movie reviews April 2013

G.I. Joe: Retaliation Evil Dead • The SapphiresThe place beyond the pinestranceNoOblivionstarbuckthe company you keep pain & gainthe big weddingthe angels' shareantiviral

Ratings range from "0" (watch TV instead) to "5" (a must-see).

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Antiviral
Reviewed b
y Dan Lybarger

I don’t envy Canadian writer-director Brandon Cronenberg. As you might have guessed he’s the son of David Cronenberg the mind behind Dead Ringers, Videodrome and Eastern Promises, so making a name of his own is going to be a tall order. David has matured from a horror movie making into someone who makes thoughtful, engrossing and challenging films about often-uncomfortable subject matter. It must be intimidating to stand behind a camera knowing that viewers might be expecting a masterpiece like A History of Violence when you’re only on your first film.

Antiviral, Brandon’s debut feature offering, plays remarkably like one of his old man’s early movies. To his credit, the younger Cronenberg is not idly cashing in on his recognizable surname.

Antiviral is loaded with both strikingly grotesque images and intriguing social commentary. Obviously, Brandon has inherited his father’s gifts. It will be intriguing to see if, like his dad, he’ll develop a voice that’s uniquely his own as his career develops.

The current film features the younger Cronenberg examining what happens when celebrity worship gets out of hand. Lucas Laboratories offer fans a unique way of getting in touch with luminaries they adore. People who wear Jessica Simpson shoes or wear J-Lo fragrance have nothing on these customers.

Dorian Lucas (Nicholas Campbell) actually sells fans that have enough cash the chance to share a bug with your favorite star. Imagine having what looks like a hickey on your neck and having the genetic code to prove that whatever infection you have there came from, oh, a Kardashian.

That sounds both gross and silly, and one gets the sense that Cronenberg thinks so, too. But as human beings, we have to love something, even if it is pretty sick.

One gets the feeling that Lucas makes a great deal of money selling unique pieces of fame and beauty, but he doesn’t seem to share it that generously with his sales staff. Syd March (Caleb Landry Jones) is great at delivering the sales pitch, but he has a side gig illegally selling or retooling the company’s bugs on the black market. He even has some of the machines from work hidden in a closet in his apartment.

When a coworker gets fired for doing exactly what he’s done, Syd is sent to extract the latest virus afflicting Hannah Geist (Sarah Gadon). The film never explains what Geist does to be famous other than being heartbreakingly beautiful. Nonetheless, anything related to her is Lucas’ hottest commodity. Like an addict asked to deliver a package of dope, Syd can’t resist the opportunity to sample the latest product for himself.

Unfortunately, Hannah has more than a simple cold. This latest bug is doing a number on both of them, and Syd has to find a cure before both of them die.

Cronenberg comes up with several intriguing ideas. By not explaining how Hannah has become famous and by presenting very little of her that isn’t on a poster or a TV monitor, he reveals how fame isn’t much of a virtue. He also shows that the image on billboards bears little resemblance to the real woman.

He also makes an odd but occasionally effective love story as Syd’s infection makes him bond with Hannah in a way that no one else can even if it is beyond gross and has little emotional input from her.

Antiviral might have been more engaging if there was more to Syd. At times there’s a “serves you right” feeling to Antiviral that prevents viewers from caring if Syd makes it through the crisis. Only later in the film is there a sense that there’s more to his sales pitch than a few glib catch phrases.

Malcolm McDowell has a great cameo at the end of the film as a doctor who treats Syd for his self-inflicted malady. At times, one wishes the movie had been about his physician than about Syd.

Inconsistent performances did plague some of David’s early movies. It will be interesting to see if Brandon, like his dad, can eventually make a film that can fully develop an interesting idea and can deliver even if there isn’t something gory or weird on screen. (N/R) Rating: 3 (Posted 04/28/13)

Haiku
Antiviral

Bandon’s new movie
is flawed, but so were his dad’s
first few offerings.


The Angels' Share
Reviewed b
y Dan Lybarger

With The Angels' Share, veteran British director Ken Loach (Riff Raff, My Name is Joe) manages to tell a plausible story of a group of young hoods who are redeemed by whiskey.

Thanks to a nicely constructed script by veteran Loach collaborator Paul Laverty (The Wind That Shakes the Barley, Sweet Sixteen), The Angels’ Share goes through radical shifts in tone but remains consistently entertaining. He and Loach also have a an affectionate view of their characters, even when it seems these Scottish lads and lasses are their own biggest dangers. The mean streets of Glasgow are dangerous, but these folks have issues that aren't the fault of crooked cops or rival thugs.

