Summaries and mini-reviews of movies playing now, from e3 magazine:
THE ANGELS' SHARE (2012). (Starts Thursday, Sept. 12). Ken Loach comedy a la "Full Monty," but this time it's a new dad and friends who buy a whisky distillery in hopes of building a new life. 101 minutes. Rated R. A Beyond Normal Films choice. NOR.
BILLY MADISON (1995). (Starts Friday). The title character is a billionaire's son who plans to inherit his father's hotel business. But lazy, spoiled, thick-headed Billy has spent his 27 years making Pauly Shore seem like a Rhodes scholar. When Dad balks at turning over the family business, Billy bets his father that he can repeat and pass grades 1 to 12 in 24 weeks. (The Dallas Morning News). Rated PG-13. HAR.
BLUE JASMINE. Cate Blanchett delivers a stunning performance as a New York socialite forced to move in with her sister (Sally Hawkins) after her husband (Alec Baldwin) is arrested for embezzlement and fraud. This update of "A Streetcar Named Desire," as written and directed by Woody Allen, is uneven in execution as the film's humor rings hollow when juxtaposed against the protagonist's plight. But Blanchett fully invests herself here, giving us a warts-and-all portrayal of a woman on the edge, in danger of slipping into insanity. Baldwin, Hawkins and Andrew Dice Clay, who provides a surprising turn as a disgruntled workingman, ably support her. 3 stars (Chuck Koplinski). 98 minutes. Rated PG-13. ART.
CLOSED CIRCUIT. Eric Bana and Rebecca Hall star as lawyers and ex-lovers who find themselves growing increasingly paranoid after they agree to defend an international terrorist. Smart and timely, this is the sort of film Hitchcock would be making today as it effectively taps into our fear of being constantly watched in our Big Brother era along with our inability to trust our governments. 31/2 stars (Chuck Koplinski). 96 minutes. Rated R. SAV.
THE CONJURING. Based on a true story, this ghost tale follows the efforts of paranormal investigators Ed and Lorraine Warren (Patrick Wilson and Vera Farmiga) who try to help a family rid their home of a malevolent spirit. James Wan does a fine job creating a genuinely eerie atmosphere and delivering the requisite scares; however, the movie is far too similar to "Insidious," the director's far superior effort from 2010, to be considered anything special. 2 stars (Chuck Koplinski). 112 minutes. Rated R. SAV.
DESPICABLE ME 2. The evil genius Gru (voice by Steve Carell) returns, this time enlisted by a secret agency to help track down a dangerous formula that's fallen into the wrong hands. Less ambitious than the first film in scope and sporting a fairly flimsy story, the movie still proves to be an entertaining affair, primarily because of the appeal of its unique characters (gotta love those Minions) and the inspired sense of lunacy that prevails throughout. Fans will love this follow-up, though this sequel will more than likely not win over any new followers. 3 stars (Chuck Koplinski). 98 minutes. Rated PG. SAV.
ELYSIUM. Neil Blomkamp's sci-fi social commentary takes place in the future where the ultra-rich have abandoned our polluted planet to live in an Eden that orbits in space. The rest of us are left to scrape by on the wasteland that has become our home. However, one man with nothing to lose (Matt Damon) decides to travel to this space colony to set things right. While Blomkamp has worthwhile issues to discuss, his adherence to standard action tropes obscures them. Not as smart as it thinks or as I hoped it would be. 21/2 stars (Chuck Koplinski). 109 minutes. Rated R. SAV.
EPIC. (Starts Saturday). Spectacular visuals are the highlight of this animated feature that's bogged down by an all-too-familiar story. A teenage girl finds herself in the midst of a war between microscopic warriors of the Green and the denizens of the Rot. There are an adequate number of "Oh wow!" moments here, but the story lacks urgency, making for a movie that seems to be spinning its wheels rather than blazing any new trails in animation. 2 stars (Chuck Koplinski). 102 minutes. Rated PG. SAV.
GETAWAY. Ethan Hawke stars as a former race car driver who must follow the orders of a mysterious man who has kidnapped his wife. He's required to help pull off a heist that gets more complicated when he has to take on an unwanted passenger (Selena Gomez). This is the sort of flick that used to play at the bottom of a double-bill at the drive-in. It's cheaply done and nonsensical, yet occasionally fun, as the many car chases it contains are at times exciting, so much so that it nearly qualifies as a guilty pleasure. 2 stars (Chuck Koplinski). 92 minutes. Rated PG-13. SAV.
THE HEAT. (Starts Friday). Sandra Bullock and Melissa McCarthy star as two mismatched cops thrown together to track down a drug lord. This material has been gone over numerous times, and this film brings nothing new to the table other than having two women cracking wise instead of two men. Bullock is incredibly generous in the way she gives the film over to McCarthy, whose abrasive act becomes a bit too much to bear as time goes on. 2 stars (Chuck Koplinski). 117 minutes. Rated R. HAR.
