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Capsule reviews of recently released films 

OPENING FRIDAY

CRAZY ON THE OUTSIDE (PG-13) Tim Allen directs and stars in this comedy about a prison parolee who discovers the quirks of life "on the outside" in the company of his eccentric sister (Sigourney Weaver) and her friends.

DAYBREAKERS (R) See review.

THE IMAGINARIUM OF DOCTOR PARNASSUS 2 stars (PG-13) See review.

LEAP YEAR (PG) Amy Adams plays a single woman with an elaborate scheme to propose to her boyfriend (Matthew Goode) in Ireland on Feb. 29, but travel complications may ruin her plans for marital bliss. Another film sure to advance the feminist cause.

THE LOSS OF A TEARDROP DIAMOND (PG-13) Bryce Dallas Howard stars in this tale of a 1920s Memphis debutante. Jodie Markell, best known as a television actress, directs this long-lost screenplay by Tennessee Williams.

YOUTH IN REVOLT (R) See review.

DULY NOTED

ICHI THE KILLER (1968) (NR) "Vomit bags" were handed out at the Toronto International Film Festival in advance of this ultraviolent crime drama from the director of Audition. Splatter Cinema. $8-$12. 9:30 p.m. Wed., Jan. 12. Plaza Theatre, 1049 Ponce de Leon Ave. 404-873-1939. www.plazaatlanta.com.

CONTINUING

2012 2 stars (PG-13) Solar flares and Mayan mumbo jumbo spell a world-ending catastrophe, even for an upstanding White House science adviser (Chiwetel Ejiofor), a divorced novelist (John Cusack) and the U.S. president (Danny Glover). You can say what you want about director Roland Emmerich: The man’s the John Holmes of disaster porn and delivers jaw-dropping money shots of quakes wrecking Hollywood, Yosemite National Park erupting, a tsunami wiping out Washington, D.C., etc. The trouble is, it’s two and a half hours long and not even as cheesily fun as The Day After Tomorrow— Curt Holman

ALVIN AND THE CHIPMUNKS: THE SQUEAKUEL (PG) Here’s hoping the New Oxford Dictionary had time to add the word “squeakuel” to its 2010 edition. Jason Lee reprises his role as the human straight man to a trio of piercing-voiced mammals. The trailer hints that the follow-up will include girl chipmunk singers, too. Uh-oh.

ARMORED (PG-13) Hungarian-American Antal Nimród, who directed the fascinating foreign film Kontroll, helms this heist thriller about security guards who decide to knock over one of their armored cars. The cast includes Matt Dillon, Jean Reno and Laurence Fishburne. 

AVATAR 3 stars (PG-13) On the planet Pandora in the 22nd century, disabled ex-marine (Sam Worthington) downloads his intelligence into a cloned body of the 10-foot-high catlike natives and begins to take their side against the human military-industrial interests bent on exploiting the planet. James Cameron’s first feature film since Titanic mostly lives up to its years of hype as a 3-D space opera with the finest special effects money can buy and narrative momentum far superior than, say, the Star Wars prequels. Despite Pandora’s lighter-than-Earth gravity, the tree-hugging themes prove surprisingly heavy-handed, but it’s still an entertaining, eye-popping sci-fi epic that will probably inspire consumers to buy Blu-Ray players next year. — Holman

BROKEN EMBRACES 4 stars (R) A blind screenwriter (LluÌs Homar) flashes back to his doomed, on-set love affair with his leading lady (Penélope Cruz), the mistress of a ruthless financier (José Luis Gumez). Despite dropping meta-references to his breakout comedy Women on the Verge of a Nervous Breakdown), Spanish director Pedro Almodovar presents a controlled, downbeat melodrama with overtones of Alfred Hitchcock. Cruz and the cast provide vivid performances, but Almodovar's plot twists seem too personal to resonate with many audiences. — Holman

DID YOU HEAR ABOUT THE MORGANS? (PG-13) Sarah Jessica Parker and Hugh Grant play estranged couple relocated from New York to small-town Wyoming as part of a witness-protection program. From the writer/director of Music and Lyrics, who also wrote the Miss Congeniality films.

