Green’s novel. Shailene Woodley plays a terminal teenage cancer patient who meets and falls for a patient in remission (Ansel Elgort) at her support group meeting. Elgort brings lightness and wit to the part of a teen who has lost his leg but not his zest for life, and yet the show belongs to Woodley, playing her role with no self-pity and a clear-eyed sense that she’s on borrowed time. First-time director Josh Boone doesn’t always put scenes in the right place, and the movie isn’t as subversive as it thinks it is, but these lead actors and the intelligence and humor in the story carry the day. Also with Laura Dern, Nat Wolff, Sam Trammell, Mike Birbiglia, Lotte Verbeek, and Willem Dafoe.

How to Train Your Dragon 2 (PG) Just like the original, this sequel is awe-inspiring on a visual level and irritating on a story level. With the Vikings now at peace with the dragons, Hiccup (voiced by Jay Baruchel) and his trusty mount Toothless must protect their community against a warlord (voiced by Djimon Hounsou) commanding an army of dragons. The flying reptiles in different shapes, sizes, and colors are rendered gloriously, as are the sequences with the humans riding them. Yet the script isn’t funny and the whole subplot involving Hiccup’s long-lost mother (voiced by Cate Blanchett) is dealt with way too easily. This could have been the best animated movie of the year if only the filmmakers had taken a little more care with the story. Additional voices by Gerard Butler, America Ferrera, Christopher Mintz-Plasse, T.J. Miller, Kit Harington, Jonah Hill, and Kristen Wiig.

Jersey Boys (R) Clint Eastwood’s most purely enjoyable movie as a director is this adaptation of the Broadway musical. Based on the lives of Frankie Valli & The Four Seasons, the movie stars John Lloyd Young, Vincent Piazza, Michael Lomenda, and Erich Bergen as the young men in 1950s New Jersey who use music to escape their hardscrabble upbringing. With scant movie resumés, the singing actors (most of whom were in the Broadway show) do much to convey the group’s complex, shifting dynamics, and the Tony-winning Young has a falsetto that pops off the soundtrack. The movie is weaker on the musicians’ personal lives, and Eastwood’s visuals are drab as always, but he keeps the story moving forward, and the eternally fresh music carries the film. Also with Christopher Walken, Mike Doyle, Renée Marino, Freya Tingley, and Erica Piccininni.

Maleficent (PG) Angelina Jolie gives her best performance in years in this re-telling of the Sleeping Beauty story, playing a fairy who’s jilted by a prince (Sharlto Copley) and responds by cursing his daughter (Elle Fanning) into falling into a death-like sleep. It’s good that she’s so powerful, because the rest of the movie is crap. Special-effects artist Robert Stromberg steps into the director’s chair for the first time. He makes the CGI look great, but the storytelling has no flow, the non-Maleficent characters are incomprehensible, and the dramatic parts, comic relief, and lyrical interludes all come willy-nilly on each other’s heels. It’s good to see movies about women and girls defy industry wisdom and sell lots of tickets, but we need better ones than this. Also with Imelda Staunton, Lesley Manville, Juno Temple, Sam Riley, Brenton Thwaites, and Kenneth Cranham.

Snowpiercer (R) Mind-blowingly original. Loosely adapted from a series of French graphic novels, this science-fiction thriller stars Chris Evans as a man leading a class-based revolt on a train that’s carrying the last remnants of humanity through an Earth that’s been plunged into another ice age. The director is the mad Korean genius Bong Joon-ho, who works wonders with the look of the different train cars, but he cuts the apocalyptic material with wacky comedy, much of it involving a buffoonish government minister (Tilda Swinton). Evans looks better as a tormented antihero than as Captain America, too. The film boasts thrills and social commentary in equal measure, but you’ll come away from it overwhelmed by the strangeness and beauty of this unique experience. Also with Song Kang-ho, Jamie Bell, Ko Ah-sung, Octavia Spencer, Luke Pasqualino, Vlad Ivanov, Alison Pill, Ewen Bremner, John Hurt, and Ed Harris.