Robbie (Paul Brannigan) is an ex-con with anger management issues and a pregnant girlfriend (Siobhan Reilly). Albert (Gary Maitland) does remarkably stupid things when he’s drunk, but his behavior when sober isn’t much of an improvement. Mo (Jasmine Riggins) is a kleptomaniac, and Rhino (William Ruane) is just inches away from spending quality time in prison.

All have been signed up for community service under the kindly but watchful eye of Harry (John Henshaw). When he’s not finding them odd jobs doing construction work, he’s teaching them how to appreciate one of Scotland’s prize exports, whiskey.

While this might sound like a dangerous thing to do with young people who are almost on their way to long terms in the big house, Harry shows them that there’s a culture and a craftsmanship involved in the distilling process and that one shouldn’t guzzle down a 30-year-old bottle the way one normally consumes a bottle of Buckfast (a popular caffeinated brew that Scottish cops would loved to see banned).

The Angels’ Share veers from comedy to heavy drama to a tense heist film when the quartet hatch a plan to swipe a wee bit of a rare whiskey in the hopes of selling it to affluent collectors. The robbery is as clever as it is dangerous. (Evaporation is part of the distilling process, so a small loss in content from a barrel is dubbed an “angels’” share because it’s inevitable.) Nonetheless, failure means that prison is a real possibility.

Loach handles all of these tone changes flawlessly. While the film focuses primarily on Robbie and his struggle to keep on the straight and narrow, Loach views all the characters in the same affectionate but clear-eyed way that Harry does.

Terrific performances help, but the 76-year-old Loach’s love for these young folks is accompanied by anger at how British society seems to be leaving them a bleak world that devours anyone who hasn’t been fortunate enough to be born rich.

Loach and Laverty also have a gift for making the culture around whiskey interesting for those who avoid alcohol altogether. They actually film in distilleries and reveal some interesting tidbits casual boozers would miss. The two have already made a movie about the horrors of alcoholism with My Name is Joe, but here they get to remind us why people can get hooked on the stuff in the first place and why that’s not necessarily a bad thing. (N/R) Rated: 4.5 (Posted 04/28/13)

Haiku
The Angels’ Share

You shouldn’t drive on
whiskey, but it’s OK to
watch this fine movie.


The Big Wedding
Reviewed b
y Beck Ireland

With The Big Wedding, writer/director Justin Zackham (The Bucket List screenplay), brings the Americanized version of the 2006 French/Swiss movie Mon frère se marie to theaters. Without the dark, grounding effects of a European sensibility, the farcical elements balloon to sub-sitcom proportions, forcing the members of the film’s all-star cast to play along with its countless embarrassing indignities.

The first warning that The Big Wedding is going to be a stinker is its roster of cinematic legends. For years, Diane Keaton and Robert DeNiro have been prostituting themselves out to insipid family-centered romantic comedies. With no attempt to portray characters other than as amplified versions of themselves, they tarnish their legends but probably bring home a large paycheck. This time, Susan Sarandon joins their ranks for a feigned love triangle that requires nothing more than exaggerated histrionics and a complete loss of dignity that, despite their obvious efforts to shock, are completely dull. Sarandon should quit the game before it’s too late.

Alejandro (Ben Barnes), the adopted Colombian son of New England WASPs Don (DeNiro) and Ellie (Keaton), is getting married to the girl next door, Missy (Amanda Seyfried). Because his Catholic mother (Patricia Rae) will be in attendance and meeting the family for the first time, Alejandro asks his divorced parents to reconcile for the weekend, leaving Don’s live-in girlfriend Bebe (Sarandon) to fend for herself.

Also gumming up the perfect picture Alejandro would like to present to his biological family are his adoptive 30-year-old virgin brother Jared (Topher Grace) and hormonal sister Lyla (Katherine Heigl), and Missy’s parents, the superficial and stupid Muffin (Christine Ebersol) and Barry (David Rasche), who’s under investigation by the SEC. Robin Williams puts in an appearance as priest and recovered alcoholic Father Moinighan, and, in comparison with the excessive antics performed by the rest of the cast, is practically subdued.

The Big Wedding isn’t just not funny; it’s also offensive. The casting of English actor Barnes as Alejandro isn’t even the worst of it. Numerous jokes are made at the expense of the limited English of Alejandro’s mother, and his sister, Nuria (Ana Ayora), is typecast as a guileless but oversexed peasant. Other elements, such as Jared’s virginity are awkward and absurd.

