Film capsules, March 14

From e3 magazine

  • AMC = AMC Village Mall, Danville.
  • ART = The Art Theater, Champaign
  • NOR = The Normal Theater, Normal
  • ONA = The Onarga Theater, Onarga
  • PRI = Princess Theatre, LeRoy
  • SAV = Savoy 16, Savoy

BATTLE ROYALE (BATORU ROWAIARU). (Opens Friday) Don't miss this semi-banned Japanese cult film — which Quentin Tarantino calls his favorite — that "Hunger Games" ripped off. The savage premise: In the near future, the government selects groups of students at random, then sends them to an isolated island where they're forced to play war games with real weapons. (http://www.thecuart.com). 114 minutes. Rated R. ART.

THE CALL. (Opens Friday) A 911 operator who takes a call from an abducted teenager must confront a killer from her own past to save the girl's life. With Halle Berry, Abigail Breslin and Morris Chestnut. Written by Richard D'Ovidio. Directed by Brad Anderson. (Los Angeles Times). 98 minutes. Rated R. AMC, SAV.

DEAD MAN DOWN. This odd combination of B-movie violence and art house romance somehow works, though it does have some awkward moments. Colin Farrell stars as Victor, a lieutenant in a ruthless drug lord's gang, while Beatrice (Noomi Rapace) is a horribly scarred woman who lives mostly in seclusion. How these two meet and discover they have a common goal is one of the many surprises the film has in store. Though very deliberate, the movie pays off handsomely with a rousing and satisfying conclusion. 3 stars (Chuck Koplinski). 110 minutes. Rated R. SAV.

ESCAPE FROM PLANET EARTH. This bland animated feature follows the adventures of alien Scorch Supernova (voice by Brendan Fraser), whose brother Gary (Rob Corddry) must come and rescue him after he has been captured on Earth. The story contains few surprises, and the visuals are nothing special, making for a movie that will amuse the tykes and bore their parents. 2 stars (Chuck Koplinski). 89 minutes. Rated PG. In 3-D. SAV.

FLOWERS FOR FANNIE. (Sunday) Fannie Fairchild locked up her heart when her beloved George was killed in the Great War. But now she faces her own mortality and realizes that she has no one to maintain her grave with flowers. After a number of failed attempts to hire someone for the job, Fannie finds herself helpless and under the care of Louise, a young woman nothing like Fannie. Will Fannie accept love from this unexpected source or continue the lonely life she's sustained all these many years? Rated PG. PRI.

GAYBY. (Opens Monday) Showcase of the best films from the Best of Key Film Festival plays Mondays and Thursdays at select theaters. Jenn (straight) and Matt (gay) are best friends from college who are now in their 30s. Single by choice, they decide to fulfill a youthful promise to have a child together ... the old-fashioned way. (Internet Movie Database). 89 minutes. Not rated. SAV.

GREAT EXPECTATIONS — FROM LONDON'S WEST END. (Thursday, March 21) For the very first time, the Charles Dickens classic was staged in London's West End. This Jo Clifford adaptation has been universally acclaimed as a triumph on its sellout tour of the United Kingdom. This is an encore screening of the Feb. 7 live broadcast and includes behind-the-scenes footage. The event will be part of the global celebration surrounding the 200th anniversary of Dickens' birth. 125 minutes. SAV.

IDENTITY THIEF. Jason Bateman is a financial manager who has to travel to Florida to track down a sociopath (Melissa McCarthy) who has stolen his identity and run up a mountain of debt in his name. Meandering and unfocused, this feature can't figure out if it wants to be a comedy, a buddy movie or a low-rent action movie. The film's lack of tone is bad, but what's worse is the shameless bit of pathos it tries to tack on the end. A misguided effort for all involved. 1 stars (Chuck Koplinski). 112 minutes. Rated R. AMC, SAV.

THE INCREDIBLE BURT WONDERSTONE. (Opens Friday) Steve Carell takes on the title role as a self-absorbed Vegas magician whose life disappears when he has a falling out with his partner (Steve Buscemi). However, redemption is possible when a veteran performer (Alan Arkin) mentors him, though he has to contend with a charlatan (Jim Carey) in order to get back on top. Not all of the gags work, but enough do to keep the film moving at a brisk comic pace. More importantly, it reminds us of the importance of giving ourselves over to being amazed in our cynical, jaded world. 3 stars (Chuck Koplinski). 100 minutes. Rated PG-13. SAV.

JACK THE GIANT SLAYER. Director Bryan Singer delivers a rousing, romantic adventure in this retelling of the tale of an adventure-seeking boy, some magic beans and a stalk in need of trimming. Told with humor and sincerity, the film moves at a brisk pace, employs solid special effects (the giants are a scary crew) and benefits from a veteran cast, including Ewan McGregor, Stanley Tucci and Ian McShane, and two vibrant young leads in Nicholas Hoult and Eleanor Tomlinson. Far better than you might expect. 3 stars (Chuck Koplinski). 114 minutes. Rated PG-13. AMC, PRI, SAV.

METROPOLITAN OPERA: WAGNER'S PARSIFAL. (Wednesday, Thursday) An encore presentation of the March 2 performance. Jonas Kaufmann stars in the title role of the innocent who finds wisdom in Francois Girard's new vision for Wagner's final masterpiece. His fellow Wagnerian luminaries include Katarina Dalayman as the mysterious Kundry, Peter Mattei as the ailing Amfortas, Evgeny Nikitin as the wicked Klingsor and Rene Pape as the noble knight Gurnemanz. Daniele Gatti conducts. 345 minutes. SAV.

