Friday, October 22, 2010

Film Clips: This weekend's movie openings and more

Posted By on Fri, Oct 22, 2010 at 12:00 AM

Cécile De France and Matt Damon in Hereafter
  • Ken Regan/Warner Bros. Pictures
  • Cecile De France and Matt Damon in "Hereafter."
CONVICTION 2 stars (R) Two-time Oscar-winner Hilary Swank puts herself through law school to defend her brother Kenny (Sam Rockwell) after he’s wrongfully convicted of murder. Directed by Tony Goldwyn, Conviction struggles to visually dramatize its inspirational story, given the repetitive nature of the siblings’ meetings in prison visitation rooms and the drabness of scenes about homework. Nevertheless, Swank excels at playing these kind of suffering women contending with a callous system, and plays well against Minnie Driver, Melissa Leo and Juliette Lewis in colorful supporting roles. — Holman

HEREAFTER 1 star (PG-13) Death touches the lives of three strangers — successful French newswoman Marie LeLay (Cécile de France), poor English schoolboy Marcus (played by twins Frankie and George McLaren), and George (Matt Damon), a factory worker/psychic — prompting them all to wonder, “What really happens when we die?” A feeble, Crash-esque attempt at intertwining the three lives and pondering the great beyond follows. Nobody expects director Clint Eastwood or writer Peter Morgan to actually answer the question, “What happens when we die?” But we’d at least like to feel engaged in an interesting discussion about the subject. — Debbie Michaud

HOWL 3 stars (R) James Franco plays Allen Ginsberg in an unconventional biopic that examines the creation, controversy and content of the Beat poet’s ecstatic masterpiece, “Howl.” Directors Rob Epstein and Jeffrey Friedman cross-cut between Ginsburg’s coffeehouse reading in 1955, his revelatory interview in 1957 and that year’s “Howl” obscenity trial in San Francisco (with Jon Hamm and David Straithairn as opposing lawyers). Surreal animation meant to illustrate the text merely serves as a distraction, but the Howl serves as a surprisingly effective collage of how a writer’s experience and artistry transforms personal experience into literature. — Holman

THE LAST TRAIN HOME (NR) This documentary explores the cultural tensions revealed by China’s annual tradition of millions of city workers returning to their rural villages for the New Year’s festivities, described as “the world’s largest human migration.”

PARANORMAL ACTIVITY 2 (R) Director Oren Peli’s follow-up to his lo-fi sleeper hit Paranormal Activity depicts not a couple but a family bedeviled by poltergeist-style phenomena, so expect to see dogs and kids in peril from unseen forces. Directed by Tod Williams.

STONE (R) To ensure his earliest possible release, a convicted arsonist (Ed Norton) encourages his wife (Milla Jovovich) to seduce his parole officer (Robert De Niro) in this thriller centered around the criminal justice system.

FILM LOVE: WARREN SONBERT Part of a three-day, three-part series, Atlanta Celebrates Photography and Film Love present the early trilogy of short films by avant-garde filmmaker Warren Sonbert. Available only in 16mm prints, Program One, playing Tue., Oct. 16, includes six films by Sonbert, ranging from 3 to 22 minutes in length, including his considered masterpiece, Friendly Witness. Program Two presents Sonbert's hour-long magnum opus, Carriage Trade. Program Three plays in November. Program One, Tue., Oct. 26, 7 p.m. Free. Program Two, Thu., Oct. 28, 7 p.m. Free. Eyedrum, 290 MLK Jr., Drive SE.. 404-522-0655.

IT’S YOUR FAULT (NR) This character-driven Argentine film critiques consumerism and contemporary relationships in its depiction of a single mother’s difficult night with her children. The description makes it sound comparable to a Mike Leigh film. Free-$7. Fri., Oct. 22, 8 p.m. Rich Theatre, High Museum, Woodruff Arts Center, 1280 Peachtree St. 404-733-5000.

THE ROOM (2003) 1 star (R) This hilariously incompetent, sub-Skinemax-level romantic triangle has become a wildly entertaining monthly viewing party, a la The Rocky Horror Picture Show. Writer-director-star Tommy Wiseau strikes a freaky presence as a long-haired, heavy-lidded, thick-accented bank employee cuckolded by his vicious fiancée (Juliette Danielle). The film’s bizarre touches, like framed photographs of spoons, inspire audiences to throw plastic spoons at the screen, and more. Not to be missed. Tue., Oct. 26, 9:30 p.m. $8. Plaza Theatre, 1049 Ponce de Leon Ave. 404-873-1939.