Too often, Zackham prefers the setup of a scene to it actually being true to life. Lyla brings a drink onto the diving board at the country club’s pool and dives in to Don’s consternation. Jared pulls a red wagon full of goodies meant to woo Nuria into her bedroom. Don and Ellie have loud sex the morning of the wedding. Even in face, people aren’t this forced and distorted. (R) Rating: 0 (Posted 04/28/13)


Pain & Gain
Reviewed b
y Mike Ireland

Pain & Gain is supposed to be director Michael Bay's "indie movie." Described by Bay as “a mixture of Fargo and Pulp Fiction,” its $25 million budget and true-crime plot of three bodybuilders who turn kidnappers is, indeed, a step back from his $150-$200 million spectacles of Earth-threatening appliances and asteroids. And at the story's root, the vulgarity of the American Dream — marketed-sculpted bodies, suburban McMansions, flashy Lamborghinis — is certainly an appropriate target for satire. Unfortunately, Bay has neither the insight nor the subtlety for such a black comedy. Although Pain & Gain seeks to satirize our perversion of the American Dream, the film, like its lunk-headed protagonists, is ultimately seduced and destroyed by it.

Based on a series of nonfiction articles by Pete Collins for the Miami New Times, the film follows the 1994 trajectory of Sun Gym personal trainer Daniel Lugo (Mark Wahlberg), who, frustrated by his lack of success (he's ripped but is barely paying bills) and jealous of his filthy rich Miami clientele, decides it's time he got his.

Inspired by motivational guru Johnny Wu (Ken Jeong), Lugo resolves to be, in Wu's terms, a "do-er," not a "don't-er." Unfortunately, what Lugo decides to "do" as his fast track to the good life is kidnap, torture and defraud one of his rich clients, Victor Kershaw (an appropriately prickly, sneering Tony Shaloub).

Lugo enlists the aid of the only two guys simpler and more manipulable than he is: fellow Sun Gym trainer Adrian Doorbal (Anthony Mackie) and recently paroled, born-again, 12-stepper Paul Doyle (Dwayne Johnson). Despite comically inept kidnapping attempts and an obstinate victim, after weeks of torture Kershaw finally signs over everything to Lugo and is left for dead by the trio. The Sun Gym Gang finally gets to live the Dream.

Of course, the Dream devours them. Doorbal sinks his cut into erectile-dysfunction therapy; Doyle snorts his away with his stripper girlfriend. So it’s not long before both are clamoring for another job. That one goes spectacularly wrong, leading to their arrests at the direction of retired cop Ed Du Bos (Ed Harris), hired by Kershaw because, ironically, the police won't believe his outlandish story.

For a while, the antics of these muscle-heads are amusing, but what initially appears a critique of the empty lifestyle they're chasing soon appears to embrace it. Bay's lens can’t resist an oiled bicep, boob or thong-bound butt. Diarrhea, dildos, and sexual dysfunction are tossed in for gags. Likewise, torture, death and dismemberment are played for laughs, gross-outs, and, sometimes, just for the images themselves. When Kershaw is Tasered during his kidnapping, the camera lingers in super-slo-mo close-up on Tony Shaloub's saliva as it slowly spirals upward in sculptural blobs from his lips.

Mind you, a true black comedy can pull laughs out of our uneasiness with these darker impulses, but Pain & Gain isn't interested in looking beneath its neon surfaces. After two hours of reveling in the crass, vulgar and superficial, the Fargo-styled coda — which ex-cop Du Bos and wife, sitting on their dock, observe — that sometimes the things that matter most are right in front of you, rings mighty hollow. (R) Rating: 2.5 (Posted 04/28/13)


The Company You Keep
Reviewed b
y Beck Ireland

In defter hands, the concept behind The Company You Keep could be extremely affecting and relevant, particularly following the recent events in Boston. But Robert Redford’s plodding direction and acting, and Lem Dobbs’ tacky screenplay stubbornly uphold the hackneyed nostalgia of delusional Baby Boomers.

Based on the novel by Neil Gordon, The Company You Keep offers a sympathetic take on the motives behind the domestic terrorist actions of members of the 1960’s radical group Weather Underground Organization (WUO). The story blends fact and fiction, but spends most of its time imagining fictional members of the group decades after they’ve gone into hiding.

While working on the story about the capture/surrender of former WUO member Sharon Solarz (Susan Sarandon), sharp but small-time local reporter Ben Shepard (Shia LaBeouf) uncovers the true identity of hometown lawyer James Grant (Robert Redford). His cover blown, Grant arranges custody of his young daughter and goes on the lam in search of the one person who can clear his name, his former love Mimi Lurie (Julie Christie), who is also the one member of the organization who hasn’t settled into an alias in the suburbs. Chased by both Shepard, who is thirsting to follow up on his first big scoop, and FBI Agent Cornelius (Terrence Howard), Grant reaches out to confederates from his past, stirring up long-kept secrets and emotions.

