Film Shorts

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Posted July 30, 2014 by Kristian Lin in Film
Child of God opens Friday.Child of God opens Friday.

OPENING:

Child of God (R) James Franco directs, writes, and co-stars in this adaptation of Cormac McCarthy’s novel about a man (Scott Haze) who tries to exist outside the social order. Also with Tim Blake Nelson, Jim Parrack, Brian Lally, and Vince Jolivette. (Opens Friday in Dallas)

Cabin Fever: Patient Zero (NR) Uh, the opening credit sequence is pretty well done, with slow-motion visuals and on the soundtrack soft music and a hushed phone call to emergency services. Other than that, I’m not sure why this movie hasn’t gone direct to video. Three over-privileged white American dudes (Mitch Ryan, Ryan Donowho, and Brando Eaton) plus one guy’s hot girlfriend (Jillian Murray) vacation on a deserted island off the Dominican Republic, only to find that the flesh-eating virus has gotten loose from a secret quarantine facility there. No scares result, just a lot of gore. This hackwork isn’t worth your time. Also with Sean Astin, Currie Graham, Solly Duran, and Lydia Hearst. (Opens Friday at AMC Grapevine Mills)

The Divine Move (NR) Jung Woo-sung stars in this Korean action thriller as a professional go player who infiltrates the criminal underworld to avenge his brother’s death. Also with Lee Beom-soo, Ahn Sung-ki, Kim In-kwon, Lee Si-young, Choi Jin-hyuk, Ahn Kil-kang, and Jung Hae-kyun. (Opens Friday at AMC Grapevine Mills)

4 Minute Mile (PG-13) Cam Gigandet stars in this drama as a high-school track star who must cope with a tragedy just before his biggest race. Also with Kim Basinger, Analeigh Tipton, Rhys Coiro, Dylan Arnold, Kelly Blatz, and Richard Jenkins. (Opens Friday in Dallas)

Get On Up (PG-13) Underneath the formal tricks, this is just the same boilerplate musician biopic we’ve seen over and over. Chadwick Boseman portrays James Brown during his rise to prominence in the 1960s and ’70s and then his fall from grace in the ’80s. Tate Taylor’s direction has improved since The Help, and screenwriters Jez and John-Henry Butterworth skip around in time and have James occasionally turn to the camera and narrate parts of his story. Still, the reason to see this is Boseman’s performance — the lead actor only lip-syncs to recordings of Brown’s songs, but he captures the Godfather of Soul’s famous swagger and stage presence and does an exceptional imitation of his dance moves. He looks like a star in the making. Also with Nelsan Ellis, Dan Aykroyd, Viola Davis, Jill Scott, Lennie James, Craig Robinson, Brandon Smith, Fred Melamed, Tika Sumpter, Aunjanue Ellis, Aloe Blacc, and Octavia Spencer. (Opens Friday)

Magic in the Moonlight (PG-13) Woody Allen’s latest farce stars Colin Firth as a 1930s spiritual debunker who aims to disprove the psychic claims of a charming young woman (Emma Stone). Also with Marcia Gay Harden, Jacki Weaver, Simon McBurney, Catherine McCormack, and Eileen Atkins. (Opens Friday in Dallas)

Mood Indigo (NR) Michel Gondry (Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind) directs this French romance about a man (Romain Duris) who wants to cure his girlfriend (Audrey Tautou) of an unusual ailment. Also with Gad Elmaleh, Omar Sy, Aïssa Maïga, Zinedine Soualem, Natacha Régnier, Charlotte Le Bon, and Kid Creole. (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.

And So It Goes (PG-13) Michael Douglas stars in this comedy as a self-centered man who enlists the help of his neighbor (Diane Keaton) when his estranged granddaughter (Sterling Jerins) is left on his doorstep. Also with Annie Parisse, Austin Lysy, Yaya DaCosta, Frances Sternhagen, and Frankie Valli.

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.