INSIDIOUS: CHAPTER 2. (Opens Thursday, Sept. 12). The haunted Lambert family seeks to uncover the mysterious childhood secret that has left them dangerously connected to the spirit world. (Internet Movie Database). 105 minutes. Rated PG-13. AMC.
LEE DANIELS' THE BUTLER. Based on the true story of an African-American who served eight presidents, from Truman to Reagan, in the White House, with Forest Whitaker, full of dignity and humilty in the title role, as pivotal events in the history of the civil rights movement swirl all around him. With Oprah Winfrey, Cuba Gooding Jr. and David Oyelowo. 3 stars (Steven Rae, The Philadelphia Inquirer). 132 minutes. Rated PG-13. AMC.
LIAR LIAR (1997). (Starts Friday). Jim Carrey literally hurls himself into the role of a lawyer who finds that, for one day, he simply cannot tell a lie. The premise isn't original (it's based on an old Bob Hope movie), but Carrey's manic energy inundates us with ceaseless physical invention. In a courtroom, in a board meeting, in a one-on-one struggle with a felt-tip pen, he's an inspired slapstick comedian. And a scene where he mugs himself is one of his career high points. A high-octane comeback from the flop of "The Cable Guy." (Roger Ebert). Rated PG. 86 minutes. HAR.
MONSTERS UNIVERSITY. Pixar offers its first prequel, and it proves to be a humorous exercise if not an overly moving one. The film tells us how best buddies Mike (Billy Crystal) and Sully (John Goodman) first met and how their friendship grew as both find themselves outcasts at Monsters University, which they attend in the hopes of learning how to be master scarers. The film is quite funny at times as the characters have to overcome various obstacles to prove themselves. It's serviceable entertainment, though it's lacking in the ability to tug at our heartstrings as the best Pixar films do. 3 stars (Chuck Koplinski). 110 minutes. Rated G. 95 minutes. SAV.
THE MORTAL INSTRUMENTS: CITY OF BONES. Lily Collins stars as Clary Fray, a New York City teen who finds out she's a half-angel warrior after evil spirits kidnap her mother (Lena Headey). She is required to venture to an alternate world to save her and finds that many monsters of legend actually exist. Had the film been released 15 years ago, it would have been hailed as a fantasy masterpiece for young adults. But coming in the wake of "Harry Potter," "The Hunger Games" and "Percy Jackson," this movie comes off as a film composed of used parts. 2 stars (Chuck Koplinski). 130 minutes. Rated PG-13. AMC, SAV.
ONE DIRECTION: THIS IS US. A showcase for the boy band du jour, this documentary shows the five English lads during their 2012 world tour. The music is catchy, as bubblegum pop goes, but the film is most engaging when we see the boys away from the limelight, and they prove to be pleasant young men who have their heads on straight. While this film is aimed directly at the group's fans, those who are forced to attend may find themselves, at the very least, impressed with how the group has handled sudden success. 3 stars (Chuck Koplinski). 92 minutes. Rated PG. AMC, SAV.
PERCY JACKSON: SEA OF MONSTERS. The home of Percy Jackson (Logan Lerman) and the other young demigods is threatened, and the only thing that will save it is the mythical Golden Fleece. The only problem is our hero and his friends Annabeth (Alexandra Daddario) and Grover (Brandon T. Jackson) must travel to the treacherous Sea of Monsters to recover it. The film can't escape the long shadow of the "Harry Potter" films and other movies of its ilk, as everything feels derivative and a bit stale. 2 stars (Chuck Koplinski). 106 minutes. Rated PG. SAV.
PLANES. This animated film from the Disney Studio tells the tale of a crop-dusting plane named Dusty who has ambitions to compete in an aerial race. The problem is, he's afraid of heights. This film is utterly predictable, but it's not without its charms. Witty humor is present throughout, and the film has a sense of confidence that's engaging. 21/2 stars (Chuck Koplinski). 92 minutes. Rated PG. AMC, HAR, SAV.
RIDDICK. (Opens Friday). Vin Diesel returns as the title character, stranded on a planet overrun with fierce predators that he cannot combat on his own. He sends out a distress signal and gets far more than he bargains for when two ships answer his SOS. 119 minutes. Rated R. AMC, SAV.
RIFFTRAX LIVE: STARSHIP TROOPERS ENCORE. (Thursday, Sept. 12) Back by popular demand, the stars of Mystery Science Theater 3000 return to select cinemas nationwide. Join Michael J. Nelson, Kevin Murphy and Bill Corbett of RiffTrax.com to relive their hilarious riff on this masterpiece of alien slaughter propaganda! 140 minutes. Rated R. SAV.