Billed as a political thriller, The Company You Keep falls squarely into the “geriaction” category. Redford, 76, seems to be working really hard to exude virility. Numerous shots show his character in action: running for exercise, running from Shepard, running from the police. He allows only the slightest bit of gray at his temples. And, most confounding and ridiculous of all, much is made of his being father to a young girl. There are several points of plot, the final twist especially, that will have you doing math in your head to even see if it’s possible. Yet, the pace of the movie runs purposefully slow, causing a disconnection between the implied urgency and the timing.

In fact, there are other breaks in continuity of character or story. The opening shot shows Solarz preparing to turn herself in, but an ill-timed phone call to an organic farmer who also dabbles in growing marijuana gets her an early arrest. From the interrogation room, she rails against the authority that took her into custody, even though she was about to give herself up to ease her guilty conscience.

All of the debate regarding the illegal and dangerous action taken by the members of the WOU follows the same absolvent, simplified line, especially as delivered by Christie’s mercenary, self-important, Lurie. “We were desperate for change.” “People were dying.” But none of it addresses the harm it caused or the lives it took. And seeing that there are still people in this world who feel that way, even if for very different reasons, that would be an important side to include. (R) Rating: 1 (Posted 04/28/13)


Starbuck
Reviewed b
y Dan Lybarger

After living a life that seems devoid of achievement, imagine discovering that you’ve succeeded beyond your dreams at something you’d rather not have anybody knowing. That’s the setup behind Starbuck, a French-language comedy from Quebec that follows a middle-aged man named David Wozniak (Patrick Huard), who can barely take care of himself.

While he’s paid to drive the family meat delivery truck, he takes lots of breaks and bungles simple tasks. Even making sure his soccer team’s uniforms get to the field on time seems beyond his capabilities.

It’s understandable that his pregnant girlfriend Julie (Sarah-Jeanne Labrosse) is leery of marrying the man. His charm isn’t enough to make up for his responsibility issues. It’s probably good that she doesn’t know that he owes thousands to mobsters and that even growing hydroponic cannabis to pay the wise guys back is beyond David’s skill set.

With all the chaos that’s already going on in his life, the last thing David needs is more bad news. Naturally, he’s horrified to discover that learn that a series of sperm donations he made under the name “Starbuck” are about to go public.

Over a period of 20 years, David has managed to father over 500 kids that he’s never met. Several hundred are suing him to reveal his identity, and the clinic where he donated is trying to pass the burden on to him.

Trying to save what’s left of his privacy is a daunting task, especially at gatherings where his offspring start to tell their stories. Needless to say, Julie might not allow him to join in raising their child if she finds out he’s already got nearly 600 others

It probably doesn’t help that David’s cut-rate attorney (Antoine Bertrand) has to reapply to the bar.

Thanks to Huard’s easygoing manner, it’s easy to like David and hope he’ll grow into the mensch he should have been earlier. The script by director Ken Scott and Martin Petit has David discovering some real affection for the men and women he’s fathered, and becoming a better person by helping out in their lives.

Because there are so many threads to follow, it’s easy to see how Starbuck loses its way. If the number of David’s descendants weren’t outrageously high, the comic potential for the film would be limited. With nearly 600, there is a sense of frenzy and chaos. Nearly anyone he encounters under the age of 30, might, just might be his son or daughter. There’s no point in ogling a young woman wearing a miniskirt because she might be his offspring.

On the other hand, when David knowingly and unknowing interacts with his brood, there are so many of them that we don’t get to know them well enough for their own personalities to emerge.

In his heart of hearts, David really wants to be a positive influence on their lives even though he can’t count all of them. For this to work dramatically, viewers would have to grow to love some of the young people as well, and that’s hard to do with such a multitude.

Scott runs into some dead spots as a result and takes a while to regain his comic momentum. To his credit, at least there’s something to come back to. (R) Rating: 3 (Posted on 04/21/13)

Haiku
Starbuck

Having hundreds of
kids can be funny or dull
despite big numbers.


Oblivion
Reviewed b
y Dan Lybarger

Joseph Kosinski has a unique gift for cinematic storytelling. He can take the latest special effects and nine-figure budgets to create make-believe worlds that are as derivative as they are dull. As a director, Kosinski has little idea of how to develop characters, guide performances or move a plot forward.

As a result, his films like Tron: Legacy and his latest Oblivion move at a leaden pace despite lots of computer generated hardware exploding. It’s hard to think of another filmmaker more gifted in the art of creating audience indifference.