SMOKE GETS IN YOUR EYES (NR) This dark comedy from Brazil concerns a chainsmoking single guitar teacher and her plan to seduce the new bachelor in the apartment building. Free-$7. Sat., Oct. 23, 8 p.m. Rich Theatre, High Museum, Woodruff Arts Center, 1280 Peachtree St. 404-733-5000.

TALES OF TERROR (1968) 3 stars (NR) Vincent Price, Peter Lorre and Basil Rathbone star in the fourth of Roger Corman’s adaptations of Edgar Allen Poe stories, with this installment featuring “Morella,” “The Black Cat” and “The Facts in the Case of M. Valdemar.” Silver Scream Spook Show. Oct. 23, 1 and 10 p.m. Plaza Theatre, 1049 Ponce De Leon Ave., $8-$12. 404-873-1939.

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

BURIED (R) In this thriller, Ryan Reynolds plays a U.S. contractor in Iraq who gets buried alive with a cell phone and a lighter. You don’t have to be a psychologist to suspect that people with claustrophobia might want to give this one a miss.

CASE 39 (R) This horror thriller stars Renee Zellweger as a social worker trying to save a 10 year-old girl from abusive parents, only to discover that the situation is more dangerous than she realizes. With Ian McShane and Bradley Cooper.

CATFISH 4 stars (PG-13) New York photographer Nev Schulman becomes involved in the lives of a family he meets through Facebook, but all is not what it seems in this documentary recorded by Henry Joost and Nev’s brother Ariel Schulman. Avoid spoilers for this engrossing portrayal of relationships and deception during the Internet age, which plays like an ingenious mystery story (if not the Blair Witch-style thriller the trailers misleadingly suggest). High schoolers should be required to watch Catfish as a cautionary tale of the risks of on-line social networking. — Holman

THE COMPLETE METROPOLIS (1927) 4 stars (NR) German director Fritz Lang’s visual masterpiece of a dystopian future received a remarkable restoration following the 2008 discovery of nearly 30 minutes of lost footage in Buenos Aires. Now clocking in at almost two and a half hours, this account of aristocrats vs. workers features a more comprehensible plot, as well as the stunning set pieces that still influence filmmakers today. Plus: a robot woman! — 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

DEVIL (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.

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.

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

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

IT’S KIND OF A FUNNY STORY (PG-13) Writer-directors Ryan Fleck and Anna Boden present this dramedy about a teenage boy (Keir Gilchrist) who checks himself in to a mental hospital, falls in love with another teen (Emma Roberts) and finds an unlikely mentor in a fellow patient (Zach Galifianakis).

JACKASS 3D (R) Johnny Knoxville and his merry band of reckless kamikazes return for another round of pranks, stunts and gross-outs, which this time promise to hurl body parts — and possibly bodily fluids — at the audience.

JACK GOES BOATING (R) Oscar-winner Phillip Seymour Hoffman directs and stars in this adaptation of a stage play about a limo driver who reassesses his life and relationships following a blind date (with Amy Ryan of Gone Baby Gone).

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.

LEGENDS OF THE GUARDIANS: THE OWLS OF GA’HOOLE (PG) Soren (Jim Sturgess) a young owl enamored by the legend of the mythical group of warrior owls known as the Guardians embarks on an epic adventure after he and his brother Kludd (Ryan Kwanten) are kidnapped from their tree home. When Soren learns of a fiendish plot to take over the owl kingdoms, he sets out, with a band of newfound friends, into the unknown to find his legendary heroes. The film is based on the Guardians of Ga’Hoole book series written by Kathryn Lasky. While there's hardly a single feather out of place with this visual spectacle - including some well-placed 3D moments, it seems director Zack Snyder has difficulty choosing which parts to prioritize to tell this compelling story. Like his previous film Watchmen, Legend Of The Guardians has multiple arcs that make perfect sense within its print origins but tend to make the story a bit too big to fit within the confines of whats seen on screen. Story compression issues aside, Legend Of The Guardians is a true gem of a film, rich in character and masterful CGI animation. — Edward Adams

LET ME IN 3 stars (R) In wintry, 1983 Los Alamos, a lonely 12 year-old boy (The Road’s Kodi Smit-McPhee) befriends the new girl next door (Kick-Ass’s Chloë Grace Moretz)), unaware that she lives on human blood and doesn’t get old. Cloverfield director Matt Reeves offers a faithful adaptation of 2008’s excellent Swedish film, although the American version feels marginally more like a straight-up horror film than a blood-soaked character study. Smit-McPhee and Moretz’s performances make Let Me In one of the most unexpectedly affecting love stories of 2010. — Holman

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.