METROPOLITAN OPERA: ZANDONAI'S FRANCESCA DA RIMINI LIVE. (Saturday) Zandonai's compelling opera, inspired by an episode from Dante's Inferno, returns in the Met's ravishingly beautiful production, last seen in 1986. Dramatic soprano Eva-Maria Westbroek and tenor Marcello Giordani are the doomed lovers. Marco Armiliato conducts. 240 minutes. SAV.

NAIROBI HALF LIFE (MANHATTAN FEATURE FILM PROJECT). (Thursday, March 21) A young, aspiring actor from upcountry Kenya dreams of becoming a success in the big city. In pursuit of this and to the chagrin of his brother and parents, he makes his way to Nairobi, the city of opportunity, but there's a darker side to reaching for the moon. With its magnetic protagonist and fast-paced tempo, "Nairobi Half Life" is a fun adventure to watch. Pan African Film & Arts Festival in Los Angeles named director Tosh Gitonga best director/first feature; the film won the best film award from Independent Film Magazine. Subtitled. Not rated; recommended R. NOR.

OZ THE GREAT AND POWERFUL. Sam Raimi's prequel to the 1939 classic suffers from some questionable casting choices but survives to tell the tale of Oscar Diggs (a very good James Franco), a con man who is swept away to the land of Oz, where he's told he has been fated to save its citizens from a wicked witch. At times visually stunning, the film's strong suit lies in its humor and conviction of all involved to make a film worthy to stand alongside the Judy Garland vehicle. For the most part, they succeed as Franco carries the film with his charm while its theme is a worthy one worth repeating. 3 stars (Chuck Koplinski). 130 minutes. Rated PG. AMC, ONA, SAV.

QUARTET. (Opens Friday) Dustin Hoffman's directorial debut centers on a home for retired English music artists where old rivalries blossom once more amid the production of a revue. As the film's title singing ensemble, screen veterans Maggie Smith, Billy Connolly, Pauline Collins and Tom Courtenay strike the proper tone in taking a low-key approach to what could easily have become a maudlin exercise. 3 stars (Chuck Koplinski). 98 minutes. Rated PG-13. ART.

SAFE HAVEN. Yet another Nicholas Sparks novel comes to the big screen, sporting a formulaic plot that ends up insulting the viewer. Battered wife Katie (Julianne Hough) is on the run and ends up in a seaside North Carolina town where she falls in love with the owner of the general store (Josh Duhamel) there. You can see what's going to happen a mile away, but what's disconcerting are the shameless lengths the film goes to in trumping up unneeded drama. 1 stars (Chuck Koplinski). 115 minutes. Rated PG-13. AMC, SAV.

SILVER LININGS PLAYBOOK. Director David O. Russell ("The Fighter," "Three Kings") brings Matthew Quick's novel to the big screen with equal parts comedy, drama and poignancy. Bradley Cooper, showing more on screen than he has before, is Pat, a teacher who has suffered a mental break and is trying to get back to his old life. On a collision course with him is Tiffany (Jennifer Lawrence), an angry young widow wrestling with her grief over the sudden death of her husband. The antagonistic chemistry between the two stars leaps off the screen, while the subplot involving Pat and his father (Robert De Niro) is a piercing, poignant look at a dysfunctional family attempting to right itself. A winner in every way, this is my favorite film of the year. 4 stars (Chuck Koplinski). 122 minutes. Rated R. AMC.

SINGIN' IN THE RAIN (1952). Stanley Donen and Gene Kelly's landmark musical takes a comedic look at the transition from the silent era to that of sound in Hollywood as it revitalizes what was a worn and ragged genre when it was made. Along with co-stars Donald O'Connor and Debbie Reynolds, Kelly performs with so much energy and inspiration that it literally leaps off the screen. Funny and thoroughly entertaining, the film features the title song as well as the famous "Good Mornin,'" "Make 'em Laugh" and "Moses Supposes" sequences. This is one of the great movie musicals and one that puts recent efforts in the genre to shame. 4 stars (Chuck Koplinski). 103 minutes. Not rated. NOR.

SNITCH. Dwayne Johnson stars as John Matthews, a father who infiltrates a Mexican drug cartel so that he may curry favor from a ruthless district attorney (Susan Sarandon) and earn leniency for his son who is in jail on a drug charge. This surprisingly engaging crime story contains far less action than the usual Johnson fare as director Ric Roman Waugh focuses instead on the human factor and the emotional toll the situation has on Matthews and his family. 3 stars (Chuck Koplinski). 112 minutes. Rated PG-13. SAV.

21 & OVER. Not many surprises in this "Hangover" for the younger set as med student Jeff Chang (Justin Chon) foolishly decides to celebrate his 21st birthday with two pals (Miles Teller and Skylar Astin) the night before his medical exams. Drunken hijinks ensue as do a few inspired moments where Chang unknowingly finds himself in peril, but there's nothing here you haven't seen before. 2 stars (Chuck Koplinski). 95 minutes. Rated R. SAV.

WARM BODIES. Better than you might expect, this zombie love story follows the efforts of a teenage zombie named R (Nicholas Hoult) to regain his humanity and connect with Julie (Teresa Palmer), whose father (John Malkovich) happens to be the militant leader of the remaining humans. Using "Romeo and Juliet" as its template, the film zips along at a nice pace and speaks to what truly makes us human in an entertaining and vital way. 3 stars (Chuck Koplinski). 97 minutes. Rated PG-13. SAV.

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