According to the credits, Oblivion is adapted from a graphic novel Kosinski wrote with Arvid Nelson in 2005. The movie, however, plays as if the screenplays for The Planet of the Apes, Independence Day, Wall*E and Moon were crammed into a blender and reassembled into a manner that the tales had the least dramatic impact possible.

Even recounting the plot leads to a constant, wearying sense of déjà vu. Jack (Tom Cruise) and his wife Victoria (Andrea Riseborough) look like humans, but they have less personality than the robots in Wall*E or Mystery Science Theater 3000. Their boss (Melissa Leo) has them defending some fusion reactors that are drawing out what's left of the Earth's seawater. 

According to Cruise's voiceover (the content of which is repeated throughout the film, ad nauseam), Jack and Victoria are the last two people on the planet after the humans have defeated space aliens but lost the planet to nuclear war. The last of the aliens or Scavengers are scrambling around the planet and sabotaging the evacuation to a moon to Jupiter. The two are around to keep the reactors going until they have enough juice to power the moon.

While Victoria happily goes with the program, Jack is haunted by dreams and memories about being married to another woman (Olga Kurylenko) back when the Big Apple wasn't buried like it was in Planet of the Apes.

Gradually, Jack learns that his dreams are closer to the truth that what he has been told and that his life isn't a typical movie plot, but a recycling of tropes from better previous films. The pilfering from Moon is especially appalling considering that the previous movie was made for $10 million or less and didn't have a dull frame whereas this overproduced mess has explosions and wrecks and manages to generate no sense of suspense or even fun.

There are several vehicle chases and duels, but there never seems to be a sense of danger or urgency. Jack is so dull that it's hard to care if he makes it through his existential crisis, and the vehicles look just as computer generated as the ones in Tron: Legacy. It takes a rare film to make a watch dial look more exciting than a deadly chase.

Despite the participation of Oscar-winner Michael Arndt (Toy Story 3, Little Miss Sunshine), the dialogue is remarkably limp and hackneyed. It seems wasteful to cast a golden-throated thespian like Morgan Freeman if the best dialogue the filmmakers can hand him is, "You look like shit."

At least, Kosinski has chosen an appropriate title. That's where the film belongs. (PG-13) Rating: 1 (Posted on 04/21/13)

Haiku
Oblivion

Tom Cruise's divorce is
more entertaining than the film
he made at the time.


No
Reviewed b
y Dan Lybarger

Pablo Larraín’s No is a consistently wildly entertaining movie that just happens to deal with an actual referendum that took place in Chile in 1998. As the opening titles reveal, international pressure forced that country’s brutal dictator General Augusto Pinochet to hold an election that would determine if he’d retain uncontested power.

Because the Nixon Administration aided the coup that put him in power in 1973 and because he counted people like the late British Prime Minister Margaret Thatcher as personal friends, many of his supporters assumed the election was an easy formality.

Something unexpected happened, however, when Pinochet was forced to share the nation’s airwaves with an ad campaign run by a ragtag coalition of his detractors. In an open marketplace of ideas, Pinochet’s oppression and his selective allocation of the nation’s wealth looked wanting.

In No, the dictator’s growing image problems are attributed to ad man René Saavedra (Gael García Bernal, The Motorcycle Diaries and Y Tu Mamá También). He’s lived outside of Chile for a few years and understands one thing the passionate leftists who’ve come to him for help don’t. They’ve come to him because their campaign, which has been based on reminding Chileans of Pinochet’s arbitrary executions and disappearances, seems to be flat lining.

René, who seems more interested in taking on a challenge than a cause, knows that downer ideas don’t sell colas, much less revolutions. He comes up with the novel idea of promising a glowing future if voters choose “No” instead of “Si.”

This giddy approach seems odd for a single father in danger of losing his cushy job if the campaign fails, but his sunny approach actually changes poll numbers.

If the idea for the film seems outlandish, keep in mind that all of the “Si” ads in the movie and most of the “No” ads actually aired on Chilean TV in 1988. The somewhat goofy “No” spots are far more lively and fun to watch than the staid campaign commercials for Pinochet, which featured the dictator himself. Chileans, and anybody else, are reasonable if they’d rather see a few mimes than Pinochet pompously droning about what he’s done for the Chileans he hasn’t ordered killed. He can’t open his mouth without emitting high, nasal tones that reflect his cruelty and mendaciousness.

René’s often-surreal way of reducing complicated political ideas into images of happy picnics is side-splittingly funny. Those who find subtitles alienating may want to give No a try because the irony of using the language of commerce to topple a right-wing oppressor is hysterical in any tongue.

