Film capsules for your heart's delight

On the Screen This Week 

Film capsules for your heart's delight

Alpha and Omega (PG) — Humphrey (voiced by Justin Long) and Kate (Hayden Panettiere) are buddies in their wolf pack until Kate goes off to alpha training to become a future pack leader in this animated movie. Humphrey is an omega; his pack role is merely comic relief. The two classes traditionally never mix, but when Humphrey and Kate find themselves relocated from their Canada home to a park in Idaho, Humphrey shows he can be more than a joke as he helps Kate get home to fulfill her responsibility of marrying a rival pack's male alpha. Instead of facing conflict head-on and giving young audiences something real, Alpha and Omega sidesteps all its trials, creating a thin veil of suspense that is always quickly and conveniently wrapped up. And rather than letting the movie be what it is — something for little ones to laugh at — the writers inject random jabs at adult humor that are truly awful. This doesn't mean straight-up silliness doesn't have a place in a kids flick. But the trick is to use it with purpose and balance it with something devastating or terrifying, guaranteeing audience members big and small an intensely emotional and beautiful ride. Alpha and Omega fails pretty much across the board. (Laura Dattaro)

Bran Nue Dae (PG-13) — A young guy runs away from a religious mission and finds his own salvation.

Case 39 (R) — Scary movie starring Renée Zellweger as a case worker involved with an abused girl.

Catfish (PG-13) — Documentary about a 24-year-old photographer and his friendship with an eight-year-old girl he meets on Facebook.

Devil (PG-13) — Co-produced and based on an original story by M. Night Shyamalan, this spooky, moderately successful little chiller about a group of strangers trapped in an elevator who discover that one of them is really — well, the title sort of gives it away, doesn't it? — is the type of stripped-down, glorified B-flick we don't see much these days. Props to Shyamalan for having the smarts to hire promising newcomers Drew and Erick Dowdle to direct, and for lending his name and twists galore for marketing purposes. Devil won't necessarily haunt your dreams, but it's good enough for a few tingly "gotcha!" moments, and sometimes that's enough. The mostly unfamiliar cast (the biggest name here is Chris Messina, who played Amy Adams' hubby in Julie & Julia) adds to the suspense, since it's hard picking out the boogeyman when you don't recognize anybody. (Milan Paurich)

Easy A (PG-13) — In this comedy based on The Scarlet Letter, straitlaced Olive (Emma Stone) acquires her "filthy skank" reputation by accident: She invents an imaginary boyfriend and fake-confesses to her best friend that she lost her virginity to him. It's overheard by the school's Jesus-freak-in-chief, and soon rumors of Olive's loose ways spread like a text-message virus and she's approached by all manner of nerds, fat boys, and outcasts who want help acquiring a studly reputation. Suddenly awash in gifts and condemnation, virginal Olive decides to embrace her inner Hester Prynne. In real life, high school girls kill themselves over such scorn; in Easy A, Olive cuts up her conservative wardrobe and starts wearing sexy improvised bustiers (each adorned with a huge red letter "A"), strutting down school hallways and turning heads. These rather outlandish plot points are made tolerable by witty writing and a winning performance by Stone, whose sultry voice and oversized eyes make her an eminently appealing heroine. (Zoslov)

Eat Pray Love (PG-13) — It is what it is, goes the cliché. And given that this is an adaptation of Elizabeth Gilbert's bestselling new-age chick-lit memoir starring Julia Roberts, it's about as good as could reasonably be expected. Faithful to Gilbert's intelligent confessional prose, Eat Pray Love finds our materially successful but spiritually empty N.Y.C. writer/heroine ditching her unfulfilling marriage and passionate rebound affair to undertake a yearlong odyssey living abroad and alone to find her "balance" via food (in Italy), ashram meditation (India), and true love (Bali). If you can avoid the fact that it all adds up to a story about a chic Manhattan woman who learns to reconcile her flaws only after she realizes that she is indeed the center of the universe, you'll discover a sweet, well-acted armchair travelogue and treatise about inner forgiveness. The movie features the considerable virtue of being tooled for grownups during a summer season usually reserved for superheroes, buddy cops, and bad guys. It's all good here. (Charles Cassady Jr.)

Heartbreaker (NR) — Alex (Romain Duris) breaks up couples for a living. His game is always the same: He wins the woman's heart, tells her that his own broken heart won't allow him to ever love again, but that she must go on and find someone who truly deserves her. And just like that, women leave their loser boyfriends and Alex collects a paycheck. It's a well-run and sex-free business. It's also a well-planned and systematic business that requires lots of groundwork. So when Alex and his crew have a mere ten days to break up Jonathan and Juliette (Vanessa Paradis) before their wedding, the pressure is on. Despite its thin premise, Heartbreaker features plenty of funny moments, particularly those involving Alex and his co-workers, who juggle dozens of duties, wigs, and personas. About halfway through this French comedy, you know where it's all heading. But first-time feature director Pascal Chaumeil and his endearing cast make Heartbreakers a breezy and often hilarious piece of escapist fluff. It won't be long before the inevitable Hollywood remake comes along and screws it up. (Michael Gallucci)

Jack Goes Boating (R) — Philip Seymour Hoffman directed this love story about a pair of working-class couples.