Dawn of the Planet of the Apes (PG-13) This science-fiction thriller is really a Western in disguise. Andy Serkis plays the leader of a community of super-intelligent apes who tries to make peace with a colony of humans who have survived the plague that created the apes. The coexistence is riven by cultural misunderstandings and troublemakers on both sides, and it’s awfully clever the way the apes and humans switch off the roles of the conquering cowboys and the oppressed natives. Director Matt Reeves (Cloverfield) brings a light virtuoso touch to this thing, but the film works only intellectually, not emotionally. This sequel points toward a smarter direction for the series. It just doesn’t get it there. Also with Jason Clarke, Gary Oldman, Keri Russell, Toby Kebbell, Kirk Acevedo, Nick Thurston, Kodi Smit-McPhee, and Judy Greer.

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.

The Fluffy Movie (PG-13) Gabriel Iglesias stars in this partially staged concert film devoted to his stand-up comedy act. Also with Jacqueline Obradors, Rick Gutierrez, Ron White, and Tommy Chong.

Hercules (PG-13) Not terrible, just tedious. Brett Ratner’s take on the legendary hero tries to balance Dwayne Johnson’s comic tendencies with action scenes that have his titular character alternating between mid-melee yelling and lukewarm inspirational speechifying. After being chased out of Athens for allegedly murdering his family, Hercules and his band of plucky mercenaries clobber waves of enemies with Whedonesque aplomb. Though Ratner’s set designers and costume department make things interesting to look at it, he can’t achieve the imaginative world-building of, say, Conan the Barbarian –– his characters simply aren’t that interesting. Chock-full of clichés, the movie still has cohesive, rollicking action sequences that have the juddering impact of an NFL highlight film. Also with John Hurt, Ian McShane, Joseph Fiennes, Ingrid Bolsø Berdal, Joe Anderson, Reece Ritchie, Peter Mullan, and Rufus Sewell. — Steve Steward

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.

Lucy (R) Scarlett Johansson once again shows off her dynamism as an action heroine starring in this incredibly stupid thriller as an American student who becomes an unwilling drug mule for Korean gangsters in Taipei and then a super-intelligent reality-warping being when the drug accidentally gets into her system. Writer-director Luc Besson gets all manner of history and science wrong, but Johansson does an uncanny turn as a woman who seems to be hearing frequencies that nobody else can hear and can drop a corridor full of cops with a wave of her fingers. This movie is like Transcendence, except it’s actually fun at times. Also with Morgan Freeman, Choi Min-sik, Amr Waked, Julian Rhind-Tutt, and Analeigh Tipton.

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.

A Most Wanted Man (R) The late Philip Seymour Hoffman is pretty much the only reason to see this sluggish, mediocre spy thriller. He plays a burned-out German intelligence officer trying to foil a terrorist plot in Hamburg revolving around an illegal Chechen immigrant (Grigori Dobrygin). This is based on yet another John le Carré tale of a spy who comes to grief when he tries to behave decently, but director Anton Corbijn (The American) keeps getting caught in up the spy trade’s minutiae at the expense of momentum and mistakes solemnity for depth. Hoffman’s weary, chain-smoking gravitas gives the film a grounding and layering that it doesn’t deserve. Also with Rachel McAdams, Willem Dafoe, Daniel Brühl, Nina Hoss, Homayoun Ershadi, Mehdi Dehbi, Rainer Bock, Martin Wuttke, and Robin Wright.

Persecuted (PG-13) Unfiltered Christian paranoia. James Remar plays a famous TV preacher who’s framed for a murder charge after he refuses to back legislation by a U.S. senator (Bruce Davison) who secretly wants to outlaw Christianity. Whenever any character expresses tolerance for other religions, it’s a sure sign that they’re part of the evil government conspiracy. If that’s not loathsome enough, the movie also implies that women are prone to fabricating rape charges if they’re paid enough. This doesn’t even work as a paranoid thriller, losing momentum everywhere and spotlighting some putrid acting by the supporting cast. Bring sunglasses to this movie — they’ll protect you from the glare from the tinfoil hats being worn by the audience. Also with Dean Stockwell, Raoul Trujillo, Sage Bell, Brad Stine, and Fred Dalton Thompson.