Nonetheless, Larraín often shifts from the giddy euphoria in the ads. Pinochet had the blood of thousands on his hands, so the director also fills No with the sort of tension that’s rampant in Oliver Stone’s better movies. Larraín and screenwriter Pedro Peirano (working from a play by Il Postino author Antonio Skármeta) put in well-timed reminders of how eagerly Pinochet and his cronies wanted to stay in power.

René is a fascinating figure because viewers never learn how passionately he believes in democracy. García Bernal gives him enough charm to make viewers follow René, even if doing the right thing doesn’t come naturally to him.

By filming in an almost documentary style (it’s shot on the same kind of cameras that were used at the time), Larraín is able to keep the story believable and to effortlessly switch gears as the story requires.

One effective touch is that the reproduced “No” ads feature the same performers who appeared in the original ads and that Larraín can seamlessly cut from the bits with participants playing themselves a quarter century later to shots of them in the original commercials.

Like all products, democracy doesn’t work as well as it does in the ads, but No proves that occasionally we need folks like René to remind us that what is right as well as what is fun. (R) Rating: 5 (Posted on 04/14/13)

Haiku
No

Sometimes commercials
can make the world as sunny
as their own visions.


Trance
Reviewed b
y Dan Lybarger

If the projector had stopped about 45 minutes into Trance’s 101-minute running time, this remake of a British TV film would have seemed like a first rate thriller. Director Danny Boyle (Slumdog Millionaire) has a gift for creating quirky dreamlike sequences and gritty atmosphere. What he seems to miss is a sense that his material has lost is way or even its point.

Before Trance loses its way as if it indeed is in a hypnotic state, the setup is terrific. An art gallery employee named Simon (James McAvoy) has made an unfortunate deal with the mobster Franck (the appropriately intimidating French actor Vincent Cassel). Simon was supposed to smuggle a classic Goya painting from an auction so that Franck could sell it on the black market but has reneged on the arrangement.

Being a typical wise guy, Franck takes a swing at Simon’s head with a blunt instrument when he doesn’t get his way.

Unfortunately, the blow to the head has caused Simon to forget where he hid the artwork, and hours of torture don’t revive his failing memory.

In an act of desperation, Franck has Simon see a hypnotherapist named Elizabeth Lamb (Rosario Dawson). Elizabeth is unusually perceptive and quickly discovers clues that Franck and his crew missed. She also knows more about the case than she initially lets on, often pitting Simon and Franck against each other.

Screenwriters Joe Ahearne (who wrote and directed the original Trance) and John Hodge (who wrote Boyle’s Shallow Grave and Trainspotting) frequently try shift viewer sympathies with the three main characters. Later, they reveal wrinkles that make them more or less likable. This initially creates some suspense, but as the plot keeps twisting and the nature of what’s real and what’s a hypnotic suggestion gets blurry, the tension collapses.

After a while, Boyle seems to be crying wolf, and when the hungry predator fails to appear, indifference sets in. Because all three characters are working from less than pure motives, it gradually becomes hard to care which self-centered character comes out on top.

Sadly, Boyle wastes some formidable talent here. McAvoy can effortlessly go from boyishly innocent to vindictive and egotistical the next. Dawson projects a sharp intelligence and can play manipulative without seeming like a schemer. That’s a tricky feat.

Boyle seems to think that picking attractive, capable thespians can keep viewers involved. In the end, the three main characters are reduced from people into plot devices for a plot that has ceased to function. At this point, Trance would be more appropriately titled “Nap.” (R) Rating: 2.5 (Posted on 04/14/13)

Haiku
Trance

Hypnosis can’t make
a shallow thriller get past
annoying plot twists


The Place Beyond the Pines
Reviewed b
y Beck Ireland

For his latest film, The Place Beyond the Pines, director Derek Cianfrance (Blue Valentine), working from a script he co-wrote with Ben Coccio, offers an ambitious look at fathers and sons for two generations. Notwithstanding a strong start, featuring a dynamic heist storyline, Cianfrance's aspirations to create an epic make for dull viewing where each time a transition fails to end the movie feels like another level of despair.

On his last scheduled night in Schenectady, carnival motorbike trick rider “Handsome” Luke (Ryan Gosling) discovers he has a one-year-son with local waitress Romina (Eva Mendes). In an attempt to provide for his son, he quits the carnival and takes a job offer from motorcycle enthusiast Robin (Ben ), who also comes up with an idea of how the two of them can rob banks. After a few successful heists, Robin pulls out of the scheme, leaving Luke desperate.

