Friday, September 17, 2010

Film Clips: This weekend's movie openings and more

Posted By on Fri, Sep 17, 2010 at 12:00 AM

The tragic death of Pat Tillman, NFL player turned Army Ranger.
  • Photo Credit: The Weinstein Co.
  • The tragic death of Pat Tillman, NFL player turned Army Ranger.
THE CREMASTER CYCLE (NR) Avant-garde artist Michael Barney directs five films that eschew traditional narrative in favor of powerful, surreal imagery. Showing with De Lama Lamina, Barney’s hour-long concert film of his performance-art collaboration with musician Arto Lindsay.

(PG-13) Five strangers get trapped together in the same elevator and menaced by a supernatural creature. It’s by Drew and John Erik Dowdle based on a story by M. Night Shyamalan.

EASY A (PG-13) In this comedy, the life of a clean cut, unpopular high school girl (Emma Stone) ironically begins to parallel “The Scarlet Letter,” which she is currently studying in a class, after she becomes the center of her school’s rumor mill after she pretends to lose her virginity and sleep with several classmates, until she decides to use the gossip to advance her social and financial standing.

THE TILLMAN STORY 4 stars (R) Amir Bar-Lev’s documentary recounts the tragic story of Army Ranger Pat Tillman, who famously walked away from an NFL contract to enlist in the military following 9/11, only to die in a Afghan friendly fire incident. The title signals that the film is as much about the Tillman family’s attempt to uncover the truth despite the prevarications of political expediency and entrenched military culture. Though arguably guilty of idealizing Tillman as much as the Bush Administration did, the film powerfully personalizes the costs of war. — Curt Holman

THE TOWN 3 stars (R) Tough but noble thief Doug MacRay (Ben Affleck) falls in love with a bank manager (Rebecca Hall), who doesn’t know that Doug’s gang recently took her hostage. Other speed bumps on the road to romance include the hair-trigger temper of Doug’s partner Gem (The Hurt Locker’s Jeremy Renner) and the dogged investigation of FBI agent Adam Frawley (Jon Hamm). Affleck’s sophomore effort as a director proves that his strong debut Gone Baby Gone was no fluke. The movie star gets strong performances from his actors, particularly The Hurt Locker’s Jeremy Renner as Doug’s loose-cannon partner, but for a film called the The Town, the script pays less attention to the texture of the community than the clichés of crime melodrama. — Holman

THE VIRGINITY HIT (R) This mockumentary-style comedy, presented as a sequence of Youtube-worthy video clips, follows a group of teenage boys in their attempts to lose their virginity. (Playing at the Mall of Georgia.)

BIZARRO SAT MORN (NR) Martin Croker presents a diverse selection of cartoons and film rarities from the 1930s through the ‘80s. Sept. 18, 3 p.m. Plaza Theatre, 1049 Ponce de Leon Ave. 404-873-1939.

SINGLE IN THE ATL (NR) Writer/director/producer Michael Angelo plays Storm Brooks, an unmarried Atlanta businessman who has a one-night stand, blows her off and subsequently discovers she’s his new boss. Sept. 18, 7:30 p.m. Plaza Theatre, 1049 Ponce de Leon Ave. 404-873-1939.

A TREE GROWS IN BROOKLYN (1945) (NR) James Dunn earned a Best Supporting Actor Oscar in this story of a working-class family that established Elia Kazan’s reputation as an “actor’s director.” Shown on a double bill with Martin Scorsese and Kent Jones’ 60-minute appreciation film, “A Letter to Elia.” Part of Emory Film Studies’ “Letters to Elia” film series. Sept. 13, 7:30 p.m. Plaza Theatre, 1049 Ponce de Leon Ave. 404-873-1939.

THE SUN BEHIND THE CLOUDS (NR) One of three, free films playing at Emory University’s Second Tibetan Film Festival this fall, this 79-minute documentary focuses on the turbulent events surrounding the 50th anniversary of China’s occupation over Tibet, which includes local uprisings in Tibet, as well as world-wide demonstrations again the 2008 Beijing Olympics. This award-winning film will be briefly introduced and followed with a Q&A session. Sept. 20, 8:00 p.m. Emory University, 201 Dowman Drive, White Hall 206. 404-727-6123.