Tammy (R) I’m starting to worry about Melissa McCarthy. She plays a woman who takes a road trip with her grandmother (Susan Sarandon, made up to look older) after losing her job and her husband on the same day. The two leads make a neat comedy duo, with Sarandon’s earthy streak chiming with McCarthy’s profane sense of humor. However, McCarthy and her director/co-writer Ben Falcone never convince us that the sad sack, dimwitted Tammy has the resources to pull her life together. The plentiful talent in the supporting cast is largely wasted, too. It’s understandable that McCarthy is sticking to an act that’s been working for her so far, but I’m ready to see her do something else. Also with Kathy Bates, Mark Duplass, Allison Janney, Gary Cole, Nat Faxon, Toni Collette, Sandra Oh, Sarah Baker, and Dan Aykroyd.

Transformers: Age of Extinction (PG) Of course this movie is bad, and to make it worse, it’s almost three hours long. This Transformers is as incomprehensible as it is visually exhausting, but what’s really weird is that you wish director Michael Bay gave his characters even less of a thought, because all they do is occupy space between bouts of giant robots wrestling each other into buildings. Combined with corporate branding that has about as much subtlety as a rectal exam, you wonder why there’s even a story at all, rather than a title card that says, “Thanks for your money. Here are three hours of robots and dubstep noises as promised.” Bright spots: T.J. Miller’s skeezy techie buddy character and Stanley Tucci’s smarmy, conniving billionaire industrialist give you scattered moments of levity within the noxious cloud of CGI chaos, and the movie teases the revelation of the Transformers’ creators, which, despite the typical Bay bombast, is reason alone to sit through the next abysmal attack on the senses. Also with Mark Wahlberg, Nicola Peltz, Kelsey Grammer, and the voices of John Goodman and Ken Watanabe. –– Steve Steward

22 Jump Street (R) Despite a lot of effort, the laughs in this sequel are more scattered than the ones in the original. Detectives Schmidt and Jenko (Jonah Hill and Channing Tatum) reunite for a pointedly similar caper, going undercover as college students to bust a drug ring. The filmmaking team of Phil Lord and Christopher Miller rely too heavily on treating Schmidt and Jenko’s relationship as if it were a romance for laughs. They also make too many jokes about sequels — they could have confined those to the terrific closing credits montage imagining sequels all the way past 39 Jump Street. Still, the movie is likable, and it sports a scene-stealing turn by Jillian Bell as a passive-aggressive roommate who’s way more layered than she seems. Also with Amber Stevens, Ice Cube, Wyatt Russell, Peter Stormare, Nick Offerman, Dustin Nguyen, Richard Grieco, and uncredited cameos by Rob Riggle, Dave Franco, Bill Hader, Queen Latifah, and Seth Rogen.

X-Men: Days of Future Past (PG-13) Director Bryan Singer rejoins the series and reminds us why the original movies struck such a chord. In a dystopian near future, Professor Xavier and Magneto (Patrick Stewart and Ian McKellen) send Wolverine (Hugh Jackman) back in time to 1973 to prevent an assassination that started the chain of events. Wolverine has his sardonic mojo back, and the erotically tinged relationship between young Xavier and young Magneto (James McAvoy and Michael Fassbender) pays handsome dividends here, as does Xavier’s need to reclaim Mystique (Jennifer Lawrence) from the dark side. The world has changed much since the first movie, but the overarching story’s parallels with gay rights haven’t lost their power, and the final image of Xavier’s school restored to its former glory is deeply moving. This is the comic-book superhero movie to see this year. Also with Halle Berry, Ellen Page, Nicholas Hoult, Peter Dinklage, Shawn Ashmore, Omar Sy, Fan Bingbing, Evan Peters, Thai-Hoa Le, Josh Helman, Anna Paquin, and uncredited cameos by Kelsey Grammer, James Marsden, and Famke Janssen.

 

DALLAS EXCLUSIVES:

 

Coherence (NR) James Ward Byrkit’s science-fiction film is about eight friends who get together for a dinner party and find the fabric of reality warped by a celestial event. Starring Emily Foxler, Maury Sterling, Nicholas Brendon, Elizabeth Gracen, Alex Manugian, Lauren Maher, Hugo Armstrong, and Lorene Scafaria.

The Grand Seduction (PG-13) Don McKellar directs this comedy about a small Canadian town that stages an elaborate series of deceptions to convince a big-city doctor (Taylor Kitsch) to move there permanently as the town physician. Also with Brendan Gleeson, Liane Balaban, Rhonda Rodgers, and Gordon Pinsent.


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