During his next robbery — his first solo attempt — Luke makes mistakes that cost him time, and he's chased on his motorbike. Older rookie cop Avery (Bradley Cooper) corners him in a house, where they shoot at each other. Luke falls out of the second-story window to his death, and Avery is given a hero's medal and a field trip, led by Deluca (Ray Liotta), to conduct an illegal search of Romina's house to find the stolen money. Avery soon turns against the other cops, and leverages his law degree and his father's influence as a former judge and rats out the dirty cops in exchange for a position in the district attorney's office. Cut to 15 years later, and Avery is running for attorney general, and both his son and Luke's son are attending the same school where they inevitably meet, to tragic consequences.

It's clear from the opening Scorsese-like long tracking shot that Cianfrance has aimed high for this film. However, this level of melodrama just can't be sustained, and the final acts of the movie are hackneyed, hitting false notes in service of meeting the filmmaker's grand agenda. The best details and truest emotions belong to the first section, starring Gosling and Mendes. The best surprise is Mendelsohn as loser Robin who is actually smart enough to quite while ahead. A heist movie based on this premise and focused on the friendship between the two men would have been a delight to watch. Instead, there are too many interminable-seeming scenes that follow. (R) Rating: 2 (Posted 04-14-13)


The Sapphires
Reviewed b
y Dan Lybarger

It would be tempting to chide screenwriters Tony Briggs and Keith Thompson, the screenwriters behind The Sapphires, for cribbing from established films like The Commitments or even the old Judy Garland and Mickey Rooney musicals. That said, Briggs, working from his play, has actually borrowed from a much more personal story: his mother’s brief career as part of an Australian soul combo entertaining U.S. troops in Vietnam during the late 1960s.

The women in the fictionalized version this group are all members of an Aboriginal family who have lovely voices and little chance of them being heard. Simply by being Aborigines, they are often denied basic rights, and one of them has been forcibly taken away from her mother and forced to live in Melbourne because she can easily “pass for white.”

Even within the group there are formidable tensions. Gail (Deborah Mailman) is bossy to the point of alienating the rest. Cynthia (Miranda Tapsell) can’t seem to get anything done without thinking about how her beau jilted her at the altar.

Julie (Jessica Mauboy) has the strongest voice, but being a teen mother limits her travel options. The rest of the group resents Kay (Shari Sebbens) because she was forcibly taken away to Melbourne because of her lighter skin.

When they audition for a backwoods talent competition, they’re doomed to lose because the white crowd would rather honor a talentless a performer who looks like them than acknowledge their obvious talent.

The event’s drunken Irish emcee Dave Lovelace (Chris O’Dowd, Bridesmaids) berates the crowd and gets himself and the women kicked out in the process. Fortunately, the American troops in Vietnam need some hot, funky soul, and the Sapphires are the ladies who can perform it with a conviction that normally can’t be heard outside the United States.

While they do easily win fans in the new venue, performing in a war zone is expectedly dangerous, and the business side of things can be sleazier as a result.

Because of the vivid sense of atmosphere and of the era, The Sapphires is consistently engaging. It also doesn’t hurt that these ladies have forceful deliveries that do the songs justice. Mauboy is a judge on an Australian version of The Voice, and she has plenty of authority to critique the work of others.

Mailman pulls off a tricky balancing act by managing to be both forceful and vulnerable at the same moment. She walks a narrow line between tyrannical and maternal toward the rest of the group.

In his first theatrical lead, O’Dowd is terrific. He oozes a charm he desperately needs to play a drunken, occasionally unreliable loser and to make Dave downright lovable. Despite having a face that resembles a troll doll, O’Dowd easily manages to hold a viewer’s attention.

The Sapphires ends with a photomontage of the real group and explains why they never achieved fame. As it progresses, it turns out the women had achieved a lot that doesn’t register on a pop chart. These facts might have led to another terrific movie. (PG-13) (Posted on 04/07/13)

Haiku
The Sapphires

Aboriginal soul
makes this movie sound as good
as funk from the States


Evil Dead
Reviewed b
y Beck Ireland

Before Scream bludgeoned the slasher film with its simplified, blunt self-awareness, writer/director Sam Raimi's 1981 cult classic The Evil Dead offered a non-ironic post-modern take on the horror genre. For its remake, Evil Dead, Raimi handpicked Uruguayan visual effects specialist Fede Alvarez. The result is a feature-film directorial debut that sacrifices genuine suspense for prolonged jump scenes and over-the-top gore that is more a pastiche than homage to the gross-out tradition of Grand Guignol.

