Film capsules, March 20, 2014

Film capsules, March 20, 2014

Summaries and mini-reviews of movies playing now, 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 = Savy 16, Savoy
  • VIR = Virginia Theatre, Champaign

DESPICABLE ME 2. (Saturday). 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. PRI.

DIVERGENT. (Opens Friday). Based on the best-seller by Veronica Roth, the film takes place in a dystopian future where members of society are separated into five different factions. However, Tris (Shailene Woodley), a young teenager with a rebellious streak, refuses to be pigeonholed into one group, an act that sets off a chain of events that threatens the very foundation of her community. Though it's far too similar to "The Hunger Games" and other tween stories to be truly distinctive, Woodley's performance and a powerful message about the vagaries of ethnic cleansing make this passable escapist fare. 3 stars (Chuck Koplinski). Rated PG-13. 139 minutes. AMC, SAV.

ELTON JOHN: THE MILLION DOLLAR PIANO CONCERT. (Wednesday). Captured live from his residency at The Colosseum at Caesars Palace in Las Vegas, the concert features all of Elton's greatest hits from throughout his legendary career. Plus an exclusive behind-the-scenes look at the making of "Goodbye Yellow Brick Road." 120 minutes. SAV.

GOD'S NOT DEAD. (Opens Friday). College student Josh Wheaton's faith is challenged by his philosophy professor, who believes God does not exist. (Internet Movie Database). With Willie Robertson, David A.R. White and Shane Harper. Rated PG. 113 minutes. SAV.

HAUTE CUISINE (2012). This film, based on a true story, tells of the rise of Daniele Delpeuch, a little-known French cook who is hired by President Francois Mitterrand to be his personal chef. All goes well at first, but infighting with and jealousy among her peers threaten to ruin her career. Rated PG-13. 95 minutes. NOR.

THE HOLY MOUNTAIN (1973). (Starts Friday). Alejandro Jodorowsky's dizzying elegy to the sex, drugs and spiritual awakening of the late 1960s and early 1970s — a suitably bizarre follow-up to his psychedelic Western "El Topo" (1971). A Christ-like vagrant and thief wanders through a perverse and unfriendly land until he encounters an enlightened one, who gathers the thief and six of the world's most powerful individuals for a spiritual pilgrimage. If you want to see the conquest of Mexico re-enacted by reptiles, soldiers shoot innocent people as birds fly from their wounds, and a wizard turn feces into gold, this is the movie for you. Rated R. 115 minutes. ART.

THE LEGO MOVIE. Moving back and forth between the various sets of Lego worlds, construction worker Emmitt (voice by Chris Pratt) attempts to break into the headquarters of President Business (Will Ferrell) to stop a plot that will permanently change every dimension in the toy universe. While the film is a bit manic at times, the visuals are inventive and very clever. However, the most satisfying thing about the movie is the surprise ending, which lends the story an unexpected poignancy. 3 stars (Chuck Koplinski). Rated PG. 100 minutes. SAV.

MADAGASCAR. (Saturday and Sunday). A lion (Ben Stiller), a zebra (Chris Rock), a giraffe (David Schwimmer) and a hippo (Jada Pinkett Smith), all born and raised in the Central Park Zoo, are accidentally shipwrecked on the title island. The indigenous lemurs hope to use the lion to scare off local predators, but when he gets hungry, everyone looks like lunch. This computer-generated animation suffers from a thin plot and less than animated voice characterizations. The plot wanders off-course, and it occasionally gets a bit creepy for younger viewers; adults will find it slow-going beyond a few in-jokes. 2 stars (Richard J. Leskosky). Rated PG. 86 minutes. SAV.

THE MONUMENTS MEN. George Clooney directs and stars in this true story about a group of international art experts who were conscripted into the Army to save and preserve the various pieces of priceless art that Hitler and the Third Reich stole as they plundered Europe. What's curious about this feature is that, despite its intriguing premise, the film is overall a bland exercise. Clooney fails to generate any forward momentum, and the movie sputters and stalls despite the best efforts of its strong cast. With Matt Damon, John Goodman, Bill Murray, Jean Dujardin and Cate Blanchett. 21/2 stars (Chuck Koplinski). Rated PG-13. 118 minutes. PRI, SAV.

MR. PEABODY & SHERMAN. This modern adaptation of the classic Jay Ward cartoon finds the genius dog Mr. Peabody (voice by Ty Burrell) and his boy Sherman (Max Charles) causing all sorts of havoc as they trip through time in their WABAC Machine. The show's trademark humor is intact as are the wacky, ironic lessons in history. However, what makes the film special is its sense of sweetness where the relationship between the two main characters are concerned. The background we get on how they met and what they mean to one another helps gives the film an emotional core that helps make it more than just another frantic 3-D exercise. 31/2 stars (Chuck Koplinski). Rated PG. 92 minutes. AMC, SAV.