EVERYBODY’S FINE 2 stars (PG-13) Robert De Niro plays a retired widower who pays surprise visits to his grown children (including Kate Beckinsale, Sam Rockwell and Drew Barrymore) and gradually ferrets out the secrets they’ve been keeping “for his own good.” This sleepy remake of a 1990 Marcello Mastroianni vehicle of the same name tends to be at once bland and heavy-handed, and De Niro doesn’t really reconcile his role’s contradictions as a remote, demanding Dad prone to chat up his fellow travelers. Apart from a few highlights (including a surreal dream scene), Everybody only aspires to be fine. — Holman 

FANTASTIC MR. FOX 4 stars (PG) Wes Anderson’s loose adaptation of Roald Dahl’s children’s book casts George Clooney as the voice of middle-class Mr. Fox, whose midlife crisis and poultry-stealing habit incurs the wrath of local farms. Despite the inexpressiveness of the stop-motion animated characters, Fantastic Mr. Fox brings charming, idiosyncratic personality to the overpolished genre of contemporary family films. It turns out that Anderson’s trademark obsessions — fussily formal compositions, period pop songs, father-son friction — suit animation better than live-action, and lend Fantastic Mr. Fox humanity and heart, despite its cast of woodland creatures. — Holman 

INVICTUS 2 stars (PG-13) After assuming the presidency of South Africa in 1994, Nelson Mandela (Morgan Freeman) tries to inspire the country’s rugby team to win the World Cup in the hopes of unifying the nation’s racial divide. Matt Damon credibly comports himself as a rugby captain and Freeman offers a warm, sprightly performance as Mandela, but the latter figure becomes only a spectator to the action in the film’s second half, when Invictus turns into a more conventional underdog sports film. It’s an interesting fact-based story, but one wishes director Clint Eastwood had focused more closely on Mandela, one of the most fascinating global political figures of our time. — Holman

IT'S COMPLICATED (R) What Women Want director Nancy Meyers presents a light-hearted romantic triangle between Meryl Streep, Alec Baldwin as her macho ex-husband and Steve Martin as her nice-guy suitor. Expect to hear Baldwin and Martin mention it at least once when the host the Oscars next year. 

LAW ABIDING CITIZEN 3 stars (R) After home invaders kill his wife and daughter, “tinkerer” Clyde Shelton (Gerard Butler) exacts revenge on Philadelphia’s criminal justice system, particularly district attorney Nick Rice (Jamie Foxx), who cut a deal to give a sleazy killer a light sentence. If you like films with inventive “kills” but are too embarrassed to see theSaw series, Law Abiding Citizen puts a thin veneer of respectability over the bloodshed. It’s hard to care very much about Foxx’s crises of conscience, but Butler makes a fine villain, less like Charles Bronson in Death Wish than The Joker in The Dark Knight— Holman

THE MAID 4 stars (NR) In this Chilean drama, an upper-middle-class family treats the title character like part of the family, but comparable to the way that the appendix is a part of the body. Like a vestigial organ, a servant can be removed if she starts causing trouble. Rather than simply offer a character study marked by decline and neglect, The Maid builds to some positive notes without oversimplifying the maid Raquel's predicament. Even when the emotions get messy, The Maid cleans up nicely. — Holman

ME AND ORSON WELLES 4 stars (PG-13) High School Musical heartthrob Zac Efron plays another teen bitten by the theater bug who stumbles into a role in Orson Welles’ famed Julius Caesar in 1937. Christian McKay offers a remarkable interpretation of Welles, a larger-than-life film and radio star (and soon to direct Citizen Kane) whose character flaws, such as alpha-male bullying and serial adultery, seem like a piece of his artistic genius. Efron’s a little too blank for the role as written, but one hopes his young fan base will turn out for the film’s infectious, persuasive love letter to Shakespeare, live theater, the golden age of radio and one of America’s legendary artists. — Holman

THE MEN WHO STARE AT GOATS 2 stars (R) A newspaper reporter (Ewan McGregor) discovers that a would-be Iraq occupation contractor (George Clooney) claims to be a former "psychic soldier" trained by the U.S. Army's First Earth Battalion. Inspired by Jon Ronson's nonfiction book about the First Earth Battalion, The Men Who Stare at Goats combines sight gags about tough soldiers failing to run through walls with heavy-handed satire about the U.S. occupation of Iraq. Clooney gives a witty, poker-faced performance — you're never sure exactly what his character believes — but McGregor seems to have been cast as an inside joke based on the film's discussion of "Jedi warriors." — Holman