Lebanon (R) — Writer-director Samuel Maoz's debut feature is less a traditional war flick than an endurance test, since it spends nearly every second of its 93 minutes inside the close quarters of a tank on the day Israel invaded Lebanon in 1982. What lies beyond is seen only through a cross-haired viewfinder. Lebanon captures the whiplash mix of terror, anxiety, anticipation, and confusion of young soldiers' first war experiences. It's not long before the tank and squad wind up off course in a Syrian-occupied portion of the city, and their seemingly breezy mission turns into a fight for survival. Like The Hurt Locker, Lebanon favors soldier subjectivity over big-picture politics, but that doesn't mean it shies away from convenient symbolism at times. The experience is harrowing and tense, but that also seems to be the movie's only point — the familiar refrain about war and hell. It delivers a powerful soldier's-eye-view of war, but it's a picture — soldiers in a foreign land fighting an enemy they can't always identify and dealing with the psychological trauma of causing civilian casualties — that looks way too much like headlines from the past seven years. (Bret McCabe)

Legend of the Guardians: The Owls of Ga'Hoole (PG) —The filmmakers, on a quest to plumb the outer corners of young-adult fantasy for a Harry Potter-style franchise, stumble with the initial outing in Kathryn Lasky's Owls of Ga'Hoole series. The CGI animation provides Legend of the Guardians with a visually lush story about young owls who are kidnapped and take opposing sides in a scheme hatched by a megalomaniacal warlord owl to conquer primordial Australia. The setup makes the movie sound cheesier than it is. In fact, the dignified, quasi-Arthurian script never talks down to its young audience. There are no hip-hop wombats voiced by Wanda Sykes here and only one ill-placed pop song on the soundtrack. But verbose Tolkien-meets-Lucasfilm dialogue weighs heavily on the semi-predictable, sequel-pregnant plot. Even the birds occasionally tell each other to stop talking so much. But the digital design is excellent and worth seeing on the big screen. (Cassady)

The Last Exorcism (R) — Cotton Marcus (Patrick Fabian) is a former evangelist who used to perform phony exorcisms, but now he wants to expose the ritual as a potentially dangerous sham. So he and a film crew visit a rural family that's looking for some divine intervention. Cotton expects something he's seen dozens of times, but he winds up with a lot more than he bargained for. Even when the spooky stuff starts, The Last Exorcism (shot documentary style with handheld cameras and iffy lighting) keeps the audience guessing: Are demonic forces really at work? Or is it just the dark side of human nature taking over? Director Daniel Stamm slowly builds dread while maintaining suspense and actually taking time to develop characters. The Last Exorcism's influences are obvious, but there's enough here to keep it from being just another pea-soup-spewing rip-off. For one thing, Cotton would make a great subject for a real documentary. (Bob Ignizio)

Let Me In (R) – It's always risky when filmmakers remake beloved movies. It's even riskier when they do it so soon after the original — especially when the original is one of the best movies of the past 10 years and the greatest film of its genre. But Let Me In — an indie-budgeted U.S. version of 2008's Swedish Let the Right One In, the best vampire movie ever — doesn't disappoint. The plot and structure are mostly the same — vampire girl befriends bullied boy — and so are the movie's dark tones. Give credit to Cloverfield director Matt Reeves and star Chloë Grace Moretz (so good as Hit-Girl in Kick-Ass earlier this year). Abby is 200 years old, but she looks 12. Owen (Kodi Smit-McPhee) is perpetually picked on at school. They're both outsiders — she can't stay in one place too long; his home life is almost as terrible as his days at school — but they find friendship in each other's company. But since Abby is a bloodthirsty vampire, she has to keep her new friend at a distance. Let the Right One In was just as much a coming-of-age story as a horror film. Let Me In emphasizes the horror aspects more, but at its core it's still very much a tale of friendship. The key to the movie is Abby, and Moretz is terrific, capturing the innocence and vulnerability of a 12-year-old girl and the ferociousness of a 200-year-old monster. Let Me In doesn't have quite the momentum of the 2008 film, but it's way better than you'd expect. It still puts story above scares, and it's still a horror movie with heart. (Gallucci)