MUPPETS MOST WANTED. (Opens Friday). While on tour in Europe, the Muppets find themselves embroiled in an international jewelry heist, as the head of the operation looks just like Kermit the Frog. With the usual felt-clad puppets as well as Tina Fey, Ricky Gervais, Ty Burrell, Stanley Tucci, Ray Liotta, Frank Langella, Tom Hiddleston and a bevy of guest stars. Rated PG. 114 minutes. AMC, ONA, SAV.

NEED FOR SPEED. Aaron Paul, in his first starring role since the conclusion of "Breaking Bad," stars as Tobey Marshall, a high-stakes driver who must travel cross country and win an illegal street race to clear his name of a manslaughter charge. Based on the popular video game, the film has more than its fair share of lapses where logic and common sense are concerned. However, it ends up being far more thrilling than most of the "Fast and Furious" features, and if you're looking for an adrenaline rush, you could do much worse. It's not high art, but for what it is, "Need for Speed" does it well. 3 stars (Chuck Koplinski). Rated PG-13. 130 minutes. AMC, SAV.

NON-STOP. Liam Neeson stars as an air marshal who must spring into action when he starts receiving texts from a fellow passenger, who promises to start killing others onboard unless his ransom demands are met. Neeson's presence, some slick visuals and an unrelenting pace from director Jaume Collet-Serra nearly save the day, but their fine efforts are undone by a third act that's far too ridiculous to take seriously. 3 stars (Chuck Koplinski). Rated PG-13. 106 minutes. SAV.

SON OF GOD. Including scenes culled from the History Channel's "The Bible" miniseries as well as additional sequences shot exclusively for this project, this feature recounts the rise of Jesus Christ from his humble beginnings to his role as teacher and miracle worker through his crucifixion and ultimate resurrection. The film tells the story in a very safe manner that does not invite criticism and takes few chances. While it moves a bit too fast, the inherent power of the story emerges in the end, making this a competent and at times moving version of the Christ story. 3 stars (Chuck Koplinski). Rated PG-13. 138 minutes. SAV.

300: RISE OF AN EMPIRE. In this sequel to the 2006 blockbuster, Admiral Themistocles (Sullivan Stapleton) must marshal his fleet to defend the city of Athens from the army that defeated King Leonidas' force of 300. While it sports the same visual aesthetic as the previous film, the story at play here is more engaging while the advances in digital effects over the past eight years make the gore pop and have a more visceral impact. In the end, it gets a bit repetitious, but Eva Green as the sadistic and sexy Persian naval commander Artemisia steals every scene she's in, compelling us to see the film to the end. 3 stars (Chuck Koplinski). Rated R. 102 minutes. AMC, SAV.

TIM'S VERMEER. (Starts Thursday, March 27). This fascinating documentary from the illusionist duo Penn and Teller follows the efforts of inventor Tim Jenison to uncover the method Johannes Vermeer used to paint his progressive works of art and his attempt to recreate one of his works under similar conditions. This is a fascinating quest, and the theory Jenison puts forth regarding the genesis of the artist's work is compelling. However, Jenison himself is less than charismatic, and his bland nature runs counter to the film's intriguing premise. 3 stars (Chuck Koplinski). Rated PG-13. 80 minutes. NOR.

TYLER PERRY'S THE SINGLE MOMS CLUB. The latest from Tyler Perry deals with five single moms who form a support group to help keep each other afloat. As with most of the director's films, his good intentions are undone by his overly sentimental approach and the simplistic solutions provided to complex problems. There are moments of genuine laughter here, but ultimately there's nothing new that hasn't been done better by Perry before. 2 stars (Chuck Koplinski). Rated PG-13. 111 minutes. SAV.

THE WIND RISES. (Opens Friday). Legendary Japanese animator Hayao Miyazaki's final feature is a stylized biography of Jiro Horikoshi, who designed airplanes that were eventually modified as attack planes that would be used in World War II. As you would expect, the images at play here are gorgeous, but what makes the film distinctive is the inner turmoil Horikoshi must contend with as his inventions were meant to make man realize the wonder of flight and not to be used as instruments of destruction. This is reflected not only in the way the director varies the settings but also within Horikoshi, who attempts to justify his actions through dreams in which he talks to his hero, Italian inventor Giovanni Battista Caproni. Complex and challenging, this is the sort of mature animation that's rarely made in the United States. 31/2 stars (Chuck Koplinski). Rated PG-13. 126 minutes. ART.

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