Planes: Fire & Rescue (PG) I learned more about aerial firefighting from this movie than I ever imagined I would know. Dane Cook reprises his role in this animated sequel as a crop-dusting plane who decides to become a certified firefighter, training under a hardass rescue helicopter (voiced by Ed Harris). Some of the plot developments are highly predictable, and the drama doesn’t uncover anything new with these characters. However, the movie doesn’t drag, and it does have its occasional flashes of wit. On disc, this will be a nice afternoon’s diversion for the kids. Older crowds will relish the CHiPs parody featuring the voice of Erik Estrada. Additional voices by Julie Bowen, Teri Hatcher, Curtis Armstrong, John Michael Higgins, Wes Studi, Brad Garrett, Barry Corbin, Regina King, Cedric the Entertainer, Patrick Warburton, Steve Schirripa, Jerry Stiller, Anne Meara, Fred Willard, Stacy Keach, Hal Holbrook, and John Ratzenberger.

The Purge: Anarchy (R) The weakest part of last year’s The Purge was its attempts at social commentary, so writer-director James DeMonaco smartly dials it down for the sequel. In a near-future America where murder is legal for one night every year, five strangers stranded outdoors have to stick together to survive: a bickering married couple (Zach Gilford and Kiele Sanchez) with car trouble, a mother and daughter (Carmen Ejogo and Zoë Soul) abducted from their home, and a vigilante (Frank Grillo) looking to avenge his son’s death. The thing works reasonably well as a B thriller, but there’s better stuff out there. Also with Justina Machado, John Beasley, Judith McConnell, and Michael K. Williams.

Sex Tape (R) Jason Segel and Cameron Diaz star in this farce as a longtime married couple who decide to rejuvenate their sex life by filming themselves doing it. Inevitably, the video gets out. The main characters are boring, which is why the stars keep getting upstaged, and there’s some blatant product placement for Apple gadgets and YouPorn.com. Still, director Jake Kasdan does orchestrate some nice set pieces, with Diaz discovering the freaky private side of her new business partner (Rob Lowe) and an uncredited Jack Black popping in as YouPorn’s president. This movie isn’t deep, but it’s funny enough. Also with Rob Corddry, Ellie Kemper, Nat Faxon, Nancy Lenehan, and Jolene Blalock.

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.

Wish I Was Here (R) Zach Braff should have called this movie Golden State, since it’s set in California and is so much like his annoyingly callow directing debut, Garden State. He stars as a struggling Hollywood actor trying to home-school his kids (Joey King and Pierce Gagnon) and deal with the terminal cancer of his father (Mandy Patinkin). The director still has a neat sense of comic timing and a flair for sight gags like an Orthodox rabbi grimly motoring on a Segway scooter, but his visual style remains a series of empty flourishes. The movie drowns in weepiness in the final third, and poor Kate Hudson (as the guy’s wife) is stuck with the speechiest speech as she orders her father-in-law to reconcile with his sons. Braff could be a funny comic filmmaker if he didn’t want to tell us the meaning of life. Also with Josh Gad, Jim Parsons, Alexander Chaplin, Michael Weston, Donald Faison, and Ashley Greene.

 

DALLAS EXCLUSIVES:

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.

I Origins (R) Mike Cahill (Another Earth) writes and directs this drama about a tormented molecular biologist (Michael Pitt) who discovers scientific evidence that may point to the existence of a divine being. Also with Astrid Bergès-Frisbey, Brit Marling, Steven Yeun, Cara Seymour, William Mapother, and Archie Panjabi.

Le Chef (PG-13) Not to be confused with Jon Favreau’s Chef, this French comedy stars Jean Reno as a Michelin-starred chef who tries to stave off his boss’ efforts to replace him with someone younger. Also with Michaël Youn, Raphaëlle Agogué, Julien Boisselier, Serge Larivière, Salomé Stévenin, and Issa Doumbia.

My Man Is a Loser (R) Michael Rapoport and Bryan Callen star in this comedy as two married guys who hire a single playboy (John Stamos) to help them rejuvenate their marriages. Also with Tika Sumpter, Diane Guerrero, and Sean Young.


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