THE AMERICAN 4 stars (R) A pseudonymous assassin and gunsmith (George Clooney) lays low in a small Italian village, where a friendly priest and a vivacious prostitute tempt him to lower his emotional defenses. Despite a clichéd storyline about existential hitmen, The Assassin benefits from Clooney’s lean, focused performance, which seizes your attention even when he’s silently customizing an assault rifle. Director Anton Corbijn maximizes the town’s maze-like architecture and frequently isolates Clooney in the frame, bringing fresh eyes to a familiar story. — Holman

CAIRO TIME 2 stars (PG) A married American journalist (Patricia Clarkson) seeks the companionship of an Egyptian café owner (Syriana’s Alexander Siddig) when diplomatic complications delay her husband’s exit from Gaza. Writer/director Ruba Nadda presents a story comparable to Eat Pray Love in which a woman of a certain age experiences a sensual awakening in an exotic land, but Cairo Time’s tighter narrative doesn’t make up for its languid pace and overly-contained performances from the two otherwise appealing leads. — Holman

DESPICABLE ME 3 stars (PG) An evil genius named Gru (voiced by Steve Carell) adopts three orphan girls as part of a plan to reclaim his title as the world’s #1 supervillain from his younger rival, Vector (Jason Segal). But will the girl’s steal Gru’s heart while he attempts to pilfer the moon? The comedy’s most despicable qualities are the oppressive bathroom humor jokes and the heavy dose of treacle that floods the last half. Focus instead on the gizmo-driven feud between Gru and Vector and you’ll enjoy Despicable Me’s slapstick worthy of Wile E. Coyote. — Holman

EAT PRAY LOVE 2 stars (PG-13) Freshly-divorced travel writer Liz Gilbert (Julia Roberts) tries to get her groove back by spending a year in Italy, India and Bali. Based on Gilbert’s bestselling middlebrow memoir, Eat Pray Love casts an innately self-conscious movie star as a self-absorbed woman, so it’s like 140 minutes of “But enough about me — what do you think of me?” Roberts gives an appealing performance and “Glee” co-creator Ryan Murphy helms a beautifully-photographed, at times sensuous film that nevertheless holds almost no dramatic interest. Maybe Blink Yawn Doze would be a better title. — Holman

THE EXPENDABLES (R) A throwback action flick on roids, The Expendables showcases an All-Star cast led by Sylvestor Stallone who might be weathered and old but still sports a young heart. The bad boys work with the Feds to try to usurp an evil dictator. In the process, they get fucked over at least twice, battle- and kill- an entire army, and save the girls (without so much as a kiss). Though this might not be the best date movie, the Rambo and friends feature is straight jacked.

FLIPPED (PG) Rob Reiner, who helmed This is Spinal Tap and The Princess Bride, directed and co-wrote this coming-of-age story about two young people who learn firsthand that opposites can attract. Grown-ups in the cast include Anthony Edwards, Aidan Quinn, Rebecca De Mornay and Penelope Ann Miller.

GET LOW 3 stars (PG-13) In the Depression-era mountains of Tennessee, hostile hermit Felix Bush (Robert Duvall) hires a small-town funeral parlor (run by Bill Murray and Lucas Black) to throw him a “funeral party” so everyone in the region can pay their respects while Felix is still alive. Apart from the build-up to Felix’s big revelation, there’s not a lot of dramatic interest, but Duvall, Murray and Sissy Spacek give moving, soft-spoken performances. Director Aaron Schneider conveys the tall-tale qualities of the Southern story without succumbing to regional stereotypes. — Holman

THE GIRL WHO PLAYED WITH FIRE 2 stars (R) Antisocial hacker Lisbeth Salander (Noomi Rapace) turns fugitive when circumstantial evidence links her to the murder of two muckraking journalists. This follow-up to The Girl With the Dragon Tattoo retains the outlandish action scenes of Steig Larsson’s original novel, but edits out the narrative connective tissue that makes sense of its convoluted plot. Rapace remains a memorably unusual thriller heroine, but Played With Fire seldom strikes sparks. — Holman

GOING THE DISTANCE (R) Academy Award nominated documentary filmmaker Nanette Burstein makes her feature film directorial debut in this romantic comedy about a summer fling between Erin (Drew Barrymore) and Garrett (Justin Long) that turns into a long-distance relationship with possibility thanks to texting, sexting and late-night phone calls. Co-starring actress Christina Applegate and comedian Jim Gaffigan, along with actors Charlie Day (It’s Always Sunny in Philadelphia) and Jason Sudeikis (Saturday Night Live).