The plot structure for Raimi's Evil Dead is almost perfect in its simplicity. Five friends — two couples and a fifth-wheel sister — spend a night at a remote cabin where they unwittingly unleash a demon force that tries to take over their bodies one by one. Instructions for the dormancy of the demon are in the same message that released it, leaving the film's sole survivor, played by cult hero Bruce Campbell and his iconic chin, to weigh emotion against survival. The remake unnecessarily complicates this formula. For starters, it opens with a short, vestigial frame that quickly sets a loud and frantic tone, which, when compared with the slow, moody start of the original, seems even more egregious.

Although the script, written by Alvarez, Rodo Sayagues and an uncredited Diablo Cody, essentially retains the same characters, it shakes up their dynamics. It pushes estranged siblings David (Shiloh Fernandez) and Mia (Suburgatory's Jane Levy) into the forefront and injects a cynical subplot that revolves around Mia as a drug addict trying to kick her habit cold turkey. Because of this, it takes entirely too long for the characters to realize the cause of their strange behavior, which minimizes and distracts from the main story arc. It also coyly flips heroic responsibility from brother to sister, which in itself could have been an interesting change, but it happens to late in the movie for any real impact. The writing is too loose, adding elements that aren't used in any meaningful way.

Evil Dead contains lots of bloody gore and torturously drawn-out jump scenes. Many of the images are disturbing. Flesh is cut, torn and penetrated in a number of ways including box cutter, nail gun and hypodermic needle. It's stomach churning and, at times actually scary, but doesn't add up to anything meaningful. Despite being clever, it's not creative. Even more disappointing, its big budget didn't guarantee the cinematic touches of the original. (R) Rating: 2 (Posted 04/07/13)


G. I. Joe: Retaliation
Reviewed b
y Bruce Rodgers

Casting for the film G.I. Joe: Retaliation must have been a fun exercise, maybe even a little voyeuristic.

When the call went out for the G.I. Joe team, it must have been something like this: need men for action movie, good guys must be menacing yet sympathetic, well-built with prominent biceps a must, at least 6 feet, the taller the better, shaved head a plus, ability to downplay any intellectual tendencies required, and able to lift, aim and shoot a variety of big, noisy weapons and display pleasure while doing so; bad guys can be under 6 foot but must have confident strut and believable snarl with shifty eyes.

Need women, though only two, must be dark-haired (blondes convey lesser intelligence) and thin yet shapely but not overly so, be able to look bored with a hint of superiority yet attentive to men but subordinate when the script calls for it; athleticism that does not overshadow sexiness a must along with knowledge of martial arts moves and adequate upper-body strength to hold large weapons.

With the cast assembled all that’s needed is some good CGI with 3D thrown in and a script with a beginning, middle and end containing lots of explosions and shooting throughout where the really bad guy — in this case Cobra (Luke Bracey) — escapes untouched in the final battle to plot his revenge in a future GI film.

That’s not to say G.I. Joe: Retaliation is a bad film, it’s not. If I was 12 years old, it would have been one of the coolest films I had ever seen and I would tell all my buddies about it, while planning to mow lawns, shovel snow, recycle beer cans, whatever in order to buy the DVD when it comes out. I would also secretly dream that as an adult I would look like Roadblock, played by Dwayne Johnson. (And as an adult male, I might still wonder why I don’t look like Johnson and blame family genes for my physical inadequacy.)

Johnson, looking more buff than usual, leads the surviving G.I. Joe team back to civilization after a firefight designed by a fake U.S. President (Jonathan Pryce who is really Zartan, when revealed, played by Arnold Vosloo) kills most of Roadblock’s comrades including the beloved Captain Duke (Channing Tatum). It’s part of the bad President’s scheme to de-nuke the nuclear powers of the world in order for Cobra to become ultimate world dictator.

Roadblock, together with Flint (D.J. Cotrona) and Jaye (Adriana Palicki), head back to Roadblock’s old neighborhood — in the ‘hood — to plot their strategy after concluding the President isn’t really the President. Storm Shadow (Byung-hun Lee), Jinx (Eldoie Yung) and Snake Eyes (Ray Park) join the team and the fighting force is assembled to battle the bad guys. There’s little suspense during the nonstop action, and even Roadblock loses a hand-to-hand encounter with Firefly (Ray Stevenson) before being saved by Flint and Jaye from total annihilation.

In the end the good guys win, with the help of General Joe Cotton, played by Bruce Willis who delivers his patented deadpan wisecracks, including an unexplained insistence in calling Jaye “Brenda.”

G.I. Joe: Retaliation is a fun, escapist ride than makes the popcorn taste pretty good. (PG-13) Rating: 2.5 (Posted on 04/02/13)


 




Dan Lybarger can be contacted at Lybarger@eFilmcritic.com
Beck Ireland can be contacted at beck.ireland@gmail.com
Brandon Whitehead can be contacted at kinginyellow@juno.com


 

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