Category Archives: New In Theaters

Reviews of what’s out now

Side Effects may include unusual career choices

by Hope Madden

Director Steven Soderbergh has worked with screenwriter Scott Z. Burns three times now, each instance a bit weaker than the last. Their first collaboration, The Informant!, was an unhinged gem of a flick owing as much to Matt Damon’s outstanding performance as to Burns’s knack with the English language. Next came Contagion, a better box office performer, but a less inspired effort.

Their third collaboration, Side Effects, offers a mystery thriller inside the world of pharmaceuticals. As is often the case with mystery thrillers, to say much more would be to give away too much. Coursing with Soderbergh’s cynicism and varnished with his laid back style, the film has more in store for you than the diatribe against Big Pharm it appears to deliver at first.

Unfortunately, plot holes seriously interrupt the impact of the mystery, but a solid cast helps bridge those gaps. Jude Law evolves cleverly from the modern doctor – overworked and ambitious – to something more raw, dirty and real. As his patient, Rooney Mara (The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo) carries the film. It’s her picture, and she does with it what she wishes, thank God.

Like Soderbergh’s last several efforts – all mid-budget, off-season genre pics – Side Effects is an absorbing bit of entertainment you’ll dismiss after viewing. It’s better than most February releases, but worse than most Soderbergh pictures. What a funny turn for a career that began with the game changer Sex, Lies & Videotape.

3 stars (out of 5)

A Tale of Two Sandys

 

 

By George Wolf

As far back as his childhood days in the 80s as Ricky Schroder’s wise-cracking friend Derek on Silver Spoons, Jason Bateman has displayed flawless comic timing. Melissa McCarthy, on the other hand, has burst on the scene in the last few years, with 2011’s Bridesmaids firmly establishing her as a major comic talent.

Put them together in a road picture, and you’ve got comedy gold, right? Well….

Don’t get me wrong, Identity Thief does deliver some laughs, just not as many as these  two stars would suggest.

Bateman is Sandy Patterson, a financial manager in Denver who deflects constant comments about his first name (“it’s not feminine, it’s unisex!”) while wondering if his jump to a new job at a start-up firm is a good move for his growing family.

McCarthy is also Sandy Paterson, the illegal Florida version. That is, after she makes him her latest identity theft victim and starts racking up credit card bills and arrest records in his name.

As the real Sandy discovers why his life is unraveling, he hatches a plan to travel South and bring the veteran conwoman back to Colorado authorities so she can prove his innocence.

After some great moments of physical comedy as Bateman struggles to apprehend McCarthy, the film settles in as a cross between Planes, Trains and Automobiles and Due Date.

Director Seth Gordon, fresh from the very funny Horrible Bosses (also with Bateman), does his best to bring the same breezy, ad-libbed approach to his latest, and that is a wise move. Writer Craig Mazin’s script, weak on its own, is rescued by the sheer talent of the two leads.  Even when the story makes the inevitable turn toward sentimentality, Bateman and McCarthy keep it from collapsing.

3 stars (out of 5)

If this Snake has an Ass, Jet Li will Find and Kick It

 

By Hope Madden

 

Siu-Tung Ching, the Hong Kong action director who crafted 1987’s high flying spooktacular A Chinese Ghost Story, turns his attention to demon legends and computerized FX for his latest, weightlessly entertaining but somewhat disappointing feature, The Sorcerer and the White Snake.

The White Snake demon (Eva Huang) falls for a human herbalist and takes on the form of a woman to marry him. A tenacious Abbot (Jet Li) committed to keeping all demons out of the human realm makes trouble for the newlyweds.

It’s a cross between Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon and Van Helsing – combining the colorful flying, swooping action of the former with the ludicrous monster preoccupation and even more ridiculous FX of the latter.

The film offers an interesting take on the events as they unfold in that it’s never clear which side to root for – both are as repellant as they are compelling. Oh, the rash audacity of love!

Any religious, moral or romantic considerations – ironic or otherwise – are treated so superficially, though, as to be almost invisible next to the eye candy of the computer generated action sequences. Altogether the film is a silly, sugary spectacle worth eyeballing on the big screen for true fans, but skipping entirely for anybody else.

2 stars (out of 5)

The Bond of Two Broken Souls

 

By Hope Madden

 

Why do strangers Stephanie and Ali form such a fierce bond in Rust and Bone (De rouille et d’os) ? Stephanie (Oscar-winner Marion Cotillard) trains orcas and struggles with tragedy, while Ali (Matthias Schoenaerts) lives in the present moment, accepting any offer, opportunity or bit of fun that presents itself without a thought of the consequences to himself or his young son.

Writer/director Jacques Audiard (A Prophet) doesn’t provide all the answers in his challenging exploration of their relationship.  His drama, in French with subtitles, is a gritty, punishing  tale of sexual redemption between two broken people unconventionally well suited to each other. The chemistry between the leads keeps the film taut, and Audiard’s wandering storyline and loyalty to his characters forever surprises.

4 stars (out of 5)

 

 

Hot Zombie Love

 

By George Wolf

 

Around the time Twilight ruined vampires and werewolves, horror fans began to cling to zombies as the only real monsters left. You can’t Twilight a zombie, right?  They aren’t wolf-boys who can’t keep their shirts on, they are stinking, rotting corpses out to eat your brain. Nothing romantic there.

If you’re thinking, “What about zombie Michael Jackson from the “Thriller” video?” I say, good point, but Zombie MJ was more dancer than romantic lead

Well, it took Hollywood a while to catch up, but Warm Bodies shows they have figured out how to Twilight a zombie. They even hired that girl who looks exactly like a blonde Kristin Stewart (Teresa Palmer)  to play romantic lead in this teen romantic comedy version of Romeo and Juliet.

Of course, in this particular case Romeo (Nicholas Hoult, “Beast” from X-Men:  First Class)  is a reanimated corpse that the young ladies should have no problem swooning over.

Working from Isaac Marion’s novel, screenwriter/director Jonathan Levine (50/50) mines adolescent anxiety for a sweetly charming if less than thrilling romance. Hoult is instantly likeable, while Rob Corddry and Analeigh Tipton draw a few chuckles.

While Warm Bodies falls far short of the greatest romantic comedy with zombies, Shaun of the Dead, it is harmless fun that would serve as a fine date night for the younger crowd.

3 stars (out of 5)