I’M STILL HERE 3 stars (R) Casey Affleck directs this documentary about his brother-in-law Joaquin Phoenix’s ill-received decision to quit acting in the name of establishing a hip-hop career. Phoenix’s attempts to meet with prospective producer Sean Combs can give the film the vibe of Christopher Guest’s humiliating showbiz comedies and raise questions about the film’s authenticities. But even if it is a hoax, Phoenix’s ambivalence about celebrity and his willingness to reveal the worst aspects of himself prove compellingly real as he burns the bridge to Hollywood behind him. — Holman

INCEPTION 4 stars (PG-13) The brooding Dom Cobb (Leonardo DiCaprio) leads a team of thieves (including Joseph Gordon-Levitt and Ellen Page) capable of removing ideas from people’s dreams on a kind of subconscious caper to implant an idea in the mind of rising industrialist (Cillian Murphy). The Dark Knight director Christopher Nolan disguises his dizzying head-trip as a slick action film without making these easy for his audience: information comes nearly beyond the speed of comprehension. Inception builds to a redemption plot that’s simplistic where the rest of the film is sophisticated, but Nolan’s excitement over his imaginary dream-heists prove undeniably infectious. — Holman

THE KIDS ARE ALL RIGHT 4 stars (R) The college-age daughter (Mia Wasikowska) of a lesbian couple (Annette Bening and Julianne Moore) resolves to meet the anonymous sperm donor (Mark Ruffalo) who fathered her, and his casual values destabilize the unconventional family structure. Writer/director Lisa Cholodenko crafts characters and situations that are exaggerated enough to be laugh-out-loud funny, but realistic enough to feel as fully-formed and surprising as real life. But which will end up being the Oscar-nominated role, Bening’s besieged perfectionist or Moore’s frustrated free spirit? — Holman

THE LAST EXORCISM (R) In this faux-documentary horror film a la The Blair Witch Project, a film crew follows a troubled evangelical minister as he prepares to drive evil spirits from a young woman’s body.

LEGENDARY (PG-13) Actor/pro wrestler John Cena stars in this film about a booksmart teenager who seems joining his high school wrestling team as a means to reunite his estranged family.

LOTTERY TICKET (PG-13)When Kevin Carson (Bow Wow) wins $370 million in the lottery, he tries to keep a lid on it until he can collect three days later. But as he becomes the talk of the town, the boy from the projects discovers another side to the life and people he's known. The comedy has an all-star cast including Ice Cube, Loretta Devine, Charlie Murphy, Mike Epps, Bill Belamy, T-Pain, etc.

MAO’S LAST DANCER 3 stars (PG) While visiting the Houston Ballet in the 1980s, Chinese dancer Li Cunxin (Chi Cao) faces the temptations of American freedom and flashes back to his severe Communist childhood. Driving Miss Daisy director Bruce Beresford soft-pedals the drama and Cao, while a trained dancer, reveals limited emotional range. Nevertheless, the film provides a welcome reminder of the Orwellian oppressiveness of Communist China under Mao, and builds to a fascinating confrontation between Li’s Communist handlers and his American allies. — Holman

MACHETE 2 stars (R) Ultra-macho federale turned anonymous day laborer Machete Cortez (Danny Trejo) takes a job to assassinate a Texan anti-immigrant state senator (Robert De Niro), then seeks revenge on villains from either side of the border, played by the likes of Don Johnson and Steven Seagal. Director Robert Rodriguez expands his hilarious fake trailer from Grindhouse to feature length, but after an uproarious, over-the-top prologue, the tongue-in-cheek Mexploitation flick turns flabby and unfocused. Like most of Rodriguez’s work, Machete starts as a sharp commentary on shlocky cinema, then ends up indistinguishable from its cheesy target. — Holman

NANNY MCPHEE RETURNS 2 stars (PG) Emma Thompson disappears once more behind the moles, putty nose and producing teeth as Nanny McPhee, the tough-love Mary Poppins who helps some squabbling young cousins learn to cooperate and save the family farm from a conniving brother-in-law (Rafe Spall). Apart from a surprisingly dark vignette about the English military bureaucracy (featuring a meaty Ralph Fiennes cameo), Nanny McPhee returns adds few ideas to previous film, but ramps up the outhouse humor enormously, terrible looking effects. Keep an eye on young actor xx, hilarious as scene-stealing young snob. — Holman