THE MESSENGER 3 stars (R) In this uneven but respectful drama, Ben Foster and Woody Harrelson play members of the U.S. Army’s casualty notification team, tasked with informing the next of kind of their loved ones’ deaths in action. Reversing the usual perspective of the “we regret to inform you” scene, The Messenger’s cast proves equal to the fraught emotions at play, particularly Steve Buscemi and Samantha Morton as two bereaved civilians. Director Oren Moverman seems to be a student of Hal Ashby’s excellent 1970s films The Last Detail andComing Home, although the film’s last act, by focusing on the two soldiers’ psychology, slows down to a crawl. — Holman

NINE 3 stars (PG-13) In 1960s Italy, a creatively blocked filmmaker (Daniel Day-Lewis) muses on the women in his life in this musical based on Federico Fellini's autobiographical masterpiece 8 Ω. Chicago director Rob Marshall doesn't stint on glamour or sexuality, as Nine basically offers a series of burlesque-style musical numbers from such Oscar-caliber actresses as Marion Cotillard, Penelope Cruz, Nicole Kidman and Judi Dench ñ although the show-stopper turns out to be the lusty ìBe Italianî by Fergie of the Black-Eyed Peas. Repetitious and oddly impersonal, Nine ultimately squeaks by on sheer star power. — Holman

NINJA ASSASSIN (R) V for Vendetta director James McTeigue and the Wachowski brothers (The Matrix) present this martial arts film about a hitman (Rain) out for revenge. It sounds like the kind of film that should be an adaptation of a video game or a graphic novel or something, but apparently it’s an original work. 

OLD DOGS (PG) Dan (Robin Williams) has been happily divorced for seven years when his ex-wife shows up and reveals that she and Dan have 7-year-old twins. Dan, who knows nothing about family life, recruits his friends Charlie (John Travolta) and Ralph (Seth Green) to help him take care of the kids and learn the true meaning of family.

PIRATE RADIO Originally titled The Boat that Rocked, this British comedy about a fictitious pirate radio station that broadcasts to the United Kingdom from a ship is hitting American shores.

PLANET 51 (PG) In this week’s 3-D computer animated comedy, an astronaut (Dwayne “The Rock” Johnson) lands on a planet and discovers a population of green alien suburbanites who view him as an invader.

PRECIOUS: BASED ON THE NOVEL PUSH BY SAPPHIRE 3 stars (R) In Harlem of 1987, Clareece "Precious" Jones (Gabourey Sidibe) suffers enough hardships for several Greek tragedies, including obesity, illiteracy, sexual molestation and a shockingly abusive mother (Mo'Nique). Precious finds self-respect in an alternative school and a classroom full of boisterous women. Subtlety is not in the vocabulary of this film produced by Oprah Winfrey and Tyler Perry, but the performances of Sidibe, Mo'Nique, Mariah Carey (really) and the supporting cast make good on the film's ambitions. — Holman 

THE PRINCESS AND THE FROG 4 stars (G) In 1920s New Orleans, hardworking waitress Tiana (voiced by Anika Noni Rose) hits a bump on the road to buying her own restaurant when she kisses enchanted Prince-turned-frog Naveen (Bruno Campos) and — oops! — transforms into an amphibian herself. Like its workaholic heroine, The Princess and the Frog tries a little hard and tends to rush through songs and character introductions, so it lacks the ease of classics like Beauty and the Beast. The screwball bickering of hardheaded Tiana and hedonistic Naveen holds few surprises, but it’s still a lovely, tuneful film with gorgeous musical numbers that make the average CGI feature look sterile by comparison. — Holman

RED CLIFF 3 stars (R) Renowned action director John Woo designed this Chinese military epic, set in 208 A.D., to be released in two parts that totaled well over four hours, but the U.S. edit clocks in at only two and a half. The result resembles watching one of the latter Lord of the Rings films without having seen the first — but that’s not so bad, because Woo’s lavish combat scenes give Peter Jackson a run for his money. Tony Leung plays a noble viceroy leading a rebellion against a Napoleonic prime minister, but the spectacular set pieces are the real stars, including some of the most astonishing naval battles ever seen in movies. — Holman

THE ROAD 2 stars (R) A nameless father and son (Viggo Mortensen and Kodi Smit-McPhee, respectively) struggle to survive in the wastelands of post-apocalyptic America in John Hillcoat’s faithful-to-a-fault adaptation of Cormac McCarthy’s best-seller. Mortensen and Smit-McPhee capture the anguish of the pair’s attempt to maintain their moral balance amid despair, but the film’s tone proves as monochromatic as its ashy color scheme, which falls short of the images evoked by the book’s stark lyricism. — Holman 