Mao's Last Dancer (PG) — Director Bruce Beresford (Tender Mercies, Driving Miss Daisy) has carved out a career crafting sturdy films with just enough pulse to shuffle his audiences out of theaters with a half-smile and a bland compliment. Mao's Last Dancer — a tender, gawky, and at times gorgeous true story about an impoverished Chinese kid plucked from his village to be trained as a ballet dancer —- is pleasant in the most Beresfordian meaning of the word. Star dancer Chi Cao plays Li Cunxin as a gentle soul, nationalistic yet a romantic who dances with power and sorrow. He's selected as an exchange student to come to the U.S. — oil-swaggering 1970s Texas, to be exact — and train with the Houston Ballet. Before long, he succumbs to all the capitalistic tendencies his Chinese handlers warned him about, falls in love, and decides to stay, setting off an international incident. When Dancer focuses on the dancing, it's intoxicating. Cao's musicality is truly remarkable -— to the point where it's a bit ungainly that he's surrounded by far inferior dancers. But the political angle comes out of nowhere. Still, just enough goes right for Beresford's unremarkable track record to remain intact. He can still put together a tepid film with no aftertaste — enjoyable and instantly forgettable. (Justin Strout)

Nanny McPhee Returns (PG) — This sequel to the minor 2005 hit based on Christiana Brand's kid-lit series — about a Mary Poppins-like nanny who looks more like one of Macbeth's witches — is mildly charming and passably entertaining. But instead of taking place in Victorian England, like the previous movie, the action here picks up in World War II-era Blighty, where the title character (again played by the redoubtable Emma Thompson, who also penned the screenplay) goes to work for the stressed-out Isabel (Maggie Gyllenhaal with a British accent as counterfeit as her bogus southern twang in Crazy Heart), whose husband (Ewan McGregor) is off fighting the war. McPhee's charges include her employer's three rambunctious tykes and two miscreant houseguests (scene-stealers Eros Vlahos and Rosie Taylor-Ritson as Isabel's horrid nephew and niece). Once again, the crone-like nanny transforms into, well, the perfectly lovely Thompson after teaching her unruly brood five invaluable life lessons. Harry Potter devotees will get a kick out of cameos by Maggie Smith and Ralph Fiennes, while Babe fans will dig the menagerie of hyperactive CGI animals who, even without the distracting supplement of 3-D, still manage to do the darndest things. (Milan Paurich)

The Other Guys (PG-13) — "Will Ferrell is back and Mark Wahlberg's got him" could be the tagline for this amiably goofy buddy-cop bromance by frequent Ferrell helmer Adam McKay (Talladega Nights, Anchorman, Step Brothers). Ferrell and Wahlberg play a pair of temperamentally mismatched NYPD doofuses who finally get the chance to prove themselves when the top dogs in their department (Samuel L. Jackson and Dwayne Johnson) get temporarily sidelined. Because the movie ultimately devolves into the very thing it's poking fun at — '80s super-cop action flicks like the Lethal Weapon franchise, complete with explosions and car chases galore — it's not as satisfying as previous, more improv-friendly Ferrell-McKay collaborations. Still, the über-intense Wahlberg displays an agreeable knack for mocking his own patented alpha-male image (he's basically playing Ferrell's straight man here), and the first half consistently delivers more big laughs than just about any studio comedy this season. (Paurich)

Resident Evil: Afterlife (R) — Milla Jovovich kicks zombie ass in the third sequel based on the hit video game. This time she does it in 3-D.

The Social Network (PG-13) — David Fincher's latest movie, and one of his best, is firmly rooted in reality, even though almost all of the characters live in a fantasy world of their own making. The true story is based on the rise of Facebook — in particular, the struggle between creator Mark Zuckerberg (played by Jesse Eisenberg) and the people around him who want a piece of the action. Harvard sophomore Zuckerberg is a smart guy, but he's also a smartass. A computer prank — which nets 22,000 hits in a mere few hours — lands Zuckerberg in trouble with Harvard administrators. More important, it leads to work on a social-network site that eventually becomes Facebook. Computer geeks. Code. Guys sitting in deposition hearings. None of this should make for a riveting movie, but The Social Network is one of the most exciting films you'll see this year. By the time Justin Timberlake, as Napster founder Sean Parker, enters the picture, you'll be hooked on Eisenberg's great performance, the thrilling narrative, and the movie's nonstop momentum. It's almost as addictive as Facebook. (Gallucci)

Takers (PG-13) — The "Takers" are a group of criminals who drive Porsches and live in high-rise condos. They pick and choose heists with discretion. So when old pal Ghost (played by ex-con rapper T.I.) returns from prison with a plan to hijack an armored truck, they're a bit suspicious. But because Ghost used to be part of their crew before he got nabbed during a bank robbery, they decide to go along with him. Not so surprisingly, things don't go exactly as planned — especially since a relentless cop with anger-management issues (Matt Dillon) is hot on their tail. Dillon gives the only credible performance in Takers, but even he has trouble breaking his character from stereotype. (Jeff Niesel)