THE OTHER GUYS 3 stars (PG-13) With New York’s super-detectives Danson and Highsmith (Dwayne Johnson and Samuel L. Jackson) out of commission, disgraced hot-head Terry Hoitz (Mark Wahlberg) and meek forensic accountant Allen Gamble (Will Ferrell) seize a chance to escape desk duty and break a huge case involving a sleazy financier (Steve Coogan). For about an hour, The Other Guys comes on like comedic gangbusters, with Wahlberg’s misplaced machismo providing a good foil for Ferrell’s increasingly unhinged antics. The cop clichés give Ferrell and director Adam McKay (Anchorman, Talladega Nights) plenty to riff on for a while, but once the good gags peter out, the lumbering action scenes prove less than arresting. — Holman

PIRANHA 3D (R) Director Alexandre Aja joins the impressive list of filmmakers who’ve dabbled in the Piranha franchise, including James Cameron, Joe Dante and John Sayles. In this version of the story, rapacious prehistoric fish feast on the unsuspecting bathers at a lakeside spring break destination.

RESIDENT EVIL: AFTERLIFE (R) Mila Jovovich stars in the fourth installment of the film adaptation of the shoot-em-up video game franchise. (The name “The Umbrella Corporation” always makes me smile.) This time, the bullets and zombie parts will fly in 3-D.

RESTREPO (R) This acclaimed documentary follows writer Sebastian Junger and photographer Tim Weatherington followed the 2nd platoon, Battle Company, 173rd Airborne, during their yearlong deployment in Afghanistan’s Korengal Valley in 2008.

SALT 3 stars (PG-13) Nothing warms you up like a good Cold War-inspired movie. CIA officer, Evelyn Salt (Angelina Jolie) led a modest yet content life until a mysterious man, Orlov (Daniel Olbrychski) informs the agency of a plot to assassinate the Russian President and accuses Salt of being a Russian sleeper agent who will execute the mission. Not sure where to turn, Salt goes on the lam in a frantic effort to save her husband and punish the group responsible for unraveling her picturesque life. Director Phillip Noyce’s return to the spy thriller genre is chock full of bold action but often predictable twists that envelope the cast of characters in this exciting chess game between superpowers. Jolie’s femme fatale's persona perfectly masks her intentions behind those infamous eyes and makes it difficult to gauge at times if she’s an agent, a double-agent or something else altogether. Ripe with gritty fights and chases, Salt is the perfect complement for movie night. — Ed Adams

SCOTT PILGRIM VS. THE WORLD 4 stars (PG-13) In Edgar Wright’s adaptation of Bryan Lee O’Malley’s graphic novels, slacker bassist Scott Pilgrim (Michael Cera) must battle and defeat “seven evil exes” to win the girl of his dreams (Mary Elizabeth Winstead). Satirizing the indie-rock scene and showcasing comic book and video game effects, Scott Pilgrim’s stylish hyperactivity can make the film feel cluttered, overpopulated and exhausting. Between the delightfully crazy fight scenes, Scott Pilgrim takes a surprisingly close and complex look at dating, relationships and personal integrity, sort of like Woody Allen’s Manhattan meets Mortal Kombat. — Holman

TAKERS (PG-13) A production from Atlanta’s Rainforest Films, this crime drama depicts a detective bent on busting a notorious band of bank robbers, including Idris Elba, Paul Walker, T.I., Chris Brown, Hayden Christensen and Michael Ealy, who attempt to pull off an “Italian Job” styled gig worth millions proposed by Ghost (T.I.) a former member of the crew recently released from jail. While the group plans to pull off the caper, they are not aware that hard luck detective Jack Welles (Matt Dillon) is right on their heels. Aside from a couple of missteps in the story, Luessenhop weaves a fast-paced, glossy turned gritty tale of greed with Takers that as far as heist movies go, offers a reasonably satisfying payoff. — Adams

TOY STORY 3 4 stars (G) With their owner Andy departing for college, Woody (voiced by Tom Hanks) and the other playthings consider a less lonely future at a bumptious day care center, only to discover that a bitter teddy bear (Ned Beatty) rules it like a prison warden. While the script’s a little looser than its predecessor, Toy Story 3 completes the most internally consistent and satisfying film trilogy since The Lord of the Rings, offering Pixar’s trademark snappy patter and emotional complexity (which may be occasionally upsetting for pre-schoolers). Big Baby may be the breakout character of the summer. — Holman

VAMPIRES SUCK (PG-13) Had enough of vampires? Didn't think so. From "the guys that couldn't sit through another vampire movie" comes this comedy about teen angst- and necrophilia- to the max. Becca is torn between two guys who have deadly secrets that are easily overshadowed by their sex appeal. And their battle for Becca's love leads to a final showdown prom night where the claws (and fangs) are coming out.

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