THE ROOM (2003). (Starts Friday) When "The Room" was released, it was labeled "the worst movie ever made," "the epitome of wretchedness" and even "the Citizen Kane of bad films." According to fans, the reason is not that the film is good, but because it is so truly awful it has to be seen. Originally promoted by the slogan "A film with the passion of Tennessee Williams," the movie tells the story of Johnny, a San Francisco banker, whose fiancee Lisa has an affair with his best friend Mark. (Nick Allen in Los Angeles, The Telegraph). 99 minutes. Rated R. ART.
SAMSARA. A film composed of powerful images, most magnificent, some shocking, all photographed with great care in the highest possible HD resolution — or in 70 mm, if you can find it. Filmed over five years, in locations in 25 countries, it is the kind of experience you simply sink into. It intensely regards the strangeness and wonder of our planet, drawing a sharp contrast between the awe of nature and the sometimes ruthless imposition of man's will. 4 stars (Roger Ebert). 102 minutes. Rated PG-13. NOR.
SELECTIONS FROM THE 2013 TRIBECA FILM FESTIVAL: GREETINGS FROM TIM BUCKLEY. (Monday) A chronicle of the days leading up to Jeff Buckley's performance at his father's tribute concert in 1991. Stars Penn Badgley, Imogen Poots, Norbert Leo Butz. (Internet Movie Database). 99 minutes. Not rated. SAV.
STAR TREK INTO DARKNESS. The reboot of the adventures of the Starship Enterprise continues under the steady hand of J.J. Abrams, who delivers another rip-roaring, though derivative, adventure. Kirk (Chris Pine), Spock (Zachary Quinto) and the rest of the crew find themselves pursuing a mysterious villain (Benedict Cumberbatch) into Klingon territory and, in the process, risk plunging the two civilizations into war. Nothing is as it seems as Abrams pulls out one surprise after another while the action sequences are done with enthusiasm and imagination. 31/2 stars (Chuck Koplinski). 132 minutes. Rated PG-13. SAV.
THIS IS THE END. Seth Rogen, James Franco, Jonah Hill, Craig Robinson, Danny McBride and Jay Baruchel play themselves in this end-of-the-world comedy that sees the comics' true natures emerge as the Rapture ensues. Though overlong and crude, it's done with such self-deprecating humor that you can't help but get swept away by the ridiculous nature of the movie. 3 stars (Chuck Koplinski). 107 minutes. Rated R. AMC, SAV.
2 GUNS. Denzel Washington and Mark Wahlberg are two federal agents, unaware of each other's identity, who cross paths as each investigates the same drug cartel. Buoyed by a sense of fun that hearkens back to the "Lethal Weapon" movies and a nice comedic turn from Wahlberg, this film survives on the charm of its two stars and the crisp direction from Baltasar Kormakur ("Collateral"). There's nothing new here, but this is a well-done action film. 31/2 stars (Chuck Koplinski). 109 minutes. Rated R. SAV.
WE'RE THE MILLERS. Jason Sudeikis is a drug dealer who gets roped into going to Mexico to bring back a huge shipment of marijuana. To avoid suspicion, he hires a stripper (Jennifer Aniston), an awkward teenage boy (Will Poulter) and a homeless girl (Emma Roberts) to pose as his family. There are some laughs (some of them huge), but the film runs out of steam long before it ends. 2 stars (Chuck Koplinski). 110 minutes. Rated R. AMC, HAR, SAV.
THE WOLVERINE. Hugh Jackman returns in his signature role as the quick-healing mutant title hero, who goes to Japan at the request of an old acquaintance who vows to help free him from his curse of immortality. Though the film is too long, its emphasis is on its hero and its supporting characters, rather than empty special-effects-driven scenes. 3 stars (Chuck Koplinski). 126 minutes. Rated PG-13. PRI, SAV.
THE WORLD'S END. Five friends reunite to recreate a legendary pub-crawl from 20 years earlier. Along the way, they find they hold the fate of the world in their hands. Repetitious and overbearing, this monotonous film spins its wheels after its first half-hour, while the tedium is exacerbated by a grating performance from Simon Pegg as a drunkard stuck in the past. 2 stars (Chuck Koplinski). 109 minutes. Rated R. SAV.
WORLD WAR Z. Brad Pitt is a U.N. special ambassador in search of a cure for the zombie apocalypse that has ravaged the planet. The film is nothing more than four extended action set pieces, all done well but each hindered by a spastic editing rhythm. While the special effects at times are laughable, the epic scope of the film saves it in the end, as does the star's sympathetic performance. 3 stars (Chuck Koplinski). 116 minutes. Rated PG-13. SAV.
YOU'RE NEXT. A family reunion becomes a deadly affair when the Davison clan find themselves under attack by a gang of killers. But things take a turn when one of the victims turns the table on the home invaders. The film has been touted as a fresh look at the family-under-siege premise, but this is nothing but a retread of tired horror conventions. 1 star (Chuck Koplinski). 96 minutes. Rated R. SAV.