The Town (R) — Ben Affleck proves that Gone Baby Gone, his sensational 2007 directorial debut, wasn't a fluke with this equally impressive — if a tad more conventionally plotted — follow-up. Based on an acclaimed crime novel by Chuck Hogan, the film examines what happens when Beantown bank robber Doug MacRay (Affleck, very good here) falls for his former hostage (Rebecca Hall). (Conveniently, she doesn't recognize him from the heist because the thieves were all wearing masks.) With the FBI (led by a steely Jon Hamm of Mad Men) breathing down his neck and hotheaded criminal cohort Jem (The Hurt Locker's Jeremy Renner) itching to pull the trigger on any potential witnesses — including his buddy's new girlfriend — Doug's decision to go straight runs into some perilous roadblocks. Once again shooting on location in some of Boston's least-touristy working-class neighborhoods, Affleck brings a startling degree of verisimilitude and white-knuckle intensity to pulp-fiction material that might have seemed like just another standard-issue Hollywood cops-and-robbers flick in the hands of a lesser director. The performances — including an unrecognizable Blake Lively from Gossip Girl and Oscar winner Chris Cooper as Doug's convict dad — are beyond reproach. (Paurich)

Wall Street: Money Never Sleeps (PG-13) — This sequel to the 1987 hit pretty much plays like director Oliver Stone's strained attempt to personalize the stock market crash of 2008. It mostly centers on the relationship between Jacob (Shia LeBeouf) and Winnie (Carey Mulligan). But before they can marry, Jacob hopes to patch up the stressed relationship between Winnie and her father, the original Wall Street's Gordon Gekko (Michael Douglas), who's just been released from prison and back in the public eye. Jacob, an up-and-coming broker, befriends Gordon, and they begin "trading" information: Jacob tells Gordon about Winnie, and Gordon offers Jacob advice on how to handle Bretton James (Josh Brolin), a slimy hedge-fund manager. Even though the acting is terrific throughout, the movie tries to do too many things, which doesn't leave much room for the great Douglas or any new insight on the catastrophic economic downturn that's still affecting the nation. (Niesel)

You Again (PG) — The notion, as stated by You Again's protagonist, that "who you are in high school determines who you are for the rest of your life" is hardly a new one. But it's seldom been as clumsily dramatized as it is in this woeful comedy about teen rivalries revived among several generations of a California family. We first meet Marni Olsen (Kristin Bell) in a video from her awkward '90s, with oversized glasses and acne, being bullied by a cabal of cheerleaders chanting Queen's "We Are the Champions" as they shove her out of the school. Marni has triumphed by becoming a pretty, successful PR exec. Traveling home for her brother's wedding, she learns that his fiancée is Joanna (Odette Yustman), Marni's erstwhile chief tormentor, who has wormed her way into the hearts of Marni's family. Through a series of mirthless mishaps, Marni is restored to her bad-skinned, bespectacled high-school self as she labors to stop the wedding. Joanna's glamorous Aunt Ramona (Sigourney Weaver) sashays in, reigniting her own rivalry with Marni's mom (Jamie Lee Curtis). The pairing of Weaver and Curtis is the movie's big draw, but the witless script and feckless direction make it a rickety vehicle for these veteran actresses. Betty White, still riding the crest of renewed popularity, provides the sole laugh near the end of the movie. (Zoslov)

A Woman, a Gun and a Noodle Shop (R) — This is a confounding career curveball from director Zhang Yimou, who exports the Coen Brothers' debut Blood Simple from a seedy Houston bar to an isolated noodle shop owned by Wang (Dahong Ni) in a painted desert. Other than the setting and period detail, the story unfolds almost exactly like the Coens' 1984 movie. Police investigator Zhang (Sun Hunglei) tells Wang that his young wife (Yan Ni) is carrying on an affair with his shop manager Li. Wang hires Zhang to kill the pair while he's away, but Zhang tries to double cross Wang to earn more money. Soon, Li is frantically working through the night to cover up a crime he assumes his lover committed, while Zhang keeps trying to make off with the fortune Wang keeps in his safe. Noodle is an orgy of color — from the hot silks worn by the cast to the otherworldly setting — and establishing shots offer ravishing floods of intoxicating beauty. But if there's an intellectual, aesthetic, or even clever reason for Yimou to update Blood Simple, the movie isn't saying. A Woman, a Gun, and a Noodle Shop merely offers a smorgasbord of superficial dazzle — a movie created by a consummate craftsman who unleashes his mastery, no matter how much he does or doesn't care about the subject matter. (Bret McCabe)

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