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

MY SOUL TO TAKE (R) A Nightmare on Elm Street’s Wes Craven directs this horror story about a deceased serial killer who vows to return to murder the seven (grown) children born the night he died. Seems like an arbitrary motivation for resurrection and mass murder, but at least it’s in 3-D in some theaters.

NEVER LET ME GO 3 stars (R) A love triangle between three students at a sinister English boarding school extends to their life as ill-fated adults (Carey Mulligan, Keira Knightley and Andrew Garfield). A grim science fiction premise drives this adaptation of a novel by Kazuo Ishiguro, which shares themes involving duty and regret with his Remains of the Day. Sharply observed and well-acted, the film leaves the audience in a desolate place while raising more questions than it answers. — Holman

NOWHERE BOY 3 stars (R) In the late 1950s, a precocious Liverpudlian teenager named John Lennon (Aaron Johnson) discovers the joys of rock and roll while contending with tensions between his frees-spirited, erratic biological mother (Anne-Marie Duff) and the harsh but stable aunt who raised him (Kristin Scott Thomas). The film doesn’t shy away from rock-biopic clichés and Johnson looks little like Lennon, but it presents an intriguing story and portrait of the times, so we’d enjoy following the story even if we didn’t know anything about The Beatles. — Holman

RED 2 stars (PG-13) AARP meets 007 when Bruce Willis plays a retired covert operative who teams with other senior citizen spies (played by Morgan Freeman, John Malkovich and Helen Mirren) to untangle a murderous conspiracy. Mary-Louise Parker turns a nothing role as Willis’ shanghai’d girlfriend into a modest comedic showcase, but the film’s initial energy dissipates after about an hour. The pleasures of seeing Dame Helen Mirren firing massive weapons only takes you so far. — Holman

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

SECRETARIAT 2 stars (PG) In this Seabiscuit wannabe, Diane Lane plays Penny Chenery Tweedy, an impeccable, Better Draper-ish homemaker who literally bets the farm on the prospects of a well-bred, untested race horse, Secretariat. The details of thoroughbred business prove surprisingly interesting, and the big Belmont Stakes competition can set pulses racing, but movie’s treatment of feminism and underdog (underhorse) longshots are numbingly preditable. — Holman

THE SOCIAL NETWORK 4 stars (R) A handful of computer savvy Harvard students (notably Jesse Eisenberg and Andrew Garfield) launch a social networking website that annoys the schools privileged snobs — and eventually becomes a global sensation. Fight Club and Zodiac director David Fincher and “The West Wing” scripter/creator Aaron Sorkin combine their flair for conveying dense amounts of information with this highly entertaining study of how Facebook’s founders fell out after the site took off. The ending feels arbitrary and inconclusive, but The Social Network captures the seedy underbelly of past decade’s on-line bubble, while providing an amusing riff on the Revenge of the Nerds genre. — 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

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

WAKING SLEEPING BEAUTY (PG) This documentary recounts how the decade from 1984 through 1994 saw a resurgence of Disney’s animation studio, culminating with The Lion King. Interviewees include Tim Burton and Pixar’s John Lasseter.

WALL STREET: MONEY NEVER SLEEPS 2 stars (PG-13) Director Oliver Stone uses the recent financial meltdown to revisit his popular tale of 1980s greed, but Shia LaBeouf isn’t much of an upgrade from Charlie Sheen as a morally conflicted rising stock trader. Michael Douglas reprises his Oscar-winning role as disgraced financier Gordon Gekko, who serves as untrustworthy advisor to LaBeouf’s role, who’s engaged to his estranged daughter (Carey Mulligan). Josh Brolin makes a strong impression as a Mephistophelean money mogul, but LaBeouf’s callow performance and the convoluted plotting prevent the film from earning much interest. — Holman

YOU AGAIN (PG) Unpopular high schooler turned successful PR professional Marni (Kristen Bell) flies home for her older brother's wedding conflict arises when she realizes his fiancée (Odette Yustman) is the popular cheerleader who bullied her in high school. Her mother (Jamie Lee Curtis) advises to take the high road and move on, an approach easier said then done for herself when coincidentally the bride's jet-setting aunt (Sigourney Weaver) happens to be her high school rival. Competition and chaos ensues among the women in this crazy comedy about friendship and growing.

YOU WILL MEET A TALL DARK STRANGER (R) Writer-director Woody Allen downshifts into Serious Drama mode in this London-set film about adultery and desire among several married couples. Anthony Hopkins plays an aging intellectual who dumps his longtime wife for a young floozy, while Josh Brolin and Naomi Watts both contend with flirtatious temptations.

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