A SERIOUS MAN 4 stars (R) A Jewish physics professor (Michael Stuhlbarg) endures crises of family, career and religion in the Minneapolis suburbs of 1967. The Oscar-winning Coen brothers mine their own childhood for a Kafka-esque, seriocomic spiritual quest in which God, if He even exists, refuses to provide answers to the protagonist’s sufferings. The Coens offer caricatures of most of the Jewish characters, but nevertheless touch on provocative issues of the ineffability of the universe. — Holman

SHERLOCK HOLMES 3 stars (PG-13) English hipster director Guy Ritchie takes a flashy look at the 19th century super-sleuth (Robert Downey Jr.) and his faithful sidekick Dr. Watson (Jude Law) as they take on the fiendish, potentially undead Lord Blackwood (Mark Strong). Downey's scruffy, comedically nimble turn and Strong's glowering charisma go along way to redeem the half-coherent storytelling and occasionally elephantine production. McAdams and Law seem a bit over their head, but Ritchie's Victorian London looks appropriately crowded and filthy, and Holmes and Watson's bickering couple-shtick provides the minimal level of witty banter. — Holman

A SINGLE MAN 2 stars (R) Colin Firth gives one of his best performances as George Falconer, a gay college professor in 1962 California who contemplates whether life is worth living following the death of his longtime companion (Matthew Goode). Directing his first feature, fashion designer Tom Ford crafts impeccably costumed and composed images that improve on "Mad Men" as evocations of Kennedy-era glossy magazine style. Nevertheless, Ford seems more interested in the film's tastefully-appointed design (with overly simplistic visual cues) than emotional nuances, so Firth's rich acting ultimately feels separated from the audience by a wall of bulletproof glass. — Holman

SKIN 2 stars (R) Anthony Fabian’s well-meaning biopic considers the curious case of South Africa’s “white” black woman. Black-completed Sandra Laing (Sophie Okonedo) was born at the height of South Africa’s apartheid system of white parents (Sam Neill and Alice Krige) unaware their own black ancestry. Sandra suffers abuse from both her father and her black husband, neither of whom can accept her for who she is. Despite its fascinating premise, the film seldom manages to get inside Sandra’s head and remains only skin deep. — Holman 

THE TWILIGHT SAGA: NEW MOON 3 stars (PG-13) Chris Weitz has masterfully added depth and excitement to the moody, supernatural franchise. Unlike its predecessor, New Moonbalances the sugary love talk with several fast-paced action sequences. While some of the film's moments sputter and lose momentum, the submersion of Stewart and Lautner into their onscreen personas is captivating and adds believability to their romantic rollercoaster ride. 

UP IN THE AIR 4 stars (R) George Clooney’s corporate hatchet man spends more than 100 days a year on the road and prefers the VIP treatment of air travel and hotels — not to mention consequence-free trysts — to earthbound responsibilities. In Jason Reitman’s witty dramedy, Clooney’s role learns the value of human connections through his sister’s impending wedding, his relationship with a sexy fellow traveler (Vera Farmiga) and his mentorship to a young company woman (Anna Kendrick). Up in the Air captures the zeitgeist of recessionary layoffs and empty corporate culture, and though the narrative arc holds few surprises, it’s a first-class trip all the way. — Holman

WILLIAM KUNTSLER: DISTURBING THE UNIVERSE (NR) William Kuntsler was one of the most famous lawyers of the 20th century. Through representing clients such as the Rev. Marin Luther King Jr., Malcolm X and Abbie Hoffman, he become “the most hated and most loved lawyer in America.” In this film, his daughters Emily and Sarah take a crack at telling the true story of their father’s life.

THE YOUNG VICTORIA 3 stars (PG) Jean-Marc Vallée's tame, tasteful biopic depicts Queen Victoria's rise to he throne as a naive but strong-minded teenager. The film tries to balance gender politics with an almost fairytale-level love story between star-crossed teenagers, Victoria (Emily Blunt) and Albert (Rupert Friend), but finds only modest levels of drama along the way. Nevertheless, the cast includes such pros as Mark Strong, Jim Broadbent, Paut Bettany and Miranda Richardson, and nobody does royal pomp like the British. — Holman

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